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Walking the streets of Manchester, I find tolerance rather than hatred

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Originally published in The Sunday Times

At about 7am on Tuesday, I awake to several messages on my phone from friends asking me to text them as soon as I could. I wonder what I have done until I go online. Not Manchester, I think. Terrorist attacks happen everywhere else, but not here, not in my home city.

I spend the day on social media and watching the news. I feel sad and angry. How could anyone target children? But a part of me feels hope. Mancunians are coming together in their grief and solidarity while the world watches and gives support.

The usual suspects are wheeled out for television and radio interviews, hailed as “moderate community leaders”. Among them are commentators who have supported blasphemy laws in Pakistan and whose organisations have played host to extremist preachers.

If these are the moderates, I think, then we are well and truly up the creek without a paddle. Sometimes the media really are to blame. In an age of 24-hour news, there’s a need to fill airtime with commentary, even if it is from undesirable people.

Wednesday
I have a conversation with a Muslim friend; we start exchanging stories of our childhood going to the mosque to learn about the Koran and Islam. “Let’s face it, we all learnt that going to concerts is haram [forbidden] and listening to music is wrong,” he says.

He is right. I remember one of the mosque teachers told me and the other young girls that the famous Sufi singer Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan was once exhumed and his tongue was found wrapped around his body.

This was a punishment from Allah, the teacher explained, because of the way he would sing about Allah; it was wrong. I felt scared, as any child would. And I felt confused because my family and everyone I knew listened to Khan.

But Sunni Muslims are taught that music is generally forbidden, only vocal music is permissible (halal) and instruments are haram. And these views are considered mainstream, not necessarily extreme.*

This is why I get frustrated when people simply blame British foreign policy for creating terrorists. What do teens at a concert have to do with British foreign policy? These people simply hate this “heathen” lifestyle.

They have bought into an ideology that hates anyone opposed to them. So why are we surprised when extremists act on their hate and contempt?

Think about it; if they were really angry about Muslims dying then why aren’t they “radicalised” by the slaughter caused by Isis, al-Qaeda and other jihadists? If they cared about Muslim lives, they would have taken up arms against the Taliban in Afghanistan for starving their own people, or against Isis for killing fellow Muslims in Syria and Iraq, or Saudi Arabia for bombing Yemen.

Sometimes we are told that jihadists and extremists are disenfranchised. Give me a break. Salman Abedi, the Manchester bomber, was not disenfranchised at all.

He was born and brought up here, given all the rights and privileges of every other British citizen. His family was given shelter in the UK after fleeing Colonel Muammar Gadaffi’s regime in Libya. And this is how he repaid Britain?

Thursday
This afternoon I go out into Manchester city centre. Other than a few police officers in Market Street, which is where all the shops are, it seemed like any other day. Hundreds of people were in St Ann’s Square laying flowers in tribute to the victims.

Where’s the hate, I wondered? The vast majority of people in times such as these come together and offer support. Do not believe the loud voices shouting about “Islamophobia” and the backlash against Muslims.

British people, on the whole, are marvellous and tolerant. If a few dirty looks and the odd incident of someone being spat at (for which there is no excuse, by the way) constitutes a “backlash”, then British Muslims are overwhelmingly fortunate to live here.

I meet a friend, a student originally from Iraq. We sit in a cafe discussing the terrorist attack. He says blasts are pretty much normal in Iraq, but he’s surprised when it happens here.

He tells me about some of the foreign fighters who have gone over to join Isis in Iraq; the converts are the most vicious ones, he explains.

The local fighters often join Isis for money. But the foreign recruits, he says, will kill mercilessly and have bought into the vicious ideology of Isis completely.

Friday
Jeremy Corbyn makes a speech that links UK foreign policy to extremism. It seems we can’t win either way: both our action and inaction in
the Middle East are direct causes of terrorist attacks here in the West.

I wonder what foreign policy led to the Taliban massacring children in Pakistan Or the murder of Copts in Egypt. With Corbyn as leader, I am never voting Labour again.

My friend tells me she cried several times when she heard about the attack. On Tuesday she went into a cafe where the people there were slightly cold towards her. She wears a hijab; perhaps they blame all Muslims for all terrorism, and that hurts, she says. I suggest that perhaps they were subdued after the recent incident and were like that in general, rather than just because she is Muslim. I hope so, anyway.

All week we have heard journalists and presenters asking: why did this happen and how can we prevent it? After all this time we are still not having an honest conversation about the role ideology plays in recruiting potential terrorists.

The next attack will see this same debate and the same commentators recycle this debate again. Sometimes I wonder: why do we bother?

 

*NB: Just to elaborate on this point. I do not mean to imply that anyone taught music is haram will go on to kill someone for going to a concert. But I was trying to demonstrate the clash of values there are sometimes with British Muslims. The friend I had a conversation with also said he was taught that in the afterlife anyone who listened to music would have boiling lead poured down their ears. Sometimes people will feel guilty for doing things which are considered trivial but, Islamically, they are told is wrong.

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Written by Iram Ramzan

May 31, 2017 at 7:21 am

Terror across three continents

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If you’re anything like me, you were expecting to have the Friday feeling as soon as you left work. The anticipation of the weekend was unfortunately blighted by the horrific news that terrorists attacked sites in France, Tunisia and Kuwait.

In Tunisia, a gunman opened fire at a beach resort, killing at least 37 people before security forces shot him to death. In France, an attacker stormed the a chemical plant near Lyon, decapitated one person and tried unsuccessfully to blow up the factory. The suspect was identified as Yassine Salhi.

And finally, in Kuwait City, Islamic State claimed responsibility for a suicide bombing in one of the largest Shiite mosques, killing nearly 30 people. The suicide bomber was identified as Khalid Thamer Jaber Al-Shamri, a Saudi citizen born in Kuwait.

My heart goes out to all those people who have lost a loved one in these barbaric attacks.

After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in January, many commentators predicted that it would not be long before we would see another terrorist attack in Europe.

The Institute for the Study of War predicted earlier this year that IS would launch global offensives a year after declaring a caliphate. Unfortunately, they have all been proven correct.

Progress at last

SCOTUS APRIL 2015 LGBTQ 54663

While some people are determined to keep us in the Middle Ages, others are keen for us to progress. Well done to the US Supreme Court for ruling same-sex legal nationwide.

In a landmark decision, the court ruled, 5-4, that the Constitution requires same-sex couples be allowed to marry in all 50 states.

On a day where there were three separate terrorist attacks, this was the light at the end of the tunnel.

Children should not be fasting

Barclay Primary School in Leyton, east London, issued a letter to parents informing them that it would not allow children to fast in order to ‘safeguard the health and education of the child’. In the letter, the headteacher said children would not be able to fast without meeting with him first.

Some Muslim groups were in an uproar, and said schools should support parents instead of ‘blanket enforce’ their own rules when it comes to religion.

I am with the school on this. They are put in a position where they are responsible for the child’s welfare and all heath and safety matters.

Children should not be fasting. True, only healthy adults are required to fast during Ramadan. And I appreciate that  the school felt it had to consult with Islamic scholars in order to win round some Muslim parents. But at the same time, it is not within the remit of a secular school to decide what is or is not Islamic, and I fear this will be heading into dangerous territories.

On the BBC Asian Network (15 minutes in) the father of one 11-year-old was happy that his son was fasting because it’s “a challenge”. I’m not sure about you, but ‘challenge’ is not quite the word I would use to describe a child being deprived of food and water for 19 hours.

The children being interviewed said fasting is difficult, with one feeling guilty because he was unable to for half the month. This comes down to parenting. One teacher, a Mr Ishmael, said the children feel pressured by the parents to fast. Parents should not be encouraging their children to fast. Even if they do not actively encourage them, they will not discourage them, citing ‘choice’ as a reason.

My mum forbade me from fasting when I was in primary school, after I came home one day insisting I had to fast because one friend of mine was doing so. But when I saw my friend being very sick the next day, I decided perhaps it wasn’t for me! Children, naturally, want to copy what adults do and this is no different in Ramadan. When one of my young cousins insisted he was going to fast, my aunty played along and said that of course he could fast – between breakfast and lunch! He was none the wiser and thought he was sharing in the Ramadan experience.

Tahir ul Qadri – an ideological salesman?

Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, of Minhaj-ul-Quran International, is a respected figure in the West. He gained widespread media attention when he issued a 600-page Fatwa on Terrorism, in which he said that “Terrorism is terrorism, violence is violence and it has no place in Islamic teaching and no justification can be provided for it”.

Earlier this week, MQI  announced the launch of the first Islamic ‘counter-terrorism curriculum’ (aka this has nothing to do with Islam), which was welcomed by both the counter-extremism think tank the Quilliam Foundation and Faith Matters.

There’s just one problem. As the ever eloquent Pakistani journalist Kunwar Khuldune Shahid pointed out in Left Foot Forward, Qadri proudly takes ownership of formulating Pakistan’s blasphemy law, which has been abused to intimidate and incite the murder of religious minorities through mob violence.

He goes on to write:

Qadri is renowned for saying whatever sells, whether it’s anti-government fascism through his politics and a bigoted version of Islam back home, or apologism in the garb of Islamic ‘moderation’ in the West.

With Islamist terrorism reverberating all over the world and over 700 British citizens having fled to fight along with ISIS, the need for reform among Muslims around the globe is evident.

However, ideological salesmen who change their ideas to suit the audience’s demands can never be reformists.

If the aim is to counter extremism, why invite the man responsible for one of the most abused laws in the world? Surely that is counter productive?

And if one is to argue that there is a ‘true’ version of Islam, what would stop the extremists from preaching that theirs is the authentic one?

Written by Iram Ramzan

June 26, 2015 at 7:33 pm

Save the Family Home: petition to prevent Manchester-based family from eviction

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Original story was first published on Digital Journal : 08/11/2011

 

Around 30 people gathered outside the Crown Prosecution Service in Manchester on Tuesday to hand in a petition which generated over 10,000 signatures to prevent a family from being evicted from their home in Longsight, Manchester.

The “Save the Family Home” campaign was set up after the Farooqi family of five adults and two children, including an eight month old baby, were told they could be made homeless as a result of the father’s conviction.

The father, Munir Farooqi, was found guilty of terrorism charges, which he is appealing. Greater Manchester Police (GMP) and the CPS want to seize his home in Longsight, Manchester, saying it was used for terrorism. This is the first time that such a move has been attempted under section 23A of the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows forfeiture of property in terrorism cases. If granted, the order would enable the property to be sold and the proceeds placed into the Magistrates’ Court.

Harris Farooqi, who also faced terror charges but was found not guilty, said the signatures were a ‘small drop in the ocean’. “When a person commits no crime, he always wins”, he said after the petition was handed in to the CPS. “It’s been a miscarriage of justice and we will prove that very soon”.

Sarah Ayub, of Muslim Public Affairs Committee (MPACUK), said their aim was to ‘stand up’ for the Farooqi family but made it clear that the petition had nothing to do with Munir Farooqi’s conviction, but was a stand against collective punishment.

GMP believe that Munir Farooqi had had carried out most of his terrorism-related offences at the family home. Fatima Katergi, of south Manchester, said she disagreed with their proposal.

She said: “I think it’s important that we support people from our community. It could be anyone . It’s not about being a Muslim, it’s not a Muslim issue”.

Martin Hopwood of Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! (FRFI) said his organisation had helped with the distribution of petitions around several mosques in Greater Manchester and they had received good responses.

“I’m glad to have done my fair share”, he said. “I think it’s a great tragedy, first of all, and I think it’s a crime against humanity”.

Rhetta Moran, from RAPAR (Refugee and Asylum Seeker Participatory Action Research), a Manchester-based human rights organisation, said that if the court decided to seize the home, it could set a precedent.

It now remains for a court to decide whether to allow the property to be seized.The case is expected to be heard in March next year, so the family will not know its fate until then.

Another meeting is expected to be held this Friday with the Counter Terrorism Unit in Longsight, Greater Manchester.

 

Written by Iram Ramzan

November 8, 2011 at 11:25 pm

September 11th 2011: what effect(s) have changes in policy had on everyday people?

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“It was curious to think that the sky was the same for everybody, in Eurasia or Eastasia as well as here. And the people under the sky were also very much the same–everywhere, all over the world, hundreds or thousands of millions of people just like this, people ignorant of one another’s existence, held apart by walls of hatred and lies, and yet almost exactly the same.”

George Orwell, 1984

 

Less than a month after the attacks on September 11th 2001, British and American forces invaded Afghanistan with the stated goal of dismantling the Al Qaeda terrorist organisation and ending its use of Afghanistan as a base. The United States also said that it would remove the Taliban regime from power and create a viable democratic state. These people, we were told, were against our way of life and would stop at nothing to kill us all.

The majority of the American people were in favour of this war – revenge was necessary. The ones that paid the price were the innocent Afghan civilians who probably did not even know what happened on September 11th, never mind know who the perpetrators were. And then there were the attacks in London on July 7th 2005, which convinced even the British people that they were no safer than the Americans.

In an address to the Society of Editors in 2007, the Director General of the Security Service, Jonathan Evans, insisted that the root of the problem was ‘ideological’. “It does not accept the legitimacy of other viewpoints,” he said of Al Qaeda. “It is intolerant, and it believes in a form of government which is explicitly anti-democratic.”

This type of fear mongering, ‘us’ vs. ‘them’, has been prevalent and consistent since 2001. Our governments re iterate this message that there are terrorists out there who want to kill us (and to be fair some do), hence all these wars we are fighting, and it does nothing to allay peoples fears when even the media jumps on the bandwagon, running headlines of radicals demanding Sharia in Britain.

 

 

It is the same in America: remember the ‘Ground-Zero Mosque’ debacle? Never mind that the proposed building was neither a mosque nor was it near ‘Ground Zero’, it sparked outrage because it was the architectural equivalent of sticking two fingers up to the families whose loved-ones died on September 11th.  Never mind also that at least 300 Muslims died that day.

The more worrying aspect of the rising Islamophobia is that it does not just exist amongst the Far-Right, but even within the mainstream politics and commentaries. Journalist Peter Oborne concluded that in today’s climate the media say things about Islam and Muslims they would never say about other groups. When he replaced the word’ ‘Muslim’ in some recent headlines with ‘Jews’, ‘Blacks’ and ‘Gays’ and showed them to members of the public, they found those headlines deeply offensive. When the killer behind the Norway atrocities, Anders Behring Breivik, claimed Europe was becoming ‘Islamised’, though many condemned his actions they believe he had a point. Imagine if someone was to say the same about the September 11th hijackers?

Even President Obama himself was not exempt from heightened suspicions. In 2008, he was directly confronted on prime time television over ‘allegations’ swirling around the internet that he is a secret Muslim who worships the Qur’an. Perhaps this is because his middle name is Hussein, which automatically makes him Muslim. By that logic I must be Belgian, since I ate a waffle once upon a time.

It is both sad and slightly bemusing that being a Muslim is an accusation, a crime even. Anyone who even ‘looks Muslim’ is now targeted. Since 2001, the Sikh community in Britain have been victims of racial and religious-motivated attacks, with people shouting “Bin Laden” at Sikh men because of their turbans and beards.

While many (reluctantly) admit not all Muslims are terrorists, ‘all terrorists are Muslims’, apparently, despite the fact that only 6% of terrorist attacks in the US were committed by Islamic extremists. As John Gray rightly points out, far more people in Britain have been killed and injured by offshoots of the IRA than by Islamist groups.

What is quite disturbing is how some people are willing to relinquish some of their civil liberties, e.g. the US Patriot Act and airport scanners, for the ‘greater good’. One woman in New York told Al Jazeera: “I do [feel safer]. I travel a lot, so … people have a problem with the airport body scans and everything, but I embrace it. Anything that makes our country safer, I’m all for it.” But as Benjamin Franklin once said, those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.

Ten years later, people on the whole are still worried. The reasons for this are the media and our governments alike. How can we forget about those atrocities when our governments remind us everyday to be constantly vigilant, and every year the media is in frenzy in the run-up to the anniversary of September 11th? This year alone, the articles and specialist programmes started in late July at least two months before the actual anniversary. This week’s Question Time on the BBC was dedicated to analysing and remembering what happened ten years ago.

But for all these discussions, for all these programmes and articles, there remains the usual narrative: ‘us’ vs. ‘them’. Sill, ten years down the line, Muslims in the West have to convince everyone that they can be loyal citizens. There is fear directed at both sides, at Muslims and Non-Muslims. Though it is important to remember those that died on September 11th and July 7th, many more have died in the ‘War on Terror’ since, and commemorating these anniversaries every year with the usual analyses is not going to help anyone. To quote Mona Eltahawy: “Let’s draw the curtain on 9/11 anniversaries after this 10th one.”

Written by Iram Ramzan

September 9, 2011 at 8:50 pm

Posted in Europe, islam, middle east, UK, USA

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