Our cities, our entitlement

I’m not done with the Cologne thing, not by a long stretch.

Cities are great concentrations of opportunity, which is why people gravitate towards them. This includes people for whom opportunity means access to victims. Thieves, pimps, drug dealers and swindlers of every stripe are to be found in cities. Some cities are plagued by them, in others you barely know they’re there. Either way, our parents teach us to be streetwise and we pretty soon learn which parts of our cities to avoid, if we are not to end up as someone else’s opportunity. We understand the unwritten rules of our cities and when we break those rules, we do so either by accident or by taking a calculated risk. This reality applies to all inhabitants of a city.

It applies more so to women than to men, more so to children than to adults, more so to strangers than to locals, more so to the disabled than to the able-bodied. We acknowledge this through our efforts at removing these discrepancies. For the past quarter-century, especially in Western cities, words such as safety, accessibility, inclusion, liveability, enjoyment, fulfilment, etc., have been prominent in urban policies. University courses in urban design, urban planning and urban management teach the professional how to minimise danger, hazard and unpleasantness in our cities. Parks offer safe disposal of dog foul, used condoms and hypodermic needles, streets and squares are equipped with good lighting and surveillance, surfaces are made less hazardous for everyone, and signage more universally intelligible. In short, we’ve come a long way towards our cities being there for all its inhabitants to safely enjoy, as they are entitled.

Enter large numbers of people intent on wrecking that entitlement. There is the passive wrecking of women confined to their homes and hence never partaking of the city, and communities that isolate themselves from the wider urban life. Then there is the active wrecking of expecting gender segregation in public places, of disrupting the normal use of public footways by spreading out prayer mats and indulging in ostentatious displays of piety, of gangs of vigilante thugs harassing whomever displays a morality they disapprove of, and lately, of course, the significant ratcheting up of this aggressive wrecking by the orchestrated targeting of women for sexual assault.

When it is announced that a serial killer is on the loose, there’s been a jail break or a riot has broken out, it comes as a shock and the city can suddenly become a very threatening place. When the threat targets people meeting a particular description, it is worse because the targets do not know the extent of support they might receive from the wider population. This could range from their being blamed, or being advised to modify their behaviour, to the perpetrators being called out, isolated and confronted, the victims protected and empowered, and the general social awareness being raised. Whichever way, people are galvanised into action.

When the threat takes the form of a creeping malaise, later concerted responses may be systematically undermined by an accumulation of reasonable accommodations: quietly walking around the man prostrating himself and blocking the footpath; acceding to gender segregation at meetings; acceding to separate legal systems; acceding to gender-segregated sports facilities; avoiding more areas of our cities than we normally would; allowing people to enter shops, banks and public buildings in full facial disguise, etc. By the time of the co-ordinated sexual assaults in several European cities last New Year’s Eve, what should have been a galvanised public response had been muted, and what should have been a concerted response from the authorities had been paralysed.

The obviously-recognisable groups of North African and Middle Eastern men who perpetrated these acts were repeating the obviously-recognisable modus operandi seen previously in Tunis and Cairo, cities to which, for centuries, women had no entitlement, given that they are cities in the Muslim world in which Muslim norms and practices had held sway. As is also obvious from these two cities (and Tehran, and Riyadh, and other places), there is a growing social awareness of the basic injustice of Muslim attitudes to public space, and an increasing confidence in women claiming their entitlement to their cities. The mediaeval men who would have it otherwise are fighting back in their home cities with orchestrated mass sexual assaults acting on a value system that shames the victims of such assaults, rather than the perpetrators. With that value system as a baseline, add to it the general Muslim perception of Western, especially white, women as morally degenerate, plus the party atmosphere of New Year’s Eve, and taharrush comes to Europe.

It cannot be discounted that the co-ordinated mass sexual assaults on women in so many cities on one night is the work of one or more of the jihadist movements. More doubtful, though, is that participation in it was all religiously-inspired. Given the mediaeval gender relations expectations of these men and their profound lack of inter-gender experience, Western conditions of gender equality and female freedom constitute a never-ending sexual provocation. Yes, it was about a wider effort to drive women out of public spaces, but it was also an irresistible opportunity to get some white pussy. There is the wider battle of defending our rights and freedoms against a concerted onslaught that this time round started with the Muslim Brotherhood, but there is also the giving effect to those rights and freedoms, such as the enjoyment of our cities by all its inhabitants, that has been under steady assault. It requires a response at both levels.

Not the Shroud of Turin, but…

There is much to celebrate in the recent discovery of a very early Qur’anic manuscript in the University of Birmingham Library. Certainly, this is a major find and our excitement is well justified. It’s perhaps just as human for that excitement to run over into wild speculation and romanticisation. Professor David Thomas’s assertion that “some of the passages of the Koran were written down on parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels – and a final version, collected in book form, was completed in about 650,” is an example. Reality, however, tends to get a little off-message sometimes, and I think there may be some “Shroud of Turin” effect in evidence here. By that I mean an overwhelming desire to see some kind of validation of Islam and the Qur’an in this discovery. This is a significant addition to our knowledge and understanding of early Islam and the Qur’an. Let’s keep religion out of this. We’ve seen what it did with the Shroud of Turin.

The three big factors affecting Arabic writing at the time of the Qur’anic “revelations” were: (i) the inadequacy of the written language to such a complex task; (ii) the minuscule literate population; and (iii) the prevailing widespread and deep mistrust of writing. When people like Lesley Hazleton claim to have gone back to “the original seventh century text”, and David Thomas gets all gushy at the image of bedouins under palm trees all hastily committing verbatim revelations to record on whatever comes to hand, they are projecting the very high value that we as a culture ascribe to the written word over the spoken, onto a culture that held these values exactly in reverse.

What was important to them was not that the “revelations” be written down, but that they be remembered. Therein lay confidence of continued fidelity, not in written texts. So the “parchment, stone, palm leaves and the shoulder blades of camels” of Thomas’s fancy were far more likely to have been notes jotted down as aides-memoire, than fully-documented surahs. It must be appreciated that the early Muslims saw no need to write down the Qur’an and even when the scribes were dying in war faster than new ones could be trained, they still saw no particular urgency to do so. Uthman had to make a case for turning the Qur’an into a book in the first place, and only then could he get onto the matter of canonisation. Yes, it is true that the Prophet had scribes, and that the post-Hijra surahs tended to be written down, but this was still within a general context of the remembered word counting for much more than the written one. This makes today’s Muslim romantics and apologists keener to find a codex beside Muhammad’s bed than Muhammad was himself.

For the early evolutionary stages of the Arabic script, one of my preferred sources is Beatrice Gruendler (The Development of the Arabic Scripts, Gruendler, B., 1993, Harvard Semitic Studies 43, Scholars Press, Atlanta). There is also a well-researched and interesting (if somewhat self-effacing) blog An Amateur at Best, run by I assume an Indian or Pakistani blogger that looks at the evolution of the Arabic script as well: http://historyview.blogspot.hk/2013/01/brief-guide-to-development-of-arabic.html There are one or two Arabic typos in here and I don’t necessarily agree with all his speculations. But it is so well-written that I’m reproducing part of it here, interspersed with my own comments.

Revelation Era

…we come to the era of the Quranic revelations (610-632AD). By this time the Arabic script had been modified a lot more from the semi-Nabataen form and had come much closer to its final form. The initial Meccan utterances in the Quraishi dialect of Arabic by Prophet Muhammad were shorter and quickly committed to memory by the small but fast expanding group of Muslims. However by the time the Prophet emigrated to Medina the revealed verses became much longer as did the size of the Muslim community. Now secretaries started recording these longer Arabic verses on whatever medium was ready at hand at the moment of revelation, be it animal hide, parchment, rocks, leaves or bones etc. These written records were created purely as memory aids and not as written scripture. According to Kees Versteegh, this shift from a purely oral Meccan record of the divine words to a partially written Medinan record is attested to in the Quran itself, through the shift in the usage of the word Quran (recite this), referring to the sacred revelations in the earlier verses, to the word Kitaab (book), referring to the sacred revelations in the later verses. However the key thing to remember here is that despite the growing importance of a written record, for the Quranic verses …these written records were still secondary to the primary method of preserving something, which was to memorize it (except in the case of commercial transactions and war treaties). This tradition of oral recitation and transmission is quite well entrenched in most Semitic cultures and religions so much so that to this day those who commit the Quran to memory are bestowed the title of “Haafiz” which means the preserver/protector, one who preserves the sacred text in his/her heart. Hence even till the a few years after the death of Prophet Muhammad (632AD) the written records were considered secondary as there were thousands of “reciters” who knew the Quran by heart and had learnt it from the Prophet’s own mouth.

Although the scripts used in the 5th-8th Centuries were very different from the one given below, this table gives an idea of what the shapes of the different Arabic letters were at this time, which sounds they represented and how common shapes were used for very different sounds. One can see that there are no dots, diacritical marks, above any of the letters.

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 15.37.04

As noted in the table given above:

  1. The sounds b/t/th were represented by the same symbol.
  2. The sounds j/H/kh were represented by the same symbol.
  3. The sounds d/dh were represented by the same symbol.
  4. The sounds s/sh were represented by the same symbol.
  5. The sounds ṣ / ḓ were represented by the same symbol.
  6. The sounds ṭ / ẓ were represented by the same symbol.
  7. The sounds r/z were represented by the same symbol.
  8. The sounds `/gh were represented by the same symbol.


Early Caliphate Era – The Rashidun

In less than 15 years of the death of the Prophet certain developments compelled his successors, the Caliphs, to make changes in the written Quran and the Arabic script [my emph.] First, many of the reciters died in battles against the apostates, the Romans and the Persians. A famous, oft quoted, example is of the half a thousand reciters who died at the Battle of Yamama in 632AD; an event which so perturbed the pious Uthman that he convinced the first Caliph, Abu Bakr, to overcome “the loss of much of the Quran” by having it compiled into a book. Second, the increasing number of non-Arab converts to Islam, who were new to the Arabic language and sounds, often incorrectly recited the Quranic verses. Finally, many of the Muslims started to disagree amongst each other on the pronunciation and meaning of some words as the Prophet had clearly declared that there were seven different, perfectly equal, readings of the Quran, based upon the different urban and Bedouin dialects of Arabic in his time. When Uthman became the third Caliph (644-652AD) he decided to bring an end to the worry of “forgetting the Quran” and also to the conflicts caused by the variant readings by undertaking a codification of the Quran. He collected all the written sheets of Quran from the Prophet’s time, had them collated them into one definitive edition and then returned the sheets to Hafsa, the widow of the Prophet from whom he had taken them in the first place. For some reasons there are no extant samples of the original written records of the Quranic revelations made by the secretaries of Prophet Muhammad. This “final” version was sent to every province of the geometrically expanding Islamic empire as the authorized Quran and all non-compliant written variants were destroyed by state officials. Some variants were concealed but ultimately lost to the hands of man or of time. [Some argue that Uthman ordered them destroyed. I find this highly plausible as I disagree that Uthman codified the Qur’an purely out of piety. I think it more likely that he saw a political necessity for a unifying focus for his increasingly diverse and unwieldy empire, not unlike Constantine’s consolidation of Christianity to arrest the further decay of the Roman Empire.]


Umayyad and Very Early Abbasid Caliphate Eras [mid-8th century]

However, soon two characteristics, which the Arabic script had inherited from Nabataean and had not caused any problems before now, returned to haunt the Arabic script’s efficacy in a vast and diverse empire. Quranic orthography still employed 22 symbols to depict its 28 consonant sounds and it still did not depict vowels in writing. This negated any real codification and unification efforts that the Caliph Umar [sic] had hoped to achieve with his authoritative final version of the Quran.

1.The first characteristic of using 22 symbols to depict 28 sounds caused a problem in identifying the correct letters. …Without diacritical points to identify which of the phonemes (sounds) is being referred to, only reference to context or external guidance can help shed some light on the correct word which is implied by the author of the text.

The problems caused by misreading of Bs for Ts and Rs for Zs and so forth had reached an inflection point and something had to be done to correct the situation. [Let’s not forget that this is a book that calls for the wholesale killing of people, and yet no-one can be sure of exactly what it’s meant to say.] …As of now, the oldest usage of …diacritical points has been found on a papyrus called Perf No. 558, a bilingual (Greek and Arabic) advance tax receipt that dates itself to 643 AD. The Arabic text in this tax receipt has some letters dotted and others undotted and the dots appear to have been used in a very matter of fact way. Although Perf No. 558 has not been studied extensively, it is clear that at least 20 years after the Hejira of the Prophet, if not earlier, non-religious Arabic texts occasionally employed diacritical points to eliminate faulty reading of the text. …Source http://www.islamic-awareness.org/History/Islam/Papyri/PERF558.html

Based on the evidence of Perf No. 558, it can be stated that the Arabic script did have diacritical points used as a tool to proper understanding of the text. The Arabic letters with the diacritical points to differentiate them from each other would have looked almost exactly like the ones used today, as shown in the table given below [double dots tended to be aligned vertically at first]. The dots help, …however, mere availability is not the same as active [or standardised] usage and we know for a fact that the Arabic Qurans did not employ the diacritical points, perhaps largely to avoid any inadvertent desecration of the base text. [I would add to this that these changes were also both unevenly and inconsistently taken up, as might be expected. So, the presence or absence of dots is at best only a broad indicator of date.The final Arabic alphabet looks like this (if you don’t count Hamza as a letter; in madrassa, I learned hamza as another letter).]

Screen Shot 2016-04-24 at 11.33.15

Compare this to the first table, above, that gives the same number of sounds, but with fewer letters.

2.The second characteristic of the Arabic script of not marking vowels also caused confusions, especially between verb forms which often have the same shape and letters but different short vowels and sometimes between plurals and verb forms.

This vowel problem was initially overcome by the pioneer grammarian Abul Aswad Ad-Duali (d.688AD) at the behest of the Umayyad Caliph Abdul Malik (d.705AD), who was also instrumental in switching the administrative language of the entire Arabian empire from a patchwork of Greek, Aramaic and Pahlavi [(Middle Persian)] over to Arabic. …The solution proposed by the grammarian Abul Aswad [was]: place dots around each letter to indicate short vowel sounds for that letter. Abul Aswad is also credited with inventing the symbols for the Hamza and the Khafeef vowels and the Shadda. Before, the Khafeef (absence of any vowel) and the Shadda (doubling of a consonant) were not depicted at all, hence the Khafeef and the Shadda too had to be inferred from the context of the base text. This system of Abul Aswad was further refined by the 8th Century grammarian and author of the first Arabic dictionary, Al Khalil ibn Ahmed Faraaheedi (d.791AD), who replaced the dots with smaller versions of the corresponding long vowel sounds. This has been illustrated in the table below. [I include this table to show the final additions to the Arabic script in the late eighth century. Now Arabic was ready for the Qur’an, which, as we have suggested, doesn’t mean that the Qur’an was ready for Arabic.]

Screen Shot 2016-04-23 at 13.22.33

Now compare the script of the Birmingham Qur’an fragment to its eventual Qur’anic descendent.

Birmingham Qur'an2

  1. Ta with dots (in vertical alignment)
  2. Ta without dots
  3. A missing word ya, as in ‘O’? Or is the letter before mim in Musa a dotless letter ya indicating what later became the word ya?
  4. A six-letter word lacking ten diacritics and vowels.


Middle Abbasid Caliphate Era onwards

These two changes [dots and vowels] were not accepted immediately by the religious members of the Muslim community largely as a result of fear of innovating the received text of the Quran. …It took close to 250-300 years after the revelation of the Quran for the vowel markers and diacritical points to become a common place feature in Qurans. [In my earlier 200-year estimate, I had failed to take account of religious inertia. The “seventh-century original” that Lesley Hazleton boasts about dates from around the year 800CE.]


When I say that I do not reject the early dating of the Birmingham Qur’an, I have in mind that I have no reason to doubt the dating of the parchment. They have not, however, dated the writing. Surahs 18, 19 and 20 are Meccan surahs (Chronologically either 69, 44 and 45, or 69, 58 and 55, depending on the source) and the “revelations” started in 610, twelve years before the Hijra, by which time about 90 surahs were extant (depending on how you count). So let’s give ourselves a bit of licence and assume surahs 18, 19 and 20 date from around 613. That narrows the Birmingham manuscript’s writing down to after 613. Let us compare the Birmingham Qur’an fragment to Perf no. 558, a legal record that has been dated to 643CE. The latter looks like this:


Source: Gruendler, p157.

The Birmingham Qur’an fragment, in turn, looks like this:


Source: http://www.bbc.com/news/business-33436021

The writing of Perf no. 558, as we can see, is far more ‘crude’ than that of the Birmingham Qur’an, suggesting that the latter had been written by an experienced scribe, i.e., post-622CE, when surahs become longer and writing them down started to be taken more seriously. Since these are Meccan surahs, there’d have been little reason to write them down as neatly and fully as on the Birmingham document, if indeed at all, after the Hijra in 622CE, as all Meccan surahs will already have been safely committed to memory. This suggests that the fragment was written during or after Uthman’s canonisation campaign (653-656CE). The obvious lack of diacritics and vowels (apparently fewer than in Perf no. 558) may be down to religious reluctance to interfere with something sacred on the one hand, and the greater readiness of secular scribes to make writing more efficient, on the other. It does not suggest that the Birmingham Qur’an predates Perf no. 558.

Prof. Thomas says that “the parts of the Koran that are written on this parchment can, with a degree of confidence, be dated to less than two decades after Muhammad’s death [in 632CE] …These portions must have been in a form that is very close to the form of the Koran read today, supporting the view that the text has undergone little or no alteration and that it can be dated to a point very close to the time it was believed to be revealed,” (my emph.) These are Meccan surahs, i.e., pre-622CE. Contrast this confidence with the caution of my preferred guide to these matters, Gruendler, who, in the Introduction to her research, informs us: “Qur’an fragments on papyrus and parchment have been excluded from the chronological charts as they can only be dated on paleographic grounds, and their dates of origin have been a bone of contention, involving many disciplines beyond palaeography,” (Gruendler, p5).

I’d really like to undertake a serious study of Arabic paleography, but in the meantime, I’ll just grant myself a little informed layperson’s indulgence. My penny’s worth is that, while I do not dispute the dating of the parchment, I’d say the Birmingham Qur’an fragment was written circa 700CE, rather than, “The person who wrote it may well have known the Prophet Muhammad,” as Thomas fancies. The elephant in the room, of course, is that if the meaning of the Qur’an can be argued over at so many different points in every single sentence, who decided which one of those innumerable meanings Allah had spoken to Muhammad, and why did they decide what they decided? One thing I’d really love to see is a pre-Uthmanic version of surah 2. I’d bet it does not contain the verse, “This is the book about which there is no doubt.” So, given three centuries of written chaos, when the British Library’s expert on such manuscripts, Dr Muhammad Isa Waley, says that Muslims would “rejoice,” they may want to do so quietly, because isn’t the Qur’an the immutable word of God passed down through Muhammad to us unaltered even by one letter?

How many more have to die?

The WSJ reports today:

Islamic State claimed responsibility for the killing of Prof. Siddique through its news agency, Amaq, said the SITE intelligence group, which monitors the activity of extremist groups. Islamic State said in a statement that its fighters had killed the professor because he was “calling to atheism,” SITE said.

How many more have to die before we face up to the Qur’an? Yes, the Qur’an! Why do we insist on calling them “radicals”, “extremists” or “fundamentalists,” when they are just people doing what the Qur’an commands of them. It is ludicrous to accuse them of “vacuous reading”, or “wrong interpretation” or “twisting the Qur’an” when they are simply doing as their scripture instructs. If there is supposedly nothing wrong with the Qur’an, then why are they having to take the blame for simply obeying their God? Yes, of course they are brutal murderers, but they are, in the first instance, practitioners of a religion that commands them to commit murder. We insist that everyone is free to practise their religion. Well, in that case, can we really complain when that is exactly what they do? When will we face up to the fact that there is something seriously amiss with Islam specifically. When will we cut the head off the snake?

BTW, don’t bother accusing me of “Islamophobia.” On me it’s effect won’t match that of seeing people butchered to death. Don’t bother telling me of all the smiting in the Bible. The Bible has been faced up to. It has been neutralised by the rule of law, by human rights, by equality and mutual respect. It was not a matter for debate or discussion. The Bible was subjugated by force. Islamic reformers will have us believe that a Qur’an whose adherents are on a world-wide murder spree will be brought to heel by debate in television talk shows. In the meantime, the murder goes on… and on… and on… Why should it not? No one will touch the Qur’an.

“Safe countries for women” is now a campaign #safeCFwomen

Safe Countries For Women is now a campaign #safeCFwomen. I’ve never tried to launch a global campaign and I hope that you will help me with this one: with your practical advice, by spreading the word (always using #safeCFwomen) and by sharing your thoughts and insights in response to posts here. I am hoping that Safe Countries For Women will become an international ethical standard by which any country that considers itself safe for women and girls will take the following steps:

  1. Publicly declare themselves a Safe Country For Women
  2. Recognise that there are unsafe countries for women
  3. Grant presumptive acceptance to any woman or girl from an unsafe country who presents themselves for asylum
  4. Assist the passage of such woman or girl to the safe country
  5. Assist the settlement of such woman or girl in the safe country

Each year plenty of lists are published of the worst countries in the world to be female. These lists horrify any decent human being, as they should. These lists need teeth. There needs to be a recognised List of Countries Designated Unsafe For Women, that has both moral weight and practical significance. If a country is included in the List of Countries Designated Unsafe For Women, then it is incumbent on every country that has declared itself a Safe Country For Women to presumptively grant asylum to any woman or girl from such an unsafe country who asks for it, and to assist their safe passage to that safe country.

Certainly, this is ultimately a matter for international law, but that does not stop us in the meantime from examining this question and putting it on the global agenda. So, which countries must be included on a List of Countries Designated Unsafe For Women? If it were up to me, such a list would automatically include:

  • All countries practising Shari’a
  • All countries practising FGM
  • All countries that, through their action or inaction, assist sex trafficking

Which countries would be on your list?

I am well aware that there is much in what I’ve said here that is naïve, but I am saying it nevertheless, both because the substance is sound, and because there are enough people out there who will want to help this campaign grow robust.

What next? Please share your thoughts.

Safe countries for women

Political asylum is, quite rightly, a big deal involving international law. The mere mention of the term gets people’s serious attention. We recognise the threat to life and limb for those facing political persecution. Even if systems for providing safety to the politically persecuted are often circumvented, ignored or tardily and imperfectly implemented, those systems exist and are recognised to exist. The political asylum seeker has a claim on our humanity and on our ethics.

It’s a different matter with social asylum. Social asylum doesn’t command quite the same respect, regard, awe or clout. That’s the category covering women who will die from social persecution unless they can get to a safe country. The daily threat to life and limb faced by women living under Shari’a (plus a few other social systems besides) make them no less imperilled than those facing political persecution. Yet women in Kabul or Riyadh or Tehran or so many other capitals cannot walk into a safe country’s embassy or consulate to seek asylum from social persecution. Why is that? I am entirely with Ghada Jamshir (video) in wanting this glaring injustice addressed. Safe countries for women should be an integral part of the UN aspirations, and safe passage for women out of Shari’a jurisdictions an integral part of the Geneva Conventions. If a country or region is unsafe for women, such as all countries practising Shari’a (plus a few more besides), then women and girls from such countries should be presumed welcome in countries where they’ll be safe. If there is systematic war on women or systematic rape of women or systematic enslavement of women or systematic oppression of women, in other words, where their lives and persons are in daily peril, then anything from assisted passage to airlifting should be undertaken for any woman or girl who wants to leave.

Yes, I’m calling for something idealistic to be done on a global scale. But that doesn’t mean we cannot already channel support to the struggling grassroots infrastructure of safe-houses that, with their pathetic resources, are doing all they can to provide whatever relief they can, often ending with the victims forced to return to life-threatening households by the sheer dearth of options.

When will we recognise that we’re talking about more than half the populations of such countries here?  This will save lives, and it might just start making the Shari’a no longer seem like quite such a great idea.

Lest I be accused of picking on Muslims

I’m preparing to write about that thing they call ‘Islamophobia’, but before I do that, I want to put this out there. It is a Christian report (Christian cyberspace seems to be getting off on this) celebrating the cancellation of simultaneous installations of life-size replicas of the Arch of the Temple of Baal in New York and London. The opening line of the report reads:

The Temple of Baal is not coming to Times Square in New York City next month. This is great news, and it represents an incredible victory for Christians in the United States.

Let’s leave aside that the Temple of Baal was never coming to New York; only the arch was (we know what happens to facts when they pass through a religious mind). Later in the article, it does narrow it down to the actual arch. The article ends by attributing this “victory” to “the power of prayer,” but the whole piece is so amateurish as to be laughable. They should’ve consulted that master of religious propaganda, Prof. Tariq Ramadan, who could’ve made the whole thing look almost forensic.

The author, Michael Snyder, is not entirely ham-fisted, though. Still apparently labouring under the misapprehension that the original arch has been destroyed (the UN later showed that it had survived), Snyder has enough savvy to not actually celebrate ISIS’s destruction of our cultural heritage. Instead, the article says nothing about that at all. It is obvious, though, that they wouldn’t be overly inconvenienced if the entire Temple of Baal complex were reduced to rubble: “let us celebrate this victory over the Temple of Baal.”

Worship of Baal has long passed, but not to these Christians, who see it’s manifestations in abortion, pornography and God knows what else. So yes, worship of Baal, and therefore Baal himself, are very much alive today and any edifice to his glory is best, …well, …not replicated. This is something for which not only ISIS, but also the Taliban, can serve as sources of comfort. After the latter had destroyed the Buddhas of Bamiyan in 2001, mullah Muhammad Omar declared, “Muslims should be proud of smashing idols. It has given praise to Allah that we have destroyed them.” Don’t worry mullah, your Christian brother is on the same page:

let us not underestimate the prayers of God’s people. Once this story went viral, Christians all over America started praying against this arch. From personal experience, I know that the prayers of righteous men and women are extremely powerful, and we may never know how much of an impact they had on this situation.

They are, after all, People of the Book.

Joining the dots…

What I especially appreciate about the Charlie Hebdo editorial How did we end up here? (of which more here — thanks, Arun) is how it draws attention to the many and mounting little changes and oddities that lie just on the borderline between sinister and innocuous, and how these amount to the equivalent of a bomb smuggled through airport security innocent bit by innocent bit to be assembled later. It moves me to share something that’s been bugging me for some time now.

I’ve been trying to make sense of Nawaz’s “counter-extremism” foundations Quilliam in the UK and Khudi in Pakistan (the latter of which he has since resigned from), until it occurred to me that the “extremism” that these foundations oppose is not the violent Islam we all suppose, but atheism. Their purpose is to deflect questioning away from Islam and the Qur’an thereby better to insulate these, and to channel such questioning/anger/disillusionment into secular, democratic values (who can argue with that?) so that atheism, the real threat to Islam, is kept beyond arm’s reach. While Quilliam ostensibly criticises ISIS and jihadism, it strikes me as effectively a railway switch designed to shunt dissatisfaction with Islam down a harmless (for Islam) track. Similarly, I find it hard to believe that Khudi, an organisation of wealthy Pakistanis, mostly recent graduates from Western universities, can have any impact at all on the brutal, state-supported Pakistani Taliban and its illiterate, tribal constituency. I suspect that the setting up of Khudi might have more to do with the growing atheist bloggers amongst the urban youth in that country (for example, kkshahid), especially as Nawaz is so keen to portray people in the Muslim world as not ready for atheism.

Then I listen to Tariq Ramadan respond to a challenge to his refusal to condemn the Shari’a practise of stoning women to death. In answer to Christiane Amanpour’s clear, direct question, “Should you not condemn out of hand stoning of women for whatever reason?” it takes this Muslim Brotherhood slime bag exactly one minute to neuter condemning the stoning of women into disagreeing with the implementability of capital punishment. He goes from “stoning” (no mention of women) to “penal code” (abstracting) to “death penalty and corporal punishment” (out goes stoning) to “these are not implementable” (and already we are down to the practicality of implementation, rather than the ethics of the act) to “to condemn (while) sitting in Paris is not going to change anything” (claiming pragmatism and superiority) to “while France or the United States of America are dealing with these petro-monarchies and …governments implementing them” (playing the imperialist card) to “I’m against implementing them” (claiming progressive credentials) to “asking the scholars” (deferring) to “what do the texts say? what are the conditions? And in which context?” (it isn’t clear why an Oxford professor cannot read the texts for himself, but instead has to consult the so-called “scholars” — actually, he knows all the answers already) to “in the name of Islam” (pious invocation) to “we have to stop” (action man) to “come to a moratorium on this” (feigning revulsion) to “have a discussion” (claiming reasonableness — even Nicolas Sarkozy was appalled!) to “exactly like Amnesty International” (invoking impeccable authority) to “when it comes to death penalty, it (AI) is saying, ‘let us first go for a moratorium'” to “stop it right now” to “have a discussion.” Now what reasonable person could possibly oppose anyone who says exactly what Amnesty International says? I’d bet you never realised that Amnesty International supports stoning women to death. Thankfully, this extremely dangerous man is fooling fewer and fewer people, but his operation is as focussed on deflecting criticism from Islam as is that of Nawaz.

Anjem Choudary is a vile British ISIS preacher who thrives on spouting Shari’a. In this BBC interview he faces off with Maajid Nawaz. Am I the only one who finds this slanging match less than convincing? For me it raised a whole raft of questions about Ramadan, Nawaz and Choudary. Has anyone else been thinking along these lines?

Muslims worship Muhammad

Yes. They. Do.

Fifty years ago you could still find Muslims referred to in the West as Muhammadans, a term eventually rejected as doubly offensive because it implies that Muslims worship the prophet Muhammad, which would, firstly, be a violation of the shahadah, “There is no God but God and Muhammad is his messenger,” (the first of the five pillars of Islam) and secondly, make Muslims the same as Christians (a vomit-inducing notion).

Muslims claim they love Muhammad more than they love their own flesh and blood. The great tragedy is that this claim is true. Even a hypothetical speculation about the vaguest hint of a possible suggestion of the slightest slur causes deep anguish and pain, of which this is a good example (thanks Allan), but murdering your own daughter? No problem. Beheading your own wife? A relief. Do they love their daughters? Do they love their wives? Of course they do.

Yes, Muslims say they love Muhammad. They love Muhammad so much they cannot utter his name without immediately wishing peace upon him. I’ll repeat that: they cannot utter his name without immediately wishing peace upon him. By that I do not mean may not, as in not allowed to, but cannot bring themselves to. Not that they’d ever want to. This isn’t something they struggle with or find a cumbersome drag on the flow of speech (some, like Nakir Zaik, say it so fast that they hardly break cadence). No, it is an expression of a love so deep (-ly ingrained) that the body physically cannot name their prophet, without appending “peace be upon him.” Of course this is also an expression of respect, with equivalences for other prophets, like Jesus, and other revered persons, like Mary. But in these cases, these suffixes (and prefixes) of respect tend to be uttered only by the particularly pious. However, right from their very earliest days, Muslims never hear Muhammad’s name spoken without that suffix. Think of the baby zebra that, for the first few days of its life, must see only its mother’s stripes so they are firmly burnt into its brain — a kind of madrassa of the savannah.

This is much more than just love. Muslims will tell you that Allah is perfect and that Muhammad was the most perfect human being, the next most perfect thing to Allah. Muslims don’t say that they love Allah, though (except if they’re Irshad Manji), for Allah demands no love; he demands obedience. To love God is to imply reciprocity, which comes perilously close to implying equality (Irshad may wish to reconsider the wording of that declaration). Muslims who obey Allah go forth and slay his enemies not out of love, but in obedience to his commands. God is routinely insulted all over the world, but when was the last time a Muslim gang turned up armed with AK-47s to massacre the entire editorial staff of a magazine for insulting God?

No, sir. Muslims. Worship. Muhammad.


This post started out as a piece juxtaposing two YouTube videos that were published last month within a week of each other:

Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz interviewed on Australian television

and Mimi Geerges interviewing Wafa Sultan on radio.

I wanted to show how the slickness of Nawaz and the naïveté of Harris are key obstacles in the way of our developing a realistic perspective on and appropriate response to Islam, while we are sleepwalking into a nightmare. I could not have expressed my frustration better than Wafa Sultan has. In the end, I decided not to write the post, or at least, not yet. Instead, I’ll just leave you with the videos and join in the discussion as it unfolds.