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The Insane, Power Hungry Arab dictators & America

The Libyan leader, Muammar Gaddafi, talked to Libyan state TV today, blaming the recent uprisings in his country on Al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s former President, also blamed the Egyptian revolution on foreign forces. What has made these leaders become so detached from reality? Couldn’t have the protests have arisen because of the decades of repression and dictatorships? It is these sort of pugnacious, arrogant, egotistical gangsters who have ruled the Arab world for too long. But why have they been allowed to stay in power all this time?

According to Psychology today magazine, there are two types of power. There is socialised power and individualised power. The first type, is used to benefit others, whereas, the second, is using power for personal gain. It seems as if it is individualised power that most of the governments in the Arab world seem to have today. Many of the Arab countries have puppet governments, who far too often, sell themselves at the expense of their own nation. These rulers are the reason why their people live on less than $2 a day.

Many leaders delude themselves into thinking that they are using socialised power, when, in fact, they use their power only for personal gain. It is obvious that it is not just Arab leaders who deceive their people, Western leaders do too. English journalist Robert Fisk, believes the Iraq war was about oil- but more interestingly- America and England not only lied to their people, but also lied to themselves in order to justify what they were about to do.

I do not believe, though, that all the corrupt leaders in the world went into politics to repress their people and steal from their country. But what I do believe is that, ‘power corrupts’ and once a leader realises that the country’s affairs and resources are at his/her disposal, they become power hungry and want more and more. There is a saying in Arabic which says “If the son of Adam (humankind) had a mountain of gold, they would only want another one.”  The quest for materialism in order to attain happiness leaves an individual empty, as wealth and power do not lead to spiritual satisfaction. And this is why many of the Arab leaders refuse to give up power-they are never satisfied as they continue their quest for materialism.

Power is a very dangerous thing, and if abused, can lead to the hardening of the heart and corruption of the soul. If the heart and soul are not sound, a human being becomes totally detached from reality, and, in effect, will lose their mind. An Egyptian retired army general, Mahmoud Zahir, called Hosni Mubarak ‘mentally and psychologically ill.’

Algeria’s General Mohamed ‘Toufik’ Mediène, is the world’s longest serving intelligence chief, having been head of Algeria’s intelligence for almost 20 years. General Toufik once described himself as the ‘God of Algeria’- a man cleary suffering from illusions of grandeur.

The German President Christian Wullf called Gaddafi today a ‘psychopath.’ And, well, anybody who has seen Gaddafi’s recent speeches, has vague knowledge about his personality, or has even looked at his face, will probably question his sanity too.

It is these types of Arab dictators which America have funded with both wealth and military support. But these autocrats are now being threatened with the recent uprisings, and the prospect of a new dawn and civilisation in the Middle East beckons.

What many of us don’t know though, is what is happening behind the scenes. What actually caused these uprisings? Was it merely inevitable? Do regions always end up imploding after years of repression? Or has the CIA had a hand in what has happened in the Arab world in a canny attempt to overthrow the old Arab dictators and replace them with newer ones who will serve America’s interests to a greater degree than ever before? President Obama, however, rejected the claim that America has had anything to do with the uprisings in his speech about Libya yesterday.

Realistically, although President Obama called the violence in Libya ‘outrageous’ and condemned what was happening in the country, America has no real strategic interests in the Libya. Furthermore, 80% of the oil from Libya goes to Europe, so if anything, the protests in Libya will concern Europe much more than America. The same cannot be said about Bahrain, where both President Obama and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have been reluctant to blame the Bahraini regime who — like the Libyan regime — have ordered the indiscriminate killings of protestors. Bahrain, for America, is a completely different ball game. Bahrain has 6,000 American military personnel, the country is also home to the US Fifth Fleet, a major logistics hub for US Navy ships, and is therefore a base for American warships.

What is still unclear for the time being is whether the uprisings across the Arab world will change the region for the better, or whether new puppet regimes will emerge as a result who will be just as brutal as their predecessors.

Muammar Gaddafi seems like the next Arab leader to be ousted from power after losing much support from his government; and as his support weakens both in his country and in the International community, it doesn’t seem as if he will be able to retain power for much longer.

I pose one last question. If America have been supporting dictators for decades and have treated them as allies, what does this tell us about the rulers and leaders America oppose and call ‘terrorists’? Does this make them the ‘good guys’ –  the ones who have not been corrupted by their power, maybe?

Omar Shahid

Islam and Homosexuality

This evening, 22nd February, I attended a debate at City University, the topic was: Islam and homosexuality.  An extremely polemical and sensitive issue without doubt. I am not one to shy away from controversy-so this debate was perfect for me.

 The two guest speakers- one a gay Muslim man, and the other- a Muslim lesbian, both believe that their faith and sexuality are compatible. But it wasn’t the two speeches which will be remembered, but the question and answer session which ensued.

The first speaker, Azeem, attempted to use Quranic scripture to justify his position- and also loosely referenced a few Islamic scholars who have a very liberal interpretation on the concept of homosexuality. My personal feelings towards him were that of sympathy, I detected genuineness in his heart, and his timid nature prevented me from forming negative opinions about him. The other speaker, Anjum, however, was extremely emotional in both her speech and her answers to the questions posed to her after her talk. The emotion she showed, I suppose, is only natural, as the life she has had so far must have lead to a great deal of stigmatisation, discrimination and prejudice-hate even. Her speech, though, was as boring as my gcse chemistry lessons. “Im not going to talk about homosexuality from the point of view of scripture or from a theological point of view, but from my life experience, my journey.” A bit rude of me maybe, but, I found myself dozing off at certain points in her speech, as she didn’t really have anything beneficial or constructive to say. Nevertheless, I admired her courage to come forward and speak so openly.

It was the question and answer session, though, which made the event worth attending. One of the moderators announced that questions should pertain more to the speaker’s experiences as opposed to questions pertaining to scripture. The head of the university’s Islamic society was one of the first to raise his hand. His question echoed the catholic position towards homosexuality: having desires, lusts or sinful inclinations isn’t a sin, but to act on them is, he said. Both speakers failed to address his remark, but interestingly, Azeem conceded that his homosexuality probably is sinful. But he still believes that this was how he was made, and he refuses to change himself into something he is not.

Intrigued by the whole discussion, I too had a question to ask. My question was fairly similar to the one asked before.  I first thanked the two guest speakers for attending the debate, and reassured them of two important Islamic premises. The first- no Muslim has the right to say ‘you are not a muslim’, that is God’s decision, and His alone. The second- was that no human being has the right to say ‘you are going to hell’, as this too is God’s decision- and God’s decision is based on his complete and utter justice and mercy. I asked whether  they believed-like many muslim scholars do-that they should be attempting to suppress these natural inclinations and perform jihad (which means to strive and struggle with oneself) in order to prevent themselves from practising homosexuality, which, according to Islam is a sin. As compared to others, my question seemed to be one of the more diplomatic ones, as opposed to the ones asked which mentioned ‘murderers’ and ‘homosexuals’ in the same sentence.

Other questions, however, resulted in Anjum shouting back at the questioner in fury because of what they said. At some points during the debate, the tension was palpable, at some points I felt uncomfortable, and others I couldn’t help but laugh.  

One comment, which particurarly resonated with me,  came from a man who works for the NHS. He said that he has dealt with many Muslims who have attempted to commit suicide because they cannot live with themselves. This issue is something which needs to be dealt with by the Islamic community. If it is not, more Muslims boys and girls will continue to top themselves NEEDLESSLY- when really all they require is the support of others through this difficult time in their life.

One thing I learned by the end of this debate is that no matter what you say to a homosexual- they will not change who they are- no matter how persuasive you may be. Homosexuality, I believe, is not just a choice but something real, powerful and possibly ‘natural’ which exists within a man or woman. Azeem, quite rightly said “God didn’t make a mistake with me.” But whether this statement justifies his position is still debateable, as many would argue that the way he naturally feels is not an excuse for him to manifest this behaviour in the form of homosexual acts.

 One thing I think most people would agree on, though, is that these sorts of discussions help dispel prejudices and lessen homophobia. More dialogue is needed for both sides to understand each other and  help resolve many of the issues which far too often result in misunderstandings, hatred, and worst of all, homophobic attacks.

Omar Shahid

Why Egypt’s Revolution Could Change The World

I was in the gym when I received a text saying ‘The khanzeer has gone’ (khanzeer is an Arabic word meaning pig)- I knew exactly what it meant. Hosni Mubarak had gone. Having followed what was transpiring in Egypt over the past two and a half weeks-somewhat devoutly-I couldn’t help but rejoice, I hadn’t felt so happy for a long time. It was the end of a dictator who had caused misery upon his people for 30 years. But also the start of something amazing.

Among the Arab League’s 22 countries, only three can call themselves democracies, all three, however, are flawed. Iraq, with a democracy enforced by America, is troubled with suicide bombings, extremism as well as sectarianism and is in an utter mess. The Palestinian territories, lacks sovereignty and is under military occupation. And, Lebanon, a country marred with sectarian conflict. The other Arab countries, vary between the most extreme dictatorships-Algeria, Libya & Syria (a country where the government is unlikely to be toppled), to the more kind and caring autocracies like Qatar, and then there’s the more oligarchic ones which are in between- like Morocco- which is run by a monarchy.

What makes the revolution in Egypt so important, is the wider, rippling effect it can cause throughout the Arab world- which is plagued with despotism. It was the Egyptian revolution in 1952 which saw the military become an extremely powerful force which backed the authoritarian Gamal Abdel Nasser, and was, of course, the same military Hosni Mubarak emerged from. This, in turn, inspired similar army backed regimes to ensue, from Algeria, to Iraq to Yemen. Egypt, being arguably one of the most powerful Arab countries, could be a catalyst in the toppling of the other regimes. Algeria’s people have too begun to protest despite the brutality of the police force, and there have been protests in Yemen, Jordan, Libya and Sudan. Reverberations of the toppling of Tunisia’s Ben Ali and Egypt’s Mubarak have already begun to be felt as- Yemen’s Ali Abdullah Saleh has promised not to seek re-election, and Jordan’s king Abdullah has sacked his government.

The most intriguing prospect of the whole situation, is that the effects of the potential collapse of despotism into democracy in the Arab world could-or will-affect the rest of the world. If Egypt becomes a democratic country, run by a coalition of party’s including the Muslim Brotherhood, this could change the dynamic of the Middle East. Israel, who have enjoyed the support of Egypt for over 30 years- even from former Egyptian President Anwar Saddat- who signed the peace treaty with them in 1979, would become vulnerable to being attacked by the Arab countries which surround them. This, of course, would be America’s worst nightmare. And this is why America also have it in their interest to help facilitate-not democratic elections-but elections which will, ultimately, end up with a leader similar to Hosni Mubarak. Indeed, with Syria and Iran being ever hostile to Israel, the last thing America would want is Israel’s strongest ally (Egypt) also becoming an enemy-and maybe, even, becoming an ally to Palestine’s resistance party Hamas instead.

However, although the army in Egypt have promised free and democratic elections in the near future, the army generals who now run the country, are part of the same clan which supported Mubarak throughout his dictatorship. If the army were to assume power permanently, there would be no change in Egypt, and maybe, who knows-Mubarak would be still be able to run things from behind the scenes. The future of Egypt, although seemingly bright, is not yet perfect-and wont be until free elections are held.

In the 1970s, the authoritarian regimes in southern Europe collapsed, this was followed later by Latin America where juntas fell rapidly, and it now seems the Arab countries are to follow in a similar manner. You might think I may be getting a bit ahead of myself- but hope is necessary for human society. It was this hope, though, which caused an end of the Pharaoism of Hosni Mubarak.

Omar Shahid


Reality vs Deception

 The concepts of reality and deception are discussed in most religious traditions, spiritualites and philosophical thought.  The underlying theme which seems to be present in all schools of thought, is the fact that it is of great importance that one distinguishes the difference between reality and deception. The Greek philosopher Plato provided us with food for thought with his ‘allegory of the cave’ which discusses the idea of reality, and how we are often decieved by what we see. Theists, rationalists, secularists and atheists will all generally agree that this ephemeral yet (often) deceiving world, which we inhabit, makes us forget the bigger picture (whatever that may be). But theists will go a step further and claim that one cannot afford to forget that this life is short-lived, and just a mere journey we all have to go through in order to get to the next life. 

 It is easy for a human being to become engrossed, consumed and then swallowed up by this life. The Hindu and Buddhist concept of ‘Maya‘ generally denotes the idea of an illusion, in particular, the illusory nature of this life. People misunderstand themselves and reality, we believe objects and everything around us to be independently real. In the Hindu philosophy of Advaita Vedanta, ‘Maya’ is purely physical, limited, and deceives our everyday consciousness. Similarly, in the Islamic tradition, the world for this world is ‘dunya’-which, in fact, has a negative connotation. The word ‘dunya’ purports that we live in an illusory world that will constantly delude you. This life makes you think you can transgress, that you are here permanently, and you are dependent from God. One of the root meanings of the word ‘dunya’ is to reach for grapes you will never be able to grasp. And this is the exact essence of this life-we will never be satisfied nor will we be able to achieve all that we want in this life, and, essentially, it will always elude us.

In the Bible, a similar message is given, in the book of Romans 12:2: “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

One of the names of Satan in the Quran is the ‘chief deceiver’. Satan is the one who makes us forget our purpose and reason for being here, and causes us to forget ourselves, which, in turn, corrupts our minds/ souls. ‘’Know thyself’’ the Delphic oracle told the philosopher. If one does not know themselves, their purpose and where they are heading, our lives become meaningless and wasteful.

Science also confirms that we are constantly beguiled by deceptions, because, as I said in a previous post of mine: The way in which we see is by watching images inside our brain. We observe images through electrical signals transmitted through our brain which then forms a picture. The same thing applies to all our other senses-touch, smell, hearing etc, they are all perceived in the brain as electrical signals. So it is reasonable to presume that we do not confront matter in its original form- which exists outside of us- but rather we produce an electrical copy of it which is produced as a signal formed inside our brain. We are therefore mislead in assuming these copies are instances of real matter outside of us. To imagine matter to have an existence outside the mind is a deception, but it is the Being that created the mind, and transcends the transient creation which is the only reality-and this is God.

The fourth caliph of Islam once said that: We are sleeping now (in this life) but it is once we die that we will truly wake up.

Omar Shahid

Hosni Mubarak’s Time Is Up…Or Is It?

Hosni Mubarak and his family are reportedly worth 70 billion dollars. At the same time, however, many of the Egyptian population consisting of over 82 million- are living in poverty- while 70% of under 25′s are unemployed. It is this disparity between the government and the people (who they are suppose to be looking after) that have caused the riots. America have supported Mubarak for the last 30 years, but with the uprisings in Egypt, America have called for a “transition”, knowing that their puppet is now redundant and has to go. But what is this “transition” they want? Is it a free, democratic country with a President who has the interests of the people at heart? Or is it another dictator that has the interests of America and Israel at heart? No doubt the latter.

It would be crazy to dismiss claims that the CIA are currently in Egypt trying to put in another puppet regime, who would, in turn, serve America’s interests. But if a political party like the Muslim Brotherhood were to come into power, who would advocate Shariah Law, and a free and peaceful Middle East- what good would this be to America?

On January 29th, Omar Suleiman (described as “ruthless” by Robert Fisc) was appointed vice President by Hosni Mubarak in an attempt to shake up the cabinet and appease the masses. Suleiman, though, has long been the CIA’s main man in Egypt . He has been “favoured by the US government for his ardent anti islamism, and his willingness to talk and act tough on Iran.” If Mubarak, miraculously, was to abandon his role as President-Suleiman would take over. A man who is widely believed to be a torturer-far from the right person to bring democracy.

Middle East analysts believed that Mubarak would be ousted from power in very shortly, but that was almost two weeks ago-they thought wrong. It now seems that Mubarak will remain in power for the next 6 months until the next Egyptian elections, unless, of course, something drastic happens. The reason why Mubarak refuses to leave is not because he fears the country will descend into “chaos”, as he put it, but because he does not want to be humiliated. 

The Army may say that they are on the side of the people, but if they truly were, they would too demand the resignation of their President. The army is the key factor in this entire issue. And as I said in my previous post about Mubarak, the army will be the deciding factor. Once they turn on Mubarak he will have to go. Until then, it seems that he will be staying put.

Omar Shahid

An Interview With Alastair Campbell

Known as the spin doctor of New Labour, Alastair Campbell has a reputation that seems to divide opinion. Campbell certainly is a proud man, and after having achieved so much in his life, he has the right to be-doesn’t he? Political editor of the Mirror, overcoming a nervous breakdown, helping Labour win its landslide victory in 1997; and can now add becoming a successful novelist to his list of achievements. However, his legacy will always be plagued by the Iraq war and the death of Dr David Kelly.

We are seated at a table at the Royal Lancaster Hotel, London, before an awards ceremony where he was due to give a speech. Prior to sitting down, I felt as if Campbell was analysing me as we met and shook hands. I wasn’t surprised though-in fact, I expected it as many of Campbell’s books including- ‘Diaries Volume One: Prelude to Power 1994-1997’ prove him to be very perceptive character.

The discussion begins with a bit of banter. And it was Campbell’s beloved football team Burnley that was the topic. “Do you think I should be the new manager?” he asks in jest.

A lot of people go into journalism because they want to ‘change the world’, ‘expose corruption’ and some because it sounds like an interesting career. Not Campbell. “This is going to sound bad, but… I can’t remember why I chose Journalism” he says half ashamed and half buoyantly. Then slightly digressing (as he did for most of the interview), began talking about how he applied for a Journalism scheme when he was a teenager; there were 1000 applicants but only 12 places. Needless to say, Campbell was offered a place. He then tells me the key to his success: “I’ve always thought I was better than the next person up.”

Before Campbell worked as Tony Blair’s press secretary he was the political editor of the Mirror. But things have changed since he was in Journalism- which is now over 15 years ago. “Journalism is in a pretty bad way. I think things will change and evolve, and I think eventually return to a higher standard.” Who is he, some may ask, to talk about “higher standards” when he himself, made a career out of spin?

One fact remains unassailable though. It was the government- of which Campbell was an influential member – that decided to invade Iraq and as a result lead to many deaths. I ask him if he regrets anything in his career? “I can justify what we did and when we did it.” This remark was surely a reference to the decision made to invade Iraq. But hold on… I didn’t mention Iraq. Neither did I have any intention of bringing the topic up. Campbell, however, equated my question on ‘regret’ in his life, to the war on Iraq. “Regret is the wrong word” he continues “but it is whether you can see things in a slightly different way when you put things in perspective. The top level of government is full of really difficult decisions.” Some conspiracy theorists may even deduce, perhaps, nuances referring to Dr David Kelly.

Upon elaborating about his role in government, his phone rings-he didn’t hesitate to answer it. After the brief call, he carries on where he left off: “I feel incredibly privileged to be part of it [Labour’s success]. I feel very proud of the role I played in getting us organised and into power.” He even slips in the fact that his new book is due out soon.

I was starting to feel very comfortable around Campbell and was taking a keen interest in what he had to say, and although my time with him was almost up- I had to ask one more question. His views on Ed Miliband. “I didn’t vote for him, I voted for David. I think David would have been the right guy. I think he [Ed] has got into the position because of the way he was elected.” Campbell has been, and always will be, a vehement supporter of TB, and his unremitting defence of Gordon Brown during the 2010 elections cannot be argued. But for some reason, he doesn’t seem as enthusiastic about Ed.

“I quite like the way he is not doing crazy stuff and is cool about the whole situation. Ed made a lot in the campaign about how we have to learn from the lessons of what went wrong. But let us not forget about what went right. What went right is that we understood through New Labour that most people live their lives not in the two extremes, but kind of in the mainstream. I don’t think Ed is departing from that in terms of policy, but you’ve got to be careful of how you allow others to position you and I think others have so far positioned him in a place he doesn’t want to be.”

It is this sort of fighting talk that Alastair Campbell may use to help repress any bad memories he may have. And the things that “went right” in New Labour, it seems, Campbell attributes a large proportion to himself.

by Omar Shahid

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*Picture from Alastair Campbell blog