What’s Wrong With Happy British Muslims?

Happy British Muslims, a parody video of Pharrell’s “Happy”, released by an anonymous group called The Honesty Policy, is approaching 350,000 views in just over a day. It has sparked heated discussions and controversy amongst Muslims. Some love it while others hate it. I belong more to the first group. 

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Muslims Need a Mature Debate About Homosexuality

The first same sex weddings became legal in England and Wales last week, but why is it taking so long for Muslims to confront the issue?

I’ve often been asked by Muslims why I report on the gay Muslim community. The question is normally posed in a way that suggests reporting on taboo and controversial subjects are best avoided. This isn’t the right attitude. Sensitive issues should be talked about, because there is normally a group of people who are suffering as a result of it not being discussed. Continue reading

RIS: Reviving the Islamic Spirit 2013 – Reflections on the Faith of Muslims

557867_593179477360995_658954934_nNouman Ali Khan, the dynamic, popular American Islamic speaker had just finished his captivating Friday sermon on husn al dhan, having a good opinion of others, at the Metro Convention Centre, Toronto, Canada. It was one of those talks that, as soon as it finished, you see people turn to each other and just slowly nod their heads in unison, as if to say: Yeah, that was good!

After the prayer had finished, my friend Zakaria and I got up and started to walk towards the bazaar, which was in the same large hall as the prayer area. As we walked off, we noticed a graceful-looking figure behind us. Crowds were starting to surround him. Young men, all wanting to shake his hand and talk to him, gazed at his luminous face in a state of humility. This saint-like figure was Shaykh Mokhtar Maghraoui, a man who instantly radiates a sense of composure, gentleness and love.

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Interview with the Bishop of London: Daily Mail, homosexuality & depression

ChartesRight Rev Richard Chartres has been the Bishop of London since 1995 and became the 132nd person to hold the position. He studied history at Trinity College Cambridge before going on to hold various positions of Chaplaincy. He is an author and is married with four children.

At the late Margaret Thatcher’s funeral in April, he gave a memorable sermon to a hall of her political allies and foes, in which he was praised for his words of calm, compassion and conviction. Continue reading

The Boston Bombings show Islamophobia at its worst

Following the deadly explosions near the finishing line of the Boston Marathon yesterday, leaving three people dead and at least 140 injured, the reactions by Muslims, Islamophobes and those who do no fit into those two categories have been highly revealing. Continue reading

Ahmadiyya Muslim Community: Controversial Muslim Sect Continues to Grow – The Times

My blog in The Times today.

Ahmadi Muslims challenge mainstream Islam

There is a palpably tranquil atmosphere in the Baitul Futuh Mosque in Morden, London. Hundreds of guests, including: MPs, Secretary of States and Senior Members of the Armed Forces, are slowly making their way into Western Europe’s largest Mosque – which can accommodate 10,000 worshippers – an impressive white building, donning a 16m dome and two lofty minarets.

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NEWS: Muslim leaders urge Islamic community to rethink evolution theory

My news story published in the Times

Muslim leaders from around the world have urged the Islamic community to rethink their stance on the theory of evolution.  Continue reading

Islam in revolt: evolution and homosexuality

Islam, being the youngest of the three Abrahamic religions, has had the least amount of time to evolve, or “regenerate” as Martin Lings, the English writer and biographer of the Prophet Mohammed, once put it. And it’s strikingly evident: while Christianity has accepted, and welcomed debate around, homosexuality and Darwin’s evolution theory, it pales besides the resistance of change within Islam. However, for the first time in Islam’s 1400-year history, these issues are finally being openly discussed, and rightly so. Continue reading

Is Buddhism the answer to Britain’s problems?

The 2011 Census results, which came out last week, showed that the amount of people who identify themselves as Christians has declined by four million since 2001. What’s more, 14 million people, about a quarter of the population, say they had no religion at all, a rise of 6.4 million over the decade. With the Church of England receiving such negative press lately, largely because of the decision not to allow women to become bishops and its opposition to gay marriage, the future of Christianity in this country is uncertain. Continue reading

Muslim and gay: Islam begins to confront the issue – The Times

A piece I had published on the Times website on 29 November 2012.

For the first time in Islam’s history, a debate about homosexuality is beginning. While homophobia and the persecution of gays may still be rampant in Islamic countries, there are signs of change. LGBT Muslim groups are popping up all over the world, from Lebanon to the UK. Continue reading

REVEALED: “Serious human rights abuse” at deportation centre in UK

People from all over the world come to the UK hoping for a better life, one free from oppression and injustice. However, not everyone finds this life: at Yarl’s Wood, an immigration removal centre for women in Bedfordshire, there is believed to be gross mistreatment of the detainees, who are battling deportation back to their respective countries, by the staff working there. Continue reading

An Open Letter to EDL Leader Tommy Robinson From a Muslim

Dear Stephen,

After watching your video that you’ve just posted on Youtube, in which you seem frustrated, fed up and angry, highlighting that you no longer have a life, you keep getting arrested, you have court case after court case, your wife has been arrested, your house has been raided, you’ve done eight days in remand, you’ve served three days in a swiss jail, you believe the Metropolitan police have stitched you up, you have outstanding mortgage payments (which you can’t pay) and your EDL supporters are turning against you – I’d like to ask you a simple question: do you still want to do this? Continue reading

Pornified: How British culture became so porn-obsessed

110,000 people in the UK have signed a petition to protect children from online pornography which will be handed to Prime Minister David Cameron next week, to put pressure on him to take action. The petition, signed by everyone from MPs to teachers, aims to combat the rocketing tide of online porn which is affecting young children. Last week, ChildLine published statistics showing that the number of children calling the helpline over the past year has soared by one third, due to children encountering hardcore porn. It’s natural for young children to act in disgust when faced with pornographic images – however, as we get older, innate feelings within human beings slowly dissipate. Continue reading

Debate: Were George Galloway’s comments on Assange’s rape case unfair?

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks is currently facing prosecution for alledegly raping two women. One woman claims that while he was having sex with her, his condom broke and he continued to have sex. The other woman, who also consented to having sex with him, says that after she’d fallen asleep, she found Assange having sex with her again. Assange denies all allegations of rape. Continue reading

All Hype For Palestine But Nothing For Burma

It’s a shame that this could be the first time you’ve heard about the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people in Burma. News coverage on the plight of the Rohingya people – described by the U.N. as “one of the most persecuted people in the world” – has been scant, especially since sectarian violence flared in June. Continue reading

What Our Love of Coca-Cola and McDonald’s Tells us About God

It is said that the quality which differentiates human beings from animals is the that of rationality – although many would dispute this. While we possess rationality and intellect, we don’t always use these faculties: we turn them off and instead quite often act in complete accordance with our animal nature. Continue reading

The Higgs-Boson and why God created the universe

Know your Lord

This is the essential question which lies at the heart of all religious traditions. In the Abrahamic religions, human beings are created in a state of servitude; to glorify, worship and manifest God’s greatness. However, the quintessential, underlying message which runs through all religions, is for human beings to come to know God. Each religion teaches us different ways how to reach the divine, but the goal is one: knowing our Lord. But to come to know God, we must first purify ourselves to reach the level of the “perfected human”. All the religious and spiritual traditions have a head figure – whether it be: Jesus, Buddha, Moses or Muhammad – who ultimately represent human perfection or is used as a role model. Continue reading

Does Hip-Hop Enhance Society or Degrade it? Hip-Hop on Trial – Review

The Barbican was packed for one of London’s biggest events of the month last night. The event, called Hip Hop on Trial, had everything: big names (Jesse Jackson, KRS-One, Estelle et al), a heated debate and was broadcasted throughout the whole world via Google+ and Youtube. Continue reading

Poll: For or Against the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee

Now that the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee is over, we can look back at it and ask: was it worth it?

Some people believe it was a great thing for the country: it brought people together, it produced community harmony and made us proud to be British.

For others, however, not only was it a further strain on our economy but it celebrated an unelected and undemocratic ruling family.

What’s your take?

 

The open society and Twitter

Our world is more open than ever: Wikileaks has made government decisions more open; globalisation has made the world more interconnected; the pornographic industry has opened sex up to everybody; and we continue to strip away the amount of clothes we wear by the decade. How we behave on Twitter is a result of this increasing openness.

We open up psychologically on Twitter, often revealing — consciously or not — our most intimate and innermost feelings. In the same way that our society is becoming more open, we, as individuals, are becoming more open. Nothing testifies to this more that Twitter.

Previously, we would have called or texted our friends to express what we feel. Now, we have millions of ‘friends’ who will listen to us.

20120423-002619.jpgWe Tweet things like “I am bored” as if people care. But we know that people don’t care, neither do we expect people to care. We Tweet mundane and trivial things like that, not because we want people to reply saying “me too” or “are you?”, but because we can.

We are free to do that. There is nobody telling us what we can or can’t Tweet. In the name of civil liberties we — in the West at least — have an immense amount of freedom.

We like to tell people what we are thinking, it’s part of being human. If we think of a great idea or think of something new, we don’t just keep it to ourselves, we share it with others. Likewise, we like to tell people what we are thinking on Twitter, even if it isn’t particularly great or new – human beings are social creatures.

An open society is both good and bad. It is good because we can find out when things go wrong more easily; bad because too much freedom and openness can lead to perversity, lewdness and widespread immorality.

20120423-003011.jpgTwitter can be fantastic, how it has been utilised during the Arab revolutions is an example. The amount of information we can acquire just by scrolling through people’s Tweets is also quite staggering. It is also a excellent way to keep up with the news.

However, after a certain amount of time, we start to build up a profile of who we think people are by the way we see them Tweet. We are judgemental by nature; and depending on what we see someone Tweet, we begin to build up an image of who we think that person is. When we talk to people on the phone or online, we often imagine what this person looks like, but, in reality, this person may look completely different to what we imagined.

In the same way, when we build up an image or a profile of what we presume someone to be like by observing their Tweets, this may or may not not conform with who they really are.

But this raises the following questions: does Twitter reveal the ‘real’ us? Does it reveal another aspect of us? Or does it make us behave in a way that is actually not us?

We often can’t properly articulate what we are thinking on Twitter so we may come across as pretentious, arrogant or ill-informed. But, interestingly, depending on who is reading the Tweet, it may interpreted in different ways. This is because we all bring our different experiences and attitudes to life, so we are bound to interpret things in a different way to each other. If someone Tweets: I want to beat up my teacher – one person might it funny, another might find it rude and insensitive.

We often hear people say: Twitter isn’t real – a reference to it being in a cyberworld. But perhaps it is more real than what we refer to as ‘real life’, i.e. out on the street. When we are interacting with people in person, we have fears, anxieties and worry about what people think of us, so we act according to social norms. However, on Twitter, we often act completely differently, not in accordance with social norms but in accordance with what we are feeling at the precise moment – and we sometimes get in trouble for it. Diane Abbott would never dare say “White people love to play divide and rule” in the presence of physical people, but for some reason, she felt comfortable enough saying it on Twitter. Reality, therefore is subjective.

Win Free Tickets to Underage Festival featuring Devlin, Labrinth and Yasmin

A girl in my course at university once came into a lecture shaken, terrified and almost in tears; she had witnessed a young man die on his bicycle after being run over by a lorry. Road safety is sometimes not given the importance that it should have.

This is why Live Magazine have teamed up with TFL to produce a game called StopThinkWin. The aim of the game is to get to the target locations and, eventually, reach the Underage Festival; if you win the game you could win free tickets to the event.

Underage Festival will feature Devlin, Labrinth, Yasmin, Giggs and others.

With a shout at getting a ticket and getting your hands on Cineworld passes, an MTV goodie bag and other amazing prizes, get playing. Hurry, the game won’t be on the website for much longer.

Rumour has it that the game is addictive….

www.live-magazine.co.uk/stopthinkwin

An Interview With Lowkey on the ‘Manipulative’ Joseph Kony 2012 Campaign

It has been over a week since the Kony 2012 video went viral. The video, by Invisible Children, is now nearing 80 million views on YouTube. One of the most vociferous critics of the campaign is musician and political activist, Lowkey.

I spoke to Lowkey about the video.

What did you think of the video?

“I think the Kony 2012 campaign has had a manipulative and negative affect on the younger generation. But it has made the older generation question this level of emotional manipulation. That the answer to everything is the US military and has made people question what Africom actually is. And why the US feels the need to expand its military presence in Africa. It then leads people to the idea that the US is essentially trying to have a counter weight to Chinese elevation in the region.”

Why are you against US military intervention?

“I think Africom was founded by George Bush in 2006 and it clearly sets out its aim to increase US military prescence in Africa. However, the majority of African countries rejected Africom which means it had to have its Headquarters in Germany, imagine that.

However Nigeria was one government which welcomed Africom and Uganda is another  government that is now welcoming US military expansion. Now unless you are those specific people within those governments, you will not view the presence of the US military on your land as something positive. We also need to remember that these countries welcoming US military presence have very, very, very questionable human rights records and very questionable histories, with regards to democracy – this word that we band about, if you ask Kony what his objective is, he says democracy – now it’s amazing how we have someone in Africa saying his objective is democracy and he is the number one enemy. Yet we have people in other parts of the world, like in the Middle East, who have not said explicitly that their aim is democracy and we are, without question, supporting them.

Do you feel there is hypocrisy taking place?

If you are a US citizen and your first point of call for war criminals is not your own government, then you do not really have the wider interests of humanity at heart. The US is accused of far more heinous crimes than Joseph Kony. Essentially, this video is encouraging youth to look at things in a very simplistic and damaging way. If you use Joseph Kony 2012 by Invisible Children as the pretext, you can take anyone to any point of the world and say there is a bad person doing something bad to these people – that’s the only explanation you need to give. And then you say the only solution is US military involvement in the land. My God. You can justify anything, absolutely anything. That was the whole idea of the video. It was him explaining to his son the situation in this very simplistic way. There was no intention to explain the wider context of the situation.

It’s not saying this bad thing is happening we need your money to make it better, which is one thing. It is saying we need your money and your voice to expand what is a stated aim of US policy. It’s not as if Africom didn’t happen. That’s what they’ve been trying for years, and it hasn’t been working very well. And this is what the Nato campaign in Libya was largely about: the expansion of Africom. What’s so manipulative and horrible about it, is that they use genuine emotions that people have that are natural. How could you not feel for somebody whose brother has died? People are not made of stone.

What should happen to Joseph Kony?

Kony himself is utterly irrelevant. That’s why it’s so strange. They put Hitler and Bin Laden there [on the poster] and Kony there. Well you know which ideological perspective they are coming from. And you know who they are talking to and who they are talking for, most importantly. Most people who are worried about human life are not going to view the solution as being the US military. The solution has never been US military because it has never worked way, never.

And, finally, why did you delete Twitter?

I find it’s a distraction. Twitter is different to Facebook in that any little thing that people think they just Tweet it, and I would rather not know. I would prefer to concentrate on my music. Saying that, music hasn’t been the number one thing on my mind at the moment, rather than being a good musician or good artist – I’ve been reading a lot – and I would rather be a good and more all round person.

You can find Lowkey on Facebook here

His latest album, Soundtrack to the Struggle can be found on iTunes

Follow me @omar_shahid

Paul Mason: The Global Revolutions, Social Networking & The Demonisation of Arabs

Live Magazine‘s interview with Paul Mason.

Paul Mason made his first appearance as economics editor of BBC’s Newsnight on the evening of 9/11. He covered the collapse of the Lehman Brothers, which triggered the worldwide recession, live from its HQ in New York. His groundbreaking reports on the rise of China as an economic power won him the Wincott prize in 2003.

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Omar Shahid, Live’s Politics Editor, caught up with Mason in an exclusive interview about his new book, Why it’s kicking off everywhere. He explains why the 2011 revolutions happened, how social media has changed our behaviour, the implications for professional journalism, how young people will react to continued unemployment and whether the demonisation of Arabs has ended.

In a nutshell, why did it all kick-off?

It kicked off because the economic system started to fall apart, that changed young people’s outlook as to what their prospects were and did so almost immediately – and over large sections of the western world.

It happened at the end of 10 years in which communications technology has become very democratic. This is rushing at us and the combination of social media, a huge economic crisis, empowerment of individuals and a generation that acts and thinks differently, has basically produced the explosion

Why are they acting and thinking differently?

The human being who experienced the arrival of movies, motorcars, aero planes and phonograms, were very different human beings to their parents. They acted, moved and dressed differently. Even the women were freer than 20 years before that.

There has been a historic change in human behavior driven by mass consumption. What I’m saying is, above all, social media and mobile telephony have literally changed the way we do [things]. They have even changed the way what we do with different bits of our body, our thumbs – we type text messages with our thumbs.

Okay we are still human beings, we are the same animal, but the social side of us and the empathy we have with each other, has been enabled more. It’s very hard to pin down, nobody is theorising it, nobody can study it scientifically, there is no mass sociological study of it yet, but it’s the job of the journalist to notice this stuff.

There is a quote in the book by a young person who says “social media isn’t making us more antisocial but ultra social.” Is social media really making us more isolated individuals – and is it such a bad thing?

I think there is strong evidence that a creation of an online world is a creation of an extra human space that has its own laws of interaction just like the physical world does. Margaret Wertheim said there is an extra bit of consciousness being created and when we are in this world we’re not so defensive of ourselves and our personas. That we can’t share our intimate feelings and thoughts with people we hardly know. That’s quite interesting. Nobody knows where it’s going.

Another young person in the book said: “I can’t believe people still read articles when we have instant information from social media.” What’s the future for young journalists when social media is becoming the main tool for journalists?

All the business models of media are in crisis. That doesn’t mean they can’t exist, it just means we have to find something people are prepared to pay for.

For a journalist, the question is: how do we create the content people want? People already have a lot of the truth coming at them, unmediated by us – they choose who to follow on Twitter. I followed the right people in Libya so I could work out when they had started the assault on Tripoli way before even the newswire started reporting it. I thought, “shit they are going to assault Libya, this is amazing.“

Does that mean I don’t want a fantastic photojournalism essay of the assault on Tripoli? No. I want to read it.  All it means is that us, as craftsman, as journalists, are the only people who can make the whole thing. I just think there are going to be fewer journalists making lots of money and a lot of people doing bits of journalism for free. It has changed the dynamics of it.

In that case, is it worth going abroad to pursue journalism?

I think it’s the story of this generation. In emerging markets in places like: Brazil, Columbia, Turkey and Egypt – Egypt and Turkey are so developed that if you are a professional you can live a very decent lifestyle.  With the right language and the right social skills and the ability to fit in – I think people of all professions: finance, engineering, architecture; people are going from the west to these emerging markets.

I think for journalists there is only so much you want to read about your own world. Journalism has to bring the unknown into you. Sometimes the unknown is an estate in Manchester but sometimes it’s in Mongolia.

With our country’s debt pile now at £1 trillion, youth unemployment still bad ­–  here and around Europe — how will the youth react in the next year?

I think this generation of youth – even people who are very disadvantaged in terms of money and education – are still very self-educated, they know more than my generation 20, 30 years ago. And therefore they are able to be more entrepreneurial; some will be pure business entrepreneurs but others, social entrepreneurs. But they are very individual people. Like I say, this has happened before in the world where generational change has taken place and people’s behavior is different.

Yes, the west is going to be crippled by debt probably for a decade, yes the form of capitalism will have to change, at the very least if it going to deliver anything like social justice.

Do I know what the final outcome of that change is? No. Can we predict some things? Yes. What can we predict? It’s going to have to be greener.  The Germans are pouring money into green technology, it’s going to have to be more hi-tech, the point is through hi-technology we will create new markets. There will probably be markets in genetic medicine in 10 years time.  Not just genetic medicine but genetic, cosmetic surgery. Out of that will come the Richard Branson of the future, and other stuff that might be more attractive than Richard Branson.

How have the recent protests differed from those over the last 200 years?

This is the paradox. Something like the Egyptian revolution is following a classic pattern of revolution that we can recognize from the year 1848, which was the big year of revolution in the 19th century. It was led by the educated youth but with the workers and the urban poor proving the decisive numbers to overthrow the government. And then, also in 1948, you get an election – huge numbers of religious, rural dwelling people who get the same vote as everybody else, quite rightly – and they vote for reactionary religious parties. So anybody who has read history knows the revolution to be predictable.

Because of social media, the young students, the educated youth, people who have dragged themselves out of slums to become educated, are in a more global world. They are on my Twitter feed, I am on their twitter feed. When you watch the Twitter feed of fighters in Libya, sometimes it’s about Gaza or a piece of hip hop music  - and it is this fascinating unpredictable bit of it that I’m trying to study.

What makes these revolutions different, however, is their sustainability through virtual communities, even when parts of reality turns bad, the ability to sustain the spirit, feeling and discussion of what you are fighting for, through this global medium of interchange of ideas, is new.

What role do you think the likes of CIA and Mossad have played in the Arab revolutions and what role will they look to play now?

I think the CIA and Mossad isn’t the end of the list. The state department, of course, had a project to support liberal oppositionists in various Middle East dictatorships. One would like to think they [the state department] could see the dictators would fall but they had no idea. The state department held training sessions for young liberals – that’s what the American state department did in the cold war as well.

I don’t see these revolutions as a tool of the west; I don’t see them like that at all. And as for Mossad, the Israeli military and intelligence community was as surprised as everyone by the Egyptian revolution.

And of course there is a third big security service in the Middle East and that is the Iranian one and they have lost control as well. If you think of Iran’s proxies  – Hamas, Hezbollah and Syria – they are all in crisis.

The modern world is not a world of the hierarchical, structured religious – or ideological in [President] Assad’s case, I’m certain that all of that is doomed. I don’t see anything of this as the creations of western interests. Maybe you do, I don’t know.

In Tunisia, Libya, and possibly in Egypt, we will see moderate Islamist parties ruling the countries, is this something we should fear?

For decades, Europe was ruled by “moderate Christianist” parties in France, Germany, Italy. So one should have no fear of the term moderate Islamist.

Given that the leaders of many of these parties [in Egypt] were treated as terrorists by [Hosni] Mubarak, we should celebrate the fact they are willing to play the game of democracy. Part of me wants to celebrate the Muslim Brotherhood being able to hold itself together and be a party that contests elections like any other. The Muslim Brotherhood may be riding high now but it is being disintegrated by forces.

What forces?

The forces of modern youthfulness. Its own youth wing broke away and formed a separate party not because they are secularists but because they are Muslims who don’t want to be in this sense, Islamists.  They want to be devout but don’t want to be defined by it.

If, along the way in Egypt,  a whole bunch of parties that are Islamist but are prepared to take part in a essentially secular constitutional system, that would be a great achievement. But many who began the revolution want to go further than that: they want social justice, social democracy, liberalism and secularism.

Florence nightingale once said the Arab would be beaten to death rather than give up. Did you observe a difference between the Arab’s mentality and ours in the West?

What I observed on the streets of Egypt is that when you see the possibility of everything changing – and you realise they can kill some of you but they can’t kill all of you – things will change. This is what has made it different to the Intifada [in Palestine] which has come and gone, and while the youth have been at the forefront, it has been led by Fatah or Hamas.

What I observed was something much more fundamental, and that is when an entire community comes out – which I think is not open to the Palestinians – and see total liberation was at their grasp.

The fact they [the Egyptians] could do it with such humour and good nature. It was an insurrection of joy such as which the Arab world has not seen.

As a white, western journalist, I do think so much of what we have produced hasn’t helped to understand the Arab or the Muslim world. It’s partly because in Britain and in the west, Islam exists as a community and it, like it or not, seems like a separate community and all the differences with the west are emphasised. But if you go to a Muslim country and stay there for any length of time, it is just like anywhere else. This may upset some Islamists, but I’m afraid there are drunks and prostitutes [in the Muslim world], just like there are in Brixton.

Once we realise that the “other-isation” of Islam becomes pointless – it’s just a religion. The west has got into this situation because we only see the Arab world through the eyes of Islam when there is what you might call the “Arab culture”, which embraces the secular liberals – the dancing, the jazz clubs, the folk singing – on Tahrir square. As somebody said about Tahrir: “It’s Glastonbury without Bono.”

Does Egypt, therefore, have a positive future?

I think it [moderate Islamism] might lead to dictatorships, that’s the problem. What a lot of the secular left in Egypt talk about is “Attaturkism”. [They say] “We aren’t going to have any Sharia Law so we have to insulate the country against religion by having a strong army that cracks down on anybody who tries to ‘religious-ise’ Egypt.” I think the Brotherhood has got to be quite careful because the Salafis are so strong and they are recruiting from the poor and it is very difficult to combat it especially amongst uneducated people. And especially when they are playing the same game which Hamas and Hezbollah played which is to give money. They will exert a big pressure on the Brotherhood.

So do you think our perceptions of the Arab world is now changing?

There is a struggle between the “Arabists” and the people who are still reducing issues to terrorism, violence and religion – and there are people like me who want to see beyond that. I’m afraid Syria, and then the war in Libya, has allowed this image to come back. Look, people shout Allah hu akbar. Why are they shouting it? It’s because they think they are going to die. They want it to be their last word. They aren’t shouting it because they are religious fanatics.

When I’m watching the news I just want people to pop up and explain why they are shouting Allah hu akbar! It was Edward Said who said 30 years ago that we still haven’t grasped the complexity of the Muslim and Arab society.

“I’m a devout Muslim, I’m a hip hop artist, I’m a dancer I’m a revolutionary.” I met a leftist revolutionary who said: “I want to study Hebrew so I can understand the Israelis”. None of it fits the stupid two-dimensional stereotype, none of it.

Why should a young person buy your book?

My book takes you on a tour of the ideas, the people, and the biggest thing that has happened in your lifetime. It’s the first draft of history so it’s quite rough, some of it will be proved wrong.

What I’ve tried to do – because of my background in understanding social history and the Labour movement history – is try to relate these movements to stuff that has happened in the past that has been forgotten.

Whitney Houson Dies Aged 48: Drugs and The Music Industry

Whitney’s Houston’s publicist, Kristen Foster, has announced the death of the “Queen of Pop”. In 2009, the “King of Pop”, Michael Jackson, died in mysterious circumstances after many years of trouble, accusations and controversy. Houston, too, was not shy of controversy: in her later years, she was believed to be on drugs and, in 2006, separated from her husband Bobby Brown, after years of problems and alleged domestic abuse.

Houston won more music awards than any other female recording history in history, she won six grammy awards and is one the best selling singers of all time.

Like many other world famous artists, Houston was accused of drug abuse. Etta James, who died last month, was treated in the ’70s for her misuse of drugs; MJ, Amy Winehouse, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix were all known for their drug use, too. The question that arises is: why do the most famous musicians in the world feel the need to resort to drugs? They have everything, so why do they feel the urge to escape the world of reality and use intoxicants? Perhaps purely for fun? But aren’t they having enough “fun” as it is in their “luxury” lifestyles?

A person who is truly happy, or who has inner peace, will not resort to drugs. Drugs are used to fill a void, a void created because of inner disquiet. George Green, who toured the world with the likes of Kanye West, Jay Z and Snoop Dogg, recently left the music scene and has talked about how “money, women and materialism” didn’t bring him happiness – neither did he think those whom he toured with were happy either – there remains a void. There is no lasting satisfaction from material pleasures, he says, the lifestyle many musicians lead does not bringing lasting fulfilment.

Houston, like MJ, were two of the greatest entertainers of this age. However, there has to be a reason why so many celebrities lives are shrouded in complication and vicissitudes. R.I.P Whitney Houston, but let’s not forget those in Syria right now who are being slaughtered. No life is more precious than any other.

Lowkey, Hip-Hop & The Five Girls

Shall I tell you a funny story? I went to an event yesterday, called Un-Convention, at the Roundhouse – it was about “looking at political voices and social messages through spoken word, hip hop, social media, art and culture.” There was a series of talks and in one of these talks, called “The politicisation of hip-hop”, Lowkey was suppose to be one of the panelists.

Sat right at the front of the seminar hall were five young girls, four of them wore jumpers, and on the back of these jumpers was stitched LOWKEY.  Obviously big fans.

The talk Lowkey was suppose to be featuring in was at 3pm, however, the girls arrived at the event before 11am – the time the event began. At 3pm, the girls moved to the front row of the seminar room, eagerly awaiting Lowkey. There were five seats at the front of the hall for the panelists. Three of the panelists sat down – and then the moderator came. There was one seat empty. Where was Lowkey?

“Quick announcement everybody”, said the moderator, “We’ve just found out Lowkey can’t make it.” “WHAT!” said the girls, frantically looking at each other. “We came here just to see him, that’s all we came for!”

Yeah, so anyway, Lowkey didn’t come and the girls ended up listening to the talk, rather sullenly. After the talk, despite there being two hours left until the event finished, the girls left the building. The end.

LESSON: Don’t come to an event for one person and be careful of idolising a person.

Iran & Syria protest outside US Embassy 28 January

Today outside the US Embassy there was a rally against military intervention in Iran and Syria, here are a selection of photos from the protest.

The police threatened to arrest this man (below) for the offensive remarks he was holding. One of them stated: “9/11 Jewish Satan bomb”.

He repeated: “Jewish, Satan bomb in Westminster.”

Tony Benn, former MP, said: “America, France, Britain, Israel are looking to attack Iran for their nuclear energy when there is no proof that it will lead, or is intending to lead, to nuclear weapons. Everyone country in the west is now making massive public cuts in expenditure and every bomb is coming out of cuts.” He further said that we don’t need another “imperialist” war under the folly to “safeguard the interests of the west”.

John Rees, a political activist and from the Stop the War Coalition, said: Everybody must be concerned about the military preparations. We have seen how disastrous this action is in Iraq and we don’t want a repeat in Iran.”

Roger Lloyd Pack, former actor, said: ” It’s as if the war in Iraq never happened, as if  we’ve forgotten the lies we were told. I’m appalled.”

“Don’t Attack Iran!”

This guy (below) wearing a moustache caused a lot of trouble, as you can see as he squares up with another individual. He interrupted Abbas Edalat, founder of the campaign against sanctions and military intervention in Iran, and was shouting “Down with [Ayatullah] Khamenei”, “Down with Hezbollah”. Some claimed he was “paid” to be there and cause trouble.

The guy below was pulled away by police after he pushed moustache man to the ground.

Here is moustache man, again.

And again.

And again.

Yep, and again.

And for a final time.

I lied, this is the final time. 

Here are his “boys”. 

And the rest of his crew. 

The Guy Fawkes mask which has become a symbol of protest in the past 12 months.

This lady was getting a tad excited, too.

“Has anything really changed?”

Well, erm…

Why Muhammad Ali isn’t great

Every so often in the annals of history, we come across a figure who is born special – Muhammad Ali is one of them.

He wasn’t perfect, indeed, he has been accused by some silly people of of bigotry, racism and cruelty but, more befitting to him, are the attributes of intelligence, compassion and honesty. His words and actions should be viewed within the context in which he lived. Ali proved that with the right state of mind, with determination, courage and hard work, one can transcend the difficult circumstances in which one grows up.

Whatever the case, Ali was a genius on many levels. Apart from his skill as a boxer, he was a profound rhetorician and thinker. It was Ali’s 70th birthday this week, here are some of his best quotes:

Psychology of the man

“I figured that if I said it enough, I would convince the world that I really was the greatest.”

“I hated every minute of training, but I said, ‘don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.’”

Humour

“I’m so fast that last night I turned off the light switch in my hotel room and was in bed before the room was dark.”

Howard Cosell: “You are being extremely truculent today, Champ.”
Ali: “Whatever ‘truculent’ means, if that’s good, I’m that!”

“I’ve seen George Foreman shadowboxing…and the shadow won.”

(Before knocking out Foreman in their famed ‘Rumble in the Jungle’ clash in 1974.)

Anti-war stance (Vietnam)

“Why should they ask me to put on a uniform and go 10,000 miles from home and drop bombs and bullets on brown people in Vietnam while so-called Negro people in Louisville are treated like dogs and denied simple human rights?”

“I’m not going 10,000 miles from home to help murder and burn another poor nation simply to continue the domination of white slave masters of the darker people the world over.”

Wisdom

“At home I am a nice guy: but I don’t want the world to know. Humble people, I’ve found, don’t get very far.”

“A man who views the world the same at 50 as he did at 20 has wasted 30 years of his life.”

Spirituality

“It’s the repetition of affirmations that leads to belief. And once that belief becomes a deep conviction, things begin to happen.”

“I set out on a journey of love, seeking truth, peace and understanding. l am still learning.”

“To be able to give away riches is mandatory if you wish to possess them. This is the only way you will be truly rich.”

Ali wasn’t merely great – there is a reason why he is called The Greatest.

“Will they ever have another fighter who writes poems, predicts rounds, beats everybody, makes people laugh, makes people cry and is as tall and extra pretty as me?”

A Letter to Humanity – Wake up, 2012 is near

Dear Humanity,

We will soon be entering 2012 – the beginning of the end. I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I do not think the world is going to end next year, but I believe we are going to witness a nexus of events that will change the world forever.

2011 was one of the most historic and memorable years in living history: from the Arab awakening; to the killing of bin Laden; the continuos downturn of the world economies as well as the Japan earthquake; we have seen events unfold that will shape the course of 2012.

There is no rescuing the euro crisis: nobody actually knows what is going to happen to the economies across Europe. America, too, is in an unimaginable amount of debt and there are little signs of improvement. Many political analysts are predicting that the US will attack Iran next year and this — as analysts suggest — could lead to World War III. You can read more about that here

If you haven’t realised by now, our countries are controlled by big corporations who care about profits over people. I was just in the U.S. – a country where the media, big food corporations and the pharmaceutical industry are all ‘in it together’. The media repeats adverts of junk food over and over again until it is indelibly printed within our subconscious; we are then given man-made drugs when we become ill, which, at best, suppresses our sickness. Never will the corporations and pharmaceutical industry recommend natural remedies – which are far more effective and better for us – simply because it will detract from their profits. Unlike here in Britain, the health care system in the U.S. is private – money is therefore made when people become ill. Get it?

Food, however, is just one of the means used to keep us in our sullen and stuporous state of somnolent sleep. The music industry and the major record labels will keep churning out the likes of Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Justin Beiber to keep us entertained and divert our attention away from what’s important in life.

We saw people demonstrating against the wealthy ’1%’ across the world this year – people’s consciousness is slowly changing and, because of the state of the world economy, people are unwilling to put up with corporate greed and capitalism.

Gil Scot-Heron’s famous line The Revolution Will Not Be Televised has been banded around a lot this year. One meaning of the phrase could be: true revolution occurs in the mind first before manifesting outwardly. And it’s true, little progress will be made in our society until we change our inward states. We have to first free ourselves from the shackles of our avaricious desires before we can change ourselves and, ultimately, implement freedom and change in society.

My intuition – whatever that may be – tells me that we need to prepare ourselves for whatever occurs next year. Things are changing and changing fast. We have been sleeping for far too long, it’s time to wake up. Unfortunately, what we don’t realise is if we worked together –  and stop killing and betraying one another – we would achieve far more together than we could ever do individually. Our short-sightedness and untamed inner self doesn’t always allow us to see it that way, however.

Truly, we are one human family but we often forget this. The Arabic word for human, Insaan, comes from the root word to forget. Our natural state is therefore inclined towards forgetfulness and headlessness. But these states manifest in people who are diverted away from Reality through mindless entertainment. People who are awake have a piercing insight into Reality. So let’s prepare ourselves and awaken to a new year which is in our hands, not theirs.

Your brother in humanity,

Omar Shahid

Will We See World War III In 2012?

For the past decade, the public has heard vociferous rhetoric from the White House and the Israeli government about Iran and their nuclear capabilities. In November 2002, the then Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon said “the day after” the Iraq war ends, full attention should be given to Iran.

The Iraq invasion officially ended this month, so we must now ask: what now? According to Gerald Celente, who has accurately forecasted major political events for 30 years and is the founder of The Trends Research Institute, not only are we going to see “economic martial law” in 2012, because we cannot “salvage” the “collapsing financial system” but we could see “World War III”. Celente believes with the “Israeli issue heating up”, the problems in Syria continuing (Syria, of course, being best friends with Iran) and the West wanting the fall of both of these regimes, we are seeing it “all come together”.

The Guardian asserted in November: “Britain’s armed forces are stepping up their contingency planning for potential military action against Iran.” And, with the US presidential elections nearing, President Barack Obama’s main hope will be to reverse the state of his country’s economy. If he fails to do this, he will look for ways to divert people’s attention and thus bolster his chances for re-election. According to political analyst Edward Spannaus, the Obama Administration’s strategy for re-election is to start wars, but if the US were to “attack Iran,” it would “end up in a World War III.”

The investigative journalist John Pilger said in this New Statesman article: “The Pentagon has no plans to occupy all of Iran, it has in its sights a strip of land that runs along the border with Iraq. This is Khuzestan, home to 90 percent of Iran’s oil.” Celente, however, believes the reason for a potential attack on Iran would be because of economic reasons. He said: “The entire financial system is collapsing…and when all else fails, they take you to war. And they [the west] are going to do it again.”

According to this Al Jazeera article by M.J. Rosenberg, Robert Baer — a former CIA officer who was primarily assigned to the Middle East – forecasted in 2011 that Israel would attack Iran and drag the US into another major war.  Baer, however, predicted that Israel would attack Iran before September 2011 and turned out to be wrong – but, according to Rosenberg, Baer has named Israeli security figures that have said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Ehud Barak are hell-bent on going to war. If this is the case, perhaps it is only a matter of time before Israel initiates an attack.

Former Mossad chief, Meir Dagan, said earlier this year that a strike on Iran’s nuclear instillations would be “stupid” and could lead to “a war”. He added: “It is the kind of thing where we know how it starts, but not how it will end.”

What would happen if Iran was attacked? “We would make them regret such a mistake and would severely punish them [Israel and the US],” said Gen. Hassan Firouzabadi, Chief of Staff of the Iranian Armed Forces.

Bruce Reidel, formerly special assistant to Obama and former CIA analyst, said: “The Iranians have the capacity to retaliate against America not only in the Middle East and the Persian gulf – but in Afghanistan where we have 90,000 troops and where the Iranians have well-established links to the Taliban.”

Afghanistan and Pakistan have both suffered since 9/11 and the relationship between the US and Pakistan has deteriorated so much that, according to Mirza Aslam Baig, former Pakistani Chief of Army Staff, the two countries could go to war in the near future.

Pakistan is the only Islamic country in the world to possess nuclear weapons and with its weakening infrastructure, increasing instability and swelling relations with the US – Iran is not the only country the Obama administration could face problems with – Pakistan is too.

2011 has been one of the most historic and turbulent years in living memory. From the Japan earthquake; to the Arab revolutions, leading to demise of vicious dictators; and the killing of Osama Bin Laden – we have seen a paradigm shift across the world. The ramifications of the shift in geo-politics are still unclear and what 2012 will produce is anyone’s guess. What is blindingly obvious though, is 2012 will be inexorably determined by the action or inaction, of the Obama administration. Whenever the US interfere around the world, it normally ends in disaster. Let’s hope if they do again, it doesn’t end in the biggest disaster of all.

Review: Restless Beings, Human Writes 2 @ Rhythm Factory

Hip Hop and Rap isn’t always portrayed in the best way: diatribe, misogyny and violence is often linked with the two. However, Restless Beings, a non-profitable charity founded in 2007, decided to bring a nexus of talented Hip Hop artists together to ‘ignite your conscious’ on Saturday night. The event, called Human Writes, was held at Rhythm Factory in Whitechapel, and intended to promote awareness of some of the most neglected communities across the world. “This is not music for the sake of music. It’s music with a message, for charity,” said Mabrur Amhed, co-director and founder of Restless Beings at the event.

“We believe in creativity and visual arts because art is accessible to everybody,” said Rahima Begum who, along with Mabrur, set up the charity. Kayne Anthony, an 18-year-old rapper and one of the standout acts of the night, said: “I think it’s a really good outlet for people to learn something new.” And it’s true. Historically, Hip Hop has been used as an instrument to educate and inspire. “You need music to bring about change. Hip Hop has educated people. Who was Malcolm X? Who was Gandhi? People have found out about them through Hip Hop,” said TY, a prominent rapper in the British hip-hop scene.

At the very front of the hall, on DJ Snuff‘s workstation, hung a Keffiyeh (the ubiquitous black and white scarf that was made popular by the Palestinian resistance movement in the 1960′s). And, although there was probably no real reason why it was there, it was symbolic of what Restless Beings stand for: the fight for human rights.

However, Mohammed Yahya - who along with Sarina Leah, make up the duo Native Sun – elucidated before his performance: “We attach ourselves to certain causes and forget about others. Who knew about the riots in Mozambique [in September]?”

Yahya’s words are indicative of the Restless Beings organization who aim to bring hope to the most marginalised and impoverished people throughout the world – communities often ignored by the mainstream media. Restless Beings, most notably, concentrates on four projects worldwide: Bangladesh street children, the Roma gypsies, the Rohingyas and the Uighur community. To find out more about these projects, click here.

Melissa Melodee, who sung and rapped about: the ephemerality of material possessions, the importance of family and the lack of world justice, praised the work of Restless beings: she said: “I think what they are doing is amazing. I can put them on the same level as Amnesty international. Events like this opens the consciousness of minds of people.”

Femi Santiago, like Melodee, is a singer/ songwriter and performed with Poetic Pilgrimage on stage, he said: “The amazing thing about this type of movement is that it will inspire people to make a stand – whether they attach themselves as part of this cause or create their own cause. And this is how we will evolve as humanity. “

Jimmy Jitsu, a rising star in the UK Hip Hop scene, said: Restless Beings shed light on issues which haven’t been covered. I personally connect with the homeless population in the UK, drug addicts and those with mental illness.

TY tweeted after the event: “I’ve never done a show anywhere in the world and the day after, the audience and the artists are all speaking on twitter. NEVER.”

The atmosphere was, on the whole, palpably friendly. We need more of them.

The event was also graced with performances by: Black the Ripper, Nathan ‘Flutebox’ Lee, Quest-Rah, Poet Curious, Lorianne, Caxton Press and Mangaliso Asi.

Follow Omar Shahid on Twitter: www.twitter.com/omar_shahid

EXCLUSIVE: Vince Cable Says Our Economy Is In A ‘Crisis’ & Labour Dealt With The Economy ‘Sensibly’

“What’s happening is extraordinarily serious. We’re in a very deep crisis,” Vince Cable, Business Secretary, said last night in the first of many startling admissions. Cable – speaking alongside John Denham, Labour MP and Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party – was speaking at a debate about the economy, business and tuition fees to a predominantly student audience in the House of Commons.

Cable’s use of the term “crisis” was not an isolated occurrence, however – he used it on several occasions throughout the evening. The increase in his vociferous rhetoric coincides, inexorably, with government’s fruitless economic strategy.

Oxymoronically, Cable said something else strange, too: “If we cut the deficit too fast we will fall of a cliff.” This self-deprecating statement by Cable doesn’t seem to hold up: the government clearly are attempting to cut the deficit too fast. Christopher Pissarides, who won the Nobel Prize in Economics in 2010, denounced the extent of Chancellor George Osbourne’s cuts and described them as “inflexible” in a New Statesman column last week. While David Blanchflower, the NS’s economics editor, wrote: “You [George Osbourne] must loosen fiscal policy and slow the pace of public spending cuts or you will push the UK economy over the precipice.”

But things soon became even stranger. Upon being asked by angry members of the audience whether the coalition are on the right track with regards to the economy, Cable continually evaded the question – but twice mentioned: “Gordon Brown and Alastair Darling dealt with the economy sensibly.” A statement Prime Minister David Cameron will undoubtedly disagree with.

Fellow panelist John Denham said: “They’re [the government] doing too little to stimulate growth. Most of the cuts are falling on women, women with Children in particular.”

Caroline Lucas said: Government policies are making things worse, not better. It’s counterproductive. She also described the government’s ubiquitous mantra that ‘we are all in this together’ as “insulting.” Lamenting that the poor are being hit the hardest.

Cable had no qualms about blaming the banks for the financial turmoil in our country. And upon being asked what will to be done about the ‘greedy bankers’, Cable said: “We have got banking regulation in place. We have now agreed, in principle, to break up the seven big banks.”

Yesterday, the latest figures from UCAS showed a 12% drop in the number of UK applicants applying to university this September. The Green Party – in an act of clever political posturing – have stated their support for a free education system. Vince Cable and Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg, however, have been vehemently criticised after breaking party pledges and deciding to treble tuition fees.

After sullenly mumbling that his party had taken a lot of stick for their decision to raise tuition fees, Cable was quick to emphasise: “nobody pays fees when they go to university. The system works in the form of a graduate tax. Public spending on universities is increasing with student support, maintenance grant and loan schemes. There is more money than less going into Universities!”

What he did concede was that: “The parties used the wrong [political] language” when deciding to raise the fees.

One of the final questions of the night came from a fuming student from Tower Hamlets who described the scrapping of EMA as “evil.” He also cited a survey in his local area, which purportedly showed how much distress the cancelling of EMA has caused students. His question was thus: “What possible justification can you [Vince Cable] give for getting rid of EMA?”

Cable said: “On EMA, I share a lot of the worries. Many young people are being affected by it. There is an impact but it’s not devastating.”

The government have claimed that there is no other option apart from their proposed austerity measures. Last week, the NS published the reports of nine leading economists who disagree. It seems, perhaps, as if Vince cable does, too.

With the large group of young people Cable had to face at the House of Commons last night – who reminded him that youth unemployment is nearing 1 million, and the increasing evidence that the government’s economic position is untenable – we may start to see real signs of discord within the coalition. We need a plan B and Cable knows it.

Omar Shahid is editor of Spin (spinonline.co.uk)

Twitter: omar_shahid

Muammar Gaddafi is Dead, But Was the Nato Intervention Worth it?

What a year it has been so far: we have seen the downfall of Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, the killing of Bin Laden, and, today, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi was captured and then killed.

Gaddafi, who had oppressed his people for 42 years, was inevitably on the brink of meeting his fate after the rebels had taken over the dictator’s last remaining town of Sirte.

However, he did do some good for his country: Libya is one of the richest African nations, the average life expectancy is 77 and the literacy rates for women are 72%, according to the, erm, CIA. (Okay, you might not like the CIA but their statistics are probably true).

Gaddafi had the opportunity to flee with his wealth and his, err, ‘voluptuous, blonde, Ukranian nurse’ as she was described. But he chose to stay in his country and fight till the bitter end. And so he did. He has died – in his opinion – a ‘martyr’ but wouldn’t it have been better to have captured him? Perhaps even trial him?

Hmm, whatever the case, the Libyan’s – with the help of NATO – have got rid of a despot who will no longer cause them misery. That’s all the matters.

But the controversy lies within the following statement: were NATO right in intervening in Libya?

NATO decided to intervene when Gaddafi said his troops would go from house to house and murder everyone who opposed him. The NATO intervention has been labelled as ‘hypocritical’ – and so it is: what about the people around the world who have been suffering from bloodthirsty dictatorships for decades – where have NATO been? Why Libya? Was it for oil? The truth is, regardless of whether NATO were right or not, hypocritical or not, whether they did it for oil or not, they did play a key part in the end of the Gaddafi regime. They weakened Gaddafi’s regime to an extent which allowed the rebels to succeed and end up where they are today.

Gaddafi took control of the country in 1969 – taking over from King Idris in a military coup. King Idris wasn’t a particuarly popular figure amongt the Libyan people, and, according to Hamza Yusuf, some Libyan’s use to chant: ‘“Iblis wa la Idris” ([Give us] the devil and not Idris). They got what they asked for.

‘Momar’ – as western journalists pronounce his name – was a complete nutter. He did everything from masterminding terrorism to passing wind in a BBC interview. Alas, after seven months of fighting – which has seen 40,000 people killed (for what! one crazy man) – the people will need to rebuild the country, restore sanity and chose a democratic party to lead them forward. Things can only get better.

Ex Director General of Al Jazeera Wadah Khanfar speaks at City University

Ex Director General of Al Jazeera, Wadah Khanfar, came to City University this evening for the annual memorial of the late James Cameron (journalist).

Khanfar resigned from his post at Al Jazeera on September 20 after eight years in charge.

Here is a summary of what he said:

  • With speculation that Al Jazeera could lose its impartiality now that it is being taken over by a member of the Qatari royal family, Khanfar said (I’m paraphrasing): ‘People aren’t stupid, if the coverage changes they will know and complain – maybe even stop watching the channel. What Al Jazeera have achieved in 15 years could be wiped out in 15 days.’
  • He also spoke of the importance of the next generation of journalists. He said they should do everything to protect themselves from being ‘hijacked from corporations and politicians.’
  • He also criticised America for their failings in Iraq. He said America have failed to understand the culture and history in Iraq. ‘They’ve [America] made so many mistakes  because of their ignorance and their inability to understand Iraq.’ He talked about the country’s rich history and how centuries ago, it thrived in a time that the West was lagging behind in terms of prosperity and development.
  • Khanfar was asked about Al Jazeera’s alleged lack of coverage in Bahrain. He said: ‘We were the first to report in Bahraini streets. We followed the story until the Bahraini rulers kicked us out.’ He also said: ‘The story of Bahrain was never as important as as other Arab countries.’ He cited that whereas in Libya where there was military interference and it became a international conflict, Bahrain never had the same sort of urgency. Furthermore, the demonstrations weren’t continuous but stopped and started.
  • One of the more interesting things he said was that: ‘there are people who don’t want the Arab spring to reach its destination.’ Meaning that those who have protested across the Middle East and North Africa have done so to achieve freedom and democracy. But democracy in some countries, of course, wouldn’t suit the interests of certain countries.
Omar Shahid
Follow me on Twitter: omar_shahid

Spin – The Outside View on Current Affairs

James Lee (co-founder) and I first conceived the idea of Spin early in 2011, but since then, we have changed our minds about the direction of Spin several times.

It started of as a simple current affairs website – there wasn’t going to be anything particularly special about the site.

We then decided to combine current affairs with photography, and although we didn’t end up doing this, we hope to introduce this concept sometime in the future.

After four months of what can only be described as a series of comedic yet frustrating delays, Spin is finally here – thankfully.

What is Spin? Essentially, we are a current affairs website, but, distinctively, we combine our articles with thought-provoking custom-made art designed by one of our artists.  With a plethora of current affairs websites all over the Internet, Spin hopes to offer a different take on things – an outside view.

The outside view on current affairs - our tagline – conveys the idea that we will approach current affairs in a new light. All of our writers and artists are under the age of 24, but we haven’t selected merely anyone – we believe we have some of the very best writers and artists.

We are also deliberately left wing; we hope to start a discourse around issues that are not always propounded by the mainstream media. Everything about our website is slightly different, including our category names:

Left Wing – coverage of the most important political events.

Rhythm – critique of the mainstream music industry.

Catch 22 - a philosophical take on current affairs.

Onside – opinion and reporting on football issues, especially the big names and clubs.

The Outsiders – a look at our writers and artists.

Omar Shahid, Editor

www.spinonline.co.uk

Follow us on Twitter

Become a fan on Facebook

 

 

 

Florence Nightingale & The Arab Revolutions

Florence Nightingale once wrote:

“[The] Arab would be the most thriving man in the world under any government but this. He will be beaten almost to death, as they often are, rather than give up.”

Thursday marked six moths since the beginning of the Syrian uprisings. Despite the systematic brutality of the regime – leading to 2,600 civilians deaths, according to the United Nations – protesters refuse to surrender. The regime has, with great ignorance, exacerbated the problem by murdering and torturing their own people.

Indeed, if there is one thing that the world should have learnt from the Arab spring – especially the dictators residing in the East – it is that Arabs, as Nightingale said, will not “give up.” True, many Arabs are protesting because they have been deprived of basic rights for decades, but what’s keeping them going now is the hatred of the regime that has killed their friends and family members. Perhaps in the case of Syria, the torturing and killing of children.

Nightingale travelled to Egypt in the mid-19th century when the country’s political conditions were despotic and corrupt. The rule of Mehmet Ali had just come to an end and one of his grandsons had just succeeded him (a clear example that nepotism is not a recent phenomena in the Arab world). Neither, in fact, is police brutality, as Nightingale remarked upon seeing a young boy being mistreated in Cairo:

“A police officer, who seized a miserable boy, threw him down, and dragged him away. The boy’s white turban came undone, and streamed upon the wind; the bastinado stick appeared: the Secretary (our friend) tried to interfere, but could do nothing. It made one quite sick, as all the details of government do in this horrid country.”

During Nightingale’s sojourn in the Arab world, her profundity helped her perceive certain truths – serving as a reminder of the stark similarities between the Arab world then and now.

While it might seem that not much has changed over the last 150 years – since the beginning of this year, we have seen: Tunisia’s Ben Ali, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi all toppled respectively. But what really has been achieved?

Although Tunisia could well be on its way to a healthy democracy, parliamentary elections and the constitution will not be finalized for a year. Hosni Mubarak has been replaced with his crony – Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi – who seems shy of reform. In Libya, many are dubious over the role the west will play in the country’s affairs. Syria has yet to see a high-profile ranking official defect – neither has there been any sign of discord within the Alawite sect that rules supreme. America has yet to completely denounce the regime in Yemen, as President Abdullah Saleh refuses to loosen his grip on power. And the smaller protests in Bahrain, Iraq, Morocco, Jordan, Oman, Kuwait, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Sudan have not led to drastic changes.

This should not undermine the progress that has taken place, however.

While it is true that the protesters have initiated change in the Arab world, ultimately, it is the callousness of the regimes that have caused their own downfall. As we have seen in Syria and Yemen – where protestors are continually gaining momentum – when human beings are treated inhumanely, protests turn into revolutions.

Nightingale, Florence. Letters From Egypt: A Journey on the Nile: 1849 – 1850. Selected and Introduced by Anthony Sattin.

Omar Shahid

Why do we go to the cinema?

It doesn’t make sense really. Why do cinemas charge extortionate amounts for film tickets (and popcorn) when illegally downloading movies and buying dodgy DVDs has become so ubiquitous in recent times?

There are a couple of reasons why this may be. It’s either because the company director’s of Showcase, Cineworld, Vue et al have pretty useless financial advisers. Or it might be because cinemas enjoy ripping-off the suckers who want to watch films legitimately.

So anyway, I decided to be one of those suckers the other night. I went to watch Conan the Barbarian, no not by myself, I’m not a loser, I went with my mum…

The film was pretty mediocre, it’s not really not worth watching, unless, of course, you enjoy limbs (and noses) being chopped off, heads being smashed in and nudity – there was quite a bit of that actually. Not recommended for the squeamish, or – may I add – the devoutly religious.

I can’t imagine watching that film in 3D; every single person in the room would have had a heart attack – all four of us.

I remember when there was a real buzz when 3D first came to cinemas – especially when Avatar came out in 2009. But, since then, it has been a bit of an anticlimax; most people’s frustration is not with 3D itself but with the silly glasses you have to wear.

3D has existed in some form since the 1950s – it’s not new technology like some think. What is new, though, is 3D without glasses, also known as a hologram (the technology is expected to launch within two years or so).

Back to the cinema industry. What’s the future? Well, cinemas across Britain saw an increase in box office takings in 2010 but a 2% decrease in the amount of people attending – according to the British Film Institute. The upsurge in takings has been attributed to the higher prices of 3D tickets – with the highest grossing film of 2010 being Toy Story 3. The cinema industry is far from dead.

As long as new technology is produced (i.e 3D or holograms) and box office smashes are vivaciously churned out, cinemas will survive, and, of course, continue to over-charge.

TVs are getting bigger, slimmer and cheaper, with higher resolutions and better sound systems. And they do, in a way, continue to pose a threat to the cinema industry. But people have had home-cinema systems for years. The reason why people go to the cinema is for the overall experience – no matter how hard one tries to emulate it, the home experience doesn’t quite match it.

Next film to watch: Lion King in 3D (October 7). Now that film is priceless.

Tupac Shakur’s Legacy 15 years on

Tupac was a big contradiction. He was a thug but also a moral revolutionist, he was obdurate but also loving, he was a genius but also foolish. Despite the negatives, he is still seen as an inspiration and an icon across the world.

Yesterday, September 13 2011, was the 15th anniversary of Tupac’s death. Born in 1971 in Manhattan, New York, Tupac was raised in humble conditions; he was underprivileged but was on a quest. 25 years later his quest would abruptly end – perhaps too soon.

His short sojourn in this life embodied the struggle of many Americans. He experienced everything from: growing up poor, being shot five times and surviving, going to jail for molesting a woman and becoming a self-made millionaire. The disparity in his life serves as a reminder of how human beings are in search for meaning and love but don’t always know how to get there.

Tupac was unique and he was special. It’s surprising that somebody who died so young could leave such a profound legacy and be described with so many superlatives.

His music – but in particular his voice – was distinctive and instantly recognisable. 50 Cent wrote in the 2009 book How To Rap: “Every rapper who grew up in the nineties owes something to Tupac. He didn’t sound like anyone who came before him.”

Before his death, Tupac released six studio albums – with the 1996 All Eyez on Me release going 9x Platinum. Subsequently, eight albums have been released since his death, leading some conspiracy theorists to deduce that he is still alive.

Although it is pretty useless speculating the heights he could have reached if he were alive today, it seems fair to suggest he would have transcended his delinquency and immaturity and turned into a great ambassador for black America. He had all the ingredients: courage, intellect and eloquence.

But, judging by some of his songs, like Letter to my unborn, it was as if Tupac knew he would die young – he had a date with destiny.

Tupac was far from perfect, in fact, he was often crude, obscene and arrogant. But the very best of his character and personality are worth reflecting upon – despite the ubiquitous mantra: ‘he is dead! Get over it.’

Strangely, nobody seems to say that about Malcolm X. Malcolm faced many of the struggles Tupac did but was fortunate enough to live an extra 14 years, and so mastered many of his flaws. Tupac, however, wasn’t so lucky. But his short life still represents that beacon of hope that more or less everyone can take something from.

9/11 & The Forgotten War on Poverty, Obesity and The Mind

This may have been the ‘9/11 decade’, but it was also a decade in which the most pertinent issues facing humanity were subverted.

Poverty. 9/15 – the date when the bankers crashed the global economy – is a date seldom mentioned (unlike 9/11). According to World Bank studies, 30,000 to 50,000 infants died in sub-Saharan Africa in 2009 as a result of 9/15. Ironically, while the tragedy of 9/11 led to instant action taken by the Bush administration in Afghanistan and Iraq – spending trillions of dollars in the process – the bankers, who squandered tax payers money, have been let off.

Technology. Professor Susan Greenfield, a specialist in the physiology of the brain, argues in her latest article for the Daily Mail: “The human brain… is under threat from the modern world.”

Greenfield further says we need to “wake up to the damage that the gadget-filled, pharmaceutically-enhanced 21st century is doing to our brains.”

A study published by the International Centre for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA) and the Salzburg Academy on Media & Global Change found nearly four in five students suffered mental and physical distress when asked to go the full 24 hours without technology. Interestingly, people who have Blackberry Messenger often tell talk about how “addictive” the facility is.

Corporatising drugs. In 2008, antipsychotics became the top-selling therapeutic prescription drugs in the United States – exceeding drugs to treat high cholesterol and acid reflux. Investigative journalist James Ridegeway said in a piece he wrote for Al Jazeera recently that drug companies now encourage the prescription of atypical antipsychotics to patients for off-label use.

A study at Harvard medical school found that by just imagining playing the piano, the structure of the brain can change. “[The brain is] substantially shaped by what we do to it and by the experience of daily life. When I say “shaped”, I’m not talking figuratively or metaphorically; I’m talking literally,” Greenfield says.

If by merely imagining playing the piano the structure of the brain can change, then what happens to the brain when watching violent video games or films or when listening to delirious music by Lady Gaga?

Mental illness. Quite worryingly, the latest findings from the European College of Psychopharmacology reports that 164.8 million Europeans – 38.2% of the population – suffers from a mental disorder. Furthermore depression, according to the World Health Organization, is expected to be the second most burdensome medical condition by 2020. But whether these high numbers are because of the increase in diagnoses or not, the reality is there is a serious pandemic at work.

Obesity. It is not just our minds that we should be worried about. By 2030, almost half of all the adults in this country are expected to be clinically obese. Obesity has ubiquitously been linked to a sedentary lifestyle (which is probably accentuated with the rapid increase in technology).

Conclusion. Terrorists do need to be dealt with. But the real war should be on combating the rogue capitalists, the forces attacking our brains and obesity. We need to “wake up” as Professor Greenfield says – wake up from this somnolent state we are heedlessly in to create a better future.

Twitter vs Journalism

Some say journalism is becoming more lazy. But maybe journalism is just entering a new phase, perhaps it is undergoing a mini revolution. These days, journalists don’t have to go out and get quotes from people, they just have to go on twitter.

Furthermore, journalists are not necessarily the first to get knowledge of events when they first occur. If a high profile person tweets something, it is down to luck – or whoever happens to be on Twitter at the time – who sees what has happened. This only means that journalism will become more competitive in the future as information is now so accessible to literally everyone.

If there is a major world event, the first place we will hear about it is on Twitter. Thinking about it, Twitter is brilliant. Everyone should use it, it’s more fun than Facebook these days. Facebook has had its days. Twitter saw a huge influx in new users last month, while Facebook saw its users leave.

Not the best thing I’ve ever written, but still, worth a piece.

Follow me on Twitter: omar_shahid

 

Sports Stars: What happened to their Je Nais Sais Quoi?

Don’t you miss the rivalry between Patrick Vieira and Roy Keane back in the days when Arsenal were a half-decent team and capable of beating Manchester United? Don’t you miss the days when heavyweight champs like Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson were regarded as the best – and not mediocre fighters like David Haye? Those were good times, right? The thing is, one doesn’t have to go that far back in time to remember all of this; it was all less than 10 years ago. Sport just doesn’t seem to have the same feel.

Undoubtedly, sport is now better in many respects: athletes are bigger and stronger, technology has advanced, sport is being played at an all-time exciting and frenetic pace, and women’s sport is finally being taken seriously (sort of).

And look at the likes of Lionel Messi (Barcelona’s genius football player) and Usain ‘Lightening’ Bolt, who is, beyond doubt, the fastest 100m athlete we have ever seen. These sportsmen are extraordinary human beings – unparalleled to anything in recent history.

My beef isn’t with Messi or Bolt, though. Or even Cesc Fabregas for that matter – he is one football player who cannot stand accused with charges of greed. His tedious and long winded transfer from Arsenal to Barcelona which stretched almost four year had little, if anything to do with money; he even seemed willing to take a salary cut. My beef is with the dramatic commercialisation and greediness of other major sports stars.

Let’s take Samir Nasri, Manchester City’s new ‘prized asset’ (or so they tell him until he finds himself on the bench). His move from Arsenal to Manchester seems to be motivated by money – and although this may be a wild presumption – he wouldn’t be the first to move clubs because of avaricious purposes. Look at Samuel Eto’s move to Anzhi Makhachkala – purportedly the most lucrative footballing contract in history – and how many of us had actually heard of that club until recently? Thierry Henry and Robbie Keane’s moves to the American MLS side, Christiano Ronaldo’s move to Real Madrid (to an extent), Fernando Torres’ move to Liverpool and most certainly Dario Conca’s move to the Chinese Guangzhou Evergrande have all been money-motivated.

The Argentinian and Manchester City striker Carlos Tevez said recently: “I don’t want to play any more. I’m tired of football but also tired of people who work in football. Football is only about money and I don’t like it.” This heartfelt and honest discernment by Tevez is not just a problem in Football, it’s a problem endemic in many sports.

Floyd Mayweather’s reluctance to spar with Manny Pacquiao in the boxing ring only highlights one thing; he has enough (or too much) money. Mayweather knows that the title of the ‘best pound for pound’ boxer could be aggressively snatched away from him and given unequivocally to Pacquiao. The farcical pretext that the fight will not take place till Pacquiao takes a drugs test is a ludicrous excuse for saying ‘I have enough money and I’m too scared to fight’.

It’s obvious that a profound paradigm shift is taking place in sport when England are slaughtering India in a game of Cricket as we’ve all witnessed recently. The once unbeatable Austalian cricket team now fields a host of unknown players. Who else misses the likes of Glen McGrath, Shane Warne and Matty Hayden?

The reason why it might seem like I’m complaining so much is really because of one reason. My two favourite sports are Football and Cricket – and I happen to support Arsenal and Pakistan respectively. Supporting one of these teams is hard enough. But supporting both of them is a continuous catastrophe. On the one hand we have a football team with a miser of a manager who hasn’t won a thing in seven years. And then we have the corrupt-ridden, underperformers who time and time again squander their talent.

Sport is definitely changing and the emphasis on money and commercialisation is copiously increasing.  Although this isn’t the real problem, it could be the root cause. The real problem, it seems, is that the vast majority our biggest sports stars don’t possess that certain je ne sais quoi as those who preceded them.

This article first appeared on my Independent Blog.

Advice to wannabe journalists

There is nothing quite like getting published for the first time. The jubilation you feel after all that effort you put into your article and then seeing your name in the byline of a national newspaper once it is published.

If somebody told me a year ago that I would now be blogging for the Independent, the Huffington Post and the New Statesman I would have laughed at them. But that was when I didn’t realize how journalism works.

Journalism is very much a cat and mouse game you see. As in, the wannabe hacks are the cat and the national newspapers/ magazines are the mouse. To get what you want, sometimes you have to chase them up and when they ignore you – or when they are too busy to respond – you continue to chase them up. And then, finally, you’ll get a response.

But like they say, you don’t get a second chance at a first impression. When you do pitch to the deputy editor, or whoever else you have managed to stalk down, it’s imperative that you come across as professional and friendly in your pitch. Scrutinize your article several times, meticulously checking for factual and grammatical errors before emailing it.

Now one year into journalism, I have interviewed a plethora of big names. Alastair Campbell being one of the bigger ones. He said in the interview that, in order to be a successful journalist, not only do you need “self confidence and inner confidence”, but you need to think you are better than the next person up.

This is why you should never be afraid to pitch above your weight. What’s the worst that could happen if the Guardian, Independent et al say ‘no’. If anything it’s a good thing. It means that your article wasn’t quite good enough and you can keep improving. Sometimes they will even tell you where you have gone wrong.

Also, do not underestimate the power of Twitter. If you catch somebody at the right moment and paste them a link to your blog, not will they read it, but they might even follow you back. Once you are in that position you can even send them direct messages. This is the ideal tool for wannabe journos.

Omar Shahid

Twitter: omar_shahid

David Starkey’s statements were shocking, but not racist

Having looked at various comments on national newspaper sites about the comments of David Starkey, I have found that I am by no means a minority in what I believe. What Starkey said was indeed shocking, but not racist. When was the last time we heard an educated professional say the kinds of things he did on national TV? It’s rare. When we are shocked by things it naturally provokes an unnatural reaction: everyone became defensive, went on the attack and called him racist.

One of the main problems with our society, and religion for that matter, is that everybody interprets things from their own narrow frame of references and perspectives and hardly ever look at the whole picture. We need to transcend our narrow perspectives and not look at things so literally.

Starkey clearly said it has nothing to do with “skin colour” but was about a particular “culture”. He’s right. The culture he was talking about here is the egotistic, materialistic and gangster culture endemic within much of our society. The behaviour and language of many white people has been adopted from a PARTICULAR black culture. This particular black culture is endemic within the rap/hip hop subculture which espouses messages of violence and materialism. Were white people the pioneers and original hip hop superstars?

Starkey also said that if we were to turn the TV off, we might think that David Lammy, MP, was white. If he wasn’t interrupted so frequently he might have further explained that what he meant (I think) was that you can’t tell the difference when an educated white or black person speaks.

When white people talk in a certain way, for example, ‘man is gona do him a ting’ why do people think to themselves: why is he trying to act black? Why? Where has that white person got that language from? Other white people? This is the point Starkey was trying to make.

Maybe he was trying to be racist. But I don’t think he was. And anyway nobody should dare accuse me of anything when my best friend (well joint best friend, I have a few best friends) is black, when I went to sixth form (a 85% white school) most of my friends were black, and I’ve got Jamaican in me. I will be the first to stand up for black people if they are being attacked or victimised, but in this case, I think people got the wrong end of the stick.

Omar Shahid

The Riots Have Nothing to do With The Police or The Government

Just a quick point. It seemed as if the riots first began because of the death of Mark Duggan who was shot by Police. This may be true, but since then, it has turned into a bunch of animals causing havoc. This has nothing to do with police brutality or government cuts but it is all to do with the lack of morality in our society.

98% of the youth probably haven’t encountered direct brutality from the police, nor have they been unfairly treated, yet they see the police as an evil entity. Do they not know that the police go out everyday and protect society? What would happen to the country if the police stopped working for a few days? Of course some police do abuse their powers, but that shouldn’t reflect on the whole police force.

These youth are frustrated. Some say because of a lack of jobs, deprivation and government cuts. That’s not true. The youth are frustrated because they have no sense of purpose in life.

All these thugs will soon be caught, the majority of it all is on camera. The worst thing, though, is that these idiots burning down businesses, shops and houses mean that innocent people are losing their livelihoods. If a Father or Mother loses his or her job, their only source of income, how are they suppose to feed their family?

The youth aren’t thinking about all of this. To be honest, this is the cause of the whole situation. Nobody is thinking. But we’re not trained to use our minds in this society, we’re trained to use our ego. And that is the root cause of all the problems.

 

Ramadan is approaching: Why do Muslims fast?

The month of fasting for Muslims, also known as Ramadan, is looming. But why is it that Muslims fast?

Fasting is a Quranic injunction prescribed upon the believers so that they may attain self restraint (2:183). The idea of discipline is all about taming the human soul and not allowing the evil that often emanates from it to manifest into your daily life.  Fasting is undertaken to do exactly this: to discipline oneself.

Abstaining from food and drink is just one aspect of the fast: Muslims should also abstain from vain talk; raising their voice; using foul language; having sexual relations with their spouse (between dawn till dusk) and becoming angry. It is therefore a fast of the mind, body and soul.

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is the month in which the Quran was revealed and is therefore held in high esteem amongst Muslims. According to Muslims, the Quran is able to govern a Muslims day to day life with instructions about every matter pertaining to life – it is therefore a holistic and complete book. It advises in 20: 81 “Eat of the good and wholesome things that We have provided for your sustenance, but indulge in no excess therein.” Ironically, Muslims seem to do exactly the opposite of this during Ramadan. Not only do they eat rubbish for both their morning meal (Suhoor) and their evening meal (iftar) but they end up over-eating. Not only is this contrary to Islamic teachings, but it often results in the gaining of weight.

Fasting is about the detoxification of the mind, body and soul after it has become corrupted throughout the course of the year. Fasting helps get rid of the toxins in the body and it also gives the digestive system a break ( a well needed one for some excess-eaters). It is also known that the person who can refrain from eating can stop themselves from indulging in other capricious activities.

Fasting, essentially, is about bettering oneself. It is a time for reflection and contemplation. To look at your character and improve it; to master your ego, and suppress your desires.

Like many other acts of worship, many Muslims treat fasting as a perfunctory ritual. When, in reality, nothing should be done in a perfunctory manner. It is the time, more than ever, to realize your spiritual dimension and return to the fitrah ( a human beings innate nature).

The clear ignorance of Richard Dawkins

In this weeks New Statesman magazine there is an article called: Faith no more. Andrew Zak Williams asked an array of public figures why they don’t believe in God. This follows an article written in April where Williams asked 30 other public figures why they believed in God.

I was pretty disappointed with the arguments put forward by those who said they were believers, as their arguments were weak and unconvincing. Cherrie Blaire, for example, cites her reason for believing in a divine entity because: “It’s been a journey from my upbringing to an understanding of something that my head cannot explain but my heart knows to be true.” The majority of the believers in April’s article were also Christian and therefore it lacked a pluralistic approach to different belief systems.

Faith no more saw the likes of Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Sir Roger Penrose, Polly Toynbee, Stephen Hawking and others add their voice to the ongoing human debate about the existence of God. Having read both articles, the arguments put forward by the atheists and agnostics in this week’s debate seemed more convincing than those propounded by the believers in April.

Sam Harris, a Neuroscientist and author, says that the burden of proof doesn’t lie on the shoulders of atheists but on believers. This, of course, is true. If one believes in something, no matter what is is – there must be a reason for believing in it: and if you want others to believe in it, you must provide substantiated reasons for believing in it. Saying ‘I know in my heart it is true’ is wholly insufficient, not only because it is purely subjective and intangible but because that proves nothing!

Saying that, however, Richard Dawkins says something interesting, but also highly ignorant for someone of his stature: “I don’t believe in leprechauns, pixies, werewolves, jujus, Thoe, Poseidon, Yahweh, Allah or the Trinity.” Conflating imaginary things like leprechauns with the God of the Abrahamic faith clearly shows Dawkins ignorance of religion. For one to believe in God, one has to understand the definition of God.

‘Leprechauns’, according to those who believe in God, do not provide us with the ultimate answer or a reason for why we exist. Dawkins clearly has a profoundly immature and inchoate understanding of other religious traditions.

For Christians, Jews and Muslims, God provides the ultimate answer. He is the Beginning, the Creator, but also the one who has placed within us the ability to question, to understand and to reject the existence of God. Interestingly, in Arabic, the word ‘kufr’ can mean disbelief, ingratitude or an arrogant rejection of the truth but has other nuanced meanings. The idea entails that ‘kufr’ is a response within a human being which involves concealing or covering up the truth. God, who according to believers is the ‘Truth’, has put within us the recognition device of remembering who our Lord is. Another profoundly interesting word in the Arabic language is ‘Insaan’ – which means a human being. But the root word comes from the one who ‘forgets’. This is similar to the Platonic idea of remembering what we previously knew in the World of the Forms.

When people like Cherrie Blaire then says that she feels God in her heart – although it is an highly impotent argument – it is her way of saying she has ‘remembered’.

Stephen Hawking says: “I am not claiming there is no God.” He further says: “Free will and God” can exist. This more agnostic approach towards understanding the realm of knowledge which is outside our dimension is much more rational. Because science is still incapable of denying the existence of God, an agnostic approach by scientists should be undertaken for the mean time until science does completely remove God from the equation – if that ever happens; which I doubt it ever will.

Buddhists remain silent on the question of God’s existence because they recognize the inability of humans to prove otherwise. The more proselytizing religions like Islam has the belief that the existence of God can be proved through innumerable evidence. The main two being: the inimitable and perfect Quran and the prophetic life of Muhammad.

Michael Shermer, publisher of Skeptic magazine says: “In the last 10,000 years there have been roughly 10,000 religions and 1,000 different gods; what are the chances that one group of people discovered the One True God while everyone else believed in 9,999 false gods?” How could a believer reply to this? What makes their God the ‘real one’? Again, let’s revert back to the Arabic language for an answer. There is an Arabic word called ‘fitrah’. This word encapsulates the idea of the natural inclination of a human being to believe in the Divine. Therefore, it could be argued, throughout time immemorial – in our quest to understand our purpose and understand this innate feeling within us – we have constructed many Gods. This, however, is not a reason against a belief in God but one for a belief in God. This natural feeling which is often manifested by people creating idols, or worshipping Jesus or Allah, is a sign within us pointing to the source. What that source is, science has yet to discover. But until then, it is best for the likes of Dawkins to leave the existence of God open.

Amy Winehouse, Norway & Twitter: Thoughts on all three

So Amy Winehouse is dead. R.I.P. Does it make me sad? Not really. Probably from a drug overdose, although that’s just speculation. Winehouse, it seems, had given up and refused to treat herself. With all the scares, rehabilitation sessions and advice she remained in a heedless state. But whose fault is it that she died? Was it hers? Maybe it’s her fault that she decided to lead the life of a druggy. Or is it her ex boyfriends fault? It was him, apparently, who got her to start taking hard drugs. Being a celebrity isn’t easy.  If one day she came home and was extremely stressed and her boyfriend – ‘the love of her life’ – told her that she would be able to relax by taking certain substances, it would have taken a very strong minded individual to refrain. One thing would have lead to another, until she was an addict. Some people are, of course, more susceptible to becoming addicts and maybe she was one of those people.

What’s disturbing, however, is the lack of care record labels seem to give to their artists. Of course, I don’t know exactly what help record labels give their artists, but clearly it isn’t enough. Becoming a celebrity can change a person’s complete psychology and they need to be guided. But it seems as if record labels are just concerned with money making at the expense of their artists’ health and emotional well being.

We’re conditioned to see the deaths of celebrities as more of a tragedy then those of civilians dying in terror attacks. But the tragedy in Norway is incomparable to the death of Amy Winehouse, but most people, it seems, are more perturbed by the latter.

On the news yesterday, we were bombarded with accusations that the attacks in Norway were done by ‘Muslim extremists’. Fox News were quick to say ‘Muslim extremists have bombed Norway’ – not particularly surprising coming from that xenophobic, racist and Islamophobic channel. But what’s crazy is that supposed ‘experts’, on various news outlets, were convinced that it was Muslim extremists or Al Qaeda who were responsible. And what do we find out? It was a Christian fundamentalist. Although I don’t like associating religion to acts of terror as the two are the complete antithesis of one another.

Lastly, I have started questioning the reason why people use Twitter. The majority of tweets are people telling others about their life. Do we think that we’re that important that we have to tell others about our doings? I don’t think I’m important. That’s why I mostly tweet about things which educate others and myself. This ‘me’ culture is dangerous. But selfishness and egoism is endemic within our society. We’re indoctrinated to believe that everything is about ‘us’. But we are just tiny creatures in the vast expanse of a grand universe. We’re insignificant, really. The only sense that we are important is that we are creations of the Divine who created us for a purpose. And it is this purpose for which we were created that we should endeavour to fulfill.

Wrote this in about 3minutes. Sorry for any grammatical mistakes.

Omar Shahid

Twitter: omar_shahid

The Old Asian Man who really made me think

I saw an old, asian man rummaging through a bin in Ilford today as my Dad and I had just come out from a restaurant. And although this may not seem that unusual, it really made me think. About what exactly? Well, first, the two extremes in our society. On the one end, we have those who live lavish lifestyles and waste despicably vast amounts of money and then, on the other hand, there are those who live in the depths of poverty. The two extremes seem irreconcilable to the human mind when deliberated over. One person starves to death because they have no food, and the other has so much food that they die from obesity.

It’s actually quite ironic. My Dad and I left the restaurant, leaving a pretty miserly 60pence tip, taking the £2 change the waiter had given us. Usually – or should I say – every single time I have ever been to a restaurant with my family – we leave a minimum £2 tip. This time, however, my dad decided to take the £2 change and put it in his pocket. Upon seeing the man rummaging through the bin, my dad, without much thought, gave the man the £2. It was as if the £2 was meant for him.

What’s pretty disheartening, is the fact that an old member of society – especially an asian society who are suppose to be very family orientated – has been left without any help, food or support. Where on earth are his family? If he was slightly mentally ill, which I suspect he was, why hasn’t he been put into care?

In one of the most prosperous nations on earth, with one of the largest economies, we still have people going through bins to eat. It’s crazy.

When giving the man the £2, he seemed a bit threatened, it was as if he thought we were going to reprimand him, but once he saw the money he was profusely grateful.

We don’t know how lucky we are. We’re often discontent with what we have. But why? We have everything we need. Appreciate it.

Omar Shahid

@omar_shahid