Young Muslims on Twitter: Hijabis, ‘Akhis’, Marriage and Showing Off

imgres-15There are many interesting phenomena taking place on Twitter, especially when one observes young Muslims. Never in history have young Muslims around the world interacted in such a way: forming friendships, learning from each other, attacking each other, turning into communities and trying to outdo and impress one another. Continue reading

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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

A reply to Richard Dawkin’s ‘make sense’ tweets

Dear Professor Dawkins,

Today you tweeted a lot and also retweeted a lot. Below are my responses to most of those anti-religious tweets.

“God couldn’t think of a better way to forgive the sin of Adam (who never existed) than to have his son (aka himself) executed. Makes sense.”

Continue reading

Twitter, Facebook, Food, Life and God

Today is probably the first time in about a year where I have had hardly anything to do. It’s easy to fall into the trap of sitting around doing nothing, Tweeting, Facebooking and grazing like a cattle, you know, searching the fridge every 25minutes. Instead I’ve occupied my mind with fairly useful activities: reading and thinking. Here are some random thoughts from today, some arbitrary but others perhaps intuited from something deeper. Continue reading

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.

Confessions of an Internet Troll

Dear Diary,

I know it was only yesterday that I wrote to you but I’m really struggling with this addiction. I promised myself this morning that I wouldn’t do it again. I couldn’t help myself. FFS. Today will be the last day, I promise.

Guess who I saw today outside my bedroom window this afternoon? Jack. Yeah, Jack Mitchell. I felt like jumping out my window and fu**ing him up. The pain and torment he put me through as a child was unbearable. I still remember coming home from school and crying. My mum could hardly console me, I mean, how could she? I was suicidal. Bloody bully. I should have killed him and ended the bullying once and for all. Yeah, that’s right – in the same way he mentally tortured me, I should have physically tortured him: cut him into little pieces, like him cut me up inside.

Oh, guess what? It’s been one year today since I cut my contract with them. I should bloody expose them for what they do. When the intelligence service first approached me, I was probably the biggest, baddest troll on the Internet, baby. I could go two whole days without sleep, just commenting: YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, but my favourite was The Guardian. I use to comment on the odd article on Islam, but they told me I had to search and wait for anything on Islam to come out and comment on it. While I was at it, I thought I would have a quick bash at anything that came out about Christianity. Those were the good old days, I caused so much mischief, friction and arguments between all these stupid, religious people. I mean, if these organised religions were true, why are their followers so easily wound up by what I say? These religious people are hypocrites. They’re suppose to be all holy, yet they come at me and start swearing and come down to the same level that I went. Ha, idiots.

But like I was saying, I need to stop all this. I need to get myself a job, seriously. Living off my mum isn’t good. I should become a columnist, actually. Why don’t The Guardian hire me? I always see all these articles and I’m thinking, these columnists don’t even know what they are talking about. I’m much better than them. I bet I’ve read more books than any of them – my vocabulary is insane. It’s probably better than Will Self’s. If I did get hired by The Guardian I reckon my friend would be jealous of me. Gareth, or should I say FreeThinker1, would probably troll on me!

Okay, tomorrow is a new day. No more commenting. I’m going to go out into this cold, cruel and callous world, a world where there is no love. Perhaps, I’ll find love



This blog should not be read on face value, look at the italicised words to comprehend the inner meanings.

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.


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.

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