Midnight’s Evangelists

Adnan R. Amin:

Writing about the anachronistic phenomenon of Bangladeshi televangelists targeting semi-literate, helpless migrant workers.

Originally posted on Alal O Dulal:

"Bangladeshi migrants waiting for a flight home." by stablisation unit/DFID, licensed under CC by 2.0 “Bangladeshi migrants waiting for a flight home.” (photo: stablisation unit/DFID, licensed under CC by 2.0)

Each day, all year round, as Bangladesh goes to sleep – a group of fortunetellers, mystics, and magicians wake up to start casting their spell. You probably have never seen or heard them. Yet they are neither invisible nor quiet. In fact, they actually advertise their messages and locations loud and clear.

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#AskHamas: Hashtag Goes Viral Before the Campaign

Hamas – the Palestinian ‘Islamic’ organization, dubbed a terrorist one by the United States, had been planning a social media campaign. They were evidently planning to target English speakers and get them to engage actual Hamas leaders on Twitter. Hence the hashtag #AskHamas.

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But before the campaign could even begin, the hashtag had been used over 5000 times. It has now gone viral. For all the wrong reasons.

It happened that news outlets picked up on the story last week and Israelis decided to have a little fun. They preempted Hamas and started tweeting with the hashtag. The World joined in minutes later.

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But like with all things involving Palestine and Israel, it heated up. Some of it got very dark and hateful. Sometimes tweets started revealing vicious hatred against the Palestinian people in general.

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Perhaps, this could be a good opportunity to really engage Hamas and give them a good idea of how the world views them. Regardless of the ineptitude, propaganda and marketing ploys, the opening of doors is a rare event in our world and must not be greeted with the hurling of racial slurs and verbal abuse.

India’s Rapists and Saviors

WARNING: “India’s Daughter” the BBC documentary is very hard to watch. Viewer discretion is strongly advised.

In December 2012, an Indian girl was brutally raped and murdered in Delhi. Her male companion was beaten up bad. They had been returning by bus after watching a movie. Six men cornered them during their journey home. Delhi erupted in protests and citizens clashed with the police. Two weeks later, the girl died from internal injuries and trauma. Five men and a boy were arrested a week later and charged with the crime(s). But the protests continued: laws needed revision. Some days ago, Leslee Udwin directed and produced a documentary called “India’s Daughter” for the BBC. It features interviews of one of the accused rapists and is facing a ban from the Indian Government. 

Already assaulted by international and domestic instances of rape and violence, the 2012 rape of ‘Nirbhaya’ (fearless) garnered international criticism and consolidated Delhi’s perception as the ‘Rape Capital‘ of the world. Led by students of the Jawaharlal Nehru College (JNU), protests raged all across India. It was as though a dam had suddenly burst and no longer was it taboo to challenge entrenched structures of patriarchy and violence against women.

It was the waves of month-long protests that caught the intrigue of Leslee Udwin. The Israeli-born, UK-based director-produced decided to make the documentary about this girl, Jyoti Singh, a 23-year old physiotherapy student. The documentary is a bone-chilling story of normalized violence against women. It is a damning account of entitled men who still expect women to endure violence without resistance. It is a heartbreaking narrative of how a kind, bright flame went out before she could spread her light.

It all begins with a narrative of the crime and interviews from Jyoti Singh’s parents. Mukesh, one of the convicted rapists, gets uninterrupted airtime to shed light on a general discomfort of Indian men upon seeing women dressed ‘inappropriately’, being out with ‘strange men’ or late at night. Defense lawyers are allowed to speak in similar veins. Mukesh narrates every detail from the day, including horrific details of the actual crime. At one point he tells Udwin that the victim should not have fought back while she was being raped. He seems surprised that everyone made such a big deal of it; there are so many worse crimes going on, he insists. Plus, hanging rapists may be a bad idea, he suggests. Next, rapists will start killing the girls. It still doesn’t occur to him that effective rape-prevention may even be a likely scenario in India. On the other hand, interwoven into his blood-curling narrative, is Jyoti’s parents talking about their daughter and the unbearable pain of having to cremate her so prematurely. The other minor storylines revolve around the families of the rapists.

But reception of ‘India’s Daughter’ has been mixed. Many have hailed it as a landmark conversation starter. An ice-breaker if you will. The Indian Government tried to get restrict its distribution. The BBC responded by releasing it prematurely. The government has managed to get the video banned and force YouTube to take it down. In fact, Leslee has fled India in fear of arrest.

Leslee Udwin speaks to the press. The ban on her documentary has raised questions about Freedom of Speech.

Leslee Udwin speaks to the press. The ban on her documentary has raised questions about Freedom of Speech. (Photo: Wall Street Journal)

But why is there so much controversy around the documentary? The first clue may lie in the style of storytelling: the documentary is a series of statements, news clippings and subtle reconstruction of actual events. Questions have been edited out – giving it the impression of an organic, overlapping narrative. The story is mostly led by Mukesh (interviewed rapist) – and then followed-up by reactions or commentaries from Jyoti’s parents, friend, Indian and English social-workers or academics. I should not have to elaborate on the political problems of allowing India’s Daughter’s story to be told by her rapist. Piyasree Dasgupta does a good job of point out how, stylistically, the documentary aimed for the sensational instead of aspiring to journalistic integrity in storytelling. Which explains this blogger’s reaction: “Shame on “India”. What a society! What a backward culture! It’s not only the uneducated and criminals, but watching these educated Indians talk about women in their Indian culture is sickening, no respect whatsoever.”

Secondly, the documentary’s oversimplified narrative hinges on ‘monsters’ and ‘victims’. Like with Kony2012, Evil is given a face and it gathers blind hate, devoid of nuanced understanding. That is acceptable for a tabloid, but not a BBC documentary set to be released on International Women’s Day. It fails to explore why the Nirbhaya case jolted India like it did; and what intelligence is to be gleaned from the identities of the rapists? For example, the social impact of having vast slums in the middle of a sprawling, urban metropolises is nowhere explored. Neither investigated is the supposed, social disapproval of ‘women out at night’. How does the ubiquitous portrayal of rape-scenes in Bollywood films affect the psyche of young, semi-literate youth? For a film that purports to tell a bigger story than the crime, the failure to investigate broad themes like the urban-rural divide, micro-aggression across these lines, gender & economic inequality and ghettoization of the poor is at least an oversight.

It is not surprising then – given it is a rapist who channels the narrative – that it emerges is misogynistic, sexist and insensitive. That it is a fringe view is never made clear. In fact, the sexism is further reinforced through the (outrageous and sexist) testimonies of the defense lawyers. There’s no attempt to balance their views. That’s where the third problem lies: it misrepresents India. The documentary is (intentionally or otherwise) transformed into a portrayal of Indian men. In his testimony, Mukesh confesses that most of them were heavily drunk that night and wanted to ‘party’. At one point, he states (presumably in reply to a question) that he hadn’t had sex in five years. The viewer is forced to reflect upon this Indian man’s needs and how he may choose to fulfill them. Such unbalanced reporting is why the world is ready to believe that the Assam Rape Festival is real. The rapists’ lawyers are called upon to speak about women’s rights. Leslee fails to include educated and progressive – or even traditionally-protective – Indian men in the film.

Fourthly, India’s Daughter’ has an interventionist approach where it feels as though an ‘outsider’ (BBC or Leslee herself) is collaborating with Indian urbanites to reflect on the crimes among the slum-dwelling Poor. Of course, it seems to say, the Poor cannot comment on their plight; we shall do it for them. As a result, the economically-disadvantaged characters speak of their pain (be it for the victim or the perpetrators), while activists, judges, academics and development workers are invited to speak about what has been / can be done to arrest this evil. Leslee even appears to lecture Indian PM Narendra Modi to “be a hero globally” and live up to his promises of Gender Equality. All of this takes ‘India’s Daughter’ dangerously close to being dubbed a ‘White Savior’ charity. And then, talking about her work, Leslee Udwin said, “My whole purpose was to give a gift of gratitude to India, to actually praise India, to single India out as a country that was exemplary in its response to this rape […]” Can you imagine her lecturing the leader of the country with the highest rape cases – Barack Obama – like this on the normalized high-school rape epidemic?

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‘India’s Daughter’ is a victim’s story, narrated mostly by her rapist. (Photo: rte.ie)

The heartbreaking case of Nirbhaya has sparked important conversations in India. There have been articles, reports, plays and even fashion photography that centers on her. India has tried to spell out its problems in many different ways. However, in the end, it is important to let India sort out its problems. No amount of shaming or guilt-trips will cure what is clearly a global, socio-economic malady. I say this because I think India has been shamed by ‘India’s Daughter’. Indian men have been shamed. Women too.

It could be that global knowledge of a rape culture is seen as more mortifying than actual instances of rape. Or it could be that a civilization with strong social institutions was humiliated for failure to protect its own. Perhaps it is a matter of national pride and the documentary’s narrative is perceived as no less than an affront, an insult to Indian culture. It is not possible for an outsider like me to understand the nature of their offense. But so inflamed is the situation that, after the release of the documentary, two alleged rapists have been beaten to death by mobs. In one case, a mob breached the walls of a prison, snatched the alleged rapist, beat him to death and hung him from a clocktower in front of thousands of flashing cameras.

In the end, ‘India’s Daughter’ has mostly exploited the cliched narrative of primitive Indian men and subjugated, objectified women to spin a riveting story out of a tragic crime. To do this, Leslee Udwin even allegedly misrepresented her intentions: she committed to filming a non-commercial documentary, but later sold it to BBC; she also hid some footage from the jail authorities, which later surfaced in the the film. In that sense, the documentary is an exploitation, a rape of India as well.

***

There’s a part in the documentary where a friend narrates a story from Jyoti’s (Nirbhaya’s) life. One day, at the mall, a 10-year old street urchin snatched her purse and dashed. A policeman caught him and was giving him a beating, when Jyoti intervened. Later she asked the boy why he had done what he had done. He replied that he, too, should have the right to nice clothes or to a hamburger. Moved, the girl bought him all the things he wanted and made the boy promise he would never try this again. It is ironic that the film-makers still failed to see the act in light of the Gandhian precept of “Hate the Crime, Not the Criminal”. But Jyoti – a daughter of India – had grown up with it. She could see beyond the behavior and into the intention. In Hindi / Bengali, ‘Jyoti’ means a ray of light, a beam. On her way out, this girl has lit a flame that will be difficult to put out. Her flame will burn and one day, the fire will purify age-old, ossified structures of discrimination and violence. I hope that, in death, she will become India’s savior.

Constructing Islamophobia: The Hate Preacher

Let this post be an example of how snippets of seemingly-innocuous details quoted by the Media add to rising suspicion and hatred of Muslims in the West.

The Daily Telegraph alleged earlier today that a cross-Government working group on anti-Muslim hatred contained radicals or former radicals. The group, it was stated, is “pressing to lift bans on foreign hate preachers from entering Britain, including Zakir Naik, who has stated that “every Muslim should be a terrorist”.”

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That is one, evil preacher-dude, right? Who, in his right mind, says something like that? Unequivocally, I advocate that hate preachers be excommunicated, especially ones calling Muslims to terrorism. But here’s the thing. As a Bangladeshi Muslim, I have seen the lecture in question. In fact, it’s on YouTube (see transcription below).

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(Preacher) Zakir Naik’s talk: complete sentences vs. phrase quoted by The Daily Telegraph

Aware of the common media trickery of cherry-picking phrases, Naik goes on to add, “I am aware that ‘terrorist’ – more commonly – is used for a person who terrorizes an innocent person. In this context, no Muslim should even terrorize a single human being.”

While there are controversies surrounding Naik’s views, they are theological, not political, in nature. He certainly isn’t advocating Terrorism in this particular case. Yet, anyone who hasn’t seen the video, would take The Telegraph’s summation of Zakir Naik at face value. And why not? What does the Telegraph have to gain by smearing a lisping, Muslim preacher?

Let me repeat that question for you: What does the Telegraph have to gain by smearing a lisping, Muslim preacher?

Dhaka Days: Life During Hartals

Hartal ● /ˈhɑː.tɑːl/ ● a strike action involving a total shutdown of workplaces, offices, shops, courts of law, usually as a form of civil disobedience.

Downtown Dhaka on a Hartal day (photo: Rajib Dhar, Dhaka Tribune)

Downtown Dhaka on a Hartal day (photo: Rajib Dhar, Dhaka Tribune)

Today – like most of 2015 – is a hartal in Bangladesh. A ‘hartal’ means a day of ‘political protest’ through a shutdown of transportation & markets; a willful hampering of school, work, shopping and eating out (which is 84% of all we do) in order to drive home a political point. Hartals are usually called by political opposition parties, who enforce it through processions, vandalism, arson and clashes with the police. You may choose to defy a hartal, but be prepared for a Molotov cocktail or two to land on your back. Hurled by underpaid street-children, these are the  newest additions to the arsenal of hooligans.

***

I am out for a walk.

Office timings are lax these days. My afternoon is free. The traffic is light by Dhaka standards; this only happens during the Eids. Commuters are cramming into rusty, Red buses. Pedestrians are walking along briskly – as if in a hurry to get away from an invisible attacker, but reluctant to reveal their fear.

My neighborhood is relatively relaxed and shielded from the violence: there are too many corporate headquarters, MNCs, newspaper editors and diplomats in the area. It’s the poor, slum-dwellers from across the lake who really suffer during the shutdowns. Up ahead, a van belonging to a food catering service is being turned into an ambulance. The technicians have never attempted this modification before. Ambulances are exempted from hartals and are often forced to serve as expensive taxis.

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Turning vans into ambulances makes a lot of business sense during long bouts of shutdowns.

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Bangladeshis are adept at turning threats into opportunities.

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A green traffic signal frees his captive donors and this man steps aside for a smoke break.

Things seem almost normal. Most shops – having endured over a month of shutdowns – have now lifted their shutters. Business had been hurting. Prices are higher now, which is strange considering a hartal typically causes a build-up of goods, which should in turn lower prices.

School children are out too. They’re walking home in groups of four or five – their faces tense. University students are different. They just got wiiiings. In front of BRAC, they’ve taken to sharing snacks and notes, while some others huddle together to delve into their respective phones. Very few will go home before dark. It’s difficult to surrender a long-overdue, hard-fought Freedom from the tyranny of conservative, curfew-wielding parents.

An elderly man takes a break from begging and enjoys a relaxed smoke. Begging in Dhaka’s upscale residential areas is not entirely a bad profession. Despite the ‘Beggar-Free Zone’ road-signs, there are dozens of them chipping away at the bubble of air-conditioned cars that transport the Wealthy. There are urban legends about beggars who have erected 4-storey buildings with their earnings. I once met such a man, whose son was close to finishing medical school. Once the son became a doctor, the man had said, the father would have no need to beg anymore. Thank Allah for sacrificing parents!

***

It’s well past noon. I am hungry. I enter a “bhaat er hotel” – literally meaning a ‘rice hotel’ – a traditional wayside food-joints. These restaurants are the staple when it comes to working men’s lunches. They are typically cheap (lunch with rice, chicken curry / fish, lentil soup @ USD 1.5) shabby, ill-lit, carelessly-serviced and seldom empty. Housed in tin-sheds or thatched-cottages, these Hotels are different from your everyday restaurants. Here’s how:

  1. You can walk in and sit at any table with empty chairs i.e. the tables cannot be booked. This means that capacity is fully utilized and that beggars, cops, executives, mosque-volunteers and development workers often end up at the same table.
  2. There’s an auto-order feature where waiters – usually boys of 10-14 years of age – will set down a plate of rice, a fixed platter of veggies / mashes and an elementary salad in front of you. You are free to eat from it.
  3. If you choose not to eat from it, they will take it back. Interestingly, this is not the case in India, where food served (i.e. touched) cannot be returned. Many suggest it may be because people of upper castes consider it a sin to eat of food touched by lower castes.
  4. Water is free. Its sources are dubious.
  5. Once you’ve run out of curry / vegetables, they will give you some more for free. This is known as ‘thhora’ (a little bit) or ‘jhol’ (gravy).
  6. These hotels almost never overcharge or have hidden costs. Tipping is optional, but rewarding.

As I sit at my table, enjoying my hot chicken curry, fragments of conversation come floating. Two men are discussing a wedding feast. I gather one is the elder brother of the groom and lives in the nearby slum. The other is a professional baburchi (chef / cook).

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Inside the Rice Hotel: the two men on the left are planning the wedding.

It is an afternoon wedding, which means, people will eat more. The groom’s brother wants both chicken and beef on the menu – but can’t come to terms with the costs. But in a Bangladeshi wedding, the feast is everything. It must be scrumptious and available in gluttonous quantities. It’s a matter of honor. So the brother readies himself for the blow and starts to list down the ingredients. The chef takes a deep breath and lets out a tirade: onions, chili, garlic, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, khoya / mawa, raisins, saffron, sour yogurt …it goes on for 10 minutes. With each item, he quotes the amount needed for 150 people.  

Outside, a small procession is broken up by the armed police in combat gear. Some small explosions are heard. Two, three men rush inside the hotel – slightly out of breath. They seem to know the owner …so, it’s all okay. In the midst of this commotion, the wedding plan goes on. The chef has now moved on to sweets and is mounting a crazy, new list of ingredients.

***

My day ends at my in-laws’ place. Mother-in-law is cooking for me. As we wait for dinner, she also tells us stories: stories of her childhood, her village and her relatives. In course of time, a sturdy, mighty grandfather-figure comes up …

Circa 1975: it happened one day that a rumor spread across the village that a singular of wild boars had come out of the jungle. Wild boars could be potentially dangerous. So, shutters dropped and doors locked. Immediately, this elderly man chopped down a bamboo from his front-yard and sat down to fashion it into a spear.

The women implored him to come back indoors. But their pleas fell on deaf ears. “Am I not a human being? Why should I retreat in my own turf? You think I can’t defend our home?” he thundered. Sure enough, the singular of boars began to infiltrate the boundaries of the kitchen garden. The patriarch took up his makeshift spear and began to fend them off. At one stage, one boar charged. At the end, one animal lay wounded, the others having fled. The man lived to tell the tale. Till this day, his can’t straighten his fingers, all of which were broken during the scuffle.

But it’s not with a sense of trauma or regret that he tells his tale; but with pride and righteousness. His logic is simple: if a boar comes into your home, you fight. You don’t break down and question why God sent this misery your way. This, to me, seems to embody the indomitable, Bangladeshi strand of Resilience. Try and outlaw me in posh neighborhoods, but I’ll find a way to send my son to medical school. Restrict my van on the roads and I’ll turn a profit by making it into an ambulance. Throw Molotov cocktails my way, but I’ll put up the best wedding feast this side of town. This side of the Bangladeshi doesn’t let up. He doesn’t mope ‘Oh God! Why me?’ …he takes the boar by the horn and throws his punches.

Sometimes, it works. And that’s Life.

Constructing Islamophobia: The #Ushergate Incident

These days, if you’re a journalist or a reporter …reporting the news is just not good enough. You need ‘news that sells’. So, sometimes you have to invent angles and embellish details.

That’s precisely what Channel 4’s Cathy Newman did.

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“Whaaaaat? Embellish details?? Me?”

Covering UK’s ‘Visit My Mosque’ Day, Ms. Newman attempted to go into a mosque and was ‘ushered out’ of the facility. Shocked, she did what any of us would do: take to social media for a good, ol’ rant.

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cathy1Her tweets were retweeted hundreds of times. News outlets picked up the story. And let’s not forget Ms. Newman alone has around 80K followers, all of whom saw exactly how suspicious these mosques were …denying entry and ushering out a journalist of such high standing. ‘Visit My Mosque Day was such a fail!’ some commented. Some probably wondered what these mosques were hiding and why Muslims were so rude, uncivilized and barbaric even.

But then, a CCTV footage surfaced.

She hadn’t been ushered out at all (perhaps, she misremembered?)

Of course, Mrs Newman had arrived at the wrong location as she attempted to take part in Visit My Mosque day. Rather than being hurried to the door, she had simply been pointed in the right direction by Muslims and left to make her own way out. That is hardly ushering. And saying that isn’t splitting hairs.

Mrs Newman last night apologized for causing any ‘misunderstanding’ over the visit. It comes a little too late for the Islamic centre at the centre of the claims, which has received a torrent of online abuse and two telephone death threats.

I wonder if an apology suffices for turning a helpful direction into ‘ushering out’. Any decent human being would think twice before posting tweets with incendiary intentions. A reporter – whose very profession is supposed to be verifying and establishing the Truth –  would’ve done well to remember that. In the end, all Visit My Mosque related stories are now linked to Ms. Newman (Google ‘Visit My Mosque’ and see how many links are really about Cathy Newman and her moronic gaffe). She has successfully stolen the story and made it about her.

The #VisitMyMosque campaign, organized by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), is part of a 2015 effort to reach out to the public and relieve heightened tensions between communities. Members of the Muslim community “may be on hand to answer questions about Muslims and Islam where this is possible,” the MCB said.

In the Name of a Prophet

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Detectives at the location of the Makouli shooting, near Avignon.

Gunmen shot and killed at least 17 people last week in France. Apparently, they did this to ‘protect the reputation / honor of the prophet Muhammad’. They did this without regard for common Muslims’ safety or sentiments. They did this without thinking about the likes of Mohamed El Makouli – who was stabbed 17 times and killed today right before his wife in France. The attacker was screaming “I am your god, I am your Islam”. He has now been sent to a psychiatric hospital (how predictable!). The wife managed to escape with her child. However, neither Islam nor Europe seems likely to escape a return to the dark ages.

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“ISLAM MUST DIE” accompanied by a Swastika. Blatant Islamophobia surfaces at the University of Birmingham. (photo: redbrick.me)

 ***

For decades now, ordinary people (Muslims, Christians, all) have suffered the consequences of terrorists’ crimes. Like most others, the Charlie Hebdo ‘terrorists’ sported beards like the prophets and had Arabic names. Only, they failed to follow the teachings of the prophet.

Flashback to the 6th Century A.D. – Ridiculed, hunted, tortured and even exiled during his lifetime – the Prophet responded not with vengeance or hostility. Guided by the God of Abraham or the God of Moses or YHWH or Allah, Muhammad was merciful and gracious. He wrote extensively to his magistracy and representatives to ensure Muslims behaved themselves. At a time when religious groups were at loggerheads and the entire region in flux, he wrote the following about adherents of other religions and detractors: bismillah 1

(In the name of Allah, the most Beneficent and most Merciful)

 “This is a message from Muhammad ibn Abdullah, as a covenant to those who adopt Christianity, near and far, we are with them.

Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers defend them, because Christians are my citizens; and by Allah! I hold out against anything that displeases them. No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses.

Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate. No one is to force them to travel or to oblige them to fight.

The Muslims are to fight for them.

If a female Christian is married to a Muslim, it is not to take place without her approval. She is not to be prevented from visiting her church to pray. Their churches are to be respected. They are neither to be prevented from repairing them nor the sacredness of their covenants. No one of the nation (Muslims) is to disobey the covenant till the Last Day (end of the world).”

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A charter of peace, ratified by Prophet Muhammad – copy stored with Monks of Mount Sinai. (Wikipedia)

Slander not the tree, I say, having tasted its rotten fruits. Muhammad – as history will testify – was a kind man who surrendered his will to Allah (SWT). He is as venerated as the other prophets in Islam – Adam, Noah, Moses, Abraham, David, Solomon, Lot, Job, Ishmael, Isaac, John and Jesus. No more, no less. And while Muhammad was not afraid to repel attacks on his community or march on the city of his birth to retake Makka’h – he never willfully spilled the blood of the innocent.

Those are the facts. cave

To borrow from Plato’s Cave Allegory: it is logically and morally wrong to ascribe meaning to a flame, based on the shadows cast by our own hand gestures. It is our hand. We decide what shape it takes. The light is constant. It is not the flame, but we, who cause our own souls to be manifest against the Light when we commit crimes in its name.

Let us discover the true transmissions and teachings of Muhammad and judge him according to those. However, let’s also be warned that when we venerate prophets to the point of worship …it is sacrilege in Islam. When we make up stories of violence and abuse in his name …it is baseless slander. When rogue idiots shoot people – innocent or otherwise – in the name of protecting Muhammad / Islam, it is just gruesome, avoidable murder. Neither Muhammad, nor his Master, asks it of any Muslim.

“It is as though the terrorist themselves are declaring to the Muslim World, “I am your god, I am your Islam”. It’s a big middle finger to all those trying to clutch on to the fundamental teachings of Islam and at the same time, fit into an increasingly radicalized, discriminating world.”

I reject the Terrorists’ creed and their ranks with utmost disgust.

These violent acts tarnish neither the Scripture, nor He who sends it. It says nothing of what Muhammad thought, felt or did. This is freestyle Islam …doing what we want to do for political gains or money or power or thrill – and then demanding that Islam be expanded to accommodate our actions.

Thank God ‘Islam’ is not only a Noun, but also a Verb!

To Be Charlie Or Not To Be Charlie

Charlie Hebdo isn’t dead. It has been hijacked.

The hashtag #JeSuisCharlie is trending. About this surge in support, Charlie Hebdo’s cartoonist Bernard Holtrop has said, “We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends.” He added that this newfound fame was laughable and was coming from people who had never seen an issue of Charlie Hebdo before the shootings shot it into Internet stardom.

"We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends" - Bernard Holtrop, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

“We vomit on all these people who suddenly say they are our friends” – Bernard Holtrop, Charlie Hebdo cartoonist.

Statutory Distancing From Terrorist 

I try to imagine the horror of Charlie Hebdo’s journalists and editors in their last moments …and it sends a chill down my spine. I think of the newspaper office that I used to work in as a lowly sub-editor for a monthly salary of US$50. It was a matter of passion: to write, to report and to be read. And therefore it is bone-chilling, outrageous and hate-inspiring to think that dissenters would dare to physically attack me for mere opinions. I grieve for the murdered journalists and I hope all (Atheist, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim) terrorists die horrible deaths.

I can’t bring myself to respect or condone what Charlie Hebdo stood for in the first place. The explosion of Charlie’s cartoons all over the Internet has left a bad taste in my mouth. It is the first time I’ve (accidentally) laid eyes on depictions of the Prophet Muhammad …viciously unkind ones at that. And in a Free World, I shouldn’t have had to. (Read the response to this post at Carl’s blog).

It is probably unfathomable to the high-and-mighty, liberal, progressive, pretty and White people of France, USA or UK – how deeply offending the caricatures are. Suffice it to say that in our prayers, we pray for the Prophet first, and our parents later. Yet, I hear, it is the essence of their Freedom to be able to hurt us again and again – by making a unnecessary mockery of all we hold sacred. Good job, Ahmed Merabet on defending that largely-White privilege. We’ve seen how viciously Muslims are jeered for exploring the life of Jesus in an academic fashion. God forbid one should try ridicule or satire.

Is Hate Speech the Essence of Free Speech?

It is baffling that we have come to think that Hate Speech is the most essential cornerstone of Free Speech. And Muslims have inherited much of the hate left over from the plates of pre-World War 2 Jewish peoples. We’ve forgotten that there are much more important and substantial bastions of Free Speech operating around us and their freedoms are constantly under threat from widespread surveillance, sovereignty-undermining drone attacks, state-sponsored extra-judicial killing of citizens or baseless edicts.

Bigots’ right to Hate Speech isn’t really the most urgent issue of our times. And transforming the written word to sketches and caricatures doesn’t blunt the dagger of division that Hate Speech is driving between communities. The numerous attacks on mosques, Muslims and their affiliates have made clear how Charlie’s malignant contents have wedged apart and isolated the Muslim community in France.

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The #JeSuisCharlie groups, when they purport to support Free Speech, are actually defending ‘the Right to Offend Muslims': the greatest Others in Europe. Anti-Semitism, they will condemn. Anti-Black content, they’ll deem Racist. Anti-France lyrics, they’ll sue. Anti-homosexuality content, they’ll label homophobic. But malign or insult Muslims …that’s fine. They represent the only legitimate, sufficiently-weak and marginalized group that can be mocked without socio-economic repercussions.

Consider this: the objective of depicting a naked Muhammad is to offend. But to what end? To anger the radicals? To taunt them? If so, the massacre is the height of Charlie Hebdo’s success. They enraged extremists elements to such an extent that they were driven to this bloody shooting. I want no part of this filth or this carnage.

But if the objective is to offend all Muslims, then I don’t see why it doesn’t qualify as Hate Speech. After all, Charlie Hebdo did fire journalist Maurice Sinet for anti-Semitic remarks. Is it then okay to taunt and hurt Muslims, but not so okay to link Judaism and financial success? Hate speech is “speech that offends, threatens, or insults groups, based on race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, disability, or other traits.”

Islamophobia is not only on the rise, it is becoming increasingly acceptable.

Islamophobia is not only on the rise, it is becoming increasingly acceptable.

Can you imagine how we would react if Charlie’s vicious satire was targeted at homosexuals? Or disabled veterans? Would people still think it funny if it hit that close to home? Probably not. But insulting Muslims is fun …because they react so viciously. Then tragedy strikes and some lunatic takes things into his own hands and goes on a shooting spree.

“Charlie Hebdo has a long record of mocking, baiting and needling French Muslims,” Tony Barber, Europe Editor, Financial Times. “France is the land of Voltaire, but too often editorial foolishness has prevailed at Charlie Hebdo.”

The fact that Charlie operates in France, gives it even more specific context. Furthering of Free Speech and Freedom of Expression in France has often involved antagonizing the Muslim minority: a minority where 80% are of Algerian descent / origin; an oft-oppressed and massacred religious minority. For 132 years, France occupied and pillaged Algeria; it tortured and murdered Algerians Muslims by the thousands. If this had been done to any ‘Western’ nation, France would’ve earned a rightful place beside Hitler’s Nazi Germany. But narratives of colonization of pauperized Muslims in the hands of a mighty, White European is largely normalized in our world. It is this colonized, pauperized, robbed and murdered minority that Charlie Hebdo had valiantly taken on. The same Charlie Hebdo that is now receiving Google and possibly government funds to spew their venom. Imagine if it got that funding when it was accused of anti-Semitism in 2009!

Selective Freedoms for Elective Speech 

In 2006, France’s most popular rapper was charged with anti-Semitism and offending public decency. Rapper Monsieur R. had referred to France as a “slut” and vowed to “piss” on Napoleon and Charles de Gaulle. “France is a bitch, don’t forget to fuck her till she’s exhausted/You have to treat her like a slut, man” he sang.  Laws were proposed to ban this content and hundreds of lawmakers voiced their opposition for such lyrics. So, it is not okay to demean the ‘Dignity of France’, but perfectly fine to take a piss on Islam, its last Prophet or to ban expressions of religious affiliation in the name of Lacaite. France’s notions of Free Speech is messed up to say the least.

islamophobe 1While it makes me deeply uncomfortable and sad, I understand why Charlie chose to depict the Prophet Muhammad under the sword of an ISIS thug. It sends a powerful message: Muhammad or Islam aren’t the source of ISIS’s hateful ideology. But a graphic orgy of the Holy Trinity or other explicit images may be needlessly provocative. It gives rise to Otherization of minorities and prevents assimilation of any kind. That, in turn, leads to hate crimes and a realization of a Clash of Civilization narratives.

Muslims are the biggest victims of terrorist attacks. The Charlie Hebdo shooting wasn’t even the most deadly attack on January 7, 2015. A car bomb killed 37 people in Yemen on the same day – but the demography of the victims failed to attract any notable media attention. Still, I feel for the blaspheming victims of Charlie Hebdo. It’s not up to me to judge their intentions or actions. But it doesn’t mean I stand by or endorse what they were doing. Let’s not confuse support for Free Speech with support for the actual contents in question.

I am not Charlie.

And unless you’re a bigoted, xenophobic, racist, hate-breeding, minority-taunting neophyte …you shouldn’t be either.

Monajatuddin: The Minstrel Journalist

Adnan R. Amin:

My piece on Monajatuddin …the talented, devoted rural journalist who formed and swayed the national agenda in Bangladesh.

Originally posted on Alal O Dulal:

Monajatuddin (photo: Pabna News) Monajatuddin (source: Pabna News)

by Adnan R. Amin for AlalODulal.org

The works of Monajatuddin – the Minstrel Journalist – have had more of a shaping role in contemporary Bangladesh than that of many a politicians, development-pundits, editors or litterateurs. Take for example, the Child Marriage Restraint Act 2014, only recently okayed by the cabinet. It was Monajatuddin’s keen, investigative reporting on child marriage that informed and laid the groundwork for necessary social-debates and policy-making.

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“Drain Baby” and His Unfortunate Friends

Yesterday, an Australian woman was arrested for dumping her infant down a Sydney drain. The baby was 7 days old (he is 8 days today, 5 of which, he spent in the storm drain) and has become known as “drain baby”. Now, the mother is being charged with attempted murder. Hah! Only if she had attempted it a couple of months earlier!

The drain where the baby was dumped (photo: James Alcock)

The drain where the baby was dumped (photo: James Alcock)

I find thoroughly bewildering the unchallenged and widely-accepted norm that this mother could’ve killed her child some months earlier and gone Scot-free. With our language, we have created a gulf of difference between the unborn and the born child. We’ve virtually equated the embryo to a piece of steak. But are they really so different in the days before and after birth? What really changes at the instant of Birth? I perceive it to be two things:

  1. Physical Displacement: the tiny being passes through a canal to emerge at a different place. It is the exact same being, only in different space (i.e. not the womb).
  2. Change in Sustenance Sourcing: it no longer has to rely on the umbilical cord for nutrition. The infant is still consuming the same nutrients (food and Oxygen), but just sourcing it from a different place. So, it is more helpless before birth.

There are no other physical changes. So which event signifies Life – (a) or (b)? Or is it both? When do our mighty courts, activists and jesters decide to grant the ‘Status of Life’ to that tiny organism? Because – clearly, we have completely cleaved out ‘Life’ from the ‘Status of Life’ – taking it upon us to decree the hour when a being comes to life.

In many states, it's perfectly legal to 'terminate' any of these fetuses up to week 36. But who's to say when Life began?

In many states, it’s perfectly legal to ‘terminate’ any of these fetuses up to week 36. But who’s to say when Life began?

Let’s face it: we don’t know when Life begins. Childbirth, being an event we can see, seems obvious. So, to what we had dubbed a ‘fetus’ – we now give a new name, an ‘infant’. Let’s not forget that these are mental constructs that we have invented to help us grasp the rite of passage (e.g. when does a boy become a man and a girl, a woman? Do we not define these in terms of rites of passage?). We define these stages according to how we perceive the transformation from the outside. If by some miracle, the infant could retreat into its mother’s womb – would it again be okay to kill it off?

If-it-isnt-a-babyOur moral and legal position on abortion (which should’ve been termed ‘killing’ or at least ‘putting down’) are almost exclusively about ‘Us’ …the ones who safely made it out of the womb and are now living full, healthy lives and pontificating about choices. Is it really that surprising that we can make up rules and norms to decide the fates of unborn children – when we are constantly doing it to those who have already been born? What would we say if it were us or our children that faced termination?

It’s hard not to wonder what the properties of Life are. Is it the capacity to perceive the world around us? Basic self-preservation instincts? Is it responding to external stimuli? Protesting hunger and deprivation? The instinct of preserving the status quo? – Because a fetus often fulfills each one of these prerequisites. Yet, we decide that since it is in a specific place (the womb) – though not of its own choosing – it cannot be said to have Life. Even the kindest of us – who weep at the execution of seasoned rapists and serial killers – decree that it’s okay to kill a child. An unborn one at that!

One doesn’t have to be a Conservative or a Liberal to honestly reassess his/her position. “They say X is acceptable and I usually vote for them, so I must concur” is not a real, political position. It’s Groupthink: a mix of intellectual laziness, self-centrism and capitulation to peer pressure. It has almost become fashionable to support feticide in the name of being ‘pro-choice’. The word ‘choice’ is powerful, and evocative of basic freedoms. But it’s also misleading. You would support people having the choice to pierce their nipples, but not the option to fry – with microwaves – a baby kangaroo in its mother’s pouch. For God’s sake – these same pro-choice liberals also weep over veal!

Yes, we feel sorry for “Drain Baby” …but he has survived not only Birth, but also an attempt on his life. In 2008, 44 million babies didn’t get to be born. That’s the same as the population of Spain! Women must have the right to choose – but before, not after the fact. No one – not men, not women – can have the moral right to preemptively massacre 44 million lives. Besides, we mustn’t fail to consider what choice we’re leaving the unborn child.

  • P.S.1 while I was writing this post, another drain-baby has been found in Spain.
  • P.S.2 within the same timeframe, another 14000 babies have been aborted