Tradition and ‘Cultural Appropriation’

Pictured: Great Mosque of Xi’an, China

‘Appropriation’. The term refers to taking something for one’s own use, usually without first obtaining permission from whomever the thing in question ‘belongs’ to.

Recently, on Twitter, the conversation surrounding the notion of ‘cultural appropriation’ would appear to have been re-ignited: this time, from certain (online-presented) corners of the Muslim world. White reverts* being accused of the crime, as a result of, for example, wearing thobes to the masjid.

            These are just my own personal views on the subject, but frankly I think that such accusations are absurd. I find it especially uncomfortable – ridiculous – that some individuals are childish enough to treat individual white people as though they are guilty for some of their ancestors’, perhaps, misdeeds.

Firstly, in Islam, we are reminded (through the words of the Qur’an) that those who have lived and passed on have lived and passed on: the people who are alive today “will not be asked about what they used to do.”

“That is a nation which has passed on. It will have [the consequence of] what it earned, and you will have what you have earned. And you will not be asked about what they used to do.” [Qur’an, (2:141)]

Accusing somebody of ‘fetishising’ a ‘culture’, because they have donned a scarf or a dress or a coat or something that tends to be associated with that ‘culture’ is quite unfair, and it would appear to be rooted in a mentality that is quite… ahistorical. This attempted ‘reification’ of culture; this (quite modern) idea that ‘nations’ and ‘cultures’ are these solid, solidly consistent, entities. That these food items, artistic tendencies, clothing styles ‘belong’ to these cultures; those ones ‘belong’ to those.

“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other.” [Qur’an, (49:13)]

There is a clear difference between mocking what is associated with a group of people, and with appreciating something that may be common among them. ‘Blackface’ belongs to the former category. A white revert wearing a Moroccan-style thobe… is, most likely, of the latter.

The Muslim idea is that every human being in existence had been born of, by Allah’s decree, a single male, and a single female: Adam and Eve. Every single group of people – every nation, every tribe – had eventuated as a result of this primal partnership. We were made into various “nations and tribes”, in order to recognise one another; in order to learn from one another; in order to interact and converse with one another.

In conversations between people, we become inspired by what others do. We learn from them. We often proceed to (sometimes subconsciously) imitate what we like, of them. Some of the things they may say; some of the ‘life hacks’ that they may swear by; some elements of their clothing styles.

And this phenomenon of conversation and exchange is precisely what takes place on the macro level, also. Like the way that ‘Karak chai’ – a cardamom tea beverage that is extremely popular across the Arab world – had come about as a result of South Asian expats drinking their masala chai in the Khaleeji nations. ‘Vimto’, also, a drink commonly associated with ‘Pakistani culture’, apparently (as I learned this week) had actually originated in Manchester, England. What we, here in the West, refer to as night robes (or, as ‘housecoats’) had actually been inspired by robes that are commonly worn in ‘East Asian cultures’. Things – and new styles, developed ways of doing things – come about as a result of being inspired by other things; through people’s, and nations’, and tribes’, interactions with one another.

The vast collection of stories that make up human history. Some of these subtle tales find themselves woven into our languages. Another random example: the word ‘camiseta’ in Spanish, which means ‘shirt’. ‘Shirt’ in Arabic is ‘قميص’ (‘qamees’). In Urdu, one of the words for ‘shirt’ is ‘kameez’. And then, in Bengali, we also say ‘kameez’. Fascinatingly, the word ‘camisia’ is ‘shirt’ in Late Latin. Awesome sauce. The links between parts of Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia. Nations and tribes, getting to know one another: through trade, through friendships, through marriage, (through bloody wars). Taking on the things they have liked, of one another.

Tea, also. Tea ‘is’ Indian, and it is Chinese. British, and Arab. ‘Tea’ is ‘té’ en español, ‘te’ in Danish, and ‘tee’ in Afrikaans. ‘Chai’ in Hindi; ‘shai’ in Arabic; ‘cha’ (or ‘sa’) in Bangla; ‘tsaa’ in Tagalog. The result of different nations and tribes, coming to know [parts of] one another. Sharing tea; sharing words, and more.

Am I ‘appropriating’ – taking something that is not mine, and without permission from whomever it ‘belongs’ to, if, say, I wear the clothes I had bought while on holiday in Turkey? Am I ‘appropriating’ if I enjoy some mint tea in a ‘Moroccan-style’ cup? What if I had a bag with some Japanese floral artwork on it? If no, then would the rules have to somehow be different for me, if, say, I were white?

Is ‘cultural appropriation’ only a thing of clothes? Or is it meant to extend to other things – like food, recreational activities and art – also?

Human personalities are certainly not solid, reified entities that are set in stone. As time goes on, we are ever-changing, ever-learning and -developing. The same thing is true for what humans are on larger scales: nations, tribes, societies, ‘cultures’.

Identities are living, breathing things, almost. [‘Culture’ is defined as ‘the complete way of life of a particular group of people’, and so therefore:] Our ‘cultures’: micro (e.g. the nuclear families that we belong to) and macro (e.g. ‘Desi culture’). We are theirs, and they are ours, and none of it is set in stone! We, past and present (and ‘future’) are constantly in active conversation with, affecting, one another.

I know that I, for instance, as a second-generation Bengali (Sylheti) immigrant, here in East London do not speak, nor think, nor even eat, the same (things) as my grandmother does. So what is ‘Bengali culture’, then? Well, it is my lived – living – experience, and it is also her own; it is millions of others’, too. It is the age-old traditions that we accept and follow, and it is also the things we change, and/or introduce, as a result of our interactions, our conversations, with various other people(s).

What is important, for us, is our conscious adherence to Objective Morality. Everything else is not really set in stone. There is so much room for discovery, and for creativity, and for individuality; for learning, inspiration, and development. [Islam is not ‘the Arab man’s religion’. You can keep whatever is yours, granted it fits into Islam’s moral frameworks, and be 100% Muslim. If you are a revert, you can keep your name, also!]

Some white British Muslims, perhaps, like to wear thobes sometimes, and classic tweed jackets at other times. Some Bengalis love the taste of ‘Korean-style’ chicken; find it so fascinating that some Bengalis have the (generally-associated-with-Portuguese-people) surname ‘Pereira’, as a result of certain historical interactions between the two places, and so on.

Tres cool, tres cool indeed. And instead of closing our eyes to these truths, and defensively seeking to present our identities as being solid, untouchable entities that somehow ‘belong’ to us and only us (probably out of insecurity, fear of losing them, somehow), perhaps we ought to act more in line with our belief that… everything in existence is from Allah. Some things we do, we have learnt from what our ancestors have done, perhaps for centuries. And some things we do are newer.

(So let the man wear his jubbah and Converses to the masjid in peace!)

“This story has not happened before. […]

Let the future begin.

Anne Carson

*We tend to use the term ‘revert’ to describe people who have come to Islam from other faiths. This is because we believe that every human being is born upon Fitrah – the innate disposition – naturally, as a Pure Monotheist.


With Salaam, Sadia, 2021.

“Should Muslim Women Work?”

Assalamu ‘alaikum folks,

I hope you are well. I just wanted to share this video – a stream by ‘Muslim Skeptic’ Daniel Haqiqatjou and his (ridiculously cool, Allahummabārik laha) wife – which I found absolutely fascinating. Gender, Islamic principles, modern notions surrounding feminism and liberalism, ‘work’ and ‘worth’, and more…

I personally do agree with the bulk of what has been said. But, even if you are not Muslim, and/or fundamentally disagree with Islamic takes on gender roles and their sacred value, I can almost assure you that you, too, will find this video very interesting indeed. Educational, certainly. Watch it in order to challenge your current perspectives, may-haps…

The world of ‘modernity’, as we know it, is sort of a mess. Ideas pertaining to what human beings are; what life is for. There is, underlying all this, a deep and wealthy history of reasons as to why things today are (or, seem) the way they are.

And, even in spite of such things as the detrimental high pressures that we are faced with, courtesy of the ways (I would say, ills) of modernity: we are still human beings, at the end of it all. Human men; human women. Created by Allah. Allah knows us best, and these sacred laws are certainly not without reason.

Have a watch – or, rather, a listen – to the video, Insha Allah. [Perhaps, since it is rather lengthy, you may wish to view it in chunks.]

Personally, I find it essentially and authentically liberating that, in terms of economic work – partaking in economic labour – this is not an obligation upon me, Islamically. Yet, it is something I may do, if it is good; if I enjoy doing it, and want to do it. Teaching, writing, for example: I do so enjoy doing these things, Alhamdulillah.

I think: men are men, and women are women. We are both human; we have numerous similarities between us. However, man’s nature is essentially masculine. A masculine essence, if you will. While woman’s nature is essentially feminine.

I have definitely fallen prey to the whole ‘careerist’ ideology, before. And, to the whole ‘I need to be more like men in order to be ‘liberated”, ‘Yasss queen’, mentality. These ideas are ubiquitous, so it would seem. Even quite a few of the girls I currently teach argue bitterly and vehemently that “men are trash”; that they will ‘get rich’ and ‘be independent’, all on their own.

The ‘social sciences’. There is no better way to deeply understand ourselves — humanity: in groups, and as individuals, than as tethered to Al-Haqq (Truth). Allah fashioned us – every atom, every molecule, every hormone, everything within us that facilitates thought and reason; from which social (including political) structures arise. He also authored Al-Qur’an; sent Muhammad (SAW) as our main Example, to be followed.

As Muslims, we know that men are men. With their own Divinely-ordained essences, and rights as well as responsibilities. Same with women. And men are to honour their womenfolk in a particular, tailored way, whilst women are to respect their menfolk in a particular way.

Women and men. The Qur’an elucidates that we are spiritually equal [see: Qur’an, (33:35)]. And, in terms of nature and certain gender-specific things that are asked of us, also different. It is not ‘oppression’ for something to be different to another.

In the ‘world of modernity’, where Religion is done away with as a central consideration: other things are brought into central view, as attempted substitutes. The ‘Economy’, if you will, as well as social status, which serves as being ancillary, almost, to this first ‘god’.

Whereas we Muslims are to find the Meaning of Life, as well as the very core of our identities in Islam: ‘modernity‘ enjoins individuals to ‘find meaning’ through economic work; this is where people are expected to ‘find themselves‘, too.

School. At school, I think, I had been, and children are being, strongly inculcated with this primarily ‘Economic’, careerist mentality. See, man is, by nature, a slavish creature. Whom – or What – is it that we currently find ourselves primarily serving, or seeking to serve?

When I was twelve, I identified as a ‘feminist’, and wanted to be an engineer. Not really as a result of any deep, true passion for engineering. More so… as a result of the whole ‘Prove People Wrong’, ‘Break the Glass Ceiling!’ mentality. I compared myself to my same-age cousin. Why would my aunts ask him to carry out this DIY task, or that one (for example)? Why not I?!

And now, I think I understand these things better. Life is not ‘easy’ for men, while being inordinately ‘hard’ for women, by comparison. They (men) have their rights as well as their responsibilities – and their struggles (some, gender-specific. Others, simply broadly human). And we women have ours.

The fact that this cousin of mine, at age twenty, for instance, is partially (truly) responsible for the financial upkeep of his household; driving his siblings to various places daily because he has to, while keeping two jobs and studying for a degree. It is a lot; I am proud of him.

And we could be reactionary, yelling: “How come men get to…”, “How come women have to…” and more. Or, we could (realistically) come to the conclusion that (when addressing the gender-specific realm of things) men have their own blessings and challenges. Rights, and responsibilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Azwāja. Strengths: a particular type of practical intelligence, for example. Thriving as a result of competition, too, perhaps. We women have ours. [Emotional intelligence 100. The urge to – and the talent with which – we are able to make places more homely. Have you ever seen a male-dominated workplace, in contrast with a female-dominated one? Or, male bedrooms in contrast with female ones? The differences are quite self-evident.]

These, though there are great [I hate to sound like some pompous academic here or something, but] nuances between individual people [one woman’s individual expression of femininity will likely look at least a little different from that of the next woman. One man may be completely different, compared to another man. But if you were to group all men, and all women, together, and compared between the two groups: here, perhaps, the differing essences would make themselves far more apparent]

I am just so glad that I can (finally) sink into my essence[s] more, now. Careerism, truth be told, stresses me out. I love teaching and writing; they are passions of mine. But my primary worldly ‘goal’, if anything, really is to have and to run and to keep, if I may, a wonderful home – a good little world of our own – Insha Allah.

I recently came across an anecdotal story about how a (formerly, non-Muslim) police officer – female – who had been stationed in East London, ended up converting to Islam, as a result of watching some of the Muslim families. Going from praying Jummah at the mosque, to eating out at the nearby restaurants; having an authentically good time, together.

The individualistic, atomistic, mainly economic-productivity-driven ways of ‘modernity’: they run antithetical to the fundamental callings of our souls, and, quite often: they leave us spiritually starving.

The Fitrah, my dudes: the Fitrah, deep within you, already knows where it’s at. Religion. Family. Fulfilment, Meaning. Strength. Due rights, and due responsibilities.

And I have been thinking: would it be a ‘waste’ of my human ‘potential’ if I were to continue to not absolutely prioritise economic work, in terms of my life-based considerations? The answer, as I have concluded, is no: not at all. I lose nothing if I work part-time, instead of full-time, for example. I lose nothing if ‘climbing up the career ladder’ is not a central goal of mine. In fact, I gain. More of my humanity. Lessened feelings of stress and exhaustion; a more ‘filled cup’, to give from. To those who deserve; have rights to, even, the ‘best’ of me.

I realise: ‘modernity’ would enjoin me to believe that some things are simply not ‘enough’. It is not ‘enough’ that I am teaching Year Sevens and Eights, for example; maybe it would be ‘enough’ if I were to be, someday, a lecturer at a university, or something. I have certainly been susceptible to being overtaken by these modes of thinking, before. That, for example, in order for my writings to be ‘more meaningful’, I need to work on publishing a book.

The truth is: these Year Sevens and Eights are just as valuable as human beings, as university students, or something. Also, I can achieve as much Khayr from publishing blog articles, as I can, perhaps, as a result of writing a book. I choose to consider the ‘spiritual’ value of things first, Insha Allah.

In Islam, there is this Qur’anic idea that “whoever saves one soul, it is as if he has saved mankind entirely.” [Qur’an, (5:32)]. Subhan Allah, how liberating. In Islam, it is not the ‘numerical outcomes’ of our actions, which ‘count’. It is the spiritual weight of them, stemming from the intentions underlying them. Therefore, if I aim to impart some good unto just one human being (a family member, a friend, maybe) perhaps this would be equal to imparting some good unto a hundred, or even a million, human beings. Ultimately, we are responsible for the intentions underlying our actions, as well as the steps we may take, with those intentions in mind; while Allah is in control of their outcomes.

I think it is quite common for many people my age to have a bit of that “we-need-to-save-the-world” impulse, within us. How lovely this is. However, first and foremost, it is my own (relatively small) world that requires my due attentions.

I wish to not put economic considerations first. I also do not want to put otherwise-social (i.e. the fleeting opinions of every man, woman, and child I have ever had the pleasure of being acquainted with) considerations, first. When you put Islam first, though some things may prove somewhat difficult, in the short-run: ultimate goodness (lasting, liberation, fulfilment, deep love) surely ensue.

Some are out, in this world, seeking ‘gold’. Others are out there, seeking ‘glory’. We Muslims, however: it is goodness that we ought to strive for; it is God whose countenance we strive to seek.

The video: I would really love to know what you thought of it. Anything you would like to share: please comment down below, or send me an email at: hello@sincerelysadia.blog


With Salaam, Sadia, 2020

Notes on the Qur’an: Introduction

The year is 2020. Quarantine year. It has already been over a month since we bid farewell to Ramadan. This year, Alhamdulillah, I essentially re-embraced Islam. It took a lot to get here – to this state of Yaqeen (conviction). Much exploration, many helpful conversations and realisations.

This blog series of mine will document my attempts at developing a far stronger bond with the Qur’an, first and foremost. I mean, I am trying to learn Arabic [fun fact: you know how vast and complex the English language and its vocabulary are? Well, Arabic is more complex and contains at least 20 times the number of words that English does! Over 12 million words, in comparison to English’s approx. 600,000…] and I do believe – well, it is known – that fluency in this beautiful language allows for a better connection with our Holy Book. I do hope to become fluent in it one day, Insha Allah (God-willing) and to then acquire a good grasp on classical (Fus’ha) Arabic – the language of the Qur’an.

Perhaps I will write and publish a ‘revised edition’ of this article sometime in the future, once I have (again, Insha Allah) actually mastered the Qur’anic language. For now, however, this series will comprise some of my notes on the Pickthall explanatory translation of the Qur’an. I will include some random facts and some of my thoughts. And I would greatly appreciate it if you shared your own thoughts, questions, and other additions, too [you can leave a comment below, or you can email me at: sadia.6@outlook.com].

The Qur’an is a fascinating book. Of course it is. Even many secular scholars – linguists and the like – find themselves utterly enthralled by it. Its words are undeniably symphonic and rich with meaning. It is a book of guidance for humanity, and so, naturally, it contains information on things like social rights and responsibilities; matters of Law and of Philosophy; economic and political guidance, and more.  Linguistically, terms and idioms from other languages – like Ethiopian, Syrian, Assyrian, and Persian – are also employed in the Qur’an.

For more about the Qur’an – about the questions it presents, historical information, structural methods, contextual points, and more – do check out this wonderful (highly recommended) book, made available for free by the iERA [the Islamic Education and Research Academy]: https://iera.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/iERA-The-Eternal-Challenge-Shop-EBook.pdf

The articles in this ‘Notes on the Qur’an’ series will mostly be in bullet-pointed form. I will include, for the articles on individual Surahs (and there are 114 of them!) a link to some live recitation, as well as an English translation [and do bear in mind that English translations are markedly ‘less than’ the essence that can only be conveyed through Arabic – the language it has originally been authored in], followed by some of my own notes, thoughts and findings.

Bueno. Let us begin, then.

Muhammad (SAW)’s Early Life / More Background Info 

  • Muhammad (SAW), son of Abdullah, son of Abdul Muttalib, had been born to the tribe of Quraysh, in Makkah. His father had died before he was born; he was looked after first by his foster mother, Halima tus-Sadia, and, after the death of his mother Āminah (when he was six years old) he had been looked after first by his grandfather Abdul Muttalib, and then (after his grandfather’s death) by his uncle, Abu Tālib.

 

  • The Makkans claimed descent from Abraham through Ishmael (indeed, Arabs today are known as ‘Ishmaelites’, while Jews are known as being ‘Israelites’). The Ka’bah had been built by Abraham for the direction of worship towards One God – a God unimaginable and not wholly intelligible to we mortal and fallible beings, what with our limited frames of reference and capacities for understanding.

 

  • During Abraham and Muhammad (SAW)’s times, respectively and alike, many people had been given to worshipping idols. Indeed, Abraham had used his capacities for reasoning to arrive at the conclusion that his father and those around him had been wrong to direct their worship towards inanimate beings. He left his father’s house, and decided to abandon the culture that he had been born into.

Aristotle had been correct in saying that the thing that separates humankind from other animals is our ability to reason. Our capacities to use logic, to arrive at various conclusions and decisions. Abraham had used his personal reasoning faculties – those abstract processes that we collectively refer to as the ‘mind’ – to arrive at the conclusion of monotheism, even in spite of the fact that everyone around him had been given to other practices. 

Once, when there was nobody inside the community’s temple, Abraham crept inside, and used an axe to destroy the idols there. He demolished all but one of them – the biggest one. He left his axe hanging around this remaining statue’s neck.

When the people had returned to the temple, they expressed shock and anger, demanding to know who had done this to their ‘Gods’. Abraham wittily told them to ask their ‘God’ over there – the one with the axe around his neck. They responded to this by arguing that doing so would be absurd: the idol cannot speak, cannot hear, cannot defend itself. So Abraham questioned them: why do you worship it, then? 

Abraham’s claims made sense to them. There is One God, [and it is not in the (current) nature of the finite to comprehend He who is Infinite] and He is the Source and the Cause, and the only one who is worthy of worship. Even though this message of Oneness (Tawhid – Pure Monotheism) had appealed to the God-given hearts and minds of these people, they had refused to embrace the message, as a result of pride, and because idol-worship had been the practice of their forefathers. So they became the rejectors – Kuffar [linguistically, ‘Kāfir’ comes from the linguistic root meaning, ‘to cover up’. To know the truth in one’s heart, but yet rejecting it, not rushing to embrace it, refusing to activate it, as a result of things like pride and pride in antithetical traditions].

The opposite of a ‘Kāfir’ is a ‘Munāfiq’ – a hypocrite. One who, by flipped contrast, does not accept Islam in his own mind and heart, yet outwardly claims to be a Muslim.

  • Modern idol worship: We are told to worship none but Allah (SWT) – the giver and the sustainer of life. To worship something or someone is to devote one’s life to it; to think about it often, to make decisions in light of it, and to commit physical acts of servitude towards it. In modern times, it is not very common to worship idols in the sense of their being shiny or clay statues with anthropomorphic features. Rather, the idol worship of today tends to take a more abstract form: people worship (the interrelated) notions of capitalism, materialism, individualism, and more. Terrifying, and terrifyingly normalised.

You know what? Nowadays, much like how Abraham had been ostracised for his beliefs, we tend to see those who actually, devotedly, adhere to Pure Monotheism (Islam) as being ‘strange’, or ‘uncool’, or ‘no fun’. But look around: everyone is worshipping something. Some worship materialistic delusions; some worship their own reputations; some worship women; some worship capitalist structures; all these abstract ideas, these ghostly idols. These things that, rather like the idols that Abraham himself could destroy with an axe, cannot really love you back in the same way. They either have no power to, or it is not in their interest to.

Would you not rather devote yourself to the Creator of the Universe?

It is not irrational to do so – (even if the rest of the entire world manages to convince you that it is): it is quite the opposite, actually.

  • Muhammad (SAW) had received revelations over a period of twenty-three years. It is important to note that, for the first thirteen of these years, the Muslims had found themselves under much persecution and humiliation, and facing ostensible failure, coupled with unfulfilled prophecies. These had been the ‘Makkan’ years. The following ten years had been remarkably different to the pre-Hijrah period. These years had been marked by a number of consecutive (and miraculous-seeming) successes. Ultimately, this one man – a shepherd, who had been offered riches and even royalty on the condition that he ceased from his preaching – managed to alter the very fabric of pre-Islamic Arabia:

In the latter ten years, Muhammad (SAW) had turned Arabia from being a society centred on idol-worship, misogyny (where baby daughters had been buried alive, and where women had the social and legal statuses of mere chattels), drunkenness, ignorance, rampant vanity, senseless violence and other immoralities, into one where men loved God, sincerity, honesty, and knowledge.

Rather interestingly, the Surahs that had been revealed in Makkah are the ones that focus on the human soul. On the command to prostrate to God, and to God alone. Pre-Hijrah, Muhammad (SAW) had been a preacher only. By a series of fortunate twists, however, he ended up becoming the ruler of a state, which then later grew to become the empire of Arabia.

The Surahs that had been revealed in Madinah contain a different nature of guidance, for the most part: they give guidance not only to the individual human soul, but to a growing social and political community, and to the Prophet as lawgiver, reformer, and an example for mankind to follow.

I really do believe that it is important to focus on the individual soul, one’s personal relationship with God, before concerning ourselves too much with the community aspect of things, though both are certainly important.

  • (Human) Reason, and Revelation are the two lights of guidance that we have been granted. We must use them wisely.

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

The Allostatic Curve

This article has been written at the request of a certain young lady who goes by the name of Tasnim. Therefore, this article is dedicated to a certain young lady who is called…Tasnim. 

 

Stress. That feeling. The biological push, an instinctual thing that urges us to get something done about something. Fight, flight, or freeze.

‘Stress’ is not a bad thing in and of itself. It can be an excellent motivational force, when experienced in moderation. Aside from urgent biological threats (e.g. the intense ‘stress’ we may feel when some threat of physical attack looms before us) we tend to stress about things we care about.

A drive to get things done, always towards some end goal, towards some overarching philosophy. You might experience some stress when thinking about your to-do list. “I need to get these tasks done. Send this email. Check this essay.” Why? “Because the deadlines are coming up. I don’t want to be scolded by my teacher.” Why? “Because I care about my education. It adds some meaning to my life; it is a part of me, and a part that I fear losing.” 

‘Eustress’ (‘good’ stress) is, well, good. Without it, we probably would not do much at all. We would not care about doing things. With eustress (see: the left side of the given curve – a theoretical curve that shows stress that is good; where this peaks; then, where it falls – where the stress becomes more harmful than ‘good’) we are driven to carry out the work-related tasks we need to complete [we care about doing well, about not losing our jobs, about maintaining our social reputations and our self-expectations] and we are also motivated to, for example, pray on time, feed babies on time, and to do things for the people we love.

In our heads, we think about the potential rewards of doing certain things, and about potential negative reinforcements and punishments if we fail to do them. The stress, I believe, comes mostly from the latter. And also from the internal and self-inflicted punishment that may arise, if we end up missing out on the rewards, or if we end up losing certain things – like our jobs, or our statuses, or beloved elements of our identities.

The allostatic curve is probably quite an important thing to bear in mind. It is also probably a very subjective thing: some people work better than others do when under lots of stress. What is represented by the ‘optimum point’ on one person’s curve may be different to that of another person.

And, beyond our optimum points, we can quickly descend into harmful stress: the type that may, for example, result in sleeplessness, psychosomatic pains, and more. The key difference is that eustress tends to result in action and ensuing satisfaction from this action. ‘Bad stress’ – after the optimal point – tends to result in inaction. Worrying so much, for example, that suddenly, stress ends up doing the opposite of what its ‘job’, so to speak, is to do.

Threat, stress, action, resultBut, sometimes, there are no obvious courses of action to take, against certain perceived threats. This is when stress can balloon, multiply; it has nowhere to go, unfortunately. Nowhere to go but everywhere inside of your mind. Somehow, we need to teach ourselves to mentally minimise these particular ‘threats’ – the more abstract ones.

Moreover, I do not think that stress is an inherently bad thing – again, when experienced in moderation – but I do prefer it when there is also a good helping of that other sort of motivational force. Call it passion, maybe. Stress may make us worry about letting a friend down when they have tasked us with something, because we do not want to disappoint them; we do not want to compromise the friendship in any way. But that other type [passion?] makes us joyfully run towards doing certain things, because we cannot wait to see the smile on their face when we do this thing for them. Yes, stress is about the avoidance of negative reinforcements, driven by thoughts of negativity. Passion is about positive reinforcements – about a drive towards gaining something, maybe a new lovely experience.

Doing things towards love and towards a want to be appreciated: I do not think these forces count as being ‘stress’-based ones. Also: simply enjoying the process. Stress may drive you towards completing work-based tasks and such [which is great when in moderation – if it helps you to get the required things done, on time, and if it prevents all those potential negative consequences from eventuating]. But passion will make you enjoy the process, too!

Furthermore, I came across an interesting idea [I forget where I came across it, though, as I tend to do] that general considerations concerning the allostatic curve ought to be reflected in one’s day. The calm part in the morning, some eustress – preparing you, building up, for an optimum point. This might be during midday, when we should aim to be the most productive. And then, wind down time. It is certainly a bad idea, for instance, to put pressure on oneself to experience one’s optimal performance immediately, right at the start of one’s day, or right before one intends to go to sleep…

So, the allostatic curve then. A wonderful idea, and something that is very useful to think about, especially right now, in a busy world driven, so it would seem, by freneticism and stress. The health component, and the passion one, ought to be deeply considered, too.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Concise Compositions: Friendship

A friend is someone who holds your breath. Friendship. It is such a wonderful thing. If you are blessed enough, in this life of yours, to have at least one amazing friend, then you are truly blessed indeed. How awful would it have been to be alone – without friendship – in this world?

A friend is someone who looks into your eyes, and understands. Friendship is sacred, even if, these days, we often act like it is not. It takes things like trust and effort, yes. Humour, love, adventures. Sometimes just sitting in silence, enjoying one another’s company.

You are indeed who your friends are. Well, you are you, a separate entity. But so much of you will be dependent on who they are. They will be reflections of you, too. So choose wisely.

You know, we sometimes act as though every person we have met, whom we perhaps shared a class at school with, or whom we worked alongside as colleagues – we (or, do I mean I?) act like these are ‘friends’. But, no, I think, realistically, these are…acquaintances. They might be circumstantially somewhat close acquaintances, sure. But I think the term ‘friend’ ought to hold far more weight.

Friends are here for the best of your times. They are equally there for the worst ones. Your happiness and sadness becomes theirs, somehow, and vice versa. Friends are the family we are fortunate enough to be able to choose for ourselves; their lives become intertwined with ours, in parts. We end up sharing some of our flowers.

Okay I’ve got like twenty seconds left. I love my friends; over and over again, I would choose them. I love having good food with them. Good food, good friends. And FLOWERS. Life complete.

4 seconds left. 3, 2, 1.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself five minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

Concise Compositions: Privacy

What does it mean, to be a ‘private person’? And is this – being ‘private’, keeping things ‘lowkey’ – truly a virtuous trait? Why do we claim to admire such people so?

It is true – that trite statement that tells us that we “live in a society”. We are, at our cores, social creatures. So, so much of who we are is not independent of others: we develop our personalities and such in light of others. We all want to earn the approval of certain people; be loved by our loved ones; impress certain other people.

The ‘private’ person, then. Just does things, theoretically without other people in mind. I wonder if this can ever actually be the case. It could be the case for misanthropes and hermits, perhaps. But I do think that attempting to go against human nature by closing oneself off from ‘society’ makes people miserable.

I mean, it is true that some people are super public. They do most things ‘for show’, so it would seem. They lose things like what we may term ‘authenticity’. I think an obsession with being popular and being famous just cheapens things.

And then, there are those who obsessively say they are guarding themselves, somehow. By not sharing their work; by refusing to talk about details of their own lives, with others. How arrogant. Maybe both – the excessively ‘public’ and the excessively ‘private’ are driven by pride.

Hmm. I think it is important to be more or less the same person in private and in public. Worrying not about being popular and public and such; also not worrying about hiding oneself and one’s goodnesses. It’s when you’re anxious to either be public or to be private, when it just seems a little pathetic, methinks.

  • The Concise Compositions series comprises a series of blog articles that are each based on a certain topic. You give yourself five minutes – timed – to write about whatever comes to mind, based on the topic. You cannot go over the time; you cannot stop typing beforehand, either. And you cannot go back to edit [save for grammatical errors, etc.]. I challenge all fellow bloggers to give this a try [or, if you do not have a blog, try it on paper – maybe in a journal]! Include ‘ConciseCompositions’ as a tag for your pieces, and include this block of writing at the end of them. Good luck! 

(Let’s see what might spill from that mind of yours, when it is forced, under time constraints, to speedily think and write…)


Sadia Ahmed J. 2020

 

And what might it feel like, to Die?

To run away from all talks of death is to run away from reality. In this world, all those things we plan for – the graduations, the weddings, and the like – they are all mere possibilities. But death: death, as you would find yourself rather unsurprised to know, is the only actual inevitability. 

And what might it feel like, to die? I really do wonder, sometimes. The human mind and its accommodations of our experiences of consciousness: what fascinating stuff. Mind-boggling, the stuff of dreams. We are conscious, and we are thinking. Alive, helpfully facilitated by these more physical things that we collectively refer to as our ‘Biology’.

Have you ever had some sort of a death-like, or out-of-body, experience? I have. I mean, areligious science pins it all down to mere REM intrusions; they say that these things – astral projections, sleep paralyses, experiences of near soul extractions – they can all be attributed to mind-generated hallucinations. Essentially, they say, your own mind orchestrates these things, maybe gets a kick or two out of absolutely terrifying and confusing its own self…

I say, correlation does not always mean causation. Islam tells us that “Sleep is the brother of Death” [Hadith]. This makes a great deal of sense, if you think about it. When you sleep, your body stays still; you drift off into some other world. The body needs to stop and rest sometimes, but the soul is ever-active.

The more ‘scientific’ dimensions of… biological expiration… they are also extremely interesting, I think. For example, when and how does a body know to end itself? What fails first; is there some sort of innate timer that determines all of these things? What prevents an eyelash from growing into being the same size as the strands of hair that grow from our scalps? And what prevents the human being from living for, say, two hundred years?

Death. It sort of terrifies me, a little bit. The fear of the unknown. And also in light of these near-death experiences that I have had: the feeling of something significant being tugged out of my chest, leaving in its wake some dull ache. But something in me had been fighting. “I’m not ready to die yet, Ya Allah. I’m not ready to die”. Such friction, such fear: I had been too afraid to open my eyes, to witness this soul of mine, almost above its own body, floating. You know, all of it actually really solidifies my conviction in notions of integrated dualism. We are body and soul, and they are separable, albeit strongly linked. I wonder if my actual (eventual, inevitable) experience of death will be this physically unpleasant, too.

What also scares me quite so is that it is such a terribly solitary experience, passing away. Dying people see things that we, at present, cannot. We come into this world alone, and yet as part of human communities. We live with them; we die alone, though hoping to be reunited with them in the world that will follow.

Do you find yourself living, currently, in such a way that you would be satisfied with yourself, if Death were to come to you right now? Prepare for it, dear reader. It is inevitably coming, this portal to Eternity: unstoppable, irreversible.

Yes, why, I could bet my entire life on it.


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020 

Book Review: Islam, the West and the Challenges of Modernity – Tariq Ramadan

There are some books that you may come across, in your life, that are rather subtly powerful. They hold within them the ability to really change your life and your ways of thinking – sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. For me, this has certainly been one of those books (for the better). This ‘book review’ series on my blog will be dedicated to my reviewing – and independently commenting on the ideas explored – of different books that I love. I won’t review every book I read – only the ones I feel must be shared in this way. 

Tariq Ramadan, I think, is my all-time favourite non-fiction author and academic. He has an undeniable ‘way with words’, Allahummabārik; he presents some very interesting and comforting ideas in a manner that harmoniously merges clarity with profundity. His works focus on Islam – Islamic ethics and legislation, history, Islamophobia, modern politics in light of ‘Islamist’ movements… I am particularly fond of this work of his – as well as another one of his books, entitled: ‘To be a European Muslim’.

As Muslims living in this current (rather confusing, rather intense) epoch, it is natural for us to deeply question many things. Our place here, how to be.

To be a Muslim (today, always) is to be a stranger – a traveller, as the Hadith goes – in the Dunya. To “be here in order to be better over There”. And how true this is. The most prevalent ways of doing things, of thinking, and of being, here can often be quite antithetical to the teachings of our faith.

What are some of the defining characteristics of this modern world? Undeniably, this is a world that is heavily focused on appearances. Facades, the ‘outside’, shells. Lies (which are widely and eagerly devoured), rumours, scandal-mongering, narcissism, widespread distrust. Brutalisers being convincingly disguised as the respectable ones.

The world of modernity is also heavily focused on the principle of individualism. And these two tenets – that of appearances and that of (an inhuman level of) individualism – marry to render the modern world one that is fuelled, very much, by selfishness and deceit.

The society of entertainment, excessive consumption and generalised individualism coexists with the most extreme destitution and the most total misery”

People churn out ‘wealth’ – sell their bodies and souls to do so; many people end up becoming richer — leading richer lives, but rarely necessarily happier ones. Many become so caught up in these images of ‘plenty’ that they forget about the stuff of actual value. One of the breaking wings of modernity is made of speed, computer science, fashion, blaring music with the most peculiar lyrics, cinematic illusions, facades of ever-growing ‘freedoms’. The other: exploitation, weariness, poverty, loneliness, dissatisfaction and despondency, and the children who die at the hands of those who claim to fight in the name of ‘freedom’. One wing functions as a mask for the other. A colourful exterior pressed atop an inside that is soulless and rotten.

“Modern times have, for our memories, a concern for image, and also the infinite neglect of reality and meaning”

There are many problems around us, which serve as evident threats to our spirituality, to our humanity and to our ‘Muslimness’: they are detrimental to the human Fitrah. Many of these things, we find ourselves becoming increasingly desensitised to: senseless violence, shameless vanity and arrogance, greed and overindulgence, chronic intoxication and/or distraction, widespread nudity and sexual immoralities… The list goes on.

In modern society, secularisation tends to be championed. The sacred is desacralised. Modesty, the beauty and elegance of simplicity, the excellence of manners, deeply caring for and tending to the natural environment. These things become obliterated by the army tanks of the modern world. We are a society of individuals; all that seems to matter is the capitalist ‘value’ we can find in things. Morality comes from nothing but the human imagination; it is ‘decided by society’.

“…modernity renders us so unfaithful to our humanity […] The daily running of the world steals us from ourselves, to the point, sometimes, of rendering our personality double and tearing us apart.”

The interactions between Islam and global politics are also a deeply significant thing to consider, here. Often, ardent nationalists operate under the (highly mobilising, highly unifying) guise of religion in order to do their damage. Religion devoid of spirituality, and whose cold exterior latches onto political (nationalistic) movements actually defeats the point of religion itself: religio, to relegate oneself before God.

What else is ‘modernity’ characterised by? I think Ramadan describes it perfectly. Adding to the aforementioned theme of covering up the truth and engaging in (indulging in) falsehood, much of modern society is composed of examples of one part in direct conflict with another: thus is the basis of all neuroses.

Many comedians, for example, wear happy faces but a lot of them (a shocking number) have revealed that they suffer from deep (exogenous) depression. This pattern of double personalities can also be seen in the wider world of celebrities; in the culture that they collectively champion and foster in others.

“When men lose morality they find the jungle and become wolves”

To be true to our Muslim identities, in this world today, we must commit to being committed to Truth, no matter what. “[Saying] the truth and [re-saying] it, before God, without fear”. Despite any material difficulties or emotional struggles we may face: we must vow to be true to Truth, in its exactness. And to justice. Authenticity. Goodness, kindness, fraternity, the pursuit of beneficial knowledge. Spirituality — the heart and soul of this religion.

As Muslims, the deceitful adornments of the world should not faze us. The Qur’an and Hadiths tell us about its reality: marry the world, and you actually end up marrying, essentially, what resembles the rotting insides of a camel’s carcass [Hadith].

We really ought to favour ‘Barakah culture’ over ‘Hustle culture’. Our bodies do not exist to be used, in their entireties, by corporations and such. Our Lord is far more important and powerful; our Haqq is more, well, Haqq. We bring Barakah into our lives by favouring three things – worship, the pursuit of knowledge, and the graceful servitude of others. And these things undoubtedly interact with one another: the quality of one affects the quality of the others.

Today, we are just so self-absorbed. We care too much about how we look, and about our titles, and about our social media accounts — about how we can best come across to others. We have lost the art of sincerity, so it would seem; often, things are done for the primary purpose of social recognition, and in the names of efficiency and rationalisation. When we exclusively focus on these particular things, the world becomes one of black and white, and of smog and several other hues of grey.

As Muslims, we do need to tend to our ‘portions in the [current] world’: we go to school, and to work. We eat, we have friends. We partake in creative and personal projects. But, for us, Deen takes precedence over Dunya. Our religion gives true life to our lives. And here, we “live and learn how to die, live in order to learn how to die”.

And prayer should be our lives’ lifeblood. As Ramadan writes, prayer “[gives] strength, in humility, to the meaning of an entire life”.

I love that books like these incorporate history, personal anecdotes, politics, philosophy, and more, all into one. It was fascinating to read about why Islam today looks like what it does, and in various parts of the world; about things like the Islamic Centre of Geneva (est. 1961) for instance, and how it broadcasted a certain form of Islam to several other European Muslim communities; about the growing religious influence of the Saudis, the Islamic World League, how pan-Arab politics both informed, and was informed by, all these happenings.

Our problem is one of spirituality. If a man comes to speak to me about the reforms to be undertaken in the Muslim world, about political strategies and of great geo-strategic plans, my first question to him would be whether he performed the dawn prayer (Fajr) on time”

– Said Ramadan

“Power is not our objective; what have we to do with it? Our goal is love of the Creator, the fraternity and justice of Islam. This is our message to dictators.” 

These days, many influential Muslims are actually, unfortunately, walking epitomes of the notion of religion without spirituality. They may sport lengthy beards, quote the Qur’an almost endlessly. But Islam would not appear to be in their hearts: instead, the love of things like wealth, power, titles and territory are.

There are many things that the Muslims of today – in particular, we youngins – need to unlearn. There are also many things that we must learn and then proceed to internalise. For example, our hearts (if we are to truly find peace) must come to sing the idea that “solitude with God is better than neglect with men”. The link with God is the way.

The concept of modernisation is constantly valorised by those who live under it. Why wouldn’t a person or a place want to be ‘modern’? Granted, there are some ‘positives’ to this whole global project. A certain type of work ethic, in conjunction with certain personal liberties, does breed invention. Innovation, efficiency, improvement, sanitisation, gigantic systems that work (mostly) for the benefit of the people.

In the European Middle Ages, dynamism in this way had simply not been a thing. Feudalistic power structures and the unshifting dominance of the clergy in circles of thought contributed to a certain sort of “numbness”, a stifling of sorts. “Nothing seemed to move; men were as if paralysed…” So today’s constant state of movement may be seen as a welcome change from these erstwhile times. But instead of a steady state of flow, we seem to now be moving recklessly, too quickly. Growth for the sake of growth; it is not healthy.

But modernity is also, unfortunately, the things that are hidden beneath the veneer of shininess. Massive inequalities of wealth and resources. Poverty and exploitation. Pandemic addictions. Increased rates of severe mental illnesses. And, of course, all those other things – what, now, are hallmarks of modernity – that our Prophet (SAW) had warned us about.

There are certainly some good things from the current state of things that the modern Muslim can benefit from; these things are not anti-Islamic. Science, technology, the pursuit of wisdom, and progress. [It is important to note that, in the Christian world, science and progress had come about as a result of that society’s parting with religion, for the most part. On the flip-side, the Muslim world had flourished when it had been more in touch with its spirituality; it declined when this had been lost]. An issue arises solely when people cling to these things in lieu of a link with God. Knowledge should breed Taqwa; what we learn should come benefit our own souls, as well as those of the people.

In (temporary) solitude and seclusion, muddied water – agitated, noisy – slows down; the dirt settles, and then there is peace. Clarity, flow and focus may be achieved here. When Islam is in our hearts; when we are able to exhibit due Khushuu’ in our prayers, life becomes warm. Meaningful. Animated with gratitude and Barakah; a separateness from the cheapness of meaningless chatter. A walk – even if it be a solitary one – towards wisdom and elegance. It slows down; the roses bloom. Beautiful heart, beautiful thoughts, and all the rest of it.

“To be good and do good, before God, is the meaning of this call.” 

And, right now, we all find ourselves in our own houses, quarantined, mostly in solitude. As much of the Islamic tradition demonstrates, there is much Khayr – goodness – to be found in solitude and seclusion: this is where the sacred tends to reveal itself. Where you can train yourself to be a contented observer of the world, in it, but not wholly devoted to it… being somewhat distant from all the noise and the crowds, for here is where one may find clarity.

From the very first pages of its Foreword, I was enthralled by the messages this book contains. I considered it to be very informative, and yet so very soulfully validating. It has inspired me to try to get closer to God; to give my daily prayers their due diligence, Insha Allah; to not be distracted by the distractions of a noisy world that is filled with busy people who talk far too much.

In case I didn’t manage to make it clear earlier, I so love this book; I would truly recommend it.

“Be like a fruit tree. They attack you with stones, and you respond with fruits.”

– Hasan al-Banna


Sadia Ahmed J., 2020

On Debating

“Point of information!”

“No thank you,” accompanied by a simple ‘sit right back down’ gesture. 

 

Debating is, undoubtedly (and when done properly!) an art form – the art form that concerns facts, figures, rhetorical devices, humanity, logic galore. Impassioned speeches, appeals to the…humanness… of humans (to all three – logos, pathos, and ethos – components). Witty comebacks, tensions, a heightened sense of intellectualism, coupled with a (deliberately) heightened sense of its seeming opposite, emotion. Disagreements and/or discovery, with a necessary helping of civility and perhaps a touch of theatricalism. 

Recently I came across what would appear to be an ongoing post-debate debate – an  intellectual back-and-forth – between two of my most favourite debaters. And it really got me thinking about what the point of debates might be, as well as the foolishness of the use of personal attacks, among other things.

Honestly (and my apologies if I sound glib and condescending here but) I do pity those who have never been part of a debate club before, or who have not taken part in a debate before. Of course, some debates take place ‘informally’ (i.e. without formal adjudicators and/or hosts and moderators) – at Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park (London), over dinner tables [I have this one uncle who has always, since my childhood, initiated ‘deep conversations’ and debates with me – on topics ranging from time and space, to the properties of water. I have him to thank for so much – insert cheese – of who I am and for how I think, today] and indeed while with friends, talking about certain things.

Something that is not fun, in my humble opinion, is constant argument – bickering. Arguing for the sake of arguing; tendencies that tend towards utter solipsism. Indubitably, the point of debating should not be the surrender to, nor the ardent nurture of, the ego.

Ah, formal debating, how I miss thee. The unparalleled joys – the motion being set; things being set in motion. Moments of inspiration under timed constraints, rushing to brainstorm various things on paper, trying to get your team to agree on things and to complement one another. You will forgive me, dear reader, for my shameless displays of nerdiness here, but the rush. Knowing how to win over the audience; knowing how – and when – to expose perceived faults in the opponents’ lines of reasoning.

But, thinking bigger here, the point of debating is not to commit to consistently being right. Something that I love about traditional debate clubs and competitions is that sometimes one is forced to assume a place on the opposite side of the table – to argue for something that normally, one disagrees with. What does this do – what benefits could come from this? These particular challenges do much to boost a person’s cognitive skills, as well as one’s capacities for empathy – for appreciating a range of perspectives.

The person representing the view or idea being debated is undoubtedly important. I must stress the aforementioned point that we are human, centrally emotional creatures. We love humour and narratives and imagery, among other things. And any debate would just be… fleshless, robotic … without all of the things that render it a potentially brain-stimulating, mind-expanding art form.

Rhetorical questions, lists, statistics, anecdotes. Points of information, rebuttals. Anacoluthon, analogies, apophasis, anadiplosis, litotes. And in bigger debates, the unique opportunity to witness the power of your words in action, (potentially) shaping the atmosphere of the entire hall.

And then, some of the things to steer clear of: ipsedixitisms [I love that word], shouting and heckling [you’d think that the folks who sit on those infamous green benches over at Parliament would be above all this puerile stuff, at their ages and in their positions. But, alas… the House of Commons might as well be renamed ‘the House of Heckles’. Many MPs, with all due respect, often debate in a completely uninspired manner, sometimes just reciting statistics from a piece of paper, sometimes not even including any facts in their addresses at all. Some even take naps on those very benches while debates go on. But I digress. Order! Order!] And then, of course, there’s the ever-prevalent tendency of things to sometimes be taken a little bit too far… thus leading to things descending into hyper-emotionality, irrationality, and ad hominems – personal attacks, which do nothing to bolster or undermine any actual arguments. In general, these signify a pathetic attempt to divert attention away from the actual topic at hand, and more towards a (pathetic) battle between egos.

Something I need to constantly remember, in any debate-resembling situation (that is not an actual formal debate where the very point is to stubbornly stick to a view even if I myself do not agree with it – though even then, my ultimate purpose should be to learn something, no?) is that intentions are paramount. What is my intention here? To prove that I am ‘right’, at any cost, even if I am actually wrong? And, are they attacking me or just a view of mine that I may sometimes mistake as being an unchangeable part of my identity? And, am I being fair to them? Am I truly listening to what they are saying? Do I really, truly agree with these views I have chosen to be a spokesperson for, or am I simply being unproductively stubborn, deploying ego defence mechanisms where, perhaps, they are unneeded? 

I love that debates can easily become awfully – tremendously – conceptual, abstract. You put some sort of ideology or view – all these intangible things, figuratives, potentials – on a metal plate, under surgical lighting. And you proceed to poke and jab at them; attempt to dissect it from a a range of different perspectives. What might the economic implications be? And the political ones? How would this motion affect…women? What might the physical sciences have to say, on the matter [oof, pun not intended, but what a pun indeed, right]? All in all, I have learnt so much from partaking in, and from watching, debates – both formal and informal ones. I have learnt about Islam, about Philosophy, about abortion, the education system… Knowledge in action, interdisciplinary considerations, and all this (hopefully,) with a fine helping of humanness and enjoyability: this all makes the learning component so easy!

Usually, with these things, there is no single ‘right’ answer. And perhaps this is one of the things that makes such oratory duels so interesting. No two people are the same; people’s perspectives – the bases of their speeches – tend to be wholly unique, too.

One can – and should – always try to respect a debating ‘opponent’ (partner) and their humanity. Ad hominem attacks ought to be avoided at all costs – and, actually, from my observations, it is clear that the use of these personal attack tools (falsely) promise a quick and easy way out – and to ‘victory’. It is easy – and quite pathetic – to state or insinuate that a Muslim dialectical partner is being… threatening or ‘terroristic’, or that a woman who identifies as a feminist is being ‘whingey’, or that someone who is a supporter of the political right is, by default, a ‘Nazi’. Ad hominems – insults – can be effective in causing offence to, perhaps disgruntling, one’s opponents. But they do nothing to fortify one’s own arguments; if anything, they only perceptively undermine one’s integrity and authority in the given dialectical situation. So, respecting human beings is paramount [- that is, if you buy into the whole ‘innate value’ thing. If you are, instead, of the opinion that this is a wholly indifferent universe, in which we are happy accidents and biological robots with no objective morality or purpose, then… you… do your thing.]

But also, the merits of freedom of speech should certainly never be overlooked! We (only, really) become more learned and wise through discussing things with others; in the process, we may grow in security in terms of sticking with certain views of ours. Or, we may find ourselves outgrowing certain views.

Anecdote time: before beginning my time at sixth form (which was almost three years ago, now – wow!) I had always staunchly identified myself as a feminist and as a leftist- in terms of everything. And, it is true what they [who is ‘they’? And is it the same ‘they’ that DJ Khaled constantly expresses remonstrances with?] say – about how the issue with definitions is that they tend to result in us overlooking the capacity for change, and sometimes, for nuance. This notion had certainly held true for me, during the majority of my pre-Year Twelve days. And what did it result in? An inability to truly see and listen to the other side.

It can be so easy to dehumanise, in our minds, people who share very different views from us – and to create false dichotomies. Us versus them, us versus them, us versus them.

But, at sixth form, I met a friend who also loves debating. And we would debate all the time. I must admit, I began to take things a little too personally when we began to discuss topics like racism, sexism, and Islam, respectively. But this friend – who is different to me in terms of race, religion, gender, political leanings – truly challenged some of my established ways of thinking. He remained respectful throughout all of these discussions of ours, even when it would have been easy for him to resort to actual personal attacks; props to him for this.

I ended up learning a lot from him. I ended up developing my critical thinking skills, through these debates, and as a result of them, some of my views certainly changed.

Now, another random tangent [which makes sense, because this friend and I used to debate in our Maths class, the most] – I used to love debating with Twitter trolls, back when I was fourteen years old. Why? I don’t really know. I probably just wanted to debate more, but Debate Club (which I had acted like it had been a personality trait of mine that I had been President of. Weird, weird flex) had unfortunately come to an end. So I debated topics like politics and Hadiths on Twitter, and learnt much through researching to take part in these arguments, along the way. And insults like the P-word (something I had been called a couple of times, when I was younger, by random strangers), insults pertaining to my being Muslim, and a Muslim woman, at that… they were all hurled at me, left, right and centre.

Now, this aforementioned friend of mine – he had experienced his fair share of ad hominem insults, too. Labelled a Nazi, for stupid reasons, when his own grandparents had campaigned against the Nazis during the War.

These labels are not helpful. They prevent us from being able to really see people, and their humanness. Echo chambers are not helpful. Bad manners in debates simply just have the adverse effect of pushing people further away from what you want them to come to understand. And, surely, every person you meet has something – at least one thing – that you can learn from them. So (I hope you will) debate. And, welcome debate.

Some pet hates of mine, though: that… academic arrogance that can often be brought into such discussions. Stubbornness, mocking others, those ice-cold glares, at times. Seeking leverage through means of big words and sophism. If your views are defendable, I entreat you to defend them! Your views need not be permanent; your mind need not be in a state of closed-ness and stagnation.

Debating: I think it is wonderful, and, when done well, is one of the greatest skills a person can have. Enjoyable, a potentially hugely educational thing to do, facilitating discovery and connections between communities.

Words can indeed change worlds; debating is one of the very cornerstones of democracy and of intellectualism. But it can all become extremely ugly when what should be a battle of ideas – the things we ought to place on that dialectical silver plate [main course: discourse!] – devolves into a senseless exchange of personal attacks, or indeed, when people gratuitously take things too personally [e.g. “I love to debate. But I hate it when people want to debate about Christianity, since I am a Christian and these are my views and I don’t want to hear opposing views”] or when irrationalism, along the same lines, is allowed to take centre-stage: “I believe in this thing because I believe in it. Because… I believe in it. And that is all.”

Put the thing on the plate – first. And let this be the focus, the centre, the point, of it all.

Also, argumentation for the sake of argumentation is futile and foolish. It’s like that quote: “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell” [Edward Abbey]. I find myself being deeply sceptical of (most) things being done for the sake of… themselves. In debating, this is precisely what provides the perfect breeding ground for ego-based bickering, arrogance, irrationality, the counter-productive encouragement of close-minded behaviours.

Intentions and intentionality, maintaining good Adab – decorum, decency, humanness – and having a purpose, there and then, which is perhaps greater than the lodging of your flag into someone else’s ego. These are certainly some debate-related principles that I seek to go forward with.

And oh, how I long to be in a debate club again. 


Sadia Ahmed, 2020 

Why I am unapologetically pro-Palestine: Exploring colonialism and ethnic cleansing

  The Palestinian-Israeli conflict: a complex, multi-faceted topic that many people avoid like the plague. In this blog article, I want to explore the roots of Zionism (as well as how it sprung from normalised anti-Semitism), the abuse of Palestinian human rights, and the dozens of misconceptions surrounding the debate. The liberation of Palestinians is an issue that I am particularly passionate about: it concerns a combination of different branches of social justice, including (but, by no means, limited to) feminism, Islamophobia, white supremacy, colonialism and imperialism, and (at its core) systematic oppression and the belittlement of a native group of people.

Before I begin, I’d like to clarify that supporting Palestine is not synonymous with supporting terrorism or violent organisations. I am in favour of the protection of the human rights of Palestinians; this does not necessarily mean that I am pro-Hamas. That being said, I find it intensely hypocritical that governments recognise Hamas as a terrorist organisation, but the same criteria for identifying terrorist organisations does not seem to apply for the manipulative and powerful Israeli government… Besides, we all know that Western imperialism leads to political and economic instability, which, in turn, creates a perfect breeding ground for violence and radicalism. Need some examples? Just take a look at Iraq, Pakistan and India.

The essential nature of Israel is that it is an instrument of, and an enforcer for, imperialism. Few know about its background as an ambassador of US imperialist war crimes, such as how it played a pivotal role in the genocide of around 200,000 Guatemalan peasants. Of course, to legitimize Israel’s actions, it is depicted as a central force fighting against Jihadism– as a defenseless little nation trapped in a sea of ‘intolerant Islamic countries’.

It cannot be denied that Israel created a Jewish majority through its use of ethnic cleansing. Zionist advocates might argue that this is just an example of the Jewish community finally gaining some autonomy, but self-determination is not (and has never been) synonymous with the right to colonise and expel the native people of a land, nor should it equate to granting a group countless privileges at the expense of the indigenous population. De facto, this endeavor to induce ‘self-determination’ becomes a form of systematic, institutionalized discrimination. The Israeli government dictates when Palestinians can be outside, when they can have water and electricity in their homes, their housing and citizenship rights, whom they can marry, and more. Some might call this oppression; others might call it apartheid.

I have been called a terrorist on a number of occasions by pro-Israeli campaigners, merely for pointing out that Palestinians exist, and they might just feel pain too. It seems that the term ‘terrorist’ is used rather selectively; Israel and the USA are practically immune to being receptors of this label. Through this article, I would like to prove that Palestine deserves our attention, and not exclusively from a Muslim perspective.

May 15th 2017 marked the 69th anniversary of the Palestinian exodus, or the Nakba (Arabic for ‘catastrophe’), when more than 70% of all Palestinians were removed from their homeland, through the use of force and fear. This mass expulsion later evolved to become an unprecedented form of ‘ethnic cleansing’, and throughout this process, Israel showed little regard for international regulations or sanctions. After all, why would it? America would leap to its defence under any circumstance.

 

The Nakba is not a mere event in history. It is an ongoing aggression on, and dehumanisation of, the Palestinians: robbery of their homes and lands, and the denial of their right to live with dignity.

 

Metaphorically speaking, America and Israel are best friends. America is Israel’s role model; its beginnings (the genocide of Native Americans and the subsequent suppression of black people) closely resemble those of Israel. If the colonisation of Central America had been a modern occurrence, the original Native American inhabitants would have undoubtedly been labelled ‘terrorists’ (and perhaps even ‘anti-white’) too.

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

 

Earlier this summer, I attended ‘Palestine Expo’ (the largest Palestinian social and cultural event in Europe) where there were talks given by Jewish and Muslim professors and authors, photo booths, theatrical shows, historical artefacts- all to bring awareness to the fact that Palestinian culture does exist (and has existed for many centuries), despite Israel’s desperate attempts to obliterate it completely. Outside the Expo, a group of pro-Israeli demonstrators stood against a wall, holding a large Israeli flag, screaming at the top of their lungs using megaphones, denouncing the event and accusing all those in attendance of being “TERRORISTS!” I even argued with a police officer that was protecting the Israel protest; he insisted that pro-Palestinian campaigners have “more freedom of speech” than pro-Israeli ones, and when I informed him about some of the many examples of censorship and silencing Palestinian voices, he conceded and said, “Well, I didn’t know about that, but I’ll do my research.”

As I was leaving the Expo, I spoke to my friend about how much I would like to visit Palestine- to see the places that are not just holy to me, but also to my Christian and Jewish friends. Nearby, a Jewish woman sporting a Palestinian scarf told me to “Just go. It will break your heart and change your life.”

I also attended a Marxism convention (Marxism 2017) where there were similar speeches on Palestine, delivered by leading Jewish academics. They were also deeply concerned about the level of censorship that they have been subjected to. Meetings at various locations have mysteriously been cancelled, and a professor was even threatened by his university for having a ‘BDS’ poster on his door. At the end of one talk about Palestine, a Jewish Marxist activist stood up on stage and yelled, “FREE FREE” and the audience enthusiastically responded, “PALESTINE!”

The acronym ‘BDS’ stands for ‘Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions’. This strategy is centred on non-violent protest, and was developed by a number of pro-Palestine activists across the globe. The movement calls for various organisations to put economic and political pressure to encourage Israel to end the colonisation and occupation of Arab land (and to dismantle the Apartheid wall); full equality for all Palestinians living in Israel; the right of return for all Palestinian refugees (of which there are roughly 13 million).

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3CJw2epEJ-4

 

Both at PalExpo and Marxism, I found the Jewish speakers’ views particularly fascinating; many agreed that Zionism is at odds with their religious teachings. One professor told the audience about how, as he was growing up, he and his community perceived Israel as a progressive place- it was especially popular amongst younger generations. He stated that, for younger Jewish people, Kibbutzim were a popular holiday destination. Now, thousands visit Palestinian villages instead. This professor’s university received a legal threat from an Israeli lobby organisation, when he placed a ‘Free Palestine’ poster on his door. At the conference, he made it a point to declare that Zionism is a political (and not an inherently Jewish) movement. He believes that Western leaders were so passionate about the movement because they did not want Jewish people on their streets; while Zionism was gaining traction, anti-Jewish sentiment was absolutely rife in Europe.

Of course, it is vital to explore the origins of anti-Semitism and Zionism, and how these origins shape the friction. A spokesperson from Jews for Justice UK proclaimed that anti-Semitism bloomed as a result of social and economic instability: generally speaking, wealthier Jews tended to have powerful economic roles, as bankers, estate managers, and more. Then, many were scapegoated and blamed for societal problems at times of political uncertainty, and during economic crises. While anti-Jewish sentiment grew, so did the popularity of Zionism. This proliferated in the earlier part of the 20th century. It is completely understandable that Jews (as an oppressed minority in many European countries) wanted a place to call home. But the means by which this notion is pursued cannot be rooted in violence and oppressing others, although this is precisely what the Israeli government seems to be doing.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO7Am6sapxY

 

In 1917, the Zionist movement existed, but historians agree that it was politically insignificant. Then, a refugee crisis arose when Jewish people fled the anti-Jewish Pogroms of the Russian Empire. In 1905, the UK passed the ‘Alien’s Act’, which introduced immigration controls to regulate the flow of Jewish immigrants fleeing from other areas in Europe. Later on, in 1917, the notorious Balfour Declaration was signed:

Essentially, like the rest of Europe, Britain did not want Jewish people on its soil. The background of the Balfour Declaration is centred on playing the ‘race card’ to divert British Jews to their ‘homeland’. I find it interesting how the author seeks to give away land that he had no rights over, acknowledges that Palestine did exist before the establishment of Israel (as opposed to what many Zionists claim), and finally, the fact that the letter outlines how the “civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine” should not be prejudiced. It is tragic and ironic that the exact opposite of this request is happening there.

In 1956, following the 1948 Arab-Israeli war, Israel invaded the Egyptian Sinai, once again leading to heightened tensions, and instigating a bloody (often forgotten) war that lasted just under six days (the Six-Day War). Arab casualties were far heavier than those of Israel; up to 20,000 Arabs died, compared to a handful of Israeli troops. Israel was, unsurprisingly, supported by the US and, being an expert at casually and pointlessly involving itself in wars, the US helped the Israeli air-force maintain air and ground superiority. Israel’s international standing was heightened, and the amount of land it had stolen tripled. 300,000 more Palestinians became refugees, while hostility towards Jewish communities grew in Arab countries, causing yet another refugee crisis. Many of these Jews fled to Europe and Israel, and so, as a cyclical outcome of Israel’s initial aggressions, the country grew in size and popularity. The outcome of this war was also deeply regretful, as anti-Jewish sentiment was not widespread among Muslims and Arabs until this particular incident. I acknowledge (and detest) how some Muslims claim to be ‘pro-Palestine’, but in actuality, are uneducated anti-Semites, who do not understand the complexity of the situation. That being said, I must reiterate that ‘pro-Palestine’ and ‘uneducated anti-Semite’ are not interchangeable labels.

Simply put, supporting Palestine means supporting the right of millions of displaced Palestinians to return to their homeland and (for the thousands of indigenous Palestinians that remain there) it means supporting their basic human rights- their rights to clean and adequate amounts of water, electricity, education, and, crucially, their collective right to exist on their own land, all without the fear of being attacked.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MON2HL02mec

 

Moreover, condemning Israeli policies and actions is not to be confused with Jew-hating or supporting the annihilation of Israel nor the exodus of its current people. Rather, this is about breaking the silence. Many countries and organisations have chosen to refuse to acknowledge Palestine as a separate country, and some even go so far as to say that Palestinians deserve what they get.

  • An increasingly alarming tactic being employed by the IDF takes place when Palestinians go on holiday abroad; squatters break in, and take over, adorning their houses with Israeli flags, violently taunting them upon their returns. Incidents like this take place across the country, on a daily basis, and Palestinian citizens are actively bullied. “We pour kerosene on Arab tomatoes,” an inhabitant of an illegal settlement once said, publicly.

Numerous individuals- ranging from rappers to TV presenters- have attempted to review the conflict in a non-Partisan manner. Many unintentionally focus on the ‘terrorist’ nature of Hamas, while overlooking some other crucial factors pertaining to the Israeli government, some of which include:

  • Israel is the only Middle Eastern country to possess nuclear weapons (many of which are directly subsidised by the American government)
  • Israel also refuses to sign the nuclear non-proliferation treaty, and bars international inspections
  • In direct defiance of UN resolutions, Israel seized the sovereign territory of Palestine using military aggression, and continues to illegally occupy it
  • It routinely uses warplanes, artillery, and naval forces to violate international borders. These aggressions are globally seen as necessary to defending the nation in the ‘war against terror’
  • It practises ‘exporting terrorism’ (and has done so for years). This involves sending assassins into other countries to kill political enemies. What’s more, terrorist groups such as the Urgun gang were effective in establishing the state of Israel.
  • Criminals from other countries who have Jewish heritage can ‘return home’ to Israel, without being prosecuted for their crimes
  • High-ranking Israeli military officers have publicly admitted that unarmed Palestinian ‘prisoners of war’ have been executed. In fact, there is a large campaign called Breaking the Silence, which features Israeli military officials exposing and condemning the actions of their national government

 

http://www.breakingthesilence.org.il

 

 

  • The occupation of Palestine has led to over 762,000 people becoming refugees; they are actively prevented from returning to their homes, farms, and businesses. 1 in 3 refugees around the world are Palestinian, and there are roughly 30,000 refugees living in the Gaza camp alone.
  • Around half of all Palestinian children suffer from PTSD; some have been arrested for up to 15 years for throwing rocks at tanks. Many have even been shot multiple times, by army officials. 8-year-olds have been handcuffed and bullied by soldiers, and since 2000, over 3000 Palestinian children have been murdered, in cold blood, by Israeli soldiers
  • An Israeli who ordered the successful assassination of a high-ranking UN diplomat went on to become the prime minister of the country
  • Israel (by governmental orders) blew up an American diplomatic facility in Egypt and attacked a US ship in international waters, killing 34 and wounding 171 sailors. Despite this, America continues to pay gargantuan sums towards the maintenance and expansion of the Israeli military
  • In the past, Israel has hired spies to steal classified documents, and then gave some of them to the Soviet Union
  • The Israeli government frequently speaks out against hate- namely, terrorism, homophobia and sexism- and yet a shrine and a memorial were built in honour of a man who killed 29 Palestinian worshippers in Al-Aqsa
  • Pro-Zionists might argue that “the whole world is against them”, however Israel has the second most powerful lobby in the US (comprising a number of high-ranking lawyers, among others)
  • Israel deliberately targeted a refugee camp in Lebanon, killing 103 people (most of whom were children)
  • Israel is in direct defiance of 69 UN Security Council resolutions
  • Israel is the 16th richest country in the world, but still receives a staggering 1/3 of all US financial aid; it also receives American weaponry for free, and sometimes then discloses the technology (at a dear price) to China.
  • The Israeli prime minister once openly said to his staff, “We control America”. He wasn’t wrong
  • Injured and terminally ill Palestinian patients are often denied treatment, but they are also rejected when they apply to gain permission to go abroad for treatment
  • According to Amnesty International, more than 4000 civilian Palestinian homes were recently demolished. This is, no doubt, a method used to accelerate Israel’s objectives surrounding ethnic cleansing
  • Israel habitually arrests and brutalises children (usually around the age of 8, and sometimes even below). Many have been killed for simply throwing rocks at tanks
  • In spite of signing the Oslo Accords (which involved promising to stop building any more illegal settlements) 270 new settlements have been constructed since the signing. These illegal settlements are not pathetic makeshift shacks; they tend to be tall luxury apartments. Altogether, roughly 48,000 Palestinian homes have been demolished to clear land for settlers’ use, and there are around 650,000 Israeli settlers, many of whom display brutal and aggressive behaviour towards natives
  • Settlers often throw rocks at Palestinian schoolchildren. In a recent instance, a settler set fire to a Palestinian home, killing a baby and its family
  • Israel (rather like its soul-mate America) makes excuses to attempt to justify methods of torture used in prisons
  • Israel has assassinated more than 100 rival political officials, and has murdered thousands of civilians. In addition to this, many more innocent inhabitants of Gaza are also being killed due to the Israeli government’s decision to significantly reduce and impose curfews on Palestinian water and electrical supplies; they usually receive electricity for less than four hours a day, and this affects over 2 million people. This means that university students are forced to study under candlelight, and premature babies often die in their cots, while their incubators are switched off. During heatwaves, copious amounts of water are supplied to the illegal settlements (to be used in swimming pools, and for cooling) while Palestinians remain thirsty. When they do receive water, it is usually contaminated with microbes and other pollutants
  • Israel regularly violates the Geneva Convention by imposing collective punishment (an act of Barbarianism) on entire towns, villages, and camps. Sometimes entire villages are destroyed while people are still in their homes.

 

Some might argue that Arabs are not oppressed in Israel. After all, there are Arab Muslims in the Knesset- the Israeli government. Could the same be said about America? Can we say that racism is an erstwhile concept because Barack Obama became president? Arguing that Palestinians have equal rights to Israelis simply because they are granted basic civil rights is a futile argument. It is like a person stealing a loaf of bread from another person, handing them back a single crumb, and expecting them to be grateful for it. These civil rights are not somehow an extraordinary act of generosity or kindness, especially against the backdrop of what is really going on.

Israel is a colonial settler state with an organised apartheid system to maintain the power of one ethnic group over the native one. It often resorts to brute force to maintain this power, but criticising these violent and unfair operations are seen as anti-Semitic, even when the critics are Jewish. If it is anti-Semitic and a gesture of ‘self-hatred’ for Jews to criticise Israel, is it an Islamophobic act of ‘self-hating’ for me to criticise the Saudi Arabian monarchical government? No, obviously not. Irrespective of the fact that members of the Saudi government identify as Muslim, I (as a decent human being) am deeply critical of their policies. Likewise, many Jewish academics have spoken out against Israel, and have (in return) received torrents of hate. In recent months, the weapon of choice to attack Jeremy Corbyn was anti-Semitism (led by supporters of Israel) particularly due to his views on Palestine.

In a statement made in 2015, Mr Corbyn said: “Last October parliament made a historic decision to recognize the state of Palestine. As Labour Leader I would not only reaffirm that decision, I would seek to build on it by lobbying support for Palestinian statehood in the international community. This recognition is not only essential for establishing the principle of equality between Israeli and Palestinian, it is also in the long term interests of the sovereignty of Israel that we end the double standards whereby Israeli rights to nationhood and recognized, but Palestinian rights are denied. […]

“I share the growing concern over the failure to stop Israel’s violation of international human rights law. Add to that the impact of the Gaza blockade (which spanned for roughly a decade, and involved a series of ground and aerial bombardments), the random and arrest without trail of civilians including children, and the harassment and humiliation of Palestinians as they go about their everyday life, it is clear that human rights violations are fuelling the conflict.

“It is wrong that we continue to sell arms to Israel and I fully support the calls for an arms embargo.

“While I support Israel’s right to safeguard its citizens I agree with the views of  many Israeli human rights organisations that the route of the Separation is designed to annex Palestinian land and undermine chances for a future peace settlement. In addition, it has adverse effects on Palestinian human rights by restricting movements, increasing difficulties in accessing medical and education services and water supplies.

“I echo the calls of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWE) that the blockade must be lifted. It is now one of the longest blockades in history and it impact on the 1.76 million people who live in the Gaza strip, the vast majority of them refugees, has been to further improvise and already desperately poor, improvised people.

“Both British and American governments have rightly criticised the illegal settlements. Not only are they in violation of international law but they a conscious policy to deliberately  undermine any prospect of a viable Palestinian state and with it any two-state solution. It is clear the only hope to stop this policy is if the international community intensify pressure. To that end I fully support the call to end all trade and investments with the illegal settlements.” (Source: Stop The War Coalition)

 

To summarise Mr. Corbyn’s main points, to achieve peace through a viable two-state solution, the following must happen: Israel must obey UN laws and conform to international border regulations; the Labour party should support the establishment of a peaceful, safe, viable Palestinian state alongside an Israeli one; we must point out Israel’s violations of human rights laws, such as the detention of children and political prisoners without trial; the wall (a direct contravention of ICJ international law, almost twice as tall as the Berlin wall, which also existed to cut communities off) must be demolished; the siege of Gaza must be ended, and the free flow of trade and aid should be allowed; we must call for a complete freeze on illegal settlement growth.

Visible violations of human rights might include movement restrictions such as closures and checkpoints where IDF soldiers bearing rifle guns spit at Palestinians and hurl racist insults at them. Any opposition to this can be conducive to bloodshed or imprisonment. These policies also have an unseen effect: they undermine the Palestinians’ capacity to live freely. Their lives are being policed- what they can say, where they can go, at what times they can go there. This also raises another concern, pertaining to education. In addition to this, many children have to walk up to 6km to get to school, and must also go through checkpoints.

The concerns surrounding this regime are shared by respected and courageous Israeli human rights organisations like Breaking the Silence, Gush Shalom, Rabbis for Human Rights and B’tselem, as well as international organisations like Save the Children and Oxfam.

 

Many parallels can be drawn between the South African Apartheid and also to the French colonisation of Algeria, and the current situation in Palestine. The aforesaid strategies were each centred on racism, aggression, and an attempt to suppress and criminalise native peoples, denying them their right to self-determination. Apartheid can be defined as “a system of institutionalised racial segregation and discrimination”, and this is precisely what is taking place in Palestine. Imagine if the situation had been different- if, say, Syria, had attempted to colonise Britain, systematically subjugating its indigenous people, building walls and illegal settlements, controlling our utilities. There would have been a global outcry, but for the Palestinians, there is no global solidarity- only labels used to muffle their cries.

 

In 2016, an Israeli spokesperson stated, almost boastfully,that “enforcement [in Israel] is far more severe to Palestinians than to [settlers]”.

 

The plight of Palestinians is not a ‘Muslim problem’, as it is often dismissed as. Palestinians have their own distinct culture- from the extraordinary ‘Dabke’ dance, to their eye-catching Tatreez dresses, there is no doubt that Palestinian culture is deeply rich and beautiful. It is distinct and had been characteristic of the region for centuries. However, the Israeli government is cunningly erasing Palestinian history and culture, by doctoring school curriculums and by asserting their own nationalistic propaganda to young and impressionable children. These young Israelis grow to resent their Arab counterparts, and this growing hatred quickly becomes an effective force in driving young Israelis to join the IDF and advocate Zionism.

When it comes to this particular conflict, valid arguments (necessary to result in fruitful dialogues) are habitually derailed. The collective fear of terrorism, as well as cries of anti-Semitism, indubitably drive the global agenda.

Prima facie, it seems like we already have a two-state solution: the West Bank exists, and so does Israel. But illegal settlers still live in Palestinian territory, dividing the land and restricting freedom of movement. These settlements (usually tall luxury buildings) are constantly expanding, while illegal settlers frequently incite violence, throwing stones at natives, and (occasionally) violently beating them, and running them over with their cars. Numerous modern intellectuals agree that the Gaza Strip is like a prison; in fact, David Cameron called it the biggest “prison camp” in the world.

Fairly recently, a group of Jewish anti-Zionists took a ship to Israel. It was boarded by the Israeli Navy, and the passengers onboard were arrested, simply for trying to bring attention to the situation. Similarly, in 2003, an American peace activist, Rachel Corrie, was deliberately run over by an Israeli bulldozer, and since her death and the lawsuit that follows, the Israeli establishment’s intolerance of any sort of activism (in the pursuit of peace) has proliferated. And let’s not forget about when, in 2010, the Israeli military attacked the Gaza flotilla- an aid boat, carrying supplies to the Gaza Strip.

Ultimately, my view is not that all Israeli people are Muslim-loathing, self-righteous imbeciles: I simply believe that it should be acknowledged that Israel’s beginnings were rooted in racism and colonialism. I also believe that it is despicable that attempts to raise awareness about the suffering of Palestinians are frequently brushed to the side. When young Palestinian boys throw rocks at tanks, they are perceived as ‘young terrorists’, yet when settlers run natives over with their cars, this is seen only as a manifestation of the tension in the region- nobody’s fault, of course.

The level of censorship and deliberate disregard the world is displaying appals me, especially when pro-Palestinian voices are silenced on university campuses, while allowing pro-Zionists to speak out, loudly and proudly. What I found particularly shocking was when Leanne Mohamed (a Palestinian-British schoolgirl) was prohibited from taking up her place at the (ironically named) Jack Petchey ‘Speak Out’ Competition; her speech was found to be ‘offensive’. We need to protect freedom of speech in academic institutions.

“I am Palestinian, and I am human,” she said. “I shouldn’t have to remind the world of that.”

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GhU1W5q2dFg

 

Meanwhile, atrocities carried out by the state of Israel are seen as a genuinely positive thing- they are leading pioneers, warriors fighting against terrorism. Numerous NGOs and human rights organisations (and even prominent artists like Banksy) unanimously agree that Israel’s actions are absolutely unacceptable, however these groups are severely restricted in what they can and cannot say about Israel’s crimes.

 

There is literally no safe place for civilians in Gaza” – Jens Laerke, UN Spokesperson

 

Terrorism is defined as “the unlawful use of violence and intimidation, especially against civilians, in the pursuit of political aims”. This is precisely how Israel obtained (and currently maintains) control. Israel is a terrorist state, and perhaps if the roles were reversed- if a predominantly Muslim group had been the settlers- perhaps then this fact would have been acknowledged.

Official UN statistics reveal that this year, settler violence has risen by 88%. Fences have been installed above streets that are mostly populated by Arabs, to catch rubbish that settlers throw from overhead. This is bullying on a large scale, a constant stream of negativity that has one sole purpose: to fuel erasure and silence.

In 2014, an Israeli offensive strategy (Operation ‘Protective Edge’) resulted in the deaths of 2104 individuals, of whom 495 were innocent children. This, combined with the ever-increasing lone attacks on Palestinians produces an unacceptable figure. Such attacks are popularly perceived as defensive retaliations, however (although I do acknowledge that some Palestinians have resorted to violent means) the proportion of deaths caused by Israeli forces is significantly lower than those caused by Palestinian ‘freedom fighters’.

My unwavering belief is that, to bring about any sort of justice, a balanced discussion is necessary. At present, the ‘dialogue’ is very asymmetrical; while America is providing billions of dollars to Israeli military forces, many oblivious individuals instinctively sympathise only with Israel, while actively berating Palestine. The Palestinian cause is one for “Leftists, Islamists and Jew-haters”, they say. In fact, many similar comments were thrown at me when I posted about the recent Palestine Expo, on Twitter.

Nelson Mandela once said, “We know too well that our freedom is incomplete without the freedom of Palestinians”. In fact, one professor from the University of Johannesburg stated that the discriminatory system in Palestine is even worse than Apartheid. Palestinians are being confined and controlled, and this methodical persecution is being commended by some governments.

To rebut claims of Israel being an apartheid state, it is commonly argued that the country is, in actuality, a vibrant democracy, because Arabs are politically involved in the Knesset. In spite of this, they cannot pass any policies to protect their own rights. Their positions are tokenistic and futile. Palestinian residents are not immigrants- they are the indigenous people. Taking part in national politics is not somehow a profound act of generosity, nor is it in any way a symbol of equality or privilege; it is a basic human democratic right. Even though 20% of Israel’s population (after the cluster of refugee crises) is Palestinian, over 69 years, only 3 out of 600 ministers have been non-Jewish. This is just 0.5%.

For the rest of the world, it is easy to point fingers at the political instability within other regions of the Middle East. It is easy to overlook the roots of these issues (another nod to good old western imperialism) and argue that Muslim governments are always crazy and belligerent. This could lead to some asking why Jewish people shouldn’t have the right to have their own country, when Muslims have many of their own. But Israel is not a victim, nor is it a pacifist nation. It has waged war, and contemplated waging war on, many countries, including Lebanon, Syria, and Iran. Moreover, this is not a theoretical discussion about whether Jewish people should have their own country. This is a specific situation, where the human rights of millions of people have been, and are still being, violated. This is a contemporary political reality, and we need to wake up to it.

Here are some more important factors to consider in addressing the issue (derived from a Tumblr thread entitled ‘How to Pro-Palestine 101, created by Palestinian Tumblr users):

 

  • Understand this whole conflict is about land and not religion, we are not fighting over whether we should fast on Ramadan or on Yom Kippur, or fighting Israelis just because the majority of them is Jewish.
  • Understand that not all Palestinians are Muslims, about 15%-20% of Palestinians aren’t.
  • You support Palestinians for losing their land and facing atrocities, you don’t support Palestinians just because Palestine is holy to you.
  • You support all Palestinians equally, don’t put Muslim Palestinians over non-Muslim Palestinians and vice-versa, we are all going through the same struggle.
  • Don’t support us just because you hate Jews; we don’t want your anti-Semitism.
  • Don’t turn Palestine into a Muslim issue.
  • Understand that there are diverse opinions amongst Palestinians, both in the diaspora and at home.
  • Bringing awareness to Palestinians should not be done through grotesque means; in other words, Nazi comparisons or even spreading pictures of dead bodies everywhere.
  • Do not try to pit Christian Palestinians against Muslim Palestinians or Palestinians of any other religion, and don’t import your Islamophobia into our struggle by lending your support only to one group. We are one people you take us all or not at all
  • Do not erase Palestinians of different races in order to present Palestine as an Arab nation when there are Arab Palestinians, afro Palestinians, Armenian Palestinians, Chechnyan Palestinians, Jewish Palestinians and more
  • Absolutely do not claim to support us if you deny the rights of other oppressed groups or deny the oppression or genocide of other groups
  • Do not criticize their method of resistance. You are not the one suffering from the consequences.
  • Boycott Israeli products
  • Attend protests and rallies for Palestine
  • Talk about Palestinian refugees. They cannot return home, but Jewish people around the world, irrespective of ancestry, have a ‘right’ to live in Israel. This leads to further expansion.
  • Talk about the attacks on the religious freedom of Palestinians- on BOTH Muslim and Christian Palestinians
  • Support Palestinians, and don’t police them- even when they criticize Arab governments and the PNA- and point out their mistreatment of Palestinians
  • Help bring awareness to Palestine. Don’t let them forget us.

 

I fiercely oppose anti-Semitism and ‘Islamist’ zealotry, however I refuse to allow the evident biases of the government and the mass media to dictate my views. As an anti-racism activist, an egalitarian, and a history enthusiast, I am completely, and unequivocally, pro-Palestine. I am extremely critical of governments whose actions epitomize concepts like blind capitalism, colonialism, and systematic oppression- countries like the USA, Saudi Arabia, and Israel. Yes, Israel might be portrayed as a tremendously progressive country (what with its military recruitment of women and its open acceptance of LGBTQ+ people) when compared to the ‘backwards and intolerant’ religion of Islam, but there are also orthodox areas where such progressive values are not shared, and also, its progressiveness is severely restricted by its policies towards Palestinians, as well as its maltreatment of African (especially Ethiopian) Jews. In addition to this, I am fiercely unsympathetic towards any brand of feminism that forces all women to spend two years in the military, and bombs houses where innocent women and girls live.

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZiO0iqZss04

 

In the past, there existed a popular concept known as ‘Liberal Zionism’, a movement that sought to establish a Jewish homeland, without a brutal occupation. Even without the violence necessary to execute such an endeavor, many Jewish people would still vehemently argue against Zionism: after all, Jewish culture and identity has existed for around 2500 years before colonial Zionism. This concept is clearly a modern political ideology.

From a purely Marxist perspective, voicing our anger against Israel has little to do with religion or attacking the legitimacy of the Israeli state. It needs to be acknowledged, however, that Israel was built on settler colonialism, imperialism, and ethnic cleansing, and that its policies are profoundly detrimental. We can view this issue in terms of class struggles: it is clear that Israel represents capitalism- how its government is funded by other nations, and how companies such as Coca-Cola and McDonalds operate on illegal settlements. These arguments need to stop being dismissed and derailed persistently by Zionists.

 

Individuals and groups who write about the conflict:

 

 

Numerous celebrities have spoken out against Israeli war crimes, and have expressed support for marginalised Palestinians. These celebrities include (but are not limited to) Zayn Malik, Whoopi Goldberg, Cristiano Ronaldo, and Rihanna. Expectedly, each one of the aforesaid received a tirade of abuse after showing their support for Palestine, and there was a similar uproar when 23 Oscar nominees turned down a free invitation to Israel, in protest against its abhorrent actions.

 

http://mvslim.com/10-celebrities-didnt-know-pro-palestine/

 

Hamas is notorious for having rejected ‘peace attempts’ in the past, however to truly achieve peace, the following must happen:

  • Israel must end the occupation and colonisation of Palestinian land; the apartheid wall must also be dismantled, and Jerusalem should be accessible to people of all faiths
  • All Palestinians living in Israel must be given full equality and protection as citizens
  • Palestinian refugees should be given the right of return

 

Recommended reading list:

To put it succinctly, a popular slogan used by Zionists is “a land without a people for a people without a land”. But, in reality, the land did have a people- indigenous Muslims and Christians and Jews who resided peacefully, side-by-side, for centuries. Do we expect Palestinians to sit back and watch their land get stolen from them? Morale is low: while Israel deploys brute force and highly skilled soldiers and bombs and jets and laws and curfews, Palestinians have been left with nothing. Palestinians are practically invisible to the world, except when a handful retaliate in the only way they can- through violence. These ones are ‘terrorists’, and Israel’s actions can easily be justified because they are acting ‘in the interest of national security’.

Remember the Nakba. Remember the murdered. Remember the refugees, the illegal occupation, the massacres, and the villages that were (and are currently being) annihilated. Remember how the British government gave away (Palestinian) land that it did not own. Remember the 2014 Gaza war that resulted in the deaths of more than 2200 Palestinians. Remember how the world didn’t care, until 66 Israeli military personnel were killed in retaliation. Remember Operation Cast Lead, Operation Pillar of Defence and Operation Protective Edge, and how Israel used advanced weaponry (such as white phosphoric acid) against Palestinian civilians, as well as how it did not act in accordance with international laws during these hostile military offensives. Understand that Apartheid is currently being practised in Palestine, under the guise of combatting terrorism and anti-Semitism. Understand that (until the emergence of Hamas) the issue has never quite been about religion; it has always been about racism and colonialism. Understand that many (including governments and media outlets) want to silence Palestinians and erase their history, but we will remember Ramallah. We will remember the West Bank. We will remember Gaza. We will remember Palestine.

From the river to the sea-

Free, Free Palestine!


Sadia Ahmed, 2017