Qunfuz

Robin Yassin-Kassab

Archive for the ‘UK’ Category

The Search

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Ernst Kirchner

On a couple of occasions – that I know of – I’ve had my irises scanned. These in the airports where I get pulled over for the stupid questions. In theory, a computer link can now tie my iris to my bank account, credit rating, police record, driving license and passport details – all in the sharpest microsecond.

The town centre has been replaced by a shopping mall, owned and controlled. People take more interest in Angelina Jolie’s romantic life than in the course of political events. The politics on show are soap opera, and the soap opera is determined a ‘British value’. According to the new points system for migrants, access to Britishness can be speeded up by campaigning for a political party (I presume they don’t mean Hizb ut-Tahrir), while ‘active disregard for British values’ – which might or might not mean protesting against imperialist wars – will retard membership of the club.

The great Englishman Dr. Johnson said, “Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.” And on that sound note allow me to introduce a short story by the Syrian writer Ibrahim Alloush, translated by Domenyk Eades.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 4, 2009 at 9:02 pm

Posted in Syria, UK, writing

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Abusing Quilliam’s Name

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quilliamAbdullah Quilliam was a 19th Century British convert to Islam, the founder of a mosque in Liverpool. He was also an anti-imperialist and a supporter of the Caliphate. He argued that Muslims should not fight Muslims on behalf of European powers, citing specifically Britain’s enlistment of Muslim soldiers against the resistance in Sudan. If Quilliam were alive today he would, at very least, be kept under observation by the British intelligence services.

It is ironic, then, that this activist Muslim’s good name has been appropriated by the government-backed and funded Quilliam Foundation, established in April 2008, supposedly to counter extremism in Muslim communities.

Those who read my stuff will know that I despise Wahhabism, and still more Wahhabi-nihilism. I oppose Islamic political projects which aim to capture control of the repressive mechanisms of contemporary Muslim states. I am stunned by the stupidity of such slogans as “Islam is the solution.” I take issue with anyone who attempts to impose a dress code or an interpretation of morality on anyone else, and I loathe those puritanical ideologies which fail to recognise the value of music, art, mysticism, philosophy, and popular and local cultures in the Muslim world. It is obvious that political Islam has often been exploited for very unIslamic purposes by the American empire and its client dictators in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Pakistan and elsewhere. Nominally Islamic political parties bear a great weight of responsibility for diverting the Iraqi resistance into a disastrous sectarian war. The terrorist attacks on London in July 2007 were abominable crimes and a catastrophe for all British Muslims. I know all that, yet I oppose the Quilliam Foundation.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 13, 2009 at 1:42 pm

Letters

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I’ve recently written to Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Khaled Mahmood MP to complain about their positions on the massacre in occupied Palestine. I’ve also written to Gerald Kaufman and Nick Clegg, leader of the Liberal Democrats, to praise their calls for an arms embargo on the apartheid state. And I walked into the office of my local MP, Russell Brown, and spoke to Mr Brown’s assistant. A few days later I received a letter from Mr Brown which repeats the usual rubbish about ‘peace’ and the need to disarm the resistance so the oppressor can sleep more soundly at night. At least he bothered to send me a letter. I received responses from Brown, Cameron, Clegg and Kaufman too, but none from Khaled Mahmood. Mr Mahmood was quoted by the Guardian as “dismissing” calls for sanctions and an arms embargo. Mahmood is a Birmingham MP who no doubt receives a lot of votes because he has a Muslim name. Not only is he betraying his Muslim voters who would like to see their representatives develop a peaceful strategy of resisting the murderous British-Zionist alliance, he isn’t even capable of replying promptly to letters.

Here’s my response to Russell Brown’s letter. I won’t publish his letter because I don’t have permission and because it’s on paper, but I quote some of it. You can imagine the rest – it’s the standard New Labour magical incantation.

Dear Mr Brown

Thank you for your letter in response to my conversation with Cameron concerning the situation in occupied Palestine.

You write: “It is not difficult to understand the frustration, fear and anger of those Israelis who are the targets of Hamas rocket attacks, and the pressure on Israel’s democratic government to take action.” You then state the government position, and that of the European Union Presidency, that Israel’s use of force is “disproportionate.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 24, 2009 at 11:09 am

Dear Prime Minister

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Dear Prime Minister

I am very pleased that you have been calling for an immediate ceasefire in Israel-Palestine. This marks a clear difference from the statements not only of President Bush but also of Tony Blair during the 2006 assault on Lebanon. Your stand shows some degree of British independence, and I thank you for it.

I am much less pleased to read this Downing Street statement: “We are working urgently with international partners to address the underlying causes of the conflict, including trafficking of arms into Gaza. Moderation must prevail.”

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

January 3, 2009 at 6:22 pm

Posted in Palestine, UK, Zionism

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At The Empire’s Edge

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Here’s a piece I wrote for the National about Arabs on Hadrian’s Wall.

late 2008 584Beyond the fleeting days of summer, Hadrian’s Wall in the north of England is a cold place to be. I stood on a high ridge looking down the line of the Wall at black cloud building over the ruins of Housesteads fort. I was fully exposed to the wind, which carried small seeds of rain, and the mud covering my clothes seeped slowly towards my heart. For a moment I dreamt myself into the skin of an ancient soldier, one come here from warmer climes to serve his empire, and I shivered to my frozen toes. Then my son grinned, turned towards the fort, and with a delighted scream charged downwards, slaying imagined barbarians as he went.

We had set out early in the brisk morning from our home in south west Scotland, over bridges and past floods in low-lying fields. Streams gurgled in roadside ditches; pond-sized puddles occupied town centres. There’s enough water here to produce the illusion of hopping island to island through a vast archipelago.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

November 22, 2008 at 9:55 am

Posted in Culture, History, Iraq, Syria, Travel, UK

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Fracturing Authority

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I had great sympathy for Chechnya when it was twice destroyed by Russian forces. The Chechens have been fighting for their independence for more than a hundred and fifty years. But Prime Minister Gordon Brown had no sympathy for Chechnya because, he says, Chechnya is officially part of Russia. The Chechen issue is a matter of Russian ‘territorial integrity.’ I admit that Brown’s position here makes sense. However brutal Russia’s treatment of Chechnya, it isn’t Britain’s business. (It may be the business of concerned British people, but that’s something else).

I don’t have much sympathy for Georgia, however, and none at all for the bleatings of the US, Britain and Germany, including Brown’s ridiculous bleatings in the Guardian. When the Soviet Union collapsed, Russia relinquished its control of eastern Europe and allowed independence to Caucasian and Central Asian nations. But instead of independence several of these countries became absorbed into the American empire. The fear that some of them had of their huge neighbour was understandable and deeply rooted (though not in Georgia, which had participated in Soviet rule from the Georgian Stalin to the Georgian Shevardnadze). The real fault was the West’s, to so stupidly exploit this fear, and to extend, by hubris, NATO membership and American missiles right to Russia’s borders. Russia in 1991 was too weak to do anything but let power slip, but its tolerance of Western expansion also showed a naivety, an overly-optimistic trust in Western capitalism. The very memory of that naivety is a humiliation to Russians.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

September 1, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Posted in imperialism, UK, USA

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Arab London

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This appeared in Gulf Life (Gulf Air’s inflight magazine):

It’s August and, as well as the Notting Hill Carnival, west London is seeing its yearly influx of Arab tourists. While the visitors are here they’ll rub shoulders with a varied and well-established Arab community.

Unlike some cities, London is too mixed to be ethnically zoned. When I lived a few years ago on the Harrow Road in west London, my neighbours were Poles, Pakistanis, Trinidadians, Lebanese .. I could go on. In London there are no monocultural ghettoes, but there are cultural concentrations, and my Harrow Road bedsit was in the middle of the Arab one.

At lunchtime I would cross the canal to buy steaming bowls of harira from the Moroccan stallholders on the Golborne Road. North towards Willesden I would meet newly-arrived Iraqi refugees, each with a story. If I walked west to Shepherd’s Bush I found Syrian grocers selling olive oil from the old country, and balls of salty shellal cheese. On the Uxbridge Road I could even eat fetteh, the essential Levantine working man’s food, and I prayed with men of all sects in a basement mosque.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 5, 2008 at 10:21 am

Posted in UK

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Flooding the Swamp

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The metaphor most commonly used to describe terrorism and its backdrop is the one of the mosquitoes and the swamp, in which the mosquitoes are the bombers and the swamp is the much wider public which sympathises with and supports the terrorists, and from which the terrorists recruit. The metaphor is entirely accurate. It is not wishy-washy liberalism but cold logic to state that the only feasible method of defeating anti-Western Islamist terror in the medium to long term is to ‘drain the swamp’, by removing the grievances which inflame hundreds of millions of otherwise reasonable and tolerant Muslims against the West.

This does not mean surrendering Western values to an Islamist agenda but implementing common sense ‘do as you would be done by’ principles. Westerners too would be infuriated by foreign powers which occupied them, or which peppered their land with unwanted military bases, or laid siege to their elected governments, or propped up dictators who abused them.

If the West stopped violently interfering in the Muslim world, the Muslim world would stop violently replying. Certainly, a tiny hardcore of mosquitoes would continue to desire conquest of the infidels, but with their swamp dry, they would soon die off.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

April 27, 2008 at 12:45 pm

“Maps for Lost Lovers” and writerly responsibility

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Update 2015: With the passage of time, much of this review embarrasses me. So people and perspectives change. My current view is better summed up by my words at the 2015 Shubbak festival, which Brian Whitaker reports:

There is a beautiful novel called Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam who is Pakistani-British, and I would recommend that everybody reads the novel as a work of literature because it is beautifully, beautifully written and characterised. 

It works as a novel, but there is no good Muslim character in it. They are real characters and you can sympathise with them even when they are doing horrible barbaric things. But they are all doing horrible barbaric things from the moment they get up in the morning, and its the kind of horrible barbaric things that British Pakistanis do that you read about in the Sun newspaper.

So of course there is an issue, but we cant tell Nadeem Aslam that he’s a representative British Pakistani writer and therefore he has to write a nice version of British Pakistanis in order to educate the white population that some of them are all right. He’s writing what he wanted to write about and what was real for him, and he did it really well. I think the critique should focus on the social context. It’s not Nadeem Aslam’s fault so much as the Sun newspaper’s fault.

And here’s the thing I originally wrote:

I’ve recently read Nadeem Aslam’s finely-constructed and richly metaphorical novel “Maps for Lost Lovers”, which portrays a British Pakistani community and its rigid boundaries over a year of daily life and crisis. Save for some occasionally unconvincing dialogue, the writing is beautiful and poetic. Unlike, for example, Martin Amis, Aslam respects his characters, who are well-rounded and complex enough to evoke sympathy even when they behave badly. He shows them busy with gossip, work, poetry – and plenty of murder. For example, a book shop owner is murdered for money by his relatives in Pakistan. At the heart of the book, Chanda and Jugnu are murdered by Chanda’s brothers for ‘living in sin.’ Chanda wants to divorce her husband so she can marry her lover, but her husband has disappeared for years, and she doesn’t know where to. Another girl is murdered by a ‘holy man’ during exorcism-beatings. And so on: a litany of crimes motivated by ‘honour’ and superstition.

One subplot revolves around a woman being forced by sharia law to marry another man before returning to a husband who has divorced her once while drunk. The actual regulation is this: if a man divorces his wife THREE times he cannot remarry her unless she has been married to someone else and that marriage has also collapsed. This is generally understood as a warning to husbands not to divorce their wives without considering the consequences. Furthermore, a divorce announced when the husband is angry or intoxicated is not recognised. As for the stranded Chanda, sharia would automatically grant her a divorce if her husband disappeared for a day longer than a year. Fair enough, Aslam is writing about uneducated people’s partial and skewed understanding of their religion, or of their confusion of tradition and religion, but this point will be lost on non-Muslim readers.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

February 6, 2008 at 4:23 pm

Imperialism Resurgent

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In “The End of Tolerance: Racism in 21st Century Britain”, Arun Kundnani writes, “Racisms are no longer domestically driven but take their impetus from the attempt to legitimise a deeply divided global order. They are the necessary products of an empire in denial.”

Steve-BellGordon Brown says, “The days of Britain having to apologise for the British Empire are over. We should celebrate!” Sarkozy urges France to be “proud of its history,” meaning its imperial history.

European empires did sometimes construct railways and drainage systems in the conquered lands. They did build law courts and disseminate a certain kind of cuture. But these questionable achievements must be understood against the larger ugly backdrop. Economies under imperial rule stagnated at best. Huge swathes of Africa were transformed from subsistence agricultural land to cashcrop plantations. When the value of the crop plummetted, or when the crop was grown more cheaply elsewhere, local people were left hungry and unskilled on exhausted soil. Africa has still not recovered from this deliberate underdevelopment. During British misrule, preventable famines killed tens of millions of Indians. Elsewhere in the empire, hundreds of thousands were forced into concentration camps, and torture was institutionalised. There were the genocides of indigenous Australians and Americans, by massacre and land theft as well as by disease. There was the little matter of the transatlantic slave trade.

The ethnic-sectarian tensions and political backwardness of much of the third world have roots in imperial power games. For instance, when the 1857 Indian uprising against the British was put down, the British developed a policy of excluding Muslims from education and economic power. A divide and rule strategy to exacerbate pre-existent Hindu-Muslim tensions was implemented precisely because the revolution had shown a remarkable degree of Indian national unity. And, as usual, traitors were rewarded. The twenty two families that rule what is now Pakistan (staffing the military high command and both major political parties) are the landowning families that ‘acquired’ their land in return for loyalty to the occupiers during the colonial period, especially in 1857.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

December 18, 2007 at 8:56 am

Tony Blair

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steve bell tony blairI’ve often thought that Abu Hamza al-Masri, the ex-imam of Finsbury Park mosque, must have been designed in a CIA laboratory. Not only did he – before his imprisonment – fulminate in a shower of spittle against various brands of kuffar, he also had an eye patch and a hook for a hand. You can’t imagine a more photogenic Islamist villain.

If my supposition is correct, then Tony Blair may well have been invented by the Iranian secret service, for of all the neo-cons he’s the one who most looks the part. I refer to the physiognomic combination of weakness and fury, the slight chin wobbling beneath that eye with its wild glint of certainty – the staring left eye, fixed on something the rest of us can’t see, something that makes reality irrelevant – and the teeth both fierce and mouselike, and the shininess of both forehead and suit. Most politicians wear suits, but few suits declare ‘hollow salesman’ so much as Blair’s. The voice too – the hurried speech and breathy tones of a public schoolboy approaching orgasm – that repulsive aural mix of complacency, stubbornness and privilege.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 26, 2007 at 9:15 am

You Muslims!

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This summer my son and I spent a few days in the house of a friend of mine from university days, a friend from a very different background, but a very good friend, very intelligent and very funny, who has always treated me with respect and a great deal of generosity. It was wonderful to see him. The problem was his girlfriend. (Now ex-girlfriend, so I dare write this without jeopardising the friendship).

The first thing she said to my eight-year-old son, after “hello,” was, “Do you feel uncomfortable because I’m not all covered up?” Some minutes later at the dinner table she squeezed her eyes at him and then me, and asked, “What nationality are you?” I should stress here that I’m a native speaker of English, and that my son, although he’s never lived in Britain, has inherited my proper British accent. By now it was apparent that there was an obsessional block in this woman’s head.

A little later my friend (as he does) said something silly about gay people. The girlfriend cast worried glances at me, then my son, and said in the childish tone some people adopt when instructing children, “I think gay people are great!” These educative comments continued, quite irrelevantly. The most absurd, aimed meaningfully at my little boy, was “I really enjoy getting drunk sometimes!” Normally I would argue back, but I was in the very uncomfortable position of being a guest in my friend’s house. Anyway, my son was grown-up enough to understand that this strange woman had a strange agenda.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

August 19, 2007 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Islamophobia, UK

Ed Husain: The Islamist

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“The Islamist”, in which Muham(Ed) Husain describes his journey from one form of over-simplification to another, is a story worth both telling and publishing. It works as a local story, of one Bengali-Indian-Briton growing up in Muslim Tower Hamlets in the 1990s and becoming obsessively involved in Wahabi-tinted London Muslim politics. Other east end Muslims might have become involved in business of some form or other, or rap music, or gangs, but Husain’s story provides a detailed look at one of Britain’s tiny subcultures, amateurish and naïve Islamism, and this is interesting. I can even vaguely identify with the earnest silliness of the whole thing, having spent cold mornings as a teenager selling the Socialist Worker newspaper to uninterested nurses and marketmen. And I wholeheartedly admire Husain’s rejection, by the end of the book, as he visits Syria and Saudi Arabia, of Islamism’s scriptural literalism and state-obsession in favour of more traditional and Sufistic forms of Islam.

A great local story, which fails when it makes grandiose claims to universalism. At such moments (perhaps it was the Penguin editors imposing sexiness) the style descends to tabloid: “Lurking in the background were forces preparing to seize the minds of Britain’s Muslim children,” Husain screams, and it may have looked like that to a young man who kept his company and came from his sheltered background of limited cultural interaction. But there were hundreds of thousands of ‘Britain’s Muslim children’ whose minds were occupied by other things. I would suggest that there were plenty who grew up with a lot more knowledge about the politics of various Muslim countries than Ed Husain, and who were therefore not so gullible when (and if) they met a Hizb ut-Tahrir loon.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

July 25, 2007 at 6:04 pm

hijab/ niqab/ blab

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My position on the hijab, or head covering, for what it’s worth, is that it is unnecessary. Surat Nur of the Quran, verse 31, says: “…tell the believing women….not to display their charms (in public) beyond what may (decently) be apparent thereof; hence, let them draw their headcoverings over their bosoms.” Given that the Arab women and men of the prophet’s time all wore a head covering (as men in the Gulf still do – it’s an obvious clothing choice for desert dwellers), but the women often left their breasts bare, it seems obvious here that the injunction is not to cover hair, which was covered anyway by prevailing social custom, but to cover breasts. The more general directive is for both men (who are addressed in the previous verse) and women to dress modestly according to the standards of their time and place.

Many Muslims would point to the ahadith, the records of the prophet’s words and actions, instead of to the Quran for guidance on this point. The problem with the ahadith is that they are sometimes contradictory. Sunni and Shia Muslims claim different ahadith collections as authoritative. Although an elaborate medieval science was developed to establish the reliability of ahadith, its methods do not meet the rigorous standards of modern textual criticism, and we cannot be nearly as certain of the origin of ahadith as we can of the Quran. In any case, I’m the kind of Muslim who thinks we can appreciate the spiritual and social treasures of Islam without imitating the social habits of the first Muslims. The prophet never claimed to be anything more than a man. He and his companions were the products of a particular cultural context. When we learn from their example, we need to do so with our historical senses switched on, looking for general principles which we can apply to our own context rather than for abstract and timeless rules.

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Written by Robin Yassin-Kassab

October 10, 2006 at 12:42 pm

Posted in Islam, Islamophobia, UK

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