My Abu Dhabi Ramadan

The Muslim fasting period of Ramadan has been coming and going for centuries, but never before have Muslim minorities in the West been under such scrutiny. This year’s Ramadan starts tomorrow. The UK’s Channel 4 TV channel has cleverly launched a set of what it calls “provocative” programming around Ramadan, including tonight’s Documentary, A Very British Ramadan, and a call to prayer to be broadcast each morning at 3am.

It’s strange that programmes about an ancient religious festival should be seen as provocative at all, but there is now a hardcore Muslim-hating minority across the Western World that never wastes an opportunity to throw hatred at Muslims, much as monkeys in the zoo enjoying throwing shit. Thus, the Channel 4 decision to run Ramadan-themed programmes is a great piece of trolling, designed in part to provoke bigots who think Islam has no place in British society. And it seems to be working.

Of course, the average Muslim-hater has little or no contact with Muslims or the Muslim world. They live in a fantasy land where Muslim countries teem with extremists, and are dangerous places to visit. I admit that I too had preconceived ideas about Muslim countries, especially Arab ones.

Being British and Jewish, I was nervous when I won some contract work in Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, in the mid 1990s. I had previously been to Turkey, but the UAE was a more intimidating prospect. The airport welcome was friendly though, and I easily got a cab, with a talkative driver, to my downtown hotel. The UAE is a fairly conservative country, although moderate by the standards of its neighbour, Saudi Arabia. I found that as a foreigner, I could order beer in the hotel, and wasted no time in doing so.

I then learned that Ramadan would begin two days into my visit, and wondered what this would mean. I soon discovered that no food or drink, even water, was served during daylight hours. The office I was working in adjusted its hours to make life easier for its employees, beginning at 7am and ending at 2pm, so that people didn’t become too hungry or thirsty during the working day.

At one point, I was in a meeting with an Arab manager, and said I was thirsty. Without thinking, he reached into his desk and produced a bottle of water for me. As I started to drink, he suddenly remembered it was Ramadan, and asked me to drink the water out of sight of the office, in the stairwell. I was discovering that for Arab Muslims, just like for my own Jewish family, religious rules are made to be twisted and broken. People of all origins enjoy their traditions, usually without thinking a great deal about their origins.

The hotel served breakfast early, so that people could eat before sunrise. And people did eat. A lot. Likewise, after sunset, a huge Iftar buffet was laid on to break the fast. Although Ramadan is supposed to be a time of fasting, in fact Muslims tend to eat more during this time than the rest of the year. A huge meal tends to be taken after sunset, and another huge breakfast before the sun rises. As I said, religious rules are made for twisting.

One of the most amusing sights I saw was in the pastry and ice cream shops around the city. In the few minutes before sunset, people would grab a table and peruse the menu. Waiters would stand to attention, waiting. And as the call to prayer began to echo through the city, the waiters rushed out and people shouted their orders. Soon, huge slices of cake and towering ice cream sundaes were being served and devoured.

More entertainment was provided by an ongoing debate over whether nicotine patches were allowed during daylight. Many Emiratis were heavy smokers, and smoking was haraam during daylight, because the smoke was taken orally. The UAE’s top mullahs pondered this deep theological problem as the nervous smokers waited; and then, to general relief, they announced that the daytime use of nicotine patches was halal.

My time in Abu Dhabi blew away preconceptions I had about Arab culture. For sure the country is run by a dictatorship, and is a deeply conservative culture. It isn’t the kind of place I could have considered staying in long-term – my party lifestyle would have been too severely compromised. Yet the people were among the friendliest I had encountered – more so than most European or American strangers I had met in my travels. As for my being of Jewish origin; after a few days I was confident enough to tell locals this fact, and met no hostility at all; the strongest reactions were along the lines of “Ah! If only the Israelis and Palestinians could work together. They are the smartest peoples in the Middle East.”

I welcome the Channel 4 experiment in Ramadan programming. For most, open-minded people, it represents the chance to learn something. And anyone who is upset by the coverage deserves to be upset: morons will be morons.

The Moron Media Loves Anjem Choudary

Islamist loud-mouth moron Anjem Choudary just loves publicity. He lives for the chance to say things in public that will in turn outrage morons of the “not at all racist, honest” Daily Mail and UKIP variety. Sadly for Anj, he has almost no supporters, and is basically a sad, pathetic nobody. How can he get publicity?

To the rescue comes (what seems like) the entire British media. His stupid face has appeared on TV and in newspapers. This doesn’t just apply to the usual shit-stirring suspects, but even includes the BBC and Channel 4.

All this appears to be based on the fact that Anjey-boy once (a while back, mind) met the morons involved in the murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. This fact has been used by Choudary to make himself feel all important, and by the media to build up a hate figure that will get their moron viewers/readers all stiff/moist with excitement/fear.

Given that there isn’t actually a story here, one suspects that the anti-Muslim brigade is simply using Anjey-boom to maintain the illusion of an “Islamist threat”, and whip up the racist swivel-eyed loon brigade into their Daily Hate with images of A BROWN MAN WITH A BEARD WHO SAYS HORRIBLE THINGS!

Any sign of an actual Islamist threat is so lacking that the poor morons at the Sun are reduced to running a story – an Exclusive no less – about Anjey-bollocks going to the shops and buying yoghurt! While dressed in a Muslim-type fashion! I blame Leveson – surely the Sun could find more interesting stories if they were allowed to hack celebs’ phones? The Choudary exclusive follows on from a pathetic sting where singer Tulisa was entrapped into helping a journo score some coke. It seems that the Sun can find no actual news to report any more. If it ever did in the first place.

With the moron media having set the agenda, morons have exploded onto social media demanding “action” against Choudary. They want him locked up! Or deported! The problems with these suggestions being a) Choudary hasn’t broken the law (I’ve never before noticed any reticence on the part of the authorities to arrest brown people on the slightest of whims), and b) He’s British.

Basically Choudary’s skill is to annoy and upset people by making annoying and upsetting statements. But if that was a crime, most of the EDL, much of UKIP and the bulk of tabloid journalists would be under curfew by now.

Let’s try to remember that we’re not supposed to be letting “extremists” undermine “our values”; and the most important of these values is supposedly free speech. I say “supposedly”, because the British establishment – under both Labour and Tory governments – seems to spend much of its time attacking free speech (as we learned again this week when a young Muslim Londoner appeared in court for tweeting a bad-taste joke).

Turning this pathetic, irrelevant individual into a national hate figure seems like just another way to get public consent for reducing our free speech rights even further. Far better to just ignore him, and be as consistent in genuinely defending our civil liberties as our leaders are in pretending to.

Conservative Feminism and the Right to Offend

This week, the fight to censor British media and art – even more than is done already – took a bizarre new turn, as pro-censorship “feminist” groups Object and UK Feminista launched an attack against Lads’ Mags. This attack can trace its roots to American morality campaigners in the 1980s, and it’s worth exploring a little history.

From the 1960s all the way through to the 90s, the British media scene was haunted by a pro-censorship figure; a devout Christian who believed her faith entailed the right to stop any British person from seeing anything that she personally found offensive. Mary Whitehouse was widely mocked throughout her campaigning life, which coincided with the greatest upswing of liberal attitudes in modern British history. She railed against the “permissive society”, in which her Christian morals came under assault from every side: the second-wave feminists were declaring the rights of women to enjoy sex without censure; abortion and homosexuality were legalised; TV and the theatre risked showing nudity, and society failed to collapse. There was plenty of work for a morality campaigner to do, but Whitehouse undertook it with a ferocious energy that gained her admirers, even among her enemies.

Although she was a figure of fun for most people, Whitehouse left her mark on British society: we became, and remain, the most censored country in Europe, other than Catholic Ireland and Poland. Her lobbying organisation, Mediawatch-UK, outlived her, and actively campaigns against “permissiveness” to this day.

But in the 1980s, the pro-censorship cause gained surprising new supporters. The feminist movement, once as far removed from Whitehouse as could be possible, split, and a new conservative wing of feminism emerged. The new, pro-censorship feminism was as moralistic as the 1960s feminists had been libertarian, as determined to cover up all female flesh as the previous generation had been to flaunt it – whether as a political statement, or just because…

Now, post-Whitehouse, media morality campaigns are spearheaded, not by conservative Christians, but by conservative feminists (though it must be suspected that many Christian morality campaigners have sought camouflage in the puritanical feminist movement).

This week’s salvo from the morality crusaders works as follows: they declare that any public display of sexuality – nudity, semi-nudity, or anything they deem to be sexual – “demeans” women. All female flesh must be covered up, in order to “protect” women.

The tactic they employ is to declare that any shop that sells potentially “offensive” material – lads’ mags in this case – constitutes sexual harassment, and thus an attack on civil rights, against any female employee in the shop. Women are, according to this doctrine, weaker and more delicate than men, and thus must be protected. This message is, of course, an anti-feminist one. But amidst the hysteria, many middle-class “feminists” seem not to have noticed, and are embracing this deeply patriarchal concept.

The tactic means that any woman who feels “harassed” or “offended” by having to even share a building with “sexualised” material can sue her employer. This isn’t an original idea; it was invented by a US lawyer, Catharine Mackinnon, who was one of America’s leading conservative feminist morality campaigners in the 1980s. This “civil rights” approach to attacking sexual expression turns censorship from something the state does, into something anybody can do. Any woman who feels she is offended, or “demeaned”, by a smiling photo of a semi-naked woman can claim that her rights have been violated, and sue for damages.

The Mackinnon attempt failed; to allow such challenges would fundamentally undermine free speech, and this is clearly protected under the first amendment of the US Constitution. What Object and UK Feminista are not making clear is what should be obvious to anyone: if a person can sue for finding something “demeaning”, then anything can, and will, be censored. Offence is taken, not given, and almost everything offends somebody. Religious groups will find lads’ mags offensive. And Page 3 of the Sun. And gay publications. Some atheists will find religious material offensive, and surely a Christian bookshop worker could sue for having to sell The God Delusion? Fundamentalist Christians could find Muslim or Jewish publications offensive, and vice-versa. White and black supremacists may object to imagery showing mixed-race couples.

Art galleries will be sued for showing any kind of sexual or other controversial object – for example, erotic Roman sculptures currently on display at the British Museum. All expression will come under attack. The possibilities are endless.

Am I just guessing? No; the Mackinnon law, which failed to gain traction in the US, was adopted in Canada in 1992. The result: “controversial” material – and in particular feminist and gay publications – was seized. Gay bookshops were raided. The Canadian state revelled in its new powers of censorship. All the censors had to do, if they wanted to ban something, was to find one person who found that thing offensive.

Are Object and UK Feminista just well-meaning but naive? Unlikely. These groups know better than anyone the history of what they are trying to do, and the chilling effects this tactic would have on free expression. What is really disheartening is the rush of “feminist” supporters to back these morality groups in the mistaken belief that feminism is about begging “The Patriarchy” to protect weak, sensitive, helpless women from anything they might find demeaning (which has, it seems, come to mean “icky”). What is tragic is the widespread belief that the very sexual freedoms won by the 1960s feminists are themselves a threat to women’s rights.

I have a fundamental problem with people who are prepared to be easily offended. About anything. In fact, I find them offensive. Object and UK Feminista will find themselves as easily censored as anybody else if their “civil rights” approach to censorship succeeds; I suspect they don’t care. They are the modern-day successors to Mary Whitehouse, and if they succeed in banning all “offensive” material, they will have finished the job she began in 1963, when she set out to attack – more than anything else – the sexual liberation of women.

[PS - As I'm so often informed that I, being a mere man, have no right to comment on feminist issues, here are a couple of other good articles on the Lads Mag campaign, written by women.]

Georgia Lewis: Losing lads’ mags and the slippery slope of censorship

Gemma Ahearne: Dangerous Dolls: ‘Object’ and Lose The Lads’ Mags

British Terrorists: the Dumbest of Them All?

The Moron Six

The Moron Six

An old, racist stereotype, popular in Britain, slurs the Irish as unintelligent. Yet, over a period of three decades, Irish terrorist groups successfully planted bomb after bomb in Northern Ireland and the British mainland, running rings around British police and intelligence services.

It was the British response that truly made records for ineptitude: racist policing of the Irish migrant community, banning IRA spokesmen from speaking on TV, shooting civilians and making martyrs of IRA leaders; all of which helped bolster support for the IRA and other Republican groups.

Anyone who remembers the power of the IRA bombing campaign will smirk when the current “Islamist threat” is described as a global movement. Britain was never a target for Islamist extremists until our ludicrous invasion of Iraq in 2003, and in the decade since, there has only been a single serious attack, in London in 2005.

Other attacks by British would-be jihadis have been notable only for their ineptitude – my personal favourite being the Shoe Bomber, Richard Reid, who successfully boarded an aircraft with explosives in his shoes, but failed to ignite them because they had become damp.

In general, British Muslims who have become “radicalised” have tended to be small groups young Pakistani men with limited education, lacking detailed knowledge of either their own religion or the complex politics of the “war on terror”. They are more British than Pakistani, confused about their identities at a time of increased racism and police harassment, and – being nice about it – tend not to be the sharpest tools in the box.

These radicalised morons were beautifully portrayed in the Christopher Morris comedy film Four Lions, about four inept young British-Pakistani men and their attempt to commit a terrorist act.

In an example of life imitating art, six young British “jihadi” morons have pleaded guilty of trying to bomb an English Defence League rally in Dewsbury, West Yorkshire, last year. The story makes an even funnier plot than the Four Lions one: the six set out, with explosives, for the rally; fortunately, the EDL (also a group renowned for its low intelligence) had run out of speakers and adjourned to the pub. The moronic six arrived late, were pulled over by police and found to have no car insurance; this resulted in the detection of their plot and their arrest.

The British people can breath a sigh of relief at the stupidity of the would-be martyrs. No doubt, British Muslims are experiencing the greatest relief of all, knowing that an act like this would have resulted in bloodshed, blame being placed on all Muslims as a group, and a rise in EDL credibility. The EDL’s status is little above “laughing stock” – a bomb blast at an EDL rally would have changed that.

A Muslim community organisation issued a statement saying: ”The Muslim community in Birmingham wishes to make one thing absolutely clear: These acts are not carried out in our name.” Doubtless, Muslim groups are sick and tired of having to disown small groups of idiots, and more than happy to see the Moronic Six sent to prison for a long time.

But if there’s a silver lining, it’s that British jihadis appear to be very British indeed, in their half-arsed approach to terrorism. We British have a strange pride in doing things ineptly, from roadworks that take months to complete, to failed Mars missions. What could be more British than screwing up a terrorist attack with such style?

Who Bombed Boston?

Something HUGE happened on Monday. A multiple bombing, resulting in fatalities and many injuries, which received saturation-level media coverage. The bombs in Nasariyah, Kirkuk and Baghdad killed at least 31 people and injured over 200.

Only joking. Monday was, of course, the date of the biggest bomb attack on US soil since 9/11. Some moron (or morons) planted home-made bombs, killing three innocent people and causing many serious injuries to others who were simply taking part in a marathon for charity. On Twitter, I was accused of a “lack of empathy” for even daring to raise deaths in Iraq or Pakistan, on the day that Americans were killed. Americans! Somebody doesn’t know the meaning of empathy, obviously.

We learned, again, that three is greater than 31. Or than 300. Or than 3000. There is huge empathy around the world for the people who were killed and injured on Monday in Boston, but also huge frustration at the total lack of empathy for the deaths occurring around the world – deaths for which Americans have blood on their hands. While Pakistanis have to suck up the fact that 50 civilians die for every “terrorist” killed in drone strikes - perhaps over 4,000 deaths so far.

Because Americans are real people, and Pakistanis… well, they’re not really, are they? Except they are. You have our empathy, America. Where is yours?

Now, of course, the predictable Muslim-baiting begins. The hate dollar is big, and Americans are the world’s greatest entrepreneurs. Hate sells in America. You may have killed hundreds of thousands of innocent people in the last decade, but playing the victim is way more fun than feeling, somewhere deep down, a little bit guilty. The usual suspects – those people and businesses who know how to play morons for the hate dollar – are out in force; and morons are buying.

So far, Fox News guest hater Erik Rush wins the top moron award for wanting to kill all Muslims in response to Boston. Generalising hate towards a quarter of the planet’s population at least means you avoid mistakes – like bombing Afghanistan, Iraq and Yemen when you are attacked by a small group of Saudi militants on 9/11.

But who bombed Boston? Fascists on both sides of the Atlantic think they know, and have wasted no time in telling us “it was Muslims”. Never mind that they have repeatedly called it wrong; they know that morons will forgive them getting it wrong repeatedly, if they only get right once. Who remembers now all the morons that blamed the Oslo bombing on Muslims? It was done, of course, by a right-wing “patriot”. Was there a witch-hunt of blond, right-wing patriots? No – acts of individuals are only blamed on groups when they’re brown-skinned.

I don’t know who bombed Boston, but I’ll stick my neck out – and unlike the fascists, I’ll use facts to make my best guess.

We know that from 1980 to 2005, 6% of terror attacks in America were carried out by Islamic extremists. We also know that extremism among far-right Christians is on the rise. The Oklahoma bombing was not a one-off: the Southern Poverty Law Center provides a long list of far-right and Christian plots that have taken place since. It’s easier to be scared of brown-skinned, Arabic- or Urdu-speaking foreigners than it is of the white “loner” who lives down the road, but statistically, the Boston bombing is far more likely to be the work of a Christian than a Muslim.

There’s a good chance that I’m wrong; there are Islamic terror groups that would no doubt like to target Americans (in fact, there are a lot more such groups than there were when the “war on terror” began in 2001). We’ll have to wait and see.

[UPDATE: as you probably noticed, the bombs were not planted by far-right Americans. I called it wrong. However, I called it less wrong than many media pundits are calling it, even now. The two Chechen murderers are variously described as anything from a "cell" to a full-blown Islamic plot to destroy humanity. The reaction has been breathtakingly moronic, even to a seasoned moron watcher. More to come shortly.]

One prediction that I’m sure of: morons always win from violence. Fear will grow; Obama will get more support for his attacks on US civil liberties; the military machine will thrive on the fear, get increased funding, and kill more brown people; the NRA will sell more guns; Glenn Beck and Pamela Geller will sell more of whatever they sell to morons. This cycle will keep on turning until Americans finally spot the pattern, and decide enough is enough. That’s all it needs.

Moron STUC Closes Door to Sex Workers

I received this release today from a sex worker advocate group: sorry, haven’t had time to work it into a post so I’ve copied and pasted. It looks like religious morality trumps worker rights in Scotland’s trade union movement – the once proud Scottish labour movement won’t give backing to workers who have sex for a living.

As I’ve written in a number of previous posts: the Labour movement has collapsed into social conservatism. A new progressive movement is needed.

PRESS RELEASE

Glasgow, 2nd April, 2013.

STUC Closes Its Door On Sex Workers.

With one week’s notice, STUC have pulled out of their agreement to host a formal discussion bringing together experts on sex work from all over the world.

Despite initial agreement that Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) could host one of its public events at STUC, the Trade Union Congress has made clear their opposition to sex workers’ self-organising.

The event was organised as part of a broader festival that aims to bring awareness on issues affecting sex workers and give voice to those most affected by these issues. The volunteer collective behind the festival is made of sex workers and former sex workers from all sectors of the industry.

The cancellation of the venue has directly impacted the organisation of the festival that is taking place over 5 days in several venues in Glasgow, including the Centre for Contemporary Art and Kinning Park Community Center. Flyers were printed and distributed with the address of STUC. Molly, a current indoor sex worker says: “It’s a slap in the face to have our small marginalised community collective treated this way by such a well-established and powerful organisation. The irony is that many of us are trade union members ourselves!”

Amy, a former street-based sex worker and member of SWOU says: “I am shocked and angry that STUC could pull out with such short notice. Working on the street, I am used to be harassed and pushed out. Being treated the same way by the trade union and women’s groups makes me sick to my stomach.”

Luca, male sex worker and co-founder of SWOU says: “As society is confronted with massive changes due to economic crisis, austerity measures and cuts in public services, trade unions need to support – not shut down – efforts from communities to organise for their rights. We thank Kinning Park Community Complex for offering us an alternative space to hold this event and we invite all those interested in the rights, health and safety of sex workers to attend and learn. This invitation extends to other workers, trade unionists and community members, as well as STUC, as we will continue to fight for our rights as workers.”

  • End -

If you would like to speak with the organisers or for us to arrange other interviews

Please phone us on 01 414 332 502 or email contact.swou@gmail.com and glasgow.swou@gmail.com

High resolution images at http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

More info:

Sex Worker Open University (SWOU) website http://www.swou.org

SWOU Glasgow page and full programme: www.glasgowswou.wordpress.org

Full programme: http://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/programme/

Quotes from Organisers and Participants: http://glasgowswou.wordpress.com/quotes-from-organisers-and-participants/

SWOU Facebook Page – https://www.facebook.com/sexworkeropenuniversity

Main SWOU 2013 Facebook event –http://www.facebook.com/events/

347770968675060/

SWOU Twitter – https://twitter.com/SexWorkerOU; Hashtag #sexworkerOU

SWOU Flickr – http://www.flickr.com/groups/sexworkeropenuniversity/

Email – contact.swou@gmail.com

- Ends –

The Islamification of the Conservative Party

Creeping Sharia hits America

Creeping Sharia hits America

Regular readers of this blog will remember the day last April when much of Britain finally got bored with the far-right English Defence League and its anti-Muslim propaganda, and dealt with it in the only way we Britons know how: in the absence of legal guns and a trigger-happy mentality (as demonstrated by our wonderful, freedom-loving American cousins), we instead take the piss.

That day may have subdued the EDL a little, but American morons are harder to tame. Right-wing propagandists in the US have succeeded in persuading many lesser-educated Americans that “Sharia” is sweeping across Europe. This is, of course, the oldest fear-mongering tactic of them all: since people can see with their own eyes that their own town or state isn’t being Islamified, you convince them that it’s happening somewhere else; somewhere far away that they have no experience of. Thus, I often encounter Americans on Twitter who will tell me that London (a city that I’ve lived in my whole life) is being terrorised by “Muslim gangs”, or that British law is being subverted by Sharia. London isn’t (of course) being taken over by radical Islam; but try to convince a right-wing Texan Fox News viewer who has never held a passport of that fact – you can’t.

Here is a typical recent tweet from a typical right-wing American (@kmita3) to illustrate how easily fear and ignorance spreads among frightened and ignorant people:

I found it particularly ironic that this announcement came in the same week that the British House of Commons decided to fully legalise gay marriage in the UK, by a margin of 400 votes to 175, thus casting some doubt over how quickly Sharia law is actually taking over British society.

Apparently (I learned this morning via a useful blog post) there are eight Muslim MPs in the House of Commons (around 1% of the total, which again challenges the idea that Muslims are “taking over”). Of the eight, four voted for gay marriage, one opposed and three abstained or didn’t show up. So a full 50% of Muslim MPs voted in favour of gay marriage, beating the 43% of Conservative MPs who supported the change. Of the eight Tory MPs in Wales, 100% voted against gay marriage. In other words, Welsh Tories are far stronger supporters of fundamentalist Islamic principles than British Muslims are.

Clearly the Conservative party has been afflicted by Creeping Sharia! Furthermore, the US Republicans seem to have been even more Islamified!! I find it unlikely that even 43% of Republican congressmen would vote for gay marriage (or perhaps even 4.3%).

So, in a bizarre way, the “Islamification” pundits are right. But it’s not British society, London or Paris that have been Islamified, but the white, Christian, European and American right-wing. Fundamentalist Islamic values – such as opposition to abortion, contraception and homosexuality – have crept into our societies. We must stop these crazed lunatics from destroying our values… before it’s too late.