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.

In Praise Of Ecstasy

The UK’s Channel 4 last week televised a remarkable experiment, screened over two evenings. The channel had funded, for the first time, detailed scientific research on the effects on the brain of the drug MDMA, better known as Ecstasy. A selection of volunteers, including some well-known people, had been given an 83mg dose of the drug (or a placebo) before spending an hour and a half having their brain function analysed in an MRI scanner.

The study aimed to look at which areas of the brain were affected by the drug, and how. In particular, those behind the study, including the well known Professor David Nutt, wanted to look at possible clinical uses for MDMA, including as a treatment for depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Ecstasy first became popular in the US during the 1980s, and rapidly spread around the world, primarily as a club drug. It induces a sense of happiness, well-being, and increases people’s ability to empathise with and care about other people. It’s an intensely social experience, and is far better than alcohol at creating a bond between people. It was banned in the US (for no good reason that’s ever been articulated), and then around the world – after all, global drug policy has been decided by the US for many decades.

In the UK, a well-orchestrated campaign was rolled out in the media to frighten the public into supporting a clampdown on the drug. The death of Leah Betts after taking her first pill on her 18th birthday, in 1995, created a perfect opportunity for the tabloid press to generate a moral panic. Betts’ autopsy later revealed that she’d died of water intoxication, a surprisingly common condition caused by drinking too much water and washing the sodium out of one’s system; but of course, the tabloids and politicians didn’t retract their earlier version of events. Ecstasy was falsely established in the mass imagination as a “killer drug”.

The reasons for the demonisation of relatively safe drugs such as Ecstasy are many and complex. No doubt, the alcohol industry fears the emergence of competitors and lobbies behind the scenes to ensure that alcohol remains the only government approved method of twisting reality. Our politicians too are generally ignorant on the drugs issue – or if they’re not, they’re all too aware of how they will be attacked in the press if they come out in favour of decriminalisation. But ultimately, as noted above, these decisions are made in Washington rather than London. American puritanism and control-freakery is global policy, until the day the UN finds the collective strength to say no to America.

The police also enjoy the extra powers that come from drug prohibition. I often see police with sniffer dogs pulling people out of London club queues; and you have to wonder who in the police or political hierarchy sees it as a priority to stop people dancing on Ecstasy in private venues. It gives some justification to the current police cuts, if there really are no higher priorities for policing a large city on a Friday night. Most clubbers know how to get past drug searches, so the small amounts retrieved by police and club security can only represent a tiny proportion of the total; the fact is, sniffer dogs provide easy arrests for the police, which can look good when aggregated into national crime statistics. The Home Secretary can brandish increased numbers of arrests and incarcerations, without having to make clear that no additional serious crimes have been dealt with.

In the 80s and 90s, high quality Ecstasy was easy to find, generally in pill form. Then, an EU ban on a precursor chemical made true MDMA scarce. Pills were still sold in clubs, but often containing other drugs, such as caffeine, BZP and later, mephedrone (which then in 2009 became hugely popular in its own right). True Ecstasy was hard to find. And then over the past couple of years for some reason (I’m told alternative manufacturing processes were developed), pure MDMA has burst back onto the scene. These days, MDMA is more usually sold as pure crystals than pills – probably because pills are now more distrusted after years of fakes being sold, and MDMA crystals are easy to test by taste and appearance.

Almost 30 years after Ecstasy appeared on the scene, it is more ubiquitous than ever, and being sampled by a whole new generation, either as a club drug or a bonding experience to be shared among friends at home; which highlights (yet again) the complete failure of drug prohibition. Countless millions of pounds have been spent, countless thousands of young clubbers and festival-goers harassed by police, and many thousands arrested and criminalised, pointlessly.

The Channel 4 experiment included tests on pills seized at the Glastonbury music festival. A third of pills contained no MDMA at all, while many of the remainder were adulterated with other substances. Many prohibitionists hold up this kind of study to prove the dangers of substances like MDMA; but on the contrary, this merely demonstrates the danger of prohibition. The ban on so many drugs like MDMA has simply pushed people to try increasing amounts of untried, untested substances – a recent study reported around one new recreational substance appearing on the market every week. Tabloids regularly run scare stories about new drugs, many so ill-informed and laughable that they’re reminiscent of the hilarious spoof drug “Cake”, invented by the British comedy show Brass Eye.

And it’s not as if MDMA is a dangerous substance. It has been sampled by tens of millions of people over three decades, many of them long-term users, and recorded deaths attributed to Ecstasy are so low as to be statistically insignificant. For example, in 2010, between five and 18 Ecstasy-related deaths were recorded, depending which statistics you use; and in most of these, Ecstasy was cited as a contributory factor, rather than the sole cause. Annual estimated Ecstasy use in the UK varies between half to one million. On this basis, eating salty or fatty food carries a far greater health risk than taking Ecstasy.

And even if the drug were more dangerous than it seems to be, why should people not have the right to use it? Banning everything more dangerous than Ecstasy would see an end to legal swimming, driving, eating most foods and without a doubt alcohol and tobacco. The global panic attack that has led to the banning of dozens of safe substances (as well as a few more dangerous ones) bears no sane explanation. Popular drugs are banned without thought, before scientists can get a chance to research them. The government realises that if publicly funded research gave Ecstasy the all-clear, to maintain the ban would appear ludicrous. So almost no funds go into researching substances – while the government hypocritically continues to label them as dangerous.

Many observers noticed years ago that the War on Drugs had been lost. Many ex-Presidents and police chiefs call for it to end, but only after retiring from office; the moron consensus doesn’t allow senior officials to tell the truth about drugs policy.

If you’re still in doubt, perhaps you should try MDMA for yourself – you’ll find it at the Silk Road marketplace, or perhaps via a young friend or relative. You’ll find yourself wondering why a substance far safer than alcohol, that makes people more caring and loving towards each other, is treated by the authorities as a threat to society.