Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Offense unlimited

Posted as comment:
Censorship goes on everywhere. We are a little further down the line here in the UK but it keeps rearing its head through in some form or other. A small example is how political correctness keeps changing and how words gather moss: Terms are never free of being judged and condemned even when offense is quite obviously unintentional; people have been lynched left right and centre for not keeping up-to-date with the new current word that should or should not be used and ended up bewildered and shell-shocked through some minor lapse of thoughtlessness and nothing more. Even trivia such as choice of fancy dress may blemish a person’s career if the general consensus so dictates. Taboo would indeed be everywhere if nobody dared say otherwise. Do we still have a 9 pm watershed when the brutal news is on all day? As for television soaps and episodes, these are now consistently required to meet certain criteria; to involve different cultural backgrounds and sexual preferences even when they are not essentially integrated into the storyline itself, just for political correctness of an age. 
An example would be a recent debate broadcast about whether 'Midsomer Murders', a series which takes part in a rural English village should perhaps include a black person even though the likelihood of that happening in reality would indeed be extremely remote. Similarly, if there's a choice of promoting a new series it would probably be more likely that one which included a Muslim family would win as choice preference over any better plot submitted in another form. Include an 'across the board' selection of topics such as homosexuality, male or female or preferably both and some contentious issue of current interest to the mix and you have an instant dead cert winner, regardless of story, plot or ingenuity of subject matter. Substance will more often than not come secondary to arresting, sensational headers; unmissable irony therein since the subject matters now being dealt with on a daily basis and almost necessarily included in every production are the very issues that were formerly unacceptable to the general public: now contrarily being rammed down everyone's throats just to suit political correctness of a kind. When did a good storyline ever necessarily have to meet such criteria?
In Egypt, films containing sexual scenes have always been heavily censored and yet I remember a time when the most violent of such scenes in 'Soldier Blue' was allowed to be shown. The film contained shocking scenes of graphic butchery. The monstrosity of war was absolute and only gasps of horror could possibly be expected to emanate. However, even though the flesh was violated and literally sliced, since there was nudity involved, the frustrated male audience rooted and cheered for more; the film's message forever lost amid acute misinterpretation. That was a clear pointer to how censorship can go terribly wrong.
* Soldier Blue is a 1970 American Revisionist Western movie directed by Ralph Nelson and inspired by events of the 1864 Sand Creek massacre in the Colorado Territory.
In September 1970, Dotson Rader of The New York Times, wrote that Soldier Blue "must be numbered among the most significant, the most brutal and liberating, the most honest American films ever made".

Everything is relative, and things keep changing but the bottom line is that censorship does exist in some form or other and so it is indeed imperative for Egypt now to keep challenging the authorities or risk regressing further. With the attempt to ban literary works such as Moll Flanders, we see again how politics and religious morality seem to hold hands and dictate at will. We are all talking about self-appointed nannies of the state but the battle just keeps shifting shape.

Don't cut the trees

Pillars of society are often viewed as the dynamics of a people; culturally and progressively deemed to shape a community and thus enrich its soil. But, without oxygen released from nameless trees, from the little people with no post-nominal or disgnatory letters to their name, no particular prowess or affiliation to grandeur of status, there would indeed be a vacuum; there would be nothing there to absorb the carbon dioxide: Fumes released by regalia and hoo-ha of political debate and referendum. Balance would never be addressed and general conditions would forever worsen to the point of extinction.
Tahrir Square and Cairo during the revolution, Jan/Feb. 2011
However, the population from the "ashwa'iyat" was not at the forefront of this revolution, although it clearly took part in it (we see this in the police stations that were burnt in some of these areas on the Angry Friday). Thirty per cent of the population still does not hold an identity card and, most probably, people from the "ashwa'iyat" represent a large part of these thirty per cent. To enter Tahrir we needed to show our Egyptian ID.

If trees are left unattended for too long or worse still deprived of water and essential nutrients, quite literally so, their chance for survival would be nil. Everything that lives relies on undergrowth; the cycle cannot be complete without it. From its roots emanates life itself. Without trees in a forest, a jungle, a paradisiacal garden even ~ life expectancy would be manifestly decreased. Trees condition the air we breathe, replete the oxygen of life itself.
Chatoyant Crumbs:
Last year’s UN Human Development Report for Egypt declared that many of the nation’s young people are trapped in ‘waithood’, defined as a prolonged period “during which they simply wait for their lives to begin.” “It’s not as if we want to sit here passively and accept the situation,” Shamad added. “The problems come from the government, but the instinct of our generation is to avoid the state, not confront it. I know that there are big demonstrations planned for next Tuesday, but we’re taught from birth to be fearful of the police. They know how to hurt you, and hurt the ones you love.”

The poorer quarters of a city are only so because of neglect. So long as the hierarchy continues to neglect its people the longer the people have to wait and the more extensive the slums become. Recognition is necessary for an existence; for its validation. Without attention to slums, urban development is unsustainable. Slums exist worldwide but a country that continues to dismiss and ignore its people risks the crumbling of the plinth it operates from. Attend to corners and the centre will take care of itself. Slums are the residue of what is thrown out; they may always exist but cannot be altogether dismissed without consequence. When undergrowth is neglected it can take over making it hard for the delicate buds of Spring to flower. There must be balance in all things. Just like the 'Champs Elysées' of urbanity, so the poorer quarters need to be considered if potential that lies within is to have any chance of survival. Apart from inherent crafts and skills, history has proven time and time again that the most wondrous talent and accomplishments often find their origin in the very slums of our existence.

Tahrir Square and Cairo during the revolution, Jan/Feb. 2011
The big economic slump we are now experiencing affects primarily the poorer sections of society. If a new system, a new kind of democracy, not one cut and pasted from the existing failing Western democracies, can really be implemented, then hopefully the "ashwa'iyat" will also benefit from this revolution. However, as we saw, hope is in the people. The people's "plan" is to clean Egypt from its corrupt regime and literally every area of the city will be cleaned one after another by volunteering citizens, just like Tahrir Square was cleaned and repainted after the departure of Mubarak. There is hope for every soul.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Drowning Victory.

 Man overboard.

Egypt struggles to keep afloat: Titanic votes of nearing elections will not be counted or will they overrule?

The arena is muddy and the wrestling continues, debates left, right and centre with slippery outcomes and unsteady results; sabotage and espionage when derailment fails.

But politics aside and it’s the conditions that stare us straight in the face; the certainties that existed before the revolution:
Apathy of all dimensions: poverty highlighted by obscene wealth, hard-nosed bureaucracy presenting itself every side of the counter, tormenting the tormentors themselves. Police brutality when their incompetence alone doesn’t cut it. Calamitous traffic, severe congestion, extreme frustration and road rage all acceptable norms and the bane of every hard-working citizen. 
Not to mention famine; bread strikes and insurmountable inflation.

But treats are aplenty; for all those who manage to dart the pollution, to survive architectural mishaps, to dodge the toxins of banned products and to endure the general stress there is always a little pièce de resistance in a seriously broken pavement, a literal configuration of destruction and hindrance. A pavement specially designed to trip up its victims and send them hurtling along with all the other afflicted into health care systems that pose as hazards unsurpassed in themselves. 
The most vulnerable sectors of society always most at risk but nevertheless high risk unconfined and unlimited.

These certainties are most likely to remain with us for some time to come. Arguably politics cannot be put aside but the muddy arena must harden before any changes can come about.

Egypt’s uprising may appear a drowning victory insofar that it  has yet to achieve its primary goal of change for the better. Perhaps wealth of economy preoccupies the world, perhaps blatant lack of democracy stings and blisters the nerve of each and every protestor, perhaps fear and apprehension of what may befall a nation of such great spirit and resoluteness seeks to overshadow everything else. 

The nation rides bareback and must resort to clinging to the horns of its drive, its aspiration. Whichever way Egyptians turn there is man overboard and no life jacket in sight. 
All the while, certainties remain: Poverty, thugs, spies, extremists, embezzlers, police brutality, police apathy, suspicion, abuse, torture, famine threats and so much more, all still there, multiplying like worms unleashed from the proverbial opened can. 
AND YET, the spirit of the revolution remains in the veins of all who felt a hint of pride, a modicum of accomplishment through little other than sheer determination and envisaged hopes.

Hard hats are mandatory.

True, the ousting of a dictator was never more than symbolic at best, however we mustn’t underestimate the power of allegory; its ethereal cloak tends to remain with us. It entertains the imagination; one of the most basic necessities for a people awoken, inspired. A people wishing to aspire to a more dignified existence, a more just and balanced world.

Nations can only exist as free worlds when they are accepted.
With reference to Pithouse, Richard (2005) Report Back from the Third World Network Meeting Accra, 2005. Centre for Civil Society : 1-6. 
“…some things are very clear. I arrived expecting Third Worldism (the idea, popular among Third World autocrats and many American and French leftists in the late 60s and 70s, that - contrary to orthodox’s Marxism’s view that the Western working class would deliver the world from the tyranny of capital but still within its spirit in that it searched for one particular agent of universal redemption – Third World elites were the privileged historical actor.) Third Worldism is always, in its Western versions, a species of racism. It takes the colonial Manicheanism that presents Africans, or Chinese, or whomever, as an undifferentiated hoard opposite to the enlightened civilising white West and reverses its moral hierarchies while retaining its logic with, among other pathological consequences, the result that it is unable to understand that Third World societies are sites of internal contestation…”

Third world countries cannot join in the race unless endorsed, unless viewed as entitled to an equal standing.
And yet, the treasure trove of third world countries are unarguably present in some form or other; Egypt leads many another in its unparalleled cache of history and civilisation, its contribution to academic, literary and scientific prowess and artistic interpretation: Individuality, integrity and achievement all part of its very core, past and present.  
But only recently has its finest treasure of all, recognised long before by those close to its heart, become highlighted and visible to the world at large: the people's spirit.
The uprising has achieved that if nothing else.

World economy rules autocratically, in the hands of a select few. Subjugation of even giant powers to its will is irrefutably apparent. The President of even a super power can only lead people to unite in thought and is rarely capable of delivering more than just that, however individually inclined. Obama's recent brave yet futile speech advising Israel withdraw from Palestinian borders occupied since 1967 serves as a prime example.
This being the case, Egypt is nevertheless on the map and cannot be blotted out even if hard hats do come with the territory.

The Egyptian uprising may appear as a foetus aborted; a minor unable to reach the age of majority; its heroic burst of fearlessness and courage fast-expiring ~ 
It may be criticised as naïve, idealistic and unrealistic; all that and more ~

 But for all those who care, for all those who share something with its course and an affinity with its essence: so long as there’s blood flowing through its veins, flatlining is not an option. 

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Obliterated Brushstrokes

Hannah Allam | McClatchy Newspapers “Egyptians race to save fleeting mementos of their revolution” 

glimpse at :

  & all the while: 

The *“godawful” **“diehard” *“zombie” continues to loom, embedding its tentacles deeper and deeper, suffocating its own.

"For many in Egypt, revolution incomplete"From Shahira Amin, For CNN

"Nothing has changed," said Ahmed Sherif, a news editor with the main Arabic channel. "In fact, there is greater control now than there was during the Mubarak era. All scripts are revised by senior editorial staff, and any news item related to the armed forces has to be approved by the Morale Affairs Department before it is aired or published."

As the elections draw nearer, many are left wondering whether the military rulers will be willing to cede power to a civil

Ambassador Mohamed Rifaah, former official spokesman for the Grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, Egypt's highest religious authority, is one of the skeptics.

"Egypt has been ruled by the military for 60 years," he said. "Convincing the **diehard dictators to loosen their grip on power won't be easy."

"The Egyptian army's mask has slipped"Austin Mackell ends his article with:
"Like some *godawful zombie, Egypt's oppressive system refuses to die. The head may be gone, but the heart is still beating."

George Orwell's 1984: Winston, released to live out his final days as a broken man knowing that soon, the Thought Police will execute him can do no other than submit ..

Perhaps the cries of ‘Enough is enough’ can still be heard, 
but who is listening?



Saturday, 18 June 2011

"He who sings scares away his woes." ~Cervantes

A youtube link for Arabian Knightz provides sound evocative of the very poignant soulful tone of Egypt’s affirmation for a new era: 

'From fear to fury: how the Arab world found its voice'
The Observer, Sunday 27 February 2011  
Andy Morgan writes:

'In that temporary utopia, Egypt rediscovered its love of freedom, honesty, joy and simplicity'
'The people were tired of bullshit, whether it was political, social, religious or cultural'

The Voice of Freedom: 'Sout al Horeya'

a flickering light in darkness of night
Utopia may be gone 
but hope still in sight

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Verses that filter through.. or are they lost among petty quibbles that divide?

Never have we, who are alive today, needed to remind ourselves more.

 With a divide so commonly prevalent among people of all faiths, a divide found even amongst their own:

Warnings and guidance in the Qur-ãn, the emphasis being upon unification of faiths when good is exercised and belief is genuine.
سورة البقرة 
Surat Al Baqarah, or the Heifer

In the name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful.

Section 8, 
verse 62:

62إِنَّ الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا وَالَّذِينَ هَادُوا وَالنَّصَارَىٰ وَالصَّابِئِينَ مَنْ آمَنَ بِاللَّهِ وَالْيَوْمِ الْآخِرِ وَعَمِلَ صَالِحًا فَلَهُمْ أَجْرُهُمْ عِندَ رَبِّهِمْ وَلَا خَوْفٌ عَلَيْهِمْ وَلَا هُمْ يَحْزَنُونَ

"Those who believe (in the Qur-ãn).
And those who follow the Jewish (scriptures),
And the Christians and the Sabians,
Any who believe in Allah
And the Last Day
And work righteousness,
Shall have their reward
With their Lord on them
Shall be no fear, nor shall they grieve."

From Commentary: 
The point of the verse is that Islam does not teach an exclusive doctrine, and is not meant exclusively for one people.

Section 16,
verse 136:
136قُولُوا آمَنَّا بِاللَّهِ وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَيْنَا وَمَا أُنزِلَ إِلَىٰ إِبْرَاهِيمَ وَإِسْمَاعِيلَ وَإِسْحَاقَ وَيَعْقُوبَ وَالْأَسْبَاطِ وَمَا أُوتِيَ مُوسَىٰ وَعِيسَىٰ وَمَا أُوتِيَ النَّبِيُّونَ مِن رَّبِّهِمْ لَا نُفَرِّقُ بَيْنَ أَحَدٍ مِّنْهُمْ وَنَحْنُ لَهُ مُسْلِمُونَ

"Say ye: We believe
In Allah and the revelation
Given to us, and to Abraham,
Ismã'îl, Isaac, Jacob,
And the Tribes, and that given 
To Moses and Jesus, and that given
To all Prophets from their Lord:
We make no difference
Between one and another of them:
And we submit to Allah." 

From Commentary: 
Here we have the Creed of Islam: to believe in (1) the One Universal God, (2) the message to us through Muhammad delivered by other Teachers in the past. These are mentioned in three groups: (1) Abraham, Ismã'îl, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes: of these Abraham had apparently a Book (Ixxxvii. 19) and the others followed his tradition: (2) Moses and Jesus, who each left a scripture: these scriptures are still extant, though not in their pristine form; and (3) other scriptures, Prophets, or Messengers of Allah, not specifically mentioned in the Qur-ãn (xi. 78). We make no difference between any of these. Their Message (in essentials) was one, and that is the basis of Islam.

Translation as found in "The Meanings and Commentary"
Call And Guidance
King Fahd Holy Qur-ãn Printing Complex
Edited by The Presidency Of Islamic Researches, IFTA
Al Madina Al-Munawarah.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

The enigma that is ...

'ElBaradei'. Or, as he is now, tongue in cheek, coined ‘Baradise Lost’. With a television appearance he made in 2010, around the time Khalid Said was brutally killed by members of the Police force in Alexandria, I looked at him for the first time. I saw a man, middle-aged, of medium stature, encompassed by an aura of moderation; one that seemed to envelop his frame and tinge his physical aspects with a sedateness. Balding and unassuming, with spectacles accentuating an introspective streak. Measured in speech, yet not without certain flair. He seemed accompanied by a peacefulness, somewhat reminiscent of Mahatma Ghandi; an astuteness residing within the calm. 
At a second glance, perhaps a small man, placid, composed and detached, innate charisma detectable but indirect. 
This is what I saw. 
Suffice it to say, i was intrigued and wanted to know more about him. I was soon to discover the jury was out. There were those similarly intrigued and there were those who to all intents and purposes felt more comfortable with dismissing him quite radically as a potential candidate for change.

The uprising occured and almost as unexpectedly ElBaradei quite suddenly seemed to vanish, quite simply - disappear. Where and why were questions people could not quite decide upon answers to but suffice it to say suppositions were discrepant and contrary:
One was that he was too posh to care and that he had gone into hiding, a 'garden of Eden' privately owned. Another was that he had no choice but to disappear since his life was being threatened and he was therefore afraid for his life; another take on that being he had deliberately chosen to get out of the limelight since his death would not exactly serve any purpose. Perhaps the most bandied about was the allegation that he had been placed under house arrest whilst rumour had it he was biding his time so that he could put his assets to use when occasion called for purport of his presence.

2011 Egyptian revolution
Main article: 2011 Egyptian revolution (as pasted in Wikipedia)
The Guardian reported that ElBaradei has been mandated by the Muslim Brotherhood and four other opposition groups to negotiate an interim "national salvation government." However, BBC reports that the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest opposition party banned by Mubarak's regime, has not consented to the choice of ElBaradei as the representative of the opposition.

So after appearing in Ta7rir square why was this man of eminent reputation, one worldly recognised, suddenly no longer on the scene? Had the threats subdued his will to serve or had he been coerced into lowering his profile?

With editor's note in 'The Amira Nowaira daily’  we may have a clue to the beginning of some answers:

Who’s afraid of Mohamed El Baradei? 

But with all the guestimates surrounding ElBaradei there are those seriously campaigning for him. One such campaigner’s thoughts and appraisals are eagerly awaited and will hopefully soon find their way to this space. 

For the present however, the enigma of ElBaradei will continue to preponderate our thoughts; to hover around speculation surrounding the 'winds of change'.

Taking Courage

With the following excerpts resolve of the Egyptian revolution comes through. It may be some time before realistic measures become apparent and feasible steps are taken to providing solutions in Egypt today. However, patience and perseverence is all we can presently hope for.

Dr.Amira Nowaira writes in her article:
Egypt is still Mubarakstan. Published Tuesday 29 March 2011Published in the Guardian:
I don't think that the tide of change can turn back no matter how hard Mubarak and his fallen regime may resist. A few years ago, the government imposed a mandatory course on human rights throughout Egyptian universities, in an attempt to whitewash the regime's abhorrent record on human rights. The course was taught as lifeless texts that students were required to learn off by heart and reproduce verbatim in the examination paper at the end of the year. Today, as I walk on the street and hear people of all ages and backgrounds discussing police brutality, incarceration without charge and the constitution, I realise that the past two months have certainly been a hugely successful learning experience for all Egyptians. It has made them vastly more aware of their rights as citizens than any textbook and has led them to understand better than ever before the significance of collective resistance.

In another article:  Egypt will see this revolution through. Published Friday 15 April 2011
Dr. Amira Nowaira elucidates:
In the past, the rigging of student elections was a routine practice under the pretext that a fair election would definitely lead to an Islamist takeover of universities. This was proven wrong. If general parliamentary elections were to be carried out fairly and without rigging or vote-buying, Islamist movements might not score much higher. But will there be the political will to ensure the fairness of the electoral process? That is the fundamental question to ask.
Egypt also does not exist in a vacuum. Both regional and world powers have vested interests in it. Autocratic regimes in the neighbourhood are battling the frightening spectre of democracy in Egypt because a democratic model might directly threaten their very existence. They are looking with increasing apprehension at the events unfolding in Egypt.
International powers that had counted on the longevity of the Mubarak regime had neither the vision nor the will to change their policies. These powers are all worried that a new order may not be as friendly or as compliant as the old one. And despite all their proclamations of support for the transition to democracy in Egypt, they may resort to various means to stop the process of change or at least attempt to channel it in such a way as to maintain the situation in the old mode.
But as the battle over Egypt's soul continues, nobody can underestimate the enormous challenges facing Egypt's march towards democracy. Nevertheless, we only need to remember that Mubarak was toppled in spite of his brutal security apparatus and the vast support of regional and international powers. But fall he did. And the catalyst of change was the sheer perseverance of ordinary Egyptians. Their courage in the face of bullets and tear gas was simply a tribute to human tenacity.

Listening in

For a lucid introduction to a lay person's analysis of a radio talk please read excerpt from link to Dr.Amira Nowaira's highly informative article published in the Guardian 10th May 2010

In examining this chapter of Islamic history, regardless of the validity or otherwise of the views expressed, one cannot help feel amazed at the fact that the Islamic thinkers of the 10th century had the freedom to discuss and publish their "unorthodox" ideas, while the Islamic world now cannot, or will not, deal with any form of intellectual dissent. It might be reasonable to suggest then that the problem of Islam does not lie in inherited texts and traditions, but in interpretation. The Islamic heritage, like its Christian counterpart, is made up of a huge body of commentaries and interpretations that were produced in various periods of history to address problems specific to their age. We need to remember that the Christian scriptures have not changed since the middle ages. It was in the name of these very texts that innumerable so-called heretics were burnt at the stake.
There is little doubt that Islamic scholars have the task and the responsibility to review tradition and re-emphasise the human values of tolerance and freedom of thought. They do not have to look far for these values. All they are required to do is to reach deep into their own cultural coffers to retrieve the pearls and discard the dregs.

BBC Radio Two, 7th February 2011: Jeremy Vine discusses counter-terrorism.
Should doctors, university lecturers, lawyers and other pillars of society look out for people who ‘may’ become terrorists in the future? In other words: ‘how to spot a future terrorist ’ in the so-called “prevent strategy”.
The talk is presented by Jeremy Vine and held between
Professor Anthony Glees of Buckingham University and Azad Ali, Chair of the Muslim Safety Forum.

We switch on the radio and that is what we do, we listen. But listening implies understanding. When presentation is lacking or obtusely angled we are deprived of understanding. When germane discernment which should prevail throughout is blatantly absent, we are intentionally or not, sadly misled. 

Without prejudice:
When Azad Ali, Chair of the Muslim Safety Forum points out that an ideology is merely a concept, a thought process and questions what is actually meant by ‘Islamist ideology’ he is met with an uncomfortable and disparaging laugh with no trace of a definitive response: “We could probably spend another half hour describing it”. So therein lies the problem notes Azad Ali, lack of definition of a concept and condemnation of thought in ideological phase. He further adds that to bring about specific targeting of a particular sector of society would be discriminatory and inciting. Every point made by Azad Ali is shot down by Professor Anthony Glees, director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence at Buckingham University.
Professor Glees continues to refer to the ideology of islamism as being dangerous in itself; when Azad Ali asks: "Is it a crime?"
Professor Anthony Glees makes the resounding statement: 
“Islamist ideology is a crime”
Azad Ali points out the fallacy of attributing blame to any ideology in a ‘liberal society’ and makes the distinction: A successful counter-terrorism strategy would be to zone in on activities that denote the threat, an unsuccessful and misleading strategy would be to view a thought process alone as a crime. 
     Now enlightened to what is referred to as ‘islamist’. The ‘ist’ being just another suffix attached to coin yet another term evoking negative implications herein conveniently sharing its cadence with ‘terrorist’.
With respect, the response in current vernacular would be: “Whatever”. 
     On a more serious note however words such as Islamic and Islamist are bandied about without much thought. In today’s climate, they are often perceived as one and the same and yet, bearing in mind the association made above, the difference between them as reference points would be significant.

If 'Islamist' ideology is perceived to be one that is politically motivated and of an extreme nature, it neither does nor can accurately portray the Islamic ideology which pursues aspiration of the nobler traits of human nature as its ideal. Enforcement with oppressive tendencies subjugating other faiths to abide by the dogma and creed of its own is not an endorsement of Islam. Islam does in fact advocate quite the opposite. Guidance that comes through Islam is not dependent upon appearances nor is it necessarily confined to those who relentlessly practise its rituals. Any enforcement of laws of an extremist nature causing rift and oppression are not condoned. To do so, the underlying message of Islam would in fact not only be lost but moreover never within reach. Oppression in the Quran as an abstract as well as established regime is referred to as the worst of worldly predicaments.
     Laws pertaining to any denomination or even to a secular state relate to customs and conformities which in fact often emanate from religious teachings and guidelines. It follows that codes of morality within justice systems bear basic similarities. The principal aim of any good justice system is to meet the standards of an accepted morality, to enable law-abiding people to feel they are protected from perpetrators of crime. The depth of Sharee3a laws is often broadly unperceived.
     Islam bears a universal message; one that is essentially required to suit and conform to every time and place whilst still guarding principled codes of behaviour. Should any of its bona fide teachings be respectfully advocated they would be seen to relate and even coordinate directly with those of other faiths. Its principle being: integration rather than violation. 
Where this is unlikely Islam has the propensity of remaining aloof, adhering firmly to the motto: ‘To each their own’. People have the freedom to follow any faith or dogma they choose to so long as they all bear respect. This is a principle code in Islam necessarily honoured and somewhat reminiscent of ‘free speech’ but ironically less flawed. When not honoured, it may be considered an inner threat to the faith itself. Islam professes that one can remain true to one’s own religion whilst simultaneously accepting another’s freedom of choice. This notion correlates directly with the ethos of a peaceful and fair religion.

The pre-requisites of Islam are not met through deviance or extremism. Quite contrarily, the condemning of 'Islamist ideology', a concept associated to Islam, both cognitively and sub-consciously in the world today, is in itself deviating and regrettably misleading.

Fair debate cannot exist where loose labelling and generalisations are made with no reference to the bigger picture. With the absence of clarity and distinction in the talk referred to, the statement appears acutely disparaging and sadly conducive to hatred of Muslims and Islam itself; a little ironic when extremism is being addressed. 
     The voice of any opposition to such a statement comes through as faint in comparison since it is already compromised before it can be heard. The opposition would in fact not be in defence of the extremism in question, but more opposed to labelling and dismissal by association which is both detrimental and blinkering.
     Within the chat show, the so-called debate’s outcome was a foregone conclusion. There is a general air of superiority that accompanies dismissive statements portrayed as definitive axioms. Any alternate view, due to indubitable connotations can at best appear subjugated.
Nevertheless, Professor Glees' personal viewpoint and perspective may appear somewhat more balanced and backed up when read in an article published in the National Observer, Australia, No. 81 (Dec. 2009 - Feb. 2010)
Distinctions are made which may in some cases have their validity:
“Islamism is not Islam but its antithesis, even if it clings to the coat-tails of this great religion.” …
”Exposure to extreme and politicised interpretations of the peaceful faith of Islam is always the necessary precondition of terror.
Islamism is a specific system of political ideas which is found wherever Islamic ideas are studied and traded by extremist and radical preachers.
Not surprisingly, there is general agreement that the best policy is to try to prevent the transfer of this lethal ideology. If it is acknowledged — which it should be — that Islamic studies centres can promote political extremism, it then becomes imperative to regulate and evaluate what goes on inside them or in their immediate vicinity and, if necessary, contain their number so that they can be properly monitored.”
He then proceeds to elaborate on the dangers of the
‘Proliferation of Islamic studies centres’
As dubitable as some of the content may or may not be, perhaps that is where those views should have remained; in context and theoretic writing.

     When Radio addresses listeners without correct measures in place, without elucidation of the particular misrepresentation occurs. It is unfavourable all round, for both speaker and listener. Undiscerning condemnation in such a context is extended to all articles of faith associated in the listeners’ minds. In this particular case it stands to offend law-abiding citizens who cherish their Muslim identity and all those who can identify with the dangers of bigotry. 
     Surely labelling one ideology criminal is paramount to saying any ideology may well have the same potential since every ideology is a concept involving an ideal, an acme of a particular dogma, philosophy or creed. Labelling an ideology a crime stands to cast a shadow over its entire links.
     Islam, in essence, is a religion of high definition administering tolerance rather than bigotry. Far from posing as a threat it is one that endows whoever wishes to embrace it with, many would say, unparalleled serenity and the comfort that accompanies surrender of self and ego to the highest power, our Creator.
     Terrorism on the other hand, whatever its origin, is a concept seeking to incense and to instil fear in that which it considers a threat. It manifests itself not only in physical attacks but primarily through infiltration into the ethos of a people, the psyche of individuals. It does not even need to be related to an ideology, but may indeed appear to be inextricably linked to one or other. 
When criminal activities are perpetrated in the name of a religion, disrespect for the very religion supposedly revered is manifested. Within such atrocities there lies a dismissal of the very ideology they profess to follow.

Islam misinterpreted may suit an age where fuelling against it is viewed as a necessary defence. Ideologies are more than often interlinked, religion and politics becoming almost inseparable in today's globalisation. Islamist ideology with the rationale of political gain is not alone in seeking to gain power but it is indeed so much easier to dismiss it a crime and paint with the same brush all it is associated with. Attempting to fathom where the problems actually lie is deemed unnecessary and surplus to requirements. 

The debate about politically motivated religious views is an on-going one, visibly present in the Muslim world itself. Islamic principles aiming to integrate with the ethos of a society may, if aptly applied help give structure to moral guidelines already in place whatever the denomination. Even in a secular society there are laws that are bound by morality in one form or another. ‘Moderate’ Muslims, may be seen opposed to the fundamentally inclined. However, 'Fundamentalism' is yet another misleading term since it implies its views relate to the core of an ideology. Extremism is indeed the more apt term and since balance and tolerance and lack of bigotry are all pivotal to Islam, extremism neither was nor is nor can ever be at its pinnacle.

With yet another familiar, catchy term: “Islamophobia”, one finding its resonance in the Arab world where extremist takeovers prevail, should it be coined ‘Islamistophobia’? And more importantly: Why is terrorism in the West attributed almost singularly to ‘Islamist’ ideology when statistically speaking the majority of attacks have and continue to emanate from decidedly unrelated sources? 
Where there is a lack of tolerance, cracks may appear as flaws and imperfections within an ideology; it may appear to entwine itself obsessively with self-righteousness, ultimately leading to condemnation of all else. But the flaws would be in adaptation rather than ideology itself.

Sweeping statements made on Radio are a far cry from any theory deemed substantiated and thus believed to hold water:
“Islamism is not Islam but its antithesis, even if it clings to the coat-tails of this great religion.”
It may surprise us a little at how refracted this sentence may now appear.

 Saying Islamist ideology is a crime unfortunately runs the high risk of depicting the religion itself as an insidious evil. A King Kong perceived as a villain, dismissed through ignorance and shallow viewpoint rather than understood.
     Having made this point we must remind ourselves yet once again of the statement made prior to the radio talk in Professor Glees' article: “Islamism is not Islam but its antithesis, even if it clings to the coat-tails of this great religion.” Carefully angled perspective is indeed everything.

The analogy that accompanies the above is that akin to people of any faith, fearing terrorism of any kind, 'moderate' Muslims have the additional bonus of looking forward to a targeted bigotry, to a fear of feeling singled out when in essence they do no more than live their religion quietly and peacefully. Where there is a severe lack of tolerance perhaps terrorism is a relatively perceived concept.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Egyptian Heart
WRITERS IN THE REVOLUTION: Hala Halim sees Egypt blossoming
From New York to Tahrir to Alexandria, a joyous journey of rediscovering a collectivity
Hala Halim , Monday 28 Feb 2011
Hala Halim
Hala Halim in Tahrir Sq during the revolution
My first inkling that what was taking place had already radically transformed the country was on arrival from the US, on 29 January, when the cab driving me from Cairo Airport was entering Alexandria alongside a line of army tanks. As the cab drove by Alexandria University campus in Chatby down to the Corniche, I caught a glimpse of what was to become a common sight in the following days: young men serving as traffic wardens, in the wake of the police’s withdrawal the previous day, except that remarkably in this instance, they were ushering civilian cars to the side to make way for the army tanks. I ached to take a picture, but an instinct acquired during my days in journalism prompted me to ask the driver if this would get him into trouble; take as many pictures as you like, he turned to me, no one will touch me: all this is a thing of the past.

The Egypt I saw in the days that followed, first in Alexandria then in Cairo, was a country in a state of blossoming. The attenuation of the state security apparatus was the least part of it; rather, it was about joy in rediscovering a collectivity and in collective action. Young and middle-aged; working class and middle class; Muslim, Christian and secularist – everyone spoke to everyone else. Not only at the demonstrations but on the trams and in the streets and shops people drifted in and out of conversations I was having with others as I did into ones they were having. New acquaintances, known only by their first names, were recorded in my mobile as “Noha Demonstration” and “Mohamed Tahrir.”

Most breathtaking of all were the twenty-somethings I met. The many checkpoints set up by neighborhood volunteers meant ample time to chat in a cab I shared on the way back from a demonstration in El-Shohada Square, in front of Alexandria’s main railway station, with Radwa, who had a BA in English literature. She mentioned in passing that she had left the demonstration early the day before and, with a group of women friends, rented a pick-up truck, donned gloves, and removed trash bags until they were exhausted.

Was she part of the popular committees offering services in recent days? No, it is just that she felt that it was the more urgent thing to do right then.

Radwa spoke of how there will be much work of “rehabilitation” to be done post-revolution – this was late January, and she was already thinking ahead, apparently never doubting victory – work of increasing people’s awareness of their civic rights, since “we are only as strong as the weakest link in our society.”

The following day, also in Shohada Square, I met Mostafa, an English literature undergraduate whose placard, in English, read, “Democratic, Liberal, Secular State.” By late afternoon that day, Mostafa looked totally knackered: he had spent the night on the square, he explained, and had stayed up watching over a woman demonstrator as she slept because a man – a government infiltrator, he was sure – was trying to harass her. The Egyptian value of shahama (chivalry; gallantry) was one of the central ethics among the youth of the revolution, as I myself experienced over a week later when, in Tahrir on Thursday, 10 February, we were all waiting with bated breath for Mubarak’s speech in which he was expected to abdicate but did not. As restlessness grew and with little space in which to stand, a young man behind me asked if he could watch over me, kept his hand on my shoulder, and somehow managed to carve out space for me until I had reached a distant pavement; it was not before he had asked whether there was anything else he could do for me that he walked away.

The “Friday of Departure,” as 4 February was designated, coming two days after the “Battle of the Camel” in Tahrir Square, drew massive participation. Anxieties in Alexandria about the regime’s last-ditch measures were reflected in Saad Zaghloul Square where a man with a marker pen was calling to everyone to have their flags inscribed with anti-regime slogans as the official media was representing our demonstrations as pro-Mubarak ones. Mostafa and I were joined by Dalia, an Arabic literature graduate who described herself as an eternal student, having gone on, among other things, to study Hausa, and Hagar, a specialist in Ottoman archives whose every word bespoke a staunchly secularist stance. At one point, a veiled woman turned to me amid the chanting and enumerated, blow by blow, all the reasons why Mubarak had to go – “… unemployment is because of him; deviance among young men is because of him; spinsterhood is because of him…”

As we passed through Mazarita, an elderly man in house clothes stepped out on his balcony and threw his arms wide open as if to embrace the entire demonstration. Turning a street corner headed towards Soter tram station, our eyes were drawn to the rooftop of a tall building where a man had let the pigeons he breeds out of their coop and stood waving two huge flags while the pigeons circled the sky.

As it happened, two placards seen at that demonstration harked back to the very beginning of the 1952 “Revolution,” suggesting, indeed, a revision of that term.

In the square just outside Sidi Gaber railway station where the demonstration wound up, a young man had propped up against an army tank a framed front page of the long-defunct newspaper Al-Masri’s issue announcing the abdication of King Farouk. The event of that abdication was invoked in a placard seen earlier that read, in Arabic, “Farouk said no to spilling the blood of Egyptians / While the traitor brought Egypt nothing but afflictions.”
In the immediate, of course, these were gestures of rubbing Mubarak’s nose into his undignified refusal to abdicate as opposed to the dignity of Egypt’s last king. More broadly, they were gestures of conjoining of “the end” with the “beginning,” a folding over of the sixty-year legacy of the officers’ rule.

The most salient appeal to pre-1952 iconography, however, was in the arching back to the 1919 Revolution. The crescent and the cross with which that abdication placard was sealed, hallmark iconography of 1919, summoned in the small hours of 1 January this year right after the bombing of the Two Saints’ Church in Alexandria, were to become ubiquitous in the revolution that broke out on the 25th of the month.

The translations into action of that emblem of national unity – again, begun weeks before when Muslims went to churches on the 6th of January for Coptic Christmas eve mass to serve as human shields and express solidarity – were spectacular after 25 January. The Muslim-Christian simultaneous prayers for the martyrs; the Christians forming a cordon with their bodies around Muslims at prayer and vice versa – to these I add a spontaneous scene witnessed in Tahrir within an hour after Mubarak’s ouster: a Coptic priest whom several young men rushed to hug. A bearded young man embraced him, saying, “Since the revolution started, there was not a single attack on a church.” The priest replied, “Intou shaab masr” (“You are the [true] people of Egypt”).

For some years now, I have been writing about syncretism in Egypt as a religiously-inflected form of cosmopolitanism in response to increasingly conservative constructions of the nation.

In novels by Edwar al-Kharrat and Bahaa Taher, to take but two examples, I detected an appeal to inter-faith relations that parts company with traditional Western versions of cosmopolitanism understood as a secular worldliness. Instead, these two novelists acknowledge the imperative of upholding pluralism in a conservative context by reinscribing it in the religious terms of tolerance.

These terms – the inter-faith exchange of culinary gifts on religious feast days; the syncretic intertwining of rituals from different religions – are drawn directly from an actually existing folk culture, not least as associated with the moulids (festivals for saints and religious figures).

But it had always seemed to me that a gap existed between the literary representations – which, after all, remain elite in their reach, unless a novel is turned into a television series – and the ancient, much-frayed reservoir of syncretic folk practices that are not primarily enacted with the national crisis in mind. The magnificence of the 25 January Revolution is precisely there, in that it was a non-elite assumption of agency in the articulation of inter-faith solidarity that firmly counters a sectarianism wrought by complicities yet to be fully unpacked in order to lay claim to egalitarianism and citizenship, so severely compromised in the past few decades.

I heartily agree with Ezzat El-Kamhawy who, in a previous column in this series, designated this “the Egyptian revolution of laughter.” A recent New York Times article (by Sharon Otterman and J. David Goodman; 25 February, 2011) described the feel of Tahrir in the days after the ouster as that of a “carnival”; this has its appeal, but I would see it more as a politicized moulid. The extended inter-faith sharing of time, of food, of space for prayer rituals, hallmarks of the traditional moulid, were all present here with the salient difference that the goal was of fulfilling aspirations of democracy and national unity in images now etched both locally and globally.

How these aspirations articulated with such acumen will be codified in future revisions of the constitution, particularly in the hoped-for annulment of article two which states that the sharia is the source of legislation, remains to be seen.
Amid the scene of unprecedented joy and national pride in Tahrir on 12 February, the day after Mubarak’s ouster, one man stood in solemn silence, holding up the picture of his martyred son. Did he ever see justice for the martyrdom of his son done? Word has it that there are lawsuits and investigations, and also threats to those who have pressed charges. Further down the square, one of the demonstrators, gloved and wielding a broom as part of the wide-scale movement of purging the country, literally and metaphorically, was listening patiently to a woman who was saying that she has been watching all these events from home and was afraid for her son, a little boy she had with her. All we ask for, the young man answered, is that our families give us moral support; in years to come, what we did will become clearer. Every person who was martyred, he continued, had died “so that your son does not walk by the wall” – cringingly hewing to safety, that is – “but walks in the middle of the street.”
Hala Halim, a writer and literary translator, is an assistant professor of Comparative Literature and Middle Eastern Studies at New York University.