Blaming the Jews for ISIS

A couple of months ago I blogged about the need to speak out against anti-Muslim cartoons that were being circulated on social media in the wake of the terror attacks in London earlier this year and said:

We as British Muslims also should be conscientious in discharging our responsibilities to our country. Bigotry in all its forms should be repudiated. Whether directed at us or directed at others by parts of our own community.

I had become very concerned that the terror attacks had emboldened racists into becoming more open about their bigotry against Muslims. Less than two weeks after I wrote those words there was a terror attack outside Finsbury Park Mosque which resulted in the death of a Muslim man.

So, after receiving the above rather nasty and evidently racist cartoon via social media earlier today I thought I had better follow my own advice and speak up.

The willingness amongst many Muslims to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories (ISIS are financed by the US/Israelis, 9/11 was an inside/MOSSAD job etc.) is reflective of a mindset that has not grasped that the cause of the success of the West and the long decline of the Muslim world lies in the former having given primacy to the role of reason over religion. In short, the embrace of the Enlightenment and the values it entailed propelled the West to develop a culture that continually seeks progress and scientific advancement unshackled by ancient religious books.

ISIS are manifestly not an Israeli or US-funded group. It is truer to say that they are the Muslim version of the Nazis. They have supremacist beliefs that dehumanise those who do not subscribe to their world view. They represent a serious danger to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

It is entirely right to criticise specific unjust US or Israeli policies. It cannot ever be right to propagate racist myths about them.

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The Catholic Church’s Persecution of Galileo and the Modern Muslim Inquisition

One of my most treasured books is Jacob Bronowski’s The Ascent of Man – based on his magnificent and authoritative BBC series from 1973. The book is about the development of humankind and particularly our scientific culture. I do my best to try and re-read the book and re-watch the series on DVD each year. Each time that I do, I come away utterly awed and inspired at Bronowski’s achievement.

A couple of weeks ago when I had a day off work I went down to Highgate cemetery in London to visit the grave of Jacob Bronowski – he died in 1974, just a year after the series aired on television: he had apparently been unwell during the making of the programmes. I arrived at the cemetery only to discover that it is split into two parts East and West. The Western part is open to visitors during the week, the Eastern part can only be visited with official guides at restricted times due to the precarious state of parts of the cemetery. And as you have probably guessed, Bronowski is buried in the Eastern part so I didn’t get to pay my respects at his grave that day.

Chapter six of The Ascent of Man (episode six in the TV series) is titled “The Starry Messenger” and is about the trial and tribulations of the Italian scientist Galileo Galilei who was persecuted by the Catholic Church for supporting the Copernican view that it is the earth which revolves around the sun and not vice versa as the Catholic Church insisted. The old view that the sun and the planets revolved around the Earth had first been promulgated by Ptolemy in the second century C.E. and had later been adopted by the Catholic Church as part of its doctrine.

The Catholic Church had some decades earlier – in response to the rise of Protestantism in Northern Europe – established the Inquisition to deal with heretics and uphold Catholic doctrine. Following the 1632 publication of Galileo’s Dialogue on the Great World Systems in which different speakers discussed the various merits of the Ptolemaic and Copernican world views, with Galileo making rather clear which side of the debate he was on, the Pope himself ordered Galileo to appear before the Inquisition. Galileo – who was by then almost seventy years old – was forced to recant his views, shown the instruments of torture, including the rack, and placed under house arrest for the rest of his life.

The result, says Bronowski, was silence amongst Catholic scientists everywhere from then on. The Church’s authoritarian ways had brought a halt to the development of science in the Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Galileo, who had helped to develop the telescope which had so enlarged our view of the heavens was now confined to his house and soon went totally blind. He wrote of himself:

Alas…Galileo, your devoted friend and servant, has been for a month totally and incurably blind; so that this heaven, this earth, this universe, which by my remarkable observations and clear demonstrations I have enlarged a hundred, nay, a thousand fold beyond the limits universally accepted by the learned men of all previous ages, are now shrivelled up for me into such a narrow compass as is filled by my own bodily sensations.

Galileo died in 1642 still a prisoner in his own house and the Scientific Revolution moved to northern Europe, Protestant Europe. On Christmas Day of the same year, in England, Isaac Newton was born.

I find the story of Galileo so full of resonance – particularly as a Muslim. I grew up on books about the ‘Golden Age of Islam’, about the heights that Muslim civilisation reached while Europe lapsed in the Dark Ages.

Regrettably, we Muslims have our own form of the Inquisition in the shape of religious figures who take it upon themselves to pronounce on matters of what is lawful and what is not. Their foolishness would not be such a problem if they did not seek to also coerce others into following their pronouncements.

When Muslim scientists were hounded into silence by religious figures in the name of orthodoxy, science did not stop, it just moved elsewhere as it did when Galileo was also silenced.

It was an ominous sign a couple of months ago when Turkey – one of very few Muslim countries to have made some notable progress in the sphere of freedom and human rights in recent decades – announced that it would stop the teaching of evolution in secondary schools.

Change is inherent in the human condition and we have to adapt to it.

 

Posted in Books, Islam, Science & Evolution | Tagged , , , | 3 Comments

Book Review: On Tyranny by Timothy Snyder

“History does not repeat, but it does instruct,” says Timothy Snyder, at the very beginning of his latest book “On Tyranny”.

Snyder, a Professor of History at Yale University, wrote a Facebook post back in November 2016 following the election of Donald Trump – a post that went viral. The FB post listed twenty short lessons to be learned from the twentieth century and in particular how “democracy yielded to fascism.”

That Facebook post has now been expanded into a small (128 pages) book in which there are plenty of references to how fascism took root step by step in a modern industrial Germany.

Taken together, the twenty lessons in this book are an urgent and passionate call for all of us to train ourselves to recognise, challenge and fight back against the signs of encroaching tyranny.

Until recently, Snyder points out, it was fashionable to believe in the “politics of inevitability”. The Cold War had ended with the Soviet Union imploding and the future was surely marching towards an era of ever more liberal democracies and fewer and fewer fascist or autocratic states. We were near “The End of History” as a certain best-selling book informed us. This may have instilled in many of us a somewhat relaxed attitude towards our freedoms.

Interestingly though, Snyder does not mention Trump by name in this book, though there is a reference to “our President” and this only serves to increase the book’s power. It encourages the reader to take the abstract lessons and apply them using his/her own critical faculties to the real world.

Autocratic rulers despise the dissemination of truth. Hence, the restrictions on free speech and the press and now the internet in many parts of the world. And in the USA, we have a President who routinely denounces what he describes as “Fake news” and encourages his supporters to treat the media with contempt and engaged in a gigantic conspiracy against his administration which is, of course, doing “just great.” “Post-truth”, says Snyder, is “Pre-fascism.”

“It is your ability to discern facts that makes you an individual…the individual who investigates is also the citizen who builds. The leader who dislikes the investigators is a potential tyrant…To abandon facts is to abandon freedom.” (p73)

Here in the UK, the PREVENT programme has engaged in some very secretive funding of Muslim groups to allegedly “rebut extremism”. When Freedom of Information requests have been sent to the Home Office to find out the details of this funding and to whom this taxpayers money was given, the Home Office has been very obstructive.

Many publications such as the Huffington Post and The Conversation have now taken the laudable step of asking their writers to disclose any financial ties or links they may have to the subjects they are writing about. In parliament, MPs are required to make a full disclosure of their financial interests. This is  “… to provide information on any financial or non-financial benefit received by a MP or Member of the Lords which might reasonably be thought by others to influence their actions, speeches or votes in Parliament.”

Yet, in the UK we have the bizarre and hugely corrupt phenomenon of individuals and groups which are funded by PREVENT being called upon to comment on the effectiveness of the PREVENT agenda without any disclosure being required about the financial interests they have in that programme. I think you can guess the names…

On Tyranny’s lessons will prove essential far beyond the borders of the United States because the temptation to hide truths and trample upon the rights of others is sadly a universal characteristic. On Tyranny deserves to be carried around with us, referred to regularly in light of current events and its lessons shared with our friends.

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“Turkey is debt free” says Hamza Yusuf. Really?

I was sent the above video today. It features the well known Muslim speaker Hamza Yusuf speaking at a meeting of the Islamic Society of North America back in 2013 where he made the following remarks:

“The reality of Turkey is that Turkey has only recently paid off completely their IMF debt. Turkey is one of the only debt free countries on this planet. And why isn’t that on the news?”

I have heard similar claims from a number of other people, but are they true? Well, this article from 2013, from the Turkish publication, Hurriyet, backs up part of the claim. It confirms that Turkey did indeed pay off its debt to the IMF in 2013. However, it also points out that the IMF debt was only a very small portion of Turkey’s external debt. As of 2013, Turkey’s total foreign debt stood at 340 billion dollars, 43% of its national income.

And that debt has only gotten worse since 2013. Turkey’s own Finance Ministry now puts Turkey’s external debt in 2017 at 49.1% of its national income.

The lesson? As the motto of the UK’s leading scientific academy, the Royal Society, says: “Nullius in verba” – Take No One’s Word For It. Even if that someone is as famous as Hamza Yusuf. Study for yourself.

Posted in Government, Islam | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Turkey Goes Backwards By Refusing To Teach Evolution To Schoolchildren

The news this week that the Islam-oriented Turkish government has decided to remove the teaching of evolution from the national curriculum is a sad reminder of the continuing poor state of the Muslim world and the multiple problems many Muslims are having trying to cope with modernity. Who can forget how the former Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, Shaykh Abd al-Aziz Bin Baz, argued that Copernicus was wrong and that the Sun did indeed revolve around the Earth? Bin Baz was blind of course, both literally as well as metaphorically.

The Turkish government has justified the removal of the teaching of evolution for 14-15 year olds and the decision to delay any teaching until the undergraduate years by saying that children are “too young to understand ‘controversial subjects'”. The decision is especially lamentable as it is clear that – as the scientist Theodosius Dobzhansky said back in 1973 “Nothing in Biology makes sense except in the light of evolution.”

Ever since the 1859 publication of Charles Darwin’s On The Origin of Species By Means of Natural Selection in which he persuasively laid out the case for the theory of evolution there have been attempts by religious authorities to oppose it by prohibiting it to be taught. Unfortunately for them, Darwin’s theory has withstood all attacks on it and has become more compelling with every passing decade. The evidence accumulated in its support is overwhelming and actually quite thrilling. I regularly advise anyone who argues with me on this issue to go and buy a good book on evolution by a reputable scientist (such as Finding Darwin’s God by Kenneth R. Miller) and then compare it with anything produced in opposition to evolution by anyone and – provided that they read with an open mind – they will immediately see that the difference is like between day and night.

Turkey is, of course, home to the Harun Yahya movement led by Adnan Oktar. His glossy books and videos – which are available for free download at his website – have for two decades now been pumping out anti-evolution propaganda. Some years back, I described how as a naïve young Muslim I too was taken in by his claims that the theory of evolution was a clever ploy by atheistic scientists to undermine belief in God. I had the opportunity to debate with Harun Yahya/Adnan Oktar and also on another occasion with a Christian creationist and it was eye opening for me to see how easily their arguments could be unravelled. However, the opposition to evolution is very widespread indeed in the Muslim world and is by no means confined to Turkey.

The scientist and prominent atheist Richard Dawkins visited the Madani Girls School in Leicester as part of a documentary he was making some years back and it resulted in a very interesting encounter with a Muslim science teacher who was unable to satisfactorily respond to one of the commonest objections to evolution when it was raised by a pupil.

Dawkins advised the school’s Principal to reconcile the Qur’an with evolution instead of making it a case of one is right and the other wrong.

It was good advice. For Madani Girls School and also for Turkey.

Posted in Islam, Science & Evolution | Tagged , , , , | 3 Comments

Finsbury Park Attack – It Was Only A Matter of Time

It was only a matter of time sadly. The attack just after midnight which saw a van being apparently deliberately ploughed into a group of worshippers outside a mosque in Finsbury Park comes after a  series of very worrying anti-Muslim incidents over the past couple of weeks.

Just last week I blogged about how a hoax bomb had been left outside a mosque in Paisley with the chilling warning “You’re next.” Other recent incidents have included a man appearing in an online video with a machete ranting about his desire to dismember Muslims and blow up Mosques. He was later arrested and charged by the police.

I have previously written about how the recent ISIS-inspired terrorist attacks appear to have emboldened some racists to be more open about their anti-Muslim bigotry both in words and deeds.

We have many communities in this country and we are all part of one country. If any community is believed to be in danger then it is the duty of the state to ensure that the police have all the necessary resources to counter that danger. That is why we have a police force instead of leaving each community to defend their own places of worship and institutions.

So, the best answer to this appalling attack on worshippers appears to be threefold:

  1. To ensure that the police have sufficient resources to protect us all
  2. Challenge all forms of bigotry whether it is anti-Muslim, anti-Jewish or anything else. We all have a role to play in this. Let’s not leave hateful and bigoted views to go unchallenged.
  3. For the government and media to ensure that they do not wittingly or unwittingly promote bigotry through their own actions.
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Let’s Face Down Bigotry…Including Our Own

The above “jokes” were sent to a number of people including me by a former (non-Muslim) work colleague. How would you respond to them? The person who sent them appears to see no harm in them and even defended them as being “educational”.

I ask because in the wake of the latest terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge, the Mayor of London’s office has reported a five-fold increase in the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes in the capital on June 6 2017 compared to a daily average for the rest of 2017.

Earlier this week a Liverpool man was arrested and charged after he appeared in an online video with a machete ranting about his desire to dismember Muslims and blow up Mosques.

In Paisley, last Sunday night, a man was caught on CCTV leaving a hoax bomb outside a mosque along with a chilling note that said “You’re next”.

And in Sutton, South London, an Islamic centre had graffiti sprayed on to it, last Sunday morning, with the words “Terrorise your own country”.

The terrorist attacks in Manchester and London Bridge appears to have emboldened some racists into being more open about their bigotry, both in words and deeds.

The police to their immense credit appear to have been exemplary in their response to both the terrorist attacks and the increase in hate crimes. They have urged all people who witness hate crimes to come forward and report them and have stated that they have a “zero tolerance” policy towards all such incidents. They appear to be doing their best to perform their duty with professionalism and even-handedness and have stepped up patrols to reassure worried communities.

We as British Muslims also should be conscientious in discharging our responsibilities to our country. Bigotry in all its forms should be repudiated. Whether directed at us or directed at others by parts of our own community.

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