Are you bored? Is the latest gadget not anymore attractive? Has your girlfriend just left you for your best friend? Are you addicted to the Internet so much that you are now unemployable? Well, do not worry, you can become a member of Vigil, a cyber-crusader group which hunts web-terrorists! Fun is guaranteed and you may even become one of the greatly esteemed ‘Knights of the Beeb‘. Yes, we are speaking of grown-up children playing something like cyberspace “Cops and Robbers”. But let me start from the beginning. Continue reading
Islam, Islam, Islam and again Islam. Do you want to make money? Do you want to attract attention? Do you want to start your political career? Do you want to candidate yourself as the future Archbishop of Canterbury? Here’s the solution: Say something controversial about Islam and Muslims. Yet, remember, you are up against incredible competition: Satanic Verses, Danish Cartoons, apologetic Popes and the Bush and Blair supporters.
To attentive readers (from this part of the so-miscalled West) of news about culture and religion in the Middle East, it is becoming clear that something is going on. First a British General, not so explicitly but more than implicitly, admits the total failure of the war in Iraq, while explicitly concluding that Britain needs to withdraw its forces from Iraq as soon as possible. Then Mr Blair (on his last political legs) seems to agree with the military chief, indirectly admitting his incompetence as Bush-led Prime Minister. At the same time, an unprecedented campaign against the Islamic hijab and niqab is spreading throughout Europe as well as in some secularised (and not-so democratic) countries such as Tunisia.
First of all, we have to observe that during this last month there has been a lack of news about acts of terrorism (of course, terror that kills Iraqi, Afghani or Muslims is not counted), plots, and Muhammad cartoons. How can we enjoy our daily preferred newspapers with one hand juggling the breakfast coffee mug, the other tying the mismatched tie, one foot in a shoe, and the other jihading with the rebellious tongue of the odd shoe, without a succulent populist comment about the evil Muslims? Come on! Like my ancestors, the Romans, we want tragedy, blood, despair, heroes, suspense, and the victory of good over evil in the coloseum of the mass media. Of course, Muslims can only play the Caligula of this saga. In these days, male Muslims seem not to have scared even one flight passenger (and consequently being arrested under one of the other Terrorist Acts), with their most powerful bugbear: the extremist beard. Normally having no beard, Muslim women have been thrown to the lions of the coloseum by old-white-men like Jack Straw in the hope that fighting for their rights (and possibly for their livelihood and dignity and security) Muslim women may reveal a little flesh. Continue reading
Today the Blackburn MP Jack Straw, ex-foreign secretary of the United Kingdom, has stated that the veil is a “visible statement of separation and of difference” and he is asking Muslim women visiting his surgery ‘”to consider removing it.’” He then argued, writing an article in the Lancashire Evening, that “wearing the full veil was bound to make better, positive relations between the two communities more difficult”.
Mr Straw’s manly comments certainly do not help in resolving the continuous crescendo of tensions within the Muslim community, in particular those growing up in a society that overwhelmingly sees them as “other”. Ironically, MP Jack Straw’s comments may inspire more Muslim girls to adopt the full niqab, and obscure their lips and eyes to the naive voyeuristic view of the Blackburn MP more than before.
But, is Mr Straw really concerned that the dress style of some of his female constituency members can have ‘implications for community relations?’ The ‘veil’ as any other religious symbol and dressing style can mark a difference and at the same time emphasize group identification. Indeed, other religious groups, such as the Orthodox Hassidic Jews, have their peculiar dressing style which today we can still appreciate while walking in London and so have, for instance, the Hari Krishna. Continue reading
Ms Oriana Fallaci, Mr Bin-Laden and the late Mr Zarqawi have something in common. No, it is not their scary faces and the fact that all are candidates for the grave, with Zarqawi recently downed by American missiles and the journalist Fallaci battling cancer. Rather it is their love for interviews, fatwas and explosive (read the New Yorker article ‘The Agitator’). As an academic, I would have not spent time writing this piece except for one reason: like Ms Fallaci, I am a Florentine myself. Florentines are famous for being adept sarcastic polemicists as well as viscerally politically incorrect. Ms Fallaci certainly is both. Tonight, I feel very Florentine. Continue reading
Let me start with a quotation which summarises my position on freedom of speech: “If liberty means anything at all, it means the right to tell people what they do not want to hear.” Who else could have said this than George Orwell? There is a corollary to this rule: either you believe in freedom of speech, or you do not believe in it. Yes, it is like having faith in God and maybe that is what makes the current issue over Danish cartoons so volatile. There is no comfortable in-between. A restrained freedom of speech is just what it looks like: a concession. In this case we can only speak of a tolerance toward the freedom of speech we like.
There are different degrees of toleration and the factors which influence it are varied. They range from a dogmatic appeal to impose a certain interpretation of the Shari’a, the necessity of maintaining a harmonious society, simply to avoid overt conflict, to control the way people think, for the primary benefit of newspaper editors, or to stop your mother-in-law from complaining. In any case, when freedom of speech is limited or unidirectional it is no longer freedom of speech. But today people are affected by something worse than limitation on freedom of speech. I call this the SRFS syndrome. It appears that caricature-fighting Muslim protesters, freedom-fighting cartoonists, freedom-fighting reporters, freedom-fighting editors of newspapers, and freedom-fighting politicians are all affected by it. Continue reading
Although I was aware of the tensions between English and Scottish people and the strong nationalist movement existing in Scotland, I quickly learned that some of my Scottish friends and students were taking the matter very seriously. But, I did not expect that the the majority of my Scottish Muslim friends and informants were even more radical in their nationalist leanings than the MacDonalds, McKenzies, McSomethings and McFulans. Although the SNP (Scottish National Party) has left-wing political views, some of the Scottish nationalist supporters have restrictive views about immigration, particularly when the migrants happen to be Muslims. The argument pro-or-against migration, well represented in this forum, sounds more or less like this: we might accept immigrants if they have the IQ of Hopkins, Berlusconi’s money and are ready to become more Scottish than the Haggis. Continue reading