Reformist Muslim

Exploring possibilities for the future of Islam and other thoughts

Location: London, United Kingdom

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Cappucinos and Coconuts

We've all heard the term coconut before and to be honest I've always thought it to be rather crude. So when I found the word 'cappucino' in the New Statesman special report on India I was quite intrigued. Apparently in India, a cappucino is someone who is 'white and frothy' on the outside but with deeply conservative and traditional sub-continental 'values' on the inside.

One situation which exemplifies this is that of desi men who have long term relationships with white women and then leave them (or sometimes continue to see them on the side), to get an arranged marriage. Of course this phenomenon isn't limited to desi's. The archetypal rich Arab who 'enjoys' himself in the west while placing severe constraints on his wife and daughters at home is a good example. Neither is it a new phenomenon - the father in Naguib Mahfouz's classic Palace Walk is the ultimate fun-lover with his friends and tyrant at home.

Why is this important? Because all too often traditionalists attack liberals when in fact they are attacking cappucino's just like liberals often attack traditionalists when in fact they are attacking 'maulvis'. All of this muddies the discourse and doesn't allow for clear analysis and debate reagarding the many social questions people face when they encounter different cultures, either through immigration or globalisation. I would be very interested in who people think are some famous cappucino's. At the risk of being scorned, may I suggest Imran Khan.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Pickled Politics

I will be guest-blogging on Pickled Politics for the next month (my first post will be up shortly). However I will continue to post those pieces and comments which aren't appropriate for that site on this blog.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Apparently a delegation of Danish Muslims to the Middle East added this photograph to a dossier of the Danish cartoons (for more click here). This dishonest attempt to incite violence deserves to be condemned and I think an apology is in order. Meanwhile Iran's biggest selling newspaper has created this despicable cartoon contest (via Secular-Right India).

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Voting Open For Brass Crescent Awards

Voting is now open for the 2nd Annual Brass Crescent Awards presented by City of Brass and Altmuslim. Even if you don't vote, its worth scrolling through the nominees and exploring some of the blogs you may not have come across before.

Monday, February 06, 2006

More On The Cartoon Controversy

Three more comments on this mess. Firstly, I think this little publicised incident supports my earlier contention that it was right to criticise (albeit not threaten) newspapers who published the cartoons gratuitously. Muslim Week

An anti-Semitic cartoon in a Muslim paper, which depicts Israel's acting Prime Minister, Ehud Olmert, as a hook-nosed figure wearing a giant Star of David, last night drew protests from MPs and Jewish groups. (for more click here)

Muslim Weekly deserves to be condemned. Especially at a time when relations between Britain's Muslim and Jewish communities are sensitive, publishing an anti-Semitic cartoon is morally repugnant and will only contribute to anti-Jewish feeling. I feel that the Danish newspaper's actions falls into a similar category.

Secondly, I was listening to Radio 5 Live yesterday and the editor of Der Spiegel which published the cartoons in Germany, said that he regarded the cartoon of the Prophet with a bomb in his turban as a political statement about Islam. This to me is telling of the anti-Muslim sentiment of those responsible for the cartoons.

Thirdly, Sunny at pickled politics points out that for once the Muslim Council of Britain had something sensible to say in condemning the hateful protesters in the London. This to me is indicative of the fact that those holding up the wretched placards were thugs who constitute a fringe element of Muslim society.

Finally also on pickled politics, Hari Kunzru has a superb piece dealing with all the issues presented by the controversy including his own experiences of 'middle-class racism' in Denmark.

Blasphemy Laws

I have another post on Der Spiegel and the cartoon crisis coming up, but before that I would like to deal with the suggestion that there is a need for countries which don't have Blasphemy laws to implement them.

In Pakistan, Blasphemy laws were introduced by General Zia-ul-Haq, a military dictator who lacking popular support tried to use religion legitimise his rule (famously, the question in his sham referendum was, Yes if you are for Islam and No if you aren't).

Not surprisingly, Section 295-C of the Pakistan Penal Code has largely been used as a weapon by religious extremists to harass and intimidate their opponents. Often the use of the law is not even political - but used by scheming people to attack Christians with whom they had a personal dispute.

I sense that the Blasphemy law is something which isn't important to the majority of Pakistani's. However the threat from fanatics and the lack of any clear political gain has led to successive governments staying well away from it.

When Nawaz Sharif was Prime Minister, he disregarded threats of unrest and changed the weekly holiday from Friday to Sunday without any catastrophic consequences. Given the current global environment, it would be a bold and positive move for General Musharraf to stand up to the embassy burning elements and repeal the Blasphemy laws. I suspect the negative fallout would be minimal and the General's credibility would be enhanced. Unfortunately, I don't see it happening anytime soon.

For more on the issue, here are two excellent pieces from Prof. Akbar S. Ahmed and renowned Pakistani columnist Ardeshir Cowasjee.

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Update On Baluchistan

The situation in Baluchistan continues to get worse. The BBC reports that tribesmen have succeeded in blowing up a gas pipeline. It would be interesting to know if the American government has raised the matter with President Musharraf.

Update: The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace has published this illuminating paper. A must read for all Pakistani's skeptical of Baluchi grievances.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Film Review - Khamosh Pani (Silent Waters)

When I started this blog, I didn't think that I would be writing a review of a Pakistani film. Although Pakistani drama serials have traditionally been highly thought of, its film industry or 'Lollywood' has catered to cruder tastes. Going to the cinema isn't considered to be a respectable pastime and a couple of years ago, the police even raided a Karachi cinema on the grounds that it was a den of prostitution!

Khamosh Pani isn't a typical Pakistani film though. Originally intended to be a documentary, the movie contains incisive social commentary to go along with superb acting and a thought-provoking plot.

Set in a small village in Punjab during the early period of General Zia's military rule in Pakistan, the film revolves around Saleem, an initially aimless, carefree 17 year old and his relationships with his mother and girlfriend, while exploring themes of religious extremism and communalism.

The New York Times reviewer didn't think much of the film until the 'fundamentalist wind blew in'. I think this misses the point - the first half hour which is very amusing shows the everyday concerns of ordinary people, thereby putting the rise of fundamentalism and its corrosive effects into perspective.

Particularly interesting is the fact that the director Sabiha Sumar (for interviews click here), decided to have the first screening of the movie in the village where it was filmed. Given the sensitive nature of some of the issues, she may have been justified in thinking that it wasn't worth the risk. However not surprisingly, the villagers enjoyed the film, it went through without a hitch and a traveling cinema was created to take the film to other parts of Pakistan as well.

With the KaraFilm Festival becoming a permanent fixture, films such as this one being made and the independent television media becoming more robust, there are positive signs emerging from Pakistan. Khamosh Pani although optimistic in places, provides a cautionary tale of how progress can be halted if religious fundamentalism is manipulated by those in power. I think it deserves a large audience both in Pakistan and abroad.

Cross-posted on Desicritics.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

The New Great Satan - Denmark???

For an excellent roundup of Muslim opinion on the cartoon controversy, you can visit Thabet's blog here.

As to what I think, firstly I would suggest that simply causing offense should not be sufficient for a big fuss to be made about anything. Otherwise, Sikh protests forcing the play Behzti to stop playing would probably have been justified, as would Christian protesters complaining about Jerry Springer the Opera being broadcast on the BBC.

As Svend White points out though, the context of these cartoons is the very real increase of xenophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment in Denmark, and increased anti-semitism and Islamophobia in significant segments of Western Europe. The cartoons themselves are just a symptom of this and Steve makes a good point at avari/nameh, that an appropriate response by the Danish Prime Minister would have been to acknowledge the increased Islamophobia in his country, which has made such incendiary cartoons being published without widespread condemnation possible.

Unfortunately it seems to me that the unfortunately inevitable threats of violence has made this into a false, 'our free speech v. dangerous fundamentalists' debate (I'm not sure many people are actually proposing government censorship). Andrew Sullivan see's it this way and puts it in the same catalogue of events as the Rushdie fatwa and 9/11. This is an unfortunate exaggeration, (although the Rushdie case should serve as a reminder for the need to be careful when choosing objects of scorn) but the major problem with this is that seems to make apologising for the original cartoons into an appeasement of the threat of violence which doesn't do anyone any good.

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