Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Western Labels

I have a problem with labelling and when it comes adhering to the 'western system'. That is one of the things I cannot appreciate the Greeks for, that and democracy. Western civilisation has been heavily influence by Greek philosophy, science, politics, language, everything. Greek science was the first of science to use rigorous labelling techniques in creating systematic formuales to analyse things of science, including social and political. At a meeting today in discussing the Maqasid Al-Shariah (the Objective of Islamic Law) this debate of adopting the 'western system' created a lot of discussion. The argument was it was not a natural progression for Islam or Muslims to adhere to the western systems like, the Human Rights Charter, Rule of War and things of those nature which, dominates our social and political sphere in current times, but rather there should be an alternative system that is borne out of Islam.

However, living in western society can we be sure to have a completely authentic Muslim advancement in Al-Shariah? I think not. We have already been constructed to think and act the way our society intends us to. We may not recognise the "western values" we perpetrate but they are deep within us. Not necessarily all bad but you cannot argue against a 'western framework' in my opinion.

On the other hand, I do protest against in forcing something that is not the natural progression of our society and religion (ummah and Islam). There is no question that the ummah needs greater advancement in all spheres but we need time. Muhammad (pbuh) did not change Arabia over night, it was a long process of education and time to complete the message of Allah to the people of Arabia; it took 27 years and even then not everyone came to Islam. The expansion of Islam took time; people's understanding of the religion needed to mature. This process however, was obstructed by the advent of western empires, who unlike their predecessors did not assimilate into the societies that they were ruling. When these nations got independence they were left confused, their identities wiped and miscontrued, they were left with nothing but what their colonials had preached and that had been their mode of advancement. Secularism, democracry, rule of law, borders, nations etc. was suddenly seen as an integral part of running a society. And with that they ran and failed...

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Muslims in the Media

Earlier this week, Channel 4 in partnership with Muslim News, held a panel debate on the Muslim perception in the media. This was a follow-on from the Dispatches docu - 'It shouldn't happen to a Muslim' presented by Peter Oborne highlighting the prejudices that Muslims and Islam face in the media today.

The debate was carried out by Ziauddin Sardar (Journalist), Adam Kemp (Arts and Culture, BBC), Mehdi HAssan (News and Current Affairs, Channel 4), Yvonne Riddly (Press TV), Inayat Bungawala (MCB) and Chaired by Akhil Ahmed (Commissioning Editor for Religion, Channel 4).

The debate all in all was very shallow; nothing thought provoking. It was agreed that Muslims were facing discrimination from the Media, we lack Muslims in the Arts sector, we need more Muslims in the Arts sector, it would be good for Muslims to be out of the news and so on.

Yvonne as always, was biased. Why she was on the panel I do not know. She reminds me of Yasmin Alibhai Brown who also has nothing decent to say. Seeing her at Islam Expo on Friday just reconfirmed how bad a journalist she is, making sweeping generalised statements, making inadequate arguments that did not hold the depth of the other panellists, such as Tariq Ramadan and Karen Chouhan. With Yvonne and Yasmin everything is taken on the religious and ethnic lines and they cannot go beyond playing the Muslim victim. This is where Tariq fits in so well with his push for Muslims to recognise themselves as citizens of the countries they live in and not distinguish themselves as just Muslims facing Islamophobia but rather citizens facing racism perpetrated by their government and media. This also ties in with the Panel's view that Muslims need to be more active in the matters of what the media do. If you find it offensive write in, if you like it, write in. That is the message Akhil was driving forward. Akhil no doubt is one of the very prominent Muslim media representatives we have along with Hassan Mehdi and they know how the media works and I suppose if they suggest something we should take it on board.

Click on image to access the report

Channel 4 are current hosting a series of mini documentaries starting Monday titled The Seven Wonders of the Muslim World, the first one being aired tomorrow after the news. Then follows a two hour documentary on The Qur’an. One of the questions presented to the panellist was ‘why not do an in-depth documentary on the life of the Prophet?’ It was disappointing to hear that such a documentary could never go ahead because of the restrictions the TV company faced in accessing the historical sites needed to carry out the research. Akhil made an attempt but ended up losing a seizable amount of money in doing so.

One of the questions posed by Akhil was what do Muslims want to watch on telly? My mind went blank at that point. I could not think of anything that I wanted to watch. Not that I am satisfied with what we have currently, I would like to see the likes of Big Brother and Eastenders off our screens but all in all I didn't really care except that I would like less of 'Muslim things' and more fairer news and docus with regards to all things.

What would you like to see on telly?

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

The Palace of the Nawab of Moorshedabad

This makes an interesting read and says a lot about the attitudes of the Colonialists and their motives in India. Written in 1858 it describes the Palace of the Nawab of Moorshedabad as the title suggests. Interesting points to note: didn't realise that having a dome on a building actually made it cooler; India was indebted to the Company somehow; Indians could not be brought to be civilised; they liked the architecture but not the people; their goodly deeds is not appreciated by the 'Hindoos' - in fact, I think this is a reference to the Mutiny of 1857-1858 which was more of an Indian affair and not restricted to the Hindoos as the writer puts it. I have copied the extract as it is in the journal with the original spelling. It's taken from The Illustrated London News - see what you make of it.

Click for a larger image
Page 4.

Jan. 2, 1858. Page 3.

IN one particular Oriental architecture is greatly superior to European – that of having a picturesque sky lines. In fact, the most picturesque of all the public places of Europe, St. Mark’s of Venice, owes its distinction to the church having a roof on the Oriental principle. In the edifice presented on this occasion to our readers the charecteristice of this style of building are shown in a most agreeable manner, the outline being symmetrical without the smallest monotony; the whole forming a palace of which the most prominent part is the mosque. Nor are those domes merely for ornament: they are the best inventions for the exclusion of heat. Long experience has shown that when an edifice has its roof composed of an agglomeration of vaulted domes the radiation of heat is effectually broken. The coolest place in a Moslem town is invariably the mosque, and in India we find many of the places and pavilions on this principle. Nor can we omit drawing attention to the superb towers at the angles. Originally meant for defence, they show by the elegance of their architecture that they have been drawn in by the designer to contribute – all were for real use and resistance to climate or enemies before the luxuriant fancy of the artists appropriated them to the domain of the beautiful.

The juxtaposition of architectural splendour and the charms of external nature with the misery and meanness of popular life is quite characteristic of the East. With all this show of superb architecture we see the domes blistered or peeled off, and bungalows of the meanest construction thrust close to the very walls. But yet this shows us the every day life in an Indian market place. Under the shade of the lofty sycamore we find the female fruiterer chaffering with a purchaser, and the primitive buffalo-cart unloaded and its animals reposing. The water-carrier is seen swinging his load, like our milk-carriers, on the shoulder; and in the front centre we have the distended goatskin of refreshing liquor poured into the mouth the thirsty passenger. The hookah, or, as we call it, hubble-bubble, solaces the sedentary with fumes less exciting and more agreeable than those of tobacco; and the stipendiary trooper is seen strutting about with is antiquated defensive weapons, a soldier in appearance and name rather than in reality, but an appendage to those decayed Courts which pride still retains – thanks to the liberal pension fund of the Company.

The moral suggested by our Engraving is that the residence of the native Princes a decayed barbaric magnificence is accompanied by the primitive rudeness of the indigenous populations, with very little tincture of the civilisation of Europe. That a great change is approaching few can doubt. Henceforth the measures of the Government must be more trenchant. Without the commission of injustice, British supremacy must assert itself with decision; and, although we are not sanguine enough to say that India can be Christianised, it undoubtedly may and must be more Europeanised, and politically more centralised. Railways covering the great plains of Bengal and the Punjaub, and threading the ghauts of Southern India, will enable this large empire to be kept better “in hand;” and a large emigration to the healthy mountain districts is clearly practicable after what we know of Ceylon, and the large and prosperous British community in the upper country of this island, which is now one vast sanitarium. With the hill countries partially settled with British, our tenure of the low country would be all the more secure. Some populations never permanently tame down in submission; but we have seen that a misplaced philanthropy makes the Hindoo rise. We have had a great lesson, and, as the smoke of crashing empire dies away, foundations of solidity are still discernable. The result we look on as the beginning of the extinction of the more barbaric magnificence of Old India. Let the barbarism go, but let the picturesque architecture remain, nay, be extended and revived, by the future Pugins of the Eastern Hemisphere.

On the same page there's news of Austria, Earthquake in Naples, Switzerland, Russia, US, Persia, China, Australasia, Mexico and others.

The Persia section reads:

The following telegram has been received: "The Shah of Persia has invited the various Ambassadors to be present at the coronation of his son. The English Minister, it is said, has refused to attend, making a reservation in favour of the rights of another heir to the throne, now a refugee at Bagdad."

Not sure of the story behind this* but reading old stuff is quite fun and quite fascinating, no?

*[British Policy in Persia, 1858-1890, A. P. Thornton The English Historical Review, Vol. 70, No. 274 (Jan., 1955), pp. 55-71 - could be a clue?]