Tag Archives: islam

Bin Laden is dead, but why rejoice?

The US military has killed the leader of al-Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden in Pakistan. Despite the fact that I am not a hand-wringing liberal staging the occasional ‘bed-in for peace’, I am quite shocked and disgusted by the popular reaction in the US – or at least the popular reaction being shown by the media.

Yes, he was a callous, heartless leader who created a network of terror and sheltered behind Islam as a supposed means of justification for his acts. He was responsible for the death of thousands, so he is hardly a person to be missed, but to throw parties on the street because of his death seems like irrational exuberance.

There is of course the sense of revenge. The American public feeling relief that they finally “got” the perpetrator of the 9/11 attacks on the USA a decade ago.

But the numerous deaths, both military and civilians, on both sides of this war don’t deserve this reaction – running into the street and cracking open a Budweiser “because we won the war…”

Ask any of those people, what have you won today? Tough to answer isn’t it?

Unfortunately for those drinking in the street, al-Qaeda is not a traditional enemy in the form of a nation state, organised with a single leader and obeying the strategy and ruling of a government. This is not World War II all over again.

This is a war of ideology. And the death of Bin Laden does not mean that the “war” is over at all, in fact it may even serve to generate more intense hatred of the American values that led us to this place.

It’s too simple to argue that this is about the Muslim v Christian world, or the consumerist society of the west v a more traditional emerging society, or an oil-dependent America v oil-producing states. All these are factors, but at the end of the day when the actions of a nation state (or small group of allies) produce a situation where a group of nations are at war with an ideology, it is a dire place to be – almost an Orwellian cliché.

President Bush created the rhetoric of the “war on terror” and yet how can it ever be won? Should Islam be banned and dismantled because the terrorists all appear to be Muslim? Should nations harbouring terrorists be considered to be at war with the allies? Should every critic of American society be ‘taken out’ because they don’t have the same values in their society as in the US – and their small group of supporting nations?

All these descriptions of Muslim terrorists could equally apply to white supremacists – who happen to be already in the US, and are US citizens, and can arm themselves quite legally utilising the second amendment to the constitution. The war on terror and the demonisation of Islam are quite convenient ways to make this ideological battle simple enough for the evening news bulletin.

I don’t feel sympathy for Bin Laden. He was a killer. But I wish the leaders of the democratic states that profess their desire to fight a “war on terror” could find a better way to do it than through bombing places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Bin Laden turned up in the capital of Pakistan – allegedly a friend in the war on terror – so where does this leave the bombing campaigns of the past decade?

How about spending a few billion on encouraging enforced student exchange programmes? Every US graduate should spend a year at a university far from home, preferably somewhere they can learn about how a different society works just from being engaged with the people. And this would work best if it was reciprocated, so the US welcomed, and funded, foreign students at their own universities.

It may take a decade or more to see some more enlightened attitudes, but then we have just had a decade of bombing the Middle East and what has been the result? Only greater instability and a wider fear of terrorism.

The liberals echo John Lennon by chanting ‘Give peace a chance’ and are mocked by the hawks who feel that the western ideals of democracy and personal freedom need to be spread – almost as a crusade. But regardless of whether hawks or doves are right, the present approach has only created a situation far worse than it was ten or twenty years ago.

We are now two decades on from the Cold war, but attitudes don’t seem to have thawed. Isn’t it time for some radical thinking on foreign policy – particularly from the USA? Or will we just keep on engaging in decades more of ‘regime-change’?
Central Mosque, Abuja

Morocco. Never again…

It was my birthday at the end of September and to celebrate, I went with my gf to Marrakech in Morocco for a few days away from London.

I’ve been to north Africa before – Tunisia and Egypt – but never Morocco, so I was looking forward to the experience, but at the end of the trip I was really looking forward to coming home. I’ve been all over the world, and I’m sensitive to other cultures – in fact, I really enjoy exploring other cultures even when I am on a business trip that could be just airport-taxi-hotel-taxi-airport. I’ll always get out, jump in a rickshaw, and try to take a look around and meet people.

And so it was the same in Morocco. We chose to stay in Riads inside the old city, rather than the modern hotels out of town in the new city. We wanted to really be within walking distance of the city centre and the souk. But trying to get closer to Moroccan culture seems to have been a big mistake. I could write a long detailed list of what made me dissatisfied with my visit to Morocco, but it would be boring to read and might end up reading like the expectations of a European visiting Africa, so here’s a few bullets to give you a flavour:

. When I get lost in an unusual city and I don’t have a map, or my map is not helpful, then I’ll ask someone the way to a landmark I know. This doesn’t work in Marrakech because the people expect money for their help, just because I happen to be a foreigner visiting their city – it’s normal for a taxi driver to overcharge I know, but just asking the way? Then, on several occasions when I refused to pay for help, I was followed… I’ve helped countless visitors find their way around London, even using my phone GPS to show stranded tourists the way to where they want to visit. I have never visited anywhere on any continent where the locals are so unwelcoming to foreigners.

. Mindful of local culture, my gf covered up. Even though it was hot and in the 30s, she even wore a scarf to keep her skin under wraps. Clearly it was not good enough as foreign women are easy targets for leering men to call out to – even when walking down the street with a male partner and covered. We were walking around and every few minutes hearing a comment – often in English – such as “nice tits…” or “hey baby”… it was infuriating. Even when we challenged these people, they never acknowledged that there is anything offensive about what they were doing. The only way to stop going mad for the entire holiday was to start ignoring the comments and to let them just wash over us without comment – sad, but true. These people suffer some kind of severe sexual repression and feel the need to demonstrate their own personal misogynistic tendencies on visitors – how strange is that?

. I know Morocco is predominantly a Muslim country. I know that alcohol is forbidden in most places. But I also know that it’s sold in many bars and restaurants (especially in the new part of the city) because the local traders want to capture tourist spending. However, it is so expensive to have a beer, it feels as if the restaurant owners are penalising you for drinking alcohol. All of which does not make it a very fun place to be if you fancy a couple of drinks on your birthday.

I did stay in the desert near Marrakech one night in a place called La Pause. That was amazing. I absolutely recommend it, even for one night, but I could do without the hassle of the city again… Personally I’m going to stay about as far away as I can from Morocco in future. Not because I’m not interested in the culture of the region, but because the people were so offensive I really wouldn’t want to spend another penny there.

How on earth do they treat the tourists who don’t cover up and are not bothered about their culture?