Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Who morphed activist Shakeel Bhatt into "Islamic Rage Boy", an incarnation of the perennially angry Muslim?

Typing his nickname into a search engine yields more than 75,000 results. He has inspired a cartoon character and merchandise.
But the 30-year-old Kashmiri activist is puzzled, not angered, by his overseas fame[...]
he says: "I am not happy with people joking about me or making me into a cartoon, but I have more important things to think about. My protests are for those Muslims who cannot go out onto the streets to cry out against injustice. This is my duty and I believe Allah has decided this for me."
Neighbours describe Mr Bhat as well-mannered, sincere and dedicated. He walks to a protest if it is within six miles (10 km) of his home and hitchhikes or catches a bus if it is further. Sometimes he is the only protester.
Thousands of miles away in the US, the two bloggers who re-imagined Mr Bhat as a cartoon character have put Islamic Rage Boy on T-shirts, beer mugs, hoodies and Valentine cards in a variety of bloodthirsty and furious poses, and copyrighted it.
The bushy beard, scowl and crooked nose bear an uncanny resemblance to Mr Bhat, but his creators deny the image is Islamophobic or based directly on him.
Buckley F Williams, from the "conservative leaning" satirical news blog The Nose On Your Face, says: "We're anti-Muslim-extremism, the loudest voice of the Muslim world right now, which would lead one to believe it is the dominant voice of the Muslim faith.
"Believe me, we want to be proven wrong. It isn't as though we were sitting around at our monthly Ku Klux Klan meetings and drawing religions out of a hat to see who would become the object of our scorn and ridicule next."
He and his co-blogger Potfry, both assumed names, have seen a significant rise in traffic to their site since the launch of Islamic Rage Boy, from 1,000 to 5,000 hits a day. They first spotted Mr Bhat last September.
Mr Williams says: "We didn't go looking for him because he was always in the news. We made him Islamic Rage Boy shortly after that and it became a sub-culture."
It was, he adds, less about Shakeel and more a composite representation. "We've seen so many pictures of Muslims protesting and there's a faction that's perennially angry."
The intention of the cartoon is, he claims, to open up debate. "Muslim fanaticism is the problem, not Muslims. Islam is not coming across, to the average person, as a friendly or inviting religion. There must be many Muslims who don't like what's going on, but we're not hearing it."
A spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, Ibrahim Hooper, is unconvinced. Mr Hooper says: "I find the term Islamic Rage Boy offensive, as would anyone who applied the term to their own faith. It's an Islamophobic product by Muslim-bashers on internet hate sites."
He compares the cartoon to the anti-semitic imagery of 1930s Nazi Germany. "The cartoon is part of an overall growth of anti-Muslim rhetoric in this country. Someone is trying to link Islam with violence and anger and profiting from it."
He quotes a recent Newsweek poll, which paints a complicated portrait of US attitudes towards Muslims: 63% of Americans surveyed believe most Muslims do not condone violence and 40% believe the Koran does not condone violence, but 28% believe it does and 41% felt Muslim culture glorifies suicide.
Mr Hooper says: "While the majority is not hostile towards Muslims, there is a minority who are, and cartoons like this do not help. You cannot combat one form of extremism with another."
Mr Bhat, unaware of the row he has fuelled, vows to carry on protesting. Undeterred by being locked away or being laughed at, he says: "I do not like being called Islamic Rage Boy, it is not nice; but why should I care what people think of me in this life? The afterlife will decide my fate, not a mousemat."

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Sunday, July 22, 2007

Australian Muslims: Mice, not Men?

Austrolabe has (as usual) an excellent post on why "the treatment of Dr Haneef has been deeply troubling for many Australians, of all political stripes..." and the perplexing "near universal silence of the plethora of Muslim organisations and their self-appointed leaders" on the issue.
Good stuff.

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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Are Muslims under siege?

By M. J Akbar (mjakbar@asianage.com)

Ed: A Muslim 'liberal' thinking aloud on the state of the nation...pertinent questions.
"Is the world under siege by Muslims or are Muslims under siege by the world? Now that the last hope of liberals, Indian Muslims, seem to have joined this world in Glasgow, or perhaps the world has reached their doorstep through Australia, the question has shifted yet further from an answer. Are we in that dark penumbra of history when the only response to a question is more questions?
Let me unburden myself of the one at the top of my mind. Which of the two is more self-defeating — the bruised breast of a self-flagellating Indian liberal who moans that all certainty has collapsed ever since Kafeel Ahmed drove a flaming Jeep Cherokee into Glasgow airport, or the crude fist of the zealot who gloats that you can put the Muslim anywhere but you cannot change his fundamental fanatic character?
On consideration, the first is the bigger problem if only because nothing better could be expected from the second. Both positions are based on the same fallacy. They lay the sins of a few upon the head of the community.
Must all Indian Muslims be punished with collective guilt because a Kafeel or a Shakeel, provoked by memories and images that could easily range from Babri to Basra, has chosen to vent his rage through unacceptable violence upon innocents? Do we blame Hinduism or Hindus for the malevolence of those who killed and terrorized Muslims in Gujarat five years ago? We do not, and must not. Is there any reason why Muslims converge so easily into a category?
A newspaper is life distilled into still life. If the siege we mentioned is global, then perhaps a good checkpoint is a global newspaper through which we might ponder the mysteries of cause and effect.
The top of the front page of the July 12 edition is a moving photograph of a woman, her head bowed beyond sight, her tears hidden in the cusp of an anguished hand, sobbing on the coffin of a lost son or husband, one of the over 8,000 Muslims massacred by Serbs in Srebrenica twelve years ago, during the ethnic cleansing that began on July 11, 1995. They have just identified a fresh lot of 465 victims.
Where is one of the principal leaders of this genocide, a mass murderer called Gen. Ratko Mladic. If you want to chat with him, down at the nearest cafe. If you are the European Union or America, then he becomes invisible. He cannot be found.
Below this picture is the story of Lal Masjid, a citadel of paranoia, xenophobia and terrorism masquerading as a mosque and madrasa. There are no Christians or Serbs in this battle in Pakistan, which has taken at least a hundred lives. This is a war between different attitudes to faith. And this is proof that terrorism is a fire that can also burn the hand of those who feed it.
To the left of this picture is a story about Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s top security official, a heavyweight in Angela Merkel’s Cabinet. He is demanding the detention of potential terrorists in Germany and the extermination (death, in simpler language) of their leaders outside Germany. Schauble, but naturally, will determine the definitions of “potential” and “leaders”. He will not send anyone to exterminate Gen. Ratko Mladic. He is on the lookout for Lebanese Muslims.
Turn the page. A suicide bomber kills 10, wounds 35 at a military camp in Algeria.
Turkey complains about American arms in the possession of Kurdish secessionists. In Britain, four young Muslims, in their 20s, who “very nearly” succeeded in another outrage on the London Tube two years ago, are sentenced to forty years’ imprisonment at the very minimum. What will Iraq be like when they emerge from jail in 2045? Which passions will remain unspent four decades later?
Is the world under siege? Are Muslims under siege? If you know the answer, go collect your Nobel Prize for Peace, or at least an invitation to a seminar in Europe. To me, six of one looks suspiciously like half a dozen of the other."

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Saturday, July 14, 2007

Why don't Muslims shake hands with the opposite gender?

Just as many people harangue "nothing is too trivial for the mullahs to pontificate/legislate over"...the converse is often true too...the most ordinary acts of Muslims are automatically imbued with "what-a-weirdo"undertones and unpleasant implications.

An opinion piece in a prominent Australian newspaper (incidentally by a Muslim) analyses the propensity of an increasing number of Muslims to refuse/shy away from shaking hands with the opposite gender...

"a small but growing number of young Australian Muslims identifying more with the intricacies of their religious beliefs, it is unacceptable to touch a member of the opposite sex to whom they are not related. Not only is pecking the opposite sex on the cheek a no-go to avoid temptation, even shaking hands is taboo. This extends to non-Muslims they come into contact with.
Recently I have been caught out several times on this issue in public. On each occasion I was left feeling awkward, if not a little embarrassed. By the time I had figured out that the man did not shake hands, it was too late: my hand was left hanging in the wind.
It was hard not to take this personally, even though for Muslims who take this position it is nothing personal at all. They simply do not want to shake hands because they believe it is against their religion. To avoid seeming disrespectful, these men will often touch their heart as a sign of goodwill."
"But this issue is not restricted to Muslims: Orthodox Jews do not shake hands with the opposite sex. Nor should it be assumed that only Muslim men take a strict approach, as some women take this position even when their husbands ignore it."
link: Austrolabe (don't miss the lively comments section!)

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Are Doritos and Cheetos halaal or haraam?

interesting read: Of Mice and Men where Abu Ammaar Yasir Qadhi makes sense of the often conflicting haraam/halaal fatwas (religious rulings) on the consumption of cheese products containing animal rennet.

Ed: I find this article interesting not just for the academic information and insight it provides, it gives the layperson a rare glimpse into the inner-life of a fatwa (religious ruling)...all the legal considerations and implications that go into what might seem like a "trivial" issue to most people.

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