Previewing The Jameel Gallery

July 15, 2006

With the Jameel Gallery of Islamic Art opening at the V and A museum on Thursday, Rachel Campbell Johnston stresses the importance of dialogue through culture in The Times (excerpt below). Meanwhile, the Telegraph has put together a picture slideshow. For more information visit the official website.

This stunning collection can speak for itself. It includes some of the finest treasures to come out of the Middle East, from the magnificent Ardabil carpet (the world’s earliest carpet with an inscribed date) through the liquid calligraphy of elaborate manuscripts to the intricate star maps of engraved astrolabes. A display such as this can work to broaden perspectives and open debate. It serves to re-emphasise the subtlety and sophistication of Muslim culture; that the Islamic world is about far more than fanatical extremism, and that ambitions can rise above bombing and jihad…

Art can speak of a shared spirit. When we lose sight of this we lose sight of the path ahead. For centuries we were pupils and dependants of Islamic culture. So what happened? The decline of their civilisation is often, ironically, attributed to its phenomenal success. Muslims, it seems, did not think they had much to learn from the infidel West. While, as early as the 16th century, Europeans were studying Arabic and exploring Muslim cultures, the Middle East maintained what looks almost like a wilful lack of curiosity. As it grew more isolated, the West slowly developed.


Paradise Now – A Review

June 13, 2006

“Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest–whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories–comes afterward. These are games; one must first answer.” Albert Camus

When dealing with a film of this type it’s possible to go wrong in a number of different ways. If it hadn’t come across correctly, it could have come across as condoning or glorifying terrorism. Similarly if it had gone the other way and tried not to offend anyone it may have ended up not saying very much. All of this is before the plot and character development and the obvious fear of trying to take in too much context, thus forgetting that the primary purpose is to produce a good film (see Syriana).

Hany Abu-Assad who wrote, directed and produced the film avoids the last trap by using a simple yet deep plot, as a base from which to reflect on the nature of occupation and the motivations behind suicide terrorists. Even if stripped of its political context, Paradise Now would be a very entertaining thriller. The characters are at different times creepy, charming, vulnerable and always real. Meanwhile the plot takes interesting twists which are both genuine and surprising.

Does the plot take one twist too many? Is the film ‘jammed into a Hollywood template’ as one critic alleges? I would answer no and suggest that one of the things which made this such a captivating film was the way in which it would threaten to take the cliched line before swiftly moving away, leaving the viewer with a sense of the shallowness that the first approach would have meant.

Fundamentally Paradise Now is a beautiful meditation by Hany Abu-Assad on a whole range of things. Suicide, Occupation, Life, Love, Collaboration, Courage and much more. It deals with what it means to be Human and deserves to be watched by as wide an audience as possible. Even if one isn’t particularly interested in the ins and outs of the peace process you can’t help to be moved, and shaken, by its raw power.

———-

For IMDB link click here.

For Official website click here.


Al Ghazali on Science

June 11, 2006

In the second place, there are those things in which the philosopher believe, and which do not come into conflict with any religious principle. And, therefore, disagreement with the philosophers with respect to those things is not a necessary condition for the faith in all the prophets and the apostles (May God bless them all).

An example is their theory that the lunar eclipse occurs when the light of the moon disappears as a consequence of the interposition of the Earth between the Moon and the Sun. For the moon derives its light from the Sun, and the Earth is a round body surrounded by Heaven on all sides. Therefore, when the Moon falls under the shadow of the Earth, the light of the Sun is cut off from it. Another example is their theory that the solar eclipse means the interposition of the body of the Moon between the Sun and the observer, which occurs when the Sun and Moon are stationed at the intersection of their nodes at the same degree.

We are not interested in refuting such theories either; for the refutation will serve no purpose. He who thinks that it is his religious duty to disbelieve such things is really unjust to his religion, and weakens its cause. For these things have been established by astronomical and mathematical evidence which leaves no room for doubt.

If you tell a man, who has studied these things – so that he has sifted all the data relating to them, and is, therefore, in a position to forecast when a lunar or solar eclipse will take place: whether it is total or partial; and how long it will last – that these things are contrary to religion, your assertion will shake his faith in religion, not in these things. Greater harm is done to religion by an immethodical helper than by an enemy whose actions, however hostile, are yet regular.

For as the proverb goes, a wise enemy is better than an ignorant friend.

From Al Ghazali's 'Incoherence of the Philosophers' – an important lesson which is too often forgotten by today's Muslims. The problem of intelligent design in particular doesn't just exist in America.


England’s Tactical Naivety

June 10, 2006

If there's one thing which has characterised recent World Cup winners its been a willingness to move away from the traditional 4-4-2 formation. Last time Brazil played what could be described as anything from 5-2-3 to 3-4-2-1. The key was having enough defensive presence to allow the attacking instincts of Ronaldo, Ronaldinho, Rivaldo, Roberto Carlos and Cafu to shine.

Crucial to their success was Big Phil Scolari's decision to replace the attacking midfielder Juninho with the defensive midfielder Kleberson. Although Juninho is a fine player in his own right, with the other attacking talent in the team, another defensive presence in midfield was more important. Similarly when France won the World Cup, they played a 4-5-1 or to be more precise a 4-2-3-1. This was because they had an abundance of quality midfielders but no world class strikers.

Fast forward to this World Cup and England have an abundance of talent. Unfortunately a lot of it is in the same positions. I don't think any other team has as much depth in central defence and Gerrard and Lampard are two of the finest box to box midfielders in Europe. So the key question is how to incorporate all these players into a cohesive team with the right balance.

Lets start with attack. When fit, Owen and Rooney have to play. As Rooney is still injured and Theo Walcott is irrelevant, do you play Owen on his own or Owen and Crouch. As Owen usually needs someone to run off, Owen and Crouch is probably the sensible option.

The Midfield is the crux of the problem. Firstly Gerrard and Lampard both play similar roles for their club sides, with holding midfielders allowing them the freedom to go forward. The first question is do you leave one of them out. I would say that that's a waste of talent and you have to play both of them. To meet the defensive presence I would say pick Carrick or Hargreaves to play in a central midfield triangle. David Beckham is automatic on the right and I think that Ashley Cole provides natural width and running on the left to give balance to the midfield. Joe Cole provides a fine attacking option to come off the bench.

This only leaves three people for defence. Fortunately England have an abundance of quality central defenders each of which can fulfill different roles. John Terry is a brilliant reader of the game and should be in the middle of the three. On the right, Jamie Carragher has established himself over the past couple of seasons as a fine player for Liverpool. He also has played right back so can cover for any of David Beckham's defensive deficiencies. Finally Rio Ferdinand has terrific pace and athleticism and would probably get any man to man duties. If any of the three is injured or out of form, Sol Campbell is a great person to have as a reserve.
Now for any team to win the World Cup you need a decent amount of luck. However this doesn't mean that tactical proficiency is irrelevant. When Greece won the European Championships, the shape and discipline with which they played was vital. Unfortunately I don't think that Sven has shown enough imagination with his team selection and I think that barring pieces of individual brilliance, England will pay the price.


The Future of Europe in Islam

June 10, 2006

This piece was initially going to discuss what turned out to be a very interesting event. I’ll still do this at some point in the near future, but in the mean time I feel obliged to respond to an incredibly uninformed post on the Infidel Bloggers Alliance. Given their treatment of Ali Eteraz I can’t say I’m surprised, but their audacity is worthy of a response.

Let’s start with the Editrix's primary contention, that because the discussion organised by the Muslim Youth Helpline was titled ‘The Future of Europe in Islam’, it indicated the expansionist, probably Islamo-fascist nature of the debate. Interestingly when I saw the title on a printout I thought it was a typo. Not because I thought it was overly fascistic, but because the future of Islam in Europe sounds like a more natural title. Of course I was wrong. The cleverly chosen title was intended to reverse the usual defensiveness and negativity surrounding Islam in Europe. As the chair Dr Hisham Hellyer of the University of Warwick pointed out, it was meant to encourage the panelists to look at how Europe and European Muslims could contribute to the development of Islam, and conversely how Muslim culture could benefit Europe. Although the Infidels will find this hard to believe, it succeeded.

Now, even if we leave aside the actual content of the discussion, did the IBA have reason to be concerned with the way in which the discussion was framed? My answer is an emphatic no. Islam is a religion and not a state (which our friends at Hizb ul Tahrir don’t seem to understand). Therefore, the future of Europe in Islam is clearly describing the role that a continent and its political and social culture will play in the development of a religion. Its not as if the debate was, ‘The Future of Europe inside the Global Muslim Caliphate’. If it was then even I’d be a little worried. That would be something like ‘The Future of the US in Iraq’, except unfortunately that situation already exists.

So the next thing which the Editrix found offensive was the fact that Professor Tariq Ramadan was supposed to be speaking. Apparently he is the glamorous face of terror or some such nonsense. Now this doesn’t prove anything, but to give some indication of how misjudged this perception is, I’ve seen people put to Professor Ramadan that he isn’t even a Muslim. It’s not definitive, but I do think its telling. Considering that several of the IBA consider Ali Eteraz to be an Islamo-facist, such internal criticism of Muslims doesn’t seem to really matter to them.

What Professor Ramadan is, is an articulate and very well educated reformist Muslim scholar, who agrees with democratic institutions, but doesn’t see the secularisation of society as the end point of human progression. In this way he isn’t much different to conservative commentators in America who worry about the replacement of traditional (not necessarily religious) values with the supposed blindness of toleration. The difference is that conservative Americans are constrained to a large extent by the rights provided to individuals by the constitution. Therefore although they may criticise permissiveness, they can’t force people to behave in the way in which they would like. For people like Prof Ramadan, they have to first overcome some of the restrictive practises involved in their society before they can engage in such debates.

Finally, its probably worth pointing out that Prof Ramadan didn’t even speak at the event. Due to circumstances beyond his control (maybe he saw the IBA website?), he couldn’t attend. Puts it all in perspective.


World Cup Predictions

June 8, 2006

At Eteraz.org, Natalia has a beautiful piece on her life as a football fan. Meanwhile the BBC website tells me that there are now less than 40 hours to go till kick off. I think the time has come for me to offer some predictions (i.e. guesses).

Quarter Finalists
Argentina, Germany, Czech Rep., France, Sweden, Portugal, Brazil, Spain

Semi Finals

Argentina, France, Portugal, Brazil

Final

Argentina, Portugal

Winner

Portugal

I've been slightly adventurous with this. Of course last time around the three teams I was partial too – Portugal, Cameroon and Argentina, were all knocked out in the first round. In any case, I think Paraguay will qualify for the second round. This means that either England or Sweden will get knocked out, and with all the fuss over Rooney, I wouldn't be surprised if England leave early.

Looking at developing countries, I think that both Iran and Tunisia can reach the second round. Both have favourable groups and its worth pointing out that a lot of their main players now play in Europe. In particular, watch out for Tunisia's brilliant right back Hatem Trabelsi.

Apart from that France is definitely worth keeping an eye on. The last two major tournaments they've come in with a lot of hype and performed pretty terribly. This time around they still have an excellent squad but no one seems to be rating them. Perfect.

Why I don't think Argentina will win? The manager decided to leave out Javier Zanetti. For those of you not familliar with Zanetti, he's been arguably the finest right sided full back for at least the last 5 years (that includes Cafu). I refuse (irrationally) to believe that any coach that can leave a player of his caliber out of the squad still win the world cup.

Finally Brazil. Whenever they look in shambles before the tournament I pick against them and they win. This time they look great and I've decided not to jump on the bandwagon. Plus they are set to play Portugal in the semi-finals. Portugal of course are guided by the man who led Brazil to victory 4 years ago. As all Brazilian managers are inevitably subject to the criticism that anyone could manage Brazil to the World Cup, nothing would cement Big Phil Scolari's legacy then beating Brazil. Finally, can you imagine the British tabloid reaction if Scolari and Portugal win the world cup? The man they helped scare away will have the World Cup, while Englad will be left with Steve Mclaren. Priceless.


Muslims in MI5

June 6, 2006

Incredibly the new President of the MCB's interview on Radio 5 live was actually quite informative. The beginning was rather ho-hum as Dr Bari went over the usual talk over anger in the community and engaging with the youth. However the conversation was sparked by Henry Bonsu's question on whether Muslims should answer MI5 ads looking to recruit them.

Not surprisingly Dr Bari tried to evade the question. However Anita Anand sensed she was on to something and repeated it. This was followed by some more evasion and vague references to the community. Eventually on the third time of asking, Dr Bari managed to put together a somewhat coherent answer. He argued that people wouldn't respond to the police or MI5 if they had trust that they were being treated fairly. By the way, I'm not sure he knows what MI5 is and he didn't respond to the point that the ads were actually a way of reaching out to the community.

In any case this is the key question – would working for MI5 in the fight against terrorism be

a) morally neutral,

b) a noble pursuit or

c) an unholy collaboration?

I think that there is a difference between providing information to the police, working for the police and working for MI5. As Shazia, the very articulate caller to the programme said, unless she was pretty sure that she knew someone was a terrorist she wouldn't call the police as she wouldn't want an innocent person to get hurt.

On the other hand having a Muslim perspective in MI5 may well be quite useful. For instance if there is some intelligence going around that someone suspicious has been visiting a particular mosque, it might be helpful if there is a Muslim voice which says that he has been to that mosque for Friday prayers and the imam their is actually quite moderate; or that what looks suspicious behaviour is actually quite normal during Moharram. If one looks at it the other way, a Muslim may be able to identify some behaviour as suspicious which a non-Muslim might not recognise.

Of course their is definitely a risk that having some Muslims in the police or intelligence would be used to justify shoddy decisions on the grounds that, 'Muslims were privy to the intelligence and they agreed that a raid was justified'. That's not going to help anyone and hopefully if such a situation were to arise, then the people involved would resign as the barristers in the secret tribunals have.

All in all I think that having Muslims in British intelligence would be positive (provided their were no Ahmed Challabi's). Having said that, I think that Dr Bari encouraging it would probably have been counter-productive. In any case, I think this is an interesting debate which deserves to be debated further. 

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For comments, see cross-post on Pickled Politics 

Listen to the full program by clicking here.

For a really interesting interview with Henry Bonsu click here.


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