In fairness, it was actually something that was tweeted a while ago which sowed the seed that now seems to be growing into something of a beanstalk.
Randomly swimming through the word salad that is Twitter, a student tweeter blasts "when we are terrorists, we are Muslims, when we are heroes we are Asians". Presumably unhappy at the Tariq Jahan story or quite possibly any of a dozen grievances.
It's not as if there is a monopoly on reporting of religious and charitable acts, right?
Whilst the riots were happening, this wasn't the time for finger pointing or point-scoring. No conspiracies, this was neither the time nor the place. Other than from the usual politicians, no opportunism from the rest of us thankfully. A follower on twitter stated "not Muslim values, not British values, just good values". We are entitled to our views but if they were Muslims values, why the discomfort at saying so? Beanstalk. 1 day and 8 frames of snooker later I realised something as BBC breakfast gently simmered in the background on a Sunday morning. A narrative was now running on national television, injected directly into the nation's I.V. drip.
That weekend the BBC reported on a hundred people gathering for Richard Bowes, the pensioner who was brutally killed said to have been challenging rioters. The vigil was organised by local churches in Ealing, West London. We are told they came to pay respects to a man local people are calling a hero. We are told that Richard Bowes was the man who "stood up for what was right in the face of all that was wrong". A serious accolade. Full fat broadcasting from Aunty Beeb.
The organisers prayed for a way forward. Cue the vicar, the very nicely coiffed and neatly spoken Rev Sally who speaks into the mic and calls for people to take time to reflect. Save for the odd face or two (no, literally) an entirely white crowd lights tea candles. Aside from how hard it is to find an entirely white crowd in Ealing, far from being a farrago, this was all very civilised; a nice remembrance service for a man virtually no one knew save for the fact he was completely estranged from his family for some thirty years. Incredibly, I haven't yet heard anything to suggest the late Mr Bowes was even Christian, or let alone a believer in God. However you have to be deeply impressed by the sentiment and the effort. I was certainly interested to see Christianity so prominent in the story - front and centre. This wasn't a multi-faith organisation or interfaith group, nor even a secular community group, it was one faith group, seemingly running with the ball.
We shouldn't allow ourselves to indulge our cynicism. It's not opportunism, after all they are doing something good, and that's good, surely? After all, the national news has been simply awash stories of Hindu groups deep in prayer vigils, rife with examples of non-sword brandishing Sikhs at Gurdwaras holding remembrances for Muslims. We were simply overwhelmed with reports of what the Buddhists and Baha'is were up to.
Christianity, so often seen as charitable, giving, generous. And so often it is. And so often I love it. And I love my believing Christian brothers and sisters too. And I love Churches, that musty smell, the sheer reverence and the echo. It's the 7 year old in me; who doesnt like a cold stone Cathedral with an awesome echo? Setting aside the Christianphile in me and turning to perhaps the cynic in me, it all seemed a little.. well... opportunistic. Feeling a little Poirot, I wondered who exactly was it, that was capitalising? Was it the BBC, the church group, perhaps those pesky candle-lighting do gooders in that park in Ealing?
'Mildly overbearing but very genuine Christian groups remembers possible hero'. Big deal.
'Mildly overbearing but very genuine Christian groups remembers possible hero'. Big deal.
But Christianity is firmly set at the chosen religion of Europe. Even if they stop believing in God. Even if Christianity stops being a religion. It's a very difficult concept to get your head around but probably one of the more likely rational alternatives for our shared future. Long gone are the days when the plebs would tremble in fear at the name of the Church. If it's a Crusade you better gird your loins and start marching. If it's the Inquisitors, you better do as you're told. I'm being obtuse obviously but the point is that Christianity is not the force it used to be. And as a Muslim, let me tell you, that is a crying shame and a loss to us as a nation and as a peoples. Churches are emptying. Coffers bare. The Church has been rocked by wranglings on female, gay and lesbian ministers, priests who don't believe in Christ (or even God), corruption and a failure to deal with institutionalised child abuse. As a result, the Church (average age 46) is in crisis. Amidst a growing multicultural society, we see a growing and confident Islam (average age 26). Within a couple of generations it seems there may well be a paradigm shift - not perhaps one the far right would have us believe but nonetheless a rapid, gradual change.
This week, the whole nation was beholden to the absolute dignity and humility with which Tariq Jahan responded to the brutal killing of his son in Birmingham. It is perhaps only as a parent that you can truly feel the agony, that crushing sickness in the pit of your stomach, when a father speaks about losing a beloved son. His sense of loss. About his hands drenched in his son's blood as he administered CPR, so utterly hopelessly. No pulse but a weak heartbeat - that tiny flicker of light more than enough hope for any loving father. All this on an otherwise quiet corner of England, outside a mosque in Birmingham one balmy August night.
In that situation, who is capable of asking not for retribution but for peace? Who is capable of restraining words of anger and frustration, instead to speak in calm tones about unity and understanding? As vultures hovered overhead waiting for that inevitable sign of weakness, an opportunity to attack, to plough a blood-soaked English field to inflame racial tensions; something remarkable happened.
One man spoke out. He spoke of one community, not many. Not divided but united.
'Blacks, Asians, whites; we all live in the same community,
Why do we have to kill one another? Why are we doing this?Step forward if you want to lose your sons. Otherwise, calm down and go home. Please.’
And no sooner had those words left his lips than peace fell on our streets. Quite literally. As the mourning father's face adorned every newspaper in the land, young people everywhere sat down quietly and contemplated. It wasn't worth it. Looters, murderers: I am not one of them.
It was perhaps too soon to think of this as a watershed moment in contemporary British Muslim civil engagement but we had broken new ground. For all those who accuse Muslims and immigrants, here was a man whose soul had been ripped asunder, completely exposed raw for all the world to see. And he preached peace. And he was dignified. And he was humble.
But look deeper into this story and what do we find? Tariq Jahan is a devout Muslim. His response - the language of peace and his demeanour - came from an utterly and unashamed Islamic disposition:
‘I’m a Muslim. I believe in divine fate and destiny.
And it was his destiny and his fate, and now he’s gone.
And may Allah forgive him and bless him.’
Hours later he spoke to a gathering of hundreds of Muslim men and youth in Birmingham.
'Assalam alaikum (peace be with you).
Brothers... thank you for coming out and the flowers and cards...
You know as well as I do, we are following the tradition of this country of flowers.
But what I would ask you as Muslims, is to go home,
read your namaz (daily prayers),
say some dua (supplications) for the three brothers.
At the same time, look at your lives. If you can change your ways,
it would benefit all of us here'
The crowd spoke in complete unison: "InshaAllah" (God willing). He continued
"Pray for them. If one of you change your ways because of them,
the reward they get (in the afterlife) is from you"
These words enshrine Islamic values by which Muslims are expected to live by, and generally do, arguably more vehemently than any other community. The three young men were Muslims and as such, young or old, rich or poor, in Islam they are considered brothers to one another. To pray and to know we will be held to account for our deeds and actions in the next life, is the essence of Islam. Far from being the rantings of a deluded man believing in superstition, these were real values, real principles, of honour, justice and goodness. That in the face of absolute tragedy we can be better versions of ourselves is a beacon in the night to many and pushes back with something that is better.
But some amongst us are spiteful. They hate. They peddle disunity. They want neighbour to turn on neighbour and brother to turn on brother. For the avoidance of doubt: the EDL, so-called patriots, the George Queen and Country brigade, BNP, neo-cons, Melanie Phillips, Douglas Murray, in fact all you mischief-makers and peddlers of hate who look to rip apart our communities for gain, a quick paycheck and to sate a barbaric appetite for the flesh of your brother. You need to look in the mirror. You take your lead from those who do not turn the other cheek, but would rather extinguish the lives of countless millions to payback the deaths of thousands to create payslips running into trillions. You bravely hide in purdah behind the misnomer that might is right; so very wrong you are. To you, belief and serenity, contemplation and prayer, is timidity and it is weakness. In reality, there is no stronger than one who holds his tongue whilst angry, than one who forgives and prays for his enemy, for the one who does not not retaliate but pushes back with something which is better.
Resisting the influence of Islam is not the last bastian of civilisation. I promise you all, it is the resurgence of it. Literally. It will also be the saving of Christianity in the West.
We have seen our streets running red with the blood of Muslims, sons of immigrants, defending our nation. Arguably inflammatory but unquestionably accurate. We have seen a Muslim Malaysian student brutally attacked and robbed by people helping him to his feet on the streets of Barking, smile lovingly whilst continually nursing his broken jaw throughout a press conference, talk of forgiveness, understanding and his pity for his assailants. These Muslims have undoubtedly been shining beacons of humanity and a guidance to many on being gracious, humble and courteous in the face of terrible situations.
Despite all of this, the media, press and commentators so-often critical of Islam simply cannot bring themselves to say anything positive about Islamic values. That the contribution and dignity of Muslims is due entirely to their faith. That they are an example to us all. It's simply a step too far. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West, without exception. Isn't it time we learnt to say openly what so many converts to the religion realise. That Islam is not the ugly scourge on society that the media and far right portray, it elevates us out of the dark, gives us dignity and honour. It makes us.... better.
As you might expect, praise for these upright Muslims was overwhelming in the Twittersphere.
With one notable exception. The usually erudite Sunny Hundal of Pickled Politics and Liberal Conspiracy was all over the the news and radio last week. I'm all for diversity as long as people speak well on issues, or represent their constituents properly. Over 5 days of rioting and whilst Muslims were making the ultimate sacrifice, I was curious how come he hadn't tweeted about Tariq Jahan. Mehdi Hasan went to see the man and wrote one of the best articles you will see for some time. Before that underwear gets all convoluted, it's not a thought crime if you don't. But if a commentator makes hundreds of tweets covering every matter under the sun, you would have expected at least one tweet about the man who covered every front page and was on every news story. Or surely then about the Malaysian student? 20 million people had seen the video. Or how about the Muslim response to the riots - even Sky News and the BBC had reluctantly made mention. Precisely how many times did Sunny overtly speak well of 'Muslims'? I'll tell you. Not once. And when challenged on this he fell unusually silent. For one amongst the most verbose of commentators, an Asian one at that, who speaks on every issue large and small; his silence on saying anything positive about Muslims or the values which caused them to defend our communities and our nation was utterly deafening. And probably damning.
I have been moved to tears by the stories of our Sikh brothers standing guard outside mosques, or pursuing justice for Muslims but still there are so many unfortunately raised in households rife with Islamophobic sentiment, rhetoric and propagandising. They start young. I should know.
A week after Sky News reported that Muslims were not generally involved in the riots and were in fact leading the charge on protecting the capital after night prayers during Ramadan, by last Sunday we had reached the "three Asians die while guarding shops from looters" point. Six days later, I find myself up watching the paper review on BBC breakfast once again. Impotent magistrates and Damian Green's idiocy that foreigners found guilty of looting should be deported. The fact that only 150 of 2,800 were born abroad is a pointwell made by Tim Walker from the Telegraph. He then proceeds to commit the cardinal broadcasting sin.
He said that many papers had been quick to criticise the Muslim community in the past whereas now
"the Muslims seem to be the heroes...
so many seemed to be protecting property in the holy month of Ramadan..."
Cue screams and 100db hysterical shouts from producers down the ear pieces of Charlie Statham and Naga Munchetty. With a swift, well rehearsed aplomb (a perfection of comedy timing to the trained eye) Charlie Statham interrupts to move the story on. For the love of God Charlie, would it have killed you to let him finish his sentence? Dimblebot would have been so very proud -almost 33rd degree master timing. In my mind, I chuckled at the imaginary ticker tape running across the bottom which said
"the BBC apologises for speaking positively about Muslims... normal service to resume shortly".
And still no comment from any of the main stream media on 4 days of Israeli air strikes on the poor people of Gaza. And still the Equality Act allows broadcasters a loop hole to discriminate and show bias in broadcasting. My arguments with Mentorn's Jill Robinson on the biased 'mix' for the Big Questions is something for another time.
Next a story about a sausage dog which had been given away.
Illegal ball potted. I really should stop playing and get to the mosque.