Thursday, February 27, 2014

Scottish pound-dependence

It is only right that the debate about Scottish independence should focus on the question of currency, yet it still entirely misses the point: No matter how they vote in the forthcoming referendum, Scots will not be set free. The question so hotly debated at present as to whether a potential independent Scotland should retain the pound and form a monetary union with England is one where, as so often in the so-called democratic process, only false options are presented, the alternative to keeping the pound being to join the Euro. Two sides of the same coin, really, for either way Scotland's future prosperity or lack of it will be decided by financial institutions which are not subject to any form of democratic control.

A country, or more to the point: a people, which does not control its own currency cannot be deemed an independent or free country. Monetary policy is the tool by which the political will of a nation is made to yield to the interests of private owners who create artificial scarcity or abundance to dictate its economic and political climate. By a clever process of officially sanctioned and legalised fraud, almost all of today's nation states are in debt. To whom, one might ask? Who is that illustrious lender whose assets exceed the resources of all the countries in the world? Of course, no real assets were ever involved. Through the process of fractional reserve debt-finance bankers have bought whole countries with fiat money that never actually existed or, rather, was never backed by any real wealth as such. True independence means to take that control back from them and return sovereignty, political and financial, to the people. A vote on Scotland's independence, whilst it would present such an opportunity, will never be allowed to go as far.

I put these matters to Alex Salmond years ago in a public meeting, long before the Scottish parliament had even been instituted, and his answer was telling. He understood very well that government could create its own money rather than mortgaging the wealth of the nation to private interests creating the same money for them - for in either case the money is created backed by nothing except the creditworthiness of the nation -, but he wasn't ever going to see eye-to-eye with me on these matters, "he had been trained as a banker", he said, and therefore held different views. Prior to becoming a politician Salmond had worked for Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), that very bank which the taxpayer had to bail out to cover their losses and which will be sold back at bargain prices to the private sector once those losses have been absorbed and it becomes profitable again. These kind of bail-outs remove the last justification for charging interest on "money created out of nothing", i.e. on lending in excess of the bank's actual assets, namely, that since the bank takes a commercial risk it should be allowed to charge for it. In reality, the bank creates the money on the back of the nation's ability and willingness to absorb such risk whilst still having the audacity to charge citizens and government bodies for doing so.

Like most politicians, the loyalties of Scotland's "First Minister" are to the banking fraternity which has catapulted him into position, not to the people whom he claims to represent, and if the fragmentation suits them, Scotland will get its political independence. As for financial and monetary independence, it would probably require a revolution instead of a referendum, and today's Scots no longer have the appetite for politics outside the ballot box. So Scotland, whichever way the vote goes, will remain dependent on the pound or the Euro, but either way on the goodwill of its bankers.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

When Tommy met Mo

I've just reviewed the recently broadcast BBC "documentary" entitled "Quitting the English Defence League: When Tommy met Mo" about Tommy Robinson, the ex-leader of the English Defence League (EDL), engaging with a Muslim from Luton, Mohamed Ansar (Mo), and eventually joining up with the Quilliam Foundation, that self-proclaimed "moderate Muslim" think tank set up by the Conservative Party as part of their Prevent strategy which would make Abdullah Quilliam, an early British Muslim convert with rather radical views, turn in his grave. I think Tommy found a suitable home, because he can continue undermining Islam there without having to be tainted with the brush of racism.

The BBC production was the typical set-up of false dialectics where you get two allegedly opposing views, in this case anti-Islam and "moderate", "reformed" half-baked apologetic Islam shadow boxing to confuse the viewer since it matters little who wins: both agree that Islamic extremism must be eradicated and then proceed to push all of mainstream Islam under that label unnoticed by the not-so-observant viewer. It reminds me of one of the broadsheet newspaper articles back in the late 1980s commenting on the campaign I then led for the recognition of Muslim schools, which stated that in the Yorkshire community the Muslim school in focus was located, most were "Muslim fundamentalists: they pray five times a day". In other words, to be a moderate Muslim, you must not be a practicing Muslim but renounce the validity of Islam as more than just a relic of inherited culture.

The only real Muslims in the film set were Mo Ansar and Salma Yaqoob (of the Respect Party), and sadly even Mo, a well-intended ordinary Muslim representing no-one but himself had been compromised during the programme to pay homage to the new religion of heterophobia by stating he had fought countless years for gay rights. I will come to that later.

To help Mo in informing Tommy about Islam and Muslim, the BBC engaged a number of so-called scholars. I won't waste my time talking much more about Tom Holland, brought to fame or disrepute, depending on how one looks at it, by his Channel 4 "documentary" (Islam: The untold story) where he managed to conclude that the historical Muhammad might not really have existed, because when he looked for him in all the places where he had never been, he could, unsurprisingly, find no evidence of him there. But I am utterly disappointed by the equally appalling display of ignorance of the Muslim apologists the BBC managed to include in its line-up of "scholars", amongst them Usama Hassan, Ibrahim Mogra, Maajid Nawaz and Mohammed Shafiq. Like sheep led to slaughter they all take the bait (or the pay cheque) of responding to the tired worn-out polemical questions by which Islam is intended to be discredited with a chorus of relativism, chiefly that Islam must be seen in its historical context, in other words, what was valid at the time of its revelation does no longer hold true today and must be "moderated" by the superior insights of modern Western secular "scientific" examination. The Qur'an, according to this view, is in need of re-interpretation in order to reform an Islam not fit for the modern age.

The key attack on Islam comes, as usual, from the Western obsession with sexuality which looks for deviant practices in the exotic Muslim societies for the gratification of its own wild phantasies. Nothing much has changed from when the first Western travellers to the Ottoman empire came back with imagined drawings of hammams or harems full of exaggerated libido. Until today, the veil is the one Islamic emblem which excites its Western adversaries the most.

So here is Tommy "competently" quoting from the Qur'an to make his point that Islam permits "sexual slaves" and thus encourages the grooming of white under-aged girls by Asian Muslims. The verse in question is verse 3 of Surah 4, An-Nisa' (Women): "And if you fear that you cannot do justice to the orphans, then marry from the women permitted to you, two, three and four, and if you fear that you cannot be fair, then one or one who is in your possession, that is closer to you avoiding transgression." (my own translation). And none of our alleged scholars seems to ever have bothered to either read the verse in full or consult any one of the classical books of Tafsir (Qur'anic exegesis). Yes, the verse mentions those "in your possession" or slave girls, but it does not give licence to have illicit sex with them, it merely permits to marry from amongst them (and thereby setting them free from slavery!). In other words, it advises Muslims that if they cannot afford to marry someone of their own status and do justice to them, there is nothing wrong with marrying from amongst those lower in status within society. Verse 25 of the same Surah gives a more detailed account of the same injunction, leaving absolutely no room for misinterpretation: "And who amongst you does not have the means to marry free believing women, then from amongst what is in your possession of the believing servants, and Allah knows your faith best, you all share a common origin, so marry them with the permission of their family and give them their marital gifts appropriately, as long as they are chaste, not given to prostitution nor fornication, so when they are married and then commit adultery, then their punishment is half that of free women; this if for him amongst  you who fears hardship, but to have patience is better for you, and Allah is forgiving and merciful." (my own translation). Instead, our scholars perform mental and rhetorical somersaults to explain why historically this verse was not quite as bad as it may now appear, when really, there is nothing at all to apologise for.

Then there is the other favourite angle of attack, the Shariah law, those "barbaric punishments" Islam metes out which have no place in a civilised society, like cutting off the hand of the thief and stoning the adulterer. Once again, our scholars agree that the Qur'an and the teachings of the prophet are outdated. Now, I wonder what the parents of those young girls groomed by Pakistani predators would have to say about that. They most likely would like to have them flogged to death and tell you that a prison sentence is simply not good enough for them, and I am equally sure that Tommy and the rest of the EDL would have to agree with them. It's funny, how perspectives change when you replace the perpetrator's human rights with those of the victim. And would the McCann family weep if the abductor of their daughter lost a hand so that he could not steal another little girl? Of course, there are necessary safeguards, well established in Islam: a thief may not be punished for steeling out of necessity, an adulterer may not be stoned without actual evidence, available only if the act was performed in full public view, in other words, gross public indecency. Islam does not permit spying behind close doors, unlike the modern secular state obsessed with wanting to know every secret of every man, both out of fear and a desire to control, a fact easily demonstrable by the proliferation of surveillance cameras or the recent scandal of the United States intelligence services tapping into the private mobile phones of the leaders of their own allies. Nor does Islam permit the execution of a just punishment within an unjust society, only when society itself follows high standards can the individual be held to account in accordance with them.

And finally, I promised to come back to it, there is the litmus test of the modern axiom "You are either with us or against us": Do you support homosexuality? Here, the heterophobic lobby with support from members in all echelons of power is not contend with you saying that you cannot prevent adults from doing whatever they want in the privacy of their own homes but would rather not want them to push their devious sexual tastes down your throat or teach them to your children. No, you have to wholeheartedly pronounce that you acknowledge that their chosen lifestyle may well be superior to yours and that anybody not favouring their practices is in need of treatment. What has become of freedom of choice: Do we who choose to be heterosexual no longer have the right to consider our choice as preferable to that of others. Must we all be compelled to applaud something we distaste? But leaving aside the decadent insistence of all strata of Western society on elevating an unnatural practice to the level of the normative, does Islam discriminate against homosexuals? Not at all. Islam forbids sex outside marriage irrespective of your sexual orientation. So if we ask sexually active heterosexuals who have not been able to marry to abstain and control their desires, why is it so wrong to ask the same of those with homosexual inclinations? That Islam does not permit two people of the same sex to marry is not unique to our religion. To date there is still no European country permitting homosexual marriage; instead they have created that legal half-way house of civil partnership. Because they, too, recognise that marriage has as one of its purposes procreation, something two people of the same sex cannot possibly do, which is why I called it unnatural a few moments ago. Nor are homosexuals the only people to be precluded from marriage. The law does, for example, consider some adults unfit for marriage due to mental incompetency or legal incapacity. The reason, once again, is the sacredness of the family taking priority over sexual licence.

These few examples should suffice. I can understand that being subjected to endless propaganda large parts of ordinary Muslim men and women (and the same goes for ordinary non-Muslim men and women), whilst having a gut feeling that something isn't quite right, do not know how to counter the polemical and emotionally charged arguments thrown at them. But I can't understand why our "scholars" are so completely spineless. Unless it is a case of "follow the money".

Monday, October 14, 2013

Did the moon die?

I have written on this subject many times before but feel compelled to do so again due to an apparent lack of progress in a matter which goes to the core of Islamic practice. Remember, the days of Eid are, according to the words of the prophet Muhammad, the best days of the year. Yet, hardly a year passes without a dispute about when Eid should or should not be. Then we cry about lost unity, but little effort do we make to eradicate the disease: Our prophet also said that his Ummah shall never unite entirely on falsehood. Hence, our disunity is an indicator that we are failing somehow to follow the truth.

In these days of DIY Islam it might be worthwhile to remind ourselves that Islam is evidence-based and not subject to majority rule. Truth is distinct from falsehood, and the criterion of that distinction is given to us in the Qur'an and the Sunnah. The Qur'an tells us that there are 12 months, but it does not tell us when they start or end. The Sunnah, on the other hand, is unmistakable about starting and ending each month with the sighting of the new moon crescent. This does not just apply to Ramadan, it applies to all months, the month of Hajj included.

Since the disunity of when our most important days are to be celebrated has become ever more painfully felt especially in non-Muslim countries in the West where Muslims from different parts of the globe maintain differing loyalties, the dominance of Saudi Arabia as a country which has heavily invested in financing mosques in the West has frequently been questioned where Ramadan is concerned, but when it comes to Hajj there is the understandable notion that since Hajj takes place in Saudi Arabia, their decision should naturally be followed. Sadly, their decision is based on a falsehood or lack of understanding of basic astronomy.

The religious authorities of Saudi Arabia follow a predetermined calendar based essentially on the dates of the birth of the new moon rather than the probability of it being sighted anywhere in the world. They frequently support this predetermined date with alleged moon sightings without subjecting those to any kind of plausibility check. If people came to me and told me that they had just seen the sun set at the height of noon, I would laugh at their ignorance, but if someone in Saudi Arabia tells us that they have just seen the moon crescent before it was physically possible to have done so, the greater part of the world happily follows them in their delusion.

Does it matter? In Ramadan we look for Laylatu-l-Qadr, the Night of Power, which is described in the Qur'an as being better in value than a thousand months of ordinary days, during Hajj we have the Day of Arafat, the day prayers are most powerful compared to any other day of the year. What does it do to the power of our prayer if we ignorantly move these days forward or back on the diction of a regime which happens to have inherited the geographic location of the holy places but does not otherwise excel in its Islamic virtues? In the days of the prophet, pagan Arabs administered the Kaabah, which they filled with idols, and the pilgrimage, which they corrupted with unsuitable practices. The prophet did not ask for their authority to be followed merely because they held the keys to the House of Allah, he fought them until they submitted to the truth he had brought through divine revelation.

I have heard many arguments, why we should all follow the Saudi ruling regarding the days of Hajj, irrespective of whether they were sound or not. These range from the need for a central authority or "headquarters" through that unity is a more overriding concern than the accuracy of the date to the observation that due to modern satellite communications we can all watch the pilgrimage anywhere on the globe and it would be wrong to be at odds with them. All those arguments betray a lack of thought and deeper understanding. Do we follow Muslims in Mekkah during Tarawih prayers although we are still fasting at that time? Of course not. We can watch them beamed into our living rooms through satellite broadcasting, but we can only perform our own prayers when their right time has come at the location where we are. The earth is not flat and times are local. The very same applies to the days of pilgrimage and the days of Eid. For someone in Australia to celebrate Eid on the same day as in Saudi Arabia is the height of folly and complete disregard of how Allah has created the earth and the signs He has given us in the alteration of night and day frequently referred to in the Qur'an.

For those going on Hajj, they have no choice but to follow the dates scheduled for them whilst the responsibility for those who knowingly make them perform their rites on the wrong days is enormous. The prophet told us that if the sacrifice, the key ingredient of the pilgrimage tracing the footsteps of Abraham, is made before the day of Eid it will only count as a standard charity, not as sacrifice, so the correct date does matter. Fortunately, those who are not participating in the pilgrimage themselves, have no such constraints imposed on them. Based on the Sunnah, the dates for the starting of the months are local, not centrally determined, just as prayer times are local. The prophet did not teach us to start or end the month with Mekkah, he taught us to start or end the month with the new moon crescent, and as long as the moon continues to wax and wane, there is no reason to abandon this method.

In its more than fourteen centuries of history since the prophet Islam has had Caliphates ruling over vast portions of the globe. Yet in spite of such powerful central authority, Muslims all over the world would go to the top of their minarets and other high places to look for the moon crescent to determine when to start their months and their religious obligations. They did not simply wait for a central edict. During the reign of the Ottoman empire, for example, the last central Muslim authority before British cunning destroyed the Caliphate - and installed the first King of Saudi Arabia - Eid was not celebrated on the same day in Istanbul and Sarajewo or Samarkand. Why should this change, all of a sudden? Were our predecessors less observant Muslims than we are today?

So what about the argument that with modern technology we should base our dates on calendars and calculations that modern life demands that we do away with the uncertainty which relying on sightings produces? To start with, our predecessors who pioneered astronomy were much better versed in the relevant calculations than we are today and would never have made such basic mistakes as to confuse the birth of the moon with its first visibility. But more importantly, why should the natural religion Allah designed for us be subjected to the unnatural desire of secular man to control everything himself? Thus noon time happens to be at one o'clock on account of the so-called Daylight Saving Time (DST) which hasn't saved anybody a penny but put the time of day under the control of governments and bureaucrats. Like a friend of mine says, I get hungry at lunchtime and then suddenly, from one day to the next, they tell me to get hungry an hour earlier! Of course, it is inconvenient that Ramadan or Eid can take us by surprise when we like to plan every minute detail of our lives, but Allah is the best of planners. It is also inconvenient to have the obligatory congregational prayers squeezed into a lunch break on a busy business day on Friday, which is why the Nation of Islam aberrantly moved their congregational prayer day and sermon to Sundays, it's just so much more convenient. Once we hurry down that root it does not take us long to strip Islam of all that makes it unique.

And so it is a blessing that we are not united. Unity would be nice, but not at the price of surrendering the truth. And the truth is not found in calculations. It is contained in the Qur'an and the Sunnah, and only a revival of their teachings will bring us back together.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

The terrorism that never was

A friend from abroad asked me about the disturbing attack in Woolwich. Disturbing indeed, for various reasons. And senseless. As if the responsibility of Britain's disturbing and equally senseless wars rested exclusively on the shoulders of somebody collecting funds for his perceived heroes. Just as disturbing, however, is the government exploitation of the event. The defence secretary is quoted as saying: "We are not going to be cowed by this kind of terrorist action", thereby completely devaluing the term terrorist as entirely meaningless. The BBC quotes the prime minister's support for a passer-by who talked about the attacker losing his "war" in London. Whilst stating that "one of the best ways to defeat terrorism is to go about our normal lives", he does the opposite and cancels a meeting in Paris to hurry back to Britain to attend a meeting of the anti-terrorism committee Cobra.
In news reports, the attacker's motives are quoted but not meaningfully discussed. His statement that innocent civilians get killed daily in Afghanistan and other theatres of wars is sadly all too true, and many suffer their fate as a result of remote controlled drones. Since those drones have now also been confirmed to have killed four US citizens, US president Obama is shortly going to make a statement justifying their continued use whilst already having pronounced that his country will "stand resolute" with Britain following the Woolwich attack. Needless to add, but for the common finger-pointing at Muslims, that justified motives do not excuse aberrant action and taking out frustrations on a misled and misguided solider will neither stop the slaughter nor aid the victims.

Once the politicians and news channels had hyped the story out of all proportion, it didn't take long for reprisal attacks on mosques and individual Muslims who were even less guilty of the knife attack than the killed soldier was of the overall conduct of the war in Afghanistan in which he had at least been previously deployed. Muslim organisations responded with messages of condemnation for the attack and the typical apologetic "it wasn't us, please don't hurt us on account of it", some even going as far as asserting their support for British soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Reading all the hype one might be forgiven for thinking that London is a quiet and peaceful little town shook to the core by this violent occurrence. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Putting things in perspective, we are dealing with a knife attack perpetrated by two individuals not acting on behalf of any group or organisation and with a single victim. There are between one and two hundred fatal gun and knife crimes in London every year. The motives differ, but the none of them is victimless. There are in excess of three thousand non-fatal knife crimes leading to injuries. Each and every one of them is brutal. For the whole of the UK there were nearly thirty thousand offences committed involving knives. If the prime minister were to return from abroad each time somebody wielded a knife in an attack in London, never mind the other major British cities, he might as well stay at home, not that this would be a bad thing. If every fatal knife attack is now upgraded to an act of terror, then embassies around the world should issue urgent advice to their citizens against visiting the UK.

Do the churches issue an apology for every violent killing in Northern Ireland? Do they distance themselves from the one of the Woolwich attackers who quoted the Bible? Do animal rights groups issue an apology for every violent animal rights campaigner targetting research labs? Should all men collectively apologise for sex crimes? All adults for pedophilia? After all, such crimes are every bit as horrific as the one David Cameron called "deeply shocking". Is he also shocked by the high level of birth defects in Iraqi babies due to the illegal use of radioactive weapons by US and UK forces? More importantly, will the security services apologise for their repetitive incompetence? It appears that both attackers were known to them as has been the case with nearly every previous "terrorist" attack perpetrated, so obviously they're are not giving us our money's worth in protection whilst spending ample time and resources spying on innocent citizens. Maybe, letting things happen serves them as a welcome argument for increased funding?

It is high time that this whole anti-terrorism business is becoming the object of a more focused discussion. How much of our fought-for freedoms do we wish to surrender to an ever-more encroaching government on the excuse that the terror threat is alive and kicking and that a potential terrorist could be lurking at every street corner? We already have more surveillance cameras in London than in any other capital on the globe? Whom do they benefit and how did they make the people of Woolwich more safe? What role do the security services play in fermenting the terror threat? How do we define terrorism, both at home and abroad? Without attempting to answer these questions and many more we will completely lose touch with reality and become open prey to those in authority who want us to live in permanent fear in order to let them exploit their positions - and us - unchecked.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Airport insecurity

Anyone who travels a lot by air will know that there's no glamour involved anymore, in fact, airports appear to be less civilised places these days than coach stations. They make the bulk of their money from charging motorists for parking and dropping off and have little regard for passengers. Amongst the least pleasant experiences before boarding a plane is the so-called security screening procedure. It has very little to do with security and a lot with harassment. It seems authorities want Joe Public to feel uneasy and on edge, for keeping the so-called terror threat alive is good for politics. So far, the only explosives ever detected by airport screening were those previously planted by security staff themselves. A couple of years ago a business man boarded a plane in Houston, Texas, with a loaded pistol in his hand luggage. He reported the security lapse on arrival. Lucky for him, they didn't spot it prior to boarding, seeing he goes by the Arabic name of Farid Seif. Had they found it, they would probably have turned him into a would-be terrorist, instead it was all embarrassment for them. He didn't intend to carry the gun, he just forgot it was there. I can sympathise. Twice I have travelled from a UK airport with a Swiss army knife in my pocket, having simply forgotten to remove it prior to setting out to the airport. On one of those occasions, they put me through a pad-down body search whilst the pocket knife happily passed through the x-ray machine unmolested with my jacket. On the other occasion, they took great care to swab my ipad for explosives. Ipads are much more interesting than Swiss army knives, I suppose. I've known other people who have travelled with box cutters left in their bag from some DIY project. Wasn't it box cutters after all which ushered in the ongoing security hype, not explosives?

The other day I boarded from a UK airport and they spent half an hour taking out everything from my hand luggage, the same bag which has travelled with me unaltered in any way for dozens of occasions before without being scrutinised, containing an assortment of electrical chargers and cables for laptops, phones etcetera. Since the electronic devices have to be removed and put through separately, they usually get all the attention, but this time it was my bag at last. The initial polite question "Is this your bag" and "Do you mind if I check it" quickly turns into "Stand back, don't touch anything", setting off alarm bells with passengers nearby that the whole thing might go up in smoke any time. Yet the procedure itself is ludicrous. An officer who wears the same gloves he has worn for hours during previous checks takes out each an every item and lays it out on a table top area in no way separated from other luggage, then swabs the items, each and everyone of them, with his explosive residue swab kit, which he puts through his mobile analysis device right at the end before giving you the "all clear" and offering to help pack so your clear out quickly, an offer best refused as you most probably end up with losing half your stuff. Officially, he would have to wear new gloves and swab and test each item separately with a new kit for the test to be in any way meaningful, but since the whole thing is just for show it doesn't really matter. It is my suspicion that security staff would rather not carry out a proper test, because substances like glycerine (nitroglycerine) used in medication for heart conditions can give false positives, and an explosive alert would cause unwelcome disruption to the whole process.
As for people losing things, besides their nerves and their heads, I have seen them forget their mobile phones, drop their identity cards, leave their boarding passes behind, and the ensuing confusion and chaos must surely add a great deal to security, apart from being a great opportunity for the occasional thief.
There is no consistency either. At some UK airports they give you tiny trays where hardly anything fits in, at others huge ones, at some airports they let you sort your stuff into trays beforehand, at others they hand you the tray last minute, so you end up like a juggler trying to balance whilst holding your jacket, belt, laptop, ipad, hand luggage ready to be submitted in a hurry. At some airports they ask you to take your shoes off randomly, at others they have a separate shoe scanning machine. If you're quick enough you could place a hidden item from your shoe into the already scanned luggage before placing your shoes on the second belt, a great way of concealing contraband and exploiting a security loophole! At European airports they take away your drinking water, but on your return flight into Europe with the same carrier you can take your water with you - naturally, North African water, for example, is known to have a much higher safety record than, let's say, British water - I kid you not!
I remember that in the days before the terrorist threat they executed similar harassment for health and hygiene reasons. If you were to fly into Heathrow or some other UK airport from Africa, they would spray the plane with insecticide before opening the doors after landing. However, if your plane made an intermediate stop in Frankfurt, where they didn't disinfect the plane, then they wouldn't do it at Heathrow either, because you came in from Europe. A simple stop-over somewhere in Europe turned those deadly African bugs into benign European creatures not worthy of further consideration - amazing!
The so-called airport security measures, including the police patrols with machine guns, serve the same purpose. They are there to intimidate and cause anxiety; they allow the US and Europe to act like the tough world policeman they made themselves out to be and keep their populations scared of those lesser human beings living outside their borders. Last not least, even bogus security is expensive, so it's definitely good for business.

Monday, February 04, 2013

Halal Pork - Muslims have themselves to blame

Investigations following the detection of horse meat DNA in burgers sold in British supermarkets eventually also led to the discovery of pork DNA in processed food supplied as halal produce to prisons throughout the UK. The response is probably as scandalous as the discovery. On the non-Muslim side the emphasis was on this having been an unfortunate isolated accident. On the Muslim side it was a lot more muted than that concerning cartoons nobody ever saw. Somehow one got the impression that as long as only prisoners were affected it didn't matter all that much and, in any case, they had consumed the food unknowingly and thus were forgiven. The only key concern was that other services and outlets would not also have been supplied by the same firm, McColgan Quality Foods of Northern Ireland. The firm's website has been taken offline, making it impossible to check who certified them as halal in the first place.

No lessons will be learned as long as nobody addresses the systemic failures. The discovery of pork in halal labelled products is both an insult and a wake-up call to all Muslims, not just those who ate the food. Unless the system of halal certification and the use of halal labelling on food products changes, this will not be the last incident, just as it has not been the first. South African Muslims had a similar experience earlier this year of an unscrupulous butcher selling pork as halal meat. Years ago, the certification of halal food containing pork was questioned in Singapore. The key question, therefore, is: who has the right to declare a product as halal?

In the UK there are one major organisation, the Halal Food Authority (HFA), and a minor one, the Halal Monitoring Committee (HMC). Whilst the former gives the impression that it is an official body with the use of the word authority, this is only a name it chose for itself. There is no regulation covering the approval and auditing of halal food products. The latter, HMC, was dissolved as a company after the UK tax office decided that the firm did not benefit from a VAT exemption and demanded some seven hundred thousands of pounds in back payments. As the company could not re-bill its customers, it had to close down, but its work continues as an unincorporated association of individuals. Halal Monitoring Committee is the only UK Muslim body insisting that halal meat should only be certified as such if it has not been previously stunned.

Halal has become big business, and the majority of companies profiting from it are not small and medium-scale Muslim family butchers and slaughter houses but large non-Muslim corporations. The list of certified suppliers on the HFA website has hardly a Muslim sounding name on it. All of them use stunning and mechanical slaughter processes. The halal element of their operations is reduced to a tape running with Qur'anic blessings and a Muslim slaughter man watching the conveyor belts. Once stunning had been declared as acceptable by scholars, Muslim conscience could be bought off with the supply of cheap halal meat on a mass scale. The same happened in the banking sector with so-called halal mortgages where interest was re-labelled and declared halal by hand-picked Muslim scholars and the market opened up and was exploited by non-Muslim banks such as HSBC.

Muslims have become consumers, and most are not worried where their food originates from as long as somebody tells them it's ok to eat and, of course, as long as it's not pork. Many take refuge in the Qur'anic permission to eat the food of the Jews and Christians, forgetting that their food is only permitted if it is in all other respects complying with Islamic dietary rules, in other words: their stunned meat is no less forbidden than their pork. Neither becomes halal just because it is produced by Jews or Christians. The permission only indicates that since they worship the same God, Muslims need not worry about their food having been dedicated to some other deity or idol.

I have come to a point where I probably trust Jewish food products more than Muslim ones. Jews don't permit non-Jews to process their food. They don't allow anybody outside their faith to take control of any of the processes of food production in order to label an item as kosher. What Muslims need to realise is that if you entrust the safeguarding of your religious requirements to people who do not share your faith, you cannot expect them to be all too zealous about it and things will inevitably go wrong. When our halal food is produced by non-Muslims with a remote nod of approval by some self-appointed and non-regulated body happy to cash in on selling the halal label, the selling of pork in halal produce was only an accident waiting to happen.

Muslims in the West, and those in the East sucking up to the West, have bent over backwards to please in order to be tolerated and share the affluence of materialism. We have allowed ourselves to be disarmed. Whilst Sikhs, for example, are at least permitted to wear a turban and a token plastic dagger, we haven't even held onto such symbolic relics of our identity. We've willingly taken off our garments and thrown away our arms; we were not conquered, we surrendered readily. How then, do we have a right to demand sensitivity and respect?

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Windows Wants the Desktop to Die

Windows upgrades are never a simple or straight forward affair, so I put aside the relatively more quiet period near the turn of the year to test upgrading to Windows 8 from a Windows 7 Ultimate installation, given that new computers are soon only going to be sold with the new operating system. I had read mixed reviews but naively hoped that the Vista Disaster would not be repeated. Unfortunately, it seems true that every second Windows release is a complete flop.

With Windows 8 Microsoft corporation is trying to make inroads into the mobile application market they have as good as lost to Apple and Google Android. For people using those perfectly usable and mature operating systems as platforms for mobile communication devices there is little incentive to move over to Windows. To force desktop users to put up with a poorly designed touchscreen button interface means Windows is going to vacate that market too if they don't come up with a new version aimed at business and professional users soon. When Vista came out, serious desktop users stuck with Windows XP, and those who have upgraded to Windows 7 will stick with it until support is no longer available. To date, Windows still dominates the desktop (and laptop) market. The perfect time for business program developers to think about writing for different platforms, such as Linux, and providing an upgrade path.

Ipads and mobile phones have come of age and as multimedia communication devices contribute immensely to networking on the move. Today anybody can skype, email or twitter from their mobile phone handset, and business people, previously dependent on Blackberry devices, have taken full advantage of the availability of alternatives. But social networking does not contribute directly to the balance sheet and real work still takes place at the office with a laptop about the smallest feasible platform for design work using CAD tools, writing reports or specifications, using spreadsheets etc. In most cases a large external screen is a must to be meaningfully productive. To fill such a screen with a few childish application buttons and hide the controls in the corners, as Windows 8 does, whilst removing the start screen to access programs altogether, is both wasteful and a serious misjudgment of the needs of professional users.

There are, of course, already programs on offer to revert to a more usable user interface, in practice to bring the Windows XP or Windows 7 layout back to Windows 8 as an overlay. This in itself makes a statement, namely that Microsoft completely misjudged the needs of desktop users. But why waste hours on upgrading an operating system without gaining anything at all? Or, in fact, losing the functionality of some (not even very old) legacy programs the new operating system cannot handle? What is the point in spending hundreds of pounds in finding new program solutions for no other reason than that Windows want your desktop to look different? Professional computing is still about functionality, not looks, and functionality is sadly missing from the Windows upgrade.

Predictably, the installation routine was not smooth. After installing, several forced restarts were required before Windows managed to present a usable interface at all. The first desktop was bare barring a few non-essential applications and could only be vacated using the Ctrl+Alt+Del key combination. Bravo Windows! What use are touchscreen buttons (on a non-touchscreen monitor) in fancy colour schemes when old-fashioned key shortcuts are the only way to even get started?

Once Windows 8 settled down, there were dozens of Windows updates to install, another indicator of poor user-testing before going to market. This meant another series of computer restarts. Worse, however, repeatedly, Windows failed installing its own updates leaving the user with a system which even according to Microsoft is missing "important" fixes and improvements. After wasting a full day on installing the new Windows operating system and half a day on trying to make it work satisfactorily with the rest of my software it was time to mirror the old Windows 7 back onto the computer which is one of the more stable Windows platforms and a lot faster too than Windows 8.

Well, at least the failed upgrade was cheap (not counting the time) - £25 is an unusually modest price for a Microsoft product. But let's not be fooled. Bill Gates' charitable endeavours have not suddenly been reflected in the pricing structure. It's still "What you pay is what you get", and the upgrade price is a true reflection of the product value, this being Microsoft's cheapest operating system version ever!