(Note, this post is not meant to be construed morbidly. If anything, I’m more positive than I’ve been at any point in my life)
It’s the last day of Ramadhan and I’m reminded that I won’t always have another.
I’ve always loved books. I don’t remember a time when I didn’t feel reverence for them. I look after my books. I take care not to damage the spines. It’s only in recent years that I shed my last fig leaf and started marking up my books. I still don’t feel comfortable doing that and don’t think I ever will be.
I remember doing a rough calculation in a year I’d read 50 books and was in despair when I realised that even with a long life, at the rate I was reading, I wouldn’t get through more than 3000 books in my entire life. If ever you want a picture of mortality, it’s right there, in that number.
I buy and read books voraciously, but the two are not always in sync. I will occasionally, rarely, read borrowed books, but most of the time, I will buy books I will never read.
I aspired to a library of Coelho’s proportions, where the value lay not in the books he’d read, but in the ones he hadn’t. So by that measure, I have always had a valuable library. And now there’s the bloody Internet.
In the last few years, I’ve made the switch. It’s been gradual, but I’m there now. Nearly all of my reading is done on an electronic device. Either a Kindle or a Retina iPad. It’s almost nonsensical to have a dead tree product that weighs more than a Kindle. Any argument for the physical in my eyes is purely sentimental, and I’m feeling my mortality this month sufficiently to realise that in my case, this is becoming increasingly true.
So I’m divesting from wood-pulp. Have a look at my list below. If you know me and want any of these, give me a shout and I’ll save for you. Pictures below too. Most of these books are in perfect condition, like new, even if they’ve been read.
My bookshelves are in a nod to Parkinson’s Law, still full. That is, “No matter how many books you get rid of, your shelves will always be full”.
Here’s the list, you’re welcome to it, contact me if you’re interested in any of these (it’s gone already if crossed out):
- Stephen King, Danse Macabre
- White Teeth, Zadie Smith
- Shopped, Joanna Blythman
- Any Human Heart, William Boyd
- How to Invest When You Don’t Have Any Money: The Fool’s Guide, Christopher Spink
- How To Make Money From Property, Adam Walker
- A New Earth, Eckhart Tolle
- Something to Tell You, Hanif Kureishi
- The Art of Changing: A New Approach to the Alexander Technique, Glen Park
- Red Earth and Pouring Rain, Vikram Chandra
- Self, Yann Martel
- The Rules of Life, Richard Templar
- The Rules of Work, Richard Templar
- Using SQL, Groff & Weinberg
- House of Bush, House of Saud, Craig Unger
- Anyone Can Do It, Sahar & Bobby Hashemi
Foundation ActionScript 3. with Flash CS3 and Flex, Webster, Yard & McSharry
- Affluenza, Oliver James
- Love’s Labour’s Lost, Shakespeare
A History of Warfare, John Keegan
- No Logo, Naomi Klein
- The Language Instinct, Steven Pinker
- Manager’s Book of Checklists, Derek Rowntree
The Audacity of Hope, Barack Obama
- The Blank Slate, Steven Pinker
- Schott’s Almanac 2006, Ben Schott
- Is it Just Me or Is Everything Shit? Volume Two, Steve Lowe & Alan McArthur
The 5-Day Course in Thinking, Edward de Bono
- Tales From the Thousand and One Nights, Penguin Classics
- Death of a Salesman, Arthur Miller
- The Tibetan Art of Positive Thinking, Christopher Hansard
- Shite’s Unoriginal Miscellany, A. Parody
Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov
- A Brief History of Time, Stephen Hawking
- Perpetual War for Perpetual Peace, Gore Vidal
- Nine Parts of Desire, Geraldine Brooks
- London Fields, Martin Amis
- Candide – and Other Stories, Voltaire
- Talk to the Hand, Lynne Truss
- One Red Paperclip, Kyle Macdonald
- Intimacy, Hanif Kureishi
- Captive State, George Monbiot
- Emergency, Neil Strauss
- Meditation in a Changing World, William Bloom
- The Naked Lunch, William Burroughs
- The Selfish Gene, Richard Dawkins
- The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Mark Haddon
- Superforce, Paul Davies
- Beyond Reengineering, Michael Hammer
Unix in a Nutshell 4th Edition, Arnold Robbins (O’Reilly)
- The Satanic Verses, Salman Rushdie
- The Moor’s Last Sigh, Salman Rushdie
- Fire with Fire, Naomi Wolf
- The Secret Dreamworld of a Shopaholic, Sophie Kinsella
- The Trouble with Boys, Angela Phillips
- High Fidelity, Nick Hornby
- The Buddha of Suburbia, Hanif Kureishi
- The Business, Iain Banks
- The Fatherland, Robert Harris
- The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying, Sogyal Rinpoche
- Complete Tales & Poems, Edgar Allen Poe
- The Oxford Companion to the Mind, Edited by Richard L. Gregory
- Mr Jones’ Rules, Dylan Jones
The Prophet’s Way, Thom Harmann
When I come home on a Friday evening, I pick up an instrument and play. I don’t think. The muse has been ignored for the whole week and the pressure I feel to be the channel for creativity to become real is almost overwhelming.
Like Steven Pressfield, I believe we are channels for this creative force. As a Muslim, I believe that this is a gift from Allah, but you can call this force what you like and ignore that I’m on first name terms with the Creator of All That Is, Was and Ever Shall Be. I’m not too precious about the nomenclature. All I know is that I don’t actually know where the music comes from, just that I’m the channel.
I don’t even know what I’m going to say until I’ve spoken. I don’t know what I’m going to write until I’ve written, and I don’t know what is going to be composed until I pick up an instrument, tonight a guitar, and just play for a few minutes to release whatever it was that needed to come into being. And now it is part of the Creation and I as the medium have served my purpose. It never lets me down, because it is not me that is doing anything. I’m just the servant.
Does it work for people who have no “talent”? Sure. I believe that talent is the accumulation of perfect practice. I subscribe to Gladwell’s “10,000 hours” idea. As a youth, I put a lot of time into practising the bass guitar. As a child, I was the best in my primary school at all the recorders. I learned to just about get by on guitar, to sound out a few handy blues riffs on the harmonica, to play a few notes that sounded OK on a sax. I even learned to sing, just about, but I haven’t hit 10,000 hours in any of those disciplines, with the possible exception of the bass guitar. I did not have talent to begin with. I had a willingness to learn. Call it aptitude, passion, interest, whatever, it’s the thing that sustains you through plateaus and kicks your behind after you’ve been criticised by fools that should know better.
Undeveloped talent is like a radio that isn’t tuned properly. The more you develop your skill, the clearer your reception to the gift of art. There is a point at which your technique becomes the tool of the art. The more finely tuned you are to the source, the greater the range of creative expression you are “gifted” with.
I get a good signal. There is some static, some noise, some feedback, but if I keep putting in the hours, the art will ring like a bell.
Something remarkable is happening to my country. It is beginning to awaken. Victory does that.
It’s not the crass victory of a well financed, lucratively monetized Premiership football club. It is the victory borne of years of commitment, dedication, sacrifice and anonymous toil in the pursuit of an ideal. To be the best. The best in the world. The best of humanity in a physical discipline.
I had never heard of Mo Farah, or Jess Ennis before the London Olympics. My interest in what many consider to be the hardest athletic event of all, the 10,000m extends only to a dim memory of cheering Brendan Foster in 1976 when he finished 5th. I’ve spent my whole life cheering for England and for Britain. I only stopped supporting the England cricket team out of principle once Sir Norman Tebbit pointed his accusing finger at non-white immigrants when he came up with his notorious cricket test. I continued to vociferously support England in all football contests, even when the flag of St. George became increasingly associated with far right elements.
Islam came late to me, but it was never an issue until I started waking up to how increasingly Islamophobic the media was becoming. I wrote about that a lot. Sometimes, way too angrily. Increasingly, the question of loyalty was raised, unit the discourse about Muslims became so obscene in the media that the association between “Muslim” and “terrorist” practically became a mainstream notion. It disgusted many Muslims that it had become acceptable to talk about Muslims in the media in a way that was eerily reminiscent of Nazi Germany’s demonisation of Jews.
Apparently, Max Clifford, who let’s face it, gets the media, told a group of young Muslims that the demonisation would stop only once we had prominent sports stars. At a chillingly simple level, that makes sense, much as I’d hope that most people wouldn’t be that shallow.
Last night, to my profound delight, I realised that people are not that shallow.
Last night, the nation roared in unison as Mohamed “Mo” Farah ran the perfect 10k, finishing with open disbelief and intent etched into his face, whilst the rest of his slender frame carried him home, propelled by the tail wind of a country blowing him home with every elegant stride. The disbelief turned to bewilderment as realisation dawned. As he prostrated to Allah, the crowd continued to cheer, the country continued to cheer. My family was jumping up and down. I shouted him home, hoarse. I shouted because this gold meant so much to my nation. I shouted because this gold meant so much to me. I shouted because the nation knows that Mo is Muslim, and doesn’t care. I shouted because the country I had loved so deeply, with a love that I felt so unrequited, was shouting with me, unequivocally declaring that this too, is my home.
I tweeted my heart out. Some consider me a cynic. I am a cynic, but I am more a romantic than a cynic. I wear my heart on my sleeve. I love my family, my colleagues, my friends, my company, my city, my country, my fellow human beings. I hate war, and division, and theft, and oppression and propaganda. It brings out the worst in me. Last night was a reminder that humanity can in an instant rise above all of those things. We have to kindle the tiny fire we lit last night. We have to repeat these moments. We have to believe that a many cultures can and do live together in harmony in this nation, that we will not be divided against one another. We have to believe, because the alternative is unpalatable.
This was the tweet I wrote that revealed my heart to the world:
For 46 years I waited to be accepted as a Brit. Tonight, as Britain cheers a Muslim black boy to victory, to gold, I am finally home.
— Shahid Kamal Ahmad (@shahidkamal) August 4, 2012
There were many others, but that one seems to have caught the attention of a pretty wide audience, including Anthony Sharwood of Australia’s The Punch, who wrote so kindly about me tonight. He, like many others, seem to get the point of why this is important, and what it is that I’m saying. I never made my religion an issue, and neither did the majority of the world’s Muslims, until we started to get called fifth columnists. There has been an attempt to divorce us from our homeland, to divide our identity and to force us to make choices. We didn’t want to bang on about our religion, but if we’re going to be called to account for it in a way that nobody else gets called to account, you can bet (because we don’t) that we’ll defend ourselves. Identity is complicated, and any attempt to divide it is dangerous. Forget about identity for a moment, let’s just think about home. This is my home. Last night, my country welcomed me with open arms.
Britain’s core value is not tolerance. We are better than that. Our core value is acceptance. Through diversity, we are strong. Last night, we saw that multiculturalism works. When Mo Farah prostrated to Allah upon his victory, nobody made a fuss of it, no more than anyone makes a fuss of Usain Bolt, or any number of sports stars crossing themselves. That’s as it should be. Usain Bolt is no less Jamaican for crossing himself, and Mohamed Farah is no less British for prostrating to Allah. This is Mo’s home. This is Jess’ home. This is my home.
Nobody cares that Mo’s black. Nobody cares that he’s Muslim. We see past colour, we see past religion, we see past all that and we just see one of us. That’s what brought tears to my eyes last night. I am one of “us”. I felt like I was finally home, and the years of alienation have been washed away in the euphoria of a nation united if just for a moment. It was a vision of what we could be. That’s worth holding on to.
The media makes money out of polarisation. That’s how you get public interest and advertising revenue. Acceptance doesn’t sell papers. Stories do. Usually, the more shocking, the more extreme, the more divisive, the better, but sometimes, those stories don’t have to be negative, sometimes, those stories are about hope, about glory, about unity, about striving, suffering, perseverance, sacrifice and yes, victory. Our nation needs victory, God do we need victory.
These are hard times. Many people have become scapegoats. Muslims, yes, but also more worryingly, the sick, the old, the unemployed and the poor. Labelled “scroungers”, or “skivers”, or “immigrants”, or “niggers”, or “pakis”, or “spastics”, it has been a sickening period of a nation bent on accelerating its decline.
Everything can change in a moment. We are better than that. This run of British Olympic success is not just about sport. It is a metaphor for life. We’ve had a tough few years, but what Mo Farah and the others have shown us is the best of us. That when we support one another (Sir Eddie Kulukundis paid for Farah’s naturalisation legal fees), when we nurture one another (Paula Radcliffe paid for Farah’s driving lessons), when we fund our kids (a £10,000 National Lottery grant allowed Farah to train full time), when we are inclusive, when we are united, when we work together, hard, unflinchingly with unwavering focus, we can win. We can heal, we can recover, and we can win.
My God we can win.