There Is So Much More Than Darkness

I wasn’t always a moaner. I wasn’t always cynical and angry. 

I loved to read. I loved to play football. I loved being the best at English and maths and reading and spelling and I loved being top of the class.

I didn’t know anything about arrogance. I didn’t know anything about hatred or revenge or “us” and “them”. I didn’t know about hurtful smackdowns, then of course, nobody knew the word “smackdown” in the early 1970s. Or at least I didn’t. I didn’t know anything about fear, or terror or being beaten up for being brown. I didn’t know anything about foul language and using it to hurt others as to my shame, I did.

I learned all these things. I learned all these things because I was taught them. I used them myself as a defence mechanism and sometimes, as a survival mechanism. My life did not improve. I did not find any joy. I found others like me, but I also found others who saw potential in me way beyond, no, above my station. After decades, I listened to those better, calmer voices that wanted to lift me above the filth of sordid battle where nobody knows who the pigs are anymore because we’re all covered in shit.

So I got better. I stopped moaning (as much). I looked for the good in myself and in others. I gave. I gave. I gave. I forgave. I grew. 

There is already too much division. There is already too much polarisation. There is way too much hatred and misunderstanding and knee-jerk self-righteous indignation.

There is already too much finger-pointing and justification and calls for retribution, but like scratching an itch, it feels better for an instant; and then you scratch and scratch and scratch and suddenly it’s not about the itch anymore, but your bleeding, scabby skin that’s infected and threatening to take your arm or leg to the morgue to be buried with all the other victims of hate, all of whom, under the skin of whatever colour, bled the same red.

The only responses worthy of our consideration are those responses human beings of all races, of all backgrounds, of all religions — and none — have already spilled their blood for. This is not a time for hypocrisy, this is a time for our highest values. For justice. For peace. For inclusion. For balance. For harmony. For understanding. For fairness. For gentleness. For kindness. For healing. For love.

And not just this time, but every time. No matter what. Always return. Always seek out the light. It is always there. If we see only darkness, then let’s open our eyes because my God! There is so much more than darkness. 

When the Chips Are Down

 

That’s the thirty-second time tonight

That those kids have knocked and run again

I’d stand outside and fight

But there are a million of us: and fifty million of them

 

There’s a mob smashing down our door

So brave against three kids and their frightened mother

The police don’t come here anymore

We’re just Pakis, so why should they bother?

 

We tried so hard to reason

But it just pissed them off, that we spoke, just like them

We tried so hard to appease them

But we’re not the same, because we “didn’t die at Arnhem”

 

When the chips are down, my skin’s still brown

I’m just a Paki to you

When the chips are down, my skin’s still brown

I’m just a Paki to you

 

We wanted you to end your hatred

We didn’t even want respect

For hours behind that door we waited

Praying that you’d feel regret

 

And now you want us integrated

Because our background frightens you

But we’re happy differentiated

This way, we might enlighten you

 

We tried so hard to reason

But it just pissed them off, that we spoke, just like them

We tried so hard to appease them

But we’re not the same, because we “didn’t die at Arnhem”

 

When the chips are down, my skin’s still brown

I’m just a Paki to you

When the chips are down, my skin’s still brown

I’m just a Paki to you

When the chips are down, my skin’s still brown

I’m just a Paki to you

When the chips are down, my skin’s still brown

I’m just a Paki to you

 

I thought that we’d turned the corner

I thought that we’d climbed the hill

But we’re right back where we started

Disenfranchised, what a bitter pill

 

Copyright © 1999-2013 Shahid K. Ahmad

Vocals, programming, guitars, fretless bass: Shahid Ahmad

Solo: Rashid Ahmad

 

I Dream

Let me tell you about my dreams

I dream that we are one world in harmony. Not unison. Harmony. Different notes. Same song. Not monotony. Freedom. Improvisation. Joy.

I dream we are able to express ourselves and that our spirits can soar to whatever level they desire, without arbitrary material restriction.

I dream that we are free to enjoy the fruits of one another’s expression and that it inspires us to express even more in resonant sympathy.

I dream that love overcomes indifference, that peace overcomes the oppression of unfettered capitalism and its brother, war, that we win.

I dream that work is done out of love, that the fruits of labour are revered, that the worker is paid before the sweat on their back dries.

I dream that life is a game. That when it’s game over, we enjoyed the game, we played the game, we loved the game, we lived the game.

I dream that you love my family as much as I love your family. That you love my land as much as I love yours, that an eye *sees* an eye.

I dream that life slows down until like a ray-traced still, we can imbibe the beauty of a crystallised moment in all its glory for ever.

I dream that you are happy and that I am happy and that your happiness increases my happiness and mine increases yours.

I dream that acceptance always overrides intolerance; that inclusion smothers exclusion; that giving overcomes receiving.

I dream that whosoever is the worst of my enemies can in an instant be completely forgiven and in an instant become my close friend.

I dream that if I were the cause of distress to you, that you accept my sincere apology and that we may be enemies no more.

I dream of heights that can be aspired to by all, and reached by some; with depths that can be tolerated by and descended to by none.

I dream of a human chorus so rousing and powerful, so majestic in rhythm, so profound, that it propels us into a new golden age of humanity.

And last, but not least, I dream that when I wake, God gives me the strength to start working on making these dreams real. Amen.

 

With my love to you all, whether you are a friend, or yet to become one; only love will overcome pain and rancour. You have mine.

 

(Thanks Paul Brimmer for compiling my tweets into a Storify)

One Nation Under Gold

 

Mo farah prostrating

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: 

 

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.

BBC TV Licence Fee Con

Pretty much the only TV I watch now is via Netflix. There’s not enough new stuff on there to distract me, but just enough quality older stuff with the odd documentary that provides for some light entertainment from time to time on demand.

I’ve written before about my disdain for the BBC, and it’s nice to see other people pick up on the rather obvious conclusion that the BBC has become unreliable, biased, unrepresentative and cowardly in its news reporting. I don’t care much for the rest of its programming either, and given that if I want to watch programmes I’ve already paid for, I have to pay for them again on iTunes or whatever, I hardly think it fair that I should have to pay the licence fee for a channel that not only doesn’t report the news properly, but has also for many years now played a role in making Islamophobia pass the dinner-table-test.

So if anyone knows how I can get away with not paying the licence fee, please let me know. I have no intention of watching anything the BBC makes without paying for it, I’d just much rather pay for it on demand.

Disbelief in God, Belief in Santa

I’m probably about to commit the blogosphere equivalent of suicide by passing a slightly negative comment on one of Chairman Gruber’s recent posts.

In a slight variation on the cringeworthy “some of my friends are black” defence, I would just like to point out that some of my best friends are in fact atheists and agnostics, and I don’t take issue with Gruber’s apparent atheism. It’s just the quote he pulls out is of dubious quality. Science is actually held together by a bunch of theories. Many sciences have come and gone. So the course of science could have been dramatically different, what is important is not what science produces in the way of laws and theories, but the scientific process itself.

He (Jillette) should have said maths of course, but he’s also made the error of imagining that the social concepts that run through many of the world’s great religions can’t be separated from the times they were established in. You’d also have to suppose there was no God to come up with the logic that Penn Jillette, the quoted author does in the citation provided by Gruber for that conclusion to work. With a God in place, the idea that Messengers can come throughout history to call to His Unity, establishing laws suitable for the development of humanity for the time makes perfect sense. The idea also that the human race could reach a point beyond which we’d learned enough from His Messengers and we didn’t in fact need any more guidance, with the God of Islam urging us again and again to ponder, to reflect, to use our reason, is also not so radical or stupid, and Islam does in fact teach this.

Then you could also make the same point about art. Or literature. Or music. I’d argue that the popular music of today is as valueless and ugly as the militant atheism of Dawkins, but I can’t imagine that Jillette would argue that art or literature or music of the past was nonsense.

The reason Jillette has to imagine a reconstruction of religion in different forms each time is because he is presupposing that God didn’t send revelation to His Messengers. If you believe that order came from chaos, then of course a different re-run would produce different results.

A common failing of Western ideologues is that they completely ignore Islam and the reason for that is quite simple: They believe in their culture’s stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. I have been reading Anne Lamott’s brilliant “Bird by Bird” as recommended by Tim Ferriss. It’s taken me a while and I decided to go for the home stretch today. Written in 1994, thus predating 9/11 by quite a few years, it has until today for me been a book I’d recommend to anyone. Now I’m planning on using it for toilet paper because having taken my sweet time to read it, I came to the chapter headed “giving” today and found this distasteful tract. (The emphasis is mine.)

Your work as a writer, when you are giving everything you have to your characters and to your readers ,will periodically make you feel like the single parent of a three-year-old, who is, by turns, wonderful, wilful, terrible, crazed and adoring. Toddlers can make you feel as if you have violated some archaic law in their personal Koran and you should die, infidel.

On reading this, the intimacy that Lamott had developed with me during the course of her book drained out of me instantly. Like a wife who finds out that the man she has loved for several decades is in fact, a serial killer. It’s like finding out that Tony Benn has a Nazi memorabilia museum and that he salutes the German national anthem with tears of nostalgia welling up in his misty eyes. This kind of rubbish is used to bolster the views that start with mosque burnings and Breivik, but ultimately lead to wars of aggression and genocide.

So an important point gets missed. The Qur’an has not in fact changed one iota in 1400 years, unlike ever other religious text. We didn’t humanly have the technology to do that before. Science was developed hugely by Muslims (and Christians) who saw no conflict between their faith and reason and still don’t. It’s only a fashion to be militantly atheist and it’s shockingly easy to be an ignorant atheist too, simply because it’s so fashionable. I wonder if Jillette realises just how extraordinarily unprecedented this act of preservation is?

Some people accuse Gruber of being a fanboy. I think such people are irredeemably stupid. If he’s a fanboy (of Apple), then I’m screwed. If we’re fanboys, it’s of stuff that works really well and is designed for our needs. If something better comes along, we’ll take it. Our position is based on our reason, not on somebody else’s.

I do see a lot of atheism fanboyism going on though, a position taken without too much thought. I’m not going to accuse Gruber of that, because he rarely talks about the personal, but I do hope that he and others who have hung their hats on the Hitchens hook will at least have a look at Islam one day, having removed as far as possible, any of the prejudices they might unconsciously harbour against it.

 

Regent’s Park

I’ve been going to Regent’s Park for 46 years now.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

I’m still drawn to this place, even if I do feel somewhat rejected by racist usurpers who think they own it, barging us out of the way. They don’t own it. The Crown Estate does. Which means it belongs more to me than the Americans who forced me and my wife to make way attempting, but failing to ruin our beautiful afternoon walk.

There was one Spanish gentleman with his son on a bike. He moved for my wife, which was gracious of him. The English of course, treated us like scum, necks stiffening, voices rising, all ages, all classes, expected the paki scum to move. You only become sensitive to this stuff when you have experienced it for a long time.

The most notable exception was a Muslim family who like us, displayed gracious etiquette and moved. Please note, I don’t expect people to move for me, I always move and am happy to do so, but over decades, you understand body language, you read the dance, you know who is prepared to move with you, and you know who is not, and why. When you both start moving, there is genuine humility and giving on display, the head bows slightly, a small smile, sometimes not so small, spreads, otherwise subtle movements are exaggerated.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

These pictures were all taken on my iPhone 4, some using the Clarity filter in Camera+, then the Lomofi filter in Instagram.

Regent's Park, photo taken by Shahid K. Ahmad

If you like these and you’re on Instagram, I’m shahidkamal, of course, and @shahidkamal on Twitter too.

The racist usurpers will neither know, nor love Regent’s Park the way I do.