Thursday, August 10, 2006

ALL IS WAR the intriguing new album from Fun-Da-Mental which has caused a bit of a furore in the UK. Tabloids have called for group leader and Bradford/Bradistan celebrity Aki Nawaz to be jailed for violation of anti-terror laws because of some of the tracks. 'Cookbook DIY' is a rap about the preparation of dirty bombs. And there's a song juxtaposing Che Guevara with Osama Bin Laden. I wrote about the group in Sounds English: Transnational popular music (2001). John Hutnyk, Sanjay Sharma, Ted Swedenburg, Dave Hesmondhalgh and Rehan Hyder have also analysed Fun^Da^Mental's work from an academic perspective. Islamopop rather than Islamofascism, methinks. Pressing plants have refused to handle the music as if it's explosive, so the group has resorted to the download option and will have the albums pressed up in a distant country and released by the end of August. Maybe the Syrians or Iranians will oblige. I'm joking, aiiight. I've just downloaded the album from the group's website (for eight quid). I'll be playing some of these tunes out on The Basement. Here are a couple of the more sober reports about the album from The Observer and The Times.

There are many more creative possibilities to be had in imagining 'angry young Muslims' in Inglistan. Muslimgauze must be turning in his grave, since he is unable to seize the time to disturb. Fun^da^Mental give voice to these positions. We may or may not like the music, but stifling its exposure is unhelpful and exposes some of the current hypocrisies about freedom and democracy.

It was timely that I spotted a rather naive piece in The Guardian from quintessential liberal Timothy Garton Ash about the 'alienation of British Muslims'. They don't give a monkey's about being British, according to a Pew survey that we're all meant to believe 'just like that', to quote the late great comedian Tommy Cooper. Surveys have to be taken with a pinch of salt or garam masala. The Pew report suggests that British Muslims are the most alienated from nationhood in Europe, the most conservative in relation to women's rights and the most worried about the influence of secular popular culture.

However, nothing in the survey and Garton Ash's editorial tells you anything about the regional aspect of this so-called alienation. The July 7 bombers came from the north of England which has had the most success with fascist parties and a deep deep racism amongst ordinary white folks that refuses to change despite decades of Desi settlement. Desis up north have also been more prone to hick Mullahs who have dominated the community leadership. That's one reasons that young lads have been attracted to the extra-Masjid activities of activists, including Islamists with their CDs and DVDs of Muslim suffering in Palestine, Bosnia, Chechnya, Iraq and now Lebanon. Global yet local: Bradford, Blackburn, Oldham, Dewsbury have gone through a long period of economic decline, high unemployment, riots, a growing segregation of neighbourhoods and tensions around scarce resources that are given a racial/ethnic slant.

This is no excuse for violent Euro-Islamism. As Rafia Zakaria notes, many European Muslims live in denial about the pernicious currents within the ummah and fail to criticize their fellow believers. They want to brush the negatives under the carpet and avoid vigorous criticism of Muslim beliefs and practices that need to change. Going on about Islamophobia, the plight of the Palestinians, and the decline of the Muslim world at the hands of the west are essential, but they can also function as mechanisms that avoid a robust debate about Jihadi terrorism, violence against women, homophobia and other 'problematic' issues. I find that kneejerk defensive reaction among many believers in the UK. For example, it's always the Americans' fault, or there's a conspiracy against Muslims, or the Muslims doing the bad stuff are a few who have misinterpreted the Quran and the other holy teachings. Apparently, they are not 'true Muslims' or do not practise the 'true Islam'. Of course, many believers think they carry the real true Islam with themselves. What about hermeneutics? There's a belief in a reified Quranic text with the delusion that its living reality exists independently of interpretation, even when believers say someone else has a wrong interpretation and they have the right one! People quote whatever suits them from this patchwork document--and I say that acknowledging that all documents are patchwork--without considering the really unpleasant and frankly stupid things written in the holy book alongside the poetically rendered statements of worldly understanding.

I yearn for something akin to a secular current, akin to the secularisation undergone by Judaism. Many are Jewish without believing in any tenets of the religion or its ethno-nationalist manifestations like Zionism. Is there a way to rearticulate 'being Muslim' in terms that dump the doctrinal nonsense and, at least for Sunnis, the appeal to some 7th century ideal that didn't exist in the first place? That PBOH (peace be upon him) respectfully cited after every mention of the Prophet Muhammad's name might be evidence of the failure of Muslims to historicize. Let's have a political analysis of what happened in the Arabian Peninsula back in the day? If there's a broadly variegated ummah, isn't there also room for Muslim atheism that isn't simply dismissed as apostasy? Surely Islam in many locations and across so many populations for centuries has developed myriad trajectories that have given us a million ways of thinking, feeling and doing that cannot be contained by the statement of faith that There is Only One God and His Messenger is Muhammad.

Having said all of that, the war on terror has made Muslims angry. Say I was a youth questioned by some smarmy pollster with a ringbinder in the 'hood or even more remotely through the internet. I would respond with answers that essentially conveyed my sentiment that Tony Blair was a wanker and for extra wind up I might say that we should have shariah law in the UK. So answering certain questions in a poll in a particular way does not mean that is what people really think. It can simply be a gesture of resentment or a contingent and momentary statement of solidarity or sympathy with 'my peeps'. Vote Hezbollah! It might just be a sudden ejaculation of affect that may or may not reflect a realpolitical perspective.

I thought we'd moved beyond simple positivism, but social scientists and media types like to see neat qualititative categories translated into even tidier quantitative information. Muslims in The West are now getting so used to being categorized, surveyed and surveilled by the state and the media for 'representative opinions' or simply to satisfy the preconceptions of non-Muslims. Many are tempted to play language games and give the run-around to those who want to define and regulate their identities and subjectivities. Even I, as a born-again atheist, feel this urge to be a trickster and play with the discourses that attempt to reify Muslim identity. The imagined audience is sometimes Muslims themselves, other times non-Muslims. Maybe that's one of the ways we step through and ultimately beyond the categories we inherit from all sides, and one method to modify or modulate Islam and Muslimness (whatever that is) in our own ways.

British Muslims feel British and/or Muslim in a number of different ways. When the UK is conducting at least one illegal war and supporting the US on a number of military fronts, UK Muslims are going to be 'unpatriotic', just like many of their white native fellow citizens. A whole range of 'unpatriotic' responses, both legitimate and illegitimate, ensue from private frustration to public protest to terrorist violence.

On the other hand, to take a mundane and banal example, British Muslims like Sajid Mahmood can also play cricket for England against Pakistan, and help win the match. I have to admit that I always supported the other team when I went to Headingley. We always wanted England to lose whether it was the West Indies, India, Pakistan or Australia. That's part of our postcolonial birthright. It's a small gesture of defiance rather than 'the Empire strikes back'. Let's not take it all too seriously like Norman Tebbit's cricket test for Englishness. Some of us feel loyal, others don't, but it all depends on the activity and the context. For example, I looked askance at my religiously Muslim brother and my other non-practising brother who both supported England in the World Cup football this June. I hated the St George's cross fluttering everywhere when I was in England in June. It didn't bother them.

But I'm also English and British in innumerable gestures and conversations. I'm shaped by growing up in dear old Blighty and cannot get over it. Just like Morrissey, I suppose. And why should I. You can't shed identities just like that, though you might take the coat off for a while. Sajid Mahmood, himself a UK northerner, has a sense of humour about these 'divided loyalties' or 'multiple loyalties', when confronted just the other day by the insults of British Pakistani supporters (of Pakistan) in the crowd:

Mahmood also had the strength of character to deal with some barracking from the stands that, at times, was less than friendly, making play of his Pakistan roots as the English-born son of immigrants, albeit a family that has been in Britain for 40 years. "The banter with the crowd was light-hearted at first but then it started to get a bit personal," he said. "I heard the word traitor in a couple of chants but I did not let it affect me. To be honest I tried to ignore it and concentrate on bowling. It helped fire me up." His success clearly made it easier to bear, even to the extent of joking about who might be behind it when his family's mixed allegiances were brought up. "My father and brother were here watching," he said. "I don't know, maybe it was my dad who instigated it!"
Who is 'alienated' here? Sajjid or his father? I just find the term a little glib in its subsumption of so many positions on being Muslim and being British. It's become a media cliché. All is not alienation and war.

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