Friday, December 28, 2007

A sermon at a mosque in ladbroke grove got me pondering what the main differences are between church sermons and their Islamic counterpart. Apart from the imam today unwittingly comparing a women to a "horse", there was little difference I could speculate on. (The said phrase however was "play" with one's wife in the same way one would play with a "horse" before taking it to "jihad". The concept being that not all "play" is meaningless.) Although something struck me at the end, which was the reference to the situation in Pakistan. There was unequivocal condemnation and criticism for the actions taken against Benazir Bhutto, and the counter-productive methods employed by "terrorists". So there was a political and moral dimension to the concluding statements of the Imam. The recurrent prayers for the mujahideen in Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir etc then ensued.

If anything the main contrast with any western christian sermon would be a reversal of the political overview, or an absense of this altogether. I've never heard a priest talk very much about important current affairs within a religious framework. It's always been localised issues about personal redemption and individual progression.

As I watched the swarms of people coming in and then leaving I couldn't help but get the impression everyone was carrying out a 'duty' in their attendance. Then I thought of what was important to these people outside of their religion, and I could think of little. It seems that Muslims in this country are somewhat impervious to the trivialities of consumerism, celebrity and irrational jingoism that many in this country have come accustomed to.

This notion follows that religion is therefore a problem for the establishment. It provides a separate dimension for large communities which has a serious influence, a unifiying effect, but is also outside of the political authorities. The stated rise in extremism in London and the UK is a result of this climate, but also a result of state foriegn policy (and to some extent domestic), undoubtedly implemented with the anticipation of a heightened risk of terrorism.

The way to address the issue of extremism is to make it policy, not to allow the circumstances which make people feel what they are doing is NOT "extreme", in the pursuit of some notions of justice and liberty. All bombing is terrorism and it certainly isn't right to claim attacks in London are disconnected socially and politically to the global structure. The point of this was really to look at religion in society in general, then Islam as a more unique body in the West. If Muslims have more serious representation in this discredited political system we could see a more positive social change, but what we need is widespread political participation, and a media that facilitates this. At the moment people simply feel detached from the centralised and impersonal political authorities.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Someone asked on Question Time the other night that following the intelligence report on Iran's nuclear programme, is Iran vindicated or still a threat to global security.

This is where Orwellian thought processes really need to initiate. Yes there is a debate, but only if everyone is willing to accept the presumptions and framework for that discussion.

The intelligence stipulates that Iran stalled its weapons programme in 2003. What happened in 2003? The US launched a war of aggression on Iran's neighbour, but Iran is being considered a threat to "global security". Needless to say that wasn't brought up by the distinguished panellists. The debate remains in "Iran on trial" mode partly because of the questioner in the audience but nevertheless it is up to the panellists to correct the presumptions and offer some insight to the benighted public!

The questioners and the panellists seem to set the debate so narrow as to be largely meaningless to anyone interested in serious discussion. But the paradox is that Question Time hosts a large number of ostensibly the most politically active and concerned public figures and ordinary citizens in the various regions it's held. And therefore it sets the agenda for discussion, if the most radical departure from the stat quo is an arbitrary apprearence from George Galloway, then the general picture is quite dim.

Questions need to be asked to raise the level of political debate in this country, Question Time while providing the perfect platform (and only programme of its kind) for extended discussion, fails miserably most of the time.

Part of the problem is selection of panellists. Question Time tends to be overwhelmingly white male establishment figures and few representatives of actual labour, consumer, feminist or environmental groups ever make it onto the program. Over November and October this year, 39 panellists have appeared on the show. The following are statistics on the different categories of guests on the show over only a two month period.

90% white, of which 60% were male,
36% women
20% left of centre
0% Trade Union, Environmental, Consumer, Feminist, Left-wing journalist/academic

While it would appear Question Time is narrower, whiter, more male-dominated, more government-oriented and quite conservative, does that really reflect the discursive nature of contemporary public opinion? Is the show setting the agenda as 'we' see it or as 'they' see it. The virtual exclusion of public interest leaders with very rare exceptions is typical as is the pro-establishment guest-list which makes a mockery of public broadcasting.