Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Urdu couplets are elixir for brain; learning the language helps prevent dementia - By Shailvee Sharda - The Times of India - Lucknow - INDIA

Urdu hai jiska naam hamin jaante hain DAAG
Saare Jahan main dhoom hamari zabaan ki hai

اردو ہے جسکا نام ہمیں جانتے ہیں داغ
سارے جہاں میں دھوم ہماری زبان کی ہے

उर्दू है जिसका नाम हमी जानते हेँ दाग
सारे जहां में धूम हमारी ज़बान  की है
(A couplet by famous poet Daag Dehlvi)


The Times of India

Urdu couplets are elixir for brain; learning the language helps prevent dementia

, TNN | Mar 2, 2015, 01.34AM IST 

LUCKNOW: Reading an Urdu couplet is not only a delight for your soul but also an elixir for your brain. A recent study by the Center for Bio-Medical Researches (CBMR), Lucknow, suggests that reading Urdu passages helps in brain development.

The work, which has made it to the recent edition of international journal 'Neuroscience Letters', has shown that reading the language involves predominant involvement of the frontal brain which controls a number of cognitive functions like decision making, the ability to determine good from bad, emotional control, coping with stress, processing information and analysing. Learning Urdu also has a role in delaying the onset of dementia, besides helping children with learning disabilities.

Uttam Kumar, a faculty member in the department of neuroimaging at CBMR, who conducted the research on subjects from the city, said the conclusion was drawn on the basis of mapping the brain of subjects when they read Urdu text for a stipulated time. The mapping was done using functional magnetic resonance imaging technique, a world-class technology used to study structural and functional aspects of the brain.

Learning of a language creates a certain pattern in the brain which can be identified by linking different neurons involved. Joining all dots refers to mapping. Though the basic contour of this pattern for all languages is the same, the structure tends to differ at a micro level because of scripts and subsequent speech sounds (phonetics).

Languages are also differentiated on the basis of orthography or difference between grapheme (seeing written letters) and phoneme (encoding and translating the written into spoken letters) mapping.

"We used grapheme-phoneme mapping which divides languages into 'transparent' (easy to learn) or 'deep' (difficult to learn). For example: Hindi and German are transparent while English and French are deep. Urdu is the deepest language and therefore reading it involves more areas of the brain, which is good for mental health," said Kumar adding, "Urdu has two more advantages over others — visual complexity of letters and direction of writing."

The study found that reading Urdu involved dominant participation of the middle and superior regions of the frontal part of the brain. "Both these areas control majority of cognitive functions of the brain such as decision making, emotional control, coping with stress, analysing things and processing information," he said adding that its role in decision making was most important. "It governs the ability to determine the good from the bad along with consequences of action," he stated, citing the Journal of Cognitive Neurosciences.

The work examined effects of graphene-phoneme mapping over neural regions in bilingual people and suggested that Hindi and Urdu made a good combination. "This works very well because they are mutually comprehensible languages and have a shared vocabulary," Kumar said. Researchers at Nizam Institute of Medical Sciences, Hyderabad, have already shown that bilingualism delays the age of onset of Alzheimers and other dementia. It also found that the Urdu-Hindi combo was beneficial for children with learning disabilities, particularly dyslexia, as it improves functioning of the visual cortex.


Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Saudi Award Goes to Muslim Televangelist Who Harshly Criticizes U.S. By BEN HUBBARD - The New York Times

The New York Times

Saudi Award Goes to Muslim Televangelist Who Harshly Criticizes U.S.


MARCH 2, 2015

Dr. Zakir Naik, right, a televangelist from India, receiving an award from King Salman of Saudi Arabia on Sunday. Credit King Faisal Foundation, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
BEIRUT, Lebanon — He has publicly declared that “the Jews” control America, that apostates can be killed, that the United States is the world’s “biggest terrorist” and that the Sept. 11 attacks were an “inside job” by President George W. Bush.

But last weekend, Dr. Zakir Naik, a prominent Muslim televangelist from India, appeared at an elaborate ceremony at a luxury hotel in Saudi Arabia, where the new monarch, King Salman, gave him one of the country’s highest honors.

The award for “service to Islam” highlighted the conflicted position of Saudi Arabia as an American ally that continues to back Islamists who espouse hatred of the West.

Scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s role in shaping thought in the Muslim world has grown with the rise of the Islamic State extremist group in Iraq and Syria, which shares some aspects of the fundamentalist Islam propagated by the Saudi state.

Saudi officials reject any comparison to the Islamic State, noting that they are on its hit list and that they have joined the American-led coalition that is bombing the group.

But despite longstanding ties between the United States and the Saudi royal family, the gap between what the two countries consider appropriate religious rhetoric was clear in the public celebration of Dr. Naik.

Reached by phone in Saudi Arabia on Monday, Dr. Naik said he was proud to join the “icons of the Muslim world” who had received the award. He remained harshly critical of the United States.

“I am absolutely against Muslims who kill, but what is the U.S. doing?” Dr. Naik asked, saying that the United States had killed Afghan, Iraqi and Palestinian Muslims. “Is the U.S. really bothered about human rights? No!”

Saudi Arabia is not alone in seeing Dr. Naik as a vital spokesman for Islam. In 2013, he was named the Islamic Personality of the Year by a religious association in Dubai, an honor bestowed upon him by Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister of the United Arab Emirates, which has also joined the coalition against the Islamic State.

Dr. Naik, 49, was trained as a medical doctor but now heads the Mumbai-based Islamic Research Foundation, whose website says it seeks to spread “the proper presentation, understanding and appreciation of Islam.”

Dr. Naik, a thin man with a wispy beard and a penchant for dark suits, has made his name internationally through colloquial lectures about Islam, the religion’s links to science and why he considers it superior to other faiths.

In videos on his YouTube channel, he addresses such questions as “Why are music and dancing not allowed in Islam?” and “Why do Muslims have nonvegetarian food?”

Other videos show him engaging with Christians, Hindus and atheists, some of whom are said to be so persuaded by his arguments that they convert on the spot.

Thomas Blom Hansen, a professor of anthropology at Stanford University who studies religion in India and who met Dr. Naik in India in the late 1990s, said that the televangelist struck a chord with some upwardly mobile Muslims who liked his combative way of defending their religion. But, he said, Dr. Naik is not a jihadist directly calling for violence.

“He is a conservative for sure, but is he someone who would endorse people going to Syria, for example? That is not my view,” Dr. Hansen said.

A journalist who covers Mumbai’s Muslims for a prominent Indian newspaper said that Dr. Naik was controversial at home, where opinion is divided on his puritanical views.

“He promoted the supremacy of Islam, and when he is in dialogue with the heads of other religions, he talks about how Islam is superior to all other religions,” the journalist said, speaking on condition of anonymity to avoid jeopardizing his sources.

The Mumbai police have barred him from holding conferences in recent years because he stirs controversy, the journalist said, and Indian satellite providers have refused to broadcast his television channel, Peace TV.

Dr. Naik often deflects when talking about Muslim violence. Asked by phone about the Islamic State, he said he was against its actions if the media had reported them correctly, although he said he had no way of knowing.

Years ago, he gave a similar answer about Osama bin Laden, saying he could not judge since he did not know the man. But Dr. Naik also said he supported him if he was fighting the United States.

“If he is terrorizing America the terrorist, the biggest terrorist, I am with him,” he said. “Every Muslim should be a terrorist.”

Dr. Naik has also said that apostates who propagate other religions should be killed and that “the Jews” control the United States.

“The Jews are a minority less than 5 percent in America, but they are controlling the economy, they are controlling America,” he said.

As for Sept. 11, in one lecture, Dr. Naik discussed conspiracy theories suggesting that the American government had lied about the attacks. He concluded that by “the amount of ample evidence, a fool will know this is an inside job.”

Citing online documentaries, he said: “If you see all this, it is a blatant, open secret that this attack on the twin towers was done by George Bush himself.”

When asked on Monday about the accusations, Dr. Naik said he had been misquoted.
“People say Muslims have done it, and some others said Bush had done it,” he said. “But who knows who did it?”

In Saudi Arabia on Sunday, Dr. Naik was given the King Faisal International Prize for service to Islam by the King Faisal Foundation, a research institute in Riyadh. The award citation called Dr. Naik “one of the most renowned non-Arabic speaking promulgators of Islam.”

King Salman gave Dr. Naik his certificate. He also received a gold medal and a cash award of nearly $200,000.

Saudi watchers were unsurprised that the kingdom would honor a harsh critic of its American allies, noting that many members of the Saudi religious establishment hold similar views.

“If you ask them their opinions about America, they would share lots of Zakir Naik’s opinions,” said Stéphane Lacroix, an associate professor at Sciences Po in Paris who studies Saudi Arabia. “But usually they don’t talk about it.”

Dr. Naik’s positions have caused him trouble before. In 2010, both Canada and Britain denied him entry for speaking engagements.

Theresa May, the British home secretary, said then that “numerous comments made by Dr. Naik are evidence to me of his unacceptable behavior.”

On Monday, Dr. Naik blamed Christian missionaries who fear that letting him in will cause Christians to convert to Islam.

“I know, and that is why I haven’t even tried going to these countries,” he said. “People can hear me on the Internet.”

Suhasini Raj contributed reporting from New Delhi, and Neha Thirani Bagri from Mumbai, India.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Stop calling for a Muslim Enlightenment

the guardian

Stop calling for a Muslim Enlightenment

After every terror attack the call rings out for the Muslim world to become modern. But as Christopher de Bellaigue writes, Muslims have strenuously engaged with all that is new for hundreds of years

A spectator at Meydan racecourse in Dubai. Photograph: Frank Sorge/




A party of school-age swimmers takes to the waters of a municipal pool in north London. Among her peers, one Muslim girl stands out – nine or 10 years of age, brown face and eyes under a yellow cap, sliding gingerly into the water in a cotton salwar kameez that prevents the male attendants, the boys in her class, and other random males in the pool, like me, from seeing her prepubescent body.

So far as I know, there is nothing in Islam that bars girls below the age of menstruation from showing their legs and tummy in public, but in more conservative households there is a strong distaste for the idea of even partial undress in mixed company at any age. In less understanding circumstances, this distaste could have led to the girl’s withdrawal from her school’s weekly swimming outing – denying her a part of our holistic modern curriculum. But in this case consultations have evidently taken place between parents, school and pool management (has the salwar kameez been washed?), leading to this civilised modus vivendi.

Back home, in Pakistan, or Bangladesh, the question would not have arisen because such outings to the pool would almost certainly be single-sex affairs. Silly me: this is home, where she was born, where she is part of, and her life here will be one long variant on this trip to the swimming baths, a negotiation between her expectations and the expectations that others have of her. Ideas will be batted about, solutions proffered; change and adaptation happen on both sides. It isn’t only among Muslims that values are in an unsettled state – who would have thought that gay marriage would enter polite acceptability as smokers are being shown the door?
The girl in the yellow cap popped into my mind after the attacks in France this January – which, like the copycat killings last week in Copenhagen, prompted another round of discussions about Islam’s “place” in the modern world. It was generally agreed that the Muslims must pull themselves together. According to Hubert Védrine, a former French foreign minister, writing in Le Monde on 13 January, the answer is the kind of Islam that is in tune with the Enlightenment and sharply delineated from jihadism. “What a boost that would be for an enlightened Islam,” he wrote, “what an example (while awaiting a genuine reform of Islam), and what a beacon!” In the following day’s edition of the same paper, three schoolteachers renewed their own vows to secular values. “We have learned to do without God,” they wrote. “We have no master but knowledge … we take it for granted that [Eugène Delacroix’s painting] Liberty Leading the People and [Voltaire’s] Candide are part of the heritage of humanity.” The challenge, they wrote, is to inculcate this heritage in their pupils, those left “by the wayside of republican values”.

Whenever jihadi groups carry out an atrocity, or – as is happening a lot these days, western foreign policy failures lead to large areas of the world coming under the sway of oafs who claim to be acting for God – the call goes up for a Muslim Enlightenment. The imputation of Védrine, the French schoolteachers, and thousands of other commentators is that various internal deficiencies have excluded Islam from this indispensable cultural and intellectual event, without which no culture can be considered modern. Such views cut across political borders; they would find sympathy at the BBC as well as in the editorial offices of the Sun. Islam needs to get with the programme.

Yet it cannot escape the attention of any westerner who has travelled to a Muslim country that for the people there, the challenge of modernity is the overwhelming fact of their lives; the double imperative of being modern and universal on the one hand, and adhering to the emplaced identities of religion and nation, on the other, complicates and enriches everything they do. To anyone outside the west, it is self-evident that there is more than one way to be modern – a truth easily observed in any developing country. Modernity is at the best of times a tension, a dislocation and an agitation, producing – in a phrase from Nietzsche that expresses a kaleidoscopic weirdness of perspective – “a fateful simultaneity of spring and autumn.”

Nietzsche was referring to the west, where the questions that led to modernity had been volunteered in the first place, during the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, and the race for empires, and where the cultural necessity of providing an answer was never seriously doubted. But his words are also relevant to the lands of Islam. The history of the Middle East over the past two centuries is also a history of modernisation – of reforms, reactions, innovations, false starts, discoveries and betrayals – and there is something gloriously cack-handed and unreal about westerners demanding an “Enlightenment” from people whose lives are coterminous with a strenuous, ceaseless engagement with all that is new. The experience of modernity cannot be reduced to various rites of passage through which the west has passed. Modernity is the shared predicament of all who discover or are discovered by new values and technologies – and a description of the pleasure and pain that follows.

I have retained the image of the young swimmer negotiating the waters in her salwar kameez, steering between competing expectations, while I have been researching a book about the earlier time when “modern ideas” first arrived in the Middle East from the newly dominant west. Few people have thought to qualify the word “modernity” using a culturally loaded adjective other than “Muslim”; one doesn’t hear much about “Indian” modernity, or “Chinese” modernity, even though the new ways of looking at the world have not entered these cultures without difficulty. Nor do I think that many modern Muslims regard their lives as substantially different or more complicated than those of non-Muslims across the globe. Certainly, those in the 19th and early 20th centuries who were the first bearers of new ideas were animated by a desire to be part of a movement that represented not only certain cultures or geographies, but all mankind.

Looking at the tableau before me, running from those early modernisers to the blameless mermaid of north London, I have the impression of a long, difficult, but very often joyful negotiation – the same negotiation in which many more have prospered without being noticed, and in which a number, among them the killers of Paris and Copenhagen, have catastrophically failed.


The reform of the Muslim world began in earnest at the turn of the 19th century, when Europe penetrated the Middle East with all the brusqueness you would expect from a rapidly developing civilisation whose constituent parts were in a race for colonies, wealth and glory. The cultural heartlands of Islam, by contrast, were lame, lachrymose, and chronically resistant to novelty. Cairo’s school of Al-Azhar – the acknowledged citadel of Islamic learning – suspected science, despised philosophy and hadn’t produced an original thought in years. The paradigmatic idea was that society under the prophet Muhammad had attained a perfection from which later generations were condemned to live at an exponentially increasing remove.

The meeting of the two cultures (which, for obvious symbolic reasons, is often dated to the Napoleonic invasions of Egypt) led to a realisation on the part of Muslim rulers that only by adopting western practices and technologies could they avoid political and economic oblivion. The extraordinarily rapid process of change that this triggered has been summed up by the historian Juan Cole:
Napoleon Bonaparte at the Great Mosque in Cairo, Egypt. Photograph: Musee des Beaux Arts Mulhouse/Dagli Orti
“In the space of decades intellectuals forsook Ptolemaic for Copernican astronomy … businessmen formed joint-stock companies (not originally allowed in Islamic law), generals had their armies retrained in new drills and established munitions factories, regional patriotism intensified and prepared the way for nationalism, the population began growing exponentially under the impact of cash cropping and the new medicine, steamboats suddenly plied the red Sea and the Persian Gulf, and agrarian capitalism and the advent of factories led to new kinds of class conflict.”

And so on. In the middle of the century the Ottoman Sultan declared equality between his Muslim and non-Muslim subjects, the slave trade was outlawed and the harem fell gradually into desuetude. The sheikhs and mullahs saw their old prerogatives in the law and public morality arrogated by an expanding government bureaucracy. Clerical opposition to dissection was overcome and theatres of anatomy opened. Culture, too, was transformed, with a surge in non-religious education, and the reform of the Arabic, Turkish and Persian languages – the better to present modern poetry, novels and newspaper articles before the potent new audience of “public opinion”. Compared to the western experience, modernisation was drastically “telescoped”, as Cole puts it, with the moveable-type printing press, dating back to the 15th century, and the telegraph, which was invented in 1844, arriving almost simultaneously.

Political consciousness also rose. In the last decades of the 19th century, Egypt, Iran and Turkey, the most populous and culturally influential centres of the Middle East, all experienced movements in favour of representative government – in Turkey and Iran, parliamentary rule came into effect a few years after the turn of the new century, and in Egypt after the first world war.

The story of Muslim modernisation has sometimes been depicted as the efforts of a few potentates to enforce alien precepts on resistant populations. Muhammad Ali, Egypt’s khedive, or viceroy, for most of the first half of the 19th century, and his near contemporary (and nominal sovereign), Sultan Mahmud II, are the names to remember here, and there were indeed many instances of popular opposition to what were depicted as godless innovations. In 1814, for example, the Muslim notables of Piraeus were persuaded by a local divine not to set up quarantine stations to protect themselves from an outbreak of the plague. The pandemic was “from God”, he said; “to try and limit its progress is to oppose Providence”. (The population was duly obliterated.) The Persian crown prince Abbas Mirza, modernising his fiefdom of Tabriz, in north-west Iran, drilled the soldiers of his new army behind high walls, for fear that they would be spotted by their disapproving families.

The myth that modernisation had no natural constituency – to be contrasted invidiously with the spontaneity of emergent modernity in the west – has been exacerbated by some of its rankly insincere recent apologists. The Mubaraks and Ben Alis of this world paraded modernity like a codpiece; to look at these self-described apostles of secularism and development, one might be forgiven for thinking that modernisation in the Middle East has always been infertile, and always will be.

But if we want to understand the relationship between ideas and change in the Middle East, we must turn to an earlier moment, and to the figures who found themselves mediating between the two. We are limited here by the historical record – which preserves the accounts of a few distinguished figures – but there is no reason to believe the hope and trepidation that they expressed were not also felt by a great many of their lesser-known contemporaries. Societies changed, as the dialectic of new and old continued, and people lost themselves in the intensity of the transformation of which they were a part.


One of the earliest Middle Easterners to appreciate the unavoidable, tentacular qualities of modernity was the Iranian Mirza Muhammad Saleh Shirazi. He was one of five students who were sent to England by Crown Prince Abbas Mirza in 1815 to study useful things and bring them home. The travelogue that Mirza Saleh wrote is among the first books written in Persian about a Christian country. Reading it one gets the sense of a worldview that is changing; even Mirza Saleh’s writing alters as he acclimatises to Regency London, moving from stiltedness to fluency, directness and utility. Here, in real time, is the literary modernisation of the Middle East.

In the spring of 1817, Mirza Saleh made a trip to the west Country, which forms the most exquisite section of his book. A sense of diligent journalism permeates his writing as his coach quits London on the westward turnpike. In comparison to the potholed and rutted dust roads of Iran, passable only on horseback or on foot, his detailed description of this efficient mode of transport must have struck his readers as a great novelty. At first he sits inside the coach, with a Spaniard and several farmers for company (all equally unintelligible); after nightfall he takes his place on top, where he remains until Salisbury Cathedral comes ethereally into view at dawn.

And on to Exeter, where he is met by his host, Robert Abraham, and the two set off for the latter’s home in the stannery town of Ashburton. Amid the tin mines, Mirza Saleh exchanges European clothes for Iranian robes, which causes the daughters of his host much amusement. Indeed, much of Mirza Saleh’s stay is spent in the company of these and other Devonshire girls, “moon-faced” and “sweet-natured”. (He seems to have censored himself, for in the descriptions he provides of bucolic musical interludes overlooking the River Dart, mention of cider is suspiciously absent – only tea.) Mirza Saleh is partial to young Sarah Abraham, who displays “the utmost excellence, perspicacity, sagacity and delicacy” as they converse on the road to Plymouth. For the people back home, used to a strict segregation of the sexes, the outlandishness of such a friendship would not need spelling out.

A series of street portraits taken in the holy city of Qom, Iran by Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin.
In Plymouth, Mirza Saleh lavishes his ever-improving descriptive powers on “the most secure port in England”, with its armouries and massive hospital. The anchorage is so extensive a thousand warships could park there, protected by ramparts bristling with cannon – and he explains dry docks and breakwaters for the landlocked Tabrizis, whose only experience of the sea is as poetic metaphor. Amid celebrations to mark George III’s birthday he ventures out clutching the hand of Miss Sarah (again, a liberty he would not take with a girl back home) is mobbed by 500 people, and flees. And when the time comes for him to say farewell to the Abrahams, he asks, “of what importance are differences of religion? … I wept for the members of this family, old and young, such that I have never been so affected.”

Several hundred pages of British history and actuality are still to come. Mirza Saleh traces events from the Roman invasions to the Napoleonic Wars, and there is something thrilling about seeing the names of the Saxon Kings transliterated into Persian for the first time. His account of contemporary London takes in house design, domestic mores (not unreasonably, he is surprised that when people enter houses, rather than take off their dirty shoes, they remove their hats), and detailed descriptions of the prerogatives of the king and parliament. Admiring but never cringing, fully aware that his exposition of Britain’s partial democracy will prompt interest and perhaps envy in the Iran of the divine right of kings, he reserves his greatest astonishment for the ability of a single artisan, “a poor man, with a shop”, to postpone the building of Regent Street by refusing to sell his freehold to make way for the thoroughfare. “And suppose,” Mirza Saleh writes with pardonable hyperbole, “that the whole army were to come down on his head, they cannot oblige him to give it up … the prince himself cannot inflict the slightest financial or physical harm on him.”

Mirza Saleh and his fellow students were a small sample of similar contingents that were dispatched from Muslim countries to Europe over the course of the 19th century. In 1819 the five Iranians were recalled home, where Mirza Saleh went on to become a teacher, diplomat and pioneering newspaper owner and printer. (Among his productions was a Qur’an with a Persian translation between the lines – he appreciated the importance of Tyndale’s translation of the Bible into English). Of his former travelling companions, one rose to be chief engineer to the (newly modernised) army, and translated a biography of Peter the Great, while another, who had studied medicine in London, assumed the title of royal doctor and designed Iran’s first polytechnic. The only artisan in the party, the master craftsman Muhammad Ali, became head of the royal foundry; his English wife introduced knives and forks into their household.

Thus change entered Iran and the wider region through the cerebral and the banal, and if it was to stand a chance of popular success it would need the endorsement of men of religion. In the absence of a central ecclesiastical institution capable of bringing people – with the authority, say, of a papal encyclical – over to a new understanding of things, the sheikhs and mullahs would have to be guided by their own consciences.


Perhaps the most celebrated of the early modernising theologians was Egypt’s Rifa’a al-Tahtawi. Rifa’a was the archetypal “new” sheikh; chloroformed at al-Azhar and revived abroad (in his case, as a student in Paris in the late 1820s), he returned home to join the bureaucracy and trill the virtues of civilisation – a word whose Arabic equivalent, tamaddun, from the word meaning “city”, he did much to popularise.

The idea that the future will be better than the past is integral to any understanding of progress, and Rifa’a adopted it unambiguously: his love of the new was heartfelt and unapologetic; he ridiculed those who dismissed the modern era. He promoted a reformed Arabic, published furiously (including the first Arabic grammar for schools), and edited the country’s first newspaper. In 1836, he set up a translation bureau that brought new and unfamiliar ideas rushing into Egypt by rendering 2,000 European and Turkish works into Arabic, ranging from Greek philosophy and ancient history to books about geography and geometry.

The effect of these translations on the engineers, doctors, teachers and military officers who read them can easily be imagined. For this new elite, forerunners of the secular-minded middle classes that dominate public life even now, learning about antiquity expanded the meaning of the instructive past. The feats of the hitherto reviled non-Muslims presented an alternative story of talent and achievement, occluding faith-based partitions and suggesting a more equitable distribution of God’s favours than many Muslims had previously entertained.

Rifa’a had been amazed by the malleability of the French language, geared to utility more than embellishment, and he introduced similar principles into Arabic as Mirza Saleh, through his travelogue, had done for Persian. Translation is an expression of the universality of the intellect, but one Middle Eastern language remained unable to receive the new ideas – arguably the most important of them all, Ottoman Turkish. When writing in Ottoman Turkish it was considered a fine thing to approach the subject in as ornamental and long-winded a fashion as possible, executing puns, ransacking the Persian classics and eschewing punctuation. Nine different calligraphic systems were in use, getting to the point was considered facile and functionality was ignorance.

In the late 1850s and early 1860s Turkish was made fit for purpose by a curmudgeonly polymath named İbrahim Şinasi. The orphaned son of an artillery captain, Şinasi grew up in the Tophane district of Istanbul (now much sought after by foreigners), where he learned Arabic, Persian and French before going to Paris on a scholarship. He returned with a shrewd realisation that the goals of human progress and linguistic development are linked – and applied himself to both.

In 1860 Şinasi co-founded the empire’s first independent Turkish-language newspaper, and shortly afterwards he launched his own paper, the Tasvir-i Efkâr, or Illustration of Opinion. The subjects he wrote about ranged from foreign policy (he was a hawk) to literature and the importance of good manners. Şinasi also pushed the idea, then in its infancy, of a national identity. In Egypt Rifa’a al-Tahtawi was thinking along similar lines, popularising the word watan, or nation, and translating the Marseillaise. The outlines of the Middle Eastern nation states were coming into view.

One of the most fascinating of Şinasi’s editorials reveals his ability to draw philosophical significance from apparently quite workaday subjects. The government had announced a scheme to introduce street lighting to parts of central Istanbul, opposed by kneejerk conservatives – just as the same innovation had been opposed in London almost 200 years earlier. Şinasi, of course, was enthusiastic, not only for practical reasons of reduced criminality and enhanced commerce, but also because the illumination of the streets seemed to presage the deeper and less extinguishable illumination of people’s minds. “Who opposes street lighting,” he demanded, “if not those ruffians who profit from the darkness of the night?” And then, in a barbed reference to the intellectual monopolists whose feeble glow depended on surrounding gloom and the ignorance of others: “A firefly only glows at night.”

Sultan Abdulaziz read impertinence and sedition into editorials of this kind, and in January 1865 the government introduced censorship following the example of Napoleon III. Within the month Şinasi had fled to Paris but the press could not be controlled. Over the next 11 years the number of publications available in Istanbul went from four to 72, with the most popular papers selling as many as 24,000 per issue. It was a similar, if slower story in Egypt, where the newspaper-reading public in 1881 has been put at 72,000; Iran’s press revoultion was just as dramatic.

A series of street portraits taken in the holy city of Qom, Iran by Magnum photographer Paolo Pellegrin
It was little wonder that governments across the Middle East viewed with alarm the transformation of the public discourse and their diminishing ability to regulate it. Relationships between people of different backgrounds were being formed against the neutral backdrops of the university, the office and the steamship. The rigid seclusion of the harem fell away and for men it was no longer necessary to be a eunuch in order to enjoy the society of a woman who was neither a prostitute nor your mother. Between the strata of the Ottoman family a kind of pluralism inserted itself, with one modernist insisting that his patriarchal father show respect for an “individual’s opinion”.

What if that individual was female? While decades would pass before most Muslim women were acquainted with even the theory of their rights, change came earlier for the upper classes in the cities. There, rising female literacy led to employment in nursing and teaching, and the emergence of western-style charities independent of the mosque. New women’s magazines showed the Paris fashions and called for the prohibition of polygamy.

The career of the Turkish writer Fatma Aliye shows how a combination of new institutions, technology and altered patterns of thought were changing society with a convulsive force. Born in 1862, the daughter of an Ottoman grandee, she might have seemed destined for a traditional life – and indeed, despite showing exceptional intellectual promise and even learning French in secret (her mother feared her exposure to impious notions), she went into purdah at 15 and was married off at 19 to a man who disapproved of her vocation.

But Aliye continued to write and translate, eventually winning her husband’s support, and what she produced in seclusion the new press enabled her to diffuse among an expanding audience of literate women. Hers became a distinctive voice in the Istanbul papers, where she promoted girls’ education and kicked against the stock male denigration of women as “long on hair, short on nous”.

What makes Aliye’s experience so instructive is the way in which she was formed by modernisation and formed it back in turn. Among her best-known works is an epistolary novel comprising letters by upper-class women speaking of their lives and their loves, a conceit that would have been meaningless were it not for the new institution of the imperial postal service. She was the sort of woman who would engage in philosophical conversations with strange men while crossing the Bosphorus on a steamer. Public transport was exercising its usual levelling function, with hitherto segregated members of society thrown together and their candour naturally heightened by the transience and anonymity of such encounters.
In her later years, she continued to exercise a degree of autonomy as a Muslim woman that would have been unthinkable in her youth – travelling alone to Europe to pursue her errant younger daughter Zubeyda, who (to her immense chagrin) had become a Catholic nun and moved to France. Zubeyda later recalled that her mother had been “haunted” by the question of the “equality of the sexes in society and the struggle to achieve it”. In the Turkey of the 1860s, when Aliye was a child, there had been little question of “equality of the sexes”. There had been no “struggle”. Now there were both.
The stories of Fatma Aliye, Mirza Saleh, Rifa’a al-Tahtawi and İbrahim Şinasi are only few among many, but they reiterate what should already be apparent, that Muslims had an energetic engagement with modernity more than a century before television pundits began demanding one – an engagement, then as now, defined by negotiation rather than conquest. It may be, as these examples show, that there is not a “canon” into which they can be fitted – a neat narrative of Muslim modernity to put alongside the western one we know so well, thanks to M. Védrine and others. But then it could be argued that the idea of a canon is somewhat déclassé, with contributions to the collective experience being written, as the young swimmer in the council pool demonstrates, around us all the time.

To suggest that the Muslim world’s experience of modernity has been severely deranged by the repeated incursions of western imperialists and post-imperialists is to restate one of the truisms of our age. When Britain and France invade Egypt with the aim of protecting their loans (literally in the case of Gladstone, with his heavy personal exposure to Egyptian government bonds) and Sykes and Picot split the region into British and French zones under cover of the first world war; when the western nations award land to Zionism that isn’t theirs to give and when the region is thrust into a cold war not of its making, with a harvest that includes Saddam, Mubarak and the Assads – with all this happening in the space of a few decades it would be optimistic to expect the reordering of cultures and societies to go without a hitch.

It is not surprising that many at the business end of this penetration have been sceptical of the westerners’ claim to be acting in their best interests, and that in time some of these Arabs, Turks and Iranians expanded their distaste for the curled colonial lip into a more general critique of modern life. When the radical Muslim Brother (and founder of modern Islamism) Sayyid Qutb went to study in the United States in the late 1940s, his reaction to the west was sharply dissimilar to that of Mirza Saleh 140 years earlier; what was revealed to Qutb was less a model worthy of emulation than the seedy internal workings of a system that he – an Egyptian chafing against a sybaritic monarch propped up by Britain – knew all too well.

Few westerners have considered how bruising it is to be constantly reacting to another’s invention, statement or action: always being told to “catch up” or improve. This is the situation that so many Muslims have found themselves in over the past two centuries. But this is the backstory that has made Islam’s engagement with modern values more suspenseful, more despairing, more suffused with the “simultaneity of spring and autumn”, than anywhere else in the world.

In the light of adverse politics and history, the surprise is not that modernity has been a tortuous experience for some Muslims, but that it has been adopted so widely and with such success. (Many millions of Muslims live in harmony with the modern values of personal sovereignty and human rights: another self-evident truth in need of reiteration.) With immigration from the Middle East and north Africa to Europe, the Mediterranean culture that ended with the expulsion of the Muslims from Spain in 1492 has been revived. Our world is even more interpenetrated than the communal gallimaufry of the Ottoman empire. Talk of European values that exclude Islamic values will be barren for as long as millions of Europeans regard Islam as an important element in their lives. Talk of teaching them Voltaire is a joke as long as they cannot teach us back. The much-touted choice facing the “Muslim community”, between modernity and obscurantism, between “here” and “home”, is false. Here is home. Life is modern. All we can do is negotiate.

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Saturday, February 28, 2015

KKK Was Terrorizing America Decades Before Islamic State Appeared - Julia Craven - The Huffington Post

This is not to condone violence in any form; but to expose duplicity and bigotry of Zionist controlled US media that under pathological obsession with Islamophobia, is carrying on anti-Islamic propaganda, with fake news and photo-shop pictures to build up a dubious case.
Ghulam Muhammed, Mumbai


KKK Was Terrorizing America Decades Before Islamic State Appeared

The Huffington Post

Julia Craven 11 hrs ago

Ku Klux Klan parade in Virginia, March 18 1922, United States, Washington. Library of Congress. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images) © Photo 12 via Getty Images Ku Klux Klan parade in Virginia, March 18 1922, United States, Washington. Library of Congress. (Photo by: Photo12/UIG via Getty Images)

When Sen. Angus King (I-Maine) returned home from a trip to the Middle East in October, he offered a reflection on the Islamic State, also known as ISIS, to the Bangor Daily News:

"My characterization of ISIS is that they have 14th century ethics and 21st century weapons," he said.

King and others who have reached into the Middle Ages for an apt Islamic State comparison may be going back further than they need to. The 19th and 20th centuries work just as well.

For David Pilgrim, the founder and director of the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University, the actions of ISIS and other extremist groups are familiar -- no better, no worse than the historic stateside violence against African-Americans.

"There's nothing you're going to see today that's not going to have already occurred in the U.S.," he said. "If you think of these groups that behead now -- first of all, beheading is barbaric but it's no more or less barbaric than some of the lynchings that occurred in the U.S."

The Ku Klux Klan was a domestic terror organization from its beginning, said Pilgrim, who finds it offensive when, after 9/11, some Americans would bemoan that terrorism had finally breached U.S. borders.

"That is ignoring and trivializing -- if not just summarily dismissing -- all the people, especially the peoples of color in this country, who were lynched in this country; who had their homes bombed in this country; who were victims of race riots," he said.

Victims of lynching were often burned, castrated, shot, stabbed and, in some cases, beheaded. Bodies were then hung or dragged through towns for display.

Most of these atrocities occurred during the eras of slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow -- but not all.

It was 116 years after slavery and 40 years after Jim Crow when 19-year-old Michael Donald's body was found swinging gently from a Mobile, Alabama, camphor tree in 1981. A perfect hangman's knot containing 13 loops held the noose wrapped around his neck, and a squad of Klansmen stood on a porch across the street, looking on as the police gathered evidence.

Lynchings like Donald's exemplify the terrorist methods that have always been the "stock and trade" of the KKK, according to Mark Potok, a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center.

"Michael Donald was sort of a classic case," he said. "It was real terrorism in the sense that Michael Donald was a completely random victim. He was completely unknown to his Klan murderers. He was simply abducted off the street and murdered in order to frighten black people."

Donald's lynching is often referred to as "America's last." His death falls outside the terror lynchings that ran rampant during the Jim Crow era, according to a report released by Alabama's Equal Justice Initiative earlier this month.

The study found almost 3,960 African-Americans were lynched from 1877 to 1950 -- a number that supersedes previous estimates by at least 700. It looked at lynchings in Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Virginia.

An "Instant Nigger" is 50 percent tar, 45 percent ignorance and 5 percent water, according to a flier thrown on the campus of Murphy High School in Mobile by Klansmen in the early 1970s.

"I'll never forget it," said Ada Fields, a black Mobile resident who attended the school. "It was a paper with a jar and a black body -- totally black -- with big bug eyes looking out the jar."

Alabama has a peculiar history with racially motivated terrorism -- arguably more so than other states in the Deep South -- and the state's Klan history complicates things a bit more. Since each cell of the Ku Klux Klan has a different history, Potok said, it is difficult to discuss the Klan as a single, monolithic group.

There were four eras of the Klan -- and the first and third eras were, arguably, the most characteristic of a terrorist organization.

Initial incarnations of the Klan used intimidation and violence to oppose the extension of civil liberties to blacks, maintain authority over black laborers and enforce their beliefs of white supremacy during Reconstruction, the years after the Civil War when the North occupied the South and briefly attempted to introduce more equitable practices.

Third-era Klan groups arose in response to the Brown v. Board of Education verdict, with membership peaking at about 40,000 around 1965. These individual Klans were more autonomous and often used the same terrorist methods as the first incarnation in an attempt to impede the civil rights movement.

Henry Hays and James Knowles, Donald's murderers, belonged to the United Klans of America, a third-era KKK organization based in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, that, at its height, was considered the strongest and most violent in the nation.

"The United Klans of America absolutely gloried in violence. That was their main, and perhaps their only, political tool," Potok said. "Violence and terrorism was a way of life for the United Klans of America. The group thought that these tactics would make it possible to reinstitute white supremacy."

Not only was the UKA linked to Donald's killing, members were also held responsible for the Mother's Day attack on Freedom Riders and the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing -- an attack resulting in the deaths of four young black girls. Both attacks occurred around Birmingham, Alabama, in 1961 and 1963, respectively.

"It's like they were born to have a genocide or something -- a black genocide," Fields said of the Klan. "They hated blacks. They was gonna get 'em anyway. You couldn't walk the street. If they could get you, they would hurt you."

However, Donald's lynching wasn't part of a widespread attempt to make a statement against a large civil rights movement -- it was revenge for a particular incident. He was, as Potok said, a random sacrifice -- the KKK's retribution for the death of a local white police officer whose alleged killer, an African-American, had walked free.

It was thought that the African-Americans who sat on the jury in the cop-killing case had altered the verdict, and at a post-trial meeting, Bennie Hays, the "Titan" of the UKA, reportedly said, "If a black man can get away with killing a white man, we ought to be able to get away with killing a black man."

A Klan leader calling for the death of a black person was a retro concept in 1981 -- one more aligned with the group's ideology during the civil rights movement.

"If you go back to the '60s, the Klan often planned murders and bombings and so on -- literally in rooms full of men," Potok said of the outdated practice. "Now, it was true in the Michael Donald case in the sense that the leader, Hays, essentially organized the killing."

Hays, the leader's son, and Knowles took the Titan's message to heart. On March 21, 1981, they hopped into their car and drove around Mobile with plans to avenge the death of the white police officer.

Eventually, Hays and Knowles spotted Donald as he walked home from buying a pack of cigarettes. After asking him for directions, Hays and Knowles forced Donald into their car at gunpoint and drove to a neighboring county.

According to The New York Times, Donald begged for his life and tried to escape. But the pair chased him down and, when they caught him, hit him with a tree limb more than 100 times. Once his body was still, a noose was slipped over his head, and Hays shoved his boot into Donald's face. The rope was pulled and Donald's throat was slit.

His body was left hanging to be discovered the next morning in a black area of Mobile, according to Fields.

"It really touched home when they come and hanged a dead body -- a black, young man's dead body -- in a black area. It just really bothered us because they hung him right in our neighborhood," Fields said. "It took a lot out of us."

In 1983, Knowles and Hays were convicted of murder and of violating Donald's civil rights.

Hays received the death penalty and was executed on June 6, 1997.

On June 7, 1998, three white men kidnapped African-American James Byrd, chained him to the back of a pickup truck by his ankles and dragged him almost 4 miles down a road near Jasper, Texas. Byrd died via decapitation after hitting a culvert, though the autopsy report said he was likely conscious for the majority of the ordeal.

Prosecutors, according to CNN, said the attack was "one of the most vicious hate crimes in U.S. history" and was intended to advertise a new white supremacist organization. In 2009, President Barack Obama expanded hate crime legislation due to the deaths of Byrd and Matthew Shepard, a gay man who was kidnapped and beaten to death in Wyoming in 1998.

Pilgrim of the Jim Crow Museum, however, said Byrd's death was more than a hate crime -- it was a lynching.

A lynching, per Pilgrim, involves an extrajudicial killing where the death is used to make a statement against a certain group or individual. Essentially, the killing has a purpose that transcends the actual death of the victim regardless of whether it was executed publicly -- a common misconception as to what defines a lynching.
Potok of the Southern Poverty Law Center said such crimes are often used as a warning.

"It's not just that you're killing this person, for one reason or another. It's that you're warning all the rest," Potok said. "It was message crime. It was supposed to send a message to black people in Alabama, and elsewhere, that if you do things like set black cop killers free, we will kill you."

While current terror organizations abroad are fighting to upset the existing conditions of their societies, the Klan aimed to maintain the status quo being threatened by a rapidly growing social movement.
The goal of first- and third-era Klan groups was to return to a time when "men were men, women were women, and black people knew their place," according to Potok.

"The radical right, in general in the United States, was -- until the end of the civil rights movement -- essentially restorationist," he said. "The Klan, and most other groups of those years ... wanted to turn back the clock."

Knowles testified in 1984 during a civil rights lawsuit filed against the Klan by Beulah Mae Donald, Michael Donald's mother, that one of the purposes of the killing was to "show Klan strength in Alabama."

Mobile's black community got the message loud and clear.

"They come out and let us know they in full bloom ... How do you think that made us feel? It was like they can do anything they wanna do," she said. "They sent a message to us saying, 'Y'all think that it's gone away. [That] we've left -- we still here.' Cause we didn't think they'd do something like that."