The World’s Obsession With Rights Rather Than Responsibilities Is the Cause of the Syrian Refugee Crisis

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here. Image by Josh Zakary

In the echoes of our great chambers, from the Houses of Commons to Capitol Hill, we hear of the importance of ‘Human Rights’. They are inscribed in our grand legislature, in our constitutions and in our national guilt. Yet increasingly, when I hear of ‘Human Rights’ I hear of them in the context of their violation. Any news channel on any given day of the year, we are subjected to a bombardment of numbing atrocity, of gross barbarity.

I’m not just talking about the latest villain in our pop-news world, Daesh (ISIS). I’m also talking about kids floating face down in the Mediterranean. I’m talking about Dr. Maria Santos Gorrostieta, the mayor of Tiquicheo in Mexico, kidnapped, burned and murdered. I’m talking about how members of parliament referred to disabled people as “stock”. I’m talking about Untermenschen. Louseous Japanicus. Men referring to women as ‘damaged goods’. I’m talking about parasites, pigs and dogs.

I’m talking about you and me.

Dehumanisation as a psychological phenomenon is likely never to go away entirely.Recent research has demonstrated that this undeniable feature of our species is intimately related to facilitating and promoting aggression against others. Indeed, there are times when dehumanisation of others feels justified. When Daesh burned to death a Jordanian pilot (and filmed it), who was there who did not feel that these people were not truly human? They seemed like grotesque caricatures, more monster than Man. Dehumanisation is not a rare phenomenon, by any measure. In fact, when you look a little closer, you see it everywhere.

You see it in how some leaders describe refugees as a swarm and some newspapers describe them as a horde. You see it in the fourteen-year-old Sudanese boy, arrested for bringing a clock to school; his teachers reducing him to a “terrorist in the making”, unable to see a teenage nerd in a NASA t-shirt. In extreme forms, you see it in the way Daesh describes Yazidi women as their property, to be bought and sold, used and abused. You see it in how, during the Rwandan genocide, Hutus described Tutsis as “cockroaches”, to be stamped underfoot and eliminated.

Dehumanisation acts to deprive an individual of their human status and thus of the rights they are obligated. A society obsessed with rights is, more often than not, a self-obsessed society. This is because we demand our rights from others, but use dehumanization to escape fulfilling the rights of others. So what can be done about this psychological phenomena that stands as a roadblock to peace in the world today?

The answer came to me from what some might consider an unlikely source: a Muslim Caliph, renowned for his advocacy of peace and reconciliation. Mirza Masroor Ahmad, the fifth Caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, speaking on this very point, said at the annual UK Peace Symposium that people of the world should not only be concerned for their own rights, but should also look at their own obligations and be concerned for the welfare of others. This principle should apply at an individual level, a national level and an international level… Without this, any effort that takes place will only have a temporary effect, and will not guarantee permanent peace.

Re-framing the rights of others as our responsibilities changes the focus entirely. By linking the welfare of others to the recognition of your own status as a human being, and the responsibilities that entails means that dehumanisation isn’t given a chance to flourish. Why? Because it’s no longer about what other humans deserve from you but about what you owe them, as a human. How you see others becomes an irrelevancy when your focus is on what your responsibilities are.

What was it about Aylan, washed up and breathing sand on a beach in Turkey, that forced David Cameron to change his stance and quadruple the numbers of refugees the UK would take? It was because that dead child tore through the subconscious veils we had erected in which refugees were the ‘other’ – from a different country, ethnicity or religion. Suddenly, it was your child and my child. Suddenly, the refugees werehuman. But it shouldn’t be like that. It shouldn’t take images of dead children to wake people up to their responsibilities.

A charter of Human Responsibilities rather than simply of Human Rights is, I believe, the next stage in establishing peace in society. As Mirza Masroor Ahmad emphasized in another address this year, the ultimate goal should be to reach a point where one sacrifices one’s own rights to fulfill responsibilities owed to others.

Until this becomes the norm in society, we will never achieve such peace as the world is, quite literally, dying for.


Why the Refugee Crisis Is My Favourite Crisis of All

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here. Photo by Bengin Ahmad

Without doubt, the refugee crisis in Europe is definitely my favourite crisis so far (and we’ve had a fair few crises recently).

Here’s why.

It is not my place to give a number on what the right number of refugees this country should take is. It’s a difficult question. Nevertheless, Mr. Cameron’s logic on the number we have decided, doesn’t add up. Recently he was quoted as stating that taking more refugees than we are doesn’t really “solve the problem“. Instead, we should look to “bring peace and stability to the Middle East“. One can only assume that this was precisely what Mr. Cameron was aiming to achieve when he and Sarkozy as part of NATO bombed Libya – a country with the highest human development index in Africa at the time – into a failed state, brewing ISIS. Though the Libyans did not benefit from our intervention, BP definitely did, as did Total, the french oil giant. Who would have thought?

The need for integrity in international affairs was highlighted to me recently when I attended the largest annual gathering of Muslims in the UK. Speaking to an audience of 35,000, the caliph of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community quoted John Wright, a historian on Libya, who wrote that “…Out of the many examples of Western military interventions in recent times, none has been more grievous or disastrous than NATO’s 2011 intervention in Libya, which only helped turn the country into a failed state.” The Caliph went on to say that “this is just a glimpse of how wrongdoing is perpetrated in the name of peace and justice”.

How true that statement is. It was bombs manufactured in Swindon, Samlesbury, Coningsby and Yeovil that destroyed the homes and hearths of the people of Libya, paid for by our taxes. It was the same story in Iraq and Afghanistan, and fast forward just a few years, and here we are again. A new Middle Eastern crisis, spiralling out from a Syrian civil war that was funded lock, stock, and barrel by our governments, has displaced millions of desperate refugees. And now, after making their lives intolerable, having creating power vacuums in their countries that have been filled by bloodthirsty and fanatical warlords, we suddenly recoil in horror at the idea that refugees would like to come to our country. The nerve!

The next line of the script usually goes something like, “but where will all the thousands of refugees go? The UK is full!” Well, not quite. You see, 6.8% of land in the UK is urban with the other 93% practically uninhabited. 78% of the urban landscape is classified as “natural” rather than built, i.e.: gardens/parks/green spaces, leaving 2.3% of the UK literally built upon. All of the UK’s 64.1 million people live in this 2.3%. Oh and 69% of our land is owned by 0.6% of our population – the same aristocracy trying to convince the public at large that the UK is bursting at the seams. Coincidence, right?

How things have changed. After world war two, when the UK had a debt to GDP ratio of more than 200%, (Greece after its last bailout was at 170% to put things in perspective), Western Europe accommodated 900,000 refugees. Mr Cameron can’t afford to accept more than twelve refugees a day into our country, not because of the limitation of money or means, but out of fear of a public indoctrinated by the Daily Mail and co. into thinking that immigrants are taking all our jobs whilst all being on benefits too. As public perception changes, so will Mr. Cameron’s tune, and there is evidence that it is already beginning to.

How then can we solve this crisis? On this, the Caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, said something that struck a chord with me – and maybe it will strike a chord with you too. He told us that justice is the bare minimum God expects of us. Justice, he explained, is to give to others what is their right and their due. Beyond that, there are two further levels of goodness: grace, and kinship. Grace is to go beyond that and give people more than what they are owed. Kinship is the highest stage – it is to treat others like they are your children. This level of goodness, he said, requires that you undergo sacrifices for the good of others, seeking nothing in return, seeking only their welfare.

Justice may solve today’s crisis, but it is kinship that will solve the problem for the future. Kinship means that we wouldn’t invade countries out of envy of their resources; we wouldn’t fund civil wars; we wouldn’t sell arms to warring nations; we wouldn’t ignore the plight of the desperate; we wouldn’t imprison people without charge; we wouldn’t kill those who speak the truth.

We would simply think and do what is best for others, as we would count them among our own kith and kin. And that’s why this refugee crisis is my favourite crisis of all – because maybe, just maybe, it might teach us that our actions will return to us, if not today, then tomorrow. Recently, our actions returned to us in the image of a dying toddler named Aylan. God forbid if tomorrow it is we who would be visited with a calamity that makes refugees of us too.

Corruption has appeared on land and sea because of what men’s hands have wrought, that He may make them taste the fruit of some of their doings, so that they may turn back from evil. (Qur’an 30:42)

What Velcro Taught Me About Radicalisation, David Cameron and the Importance of Islamic Caliphate

This article first appeared on the Huffington Post here

David Cameron seems stumped. He just hasn’t got a clue of how to rid us of this pesky radicalisation problem, has he? The problem seems to be that we don’t know what the problem is. Is the problem a violent interpretation of Islam? Or is it disaffected Muslim youth? Is the problem short-sighted foreign policy? Or do all our radicalisation woes simply stem from ISIS’s deft wielding of the twin weapons of Armageddon: kittens and Nutella? Perhaps the answer is all of the above, but that still leaves us short of a real solution.

Step in Mr. Cameron, recently delivering a brand new strategy to combat extremism. It involved giving a platform to the “moderate Muslim” voices in the media, combatting extremist ideologies, both vocal and silent, (“You’re an extremist!”… “But I didn’t say anything!”… “Exactly!”), as well as doing more to integrate minorities into a British identity.

But the problem is that we’ve been trying these solutions for years. The real question should be, how do we finally realise these objectives?

That brings me nicely onto Velcro. Yes, Velcro. Velcro is a remarkable material that has forever transformed the lives of children who run late for school. No more fiddling with shoelaces – just whack it on and run for that bus. And as unlikely as it may sound, if the world took notice of how Velcro was discovered, its service to the fight against extremism may even outstrip its service to school registrations.

In 1941 a Swiss inventor by the name of George Mestral noticed the burdock burrs clinging to his dog after a routine walk. Inquisitive, he took a peek at these burrs under the microscope and found that the secret of their success lay in sheets of tiny hooks. Thus was Velcro born.

What George Mestral and Velcro have taught me is this: we don’t need to re-invent the wheel. If we want to know how to prevent radicalisation, just find an example where Muslim youth are immune to it, and see what they’re doing right.

Fortunately, Mr. Cameron doesn’t have to look far – just down the District Line in fact. For in unlikely Southfields lives the spiritual leadership of the Ahmadiyya Muslim community, a community that stands out for all the qualities Mr. Cameron is seeking to foster. Despite its membership of tens of millions of Muslims, spread in over 200 countries, the community has not a single extremist action against its name. How is this possible? What are they doing that works so well?

On the 21st August 2015, I’m going to find out. That weekend will host the annual gathering of the community, as 30,000 Ahmadi Muslims descend on Hampshire where a farm will be turned into a mini-city for the three day convention. The purpose of the spiritual gathering, known as Jalsa Salana, will be for the attendees to listen to the words of their caliph. Unlike any other Muslim community, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community has had caliphate for a long time: 107 years to be precise, with the current caliph, Mirza Masroor Ahmad, based in Southfields, London. Didn’t you know caliphate had come to the UK?

Fear not – Ahmad is not a caliph of war, but the caliph of peace. He embodies the community’s motto: Love for All, Hatred for None. And he is well placed to fight extremism, having once been imprisoned for his peaceful beliefs in his native Pakistan before his appointment, and being exiled from his homeland thereafter. You can see why extremists oppose him: he advocates the separation of mosque and state, champions the Islamic teaching that there is no compulsion in religion (Qur’an 2:257) and teaches Muslims to be loyal citizens wherever they live, citing the words of the Prophet Muhammad, on whom be peace, that love for one’s country is part of faith.

The caliph, I suspect, is the key to the community’s success. Speak to any of his young followers and they will tell you that he shields them from extremism by promoting them to join the true Islamic jihad of our time – improving individual spirituality, and serving the communities in which they live. “The spiritual leadership of the Caliph makes us immune from exploitative clerics,” says Damir Rafi, a young volunteer at the annual convention. “From him we get a solid understanding of our faith and through the community’s outreach and charity programs we have a positive outlet for our religious impulses.” The results of the caliphate speak for themselves, and serve as a model to other Muslim communities the world over.

I would suggest to Mr. Cameron that instead of listening to aides and advisors who might visit a mosque once a year in Ramadan, go and listen to the caliph. The media that love to plaster “radicalisation!” over every shop-front should also attend. Together, they might learn something of value, instead of being content with delivering hand-wringing platitudes about problems we already know.

Perhaps this time they’ll find a solution that sticks.