Erwin Smith, The Definition of a British Gentleman. However,
even the most charming and charismatic of actors have their blows: From the
media, to studio’s even other actors have made their opinions known. In this
exclusive and intimate interview, British superstar, private man, finally takes
the steps to talk to us about his past, his present relationship and the struggles
of an actor with mental health issues.
Al-Britannia, My Country: A Journey through Muslim Britain by James Fergusson
We live in the age of hysteria. Mention the words Muslim, Islam, Islamofascism or Islamophobia and someone goes nuts. It has become almost impossible to discuss rationally the influence that Islam has had on the United Kingdom. Severe criticism or, worse, lampooning the tenets of the Prophet or the Prophet himself, and there’s a real chance someone will want to kill you.
Try to explain to a racist Islamophobe that the teachings of the Prophet are less bloodthirsty and, frankly, point to a more benevolent God than much of the Old Testament and you’ll get accused of supporting terrorism. It’s this madness, this clash of civilisations, that the extremists intend to spread using the tactic of terror. Osama bin Laden could never have dared dream of the chaos that his Twin Towers attack would unleash: war in Afghanistan, war in Iraq, war in Syria; Europe reeling in fear of a flood of refugees from those wars and elsewhere. Brexit, even, may have part of its roots in 9/11.
The consequences for Britain’s Muslims have been disastrous. British governments, Fergusson argues, have been crass and heavy-handed. By clumsily establishing the “Prevent” strategy, thousands of young people especially have felt singled out, spied upon and alienated from their own country. That’s not surprising if you turn teachers and NHS workers into spies for the government who are being asked, indeed required, to report children at risk of “radicalisation”.
A veteran of wars in Muslim nations and a journalist of many years’ experience outside his home country, Fergusson embarks on a meandering trek through British Muslim “heartlands”, from High Wycombe to Bradford, Whitechapel to Dewsbury and Glasgow. Manchester, however, where Salman Abedi was part of a community that has produced a frightening concentration of vicious Islamic State killers, goes unexplored.
A Christian, Anglo-Scottish public schoolboy, Fergusson is scrupulous about acknowledging his own preconceptions and spends a lot of time in the company of reasonable people who espouse the hard-line Salafist version of Islam and with the conservative Deobandis who dominate the clerical scene in Muslim Britain. Few, if any, tell him they support the ideals of IS.
Poverty, drugs, a young man’s search for meaning, a young man’s arrogance and a thirst for power and structure emerge from Fergusson’s travels as the motivations for joining these death cults. But these are my words, not his. In giving voice to his subjects it’s hard to know or hear how Fergusson has synthesised his knowledge.
The Muslim comedienne Shazia Mirza sums up the appeal of travelling to Syria for young IS brides: “They want to get laid,” she says, IS is “the One Direction of Islam”. She might have added that most recruits to IS have only a rudimentary understanding of Islam.
Fergusson shies away from the more worrying conclusion, perhaps, which is to ask why even more idiotic young men, full of testosterone, don’t follow the call of jihad? To a certain type of young man who has lost his way it probably looks like fun. Like joining the Blackshirts or the Hitler Youth.
I was twelve years old when 9/11 happened. I remember a strange hushed frantic air to the class. There was something going on and it was slowly rippling through the school. To be completely honest I didn’t even know what the World Trade Center was back then, but I could tell that something serious had happened. We were all let out early and given advice on how to get home. Luckily I didn’t have far to walk home. The streets were packed with people all walking somewhat aimlessly–in a fog–waiting until they could get home and make sure the news was real for themselves. When I did get home, the planes were crashing into the buildings over and over, on repeat. It made me slightly sick and I turned the TV off.
I never visited the memorial until this past year, and it’s a beautiful place. There’s a mournful stillness about it, and yet still so much hustle and bustle going on outside the memorial that it’s perfect. The heart of New York, still beating after a trauma.