Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Fallacy : A "proves" B

Noticed the following in a flyer handed out outside a mosque by a Muslim "political party" in 2010:

"The recent attacks by Jim Fitzpatrick MP and journalist Andrew Gilligan on the Islamic Forum Europe proved, if proof were needed, that the secular system and secular parties want Muslims to abandon policies based on Islam and adopt the secular values of the parties".

Two points are perhaps worth noting in the above extract :

Point Number 1
Note how the writer moves from the actions of two individuals (Fitzpatrick and Gilligan) to the general ("secular system and secular parties"), implying that the actions of the former reflect the views of the latter.

It's a bit like claiming that a few Muslim benefit fraudsters "proves" that all Muslims are dishonest.

Or that the actions of a single corrupt Police officer "proves" that the Police (as an entity) cannot be trusted.

Point Number 2
Note how the writer states that the "secular values of the parties" can only be adopted if Muslims "abandon policies based on Islam"

Is that ALL the values of the parties and ALL policies based on Islam?

Are not universal education, the NHS, welfare benefits, the rule of law policies that are shared by both the main polical parties and by Muslims?

What about a sense of civic duty, avoiding litter, improving the quality of our air and water, recycling waste and reducing pollution? Are these not also shared policies?

I could go on, but I'm sure you get the picture.

In fact, the more I think about the quote at the top of this post, the more scary and cynically manipulative is seems.

Gentle reader, you may wish to take care to watch out for examples of twisted logic like those in the quote above in order to ensure that you are not taken advantage of. And if you have children, perhaps it might be worth explaining this post to them.

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Just 5 Trees (Part2) : The Trees

Following on from the Introduction in Part 1, this post is essentially the "Just 5 Trees" booklet and provides a little information of some common trees. Of course, it's not even close to being comprehensive, but hopefully you should be able to spot most of these trees (except for the Tulip tree which is a bit of a rarity outside of parks and arboretums), especially if you live in an urban environment.

The name of this tree is derived from the Norse word “buche” which means “book”, this is because thin sheets of wood from Beech trees was used as paper.

Leaves : Pointed oval, light green and fringed in gossamer when young but soon become dark green and lose their hairs.
Noticeably wavy appearance

Bark : Smooth and grey, often covered in algae.

When planted singly, forms an impressive tree, up to 40m tall and with a domed shape. Often the shade is such that nothing grows under the tree.

The wood from the Beech tree is often used for furniture. Also, because it has no smell or taste, it is often used for children's toys or in direct contact with food.

Beech trees are relatively short lived and do not usually make it past 250 years.

Photos of a leaf and the bark from this tree are shown below:

Silver Birch
An easy tree to identify because of its white and black bark, and also because of its drooping twigs.

Leaves : Small, oval, toothed and pointed

Bark : White, scaly and with black patches

A fast growing tree that can reach up to over 20m in height.

The timber of Birches is of little commercial value in Britain at present although in Scandinavia, where the trees are larger and straighter, the wood is used for furniture and when peeling the veneers, for use in Birch plywood. In Britain, the smaller trees are used for turnery to produce broomheads, tool handles and many kinds of small wooden objects.

Silver Birch trees are relatively short lived and do not usually make it past 100 years of age

Tulip Tree
A very common tree in Eastern Forests of the US, the Tulip Tree has beautiful and usual foliage. In the UK most usually seen specially planted in arboretums and parks.

Leaves : Very characteristic glossy leaves end in a V-shaped notch

Bark : Cracked bark on a wide trunk.

The tree has attractive flowers in summer.

Tulip Tree Leaf:

Tulip tree Flowers:

Common Lime
A tall, beautiful tree that is often planted in avenues and can reach over 25m in height. It originated as a hybrid between the large-leaved and small-leaved lime. Tolerant of pollution in towns.

Leaves : Heart shaped, toothed

Bark : Ridges and cracked, with prominent bosses

The flowers are arranged in hanging groups of 4-10 on a long stalk with a linear, light green, leaf-like bract attached above.

The stringy inner bark called 'bass' was once used to make mats, ropes and even fishing nets, whilst the wood is still used for carving and making musical instruments. Grinley Gibbons did most of his flower and figure carvings for St. Paul's Cathedral, Windsor Castle, and Chatsworth in Lime wood.

Lime Tree Leaf:

Lime Tree Bark:

Lime Tree. . .er. . .Trees:

London Plane Tree
A very common city tree, the London Plane has proved without equal in surviving in the poor soils and air pollution that blight towns. This is a big achievement when you consider the “pea souper” smogs that were present in town 50-60 years ago.

Leaves : Lobed and toothed

Bark : Peels off in large patches on young trees & branches to reveal very characteristic areas of creamy white or pale yellow. Trunk bases have a less attractive burred appearance.

The shade of the London Plane Tree is often not too dense, allowing a lovely play of light and shade on a sunny day. A couple of 300 year old trees have now reached a height of about 45 meters in Great Britain. And since these trees are still full of vigour, it is likely that the London Plane may well become the biggest tree in Southern Britain in the future.

The wood of the Plane is quite tough, reasonably hard, difficult to split and fine grained. It is useful for indoor joinery; light internal construction work; furniture; cabinet making; veneering and inlay work, because of its attractive appearance and because it can be brought to a fine finish, as well as taking a high polish.

Two leaves from the same London Plane Tree:

Bark showing the typical "camouflage" pattern:

Burred bark at the base of a London Plane Tree:

Just 5 Trees (Part1) : Introduction

BFTF can remember the moment as though it was yesterday. There we were, driving along the road when Number 2 son noticed an interesting car. Instantly he said "Subaru Impreza Rally Car". This was no surprise as he seemed to know the name of just about every car on the road (although, of course, classic names such as Cortina, Cavalier, Imp and even Alfasud were not ones that he would recognise) apart from the old ones, he had never heard of a Morris Minors or a Hillman Imp…) and I suddenly thought that there was something wrong here. This youngster knows the name of every car on the road but can hardly identify a single type of tree.

So BFTF decided there and then to make sure that the youngsters had a good understanding of the different types of trees that surround us in our gardens, parks and countryside.

But this idea very quickly hit a snag - BFTF wasn't able to identify many of the trees. Oh dear, this was embarrassing !

A few days later, while browsing in a visitors centre on the Chiltern Hills, a small "Collins Gem" book entitled "Trees - How to identify the most common species" was spotted. At only 8cm x 11cm, it was ideal for carrying with in a rucksack or jacket pocket.

That book has without doubt been the best purchase BFTF has made for some considerable time and, with its aid, BFTF was able to recognise a number of different trees species.

A little later, a thought struck - perhaps the local imams might be interested in learning the names of some of the trees around us. To this end BFTF put together a "Just 5 Trees" booklet, with the idea of having an event where Imams could get together. Potential benefits were felt to be :

a) Opportunity for Imams to talk to each other in a informal setting
b) Opportunity for Imams to practice what they preach in terms of healthy living
c) Opportunity for Imams to show unity and that they can work together.
d) Opportunity for Imams to go back to their mosques and encourage people to visit parks and the countryside.

This followed on from a proposed "Imams on a Hill" project that had similar aims. What happened to these two projects is a story for a separate post, but having gone to the trouble of compiling the booklet, it seemed like a good idea to share it a little more widely.

So, gentle reader, if you have read this far, perhaps I can persuade you to read a little further by clicking on the link below. . .

Just 5 Trees (Part2) : The Trees

Monday, 21 March 2011

Slinky Spring Science 'Speriment

BFTF is a big fan of science. All the wonders of the modern age, all out comforts, our medicines, our transportation, our communications. . . are built on the scientific endeavours of the last few hundred years.

Maybe it's just me, but whenever I use the word "scientific" I feel a little like Yul Brenner in "The King and I" - not in a good way!

Unfortunately, it can be hard to easily demonstrate the key elements of scientific enquiry in a domestic setting - or so BFTF thought until it found itself helping a pint sized relation with a small science project on springs.

We taped up the top half of a slinky spring, and taped some paper over the bottom of the slinky to act as a base where we could add weights.

We then measured the length of the slinky (measuring from the bottom of the taped section to the paper base) which was 14cm.

Next, we progressively added pound coins to the paper base, measuring the length of the spring each time (24, 34, 44cm with 1,2,3 coins respectively)

Once we got to three coins we plotted the data on a graph and drew a "best fit" line thought the points.

We then - get this - predicted what the extension would be for 4 coins and for 5 coins and checked to see what actually happened.

Well, my gob was truly smacked when it turned out that our prediction for the length of the slinky with 4 pound coins was absolutely spot on and the prediction for the length with 5 pound coins was accurate to within 1cm !!!.

We had performed an experiment, plotted the data, made a prediction for what would happen next, tested our prediction and found that it was quite accurate. It doesn't get any better than this!

So, gentle reader, there you go. A science experiment that ticks all the boxes and can easily be performed at home (no bunsun burner required!).

If you know of any easy science experiments, particularly any that allow you to make predictions about future behaviour, why not describe them in the comments section below.

Friday, 4 March 2011

Book Review :Young British and Muslim (Part2) - Extremism, Voices

Book Review : Young British and Muslim - Philip Lewis – Continuum - 2007

Click here to see Part 1 of this review

A 2002 Q-news article called “Fear and Loathing on Campus” by Yahya Birt stated that “Often squeezed between the Salafis and HT, Muslim students were left with few alternatives to a crude, de-spiritualised, angry and self-righteous take on Islam”. The British “ulema - custodians of traditional Sunni Islam - were unable to “develop a plausible alternative to . . .(such) controversies.”

In May 2007 the Bradford Council of Mosques produced a beautifully produced course on practical citizenship - Nasiha (good counsel). It is the brainchild of a young teacher , active in a local mosque committee. He was worried about the attitudes of some youngsters with regard to three issues:
a) A temptations to lionise Osama Bin Laden as some kind of Robin Hood figure, with youngsters lacking any real knowledge of the extent to which his extremism is a betrayal of Islamic norms.
b) The complexities of rival nationalisms in the Israel-Palestine tradegy is oversimplified as Muslim vs Jew, which fuels a casual anti-semitism.
c) Finally, traditional Islamic formation in the madrassa often does not equip youngsters with the knowledge relevant to their situation in the UK today. When they look outside the mosque for teaching, they often find themselves exposed to radical websites and materials which present “British Muslim” as an oxymoron. This prevents them from acknowledging and valuing the positive aspects of British society.

The aim is to pilot the project in a number of Bradford mosques where imams will be trained and will receive a certificate when they have delivered the course. The course covers areas such as the sanctity of life, the distinction between legitimate and illegitimate ways of earning a living and anti-social behaviour.

Some of this intolerance is being imported from home countries, for example, according to a report by Pakistani educationalists, early Pakistani textbooks presented ancient Hindu history without denigration, criticised aspects of the activities of early Muslim conquerors and acknowledged with gratitude Gandhi’s role in saving many Muslims at partition. Over the last thirty years, these views have been replaced by narrow, ideological viewpoints that vilify and create hatred of the (especially Hindu) “other” - while justifying violent jihad and glorifying martyrdom. All in all, this has contributed to the growing violence in Pakistani society, whether intra-sectarian or against religious and ethnic minorities, as well as women.
(see A H Nayar and A Salim, “The subtle subversion : The state of curricula and textbooks in Pakistan (Islamabad: Sustainable Development Policy Institute, 2004))

This violent extremism has been defined by Tariq Ramadan as being characterised by a combination of three factors :
A Manichaen mind set that thinks in terms of “us versus them”
A preoccupation with the capture of political power
A willingness to use violence to achieve their goals

Critically, the book makes the point that whatever the complex reasons advanced for the popularity of such movements (e.g HT), ex-members as well as critics realize that that their popularity will only be eroded if practical alternatives exist for constructively channelling often legitimate disquiet within the Muslim communities with patters of social exclusion, Islamophobia in Britain, or the negative impact of Western foreign policy

The book provides space to a number of voices who rail against the sense of victimhood that British Muslims are prone to, some of these are shown below:

Hamza Yusuf: (Q-news Oct 2001):
Islam has been hijacked by a discourse of anger and the rhetoric of rage (broadcast from pulpits) in which people with often recognisable psychpathology use anger. . . to rile Muslims up, only to leave them biter and spiteful towards (non-Muslims) people who in the most part are completely unaware of the conditions in the Muslim world, or of the oppressive assaults of some western counties on Muslim peoples. We have lost our bearings because we have lost our theology. We have almost no theologians in the entire Muslim world. . . (Muslims) generally prefer to attack the West as the sole reason for their problems when truth is we are bankrupt as a religious community. . . where is out media? Where... are our spokespeople? Where are our scholars? Where are our literary figures? The truth is we don’t have any – and so instead of looking inward and asking painful questions we take the simple way out by attacking people’

Imam Zaid Shakir ( from an article in the Observer)
 'We must stop thinking of ourselves as "the tribe of Islam",' declared Imam Zaid Shakir, an African-American scholar and civil-rights activist. 'Until we start to think of ourselves as the children of Adam, concerned about the welfare of all our fellow human beings, we are missing the point of being faithful. These are days when there is a lot of talk about defending the honour of the Prophet. What would it do for the honour of the Prophet if Muslims mobilised their tremendous resources to eradicate hunger from this planet? What would it say to the world if Muslims mobilised to end the conflict in the Congo or to make generic Aids drugs available where they are not?' The crowd burst into enthusiastic applause."

Yahya Birt
 “Why should we put up with the peddling of false dreams of future domination and merrily waiting to fight some grand global jihad later on (when the reality is that Muslim countries cannot even secure their own basic sovereignty), of the insecure proclamation of our inherent superiority (surely conditional on our actual conduct), the need to continually demean the kuffar (...(such) obsessive hatred reveals something of a fixation akin to attraction), the nasty denigration of women and speaking as if they were in a position to enforce, with relish, the fixed penalites (hudood) of Islamic sacred law (rather than as being, as in fact the congregation is, subject to English common law)."(see “uncovering “undercover mosque” -

“Why we are where we are” (article in the Invitation magazine)
“(our) dominant chauvinism has trampled upon (women’s) God given rights. . . Women have become subservient to. . husbands. . extra decoration pieces in their homes. . There are few independent and progressive thinkers in contrast to the vast majority of traditionalist (scholars). . . because it is an easier option as compared to requiring itjihad or adaptation to the new realities of the modern world. In the absence of any clear vision, today the Muslims present themselves as victims around the world. . . (We retreat into) escapism from reality. . . (and) blame the Jews for our ills. . .(we need to) build bridges of understanding with the West(.)


Some of the books listed in the bibliography are listed below:

Abou El Fadl, K : The Great Theft : Wrestling Islam from the Extremists (HarperSanFrancisco, 2005)

Bianchi, R : Guests of God : Pilgrimage and Politics in the Islamic World (Arrow Books, 2006)
How politicians and generals across the Islamic world use access to pilgrimage to reward their supporters

Bulliet, W : The case for Islamo-Christian civilisation (Columbia, 2006)

Cesari, J and McLoughlin, S (eds) : European Muslims and the Secular State (Ashgate, 2005)

Cook, D : Understanding Jihad (University of California Press, 2005)
Cuts across the myths and traces its meaning across the centuries

Goodman, L: Islamic Humanism (OUP, 2003)
History of Islamic philosophy etc and interaction with other faiths

Kepel, G : The war for Muslim minds: Islam and the West (Belnap press of Harvard University)

See “Medieval Islamic Political Thought” - P Crone, Edinburgh University Press, 2004

See also :

Book Review :Young British and Muslim (Part1) - Minorities, City Circle

Book Review : Young British and Muslim - Philip Lewis – Continuum - 2007

Philip Lewis lectures in the Department of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford and has authored an interesting book that covers a lot of ground. 

The book gives space to issues as ranging from the effects of the “biraderi” culture to intergenerational conflict to the voices of British Imams.

Perhaps most importantly, it quotes from a number of contemporary (and surprisingly frank) Islamic thinkers.

Click here to see Part 2 of this review

Muslims as Minorities
The book starts by mentioning that, over 25 years ago, the late Dr Zaki Badawi was concerned that “Muslim theology offers, up to the present, no systematic formulation of the status of being in a minority” and that S.Z Abedin (wo has created the Journal for Muslim Minority Affairs) has said that, with the exception of recent colonialism “Sunni Muslims took power and dominance for granted. They knew either how to command or to obey. They had, through most of their history, rarely learned to live with others in equality and fraternity.”

Moving onto the economic situation of the Muslim Community in the UK, statistics are presented that 33% of Muslim population in long term unemployed or “never worked” category, twice the figure for “Christian” communities. This is largely because 70% of Muslim women don’t work compared to below 30% for Christian women and 35% for Hindu and Sikh communities. Also 40% of Muslim women are homemakers compared to 13% for the population as a whole.

Interestingly, there is significant variation in unemployment levels in the Muslim community from 11% (Indian males) to 28%(Black African males). Also some ethnic groups work in particular fields, thus 16% of Pakistani men are cab drivers / chauffers (cf 1% for white British men) and 33% of Bangladeshi men are cooks or waiters (cf 1% of White British men).

City Circle

The City Circle was set up in 1999 by Asim Siddiqui and a group of friends to provide an alternative to the Friday night pub culture, a “halal” space where professionals could meet and socialise. One defining moment came whilst Asim was at university. There were two Muslim groups on campus producing literature defining what was to count as an Islamic State - both drew on Islam’s authoritative textual sources yet came to radically different conclusions. The lack of dialogue between them resulted in confusion for impressionable students. (See : “About Us : City circle piece for the Fabian society.” City circle website.)

What is unusual about the City Circle is that it does not use the words “Muslim” or “Islamic” in its title. This is because :
a) they are impatient with the view that Muslims need to rally under a separate Muslim banner on all issues. Indeed, those in the network are urged, where possible, to join mainstream groups with fellow citizens. So if they are concerned with foreign policy, they should join Amnesty International. If they have an issue with civil liberties they should join groups such as Liberty.
b) The circles’ emphasis is on promoting universal values considered part of but not exclusive to the Islamic Tradition and shared by most citizens. This enables them to offer the wider community an open space in which to have a two -way dialogue around shared social problems.

It is worth noting part of the Circles’ statement of values : “We should not be importing religious of political ideologies from the Middle East or Pakistan . . . The Muslim world needs as much help as we can give them and importing their conflicts into the UK does not help them not does it help us”

Two examples of talks hosted by the Circle particularly stood out :
Immediately after 7/7 the Circle assembled speakers to discuss “The criminal distortion of Islamic Texts”, in which a Salafi Imam, Abu Muntasir commented that “it has been a failure of our scholars, a failure of our teachers”.
Whilst, in a recent presentation an Americal Dr Umar F Abd-Allah gave a presentation called “Cultural Jihad” in which he said “what needs to be done to convert Western society to associate Islam with the Taj Mahal and the majesty of the Dome of the Rock rather than with the blasted Twin Towers of New York or the shattered Buddhist statues in Afghanistan? Can we develop an agenda of cultural do’s that would harness the energy of our young people; to teach them that singing, creating, beautifying and being joyous are all part of the Islamic agenda.". (see Cultural Jihad, 17 Nov 2006, City Circle website)


This is hopefully the first in a series of posts looking as examples of arguments that have thumping great big logical failings. The idea being that they will help you and me to spot instances where the wool is being pulled over our eyes. So here goes. . .

Back in 1994, Q-News published an interview of the infamously hook handed Abu Hamza al-Masri. Shagufta Yaqub was asking the questions and it is worth reporting a couple of sections:

SQ : “So Muslims should go to fight, blow up a few limbs and then come back to Britain, like yourself?”
AH : “This is what the Sahaba have done, I am telling you about the religion . . .of the messenger of God. If the Sahaba had gone to work with the Romans and clean their toilets like Muslims are doing here, they you would never had been a Muslim now. The Sahaba have taken the initiative, they took the sword, they gave the message”

SQ : “Do you feel any responsibility for contributing to the Western media stereotype of Muslims as terrorists and religious fanatics?. . . How good can that be for inviting non-Muslims to Islam?”
AH : “It is because you are defeated inside that you think this is true. Have you ever seen non-Muslims queuing to come to Islam. . .instead we have seen Muslims queuing to go out of Islam. . . If you cannot keep your Islamic identity then why are you thinking about every John or Shirley who comes to Islam every blue moon, and doesn’t stay long anyway?”

Did you spot the flip-flop there?
In he first answer Abu Hamza exols the example of those who "gave the message" and thus spread Islam.
In the second answer, he disparages efforts to spread the message and bring people towards Islam.

Source : Young British and Muslim - Philip Lewis - Continuum