Muslims are in Crisis

Muslims are in crisis. We are a religion of over two billion adherents, blending cultures that encompass Berbers, Malays and Mongols. Converts and diaspora are in every country of the world. And yet we are all, collectively, held hostage by a tiny minority. Their black flags and unkempt beards fill the screens and newspapers of the world, while the vast and rich heterogeneity of the faithful goes unreported. Their intolerance drowns the universal message, their brutality masks our charity and compassion.

Muslims are in crisis because unless we understand the source of this vicious parasite, and how it draws strength, it will consume us.

Muslims are in crisis because in our apathy and ignorance we have allowed this thing to gnaw its way through the body of the Muslim Ummah. We may wince when it strikes another part of the body, but we bear the pain and keep going, thinking it will not come for us, unaware that those around us only see its festering form, and turn away from its diseased stench.

Muslims are in crisis, but not because of a terrorist wielding a gun under a black flag, or because a bearded madman preaches hate from a pulpit. The parasite is one of belief. There is a creed that promulgates an Islam shorn of humanity, and whose adherents see difference as something to be scoured from the earth.

Muslims are in crisis because the periodic plague that has ravaged the faith from its earliest days has risen again. It is an infection that has no purpose other than to consume its host, and this time, fuelled by lakes of oil, it has run rampant. It has adopted the forms of the religion without understanding their spirit, it has taken the words and robbed them of context and tone. It has even turned on the lunatics that let it loose.

Muslims are in crisis because of the Wahhabis (who may also take the labels Salafi and Deobandi). Their austerity is not a noble denial of the self, but a joyless, inhuman existence that hardens the heart. Their piety is a ritual empty of the soul soaring height prayer can offer. Their purpose in this incarnation was as a prop for the House of Saud to impose itself on the Arabian peninsula, a tool of power. It is the lifecycle of such tools to turn upon their wielder. If ISIS, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and Lashkar e Jhangvi scream their hatred for the hands that shaped them, it is the natural puberty of their development.

The House of Saud and their fellow Emiratis have done a deal with the devil for their power and status, and the devil always gets his due. Don’t pity them cowering in their palaces. They have sold out our religion while wearing the robes of guardians, and they may cost you your soul as well.

All of this is known. Here is a shortened version from The Telegraph. There is a world of difference between being known and being accepted, and several more steps along the road to recovery before any action is taken. But like any parasite this one can be removed, like any disease it can be cured, as long as we don’t let it go too far.

Stop. You’re about to say this is nothing to do with you. The abomination that is ISIS does not speak for you. You abhor its actions. You put the “Stand with…” pictures on your Facebook newsfeed, what more could anyone ask for?

You are deluded.

This thing has grown up within the bosom of the Muslim Ummah. Yes, Wahhabism is a construct that was planted to serve a political agenda, but it is the Muslims that have enabled its growth, the Muslims who turned a blind eye to its crimes, and now it is the Muslims that have to act.

Your silence has been its enabler. Keep your Facebook posts and the watercooler comments at work. I mean your silence when that guy in the mosque, you know the one, makes his violent comments about the kuffar, and you shrug your shoulders and move on. Or maybe you cringe. But you say nothing.

Perhaps you tune out during Friday prayers, when the sermons turn to injustice anywhere in the world being cause for retaliation anywhere else. Others are listening, and without a voice raised in protest there is no one to tell them you cannot defeat injustice with more of the same. Or maybe you have more courage than the rest. You ask questions and the preacher says, “just believe”.

Islam is bigger than your curiosity. Ask. Ask. Especially about the things they tell you not to.

You’ve seen your mosque grow. The buildings refurbished, and the committee members slowly changed. The beards grow longer, the trousers shorter and suddenly all the double glazing and central heating can’t take the chill from the air. There are new books on the shelves, but you don’t read them. You don’t question where the money came from, and at what cost.

That brother with the uncomfortable views, the preacher you try not listen to, the money you don’t want to know the source of – they are all part of the same disease that is subverting everything you hold dear. It thrives on your reticence, it multiplies in your apathy.

Do nothing, because it is none of your business. You fast, and you pray and let everyone else to their own conscience.

So you watch as that brother, who rants against the kuffar, goads another and another. The brother huddles with the preacher. Suddenly there is money to fund a study trip to Pakistan, or reconstruction work in Somalia. You kid yourself that the boy will come back a man strengthened in faith. Someone with his face comes back, strengthened in something that makes your skin crawl. But his wild-eyed speeches are just words, they won’t hurt anyone.

Some time later there is a bang. You stand with wherever it was, but it was nothing to do with you.

Except it is everything to do with you.

Muslims are in crisis. You have to speak out to save us.


Update 25th May: since I wrote this see the following from Patrick Cockburn on the Wahhabi roots of terrorism and this on 1000 revolutions: The concentric circles of blame for the Manchester attacks

Related thoughts of mine in previous posts:

The Diversity Deal

J’accuse… the Muslims

I am Cassandra, you are Niemoller

The Cancer Magnet

Find out more about my writing here.



Tridents Into Ploughshares

Trident Submarine from the Defense Archive

Trident Submarine from the Defense Archive

I am not a pacifist. Tragic and traumatic though it may be, there are times when only the threat of force or its application will bring miscreants to justice, or preserve our liberty.

Today we remember the fallen. We remember the wars that we consider just and moral, and those who died with no less courage and obedience in wars of questionable legality and purpose. Questions do not diminish the sacrifices made and hardships endured by those following orders. I salute them all.

They died so we can ask questions and hold those giving the orders to account, which makes today a good day to ask questions.

One question live in the political air is around Trident, the UK’s nuclear deterrent. On one side of the debate is the established view: retaining a deterrent is an essential part of our role as a global power, a bulwark against an increasingly muscular Russia, and future threats unknown.

On the other side is a view championed by the left wing lunatics and bleeding hearts: the deterrent is a relic of a war we are no longer fighting, and a weapon we would never countenance using.

So here’s my first question: would we ever use our nuclear arsenal? Under what circumstances would the arcane procedures be enacted, leading to the launch of indiscriminate weapons of mass destruction, when the deaths of non combatants must be taken as a given?

Pre-emptively surely that is an emphatic no. At no stage would we ever launch first, no matter the degree of threat.

Then in response? What if London were a smoking ruin? Cardiff levelled, nuclear winds howling across the Highlands? What then. Would we launch then?

I hope not. I am not one for mindless retribution. Would it ever right to avenge our innocents with the blood of non combatants, be they in the streets of their own cities, baying for our blood? No. Not even then.

And if it is my children and all the light and joy of my life sucked into the maelstrom? I hope, even then, I would say no. Let no other father have to contemplate it.

Don’t misunderstand me. Should they land their troops on our shores I would take my pitchfork and man the barricades and take a bullet. I’d swing whatever weapon I was given to stall the aggressor. But I could not kill his children. Even with his knife at my throat, even with the blood of my children on his hands I hope I would never stoop to threaten his children. God willing I can be that man.

I also hope I am not alone in this. I hope there are others who draw some line of absolute morality, of absolute humanity, and would hold fast to it irrespective of the inhumanity they face.

If you have stayed with me thus far, and even if you disagree, please follow through with the thought experiment. The second question is: if the deterrent will never be used, and the moral position is communicated, what purpose does it serve?

A couple of subordinate questions flow from that:

First does the presence of the deterrent increase our risk, or diminish it? Again there are two schools of thought. From the establishment: we won’t use it, but we have it. Back off.

And those same hand wringing bleeding hearts whinge: if we’d never use it, it serves no purpose. Let it go.

Second, does Trident deter any of the actual risks we face today? Our greatest threat is from international terrorism. It is a clear and present danger. Madness and insanity rooted in Salafism has brought death and destruction to our country, and threatens to do so again. The disaffection and poison is here on our own shores. But will we in response turn Riyadh or Doha to glass, as they are the source of the evil? We will not. Will we level the mountains of Afghanistan or send the scorching winds across the Syrian desert?  We will not.

And yet this is not the only risk. Although ISIS and its progenitors are a common enemy we are appalled to the point of inaction by Russia’s presence in Ukraine, jealous of its robust action in Syria and concerned for our newly minted allies in the Balkans and Baltics.

So would Russia ever launch its vast arsenal against us?

The answer I think lies just one move ahead in the geo political chess game. A commitment not to use a measure can be questioned and derided in the court of an aggressor nation’s public opinion. While we retain the means the commitment is just words.

Remember we went to war on the strength of a fictional dossier that put Saddam Hussein within 45 minutes of landing weapons of mass destruction on British soil. Do we think Putin is above lying to his populace as Blair lied to us? He would spew the lie in a heartbeat and use it as a pretext for a pre-emptive strike.

The only way to make the moral position credible is to relinquish the means. Perhaps it would stall the finger on the big red button knowing the target had no means of retaliation. Would even the bruised and battered national pride of the Russian people allow a strike against the unarmed? I fear that the degree of suspicion and mistrust is such that we cannot answer the question with certainty.

Be in no doubt we would be weaker. Even a sword never taken from the wall confers a sense of security. At best relinquishing Trident would leave our chances of facing devastation unchanged.

It sounds like a bad deal; lose a sense of protection for no diminution in risk. Which brings me to the third question: what’s the alternative?

The best place to start is money. In round numbers we’re talking about a procurement cost of £20bn and then running costs of about £2bn per year. (Source) That’s before we let military procurement botch it, more on that later.

What could that money buy that would be a better bet?

The first is a credible defence that inspires caution and respect in others. Our armed forces have faced cuts and criminal mismanagement for decades. Military procurement is synonymous with incompetence.

We should reinvest some of the billions that would be poured into the bottomless well of Trident into complement, capability and competence.  The last step means buying in some of the skilled, ruthless and relentless procurement specialists it has been my mixed blessing to work with over the years. It means the emotionless sacking of those who lack the skill to manage suppliers or complex contracts, and to hold those suppliers to account. We’re already deep in the hole on Eurofighter. Each additional one costs about £70m. That’s a lot extra airborne defence you can buy and leave a lot left over.

To be honest if the better procurement doesn’t pay for itself then its being done wrong.

We need a well manned, well armed and well supported military relevant to the threat of global terrorism. Part of the money saved will buy that.

As for the threat of global thermonuclear war, that also means investing in the technological advancements that would take down missiles in flight. There’s no point in launching them if they can’t reach the target. It is also a more pertinent approach when nuclear capability rests in increasingly unreliable hands. It would be an advancement worth the cost of developing it.

There will still be cash left over and we should pump that generously into research. Medical, social, life giving research which we share with an open hand with all the world. Better than bombs and boots on the ground is a small Union flag on the cure for malaria, or the water pumps that save lives among those people who would be radicalized against us.

At the same time the world’s best scientists would come back here. Drawn by the funding and support, they would also teach our youth and begin the essential rebuilding of our sick economy that makes little and sells much.

And there is the real unasked question of Trident: not what does it give us, but what does it prevent us from having: genuine security, investment in progress and the chance of a peaceful future. I think those are the things the brave people we remember died for.


Update 11/11/15: Article by Major-General Patrick Cordingley (who commanded the Desert Rats in the 1991 Gulf War) in The Times today: Trident is not a deterrent so let’s get rid of it

More of my writing here

A Sacrifice for Satire (Fiction)


A Sacrifice for Satire

Thibbauld finished the picture with a few bold strokes of his pen, and sat back to let it dry. Most of the desks in the small office were empty, staffers tended to roll in around 11am and the hangers on and friends would drop in during the afternoon. His gaze fell through the open double doors onto the girl sitting in reception. She was always sitting in reception, on the tired brown leather sofa with legs crossed, leafing through the magazines, never touching the lidded paper cup of coffee she brought in with her.

He had never quite worked out if she was a girlfriend of one of the cartoonists, or a Brian Vichy groupie, one of the oddballs that fetishized the satirical magazine’s creators. She was too pretty to be either, but every time he looked around there she was, in his eye line.

He shrugged, it wasn’t his problem. He reached over for a framing rule and drew neat borders around his work. The boys in graphics would look after the speech bubbles and the scaling. The older writers said it was so much easier now than the days of contact adhesive and bromides, but there used to be a real team effort to get the paper out and a real connection with the publishing process. Although he would never admit this openly it all sounded like nostalgic nonsense to Thibbauld, and when the day came he’d be quite happy to do the computer work by himself too, rather than handing it off to some nerd. That was why he was glad to see the back of the Framers. The magazine was well rid of the absurd closed shop of specialists that drew the borders around cartoons. Nevertheless he dutifully went out on strike on their behalf one day a week. Striking was as quintessentially French as cheese or wine, and he loved his country.

On his way out he poked his head into the accounting office. Anders was the only other person working this morning, a Belgian accountant appointed by the German owner who had pulled the French magazine away from the brink of bankruptcy. Keeping a job was worth the ridicule of working for a German with a sense of humour.

“I’m done for the day. I’ll catch you later.” He said to the top of the bald head leaning over a pile of invoices.

“Are you in tomorrow?” Anders asked, blinking as he looked up from the paperwork.

“On strike tomorrow, it should be in the book.”

“What for this time?”

“Runners, I think. You guys sacked the boys that took the artwork from one department to another.”

“You mean carried it a couple of meters from one desk to another?” Anders raised an eyebrow.

Thibbauld laughed, unlike some of the others he got on well with the diminutive Belgian. “How are the books looking?” He asked gesturing to the piles of paper.

“We’re one edition away from disaster, as usual. To be honest without the regular strikes Brian Vichy magazine be closed down and I’d be selling the original art on eBay to pay off the creditors.”

Anders seemed to be in the mood to talk, and Thibbauld had nowhere else to be, so he stepped into the cramped office and took the only other seat. “You’re saying strikes are a good thing?”

Anders sighed and scrubbed his eyes. He was usually first in and last out, trying to balance the books, putting off creditors and chasing debtors. “You’re a smart guy Thibbauld. Look around you. We barely shift fifty thousand copies in a month. We have no online presence because that would mean producing an English version, and if you remember we had a strike about that. To run this tin pot operation we have a dozen staff writers and artists, and as many editors as a national paper.” He pointed back out into the office. “And none of them are here half the time. You don’t get paid when you go on strike. Strikes are what make this business feasible.”

“So if we run out of things to strike about…” Thibbauld started.

“The business dies.” Anders finished. “So go and enjoy your day off. I’ll do the maths and make sure you don’t get paid for it, and we’ll limp on for another month.” With that Anders picked up a new stack of papers and Thibbauld took his cue to leave, but still did not make it out of the office. Henri had arrived and was shucking off his coat. The man was a BV legend. He wrote scathing parodies of current politicians cast as characters in famous books and plays. It was a mark of distinction for someone in public life to be referenced, however obliquely in Henri’s prose, even as they squirmed under the dissection of their character or policies. Until you had been Henried you hadn’t arrived.

Thibbauld had been meaning to talk to him for weeks, but the revered writer appeared when it suited him, sometimes only to drop a script on a junior editor’s desk and then leave again, the words hammered out on an ancient typewriter. They exchanged pleasantries before Thibbauld picked up one of the thin sheets of white paper that formed little mole hills all around the office.

“I’ve been meaning to ask you about something,” he said to the older man. “I’ve got an idea for a cartoon but I don’t know where to take it.” Henri gestured for him to go on so he picked up a pencil and sketched a face. The nose was hooked, the features long. He sketched it again on a fresh paper, and then turned them both to Henri. “The same face, the same characteristics.” Henri nodded. Thibbauld turned the papers back and drew in a few more lines. Around the first face he drew a turban and a beard, on the other a skull cap and curls dropping down by the ears. He turned them back to Henri. “I want to do something about the Arab – Israeli thing, drawing out their similarities.”

Henri looked at the pictures for a minute, and then very slowly he pushed the Arab picture back to Thibbauld, and crumped the other into a ball and dropped it into the bin beside his desk. “You’ve got a good eye kid,” he said giving Thibbauld an appraising look. “But take my advice and stick to things that will get you killed, not sacked.” With that he turned away and began pulling some typed pages out of his battered leather satchel. The audience was over.

On his way out Thibbauld passed the girl in reception, but she did not look up from her magazine.


Thibbauld’s insight into the state of the finances took another sharp step when he came back into work a couple of days later. He hadn’t bothered picketing for the Framers, whose strike day fell immediately after the Runners, instead he had been reading some of the online journals that his colleagues frowned upon. Print, they argued, made things real and meant you could not hide behind an internet mask. He had barely settled into his seat when Michel, the editor in chief, called him in for a meeting, and in a rare breach of Brian Vichy protocol closed the door of his private office. With Anders’ words still fresh in his mind Thibbauld mentally prepared himself to be sacked, running through the money he had put by, how long it would last him, and wondering if anyone would strike on his behalf. It turned out things were worse than that.

“You asked me to give you more responsibility around here,” Michel said. “Well now is your chance.” Thibbauld searched Michel’s face for some sign of what was coming, but he just looked worn out. “Ralf is coming over next week and he wants some ideas about how we can save the paper. I think he’s ready to pull the plug on his investment.” Michel took off his glasses and cleaned them with the edge of his shirt. “I want you to come up with some ideas we can share with him.”

“Michel, I’m a cartoonist, I have a degree in design. What the hell do I know about how to save a paper?”

“You wanted a bigger role around here, earn it.” Michel stood up and went to the door. “Use your next couple of strike days and work on it from your apartment. I’ll square it with Anders so you get paid.” He opened the door and ushered Thibbauld out. “Call me with the details, and we’ll discuss it with Ralf this time next week.”

And that was that, from nowhere Michel had dumped the problem in his lap. Thibbauld sauntered out of the office, feeling much less at ease than he let on. He lit up a cigarette while he pushing through the swing door to the street. Behind him the girl sitting reception crossed her legs and went on reading.

He took a turn around the park. After five years drawing for Brian Vichy, the only nationwide satirical magazine left in France, he had some feel for the business but he wasn’t remotely close to the numbers. They paid someone to print the magazine and made decisions about which pages would be in colour. They sold adverts for t-shirts with radical slogans and favourite BV quotes from the last thirty years, and they tried to sell out the print run. That was all he knew. Michel knew that was all he knew. It was a cool day in Spring but a trickle of sweat crawled down his back. Thibbauld was being set up for a fall.

His mind wandered back to what Anders had said. Too many staffers, too many editors. He remembered his own early days sending off his cartoons to newspapers and journals, hoping that one would be picked up and he might make a few euros off it. The few times he had succeeded before landing the job at Brian Vichy everyone he knew had bought a copy of whatever rag had published his work out of friendship and solidarity. His mind began spinning with the germ of an idea.


A week later Thibbauld was in a characterless meeting room in Ralf’s hotel. They were holding the meeting away from the BV offices because there was little room for privacy there, and conversations behind closed doors drew attention. Ralf was all German, tall and blond with piercing blue eyes that did not miss a thing. Thibbauld had discussed some of his ideas with Michel, and he opened with those, reading off a piece of drawing paper on which he had made notes, and trying to ignore the projector and screen that suggested Ralf had expected a PowerPoint presentation.

“I think the key issue is an editorial one.” Michel had not been happy about that line, but had nothing to offer in its place, which meant Thibbauld was free to run with it. “Our most controversial issues are the ones that sell the most, even if it is so people can burn them in front of our offices.”

He paused to look up at Ralf and gauge the man’s mood, but the new owner’s face was expressionless. He floundered a little, realising he should have been able to back this up with figures, he sensed Michel leaning slightly away from him, as if creating a distance. He’d have to wing it. “When we ran the Sarkozy and Merkel story and the last Mohammed pictures we sold the entire print run of those issues. The paper only works if we sell enough copies and we only do that if we generate publicity.” Ralf gave a faint nod, Thibbauld felt a relieved sweat flush over his body. Time to play the joker with a line he had come up with by himself.

“The problem is that the freshest, most controversial stuff we get is from kids and freelancers. But we can’t afford to use it because all the money we have goes on the staffers, and if we’re paying for them already then we may as well use the safer things that they produce.” Thibbauld threw the idea out in a rush, afraid that Michel, who had started forward in his seat, would interrupt him. “I think we can get the costs down, and get more fresh ideas in if we get rid of most of the staffers and the editorial team.” He didn’t dare look sideways to Michel, but he could sense the vein throbbing in the older man’s head. “And what is even better is that all those kids and freelancers will promote us to all their friends.”

Ralf looked at him over steepled fingers, and then turned to Michel. “What do you think?”

Michel swallowed hard, trying to get a grip on his fury. “I think,” he said through clenched teeth, “that if we get rid of a large number of people who have worked at BV for years we will lose the soul of the magazine and we will definitely have a strike.”

“You French are always on strike, I don’t really care about that, except that we need enough material to get the next edition out.” Ralf said dismissively. He looked Thibbauld up and down. “I like the way you think, very pragmatic. Have you got anything else?”

“There’s always the premises. We don’t need a central location, and the place is never more than one third full. Freelancers would work in their own homes, we could move somewhere cheaper.”

Ralf gave a little smile at that. He turned back to Michel. “Show me you can save the paper with the kind of material this guy is suggesting, and you can save your friends’ jobs, and the cushy office. You’ve got the next edition to get it right, and then we go for the nuclear option.”

Outside Thibbauld slung his coat over his shoulder and lit up a cigarette. It was cold but he still felt hot from the meeting, and he needed to gather his thoughts. He’d done better than expected. The new boss liked his ideas and he had shown Michel up as a dinosaur. Things might be uncomfortable for a while, but if the next edition sold well everyone would relax, and if it didn’t, well at least he was in Ralf’s good books. He was stubbing out the cigarette on the pavement when he was shoved from behind. Michel had come storming out of the hotel where he had had a further discussion with Ralf.

“What the hell were you playing at?”

“Saving my job,” Thibbauld replied nonchalantly, picking up his fallen coat. “And saving yours too.”


A week later the editorial meeting seethed. Thibbauld could tell from the reactions of the senior staffers that Michel had shared some of the details of the meeting with Ralf. No one could say anything to him directly as Ralf was sitting in on the meeting, but the undercurrent was unmistakeable.

The last edition had hit the shelves and underwhelmed their audience. Boxes of unsold copies had started coming back within days of publication as shops and news stands stopped making room for BV on their shelves. The next edition was not coming together well either. They had little time before committing to the print run, and the only half decent material was a one page article from Henri and some of the regular cartoon strips.

They argued in increasingly heated tones and gestures as copies of submitted material were shoved under each other’s noses and waved angrily in the air. The noise grew to a crescendo until there was a sudden bang. Ralf had stood up, picked up one of the ubiquitous piles of blank paper and hit it against the side of the table. The ensuing silence was shocked and complete. The tall German towered at the head of the table, and then flung the entire ream across the room. “There is your famous French battle flag. The proud white eagle on the white background. You will sit here and bicker and argue while the magazine dies around you.”

Thibbauld felt the colour draining from the faces around him. If he was going to back up the bold statements he made to Ralf at the hotel, this was the moment. He took one of the scattered sheets, and as all his colleagues watched he drew the Arab face on a skinny body, and a bomb. He pushed the picture into the middle of the table. “If we’re going down, let’s go down in flames.”

There was silence around the table. The last time they had done something lampooning Muslims there had been protests and scuffles outside the building. One of the windows to the building was still boarded up while they argued with the landlord who should pay to get it fixed.

“Well?” Ralf asked mildly. His tone did not fool anyone, there was an axe waiting to fall behind it.

Thibbauld searched under the pile of papers and pulled out a sheet from a freelancer. “This is from a kid at university, it’s good and all his friends will buy a copy, plus all the other doodlers hoping we’ll publish them too.” It was a half page with the two Popes and a huddle of hollow eyed children.

Slowly the others picked up the theme, pulling out the most controversial prose, scathing poems and unfettered artwork. Over the course of the next two hours they laid out the entire issue, with no one leaving the room for a coffee or a smoke break.


Every other man in the room had a beard. Thibbauld rubbed his stubbly chin self-consciously. He couldn’t really follow the rant from the animated speaker on the podium, but everyone else seemed to nodding along and agreeing, so he did the same. Streams of Arabic were inserted seamlessly into a flow of French rhetoric. The speaker, a young man with a long beard and ill fitting clothes, was waving around a book which Thibbauld assumed was the Quran.

The small lecture theatre was half full, with all the men on one side and the women on the other. The women were bold and defiant in their headscarves, and seemed as much in agreement with the speaker as the men. One of them frowned at him when she noticed him looking over, and he jerked his gaze back to the podium.

When people began to drift out Thibbauld edged his way to towards the speaker. He was jostled along the way by a couple of stern faced guys, one of whom indicated he should state his business with a sharp jerk of his hairy chin. “I need to talk to your man, I have some information he may find interesting.” They looked him up and down, and then one of them said, “Information goes to Saad,” he pointed to a bookish looking young man seated in the corner engrossed in a smart phone.

As Thibbauld made his way over he could feel the two men watching him, keeping a close eye on the outsider. He tried to suppress a shudder, this was his city, his university, and he shouldn’t have to feel like the stranger here. Saad was slightly built and earnest looking, his attempt at the long beard was only partially successful. “How can I help you?” he asked Thibbauld.

“I work for a magazine,” Thibbauld started, fishing in his pocket for a Brian Vichy card.

“We don’t do interviews.”

“It’s not that,” Thibbauld shook his head. “Look, it’s a satirical magazine, but I think this time they’re going too far with some stuff, and I thought you should know. Maybe if you make a complaint you can get it stopped.”

Saad seemed to gain interest. “What sort of stuff?” Thibbauld pulled out his own phone and showed some pictures he’d taken of the proof copies. The young man’s face went grim, then he looked at Thibbauld suspiciously. “Why are you showing me this?”

“I’m a sketch writer,” Thibbauld lied smoothly. “I took the job to write satire, but this” he pointed to the screen, “this is just racist. It’s not making a point it is just trying to provoke a response. The problem is that I’m too junior for anyone to take my complaint seriously, and I can’t afford to lose my job over it.” He gave Saad his trade mark shrug, “I have principles, but I’ve got to eat, so I thought if you guys made a complaint you could get this stuff taken out. They might put more of my work in to fill the gaps and I’ll get paid more too.”

His reasoning was greeted with a slow nod. “I’ll need some evidence to get people mobilised and make a complaint.” Saad said.

Thibbauld nodded and then took back his phone. “I can’t email you the photos, it’ll be too easy to trace them back to me, and I’ll lose my job, but I can Bluetooth them to your phone, and then you’ve got them without it being traceable.”

“Fair enough, thanks bro, you’ve done a good thing. When is a good day to have a protest? There’s no point turning up when you’re closed.”

“We have an editorial meeting to sign off the proofs next week, on Wednesday, that’s your best bet.”

They exchanged the pictures and then Thibbauld left, this time with a less frosty glare from the others. He’d already been to his local catholic church to get them interested. Over the next few days BV would be back in the headlines and they’d have a reasonable chance of selling the entire print run.


There was a nervous buzz in the office; word of their intentions was spreading, partly through Thibbauld’s efforts and partly through the usual loose tongues in their gossipy little world. Some of the national newspapers had been sniffing around and they had also triggered the interest of intelligence agencies. The interior ministry had just sent someone round to tell them to be careful and take away one of the proof copies, and a day later a policeman was conspicuously placed near the front entrance. The British had their onion selling cyclist circling the block, refusing to sell anything to anyone in an appalling accent. That was at least better than the Americans who did not seem to realise that the French spoke a different language, and that minivans with blacked out windows drew even more attention than the bicycling British buffoon.

A couple of outlets had refused to take the copy just based on the rumours and early protests, but others had sensed the potential to make money and upped their orders, it finally looked like Brian Vichy would be able to pay off some debts.

On the day of the editorial meeting Thibbauld got a call from a withheld number just as the team were gathering. It was Saad. “Bro, I need to talk to you, come outside for a minute.” Thibbauld looked around; it would take a while for everyone to settle down. He waved his cigarettes at Michel, who saw him then pointedly looked away. Going through reception Thibbauld idly noticed the girl was no longer, there. A crowd had gathered outside, he dodged to one side, barely missing the perpetual dog mess on the pavement, and ducked into a side street, lighting up with a grateful deep breath.

There was no sign of Saad. He waited through the length of his cigarette, and then decided to head back inside. That was when the noise and the shouting started. There was a screech of tyres and the dull rattle of gunfire. A priest sprinted past Thibbauld followed by other protestors dropping their placards as they fled. There was more gunfire, punctuated by screams and glass breaking. In the distance there was a police siren. The firing stopped and the siren grew closer. Thibbauld leaned against the wall and sank slowly to his knees. His phone vibrated in his pocket. It was a text, once again from a withheld number. It simply said, “You’re welcome.”


When he emerged from the side street the police were cordoning off the area, and there were already three ambulances pulled up at odd angles. Anders was sitting on the step to the building holding a cloth to a cut on his head. Thibbauld slipped through a gap in the cordon and sat down beside him. The Belgian stared at him numbly, not speaking for several minutes. He looked away and finally asked, “Where were you?”

“Smoke break.”

“And they say those things will kill you.”

“What happened?”

“Gun men, shouting some Arabic stuff.” He stopped as a stretcher was carried past. Thibbauld’s gut clenched as he recognised Michel’s limp hand hanging down. “They went straight for the editorial meeting,” Anders continued as they watched the stretcher being loaded into an ambulance as another pulled up. The paramedics were in no hurry, Michel was already dead. “I just got hit by flying glass.”

Thibbauld offered him a cigarette, which he refused. They sat together on the steps in silence as the police and paramedics bustled around ineffectually.


He didn’t mention the phone call or the text, nor did he mention the trip to the student meeting at the university. The police weren’t that interested either, the gunmen were on the loose and questioning one of the remaining Brian Vichy heroes wasn’t high on the agenda. They all went through the motions and then let Thibbauld go with firm commiserating handshakes. As he left the police station his phone rang. He stared at it guiltily for a while before he realised it was Ralf. The German had flown home a couple of days before the shooting, with the production of the magazine supposedly well in hand.

“How are you doing?” Ralf asked.

“Ok I guess. It’s kind of difficult to process.”

“Well I need you to be better than OK, and I need that now.”


“Orders are through the roof and we have very few people left. I’m going to let the current issue go out as is, and I want you to start working on a memorial issue. Dig up all the unpublished stuff from the ones who died and knock it together, I want to print in two weeks.”

“Ralf, you can’t be serious, we have nothing, no offices, no computers, no one to do the work.”

“Haven’t you been watching the news?”

“No, they keep showing faces of dead people that I used to work with.” He didn’t mention the churning guilt he felt every time they read out the names, or the image of Michel’s limp hand that haunted his sleep.

“Look kid, I know it’s hard, but we have offers of help coming in from all sides. We play this right and we can bank some big sales, and then with BV on your CV you could land a regular slot on one of the national papers.”

Thibbauld had to hand it to Ralf, the man could be very convincing. “How many sales?”

“My estimate is three million for the next one, then two, maybe two point five for the one after, depending on how sentimental people are feeling. Then we can cut straight over to your business model, smaller premises, fewer people and more money for everyone.” Ralf was in full flow now, there was no hint of residual sorrow in his voice, this was a business opportunity and smart practical people would take it.

Thibbauld found himself warming to the cold German. “I want to do the covers.”

He could almost sense Ralf smiling down the phone line. “You got it kid.”


If you are interested in my storytelling look here.

More thoughts on the growth of terror in I am Cassandra, you are Niemoller and The Cancer Magnet.

Some reflections on Satire and Faith in Islam Needs Satire

Tangential and sometimes more lighthearted reflections on faith can be found in extracts from my Hajj diary here scroll down a bit for the narratives.

J’accuse… the Muslims

Riddle me this, oh apologists for the Muslims: where do the terrorists go to pray? Where, in the holy month of Ramadan do they make their nightly observances. The Salafist/ Wahabi root to the many branches of terror (ISIS , Al Qaida, Lashkar e Jhangvi, Sipah e Sahaba, Boko Haram) places great store in religiosity, in the keeping of prayer times. It is appallingly unique in the way that prayer hardens their hearts, rather than softening it with compassion and understanding, but the question remains: Where do they pray?

When I originally wrote this the Communities Secretary Eric Pickles wrote out to religious leaders asking them to be vigilant in their communities. Now David Cameron has also waded in on the causes of radicalisation. The Pickles letter elicited a backlash of hurt responses, with those leaders and others claiming the move was divisive, that it painted the Muslim as the ones to blame. A week before Rupert Murdoch tweeted something along the same lines, suggesting an underlying level of Muslim culpability.

I have no truck with Tory governments, and I feel unclean being on the same side of any debate as Murdoch, but they both have a point. The terrorists, and those who sympathise with them pray somewhere, they socialise somewhere, they find and indoctrinate their prey somewhere. The ideology that fuels them is propagated from somewhere.

I am a Muslim, and I accuse the Muslims. Complacency, wilful blindness, and a deterioration in faith has lead us here. Wahabism has no place in any of the major Islamic schools of thought, and yet the Sunni majority have allowed this poison to seep into their beliefs, powered by Saudi money which sets up new mosques and religious schools.

I accuse the Muslims. Those Saudi Kings, keepers of the holy cities who have paid for new self serving jurisprudence and scattered it like toxic alms among the destitute; and those clerics of little faith and no learning who have sold the soul of Islam for thirty pieces of silver drenched in oil. Between them they have curdled the faith of generations, funded violence and mayhem and then cowered in their palaces lest the beast turn back on them.

I accuse the Muslims. They have conflated the seemingly high level of adherence to prayer and observance with a true understanding of faith, allowing themselves to be bullied out of their positions of principle and tolerance and to either cower in the corners of their mosques, or cravenly join the ranks, squashing their shame to be part of the mutation of the people.

I accuse the Muslims who see the behavioural changes in their children, and thank God that they have turned away from unrighteous lives, rather than examining what they have turned to, blind to the threat of spiritual depravity that has replaced the physical and the seen.

Islam is a  religion of both personal and shared responsibility. Those who fall into the embrace of a false reading of faith are culpable, those who allow them to fall and say nothing are culpable. No one outside of Islam is going to reconnect Muslims with the true essence of their faith, whose messenger was sent as a mercy for all creation. The terrorists, their sympathisers and their apologists pray alongside Muslims of untainted faith. It is up to Muslims to root out the evil in their midst.


More thoughts on the growth of terror in I am Cassandra, you are Niemoller and The Cancer Magnet.

Some reflections on Satire and Faith in Islam Needs Satire

Tangential and sometimes more lighthearted reflections on faith can be found in extracts from my Hajj diary here scroll down a bit for the narratives.

I Am Cassandra. You Are Niemoller

I am Cassandra. You are Niemoller. There are many like me howling our despair and calling out our warnings, and you are legion; deaf or disbelieving. And them? They are few, but they are so different to us all their very existence is toxic. They keep no covenants; prayer does not soften their hearts. You are my brethren in faith, or in humanity, they are the enemy to us all.

They have many names and many faces for one diseased spirit. Al Qaida, Taliban, ISIS, Lashkar e Taiba, Sipah e Sahaba.

They came for us first, decades ago they began target killing Shia. Picking off the intelligentsia: doctors, lawyers, savants. They tried to stifle those who lot is suffering with greater suffering. They could not comprehend we are God’s promise to the Queen of Heaven, and His promise will be kept.

We warned you then. They have come for us. One day they will come for you.

They bombed the places where we wept and prayed, wept and fasted, and we would not be quelled.

We warned you then. They have come for us. One day they will come for you.

They came for the Christians and the Hindus, the Sufis and the Ahmedis, we sheltered those we could, we watched the others die, their mighty idols tumbled from the mountains where they hid.

We warned you then. They have come for the helpless. One day they will come for you.

And then they came for you, toppled your steepling towers and like fools you beat the snakes tail with ineffectual sticks. We showed you – there is the serpent’s head, the mouth that whispers poison into the ears of unlettered children, grooming them to hate what none will help them understand.

They have come for you and you are mighty and hapless for they are few and heartless. And still we call out the warning, look to the serpents head, crowned and swathed and couched in mighty palaces.

They still come for me and mine, they cull the helpless for no other reason than they can, and none will stop them, for you have been seduced by the serpent’s head, and it feasts on your flesh to grow new tails.


Islam Needs Satire


I am reminded after today’s terrible events of an incident from the very early days of the Prophet’s message. It is a story every Muslim child knows. The Prophet would walk through the streets of Mecca, and on a particular street a lady would throw garbage at him. He did not change his route, and every day the lady would demonstrate her disdain.

One day the lady did not appear, and when the Prophet learned she was ill he went to visit her. She feared he would gloat, or insult her in return, but he merely prayed for her wellbeing and wished her a speedy recovery.

That’s it. That is the example we are given to follow. That is the lesson from the earliest story children learn. It doesn’t matter what abuse or opprobrium we face, the answer is to rise above it, and still show compassion and human sympathy for our abuser.

In that spirit my thoughts are will those who have suffered a terrible loss today. I condemn and reject utterly and without reservation the actions of those violent monsters who have suborned my religion and claimed the justification of insult to the Prophet for their hideous actions.

I am a Muslim. The Quran is for me the revealed word of God, and tells us that there was no word or deed of the Prophet that was not divinely inspired. That makes his character above reproach and impervious to insults and ridicule. Although the humour of Charlie Hebdo was intended to be offensive, it has no bearing on the true character of the Prophet and therefore it is ridiculous to take offence on his behalf.

And that is why we need satire. Being satirised and ridiculed is a test of faith, one that we should meet with open hearts and minds, to prove our own trust in the word of God is stronger than anything the haters and the humorists can concoct. To rise above it, to open our arms in friendship in spite of the insult is in the traditions of the Prophet. The gunmen have nothing to do with Islam, they do not represent me, or my brethren in faith.

To the cartoonists and the comedians: keep it coming, I will smile, and open my arms and hopefully in time you will find something to admire.


More thoughts on the growth of terror in I am Cassandra, you are Niemoller and The Cancer Magnet.
And because I could not let it go, a story from the other side of the debate A Sacrifice for Satire