WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

WORD Christchurch: Disunited Kingdom?

Before this session about Brexit started, a strange and annoying man in a purple top hat came and started talking to me. As the session began, he started shouting “boo!” and telling me what to type. The woman next to me told him to go away (kia ora Charlotte!). He slunk off, muttering something about free speech (his not mine).
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David Slack did a good job of chairing this popular session: British Muslim author Ed Husain and Scottish crime writer Denise Mina, both lively participants with a lot to say. They weren’t the only ones – boy did we, the audience, have reckons. Sometimes when question time comes round the chair has to coax the first question out of us. But here as soon as the lights went up so did at least a dozen impatient hands.

Husain, a former Islamic radicalist who has also worked as an advisor for Tony Blair, told us he was optimistic about the post-Brexit world, reminding us about the positive effects of Henry VIII’s break with Europe to create the Church of England. He spoke reverently of British democracy with a fervour that bordered on the un-English, pointing out repeatedly that it was more important to honour the democratic process than to remain in the EU.

As well as being NZ-born Pākehā I am also British – specifically, I am English. I remember when I learned about Brexit. It was very upsetting – I put my cup of tea down so suddenly it probably almost spilled. Good heavens, I may have stated aloud. What the gosh-darned heck do you fellows think you’re up to. I turn my back for five minutes and you leave the EU! And after the London 2012 Olympics went so well. Someone hold my crumpet.

Like, I suspect, most of the audience, I took Brexit personally. If you’ve been following the Brexit news at all, the ground covered by Husain and Mina was pretty familiar. But I was struck by Mina’s characterisation of Brexit as a ‘big baggy bundle of grievances’; lots of personal annoyances and affronts wound up by scaremongers and misinformation into a spasm of protest that was against a lot of things without being for much in particular. ‘People were looking for some sort of social rupture to make them feel alive.’

Mina also made the interesting point that the UK still needs migrant workers in the care sector, and since they can’t come from Europe as easily they’ll instead be coming from Africa. Because care work is so intimate, it will hopefully lead to more people of different ethnicities becoming friendly. Mina sees this as a potential challenge to the racism that has become more open and violent since Brexit: ‘I’m quite excited by that’. She also pointed out that, since the EU is essentially neoliberal, leaving will mean that Britain can have more control over its labour models, amongst other things.

I had to duck out a few minutes early to dash to the FAFSWAG Vogue workshop, but my spies tell me that the purple-hatted chap returned to angrily disrupt the end of question time. He was irritating and rude, but it was an apt reminder that, in this crazy thing we call a democracy, his vote counts just as much as mine. Voilá: Brexit.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

Denise Mina is a  Crime Writer who won the 2017 McIlvanney Crime Novel of the Year for Long Drop

Ed Husain is the writer of The Islamists and The House of Islam  

WORD Christchurch: The House of Islam, with Ed Husain

WORD Christchurch: The House of Islam, with Ed Husain

It was established from the outset that there was something more rigorous than the advertised “conversation” on offer, with host, journalist Donna Miles-Mojab challenging Ed Husain immediately on matters pertaining to the Iranian government’s theology. Husain’s book The House of Islam is, he has explained, written with a western, English speaking audience in mind, and for those of us fitting that description there was a period of time in which we found ourselves perhaps a little disoriented by this discourse, though it was ultimately a session which cast light on the ideals of open, challenging discourse and the importance of this, while adding a layer to conversations raised elsewhere this weekend.

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Husain’s book is a beautifully written, detailed and thorough exploration of Islam which I devoured enthusiastically a few weeks ago, and as I read it, I was struck often by the way that he shows what commonality there is between societies steeped in Christianity and Islam and between the religions and their Abrahamic cousin Judaism. Husein emphasised this in terms of both the theology and ideals of the religions and in a more modern context, in terms of the similarities between the Imperialist West and the Ottoman empire.

Husain also notably explores the way in which the concepts of Shariah have become twisted to become totalitarian in radical Islam (and in the western Islamophobic understanding) though illuminated the way that ultimately the same values which brought western law to being are present; and indeed that for a modern, western Muslim, the laws of a country such as New Zealand fulfil all the key values of Shariah. There is far more nuance to this than our blunt, binary discourse in the west often allows space for, and fear has taken over where misunderstanding lives.

There was a bristle amongst the crowd at Miles-Mohab’s approach as a facilitator, though I applaud her and indeed the organisers for allowing this to be something more than a feel-good tour of Islam for the uninformed. Without the context that Miles-Mojab ensured we were aware of, it would have been all too easy to miss the way in which Husain’s analysis at times arrives in places that read very much alike the Conservative or Republican side of the western political battlefield. There’s far more at play in terms of the political spectrum, our collective values and the flow of ideas and information than I could hope to sum up here, though I appreciate the way the session allowed the threads of this conversation to be teased out further, rather than left hidden.

The way we arrive at personal beliefs and the way we seek to make our global society safer and fairer are matters which won’t be resolved at WORD Christchurch this weekend, though it was hard to put the echoes of American Fascism brought to mind by David Neiwert’s session the previous night to the back of the mind when looking at the questions of radicalism within Islam – Husain’s own journey through accepting and then rejecting radical Islam was not touched upon in great depth today, though there was discussion of the similarities and differences between alt America and radical Islamism.

Husain at this point argued very strongly against relativism in understanding the two fringe groups which have wrestled great control in the world, suggesting that radical Islamic terror was a far greater threat to the globe than right wing America, though the way in which this same idea feeds the thought process of the fascistic right in the west is an affront.

The hour long format meant that all these worms were just tipped onto the table at the point of us moving to the next event, but I am grateful to Ed Husain and Donna Miles-Mojab for bringing the can and the opener.

Reviewed by Brett Johansen

Ed Husain will also appear on Saturday, this time with Denise Mina, in Disunited Kingdom – 1pm, at Philip Carter Family Concert Hall, The Piano