What Muslims and Christians really do


SOMETHING HAPPENED yesterday which warmed my cynical journalistic heart. Christy Hanan, a well-loved on-and-off contributor to this website, and her friends organized a programme of gift-gathering to send to the poorest of the poor in the Philippines. There they are in the pic below.

Box of Amal

At the same time on the same day, I turn up to meet some of my other buddies and what were they doing?

They too were gathering donated gifts to take to the poorest of the poor, also in the Philippines.


I think what really touched me is the fact that Christy and her gang were doing this as part of an Islamic project called Box of Amal (Amal is “hope”) in Arabic, while the other group was doing this as a Christian aid project.

Amazing how the media tries to suggest that these two groups are horrible people perpetually at war, when I know from experience that they are brilliant people who work hard for the poor: parallel aid projects are probably 1000 times more common than the stuff that gets in the papers, and I know countless cases of deep friendships between the groups.

Now last time I mentioned an aid to the poor project, I got criticized. A small number of people believe that charities can be honest about their motivations if they started as humanist groups, rationalist societies, etc, but must cover it up if they originated as faith-based organizations (Oxfam, Islamic aid groups, Christian charities, etc).

In the event, it turned out to be a non-issue. When we got to the slums, they knew exactly who we without us opening our mouths. Faith-based groups spend years serving the poor in HIV-Aids rural villages. Richard Dawkins prefers first class hotels and US$20,000 appearance fees.

Anyway, Christy-Hanan and the Serving Islam Team, please accept a big YAAAY! from all of us. Same with the Community Church effort. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t put your name or your organization’s name on the shipment. Do so with pride. Anyone who encourages young people to turn away from designer shops to do something to help the poor is doing something really important.

icm kid philippines

Incidentally, some of us are going to fly down to the slums outside Manila on Friday night to spend the weekend doing some rebuilding work for a particular group of poor children (pic above) in an area where malnutrition is common.

If anyone in Hong Kong wants to join me, write immediately. It sounds unpleasant, but every time we do this, we have the time of our lives. If it’s too short notice, we’ll probably go again in the near future, as we’ve built great relationships with some of the villages there. One day, come with us.





murder mystery

EMERGENCY! One of my novelist friends called me in a state of panic. He’d just written a thriller about a small incident which grows into a major corruption scandal involving top political leaders.

But then he had found the exact same story in the newspapers, the Bo Xilai scandal in China.

“Almost every element is identical,” he lamented. “A dead foreigner, crooked officials, betrayal, illicit sex, a conflicted detective and a trail of clues leading to the top of society,” he said.

I told him to calm down, pointing out that it was a legal requirement for ALL thriller novels to feature the elements he listed.

I compared his plot with reality. The only difference was that there wasn’t a sultry blonde in the real life version. He saw that as a gleam of hope, but I shook my head, betting that a news angle featuring a sultry blonde would turn up within two weeks.


The evolution of the Bo Xilai scandal was interesting. When the British guy, Neil Hayward, died last November, China’s newspaper and radio reports were totally blasé, going something like this:

“A Westerner drank himself to death. This is normal for Westerners from the age of four or five upwards, such is the laughable decadence of the Western races. In contrast, his noble business companions Bo Xialing and Gu Kailai continue their glorious upward rise to leadership of the world’s most glorious country to the unanimous delight of all citizens. This proves how glorious is our glorious motherland.”

The current official version of the story has changed a bit:

“Attempts to trick the authorities into believing that a murdered Western businessman drank himself to death were laughable, not fooling a single citizen for a second. Meanwhile, Bo Xilai and Gu Kailai have been arrested as the disreputable villains we knew they were from birth. This proves how glorious is our glorious motherland.”


TALKING OF crime and punishment, I wish the prosecutors at the Anders Behring Breivik trial had spoken to me first. Their case hinges on the fact that Breivik is sane, and admits it. But he’s clearly as loopy as the Olympic logo.

Claiming to be sane is a well-known sign of insanity. Consider the following.

1) “Are you sane?”

Normal person: “Most of the time, I hope!”

Crazy person: “Yes.”

2) “Might it be the case that you are actually a severely deranged nutter?”

Normal person: “Only after six beers!”

Crazy person: “Certainly not.”

3) “Do you think you have a serious chance of landing the job of most powerful person in the world?”

Newt Gingrich: “Yes, I’m almost there!”

Crazy Person: “Yes, I’m almost there!”



DISCUSSING TRICK questions reminds me of a conversation I once had with my wife.

HER: “You’re in denial!”

ME: “No, I’m not!”

HER: “See?”

Some arguments you can’t win.



ON HIS Facebook page last week, Arnold Schwarzenegger asked fans for suggestions about things to write about in his autobiography.

Arnie, why not write about your life?

Just an idea.




(Box of Amal pic by Paris Mok/ Serving Islam Team)

(Murder mystery pic from here)

(Philippines pic by ICM)