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Rushdi Siddiqui: Why I decided to finally tweet

February 04, 2013

FEB 4 — I never thought I would say that publicly, but the lesson learned is, “Never say never!”

“Never’s a hard call, isn’t it? Never-ish.” — Terry Venables

Tweeting: Reasons and dangers

First, I wanted to understand why people tweeted.

Because they have something of substance or importance to say? On hindsight, probably not, because hyper-connectivity updates make a minute ago seem historical!

Because they want to connect with “like-minded people?” On hindsight, some of those “minds” should be blocked!

Because they want a following? On hindsight, thank God for the ability to block, as this becomes an addiction for some!

Because they want to only follow, say, a famous athlete, movie star, etc?

Or that they just want to be part of a fad and then drop out when it fades?

Second, I wanted to know the “dangers” of tweeting.

That which has been tweeted cannot be deleted. Possibly retreated. But from a public relations 101 angle, that which cannot be deleted is a disaster for reputation management.

The 24/7 information download world we live in reminds us more often than not of our missteps and failures than it does our successes. Hence to say “be careful before touching send button” cannot be overemphasised.

The apology tweet cannot undo the damage done, case in point people like Rupert Murdoch and many athletes, politicians, business leaders and why even some spiritual leaders.

There is also the danger of pranks played on tweet accounts. Ones opened in your name or those hacking into your account to score a point or to make a statement for individual/group benefit. This has happened to political and spiritual leaders of late.

It’s interesting to note that politicians, like US President Barack Obama, have a team that tweets on their behalf. Why you ask? These are what you call an “impersonal tweet” driven by careful public relations management.

The tweet can bring “rain or sunshine” to the subject matter depending on prominence of the tweeter. For example, during a recent college football game, the sportscaster made remarks concerning the beauty of one of audience members, and she suddenly went from less than 10,000 followers to over 200,000 followers (including a superstar basketball player by the name of Lebron James). So tweets can create overnight fame or notoriety depending on which side of an issue one stands and supports, and the reaction one poses to responses.

There are the spam tweets, hence, the nuisance of time consuming blocking comes into the picture.

Third, and probably the most difficult question, what value will I bring into the tweeting wide world? I come from the realms of Islamic finance and halal hence, and, much like TV sitcom actors, we have generally encased ourselves in that narrow arena. But this is what we do, and does not define who we are.

At one level, all of us have secret aspirations of becoming superstar athletes, CEOs of Fortune 500 companies, top journalists, movie stars, doctors, scholars, can-do politicians, inventors and entrepreneurs, better dads/moms, sons/daughters, even bad guys, etc., where what we say moves companies, markets, voters and arguments.

Thus, it seems tweeting is about being the first on headline commenting and/or reporting from the mundane (subjective) to the moving.

Exposure and experience

The nature of my “calling card”, global in title, has made me an international road runner. It has exposed me to so much in the last 15 years, from airline lounges, airlines and journeys of, at times, 17 hours, airports, hotels, taxis, tourist traps, meetings, etc. Thus, at times, I feel like a secret shopper, business development officer (outside my profession), observation tower (of people, marches, events, speeches, natural phenomenon, etc.), roving reporter, etc.

I want to share these moments, in the form of 140-character mini op-eds, but never took the first step for a number of reasons (probably intimidated by such media), and, on hindsight, missed the opportunity to connect and learn from others (much earlier). Initially, I would have probably tweeted to connect with fellow practitioners in Islamic finance and halal (large community?), and then expanded to the more pressing issues in the Muslim world, from sports to athletes to policy to tolerance to hypocrisy, and connectivity and perception influence of the non-Muslim world.

Lincoln quotes for Muslims

Let’s start with a tweet for all Muslims and non-Muslims:

“I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” Abraham Lincoln, 16th president of the US. How is this even different to the basic teachings of Islam or any other religion? Muslims, including myself, are you reading, understanding, and executing? The non-Muslim world needs to heed the advice of this statesman towards Islam.

He also said: “… Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man’s character, give him power.’” All of us have examples of people we know or can predict who will fail or have failed this character test! The Muslim world is not only cursed with black gold (oil), but also power without accountability still prevails in many parts of its society. Do we thank the colonial geographic boundaries that seem to have created mental barriers?

What would I ask in the world of Islamic finance and halal

I would tweet the following:

Students: they are spending money on courses, diplomas, etc., and want meaningful jobs upon graduation; yet, we talk about shortage of skilled people, huh? Walk the talk, Islamic finance.

Scholars: they are entitled to a livelihood to support families, but what is reasonable number of board membership?

Man on street: Islamic finance is not Qard Hassan (benevolent loan) or charity, but about profits not profiteering. Where are the imams, as they are the local trusted gatekeepers to the community, and, in Arab Spring countries, it’s about the mass retail.

Disenfranchised (bulk of the 1.6 billion Muslims): we are still waiting for Islamic finance and many of our Muslim-majority countries are non-co-operative, whom do we turn to? Shadow banking system is the only alternative as only collateral is life/blood?

Regulators/public sector: need to establish foundation for market, initially lead market and then regulate market, and cannot be an indefinite market participant as the “crowding out” phenomenon kicks in.

Anti-shariah movement: present your evidence on it financing terrorism, Malaysia and Dubai would host such an event to discuss its veracity.

Conventional institutions in Islamic finance: are you about absorbing liquidity or providing value and commitment? HSBC Amanah downsized operations in a number of countries where margins are not being met, profits versus commitment (beyond short term).

Islamic finance: you have proved you are viable (alternative), credible (non-Islamic institutions involved), durable (better survived the recent external shock, but not by much), but what are your sustainable and scalable growth plans?

Halal industry: what is your story (brand)? Why are you even more fragmented than Islamic finance? Don’t you realise you’re an asset class? Malaysia, you will just lose the halal hub title if you do not focus in building such companies (inorganically) as global brands versus the continued comments of Jakim, HDC, etc.

Modern-day lifetime achievement award for Islamic finance: Sh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Ruler of Dubai, VP and Prime Minister of UAE, two words: continued commitment.

The rest of the world: what is Islamic finance and how has it changed lives, inspired humanity, or rather where is IF in moments of global tragedies and catastrophes?

OIC tweets

I would tweet on following:

Why do we have “His/Your Highness”, “Your Majesty”, “Sultan”, “Emir”, “Prince and crown prince”, “Datuk and Tan Sri”, “King and Queen”, etc. when the Prophet of Islam did not have such references. Yes, we respect our leaders and titles like President, Vice-President, Prime Minister. Why can’t we make them more human, approachable and accessible? Aren’t these titles creating a mental and social class war/barrier? Is this an effective way to rule in the 21st century?

Where is the healthy food in Malaysia? Yet, what little is available tends to be expensive! I have been coming to Malaysia for 15 years, and go to the gym religiously, and rarely see Malaysian men there. Obesity-cum-diabetes is a major issue in the GCC, and Malaysia may not be far behind! (But Malaysian men may be spending time on football pitches and badminton courts — who knows?).

We have 57 Muslim countries in the OIC, but what clustering has captured the investing world’s attention like BRICS? I suggested SAMI + 3 — Saudi Arabia, Ankara (Turkey), Malaysia, Indonesia, Egypt, Pakistan and Nigeria. It could also be MIST + 3, but MIST implies a fog, haze, etc, lack of clarity.

To tweet or not

When Microsoft started making computers in the ‘70s, it wanted to put a PC in every home. In less than 40 years the world has changed and today we have a computer in every pocket/handbag.

The dangers of tweeting remain. Once you start, it is difficult to get out of it. It may rule your life (i.e. one keeps checking the phones at the expense of real-life human contact). But like everything in life, moderation is key in action.

Need to tweet to connect with a society wired on social media, yet to do so with wisdom, caution and more importantly substance. There are always the red herrings of “committed” tweeting communities that feel the need to share their every move — it is this culture that perhaps still stops those who would/could benefit the world of “tweet” from tweeting.

In conclusion, to tweet or not to tweet is no longer the relevant question to being relevant today. Maybe the question should be — do I tweet to share my next appointment or my next meal or my next relationship — or do I tweet to make the world a better place? To do my small part in making that difference?

So, for those about to tweet, we salute you (but be careful and responsible).

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