CSID EMAIL BULLETIN – January 11, 2008

Eid Mubarak & Happy New Year 2008

May Eid ul-Idh”a and the New Year bring you, and your families, happiness, health, joy, success, freedom, democracy, and Global Peace.

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Together, we can build a better future for the Muslim world, and improve relations and understanding between the US and the Muslim World.

CSID Board and Staff


Islam, Catholicism, and the Secular: A Conversation with Jose Casanova and Abdolkarim Soroush

January 15, 2008 – 4:00-5:30pm
Copley Formal Lounge
Event open to the public
RSVP: http://berkleycenter.georgetown.edu/42861.html

What is the proper relationship between religious and secular knowledge and authority? What tensions exist between religious traditions and communities, on the one hand, and the secular institutions of state, law, democracy, and markets, on the other? With the worldwide resurgence of religion in politics and society these questions have taken on greater urgency. They link back to old theoretical debates but also point to a central contemporary challenge: how to create and maintain open, democratic societies in a globalizing world marked by growing cultural and religious pluralism. The challenge is particularly acute for Catholic Christianity and for Islam, which have traditionally supported a prominent role for religion in public affairs.

Two leading contemporary thinkers, Jose Casanova and Abdolkarim Soroush, will explore this issues in a public conversation on Tuesday, January 15, at 4:00pm in Copley Formal Lounge on Georgetown University”s main campus. Both scholars have joined the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown University: Casanova as a Senior Fellow and Professor of Sociology, and Soroush as a Fellow and Visiting Scholar. Berkley Center Director and Associate Professor of Government Tom Banchoff will moderate the conversation.

José Casanova joined Georgetown University as Professor of Sociology and Senior Fellow in the Center in January 2008. Casanova, a leading authority on religion and world affairs, has published widely on sociological theory, migration, and globalization. His critically acclaimed Public Religions in the Modern World (Chicago, 1994) has been published in five languages. Casanova studied Philosophy in Saragossa, Spain, received an M.A. in Theology from the University of Innsbruck, and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Sociology from the New School for Social Research. Casanova moved to Georgetown from the New School, where he served as Professor of Sociology from 1987-2007.

Abdolkarim Soroush, one of the world”s leading Muslim thinkers, is a visiting scholar within the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs during the spring 2008 semester. After a traditional Islamic education in his native Iran, Soroush studied Chemistry, History, and the Philosophy of Science in the United Kingdom. He returned to Iran after the fall of the Shah and published Knowledge and Value, the first of many books relating Islam to the challenges of democracy and modernity. In 1983, disillusioned with the course of the Iranian revolution, Soroush resigned from the Culture Revolution Council and moved to the Institute for Cultural Research and Studies, with which he remains affiliated. A prolific writer and speaker, Soroush is the author of more than 30 books. His articulate defense of rational thought and open debate and deliberation has earned him a wide following within the academy and across the Muslim world. Since 2000 Soroush has been a visiting scholar at a series of prestigious institutions, including Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Columbia, and the Wissenschaftskolleg in Berlin. In 2005 Time named him one of the world”s 100 most influential people. A good introduction to his work is: Reason, Freedom, and Democracy in Islam: Essential Writings of Abdolkarim Soroush (Oxford University Press, 2002).



Libya”s Reform: Shadows of the Past
Followed by a light North African meal

Speaker: Dr. Dirk Vandewalle

Location: 3307 M St., NW, Georgetown University”s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs, 3rd Floor Conference Room
Wednesday, January 16, 2008, 12:30 – 2:00 p.m.
Free to the public. RSVP”s appreciated at [email protected]

Dirk Vandewalle is one of the few most highly regarded experts on Libya”s history and political economy. Dr. Vandewalle is a keen observer of Libya with direct knowledge and insight into the inner workings of its government and General People”s Congress, within the changing domestic and international context that are combining to create a Libya that is more pragmatic and technocratic and which is radically changing its relations with the West. Dr. Vandewalle is the author of the acclaimed book Libya Since Independence in which he developed the concept of the distributive economy.

A political scientist and philosopher by training, Vandewalle”s expertise is in state-building and regime change, commodity booms, institutional development, and economic reform. His most recent work, A History of Modern Libya, became upon publication the authoritative work on the subject.

The Maghreb Center: Fostering Understanding and Development of the Maghreb 3528 S Street, NW Washington DC 20007, USA Email: [email protected]


The Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University cordially invites you to a lecture:

Assumptions and Rationales Behind Democracy Promotion in the Middle East: 2001 and Now

a presentation by Ms. Zoé Nautre

Zoé Nautré is a Visiting Researcher at Georgetown University and a Fellow of Germany”s Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung. Her research interests include US and EU policies towards the Middle East and political and security sector reform in the Arab world. She is currently completing her PhD thesis at the Freie Universitنt Berlin on US democracy promotion in Morocco.

Ms. Nautré holds a MSc in Middle East Politics from the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) and a BScEcon in Security Studies from the University if Wales, Aberystwyth. She has worked for the Embassy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (Berlin), the Lebanese Chamber of Commerce (Beirut), the German Ministry of Defense (Berlin), the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), (Berlin), the Civility Program at the Foreign Policy Center (London) and the German Technical Service (GTZ), (Sana”a).

Thursday, January 17, 2008
6:00pm – CCAS Boardroom (ICC 241)
Refreshments will be served.

Please RSVP here: https://www12.georgetown.edu/sfs/rsvp/index.cfm?Action=View&EventID=1552


The Many Faces of Political Islam
MSU scholar urges policy shift toward Muslim world in new book

Contact: Mohammed Ayoob
James Madison College: (517) 353-3538, [email protected]
Jan. 9, 2008

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Unless the United States drastically changes its foreign policy toward the Muslim world – and supports democratic efforts at every turn – Islamic radicalism will continue to thrive, according to a new book from a Michigan State University professor.

“The Many Faces of Political Islam,” Mohammed Ayoob, a renowned scholar of Middle Eastern affairs, challenges Western assumptions about Islamic politics but also argues that democracy may be the “ideal antidote” to the appeal of Islamism and its rhetoric.

“Dealing with political Islam and the challenges that emerge from it will form a significant part of the new president’s agenda,” says Ayoob, University Distinguished Professor of international relations at MSU’s James Madison College and the Department of Political Science.

“It is imperative that policy analysts and policymakers take a hard and fresh look at the reality of political Islam rather than going by conventional, stereotypical images of Islamic political activity that have become fashionable in Washington.”

Ayoob’s book, published by the University of Michigan Press, explains in layman language the concept of political Islam and its potential consequences. Political Islam, or Islamism, is the pursuit of political objectives by individuals or groups in the Muslim world who use Islamic idiom and rhetoric to achieve their goals. Drawing upon Islamic vocabulary gives their rhetoric an aura of authenticity, especially in the context of the failure of secular ideologies and regimes to deliver power, wealth or dignity to Muslim societies.

Writing and speaking about political Islam, Ayoob writes, has become a growth industry in the United States following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and has led to the emergence of many “half-baked ‘experts’” who spread misinformation in the media. Among the common assumptions he challenges in the book:

* Assumption: Political Islam is driven by religious concerns. Reality: As with Christianity, religion and politics in Muslim lands historically have remained distinct. In fact, when the two spheres do intersect, it’s typically political actors who use religion for their purposes and not vice versa.

* Assumption: Political Islam is monolithic. Reality: No two Islamist parties are alike. Political activities depend on a host of cultural and socioeconomic factors; what works in Indonesia, for example, would not work in Egypt.

* Assumption: Islamist groups are unwilling to compromise or join coalitions. Reality: Compromise and coalitions are increasingly common in the Muslim world, as seen in Pakistan, Indonesia, Turkey and even the Islamic Republic of Iran.

* Assumption: Islamist parties are by definition anti-democratic. Reality: On the contrary, Islamist parties in Turkey, Indonesia, Malaysia, Pakistan and Kuwait, among others, have engaged in democratic political activity to a significant extent.

* Assumption: Violence is inherent in Islamism. Reality: Nothing could be further from the truth. Violence is the exception rather than the rule and is typically committed by fringe groups such as al-Qaida. Mainstream Islamist movements normally work within constitutional constraints even though the rules of the game are fashioned by regimes unsympathetic to their cause. The only major exceptions are Islamist national resistance movements fighting foreign occupation.

While Islamic radicalism thrives, in part, on anti-American sentiment, Ayoob says it is generally not based on opposition to the U.S. values of democracy and freedom. Instead, he says, the antipathy is grounded in a U.S. foreign policy that is perceived as using “double standards” and “Washington’s support of unsavory and repressive regimes such as those in Egypt and Saudi Arabia.”

The military occupation of Iraq has further fueled radical movements in the Middle East, he argues.

“The impact of the American decision to invade Iraq is likely to haunt Washington and its allies for a long time to come,” Ayoob writes. “The monumental mismanagement of the occupation has further added to America’s woes not only in Iraq but in the rest of the Muslim world as well.”



What Islam Wrought
A new look at how Muslims were crucial to the creation of Europe.

By David Levering Lewis
Norton. 473 pp. $29.95

The title of David Levering Lewis”s surprising new book, God”s Crucible, brings to mind another piece of ceramic phrasing, Colin Powell”s warning to President Bush about invading Iraq: “You break it. You own it.” The people and the land of Iraq that we now own as occupiers can be counted among the shards, but the invasion and occupation have also wreaked havoc on a culture, a country”s history, and its religion. For better or worse, every American needs to have a certain working knowledge of the traditions of the Middle East, not only for the momentous task of putting the pieces back together in Iraq, but also to avoid such nightmares in the future and to judge the overheated rhetoric of politicians in the forthcoming American election.

“For a historian,” Lewis writes in his preface, “thinking about the present means thinking about the past in the present.” So it should be for the citizen as well.

God”s Crucible begins with the rise of Islam in the 6th and 7th centuries from the ruins of the conflict between imperial Rome and imperial Persia. This rise, Lewis writes expansively, is nothing short of “the greatest revolution in power, religion, culture, and wealth in history.” In the aftermath, the Fertile Crescent, the vast area of ancient Egypt and Mesopotamia, was forfeited to the Islamic upstarts in the Arabian peninsula.

Lewis”s treatment of Islam”s explosive beginnings and its expansion across North Africa into Europe is lucid, and his command of detail is encyclopedic. His narrative is enriched by Arabic sources that are often ignored by European scholars. For today”s Arabs and Muslims, these seminal events live intensely in the present: the life of Muhammad, the violent struggle for Mecca and Medina, the first four caliphs, the writing of the Koran and the split of the Shiites and Sunnis. If only for practical reasons, all Americans need to understand these things.

In the second half of the book, Lewis turns to the European response to the Islamic invasion from the Iberian peninsula. The Muslims were defeated in 732 at Poitiers, in present-day France. This historic turning point led to the formation of an inchoate Europe in opposition to Islam. When Charlemagne became king of the Franks in the late 8th century, he developed the concept of holy war versus jihad. Folklore created iconic heroes like Roland — slaughtered with his men at Roncevaux in 778 and memorialized in the “Song of Roland” — who embodied European chivalry, manly courage and Christian valor in the face of the infidel. “Poitiers and Roncevaux nurtured an ideology of Holy War and in time,” Lewis writes, “of national arrogance to counter the advance of Islam.” Through mythology, history was framed as a titanic struggle between Christianity and Islam, a struggle for a Christian warrior caste that could only end when Muslims everywhere were defeated and converted to the true faith.

In his later chapters, there are other important insights. Islam did not stop dead in its tracks in 732, as many believe; Muslim attacks on central Europe not only continued but intensified. If the Islamic forces had prevailed over Charles Martel — known as “The Hammer” — at Poitiers, scholars at Oxford and the Sorbonne might have been teaching interpretations of the Koran instead of the Bible afterward. If Charlemagne had been successful in his invasion of Islamic Spain in 778, the confrontation between Christianity and Islam there might have been accelerated by four centuries.

In Lewis”s construction, Europe as a cohesive Christian dominion came into existence with Charlemagne. His coronation in Rome as the first Holy Roman Emperor in the year 800 certified the consolidation he had achieved during his 45-year reign. His palatine complex in Aachen stood in opposition to — and in the shadow of — Cordoba in Spain, the “brilliant ornament of the world,” with its Great Mosque, its dazzling caliphal residence at Madinat al-Zahra, and its fabulous library. At this point, these two dominions, Christian and Islamic, stood in a fragile equipose militarily, but Muslim Iberia was far superior culturally and economically.

In God”s Crucible, answers to many urgent questions, currently in the public discourse, can be deduced. Is Islam essentially a violent religion? Why do Sunnis and Shiites kill one another over a genealogical disagreement? Must we worry about the dream of a worldwide caliphate today, or a terrorist fantasy about restoring the glory of al-Andalus in southern Spain? Is Europe really a Christian continent?

Lewis has made an important contribution to the growing body of literature on Muslim-Christian relations that has emerged after 9/11. But his book also shows how daunting the task of understanding the history of the Middle East is for the average American. He makes no concession here to the general reader. While the book is erudite, it is marred by stilted academic prose and an overemphasis, especially in the first half, on the minutiae of tribal and sectarian conflict. Because of this density, it can be difficult to concentrate on the larger narrative, and many of his insights are inaccessible to the people who most need them. *

James Reston Jr.”s last work of medieval history was “Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors.”



Collected by Charles Kurzman
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

As noted in the introduction to the Liberal Islam anthology, I use the term “liberal” to refer to basic themes in the history of liberalism, such as democracy, freedom of thought, social equality, and human progress. The term “liberal” has a variety of meanings, to be sure, and its reputation in much of the Islamic world has been tainted by its hypocritical introduction under colonialism. Thus these links, and the Liberal Islam anthology itself, include some authors and activists who may not consider themselves “liberal,” though they deal seriously with liberal themes.



Democracy Gets Small Portion of U.S. Aid
Documents Show Much of the Money Helps Entity Controlled by Musharraf

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 6, 2008; A17

Two years before Benazir Bhutto was assassinated while leading her Pakistan People”s Party in its campaign against the rule of President Pervez Musharraf, the Bush administration devoted this much new aid money to strengthen political parties in Pakistan: $0.

The entire U.S. budget for democracy programs in Pakistan in 2006 amounted to about $22 million, according to State Department documents, much of it reserved for aiding the Election Commission — an entity largely controlled by Musharraf. That $22 million was just a small fraction of the $1.6 billion in aid the United States gave Pakistan that year, and it was equivalent to the value of jet engine and helicopter spare parts that Pakistan purchased in 2006 with the help of U.S. funds.

In the past year, as Musharraf”s grip on power became increasingly fragile, the Bush administration has scrambled to build contacts with the opposition and to provide expertise to opposition parties. The money devoted to democracy programs in the 165 million-person country was almost doubled in the fiscal 2008 budget, to $41 million, but that is still less than the $43 million set aside for such efforts in Kosovo, the former Albanian enclave of Serbia with a population of 2 million. In the region, U.S. democracy programs aimed at Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Egypt are all larger than the effort in Pakistan.

Former and current U.S. officials said the administration shied away from building a robust democracy program in Pakistan because it did not want to offend Musharraf, who after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, was considered an ally against al-Qaeda. Now, the administration is seeking to persuade Musharraf, who seized power in a bloodless coup in 1999, to free democratic activists and lawyers and lift media restrictions to help make the legislative elections, currently scheduled for next month, appear credible.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice last month described Musharraf as “a good ally,” adding: “I hope that he is going to oversee the return of Pakistan to a civilian-led democratic state. They need to have free and fair elections.”

A recent study of aid to Pakistan by the Center for Strategic and International Studies calculated that, excluding covert funds, the United States has provided more than $10 billion to Pakistan since 2001, about half of that through poorly accounted “reimbursement” of expenses incurred in the war against al-Qaeda and Taliban.

Lorne W. Craner repeatedly lost battles over democracy aid for Pakistan when he was assistant secretary of state for democracy and human rights during President Bush”s first term. “There was no interest in a broad and deep democratization program in Pakistan that might have given the United States more policy alternatives now,” said Craner, now president of the International Republican Institute, a democracy advocacy group.

“A decision was made to channel the limited funding in a way that avoided a risk of conflict with the government,” acknowledged a State Department official who insisted on anonymity because he was discussing internal decision-making. He said that the administration chose to focus on health care and education assistance, such as building clinics and classrooms, which he said have a quicker impact on people”s lives. “I would argue we did not make bad choices,” he said.

When the administration submitted its budget request to Congress last year, it made clear that the main goal of aid to Pakistan was building “a stable, long-term relationship.” The notion of creating what the document called a “moderate, democratic and civilian government” was a lower priority, signified by the fact that the democracy aid amounted to 5 percent of the total $785 million request.

“What is amazing to me about our policy is that Pakistan is brimming with a smart, educated, moderate center,” said Sen. Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), chairman of the foreign assistance subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “As long as we are pumping our money into security assistance and putting all our eggs in the basket with Musharraf, we are making a critical mistake.”

Challenged last month at a hearing chaired by Menendez on the administration”s aid priorities for Pakistan, James R. Kunder, acting deputy administrator of USAID, said, “We looked at what we thought were the underlying elements of fragility in the democracy and tried to design the programs around strengthening democracy in the long run.”

A USAID official provided statistics showing that the agency has devoted nearly $24 million to democracy programs for Pakistan since 2004, but almost 80 percent of that — $19 million — was earmarked for assisting the Election Commission, such as helping update nationwide voter rolls. Reports from Pakistan say the effort has been deeply troubled, with the new voter list believed to be highly inaccurate and missing the names of tens of millions of Pakistanis.

“I found it troubling that there was virtually no money until recently for any work other than the Election Commission, which was controlled by the president,” said Peter M. Manikas, director of the Asia programs of the National Democratic Institute, a pro-democracy group. He said the organization in June received a $1.5 million project from the State Department to train poll watchers and has received $2.6 million since 2002 from USAID for political party training.

“It is a relatively small amount of money, given the size of the country,” Manikas said, adding that the NDI has also raised about $1.5 million for Pakistan programs since 2003 from the Dutch, British, Canadians and the National Endowment for Democracy. “All of the eggs were put in the president”s basket, but the entire international community” was backing Musharraf.


The New Year’s Resolution for the American Muslim Leadership:
Setting Priorities and Building Consensus

by N. Ruby Amatulla
Dec. 31, 2007
Minneapolis, USA.

We the American Muslims are at the right place in a critical time in history to make a difference: The difference which is most urgently needed for the world to get out of this confrontational and destructive phase and to help lead humanity towards a positive direction for generations to come. Not to recognize the opportunity and the responsibility could be our greatest failure.

Now is a compelling occasion and a context when the diverse community of the American Muslims should come together on the burning issues of our time: to reconcile the two largest sects of Islam and to help bring about an effective voice of moderation and reason in a turbulent time in the Muslim world. This is the opportunity we must utilize to consolidate our leadership and to help built consensus on issues that would be most effective for both the short and the long term goals.

We are the citizens of the superpower of our time and the members of the Muslim ‘umma’ of 1.3 billion people. We are the common denominator with unique and extra-ordinary predispositions to become a ‘mediator’ and a peace-builder in our time. The Quran declares that a small number of people –by keeping trust in God and fighting for the right cause — can defeat or overcome a large number of people. Gandhi, recognizing this truth, repeatedly asserted during his lifetime the following: “ A small body of determined spirits fired by an unquenchable faith in their mission can alter the course of history.”

With an earnest prayer to Almighty for guidance and help let us take this time to be highly resolved: that we would work relentlessly to help bring about a better world.

To Move Forward: Not to Live in the Failures of the Past But To Lead the Umma for A Better Future:

Today the Muslim world is inundated with problems and dire conditions in which countless men and women are going through inhuman suffering and hopelessness. A huge and ever increasing young population is utterly frustrated and increasingly angry with the failures of their societies and the conditions they presently live in: extreme concentration of power and wealth, rampant corruption, ineffective leadership, dysfunctional due process and poverty.

This is a fertile ground for extremism and terrorism. In this context different types of conflicts and issues — that can be settled through constructive engagements, better understanding and dialogue — get aggravated and turn into confrontations, violence and instability.

If these destructive propensities do not change the Muslim world would be stagnated and left behind for a long time. This volatile and destructive chemistry must change through an effective leadership of moderation and vision. The American Muslim leadership should spearhead that process of transformation.

They should come together to help create a mindset that is positive and forceful displacing anger, extremism, rivalry, injustice and turbulence with understanding, moderation, cooperation, justice, peace and progress.

Our preoccupation should not be about others’ and ours’ failures of the past, our focus should be how to bring about a better future. It is contrary to the Islamic spirit to be overwhelmed by a sense of failure soaked with humiliation, anger, hatred and complaints about others and about ourselves. It is the call of Islam — and it should be our consensus — to orient ourselves with trust in God and undaunted spirit to penetrate darkness to help bring light and hope. Let us not live in the past: let us work for the future.

Creating a National and International Presence

To be effective in this monumental agenda the American Muslim leadership needs leverage. The greatest leverage can be established by creating a national and international presence through an issue of extreme global importance. Iraq today is such an issue: the sectarian conflict could conflagrate the region and the Muslim world; a prolonged occupation of America could trigger a much bigger and deeper confrontation between the Muslim world and the West; all these emanating from the heartland of Islam and the most oil-rich region of the world — if get worse — could devastate the economy of the Muslim world in particular and the world in general. Considering the character and the chemistry of this issue, Iraq is the catalyst and preoccupation of our time.

An American Muslim leadership working from a united front has a better chance now than anyone else to intervene and make a difference. They are a fresh new face, hopefully, with no conflict of interests and past baggage — the common denominator conversant with both [Western and Muslim] cultures and mindsets — a group of people who are the citizens of the superpower of our time as well as the members of the 1.3 billion umma. This is an extra-ordinary predisposition and qualification of a mediator and peace-builder.

Therefore, our consensus should be to focus in empowering ourselves for this greater agenda in the world through Iraqinvolvement: establishing our reputation as a mediator, consensus-builder and peace-maker, establishing our objectivity, neutrality, professionalism and our credibility. This is the key to our success. We should be very careful about our own consolidation and unity as to these issues and objectives. Any dissention among ourselves in this critical involvement could make all of us ineffective or even invalid for this great work.

Promoting Integration, Cooperation and Power-sharing

The paramount call of Islam is towards integration and not disintegration. However, the Muslim world is disintegrating into sects and factions: this unhealthy dissention and confrontation is self-defeating and most unproductive. While the entire world is moving forward with this understanding of integration through regional and global cooperation and peaceful-coexistence except the people who claim to follow the Message of the Quran. They are disregarding the most profound message of the Quiran that is to do good to serve God in seeking unity in diversity among fellow human beings [Quran 5:48].

To be united one does not need to dissolve all the differences but to recognize the fundamental commonality and common purpose of welfare and peace. The Muslim world seems to be devoid of the understanding of the power of integration and co-existence. This is an enormous failure.

One increases one’s strength and welfare by collaborating with others in recognition and acceptance of others’ legitimate concerns and interests. This increase is not linear but exponential, magnified often many times than one can hope to achieve separately. This is the secret of progress. To share power and work for collective empowerment does not diminish one’s own position and welfare, it merely increases it many folds. A broader decision making process makes the rule strong and the foundation of governance firm. One diminishes one’s own strength and welfare along with others’ when one works on petty, selfish and narrow agenda to deplete resources of both through dissention and confrontation.

Europe has been realizing the power of integration and has been benefiting from the infrastructure of EEC .Our country, the USA , today is a superpower primarily because it has been pursuing the most progressive program of integration. This is the most open and pluralistic society in the world extracting the contribution of a diverse community by offering integration on the fundamental idea of human equality, liberty, dignity and collective power. The nation has become the superpower by incorporating the spirit the Quran expounds.

This is the spirit this summit should drill on our consciousness to embark on a program of propagating cooperation, power-sharing and integration. This should be a point of consensus among us first.

America’s Mindset and Modus Operandi Must be Revised Towards the Muslim World and the American Muslims Can Be Instrumental Towards that Goal:

America should be ready to listen to a voice within. The consequences of many failed agendas during the Cold War, many failed policies towards the Middle East and countless wrong efforts to uphold the ‘vested’ interests have been extremely costly for America. If America could have retained its trust and goodwill it had long time ago, I think, this great nation could have achieved most of its objectives at the fraction of the price it paid and still failed to achieve these goals. It is most unfortunate that America’s mistaken ideas and modus operandi have failed to establish a good and trusting relationship with that dynamic segment of humanity which contains 1.3 billion Muslims and controls over 75% of the oil resources of the world. This is the greatest failure of America. It failed because it failed to uphold the principles it propagates. A strategy out of fear and arrogance is a dangerous strategy because it is devoid of moral conviction and wisdom which are the most important ingredients for long term victory and glory.

This great nation — founded on the sound moral principles of equality, dignity, liberty and equity – by charting a progressive course to materialize these ideals have developed the most pluralistic, self-corrective characteristics which are most conducive for a positive transformation. It needs an agent from within – through constructive engagements –to remind its ideals and its true goals in the world. After all these failures and turmoil this is a very good time for a Muslim leadership to surface and remind the nation for another change that is long overdue.

This change may also help change the tide in the Muslim world. Many Muslims would turn around from extremism if they see that most profound things can be accomplished through constructive and not destructive engagements. Extremism has grown in the Muslim world out of extreme frustrations and humiliation in the absence of better options before them. This can be offered most effectively through the constructive engagement of an international group of Muslims and through ‘neutral’ democratic governance. History is a testament how many times rebels and extremists have become polished politicians and bureaucrats under the pressures of democratic governance.
Therefore, our resolution should be to engage ourselves most vigorously with the political and social forces of America to help bring about positive changes in the mindset and policies of the US government. We also should be equally resolute to help bring about positive changes in the attitude towards and interaction with the Muslim world towards this superpower. It is self-defeating to judge America only by its failures and not also by its enormous successes in achieving equality, liberty and dignity for its people. As Americans we should be committed to help expose this side of America to the Muslim world and help minimize prejudices and blind hatred. This is the most pluralistic and open society in the world. The Muslim world can work with America for mutual welfare and goodwill. Through constructive engagements it is possible.

A Success in Iraq Could be a Gateway to a Long-term and Broader Agenda of Peace:

A reconciliation and solution in Iraq is not an end in itself but a gateway to a broader agenda of peace and prosperity in the Muslim world and the world.

A change in a mindset needs a spearhead program. Iraq is that spearhead. God willing, a success in Iraq would catapult us to prominence and empowerment and with that leverage we should not stop and rescind. We should continue playing this role in other places with other issues. .

For that we need a consensus among ourselves that this is not just about Iraq but about a greater agenda of conflict-resolution, reconciliation, consensus-building, integration, peace and justice in the world.

Promoting Democracy in the Muslim World for Integration, Stability and Prosperity

We also should have a common understanding why a democratic rule is most beneficial for the Muslim world. It provides a neutral rule of law to uphold everyone’s fundamental rights and freedom irrespective of the differences. God given fundamental human rights can best be pursued through democratic governance. A government should not be used to enforce and to promote a religion or a sectarian dogma. That may fundamentally violate the Quranic injunction that there is no compulsion in religion [2:256]. The primary function of a government is to provide a fair rule of law in order to make the society stable, disciplined and secure so that the citizens can practice their respective religions and belief systems without encroaching others’ rights.

Establishing justice is the essence of Islam. Justice can be most effectively pursued if the governance is accountable, transparent and neutral. Justice is better ensured if a civil society is strong and active. Justice is promoted if there is a proper balance of power and an adequate consultation is incorporated in the affairs of a society. Democratic governance is most conducive to uphold these ideas.

A neutral system of governance based on the broad moral principles of human life and society –such as equality, liberty, dignity, equity and rights—can offer an effective due process of integration of a diverse community and direct it towards mutual benefit and prosperity. These principles are also Islamic principles.

The Muslim world needs such a system of integration and stabilization for its won success. Any system which leaves a scope for perpetual conflict and instability cannot be Islamic. Any system that is based on an inadequate legitimacy of leadership and governance is inherently weak and prone to disturbance: that system of governance defies the Islamic spirit of continuity and harmony.

In order to achieve welfare and peace, a society must uphold justice and attain stability. A successful democratic system provides a solid foundation of continuity and harmony. History shows that a rigid and narrow interpretation of any religion or dogma helps create dissension and conflict among groups who disagree with such interpretation. A set of religious beliefs arouse deep emotions among followers, therefore a different set of beliefs enforced through the machineries of a state always leave scope for contentions, disloyalty and conflicts. A governance, in order to be stable and equitable to all, needs to be based on broad principles. This summit should be the opportunity to bring these ideas into our collective consciousness.

We can help not only the Muslim world progress and prosper but also help improve the present state of democracy in the Western world by bringing the Islamic idea of a balance between the individual right and the collective right and welfare of a people. An imbalance between these two fundamental rights is causing a trend towards dysfunction and decay in the Western world. We can become a better partner of justice and peace if we can help change this trend and help establish exemplary model of democracy.

Whatever the initial condition or reason, a self-rule, once established is a victory for a nation. Even if it takes place through an unfavorable and unfortunate intervention or occupation of an outsider, ultimately the system is “by the people, of the people and for the people” and it is the people who ultimately remain in control of the situation and not the outsider. The paramount example of our time is what happened in Germany and in the larger part of Europeand in Japan after the World War II under the Marshall Plan. Today the outsider is not ruling the nations but the people themselves.

Whenever there is an opportunity for such possibility it should be best utilized and should be taken full advantage of to further that nation’s liberty and welfare.A careful acceptance, an active vigilance and a constructive engagement can help ensure that the initial negative event can transform into a long-term positive state of affairs. An effective Muslim leadership – Iraqi and/or International – could help lead Iraq towards achieving such goals. If a visionary American Muslim leadership, if existed –as I suggested in 2003—in the aftermath of the invasion could have been most effective in avoiding the violence and the bloodshed that has been most devastating for the Iraqis. This Muslim group could have been instrumental in the USA to help create a national presence and to work against some of the blunders this administration did which are responsible for the disastrous consequences. It is better late than never: Still there are a lot of things to be done to shorten the misery of the Iraqi people and the American occupation.

We need to have a better understanding and a consensus about ‘self-rule’ in the Muslim world before we promote these ideas. This consensus could be a key to the progress in the Muslim world. Who can propagate and promote an idea to the Muslim world better than an enlightened group of Muslims?

The Confrontational Relationship Between the Muslim world and the West Must Change for Mutual Welfare:

A confrontational relationship between the two extremely important components of humanity must be changed: The present confrontational state of affair is most detrimental for both. Enormous amount of wealth, human ingenuity and efforts are wasted for this confrontation that can be redirected towards mutual and collective welfare.

We should make an effort during this summit to shed light on the possible differences between the present degrading and dangerous state of affairs and the negative and the most detrimental direction it is progressing with its long term consequences and compare that with the one with constructive engagement, mutual respect and common welfare. We should have an effective agenda of interception and transformation. That agenda can be embarked on only when we have a clear understanding and we are untied on that agenda. This consensus is extremely important.

God has brought us at the best place – as citizens of the most powerful and pluralistic country in the world – to do so. We need to be aware of our endowment and position and our responsibility.

We Should Work from Moral High Ground – Setting a Higher Standard

The Quran proclaims that the most gracious servants of God are those who overlook failures, frailties and pettiness of this world and return generosity and goodwill to fellow human beings [Quran 25:63].

There is an enormous power and legitimacy working from the moral high ground. The Quran is repeatedly exhorting the followers to be compassionate, understanding, generous and forgiving and to be aware of the inherent power of this moral standing. Therefore, the group that is aiming to penetrate the hearts and minds of the people devoid of this spirit must exemplify and promote this spirit.

A positive movement should help raise these ideals into the consciousness to help create a transformation. We do need a Gandhi or a Mandela among ourselves to call the Muslim world from the moral high ground to fight against injustices and wrongs and not to perpetrate these evils themselves.

This is a great undertaking and I believe the American Muslim leadership can provide it if vision and wisdom prevail. They have the legitimacy and the responsibility to do such monumental work. They have the context and the predispositions most suitable for such international leadership. They are the ‘cream of the crop’ of many land, their exposure, education and expertise give them the edge to be the natural leader of this work. It is most unfortunate that a lot of time has been wasted and a lot of opportunities have been missed. It is of extreme importance now that we do not waste time anymore.


U.S. Citizens Question Terror Watch Lists
“No-Fly” And “No-Drive” Lists Hold Up Americans Crossing The Nation”s Borders

DETROIT, Dec. 8, 2007
CBS News correspondent Cynthia Bowers and Producer Phil Hirschkorn.

Toledo, Ohio native Zak Reed is tired of being stopped and detained at the Canadian border every time he tries to drive home.

“I don”t feel very welcome in my home at all,” Reed tells CBS News. “In fact, I feel like I am not wanted in my country any more.”

Last month, for the ninth time in the past year, Reed was held in custody during a routine border crossing across Detroit”s Ambassador Bridge, en route to Toledo, about an hour from there. The procedure has become a familiar drill for Reed.

“They swipe the passport, they double take at the screen,” Reed says. “They make a phone call. They open up the window, the car is surrounded, and off I go.”

Held in a small building to the side of the bridge”s toll booths, Reed is fingerprinted, photographed, and interrogated. Guards from U.S. Customs and Border Protection quiz him about his travels, his religious faith, or about whether he sends money overseas.

“I am told that they don”t have the authority to tell me what”s wrong. They”re just doing their job,” Reed says.

Reed may be one of the 300,000 people – or close to 800,000 names, including aliases – on the nation”s consolidated Terrorism Watch List administered by the Department of Homeland Security since December 2003. The names, from 22 component agencies, have quadrupled in the past four years, and DHS won”t confirm who is or isn”t on the list.

Leonard Boyle, the Director of the Terrorist Screening Center, told a congressional hearing last month that during the past year, 269 foreigners were denied entry into the U.S. because of the watch list.

According to the Justice Department, only about five-percent of the individuals in the database are U.S. citizens like Reed. During the past year, more than eight million cars and drivers were stopped for secondary security screenings while crossing the Canadian or Mexican borders into the U.S. That”s 14 percent of cars crossing from Canada and five percent from Mexico, and the percentage of trucks and buses stopped is significantly higher. By comparison, only four percent of airline passengers undergo secondary screenings.

The irony for Reed seeming to be classified as a homeland security risk is that he is a part of his city”s homeland security plan. Reed, 41, is a firefighter for more than a decade whose helmet is graced by a memorial sticker in honor of the 343 New York firefighters who perished in the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center. Reed also served 20 years in the Ohio”s National Guard.

Typically wearing jeans and a T-shirt, Reed, who stands six-foot three with light brown hair and blue eyes, was born Edward Eugene Reed, the son of a U.S. Navy veteran, and raised a Lutheran. When he converted to Islam ten years ago, he changed his name to Zakariya Muhammad Reed. His religion, Reeds believes, could be at the root of the problem.

“There”s been a growing trend towards fear and loathing toward Islam and Muslims in this country for a long time. Certainly, we are treated as second class citizens,” Reed says.

He travels regularly to Toronto with his wife and two sons to visit his in-laws. Sometimes they take two cars to avoid the whole family being detained during the border stops. “It”s terrifying. My wife is in tears most of the time,” Reed says.

While Reed and a handful of others are going public with their border ordeals, advocacy groups like the Arab-American Discrimination Committee (ADC), the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS), and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) says they know of dozens of other examples.

The American Civil Liberties union (ACLU) is now spearheading a class action lawsuit in federal court with nine plaintiffs, all U.S. citizens, who”ve been stopped while driving home from Canada.

Illinois native Akif Rahman, 34, a Muslim, who runs a computer consulting firm outside Chicago, is the lead plaintiff in the suit, Rahman v. Chertoff, now winding its way through federal courts.

In May 2005, returning from a visit to relatives in Canada, Rahman was stopped by U.S. border guards at Detroit”s Windsor Tunnel. They escorted him from his car and detained him for six hours, separating him from his wife and two children, who were with him.

“I was handcuffed to a chair for three hours. I was guarded for the full duration I was there,” Rahman tells CBS News. “And asked a series of questions about whether I knew any of the 9/11 hijackers, whether I knew anything about terrorism funding.” He did not.

Rahman had previously been detained three times while trying to fly international flights back to the U.S. In response to a letter of complaint, the Department of Homeland Security wrote back to Rahman that his difficulties had resulted from an “unfortunate misidentification scenario.”

“Didn”t tell me why I was handcuffed, didn”t tell me why I was detained, didn”t tell me why I was set free,” Rahman says. “They should be able to know, based on my passport number or my name or my certain identification, I am who I am, and I am not someone they need to be concerned about.”

ACLU attorney Harvey Grossman is leading the litigation in the Rahman case. “The fact that they”re always allowed to go home, we know they don”t pose the kind of threat that the government suggests in the manner in which they treat them,” Grossman says.

Earlier this year, DHS established the Travelers Redress Inquiry Program (TRIP), an internet-based tool for people to submit complaints about screening or misidentification problems. To date, the department has received nearly 16,000 inquires and has responded to half of them. Kathleen Kraninger, DHS”s Director of Screening Coordination, told the House of Representatives Homeland Security Committee that DHS”s goal is to clear people who are wrongly listed within 30 days, but currently it is taking, on average, 44 days to clear the innocent.

A bill currently before Congress would require DHS to maintain a comprehensive “cleared” list and distribute it to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies so that once a person is cleared, they”re no longer stopped at the border crossings by mistake.

“I hope, first of all, that there is a process put into place for people like me who have been mistakenly identified to be taken off that list or not repeatedly be detained,” Rahman says. “I have nothing to hide. I know I haven”t done anything wrong.”


Why we both love and hate America

By Rami G. Khouri
Daily Star staff
Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Immediately after the 9/11 attacks against the United States, President George W. Bush and many other perplexed, angry and often ignorant Americans asked a question: “Why do they hate us?” Then they made a statement: “You”re either with us or against us.” This week, those Americans who are actually interested in answering the question and exploring the validity of the statement have a very good opportunity to grasp precisely why most people around the world admire the US but also detest many aspects of its foreign policy. This revelatory moment comprises two simultaneous events this week: the competitive American party primaries, and Bush”s journey to the Middle East. The contrast between the two events is substantial, and very revealing of the best and worst of American political culture.

The primary campaigns and elections are a spectacular display of a vibrant, rigorous democracy, whose many benefits clearly outweigh its few faults. The world – myself included – stands in awe and admiration before this spectacle that affirms the principle that power and authority are vested in the citizenry.

American democracy is impressive for allowing any aspiring leader to throw his or her hat into the ring, leaving the decision for voters to make after the aspirants are rigorously and repeatedly tested and questioned. On the downside, of course, if you have a lot of money, your hat moves into the ring more quickly and with a lot more media coverage – though charlatans rarely get very far in the process.

The mass sentiments of ordinary citizens in rural and small states are thrown into the electoral mix with the influence of big money, organized groups, serious domestic and foreign lobbies, and political party machines. The most admirable aspect of this element of American democracy is how, with only a few exceptions, it puts into practice the principle of the consent of the governed.

The vibrancy and worldwide respect for American democracy is offset, however, by the actual conduct of American foreign policy by democratically elected leaders. Bush”s trip to the Middle East affirms everything that is wrong about American foreign policy, and everything that is flawed about American democratic policy-making at home, and this for several reasons.

The first one is that the Bush administration seems to prefer using force, threats and sanctions rather than democratic elections or diplomatic engagement as a main means of pursuing legitimate national interests. American military bases, secret prisons, outsourced torture chambers, and covert operations around the Arab world and Asia are expanding at a rapid rate, while American democracy activists and public diplomacy officials are widely viewed around the region as anathema. Bush also seems more motivated on this trip by fostering antagonism and perhaps war against Iran than by trying to synchronize American and Arab-Iranian mass demands for dignity, democracy and stability.

Second, the US seems to prefer supporting autocratic leaders, especially in the Arab world, who run variations of security and police states, while vigorously opposing mass movements that articulate grievances in the vocabulary of Islam. This tendency to preach democracy but to strengthen autocrats around the world makes the itinerant American champion of democracy look more like a false prophet than a man of truth.

Third, Washington refuses to accept the verdict of democratic Arabs when they elect movements like Hamas to power. This exposes the American call for democracy as insincere when the rights of Arabs run up against the rights of Israelis. Washington seems to say that Arab democracy is okay only when the policies of elected leaders conform to American-Israeli priorities.

Fourth, the official US policy of guaranteeing Israel”s might over all combined Arab countries reflects a deeper flaw: Washington”s affirmation of Israeli rights as taking priority over the rights of all people and countries in the Middle East to live in peace and security according to the rule of law. In this case international law and conventions, and United Nations Security Council and General Assembly resolutions. If you preach majority rule and the rule of law as a desirable global norm, but refuse to respect it where Israeli interests are concerned, you come across as a hypocrite at best, and a deceitful cheat at worst.

This is why much of the world rejects the simplistic attempt by some Americans to ask if we are with or against the US. Speaking for myself – and maybe for between 4 and 5 billion other human beings – I would respond “yes” to both. We are with the American principles we witness in practice in the US these days; and against American policy as it is practiced by the roving American president in the Arab-Asian region these days. It reminds us that the greatest thing about democracy in America is that every few years you get a chance to throw the rascals out.

Rami G. Khouri is published twice-weekly by THE DAILY STAR.


Islam and Democracy – The practice — and the theory

The Economist

Can rule by the people be reconciled with the sovereignty of Allah?

“TURKEY sets a fantastic example for nations around the world to see where it”s possible to have a democracy coexist with a great religion like Islam.” Those were George Bush”s words of welcome, this week, to Turkey”s President Abdullah Gul.

In decades past, a Turkish leader might have been received at the White House with cordial remarks about his country”s growing prosperity or its contribution to NATO. But it would have been strange, perhaps, not to mention religion when hosting a head of state who had just set a precedent that was watched with fascination by politically active Muslims in many parts of the world. When he became president, Mr Gul proved that it was possible for a pious Muslim with a headscarved wife to be made head of state, by a perfectly democratic procedure, in a country where the army is an ever-vigilant guardian against theocracy. For those who insist (whether their arguments are theological, or empirical, or both) that Islam and liberal democracy are quite compatible, Mr Gul”s election (and Mr Bush”s exuberant reaction to it) was a badly needed nugget of hope in a year when that cause has seen quite a lot of setbacks.

Among American officialdom, confidence in the prospects for democracy in Muslim (and in particular, Arab) lands has fluctuated under the Bush administration. It reached a high point, arguably, in mid-2005, when Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state, declared in Cairo that the bad old days of favouring stability over democracy were over—and then it plunged again the following January when the Islamist Hamas movement swept to victory in Palestine.

For political scientists, especially those who have studied the phenomenon of “Muslim Democracy” in the belief that the Turkish case could be a precedent for others, the recent turmoil in Pakistan and the assassination of Benazir Bhutto have been a great tragedy in a pivotal country that had the potential to develop a new concordat between Islam and open politics.

Vali Nasr, a professor at America”s Tufts University, terms “Muslim Democracy” a newish and potentially decisive force in the non-Arab parts of the Muslim world. In his view, the recent experience of Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia all points to a single truth: wherever they are given the chance, Muslim Democratic parties (which are responsive to public opinion and thrive in an open political contest) can prevail over harder-line and more violent varieties of political Islam.

Among the parties Mr Nasr identifies as Muslim Democratic are the faction of the Pakistani Muslim League that held sway until the military takeover in 1999; the Bangladesh Nationalist Party (in power till last year”s coup); Malaysia”s ruling UMNO party; and a cluster of mildly Islamic parties that share power in Indonesia (see article). Exhibit A for Muslim Democracy is Turkey”s Justice and Development (AK) party, which won its democratic spurs after several decades of sparring between generals and pious politicians. As with several other Muslim Democratic parties, the AK”s rise reflected economic growth and the advent of a devout but non-fanatical middle class which resents the older elites of bureaucrats and generals.

But what if any is the intellectual ground for Muslim Democracy? Roman Catholic thinking had to tread a long path before it reconciled its belief in human sinfulness with popular sovereignty; Christian Democracy, an important force in post-1945 Europe, was the result.

Abdal-Hakim Murad, a British Muslim scholar, argues that Muslim Democrats have an easier road to travel because Islam”s view of human nature is a less pessimistic one. But several factors have helped to make the Muslim debate about democracy difficult and inconclusive. Most of the schools of Muslim thought that have emerged over the past century have been intensely interested in political theory, and also intensely concerned with precedents set at the dawn of the Muslim era. But the precedents are not clear: some caliphs took power by inheritance, others through consensus, others by force.

Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Egyptian-born law professor, has pointed to a passage from the Koran which seems to endow human beings with a special mandate to look after their own affairs.

When your Lord said to the angels: “I have to place a vice-regent on earth,” they said: “Will you place one there who will create disorder and shed blood, while we intone Your litanies and sanctify Your name?” And God said: “I know what you do not know.”

That verse, Mr Fadl has argued, seems to imply that far from sitting back and letting God do everything, human beings must organise their own society.

Another relevant text is the story of Ali, the fourth Muslim caliph, whose leadership was challenged by a rival. To the fury of his zealous supporters, Ali agreed that conflicting claims should be submitted to arbitration. Posterity found Ali right and his critics wrong: human institutions do have a place in settling issues of state.

From Cairo to California

For anyone who looks to Islam”s foundational texts as the ultimate arbiter of truth, these are resonant allusions. But arguments in favour of Islam”s compatibility with democracy are in perpetual danger of being drowned out by a mixture of depressing news from Muslim lands and zealous ideologues on both sides of a looming civilisational divide.

Whether or not they condone violence, many of the most strident advocates of “political Islam” still take their cue from Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian thinker, executed in 1966, who regarded secular democracy (and all other secular forms of government, including socialism) as blasphemy pure and simple. In places ranging from British campuses to the jails and torture chambers of Uzbekistan, there are zealous ideologues who follow the Qutbist line that all human agencies of power are a violation of the sovereignty of God. Neatly converging with the anti-democratic zeal of these malcontents is an increasingly respectable argument, among sceptical Western observers of Islam, which holds that the Muslim faith, by its very nature, cannot be other than theocratic. If that is true, then encouraging moderate—in the sense of apolitical—versions of Islam can only be a waste of time.

In the United States, in particular, an“essentialist” mistrust of Islam in all its forms has been gaining ground. One recent sign of this mood: when Keith Ellison from Minnesota became the first Muslim congressman, he was challenged, during his first television interview, to prove that he was not “working for our enemies”.

But in America”s free-ranging debates, where the spectrum of views on Islam is probably wider than in any Muslim land or even in Europe, there are also many voices on the other side. Mr Fadl makes his case for the compatibility of democracy and Islam from the University of California at Los Angeles, probably a more secure setting than his native Cairo.

Meanwhile Firas Ahmad, a columnist who co-edits a glossy Muslim monthly from his home in Boston, maintains that a lot of Islamic history—as well as the dilemmas of modern times—should be reconsidered in the light of the robust separation between religion and state which (on his reading, at least), Muslims have quite frequently, and cheerfully, maintained. In modern America, Muslims can make a big contribution to debates about greed and social justice, while fully respecting the country”s secular constitution. And his favourite passages in history are the bits where believers (often courageous Sufi mystics) spoke truth to power, not the instances when pliant greybeards did favours to the sultan.

There are, in short, many interesting things to say about Islam and democracy. The pity is that they are mostly being said in the West, not in Islam”s heartland.


Islam in Indonesia – Where “soft Islam” is on the march

Jan 10th 2008 | JAKARTA
The Economist

Indonesia has some worrying radicals but it seems to be following Turkey, with Islamists moderating as they get closer to power

IS INDONESIA, the most populous Muslim-majority country, undergoing creeping Islamisation? It is not hard to assemble enough recent evidence to give Western Islamophobes goosebumps. In late December a mob attacked and burned a prayer house in West Java belonging to Ahmadiyah, a sect deemed heretical by some mainstream Islamic scholars. Earlier in the month the country”s Christian leaders complained that Muslim radicals, helped by local officials, had carried out a string of attacks on churches. Ten Muslim militants were jailed for attacks on Christians on Sulawesi island, including the beheading of three schoolgirls. In late November the religious-affairs ministry barred a liberal Egyptian scholar, Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd (who calls the Koran a “cultural product”), from public speaking in Indonesia.

Behind many recent incidents is a vigilante group, the Islam Defenders” Front (FPI), which in September assaulted bars, cafés and hotels in Bogor, near Jakarta, accusing them of violating Ramadan. Another rising radical force is the Indonesian chapter of Hizb-ut-Tahrir, which wants a caliphate to rule the whole Muslim world. Last August it gathered perhaps 90,000 supporters in a Jakarta stadium. Its leaders condemned democracy on the basis that sovereignty lies in God”s hands, not the people”s. A not dissimilar attack on pluralism was made in a hardline fatwa issued in 2005 by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI). This same semi-official body recently demanded the banning of the liberal Egyptian scholar.

In 2006 a poll found that one in ten Indonesians supported terrorist attacks like the 2002 Bali bombings if intended to “protect the faith”. Jemaah Islamiah (JI), the terror group behind the Bali attacks, is still running several dozen pesantren (boarding schools), putting who knows what into impressionable teenage heads. The Bali bombers are due to be executed in the next few weeks, possibly triggering a backlash by radicals.

This all sounds worrying. But Indonesia is a huge, varied and complex place, and the radicals—even though some have a semi-official platform—are a small and not very influential minority. Contrary evidence abounds: liberals as well as radicals are making inroads. They have won a big battle over a “pornography” law that Islamists proposed in 2006. It would have banned bikinis and short skirts, for non-Muslim women too, and prohibited the Hindu minority”s traditional dances. But a public outcry forced lawmakers to strike out all the controversial bits—and it still has not passed in parliament. Two new anti-terrorist police squads have made much progress in arresting and breaking up JI”s leadership. There have been no attacks on foreign targets for two years.

As Indonesia democratised after the fall of the (secular) Suharto regime in 1998, local authorities gained autonomy and became directly elected. Many seized the opportunity to pass sharia-based laws, stoking fears of Islamisation. However, Greg Fealy, an Australian expert on Indonesian Islam, says these laws, though successful in winning votes for the local politicians pushing them, have usually had little practical impact. He recently revisited one such district, Tasikmalaya, where he found “there were more schoolgirls wearing the headscarf but just as much gambling, prostitution and drinking as before.”

The formerly separatist region of Aceh was allowed, under a peace pact with the rebels, to introduce strict sharia. The move was popular at first, says Sidney Jones of the International Crisis Group, a think-tank, but there was widespread revulsion when the authorities started publicly whipping miscreants. As a result the religious police were drastically reined in. Overall, Indonesians seem to prefer the idea of living under “God”s law” to the practice of it. Indonesian Islam has always been distinct from the Middle Eastern kind, infusing influences from Hinduism and other religions. This will make it hard for fundamentalists to get far, says Muhammad Hikam, a political consultant.

Whereas a relatively small number of fiery militants and fundamentalists get most attention, Mr Hikam says that liberal Islamic scholars have successfully broken the link between religious piety and political Islam. Indonesians seeking a more overt expression of their faith, as many do nowadays, can still believe in separation of mosque and state. As the 2009 presidential and parliamentary elections approach, secular parties have been attracting voters by creating Islamic—but not Islamist—wings. The in-phrase, says Mr Fealy, is Islam Lunak, “soft Islam”. Pollsters are telling politicians that it helps to add a mild religious tinge to speeches about social justice and anti-corruption. But radical stuff, like preaching an Islamic state, is a turn-off.

Indonesia”s two biggest Muslim organisations are Nahdlatul Ulama (NU)—whose long-time leader, Abdurrahman Wahid was president of Indonesia in 1999-2001—and Muhammadiyah, which together claim around 70m members. They indeed used to call for an Islamic state. Nowadays Masdar Farid Mas”udi, a senior NU figure, says all they mean by an “Islamic” state is a just and prosperous one. In some ways the two bodies have come to resemble Europe”s mainstream Christian churches: “Catholic” NU stresses traditional rites and the authority of religious leaders, whereas “Protestant” Muhammadiyah stresses the primacy of scripture. As with Catholics and Protestants it is family tradition, rather than theology, that usually determines which group one belongs to. Both now accept Indonesia”s secular founding creed, pancasila, which preaches religious tolerance (though you are supposed to believe in God).

Moderate success

Several of the country”s political parties began life as the political wings of religious movements such as NU and Muhammidiyah. But the parties and their parent bodies have drifted apart, even as all have mellowed. In recent elections a more religiously conservative group, Prosperous Justice (PKS), has gained votes—but polls now show its support slumping. One reason is that it backed the pornography law and has suffered in the backlash against it.

Another, admits Zulkieflimansyah, a senior PKS parliamentarian, is that it has joined the (secular) coalition of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono. Its popularity has suffered because of tough policies such as cutting fuel subsidies. Mr Zulkieflimansyah sees his party as undergoing a desirable process of moderation as it “encounters reality”. PKS—like longer-established Muslim parties before it—is now having to ditch the fire and brimstone to transcend minority appeal. Rising younger figures in the party, like him, are more comfortable with this than its older generation, who studied in the Middle East. In general, the country”s larger Muslim parties are echoing Turkey”s ruling AK party—ditching Islamism while still appealing to the pious. Smaller ones still holding to a hard line may fare badly in 2009: Mr Fealy reckons that in 200 regional elections in the past two-and-a-half years not a single “sectarian” Muslim candidate has won.

Indonesia is, overall, edging away from radical Islamism. But the trend is not irreversible, and the authorities must avoid fostering fundamentalists by pandering to them. The MUI (the council of mullahs) and the FPI (the vigilantes) provide a lesson: both were created, for temporary reasons of expediency, by the Suharto regime but both have lingered to haunt its democratic successors. Mr Yudhoyono now seems to be trying to channel the MUI”s radical enthusiasm into issuing fatwas against “deviant” Islamic sects like Ahmadiyah. But this only encourages the FPI to take up its cudgels.

Other, more important ways to make sure Indonesia stays on the path to democratic pluralism are to keep the economy growing and to boost sluggish efforts at reforming graft-ridden public institutions. High unemployment provides recruits for communal violence like that in Sulawesi—whether or not religion is the spark that ignites the tinder. Poverty, combined with disgust at corrupt officialdom, push some people towards the Utopian promises of groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir. In Indonesia, unlike most Muslim countries, the ideological struggle between various forms of Islam is being fought largely by democratic means. The violent and the intolerant are still at the margins and, while the country”s steady progress persists, look likely to stay there.


The Arabs: Between fitna, fawda and the deep blue sea

Jan 10th 2008 | CAIRO
The Economist

Why George Bush, touring the Middle East this week, is finding the Arabs in a gloomy mood

IT IS not easy to be an Arab these days. If you are old, the place where you live is likely to have changed so much that little seems friendly and familiar. If you are young, years of rote learning in dreary state schools did not prepare you well for this new world. In your own country you have few rights. Travel abroad and they take you for a terrorist. Even your leaders don”t count for much in the wider world. Some are big on money, others on bombast, but few are inspiring or visionary.

These are gross generalisations, of course. Huge differences persist among 300m-odd Arabic speakers and 22 countries of the Arab League. With oil prices touching record highs, some Arab economies are booming. The gulf between a Darfuri refugee and a Porsche-driving financier in Dubai is as great as between any two people on earth. Yet to travel through the Arab world right now is to experience a peculiar sameness of spirit. Particularly among people under 30, who make up the vast majority of Arabs, the mood is one of disgruntlement and doubt.

Factors that contribute to the gloom include the discombobulating impact of one of the world”s fastest population growth rates, failing public-education systems and the resilience of social traditions often ill-suited to the urban lifestyle that is now the Arab norm. But it is politics above all that shapes this generation”s discontent.

In the world at large, things have not looked good for the Arabs for a long time. The generation that emerged after the second world war came to believe in the inevitability of an Arab renaissance after centuries of domination by Ottoman Turks and European imperialists. Within this scheme of Arab progress, the problem of Palestine stuck out like a troublesome nail. Defeat in the 1967 war with Israel shattered many dreams. Yet even after Israel”s victory Palestine remained a touchstone for Arabs everywhere. Sooner or later, it was felt, justice would be done.

That confidence has taken a beating of late. Few Arabs expect the peace initiative George Bush launched in Annapolis last November to achieve anything. And the schism between Hamas and Fatah has shaken underlying assumptions. If the Palestinians cannot unite in their own cause, why should other Arabs help them? And which side to support? For fellow Arabs, as for Palestinians themselves, the clash between a heart that cries “resist” and a head that counsels compromise has seldom been more perplexing.

As in Palestine, so in Iraq. In 2003 America”s invasion produced all but universal Arab outrage. From afar, Iraqi “resistance” looked both natural and noble. But as Iraq has grown messier, the rights and wrongs have grown harder for Arabs to disentangle. There are few heroes in a cast that includes mass killers from al-Qaeda, brutal Shia militias, criminal gangs, Kurdish separatists and corrupt politicians as well as the American occupiers.

Elsewhere in the region, it has become harder for thoughtful Arabs to blame the government-inspired slaughter in the Darfur region of Sudan or the stalemate between Lebanon”s religious sects on a nefarious American foreign policy. Many Arabs still see Mr Bush”s “war on terrorism” as a crusade against Islam. But many also note that al-Qaeda-style jihadism has killed more Muslims, from Morocco to Saudi Arabia to the squalid Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon, than “infidels”.

In past decades, Arabs looked to leaders for guidance. Egypt”s Gamal Abdel Nasser and Anwar Sadat, Tunisia”s modernising secularist, Habib Bourguiba, and Kings Hussein of Jordan, Hassan II of Morocco and Faisal of Saudi Arabia were all flawed men. Yet they, and even monsters such as Saddam Hussein and Hafez Assad, enjoyed some popular appeal as nation-builders. Most of today”s leaders, by contrast, lack an inspirational project. Nor is any single country a natural leader of the Arabs. Egypt under the 26-year-long rule of Hosni Mubarak is no longer the champion of “Arabism”. Saudi Arabia has vast oil wealth but a mixed record in diplomacy: its attempt last year to reconcile Fatah and Hamas unravelled with humiliating speed.

It may be a good thing that the personality-based leadership of the 1960s and 1970s has fallen out of fashion. Unfortunately, it has not been replaced by more institutionally-based systems of rule, let alone—for all the aid and speechifying of Western do-gooders—by democracy. Elections are more frequent and opposition parties and the press somewhat freer. But this is often a case of adopting the outward shape of reform without the substance. Regimes point to the existence of parliaments, while hiding the tricks used to pack them with friends and exclude real opposition. They can trumpet privatisation programmes that reduce the role of the state, while obscuring the fact that many of the beneficiaries are regime cronies.

The marginally freer press makes for more colourful news-stands. But some opening was probably inescapable, due to the impact of hard-to-block new media, via satellites and the internet. Governments have simply switched from absolute control of information, for example through state television monopolies, to enacting laws that criminalise “spreading false information” or “disrespecting state institutions”. The supposedly liberalising, pro-Western governments of Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt have all used such means to stifle dissent. Syria under Hafez Assad used to hurl dissidents into prison without much ado. His “modernising” son Bashar has them tried first. But they still end up in the slammer.

Stratagems such as these suck the vitality out of politics. Morocco is one of the bolder Arab reformers. Yet despite rising prosperity, a relatively free press and multi-party elections, Moroccans have grown increasingly sceptical of a political process that remains tightly, if elegantly, circumscribed. As a result, voter turnout has steadily declined over the past two decades. In Egypt, fewer than one in ten voters bothered to turn out for recent polls.

Political scientists have long blamed oil wealth—and the rentier economy that so often goes along with it—for the survival of Arab authoritarianism. No taxation without representation, said America”s revolutionaries. Arab governments have inverted this refrain: by appropriating national energy resources and other rents, they neatly absolve themselves of the need to levy heavy taxes and therefore to win the consent of the governed.

The devil you know

A less obvious source of state power is a pervasive fear of what might happen in its absence. In many Arab countries loyalty to the state is weaker than loyalty to a sub-grouping based on kinship, ethnicity, religion or region. This is hardly a unique problem; many successful democracies still struggle with it. But Muslims have, in addition, yet to resolve the essential question of whether laws should emanate from the people or from God (see article).

Such points may seem abstract but they have practical consequences. In most Arab countries, regimes hold power by virtue of tradition or through military-backed movements that claim to represent the will of the masses. Where top-down authority collapses, as it did in post-Saddam Iraq or in the Palestinian territories after Arafat, it has been very hard for bottom-up politics to repair the damage.

In such circumstances, it is not surprising that people prefer the devil they know to the fitna (communal strife) or fawda (chaos) that seem all too likely to replace it. This makes Arabs suspicious not just of Western advocates of democracy but also of parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood, which advocate change in the name of Islam. It is instructive to note that when such movements are confronted with bread-and-butter issues they tend to split between pragmatists and ideologues, leaving supporters befuddled. Even Egypt”s highly disciplined Muslim Brothers, for example, are riven by tensions between older hardliners and younger liberals.

The bleakness of political prospects is only one aspect of the current Arab malaise. The rigid social structures and strong family ties that form part of the cohesive strength of Arab societies have negative consequences too. Sex out of wedlock remains taboo, yet the cost of lavish weddings, hefty dowry payments and the bridal requirement of a furnished, paid-for home have pushed the average age of marriage in many Arab countries into the 30s. The resulting frustration is an underlying cause of troubles from youth delinquency to religious extremism. Paternalistic social norms hold women back, even though their legal status is improving.

Let them learn about the world

Much fanfare has surrounded the release, over the past few years, of a series of UN-sponsored reports on human development painting a picture of Arab shortcomings that range from women”s treatment to the feeble trickle of translation into Arabic of new knowledge. An oft-quoted statistic from the reports is that the amount of literature translated into Spanish in a single year exceeds the entire corpus of what has been translated into Arabic in 1,000 years.

If there is a common thread in many of these failings, it is poor education. Studies show a strong link between levels of schooling and attitudes to women”s rights. Harder to prove, but equally valid by anecdotal evidence, is a link between breadth of reading and tolerance of diversity. Religious texts still out-sell every other form of literature in most Arab countries. This may promote punctilious practice of the faith, but hardly equips people for a bewildering world of ever-increasing choice.

Although the proportion of Arabs with university degrees is growing rapidly, quality lags far behind. An annual ranking of the world”s top 500 universities, compiled by Shanghai”s Jiao Tong University, includes only one Arab institution compared with seven universities in tiny Israel.

Some Arab governments are at last responding. Qatar and Saudi Arabia have hired well-known consulting firms to revamp public-school systems designed in the 1950s. Even Syria has relaxed the state monopoly of higher education. Private universities are flourishing everywhere, sometimes with generous state aid. Dubai”s Sheikh Muhammad Maktoum has pledged $10 billion to create a foundation to advance knowledge. Saudi Arabia has committed some $3 billion to build what officials promise will be a world-class postgraduate institute that will be beyond the supervision of the religiously conservative education ministry, and where men and women will be allowed to mingle.

Another cause for hope, just now, is the rapid growth of most Arab economies. For each of the past six years the Arab world has, by some estimates, grown faster by at least a percentage point than the world as a whole. Record oil prices have helped a lot. So has demography: birth-rates are falling after a period of high growth, increasing the proportion of wage earners to dependents. This has boosted consumer industries, as have reforms to ease investment and trade. Give me five more years of 7% growth, one Egyptian minister is fond of saying, and many of our other problems will fade. Maybe.


Is There a “Foxification” Underway at Al Jazeera Television?

by Danny Schechter
Published on Saturday, June 9, 2007 by CommonDreams.org

Sources inside Al Jazeera who are in a position to know what is going on now confirm to MediaChannel.org that there is an internal struggle underway that may dilute Al Jazeera”s independence and steer it in a more pro-western, pro-US direction.

“There is already a change of tone and focus in the news,” a veteran insider reveals. He blames the shift on a reorganization of the network”s governing structure a month ago that has put a former Ambassador from Qatar to the USA in a commanding position.

Al Jazeera broadcasts from a state of the art facility in Doha, the capital of Qatar, a wealthy independent state run by an Emir who has, until this point, remained close friends with the US while allowing Al Jazeera its independence.

“Nobody is talking about it publicly and nothing is quite clear yet but it looks like there is new pressure from the government of Qatar [the oil and natural gas rich Gulf state that bankrolled Al Jazeera], as well as a political battle over how to manage the channel inside its government with the US and its supporters, including the editor of the Arabic edition of Newsweek, lobbying in the shadows.”

The United States is a major trading partner with Qatar and maintains a vast military facility there. The high profile Coalition Media ( ie.propaganda) Center was based in the country, and the Pentagon has used the base airfield to supply the war effort in Iraq. Lebanese sources report that US planes airlifted cluster bombs from that base to Israel for use in its recent war against Hezbollah. Israel”s relations with Qatar are said to be close.

Washington and London were never happy with Al Jazeera”s political independence. Its offices in Afghanistan and Iraq were bombed in the early days of the war, and more recently there have been reports that President Bush considered bombing Al Jazeera”s headquarters in Doha, but was only stopped by a strong dissent by Britain”s Tony Blair. Al Jazeera has been denied access by the British government to documents that would confirm this widely reported (and believed) story that has also been officially dismissed.

“You don”t need to bomb Al Jazeera to change its direction,” said my source. “There is a softer way to influence its direction by taking it over from within and it can happen quietly almost as if in slow motion. You “broaden” some programs, announce new “guidelines,” issue new edicts reinforcing top-down control, purge some professionals you don”t like, and then give more positive unchallenged airtime to backers of US foreign policy. Washington would not be open about any behind the scenes role it is playing in all this for fear of triggering a very negative public reaction.”

The irony here is that for many years Al Jazeera made a point of giving substantial airtime to US officials and their surrogates to show fairness. This even led some hardliners in the Arab World years ago to accuse of the station of being CIA-backed and even pro-Israel. But whatever exposure they got was never enough for a Pentagon that practices “Information Dominance” and seeks to exclude all contrary views. They expect the kind of uncritical coverage they received on American TV.

Ironically, a former US military briefer became so disgusted with US media manipulation that he joined Al Jazeera. Al Jazeera reporters have been killed by US soldiers, prosecuted in Spain, and imprisoned. One remains in Guantanamo with no charges against him. These external actions have only strengthened Al Jazeera”s resolve and won audience sympathy for the station. That may be why a new internal intervention is underway.

“Friends of Al Jazeera” website carries a post suggesting that this is exactly what is happening.

“It is rumored that the new pro-US Board of Directors (which include the former Qatari Ambassador to the United States, Hamad Al Kuwari and Mahmood Shamam who are both are clearly sympathetic to the US Agenda in the region) and their representative at station, the new Qatari Managing Director, Mr. Ahmad Kholeifi is a result of pressure placed on the Emir of Qatar by the US Administration.

Rumours of a “soft editorial shift” towards a more pro-Qatari and pro-US agenda are already floating around media circles in the region. Sources inside AlJazeera have confirmed that the Board has already instituted radical changes that threaten the stations editorial integrity and independence. In less than a month since the pro-American Board of Directors was appointed, sweeping edicts affecting the whole of AlJazeera have been passed down by the newly appointed Qatari Managing Director, Ahmad Al Kholeifi.”

My source believes the rumors of an imposed top-down change are true.

Al Jazeera”s journalists are diverse and committed to the channel”s mission. They would not likely be silent if they felt their work was under attack or being unduly pressured. On the other hand, for all their independence, they know they are highly dependent on subsidies from the Emir. If he is being pressured, they know that will eventually have an impact on the channel”s managers.

Media owners have a tendency to meddle in news presentation, with politics, ego and power tripping often motivating factors. Sometimes, darker forces are involved. In this case, why is a pro-US diplomat being given managerial authority while a respected and experienced journalist/general manager is apparently being ousted?

Until now, by and large, the internal politics of Qatar has not been given a high profile on the air but that may be changing, I am told, with more Qataris visible as pundits and interview subjects in recent weeks. Perhaps the Emir who is putting up the cash also wants more visibility and is engineering compliance. Perhaps Qatar now wants to use the channel to build a higher profile for itself. In the Middle East, media and politics are often intertwined. If Al Jazeera is politicized, it could lose the credibility it has earned.

Too much tampering could easily backfire and undermine Al Jazeera”s support.

Now ten years old, Al Jazeera has grown from an offshoot of BBC”s Arabic Service into a feisty and independent multi-channel media company with a global satellite footprint that makes almost as much news as it reports. Brandishing the slogan “The opinion and the other opinion,” Al Jazeera is known for strong reporting and carrying diverse and outspoken views including videos by Osama bin Laden and opposition voices to many governments backed by the US.

Al Jazeera says its coverage is balanced but critics, especially on the right in America, have targeted it as “terrorist TV,” a slogan designed to discredit its news and programming, which was first only seen in Arabic but now has a separate English channel. In some ways, the network”s operations mirror and reflect the volatile politics of the Middle East in which it is based, a region which is itself torn by external interventions, conflicts with and among wealthy and traditional elites, not to mention insurgency, war, political conspiracies, and competing nationalistic interests and internationalist aspirations.

Hailed as the fifth best-known brand in the world, the nature of that brand is now being contested. Is an implosion on the horizon, or will the Channel sort out its tensions and emerge even stronger as a worldwide competitor against conventional look-alike, think-alike corporatized media?

What is disturbing is that Al Jazeera had the potential of bringing real diversity to the global news agenda with more reporting from the Third World and even about the news world itself. In an increasingly monopolized media marketplace with concentration of ownership on the rise, with Rupert Murdoch bidding for Dow Jones and Thompson taking over Reuters, there are fewer and fewer highly visible independent outlets. A recent scandal at the ineffective US created Al Hurra station may have led the Bush Administration to stop competing with a more popular brand and try to take it over instead.

US cable outlets have kept Al Jazeera English off the air-one way of marginalizing it with American viewers-but that also impacts on its ability to make money-something, I am told many Qataris expect. Maybe they are willing to trade the channel”s integrity for a shot at the quest for profitability that drives most of the media industry. But being greedy could backfire if the channel”s reputation suffers. We still don”t know who is leaning on whom?

As an innovator and an exception to the unbrave world of media, Al Jazeera has been exceptional. It would be shame to see its core values compromised just as it becomes a bigger player in a world that desperately needs media outlets that care about the conditions of the world”s people. It may be time for its viewers and friends to demand that Al Jazeera be allowed to remain the respected and crusading force it has become in broadcasting and world journalism. Let”s hope some combination of insiders and backers will be able to insure that outsiders with parochial or imperial agendas cannot “fix” what isn”t broken.

Journalists and media activists worldwide may need to get engaged to send a message of concern to the Emir and the media hitmen (ie. consultants) who are apparently now sneaking around in Washington and Doha with the hopes of turning Jazeera into Foxeera.

Let Al Jazeera Be Al Jazeera!

Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. He has attended three conferences at Al Jazeera headquarters in Doha and interviewed key journalists there. Comments to [email protected]


Al Jazeera No Longer Nips at Saudis

By Robert F. Worth
January 4, 2008

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — When a Saudi court sentenced a young woman to 200 lashes in November after she pressed charges against seven men who had raped her, the case provoked outrage and headlines around the world, including in the Middle East.

But not at Al Jazeera, the Arab world’s leading satellite television channel, seen by 40 million people. The station’s silence was especially noteworthy because until recently, and unlike almost all other Arab news outlets, Al Jazeera had long been willing — eager, in fact — to broadcast fierce criticisms of Saudi Arabia’s rulers.

For the past three months Al Jazeera, which once infuriated the Saudi royal family with its freewheeling newscasts, has treated the kingdom with kid gloves, media analysts say.

The newly cautious tone appears to have been dictated to Al Jazeera’s management by the rulers of Qatar, where Al Jazeera has its headquarters. Although those rulers established the channel a decade ago in large part as a forum for critics of the Saudi government, they now seem to feel they cannot continue to alienate Saudi Arabia — a fellow Sunni nation — in light of the threat from Iran across the Persian Gulf.

The specter of Iran’s nuclear ambitions may be particularly daunting to tiny Qatar, which also is the site of a major American military base.

The new policy is the latest chapter in a gradual domestication of Al Jazeera, once reviled by American officials as little more than a terrorist propaganda outlet. Al Jazeera’s broadcasts no longer routinely refer to Iraqi insurgents as the “resistance,” or victims of American firepower as “martyrs.”

The policy also illustrates the way the Arab media, despite the new freedoms introduced by Al Jazeera itself a decade ago, are still often treated as political tools by the region’s autocratic rulers.

“The gulf nations now feel they are all in the same boat, because of the threat of Iran, and the chaos of Iraq and America’s weakness,” said Mustafa Alani, a security analyst at the Gulf Research Center in Dubai. “So the Qataris agreed to give the Saudis assurances about Al Jazeera’s coverage.”

Those assurances, Mr. Alani added, were given at a September meeting in Riyadh, the Saudi capital, between King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and top officials in the Qatari government. For the meeting, aimed at resolving a long-simmering feud between the nations, the Qataris brought along an unusual guest: the chairman of Al Jazeera’s board, Sheik Hamad bin Thamer al-Thani.

Al Jazeera’s general manager, Waddah Khanfar, did not reply to phone and e-mail requests for comment. But several employees confirmed that the chairman of the board had attended the meeting. They declined to give their names, citing the delicacy of the issue. The governments of Qatar and Saudi Arabia have remained silent on the matter.

Repercussions were soon felt at Al Jazeera.

“Orders were given not to tackle any Saudi issue without referring to the higher management,” one Jazeera newsroom employee wrote in an e-mail message. “All dissident voices disappeared from our screens.”

The employee noted that coverage of Saudi Arabia was always politically motivated at Al Jazeera — in the past, top management used to sometimes force-feed the reluctant news staff negative material about Saudi Arabia, apparently to placate the Qatari leadership. But he added that the recent changes were seen in the newsroom as an even more naked assertion of political will.

“To improve their relations with Qatar, the Saudis wanted to silence Al Jazeera,” he wrote. “They got what they wanted.”

The changes at Al Jazeera are part of a broader reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Qatar. In December, the Saudi foreign minister, Prince Saud al-Faisal, announced that Saudi Arabia would send an ambassador back to Qatar for the first time since 2002. Also in December, the Saudis attended the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting in Doha, Qatar’s capital, which they had refused to do the last time it was held there. The Saudis have also indicated that they may allow Al Jazeera to open a bureau in Riyadh.

The feud between Qatar and its much larger neighbor, for all its pettiness, has had real consequences. It led to the creation of Al Jazeera in the first place, which in turn helped shape perceptions — and, perhaps, realities — across the Arab world and beyond over the past decade.

The feud began in the mid-1990s, when the Qatari leadership accused the Saudis of supporting a failed coup attempt. Soon afterward, Al Jazeera was founded with a $150 million grant from the emir of Qatar, Sheik Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani, and began reshaping the Arab media. The station was helped when the BBC’s Arabic-language television station, co-owned by a Saudi company, collapsed, thanks in part to Saudi censorship demands. The BBC journalists flocked to Al Jazeera.

The mere establishment of the station was a challenge to the Saudis, who since the 1970s had used their oil wealth to establish control over most of the pan-Arab media in an effort to forestall the kind of populist media campaign led in earlier decades by Gamal Abdel Nasser when he was Egypt’s president, said Marc Lynch, a professor of political science at George Washington University and the author of a book about Al Jazeera’s role in reshaping the Arab media.

But the feud grew worse in 2002, after Al Jazeera broadcast a debate on Saudi Arabia’s policy on the Palestinian question, shortly after the unveiling of a peace initiative for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by King Abdullah, who was then the crown prince. The debate included fierce criticisms of the Saudi ruling family, and the Saudis, deeply offended, responded by withdrawing their ambassador from Qatar.

Al Jazeera’s lengthy broadcasts of videotapes by Osama bin Laden — whose cherished goal for years has been to overthrow the Saudi monarchy — also provoked the Saudis. Al Jazeera has often been accused of helping make Mr. bin Laden into a celebrity, and indirectly helping him to recruit more people across the Arab and Islamic world to his cause.

An added frustration was the way Qatar benefited from Al Jazeera’s anti-Americanism, even as American military support and money poured into the tiny country.

“Qatar became immensely popular during the 2003 war, because of Jazeera — despite the fact that the planning for the war was all taking place at Centcom, in Qatar,” said S. Abdallah Schleifer, a veteran American journalist and a professor emeritus at the American University of Cairo, referring to the United States Central Command.

Al Jazeera’s coverage gradually evolved and grew more moderate, partly for internal reasons and partly in response to American pressure. In 2003, Al Arabiya was founded, largely as a Saudi answer to Al Jazeera. It has sometimes countered Al Jazeera’s criticisms of Saudi Arabia with attacks on Qatari policy, as have other Saudi-owned media outlets.

But the recent changes underscore how much Iran’s nuclear ambitions have affected the region.

“It was the fear of a possible Iranian reprisal action, should it be attacked by the U.S., that ultimately appears to have persuaded the Qatari leadership to underline G.C.C. solidarity by mending relations with Saudi Arabia and rein in Al Jazeera’s coverage,” said Neil Partrick, a gulf analyst with the International Crisis Group, referring to the Gulf Cooperation Council. On a smaller scale, the Qataris clearly wanted the Gulf Cooperation Council meeting to be a success, which it would not have been without Saudi involvement, Mr. Partrick said.

Some members of Al Jazeera’s newsroom staff say they believe that the station would not ignore or play down major news developments in Saudi Arabia, whatever promises the management may have made. But other Arab journalists said Al Jazeera’s seeming willingness to toe the Saudi line was proof that there still were no truly independent media outlets in the region.

“The Arab media today still play much the same role as the pre-Islamic tribal poets, whose role was to praise the tribe, not tell the truth,” said Sulaiman al-Hattlan, a Dubai-based media analyst and the former editor in chief of Forbes Arabia.


Blogging in the Arab World

by Mona Eltahawy

VELEN, Germany — “If it’s longer than three days, I want this message to reach everyone. I don’t want to be forgotten in jail,” wrote Fouad al-Farhan, a 32 year-old Saudi, to a friend in anticipation of his detention.

Now it”s been almost a month since security forces picked him up at work, took him home to get his laptop, and then put him behind bars on December 10.

Farhan’s “crime”: Blogging.

How very telling that the Saudi authorities consider a blogger dangerous enough to be jailed. It is appalling that he is still detained without charge, but Fahran”s ordeal is the latest example of a growing phenomenon in the Arab world:
one person + one blog = one very angry dictator.

Egypt imprisoned a blogger last year after convicting him of insulting Islam and the Mubarak. Other countries in the region have detained bloggers — or threatened them and their families, or shut down their blogs.

Why are bloggers so feared by authoritarian regimes in the Arab world? Because they are young and blogging is, at last, a way to express themselves in a world where they are ignored. The majority of the Arab world is under the age of 30 and this majority has few venues to express their views — political or otherwise.

In a story about the growing popularity of blogging in Saudi Arabia at the end of 2006, the journalist Faiza al-Ambah said there were at least 2,000 blogs in the Kingdom, and half were by women — as far as we can tell.

One of my earliest introductions to blogs was one simply called Saudigirl. At a conference on Arab media at the National Press Club in Washington DC in 2005, I quoted Saudigirl, who described herself as “young. Saudi chick. unveiled, unconservatized,” who had never voted, but who hoped one day “to walk in on a ballot box in jeans, t-shirt, and flip-flops so that everyone can see my pretty toes while I express my freedom.” I lost track of her blog for a while until on a whim I googled her last year to see how Saudigirl was doing. To my shock, it turned out Saudigirl had been Saudiboy all along. It was a case of “rhetorical transvestism,” confessed Ali K, the man who maintained the blog.

What a bittersweet twist on the gender play of writers like George Sand or George Eliot and others who adopted male names, personae and wardrobes to splinter taboos. Here was a Saudi man pretending to be a woman so that he could impress upon his countrymen how difficult it was to be female.

Fouad al-Farhan is a Saudi blogger who uses his name rather than a pseudonym, which made it easier for the authorities to get him. In the letter to his friend, he said they were after him because he “wrote about political prisoners in Saudi Arabia,” and had refused to sign an apology.

“An apology for what? Apologize because I said the government lied when it accused those people of supporting terrorism,” he said in the letter, posted in Arabic and English on his blog — which continues to be updated by Farhan’s friends.

Much has been said about how al-Jazeera and other satellite channels in the Arab world have triumphed overstate-owned media — but it is one old man”s voice challenging another. This so-called “new media” in the Arab world is still the old making little room for the voices of the young. And bloggers are mostly the young. And blogging is becoming powerful.

Last November, a most powerful triumph of blogging took place in Egypt, when two police officers were sentenced to three years in prison for sodomizing a bus driver with a stick. Egyptian authorities were cornered into prosecuting the officers after public outcry and international media coverage. What caused both? Two bloggers posted a video clip of the assault that one of the officers had filmed using a mobile phone. The clip then made it to YouTube and was used as evidence against the officers during the trial.

One of the bloggers who posted the clip was Wael Abbas, who last year became the first blogger to win the prestigious Knight Award for Journalism in recognition of how influential his blog has become in setting the news agenda in Egypt.

Abbas has been threatened by security forces, and his YouTube account was shutdown for a few days. He believes it was by the Egyptian regime — it reappeared after international media reported on YouTube’s action.

I was in Cairo when the two police officers were sent to jail. Later that day, I led a discussion at the American University in Cairo about how girls and women use cyberspace to express themselves. Almost every student at the discussion had a Facebook account and many also had their own blogs.

“Blogs give a voice to the voiceless,” one young woman said to explain why she started one.

The Saudi regime”s detention of Farhan only shows that growing power.

Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues.


Turkey to change free speech law
Rehn has said Turkey-EU talks should not continue until the law is changed


Turkey is expected to amend a heavily criticised law which makes “insulting Turkishness” illegal, in order to improve its chances of entering the EU.

Mehmet Ali Sahin, the country”s justice minister, said on Monday: “The work [on the draft] has been finalised. I believe the proposal could be submitted to parliament this week.”

The EU has put pressure on Turkey to change the law, article 301 in the penal code, that is criticised as a threat to freedom of speech in Turkey.

The law is seen as a major stumbling block to Turkey”s accession to the EU.

Turkey”s centre-right government has said it will change article 301, but critics say that this has not materalised for fear of a nationalist backlash.

Breaking the law can mean a sentence of up to four years in jail.

Change of wording

Sahin refused to comment on the nature of the changes to the law before they were discussed at a cabinet meeting on Monday.

However, media reports have said that the term “insulting Turkishness” may change to “insulting the Turkish nation” or “insulting the Turkish people”.

Sahin suggested that the justice ministry would have to give permission before proceedings could start under the article.

This would prevent nationalist prosecutors from exploiting the law.

Block to accession

Talks between Turkey and the EU have stalled due to human-rights disputes and Turkey”s conflict in Cyprus.

Olli Rehn, the EU”s enlargement commissioner, has advised that negotiations with Turkey should not progress until article 301 is changed.

Dozens of journalists and writers, including Orhan Pamuk, the Nobel literature laureate, have been prosecuted and convicted under the law, but none have been jailed.

Typically it has been used against those saying that the Ottoman Empire”s massacres of Armenians in World War I were genocide.


Poll finds Turks oppose headscarf ban in universities

Thursday, December 13, 2007
ISTANBUL – Turkish Daily News

The newly appointed Higher Education Board (YضK) president”s first comments have led to a flare up in the debate over the headscarf ban in universities.

Most of the people in Turkey believe that the ban should be lifted, according to the results of a recent survey.

Yusuf Ziya ضzcan, who took up his post as the new YضK head Tuesday after being appointed by President Abdullah Gül Monday, told reporters that the elimination of all bans in universities was one of his visions.

I believe that all problems in universities, including the one with the headscarf, will automatically be solved… If the universities realize their main responsibility science then we don”t need to deal with such problems, he said.

ضzcan”s comments were interpreted by most as a hint that he will try to lift the ban on the headscarf, a move that is supported by most of the population, according to a poll by KONDA.

KONDA, a research firm owned by columnist Tarhan Erdem of daily Radikal, announced the findings of its latest research last week. The survey was also a follow-up on a study done in 2003 by the same firm.

Most Turks believe the ban on the use of the headscarf in universities is unfair, according to the survey titled Religion, Secularism and Headscarf in Daily Life. When asked whether there should be a ban on the headscarf in universities, 78 percent said it should be allowed, a 2.5 percent rise compared to results of the 2003 poll, while 24.5 percent said donning a headscarf should be banned.

But many also approved that students should stop wearing headscarves to continue their education as long as the ban is in place. About 63.7 percent said they would remove the scarf for the sake of education while 26.1 percent think that the student must quit university instead of removing her headscarf.

There is a significant decrease from 2003 in the number of those that say civil servants cannot wear a headscarf. In 2003, 37.4 percent of respondents said civil servants cannot don headscarves but this time the number dropped to 19.4 percent. While 68.9 percent think civil servants who want to wear the headscarf should be allowed to do so, 5.8 percent said all civil servants should be wearing headscarves.

96.2 percent believe in a religion:

The survey by KONDA also asked questions on the burdens of religious law in daily life. When people were asked to define their religious beliefs, 52.8 percent said they were believers who try to follow religious practices, 34.3 percent believe in a religion but do not usually practice, while 9.7 percent follow all religious practices and 3.2 percent are atheists.

Another question posed was whether restaurants should be closed or remain open during the holy month of Ramadan. Nearly half, 45 percent, said restaurants should be open during Ramadan, while 35.8 percent said they should be closed until iftar, the fast breaking meal eaten at sunset. However only 17.3 agreed that restaurants that serve alcoholic beverages should be open and 10.1 percent said they should be open after iftar. Around 13.6 percent said restaurants should be closed for one month while nearly two-third of respondents said restaurants serving alcohol should be closed during Ramadan.

Application of Shariah:

Most Turks believe that inheritance should be divided equally among women and men. According to traditional Shariah (Islamic law), daughters of the deceased get one share of the inheritance while sons get two shares. Only 6.8 percent of respondents agreed with this, while 92 percent said daughters and sons should get equal shares.

Islam also forbids interest, but more than half of the respondents think depositing money in a bank in exchange of interest is normal. The responders were divided when asked whether a woman should have an abortion to stop an unwanted pregnancy; 48.3 percent supported the idea while 40.9 percent opposed it.

One-third of Turkish people think that it is wrong for a man to shake hands with a woman.

Relationship between men and women is a subject most respondents agreed with. Only 2.1 percent of respondents said loving each other is enough to live together, while 85.6 percent said they need to have both have the official wedding and the religious wedding, which is not legally binding. Approximately 73.8 percent of the population approves of divorce.


Tunisia Veil Case Threatens `Odious Rag” Struggle

By Daniel Williams
Bloomberg.com – January 3, 2008

Jan. 3 (Bloomberg) — Saida Akremi, a Tunisian lawyer, specializes in human rights — including the right to wear the Muslim headscarf that her country”s late founder called an “odious rag.””

In a case that has sent ripples through this North African nation, Akremi won a lawsuit on behalf of a schoolteacher contesting the scarf”s ban in state buildings and schools. The ruling won”t be enforced across the country, the government says, on the grounds that it divides rather than unites.

Tunisia, which became independent from France in 1956, has long presented itself as a European-oriented secular bastion in the Middle East. Its first president, Habib Bourguiba, used the “odious rag”” term for the hijab, as the veil is called, because he viewed it as a hindrance to progress.

“For me, people have the right to wear what they want,”” Akremi said. She herself has worn the veil since 1995, she said, including in court.

“Tunisia has made the choice in favor of the emancipation of women, and the veil has come to identify an appeal based on sectarianism,”” said Bochra Malki, a government spokeswoman.

This view parallels campaigns waged by secular governments across the Middle East. Many leaders — even the monarchy in Morocco, whose King Mohammed VI claims direct descent from the prophet Mohammed — regard the hijab as an Islamic political statement rather than a pious religious accessory.


“The hijab is spreading, and so are Islamic political movements,”” said Mohammed Fantar, a professor of Islamic history at Manar University in Tunis. “Some governments feel threatened and think the two go hand-in-hand.”” Tunisia is among them, he said.

The Turkish military, self-styled guardians of the country”s lay tradition, tried and failed last summer to block the rise of former Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul to the presidency. The reason: His wife wears a headscarf. Turkey, governed by an Islamic party, is officially secular.

Last year in Morocco, the government removed pictures of a mother and daughter wearing the hijab from a school textbook, on the grounds it is a political symbol, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.

Jordan”s Queen Rania, on recent visits to Western countries, stressed that the hijab isn”t mandatory under Islam or in Jordan.

Widespread Use

In Egypt, Cairo”s Helwan University barred women from wearing veils over their faces on security grounds. Wearing headscarves, once a minority practice, is widespread in Egypt, although last April a court in Cairo upheld a government ban on state-television news presenters wearing them on the air.

Almost all of Tunisia”s 10 million people are Muslim. Bourguiba, who took power after the 1956 independence from France and ruled until 1987, largely removed the scarf from public view.

He banned it from government offices in 1981; the prohibition was later expanded to schools and other public places. Tunisia”s constitution bars political parties based on religion.

In the Tunisian court case, Saeeda Adalah asked to be allowed to wear the headscarf when she taught school. On Oct. 10, a court in Tunis ruled the country”s ban unconstitutional.

Officials quickly asserted that the judgment wouldn”t be applied to daily life. “The decision will make no difference,”” said Malki, the government spokeswoman.

Akremi, the lawyer, agreed that the court”s decision would lead to no immediate reversal of the ban; that would have to be decided by parliament.

Scarf in School

“We cannot speak of annulment of the ban, just a court opinion,”” she said in a telephone interview. Adalah herself has returned to the classroom and is allowed to wear the veil, Akremi said.

Zine Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia”s president since Bourguiba”s ouster in 1987, has called the hijab “an imported form of sectarian dress”” that “does not fit with Tunisia”s cultural heritage.”” At a meeting of the state-dominated National Union of Tunisian Women, officials demanded that women in the audience remove their veils and in some cases, tugged on them, according to a 2006 U.S. State Department human-rights report on Tunisia.

“The authorities stepped up harassment of women wearing the hijab (Islamic headscarf),”” Amnesty International, the human-rights group, said in its 2007 report on Tunisia. “Some women were reportedly ordered to remove their hijabs before being allowed into schools, universities or workplaces; and others were forced to remove them in the street,”” the report said.

Government Concern

An Oct. 5 conference on religious intolerance underscored government concern over the hijab. The meeting focused on takfir, the practice under which Muslims can accuse other Muslims of having abandoned their religion and who, as a result, can be punished even with death.

The meeting was a show of support for Saloua Charfi, a professor at the Tunis-based Journalism and Information Sciences Institute. Charfi had written articles challenging Islamic dress codes and received threats from preachers that she might be declared takfir. Charfi declined to be interviewed.

Fantar, the historian, backs the government”s stand on headscarves. “They are an import by way of satellite television,”” he said. “It”s a menace for all.””

To contact the reporter on this story: Daniel Williams in Tunis at [email protected] .

Islamists emerge in stifled Tunisia
The nation, a tourist attraction, has long repressed religious and political freedoms. Underground radicalism is producing militants.

By Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times Staff Writer
November 30, 2007

MENZEL BOURGUIBA, TUNISIA — The jihad journey of the Nasri brothers began in this mud-splattered town where shipyards rust and umbrella sellers wait with mercenary fervor for storms to rumble in from across the lake.

The siblings” chain-reaction quest for holy war was ignited in 2003, when Qabil Nasri, a tall man with a sparse beard, was imprisoned on terrorism charges. His case radicalized his siblings, two of whom were arrested after sneaking into neighboring Algeria to train with Islamist militants. A third was caught before he crossed the mountainous border to join them. Nasri was freed in 2005; his brothers, including a former police officer, are still in prison.

The Nasri family saga poses troubling dilemmas for Tunisia, a U.S. ally whose beach resorts and cities emanating a bygone colonial charm are among the most popular tourist destinations in the Arab world.

The nation wears an intriguing facade. Women enjoy a degree of liberation, men in suits have their shoes polished while reading newspapers on the sidewalks — and secret police slip in and out of lives like uninvited guests.

Decades of stifled religious and political freedoms have ignited two trends: an underground radicalism producing militants willing to wage jihad in Iraq, Afghanistan and Europe, and a more moderate, yet potent, religious yearning that can be seen in the increasing numbers of beards and head scarves in cafes and on university campuses.

The Nasri brothers and thousands of young Tunisians like them epitomize the intersection of ideological currents and technological wizardry fueling Islamic extremism across North Africa. Raised under the repression that has long defined their nation, and outraged by the Iraq war and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the brothers turned to satellite television and the Internet, where they found provocative mullahs and subversive websites beyond the reach of government censors.

“A young man cannot find true Islam in state-sanctioned religion,” Nasri said. “So a young man, with all his power, starts searching for messages on TV and the Internet. . . . Young Tunisians are peaceful, but when we face pressures because we are religious, our thoughts start to change. Why are we subjected to this? Why are they attacking my religion? Eventually, a young man starts to think that his government is the enemy of Islam.”

A Tunisian government official, who asked not to be named, acknowledged the rise in extremism, the dangerous prospect of battle-hardened Tunisian Islamic militants returning from Iraq and what he described as the “Internet seepage” of radical Islam.

“It”s a great concern for all North Africans,” he said. “But these Islamist militants don”t have the appeal of the Islamists of decades past. They”re a very radical sub-phenomenon. They are influenced by radical organizations that operate across borders. But our security forces are ready. We are careful and vigilant.”

A Western diplomat who requested anonymity said, “I think the Tunisians are beginning to wake up. They used to see it as a blip: “Let these young guys go to Iraq — what do we care?” But now they”re dealing with these guys coming home.”

In 2005, about 300 Tunisians were jailed for religious-inspired militant activity. In the last year, that number has jumped to 2,000, mainly the result of a new Anti-Terror Law that has security forces scouring mosques and mountain crevices for suspected radicals, said Samir Ben Amor, a lawyer in Tunis, the capital, who represents dozens of alleged extremists.

This year, police killed more than 20 militants in a series of gun battles in a suburb of the capital and in mountains near the Algerian border. The extremists, including Tunisians and a Mauritanian, were part of a group that trained in Algeria and was allegedly planning attacks on the U.S. and other Western embassies in Tunis.

The Algerian connection was another indication of affiliations forming among militants across North Africa, most notably around the Algerian-based Salafist Group for Call and Combat, known by its French initials, GSPC.

The mobilizing passion for many young Tunisian Islamists is the Iraq war and the perception that their nation is a proxy in Washington”s wider battle against the Muslim world. Defeating U.S. interests in Iraq and Afghanistan, their thinking goes, would weaken the regime of Tunisian President Zine el Abidine ben Ali, whose 20 years in power have been marked by frequent criticism from human rights groups over torture, random arrests and other harsh tactics of security forces.

“Despite the Tunisian government”s attempts to ban the veil, beards, and to jail Islamists, there”s a religious revival in the nation. The veil has swept the streets and the Islamists are here,” Ben Amor said. “Ninety-five percent of Islamist terror- related cases involve young people who only started praying two to three years before their arrests. Government oppression at home and the Iraq war have turned them into time bombs.”

Jamila Ayed slips two pictures out of her black purse. They are of the sons she has lost to Islamic militancy. The younger, Marwen, was studying business at a university when he left to fight in Iraq, where he died in Fallouja in 2004. The older, Maher, was an engineering student whose college ID card was confiscated by police, who told him he wouldn”t get it back until he shaved off his beard. He is now serving a 10-year sentence for belonging to a terrorist organization. Ayed mourns her sons less than she celebrates what they have done.

“Our government doesn”t have any sovereignty. It does the work of the Americans and the Zionists,” she said. “The religious resurgence is much stronger here than it was in the 1990s. This new movement includes the rich and the poor, the rural and the city, and the religious and those who had not been religious before.

“My sons were depressed at Friday prayers and by the sermons they heard from government-controlled preachers. They looked for the true version of Islam on TV, the Internet and in banned books.”

Ayed sat next to another mother, Noura Ben Slimene, whose pale, angular face seemed to glow against a black hijab. Her son, Anas, fought with the insurgency in Baghdad and died, she said, in a U.S. airstrike along the Iraqi-Syrian border.

“He came to me and said, “I”m going to Iraq. I need my passport. I”m prepared to do this for God,” ” Slimene said. “I felt the same way about the injustice he saw. I was convinced he was going to fight injustice. . . . In the neighborhood where I live, the police arrest many people who feel like my son.”

Ayed gathered her pictures, and she and Slimene walked down a drizzly side street and into the gaze of President Ben Ali, whose image hovers on billboards and posters across the city. Ben Ali is everywhere, Tunisians say, in their neighborhoods, on the coastal cliffs, at the desert”s rim, even in the ancient city of Carthage, where whitewashed homes with blue shutters look out into the haze at yachts and tankers crossing the Mediterranean.

Violence in the 1980s and early “90s prompted Ben Ali”s government to arrest hundreds of Islamists and crack down on religious organizations, including the Nahda movement, whose leader, Rachid Ghannouchi, lives in exile in Britain. The government licensed mosques, banned religion-influenced political parties and stripped national identity cards from 10,000 to 15,000 suspected radicals. Human rights groups complained that the measures violated religious freedom.

“The radicalism today is the result of Tunisia not allowing even moderate Islam to exist,” said Ali Larayedh, a member of Nahda who spent 14 years in prison. “But this radicalism is not a large part of the Islamist revival we”re seeing in Tunisia. . . . The government is exaggerating the radical threat to justify the blockade it imposes on Islam.”

A young man with a receding hairline sat in a windbreaker, his hands nervously folded. He would give his name only as Abdel. In 2003, he was one of six men and boys charged with downloading subversive Internet files and trying to make a bomb in the southern town of Zarzis. He was 17 when he went to prison and 20 when he was freed. The case became a national sensation, pitting a government wanting to show it was fighting terrorism against critics who claimed security forces were exaggerating Islamic threats and making arrests to impress the United States.

“The police said I was a Salafi, a radical. I didn”t know what Salafi meant back then,” Abdel said. “I was tortured. My face was paralyzed for a while. I signed some papers confessing to things, but I don”t really know what I signed. The police still follow me. I”ve noticed young Tunisians have changed a lot since I went into prison. They have gone to either radical Islam or criminal delinquency.”

Qabil Nasri stood the other day along a roadside near a pile of bricks on the outskirts of Menzel Bourguiba. Rain had come the night before; the fields were muddy, and the lake, separated from the Mediterranean by a rim of hills, was still.

The Greeks and the Phoenicians sailed these waters centuries ago. Then came the French and the Soviets, but the shipyards and the steel mill are not as busy as they once were, and young men gather in clumps at the Cafe Flamenco.

There was no coffee-shop idling for Nasri. In 2003, he crossed Tunisia”s rugged terrain and was arrested at the Algerian border, where he was charged with belonging to a terrorist group. He said he wanted to fight with the Palestinians, but police said the leaders of his group were planning terrorist attacks in Tunisia.

Nasri has remained defiant. Because his young face wears a light beard, most employers, under government pressure, will not hire him. He often violates parole by not reporting to police stations, each time spending a month in prison.

Discussing his frustration, Nasri paused as two men came across the field and tried to eavesdrop.

“In prison, the guards and interrogators insulted God in front of me,” he said. “They wanted to take my religion.”

[email protected] Noha El-Hennawy of The Times” Cairo Bureau contributed to this report.

Pakistanis Want Larger Role for Both Islam and Democracy

Majority Reject ‘Talibanization’ and Favor Reform of Madrassas
Growing Perception that US Threatens Islam

January 04, 2008

An in-depth survey of Pakistani public opinion reveals majority support for a moderate and democratic Islamic state, though a small but significant minority shows sympathy for Islamist militant groups.

Most Pakistanis want Islam to play a larger role in Pakistani society. However, a majority also favors a more democratic political system, rejects ‘Talibanization,” and supports recent government efforts to reform the madrassah system by focusing more on science and mathematics. Majorities have little sympathy for Islamist military groups and most would like to see the Federally Administered Tribal Areas integrated into Pakistan.

The survey also found that Pakistani attitudes toward the United States are negative and that there is a growing perception that the United States is hostile toward Islam.

The survey was conducted from Sept. 12-18, just before President Pervez Musharraf declared a six-week state of emergency and before the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto. The sample included 907 Pakistani urban adults, selected using multi-stage probability sampling, who were interviewed at home in 19 cities. The margin of error is +/- 3.3 percent.

It was conducted by WorldPublicOpinion.org in collaboration with, and with financial support from, the U.S. Institute of Peace.

Steven Kull, director of WorldPublicOpinion.org comments, “While Pakistan is racked by conflict between leaders and groups vying for power, this poll indicates that most Pakistanis largely agree on what kind of state they want and on how they want the government to deal with the many challenges it faces.”

C. Christine Fair, senior research fellow of the US Institute of Peace (now at RAND) observes, “With Pakistan as perhaps the most important country in the war on terrorism, the good news is that majorities of Pakistanis view most militant groups in Pakistan as a threat. The bad news is that many Pakistanis view the U.S. with great suspicion. ”

The survey finds strong public support for a wider role for Islam. Asked to gauge the importance of living “in a country that is governed according to Islamic principles” on a 10-point scale, 61 percent give an answer of 10 (meaning “absolutely important”). The mean response is 9.0. However, when asked to gauge the degree to which Pakistan is currently governed by Islamic principles, the mean score is just 4.6 (on a 0-10 scale with 10 meaning “completely”).

Sixty percent want Shari’a to play a larger role, “as compared to current Pakistan law.” Shari’a was formally introduced into the Pakistani court system in the 1970s and the country was founded as an Islamic republic. Support for a greater role for Shari’a may indicate that Pakistanis simply want their civil courts to function more effectively (the Pakistani justice system is well known for its long delays) rather than for a fundamental change.

At the same time a large majority of Pakistanis want Pakistan to be more democratic. Asked to use the 10-point scale to measure the importance of living “in a country that is governed by representatives elected by the people,” the mean response is 8.4. Asked to rate Pakistan in this regard, the mean score is just 4.8 (with 10 meaning “completely”), though polling was conducted just before the imposition of emergency rule.

Interestingly, among the 60 percent who support a larger role for Shari’a larger role in the Pakistani legal system, nearly two out of three (64%) give the importance of democracy a 10—considerably higher than among those who do not favor more Shari’a.

Pakistanis also say it is important to live in a country where “the decisions of the courts are independent from influence by political and military authorities,” giving it a mean score of 8.6 on the 10-point scale. Again, respondents give their country a relatively poor mean rating (5.6) in fulfilling this ideal.

There is little support among Pakistanis for a shift to extreme religious conservatism. Only a small minority (15%)—even among those who want a greater role for Shari’a—say they want to see more “Talibanization of daily life.” Eighty-one percent say it is important for Pakistan to protect religious minorities—which have been frequent targets of militant violence—and three quarters (75-78 percent) say that attacks on specific religious minorities (Ahmadiyya and Shi’a) are never justified.

Perhaps most significantly, the survey identified substantial support for reforming the religious schools known as madrassahs. About two-thirds (64 percent) support a recent government plan to regulate the madrassahs, requiring them to register with the government and to spend more time on subjects like math and science. Only 17 percent are opposed to such reform efforts. Interestingly, those who want a larger role for Shari’a are more likely than others to strongly favor these reforms.

There is also little sympathy for Islamist militant groups operating in Pakistan. Three in five (60-62 percent) view the activities of al Qaeda, local Taliban, and Pakistani Islamist militant groups as threats to Pakistan’s vital interests. However, a significant 14 to 18 percent do not view these groups as a threat to Pakistan.

A large majority wants the special status of the region along the Afghan border known as the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) to be phased out and for the FATA to be integrated into Pakistan’s legal structure. Seventy-two percent think the Frontier Crimes Regulation should be changed so that people in FATA “have the same rights and responsibilities as all other Pakistanis.” Only 8 percent think it should be left unchanged.

At the same time most of those polled prefer a gradual approach to integration of the FATA. Overall there is little support for a military crackdown on militant groups operating in these border regions. Given three options, just 23 percent would rather see the government exert control through military force while only 12 percent are in favor of simply withdrawing. A 46-percent plurality favors instead trying to keep the peace in the FATA through negotiations, presumably moving toward reintegration in the long run.

Pakistani views of the United States are quite negative. About two-thirds (64%) do not trust the United States “to act responsibly in the world.” Very large majorities believe the US military presence in Afghanistan and in Asia is a critical threat to Pakistan’s interests (68 percent and 72 percent respectively). Only 27 percent feel that the cooperation between Pakistan and the United States on security and military matters has benefited Pakistan.

There is a growing Pakistani perception that the United States is hostile to their desire for a more Islamic society. Indeed, 86 percent now say it is definitely (70%) or probably (16%) a US goal to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.” This view also appears to be growing: it is up 13 points from February.

This view is highly correlated with negative views of the United States. Among those who strongly believe the US is seeking to undermine Islam, 57 percent say they do not trust the United States “at all.” Among those who do not think this is a US goal, only 13 percent say they do not trust the United States at all.


Muslims Believe US Seeks to Undermine Islam

April 24, 2007

Majorities Want US Forces Out of Islamic Countries And Approve of Attacks on US Troops

Large Majorities Agree With Many Goals of Al Qaeda But Oppose Attacks on Civilians

Most Support Enhancing Role of Islam in Their Society, But Also Favor Globalization and Democracy

An in-depth poll of four major Muslim countries has found that in all of them large majorities believe that undermining Islam is a key goal of US foreign policy. Most want US military forces out of the Middle East and many approve of attacks on US troops there.

Most respondents have mixed feelings about al Qaeda. Large majorities agree with many of its goals, but believe that terrorist attacks on civilians are contrary to Islam.

There is strong support for enhancing the role of Islam in all of the countries polled, through such measures as the imposition of sharia (Islamic law). This does not mean that they want to isolate their societies from outside influences: Most view globalization positively and favor democracy and freedom of religion.

These findings are from surveys in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia conducted from December 2006 to February, 2007 by WorldPublicOpinion.org with support from the START Consortium at the University of Maryland.

Large majorities across all four countries believe the United States seeks to “weaken and divide the Islamic world.” On average 79 percent say they perceive this as a US goal, ranging from 73 percent in Indonesia and Pakistan to 92 percent in Egypt. Equally large numbers perceive that the United States is trying to maintain “control over the oil resources of the Middle East” (average 79%). Strong majorities (average 64%) even believe it is a US goal to “spread Christianity in the region.”

“While US leaders may frame the conflict as a war on terrorism, people in the Islamic world clearly perceive the US as being at war with Islam,” said Steven Kull, editor of WorldPublicOpinion.org.

Consistent with this concern, large majorities in all countries (average 74%) support the goal of getting the United States to “remove its bases and military forces from all Islamic countries,” ranging from 64 percent in Indonesia to 92 percent in Egypt.

Substantial numbers also favor attacks on US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and in the Persian Gulf. Across the four countries polled approximately half support such attacks in each location, while three in ten are opposed. But there is substantial variation between countries: Support is strongest in Egypt, where at least eight in ten approve of attacking US troops in the region. A majority of Moroccans also support targeting US forces, whether stationed in the Persian Gulf (52%) or fighting in Iraq (68%). Pakistanis are divided about attacks on the American military—many do not answer or express mixed feelings—while Indonesians oppose them.

However, respondents roundly reject attacks on civilians. Asked about politically-motivated attacks on civilians, such as bombings or assassinations, majorities in all countries—usually overwhelming majorities—take the strongest position offered by saying such violence cannot be justified at all. More than three out of four Indonesians (84%), Pakistanis (81%), and Egyptians (77%) take this position, as well as 57 percent of Moroccans (an additional 19 percent of Moroccans say such attacks can only be “weakly justified”).

Attitudes toward Al Qaeda are complex. On average, only three in ten view Osama bin Laden positively. Many respondents express mixed feelings about bin Laden and his followers and many others decline to answer.

There is strong disapproval of attacks by “groups that use violence against civilians, such as al Qaeda.” Large majorities in Egypt (88%), Indonesia (65%) and Morocco (66%) agree that such groups “are violating the principles of Islam.” Pakistanis are divided, however, with many not answering.

But there is also uncertainty about whether al Qaeda actually conducts such attacks. On average less than one in four believes al Qaeda was responsible for September 11th attacks. Pakistanis are the most skeptical—only 3 percent think al Qaeda did it. There is no consensus about who is responsible for the attacks on New York and Washington; the most common answer is “don’t know.”

Most significantly, large majorities approve of many of al Qaeda’s principal goals. Large majorities in all countries (average 70 percent or higher) support such goals as: “stand up to Americans and affirm the dignity of the Islamic people,” “push the US to remove its bases and its military forces from all Islamic countries,” and “pressure the United States to not favor Israel.”

Equally large majorities agree with goals that involve expanding the role of Islam in their society. On average, about three out of four agree with seeking to “require Islamic countries to impose a strict application of sharia,” and to “keep Western values out of Islamic countries.” Two-thirds would even like to “unify all Islamic counties into a single Islamic state or caliphate.”

But this does not appear to mean that the publics in these Muslim countries want to isolate themselves from the larger world. Asked how they feel about “the world becoming more connected through greater economic trade and faster communication,” majorities in all countries say it is a good thing (average 75%). While wary of Western values, overall 67 percent agree that “a democratic political system” is a good way to govern their country and 82 percent agree that in their country “people of any religion should be free to worship according to their own beliefs.”

The surveys were conducted between December 9, 2006 and February 15, 2007 using in-home interviews. In Morocco (1,000 interviews), Indonesia (1,141 interviews), and Pakistan (1,243 interviews) national probability samples were conducted covering both urban and rural areas. However, Pakistani findings reported here are based only upon urban respondents (611 interviews); rural respondents were unfamiliar with many of the issues in the survey. In Egypt, the sample (1,000 interviews) was an urban sample drawn probabilistically from seven governorates. Sample sizes of 1,000 – 1,141 have confidence intervals of +/- 3 percentage points; a sample size of 611 has a confidence interval of +/-4 percentage points.


Copts & Brothers

William Dalrymple
Published 13 December 2007

A surprising dialogue between the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt”s Coptic Christians suggests a new way of working with Islamist parties.

Two years ago, on 14 October 2005, a major religious riot between Christians and Muslims broke out in the backstreets of Alexandria. An angry mob spilled out of a mosque during Ramadan and began attacking the large Coptic church of Mar Girgis – St George – on the other side of the road.

Tension between the two communities in Egypt had been high ever since the US invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. When George W Bush used the word “crusade”, it implicated the Copts, in the eyes of some Muslims, in a wider Christian assault on the Muslim world. The immediate cause of the violence, however, was a play that had been mounted in the church about resisting conversion to Islam – part of a programme of summer activities for the Coptic youth organised by the local parish priest. When a video of the play, made by the proud father of one of the actors, was found on the hard drive of a laptop that he had inadvertently sold to a Muslim hardliner, trouble quickly escalated.

In the days that followed the publication of the first articles about the play in the Islamist press, and the distribution of DVDs of the performance around the mosques of Alexandria, angry Muslims went on the rampage, believing that the play criticised Islamic beliefs and denigrated the Prophet. Stones and Molotov cocktails were thrown at Coptic properties, windows were broken, six churches were trashed, Coptic jewellery shops were looted, and two men were killed: one a Christian, one a Muslim. Many more were injured.

At one point, a party of 150 Coptic girls who come to Mar Girgis for religious instruction was besieged within the church by a large mob, and a potentially horrific situation was avoided only after the police belatedly answered a distress call from the parish priest, Abouna Augustinos. Tear gas and water cannon had to be used before the mob finally dispersed. Four more Copts were knifed as they came out of church services the following Sunday. “What happened that week has left a permanent scar,” I was told by Dr Kamal Siddiq, a Coptic dermatologist who, like many, was forced into hiding during the rioting. “We used to have peaceable relations with our neighbours. But in this atmosphere any small incident can instantly escalate.”

Now, however, an initiative has been launched that brings Coptic Christians together with young members of al-Ikhwan, or the Muslim Brotherhood, to ensure that such misunderstandings are not repeated. One of the events that has been planned is a play in which young Copts and Muslim Brothers perform side by side. The man behind the play, Youssef Sidhom, is the editor of Watani, Egypt”s leading Coptic news paper. He believes that dialogue between the two faiths is a pressing necessity. “After the success of the Muslim Brothers in the recent elections we can no longer ignore them,” he says. “We need to enter into dialogue, to clarify their policies towards us, and end mutual mistrust.”

The dilemma faced by the Copts reflects a larger question now facing western policymakers. Throughout the Muslim world, political Islam is on the march. In the past three or four years, almost everywhere that Muslims have had the right to vote – in Lebanon, Pakistan, Palestine, Turkey, Egypt and Algeria – they have voted en masse for the religious parties in a way they have never done before. The only two exceptions to this rule are Morocco and Jordan, the latter in an election marked by accusations of mass vote-rigging.

In countries where the government has been most closely linked to US policies, the rise of political Islam has been most marked: in Pakistan the religious parties, which used to gain only 3 per cent of the vote, have been polling around 20 per cent. Equally, in the 2006 election in Palestine, Hamas roundly defeated the blatantly corrupt and US- supported Fatah.

It has long been an article of faith for the neocons that bringing democracy to the Middle East would do away with the Islamists in the same way that the arrival of democracy saw off the communists in eastern Europe. In reality, while US foreign policy since 9/11 has indeed succeeded in turning Muslim opinion against the decadent monarchies and corrupt nationalist parties that have ruled the region for the past 50 years, Muslims, rather than turning to liberal secular parties, have lined up behind the parties that have stood up against US intervention. The religious parties, in other words, have come to power for reasons largely disconnected from religion.

Nowhere has the march of the Islamists been more steady than in Egypt: at the last general election in 2005, members of the nominally banned Muslim Brotherhood, standing as independents, saw their representation rise from 17 seats to 88 in the 454-seat People”s Assembly, despite reports of systematic vote-rigging by President Mubarak”s ruling National Democratic Party (NDP). At the same time, the face of the country has visibly changed: almost all Muslim women now wear the hijab and reject make-up, at least partly as a statement of political defiance against the west and western-backed regimes. This is a major change: as recently as the early 1990s the great majority of Egyptian women did not cover their hair.

The US response to gains made by the Islamists has been to retreat from its previous push for democracy when the “wrong” parties win – something that was most apparent in the notably undemocratic US response to the rise of Hamas in Palestine. This instinct was also at work in the US- and UK-brokered “rendition” of the Pakistani Muslim League leader Nawaz Sharif to Saudi Arabia, in order to leave the electoral field clear for Benazir Bhutto – in effect imposing a single candidate on the electorate, until Musharraf”s emergency changed all political calculations and Sharif was allowed to return. The US has also retreated from backing democracy in Egypt. Many of the Brotherhood”s leading activists and business backers, as well as Mubarak”s principal opponent in the 2005 presidential election, are now in prison. In September, four Egyptian newspaper editors were given prison sentences for libelling Mubarak and the NDP.

But the Egyptian Copts – the ancient Christian community who make up roughly 15 per cent of Egypt”s population – don”t have the luxury of looking the other way. They realise that with the decline in popularity of the NDP, they will have to learn, for better or worse, to live with the Islamists.


The Brotherhood opens up

In an unprecedented initiative, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has circulated a draft of its manifesto for widespread consultation

Ibrahim El Houdaiby
January 2, 2008 2:00 PM

The Muslim Brotherhood, like other opposition groups in Egypt, is going through a period of repression. It is repressed more than any other organisation to the widespread popularity it enjoys. Hundreds of its members have been detained over the past few months and a severe media distortion campaign is run by state-owned press and TV channels, while security threats restrict independent media outlets from reporting an objective and balanced image of the group.

In spite of this, and in an unprecedented initiative, the Muslim Brotherhood sent a draft of its political manifesto a few weeks ago to be reviewed by a selected group of intellectuals and opposition leaders from different backgrounds (including seculars and critics of the Brotherhood), a definite sign of political openness, tolerance and confidence.

It also shows the Brotherhood”s willingness to accept criticism, contrary to the repeated claim of several adversaries. There is a realisation within the Brotherhood that there is nothing sacred about the political programme; it is a man-made programme that aims at achieving the objectives of Islam: justice, equality, peace, and compassion among all members of society. The draft was leaked to the media by some of the recipients and that triggered an intense debate far beyond the borders of Egypt.

One of the positive outcomes of this is that it revealed the Brotherhood”s internal diversity, which is the norm in any large and long-running organisation. Several researchers have previously pointed out this diversity as a sign of political maturity.

The draft was not put solely by group members, but rather utilised the experience and knowledge of a large number of intellectuals and academics, including women, Copts and secularists; three groups usually said to be skeptical of the Brotherhood if not actually repressed thereby, another clear sign of openness and transparency.

Brotherhood leaders clarified that the manifesto was the first step in a three step process to form a civil political party autonomous from the group. No one expects the Egyptian regime to legitimize such a party soon, as it has already turned down legitimization appeals of strong political groups from different backgrounds.

Some issues brought up by the draft were viewed by some intellectuals as a “setback” for the Brotherhood, which has illustrated more moderate stances on these issues in its political activity over the past few years. The critics highlight that the draft excludes women and Copts from becoming president, and proposes an advisory council of scholars to review laws passed by the parliament.

As soon as the draft was released, several Brotherhood members spoke out against these points, as well as other aspects of the manifesto. These include some senior figures as well as junior members of the group. Furthermore, major worldwide Muslim Brotherhood figures also expressed opposition to these controversial points, including Sheikh Rashid Ghannoushi from al-Nahda Movement in Tunisia, Ali al-Bayanouni, leader of Muslim Brotherhood in Syria, and Abdulmajeed al-Manasra from Algeria. This ongoing debate is a healthy sign that would contribute to political maturity within Islamist groups worldwide.

The manifesto does not deny women and Copts the right to run for presidency. It only states that the Muslim Brotherhood will not support them if they do. This is a view held by many within the group; yet other members – including myself – think it is not one”s gender or religion that decides his or her eligibility to the presidency, but rather personal capacities and competence as well as political orientation.

Those who endorse the draft argue that it is based on the assessment of the status quo. The Brotherhood opts for a highly institutionalised state with sufficient checks and balances, where the president would not enjoy the power the current constitution affords Mubarak. In such a system, conditions for presidency should not be any different than those needed from a prime minister; a position the manifesto keeps open for all, including Copts and women.

Yet, having this clause is not as catastrophic as some critics tried to make out. Moderate Islamists will of course vote for the moderate Islamist in any election, just as leftists, liberals, secularists and others would vote for candidates from their respective political orientation. If there were no Islamists running, I would vote for the candidate I regard as being the most capable, regardless of gender or religion.

During Egypt”s last (and first) presidential elections, I voted for Ayman Nour because I thought he was the best alternative, and his platform for reform was the closest to what I believed in. It is up to the people to choose their president, and it is up to each political group to support a candidate. The manifesto does not ban anyone from running for the presidency, and deciding which candidate the group will support has nothing to do with the democratic process in the country, since it is up to Egyptians, and not the Brotherhood, to decide on who becomes president, if there are free and fair elections.

The draft”s proposed council of scholars, initially proposed by Rafik Habib, the renowned Coptic intellectual, is nothing like the Iranian theocracy, as some wished to melodramatically portray. It clearly states the absolute power lies in the hands of the people and their representatives in parliament. The council role is only advisory, and would not have any legislative or executive powers whatsoever.

It is important to understand that this manifesto was released at a time when a significant number of the group”s influential leaders were kept behind bars by the regime including Khayrat el-Shater, deputy chief, Mohamed Ali Beshr, executive council member and Essam el-Erian the political bureau chief. Had those leaders and others participated in preparing the draft, the outcome may have been different.

The final version of the Muslim Brotherhood”s manifesto has yet to be released. The group is awaiting feedback from recipients of the draft, and discussions will follow based on that feedback, and the draft may be amended accordingly.

The heated debate within Egypt and beyond over the manifesto”s draft proves that repression will never succeed. Mubarak”s regime crackdown has caused more people in Egyptto see the Brotherhood as the only feasible way out of the current climate of tyranny that runs Egypt.


Analysis: Not all Islamists are equal

By Claude Salhani
UPI Contributing Editor

SAN DIEGO, Dec. 17 (UPI) — When the Bush administration decided to make promoting democracy in the greater Middle East a major component of its post-Sept. 11 foreign policy, it soon discovered that it can be a rather tricky, not to mention risky, venture. Some might compare it to gambling; in both instances the odds are never in your favor, and there are no guarantees a winning hand will pay off.

As an example, for years the Bush administration had been pressing the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza to hold “free and fair elections.” Again, it is always worth mentioning that in politics, as in everything else for that matter, one needs to be careful what one wishes for.

Bush wanted free and fair elections for the Palestinians, the Moroccans and others in the region. And indeed, free and fair elections, strangely enough, did take place in several countries across North Africa and the Middle East. The trouble (for the majority of the West) is that in most cases the Islamist parties grabbed the majority of the vote, and one may add, with relative ease.

That was the case in the Palestinian territories where Hamas, the Islamist resistance movement, finished with a clear majority — and found itself not only in government, but actually running the government, a task for which it was ill-prepared. And though it won fairly, it was much to the displeasure of both the Bush administration and the Israelis. Washington and Tel Aviv refused to recognize the legitimacy of the Hamas government and withheld funds allowing the government to function properly. Adhering to the democratic process was obviously not enough. It had to be a democratic process acceptable to the promoters of democracy.

Neither did Hamas help its cause when it threw away the book on democracy during several harrowing days of extreme violence resulting in Fatah, the party of Yasser Arafat, being forcefully expelled from the Gaza Strip.

An optimist might ask if the Bush administration might have drawn a lesson from the (mis)handling of the Hamas affair? But then not all Islamists are cut from the same cloth.

In a special report titled “Engaging Islamists and Promoting Democracy” published a couple of months ago by the U.S. Institute of Peace, special adviser to the Institute Mona Yacoubian reveals that, lo and behold, there has been direct contacts between the United States and the Islamists when the U.S. came to realize that it could not continue to ignore this growing phenomenon.

“Parliamentary elections across the Middle East have led to a wave of Islamist victories,” writes Yacoubian. “Islamist parties typically boast leaders who are young and dynamic, with strong ties to the community. Their party organizations brim with energy and ideas, attracting those who seek change.”

The USIP special report has singled out three countries in the region where the Islamists won in recent elections: Morocco, Jordan and Yemen. Despite appearances, the United States has decided to engage more of the moderate — and legal — Islamist in discreet dialogue.

Of the three countries examined in the study, Morocco demonstrated the most significant level of political development. The National Democratic Institute called it “one of the most compelling examples of democratic reforms in the Middle East and North Africa.”

The study showed that when engaged by the United States, the Islamists were more likely to open up to change and transparency.

Says Yacoubian: “Continued engagement with moderate Islamists should be encouraged, albeit with greater emphasis on instruction building and an eye on the broader context of the ideological battle in the Muslim world between extremism and moderation.”

As Yacoubian points out in the USIP report, “engaging the Islamists successfully through an engagement strategy both empowers individuals and strengthens institutions to yield greater transparency, more accountability and shifts toward moderation.”

The trick is to want to play the game. (e-mail: [email protected])


The Death of Political Islam?

By Jon B. Alterman

The obituaries for political Islam have begun to be written. After years of seemingly unstoppable growth, Islamic parties have begun to stumble. In Morocco, the Justice and Development Party (or PJD) did far worse than expected in last September’s elections, and Jordan’s Islamic Action Front lost more than half its seats in last month’s polling. The eagerly awaited manifesto of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, a draft of which appeared last September, showed neither strength nor boldness. Instead, it suggested the group was beset by intellectual contradictions and consumed by infighting.

It is too early to declare the death of political Islam, as it was premature to proclaim the rebirth of liberalism in the Arab world in 2003-04, but its prospects seem notably dimmer than they did even a year ago.

To some, the fall from grace was inevitable; political Islam has collapsed under its own contradictions, they say. They argue that, in objective terms, political Islam was never more than smoke and mirrors. Religion is about faith and truth, and politics are about compromise and accommodation. Seen this way, political Islam was never a holy enterprise, but merely an effort to boost the political prospects of one side in a political debate. Backed by religious authority and legitimacy, opposition to Islamists’ will ceased to be merely political—it became heresy—and the Islamists benefited.

These skeptics see political Islam as having been a useful way to protect political movements, cow political foes, and rally support. As a governing strategy, however, they argue that political Islam has not produced any successes. In two areas where it recently rose to power, the Palestinian Authority and Iraq, governance has been anemic. In Iran, where the mullahs have been in power for almost three decades, clerics struggle for respect and the country hemorrhages money to Dubai and other overseas markets with more predictable rules and more positive returns. The most avowedly religious state in the Middle East, Saudi Arabia, has notably less intellectual freedom than many of its neighbors, and the guardians of orthodoxy there carefully circumscribe religious thought. As the French scholar of Islam, Olivier Roy, memorably observed more than a decade ago, the melding of religion and politics did not sanctify politics, it politicized religion.

But while Islam has not provided a coherent theory of governance, let alone a universally accepted approach to the problems of humanity, the salience of religion continues to grow among many Muslims.

That salience goes far beyond issues of dress, which have become more conservative for both women and men in recent years, and beyond language, which invokes God’s name far more than was the case a decade ago. It also goes beyond the daily practice of Islam—from prayer to charity to fasting—all of which are on the upswing.

What has changed is something even more fundamental than physical appearance or ritual practice, and that is this: A growing number of Muslims start from the proposition that Islam is relevant to all aspects of their daily lives, and not merely the province of theology or personal belief.

Some see this as a return to traditionalism in the Middle East, when varying measures of superstition and spirituality governed daily life. More accurately, though, what we are seeing is the rise of “neo-traditionalism,” in which symbols and slogans of the past are enlisted in the pursuit of hastening entry into the future. Islamic finance—which is to say, finance that relies on shares and returns rather than interest—is booming, and sleek bank branches contain separate entrances for men and women. Slick young televangelists rely on the tropes of sanctifying the everyday and seeking forgiveness, drawing tens of thousands to their meetings and television audiences in the millions. Music videos viewable on YouTube—implore young viewers to embrace faith and turn away from a meaningless secular life.

Many in the West see secularism and relativism as concrete signs of modernity. In the Middle East, many see them as symbols of a bankrupt secular nationalist past that failed to deliver justice or development, freedom or progress. The suffering of secularism is
meaningless, but the discipline of Islam is filled with significance.

It is for this reason that it is premature to declare the death of political Islam. Islam, increasingly, cannot be contained. It is spreading to all aspects of life, and it is robust among some of the most dynamic forces in the Middle East. It enjoys state subsidies to be sure, but states have little to do with the creativity occurring in the religious field.

The danger is that this Islamization of public life will cast aside what little tolerance is left in the Middle East, after centuries as a—fundamentally Islamic—multicultural entrepôt. It is hard to imagine how Islamizing societies can flourish if they do not embrace innovation and creativity, diversity and difference. “Islamic” is not a self-evident concept, as my friend Mustapha Kamal Pasha once observed, but it cannot be a source of strength in modern societies if it is tied to ossified and parochial notions of its nature.

Dealing with difference is fundamentally a political task, and it is here that political Islam will face its true test. The formal structures of government in the Middle East have proven durable, and they are unlikely to crumble under a wave of Islamic activism. For political Islam to succeed, it needs to find a way to unite diverse coalitions of varying faiths and degrees of faith, not merely speak to its base. It has not yet found a way to do so, but that is not to say that it cannot.


Why U.S. strategy on Iran is crumbling
Gulf states no longer want to isolate Iran.

By Marc Lynch
January 04, 2008

Washington – “Everywhere you turn, it is the policy of Iran to foment instability and chaos,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned Gulf dignitaries in Bahrain last month. But in reality, everywhere you turn, from Qatar to Saudi Arabia to Egypt, you now see Iranian leaders shattering longstanding taboos by meeting cordially with their Arab counterparts.

The Gulf has moved away from American arguments for isolating Iran. American policymakers need to do the same.

The states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) are accommodating themselves to Iran”s growing weight in the region”s politics. They remain key parts of America”s security architecture in the region, hosting massive US military bases and underwriting the American economy in exchange for protection. But as Saudi analyst Khalid al-Dakheel argues, they are no longer content sitting passively beneath the US security umbrella and want to avoid being a pawn in the US-Iranian struggle for power. Flush with cash, they are not interested in a war that would mess up business.

That”s why America”s attempt to shore up containment against Iran increasingly seems to be yesterday”s battle. On Dec. 3, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad addressed the GCC in Doha, Qatar. It was the first time an Iranian leader had addressed the alliance, which was formed in 1981 against the Iranian challenge.

Weeks later, Saudi King Abdullah invited Mr. Ahmadinejad to Saudi Arabia – the president”s third visit in a year – for the hajj, or Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. The king used the occasion to hold cordial talks.

Iran is even reaching out to Egypt. Ali Larijani, head of Iran”s National Security Council, visited Cairo recently for the highest level talks in 27 years. Afterward, Arab League chief Amr Moussa bluntly stated that there was no point in Arabs treating Iran as an enemy.

Gulf Arabs have thus visibly discarded the central pillar of the past year of America”s Middle East strategy. Saudis and Egyptians had been the prime movers in anti-Iranian and anti-Shiite agitation. When they are inviting Ahmadinejad and Mr. Larijani to their capitals, America”s talk of isolating Iran sounds outdated.

One hears little today of the “Shiite crescent” threatening the region, against which Arab officials once gravely warned. The Bush administration”s proposed “axis of moderation,” joining Sunni Arab states and Israel against Iran, has quietly passed from view.

Meanwhile, the GCC seems more unified and confident than it has in years. Earlier this week the six member countries agreed to form a common market. Saudi Arabia and Qatar have mended fences. Pressures for domestic political reforms have been largely defanged, and the oil bonanza has allowed Saudi Arabia to pursue an energetic foreign policy. The Gulf states won”t abandon their US protectors anytime soon, but they seem more willing than ever to act on their own initiative.

The emerging signs of a tentative thaw in the Gulf are not due solely to the release of the findings in last month”s National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) that Iran was no longer pursuing a nuclear weapons program. The NIE helped trigger the thaw by convincing Arabs that a US-led war against Iran had become much less likely. But it has long been clear that most Gulf rulers have no appetite for a war that would disrupt their economic boom and put them at the most risk. The Gulf media today speaks more of avoiding war than of fomenting it.

Even in Iraq, fears of a Saudi-Iranian proxy war have given way to hints of an emerging modus vivendi. Gulf regimes remain hostile to the pro-Iranian Iraqi government. But instead of trying to replace its Shiite leader, Nouri al-Maliki, they now seem satisfied that the rise of the Sunni “Awakenings” – US-backed neighborhood councils that have begun fighting Al Qaeda – will check Iranian ambitions. Saudi and Iranian clients in Iraq even seem to be carving out zones of influence, as suggested by recent talks between the Sunni Anbar Salvation Council and the Shiite Supreme Islamic Iraqi Council.

This is not to say that the Gulf states are comfortable with Iranian power. Anti-Shiite and anti-Persian sentiment exists throughout the Gulf. Iran”s territorial dispute with the United Arab Emirates generates considerable passion in that country. Few Gulf or Arab leaders publicly welcome an Iranian nuclear program. And Ahmadinejad”s proposal of a new Gulf security architecture including Iran was widely seen as an initiative for Iranian hegemony, not a genuine collective security arrangement.

Gulf states see Iran as a challenge that they have been dealing with for decades, not an urgent or existential threat. The shifting Arab approach may leave the US with little choice but to do the same. Just as America”s containment of Iraq began to collapse in the late 1990s when its Arab neighbors lost faith in the value of sanctions, the new Gulf attitudes will probably now shape what the US can do with Iran.

• Marc Lynch is a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.


Moderate Muslims in Southeast Asia organize to show true Islam to the world

By Beverly T. Natividad
Inquirer Dec. 13/2140 MANILA — Islam is not at odds with democracy.

This is the message of Southeast Asian Muslim moderates to the rest of the world who, stricken with fear of terrorism, may harbor biases against Islam. The moderate Muslims of Southeast Asia are banding together to make their voices heard in various regional and world discussions, particularly on the issues of peace and tolerance. In a press conference following the First Southeast Asian Forum on Islam and Democracy in Manila on Thursday, Amina Rasul, lead convenor of the Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy (PCID), said that the the regions Muslims committed to work together to emphasize the “moderate” voice of Muslims in the region.

A former senator and chair of the pro-literacy organization, Magbassa Kita Foundation, Santanina Rasul said that following the World Trade Center terrorist attack in New York on September 11, 2001, Muslims were made to appear to be in conflict with the rest of the world. The views of the Muslims, after that, were mostly represented by the Islamic extremists, she said.

“This forum will serve as a venue for the intellectual democrats of the region to project voices of Muslim moderates and not the views of the extremists. Finally the moderates will have a voice,” said Rasul.

A delegation made up of 44 experts and leaders representing various Islamic think tanks, universities, religious, and civil society groups from the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore gathered at the Manila Hotel this week as the country hosted the First Southeast Asian Forum on Islam and Democracy. As home to more than 200 million adherents of Islam, the forum highlighted the importance of representing the true voice of Islam in democratization and such pressing concerns such as ethnic conflicts, discrimination, and free and fair elections.

Dr. Syafii Anwar of the Jakarta-based International Center for Islam and Pluralism said in the briefing that the Southeast Asian forum would need time to expand and organize its network to be able to respond to issues affecting Muslims in the region.

For now, the group intends to use the forum to have a platform for the Muslims in the region in exchanging views and sharing experiences, according to him. In a statement, the regional forum said they wanted a mechanism to systematically engage and educate the world about the true tenets of the Islamic faith.

“Islam is often associated today with terrorism or violence. This is not a true reflection of Islamic values. Muslims, particularly Muslims in Southeast Asia, firmly believe in human rights, tolerance, and equality, as do the majority of Muslims in the world,” said the elder Rasul.

Islam and democracy in Southeast Asia

By Amina Rasul
Sunday, December 16, 2007

From Dec. 10 to 12, 44 sisters and brothers from Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia gathered at the historic Manila Hotel for the First South East Asian Forum on Islam and Democracy. This regional conference is the product of four previous roundtable discussions in the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The group represented a wide range of civil society organizations and leaders, many representing religious and political organizations.

The four previous roundtables were designed to give a platform to progressive Muslim voices for democracy, pluralism and tolerance in Southeast Asia. We hoped that we could build unity of purpose and strategies within the forces of reform and change, identify progressive actions and programs that advance democracy, pluralism and tolerance among Muslims in our countries and in the region.

We hoped that this conference would pave the way for the creation of a major regional organization, the South East Asian Forum on Islam and Democracy (SEAFID), promoting democratic efforts and allowing democracy and reform advocates to learn from each other”s experiences, hurdle our differences and harness what unites us as we work for our communities. During this 1st SEAFID, we had a two-point agenda: consensus on whether we could have a regional network and the priority areas we could work on together. We hoped; we did not expect. To everyone”s surprise and delight, not only did we attain consensus on the two points, we actually agreed on a draft charter, subject to further refinements as we did not have time to go into the important details.

Many believe that Islam and democracy are incompatible. The youngest participant in our conference, 18-year-old Rashad Ali from Malaysia, said that the first SEAFID showed that democracy is alive in our Muslim communities. He was referring to the debates we had and the consensus we achieved after heated discussions.

Proud as we all were of what we accomplished in two short days, we also realized that the task is not done: it has just started. We already have plans to convene the small charter drafting committee very soon so that we could thresh out the problem areas and incorporate the suggestions made by majority. The final charter might be agreed upon during SEAFID 2, perhaps in Jakarta next year.

During our first roundtable on Islam and Democracy in Manila in Sept. 2005, our keynote speaker was incoming ASEAN Secretary General Surin Pitsuwan. He noted that Muslims in southeast Asia must make the choice to live in an open and democratic society and make their own choices. He observed that while Southeast Asia is generally moderate, tolerant, and inclusive, and continues to enjoy economic growth and relative political stability, peace, and security for the past three decades, this prosperity and growth has been uneven as it benefited some, while it marginalized others. (In Thailand and in the Philippines, the Muslim communities are the most marginalized.)

This is where democratization becomes essential. Dr. Pitsuwan, a member of the Thai Parliament, also warned that competition in an open society be rules-based, and that all players must follow these rules (especially governments?).

Former President Fidel V. Ramos was our keynote speaker for SEAFID1. He picked up the thread which Dr. Pitsuwan spun two years ago. FVR spoke of the “Age of Democracy” that has engulfed practically all nations. He observed that, “From authoritarian dictatorship, democracy is now at least the nominal pattern of governance in most parts of Southeast Asia.” He cautioned, however: “The 2006 military coup in Thailand and the continuing repressive rule of the generals in Myanmar remind us how fragile democracies in our region can be.” His main point was this: economic progress, political stability and their sustainability is dependent on the consistency of democratic governance. (I wondered if this was a message for the Philippines.)

FVR, Surin Pitsuwan and all of us at SEAFID 1 are in agreement: As our governments try to speed up our integration into a globalizing, rapidly modernizing world, we – the peoples who should be represented by governments – must address the democracy deficits in our region if we are to survive, not to mention competitive. We, Muslim stakeholders in the Philippines and in the region, need to bring our voices together in a powerful chorus lest our governments forget that they represent us and move in a direction that will, in the end, put our communities in peril.

One of our vocal participants quoted theologian Niebuhr in response to the question about the compatibility of the need for democracy: “Man”s capacity for justice makes democracy possible, but man”s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary.” Amen, brother Khaleed.


THE FAITH DIVIDE – Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Muslim Dirty Laundry

By Eboo Patel

When I wrote an article for this website a few months ago called On Muslim Antisemitism, a Muslim friend of mine remarked, “What you say is true, but why do you have to air our dirty laundry?”

I stared at her in disbelief. Did she really think that the world was unaware of our dirty laundry?

The sad truth is that too many people think it’s the only kind of laundry Muslims have.

And one of the reasons for this is because mainstream Muslims aren’t talking openly about the problem.

My wife was at a dinner party last week and someone asked about the English woman in the Sudan who, at the urging of her Muslim students, named the class teddy bear Muhammad and received jail time and death threats for her efforts.

My wife’s friend asked: “Does Islam really say that she should be punished?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” my wife responded.

I understand why my wife took a pass. Mainstream Muslims are tired of being put on the defensive, of only being asked about their religion in relation to violence or the oppression of women, as if that’s all that Islam has ever or could ever produce.

But her friend still wanted an answer to her question. And if my wife wasn’t going to provide one, then she would have to find someone who would.

In this case, it was Ayaan Hirsi Ali, who wrote an OpEd in The New York Times effectively stating that Islam requires Muslims to severely punish teachers who name teddy bears Muhammad (Sudan), rape victims who are accused of being in the presence of a man who is not a family member (Saudi Arabia) and female writers who criticize Islam (India).

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is right on two important points. The first is that all of these punishments are appalling and brutal. The second is that moderate Muslims should be louder about these matters. There are some things that are true even if Ayaan Hirsi Ali believes them.

And once moderate Muslims are louder, not in the form of angry indignation but as eloquent articulators of the depth and meaning of their faith, then people like Ayaan Hirsi Ali will suddenly find themselves consigned to the place where they should have been all along: the margins, where they can froth at the mouth all they want.

Hirsi Ali and people like her are widely-read because they offer a theory of the problem: they tell the world a convincing story of why Muslims keep popping up on the front pages of newspapers in negative articles. Hirsi Ali’s theory, and the theory of other Islamophobes, is that Muslims have dirty laundry because the body and soul of Islam are dirty.

Hirsi Ali ends her Times OpEd with a subtle but scathing indictment of Islam – that it is a tradition opposed to conscience and compassion. “When a “moderate” Muslim’s sense of compassion and conscience collides with matters prescribed by Allah, he should choose compassion,” she writes.

I wonder if my wife’s dinner part friend thinks that’s true. As far as I know, it’s the only theory that she’s heard.

A lesson for mainstream Muslims: Whenever you don’t offer a theory of the problem, someone else will. When there is a vacuum of information about a hot topic and you don’t fill it, other people will aggressively move in.

Too many mainstream Muslims believe they have only two options in the face of the current discourse on Islam: angry indignation or stony silence.

I believe there is a third way. It is what University of Michigan Professor Sherman Jackson, one of America’s leading scholars of Islam, calls ‘Islamic literacy’.

Here is how someone literate in Islam, Muslim or not, might have responded to Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s contention that Islam and compassionate conscience are mutually exclusive. First, by saying that there should be no excuses made for those who sought the punishments in any of the three cases she named. They were indeed brutal, and as such, were in conflict with the core ethos of Islam – compassion and mercy, which are enshrined both in the Muslim tradition and in the human conscience.

Compassion and mercy are the two most repeated qualities of God in Islam, best illustrated by the most common Muslim prayer, “Bismillah Ar-Rahman Ar-Rahim” – In the name of God, the Most Compassionate, the most Merciful. As they are qualities of God, they are attributes that Muslims are required to emulate.

Compassion and mercy are also enshrined in the first lesson that classical Muslim scholars would teach their students, what came to be known as the Tradition of Primacy in Islam: “If you are merciful to those on Earth, then He who is in Heaven will be merciful to you.”
Islam, like other traditions, has internal contradictions. The Qur’an and Muslim law say different things in different places. That is precisely why compassion and mercy play such an important role in Muslim interpretation and practice. When in doubt about how to deal with a particular situation, a Muslim should always be guided by compassion and mercy.

Compassion and mercy are given to human beings by God – they are the content of our conscience. Dr. Umar Abdallah, the most senior scholar in Western Islam, writes in one of the most important essays in contemporary Islam that mercy is the central quality that God “stamped” on His creation.

Fazlur Rahman, amongst the most widely-respected Muslim scholars of the twentieth century (and Dr. Umar’s intellectual mentor), wrote that the single most important term in the Qur’an is “taqwa”, which translates roughly as “God-consciousness” or “inner torch” or “conscience.”

Khaled Abou El Fadl, one of America’s most important scholars of Islamic thought and law, believes that people are required to bring their God-given compassion to the reading of the text of the Qur’an. “The text will morally enrich the reader, but only if the reader will morally enrich the text.,” he writes in a remarkable essay called The Place of Tolerance in Islam.

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, the most prominent Muslim scholar and preacher in the West, wrote in a piece for this website, “Unfortunately, millions of Muslims all over the globe are humiliated and betrayed by the ignorance and lack of basic humanity that a small minority of Muslims too often exhibits.”

He continued, “True religion – as well as the highest secular values – demands we … attempt to understand each other, recognize our real differences, and display mutual respect.”
That is a statement of both liberation and guidance for mainstream Muslims. Muslims who speak only of brutality and severity and punishment are not just betraying mainstream Muslims, they are violating our tradition. They do not speak for us. We are not required to defend them.

To mainstream Muslims everywhere: When we act and speak with compassion and conviction and knowledge, even about our ‘dirty laundry’, we are following the straight path of our faith, educating those with genuine questions about Islam, marginalizing people with destructive agendas, and doing our part to build a world based on understanding and respect.

Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. His blog, The Faith Divide, explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. more »


Vatican, Muslims Plan “Historic” Meeting

By Nicole Winfield
The Associated Press
Wednesday, January 2, 2008

VATICAN CITY — A meeting between Catholics and Muslims is planned in Rome this spring to start a dialogue between the faiths after relations were soured by Pope Benedict XVI”s 2006 comments about Islam and holy war, Vatican officials said.

Benedict proposed the encounter as his official response to an open letter addressed to him and other Christian leaders in October by 138 Muslim scholars from around the world. The letter urged Christians and Muslims to develop their common ground of belief in one God.

The head of the Vatican”s Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue, Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran, told the Vatican newspaper L”Osservatore Romano over the weekend that three representatives of the scholars would come to Rome in February or March to prepare for the meeting. He did not give a date for the meeting, other than say it would take place in the spring.

The agenda, he said, would cover three main topics: respect for the dignity of each person, interreligious dialogue based on reciprocal understanding, and instruction of tolerance among the young.

“The meeting with a delegation of some of the 138 Muslims, planned for Rome next spring, is in a certain sense historic,” Tauran was quoted by L”Osservatore as saying.

Benedict angered Muslims with a speech in September 2006 in Germany in which he cited a Medieval text that characterized some of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad as “evil and inhuman,” particularly “his command to spread by the sword the faith.”

The pope later said he was “deeply sorry” over the reactions to his remarks and that they did not reflect his own opinions. The Vatican has been working ever since to improve relations with moderate Muslims.


The Challenge of Democracy
A process of change and experimentation is unfolding in the political and social landscape of the Middle East

By John Esposito

The modern Muslim political experience has been one of kings, military, and ex-military rulers and regimes, possessing tenuous legitimacy and propped up by military and security forces. Indeed, the states of Arab world are commonly referred to as security (mukhabarat) states. At the same time, some self-styled Islamic governments and Islamic movements have often projected a religious authoritarianism which parallels that of secular authoritarianism.

However, since the late 20th century, calls for greater liberalization and democratization from North Africa to Southeast Asia have increased. In many countries, diverse sectors of society, secular and religious, leftist and rightist, educated and uneducated increasingly use broader political participation and democratization as the litmus test by which to judge the legitimacy of governments and political movements alike.

Democratization and Islam in the Late 20th Century

The voices of many in the West, who, after the fall of the Soviet Union, called for democratic initiatives in Eastern Europe, and Africa, often seemed muted when addressing the Middle East and the broader Muslim world. If democracy in the Muslim world was under siege, it was as much from governments and the media as from radical and extremist Islamists. Muslim governments such as Tunisia, Egypt and Saudi Arabia used fear of the spread of fundamentalism as an excuse for discouraging the promotion of democracy. U.S governments both under Presidents Bush H. Bush and William J. Clinton were ambivalent at best. Many, though certainly not all, policymakers and analysts spoke not only of the danger that fundamentalists would “hijack democracy” but also argued that Islam and Arab or Muslim culture are antithetical to democracy and human rights.

The economic failures of many Muslim societies in the late 1980s and 1990s such as Tunisia, Algeria, Jordan, and Turkey led to calls for greater power sharing or democratization, transparency, freedoms and human rights. It also enabled many Islamic activists to assert their influence and power in mainstream society through ballots not bullets, emerging as the political alternative and opposition in elections.

Despite the tendency to project a monolithic “Islamic fundamentalism,” militant and extremist, the reality proved far more complex. Diversity and variety, dynamism and flexibility, mainstream and extremist account for a force that continues to be present from Africa to Asia. Islamists emerged as the leading opposition in Tunisia, Morocco, Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait. In Algeria and Turkey, Islamists emerged as winners. As a result, Islamists served as prime minister, speaker of the assembly, parliamentarians, cabinet ministers, and mayors. While countries like Tunisia and Algeria moved quickly to shut down and suppress their Islamist opposition, mainstream as well as extremist, others sought to limit and contain Islamists participation. At the same time, Islamists increasingly dominated professional association (lawyers, doctors, engineers, journalists) elections and civil society.

Democratization Post 9/11

The shock and impact of 9/11 and continued threat of global terrorism from Morocco to Mindanao enabled Muslim rulers in Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, and the Central Asian Republics as well as the governments of Israel, India, China and the Philippines to exploit the danger of Islamic radicalism and global terrorism. This tactic enabled them to deflect from their suppression of opposition movements, mainstream as well as extremists, and/or to attract American and European aid. At the same time, elections Bahrain, Morocco, Pakistan, Turkey, Afghanistan, Iraq, Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia and electoral politics in Kuwait, Qatar and Bangladesh have reinforced both the continued saliency of democracy and, in particular, the role of religion in electoral politics.

The victory of Turkey”s Justice and Development Party (commonly called the AK Party) with a parliamentary majority in a Muslim country that has long been seen as a symbol of secularism in the Middle East Islam, was a stunning achievement with potential lessons for other countries. Turkey, a key ally in NATO and in the confrontation with Iraq, elected AK, a party with Islamist roots (originating from the former Welfare and Virtue parties). AK’s success was due to the continued failures of Turkey’s established parties and AK’s ability not only to develop a broad based party but also to offer an alternative political and economic vision. The AK-led Turkish government not only has responded successfully to domestic issues such as economic development but also proved successful internationally, working with Europe, the U.S. and the international community while retaining Turkey’s independence.

The Bush administration, having turned in 2002 to democratization as a justification for the invasion of Iraq, has in its second term spoken in far more ambitious terms than and of its predecessors about its commitment to promote the spread of democracy in the Middle East and broader Muslim world. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice, during her June 20, 2005 visit to Cairo, stated: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East — and we achieved neither. Now, we are taking a different course.” And yet, America’s record like that of some of its Muslim allies (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and Jordan) has been checkered and inconsistent. In Central Asia, United States perceived security needs have been given higher priority in Uzbekistan than the promotion of basic human rights as witnessed most glaringly in the U.S. slow equivocating response to the Andijan massacre of May 13, 2005.

The U.S. approach to promoting democracy in Iraq was deeply flawed, from dealing with the emergence of the Shii religious leaders, parties and institutions, the contrasting roles of clergy like Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Ali Al-Hussaini Al-Sistani and the militant Muqtedar al-Sadr, role of religion in Iraq’s democratization process, and the place of Islam in the new government and constitution.

Muslim rulers and autocratic governments, self styled “Islamic” as well as more secular, however different, often fail to transcend the culture and values of authoritarianism. Many have taken advantage of the post 9/11 climate to foster American support despite the administrations commitment to democracy. Islam Abdughanievich Karimov has become more despotic in Uzbekistan, Tunisia’s Zeine Abedin Ben Ali’s has continued his tight control and dominance of electoral politics and suppression of opposition. While Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan have ostensibly moved to increase political participation, the process has been tightly managed and controlled by the government and often accompanied by crackdowns against the emergence of any significant political party or opposition.

At the same time, it is important to remember that broader participation in elections or the greater role of political parties does not in itself guarantee the development and internalization of a culture and values of democratization or power-sharing. Muslim democrats will continue to be challenged to demonstrate that when in power they too will value political pluralism that their democratic aspiration is not to come to power in order to impose their new “enlightened” democratic government. The litmus test for their internalization of the principles and values of democracy will be the extent to which their policies and actions reflect an acceptance of basic democratic freedoms, diversity of opinion, of political parties and civil society organizations, and appreciation of the concept of a “loyal opposition” rather than viewing alternative voices and political visions as a threat to the political system.

Democratization is occurring on the ground in an increasing number of Muslim countries and the desire for broader power sharing remains a popular demand in many Muslim societies. However, the issue of Islam and democracy remains a challenge for all parties. Islamic movements, in light of examples from Iran, Sudan, and the Taliban’s Afghanistan as the examples of extremist groups, are challenged to prove by their actions as well as their promises that when elected they will honor the very rights of minorities and opposition groups that they now demand for themselves. They are challenged to be as vociferous in their denunciation of extremism and terrorism done in the name of Islam as they are of government repression and western imperialism. Like governments, they must acknowledge that religious authoritarianism is as objectionable and dangerous as secular forms of authoritarianism.

Governments in the Muslim world are challenged to demonstrate their commitment to political liberalization and human rights by fostering the development of those institutions and values that support democratization and by implementing policies that discriminate between organizations, secular or Islamic, that directly threaten the freedom and stability of society and those that are willing to participate in a process of gradual change from within the system. The credibility of Egypt’s electoral reforms has been greatly undermined by the continued propensity of the Mubarak government to arrest its critics from opposition parties and the Muslim Brotherhood. The government tolerated violence in May by pro-government mobs that attacked and beat demonstrators from the Kifaya (Enough) movement while police looked on in the streets of Cairo detracted from the nationwide referendum on multi-party elections. As Human Rights watch reported: “plainclothes security agents beat demonstrators, and riot police allowed—and sometimes encouraged—mobs of Mubarak supporters to beat and sexually assault protestors and journalists.” The positive potential and impact of Saudi Arabia’s municipal elections have been lessened by its forceful suppression and imprisonment of reformers and continued reports of religious harassment and arrest of Indian and Pakistani Christian workers.

Western governments that advocate the promotion of self determination and democracy must demonstrate by their policies and public statements that they respect the right of any and all movements, religious as well as secular, to participate within the political process. The policy failures and hypocrisy evident in European and American responses towards the subversion of the electoral process in Algeria, the indiscriminate repression of the Renaissance Party in Tunisia, and the attempt “to manage” and determine the process of democratization in Iraq must be avoided in the future if the West is to avoid the charge that it operates on double standard, one for the West itself and selected allies and another for Islamic movements and candidates. Respect and support of the democratic process and human rights must be seen as truly universal. If the Bush administration and its European allies equivocate in the promotion of democratization in the Muslim world, conditions that breed terrorism and anti westernism will continue as will the threat of global terrorism to national and global security.


The issues of democratization and of Islam remain central to the development of the Middle East and the Muslim world in the 21st century. Observers of the Middle East and broader Muslim world will need to remember that we are watching a process unfold, a process of experimentation and change. The Western experience of democratization was a process of trial and error, accompanied by civil wars and intellectual and religious conflicts. So too in the Middle East today, societies that attempt to reevaluate and redefine the nature of government and of political participation as well as the role of religious identity and values in society will in many cases undergo a fragile process of trial and error in which short term risks will be the price for potential long term gains. Autocratic governments may be able to derail or stifle the process of change; however they will merely delay the inevitable. The realities of most Muslim societies and the aspirations of many citizens as well as the example of the struggle for democratization in other parts of the world will require greater political liberalization or continue to contribute to the conditions that contribute to the growth of radicalization, political instability and global terrorism.


The 2007 Irving Kristol Lecture by Bernard Lewis

Bernard Lewis” Lecture on Europe and Islam
AEI Annual Dinner, Irving Kristol Lecture (Washington)
Publication Date: March 7, 2007

Thank you, Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, ladies and gentlemen. As you have been told, I have studied a number of languages, but I cannot find words in any of them adequate to express my feeling of gratitude for the honor and appreciation which I have been shown this evening. All I can say is thank you.

My topic this evening is Europe and Islam. But let me begin with a word of personal explanation. You are accustomed for the most part to hearing from people with direct practical involvement in military and intelligence matters. I cannot offer you that. My direct involvement with military and intelligence matters ended quite a long time ago–to be precise, on 31 August 1945, when I left His Majesty”s Service and returned to the university to join with colleagues in trying to cope with a six-year backlog of battle-scarred undergraduates.

What I would like to try and offer you this evening is something of the lessons of history. Here I must begin with a second disavowal. It is sometimes forgotten that the content of history, the business of the historian, is the past, not the future. I remember being at an international meeting of historians in Rome during which a group of us were sitting and discussing the question: should historians attempt to predict the future? We batted this back and forth. This was in the days when the Soviet Union was still alive and well. One of our Soviet colleagues finally intervened and said, “In the Soviet Union, the most difficult task of the historian is to predict the past.”

I do not intend to offer any predictions of the future in Europe or the Middle East, but one thing can legitimately be expected of the historian, and that is to identify trends and processes – to look at the trends in the past, at what is continuing in the present, and therefore to see the possibilities and choices which will face us in the future.

One other introductory word. A favorite theme of the historian, as I am sure you know, is periodization–dividing history into periods. Periodization is mostly a convenience of the historian for purposes of writing or teaching. Nevertheless, there are times in the long history of the human adventure when we have a real turning point, a major change–the end of an era, the beginning of a new era. I am becoming more and more convinced that we are in such an age at the present time–a change in history comparable with such events as the fall of Rome, the discovery of America, and the like. I will try to explain that.

Conventionally, the modern history of the Middle East begins at the end of the 18th century, when a small French expeditionary force commanded by a young general called Napoleon Bonaparte was able to conquer Egypt and rule it with impunity. It was a terrible shock that one of the heartlands of Islam could be invaded, occupied, and ruled with virtually no effective resistance.

The second shock came a few years later with the departure of the French, which was brought about not by the Egyptians nor by their suzerains, the Turks, but by a small squadron of the Royal Navy commanded by a young admiral called Horatio Nelson, who drove the French out and back to France.

This is of symbolic importance. That was, as I said, at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century. From then onward, the heartlands of Islam were no longer wholly controlled by the rulers of Islam. They were under direct or indirect influence or control from outside.

The dominating forces in the Islamic world were now outside forces. What shaped their lives was Western influence. What gave them choices was Western rivalries. The political game that they could play–the only one that was open to them–was to try and profit from the rivalries between the outside powers, to try to use them against one another. We see that again and again in the course of the 19th and 20th and even into the beginning of the 21st century. We see, for example, in the First World War, the Second World War, and the Cold War, how Middle Eastern governments or leaders tried to play this game with varying degrees of success.

That game is now over. The era that was inaugurated by Napoleon and Nelson was terminated by Reagan and Gorbachev. The Middle East is no longer ruled or dominated by outside powers. These nations are having some difficulty adjusting to this new situation, to taking responsibility for their own actions and their consequences, and so on. But they are beginning to do so, and this change has been expressed with his usual clarity and eloquence by Osama bin Laden.

We see with the ending of the era of outside domination, the reemergence of certain older trends and deeper currents in Middle Eastern history, which had been submerged or at least obscured during the centuries of Western domination. Now they are coming back again. One of them I would call the internal struggles–ethnic, sectarian, regional–between different forces within the Middle East. These have of course continued, but were of less importance in the imperialist era. They are coming out again now and gaining force, as we see for example from the current clash between Sunni and Shia Islam–something without precedent for centuries.

The other thing more directly relevant to my theme this evening is the signs of a return among Muslims to what they perceive as the cosmic struggle for world domination between the two main faiths–Christianity and Islam. There are many religions in the world, but as far as I know there are only two that have claimed that their truths are not only universal–all religions claim that–but also exclusive; that they–the Christians in the one case, the Muslims in the other–are the fortunate recipients of God”s final message to humanity, which it is their duty not to keep selfishly to themselves–like the Jews or the Hindus–but to bring to the rest of humanity, removing whatever obstacles there may be on the way. This self-perception, shared between Christendom and Islam, led to the long struggle that has been going on for more than fourteen centuries and which is now entering a new phase. In the Christian world, now at the beginning of the 21st century of its era, this triumphalist attitude no longer prevails,
and is confined to a few minority groups. In the world of Islam, now in its early 15th century, triumphalism is still a significant force, and has found expression in new militant movements.

It is interesting that both sides for quite a long time refused to recognize this struggle. For example, both sides named each other by non-religious terms. The Christian world called the Muslims Moors, Saracens, Tartars, and Turks. Even a convert was said to have turned Turk. The Muslims for their part called the Christian world Romans, Franks, Slavs, and the like. It was only slowly and reluctantly that they began to give each other religious designations and then these were for the most part demeaning and inaccurate. In the West, it was customary to call Muslims Mohammadans, which they never called themselves, based on the totally false assumption that Muslims worship Muhammad in the way that Christians worship Christ. The Muslim term for Christians was Nazarene–nasrani–implying the local cult of a place called Nazareth.

The declaration of war begins at the very beginning of Islam. There are certain letters purported to have been written by the Prophet Muhammad to the Christian Byzantine emperor, the emperor of Persia, and various other rulers, saying, “I have now brought God”s final message. Your time has passed. Your beliefs are superseded. Accept my mission and my faith or resign or submit–you are finished.” The authenticity of these prophetic letters is doubted, but the message is clear and authentic in the sense that it does represent the long dominant view of the Islamic world.

A little later we have hard evidence–and I mean hard in the most literal sense–inscriptions. Many of you, I should think, have been to Jerusalem. You have probably visited that remarkable building, the Dome of the Rock. It is very significant. It is built on a place sacred to the Judeo-Christian tradition. Its architectural style is that of the earliest Christian churches. It dates from the end of the 7th century and was built by one of the early caliphs, the oldest Muslim religious building outside Arabia. What is significant is the message in the inscriptions inside the Dome: “He is God, He is one, He has no companion, He does not beget, He is not begotten.” (cf. Qur”an, IX, 31-3; CXII, 1-3) This is clearly a direct challenge to certain central principles of the Christian faith.

Interestingly, they put the same thing on a new gold coinage. Until then, striking gold coins had been an exclusive Roman privilege. The Islamic caliph for the first time struck gold coins, breaching the immemorial privilege of Rome, and putting the same inscription on them. As I said, a challenge.

The Muslim attack on Christendom and the resulting conflict, which arose more from their resemblances than from their differences, has gone through three phases. The first dates from the very beginning of Islam, when the new faith spilled out of the Arabian Peninsula, where it was born, into the Middle East and beyond. It was then that they conquered Syria, Palestine, Egypt, and North Africa–all at that time part of the Christian world–and went beyond into Europe, conquering a sizable part of southwestern Europe, including Spain, Portugal, and southern Italy, all of which became part of the Islamic world, and even crossing the Pyrenees into France and occupying for a while parts of France.

After a long and bitter struggle, the Christians managed to retake part but not all of the territory they had lost. They succeeded in Europe, and in a sense Europe was defined by the limits of that success. They failed to retake North Africa or the Middle East, which were lost to Christendom. Notably, they failed to recapture the Holy Land, in the series of campaigns known as the Crusades.

That was not the end of the matter. In the meantime the Islamic world, having failed the first time, was bracing for the second attack, this time conducted not by Arabs and Moors but by Turks and Tartars. In the mid-thirteenth century the Mongol conquerors of Russia were converted to Islam. The Turks, who had already conquered Anatolia, advanced into Europe and in 1453 they captured the ancient Christian citadel of Constantinople. They conquered a large part of the Balkans, and for a while ruled half of Hungary. Twice they reached as far as Vienna, to which they laid siege in 1529 and again in 1683. Barbary corsairs from North Africa–well-known to historians of the United States–were raiding Western Europe. They went to Iceland–the uttermost limit–and to several places in Western Europe, including notably a raid on Baltimore (the original one, in Ireland) in 1631. In a contemporary document, we have a list of 107 captives who were taken from Baltimore to Algiers, including a man called Cheney.

Again, Europe counterattacked, this time more successfully and more rapidly. They succeeded in recovering Russia and the Balkan Peninsula, and in advancing further into the Islamic lands, chasing their former rulers whence they had come. For this phase of European counterattack, a new term was invented: imperialism. When the peoples of Asia and Africa invaded Europe, this was not imperialism. When Europe attacked Asia and Africa, it was.

This European counterattack began a new phase which brought the European attack into the very heart of the Middle East. In our own time, we have seen the end of the resulting domination.

Osama bin Laden, in some very interesting proclamations and declarations, has this to say about the war in Afghanistan which, you will remember, led to the defeat and retreat of the Red Army and the collapse of the Soviet Union. We tend to see that as a Western victory, more specifically an American victory, in the Cold War against the Soviets. For Osama bin Laden, it was nothing of the kind. It is a Muslim victory in a jihad. If one looks at what happened in Afghanistan and what followed, this is, I think one must say, a not implausible interpretation.

As Osama bin Laden saw it, Islam had reached the ultimate humiliation in this long struggle after World War I, when the last of the great Muslim empires–the Ottoman Empire–was broken up and most of its territories divided between the victorious allies; when the caliphate was suppressed and abolished, and the last caliph driven into exile. This seemed to be the lowest point in Muslim history. From there they went upwards.

In his perception, the millennial struggle between the true believers and the unbelievers had gone through successive phases, in which the latter were led by the various imperial European powers that had succeeded the Romans in the leadership of the world of the infidels–the Christian Byzantine Empire, the Holy Roman Empire, the British and French and Russian empires. In this final phase, he says, the world of the infidels was divided and disputed between two rival superpowers, the United States and the Soviet Union. In his perception, the Muslims have met, defeated, and destroyed the more dangerous and the more deadly of the two infidel superpowers. Dealing with the soft, pampered and effeminate Americans would be an easy matter.

This belief was confirmed in the 1990s when we saw one attack after another on American bases and installations with virtually no effective response of any kind–only angry words and expensive missiles dispatched to remote and uninhabited places. The lessons of Vietnam and Beirut were confirmed by Mogadishu. “Hit them, and they”ll run.” This was the perceived sequence leading up to 9/11. That attack was clearly intended to be the completion of the first sequence and the beginning of the new one, taking the war into the heart of the enemy camp.

In the eyes of a fanatical and resolute minority of Muslims, the third wave of attack on Europe has clearly begun. We should not delude ourselves as to what it is and what it means. This time it is taking different forms and two in particular: terror and migration.

The subject of terror has been frequently discussed and in great detail, and I do not need to say very much about that now. What I do want to talk about is the other aspect of more particular relevance to Europe, and that is the question of migration.

In earlier times, it was inconceivable that a Muslim would voluntarily move to a non-Muslim country. The jurists discuss this subject at great length in the textbooks and manuals of shari`a, but in a different form: is it permissible for a Muslim to live in or even visit a non-Muslim country? And if so, if he does, what must he do? Generally speaking, this was considered under certain specific headings.

A captive or a prisoner of war obviously has no choice, but he must preserve his faith and get home as soon as possible.

The second case is that of an unbeliever in the land of the unbelievers who sees the light and embraces the true faith–in other words, becomes a Muslim. He must leave as soon as possible and go to a Muslim country.

The third case is that of a visitor. For long, the only purpose that was considered legitimate was to ransom captives. This was later expanded into diplomatic and commercial missions. With the advance of the European counterattack, there was a new issue in this ongoing debate. What is the position of a Muslim if his country is conquered by infidels? May he stay or must he leave?

We have some interesting documents from the late 15th century, when the reconquest of Spain was completed and Moroccan jurists were discussing this question. They asked if Muslims could stay. The general answer was no, it is not permissible. The question was asked: May they stay if the Christian government that takes over is tolerant? This proved to be a purely hypothetical question, of course. The answer was no; even then they may not stay, because the temptation to apostasy would be even greater. They must leave and hope that in God”s good time they will be able to reconquer their homelands and restore the true faith.

This was the line taken by most jurists. There were some, at first a minority, later a more important group, who said it is permissible for Muslims to stay provided that certain conditions are met, mainly that they are allowed to practice their faith. This raises another question which I will come back to in a moment: what is meant by practicing their faith? Here I would remind you that we are dealing not only with a different religion but also with a different concept of what religion is about, referring especially to what Muslims call the shari`a, the holy law of Islam, covering a wide range of matters regarded as secular in the Christian world even during the medieval period, but certainly in what some call the post-Christian era of the Western world.

There are obviously now many attractions which draw Muslims to Europe including the opportunities offered, particularly in view of the growing economic impoverishment of much of the Muslim world, and the attractions of European welfare as well as employment. They also have freedom of expression and education which they lack at home. This is a great incentive to the terrorists who migrate. Terrorists have far greater freedom of preparation and operation in Europe–and to a degree also in America–than they do in most Islamic lands.

I would like to draw your attention to some other factors of importance in the situation at this moment. One is the new radicalism in the Islamic world, which comes in several kinds: Sunni, especially Wahhabi, and Iranian Shiite, dating from the Iranian revolution. Both of these are becoming enormously important factors. We have the strange paradox that the danger of Islamic radicalism or of radical terrorism is far greater in Europe and America than it is in the Middle East and North Africa, where they are much better at controlling their extremists than we are.

The Sunni kind is mainly Wahhabi and has benefited from the prestige and influence and power of the House of Saud as controllers of the holy places of Islam and of the annual pilgrimage, and the enormous oil wealth at their disposal. The Iranian revolution is something different. The term revolution is much used in the Middle East. It is virtually the only generally accepted title of legitimacy. But the Iranian revolution is a real revolution in the sense in which we use that term of the French or Russian revolutions. Like the French and Russian revolutions in their day, it has had an enormous impact in the whole area with which the Iranians share a common universe of discourse–that is to say, the Islamic world.

Let me turn to the question of assimilation, which is much discussed nowadays. How far is it possible for Muslim migrants who have settled in Europe, in North America, and elsewhere, to become part of those countries in which they settle, in the way that so many other waves of immigrants have done? I think there are several points which need to be made.

One of them is the basic differences in what precisely is meant by assimilation and acceptance. Here there is an immediate and obvious difference between the European and the American situations. For an immigrant to become an American means a change of political allegiance. For an immigrant to become a Frenchman or a German means a change of ethnic identity. Changing political allegiance is certainly very much easier and more practical than changing ethnic identity, either in one”s own feelings or in one”s measure of acceptance. England had it both ways. If you were naturalized, you became British but you did not become English.

I mentioned earlier the important difference in what one means by religion. For Muslims, it covers a whole range of different things–marriage, divorce, and inheritance are the most obvious examples. Since antiquity in the Western world, the Christian world, these have been secular matters. The distinction of church and state, spiritual and temporal, lay and ecclesiastical is a Christian distinction which has no place in Islamic history and therefore is difficult to explain to Muslims, even in the present day. Until very recently they did not even have a vocabulary to express it. They have one now.

What are the European responses to this situation? In Europe, as in the United States, a frequent response is what is variously known as multiculturalism and political correctness. In the Muslim world there are no such inhibitions. They are very conscious of their identity. They know who they are and what they are and what they want, a quality which we seem to have lost to a very large extent. This is a source of strength in the one, of weakness in the other.

A term sometimes used is constructive engagement. Let”s talk to them, let”s get together and see what we can do. Constructive engagement has a long tradition. When Saladin re-conquered Jerusalem and other places in the holy land, he allowed the Christian merchants from Europe to stay in the seaports. He apparently felt the need to justify this, and he wrote a letter to the caliph in Baghdad explaining his action. I would like to quote it to you. The merchants were useful since “there is not one among them that does not bring and sell us weapons of war, to their detriment and to our advantage.” This continued during the Crusades. It continued after. It continued during the Ottoman advance into Europe, when they could always find European merchants willing to sell them weapons they needed and European bankers willing to finance their purchases. Constructive engagement has a long history.

One also finds a rather startling modern version of it. We have seen in our own day the extraordinary spectacle of a pope apologizing to the Muslims for the Crusades. I would not wish to defend the behavior of the Crusaders, which was in many respects atrocious. But let us have a little sense of proportion. We are now expected to believe that the Crusades were an unwarranted act of aggression against a peaceful Muslim world. Hardly. The first papal call for a crusade occurred in 846 C.E., when an Arab expedition from Sicily sailed up the Tiber and sacked St. Peter”s in Rome. A synod in France issued an appeal to Christian sovereigns to rally against “the enemies of Christ,” and the Pope, Leo IV, offered a heavenly reward to those who died fighting the Muslims. A century and a half and many battles later, in 1096, the Crusaders actually arrived in the Middle East. The Crusades were a late, limited, and unsuccessful imitation of the jihad–an attempt to recover by holy war what had been lost by holy war. It failed, and it was not followed up.

Here is another more recent example of multiculturalism. On October 8, 2002–I insist on giving the date because you may want to look it up–the then French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who I am told is a staunch Roman Catholic, was making a speech in the French National Assembly and talking about the situation in Iraq. Speaking of Saddam Hussein, he remarked that one of Saddam Hussein”s heroes was his compatriot Saladin, who came from the same Iraqi town of Tikrit. In case the members of the Assembly were not aware of Saladin”s identity, M. Raffarin explained to them that it was he who was able “to defeat the Crusaders and liberate Jerusalem.” Yes. When a French prime minister describes Saladin”s capture of Jerusalem from the largely French Crusaders as an act of liberation, this would seem to indicate a rather extreme case of realignment of loyalties.

I was told this, and I didn”t believe it. So I checked it in the parliamentary record. When M. Raffarin used the word “liberate,” a member–the name was not given–called out, “Libérer?” He just went straight on. That was the only interruption, and as far as I was aware there was no comment afterwards.

The Islamic radicals have even been able to find some allies in Europe. In describing them I shall have to use the terms left and right, terms which are becoming increasingly misleading. The seating arrangements in the first French National Assembly after the revolution are not the laws of nature, but we have become accustomed to using them. They are difficult when applied to the West nowadays. They are utter nonsense when applied to different brands of Islam. But as I say, they are what people use, so let us put it this way.

They have a left-wing appeal to the anti-U.S. elements in Europe, for whom they have so-to-speak replaced the Soviets. They have a right-wing appeal to the anti-Jewish elements in Europe, replacing the Axis. They have been able to win considerable support under both headings. For some in Europe, their hatreds apparently outweigh their loyalties.

There is an interesting exception to that in Germany, where the Muslims are mostly Turkish. There they have often tended to equate themselves with the Jews, to see themselves as having succeeded the Jews as the victims of German racism and persecution. I remember a meeting in Berlin convened to discuss the new Muslim minorities in Europe. In the evening I was asked by a Muslim group of Turks to join them and hear what they had to say about it, which was very interesting. The phrase which sticks most vividly in my mind from one of them was, “In a thousand years they (the Germans) were unable to accept 400,000 Jews. What hope is there that they will accept two million Turks?” They used this very skillfully in playing on German feelings of guilt in order to inhibit any effective German measures to protect German identity, which I would say like others in Europe is becoming endangered.

My time is running out so I think I”ll leave other points that I wanted to make. [Shouts to go on.] You don”t mind a bit more?

I want to say something about the question of tolerance. You will recall that at the end of the first phase of the Christian reconquest, after Spain and Portugal and Sicily, Muslims–who by that time were very numerous in the reconquered lands–were given a choice: baptism, exile, or death. In the former Ottoman lands in southeastern Europe, the leaders of what you might call the reconquest were somewhat more tolerant but not a great deal more. Some Muslim minorities remained in some Balkan countries, with troubles still going on at the present day. If I say names like Kosovo or Bosnia, you will know what I am talking about.

Nevertheless, I mention this point because of the very sharp contrast with the treatment of Christians and other non-Muslims in the Islamic lands at that time. When Muslims came to Europe they had a certain expectation of tolerance, feeling that they were entitled to at least the degree of tolerance which they had accorded to non-Muslims in the great Muslim empires of the past. Both their expectations and their experience were very different.

Coming to European countries, they got both more and less than they had expected: More in the sense that they got in theory and often in practice equal political rights, equal access to the professions, all the benefits of the welfare state, freedom of expression, and so on and so forth.

But they also got significantly less than they had given in traditional Islamic states. In the Ottoman Empire and other states before that–I mention the Ottoman Empire as the most recent–the non-Muslim communities had separate organizations and ran their own affairs. They collected their own taxes and enforced their own laws. There were several Christian communities, each living under its own leadership, recognized by the state. These communities were running their own schools, their own education systems, administering their own laws in such matters as marriage, divorce, inheritance, and the like. The Jews did the same.

So you had a situation in which three men living in the same street could die and their estates would be distributed under three different legal systems if one happened to be Jewish, one Christian, and one Muslim. A Jew could be punished by a rabbinical court and jailed for violating the Sabbath or eating on Yom Kippur. A Christian could be arrested and imprisoned for taking a second wife. Bigamy is a Christian offense; it was not an Islamic or an Ottoman offense.

They do not have that degree of independence in their own social and legal life in the modern state. It is quite unrealistic for them to expect it, given the nature of the modern state, but that is not how they see it. They feel that they are entitled to receive what they gave. As one Muslim friend of mine in Europe put it, “We allowed you to practice monogamy, why should you not allow us to practice polygamy?”

Such questions–polygamy, in particular–raise important issues of a more practical nature. Isn”t an immigrant who is permitted to come to France or Germany entitled to bring his family with him? But what exactly does his family consist of? They are increasingly demanding and getting permission to bring plural wives. The same is also applying more and more to welfare payments and so on. On the other hand, the enforcement of shari`a is a little more difficult. This has become an extremely sensitive issue.

Another extremely sensitive issue, closely related to this, is the position of women, which is of course very different between Christendom and Islam. This has indeed been one of the major differences between the two societies.

Where do we stand now? Is it third time lucky? It is not impossible. They have certain clear advantages. They have fervor and conviction, which in most Western countries are either weak or lacking. They are self-assured of the rightness of their cause, whereas we spend most of our time in self-denigration and self-abasement. They have loyalty and discipline, and perhaps most important of all, they have demography, the combination of natural increase and migration producing major population changes, which could lead within the foreseeable future to significant majorities in at least some European cities or even countries.

But we also have some advantages, the most important of which are knowledge and freedom. The appeal of genuine modern knowledge in a society which, in the more distant past, had a long record of scientific and scholarly achievement is obvious. They are keenly and painfully aware of their relative backwardness and welcome the opportunity to rectify it.

Less obvious but also powerful is the appeal of freedom. In the past, in the Islamic world the word freedom was not used in a political sense. Freedom was a legal concept. You were free if you were not a slave. The institution of slavery existed. Free meant not slave. Unlike the West, they did not use freedom and slavery as a metaphor for good and bad government, as we have done for a long time in the Western world. The terms they used to denote good and bad government are justice and injustice. A good government is a just government, one in which the Holy Law, including its limitations on sovereign authority, is strictly enforced. The Islamic tradition, in theory and, until the onset of modernization, to a large degree in practice, emphatically rejects despotic and arbitrary government. Living under justice is the nearest approach to what we would call freedom.

But the idea of freedom in its Western interpretation is making headway. It is becoming more and more understood, more and more appreciated and more and more desired. It is perhaps in the long run our best hope, perhaps even our only hope, of surviving this developing struggle. Thank you.

Bernard Lewis is the recipient of AEI”s Irving Kristol Award for 2007.


The Bridge with Islam

By: Rabbi Haim Ovadia

Jewish Journal of Los Angeles

I am a Jew of Islam.

Not an Arab Jew, mind you, since that term makes as much sense as Slavic or Baltic or Arian Jew, but a Jew of Islam.

It is not only because in my family’s veins runs the blood of people who lived in Iraq, Syria, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey, nor because among my congregants there are natives of Bahrain and Indonesia.

It is true that my I-pod is packed with Abdul Wahab, Sabah Fakhri and Farid Al Atrache and the Shabbat songs and liturgy borrows freely from generations of Islamic, Sufi and secular Arabic music, but the connection runs much deeper.

I am a Jew of Islam because Judaism under the rule of the crescent took a different course than that under the rule of the cross. The Jews of Islam, although decreed by the Pact of Omar as dhimmis, or second class citizens, never experienced the same level of hatred, anti-Semitism and persecution which were their daily bread in Christendom. They were not demonized as god killers and did not have to defend their religion in public disputations. They were not expelled en-masse on religious grounds from a Muslim country as they were from England, France and Catholic Spain.

As a rule, Islam used to be much less fanatic then Christianity. The number of wars waged and the amount of lives lost by the followers of the man who said: “Love your enemies; bless those who curse you… Resist no evil, but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn to him the other also”, is mind boggling. And that violence was not directed only against other Monotheistic heathens such as Muslims and Jews but also against Christians who deviated from the norm.

The Crusades, Saint Bartholomew’s day massacre and the Inquisition are just an example. The latter, founded by the disciples of St. Francis of Asissi, a gentle soul who preached to the birds: “…my little sisters, study always to give praise unto god”, targeted not Jews but Christian heretics and new converts. It did it with such atrocity and cruelty, in the Old and the New World that the Abu Ghraib tortures pale in comparison.

The so-called Western civilization has just emerged from a long history of religious intolerance. The much celebrated Nostra Aetate declaration was only issued in 1965, mere minutes ago in historic perspective. Furthermore, although it graciously “acquits” most Jews from the sin of killing Jesus and calls for peace and religious tolerance, it stresses that the Lord Christ is the only true god and that we foster friendship in order to bring all humanity to believe in him. It recognizes that in the past there were “some quarrels” between the Church and the Moslems, but urges people to forget the past and start anew. His Holiness was probably not aware of Santayana’s words: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”.

Much greater tolerance is conveyed in the 1805 Chief Sagoyewatha’s address to Christian missionaries:

Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why do not all agree, as you can all read the book? Brother, we do not wish to destroy your religion or take it from you. We only want to enjoy our own.

Looking back, we should ask ourselves, what happened to moderate and enlightened Islam?

Why, as Harold Bloom writes in his foreword to Menocal’s Ornament of the World, there are no Muslim Andalusians visible anywhere in the world today?

Part of the answer is that when West met East in modern times it was an encounter infused with arrogance, religious zeal and greed. The colonialist and imperialist forces looked down at and did not bother to understand the “natives”, missionaries tried to “save” lost souls, a goal that justified all means, and the spoils of the Oriental and African world were divided among the culturally “superior” conquerors.

Is there any wonder that nationalist and religious forces eventually sprang to action in order to counteract that hostile takeover?

When we speak about religion, the problem of the world today is not Islam but rather religious fanatics. As of today most of them are Muslims but to a certain extent it is the same brand of religious zeal that in our country, a country that heralds the separation of church and state, is holding back stem cell research, fights pro choice supporters and discriminates against gays and lesbians.

The remedy for fanaticism is to support and promote proponents of moderate Islam, to bring back the glory of Andalusia, Cordoba and Granada and to prepare a cadre of Imams and Quran scholars who are willing to accommodate to changing times, simultaneously teaching Westerners about Islam. It is time to open up a dialogue of acceptance, not one that teaches our ways to others, but rather one that searches to solve conflicts and violence by drawing upon each one’s own culture. It is a long and difficult way, but history has a long breath and memory and it will wait. Meanwhile, we don’t have to build a bridge with Islam, just open for traffic the ancient one.

Haim Ovadia is the rabbi of Kahal Joseph Congregation in Los Angeles, California.

The articles in this bulletin do NOT necessarily reflect the opinions of CSID, or its board of directors. They are included in the CSID bulletin to encourage and facilitate diversity of opinions, discussions, and debates about democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, and how best to strengthen and promote it.

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