1. Toward Islamic Democracies (by Saad Eddin Ibrahim)

  2. Americas Betrayal of Arab Democrats (by Saad Eddin Ibrahim)

  3. Political Oppositions in the Arab World: A New Path?



  1. Translating Democracy (by Tucker Herbert)

  2. Democracy for Muslims? (By Patrick Fitzgerald)

  3. Looking for Islams Luthers (By Nicholas D. Kristof)

  4. Islam’s inner-most layer is democratic (by Robert J. Pohl)

  5. Egypt: Muslim Brotherhood Leader Freed (By Aki)

  6. U.S. eases push for Egypt reforms (by Barbara Slavin)

  7. Tough Luck for Arab Democrats (by Marwan Al Kabalan)

  8. A Bright, Shining Truth on Iraq (by Antony T. Sullivan)

  9. Makkah Pact forbids Shiite-Sunni killings (by Arab News)

  10. Cheney’s Remarks Fuel Torture Debate (by Dan Eggen)

  11. The Lesser of Two Evils Makes a Comeback (by Barry Rubin)

  12. Abbas, Don’t Forsake Democracy (by Daoud Kuttab)

  13. Muslim and Arab Americans Ditch Republicans (by Jim Lobe)

  14. Top Muslim kicked out of the US (by Roux Van Zyl)


  16. OPEN LETTER TO THE POPE (by Abdolali Bazargan)

  17. Faith & reason in Islam (by Asma Afsaruddin)

  18. Europe’s Muslims (Washington Post Editorial)

  19. How I Came to Love the Veil (by Yvonne Ridley)

  20. Veiling the issues: a distractive debate (Tina Beattie)

  21. Targeting Muslims – the new Inquisition (by Bradley Burston)

  22. Veil Debate in Britain Is Also Divisive for Muslims (by Kevin Sullivan)

  23. Tunisia presses enforcement of Muslim headscarf ban (by Gabriel Haboubi)

  24. ISNA Condemns Tunisian Hijab Ban As A Human Rights Violation

  25. Soros considers backing peace initiative (by Guy Dinmore)

  26. The New Middle East (By Richard N. Haass)




Dear Friends of CSID:


As-salaamu alaikum and Eid Mubarak!  We hope that you have enjoyed and benefited from the blessed month of Ramadan.


We have a serious crisis in the Muslim world.  This crisis is manifested in many ways:  from rising poverty and unemployment, to lack of education, to growing corruption, violence, and wars.  Most of all, this crisis is the result of bad governance, poor strategic thinking and planning, and lack of freedoms, dignity, and respect for human rights.  First and foremost, it is the twin curse of corruption and oppression, which is at the core of all these problems.  As global citizens, Muslims and non-Muslims, who are concerned about the future of the Muslim world in this increasingly interconnected “global village” we need to develop and implement a strategy for resolving this crisis.  Of course, there is no “quick fix solution to all these problems, but the most important and urgent item in this strategy has to be good governance.  By good governance, of course, we mean good and clean governments that are elected by the people, held accountable to the people, and serve the interests of the people.


The political crisis and deadlock in the Muslim world needs and deserves our (and your) immediate attention, even though it will take time to be fully addressed and corrected.  Rather than respond in a knee-jerk/band-aid approach to the crisis of the day, we need to think strategically, and understand the root causes of this crisis.  Real change and significant reforms are absolutely necessary and needed, but governments are resisting it (for fear of the unknown and/or the loss of their privileges) and opposition political movements are weak, divided, and lacking in maturity and experience.


It goes without saying that democracy and good governance cannot and should not be imposed or imported, but they can be supported.  Reformers in the Arab and Muslim world have been working and pushing for real democracy and reforms for decades; however, they have received very little support or encouragement from the outside world.  It is time for this to change and it is our duty and obligation to provide them with as much of out support and encouragement as needed.  Our support begins by providing the intellectual and philosophical support for the simple and basic truth that Islam and democracy are compatible.  Without it, democracy will never become accepted by the masses in the Muslim world, because government controlled media continue to muddy-up the water and portray democracy as un-Islamic or even anti-Islamic.  Nothing is further from the truth, and CSID is in the best position to demonstrate this.  Secondly, we need to convince the US and European governments and policymakers to stop their support for oppressive and authoritarian rulers in the Arab and Muslim world.  Even though these dictators claim that to provide much-needed stability for the region, the reality is that this is a false mirage, and what they are actually doing is creating the right conditions for despair and hopelessness, which will inevitably lead to further violence, extremism, and upheaval. 


Thirdly, and just as urgently, we need to engage and support moderate conservative Muslims who are striving to be true to their religion, while at the same time adopting and accepting democracy, modernity, and development.  Building strong coalitions between moderate Islamist (i.e. those who reject violence and terrorism and accept democracy) and secularists is the ONLY way to challenge the status quo and provide a real democratic alternative to the untenable and discredited rulers and regimes.  As citizens of the US and Europe, we must realize that we are responsible for what our governments do, and that their continued support of dictatorships in the Arab and Muslim world is one of the causes for the current crisis, and the escalation in violence and extremism, in the Muslim world today.


Since 1999, CSID has developed and implemented a strategy for achieving these objectives, based on the following four pillars:


A.                  Organizing conferences and seminars to bring democrats together (both moderate Islamists, secularists, and others)


B.                 Educating the masses about democracy, how it works, and its compatibility with Islam,


C.                 Establishing a Network of Democrats in the Arab World (http://www.ndaw.org) and providing them with training and support,


D.                 Lobbying the US government and policymakers to stop supporting dictators, and to engage with, defend, and support genuine democrats.


CSID is the ONLY organization in the world that is capable of organizing conferences on Islam and Democracy in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, Nigeria, and Tunisia, in addition to over 20 other countries.  There is not a single other organization (American-based or international) that has done it. The reason we have been able to do it simply has to do with the huge credibility and connections that CSID has established throughout the Muslim world over the past eight years.  Our credibility and strong network of friends and colleagues (among Arab and Muslim reformers) is simply unmatched.  This growing network is also capable of pushing for a dialogue and reforms in their countries.  We have also worked with other American non-governmental organizations, such as Street Law, Inc. and Partners for Democratic Change, and publicly funded institutions such as The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and The U.S. Institute for Peace (USIP), to provide the technical expertise and the know-how to complement our knowledge about the region and about Islam.


As a result, I can say with full confidence that we ARE making a difference.  Over 1,000 political and religious leaders of NGOs have attended our workshops and conferences, and over 2,000 people in Morocco, Algeria, Egypt, and Jordan have been trained with our Islam & Democracy Toward Effective Citizenship training workshops.  The demand for both, however, is much bigger, and our objective is to train between 5,000 and 10,000 people per country, per year, for the next 10 years!  For the first time in history, secular leaders and moderate Islamist leaders are starting to work together in many countries, learning to build trust and strong coalitions for positive and meaningful reforms.  The Network of Democrats in the Arab World (NDAW) is growing, and has provided training on leadership, communication, consensus-building, and conflict resolution skills to hundreds of members and NGO leaders.  US and European governments are beginning to realize that it runs counter to their interests (let alone their values) to promote oppressive regimes in the Arab/Muslim world, and are beginning to put real pressure on these regimes to reform and democratize.  Our long term goal should be that both the US and European governments, and the international community as a whole, will work with and support governments that are serious about democracy and are achieving real progress toward it, while isolating governments that reject democracy and continue to oppress their people (while paying lip service to democracy and reforms).  This can be achieved much faster than we think; in our lifetime! 


Finally, CSID has just opened two regional offices one in Morocco and one in Jordan to help support the Network and all of our activities, conferences, and training workshops in the Arab world.  We look forward to opening more offices in other Arab and Muslim countries in order to provide more extensive support for democrats and reformers throughout the region.


I hope that I have been able to convince you that CSID DESERVES your support.  Now, let me explain why we NEED your support.  During the past two years, CSID has successfully raised over $1.2 Million to support and organize all these events and conferences from various private and public institutions and foundations.  But the toughest funding to obtain is money to pay for General Operating Expenses (such as rent, salaries, phone and utilities, membership drive, fundraising, annual conference, publications, website, etc..) without which we cannot exist to conduct these projects in the first place.  In order for CSID to continue to stay in business and hopefully continue to grow, we need to raise $250,000 for general operating expenses every year, or we will be forced to lay off our staff and perhaps even close our office (God forbid).  Money is really tight these days because a couple of large grants have just ended, and we are really struggling to cover our most basic expenses, and to sustain our projects.


Please HELP CSID TODAY.  You can donate any amount of money to CSID that you feel comfortable with, or you can join CSID as a member.  We offer FOUR levels of membership:


                   Associate Member:  $50

                   Regular Member:     $100

                   Founding Member:   $1,000

                   Lifetime Member:    $2,500


Please DONATE or JOIN CSID today


The success of our initiatives in the Arab and Muslim world over the past eight years is ample proof that democracy is both compatible with Islam and possible in the Arab and Muslim world.  This, however, is a difficult and long process, and we will not be able to succeed without your help, your support, and your contributions.  Together, we can build a better future and a more peaceful world for all of us, and for our children.


We look forward to hearing from you, and to welcoming you as a member or supporter of CSID.


Asma Afsaruddin                         Radwan A. Masmoud

Chair of the Board                       Founder and President, CSID           



Methods of Payment


1. Check or Money Order: Fill out and return the attached form by mail.

2. Credit or Debit Card: go to www.csidonline.org

3. Wire Transfer:  Send the money directly to:

Citibank, 13440 New Hampshire Ave., Silver Spring, MD 20904 Account Name:  CSID Account Number: 17565059 ABA/Routing Number:  052002166  (for domestic wire trans) Swift Code: CITI US 33 (for international wire transfers)


Membership/Donation Form (2006-2007)



Name: ______________________________________________




Address: ____________________________________________


City: ___________________State___________Zip___________








I would like to join CSID as:

 Student Member    $20          Newsletter Subscription $20

 Institutional Member $200   Associate Member  $50     

 Founding Member $1000    Member  $100     

 Lifetime Member  $2500


I would like to make a tax-deductible donation of $_____________


Comments and/or suggestions:





Please mail, along with payment, to


1625 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Suite 601

Washington, DC 20036


back to top


The Board of Directors of the National Endowment for Democracy requests the honor of your presence at the third annual Seymour Martin Lipset Lecture on


Democracy in the World:


Toward Islamic Democracies


Delivered by Saad Eddin Ibrahim


Chairman, Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies

Professor of political sociology,

The American University, Cairo


Wednesday, November 1, 2006

6:00 p.m. lecture, reception to follow

The National Endowment for Democracy

1025 F Street, NW  Suite 800

Washington, D.C.  20004


R.S.V.P. by October 27, 2006 to (202) 378-9690 or [email protected] acceptances only

back to top


The Ibn Khaldun Center For Development Studies and The Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolutions (ICAR) Media Working Group


Host a Talk by:


Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim

The foremost advocate for democracy in the Middle East


Americas Betrayal of Arab Democrats


When: October 31, 2006 —  12 – 1:30 PM

Where:              ICAR  –  Truland Building

Two blocks from Clarendon Metro station (Orange Line)

3330 N. Washington Blvd.

Arlington, VA 22201


Please RSVP by calling/emailing Walid Abdul-Jawad: [email protected]  or 703-830-0345 –  Seating is limited


back to top


The U.S. Institute of Peace cordially invites you to a public event:


Political Oppositions in the Arab World: A New Path?


Date: Thursday, November 9, 2006

Time: 9:30 AM – 1:00 PM

Location: U.S. Institute of Peace

2nd Floor Conference Room

1200 17th St, NW

Washington, DC 20036



Arab political parties, NGOs, syndicates, and social movements have thus far failed to forge a common strategic vision of political reform. Hobbled by disputes between Islamists, secularists, nationalists, and liberals, Arab opposition groups have frequently been manipulated by a divide and rule strategy that seeks to limit the scope of genuine democratic reforms.


Still, there are some signs that mainstream Arab opposition groups have begun to find common ground. Will such trends give oppositions the political leverage they have thus far lacked? Or will autocrats find new ways to skirt pressures for substantive political change and thus maintain an increasingly precarious status quo of state controlled reform?


With support from USAID’s Democracy and Global Governance Office, USIP’s Muslim World Initiative has supervised a path-breaking research project on the dynamics of Arab political opposition in Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, and Yemen. Please join the authors of these four studies as they present their findings and invite comments from a panel of experts, as well as from our invited guests in the audience.



With introductory remarks by:


Abdeslam Maghraoui

Director, Muslim World Initiative



Daniel Brumberg, Overview

Special Adviser, Muslim World Initiative


Case Studies:


Dina Shehata, Egypt

Department of Government, Georgetown University


Maryam Montague, Morocco

Democracy and Governance Specialist, Management Systems International


Janine Clark, Jordan

Associate Professor, University of Guelph


Iris Glosemeyer, Yemen

Associate Lecturer, Free University of Berlin




Nathan Brown

Senior Associate, Carnegie Endowment


Amy Hawthorne

Director, International Center for Middle Eastern-Western Dialogue


Guilain Denoeux

Professor of Government, Colby College


Steve Heydemann

Director, Center for Democracy and Civil Society, Georgetown University



Seating is limited and RSVPs will be accepted on a first-come, first-served basis. To RSVP, please send your name, affiliation, daytime phone number, and name of the event to the Office of Public Affairs and Communications at [email protected]


back to top


Translating Democracy


by Tucker Herbert

Staff Writer




On October 11th, Anwar Ibrahim, former Deputy Prime Minister of Malaysia, addressed a Stanford audience regarding his beliefs on the prospects for democracy in the Muslim world. Anwar speaks with authority given that he has suffered the ill effects of the deficiency of democratic principles in the Muslim world. He spent his time from 1998 to 2004 reading the complete works of Shakespeare a few times over, while in solitary confinement in a Malaysian prison for his political activism.


He introduced his presentation by asserting that there is no question of incompatibility between democracy and the Muslim world. He provided as examples that Indonesia and Iran during the 1950s were full-fledged democracies, and Pakistan was born with the vision of a democratic state for those Muslims who had lacked their freedom under British rule.


Furthermore, we have to debunk and reject the notion that to support democracy and freedom is an American agenda. Democracy is a universal construct, men and women are born free. He explained that if the works of Thomas Jefferson were translated into Arabic with an Arabic name as the author, Jeffersons philosophies would be much more highly regarded in the Arab world. In fact, the five pillars of Islam include freedom of conscience, freedom of _expression, human dignity, and gender equalityall values that would support a democratic system. Democracy has not failed to take root in the Muslim world because it is inherently incompatible with Islam; democracy has failed because Muslim leaders have found it convenient to rule without its constraints on their power.


Anwar went on to advocate that the West strengthen its efforts to support Muslim regimes in their peaceful transition to democracy, without force or external intervention. He argued that to do so, the West must also accept the outcome of those elections, even if it is to put Hamas in power. He reasoned that the West could do more to advance democracy in the Muslim world by maintaining dialogue than by boycotting such groups. Instead of calling it democracy, use the Indonesian term that means coming together, as Muslims will understand democracy better in terms that reflect their system of beliefs. He also recommended that the West set the example for democratic principles, and criticized the suspension in the U.S. of the writ of habeas corpus for cases regarding potential terrorists.


One of the biggest struggles in the Muslim world is that the general masses will remain ignorant as long as the government controls the media. He closed the lecture portion of his presentation by pointing out that there are no famines in India where the media is free, but that this is not the case in Chinaand that is the power of democracy.


Anwar unravels the troubled extremism facing the Muslim world. His ideology and leadership are rare, but provide a glimmer of hope. If more leaders of his line can rise to prominence, a real translation will ultimately manifest. 


back to top



Democracy for Muslims?


By Patrick Fitzgerald

October 12, 2006



The increasing sectarian conflict in Iraq and the rise of Islamist parties like Hamas and Hezbollah have put American efforts to democratize the Middle East on hold and raised doubts among experts and policy makers about whether democracy is compatible with the Muslim faith. But in a campus appearance yesterday afternoon, former Malaysian Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim offered an ardent defense of democracy in the Muslim world, telling a standing-room-only crowd in Bechtel Conference Center that men and women are born free, even in the Islamic construct.


Alternating between serious and sporting through his two-hour speech, Ibrahim broached many of the issues aggravating relations between Islam and the West, including gender relations, American foreign policy, cultural assimilation in Europe and Pope Benedict XVIs recent comments about Islam. However, he was most outspoken regarding his home country he was a political prisoner in Malaysia for over four years and rejected the race- and religious-based affirmative action policies that benefit the Malay majority there.


Returning repeatedly to the topic of Muslim democracy, Ibrahim drew from historical references and personal experiences, citing the democratic regimes of Indonesia and Iran of 1950s.


There was no debate then whether democracy was compatible with Islam, he said. Fifty years later, we have our leaders in the Muslim world telling us were not ready.


The fundamental nature of democracy and human rights is universal, Ibrahim emphasized, adding that problems begin with cultural miscommunication.


We have to debunk and reject the notion, held by Muslims and non-Muslims alike, that to support democracy and freedom is to support America, he said. And it is important for Americans to realize democracy is a value cherished as much by Muslims as it is by Americans.


Misperceptions are unfortunate, he added, elaborating on his impressions of American culture. This is a country full of contradictions. The level of sophistication and intellectual flavor is unparalleled. So why must people be so prejudiced? Why is misunderstanding so pervasive? To say that Muslims are entirely anti-America is wrong.


Ibrahim offered scathing criticism of his fellow Muslims for violent reactions to both the publication of caricatures of Mohammad in a Danish newspaper in 2005 and to the more recent comment by Pope Benedict XVI referring to elements of Islam as evil and inhuman. The cartoon spawned riots killing 139 in Nigeria, Libya, Pakistan and Afghanistan, while the Popes remarks fueled a maelstrom of controversy, including the firebombing of Catholic churches throughout the Middle East and the shooting death of a nun in Somalia.


There is a right to disagree but no one has the right to cause destruction or destroy life, he said. No one has the right to call for the banning of newspapers.


Acknowledging that his comments were not necessarily indicative of Islamic public opinion, he said, This view may not be shared by all Muslims, but I am prepared to confront them.


Ibrahims penchant for speaking his mind and sticking to his principles has dogged the leader through a career of controversy. As a young Malaysian activist in the 1970s, he was arrested during a student protest and spent 20 months in a detention camp. Following a meteoric political ascent, he was named Deputy Prime Minister in 1993, and many expected that he was Prime Minister Mahathir bin Mohammads chosen successor.


But their relationship turned sour, and in Sept. 1998 Ibrahim was stripped of party membership and incarcerated under charges of corruption and sodomy. The charges were eventually overturned and he was released in Sept. 2004.


Regarding Malaysian politics today, Ibrahim expressed distaste toward his nations system of bumiputera a system of economic and social policies designed to favor ethnic Malays.


I reject affirmative action based on race, he said. Our policies should benefit the poor and the marginalized.


Finally, he described the need for engagement between the Islamic world and the West, criticizing the extreme foreign policy of the United States and its refusal to negotiate with regimes like Hamas.


That policy is flawed, he said, adding that to refuse to engage is a recipe for disaster.


Ibrahims talk was one in a series of lectures sponsored by the Center for Democracy, Development and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) addressing relationships with non-Western cultures.


Theres not a topic that I think we need to pay more attention to as a country, and theres also not a topic that were more ignorant about today, CDDRL Director Michael McFaul said while introducing Ibrahim.


Stanfords new $4.3 billion capital campaign seeks $1.4 billion for multidisciplinary initiatives, including an International Initiative aimed at making the University a hub for global problem-solving. Issues pertaining to Islam and the West, McFaul said, will be primary concerns.


We dont have enough faculty to on campus to discuss these issues, he told The Daily after the event. Speakers like this are great to fill in the gaps. Hopefully, 10 years from now well have dozens of faculty that can speak to [these concerns].


back to top


Looking for Islams Luthers



Published: October 15, 2006


Islam sometimes comes across the airwaves in the West as the faith of medieval fanatics wielding swords and wearing explosive vests. Western doubts are bolstered when the pope accuses Islam of violence and fundamentalists protest by killing a nun.


But the public images of Islam we sometimes see the violence in the name of God, the intolerance, the obsession with the past represent only some stones in a complex mosaic. And those images cant explain why Islam appears to be in percentage terms the fastest-growing major religion in the world today.


Islam is on the rise for many of the same reasons evangelical Christianity is surging: they provide a firm moral code, spiritual reassurance and orderliness to people vexed by chaos and immorality around them, and they offer dignity to the poor.


While the thread of fundamentalism is real in Islam, so is the thread of reform. The 21st century may become to Islam what the 16th was to Christianity, for even in hard-line states like Iran you meet Martin Luthers who are pushing for an Islamic Reformation. One of the most surprising elements of this push for reform has to do with the emergence of a school called feminist Islam.


Ive written often about the honor killings and other abuses suffered by women and girls in some Muslim countries, and many Westerners think Islam is inherently misogynistic. But Muslim women themselves naturally resent that kind of Western paternalism, for they want opportunities and equality and yet they frequently dont want to discard their faith (or even their head scarves).


Yes, sexism exists in our culture, but that is not due to Islam, says Rima Khoreibi, an author from Dubai who wrote a childrens book about an Islamic superhero who is female Iman, a teenage girl with a cape, head scarf and deep religious convictions.



That book, The Adventures of Iman (www.theadventuresofiman.com), was so successful that she is publishing a sequel in December. Ms. Khoreibi says that she wrote The Adventures of Iman because of her passion to promote Islamic feminism.


She cites Koranic verses that promote gender equality and call for treating sons and daughters equally. A Koran-quoting female caped crusader is part of a broad ferment for more gender equality in the Muslim world.


Islamic feminists often argue that the Koran generally raised the status of women compared to earlier Arabian society banning female infanticide, for example, and limiting polygamy and that what is needed today is that larger spirit of progress and enlightenment rather than precise seventh-century formulations that would freeze human society.


Often the battles are over Koranic verses. For example, some note that the Koran permitted up to four wives as a way to care for orphans after wars that had left many women widowed. So they turn the verse on its head and say that in todays world where that situation doesnt apply, the Koran actually bars polygamy.


Likewise, Saudi women sometimes argue that since the Prophet Muhammads wife drove camels, they should be able to drive cars. Islam, like any religion, is subject to interpretation, Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Iran, writes in her autobiography. It can be interpreted to oppress women or to liberate them.


Female Muslim scholars like Fatima Mernissi of Morocco have also turned up evidence that Prophet Muhammads youngest wife (and the person he said he loved most in the world), Aisha, vigorously contested the chauvinism of early clerics. Indeed, she sometimes comes across as the first Islamic feminist.


A well-known statement once attributed to Prophet Muhammad says that a mans prayers are ineffective if a woman, dog or donkey passes in front of the believer. Aisha denounced that as nonsense: You compare us now to donkeys and dogs. In the name of God, I have seen the Prophet saying his prayers while I was there.


Likewise, Aisha denied various suggestions that her husband considered menstruating women to be unclean. Aisha had prepared a series of corrections to early Islamic writings, but these have been largely ignored. Finally, these days, they are beginning to get a hearing.


All this underscores that Islam is much more complex than the headlines might suggest. The violence and fundamentalism gets the attention and should be more loudly condemned by ordinary Muslims but we would be close-minded ourselves if we ignored the more hopeful rumblings that are also taking place within the vast Islamic world including, perhaps, steps toward a Muslim Reformation.


back to top


Islam’s inner-most layer is democratic, speaker says

Muhammad’s message was distorted by successors, coordinator says.


By Robert J. Pohl

Issue date: 10/20/06






Islam and democracy can function harmoniously, the coordinator of the Muslim Community Center of San Antonio and a political science professor said Oct. 11 at the Methodist Student Center.


The topic was “Western Democracy and Islam: Reconcilable or Forever Enemies?” at the weekly Hot Potato luncheon.


“The base of Islam is democratic,” the coordinator, Ali Moshirsadri, said to nearly 100 students.


The professor, Asslan Khaligh, said, “Islam and democracy go hand in hand.”


En route to Mecca, the birthplace of Muhammad and sacrosanct city to Muslims, Muhammad, although chosen by Allah, acquired the consent of all his followers, Moshirsadri said.


Imam Ali, fourth caliph, a successor of Muhammad, acted similarly. “He is famous for his piety and justice,” Moshirsadri said.


Muslim men and women, unless related, do not greet with handshakes or touch.


Imam Ali circumvented the custom by using a pot of water as a medium for the women to pledge allegiance – each would individually immerse their hands in the water, symbolizing no differentiation between genders.


All approved of him as their spiritual and political leader.


This is how Islam operated in its pure form and in adherence to the Quran, Moshirsadri said.


The history of Islam is full of struggles for succession and even assassinations of caliphs, he said.


“The respect in the people’s vote and allegiance from the very beginning of Islam has been difficult,” Moshirsadri said.


“The purity of Islam has diminished into political agendas and personal agendas, and the leaders that have come out through the history of Islam have distorted the true image. Islam has become contaminated.”


If a religion is judged by its extremists, all religions should be judged equally, starting with Christianity’s Jim Jones and David Koresh, Khaligh said.


Both were cult leaders, spun off of Christianity. Jones is known for leading a mass suicide and murder of more than 900 people in Guyana in 1978, including media and U.S. Rep. Leo Ryan of California.


Koresh is known for allegations of statutory rape and polygamy and for a 51-day standoff with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in Waco in 1993, taking about 80 lives.


Khaligh said extremism is widespread and fresh in history, from the bombing of abortion clinics to the inhumane treatment of Palestinians by Jews after World War II. In a phone interview, Khaligh said before Jerusalem’s sovereignty, in the years 1945-48, Palestinians were driven away and made targets of Jewish militant bombings.


“Don’t tell me extremism is only in Islam,” he said. There have been more murders justified by the name of God in Christianity, Judaism and Islam than any other movement or ambition, Khaligh said.


“So I’m going to say our religious leaders have failed us.”


Celibacy emerged as a means of fundraising, Khaligh said.


Each time a priest died, his family inherited his wealth. In the 13th century celibacy was installed, founded solely for monetary reasons, Khaligh said.


“Guess who is the richest church in the world today? The Catholics. The pope has a summer palace and a winter palace, and he lives like a king,” Khaligh told listeners.


The Rev. John Hagee, founder and senior pastor of Cornerstone Church, was highlighted as dangerous by Khaligh. Hagee is president and CEO of John Hagee Ministries, which is broadcast on 160 TV stations and on 50 radio stations, viewable abroad and in most Third World countries.


He said Hagee’s writings recommend dropping an atomic bomb on foreign problems. He said he read the suggestion in an excerpt of a recent Hagee book.


Attempts to contact Hagee for confirmation were unsuccessful.


“Religious leaders have lost the word of God,” Khaligh said.


“If we want to act like stupid people, we could just blindly follow religious leaders,” Moshirsadri said. “But also remember, in the Day of Judgment, it’s in the Quran, the Bible and the Torah, you will personally be judged. No excuse can be used.”


He said no one can plead that President Bush, Osama Bin Laden or Hagee were the reasons for their actions. There are no exemptions to judgment.


“God will ask you, ’Didn’t I give you mind, didn’t I give you eyes, didn’t I give you ears, didn’t I give you health, information, and I sent you prophets of God,’” Moshirsadri said.


There are different degrees of democracy that Moshirsadri pointed out, and if a population approves of a particular degree of democracy, then democracy and Islam can co-exist.


For example, he said, the U.S. has a republican type of democracy, meaning people exercise their control of government through electing representatives.


Referring to the Middle East, he said, “The people of all these nations are in favor of freedom, freedom of speech, growth and good communication.”


In reference to democracy’s viability within Islam, he said, “Of course, it is what they want. It is in the core of their faith.”


Most Middle Eastern countries, however, do not practice democracy. According to the CIA’s World Factbook, there are four Middle Eastern countries with democracy in their classification.


He said forced imperialism is the antithesis of Islam.


“No one has moral authority, as an individual in our country or throughout the world,” Khaligh said. “The moral authority is God, so let’s follow him.”


“People, students, Americans, world citizens, follow your god, not your politician.”


back to top








Cairo, 17 Oct. (AKI) – A Cairo court has ordered the release of Mahmoud Ezzat, the secretary general of the Muslim Brotherhood and another 14 members of the banned but tolerated group. The men were arrested on 25 August while at a meeting in northern Egypt. The preventive custody order for Ezzat had been renewed every 15 days, in a practice often used by the Egyptian authorities with Brotherhood members facing charges of belonging to an illegal organisation that seeks to subvert public order.


Some 40 members are still detained in Egyptian jails, including central committee member Mohammed Mursi and well-known leader Essam el-Aryan.


After last November’s general election – where the Muslim Brotherhood candidates, running as independents, secured 88 seats and became the largest opposition party in parliament – tensions between the government and the Islamic movement have increased.


Numerous arrests of brotherhood members have been carried out in recent months, during which the Muslim Brotherhood has joined other opposition parties and civil society groups in a campaign for the independence of the Egyptian judiciary.


back to top




By Barbara Slavin, USA TODAY



CAIRO Last year, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a visit to Cairo to protest the arrest of an Egyptian opposition leader, Ayman Nour.


A few months later, she gave a speech at the American University of Cairo in which she called on Egypt to “put its faith in its own people” and enact democratic reforms.


When Rice visited here earlier this month during a tour of the Middle East, not much had changed: Nour was back in jail, along with thousands of other political prisoners; and political reforms seemed to be on hold.


Critics, including two Egyptian political analysts, say Egypt has retreated on the democracy front since it permitted several candidates to run for president last year. Last week, the government accused Talaat Sadat, a member of parliament and nephew of slain Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat, of defaming the Egyptian military by alleging that officers were involved in his uncle’s 1981 assassination. Gonzalo Gallegos, a State Department spokesman, said the Bush administration “is keeping an eye on the case and will see how things progress.”


“The mood here is very despondent,” said Hani Shukrallah of the Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo.


The most populous nation in the Arab world, with a history that goes back thousands of years, Egypt has been a political and cultural trendsetter in the region. In the 1950s, a military coup led by army Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser overthrew a British-backed monarchy and established an authoritarian government. Similar coups followed in Iraq and Syria. When Nasser died, he was succeeded by his vice president, Anwar Sadat.


The current president, Hosni Mubarak, was Sadat’s vice president and took power in 1981 when Sadat was assassinated by Muslim extremists opposed to Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel.


Shukrallah said many Egyptians believe Mubarak, 78, elected to a fifth six-year term last year, will orchestrate his succession within the next few years. His preferred replacement: his son, Gamal, 42.


Asked about the succession, Rice said it was “not something that the U.S. should, can or will have an opinion” about.


Shukrallah said U.S. reluctance to challenge the younger Mubarak reflects the U.S. need for Egyptian cooperation to try to restart the Palestinian-Israeli peace process and deal with the rising challenge from Iran.


“There is a sense that the inheritance of power will happen, and nothing is happening in terms of political reform,” he said.


Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in Washington, said Gamal Mubarak took a leading role in a recent convention of Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party.


The younger Mubarak gave a major speech in which he said Egypt would develop nuclear power. Hamzawy said this was an attempt to attract popular support. “There is lots of speculation that President Mubarak will resign in 2008,” he said.


The Bush administration, like its predecessors Republican and Democratic has supported Egypt with an annual $2 billion in aid since Egypt’s 1979 peace treaty with Israel. In the aftermath of 9/11, however, President Bush began calling for democratic reforms in Egypt and the wider Middle East, arguing that U.S. support for authoritarian governments helped foster the rage and frustration that produced al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups.


Rice says that there has been no change in policy. She spoke in Cairo about “the non-negotiable demands of human dignity, which means the right to choose those who will govern you, the right to worship as you please, the right to educate your girls and your boys, the right to be free from the arbitrary power of the state.”


Recent events in the Middle East, however, have complicated U.S. efforts to push democracy here. The United States does not want to annoy allied governments at a time when the region is increasingly unstable, says Rashid Khalidi, director of Middle East studies at Columbia University.


Iraq is increasingly chaotic and violent despite having several successful elections. Iran is growing in influence, partly because of its support for Shiite militias in Iraq and its backing of Hezbollah, which battled Israel last summer in Lebanon. Elections have strengthened the militant Hamas movement in the Palestinian territories and the Muslim Brotherhood, a veteran fundamentalist group, in Egypt. The United States refuses to deal with either group, branding them as terrorists.


Khalidi says the U.S. government has quietly “shelved its democracy-promotion efforts” because it now understands that “democracy would put in power policies and groups opposed to almost everything the administration stands for.”


The Muslim Brotherhood, although outlawed, won 88 of 444 seats in parliamentary elections earlier this year by running independent candidates the strongest showing ever by an Egyptian opposition group. Abdel Moneim Abul Fottouh, a member of the brotherhood’s 15-member leadership council, said the party would have done even better had the government allowed truly free elections. More than 90 members of the organization remain in jail of thousands arrested during the elections, he said, even though the group renounced violence more than a decade ago.


Secular parties in Egypt are weaker. Nour was one of a handful of opposition candidates allowed to run against Mubarak last year. He was jailed after the elections. Founder of a party called “Tomorrow,” Nour was sentenced to five years in prison on charges he forged petition signatures to register the party.


Rice said the Bush administration has not given up on democratic reforms but that each country has to move at its own pace. “The process of democracy has its ups and its downs,” she said. “It remains a part of our agenda. Ultimately we believe that a democratic Middle East is going to be a more peaceful Middle East.”


 back to top




Marwan Al Kabalan, Special to Gulf News, USA

Saturday, October 21, 2006





Last year, celebrating the second anniversary of the fall of Baghdad, US President George W. Bush promised a “wave” of democratic reform that would bring down “the last stronghold of world tyranny” – the Arab world.


The toppling of Saddam Hussain’s statue in Baghdad was ranked by Bush with the fall of the Berlin Wall “as one of the great moments in the history of liberty”.


The establishment of a free Iraq at the heart of the Middle East “will be a crushing defeat to the forces of tyranny and terror and a watershed event in the global democratic revolution”, Bush told flag-waving troops in central Texas during the celebration.


Last September and in a speech before the 61st session of the UN General Assembly, Bush reiterated his commitment to the cause of freedom and democracy in the Arab world. But, the tone this time was different, the expectations were lower and his enthusiasm about democratic reform seemed, even for the casual observer of US policy, to have vanished.


In US political circles, as well as in the media, everybody seems now certain that the US has abandoned its commitment to democracy in the Middle East.


The Los Angeles Times reported this week that former US secretary of state, James Baker, who also chair a bipartisan panel reassessing Iraq strategy for Bush, is going to propose in his report, due to be released after the US mid-term elections, that Washington drop the objective of democracy in Iraq and the greater Middle East in favour of “representative” governments.


According to the paper, all current governments in the region will be considered “representative” as long as they maintain order and stability in their own countries.


The prevalent view today in Washington is that the president may have rocked the boat too much. Given the ill-fated venture in Iraq and the outcome of the Palestinian and the Egyptian elections, US officials believe the Arab world is not ready yet for democracy.


A stable political culture must be built before free elections in Muslim countries are held. It is, hence, safer and wiser for the US to leave Arab governments heed the call for democracy at their own pace.


Indeed, these same officials know very well that the Arab world has long moved “at its own pace” towards democracy. The result was almost no democracy at all. But, this might be exactly what the US seeks right now.


This new thinking in Washington caused panic among Arab democrats who have for long aspired for US help to promote democracy in the Arab world. One hundred and three Arab and Muslim intellectuals wrote a letter to Bush that was published in the Washington Post last week.


The intellectuals expressed their concern about the shift in US policy regarding democracy promotion. “We know that some in the United States, worried by recent Islamist gains among voters in Palestine and Egypt, are having doubts about the wisdom of pushing for freedom and democracy in the Middle East. These worries are exploited by despots in the region to perpetuate the untenable status quo,” the intellectuals argued.


Highly sensitive


Touching on a highly sensitive issue for most Americans – the September 11 attacks – they then tried to influence US policy.


“Democratic participation is the only way to combat extremism and pressure all groups, including Islamists, to moderate their stance in order to maximize their share of the vote.


“The United States should continue to press for an end to repression by governing regimes of democratically minded liberal and Islamist groups and it should emphatically distance itself from such repression and condemn it in the strongest terms whenever and wherever it occurs.


“We are confident that if Arab citizens are able to have their choice, they will choose democracy, freedom, peace and progress,” the Arab intellectuals concluded.


Will the US administration listen to the voice of moderation in Arab world? The events of the past few months suggest that the US prefers to deal with dictators than politicians worried about re-election. The US had done this before and will continue to do it whenever its interests deem that necessary. Does this surprise anyone?


Dr Marwan Al Kabalan is a lecturer in media and international relations, Faculty of Political Science and Media, Damascus University, Syria.


back to top




by Antony T. Sullivan


October 24, 2006



The Iraq equivalent of the Tet Offensive in Vietnam has now occurred. And it is ongoing. American military casualties are skyrocketing, as are casualties in the Iraqi military and among Iraqi civilians. The U.S. Army clearly cannot pacify Baghdad, Anbar Province is now largely under the control of Iraqi insurgents and fundamentalists, and Shia militias grow ever more powerful and independent of Iraqi government control. If Pascal was correct that clarity of thought is the sine qua non for effective human action, it is surely past time for some lucid thinking to begin to be applied to Iraq.


Iraq has now become, in the words of the partially declassified National Intelligence Estimate, a cause celebre for terrorists and a graduate school for a new and proliferating generation of international jihadists. Nevertheless, far too many members of the American policy community still seem to believe that the situation in Iraq can and indeed somehow must be saved by American military action.


Recently, there has been substantial media commentary on Senator Joseph R. Bidens advocacy of something he calls federalism plus in Iraq, a concept he amplified in the September/October issue of The National Interest. But federalism is a Western political concept that has little or no contemporary resonance in Iraq or in most of the wider Islamic world. Quite unlike centuries past, decentralization today is understood by Muslims as one more Western technique to fragment an Islamic world that already feels itself divided and supine at the feet of a crusading or imperial United States. Nationalism in the Arab East remains powerful, despite the fact that it now carries an Islamic rather than a secular banner. Any American attempt to foster federalism in Iraq, whether plus or minus, would probably be understood by Muslims as simply a new refrain on a very old tune. There is now little probability that any American initiative can pull a viable federalist rabbit out of the Iraqi political hat.


The good news is that an increasing number of Americans seems to understand that the urgent need of the hour is the restabilization of the Middle East. That is precisely the objective that should be sought. Rooted in the precepts of realism, and cognizant of the larger realities of the Arab and Islamic worlds, restabilization remains a viable alternative to current policy in Iraq and elsewhere. But for how much longer?  The clock ticks toward midnight with every passing day.


Despite supposedly being weakened, the revolutionary utopianism of neoconservativism remains the lubricant for much of contemporary American foreign policy. This is so despite the fact that the results of that utopian thinking, in Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, are now clear for all to see. How long does one have to beat a donkey until it learns?


The time is now to make very clear that one major reason for the tragedy in Iraq was the desire of such neoconservatives as Paul Wolfowitz and Douglas Feith to remove Iraq from the geostrategic chessboard of Arab states which perhaps might develop some future ability to militarily checkmate Israel. And this is true despite Mr. Wolfowitzs occasional mild expressions of concern for the welfare of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation. Like so much else, neoconservative policies have only empowered Hizballah and Iran, which are or may shortly become far greater threats to Israel than Iraq ever was. Truly, neoconservatives succeeded in summoning evil spirits from the vasty deep. When the neoconservatives called, these malign spirits indeed did come to them. But, in Iraq and elsewhere, they also came to each and every one of us. Such spirits are likely to haunt us all down long years of the future.


The way forward requires the swallowing of some bitter medicine. The first and most unpleasant of those medicines is to recognize that the United States can no longer square the political and military circle in Iraq, if it ever could. It is time to move forward in Iraq by moving out.


The American war in Iraq is lost. And it is lost beyond recall. Unlike what Senator Biden has written and many still believe, the Iraqi army today is not much more capable than it was just a year ago, thanks to an increasingly effective U.S.-led training effort. In fact, the Iraqi military, as well as the Iraqi police force, are riddled with insurgent and Islamist spies, provocateurs and double agents. The Shia Mahdi Army has today perhaps become as powerful as the national army. Morale in the Iraqi army is low, desertions are rampant and operational proficiency remains dubious at best. Now, the Iraqi army appears unlikely ever to become a truly effective and independent military force.


The U.S. military is aware of this sad reality, as are Osama bin Laden, Sunni and Shia Iraqis and most of the rest of the world. The authors of the most recent NIE are also cognizant of this, but for policy reasons seem unable to say so. Clearly, the NIEs call to stay the course in Iraq is quite at variance with the hard evidence it presents. Unfortunately, the media commentariat in the United States, as well as most American politicians, are unwilling to state that the emperor has no clothes. This is a grave disservice to the national interests of the United States.


For their part, the 145,000 U.S. soldiers now in Iraq will not likely be doing better next year, or in any of the years after that, than they are right now. Given both military and political realities, there is no chance that the current American force can be increased by the orders of magnitude that might make any significant difference in Iraq. Good American soldiers are now dying at an average rate of more than 45 a month, a higher rate than in either 2004 or 2005. The Iraqi insurgency continues to grow, and the jihadist minority in the insurgency may be increasing significantly from its reported level of only five percent. Clearly, whatever the United States has been doing in Iraq over the last three years has not been working. The time for palliatives is past.


Al Qaeda was increasingly rejected by Muslims in late 2001 and 2002. Its ideology was condemned publicly by Muslims, and its 9/11 attack on the United States denounced. Even Muslim radicals criticized Al Qaeda for violating the fundamental Islamic principle of never attacking an enemy without first inviting him to convert. But American involvement in Iraq turned everything around, effectively silencing such criticism.


One hard reality that must be recognized is that no war on terrorism can ever be won without indigenous support in the Islamic world. The United States forfeited any possibility of attracting such support by its adventure in Iraq.


The issue is not one of cut and run. Rather, what is needed is a global repositioning of U.S. forces, based on a fundamental reassessment of how the war on terrorism can most effectively continue to be prosecuted. Deterrence is indeed applicable to the Islamic world, and a revival of an over the horizon strategy has much to recommend it. Constant repetition of the cut and run phrase forecloses intelligent debate.


Withdrawal from Iraq is not likely to place the U.S. mainland in any greater danger from terrorism than it is now. On the contrary, it is likely to reduce that danger. At the very least, redeployment of American forces will greatly reduce the number of U.S. instructors in the art of what works and what doesnt for their Iraqi students in the insurgency. And it will render more difficult recruitment efforts by the insurgents by removing their trump card of resistance to occupation. Were a repositioning of U.S. forces combined with a new and serious push to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, jihadists in Iraq might seriously begin to fear for their future. And they would have good reason for that concern.


Iraq is now a failed state. In some sense, it has been ever since its foundation. There is now nothing that the United States can do to rectify that. Of course, announcement of an imminent but phased U.S. military disengagement from Iraq might just focus Iraqi minds, in a way they have not been focused to date, on how best to move seriously to solve their own problems.


The end in Iraq will be bloody. In all likelihood, the Shia will emerge victorious, but the situation is long likely to remain chaotic. Probably, Kurdistan will retain functional independence, unless Turkey decides otherwise. Iranian influence may increase significantly in Iraq, and elsewhere in the Middle East, after a U.S. withdrawal. But the staying power of U.S. Sunni client states in the region has frequently been underestimated. Such states are likely to survive an American withdrawal without catastrophic consequences.


What is most important to recognize is that a U.S. withdrawal will keep the United States from being consumed by the flames in Iraq, deprive Bin Laden of a prime recruiting tool and perhaps halt the slide of American approval ratings in the region to near zero.


Most American client states do want the United States to stay in Iraq. But these undemocratic states are almost totally unrepresentative of the views of their own people. However much terrorism may be abetted by Iran or Syria, it is fundamentally a phenomenon that originates from below, not at the state level. Whatever U.S. client states may say, the United States should recognize this reality. The United States must also recognize the reality that Arabs see the occupation of Iraq for what it is, rather than as a means for bringing democracy to the area.


Arabs do indeed want some form of democracy. But, as Michael Vlahos has eloquently argued, they want some other things even more: independence, authenticity, and redemption. Most importantly, Arabs and Muslims will never accept the real or perceived imposition of democracy on the point of American bayonets. Today, the most effective U.S. tactic for the promotion of democracy may well be to cease talking about it.


Major General John Batiste is correct that the United States faces a protracted challenge from jihadists. But the question is how that challenge may most effectively be met. Significant numbers of additional, combat-ready troops are simply not available for deployment to Iraq. And the patience of the American public with the entire Iraqi debacle has run out.


Debate, by Democrats and Republicans alike, should now turn to alternative means to confront terrorism, and to discussion of countermeasures that do not always or necessarily involve the deployment of large numbers of American forces abroad.


Antony T. Sullivan is president of Near East Support Services, a consulting firm. He has written widely on the Middle East and U.S. foreign policy.


back to top




Arab News – 22 October, 2006



Prominent Shiite and Sunni religious scholars from Iraq took the first major step in decades toward mutual recognition at a historic meeting in Makkah yesterday.


In a joint declaration, signed at Al-Safa Palace overlooking the Holy Kaaba, the religious scholars called for a complete end to the sectarian killings in Iraq that have recently assumed horrific proportions.


Meeting under the auspices of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) and the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, the Shiite and Sunni scholars called on Iraqis in unambiguous terms to stand united in protecting the independence, unity and territorial integrity of their country. This is necessary, they said, in order to put an end to the (foreign) occupation and restore and reinstate Iraqs Arab-Islamic role.


The declaration produced by the scholars contains a ruling which clearly forbids Shiites and Sunnis from killing each other. Essentially a fatwa, the ruling is based on eight key points. The most important is: The Muslim is he who professes his faith by proclaiming Lailaha Illallah Muhammad Rasulullah (There is no god but Allah and Muhammad is His Prophet). By this statement, the Muslim embraces and accepts the five pillars of Islam and the central tenets of its faith, thus rendering his blood and property inviolable.


These fundamental principles, the declaration said, apply equally to the Sunni and the Shiite without exception. The differences between the two schools of thought are merely differences of opinion and interpretation and not essential differences of faith.


The declaration states that no follower of either school may expel or declare another an unbeliever or in any other way cast aspersions on the faith of a follower of a different school. The grounds for the ruling are based on a statement by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him): If ever one of you calls his brother: You infidel, one of them shall come out the infidel and bear the onus thereof.


The declaration reiterates that all houses of worship are sacrosanct, including mosques and non-Muslim houses of worship of all faiths and religions. Therefore, the declaration states that, these places of worship may not be attacked, appropriated, or in any other way used as a haven to perpetrate acts in contravention of Shariah.


The declaration rules that certain things and principles should never be forfeited, including, in particular, unity, cohesion, cooperation and solidarity in piety and righteousness. It is incumbent upon all Muslims to adopt caution and vigilance against all attempts to sow division among them, break their ranks, or incite sedition, strife, and hatred in order to corrupt their divine and spiritual bonds with each other.


The scholars appealed to all Muslim scholars to support the ruling and urged the Muslims of Iraq to adhere to it. We pray to Almighty God, on this sacred soil and blessed grounds, to protect and preserve the faith of all Muslims, ensure the safety of our homeland, and bring the Arab-Muslim country of Iraq out of its plight, end its trials and tribulations, and reinstate Iraq as a fortress and pillar of the Muslim Ummah in the face of its enemies.


Prominent among the 28 signatories of the declaration are Sheikh Ahmad Abdul Ghafour Al-Samarai, Sheikh Jalaludeen Al-Saghir, Sheikh Dr. Salah Abdul Razaq, Sheikh Abdul Satar Abdul Jabbar Abbas, Sheikh Dr. Mahmoud Al-Samidai, Syed Muhammad Al-Haideri and Sheikh Dr. Syed Muhammad Bahar Al-Uloom. The signing was witnessed by Sheikh Muhammad Habib Ben El-Khoja, secretary-general of the International Islamic Fiqh Academy, Sheikh Muhammad Ali Al-Taskhiri, a member of the academy, and Dr. Muhammad Salim El-Awa, adviser to the OIC secretary-general.


The declaration has received full approval and endorsement from key Shiite and Sunni leadership, most notably from Sheikh Muhammad Syed Tantawi, Grand Ayatollah Ali Al-Sistani, Sheikh Yusuf Al-Qaradawi, Adnan Al-Dulaimi and Sheikh Salah Al-Deen Kuftaro.


The key person behind the Shiite-Sunni reconciliation initiative was undoubtedly OIC Secretary-General Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu. Today is one of Gods blessed and historic days, he said after the declaration had been signed.


It is a day when eminent and benevolent Muslim scholars have strived to reach an agreement to stem the bloodshed in Iraq, to stop the killing of innocent Iraqis and to end the suffering of our Iraqi brethren, Ihsanoglu said.


He said the OIC was conscious of its responsibility toward God, the Islamic Ummah and history. We have felt duty-bound to put in a particular effort to face this state of disorder in Iraq before it became more serious.


Ihsanoglu pointed out that since one of the causes of insecurity in Iraq was the propagation of ideas alien to the religion and traditions of Islam, it is clear that the religious scholars are most qualified to counter the false ideas, to refute them and warn those who have fallen into their trap of the consequences of their deeds and to attempt to dissuade them.


It was unclear what, if any, influence the declaration would have on the ground in Iraq, but Ihsanoglu said that it had grown out of the purest and most sincere intentions. We will have to exert all humanly possible efforts to help the Iraqi people regain their sovereignty and to reconstruct their country in an atmosphere of peace, tranquility and Islamic brotherhood, he said.


Ihsanoglu acknowledged that the OIC did not have a magic wand to ensure the declarations implementation. It is a moral obligation. Neither the OIC, nor anyone else, has power over the consciences of men, he added.


back to top




White House Denies Reference to Waterboarding

By Dan Eggen

Washington Post Staff Writer

Friday, October 27, 2006; 11:58 AM




Vice President Cheney said this week that dunking terrorism suspects in water during questioning was a “no-brainer,” prompting complaints from human rights advocates that he was endorsing the use of a controversial technique known as waterboarding on prisoners held by the United States.


In an interview Tuesday with Scott Hennen, a conservative radio show host from Fargo, N.D., Cheney agreed with Hennen’s assertion that “a dunk in water” may yield valuable intelligence from terrorism suspects. He also referred to information gleaned from Khalid Sheik Mohammed, the captured architect of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but stopped short of explicitly saying what techniques were used.


“Would you agree a dunk in water is a no-brainer if it can save lives?” Hennen asked.


“Well, it’s a no-brainer for me,” Cheney said, “but for a while there, I was criticized as being the vice president for torture. We don’t torture. That’s not what we’re involved in.”


Asked about Cheney’s comments this morning, President Bush said: “This country doesn’t torture. We’re not going to torture.”


White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters this morning that Cheney was not referring to waterboarding in the radio interview.


“You know as a matter of common sense that the vice president of the United States is not going to be talking about water boarding. Never would, never does, never will,” Snow said, according to the Reuters news agency. “You think Dick Cheney’s going to slip up on something like this? No, come on.”


Larry Cox, executive director of Amnesty International USA, said in a statement, “What’s really a no-brainer is that no U.S. official, much less a vice president, should champion torture. Vice President Cheney’s advocacy of water boarding sets a new human rights low at a time when human rights is already scraping the bottom of the Bush administration barrel.”


Human Rights Watch said Cheney’s remarks were “the Bush administration’s first clear endorsement” of water boarding.


Cheney’s comments underscore continuing uncertainty over precisely which techniques can be used legally during CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and other lawmakers have said recent legislation that established ground rules for interrogations should effectively bar waterboarding and other methods that are viewed as violations of the Geneva Conventions and U.S. criminal law.


Bush administration officials have repeatedly declined to say which techniques they believe are permitted under the new law and have steadfastly declined to discuss methods used in the past.


Numerous sources have said that the CIA subjected Mohammed and other “high-value” terrorism suspects to waterboarding, a technique that gives the prisoner the sensation of drowning.


A Cheney spokeswoman said yesterday that he was not confirming the use of any specific interrogation techniques.


“He was talking about the interrogation program without torture,” spokeswoman Lee Anne McBride said. “The vice president does not discuss any techniques or methods that may or may not have been used in questioning.”


Congress passed legislation last month putting limits on interrogation techniques that can be used on prisoners declared to be “unlawful enemy combatants.” Lawmakers largely left it to the executive branch to decide whether many techniques would be legal.



The U.S. Army revised its field manual last month to ban waterboarding and other techniques as “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” outlawed by the Geneva accords. Military officials said experience had shown that abusive techniques do not work in yielding reliable intelligence from prisoners.


John Sifton, a senior researcher on terrorism and counterterrorism at Human Rights Watch, said Cheney’s comments seem to both endorse waterboarding and suggest its use on Mohammed and other prisoners.


“I think the context is clear that he’s agreeing that what the interviewer suggested — dunking people in water to interrogate them — is a no-brainer,” Sifton said. “Basically, what the vice president did is inject ambiguity into a situation in which Congress and the military thinks there is no ambiguity.”


Neal Sonnett, chairman of an American Bar Association task force on enemy combatants, said Cheney’s comments were “a little equivocal” on details but clear in their overall meaning.


“It may be too much to characterize it as a direct admission,” Sonnett said. “But he is certainly suggesting that he doesn’t see anything wrong with waterboarding.”


In waterboarding — one of a number of drowning-simulation techniques that date to the Spanish Inquisition — a prisoner is generally strapped down with his feet higher than his head. Water is then poured on his face while his nose and mouth are covered by a cloth. The technique produces an intense sensation of being close to suffocation and drowning, according to interrogation experts and human rights advocates.


The Khmer Rouge and other outlaw regimes have employed the method, and it has been condemned by many human rights and military lawyers as a clear example of illegal torture.


In 1947, the United States prosecuted a Japanese soldier for war crimes and sentenced him to 15 years hard labor for using the technique on a U.S. prisoner.


Staff researcher Julie Tate and staff writer Bill Brubaker contributed to this report.


back to top




Barry Rubin

October 26, 2006


The era of democracy promotion as the main theme of U.S. Middle East policy is over for all practical purposes.  Having found constructive forces in the region to be close to non-existent, America is back to the strategy of a more traditional realpolitik, making alliances with what seems to be those representing the lesser of two evils.


In principle, this change is regrettable but absolutely necessary. It is the product of two main developments:


Support within the region for liberal, democratic-oriented reform is very limited. The local political cultures and societies are too resistant; the dictatorships too strong and clever; extremists too able to take advantage of any openings offered, for example, by elections.


Extremists have gone on the offensive, as represented by the Iran-Syria-Hizballah-Hamas alliance.  Rather than a perceived opportunity for making things better–as represented by the peace process of the 1990s and the campaign for democracy–the task now is to keep the regional situation from becoming far worse.


Of course, within this new policy there are choices to be made.  Consider the trend in U.S. policy toward the Palestinians.  Basically, America is taking sides, supporting Fatah against Hamas.  Superficial observers think this means pushing for Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, and that is why, after all, they are superficial.  Mahmoud Abbas, PLO head and Palestinian Authority chief, is incapable of organizing a bake sale, much less delivering on any serious diplomatic bargaining.


It is not a matter of helping him deliver some peace agreement as showing that his policies benefit Palestinians.  Making such an arrangement requires concessions on his part and doing things like stopping terrorism and ending incitement.  In the context of the internal Palestinian struggle, this kind of thing is political poison.


The only way he could engage in a real peace process is by getting control of his own organization and defeating Hamas.  The only way he could defeat Hamas is by destroying it in a military confrontation.  The only way he can make a deal with Hamas is to surrender all his own real authority and reject peace with Israel.  There is no way out of this crisis.  If diplomats want to pretend otherwise, this is their business but nobody should be fooled about the reality of the situation.


There remains, however, the question:  What policy is best, given this set of problems?  On at least two fronts, the United States is now funding Fatah–which of course includes a large majority of hardliners and a major terrorist group–to build up Abbas’ “bodyguard” and to learn how to campaign better in elections.  For the latter task, according to a Reuters report, $42 million is budgeted.  The emphasis is on internal party reform and on better organization.  “This project supports [the] objective to create democratic alternatives to authoritarian or radical Islamist political options,” says a U.S. government document.


Sigh.  Well, I can see how this makes sense on one level.  Perhaps giving Fatah more money to throw around might buy it support and votes.  But note that there is no policy quid pro quo (a Latin word meaning to get something for giving something).  In other words, Fatah is not going to stop terrorism, end incitement, or be more moderate.


And why would anyone believe Fatah is capable of learning anything?  Fatah is far more comfortable competing with Hamas in bragging about how militant it is, how many martyrs it has produced, and how intently it will carry on the struggle to total victory.  The group is not about to prove its superiority to Hamas by building roads and producing better schools.


Some in Washington may believe the contrary.  But what is apparently happening here is that realpolitik is wearing the clothes of democratization.  The policy is really one of backing those forces opposed to the super-hardliners even if they are regular, typical Middle East hardliners.


Rejecting appeasement and knowing regime change won’t work; there is a third policy alternative.  It consists of three basic points:


Realistic assessment.  Have no illusions that Iran, Syria, Hizballah or Hamas are going to become more moderate.  They are the advocates of war, revolution, terrorism, and hatred in the Middle East. No matter what the United States, West, and Israel do, these factors are going to oppose them.


Tough stance.  Recognizing that these forces are enemies, it is necessary to develop systematically a full range of appropriate tactics, including sanctions, public statements, covert operations, no unilateral concessions to “build confidence,” and so on.


Best possible alignments.  This requires the maximum possible cooperation between the United States and Europe, on the one hand, and to work with regional forces whose interests also oppose the super-extremists, on the other.  Within the region this includes Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the majority in Lebanon of Christians, Druze, and Sunni Muslims who reject Iranian-Syrian-Hizballah domination.


This is far less than many had hoped to accomplish during the optimistic era of the 1990s when comprehensive peace seemed possible, or of the heady days for those who thought that democracy would sweep away dictatorship in the Middle East. Still, this is the hand we have been dealt, and we must play it as best we can while still arguing about how to implement such a strategy.


Barry Rubin is Director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, Interdisciplinary Center university. His co-authored book, Yasir Arafat: A Political Biography, (Oxford University Press) is now available in paperback and in Hebrew. His latest book, The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East, was published by Wiley in November 2005.


Prof. Rubin’s columns can be read online at: http://gloria.idc.ac.il/columns/column.html


back to top




By Daoud Kuttab | October 20, 2006; 1:25 AM ET




Ramallah, Palestine/Amman, Jordan – Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas recently gave a press conference in which he outlined the problems within the Palestinian Authority and its relations with the outside world. In the press conference, Abbas hinted at some undemocratic moves that he plans to make in order to break a current deadlock that has resulted in nationwide strikes as a result of the failure of the government to pay salaries to public employees.


The world community has imposed an unjust siege on the Palestinians banning transfer of money to the government and the Israelis have refused to turn over to the Palestinian Authority the $50 million in taxes collected every month.


In explaining his possible next moves, Abbas said that bread for our children is more important than democracy. With this statement, Abbas, a moderate Arab leader, is putting the first nail in the coffin of a U.S. led drive to bring democracy to the region. By threatening to dissolve a democratically elected government, Abbas will reverse the results of free and fair elections in the Middle East.


back to top






Jim Lobe



WASHINGTON, Oct 25 (IPS) – Increasingly disillusioned with more than five years of the “global war on terror”, Arab- and Muslim-American voters are poised to vote heavily Democratic in the Nov. 7 mid-term elections, according to two polls released this week.


Strong majorities of Arab-American voters in four key states — Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Florida — intend to vote for the Democratic candidates for senator, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Arab American Institute (AAI).


The same poll, conducted by Zogby International (ZI), found that a whopping 76 percent of Arab Americans disapprove of the performance of President George W. Bush, who received a 46 percent plurality of the Arab-American vote when he was first elected to office six years ago.


Asked which party they would prefer to control Congress, 57 percent of Arab Americans chose Democrats, while only 26 percent said they favoured Republican control. That was a considerably larger gap than the general voting public which, according to a CNN poll released Tuesday, favours a Democratic Congress by a 57-40 percent margin.


Another survey of Muslim-American voters released here by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Tuesday also found widespread disillusionment with Bush, for whom a majority of Muslim Americans voted in 2000, particularly regarding the war on terror and foreign policy.


That poll, conducted by Genesis Research Associates in August, found that only 17 percent of Muslim-American voters consider themselves Republican now, while a plurality of 42 percent said they were Democrats and 28 percent said they did not belong to either party.


The same survey, in which Muslims were identified from voting records by common names prevalent among Muslims and thus did not include converts who did not change their legal names, also found widespread disapproval of the U.S. policies toward the Islamic world.


Seven in 10 respondents agreed with the statement, “A just resolution to the Palestinian cause would improve America’s standing in the Muslim world;” two-thirds said they were in favour of “working toward normalisation of relations with Iran”; and 55 percent agreed with the assertion that “The war on terror has become a war on Islam.”


Some seventy percent of Muslim voters said they disagreed (46 percent “strongly disagreed”) with the proposition that “The war in Iraq has been worthwhile for America,” while only 12 percent said they believed that it was. By contrast, only 39 percent of the U.S. general public currently believes that the U.S. military action in Iraq was the “right thing”, according to the most recent Newsweek poll published this week.


While overlapping, the CAIR and AAI poll represent different constituencies. About two-thirds of the roughly 3.5 million Arab Americans living here are Christian — mostly either Roman Catholic or Orthodox — rather than Muslim.


Similarly, only about 40 percent of Muslim Americans or their ancestors hail from the Arab world. Nearly one in three is of Asian ancestry, another six percent is African, and five percent Iranian. Of the roughly five million Muslim Americans, about one million are registered to vote, according to Mohamed Nimer, who conducted the CAIR survey.


In 2000, Bush gained the largest percentage of votes from both groups due primarily to his outspoken opposition to ethnic profiling and the widespread impression, based on the performance of his father’s administration from 1989 to 1993, that he would be more sympathetic to Arab and Palestinian aspirations than the administration of President Bill Clinton.


That impression, of course, turned out to be unfounded as Bush, more than any other modern president, has aligned his Middle East policies behind those of the Israeli government. And while publicly, Bush still opposes ethnic profiling, reports of hate crimes and harassment of suspected Arab- and Muslim-Americans have risen sharply since the 9/11 attacks on New York and the Pentagon.


While the Arab-American population is disproportionately concentrated in a relatively few states, notably California and New York, AAI and Zogby have focused their polling over the past six years on the four “battleground” states, both because of the residence there of a significant numbers of Arab-American voters and because the electorates of all four are divided roughly evenly between Democrats and Republicans.


All four are also holding elections for both governor and senator this year, and the poll found that the Democratic candidates for each are strongly favoured among Arab Americans. Incumbent Democratic Governor Ed Rendell of Pennsylvania, for example, holds a 67-22 percent lead among Arab-American voters; in Ohio, Democrat Ted Strickland is favoured by a 60-21 percent margin in the gubernatorial race; and Michigan’s incumbent Jennifer Granholm is favoured by a 61-29 percent margin.


The races for Senate are even more lop-sided. In three of the four races, the Democratic candidates, including the Pennsylvania contest in which the Republican incumbent Rick Santorum has been a strong booster of Bush’s war on terrorism and was one of the first national politicians to use the word “Islamofascism”, lead by a two-to-one margin. Even in Michigan, where Republicans are running an Arab American, Michael Bouchard, Arab American voters prefer the Democratic incumbent, Debbie Stabenow, by a 54-31 percent margin.


According to the poll, Arab Americans consider corruption to be the single most important issue in deciding how they vote, followed closely by the war in Iraq, civil liberties, Palestine, and Lebanon. By a margin of more than two to one, respondents said they believed Democrats would do a better job than Republicans on each issue.


The CAIR survey, which interviewed 1,000 randomly chosen registered Muslim voters, was the first of its kind and more general in scope, even if necessarily incomplete due to the absence of Muslim voters with traditionally non-Islamic names — including, for example, Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democratic legislator, who is given a good chance of becoming the first Muslim elected to the U.S. Congress in the Nov. 7 elections. About 60 percent of respondents were men, and 80 percent of respondents were concentrated in 12 states, led by California, Florida, Michigan, New Jersey and Texas.


Compared to the general U.S. population, it found that Muslim voters were much younger, significantly more educated — 62 percent had at least a bachelor degree, or twice the national average — and more Democratic in party identification.


It also found a wide range of religious observance: 31 percent said they attended mosque on a weekly basis; 16 percent, once a month; and 27 percent, rarely or never. Most respondents said they considered themselves “just Muslims”, avoiding sectarian distinctions. Thirty-six percent said they are Sunni; 12 percent said they were Shia; two percent Sufi; and less than half of one percent “Salafi”.


Like Arab Americans, Muslim-American voters considered domestic issues, rather than foreign policy, to be most important. Nearly half rated either civil liberties or education at the top of their list, while 20 percent named “conflicts in Palestine and Lebanon” as their most important concern, and 18 percent cited the “wars in Afghanistan and Iraq”.


The poll found that Muslim-American voters appeared well-integrated into U.S. society. Nearly 90 percent said they vote regularly; two-thirds said they fly the U.S. flag on occasion; and 42 percent — or about 50 percent more than the general population — said they volunteered in institutions serving the public.


On general issues, 84 percent said Muslims should strongly emphasise shared values with Christians and Jews, and 77 percent said they believe that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. (END/2006)


back to top



Seven-hour ordeal in New York causes angry backlash





A STORM is brewing after leading South African academic and Muslim, Professor Adam Habib, was deported from the US at the weekend.


Habib, executive director of the Human Sciences Research Councils Democracy and Governance Research Programme, was questioned for more than seven hours at John F Kennedy International Airport in New York.


His visa was then revoked and he was escorted back to a plane by armed guards and deported.


Habib is the third South African Muslim to be deported from the US in the past month.


Local human rights activists, including Muslim groups, have reacted with outrage, calling on the US to justify their actions.


Habib last night told the Daily Dispatch that on his arrival in the US, officials pulled him aside and asked whether he knew any terrorists or if he belonged to any terror organisations.


They asked me if I was a terrorist and I said no. Then they asked if I had ever been in prison and I said yes, I was politically detained by the apartheid government, he said.


Habib, who has not been given a reason for his deportation, said he felt his personal rights were severely infringed. You cant just deny someone access to a country and not give them any reasons why. Its like you accuse someone, but you dont tell them what for, he said.


Habibs ordeal started on Saturday when he arrived in New York with an HSRC delegation scheduled to meet officials of a number of US institutions, including the National Institute of Health, the Center for Disease Control, the World Bank, Columbia University and some donor agencies. It came out of the blue. I have a 10-year multiple entry visa issued three years ago. The last time I travelled to the US was in 2004 and I did not have any problems.


In 2002 and 2003 the Financial Mail described Habib as one of the 300 most influential black opinion makers in South Africa.


Habib said he had visited the US more than 20 times previously for work and personal reasons without any problems.


A US embassy spokesperson in Pretoria, Mark Schlacter, confirmed Habib had been interviewed by US customs and border protection officials who determined that his application for entry was inadmissible. The reasons were unavailable to him, he said, and he directed queries to US customs in New York.


Foreign Affairs spokesperson Ronnie Mamoepa declined to comment on the incident or whether it could unsettle diplomatic relations with the US. Professor Habib has been in contact with the department and has promised to send us a full report. Once we have seen the report, then we can plot the way forward.


Yesterday, Muslim Judicial Council spokesperson Nabeweya Malick was shocked and disappointed by Habibs deportation. The council planned to ask the US Embassy today to account for the behaviour of their customs officials.


This is not the first time this has happened. We are very concerned about the situation. We are beginning to feel that if you wear a beard or a fez you are a target, she said.


Earlier this month, Moulana Fazlur Rahman Azmi, a deputy amir in Gauteng, was denied access to the US. He had been invited to take part in activities marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan by a California-based Islamic Society.


And a local Islamic scholar, Ismail Mullah, was also denied entry when he arrived at Dulles International Airport to visit Muslims in northern Virginia.


Dr Firoz Osman, secretary to the Media Review Network, closely aligned to the Muslim Judicial Council, claimed the targeting of Muslims by US customs officials without justifiable reasons was a reflection of paranoia and injustice that is fuelling Islama-phobia around the world.


back to top






In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful,


Do not contend with people of the Book except in the fairest way.

                                                (The Holy Quran, al-Ankabut, 29: 46)


Your Holiness:


With regards to your lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany on September 12, 2006, we thought it appropriate, in the spirit of open exchange, to address your use of a debate between the Emperor Manuel II Paleologus and a learned Persian as the starting point for a discourse on the relationship between reason and faith. While we applaud your efforts to oppose the dominance of positivism and materialism in human life, we must point out some errors in the way you mentioned Islam as a counterpoint to the proper use of reason, as well as some mistakes in the assertions you put forward in support of your argument.


There is no Compulsion in Religion You mention that according to the experts the verse which begins, There is no compulsion in religion (al-Baqarah 2:256) is from the early period when the Prophet was still powerless and under threat, but this is incorrect. In fact this verse is acknowledged to belong to the period of Quranic revelation corresponding to the political and military ascendance of the young Muslim community. There is no compulsion in religion was not a command to Muslims to remain steadfast in the face of the desire of their oppressors to force them to renounce their faith, but was a reminder to Muslims themselves, once they had attained power, that they could not force anothers heart to believe. There is no compulsion in religion addresses those in a position of strength, not weakness. The earliest commentaries on the Quran (such as that of Al-Tabari) make it clear that some Muslims of Medina wanted to force their children to convert from Judaism or Christianity to Islam, and this verse was precisely an answer to them not to try to force their children to convert to Islam.  Moreover, Muslims are also guided by such verses as Say: The truth is from your Lord; so whosoever will, let him believe, and whosoever will, let him disbelieve. (al-Kahf .18:29); and Say: O disbelievers! I worship not that which ye worship; Nor worship ye that which I worship. And I shall not worship that which ye worship.


Nor will ye worship that which I worship. Unto you your religion, and unto me my religion (al-Kafirun: .109:1-6).


Gods Transcendence You also say that for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent, a simplification which can be misleading.


The Quran states, There is no thing like unto Him (al-Shura .42-11), but it also states, He is the Light of the heavens and the earth (al-Nur .24:35); and, We are closer to him than his jugular vein (Qaf .50:16); and, He is the First, the Last, the Inward, and the Outward (al-Hadid .57:3); and, He is with you wherever you are (al-Hadid .57-4); and, Wheresoever you turn, there is the Face of God (al-Baqarah .2:115). Also, let us recall the saying of the Prophet, which states that God says, When I love him (the worshipper), I am the hearing by which he hears, the sight by which he sees, the hand with which he grasps, and the foot with which he walks. (Sahih al-Bukhari no6502, Kitab al-Riqaq) In the Islamic spiritual, theological, and philosophical tradition, the thinker you mention, Ibn Hazm (d.I069 CE), is a worthy but very marginal figure, who belonged to the Zahiri school of jurisprudence which is followed by no one in the Islamic world today. If one is looking for classical formulations of the doctrine of transcendence, much more important to Muslims are figures such as al-Ghazali (d..IIII CE,) and many others who are far more influential and more representative of Islamic belief than Ibn Hazm.


You quote an argument that because the emperor is shaped by Greek philosophy the idea that God is not pleased by blood is self-evident to him, to which the Muslim teaching on Gods Transcendence is put forward  as a counterexample. To say that for Muslims Gods Will is not bound up in any of our categories is also a simplification which may lead to a misunderstanding. God has many Names in Islam, including the Merciful, the Just, the Seeing, the Hearing, the Knowing, the Loving, and the Gentle.  Their utter conviction in Gods Oneness and that There is none like unto Him (al-Ikhlas 112:4) has not led Muslims to deny Gods attribution of these qualities to Himself and to (some of)His creatures, (setting aside for now the notion of categories, a term which requires much clarification in this context).As this concerns His Will, to conclude that Muslims believe in a capricious God who might or might not command us to evil is to forget that God says in the Quran, Lo! God enjoins justice and kindness, and giving to kinsfolk, and forbids lewdness and abomination and wickedness. He exhorts you in order that ye may take heed (al-Nahl, .16:90). Equally, it is to forget that God says in the Quran that He has prescribed for Himself mercy (al-Anam, 6:12, see also 5:54), and that God says in the Quran, My Mercy encompasses everything (al-Araf 7:156). The word for mercy, rahmah, can also be translated as love, kindness, and compassion. From this word rahmah comes the sacred formula Muslims use daily, In the Name of God, the Merciful, the Compassionate. Is it not self-evident that spilling innocent blood goes against mercy and compassion? The Use of Reason The Islamic tradition is rich in its explorations of the nature of human intelligence and its relation to Gods Nature and His Will, including questions of what is self-evident and what is not. However, the dichotomy between reason on one hand and faith on the other does not exist in precisely the same form in Islamic thought. Rather, Muslims have come to terms with the power and limits of human intelligence in their own way, acknowledging a hierarchy of knowledge of which reason is a crucial part.  There are two extremes which the Islamic intellectual tradition has generally managed to avoid: one is to make the analytical mind the ultimate arbiter of truth, and the other is to deny the power of human understanding to address ultimate questions. More importantly, in their most mature and mainstream forms the intellectual explorations of Muslims through the ages have maintained a consonance between the truths of the Quranic revelation and the demands of human intelligence, without sacrificing one for the other. God says, We shall show them Our signs in the horizons and in themselves until it is clear to them that it is the truth (Fussilat .41:53). Reason itself is one among the many signs within us, which God invites us to contemplate, and to contemplate with, as a way of knowing the truth.


What is Holy War? We would like to point out that holy war is a term that does not exist in Islamic languages. Jihad, it must be emphasized, means struggle, and specifically struggle in the way of God.  This struggle may take many forms, including the use of force.  Though a jihad may be sacred in the sense of being directed towards a sacred ideal, it is not necessarily a war.  Moreover, it is noteworthy that Manuel II Paleologus says that violence goes against Gods nature, since Christ himself used violence against the money-changers in the temple, and said Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword (Matthew .10:34-36).  When God drowned Pharaoh, was He going against His own Nature? Perhaps the emperor meant to say that cruelty, brutality, and aggression are against Gods Will, in which case the classical and traditional law of jihad in Islam would bear him out completely.


You say that naturally the emperor knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Quran, concerning holy war. However, as we pointed out above concerning There is no compulsion in religion, the aforementioned instructions were not later at all. Moreover, the emperors statements about violent conversion show that he did not know what those instructions are and have always been.


The authoritative and traditional Islamic rules of war can be summarized in the following principles:  Non-combatants are not permitted or legitimate targets.  This was emphasized explicitly time and again by the Prophet, his Companions, and by the learned tradition since then.


 Religious belief alone does not make anyone the object of attack.  The original Muslim community was fighting against pagans who had also expelled them from their homes, persecuted, tortured, and murdered them.  Thereafter, the Islamic conquests were political in nature.


3. Muslims can and should live peacefully with their neighbors. And if they incline to peace, do thou incline to it; and put thy trust in God (al-Anfal 8:61). However, this does not exclude legitimate self-defense and maintenance of sovereignty.


Muslims are just as bound to obey these rules as they are to refrain from theft and adultery. If a religion regulates war and describes circumstances where it is necessary and just, that does not make that religion war-like, anymore than regulating sexuality makes a religion prurient. If some have disregarded a long and well-established tradition in favor of utopian dreams where the end justifies the means, they have done so of their own accord and without the sanction of God, His Prophet, or the learned tradition.  God says in the Holy Quran: Let not hatred of any people seduce you into being unjust. Be just, that is nearer to piety (al-Maidah 5:8). In this context we must state that the murder on September 11th of an innocent Catholic nun in Somaliaand any other similar acts of wanton individual violencein reaction to your lecture at the University of Regensburg, is completely un-Islamic, and we totally condemn such acts.


Forced Conversion The notion that Muslims are commanded to spread their faith by the sword or that Islam in fact was largely spread by the sword does not hold up to scrutiny. Indeed, as a political entity Islam spread partly as a result of conquest, but the greater part of its expansion came as a result of preaching and missionary activity. Islamic teaching did not prescribe that the conquered populations be forced or coerced into converting. Indeed, many of the first areas conquered by the Muslims remained predominantly non-Muslim for centuries. Had Muslims desired to convert all others by force, there would not be a single church or synagogue left anywhere in the Islamic world.  The command There is no compulsion in religion means now what it meant then. The mere fact of a person being non-Muslim has never been a legitimate casus belli in Islamic law or belief.  As with the rules of war, history shows that some Muslims have violated Islamic tenets concerning forced conversion and the treatment of other religious communities, but history also shows that these are by far the exception which proves the rule.  We emphatically agree that forcing others to believeif such a thing be truly possible at allis not pleasing to God and that God is not pleased by blood. Indeed, we believe, and Muslims have always believed, that Whosoever slays a soul not to retaliate for a soul slain, nor for corruption done in the land, it shall be as if he had slain mankind altogether (al-Maidah .:5:32).


Something New? You mention the emperors assertion that anything new brought by the Prophet was evil and inhuman, such as his alleged command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.  What the emperor failed to realizeaside from the fact (as mentioned above) that no such command has ever existed in Islamis that the Prophet never claimed to be bringing anything fundamentally new. God says in the Holy Quran, Naught is said to thee (Muhammad) but what already was said to the Messengers before thee (Fussilat .41:43), and, Say (Muhammad): I am no new thing among the messengers (of God), nor know I what will be done with me or with you. I do but follow that what is Revealed to me, and I am but a plain warner (al-Ahqaf, 46:9).Thus faith in the One God is not the property of any one religious community.


According to Islamic belief, all the true prophets preached the same truth to different peoples at different times.  The laws may be different, but the truth is unchanging.


The Experts You refer at one point non-specifically to the experts (on Islam) and also actually cite two Catholic scholars by name, Professor (Adel) Theodore Khoury and (Associate Professor) Roger Arnaldez. It suffices here to say that whilst many Muslims consider that there are sympathetic non-Muslims and Catholics who could truly be considered experts on Islam,  Muslims have not to our knowledge endorsed the experts you referred to, or recognized them as representing Muslims or their views. On September 25th, 2006 you reiterated your important statement in Cologne on August 20th, 2005 that, Inter-religious and inter-cultural dialogue between Christians and Muslims cannot be reduced to an optional extra. It is, in fact, a vital necessity, on which in large measure our future depends. Whilst we fully concur with you, it seems to us that a great part of the object of inter-religious dialogue is to strive to listen to and consider the actual voices of those we are dialoguing with, and not merely those of our own persuasion.


* * *


Christianity and Islam Christianity and Islam are the largest and second largest religions in the world and in history. Christians and Muslims reportedly make up over a third and over a fifth of humanity respectively.  Together they make up more than .55% of the worlds population, making the relationship between these two religious communities the most important factor in contributing to meaningful peace around the world. As the leader of over a billion Catholics and moral example for many others around the globe, yours is arguably the single most influential voice in continuing to move this relationship forward in the direction of mutual understanding.  We share your desire for frank and sincere dialogue, and recognize its importance in an increasingly interconnected world. Upon this sincere and frank dialogue we hope to continue to build peaceful and friendly relationships based upon mutual respect, justice, and what is common in essence in our shared Abrahamic tradition, particularly the two greatest commandments in Mark 12:29-31 (and, in varying form, in Matthew 22:37-40), that, the Lord our God is One Lord; / And thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy understanding, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.


/ And the second commandment is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.


Muslims thus appreciate the following words from the Second Vatican Council: The church has also a high regard for the Muslims. They worship God, who is one, living and subsistent, merciful and almighty, the Creator of heaven and earth, who has also spoken to humanity. They endeavor to submit themselves without reserve to the hidden decrees of God, just as Abraham submitted himself to Gods plan, to whose faith Muslims eagerly link their own. Although not acknowledging him as God, they venerate Jesus as a prophet; his virgin Mother they also honor, and even at times devoutly invoke. Further, they await the day of judgment and the reward of God following the resurrection of the dead. For this reason they highly esteem an upright life and worship God, especially by way of prayer, alms-deeds and fasting. (Nostra Aetate, .28 October 1965) And equally the words of the late Pope John Paul II, for whom many Muslims had great regard and esteem: We Christians joyfully recognize the religious values we have in common with Islam. Today I would like to repeat what I said to young Muslims some years ago in Casablanca: We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection (Insegnamenti, VIII/2, [1985], p.497, quoted during a general audience on May 5, 1999).


Muslims also appreciated your unprecedented personal _expression of sorrow, and your clarification and assurance (on the 17th of September) that your quote does not reflect your own personal opinion, as well as the Cardinal Secretary of State Tarcisio Bertones affirmation (on the 16th of September) of the conciliar document Nostra Aetate.


Finally, Muslims appreciated that (on September 25th) in front of an assembled group of ambassadors from Muslim countries you expressed total and profound respect for all Muslims. We hope that we will all avoid the mistakes of the past and live together in the future in peace, mutual acceptance and respect.


And all praise belongs to God, and there is neither power nor strength except through God.




(listed in alphabetical order)


H.E. Allamah Abd Allah bin Mahfuz bin Bayyah

Professor,King Abd Al-Aziz University, Saudi Arabia

Former Vice President; Minister of Justice;Minister of Education and Minister of Religious Affairs, Mauritania


ProfessorDr. AllamahMuhammad SaidRamadanAl-Buti

Dean of Department of Religion,University of Damascus, Syria


Prof. Dr. MustafaÇag¡rýcý

GrandMufti of Istanbul


H.E.  Shaykh  ProfessorDr. MustafaCeric

GrandMufti andHead of Ulema of Bosnia andHerzegovina


H.E.  Shaykh RavilGainutdin

GrandMufti of Russia


H.E.  Shaykh NedžadGrabus

GrandMufti of Slovenia


Shaykh Al-HabibAliMashhour binMuhammad bin SalimbinHafeez

Imamof the TarimMosque andHead of FatwaCouncil, Tarim,Yemen


Shaykh Al-HabibUmar binMuhammad bin SalimbinHafeez

Dean,DarAl-Mustafa, Tarim,Yemen


ProfessorDr.  FarouqHamadah

Professor of the Sciences of Tradition,MohammadVUniversity,Morocco


Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Hanson

Founder and Director, Zaytuna Institute, California, USA


H.E.  Shaykh Dr. Ahmad Badr Al-Din Hassoun

Grand Mufti of the Republic of Syria


Dr.  Shaykh  IzzAl-Din Ibrahim

Advisor for Cultural Affairs, Prime Ministry, United Arab Emirates


H.E.  ProfessorDr. Omar Jah

Secretary of the Muslim Scholars Council, Gambia

Professor of Islamic Civilization and Thought, University of Gambia


Shaykh Al-HabibAli ZainAl-AbideenAl-Jifri

Founder and Director, Taba Institute,UnitedArab Emirates


H.E.  Shaykh  ProfessorDr. Ali Jumuah

Grand Mufti of the Republic of Egypt


Professor Dr. Abla Mohammed Kahlawi

Dean of Islamic and Arabic Studies, Al-Azhar University (Womens College), Egypt


Professor Dr. Mohammad Hashim Kamali

Dean, International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC),Malaysia

Professor of Islamic Law and Jurisprudence, International Islamic University, Malaysia


Shaykh Nuh Ha Mim Keller

Shaykh  in the Shadhili Order and Senior Fellow of Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought (Jordan),U.S.A.


H.E.  Shaykh Ahmad Al-Khalili

Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman


Shaykh Dr. Ahmad Kubaisi

Founder of the Ulema Organization, Iraq


Allamah Shaykh Muhammad bin Muhammad Al-Mansouri

HighAuthority (Marja) of ZeidiMuslims,Yemen


Shaykh AbuBakrAhmadAl-Milibari

Secretary-General of the Ahl Al-Sunna Association, India


H.E. Dr. Moulay Abd Al-Kabir Al-Alawi Al-Mudghari

Director-General of the Bayt Mal Al-Qods Al-Sharif Agency,

Former Minister of Religious Affairs, Morocco


H.E.  Shaykh Ahmad Hasyim Muzadi

General Chairman of the Nahdat al-Ulema, Indonesia


H.E.  Professor Dr.  Seyyed Hossein Nasr

University Professor of Islamic Studies,George Washington University, Washington D.C, U.S.A.


H.E.  Shaykh  Sevki Omerbasic

Grand Mufti of Croatia


H.E. Dr. Mohammad Abd Al-GhaffarAl-Sharif

Secretary-General of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, Kuwait


Dr.  Muhammad Alwani Al-Sharif

Head of the European Academy of Islamic Culture and Sciences, Brussels, Belgium


Shaykh M. Iqbal Sullam

Vice General-Secretary, Nahdat al-Ulema, Indonesia


Shaykh Dr. Tariq Sweidan

Director-General of the Risalah Satellite Channel


Professor Dr. H.R.H. Prince Ghazi bin Muhammad bin Talal

Chairman of the Board of the Aal al-Bayt Institute for Islamic Thought, Jordan


H.E. Ayotollah Muhammad Ali Taskhiri

Secretary General of the World Assembly for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thoughts (WAPIST), Iran


H.E.  Shaykh Naim Trnava

Grand Mufti of Kosovo


H.E. Dr. Abd Al-Aziz Uthman Al-Tweijri

Director-General of the Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO),Morocco


H.H. Justice Mufti Muhammad Taqi Uthmani

Vice President, Dar Al-Ulum, Karachi, Pakistan


H.E.  Shaykh Muhammad Al-Sadiq Muhammad Yusuf

Grand Mufti of Uzbekistan


Shaykh Abd Al-Hakim Murad Winter

Shaykh  Zayed Lecturer in Islamic Studies, Divinity School, University of Cambridge, U.K.

Director of the Muslim Academic Trust, U.K.


H.E.  Shaykh Muamer Zukorli

Mufti of Sanjak, Bosnia


If you would like further information or interviews with Professor Tim Winter in the UK and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf in the USA regarding issues related to the open letter, please contact Islamica Magazine in the USA on 213-291-7191, in the UK on +44 (0)20-7993-2966, Jordan on +962-6-464-1179 or +962 777 608 449 or email [email protected]


back to top






In the name of God, The most Gracious, The Most Merciful


His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI

Apostolic Palace

00120 Vatican City State, Europe


Your Excellency,


With warm greetings and sincere hope that your efforts in inviting people to worship God and to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ are successful, I would like to respond to your invitation for a genuine dialogue with Muslims in the aftermath of your recent speech at the Regensburg University in Munich, Germany.


The writer of this article has spent more than forty years of his life doing research in the field of Quranic studies, Islamic principles and has published books as well.  He has also benefited from the political experience and religious knowledge of a father who as the first prime minister of Iran after the Islamic revolution made a tremendous effort toward consensus building by tempering revolutionary zeal and curbing extremism. With your permission, I would like to bring to your attention a few pertinent points regarding your speech.


Your Excellency, as you are well aware, throughout history there have always been unbelievers who spoke disparagingly about all Prophets. Their attacks, at times, have even gone much further and been pointed against the very Creator of the universe. Of course, had such vehement denunciations come from knowledgeable scholars, philosophers, sociologists or other learned people, one might have wanted to reflect on such charges. I believe you would agree that emperors and political leaders of countries talk in a language that serves the vested interest of their respective systems and paraphrasing their statements (especially those of an emperor who lived in the 14th century during a contentious period between Muslims and Christians) cannot solve any of today’s world problems.


It seems logical then, that a genuine dialogue among the followers of different religions may be a more intelligent way to instill a spirit of cooperation in establishing world peace, mutually beneficial co-existence and cooperation in all fields that contribute to human development.


Furthermore, with the exception of Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Paleologus, there are noble characters among Europeans whose opinions regarding Islam were diametrically opposed to those of Manuel II Paleologus.   For instance, Voltaire who initially had anti-Islamic views spoke very highly of Prophet Mohammed after he studied the Qur’an and developed a better understanding of Islam. Likewise, Goethe who indebted himself to the Muslim and Persian speaking poet Hafiz, a term that denotes one who has memorized the Qur’an in its entirety, said “If this is Islam, aren’t we all Muslims”.


Within the last few centuries, several Islamic scholars and Qur’anic researchers have come from the western world, in particular Germany. For example, Flugel and Noldeke, have praised, admired and validated the merits of the teachings of the Prophet of Islam and have contributed greatly to the field of Qur’anic studies.  Karen Armstrong, the world renowned religious scholar known for her objectivity and fairness, has stated that the expansion of Islam through the sword is the biggest lie that has been fabricated by the enemies of Islam.


In my opinion, the Qur’an which serves as the foundation and guide for Muslims, provides a very open and wide field for the exchange of opinions, cooperation and understanding of different points of view among Jews and Christians who share common principles from their respective Abrahimic tradition.


Quranic views, based on the following analysis, toward the followers of other traditions are one of tolerance, respect, compassion, peace and fostering of coexistence and cooperation.


1. Standards for relationships with “the People of the Book” (Jews and Christians)


        In sixteen verses, Quran confirms the truth of the previous scriptures and says, “To thee we sent the Scripture in truth, confirming the scripture that came before it, and guarding it in safety….” (5:48)


        The Qur’an instructs Muslims to show respect to the Holy men of previous traditions and says “amongst these are men devoted to learning and men who have renounced the world, and they are not arrogant” (5:82) The Qur’an promises Jews and Christians that “If only they had stood fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that was sent to them from their Lord, they would have enjoyed happiness from every side….”. (5:66)


        God commanded the Prophet to inform “the people of the Book” that “O People of the Book! Ye have no ground to stand upon unless ye stand fast by the Law, the Gospel, and all the revelation that has come to you from your Lord….” (5:68)


        The Qur’an negates any sense of religious superiority by declaring that heaven is not the exclusive domain of Muslims.  It clearly states, “Verily, those who have attained to faith, as well as those who follow the Jewish faith, and the Christians, and the Sabians – all who believe in God and the last day and do righteous deeds, shall have their reward with their sustainer; and no fear need they have, and neither shall they grieve”. (2:62, 5:69) Meaning they will dwell in heaven.


        God has commanded the Prophet of Islam to inform “the people of the Book” that “O People of the Book! Come to common terms as between us and you: That we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with him; that we erect not, from among ourselves, Lords and patrons other than Allah.” (3:64)


        In many verses, the Qur’an commands Muslims to join in fellowship with the followers of other traditions by refraining from discussing subjects that cause division and instead put the emphasis on common themes.


The Qur’an instructs Muslims to clearly declare that “We believe in Allah, and in what has been revealed to us and what was revealed to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and in (the Books) given to Moses, Jesus, and the prophets, from their Lord: We make no distinction between one and another among them, and to Allah do we bow our will (in Islam)”. (3:84)


2. The Common Roots of Judaism, Christianity and Islam: The Family of Abrahimic Traditions


Your Excellency, in order that you develop a keener understanding of the respectful views of the Qur’an toward the Prophets, scriptures and the righteous followers of previous traditions, I would like to call your attention to the following statistics.


While the Qur’an mentions Prophet Moses’ name one hundred and thirty-six times, Prophet Abraham’s name sixty-nine times and Prophet Jesus and Holy Mary’s names seventy times (collectively), it mentions the name of the Prophet of Islam who is the messenger of this religion only four times.


Do you not agree that this wide spectrum of inclusiveness and the fact that the Qur’an repeatedly reminds Muslims of the noble characters in other traditions are further signs of the peaceful nature of Islam?


The third chapter of the Qur’an, Al-Imran (The family of Imran), is named in honor of the ancestral roots of Jesus Christ (Hannah, Holy Mary, Zachariah, John the Baptist etc.), however, there is no chapter in the Qur’an entitled Al-Mohammad (The family of Mohammad).


The nineteenth chapter of the Qur’an, Maryam (Mary), is named after Holy Mary but there are no chapters in the Qur’an named after Fatimeh, the honorable daughter of Prophet Mohammad. Likewise, there are no chapters that are named after Prophet Mohammad’s mother or Khadija, Prophet Mohammad’s honorable wife.


The seventeenth chapter in the Qur’an is named Bani Isra’il (The Children of Israel), however, there is no chapter in the Qur’an that is called Bani Hashim (The Children of Prophet Mohammad).  This is due to the fact that Muslims consider themselves the cousins of the children of Israel (Jacob) from the Ishmael lineage.


The overwhelming parts of some of the longest chapters of the Qur’an (Chapters two, three and five), and a big portion of some of the medium and smaller length chapters of the Qur’an are dedicated to the history of the trails and tribulations of the children of Israel.


3.  The Concept of Jihad and the Expansion of Islam with the “sword”


Your speech about Islam leaves one with the impression that Islam has been forced on people with the “sword”, that the Qur’an and the Prophet have encouraged its adherents to follow such tradition.  While it is true that some of the rulers who followed Prophet Mohammed, especially the Sultans of the Umayyad, Abbasid and Othman, did get engaged in expansion through military means and used the “sword” to convert people, such actions stem from human ego and the military expansionist policies of these caliphs and do not have any connection to the teachings of the Qur’an or the tradition of Prophet Mohammad.  I believe that Your Excellency would agree that the behavior of the followers of any tradition do not necessarily reflect the teachings of that tradition.  As the historical record shows, Judaism and Christianity have not always been practiced according to the teachings of Prophet Moses and Jesus.


The concept of jihad is one of the most important concepts of Islamic theology and one cannot deny the fact that Prophet Mohammad was engaged in many wars during his Prophethood with the combatants of his religion and land.  However, it is imperative to be cognizant of the fact that none of these battles were fought for the purpose of expansion of Islamic territory or conversion by the “sword”.  In all cases, directly or indirectly, these wars were defensive in nature and were fought to stop an invading army.


Your Excellency, I believe that you would agree that up until one or two centuries ago, conversion from one religion to another was prohibited even in the so called civilized European countries.  The best testimony to this human short-sightedness that has persisted in human history is the long wars between Catholics and Protestants and the immigration of some converts to the U.S.A.


In light of such historical facts, how can one expect that in the tribal society of fourteen centuries ago that was mired in jahilliya (ignorance), a Prophet who had come to rid a society of tribalism, idolatry, nepotism, and backwardness did not have to resort to use the sword to protect his life, his followers and his faith against such insurmountable odds, when even in the civilized post-Renaissance Europe conversion to other religions was a life threatening endeavor?


Similar to the believers in Jesus Christ and in his mission, the believers in Mohammad preserved their faith and even strengthened it in spite of being subjugated to extreme persecution and torture.  Eventually, some of them had to immigrate to Ethiopia to save their lives, and the rest fled from Mecca during the night to seek the protection from people in Medina in order to continue the practice of monotheism.  Even after moving to Medina, Meccan pagans, who considered monotheism as a betrayal of their ancestral customs, continued plotting and attacking the believers in order to destroy them. It was in this extraordinary situation that the Prophet of Islam worked to preserve his faith.


It is true that Jesus Christ neither engaged in any war nor was involved with the political establishment of his time but it is also true that he did not form a community either. Otherwise, he would have shown the same vigor in protecting his community as Mohammad did.


The truth of such claim rests on the fact that Prophet Jesus validated the militaristic nature of the Old Testament by accepting it totally. Is it not the case that he used force to clear the temple of the money exchangers, dove sellers and all others who had occupied the temple and had turned it to a place of business and unsavory activities? (Mathew 21)


Is it not the fact that in Mathew 10:34 Prophet Jesus tells his followers, “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword”?


Is it not the case that the flocks of that great Prophet, throughout the history, have resorted to force to implement their objectives?


Your Excellency, the _expression “Holy War” which is reminiscent of the Crusades, is never referenced in the Qur’an or in the tradition of Prophet Mohammad. True, that jihad is one of the most important pillars of Islam but there is a tremendous difference between the concept of jihad in Islam that is purely defensive in nature with the way it has been abused by some of the so called Muslims or the fallacious notion that some Westerners’ have.


Your Excellency, with your permission, I would like to clarify the position of the Qur’an regarding jihad and its stance on the subject of war by sharing with you some of the regulations and limitations of jihad that the Qur’an establishes for Muslims to follow.


        In general, war is forbidden in Islam. If there is a situation where injustice is being perpetrated or if the community is being invaded, then on a temporary basis permission is given to defend oneself. This principle is explained in 22:39.


        Qur’an grants permission for a war but strictly based on the following three criteria that are explained in 2:190:


(1) The war is for the cause of God.  In other words, the war is not fought for expansionism, aggression, racism, nationalism or any other “isms” for that matter.


(2) The war is defensive in nature, meaning the other side initiated the war.  It must also be retributive in nature and not distributive.


(3) War can only be continued to repel the enemy and must be stopped immediately after the enemy retreats.


        Chapter nine is the most authoritative chapter on the concept of jihad in the Qur’an and is one that is abused by both Fundamentalist Muslims and those who allege that Islam is a violent religion. However, in verses four and seven of this chapter it is clearly stated that Muslims can only declare war with people who have broken their treaty with them or who have resorted to enmity first.


It is also emphasized in this chapter that Taqwa (awareness of God’s ever presence) necessitates that believers must stay loyal to their commitments and never break them even with unbelievers.


        God recommends to the Prophet that “But if they incline to peace, incline thou to it as well, and place thy trust in God: verily, He alone is all hearing, all knowing! And should they seek but to deceive thee (by their show of peace) behold, God is enough for thee”.


        The Qur’an establishes that the relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims should be based on peaceful principles and so that there is no ambiguity it clearly and unequivocally states:  “Allah forbids you not, with regard to those who fight you not for (your) Faith nor drive you out of your homes, from dealing kindly and justly with them: for Allah loveth those who are just.” (60:8)


The Qur’an establishes restriction in relationship between Muslims and Non-Muslims as follows, “Allah only forbids you, with regard to those who fight you for (your) Faith, and drive you out of your homes, and support (others) in driving you out, from turning to them (for friendship and protection). It is such as turn to them (in these circumstances), that do wrong”. (60:9)


In short, the Islamic principles of jihad are purely defensive in nature and it is not a mechanism to settle score or revenge.  While the principle of “eye for an eye” is allowed in Islam, it is always suggested that it should be tempered with fairness and compassion and better yet it is always recommended that one should forgive his/her enemies.


It is true that all of the principles of a just war that are discussed here have neither been nor will they always be followed by Muslims but this should not be used as an excuse to equate Islamic principles that are based on the Qur’an and tradition with the behavior of people who claim they are Muslim.  After all, we would not judge other religions based on the performance of its followers.


Muslims have never condemned Jesus or Moses for the many worldwide wars or racial wars that have been fought under the banner of Christianity. Even though, these wars have had devastating affect on humanity, the environment and have left behind utter destruction.


4. Reason and Faith


Your Excellency, in your speech, you stated that the theological and philosophical concepts of piety in Islam are the main root cause of today’s extremism and fundamentalism. Furthermore, in your analysis of the relationship between faith and reason, you criticized the principle of reasoning in Islamic thought and you extrapolated how Islam justifies terrorism and violence in the name of religion.


The writer of this article is not about to deny the fact that religions have been abused or in some cases, have not been used as the proper moral guide to combat the revengeful nature of human beings. Why is it difficult to accept that the natural and logical human reaction to the immense injustice that is being perpetrated upon some of the indigenous people in many parts of the world?  One can hardly argue the case that after the attack on the twin towers in New York City, the U.S.A, the only super power, reacted in a defensive manner by invading two countries. Then, how is it that somehow we expect that there should be no reaction when an entire country is invaded and people are left to live in much misery, destitution and total destruction?


In reference to the discussion between faith and reason, while this may not be a subject that appeals to the general public and belongs to scholarly circles, I would like to bring your attention to a few points regarding this issue.


It is noteworthy to reflect upon the fact that the word “reason” in the Qur’an is repeated forty-nine times and that it is exactly how many times the word “light” is mentioned.  Demonstrating that, it is only through reason that one finds enlightenment.


Such understating is confirmed by Imam Jaafar Sadeq, one of the most revered Muslim scholars and leaders, who said, “Reason is the means by which one should worship the all Merciful God and it is through that that Salvation is attained”.  The Prophet of Islam whom some depict as the man of the sword, says, “God has not bestowed a more precious blessing upon humans than reason.  God will not accept worship without reflection”.


Based on the teachings of Prophet Mohammad, God has established two proofs of His existence for humans: the exoteric proof which is the Prophets and the scriptures, and the other is the esoteric proof which is reason.


The Qur’an commands Muslims never to follow something that they do not have knowledge of and that they must always utilize their faculties of seeing, hearing and reasoning to discern. (17:36). The Qur’an refers to people who do not use their faculties to discern as “deaf and dumb” humans and regard them even lower than quadrupeds. (8:22)


Contrary to the claims by the critics of Islam that the transcendental verse of the Qur’an, “There is no compulsion in religion” was revealed in Mecca when Muslims were weak in number and the verse served as a concession and protective shield for the Muslim community against its enemy, the historical records shows that this verse was revealed in Medina in the last year of Prophet Mohammad’s mission when Muslims were in the zenith of their power.


Your Excellency, in a world where military powers continue to suppress and oppress the poor and the destitute and they justify their expansionist policies in the name of fighting terrorism, curbing fundamentalism and using false propaganda to imprint an ugly and violent face of Islam on the world’s collective conscience,


In a world where any vestige of morality and spirituality is being tampered more than any time in the history of humanity,


Thus, it is imperative that all the conscientious people, from any race and creed, come together and synergistically work for the cause of peace and social justice.


One cannot complain too much about what politicians do but it is profoundly disheartening to see those who are in a position to be contributors to peace and harmony among nations become instruments of division and hatred.


Your Excellency, Qur’an commands Muslims that, “They should not argue with the followers of earlier revelation except in a most kindly manner….” (29:46), that we believe in the same God, that we believe in all Prophets and scriptures, that we are required to treat others with fairness; furthermore, that we believe that the only Lord and absolute authority that humans must surrender to is the eternal God to whom we all will return and it is HIM that will judge our actions in this world.


With much apology if my lengthy letter has inconvenienced you and with the hope for an everlasting world peace and establishment of justice, freedom and security for all of humanity,


Abdolali Bazargan


back to top


Faith & reason in Islam


Asma Afsaruddin




Notre Dame, Indiana – In the wake of Pope Benedict XVIs Regensburg address, it is useful to recapitulate the views of a tenth century Muslim historian by the name of al-Masudi (d. 956) on the relationship between faith and reason, which are particularly pertinent today.


In a famous historical work, al-Masudi maintained that the Byzantine Christians of his time had gone into a civilisational decline because they had rejected the pagan Greek sciences as basically incompatible with Christianity, whereas Muslim civilisation was prospering because it had successfully assimilated the learning of the ancients and continued to build on it. In other words, it was the Muslims who had successfully blended faith with reason and had thus left the Christians behind. As such, it is highly ironic that Pope Benedict would use the words of a fourteenth century Byzantine emperor to redirect the same accusation at Muslims in the twenty-first century.


In al-Masudis day, the great translation movement which had started in Baghdad in the ninth century was bearing rich fruit, making Greek philosophical texts accessible to Arabic-speaking Muslims and effecting a genuine intellectual revolution in the Islamic world. In this period, Muslims displayed a remarkable receptivity towards knowledge and learning, regardless of its source. Persian works of literature and philosophy and Indian treatises on mathematics were also translated and studied alongside Greek works. Some of the best-known philosophers of the medieval period Avicenna, Averroes, al-Farabi were Muslims, and their thought was influential in medieval Europe as well. Without this intellectual and cultural legacy that was transmitted to Europe from the Islamic world, there may well have been no European Renaissance!


Pope Benedicts statements, therefore, unfortunately point to a basic lack of knowledge about this organic continuity between the learning of the pre-modern Islamic world and that of the post-Renaissance West. He is not alone in this. Many otherwise highly-educated Westerners (and Muslims as well) are often quite ignorant of these historical connections. There are rejectionist Muslims today who would deny that Islamic thought and learning has in any way been influenced by non-Islamic sources. They too need to acquire a more accurate knowledge of the historical inter-connectedness between the West and the Muslim world. This is why so many find the clash of civilisations thesis credible today.


There is a danger, however, when anyone argues that their own religion and civilisation had/has a monopoly on reason and had/has effected the best synthesis between faith and reason. Such triumphalism is a serious impediment to dialogue and for any kind of sustained civil discourse. If dialogue is what the Pope is after, setting up a reified Islam as a straw man in order to posit the superiority of Western civilisation and its supposedly unique values is a non-starter. Dialogue is better-served through the humble acknowledgment of commonalities, of ones own sins and of ones connectedness to the other.


To set the record straight on a number of points raised by the pontiff in relation to Islam, it is important to point out that Muslims through time have subscribed to a spectrum of views on the dialectical relationship between faith and reason. Two main trends remain influential within Sunni Muslim thought today. One is represented by the Ashari school of thought and is fideistic so that faith or revelation always trumps reason. The other is represented by the Maturidi school of thought which holds that reason independently of revelation can arrive at the same truths. Both schools of thought are considered equally orthodox within Sunni Islam, with Maturidi thought gaining ground. The Mutazila (known as the Rationalists) in an earlier period claimed that there was no incompatibility between faith and reason and the Shia have also historically emphasised the rational basis of their school of thought. One cannot, therefore, simplistically and reductively portray Islam as preferring one over the other i.e faith over reason or vice versa, nor can one portray Christianity, or perhaps any other faith tradition, in this manner either.


The key to getting along with one another is, therefore, to learn the truth about one another and avoid trading in pernicious stereotypes. In fact, Professor Richard Bulliet of Columbia University has recently coined the term Islamo-Christian civilisation to describe our shared heritage. This is a term and concept that deserves to gain broader currency.


To address the deteriorating world situation today and the problem of ostensibly religious extremism, we have to make the eradication of global poverty and promotion of the dignity of ordinary human beings a top priority. We have to reinsert moral and ethical values in the public sphere and in international diplomacy, and hold our leaders accountable to such values. This would be the best way to undermine extremist platforms which feed off the grievances of the poor and the powerless. It is on such common ground, constructed on universal ethical principles, that diverse groups of people, faith-based and secular, can come together.


Asma Afsaruddin is chair of the board of CSID, and associate professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at the University of Notre Dame and author of the forthcoming The First Muslims: History and Memory (Oxford: OneWorld, 2007). This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at www.commongroundnews.org


back to top


Washington Post Editorial


Europe’s Muslims

A year after the French riots, their alienation is growing.


Wednesday, October 25, 2006; Page A16



AYEAR AGO this week, riots erupted in mostly Muslim suburbs of Paris and other French cities, underlining the alienation of a subculture that makes up 8 percent of the country’s population but has suffered from chronic unemployment and discrimination. One year later, that alienation — and the threat of violence that comes with it — appears to have worsened, not only in France but across Western Europe. French police are facing what some call a “permanent intifada” in Muslim neighborhoods, with nearly 2,500 incidents of violence against officers recorded in the first six months of the year. Some of these now take the form of planned ambushes: On Sunday a gang of youths emptied a bus of its passengers, set it on fire, and then stoned the firefighters who responded.


In Britain, the London bombings of 2005, which were executed in part by native-born Muslims, have been succeeded by this summer’s arrest of another group of native extremists who allegedly plotted to blow up airliners. Two Lebanese residents of Germany were accused of trying to bomb passenger trains. The threat of violence by Muslims angered by perceived insults, whether from the German-born pope or the director of a Mozart opera, has become more frequent.


Europeans are slowly growing more aware that a major part of the global struggle against Islamic extremism must take place in their own countries — and not just in faraway Afghanistan or Iraq. But their governments, media and political elites still appear to be a long way from coming to grips with the challenge. Rather than seeking to address the larger alienation of mainstream Muslims, European leaders often appear to do the opposite — by challenging the culture of Muslims and defending gratuitous insults of Islam.


One recent but hardly isolated example came from Britain’s House of Commons leader, Jack Straw, who criticized Muslim women for wearing veils and said he asked those who visited his office to remove them, on the grounds that they impede “communication.” It’s hard to believe that veils are the biggest obstacle to communication between British politicians and the country’s Muslims; and it’s even harder to imagine Mr. Straw raising similar objections about Sikh turbans or Orthodox Jewish dress. True, the Labor Party MP was reflecting — or maybe pandering to — the concern of many in Britain about the self-segregation of some Muslims. But veils — which are also under government attack in France and Italy — are not the cause of that segregation, much less of terrorism. Attacks on Muslim custom by public officials are more likely to reinforce than to ease the community’s alienation.


Mr. Straw and other European politicians could contribute far more to combating radical Islam if they focused on those who actually foment intolerance among European Muslims — as well as those in the mainstream community who promote prejudice against Arabs and South Asians and their descendants. Muslims in Europe should be invited to embrace the countries where they live on their own terms. They should be expected to respect laws and freedoms. But politicians would do better to work on dismantling the barriers Muslims face in getting educations and jobs rather than those that distinguish Islam from the secular majority. 


back to top






By Yvonne Ridley

Sunday, October 22, 2006; Page B01





I used to look at veiled women as quiet, oppressed creatures — until I was captured by the Taliban.


In September 2001, just 15 days after the terrorist attacks on the United States, I snuck into Afghanistan, clad in a head-to-toe blue burqa, intending to write a newspaper account of life under the repressive regime. Instead, I was discovered, arrested and detained for 10 days. I spat and swore at my captors; they called me a “bad” woman but let me go after I promised to read the Koran and study Islam. (Frankly, I’m not sure who was happier when I was freed — they or I.)


Back home in London, I kept my word about studying Islam — and was amazed by what I discovered. I’d been expecting Koran chapters on how to beat your wife and oppress your daughters; instead, I found passages promoting the liberation of women. Two-and-a-half years after my capture, I converted to Islam, provoking a mixture of astonishment, disappointment and encouragement among friends and relatives.


Now, it is with disgust and dismay that I watch here in Britain as former foreign secretary Jack Straw describes the Muslim nikab — a face veil that reveals only the eyes — as an unwelcome barrier to integration, with Prime Minister Tony Blair, writer Salman Rushdie and even Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi leaping to his defense.


Having been on both sides of the veil, I can tell you that most Western male politicians and journalists who lament the oppression of women in the Islamic world have no idea what they are talking about. They go on about veils, child brides, female circumcision, honor killings and forced marriages, and they wrongly blame Islam for all this — their arrogance surpassed only by their ignorance.


These cultural issues and customs have nothing to do with Islam. A careful reading of the Koran shows that just about everything that Western feminists fought for in the 1970s was available to Muslim women 1,400 years ago. Women in Islam are considered equal to men in spirituality, education and worth, and a woman’s gift for childbirth and child-rearing is regarded as a positive attribute.


When Islam offers women so much, why are Western men so obsessed with Muslim women’s attire? Even British government ministers Gordon Brown and John Reid have made disparaging remarks about the nikab — and they hail from across the Scottish border, where men wear skirts.


When I converted to Islam and began wearing a headscarf, the repercussions were enormous. All I did was cover my head and hair — but I instantly became a second-class citizen. I knew I’d hear from the odd Islamophobe, but I didn’t expect so much open hostility from strangers. Cabs passed me by at night, their “for hire” lights glowing. One cabbie, after dropping off a white passenger right in front of me, glared at me when I rapped on his window, then drove off. Another said, “Don’t leave a bomb in the back seat” and asked, “Where’s bin Laden hiding?”


Yes, it is a religious obligation for Muslim women to dress modestly, but the majority of Muslim women I know like wearing the hijab, which leaves the face uncovered, though a few prefer the nikab. It is a personal statement: My dress tells you that I am a Muslim and that I expect to be treated respectfully, much as a Wall Street banker would say that a business suit defines him as an executive to be taken seriously. And, especially among converts to the faith like me, the attention of men who confront women with inappropriate, leering behavior is not tolerable.


I was a Western feminist for many years, but I’ve discovered that Muslim feminists are more radical than their secular counterparts. We hate those ghastly beauty pageants, and tried to stop laughing in 2003 when judges of the Miss Earth competition hailed the emergence of a bikini-clad Miss Afghanistan, Vida Samadzai, as a giant leap for women’s liberation. They even gave Samadzai a special award for “representing the victory of women’s rights.”


Some young Muslim feminists consider the hijab and the nikab political symbols, too, a way of rejecting Western excesses such as binge drinking, casual sex and drug use. What is more liberating: being judged on the length of your skirt and the size of your surgically enhanced breasts, or being judged on your character and intelligence? In Islam, superiority is achieved through piety — not beauty, wealth, power, position or sex.


I didn’t know whether to scream or laugh when Italy’s Prodi joined the debate last week by declaring that it is “common sense” not to wear the nikab because it makes social relations “more difficult.” Nonsense. If this is the case, then why are cellphones, landlines, e-mail, text messaging and fax machines in daily use? And no one switches off the radio because they can’t see the presenter’s face.


Under Islam, I am respected. It tells me that I have a right to an education and that it is my duty to seek out knowledge, regardless of whether I am single or married. Nowhere in the framework of Islam are we told that women must wash, clean or cook for men. As for how Muslim men are allowed to beat their wives — it’s simply not true. Critics of Islam will quote random Koranic verses or hadith, but usually out of context. If a man does raise a finger against his wife, he is not allowed to leave a mark on her body, which is the Koran’s way of saying, “Don’t beat your wife, stupid.”


It is not just Muslim men who must reevaluate the place and treatment of women. According to a recent National Domestic Violence Hotline survey, 4 million American women experience a serious assault by a partner during an average 12-month period. More than three women are killed by their husbands and boyfriends every day — that is nearly 5,500 since 9/11.


Violent men don’t come from any particular religious or cultural category; one in three women around the world has been beaten, coerced into sex or otherwise abused in her lifetime, according to the hotline survey. This is a global problem that transcends religion, wealth, class, race and culture.


But it is also true that in the West, men still believe that they are superior to women, despite protests to the contrary. They still receive better pay for equal work — whether in the mailroom or the boardroom — and women are still treated as sexualized commodities whose power and influence flow directly from their appearance.


And for those who are still trying to claim that Islam oppresses women, recall this 1992 statement from the Rev. Pat Robertson, offering his views on empowered women: Feminism is a “socialist, anti-family political movement that encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”


Now you tell me who is civilized and who is not.


Yvonne Ridley is political editor of Islam Channel TV in London and coauthor of “In the Hands of the Taliban: Her Extraordinary Story” (Robson Books).  [email protected]


back to top




Tina Beattie

24 – 10 – 2006



The face-veil worn by a small minority of Muslim women in Britain has become the site of fierce political controversy. The problem is that it is the wrong discussion, says Tina Beattie.


A Muslim woman wearing a face-veil (niqab) and sitting in the surgery of her male member of parliament is a complex and interesting phenomenon. Some might argue that she represents the best of pluralist democracy. She is a participating citizen who is in direct contact with her MP on matters that concern her, and she is a Muslim who has the confidence to dress as she wants to, even at the risk of public disapproval. But that is not how Jack Straw, the British government minister and MP for the northern English town of Blackburn, sees it.


Straw intentionally provoked a public debate when he wrote on 5 October 2006 in the Lancashire Evening Telegraph that the full veil was a hindrance to community relationships, and admitted that he asked “ladies” if they would consider showing their faces when they came to his surgery. He said that he felt “uncomfortable” when he could not see the face of the person he was talking to.


Tony Blair entered the fray on 17 October when he supported a school’s decision to suspend Aishah Azmi, a teaching assistant who refused to remove her veil when teaching children. Blair described the veil as “a mark of separation”. The debate continues to make the news and there are widely divergent opinions among both Muslim and non-Muslim contributors as to the value of raising this issue.


Straw is an astute politician with a large number of Muslims in his Blackburn constituency, and he claims to have thought carefully before speaking out. Yet there are a number of puzzling questions about his decision to go public in this way. Although Straw’s main concern seems to be the issue of social segregation, there is also the implication – made explicit by some commentators since – that the veil is a symbol of oppression and male domination. But if that were the case, then a veiled woman is highly unlikely to visit her male MP even with her husband, let alone by herself.


There is the question of probability too. Given that only a small percentage of Britain’s Muslim women wear face-veils, and given that a significant number of such women might regard it as taboo to be alone with a man who was not part of their family grouping, one wonders just how many people we are talking about. Is this an issue that Straw confronts regularly, or is it more likely that the very few women he encounters in this situation are articulate, educated women for whom the veil is a matter of identity politics?


His article seems to suggest that this might be the case, and if so, it raises a number of questions about the ways in which the assertion of Muslim identity has become a political as much as a religious issue. But in this situation, Straw’s request that a woman removes her veil seems provocative, for it invites a confrontation on the basis of power – is her right to assert herself greater or lesser than his right to feel comfortable in her presence?  


Layers of meaning


The veil has become a multi-faceted symbol which resists generalisation. One has to know a great deal about the context in which it is worn, in order to decipher its possible meanings. In situations where it is a sign of oppression, it is more a symptom than a cause of that oppression, and it can distract us from asking what really oppresses women. When George W Bush wanted to bomb Afghanistan, he suddenly became an ardent campaigner for the rights of Afghan women, and those burqa-clad figures have long preoccupied western feminists who may show little concern for the actual living conditions of Muslim women worldwide.


Since the publication of Edward Said’s groundbreaking book, Orientalism (1978), scholars at least have become aware of the extent to which the veiled woman is part of the “otherness” which the so-called western man of reason projects onto his eastern counterparts, by depicting the Arab-Islamic world as feminised and irrational. This oriental figure, the subject of many works of literature and art, represents seduction and threat, mystery and challenge, so that it is very difficult to see her humanity clearly through the west’s own cultural veils.


In this respect, it is interesting that the BBC recently called its excellent short series on Iran Uncovering Iran, with publicity frequently referring to the country as “she”, a deeply mysterious feminised “other”, simultaneously (perhaps) inviting and resisting conquest.


Them and us


Scholarly interpretations vary as to what, if any, veiling is required by the Qur’an. There are many Muslim women scholars working on such issues and seeking to change their tradition from within. It is through education and awareness-raising that lasting change will come about, but that process also requires respect for the religious values of the Muslim community, and such respect is lacking in British society today.


Muslims are tolerated providing they demonstrate that they are “moderate”, but the communication of values is all one way: there is a suggestion that “we” have nothing to learn from “them”, but “they” still have much to learn about “our” British values. But Britain is a multicultural society, and notwithstanding citizenship tests and much rhetoric about the meaning of Britishness, the multiple identities of those who inhabit this small island renders the term “British values” almost meaningless, unless in itself it signifies a capacity for diversity and non-uniformity.


In any case, the failure to recognise that religious traditions, including Islam, are custodians of values from which secular society might learn, is a product of a post-Enlightenment world view, in which a progressive concept of history leads to the belief that the rationalised, secularised west is more advanced than its religious and non-western counterparts. It is for “them” to catch up, rather than slowing “us” down with their different values and priorities.


This persistent theme implicitly informs much public debate about Islam, even if it has been debunked by postmodernists, whose conversation tends to fall on deaf ears outside their own esoteric intellectual and cultural milieus. However, we should listen to what they are telling us, because they caution us against the progressive and triumphalist view of history that has gripped western consciousness for the last two centuries at least, and which is closely associated with western imperialism and global conquest.


There are Muslim scholars who argue that Islam stands in need of a reformation, and some insist that such a reformation is indeed quietly under way, even as Islamist extremism tends to occupy the headlines. But it is also true that many young men in particular are ripe for recruitment to the cause of radical Islam and, as with the veil, we need to understand some of the reasons for this.


In the world today, Muslims are victims of some of the most intractable and violent conflicts, be they Palestinian, Iraqi, Afghan or Chechen, even if in Afghanistan and Iraq it is now Muslims who are the perpetrators as well as the victims of that violence. On our nightly news broadcasts, images of the ongoing slaughter in Iraq sit side by side with debates about the veil, and it is ingenuous of politicians to try to separate them.


Until Tony Blair’s government is willing to acknowledge the extent of its failure in Iraq, and until it makes finding a solution to the Palestinian situation a top priority, debate about the veil is likely to be seen as a distraction which in itself veils much more important questions about justice and the survival of Muslim people and Islamic values in the modern world.


A new relationship


I work in a university with a high proportion of Muslim students. They are a rich and diverse part of campus life, and they make an important contribution to our university’s intellectual and cultural environment. Teaching as I do in the area of theology and religious studies, the Muslims I encounter have chosen to enter an academic environment in which all beliefs are subjected to rigorous scrutiny and analysis, and it is often their desire to understand their own religious identities and their place in politics and society that has made them choose this area of study.


They share the problems of all young people, and there are situations in which their religious values undeniably create painful struggles when they come to university. Young women students are sometimes allowed little freedom relative to their non-Muslim counterparts, and relationships can come under intense pressure if they are not in keeping with their families’ sometimes rigorous rules of conduct. But there is also a profound integrity about the way many young Muslims reconcile the demands of their religion and their cultural milieu, even if this can be a costly and challenging process.


For example, in a culture in which binge-drinking has become a major social problem, it is easy to overlook the extent to which Muslims must daily overcome their own distaste with regard to alcohol, in order to be integrated into society. We have had debates among our students as to whether or not we should serve wine at student parties, and it is our Muslim students who have insisted that we should, and who have then attended the parties despite the fact that for some, even being in a room where alcohol is being served is problematic.


Instead of always seeing Islam as the problem, perhaps we should also be asking what we might learn from our Muslim neighbours about decency, integrity and self-respect.


Are veiled Muslim women really a more potent sign of oppression than the drunken teenage girls lurching at night around our city-streets and even our campuses, half-naked and vulnerable? It is not only Muslims who see western attitudes towards sexuality and the female body as degenerate and degrading. Many feminists would argue that the commodification of the female body and the sexual exploitation of women is a growing problem in our society. It is not hard to understand why, for some Muslims, the veil is a solution to that problem.


Moreover, Islam is hardly unique among the world’s religions in its suspicion of female sexuality. Christianity has a long history of insisting that women should be silenced, subordinated and covered up because they are a sexual threat and, if we in the west have been liberated from such taboos, we have yet to discover what it would truly mean to be female bodies not conditioned in one form or another to clothe ourselves according to the expectations, demands and desires of men.


The relationship between Islam and secular democracy need not be one of conflict and confrontation, and Muslims cannot simply be divided between moderates and extremists. The woman with a veiled face represents something too complex to be deciphered simply on appearances alone.


We have to understand who she is, what she believes and values, how she positions herself in the world; and simply removing her veil will not tell us any of those things. Indeed, her bare face may mask interesting and significant differences which, paradoxically, her veil reveals.


We need to listen and learn, to struggle to understand one another in the recognition that threats to our common humanity are growing. The most obvious are war, violence and environmental catastrophe. A less visible but equally corrosive one is the closure of minds and hearts to the experience, thinking and values of those regarded – even for the way they choose to dress – as alien.


Tina Beattie is reader in Christian studies, Roehampton University, England. Among her books are God’s Mother, Eve’s Advocate (Allen & Unwin, 2002) and New Catholic Feminism: Theology and Theory (Routledge 2005)


back to top




By Bradley Burston


Were I a Muslim living in the West, I’d be mad as hell. Not to mention terrified.


Were I a Muslim living in the West, I’d begin to believe that a new Inquisition had begun. An inquisition aimed at no one but Muslims.


Were I a Muslim living in the West, my wife, or my sister, or my daughter might well decide to wear a headscarf or a veil when she went out in public.


Perhaps it would be because she was tired of men and boys ogling her, objectifying her. Perhaps it would be because she felt she was entitled to her dignity. Perhaps she simply might prefer modesty and privacy to fashion slavery.


Perhaps she just thought it was a free country.


And perhaps, on that last point, she would have been mistaken.


For years, and especially since 9/11, law-abiding Muslims have been verbally and physically attacked across North America and Europe. They are scorned for their faith, shunned for their piety, falsely condemned for dual-loyalty, blamed for the crimes of terrorists they abhor.


Of late, however, there has been a disturbing new trend, particularly in Europe, where cabinet ministers and influential lawmakers have increasingly made it their mission to combat, of all things, the head scarf and veil worn by growing numbers of Muslim women and girls.


In Germany, the states of Baden-Wurttenberg and Bavaria recently introduced legislation to outlaw the wearing of head scarves in schools.


Bavarian Education Monika Hohlmeier said the head scarf was increasingly being used as a political symbol. To the understandable ire of Muslims, Hohlmeier went on to say that it was acceptable to wear Christian crosses or Jewish symbols.


In Spain, home to the original Inquisition, Minister for Social Affairs Juan Carlos Aparicio was quoted as having said that the Muslim veil was “not a religious sign but a form of discrimination against women,” and having compared it to genital mutilation.


In Britain, the government minister for race and faith relations, Phil Woolas, was quoted this week as demanding that Muslim teaching assistant Aisha Azmi, 24, who refused to remove her veil at work, be fired for that reason.


“She should be sacked,” Woolas was quoted as telling the Sunday Mirror. “She has put herself in a position where she can’t do her job.”


Azmi worked at the Headfield Church of England junior school in Dewsbury, which took pains to state that her suspension had nothing to do with religion.


The scarf issue had already taken center stage when former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, now an MP and Leader of the House of Commons, voiced public objections to the wearing of the niqab, a full-face veil, at face-to-face meetings with his constituents.


The national debate has since widened, with David Davis, a top Conservative Party official, taking the anti-veil stance to a new level.


’’What Jack touched on was the fundamental issue of whether in Britain we are developing a divided society,’’ Davis said. ’’Whether we are inadvertently encouraging a kind of voluntary apartheid.’’


The anti-veil arguments dovetail with a parallel campaign, which takes as its premise the concept that Islam itself renders its adherents incapable of integrating into Western societies.


“If you are going to have Islamic schools, the question is whether they are going to embrace Western values,” Patrick Sookhdeo, a Pakistan-born Anglican priest in England who converted from Islam, told the New York Times this month.


“I would argue that Islamic values are not compatible with Western values,” he said.


And what Western values might these be? Are they the time-honored Western values of intolerance for people of color, suspicion and marginalization of non-Christians, fear and loathing of non-Whites? Exploitation of and contempt for the residents of former imperial possessions and colonies?


At this point, there will be a pause for the springloaded Islamophobes among us to suggest that it is any society’s right and duty to protect itself against elements that may foment terrorism. There will be those who will argue that the veil may both mask and encourage extremism.


Perhaps it is time for us in the Western world to declare that Islam has a right to exist.


Perhaps it is time for us to recognize that non-violent, non-Judeo-Christian religious observance is a right, not an act of war.


Scarves don’t explode. Veils do not kill. The niqab does not incite.


It takes courage to wear the veil in the West. Certainly, no one should be forced to wear it against her will. But those who do so voluntarily, have chosen to brave ridicule, and perhaps to risk their own livelihood. They have made a choice for self-respect, in the face of all that is vacuous in contemporary Western civilization, where the worship of the superficial has taken on the potency and universality of a state religion.


We in the West have allowed the veil to become the symbol of all that we do not know and do not trust about Islam.


In the Age of Paris Hilton, however, the West desperately needs women who devote themselves to serious pursuits, to the betterment of society, women who believe that self-esteem and dignity are worthy values. If they choose to wear a veil, and we take offense, that is wholly our problem. We have no business making it theirs. 


back to top


Veil Debate in Britain Is Also Divisive for Muslims


By Kevin Sullivan and Karla Adam


Washington Post Foreign Service

Saturday, October 21, 2006; Page A01



LONDON, Oct. 20 — Wearing a Muslim veil revealing only her chestnut eyes, Maheesa Razia grabbed two small bundles of coriander and handed them to a vegetable vendor at the Whitechapel Street Market in east London.


She passed the man a coin and walked off, quietly completing the most mundane of daily tasks while wearing a garment — the full-face veil, or niqab — that has caused a raging debate about how well Britain’s nearly 2 million Muslims are integrating into society.


“I feel comfortable wearing the niqab here; there was zero awkwardness,” Razia, 24, said through the flowing fabric of her veil.


After she walked away, the vendor, Mohammad Dehbourzorgi, a Muslim who moved to Britain 22 years ago, sounded almost contemptuous. He said he agreed with Jack Straw, a top official in Prime Minister Tony Blair’s government and leader of the House of Commons, who started the controversy this month by complaining that veils create distance between individuals and cultures.


“Jack Straw has a point,” said Dehbourzorgi, who was wearing blue jeans. “If you come to England, then try to be English.”


The veil debate has become part of a larger discussion in Britain about Muslims and religious tolerance, free _expression, human rights, prejudice and security. These issues have dominated public discourse since the July 2005 bombings on the London public transportation system and a plot uncovered in August this year that allegedly involved blowing up transatlantic jetliners. In both cases, Britons were alarmed to discover that the men who allegedly committed or contemplated mass murder were young Muslim men who had been raised in Britain.


While the veil issue has exacerbated tensions between non-Muslims and Muslims, it has also sparked passionate reactions within Muslim communities. Some Muslim leaders have accused Straw, Blair — who called veils a “mark of separation” — and others of demonizing Muslims, but others have said they have raised an important issue that has no clear consensus among Muslims.


“It’s a valid discussion for the times in which we live,” said Humera Khan of the An-Nisa Society, a Muslim social welfare organization run by women. “But we shouldn’t be seen as some crazy, weird people.”


Khan said the niqab is worn by “a tiny minority” of British Muslim women. An increasing number of young women have started wearing it, she said, as an “assertion of religious identity” in a climate of “irrational paranoia” about Muslims since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.


“The debate has become more political than religious,” said Khan, who wears a head scarf that does not cover her face. She said Muslims have discussed the veil for hundreds of years and that the issue periodically pops into Western consciousness, often when raised by non-Muslim politicians. “There is historical Islamophobic line of thought about women in veils,” she said. “It doesn’t tell you anything about us. It tells you more about the people who are raising the issue.”


Many Britons have praised Straw for bringing up a delicate issue in a reasonable way. But Fareena Alam, editor of Q-News, a Muslim magazine, said she believed that Straw’s comments were a cynical attempt to boost his own political fortunes and that his calls for debate were “complete rubbish, irritating and patronizing.” She said the controversy had driven more Muslim women to start wearing the niqab in “rebellion.”


Alam said the situation has stifled serious and nuanced debate about the issue, as Muslims who believe that their religion is under attack from outsiders instinctively side with Muslim women who wear veils. She said she recently talked to two traditional Islamic scholars who said the full-face veil was “out of place in the West” and a “barrier to integration.”


“They are not saying anything different from Jack Straw,” said Alam, who does not wear a niqab. “But it has to come from the right place. What Jack Straw said really rubbed people the wrong way. They are saying, ’I’m going to wear this because you don’t want me to.’ “


The veil issue has also divided women’s rights advocates, Muslim and non-Muslim. Some argue that wearing the veil is simply a woman’s choice, whether a statement of quiet religious observance or a battle cry for political independence, and should not be questioned by white male government officials. But others call veils a sad symbol of oppression and subservience.


The Indian-born British author Salman Rushdie, whose book “The Satanic Verses” once led to death threats against him by Islamic clerics, recently said veils were “a way of taking power away from women.” Culture Secretary Tessa Jowell said veils represent “women’s subjugation.”


But Alam called such comments “outdated.” While a small number of women are compelled to wear veils by men in their family, she said, most do it for their own reasons: “They have reclaimed the veil and redefined it for themselves.”


At the Whitechapel market, where back-to-back stalls offer practically everything from fabrics to phone cards and fennel, Razia, a married mother of two who was born in Britain, said she started wearing the niqab when she was 13. She was inspired by a Bangladeshi Islamic scholar, she said, and listened to tapes of his sermons and saw him speak when he came to the East London Mosque.


“The face is the main thing about a person,” she said. “If you expose it, others will judge whether you are pretty or not. It just makes sense according to my religion to wear it.”


Razia said her mother had never worn the niqab but “became so inspired by me she started to wear it, too.”


Razia, who studies math at Tower Hamlets College in east London, said a teacher there asked her to remove the veil “so we could better communicate.” Now, Razia removes the veil during class, but “the moment I leave the classroom, I put it back on again,” she said.


At home, she wears Western clothing. “I don’t do it outside because there is no need to show the world your body,” she said. “You can wear whatever at home in front of your husband. This is my way.”


back to top





Gabriel Haboubi



[JURIST] The Tunisian government [official website, in French] has launched a new campaign against the public wearing of hijabs [III&E backgrounder], the headscarves worn by many Muslim women in the predominantly Islamic state north African state. Police have begun stopping Muslim women wearing the hijab on the street, asking them to remove it, and to sign an affidavit promising to never wear it again. A decree from 1981 bans wearing the headscarves in public, and senior government officials of the autocracy characterize the garments as sectarian, worn by people using religion to hide political aims. Tunisian rights activists argue that the government ban is unconstitutional, and that many people are upset by it, but few feel safe to openly challenge the government. In the US, the Council on American-Islamic Relations condemned the Tunisian move [press release] Thursday, saying:


The Tunisian law banning Islamic attire in certain areas, and the apparent expanded interpretation of that law, violates international human rights standards set forth by the United Nations and ratified by virtually every nation on earth…. Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), a transnational treaty having the weight of international law states: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. . .(and) to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.”


Tunisia [CIA backgrounder] is 98% Muslim, and takes some aspects of its legal system from Sharia law [Guardian backgrounder; JURIST news archive]; since independence from France in 1956, the government has taken a harsh stance against Islamic fundamentalism, establishing both religious freedoms and a large number of womens rights. Other civil freedoms, such as access to a free press, although officially sanctioned, are lacking. Tunisian president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali [official biography, in French] seems open to restricting signs and religious symbols that could enhance outlawed Islamic political opposition. The new intensity in enforcing the headscarf ban comes at a time when many other nations are considering legislation restricting religious dress [JURIST news archive]. BBC News has more.


back to top







Plainfield, IN 10/17/2006 – The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), the largest Muslim umbrella organization in the US and Canada, is deeply alarmed about the recent persecution of Muslim women who wear the Islamic headscarf (hijab) in Tunisia. Human rights groups reported that school girls with the headscarf are being harassed to remove the head cover in schools and universities. ISNA is greatly concerned about the rising harassment cases against students who wear scarves in these academic institutions.


This ban against headscarves is not only a violation of religious freedom, but it is a clear violation against the personal freedom of women to choose freely what to wear. ISNA strongly rejects the rationale of Tunisian authorities who fear that the appeal to freedom of choice is a mere pretext used by Islamists. Covering the head and body has been practiced by Muslim women for over a thousand of years, and continue to be the personal choice of millions of Muslim women the world over. We urge the Tunisian government to be sensitive and cognizant about the rights of Muslim women in practicing their personal freedom to wear what Islam views as an obligatory code of dress.


It is a contradiction of principles, practices, and standards of the government of Tunisia to defend its stance on claims of protecting womens rights while female students are being discriminated against, particularly in the academic institutions, for donning the headscarf. It is not acceptable for students who observe hijab to be compelled to give up their rights in obtaining an education for simply choosing to adhere to religious practices that in no way interferes and/or imposes a certain ideology on others around them.


Proper legislations must be represented in educational institutions and public buildings to ensure that all womens rights, without exceptions, are being implemented. The ban on hijab clearly violates Tunisian womens rights and inhibits women from being an equal participant in the Tunisian society.


ISNA urges the Tunisian government to immediately revoke their stance on womens right to the freedom in choosing what to wear and recognize that equal rights must be extended to all members of a the Tunisian society.


Contact: Dr. Louay Safi, Executive Director, ISNA Leadership Development Center: 317 839-8157 ext: 301 e-mail: [email protected]


back to top




By Guy Dinmore in Washington

October 23 2006 21:27



Israels summer war with Lebanons Hizbollah ended after 34 days, but a fierce debate within the American Jewish community over the nature of Israels relationship with the US rages on, spurring efforts to create a powerful voice to lobby for peace with the Palestinians.


George Soros, the financier and philanthropist, is said by friends to be considering giving his support to a new initiative for an influential alternative that would lobby for US engagement and a negotiated two-state settlement.


Organisers deny they intend to rival the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac), one of Washingtons most effective lobby groups, and say some of their number include Aipac supporters. But with sufficient funding, its outlook could be seen as a counterweight to Aipac, which strongly backed the unilateralist course set by former prime minister Ariel Sharon.


The Lebanon conflict provided a sense of urgency to discussions, said Jeremy Ben-Ami, an organiser of the proposed new Israel project. The discussions represented a new effort to promote the perspective in the Jewish community that Israels security depends on ending this [Palestinian] conflict peacefully.


We deeply care for Israel. The Lebanon conflict shows the dangers facing Israel and its need for peace as quickly as possible, Mr Ben-Ami, vice-president of Fenton Communications, a PR firm and former adviser to Bill Clinton, told the FT.


Other prominent figures involved in the talks include David Elcott, director of Israel Policy Forum, Mort Halperin, director of US advocacy at the Open Society Institute headed by Mr Soros, Debra DeLee, president of Americans for Peace Now, and Rabbi David Saperstein, director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.


Mr Soros, who poured money into the Democratic 2004 presidential campaign, was vocal in his criticism of Israels tactics against Hizbollah and has called for an end to the vicious circle of escalating violence by reaching a political settlement with the Palestinians.


The debate over the USs relationship with Israel was revived last March by two political scientists John Mearsheimer of the University of Chicago and Harvards Stephen Walt. Their Israel Lobby paper was intended to break the taboo by questioning the financial, political and moral cost to the US of the alliance.


Since then the two academics have been accused of anti-Semitism, Human Rights Watch has been attacking for comments criticising Israels tactics in Lebanon, and a dispute has erupted over the cancellation of a speech at the Polish consulate in New York by Professor Tony Judt, a critic of Israels policies.


An open letter signed by more than 150 people including prominent academics, former diplomats and officials decries what they allege is a campaign of political vigilantism waged by American Jewish groups to set the public agenda.


Indeed, students [in a practice reminiscent of the most sordid aspects of the McCarthy years] have been enlisted to act as informers on their teachers. Institutions deemed to be insufficiently supportive of Israel have been subjected to pressure by state legislatures or private donors, says the letter, signed by many prominent Jews.


Theyve constructed a Warsaw Ghetto of the mind, Norman Birnbaum, professor emeritus at Georgetown University and one of the organisers of the letter, told the Financial Times.


The letter accuses Abraham Foxman, head of the Anti-Defamation League, of inducing the Polish consulate to deny its premises to Prof Judt, an allegation the league rejected as baseless. Mr Foxman said the ADL was proud of its 93-year record of defending free speech in its fight against anti-Semitism, hatred, prejudice and bigotry.


Few serving Democrats are willing to wade into this debate, but Zbigniew Brezinski, former national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, was outspoken during the Lebanon conflict, calling Israels response to Hizbollahs attacks dogged, heavy-handed, politically counter-productive and morally unjustifiable.


When we supply Israel with cluster bombs, thats an act of international friendship and peace. When Iran supplies Palestinians with weapons, that means terror, he told a dinner hosted by the New America Foundation. Bush should say either I make policy on the Middle East or Aipac does.


back to top




By Richard N. Haass

November/December 2006



Summary: The age of U.S. dominance in the Middle East has ended and a new era in the modern history of the region has begun. It will be shaped by new actors and new forces competing for influence, and to master it, Washington will have to rely more on diplomacy than on military might.




Just over two centuries since Napoleon’s arrival in Egypt heralded the advent of the modern Middle East — some 80 years after the demise of the Ottoman Empire, 50 years after the end of colonialism, and less than 20 years after the end of the Cold War — the American era in the Middle East, the fourth in the region’s modern history, has ended. Visions of a new, Europe-like region — peaceful, prosperous, democratic — will not be realized. Much more likely is the emergence of a new Middle East that will cause great harm to itself, the United States, and the world.


All the eras have been defined by the interplay of contending forces, both internal and external to the region. What has varied is the balance between these influences. The Middle East’s next era promises to be one in which outside actors have a relatively modest impact and local forces enjoy the upper hand — and in which the local actors gaining power are radicals committed to changing the status quo. Shaping the new Middle East from the outside will be exceedingly difficult, but it — along with managing a dynamic Asia — will be the primary challenge of U.S. foreign policy for decades to come.


The modern Middle East was born in the late eighteenth century. For some historians, the signal event was the 1774 signing of the treaty that ended the war between the Ottoman Empire and Russia; a stronger case can be made for the importance of Napoleon’s relatively easy entry into Egypt in 1798, which showed Europeans that the region was ripe for conquest and prompted Arab and Muslim intellectuals to ask — as many continue to do today — why their civilization had fallen so far behind that of Christian Europe. Ottoman decline combined with European penetration into the region gave rise to the “Eastern Question,” regarding how to deal with the effects of the decline of the Ottoman Empire, which various parties have tried to answer to their own advantage ever since.


The first era ended with World War I, the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the rise of the Turkish republic, and the division of the spoils of war among the European victors. What ensued was an age of colonial rule, dominated by France and the United Kingdom. This second era ended some four decades later, after another world war had drained the Europeans of much of their strength, Arab nationalism had risen, and the two superpowers had begun to lock horns. “[He] who rules the Near East rules the world; and he who has interests in the world is bound to concern himself with the Near East,” wrote the historian Albert Hourani, who correctly saw the 1956 Suez crisis as marking the end of the colonial era and the beginning of the Cold War era in the region.


During the Cold War, as had been the case previously, outside forces played a dominant role in the Middle East. But the very nature of U.S.-Soviet competition gave local states considerable room to maneuver. The high-water mark of the era was the October 1973 war, which the United States and the Soviet Union essentially stopped at a stalemate, paving the way for ambitious diplomacy, including the Egyptian-Israeli peace accord.


Yet it would be a mistake to see this third era simply as a time of well-managed great-power competition. The June 1967 war forever changed the balance of power in the Middle East. The use of oil as an economic and political weapon in 1973 highlighted U.S. and international vulnerability to supply shortages and price hikes. And the Cold War’s balancing act created a context in which local forces in the Middle East had significant autonomy to pursue their own agendas. The 1979 revolution in Iran, which brought down one of the pillars of U.S. policy in the region, showed that outsiders could not control local events. Arab states resisted U.S. attempts to persuade them to join anti-Soviet projects. Israel’s 1982 occupation of Lebanon spawned Hezbollah. And the Iran-Iraq War consumed those two countries for a decade.




The end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union brought about a fourth era in the region’s history, during which the United States enjoyed unprecedented influence and freedom to act. Dominant features of this American era were the U.S.-led liberation of Kuwait, the long-term stationing of U.S. ground and air forces on the Arabian Peninsula, and an active diplomatic interest in trying to solve the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all (which culminated in the Clinton administration’s intense but ultimately unsuccessful effort at Camp David). More than any other, this period exemplified what is now thought of as the “old Middle East.” The region was defined by an aggressive but frustrated Iraq, a radical but divided and relatively weak Iran, Israel as the region’s most powerful state and sole nuclear power, fluctuating oil prices, top-heavy Arab regimes that repressed their peoples, uneasy coexistence between Israel and both the Palestinians and the Arabs, and, more generally, American primacy.


What has brought this era to an end after less than two decades is a number of factors, some structural, some self-created. The most significant has been the Bush administration’s decision to attack Iraq in 2003 and its conduct of the operation and resulting occupation. One casualty of the war has been a Sunni-dominated Iraq, which was strong enough and motivated enough to balance Shiite Iran. Sunni-Shiite tensions, dormant for a while, have come to the surface in Iraq and throughout the region. Terrorists have gained a base in Iraq and developed there a new set of techniques to export. Throughout much of the region, democracy has become associated with the loss of public order and the end of Sunni primacy. Anti-American sentiment, already considerable, has been reinforced. And by tying down a huge portion of the U.S. military, the war has reduced U.S. leverage worldwide. It is one of history’s ironies that the first war in Iraq, a war of necessity, marked the beginning of the American era in the Middle East and the second Iraq war, a war of choice, has precipitated its end.


Other factors have also been relevant. One is the demise of the Middle East peace process. The United States had traditionally enjoyed a unique capacity to work with both the Arabs and the Israelis. But the limits of that capacity were exposed at Camp David in 2000. Since then, the weakness of Yasir Arafat’s successors, the rise of Hamas, and the Israeli embrace of unilateralism have all helped sideline the United States, a shift reinforced by the disinclination of the current Bush administration to undertake active diplomacy.


Another factor that has helped bring about the end of the American era has been the failure of traditional Arab regimes to counter the appeal of radical Islamism. Faced with a choice between what they perceived as distant and corrupt political leaders and vibrant religious ones, many in the region have opted for the latter. It took 9/11 for U.S. leaders to draw the connection between closed societies and the incubation of radicals. But their response — often a hasty push for elections regardless of the local political context — has provided terrorists and their supporters with more opportunities for advancement than they had before.


Finally, globalization has changed the region. It is now less difficult for radicals to acquire funding, arms, ideas, and recruits. The rise of new media, and above all of satellite television, has turned the Arab world into a “regional village” and politicized it. Much of the content shown — scenes of violence and destruction in Iraq; images of mistreated Iraqi and Muslim prisoners; suffering in Gaza, the West Bank, and now Lebanon — has further alienated many people in the Middle East from the United States. As a result, governments in the Middle East now have a more difficult time working openly with the United States, and U.S. influence in the region has waned.




The outlines of the Middle East’s fifth era are still taking shape, but they follow naturally from the end of the American era. A dozen features will form the context for daily events.


First, the United States will continue to enjoy more influence in the region than any other outside power, but its influence will be reduced from what it once was. This reflects the growing impact of an array of internal and external forces, the inherent limits of U.S. power, and the results of U.S. policy choices.


Second, the United States will increasingly be challenged by the foreign policies of other outsiders. The European Union will offer little help in Iraq and is likely to push for a different approach to the Palestinian problem. China will resist pressuring Iran and will seek to guarantee the availability of energy supplies. Russia, too, will resist calls to sanction Iran and will look for opportunities to demonstrate its independence from the United States. Both China and Russia (as well as many European states) will distance themselves from U.S. efforts to promote political reform in nondemocratic states in the Middle East.


Third, Iran will be one of the two most powerful states in the region. Those who have seen Iran as being on the cusp of dramatic internal change have been wrong. Iran enjoys great wealth, is the most powerful external influence in Iraq, and holds considerable sway over both Hamas and Hezbollah. It is a classic imperial power, with ambitions to remake the region in its image and the potential to translate its objectives into reality.


Fourth, Israel will be the other powerful state in the region and the one country with a modern economy able to compete globally. The only state in the Middle East with a nuclear arsenal, it also possesses the region’s most capable conventional military force. But it still has to bear the costs of its occupation of the West Bank and deal with a multifront, multidimensional security challenge. Strategically speaking, Israel is in a weaker position today than it was before this summer’s crisis in Lebanon. And its situation will further deteriorate — as will that of the United States — if Iran develops nuclear weapons.


Fifth, anything resembling a viable peace process is unlikely for the foreseeable future. In the aftermath of Israel’s controversial operation in Lebanon, the Kadima-led government will almost certainly be too weak to command domestic support for any policy perceived as risky or as rewarding aggression. Unilateral disengagement has been discredited now that attacks have followed Israel’s withdrawal from Lebanon and Gaza. There is no obvious partner on the Palestinian side who is both able and willing to compromise, further hindering the chances of a negotiated approach. The United States has lost much of its standing as a credible and honest broker, at least for the time being. Meanwhile, Israel’s settlement expansion and road building will continue apace, further complicating diplomacy.


Sixth, Iraq, traditionally a center of Arab power, will remain messy for years to come, with a weak central government, a divided society, and regular sectarian violence. At worst, it will become a failed state wracked by an all-out civil war that will draw in its neighbors.


Seventh, the price of oil will stay high, the result of strong demand from China and India, limited success at curbing consumption in the United States, and the continued possibility of supply shortages. The price of a barrel of oil is far more likely to exceed $100 than it is to fall below $40. Iran, Saudi Arabia, and other large producers will benefit disproportionately.


Eighth, “militiazation” will continue apace. Private armies in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestinian areas are already growing more powerful. Militias, both a product and a cause of weak states, will emerge wherever there is a perceived or an actual deficit of state authority and capacity. The recent fighting in Lebanon will exacerbate this trend, since Hezbollah has gained by not suffering a total defeat, while Israel has lost by not realizing a total victory — a result that will embolden Hezbollah and those who emulate it.


Ninth, terrorism, defined as the intentional use of force against civilians in the pursuit of political aims, will remain a feature of the region. It will occur in divided societies, such as Iraq, and in societies where radical groups seek to weaken and discredit the government, such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt. Terrorism will grow in sophistication and remain a tool used against Israel and the presence of the United States and other nonindigenous powers.


Tenth, Islam will increasingly fill the political and intellectual vacuum in the Arab world and provide a foundation for the politics of a majority of the region’s inhabitants. Arab nationalism and Arab socialism are things of the past, and democracy belongs in the distant future, at best. Arab unity is a slogan, not a reality. The influence of Iran and groups associated with it has been reinforced, and efforts to improve ties between Arab governments and Israel and the United States have been complicated. Meanwhile, tensions between Sunnis and Shiites will grow throughout the Middle East, causing problems in countries with divided societies, such as Bahrain, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia.


Eleventh, Arab regimes are likely to remain authoritarian and become more religiously intolerant and anti-American. Two bellwethers will be Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Egypt, which accounts for roughly one-third of the Arab world’s population, has introduced some constructive economic reforms. But its politics have failed to keep up. On the contrary, the regime seems intent on repressing what few liberals the country has and presenting the Egyptian people with a choice between traditional authoritarians and the Muslim Brotherhood. The risk is that Egyptians will one day opt for the latter, less because they support it outright than because they have grown weary of the former. Alternatively, the regime might take on the colors of its Islamist opponents in an effort to co-opt their appeal, in the process distancing itself from the United States. In Saudi Arabia, the government and the royal elite rely on using large energy proceeds to placate domestic appeals for change. The problem is that most of the pressure they have responded to has come from the religious right rather than the liberal left, which has led them to embrace the agenda of religious authorities.


Finally, regional institutions will remain weak, lagging far behind those elsewhere. The Middle East’s best-known organization, the Arab League, excludes the region’s two most powerful states, Israel and Iran. The enduring Arab-Israeli rift will continue to preclude the participation of Israel in any sustained regional relationship. The tension between Iran and most Arab states will also frustrate the emergence of regionalism. Trade within the Middle East will remain modest because few countries offer goods and services that others want to buy on a large scale, and advanced manufactured goods will have to continue to come from elsewhere. Few of the advantages of global economic integration will come to this part of the world, despite the pressing need for them.




Although the basic features of this fifth era of the modern Middle East are largely unattractive, this should not be a cause for fatalism. Much is a matter of degree. There is a fundamental difference between a Middle East lacking formal peace agreements and one defined by terrorism, interstate conflict, and civil war; between one housing a powerful Iran and one dominated by Iran; or between one that has an uneasy relationship with the United States and one filled with hatred of the country. Time also makes a difference. Eras in the Middle East can last for as long as a century or as little as a decade and a half. It is clearly in the interest of the United States and Europe that the emerging era be as brief as possible — and that it be followed by a more benign one.


To ensure this, U.S. policymakers need to avoid two mistakes, while seizing two opportunities. The first mistake would be an over-reliance on military force. As the United States has learned to its great cost in Iraq — and Israel has in Lebanon — military force is no panacea. It is not terribly useful against loosely organized militias and terrorists who are well armed, accepted by the local population, and prepared to die for their cause. Nor would carrying out a preventive strike on Iranian nuclear installations accomplish much good. Not only might an attack fail to destroy all facilities, but it might also lead Tehran to reconstitute its program even more covertly, cause Iranians to rally around the regime, and persuade Iran to retaliate (most likely through proxies) against U.S. interests in Afghanistan and Iraq and maybe even directly against the United States. It would further radicalize the Arab and Muslim worlds and generate more terrorism and anti-American activity. Military action against Iran would also drive the price of oil to new heights, increasing the chances of an international economic crisis and a global recession. For all these reasons, military force should be considered only as a last resort.


The second mistake would be to count on the emergence of democracy to pacify the region. It is true that mature democracies tend not to wage war on one another. Unfortunately, creating mature democracies is no easy task, and even if the effort ultimately succeeds, it takes decades. In the interim, the U.S. government must continue to work with many nondemocratic governments. Democracy is not the answer to terrorism, either. It is plausible that young men and women coming of age would be less likely to become terrorists if they belonged to societies that offered them political and economic opportunities. But recent events suggest that even those who grow up in mature democracies, such as the United Kingdom, are not immune to the pull of radicalism. The fact that both Hamas and Hezbollah fared well in elections and then carried out violent attacks reinforces the point that democratic reform does not guarantee quiet. And democratization is of little use when dealing with radicals whose platforms have no hope of receiving majority support. More useful initiatives would be actions designed to reform educational systems, promote economic liberalization and open markets, encourage Arab and Muslim authorities to speak out in ways that delegitimize terrorism and shame its supporters, and address the grievances that motivate young men and women to take it up.


As for the opportunities to be seized, the first is to intervene more in the Middle East’s affairs with nonmilitary tools. Regarding Iraq, in addition to any redeployment of U.S. troops and training of local military and police, the United States should establish a regional forum for Iraq’s neighbors (Turkey and Saudi Arabia in particular) and other interested parties akin to that used to help manage events in Afghanistan following the intervention there in 2001. Doing so would necessarily require bringing in both Iran and Syria. Syria, which can affect the movement of fighters into Iraq and arms into Lebanon, should be persuaded to close its borders in exchange for economic benefits (from Arab governments, Europe, and the United States) and a commitment to restart talks on the status of the Golan Heights. In the new Middle East, there is a danger that Syria might be more interested in working with Tehran than with Washington. But it did join the U.S.-led coalition during the Persian Gulf War and attend the Madrid peace conference in 1991, two gestures that suggest it might be open to a deal with the United States in the future.


Iran is a more difficult case. But since regime change in Tehran is not a near-term prospect, military strikes against nuclear sites in Iran would be dangerous, and deterrence is uncertain, diplomacy is the best option available to Washington. The U.S. government should open, without preconditions, comprehensive talks that address Iran’s nuclear program and its support of terrorism and foreign militias. Iran should be offered an array of economic, political, and security incentives. It could be allowed a highly limited uranium-enrichment pilot program so long as it accepted highly intrusive inspections. Such an offer would win broad international support, a prerequisite if the United States wants backing for imposing sanctions or escalating to other options should diplomacy fail. Making the terms of such an offer public would increase diplomacy’s chances of success. The Iranian people should know the price they stand to pay for their government’s radical foreign policy. With the government in Tehran concerned about an adverse public reaction, it would be more likely to accept the U.S. offer.


Diplomacy also needs to be revived in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is still the issue that most shapes (and radicalizes) public opinion in the region. The goal at this point would be not to bring the parties to Camp David or anywhere else but to begin to create the conditions under which diplomacy could usefully be restarted. The United States should articulate those principles it believes ought to constitute the elements of a final settlement, including the creation of a Palestinian state based on the 1967 lines. (The lines would have to be adjusted to safeguard Israel’s security and reflect demographic changes, and the Palestinians would have to be compensated for any losses resulting from the adjustments.) The more generous and detailed the plan, the harder it would be for Hamas to reject negotiation and favor confrontation. Consistent with this approach, U.S. officials ought to sit down with Hamas officials, much as they have with the leaders of Sinn Fin, some of whom also led the Irish Republican Army. Such exchanges should be viewed not as rewarding terrorist tactics but as instruments with the potential to bring behavior in line with U.S. policy.


The second opportunity involves the United States’ insulating itself as much as possible from the region’s instability. This would mean curbing U.S. oil consumption and U.S. dependence on the Middle East’s energy resources, goals that could best be achieved by reducing demand (by, say, increasing taxes at the pump — offset by tax reductions elsewhere — and promoting policies that would accelerate the introduction of alternative sources of energy). Washington should also take additional steps to reduce its exposure to terrorism. Like vulnerability to disease, vulnerability to terrorism cannot be entirely eliminated. But more can and should be done to better protect the U.S. homeland and to better prepare for those inevitable occasions when terrorists will succeed.


Avoiding these mistakes and seizing these opportunities would help, but it is important to recognize that there are no quick or easy solutions to the problems the new era poses. The Middle East will remain a troubled and troubling part of the world for decades to come. It is all enough to make one nostalgic for the old Middle East.


Richard N. Haass is President of the Council on Foreign Relations.