CSID EMAIL BULLETIN - December 22, 2006
|Saturday, December 23,2006 00:00|
Second-Generation Muslim Immigrants Feel Strong Islamic Identity
Author, professor and other experts raise money to give Muslims a voice
By Elizabeth Kelleher
USINFO Staff Writer
15 December 2006
Washington As the children of generations of immigrants to the United States have grown up, they often have drifted away from the cultures of their parents home countries. But some experts believe children of Muslim immigrants are different.
The younger generation of Muslims in America is forming a new Islamic identity, said Geneive Abdo, author of Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11. She cites an increase in Muslim student associations on college campuses, a push by young parents to build new Islamic schools, and a trend among younger women to don head scarves even if many of their older, female relatives do not wear them. Young Muslims are becoming more religious than their parents, she told USINFO.
Abdo believes that 9/11 partly caused this surge of Islamic pride among young American Muslims; the terrorist attacks forced Muslims to defend the faith, explain the faith and turn inward to some extent to form a more cohesive community, she said. Muslims are not turning away from all things American, she said, but picking and choosing what they will adopt from American society.
Abdo said a growing Islamic identity does not mean American Muslims are becoming radicalized. That will not happen, she said, in large part because, unlike in some European countries, Muslims here are educated professionals who enjoy social and economic mobility. A 2003 report titled Muslims in the United States and published by the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington said 58 percent of American Muslims have graduated from college, more than double the national rate.
Abdo cites a statistics from Georgetown Universitys Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding that shows Muslims average-household income is $10,000 higher than average American household income.
MUSLIMS REACH OUT TO TEACH OTHER AMERICANS ABOUT ISLAM
Abdo said she believes Muslims need a voice in the United States, which is why she joined other experts on Muslim life in America at a fundraiser December 9 held in Philadelphias National Liberty Museum. The event raised money to help the Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy initiate programs to educate Americans about Islam.
Radwan Masmoudi, who founded the center in 1999, told USINFO of the importance of the organizations outreach projects. He said that, since September 11, 2001, Americans who watch television have seen violence and terrorism committed by extremists. They dont hear from the silent majority, he said. They lump Islam with extremists. It is important to tell Christians, Jews and those of other faiths that Islam is against violence and terrorism.
Asma Afsaruddin, a professor a the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, who joined Abdo at the fundraiser, told USINFO that American Muslims experiences vary depending on whether they are fully observant or not, whether they live in a big city, a small town or a rural area. She said that in cities with large Muslim populations -- Detroit, New York, Chicago, Washington -- personal connections between Muslims and non-Muslims exist, making it easier to erase stereotypes.
But in the United States, Islam is a newcomer, not quite understood by many Americans, Afsaruddin said. The Wilson Center report estimated there were 6 million Muslims in the United States and that almost 70 percent of them were born in other countries. Muslim Americans on the whole are younger than the general U.S. population.
Most people in the United States wouldnt think twice about a [Catholic] nuns habit or a Jews yarmulke, Afsaruddin said. But because Muslims are part of a newer wave of immigrants, Afsaruddin said, a woman who wears a hijab at a shopping mall gets noticed.
Masmoudi characterized the amount raised in Philadelphia as below expectations. The center has ambitious goals to host university seminars, visit churches and synagogues, hire a media liaison, do a documentary about women leaders in Muslim societies, increase contact with Congress, publish newsletters, and expand its annual conference held in April in Washington.
Afsaruddin tries to reach out to non-Muslims when she is on sabbatical from teaching at Notre Dame. She recently spoke at a seminar at Amarillo College in Texas, about the complexities of Islam. She said that sometimes, at such meetings, you get questions that express a fundamental hostility. But at the end of the Amarillo seminar, many of the women hugged her and told her they had learned a lot. One woman told Afsaruddin she had driven 145 kilometers to attend the lecture.
People will go to great lengths to have access to reliable information, Afsaruddin said. It is time-consuming, but so rewarding.
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BIGOTRY TOWARD MUSLIMS IS GROWING IN THE UNITED STATES
By Salam Al-Marayati and Safiya Ghori
December 15, 2006
It is a sad day for Muslims in America. I woke up recently to hear radio host Jerry Klein suggesting that all Muslims in the United States should be identified with a crescent-shaped tattoo or a distinctive arm band and then heard an hour of my fellow Americans agreeing with him.
Earlier this month, right-wing pundit Dennis Prager ranted that the first Muslim member of Congress, Keith Ellison, should not be allowed to take his congressional oath on the Koran. The week before it was the case of six U.S. imams being handcuffed, detained and thrown off a US Airways flight because they were praying their daily prayer at the gate before boarding the plane. The week before that, it was a Michigan man who was dragged outside of his home and beaten by a mob of 10 people who were shouting, You’re a (expletive) Muslim, you’re not American, go back to where you came from. Unfortunately, the list of incidents is extensive and American Muslims are beginning to feel the impact of Islamophobia.
In a post Sept. 11, 2001, world, perceptions of Muslims as terrorists or potential terrorists are not uncommon, yet in the last year there has been a growing amount of anti-Muslim sentiment. A recent USA Today/Gallup poll found that nearly 40 percent of Americans admit to harboring feelings of prejudice against Muslims. Furthermore, the hateful rhetoric that is spewing out of right-wing radio talk shows such as Prager’s only adds fuel to the flame of Islamophobia, enhancing the fears of the public and perpetuating an image of a so-called culture war.
Klein eventually revealed that he had staged a hoax by stating that Muslims in the United States should be identified with a tattoo or armband. As an hour of callers congratulated Klein on his bigoted statements, one man specifically asked, What good is identifying them? You have to set up encampments like during World War II with the Japanese and Germans.
As an American Muslim, I can understand concerns about Islam and Muslims, but that should never be a pass for prejudice and bigotry. America stands for something better than this type of blatant racism.
America celebrated the victory of Ellison as the first Muslim congressman, but AM radio talk-show host Prager decided to impart his Islamophobic opinion by stating that Ellison should not be allowed to take his congressional oath on the Koran, because it undermined American civilization. He also stated that America should not give a hoot what Ellison’s favorite book is and that America is interested in only one book, the Bible. And if you are incapable of taking an oath on that book, don’t serve in Congress.
Prager’s intolerant and unbelievably erroneous comments clearly display his ignorance of the U.S. Constitution. Based on Article VI of the Constitution, no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States. In addition, the establishment clause and free exercise clause of the Constitution mandate the equal treatment of people without regard to their religious beliefs. This unequivocally means that the government cannot dictate what a person uses as a religious book.
What Prager is trying to say is that Ellison is unfit for office because of his religious beliefs. His attacks are specifically targeted toward the fact that Ellison wants to use a Koran to administer his congressional oath. Why didn’t Prager cry foul when Rep. Debbie Schultz, D-Fla., refused the Bible offered by Dennis Hastert and borrowed a Hebrew bible for her swearing-in ceremony? What about when Linda Lingle, the governor of Hawaii, took her oath on the Torah?
The reason there was no uproar over this matter was because Schultz and Lingle were merely practicing their constitutional right to swear on the books they believed in not on the book society believes in. In the aftermath of this incident, Jewish groups around the country have also condemned Prager’s bigoted comments in support of Ellison.
Simply put, there isn’t one book that can encompass the beliefs of American society. What truly unifies Americans is a values system that is built on religious freedom as a fundamental and cherished right. The fundamental ideals of America are freedom and democracy, and this is achieved by celebrating religious and cultural diversity.
Similarly, a few weeks ago, CNN’s answer to Bill O’Reilly, Glenn Beck, challenged Ellison: Sir, prove to me you are not working with our enemies simply because he is a Muslim. These types of questions marginalize the majority of Muslim Americans who feel that their act of allegiance to the United States is always in question. When will we stop questioning patriotism a la McCarthyism?
Evicting six imams who had been cleared by the FBI from a US Airways flight will not create a safer America. Islamophobia is a growing reality of racism around the world. The only way to stop it is by embracing the greatness of America and respecting the religious diversity that is present in this country.
The Dennis Pragers and Glenn Becks of the world certainly have a right to free speech, but they are only a part of this increasing trend of widespread bigotry that is emerging as the ugly face Islamophobia.
Al-Marayati is executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (www.mpac.org). Ghori is the MPAC program director.
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By Rick Hampson, USA TODAY
Updated 12/12/2006 11:33 PM ET
DEARBORN, Mich. The Arab Muslims who came here eight decades ago to work on Henry Ford’s new assembly line believed their American future was limitless. But after five years on the home front in America’s war on terrorism, many of their descendants are hunkering down, covering up and staying put.
In this and similar enclaves, like those in northern New Jersey and Brooklyn, many Arab Muslims say their community is turning in on itself shying away from a society increasingly inclined to equate Islam with terrorism.
"It’s as bad as after 9/11," says Rana Abbas-Chami of the Michigan American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "A lot of people are scared. They’ve changed how they do things."
Some stay put. They don’t like to fly, cross the border with Canada or shop at malls outside the city. "It’s a feeling that if you go too far outside Dearborn, anything can happen," says Osama Siblani, a local newspaper publisher.
Some blend in. They Anglicize their names (Osama Nimer, electrician, is now Samuel Nimer) or change them (Mohammad Bazzi, nurse, is Alex Goldsmith). They trim their beards. In public, they speak English instead of Arabic. They display the flag. They wear the Tigers cap.
Some lie low. They won’t contribute to a Muslim charity, at least not by check, and not if it works overseas. They watch what they say, especially on the phone. They think twice before trying to rent a truck, get a hunting license or take a flying lesson.
Some regard Dearborn, center of the nation’s largest Arab Muslim community, as an island of security; others see it as a potential trap.
After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, fears of domestic sabotage led to the internment of Japanese-Americans. Some Arab Muslims wonder if it could happen again especially if there’s another domestic terror attack. People here speculate about spies and informers in their midst; government eavesdropping and surveillance; and, if there’s another 9/11, concentration camps.
These themes emerged repeatedly in USA TODAY interviews with about two dozen Arab Muslims around the nation.
After the terror attacks in 2001 the work of 19 Arab Muslims who’d moved around the country Arab Muslims living here hoped things would slowly return to normal. Then came prolonged, messy wars in Afghanistan and Iraq; post-Sept. 11 security initiatives such as the Patriot Act; al-Qaeda train bombings in London and Madrid; war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Michael Suleiman, a Kansas State University political scientist, says that discrimination against Arab Muslims is virtually inevitable given a government determined to prevent another 9/11 and a populace barraged by images of violence in Iraq and denunciations of what President Bush has called "Islamic fascism."
Now Arab Muslims even those never questioned by the FBI, hassled by the boss or heckled by the jerk in a passing car feel more vulnerable than ever.
"Each crisis makes it more difficult. They’re always insecure," Suleiman says. "They ask, ’When is it we actually become Americans? When is the hyphen dropped?’ "
Reports of anti-Muslim incidents in the nation jumped 30% last year, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, which blames a "negative and politically charged" environment on the Internet and talk radio. The 1,972 complaints of harassment, violence and discrimination were the most since CAIR began totaling incidents in 1995.
Americans seem unsympathetic. Thirty-nine percent say they harbor at least some prejudice against Muslims, according to a USA TODAY/Gallup Poll earlier this year. The same percentage favor requiring U.S. Muslims citizens included to carry special IDs. About a third say U.S. Muslims sympathize with al-Qaeda.
Political leaders have given voice to such worries. In a campaign letter this fall, Rep. Peter King from Long Island generally viewed as a moderate Republican accused American Muslim leaders of insufficiently denouncing the 9/11 attacks. In the past, he has said that 85% of U.S. mosques have "extremist leadership."
Everyone has a story
In heavily Arab east Dearborn, almost everyone from the greenest immigrants to fourth-generation Americans who’ve never been to the Middle East has a story, or knows someone who does.
Stories like that of Farooq Al-Fatlawi, a bus passenger en route to Chicago, who was put off with his bags in Toledo after he told the driver he was from Iraq.
Other cases this year have attracted national attention:
Bay Area civil rights activist Raed Jarrar was barred from a plane for wearing a T-shirt that said "We will not be silent" in Arabic and English.
Six imams seen praying in a Minneapolis airport terminal were later removed from their flight after a passenger passed a note to a flight attendant saying that the men acted suspiciously on board.
The imams, who were handcuffed, questioned and released, have denied the accusations; five are seeking an out-of-court settlement with US Airways. The airline says the crew acted properly in having the imams removed from the flight.
Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, has been vilified for planning to take a ceremonial oath of office on a Quran.
Arab Muslims interviewed by USA TODAY say other Americans must understand that they pray five times a day, if necessary at work or on the road; they must give alms to the poor and are hard-pressed to do so when the government closes Islamic charities; women’s head scarves and men’s beards are signs of religious fidelity, not defiance of American custom.
And this: No one has more to lose from another terror attack than Arab Muslims.
What intimidates some galvanizes others to vote, to speak out and to demand the American freedoms extolled by Franklin Roosevelt and Norman Rockwell. The result is a communal split personality, says Imad Hamad of the Anti-Discrimination Committee: "We are in limbo."
Daniel Sutherland, head of the civil rights division of the Department of Homeland Security, acknowledges the complaints from Arab Muslims. He says fighting terrorism while respecting civil rights involves "difficult challenges."
But Sutherland says the government needs the help of U.S. Arab Muslims to fight terrorism at home: "Homeland security isn’t gonna be won by people sitting in a building inside the Beltway."
Contributing: Tamara Audi of the Detroit Free Press
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MUSLIMS MARK SOLIDARITY WITH JEWS
Event Held Days After Iranian Meeting That Denied Genocide
By Mary Beth Sheridan
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 21, 2006; Page B05
Local Muslim leaders lit candles yesterday at the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to commemorate Jewish suffering under the Nazis, in a ceremony held just days after Iran had a conference denying the genocide.
American Muslims "believe we have to learn the lessons of history and commit ourselves: Never again," said Imam Mohamed Magid of the All Dulles Area Muslim Society, standing before the eternal flame flickering from a black marble base that holds dirt from Nazi concentration camps.
Around the hexagonal room, candles glimmered under the engraved names of the death camps: Chelmno. Auschwitz-Birkenau. Majdanek.
"We stand here with three survivors of the Holocaust and my great Muslim friends to condemn this outrage in Iran," said Sara J. Bloomfield, the museum’s director, addressing a bank of TV cameras in the room, known as the Hall of Remembrance.
The museum, she noted, holds "millions of pieces of evidence of this crime."
Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad organized last week’s conference after Western countries protested his comment last year that the slaughter of 6 million Jews was a myth. The two-day meeting drew historical revisionists and such people as David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan.
Major American Muslim and Arab-American organizations have condemned the Iran conference. The Muslim speakers at yesterday’s ceremony did not mention that event but called for recognition of the suffering Jews experienced in the Holocaust and condemned religious hatred. Asked afterward why they did not single out Iran, the Muslim leaders said the problem was broader than the recent conference.
"The issue here is: There might be somebody from X and Y country, a Muslim, saying the same thing," Magid said. If anyone wants to make Holocaust denial an Islamic cause, he said, "we want to say to them: You cannot use our name."
Museum officials said a Muslim delegation had never before made such a public statement at the memorial building.
After the speeches yesterday, Bloomfield invited the visitors to light candles to remember the Holocaust victims and Muslims who rescued some of the besieged Jews. One by one, the guests silently shuffled along the wallside bank of candles: the tall imam in his round Muslim cap, known as a kufi; a woman in a Muslim head scarf; Muslim men in business suits; and three elderly women in pantsuits from the D.C. suburbs, survivors of the genocide.
One of them, Johanna Neumann, recounted at the ceremony how Muslims saved her Jewish family. Members of her family had fled from Germany to Albania, where Muslim families sheltered them and hid their identity during the Nazi occupation.
"Everybody knew who we were. Nobody would even have thought of denouncing us" to the Nazis, said the tiny 76-year-old Silver Spring resident. "These people deserve every respect anybody can give them."
The idea for the ceremony originated with Magid, whose Sterling mosque has been active in interfaith efforts. After hearing radio reports about the Iranian meeting, "I said to myself, ’We have to, as Muslim leaders . . . show solidarity with our fellow Jewish Americans,’ " Magid recalled after the speeches.
He contacted Akbar Ahmed, an American University professor active in inter-religious dialogue, who asked the museum to hold the ceremony.
"It’s important that the world knows there are Muslims who don’t believe in this [Holocaust denial]," Ahmed said after the ceremony. Also in the delegation were representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Bloomfield, the museum director, noted that Magid delayed his trip to Mecca for the annual hajj pilgrimage by a day to attend the ceremony.
"That’s a pretty strong statement," she said.
The Holocaust victims expressed gratitude for the gesture by the Muslims.
"We could live together in peace if only more of these things were happening," said Halina Peabody, 74, a native of Poland who lives in Bethesda.
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’MASS PURGES’ AT IRAN UNIVERSITIES
By Frances Harrison
BBC News, Tehran
Iranian students say there is a second cultural revolution under way in the universities with scores of professors forcibly retired and politically active students being threatened with expulsion.
Student anger exploded with an unprecedented show of defiance when President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad went to Tehran’s Amir Kabir University on 12 December.
Pictures shot on a mobile phone showed angry students chanting against the president, accusing him of being a fascist and a puppet of the hardliners.
They held portraits of Mr Ahmadinejad upside down to mock him and then set them on fire.
The day before the president visited, the university was in turmoil with students shouting "Death to the dictator".
Iranian television only showed a few seconds of the disturbance. Later Mr Ahmadinejad put a brave face on it saying the protest showed there was freedom of speech in Iran compared to his student days under the Shah.
’Harassment and purges’
When Mr Ahmadinejad came to power the universities were quiet.
But by trying to stop students getting involved in politics, the new government has antagonised them.
"They have stepped up the pressure to scare students," says activist Ali Nikoo Nesbati.
"We think they’ve done this on purpose to frighten us; to send a message that if you want to be politically active you will have problems in the future," he says.
According to student activists 181 students have received letters warning them not to get involved in politics, while 47 student publications and 28 student organisations have been closed in the last year.
"They threatened me that if I talked to the media it might make things much worse for me," says Mehdi Aminzadeh, who has been banned from doing a masters in political science because he has been too active in politics.
"But if we keep silent it’s easier for them to do the same things to other people," he says.
Mr Mehdi has twice been arrested and still has court cases pending against him.
He is what is known perversely in Iran as a three-star student. That means he has three bad marks against his name for political activism - enough to be banned from the university.
"We are not working against the system here," says fellow student Mohammad Gharib Sajadi, who has also been banned.
"The constitution has given us this right to education," he says.
"Freedom of speech is being restricted more than before in Iran," says Iran’s Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights lawyer Shirin Ebadi.
"They think students should go to their classes, read their books and then go back home and shouldn’t get involved in the social and political issues around them in society - that’s asking a lot!"
But President Ahmadinejad denies that his government is harassing students.
He says it has created an open atmosphere in the universities.
"The ears of the government are open to hear them," he said referring to student demands during a news conference.
It was the president who appointed a cleric for the first time since the revolution to head Tehran University - the country’s most political and prestigious university.
Mr Ahmadinejad told journalists the chancellor should be friendly with the students, moving among them and visiting their dormitories - otherwise he should give up his job to someone else.
The first time the new chancellor entered the university, students protested by knocking off his turban - a sign of extreme disrespect for a cleric.
"If I had not been well protected I would have been suffocated and there was a possibility of a crime like murder being committed," said the chancellor, Ayatollah Amid-Zanjani, after the incident.
However he added that "students have the right to protest".
The chancellor denies student allegations that there have been 17 protests against him inside Tehran University in the last year alone.
He says apart from the turban incident there was only a protest on Iranian Students’ Day on 6 December, which, he said, was attended by at most 40 people.
’Cleaning the slate’
The photographs of the event showed the crowd was much bigger.
And there is mobile phone footage from a demonstration in the summer at which the posters make it pretty clear what the students think of their new Ayatollah-turned-chancellor.
"This is not a religious seminary - it’s a university," read one poster.
But it is not just students who are angry - professors have also faced problems.
The new chancellor forcibly retired 45 teachers from Tehran University. He said they were past the retirement age, although they were younger than him.
"The majority of the retired teachers couldn’t reach the standard of a full professor after 30 years of teaching at this university. They didn’t manage to do any research to improve their position," Ayatollah Amid-Zanjani said.
"It seems this is the start of a project to clean the slate - to get rid of those intellectuals who are secular opponents of the government," says student activist Abdullah Momeni.
He believes the purge started after President Ahmadinejad spoke about the need to remove secular and liberal thought from the universities.
Students complain the international community is not paying enough attention to the worsening human rights situation in Iran because of the obsession with the nuclear issue.
"The Islamic Republic has managed to focus the international community’s attention on Iran’s nuclear case and the possibility of an Israeli attack. That has diverted attention from the human rights situation in Iran," says Mr Nesbati.
He believes it is possible that one day Iranian officials will solve the nuclear crisis but "in the mean time they will have crushed all their internal critics".
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By Edmund Blair
Monday, December 18, 2006; Page A19
TEHRAN, Dec 17 -- Allies of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad failed to dominate elections for a powerful Iranian clerical body and local councils, according to early results Sunday, in what analysts said was a setback to the hard-line leader’s standing.
Friday’s elections for the clerical Assembly of Experts and for local councils, the first nationwide vote since Ahmadinejad took office in 2005, will not directly impact policy.
But turnout of about 60 percent and Ahmadinejad’s close identification with some candidates, particularly in Tehran, suggested a voter shift toward more moderate policies and away from the president’s often-confrontational positions.
Although Ahmadinejad is not Iran’s most powerful figure, his anti-Western and anti-Israel statements have alarmed Western leaders who fear that Iran is building a secret nuclear weapons capability.
"The results show that voters have learned from the past and concluded that we need to support . . . moderate figures," the independent daily newspaper Kargozaran said in an editorial.
Kargozaran is close to former president Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a moderate cleric who was leading the count in Tehran for the Assembly of Experts, according to state-run media. Rafsanjani lost to Ahmadinejad in the 2005 presidential race.
Lower down the list, but still with enough votes to retain a seat, was Ayatollah Mohammad Taqi Mesbah-Yazdi, a firebrand cleric who advocates cultural isolation from the West and is widely seen as the spiritual mentor of Ahmadinejad.
Two candidates, identified by clerics as allies of Mesbah-Yazdi, were out of the running in Tehran, the official IRNA news agency said. Three Mesbah-Yazdi supporters lost in other regions, though at least one was known to have secured a seat.
"This is a blow for Ahmadinejad and Mesbah-Yazdi’s list," one political analyst said on condition of anonymity.
The Assembly of Experts has more power than the president or parliament because it chooses the country’s supreme leader. Conservative clerics, however, have tended to keep the body out of everyday politics, and analysts say this is likely to remain the case.
The main battleground in Friday’s election was the Tehran City Council, where supporters of Ahmadinejad competed against backers of a more moderate conservative, Tehran Mayor Mohammad Baqer Qalibaf.
Final results for Tehran are not expected until Tuesday, but partial tallies reported by Iranian news agencies showed Qalibaf’s group dominating with about nine of the 15 council seats. The remaining seats were split between backers of Ahmadinejad and the pro-reform camp, seeking a comeback after being routed in a series of elections.
Reformists said they had won at least six of the Tehran seats and demanded that election officials announce the results. They said the delay raised questions about the counting process.
"We have serious doubts about whether these problems are due to a lack of organization at the Interior Ministry or whether there are some efforts to tamper with votes," said Mohammad Ali Najafi, a reformist candidate in Tehran.
Analysts said the outcome could boost moderate conservatives who say Ahmadinejad is trying to centralize power among his close allies and ignoring other conservative political forces.
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Foreign Affairs, January/February 2007
Summary: The war on terrorism is not just about security or military tactics. It is a battle of values, and one that can only be won by the triumph of tolerance and liberty. Afghanistan and Iraq have been the necessary starting points of this battle. Success there, however, must be coupled with a bolder, more consistent, and more thorough application of global values, with Washington leading the way.
Tony Blair is Prime Minister of the United Kingdom.
THE ROOTS OF EXTREMISM
Our response to the September 11 attacks has proved even more momentous than it seemed at the time. That is because we could have chosen security as the battleground. But we did not. We chose values. We said that we did not want another Taliban or a different Saddam Hussein. We knew that you cannot defeat a fanatical ideology just by imprisoning or killing its leaders; you have to defeat its ideas.
In my view, the situation we face is indeed war, but of a completely unconventional kind, one that cannot be won in a conventional way. We will not win the battle against global extremism unless we win it at the level of values as much as that of force. We can win only by showing that our values are stronger, better, and more just than the alternative. That also means showing the world that we are evenhanded and fair in our application of those values. We will never get real support for the tough actions that may well be essential to safeguarding our way of life unless we also attack global poverty, environmental degradation, and injustice with equal vigor.
The roots of the current wave of global terrorism and extremism are deep. They reach down through decades of alienation, victimhood, and political oppression in the Arab and Muslim world. Yet such terrorism is not and never has been inevitable.
To me, the most remarkable thing about the Koran is how progressive it is. I write with great humility as a member of another faith. As an outsider, the Koran strikes me as a reforming book, trying to return Judaism and Christianity to their origins, much as reformers attempted to do with the Christian church centuries later. The Koran is inclusive. It extols science and knowledge and abhors superstition. It is practical and far ahead of its time in attitudes toward marriage, women, and governance.
Under its guidance, the spread of Islam and its dominance over previously Christian or pagan lands were breathtaking. Over centuries, Islam founded an empire and led the world in discovery, art, and culture. The standard-bearers of tolerance in the early Middle Ages were far more likely to be found in Muslim lands than in Christian ones.
But by the early twentieth century, after the Renaissance, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment had swept over the Western world, the Muslim and Arab world was uncertain, insecure, and on the defensive. Some Muslim countries, such as Turkey, made a muscular move toward secularism. Others found themselves caught up in colonization, nascent nationalism, political oppression, and religious radicalism. Muslims began to see the sorry state of Muslim countries as symptomatic of the sorry state of Islam. Political radicals became religious radicals and vice versa.
Those in power tried to accommodate this Islamic radicalism by incorporating some of its leaders and some of its ideology. The result was nearly always disastrous. Religious radicalism was made respectable and political radicalism suppressed, and so in the minds of many, the two came together to represent the need for change. They began to think that the way to restore the confidence and stability of Islam was through a combination of religious extremism and populist politics, with the enemies becoming "the West" and those Islamic leaders who cooperated with it.
This extremism may have started with religious doctrine and thought. But soon, in offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood, supported by Wahhabi extremists and disseminated in some of the madrasahs of the Middle East and Asia, an ideology was born and exported around the world.
On 9/11, 3,000 people were murdered. But this terrorism did not begin on the streets of New York. Many more had already died, not just in acts of terrorism against Western interests but in political insurrection and turmoil around the world. Its victims are to be found in the recent history of many lands: India, Indonesia, Kenya, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and countless more. More than 100,000 died in Algeria. In Chechnya and Kashmir, political causes that could have been resolved became brutally incapable of resolution under the pressure of terrorism. Today, in 30 or 40 countries, terrorists are plotting action loosely linked with this ideology. Although the active cadres of terrorists are relatively small, they exploit a far wider sense of alienation in the Arab and Muslim world.
These acts of terrorism were not isolated incidents. They were part of a growing movement -- a movement that believed Muslims had departed from their proper faith, were being taken over by Western culture, and were being governed treacherously by Muslims complicit in this takeover (as opposed to those who could see that the way to recover not just the true faith but also Muslim confidence and self-esteem was to take on the West and all its works).
The struggle against terrorism in Madrid, or London, or Paris is the same as the struggle against the terrorist acts of Hezbollah in Lebanon, or Palestinian Islamic Jihad in the Palestinian territories, or rejectionist groups in Iraq. The murder of the innocent in Beslan is part of the same ideology that takes innocent lives in Libya, Saudi Arabia, or Yemen. And when Iran gives support to such terrorism, it becomes part of the same battle, with the same ideology at its heart.
Sometimes political strategy comes deliberatively, sometimes by instinct. For this movement, it probably came by instinct. It has an ideology, a worldview, deep convictions, and the determination of fanaticism. It resembles, in many ways, early revolutionary communism. It does not always need structures and command centers or even explicit communication. It knows what it thinks.
In the late 1990s, the movement’s strategy became clear. If it was merely fighting within Islam, it ran the risk that fellow Muslims -- being as decent and as fair-minded as anyone else -- would choose to reject its fanaticism. A battle about Islam was just Muslim versus Muslim. The extremists realized that they had to create a completely different battle: Muslims versus the West.
That is what the September 11 attacks did. I am still amazed at how many people say, in effect, that there is terrorism today because of the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. They seem to forget entirely that 9/11 predated both. The West did not attack this movement. It was attacked.
THE NATURE OF THE STRUGGLE
For this ideology, we are the enemy. But "we" are not the West. "We" are as much Muslim as Christian, Jew, or Hindu. "We" are all those who believe in religious tolerance, in openness to others, in democracy, in liberty, and in human rights administered by secular courts.
This is not a clash between civilizations; it is a clash about civilization. It is the age-old battle between progress and reaction, between those who embrace the modern world and those who reject its existence -- between optimism and hope, on the one hand, and pessimism and fear, on the other.
In any struggle, the first challenge is to accurately perceive the nature of what is being fought over, and here we have a long way to go. It is almost incredible to me that so much Western opinion appears to buy the idea that the emergence of this global terrorism is somehow our fault.
For a start, the terror is truly global. It is directed not just at the United States and its allies but also at nations who could not conceivably be said to be partners of the West.
To read the entire article, please go to: http://www.foreignaffairs.org/20070101faessay86106/tony-blair/a-battle-for-global-values.html
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Muslim Cleared By Ottawa Inquiry
By Doug Struck
Washington Post Foreign Service
Saturday, December 16, 2006; Page A16
TORONTO, Dec. 15 -- Maher Arar, the Canadian Muslim who was whisked by U.S. agents from a New York airport to imprisonment and torture in Syria, remains on the U.S. "watch list" despite an exhaustive Canadian inquiry that found he is an innocent man, the U.S. ambassador to Canada said Friday.
Ambassador David Wilkins said in an interview with CBC Radio that Arar "is on the watch list and has been since he was deported" in 2002 to Syria, where he was held for 10 months, much of it in a coffin-like dungeon.
His transfer to Syria, part of a series of U.S. clandestine "extraordinary renditions" of terrorism suspects for interrogation in foreign countries, created a scandal in Canada.
The head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police resigned last week after a two-year judicial inquiry found his officers gave U.S. agents false information to cast suspicion on Arar.
The Canadian Parliament has apologized to Arar, now 36, and the Canadian government is preparing compensation for the engineer.
But the United States has never acknowledged any mistake in the matter, and Wilkins’s disclosure Friday indicates Arar might again be detained by the United States if he were to enter the country.
His removal to Syria "was based on information from a variety of sources, as is his current watch list status," Wilkins said in a statement he issued later Friday. U.S. officials have made "our own independent assessment of the threat to the United States," he said.
"That the United States would have the gall to keep Maher on a watch list, implying that he poses a threat to this country, is outrageous," said one of Arar’s attorneys, Maria LaHood, a lawyer with the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. The nonprofit group filed a suit on Arar’s behalf against the U.S. government, but it was dismissed.
"This administration is unwilling to admit its mistakes and still tries to conceal them," she said.
In Ottawa, New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton said the Canadian government should demand that the United States remove Arar’s name from the list. "Otherwise, it sends a message the Canadian government will not stand behind its own citizens," he told reporters.
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17 December 2006
KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysia’s ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim on Sunday said debates over Islam’s role in the nation had become divisive and "worrying", in statements marking his full-time return to politics here.
The comments from Anwar, who also said he will contest the next elections, come amidst growing tensions between Malaysia’s majority Muslim Malays and minority Chinese and Indians.
"The worrying thing is the Muslims feel their position and their power, including the religious courts, are being eroded," Anwar told reporters on the sidelines of a forum of Muslim scholars and activists.
"The non-Muslims feel that they are being marginalised and discriminated against," he said.
Malaysia is seen as a moderate Muslim-majority nation, but race relations have been strained by a series of controversial court cases involving the rights of Muslims and non-Muslims, and questions over which group takes precedence.
The government has banned activists from discussing religious rights and called on the media to stop highlighting race-related issues.
"We have come to the stage where it is considered to be unhealthy," Anwar said, asked about debates on the perceived Islamisation of Malaysia.
"The position by the prime minister and the government to deny the rights of non-Muslims ... or deny an open public discourse on the subjects ... have exacerbated the entire problem," he said.
Anwar, 59, has criss-crossed between Malaysia and overseas destinations since his release from prison in 2004 on sodomy and corruption charges, including the United States, where he was a professor with Georgetown University.
But Anwar, who returned permanently to Malaysia earlier this month, said he had finished his tenure and announced his full-time return to politics here.
Asked if he will contest elections to be a member of parliament in late 2008, he replied: "Of course. It’s my right, which they used the courts to deny." - AFP/so
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Key Official of Banned Muslim Brotherhood Is Taken From Home
By Maggie Michael
Friday, December 15, 2006; Page A32
CAIRO, Dec. 14 -- Police arrested the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood’s chief strategist along with at least 140 others Thursday after a protest by uniformed students raised fears the Islamic political group is creating a military wing.
Mohammed Khayrat el-Shater, the group’s main financier and third-highest-ranking member, was taken from his home, security officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not allowed to speak to reporters.
They said 140 others were arrested on suspicion of belonging to the Brotherhood, participation in a plot to infiltrate student and worker organizations, and engaging in "unprecedented actions" -- including a militia-style demonstration Sunday at Al-Azhar University outside Cairo.
In that protest, demonstrators wore masks resembling those of the military wing of the Palestinian organization Hamas.
Abdel Gelil el-Sharnoubi, editor of the Brotherhood’s Web site, said hundreds of security officers stormed part of a university dormitory where the suspected student members were living and arrested everyone there.
"This round of arrests is a government reaction to a year of strong performance by the group in parliament, in advocating for reforms and in their opposition to the succession of power," Sharnoubi told reporters.
The Brotherhood said that in addition to Shater, police arrested more than 180 students and 13 others, including Shater’s son-in-law.
Police and security officials could not immediately comment on Sharnoubi’s allegations.
Following the arrests, hundreds of Al-Azhar students, mostly sympathizers of the Brotherhood, held an angry demonstration on campus and called for the release of their colleagues.
The uproar began Sunday when about 50 student Brotherhood members at the university appeared in black militia-style uniforms during a demonstration at the school.
Police opened an investigation into whether the group was setting up a military wing. The Brotherhood denies the allegation, stressing that the students acted on their own initiative.
The students issued a statement apologizing for the parade, saying it was "misinterpreted."
Shater, 55, the Brotherhood’s second deputy, joined the group in 1974 and has been imprisoned four times for a total of seven years on charges relating to his membership.
The Brotherhood has been banned in Egypt since 1954. Hundreds of its members have been arrested in the past year. The organization is also Egypt’s largest political opposition group and won 88 of the lower house of parliament’s 454 seats in elections a year ago, with its candidates running as independents.
The group, founded in 1928, established a military wing during the 1948 Middle East war to fight Jewish forces setting up the state of Israel.
The Brotherhood renounced violence in the 1970s and in recent months has been increasing its influence in powerful trade unions and challenging President Hosni Mubarak’s administration in parliament.
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One of the top leaders of Egypt’s opposition Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, has been detained.
Police also rounded up about 10 other prominent members and dozens of students in dawn raids.
Khairat al-Shatir is one of two deputies to Brotherhood leader Muhammad Akef, and was taken from his home in north-eastern Cairo, the capital.
The group is officially banned, but its supporters make up parliament’s largest opposition group and it is tolerated.
Mr Shatir is the most senior member of the group detained by the authorities since Secretary-General Mahmoud Ezzat was released last year after three months in jail without trial.
Officials have not said why the latest arrests were carried out, but correspondents said it might be related to recent newspaper reports suggesting the movement was setting up a military wing.
"The number of students arrested was not specified, but it could be as high as 180," a security official told the AFP news agency.
"At least three professors and several student leaders were taken during this sweep," a Muslim Brotherhood official said.
"The 180 students were detained before dawn during a sweep at the al-Safa campus, an annex of al-Azhar [Islamic university]."
Islamist students at the university organised a military-style march there on Sunday, dressed in black uniforms.
The Muslim Brotherhood ran in the legislative elections in November and December 2005, with candidates standing as independents, and won 88 of the 454 seats in parliament.
Essam al-Aryan and Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s political bureau were released earlier this week, having been arrested six months ago.
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By Jackson Diehl
Monday, December 11, 2006; Page A19
Some people suppose that President Bush’s freedom agenda was buried last Wednesday by the report of the Iraq Study Group. In fact, history will show that the administration largely smothered its own baby, even before Iraq’s descent into civil war propelled the resurrection of James Baker and other "realist" friends of Middle Eastern dictators.
Evidence of that conclusion could be found in Washington on the same day Baker delivered his report, as administration officials, members of Congress and business executives gathered for a glittering dinner in honor of Mehriban Aliyeva, the visiting first lady of Azerbaijan.
Aliyeva’s husband, Ilham, rules a Muslim country wedged between Russia and Iran that is on the cusp of becoming a major exporter of oil and gas, with strategic pipelines that offer Europe an alternative to Russian suppliers. It also is at a tipping point politically. Aliyev, who inherited power from his father -- a satrap of the Soviet Union -- has teetered between installing his own dictatorship and promising to liberalize the political system along Western lines.
For a year after Bush’s soaring second inaugural speech, in which he pledged "to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation," the president seemed to be trying to act on his words in Azerbaijan. Through a letter and State Department envoys, he urged Aliyev to hold free and fair parliamentary elections and promised in return to "elevate our countries’ relations to a new strategic level." Unfortunately, Aliyev called Bush’s bluff. He staged a vote in October 2005 that even the sympathetic State Department said was marked by "major irregularities and fraud." Days before the election he arrested hundreds of political opponents or would-be rivals, including one of his most pro-Western ministers, Farhad Aliyev.
Last April Bush received President Aliyev at the White House anyway, praising his cooperation with Western energy interests but saying nothing, at least in public, about the rigged elections or political prisoners. U.S. officials argued at the time that it was necessary to ease American pressure on Aliyev because of the risk that he would be driven into the arms of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin has been aggressively courting the autocrats of Central Asia while trying to build a de facto Russian monopoly of the region’s energy resources.
Aliyev drew a predictable conclusion: that he could be both a dictator and an American ally as long as he delivered energy and security cooperation. So Azerbaijan is pumping oil to Europe, and has promised gas this winter to pro-Western Georgia. It is allowing the U.S. military to use its airspace, and it reportedly hosts CIA monitoring operations of Iran. Meanwhile, Aliyev’s government is systematically attacking the country’s pro-democracy forces, while favoring Russia’s Azerbaijani allies. The losers are the very "democratic reformers" to whom Bush said: "When you stand for your liberty we will stand with you."
Farhad Aliyev (no relation to the president) is one of them. In visits to Washington as minister for economic development, he was outspoken about the need for Azerbaijan to embrace Western democracy and ally itself with the United States. At home, he had famously declared that "Russia is Azerbaijan’s past, the West is its future."
He’s now been in prison for nearly 14 months, denied visits from his family or even from doctors seeking to treat his known health problems. Variously accused of coup plotting, corruption and the murder of an opposition journalist -- in each case without evidence -- he has never been tried or even formally charged. Inquiries on his behalf by the State Department (which recognized his "commitment to reform") and several members of Congress were ignored or spurned by the government. Meanwhile, his energy-related business interests and those of his brother Rafiq, who was also imprisoned, have been confiscated and sold to "pro-Russian business enterprises favored by the Azerbaijan authorities," according to a study of the case by Washington lawyer Charles R. Both.
On Nov. 24 Aliyev’s administration closed down the country’s only independent radio and television station, ANS. The network was charged with "unauthorized broadcasts of several foreign radio programs" -- i.e., the Voice of America, Radio Liberty, and the BBC. Two Russian television networks controlled by Putin’s government continue their broadcasts into the country unhindered. U.S. officials who protested the shutdown were told, improbably, that it was the result of excessive zeal by licensing authorities.
Despite this provocation, the Bush administration offered its full cooperation for the visit of Aliyev’s wife, a member of parliament who is building her own political career. The trip has received saturation coverage by Azerbaijan’s remaining, state-controlled media, which portray it as proof of the close ties between Aliyev and Bush. And no wonder: The day after that gala dinner, Mehriban Aliyeva was received at the White House by First Lady Laura Bush. Did the subject of political prisoners such as Farhad Aliyev come up? Sadly, less than two years after the freedom agenda was born, the very idea of such principled pressure from the Bush White House has become ludicrous.
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Hawks Bolster Skeptical President
The Right Rages Over Group’s Plan
By Michael Abramowitz and Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writers
Sunday, December 10, 2006; Page A03
Steady condemnation from conservatives for the Iraq Study Group report may be providing some cover to the Bush administration as it completes its own review of strategy in Iraq, apparently with little enthusiasm for the panel’s prescription of U.S. troop withdrawal and dialogue with Syria and Iran.
The criticism of the panel, co-chaired by former secretary of state James A. Baker III and former representative Lee H. Hamilton (D-Ind.), has burst forth from the leading institutions of the right: the National Review, the Wall Street Journal editorial page and the Weekly Standard; conservative talk radio; and scholars at some of Washington’s top think tanks.
President Bush has spoken favorably of the panel’s work as an opportunity to bring the country together, but he has been noncommittal on its key recommendations. Comments from the hawkish right, meanwhile, have often been an accurate gauge of the beliefs of key figures inside the Bush administration, especially Vice President Cheney.
Many Republican and Democratic lawmakers have embraced the panel’s report, but the almost uniformly negative reaction from some of Bush’s strongest conservative supporters means the president may have some political flexibility to depart from the group’s major recommendations, according to some GOP operatives.
Notably fueling the skepticism has been Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), who has raised pointed questions about the Baker-Hamilton panel’s unwillingness to prescribe more troops, as McCain has urged, and its embrace of a regional conference with Syria and Iran.
"It’s sort of hard to suddenly say everyone agrees Baker is the way to go when the leading Republican candidate for ’08 is saying no," said William Kristol, editor of the Weekly Standard.
Although it is clear that many Republicans regard the Iraq Study Group’s report as a possible exit strategy from a war that they worry could drag the party down in 2008, such plans are colliding with clear anger from neoconservatives, who have been the most ardent supporters of the Bush administration since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
"It’s preposterous, period," said Kenneth R. Weinstein, chief executive of the conservative-leaning Hudson Institute, about the proposal for a new dialogue with Iran and Syria. "Talking to them is not going to bring anything but a perception of American weakness."
"The report is a monumental disappointment, for all the hype," said Richard Perle, a former Reagan-administration defense official who strongly supported the Iraq invasion. "The recommendations are either wrong or of no consequence. There is no magic bullet, but in their desire to find something, they found the wrong things."
Many of the conservatives have long distrusted Baker, viewing him as a figure of amoral, dealmaking diplomacy who unduly pressured Israel and coddled Syria when he was secretary of state.
And the Baker-Hamilton group, neoconservatives came to believe, was stacked against them from the beginning, both in the composition of the panel and in the panel’s choices of experts to hear from. Neoconservatives also complained that the group sought out the views of Iran and Syria but did not speak to senior officials of such allies as Israel and Turkey.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr., a former Reagan administration hawk who heads the Center for Security Policy, said he believes the panel’s output was "certainly driven" by Baker.
"It seems so transparently in keeping with his modus operandi: the quest for the deal without regard for the content or the repercussions," he said.
The full report was endorsed by each of the 10 panelists, including former attorney general Edwin Meese III, a hero of the conservative movement. Yet Baker has clearly been mindful of the criticism. He showed up Thursday for a group interview with print reporters laughingly brandishing a copy of the conservative New York Post from that morning, its headline blaring "Surrender Monkeys," in reference to him and Hamilton.
He proceeded with a robust defense of the panel’s proposal for a broad-based U.S. diplomatic initiative in the Middle East and renewed engagement with Syria and Iran -- the clear focus of the conservative anger. Baker made plain his disdain for some of the neoconservative ideas, including the argument heard before the 2003 Iraq invasion that the road to Arab-Israeli peace lay in overthrowing Saddam Hussein’s government in Baghdad.
"What we really are saying, the road to peace in Iraq lies through Baghdad. The road to Arab-Israeli peace runs through Jerusalem," he said. "We are not linking the two, but we are proposing a comprehensive strategy to improve our prospects in Iraq and improve our prospects in the Middle East."
He offered an impassioned plea for engaging Syria at a high level, something the Bush administration has refused to do, and said the administration does not know what can be achieved if it does not even try. Baker dismissed the whispers from the White House that he is out of touch with the new realities of the Middle East.
"Talking to Syria gives us an excellent opportunity to revitalize the Arab-Israeli peace process," Baker said. "The Syrians are the transit point for arms shipments to Hezbollah, and if you can flip the Syrians, you will cure Israel’s Hezbollah problem. "
Baker went on: "The Syrians will tell you, as they told us, that they do have the ability to convince Hamas to acknowledge Israel’s right to exist. . . . If we accomplished that, that would give [Israeli Prime Minister] Ehud Olmert a negotiating partner on the Palestinian track."
Michael Rubin, a former Pentagon aide who resigned in protest from an Iraq Study Group expert panel, said he believes Baker’s assessment is unrealistic. He said that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad gains strength from positioning himself as a rejectionist and foe of the United States, so it is wrong to believe that Syria would think it would gain from an alliance with Washington.
"Sometimes realists have to deal with reality," said Rubin, now a scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. "Iran and Syria will press to exploit every advantage they have."
He said the report, as a strategy document, was a "Cliff Notes high school paper."
Eliot A. Cohen, a Johns Hopkins University professor of military strategy, said the Baker-Hamilton recommendations reflect "preoccupations that go back to when [Baker] was secretary of state and are completely detached from today’s reality. The idea that Sunni are putting power drills in the heads of Shia and vice versa because of the Arab-Israeli conflict is bizarre."
Iraq Study Group member Leon E. Panetta, a Democratic former congressman and White House chief of staff under Bill Clinton, said the criticism from hawks and conservatives is "the price of statesmanship" for Baker. "He’s been through it," he added. "He understands it.
"I think the feeling was, how do you rescue this administration from the grip of ideology and force it to face the real world?" Panetta said. "That’s where he was coming from: ’How can I help the president in a way protect his legacy and do the right thing?’ "
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Featuring Jennifer Windsor, Carl Gershman, and Martin Kramer
December 20, 2006
On December 4, 2006, Jennifer Windsor, Carl Gershman, and Martin Kramer addressed The Washington Institutes Special Policy Forum. Jennifer Windsor is executive director of Freedom House and also a member of the Secretary of States Advisory Commission. Carl Gershman is president of the National Endowment of Democracy and a member of the Secretary of States Advisory Commission on Democracy Promotion. Martin Kramer is a Wexler-Fromer fellow at the Institute and author of Ivory Towers on Sand: The Failure of Middle East Studies in America. The prepared remarks of Mr. Gershman and Mr. Kramer were previously posted online. Read them here (http://www.washingtoninstitute.org/templateC07.php?CID=315). The following is a rapporteurs summary of Ms. Windsors remarks and of the question-and-answer session.
Troubling and profound incursions on human rights and fundamental freedoms occur in the Middle East. However, there is a tendency to sometimes focus on just a few countries, declaring their story to be that of an entire region. Freedom Houses most recent annual survey of freedom trends in the Middle East found that, in some places, the region has actually made small movements forward in the protection of certain fundamental freedoms. Most of its gains, though extremely modest, are in areas affected by the increased flow of information in the region, such as that generated by satellite television. Instability does not always have negative consequences. It may help the Middle East move in a positive direction.
What is the cause of such progress? It can be argued that when a U.S. president takes a strong stand about the importance of human rights in a region, even those who hate America will listen and care. Another factor could be the broader internal incentives for change in the Middle East, including worries over burgeoning discontent within the regions societies.
The rise of antidemocratic movements that embrace violence, but are still allowed to participate in politics, is a serious cause of concern. The balance of power in some Middle Eastern societies is becoming unsteady, and that can motivate parties to act in brutal ways to take advantage of this imbalance, either to acquire more power or to perpetuate their current hold on power. Extremists are strong, while moderate democratic forces are just trying to steady themselves. Extremists have the added benefit of decades during which they were able to build their organizations and social service networks without having to pay attention to elections.
There is also tremendous anti-Americanism, which owes much to decades of distorted information flows in the region. While the promotion of democracy is not greatly reducing these anti-American sentiments, maintaining the status quo will not help.
The United States has not pursued a strategy of putting democracy promotion first in Iraq; it has given more priority to other interests such as delaying elections and waiting for a constitutional process. U.S. government data show that at the height of elections in Iraq and Afghanistan, only a small percentage of U.S. assistance to those countries went toward the promotion of democracy. Efforts to promote democracy have been hurt by much-publicized U.S. detention and interrogation techniques, which were devastating to the American image in the region.
The U.S. government is not necessarily the best agent for all aspects of democracy promotion. However, while it may fail at several tasks, ignoring the promotion of democracyas Washington did for many decadesis also not the way forward. When it is perceived that the United States does not care and will not put any diplomatic weight behind this project, the work of nongovernmental organizations can be undermined.
Freedom of identity is an essential element of democracy and a basic component of the concept of freedom. People should be free to choose their identitywhether religious, ethnic, linguistic, or regional. This aspect of democracy promotion needs to be given more priority.
For the future, the United Statesworking in concert with European actorsneeds to do a better job of reading the signs of what is going on in the Middle East. It must be able to assess what is happening in each country and locate the forces of reform. And it must find ways, through trade and economic assistance, to give reformers an incentive to transform their societies.
The United States needs to be able to deal with Middle East issues without obsessing over them in a way that interferes with its other global commitments. There has to be a bipartisan agreement on a manageable approach that can work in the long termmeaning for generations.
Stable, liberal democracy is a defense against extremism; however, the process of getting there can be very difficult and very unsettling to a lot of people. There is no alternative to going down that path, but there should be no illusions about the difficulties along the route. That said, opportunities will emerge as political systems change. As the political process opens up, divisions will emerge among groups that once appeared united. There will be hardline Islamists who try to destroy the new democratic process and others who want to take advantage of it. The appropriate policy must be to try to engage people who want to move in the right direction.
The United States has set the bar much too low on which candidates can run in elections. There has to be a core principle that participation in elections is only open to those who have renounced violence. Movements with armed wings or militias create problems and can compromise the whole political process. The price of admission to the election process has to be disarmament.
One of the most interesting and attractive elements of American society to the Arab world is how the United States has dealt with its Arab and Muslim communities. Organizations such as the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy mobilize Arab and Muslim populations in the United States to advocate for American values and democracy abroad. The Muslim and Arab minorities of Europe have been unable to carry Europes message to the Arab world. The United States needs to find a way to strengthen the message from its Muslim and Arab residents.
In the Bush administrations remaining months in office, Iraq seems likely to overshadow all other concerns. The help of Arab alliesSaudi Arabia, Jordan and Egyptwould be of considerable utility. It could be argued that the United States has deprived itself of their assistance in its zeal to sacrifice them in the name of the noble principle of democracy. The irony here is that, although much of the U.S. democracy rhetoric was aimed at Iran and Syria, the overall template has had the effect of delegitimizing the entire regional order. The first step in rebuilding these alliances, already in place, is to downplay this policy dimension.
Especially in the Fertile Crescent region, the issue of freedom of identity is most acute. There needs to be a basic distinction in the region between homogenous societies and diverse societiesand different rules will apply to each. The notion of freedom of identity cannot be applied indiscriminately, because in some places it might make things worse and contradict U.S. interests.
The Arab world was long protected from the West by the shield of the Ottoman Empire. When it finally came into contact with the West, it went through a relatively short imperial period. Now the state system in parts of the Middle East is coming under tremendous pressure. Iraq is of course the prime example, but similar processes may begin elsewhere. Some of the borders now printed on maps could become so weak as to become virtual; other lines may become actual borders. Although the United States has consistently been committed to maintaining existing borders, it may not have the power to do so.
This rapporteurs summary was prepared by Steven Leibowitz.
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Remarks by Carl Gershman
The National Endowment for Democracy
At The Washington Institute for Near East Affairs - December 4, 2006
Before considering whether its time for a plan B on democracy promotion in the Middle East, it probably makes sense to be clear about what Plan A actually is. The most authoritative statement of this policy was given three years ago in an address by President Bush delivered on the occasion of the National Endowment for Democracys 20th anniversary. The President made two fundamental points in this address. First, he repudiated the doctrine of Arab exceptionalism, which held that democracy for reasons of culture, politics, and religion -- could not progress in the Arab Middle East, as it had over the course of the Third Wave in every other major region of the world, from Latin America and the post-communist countries to sub-Saharan Africa and East and South Asia, including such non-Arab Muslim-majority countries as Indonesia, Turkey, and Bangladesh. Second, linking terrorism with political stagnation and failure and saying that it would be reckless to accept the status quo, he called for a new policy, a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East.
The new policy has certainly run into extraordinary difficulties with the sectarian violence in Iraq and the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah, among other setbacks and crises. But if adopting a Plan B means consigning Plan A to the dustbin of history, I think this would be extremely short-sighted. The President was right to say that democracy is possible in the Middle East, and while we can debate the link between Islamic extremism and political authoritarianism, there is no question, in my view, that the core conflict in the Arab Middle East is between those who accept modernity and those who violently reject it; and that becoming a successful modern society involves the development of institutions and values that promote the rule of law, representative and accountable government, human rights, including the rights of women and minorities, an independent media and civil society, and a market economy in a word, democracy.
The real issue before us, I believe, is not whether we should support democrats in the region who want to carry this process forward there is, I think, broad if not universal support in the Congress and the country for the view that this is a worthy objective -- but how we can effectively do so over the long haul, for a long haul it will certainly be. Im prepared to concede that Plan A doesnt address this question and has probably raised a lot of unrealistic expectations. So if by Plan B we mean spelling out how the new policy might be carried out in a manner that is practical and effective, and can be sustained over the long-run, then yes, I think its time for a Plan B.
Let me first offer a few observations about the Middle East and why it presents such a difficult challenge to any effort to promote democracy there. First, throughout the region, the democratic opposition, where it exists at all, is far weaker than what existed in Central Europe and Latin America during the political transitions of the 1980s. In the pivotal country of Egypt, for example, there is more of an opposition today than there was at that time, but it is still very weak, and parties like Al Wafd and El Ghad hobbled by a highly restrictive political party law -- have been unable to expand beyond their traditional elite base of intellectuals and professionals.
Second, the political space in the region is dominated by two large blocs -- the existing regimes, ranging mostly from traditional to modernizing autocracies, the latter serviced by stagnant ruling parties that face no real opposition; and Islamist groups that use religion and the provision of services to mobilize among poor, marginalized, and rural constituencies. The relationship between these two blocs is symbiotic in this sense that the regimes justify their rule as a defense against the Islamists, while the mosque offers the Islamists a political space unavailable to the democratic opposition. The current situation is not frozen. It is possible to envision an opening of the political process and an evolution of the Islamists in the direction of greater pragmatism, pluralism, and tolerance. Something like that has already begun to take place in Morocco, Jordan, Kuwait, and Yemen. But this is a long-term proposition that doesnt lend itself to what we have come to think of as sudden democratic breakthroughs.
Third, the possibility of democratic change in the Middle East is linked more than in other regions to geopolitical and security issues that are beyond the scope of normal democracy-promotion work. To the degree that national, sectarian and religious passions are inflamed by regional conflicts, above all the Israel-Palestine conflict and the sharpening clash between Shia and Sunni Muslims, democratic progress will be made more difficult. Moderates will be isolated, extremists will be emboldened, and issues will become polarized around national grievance, empowering militants and reducing the pressure on regimes to make internal reforms. And as we know all too well, this is the rule, not the exception, in the Middle East, more so than in any other region; and the problem is being exacerbated today by the rising influence of the Islamist regime in Iran.
Finally, and this is perhaps a more subtle and subjective point, there is a tendency in the Arab Middle East for reasons having to do with history and many other factors to hold the United States and other Western powers to blame for problems and, ironically, to look to them for solutions. This is not a healthy mindset for democratic development. Outsiders may not be blameless, and they can surely help. But progress only comes when people take responsibility for their own fate, since democracy has to come from within, or it will not come at all. It follows that while the U.S. needs to be forceful in trying to advance its democracy agenda in the Middle East, it must avoid presenting itself as the principal agent of change, for this will only undermine self-reliance, raise expectations, and arouse resentment when change is stymied and setbacks occur, as they inevitably will.
To say the least, it is not easy to fashion an effective democracy strategy for this region. But let me offer a few thoughts on what some of its key elements might be.
First, it is necessary to engage elements in all three of the camps I have described the democratic opposition, the established parties, and the Islamist movements. Most of the work will go to helping the democratic parties and actors become genuine players in the political arena as well as in society generally. This will involve working with the emerging civil society leaders and groups that have formed the base of popular movements for change, such as Kifaya in Egypt, and which have organized successful domestic election monitoring efforts in Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, and Palestine. The activists that led these efforts are potential future leaders of centrist political parties, but they will need to develop a new social discourse and agenda that addresses basic issues of health, employment, education, and economic opportunity if they are to take the initiative away from the radical ideologues and develop broad political appeal. Work with them should be complemented by help to the growing number of civic and professional groups that promote human rights and the participation of women and youth, foster an open economy with protections for the rights of workers, monitor government agencies, influence public policy, strengthen independent media, combat corruption, educate about democracy, and support the rule of law.
It is also necessary to engage with and support, where possible, serious reformers within the ruling parties as well as moderate Islamists who are advocates of democratic reform. The Islamists should be encouraged to develop a code of conduct for political participation that goes beyond a readiness to participate in elections and to respect their results and includes such principles as the renunciation of violence, acceptance of womens and minority rights, support for internal party democracy, and acceptance of pluralism not just in politics but also in interpreting Islamic law. The evolution of a form of Muslim Democracy in the Middle East is more likely to take place if Islamists are able to participate in regular elections, since this will encourage them to become more pragmatic political players, formulating policies that respond to real needs of citizens and being held accountable by voters for their performance.
While there is an important role for the U.S. government to play in facilitating such an approach, the principal work of democracy promotion should occur at the non-governmental level. The kind of work with civil and political groups that I have just described will have to be undertaken over the long term by people and organizations that can develop enduring relationships of trust and partnership with local actors, based upon shared political values. Democracy support has to be driven by the needs and vision of local democrats, not by the immediate imperatives of policy, which is why it is best carried out at arms-length from the complex pressures of diplomacy. Governments have too many other priorities that will inevitably interfere with and compromise such work; and they are simply not the natural partners of non-governmental activists, whose independence from government is vital to their work and must often be defended at a price.
That said, there are three important areas where support by the U.S. and other democratic governments is useful and, indeed, essential. Governments can provide assistance to official and semi-official institutions to professionalize their performance and improve their ability to deliver services. They can create through effective security and diplomatic policies a stable political environment that limits the opportunities for demagogues to exploit political passions and improves the chances for moderates to seize the high ground. And they can use their leverage to encourage governments in the Middle East to open political space to opposition parties and minorities, and to defend democratic activists when they are victims of harassment and repression. The imprisonment of Ayman Nour in Egypt is an obvious instance when strong and relentless pressure is needed, both to secure his release and to reverse the backsliding on democratic reform.
The Middle East is now passing through a period of tumultuous and violent change when it will be difficult, though not impossible, to achieve democratic gains. Ironically, it is this very upheaval, brought about by the events of 9/11 and the subsequent removal of Saddam Hussein and empowerment of the Shia majority in Iraq, that has put democracy on the agenda. And it will stay there. There is no going back to the old order, and a new order will not emerge in the absence of the development of more inclusive political systems that give voice, representation, and power to previously excluded groups. If we stay engaged with this process, there is a chance that such systems will also be more liberal and friendly to the United States. If Plan A was a ringing call for a forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East, Plan B would emphasize what the President subsequently said would require the concentrated work of generations. Thats a realistic perspective on the basis of which we should press ahead.
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By Aboubakr Jamai | November 29, 2006
Casablanca, Morocco - A recent poll commissioned by the Moroccan office of the International Republican Institute has shown that the Party of Justice and Development (PJD), an Islamist party authorized by the regime, would gain an absolute majority in the parliament if there were elections. On the face of it, it looks like Islamists are gaining popularity in Morocco. Potentially, yes...but only potentially.
Paradoxically the rising fortune of the Islamists might well play into the hands of the monarchy, which dominates Moroccan politics. As it leveraged the danger of the Communist peril to gain the support of the West during the Cold War era, it is now attempting to use the Islamist threat to justify the eternal postponement of true democratic reforms in Morocco. In Morocco as in some other Arab countries, there is a tiny, albeit influential, secular elite that dreads Islamists’ rule.
It is loath to substitute what it perceives as a "societally" liberal autocratic regime
for a "societally" illiberal democracy. In fact, the equation is much more complex. The poll above hints at this complexity. When first asked about the party they would vote for, Moroccans chose the socialist party with 13% in support. The Islamist PJD party ranked third with 9%. But more than 55% of the citizens polled claimed to be undecided. When those 55% were asked to make up their mind one way or the other, more than 66% chose the Islamist party. That gives the PJD a tremendous lead over the other parties.
These figures are interesting in that they show that the portion of the electorate that gives the PJD such overwhelming support are not diehard PJD followers. When asked about what qualities a political party should have to be effective, Moroccans cite honesty, fighting corruption, and responsiveness to citizens’ needs as the main attributes. These are attributes that a secular party could perfectly claim.
In other words, the reasons the PJD is commanding such lead in this poll are related to the failure so far of Moroccan political forces to meet Moroccans’ expectations of good governance. I am talking about political forces instead of political parties, and this includes the monarchy. One should never forget that the monarchy constitutionally monopolizes all powers in Morocco. It has been the main political force in the country almost since the independence of Morocco in 1956.
Another element of complexity is the evolution of the Islamists themselves. Their integration into the political landscape seems to have emboldened their democratic wing. A study of their work at the local level indicates that they seem to be much more concerned with applying good governance principles than with imposing the veil or banning alcohol. However, these are Islamist politicians. Their brand of conservatism can still bring about policies that curtail Moroccan individual liberties. Is that enough to justify the perpetuation of autocratic rule?
One can argue that the Moroccan regime failed to induce economic growth and promote sound redistributive policies to heal the social ills that beset the majority of Moroccans. By concentrating all powers in its hands and leaving the elected parliament only with the crumbs, it aborted the creation of a genuine political space that would allow true citizen participation. In failing on these accounts, the monarchy is strengthening the extremists’ brand of Islamism, a brand fed by the resentment of the voiceless downtrodden.
If the relative strengths of the Islamists and the monarchy are in flux, there is one kind of player that is weak and still weakening, the secular party. Again, a major insight from the above-mentioned poll is that Moroccan secular parties have lost ground not so much because they are secular but because they are not deemed to be capable of running state affairs honestly and efficiently. The harsh repression by the monarchy on some of them and the subservience to the regimes of others, are the main reasons for the secular party’s sorry state. Morocco needs strong secular democratic parties to oppose the conservative politics of the Islamists. It would give a much healthier democratic balance to the Moroccan polity than the inflammable opposition of an autocratic regime to possibly obscurantist Islamism.
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By Mustafa Akyol,
Lord willing, you will be starting your visit to Turkey today. Welcome to Islamdom. I hope you will have a safe, sound and fruitful expedition.
There are some among us who will be protesting your presence, but please be assured that they do not represent all Turks and that many others do not share their unwelcoming attitude. But you know that in every culture radicals tend to be more vocal.
It is not a secret that this unreceptive attitude among Turks -- and among other predominantly Muslim nations -- started mainly with your Regensburg address last September. Actually it was a very sophisticated critique on the modern schism between reason and faith that has created two distinct but related problems: reason without morals and faith without reason.
Indeed, many Muslims would agree with this assessment of yours. But they were offended by the words of the medieval Byzantine emperor who you quoted. I believe you didnt cite those unfair words in order to offend Muslims, though, but rather to spark discussion among them about two crucial questions: Can a faith be spread by the sword, i.e., by forcing people to believe? And should humans use their reason to understand Gods will?
From what you implied, I gather that you suspect Muslims say yes to the former and no to the latter, whereas in reality many would give quite the opposite answer. You probably might have seen this in the excellent Open Letter from 38 Muslims to the Pope, signed by the major authorities of Islam from all around the world. But since you are a guest of my country at the present time, let me take the initiative to point out a few issues that you might find noteworthy.
As for the first question -- can a faith be spread by the sword -- I would reply with a resounding no! This is against the very core of Islam, i.e., the Koran. Actually, in your Regensburg address you also noted that the Koran guarantees that there is no compulsion in religion, (2:256), but you also argued that this was in one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under [threat]. Well, this is not the case. That verse is a late verse, from the Medinan period, and the mainstream Muslim view is that the no compulsion rule is everlasting and that people cant be forced to become Muslims. And the wars of Prophet Muhammad that you mentioned were political, not religious, in nature. His main aim was to save the community of believers from the onslaught of belligerent pagans.
However, this does not mean that Muslims in history did not use the sword to spread the rule of Islam. They obviously did. In an age of empires, where religion and polity were intertwined, they thought they should carry the divine message by extending their borders. But in the territories they conquered, they allowed non-Islamic faiths such as Christianity and Judaism to survive and even flourish. In fact, thats why the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which you are about to visit, has been secure in Istanbul since its conquest by Muslim Ottomans in 1453. (The current problems that the Patriarchate is facing, by the way, do not stem from the Muslimhood of Turkish society, but from the fiercely secular nationalism of its state.)
Of course, times have changed and in the modern world, where religious freedom is widely respected, one does not need to extend the borders of Islam to spread the message of Islam. In other words, the duty of the modern Muslim is merely to propose the faith, not to impose it. There are Muslims who dont get this -- and other modern realities -- and there is a hot debate within Islam about such matters. But please just note that the Muslims who stand for no compulsion in religion are doing this not despite the Koran, but thanks to it.
Your second question -- should humans use their reason to understand Gods will -- is actually a much-debated one in the history of Islam. You quoted the medieval scholar Ibn Hazm, who said, God is not bound even by his own word, and argued for a blind, literalist obedience to tradition. However, Ibn Hazm was a marginal figure. He was from the non-orthodox Zahiri school, which actually disappeared over time (but of which some traces can be found in the Wahhabi school of todays Saudi Arabia).
On the opposite side of anti-rationalists like Ibn Hazm, there were the scholars of the Mutazilite school who argued: Justice is the essence of God, He cant wrong anybody, He cant enjoin anything contrary to reason. Todays mainstream Muslim opinion has diverged between this rationalist position and the traditionalist one that it disputed as early as the ninth century.
In other words, there is not a single and static Islam on this issue, either.
And I believe that must be the case with Christianity, too. I would in no way, for example, see any parallel with the Holy See of today and Tom?s de Torquemada of the medieval Spanish Inquisition.
It is troublesome, of course, that we Muslims have our own Torquemadas around -- with names like bin Laden and Zarqawi -- who kill and threaten in the name of Islam. We are very much willing to save our religion from their nihilistic necrophilia, but we have a hard time doing that when some Westerners come out and insult Islam and spark a reaction on this side of the world that only plays into the hands of those warmongers.
Yet still I am optimistic, especially about relations between Christians and Muslims. We have our differences, but as the only faith communities on earth that believe Jesus Christ was born of a virgin (Koran, 3:47) and that he was the word of God (Koran, 4:171), Christians and Muslims actually have so much in common, they cannot be enemies. That would be contrary to the nature of God.
Yours in Christ,
A fellow monotheist
[An open letter to Pope Benedict XVI., to be published in Turkish Daily News on November 28, 2006]
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Atilla Yayla, a politics professor at Gazi University of Ankara leads a think-tank to promote limited government, civil liberties and liberal democracy in Turkey as well. He was invited to a panel discussion on the November 18th, 2006 on Social Influence of the Relations between EU and Turkey by a local branch of the governing Justice and Development Party. One local newspaper pointed him as Traitor in its headlines claiming that Yayla accused Kemalism as a back-warding ideology in the sense of enhancing the institutions of human civilization. Dr Yayla was also accused of calling Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding president of the Turkish republic as this man. Following that, national newspapers and TV channels of the mass media sent out this news and announced that howcome a professor of the Turkish Republic who owes his career and his existence to the modern Turkish Republic created by its grand leader Ataturk, ignores the inevitable role of Kemalism and Ataturk in modernizing the country and calls Ataturk as this man. Well, this probably sounds quite nonsense for those who are aware of the fundamentals of a free and democratic system. Some people expressed their reaction with slogans and curses among the readers letters.
His claims and arguments have totally been crooked by the mass media which supports the reservations of the establishment restricting civil liberties. And the mass media started a lynching campaign against Dr Yayla, instead of supporting freedom of expression.
Not only the media, but also the hosting head of the local branch of the governing party left their panelist alone. On the contrary, the local executives expressed to the media that they are surprised with what he has told. Indeed, here the governing party feels on tender hooks. They kept silent in every other critical occasion like the Semdinli case ending up with the expel of the public prosecutor and did not want to frighten the establishment. However, this attitude has never done good for the Turkish government. They had lost both their constituency and their legitimacy in supporting the Copenhagen criteria of EU.
On the other hand, the lynching campaign over Dr. Yayla did not stop at the media. The university he lectures could not resist the pressure and the Rector of Gazi University commenced an investigation about Dr Yayla and prevented him lecturing until the investigation is over. The rector also claims that he is going to be sued to object the article obliging the academicians to educate the Turkish students in accordance with Ataturks principles and revolutions. The situation is unacceptable at least in terms of academic freedom. In addition, a rector in Turkey could still consider himself in a position to judge prior to any legal procedure.
Actually what Dr. Yayla did in the panel was to list the fundamental institutions of human civilization, as freedom of expression and freedom of religion, limited and responsible government, rule of law, freedom of contract, private property, free exchange, division of labor etc. And he compared the yields of the Turkish Republic with these parameters. In this respect, he argued that Kemalism and the single party era of Turkish Republic from 1925 the founding of the Republic-, until 1950-the transformation of the system to democracy- had not done much in promoting constitutional democracy and prosperity. Instead after the democratization and liberalization of the system in 1950s, in 90s and lately in the integration process to EU, Turkey has moved ahead. Dr Yayla mentioned the pictures and statues of Ataturk being put everywhere due to legal regulations and asked what if the EU officials points the oddness of putting this mans picture everywhere and asks the reason of this. He was suspicious about how Turkish people would legitimize the idolization of one person to the peoples of other countries as such things have only been regarded in former communist and some other present totalitarian countries.
This event seems to be an oppression of the opposition to the collectivist official ideology of Turkish Republic. Meanwhile, Dr Yayla asserts that the reaction against him is exaggerated, instead the supporters of his ideas are the majority, and however they dont fight and stand upright for their civil liberties and freedom of expression. The numerous phone calls, and visits from individuals and NGOs to Yayla and the newspaper columns in three days might be a vital sign of the support both to the disperse of Kemalism from the position of officially imposed ideology, but also to the freedom of expression. If Turkey wants to be part of the pluralist democratic society, this would be the right time for the Turkish people to pass the examination.
For further information
Phone: ++ 90 312 231 6069
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DEMONSTRATING THE MODERNITY OF ISLAM
Reza Aslan is an Iranian-American writer whose first book, No God but God, met with widespread acclaim. In her review for Qantara.de, Helena Sabbagh praises Aslan’s combination of academic knowledge and an easy-to-read tone
Whenever the key words Islam or Muslims are heard these days, the topic is usually "terror." Anyone who wants to learn something about this frightening phenomenon in our globalized world has a lot of material to choose from. Whether in print, television, radio or internet, reports on Islamist terror can be found on a daily basis.
But for those who want more than the daily news on issues such as the origins of Islam, its religious foundations, and the historical figure of Mohammad, what jumps out at you from the shelves at your local bookstore are the colorfully bound works by warhorse-type Middle East experts like Peter Scholl-Latour et al. A rarer find for the willing reader are the Islamic studies publications located one row further.
If you leaf through these a bit, you’ll probably put them back on the shelf rather quickly, irritated with the many footnotes, complicated transcriptions, and the lackluster academic speak all of which command the full attention of the reader, yet without rewarding him with even a hint of reading pleasure.
A literary and poetic quality
Now a German translation of an American publication by Reza Aslan offers much of what these other books had been lacking. No God but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam quite harmoniously combines reading pleasure with academic knowledge in an easy-to-read tone.
Reza Aslan was born in Iran and emigrated to the United States with his family when he was seven years old. He studied religion at Harvard and also taught at the renowned University of Iowa’s Writers Workshop.
No God but God, Aslan’s first book, reads as if you were sitting at the movies. The stories unfold skillfully and with ease, but not in a linear fashion. Instead, they are interrupted by scenes which Aslan illuminates as if with a spotlight by infusing them with a literary and poetic quality. The reader gets the feeling that he was there in the vast Arabic desert when Mohammad’s followers anxiously waited for the Prophet to arrive for the Hijrah, the migration from Mecca to Medina. Other passages liven up the narrative flow with tales of the author’s traveling experiences or Sufi verses.
The author is simultaneously able to impart a compact lesson on the history of Islam in 300 pages, from Mohammad to the present, and to relate this history to contemporary debates.
Differentiated account of historical events
Over the course of ten chapters, both elementary and pressing issues are addressed: What is jihad really about? Is Islam a bellicose religion? Are its foundations sexist? What kind of a relationship does Islam have to other religions? Laudable in this book is the fact that despite his literary flare, Aslan places emphasis on a differentiated account of historical events. Footnotes and literature are presented by chapter at the end of the book.
Of particular interest in the first two chapters is the introduction to the culture in Mecca in pre-Islamic times. The Quraish tribe, as keepers of the key to the Kaaba, had gained so much power that the tribe structures in Arabia were thrown off balance. For many people this meant they could no longer make a living and were forced to lend money from usurers, ultimately becoming slaves as a result. Mohammad, who was an orphan, was able to escape this fate. He was fortunate enough to have an uncle who protected him until he married the influential tradeswoman Khadijah.
When he later took up the struggle against the economic might of the Quraish, he did so armed with clear reform ideas and social goals. His revolutionary and egalitarian messages eventually forced him to leave Mecca.
Following the September 11th terror attacks, Aslan, who was at the time a visiting professor at the University of Iowa, was surprised by the sudden interest in his introductory courses on Islam. His experiences motivated him to write this book, which was addressed on the one hand to Western audiences who know little about religion in general and even less about Islam. On the other hand, he wanted to demonstrate the modernity of Islam to second-generation Muslims in America.
Aslan thinks that Huntington’s "Clash of civilizations" thesis is inadequate to characterize contemporary developments. He describes the present as a period of internal Islamic reform, or, as he puts it at one point, a "Muslim civil war," which is accompanied by violence just like all reform upheavals in the past.
In his book and in many of his public appearances, Aslan makes his position clear that victory will come in the end for those forces that understand Islam as compatible with democratic principles. He postulates the rise of an "indigenous democracy" for the Islamic world, for which not secularism but pluralism is the precondition.
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NEW CHAPTER NEEDS NEW THINKING
by Maher Hathout
December 5, 2006
For the first time in Islamic history, millions of Muslims are living a new reality: As a religious minority in non-Muslim Western societies. This new situation requires renewed thinking in Islamic legal and theological scholarship.
The mid-20th century centrifuged millions of Muslims out of the heartlands of Islam and into a whole new world in Western societies as political, economic and educational factors in their homelands sparked an exodus to Europe, Australia and North America.
The result was a new historical reality for Muslims who were previously accustomed to belonging to either the majority, or a very influential minority within their societies. Now, they found themselves living for the first time as minorities within established and advanced non-Muslim majority societies. another first, Muslims from all the corners of the globe, with all backgrounds, sects and schools of thought began living together in one place indefinitely. Vastly different Muslims co-exist in Mecca during the annual hajj, or pilgrimage, but this lasts only for a few days and for most individuals, just once per lifetime. But to be stuck together permanently, as a minority in one place is a new dynamic altogether.
These new realities brought several new challenges. First to Muslims identity. Second, they also raised questions about integration, assimilation, loyalty and implementing what is perceived as the teachings of the religion.
A half century since their arrival in non-Muslim majority nations, different Muslims in Western countries are still struggling with these challenges.
The new legal, social and political circumstances that Muslims face as minority populations in the West have created an urgent need to reexamine Islamic legal principles (i.e. sharia). The question of what is Divine, and hence unchangeable to a Muslim, versus what is manmade and fallible, was always left to the minds of scholars who are themselves the natural product of their historic socio-economic political context. This question of fixed and flexible within Islamic law has to be posed and to be answered anew. Thus, very necessary and very exciting developments must be undertaken by Muslim intellectual leaders in their new homes in the West.
It is clear that Islamic law historically was codified to serve a ruling majority, which presents difficult (if not impossible) expectations for a minority group that is trying to establish its place within a new multi-faith, pluralist society.
For example, the Quran was revolutionary in its time for restricting polygamy from an unlimited number of wives--a common practice in pre-Islamic Arabia--to four if they could be treated equally. But given its outright prohibition by law today, a modern Islamic understanding would indicate the practice of polygamy is illegal and therefore prohibited.
In another case, Muslims living in Western societies usually can only purchase homes through interest-bearing loans. While interest is understood by some as usury which is prohibited by the Quran, new economic realities and different interpretations should lead to a deep examination of this issue.
When undertaken properly, the interpretation and re-interpretation of Quranic principles and the development of new and modern Islamic law addressing new and modern issues and challenges can be both invigorating and enhancing to all human life. If undertaken by Muslims and for Muslims, this presents an opportunity to purify Islam not by changing the Quran but by embracing the Islamic tradition of dynamic reinterpretation fitting each new day and age.
At the Islamic Center of Southern California, we as concerned Muslim intellectuals initiated what we called jurisprudence for minorities. It is a project in progress that could be contribute to the much-needed revival of Islamic scholarship for an ever-changing world.
For Muslims in adopted lands, life will be easier if they avoid imposing on themselves unneeded restrictions and hardships and instead follow Islamic teachings that discourage hardship and promote the development of a moderate and facile way of realizing the goals of sharia, which is what is good for people in this life as well as the life of eternity.
By doing this, minority Muslim populations will not place themselves in either physical or virtual ghettos, but rather will be ready to cooperate in a constructive way with their fellow, non-Muslim citizens. As such, it will not be difficult for any Muslim to avoid what is prohibited by God, nor what is outlawed by humans in any particular time or place.
For Muslims all over the world, this will lead to the needed reform of Muslim people and Muslim thinking--and it will be reform from within, not one imposed from outside.
Dr. Maher Hathout, the author of In Pursuit of Justice: The Jurisprudence of Human Rights in Islam (MPAC, 2006), serves as the senior advisor to the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Chairman of the Islamic Center of Southern California.
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For further information, please contact Sami Bawalsa at (202) 265-1200 .
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The Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law (CDDRL) at Stanford University’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies invites policymakers and activists from countries undergoing political, economic, and social transitions to participate in its third annual Stanford Summer Fellows on Democracy and Development program.
The 2007 program will be held from July 30 - August 17, 2007 at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.
The Stanford Summer Fellows on Democracy and Development Program (SSFDD) is a three-week executive education program that is run annually on the Stanford campus by an interdisciplinary team of leading Stanford faculty. The program brings together a group of approximately 30 civic, political, and economic leaders from transitioning countries. Stanford Summer Fellows are former prime ministers and presidential advisers, senators and attorneys general, journalists and civic activists, academics and members of the international development community. Since the program was introduced in 2005, we have typically received more than 800 applications each year.
This program is aimed at early to mid-career policymakers, academics, and leaders of civil society organizations (such as representatives of trade unions, nongovernmental organizations, the media, business and professional associations) who will play important roles in their country’s democratic, economic, and social development. We anticipate recruiting a group of 30 individuals dedicated to democracy and development promotion within their home countries (particularly in, but not limited to, the regions of the Middle East, Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, Central Asia, and other parts of the former Soviet Union).
Successful applicants will be proficient in spoken and written English and will have academic and practical credentials necessary to benefit fully from the course and actively contribute to programmatic discussions. The ideal course participant will have extraordinary motivation, at least three to five years of experience in a relevant field of democratic development, and a keen interest in learning and sharing knowledge and experiences in transforming his or her country.
To learn more about the program, past participants and curriculum, and to apply, go to http://cddrl.stanford.edu/fellowships/summerfellows/