CSID EMAIL BULLETIN - Sep. 19, 2006
|Wednesday, September 20,2006 00:00|
|By Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)|
CSID EMAIL BULLETIN - Sep. 19, 2006
Washington, D.C., September 20, 2006
In a development that could contribute towards democracy in the Arab world, the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy has established a new regional organization, the Network of Democrats in the Arab World (NDAW), to promote democracy and provide a common platform to pro-active voices for democracy, civil society and good governance in the Arab world. This platform strives to build unity of purpose and strategies within the forces of reform, and identify actions and programs that advance democracy in the region.
CSID has also launched NDAW’s website www.ndaw.org, an interactive source of information about the work of democrats in the Arab world. The site has been designed to enable and empower democrats and institutions in the Arab world through membership that allows each member to both share the experience of other activists and download information. This interactive website also provide specific services, such as an E-Library, with training material on project development, running meetings, and developing communication skills. The E-Library will also provide in the near future an international development agencies directory, a forum for debate, and funding opportunities.
NDAW Steering Committee members are currently working to draft the Network’s bylaws, which will be presented to the members of the organization for discussion in December 2006. NDAW will be holding its general conference later this year, and will continue to recruit new members in the Arab countries.
Abderrahim Sabir is the Coordinator of NDAW and Slaheddine Jourchi is its Spokesperson. NDAW has two offices, one in Casablanca, Morocco representing the membership in North Africa and another in Amman Jordan, representing the membership in the Middle East. The new Network is seeking the support of new members throughout the Arab world.
* For more information please contact: Mr. Slaheddine Jourchi, NDAW Spokesperson at: [email protected] or Tel: +(216)986-45707
Program Director and NDAW Coordinator
1625 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 601
Washington, D.C. 20036
Phone: + (202)265-1200
Fax: + (202)265-1222 Ext: 14
Casablanca, Morocco Office
For countries in North Africa
Program Director: Dr. Jamal Bendahmane
Address: 29 Boulevard Omar Slaoui, Casablanca, Morocco
Amman, Jordan Office
Office Director: Obaida Fares
Address: Amman, al-Jabiha, from the northern door of the University
Email: [email protected]
By William Branigin
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, September 19, 2006; 1:52 PM
Declaring that "a more hopeful world is within our reach," President Bush called on world leaders at the United Nations today to "stand with democratic leaders and moderate reformers" across the Middle East.
But he also upbraided several countries by name, demanding that Iran "abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions" and telling Syrians that their government has allowed the country to become "a crossroad for terrorism" and "a tool of Iran."
In a speech at today’s opening of the annual U.N. General Assembly, Bush defended his decisions in the war on terrorism while also speaking optimistically about his "freedom agenda" for spreading democracy abroad. He claimed successes in Iraq and Afghanistan, pledging that the United States would not abandon them to "terrorists and extremists" and would continue helping them defend their "democratic gains."
Addressing some of his remarks to foreign audiences, Bush told people in the Middle East, "My country desires peace," and he rejected what he said were extremists’ claims "that the West is engaged in a war against Islam."
"This propaganda is false, and its purpose is to confuse you and justify acts of terror," Bush said. "We respect Islam, but we will protect our people from those who pervert Islam to sow death and destruction."
Bush told Iranians that they deserve a future of greater political and economic opportunities.
"The greatest obstacle to this future is that your rulers have chosen to deny you liberty and to use your nation’s resources to fund terrorism and fuel extremism and pursue nuclear weapons," Bush said. Adding that "Iran must abandon its nuclear weapons ambitions," Bush told the Iranian people, "Despite what the regime tells you, we have no objection to Iran’s pursuit of a truly peaceful nuclear power program. We’re working toward a diplomatic solution to this crisis. And as we do, we look to the day when you can live in freedom and America and Iran can be good friends and close partners in the cause of peace."
Bush addressed the General Assembly after a meeting this morning with French President Jacques Chirac to discuss a variety of issues, including the diplomatic standoff between Western nations and Iran over Iran’s nuclear program. Chirac told reporters after the meeting that France and the United States "are entirely on the same wavelength" regarding Iran, and he professed puzzlement over reports of an apparent break with the Bush administration over dealings with that nation by European nations and the United States.
Asked about reports that Chirac has proposed suspending the threat of sanctions against Iran as an incentive for negotiations, Bush said, "France and the United States share the same goal, and that is for the Iranians not to have a nuclear weapon." He said the two countries also both want to "solve this problem diplomatically."
He said France, Germany and Britain -- European Union members known as the EU3 in the negotiations with Iran -- will continue talks aimed at getting Iran to "verifiably suspend" its program to enrich uranium. Once the program is suspended, "the United States will come to the table," Bush said.
"And we believe time is of the essence," he said. "Should they continue to stall, we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling. And one of those consequences, of course, would be some kind of sanction program. But now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table. And that’s what we discussed."
Chirac concurred, saying that he and Bush "see eye to eye on this one. I totally agree with President Bush." He said that "there has never been any ambiguity" about the approach of "the six" -- meaning the EU3, the United States, Russia and China -- toward Iran. He said that "negotiations are the way we are heading."
Chirac added, "Nonetheless, we have equally said that we cannot have negotiations if we do not have prior suspension, on the one hand, of uranium enrichment activity on the part of Iran, and on the other, on the part of the six, the agreement not to approach the Security Council on this matter in particular. This will include the possibility of examining a sanction program."
"Should they continue to stall," Bush said of Iranian leaders, "we will then discuss the consequences of their stalling." The president, speaking after his meeting with Chirac, said those consequences would include the possibility of sanctions.
Chirac proposed on Monday that the international community compromise by suspending the threat of sanctions if Tehran agrees to halt its uranium enrichment program and return to negotiations. The U.S. and other countries fear Iran is trying to build nuclear weapons, while Tehran insists its uranium enrichment program is to make fuel for nuclear power plants.
Bush said that Iran must first suspend uranium enrichment "in which case the U.S. will come to the table."
But he also stressed that he and Chirac "share the same objective and we’re going to continue to strategize together."
"Time is of the essence," the president said. "Now is the time for the Iranians to come to the table."
Both Bush and Chirac stressed they are working together, and the French president said twice that they see "eye to eye."
Chirac also said the European Union would not negotiate with Iran until it suspends uranium enrichment. "We cannot have negotiations if we do not have on one hand prior suspension," Chirac said.
Bush’s challenge is to build international support to confront multiple problems in the region: the Iran issue, a stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process, armed Hezbollah militants in Lebanon and unabated violence in Iraq.
Bush planned to meet later Tuesday with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani.
Bush’s speech was the last in a series on the war on terror, timed to surround last week’s fifth anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks and to set the tone for the final weeks of the U.S. midterm elections.
Bush was speaking in the same room where four years and one week ago he made another plea for action in the Middle East. On that day, Bush said Saddam Hussein had stockpiles of deadly chemical and biological agents that the United Nations must confront.
He was wrong, but still forged ahead with war against Iraq without the support of many other nations. And he is still trying to rebuild credibility with the body, experts say.
"The sense outside of the U.S. is that the United States is responsible for many of the failures in Iraq, first by going in mostly alone and then by incompetent administration," said Jon Alterman, a Mideast expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.
"The problem with the way he’s talked about democracy in the Middle East is not that people see it as undesirable," Alterman said, "it’s that people see it as naive. He needs to persuade cynical people that not only is he sincere, but it’s achievable, and here’s what they need to do to make it so."
I’ve been asked by people reading my blog and my comments at other blogs if I were ashamed of Islam as if an intellectual human being who claims to be free thinking and "moderate" cannot possibly combine these values with Islam. Some of the people asking this question were truly inquisitive and wanted to know more, expose themselves to a different point of view, and challenge their thoughts. Others ask this question in mocking and belittling manner. In my mind, as a Muslim, I welcome skepticism, challenge, and inquisition to my faith and belief system because if I can’t confront skeptic inquiries into my religion then something is clearly fundamentally wrong with this religion! Why should anyone imprison himself in a faith that cannot confront inquisition? A belief system that cannot stand its own ground against its criticizers should be discarded, and humanity should move on to bigger and better things.
In a series of essays I’m going to attempt to shed some light on those topics in Islam that seem to be most controversial causing much ado due to misunderstandings that are mostly benign but sometimes malicious. In any case, these topics are important to me as a Muslim because having a clear understanding of my underlying belief system is pivotal to the degree of my commitment to it. It is also important to clarify these topics for the non Muslim who is interested in Islam in light of the major crimes committed during the last 10 years or so in the name of that religion. It is a sad truth that many have condemned the religion of Islam to guilt by association to the crimes committed in its name by those who claim to be devout believers.
In my mind there are 3 schools of thought that constantly attempt to present Islam to the world; these are:
I.The Bin Ladens of the world; who present this religion as a vortex of discord amidst a polarized human race, namely the Believers vs. The Infidels, locked in a cosmic conflict of annihilation or subjugation.
II.What I call the "Apologetic Muslims". These Muslims that lack deep understanding of their religion yet are clinging to it because something in their souls tells them it is the road to their salvation. These Muslims, in their inability to reconcile their belief system with the barrage of assaults Islam is under everyday, end up diluting Islam to the extent of watering it down completely. In my opinion, this process of dilution leaves no more Islam in the religion. This is not to be understood that I consider them non Muslim, on the contrary, I believe they are devout Muslims that just can’t deal with the pressure, hence had to find a way out; but what seemed to be a way out of the pressure is actually a way out of the religion itself and most of what it stands for. May Allah give them strength and resolve in these turbulent times.
III.The moderates, or rationalists of the Muslim world who attempt to walk this infinitely fine line of moderation. They try to understand Islam as a whole, try to contextualize what they read, hear, and see. They try to follow the footsteps of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). They try to understand Islam as a message from God to them, not from God to the scholars of 1200 years ago. This is not an assault on those scholars by any means; but one cannot be held prisoner to an understanding of Islam that is 12 centuries old without subjecting this understanding to at least the most basic critical thinking tools civilization had taught us human beings. What should’ve been a station on the way of a great journey of knowledge and understanding of the Creator’s message to his creation suddenly became the ultimate destination, and the journeyers stopped! A diabolic mixture of political acquisitiveness, tribal conflicts, medieval intolerance, sheer greed, and lust for hegemony is at the center of answering this sudden death of intellectual progress. Those Moderates can see through all of this.
The Paradox of the "Other" in contemporary Muslim thought
An observer of the current state of affairs between Muslims and non-Muslims, be they Christian, Jew, Buddhist, or any "Other" maybe left with a strong sense that Islam does not accept the "Other" at all, and that Islam stops at nothing short of total hegemony and dominance of belief. What adds to the complexity of the situation is that the reader of Islamic literature that was written hundreds of years ago finds ample evidence of such claims. This is only true if one reads these texts completely voiding them from their contextual circumstances.
Islamic Jurisprudence or, as Muslims call it in Arabic, Fiqh from its days of infancy had to deal with the Other, but because of the political realities of that time that Other was always in conflict with Islam. To illustrate the validity of this claim, here are some examples of such conflicts affecting earlier literature:
I.The non believers of the Arab peninsula and their 20 years of warfare against the Muslims, the eviction of the Muslims of Mecca from their homes, the persecution of Muslims everywhere in the peninsula.
II.The refusal of the Jews of Medina (Khaybar, Banu Quraitha, & Banu Qainuqa) to honor the constitution mutually agreed upon by them and the Muslims which stated what amounts to what we know today as the Rights and Responsibilities of Citizenship. This led to much animosity between both sides that culminated first by the extradition of Banu Qainuqa, then Banu AlNadeer, then the execution of Banu Quraithas Warriors, and finally the extradition of the Jews from Khaybar. 1
III.The animosity between the Roman Christians during the early days of Islam and Muslims that culminated in two confrontations during the Prophets life (Moata and Tabuk) and continued after his death.
Since the early days of Islam the distant Other and the Other from within were in constant confrontation with Muslims. This is not by any means a hollow conjecture if the nature of how the world worked at that time is taken in to consideration. This was a world of Eat or be Eaten not only in this area of the world, but all over (even a 5 minute skim through world history during that time leaves no doubt about this conclusion.) Simply put, Islam, this young faith, was under the constant threat of annihilation as evident by the recurrent, well documented, battles Islam went through in which Muslims were on the defensive. The battle of Al-Ahzab, in which the entire Arab peninsula and the Jews of Medina, amassed 10,000 warriors to crush Muslims and their Religion; at that time the entire Muslim army was 1,500! 2
This threat continued in many forms as Islamic influence grew. This growth did not aim at subjugating and converting people to Islam as many would like to think and propagandize. The early Muslims clearly understood that they will not be given safe passage to peacefully introduce people to Islam hence the fight was not for influence (although it became a driver to later Islamic leaders) but for what we today call Freedom of Speech.
The early Muslims wanted a safe medium through which to expose people to Islam. For 10 years in Mecca; Muslims saw nothing but persecution. History books are filled with the horrors they faced at the hands of their oppressors. Even the Prophet himself, whos family is well respected in his tribe, was strangled, spat at, covered with filth and dirt as he prayed, and called every mocking name one can think of. Muslims did not conspire to assassinate, or kill any of there oppressors. Muslims gained much needed strength that enabled them to retaliate at least sporadically after Hamza and Omar (two strong, well connected, and revered men in the tribe of Mecca) became Muslim; yet they didnt. Those 10 years ended as Muslims migrated to Medina leaving all their valuables behind, taking only what they can afford to carry on a horse or camel at night as they fled in fear to the unknown. In Medina things werent much better; conspiracies to kill the prophet, battles to annihilate Muslims (Badr3, Uhud, AlAhzab, and many more) assassinations of Muslims (the famous massacre of Baer Maoona4 as an example) and many more affirmed to Muslims beyond any doubt that they will never be granted safe passage; neither to practice their religion nor to teach it.
Given the above, classic Islamic literature always saw the Other as either an enemy that will stop at nothing but destroying Islam and Muslims, or suspicious Dhimmi5 who is sometimes recruited by the external enemies. For this reason, concepts like Dar Al-Islam (the house of Islam), and Dar-Alharb (the house of War) are scattered all over early Islamic Fiqh literature.
This view of the Other stagnated, and the concept of the Other being a friendly or not a Dhimmi but a member of an international family of nations; sharing roles and responsibilities with others, living in peace and harmony, and respecting the sovereignty of other nations and peoples in a frame of agreed upon International treaties did not crystallize. Obviously a huge failure in contemporary Islamic ideology.
By the same token, the early Islamic scholars did not even imagine that the Other could be a full partner in a nation or country not just someone who is given protection by an Islamic state. They also did not imagine that Other to be independent of the external enemy even if they share the same religion or ideology because that just didnt exist before our modern day civilization at any noticeable scale. Another failure.
This view of the Other is so clearly manifested in the works of Ibn Taymiya & his protege Ibn al-Qayyim. In fact ibn al-Qayyim wrote a book that he called Ahkam Ahl AlDhimma or The rules of the Dhimmis in which he basically demands that Christians and Jews within the Islamic Lands should pay the Jizya (a poll-tax) in humiliation, thus interpreting the Quranic Verse to be directed at all and any one that is among the People of the Book which we will prove wrong later in this essay. He also, ostentatiously, called for marking their clothes and homes so that people can identify them, and called for extreme measures to limit their freedoms in any way, shape, or form.
In general ibn-Qayyims thought of the People of the Book or the Dhimmis of his time in the most despicable way one can think of; but that, in his contemporaries minds, had its roots due to the reasons described earlier about the animosity between all sides, add to it the fact that during ibn-Qayyims time (1292 - 1350) the horrors of the Crusades and the Mongols were still haunting the Muslim world.
While one could come to terms with ibn-Qayyims brutal rhetoric in light of the traumatic nature of his time; what really is bizarre is how his ideas crept into modern day minds such as that of the Egyptian Sayyid Qutb for example, who in spite of his enormous contribution to the interpretation of Quranic Text, fell victim to ibn-Qayyims venomous ideas in his commentary on the Quran.6
We also find similar ideas in modern day writings such as those of the Syrian Said Hawa & Abdel Gawwad Yaseen. Also in Pakistan, we find traces of the same rehtoric in Abul A’la Maududis writing. Not to mention Saudi Salafi & Wahabbi texts: which take this venomous rhetoric to new dimensions!3
Based on the above; the most difficult task at hand in handling such a delicate subject is the process of freeing Islam itself from the vicious claws of historic turmoil. Equally difficult will be the task of re-attuning the religious text of the Quran back into its original unbiased framework such that its interpretation is congruent with the goals of Islam not the emotions of the earlier interpreters and their traumatic experiences or the deceitful goals of the politically motivated.
Back to Basics
Human beings will always differ, dispute, and fall into conflict in every aspect of their lives. Thats an indisputable fact. If God created us all, and if the Quran is his message to all of us, how could he have overlooked the nature of his creation, hence condemning humanity to an endless existential war? Does the Quran promote such a war, let alone commands the believer to embark on it?
Heres a sample of what the Quran has to say about this very important point:
If thy Lord had so willed, He could have made mankind one People: but they will not cease to dispute. [Surah 11 - Verse 118]
If it had been thy Lord’s Will, they would all have believed, all who are on earth! Wilt thou then compel mankind, against their will, to believe! [Surah 10 - Verse 99]
If Allah so willed, He could make you all one People: but He leaves straying whom He pleases, and He guides whom He pleases: but ye shall certainly be called to account for all your actions. [Surah 16 - Verse 93]
Obviously the 3 verses above intersect at one fundamental fact. We are created different, God wanted us this way, and Muslims have to accept this as a fact and deal with it as part of there faith in God.
In fact Islam, through the Quran is pretty clear about the role of Muslims towards the difference we pointed out above and the role of even the Prophet vis--vis the Other.
Therefore do thou give admonition, for thou art one to admonish. Thou art not one to manage (men’s) affairs. But if any turns away and rejects Allah, Allah will punish him with a mighty Punishment. For to Us will be their Return;Then it will be for Us to call them to account. [Surah 88 - Verse 21-26]
Note the assertion that the Prophet himself only warns and doesnt manage others affairs. Also note the last verse as God says It will be for Us to call them to account.
We have not sent thee but as a universal (Messenger) to men, giving them glad tidings, and warning them (against sin), but most men understand not. [Surah 34 - Verse 28]
Note the restriction of the Prophet to give glad tidings and to warn.
Invite (all) to the Way of thy Lord with wisdom and beautiful preaching; and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious: for thy Lord knoweth best, who have strayed from His Path, and who receive guidance. [Surah 16 - Verse 125]
If then they turn away, We have not sent thee as a guard over them. Thy duty is but to convey (the Message). And truly, when We give man a taste of a Mercy from Ourselves, he doth exult thereat, but when some ill happens to him, on account of the deeds which his hands have sent forth, truly then is man ungrateful! [Surah 42 - Verse 48]
Note We have not sent thee as a guard over them and Thy duty is but to convey.
Also, the Quran leaves no room for interpretation of the freedom of religion based on the above verses and the following:
Let there be no compulsion in religion: Truth stands out clear from Error: whoever rejects Evil and believes in Allah hath grasped the most trustworthy hand-hold, that never breaks. And Allah heareth and knoweth all things. [Surah 2 - Verse 256]
Say: O ye that reject Faith! I worship not that which ye worship, Nor will ye worship that which I worship. And I will not worship that which ye have been wont to worship,Nor will ye worship that which I worship. To you be your Way, and to me mine. [Surah 109 - Verse 1-6]
Say, "The Truth is from your Lord": Let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject [Surah 18 - Verse 29]
I dont know what more proof is required in order to further assert Islams commitment to Freedom of choice and non violence. The Quran is filled with verses that speak to the Other gently, clearly, and passionately debating and introducing questions for the listener to ponder. The Quran in these debates has a tendency to end every argument point with questions such as Will you not Contemplate?, Will you not Think?, or Will you not Understand? Clearly this message is trying to initiate dialogue and challenge intellectually. As the Quran metaphorically puts the answer forward to those who refuse to open their eyes:
Do they not travel through the land, so that their hearts (and minds) may thus learn wisdom and their ears may thus learn to hear? Truly it is not their eyes that are blind, but their hearts which are in their breasts. [Surah 22 - Verse 46]
What went wrong?
If this is the message Islam carries, how come things went horribly wrong to the extent that some people perform mass killings in the name of this Book and the God that revealed it?
At the center of this issue is a Surah (chapter) in the Quran that was revealed 13 months before the Prophet (PBUH) died. The Surahs name is (At-Touba) meaning Repentance, also named (Baraah) meaning The Declaration.
The understanding, or misunderstanding, of Muslims over the years of this Surah is key to answering this question. A great number of Muslim Scholars, over the years, have treated this Surah as the new norm in international relations between Muslims and Non-Muslims (Pagans and People of the Book alike). They more or less nullified all previous verses in the Quran that called for peace, tolerance, and dialogue. Some of them even claimed that the Surah has what they called The Verse of the Sword; the verse that displaces peaceful means by the Sword! What is very strange is that those same scholars did not even agree amongst themselves as to which verse the Verse of the Sword exactly is! Some said it is verse 5, others claim its verse 29, and others vote on 36!
Verse 5 and 29, if read out of context, can surely lead to such twisted understanding (and I will talk about this later in this paper). Verse 36 cannot under any circumstances be twisted in such manner even if taken out of context, and even if completely read in a vacuum. The verse says:
.... and fight the Pagans all together as they fight you all together. But know that Allah is with those who restrain themselves. [Surah 9 - Verse 36]
Does this sound like a verse that could qualify for the nomination of what they called The Verse of the Sword? If one reads half of it (fight the Pagans all together) then maybe yes, but thats not how it was revealed hence not how it should be read or interpreted!
Some other scholars werent as extreme as the ones described above, but they still ended up with an actually even more troubling conclusion!
Their rhetoric was based on the premise that the verses that call for tolerance and dialogue are not nullified but were Tactical in nature, and the Strategic direction of Islam is to declare an offensive religious war if and when possible! In essence they call for deceptive dialogue, makeshift tolerance, and peace when Muslims are weak and cannot endure a confrontation, and they call for an assault/war when Muslims can! In my mind this is an even more troubling conclusion because it indirectly accuses Allah of deception and ill will which is obviously blasphemous if one thinks about it rationally!
A More detailed look at Surat (At-Touba)
This Surah of the Quran starts by declaring null all obligations and treaties Muslims have with the Pagans of the Arab Peninsula. If it stopped there it wouldve been enough to be grounds for what the Bin Ladens of the world seek in conflicting with the non-believers; but it doesnt just stop there! After that declaration the Surah names a very important exception:
(But the treaties are) not dissolved with those Pagans with whom ye have entered into alliance and who have not subsequently failed you in aught, nor aided anyone against you. So fulfill your engagements with them to the end of their term: for Allah loveth the righteous. [Surah 9 - Verse 4]
Note the annulment of treaties does not include those who did not fail to uphold the treaty either directly or by proxy.
After this very important exception, the Surah calls for an all out war against the ones that have no treaties. Why? Is it hegemony? Is it that God just changed His mind about what we discussed earlier here about Islams policy of non violence and freedom of belief? If the Surah stopped there that would certainly have been the case, but the answer comes in the subsequent verses.
First the Surah commands the Prophet to give shelter to any non-believer who is not a combatant and who seeks refuge in Muslims for any reason.
If one amongst the Pagans ask thee for asylum, grant it to him, so that he may hear the word of Allah; and then escort him to where he can be secure. That is because they are men without knowledge. [Surah 9 - verse 6]
So, verse 6 clearly establish yet another exception. Clearly the Surah called for all out war when it said in verse 5:
But when the forbidden months are past, then fight and slay the Pagans wherever ye find them, and seize them, beleaguer them, and lie in wait for them in every stratagem (of war); but if they repent, and establish regular prayers and practice regular charity, then open the way for them: for Allah is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful. [Surah 9 - Verse 5]
So who are these pagans that the Surah ordered Muslims to fight? We established that they are not the ones with upheld treaties, and they are also not those who are seek refuge in Muslims. So who are they? Obviously we are left with only one category of pagans; namely, those who have no treaties and are involved in aggressive behavior towards the Muslims in the form of warfare. Can we substantiate that claim?
In verse 7 the Surah reiterates one more time the importance of upholding treaties while alluding to those who fall outside the exception boundaries mentioned earlier.
How can there be a league, before Allah and His Messenger, with the Pagans, except those with whom ye made a treaty near the Sacred Mosque? As long as these stand true to you, stand ye true to them: for Allah doth love the righteous. [Surah 9 - Verse 7]
Then the Surah enumerates the qualities of those it is pointing to in clear details in 3 verses; 8 to 10:
How (can there be such a league), seeing that if they get an advantage over you, they respect not in you the ties either of kinship or of covenant? With (fair words from) their mouths they entice you, but their hearts are averse from you; and most of them are rebellious and wicked.
The Signs of Allah have they sold for a miserable price, and (many) have they hindered from His way: evil indeed are the deeds they have done.
In a Believer they respect not the ties either of kinship or of covenant! It is they who have transgressed all bounds. [Surah 9 - Verses 8-10]
The the Surah asks a very important question to Muslims (the question is from God), a question that seems to be reasoning with them, explaining the rationale behind everything that was said so far:
Will ye not fight people who violated their oaths, plotted to expel the Messenger, and took the aggressive by being the first (to assault) you? Do ye fear them? Nay, it is Allah Whom ye should more justly fear, if ye believe! [Surah 9 - Verse 13]
Clearly theres compelling motive. These people have violated their oaths, plotted against Muslims and the Prophet, and were first to assault. Does this sound like an offensive war?
The Surah, after explaining the position of Muslims towards the pagans on the offensive and in violation of their treaties, turns towards another type of enemy. This time the Christians and the Jews of the peninsula who were also on the aggressive towards this new religion (at that time the Romans to the north of the peninsula were starting to be disturbed by the seemingly increased influence of the new religion). Again, in a world of Eat or be Eaten conflict was just a matter of time. For 20 years Islam offered to coexist with its neighbors but they showed they would stop at nothing short of complete annihilation of this faith that calls for the rich to give the poor and calls for the equality of the slave and his master! An ideology, at the time, that seemed so offensive for the rich and powerful that clearly action had to be taken. The Surah hence starts an assault on those Christens and Jews of the Roman empire and its surroundings to the north in what maybe is the most controversial verse in the entire Quran. A verse that if put in the context described here would stop being as offensive as people think. Heres the translation of the verse:
Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the Religion of Truth, from among the People of the Book, until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued. [Surah 9 - Verse 29]
When reading this verse, the reader has to pay attention to two pivotal points:
I.The verse is not talking about all Christians and Jews because it clearly said from among the People of the Book.
II.Those Christians and Jews the verse alludes are clearly in conflict, as described earlier, with Muslims. The language of the verse is harsh because its clearly talking about an enemy, that shouldve not been an enemy since from the Qurans perspective the People of the Book were the first to be expected to welcome the Messenger of Allah not to reject him!
From the above, it is clear that every Other named by the Surah in its declarations is an Other that is in active conflict with Muslims. I invite the reader to study this Surah as one unit and then draw his conclusion on whether this Surah calls for an all out Offensive war or an all out Defensive war in which Muslims can bring stability and peace to their young nation. The entire world fought world war II against the Nazis because Hitler had to be stopped and if left he wouldve transgressed on every free nation in the world given enough time. Islam could not have averted conflict even if it wanted to, because conflict was knocking on its door every day for 20 years and then more after the Prophet died. The biggest proof of this claim is that right after the Prophets death, the pagans of the Arab Peninsula renounced Islam and embarked into open warfare against the Muslims in what was called the Wars of [Riddah] or infidelity.
The History of our violent world, regardless of ideology or religion, had contributed to hostile interpretation of the Quran causing much turmoil for centuries. While this interpretation can be rationalized in light of its historical circumstances it certainly needs revision in todays world of international laws and sovereign countries. Islam is not a hostile religion, but it is also not a passive religion. Muslims, from an Islamic ideology standpoint, will, and should, fight back when attacked (i.e. self defense as defined by UN charters in this day and age) and when peaceful means are unattainable; this is the right of every nation and people under all international charters. The right to defend ones self against aggression, hegemony, and oppression is a noble cause, but that defense has to be legitimate and through honorable means. The killing of civilians, the slaughter of innocent people, and the barbaric explosions and bombing are crimes against Islam and humanity in general if committed by people wearing military uniform or otherwise, by terrorists or soldiers, and by fugitives or elected governments.
For that cause We decreed for the Children of Israel that whosoever killeth a human being for other than manslaughter or corruption in the earth, it shall be as if he had killed all mankind, and whoso saveth the life of one, it shall be as if he had saved the life of all mankind. Our messengers came unto them of old with clear proofs (of Allah’s Sovereignty), but afterwards lo! many of them became prodigals in the earth. [Surah 5 - Verse 32]
1.It is beyond the scope of this essay to prove or disprove the events mentioned in this context. Like any other conflict between two factions, each side has its own story to tell, and each side carries the burden of proof in the court of public opinion. The fact that these events are recorded in Islamic history as described here is enough to illustrate the point were trying to make in regard to how early Muslims viewed the Other even if the reader doesnt agree with the factual accurateness of the events and how they occurred. Muslims believe the stories in the way described here, and thats enough, for them, to formulate conclusions based on this understanding.
2.This battle ended without fighting after a huge storm (believed by Muslims to be sent by God) caused the armies to disperse, albeit some skirmishes with the besieging armies from the outside and the Jewish population inside the borders of Medina itself after they violated the signed treaty with the Muslims following their belief that the Muslims stood no chance against the 10,000 men sieging army.
3.Badr, was indeed an offensive battle in which Muslims attempted, successfully, to recapture the wealth they were forced to leave behind when they escaped Mecca. In fact, some Islamic historic sources claim that the trading caravan that was attacked, causing Badr, was entirely financed by the wealth Muslims left behind in Mecca.
4.The massacre of Baer Maoona refers to the documented event that an Arab tribe sent an envoy to the Prophet claiming their acceptance of Islam and their need for teachers to introduce them to the new religion. The prophet accepted their claim and sent 70 of his companions to them to teach the religion. Those 70 men were all brutally slaughtered in what was later discovered to be a setup.
5.The Word Dhimmi (Someone who is protected by a treaty) or Ahl El-Dhimma (The people that are protected by a treaty) is one of the most abused terms in Islamic literature. It is portrayed as a derogatory term, yet it merely means Protected People by treaty. These are the people who became part of an Islamic state and do not wish to become Muslims. These rules were a breakthrough in freedom of religion when they were set by Islam because, as it is historically documented, choice was not an option during the times before Islam, and what we enjoy today in our modern day democracies did not exist in any way, shape, or form during these times. This should not be considered as an argument that Muslims did not, themselves, commit the same mistakes later in their quest for hegemony. It is clearly documented that some Muslim rulers (Al-Hajjaj Ibn Youssef in Iraq as a point in case) did persecute religious minorities, even Muslim religious minorities in the case of Al-Hajjaj (Shia Muslims, and other different schools of Islamic thought.) The fact remains that Dhimmi is a term that is supposed to indicate rights and freedoms not otherwise!
6.Sayyid Qutb, in my opinion, is one of the most misunderstood and misquoted contemporary Islamic thinkers. Radical Islamic ideologies of the 20th century are said to be the fruit of his work, but I tend to disagree. Qutb was an exceptionally gifted writer and scholar, no other Muslim (contemporary or otherwise) who wrote anything about the Quran came remotely close to Qutbs sensational commentary on the Quran. Qutb completed his commentary then later rewrote the first 10 chapters in which all his seemingly radical ideas first made appearance. It is extremely important to note that during the time he rewrote these controversial 10 chapters he was under arrest in an Egyptian prison during Nassers rule; suffice to say that the torture he endured in his prison left him with only one semi-functional lung after which he became the only over 60 years old prisoner in modern Egyptian history to be executed for political reasons! (Egypts constitution prohibits the execution of senior political prisoners.) The torture Qutb endured left a permeant scar on this extremely fragile, kind, emotional mans personality that gave way to most of his questionable ideas. Add to that the fact that Qutb was from the generation that could not deal with the shock, disappointment, and resentment of the independence of Israel on the lands of Palestine. Qutbs entire generation had nothing but resentment and hate towards Jews (and by association Christians who, in this generations mind, aided the Jewish state through the famous Belfour Declaration.) It is grossly unfair to evaluate the man without considering the enormous suffering he endured, and the political atmosphere in which his ideas were born. This man left behind a treasure in the form of a commentary on the Quran. This treasure, unfortunately, contains a few land-mines the reader needs to maneuver around.
Current Events , Islam
September 16, 2006
When someone is in a position of power; their words, deeds, speeches, and public addresses are under continuos and immense scrutiny equally by those who follow them and those who don’t. The Pope is no exception, especially when we consider that any thing said by the Pontiff is considered doctrine by millions of Catholics around the world given its ex cathedra nature.
Let me first start by saying that whatever his intentions were, what the Pope said the other day lacked political awareness of, or sensitivity to, the worldwide brewing conflict between Islam and Christianity.
Nevertheless, if you read the whole transcript, available here, you’d be surprised that his speech had nothing to do with Islam, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), or Jihad in any way shape or form aside from an ill-chosen quote from a conversation between the Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus and an educated Persian on the subject of Christianity and Islam, and the truth of both during the the siege of Constantinople between 1394 and 1402! The "offending" quote is this:
In the seventh conversation (*4V8,>4H - controversy) edited by Professor Khoury, the emperor touches on the theme of the holy war. The emperor must have known that surah 2, 256 reads: "There is no compulsion in religion". According to the experts, this is one of the suras of the early period, when Mohammed was still powerless and under threat. But naturally the emperor also knew the instructions, developed later and recorded in the Qur’an, concerning holy war.
Without descending to details, such as the difference in treatment accorded to those who have the "Book" and the "infidels", he addresses his interlocutor with a startling brusqueness on the central question about the relationship between religion and violence in general, saying: "Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached".
The emperor, after having expressed himself so forcefully, goes on to explain in detail the reasons why spreading the faith through violence is something unreasonable. Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul. "God", he says, "is not pleased by blood - and not acting reasonably (F< 8`(T) is contrary to God’s nature. Faith is born of the soul, not the body. Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats... To convince a reasonable soul, one does not need a strong arm, or weapons of any kind, or any other means of threatening a person with death...". The decisive statement in this argument against violent conversion is this: not to act in accordance with reason is contrary to God’s nature.
The editor, Theodore Khoury, observes: For the emperor, as a Byzantine shaped by Greek philosophy, this statement is self-evident. But for Muslim teaching, God is absolutely transcendent. His will is not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality. Here Khoury quotes a work of the noted French Islamist R. Arnaldez, who points out that Ibn Hazn went so far as to state that God is not bound even by his own word, and that nothing would oblige him to reveal the truth to us. Were it God’s will, we would even have to practise idolatry.
The Pope’s speech was about reason, science, and the place of faith under the empirical canon of scientific examination. It was about Hellenization and deHellenization of the Christian faith, and faith in general. It was actually a very interesting to read!
In general, I have 3 main issues with this whole curfuffle:
1. Again, the media is playing its dirty role of propagating information without context to create headlines and promote sales, ratings, and readership to the derangement of the small minority of sensible human beings in the world.
2 . Because of the first issue, we’re getting a knee-jrek reaction from Muslims who, like the general population of planet earth, can’t really understand the philosophical underpinnings of the Pope’s speech and its goals.
3. The quote above, as I said, was ill-chosen for the occasion and purpose (unless the Pope has a hidden motive which is beyond the realm of anyone’s inquisition and hence a futile assumption) and it also lacked political sensitivity given the global circumstances.
Of equal importance is the fact that the Pope’s conjectures embedded within the quote are actually inaccurate reflecting the Pop’s ignorance about Islam for the following reasons:
a. Surah 2, Verse 256 which the Pope concludes to be from the earlier "powerless" days of Prophet Mohammed was actually revealed in Madina where Prophet Mohammed enjoyed unsurpassed strength and autonomy in his prophetic career.
b. The belief that God is absolutely transcendent, is not even bound by his own word, and that reason cannot be applied to God from an Islamic theological perspective that the "expert" Theodore Khoury attributes to "Ibn Hazn" (actually its Ibn-Hazm, but I don’t know if this is Khoury’s mistake or the Pope’s) is by far a marginal opinion in Islamic theology adopted by only Ibn-Hazm and his school of thought (the Zahiri school of thought). This school is long gone although Wahabbi Jihadism has some similarities to it.
I touched upon some of the facets of this subject indirectly in my article: The Hijacked Faith, please refer to it.
In closing, Muslims should relax because the quote was ill-chosen, that’s it! But then again, conspiracy theorists supported by how the media reports these things will find ample evidence of the global conspiracy against Islam.
Although I tried to be rational I don’t expect rationality to prevail in this situation given how volatile the situation is and the Muslim self inflicted position of victimhood which, supported by conspiracy theories, will make a big soap opera out of this whole thing.
What Pope Benedict XVI hoped to be an enlightening speech about faith and reason is certainly turning into an Egg Benedict when there’s faith without reason!
The Pope’s remarks were dangerous, and will convince many more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic
Monday September 18, 2006
In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? "I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I assent!"
Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.
Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope’s words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".
But the Pope’s good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.
Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not - or feared that we were.
The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour. When the popes called for a Crusade to the Holy Land, Christians often persecuted the local Jewish communities: why march 3,000 miles to Palestine to liberate the tomb of Christ, and leave unscathed the people who had - or so the Crusaders mistakenly assumed - actually killed Jesus. Jews were believed to kill little children and mix their blood with the leavened bread of Passover: this "blood libel" regularly inspired pogroms in Europe, and the image of the Jew as the child slayer laid bare an almost Oedipal terror of the parent faith.
Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. It was when the Christians of Europe were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East that Islam first became known in the west as the religion of the sword. At this time, when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy, Muhammad was portrayed by the scholar monks of Europe as a lecher, and Islam condemned - with ill-concealed envy - as a faith that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts. At a time when European social order was deeply hierarchical, despite the egalitarian message of the gospel, Islam was condemned for giving too much respect to women and other menials.
In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness. This habit has persisted. The Muslims who have objected so vociferously to the Pope’s denigration of Islam have accused him of "hypocrisy", pointing out that the Catholic church is ill-placed to condemn violent jihad when it has itself been guilty of unholy violence in crusades, persecutions and inquisitions and, under Pope Pius XII, tacitly condoned the Nazi Holocaust.
Pope Benedict delivered his controversial speech in Germany the day after the fifth anniversary of September 11. It is difficult to believe that his reference to an inherently violent strain in Islam was entirely accidental. He has, most unfortunately, withdrawn from the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by his predecessor, John Paul II, at a time when they are more desperately needed than ever. Coming on the heels of the Danish cartoon crisis, his remarks were extremely dangerous. They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.
We simply cannot afford this type of bigotry. The trouble is that too many people in the western world unconsciously share this prejudice, convinced that Islam and the Qur’an are addicted to violence. The 9/11 terrorists, who in fact violated essential Islamic principles, have confirmed this deep-rooted western perception and are seen as typical Muslims instead of the deviants they really were.
With disturbing regularity, this medieval conviction surfaces every time there is trouble in the Middle East. Yet until the 20th century, Islam was a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity. The Qur’an strictly forbids any coercion in religion and regards all rightly guided religion as coming from God; and despite the western belief to the contrary, Muslims did not impose their faith by the sword.
The early conquests in Persia and Byzantium after the Prophet’s death were inspired by political rather than religious aspirations. Until the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as, according to Qur’anic teaching, they had received authentic revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems - oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the west’s perceived "double standards" - and not to an ingrained religious imperative.
But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments. As one of the received ideas of the west, it seems well-nigh impossible to eradicate. Indeed, we may even be strengthening it by falling back into our old habits of projection. As we see the violence - in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon - for which we bear a measure of responsibility, there is a temptation, perhaps, to blame it all on "Islam". But if we are feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our peril.
Karen Armstrong is the author of Islam: A Short History
By Joseph Loconte
In an academic address last week, Pope Benedict defended Christianity as a rational religion because it respects the individuals right to reason properly before coming to faith. To make his case, however, he quoted a 14th century ruler who condemned Islam for its use of violence to win converts.
The pontiff was on the right track: Christianity is a great ally to freedom of conscience. But it took time: For centuries the church was an adversary of reasonable religion. Indeed, the story of Christianitys ultimate defense of religious freedom suggests a way forward in Christian-Muslim relations.
Medieval Europe, with its Catholic establishment, was not exactly a golden age of religious toleration. The machinery of the Inquisition, fueled by a theology of persecution, was in high gear: Bishops were authorized to ferret out heretics and deliver them to secular authorities for either repentance or punishmentwhich they gladly did.
In France, Great Britain, Spain and Italy, religious dissenters were excommunicated, arrested and executed. Many were burned alive. By the Popes own definition of a capricious and coercive religion, the Church was a hotbed of violent irrationality.
Protestant dissenters challenged this doctrine of persecution (though Protestant leaders often fell into the same trap once in power). None the less, Protestants such as William Penn and Enlightenment figures such as John Locke laid the foundation for a theology of religious freedom.
Both men regarded the violation of conscience as an affront against Christian principle and sound reason. No one could love his neighbor, they argued, and deny him the same right to believe that he claimed for himself. Eventually the Catholic Church endorsed the rights of conscience as the cornerstone of a just society.
These are universal ideals, a vital part of the story of political and religious freedom in the West. Now, recounting the struggle within the Christian church to recognize these ideals can help build a bridge to moderate Muslims.
For in much of the Muslim world, talk of freedom of belief is a sham: Instead of being viewed as a fundamental human right, it is treated as a threat to the political order. In Saudi Arabia, the birth place of Islam, a theology of persecution is alive and well: The monarchy and the mosque work hand and glove to criminalize expressions of religious belief outside of Islam.
Christians learned, through blood and tears, the folly of this idea. Leaders in most Islamic states have yet to reach the same conclusion as any prisoner of conscience will tell you. The Pope speaks a hard truth by drawing attention to these facts. The next step is to remind Muslims of his own churchs history. By doing so, this pontiff could gain many friends among the followers of Muhammad.
Joseph Loconte is a Distinguished Visiting Professor at Pepperdine Universitys School of Public Policy and a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center in Washington, D.C.
By Craig Whitlock
Washington Post Foreign Service
Sunday, September 17, 2006; Page A17
BLIDA, Algeria -- For nearly a decade, this city nestled at the foot of the Atlas Mountains anchored one corner of Algeria’s "triangle of death," a killing field overrun by bomb throwers, throat-slitters and masked gunmen during an apocalyptic civil war that killed an estimated 200,000 people.
Peace has gradually returned to Blida, an oasis of orchards and fields north of the Sahara. Stability has been restored as well to most other parts of Algeria where a military-controlled government fought Islamic radicals, although clashes are reported almost daily in remote areas.
Now, in an effort to bring a final end to violence that began in 1992, the Algerian government is pinning its hopes on an ambitious national reconciliation program, which grants official forgiveness to combatants if they set aside their weapons.
Under terms of the reconciliation, which expired Aug. 31 but might be extended, about 2,500 prisoners convicted or accused of terrorism have gone free. Also covered by the amnesty are members of the Algerian security services, blamed for the disappearance of 8,000 civilians and accused of systematic torture. The only people not eligible: rapists and those responsible for mass murder or planting bombs in public places.
Reconciliation and amnesty programs have been embraced by other nations plagued by enduring conflicts. After the end of apartheid in South Africa, a Truth and Reconciliation Commission pardoned human rights violators who confessed their crimes in public. In Morocco last year, a similar commission collected testimony on more than 22,000 documented cases of political repression that occurred under the reign of King Hassan II. The Moroccan and the Algerian programs both include provisions to compensate victims and their families.
More recently, some government officials in Iraq have raised the prospect of offering an amnesty in a bid to end the sectarian warfare that followed the U.S.-led invasion.
Although Algerian voters overwhelmingly approved the terms of their national reconciliation in a referendum last year, few people are predicting that it will heal the rifts and psychological wounds that run deep here.
In dozens of interviews, Algerians said they hoped the amnesty would stop the lingering violence. But many lamented that it would not provide any accountability or answers regarding the countless atrocities that occurred.
Fatima Yous, president of SOS Disappeared, a group that investigates missing persons believed to have been abducted by the government, called the reconciliation an attempt to bury the past. She said she still aches to know what happened to her 20-year-old grandson, who was detained by police in 1997 and has not been seen since.
"All we want is the truth," she said. "We are ready to forgive, but we want our families back and we want the truth. We are not going to sue the guy who killed him. But I do want to know if they killed him, why they killed him and where his bones are."
No one here will be able to forget what happened anytime soon.
Mass graves are still exhumed in sandy ditches and dry outdoor wells. Houses remain pockmarked by bullet holes. Razor wire and uniformed patrols are omnipresent.
But supporters of the amnesty warn that tougher measures -- anything designed to seek justice or dig up the past -- could easily backfire and drag the country back into civil war.
"What we survived was just horrible, terrible," said Mustapha Farouk Ksentini, a lawyer in Blida who serves as chairman of an official human rights commission that has advised the government on the reconciliation plan. "The country is tired. The national unity is very fragile."
"We know that this national reconciliation will forgive a lot of criminals, but it’s the price we have to pay to turn the page," he added. "Algeria doesn’t have the means to press ahead with trials. We made a choice and said the national interests of Algeria are more important than this."
The reconciliation is only the latest attempt by the Algerian government to bring stability to a country that has suffered greatly over the past half-century.
The second-largest country on the African continent, Algeria won independence from France in 1962, but only after a war that lasted eight years. Three subsequent decades of a military-led government and socialist policies failed to modernize the economy.
In 1992, after Islamic fundamentalists appeared on the verge of winning power in national elections, the military intervened and dissolved the government. That led to civil war, as Islamic radicals took up arms.
The conflict spiraled as rebel factions embraced terrorism and targeted civilians, annihilating entire villages as part of a strategy to weaken popular support for the government. Government security forces also showed little regard for human rights, relying on torture and other tough tactics to break the rebellion.
By 2000, the violence was starting to ebb. Voters in a referendum that year approved a "civil concord," Algeria’s first attempt to end the conflict by offering amnesty to those fighting the government. While thousands of Islamic guerrillas accepted pardons, many continued to fight because the measure effectively disenfranchised Islamic political parties.
More disasters followed, both natural and political. In 2001, ethnic Berbers rioted for weeks to protest their treatment by the government. A few months later, several hundred people were killed by floods in Algiers. Another low point was reached in 2003, when more than 2,000 people died in a massive earthquake.
"We lost 15 years of our history," said Aboudjerra Soltani, chairman of Movement of Society for Peace, a party of Islamic fundamentalists that professes nonviolence and is part of the ruling government coalition. "Our economy crumbled. We lost a lot of confidence. It takes a lot of strength to recover from this."
Since then, however, signs of hope have emerged. A global rise in energy prices has lifted the economy and has helped Algeria, the world’s second-leading exporter of natural gas, erase foreign debts and invest billions in public works projects.
In 2004, in an election that international observers judged as legitimate, Algerian voters gave a second term to President Abdelaziz Bouteflika. Soon after, he announced another amnesty program, which took effect in March.
According to government officials, about 300 Islamic fighters have accepted the new deal. They estimate that another 800 to 1,000 guerrillas remain at large, down from about 50,000 in the mid-1990s.
While the amnesty offers reconciliation to terrorists and others with blood on their hands, opponents say some provisions in the law are far from conciliatory.
For instance, the measure clamps down on public debate over what happened during the civil war, making it a crime to criticize government actions of that period "or to tarnish the image of Algeria internationally." It has been assailed for those reasons by rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.
Mostefa Bouchachi, a human rights lawyer in Algiers, said it was unrealistic to expect Algeria to prosecute large numbers of people. "It would result in another bloodbath. But at least we would like to know who did what, and why, and who is responsible. In the Algerian reconciliation, they just tell you to turn the page. We think it’s a culturalization of impunity for both camps: the security forces and the Islamists."
Some military officials, however, have complaints of their own. After struggling for 15 years to win the civil war, they questioned whether it made sense to release 2,500 enemies of the state from prison.
Gen. Fodil Cherif Brahim, the army commander in charge of the region surrounding the capital, Algiers, until he retired in 2004, predicted that many former prisoners would return to the mountains or the desert and resume their fight.
"These people are fanatics to the extreme," he said. "They don’t know anything about the real Islam. This is what they did: They committed horrible crimes. They put knives in the bellies of pregnant women."
"These people, you have to kill them," he added. "They will never give up."
Such sentiments are common in Blida, where few families escaped the violence of the war.
Zohra Khelafi, 51, said her husband was killed by Islamic radicals in a 1997 firebombing because he worked for the local government as a municipal guard. That same year, militants murdered two dozen other members of Khelafi’s family, including a 3-year-old niece who was stuffed into a giant kettle and boiled alive.
"I want the government to punish them, to kill them, just like they did to us," she said. "Instead, the government has released them and they are back on the streets."
By Kevin Mooney
CNSNews.com Staff Writer
September 15, 2006
(CNSNews.com) -- America’s "Islamofascist" adversaries have successfully established a well-funded and expansive "fifth column" throughout the United States that is devoted to a radical view of Islam. That’s according to a former Reagan Defense Department official.
Muslim leaders dispute the allegations by Frank Gaffney, who was an assistant secretary of defense for international security policy in the Reagan administration.
Gaffney recently told a House international relations subcommittee that funding from radical sources in Saudi Arabia has helped to set up an "apparatus" that "has a substantial organizational footprint all across the United States."
Gaffney, now president and CEO of the Center for Security Policy, said Sept. 7 that U.S. government officials unwittingly bolster this apparatus by extending legitimacy to organizations that feign moderation.
Specifically, Gaffney named the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Muslim Students Association (MSA) in his testimony. He expressed concern over the connection these organizations either have had, or continue to have, with the Muslim World League (MWL), which is directed from Saudi Arabia.
"In my view, such organizations do not represent the majority of this country’s Muslims or Arabs," Gaffney said. "It is a strategic mistake of the first order to legitimate their bid to do so by having senior U.S. government officials meet with and seek the counsel of their representatives, allowing such groups to shape -- let alone dictate -- policy or entrust them to such tasks as ’Muslim sensitivity training’ for the FBI, military or other agencies."
This "fifth column," in Gaffney’s view, also focuses its attention on indoctrination efforts aimed at college campuses and "recruitment programs run under the guise of prison and military chaplain program."
A historical parallel between "Islamofascism" and previous totalitarian ideologies such as Nazism and Communism is apparent to Gaffney. He told Cybercast News Service that the present-day terrorists are "focusing considerable energies on dominating the Islamic faith through violence, coercion and indoctrination."
It is "indisputably the case," in Gaffney’s view, that the overwhelming majority of Muslims in the world practice their faith in a way that is peaceful and non-threatening. But he is troubled by what he sees as a shortage of organizations that represent voices of moderation and democratization within the Islamic world.
But Muslim scholars and community leaders who spoke with Cybercast News Service insist that the organizations listed by Gaffney do not have radical ties. Moreover, they believe the term "Islamofascism" is highly problematic.
Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington, D.C.-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), said the terminology used by Gaffney and some U.S. officials unfairly creates a link between peaceful Muslims who, he argued, avoid extremist teachings and terrorists who have hijacked the Islamic religion for their own purposes.
Louay Safi, executive director of leadership development for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), adamantly denies Gaffney’s claims. He told Cybercast News Service they were "out of reality" and part of an attempt to isolate national Muslim organizations from the mainstream."
Moreover, Safi maintains that ISNA is not part of a "narrow-minded" network. The organization is, he argued, quite diverse and focuses much of its energies on interfaith efforts. ISNA encourages its members, he added, to integrate into the larger American society.
Masmoudi concurred and described ISNA as a mainstream, umbrella organization that represents "middle-of-the-line" American Muslims. But he acknowledged that past funding issues potentially connected ISNA and even some Mosques with Wahhabi sources in Saudi Arabia.
Safi acknowledges that ISNA, at one time, accepted private funds from outside of the U.S. Since the 9/11 attacks, however, he said his organization has had an explicit policy to refuse any money from overseas sources.
In the 1990s, there was an influx of Wahhabi funding and influence, Masmoudi admits. The Wahhabi elements, he said, promote a "distorted, radical and exclusive view of Islam."
"In the 1980s in America there was a much more progressive, tolerant and open interpretation of Islam in our Mosques than we had in the 1990s," Masmoudi said. "I noticed the change myself and some of it may be related to Wahhabi funding."
In the wake of 9/11, however, Masmoudi believes the Muslim-American community has awakened to the dangers of extremism.
"The trend is going in the right direction," he said. "The majority [of Muslim-Americans] are speaking up, and reclaiming their mosques."
Joseph Kickasola is a professor of International Policy at Regent University who specializes in Middle East Politics and Islam. He believes CSID is one organization that deserves attention and respect from U.S. government officials who seek constructive dialogue with Muslim democrats.
Kickasola has been a member of CSID for several years and says it can be trusted "to interface with several broad national interests, and trusted to correctly portray liberal democratic values made understandable to Muslims by means of their democracy-education programs that they conduct in the Arab and Islamic world."
Kickasola also told Cybercast News Service that CSID’s board is comprised of Muslim democrats, as well as Christians and Jews.
Gaffney is not convinced, however, that voices of moderation are finding sufficient _expression in American Muslim organizations. He fears they could lose ground to extremists, unless the U.S. government partners with moderate Muslims who are willing to speak out against extremism.
"The core issue of our time," he concluded, "is whether or not we will succeed in making common cause with those large numbers of Muslims who want no more [than non-Muslims] to live under a Taliban style form of brutal repressive Islamo-fascist rule."
Neither the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Students Association nor the Muslim World League returned multiple phone calls seeking comment for this report.
New York Observer
September 18, 2006
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami’s widely covered and high-profile 12-day trip to the U.S. was all about symbolism. Or so it seemed, at least as far as the media and the public were concerned. For though he delivered four major speeches, President Khatami disappointed some who thought--or at least hoped--that he was here either to make some new announcement on Iran’s nuclear policy and its troubled relationship with the United States, or to carry a subtle message from his successors to the administration of George W. Bush.
But anyone who knows anything about Iranian politics would have known that Iranian politicians and diplomats take subtlety to levels that require a new definition of the word--and whether there was indeed anything to be read into Mr. Khatami’s trip beyond its stated purpose, even the most astute diplomats, dignitaries and media experts who met him were left guessing. But perhaps the stated purpose, one of dialogue and the encouragement of peaceful resolution to conflicts, was enough.
I accompanied the former Iranian president on his travels in the U.S. (I first met Mr. Khatami when I interviewed him for GQ in 2005, and we’d stayed in touch since then.) And as striking as the symbolism of his presence on our shores was, one can’t help but think that the thousands of Americans who saw him were left with a different, hopefully better understanding of Iran and Iranians.
It is not entirely clear why the U.S. administration decided to issue Mr. Khatami a visa to visit the U.S. in the first place, given that his trip coincided with Iran’s refusal to abide by the U.N. Security Council deadline demanding that it stop uranium enrichment. And one of the punishments, or even sanctions, that the U.S. has specifically mentioned should Iran remain defiant of the U.N. resolution is a restriction on overseas travel by Iranian officials. While Mr. Khatami is not officially an official, he was nonetheless the president of Iran when it was inducted into the "axis of evil" by Mr. Bush, and he remains--at least in some quarters in Congress, the media and even the Simon Wiesenthal Center--an enemy of the nation.
Mr. Bush’s reason for approving Mr. Khatami’s travel request--that he "wanted to hear what he has to say"--rings hollow. Undoubtedly, he wasn’t referring to Mr. Khatami’s speeches or interviews with the press, but rather the translated transcripts of every word uttered by Mr. Khatami and his aides--say in the armored limos thoughtfully provided by the State Department. Had Mr. Bush been in a listening mood, it would have been far easier to just pop over a block or so from the White House to the Willard Hotel for a cup of tea with Mr. Khatami and hear it straight from the horse’s mouth.
Mr. Khatami arrived in New York on Aug. 31, at almost the exact hour that U.N. Ambassador John Bolton declared that the deadline would pass for Iran to comply with the U.N. resolution on enrichment. And Mr. Bolton’s own State Department met Mr. Khatami’s Austrian Airlines jet at Kennedy, on the tarmac, with a full contingent of security provided by the department’s Diplomatic Security Service (along with the NYPD and the New York State Police). Mr. Khatami was whisked to the residence of the Iranian Ambassador to the U.N., one of the few stately mansions on Fifth Avenue, and he settled in for a quiet day of rest before his tour began in earnest.
It was not all catching up on jet lag, though, for the residence was teeming with Mr. Khatami’s entourage from Tehran and staff from the Iranian mission to the U.N. (as well as myself), and discussions immediately began on what the important aspects of the visit were and who Mr. Khatami should talk to. It was almost as if no one, including the arrivals from Tehran, had really believed they’d be sitting overlooking the Met and Central Park with Mr. Khatami that day (and perhaps they didn’t believe it yet). More than once, I heard them say--as if it was just dawning on them--that if all went well, Mr. Khatami’s trip might not only influence American ideas about Iran, but also Iranian ideas about America.
Many hard-liners in Tehran had vehemently opposed this trip, but some political quarters of the U.S., as well as some in the media, claimed that Mr. Khatami’s trip was Iranian "propaganda," or designed by Iran’s Supreme Leader, the Ayatollah Khamenei, to present a soft image of Iran at the opportune time. One writer, the wife of a senior member of current Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s administration, had published an article in a conservative daily decrying Mr. Khatami’s U.S. visit; in response, a reform newspaper, Shargh, published a piece subtly pointing out that her views were shared by "Zionist" groups in America. (Shargh has been since shut down, ostensibly for technical reasons.) Other Iranian hard-liners had called for him to be defrocked for even thinking of going to America.
But the Iranians on Fifth Avenue were making extensive plans for Mr. Khatami’s visit. The Bush administration had already forbidden contact between current U.S. government officials and Mr. Khatami, but based on the requests and inquiries pouring in, there were apparently many former government officials who were keen to see him, along with countless other influential Americans.
Between all the back and forth on the details of the trip, Mr. Khatami, his delegation, the Iranian diplomats in New York, a few ex-officials now living in the U.S., and a university professor or two on sabbatical in the U.S. reminisced over a never-ending supply of hot tea and plates of fresh fruit. Among Mr. Khatami’s delegation were his former chief of staff, Ali Khatami (his brother), as well as ex-ambassadors and deputy foreign ministers--all working with Mr. Khatami at his new International Institute of Dialogue Among Cultures and Civilizations in Tehran. Some of them hadn’t seen their friends in the U.S. for quite some time. There was an atmosphere of relaxed jollity--at times, howls of laughter at the occasional joke or political story.
The main concern of the party, according to the Mr. Khatami and his aides, was to represent their country well and to correct, to the extent that they could, any wrong impressions that Americans might have of Iran and Iranians. Mr. Khatami was convinced, he said, that the nuclear issue could be resolved through negotiations. (Although Mr. Khatami has no real or official power, his influence inside Iran is still strong; he has good relationships not only with many in the clergy, but also among many policymakers.)
After an uneventful visit to the Met the next morning, Mr. Khatami and his delegation departed for Chicago. Luggage was laid out on the sidewalk on Fifth Avenue, sniffed by dogs and then loaded into a van. The Diplomatic Security Service provided a limo, two S.U.V.’s loaded with agents and another with a machine-gun-toting SWAT team (who stood outside, fingers by their triggers and eyes scanning the surroundings). Bemused passersby looked on as the robed and turbaned Mr. Khatami got into an armored Cadillac with D.C. plates and the motorcade took off, the SWAT team’s guns sticking out of the open back gate of a Suburban weaving across lanes cleared of traffic. Security at the airport was equally tight; although we were driven right onto the tarmac, we had to go up a set of stairs right by the gate and then walk down the gangway onto the plane, with the SWAT team lining the route.
We boarded first, and as the other passengers came on, I overheard one young woman chatting loudly to a friend on her cell phone. "Have you flown since the incident?" she asked a friend, clearly referring to the London plot of a few weeks prior. "You can’t believe it," she continued, "there are guys with machine guns on the gangway." She was blissfully unaware of Mr. Khatami in 2A, and I didn’t want to rob her of the satisfaction she expressed to her friend that her flight was well protected.
Labor Day weekend in Chicago--or at least at the Sofitel O’Hare and the convention center across the street--was like what I imagine a weekend in Mecca might be, albeit with an American police presence. Some 30,000 Muslims had gathered for a convention, and they were all going to listen to Mr. Khatami deliver the keynote speech. Muslims of every ethnic background roamed the wide suburban sidewalks and the lobbies of the cluster of hotels, whose bars were completely deserted. It was teatime, all the time. The point was emphasized again and again: Muslims in America have to promote their faith as one of peace, and they have to integrate with and engage their fellow Americans. (On more than one occasion, I was sorely tempted to interrupt various speakers to suggest that perhaps if they wanted to integrate, some of them might want to discourage their wives and daughters from wearing burqas or full hijabs on suburban Chicago streets--but I held my tongue.)
Mr. Khatami’s speech, held in a large auditorium and beamed to the adjacent main hall of the convention center, was punctuated by cheers and applause and interrupted by one African gentleman, who first sang praises, griot style, before Mr. Khatami could start, and then alternately screamed "Allah-u-Akbar!" upon hearing something Islamic and Koranic and "That’s right!" when a political point was made. The speech was a big hit with the crowd, who seemed less interested in the political significance of Mr. Khatami’s trip or in U.S.-Iran relations than in having a Muslim (albeit Shiite) leader of global repute speak at their yearly gathering.
Mr. Khatami returned to New York for two days to attend a U.N. "Alliance of Civilizations" conference before heading to Washington, where his planned speech at the Washington Cathedral was drawing much attention from the media. In between sessions at the U.N., he attended two private dinners at the U.N. Ambassador’s residence--one for a select group of Iranians, the other for an even more select group of influential Americans. I was given access, but the dinners were strictly off the record. My sense was that the Americans left with a clearer understanding of the nuclear issue, perhaps even with a more favorable impression of Iran in general and the Iranian position in particular. Mr. Khatami’s own image, if it had ever been tarnished, was clearly elevated in the minds of those I spoke to.
In Washington, other than his speech at the Washington Cathedral, Mr. Khatami attended a meeting and a luncheon at Georgetown University; then we drove to the University of Virginia, where he delivered another speech to students and faculty (who seemed a little dazed and unsure of why he was there), and then to Monticello to tour Thomas Jefferson’s home. Mr. Khatami attended a gathering of Shiites celebrating the Mahdi’s birthday (the twelfth, and missing, Imam), as well as various other private dinners. His motorcade, which included police motorcycles, was even bigger and the security generally tighter in the Washington area than anywhere else, and many onlookers must have thought that they were seeing the President of the United States passing by, judging by the waves and applause we were greeted with by some of the tourists, and the finger we were given by the peace activists across from the White House.
On one occasion, driving to Georgetown from downtown D.C., we careened through the narrow streets with sirens blaring and at such speed that one of the ex-ambassadors in Mr. Khatami’s entourage, watching the startled faces of pedestrians and other drivers, jokingly asked me if I didn’t think the motorcade itself was a form of terrorism perpetrated on the American people.
Mr. Khatami was generally asked the same questions at virtually every non-Islamic event he attended in Washington, and his answers were consistent, if not always satisfying. While he clearly felt comfortable defending Hezbollah, he was careful to distance himself, even all Iranians, from Mr. Ahmadinejad’s remarks on Israel and the Holocaust, without overly criticizing the new president. The only surprising comment on Iraq came when he was asked by reporters whether the U.S. forces should leave right away: He said he didn’t think so, at least not until the Iraqi government could provide security to its people. On the nuclear issue, he was emphatic that Iran was not seeking weapons and suggested that the U.S. enter negotiations without preconditions immediately, as he believes a negotiated settlement is not only preferable but possible.
At Harvard, Mr. Khatami was prepared for the worst. Not only had Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney refused to allow state employees to provide him any security, but had also called him a terrorist. Protests had been planned, and some students had announced that they were going to confront him with very tough questions. Mr. Khatami again handled the questions he was thrown with extreme skill. In response to a question about Israel, however, he replied that he didn’t believe in wiping anyone or anything off the map, but wanted to remind the audience that a place called Palestine had been wiped off the map for 50 years with little objection from the international community. His remark drew much applause and no audible jeering.
There were moments that gave real hope to those who were looking for signs--any signs--that a real conflict with Iran could be avoided. One could tell by the expressions on people’s faces, by the way they responded to him. Mr. Khatami’s U.S. adventure began on a day when Iran defied the U.N. and the world, and it ended on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11--a day of tragedy that, he often pointed out, he was one of the first world leaders to condemn. Many of the Americans he met expressed the wish that he was still the president of Iran rather than the incorrigible Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but maybe it’s better that he isn’t. One wonders if perhaps now he can do what no one who holds that office can: bring the Americans and the Iranians closer together, even just a bit.
Former Iranian president says bin Laden’s crimes twofold
By Alvin Powell
Harvard News Office
Former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami said Sunday that Al Qaeda terrorist leader Osama bin Laden has committed two crimes: one of violence and a second by doing violence in the name of Islam, a religion of "peace and justice."
Khatami, who spoke at the Kennedy School of Government’s John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum for an hour and 40 minutes Sunday afternoon, including questions, said he’d like to see all "terrorists and war-mongers" incapable of perpetrating future violence.
Though he denounced bin Laden, Khatami said he and the Iranian government opposed the Bush administration’s response to the 9/11 attacks, pointing out that bin Laden remains free and that Iraq has become a focal point of violence and terrorism.
More broadly, Khatami characterized American international policy as imperialistic and said it was borrowed from pre-World War II European imperialism.
Despite his criticism of the U.S., Khatami repeatedly praised the international spread of democracy, calling it the "discourse of our time" and repeatedly condemned violence. He called on the Islamic world and the Middle East to embrace democracy and to modernize, but cautioned that those changes can’t just be copied from the West.
The former president decried an international double standard that applies one set of rules to the West, particularly the United States, and a second set to the East, including Iran. Such a double standard, he said, leads to a cycle of "murder for revenge and revenge for murder."
Khatami’s visit was just the latest stop on a multi-city tour of the United States. He called on people in both East and West to throw out old ways of thinking of each other and to come together for a new understanding and a more peaceful future.
"We witness in both East and West an idiom that does nothing but to antagonize the other," Khatami said. "We have no other option but to change traditions, Eastern and Western viewpoints."
Khatami, who spoke mostly in Farsi, with his words translated into English by an on-stage translator, was clearly sensitive of Monday’s five-year anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The only time he dispensed with the translator and spoke in English to the packed Forum crowd was at the end of his roughly 40-minute speech, when he called the attacks "one of the greatest of calamities" and pointed out that he was one of the first world leaders to condemn them.
As is the tradition at the Kennedy School’s Forum, Khatami was questioned directly by audience members after he’d finished his prepared remarks, fielding numerous questions about Hezbollah, the Holocaust, Israel’s right to exist, and repression within Iran.
In response, Khatami said he does not believe Israel should be wiped from the map as his successor, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, has said. But Khatami went on to say that 50 years ago, Palestine was, and that people must remember that. He denied that Iran has supported Hezbollah with either weapons or money, and, though he opposes violence, said in talking about Hezbollah, that "justified resistance" shouldn’t be confused with terrorism.
Khatami was introduced by Graham Allison, director of the Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Allison’s introductory comments seemed at least partly aimed at critics of the visit, who complained it came too close to the 9/11 attacks to make it seemly to host the former president of a nation that President Bush has labeled part of an "Axis of Evil," and which is accused of sponsoring terrorist organizations.
Allison said that the Kennedy School and the entire Boston area views the 9/11 attacks "as a dark day in American history" and pointed out that people affiliated with the Kennedy School died because of them. Allison asked the audience to stand to observe a moment of silence in memory of 9/11 victims before introducing Khatami.
Allison also pointed out that President Bush approved of Khatami’s visit, citing news reports that said Bush wants to hear what Khatami has to say.
U.S.-Iranian relations, Allison said, are among the most important in the world right now, with Iran wielding considerable influence in Iraq.
One of the most prominent critics of the visit has been Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, who denied any state support or services for the visiting Khatami, including security services. Police departments in Cambridge and Boston as well as Harvard University Police and the State Department’s security services provided security for the visit.
Kennedy School Dean David Ellwood answered critics of the visit last week, pointing out that Khatami’s visit was approved by the Bush administration and that the former Iranian president was making several stops, including the University of Virginia and the Washington National Cathedral. Ellwood said it is a long Kennedy School tradition to allow world leaders the chance to address students and faculty, and for students and faculty to get a chance to ask unfiltered questions.
"Given this critical moment in the Middle East, and the attempt by the U.S. and other nations to find a peaceful accommodation with Iran, a visit by Khatami seemed very much in the tradition of the free exchange of ideas that is a central part of the life of the university," Ellwood said.
An hour before the talk, about two dozen protesters stood peacefully holding signs outside the Kennedy School’s Taubman Building, where members of the audience were entering. Sean Mahoney of Boston said he was protesting the visit partly because of its proximity to the anniversary of 9/11 and partly because he felt the visit was meant to distract from the nuclear standoff between the U.S. and Iran.
Mahoney, who said he’d followed Khatami’s career when the former president was in office, said he expected more reforms during Khatami’s two terms, which lasted from 1997 until 2005.
In closing comments, Allison said he hoped the event was the beginning of a conversation between the U.S. and Iran, and thanked Khatami for getting the dialogue going.
He Would Be First Muslim in Congress
By Martiga Lohn
Thursday, September 14, 2006; Page A32
MINNEAPOLIS, Sept. 13 -- State lawmaker Keith Ellison didn’t let questions about his past slow down his campaign to become the first Muslim in Congress.
On Tuesday, voters responded to his liberal message calling for peace, withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq and universal health care. He beat three contenders in the Democratic primary in a Minneapolis-area district long dominated by his party.
"You’re not on your own," Ellison told supporters at an African restaurant in a speech that had the call-and-response of a revival meeting. "We are with you. We do these things together, y’all, and we don’t let nobody break us apart."
Ellison, a 43-year-old criminal defense lawyer who converted to Islam as a college student, overcame questions about late parking tickets, overdue taxes and his past ties to the Nation of Islam. He has since denounced black Muslim leader Louis Farrakhan and was endorsed by a Minneapolis Jewish newspaper. He has also pledged to improve his personal recordkeeping.
Ellison courted the liberal wing of the Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party by comparing himself to the late senator Paul D. Wellstone -- and many voters responded. Others clearly relished the chance to elect a minority to Congress from Minnesota for the first time; Ellison is black.
Somali voters -- many voting for the first time -- appeared energized by Ellison’s candidacy. Election official Hashi Abdi said he had to tell several people to leave their Ellison signs outside the polling area.
"A lot of the Muslim community have a lot of sympathy for this guy," Abdi said.
Though Ellison was the party’s endorsed candidate, the lure of the safely Democratic seat drew plenty of challengers willing to test him. In the end, though, he handily beat his closest rival, Mike Erlandson, by about 10 percentage points. Erlandson is a former chief of staff to the incumbent, retiring Rep. Martin O. Sabo (D-Minn.), and had Sabo’s support.
Ellison will be a heavy favorite in the November election, when he will face Republican Alan Fine and the Independence Party’s Tammy Lee. In the 2004 election, about seven in 10 voters backed Sabo and voted for Democratic Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry for president.
September 14, 2006
Shadi Hamid is founding member and associate at The Project on Middle East Democracy . He is a contributor to Democracy Arsenal , the Security and Peace Initiatives foreign affairs blog. His recent article for The American Prospect proposes democracy promotion as the center piece of progresssive foreign policy.
Some commentators including most recently the American Prospects Matt Yglesias have argued that the central problem in the Middle East is not so much its lack of democracy but, rather, the enduring legacy of imperialism. According to this line of reasoning, the solution to our Mideast dilemmas would be to change the policies that Middle Easterners hate the most. Unfortunately, the list of grievances is so long, that to actually redress them would, one suspects, take a very, very long time. Moreover, in a region where our vital interests are engaged, it is unlikely that an avowedly anti-imperialist foreign policywhatever that might mean in practicewill stand a chance of being supported by either political party. More fundamentally, however, this diagnosis fails to grasp the real source of our difficulties in the Middle East.
Its not so much that people are angry at us, but rather that people have no political outlet with which to express their anger in a peaceful, legitimate manner.
Even if the intractable Arab-Israeli conflict was to be solved through hands-on American diplomacy, it would be shortsighted to think that this would be the victory that some imagine it will be. For if the conflict is resolved, it does not change the fact that millions of Arabs live in humiliation, treated as little more than petty subjects, to be manipulated, controlled and repressed at will. The greatest indignities Arabs and Muslims facethe ones that, for them, are most immediate and tangiblecome from their own authoritarian governments. And of course, we, in our continued support for unrepentant autocrats, are complicit.
As long as Muslims have grievances against us (and they most certainly will for the foreseeable future), then the only sustainable American response is to promote those democratic mechanisms that will absorb, temper and channel such sentiments in a constructive fashion. Only when their governments are responsive to their needs and frustrations will Muslims be able to shake off the humiliation and powerlessness which has been the prime mover of terror and extremism.
Tom Friedman comes close to heart of the matter in his book The World Is Flat when he talks about the poverty of dignity:
Humiliation is the most underestimated force in international relations and in human relations. It is when people or nations are humiliated that they really lash out and engage in extreme violenceAs my friend the Egyptian playwright Ali Salem said of the 9/11 hijackers, they "are walking the streets of life, searching for tall buildingsfor towers to bring down, because they are not able to be tall like them."
At the pinnacle of Islamic civilization centuries ago, Baghdad, now reduced to rubble, was a city of wonder and riches, the worlds leading center of intellectual and scientific thought that attracted scholars from across the globe. Muslims look back at the glory of their past and then look at their present situation, defined by false promise and lost potential. Where they were once the movers of history, they are now at its mercy. This is where much of the anger and frustration germinates. Muslims have lost their ability to chart their own course, to ask their own questions, to form their own governments. They have become passive recipients of what others decide for them. This leads, invariably, to a profound sense of helplessness and, most importantly, a loss of self-worth and dignity. With this in mind, democracy can indeed be an effective antidote to terrorism, extremism, anti-Americanism and anti-Semitism, but only insofar as it is able to restore dignity and moral and political agency to those who wield its instruments.
Critics of democracy promotion sometimes accuse its supporters of thinly-veiled imperialism. But it is unclear how the approach of neo-realists such as Anatol Lieven and John Hulsmansoon to publish a treatise on what they curiously call ethical realismis any less imperial. In their recent, rather ponderous essay here on TomPaine , they employ the tiresome platitude that before democracy, there must first be legal and civil institutions and middle classes with a real commitment to democracy, as if they themselves have the right to determine when Arabs might finally deserve democracy. Of course, Lieven and Hulsman forget that it is the autocracies themselves that actively prevent the growth of civil institutions and squeeze an already small middle class with their disastrous economic policies.
Ideally, rooted institutions and an ascendant middle class would be nice to have, but to wait for them might mean to wait 50 years, or perhaps a hundred. Some Americans, in the throes of dispassionate analysis, might possess such patience. Arabs and Muslims themselves, the ones who must suffer daily under the scourge of autocracy, would likely find it more difficult to muster the same degree of patience. Moreover, from the standpoint of U.S. national security interests, it would be foolish to think that the existing regimeslacking much, if any, real popular supportwill be able to last well into this century. It is more likely that Arabs and Muslims would take matters into their own hands and, then, we might have to deal with another Iran. As John F. Kennedy once warned, "Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent revolution inevitable.
In the final analysis, the arguments of democracy promotion opponents can be stripped down to something quite simplethat we shouldnt rush democracy because radicals will come to power in free elections. Not surprisingly, this is exactly the same thing Arab autocrats say to the Bush administration to scare it into supporting them. To say we shouldnt support democracy in the Middle East because we wont like the outcomes strikes me as a rather amoral (or immoral) position to take.
Moreover, it assumes that all Islamists are, in fact, radicals, a fallacy which needs to be immediately laid to rest. If we put aside the exceptional cases of Hamas and Hezbollah, mainstream Islamist groupswhile they may be illiberal and/or exclusivistare not radical. Rather, they are well-rooted and normalized in society and often claim significant representation in parliament. Most Islamist groupssuch as Turkeys AKP, Moroccos PJD, Tunisias Al-Nahda, Egypts Muslim Brotherhood, and Jordans Islamic Action Frontare not armed, nor do they have military wings. Moreover, these parties have evolved in recent years, focusing less on empty religious sloganeering and more on the importance of democratic reform. This does not mean they are ideal or that we will like them when they come to power. But it does mean that we can engage with and talk to them, as we have done with ruling Islamist parties in Iraq and Turkeyboth American allies.
It would be worth noting that more than 60 prominent Arab and Muslim intellectuals and activists, from diverse ideological orientations, are signatories to a recently published open letter to President Bush which states in part:
Perhaps emboldened by the impression that America is wavering in its support for democracy, some autocrats have recently intensified repression. This makes the need for sustained U.S. and international support and pressure more urgent than ever. The region needs to hear again that the course of freedom and democracy is the only course which America, guided by both interest and principle, will support.
Let us not waver for their sake, and for ours. Unfortunately, the Bush administration has, for all intents and purposes, given up on democracy promotion. My great fear is that if and when Democrats assume control of the House this November and the presidency in 2008, they will waver just as their predecessors did. To avoid this, the discussion on democracy promotion must be concretized and made less theoretical and more practical. A new Democratic administration in 2008 would be well-served to consider taking the following measures:
Announcing publicly that the U.S. relationship with the Middle East will be restructured around and defined by countries commitment to political reform and democratization. This would be accompanied by an extensive public diplomacy campaign to explain to audiences the change in policy and its implications.
Establishing a clear set of guidelines and expectations for each country that receives substantial economic or military aid from the U.S. (i.e. Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia). This would be coupled by an understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution for the region. Different countries will be dealt with differently, based on their particular needs and circumstances.
Establishing an ambitious, well-funded initiativeon the scale of the Marshall Planwhich will offer a comprehensive package of incentives for any Muslim country that demonstrates clear progress on a set of pre-established political markers, including freedom of _expression, free elections, and respect for opposition rights.
Only if these steps are taken will we begin to regain the credibility that was only ours to lose. It will be a slow process, and it may be messy and uncertain, but we can no longer postpone the work that needs to be done. If we resort to ethical realism and other forms of cynical anti-idealism, then the Middle East and its peoplesever desirous of the same freedoms and liberties that we enjoywill be lost to us, and at great consequence.
The democracy debate continues. A human rights advocate points out what’s positive, and promising, about Islamist participation in democratic politics.
By Neil Hicks
Web Exclusive: 09.06.06
For more of the Prospect’s debate over democracy promotion and progressive foreign policy, see Shadi Hamid’s initial two-part essay here and here and Spencer Ackerman’s reponse here.
Spencer Ackerman makes a compelling case for the importance of separating human rights outcomes from democracy promotion, which may not advance liberalism. He is right to be skeptical of Shadi Hamid’s wishful thinking that through engagement in democratic politics Islamists will necessarily moderate themselves. However, he falls short of offering a foreign policy doctrine for the United States that would champion human rights, falling back instead on a doctrine of contingent balancing of human rights and other interests that will not reassure human rights advocates anywhere.
Ackerman seems to have a poor understanding of the diversity of Islamic political groups, not all of whom, by any means, are inimical to democracy and human rights. This detracts from his analysis of how the United States can respond to the threat of Islamist terrorism and extremism. He appears too swift to ignore that chronic, real-world problems in the broader Middle East lie at the root of the narrative of Muslim victimhood and humiliation that fuels ideological extremism and anti-Western violence. Mohammed Siddique Khan may have been British, and Muhammad Atta may have had an elite Western education, but it was the suffering and perceived injustice imposed on Muslims in Lebanon, Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, Chechnya and elsewhere that fed their militancy.
Ackerman is most wrong when he asserts that democratic processes in various Arab countries "have strengthened precisely the religious extremists" that the United States must defeat. Elections in Egypt, for example, have certainly strengthened the Islamist political movement the Muslim Brotherhood. But precisely by pursuing its objectives through constitutional, political means, the Muslim Brotherhood has demonstrated that it is different from militant Islamist armed groups that engage in acts of terrorism against Western interests. That is not to say that Islamist groups that participate in elections are made up of liberal democrats: obviously they are not. But they fundamentally differ from groups like al-Qaeda or Islamic Jihad that are openly hostile to democracy.
A vital debate is underway among Muslims and within Islamism about whether participation in democratic processes and the observance of democratic norms and standards, including human rights, is worthwhile. An improved U.S. policy to counter the threat of Islamist terrorism should focus on affecting the outcome of this debate. One obvious way the United States can do better in this regard is by not giving the impression that electorates who choose Islamists have somehow made the wrong choice. U.S. policy has become fixated on seeking to ostracise, isolate, and (in the case of Hezbollah) destroy hybrid Islamist movements that, while associated with terrorism and political violence, have earned some electoral legitimacy. Such an approach strengthens extremists within these movements and undermines those with a stronger commitment to peaceful electoral politics. A more nuanced approach is needed that would engage, strengthen, and reward the more democratic elements.
Assertions that all Islamist movements are intrinsically and immutably anti-democratic and opposed to human rights can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. Ackerman’s analysis, moreover, goes particularly awry when he asserts that a "democracy under threat" like Turkey has "grown more reactionary in recent decades." One wonders which country he is talking about. Does he think that the Turkey dominated by the military in the 1980s, or the one wracked by civil war in the 1990s, was less reactionary than is the aspirant member of the European Union that we know today? Despite the illiberal sentiments of some of the ruling Islamist AK party’s members, there is a strong argument to be made that it has been a positive force for democracy and human rights in Turkey, shepherding through parliament many long-awaited reform measures that secular nationalist parties had proved unable to advance.
While Ackerman is right to focus on the importance of outcomes -- in the form of tangible human rights protections -- one cannot disregard the question of means. Democratic governments, however imperfect, are more likely, over time, to advance and protect human rights. There is no future in a policy that would rely on the goodwill of benign dictators. To be fair, Ackerman makes this argument himself with respect to Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan. Ackerman recognizes that there are Pakistani institutions that promote human rights and strengthen the rule of law, and thus deserve American support -- like a strong independent judiciary, a free press, and a strong non-governmental human rights movement.
But what is true for a partially benign dictator should also be true for partially benign elected movements like Hamas and Hezbullah. In fact, there is much to be gained by bolstering the democratic superstructure under which they operate. By contributing to the success of such democratic experiments we strengthen the hand of those in the Muslim world who would mitigate the politics of hate and destruction that threatens us all.
Neil Hicks is the director of international programs at Human Rights First.
Washington, D.C. - Zainab Al-Suwaij, an Iraqi-American Muslim woman and the president of the American Islamic Congress, empowers the poor women of Iraq by helping them express their rights and needs, such as providing for their childrens education. She risks her life on every trip to Iraq.
Pastor Sam Doe, a survivor of the Liberian genocide, made a commitment in 1990 to God to work for healing and peace after watching children die one right in his arms of war and starvation. That religious transformation has impelled him to embrace all children, even ex-child soldiers, in Western Africa, when no one else wanted them. He embraced them as a spiritual father to counter the work of their warlord fathers who had drugged them and indoctrinated them into a pseudo-religious militancy and genocidal fervour. Today, Sam works with dozens of people in a network of peace groups in Western Africa that innovate new approaches to develop civil society.
The grand mufti of Syria, Sheikh Ahmad Hassoun, is unrivalled as a passionate orator of Islam, yet he uses his sermons to inspire a Muslim embrace of all fellow human beings, especially Christian neighbours in Syria. Hes a staunch defender of their rights and their spirituality. He also doles out as much help as he can find for the poor every week. He drives extremists in his country crazy, not because he vilifies them, but because he competes with them effectively for the attention and appreciation of the impoverished masses.
This is the tip of the iceberg of a dazzling variety of vibrantly religious people who are quietly changing the course of history, one person at a time. Its time for Western institutions, traditionally oblivious to religious actors, to recognise these extraordinary people and learn how they draw on the best in their religious traditions to support a peaceful, global society.
This wont be easy, because those who run our major international and national agencies are not accustomed to making such connections.
Trained at the best intellectual institutions of the world, most policymakers and bureaucrats are children of the Enlightenment, so religious revivalism is a shock to their worldview. They had no idea that religion could be so resilient and adaptable to the contemporary world. Thats why many of them are unprepared to confront religious extremists.
From Iraq to Western Europe to the United States, it is clear that religion is on the rise and tending toward extremism in many places. It is also clear that religious militants are among the most highly adaptable groups on the planet today.
They run circles around traditional religious schools, places of worship, and clerical organisations be they conservative, moderate or liberal. Militants use the Web and other media meaningful to youth, and they know how to mobilise the anger of hundreds of millions of the powerless and poor.
They are excellent at providing immediate and appealing forms of assistance in ways that most states utterly fail to do. They often have little religious authority but acquire it by the sheer force of popular appeal in a world increasingly dominated or tyrannised by mass appeal. Increasingly, religious authority is being acquired by how well extremists service the poor or how well they express their anger at injustice.
If we who believe in tolerance and coexistence want to build a better and more peaceful civilisation then we should learn adaptability from militant religious activists. We need to understand their appeal to the poor and the alienated and beat them at their own game.
We need to know when militants are setting a trap for us, expecting us to behave in predictable ways. We must learn what annoys them and do it, and learn what pleases them and stop it. They are pleased when governments ignore the poor, or when the West engages in any activities that are perceived to be bigoted against Muslims.
This is difficult to combat because militants go out of their way to commit crimes in the name of their faith, making it hard not to respond by holding millions of their coreligionists in suspicion.
But it is also true that militants are furious when Western society is appealing, or when moderate, non-violent religious leaders or organisations take care of the needs of the poor. With hard work, it is possible for states and traditional religious leaders to give people what the militants give them a sense of honour, self-respect, care in the midst of trouble, and hope.
Not all terrorists are poor, of course. But the poor are definitely their target audience as they seek to build a new world order. Becoming more appealing than militants is going to take an entirely new way of thinking for world leaders, for traditional religious leaders, and for those who guide the major international agencies of development and aid.
If religious revival is part of the illness of todays extremism, the cure needs to appeal to the same thing religious passion but in a way that affirms the common bonds of social contracts in civil society. The best way to do this is by studying and supporting the extraordinary women and men who are doing just that. These peacemakers are relatively unknown to the world and sometimes to each other. The West must spread the good news of their accomplishments, and use its prodigious wealth to support these heroes of the global community.
The war on terror reads like a war on Islam in the Muslim world. Why do Muslims have this perception? Perhaps because the U.S. is attacking Muslim countries and the U.S. media routinely link the term terrorism with the word Islam. Muslims worldwide can easily see this phenomenon on American news programs beamed into their countries via satellite TV.
When violent acts are perpetrated by nonIslamic groups, their religions are not mentioned. Has any political leader affixed the term fascist to any other religion lately? Surf the worldwide web for the terms Islam and fascism or fascist, and you will be regaled with millions of hits, many less than kind to this great religion. Then there are the fallback recruitment tools for the extremists: Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. The repeated, nearly realtime footage of Muslims being rounded up, questioned, and sent off to prison to be held indefinitely and tortured make the situation even worse. The fact that most American Muslims are well educated, welloff, patriotic, and committed to their country and families seems to be lost in the derogatory drama of the moment.
Which religious book is sometimes attacked whenever the media wants to discuss terrorist acts? The Koran. When our religious and political leaders make public statements on Islam, those statements are often not complimentary.
Our use of terminology is profoundly counterproductive. How often do Muslims hear the talking heads of the small screen refer to jihadists as threats? To be sure, those distorters of Islam who execute wanton and indiscriminate attacks on innocent people are a serious threat. But are they jihadists? By calling these persons jihadistsessentially, one who gives forth effort in the way of Godone not only gives religious cover for those who support or might support them, one also insults Islam and Muslims. Nothing in Islams laws of war allows indiscriminate murder. To say that the Koran supports such activities is a grave insult to Muslims. The correct terms for these transgressors in Islamic terminology might be erhabeen (terrorists), mufsidoon (evil ones), and the like. One of these persons is not a mujihad, but a qatil l amd, a murdererplain and simple. Before one states something about a complex part of the world, one should at least get ones terms of reference correct. Calling them jihadists is like calling Che Guevara and Carlos the Jackal freedom fighters.
There are some good people in the State Department and elsewhere putting great efforts into countering such perceptions in the Muslim world, but they work with tiny budgets and within a political environment that is not exactly conducive to open thought on issues related to Islam. I admire the diplomats and others who work against gigantic odds to help stave off the clash of civilizations. However, every time they make headway, something seems to work against them. There are Marines, soldiers, and others who have a great deal of sensitivity to certain situations, and really try to do the right thing, but it seems they are often trying to swim against a great tide of misunderstanding, suspicion, and profoundly ingrained ignorance.
It is time for America to wake up and start seeing clearly what is out there. It is time to wake up before the really big alarm clock strikes. It is not too late. We need to get smarter on this, and we need to be aware of the real issues and the real enemies. They are not Islam and the Muslims. They are those who claim to represent this great faith and its adherents, but clearly, by their actions, represent just the opposite.
Paul Sullivan is a Professor of Economics at the National Defense University and a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute. All opinions expressed are those of the author alone and do not necessarily represent those of the National Defense University or of any other entity of the U.S. Government.
Furnished office space available at CSID office (1625 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington DC). For information, please contact Sami Bawalsa at (202)265-1200.
INSTITUTE FOR SOCIAL POLICY AND UNDERSTANDING
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) is seeking an Executive Director.
The Executive Director is responsible for all day-to-day management activities of ISPU, including managing the staff; implementing Board policy and by-laws; overseeing fundraising and development activities; supervising production and distribution of ISPU material, and ensuring that ISPU is managed in a fiscally responsible fashion in compliance with the core values and mission of the organization. The Executive Director is accountable to the Board of Directors and ensuring that ISPUs projects meet the organizations education, research, public policy and fundraising goals.
The Executive Director will be expected to work with the Board to continue implementation of the current strategic plan and begin working on the next one. To do this, the candidate will exert decisive leadership and mobilize broad based support and will identify and act on opportunities for the growth and evolution of ISPU. The Executive Director is accountable for the fiscal health of the organization. He/she oversees ISPUs operating budget and maintains fiscal control over expenditures. He/she must provide enthusiastic leadership in identifying and acquiring new sources of public and private funding, as well as alliances and collaborations with other funding sources.
The qualified candidate will also be highly organized, detail oriented and able to manage simultaneous priorities under pressure. The Executive Director should have strong leadership qualities; fundraising experience and strong writing skills. Experience in non-profit management and public policy research is preferred but not required.
The Executive Director will be based in Detroit Michigan but regularly travel to our office in Washington, D.C.
Reporting to the Board of Directors, the Executive Director will provide vision, leadership and management to the institutes overall operations and activities. The principal duties of the Executive Director include:
Responsible for the long-term strategic vision and mission of the organization. In this capacity the candidate is responsible for implementation of policies set by the Board of Directors as well as goals, objectives, financial, programmatic, and administrative management of the organization.
Development and maintenance of an aggressive fundraising strategy for the institute
Lead the continuing development of ISPUs strategic direction as a growing research and public policy organization. Ensure that ISPUs direction, plans and operation are aligned to fulfill the organizations mandate. Ensure that ISPUs direction, plans and operations are aligned with the direction set at the ISPU board meetings.
Working closely with the senior management team, oversee the establishment of operational plans and the evaluation and communication of strategies.
Ensure that the organization is fulfilling its non-profit/charitable obligations. This includes monitoring of ISPUs development arm. Monitor and assess the effectiveness of organizational structure.
Ensure that there is a good and healthy working environment for all staff. The Executive Director will work with the management team to provide evaluation, support and direction for the staff. Will oversee staffing decisions including hiring/firing. Ensure accountability for ISPU staff activities, foster effective communication among staff and manage relations between staff and the Board of Directors, providing guidance for the development of mutually acceptable expectations.
Manage all aspects of meetings and, in consultation with the Executive Committee, develop the agenda for board meetings
Responsible for overall leadership of staff in the development and implementation of short and long range plans, policies and other activities.
Deadline: September 30, 2006
The applicant should provide a cover letter and resume along with names of three references. All material should be sent by mail or email to:
43151 Dalcoma Road, Suite 6
Clinton Township, Michigan 48238
The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding is an independent nonprofit institute committed to education, research and analysis of key US public policy issues with an emphasis on issues related to the American Muslim community. For more information visit our website at www.ispu.us