Archive for the ‘Dr. Ahmad’s blog’ Category

Interview by Reza Saiedi on Iranian-American Relations

Monday, July 9th, 2018

[This is the text of free-lance journalist Reza Saedi’s interview with Minaret of Freedom Institute president Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad on Iranian-American relations.]

Q. Please comment: US sanctions have a direct impact on the Iranian civilian population– limiting medical and research supplies, limiting machinery used to maintain civilian transportation systems, etc. While such actions are criticized by the UN and other world organizations dedicated to improving civil society worldwide, the US gives itself (and Israel) permission to ignore the rule of law. 

A. The great economist Frederic Bastiat observed, “If goods don’t cross borders, armies will.” Sanctions in the form of a blockade or embargo constitute an act of war, and if the Trump sanctions fall short of that on a technicality, they nonetheless open the door for war which is precisely what the Neoconservatives and Israel who are behind the sanctions are hoping will be the result.

Q. The parameters by which the US is seeking to keep the sanctions against Iran in place are in violation of international laws. With this being the case, why are other nations willing to comply with American pressure to abide by those sanctions and cut their own relationships with Iran? 

A. The nations willing to comply with the American sanctions are unwilling to bear the short-term costs that are being inflicted upon them by America’s strong economic position, especially as regards American dominance of the international banking due to the central role of the dollar. They could free themselves from this dependence on the dollar by returning to a gold standard, but that is a long-term commitment that short-sighted politicians are loathe to deal with and in any case they perhaps remember that Moammar Qaddafi’s intention “to establish a pan-African currency based on the Libyan golden Dinar” was followed by violent and undignified overthrow

Q. Pres. Trump met with Kim Jong-un and plans to talk with Putin, however in spite of these “diplomatic” steps, Trump has also alienated long-time US allies Europe and Canada and launched a trade war with them and China. How will this schizophrenic foreign policy balance out?

A. As President Trump aligns himself with dictators, oligarchs, and absolute monarchs to the detriment of America’s relationships with liberal democracies and republics, the decline of the American empire will accelerate.

Q. Please comment on the disconnect between the how marches to protest domestic problems in the United States is never portrayed in the media as an attempt to bring down the government, however the smallest march in Iran is blown up to a larger scale and made to appear that Iranians are seeking “regime change”.

A. Although the American media certainly exaggerates the connection between Iranian demonstrations about particular issues and opposition to the regime in general, it would be to Iran’s benefit to understand that such misrepresentations are facilitated by the harshness of the Iranian government’s response to demonstrations against it as compared with the response of the American government to its domestic critics.

Q.The United States is spending billions of dollars on the military, in particular invading Iraq and Afghanistan and also playing a role in Syria. While Trump states that these invasions have brought no positive results for American interests, the help and involvement of Iran in these same conflict zones has been very strategic, although that point goes unnoticed by the mainstream media. Were it not for Iran’s assistance in fighting Daesh in Iraq and Syria, the US would be faced with two newly formed terrorist states in those areas. Would you say that this is a fair assessment? Your comment?

A. This is a fair assessment. The U.S. media that accepts without comment or criticism claims of the Trump administration that it, rather than Iran and the Kurds, has been responsible for the decline of Daesh in Iraq and Syria.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Squaring the SCOTUS Decision on the Muslim Ban with the Masterpiece Cakes Decision Is a Disturbing Exercise

Wednesday, June 27th, 2018

When confronted with many interesting and important questions about how to weigh religious freedom against the government’s place in fighting invidious discrimination in the Masterpiece Cakes case, the Supreme Court of the United States chose to sidestep all questions but one. They said they didn’t need to decide whether a creative designer of cakes should be forced to create a cake designed to celebrate a marriage unrecognized by their religious tradition. They insisted they don’t need to decide if this cake shop is depriving gay people of a public accommodation. All they needed to know was that the government agency that made the decision was overtly hostile to the religious views of the person they ruled against.

While some of us were disappointed that the Court elected to dodge other important questions for the time being, at least, we thought, this bodes well for their upcoming decision on the Trump travel ban, for Trump’s hostility to Muslims has been trumpeted even more loudly and clearly than the Colorado Civil Rights Division’s antipathy to Christians. Oh, how naive we were! It turns out Justices Alito, Gorsuch, Kennedy, Roberts, and Thomas sing a different tune when the victims of overt hatred belong to a religion other than their own. Now, the public statements and tweets of the discriminating agency are suddenly irrelevant to the text of the administrative ruling. Instead they want to address whether the President has a right to fight terrorism by controlling immigration. (But not does the Colorado Civil Rights Division have a right to fight homophobia by regulating cake sales.) The President’s open hostility to Muslims is ruled irrelevant on the grounds that the means used to implement it are “ineffective,” banning a mere 8% of the world’s Muslim population.  (This makes as much sense as saying the KKK can’t be accused of racially motivated terrorism because they killed less than 8% of the black population.)

The Court acknowledged that the wisdom of the ban as a means of fighting terrorism was debatable, but insisted that the Congress must address that issue. In America’s system of separation of powers, however, it is the judiciary that is supposed to protect the Constitution. This Congress, in particular, has shown no capability of standing up to an executive branch bent expanding its power. We are left, ironically, to rely on the people themselves to stand up to the threat of populism, as they did when they flocked to the airports to defend American values and the immigrants who came here in search of them during the first Muslim ban.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Gaza and the Future of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Monday, May 28th, 2018

Nikki Haley has created a meme about the Israeli massacre of Palestinians demonstrating for the right to return to their homes at the Gaza border: “No country would act with more restraint than Israel,” she says with a straight face. Many countries would act with more restraint than Israel has, but let me not draw on just “any” country as the counter-example. Consider Donald Trump’s United States, which faced with a caravan of 150 Central American immigrants camped on its border with Mexico somehow manages to restrain itself from shooting them down in cold blood. And this despite the fact these would be invaders don’t even have the Palestinians’ excuse of wanting to return to their own  homes!

Rather than Israel, it is the Palestinians who have shown remarkable restraint. Had Nikki Haley the curiosity to ask what motivates the protests and what do they signal about Gaza’s future, she might ask Brian K. Barber, a fellow with the New America Foundation’s International Security program, a Senior Fellow at the Institute for Palestine Studies, and Professor Emeritus of child and family studies at the University of Tennessee, where he founded and directed the Center for the Study of Youth and Political Conflict. Barber is working on a book narrating the lives of three men and their families from the Gaza Strip who he has interviewed regularly for more than 20 years since they emerged as youth from the first Palestinian Intifada (1987-93).

At the New America Foundation on May 8, Barber sought to answer the question: Why would Gazans continue to protest after six weeks despite a harsh response from Israel? [The following notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentations and are not an attempted transcription.]

His premise is that if the policy is to have harmony among the peoples of that region there must be peace of mind for those people and progress requires understanding what the ordinary person thinks and feels and why they do what they do. When he first went to Gaza in March of 1995, he realized that, although he is an experienced traveler, he was unprepared, naive, uninformed and misinformed, encountering nothing that he expected to find. Rather than harsh, vengeful, and devastated people, the people he met were friendly, pleased that he was there. Instead of psychologically dysfunctional youth, he saw a population functioning well. He says he learned to listen and warns one cannot understand what is happening inside Gazans’ mind unless you’ve been there. (Are you paying attention, Nikki?)

Gaza is about 25 miles long and averages five miles in width. There are only three viable crossings, two pedestrian and one for goods and materials. There is an outside fence that is either electrified or electronic (which is debated). The air is full of drones and the cyber-grid is controlled. There are eight refugee camps. He was commonly asked “Do you like Gaza?” and “Would you come back?” They are marginalized and ostracized and this hurts. One young man said, “We can handle the electricity problems, the water problems and the sewage problems, but being made to feel subhuman is what really hurts.” About 80% of the population had their home raided at least once since 1987. The theory is that that such humiliation should quash their ability to resist, but instead it seems to trigger in us, “by no means in Palestinians alone,” an opposition and rather than quiet the population contributes to the willingness to fight for their survival as worthy human beings.

During his time there the occupation changed from direct to indirect. There is no more daily contact, apart from incursions. That is why you no longer see mass protests inside Gaza. Instead the protests have moved to the fence. The world ignores Gaza unless the situation turns violent or dramatic. Things are different in the West Bank. You can as likely find Gazans to protest against a political faction as against the outside occupation. There are a couple of million highly opinionated, but not monolithic, Gazans. When President Sisi took control of Egypt in 2015, he virtually closed the borders and the tunnels (called smuggling tunnels by some and supply tunnels by others) driving up prices and solidifying the physical restrictions on movement.

Palestinians are uniform in their desire for a home, self-determination, and justice, but they are not united as to what that entity should be like. There are divisions between the secular PA and various Islamic groups, but as recently as a few days ago Hamas indicate a willingness to recognize 1967 borders, etc. Until now Hamas has been successful in tamping down the more radical groups and rendering them ineffectual.

The Gaza Community Mental Health Program is very much alive. They are completing an impressive new building and continue their in and out-patient programs. At least 50% of Gazans are children or youth, which has an impact on the employment situation. At least 40% of the employable population is unemployment with little hope for improvement of job opportunities. The endemic industries (fishing, agriculture) are suppressed.

The humiliation is not targeted at any particular group and poor and wealthy alike go through the same experiences. The youth have less historical memory to bring with them and have not experienced the level of direct humiliation their parents have.

Before Barber’s presentation, the volume of protesters has dwindled from 30,000 to 10,000 or less, but he correctly predicted that that would change on May 15 not only because it is the anniversary of the establishment of the state of Israel, but because of the move of the U.S. embassy. He is aware of no evidence that this movement was part of or an offshoot of any broader movement rather than a Gazan demand of the right of return. Among Gazans basic rights has come to dominate the conversation over any particular political vision. He thinks Gazans are cynical of any political settlement being achieved especially under the auspices of the United States.

Gaza’s populations are concentrated in eight refugee camps, two major cities, and some small villages and towns. There are hundreds of schools. Education is a prime value for Palestinians.. The literacy rate is 95%. The UN predicted the environment would be unlivable by 2020. Sewage is dumped into the Mediterranean and leaks along the way, contaminating the aquifer. Parts of Gaza are still in rubble from the war. The solution requires lifting the siege, importing goods and materials and reviving the Gazan industries, especially fishing and agriculture. There is deliberate contamination of the agricultural field.

There is a historic sense of betrayal that goes back to the First World War. Gazans are aware of the machinations of realignments going on, but the everyday citizen has not the time or energy to compute that but the politically inclined do. The reasons for Gazans participating in social movements is not unique except in the degree that they have. Barber was present at the Egyptian Revolution and the dynamics were much the same. People were most thrilled not at the fall of the government but at the prospect of no longer being abused and humiliated by the police.

Gazans have had a lot of hope that someday things will be better. Barber thinks that hope has dwindled on the accumulation of evidence that nothing has changed. He doesn’t think the young people participating in these marches think that they will be allowed home soon and they are more motivated to symbolically demonstrate that they are here and that they deserve dignity. There is hope of reconciliation, although not soon; there is no hope that Palestine or Israel will change their policy.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

The Muslim Community & the Issue of Identity and Belonging

Sunday, April 8th, 2018

[These are my notes from The Washington Forum Lecture Series* program on “The Muslim Community & the Issue of Identity and Belonging” held in Fairfax, VA on April 4, 2018. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentations and are not an attempted transcription.]

Summary of the Introduction by Ustadh Anwar Haddam:

The first lecture in this series was on liberty and democracy. We need a clear vision. It should be society oriented to face the challenge and to benefit from the opportunity the challenge has provided.  Liberty and democracy must be the central focus for Muslims. Liberty means, first, to be free to be what you want to be and, then, to be free to do what you want to do. Unless you are free to be who you want to be you are susceptible to manipulation in deciding what you want to do.

Lecture by Dr. Esam Omeish:

Simply put the question of identity is “Who am I?” A person can have multiple identities that, collectively, make the individual.  According to psychology, belonging is near the top of the hierarchy of human needs: physical needs, security, and belonging. It is the need for love, welcome and acceptance. It is the stepping stone to esteem and actualization. Our identity determines where we belong. The act of belonging requires an ability to formulate a status that allows you to assess what belonging looks like.

We look at the Islamic faith as a set of tenets that allow us to embrace the components of our internal identity without conflict. Islam is not only about rituals but has a mission-driven component. The American experiment is a human experiment that we embrace naturally because we come from a background that embraces the same principles. We remain a community impacted by the same social factors that impact any community, but we have a mission to actually embrace the challenge.

We have recommended as a reading assignment A Nation of Nations by Tom Gjeltan (Simon & Schuster, New York, 2015) in which he looks at Fairfax County as typical of the challenges and transformations immigrants have experienced. For immigrants, questions of identity and belonging are manifest. He selected my family and me as one of the examples, including the issue of Islam. There is a bit of each of our stories in this story. America could not reach its potential until immigration was recognized as one of its organizing principles. I believe that we have the resources not only deal with the challenges, but to be strengthened in our identity and belonging in the process.

We are adopting a broad definition of Islam not to enable us to restrict ourselves to a religious identity but because the expansive definition is the true one: Islam is a universal religion compatible with the human condition. The Islamic Civilization definition of our din is the realm in which we find our Islamic identity. It is important that we not view our Islamic identity as opposed to all other identities. In refusing to do so, we shall be be confronted by resistance within our own Muslim communities using arguments such as al-walaa wa-l-baraa (loyalty and disavowal, that is embracing that which pleases God and opposing that which displeases God).

Al-walaa wa-l-baraa is irrelevant unless we distinguish that which opposes the Islamic religion from that which simply comes from outside the tradition. About half of our community are first generation immigrants and imams who address these issues without being aware of the cultural sensitivity involved will be unprepared for the backlash. Younger Muslims and the children of immigrants are better prepared to consider these issues, but they still want to know how Islam plays a role (what is its relevance?), like the young American who went to Algeria to learn how their understanding of Islam became a force in the resistance to colonialism.

Remarks by Ustadh Youssef Yaghmour:

We should not shy away from theses controversies. The Prophet (pbuh) addressed the disbelievers with “Ya kawmii,” (O my people). The compatibility of being an American with being a Muslim has become an issue, but questions of allegiance only arise in times of war. If we see ourselves at war with the rest of our American community, then we have a bigger problem than a debate over identity, one that will affect how people look at us. Is there a conflict between being a Muslim and an Egyptian? Between being a Muslim and an Indian? Then why between being a Muslim and an American.

The question am I a Muslim-American or an American-Muslim is the wrong question. The style of government in an empire-state is not the case in the world of nation-states in which we live, and it cannot be the model for our time. There is an identity conflict between being a Muslim and an atheist, but not between being a Muslim and an American. That is a contrived conflict. I want to use Islam to help solve America’s problems, and there is nothing in this nation to stop that.

Comments by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.:

We can learn by critically observing the variety of experiences of the multipicity of religions in this country as case studies of identity and belonging. The Jews integrated more as an ethnic group than a religion; the Amish insulated themselves from the “English;” the Catholics set up their own schools, dominated police departments and political power centers and openly challenged social policies of the Protestant majority; the Mormons homesteaded an entire state; the Quakers exerted influence as peaceful activists.

The United States is unique among nation-states. It is the only one in which of the five factors that define a national identity (ethnicity, language, culture, language, and historical narrative) historical narrative thoroughly overshadows the other factors. That narrative is one of liberty and resistance to tyranny, and the immigrant experience is thoroughly intertwined with it.

Resistance to the state and even to prevailing public opinion is a major element of Americanism. White Supremacy was at one time part of the American ideology. While it as not been completely eliminated, the fight against it is hailed not as opposition to Americanism, but as a fulfillment of it. Thus Martin Luther King did not have to change the words of the Declaration of Independence, only to stress a single word, when he said, “All men are created equal.”

Even though Muslim immigrants understandably distinguish themselves from the African-American community on the grounds that the latter were forced to come here, we must recognize that their experience too is instructive and that they must not be excluded either as a model nor as participants in programs such as this one.

In addressing these issues we face resistance from both within and without the Muslim community. It is the resistance from within that is most difficult. Non-Muslim resistance is manageable if you know how to do it. I have lived in this country all my life. One of the most difficult challenges to belonging was my refusal to drink alcohol because it is considered a “social lubricant.” Declining to drink on the grounds that it is bad for you or because I don’t like it only alienated those who offered it to me. But I learned that if I just said, “It’s against my religion” they were satisfied, because Mormons, Seventh Day Adventists, and Christian Scientists don’t drink either. (And even Baptists, supposedly, some would say, aren’t supposed to.) Not so easily managed are Muslims like the one who anonymously called my office and told my employee, “Dr. Ahmad shouldn’t play guitar.”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

*On January 30, 2018, some Muslims in the Washington, DC area initiated “The Washington Forum Lecture Series” to address the challenge and opportunity posed by recent events to Muslims in the USA and abroad by a new approach aiming at inspiring and leading change, instead of managing the status quo.

The Israeli Lobby

Tuesday, March 13th, 2018

The Israel Lobby and American Foreign Policy

[These are my notes from the 2018 conference on “The Israeli Lobby and American Foreign Policy” held at the National Press Club in Washington DC on March 2. These notes summarize my impression of highlights of the presentations and are not an attempted transcription  The entire program may be viewed here. ]

Grant F Smith (Institute for Research: Middle Eastern Policy). An Overview of the Israel Lobby Agenda

In 2012, the organizations that make up the Israel Lobby had 3.7 billion revenue, employed 14,000 paid staff, and 350,00 volunteers. Those numbers are all increasing. One asks why is the U.S. moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem now? In 1990s AIPAC got serious about passing a law to force the embassy move as a means of thwarting the Oslo peace process. The “Jerusalem Embassy Act” passed in 1995 with a presidential waiver provision “to avoid separation of power issues.” President Clinton allowed it to pass without signing it. All major party candidates campaigned on moving the embassy, but until Trump all winners invoked the waiver.  In polls, Americans have never supported the move.

Now, the Lobby wants to pass a federal law equating certain criticism of Israel (especially on college campuses) with anti-Semitism. The “Anti-Semitism Awareness Act” would withdraw federal funding from institutions of higher learning that permit certain criticism of Israel. 61% of American polled knowing that major civil liberties organizations oppose this law also oppose it. The government increasingly punishes truth-tellers about Israel. The Dept. of Energy already has a gag rule that any U.S. government contractor or employee who writes or says that Israel has a nuclear weapons program will lose their job, security clearances and will be treated as a criminal.  That rule, WPN-136, impacts the nuclear proliferation debate.

70% of Americans do not consider themselves to be Zionists, so maintaining a contrary illusion is important to the Lobby. Thus the importance to the Lobby of cultivating Evangelicals. Support for Israel among college students has dropped 32%. On the other hand, support among Republicans has never been higher. Despite the wide partisan split, the Republican and Democratic platform planks on Israel are nearly identical.

Last year, Al-Jazeera’s investigation of the Lobby in the United Kingdom made a splash. They also did an investigation of the Lobby in the U.S. but the Lobby succeeded in suppressing the American report using threats that included “getting the U.S. government to deny landing right to Qatar Airways … [and] having the Justice Department register Al-Jazeera’s reporters as foreign agents [cutting] off their access to government officials and limiting their access to U.S. government facilities.”

The Lobby now seeks to criminalize support of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement with fines of $1 million and sentences of 20 years in jail. It’s key backer Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md) is heavily supported by Israeli affinity organizations.

There is also the issue of provoking confrontations with Iran. There was a Dec 12 secret agreement at the White House to take joint military action.

Massive unconditional foreign aid is on the table. 58% of Americans informed of the massive amounts of aid to Israel say foreign aid to Israel ($258 billion since 1948, even more than the U.S. spent on the Marshall Plan) is “too much” or “much too much.”

Dr. Virginia Tilley (Southern Illinois University). Does the US Support an Apartheid State?

Why is the U.S. (as well as some other countries) supporting an apartheid state in Israel-Palestine? While international law does not define “apartheid state” it defines “apartheid” and one may ask if a particular state engages in the practice. Legal definition of apartheid: Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression of the Crime of Apartheid (1973) defines apartheid to include “inhuman  acts committed for the purpose of establishing and maintaining domination by one racial group of persons over any other racial group of persons and systematically oppressing them.” The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court defines the crime of apartheid to mean “inhumane acts …. committed in the context of an institutionalized regime of systematic oppression and domination by one racial group over any other racial group committed with the intention of maintaining that regime.” Israeli apartheid comprises a comprehensive system that ensures Jewish national privileges while dominating and oppressing Palestinians. Four interwoven discursive/territorial domains: (1) Palestinian citizens of Israel have the right to vote but not to eliminate Jewish national privileges nor their own minority status. in the question of their minority status. (2) Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have no national vote and no secure residency. (3) Palestinians in the occupied territories have no vote except for the Palestinian Authrity. (4) Palestinian refugees and forced exiles are denied the right of return.

The system requires Israel maintain the occupation lest population mixing threaten the system. Annexation would also threaten the system. The vision of stopping apartheid by a two state solution is fatally flawed. Under the apartheid regime, any Palestinian State is a bantustan. The apartheid imperative is to prevent racial mixing, and that is served by the system. The main function of the security forces is to suppress dissent. Oslo Accord areas were almost identical to the South Africa bantustans. Mandela warned Arafat of this. Settler colonial apartheid is ended only by by eliminating settler domination and racial discrimination. Palestininian must be recast as a multi-sectarian identity.

Ian Williams. The Israel Lobby and the UN

There is a good reason the Lobby concentrated on the UN. They can’t get clear title without UN collusion. Remember East Timur. Israelis have a great respect for law, but in a Talmudic way of elevators that stop on every floor on the Sabbath. There are legal consequences to a finding of apartheid. Israel is the only state ever created by a UN resolution, yet they keep saying UN resolutions are not binding. We could say, “Amen!” In almost every resolution to which the U.S. is a signatory, Israel is an exception: nuclear nonproliferation, settlements, etc. At least the State Department still won’t identify Jerusalem as Israel on passports. Israel is running for a seat on the Security Council as a “Western Europe and Other.” The Israeli Ambassador is on the Legal Committee which is like putting Casanova on the Chastity Committee. Israel is running against Germany and Belgium. I am concerned Belgium may be leaned upon to withdraw. Because the UN is so unpopular with certain parts of US community, it serves as a great fundraising device. We have seen this with the reports that get quashed. Remember Robert Goldstone. But the embassy move is directly in contradiction to the UN charter. Trump has basically ripped up the UN charter. Yet at the same time Nikki Haley is arguing Iran is in violation of UN Resolutions. This is the road to World War III. UNWRA has been doing what Israel should be doing under the Geneva Conventions. The Israelis tried to keep Ban Ki-moon from going to Gaza, but once he went he was consistent that the drive against it must stop.

Noura Erakat (George Mason University; Jadiliyya e-zine; Journal of Palestine Studies). How Support for Israel’s Violations of International Law Puts the U.S. on the Wrong Side of History.

Anything that the law tells us can be subjected to controversy by a lawyer. Occupation Law has failed to stem settlement, but has been used to advance settlement. The settler enters the colony with an intent to stay, to assert sovereignty and to remove the native. Settler colonization is the framework for apartheid and occupation toward the end of replacing the native with the settler.  In the late 18th century, annexation fell into disrepute, but in any case annexation would require Israel absorbing the Palestinian people, making them the majority. Rather than annex or occupy the land Israel claims the land is sui generis (distinct and unlike any other category), that the Palestinians are not a people and there is a sovereign void in which this is an occupation not by law but by fact, allowing them to incrementally take the land under two legal fictions, temporality and military necessity. The civilians are temporarily and indefinitely present, meaning that it is not permanent and yet has no end. The U.S. is central to this interpretation because the U.S. recognizes occupation as a matter of law but has failed to act accordingly seeking instead to maintain an Israeli qualitative military edge over its neighbors. The Johnson administration also inaugurated the “land for peace” framework enshrined in UN resolution 242. When Israel attacked and destroyed the Egyptian Air Force the issue of whether that was an act of aggression or a pre-emptive strike is pivotal. Johnson disagreed with Eisenhower’s Sinai policy that forced Israel (and its allies) to withdraw from the Suez Canal. Johnson saw the ’67 War as an opportunity to revisit the issue. In every UN draft resolution except the one that finally passed the definite article “the” appears before “Occupied Territories.” Its omission in the final draft allows the flexibility of “defensible borders” for Israel. This would not have been possible without Palestinian presence and acquiescence. It is the realization of autonomy without sovereignty. This has been rejected by the international courts, the Security Council, and human rights organizations, yet it stands because of American policy.

Panel on Suppressing Free Speech

Dr. Barry Trachtenberg (Wake Forest University). Challenging the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Pushing Back Against Jewish Exceptionalism Politics.

The effect of this bill is to equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism and Zionism with Judaism. The backers of this bill are less concerned with fighting white supremacy than with suppressing criticism of Israel. They conflate of Israel’s right to exist with its right to exist as a Jewish State at the expense of non-Jews within its borders. In the same way they conflate rising pro-Palestinian activism on campus with bigotry against Jews. We must distinguish actual Israeli power from historically imagined Jewish power. Broadening the definition of anti-Semitism will only making fighting actual anti-Semitism more difficult. We have to see anti-Semitism as part of the history of modern bigotry rather than as something unique.

Dr. Rabab Abdulhadi (San Francisco State University). How and Why the Israel Lobby Is Suppressing Free Speech and Academic Freedom on College Campuses.

Dr. Abdulhadi demonstrated Dr. Trachtenberg’s point by describing in detail how the Israel Lobby has smeared pro-Palestinian activists at San Francisco State University, herself included.

Thomas R. Getman. When and How Did Evangelicals Become Zionists?

Dr. Getman said that he himself was a complicit Evangelical Zionist, albeit an unwitting one. Many years working in the Middle East opened his eyes. “Those who lay traps get their own feet ensnared.” American Christians speak in two theological languages. Mainstream Christians, and Evangelicals even more so, operate in a 2000 year-old tradition involving not only creed but social justice, but Zionism operates in recent one starting in the 19th century aimed at moving all Jews to Palestine towards the end of advancing the End Times. This view purports Christians suddenly disappear, presumably to Heaven, and Armageddon follows and then a 2000 year reign of the Messiah. In the process 2/3rds of Jews are killed and the rest convert to Christianity. Even Billy Graham declared himself as agnostic as to the end times, but silence in the churches has allowed Palestinians to be defined by the Zionists.  Christian Zionism preceded by 50 years and influenced the development of Jewish Zionism. “How did we arrive here? The 200 year progression of this history is at once instructive and frightening. The law of Love has been replaced by violence.” It is the fault line running through Western civilization. “The majority has been silent. We must stir them up…. It is bad for Israel as well as America’s place in the free world…. It is important to see the progression of  Christian Zionism’s development. It has roots at least as far back as the 16th century European reformations. The early literal readership of the local language translations like the King James Bible, later in Scofield reference editions, had footnotes and commentary that promoted dispensational Zionism. It led to several centuries of anti-Semite Jewish persecution, ultimately the Holocaust, and all the way to mid-twentieth century best-selling fictional works of The Late Great Planet Earth and Left Behind.” Eccentric British restorationists lacking formal theological training led by John Darby “began to lobby for Jewish return to Palestine as the necessary precondition for the Second Coming of Christ.” They gained traction in the 19th century when Palestine became strategic to British, French, and German colonial interests. “These Christian Zionists who preceded Jewish Zionism were some of Theodore Herzl’s strongest advocates and ironically were both clergy and lay people who embraced the anti-Semitic theology and genocidal images around racial nationalism.” Herzl had an understandable resentment and anger over treatment of Jews in the previous centuries, but he undergirded his appeal to the British with misinterpreted scripture. Arthur Balfour and Lloyd George were predisposed towards Zionism, but their primary goal was the advancement of British imperialism. Billy Graham remained silent, not warning of the dangers. Harry Truman was influenced by his dispensations beliefs but even more by the campaign and Zionist contributors. Dispensationalist interpretation gained impetus with the conquest of Jerusalem in 1967. The election of Ronald Reagan, a convert to Christian Zionist beliefs was important. 9/11 sealed the marriage as both feared and hated Muslims. With the election of Donald Trump arose a movement against Christian Zionism among mainstream Christians. The Israeli Lobby is increasingly seen as an agent of the foreign power, especially as BDS has caused Israeli and American legislators to turn to Draconian suppression. The arc of history is being bent towards justice and young people, now even among Evangelicals are turning towards social justice texts. The promise that “God will bless those who bless you” was made to Abraham, not to Israel. The theological stance of Christian Zionism is now being explicitly rejected and even a body of Evangelical Christians has expressed unease at moving the American embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Evangelicals are working to reform or abandon their brand to distinguish themselves from the Michael Pences and the Roy Moores. “Anglican theologian Nadeem Atiq states we must oppose Christian Zionism by asserting one clear principle: ‘any religion that does not promote justice, truth, peace, justice and reconciliation among people has lost its rudder and is undeserving of respect. Their religion and teachings are a destructive rather than a liberating force in the world.”

Gideon Levy (Ha’aretz). The Zionist Tango: Step Left, Step Right.

“The only place on earth that Donald Trump is beloved, admired, adored, and  appreciated is Israel. The only place that Benjamin Netanyahu is admired, adored, beloved is the United States. If this is not shared values, what is …? I can tell you in the United States, as an Israeli, we don’t have a bigger enemy than the” Israeli Lobby. One has no worse enemy than the one who thinks it is an act to friendship to supply the addict with more drugs. He finds it hard to understand from the outside how an ideology became part of the DNA. He knows of no other case where an ideology is so unquestioned. The only difference between left and right in Israel is one of rhetoric. Labor and the left have a different rhetoric, but at the end of the day there is no policy difference. Shimon Perez could not stop talking about ending the Occupation, but he was the father of the settlements project. The old joke that two Israelis share three views is no longer valid. “Today three Israelis share hardly one view…. Even Israeli propaganda has lost its shame.” If Israel has sunk so low as to claim that the wound from shooting a child in the head actually came from a fall off a bicycle, then you know things have hit bottom. “In many ways the leftists are worse than the right wingers because feel so good about themselves” because they are not fascists, but they believe the crimes must continue “because we have no choice.” Levy thinks four values explain everything in Israel. First the belief that “We are the chosen people.” International Law is a wonderful thing, but it doesn’t apply to Israel. Second, Israelis are not only the biggest victims but the only victims. Levy cannot recall another occupation in which the occupiers consider themselves the victims. Golda Meir could “never forgive the Arabs” for forcing her to kill their children. Third, there is a deep belief that Palestinians are not human beings like us. They don’t love their children like us; they don’t love life like us. Fourth, the lie that the situation is temporary. Our dreams will never come true as long these core issues do not change. Soldiers who bravely testify about the crimes they committed in the occupied territories lead to nothing. At least the left has some kind of commitment to democracy for Jews, but there is no incentive for change within Israel. Levy says his only hope is people like this audience. Moving the American embassy to Jerusalem is a big victory for Israel and the Occupation. What it means is the U.S. has officially declared the funeral of the two state solution and that America cannot be a fair mediator. Levy sees it as he end of the hypocrisy. He says he feels sorry for Amb. David Friedman who must now move from a beautiful villa on the sea to Jerusalem, but adds that “he deserves it.” What better gift than to see him in midst of Orthodox and the soldiers than before the sea in Herzliya. Levy asked what kind of society criminalizes any one who speaks out for justice and praises those who violate International Law. He calls Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) the only game in town. One has the right to boycott what deserves boycott. Look how nervous Israel gets about BDS. That shows you it is the right way. We need you desperately to expose the lie that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It does not deserve to be called a democracy at all. Finally expose the lie that this is all temporary. The occupation is there to stay. This colonialist project has no intention of ending.

For many years Levy supported the two state solution as a reasonable if imperfect solution. Today there are six million Palestinians and six million Jews between the Jordan and the Mediterranean. Zionism’s core principle is that one people is privileged over the other. That is apartheid. Let’s challenge Israel to equal rights and to one person one vote, and when they say no they will have indicted themselves as an apartheid state with no desire for democracy.

In response to a question from the audience he said the occupation could not continue for even a few months without American support.

Andrew Kadi (U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights). The Palestinian BDS Campaign. What It Is, How It Is Growing, and Why the Efforts to Stop It Will Fail.

In 2005 a wide range of organizations formed the BDS coalition aimed at enforcing ICJ ruling on the wall and settlements. This is rights-based discourse influenced by discussions with South Africans. Unlike the South Africa boycott there are some exceptions to BDS.  The website is Bdsmovement.net.

Ali Abunimah (Electronic Intifada). Israel vs. Russian Media Influence.

Hilary Clinton was entirely capable of losing the 2016 election on her own. In 2006, two days after the Palestinian elections she told Jewish Press (that’s the name of a publication, not a conspiratorial code phrase), “I do not think we should have pushed for an election in the Palestinian territories. I think that was a big mistake. And if we were gong to push for an election, we should have done something to determine who was going to win.”  That’s what Russia stands accused of, but Max Blumenthal and Aaron Matte have shown there is nothing there. What the mainstream media doesn’t want to talk about is Israelgate, where there is lots of evidence of collusion. Michael Flynn spoke to Russia on behalf of Israel at the behest Jared Kushner as a favor to Benjamin Netanyahu. Steve Bannon is quoted in Michael Wolfe’s Fire and Fury that the entire Trump policy on Jerusalem was dictated Sheldon Adelson. That Adelson will buy the U.S. embassy is treated as something normal. The Russiagate hysteria helps the Israeli propaganda machine. RT was forced to register as s foreign agent, which strangely AIPAC has not done. In October Al-Jazeera revealed that they had done an undercover investigation in the U.S. akin to the one they did in Britain in which they busted an Israeli plot to bring down the British politicians. The RT registration is being cited as the precedent to force Al-Jazeera to register as foreign agents. Qatar and the Gulf states see the Israel lobby as the shortcut to Washington’s heart. Abunimah is willing to bet we are going to see the Al-Jazeera documentary, but only if we keep up the pressure. Electronic Intifada leaked two reports from ADL and another anti-BDS organization saying that despite their twenty-fold increase in spending to suppress the BDS movement they have been unable to do so. All decent people are deserting their cause and rather it is the far right of Richard Spencer’s that is flocking to support Israel. Young people, including American Jews and even young Evangelicals are fleeing. I used to think it was a waste of time to talk to Congress but my mind as has been changed in part by the No Way to Treat a Child campaign. It prohibits use of US aid to be used for the detention and torture of Palestinian children. It now has 21 cosponsors. We are not powerless against the Israel lobby.

We are more locked out of the mainstream media than ever before, but the mainstream media is less powerful than ever before and the alternate media stronger than ever before. They are still strong but we have broken their monopoly.

Jefferson Morley (author of The Ghost: The Secret Life of CIA Spymaster James Jesus Angleton). CIA and Mossad: Tradeoffs in the Formation of the US-Israeli Strategic Relationship.

James Angleton was an avatar of the Deep State. He embodied and shaped the CIA ethos. Deep State is a colloquial term for the array of intelligence agencies that operate covertly. The oversight is weak. Secret government is the norm in America. As a student at Yale he shared anti-Semitic sentiments of Ezra Pound, but the Holocaust transformed his attitudes when he joined the CIA he became Chief of Foreign Intelligence. While sympathetic to Jewish suffering, he was wary of Israel as untrustworthy in the Cold War. In 1950, Reuven Shiloah the founder of Israel’s first intelligence organization visited the CIA and organized what would become Mossad. Angleton became the CIA’s exclusive liaison with Mossad. His Israeli friend were the architects of the Israeli state. While he was seen as divisive in the CIA he was uniformly admired in Israel “as a stalwart friend.” His rise in the CIA got a huge boost when the Israelis provided him with a copy of Khrushchev’s secret speech to the Communist Party criticizing the cult of personality around Joseph Stalin. His “formative and sometimes decisive influence on U.S. policy towards Israel can be seen in many areas from nuclear proliferation policy in the region to Israel’s triumph in the ’67 Six-Day War, to the feeble U.S. response to the attack on the Liberty, to the intelligence failure represented by the Yom Kippur War in 1973.” Although the relationship of Angleton and Israel is enormous, one very important question is “why didn’t the CIA help the FBI investigate the diversion of U.S. weapons-grade material from the United States to Israel in the 1960s and 1970s? And The short answer is because Jim Angleton didn’t want them to. He played a key role in helping them to obtain nuclear weapons… He was not a man to investigate himself…. Angleton thought collaboration with Israel was more important than non-proliferation.” His friend Meir Amit called him “the biggest Zionist of the lot.”

Col. Lawrence Wilkerson (formerly with U.S. Army and Department of State). Is the US Ramping Up Its Military Presence in Syria and Preparing to Attack Iran for Israel?

Is the U.S. ramping up its military presence in Syria in preparation to attack Iran on behalf of Israel? We believe that LBJ knew not only of the Israeli attack on the Liberty, but its diversion of U.S. nuclear materials. Avigdor Lieberman is the living face of Netanyahu’s policies. A Russian emigre, he is reminiscent of both Dick Cheney and Joseph Stalin. He is at the forefront of promoting this new war. Lieberman, Netanyahu, and their acolytes in this country (e.g., Nikki Haley) have declared that it is in the best interests of the U.S. to commit to make a regime change in Iran. Wilkerson believes that “the legitimacy of great power” is what Israel desires, and what Saudi Arabia and its “new boy king” desires. The excuse for war will be “Iran’s alleged existential threat to Israel in Syria, Hezbollah’s accumulation of some 150,000 missiles, the need to set Lebanon’s economy back … (look at what they’re deliberating right now regarding the new very, very rich gas find in the eastern Mediterranean)….”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Islamic Education in the United States

Tuesday, February 13th, 2018

[This is a summary of a panel discussion held at the Cato Institute on February 1, 2018 featuring Shafiq Siddiqui (Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action) and Sabith Khan, California Lutheran University discussing their newly published book on their research on Islamic schools in the U.S. The discussion was moderated by Neal McClusky.]

Shafiq Siddiqui opined that Islamic schools were more energized by the events of 9/11 and the Great Recession. The economic crisis had a negative impact but prompted Muslims to look at the experiences of other educational institutions and led to more public engagement.

Sabith Khan described the methodology of their research. They had to create a comprehensive database of Islamic schools. The sector is not exceptional. They comply with tax laws and some are accredited; they struggle within the community. It is an unsettled question: what is an Islamic school? Some don’t apply for subsidies of school choice because they don’t want to or know how to deal with the paperwork.

Siddiqui noted that there is no majority ethnic group among Muslims in America. This is the seventh wave of Muslim immigrants and the first to survive. Within the broad ethnic spectrum there are seven schools that are African-American. There are two or three Shia schools. Shias will attend the Sunni schools, which is reflection of the economic difficulties of setting up schools, but it also reflects the Qur’anic verse “We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise each other).” (49:13)

Khan reported that the schools also have non-Muslim students and teachers, and that they often are started at mosques or Islamic centers and often remain as part of them, whereas in other cases they become separate institutions. The degree of diversity varies. There seems to be a lot of ecumenical behavior, more concerned with hiring those who believe in the mission than those who believe in the faith. Siddiqui added that one can find teachers who do not practice the faith instructing children in their responsibilities in the faith.

Siddiqui said that all four of his children graduated from public school but went to Islamic elementary school so they could learn Arabic. They memorized at least one thirtieth of the Qur’an. The biggest criticism is that Islamic schools are trying to isolate their children but the administrators of those schools work to achieve the opposite, arranging sports leagues and debate competitions with other schools.

Khan noted that it has been said that Indians live simultaneously in the 13th and 21st century and opined that the challenge is how to be true to your traditions in the current era. Civic engagement within a religious community correlates with civic engagement with the broader community.

Neal Mcclusky observed that there is evidence that private schools do a better job of teaching the civic values we want public schools to teach but that the popular perception is different. He asked how Islamic schools deal with the fear that they may be inculcating extremism or violence. Siddiqui quoted one Islamic school administrator as saying, “We don’t have time to teach extremism.”

Khan reported that some schools are going away from Islamic branding. Siddiqui said that Islamic schools look for ways by which they may be accountable such as tax filings, accreditation and applying for government funding and voucher money. Many schools use the same textbooks as public schools, except for Islamic studies.

I asked whether their systematic research supports my personal anecdotal observation that the Islamic schools tend to increase in diversity as they grow and then split into more homogeneous schools that again diversify as they grow. Siddiqui replied that divisions are more over ideas or personalities than ethnicity.

Siddiqui said that there are Muslim accrediting agencies. He was uncertain as to the fraction of graduates who go on to college and graduate schools, but believes it is the 90% range.

Siddiqui observed that when there is a scandal in the nonprofit sector it affects the whole sector and when there are charges of extremism against an outlier Islamic school, whether true or false, it affects them all. Yet, at the same time the number of allies and defenders against such generalized attacks has grown.

Noting that there are Christian schools that have used controversial books, McClusky asked if there is a benefit to society to including a wide variety of schools in a school choice program. Siddqiui replied that since funding is the number one barrier to Islamic schools, administrators would support school choice. As a participant in two schools that went from pre-choice to a choice situation, he has seen its success as an equalizer. He thinks the UK, Germany, and Belgium allow designation of where some tax dollars (not a lot) can be directed, and argued that we have to trust our country a little more, saying that it was established on a set of ideas, the positive power of market forces among them. He thinks we have enough regulations and civic society oversight to deal with the risks of choice without fearing inclusion of Islamic schools.

Siddiqui noted that there was a big push to establish Muslim charter schools, but he recommends against creating a charter school only as a means of funding because you will face lawsuits if your intention is to preserve Qur’anic Arabic and Islamic studies. However, if, like the Gulen movement, you do not wish to establish an Islamic school but rather to “enhance the society,” then charter schools are appropriate.

Khan acknowledged that there is a definite lack of special needs education. He asked a cab driver how he was able to send three children to Islamic schools and he said they waived 80% of the charges. Once a school reaches a certain maturity it can start to offer such benefits.

Siddiqui noted that by and large Islamic schools are less expensive than secular private schools and more affordable, relying on philanthropy. School choice laws are complicated; vouchers allow you to increase tuition and some programs would prevent discounts to the poor.

Siddiqui reported that no Shia schools responded to the survey. They did not ask questions along ideological lines. There are a small number of schools that break down along those lines. He doubts one could get enough liberals or salafis to make a purely ideological school as they do in England. He joked that you can’t even find another person in the community who likes the same sweetness in his tea as you do. Khan explained that the operating definition for the survey was schools that defined themselves as Muslim.

Siddiqui opined that by and large people send their children to Islamic schools do better than those who go to other schools, but that Muslim nonprofit organizations in general have to be better nonprofits. Khan quoted a board member of a mosque and Islamic school in Tennessee who asked, “Why should I file with the IRS when I am only accountable to God?” Siddiqui thinks that he is an outlier.

Khan said that there are schools and mosques challenging the norms of gender segregation. He added that there are enough sources within the tradition to challenge these norms without having to go outside the tradition.

They didn’t study weekend schools, which are products of Islamic centers. Islamic centers are not regulated. In the schools studied, principals and teachers are predominately women. The challenge of gender within the Muslim community exists but the challenge of gender within this country exists. Khan  fought for women as an attorney and knows the horror stories; but he said to apply them to all 2,200 of these schools is not justified. Gender inequity is a problem both Muslims and Americans have to solve.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

IS THERE MORE TO FREEDOM THAN A DREAM?

Monday, January 15th, 2018

IS THERE MORE TO FREEDOM THAN A DREAM?

Keynote Address by Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
at the Interfaith Council of Suburban Maryland’s
Annual Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Memorial Service
at the Christian Community Memorial Church January 15, 2018

[This address draws on substantial material from Dr. Ahmad’s paper on “Alternatives to Violence in Muslim History: Parallels to American Cases and Prospects for the Future” published in Citizenship, Security and Democracy: Muslim Engagement with the West, included here without further attribution.]

Bism Allahir-rahmân ir-rahîm. In the name of God, the Beneficent, the Merciful. Allow me to greet you with the traditional Muslim greeting, As-salaamu `alaikum!  Peace be upon you.

I thank the organizers of this annual memorial service for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., for the opportunity and the honor to pay tribute to that great figure in America’s movement along the long arc towards freedom by sharing a few thoughts on the important question I have been asked to address: “Is there more to freedom than a dream?” I have been charged with informing you about the history of Islam on this question, and I am glad to be able to do so in a context that allows me to mention the resonances in that history with Dr. King’s remarkable life work.

Those of you as old as I am will recall that during his lifetime Dr. King was not as widely beloved or respected as he is today. He was a polarizing figure seen by many as troublemaker rather than as a liberator. Even among admirers of the civil rights movement that dominated the era, there were those unable to appreciate the significance of religion to his work. I became aware of this at a colloquium for college students in the late 1960s. I had raised Dr. King as a counter-example to someone’s clam that religious people were obstacles to the advancement of freedom. A representative of the organizers objected that Dr. King was a secular figure. I marveled that an older, educated man, actively involved in organizing of a seminar on civil rights was unaware that the Reverend Dr. King was a Baptist minister, or of the deep spirituality that underlay his ideals, his tactics, and the very language he marshaled to his cause. Older now, and less naïve, I realize that many people, even in academia—and especially in the halls of power—see religion as merely an issue of group identity, or of rituals that are the conventions and dressing of religion. They have no conception of the powerful wellsprings of faith in great ethical ideals that dwell at the heart of religion.

To me, two pronouncements characterize the essence of Dr. King’s message. The first is that all men are created equal. The second is that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.  Neither of these concepts originated with Dr. King, but there was something seminal in the way he used them. He was quoting Thomas Jefferson when he said that “all men are created equal,” but King’s emphasis on the word all was a reminder that that freedom is for everyone. Jefferson knew this. Even though he was a slaveholder until the day he died, he declared, “God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that his justice cannot sleep forever. Commerce between master and slave is despotism. Nothing is more certainly written in the book of fate than that these people are to be free.” By emphasizing the adjective all, Dr. King, without altering a word highlighted the hypocrisy of the American narrative in Jefferson’s day, in his own day, and—alas, in this day as well.

The “arc of justice” phrase comes from the transcendentalist Unitarian minister and abolitionist Theodore Parker who wrote, “I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.” In the next lines of this sermon Rev. Parker added, “Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.” And indeed they did. The earthquake that was the Civil War was a violent consequence of motion of the tectonic plates of human history on that long arc toward freedom for everyone.

Dr. King’s dream was one of liberty for all, and his faith in the moral arc of the universe was a conviction that this dream would one day be realized, although he knew, and stated, that he might not be there when it was. More than dream, it is an inevitability, albeit one that requires human struggle to be realized. Dr. King was more than a dreamer, he was a tactician. Although the tactics of mass peaceful civil disobedience were not original with him—Mahatma Gandhi had already developed them in the highly spiritualized society of India—Dr. King demonstrated that they could be implemented, and succeed, in the highly commercialized society of America.

The tactics of civil disobedience employ practices of religious devotion to mobilize mass resistance. The five pillars of Islam can be seen in critical tactics of peaceful resistance. The idea that the individual is directly responsible to the Almighty is inherent in the Shahâda, or declaration of the faith of Islam, that “there is no god but God.” To those dedicated to the service of God, the demands of human rulers to do evil have no authority. Americans know the concept of individual civil disobedience through the example and teachings of Henry David Thoreau. Thoreau most clearly articulated the moral imperative for noncooperation with evil in his essay on civil disobedience. The New England transcendentalist’s arguments echo Islamic fundamentals. Thoreau wants right and wrong to be determined not by the majority, but by conscience. The Qur’an says, “By the Soul and the proportion and order Given to it; And its enlightenment as to its wrong and its right; Truly he succeeds that purifies it And he fails that corrupts it!”

Thoreau echoes this sentiment in his observation that an inordinate respect for the laws of man leads to warfare and slavery: “I do not hesitate to say, that

those who call themselves Abolitionists should at once effectually withdraw their support, both in person and property, from the government of Massachusetts, and not wait till they constitute a majority of one, before they suffer the right to prevail through them. I think that it is enough if they have God on their side, without waiting for that other one. Moreover, any man more right than his neighbors constitutes a majority of one already.”

Individual disobedience to commands to do evil is a natural consequence of a belief in a direct responsibility to God. Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, in his inaugural address, told the assembled people that they had no duty to obey him if he gave a wrongful order, but rather had a duty to correct him. Throughout the history of Islam there have been many examples of individual civil disobedience. The founders of the four Sunni schools of Islam were imprisoned and/or tortured for their refusal to cooperate with the authorities, and the Shi`a scholars historically denied the legitimacy of wrongful rule.

Organized mass civil disobedience is a tactic normally associated with the modern era, and Gandhi’s influence on Dr. King is well known. Yet the first act of organized mass civil disobedience in history of which I am aware was conceived and directed by the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). He had a vision in which he led the people on the lesser pilgrimage to Mecca at a time when the city was still in the hands of his enemies, the polytheistic tribe of Quraish. He told the people to put on the pilgrim garb and to come with him unarmed into the holy precincts in violation of the expressed will and intention of the authorities in power. The Muslims did not allow their disciplined nonviolence to be broken by the provocations of the Quraish. This demonstration of the power of active nonviolent resistance resulted in a peace treaty referred to in the Qur’an as a “Manifest Victory,”: “It is He who sent down Tranquility into the hearts of the Believers that they may add Faith to their Faith; for to God belong the forces of the heavens and the earth; and God is full of Knowledge and Wisdom.”

The other four pillars of Islam are prayer, fasting, charity, and pilgrimage. Prayer and fasting are such familiar tools of mass resistance as to require no elaboration here. Charity too can be seen as an element of mass mobilization. Charitable work by social reformers unites different segments of society. (In any case charitable donations are needed to fund the cause.) Think of the Quakers and the Sojourners. The Muslim activist Abdul Ghaffar Khan, founded the Khudai Khidmatgar (Servants of God) whose members “pledged to refrain from violence and [to] devote two hours a day to social work” and played a pivotal role in ending the British occupation of India when newsreels of his followers shot down in cold blood shocked the British public.

As for pilgrimage, rallies, marches, and chants are integral elements of resistance, and the Muslim pilgrimage is a great rally for brotherhood. Indeed, the pilgrimage to Mecca played an important role in reconciling Malcolm X to racial integration, the principle issue on which he previously had differed from Dr. King. As Dr. King’s March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom was the opportunity to share his dream of a nation in which children would be “not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character,” so the final farewell pilgrimage of Prophet Muhammad was opportunity to instruct his followers to create such a society. He sermonized,

“O people! Indeed, your Lord is one and your father is one. All people are the same as the teeth of a comb; they came from Adam, and Adam is created from dust. Indeed, there is no superiority of an Arab over a non-Arab, nor of a non-Arab over an Arab, nor of a white over a black, nor a black over a white, except by God-consciousness. God has made your blood and your property (and your honor) as holy as this day is holy.” He then asked, “Have I conveyed the message?” The crowd, estimated at 144,000 persons, roared back in the affirmative. He said, “Let those who are here tell those who are not here. Perhaps those who hear the message last will understand it better than those who heard it first.”

More than a dream, freedom for all men and women is the end point of that arc of history towards justice. Achieving it requires both struggle and faith, which brings me back to the starting point of my address: the importance of religious faith to Dr. King’s work. The faith that sustained him in the Birmingham jail and in confrontations with ill-wishers and brutish police is of a kind with the faith which the Qur’an said puts “Tranquility into the hearts of the Believers that they may add Faith to their Faith.” Dr. King himself put it well in the sermons collected in his book Strength To Love:

“The God whom we worship is not a weak and incompetent God.  He is able to beat back the gigantic waves of opposition and to bring low prodigious mountains of evil.”

“When our days become dreary with low hovering clouds and our nights become darker than a thousand midnights, let us remember that there is a great benign Power in the universe whose name is God, and he is able to make a way out of no way, and transform dark yesterdays into bright tomorrows.”

“A positive religious faith … instills in us with the inner equilibrium needed to face strains, burdens, and fears that inevitably come, and assures us that the universe is trustworthy and that God is concerned.”

To that, I say “Amen.” Thank you for your kind attention.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Putting Sectarianism in Perspective

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

[The following are my notes from a panel discussion with Nader Hashemi (Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies) and Danny Postel (Assistant Director of the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Northwestern University), editors of the new book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East. presented at the Middle East Institute on Tuesday, November 21, 2017. The program was moderated by Paul Salem, senior vice president for policy research and programs at MEI.]

Nader Hashemi  argued that ancient sectarian hatred is a lazy orientalist explanation. He offered “sectarianization” as a better term than that static trans-historical term “sectarianism.” You cannot understand the current crises unless you understand authoritarianism rather theology as the root of the current conflicts in the Middle East. It is the perpetuation of political rule by the employment of sectarian identity.

There are three ways of approaching the issue: Primordialism,  constructivism, and instrumentalism. Constructivism occupies the middle ground recognizing (as does primordialism) some immutable features of religious identity but recognizing also (as does instrumentalism) the roles of elites in mobilizing religious identity. The questions that must be addressed are: Why are these conflicts intensifying now and why in some places more than others? Why have Sunni-Shia conflicts erupted recently?

Vali Nasr notes that in the past the state was viewed as a passive actor responding to struggles between subgroups. Drawing on research from South Asia, Nasr argues that state actors see political gain in the conflict between sectarian groups. The key claim of the book is that sectarianism in itself fails to explain the complex realities of the conflicts in the region that are rooted in development issues explained by political actors in pursuit of political gain. The refusal of political elites to share power below is a better explanation. Ruling elites are not necessarily committed to defending a theological view or the interests of a particular religious group. Sectarianism is not an inherent quality of Middle Eastern history. Rather, political entrepreneurs capitalize on sectarian divides. Recent conflicts in the US have been more racial than sectarian, but demonstrate a similar point. Trump played the white nationalist card to mobilize people around his political agenda. Politics in the Middle East and U.S. are not the same but they have this in common.

Danny Postel noted that in 2006 the most popular political figure in the Sunni Arab world was HassanNasrallah. This seems inconceivable today. 1979, 2003, and 2011 are critical turning points. There is nothing intrinsically religious in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. The Yemeni conflicts of the 1970’s had nothing to do with sects but with ideology, with Iran and Saudi Arabia siding with monarchs and Egypt with the leftist rebels.

Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in the 1980’s and the U.S. encouraged transnational Jihad in Afghanistan. To say that the bombing of the Imam Hassan shrine in 2003 started the current sectarian strife is an exaggeration, but it has a point. After Saudi execution of Imam Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in 2016, Iran vowed holy revenge on the Saudis.

Scholars say there was a Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011, but the demands were bread and freedom and had nothing to do with sects. Alawis, Kurds, Atheists, etc., all joined the rebellion. The crisis was precipitated by live ammunition fired at peaceful demonstrators. The same thing is happening in Bahrain. In Syria the regime blames Sunnis and in Bahrain the regime blames Shias. The Saudis engage in a classic scapegoating move, it is not us but the other sect that is the source of your problems. Within three days of the Trump-Saudi “Orb fest” in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and Egypt read the love fest as a declaration that “America has our back.”

Paul Salem noted that 1979 was the final stage of Egypt’s departure from leadership of the Arab world as well as the rise of Iran. Until then socialism and Arab nationalism were the central issues. As people turned away from economic and ideological markets did religion replace them? Iran turned a religion perspective into a political project. The same can be said of ISIS which claims that its religious interpretation is profound. For the Shi’a in Iraq and Syria, sect was a means of advancement. He conceded that authoritarianism is the pattern of the region, but asked how to distinguish those regimes for which it is not a tool, such as Sisi or Algeria?

Hashemi responded that in Egypt the Sunni-Shia divide doesn’t exist because there is no mix of populations there. 1967 is the main turning point at which the promises of secularism started to fail, and you see the turn to politicized religion. Socialism and nationalism had cross-sectarian support. The sectarianism card is the regimes’ favorite card to play against the demands for democracy. The narrative they offer the international community is that the problem in their country is not authoritarianism but external intervention and in some cases extremism.

Postel noted that now there is a kind of nostalgia for Arab nationalism, but it failed for a number of reasons including that it never ran deep. The masses never really embraced it. If they were really salient could they have been defeated by a single military defeat (the ’67 War)? Hezbollah redefined itself by its involvement in the Syrian crisis. There was no ISIS when Iran and Hezbollah sided with the Syrian regime.

Hashemi says the first step is for the killing to stop. There must a vision for how to exit the authoritarian status quo, some constitutional vision. The international community must play a more constructive role. We must realize that the Faustian bargain we struck with these regimes is the source of, not the solution to, the problem.

Postel observed that the U.S. had signed off wholesale on the Saudi narratives that all the problems are due to Iran. The Iran nuclear deal is related indirectly to the sectarianism because both the Saudis and Israelis flipped out over the deal.

In the Q&A I remarked that the it is interesting that the one group relatively most committed to Arab nationalism had been the Palestinians who lost most directly from the ’67 War. I also mentioned the role of the West in encouraging the Syrians to resort to armed rebellion against the Assad regime by predicting that he would fall within months. (The Israelis said “within weeks.”)

Postrel took strong exception to my observation insisting that comments about Assad falling from power were “aspirational” rather than predictive. In a conversation with Postrel after the event ended, I informed him of my personal knowledge of how the Syrian opposition took such predictions seriously and that they posed an obstacle to those of us who thought that the best strategy against Assad was to keep the opposition peaceful until he lost the support of the Syrian Army. Such was the pattern of the fall of a number of Middle Eastern dictators from the Shah of Iran to Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. Postrel insisted that the pattern could not have worked in Syria because Assad’s family is too closely intertwined with the military establishment. On that he and I shall have to agree to disagree and it is my position that brutal as Assad’s attacks on peaceful demonstrators were, the use of violence (albeit in self-defense) by demonstrators and the subsequent civil war that opened the door not only for Assad’s continued military slaughter of his civilian population but for the air and ground forces of a variety of foreign actors as well as the terrorist activities of ISIS and other such groups has been a more tragic consequence for the Syrian people. I do not believe that Assad by himself could have killed so many people in the absence of a civil war without losing the support of the people he would have had to in order to do the killing. I also do not believe the “sectarianization” problem would be as bad as it is at this moment.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

President Rouhani’s Meeting with American Muslim Leaders

Monday, September 25th, 2017

[These are my notes of President Rouhani’s meeting with American Muslim community leaders during his visit to the United Nations (UN) on Sept. 19, 2017. Pres. Rouhani spoke in Farsi. These notes are NOT a transcription of the official translation, but they represent my impression of the meaning of his remarks. I apologize in advance for any errors regardless as to whether the fault lies with me or the real-time translation.]

When Muslim lands were invaded and occupied by foreign powers, the most important job of Muslims was to defend their lands. The oppressors appeared to have been ejected, but they continue to advance their own interests through those dictators who have been put in place. The West’s scientific and technological advantage helped that process and it is a necessity for the ummah to close this gap. I am happy that Islamic countries in the last few weeks had their first gathering of leaders in science and technology to set forth detailed plans to make such advancements, which the president hopes is the first step to return to the point around the time of the Renaissance when we were the teachers and exporters of scientific and technological knowledge to other countries.

But we have seen a new issue since the beginning of the new century that some of the extremists have started to promote terror and violence under the guise of Islam. Where did this extremism begin? What was the role of Zionism and the great powers? The Great Powers do not want to see terrorism against innocents (by whatever label we put on them) to stop and wish it to continue. Our hearts are filled with sorrow when we see the blood of innocents shed, but there is a higher level of sorrow and pain: besides the heads of innocents Islam is being beheaded.

We have no doubt that true Islam is a guiding light in the world. The Prophet (saws) was not a blessing for Muslims only but for the entire world. For us, religion is to free us from all oppression. The faith of the righteous is to enable them to be guided from the darkness into the light. Yet the religion of light and guidance has become known as the religion of terror, even though the number of terrorist savages does not surpass 100,000 (compared to 1.5 billion Muslims in the world). We cannot have jihad before enlightenment, or we have the jihad of ignorance. The terrorist groups in Iraq no longer have the strong positions they held in the past. Terrorists in Syria and Lebanon have been reduced in the same way, but if terrorism is to be defeated we must present the true face of Islam to our youth. As long as terrorist groups have the power to recruit, the problem has not been solved.

Another problem is the idea that Islam is against the will of the people, against the ballot box, against democracy. But the Holy Qur’an commands us to consult with the people. Did not the Prophet consult with the people even though his knowledge came from the Creator Himself? He taught us by his governance that we must be close to the people, consult with the people and decrease the distance between science, knowledge, logic, and Islam and defeat the mentality that would have it otherwise. Islam is the region of science, of wisdom, and of elections. If we are to choose his path we can ultimately overcome the challenges we face. I do not say democracy is without problems or science is without weaknesses or human knowledge is perfect, but that with science, fairness, and knowledge we must manage our society and hope Almighty God will aid us to fulfill our responsibility during these difficult times.

[During the short question period, attendees expressed gratitude for the virtually unique willingness of the President of Iran (and his predecessors) to openly meet with and listen to American Muslim leaders. One asked that Iran change its policy on Syria (support of the Asad regime). Another urged Iran to connect with the American broader public and to invest in a serious public relations program to that end and to provide aid to the countries hosting refugees.]

Rouhani. The people of Palestine have for seven decades been driven from their homes and their lives and lands. The people of Yemen have been the victims of violence and now of disease. In Myanmar over 100,000 have been displaced and run into Bangladesh. This afternoon the PM of Bangladesh says 400,000 refugees have been driven to Bangladesh in the past decades, and land mines have been laid along their path to prevent them from coming back.

Syria is a complex issue. For six years we have witnessed the suffering of the Syrian people, driven for their homes and killed. There is a mixing of [democratic and liberal] opposition and terrorists. We must create a cease-fire after which peace talks and agreements can take place with a free election to put in place a government which must be respected by all. Those driven from their homes and lands must be repatriated. You see like events in Afghanistan, in Pakistan, in Libya. What we see today are difficulties due to terrorist groups that only benefit the Zionists. We wholeheartedly believe Iran must have good relations with our neighbors but unfortunately there are some countries with which relations are not what we would like them to be, principally Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. The only way to overcome these problems is dialogue. The continuation of tensions does not benefit Saudi Arabia or Iran or Bahrain. We must stand next to one another and feel like brothers and like a single family.

It is absolutely true that Iran does not have a strong lobby here. Unfortunately, Mr. Trump in his speech to the UN today spoke of Iran in an insulting manner, not befitting a nation’s president. We are duty bond to live up to our commitments and whenever we have been given a commitment we have lived up to it. We have Megawatt power plants, but we remain absolutely committed to international treaties including the nonproliferation treaty. We have always been against weapons of mass destruction as being against Islam. Within the framework of the treaty all sides must adhere to the agreement. Yet Mr. Trump says it is a shameful deal, which is an insult to his own people. The entirety of the EU entered into this agreement. Pres. Rouhani expressed his joy and gratitude for the opportunity to be a part of this meeting, saying it is his loss that we have not had time to hear from all who have wished to speak.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Barbary Wars and Barbaric Blogs

Friday, July 21st, 2017

Blog posts have been appearing that quote Ambassador Sidi Haji Abdrahaman from Tripoli in 1786, in the era of the Barbary pirates, saying that it is the “right and duty” of Muslims “to plunder and enslave” any who did not acknowledge the Prophethood of Muhammad “and that every [Muslim] who was slain in this warfare was sure to go to paradise.” This message proffers the quote as evidence that the attacks on American ships by the Barbary pirates were a reflection of a scriptural command for eternal war with nonbelievers and that, for that reason, Thomas Jefferson “declared war on Islam” in response. The virus, virus in more than one sense of the term, is an instructive example of how context-dropping can be used to advance a completely fallacious political position. Yes, the ambassador made a Bin-Laden-like statement, but Jefferson, who had George Sale’s translation of the Qur’an, knew his statement doesn’t represent accurately the Qur’an’s position on just war, and Jefferson’s  subsequent attacks on “the shores  of Tripoli” (as they have been memorialized in the “Marines’ Hymn”) were neither a war on Islam, nor even on all Muslim states, as basic knowledge of the history of the Barbary Wars demonstrates. Here is the context of the events, a context of which the Islamophobes appear ignorant and, in any case, prefer that the rest of us be ignorant.

In that time the practice of encouraging “privateers” to attack enemy ships was common. (The U.S. Constitution provides for it in the authorization of “letters of marque and reprisal”.) Britain was paying tribute to the Barbary states for the protection of British ships traveling in the south Mediterranean. This protection extended to ships coming from the American colonies which were under British control. Once the U.S. broke free from Britain, the British were quick to advise the Barbary states to whom they themselves were paying tribute for protection, that the former colonies were no longer under British protection and fair game for the pirates. Some, but not all, of the Barbary states took the bait.

The Sultan of Morocco Mohamed Ben Abdullah had initiated friendship with the U.S. in 1777, when no other country in the world recognized the U.S. as an independent nation, by guaranteeing safe passage through the Straits of Gibraltar where pirates plagued maritime trade in the belief that Christendom was at perpetual war with the Muslims. The sultan recognized that the nascent American nation was different from the European imperial powers, and evidently hoped to keep it that way by befriending us in our time of need. Grateful for the Sultan’s intervention on behalf of the newly declared American nation, in 1783 Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, and John Jay urged the U.S. follow up by negotiating a perpetual treaty with Morocco, which was signed in 1786 and ratified by Congress in 1787, beginning a friendship that has lasted without interruption until this day. (A sign of the respect accorded the U.S. in Morocco is the presence until today of the Tangiers American Legation Society and the beautiful building in which it is housed in the old city of Tangiers, shown at left.) Clearly the Moroccan state has for over two centuries had a different understanding of Islamic law and the common values of the Muslim world and the American nation than that of the ambassador for Tripoli. Just as clearly, that Jefferson understood this is reflected in the fact that his first action was not to urge war, but a negotiation.

However, negotiations with the neighboring states proved more difficult. Tripoli and Algiers in particular allowed the pirates to operate freely. For a while Portugal, at war with Algiers, provided a blockade that allowed American ships protection, but a truce between those nations in 1793 left American ships vulnerable.  Accordingly, the U.S. initiated treaties with Algiers and Tripoli in 1795, 1796 and 1797, and with Tunis in 1797. The 1796 Treaty of Tripoli, drafted by Jefferson’s friend Joel Barlow, famously included the clause that that “the government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion, as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion, or tranquility of Musselmen.”

The real issue for Jefferson was not over the nature of Islam, but over the advisability of paying tribute. Muslim states were not the only states that demanded tribute of client states. (Such tribute is called not Islam-geld, but Dane-geld, as in “once you have paid him the Dane-geld, You never get rid of the Dane.”) Unlike Congress, Jefferson wished to build a strong Navy so that we could protect our own ships rather than pay tribute to a protector state. Algeria’s infidelity to the treaty of 1796 was due not to religious fanaticism compared to Morocco, but to the fact that “Algiers was much more dependent than Morocco on the fruits of corsairing.” Not religious enthusiasm, but greed for the things of this material world sparked the Barbary Wars of the early 1800s. Not a religious mandate, but a state of war was behind the hostilities in the period. The war was with Tripoli and not with the the other Barbary powers, let alone with the Muslim world or Islam itself. Jefferson sought only to fight aggression and embraced the end of the war in 1805; it was his political opponents who wanted to prolong the war to effect a regime change in Tripoli by reinstalling Hamet Qaramanli as Pasha. 

Seven years of peace were ended when war broke out between Britain and the U.S. in 1812. The new Dey of Algiers saw an opportunity to increase the tribute by siding with the British, nullifying the treaty, and declaring war on the U.S. The U.S. was unable to act against Algiers as long as it was at war with Britain, but once the Treaty of Ghent has been signed, the U.S. sent a squadron to Algiers under Commodore Stephen Decatur. By then, however, there was yet a new Dey in Algiers, Omar who “wished to restore order after several years of political instability and was acutely aware that he could no longer count on British support against the Americans.” Decatur was able to negotiate treaties with Algiers, Tripoli, and Tunis which required no tribute. Such treaties should have been impossible according to the account of the Islamophobes, who say Muslims prefer to die and go to Paradise rather than stop their war against everyone else. Islamophobes will argue that the treaties are worthless shams, examples of “taqiyya” under which (they claim) Muslims may lie freely to the infidels. Such an argument fails to explain why those treaties, like the one with Morocco, were never broken. Pirates continued to raid French ships despite (because of?) French bombardment until the French conquest of Algeria in 1830, but no U.S. ship was captured by Barbary pirates after Decatur’s treaties.

Morocco has stood by the U.S. from the beginning. Algiers broke the Treaty of 1797 at the urging of the British. The fanatical misrepresentation of the Qur’an given by the ambassador from Tripoli to explain the behavior of the Barbary pirates is the understanding of  warmongers among Muslims and Westerners, but is not the understanding of Thomas Jefferson, Sultan Mohamed Ben Abdullah, the vast majority of Muslims, or the respected scholars of Islam.

A neutral academic summary of the Barbary Wars in context can be found at the Oxford Islamic studies website.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org