Archive for June, 2006

Modest Beginning for a Global Student Movement

Thursday, June 29th, 2006

The Minaret of Freedom Institute’s Program Assistant Sarah Swick has won second prize in an essay contest in which she imagines a Washington Post article four years from now describing the rise of a student movement for liberty in the Middle East.

Here’s the link to the page with the winners of the essay contest.

Here’s a link directly to Sarah’s essay: “Modest Beginning for a Global Student Movement.”
Share the dream!

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org
Blog.minaret.org

Martyr or Murderer? [Guest blog by Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan]

Thursday, June 22nd, 2006

The question for Muslim observers around the world regarding the successful targeted killing of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is how should we view this individual (according to Qur’an and Sunnah) — as a revered martyr or a reviled murderer? In this brief commentary I will share my own humble view.

Any informed and objective analysis of the Iraq crisis will show, al-Zarqawi was never THE DOMINANT FIGURE in the so-called “insurgency,” that the American/British led occupation made him out to be. He was, however, a convenient tool (and symbol) that the warmongers needed in order to sell the “insurgency” as “foreign driven.” The truth is, the occupation’s resistance has always been primarily led and dominated by Iraqi nationals!

Since the death of al-Zarqawi the “insurgency” – and unofficial CIVIL WAR – has not missed a step. Reports suggest that there were approximately 40 killings, in Baghdad alone, in the 24 hour period immediately following al-Zarqawi’s death – and thus, it behooves westerners to resist the temptation to buy into the politically-driven wishful thinking that’s going on right now (in the wake of this one man’s death). The dance of death and destruction in Iraq will continue unabated, because the circumstance that produced it continues unabated.

As for my own personal view of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi: He is no hero of mine – but far, far from it. He is but one of the many deeply disturbed and disobedient “Muslims” who have turned the time honored and divinely-mandated principle of jihad fisabililah (struggle, at all levels, in the way of Allah) on its head – introducing both confusion and dishonor in the process! While there will be some Muslims – both here and abroad – who will publicly sing his praises, I will not be among them.

I base my opinion on the following declarations from Al-Qur’an and Sunnah:

“If a man kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is hell to abide therein forever; the wrath and curse of God are upon him, and a dreadful penalty is prepared for him.” (Surah 4:93)

“He who is killed under the banner of a man who is blind (to the cause for which he is fighting), who gets flared up with family pride and fights for his tribe – is not from my Ummah. And whosoever attacks my followers (indiscriminately), killing the righteous and the wicked among them, sparing not even those who are staunch in faith, and fulfilling not his promise made with those who have been given a pledge of security – he has nothing to do with me, and I have nothing to do with him.” (Sahih Muslim Vol 3. Kitab al-Jihad #4555)

To the non-Muslim warmongers (on the ground, and in high places), who are celebrating the demise of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi right now – be assured that your day will also come, when you too will have to answer, to THE MOST JUST of judges, for the innocent blood on your hands.

El-Hajj Mauri’ Saalakhan
Director of Operations
The Peace And Justice Foundation

Is Forcing Children to Engage in Religious Ritual Education or a Mockery?

Saturday, June 17th, 2006

In the past there have been numerous false allegations of government schools forcing children to play-act at being Muslims under the cover of teaching world culture or religion. These allegations have usually been blatantly false. An amicus brief filed by the CALIFORNIA SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION and NATIONAL SCHOOL BOARDS ASSOCIATION suggests that the case of US 9th Circuit re Byron, Calif School Unit on Islam may be different. Although the circuit court ruling is unpublished, by overturning the lower court, it appears as if the circuit court may be saying that forcing non-Muslim students to imitate Muslim ritual is not a violation of the students’ (or at least the parents’) freedom of religion is because the students are only play-acting a fantasy. In other words, the religious innocuousness of the act is predicated on the presumed REJECTION of the act’s religious significance. This is not Muslims imposing their will on Christians, it is secularists making a mockery of religious ritual per se.

If I am correct, then it seems to me that the plaintiffs doomed their own case by erroneously presenting it as a matter of the school imposing Islam on the students. The school, which rejects all religion, is not exalting Islam above Christianity but demeaning both. Had the plaintiffs used that approach they might have won. Instead they asked the court to address a narrow question: Was the school trying to turn the students into Muslims? It is no surprise that the court answered no. To the degree that that the government school system has any religious purpose it is to secularize the students.

Perhaps now some Muslim group should sue the school using the correct argument. If not, then maybe some Hindu group will sue the schools when they start forcing Muslim children to insincerely profess their adoration of Krishna.

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


Who is Ultimately Responsible?

Thursday, June 15th, 2006

The recent news of three deaths in Guantanamo has once again drawn attention to the prison facility and its role in the ‘War on Terror.’ A number of articles published in several different newspapers explore from different angles the causes and effects of these deaths. Ultimately, they raise the questions: what caused the death of these men and who is responsible?

In an article in the Washington Post (Family of Guantanamo Detainee Doubts He Took His Own Life), the family of one of the deceased Saudi detainees questions the likelihood of their son committing suicide. The family doubts the US military’s claim that he committed suicide, suggesting he was beaten to death. His sister gives no credence to the suicide allegations protesting, “He had memorized the Koran by heart. He was a strong believer. How could he take his own life and spend eternity in hell?”

The family is now insisting on an independent autopsy to determine the cause of death. In the absence of a full, independent, and transparent autopsy, it is understandable that family members would question whether the man really did commit suicide or if he was murdered.

As a former detainee describes in a New York Times op-ed piece (Detainees in Despair), it is possible that the despair and hopelessness is so strong in Guantanamo that even the most devout may lose hope in this life. Mourad Benchellali, a French national, describes how he ended up in Guantanamo and what he experienced there. He describes the military’s manipulation of hope as just another tactic to get the detainees to break. Although he admits that some of the detainees were filled with hatred, he writes, “the huge majority of the faces I remember—the ones that haunt my nights—are of desperation, suffering, incomprehension turned into silent madness.”

Whether the three men died due to suicide or foul play, the United States’ military must take responsibility for creating an environment in which prisoners are mistreated and manipulated into deep despair. However, the immediate response from the military is disheartening. As described in an op-ed piece in the Washington Post (A Prison We Need to Escape), the military’s claim that the suicide was “asymmetric warfare” and “a good PR move” underscores the underlying problems of Guantanamo. David Ignatius argues that both the prisoners and the United States military personnel are dehumanized when justice is prevented. He calls this the “Guantanamo syndrome” and calls on the America to remember: “The prisoners aren’t all the same, except in one sense: They are human beings and, as such, they have basic human rights.”

An article in the Chicago Tribune (Detainees’ Lawyers Hit Notification Delay) explores the rights of the detainees and why it took the military three days to inform the detainees’ lawyers of their deaths. As the article indicates, the difficulty in identifying lawyers and detainees “is an indication of the Department of Defense’s inability to know exactly who is at Guantanamo.” The article, again, highlights the lack of justice which sends Guantanamo detainees into a tailspin of despair.

To answer the questions posed at the beginning, the men died in custody of the U.S. military and, therefore, it must be held responsible in some way. Whether the men were murdered, as the family of one of the men suggests, or committed suicide, as the military claims, the United States has created an environment in Guantanamo where there is no accountability or justice—a situation that leads to torture, mistreatment and eventually death. The only reasonable solution is for the United States military to answer Mourad Benchellali’s plea, “Judge us for whatever we’ve done!”

Sarah Swick

Smart Bargaining: the New Approach to Iran and Somalia

Wednesday, June 7th, 2006

The United States has signaled a significant shift in its approach to relations with Muslim countries with which it has had hostile relations. After decades of shunning Iran, the government seems to have realized that the recent approach towards a potential Iranian nuclear weapons program has led nowhere positive. This has prompted the Bush administration to join with European allies to offer a concession. Under the diplomatic package recently delivered to Iran, the Islamic Republic is offered the prospect of enriching uranium on its own soil for its peaceful nuclear energy program. Any negotiations expert will tell you that the way to get what you want from a negotiating partner is to make it clear to your partner how cooperating with you will get them what they want. History is replete with examples of the superiority of this approach over bullying.

Nor is this development unique to relations with Iran. In the case of Somalia as well, there is a detectable shift in strategy. Hitherto the American administration had supported Somali warlords in the hope of thus preventing Islamists from coming into power. That embarrassing and dubious strategy was dealt a crushing defeat with the fall of Mogidishu. Someone in authority seems to have realized that reaching out to the opposition may be a more promising tactic than driving them into the arms of al-Qaida.

In principle these shifts are promising and long overdue. The big question is whether the administration can effectively implement the apparent new policy. The many obstacles include a poor understanding of the negotiating partners, a history that undermines credibility of commitment to the new approach and a susceptibility of American policymakers to the influence of powerful lobbyists who do not have the American national interest at heart. Nonetheless, this approach can be successful if we adopt a few simple ground rules: to be firm in our commitment to our national interest; to be uncompromising in our commitment to justice; to abandon hypocrisy in how we deal with foreign nations; to be respectful in our dealings with others; to seriously struggle to understand the grievances and sensitivities of those with whom we negotiate; and to openly state what our interests are.

With regard to the issue of weapons of mass destruction, it will be necessary sooner or later to accept the fact that we have more of them than anybody and that the facts that we (a) have used them before, and (b) refuse to state that we will not use them first against others, pose a serious problem to preventing the spread of nuclear weapons. An announcement that we are beginning an initiative not simply to stop nuclear proliferation, but to cut it back, bringing nuclear powers who have refused to sign the non-proliferation treaty into the fold would help. Starting with a unilateral program to reduce our own weapons to the point where we have only enough to destroy the rest of the world once rather than many times over could bring about the necessary sea change.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad

Bridging the Divide?

Saturday, June 3rd, 2006

The Role of the American Muslim Community in U.S. Relations with the Wider Islamic World

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad

Minaret of Freedom Institute

[published in the April 2006 issue of the Muslim Public Affairs Journal]

What is the role that Muslims can and should play in America’s relations with the broader Muslim world? This is a question of such supreme importance and urgency. It is of supreme importance to both America’s legitimate interests and to the welfare of the Muslim world. It is of double importance to American Muslims who have a stake both as Americans and as Muslims. Yet, it is a question that could be asked not only by American patriots and Muslim devotees, but by special interest who groups who have neither the legitimate interests of America nor the welfare of Muslims at heart, but who have narrower or foreign objectives, whether it be their own financial or political status, the fulfillment of a vision of America as the new Rome, or the interests of some foreign country.

These latter groups will want to know how American Muslims might be pressed into service in “selling” unpopular and unsuccessful American policies to their co-religionists abroad. I shall have no advice for those groups. I do not share their goals, and know objectives are, if not outright unattainable, certainly unsustainable. I do have some ideas on how the ideas and the civic potential of Muslims may be of benefit to American patriots who wish to see our country safe from terrorist threats, the American public safe from the demise of their civil liberties, and an end to the dissipation of their wealth in the service of destructive wars and authoritarian or apartheid regimes abroad. For them Muslims may offer succor and support in the fight to prevent this great republic from following the historical cycle into self-destructive empire.

In this talk I shall try to address the following questions: What do American Muslims have to offer in addressing the challenge of “bridging the divide?” What would Muslims have the government do? What can the Muslims do themselves to overcome the obstacles?

What do American Muslims have to offer in addressing the challenge of “bridging the divide?”

American Muslims offer an opportunity to demystify the “Otherness” between the Muslim world and Americans. As Americans can recognize in American Muslims fellow Americans, so Muslims abroad can recognize themselves in American Muslims. The opportunity to meet American Muslims, especially in situations in which they are representing American institutions, goes a long way towards bridging a gap. This is especially true if the American Muslims are both assimilated into American culture and yet faithfully observant of their religion. Personal acquaintance with such people would alleviate the impression that American culture is inherently destructive of Islamic practice. The decision of American institutions to employ religious Muslims in such encounters would help to remove the impression that American institutions actively seek to suppress the religion of Islam.

American Muslims can complement interest groups whose agendas are incompatible with theirs. A one-sided perspective of events beyond our borders is dangerously misleading to policymakers. It is better to have acccess to all American perspectives to give a broader understanding of how foreigners may perceive American policy decisions. Reliance solely on non-Muslims observers of the Muslims world can be very dangerous, especially since non-Muslim observers may have their own agendas, not necessarily those that advance American interests.

American Muslims can be a sensitive early warning system against serious threats. American Muslims, more than any other segment of the American population, can be aware of developments that seem irrelevant or innocuous, but might in time become threatening.

The perspective of American Muslims can help to avoid costly policy errors caused by misreading the Muslims public. For example, most knowledgeable American Muslims, had they been asked, could have told US-AID that providing assistance to Fatah in the hopes that it would allow them to compete more effectively with HAMAS as a social service provider would backfire since Fatah’s greatest weakness was its corruption. Just as Americans would be offended by large foreign grants to benefit American political campaigns, this incident only confirmed Palestinians’ perceptions of Fatah corruption.

American Muslims can be an indispensable part of the vanguard of people-to-people exchanges of the sort proposed by Mohammed Khatemi, but impeded rather than exploited by the American government. When Khatemi was elected president of Iran, he called for direct intellectual, artistic, civil and cultural exchanges between the peoples of Iran and America. Rather than facilitate such exchanges, the administration has stalled them by forcing Iranian visitors to undergo humiliating border procedures and discouraging American from visiting Iran. The refusals to admit Cat Stevens and Tariq Ramadan have been propaganda disasters. Further, the fact that the real source of resistance to Tariq Ramadan’s admittance is based on his views on Israel has been transparent to the Muslim world.

What would Muslims have the government do?

The government must immediately end its persecution of Muslims such as Sami al-Arian and the hundreds of “disappeared,” etc. I was greatly encouraged by the statement by Assistant Secretary of State for Middle Eastern Affairs’ comment that America does not want to see people silenced by imprisonment or exile. I was disappointed, however, that his response to my request that this policy be reflected in the release of Dr. Sami Al-Arian from prison and the abandonment of threats to deport him met with the suggestion that the Justice Department’s actions are outside the scope of the State Dept. When the Justice Department’s actions make a mockery of State Department policy, it is not inappropriate for the State Department to let the President know this. But in any case Dr. Al-Arian is not an American citizen having had his application for citizenship stalled because of the smear campaign against him. This most certainly is in the scope of the State Department, and failure to act sends a very powerful and negative message to the Muslim world. The State Department and the think tanks concerned with these issues should echo my advice to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:

The efforts to advance democracy and liberty in the Muslim world confront many challenges, but few are as seriously obstructive as abuses of power to persecute politically active Muslims innocent of any wrongdoing, an activity that subjects Western notions of rule of law to the charge of hypocrisy. The prosecution of Sami Al-Arian has been Exhibit A, but the outcome of his recent trial gives the current Attorney General an opportunity to control the damage which his predecessor’s decision to prosecute the case has wrought.

Since the propaganda campaign against Dr. Al-Arian kicked off by Stephen Emerson in 1994, and subsequently perpetuated by certain newspapers and politically motivated actors, no evidence has been produced that proves his involvement in any illegal activity. Not only has a jury acquitted him of eight of the seventeen charges against him, but also the jury deadlocked on the remaining charges because all but two of the jurors wished to acquit him on ALL charges. A retrial would aggravate a bad situation and further misuse tax money. Dr. Al-Arian’s continued imprisonment has all the appearance of harassment.

It was a tragic mistake for the Justice Department to allow itself to be used against Dr. Al-Arian in this manner, yet the Bush administration can now minimize the damage to American credibility by dropping the charges against Dr. Al-Arian or at least releasing him while making a decision on what to do next. This opportunity to show that the American system of justice works in the end must not be passed up. To try Dr. Al-Arian again or to deport him would paint an unflattering enough picture of American justice. To incarcerate him under these circumstances politicizes the American legal process to the embarrassment of our history and tradition.

Dropping the charges against Dr. Al-Arian and releasing him would allow the Justice Dept. to redirect resources and prosecutorial power to the incarceration of criminals and real terrorists (whatever religion they happen to be) who threaten America’s interests, an objective fully supported by all Americans including the Muslim American community.

The people who have been detained without so much as an admission that they have been detained, like the notorious “disappeared” of the fascist regimes of South America also provoke a climate of fear and distrust that impedes the potential engagement of Muslims in a constructive process.

America must return to its traditional stance in support of civil liberties, an unconditional opposition to torture as a matter of policy, and a commitment to rule of law—as in no wiretaps without a court order—of the same kind and degree as it suggests that it would like to see established elsewhere.

Ultimately, American foreign policy itself needs to be changed. Certainly American support of the dictators are the primary targets of the Muslim violence, compared to whom al-Qaida and others consider America to be “The Far Enemy” as discussed in Fawaz A. Gerges‘s new book by that title.[1] To turn around and overthrow Saddam Hussein after first endorsing him and his war of aggression against Iran, not to mention his use of chemical weapons provided by America against the religious dissidents in his country because he abused the weapons buildup we encouraged because he poses a threat to our allies cannot be convincingly billed as an example of our commitment to democracy, especially when the regime we have installed in its place seems, like the revolutionary animals of Orwell’s Animal Farm to be looking more reminiscent of their predecessors with each passing day.

The elephant in the room is America’s unbalanced support of Israel. It is certainly true that support of Israel isn’t the only problematic aspect of American foreign policy perceived by the Muslim world, but it is the largest problem and anyone who denies it is either ignorant, deluded, or disingenuous. If America wants to get knowledgeable and effective Muslim-Americans involved in and behind its attempts to broker a meaningful peace that will assure both Israel’s existence and the rights of Palestinians, it must abandon the position now in place that the Palestinian’s right of return, guaranteed by International Law, and which no Palestinian government or representative has the right to negotiate away, is somehow “unrealistic.” If it was unrealistic to expect the Jewish people to abandon their claim to the land called Palestine and Israel after 2,000 years, by what perverse standard can one think the Palestinians shall abandon their claims to it after less than sixty years?

What can the Muslims do to overcome the obstacles?

Muslims must become engaged in American civil society at all levels. Those Americans who have been least prone to blame all Muslims (or the religion of Islam itself) for the attacks of Sept. 11 have been those who have personal acquaintance with Muslims, especially in a civic setting. Such contacts are important at all levels from the local and state through the federal and international.

Muslims must avoid duplicity. Muslims do not serve their interests well by saying one thing to other Muslims and something else to the non-Muslim society around them. Why pretend that Islam is a pacifist religion when speaking to non-Muslims while calling for a holy struggle in the defense of Kashmir or Palestine when speaking to Muslims? The truth is that Islam is neither a religion of pacifism nor of aggression, but of justice. Saying this will elicit respect from most Americans, while a forked tongue elicits nothing but well-deserved contempt. A consistent, firm, and at the same time civil insistence on justice is the most important single thing that Ameriocan Muslims have to offer to public diplomacy.

Muslims must actively oppose terrorism and bigotry. They should not only assist in the discovery and suppression of anti-American terroism, but they must denounce on the spot any bigotry of the sort that may evoke such violence, incluidng Muslim bigotry against Jews and Christians or Westerners in general. If a Muslim hears another Muslim say, “all Jews are enemies of the Palestinians” they should be quick to correct the record with names of Noam Chomsky, Rabbi Dovid Israel, and the late Rachel Corrie, who gave her life trying to protect Palestinian property from an Israeli bulldozer. If they hear someone say “All Christians are going to Hell,” they should quote the Qur’an: “Those who believe (in the Qur’an) and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures) and the Christians and the Sabians and who believe in God and the last day and work righteousness shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve.” (2:62)

Muslims must actively promote common values of America and Islam as such in their schools and in communications with their friends, relatives, and colleagues in the Muslim world. In an article for Intercultural Management Quarterly, I noted that although these common values are labeled with misleadingly different names in the two cultures, at root they are universal values. For example, the word “individualism” is detested by many Muslims as representing an extreme form of rejection of Islam’s concern for social justice. Yet the “archetypical American individualist is Henry David Thoreau, a man of intense spirituality, simple tastes, and an uncompromising concern for rights of all men. Like Thoreau’s transcendentalism, the Islamic concept of tawhîd, that none is worthy of worship except God, can be seen as individualistic when viewed in the same spiritual, modest, and egalitarian context. That is, that each human is directly responsible to the Almighty, a fundamentally individualistic perspective.”[2]

Muslims must form alliances with the many American religious and advocacy groups with harmonious objectives. We must support those Muslim institutions that advance an agenda that is pro-American without abandoning Muslim community’s core issues. We must initiate, participate in, and promote, people-to-people contact between Americans, including both Muslims and non-Muslims, and Muslims from abroad. Examples would include sponsoring exchange students (in both directions) and sponsoring and arranging visits to civic organizations, cultural exchanges, and interfaith dialog.

The government would be well advised to include Muslim Americans as consultants and participants in all aspects of its diplomacy with the Muslims world and with those foreign countries with significant Muslim populations.

Conclusions

I strongly believe that the violence with which the world is wracked today, whether it be movement terrorism, state terrorism, or wars of aggression, is largely driven by a conflict, not between civilizations, as Samuel Huntington has argued, but WITHIN civilizations. Within Islam is a conflict between the hirabans (misnamed jihadists) on the one side and moderates on the other. (Hiraba is war against society; jihad is a struggle for any cause good or bad; jihad “in the way of God” is a struggle for a just cause.) Within American society the same conflict is taking place between the neoimperialsits and the liberals (I use the word liberal here in its broad, classical sense). Bridging the divide means letting non-Muslim Americans and non-American Muslims see one another, and their cultures, close up, until they realistically understand their similarities and differences. Among the similarities is that within their own camps both groups must alike contend with power-hunger, with violence that is the inevitable tool of the power hungry, and with the ignorance and bigotry upon which the power-hungry feed. Once they realize this, both groups may attain the wisdom they need to work together against their common enemy.



[1] Fawaz A. Gerges, The Far Enemy: Why Jihad Went Global. (Cambridge Middle East Studies, 2005).

[2] Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, “Common Civilizational Values as Perceived by an American Muslim.” Intercultural Management Quarterly, in press.

Defending or imposing the Veil?

Thursday, June 1st, 2006

In today’s Washington Post an article appears entitled “Saudi Women Rise in Defense of the Veil.” The article chronicles the opinions of several ‘conservative’ Saudi women who are upset with what they see as an erosion of traditional values.

There are a couple positive signs in the article. First, it refutes the stereotype of Muslim veiled women as submissive and weak. The women in the article are successful and outspoken in their various fields. It also shows that women are engaged in the debate on the future of Saudi society and are able to organize to discuss and express their views. However, the article touches upon but does not explore several misconceptions and hypocrisies.

One interview in which the woman strongly criticized the invasion of Western values took place in a food court at a mall– the very symbol of such “Western invasion.” Moreover, the women in the article use the fashion and behavior of women, rather than justice, as the measuring stick of how Islamic the society is.

And, while these women insist that following Islam and wearing the veil is their choice, they would deny other Saudi women from making a different choice. Therefore, I would disagree with one woman’s comment that just because “this” (pointing to her niqab) is closed, doesn’t mean her mind is. In trying to make the point that a woman can be veiled and intellectual, she also shows her own close-mindedness when it comes to others interpreting Islam differently.

One woman commented, “Saudi Arabia is the closest thing to an ideal and pure Islamic nation.” Yet, if this were true, there would be no compulsion in religion, such as men being forced to pray or women forced to veil. Moreover, there would be accountable and transparent governance, people would be able to choose their rulers, and justice would prevail.

The article does make an important point that overt Western interference, such as comments by Secretary Rice and Undersecretary Hughes, on Saudi society will only feed extremist views. Their comments place the issues of women’s rights, democracy, and civil liberties in terms of American and Western values rather than placing them in an Islamic context. It is just another example that we shouldn’t talk about a conflict between civilizations but rather a conflict WITHIN civilizations in which Muslims need to engage fellow Muslims in dialogue and debate.

Sarah Swick