Archive for August, 2006

News and Analysis Updates (8/24/06)

Thursday, August 24th, 2006

Cleansing innocent Iraqi blood:

Suspicious behavior forces plane to turn back: was it a legitimate fear of terrorism or simply passenger profiling?

Lack of publicity for journalist captured in Gaza raises question over American media bias:

Former CIA official discusses the failures of the war on terror, saying, “In the long run, we’re not safer because we’re still operating on the assumption that we’re hated because of our freedoms, when in fact we’re hated because of our actions in the Islamic world.”

Is intelligence on Iran’s nuclear program as bad as intelligence on Iraqi WMDs?

US policy towards Muslim charities is more “black and white” than British views:

Gaza’s economy struggles to make use of old Israeli settlements:

A Meeting with Saudi Women Educators

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Sarah Swick, Minaret of Freedom Institute, www.minaret.org

On Tuesday, I had the opportunity to meet with a group of Saudi women at the Interfaith Conference of Metropolitan Washington. The women are educators in Saudi Arabia and are visiting the U.S. in order to learn more about religion and education in America. During the discussion time, I asked the women how they felt about the Freedom House report on Saudi textbooks teaching hate. The women did not know about the report and said that they did not know of textbooks like those described. They questioned the authenticity, translation, and context of the report. They said that the problem does not come from textbooks but rather a small minority of individual teachers who teach hate—the problem, according to them, is not institutionalized. The women insisted that their open minds were proof that the Saudi educational system does not preach hate.

However, their immediate defensive reaction after I asked the question reveals another problem facing Saudi-American relations. It seemed that they were defensive because to them it seems like Saudi Arabia is constantly being “attacked” by outsiders. They reiterated that Saudi society is different than American society and they questioned why Americans were concerned about Saudi textbooks rather than protesting against hate-preaching by various right-wing figures in America. It was clear from the emotion in their voices that the women are passionate about changing how Americans view Saudi Arabia. Indeed, the women are further proof that our image of Saudi women is not accurate—the women were intelligent, well-spoken (most almost fluent in English) and successful career women. Moreover, the very fact that a group of female Saudi government workers made the trip unaccompanied by male relatives is proof that, perhaps, our image of Saudi society needs “updating.”

News and Analysis Updates (8/23/06)

Wednesday, August 23rd, 2006

Op-ed discusses the many challenges facing Al-Jazeera in its effort to report the news in the Middle East

Saad Eddin Ibrahim describes American led “ cold war on Muslim democrats” as increasingly “the Arab people do not respect the ruling regimes, perceiving them to be autocratic, corrupt and inept.”

Innocent Muslims being kicked off planes, victims of racial profiling:

Residents of Southern Lebanon describe how they are still haunted by the “trappings of war” despite cease-fire

Corruption plagues Karzai regime in Afghanistan

CNN story exposes the continuing danger of unexploded bombs to Lebanese children

Strikes on civilians went beyond “collateral damage”:

Palestinian parliamentarians are just three more to the ten thousand abductees/hostages held by Israel:

Why are converts susceptible to extremism?

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

In today’s Los Angeles Times, an article appears entitled Muslim Converts in Britain Seen as Among Most Extreme. The article describes the handful of around 50,000 British converts who have been accused of acts associated with terrorism. As one person interviewed for the article explained, “A lot of youth … have had a kind of intellectual revolution. And with the world events, they’ve decided to get a fervor in themselves. We call it hamas. This excitement can come to a new convert, or someone who’s turning away from the old, traditional Islam. What we find is that extremists have used this enthusiasm to try and teach them their erroneous ideas. And these individuals, who have a quest for knowledge, and an excitement, they’re susceptible to it.”

I do not disagree with that explanation, but I believe that elaboration is required. Whether in Britain or America, a convert is seen by many “born Muslims” as a validation of their beliefs. And these well-meaning Muslims are curious about why someone would choose to seemingly abandon their previous life and accept Islam. A convert is constantly being held up as an example of Islam’s “victory.” While at first this added attention is nice, it also puts an intense pressure upon a new Muslim. In almost every initial conversation I have upon meeting another Muslim, they ask, “what made you convert?” Or even sometimes, they ask, “how are you Muslim?” This curiosity is well intentioned and innocent, but the consequence of consistently having to answer these questions can be more serious.

Having to constantly explain “one’s journey to Islam” and being held up as an “example,” subconsciously reinforces the notion of a convert’s “otherness.” A convert, then, may feel that they have to prove their “Muslimness” by becoming the “best Muslim” in order to be accepted as “normal.” This may lead to a desire to be more conservative or even extreme in actions and beliefs.

Moreover, in addition to the feeling of “differentness” from the wider Muslim community, a convert also feels alienated and different from the rest of mainstream society. This isolation from within the Muslim community and from broader society, leads to a vulnerability that extremists feed upon.

The article also highlights the positive aspects converts can contribute to the Muslim community. Tim Winter, a convert and popular academic in Britain, explained that there “is the potential for Western converts to inject new intellectual blood into the faith, not only expanding the reach of Islam, but transforming it.” Converts approach Islam usually from a fresh viewpoint without the intense cultural baggage of 2nd-generation immigrant Muslims.

Much like Christian converts of the past, converts to Islam experience a complex evolution in their identity construction. First, there is a “destabilization of the self,” then there are social and personal crises of identity, in which the convert must deal with, among other things, the “relationship between conversion and treason.” And, finally, there is a ‘”re-stabilization of the self.” This process may take years to complete, if ever. And the outcome of the process may be determined by whether converts “emphasize more the process (evolution) or the instant (turning point) of the conversion” and “depending or whether they focus more on the intellectual, emotional, or pragmatic dimensions of conversion.” [1]

This process, like all identity construction, is dynamic and evolving. But what are some ways that other Muslims can positively effect the outcome? One way is for other Muslims to stop asking The Question (“what made you convert?). I’ve been asked so many times that I’m thinking of writing a short pamphlet that I can just simply hand out when asked in order to avoid answering it on almost a daily basis. This might actually be a better idea than I give it credit—expressing on paper one’s “journey” may also help a person deal with some of the complex and sometimes painful issues converts face. It may also serve as a way for friends and family to catch warning signs of possible extremist vulnerability (such as a concentration on political side of conversion).

Another way of preventing extremism among converts is to provide them with varying interpretations and allow them to choose which they find most convincing. For example, since converting, I continue to rely on the opinions of three different Muslim friends. Their views and answers differ which has allowed me to see the flexibility of Islam rather than the rigid interpretations of extremists. These are only a couple of suggestions for a topic that deserves more attention and time.

[1]Leone, Massiomo. Religious Conversion and Identity: the semiotic analysis of texts (NY: Routledge, 2004).

News and Analysis Updates (8/22/06)

Tuesday, August 22nd, 2006

In a new trial of Saddam Hussein, who faces genocide charges, Kurdish survivor testifies about gas attack

Tuesday night PBS airs a Wide Angle about the success of businesses serving pious Muslims in Turkey

Schwarzenegger finally meets with Muslims, but only meets with a token two Muslims and behind closed doors

US and European authorities seek to gather more personal information of airline passengers: how much information will be enough?

Passengers creating their own profiles of a terrorist:

Israel invades Gaza

The takeover by Somali Union of Islamic Courts has created business opportunities in Kenya as refugees pour in, but businessmen also see the stability created by the Islamic Courts as an opportunity for business in Somalia.

News and Analysis Updates (8/21/06)

Monday, August 21st, 2006

Despite being cleared and released by the Bosnian Supreme Court, six Algerian men delivered to American custody and remain imprisoned at Guantanamo:

Charges filed against some the accused in the alleged British terrorism plot

Article exposes the complications facing the government and individuals wishing to reduce extremism among young British Muslims

Are 22 deaths by snipers instead of by suicide or car bombs, really a ‘significant accomplishments’ in Iraq?

Are immigrant Muslim communities less vulnerable to extremist violence in America than in Britain?

News and Analysis Updates (8/20/06)

Sunday, August 20th, 2006

A historical analysis of the spread of civil war paints a bleak picture for the future of the “new Middle East”

Article chronicles life in a divided Baghdad–signs of a impending genocide?

Op-ed gives depth to American-Muslim identity:

Israel detains yet another elected member of the Palestinian Parliament

Former US generals and national security officials demand US Administration begin a strategy of negotiation to solve conflicts rather than waging war

Israel explains what part of “cease fire” it doesn’t understand:

News and Analysis Updates (8/19/06)

Saturday, August 19th, 2006

Marine blames the enemy: “He wanted to make us look bad.” (Guess he succeeded.)

Who are the prisoners that Hizbullah and Hamas want the Israelis to release? Among the former prisoners interviewed in this video is a Christian nonviolent activist who was tortured for 5 days:

News and Analysis Update (8/18/06)

Friday, August 18th, 2006

Judge rules NSA wiretapping program “violated freedom of speech, protections against unreasonable searches and a constitutional check on the power of the presidency

Panel discusses need for balanced reporting of Muslims in America

Muslim man held for 5 years after 9/11 is finally released three years after a magistrate finds his detainment for a deportation hearing was ”a charade’:’

Among a long list of complaints about Musharraf’s regimes, “last month a letter signed by a group of retired generals and government officials, including those who once worked with him, called for ‘the military’s disengagement from political power'”:

The story of one Lebanese family shows “six years is not a long time for the wounds of the 18-year occupation to heal

The UN is having trouble securing peace keeping forces for southern Lebanon

Turkey and Iran shell Kurdish villages in Iraq and are considering “a large-scale military operation across the border”:

Administration wants Americans to pick up another Israeli tab as taxpayers will be expected to pay for cleaning up Israel’s destruction of Lebanon and the continue subsidizing of Israeli bombs:

News and Analysis Updates (8/17/06)

Thursday, August 17th, 2006

Iranian Holocaust cartoon contest “broadened the rules to include any caricature that tests “freedom of expression” but will this include questioning the Iranian regime?

Generation gap is another ingredient in the radicalization of young British Muslims:

Congressional candidate calls for racial profiling, just look for the man who “comes in wearing a turban and his name is Mohammed”

As the dust settles, Hizbullah makes lasting impression across the Middle East

New Converts to Islam describe vulnerability to radical recruitment

Uighur prisoners held in Guantanamo are flown to Albania in an effort to avoid a US court ruling that would have possibly allowed the men, deemed innocent, entrance into the United States:

Another US Marine charged with assaulting Iraqi civilians

Hizbullah and Lebanese government reach a compromise:

Muslims can be as effective as non-Muslims at stereotyping Muslims:

Eric Margolis says the Israelis didn’t learn from history, so they have repeated it: