Archive for July, 2007

Two small notes…

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007
Original Link (with slight modifications): http://religion-culture-dialogue.blogspot.com/2007/07/two-small-notes.html

Hi Everyone,

Just minor points for today’s blog. Tuesday July 17th’s blog was written by me, but due to technical difficulties had to be posted by Kyle. So any credit and notoriety for the post should be directed at me, not Kyle.

Second, while Kyle is on business in Colombia, I’m in Paris right now and on Wednesday the 18th I attended the 5th International Humanities Conference held at the American University in Paris campus. I gave a presentation on principles and strategies for foreign policies toward the Muslim world. The presentation is based on a paper co-written with Shajeda Dewan, an MSc student in London, studying cultural psychology.

Below is the abstract and the introduction to the paper. Enjoy!

– Alejandro

Guiding Principles for Foreign Policies and State Security Services: Contributions from Interdisciplinary Theoretical Frameworks towards International Strategies in the War against Global Terrorism

By Shajeda Dewan* and Alejandro J. Beutel **

Abstract: In the U.S and Britain, Security concerns are increasingly paramount since the 9/11 and 7/7 bombings. Public concern has now been heightened by the MI5 Security Service in relation to International Terrorist Threats to the UK during a significant Public Speech made on 9th November 2006. This paper addresses these concerns. The paper follows on from an earlier paper: “Islam and Jihad: The Associations with Violence and Martyrdom, History and Contributory Factors to Global Terrorism”. Preliminary findings of the first paper identified and demonstrated processes that are potential yet significant contributory factors to Global violence and Terrorism; considered through an analysis of inter-related theories. The paper also identified key areas that needed consideration in relation to future foreign policies and state policies for its Citizens. This paper exemplifies the significance of the findings of the first paper in relation to proposals for Strategic Political Directions, in areas of Foreign Policy, Education and Social Policy, with particular relevance for current state security strategies in the west, in addition to other concerns that the MI5 have raised. The paper discusses and recommends directions to be considered by the Governments in the West and East with significant Muslim Populations from an application of Cultural Psychology, Anthropology and Islamic Rationalism. It asserts that Western Governments have a significant role in achieving global peace, reducing terrorism through supporting initiatives that address the significance of the findings and proposals within the paper, which are identified as enduring, effective and sustainable measures for the war against terrorism.

Introduction

The scourge of religious-inspired political violence has been documented for at least two thousand of years, making organized faith the most common justification for terrorism before the 19th century. However this increased interdependence is also characterized by asymmetry and the rise of religious motifs in politics across all faiths, including Islam. [i] Terrorism and violent interpretations of religion has touched every single major spiritual tradition including Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, etc. In the past twenty years, distorted interpretations of religious traditions have reemerged as the dominant ideological vehicle to justify some of the most horrendous global violence, including the notorious attacks against the Trade Towers and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. [ii] Although all peoples and all religions have suffered, and continue to suffer, from religious terrorism, it is undeniably painful to admit that there is a prevalence of terrorist acts committed in the name of Islam. Such acts are perpetrated by Puritans [iii] who represent a significant departure from the moral intellectual traditions of Islam.

In this paper a central premise to the arguments we lay forth is that issues of religious authority and religious freedom in Muslim-majority societies are extremely important because it has significant strategic implications for countries, like the United States and Great Britain, that are trying to catalyze political and social reforms in Muslim-majority societies. Our work builds off of an earlier paper entitled, “Islam and Jihad: The Associations with Violence and Martyrdom, History and Contributory Factors to Global Terrorism” which put forth some preliminary interdisciplinary observations and recommendations on developing policy frameworks for Western nations to assist reforming religious education and discourse in Muslim-majority societies.

* Shajeda Dewan is a Professional Social Worker in the Children and Families Division, for the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, and currently a MSc student at University College London at the centre for Behavioural and Social Sciences in Medicine, Department of Psychiatry and Anthropology.
** Alejandro J. Beutel is a Program Assistant at the Minaret of Freedom Institute, a Muslim-run think tank which seeks to educate Muslims on the importance of liberty and free markets to a good society, while also educating non-Muslims in the West about the beliefs and contributions of Islam. Alejandro has a B.S. in International Relations and Diplomacy from Seton Hall University. His research interests are international religious freedom, democratization, Islamic studies and security studies.

[i] Giandomenico Picco, “A New International System?” The Whitehead Journal of Diplomacy and International Relations, Vol. 6, No. 2, (Summer/Fall 2005), http://diplomacy.shu.edu/academics/journal/resources/journal_dip_pdfs/journal_of_diplomacy_vol6_no2/04-picco__10_4_05.pdf, P. 29-36.
[ii] Mark Burgess, “Explaining Religious Terrorism Part 1: The Axis of Good and Evil.” Center for Defense Information, (May 20, 2004), http://www.cdi.org/program/issue/document.cfm?DocumentID=2224&IssueID=138&StartRow=1&ListRows=10&appendURL=&Orderby=DateLastUpdated&ProgramID=39&issueID=138.
[iii] Muslim Puritanism is defined as, a socially authoritarian, anti-rationalist, and selectively literalist approach to interpreting the Qur’an, with a heavy emphasis on selective, literal and uncritical interpretations of hadith to formulate religious jurisprudence and an ahistorical approach to the Islamic jurisprudential traditions that deriving rulings directly from the primary texts without referring to past scholars, save a few very conservative orthodox scholars. In addition, Muslim Puritans make the bold claim that they are the only path to understanding Islam.

Full diplomatic engagement with all Palestinian parties needed for peace

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Original link (with slight modifications): http://religion-culture-dialogue.blogspot.com/2007/07/full-diplomatic-engagement-will-all.html

I was browsing through today’s Christian Science Monitor several days ago and found articles that I thought complimented each other rather nicely.

The first was an article on Israel’s latest bid to boost Fatah in the West Bank and counterbalance Hamas in the Gaza Strip is Israel PM Olmert’s offer to grant amnesty to 178 Fatah militants (in addition to freeing 250 prisoners from Israeli jails) and an op-ed piece by two Middle East academics, Richard Augustus Norton and Sara Roy, who argue that any peace agreement forged between the Palestinians and Israelis must include Hamas.

I will state upfront that I completely agree with Norton and Roy’s op-ed. I support a peace effort that involves both major parties being involved in the negotations process – a full (emphasis on the full) diplomatic engagement with the major parties. Trying to support Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah faction, which is weak and fractured, while ignoring Hamas is indeed a recipe for disaster. While Olmert’s proposals seem like a step in the right direction they are merely a drop in the bucket. According to various human rights and news agencies, there are over at least some 10,750 Palestinians currently sitting in Israeli jails, including almost 400 juveniles.

Of course this is assuming that they are aimed at confidence building, which if put into context may not be the case. This comes as the Israeli government reversed an earlier idea to remove some of its roadblocks that have cantonized the West and has offered a series of financial and military incentives that are clearly designed to destroy Hamas. A divided Palestinian government is surely not in the interests of the Israelis, by casting doubt on the peace process and “calls into question the ability of Hamas’s political leadership, enhanced by the recent agreement brokered by Saudi Arabia in Makkah for the formation of a national unity government, to assert its authority on its military wing.” After all, no organization, including Hamas is a monolith.

This is not to say that I support Hamas’ past and present attacks against Israeli civilians. In case any Islamophobes seek to use this post against me, let me state for the record that I strongly and unequivocally condemn attacks against any non-combatants, against either Israelis or Palestinians. Terrorism is immoral and is not justifiable nor supported by any fundamental teachings of any faith. In fact it is because I am so strongly opposed to terrorism that I believe that Hamas, through a new Palestinian unity government, should be politically engaged. If the claims of Mark Perry, a former Clinton national security aide, are true, then speaking to Hamas can have the effect of mitigating terrorism (PDF, P. 30-35) altogether and making a lasting solution much easier. Hamas is not inflexible. Unlike Al-Qaeda, Hamas’ political visions are not absolutist, rather they very ethno-nationalist, in spite of the occasional “Islamic” referencing. In addition to the alleged success of Mr. Perry, the democratic process has also had a pragmatic effect on the organization, as it dropped its call for Israel’s destruction from its charter and has expressed a willingness to recognize Israel if the Israeli army withdrew to the 1967 borders. (For more on the inconsistencies behind the rationales of not talking to Hamas, see Israeli peace activist Ran HaCohen’s article here.)

 

Nor is it necessarily in the broader regional interests of the United States that seeks to promote in the area. The complete undermining of Hamas electoral victory and refusal to heed the advice of seasoned diplomats: “Work with Hamas and foster a pragmatic dialogue with Israel” (as Norton and Roy put it) is having a ripple effect. Alastair Crooke, a former British intelligence operative and Islamist politics expert, notes:

 

The problem for Hamas is that its constituency – the rank and file – and the wider Islamist movement have now embarked on a period of introspection. What is apparent – and this can be ascertained on any number of Islamist websites – is that the mainstream Islamist strategy of pursuing an electoral path to reform is now being questioned. This will have an impact well beyond Palestine – most obviously in Egypt and Jordan. Three events have triggered this reassessment: the sanctions imposed on the Hamas government; last summer’s US-backed war to destroy Hizbullah in Lebanon; and the repression of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which raises not a peep of protest from Europeans. Continued Western hostility towards all Islamists, however moderate their policies, has also frustrated the grass-roots.

 

 

If all regional parties want to get serious about peace then they have to get serious about engaging with Hamas. Issues of national interest, democratization and long-term peace and stability are stake if all involved parties continue to “stay the course.”

News and Analysis (7/31/07)

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

Musharraf government officials dismayed that military financial aid to regime may no longer be unconditional:

Iraq’s Parliament fails to pass any crucial legislation or resolve constitutional crisis before going into recess, leaving Bush with few signs of political progress to tout in Washington:

A look at “In the Name of God” a Pakistani film that explores issues of increased religious fanaticism and militancy in its society:

Death of elderly Council of Guardians member Ayatollah Meskini sets up competition to fill the vacancy between pragmatist Hashemi Rafsanjani and hardliner Mesbah Yazdi:

While Middle East History Professor Howard Eissenstat sees the AKP’s performance in Turkey’s latest elections as a victory for democracy and economic reform, not theocracy, Foreign Policy Analyst Ben Judah goes so far as to declare the election results a sign that “the army has been more or less removed from politics”:

News and Analysis (7/30/07)

Monday, July 30th, 2007

Middle East expert Juan Cole provides latest news roundup of Iraq, including the country’s dire humanitarian crisis, latest incidents of violence, Iraqi’s perceptions of the endurance of US military bases, and analysis of tensions and military maneuvers along Turkish-Iraqi Kurd border:

Analysis from different scholars find a Cold War analogy between US and Iran holds little weight:

Continuing its campaign to demonstrate its commitment to establishing law and order in the Gaza Strip, Hamas closes down tunnels used for smuggling weapons and other contraband:

Statist control of wheat supply and corruption leads to exorbitant prices, punishing those meant to be helped by government subsidies:

Christian Science Monitor editorial argues that pushing Pakistan towards the rule of law and democracy, not further support for Musharaff’s authoritarianism, is key to defeating Al-Qaida supporters in Pakistan:

Taliban-sympathetic militants occupy shrine of Pakistani nationalist Sufi hero and seek to set up a “new Lal Masjid”:

News and Analysis (7/28-29/07)

Sunday, July 29th, 2007

“We think it’s crucial that the Muslim world realize that there are evangelical Christians in the U.S. in large numbers that want a fair solution.” – Ronald J. Sider, president of Evangelicals for Social Action

Chairman of the North American Fiqh Council, Muzammil Siddiqui, opines on Jihad, religious freedom and apostasy, and women’s rights in Islam:

Former PM Benazir Bhutto discusses possibility of power sharing agreement with Musharraf, but only if the president can be a civilian president by removing himself from the position of Chief of Army Staff:

Desperate to contain growing Iranian influence, US prepares $20 billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia, assuages Israelis fears of more robust Arab military strength by promising them more military aid too:

Iraq momentarily unites itself beyond sectarian violence after its victory in the Asian Cup over Saudi Arabia:

News and Analysis (7/27/07)

Friday, July 27th, 2007

Gonzales’ testimony over “no disputes” about Big Brother NSA wiretapping program is contradicted by FBI chief Mueller:

Suicide bombers attack neighborhood considered “safe” where Sunni and Shi’a Iraqis could live and spend time without fear of violence and sectarianism:

After radical students retake Lal Masjid, a suicide bomber attacks a nearby market, killing at least 200 people:

Innocent until proven guilty: Australia drops charges against Indian Muslim doctor after insufficient evidence to prove support for recent terror operations in Britain:

American officials voice frustration of heavy Saudi presence among foreign Sunni militants in Iraq and willingness to pursue its own regional agenda rather than give rubber stamp approval of US strategy:

Majda al-Bahr breaks important employment barriers and social taboos by supporting her five children as Jerusalem’s only female Muslim taxi cab driver:

DHS Roundtable on Security and Liberty: Perspectives of Young Leaders Post 9-11

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

On July 24 and 25, I, along with over 40 Arab, Sikh, South Asian and Muslim youth leaders attended a roundtable discussion on security and liberty in the United States. The event was held co-sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties and the George Washington University Homeland Security Policy Institute (HSPI).

The purpose of the event was to create a dialogue between grassroots youth leaders and government officials. The event began on the 24th with introductions and icebreakers between the speakers and the attendees present. The event then moved into its first panel discussing how well “integrated” Arab, Sikh, South Asian and Muslim youth were and if there were any radicalization trends present within any of these respective communities.

Following that, we had a working lunch where we sat and ate while watching “Twelve Angry Men” and then held a discussion afterwards about issues of the rule of law and the notion of innocence before being proven guilty. The discussions then shifted to issues of interfaith dialogue and its impact on intra and inter community relations.

Finally we closed out the day with a discussion on whether or not home-grown radicalization and violent extremism is a real possibility in America among the communities represented at the roundtable.

The next day started with a panel of government employees–a Sikh from the FBI, a Muslim working on Capitol Hill and an Arab Christian working in the DHS–and what are the opportunities and challenges for working in the government. After a short break the next panel shifted the discussion directly to issues of civil rights and what can be done to ensure that they are not violated.

A working lunch on campus and classroom life at universities followed, focusing mainly the experiences of Muslim students within their respective Muslim Student Associations and their interactions with other organizations and campus communities.

The last two panel sessions were on the role of the media and levels of engagement between the U.S. government and local Arab, Sikh, South Asian and Muslim communities. The first panel included Al-Jazeera correspondent and commentator Riz Khan, Islamica Magazine editor Al-Husein Madhany and AltMuslim.com columnist Zahir Janmohamed. The second panel discussed ways of improving communication between law enforcement and local communities and what kind of messages should be sent.

Finally, the last day ended with a discussion between the attendees and Homeland Security Michael Chertoff.

In hindsight, I saw the conference as a first good step. However, there are some important improvements that need to be made should another forum, like this one, be held again.

First, we were talking to the wrong people. The sponsors, the speakers and the attendees were largely just preaching to the choir. While it is nice to hear and give feedback from the academics at the HSPI and people and the DHS office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties, the people that need to hear it the most are the policymakers and analysts within DHS, FBI and other agencies. They are the ones that set the policies for catching the criminals and protecting our nation’s security. They are also the ones that set policies that affect people’s civil liberties. However, this suggestion did not fall on deaf ears and a second dialogue is scheduled to take place between 10 attendees and a group of DHS policy and intelligence analysts. Neither the specific attendees nor the government analysts have been decided upon yet.

Second, I was disappointed by the overall lack of direct discussion of policies. Throughout the entire roundtable, while we did occasionally touch upon issues such as racial profiling, TSA no-fly lists, etc. the discussions were generally limited to a few token complaints and no discussion of alternative solutions. The most productive discourse, I felt, concerned provocative terminology used by some individuals within the media, government and academia–terms like “jihadi”, “Islamic terrorist”, “Islamic extremist”, “radical Islamist”, etc. Here we felt that stripping away the religious sounding elements of such terminology is useful because they give Al-Qaeda and other like-minded people religious legitimacy that they need. Even so, when pressed on this issue, Secretary Chertoff felt that it would be impossible ignore the religious overtones. He didn’t see the division of labor involved: Leave the so-called religious overtones of Bin Laden’s ideology and rhetoric up to Muslims, and you, the members of the government, handle the violent criminal activity.

In spite of these two very serious drawbacks, the roundtable was also a positive experience by giving myself and others the opportunity to learn more about the government, discuss these issues more in depth with other members of the government and academia in person and provide an opportunity for further dialogue and discussion with the halls of power in the future.

News and Analysis (7/26/07)

Thursday, July 26th, 2007

Reagan-era appointees speak out against torture, denouncing it as immoral and against national interests:

Five years after its peace plan was rejected by the opposite side, Arab League extend an olive branch to Israel–yet again:

After latest electoral victory the Islamic-oriented AKP and PM Tayyip Erdogan renew their support for Abdullah Gul’s presidential bid:

“You can’t say, on the one hand, ‘We invite you to work, come over,’ and on the other hand say, ‘Yes, you can pray, but only in courtyards, basements, in the shadow of society’… The Muslim communities want to integrate. They don’t want to live in the shadow anymore.” – Klaus Endter, Ecumenical Specialist for Hessen’s Protestant Church

As Britain’s Home Office expands the number of alleged terror suspects, Big Brother tries to extend its hand further by doubling the amount of time someone can be held without being charged:

Bush can quash the Iraq Study Group report, but he can’t ignore GAO’s own document in September:

News and Analysis (7/25/07)

Wednesday, July 25th, 2007

High stakes for the American Muslim community are involved as over 300 organizations and individuals are mentioned as “unindicted co-conspirators” as the Holy Land Foundation trial is finally set to begin after getting shut down more than seven years ago:

Iraqi Sunni bloc suspends government membership for a week and threatens to quit unless its demands for “pardon for security detainees not charged with specific crimes, a firm commitment by the government to human rights, the disbanding of militias and the inclusion of all parties in the government in dealing with the country’s security situation” are met:

Editorial from the Christian Science Monitor argues that the AKP has a new opportunity to move Turkey towards “a new era of religious tolerance” but open debates on mosque-state relations must also occur:

Major survey across Muslim World finds that support for suicide bombing has dropped sharply in 2002, but it is still high in areas of conflict such as Palestine:

“The proposal ‘is circumventing the law by paying companies to do something the FBI couldn’t do itself legally… Going around the Fourth Amendment by paying private companies to hoard our phone records is outrageous.’” – Michael German, ACLU National Security Legal Counsel

News and Analysis (7/24/07)

Tuesday, July 24th, 2007
Panel of Muslim Scholars re-affirm military jihad as self-defense and opine that Muslims are free to choose to leave their faith if they want:

While the latest round of US-Iran-Iraq talks continue amid cool relations between Washington and Tehran, a new opinion poll finds huge dissatisfaction with how Bush and Congress are handling the Iraq War, narrow majority supports legislation for withdrawal by the end of next spring:

With the rising threat of local Sunni militants in Lebanon, UN peacekeeping forces look to Hizballah to help protect its forces from car bomb and other sorts of attacks:

Analysts see election results as economic welfare, not issues of religion in the public sphere dominating Turks’ concerns…

…meanwhile while latest Turkish election and AKP victory have helped increase female representation in parliament, overall lack of female parliamentarians across all parties is still a major glass ceiling in Turkey:

Clerics join elders in negotiating with Taliban as villagers March demanding the release of 23 Korean captives.