Archive for the ‘Alejandro’s blog’ Category

Breach of Law, Breach of Security: A Muslim American Analysis of US Counterterrorism Policies

Monday, November 5th, 2007

Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Sarah Swick and I all had the opportunity to present papers at this year’s 36th annual conference held by the Association of Muslim Social Scientists. This year’s conference took place at the University of Maryland. Rather than go into detail about my paper, I’ve provided the abstract to my paper below. Keep checking the Minaret of Freedom Institute’s website (www.minaret.org) for the release of our papers!

– Alejandro

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Breach of Law, Breach of Security: A Muslim American Analysis of US Counterterrorism Policies

By: Alejandro J. Beutel*
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org
Abstract: Since 9/11 debates on terrorism and counterterrorism have been poorly informed. Fear and ideology rather than reason and facts have guided our policymakers’ decisions, creating a dichotomy between liberty and security. As a result, the US government has pursued policies that tend to be illegal, unethical and/or invasive. In this paper I argue that the dichotomy between civil liberties versus national security is unsubstantiated, but that the relationship between the two concepts is highly interdependent.

I argue this point in my paper by beginning with a brief history of terrorism and counterterrorism in the US prior to the September 11th attacks. Following that, I will use four case studies to examine current US counterterrorism policies: torture in interrogations, racial profiling, the NSA domestic surveillance controversy, and the use of FBI National Security Letters. Such policies not only erode civil liberties/human rights, but they also harm national security by obtaining dubious information via unethical means, diverting resources from real threats and eroding the important relations between law enforcement officers and ordinary citizens (particularly American Muslim communities). The paper concludes by offering a set of policy alternatives.

Benazir Bhutto’s Return to Pakistan

Friday, October 19th, 2007

We were recently interviewed by Javier Mendez of Chile’s El Mercurio on Benazir Bhutto’s return to Pakistan. Here are the answers Alejandro Beutel and I gave to his questions.
1) What are the expectation for the return Benazir Bhutto to Pakistan?

Musharraf and his supporters, who are in an embattled position, politically against popular sentiment and opposition activists, are expecting support from Bhutto with the new power sharing deal. Many ordinary Pakistanis are weary over past allegations of corruption, which were also the pretext used by two different military juntas to force her removal from power. Pakistanis appear to be somewhat skeptical of Bhutto’s rhetoric of restoring civilian rule and promoting the rule of law and democracy while making a power sharing deal with the current authoritarian-leaning government. A recent poll by the International Republican Institute showed only 35% of Pakistanis favored Bhutto’s deal with Musharraf.

The U.S. government would not mind the power sharing deal because it could bring at least greater political stability and shore up support within the country against religious extremists.

2) Which role could she play in the domestic political of Pakistan. Could she be a Prime Minister again?

Bhutto professes an interest restoring democracy and civilian rule and fighting the Taliban and religious extremism. It is unclear how effective she could be on any of these. It is also unclear whether or not she will be Prime Minister again. Maintaining popular support in the wake of the power sharing deal will be an obastcle as will unresolved questions over the legality of her corruption amnesty. Finally, there is the possibility certain elements of the military and intelligence, who she strongly opposes in public, will try to undermine her.

3) What are the strengths and weaknesses of Benazir Bhutto?

Her strength is her opposition to Musharraf and self-portrait as the only person able to rescue Pakistan from another failed military junta. Her promises to restore democracy and civilian rule are welcome by the majority of Pakistanis.

Her weaknesses are a history of alleged corruption as well as strong opposition within certain sectors of the military and intelligence. After all, she was deposed on two different occasions by military juntas under the pretext of corruption. Her power sharing deal with Musharraf has also thrown into question her previously stated commitments to civilian rule of law and democracy.

4) Her governments were hounded by charges of mismanagement and corruption… Was she, in any way, responsible for these acts?

This is unclear. Pakistani courts have not proven any of the charges thrown at Bhutto and her husband Asif Ali Zardari. The illegal and undemocratic means by which the juntas took power and leveled charges against her and her husband, suggests that the charges are politically motivated. Nonetheless, there is a significant body of evidence, not just from Pakistan, but also from Poland, Switzerland, the Middle East and France tying them to massive corruption. Mr. Zardari has been popularly labeled “Mister 10%” (a reference to his alleged skimming of government contracts). There is a great deal of irony, if not hypocrisy, when Bhutto levels allegations of corruption against Musharraf and claims to fight cultural “feudalism” in the name of socialist principles. In all fairness, corruption is endemic within the entire political system, especially as military continues its influence in public and private institutions. One must also remember that Pakistan ranks 138 out of 179, Transparency International’s “Corruption Perception Index”.

5) Do you think that Bhutto will continue a position about a modern Muslim nation and a rhetoric on fighting Al Qaeda and The Taliban?

Yes. She will certainly continue that rhetoric because it is in line with party’s ideology. Furthermore, it is in her interests because it appeals both to US and other nations with strong regional interests as well as the majority Pakistanis who are very troubled by growing lawlessness and bloody attacks from the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. It is uncertain whether or not she is truly willing and able to do so because of the above stated reasons.

6) What are the main platforms of her Liberal Party?

Bhutto’s platform is socialist. However she and her right-leaning counterpart Nawaz Sharif have agreed to a series of principles concerning on Pakistan’s political system within a document called the “Charter of Democracy.” In it, independence of the judiciary, restoration of the 1973 Constitution, and reduced military influence in civilian politics are emphasized. Of particular interest in the Charter, which she has also stated in news interviews, is the extension of political representation to tribal regions, which are currently directly run by the federal government. She views tribal regions’ lack of political representation and economic underdevelopment as the core causes of the Taliban’s popularity in those parts of the country. There are also vague references to women’s and minority rights in the document. Despite her advocacy of these issues when in power, she had great difficulty trying to get support for these issues due to entrenched political and culturally conservative interests. These issues will be of less pressing concern to her due to the current political and security climate within Pakistan and its effect on her political clout.

Examining the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood at NORTHCOM

Tuesday, September 4th, 2007

Last week I was invited to Colorado Springs, Colorado to deliver a lecture on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt at the USNORTHCOM headquarters located on Peterson Air Force Base. My lecture was based on an academic paper (PDF) I delivered earlier this year at the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy‘s 8th Annual Conference. The program itself was divided into a 45-minute lecture followed by 45 minutes of questions and answers.

I began the lecture with a broad historical overview of the organization. I noted the shift from a peaceful social welfare organization in the late 1920s to a radicalized and politicized group by the mid 50s and early 60s due mainly to a series of external pressures such as repression by colonial and post-colonial governments and co-optation by Saudi-based Wahhabis and internal weaknesses like divisions within the Brotherhood over ideology and tactics.

However this change from what was originally a liberal, modernist Salafi creed into a radical reactionary ideology started to reverse itself in the late 70s and early 80s with a new influx of activists. The Brotherhood began to evolve back in a more liberal direction. I ended the historical section by pointing out that in the latest parliamentary elections the MB won 88 out of 454 seats (20%) in November 2005.

Using the elections as a transition point I briefly discussed why Egypt is strategically important to the United States, by pointing out that it constitutes 1/3 of the Arab population, has been a political trendsetter in the Middle East and has been a major hub of Islamic intellectualism.

After that, I provided a glimpse of my findings and the framework I used to conduct my research. Being that my paper was more geared towards religious freedom issues, I briefly skimmed through my data and went directly into its analysis. (For those interested in a more thorough examination of the paper, you can read it here. (PDF))

I found that the MB’s reform agenda varies from one issue to another, clear to vague. Generally, the more detailed and consistent the public statements of Brothers, the more conducive their positions are to a liberal democracy, but the more vague and inconsistent the statements, the greater the tendency for some illiberal positions to be espoused.

The reasons for the contradiction and vagueness on certain issues is not due to duplicity, as has been alleged by some, but has to do with the evolving nature of the MB and what are its causes for its ongoing change. They revolve mainly around three variables (PDF): 1) Age–the middle aged reformists like Abdul-Monem Abul-Futuh are more ideologically moderate and flexible than older members like Mahdi Akef; 2) Acting as a religious and political organization–this dual nature forces its members to try to balance religious ideology with political pragmatism; and 3) Pandering to the electorate – the MB must try to act pragmatic while not alienating its religiously conservative party base of support.

However, there are also cases where the MB is explicit about where it stands on certain issues, yet it maintains an illiberal position. This is caused by an authoritarian political structure that politicizes Islam and forces ideological competition between state-controlled religious institutions like Al-Azhar and independent non-government actors like the MB. Rather than engaging in scholarly debates, both sides try to “out-Islam” each other for political popularity and end up driving national religious discourse toward greater social conservatism.

Based on an analysis of 20 State Department public statements between 2005 and March 2007 (that was about a month before the paper was first presented), I pointed out that the US government policy in Egypt has been very inconsistent and very counterproductive. The American government would selectively express support for any secular opposition group that professes a commitment to democratic process and speak out when secular opposition members get tortured and arrested, yet when the same occurs to the MB it is silent.

The presentation ended with the acknowledgment that the MB’s political trajectory is uncertain. On one hand there have been some very disturbing events taking place which could reverse the Brotherhood’s liberalization, such as the most recent amendments to the Egyptian constitution, increasing repression against reformist leaders, and possible control issues over some grassroots youth activists. On the other hand, in spite of these authoritarian measures from the state, the Brotherhood continues to press along with plans to separate its political and religious activities and recently unveiled a new political platform that emphasizes a civil state, not a theocracy. The trajectory of the MB will depend on the actions of the Egyptian state, American foreign policy and the Brotherhood’s own actions while under its current political stress.

The question and answer session was extremely lively, offering a lot of give and take between myself and some of the attendees. The questions centered mostly on the Brotherhood’s democratic intentions vis-à-vis certain ambiguous statements, their relation to violent movements like Gama’a Islamiyya and Al-Qaida and Israel.

In response I reminded my audience that the several analysts paying close attention to the Brotherhood – ranging from secular Egyptian grassroots civil society activists, to US democracy promotion advocates, to conservative foreign policy realists (PDF)–have noted a considerable change in the organization over time. Furthermore, based on their meticulous investigations, as well as research by other experts, they have found little basis for the claim of doublespeak—allegedly putting on a moderate face to international observers while revealing its true radical message to its followers.

In response to the inquiry about its relation to militant organizations such as Al-Qai’da, I pointed out that the so-called jihadis and the Brothers absolutely despise each other. Although it is true that many of the ideologies behind today’s Muslim religious terrorist organizations came directly from the MB, these individuals were kicked out precisely because they were against the group’s more moderate and peaceful ideology. In addition, although some radicals splintered away from the group to form their own violent groups, there have been splits in the other direction, toward even more moderate, yet religious groups such as the Wasat party. The Brotherhood, like the broader Islamist movement is hardly monolithic; moderate and hard-line tendencies exist within the same organization.

Finally there is the question of Israel and the Brotherhood. One panel felt that any engagement with the Brotherhood would be unethical and undermine Israel’s security on the grounds that it espouses “an intolerant hypocrisy” by not recognizing the legitimacy of the Israeli government and showing a willingness to “kill any Israeli on sight.” Although I saw this charge as overblown rhetoric, at the heart of the issue is a legitimate question as to the Brotherhood’s relations with Israel if it ran the country. From a military perspective this is of great concern, potentially adding greater instability to a region with enough problems as is.

However in my analysis I see little reason for Israelis to currently fear the Brotherhood if were to come to power in Egypt. Politically speaking, while members such as Mahdi Akef have made bolds statements vowing to put Egypt’s peace treaty with Israel to test in a national referendum, he has also reportedly said his organization would respect all international treaties, including the peace treaty with Israel. Yet, to focus on Akef would be foolhardy since he is someone viewed by people outside and within his organization as a “doddering, slightly embarrassing old uncle”, who, representing the old conservative wing of the MB, uses “demagogic posturing and populist rhetoric” and is “prone to weird outbursts when you ask him anything having to do with Israel.” A more moderate response is from the up and coming Abdul-Monem Abul-Futuh, who, representing the increasingly influential middle-aged reformist wing, is on record saying—in Arabic—that while the Brotherhood would prefer to accept a secular bi-national state, it is also open to the idea of a two-state solution.

Although trends within the MB exist that acknowledges the reality of Israel’s existence, the strength of these opinions is uncertain. Perhaps the biggest factor safeguarding Israel’s security during a Muslim Brotherhood-run government is the military balance between the two countries. While conservatives like Akef talk tough, it is unlikely that they would back it up with any real action. The military balance is overwhelmingly stacked in Israel’s favor, possessing a significant quantitative and qualitative advantage, conventionally speaking, over Egypt’s forces. (This is does not take into account Israel’s WMD capabilities vis-à-vis Egypt’s non-existent ones.) Furthermore, Egyptian security apparatuses, suffer from a series of bureaucratic and political cultural problems stemming from an authoritarian government that hinders military performance. On the battlefield, hands down the Israeli forces would win. All of this does not even take into account the economic and political ramifications, of which I did not have the time to devote in the program, nor in this blog entry.

In spite of these arguments, not all were convinced, but there were some who were more receptive to my analysis than others. Regardless of the analytical differences with a few, people nonetheless expressed their respect for my work. For my part, I am grateful for the experience to discuss these issues with some of the military’s sharpest minds and to hear their perspectives as well. A special thanks goes out to my friend who invited there and to the intelligent men and women who I had to opportunity to debate and dialogue with that day.

A Glance at the Word “Intifada”

Thursday, August 16th, 2007

by Alejandro Beutel, Minaret of Freedom Institute (minaret.org)

Recently a fellow blogger had given some commentary on our blurb on August 10 citing a news story about an Arab school principal who was forced to resign from her position after coming under scrutiny for wearing a t-shirt that said “Intifada NYC”. This blogger gave his commentary on the story and our blurb of it and proceeded to give an analysis of the word citing a wikipedia article.

While his citation to the Wikipedia article is correct, he missed the wiktionary entry, which validates the Principal’s definition of the word as “a shaking off”.

However, this was not the only part of his analysis that I felt needed further clarification. My main focus is that he also grossly mischaracterized intifada as “violent radical Islamic nationalism”. A little more research would provide better context into the matter.

An intifada is not necessarily violent nor is it “Islamic” per se. In fact the term is quite secular and there are Palestinian Christians, for instance who support the intifada as well as Lebanese Christians who were involved in their own (peaceful) intifada. In fact, along with Hamas and Islamic Jihad, one of the most prominent hardline and violent opponents to Arafat’s agreement to the 1993 Oslo accords was George Habash, a Greek Orthodox Christian, the founder and leader of the militant PFLP.

Nor is the intifada automatically violent either. In fact, the first Palestinian intifada in 1987 was mostly non-violent. Furthermore, there have been calls for a peaceful Palestinian intifada coming from both Muslims and Christians, however they have been undermined by Israel’s occupation, which if not directly attacking peaceful protesters, then agent provocateurs are employed at peaceful demonstrations.

Hopefully this will provide extra insight into the political, (non) religious, historical and etymological significance and meaning of “intifada.”

Defiling our Liberty and our Security: Overview and Analysis of the 2007 Protect America Act

Wednesday, August 8th, 2007

Yesterday, the Associated Press and other news organizations reported that President Bush signed a bill stampeded through the House and Senate that allows warrantless domestic electronic spying, called the 2007 Protect America Act (PAA 2007), by the National Security Agency to take place for up to 6 months.

By itself, this news is frightening, but when one bothers to take a closer look at the law, there are several other eye-popping provisions to worry about. According to the Boston Globe:

  • …the law requires telecommunications companies to make their facilities available for government wiretaps, and it grants them immunity from lawsuits for complying. Under the old program, such companies participated only voluntarily…
  • Second, Bush has said his original surveillance program was restricted to calls and e-mails involving a suspected terrorist, but the new law has no such limit… Instead, it allows executive-branch agencies to conduct oversight-free surveillance of all international calls and e-mails, including those with Americans on the line, with the sole requirement that the intelligence-gathering is ‘directed at a person reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.’ There is no requirement that either caller be a suspected terrorist, spy, or criminal.
  • The law requires the government to delete any American’s private information that it picks up, but it contains an exception allowing agents to maintain files of information about an American that has foreign intelligence value or that may be evidence of a crime.
  • As a check against abuse, the law requires Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Michael McConnell, director of national intelligence, to design procedures for the program and to submit them for review by a secret national security court that normally approves warrant applications for intelligence-related wiretapping on US soil.”

Furthermore, the Baltimore Sun notes:

  • The conversation does not have to be about terrorism, just a matter of foreign intelligence interest.
  • The attorney general and the director of national intelligence have four months to submit to the secret national security court guidelines for determining what surveillance can take place without a warrant. The court then has six months to approve those procedures and cannot reject them unless it finds that the government has made a clear error in drawing them up, a legal standard critics say will make it nearly impossible for the executive branch to be denied. … A little-noticed provision in the new law also suggests that warrantless physical searches of homes and businesses inside the United States may be allowed if the investigation concerns a foreign target of an intelligence investigation, a congressional aide said.

It’s hard to know where to start with what’s wrong with this picture, but my first observation is that clearly there are no provisions for protection against both electronic and physical search and seizure.

Also, the accountability itself is non-existent. Yes, it’s true that calls being picked up by the NSA are supposed to be deleted, but that little provision about maintaining files of information that has “foreign intelligence value or crime” is crucial, especially since foreign intelligence value is a both broad and subjective measure.

In 2002, a USA Today article discussed how Al-Qaeda was successfully able to elude the NSA’s surveillance methods largely because “the typical al-Qaeda intercept is that it lacks specific information, and what information is conveyed can be misinterpreted. A translator who picks up a message from a known al-Qaeda phone in Afghanistan that ‘the wedding party is tomorrow’ may be onto a major terrorist operation — or to an actual marriage. Telling the difference requires an understanding of idiom and inflection.” (In fact, McConnell himself explicitly acknowledged this problem in a Foreign Affairs article, shortly before the PAA 2007 was passed.)

Even worse, having AG Gonzales and Director of National Intelligence McConnell design the procedures for guarding against abuse is nothing short of having the fox guarding the henhouse. Given the former’s history of poor memory and misstatements and latter’s institutional lack of interest in privacy and civil liberties (his job is find information about people, not protect it)–perhaps evident in allegations over back peddling with Democrats to include better provisions to protect liberties in the PAA–this is simply a disaster in the making.

Though I am troubled that this law compromises our right to privacy and other liberties, I am also alarmed that the PAA 2007 will also worsen our national security. That’s right–the PAA 2007 makes us less free and less safe.

The extent to which NSA wiretapping contributes to counterterrorism operations, may be overblown. As the USA Today article pointed out, even if you get the correct information, (only 1% of an estimated 48 million communications intercepted daily gets decoded and analyzed) it’s difficult for analysts to truly know if the conversations they are listening to are foreign intelligence value or not. Even so, the NSA is not suited to intercept Al-Qaeda’s other low-tech means of communication because they “learned to evade U.S. interception technology––chiefly by using disposable cell phones or by avoiding phones altogether and substituting human messengers and face-to-face meetings to convey orders.” Finally, it’s important to emphasize that getting the proper intelligence is necessary, but analyzing it, investigating it and disseminating it to the right people are also imperative. Failing to do these other three steps were major factors that led to the 9/11 [PDF] and 7/7 attacks.

So far the NSA’s intelligence vacuum has sucked up a massive volume of useless information that led FBI officials nowhere, wasting limited resources and time. Furthermore, the domestic spy operations put an enormous technical strain on the NSA’s resources, forcing the agency to consume voracious amounts of electricity–on top of dealing with its current computer problems–to sustain its current operational capacity. This jeopardizes our national security by running the risk of another electrical overload, similar to the one that paralyzed the agency seven years ago and left our nation vulnerable for nearly three days.

To boot, in May 2006, based on a 28-page internal NSA report, the Baltimore Sun revealed the massive spy agency is in a decrepit state due to massive management problems. These massive management problems, according to the report, led to failures to implement crucial technological upgrades, lack of trust between employees and their bosses, lack of common vision, and cost overruns.

In light of all of this, we have to very seriously ask ourselves and our lawmakers: Do we really want to be giving this agency so much power with such little oversight? I think not. Allowing a disorganized agency whose intelligence contributions to counterterrorism operations are highly disputed with an unclear mission to have enormous powers with little accountability or oversight is not only bad for our civil liberties, its bad (if not worse) for our national security. The American people must demand better from our lawmakers by pressuring them to repeal this odious law and demand real reform in our intelligence agencies that includes strong checks and oversight to protect American’s freedoms.

Two small notes…

Tuesday, July 31st, 2007

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.”

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.

Politics and Faith in Egypt’s Zawiyas

Monday, July 9th, 2007

Hi everyone,

Before I begin this post I would like to thank Kyle for this wonderful opportunity to guest blog with his organization, Institute for Religion and Public Policy. I wish him a safe, fun and productive trip to Colombia. He’s in my prayers.

Also, as a minor bit of shameless self-promotion, I just want to let readers know that the posts I write here will also be reproduced on the Minaret of Freedom Institute blog. So I encourage you all to check out it when you get the chance in order get your daily news round up and see past, present, and future blog entries by my boss Dr. Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad and yours truly…

Ok, so enough with the formalities! One of the things I like to draw peoples’ attention to when discussing issues of religious freedom in Muslim-majority countries is the State’s control over religious institutions and it’s social and political ramifications. Well, this morning I came across an interesting article in the Los Angeles Times about the growth of Egypt’s zawiyas, small community Muslim prayer rooms used as substitutions for mosques. What makes it particularly interesting is that the article points out the growth of zawiyas seems to be a grassroots effort to continue practicing their faith without government interference. Here’s the money quote from the internationally respected Egyptian civil society activist, Saad Eddin Ibrahim:

“In the beginning, the state cared only about regulating the big mosques,” said Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a sociologist and human rights activist. “It wanted to establish a very mainstream, noncritical Islam. But those with different ideas began to turn toward the zawiya…. It’s become an urban phenomenon popular in the slums. The government will try to step in and nationalize it. But as soon as they succeed in regulating one zawiya, others will mushroom. It’s almost like an informal guerrilla war.”

Pretty simple. People don’t like the government interfering in their practice of religion. After all, Islam is a faith that emphasizes a direct relationship between the Creator and the created. Government interests trying to dictate certain politically expedient interpretations of the faith to people taint that relationship.
The only issue I take with the article is that the random tidbit about how a state cleric calls for the destruction of the US. I find that part extremely odd since the other parts of the article talk about how state-sponsored Imams are vetted by the government. Egypt, a close ally of the United States would not very approving of a such a statement, if it was actually said.

In spite of my one criticism I’m not willing to throw baby out with the bathwater and found the article extremely informative.

– Alejandro

P.S. There’s a great three-article series by Gihan Shahine from Al-Ahram Weekly on the relationship between Al-Azhar, Egypt’s highest Islamic religious institution, and the government. It’s almost two years old, but it’s a great beginner’s series for those interested in learning more.

Original link: http://religion-culture-dialogue.blogspot.com/2007/07/politics-and-faith-in-egypts-zawiyas.html

Breach of Law, Breach of Security – Torture

Friday, June 1st, 2007

By Alejandro J. Beutel
Minaret of Freedom Institute
www.minaret.org

Recently, the New York Times ran an article covering criticism from experts commissioned by the Intelligence Science Board (ISB) of current interrogation techniques. Although the article notes that, “The science board critique comes as ethical concerns about harsh interrogations are being voiced by current and former government officials…” the ISB’s concern has little to do with ethics.

Their concern, expected of professionals in their field, revolves around a single question: Does it help US national security? Their answer was a clear “no.” Not only does torture harm US security interests by allowing terrorists like Bin Laden to use it as a rallying cry, it is useless as an interrogation tool. The latter perspective was one of the central conclusions the ISB came to in a 372-page report, publicly released in January 2007, called, Educing Information (PDF).

However for those familiar with the basics of intelligence and torture, this conclusion is no shock. Both medical researchers and professional interrogators have repeatedly stressed the ineffectiveness of torture–in both its physical and psychological forms–as an interrogation technique and have the empirical evidence to prove it. The information gleaned from highly coercive measures is outdated or false. The most notoriously false piece of information based on torture was Ibn al-Shaykh Libi’s coerced confession of ties between Al-Qaeda and the then-regime of Saddam Hussein.

The only slightly plausible justification for using torture is the “ticking time bomb scenario” supported by academics like Bruce Hoffman and Alan Dershowitz. However the likelihood of such a scenario, full of unrealistic assumptions, is slim to none. Even if such a highly implausible situation were to occur, experts find that it is equally (PDF) unlikely torture would be quick or effective enough to elicit the correct and necessary amount of information to prevent the terrorist plot at the last moment.

Amid all of the security-based arguments we should not forget that torture is not only ineffective and counterproductive, it is also illegal. While certain Bush administration officials may believe torture is legally defensible, international law would dictate otherwise. Even if the Bush administration were to invoke national sovereignty to flout international legal frameworks, like the Geneva Conventions–which prohibits “mutilation, cruel treatment and torture” of detainees–the US Uniform Military Code of Justice and the War Crimes Act of 1996 make it a crime to violate the Geneva Conventions. A 1994 Federal anti-torture statute strengthens these positions by making it a crime for any US national who, “commits or attempts to commit” torture.

Torture, like other hair-brained countermeasures against terrorism is both ineffective and illegal. Rather than dismissing the rule of law as a weakness that restricts America’s ability to fight terrorists, it should be seen as its shield against terrorism. As the example of torture demonstrates, by not abiding by the rule of law, we lose significant tactical and strategic advantage in our ability to bring criminals like Bin Laden to justice. Victory against terrorists is not won solely through military/intelligence tactical means, but also through greater ethical conduct that is mandated by our laws prohibiting torture, spying on someone without a warrant, detaining someone on the basis of their skin color or religion, etc.

Wa Allahu ‘Alim.