Archive for February, 2007

News and Analysis (2/28/07)

Wednesday, February 28th, 2007

Shift in US diplomatic strategy seeks to engage regional states, including Iran and Syria, to discuss the realities of Iraq’s instability:

Canadian parliament quashes bid to extend provisions forcing testimony in court and “preventive” arrests that detain citizens without and charges for several days:

 An inside look at the CIA “detention facilities” from, Marwan Jabour, a former prisoner’s view:

“A forensic psychiatrist and a forensic psychologist hired by the defense last week testified that when asked for information about the brig or the subjects he may have been interrogated about there, Padilla gets tense, exhibits facial tics and ‘shuts down.’”

Despite international observers’ claims of  ‘fair and free’ elections, leftist candidates dispute results even before official tally is in:

International Human Rights organization calls for continued pressure against Uzbekistan for violating Muslims human rights, including freedom of religion:

News and Analysis (2/27/07)

Tuesday, February 27th, 2007

One member of the ‘Mideast Quartet’ Russia has reversed its policy toward the Palestinian government:

Shi’as, Sunnis and Kurds all reach initial agreement that could affect the economic future of Iraq:

Sectarian execution-style killings are down, but bomb and mortar attacks increase:

Former Sudanese minister and militia leader are accused of a “conspiracy to ‘persecute civilians they associated with rebels’”

“[H]e was beaten, burned with an iron, held naked for a month and chained to the wall of his cell so tightly that he could not stand up.”

Recalling the Historic Adversarial Relations Between Islamic Scholars and the State

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Last week one of the world’s pre-eminent religious freedom organizations, Forum18, came out with an article on the latest whereabouts of Turkmenistan’s former Grand Mufti, Nasrullah Ibn Ibadullah. As the article pointed out, Nasrullah is an Islamic religious scholar who used to be a loyalist of the brutal regime of the now-deceased Saparmurat Niyazov (also known as “Turkmenbashi”). His case and that of Rafiq Qori Kamoluddin in Uzbekistan, point to a pattern of control and persecution of Muslim scholars and educational institutions by the central authority of the state. This pattern is not recent, nor is it geographically limited to Central Asia, but has persisted throughout most of the Muslim world since the early history of Islam.

The state, although run by fellow Muslims, has always feared the existence of financially, politically and intellectually independent religious scholars. Rather respecting the freedom scholars, the central authority either tried to co-opt, intimidate and/or eliminate them. Since their emergence as an integral part of a pre-modern faith-based civil society, religious scholars have always – at least in theory – acted as a barrier to tyranny and as arbiters of justice. All four founders of the major Sunni legal schools of thought, Abu Hanifa, Malik bin Anas, Muhammad Idris bin Al-Shafi and Ahmad bin Hanbal (may God have mercy on them) were all threatened with violence, tortured and or killed on the authority of the Caliphs in power at the time. Arguably, the origins and early development of the Sunni-Shi’a split are also due to statist interference in the lives of religious scholars – the martyrdom of Imam Husayn (may God have mercy on him) and the sustained persecution of the early Shi’a community were also on the orders of Sunni Caliphs.

In spite of attempts to limit the political and intellectual influence of religious scholars, they were able to flourish under a decentralized political system. They also established financial endowments (awqaf) that maintained monetary independence from the state. It was not until roughly two historical “waves” of foreign invasion and colonialism hit the Muslim world that the state gained the upper hand against religious scholars. The first wave came in the early 1200s to early 1300s when invasions (PDF) by the Mongols, the Crusaders and Timur destroyed Muslim traditional structures of civil society and scholastic learning. Although Muslim societies rebuilt themselves, the recovery was never complete.

The second wave began in the late 1700s with the beginning of European colonization (i.e. the British colonial administration of South Asia and Napoleon’s invasion of Egypt) and continues today with the existence of the modern Muslim authoritarian nation-state. These religious scholars and their supporting institutions were hotbeds of resistance to the military encroachment of the European powers and domestic tyranny. However all of their armed movements were put down and as a result they were treated very harshly by the victorious powers. The era of European colonialism bore witness to the dissolution and/or marginalization of Islamic institutions and scholars. The pattern of destruction and co-optation established by their colonial and Caliphate/Sultanate predecessors was merely perpetuated by post-colonial authoritarian dictatorships (which the United States and other Western nations continue to support). Today it is not uncommon to see scholars and their supporting institutions (Al-Azhar University being one of the more famous cases) in a Muslim nation directly under government control, turning independently funded and independent-thinking religious scholars into paid employees of the state.

The results, of course, have been absolutely disastrous. These institutions, which were once guardians of Islamic orthodoxy, and the driving force behind successfully marginalizing extremist messages, have been dismantled. Now that the modern Muslim nation-state has centralized itself to an unprecedented degree and controls these scholarly individuals and institutions, they no longer have credibility. With the loss of their independence, they are now seen as puppets of the government. As a result, a vacuum of religious authority has emerged, which Islamist movements – moderate and radical, violent and non-violent – are attempting to fill. Violent organizations that claim religious legitimacy and declare opposition to the tyranny of the state (like Al-Qaeda) have the religious and political space to flourish.

Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is a stark contrast to these results because it values the independence of its religious scholars and institutions. Not only do Indonesia’s independent scholars play an important role in preventing and reversing religious extremism, they have also played an extremely important role in its civil society development by acting as one of the main forces for establishing and maintaining its democratic political system. It is no surprise that civil society organizations such as the International Crisis Group and United States Institute of Peace advocate for the political independence of Muslim religious scholars. However, political independence is not enough. Muslim civil society organizations should also assist in the financial independence of these institutions and individuals.

I would conclude by noting that Libertarian ideas of government and foreign policy would apply well in the Muslim world. Centuries of foreign military intervention and support for dictatorships, as well as the emergence of extremely powerful central governments have been absolutely detrimental to Muslims. Muslims flourish when their state is not pervasively interfering in their public and private lives, other nations are not occupying their lands, and their religion can freely and creatively play an active role in civil society.

News and Analysis (2/26/07)

Monday, February 26th, 2007

Op-ed in Jakarta Post slams Indonesian government for not doing to more to fulfill its promises to increase privatization of the economy: 

Indonesian economic minister says existence of democracy and rule of law are essential to economic prosperity: 

International Court of Justice rules Serbia did not have “the deliberate intention to ‘destroy in whole or in part’ the Bosnian Muslim population” but holds it accountable for not preventing the genocide: 

“About half the insurgents’ attacks have been against other Muslims, especially those who cooperate with the government, in what appears to be an effort to weaken central control.” 

This time the justification was “to protect children from being accidentally strangled”: 

Janjaweed not only fighting “African” Darfurians, but now “Arab” Darfurians too: 

Despite the terms of the peace treaty, issues of who gets the wealth still persist: 

Cheney’s secret visit to Pakistan warns President Musharraf of cuts to aid under new Democratic congress unless tougher stance against Al-Qaeda is taken: 

Not even the highest officials are safe in Iraq anymore: 

News and Analysis (2/24-25/07)

Sunday, February 25th, 2007

Defense seeks the rest of the evidence to see if any of it is real:

·     Evidence Against Muslim Charity Appears Fabricated: An Official Summary of an FBI-wiretapped Conversation Contains Anti-Semitic Slurs that Do Not Appear in the Actual Transcript (LA Times)

Rania wants Muslims to reject terrorism …

·     Jordan Queen Urges Muslims to Reject Extremism (AFP)

… while a British newspaper accuses the U.S. of supporting it

·     US Funds Terror Groups to Sow Chaos in Iran (Telegraph)

Converts see parallels to government’s earlier demonization of Martin Luther King and Malcolm X:

·      Post 9 / 11, Islam Flourishes Among Blacks (NY Times / Reuters)

A secularist turned pious Muslim infiltrates the extremist:

·      Infiltrating the Extreme (LA Times)

Iranian defense minister credits Western sanctions for space exploration initiative:

·      Iran Says Fires First Rocket into Space (AFP)

Details unannounced, and the Kurdish minister of natural resources isn’t talking:

·     Leaders of Iraq’s Kurdish Region Reportedly Approve Draft Oil Law (Washington Post)

Economic liberal who ended decades of socialist rule runs for re-election in stable Muslim democracy:

·     Senegal Votes, Wade Seeks First-Round Victory (NY Times / Reuters)

Muslim scholar researches on female hadith scholars is up to 40 volumes with 8,000 entries:

·     Reconsideration: A Secret History (NY Times Magazine)

News and Analysis (2/23/07)

Friday, February 23rd, 2007

Most “of the tip-offs about supposed secret weapons sites provided by the CIA and other US intelligence agencies have led to dead ends when investigated by IAEA inspectors, according to informed sources in Vienna:”

· US Intelligence on Iran Does Not Stand Up, Say Vienna Sources (Guardian Unlimited)

Canada rejects secret evidence:

· Canadian Supreme Court Strikes Down Anti-Terror Law (Reuters)

Less than three months after his father’s meeting with George Bush:

· US Forces Detain Son of Senior Iraqi Shiite Leader (AFP)

Shadow PM argues that the real reason or the British troop reduction in Iraq is to allow adding overextended troops in Afghanistan:

· More UK Soldiers for Afghanistan (BBC)

A “Sunni insurgent group … issued an audio statement on its Web site Thursday saying 300 insurgents have volunteered to conduct suicide operations to avenge the woman … and 20 offered to marry her:

· Rape of Second Sunni Woman by Iraqi Security Forces Alleged (Washington Post)

The pending U.N. decision may set a precedent as to whether are states or individuals responsible for genocide:

· U.N. Court to Rule in Landmark Bosnia Genocide Case (Reuters)

Ethiopia denies that its interventionism is a front for American operations:

· U.S. Hunted Al Qaeda Suspects from Ethiopia: Paper (Reuters)

“They made tilings that reflect mathematics that were so sophisticated that we didn’t figure it out until the last 20 or 30 years”—Peter Ku (Harvard):

· Advanced Geometry of Islamic Art (BBC)

News and Analysis (02/22/07)

Thursday, February 22nd, 2007

Security forces ‘abduct’ human rights activist from Pakistani jail hours before his scheduled release:

Charity, sponsored by businessmen, to set up a call center to boost Palestinian economy:

A new French Revolution?  The rise of suburban, immigrant interest in politics threatens the elite status quo in France:

Iraqi women have become victims of violence: Committed by US troops…

And committed by Iraqi troops… who are they to trust?

If in public places: why do you need ‘spies’?

A lesson in getting along: University and Muslim students find a compromise to prayers at school events:

News and Analysis (2/21/07)

Wednesday, February 21st, 2007

Mr. Gonzales, can you please tell me one more time, how many ‘terrorists’ were caught? 

Fighting terrorists networks outside the rule of law maybe more acceptable to some in America… 

…but not so in Europe: 

IAEA soon to release new report on Iranian nuclear program that could trigger more sanctions: 

Accusations by raped Sunni Iraqi woman against Shi’a policemen and its handling by the Prime Minister ignite political firestorm in Iraq: 

Will President Bush follow suit? 

Editorial discusses the ramifications behind the imprisonment of an Egyptian blogger: 

Controversial theatrical performance explores Tunisia’s 50 years of independence and its political, religious and social taboos: 

How to Solve the Iraqi Oil Impasse

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad
Minaret of Freedom Institute

The situation in Iraq will not stabilize until the issue of the oil (and gas) industry is resolved. Accusations are flying that the new oil legislation under consideration will throw open the Iraqi oil and gas wealth open “for large-scale exploitation by Western oil companies.” That is only the tip of the iceberg.

Article 111 of the new Iraqi constitution “declares Oil and Gas as the property of the whole nation in all Its Provinces and Governorates….” The challenges of balancing the needs of investment, revenue sharing, technical skills, etc., etc. have been thrust into the hands of a nascent democratic political system that hasn’t got its sea legs.

A political solution to what is an economic issue is not promising for many reasons. The main obstacle is that it is virtually impossible to negotiate politically over oil revenues. Hitherto, the oil of Iraq was conceived to be a national resource, collectively owned by the people of Iraq and managed as a trust by the Iraqi government. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in the oil being managed for the benefit not of the Iraqi people, but of the managers, i.e., the government, i.e., the Baath Party, i.e. Saddam Hussein and his cronies. This is not to say that the people received no benefits at all. Like all politicians, Saddam knew he had to pass out favors in order to keep people in line, so Iraq had comprehensive single payer health care and other such socialist goodies. What it didn’t have was freedom, efficiency, and justice.

If we are serious about Iraq making a transition to a free society, we must acknowledge that leaving the government as the trustee of the oil that actually belongs to the Iraqi people means that a fox is still guarding the henhouse—it’s just a different fox. Before it was the Sunni-dominated Baathists. Under a “democratic” system it will be the Shia-dominated voters. Notwithstanding a relatively strong national identity, the Iraqis still see themselves as three affinity groups: the (mostly Sunni) Kurds, the Sunni Arabs, and the Shia Arabs. The Sunni Arabs who got the lion’s share still want it, but the Shia majority expects that they should get it, as do the Kurds. Any political solution is a winner-take-all solution in which the best the losers can hope for is a sop that will keep them from outright rebellion. Under current circumstances in Iraq, that seems too much to hope for.

This does not mean that the situation is hopeless, however. While the Iraqis have little experience at parliamentary negotiation and compromise, they are very skilled in economic bargaining. Privatize the Iraq oil industry, not as a single “Iraqi National Oil Company” whose ownership is vested in an “Iraqi Federal and Oil Gas Council,” but as a checkerboard of local oil companies whose shares will be distributed among all Iraqis according to formula to be decided by negotiation. In a framework that says all Iraqis get x shares of every oil company plus y shares of the oil company that is in their own province, plus z shares of every oil company in their own region, with bonus shares to go to employees and management, etc. then the only thing left to do is negotiate over the values of x, y, z, etc., and at that type of negotiation the Iraqis are old hands. They will be comfortable and can use their skills honed in the bazaar to arrive at a deal everyone can live with. (Notice that this is NOT the privatization scheme that was such a disaster in Russia. In this plan the shares of ownership go to all the people of Iraq, not to an elite mafia.)

Within this economic framework, the remaining issues become tractable. Don’t want to give voting shares of stock to children under 15? Put those shares I a trust held by the parents and turned over to the children at age 15, 16, or whatever you end up negotiating. Afraid that Iraqis have insufficient familiarity with joint stock companies to understand what it means to be a shareholder? Prohibit sale of shares for a period of, say, two years until they’ve had a chance to vote in a couple of elections and receive several dividend checks. Afraid that Iraqis will sell their shares at fire sale prices to foreign oil companies before they realize how valuable the shares really are? Prohibit foreign ownership for a period of time to be negotiated, say, four years. (This will not preclude foreign expertise and participation, since foreigners could work under contract to the Iraqi firms.) Afraid the government will veto the idea because they want the oil revenue? Instead of the complex system of royalties and taxes on licensing which is proposed in the legislation in its current form, let the government collect a single tax at the well-head of, say 20%, which will give them a good revenue, especially if the oil industry becomes more productive under private ownership. Afraid the government will veto the whole project because, well, just because they’re a government and don’t want to let go? Let the government have a minority share of stock so that they too can participate in the potential profits.

The legislation now under consideration shows the influence of Iraqi bureaucrats and politicians and of foreign oil companies. It needs to be revised to show a concern for the development of free markets in Iraq and for opportunities for the Iraqi people to become the owners of their natural resources in fact and not only in name. Above all it needs to provide an incentive for every Iraqi to and to see the industry prosper while at the same time offering opportunities for them to help to contribute to that prosperity by making them private owners with the associated rights and responsibilities.

News and Analysis (2/20/07)

Tuesday, February 20th, 2007

Quagmire in Iraq and support for repressive regimes have allowed Al-Qaeda’s influence to extend into North Africa:

Disclosure of US plans to attack Iran include wide list of military targets and would be set in motion by one of two ‘triggers”…

…which has some Iranians very concerned:

Evidence of Somalia’s power vacuum is apparent after some of the most intense fighting since the Islamic Courts Union was ousted last year:

In spite of recent train bombing, Pakistan-India peace talks have not been derailed:

Op-ed explains how the Crimean Tatars independent political and religious civil society is a model for stopping extremism: