Archive for April, 2008

News and Analysis (4/19-20/08)

Sunday, April 20th, 2008

Pentagon’s establishes and uses secret relations with TV military analysts to enact “a coherent, active policy” of systematically spinning media coverage in favor of Bush administration policies:

Data compiled by US government experts finds 542 out a record-high 658 suicide bombings in 2007 took place in Afghanistan and Iraq, and a further 86 percent of all such attacks have occurred since 2001:

In a further blow to Ahmedinejad’s popularity, three of Iran’s top conservative and moderate clerics slam the embattled president over his mishandling of the economy:

Tensions between Najaf’s traditionalist Ayatollahs and Sadr’s movement hit an all time high after the latter threatens to declare “open war” against the Iraqi government:

After German officials began publicly recognizing “Islam is a part of German society” and opening political doors to its majority-Muslim “guest worker” population, Deutschland sees an exponential growth in immigrant politicians:

Ottawa’s case against the so-called “Toronto 18” continues to suspiciously weaken after it dropped charges against at least seven individuals:

News and Analysis (4/18/08)

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Although some unease with the Pope’s earlier comments exists, Muslims at the grassroots level enjoy relations …

… while the Minaret of Freedom Institute issues a call to the Pope to adopt a scholarly approach towards interfaith dialog:

GAO report finds massive wasteful spending on counterterrorism efforts in Pakistan’s tribal areas is without a clear plan and ineffective against militants…

…meanwhile the Bush administration’s pressure efforts to undermine the full restoration of rule of law in Pakistan seem to be working as Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry’s powers will be cut upon returning to office:

Likudnik Binyamin Netanyahu implied that he would not honor any peace agreement between Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli PM Ehud Olmert…

…however such aggressive words remain moot as current peace talks produce little:

Despite requests from Ottawa, the US refused to keep 15-year Canadian citizen Omar Khadr from being thrown into Guantanamo Bay:

Though never convicted of any terrorism charges and covered by an earlier plea agreement with government, Sami Al-Arian possible faces further political persecution:

Our Message to the Pope

Friday, April 18th, 2008

Our Message to the Pope

Yesterday, I joined with 150 others Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, and Jains to meet with Pope Benedict XVI at the John Paul II Cultural Center at Catholic University. There was speculation in advance of the meeting as to the Pope’s sincerity. Would it be an opportunity for true interfaith dialog or just a photo opportunity? One major Muslim group even turned down the invitation to attend.

Although only three Muslim representatives got to speak directly to the Pope (aside from a young woman who presented him with the gift of a Qur’an), I am pleased to report that due to gracious hospitality of the organizers all the Muslims who wished to make a statement were given the opportunity to speak after the Pope had left. In my own case, I made an appeal for him to adopt a scholarly attitude towards interfaith dialog. My statements to the assembly have been sent in an e-mail that the organizers have assured me will be forwarded up the chain of the Church hierarchy:

“We are grateful for the opportunity to share with you our enthusiasm for your mission of restoring reason to the world of religious affairs. The Holy Qur’an says that it is a message ‘for those who think,’ and Jesus (peace be upon him), though he spoke in parables, did so only to enhance followers’ understanding of the truth, which he promised would set them free. Accordingly, we propose that the dialog between Catholics and Muslims should start with the ideas of scholars like Averroes (Ibn Rushd) and his student Thomas Aquinas rather than with the demagoguery of political figures like Emperors or Sultans.”

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Democratization in Turkey: Stumbling Blocks and the Prospects

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

On April 15, 2008 Georgetown University hosted former Turkish Parliamentarian Merve Kavakci to discuss “Democratization in Turkey and Stumbling Blocks and the Prospects”. The event was co-sponsored by the Georgetown Muslim Students Association, the Lecture Fund and the International Students Association.

The event kicked off with an introduction by Georgetown senior Hafsa Kanjwal. She provided the audience with Dr. Kavakci’s personal background, mentioning Kavakci being banned from Turkey’s parliament and eventually stripped of her citizenship due to her decision to wear the headscarf.

After the personal introduction, Dr. Kavakci opened her remarks by casually reviewing the sentiments of many politicians and analysts on Islam and politics after 9/11. Amid fresh fears and resurrected Orientalist stereotyping of Muslims, Turkey was held to be a “role model” country because of its democracy and secularism. The rhetorical question posed by Beltway punditry was, “Why don’t all Muslim countries become like Turkey which is an Israeli ally, a US ally, a member of NATO, Muslim, and secular?”

Dr. Kavakci pointed out that while Turkey was less authoritarian than many other Middle Eastern and Muslim states, it is not the role model many Westerners have made it out to be. She points out that Turkey currently faces three major stumbling blocks to full democratization, largely linked to the historical development of the secular Turkish republic:

  1. Modernization
  2. Secularization
  3. Gender Roles

On the modernization aspect of the Turkish Republic, Dr. Kavakci noted that it was a topic of discussion during the last 200 years of the Ottoman Empire, and after the 1920s a certain group of elite intellectuals, including Kemal Ataturk (modern Turkey’s founder), were identifying Islam as the cause of Turkey’s lagging behind the West. At first such intellectuals were opposed to the West because the Europeans were attempting to colonize Turkey. In order to fend of Western military imperialism they used Islam as a mobilizing force. However, after the Europeans were thrown out, these same individuals made a 180-degree turn, fully embracing Westernization and establishing the Turkish Republic. This volte face was legitimated by playing off of cultural mythologies about Turks physically journeying westward from Central Asia toward their final destination. Ataturk argued modernization was the cultural completion of that journey.

Dr. Kavakci opined that modernization/Westernization was “very dangerous and unknown.” Intellectuals debated several issues, including whether or not to keep the Caliphate, which was eventually dumped. They largely improvised, imposing their vision from the top down on he assumption that it would eventually be embraced by the people at the bottom.

However, up until today, that has not been the case. Kemalist secularization of society—the political and legal extension of Turkey’s self-imposed modernization—had many dissidents who were either jailed or executed. Dr. Kavakci used this part of her lecture to also point out how Western countries employ a set of double standards concerning discussions of human rights and democratization, by adding an extra element of secularization. She observed that they tend to apply a much more invasive standard of secularism to Muslim countries—the forced privatization of religion (as opposed to state neutrality in matters of faith)—than they do to themselves. Furthermore, she asserted that in addition to Kemalist secularism’s violent coerciveness, the early rhetoric of Kemalism distinctly lacked any mention of democratization. Such re-phrasing came thirty years later, after Turkey began to open up to a multi-party system.

Dr. Kavakci then turned to how secularism created new gender roles that ultimately failed to fully liberate women as contended by some supporters of Kemalism. A group of scholars in the 1980s emerged who were Turkish modernists, but also said that Turkish modernity was not a role model for women’s rights. They castigated the patriarchy of the Ottomans but argued that it had been replaced by “a state-controlled feminism”. Furthermore this state-controlled feminism created new divisions along religious and economic class lines. The economically disadvantaged woman wearing the headscarf was denied intellectual and economic independence for maintaining her religious identity. Such a woman, in the view of Kemalist state-controlled feminism, cannot be, and must not be, anything more than a household cleaner until she sheds her public display of religiosity. Religion cannot be a source of empowerment for women in the Kemalist purview.

Finally Dr. Kavakci spoke on contemporary Turkish democratization from the 70s to 90s. She noted that it has been interspersed with military coups and the rise of Islamism. However, during this same period there was a growth of civil society organizations; people began speaking out more freely and religion reemerged in the public. Since the 90s there has been “a hurried attempt to catch up to the Europeans”, not in rhetoric and ideology, but in human rights, civil liberties, and economic development. According to Dr. Kavakci, in this sense, Islamist governments have brought Turkey closer to becoming European than any secular party in power. However festering corruption due to the lack of accountability and transparency in government is the main challenge to the rule of law in Turkey. As a result the interests of the “deep state” (a group of extreme militant secular nationalists in the army, other government institutions, media and academia)—manifested in the murders and persecutions of dissident intellectuals and the ongoing “judicial coup”—remains entrenched in Turkey. According to Dr. Kavakci, it is due to the AKP government’s pursuit of deep state members, that legal challenges to its hold on power have begun.

At the end of the program several questions were posed, including one I asked on whether different conceptions of non-invasive, non-coercive secularity were emerging and if there is going to be a redefinition of religion-state relations. Dr. Kavakci responded by hoping that Turkey’s modern history of secular fundamentalism ends. She felt that extreme secularism and the deep state were the two biggest problems currently facing Turkey. She felt state and religion could flourish on their own without any interference into each other’s realms. In her view, Kemalism did a good job of preventing a Muslim theocracy, but instead replaced it “with the state religion of Turkish secularism.”

As for the future of religion-state relations, she’s not certain. She feels that the AKP is likely to get banned and that it will represent “a setback.” However Muslim democrats have been down this road before and bounced back. Learning from past experiences, she believes that, “They are prepared for it.”

Alejandro J. Beutel
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (4/17/08)

Thursday, April 17th, 2008

Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar argues that no peace between the Israelis and Palestinians can be achieved without first allowing discussions to begin without any preconditions…

…meanwhile 20 Palestinians are killed in Israel’s latest bombing campaign, including 13 civilians and among them were 5 children and a Reuters cameraman:

Hundreds of millions in US taxpayer money is requested for Pakistani military aid rather than civil society assistance or left in the pockets of ordinary Americans:

Critics of a trial against an eccentric group with “no firearms, no explosives and no links to a terrorist group” say it involved “more hype than evidence”:

After Harvard’s school newspaper reports of law enforcement surveillance at a Pro-Palestinian rally, the ACLU questions the relationship between the University and the FBI:

Two thousand students protest the sentencing of two prominent Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood leaders and 25 others recently detained:

Report from Refugees International finds Sadr runs the largest “unofficial” aid agency in Iraq:

The Economic Impact of the Iraq War

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

Some critics of the war in Iraq have called for a military draft as means of building pressure for growth in the anti-war movement. They forget that the U.S. withdrawal from Vietnam followed the ending of the draft by several months. A draft makes extended unjust wars possible. The popular notion to the contrary is due to the fact that the cost of a draft, the conscription of unwilling soldiers, is clearly connected to the war. Unfortunately, the costs of a volunteer army are economic, and their connection to the war are not clear except to those who take the effort to understand them.

Joseph Stiglitz is an economist who has made an effort to understand the connection in the case of Iraq, and the controversy over his conclusions demonstrates my thesis. Notwithstanding the belief in many areas that the war was instigated to guarantee cheap oil to the United States, oil prices quadrupled. Talking heads have tried to pin the blame on rising demand for oil by China and India, but these factors were anticipated by the oil industry before the invasion of Iraq and oil traders estimated that the price would hold at about $25 per barrel. What they did not anticipate was that the war–instituted to facilitate Likudnik designs for the Middle East–would lead to a sustained violent resistance movement that would destabilize Iraq, revive long dormant sectarian strife and harden ethnic divisions. In the end, Iraq’s oil supply was left to the mercy of thieves, sabotage, and corruption.

The connection between a draft and a war is obvious. The connection between the credit crisis in the United States and the war in Iraq is missed by many. This war is expensive. While George Bush claims that the $3 trillion dollar cost estimated by Stiglitz and his co-author Linda Blimes is an exaggeration, they argue that it is conservative.

Whether the cost is $3 trillion or $5 trillion, most people never reflect on from where that money is going to come. The Bush administration is not willing to pay for it out of taxes, so ultimately it must be borrowed from future generations. The timeless method of governments to rob future generations is through the expansion of credit. In ancient times this was done through the debasement of the money supply (palming off base metal as gold or silver). Today it is done through the Federal Reserve system. The flood of credit that the Fed has let loose to pay for the war found its way into the funding of cheap credit for people who couldn’t afford housing. This credit did not make housing affordable for them, it only created the illusion that the housing was affordable. When reality bit them on the nose, they lost their homes. The next step would be for the lenders to go bankrupt, but the Fed has bailed out Bear-Stearns, which means more credit expansion, more distortions in the market, and more future disasters that the average person is likely to not trace back to the war in Iraq.

The war begat high oil fuel prices that begat the change of heart about global warming and carbon footprints by Exxon and so many others, that begat the diversion of food resources into “biofuels,” that begat high food prices, especially the staples like wheat, corn, and rice. Ask the impoverished masses why they can’t afford bread and they may blame the farmers and the bakers, but it would never occur to them to blame the warmongers who are the actual root of the problem. The farmers and the bakers are caught in the middle of forces they neither control nor understand. They are not the ones getting rich. Any benefit they have is marginal, coincidental, and short-lived since the inflationary disaster waiting in the wings will hit them as it hits most of us.

A draft uses outright coercion, involuntary servitude, to man the military. Without it the government resorts to fraud of various sorts to deceive the public into thinking that the suffering they endure is due to greedy businessmen,greedy workers, immigrants, or despised minority groups. It will blame anything but the its own imperial ambitions, the special interests that support it, and its contempt for the general welfare.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (4/16/08)

Wednesday, April 16th, 2008

The surge shows more limitations of its so-called success as 291 Iraqis are killed or wounded, more Iraqi soldiers continue to desert their posts and disagreements arise between the US military and Iraqi government over what do about Sadr’s political and military presence:

Big Brother undermines its self-justification as declassified FBI documents show unrestrained (ab)use of national security letters impeded a counterterrorism investigation…

…but does an impeccable job of using its invasive powers to muzzle those blowing the whistle on the NSA spying scandal:

Congress slams AG Mukasey for earlier false statements about events leading to 9/11 and say his response evades important questions expanded surveillance powers:

As the Egyptian government arrests another 25 Muslim Brotherhood members, the Islamist group’s third most senior leader is sentenced by a kangaroo court to seven years in jail:

Several prominent US Muslim leaders pledge to participate in a dialog with the Pope (Minaret of Freedom Institute included), but express reservations over the way interfaith discussions have been conducted so far:

Latest news on Sami Al-Arian reveals harsher treatment at Hampton Roads Regional Jail deliberately designed physically coerce him into testimony:

News and Analysis (4/15/08)

Tuesday, April 15th, 2008

Congress pushes back against Big Brother’s encroachment on liberties, by seeking to rein the FBI’s abuse of national security letters through tighter legislation…

…and South Carolina governor Mark Sanford slams REAL ID legislation for its lack of debate in Congress and its financial and privacy costs to taxpayers:

Middle East expert Juan Cole analyzes the three separate civil wars going on in the north, south and central parts of Iraq between and their possible future directions:

China’s repression of Muslim Uighurs’ cultural and religions expressions lead to ongoing tension and resentment toward the Beijing government:

Reflecting on 35 years of reporting on terrorism, BBC reporter Peter Taylor finds many terrorists are “normal people prepared to do ruthlessly abnormal things” in reaction to heavy-handed state policies:

Grand Ayatollah Hossein Ali Montazeri slams Iran’s latest election as “neither free nor fair” and accuses the current government of imposing dictatorship in the name of Islam:

Despite Israel’s frosty reception, former US President Jimmy Carter offers to act as a middleman between Israel and Hamas:

News and Analysis (4/14/08)

Monday, April 14th, 2008

The Bush administration continues undermining liberties in the name of establishing a (false) sense of security by personally approving systematic torture abuses that have netted hundreds of innocents, like Al-Jazeera reporter Sami al-Haj…

…forging ahead with a plan to establish Big Brother in the sky, despite the lack of Congressional approval and privacy safeguards…

…and watering down legal barriers to make it easier to establish military rule in the United States:

Malaysia’s democratic opposition plans to hold a rally marking the end of a politically motivated ban against liberal Islamic economist Anwar Ibrahim’s involvement in politics:

Reciprocating Israel’s recent military exercises, Hizballah’s uses aid from Iran and recruits from Lebanon’s various sects to establish its own military posture:

Snubbed by Israel’s Prime Minister, but hosted by its President, Jimmy Carter continues with plans to meet Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal:

News and Analysis (4/12-13/08)

Sunday, April 13th, 2008

With increasing pressure to respect the rights of Guantanamo detainees under American law Afghnais are sent to Afghanistan where lawyers allege they are denied their rights under Afghani law:

President of the New America Foundation, Steven Coll, argues Pakistan’s re-democratization, not Bush’s counterterrorism policies, is more likely to bring down Bin Laden:

…meanwhile Pakistan’s new government proposes passing a bill re-allowing live broadcasts and dropping punishments for journalists who “ ‘defame’ the president, the government or the army:”

Baghdad’s dismissal of 1,300 soldiers who deserted or refused to fight in the recent Basra offensive and flawed weapons purchases suggests endemic incompetence and corruption within all levels of Iraq’s military:

Despite facing some internal and external opposition, Saudi King Abdullah plans to move ahead with his inter-religious dialog conference:

“Hamas and their supporters are the only ones who don’t get hurt by this siege”–unemployed 35-yr. old father of five:

PM Gordon Brown’s push for more Big Brother laws leaves him as one of the most unpopular British leaders since the 1930s:

Twelve years after Sudan expelled al-Qaeda, recent events point to an unwelcome return of terrorists “motivated by anger over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, and bombing strikes in Somalia, where U.S. and Ethiopian forces helped topple an Islamic regime”: