Archive for July, 2015

News and Analysis (7/29/15)

Wednesday, July 29th, 2015

Shutting down Muslims’ bank accounts over dubious accusations of terrorist links encourage extremism by “sending the message to law-abiding Muslims that they are excluded from simple privileges”:

As central Asian countries are trying to crack down on Islamist extremists, they continue to violate people’s rights regarding religious freedom:

The real importance of the Iran nuclear deal is that “at a crucial moment and without a shot being fired, the United States and Iran have come to a turning point away from an era of outright hostility”:

Qaradawi says that the victims of the Israeli occupation are no longer exempt from the ban on suicide bombings “since Palestinians are now able to hit Israel with rockets, missiles, and mortars, the use of suicide bombers”:

“‘God says, I have created you all different so that you can know one another and befriend one another and not despise one another” — Nadia Hassan, quoting the Quran:

Is he dead or alive? “This month, a written message from Mullah Omar suddenly appeared, to mark the Islamic Eid Festival”, saying that “peaceful interactions with the enemies is not prohibited” by Islamic law:

“Many … democratic leaders have rallied to the sides of Muslims in the community, condemning the actions of these two “members of the “Northern League party [which] has built a reputation for xenophobia”:


News and Analysis (7/28/15)

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

It’s bad enough when an “expert” witness on terrorism doesn’t know his subject; how much worse when his biases are withheld from the record:

These Muslim-American siblings write Islamic children’s books, because they want “young Muslims to see themselves in the books they read”:

In entertainment, Maz Jobrani thought he could “play anything,” but instead he is “the latest iteration in Hollywood’s long history of racist casting, reducing his religion and culture to a bunch of villainous, cartoonish psychopaths” …

… while in the world of education, “At a minimum the selectivity and psychology of treating Islam in this way will have a tendency to discourage any better approaches to the subject matter”:

“The trial, which involved more than 30 former Qaddafi-regime officials, is being severely criticized as both unfair and unprofessional. It could also deepen Libya’s political chaos”:

Mustafa Akyol explains why an honest look at “jurisprudential facts might help Muslims today to develop a more tolerant attitude toward gays,” citing Islamic scholar Ihsan Eliacik’s reminder that “Islam stands with the downtrodden”:

Since Syrian Kurds have been aided by the US but targeted by Turkey, it complicates cooperation between the two countries in creating a IS-free zone on the Turkish-Syrian border:

“I am sorry that my precious listeners in Iran will be denied my music for sometime, but I will not apologise for performing in Palestine,” says Sami Yusuf’s after his music was banned for performing in Nazareth:

“The U.S. Government, its allies and … apologists constantly propagate standards that have no purpose other than to legitimize all of their violence while de-legitimizing [that of] their enemies in the ‘war’they have declared”:

Recent fatal bombing by Islamist terrorist group Al-Shabab raises fear that their violence is escalating:

Overlooked Consequences of the Iran Nuclear Deal

Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

On July 14th, Iran and the US reached a historic deal concerning Iran’s nuclear proliferation. Essentially, what the deal means is that the US and five other countries will stop enforcing sanctions on Iranian products, while “Iran reaffirms that under no circumstances will [they] seek, develop or acquire any nuclear weapons” (look here for the full text of the deal, or here for a simplified version).

The deal has sparked heated criticism. Republican Presidential candidate Marco Rubio told Reuters that he is not going to “support a deal with Iran that allows the mullahs to retain the ability to develop nuclear weapons, threaten Israel, and continue their regional expansionism and support for terrorism.” This is by no means unique to Senator Rubio. House Speaker John Boehner claims that “[the deal is] going to hand a dangerous regime billions of dollars in sanctions relief while paving the way for a nuclear Iran,” as do several other Republicans. Many Democrats are also skeptical about the deal, and the Israeli Prime Minister warns that the deal is a threat both to Israel and to the US. He (dis)informs us that Iran has “killed a lot of Americans. It’s killing everybody in sight in the Middle East.”

Moving away from the scaremongering rhetoric, the criticism against the deal is largely based on a belief that the deal will be ineffective in preventing Iran from developing nuclear weapons; that it will threaten the security of the region and eventually lead to an armed conflict. Those who support the deal claim that the deal actually will prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons; Iran will still be allowed to enrich uranium, but inspections will be conducted regularly to ensure that the enrichment is insufficient for the purpose of developing nuclear weapons.

Most of the media coverage focuses only on whether the deal will be successful in preventing Iran’s development of nuclear weapons or not, the salubrious effects of lifting the sanctions on future Iranian policies seem to have been overlooked. To the extent the removal sanctions are covered, they are only related to Iran’s increased capacity to use wealth to fund foreign terrorist groups. According to CIA, however, it is unlikely that Iran will spend a game-changing amount of the sanction relief funds on terrorist groups. Furthermore, similar critique can (and arguable should) be made towards the Saudisas they have funded Al-Qaeda (and some say, ISIS).  Still, the US remains a close ally to Saudi Arabia.


By overlooking the implications of lifting the sanctions, the media has ignored what may be the most important argument in support of the deal – the argument concerning the effect of free trade on interstate conflict. The notion that countries that trade with each other do not go to war with each other is an old one; Montesquieu said in 1748 that “[p]eace is the natural effect of trade. Two nations who differ with each other become reciprocally dependent; for if one has an interest in buying, the other has an interest in selling; and thus their union is founded on their mutual necessities.”

In addition to this, more recent empirical data show a significant negative correlation between trade and interstate conflict. Economists Polachek and Seiglie found in their paper that “overwhelming evidence indicates that trade reduces conflict regardless of the proxies used to capture the gains from trade and conflict.” Further, they argue that “[t]he policy implication of [their] finding is that further international cooperation in reducing barriers to both trade and capital flows can promote a more peaceful world.” Thus, with this in mind, it should be clear to any reader that the lifting of sanctions against Iran will actually decrease the risk that Iran will go to war, in contradiction to what skeptics to the deal are arguing.

Not to be forgotten, sanctions traditionally hurt civilians the most; when the country have to be more self-sufficient, the population cannot concentrate on doing what they are best at – utilizing their comparative advantage – but have to produce more things by themselves. This leads to a decrease in consumption possibilities for the populations. This has also been the case in Iran, where people have struggled to acquire food and medicine. Therefore, it is also likely that the Iranian population will be better off as a result of the sanctions being lifted, and hostile attitudes towards the US might change.


This is not saying that the deal is perfect. It is not even saying that the deal will nullify the risk of Iran going to war. There is important research suggesting that it is not only trade, but economic freedom as a whole, that prevents countries from going to war – something that Iran still lacks (as they are ranked 171/178 on the Economic Freedom Index). What this is saying, however, is that the risk of Iran engaging in warfare will decrease as a result from the recent nuclear deal. As more countries trade with Iran, they will have less reason to go into interstate conflict, and considering their military history (the Islamic Republic has never invaded another country), the risk of an Iran-initiated war seems diminishingly small. Therefore, in order to support a more peaceful world, one should support the Iran nuclear deal.

Eva Forslund
2015 Summer Intern
Minaret of Freedom Institute

News and Analysis (7/27/15)

Monday, July 27th, 2015

In an effort to debunk Islamophobia and radicalization, a group of Muslims are releasing educational videos online to show what Islam really teaches:

The complexity of why young women are radicalized to join ISIS is addressed as a perfect storm between seeking identity and freedom, trying to follow one’s faith, and giving in to curiosity:

“The solution to extremism lies through strategies that enable rather than constrain the space for Muslim free expression”:

An eyewitness says that the victim was unarmed and  dead man’s family charges that the FBI “engaged in a concerted effort to manipulate and conceal the evidence concerning the brutal death of Abdullah'”:

An Irish Muslim leader thinks the “likelihood of widespread radicalisation in Ireland … is minimal”, yet warns, that unless Muslims must actively combat any radical interpretation their children face Islamophobia” …

… for regardless of the issue, “be it cultural practice or immigration rules, regardless of how religious they are or how much they practise, by simply being Muslim the youth are made to feel that they are on the wrong side” …

… and across the ocean, Canadian converts are subject to prejudice as well. “When people hear I’m a convert, they go, ‘you chose this? There’s something wrong with you. What rational modern person chooses this religion?'”:

Incarcerated journalist Mohamed Fahmy worries about the violations of freedom throughout the world, “as a realist, I know the true meaning of free speech does not exist, but I also believe we have to fight toward reform”:

“If a Muslim had a similar website, which includes bomb manuals and details about assassinations and establishing paramilitary groups, then you can be sure action would be taken” — Nick Lowles, Hope Not Hate chief executive:

After his mother refused to pray at a mosque because the ablution room was unsanitary, 22-year-old Sultan al-Subhi invented a robot to help Muslims keep it clean:

“Turkey’s unexpected move to launch raids against Kurdish rebels at the same time it is cracking down on the Islamic State group risks ending a period of relative calm that has been a boon for Turkey’s democracy and economy”:

News and Analysis (7/26/15)

Sunday, July 26th, 2015

A Muslim woman tells her would-be male atheist savoir: “I have the agency to tell you that Islam is a feminist religion and informs my role and positions on women’s rights issues. I am a feminist because I am Muslim”:

Nasrallah said freezing U.S. assets “does not make a slightest difference to our brothers” since the Hezbollah members have no money in the U.S.:

“MPs approved the bill on Saturday by a margin of 174-0 with 10 abstentions,” but Human Rights Watch fears the bill will “open the way to prosecuting political dissent as terrorism”:

“Yemeni forces allied with a Saudi-led coalition fought Houthi militia for control of the country’s largest air base north of Aden on Sunday, … hours before a humanitarian truce declared by the coalition was meant to start” …

… “after Saudi-led coalition airstrikes killed at least 80 people and injured at least 150 more in [a] Yemeni province…. [T]he Saudi-led coalition nullified [an previous truce] within hours”:

Cut off by heavy rain that washed out roads and with no reinforcements flown in to assist police at the large base after three days of attack, “they had no option: They had to join the Taliban”:

“Police said that a young Jewish man on Sunday attempted to enter while wearing … small leather boxes containing sacred texts worn by Orthodox men at prayer” and then bit “a policeman who tried to remove him”:

Th managing director charged with overseeing the school insists the situation “is no different from if a school rented space from a Catholic church that then used those proceeds to fund other activities”:

“There is no connection between these air strikes against PKK and recent understandings to intensify U.S.-Turkey cooperation against ISIL” — Brett McGurk, deputy special presidential envoy for the counter-IS coalition:

News and Analysis (7/23/15)

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

While the holy Qur’an has been interpreted by patriarchal scholars and resulted in misogynist policies, there is nothing inherently misogynic in Islam, as modern feminist scholars are now working to show:

The Lebanese Muslim Association accuses the government’s new plan to prevent radicalization for being just a “box-ticking” exercise and a waste of tax money:

“Given that [the] technology [to suspend travel privileges] exists, there is no need for the US government to add powers that could end up stripping passports from citizens unnecessarily,” writes Patrick Weil:

Although Islam is the second largest religion in Russia, practicing it is difficult as authorities will not permit building of new mosques:

Here’s why the Iran deal is not like the Munich deal of 1938, and while it is not solving all problems the US and Iran has, it is a step in the right direction…

…which is also emphasized by Secretary of State, John Kerry, who defended the deal before Congress saying Iran already has knowledge of nuclear technology and “[w]e can’t bomb [nor] sanction that knowledge away”:

While Israel tries simultaneously to weaken Hamas and strengthen it to make them seem more like the “beheaders of Islamic State,” Israel continues to ignore Palestinians’ rights:

“The overtures to the Brotherhood included a visit to the kingdom by Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, whose offices in Qatar were closed just in January at the Saudis’ behest”:

By 2050, the number of Muslims will nearly equal the number of Christians in the world, according to The Pew Research Center. In the United States, there will be more people who identify as Muslims than identify as Jewish”

After Chattanooga. the Muslim community is yet again called upon to condemn killings;  Zahra Billoo finds this counterproductive, since “we continue to associate ourselves with these crimes when we condemn them”:

News and Analysis (7/22/15)

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

Alaa Murabit argues that “[t]hose who used religion to justify discrimination against women were using cultural standards, not scriptural standards” and calls for women to reclaim the religion …

…but French feminists are abandoning the cause of empowering women by buying into the new, changed notion of political secularism, now used to advance anti-Muslim laws:

One of the oldest examples of the Qur’an have been found at University of Birmingham, possibly transcribed by someone who met the Prophet in person, supports the standard text:

Obama talks about the Iran nuclear deal on the Daily Show, pointing out that the deal is better than no deal at all, but dodging Jon Stewart’s question on whom we are fighting in the Middle East:

In fear of militant Islamists, the UAE clamps down on freedom of speech:

“I’m sure Ford wishes OJ (Simpson) hadn’t driven a Bronco and Kraft wishes Jim Jones hadn’t poisoned the Kool Aid…. Obviously none of these … endorsed their actions, just as I do not endorse this heinous act”:

After arguing that presuming the “Big Bang”to an accident is more fantastical than presuming it to be an act of agency, physician Kashif Chaudhry finds himself kicked off of some atheist blogs on a false charge of proslytization:

News and Analysis (7/21/15)

Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

Nathan Robinson points out the absurdity of the call to treat Muslim-Americans as the US treated Japanese-American during World War II, calling it a “racist disgrace that … left traumatic scars that last to this day”:

His Muslim missionary and theologian father taught him the hadith, “Loyalty to your country … is part of your faith,” so he sees “nothing Islamic” in the slaying of his comrades, “only the actions of a sick and twisted individual”:

Christians calling on Muslims to condemn terrorist attacks is problematic: it assumes there’s a inherent link between the two, it ignores Muslims who have condemned it, as well as Christianity’s own violent history:

He says the ban on Muslims does not extend to those who don’t threaten innocent civilians, but announcing the ban while standing in front of a Confederate battle flag could be dangerously inflammatory …

… considering that evangelist Franklin Graham’s statement that “[e]very Muslim that comes into this country has the potential of being radicalized” is an invitation to further radicalization into right-wing extremism:

“Campaigns like Reclaim … emerge and grow within an enabling environment where ideas that we once would have deemed unreasonable, intolerant and against our national character become mainstream”:

The true desecration of the memory of the Prophet (pbuh) and of the Qur’an is perpetrated by those who unleash fatal violence against people they dislike by accusing their victims of the self-same charges (no proof required):

As Cameron broadens the definition of extremism, a journalist and political commentator wonders , “[W]ill I be censored from the numerous platforms that I currently write for because of my religious and political views?”:

The fundamental right of religious freedom should not be violated because you are incarcerated. Still, Muslim prisoners of the Miami-Dade prison are denied Halal-food:

“Instead of banning the release of such videos, Baghdadi should have rather banned the crimes behind the scenes. But he has already justified the barbarism of his followers” – Ferid Hisso, Syrian politician and lawyer:

Religious Freedom: Rising Threats to a Fundamental Human Right

Monday, July 20th, 2015

“Religious Freedom: Rising Threats to a Fundamental Human Right”

At a conference held on July 16, 2015 at Georgetown University sponsored by the Religious Freedom Project at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace & World Affairs, Baylor University, and the American Bar Association Section of Individual Rights and Responsibilities: Committee on Religious Freedom, the Keynote Conversation featured Rep. Keith Ellison and Dr. Katrina Lantos-Swett (Tufts Univ.) and was moderated by Judge Ken Starr.

Ellison went to an all boys Catholic High School, yet when he got to Wayne State College he was an open-minded person in a seeking mode ready to hear some new messages. He heard a compelling message and was member of the Muslim community by the age of nineteen. His household was both tolerant and religious, and his mother debated more with his Baptist minister brother than with him. When he agreed to be sworn in on the Qur’an it caused a controversy which ended when he was sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s copy.

Ellison acknowledges that there were early religious fights in this country but believes that the attitude of the framers sent us on a trajectory hat has served us well over time. He noted that some European countries think freedom of religion means freedom from religion, but he argues that religious freedom does not mean the freedom to be the same, but the freedom to be different. The freedom to be unorthodox and the freedom of public expression, to wear symbols of one’s religion are essential. He thinks we Americans on this subject are onto something really good and shouldn’t be shy about standing up to say freedom of faith.

Starr added that freedom to express one’s faith in the public square is essential noting that Article 3 of the Northwest Ordinance of 1849 says, “Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged.”

Ellisons said that religious freedom is good because freedom of conscience is good. Religion may not always be a good thing. Some devout people have done things of which we are not proud, but religion promotes many good things like honesty, charity, and a sense of public responsibility. It must be coupled with tolerance.

Starr asked what would Ellision tell visiting Chinese dignitaries on the importance of religious freedom? He replied that religion is a source of imagination and creativity. If you limit it you are limiting the thought process. The assumption that we need uniformity in order to have social cohesion is completely wrong. Consider Somalia which is thoroughly homogeneous and violently divided. Ellidion noted that in the U.S. we have mass killings over race or other things, but rarely over religion.

Responding to Starr’s observation that some research showed that in countries that allow Christian missionaries to operate with freedom, prosperity, health and education are positively affected, Ellison said that if you want a liberal arts education, it is the Christians who are offering it. Education in Muslim schools is memorization, not critical thought, which he does not consider to be education. He himself is the product of Catholic education, a Catholic in the Catholic school with Jewish and other non-Catholic classmates. He asserted that in the public schools they are not trying to educate but to indoctrinate with loyalty  to the leader.

Lantos-Swett said the core of religious freedom is the right of people to live in accordance with their conscience, according the full range of their beliefs. It goes to the essence of our dignity and identity as human beings, and out of it come our other rights like speech, association, the press, etc.

Starr asked what role should religious freedom issues playing the formulation and conduct of U.S. foreign policies. Ellison replied that while it may not satisfy the idealist, foreign policy will away have to balance our ideals against our security and economic interests. We should speak our values in the international forum and we should make it clear that if other countries go too far–whatever that is–it will affect our trade policies. The question is then how far do we push this before we annoy our allies? Because of his failure to act in the Gujurat riots, the current PM of India couldn’t get a visa to come to the U.S. until he became PM.

Lantos-Swett feels that it is in our pragmatic interest to put religious freedom higher up. We tend to put religious freedom in a box and bring it out when convenient. Societies that respect religious freedom tend to be stable with better status for women, etc., while those that do not tend to be breeding grounds for terrorism that does not stay within its borders. She noted that a huge percentage of our foreign service officers are such secular individuals that they are not prepared to interact constructively with those who feel that are being viewed as a specimen in a museum rather than as a worthy partner.

Ellison agreed, noting that during the negotiations with Iran, Kerry took breaks to Sunday services and Zarif took breaks to go to Friday prayers. He said he would like the U.S. to be more vocal against FGM.

Starr noted that the International Religious Freedom Act of 1988 anticipated the kinds of issues about which we should be thinking and said that HR1150 is now before Congress with a specific provision for training foreign service officers in the culture of the countries to which they are deployed, and religion is an important part of culture. Lantos-Swett said that Article 18 of the Universal Declaration has a capacious view of religious freedom, and Starr noted that it included the freedom to change one’s religion.

Starr asked how do we measure the limits of religious freedom and majoritarian practice? Ellison thought the individual right should be given some, but not absolute deference, noting that School children get winter break at Christmas time and spring break at Easter time, adding that there is a Christian majority is a fact of life and deserves respect. Lantos-Swett referred back to the individual right of freedom of conscience as the key to understanding these issues, saying that the American spirit of pragmatism and seeking a reasonable accommodation will continue to serve us better than absolutism or triumphalism. Government should not prohibit people from doing what their conscience demands nor prohibit them from doing that which their conscience prohibits.

In response to my questionb as to whether the Strict Scrutiny Test which has served so well to defend freedom of speech was not the solution to balancing religious freedom against majoritarian intrusion, Starr said that strict scrutiny was imported into religious freedom in the Sherbert case and came back 10 years later when SCOTUS essentially unanimously supported Yoder’s right to pull his children from school. In the Smith decision it was abandoned for a weaker standard of general applicability, but Congress reinstituted strict scrutiny with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which he thinks every American school child should read.

I reminded him that strict scrutiny requires more than just that the government demonstrate a compelling interest. They must also prove that they have met that interest by the least restrictive means possible. Starr agreed, noting that in the Hobby Lobby Case the government was deemed to have met the compelling government interest test but not the least restrictive means possible test. In The Little Sisters of the Poor Case he thinks it will come into play again, but only if the record is properly built. He quoted Brandeis: “Facts, facts, facts.”

A Hindu questioner asked how appropriate are apologies issued for crimes committed hundreds of years ago but that shaped the world today? Lantos-Swett thought that most people would welcome that acknowledgement of past wrongs, but I think it would be a mistake to call proselytizing an abusive practice but added that a distinction needs to be drawn between abusive practices and legitimate sharing.

Star added that proselytizing is a contentious term. The invitation should be a warm and cordial invitation.  SCOTUS defended the Cantwells’ right to use inflammatory language as they knocked on people’s doors in a Catholic neighborhood.

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

News and Analysis (7/20/15)

Monday, July 20th, 2015

The Iran deal is not perfect, but critics need to remember that the alternative to a deal would most likely be worse:

And therefore, the EU will back the deal, hoping it will push the US Congress to do the same:

A newly opened Palestinian TV station has been ordered to shut down, and the Ministry of Culture frequently cracks down on Arab or Israel-critic media, “Israel’s liberal [newspaper] Haaretz daily [calling it]  ‘ugly’, ‘Stalinist'”:

While the analysis of what attracts people to terrorism may be accurate, it is not clear how Cameron will implement policies in a way that will not further alienate the Muslim community:

Playing on people’s fears from the Chattanooga shooting, presidential candidate Rand Paul calls for extra scrutiny of immigrants from predominantly Muslim countries …

… but no connection to any Islamic terrorist organizations have been found, and the recovery of the suspect’s diary reveals a picture of a man struggling with addiction and mental problems:

Daesh fighters are training young children how to behead, indoctrinating them with their disturbing interpretation of Islam; they have “given up” on the older generation, and now they “care about the new generation”:

A queer Muslimah knows well-enough that some “attempts at queering the Quran … feel like stretches, like playing with words” and she relies “instead, on my faith, on my practice. My trust in justice, in mercy”: