Monday, May 30, 2005

Dissing the Qur'an

Just wanted to post these two interesting perspectives.

From Newsweek:

While Islamist fanatics and ignorant Westerners sow panic over the alleged desecration of a Koran at Guantanamo Bay, no one mentions a startling fact: When it comes to destruction of the Koran, there's no question who the world champion is--the government of Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi state religion is the primitive and austere Wahhabi version of Islam, which defines many traditional Islamic practices as idolatrous. Notably, the state bans the importation of Korans published elsewhere. When foreign pilgrims arrive at the Saudi border by the millions for the annual journey to Mecca, what happens to the non-Saudi Korans they are carrying? The border guards confiscate them, to be shredded, pulped, or burned. Beautiful bindings and fine paper are viewed as a particular provocation--all are destroyed. (This on top of the spiritual vandalism the Saudis perpetrate, by inserting anti-Jewish and anti-Christian squibs into the Korans they publish in foreign languages, as Stephen Schwartz documented in our issue of September 27, 2004.)

This behavior isn't a recent innovation, by the way. Here's an account of how the Saudis carried on when they seized the city of Taif in 1802. It's taken from an unimpeachable Islamic source, the compilation Advice for the Muslim, edited by the Turkish scholar Hilmi Isik and published by Hakikat Kitabevi in Istanbul:

The Wahhabis tore up the copies of the Koran . . . and other Islamic books they took from libraries, mosques and houses, and threw them down on the ground. They made sandals from the gold-gilded leather covers of the Koran and other books and wore them on their filthy feet.

There were verses of the Koran and other sacred writings on those leather covers. The pages of those valuable books thrown around were so numerous that there was no space to step in the streets of Taif. . . . The Wahhabi bandits, who were gathered from the deserts for looting and who did not know the Koran, tore up all the copies they found and stamped on them. Only three copies of the Koran were saved from the plunder of a major town, Taif.

No wonder anti-Wahhabi Muslims say "the Saudis print the Koran to destroy it." They print it and they destroy it in a daily desecration that makes Newsweek's retracted Guantanamo allegation look trivial by comparison.

I'm not sure where this is from:

Blaming the victim for Qur'an desecrations


It is hard to believe but there are commentators who are berating those who protested the desecration of the Qur'an, not those who did the desecrating. This attitude of blaming the victims fits the tenor of the times. The colonial British and the French were also adept at holding the Indians and Algerians responsible for their own plight.

The pundits are being even more bizarre than the Bush administration, which skewered Newsweek for reporting the sacrilege, not those who committed it.

Even as the Bush administration continues its cover-up for presiding over one of the most shameful chapters in prisoner abuse, here is New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman, reprinted in the Toronto Star no less, hectoring the Afghans and others for being stupid enough to take to the streets in dismay.

He is not alone, and he and the other new Orientalists are entitled to their views, as also their logical contortions to continue rationalizing the war on Iraq. But their myopia does cause concern.

Here are their arguments, with one person's response:Political opportunists in Pakistan and elsewhere hijacked the Qur'an incidents to whip up public fury.

Don't our politicians exploit every chance to advance their agenda and themselves, often at the expense of the common good? Aren't George W. Bush and other Republicans particularly adept at using religious and moral wedge issues?

Muslims should be up in arms about the killing of 17 fellow Muslims in the Qur'an protests.

Unlike the impression left of crowds lynching one another, most of those who died were killed in police shootings ordered by the pro-American governments of Gen. Pervez Musharraf and Hamid Karzai.

There has been plenty of criticism of that, which is not what Messrs. Friedman and others, shedding crocodile tears, are looking for. What they want is for Muslims to berate Muslims for being Muslim in a way not acceptable to America.

Muslims must condemn "their culture of death," as demonstrated in the Qur'an protests and in suicide bombings, lately in Iraq.

Sure. But as a recent study by Robert Pape, professor at the University of Chicago, has shown, suicide bombings are not the exclusive preserve of Muslims. The Tamil Tigers, who happen to be Hindu, have been the leading user of that dastardly weapon.

More importantly, the Arab and Muslim world has had much to say, and with good reason, about America's "culture of death," as seen in the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis in the last three years, and in the earlier deaths of an estimated 500,000 children in the American-led economic sanctions, and in American complicity by silence in Russia's butchering of more than 100,000 Chechens.

Why the soft-pedalling of such mass deaths but the frothy denunciations of the Muslim mayhem, which is minuscule by comparison?

All killings must be condemned. But honesty demands context and perspective.

Nobody mounts deadly demonstrations when the Bible or other sacred texts are violated. This point has drawn two responses: the Qur'an plays a far more central role in the lives of Muslims than do the sacred texts for others, and, secondly, it's not the fault of Muslims if other believers, especially in the West, have lost their sense of the sacred (something the new Pope also complains about). But that misses the greater principle: Having guaranteed freedom of \r\nreligion, it is not for us to dictate how strongly some people might \r\nfeel about their faith, so long as they operate within the rule of \r\nlaw. \r\n\r\nThe protests over the Qur\'an episodes have been presented as the ",1]
Friedman and others, shedding crocodile tears, are looking for. What they want is for Muslims to berate Muslims for being Muslim in a way not acceptable to America.Muslims must condemn "their culture of death," as demonstrated in the Qur'an protests and in suicide bombings, lately in Iraq. Sure. But as a recent study by Robert Pape, professor at the University of Chicago, has shown, suicide bombings are not the exclusive preserve of Muslims. The Tamil Tigers, who happen to be Hindu, have been the leading user of that dastardly weapon. More importantly, the Arab and Muslim world has had much to say, and with good reason, about America's "culture of death," as seen in the killing of tens of thousands of innocent Iraqis in the last three years, and in the earlier deaths of an estimated 500,000 children in the American-led economic sanctions, and in American complicity by silence in Russia's butchering of more than 100,000 Chechens. Why the soft-pedalling of such mass deaths but the frothy denunciations of the Muslim mayhem, which is minuscule by comparison? All killings must be condemned. But honesty demands context and perspective. Nobody mounts deadly demonstrations when the Bible or other sacred texts are violated. This point has drawn two responses: the Qur'an plays a far more central role in the lives of Muslims than do the sacred texts for others, and, secondly, it's not the fault of Muslims if other believers, especially in the West, have lost their sense of the sacred (something the new Pope also complains about). But that misses the greater principle: Having guaranteed freedom of religion, it is not for us to dictate how strongly some people might feel about their faith, so long as they operate within the rule of law. The protests over the Qur'an episodes have been presented as the
\r\nutterly incomprehensible actions of illiterate and irrational mobs. \r\nThey are at one level. But on another, they are understandable — not \r\njustifiable but understandable — given the scandalous mistreatment of \r\nMuslims in America, Iraq and in Afghanistan, day after day, for more \r\nthan three years. \r\n\r\nHuman Rights Watch, joining the international chorus of condemnation, \r\nconfirmed this week that religious humiliation of Muslims has been \r\nwidespread in American-run jails. \r\n\r\nAnd Amnesty International, in one of its toughest reports yet, called \r\nGuantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times." \r\n\r\nYet the media mostly ignored those reports. They were busy baiting \r\nMuslims. \r\n\r\nOne longs for the day in the future when we will be ready to look \r\nback at this dark period and hang our heads in shame. \r\n\r\nHaroon Siddiqui is the Star\'s editorial page editor emeritus. His \r\ncolumn appears Thursday and Sunday.",1]
utterly incomprehensible actions of illiterate and irrational mobs. They are at one level. But on another, they are understandable — not justifiable but understandable — given the scandalous mistreatment of Muslims in America, Iraq and in Afghanistan, day after day, for more than three years. Human Rights Watch, joining the international chorus of condemnation, confirmed this week that religious humiliation of Muslims has been widespread in American-run jails. And Amnesty International, in one of its toughest reports yet, called Guantanamo Bay "the gulag of our times." Yet the media mostly ignored those reports. They were busy baiting Muslims. One longs for the day in the future when we will be ready to look back at this dark period and hang our heads in shame.


Thursday, May 26, 2005

"I have a Dream..."

I love quotations & one of my favorite ones is by Gandhi that says, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Last year, I took a Human Rights class & we learned about Gandhi's principle of non-violence to fight oppression. We read a book called A Force More Powerful that recorded all the non-violent movements in the 20th century & I was blown away by the power people can have only if they organize towards a cause. That's what people like Prophet Mohamed, our Imams, Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr & others did. But for me, there's a recent hero: Paul Wellstone.

Fall'02 marked my initiation into politics & I was so excited but when Paul & Sheila Wellsone died in the plane crash, I was crushed. I remember crying for days & feeling so angry at God & kept asking "Why him, Why now?" Ironically, his first & last vote in the Senate were his votes against the war in Iraq in 1991 & 2002. I had admired him so much for his honesty, integrity, energy & how he connected with people - he gave people hope & inspired them to dream of a bright future. I always say that the one thing that Muslim communities lack today is an inspirational leader - someone who can sell a dream. I first heard MLK's I have a Dream in Grade 9 during the opening ceremony of the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996 & was moved to tears. I can only imagine what a huge difference he made in the lives for thousands of African Americans trying to convince them that they could end segregation through non-violence.

Fortunately, after the death of the Wellstones, his family & friends did not give up & realized the need to keep fighting. Thus, they created Camp Wellstone - a weekend conference that I attended last week. We were taught Wellstone's principles on how to organize, build a base & be a leader. The purpose of the conference is to make us all realize that our goal is not to win the next election but build a progressive movement in the United States & take back our country. It was an empowering & inspiring experience to meet so many people who work on issues ranging from poverty, education, health care to the environment. I didn't feel alone anymore. I met this amazing woman who lived through segregation & remembered the Civil Rights Movement & talked about the power of dreams...I believe her. I feel like people can take anything away from me but as long as I can dream & hope, I have power...

And that's why I like's the epicenter of politics & I don't feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. People don't think it's weird that I start my day listening to NPR - I mean c'mon, there's nothing more soothing than the familiar voice of Carl Kasell! I like the fact that my co-workers & I begin our work day reading NY Times & get excited about things like fair trade tea & coffee (which we now use in our office - wooohoo!!). I also really enjoy the diversity, being able to walk to work & take the metro train to almost anywhere I need to - driving in DC is CRAZZZYY! Because people come from all over the US, you get driving diversity of the slow drivers from the South, to the moderate mid-westerners to the brake-slamming east/west coasters! I also have to say that customer service in DC sucks - I have been so spoilt with the "Customer Comes First" hospitality of Minnesota. And it would be nice to breathe in some of that fresh air again...However after all is said and done, having lived in Dubai, Minnesota, Amman & now DC, in many ways, I'm a city gal at heart! :o)

On the light side, since I've moved to DC, I've been watching more TV than I did in Minnesota. For example, I had never watched The American Idol, Desperate Housewives, or Alias before. Last Sunday, I went to get something from the refrigerator in the TV room in the basement & it was packed with girls - why? They were watching the last season episode of "Desperate Housewives" & I have to admit I was drawn in. I'm still not a big fan of "The American Idol," but I'm definitely hooked to "Alias"! I've been following the life of Sydney, Nadia & Vaughn for the past few weeks & was really engrossed in yesterday's last episode of the season....& then bam it left us all hanging in suspense over what happened to Vaughn! AAAAHHH...well, I guess ABC now has a fan who will be eagerly waiting for the season to start again in the Fall!

I also never got involved with American sports in MN - sorry I can't stand American football or hockey - they're so violent! I was a huge cricket fan in Dubai, so when I was offered free tickets to a baseball game a few weeks ago, I took it. Yes, I know they're very different games, but at least the principle is similar. It was fun to watch the DC Nationals beat the NY Mets 5-1!

Anyways, it's time for me to hit the sack. I hope you all have a GREAT Memorial Weekend *fingers crossed for good weather!*

Take care y'all...Luv 'n' regards


Friday, May 20, 2005

Blowing up an assumption

From the NY Times:

MANY Americans are mystified by the recent rise in the number and the audacity of suicide attacks in Iraq. The lull in violence after January's successful elections seemed to suggest that the march of democracy was trampling the threat of terrorism. But as electoral politics is taking root, the Iraqi insurgency and suicide terrorism are actually gaining momentum. In the past two weeks, suicide attackers have killed more than 420 Iraqis working with the United States and its allies. There were 20 such incidents in 2003, nearly 50 in 2004, and they are on pace to set a new record this year.

To make sense of this apparent contradiction, one has to understand the strategic logic of suicide terrorism. Since Muslim terrorists professing religious motives have perpetrated many of the attacks, it might seem obvious that Islamic fundamentalism is the central cause, and thus the wholesale transformation of Muslim societies into secular democracies, even at the barrel of a gun, is the obvious solution. However, the presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading, and it may spur American policies that are likely to worsen the situation.

Over the past two years, I have compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 through 2003 - 315 in all. This includes every episode in which at least one terrorist killed himself or herself while trying to kill others, but excludes attacks authorized by a national government (like those by North Korean agents against South Korea).

The data show that there is far less of a connection between suicide terrorism and religious fundamentalism than most people think.

The leading instigator of suicide attacks is the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are from Hindu families but who are adamantly opposed to religion. This group committed 76 of the 315 incidents, more than Hamas (54) or Islamic Jihad (27). Even among Muslims, secular groups like the Kurdistan Workers' Party, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al Aksa Martyr Brigades account for more than a third of suicide attacks.

What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks actually have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause.

Three general patterns in the data support these conclusions. First, nearly all suicide terrorist attacks - 301 of the 315 in the period I studied - took place as part of organized political or military campaigns. Second, democracies are uniquely vulnerable to suicide terrorists; America, France, India, Israel, Russia, Sri Lanka and Turkey have been the targets of almost every suicide attack of the past two decades. Third, suicide terrorist campaigns are directed toward a strategic objective: from Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign - 18 organizations in all - are seeking to establish or maintain political self-determination.

Before Israel's invasion of Lebanon in 1982, there was no Hezbollah suicide terrorist campaign against Israel; indeed, Hezbollah came into existence only after this event. Before the Sri Lankan military began moving into the Tamil homelands of the island in 1987, the Tamil Tigers did not use suicide attacks. Before the huge increase in Jewish settlers on the West Bank in the 1980's, Palestinian groups did not use suicide terrorism.

And, true to form, there had never been a documented suicide attack in Iraq until after the American invasion in 2003. Much is made of the fact that we aren't sure who the Iraqi suicide attackers are. This is not unusual in the early years of a suicide terrorist campaign. Hezbollah published most of the biographies and last testaments of its "martyrs" only after it abandoned the suicide-attack strategy in 1986, a pattern adopted by the Tamil Tigers as well.

At the moment, our best information indicates that the attackers in Iraq are Sunni Iraqis and foreign fighters, principally from Saudi Arabia. If so, this would mean that the two main sources of suicide terrorists in Iraq are from the Arab countries deemed most vulnerable to transformation by the presence of American combat troops. This is fully consistent with what we now know about the strategic logic of suicide terrorism.

Some have wondered if the rise of suicide terrorism in Iraq is really such a bad thing for American security. Is it not better to have these killers far away in Iraq rather than here in the United States? Alas, history shows otherwise. The presence of tens of thousands of American combat forces on the Arabian Peninsula after 1990 enabled Al Qaeda to recruit suicide terrorists, who in turn attacked Americans in the region (the African embassy bombings in 1998 and the attack on the destroyer Cole in 2000). The presence of nearly 150,000 American combat troops in Iraq since 2003 can only give suicide terrorism a boost, and the longer this suicide terrorist campaign continues the greater the risk of new attacks in the United States.

Understanding that suicide terrorism is mainly a response to foreign occupation rather than a product of Islamic fundamentalism has important implications for how the United States and its allies should conduct the war on terrorism. Spreading democracy across the Persian Gulf is not likely to be a panacea so long as foreign combat troops remain on the Arabian Peninsula. If not for the world's interest in Persian Gulf oil, the obvious solution might well be simply to abandon the region altogether. Isolationism, however, is not possible; America needs a new strategy that pursues our vital interest in oil but does not stimulate the rise of a new generation of suicide terrorists.

BEYOND recognizing the limits of military action and stepping up domestic security efforts, Americans would do well to recall the virtues of our traditional policy of "offshore balancing" in the Persian Gulf. During the 1970's and 1980's, the United States managed its interests there without stationing any combat soldiers on the ground, but keeping our forces close enough - either on ships or in bases near the region - to deploy in huge numbers if an emergency. This worked splendidly to defeat Iraq's aggression against Kuwait in 1990.

THE Bush administration rightly intends to start turning over the responsibility for Iraq's security to the new government and systematically withdrawing American troops. But large numbers of these soldiers should not simply be sent to Iraq's neighbors, where they will continue to enrage many in the Arab world. Keeping the peace from a discreet distance seems a better way to secure our interests in the world's key oil-producing region without provoking more terrorism.

Robert A. Pape, an associate professor of political scienceat the University of Chicago, is the author of the forthcoming "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism."


History in the making in Kuwait

From The Daily Star:

Kuwait's Parliament passed a law granting women the right to vote and cleared the way for women to run in parliamentary elections for the first time in the emirate's history.

Prime Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah told reporters at Parliament he planned to name a woman minister.

"I congratulate the women of Kuwait for having achieved their political rights," he said.

However, an article included in the bill requires that any female politician or voter abide by Islamic law. It was not clear what limits this may put on women's rights.

The bill was approved in a 35-23 vote with one abstention, bringing scores of women activists in the gallery to their feet in applause. Some ululated and began singing the national anthem.

"I am overexcited. I can't believe this," said activist Rola Dashti, who said she would run in the next parliamentary election, in 2007. "I'm starting my campaign as of today."

Dashti said she was not concerned by the vague reference to Islamic law, saying it probably just meant separate polling stations and not an Islamic dress code.

"They can't impose veils on voters," she said.

The bill comes too late for women to participate in municipal elections in June. The next polls they can vote and run in will be the 2007 parliamentary elections.

Kuwait's Cabinet had asked for the vote earlier Monday in a surprise move after a number of attempts had been stymied by hard-line lawmakers, who successfully inserted the Islamic law article in the final bill.

Women activists have for years been pushing for their right to vote and run for Parliament, but several attempts to give them political rights have over the years been defeated in the house.
Monday's historic vote entails the amendment of Article One of the electoral law, which has hitherto limited the right to vote to men.

It was deemed out of step with the emirate's Constitution which stipulates equality of the sexes.

On May 3, Kuwait's Parliament failed to approve a bill that would have allowed women to vote and stand for election in time for municipal polls due to take place later this year.

The failed vote prompted some 150 Kuwaiti women activists to sign a statement which accused government ministers of taking part in a "conspiracy" against their political rights.

Emir Sheikh Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah, who favors giving women the vote, issued a decree in 1999 granting women full political rights but it was narrowly rejected by Parliament the same year.

Massouma al-Mubarak, a political analyst and professor at Kuwait University, said the move was long overdue.

"This is the right thing to do," she said. "It is no favor from anyone."

But she said that any conditions put on the bill would be a violation of the Constitution.

"When you put conditions only for women, this is extraconstitutional. The Constitution puts no conditions" on any one, she said. "No dress code, no Islamic law, and no nonsense."

Although Kuwaiti women have reached high positions in oil, education and the diplomatic corps, the country's 1962 election law limited their political rights.

With only men over 21 who are not members of the police or the military allowed to vote, just over 139,000 are registered to cast ballots out 960,000 Kuwaitis. With women over 21 voting, as stipulated under the new law, the figure could reach 339,000.

Women can now vote in all Middle Eastern nations where elections are held except Saudi Arabia


Sunday, May 15, 2005

Torture's broad tentacles

The true purpose of torture
Guantánamo is there to terrorise - both inmates and the wider world

From The Guardian:

I recently caught a glimpse of the effects of torture in action at an event honouring Maher Arar. The Syrian-born Canadian is the world's most famous victim of "rendition", the process by which US officials outsource torture to foreign countries. Arar was switching planes in New York when US interrogators detained him and "rendered" him to Syria, where he was held for 10 months in a cell slightly larger than a grave and taken out periodically for beatings.

Arar was being honoured for his courage by the Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations, a mainstream advocacy organisation. The audience gave him a heartfelt standing ovation, but there was fear mixed in with the celebration. Many of the prominent community leaders kept their distance from Arar, responding to him only tentatively. Some speakers were unable even to mention the honoured guest by name, as if he had something they could catch. And perhaps they were right: the tenuous "evidence" - later discredited - that landed Arar in a rat-infested cell was guilt by association. And if that could happen to Arar, a successful software engineer and family man, who is safe?

In a rare public speech, Arar addressed this fear directly. He told the audience that an independent commissioner has been trying to gather evidence of law-enforcement officials breaking the rules when investigating Muslim Canadians. The commissioner has heard dozens of stories of threats, harassment and inappropriate home visits. But, Arar said, "not a single person made a public complaint. Fear prevented them from doing so." Fear of being the next Maher Arar.

The fear is even thicker among Muslims in the United States, where the Patriot Act gives police the power to seize the records of any mosque, school, library or community group on mere suspicion of terrorist links. When this intense surveillance is paired with the ever-present threat of torture, the message is clear: you are being watched, your neighbour may be a spy, the government can find out anything about you. If you misstep, you could disappear on to a plane bound for Syria, or into "the deep dark hole that is Guantánamo Bay", to borrow a phrase from Michael Ratner, president of the Centre for Constitutional Rights.

But this fear has to be finely calibrated. The people being intimidated need to know enough to be afraid but not so much that they demand justice. This helps explain why the defence department will release certain kinds of seemingly incriminating information about Guantánamo - pictures of men in cages, for instance - at the same time that it acts to suppress photographs on a par with what escaped from Abu Ghraib. And it might also explain why the Pentagon approved a new book by a former military translator, including the passages about prisoners being sexually humiliated, but prevented him from writing about the widespread use of attack dogs. This strategic leaking of information, combined with official denials, induces a state of mind that Argentinians describe as "knowing/not knowing", a vestige of their "dirty war".

'Obviously, intelligence agents have an incentive to hide the use of unlawful methods," says Jameel Jaffer of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). "On the other hand, when they use rendition and torture as a threat, it's undeniable that they benefit, in some sense, from the fact that people know that intelligence agents are willing to act unlawfully. They benefit from the fact that people understand the threat and believe it to be credible."

And the threats have been received. In an affidavit filed with an ACLU court challenge to section 215 of the Patriot Act, Nazih Hassan, president of the Muslim Community Association of Ann Arbor in Michigan, describes this new climate. Membership and attendance are down, donations are way down, board members have resigned - Hassan says his members avoid doing anything that could get their names on lists. One member testified anonymously that he has "stopped speaking out on political and social issues" because he doesn't want to draw attention to himself.

This is torture's true purpose: to terrorise - not only the people in Guantánamo's cages and Syria's isolation cells but also, and more importantly, the broader community that hears about these abuses. Torture is a machine designed to break the will to resist - the individual prisoner's will and the collective will.

This is not a controversial claim. In 2001 the US NGO Physicians for Human Rights published a manual on treating torture survivors that noted: "Perpetrators often attempt to justify their acts of torture and ill-treatment by the need to gather information. Such conceptualisations obscure the purpose of torture ... The aim of torture is to dehumanise the victim, break his/her will, and at the same time set horrific examples for those who come in contact with the victim. In this way, torture can break or damage the will and coherence of entire communities."

Yet despite this body of knowledge, torture continues to be debated in the United States as if it were merely a morally questionable way to extract information, not an instrument of state terror. But there's a problem: no one claims that torture is an effective interrogation tool -least of all the people who practise it. Torture "doesn't work. There are better ways to deal with captives," CIA director Porter Goss told the Senate intelligence committee on February 16. And a recently declassified memo written by an FBI official in Guantánamo states that extreme coercion produced "nothing more than what FBI got using simple investigative techniques". The army's own interrogation field manual states that force "can induce the source to say whatever he thinks the interrogator wants to hear".

And yet the abuses keep on coming - Uzbekistan as the new hotspot for renditions; the "El Salvador model" imported to Iraq. And the only sensible explanation for torture's persistent popularity comes from a most unlikely source. Lynndie England, the fall girl for Abu Ghraib, was asked during her botched trial why she and her colleagues had forced naked prisoners into a human pyramid. "As a way to control them," she replied.

Exactly. As an interrogation tool, torture is a bust. But when it comes to social control, nothing works quite like torture.

A version of this article is published in The Nation at


New Muslim Groups: the Ugly, the Bad and the Good

When I first decided to name my blog, "Progressive Muslim Thoughts," my aim was to bring a moderate-to-liberal perspective not only on religious but political issues as well. I have to admit that I wish I had named it something else because the word "progressive" has so many connotations. For example, if you don't support gay or abortion rights, you are often termed as "conservative." It is also important to revisit the word progress itself - what does it really mean? To be secular? To be industrialized? To be Western? The reason I am posting these thoughts is because the article below is very interesting regarding the recent political fervor amongst Muslims following 9/11 and the war in Iraq & the birth of many groups, some good & some not so good! However, the author of the article is vice chair of the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU) which has caused a lot of controversy regarding its stances on several issues including homosexuality. So if I don't support PMU, does that mean I'm not a "progressive" Muslim? What is progressive Islam is an interesting article on PMU's site.

From Muslim Wakeup:

In the wake of a number of seismic changes to conditions facing the American Muslim community in recent years, including the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the subsequent backlash against the community, a massive increase in defamation against Islam and Muslims in the United States, and the invasion and occupation of Iraq, a number of new American Muslim organizations have emerged. In particular, a set of organizations has been developing that respond, or purport to respond, to the need felt by many in the community to express a more progressive American Muslim agenda. However, the community needs to be very clear about distinguishing efforts which are organic, and which are driven by established figures within the community corresponding to the needs of a genuine constituency among American Muslims, from efforts which are either aimed primarily at a non-Muslim audience and which essentially stigmatize American Muslims, or those which reflect attempts by forces hostile to American Muslims to speak on behalf of the community using organizations that function like a ventriloquist's dummy.

There has been a great deal of confusion about several of these new organizations, and it is the intention of this article to make these important differences clear. In this article I will outline three new organizations, and explain why they constitute the ugly, the bad and the good among these new groups. I serve as the vice chair of the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU), but I also speak from a vantage point reflecting many years of service to the community and a great deal of information that is not widely known. It is imperative that American Muslims understand exactly who is speaking under the aegis of an "American Muslim organization" and what they are saying.

The Ugly: Free Muslims Against Terrorism (FMAT)

This organization is an attempt to resuscitate the failed political career of Palestinian American lawyer Kamal Nawash as a Republican candidate for local elected office in Virginia, and inoculate him against the charges of disloyalty universally applied to Arab and Muslim Americans by those who detest our community. The chronology is a simple one, and self-explanatory. For a couple of years, Kamal worked at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) as an attorney, and for much of that time I was its Communications Director. After being asked to leave ADC, Kamal set himself up as a private lawyer, but his main intention was to become a player in local Republican politics. He ran twice for office, and was twice badly defeated. Kamal publicly cited attacks against him by Daniel Pipes on his blog website under the heading "Kamal Nawash - Hussein Ibish's Favorite Political Candidate?" as having been partly responsible for the defeat.

Apparently, Kamal decided at some point that his association with ADC and the mainstream of the community, as well as his having served as one of the early attorneys and public spokespersons in defense of the former American Muslim Council leader Abdelrahman Alamoudi, was an insurmountable obstacle to his political ambitions, and decided to form a group whose purpose would be to ensure that charges such as the ones leveled against him by Pipes and others would somehow not be repeated. In other words, Kamal decided to say and do whatever it took to get in Pipes' good graces.

He has essentially established the political equivalent of a sex-talk phone service: "tell me your fantasy baby, I'll be anything you want me to be, etc." with Daniel Pipes as his main audience. The big problem is, of course, that this has entailed, as a sine qua non, a massive attack by Kamal on the entire community and all of its major organizations, since he has had to claim, and has made the centerpiece of his efforts, the absurd idea that his is "the first and only American Muslim group to condemn terrorism in all its forms." This is not only a lie, it's a damned and odious lie, and Kamal knows very well that it is a lie, but for his purposes he needed to say this and so he did.

Thus his project of becoming the "first and only" among the Muslims to be genuinely opposed to terrorism necessitated a contrast with both all existing organizations and with the community in general. It mandated, in fact, a massive implicit attack against the American Muslim community. This was provided not only through numerous statements implying that most other American Muslims and community organizations are basically pro-terrorism, but also through a disgraceful appearance on the O'Reilly Factor on FoxNews Channel on August 5, 2004. Nawsh placed all the onus for difficulties facing American Muslims not on the terrorists who laid the basis for a backlash by their insane violence, or on the bigots who conduct and promote the backlash, but on a broad-bush of community groups in general: "because a lot of the Muslim organizations in this country agree with the overall goal, that same goal, maybe not the tactics of these terrorist organizations, it's also very difficult for them to criticize this. And this is foolish. This is stupid. And they're endangering -- I think the Muslim organizations in this country have -- are the ones who endangered the Muslims in this country." (We are sexy young girls, call now, etc.)

O'Reilly asked Kamal how many Muslims around the world "are fascists who want this theocracy," and implicitly support both the aims and methods of Al Qaeda. Kamal obliged with the following: "I think it's much, much larger than anyone is willing to admit. Because I really would say -- if I was to say it's about 50 percent, I don't think that's far-fetched." Pulled straight out of his own ass, of course, but the figure was useful in promoting the idea that Kamal is, single-handedly and valiantly, standing up to a virtual majority in the community worldwide that stands behind fascism and terrorism - at last, the good Muslim (we knew there had to be at least one out there somewhere). Even Bill O'Reilly, who has pretty much heard it all, was taken aback by this wild claim, saying "Wow!" Wow, indeed. The whole episode was so disgraceful that Kamal had to later issue a clarification that he did not intend to imply that 50 percent of the world's Muslims support terrorism and al Qeada, even though that was precisely the implication of his remarks, and for obvious reasons.

Kamal's strategy of posing as "the good Muslim" in the eyes of the right-wing audience, with which he has been well acquainted since being a young David Duke supporter in Louisiana Republican circles, also required extraordinary displays of abjection, and making an ostentatious display of subordination. The crescendo of this campaign of flinging himself, and on their unsolicited behalf, the community at the feet of our fellow Americans in groveling, sniffling, masochistic abjection was an extraordinary article issued on September 10, 2004 entitled "We Are So Sorry For 9-11." Obviously, a healthy combination of decency and dignity called instantly after 9/11 for Arab and Muslim Americans to express their outrage and unequivocal condemnation of the terrorist attacks, and leaders of all major community organizations in fact did just that. For many Americans, especially those inclined to see the world in terms of a hierarchy of identity groups and who see Arab and Muslim Americans not as integral parts of the United States but rather as interlopers here at the sufferance of "real Americans," that wasn't good enough. What many people, especially on the right, were waiting to hear was an abject apology that took upon itself the collective guilt for 9/11 that they unfairly assigned to Arab and/or Muslim Americans, for someone to speak as if the community in general was somehow culpable in the attacks. Obviously, that was not going to happen. Until Kamal came along.

In his article, Kamal accepts, on behalf of American Muslims and Muslims worldwide, the blame and responsibility for the demented actions of every extremist and lunatic among the world's 1.2 billion Muslims. He asks, "does the Muslim leadership have the dignity and courage to apologize for 9-11? If not 9-11, will we apologize for the murder of school children in Russia? If not Russia, will we apologize for the train bombings in Madrid, Spain? If not Spain, will we apologize for suicide bombings in buses, restaurants and other public places? If not suicide bombings, will we apologize for the barbaric beheadings of human beings?" And so on, listing every action by the extremists among one fifth of humanity.

Crucially, he does not ask when Muslims will oppose these things, since most clearly already do, but rather when will they apologize for them, as if these were collective actions widely supported or as if Islam were an organization like the Vatican. "We can no longer afford to be silent," Kamal continues, as if American Muslims had been silent on these issues (the central calumny of his entire project, you'll recall). And then, here's the payoff: "If we remain silent to the extremism within our community then we should not expect anyone to listen to us when we complain of stereotyping and discrimination by non-Muslims; we should not be surprised when the world treats all of us as terrorists; we should not be surprised when we are profiled at airports." The canard that American Muslims by and large have been silent about terrorism and passive in the face of extremists justifies discrimination and bigotry against them, and his prejudiced audience of "real Americans" is absolved of any responsibility for harboring bigoted views or supporting discrimination whether systematic or ad hoc. This, of course, was the whole point of the piece in the first place.

Not only does Kamal take it upon himself to apologize for 9/11, something with which neither he nor any of the people for whom he is presuming to speak had anything to do, he ends by entering into a kind of frenzy of self-flagellating and deeply masochistic apologizing that becomes increasingly hysterical (you can almost hear his voice rising half an octave with each sorry sentence):

"We are so sorry for the murder of more than three hundred school children and adults in Russia. We are so sorry for the murder of train passengers in Spain. We are so sorry for all the victims of suicide bombings. We are so sorry for the beheadings, abductions, rapes, violent Jihad and all the atrocities committed by Muslims around the world. We are so sorry for a religious education that raised killers rather than train people to do good in the world. We are sorry that we did not take the time to teach our children tolerance and respect for other people. We are so sorry for not rising up against the dictators who have ruled the Muslim world for decades. We are so sorry for allowing corruption to spread so fast and so deep in the Muslim world that many of our youth lost hope. We are so sorry for allowing our religious leaders to relegate women to the status of forth class citizens at best and sub-humans at worse."

The last paragraph says it all, in case you didn't get it: "We are so sorry." Here the abjection, prostration and self-mutilation becomes completely unhinged from any specific transgression on the part of "the Muslims" and is left as a free-floating self-denunciation and begging of forgiveness for anything and everything from American Muslims to other Americans. Forgive me for anything, everything, something, nothing; forgive me for… being a Muslim, is what it really comes down to in effect. (I've been a naughty, naughty girl, daddy, call now.) This is what the "good Muslim" should be doing in the eyes of many on the right, Kamal figures, so that's just what he does, no matter how absurd or disgraceful the sorry spectacle becomes.

To some extent at least, it has worked. Where once on Daniel Pipes' website was found a long series of attacks against Kamal, now one finds the following explanation:

"In early 2004, Nawash began the Free Muslim Coalition Against Terrorism (later changed to the Free Muslims Against Terrorism); I was impressed by the work he was doing and on June 8, 2004, he and I met in person in Washington, D.C. At his request, I the next day took down this entry about him and promised to keep it down so long as I found the FMCAT to be engaged in good works - that is, forwarding a moderate vision of Islam and confronting the Islamist lobby in the United States. I am continuing to monitor FMCAT."

This is what is known in some circles as "the money shot." The intended and principle audience has been placated and the Gods satisfied. Kamal has managed to get in the good graces of the man who is doing more harm to, and spreading more fear and hatred against, American Muslims than any other person in the United States. It's quite an accomplishment.

It may or may not be enough to resuscitate Kamal's still-born career as a GOP candidate for Virginia office, though. Bush campaign activists were working with various people on the right-wing of the Arab and Muslim communities to try to produce a letter in support of the Bush-Cheney '04 ticket by people who had some sort of connection to the Middle East. A leaked October 2004, exchange of emails between a Bush campaign activist and Walid Phares the right-wing Lebanese American academic coordinating the letter, demonstrates the difficulties Kamal continues to face. Phares wrote to the Bush supporter, "Nawash, upon your suggestion is not in" the list of signatories he proposed for the letter. The Bush campaign activist replied, "after our conversation I went ahead and did a google search on the names below. I am not sure if they are spelled correctly. I did not find anything questionable. Since I do not know most of them - I cannot vouch for their reputations. You will have to do that. Kamal Nawash cannot be on the list - for the reasons we discussed. Remember this: We do not want to do anything that might harm the President's chances of re-election by exposing him to any controversy." Plainly, this refers to Kamal's extreme lack of credibility given his antics designed to please Pipes by attacking the community, or perhaps his role as an attorney for Alamoudi. In other words, the whole enterprise may have already been so badly mismanaged as to be at least for the moment unsalvageable.

The latest ploy by Kamal is the "March Against Terror" he has planned for May 14 in Washington, DC. Almost every major Arab and Muslim American leader has been invited to speak at or attend the event but of course, given the outrageous behavior outlined above, not a single one has agreed to participate. You can look forward, no doubt, to that being used in the future to condemn all those who decline to attend. It looks like an effort to force people into choosing to give Kamal completely undeserved credibility by joining him, or face possible denunciation as agents of terror by declining the poisoned offer. It's a typically crude ploy, and nobody should be fooled for a second by it.

The only remaining question is: who is giving Kamal the money to allow him to turn himself out like this, complete with office and staff? Since he still has yet to file his 990 financial disclosure forms, we'll just have to wait to discover who is the Mac Daddy pimping Kamal, if indeed we ever really find out. If we do, I doubt we'll be too surprised.

The Bad: The Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP)

This organization is headed by an extremely strange man who, these days at any rate, is calling himself "Stephen Suleyman Schwartz." In some of his previous incarnations he had been known, among other things, simply as Stephen Schwartz, Suleyman Ahmed Steven Schwartz, Suleyman Ahmad al-Kosovi, S. Solsona and Comrade Sandalio (and, for all we know, possibly Rumpelstiltskin as well). Details of his bizarre and sordid life are to be found on the internet for those who wish to bother, but suffice it to say here that Schwartz is a red-diaper baby born into an ardently Trotskyite family and who has spent most of his life consequently obsessed with the struggle between Stalinists and Trots within the communist movement. In essence, Schwartz, who came by Islam in the Balkans in the late 1990s, has taken this worldview, in which everything is reduced to a Manichaean struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness within a single overarching system, and transplanted it willy-nilly onto the world of Islam. In this case the Baddies are Wahhabis, substituted for the Stalinists, and the Goodies are the Sufis, substituted for the Trotskyites.

Everything bad, oppressive, reactionary etc., in the world of Islam in Schwartz' view is associated with "the Wahabis," including people and events operating long before the emergence of Abdel Wahhab himself in the late 18th century. Moreover, in Schwartz' texts, Wahhabi more often than not is synonymous with Arab, and Sufi with Balkan, Turkish and Caucasian Islam. He shares, although to a lesser extent, Irshad Manji's silly but nasty proclivity to suggest that everything bad about Muslim societies and practices originates with some defect or other in Arab culture (both are also ardent defenders of Israel).

The arbitrary and completely inappropriate superimposition of this Trotskyite sensibility onto the realm of Muslim affairs is not only the product of a dangerous blend of deep ignorance and strong prejudices, it also crams an incredibly complex universe of actors and forces in both the contemporary and historical Islamic world into two absurd little boxes. This reductive mania was on full display in his lamentable 2002 book, "The Two Faces of Islam," in which Schwartz re-reads (or rather horribly mis-reads) Islamic history as being an unending conflict between what boil down to only two tendencies within the community of the faithful: the good and the bad.

A review in the Washington Post by Professor Michael Doran, no apologist for the Saudis or any other Muslims for that matter, rightly dismissed the book as "essentially an anti-Saudi manifesto." Doran wrote:

"The Two Faces of Islam… fails to provide the intelligent reader with a reliable guide through the U.S.-Arab labyrinth. Instead of judiciously analyzing the policies and beliefs of Saudi Arabia, Schwartz peddles the outlandish thesis that the country ranks -- together with Hitler's Germany and Stalin's Soviet Union -- as one of the greatest threats to world peace in the modern era. Because a danger of such magnitude cannot be something completely new, Schwartz has no choice but to rewrite the story of the modern Middle East, depicting the Saudis as the primary villains. Claiming that his study 'constitutes a 'secret history' comparable to the hidden archival record of Soviet Communism,' Schwartz manages to find the fingerprints of Riyadh at crime scenes that no Saudi ever visited. Thus, with no proof whatsoever, Schwartz asserts that it was Saudi -- not European -- expansionism that presented the Ottoman Empire with 'the deadliest challenge' to its rule. And thus, based on the weakest circumstantial evidence, he equates Wahhabism, the official Saudi ideology, with Islamic fundamentalism in general, thereby saddling the Saudis with more guilt than they deserve for the general Islamic resurgence in the Middle East."

One would also note that Schwartz, who supposedly converted to Islam in the Balkans in the late 90s, has been incredibly coy about this. Nowhere in "The Two Faces of Islam," or its accompanying literature, is he described as a Muslim, but there are references to his Jewish origins, and none of it refers to him as either Suleyman or Ahmed, or any such thing. With the formation of CIP, Schwartz seems finally to be stuck, if nothing else than for professional reasons and for the meanwhile at any rate, with the public identification as a Muslim. In the past, however, he seems to have deployed this supposed conversion strategically, referring to it only in situations where it would serve some obvious purpose, and eschewing it when that seemed more useful.

I first encountered Schwartz socially at the home of Christopher Hitchens in 1999, and after he made many suggestive comments I asked him outright if he considered himself a Muslim. He declined to commit himself, and seemed to enjoy being cryptic even though I really didn't care much either way. That evening is also remembered, as my friend the noted journalist Jason Vest who was also present at the time recently reminded me, because Schwartz was discovered, after having ostensibly left the apartment, to be lingering outside the front door, apparently trying to listen to what was being said about him (which was, of course, nothing at all).

Full disclosure #1: Schwartz and I know many people in common socially, and every single one of them has told me at one time or another that they consider him stark-raving mad. Full disclosure #2: when I first met him, he was writing for the Jewish weekly The Forward and used to interview me on a regular basis, but following his neocon re-alignment he decided that I am a shill for the Saudis and has called me every name in the book in his articles, which are now mainly published in David Horowitz' barbaric website (The Saudi embassy, where I am all but persona non-grata, would be deeply amused to hear this.) Among Schwartz' efforts on behalf of Horowitz, following an ill-fated stint with ultra-Llikudnik neocon Cliff May's "Foundation for the Defense of Democracies," was "An Activist's Guide to Arab and Muslim Campus and Community Organizations in North America," which attacks and defames each and every existing mainstream Arab and Muslim American organization, left and right, secular and religious, without exception and without the least regard for the facts. In this sense, I suppose, Schwartz has already demonstrated a commitment to pluralism in the Arab and Muslim American communities: he hates us all equally and without discriminating on any basis.

Oh, and what company he keeps at Frontpagemag, this patron of Islamic pluralism and our new defender-in-chief. A tiny sample of what Horowitz posts about Islam along with most of Schwartz' articles published in the past few years:

"Is it any surprise that an average Moslem who lives up the life recommended by the Quran, behaves like a beast who has forsaken his freedom to exercise his faculty of forming an independent judgement of whom to Love and whom to hate? Like a soulless robot he/she hates all non-Moslems. They have the body of a human being, but their mind no longer has the freedom of forming an independent judgement of whom to love and whom not to. Thus while having the body of the Human being, a Moslem who unquestioningly follows the Quran, behaves like a soulless beast who has forsaken his/her capacity of independent thinking. A quality that is in fact the distinguishing quality of our sapient species - the Homo Sapien."

Or this beauty: "This must baffle most Muslims, who have no allegiance to any country. Their only allegiance is to Islam. This is what they have been taught since birth. It is all they know. Muslims have no borders." . It is to his eternal shame that David Horowitz, a Jewish American, would publish such a perfect recapitulation of the essential argument of western and American anti-Semitism, "the international Jew" reborn as "the international Muslim." It is among articles such as these that Schwartz' work has mainly found print in the past two years, and he must not be allowed to escape the implications for that in his new post at the head of CIP.

The most important fact about the CIP, however, is less its leader than its provenance. It is the brainchild and the creature of the chief bigot against and defamer of the American Muslim community: the odious Daniel Pipes. Not that anyone bothers to hide this damning reality, mind you. On his own website, Pipes promotes the CIP, calling it "a Muslim anti-Islamist organization with which I am connected." He's a little too modest. According to a February 26 article by Inter Press Services Washington Correspondent Jim Lobe, "Schwartz, a former Trotskyite militant who became a Sufi Muslim in 1997, has received seed money from [Pipes' think-tank the Middle East Forum] MEF, which is also accepting contributions on CIP's behalf until the government gives it tax-exempt legal status, according to another grant proposal obtained by IPS." Schwartz may be the nominal head of CIP, but given who is really behind it, he's likely to exercise as much sovereign authority over it as E.B. Farnum does as Mayor of Deadwood in the superb HBO series.

Let's recall, for a moment, that Daniel Pipes:
• Warns of the "dangers" posed by Muslim immigration into the United States;
• Warns of the "dangers" posed by American Muslims voting;
• Advocates religious, racial and ethnic profiling against American Muslims;
• Demonstrates a particular antipathy towards African-American converts to Islam;
• Opposes any compromise between Israel and the Palestinians, strongly supports the Israeli settler movement including opposing Sharon's Gaza redeployment plan, and calls for the "defeat" of the Palestinians, whatever that means;
• Along with Michelle Malkin has become a recent convert to the defense of the internment of thousands of Japanese Americans during World War II on the sole basis of their ethnicity, in both cases clearly in order to pave the way for supporting some potential future mass internment of Arab or Muslim Americans on a similar basis.

In short, any American "Muslim" organization founded by Pipes and/or his agents, or in league with Pipes, can properly be regarded in fact as "Muslims against Muslims," and should just spare us all the hypocrisy and change their name to that. No good can come of these origins, and only a barely disguised malevolence and hostility underlies the thin veneer atop the "Center for Islamic Pluralism." They are, and must remain, pariahs, as there is no doubt, they mean us all, every last one of us, serious and severe harm.

The Good - the Progressive Muslim Union of North America (PMU)

As I noted at the opening of this article, I am one of the four founders of PMU, along with Professor Omid Safi of Colgate University and editor of the instant classic "Progressive Muslims" (One World Press, 2002), Ahmed Nassef, editor-in-chief of the ground-breaking website, and Sarah Eltantawi, former Communications Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), and I presently serve as the vice chair of the organization. In contrast to the other two groups outlined above, PMU is an organic development emerging from a collaboration of numerous established and respected individuals who have served the community well in the past and who wish to broaden the spectrum of religious, political and philosophical choices available in American Muslim discourse. PMU is not a front for anyone, and has been complete open about who has formed and is directing it, and what our aims and motives are. Although most of its Board of Directors are devout, the organization is committed to secular politics and defines Muslim identity as an act of self definition, including for those whose affiliations are defined by social commitments and cultural heritage. (see for the complete PMU statement of principles). This opens PMU to the broadest constituency among American Muslims who agree with the positions laid out in our Statement of Principles.

PMU completely rejects and stands against fundamentalism and religious extremism of any sort, including various forms of Islamic extremism, but also Christian fundamentalism and millennialism, Hindu extremism and chauvinism, and Jewish extremism and fundamentalism, which is most obviously connected to the Israeli settler movement and other radical Zionists. PMU also completely opposes all forms of terrorism and the targeting of innocent civilians, by both subnational groups and by states – we demand a single, consistent moral standard and moral clarity on the issue of violence, and will not give any state, including our own country, Israel, Russia, Colombia or any other state, a free pass on attacking and killing the innocent.

It is definitely true that PMU has been and will be challenging some conventions in American Muslim discourse and practice for which we seek to create an alternative. This was most clearly demonstrated by PMU's endorsement of and active support of the March 18 mixed-gender Jummah prayer led by Professor Amina Wadud in New York City. The subsequent debate that has been circulating about the propriety of this prayer within the American Muslim community has amply demonstrated divisions between PMU and more conservative actors and voices within the community. PMU has been deeply engaged in this debate, offering both religious and (in my own case) secular arguments in favor of female religious leadership among American Muslims at the present moment, including prayer leadership. Given the wide range of opinions already expressed on the subject by noted figures within the community, this is obviously a debate that we needed to have and where the presence of a multiplicity of voices and perspectives enriches our discourse. No doubt, there will be many more such debates to follow, and PMU certainly intends to continue to be both a catalyst and a participant in those crucial debates.

However, some on the more conservative side of social, religious and political issues have misrecognized PMU as part of a "neoconservative," or in some other way hostile, movement to damage or attack the American Muslim community. As one conservative author put it, "the Progressive Muslim Union, another group with objectives similar to the FMACT" Another disingenuously suggested that PMU is an unwitting tool of the RAND Corp. because RAND had discussed funding progressive Muslim organizations (to date, PMU has received no funding from any outside source whatsoever, and functions entirely as a volunteer and grassroots organization calling solely upon the time and money of its Board of Directors).

These accusations are both completely false and deeply misinformed. PMU's Board of Directors reflects an outstanding record of service to the American Muslim (and for that matter the Arab-American) communities. PMU is dedicated to practicing multiple critique, whereby our critical eye is cast not only on oppressive practices within our own community and in other Muslim societies, but also on the conduct of American foreign policy, and in defense of the civil rights and civil liberties of American Muslims and their right not to be defamed or have their faith maligned. PMU is not going to endorse or condone a neoconservative foreign policy, or stay silent on Israel's abuses of the Palestinian people and denial of their human and national rights. Indeed, our Boards of Directors and Advisors include an number of the strongest critics of the invasion of and occupation of Iraq, of Israeli’s occupation of Palestinian lands, of government excesses in the “war on terror” and violations of civil liberties, and in fighting defamation and discrimination against Muslims in North America. My own record on this is clear, as are those of Sarah Eltantawi, Ahmed Nassef, Omid Safi, Kareem Shora, Tarek Fatah, Tariq Ali and others who are part of PMU‘s boards.

Simply put, PMU is:
• Completely independent, transparent and straightforward;
• Committed to clearly defined progressive values;
• Not a front for or right-wing extremists or any other entity hostile to American Muslims;
• Committed to a morally consistent opposition to political violence and terrorism;
• Supportive of the rights of all oppressed peoples, including the Palestinian people;
• Opposed to all forms of religious extremism and fundamentalism, whether Islamic, Christian, Hindu or Jewish;
• Opposed to a neoconservative or hyper-aggressive US foreign policy.

Daniel Pipes, for one, is well aware of this, which prompted him to pen several extended attacks against PMU on his blog, mainly by suggesting that PMU is, in reality, a conservative organization. Pipes wrote that "some of the worst Islamist and leftist extremists in the United States will have important roles in the organization. Names that stand out are those of Salam Al-Marayati of the Muslim Public Affairs Council [he was not involved in fact], his former colleague Sarah Eltantawi, and Hussein Ibish, previously at the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee." "(1) If these are the progressives, who are the regressives? (2) Separating the true moderates from the fakes is the monumental task ahead," Pipes continues. "PMU is just another group apologizing for extremism," Pipes concludes, realizing that the organization is made up of people who will never cooperate with his anti-Muslim, anti-Arab and, above all, anti-Palestinian agenda. "It bears remembering that at first, CAIR and MPAC were also seen as moderates; and just as it has taken years for their true colors to be discerned, so will it take time for PMU's real nature to be perceived. But it will be," he promises.

Pipes was deeply agitated at the responsible and sound approach to the issue of terrorism taken in a New York Times article by PMU Communications Director Sarah Eltantawi: "'We're not going to equate Islam with terrorism,' Ms. Eltantawi said. 'You can see this entire effort as a response to terrorism, if you like,' but the emphasis is more on 'an enlightened and positive expression of our faith in this country,' she said. 'I think that is far more of a contribution than being defensive about the word terrorism in our founding mission statement.'" Exactly so. Having quoted this passage with extreme disapproval, Pipes adds, "Also today, as though wanting to substantiate my point about PMU being made up of assorted extremists, it came out with a statement that deems the U.S.-led attack on Falluja a 'war crime.'" Pipes was also infuriated by PMU co-Chair Omid Safi's comment to the Jerusalem Report that "'Earlier Islamic [reformist] movements were almost uncritically adoring of anything Western,' referring to such Muslim thinkers as Indian poet Muhammad Iqbal and Pakistani scholar Fazlur Rahman. 'People no longer take the collective experience of the West as a paradigm to be aped.'"

For Pipes, and many others, the bottom-line has nothing to do with progressive versus conservative views, a critical reengagement of Islamic texts and traditions, support for pluralism or democracy, or anything of the kind. It all boils down to one word: Israel. Anyone, no matter what else they may think and say, as long as they make and keep a commitment not to criticize Israel, or the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza Strip, and do not defend Palestinian human and national rights in a vigorous way, can be classified as a "moderate." Anyone who persists in strong criticism of Israeli policies and defense of Palestinian rights is, by definition, an "extremist," no matter what their other positions may be. Usually, they will be consigned to the ultra right and described as Islamists. In my own case, since I have never been shy about being a committed secularist and agnostic, but who is also an organic and integral part of the American Muslim and Arab-American communities into which I was born and to which I am committed, I pose a particular problem. In 2000, Pipes listed me as an "Islamist," but this was so absurd that he had to change his line in 2002 to call me an "extreme leftist." That wouldn't work either, so eventually Pipes and his cohort Robert Spencer said that my political and religious views notwithstanding, I was an "Islamist" anyway. I list my own experience in this regard merely as an object lesson with which I am fully familiar. Many figures in the community have been similarly defamed by Pipes and his ilk, the bottom line usually being support for the Palestinian people.

Therefore, neither Daniel Pipes, nor any element of the ultra-right or the neoconservative movement, is or conceivably will become, sympathetic to PMU. On the other hand, because PMU does not as a matter of policy exclude American Muslims aligned with the Republican Party, some have sought to paint the organization as reactionary or conservative, or as a tool of the Bush administration. It's an absurdity of course, but this charge does tap into deep wells of anxiety about new Muslim organizations, the future of Islam in the West and in the Islamic world, and the idea that the US government or malevolent figures such as Pipes and Schwartz might be seeking to set up proxies or attempting to speak in behalf of the Muslim community.

What PMU can and does say to our fellow Muslims in North America is: Even if you do not agree with us on some social, theological or political issues, we are and will remain an important part of our community, committed to its development and empowerment, and seeking to expand the range of choices available to American Muslims, not to condemn any other constituency or tell other people what to do or say. We stand by our records, both individual and collective, of service to the community and take a back seat to no one when it comes to voicing our opinions about vital issues. Unlike those who serve the interests of forces outside our community, PMU is here to stay because our only motivation is our own deeply-held commitment to best interests of American Muslims and other people the world over.

Hussein Ibish is Vice-Chair of the Progressive Muslim Union of North America (PMU)


Did the elections make things worse in Iraq?

From Informed Comment:

Hannah Allam of Knight Ridder raises the question of whether the January 30 elections made the situation in Iraq worse. Allam writes, "Two weeks of intense insurgent violence have made it crystal clear that Iraq's parliamentary elections, hailed in late January as a triumph for democracy, haven't helped to heal the country's deep divisions. They may have made them worse. The historic election sheared off a thin facade of wartime national unity and reinforced ethnic and sectarian tensions that have plagued Iraq for centuries. Iraqis immediately began playing the roles the election results delivered to them: victorious Shiite Muslim, assertive Kurd, disaffected Sunni Arab. Within those groups lies a mosaic of other splits, especially between secularists and Islamists vying for Iraq's soul."


The Washington Post finally took the plunge and did a story on the leaked British intelligence memo that shows that President Bush had decided to go to war in Iraq by summer of 2002, and that the "intelligence" would be "fixed" around the "policy." It is a mystery as to why, however, it has taken so long for the editors to break the story in the US. Knight Ridder did a report late last week, and the bloggers have blogged the hell out of it. My own post on the matter last week rose high on the index. Kudos to Walter Pincus for laying out the story in D.C.


The British officer corps is continuing in its efforts to convince the US military that its current rules of engagement are over-kill and result in the loss of many civlian lives (thus driving Iraqis to join or support the guerrillas). The British commanders feel that they learned lessons from Northern Ireland relevant to the US in Iraq. Sean Rayment quotes a British officer, ' "I explained that their tactics were alienating the civil population and could lengthen the insurgency by a decade. Unfortunately, when we ex-plained our rules of engagement which are based around the principle of minimum force, the US troops just laughed." ' The British are concerned that the US will eventually so alienate Iraqis as to endanger British troops, as well.


Iraq is emerging as a key transit point for the internatonal drug trade, especially that from Afghanistan. Some of the smuggling could be bankrolling the guerrillas.


The Washington Post argues that a disproportionate number of suicide bombings in Iraq is carried out by foreign jihadis, and that Saudis constitute 50 percent or more of the bombers. But if you look more closely, the article admits that there are only about 1,000 foreign jihadis fighting in Iraq. I'd figure the number of Iraqi guerrillas at 25,000 hardcore, and nearly twice that if we count weekend warriors, so this group is a relatively minor part of the whole.

What is the proof that they make up more of the suicide bombers? The names gleaned from radical Muslim fundamentalist websites, where "martyrdoms" are announced. Personally, I don't think you can trust those web sites. I think they are being manipulated by Iraqi Baath military intelligence, which benefits from being able to blame bombings of, e.g., Shiites on foreigners. The foreign jihadis in Iraq are not the major actors. The Baath and the remnants of the Iraq military are.

The attraction of the "foreigners thesis" for Washington is obvious. It allows the Bush administration to sidestep the implication that a substantial proportion of the Iraqi public violently rejects the US presence. And it implicitly ties Iraq to al-Qaeda, which accords with a long-term black psy-ops operation of the administration aimed at making a connection between Iraq and September 11 in the minds of Americans (actually, there is none).


Tuesday, May 10, 2005

Whose Holy Land is it?

I have to admit I cringed the first time I saw the trailer for Kingdom of Heaven. I felt that at a time when the relationship between the US and the Muslim World is at an all time low, it wouldn't help to have a Hollywood movie glorifying the Crusades!

But the movie was actually pretty good - it didn't explain the Crusades as substantively as I had hoped, but I think it's important for American Christians to see that there was a time when the Christians waged a bloody "holy war" on the Muslims. Some of the practices and sentiments expressed are very similar to the ones used by Muslim extremists today. The movie is beautifully made and portrays the Muslims in a positive light which is helpful. I am glad the producer included the fact that when Christians captured Jerusalem in 1099, they killed Muslims, Jews and other Christians indiscriminately, but this did not happen when Salah-El-Din got back Jerusalem from the Christians - at this point in the movie, I felt so happy as a Muslim, but it's funny because in the 12th century, my ancestors were Hindu! Throughout the movie, I felt like saying "Jerusalem is ours," but then I caught myself saying it's not & the problem is that there are people trying to make that argument. As a birthplace of all the Abrahamic religions, the Holy Land belongs to all of us. As Orlando Bloom, who plays the Christian leader of Jerusalem's forces, states that the city should belong to all. "The Kingdom of Heaven is not stones," he says, then points to his head and heart: "It is here, and here."

To quote Chapter 109 (verses 1-6) of the Holy Qur'an:

"O you who disbelieve,
I do not worship what you worship,
Nor do you worship who I worship,
Nor shall I worship what you worship,
Nor will you worship who I worship,
To you your religion, to me my religion."

For those of you who don't know, Jerusalem was the first qibla (direction of prayer) for Muslims before Mecca. I remember asking my dad once why Allah made that change and he replied that God probably knew that it would be a place of bloodshed one day, and He didn't want people praying to that. I don't know if that's the correct answer but it sure makes sense to me!

When I was in Jordan, I visited two Crusader castles in Karak and Shoubak and it was a fascinating experience. When we were inside the one at Karak, the tour guide joked that the soldiers probably cooked the Muslims in there, but my dear Christian friend, Catherine, said she'd save me! SEE PICTURES BELOW

For those of you interested in learning more about the other side of the Crusades, I recommend you to read The Crusades Through Arab Eyes by Amin Malouf.

Quick note: although I couldn't find information online about this, I believe it is documented that Salah-El-Din is known to have killed Shias. I'll post more information about this if I find anything. My friend Zahir did a really good job of analysing the movie.

From the American-Arab Anti Discrimination Committee (ADC):

Kingdom of Heaven is an epic-scale historical drama inspired by the events of the third Crusade of the 12th century and is based on real characters, including Balian of Ibelin, a Crusader knight, and Salah El Din (Saladin), the renowned Muslim leader. The movie, a 20th Century Fox production with a $130 million budget, was shot in Morocco with hundreds of extras, horses and elaborate costumes. The script, written by William Monahan, follows the story of Balian who rises to knighthood and embarks on a life-changing journey to find peace and a better world. Along the way, he sees the possibility of a future of peaceful coexistence of many faiths and ethnicities in Jerusalem.

In tackling a complex and potentially volatile subject, Scott avoids a simplistic perspective of Muslim vs. Christian, instead opting to highlight the similarities between the two groups of people, while presenting a spectrum of personalities and characters in both. At one point, Balian, while watching Muslims pray, exclaims, "How similar their prayers are to ours." Additionally, Kingdom of Heaven presents a positive portrayal of Saladin, whose many acts of generosity and chivalry have been widely recognized around the world and across the ages.

ADC feels that the Arab and Muslim communities should welcome Ridley Scott's sensitive and fair representation of the Arab and Muslim characters in his film. ADC Communications Director Laila Al-Qatami said, "Scott presents a more complex and human representation of Muslim characters than is evident in most Hollywood films. We definitely welcome 20th Century Fox and Ridley Scott's efforts to provide a fair and multifaceted portrayal of cultural and religious realities during the Crusades. We also thank Ridley Scott for arranging this screening."

Director Ridley Scott (Blade Runner, Alien, Gladiator, and many other films) said in a letter to ADC, "while the primary focus of the film is one man's personal journey of faith, I have also given much care to addressing the very sensitive nature of the larger political and religious issues of the Crusades."

Al-Qatami added, "As the movie closes, the last line of text states that in the more than 1000 years since, peace is still elusive in the Kingdom of Heaven." She continued, "The vision of a shared Jerusalem, open and accessible to all, is one that we should be seeking and working toward."

Click here to read an alternative view of the film