Tuesday, February 28, 2006

United States Authorities Say

Robert Fisk interview on current events in Iraq, the "mid-east," and role of journalists.

Click here to listen/subscribe on ihsan podcast

Click here for web streaming

P.S. his book is good, but i'm not endorsing it 100% (I'll give it a 8.793 out of 10) - check it out though, he has some good things to say.

Saturday, February 25, 2006

Litmus Test

Say: the things that my Lord hath indeed forbidden are: shameful deeds, whether open or secret; sins and trespasses against truth or reason; assigning of partners to Allah, for which He hath given no authority; and saying things about Allah of which ye have no knowledge.
Al-Qur'an: 07:33

One of the things that makes me proud to be a Muslim is that, whenever I visit a local mosque or pop into one of the Muslim bookshops which pepper the Yorkshire landscape, or indeed when I pick up a Muslim book, journal or newspaper, I am overwhelmed by the vigour and quality and openness surrounding debates over the relationship between God and humanity, the interpretation of the Qur’an, the nature of prophecy, the contemporary relevance of the Shari'ah, the validity of hadith literature, the value and purpose of salah, and even intrafaith and interfaith dialogue.

Okay, you can stop laughing now. The question is – why is this not true? There are various arguments as to why the above is a joke – the death of Ibn Rushd and with him the intellectual debate between Semitic and Hellenistic worldviews; an authoritarian ulama, who blocked the introduction of the printing press, thus stymieing debate within the Muslim world; and colonialism, and the subsequent upsurge of reactionary Muslim movements.

Of course, it aint just Islam which is having problems with its religious thinking. Mimetic, dogmatic and reactionary religious orthodoxy and orthopraxy are prevelant in Christianity and Judaism, too, but arguably intellectual dissidence is easier if you belong to these faiths. The postmodern Christian theologian who argued that the Crucifixion was the actual killing of God was not arrested for his views, which is more than can be said for the Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz(?), who in one book had God invite someone to Paradise in order to kill Him (and then arranged for an angel to say thanks afterwards!)

Fortunately, there are Muslims who appear to be challenging the intellectual torpor that has dominated Muslim thinking for too long. Visionaries like Mohammed Arkoun, who is quoted in the header of my alter eblog, aNaRcHo AkBaR – despite his Franco-intellectual arrogance; thinkers like Ziauddin Sardar, steeped passionately in Muslim culture yet seasoned with a truth-seeker's scepticism, who inspires me and makes me laugh, and who seems to have attracted a host of admirers over the years; like Farid Esack, Amina Wadud, Sa’diyya Shaikh, Marcia Hermansen, Scott Kugle and Ebrahim Moosa. Some are closer to the mainstream Ahl as-Sunnah wa-Jama’at scholarship such as Khaled Abou El Fadl; others, such as those linked to Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern world (ISIM), work for knowledge within secular academic disciplines.

Yet I look down at the editorial of the latest edition of the UK Muslim Weekly, and see a leading US Scientific collective described as "witch-finders" for defending the theory of evolution. I have to confess, I am approaching an equally dogmatic position in my litmus test for ‘Muslims who are worth talking to’. It’s very simple – if you hate gays, and if you think Harun Yahya is a great thinker rather than a cheap polemicist, you fail the test!

tears and solidarity also...

The corporate media is having a feeding frenzy about a "civil war." Lets take a look at some other news not as widely reported - after all, what is the point of having a blog, if it is just a regurgitation of FOX/CNN/NBC/ABC et al.?

The popular response to Iraq’s latest atrocities has been to blame the occupation, not rival sects

The slogan that united them on Wednesday was: “Kalla, kalla Amrica, kalla kalla lill-irhab” - no to America, no to terrorism.
Dahr Jamail reports: Mosque outrage also brings solidarity.

BAGHDAD, Feb 25 (IPS) - Widespread sectarian violence generated by the recent bombing of the Shia Golden Mosque in Samarra has also brought widespread demonstrations of solidarity between Sunnis and Shias across Iraq.

Sunnis were quick to demonstrate solidarity with the Shias in Samarra and to condemn the mosque bombings. Demonstrations of solidarity between Sunnis and Shias followed all over Iraq. Some of the bigger demonstrations were held in Basra, Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Kut, and Salah Al-Din.

Much of the Shia anger was directed at U.S. forces. In the primarily Shia city of Kut south of Baghdad, thousands marched through the streets burning U.S. and Israeli flags.

photograph of demonstration in Pakistan

Shi'a - Sunni march in Lucknow, India - click here for photographs

Click here for English language video news reports from the area (2/24 and 2/25 includes footage of joint Shi'a Sunni demonstrations in Iraq. )

Muqtada Al-Sadr's call for unity:

In a message he read by telephone on Aljazeera from the holy city of al-Qum in Iran, Sadr said: "Shia and Sunni mosques are being attacked as if we were enemies."

"No, we are brothers, we are brothers in Islam and peace. Love each other and do not attack each other. The blood, property and honour of a Muslim is sacrosanct ... the unity of Iraq is your responsibility."

And click here for Robert Fisk interview on Iraq.

demostration in Canada.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Al - Askari

Please recite a fateha for all the martyrs of Islam, all the captives, who are incarcerated for loving Allah; and for the truthful who have passed on, and are now enjoying the grace of Allah.

A special fateha; for those who have been killed in the attack in Samarrah today, and in other attacks on Muslims, from Palestine to Iraq. And for any who may have been killed in struggles for justice and peace.

The shrine with the golden dome is for Imam Ali Al-Naqi (AS) and Imam Hasan Al-Askari (AS) - the 10th and 11th Imam respectively.

You have asked about the Oneness of Allah. It is not your duty to find Allah’s self. Allah is One, the Only One. He has no children and is not anyone’s child. There is nothing similar to Him. Hu is the Creator and is not created. Hu, the Most Holy, the Most High, creates whatever He wants of the bodies and non-bodies. He is not a body or a certain form. He gives form to whatever He wills but Himself is not a form, Majestic is His praise and Holy are His names and is far above being similar to other things. Only Hu, and not others, is the One to Who no one is similar and Hu is all-hearing and All-seeing. (Imam Hasan Al-Askari (AS))
The shrine on the right is for Imam Muhammad al-Mahdi (AS) Sahibuz Zaman - May Allah hasten his rise!

And O Allah! appoint him as a refuge for your oppressed servants
and a helper for the one who does not find any helper for himself except You
and the renewer of all the laws of Your book
which have been tampered with
and the rebuilder of the science of Your religion
and the traditions of Your Prophet
peace of Allah be on him and his family

Dua al-Ahd of Imam al-Mahdi (AS)

Statement of Ayatullah Sistani:

While we convey our condolences on this sorrowful occasion to our 12th Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance), we call for a week of national mourning. We invite the faithful to protest and express their condemnations, on the violation of their sanctities, by peaceful means. We stress upon everyone going through the shock of this atrocious crime not to be drawn into what the enemies want them to be drawn into, which is sectarian discord...

Statement of Ayatullah Syed Ali Khamenei:

I consider it as necessary to caution the mourners in Iran, Iraq and other parts of the world to seriously refrain from any action that leads in confrontation and enmity among Muslim brethren. Definitely, there are hands behind the blasphemy in a bid to create push unsuspecting and naïve persons to violate the sanctity of the places of worship of other denominations. Any move in this regard will promote the plots of the enemies of Islam and the Islamic ummah, and is prohibited by the shari’ah.

Statement of Ayatullah Sayyed Muhammed Hussein Fadlullah:

Our people in Iraq should support the Islamic religious authority in it efforts to protect Iraq and to curb any negative reactions, since the issue is not an issue of Sunnis and Shiites, but that of the apostates who are sponsored by the occupation in one way or another. It is also the issue of what has remained of the tyrannical regime. But above all it the issue of the occupation that is trying to stay in Iraq, by means of benefiting from such crimes that it encourages either directly or indirectly.

Moqtada Sadr's statement:

Najaf, Iraq, Feb 23 - Shiite Cleric Moqtada Sadr has ordered Mehdi Army militia to protect Sunni mosques in southern Iraq, an official from his office said on Thursday.

"Moqtada Sadr has ordered the Mehdi Army to protect Sunni mosques and religious places in Basra and in other regions" where his movement is influential, Saheb al-Amiri told reporters.

The end of Jewish & Muslim victimology?

They say that history is always written by the victors. In the case of the Nazi slaughter of millions of Jews, Slavs, homosexuals and others, the only victors were the worst manifestations of humanity.

The genocidal actions of Hitler and his henchmen were pure evil. Some choose to deny the existence or extent of excesses such as the slaughter of Jews and others in the Nazi gas chambers. These people are living in fantasy land.

Denial of the Holocaust causes deep pain to its surviving victims and their families. Just as cartoons portraying the Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist caused deep offence to even the most moderate (whatever that term means) Muslims across the globe.

Both involve denying historical facts, or at least displaying complete disdain for history.

In recent times, we have seen some Muslims reacting to the dozen cartoons in a manner contrary to the teachings of the very man whose honour they seek to defend. Their idea of displaying their understandable hurt and frustration is violence, destruction of property and complete disrespect and disdain for the rules and conventions of domestic and international law, let alone the sacred law of Islam.

Some may be pained by reading this, but we simply cannot deny it. Let's call a spade a spade. Even the most radical Jewish responses to the denial of the Holocaust have been much more restrained and dignified than extreme Muslim reactions to the Danish cartoons.

However, even Jewish activists and writers who have spent the best years of their life opposing the likes of David Irving and other “revisionist” historians agree that sending him to jail for 3 years is not the answer.

Irving faced an Austrian court in response to a warrant arising from a speech he gave in 1989. In that speech, Irving claimed that there were no gas chambers at the Auschwitz concentration camp.

The 67 year old historian has been sentenced to 3 years jail after pleading guilty to the crime of denying the holocaust of European Jews. Irving, who speaks fluent German, told the court that he has now changed his views about the Holocaust, the extent of the massacre and Hitler’s knowledge of its taking place.

The sentence has led to mixed reactions from Jewish quarters. Some have played the race card, using politically correct language to applaud the sentence. BBC World on 20 February 2006 quoted Karen Pollock of the UK’s Holocaust Educational Trust supporting the sentence as an adequate punishment for “anti-Semitism dressed up as intellectual debate”.

Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Wiesenthal Centre claimed the sentence served as “a direct challenge to the Iranian regime’s embrace of Holocaust denial”. Exactly how the Iranian President’s comments are affected by the sentencing of a British historian in Austria is unclear.

Perhaps the most measured response was from academic, Dr Deborah Lipstadt who spent years exposing the erroneous nature of Irving’s views. She expressed serious concerns about jailing Irving.

“I am not happy when censorship wins, and I don't believe in winning battles via censorship... The way of fighting Holocaust deniers is with history and with truth.”

Some Muslims have seen the need to embrace Irving. They argue that the Holocaust is used as a rhetorical tool to support the state of Israel and repress criticism of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians in both Israel and Palestine.

Of course, blind supporters of Israel (mostly living outside Israel and refusing to emigrate and settle there) use all sorts of rhetorical tools to deny anyone the chance to criticise Israel even mildly. Such activists are doing themselves and their cause disservice and are leaving themselves open to criticism for showing greater devotion to Israel than their host nation.

The mere fact that some Zionist extremists use the Holocaust as a rhetorical tool should not in itself lead us to deny its veracity. The fact is that it did happen, and that there is ample evidence for it happening.

If some Zionist activists use Holocaust guilt to stifle free political debate, this reflects more on their inability to rationally defend Israeli aggression than on Israel's critics. Muslims themselves have been victims of slaughter. Perhaps the most blatant example of this was the massacres of millions of Muslims by the Mongols.

Yet within a generation of the slaughter, the Mongols themselves adopted Islam. Muslims were able to capture the hearts of the Mongols by virtue of their conduct and their faith. Muslims didn’t bludgeon the Mongols with emotional missiles of guilt.

In the long term, the lure of Holocaust victimology will wear thin. People will become tired of always being told that criticism of Israel is forbidden. Already we are seeing this phenomenon even within Jewish circles.

Some Muslim terrorists justify their violent conduct with references to past sufferings. Their victimology is now wearing thin even in Muslim circles. Similarly, supporters of Israel will need to find a rhetorical tool other than Holocaust victimhood to garner the goodwill of those neutral to the Israel/Palestine dispute. Past victimhood is no excuse for present exploitation.

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Monday, February 20, 2006

Repost: A brief history of "loyalty" The Japanese American Experience

February 19th, 1942 was the day when executive order 9066 was signed by the then US President, Roosevelt. The actual internment of 120,000 Japanese Americans should, of-course, be remembered. But we must also remember the role of the "ultra loyalists" who colloborated with the internment order. And their role in corrupting Japanese tradition and culture (i.e. they implemented a behavior modification program that was supposed to bring Japanese American in line with the established order).

These colloborators, who presented themselves as "leaders" of Japanese Americans, distanced themselves from all kinds of protest, and civil rights advocacy - and presented themselves as the "good Japanese." We see a similar moves afoot in some sections of the "American Muslim" community.

For those of us who are not going along with such moves - we might have a look back at history, and learn a thing or two...

This attitude of presenting a face of being "200 % American" is nothing new - and I think it is worthwhile to have a brief look at the Japanese American Citizen League - who adopted this approach.

Perhaps this history will sound very familiar to some readers:

The Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) was formed in 1929, its founder, Jimmie Sakamoto called for the reorganizaton of the old Seattle Progressive Citizens League that was fighting against discrimination:

"instead of worrying about anti- Japanese activity or legislation, we must exert our efforts to building the abilities and charter of the second generation so they will become loyal and useful citizens who, someday, will make their contribution to the greatness of American life."

Fast forward 1941, Mike Mokaso's "JACL creed" as recorded in the US senate:

I am proud that I am an American citizen of Japanese ancestry, for my Very background makes me appreciate more fully the wonderful advantages of this Nation. I believe in her institutions, ideals and traditions; I glory in her heritage; I boast of her history; I trust in her future-

She has granted me liberties and opportunities such as no individual enjoys in this world today. She has given me an education befitting kings. She has entrusted me with the responsibilities of the franchise.

She has permitted me to build a home to earn a livelihood, to worship, think, speak, and act as I please -- as a free man equal to every other man.

Although some individuals may discriminate against me, I shall never become bitter or lose faith, for I know that such persons are not representative of the majority of the American people.

The JACL also cooperated with the FBI in the arrest of Japanese Americans who were deemed to be "subversive." (These days, the operative words are "extremists" "fundamentalists" "Islamist" "jihadists" etc. )

The JACL's ideology reached its logical conclusion in February 1942, when, under the leadership of Mike Masaoka, they pledged "cheerful cooperation" with the government in response to the expulsion order leading to the internment of Japanese Americans:

"We are preparing our people to move out. We want them to go without bitterness, without rancor and with the feeling that this can be their contribution to the defense of the United States."

"Why jeopardize this country or our people by trying to insist on staying, or even by pursuing our legal rights as citizens of this country to context evacuation?" wondered Masaoka.

And the prize for this super expressions of "loyalty" and "patriotism"? The "good Japanese" were given the task of implementing a program to "modify Japanese American behavior."

Sounds familiar? - In substance, this is not at all different from those Muslims who are (witingly or not) following the Rand Report's recomendations to modify Islam. And those "American Muslims" who insist that they are the "good Muslims" who are going to "reform the Muslim world."

Under Masaoka's leadership, JACL leaders advised the War Relocation Authority on how to modify Japanese American behavior inside the camps to create "Better Americans," and offered guidance on how to identify and segregate so-called "agitators and troublemakers." (i.e. "extremists" "fundamentalists" etc. etc. ).

There are many lessons in this history for Muslims - and I'd encourage folks to view this site Conscience and Constitution, The Story of Collaboration. Those of us who are not going to give up our human rights might learn a thing or two from this American history.

Also see the wonderful photographer Ansel Adam's book: Born Free and Equal, that is photographic presentation of internment camps in Manzanar, California.

Friday, February 17, 2006


first of all, for those of you who aren't familiar with it, watch K'naan's video "Struggling", available at www.thedustyfoot.com ... its a powerful piece of art.

i was just reading some of haroon siddiqui's columns in the Toronto Star (again, highly recommend) and - a feeling i am sure we have all come across, perhaps more so recently - was overwhelmed by the discussion around "muslim" and "islam", terms which are so much a part of me.. so this is my attempt at verbal expression, and it feels a little strange sharing it with the world, but here goes none the less.

to be muslim at this point in history
words hold my heart inarticulable
to be muslim across divides of politics and racism and exploitation without
to be muslim across struggle reform intolerance and frustration within
where to focus my energies
the quest to convince my parents to accept my definition of "religious"
the yearning to see my community accept gender equality
the state of emergency overwhelming all reality
with prisons and power and patriarchy and poverty incessantly incessantly unendingly overpowering
and which i have no power to prevent
yet what kind of muslim will not try

to be muslim when i am splashed on every screen
print paper magazine website academic journal trashy tabloid revealing truths?
i do not know where to begin
i am still finding my own faith
i am trying to answer questions
i am dealing with 4.34 and taqlid and being a vegetarian
and what in Allah's name could possibly be the point
when Palestine screams in my head bursting for justice
to be muslim when cartoons of my Prophet can embody the globalized struggle against neo-fascist imperialist bigotry
to be muslim when people are curious and when
i do not even have the answers for myself

to be muslim when i greet with salam knowing there is no peace around me
there is no PEACE at war time and we are embroiled in so many wars
i am slowly dismembered
being pulled in all directions
and i no longer understand the fastest way to makkah
and i see myself flashing in millions of pixels
everywhere i turn

and for Allah is the East and West, so wherever you turn, there you will find the face of Allah

to be muslim when my childhood madrasah classes
are featured in saturdays globe and mail
and ayatullah seestani is on BBC's who will rule your world
i do not understand what must i do
what must i not
how CAN i not
and tell me why do i not suffer i am muslim too
why am i so lucky to find myself
my mother father siblings friends the muslims that i love
not free of danger and yet
what blessing is this and who am i to overcome
if solidarity flows within my veins
how can i possibly traverse mountains to turn it into some
some tangible difference?

to be muslim is not now, it is always
but i am 19 and consciousness has been creeping upon me
and it is now exploding deep within
may these emotions forever drive resistance
and muslims of the world, together i pray

Against the Panoptic God

Y’see, this bigwig called Bentham comes up with an architectural design he calls the Panopticon. It’s like a circular prison with individual cells around the circumference, so each prisoner is isolated from the other prisoners, unable to see or hear anyone at all, y'see. But there is this one bloke who sees you, there aint a place in your cell where he can't see you. He sits in a tower in the middle of the circle. He’s called the observer, or some such title. Clever lighting and blinds and stuff means you never know when you’re being watched by this observer, but the way things work in this panopticon, you soon realise the observer could be watching you at any moment, because he catches you out. Yeah, before long you start to act like you might be caught in his glare at any moment, until the fear of the isolated moment becomes your own special terror and then the observer’s assistants don’t even need to discipline you because you are disciplining yourself.

And after a bit, the observer says to you, “You can go, you are free!” But you aint. His glare is your glare, you looking at yourself, watching yourself, making sure you conform to the discipline of the panopticon, working and buying. Being docile. Docile and free.

And the whole idea turns out to be a treat for capitalism. It is so efficient and anyone can be an observer as long as he or she knows the ropes. Guns and truncheons are only required once in a while, y'see, not so often to make it feel like a tyranny, but just enough to keep us in check when we step out of line just to remind us there is no escape from the glare of the observer, whether he/she be an officer or a constable or a school master or an intellectual or a manager of a foreman or a doctor or a psychiatrist or a health visitor. There is no escape from capitalism, no sir, the observer makes sure you are a part of it through and through!

Before long, most of the rabble are sufficiently schooled and apprenticed and socially skilled and educated and mentally healthy and obedient to the law and sufficiently moral, all disciplining themselves to be docile bodies and work and spend and work without complaint.

Those calling for the integration or assimilation of Muslims into this capitalist panoptic, including those Muslims dazzled by the city lights of the new civilization, the Muslim elite who call themselves modernists and who are deeply impressed by the technology emerging from the panoptic workforce, they come up with the idea that each Muslim is a human being alone before God’s unflinching glare. God becomes the observer in the middle of the Panoptic Universe, looking constantly into the soul of the believer.

Muslims defeated by colonialism and fragmented by the postcolonial settlement are sucked into global capitalism's panoptic hegemony, and the suction doesn't just distort the light, it sucks it out, creating and nurturing a new, dark puritanism, which rushes like the virus through the conquered flesh of the Muslim ummah, its zombie soul even setting up house in Makka and Medina. Like a canker, it poisons even the extremities because the panoptic God and global capitalism and the observer soon become indistinguisable.

But the one true God is not a panoptic god. The purpose of humankind is not to work and buy, blind to the source of one's wealth. The purpose of humankind is to learn, it is to worship the One, it is to love that alone which is Real. Global capitalism may rise or it may fall, God alone knows, but God alone will never be housed in the architecture of greed. His sees all, but looking upon us and through us, our hearts are filled with forgiveness, and love, and mercy. And when we look thus enlightened at the world, and see the armies of greed, and the tutors of hate, and the doctors of domination, our hearts are filled with anger. And we rise.


The Muslim Anarchist

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

The Sinister Hidden Hand Orchestrating The Demonstrations!

How I became an anarchist

I first heard about Anarchism, as a political philosophy, when I was at school. One of our science teachers, a stooping hippy with a bone dry sense of humour called Mr Gottisman, turned out to have Anarchist sympathies. This was unbeknown to me when I decided to accompany some friends to his after-school Gin club (the card game, not the beverage). There, I learned how his horrific experiences as a Food Science undergraduate had turned him towards grow-yer-own self sufficiency, as well as his admiration for Michael Bakunin. It’s the kind of education every teenager should experience!

But I didn’t really explore Anarchism proper until I was turning twenty and discovered the British Anarcho-punk outfit CRASS, and found myself in a band with two Anarcho-pacifists, Charley (bass) and Duncan (drums). We went on to became one of the most unremarkable, unrecorded and now completely forgotten local Indie trios, Eat Organic, infamous for two numbers which I co-wrote with other band members – ‘A Cup Cake’s Got More Brains Than Ronald Reagan’ (somewhat Prophetic, I suppose), and ‘Spirit of the Age’. The band broke up when Duncan, an animal rights protestor, got sent down.

Charley and Duncan, like many of the Anarchists I met, appeared to differ from me in that they came from relatively privileged backgrounds, and although they had their own personal demons, neither had spent their childhood being the victim of someone else’s as I had. Charley was public school educated and Duncan had been to grammar school. Both seemed to have come from well-off, pleasant homes, although Duncan hated his parents, especially his mum. I think we all had problems relating to women, which wasn’t difficult in the 1980s, when British middle class liberal white male-guilt was at its height.

Bands often develop a sense of camaraderie from working together, which overcome differences, even musical ones. I was considered more ‘arty’ in my musical tastes – preferring the likes of Echo and the Bunnymen, whereas Charley was into heavy metal. Duncan was the true anarcho-punk, sometimes attending worship at the Chumba Wamba commune in Leeds – a collective who reeked of groupthink. Their early Dadaist performances actually subverted the form by being... dogmatic!

Yet it was our spirit of band-bonding that in many ways defined anarchism for me – we believed, perhaps naively, that together we could really change things, and we did. Animal rights, fair trade, American Imperialism, our pervading suspicion of the society of control that is postmodern consumer culture, are all issues which have moved closer to the mainstream in the ensuing years, thanks to gobshites like us. In my personal life, my own DIY approach to dealing with my autistic son was informed by the principles accrued then – as Michelle Shocked sang, ‘The best kind of jam is always home made.’

Despite the emphasis by many anarchists on public action, I have generally shied away from that kind of thing. I have always been a writer, and today I am convinced – like Foucault – that the knowledge systems of postmodernity do not act on the subject, but rather they become the subject, exercising their control by defining who he or she is. The great head-lie today is the Godless universe and I fight it with my every word/thought.

It is surprising how powerful words can be. Yesterday, I wrote a letter to The Guardian on the British governments plans to introduce ID cards and, more unusually, did a local leaflet drop (anonymously) challenging adult dominance of a local environmental project, which has transformed an area of local beauty once frequented by playing children into an aesthetically vile adult leisure complex dominated by dog owners and their poo.

I am convinced their actions are indicative of the growing diminution of childhood pretend play in our society, which one educational researchers suggests may explain the decline in underlying cognitive abilities in the childhood population – despite the illusion of increasing exam scores.


The Muslim Anarchist

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

A conversation with Bendib and Parenti

Khalil Bendib and Michael Parenti in conversation (sometime debate) on the Danish Cartoons.

Khalil Bendib is a Muslim American artist and political cartoonist (see side bar for some of his cartoons).

Khalil's cartoon on the Danish cartoons: hate speech and protected speech - has been featured on several news outlets, including this blog. Also check out his book of cartoons: It Became Necessary To Destroy the Planet In Order To Save It.

Michael Parenti is a political commentator and author.

Click here to listen to the conversation/debate on the ihsan podcast.


Click here to play web stream.

Monday, February 13, 2006

What if it’s not the apple, but the tree that is rotten?

Earlier this week I read the phrase "ranking my outrages" on the AngryArab Blog. It was in reference to the current protests over the infamous cartoons and how one’s anger over that issue needs to be ranked in terms of the many outrages that surround us in this miserably unjust world.

I agree with the writer of that Blog, and I too rank my outrage.

And at today’s news I am beyond rage.

I am speaking of the video of British soldiers at "work" in their ongoing occupation over the people of Iraq.

We can see soldiers beating young Iraqi men. The men are pleading for their lives. The soldiers continue to beat them. Other soldiers walk casually by. Some stop to watch.

But the most obscene and unbearable thing is the sound on the video. We can hear these men pleading for their lives, begging for mercy. We can hear that ugly sound the body makes when it is beaten. And we can hear the voices of other soldiers urging the beating on, taking sick pleasure in this scene of hell.

We are told the usual pack of lies. This is just one aberration. The ubiquitous "rotten apples" will be found and punished. The occupation is good for Iraqis. The soldiers are doing good work.

But those of us still in possession of our minds know that this is the language of occupation. This is what occupying armies do and always have done. This is what occupation looks like. This is what it has always looked like.

And this is why the occupation must end.

There is this scene in the movie, "Battle for Algiers", in which a French General is asked about the torture that his occupying army is responsible for. He responds that it is nothing but what is necessary to maintain the occupation. He says that if the people of France want to "keep" the colonies, then this is what must be done.

And so it is up to the people of the U.K. to look at this in the eye and decide whether this is what they want done in their name.

In the U.S., the horror of Abu Ghraib was easily covered away. Far more easily than one could have imagined it to be. The lullabies that soothe the stupid were unceasingly provided by the Bush administration. A few lower ranked soldiers were punished. And we are meant to believe that it is all over.

Until the next video.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

The Solidarity of Civilizations

The above photographs from left to right are of protests in Bhopal, Beirut, and Tehran.

It is easy to paint a picture of Muslims as a monolith, infact Muslims have a variety of civilizations and cultures.

Islam does not exist in a vacuum; it thrives within a wide array of cultures - each giving a unique flavor to how we Muslims experience our religion. However, as a faith, Islam leads to a way that transcends narrow boundaries of nationalism, tribalism, and stateism.

Millions of Muslims have by now demonstrated across Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, and even in Venezuela. It is difficult for us to unite on much - but we have come together around our beloved Prophet (peace and blessings upon him) what better cause could there be for this expression of solidarity? Alhamdulillah! May Allah guide us through these times, and may the hearts of momineen grow closer in love towards each other, and towards Allah. A lot of work lies ahead of us, and we will need much hikmah (wisdom).

Imams, sheikhs, leaders, intellectuals, academics, and even petty bloggers like myself, have a responsibility to express beauty, hope, and an optimistic view for our collective future. There is a hadith of Imam Ali(AS) that a real religious scholar is one who does not make the people lose hope in Allah. I find way too many articles, blogs, and grand statements that seem to, instead, be fanning the flames of despair.

It is easy to fall into a pessimist dichotomic trap that views the world as clashes of "civilized" and/or "uncivilized." Such views do a grave disservice, and accomplish nothing towards reaching a space for compassion and justice. On the one hand they give credence to orientalist notions that do not recognize the multiplicity of cultures and civilizations. And, on the other hand, they are expressions of age-old classist and colonial notions of "uncivilized" primitive masses (natives) going on a rampage. Both are false notions, and only serve to harden hearts.

These notions are now being given wide display on the media, and even some Muslims appear to have fallen for these ideological fallacies.

The mainstream corporate media coverage and depictions are never "objective," they reflect ideologies of the owners, along with economic and state interests. Stories, and images are selected and spun to reflect editorial slants. This is why "peaceful" anti-war protests, even if they number in the hundreds of thousands barely get any coverage, but if a handful of protesters break a few windows of Starbucks - that will result in a media outcry - painting peace and justice activists as hooligans and vandals. For those who would like to learn more, consider (re)reading Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky's Manufacturing Consent. Another good resource that does a decent job of dissecting media bias is Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR).

Some Muslims have blamed Muslims for not being more media savvy. But the reality is that there is no such as being "media savvy" - you cannot cater to a media that has such an extensive history of covering up the truth. What Muslims should understand is that, attempting to view the world through the lens of the corporate media can only lead to Muslims becoming manipulated. Most who live outside of North America and Europe already know this very well, and have developed a very keen ability for reading between the lines. Unfortunately, some Muslims in North America assume that images created and selected to provoke specific emotions are "objective" and really do reflect what is going on. They do not - they are designed to cover up, and selectively focus on that which sends a message that protesting Muslims are crazed fanatics.

Some commentators have raised the objection that the controversy was inflamed because the rest of the world found out about the cartoons because of the efforts of one Dutch Imam. First, this incident should not be looked at in isolation - there has been a serious growing anti-Muslim/Islam sentiment in Europe (and in North America). The Danish Queen, less than a year ago stated:

We have to show our opposition to Islam and we have to, at times, run the risk of having unflattering labels placed on us because there are some things for which we should display no tolerance.

The French Interior Minister, during the heat of the "riots" last year called French youth of North African backgrounds, "vermin" and "scum." Add to this the horrendous occupations of Iraq, Afghanistan, and Palestine, and puppet regimes that do the imperial bidding - and we should begin to understand the context of these "cartoons."

If there is a misunderstanding, it is easy to resolve those issues through private dialogue. But when the situation is abusive, the abused has the right to publicize what is going on. This is elementary domestic abuse 101 - and the dynamics are the same whether it is at the micro family level, or macro societical level. An abusive relationship can never be resolved quietly - you cannot resolve things by sitting down with an abuser. The abuser thrives on secrecy and keeping things quiet --- only when the abused goes public - that the abuser is forced into a position where they might not stop, but it sure puts 'em on notice.

This is why we broadcast issues of concern worldwide, including corporate exploitation, war crimes, torture etc. Such a situation requires making it very clear on a worldwide scale - that we are not be going to take it anymore.

The worldwide mass demonstrations, and outrage have indeed succeeded in raising the issues to an international level - this calls for a celebration - not despair and talks about "spinning out of control" - out of whose control, is a question that needs to also be asked.

Regarding the role American Muslims and "leaders" ... if they want to have any credibility, then they need to stop going to iftar dinners with Bush and Co. chumming up to the State Departments, and obligingly coming up with lop sided condemnation statements that ignores the horrid havoc being wrecked by Mr. Danger and Co. Such actions reflect on American Muslims as a whole, and totally destroy any influence on events that we might hope to have. Instead, we need to take a serious active role in anti-war and anti-imperialist struggles both here, and elsewhere in the South. Undoubtedly, this will lead to difficult situations for our children, families, and at the airport. But, so what - inaction at this time will lead to far worse consequences - as someone said Silence = Death.

Farid Esack has noted:

Muslims in the West struggling to articulate and actualize progressive values in our communities need to be keenly aware of our own location vis-à-vis the global Muslim community. We are but one small segment, albeit a highly privileged one, of the world’s Muslim population. We must not replicate the habits of an Empire that arrogates to itself the right to re-write Islamic education of Muslim countries, stage-manage their elections, and formulate their laws and economic policy without ever interrogating the appetite and greed of the monster whose appeasement determines our survival or destruction.

Muslim activists concerned about social justice should be totally optimistic about these events, - they have shown that Muslims can indeed galvanize at an international level. We should now work towards harnessing this beautiful energy towards both ending imperial occupations, and creatively working towards implementing solutions that will, in all likelihood, not be the farcecracy, and useless neo-liberal-capitalism of the United States. There are millions in the "west" who recognize and appreciate our struggles - we can and should make common cause with them. There is no need to make common cause with those who refuse to make any effort towards understanding our sentiments, nor with Uncle Toms who want to appease oppressors. We have already laid the foundation for a solidarity of civilizations, lets now expand the circle:
Surely, they that believe, and the Jews, and the Christians, and the Sabaeans, whoso believes in Allah, and Last Day, and works righteousness (waAAamila salihan) ---- their wage awaits them with their Lord, and no fear shall be on them, neither shall they sorrow. (Qur'an 2:62)

Another article worth reading is by Rami G. Khouri

It is too simplistic and easy to categorize this as a clash of civilizations, a very Western perspective that explains political tensions primarily through the lens of cultural and values differences. Nor is this an argument about freedom of the press in Europe, much as our European friends would like to believe it is. It is about Arab-Islamic societies’ desire to enjoy freedom from Western and Israeli subjugation, diplomatic double standards and neocolonial policies.

This is a new form of the colonial struggle that defined European-Arab/Asian relations in the 19th century. The difference this time is that the natives in the south are not helpless and quiescent in the face of the West’s large guns. They disdain rhetoric or insulting cartoons.

Muslims, Arabs, Asians and others today are much more aware of the policies of Western states, concerned about their goals, angry about Western double standards, able to resist through the use of mass media, political and other channels. They are willing to stand up, fight back and assert their right to live in freedom and dignity. The message is that the 19th century has officially ended.

Saturday, February 11, 2006

Tele Sur

TeleSur is to Latin America what Aljazeera is to the "mid-east."

Well, not exactly, TeleSur is far more grassroots oriented, and its coverage includes the large scale social movements, and *alternatives* to Neo-Liberalism and Capitalism, that are sweeping the region

"Los que no han hablado. Los que llevan decenas de años como seres anónimos. Dirigentes sindicales, dirigentes populares. "

Click here for the TeleSur web site, and then click on "Senal en vivo" for web streaming. Of-course, all programing is in Spanish.

People of the Americas are rising once again, saying no to imperialism, saying no to fascism, saying no to intervention -- and saying no to death! - President Hugo Chavez

Friday, February 10, 2006

Ignore the critics - Muslim response to cartoons is largely peaceful

By the time this gets published, I hope the Danish cartoon frenzy will have died down. Hopefully, we can then look at things a little more objectively. By now, many readers will be tempted to believe that all Muslims are strapping themselves with bombs and getting ready to smash themselves into an embassy or two.

Muslims have been critical of the violent and infantile responses of some Muslim extremists to the Danish cartoons, including the burning of embassies and threats of violence against Danish and other Western targets. In the United States, prominent American Muslim scholar Imam Zaid Shakir has described the violent response of Muslim protestors in Syria and elsewhere as a “clash of the uncivilised”.

He goes onto say that the entire episode “shows the extent we Muslims are vulnerable to media manipulation, superficial shows of piety, and counterproductive one-upmanship militancy”.

Writing on the popular Muslim website altmuslim.com on February 1 2006, Canadian TV host Safiyya Ally summed up the views of many in a piece entitled “Stupid Cartoons, Even Stupider Reaction”.

Ally, like most Muslims living in western societies, found the response in some quarters of the Muslim world troubling. She wrote: “Those up in arms don't seem to understand that the newspaper is not government owned or produced. It is an independent newspaper, and as such the guarantee of freedom of expression allows it to do what it did. It may be in bad taste and it may be insensitive, but the newspaper has a point: freedom of expression allows individuals to express themselves in ways that may upset or offend others.”

The author’s own analysis, which described the reaction of some Muslims as evidence of a “Muslim dark age”, was published in the Wellington-based Dominion Post in New Zealand. That same broadsheet had published all 12 cartoons some 2 days earlier.

In those few Muslim countries where democracy and freedom of the press reigns, Muslim response has been fairly muted. During the last two weeks of January, the writer visited Indonesia (the world’s largest Muslim-majority country) as part of a delegation sponsored by the Australia Indonesia Institute.

We saw with our own eyes a burgeoning of press freedom, with Indonesian newspapers, radio and TV stations openly criticising President Susilo Bambang Yudh0yono and his government on a variety of fronts.

Whilst there were some protests in Jakarta and Bandung against the cartoons, the response was muted compared to the protests in major Indonesian cities that followed the increase in fuel prices by upto 60%.

Channel News Asia (C.N.A.) reported on 3 February that a small group of radical protestors did raid the building that housed the Danish embassy in Jakarta. However, they were stopped by Indonesian security forces from reaching the embassy, located on the 25th floor.

C.N.A. went onto report that Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, the Nahdatul Ulama (Council of Theologians), urged its over 50 million members to protest peacefully. The Indonesian foreign ministry merely encouraged the Danish government to “fully explain the country's position to Indonesians”.

In Turkey, currently ruled by a more conservative Islamist government, there seems to be greater concern with the threat of bird flu. Turkey’s Islamist Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who recently visited Australia and New Zealand, issued a joint statement with Spanish Premier Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero for people on both sides of the cartoon dispute to remain calm.

Turkey’s PM also called upon Turkish migrants and guest workers living in Germany and other European countries to respond peacefully. Keen to ensure its bid to become a member of the European Union, Turkey’s response has been praised by Germany, the United States and other western nations.

The story is so far much the same in other Muslim-majority countries in the region, including Brunei, Malaysia and among substantial Muslim minorities in Thailand and the Philippines. Whilst much has been made of violent protests in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Gaza, Syria and Lebanon, the cartoons have raised hardly a peep thus far across North, West and Central Africa. In Bosnia and Albania, Muslim response to the cartoons has been muted.

Across the Tasman, the New Zealand Herald editorialised on 9 February 2006 on “the maturity and restraint of the Muslim community in this country”. The paper compared the “passionate but peaceful and entirely unobjectionable” Muslim protests to “the hateful tone” of those supporting the Danish position.

“The drawings served only to test the self-restraint of free media and of Muslims everywhere. In this country Muslims have passed the test well.”

In Brisbane, Muslim response to the Courier-Mail’s publication of the most offensive of the 12 cartoons hardly registered on the radar. To its credit, the newspaper included an article by Kurandar Seyit of the Forum of Australian Islamic Relations (FAIR) explaining why the cartoons were deemed offensive by Muslims.

Some Muslim organisational leaders gave clumsy responses when asked about the cartoons. Dr Ameer Ali, President of the Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, claimed the cartoons would only serve to create “more bin Ladins”. Most Muslim leaders and commentators expressed themselves in more moderate tones.

Perhaps the most suitable response thus far has been from the Council of American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). In a press release dated 8 February 2006, CAIR condemned the decision by Iranian newspaper Hamshahri to hold a contest of cartoons ridiculing the Holocaust. It called on the newspaper “to drop its plans to denigrate the immense suffering caused by the Nazi Holocaust and urge the Iranian government to repudiate such an insensitive proposal.”

Those readers still not convinced of the mainly peaceful Muslim response to the Danish cartoons are urged to consider this. 1.2 billion Muslims live in all countries across the planet. If each of these people lit a fire in response to the cartoons, most of the earth’s land mass would be up in smoke.

The author is a Sydney-based lawyer and an occasional lecturer in the School of Politics at Macquarie University. iyusuf@sydneylawyers.com.au

© Irfan Yusuf 2006

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Hate Speech and Protected Speech.

Something rotten in the State of Denmark!

Cartoon by Khalil Bendib, a syndicated Muslim cartoonist based in Berkeley, CA

StudioBendib, All rights reserved.

For more Bendib cartoons, click http://www.bendib.com/

See also:

The Solidarity of Civilizations

An American Indian View of the Cartoons.

The old adage that was popularized in Hollywood westerns," White man speaks with forked tongue" had a special meaning. It denoted the deceit of European settlers who often lied to North American Indian people as they stole coveted lands and nearly decimated them as a people. The recent split tongue approach used in defending Danish racist cartoons as freedom of speech must be loudly condemned as just more attacks on the rights of Muslims to defend their lands, culture and self determination.

Islamophobia rears its ugly head

Freedom of Expression?!

As'ad AbuKhalil demolishes Manji!

Wednesday, February 08, 2006


Die Like Imam Hussein (AS)

Don't you see that what is true and right is not acted upon and what is false and wrong is not forbidden? In such a situation, the man of faith yearns for the meeting with his Lord. Indeed, (in such conditions) to me death is happiness, and life under the yoke of tyrants is disgrace.

Survive like Zainab (sister of Imam Hussein, daughter of Fatima Zahra and Imam Ali)

Oh Yazid! Do you think that by making us prisoners in such a way that we are being taken from one place to another in humiliation - do you think that by this you have humiliated us in the sight of Allah and have earned respect for yourself?!

This apparent success of yours is the result of grandeur of your might and lofty status for which you are proud…. You feel that you have conquered the whole world and your affairs are organised and that our domain is now under you control… And are you forgetting that Allah has said:

"Surely those who have bought unbelief at the price of faith shall do no harm at all to Allah, and they shall have a painful chastisement". (Quran 3:177)

Oh Yazid! Feel not elated with our defeat, for you will have to pay the penalty of it on the day when you will be rewarded for your misdeeds. God is not unjust to anyone. We trust in Him. He is our place of refuge. In Him we seek sanctity and with Him rest our hopes!

Aamal for Ashura

After Shahadat by Ali Shariati

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

"freedom" of expression

Aljazeera interviewed Aziz Duwaik, professor of urban planning at the Najah University of Nablus. Duwaik won a parliamentary seat in the recent Palestinian legislative elections.

His Change and Reform (Hamas) list won all nine contested seats in the southern West Bank town of Hebron at the district level, defeating the dominant Fatah party.

Duwaik, understands the situation a lot more clearly than many (not all) of the secularists (and some Muslims) who insist on making this a "freedom of speech" issue, and consider religious sentiments to be primitive or something of the sort.

Duwaik: These cartoons are a reflection of rampant Islamophobia in Europe, which is very similar and nearly as virulent as the anti-Semitism that existed in Europe, especially in Germany, prior to World War II. This anti-Semitism eventually led to the Holocaust and the deaths of millions of human beings.

You see, when you send out thousands of hate messages against a certain ethnic or religious community every day, you make people hate these people, and when mass hatred reaches a certain point, nobody would object to the physical extermination of the hated community when it happens.

Do you fear a Holocaust against Muslims similar to what happened to the Jews?

Why not? The Holocaust was committed by human beings, not by citizens of another planet, and Germany, where Nazism thrived, was probably the most culturally advanced European country in the 1930s and 1940s.

But Europe is now democratic, unlike Nazi Germany?

Yes, but who told you those democracies don't commit genocide? America is a democracy, but we saw recently how this democracy invaded and destroyed two small and weak countries based on lies, while most Americans were duped into believing that Bush was doing the right thing.

Click here to read entire interview

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Islamophobia Rears Its Ugly Head!

Muslim-American political cartoonist, Khalil Bendib weighs in on Danish caricature controversy. Many of Khalil's political cartoons can be viewed on this (Ihsan) blog.(Click on thumbnails on the side panel...)

As a Muslim-American political cartoonist who has made a career out of challenging the conventional wisdom of America’s Judeo-Christian, Eurocentric mainstream media, I am understandably reluctant to argue in favor of any restrictions on free speech that might conceivably come back to haunt me.

So it is not without some sense of trepidation that I set about explaining why, in the case of the now infamous 12 Islamophobic Danish caricatures, the concept of free speech needs to be outweighed by a sensitivity for the rights of a much maligned religious community. Moroccan and Turkish Muslim populations, which had until recent years been absent in the far northern reaches of Europe, have now arrived in Scandinavia and are starting to feel the bitter bite of classic xenophobic backlash as they become more visible.

It is generally accepted, as taught in Journalism 101, that the concept of freedom of expression in a democratic society must always be balanced by the no-less-important notion of social responsibility. Even in the name of free speech, yelling “fire” in a crowded theater is considered reprehensible – as should be yelling contempt in a crowded mosque.

Try as I may while reviewing the infamous Islamophobic Danish caricatures, I fail to discern in them any clear political statement other than the questionable assertion that Islam equals terrorism. Such a message of religious intolerance is, of course, as old and familiar as the Crusades and the Inquisition in the Christian European psyche, but it should no longer be acceptable in post-Enlightenment modern Europe, even when couched in terms of “freedom of expression.”

Publishing deliberately inflammatory caricatures aimed at all that is most tender and precious to the hearts of Muslims worldwide regardless of their political ideology or ethnic background unfortunately helps neither Europe’s lofty democratic ideals nor Islam’s nagging feelings of victimization and humiliation at the hands of Western media.

While regrettable over-reactions and threats of violent retaliation against Western journalists are clearly uncalled for – and only serve to reinforce the worst stereotypes about Muslims – the gratuitous provocations of right-wing European journalism maliciously adds fuel to the fire of already tense relations between the different monotheistic faiths. At a time when Muslim Iraq, Afghanistan and Palestine are all under the crushing boot of foreign Western occupation, reactionary Muslim extremist movements can only be comforted by such blatantly hurtful and racist cartoons. Adding insult to injury, these crude caricatures are in Muslim eyes only the latest sign of the West’s utter contempt for their dearest values and traditions – the humiliation of non-European people having been, for the past five hundred years, an essential feature of Western colonialism and enslavement.

Many Muslims are also rather skeptical when told that in this case freedom of the press trumps freedom from religious persecution, aware as they are of the not-so-subtle double standards concerning the protections afforded to different religious groups.

Take, for example, the impressive strides made in Europe to protect against anti-Semitism, to the point that it is now against the law in some European countries to publish or publicly express any denial or downplay the horrors of the holocaust. Why should the same high standards of sensitivity and respect not apply to Muslims, who are at least equally represented as Jews in Europe? It could reasonably be argued that classifying the offensive Danish caricatures as “protected free speech,” as many in Europe are vociferously doing, is akin to calling a swastika spray-painted on a synagogue “public art.”

Can freedom of expression – or any freedom for that matter – be absolute? To be sure, democratic societies must be ever vigilant to protect free speech against the constant temptation of censorship and intolerance – be it religious or secular. At the same time, let us remember to never cross, if we can help it, the line into hateful bigotry in the name of an abstract absolute. In other words, the freedom to swing your Islamophobic fist must stop at my Muslim nose.

Khalil Bendib is a Berkeley-based editorial cartoonist. Some of his work can be viewed at www.bendib.com


There are some individual Muslims who think that this latest event of the Danish Cartoons is just something that is taking place in isolation. For these Muslims, this is just another opportunity to heap scorn on their fellow Muslims who are expressing their outrage (however terribly flawed their strategies of protest might be). In many ways, they mimick the anti-Muslim/Islam mainstream corporate press in the way they use images to belittle Muslims protesting. What these individuals do not understand is how these images are manufactured to send a specific message: Muslims are all crazed fanatics.

The anti-Islam/Muslim sentiments that Europe and the United States are perpetuating is nothing new. If anything, the latest episode should be looked upon as a final straw in a long string of horrible attacks against Muslims.

But also dangerous are some of the responses of those individual Muslims who are going about saying "do nothing" or belittling the boycott efforts. These Muslims lack a historic perspective, and have a shallow understanding of the trajectory of anti-Islam/Muslim rethoric that reaches ever new heights in Europe and the United States.

This rethoric is not something to be taken lightly - all one needs to do is pick up any German and other European newspapers leading up to the holocaust against Jews and many other communities, and we can begin to understand the seriousness of these so-called "private freedom of press" cartoons. The total demonization of Islam and Muslims is nothing less than a step towards characterization of these communities as an evil that needs to be dealt with - and a step away from Europe pondering on the Muslim question, same as they pondered over the Jewish question just a few decades ago. After all, it was only a bare few months back that the French Interior Minister who, in the heat of the Paris "riots," labled the French youth of North African background as "vermin" and "scum."

The do-nothin' crowd would have Muslims just lay down and smile - while Europe and US tighten their screws and continued their demonization of Muslims. Such an attitude can only lead to an ever worsening situation, one where it is accepted that Muslims have no right to protest, and no right of boycott - the only right that Muslims have is to be silent, and give Islam=Peace khutbas (no accents allowed) approved by imperial governments. These attitudes are infact nothing new, they are rooted in ultra-loyalist attitudes that existed amongst some Japanese Americans during WW II, and even amongst some Jews of Europe.

Muslims protest could certainly use substantial refinement, but, in this context, if there is a rotten state - it lies squarely in the European court. And to not engage in serious protest at this juncture is to invite even more horrible events a few months down the line.


Not all is well in the state of Islam

I don't know a lot about Denmark. Last year, I was seeing a lady who reminded me of a former Sydney real estate agent now married to the Crown Prince of Denmark. During a recent visit to Indonesia, I enjoyed Danish pastries. Though I must say that in Indonesia, they did taste a little different. Was it extra chilli or spice? I don't know.

But in their response to the publication of certain cartoons across European newspapers, some Muslim protesters have just added too much chilli and spice to their legitimate protest. In the past few weeks, Libya and Saudi Arabia have withdrawn ambassadors from Denmark. In many Muslim countries, Danish goods are being boycotted.

In my birthplace of Karachi, frenzied Pakistanis hit the streets with protests that did more damage to the Pakistani economy than to anyone in Denmark.

The same scenes were repeated in Gaza. Then again, some of these guys (Pakistani women have more important matters to attend to) will protest each time they think a Pakistani batsman is given out lbw unfairly.

Even the Lebanese President (himself a Maronite Christian) issued a statement condemning the publication. And across the Arab world, supermarkets have removed Danish goods from their shelves.

From the response, you'd think Denmark had invaded a Muslim country and was establishing Danish settlements all over the place. Or perhaps that the Danish Government had passed laws banning girls from wearing headscarves in schools.

Of course, nothing of the sort happened. Instead, a number of privately owned newspapers in Denmark published cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. One cartoon apparently shows him standing at the pearly gates of heaven in much the same way as St Peter in the Catholic tradition.

The cartoons were first published in the Morgenavisen Jyllands-Posten. Most people living in Muslim countries would probably be unable to pronounce the paper's name, let alone have heard of it.

In January, the paper published an apology. It claimed the cartoons were first published as part of an ongoing debate on freedom of the press.

If the paper expects me to believe that, it will probably also claim the loud noises I heard at the Sukarno Airport in Jakarta were not Qantas planes landing but Danish pigs taking off.

But the reaction of so many Muslim civilians and Governments makes me wonder. The same people jumped up and down and screamed and shouted when Salman Rushdie published what was clearly his worst novel in decades.

Instead of the novel being a huge flop, the gross overreaction of some Muslims led to it becoming a best seller.

In the case of the Danish cartoons, the issue is a simple one. If you don't like what you see, write a letter to the editor. Or cancel your subscription. Or do what Danish Muslims did and meet the editor to secure an apology.

Millions of Muslims live in poverty across the world. Muslim women are murdered in their thousands for "dishonouring" their families. Apart from Indonesia and Turkey, I don't see a lot of democracy in Muslim countries, let alone press freedom.

Muslims in Gaza face a potentially desperate situation as Israel turns off the economic tap. Muslims in southern Thailand aren't exactly living it up.

The Muslim world faces problems of an order taller than a tsunami wave. Yet Muslims are squandering time and resources on 12 cartoons.

Yes, it is true that Islam forbids the pictorial depiction of the Prophet Muhammad. However, that ban doesn't extend to non-Muslim newspapers operating in countries where Islamic law does not apply.

And if the cartoons do portray the Prophet Muhammad in a negative light, should that affect what Muslims themselves think of him? Is his dignity dependent upon what appears in cartoons of newspapers that sound like exotic icecream brands?

Yes, the cartoons were insensitive and in bad taste. But they don't reflect on the entire state of Denmark.

Something is rotten in the state of Denmark. But if the response of Muslims to the Danish cartoons is anything to go by, things are even more rotten in the state of Islam.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer. This article was first published in the New Zealand Herald on 6 February 2006.

Saturday, February 04, 2006

Look past Bali bombers for true picture of Indonesia

Children attending class at Dar al-Qolam, a traditional pesantren (religious boarding school) located outside Jakarta. Photo by Marwa Khalaf.

Indonesia is often portrayed as a hotbed of Islamic extremism. Irfan Yusuf found it a hotbed of religious tolerance.

I have just spent a couple of hours experiencing the lights and sounds and costumes of a ballet. But this was no Swan Lake. It was the performance of an ancient Hindu epic known as the Ramayana.

The costumes and masks of the cast were phenomenal, as were the accompanying orchestra and singers.

The ballet was performed in the shadow of one of the oldest Hindu temples on earth.

But what made the performance amazing was not the music, the instruments or costumes. It was that this ballet was being performed as a cultural performance in the world's largest Muslim country.

The Ramayana is performed regularly to Muslim audiences across this archipelago, 88 per cent of whose population regard themselves as Muslim.

When our delegation of young Australian Muslims arrived at the temple grounds, in the Indonesian university town of Yogyakarta, we were expecting to witness a distant relic of Indonesia's ancient pre-Islamic past.

Instead, we were greeted with the traditional Arabic greeting of "assalamu alaykum"(peace be with you).

It was unclear whether our hosts were Hindu or Muslim. But, without doubt, most of the actors were Muslim, as were most of the audience.

Many were young couples for whom a trip to a Hindu ballet was a culturally appropriate night out. Many were women wearing headscarves.

For Indonesian Muslims, Hindu and Buddhist influences are celebrated as part of their mainstream culture.

Islam arrived in Indonesia through traders and was spread peacefully by Chinese and Yemeni merchants.

It adapted to existing Hindu and Buddhist cultures and co-opted the symbols of these faiths.

In India, the birthplace of the Ramayana hero has become the scene of conflict.

Hindus claim the medieval Muslim king Babur built a mosque on the site, destroying an existing Hindu shrine.

The dispute over the mosque and its destruction by Hindu extremists in 1992 has led to religious riots in which tens of thousands have been killed across northern India.

But while the Ramayana hero is at the centre of conflict in India, Indonesian Muslim actors take part in a Ramayana ballet with a largely Muslim audience.

In Jakarta, our delegation visited Indonesia's largest mosque - the Masjid Istiqlal (Independence Mosque), which holds up to 50,000 people.

Before the traditional call to prayer, a drum is beaten, consistent with traditional Javanese Hindu culture. Women and men enter the mosque from the same entrance and pray in the same pavilion without any curtain.

It seems the largest Islamic country in the world is far more liberal in gender matters than other Muslim cultures in which women are often banned from the mosque or relegated to a separate area.

Across the road from the Independence Mosque is Jakarta's Catholic Cathedral. On Sundays, the cathedral's car park is quickly filled and the mosque authorities let Catholics park on the mosque premises.

In the post-Suharto era, the Chinese New Year has become a public holiday and is even being celebrated in some Indonesian mosques.

Perhaps Muslims in other parts of the world can learn from Indonesia's example.

Indonesia may be seen as a hotbed of extremism and anti-Western feeling. But whatever Indonesians may think of Western governments, their attitude toward all cultures and faiths appears far more open than many Western countries that claim to be multicultural.

The Ramayana Muslim artists are more representative of mainstream Indonesian Islam than the Bali bombers.

* Irfan Yusuf is a Sydney lawyer visiting Indonesia as part of a delegation of Young Australian Muslims. The tour was sponsored by the Australia Indonesia Institute. This article was first published in the New Zealand Herald on Australia Day, Thursday January 26 2006.

Friday, February 03, 2006

Europe resurrects its Facist past

The United States, some years back, found its new bogeyman "Islam" to replace its former imaginary enemy "Communism." And now the European press appears to have finally (?) found a replacement for the Jewish people that they used to malign and attack. Anti-Islam/Muslimism appears to now have officially replaced anti-Jewish sentiments in Europe.

The roots of these attacks are the same: an inability to acknowledge and respect a diversity of people that might result in a Europe that is non-White and/or non-Christian.

The anti-Muslim/Islam cartoons of today are little different than the anti-Jewish cartoons that were published by the Nazis during WW II.

***The cartoon below shows a photograph of a Jew captioned "Satan." Streicher regularly used the old religious argument that the Jews were in league with the Devil. This issue appeared as the last German troops in Stalingrad surrendered.

Click for MPACUK's list of boycott items.

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