Saturday, August 24, 2013

'Disgusting' Islamophobic DVDs sent to London mosques

By Catrin NyeBBC Asian Network -- Aug 24, 2013

Mosques and Muslim organisations in London have been sent Islamophobic DVDs containing highly offensive material.

They were received around the time of the Muslim holiday Eid and contain a mixture of insults to the Prophet Muhammad, a pornographic film and news footage about extremism.

Some of the DVDs were addressed to "His Wonderous Cleric of Islam" making it initially appear to contain something positive.

AbdulMaalik Tailor is the community liaison officer for Anoor Mosque in Acton, west London.Very amateur

He also runs an organisation called Muslim History Walks and the DVD was sent to both of these organisations.

"I didn't like it at all, initially it was just turned off, but then myself and other people at the mosque thought we have to see what exactly is in this film," he said.

"It's been heavily edited and put together. It wasn't pleasant at all - it's disgusting."

The DVD is very amateur and set to a rock song and appears to have been made in a bedroom.

First the viewer sees a model skull with worms and a toy rat inserted in its face and the words 'Prophet Muhammad' written across its forehead.

A series of obscene insults are held on a piece of paper underneath.

There follows a pornographic film and also on the DVD is part of a BBC Newsnight investigation into banned Islamic organisation Al Muhajiroun.

Mr Tailor said he would like to see whoever made and sent the DVD prosecuted for hate crime.

"Other people have received this too and we would like them to come forward," he said.

'Very upsetting'

"The concern from some worshippers is that if a Muslim were to produce DVDs which contain similar hate, they would be prosecuted.

"If nothing happens then it will be seen as a two-tier system."

It is not clear how many Muslim organisations or mosques it has been sent to but BBC Asian Network found it was received by the Qalb Centre in Walthamstow as well.

Workers there initially thought it may be an Eid card, and a female worker watched a couple of minutes and found it very upsetting.

'Bunch of idiots'

Outreach worker Imran Mehtar also watched it.

"I did find it very offensive and Islamophobic but I didn't get upset - I just thought it was made by a bunch of idiots," said Mr Mehtar.

"It would be nice if people were caught and punished for this - because here we have been thinking what else could they do, what other plans have they made?"

The Metropolitan Police said it was in possession of two of the DVDs which are currently with forensic teams.

Islam in Politics: A Conversation with Mustafa Akyol

Muneeb Siddiqui*

Posted on Aug 23, 2013

Over the past few months, the entire Middle East has seemingly become engulfed in one crisis after another.

Two democratically elected, Islamist-led governments, the AKP in Turkey and the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) in Egypt, have faced massive domestic uprisings.

While the AKP survived, the Muslim Brotherhood was not as fortunate.

Egypt’s president and Brotherhood member, Mohamed Morsi, was overthrown on July 3, in what some describe as a military coup and others claim as the second wave of Egypt’s January 25 revolution.

As these events continue to unfold, some have been quick to describe these developments as the death of “political Islam”, a widely contested concept that is often demonized as a fascist phenomenon in direct conflict with the tenets of democracy.

Mustafa Akyol, a prominent Turkish journalist and author of the book “Islam Without Extremes: a Muslim Case For Liberty” recently sat with me to shed light on the current crisis in the Middle East and Islam’s role in the political landscape of Muslim majority nations.

Political Islam, as Akyol points out, is undoubtedly a “vague” term. “I understand it as the influence of Islam on politics. It includes a very wide range of practices, with several interpretations and expression, and is anything but a monolith,” he observes.

In response to arguments that political Islam is a totalitarian ideology, Akyol believes such descriptions are too simplistic, “Political Islam emerged in societies where politics was authoritarian, and hence it became authoritarian.”

To illustrate his point, Akyol references the Shah of Iran, Reza Pahlavi who forced women to take off the hijab. After the Iranian Revolution in 1979, under the leadership of Ayatollah Khomeini, hijab became mandatory in the public sphere. Akyol describes a similar trajectory in his own country. “In Turkey we had what I call the ‘secularism police,’ who would force women to take off the hijab before entering a university.”

Summing up these circumstances, he observes, “authoritarianism rather than religion is the crux of the problem; everybody wants to capture the state and use it for it their own purposes.”

With so much polarization surrounding the notion of political Islam, can there possibly be a middle ground? In his book, Akyol ponders this very question.

He makes a case for what he calls “Islamic liberalism”. This he stressed is a political state “where individuals are not restricted by the state; a system of non-coercion.”

“I believe there can be Islamic politics in liberal settings,” he says. “You can have Islamic values such as morality, justice, and family values. You can defend them and articulate them, however to impose them would be against this model.”

In a nutshell, Akyol believes the state should be separate from religion, but he is also against completely segregating Islam from politics.

Akyol points to Tunisia’s ruling Islamist party, Ennahda, as the political entity that could potentially create such a liberal Islamic state.

Rachid Ghannouchi, the leader of Ennahda, has said freedom is the fundamental basis of Islam. Akyol says apostasy laws found in several Muslim countries have been deemed unacceptably by Ghanouchi. As the leader of Ennahda once stated, “Tunisians have the freedom to believe in anything, to leave or embrace any faith, as faith is a personal matter.”

While recent protests in Turkey and Egypt have intensified scrutiny on political Islam, Akyol believes these events have little to do with Islam, and relate more to day-to-day political tensions that continue to fester in these countries.

The Gezi Park protests, which were initiated by a small number of environmentalists, eventually became a broader protest against the AKP government.

Akyol emphasizes, “The protests quickly unfolded as a full blown outburst as frustration grew with Erdogan over a number of his policies.”

Earlier this year Erdogan had limited the sale of alcohol beyond certain time-based limits. These and other restrictions on so-called “secular” lifestyles led many of Erdogan’s detractors to accuse the prime minister of infringing on their basic freedoms.

While Akyol believes Turkey’s decades old-religious-secular divide undoubtedly played a part in the protests, a more serious factor is Erdogan’s imposing attitude.

“His rhetoric is too strong, as he continuously bashes his political opponents, day in and day out” Akyol asserts. “It is not so much what he believes, but how he conducts himself. Different people have different frustrations with the prime minister.”

Akyol believes the AKP badly managed the protests and misread the events as “another coup attempt.” Blaming other governments and fomenting conspiracies was not a wise decision.

In Egypt, similar but more consequential protests took place on the first anniversary of Morsi’s rise to the presidency. Once again, Akyol does not believe political Islam played any significant role in popular grievances.

In terms of the Brotherhood’s Islamic agenda, which was criticized from various corners of the Egyptian public, Akyol says, “Ikhwan was actually moderating itself. Being in power for the first time, they realized the gravity of being in the political arena and had often backed off from their more controversial claims.”

He believes other factors separate and apart from religion were at play in generating massive protests against the Morsi government.

Akyol recognizes there were “legitimate concerns” against Morsi, including frustrations over a stagnant economy and rising unemployment, as well as various political issues, that led people to take to the streets.

Nevertheless, he strongly believes “none of these issues, no matter how legitimate, can justify a coup”. “[The Brotherhood] should have been given the right to fail, but unfortunately, the coup has disrupted the entire democratic process,” he says.

Akyol believes claims about the death of political Islam are naive at best. “It’s is just wrong to come to conclusions like this” he says. “These are Islamic countries and their politics will always be affected by Islam.”

Akyol concedes, however, that every Muslim country is different in terms of the exact role religion plays in domestic politics, running the spectrum from Turkey to Saudi Arabia.

In the future, Akyol believes parties like the Brotherhood should focus on principles of “justice,” which he describes as a “core political value of Islam. “Make sure your courts run justly, your police don’t harass people, and state institutions, such as the army, do not use tax dollars to subsidize their luxurious needs,” he says. “Do not force people to be religious; imposing religious practices only turn people into hypocrites. Focus on the economy, education and technological advances, should be key.”

According to Mustafa Akyol, improvements in these crucial areas are not only compatible, but also strongly encouraged by the Islamic tradition.

Mustafa Akyol’s is the author of “Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty”, and a columnist for Hurriyet Daily News and Al-Monitor. He can be reached on Twitter @AkyolinEnglish.

*Muneeb Siddiqui holds a Masters of Arts degree in International Relations from the University of Sussex, with an interest in South Asian and Middle East Politics. He is a contributor to PolicyMic and Aslan Media and can be reached on Twitter @UsaidMuneeb16

Is Atheism A Religion? Dept. of Justice Argues Yes. Atheists Say No.

Atheist leaders meet the same IRS criteria of being ministers as other clergy leaders and so should receive the same tax exempt status for housing allowances as ministers, according to a Department of Justice filing for an upcoming hearing.

The Tennessean reports in "Feds grant religion tax break to atheists" that this legal argument came about because of atheist group challenges to a "parsonage exemption" tax law and the fact that "The Internal Revenue services does require, among other things, that a 'minster' be seen as a spiritual leader and provide services for a religious organization. Belief in a deity is not required."

Atheist groups such as the Freedom From Religion Foundation(FFRF) have opposed the "parsonage exemption" in IRS Section 107 for a number of years, noting that religious leaders are able to qualify for a housing allowance exemption that the non-religious cannot obtain, and which they claim is unfair and should be discontinued. God Discussion recently interviewed FFRF's co-president Dan Barker on the topic, and retired IRS appeals officer Robert Baty joined the discussion.

FFRF requested a parsonage exemption in an effort to bring about a formal challenge to the law. FFRF filed a formal complaint in Wisconsin in September 2011 with the aim of challenging the fairness of the law. The Department of Justice has agreed to hear the atheist leaders' case and in brief requesting a motion to dismiss the suit, argued that atheist leaders are in fact not currently excluded from the parsonage exemption.

Don Byrd at the Baptist Joint Committee For Religious Liberty seemed interested in the concept, saying that "if atheism is just another religion, that leaves everyone insulted pretty equally, right?" and asked whether instead of doing away with the housing allowance for clergy, which appears unlikely, it should instead be extended to other nonprofit leaders.

Premier Marois is going way too far!

Letter in August 23, 2013 -- Montreal Gazette

Premier Marois is going way too far!

If the media reports are accurate, the Charter of Quebec Values will prohibit employees from wearing religious symbols in public buildings. This will create an intolerable situation. For what possible reason would one disallow kippas, turbans, hijabs and visible crosses? What is the real reason behind considering such an inane and xenophobic law? Let’s tell the truth. This is not only about secularism. It is also about fear and hate. Many Quebecers seem to have a fear of and distaste for those who look different.

Should the Orthodox Jew wearing a kippa be denied professorship at a Quebec university? Will the hijab-clad girl who wishes more than all else to be a nurse be unable to realize her dream because of your restrictions? Should the turbaned man who wants to be a policeman be rejected? Will our government offices be staffed only by those whose dress is deemed “appropriate”?

What hogwash! This law is a step backward for Quebec. This law is discriminatory and just plain wrong. Instead of opening up the province to newcomers, this will force them into ghettos. Moreover, the idea of excluding citizens because of appearance is totally unjustified.

Peggy Curran’s article (Gazette, August 21) states what should be obvious to Mme. Marois and her party: “… the PQ has wasted time, energy and our money even contemplating an idea so embarrassing and divisive.”

Mme Marois should scrap this proposed law and focus instead on promoting tolerance and justice for all Quebecers.

Margaret Felberg-Levitt

Xenophobes trampling charter rights in Quebec


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The Parti Quebecois is turning Quebec into a xenophobic hellhole where the charter rights of Canadian citizens to freedom of religion and freedom of expression are about to be revoked.

Meanwhile, the federal government, which should be protecting those citizens’ rights, is sitting idly by, contenting itself with making vague noises about this not being Ottawa’s problem.

The Quebec government has confirmed it wants to pass legislation that will prohibit all public-sector workers — in daycares, hospitals, schools, police forces, courthouses and throughout the civil service — from wearing any religious clothing or symbols. The reason, as Premier Pauline Marois explained last year, is to preserve “our identity, our language, our institutions and our values.”

Premier Marois, if your “values” involve legislating how your citizens can dress, then your values leave much to be desired. Let’s hope those citizens turf you out en masse in the next election and your arrogant, despicable, xenophobic party goes down in disgrace.

How the wearing of religious symbols by individuals going about their daily routine prevents French culture from flourishing is beyond comprehension. I wonder just what values Marois is referring to. Supposedly, Quebec’s values are the Judeo-Christian ones that the rest of North America runs on. If so, why should Marois care if someone from the Judeo side of those values wears his kippah to work? Or are the separatists’ values exclusionary ones that cast everyone but French Quebecers into a category called The Other, which must be feared and hated?

And how does forbidding a Muslim daycare worker from wearing her hijab preserve Quebec’s identity, language, etc.? Is Marois afraid the children might see the hijab, and realize there are other people in the world who are different from them? Is she afraid these children just might learn to respect other people’s differences and not grow up to be a bunch of xenophobes like the current government?

Yet, the PQ has the gall to call this religious “accommodation.” True accommodation is allowing people to wear whatever they want — the way it should be in a democracy. Surely, the foundations of democratic society are strong enough that they can withstand a member of that society wearing a kippah on his head or a crucifix around her neck.

No, this is not about values or any of the other high-flown words the PQ may toss around. It’s about discrimination and hate. One appalling example illustrates it: Bernard Drainville holds the title of minister responsible for democratic institutions and active citizenship in the Quebec government, a portfolio which, if Orwell were alive, he’d be kicking himself for not including in his novel, 1984.

Last spring, Drainville got angry because the Montreal borough of Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace, which has a sizable Jewish population, makes a point of not ticketing cars that are parked on the streets around synagogues on the Jewish high holidays.

Drainville represents the riding of Marie-Victorin, which is on the south side of the St. Lawrence River, across from Montreal proper, in a distant neighbourhood that includes the city of Longueuil. Cote-des-Neiges-Notre-Dame-de-Grace is not in his riding.

Why a provincial politician should concern himself about a municipal parking policy in a riding not his own is more than passing strange. On the high holidays, which occur in the autumn, Jewish people attend synagogue a total of three days and two evenings. When a provincial politician gets hot under the collar about where Jews park their cars a few days out of the year, the optics reek of anti-Semitism. Drainville may be interested to know that Montreal’s Shearith Israel synagogue was established in 1768, and that records of a Jewish presence in the province go back 30 years before that. Jews are Quebecers as much as any francophone is.

Last spring, Drainville told Le Devoir that “if we want to be able to properly manage this diversity, we will have to give ourselves rules and common values.” The notion of “managing” diversity has echoes of other regimes in other times which also found ways to “manage” diversity, many of them highly unpleasant, and frequently fatal to the diversity who found themselves being managed.

The federal government, possibly fretting about its fortunes in Quebec in the next election, has shrugged off the matter as one of provincial jurisdiction.

Meanwhile, Drainville says the new law provides “a good balance between respect for individual rights and the respect of Quebecers’ common values.” What a joke. There is no respect for individual rights; when you legislate how citizens may dress, you’ve killed off individual rights.

If the legislation passes, public-sector workers should ignore it. They should continue to wear their religious symbols to work. If they are fined, which one assumes would be the method of enforcement the law would propose — since surely even the rabid dogs of the PQ would not make jail an option — they should refuse to pay.

The federal government needs to stop walking on eggshells around Quebec. The Tories must take their eyes off the ballot box. Forget the Orange Crush and squelch this intolerable crushing of charter rights.

Naomi Lakritz is a Herald

Friday, August 23, 2013

Palestinian child prodigy becomes doctor at age 20

Elizabeth Dickinson
Aug 18, 2013 

Source url 

ABU DHABI // Iqbal Al Assaad was not just a prodigy as a child, she was a prodigy with a dream - to become a doctor and help the Palestinian relatives she visited in refugee camps while she was growing up in Lebanon.

She graduated from high school, top of her class, at the age of 12. Already, she had mastered the biochemistry and mathematics she would need for medical school.

By the age of 13, Iqbal had not only learnt to drive, she had caught the eye of Lebanon's education minister, who helped her to secure a medical scholarship in Qatar.

And this year, at 20, she became not only the youngest ever medical graduate from Cornell University's Qatar branch, but possibly the youngest Arab doctor ever.

"Since day one, Iqbal stood out as a very mature and professional student despite her age and experience," says one of her professors at Cornell, Dr Imad Makki.

"The sky is the limit for Iqbal."

There is just one problem: Iqbal cannot work as a doctor in Lebanon, the country of her birth. "My dream is to come back to do something for the Palestinian refugees in the camps, even by opening a free clinic for them," she says.

"But if you're a Palestinian doctor, you're not allowed to work in public hospitals."

Medicine is among several dozen professions from which Palestinian refugees are still effectively barred.

Although Palestinians in Lebanon were given the right to take clerical and lower-level jobs in 2005 and allowed to work in further professions in 2010, skilled fields such as medicine and law are regulated by professional syndicates. These organisations impose strict restrictions on membership meant to guard jobs for Lebanese nationals.

The syndicates worry that a Palestinian "entrance to the labour market will be overwhelming - so they feel it's about job opportunities for Lebanese nationals", said Lina Hamdan, a spokeswoman for the Lebanese government's Lebanese-Palestinian Dialogue Committee. "Officially there is nothing preventing them from practising and working, but the professions are ruled by the syndicates."

Iqbal's story is unique, but her dilemma is increasingly common. The UN Relief Works Agency, UNRWA, estimates the Palestinian population in the country at roughly 450,000, with about 92,000 new Palestinian refugees arriving from Syria since that conflict began in 2011.

For the young Iqbal, it was a lack of health care for Palestinians that touched her most deeply.

She grew up in Bar Elias, a small village in the Bekaa valley, after her parents arrived in Lebanon. She visited relatives in the refugee camps and was struck from a young age by the poverty she found.

Although UNRWA provides primary medical care facilities, it cannot pay for more advanced medical cases, meaning refugees often "face a choice between forgoing essential medical treatment and falling deeply into debt," as the organisation explains on its website.

"It was seeing that refugees don't have any type of medical insurance," Iqbal says. "Only if this person has money and can afford things at the hospital, then he can get the medical care he needs."

With a dream in the back of her mind, Iqbal dedicated herself to education, diving into mathematics and biology.

After she graduated from high school, herconviction impressed Lebanon's education minister Khaled Qabbani, who promised to secure a scholarship. He turned to Qatar Foundation chairwoman Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned.

Qatar welcomed Iqbal on a full scholarship at Weill Cornell Medical College, part of a group of elite branch American campuses in the country's Education City. She had never taken an entrance exam. Nor had she ever lived outside Lebanon. She was at least five years younger than all her peers.

Her voice still evokes the pressure she felt to succeed.

Ms Al Assaad is now on her way to the United States for a residency in paediatrics at the Children's Hospital in Cleveland, Ohio, one of the top residencies for her speciality.

She wants to come back to Qatar to work, since the country's education system gave her so much.

Then, she will follow her dream.

"I want to come back the Middle East between Qatar and Lebanon," she says. "I feel it would be the first step" if Lebanon could let refugees work as doctors.

But working in an independent Palestine would be an even better solution. "Palestine," she said, "is always a dream."

Student detained at Ohio's liberal Oberlin College claimed racist fliers meant as 'joke'

AP Legal Affairs Writer -- August 23, 2013

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — A student who took credit for anti-Islam fliers and racist cards posted at Oberlin College earlier this year called them a joke meant to get an "overreaction," according to the student's statements to campus security at the historically liberal Ohio college.

The student also took credit for a large Nazi flag, which he also said he meant as a joke, and said he posted the head of Oberlin's president onto a picture of Adolf Hitler, according to the statements contained in an Oberlin city police report.

The student, detained after allegedly being seen posting anti-Islam fliers in the college's Science Center Feb. 27, denied involvement in other, earlier racist postings and said he was trying to show people had overreacted to them.

The student, whose name was blacked out, said the people who put up earlier fliers were just looking for attention.

"I put out these fliers to get a similar over-reaction to prove this point," the student said.

A series of postings and incidents over the winter caused an uproar at Oberlin, enrollment 2,900, one of the nation's first universities to admit blacks.

A police report detailed the defacement of Black History Month posters with the N-word, a "whites only" sign written above a water fountain, a swastika drawn on a science center window and a student knocked to the ground by a person making a derogatory comment about ethnicity.

In early March, classes were canceled after a report of someone wearing what looked like a Ku Klux Klan-type hooded robe on campus.

A second student detained at the Science Center on Feb. 27 denied an accusation he helped make a swastika banner placed in the center and also denied he knew what his friend was up to, saying he was just tagging along, according to his statement.

The two students were investigated for the incidents but not prosecuted and the investigation has been suspended, Oberlin police Lt. Mike McCloskey told The Associated Press Friday.

The students are going through Oberlin's college judicial system, spokesman Scott Wargo said.

Labeling the fliers or cards a joke doesn't take away from their impact on the people affected by them, he said.

"You had fliers with threats of violence and hate speech and rape that are being posted on doors and in hallways and on mailboxes," Wargo said, adding: "It didn't make it less real for those who had to endure it firsthand, and creating an atmosphere where people are afraid and feel threatened — it isn't a joke."

Andrew Welsh-Huggins can be reached on Twitter at

Conviction Overturned in Ore. Islamic Charity Case

GRANTS PASS, Ore. August 23, 2013 (AP)

By JEFF BARNARD Associated Press

A federal appeals court Friday overturned the conviction of a founder of the U.S. branch of an Islamic charity on charges he smuggled money out of the country to help Chechen rebels fight Russian forces.

The ruling Friday from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco said the government turned what was really a tax fraud case into a terrorism case.

In ruling for Pete Seda, the founder of the now defunct Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation in Ashland, Ore., the court said the government failed to provide a fair and complete summary of classified material to the defense, failed to disclose that a key prosecution witness had been paid, and exceeded the scope of a search warrant used to search computers seized from the foundation.

"The opinion includes important reminders to the government about the prejudice that arises when it injects Osama bin Laden's name, and other evidence of terrorism, in a case that is, as the court said, essentially a tax case," Portland defense attorney Steve Wax said.

Also known as Pirouz Sedaghaty, Seda is an Iranian-born U.S. citizen who worked for many years as a tree surgeon in Ashland, where he promoted the peaceful aspects of Islam. During the trial he blamed the tax return on his accountant, and maintained the money was for humanitarian aid.

Seda was convicted in 2010 of tax fraud and conspiracy to defraud the government for helping Saudi Arabian national Soliman Al-Buthe convert a contribution from a doctor in England into traveler's checks, which Al-Buthe took with him on a flight to Saudi Arabia without declaring it to authorities. Prosecutors have been unable to force Al-Buthe to return to the U.S. to face the same charges as Seda.

Seda was released Friday from a halfway house in Portland, where he was staying after serving two years in federal prison in Colorado.

Wax said his client's release had been scheduled to take place Friday and wasn't prompted by the court ruling.

NCCM Rep. Amira Elghawaby on CTV News discussing Quebec proposal to ban religious clothing

Britain operates secret monitoring station in Middle East: report

By Costas Pitas

LONDON | Fri Aug 23, 2013

(Reuters) - Britain runs a secret monitoring station in the Middle East to intercept large numbers of telephone calls, emails and internet traffic that it shares with intelligence agencies in the United States, the Independent newspaper reported on Friday.

The station is part of a 1 billion pound ($1.56 billion)global eavesdropping project run by Britain to intercept digital communications, the paper said, citing leaked documents from former U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden.

Surah An Najm -- recited by AbdulRahman As Sudais

Surah An Najm -- recited by AbdulRahman As Sudais

Surah At-Tur -- recited by Mishary bin Rashid Al-Afasy

Surah At-Tur -- recited by Mishary bin Rashid Al-Afasy

Egypt: The Return of the Fuloul

It is probably not far-fetched to say that Ikhwan will probably never come of age even in the next one hundred years.

by Adamu Adamu -- August 23, 2013

For Egyptians, the Arab Spring has since turned into a Siberian winter, and then suddenly, and most improbably, into extreme tropical summer dog days.

The revolution has effectively been reversed in Egypt - now, it is time for delivering the killer-punch. Yesterday former President Hosni Mubarak was released from prison and placed under house arrest. The release looks like the definitive repudiation of the Arab Spring by Egyptians - or at least by the West on their behalf.

But what went wrong? Have the people of the Middle East already forgotten all their pain? Is some sophisticated and grand conspiracy at work to see the Islam-based experiment fail? Or is it still that well-known ineptitude of the Arab World of never missing an opportunity to miss an opportunity, as Abba Eban said of them?

It is often lost on those intent on estab-lishing rule according to the dictates of Islam that the effort will need a level of erudition in Islamic theology more profound than the smattering chit-chat of the Western-educated. In addition to having this erudition, they must work to make the majority in society want and demand that system of rule, and create a sufficient number of people ready to fight to protect it; and then ensure that the minority have no fear of living under it. This, unfortunately, is a step that is most often overlooked; and, so far, in Egypt, it has proved difficult for Islamists in Egypt to worry about doing all that, especially the last one. But in a situation where ideas have to compete for people's allegiance, Islamists must learn to sell Islam as an alternative ideology to the people. They shouldn't assume or take anything for granted.

Even as a democrat, Mursi didn't give the impression that he understood or had accepted the need for political pluralism, and nor did he give any indication that he was ready to carry everybody along. This attitude is nothing new to anyone sure of his certainties.

No doubt, neither mere commitment to Islam - no matter how high the degree - nor honesty of purpose, each on its own, is sufficient as a qualification to run a modern government or successfully oppose one. In addition, one needed some measure of sophistication and the possession of the appropriate knowledge and skill - and a plan, and perhaps a counter plan.

He was utterly without any inkling of the kind of street wisdom required to survive in the no-man's-land of governance, without having come of age in either the theory or practice of political correctness, with the result that he mostly proceeded as if propelled by the precipitate impetuosity of an Islamic zealot going off at half cock in clearly uncharted territory.

Whenever he made any concessions, it would be too little too late and ineffective for his purposes. In order to avoid a coup against his government, for instance, Mursi decided to please the Americans by retaining the unpopular Camp David Treaty with Israel. This didn't stop the Americans from giving the order, Saudi Arabia footing the bill and the army toppling a popularly elected leader to the applause of democracy-loving West, led by the United States. And when democracy came, they all faltered.

The series of elections after the Arab Spring have established beyond any doubt that the Ikhwan, whose Justice and Development Party has won three straight elections, has substantial public support. The opposition to the Ikhwan comprising of parties and tendencies that would not be averse to the return of President Mubarak - nationalists of the Nasser mould, neoliberals and leftists and surprisingly even the Salafis and godmother Saudi Arabia - have all turned to the military to put obstacles on the path of democracy and finally topple the president. And even before they struck, the military regime had assurances of the full backing of the US and Israel, on behalf of whom and for whose benefit, all this tragedy is being played out; many members of the EU; and the full moral, spiritual and financial backing of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait.

Days before General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi toppled Mursi he had consulted Israeli officials, and asked them what potential threat Hamas could seek to cause as it might act in solidarity with Mursi, they assured him that Hamas was under total surveillance. According to Roni Daniel, an Israeli military analyst who spoke on Israel's TV Channel 2 on July 14, Israel asked General Sisi to demolish the Rafah tunnels, which he promptly did. And Mohamed El-Baradei, the man whose credentials they are now trying to build by making him resign in anger at the killings so that he could serve them after the departure of Sisi, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu twice to seek Israeli help to get international support for the coup. You see, that is why President Barack Obama dared not call it a coup; and that is why the West has so far refused to do anything tangible to help the situation.

But Mursi was in no position to help himself; and the only direction from which he could have got lessons had been blocked by the sectarian blinkers which, in its decision to back Syrian rebels, Ikhwan wore. One of the first acts of the new leaders in Tehran after the victory of the Islamic Revolution in Iran was to set up the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps. The logic behind this was simple enough: the troops of the Shah that were shooting at demonstrators asking for an Islamic republic shouldn't be trusted to protect the resulting republic. The tenacious presence of the Ulama on the scene and the creation of the Guards Corps frustrated the attempts by America to topple the new Islamic order - from the aborted attempt by General Robert Hyser in January 1979, a month to the victory of the revolution to the abortive attempt by the CIA-inspired coup masterminded by Sadeq Qutbzadeh, onetime spokesman of the revolution.

Admittedly, the Egyptian chapter of the Arab Spring that the Ikhwan led - or exploited - was not a revolution in the truest sense of the word, and Mursi might not have had the power to introduce such wholesale changes. But he could at least have brought the army, the police and the security services under the control of Ikhwan loyalists, especially at the time he sacked General Hussein Tantawi when the popularity of the uprising and the support for the new situation was still high. He didn't. He could have done this by appointing a civilian Ikhwani defence minister to bring the military under civil control. That he didn't do this made it possible for the uniformed forces to disobey all orders from the political executives. It was a display of the powerlessness of Mursi that his own defence minister would give him a 48-hour notice of a coup d'état--and then go ahead to carry it out, as the Ikhwan helplessly watched.

But to be sure, Mursi didn't fail as a result of his incredible naivety for tolerating the remnants [the fuloul] of the Mubarak era, or because of not coming of age alone; clearly, he was sabotaged - by the security forces which refused to maintain public order because he had failed to bring them under control; by electricity workers' deliberate blackouts as a backlash against his anti-unionism; by the members of the fuloul who control oil supplies and created artificial fuel lines throughout Egypt; and, most importantly, ignorant of the conduct and cost of governance, Mursi made election promises he couldn't fulfil.

Now, Ikhwan is being projected as a failure and it will be difficult if not impossible for any of its chapters to replicate what the Egyptians have done. If nothing, and if money can buy it, the Saudis will see to it that they don't. And the fate of the entire Ikhwan fraternity has probably now been sealed by this ineptitude of its Egyptian progenitor. Now the hostile spotlight is on its sister branches from Tunisia to the Gulf. Going by what we have seen in the past several weeks, it is probably not far-fetched to say that Ikhwan will probably never come of age even in the next one hundred years.

And it is not because they have dabbled in politics; for, indeed, there is political Islam; not least because there is nothing like apolitical Islam, despite all the effort by Saudi Arabia and the Americans to manufacture and popularise one. What we oppose is not political Islam but politicised Islam - the type of disaster created by some of the most corrupt among the political class in Nigeria and elsewhere in their attempt to cash in on the popular appeal of religion for support and to put their corruption and other inequities beyond question or probe.

And in all this drama, as always--painfully and unfortunately--we find Saudi Arabia busy funding all battles against any manifestation of Islam in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world. It funded all US wars against Iraq, both Desert Shield to kick Iraq out of Kuwait and Desert Storm to break the Iraqi power that they themselves had created. Prior to that, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait had funded Iraq in its war against the Islamic Republic of Iran; and if they could justify that with the perverted logic that it was a fight against Shi'ism, what reason could they now give for fighting against the Ikhwan al-Muslimun, a hundred per cent of whose members are Sunni?

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Quebec’s Charter plan is not about symbols – it threatens religion itself


Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Aug. 22 2013,

It wasn’t that long ago that Prime Minister David Cameron called for a ‘muscular liberalism’ to solve the multicultural problems that ailed Britain. Hot on his heels, Germany’s Angela Merkel called multiculturalism a failure.

Look not at its French language or historic cobbled streets – here is proof that Quebec is the most European of Canada’s provinces. Even major public intellectual Charles Taylor, a philosopher who is no stranger to multicultural controversy, couldn’t restrain his incredulity: “I didn’t think the government would go that far,” he told a Radio-Canada interviewer.

But how far exactly has the Quebec government gone with its proposed Charter of Quebec Values tabled in the National Assembly next month? Religious symbols of all kinds will be banned not only from being worn by state employees in positions of authority, but also from daycare workers, public teachers, hospital employees and civil servants. People receiving government service will need to have their faces uncovered. The perception is that removal of public religious symbols will make these institutions more neutral, more fair minded, and that those receiving service will feel less threatened.

What’s at stake isn’t always clear because of the feeble understanding of symbol and, more seriously, the major crisis of the meaning of religion. Those who, for example, seriously wonder aloud why Muslims are so cantankerous about their headscarves, Christians about their crucifixes, Sikhs about their turbans and so forth usually misunderstand how religion works. Its physical and ritualistic nature is not a peripheral display of interior reflection; its practices are the thing itself that makes the religious person. Saba Mahmood talks about her own surprise studying in Egypt with the women’s pietist movement, discovering that the headscarf is not a showpiece for modesty, it is a practice by which people become more modest. Kevin Flatt, in a bracing new study of the United Church in Canada, argues the same in his book After Evangelicalism: defining evangelical status by ‘belief’ gets the picture badly wrong – far better to talk of ‘evangelical practices.’ Habits make virtue, repeated gestures become postures. Aristotle knew it. We’ve forgotten.

So when a provincial legislature talks about banning practices it is talking about suppressing, maybe even changing, religions. It demands not merely political revolution, but theological revolution. These are powers that the state in Canada, the state anywhere, does not have.

This is a kind of secularism, certainly, but not the best kind, and not the sort that should be associated with Canada. It’s called laïcité, a kind of reimported civil religion which suppresses all other identities – religious or otherwise – beneath that of the state. It is a recipe for violations of fundamental freedoms, in our Constitution Act as well as our Charter, which fully baked will bring unrest and violence.

That’s what makes a world-class academic like Charles Taylor lament: “It is something that we would expect to see in Putin’s Russia. It’s exactly the same sort of thing, that people cannot publicly be seen to be gay, they cannot have a gay pride parade, because it’s against the law. In that type of society, we expect to see that, though we protest strongly and properly. But in a liberal society like ours, it is almost unthinkable.”

How far does the Charter go? It inverts the first, and arguably greatest, Judeo-Christian command: you shall have no other gods before me. But this time it is no deity cloaked on smoky Mt. Sinai commanding obedience, it is Premier Pauline Marois. Points to the Premier, she has staked her place in history in possibly the great debate of our time. Quebec will wish she’d chosen a different side.

Robert J. Joustra is an assistant professor of international studies at Redeemer University College.

Distinguishing Quebec as closed-minded


Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Aug. 22 2013

This past weekend, Quebeckers – including elected leaders – participated with enthusiasm in Montreal’s Gay Pride parade. The message was that gays and lesbians are out, loud and proud.

But only days later, the message is very different. In its proposed Charter of Quebec Values, the province’s government signals that public officials cannot wear religious symbols and dress, and that shared public institutions and spaces should keep out those who present themselves openly as religious.

Individuals of faith are told to retreat, to be silent, to act ashamed. They are asked to keep the version of themselves that shows who they are and to which faith they belong in the closet, never to be let out in public or in interaction with others. This is not pride in the diversity of human beings who live together in this province; instead, it is a clear directive to go into hiding, to make sure that we give no indication of any part of our identities that may be tied up with faith, belief and religious community.

A Charter is a symbol of who we in a society are, how we constitute ourselves, and what we stand for together. The Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms, dating from 1975, showed a society deeply committed to equality, free expression, free association and to the right not be subject to discrimination. When we talk about, and take pride in, the Quebec to which we belong, that Charter is a key part of the conversation. Quebec showed itself to be a leader in the world, an open, welcoming and diverse community.

But long before then, le vrai Québec was always a society of interacting communities, languages, creeds and cultures. That is our history, our legacy, our patrimoine. Les vrais Québécois have always been against the suppression of identity.

If this government, and this society, is searching for a way to characterize what it means to belong to Quebec, that isn’t so difficult. Surely it means commitment to openness to the world, freedom of thought and expression, gender equality for girls and boys and for men and women, transparent governance, flourishing of the French language, commitment to ongoing education. These are precisely the indicators of any free, democratic and healthy society: respect for individuals and communities, along with a strong sense of collective commitment.

But by adding this Charter of Quebec Values into the mix, we diminish rather than strengthen our society. We betray our own heritage; we forget our own history; we fail to uphold the values that we say are so crucial to our everyday lives and future. Only misguided rhetoric can establish this proposed Charter as a symbol of what it means to bevraiment Québécois.

To an incredulous world, this initiative to enforce a strict secularism looks flawed and misguided. If Quebec wants to distinguish itself by looking closed-minded, disrespectful of all of the ways in which human beings present themselves, disdainful of faith as characteristic of humanity’s history, then this Charter does exactly that. Overnight, Quebec will establish itself as immature, dictatorial and backward.

Yes, religious belief is something profoundly internal and individual. But it is also something that people show about themselves, something that brings people together, something that has deeply influenced conversations over the centuries about where we come from, who we are and where we are going. If there are sometimes clashes of norms between a state and religious belief or action, then the way to deal with them is to confront them openly and explicitly, not to require religion to go underground, where it is never invited to engage in tough debate with the societies in which it exists.

This fall, as school resumes, some students will come to their classrooms – as they always have – wearing kippahs and crosses, hijabs and turbans. Just like the students sitting next to them who present themselves through their dress as “secular,” they will be expected to interact with their peers, to listen and learn, to engage in vigorous discussion and debate.

Girls and boys, men and women, they will participate fully in shared space and go on to contribute as residents and citizens of the province. They are all “vrais Québécois.” They are all part of a society – le vrai Québec – that can surely celebrate its diversity, respect its members and stand as a beacon to others.

Shauna Van Praagh is an associate professor in the faculty of law at McGill University.

People with beards / niqab are targeted by pro-coup supporters in Egypt

In Egypt, Signs Of Piety Attract Suspicion From Security Forces And Vigilantes

Agence France Presse | By Haitham El-Tabei

Abdul Salam Badr had no choice but to shave his beard to save himself from becoming a target in Egypt's crackdown on supporters of ousted Islamist president Mohamed Morsi.

In recent days, overt signs of piety have become all it takes to attract suspicion from security forces at Cairo checkpoints and vigilantes looking to attack Islamists.

"I was in a shared taxi headed to the morgue, transporting the body of my friend who was killed in the demonstrations," said Badr.

"I was stopped by members of a vigilante group because I had a beard," added the 29-year-old, who said he was not loyal to any political organisation.

"The only thing that saved me was the fact that I was transporting a dead body."

And so in a small, dusty salon, he shaved his facial hair, "because life has become safer without a beard."

The ouster of Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, has set off something of a witch hunt against those perceived as being his supporters.

The campaign has been fed by domestic media, which has broadcast around-the-clock images of bearded gunmen allegedly firing at security forces during demonstrations.

Egypt’s Reign of Terror

Mark Twain once said history doesn't repeat. It rhymes. French history includes la Terreur (the Reign of Terror). Dickens called it the best and worst of times.

It began in 1789. It promised "liberte, egalite and fraternite. It lasted a decade. It ended a millennium of monarchal rule. It was socially and politically disruptive. It was violent.

The wrong people gained power. Jacobins initially were revolutionary moderates. They were patriots. They turned violent. Thousands were arrested. Civil liberties were suspended. 

Laws passed designating counter-revolutionaries state enemies. Undefined crimes against liberty were charged. Orwell called them "thoughtcrimes."

Vigilante justice was imposed. Kangaroo tribunals pronounced guilt by accusation. Guillotine executions killed thousands. Promised liberte, egalite and fraternite was illusory.

Today's Egypt reflects earlier times. Its elected president was ousted. Junta rule replaced him. It's repressive, ruthless, violent, unrelenting and unforgiving.

Sweeping crackdowns continue. Muslim Brotherhood leaders are targeted. Hundreds were arrested. Others went underground. Everyone supporting MB is threatened. Police states operate that way.

Throughout MB's 85 year history, it suffered repression, arrests, imprisonments and torture.

It reinvented itself several times. It did so unsuccessfully. Popular opposition reflects justifiable criticism. 

Freedom and Justice (F&J) party rule featured neoliberal harshness. Progressive taxation legislation was gutted.

F&J spurned a draft labor law. Passage would have guaranteed independent unionism. It promised free workplace elections.

F&J officials replicated Mubarakism. It sided with business. It proposed strike regulations. The International Labor Organization blacklisted Egypt. It did so for spurning core labor rights.

Morsi ignored court ordered stoppage of public enterprise privatizations. He planned doing so at fire sale prices. He spurned competitive bidding. 

His November constitutional declaration enraged large sectors of society. He was accused of "Brotherizing" Egypt. 

Ousting him reflected much more than misgovernance. Mubarak loyalists targeted him. They waged a destabilization campaign. They did so for months.

Parliament was dissolved. Police refused to maintain public order. Courts acquitted former Mubarak officials. In May, Reporters Without Borders designated MB leaders predators of press freedom. 

It never targeted Mubarak the same way. State terror defined his rule. Constitutional rights were suspended. Emergency Law powers denied press freedom. They were widely detested.

Sweeping arrests were made. Mass detentions followed. So did torture. No quarter was given. Iron fist rule was policy.

So was guilt by accusation. Innocence was no defense. Military tribunals were farcical. Justice was systematically denied.

Activists, dissidents, Islamists, and anyone perceived threatening authorities were vulnerable to persecution, arrest and imprisonment.

Elections when held were shams. Death sentences were freely imposed. Freedom of speech, assembly and association were greatly compromised.

Egyptians hoped Morsi offered change. He disappointed. He fell far short of expectations. Mubarak loyalists took full advantage. For months, Morsi was demonized. He was delegitimized. 

Criticism overreached. Anti-Morsi propaganda pilloried him. It far exceeded justifiable misgovernance claims.

Opposition National Salvation Front (FSN) officials allied with Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) generals. They did so with other Mubarak loyalists.

Ousting Morsi made things worse. Junta power terrorizes Egypt. State media ban independent journalists. Some television stations were shuttered.

Interim leaders instituted a ministry of information. Controlling the message is prioritized. Opposition elements are terrorized.

MB officials are prime targets. On August 20, Mohammed Badie was arrested. He's detained. He's MB's Supreme Guide spiritual leader. 

Since 2010, he headed Egypt's international MB organization. He was a member of its governing council since 1996.

Badie's two top aides were arrested. Hundreds of MB officials and supporters are imprisoned. Egypt Interior Ministry confirmed Badie's detention, saying:

"Carrying out the decisions of the public prosecutor to arrest and bring forward the 'general guide' of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Badie, and through collected information and observation of movements, it was possible for the criminal search apparatus under the direction of Cairo's security (services) to arrest him."

He's charged with inciting violence and murder. On August 25, he'll stand trial. So will his two top deputies. They face kangaroo court justice. Guilt's already pronounced.

MB's Freedom and Justice Party said deputy leader Mahmoud Ezzat will replace Badie. He'll be temporary Supreme Guide.

MB's official English web site IkhwanWeb headlined "Anti-Coup National Alliance Calls for Boycott Campaign in Preparation for Civil Disobedience."

"The coalition of groups and movements defending democracy and constitutional legitimacy warns against dragging Egypt into civil war, urging a boycott of hostile military-controlled media and products made by all those who support the coup."

"Egypt is passing through the most difficult and dangerous conditions in its thousands of years’ history, which threaten its stability and unity and push it into a deadly spiral of violence from which there is no way out."

Security forces committed "heinous massacres. (T)he Egyptian people refused to succumb."

"(S)ecurity forces and thugs went mad. (S)nipers fir(ed) live (rounds) into unarmed crowds."

They did so from rooftops and police helicopters. They killed protesters in Abu Zaabal prison.

They did it "after torturing and burning them with poisonous gases. "They "committ(ed) war crimes and crimes against humanity - crimes against the sons of their homeland."

They "orchestrated a campaign of misinformation to demonize and dehumanize their opponents who still insisted on a return to legitimacy and rejection of the coup."

State controlled media support it. So do private media controlled by "dubious businessmen."

"They turned facts upside down, lied repeatedly, exposed their own lies, and even committed most reprehensible crimes against innocent Egyptians in order to cover up their earlier heinous crimes."

MB calls for mass civil disobedience. It urges:

* boycotting regime supportive media;

* boycotting businesses providing support and financing;

* boycotting products from supportive countries;

* "(e)scalating civil disobedience activities gradually, according to circumstances and events."

"You have only two options: submission or genocide."

"But our will is strong. We shall continue our non-violent struggle for the restoration of full legitimacy."

On August 20, The New York Times headlined "An Egypt Arrest, and a Brotherhood on the Run," saying:

"Egypt's authoritarian government has harassed and repressed the Muslim Brotherhood for most of its existence." 

"But for the last three decades the authorities stopped short of touching the group's revered leader, the supreme guide, who oversaw the country's most effective social, political and religious organization despite its outlawed status."

Badie's arrest changed things. Most MB leaders are imprisoned. Others are dead, missing or disappeared.

Those still at large live on the run. "They change locations every 24 hours, avoid showing their faces at demonstrations or public places, and stay off cellphones for fear that they might be tracked." said The Times.

An unnamed MB official said:

"Asking about the structure of the organization now is like asking a dying man how his career is doing."

Harsh crackdowns continue. They exceed the worst MB experienced throughout its history. It augurs greater repression ahead.

Brute force controls Egypt. State terror is official policy. Longer term, millions of Egyptians support MB.

They're not going away. MB official Gehad el-Haddad said crisis promises "a new tier of youth leaders."

For now, things are disrupted. MB again needs to reinvent itself. It needs more than urging supporters to remain steadfast.

Believing Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) generals wouldn't kill Egyptians proved wrong. According to one observer:

SCAF head "Sisi is like a train now, and it will hit anyone and anything in its way. (T)he problem is that those people out there cheering for him don't understand that the train will get them next."

One Morsi supporter spoke for others. MB must resist, he said. "It's now beyond 'the principle of obedience' and the group. (N)ow it's about all the blood that was shed."

It's about an unacceptable imprisonment and torture alternative.

A Final Comment

On August 17, London's Observer headlined "Only democracy can end Egypt's bloody crisis," saying:

Egypt's on the brink. "For those who doubted the power of the country's post-revolutionary and unreformed 'deep state,' the army, the judiciary and powerful economic interests backed by a servile state media, the events of the past week have been brutally instructive."

"The murderous crackdown on the Brotherhood's protest sit-ins following a previous massacre of supporters of the deposed Morsi has left hundreds dead." 

Suggesting Morsi's ouster might restore democracy turns truth on its head. Reality is polar opposite. 

Horrific massacres define junta rule. So does sweeping state terror. 

"What is so dangerous right now is that neither side can conceivably triumph," said Observer editors.

"The Brotherhood is too big, too well entrenched in so many parts of Egyptian life that the notion that it can simply be stamped out is nonsensical." 

"It might be bloodily repressed, but it cannot be snuffed out." 

"The Egyptian military might believe that through excessive force it can return to the status quo ante of the Mubarak period, but the revolutionary dynamics have made that impossible."

World leaders bear much responsibility. They let SCAF human rights continue with impunity. They continue military and economic aid. They say one thing. They do another. Policy belies their rhetoric.

"(T)he message that needs to be delivered urgently is that, without a rapid demilitarisation of Egypt's politics and withdrawal of the army from the political stage, Egypt's crisis is only likely to deepen, while a return to a peaceful democratic transition will bring tangible rewards not just for the self-interested elites but for all Egyptians."

"That requires an inclusive and pluralistic political process that includes all sides, including the Muslim Brotherhood, a release of political prisoners, including that organisation's leadership, and the ending of a culture of impunity for acts of violence."

It requires world leaders to rethink their "muddled, disengaged and dangerous policy on Egypt that has flip-flopped wildly." 

"It is all the more urgent because the alternative is a steep and violent descent into ever worse bloodshed."

Stephen Lendman lives in Chicago. He can be reached at