Saturday, April 5, 2014

Beware of the sin of Qarun

by S N Smith -- April 6, 2014

I just finished reading Surah Al-Qasas, the 28th chapter of the Quran. It was the story of Qarun, close to the end of the Surah, which caught my attention this time. You can read about Qarun in verses 76-82, which I produce below in English translation:
Qarun was doubtless, of the people of Moses; but he acted insolently towards them: such were the treasures We had bestowed on him that their very keys would have been a burden to a body of strong men, behold, his people said to him: "Exult not, for Allah loveth not those who exult (in riches). 
"But seek, with the (wealth) which Allah has bestowed on thee, the Home of the Hereafter, nor forget thy portion in this world: but do thou good, as Allah has been good to thee, and seek not (occasions for) mischief in the land: for Allah loves not those who do mischief." 
He said: "This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have." Did he not know that Allah had destroyed, before him, (whole) generations,- which were superior to him in strength and greater in the amount (of riches) they had collected? but the wicked are not called (immediately) to account for their sins. 
So he went forth among his people in the (pride of his wordly) glitter. Said those whose aim is the Life of this World: "Oh! that we had the like of what Qarun has got! for he is truly a lord of mighty good fortune!" 
But those who had been granted (true) knowledge said: "Alas for you! The reward of Allah (in the Hereafter) is best for those who believe and work righteousness: but this none shall attain, save those who steadfastly persevere (in good)." 
Then We caused the earth to swallow up him and his house; and he had not (the least little) party to help him against Allah, nor could he defend himself. 
And those who had envied his position the day before began to say on the morrow: "Ah! it is indeed Allah Who enlarges the provision or restricts it, to any of His servants He pleases! had it not been that Allah was gracious to us, He could have caused the earth to swallow us up! Ah! those who reject Allah will assuredly never prosper."

I want to concentrate on Qarun's attitude concerning his immense wealth when he said, "This has been given to me because of a certain knowledge which I have." This belief that Qarun held is important to note because it lead him to behave in a certain way. He acted insolently towards his own people, even though he lived in their midst, and he became filled with pride. As a result of this belief, Qarun felt that he was superior to those around him, and despite the many people admonishing him to use his wealth to seek Allah's favour and do good and not use it to commit mischief, he refused to listen.  Qarun's wealth had deluded him and he failed to see the reality of the true source of all of his material possessions. He had the opportunity to do good with that which Allah had given him. He instead squandered the opportunity and that which he loved most lead to his destruction because he used the gifts of Allah for his own self-aggrandizement insteading of seeking the pleasure of Allah. Even those who were previously envious of his great wealth were forced to admit that, "Ah! it is indeed Allah Who enlarges the provision or restricts it, to any of His servants He pleases! 

Believers, especially those who have achieved great worldly gain, should read the story of Qarun on a regular basis in order to avoid falling into the same trap as he did. They should be continually reminded that all things come from Allah, and that if  Allah bestows on someone a particular set of favours, it is an opportunity to do good to others and not an excuse to look down on those who are less fortunate. 

Qarun's story should also be a reminder to those who are less fortunate that wealth can be deceptive as it can lead to one possessing it to fall into a trap. There are many people who possess great wealth, or other abilities, but squander it by committing evil acts instead of acts of goodness. They also feel invincible and hold the belief that their wealth can protect them from any calamity. Believers should not be envious of such people, but rather should ask Allah to protect them from falling into the same trap as those who looked upon Qarun with envy. 

The above passage also reminds us that, "those who reject Allah will assuredly never prosper," and this is exactly what happened to Qarun. By attributing his wealth to his own abilities and not using it for the common good, he not only rejected Allah, but lost his wealth and gained eternal perdition. 

S N Smith writes from Ottawa, Ontario


Thursday, April 3, 2014

Canada’s 86 wealthiest have as much as the 11.4 million poorest, report finds

See also: Canada’s 86 wealthiest people could buy New Brunswick, study says

and

Canadian Centre for Policy Alternative 2014 Report on Wealth (22 page pdf):



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Canada’s 86 wealthiest have as much as the 11.4 million poorest, report finds

JULIAN BELTRAME

OTTAWA — The Canadian Press

Published Thursday, Apr. 03 2014


While politicians in Ottawa still can’t decide who is in the middle class, a new analysis suggests wealth is increasingly gravitating to the very top.

The report by the left-leaning Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives shows that the country’s 86 richest individuals and families – or 0.002 per cent of the total population – are getting richer and have now accumulated as much wealth as the country’s poorest 11.4 million.

That’s more than in 1999, when the richest 86 had as much money as the poorest 10.1 million, according to the report, to be released Thursday.

The point of the exercise, says economist and author David Macdonald, who used Statistics Canada data and research from Canadian Business magazine, is to show that if income inequality is a policy and social justice concern – wealth inequality is worse.

In fact, the super-rich list of Canadian residents has little to do with income in the traditional sense, he said. None of the 86 are company CEOs – often the poster children of excess for their unseemly salaries and bonuses. Instead, the ones on the list are there by virtue of being company founders or related to company founders.

The super-rich have gotten there by creating and trading assets, whether companies, real estate or securities.

“We often focus on income inequality but that’s a socialist paradise compared to wealth inequality,” said Macdonald.

“The top 20 per cent only get half of all the income, but in terms of wealth inequality, the top 20 per cent have 70 per cent of all wealth. It’s much more extreme and the concern is as you accumulate all this wealth, this wealth starts to buy you political power.”

Inequality, whether in income or wealth, increasingly looks like it will become a key issue in the upcoming federal election, with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau and NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair seeking to make the case that Conservative policies have left the middle class behind – with little job security, higher in debt, and in many instances, living paycheque to paycheque.

The government has pointed to the growth in net worth most recently reported by Statistics Canada in February as an indicator their policies are working for everyone.

“After-tax disposable income has increased by 10 per cent across all income brackets,” noted Employment Minister Jason Kenney at the time.

But Statistics Canada also showed wealth gravitating to the top. While median income rose almost 80 per cent since 1999 to $243,800 per family unit, the top 40 per cent possessed 88.9 per cent of total net worth, leaving the bottom 60 per cent with a mere 11.1 per cent of the pie.

Eye-opening was the data that showed the poorest 20 per cent of family units had more debts than assets.

The issue flared again Wednesday after Trudeau asked Prime Minister Stephen Harper if he thought that the problem of the middle class was a myth. Harper chided Trudeau for his inability to define the middle class.

But the issue is not going away. The NDP has been especially critical of the government’s decision to severely cut corporate tax rates, even in the middle of a recession, and getting little job creation or business investment in return.

The latest CCPA analysis also suggests that once someone gets to the top of the wealth ladder, they likely stay there.

Between 1999 and 2013, the report shows that the wealthiest 86 Canadians had enlarged their wealth from $118-billion to $178-billion on real non-inflationary terms.

Macdonald says a reason wealth growth is increasingly becoming concentrated is that it is taxed differently from income.

“If one Canadian makes $100,000 a year selling a company (or shares) while another makes $100,000 a year working at a job, the worker will pay twice the tax of the business seller,” he said.

“A combination of a higher inclusion rate (for capital gains) and higher income taxes at the top of the income scale could go part way to offset the flood of wealth that is accumulating in the pockets of Canada’s wealthiest and ensure some benefits are returned to the majority of Canadians.”

Ibn Taymiyyah on the Reasoning of the Atheist


Introduction and Background

It is often claimed that since the Atheist does not believe in a Creator, the onus of proof is upon the one who believes in a Creator to provide the evidence and the Atheist need not provide any proof, since one cannot prove a negative. There is much sleight of hand going in the course of such debates and many people get tricked by it unfortunately (including plenty of Muslim apologists). Submitting to what the Atheists claim, they proceed, on the back-foot, to bring weak and flawed arguments, because they have already submitted to a foundation which is false. A classic example is the argument just alluded to, that the Atheist is not bound to bring proof, since he does not make the claim of a creator.

However, the reality of the situation is not actually like that, and this is where the origin of the mistake lies when people do not read the situation for what it is. This in turn affects the course of argument. This is how it is: We are dealing with "self-evident truth (bayyinah)" verses "conjecture (dhann)." Never, forget this. In a debate with an Atheist, this is what is taking place.

So let's elaborate upon this: It is a self-evident truth (bayyinah) that anything showing all the features and hallmarks of handiwork, craftsmanship, and design is designed and is made intentionally (for whatever purpose or wisdom it exhibits). This is actually a self-evident truth that does not need evidence. You should note the desperate attempts of Atheists like Richard Dawkins attempting to combat this self-evident truth (see here). This is rooted in the innate disposition (fitrah), refer to this article on humans being primed to believe in creation and the impossibility of avoiding teleological language (which must assume design in the universe). This matter is also evidenced by the sum whole of human endeavour and industrial, scientific and technological activity. Hence, it is perfectlynatural, reasonable, rational and totally warranted to assert a creator for this universe, it is the axiomatic default, and its proof is innate, self-evident and validated by the sum of human activity and their investigative sciences that study life and the universe. This is why individuals like Richard Dawkins play gymnastics and acrobatics with words to try and escape this rationality - (see an illustration here).

As for the Atheist, when he denies there is a creator, he moves away from what is self-evident, and thus he must explain the origin of the universe and life. So the real issue here is not that one person is making a claim and the other (the atheist) being a skeptic (and not making the claim), rather the real situation is that both parties are making a claim by necessity, and this claim is with respect to the origin of the universe, and of life, and of the regularity and law-like nature of both life and the universe. So the Muslim Monotheist holds the self-evident truth, there is a knowing, powerful, skilled, wilful creator, this is known through innate intuition (see article), sensory perception, reason and also revelation. The universe and life are rationally intelligible and investigable, indicating they are designed and this is an implict assumption that all scientific activity rests upon. No person can avoid teleological language in the study and description of the universe. Its pure arrogance to deny this. As for the Atheist, his claim is that the universe and life arose by nothing (as in no agent, no creator). This is a claim too which needs evidence, that matter self-creates and organizes itself intelligently without an external agent. This is the claim that the Atheist resigns to in denying a creator. The Atheist therefore, should not be allowed to hide behind the claim of "Since I don't believe in a God, I don't need to prove a negative" because that is not the issue and is not the entire truth. Rather, the atheist needs to prove in principle, through empirical science, through the scientific method, that something intelligent, rational, complex, goal-oriented comes from and by nothing. This is the default claim of the Atheist. The Atheist should not be allowed to use the red-herring, "Since I am not making the claim, I am not required to bring evidence" as this is plainly false.

We can also put this another way. All parties are agreed in fact that there is a creative force and power at work. The difference lies in to whom or to what this creative force and power is attributed. To an all-powerful, skillful creator? Or to nothing? or to matter itself (self-creation)? This is naturalism, materialism. So it is inevitable that both parties have a claim, and that both parties assert something positive: A knowing, capable, willing, purposeful agent creates or nothing creates (hence, no knowledge, power or will) or matter (that does not have knowledge, purpose and will) creates itself. These are all positive assertions which require evidence. So the first one is self-evident, it does not require evidence. But the others are what the Atheist must prove, since he has abandoned what is self-evident in reason and gone to what is more improbable in reason. And by necessity, the only thing the Atheist is able to bring isconjecture and what opposes sensory perception and reason which necessitates that what "appears" to be designed and purposeful to Dawkins, or rathehon being more honest, what is "actually" designed and purposeful, by necessity, requires a designer and maker that possesses the attributes of knowledge, power, will and wisdom (see this article for an illustration of this point).

This then leads us and brings us to their sciences regarding the origin of the universe and the origin of life which are conjectures, built upon hidden and often undisclosed assumptions - all of which stand as no match against self-evident truth and the most simple basic, human reasoning as has preceded. Very pertinent is the saying of Allaah, the Exalted (فَلَمَّا جَاءتْهُمْ رُسُلُهُم بِالْبَيِّنَاتِ فَرِحُوا بِمَا عِندَهُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ), "And when their messengers brought self-evident proofs, they exulted in theknowledge they possessed" (40:83).

Now the aim of this article is not to discuss the conjecture and aimless wandering in their sciences as it relates to origins of the universe and origins of life, this can be discussed in other articles in more detail. But just so that we can make the point and not leave it hanging, we can say briefly that the most widely proposed "model" (it is not classified as a "scientific theory" - pay attention to that) for the origin of the universe is the "Lambda-Cold Dark Matter" model of the Big Bang and it is one of many proposed (competing) models. All of these are controversial models and are based upon ideas of gravity and expansion (there are other competing models that do not rely upon gravity and expansion) and they comprise what is called the "Standard Model." These models are based upon assumptions and conjectures. James Peebles (Albert Einstein Professor of Science, Emeritus. Professor of Physics, Emeritus - see here) states, "It is sensible and prudent that people should continue to think about alternatives to the standard model [Big Bang], because the evidence is not all that abundant." Principles of Physical Cosmology, Peebles, P.J.E., Princeton University Press, 1993 (see here). These models bring together a number of different ideas, with the aim of patching them together, and in the mix are a number of pure conjectures. However, the way this is presented to the public, through the press, popular science magazines and digital media gives the public the impression that these people are upon certainty in knowledge - when the most it amounts to is pure conjecture! Their reality has been aptly described, (إِن يَتَّبِعُونَ إِلاَّ الظَّنَّ وَإِنْ هُمْ إِلاَّ يَخْرُصُونَ), "They do but conjecture (give opinions) and they do but guess" (6:116) and He said (ذَلِكَ مَبْلَغُهُم مِّنَ الْعِلْمِ), "That is their sum of knowledge" (53:30).

So, in reality, we are dealing with conjecture (dhann) attempting to combat self-evident truth (bayyinah). However, the conjectural nature of the sciences of the non-Muslims in certain fields is not readily apparent because the conjectural aspects are not revealed or readily disclosed. In fact, many of those who are Atheists, are themselves fooled and deceived and wrongly thing that there is certainty in these sciences, and this is what leads them down the path of Atheism. Though many of them are deceived, many others choose this path not due to pure reason but due to following of desires or due to arrogance.

The Reasoning of an Atheist

The above introduction now brings us to the main quote in this article and it is from Shaykh al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah who said:

And if the speech is considered to be with the one who rejects that the universe has an originator, such as the Naturalists (Materialists), then answering him is more apparent. For it is said to him:

O idiot! If you have deemed it permissible that the sum whole of the universe came to be without an originator and without (prior) matter, how then can it be impossible for just some of it to come to be without (prior) matter alongside it coming (to be) through a maker.

And it is known that the first (proposition) is further removed from reason, rather it is impossible in (one's) reason as opposed to the second (proposition). For (with respect to) all of these observed events (of things coming to be around us), if he says, "The (various) elements of matter brought them into existence" then he has affirmed an agent, originator, causer without (prior) matter [in other words matter creates and organizes itself]. And if he says, "They have a causer, agent besides matter (itself)" then he has affirmed an agent, causer (creating them from matter) and this is affirmation of a maker. Hence, it is binding for him to affirm this and he becomes from the second type. Thus, what he fled to is worse than what he fled from in any consideration. And this is the state of the people of falsehood, never do they reject the truth due to a doubt (they harbour) except that it makes binding upon them that which is even more severe.Mas'alah Huduth al-Aalam, Dar al-Bashaa'ir, 1432H, (p.62)

Notes

01. The Atheist flees from what is innate, intuitive, self-evident and proven by the sum whole of human activity (academic, scientific, industrial, technological) that that which is designed and is purposeful, has a designer and creator by necessity (through simple axiomatic reasoning) and in fleeing from what is self-evident (rejecting it due to a doubt) he flees to something that is even more severe (than what he believed about the thing he fled from). Then he makes a pretence of certainty through his so-called science, which is not empirical science but theoretical science (built upon assumptions and conjectures) and the sum of this activity is founded upon a rigged definition of science (see here) which is needed because of the prior assertion (belief) of naturalism being the only acceptable truth!

02. The reader should also be aware that the highest level of reasoning is through self-evidence truths (bayyinaat) and this is what the Qur'aan came with. Muslims should be wary of a) ignoramuses, b) pseudo-intellectuals who use the weaker type of abstract arguments (e.g. kalaam arguments etc. which are flawed in any case), having been affected by the conceptual baggage of non-Muslims and those Muslims poisoned with it orc) the confused babblers who start believing the models the non-Muslims present whether that is the Big Bang Model or the modern synthesis (in the case of Evolution). We are referring here to people like Zakir Naik (see here), Hamza Tzortzis (see here) and alsoYasir Qadhi (more on him and his position on evolution later inshaa'Allaah).

03. We repeat what was mentioned elsewhere: Consider the following interesting remarks by Del Ratzsch (Philosopher of Science) in a 2006 interview which describe a reality that in Islamic texts is characterized through the word "fitrah" (innate disposition): "Furthermore, given the role of theology in the rise of science itself, and given that the cosmos which science presupposes has a creation-esque flavor (orderly, law-governed, elegant, intelligible, coherent, unified - as one might reasonably expect of a deliberately designed creation), it may be that science itself is a design payoff... In any case, design theories might conceptually lock into those design-shaped foundations more elegantly than do non-design or anti-design theories. On the Reidian view, we have innate faculties which simply generate such beliefs (both general principles and specifics) within us, and if these faculties are operating properly and under appropriate circumstances, the produced beliefs are rationally legitimate for us. Reid catalogued a variety of belief areas in which such belief-producing dispositions operated - again, the past, other minds, the external world, as well as basic moral principles, principles and processes of reason, acceptance of the testimony of others, aesthetics, and of present interest design in nature which, by a very short inference, led to conclusions about a designing mind. Reid's basic idea was that we perceptually (and immediately albeit often implicitly) recognize marks of design and that it is a short (inferential) step from that recognition to the thing in question being designed and the existence of a designing agent. Among the marks Reid cites were contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation.... Science requires a battery of presuppositions and those presuppositions are not direct results of science - they are conceptual structural materials science itself depends upon and without which there would be no science. Thus if we are rationally justified in accepting science then we must be rationally justified in accepting those foundational presuppositions. But not being results of science, their rational justification cannot rest upon science, but must lie beyond science. Thus, if we take science and its results to be rationally justified, science is not the only source of rational justification. There must then evidently be some deeper source of rational justification. Historically religion played a significant role here. But the present point is that even if the usual empirical gap-closing induction worked flawlessly, the story - even of science's own rational legitimacy - is not complete, and may require design ideas at some deeper level... any simple, sharp separation of science and religion does not reflect our cognitive and neurological architectures, that there are deep interconnections between what we take to be scientific and religious beliefs, and that cases for the two being in deadly conflict - which already fail historically and philosophically - fail at the even deeper level of neural structures giving rise to our very cognition as well. Some of the deep interconnections between science and religion I think ultimately track back philosophically to the created structure of the cosmos itself, but also back to the fact that inputs from neurological structures and systems routinely associated with science - e.g., reason - and those routinely associated with religion - e.g., emotion - are not completely separate or separable systems. There is increasing and no longer even controversial evidence that reason itself does not function properly in the absence of properly functioning emotion neural systems, and in some cases the structures themselves and their inputs and outputs are integrated - fused - prior to our having conscious access to them." End quote from Ratzsch. You should read this quote again and very carefully! And note the following points:

a) Scientific enquiry (observation and inference) has to presuppose design, order and purpose, otherwise it simply cannot take place and cannot investigate causes, b) The scientific enterprise therefore is in reality a consequence of design, order and purpose, c)Innate faculties generate these beliefs (of design, order and purpose) and these beliefs are rationally legitimate, d) Marks of design are recognized perceptually and implicitly (innately) and the inferential step to a designer is minimal, innate and natural, e) Such marks include contrivance, order, organization, intent, purpose, regularity, beauty and adaptation, f) This rational justification is actually the source of the rational justification of science and the scientific method, g) It is therefore not possible to separate innate (relgious) beliefs about the universe from scientific enquiry. This is precisely why you see atheists like Dawkins unable to flee from teleological language and subsequently suffer from such illusions and delusions that we shall elaborate in a separate article.

Refer to this article, "Humans May Be Primed to Believe in Creation" (see here).

04. Ibn Taymiyyah said, "The basic foundation of the knowledge of a maker is innate and necessary. It is more deeply rooted in the souls than elementary knowledge of math such as our saying 'one is half of two' and elementary knowledge of natural reality such as our saying 'a body cannot be in two places at the same time'." (Majmu' al-Fatawa 2/15-16), and also "He (Allaah) made the innate dispositions of his servants prepared (with the capacity) to know and perceive realities, and had there not been such preparedness in the hearts to know realities, then there would be no observation and inference and nor (any) speech and discourse (with respect to that)." (Dar al-Ta'arud 5/62). This second statement indicates that rational sciences and the scientific method (observation and inference) and reporting of that through speech and discourse would not be possible had the faculties not been predisposed to perceiving realities upon a deeply-rooted foundational conviction of their being law, order, regularity and uniformity in the universe through design and purpose. It is precisely that conviction, that life and the universe are designed and rationally investigatable, that gives rise to science, in other words, "it may be that science itself is a design payoff" to borrow the words of Ratzsch earlier.

Written by Abu Iyaad, 21st Dhul-Hijjah 1434H (26/10/2013CE).

Far from protecting women, a secular charter would increase discrimination

CLAUDIA LAHAIE AND MELANIE ADRIAN

Contributed to The Globe and Mail

Published Thursday, Apr. 03 2014


Since the idea was floated in the public about the proposed Quebec Charter of Values, there has been a debate over the role of religion in the public sphere, the equality of women, and the meaning of the right to religious freedom more generally. Those in support of the Charter have argued that the bill is necessary to protect women and establish a better working relationship between the accommodation for religion and the place of religion in Quebec.

Those who have countered this proposal have questioned the motivations of the Parti Québécois, the legality of such a proposal, the effects on minorities, and the problems with the narrowing of religious freedom. There is much at stake here, including the values that should guide and nurture the culture of Quebec in the future.

No one can tell what the consequences of passing such a bill would be. However, one global study on the effects of restrictions on religious freedom may provide us with some facts to reflect on. Since 2007, the PEW Research Center, a nonpartisan fact tank that informs the public about issues and trends affecting societies around the world, has been monitoring levels of religious hostilities in 198 countries and self-administering territories. They found that the more a government limits religious freedom, the more violence a society sees.

Incidents of abuse targeting religious minorities were reported in 47 per cent of countries in 2012. This is up from 38 per cent in 2011 and 24 per cent in the baseline year of the study. An example of one type of incidence was abuse that was perpetrated on private individuals or groups in society for acts perceived as offensive or threatening to the majority faith of the country. What’s more, women were harassed because of religious dress in nearly a third of countries in 2012 (32 per cent), up from 7 per cent in 2007.

We cannot help but draw parallels with Quebec. Since the Charter of Values was introduced, reports of islamophobic harassment have increased such as the case of the Saguenay mosque being stained with pork blood and an increase in reports of persecution by women wearing the veil. We can – and should – ask ourselves what building blocks we need which best prepare us to create a tolerant, violent-free society.

Louise Arbour suggested that it is rights that create a free and fair society. As she says:

“But in the end, it’s all quite simple. To have rights is like having an umbrella; it’s only useful when it’s raining. Freedom of religion will mean nothing if it is completely relegated to the private sphere.”

Having studied the reasons Muslim women veil themselves for the last 15 years, we conclude that the overwhelming majority of women who veil do it out of choice, not hardship or coercion. We would go so far as to say that there is a consensus amongst scholars on the point that women are choosing the veil. And they choose it for many reasons – faith, culture, and identity, amongst others. They do not need special rights protection; what they say they need is an open, equal, non-discriminatory society that grants them the space to make personal decisions that others may not agree with.

Looking at the case of France in 2004, after an extensive consultation on the nature of secularism, the parliament banned all ostentatious religious symbols from public schools across the country. Then in 2011, a law was passed that sweepingly prohibits face coverings in government buildings, buses, and other public spaces. Women who choose to wear the face veil in France must decide if the manifestation of their religion is as important as getting on a bus and going to school or buying groceries for their children. Is this the kind of society we hope to build in Quebec?

The questions before us are weighty: how will we go about promoting tolerance and equality and building a free society? To what extent does equality mean similarity? The option that has been proposed with Bill 60 is that we limit religious freedom and relegate it increasingly to the private sphere. Out of sight, out of mind? We think not. It is time to fortify our umbrella.

Melanie Adrian and Claudia Lahaie are professors in the Department of Public Affairs at Carleton University

A Muslim's Disappointment in Noah: The Film, Not the Prophet

By Hesham Hassaballa, April 2, 2014


In the Name of God: the Infinitely Merciful and Compassionate Beloved Lord

I waited for the film "Noah" to come out with much anticipation, but also with mixed feelings. I really wanted to see it, but I am very sensitive to portrayals of Prophets on stage and on screen, because these are very sacred, special people. I do not like when these holy men are portrayed in any negative manner. Despite these misgivings, I did see the film, and I must say that, I was quite disappointed.

On the positive side, the way the flood was portrayed was quite cool (and close to both Biblical and Quranic depictions of the flood), and I did enjoy experiencing what it may have been like in the first few thousand years after Adam was sent to earth and on the ark in the midst of the flood.

Yet, those positives could not outweigh the disappointing negatives. Now, I know that the director, Darren Aronofsky, has said that this film is the "least Biblical Biblical film ever made." And as I have said before, I am not looking to Hollywood to teach me sacred history. Nevertheless, even if filmmakers marketed the film as being "inspired" by the Biblical story of Noah, it was hard for me to stomach a story about Noah that was...SO unlike the actual story of Noah.

Now, the story of Noah in the Bible is short on details of his actual dealings with his people, and it focused on the ark, its construction, and the ark's journey. But the movie filled in so many "details" that were just so far removed from the actual story, that it made it hard to watch at times.

Yes, the story in the film of the young girl that Noah adopted is very nice and sweet...but completely made up. In the movie, only Shem has a "wife," which is his adopted sister. The Biblical story has all of Noah's sons - Shem, Ham, and Japheth, already married at the time of the flood. The whole story of Ham and that girl that Noah forced him to leave behind? Not true. What's more, perhaps the one part of the Biblical story (which is absent, by the way, from Islamic tradition) which I would have loved to have seen left out, i.e., Noah getting drunk and naked, was kept in.

Again, I am not looking for Aronofsky to teach me about Noah, and it very common for screenwriters and directors to take "artistic license" with classical stories. Still, if you are going to call a movie "Noah" and make it be about that great Prophet, then the film should at least be pretty close to the actual story.

What's worse, the whole film seemed almost anti-God and anti-human. Yes, Noah's mission was to save the animals from the coming deluge and destruction. But, his mission also included saving himself and the believers as well. In the movie, however, Noah's mission was to only save the animals and let humanity die off.

In the movie, there were some angels that had pity on Adam and Eve after they were expelled form the Garden and went down to earth to help them. As a punishment, they were cursed by God and became these stone monsters called "The Watchers." I mean the whole ark and its construction was a manifestation of God's mercy. The film, however, gives you an image of a cruel and vindictive deity, and I did not appreciate that at all.

Moreover, Noah in the film came off as a self-hating, homicidal maniac who was doing God's bidding. God told him to kill his newborn granddaughters? Really? And when he could not bring himself to do it - out of pure love - he feels like he has failed God, and he takes to drinking. This is why I am nervous about Prophets being depicted on film and on stage. The true Noah was nothing like the man portrayed in this film. Not one iota.

Yes, I was truly disappointed by this film. And the sad thing is: there was no reason to radically alter the actual story of Noah for this movie. In the real story - at least in Islamic tradition - there is a battle between good and evil, intrigue, conflict, betrayal, hope, courage, and survival against all odds. What more could a Hollywood movie want?

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

STATEMENT BY ARCHBISHOP EMERITUS DESMOND TUTU ON U.S. EFFORTS TO CURB FREEDOM OF SPEECH

U.S. efforts to curb freedom of speech on Israel and Palestine are of grave concern

2 April 2014


I am writing today to express grave concern about a wave of legislative measures in the United States aimed at punishing and intimidating those who speak their conscience and challenge the human rights violations endured by the Palestinian people. In legislatures in Maryland, New York, Illinois, Florida, and even the United States Congress, bills have been proposed that would either bar funding to academic associations or seek to malign those who have taken a stand against the Israeli Occupation of Palestine. These legislative efforts are in response to a growing international initiative, the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, of which I have long been a supporter. The BDS movement emanates from a call for justice put out by the Palestinian people themselves. It is a Palestinian-led, international non-violent movement that seeks to force theIsraeli government to comply with international law in respect to its treatment of the Palestinian people.

I have supported this movement because it exerts pressure without violence on the State of Israel to create lasting peace for the citizens of Israel and Palestine, peace which most citizens crave. I have witnessed the systematic violence against and humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation and pain is all too familiar to us South Africans. 

In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the Apartheid regime. My conscience compels me to stand with the Palestinians as they seek to use the same tactics of non-violence to further their efforts to end the oppression associated with the Israeli Occupation. 

The legislations being proposed in theUnited States would have made participation in a movement like the one thatended Apartheid in South Africa extremely difficult.

I am also deeply troubled by the rhetoric associated with the promulgation of these bills which I understand, in the instance of Maryland, included testimony comparing the boycott to the actions of the Nazis in Germany. The Nazi Holocaust which resulted in the extermination of millions of Jews is a crime of monstrous proportions. To imply that it is in any way comparable to a nonviolent initiative diminishes the horrific nature of that genocidal and tragic era in our world history.

Whether used in South Africa, the US South, or India, boycotts have resulted in a transformative change that not only brought freedom and justice to the victims but also peace and reconciliation for the oppressors. I strongly oppose any piece of legislation meant to punish or deter individuals from pursuing this transformative aspiration. And I remain forever hopeful that, like the nonviolent efforts that have preceded it, the BDS movement will ultimately become a catalyst for honest peace and reconciliation for all our brothers and sisters, both Palestinian and Israeli, in the Holy Land. 

This statement was issued for Archbishop emeritus Tutu by Oryx Media.

Gratitude: A few simple reflections

by S N Smith -- April 2, 2014


As I prepare to write this post, I am reflecting upon those people who read the Quran with the intention of unearthing contradictions or interpreting it in the most negative light possible with a view to undermining the message of Islam. Such people have been around for centuries and continue to exist and propagate their ideas. I feel bad for people who expend their energies making this kind of effort as they are only ripping themselves off. The Quran is filled with wisdom and guidance, but only those who approach it with a sincere and searching intention will be able to access this wisdom and guidance. 

When I read from the Quran, I am not looking for anything specifically, but am merely on the lookout for some verse which stands out in my mind and causes me to reflect for the remainder of my day. 



This morning I was reading from Surah Naml , the 27th chapter of the Quran, and verse 40 stood out, which reads: قَالَ الَّذِي عِندَهُ عِلْمٌ مِّنَ الْكِتَابِ أَنَا آتِيكَ بِهِ قَبْلَ أَن يَرْتَدَّ إِلَيْكَ طَرْفُكَ ۚ فَلَمَّا رَآهُ مُسْتَقِرًّا عِندَهُ قَالَ هَـٰذَا مِن فَضْلِ رَبِّي لِيَبْلُوَنِي أَأَشْكُرُ أَمْ أَكْفُرُ ۖ وَمَن شَكَرَ فَإِنَّمَا يَشْكُرُ لِنَفْسِهِ ۖ وَمَن كَفَرَ فَإِنَّ رَبِّي غَنِيٌّ كَرِيمٌ --- "Said one who had knowledge of the Book: "I will bring it to thee within the twinkling of an eye!" Then when (Solomon) saw it placed firmly before him, he said: "This is by the Grace of my Lord!- to test me whether I am grateful or ungrateful! and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!""

As always when reading the Quran, it is important to understand the context of the verses. The incident in question involves the prophet Solomon who had requested that the Queen of Sheba's throne immediately be brought before him. In a twinkling of an eye, before he could even think twice, the throne he requested sat before him. Solomon knew that what just transpired was by the grace of Allah and to test him to see if he was grateful or ungrateful. And then the following statement is what stood out in my mind, "and if any is grateful, truly his gratitude is (a gain) for his own soul; but if any is ungrateful, truly my Lord is Free of all Needs, Supreme in Honour!"

What Solomon is reminding us of here is, 1) that showing gratitude is personally good for us and, 2) that Allah is not in need of our gratitude for He is free of all needs. 

When Allah calls on us to do something it is not for His benefit, for He does not need us in the least. It is for our benefit that Allah orders or encourages us to carry out certain acts while avoiding others. (see also Quran 31:12) And one act which benefits us, as noted by Solomon, is to show gratitude. 

Now we know, over 14 centuries later, that science has demonstrated the overall health benefits of showing gratitude. Gratitude is a positive emotion and because it is such, mental health professionals now extol the virtues of showing gratitude and how doing so can benefit one's overall health. For example, University of California Davis psychology professor Robert Emmons notes that "Grateful people take better care of themselves and engage in more protective health behaviors like regular exercise, a healthy diet, and regular physical examinations." 

In addition, Dr. Emmons states that, "Gratitude research is beginning to suggest that feelings of thankfulness have tremendous positive value in helping people cope with daily problems, especially stress."

Also, gratitude has been shown to be a very effective immune system booster and lowers one's blood pressure. Gratitude also brings more joy and optimism into one's life and causes a person to behave more generously and compassionately towards others as well as making one feel less lonely and isolated from others.

There are currently a number of research and education initiatives regarding the impact of gratitude on people's lives which you can read about here.

Let's face it, when we are always whining and complaining we don't feel that great and it causes us to see the world in a very negative way. This has been my personal experience and, as a result, it has made me ill. 

It is clear from the story of Solomon in the Quran, both in the passage in Surah Naml as well as other passages, that he cultivated gratitude in his own life and realized it was to his personal benefit. And it is most certain that we all have many things to express our gratitude about. 

So go ahead, show your gratitude, because it's good for you. 

Fear mongering


Studying Islam

April 2, 2014

By: Tariq Ramadan  

http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=TQ0806-3602#sthash.W4l5R9hs.dpuf

To challenge the simplistic notion that Islam is still in its medieval period, we must engage it academically for its own sake - not simply out of self-interest

Interest in Islamic studies has expanded in recent years, but not always for the best of reasons. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the powers of the day needed to understand the religious motivations of their colonized subjects. The rule, for decades, was the self-interested study of Islam; objective academic discipline was the exception.

How much further have we come today?

"Islamic studies" now seem equally driven by non-academic motives.

Western societies are grappling with three distinct Islam-related factors: a new, visible generation of Western Muslims, accelerating migratory flows and terrorism, seen as a threat to both the West and the Islamic world.

International politics- the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, war in Afghanistan and Iraq, threats against Iran, eventual Turkish membership in the European Union - also impinge on the field, as scholars attempt to understand, to prevent and even to mobilize against the perceived danger of violent Islamism. Key questions are often framed in binary terms, as a clash of civilizations. In each of these instances, Islamic studies are directly or indirectly involved in the attempt to understand and to prevent, to protect, to dominate or even to fight the adversary of violent Islamism.

It comes as no surprise that sociologists, political scientists and terrorism experts produce reams of research on Islam, Muslims, identity, immigration, Islamism, radicalization, violence and terrorism. Much of their work is funded or commissioned by government agencies or major corporations. Today, like yesterday, non-academic criteria propel and justify research.

But this carefully orchestrated infatuation with Islamic studies reduces several centuries of Islam's legal heritage, philosophy, mystical thought, and social and political vitality to a subsidiary position. Beyond the concern generated by the conflict in Iraq, the richness of the Sunni and Shia traditions and their millennia-long relationship earns only lip service. Rationalist philosophers such as Averroes are cited as examples of "reasonableness," while the thought of Islam's many eminent theologians and thinkers is ignored.

The time has come for universities in the West to reconcile themselves with an approach to other civilizations and cultures - particularly that of Islam - driven neither by ideological agendas nor collective fears.

The "global war" against "radicalization and terrorism," that would make contemporary Islamic studies a discipline besieged by dangerously utilitarian political considerations must give way to a holistic vision.

If we are serious about respecting the diversity of civilizations, about the need for dialogue, about promoting common values, we must urgently rethink the content of our curricula. The courses of study offered in our universities must embrace the study of religion, of theology and theological scholarship, of the teaching of Islamic law and jurisprudence.

It is generally accepted that practicing Jews, Christians, Hindus or Buddhists can perform their academic duties objectively. Muslim faculty members, however, face serious obstacles. Practicing Muslims may see their objectivity questioned and be expected to espouse "pro-Western" views.

The commonplaces of violence and terrorism and the insistence that "Islamic authorities" denounce these abuses conceal from us a world caught up in intellectual ferment. From Morocco to Indonesia, from the United States to Australia by way of Europe and Turkey, a body of fresh and audacious Islamic thought is emerging. It is not only the work of thinkers known to and recognized by the West.

Today, an evolutionary process is sweeping through every Islamic society. Any Islamic studies curriculum must turn serious attention to this intellectual effervescence, which in turn implies mastery of Arabic, Farsi, Urdu and other languages.

Only then can Islamic studies challenge the simplistic notion that Islam is still in its medieval period, that it must evolve and experience its own renaissance before it can catch up with the West and modernity. For when such academic preconditions become a prerequisite, the study of a religion or civilization ceases to be academic or objective. It feeds into ideology and justifies domination.

If contemporary Islamic studies are to evolve in a meaningful way, we must distinguish between Islam and Muslims on the one hand, and political Islam, Islamism and Islamists on the other. Even if this has been done, there remains room for serious critical reappraisal of the instruction on offer in many of our universities.

How else to explain why certain violent groups are lent an interpretative authority based on little more than either willful negligence ... or ignorance? Perhaps the outstanding example of this treatment is Ibn Taymiyya, the 13th-century scholar who some consider the quintessential extremist thinker. The speech and actions of today's violent Islamists become windows through which the Islamic heritage, and Islamic scholars themselves, are interpreted and judged.

Contemporary Islamic studies face another major challenge: that of reconciling students drawn to the field with this complex, multilayered and multidimensional world. Knowledge of languages, cultures, memories and histories, of social dynamics and evolution are the essential parameters if we are to study the other as he actually is, and not as a demographic, cultural or political threat.

As more and more Western Muslims enroll in Islamic studies programs, they bring with them their "insider's" knowledge and sensibilities.

Meanwhile, professors and instructors have begun to question the old paradigms more insistently, to objectify "Islam," to transform it into a more coherent, more complete and ultimately more academic discipline.

Islamic studies must be taken seriously. Politicians, university administrators, faculty and students must say so; they must make a firm commitment to re-evaluate critically and constructively what our academic institutions offer today.

Tariq Ramadan, a fellow of St. Antony's College, Oxford, traces the changes and continuities in the West's interest in Islam in the December, 2007, issue of Academic Matters: The journal of higher education (www.ocufa.on.ca).

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A couple of reflections on Surah Ash-Shuara

by S N Smith -- April 1, 2014

While reading Surah Ash-Shuara, the 26th chapter of the Quran, this morning the following verse, due to my own current situation, stood out in my mind. The context is Prophet Ibrahim speaking to his father and his people and telling  them about Allah. In verse 80, Ibrahim says of Allah: وَإِذَا مَرِضْتُ فَهُوَ يَشْفِينِ -- "And when I am ill, it is He who cures me."


Ibrahim is saying two things here:

1) Even though he is a prophet, he gets ill like everyone else
2) Allah is the source of all healing

Now remember, this statement is made in the context of Ibrahim trying to convince his father and his people, which you can read in verses 70-82, of the falseness of their idols and that the only true god worthy of worship is Allah.

So why is it that Ibrahim felt it necessary to mention that it is Allah who heals him when he is ill? If you read the entire discourse you will find the answer to this question. Ibrahim was not telling his father and his people anything new that they did not know previously. He was, in fact, merely reminding them of a reality which they instinctively knew to be true. Ibrahim makes it clear that Allah is exalted above all these idols and that they possess no power to help or harm anyone, or even hear them. Ibrahim asks of his father:قَالَ هَلْ يَسْمَعُونَكُمْ إِذْ تَدْعُونَأَوْ يَنفَعُونَكُمْ أَوْ يَضُرُّونَ قَالُوا۟ بَلْ وَجَدْنَآ ءَابَآءَنَا كَذَٰلِكَ يَفْعَلُون --- He said: "Do they hear you, when you call (on them)? "Or do they benefit you or do they harm (you)?" They said: "Nay, but we found our fathers doing so."

This is a clear admission from Ibrahim's father and people that their idol worshipping did not benefit or harm them in any way, and that the only reason they were doing it in the first place was because their forefathers did it: قَالُوا۟ بَلْ وَجَدْنَآ ءَابَآءَنَا كَذَٰلِكَ يَفْعَلُونَ ---They said: "Nay, but we found our fathers doing so." (vs. 74) 

In verses 75-76 Ibrahim reminds them that all they have been worshipping is themselves and their forefathers, and nothing else. They knew they could not heal themselves when they got ill. They knew that only a higher power could bring about their recovery and yet they chose to devote themselves to that which can neither harm or benefit them in the least. And they knew their idols were of their own making, fashioned out of materials from the earth on which they walked. Why they did this was out of a sense of tradition, and not because it helped them in any way. Their entire belief system and practice was based on falsehood and delusion.

So when Ibrahim reminded them it is only Allah who heals, and no one else, reality slapped them right across the face and reminded them that what they were doing was wrong and the evidence is right in front of them if they would care to look and think upon it. 

The Correct Version of Islam

http://www.javedahmadghamidi.com/index.php/renaissance/view/your-question-answered3

by Dr. Shehzad Saleem

Question: How can I be certain that I am following the right version of Islam. There are so many sects and diverse views that one tends to get confused and afraid also. The reason is that one might end up with the wrong version of Islam. What should one do then?

Answer: In my humble opinion, one basic thing needs to be understood: Human intellect, you would agree, has its own limitations. It can falter and err and of course be different in different scholars. Hence the different interpretations of certain directives of Islam are but a natural outcome of this premise. In this regard, the real thing is the arguments which are presented in support of a viewpoint. A person is required to weigh these arguments in the scales of sense and reason and decide which one appeals to his intellect the most. He should adopt that particular viewpoint, since he would be held accountable according to his own understanding of religion.

Furthermore, no one is guided by divine revelation after the termination of the institution of Prophethood with the departure of Muhammad (sws) and it is his or her judgement which must be exercised. Therefore, no one can be certain whether he has attained the absolute truth or not. He must keep his eyes and ears open to criticism and cling to whatever he thinks to be the truth till he has reason to abandon it and accept a new premise as truth. Moreover, in adopting or forming an opinion in religious matters, the real thing is sincerity of judgement. As long as a person is sincere in exercising his judgement, it does not matter what conclusion is reached. As the Prophet of Allah has put it: a person who strives to form an opinion can reach the right conclusion and he can also reach the wrong one; if he reaches the right conclusion he will be rewarded twice in magnitude and if he is lead to the wrong conclusion he shall still be rewarded though of single magnitude. This shows that the real thing in this regard is the sincerity of effort put in.

Monday, March 31, 2014

IGNORE THIS MESSAGE IF YOU SUPPORT STATE SPONSORED MURDER OF RAPE VICTIMS


Rayhaneh Jabbari is sentenced to hang for killing her rapist in self defense in Iran

Petition here (Your silence will be deadly for Rayhaneh Jabbari): 


---------- Forwarded message ----------
From: Iran U., via Avaaz.org <avaaz@avaaz.org>

Here's the petition for forwarding to your friends:

Save 26 year old Rayhaneh Jabbari from being hanged in Iran

Rayhaneh Jabbari is sentenced to hang for killing her rapist in self defense in Iran

Reyhaneh Jabbari is at risk of imminent execution for having killed a member of the Iranian intelligence services, Morteza Abdolali Sarbandi, a physician, who was attempting to rape her. Her execution verdict has been upheld by the Supreme Court.

Rayhaneh Jabbari is a 26 six year old woman who has been in prison for the last 7 years and is awaiting imminent execution[ by hanging]. 

Rayhaneh, an interior designer, was speaking on the phone about her work in a coffee shop, a conversation which was coincidentally overheard by Morteza who approached her for professional advice about renovating his office. They then set a date to meet at his office in order to see and discuss Morteza’s renovation project.

On the day of the meeting, Morteza picked up Rayhaneh in his car. On the way to his office, Morteza stopped at a pharmacy, purchased an item (while Rayhaneh waited in the car), got into the car again and drove to his office. After arriving at their destination, Rayhaneh realized that the place did not look like a work place at all as it was a rundown house. Inside the house, Rayhaneh saw two drinks on the table, Morteza went inside and quickly locked the door from inside, put his arms around Rayhaneh’s waist and told her that “she had no way of escaping”. A struggle soon ensued. Rayhaneh trying to defend herself stabbed Morteza in the shoulder and escaped. Morteza died from bleeding.

Lab analysis showed the drinks Morteza intended to serve to Rayhaneh contained sedatives. Regardless, Rayhaneh was arrested. There she was told by the authorities that the murder had been set up [by them] and was “politically motivated”. Nevertheless, Rayhaneh was tortured until she confessed to the murder, after she was given the death penalty which was upheld by the Supreme Court. As a result she is to be executed at any moment. 

An interrogator went to the apartment and made a report. At that time Reyhaneh clearly stated to the investigator that she was innocent, that she had met Morteza for business meeting, and that said she killed him only in self defense to stop him from rape.

"The evening I was there, I knew that he wanted to rape me, so because of self defense I stabbed him and escaped," she said.

During a meeting concerning the case at the Criminal Court Branch 74, the family of the victim -- one girl and two boys -- stood up and demanded a "death sentence."

Reyhaneh explained that she had to defend herself: "

Now, any moment it is possible for her to be hanged. Her crime is self defense and she does not deserve to die.
Please do not allow her to be hanged; she is now waiting for our help and support.

NOTE: In Iran men and women, including some minors, face execution everyday for some 131 offenses punishable by death under the fundamentalist Islamic Republic. Some of these crimes include adultery, theft, homosexuality, drug possession and political dissidence. Iran hangs more people per capita than any other country in the world, Since President Rohani's election; there has been a sharp increase in executions. Trials in Iran fall short of International standards and the majority of those hanged did not even have access to a lawyer, jury, or even evidence.

PLEASE DO NOT LET REYHANEH JABBARI BE HANGED. SHE CAN BE HANGED IN THE NEXT FEW DAYS.

New evidence of US intelligence links to Boston Marathon bomber

By Nick Barrickman 

31 March 2014


Last Friday, lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the suspect charged with detonating pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of last year’s Boston Marathon, alleged in a court statement that FBI agents had attempted to force Dzhokhar’s older brother Tamerlan to inform on the Chechen and Muslim community in the Boston area, contributing to the latter’s decision to carry out the attacks on April 15 last year.

Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is facing capital changes in connection with the bombing, which killed three people and wounded an estimated 264 others. His older brother Tamerlan was killed in a shootout with police four days after the bombings.

“The FBI… asked [Tamerlan Tsarnaev] to be an informant, reporting on the Chechen and Muslim community,” said defense lawyer David Bruck, adding that he had “reason to believe that Tamerlan misinterpreted the visits and discussions with the FBI as pressure [that had] amounted to a stressor that increased his paranoia and distress.”

Bruck based his allegations “on information from our client’s family and other sources that the FBI made more than one visit to talk with (Tamerlan’s parents) and Tamerlan, questioned Tamerlan about his Internet searches, and asked him to be an informant.” The attorneys for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev added that Tamerlan had previously been under investigation by the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force due to a warning sent by Russian intelligence officials in 2011 concerning the older brother’s links to Islamic extremists.

Just days prior to this legal brief from Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s attorneys, the House Committee on Homeland Security released a report noting that Russian officials had urged the “mandatory” detention of Tamerlan Tsarnaev should he attempt either to leave or reenter the US. The report states that this warning was ignored by federal officials.

Lawyers for Dzhokhar Tsarnaev requested all information pertaining to the FBI’s investigation of Tamerlan as well as attempts to recruit the older Tsarnaev brother as an informant. The government is objecting to any release of such documents to the defense.

These developments, adding to evidence pointing to extensive contacts between US intelligence and security agencies and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, have come in the aftermath of both federal and Florida state reports released last week whitewashing the FBI in the May 22, 2013 killing of Ibragim Todashev, a friend of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and, like Tsarnaev, an ethnic Chechen.

Todashev was shot multiple times and killed by an FBI agent [whose name has never been released] who was interrogating Todashev in the latter’s Florida apartment (see: “Florida prosecutor’s report whitewashes FBI killing of Ibragim Todashev”).

The US government seized on the Boston Marathon bombing and the police manhunt for the suspects to impose a lockdown and virtual martial law on Boston and its surrounding communities. In a chilling dry run for the establishment of a dictatorship, civil liberties were effectively suspended, residents were ordered to stay in their homes, and police conducted house-to-house searches of entire neighborhoods without warrants. For several days, Boston was occupied by thousands of troops and riot police, accompanied by machine gun-mounted armored vehicles and police helicopters.

FBI officials have denied the claims made by Dzhokhar Tsarnaev’s lawyers. The bureau released a statement reiterating a talking point from a memo issued last year, declaring that “Members of the Joint Terrorism Task Force did not know their [the two bombing suspects’] identities until shortly after Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s death, when they fingerprinted the corpse.”

The allegation that the FBI sought to recruit the older Tsarnaev brother as an informant provides a highly plausible explanation for an otherwise inexplicable—and to date unexplained—failure of federal, state or local authorities to monitor the activities of the Tsarnaevs in the run-up to the marathon, an international event that draws hundreds of thousands of spectators to downtown Boston—a prime target for a potential terrorist attack.

It also would explain the failure of the FBI, the CIA and the Homeland Security Department to heed the urgent calls from Russian authorities in 2011 to prevent Tamerlan Tsarnaev from leaving the US. In early 2012, Tsarnaev was allowed to travel unhindered to Dagestan in Russia’s North Caucasus region, where he made contact with known Islamist separatist terrorist leaders. He was allowed to return to the US without being stopped or questioned later in the year. This was despite his being named on a US government terrorist watch list.

There is also the official claim that the FBI investigated Tamerlan Tsarnaev in 2011 but could find no derogatory information and gave him a clean bill of health. But the FBI also claims, in connection with the killing of Todashev, that both Todashev and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were involved in a triple slaying in the Boston suburb of Waltham, Massachusetts that occurred on September 11, 2011. There has been no attempt by officials to square these contradictory claims.

The Tsarnaev brothers also had family connections to both Chechen rebels and the US intelligence apparatus through an uncle, Ruslan Tsarni. For years, Tsarni ran an organization that funneled funds and equipment to Islamist separatists in Russia’s Caucasus region. Tsarni based his operation in the home of Graham Fuller, former vice-chairman of the US National Intelligence Council and ex-CIA station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Last May, the Boston police commissioner and a top Massachusetts Homeland Security official told a congressional panel that local and state police were never informed by the FBI or the federal Homeland Security Department in the lead-up to the April 15 marathon of the FBI investigation of the Tsarnaevs or the warnings from Russian intelligence. This was despite the presence of the Boston police commissioner and Massachusetts state police officials on a joint terrorism task force alongside FBI officials.

The author also recommends:

[11 May 2013]

[26 April 2013]

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Andrew Coyne: Fair Elections Act proof the Conservatives are no normal government

Andrew Coyne
Friday, Mar. 28, 2014


Pierre Poilievre seems to be genuinely uninterested in other people's opinion on the Fair Elections Act. Justin Tang/The Canadian Press

In normal times, under a normal government, the Fair Elections Act would have been withdrawn by now, or at least be in serious trouble. The past few weeks have seen the bill denounced as a threat to democracy by the chief electoral officer, the former chief electoral officer, several provincial elections officials, academic experts domestic and foreign, and newspaper editorials across the country.

Thursday they were joined by Harry Neufeld, the former chief electoral officer of British Columbia and the author of an inquiry into irregularities in the 2011 election. Mr. Neufeld’s report has been much quoted by the minister responsible, Pierre Poilievre, in particular to support his contention that the bill’s ban on “vouching” — allowing one voter to affirm another’s eligibility to vote in a riding, in cases where the usual documentation is lacking — was needed to prevent voter fraud.

But as Mr. Neufeld told a parliamentary committee studying the bill, he never suggested that voter fraud was a problem — indeed, like his federal counterparts, he does not believe it is. Like them, he is much more concerned by the number of eligible voters likely to be disenfranchised by the ban on vouching, and by a similar ban on the use of Elections Canada’s voter information cards as proof of residency: as many as half a million. Not only did the minister blatantly misrepresent his report, he told the committee, but in drafting the legislation he made no effort to consult him. As for the bill itself, his advice was blunt: “amend it or pull it.”

As I say, under any normal government, this would be considered fairly devastating stuff: not only near universal expert opposition, but a widely held suspicion that the bill, far from merely flawed, is expressly designed to tilt the next election in the Conservatives’ favour. As for Mr. Poilievre, the revelations that he had acted in such consummate bad faith on such a critically important bill — failing to consult, ignoring some experts’ advice and misrepresenting others — would ordinarily be career-limiting, to say the least.

But this is not a normal government. It does not operate in the usual way, nor does it feel bound by the usual rules. After all, if this were a normal government, it would not have as its minister for democratic reform such a noxious partisan as Mr. Poilievre, whose contempt for Parliament and its traditions registers every time he rises to speak in it.

If this were a normal government, it would have sought the widest possible input on the bill, in recognition that this was no ordinary piece of legislation. Even a radical government, with little time for consensus-seeking in pursuit of its agenda, would understand that an elections bill is different, in that it touches, not just on this or that question of policy, on which there will always be disagreement, but on the public’s faith in the democratic process — on which there should be no disagreement. Indeed, a radical government would be especially concerned on this point — for it would want to arm itself with an unassailable popular mandate to enact the changes it desired.

This is how you get to 28% in the polls: when every criticism is only further proof that you’re right

Chances are that a more consensual process would not have produced this bill. A normal government would not give rise to the same suspicions of its intentions in the first place, but where it encountered the kind of general opposition, not to say alarm, various provisions of this bill have aroused, would have been at pains to amend or at least explain them. Consider, as an example, the extensive efforts made by the Conservative MP Michael Chong to disarm opposition to his Reform Act. In a normal government, he and not Mr. Poilievre would be the minister for democratic reform.

But as this is not a normal government, Mr. Poilievre has instead doubled down. To the detailed objections of its critics, he offers nothing but the same, and I mean exactly the same, talking points, recited without evident effort to persuade but merely to impress upon his listeners how genuinely uninterested in their opinion he is. To Mr. Neufeld’s complaints at having his report misrepresented, he responds that Mr. Neufeld does not understand his own report. The inaccurate and out-of-context passages he had cited from it were, he told Parliament, quoted “accurately and in context.” If Mr. Neufeld did not wish to use these words, he blithely told the CBC’s Evan Solomon, he should not have written them.

And so we face the likelihood, as incredible as it sounds, of the government using the majority it won in the last election to pass a bill widely perceived as intended to fix the next — and contesting that election in the shadow of illegitimacy the bill would cast. It will do so, what is more, not in spite of the opposition it has aroused, but because of it: because it has convinced itself that all such opposition, from whatever source, proceeds from the same implacably partisan motives as its own.

This is how you get to 28% in the polls: when every criticism is only further proof that you’re right. It’s one thing to fleece the rubes in the grassroots with this nonsense — They’re all out to get us! Please send money! — but when you start to believe your own rhetoric, your brains turn to mush. It makes you incapable of acknowledging error, or even the possibility of it. And so it blinds you to the train wreck to which you are headed.

On the other hand, can it get any worse for the Tories? They are already down to the hardest of the hard core: the people whose faith has remained unbroken, through every blunder, broken promise and scandal. Would even the perception that they were trying to fix the election shake this support loose? Could anything?

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