Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

The beauty of Isfahan’s ‘Pink Mosque’

May 12, 2018

Click on Huffington Post for still photos and background information.

9/11: the path not taken

September 11, 2016
Photo by National Park Service

Photo by National Park Service

After the 9/11 attacks, the whole world, including the Muslim world, sympathized with the United States.

The whole world, including the Muslim world, condemned the terrorist attacks that killed more than 3,000 innocent civilians.

The U.S. government had an opportunity to unite the world in bringing the Al Qaeda terrorists to justice.   This could have been a step to unite the international community behind a rule of law.

Instead the Bush administration chose to implement pre-existing plans to invade Iraq, whose leaders had nothing to do with the terrorist attacks.  The Obama administration has done likewise with Libya, Syria and other countries.

The result has been militarization of American life, eclipse of civil liberties and the deaths of many more innocent civilians in majority-Muslim countries than ever were killed in jihadist attacks on Americans and Europeans.

Even worse, a generation of Americans has grown up in which all these things are normal.

And jihadist terrorism, partly and maybe mainly as a result of U.S. policies, is stronger than ever before.

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The threat of a global holy war

April 21, 2016

One of the worst thing that could happen is an escalation of the U.S. “war on terror” into a global war between Christendom and Islam.  That is the goal of al Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS).

If it happened, the United States and much of Europe would become as beleaguered as Israel is today.  The devastation that has been visited on Gaza, Palestine, Iraq, Libya and Syria would be spread to the whole world.

That is why Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama were careful to distinguish jihadist terrorists from Muslims in general.

Unfortunately, there are Americans, such as Lt. General (ret) William “Jerry” Boykin, who don’t.

President Bush fired him in 2007 from his post as deputy undersecretary of defense for intelligence for saying that the United States is in a holy war of Christian crusaders against Muslim jihadists.  Even though Boykin was a brave and patriotic soldier, Bush acted in the best interests of the United States.

Boykin has endorsed Ted Cruz for President, and Cruz has appointed him as one of his top advisers.  I think Cruz also wants to make the “war on terror” a religious war.

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Walking in New York City as a woman in a hijab

January 12, 2016

Hat tip to The Vineyard of the Saker.

An attractive woman walked the streets of New York City for five hours attired in a T-shirt, tight jeans and a cardigan.  She was the target of constant unwanted remarks and propositions.

The same woman walked the streets of New York City for five hours in a hijab, traditional Muslim dress.  She was ignored or treated with respect.

Modesty in dress is a good thing, not a bad thing.

Saudi leaders heat up Sunni-Shiite conflict.

January 7, 2016

Saudi Arabia is heating up the Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East.  I think the U.S. government should think long and hard about letting the Saudis draw Americans further into it.

The Saudi Arabian government recently executed 47 opponents of the regime, including radical Sunni jihadists and the Shiite cleric Nimr al-Nimr.

I think this means that the Saudi government feels threatened by the radical Sunni jihadist movements, and wants to redirect their rage outward by stepping up the conflict with Iran and with Shiites generally.

Either Sunni jihadists are killed fighting in Syria and other places, or Saudi Arabia’s enemies—Iran and its ally Syria—are weakened.

Green indicates Shia predominance

Dark green indicates Shia predominance

The Sunni-Shiite conflict in the Middle East involved families who’ve lived side-by-side in peace for decades.  Why are they at each others’ throats now?

I thinks that it is because the Sunnis and Shiites are used as proxies in a struggle for political power among Saudi Arabia, the Gulf emirates, Iran, Turkey and Israel.

And this is overlaid by an economic struggle for control of oil and gas resources and pipeline routes.   It so happens that Shiites, although a minority in the Muslim world as a whole, are a majority in the oil and gas regions.

And all this has been made worse by the murderous and ineffective intervention of my own country, the United States.

But the tragic conflict also is kept going by the need of the Saudi royal family to appease Wahhabi jihadist clerics.

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Why I trust the ayatollahs on nuclear weapons

January 7, 2016
Ayatollah Khameini

Ayatollah Khameini

The Ayatollah Seyyid Hosseini Khameini, the Supreme Leader of Iran, said that Iran will not develop nuclear weapons because this is contrary to Islamic teachings.

I believe him.  The reason that I believe him is that Saddam Hussein’s Iraq used chemical weapons, including mustard gas and nerve gas, in his 1980-1988 war against Iran, and Iran never developed or used poison gas of its own.

The then Ayatollah Ruhbollah Khomeini ruled that use of chemical weapons, and also nuclear weapons were contrary to Islamic law.  Instead Iran defended itself against the invaders by sacrificing its young men in human wave attacks.

When I consider the history of how the United States developed and used atomic weapons, and our “balance of terror” strategy during the cold war, I cannot imagine my government behaving with such restraint under such circumstances.  In fact, if I were an Iranian leader today, threatened with attack by war hawks in the USA and Israel, I would want nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

I think Iran’s ayatollahs have earned the right to be believed on this issue.

Now Russia is drawn into the Sunni-Shiite conflict

December 15, 2015

ISIS, al Qaeda and the other violent jihadist fighters are not from any one country.  They are part of an international movement, so there are Arabs fighting in Afghanistan and Chechens fighting in Syria.  In a sinister way, they resemble the international brigades that fought in the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

ISIS, al Qaeda and their supporters are inspired by teachings of the Wahhabis (or Salafis), an extremely harsh theocratic sect with roots in Saudi Arabia and a strong following in Pakistan.

But a report by Christoph Reuter of Spiegel Online indicates there is a parallel movement among the Shiite Muslims, whose strength is in Iran:

151007165249-putin-assad-syria-large-169Assad’s army isn’t just vulnerable, it also isn’t strictly a Syrian force anymore. For the last two years, the forces on his side have increasingly been made up of foreigners, including Revolutionary Guards from Iran, members of Iraqi militias and Hezbollah units from Lebanon.

They are joined at the front by Shiite Afghans from the Hazara people, up to 2 million of whom live in Iran, mostly as illegal immigrants. They are forcibly conscripted in Iranian prisons and sent to Syria — according to internal Iranian estimates, there are between 10,000 and 20,000 of them fighting in the country.

The situation leads to absurd scenes: In the southern Syrian town of Daraa, rebels began desperately searching for Persian interpreters after an offensive of 2,500 Afghans suddenly began approaching.

It is the first international Shiite jihad in history, one which has been compensating for the demographic inferiority of Assad’s troops since 2012. The alliance has prevented Assad’s defeat, but it hasn’t been enough for victory either.

Furthermore, the orders are no longer coming exclusively from the Syrian officer corps.  Iranian officers control their own troops in addition to the Afghan units, and they plan offensives that also involve Syrian soldiers. Hezbollah commanders coordinate small elite units under their control.  Iraqis give orders to Iraqi and Pakistani militia groups.  And the Russians don’t let anyone tell them what to do.

Source: SPIEGEL ONLINE

There is no inherent reason why Sunnis and Shiites should be at war.  They have lived side by side in peace for more centuries than they have been in conflict.

The main reason they are in conflict now is that it is in the interest of governments such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey to use armed religious militias to advance their own political and economic objectives.  Another reason is the destruction of civil order as a result of U.S. invasions, so that the religious militias are the only source of protection.

There is a great danger to the world if the USA and Russia allow themselves to be drawn further into this conflict, the USA on the side of Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the Sunni fighters and Russia on the side of Iran, Syria and the Shiite fighters.

A confrontation between the world’s two main nuclear powers would mean that the killing and destruction now going on in the Middle East could spread over the whole world.

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Glimpses of Asia – September 23, 2015

September 23, 2015

These are links from my expatriate e-mail pen pal Jack and his friend Marty.

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The Palaces of Memory by Stuart Freedman, review of a coffee table book of photographs of worker-owned coffee houses in India, by Peter Nitsch for The Cutting Edge of Creativity.

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An American Imam fights ISIS propaganda

June 20, 2015

ThinkProgress had a good article about how a sensible American Imam explained to Muslim teenagers that the Islamic State’s propaganda is contrary to the authoritative teachings and the historic practice of Islam.

When people are ignorant of their own religion, they are vulnerable to those who try to sell them a twisted version of it.   The best cure for ignorance is accurate knowledge.

The disturbing thing to me about the article is that Imam Mohamid Magid’s effort is necessary in the first place.  It is disturbing that ISIS has such a big presence on American social media.  The New York Times reported that ISIS sends out an estimated 500 million messages a day via 46,000 Twitter accounts.

It also is disturbing that ISIS propaganda has an impact.  I can understand radical Muslim movements with grievances against the United States, Israel and other Western countries.  I do not volunteer to become a victim of such movements, nor advocate that others do so, but they are understandable in a way that ISIS is not.

The primary targets of ISIS are other Muslims and harmless religious minorities who have been living in peace in majority-Muslim countries, and the images that ISIS broadcasts of be-headings and burnings are manifestations of sadistic cruelty.  This is very hard to understand.

U.S. government officials estimate that 150 young Americans have gone or tried to go to Syria to join ISIS, the New York Times reported.  Imam Magid said some of them were no doubt mentally ill, and I’m sure that is true.

Eric Hoffer pointed out years ago in his book, The True Believer, that people who join extremist mass movements are not those who are rooted in a traditional religion, but people who are uprooted from their culture and desperately need something to give them sense of meaning and belonging.

LINKS

How This Imam Has Kept Americans From Joining the Islamic State by Igor Volsky and Victoria Fleischer for ThinkProgress.

U.S. Muslims Take On ISIS’ Recruiting Machine by Laurie Goodstein for the New York Times.

Beautiful mosques of Shiraz, Iran

May 10, 2015
Interior of Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Interior of Shah Cheragh mosque in Shiraz, Iran

More photographs can be seen on this Slate web site.

Courtyard of Nasir al Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Courtyard of Nasir al Mulk mosque in Shiraz, Iran

When I look at these, I think about the devotion and care that went into creating so much beauty.

Prayer hall of Vaki mosques in Shiraz, Iran

Prayer hall of Vaki mosque in Shiraz, Iran

Source: Atlas Obscura via Slate.

Muslim scholars say ‘Islamic State’ is un-Islamic

February 24, 2015

 Last September more than 120 well-known Muslim scholars wrote an open letter to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the self-declared “Islamic state,” and his followers rebutting their claim to represent Islam.

This is old news, but it is new to me.

These scholars included Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

In Islam, there is no equivalent of a Pope or a church council that can rule authoritatively on religious doctrine.

Instead Islamic rulers are expected to conform to the teachings of religious scholars, when these scholars are all agreed.  So this letter is as authoritative as it gets in Islam.

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Here is the executive summary of the letter, translated from Arabic into English.

1.  It is forbidden in Islam to issue fatwas without all the necessary learning requirements.  Even then fatwas must follow Islamic legal theory as defined in the Classical texts.  It is also forbidden to cite a portion of a verse from the Qur’an—or part of a verse—to derive a ruling without looking at everything that the Qur’an and Hadith teach related to that matter.  In other words, there are strict subjective and objective prerequisites for fatwas, and one cannot ‘cherry-pick’ Qur’anic verses for legal arguments without considering the entire Qur’an and Hadith.

2.  It is forbidden in Islam to issue legal rulings about anything without mastery of the Arabic language.

3.  It is forbidden in Islam to oversimplify Shari’ah matters and ignore established Islamic sciences.

4.  It is permissible in Islam [for scholars] to differ on any matter, except those fundamentals of religion that all Muslims must know.

5.  It is forbidden in Islam to ignore the reality of contemporary times when deriving legal rulings.

6.  It is forbidden in Islam to kill the innocent.

7.  It is forbidden in Islam to kill emissaries, ambassadors, and diplomats; hence it is forbidden to kill journalists and aid workers.

8.  Jihad in Islam is defensive war.  It is not permissible without the right cause, the right purpose and without the right rules of conduct.

9.  It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslim unless he (or she) openly declares disbelief.

10.  It is forbidden in Islam to harm or mistreat—in any way—Christians or any ‘People of the Scripture’.

11.  It is obligatory to consider Yazidis as People of the Scripture.

12.  The re-introduction of slavery is forbidden in Islam. It was abolished by universal consensus.

13.  It is forbidden in Islam to force people to convert.

14.  It is forbidden in Islam to deny women their rights.

15.  It is forbidden in Islam to deny children their rights.

16.  It is forbidden in Islam to enact legal punishments (hudud) without following the correct procedures that ensure justice and mercy.

17.  It is forbidden in Islam to torture people.

18.  It is forbidden in Islam to disfigure the dead.

19.  It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God.

20. It is forbidden in Islam to destroy the graves and shrines of Prophets and Companions.

21.  Armed insurrection is forbidden in Islam for any reason other than clear disbelief by the ruler and not allowing people to pray.

22.  It is forbidden in Islam to declare a caliphate without consensus from all Muslims.

23.  Loyalty to one’s nation is permissible in Islam.

24.  After the death of the Prophet, Islam does not require anyone to emigrate anywhere.

Muslims believe the Qu’ran (Koran) is a transcription of God’s revelation to Mohammad.  The Hadith are sayings of Mohammad.   Shari’ah is Islamic law, and a fatwa is a ruling under Islamic law.

LINKS

Muslim Scholars Release Open Letter To Islamic State Meticulously Blasting Its Ideology by Lauren Markoe for Religion News Service.  (Hat tip to Jack Clontz)

English translation of the complete Open Letter to al-Baghdadi.

 

Is the Islamic State contrary to Islam?

February 20, 2015

Is the Islamic State (aka ISIS or ISIL) un-Islamic, as President Obama has said?  Or can we best understand the Islamic State as part of Islam as a whole?

It’s not for me, or for President Obama, to say who is a true Muslim and who isn’t.  But the facts are that the vast majority of Muslims, including those who think it is right and just to kill blasphemers who insult Islam, are horrified by the killing of harmless people.

0618-ISIS-Iraq-gulf_full_600The reaction of the Iranian ayatollahs to the 9/11 attacks is a case in point.  In 1989, Ayatollah Khomeini called upon all Muslims to kill the author Salman Rushdie for his allegedly blasphemous depiction of Mohammad in his novel, The Satanic Verses. 

But in 2001, his successor, Ayatollah Khameni, strongly condemned the Al Qaeda’s attacks on the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  Apparently, for him, suppressing blasphemy is one thing and killing the innocent quite another.

I of course condemn blasphemy laws and fatwas against alleged blasphemers.  At the same time I can understand the distinction.

Graeme Wood wrote an enlightening and frightening article in the March issue of The Atlantic on the apocalyptic religious reliefs of the Islamic State, but falls for their claim that they represent a more authentic version of Islam than that held by the vast majority of Muslims.

Mohammad was a warrior as well as a prophet, but neither he or his immediate successors went around be-heading people on a regular basis.  The rule of the first Islamic caliphs was in fact tolerable for most Christians and Jews because all they had to do was pay a special tax.

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Different laws for different religions?

January 12, 2015

In colonial Maryland, relations between Catholics and Protestants were so tense that there were laws that defined an insult to either religion as a breach of the peace.

In the Ottoman Empire, people of different religions lived side-by-side in peace for centuries, all governed by their own religious laws and leaders, subject only to paying taxes to their Turkish rulers.

Dmitry Orlov thinks that such arrangements are the key to peace in countries in which Muslims and non-Muslims live together.

The only solution I see is a duopoly, where Moslems and non-Moslems run their respective segments of society according to different sets of rules.

Some rules they must have in common, such as a ban on incendiary, extremist speech. The prohibition against “shouting fire in a crowded theater” applies to such arrangements.

Vladimir_Putin_and_Gusman_hazrat_IzhakovExamples of such arrangements being successful include the Republic of Tatarstan (Russian Federation) where Orthodox Christianity and (majority) Islam coexist peacefully, and mixed marriages can offer a choice of religions to the children they produce.

Another example is the Republic of Chechnya (also Russian Federation) which, having fought a bloody separatist conflict financed by the Saudis and the US, can now successfully combat Islamic terrorism on its own, without involving federal authorities.

Russia is now a dual Christian/Islamic federation; if current demographic trends continue, then at some point it will become an Islamic/Christian federation. So be it. If peace is maintained, nobody will notice or care.

France can embrace the same choice, forming Les Républiques Françaises, and probably will, because what choice does it have—other than losing the war?

via ClubOrlov.

A thoughtful proposal, but I have problems with it—even assuming that dual law works as well in Tatarstan and Chechnya as Orlov thinks it does.

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Terrorism and the true face of Islam

January 11, 2015
Two Muslim heroes, Ahmed Merbet and Lassana Baithily

Two Muslim heroes, Ahmed Merabet and Lassana Bathily

After the 9/11 attacks, Muslim organizations and leaders all over the world condemned the attackers, and yet there were those who said the Muslim world was silent in the face of the attacks.

Now Muslims all over the world condemn the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and there are still willfully-blind people who say the Muslim world is silent.

The main enemy of the extremist Muslim terrorists are mainstream Muslims.  According to Global Terrorism Watch, about 80 percent of terrorist killings last year were in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria, all predominantly Muslim countries.  Only 5 percent were in Western countries such as France.

The best hope for the terrorists is to convince other Muslims their campaign is part of a larger struggle between the West and Islam as a whole.  To the extent that people interpret the Charlie Hebdo attacks in terms of that narrative, the terrorists will have succeeded.

When people blame Muslims in general for terrorism, they forget Ahmed Merabet, the Paris policeman killed by the terrorists while trying to prevent the attacks.  And Lassana Bathily, the clerk in a kosher grocery store who saved Jewish customers by hiding them in a freezer.   They, not the terrorists, should be regarded as the true face of Islam.

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45 Examples of Muslim Outrage About Charlie Hebdo Attack That Fox News Missed by Katie Halper for Alternet.

QOTD: Hezbollah and Hamas by Heather Digby Parsons for Hullabaloo.  The leaders of both Hezbollah and Hamas condemned the attacks.

Ahmed Merabet, the Muslim Police Officer Killed in the Charlie Hebdo Shooting by Jim Edwards for Business Insider.

Paris policeman’s brother: ‘Islam is a religion of love.  My brother was killed by terrorists, by false Muslims’ by Emma Graham-Harrison for The Guardian.

Muslim Man Hailed as Hero in Kosher Grocery Store Attack by Charlotte Alter for Time magazine.

 

Robert Fisk: ISIS is a cult of nihilism, not Islam

October 6, 2014

Robert Fisk is a long-time Middle East correspondent for The Independent, a British newspaper.

British Muslim leaders have said, quite rightly, that Muslims show mercy, and that the “Islamic State” is a perversion of Islam.  I suspect and fear that they are wrong.  Not because Islam is not merciful, but because the “Islamic State” has nothing at all to do with Islam.  It is more a cult of nihilism.

Their fighters have been brutalized – remember that they have endured, many of them, Saddam’s cruelty, our sanctions, Western invasion and occupation and air strikes under Saddam and now air strikes again.   These people just don’t believe in justice any more.  They have erased it from their minds.

If we had not supported so many brutal men in the Middle East, would things have turned out differently?  Probably.  If we had supported justice – I hesitate to suggest putting a certain man on trial for war crimes – would there have been a different reaction in the Middle East?

In the Syrian war, they say that 200,000 have died; in Gaza more than 2,000. But in Iraq, we suspect half a million died.  And whose fault was that?

The “Islamic State” are the real or spiritual children of all this. Now we face an exclusive form of nihilism, a cult as merciless as it is morbid.  And we bomb and we bomb and we bomb.  And then?

via The Futility of Bombing ISIS by Robert Fisk for The Independent (via Counterpunch)

Unilateral disarmament in the war of ideas

September 10, 2014

The struggle against the radical Muslim jihadis, as in the Cold War against Communism, is more than a struggle for power.  It also is a war of ideas.

We Americans have disarmed ourselves in that war.  We don’t advocate foundational American ideas—the ideas contained in the Declaration of Independence and the Gettysburg Address—because we no longer have confidence in them.

We are so paralyzed by our internal culture conflicts that our official spokesmen dare not speak of religious or moral principles.   About the only ideals they can uphold unequivocally are feminism, gay rights and recycling.

Andrew Doran reported, in an article in the current issue of The American Conservative, reported on how this played out.  His article is largely based on interviews with two Army offices he calls Joseph and Brian about their service in Afghanistan.

“We lacked the confidence even to say, ‘You may not rape little boys.’  All we had to offer was administration and technology, and they sensed this.”

AmericanConservative2014.0910Cover-125x160Joseph believes that, in a peculiar way, this parallels America’s institutional system. “We have no consensus either. Nobody can agree on any normative reason to do anything,” he says. “So we default to an institutional structure.  Our tribalism is institutional. Afghanistan was an encounter between these two systems.  The first lieutenant leading a foot patrol stands square at the pressure point between these two tribal systems: one fluid, personal and violent; the other rigid, impersonal and violent.  A quarter mile away from any soldier is a guy in a grape hut who wants to cut his head off.  Nine thousand miles away is a guy in an air-conditioned room with video screens contemplating his pension who wants to drop a bomb on the guy in the grape hut.”

[snip]

“We were there writing checks and shooting people,” says Joseph.  “It was as incoherent to me as it was to the Afghans. But building a soccer field isn’t building a civilization.  The foundations for civilization, for reason, for the common good, for law, for science—all of it was missing.  It’s still missing and no one seems to have a sense of how to build it.”

[snip]

“The Afghans wanted to talk to us about what we value,” says Joseph, “But we had to censor ourselves.”  They both recall the Afghan perception of Americans, largely shaped by the entertainment industry.  “They thought we all lived in porno films,” Brian says with a chuckle. “One time they asked if I prayed. When I said ‘Yes,’ they laughed because they thought I was joking.”  America’s institutional culture did nothing to alter this impression.

“If I’d been part of the British navy in the 19th century,” says Joseph, “civilizing would’ve been part of our mission. But for us, it was dialoguing about nothing, about projects, using words that mean nothing—sustainability, dynamism, governance, implementation, transparent, relevant, outreach, consolidate, force multiplier, cross-pollinate, trust-gap, legitimacy, capitalize, mobilize, incentivize, mandate, aftermathing, liaisoning, conflict-mapping, indices, unity of action. You see what I mean—the antiseptic, PowerPoint sociology speech.”

There are two ways a confident civilization spreads its values.  One is by conquest, as was done by the Greeks, the Romans, the Chinese, the Arabs, the Spanish and, to a lesser extent, other European colonial powers.  The other is by setting an example of a way of life that others want to imitate.  The American way of life once had a strong appeal to the world’s peoples, and there is still an afterglow from that.

I don’t think we Americans are capable, at present, of spreading our civilizational values either by conquest (which I do not advocate) or by example.  The answer to al Qaeda, the Taliban, ISIS and like movements will have to be in the best traditions of Muslim civilization itself.

Click on Absurd in Afghanistan: the Islamic world needs Avicenna, not America to read the entire article by Andrew Doran in The American Conservative.  (Hat tip to Robert Heineman)

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Sunni-Shiite couples form ‘Sushi’ families

July 18, 2014

BqfEw5cIUAEB8myThis origin of this photo is unclear, but it is being widely circulated over Twitter and other social media, and it illustrates an important point—that not all Muslims are caught up in “age old” hatreds. The Iraqi government estimates that 2 million of Iraq’s 6.5 million families are mixed Sunni-Shiite marriages.

Click on Raw Story: Sunni-Shia Family Photo Wins Twitter But Not the War by Jorge Ramos and Colin MacDonald of Fusion TV for background on the photo.  Hat tip for the link to Jack Clontz.

Something I cannot understand

June 26, 2014

I’m not well-traveled, and I speak no language other than English.   The way I try to understand why people in foreign cultures do what they do is to imagine myself in their place.  Usually I conclude that if I were in their situation, and had had their life experiences, I probably would do as they did.

But recently I read news stories about people who wanted to kill close relatives because they were of a different religion.  I cannot understand this.

One report was about “Josef,” a Pakistani man who is in hiding in Afghanistan from his Muslim family who want to kill him because he has converted to Christianity.   The other was about Meriam Ibrahim, a woman who was raised a Christian in Sudan after being deserted by her Muslim father.  She narrowly escaped being sentenced to death after her father’s family accused her of “renouncing” Islam—a religion in which she had never believed.

I believe that people have a right to believe in whatever religion they choose, or, to put it more precisely, I believe that people have a right to state openly that they believe whatever they inwardly feel compelled to believe.   I cannot imagine wanting to kill a relative or loved one because they reject my beliefs and values.

Naziism is the most abhorrent belief that I can think of.  But if a relative become a Nazi, my response would be to make him see the error of his ways, as long as I thought this were possible.   I might give up meeting him on a regular basis if all he did was harangue me.  In an extreme case, if he planned a murder or a dangerous act of violence, I would threaten to report him to the police.  But I can’t imagine killing a loved one or relative just because of what they think, however barbarous.

I don’t think these two news articles justify a general condemnation of all the world’s one billion Muslims, who certainly are not all alike.  But they do justify a feeling of pride and gratitude for the religious freedom of the USA.  I can’t imagine the most intolerant American Christian attempting to kill someone for renouncing Christianity and, if such a person existed, they would be put in trial for their crime.

Despite the harassment and prejudice that Muslims sometimes endure in the United States, I think that they not only enjoy more freedom than do Christians in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Sudan, I think they enjoy more freedom here than do Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan or Sudan.

LINKS

A Christian Convert, on the Run in Afghanistan, by Azam Ahmed for the New York Times. Hat tip to Rod Dreher.

Meriam Ibrahim freed again after rearrest at Sudan airport by the Associated Press.

Sudan death penalty case reignites Islam apostasy debate by BBC News.

Lifelong Christian may die as a Muslim apostate

May 22, 2014

 A woman raised as a Christian, who has been a Christian all her life, has been sentenced to death in Sudan as an apostate from Islam, because her father was a Muslim.

Meriam Ibrahim was sentenced a week ago after refusing to renounce her religion and her marriage to Daniel Wani, a Christian man born in Sudan and now a U.S. citizen.   She said her father deserted his family when she was a child, and she was raised by her Ethiopian-born Christian mother.  She said she never was a Muslim.

She is eight months pregnant.  Her husband, who is confined to a wheelchair, was allowed to visit her Monday.  He said she was shackled to a wall.  Her 20-month-old son, Martin, is in prison with her.

Sudan officials said the verdict is not final.  There has been a great international protest of the sentence, and I hope the Sudan government will force the religious court to back down.

What kind of a religion is this?  I believe that how you live is more important than your opinions about religion.  But suppose, for the sake of argument, that your soul is doomed if you do not believe that there is no God but Allah, and that Mohammed is his prophet.  What is the point of forcing someone to give lip service to that belief, or any belief, against her will?

Does the court believe that God wants a hypocritical and unwilling submission?  Or do they think that God can be fooled into believing the conversion is sincere?

I do not believe that the Sudan religious court represents all Muslims.  History shows that intolerance is not an inherent part of the Muslim religion.  At certain times in history, persecuted Jews and heretical Christians took refuge in Muslim lands.

The problem is with a Muslim sect called the Wahhabis, who originated in Saudi Arabia and whose teachings are spread through the Muslim world by the Saudi monarchy.  They are among the few Muslim sects that persecute other Muslims.  Wahhabis are not necessarily terrorists, but Osama bin Laden and his Al Qaeda movement arose from Wahhabi teachings.

The rise of Wahhabism is a historical accident—the fact that the Ibn Saud family allied itself with the Wahhabi movement in its rise to power in Arabia, and the fact that so much of the world’s oil wealth is under control of the Saudi family.

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‘…will make violent revolution inevitable’

August 23, 2013

President John F. Kennedy famously said in 1962: “Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” His words, if not his actions, were wise and inspiring, and I thought of them in connection with the Arab Spring and the Egyptian coup.

Thousands and thousands of Egyptians conducted peaceful—relatively peaceful—demonstrations in order to replace the dictatorship of President Mubarak with a democratically elected government.

The result has been set aside by the Egyptian military, which receives more than $1 billion a year from the U.S. government to buy military equipment which has been used mainly against Egypt’s own people.   In return the U.S. Air Force gets to use Egyptian air space and the Navy gets to use the Suez Canal.

If the U.S. government were genuinely interested in promoting democracy and helping the Egyptian people, and winning their good will, we would spend $1 billion a year to help Egypt pay down its external debt and to import food and the other necessities.

Instead we have empowered General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, the leader of the Egyptian military, to make peaceful revolution impossible and violent revolution inevitable.

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Surviving Guantanamo

May 16, 2012

Julian Assange on the fifth episode of his The World Tomorrow TV program interviewed Moazzam Begg, a British subject who was imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, and Asim Quereshi, a former British corporate lawyer who organized a human rights organization, Cagedprisoners Ltd., to advocate for prisoners such as Begg.

Begg lived in Kabul, Afghanistan, at the time of the 9/11 attacks, and fled to Pakistan after the U.S. invasion began.  Pakistani police arrested him in 2002 on suspicion of being a member of the Taliban, and turned him over to U.S. authorities, who imprisoned him at the secret facility near Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan and then at Guantanamo Bay.

Begg signed a confession saying that he was “armed and prepared to fight alongside the Taliban and al Qaeda against the U.S.”  He told Assange he signed the confession only after he was hog-tied and beaten, and was told that the screams of a woman in the next cell were his wife.  He was released in 2005 after lobbying by the government of the United Kingdom.  He never was charged with any crime.

Although Begg was imprisoned during the Presidency of George W. Bush, he said on the program that President Barack Obama is worse.  Bush claimed the right of “extrajudicial detention” on his own say-so.  Obama claims the right of “extrajudicial killing” on his own say-so.

The two Muslim human rights advocates also gave their views on the Caliphate, which they said would be an Arab equivalent of the European Union; jihad, which they said is merely the right of self-defense; and sharia law, which they said is more humane than is generally portrayed.  They said Osama bin Laden played a positive role in helping to drive the Soviets out of Afghanistan, but bin Laden’s subsequent activities were counter-productive from the standpoint of Muslim liberation.

I don’t think that what they say on these subjects is the last word, and I wonder if they were shading their opinions to make them acceptable to a Western audience.  But their point of view is interesting, and one we Americans rarely hear.   Their arguments for closing Guantanamo Bay are based on fundamental Anglo-Americans concepts of due process of law.

Click on Digital Journal for a summary of Assange’s Episode 5 and links to previous broadcasts.

Click on CagePrisoners for that organization’s home page.

Click on Moazzam Begg wiki for Begg’s Wikipedia biography, which includes allegations about Taliban and al Qaeda activities.

Assange appears on the RT (Russia Today) network, a 24-hour English-language news network established by the government of Vladimir Putin’s Russia.  Assange said RT does not influence the topic or content of his programs.

I made minor revisions to this article a few hours after posting it.

Roundup: Fracking, rich people, Islam, etc.

March 3, 2012

Here are links to some interesting articles I read on-line during the week.

2012 or Never by Jonathan Chait in New York magazine is an argument that the Republican Party’s policies put it on the wrong side of ongoing demographic changes.  The future electorate is going to be more and more like Barack Obama—young, urban, hip and non-white.  I think the Democratic leaders are making a mistake if they rely on demographics and Republican self-destruction to win their elections for them.  The party that wins the support of a majority of the electorate will be the one that actually does something about unemployment, outsourcing, declining wages and financial abuses.

The Big Fracking Bubble by Jeff Goodall in Rolling Stone is a profile of Hugh McClendon, founder of Chesapeake Energy, which is possibly the largest company engaged in hydraulic fracturing for natural gas.  It reportedly owns drilling rights on 15 million acres of land, more than twice the area of Maryland.  One disappointed Pennsylvania farm owner who sold drilling rights to Chesapeake said that the United States is destroying its water resource in order to extract an energy resource.

Upper class people more likely to cheat on the Raw Story web site describes a study which indicated that rich people on average are more willing than poor people to break traffic laws, cheat for financial gain and even take candy from children.  The researchers concluded that wealth generates a sense of entitlement.

Are They Really Religious? by Alaa al Aswany, an Egyptian journalist, for Huffington Post says the form of Islam being imported into Eygpt from Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States emphasizes form over substance.  Hospital staffs leave emergency rooms unattended while they participate in their daily prayer routine.  Members of Parliament grow beards in tribute to Mohammad but are unconcerned with torture and corruption in the Mubarrak regime.  True religion, he writes, emphasizes the human values of truth, justice and freedom, not the details of ritual observances.

Tunisia: Moderate Political Islam Eschews Violence is a profile by my friend Tom Riggins on his web log is a profile of Said Ferjani, a leader of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party, and his teacher, Rachid al-Ghannouchi, founder of the party. The Ennahda Party, which represents a more moderate and democratic form of Islam than the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, won the recent Tunisian elections in coalition with two smaller parties, and is now participating in the drafting of a new Tunisian constitution.

Bradley Manning’s quest for justice is a report by Logan Price in The Guardian newspaper in England.  Reporting on Manning’s arraignment in military court for allegedly providing secret information about U.S. war crimes to Wikileaks, Price says that Manning holds to a higher standard of truth than the court does.

Thirty More Years of Hell is a rant by Connor Kilpatrick in Jacobin magazine about the world the Baby Boomer generation has created for the Millennial generation.

True and false religion

November 27, 2011

True religion invites us to become better people.
False religion tells us this has already occurred.
    ==Adbul Hakim Murad

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Nonviolent soldier of Islam

October 23, 2011

I think of Islam as a warrior religion.  My mental picture of Mohammed is a man on horseback, sword in hand.  So I was astonished to read A Man to Match His Mountains: Badshah Khan, Nonviolent Soldier of Islam, which tells the story Abdul Ghaffar Khan, a 20th century Muslim leader of nonviolent struggle.

Known as the “Frontier Gandhi,” Ghaffar Khan led the Pathans (Pushtuns), one of the most warlike people who ever lived, in nonviolent struggle against British rule and then for autonomy within Pakistan.

The Pathans are the largest ethnic group in Afghanistan and the northwest border region of what is now Pakistan.  They have a reputation for being utterly fearless in battle and never allowing an insult or injury to go unavenged.  A nonviolent Pathan would have seemed as much a contradiction in terms in early 20th century India as a nonviolent Comanche or Apache in late 19th century North America.

Yet  Abdul Ghaffar Khan (Badshah was a title, like Mahatma) organized hundreds of thousands of Pathans into what was literally a nonviolent army.  His Khudai Khidmatgar had uniforms, military ranks, military drills and discipline, even a drum and bagpipe corps, but no weapons.  Weaponless, they endured beatings and imprisonment, and walked into machine gun fire in their struggle for freedom.

The Khudai Khidmatgar, a nonviolent army

Ghaffar Khan was born in 1890 into a well-to-do Pathan family in the Northwest Frontier Province of British India.  A British missionary arranged scholarships for him to study in England, but his family influenced him to turn them down, lest he be estranged from traditional values.  Instead he enlisted in the Guides, an auxiliary force to the British army in India.  He found the British treated Indians with contempt, and he resigned.

He started a new career as a reformer, organizing village schools.  If the authorities had allowed him to do this, his exploits might have ended there.  But the powers that be, both British and native, felt that education of the common people was a threat to their power.  They had him repeatedly imprisoned and exiled.  After a number of years he made contact with the Indian National Congress, and met Gandhi.  He learned Gandhi’s techniques of nonviolent resistance, and put them into practice himself.  He said, however, that he drew his inspiration for nonviolent struggle from the Koran, particularly the early prophecies drawn from the period when Mohammed and his early followers persisted under persecution.

One of the criticisms sometimes made of Gandhi is that nonviolent struggle would not avail against a really ruthless enemy, such as Hitler’s Nazis or Stalin’s Communists.  British repression fell short of what the Nazis and Communists did, but it was brutal enough.  The British destroyed whole villages for disobedience, they brutally beat anyone in their path, they imprisoned Ghaffar Khan and others without charging them with any crimes and they sometimes killed people indiscriminately.  And, like the Nazis and Communists, they feared any independent action by people they ruled.  Ghaffar Khan did not begin as a rebel against the British when he started his village schools.  The British made him a rebel when they put him in prison for trying to raise up his people.

I have read translations of the Koran, and, to me, its message is not a pacifistic one.  There are passages that could be quoted to justify military aggression and persecution, but, for me, the predominant message is to live in peace if you can, but be ready to fight unrelentingly if you have to.  I agree with this message, but it is not a pacifist one.

But then, Gandhi drew inspiration from the Bhagavad-Gita, whose conclusion is that the duty of Ajuna the charioteer as a warrior is to fight and obey orders, even in what he considers an unjust war.  And, for that matter, Christians and Jews are highly selective in their reading of the Mosaic Code.  I don’t say that Ghaffar Khan or Gandhi misinterpreted their sacred scriptures, only that how you interpret scripture depends on the values you bring to it as well as what the words say.

Gandhi and Ghaffar Khan both made a distinction between the “nonviolence of weakness” and the “nonviolence of strength.”  They said there is no value in being nonviolent if you are afraid to fight.  In fact, it is better to fight violently than to submit to wrong.  That is how Gandhi justified urging Indians to enlist in the British army during the Boer War and First World War.  He believed that you have to first be capable of fighting in order to meaningfully renounce violence.

Ghaffar Khan’s Khudai Khidmatgar show that the distance between brave, disciplined warriors and brave disciplined pacifists is small compared to the difference between both types of person and the average risk-averse, comfort-seeking person such as myself.

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“Peace be upon them”

August 22, 2011

Click to view

The current issue of Sojourners magazine has a good article about the friendship that developed between members of a Methodist church and Muslim mosque in a town in Tennessee.

Rev. Steve Stone was just trying to be a good neighbor.

Two years ago, the pastor of Heartsong Church in Cordova, Tennessee, on the outskirts of Memphis, learned that a local mosque had bought property right across the street from the church.  So he decided some Southern hospitality was in order.

Click to view

A few days later, a sign appeared in front of the church. “Heartsong Church welcomes Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood,” it read.

That small act of kindness was the start of an unlikely friendship between the two congregations, one that made headlines around the world.  Members of the mosque and church have shared meals together, worked at a homeless shelter, and become friends over the past two years.  When Stone learned that his Muslim friends needed a place to pray for Ramadan because their building wasn’t ready, he opened up the doors of the church and let them hold Ramadan prayers there.

Critics said that Stone was a heretic for allowing people of another faith to pray in his church building.  He says he’s just doing what Jesus taught him to do. “Jesus told us to love our neighbors,” Stone told Sojourners. “These people are actually neighbors.”

via Sojourners Magazine.

I hope and believe that the Rev. Steve Stone’s is more typical of American thinking that those who are given over to ignorant prejudice.   I read an analysis of the 2010 elections that indicated that the attempt to scapegoat Muslims for partisan political reasons largely backfired.

I have written several posts on this web log rebutting false prejudices against Muslims, but I think that, in general, our American record of upholding religious freedom for all is one to be proud of.   I don’t claim that we Americans are free of prejudice, but I would rather be a Muslim citizen of the United States than a Christian in Egypt or Iraq, a Baha’i in Iran or a Muslim in India.

I also would rather be a Muslim in the present-day United States than a Japanese-American during World War Two, a German-American during World War One or a Catholic citizen of the United States in the 1840s.  We Americans don’t fully live up to our ideals of religious freedom and tolerance, but we’re getting there.

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