Wednesday, July 4, 2007

211)Two interesting viewpoints by a Canadian journalist.

From The Globe and Mail, Canada's National Newspaper

Moderate Muslims must do more than preach moderation

July 4, 2007

The dramatis personae arrested in the wake of the failed British terror plots include medical professionals. This seeming paradox has many scratching their heads. Aren't Muslim martyrs supposed to be poor, dispossessed and resentful about both?

The 9/11 attacks should have stripped us of that simplification. The hijackers came from means. Mohamed Atta, their ringleader, had an engineering degree. He then moved to the West, doing his postgraduate studies in Germany. No aggrieved goat herder, that one.

In 2003, I interviewed Mohammed al-Hindi, the political leader of Islamic Jihad in Gaza. A physician himself, he explained the difference between suicide and martyrdom. "Suicide is done out of despair," he diagnosed. "But most of our martyrs today were very successful in their earthly lives."

In short, it's not what the material world fails to deliver that drives suicide bombers. It's something else.

Time and again, that something else has been articulated by the very people committing these acts: their religion. Consider Mohammed Sidique Khan, the teaching assistant who masterminded the July 7, 2005, transit bombings in London. In taped testimony, he railed against British foreign policy. But before bringing up Tony Blair, he emphasized that "Islam is our religion" and "the Prophet is our role model." In short, he gave priority to God.

Now take Mohammed Bouyeri, the Dutch-born Moroccan Muslim who murdered filmmaker Theo van Gogh. Mr. Bouyeri pumped several bullets into Mr. van Gogh. So why didn't he stop there? Why did he pull out a blade to decapitate Mr. van Gogh? Again, we must confront religious symbolism. The blade is an implement associated with seventh-century tribal conflict. Wielding it as a sword becomes a tribute to the founding moment of Islam. Even the note stabbed into Mr. van Gogh's body, although written in Dutch, had the unmistakable rhythms of Arabic poetry. Let's credit Mr. Bouyeri with honesty: At his trial, he proudly acknowledged acting from "religious conviction."

Despite integrating Muslims far more adroitly than most of Europe, North America isn't immune. Last year in Toronto, police nabbed 17 young Muslim men allegedly plotting to blow up Parliament and behead politicians. They apparently called their campaign Operation Badr. This refers to the Battle of Badr, the first decisive military triumph achieved by the Prophet Mohammed. Clearly, the Toronto 17 drew inspiration from religious history.

For people with big hearts and goodwill, this has to be uncomfortable to hear. But they can take solace that the law-and-order types have a hard time with it, too. After rounding up the Toronto suspects, police held a press conference and didn't once mention Islam or Muslims. At their second press conference, police boasted about avoiding those words. If guardians of our safety intend such silence to be a form of sensitivity, they risk airbrushing the role that religion plays in the violence carried out under its banner.

They're in fine company: Moderate Muslims do the same. While the vast majority of Muslims aren't extremists, a more important distinction must start being made - one between moderate Muslims and reform-minded ones.

Moderate Muslims denounce violence in the name of Islam but deny that Islam has anything to do with it. By their denial, moderates abandon the ground of theological interpretation to those with malignant intentions - effectively telling would-be terrorists that they can get away with abuses of power because mainstream Muslims won't challenge the fanatics with bold, competing interpretations. To do so would be to admit that religion is a factor. Moderate Muslims can't go there. Reform-minded Muslims say it's time to admit that Islam's scripture and history are being exploited. They argue for reinterpretation precisely to put the would-be terrorists on notice their monopoly is over.

Reinterpreting doesn't mean rewriting. It means rethinking words and practices that already exist - removing them from a seventh-century tribal time warp and introducing them to a 21st-century pluralistic context. Un-Islamic? God, no. The Koran contains three times as many verses calling on Muslims to think, analyze and reflect than passages that dictate what's absolutely right or wrong. In that sense, reform-minded Muslims are as authentic as moderates, and quite possibly more constructive.

This week, a former jihadist wrote in a British newspaper that the "real engine of our violence" is "Islamic theology." Months ago, he told me that, as a militant, he raised most of his war chest from dentists.

Islamist violence - it's not just for doctors any more. Tackling Islamist violence - it can't be left to moderates any more.

It's not Salman Rushdie I'm offended by, she says; it's my fellow Muslims.

June 20, 2007

The Globe and Mail, Canada's National Newspaper

Growing up in Vancouver, I attended Islamic classes every Saturday.

There, I learned that Jews can't be trusted because they worship "moolah, not Allah," meaning money, not God. My teacher said every last Jew was consumed with business.

But I noticed that most of the new business signs in my neighbourhood featured Asian languages: Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese, Korean, Hindi, Punjabi and plenty of Urdu, which is spoken in Pakistan.

That made me ask: What if I'm not being educated at my religious school? What if I'm being indoctrinated?

I'm reminded of this thanks to the news that Salman Rushdie, author of The Satanic Verses and 10 other works of fiction, will be knighted by the Queen. Pakistan's religious affairs minister responded to the news saying he could understand why, in light of how Mr. Rushdie has blasphemed Islam, angry Muslims would commit suicide bombings over his knighthood. Fellow MPs and the Pakistani government joined in condemning Britain, feeding cries of offence to Muslim sensibilities.

As a Muslim, you better believe I'm offended - by these absurd reactions.

I'm offended that it's not the first time honours from the West have met with vitriol and violence. In 1979, Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam became the first Muslim to win the Nobel Prize in science. He began his acceptance speech with a verse from the Koran. You'd think Mr. Salam's countrymen would have celebrated. Instead, rioters tried to prevent him from re-entering the country; parliament declared him a "non-Muslim" because he belonged to a religious minority. His name still is invoked by state authorities in hushed tones.

I'm offended that every year, there are more women killed in Pakistan for allegedly violating family honour than there are detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Muslims rightly denounced the mistreatment of Gitmo prisoners. But where's our outrage over the murder of Muslims at the hands of our own?

I'm offended that in April, mullahs at an extreme mosque in Pakistan issued a fatwa against hugging. The country's female tourism minister had embraced - or accepted a congratulatory pat from - her skydiving instructor after she jumped from a plane to raise funds for victims of the 2005 Pakistan earthquake. Clerics said her touching a man was "a great sin." They demanded she be fired.

I'm offended by their fatwa proclaiming that women should stay at home and remain covered at all times. I'm offended that they've bullied music store owners and video vendors into closing shop. I'm offended that the government tiptoes around their craziness because these clerics threaten suicide attacks if confronted.

Above all, I'm offended that so many other Muslims aren't offended enough to demonstrate widely against God's self-appointed ambassadors.

We'll complain to the world that Islam is being exploited by fundamentalists, yet fall silent when faced with the opportunity to resist en masse their exploitation. In a battle between flaming fundamentalists and mute moderates, who do you think is going to win?

I'm not saying that standing up to intimidation is easy. This past spring, the Muslim world made it that much more difficult. A 56-member council of Islamic countries pushed the UN Human Rights Council to adopt a resolution against the "defamation of religion." Pakistan led the charge. Focused on Islam rather than on faith in general, the resolution allows repressive regimes to squelch freedom of conscience further - and to do so in the guise of international law.

On occasion the people of Pakistan show that they don't have to be muzzled. Last year, civil society groups vocally challenged a set of anti-female laws, three decades old and supposedly based on the Koran. Their religiously respectful approach prompted even mullahs to hint that these laws are man-made, not God-given.

This month, too, Pakistanis forced their government to lift restrictions on the press. My own book, translated into Urdu and posted on my website, is being downloaded in droves. Religious authorities won't let it be sold in the markets. But they can't stop Pakistanis - or other Muslims - from satiating a genuine hunger for ideas.

It's high time to "ban" hypocrisy under the banner of Islam. Salman Rushdie isn't the problem. Muslims are.

After all, the very first bounty on Mr. Rushdie's head was $2-million. It rose to $2.5-million; then higher. Iran's government claimed the money was profitably invested. Looks like Jews aren't only the only people handy at business.


If there are 23,000 jihadist websites and blogsites out there in cyberspace, there is no reason why we should not create 100,000 non-jihadist websites and blogsites: easynash(2007).