Saturday, October 11, 2008

Confessions of an Arab Middle East Commentator

A rare and very welcome confession on the part of a political commentator:  
...  I discovered that the views I hold so dearly, both as an academic and political analyst, do not always match what I say or write. The gap between the two is disconcerting for someone who values integrity as much as I do, and it may lead to dire conclusions. Perhaps I am not the only one among Arab scholars who has experienced this dilemma. We all aspire to offer the best analysis we can, but it is hard sometimes to challenge the basic premises of an entire people.
I also noticed that I tend all too often to play to the audience, rather than say the right -- and perhaps offensive -- things. You go on television or sit down to write an article with the best of intentions. Then, somewhere along the line, you tone your words down, and thus dilute your own argument.
How many commentators will admit that they aren't writing and saying what they think? The issues he examines are very important and the approach is a breath of fresh air. Hamzawi has taken a bold step away from the America bashing and mindless recitation of slogans that often characterize Middle East commentary and give it that "authentic Middle Eastern aroma" (or stench).
Ami Isseroff
Mea culpa
It is too easy to demonise the West, writes Amr Hamzawi*
Al-Ahram 9 - 15 October 2008
In the course of a personal crisis I grappled with over the past few weeks, I found myself re-examining my career as a public commentator and researcher. The soul-searching brought some pertinent results which, unpleasant as they are, I deem worthy of public discussion.
For starters, I discovered that the views I hold so dearly, both as an academic and political analyst, do not always match what I say or write. The gap between the two is disconcerting for someone who values integrity as much as I do, and it may lead to dire conclusions. Perhaps I am not the only one among Arab scholars who has experienced this dilemma. We all aspire to offer the best analysis we can, but it is hard sometimes to challenge the basic premises of an entire people.
Although the questions of democracy, pluralism, political freedom, and human rights in Arab societies have taken the best part of my intellectual and academic effort, I found my analysis was too focussed on a single question; namely, how non-violent opposition movements can generate enough pressure on governing elites to bring about democracy, the rotation of power, competitive elections, citizen participation, and all the rest.
One thing I failed to examine adequately was the nature of the opposition. Be they Islamic, liberal or leftist, our opposition groups have a disturbing block when it comes to introducing democracy in their own organisations. However loud they may denounce the repression of the ruling elites in public, they have little or no respect for democracy in their own backyard.
I had assumed, perhaps mistakenly, that the mere existence of non-violent opposition movements is a plus. I had assumed that having an opposition that is willing to speak out is a step towards democracy. I am starting to have second thoughts about that now. Something tells me that undemocratic opposition movements may not be exactly the best vessel for democratisation. Something tells me that opposition movements who pursue policies of exclusion can be a hindrance, however loudly they may speak for pluralism and the freedom of speech.
While focussing on opposition movements and their activism, I neglected other factors, especially the prevalence of tribal and clan affiliations in our part of the world. We have countries where national identity pales against ethnic, clan or sectarian loyalties. We have legislative and judiciary institutions that have a poor record of protecting citizen rights. With all these institutional shortcomings, perhaps my optimism about democratisation was unwarranted.
I also noticed that I tend all too often to play to the audience, rather than say the right -- and perhaps offensive -- things. You go on television or sit down to write an article with the best of intentions. Then, somewhere along the line, you tone your words down, and thus dilute your own argument.
I could never get myself to stress the importance of secularism as much as I wished to. I couldn't get myself to state flatly that it is a necessary condition for democratisation, pluralism and citizen equality. Instead, I used euphemisms, talked instead about the separation of state and church, and elaborated on civic responsibility, etc.
A commentator worth his salt would have spoken out for prisoners of conscience in our midst; I didn't. I had ample opportunity to speak of the many innocent people languishing to this day in Arab prisons, but I passed. Nor did I speak forcefully enough for the disempowered in our midst -- the women, the religious and ethnic minorities, or those whose personal life conflicts with tradition. I am pained by my silence on imprisoned Syrian intellectuals and activists and on the case of my friend Saadeddin Ibrahim, a man who has suffered much and unjustly.
My commitment to democratisation, however unshakable, didn't stop me from playing to the audience. It takes some courage to speak out against the powers that be. It takes even more courage to speak out against the commonly held views of the public. This is why I straddled the fence on secularism. In the process, my analysis became muddled.
I often said things on television that I knew played to the demagogic views of the Arab public. Even when I had my doubts, I found it comforting -- or safer -- to go with the flow. It was easy to denounce the West, malign US and European involvement, even to the point of reducing their entire policy to being one narrow-minded ambition. I did so even when I knew better. I have talked extensively with decision-makers in Western capitals. And I have seen certain willingness for fair debate on Arab matters and democracy, and yet it is easier to speak in terms of black and white.
I also discounted the willingness of some Arab elites to improve economic, social and political conditions in their countries. Even when some elites were sincere in their gradual quest to modernise Arab institutions, I failed to give them credit.
It is prudent to question the sincerity of democratisation in countries such as Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan and Yemen. But Morocco, Iraq and Kuwait may be on to something, and one should keep an open mind about them for now.
I am not offering this as an exercise in professional self-flagellation. I simply believe that certain errors that come with the job of being a commentator or researchers are only too easy to make. So I only hope that an admission of guilt would bring a breath of fresh air into what could otherwise be a vacuum of ill- advised commentary.
* The writer is senior associate at the Carnegie Endownment for International Peace

Middle East Muslims: US Crash is wrath of Allah

A Hamas spokesperson was more more explicit earlier, blaming the problem on the Jews. It must've been the Jews who jacked up the price of oil to $145 a barrel, right?
Last update - 17:06 11/10/2008       
Mideast Muslims: U.S. Financial crisis is divine punishment
By The Associated Press
We are witnessing the collapse of the American Empire," Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister in the Gaza Strip, told worshippers during Friday prayers. "What's going on in America is a result of the violation of the rights of people in Palestine, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan and Muslims around the world."
Haniyeh's comments followed those made by other regional leaders who have long had an antagonistic relationship with the U.S. and appear to be enjoying the country's troubles.
However, the financial meltdown has not left the region unscathed, with stock markets across the Middle East dropping more than 10 percent in the past week.
In an interview on Tuesday, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad described America's problems as a matter of chickens coming home to roost after years of exporting inflation and deficits to the rest of the world.
"Now the world capacity is full and these problems have returned to the U.S.," he said, adding "and finally they are oppressors, and systems based on oppression and unrighteous positions will not endure."
Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati, a high level Iranian cleric, was blunter when he addressed worshippers on Oct. 3, describing the situation as God's punishment.
"We are happy that the U.S. economy is in anarchy and the anarchy is reaching Europe," said Jannati. "They are seeing the result of their own ugly doings and God is punishing them."
The Iranian government has said the financial crisis is not hurting Iran's economy. But the turmoil has helped drive the price of oil down more than 40 percent since record highs in July. The Iranian government relies on oil revenue for 80 percent of its budget.
Al-Qaida, America's arch-nemesis in the region, was one of the first to express satisfaction over the financial crisis in a half hour video message earlier in the month.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Saudi op-ed protests against anti-Mickey Mouse crusade

This is not really about a mouse. It is about freedom:
This kind of hasty judgment reminds us that what we really miss in Saudi Arabia is the ability to discuss matters, and to have the right to disagree if we think differently on issues being discussed.
Amen brother!
Ami Isseroff
Death to Mickey Mouse!
Abeer Mishkhas |  

A sheikh was recently on Al-Majd TV and spoke in great detail about rats. He went on and on about how bad rats and mice are, listing all the benefits gained by eliminating them. I don't know how informative that section of the sheikh's talk was but I am sure most people who were watching the program were either not listening or shaking their heads in disbelief. But the talk did not end with any obvious statements of harm caused by rats and mice; the sheikh continued by denouncing the fact that children these days are not getting the message about mice and rats because they have been influenced by Western cartoons that represent mice as funny and clever. Think Tom and Jerry and Mickey Mouse. To conclude and drive his point home he said, "They like Mickey Mouse whereas in reality Mickey Mouse should be killed." Thus ended the talk, and although it was as absurd as can be, it seems that such talks have become a normal thing on TV these days. As satellite channels proliferate, they pack their broadcasts with as much as they can of what they feel will attract viewers and religious programs are sure winners, especially in Ramadan.

The problem lies not only with the channels. Many of the programs often depend on people's calls and questions. Those questions can vary from asking for advice about a religious duty to asking the sheikh's opinion on any subject under the sun - hence the mouse question. On a panel of women scholars on an Egyptian channel last week, one of the interesting things the three women agreed upon was that some people ask for scholars' opinions on almost anything, whether it is a worthy matter or just a mundane everyday triviality. I have to say that those women's opinions were refreshing. They wanted people to stick to major, sensible and important issues. Which brings us back to the death sentence against Mickey Mouse.

This was not the first - and will not be the last - of verdicts that will make us question the person who issues it, or the stream of religious verdicts that almost everyone comes up with everyday and which have to be countered with questions, debates and discussions. We cannot just sit and listen and accept anything. When people hear these opinions, they rightly ask and question and criticize if need be. That is what reason dictates and it in no way contradicts faith. But this is not what a prominent Saudi scholar said last week. He actually demanded that journalists and writers who criticize or object to prominent Saudi scholars' pronouncements and fatwas be punished, and eventually sacked from their jobs. The punishment he asks for ranges from lashes to long imprisonment to firing them from their jobs.

I certainly understand that if a writer has insulted or lied about a sheikh or any other person, he must face the legal consequences of his actions. The offended party has the right to sue the offender and this is how it should be. But what the sheikh has asked for is simple punishment for even criticizing and questioning the opinions of religious scholars. With all due respect to the sheikh, I beg to differ. Criticism and debate does not mean that writers are crossing any lines; writers and journalists are citizens and are affected - like everyone else - by religious discourse, and if they choose to discuss a religious issue, or differ with a scholar that does not warrant that they be lashed, imprisoned or lose their jobs.

This kind of hasty judgment reminds us that what we really miss in Saudi Arabia is the ability to discuss matters, and to have the right to disagree if we think differently on issues being discussed. And as a reminder we mention a small incident from Islamic history. When the second caliph, Omar, said in one of his sermons that women should not ask for high dowries, a woman who was present raised her voice and disagreed with him and provided proof from the Qur'an in support of women's rights for dowries. What did Omar do? He acknowledged his mistake in front of everyone. Just a reminder!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Iran: More than words are needed

According to Ha'aretz:
Obama threatens dire consequences if Iran doesn't change ways
By Haaretz Service and News Agencies
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Barack Obama told an audience at the second U.S. presidential debate on Tuesday that he would deliver a tough and direct message to Iran that if they did not change their behavior there would be dire consequences.
Obama's opponent, Republican John McCain, reiterated that he would never allow a second Holocaust to take place, referring to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's threats to "wipe Israel off the map." The Republican candidate also repeated his criticism of Obama's willingness to hold direct negotiations with the Islamic republic, without preconditions.
Americans have funny notions about the world. Right after World War II, Harry S. Truman met Vyachselav Mototov and "gave him hell" over Soviet actions in virtually annexing Poland. Truman was evidently very surprised that his lecture did no good.  More than words is needed when dealing with such regimes.
Ami Isseroff

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Hamas: Jews caused financial crisis

The Hamas financial expert explained it all:
The Hamas militant group on Tuesday accused the United States Jewish Lobby for fomenting the global financial crisis.
The crisis was the result of "bad administrative and financial management and a bad banking system put into place and controlled by the Jewish lobby," Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhum said in a statement.
Barhum said that despite approving a bailout plan of $700 billion dollars, the U.S. government was ignoring the role of "the Jewish lobby that put the U.S. banking and financial sector into place."
This lobby, said Barhum, "controls the U.S. elections and defines the foreign policy of any new administration in a manner that allows it to retain control of the American government and economy."
If only the US had stuck to Sharia financing, this would never have happened, and the US would have a nice flourishing economy like that of Sudan or Yemen. There!  We knew it was the fault of the Jews, right?  And Snoopy the Goon exposed the Jewish - Iranian conspiracy, which is the real reason for the crash.   
Bravo for the moderate Hamas.
Ami Isseroff  

The looming depression - Can the West be saved by the Gulf States?

Are Gulf states going to save the West? Their investments invited hysterical headlines about Arabs buying out America, but now their intervention may be helpful. They may have to invest, in order to protect their own investments.
Over the past year the hike in oil prices has aroused concern among many in the United States about the potential geopolitical implications of the increased economic clout of the Gulf states. The decision by the Gulf states to diversify their foreign assets and to use billions of petrodollars to buy Western stocks in various corporations and particularly in banks raised the concern that a foreign foothold in the large financial institutions and conglomerates is liable to become a means of political leverage. This concern led to the formulation of various regulations in the United States and several European countries to strengthen oversight of the activities of the foreign sovereign wealth funds.

            The public debate on the political effects of sovereign wealth funds from the Gulf that have become leading players in the capital markets would likely have received additional urgency were one of them to have bought a large chunk of stock in Lehman Brothers in an attempt to save it from collapse. In fact no such acquisition occurred, and judging from statements by fund managers from the Gulf, we will not be witness to moves similar to the ones that took place at the end of 2007 and in the first quarter of 2008, when capital funds and investment authorities in the Gulf injected more than $11 billion into Citi, Merrill Lynch, and UBS.

            Managers of sovereign wealth funds from the Gulf have declared that at present they are not interested in investing in the crisis-stricken American financial institutions. Indeed, it is not hard to comprehend why the Gulf governments have lost their enthusiasm for being the lender of last resort for a crumbling financial system. The drops in stock indices on the Gulf stock exchanges, the concern about a real crisis causing a worldwide decrease in oil demand, and certainly the losses incurred by the Gulf sovereign wealth funds as a result of their investments in financial institutions whose value dropped by dozens of percentage points have all amplified local criticism of the investment policies of the Gulf states over the last two years. The presidents of some of the large Gulf corporations have been wondering out loud why the very funds that hurried to supply liquidity to the American financial market are now dragging their feet in intervening in a significant way in local stock trading, at a time when the market needs liquidity and the indices are falling.

            This criticism may well affect the investment policies of the sovereign wealth funds, which are indeed likely to increase their involvement in local trade in the coming days, and in the long term, decide to allocate larger sources for investment in the local economy. Nonetheless, it would be a mistake to claim that the wealth funds in the Gulf are liable to lose their status as key players on the world markets. On the contrary, the financial system's thirst for liquidity may in fact increase their involvement.

            While oil prices have plummeted from their July high, the price of a barrel of oil is still much higher than the average price in the years 2002-2007, when the Gulf Cooperation Council members (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Oman, Bahrain, and Qatar) increased their foreign assets by about 100 percent. However, even if the cost of oil drops by over 50 percent and is traded at under $50 per barrel, the Gulf states will continue to record surpluses in their current accounts, and will be able to direct billions of dollars towards increasing their foreign holdings.

            Because the sovereign wealth funds do not boast transparent management, it is impossible to know precisely how much money they manage. Most estimates by financial experts in the know put foreign assets in the hands of GCC members at about $2 trillion before the outbreak of the current crisis. This sum – among other assets – includes United States government bonds held by the central banks, as well as a string of financial assets with a higher risk premium managed separately by the government wealth funds.

            The anticipated difficulty of Western corporations suffering from the crisis in getting credit from the banks and the difficulty of raising money on the capital markets are likely to increase the wooing by companies throughout the world of Gulf wealth funds. Indications of this have been evident for some months now; certain multinationals, such as General Electric and Siemens, announced the launch of joint ventures with Gulf states, financed in part by capital held by government funds.

            Private institutions will be forced to compete for capital from the Gulf with the United States government, which needs to find sources for the $700 billion allotted for the emergency bailout package. Even before the crisis, senior members of the American administration made significant diplomatic efforts to ensure that the Gulf states remain interested in acquiring American government bonds and have no intention of surprising the United States with a unilateral announcement that the local currencies will no longer be linked to the dollar. These efforts will go into higher gear in the coming months.

            Last week some fund managers from the Gulf, when asked if they intend to acquire stock in financial institutions in the near future, noted that the hostility and suspicion encountered by their most recent investments in the financial sector curbed their appetite for investing in the West. The concern about legislation that might affect the ability of government funds to invest freely in the various markets is spurring interest in investment opportunities in the East. Nonetheless, the concern is not sufficiently grave to prevent them altogether from looking for good investments in the West, and it is indeed possible that in the near future investment opportunities will again stimulate their appetite for expanding their activities in the United States and Europe.

            Thus, one may assume that as in the past, in the coming months as well we will see many opinion pieces bearing headlines such as "Gulf Funds Buy the West," but certainly now the Gulf governments need not get worked up by such articles. Any attempt to curb or reduce their activity will be more difficult to execute because of the need for liquidity, and will run into vehement opposition on the part of the large corporations that will continue to be loyal advocates for the Gulf sovereign wealth funds.

            Many feel that deepening the economic interdependence between the West and Gulf states is the best insurance policy for continued political cooperation between the sides, because nations whose foreign asset values depend on economic performance in the US and Europe will not makes economic or political moves liable to undermine the stability of the West. Nonetheless, it is important to remember that this logic works both ways: the American administration's need to borrow money from the Gulf, and the political lobby that the Gulf is capable of building thanks to their foothold in influential corporations, is liable to reduce the American administration's room to maneuver when undertaking political moves not to the Gulf's liking.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Egyptian police stop Muslim Brotherhood aid convoy to gaza.

Dozens of activists from Egypt's radical opposition Islamist Muslim Brotherhood, were arrested Monday after attempting to send a supply convoy to the blockaded Gaza Strip, the organization and Egyptian security officials said. In a novel twist, the secular Kifaya (enough!) movement had joined forces with the Muslim Brotherhood, perhaps signalling that "liberal democratic" forces in Egypt are no longer so interested in peace with Israel.

Abdel-Fatah Rizq, who was coordinating the convoy for the extremist group, claimed police arrested at least 50 activists when they tried to gather at the Journalists' Syndicate in downtown Cairo before making the 200 mile (300 kilometer) journey across the Sinai desert to the border.

"Activists from all over the provinces were planning on joining the convoy on its way through the Sinai to Rafah crossing," said Rizq. The Muslim Brotherhood Website claimed that some activists, including parliament members, slipped through security to reach Rafah on the border.

Police stated that  three members of the Brotherhood were arrested at the Suez Canal Sunday night while trying to reach the border. Other opposition movements had joined the Muslim Brotherhood for their protest and convoy.  In Rafah, another 14 activists from the secular Kifaya movement were arrested while staging a protest.

Organizers decided to halt the convoy in hopes of negotiating the release of the detainees, said Mahmoud el-Khodairy, a convoy coordinator and retired judge.

Sympathy for the Palestinians blockaded in Gaza by Egypt and Israel runs high among Egyptians, and especially the opposition, which periodically attempts to send food and medicine convoys to the border, partly to embarrass the government for its role in the blockade. The Egyptian government prohibits protest against the government, but encourages extremist attacks on Israel and on Jews in government and semi-governmental media. The Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the murder of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, and are natural allies of the Hamas, which is essentially an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood.

President Hosni Mubarak stated that Egypt would not reopen the crossing as long as Hamas controls Gaza.

"We are still committed to the 2005 agreement," Mubarak was quoted as saying on Monday. He was referring to the agreement under which the Palestinian authority, Israel and EU monitors were supposed to supervise the Rafah crossing.

On Monday, authorities opened the crossing to let 67 Palestinians returning from the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia back into Gaza.

Hamas wrested control of Gaza in June 2007, prompting the blockade by Israel and Egypt and the withdrawal of European monitors. Hamas and sympathizers have spread horror stories about "Gaza under siege," but photos show shops full of merchandize in Gaza.

Public demonstrations, other than those organized by the government,  are not tolerated in Egypt. Thousands of riot police and plainclothes officers surrounded the streets around the syndicate and chased activists into nearby buildings. Several journalists were detained and their cameras were confiscated.

Ayatollah Jannati: U.S. Economic Woes 'Divine Punishment'

The Ayatollah forgot to mention 50% inflation in Iran last year...
October 3, 2008 No. 2070
Ayatollah Jannati In Iran Friday Sermon: U.S. Economic Woes 'Divine Punishment' – 'The Unhappier They [Americans] Become, The Happier We Get'; 'Americans Should Wait To Be Slapped In The Face By Islam, Muslims, And The Islamic Revolution'

In his October 3, 2008 Friday sermon at the Tehran University campus, Iranian Guardian Council secretary and interim Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said that Iran's enemies had targeted its economy, and that the U.S.'s economic crisis was "divine punishment" that had made Iranians very happy. Calling the U.S. presence on the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders a problem that "cannot be ignored." he said that Americans could expect to be "slapped in the face by Islam, Muslims, and the Islamic Revolution," and concluded his sermon by saying that since the U.S. invaded Afghanistan, "drugs are being produced and distributed under U.S. supervision." [1]

Jannati: Iran Enemy Tactics Target Iranian Economy, Pit Sunnis Against Shi'ites, Undermine Iranian Officials

According to a report by the official Iranian news agency IRNA, Interim Tehran Friday prayer leader Ayatollah Ahmad Jannati said today in his sermon that Iran's enemies have targeted its economy in vain hopes of countering the Islamic Republic.

IRNA said that Jannati told worshipers at the Tehran University campus that the enemies are bent on fanning economic crisis and problems, in a bid to confront Iran. He said that other enemy tactics included dividing Shi'ites and Sunnis and pitting Sunnis against Sunnis or Shi'ites against Shi'ites, and added that this policy is being pursued mostly in Iran and Iraq but also in other Muslim states.

Another enemy strategy, Jannati said, was distorting the image of Iranian officials. "They wish to undermine those who are backing the public and are trusted by them."

"We Are Happy That The U.S. Economy Has Come Across Difficulty... The Unhappier They Become, The Happier We Get"

Of the U.S.'s recent economic woes, Jannati said, "We are happy that the U.S. economy has come across difficulty. They are attesting unfavorable consequences of their conducts. They are experiencing divine punishment. We are happy over that. The unhappier they become, the happier we get, as they become happy as we get unhappy."

"Americans Should Wait To Be Slapped In The Face By Islam, Muslims, And The Islamic Revolution"

Jannati called the U.S. presence on the Afghanistan and Pakistan borders a problem that "cannot be ignored," saying, "They invade forcefully, refuse to observe any boundary, and are not committed to anything. They attack anywhere they wish; they kill anybody they want and consider anywhere as their property. Americans should wait to be slapped in the face by Islam, Muslims, and the Islamic Revolution."

In another part of his speech, Ayatollah Jannati hailed Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for his recent successful visit to the U.S. and speech at the U.N. General Assembly. "Anybody bravely raising the Islamic Republic and Revolutionary stances at the U.N. authoritatively and proudly, naming God, reciting the Koran, and citing the things that nobody dares to cite is worth admiration," he added.

He said that Ahmadinejad's announcement of support for the oppressed and for trying the U.S. for injustices it has committed, as well as his outlining if Iran's clear stances on Israel, are valuable subjects which deserve to be set as a precedent. He added that "Iranian ambassadors should honor the stance anywhere and should not show any weakness."

"Drugs Are Being Produced And Distributed Under U.S. Supervision"

To end his sermon, Ayatollah Jannati said that since the occupation of Afghanistan by the U.S., poppy cultivation has increased several times over, and drugs are being produced and distributed under U.S. supervision.

[1] IRNA (Iran), October 3, 2008.

Fatwa Watch: Fatwa prohibiting voting for a Chistian Candidate in Sudan

The question is, whether people will follow the Fatwa or the columnist.
 October 6, 2008 No. 2072
Sudanese Columnist Criticizes Fatwa Prohibiting Voting for a Christian Candidate

The unprecedented nomination of a Christian candidate for Sudan's presidential election, by the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, a party representing the former southern Sudan rebels, has caused public upheaval, and sparked numerous reactions in the Sudanese press.

In response to the party's nomination of its chairman Salva Kiir Miardit, the Sudanese daily
Al-Watan published a fatwa by Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hassan forbidding Muslims from voting for a non-Muslim candidate in any election, whether local or general.(1) In the Sudanese daily Al-Sahafa, columnist 'Omar Al-Qarai criticized the fatwa, as well as how the Sudanese ruling party exploits religion for political purposes.(2)

Following are excerpts from Al-Qarai's column:

"No One Has Noticed the Speciousness Of This Fatwa"

"The fatwa… [issued] by a religious scholar known from his appearances in the media, which bans a Muslim from voting for a non-Muslim in elections, has caused turmoil in the streets of Sudan. The reason for this is not [the ban's] religious import, but its political implications, and also [the fact that] its publication was timed, for propaganda purposes, to precede the upcoming elections.

"However, no one has noticed the speciousness of this fatwa. As a consequence of the 2005 peace agreement [between the government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement], the Muslims in the North, including the sheikh who authored the fatwa, agreed that a non-Muslim should be appointed vice-president of the republic… This non-Muslim would bear responsibility at the highest level for the country and its residents, and in particular, for the Ministry of Religious Endowment, which appoints the imam preachers who issue such bizarre fatwas.

"If Islam does not allow voting for a non-Muslim to promote him to a position of power, why does it allow a non-Muslim to become a ruler without being voted in? Why does this sheikh speak to us about voting but fail to discuss the Islamic view of propitiating non-Muslims and accepting them as rulers over the Muslims?

"[Is it conceivable that] the author of this fatwa, and his superiors in the Ministry of Religious Affairs and in the Ministry of Religious Endowment, would obey this non-Muslim ruler and accept his authority, and then forbid us to vote for him?"

"The Fatwa Presupposes That... Justice, Loyalty, Honesty, Wisdom, Expertise, and [a Work Ethic] Cannot Be Found in a Non-Muslim... This Contradicts Our Practical Experience"

"According to the correct religious knowledge, which is based on the basic principles of Islam, this fatwa is a priori invalid; it clearly shows this mufti's ignorance of the veracity of religion and of the times in which we live. The fatwa's lack of validity stems from its premises, which are false both intellectually and traditionally. Indeed, the fatwa presupposes that the qualities of justice, loyalty, honesty, wisdom, expertise, and [work ethic] cannot be found in a non-Muslim. Consequently, he cannot be elected to conduct our affairs, nor can we accept his authority. This contradicts our practical experience, which shows that many non-Muslims are better qualified for [such positions] than Muslims, whether from a professional or ethical standpoint…

"When at the turn of the past century Imam Muhammad 'Abduh visited Britain, he made a famous remark: "In England, I found Islam but not Muslims, while in Egypt, I found Muslims but no Islam!" It is in non-Muslim countries, rather than in Muslim states, that 'Abduh found the characteristics of justice, loyalty, honesty, and responsibility, which justify the allocation of public offices to individuals…

"In Sudan, our brief experience with the national unity government(3) has shown that the government of southern Sudan has dealt with corruption, by investigating the incidents, meting out punishment to parties involved, and even firing several senior officials and appointing others in their place.

"As for the government of northern Sudan, although it is aware of corruption [in its midst], based on reports by the state comptroller, we have not heard of a single senior official who has been fired or tried on this charge. If so, which side is it proper for a citizen to vote for, if he wants a functional administration that acts for the good of the country, [disregarding] narrow personal interests?"

"Islamic Law… Permits Accepting Assistance from Non-Muslims in Performing Tasks For Which They Are More Qualified than Muslims"

"Perhaps this sheikh mufti is not familiar with, or does not accept, the Islamic knowledge that is rooted in basic principles. However, Islamic law [i.e. shari'a], compiled and interpreted by our ancestors in their books… permits accepting assistance from non-Muslims in performing tasks for which they are more qualified than Muslims.

"Our ancestors presented evidence to this effect from the [life of the] Prophet: When he and Abu-Bakr traveled from Mecca to Medina, they sought help from a polytheist who was expert in navigation.

"In the Islamic state, there were writers, accountants, and treasurers of Zoroastrian, Christian, or Jewish origin. If at that time, [people] had had to be voted in to these positions, the honest Muslims of early [generations] would have voted for capable non-Muslims, since they would have recognized their qualifications and trusted their loyalty and [moral] character."

This Fatwa "Has Nothing Whatsoever to Do With Islam – Rather, It Is One of the Pillars Supporting the Election Strategy"

"This ill-advised fatwa has nothing whatsoever to do with Islam. Rather, it is one of the pillars supporting the election strategy of the National Congress [Party, headed by Sudanese President 'Omar Al-Bashir]. With the approach of election day, we will probably hear of more fatwas of this kind, which exploit the religions feeling of several foolish citizens in order to sell them the National Congress Party's worthless wares.

"In the past, mosques have been taken advantage of by this party in the worst possible manner for propaganda purposes, with both subtle and direct appeals being made to the worshippers to vote for its representatives. [The preachers] linked support for the National Congress with a war for the sake of Allah, warning time and again that whoever did not vote for it was doomed to burn in Hell!...

"A religiously motivated internecine war is a dangerous weapon, which has divided many a country [in the past], and will divide Sudan [as well], if wise people fail to expunge religious extremism from the political process…"

(1) Al-Watan (Sudan), August 20, 2008.
(2) Al-Sahafa (Sudan), August 24, 2008.
(3) Following the signing of a peace agreement between the rebels of southern Sudan and the government, a national unity government was formed, incorporating the National Congress Party and Sudan's People's Liberation movement.

Passing the buck: NATO Chief implies NATO won't stop Iran nukes.

According to a Reuters Report:
NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer said on Monday he was not certain the world can stop Iran from building a nuclear bomb.
Scheffer told a conference in southeast France that NATO did not have a direct role to play in the issue, but said he was worried that the United Nations had failed to curb Iran's nuclear ambitions.
"It is a major challenge to prevent Iran from continuing to strive to get the bomb," Scheffer told a World Policy Conference organized by France's IFRI foreign affairs think tank.
"I am not positive about the world being able to stop Iran from fulfilling its ambitions," he added.
Iran says its uranium-enrichment program is only for electricity generation, but is under United Nations' sanctions over past undeclared activity and its failure to prove its intentions are wholly peaceful.
The UN Security Council last month again ordered Iran to "comply fully and without delay" to demands it stop enrichment, but failed to introduce any new sanctions as sought by the United States and its Western European allies.
"My concern is that the Security Council, as we speak, is rather incapable of coming to further conclusions on further sanctions," Scheffer said.
"not posstive" about the world being able to stop Iran is an understatement. But what is missing is not ability, but will.
Why doesn't NATO have a "direct role" to play? Why is everyone passing the buck?
Ami isseroff

Fatwa: Saudi women must cover one eye

Sheikh says women's modesty laws not stringent enough, revelation of both eyes causes 'corrupt behavior, conflicts with Islamic principles'
Smadar Peri
Published:  10.06.08, 13:57 / Israel News
A new prohibition may be added to the long list of those placed on women in Saudi Arabia: A new sentence according to Islamic law (fatwa) determines that women exiting the doorways of their homes must cover one of their eyes.
The array of prohibitions currently placed upon Saudi women includes forbiddance to leave home without a familial "patron," fraternize with men in public, drive a car, put makeup on and wear high heels.
The modesty squad on the streets of Saudi Arabia follows women whose abaya (long cloak) is too tight and likely to reveal their curves or those whose hair is visible through their veils.
A senior religious cleric in the country, Sheikh Muhammad al-Habadan demands that the rules of modesty be further enhanced.
In the new Islamic legal sentence, al-Habadan announced that when leaving their homes, women must keep only one eye revealed.
According to the sheikh, "revelation of both eyes behind the veil is likely to encourage women to put make-up on and accentuate their eyes. This is corrupt behavior which conflicts with Islamic principles."
So, how will the women conduct their daily lives with one eye?
According to al-Habadan, "when a woman goes out into the street or to a public place she will wear a veil and cover one eye with a piece of cloth.

"When she goes shopping and wants to assess a product, she will completely remove the piece of cloth and will be able to use both eyes for a limited amount of time."
In the United Nation's annual report on the state of women in the Arab world, over the past five years, Saudi women have been ranked as the most deprived and devoid of rights in Muslim society.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Trial of moderate Muslim in Bangladesh goes on

Bangladesh journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury is  on trial for his life, essentially because he spoke out against radical Islam. He was caught trying to travel to Israel, an "enemy" state. This "offence" carries a maximum jail sentence of six months. But Bangladesh radicals cooked up a stew of charges against him including treason and a court system sympathetic to the radicals has dragged the trial on for almost 5 years. The nature of the "trial" and the justice he is likely to get in Bangladesh is illustrated by the latest episode in Kafkaesque Bangladesh justice.
Ami Isseroff
Dhaka: October 5, 2008

Officer in Charge in Bangladesh Police and plaintiff and investigation officer in the Sedition, Treason and Blasphemy charges brought against Bangladeshi journalist Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, Mohammed Abdul Hanif told the court of Metropolitan Session Judge, Mohammed Azizul Huq that Israel is an enemy state of Bangladesh.

Abdul Hanif was cross examined on Sunday by the counsel of Mr. Salah Uddin Shoaib Choudhury, senior advocate of Bangladesh Supreme Court, Advocate Samarendra Nath Goswami, who is also the Secretary General of Bangladesh Minority Lawyer's Association [BMLA].

Counsel for Mr. Choudhury informed the court that, after arresting him on November 29 2003, he took him on remand and tortured him mercilessly and conspired to kill him in extra judicial killing. Once failed in this attempt he [Hanif] sent Shoaib Choudhury in the Cell 14 in Dhaka Central Jail [which is for mentally insane people and conspired to get him killed by the mentally insane people. Then he [Shoaib] was sent to Cell # 15, which is for hardened criminals where Hanif once again tried to get him killed through hired hooligans.

Mohammed Abdul Hanif has been assigned by the Bangladeshi government to be the plaintiff as well the investigation officer in the case, which is very irregular.