10 Years After 9/11

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite Mistreatment, Muslims Still Loyal to USA

10th Anniversary of 9/11 and Muslim Americans: the Need for a New Narrative

By John L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

cultureclashmuslimWhile post-9/11 resulted in necessary Western government responses to counter international and domestic terrorism, this tragic event has been widely exploited by far-right neocons, hardline Christian Zionist Right and xenophobic forces. Islam and mainstream Muslims have been brush-stroked with “terrorism,” equated with the actions of a fraction of violent extremists. Major polls by Gallup, PEW and others reported the extent to which many Americans and Europeans had and have a problem not only with terrorists but also with Islam and all Muslims.
Islamophobia grew exponentially, as witnessed in America’s 2008 presidential and 2010 congressional elections, Park 51 and post-Park 51 anti-mosque and so-called anti-Shariah campaigns, as well as increased hate speech and violence. The massacre in Norway is a tragic signal of this metastasizing social cancer. Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500-page manifesto confirmed the influence of the hate speech spread by American anti-Muslim (Islamophobic) leaders, organizations and websites.

It is truly time for a new narrative, one that is informed by facts, and that is data-driven, to replace the shrill voices of militant Muslim bashers and opportunistic politicians chasing funds and votes.

Key findings from the recently released Abu Dhabi Gallup Report, Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future, offer data that provide a good starting point — a very different picture of Muslims in America today.

Far from the image of a fifth column of foreign, terrorist sympathizers and shariah-imposing boogeymen, data indicates that Muslim Americans are actually among the most integrated, optimistic, thriving, and loyal citizens of this country. Astonishingly, despite the hate speech, discrimination and erosion of their civil liberties, American Muslims remain optimistic about their status and future in America. Muslim Americans report being better off and more optimistic in 2011 than they were in 2008. Their life evaluation ratings have increased more than any other American religious group: 60% are thriving in 2011, up 19 percentage points from 2008. They are also more hopeful about their future than any other major religious group. They rate their lives in 5 years at 8.4 on a scale of 0 to 10, compared with 7.4 to 8.0 among other major religious groups and are more likely to see their standard of living getting better in 2011 (64%) than they were in 2008 (46%).

More than other groups, Muslim Americans believe the economy in 2011 vs. 2008 has improved more than that of other groups. They tend to vote Democrat and are happier with the political climate since the election of Obama (8 in 10 Muslim Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, the highest of any other major religious group).

In contrast to their critics who question their loyalty and charge that Muslim Americans do not reject terrorism, Muslim Americans (78%) are most likely to reject violent military attacks on civilians and are most likely (89%) to reject violent individual attacks on civilians versus other major U.S. religious groups. 92% say Muslims living in this country have no sympathy for Al Qaeda.

Yet, despite data that indicates Muslim Americans are loyal to the U.S., 10 years after 9/11 significant minorities of their fellow citizens continue to question their loyalty. Thus, while 93% of Muslim Americans believe they are loyal to America, 80% of Jews, 59% of Catholics, and 56% of Protestants believe this to be the case. Not surprisingly, 60% of Muslim Americans believe that most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslims and data shows that roughly half (between 47%-66%) among other religious groups agree. 48% of Muslims (by far the highest of any other group) say they have personally experienced religious or racial discrimination in the past year.

At the same time, 57% percent of Muslim Americans have confidence in the honesty of elections, the highest of all other major U.S. religious groups, and are among the most open group to other faith communities, with 44% classified as “integrated,” 48% as “tolerant,” and only 8% as “isolated.” For many, one of the most astonishing findings of the Gallup poll may well be the common ground that Muslims share with Jewish Americans in their political and social views. After Muslim Americans themselves (93%), Jewish Americans (80%) are more likely than Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons (59% or less) to see U.S. Muslims as loyal to America. They say that there is prejudice toward U.S.

Muslims in higher numbers (66%) than do Muslims (60%). Jews (74%) and Muslims (83%) in America are the most likely to say the Iraq war was a “mistake.” And perhaps most surprising, a substantial majority of Jewish Americans (78%) and Muslim Americans (81%) support a future in which an independent Palestinian state would coexist alongside of Israel. (DG: ????)

This September 11th provides an opportunity to remember the past but also to recognize that truth is stranger than fiction, the fiction constructed by preachers of hate whose fear-mongering has infected our popular culture and society. Now is the time to reassess and rebuild our national unity on the facts.

Posted at The Huffington Post: August 16, 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-l-esposito/the-10th-anniversary-of-9_b_928683.html

13-37

Analysis: Syria Neighbors Fear Future Without Assad Family

April 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Samia Nakhoul

BEIRUT (Reuters) – From Israel to Iran, Syria’s neighbors are starting to contemplate the possibility of a future without the Assad family as Lords of Damascus, and, whether friends or foes, some don’t like what they see.

Indeed, some are in denial about what they are witnessing.

Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi’ite movement widely seen as an Iranian proxy in the Middle East, purports to believe the government of President Bashar al-Assad is putting down an insurrection by armed gangs of Salafi or Sunni Muslim fanatics.

In its report of the Syrian army’s assault on the southern city of Deraa, epicenter of the revolt which began last month, Al Manar, Hezbollah’s television, stuck to the official version that the army responded to citizens’ pleas to put an end to “killings and terrorizing operations by extremist groups.”

Hezbollah greeted with glee uprisings that overthrew dictatorships in Tunisia and Egypt and championed the rights of Bahraini protesters against Saudi military intervention to quash Shi’ite demonstrations.

But it is distinctly unenthusiastic about the risk of losing the support of a Syrian government which is not only its main protector but the conduit for arms supplies from Iran.

Tehran, which regards Syria as a close ally in a mainly Sunni-dominated region suspicious of non-Arab Shi’ite Iran, has called the revolt in Syria “a Zionist plot.”

Yet Israel too seems deeply uneasy about any change in the status quo.

Although they are still formally at war, Syria under the current president and his late father, Hafez al-Assad, has maintained a stable border with the Jewish state since 1973 even though Israel still occupies the Golan Heights.

Fear of Islamists

Israel’s fear — voiced more openly by commentators plugged in to its security establishment than by politicians — is that a successful uprising might replace firm Baath party rule with a more radical government, or one less able or willing to keep radical forces on a leash.

Although Assad sponsors Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon and Palestinian militant groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad, he has played a cautious hand.

Behind the strident Arabist rhetoric and ties with Tehran he has kept the option of peace with Israel in play and sought acceptance by Western powers.

“The implications are enormous and totally unpredictable,” said Lebanon-based Middle East analyst Rami Khouri.

“What makes Syria distinctive is that the regime and the system have close structural links with every conflict or player in the region: Hezbollah, Hamas, Iran, Lebanon, Israel, America, Iraq, Turkey. In all these (cases) there is a Syrian link.”

Demonstrations have spread across the country and grown in intensity, he said, and protesters who began calling for reform of the system were now demanding “the overthrow of the regime.”

At the back of many minds is the experience of Iraq, plunged into years of chaos and sectarian savagery after the US-led invasion in 2003 and removal of Saddam Hussein.

“Everybody in the region is concerned about the destabilization of Syria, even those who don’t like Assad, because there is one thing he brings to the region: a certain kind of predictability and stability,” Khouri said.

“He maintained the truce along the Syrian-Israeli border, people know how his government behaves. Nobody knows what will happen afterwards.”

Alex Fishman, a military affairs journalist for Israel’s best-selling daily Yedioth Ahronoth, summed up Israeli apprehension after the Syrian army stormed into Deraa.

“However odd it may sound, the Israeli establishment has a certain sentiment for the Assad family. They kept their promises throughout the years and even talked about an arrangement with Israel on their terms,” he wrote.

“It’s hard to part with a comfortable old slipper, but the top members of the political and security establishment believe that the Syrian regime, in its current format, will change within weeks or months,” Fishman said.

He added: “The sole interest guiding Israel’s conduct is: if what is happening in Syria will ultimately weaken the Damascus-Iran-Hezbollah axis — we’ll come out ahead.”

For Hezbollah and Iran, losing Assad would certainly be a big blow.

“If it (Syria) splits into mini-satellite states that will be bad news for everybody,” Khouri said, suggesting that as in Iraq this might provide an opening for al Qaeda militants.

Across the border in Lebanon, arena of a sectarian civil war in 1975-90 that sucked in regional and world powers and left Syria in control for 29 years, people are also worried.

Any prospect of a new sharpening of tensions between Sunnis and Shi’ites, Arabs and Kurds, or Christians and Muslims, all simmering across the region after being brought to the boil by Iraq, produces shudders.

“I don’t think any wise man is not worried about what happens in Syria because it is a neighbor,” said Talal Salman, editor of Beirut’s daily as-Safir.

“Any earthquake in Syria will shake Lebanon with its fragile make-up. Syria’s stability is in our interest.”

For now, Assad has decided to follow in the footsteps of his father and resort to military force, not reform, to put down the protests at a cost so far of more than 400 lives, according to human rights groups.

Monday’s deployment of tanks in Deraa looks like an indicator of what is to come. A source close to the Syrian military said Assad and his security establishment had taken a decision to wage war on protesters across the country.

But Ali al-Atassi, a prominent Syrian activist whose father was a former president jailed for 22 years by the elder Assad, said “another Hama” was impossible.

In 1982, Hafez al-Assad sent in the army to crush an armed lslamist uprising, killing of up to 30,000 people.

“Syria has reached a turning point. It cannot go back to where it was,” said Atassi.

He said the Western habit of accommodating dictatorships in return for stability was no longer valid.

“In Tunis, Egypt and elsewhere for years, Arab leaders and the West gave the Arab people a binary choice: stability or chaos; despotism or Islamism.

“After what happened in Tunis and Egypt, we discovered that there is a third option which is the democratic way. Sure, the Islamists will play a role in it, but they will not have the leading role,” Atassi said.

While many analysts argue that life after Assad would be hazardous or that he may prove impossible to remove, others say a relatively smooth transition is imaginable over time because Damascus has institutions that can shoulder responsibility.

They include the army, whose backbone is Sunni although key posts are controlled by members of Assad’s Alawite minority.

What most observers now dismiss is the possibility of reforms substantial enough to meet popular demands.

Even if Assad wanted to enact wide-scale reforms, they argue, he lacks the power to prevail over entrenched interests in the security forces and military intelligence.

“He is the prisoner of a certain structure and at the same time part of it,” Atassi said.

“The next 2-3 weeks are really critical. They will determine whether he will remain in power or whether his regime will collapse,” Khouri told Reuters.

(editing by Paul Taylor)

13-18

Upgrade: Islamic Finance 2.0

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Gulfnews.com

sharia_finance_dollar Future of Industry lies in move from sharia-compliant to sharia-based approach

Dubai : We are at an important crossroads in Islamic finance and banking, and I want to explore, in this column, the future of Islamic finance.

We hear about 1.5 billion Muslims, but has Islamic finance benefited the ‘man on the street?’ What is so ‘Islamic’ about Islamic finance?

Have we simply been putting an Islamic wrapper around conventional structures and products and placing a blessing them?

I’ve been in Islamic finance for more than a decade. This inaugural article will set the non-technical tone for the important areas I want to explore in the future, and I encourage the readers to comment as the Islamic finance community’s collective psyche, experience and insight will benefit the industry.

We in Islamic finance want to see a group blueprint of the industry going forward, including the building of two-way bridges — be it with South-east Asia or with Group of 20 (G20) countries.

Islamic finance is, at one level, for all those interested in “boring finance”, asset or project backed/based financing and non-turbo-charged investing (without derivatives and excessive leverage) in selected real economic sectors.

Islam does not necessarily have a monopoly on ethics because these are common shared values with other religions and philosophies. However, the former has ‘codified,’ via scholars, screens and structures into financial contracts having links to permissible real economic activities.

Sharia compliance

Among the 57 Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC) countries, not one Muslim country in the last 40 years has ‘Islamised’ its economy for general acceptance; not Sudan, Pakistan or Iran.

The $1 trillion (Dh3.67 trillion) industry operates in a world economy of inter-connected interest rates, debt and other similar factors, hence Sharia scholars have allowed a permissible amount of impurity as long as the industry moves towards removing such impermissibilities.

Put differently, scholars, as Sharia gatekeepers, are seeking progress and prosperity, which is different from modernisation. Thus the reference rates in Islamic mortgages, syndicated loans, sukuks and other financing are the efficient cost of capital credit of the London interbank offered rate (Libor) and/or the Treasury.
However, where is the industry with a methodology for an Islamic interbank offer rate (Ibor)?

There are over 555 Islamic funds with $35 billion (Dh129 billion) of assets under management, and, if we focus on Islamic equity funds, the question that comes to mind is this: ‘What is the link between a Sharia-screened company from any of the five index providers to Islamic finance or a Muslim country?’

The screening results in a universe that can be deemed as a style of investing — ‘non-financial, low debt social-ethical investing.’

Thus, some of the Sharia-compliant companies include Microsoft, BP Amoco, Pfizer (with a bias towards energy, health care, and technology), yet what is their link or connection to Islamic finance?

Could such companies and, in the aggregate, present day Sharia-compliant Islamic indices, be deemed an economic indicator of Islamic finance in a Muslim country? We now need to look at Sharia-based Islamic indices.

IFIs and sukuks

We hear and read about 300 Islamic financial institutions (IFIs) in 75 countries, and the need for larger balance sheets to compete against the ‘big boys’ on the project finance deal table for instance, hence, a call for the consolidation or the creation of established Islamic mega-banks.

A concern with such an Islamic mega-bank revolves round whether it poses a systemic and confidence risk in the home country as concentrated exposure without many compliant-hedging mechanisms?

Is there a need to think about safety nets and stress tests before central banks allows for an Islamic mega-bank?

The sukuk market, roughly equated to Islamic bonds, is now worth over $107 billion, having been the locomotive of Islamic finance during the petro-liquidity spike.

However, recent bankruptcies, defaults, and restructuring exercises, have been portrayed by western media as the beginning of the end of Islamic finance.

In an embryonic industry, like the 40-year-old Islamic finance, these growing pains are welcomed and will actually strengthen the industry, as precedents become known and down-side risk is better understood.

Sukuk growth and development appear to be following the ‘path’ of the Eurobond market, and the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and General Electric (GE) sukuk issuances in late 2009 underline the merits of such financing in turbulence.

Contribution factor

We have a number of Islamic finance conferences, and a number of Islamic finance awards.

It is often strange to see or read when different conference organisers or magazines have, for instance, a ‘best Islamic bank’ award, and each names a different bank.

It has been said in certain quarters that some of these awards are driven by sponsorships rather than actual votes or, ideally speaking, real contribution to the industry.

At this stage in Islamic finance, awards should emphasise ‘contribution’ and not ‘best,’ as that latter implies mature and connected Islamic financial institutions globally.

The foremost contribution to Islamic finance has been made by His Highness Shaikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, and Governor Zeti Akhthar Aziz, and, obviously, the real Sharia scholars, regulators like the United Kingdom’s FSA, central banks like the Central bank of Bahrain, and conventional banks with windows and subsidiaries.

Shaikh Mohammad, a standalone stakeholder, raised the profile of Islamic finance globally via the Dubai brand before oil reached $140 a barrel, and Zeti, as a globe-trotting ambassador, made her a separate asset class in Islamic finance.

They have established the awareness and macro framework, and now the industry has to move towards Islamic finance 2.0.

Pulse of Islamic finance

One of the serious issues the markets are tackling is to how to find an effective, overall pulse of Islamic finance. In most instances, numbers such as $1 trillion and the like are used to demonstrate the awesome potential of this industry.

However, how can we really gauge what’s happening to the industry on a daily basis?

The path to Sharia-based Islamic finance is expected to have speed-bumps, pot-holes, diversion road signs, construction vehicles with signs such as ‘do not follow’, but lets raise the issues from Sharia-compliance to get to the destination of Sharia-based.

The writer is the global head of Islamic Finance & OIC Countries for Thomson Reuters. The views expressed in this column are his own and should not be attributed to his organisation.

12-14