All-American

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–September 10th–The “Season” has begun and authors are trampling through Northern California – Muslims and non-Muslims, knowledgeable about the Ummah and its people – hawking their books.  Jonathan Curriel, author of Al’America:  Travels Through Arab and Islamic America visited my city the week after Labor Day.  Curiel is no scholar, but was trained as a journalist.  Although employed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was partially educated in and reported from the Middle East.

The book under discussion was published by The New Press in November of 2008, and details the historic influence of Arab and Muslim culture on America — from the time of Columbus to 9/11 — with the ramifications of the latter event.  This is a book that concentrates on the historical and Pop Cultural aspects of Islamic influence upon America, but it does a great service by exposing the underpinning of Islam at the Grassroots of North American culture.  The author too often degenerates into uncomfortable insensitivity to your reviewers’ target audience. 

Reading the press release composed for his tour, I notice a “slickness” that makes your reporter feel ill at ease. His publishers are not presenting J. Curriel humbly forcing his readers to concentrate on his credentials rather than his work!  Still, that did not prevent the book from translation into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers, the Beirut print house that, also, has exposed several important European and American writers to an Arabic-speaking audience.

In 2005, his Newspaper was honored by Columbia University (the dominant) U.S. J-School (of Journalism) in New York City for Jonathan Curiel’s exceptional articles on race and ethnicity!  Your Observer commentator — does not know about bragging rights — but he should be proud of this!  This is something that he attempts to bring to this study, but he is honest enough to note where he fails.

For him – even after September 11th 2001 – denying Islamic civilization is not being part of the American fabric is wrong.  “Muslims not only belong…but are part of [the American] culture in so many ways!”

In fact, Christopher Columbus reached out to the Muslim “Moors.”  The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was substantially influenced by the Arabs to the point he could not have reached the New World in 1492 without his North African designed sails.  While Arab culture was waning in Southwestern Europe by the late 16th Century (CE), Columbus’ voyages notably brought subtle Arab influences to the Spanish colonies and later the Portuguese colony in the Americas – including those parts in the United States that Washington (D.C.) seized in the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American War plus the Louisiana Purchase!

Although Madrid prohibited Muslims from the Americas, the Alamo now in Texas is a classic example of Arabic Architecture!  New Orleans was a city shunted back and forth between the Iberians and the French.  Finally, President Thomas Jefferson bought it from the Emperor Napoleon.  When the Spanish possessed that famous city, they imported Islamic ironwork for which the Metropolis near mouth of the Mississippi — plus the renowned Muslim-styled courtyards within the Big Easy — migrated from the Middle East via the Iberian Peninsula.   

The date palm was brought to the Western Hemisphere — including the California of yours truly — from the Middle East, also, via Hispania. 

In the United States, a Muslim slave actually wrote a book in Arabic while being held in South Carolina.  Until the Twentieth Century most American Muslims came from West Africa (since they were victims of that ugly Slave Trade).  Jonathan Curriel, as well as a few eminent musicologists, believe that the American “Blues” musical sub-structure comes from Islam’s call to prayer.  

No less than the extremely important American thinker of the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was profoundly influenced by Muslim culture.  Many important American intellectuals have been influenced by Islam, too, throughout the history of the American Republic (and even before –Thomas Jefferson, of course, comes to your reporter’s mind most quickly) up into the contemporary period.  There has been a long-standing cultural interaction between the Potomac and the Islamic nations according to Curriel. 

Of course, some of this interaction was not fully comprehensible to the Americans; and, thereby, can be considered in bad taste.  The Shriners and the Masons adopted pseudo-clothing accoutrement and symbols of the Muslims.  At its most forgiving was mere mimicry, but at its worst was insulting and in bad taste.  (Your scribe must point out that Jonathan Curriel did make these issues transparent, and did not cringe from describing it for what it was.)  Yet, since the immigration reforms under the late President Lyndon Johnson, highly prominent Muslim immigrants have been attracted to, and have joined the aforementioned organizations.  They have pressured these groups to give a form of Zakat and to make them even more service-oriented. 

The iconic Los Angeles rock(-n-roll) band of the 1960s, the Doors, were highly influenced by Arab music while the ultimate Rock star (of the 1950s), Elvis Presley, was a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, a Christian Lebanese immigrant to America.  His best known work was a sequence of inspirational essays, The Prophet.  They were pitifully greeted by the critics when they were published in 1923.  It definitely belongs to the opus of Arabic-language literature, but not Islamic literature.  Having read the book as a young man, when it was still a best-selling “underground” rage, your reviewer considered it to be  overly simplistic.  How much of it might be based on Mohammed (PUBH) is hard to say because of the elevated ambiguity of its poetic language.

Curriel maintained Presley somehow turned this book into his Bible.  Also, along religious lines, the Christian Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II had instructed that his casket placed on a Persian Carpet to demonstrate the unity of all religions.

Back to Pop Culture, the movie cycle and “cult” television series, Stars Wars borrowed motifs respectfully from the religion from Mecca.  Jonathan Curriel concluded, “Cultures go back and forth, and always borrow from each other,” continuing, “Muslims have contributed from the inception of the American nations,” and they are still highly visible and contributing members of our society.  Their contributions are no longer seen as insignificant within North American society.  

11-40

Takfir

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–There was an impressive panel held here on Islamicist politics with Nathan Brown of the Carnegie Endowment for Peace and Mohammed Hafez of the (U.S.) Naval Postgraduate School at Monterey.  This was a rich late afternoon; thus, I am going to break the encounter into two separate articles.  I would like to investigate Hafez’ presentation on Islamic excommunication takfir, and the internal debates within Islamic culture itself on Muslim upon Muslim violence.

First, though a few comments from the moderator, Scott Field, who is an Australian.  Unknowing to the mainstream American public, Islamicism has a considerable history.  With the Global spread of the dominance of “democracies,” the “knee jerk” reaction by most Islamicists has been to reject it as a workable form of governance within the various chronological traditions within Islam.  Thus, here has been a tendency for these Muslims to engage much of the modern world with distrust.  Yet, Islamicist groups are not monolithic. A case in point is one which I have writing a lot on lately, Hamas, who chose to contest an election, and won, but they were totally rejected by those governments encouraging electoral politics in the Middle East because the people’s choice was not to their predilection.  What Mohammed Hafez spoke about were those groups who took up arms against other Muslim whom they deemed hostile to their values. 

Most of the victims of Jihadi and other violence have been fellow Muslims.  This has caused a backlash even amongst the radicals themselves.  Certain Muslims call other Muslims “kafirs”, and considered them as excommunicated from the body of believers.  Islamicists are grounded in Islamicist principles.  (Pretty self-evident.)  Many suicide bombers break the laws of their “classical” religion, but Jihadist work rather on the exceptions to traditional injunctions.

Customarily, the regulations that permit Muslims to struggle against other Muslims are 1.Tyrannical regimes; 2, Apostates 3. Heretics (unfortunately for the Sunni it too often means the Shia); 4. If any of situations rises to “legalize” resistance, True Believers should be spared, but, if it happens accidently it is unfortunate but forgivable.

We have to work on a case-by-case basis, but most of the War-like struggles in the contemporary Islamic World are being waged by Jihadist Movements.  “What convince them [to action] are the exceptions within [normative] Islam rather than the rule.”  That is exceptions to the Law argued over generations by Islamic jurisprudence scholars.

Currently, the violent Jihadis consider themselves to be in a defensive Jihad rather than in an offensive (i.e., conquest, etc.) mode.  This turns the tenets around for them.  There is the moral problem of (Muslim) human shields that the so-called Salafi (imitators of the pious patristic period of)Islam has employed.  Their reasoning is that it is alright to endanger innocent believers for the greater good; that is, to prevent the fall of dar al-Islam. 

Mohammed Hafez believes that Islam is neither a religion of hostilities or concord, but “…is a religion of [both] war and peace” (like every other creed on this globe)! 

Yet, in the Muslim world the United States and her allies are seen as a “Neo-Colonial force.”  

11-39

Chris Hedges & Laila Alrian–Collateral Damage

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Camp Meeker (Calif.)–A few months ago your writer caught the award-wining combat journalist and his co-author Laila Alrian, the daughter of the much maligned, Sami Alrian, on a book stop for their Collateral Damage: America’s War Against Iraqi Civilians.

In this new book, the two journalists present the voices of fifty American combat veterans of the Iraq War and their understanding of the U.S. occupation and why Iraqis are so opposed to it.

Hedges began with the statement that the strife in Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan are unequivocally intertwined.  Hedges, further, maintained he had covered every American War of the past twenty years in order to bestow his words authority.  The rules of engagement of the American Military were set up to protect our soldiers.  He judged “This type of racism to be intrinsic,” for there was no accountability. (Your columnist’s viewpoint is that  what America was dealing is not racism but rather Sectarianism.)  Further, “We [the American Army] never found anything [of military significance]…” after the invasion.  This was never covered by our (American) media.  “When we sent them [our soldiers] on two or three tours, they would go crazy,” too.

Laila noted that the term our GIs utilized against us was “hajji” which in the context that it was applied- became blatantly bigoted.  Iraq was/is not Afghanistan.  There was/is a high rate of suicide in both theaters, though.  None of the fifty veterans that were interviewed could relate to their experiences.

An occupation is culturally and linguistically malevolent.  The Occupiers lash out at the innocent.  “These forms of wars are organized,” though!  The foreign media have picked up our book, but we have largely have been ignored in the US because we (Washington) have destroyed Iraq, and, thereby, have become a state terrorist, (and they exposed that.)  “I can’t stop the Iraq conflict…it is a freight train of death!…I am disillusioned with the Obama Administration’s acceptance of pre-emptive War, also.”  (An allegation with which your correspondent does not agree.)

Hedges states that “To increase troop levels in Afghanistan” is foolish.  Then, following illogically from his previous contention, Chris Hedges asserts that as a news reporter, he could not comment on policy.  Still, the Iraq War for him derived from a Utopian project – literarily in the mode of the 16th Century English philosopher and (Christian) Martyr, Thomas Moore.

“In Palestine, Israeli policy…has created eighty enclaves…”Arian emphasized that “Politics is always the game of pressure…” Therefore, funds to Israel must be blocked – especially while  Gazans are under the pressure of War crimes.

“Our Imperial projects in the Middle East are eating up our wealth!..Permanent War is a part of our economy!”  Resuming,“[Our] Empire’s expansion is causing its collapse.”

The journalist Hedges is most concerned about a war with the Pushtoons.

11-38

Nathan Brown: Arab Democratic Movements

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Today is a hot (unusually muggy day from a hurricane a [thousand miles south] off the Pacific Coast of Mexico).  I am looking back to  a discussion documented in my notebooks in Berkeley with Nathan Brown and Mohammed Hafez–Brown is not Muslim, but he is a great scholar of Islam.  Professor Brown spoke to those present on understanding Islamicist politics and their electoral opposition to the often corrupt parties in power in their nation states.

Islamist Arab Parties – especially in Egypt – have had great successes in elections, but they almost never win. 

Mainstream “democracy” is manipulated by Arab leaders.  This is why Islamist Parties mostly refuse to take part in elections and often react violently by resisting against their rulers and their pseudo-“Parliaments.”  On the other hand, examples can be had in the victory of the Islamic Parties in Algeria which the Party in power refused to  recognize the results leading to a protracted civil war.  Another instance can be found in the Gaza 2006 election that Jimmy Carter and his observation team described as the fairest that they had ever witnessed, but both Israel and the United States and Egypt refused to recognize! 

Outside the Islamic world political Islamicism is equated with Nazism, but “It is more like [European] ‘Christian’ Democracy in that it, too, makes a religious reference to its politics.”  The slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood is “Be prepared!” which resonates from the Koran itself, and is on the visual crest of the Party.  The Brotherhood began as a secular movement to help individuals to become better Muslims, but later its philosophy flowed into politics.

Dr. Brown maintained that “Elections in the Middle East have predicable results, but uncertain rules.”  For the most part they are designed for the government to win.  Those Islamists who contend find it  advantageous for them (see my article on Da’wa and Democratic Politics in a back issue of this  publication) although they are “not recognized as a full political party” by the establishment.  Yet they are able to weather a harsh political climate. 

They are “highly ideological, and enforce their principles;” so, that they “will not rupture into discordant fissures although debate and schism has arisen over minute issues.”

Hard decisions have to be made over elections.  Elections can raise the primacy of politics over religion which is always a concern amongst devout people.

11-37

Saddam’s WMD Strategy

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Monterey–August 21st –Ibrahim Al-Marashi from the IE University of Spain currently a Post-Doctoral Fellow at the Monterey Institute of International Studies here in Central California talked about his research from the so-far retrievable Iraqi archives on what was accurate and inaccurate about their accused WMDs.  Many myths were exposed and some truths were confirmed by his study on these papers on why we and Britain went to war against Baghdad in 2003.

What he found in the Arabic documents was ambiguous language to disguise any possible WMDs.  The first documents were captured in 1991 by the Kurdish opposition in the North.  They were handed over to Human Rights Watch, an organization close to the US government, for propaganda purposes.   Others were seized in Kuwait during the 1991 War.  Most of the previous documents were produced in the 1990s by the Iraqi governments.  One of the primary causes of this were that Hussein held back his best troops, the elite Republican Guard on the Iraqi side of the border, and the lesser trained troops were thrust toward Kuwait City. 

During the Second Iraq War, the various international forces were under joint command, and retrieval of documents was done by several various armies.   The secondary-primary source was the interrogation of Saddam Hussein himself after his capture.

During the blockade before the second war, there was a lack of paper to record the archives.   Yet they were documented in detail on alternative materials. 
Ibrahim went into the history of Iraq, starting with the first king installed by the British after World War I. 

Between the World War periods, the Army stayed out of politics,  but after the second war, began to intervene in the body politic.  Coups and counter-coups  ruled the period.  The Leftist Baath Party finally took power in ‘68, and  ideologized the Army.  The Baath Party led, and their Military Establishment followed.  

Saddam Hussein came to command in an internal coup in ‘79.

In the 1970s the Iraqis began their WMD program.  The Weapons were never named directly but in a disguised manner.  Chemical weapons became special armaments.  Their Chemical “Mace” became a special resource that led to the 1987 attacks against  their Iraqi Kurdish citizens.  Many of the assailed residents of Kurdistan suffered excruciating blinding.

Although Baghdad utilized chemicals in their eight year War with their eastern neighbors, Iraq urged their former enemy, Iran, to join them to exploit their mutual chemical capabilities against Israel, but there were no documents that specially alluded to the scud attacks upon Israel. 

In 1991 the Iraqi forces did not use Weapons of Mass Destruction against the Coalition.  Saddam was not willing to use his WMDs (basically chemical) against the US Army for fear that the Americans would retaliate with their own overwhelming gas and / or nuclear capacity.  Curiously, though, the Iraqi Army was not even issued gas masks, but the Baathists felt the United States was deterred by their (potential) Weapons of Mass Destruction during 1991, but, on the other hand, during the 2003 assault, the Allies were prepared for WMDs to be applied against them.     

The American military objective in Iraq was to achieve (Iraqi) State security.  The rumor of Weapons of Mass Destruction impacted Civilian-(U.S) Military relations.  The ethnic conflicts made political communications difficult, too.

Dr. Al-Marashsi studied docs that were written between 1990 through 2003.  He started on his project in 2002.  It took him seven years to go through 100,000 transcripts so far.  Yet his team has not had a chance to index the papers!

High ranking Baghdadi Generals forged manuscripts for personal gain selling them to Western scandal tabloids.  Ibrahim Al’Marashi was able to debunk most of them, but an academic paper of his was plagiarized, and was used as “proof” for the British Government to attack Baghdad in 2003.  A discussion of the relation between academia – honestly and dishonestly—and security policy is a tight one.  Ibrahim ended his presentation with his conclusion that the U.S. and the U.K. should have done more research before they attacked the Middle East!

11-36

Life in Gaza… and the Peace Process

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

New York City–August 12th–It is hard for the Muslim to realize that Jews are not the enemy for the atrocities within our mutual Holy Land, rather the perverted doctrine of Zionism is the culprit.

I was fortunate to be on a conference call with Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the U.S. Office of B’Tselem, the Israeli Information for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories.  This independent Israeli Information Center documents abuses under their law, and has been able to make a difference legally and in the sight of public opinion.

This call was sponsored by Churches for Middle East Peace to examine the conditions on the ground especially in Gaza and how it impacts the larger peace prospects.

Mitchell Plitnick, the Director of the American Office of B’Tselem: the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories–is a highly respected analyst.  He was born into an Orthodox Jewish family here in New York, and was educated in a Yeshiva (much like an Islamic Madrassa).   Strangely, he had grown up in an extremist Jewish environment, and during his earlier career supported the Settler Movement until he began to question the status quo.
Plitnick’s B’Tselem attempts to guarantee rights within the Occupied Teritories. 

Yet Gaza itself, which is no longer under law “an Occupied Territory” although Israel still holds responsibility for it under International law due to its brutal blockade — has not changed since the War.  Historically, the Strip has been a dependent district for centuries – Turks, Egyptians, British Israelis et al.  At the moment it is legally beholden to Tel Aviv for supplies which responsibility the IDF (Israel Defense Force) has been ignoring.

There has been no post-War reconstruction of Gaza City and its hinterlands due to the blockade.  Besides, little food or medicine is permitted by the Egyptian and Israeli Commands.

This blockade cannot be justified for Israeli security.  “Gazan human rights cannot be bargained away for Israeli security!” The conditions are desperate!  It is in Israel not Hamas’ hands while the United States has not moved forward along the lines of our new Executive‘s rhetoric.  The situation in Gaza has remained static since Hamas’ 2006 election.  Israel’s raison d’être for the Blockade was to force the Palestinian Arabs to suffer and to overthrow Hamas.  Well, “Collective punishment is illegal!”  Plitnick, further, stated that “The condition on the ground can’t be argued morally or legally.  The International community should add the suffering of the people” into the equation!

On the other side of the struggle, “Most [Israelis] thought Operation Cast Lead [the Gaza War] was not a success… [for its] objectives were not met.”  Most of the post-conflict coverage center on how the War was conducted.  Gaza’s economy has been decimated by the Operation.  The anger in Gaza, of course, is not against their government, but the Jews and Egyptians.  There is a good chance that Hamas could carry the upcoming elections, too, on the West Bank.

The Egyptians are, further, fearful of the Hamas government because of their close relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood, the second largest party in Cairo’s Parliament.  Furthermore, Alexandria does not wish to see refugees overflowing from the Rafah boundaries where there was a revolt of a sub-sect two weeks ago who wished to spread an even more stringent form of Islam over the whole of Palestine than the Islamist Hamas.  Although, at the same time, Egyptian businessmen feel they may be able to wrench the wretched electrical blockage away from the Israelis and to supply the Gazans to Egypt’s economic advantage. 

WHO (the World Health Organization) et al. has declared that medical supplies are grossly inadequate.  The Israeli Branch of Physicians for Human Rights has been able to provide the bulk of medical relief in Gaza itself and, also, to much of the Occupied Territories.  

To a question, Mr. Plitnick replied that Hamas would have a hard time to deny elections now although their relations are still confrontational with Fatah.  Hamas is in firm control of their miniscule republic although the human rights situation is less than optimal (human rights can only arise and thrive in situations where there is political stability with no outside threat bearing down on the “commonwealth”).  Yet their citizens overwhelmingly support their administration.  Still, on the other hand, Gaza City is desperately attempting to discover an open door to the Obama Presidency.

The issue of the Israeli Cabinent’s demand for the one missing Israeli soldier is a question of one to thousands of Palestinian prisoners.  The Palestinians on the West Bank are desirous for change, too, while back in Gaza, none of President Obama’s promises have come to fruition.  In both areas, there has only been the ebb and flow of violence:  In Occupation this is a constant! 

Plitinck acknowledged that Iran was a major International supplier to Hamas for the Farsis own propagandistic purposes –  to demonstrate their unwavering support of Palestine to the Islamic world, but Hamas itself is not an extension of Tehran’s foreign policy agenda.  If Persia and Gaza’s ties were severed, the modern Philistines could and would find alternative aid and support.  The regime in Gaza City is a Palestinian National Movement!

Speaking on the politics of his own country, Mitchell Plitnick stated that the sectarian (Foreign Minister) Lieberman, who is now under investigation for corruption, is one of the worst disasters to overtake his nation’s body politic.  Although our human rights NGO (Non-Governmental Organization) Director stated that he (Lieberman) was not listened to within the Cabinet, he represented a severe tilt towards the right in Tel Aviv, and that is why U.S. pressure must be applied to the government there.  American Jews are much more liberal than Israeli officialdom as a whole, he argued; and, thus must let their voices be heard in American-Israeli debates while taking into account Israel’s legitimate security concerns.  (One of the problems in Israel’s Commonweal is that they over accentuate their security requirements over what is reasonable.) 

For instance, building materials should be permitted into Gaza; so, the Strip can be reconstructed!  

11-35

Humanism and Islam

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–Your author has gone back several times to the marvelous Conference of over a year ago at this city’s famous University.  Your scribe will converse on some of the comments there as well as his own personal analysis.

Our culture has taken the designation “Semitic” away from the Arab, and transferred it solely to the ethnic Jew.   This is incorrect:  Both Arabs and Jews come from the Semitic group of peoples, but this denial of the Arab’s Semitic roots and the assertion of the Jew’s sole determination of such creates the propaganda that the Palestinians are Anti-Semitic.  They both share an historical ethnic root that may even be the basis to solve the crisis, but first both groups must acknowledge their common ancestral origins.

Islam dominated Spain for eight hundred years, but loss of its foothold on Southwestern Europe was a great blow to the Ulema, and it is felt to this day.  Your writer remembers reading a Nineteenth Century Indian novel that was no more than a lamentation for its loss. 

The founder of Christianity, Joshua-Ben Joseph (i.e., Jesus Christus in the Latin) during the two centuries following the (his) death of this second most important Prophet (i.e., Issa in Arabic) of Islam was transformed from a Mediterranean peasant into the Christos (in Greek), “the anointed one” which is close to the Hebrew Messiah.   The attempt by early Christians to remake the Subaltern Prophet Issa into a “god” created great problems for the followers of Joshua in the Middle East, and made it easier for the Muslim preachers to convert the predominant Christian population due to the fact that the formulas of the Church Fathers were too confusing to the actual worshippers.  On the other hand, the tenants of Islam were simple enough for the common man, but deep enough for the more profound thinkers.  Further, horrible schisms had developed in the Primitive Church that had no relevance to the common worshiper.

In the Fifteenth Century, Islam had a presence from the Atlantic to the Pacific that lasted for five hundred years.  Unfortunately, for the Ulema, the European “discovery” of the Atlantic (through superior sailing technology) they had developed, had shifted the Center of the World.  With it came a Capitalistic society which created a Euro-centric vision.

In the contemporary period, we are leaving the Euro-centric vision.  (Even Globalism is now being questioned because of the recent economic crash.)  Yet one speaker claimed, as far as the European Union, the traditional nation-State system is breaking down. 

The question was poised on how do we deconstruct Islamaphobia that has developed in Western Post-Colonial Europe especially?  Although the historical fact is that the Islamic Arab Empire was more modern than Europe’s society from the Ninth Century (CE) onward in the terms of their time.  Truth during the “Islamic Renaissance,” came from the Koran and science (a sort of an itijihad).  This openness to enquiry gave the impetus for the great Arab philosophy of the period that had such an impact upon the West.  This was a period of enlightenment for especially the Arabic-speaking world!

Curiously, Latin America received its intellectual vigor through the lingering Islamic traditions of Spain!  One speaker voiced his opinion that European Islamaphopbia will fade with the shifting demography.  There will have to be a dialogue among the various peoples upon this globe. 

11-34

Amany Jamal On Demoracy in the Arab East

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–A little over ten months ago, Amany Jamal came to talk to a small group on his work in progress, The Crisis of Political Legitimacy in the Arab World.
It has too often been assumed that the Arab nations do not wish democracy.  This is not true, but the majority of the regions monarchies and republics’ pre-eminent dominant authorities are distrustful of democratic reforms.  The social restructuring towards democratization has not arisen to the same extend as in the second World as yet, and there is a great deal difference to the degree and the liberality that the Arab world desires their democratic forms, and as your author has emphasized before the democracy that develops in any country has to take into account of its traditions, history and the constituencies of the larger geographical zone et al.  The error that the Bush and the Neo-Conservatives made in dealing with the Middle East was to shove down the Jeffersonian tradition in the Near and Middle East and other Islamic zones with the democratic values that had evolved in North America!

A Capitalist economy is not conducive to all types of democracy!   The State should make its own decisions on its own allocations, and not the individual citizens or corporate entities.  Exiting theories to social inequality are emphatically universal.   There are pronounced amoralities within almost every Arab State – except Kuwait.  In most of the topography under study, restrictive legislation is applied toward propping up authoritative regimes. 

“If (a) society is equipped for [democratic] change, it will do so [i.e., change],” further, “…States [do] not necessarily [promote their] society’s preferences.”  Her hypothesis is that “…the elites are worried over jeopardizing their client status with the United States.”  These privileged rules are more likely to oppose democracy.

The more an Arab country lacks development, the more dependent it is upon Washington.  The Arab nations have less bi-lateral ties than they do with the U.S.A.!  Thus, North America has a strong military presence there.   The Arabs, though, are only subordinate partners within the American Empire. 

Today, small Kuwait holds 10 percent of the known world oil reserves, but has one of the highest per capita percentages of militants within the Middle East. The residents in all of the nations are well aware of it potential political weaknesses within the structures of their individual states.  If the Islamists would come to power, they would not necessarily sever ties with the D.C., but there are places where “Anti-American forces are of a concern – such as Jordan” where the Islamists could weaken the Monarchy.  Jordan is considered the most stable realm in the Middle East because of American buttressing.

There still remains a fear among the Iranians that, if the U.S. deserts Baghdad too fast, Tehran will have to cope with a security risk there again.

Amany Jamal finished her remarks of last fall, “…Anti-Americanism has stifled democratization” throughout the neighborhood; therefore, “…The route [towards] democratization lies in addressing the…increase of Anti-Americanism…” within the locale.

11-33

Violent Jihadi Imagery

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Your author has been commissioned to write a chapter on Violent Jihadi websites for a book on security in South Asia. He gave his initial findings at a conference in Central Florida early last April out of which came an offer to put it on the web, and, also, to expand it into a chapter.  Your scribe shall be presenting his further findings at a meeting in the upper Midwest this coming October.  After that time, he shall be glad to send on the full exercise to anyone who will e-mail me a request via the Muslim Observer where I shall be publishing a series of journalistic articles based on the research over the next several months.

I was sent a remarkable semi-confidential website study entitled The Islamic Imagery Project published (“pasted”) by an academic Committee of the Combating Terrorism Center within the Social Science Department at West Point in March 2006.  The document is an e-book, and as a student of such things, there are assumptions that are questionable within while, at the same time, the report is quite enlightening. 

The Obama Administration is questioning the purpose and tactics of the struggle in the Middle East and South Asia with what we vulgarly term “terrorism.”  The study of this document can be of value in creating new, more effective approaches in confronting the irregular clashes that often target civilians.  On March 12 2009 Aljazeera and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) reported that the new government in Washington had decided to drop the designations of the “War on Terror” and “enemy combatant.”  Vocabulary can tell us much on how this struggle is changing, and on how counter-terrorism (i.e., counter-insurgency) should and /or could be waged more effectively. 

Information on the modern imagery of politically violent radical Islamic groups – especially as it appears on “Jihadi” websites — is imperfect.   Those conversant in Arabic know that Jihad mostly translates as a spiritual struggle within.  Thus, in correct parlance a Jihadist is one who is in spiritual struggle to find an inner “Truth,” but in Wahhabi Islam, which was born and nurtured in Saudi Arabia, and spread to become a foundation to fight against the Colonial powers in the Nineteenth, Twentieth and now in the Twenty-first Centuries, Jihad has become a physical struggle.  Today it fiercely fights against (Western) Post-Modernism (as it opposes the majority of other diverse forms of Islam).  Therefore, Jihad, also, denotes in this context to resist against the “kafir,” or non- Muslims, in contemporary radical Islam.  The “non-Muslim” is too often considered by them as “hetero-orthodox” Islam — such as the Shiites — as well. 

On the other hand, in Shiite and increasingly in modern Sunni Islam, the closely related concept of Itijihad is gaining parlance.   Since September 11, 2001, Islam has been grossly misunderstood, and it is the duty to change this through Itijihad as the junior Pakistani academic Rana Eijaz Ahmad argues.  Itijihad is a non-violent struggle of enlightenment.

These violent Jihadi organizations have had a brief – so far — but prolific history in the production and distribution of visual “propaganda” as the Committee, who created The Islamic Imagery Project, oversimplifies these images  The web masters have created their own distinct genre of Internet-based Islamist imagery.  The understanding of this sort of embedded iconography is at an early stage; and, thus, there is much to be done by the practioneers of various disciplines.  Within this particular study, the visual “propaganda” (i.e., visual “speech”) is more than textual messages; rather, the visual communicates explicitly, as the written word does. The radical Jihadi imagery has become a prime vehicle for communications and the essential tool for the diffusion of Jihadist ideals to diverse scattered cells – not only in South Asia – but throughout the world, but the modern violent Jihadi Movement had arisen in Afghanistan and now,  also, resolutely resides in the Northwest Provinces of Pakistan, but, also, has spread worldwide operating in secretive detached cells much as the classic Communist did during the Second World War where one cell may not be aware of the make-up or placement of an adjacent grouping making it hard for the counter-terrorist (anti-insurgents) to break the structures up, thereby, to destroy the resistance.

In future essays we shall observe how select pictures keep and break Islamic injunction using both Islamic and Western sources.

11-31

French Secularism and Islam

July 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–On these pages of a fortnight ago was a report that the French President Nicolas Sazkozy pronounced a speech to both houses of his “parliament” condemning the use of the Burqa.  He denied it  was not a religious symbol, but “a sign of debasement” for women.  This is a curious statement made by a head of State of a major European power, for women’s rights are constantly used as an excuse by Imperial powers while it has been only been within the last hundred years that Western jurisprudence has caught up with Islamic protection of the family and the legal rights of the female!  Sarkozy continued in his terribly Islamophobic speech that “The Burqa is not welcomed on French territory.”  Further, he used the Feminist clichés that are too often engaged to oppress Islam in a Western context, “…we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen…from all social life…all identity.”

A small percentage of French civil society has been calling for the ban on the Burqa as happened with the hijab six years back leading to a law banning Islamic woman from wearing it.  As your author said in his article on that subject at the time, a potential controversy in America on this (as the Burqa) are non-issues because of these articulations of the Islamic customs are protect by the rights to Freedom of Speech (Expression) and Freedom of Religion in the U.S. first ten Amends to the American Constitution, but ,in France, because of the power of the Church in the ancien regime, the Church (Roman Catholic) buttressed the rule of the hated oppressing aristocracy and the King.  Therefore, their post-Revolutionary Constitution (theoretically) banned all religion, and was held up by the early Nineteenth Century Code Napoleon!  That means in France, with the largest Islamic population in Europe, external Muslim symbols have become constitutionally questionable even though Muslim lobby groups within that country have urged Paris to refrain from deliberations that would damage the Islamic community there vis-à-vis the mainstream French population.  Although the Burqa is a symbol/custom of the minority Salafi faction of Islam, most of them are Wahhabi, a conservative sect of Sunnism, who, produce, incidentally, most of the Jihads, and, thus, are anathema to most of the ummah.  Still, seventy-six Franco-Parliamentarians within the French Assembly advocate banning the public display outright.  They have called for a sanctified Commission leading for a “legal” basis under France ultra-secular basis for such a prejudicial ban under the support of the President himself!  After the law against the much milder Islamic symbol, the hijab, it is doubtful that legal action can be prevented under their Constitutional rulings!

Last fall, in the neighboring city here, Berkeley, Myanthi Fernando came to talk to us about her teaching experiences in a French public school that had majority Islamic children although they had become naturalized French citizens.  She taught mainly North African-heritage students in a high school.   Since she has gone through the academic training to become an anthropologist, with this new sensitivity, she noted a pronounced conflict between the students and the teachers.  “There is a conflict between religions and the authority of the Mosque and the Republic.”

Historically, the first generation who became Muslim citizens was recruited from the Colonies to rebuild France after World War II as Germany opened their doors to the Turks to do the same.  For their children and grandchildren, a generalized system of difference developed and that dissimilarity was based on religion. Many ordinary Frenchmen believe there is a fundamental conflict between Islam and themselves as an Islamic revival has emerged on Gallic soil at the same time.

As alluded to above, the State banned the hijab in 2004.   In essence La France believed that the hijab would re-enforce Islamic patriarchy. In actually, the hijab (as the Burqa) is worn by choice (if it is not, the State should step in, but it is part of the aforementioned Islamic regeneration in the West).  Islamic women “believe they decide – not the law or the State!”  The hijab (or the Burqa) must be an individual decision, and must not come from outside (either the family or the nation).  “It is the believer who decides, but… [It]… has … [its]…textual authority,” also.  Fernando claimed that secularism and religious submission are not at odds in France,” too.  Also, political choice and religiosity do not conflict.  France’s Muslims assert religious choice and accept civic obligation.  International law enunciates religious freedom according to conscience.  Performing religious duty is a matter of choice.

In 2003 there were demonstrations against proposed bans on Islamic lifestyles.  “One person’s freedom ends where another begins…”  It is (almost) impossible for Muslim women to live in the language of the secular State.  On the contrary, the secular State argued it didn’t violate [religious] freedom because [religious] adherents could still believe.”  Paris maintained that there was a difference between internal belief and external expression while the European Commission as a whole do not recognize the hijab as right (and it most definitely will not acknowledge the Burqa as acceptable).  On the other hand, most individual Islamic women believe it may be their right and duty as the hijab while the French public considers it no more than obfuscation of civic duty.

There is no argument that Christianity has seeped into European law which is at odds with Islamic customs.  Besides, French feminism, which is a very strong force within the Republique, looks at Islamic female dress as perverse with anti-sexuality.  La Republique de France’s concept of sexuality is challenged on all sides. The hijab is only one such challenge.

Public schools only recently began to enroll new citizens, and the hijab is a particularly troublesome object amongst the traditional educational system there.

With this history of the Islamic hijjib in France, it is doubtful that the Burqa will receive any more cultural sensitivity.

11-29

Marwa Al-Sherbini

July 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

A thirty-one year-old Egyptian Muslim pharmacist plaintiff — four months pregnant with her second child — while wearing her traditional Hijab, was viciously stabbed eighteen times, and died in a Dresden courtroom on July 1st — by an alleged naturalized German attacker.  Previously, he had accused her of being a “Terrorist” because of her Islamic dress, and ripping her hijab off her head.  Unfortunately, such Islamaphobia is only too common in Europe even though Germany, with its horrendous history of instigating the Holocaust against the Jews and other minorities during World II, has some of the most stringent hate-crime laws in the world.

Her husband, who tried to intervene, was, also, stabbed by the attacker and, then, shot in the leg by a security officer who “mistook” him for the attacker.  Al-Sherbini, who was not only pregnant, but was, also, cruelly murdered in front of her three-year old son!

She was about to testify against her impending murderer when this vicious assault took place. The prosecutor at the proceedings had just described the accused as having a deep hatred against Muslims.

Your reporter is a regular listener to Deutche Velle, but they and most of the German privately owned media there largely ignored or played down the incident.  The BBC (the British Broadcasting Corporation) gave suitable examination of the episode as did the Islamic press and media.

In a press release from The Muslim Council of Great Britain (MCB), they “…urged political leaders and opinion formers to end their muted response to the recent wave of anti-Muslim violence…”

The Middle Eastern Institute’s Editor’s Blog noted that the case “…has been little noted in the Western media [especially in the U.S.]…the crime itself has outraged the Egyptian[s]…her body was met at [the] Cairo airport; thousands…turned out for her funeral in Alexandria……the opposition forces … [are]…particularly incensed [especially the Muslim Brotherhood who have called her the head-scarf martyr]…the official media as well…these popular…outcries… [have become a]…backfire on the unpopular [Mubarak] Regime…”

The Tehran Times described the unofficial response to the martyred Mother’s death in Saxony with spontaneous demonstrations on the Streets of the Iranian capital which included protests in front of Deutschland’s Persian Embassy, and a funeral in replication of hers in Alexandria both in protest and to honor to her soul.  Officially, “….The Iranian Foreign Ministry summoned the German ambassador…to protest…the murder…of the woman.  Iran criticized the German government for its slow response…and…that Germany is responsible for… insuring the security of minorities…including Muslims…”

In April 2007 I was privileged to attend a conference organized by Hatem Baziam of U.C. Berkeley on Islamaphobia.  Your scribe has never had a chance to comment about the perceptions expressed there on the European version of the phenomenon which are different than the American practice in that, because of the former European form of Colonialism over Muslims lands– which for the most part the Americans did not follow – the social class on the other side of the Atlantic include more individuals – with the right to emigrate — in competition with the traditional nationalities of their new countries for working class jobs. This does not follow in the Sherbini case because they were professionals, but that in itself might been the issue that shot off her attacker to violence in a society where its brutal former right-wing is once again reasserting itself.

The Western scholar on Islam, Peter Gottscalk, noted that “Islamophobia is the making of Muslims into enemies.”  He talked about the Danish cartoon which so outraged the Islamic ummah by portraying the followers of Mohammed (PBUH) with hedonism in contrast to Occidental secularism.  Political cartons, such as that are powerful negative weapons.  This one was applied against Islamic immigrants.  A cartoon’s symbolism can caricaturize and stereotype another people.  Fundamentalist Christians often associate Muslims with their (the “Christian’s”) simplistic theological concept of “Satan.”  Modern Islamophobia has re-manipulated the female into an oppressed one, too.   This makes the violence done to Marwa totally illogical even in the relation to Islam-bashing, and, furthermore, it became no more than gratuitous aggression.  Thus, on the whole, it is felt that Islam is an “… omnipresent…posing a threat;” therefore, “…violent
actions against…Muslims… [are made]…more palpable.”

A Mohammed Tamigid pointed out that both Islamaphobia and Islamaphillia are both elements of the West’s [neo-]Imperialism, and are part of a systemic racism.  The cultural economy  of the hate/love relationship here in the West have encouraged a carrot and stick methodology within contemporary Imperialism.  This (trade) Imperialism (which includes Globalism and neo-liberalism) has been expanding about the planet.  Even to Saxon province, where the former European Colonials are free to settle, to the resentment of the traditional citizens of the Nineteenth Century nation-state of that and other in other European regions, and with this crumbling worldwide economy can only lead to resentment, and to simplistic racist / sectarian blame – especially amongst the lower classes of the guest nations.  Islam has had differences with Europe from the beginning – both in religion and imperialistic structures.  Islamaphobia and Islamaphillia are two sides of the same coin.  “Islamaphobia only gives reasons for the powerlessness” of the Metropoles (Centers of the Empire).

11-30

The Children of Marx and Coca-Cola

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–I take my title this week from the French cinematographer, Jean-Luc Godard’s Masculine / Feminine produced during the 1960s of which my forenamed title was one of the names of the Frenchman’s fifteen cinematic episodes / chapters; therefore, the name for this article, for your author feels there is much in common between this past week in Tehran and those heady days in Paris during 1968.

Almost four years ago this week, the young Iranian-American journalist, Azadeh Moaveni, came to Berkeley to promote her, then, recent memoirs Lipstick Jihad about growing up conflicted between her two cultures — American and Iranian.  Her experience has much to say to second generation immigrants of many sorts and to their parents as well.  This book for all its flaws does help them better understand their own bicultural children, and for us to better understand both their divergent generational peer groups. 

After college Azadeh moved to Tehran, her natal land.   What she discovered was not the fantasy of the past as held by her parents and the expatriate community, but the oppressive and even decadent lifestyle of her contemporaries in that nation of her infancy.  (Iran is a modern and in many instances a personally progressive State on a fast track to Post-Modernism, and not the stern theocracy that is too often portrayed in the West.)

For some reason my mid-May 2005 interview with Moaveni came at a time when Tehran was at the beginning of an exhilarating period of political reform as it is there now.  The youth demonstrated in the streets as during this past week against an Islamist regime they considered overly harsh. The young rebels she meet during the middle of this decade can even be considered hedonistic — totally unlike her imaginative homeland created during her American formative years. 

In the Islamic Republic of Iran, 60% of their population is under the age of thirty!  If anything, this shows they have a promising future.  Intimate versus public life is very finely etched in that realm that is ethnically dominated by the Persians.  To understand Iran, one has to comprehend the shifting role of her younger women which has been developing within the middle and upper urbanized classes, and it is these classes that have violently been dominate on the streets during this past week.  For “a woman it is an exciting time!” 

The great rifts between the classes is most disturbing, though, with the lack of international observers recently, it is difficult to perceive whether there was massive vote rigging or not although small scale “dirty” tricks and denial to the polling stations has been proven.  Whether there was enough fraud to throw the elections has not been demonstrated.  The grave tensions between the urban elites and the rural Subaltern (a word employed to describe a wide range of the lower classes) exists within contemporary Persia.

Although Islam is still central to the state and society, the youth are still referred to as a lost generation.  Western videos and other cultural artifacts have been officially banned, but they are openly smuggled, and popularly consumed.  What is demographically notable about this upcoming generation is that there are notably more women than men within it.  Noteworthy about the old Kingdom of the Shahs was the openness of Platonic relationships between the sexes, but this social custom has been discouraged by the current gender segregation encouraged by the Revolution.  The authoress remarked because of this, “…How can the younger generation be so obsessed with sex, but know so little about it?”  It is thought in the Republic that “Being a couple is petty and bourgeois.”  Then she repeated a profundity: “Life in the shadow of the struggle is merely in the shadows.”  Many women from conservative families have only become partially “liberated,” (but in essence there has been little change even for them.) Again, feminine identification is only attainable by the upwardly mobile!

Azadeh confesses that Iran was disappointing for her.  “Any gathering could degenerate into a protest against the government” as is the case today. 

An anxiety of violence has been acclimatized by the State.  The youthful — even during the period of Bush — still perceived America as a symbol of freedom. 

They strove after a Western lifestyle and Modernism and Post-Modernism, too, but their governmental regime is formally anti-American which creates a conundrum between officialdom and the emerging anti-Modernistic society.  The young people are almost purely positive towards America only because it is the antithesis of their own regime which they despise.  (This could become a potentially dangerous if the Medes became more hegemonic within their region!)

The subtitle to Moaveni’s book is A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America and American in Iran.  She was raised in Santa Cruz (California) and studied at the University of California campus in Santa Cruz on the Northern shores of Monterey Bay.  Winning a Fulbright, she lived in Cairo for three years studying Arabic as well.  Time Magazine then employed her to cover the Middle East for three years.  Lately, she has covered the Iraqi insurgency for the Los Angeles Times.  Although Azadeh Moaveni now covers Baghdad, she makes her home in Beirut.

I think much can be perceived from Moaveni’s comments on the situation in Iran.  The split between those who chose to stay in Iran and those in the Diaspora is most pronounced: Much like the Havana Cubans and the Miami Cubans.  So, when the local American domestic reporters talk to Iranian immigrants who have settled in the States, they, of course, are not the ones who have chosen to stay in their native land for many reasons; and, thus, are less likely to have a positive view of the 1979 Revolution.  Most of the protestors on the streets of Iran are college students.  Until legitimate international election observers can be put on the ground, it is almost impossible to say whether these polls were free and fair.  Having been an election observer in a much smaller country myself (El Salvador), I can attest to the logistical nightmare of monitoring deeply contested polls.

11-27

The Muslims of Sri Lanka

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–It is scarcely known that there is an ample society of Muslims caught within the middle of Sri Lanka (Ceylon’s) recent tragically war-torn civil insular nation-State. 

There are three major groups of Muslims in that island’s nation – the “Moors,” Indian (originally from the Subcontinent) Muslims and the Malays.  The two Islamic non-South Asian subminoritities – one from the Middle East and other from Southeastern Asia, with the long-standing immigrants from India, make up about the same percentage as European descendant settlers, the Burghers at 8%.  The rest of the population is made up of the ultra-orthodox Hindus in the Tamil areas, and the majority 70% are Buddhists.  The total population of all main groupings within the island is between 19 through 21 million (2009) persons.  In 2005, the Islamic “Moors” represented 2 million of these souls.  The “Moors” were descended from a troupe of traders from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to Colombo’s island between the Eighteenth until the Fifteenth Century (CE) supposedly (by tradition) from the Arabian Peninsula.  In fact, one source I evaluated claimed that the “Moors were traversing the Indian Ocean between Lanka and Mecca before the Hijra (622 CE).  Nonetheless, the “Moors” had settled partially on Lanka bringing Islam to their ancient culture to the island.  Yet, the earliest came late in the Seventh Century as traders between the Middle East and South Asia.  Yet, most did not settle down on this Southern Asian Island, and took up the culture of the Tamils after they established a permanent residence upon the soil.  Although they first employed Tamil as their “Father” tongue — that parole (speech) used outside the house — (they soon devised Awi, which, in turn has become archaic, was a mixture of Tamil and Arabic.)   By marrying converted wives, they became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural people — Tamil, Sinhalese and English — while maintaining their religion inviolate:  They are largely Sunni Muslims of the Shafi School.  Although they can be described as a multi-ethnic, and religious alliance, they lack a linguistic cohesion, though, anthropologically (since they are tri-lingual).

The second group of Muslims, the Malays, came with the Dutch military during the period when Amsterdam controlled the island, and settled there over Ceylon’s Netherlandish period.  The Malays (originally from) Indonesia, and, thus from insular Southeast Asian origin (Ja Minissu), are some of the most orthodox of Muslims in the world today, but, unlike the “Moors,” they did not take up the surrounding Tamil culture, but they resolutely stuck to an adapted Malay cultural and religious norm.  They make up the smallest of minorities – 5% of the total Lankan Islamic citizenry only.

The third group was an alignment of mainly – although not exclusively — South Indian Muslim merchants, who emigrated southward over several centuries and naturally integrated well into the predominantly Tamil (Hindu) culture there on the other side of “Adam’s Bridge” from Tamil Nadu.

The Muslims were well assimilated and accepted into Ceylonese society, but, during the recent civil war, the Tamil Tigers systematized a process of ethnic cleansing that the once flourishing “Moorish” and other Muslim masses are not represented in the Northern Province anymore.  Most of those inhabitants have been forcibly cast largely into the Puttalam Region.  Also, a small Diaspora has been arising in the Middle East, Australia and even North America.  Now, that the Tigers have been defeated, will Islam be allowed back into their former (own) homes with full property rights restored?  Much of this depends upon us individually, and the pressure we can exert upon our own governments plus the Sri Lankan government, and, thereby, institutions of the International Communities – the U.N. et al., and especially Islamic groupings!

The pictures of those large numbers of noncombatants wretchedly entrapped between the Government and the Tigers’ forces during the former’s last stand last stand are staggering.  Amongst them is a significant number of Muslims, and the Islamic charities must especially address their needs, and become involved in their resettlement back to their ancestral homes with other (First World/Western) International NGOs.

11-26

Gaza from California

February 26, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Berkeley–Very often the media takes up a story as “sexy,” and then drops it from their “radar” when the media judges it to be no longer to be of active interest for their target audience, even though a good deal of the public are still wondering what has happened to the issue.  Well, much has happened to Gaza since the Jewish blitzkrieg through Gaza ended last month, and I, as a journalist, intend to keep going back as a venomous Gila Monster in the American Southwest and Northern Mexican hangs onto his attacker with his venomous fangs to keep my reader’s consciousness focused on the subject and its aftermath as they should be.

About the most momentous event since the truce (which seems near failure) since it has been broken several times by the Israeli army, are the Israeli elections and the right-wing Likud leader, Benjamin Netanyahu has been asked to forming a government.  He has pledged to wipe out Gaza, and to expand Settlements on the West Bank.  On the other hand, the U.N. (United Nations) has been asked by Tehran to expel Tel Aviv from the General Assembly!

Few relief supplies have been permitted through the borders by either the Muslim-dominated Egypt or the Jewish State, also, to relieve the haggard denizens of the Strip.  During the middle of February a fact-finding delegation from the British Parliament were beleaguered by Israeli military thugs.  The chair of the delegation was quoted “It was a bit weird to be hassled by another country when entering a [sovereign] nation.”  A similar event occurred when an American Congressional deputation visited post-War Gaza.

About a month and one-half ago, a program on Gaza was presented off campus in this city.  My criticism of the agenda was that it lacked the (academic) rigors of the campus assembly on the following day that I reported as “Gaza under Siege” printed here not many weeks ago. I must denounce the knee-jerk radicalism of Berkeley’s hoi po loi, and their Americo-centric prejudices.  The two Muslim Arabs were quite perceptive plus one American who has worked extensively in the area, and I shall consider their quotes quite carefully.  The others I shall gloss over.

The organizer of the event called this an “emergency” meeting.  “An emergency is a situation that demands immediate action!”  Americans are stuck in an illusion.  ”We are demanding that the slaughter in Gaza to stop,” but we in the American public are only accumulating misconceptions!

I gave an account of the Palestinian-American Professor Hatem Bazian of U.C. (University of California at) Berkeley comments in my previously mentioned article.  The Gaza crisis began considerably before December 28th last.  The prior Truce was violated by the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) on November 4th, 2008.

Israeli and/or U.S. State Department press releases dominate the American dialogue on what was the old Mandate of Palestine.  There is a new campaign for the Middle East promoted by the United States, Israel and their “franchises” (the “moderate” Arab States) to corner the region’s resources.  The District of Columbia is enabling a classic “divide and conquer” between the Shia and Sunnis as a mechanism to force the Arabs, Persians and Central Asian Turks to sell the West their oil at a reasonable price.

“Israel acts as an advance ‘aircraft carrier’ for the U.S.A.,” but, at the same time, Israel may possess different objectives from North America.

Curiously, though, Tel Aviv’ myth of strategic invincibility was severely damaged by their defeat over Galilee by Hezbollah (and Iran technology’s) missiles in their 2004 War.

Unfortunately, the major Israeli Parties all appealed strongly to the (illegal) Settler’s vote.  On this side of the Atlantic, “Obama isn’t going to fight against Israel or AIPAC [American Israel Public Affairs Committee].”  (An AmerIndian speaker, Tony Gonzalez, called it “Obama Romanization”) which has swept the young and the idealistic off their feet.

The minor local politician (former Afro-American Oakland City Councilman and the son of a past Mayor), Wilson Riles, Jr., said “We have to listen to what Hamas is saying,” but he equates a Fourth World country to the problems of the U.S.!  “We got to move against…structures in this community.”  At least, “We have to commit to Palestine…,” and, further “…We must [do our] research…” of course.  Further, there was a Black minister who reacted with the correct moral outrage, “I feel the pain and outrage from what has happened!” Yet it was his pain from afar and not the outrage of the victims themselves.  He does talk of the accusations of “anti-Semitism” for those who defend the Palestinian people.  He declared that we must not cringe from the charge:  “Silence is unthinkable…” Ultimately, though he goes back to the accountability of the American government (for which they unarguably possess and hold responsibility).

Denis Bernstein a supposed “investigative reporter” for the local Pacifica radio outlet (KPFA) felt “It is time to end the savagery to these people!”  Agreed, but “It [also] is time for a one State solution!” [Sic!]

Larry Everest who seemed to come from an “Old Left” perspective, and was of (anti-Zionist Jewish) heritage was, also, in favor of a one-State solution, but this would be where the Palestinians would dominate in a way similar to M.K. Gandhi’s envisioning on the “Jewish Problem” published in a seventy-year old issue of his Harijan, and republished on these pages quite some time ago,  “Israel is a Settler Colonial State…a garrison State for [U.S.] Imperialism!”  I think this is an over simplification of agency, and absolves Tel Aviv in its lack of morality where the U.S. is more than the enabler par excellence that makes it possible for the hand of the doer to enact the deed.  The truth is that the “evil” can be stopped in either in D.C. or in Judah itself.  Bazian pointed out previously above in this piece that the policies of the two oppressor allies do diverge. 

Much of the rhetoric that night was polemic, and was direct more against the American State than the Modern Israeli nation who decided to devour Gaza for their objectives of a greater Israel.  Our guilt lies in giving them the weapons et al., and that has to stop!

Paul Larudee, whose project to relieve the Gazans by sea was written up by me twice in these pages, stated that “Palestine is made to suffer because they are not Jews.” 

He notes how the State of Israel has expanded the definition of Jewishness to allow more potential Settlers within as citizens; therefore, he sarcastically, avers “Why not make the Palestinians Jews!”  I am not sure of the taste of his suggestion, but Palestine is, also, a geographical “neighborhood,” and all who live within should be considered Palestinian (again, back to the “Mahatma’s” 1938 essay), and that would include the Jews as in the pre-Partition Ottoman Province. 

He believes racism is the core of the problem.  I would argue that it is not racism since they belong to the same race, but Sectarianism.

Hisham Ahmed is a blind Palestinian-American Professor at a small (San Francisco) Bay Area Roman Catholic College who was raised in a refugee camp located near Jerusalem.

“Israel had unleashed a savage attack upon Gaza… [and the Gazans] had to stand up!  Before the onslaught a Cabinet Minister from the Knesset remarked “…We have to start a holocaust on Gaza!”  This is a “…act of sadism!”  As my readers know, and Ahmed re-emphasizes, Gaza has been under a total blockade for years.  Although Dr. Hisham is a critic of Hamas, he attests that they had upheld their part of the prior treaty.  The West bank is hell, too.  They wish to “…destroy our will to resist,” but their PR (Public Relations; i.e., propaganda) has failed!  “…Israel is ugly…Egypt is sitting on a volcano…” which can only lead to lead to international instability!  Before proceeding to sanctions, he suggests a legal campaign from granting visa to Israeli officials from entering the United States.  “The fall of Palestine is real,” but independence is near!

Laudree, Baziam and Ahmed were excellent, and the evening was well worth while, but many of the other speakers lacked a deep understanding of the dire Palestinian predicament.  As Americans on the extreme Left, Palestine was a cause célèbre for them to help produce paradigm shift of power within the United States.  Anyone who is aware of the history of Colonialism in the Nineteenth Century is well familiar that a few of the radical movements within the Metropolis (the Imperial homeland) were ultimately unsupportive of the Colonials themselves for fear of damaging their domestic privileges.  Few of our mainstream American speakers understood Middle Eastern realities!

11-10

Sufism in South Asia

December 4, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

hadithSan Francisco–I am in the midst of the insanity of moving, but I am trying to keep up with my basic compilations early in the morning or late into the night.

I would like to discuss three presentations made last year (Summer of 2007) –in the Asian Art Museum — as part of the bi-annual meeting of the American Council of Southern Asian art in this City here on the Western shores of San Francisco Bay.  I found the talks to be slight in news content; thus, I have previously refrained from composing on them, but because of circumstances, they have become a practicable article, and make an acceptable historical feature on an ancient vital Islamic tradition.  An article on this form of piety stated that Sufism “…is a…mystical dimension of Islam” where meditation plays an integral part.

People talking about Islam usually mention Sunnis and Shi’a; among Sunnis are also Sufis – there is mutual tension between Sufis and Wahhabi/Salafis.  Salafis accuse the Sufis, saying “…[Sufism] has never played a part in normative Islam.” 

A position with which your author extremely disagrees!

First, your journalist acknowledges that his main sources for his background on the Sufis in an historical and contemporary context are an excellent unsigned, thorough yet concise article on the Internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia.  My second source is a review essay I wrote on a book that is considered the main Western source on Sufism. Unfortunately, I do not have the piece at my fingertips; therefore, I am paraphrasing it ex aqua.

Sufism has gained much of its doctrine through accretion from the mystic environ of religious clusters that Islam absorbed in its Eastward expansion.  Accordingly, to several Western scholars, Sufism arose initially in the Western Mahgreb in a region of present-day Morocco where Christianity had been repressed three hundred years before.  There was a yearning for the type of mysticism found in monasteries of the old religion, but in the Qur`an there is a strong injunction to marry and procreate!  The early “Order” solved this “problem” by creating brotherhoods of married men who followed Muslim law carefully.  As their Society traveled into new lands, they met new converts.  For instance, the Sufic poet, Rumi, who has had a considerable influence over contemporary thought here in the West’s, name derives from the word “Roman” (i.e., the Eastern Roman Empire ruled from Byzantine) in the local language of Anatolia at that time.  The Turks had held that province from which Rumi wrote for a comparatively short time.  Thus, his family must have been fairly recent converts.  Sufic thought gained much when it crossed into India.  The great poet Kabir, who some scholars claim was a Sufi was not fully Islamized, even though he did accomplished the hajj, for he referred to God both in the Hindu terminology as Ram and, also, as Allah interchangeably in his poetry! Traditionally, in the Sufi-dominated Districts of India, the Hindus revere the Islamic Saints as much as their own.

Yet the traditional Islamic scholarship on the Sufis view their development in quite a different manner.  The Sufic thinkers trace their origins through the Prophet (Blessed be his Name!) himself.  To quote an early Sufi, their teaching “…is a science through which one can know how to travel in the presence of the Divine…”
Their beliefs and persons have been persecuted by more fundamental (and, thereby, less mystically inclined) individuals.  Consequently, their writings and practices took on an esoteric, secretive tone.

In the early centuries, Iman Al Ghazali answered that Sufic doctrine was compatible with Islamic law conclusively.  In fact, “Sufism…is the central organizing principle of many…[other] Islamic groupings.”

With the rise of more strident forms of Islam, Sufism is currently under duress.  In many regions the repression made them illegal, and forced them underground.  For instance, the Turkish government compelled the whirling dervishes into a mere entertainment.  Yet there are areas in the Muslim world where they are still strong.  To understand the attitude for an inquirer, a Sufi master was quoted as saying, “…the seeker must not self-diagnose” the situation.

The Islanicists have no sympathy for the Sufi reverence for saints, and their pilgrimages to the holy tombs for religious merit.  In my following comments, these pilgrimages and the places of devotion and worship will be placed in context.

Persianate culture had a dominant position in the old Hindustan even before the rise of the Mughal Empire.  An Indo-Persian culture dominated from western Persia well into the Subcontinent after the Muslim Empires in India, and Sufism had dominated Persian thinking before it crossed from Southwest into South Asia.  Now, Sindh (presently in Pakistan) had been Islamic since the Ninth Century of the Common Era (i.e., A.D.). Sufism came forward with the Islamic conquest, but not from the top to the bottom.  It burst through at the “grassroots” level (i.e., bottom up), and was greatly embedded in the evolving Indo-Persian Islam.  The “Missionaries” were the humble, holy Pirs, a type of holy men with which the Medieval Indians could easily culturally identify.  Soon, converted Indians adapted Islam and the Persian Worldview of Islam – even though they may not have chosen Shi’a religious views.

An Afshan Bokari pointed out that female devotees upheld the high ideals of religiosity within the Timurid Empire, and were the mainstay of the Mosques during this period which not only included India, but Iran into Mesopotamia – even into Syria — and a good extent of Central Asia.  The Empire, founded by the Sunni military genius Emir Timur (Shakespeare’s Tamerlane) was comparatively short-lived.  Most of the acquisition of territory occurred during the late Fourteenth into the early Fifteenth Centuries (C.E.). This brief Imperial sway not only spread S.W. Asian ideas, but mystical Islam. as well.  This can be termed a Timurid “ideology.”  Mystical Islam centered on feminine participation, also.  This is markedly at odds with the modern Islamicists’ dogma.  A site was shaped into the sacred by an association with a saint or a sacred act, etc.  This confine almost became a “…second Mecca!”

The major contemporary art historian, Catherine Asher, from Minnesota spoke on the “Sufic Shrines of Shahul Hamid in India and Southeast Asia.”  The basic style of the Sufic shrines spread into Peninsular and Insular S.E. Asia forming a consistent Southern Asian approach to sacred space.  On the emigration of the righteous Pirs, it is hard to determine fact from legend.  The Enlightened man often died in his travels.  South Indian Islam, from which Southeast Asian cultural religiousness derived, assumed many traits of traditional Hinduism – in this case the veneration of exceptionally piously devout men, and this practice advanced ever eastward.  Males were encouraged to go to the tombs, besides, for a sort of “darshan,” or, in the Islamic cognizance, a type of religious merit.  Basically, the Sufis’ influence flowed over three different faiths because the Pirs exhibited extraordinary powers to do miracles in their lifetime, and to bequest assistance from the tomb to his devoted believers – whatever the saint’s follower’s religiosity!

Kishwar Rizvi talked about a shrine in the present Pakistani Punjab that was built around circa 1300 (C.E.).   Most of the devoted came from the minority Shia community there.  Further, there are many Sufic elements in the shrine, for it revolves around the casket of a Saint endowing the building as sared space.  Women still retain a great responsibility in sustaining the shrine’s sacredness.  On the other hand, sexual degenerates are attracted to the location because of the laissez faire attitudes of the worshippers which may detract from the great postiveness of the greater Movement to more mainstream Muslims.

In this essay, your scribe has tried to describe a living tradition in Islam in historical and conteporary terms that has been repressed by the main thrust of the religion today, but is still strong among the common people in particular localities all over the World, and, furthermore, has brought many Westerners to the Qur`an, for its mystical saving methodologies.

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“Sailing to Byzantium”

November 20, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

2008-11-07T182600Z_01_CYP03_RTRMDNP_3_GAZA-POLITICIANS

International activists depart for Gaza from Larnaca November 7, 2008. Eleven European politicians sailed to Gaza from Cyprus on Friday after saying attempts to get into the impoverished enclave via Egypt failed. 

REUTERS/ Andreas Manolis

Paul Laudree’s Report on running the Israeli Blockade into Gaza with Relief Packets.

Sunnyvale, California–November 13th–The UN had to end its food distribution due to the lack of security since Hamas (Gaza’s ruling Party) broke their fragile cease-fire with Tel Aviv by shooting their longest-range missiles towards the far Jewish Settlements.  The New York/Geneva Organization found it impossible to ensue with their impossible assignment delivering their humanitarian duty under such anarchistic conditions.  As I wind down my Gazan story on Monday night, the missiles are still raining on Israeli territory (17th) while the IDF (Israeli Defense Force) respond with precision strikes against the Palestinian Republic with the most technically advanced American fighter-plane technology!

Given that I had told the story of a small town on the West Bank last week, I intended to hold this piece for at least a week, but circumstances have overtaken this journalist!

I usually do not follow a strict interview format within my articles, but I had an opportunity to do so with Laudree.  Initially, I asked him about the current crisis, and how it may resolve itself.  He replied that when the Israelis blockade Gaza by land, they typically back down over a realistic period of time, and he expects this will be the case over this confrontation.  It is happening now because “Israel desires to utilize collective punishment” — an action that violates the Geneva Conventions.  Dr. Laudree continued that “The Israelis fail[ed] to weaken Hamas.  [What they have accomplished] is to marginalize the Palestinians [there], and to make them wretched.”

“The Question becomes what shall We do about it?”

He felt that his project (of relief boats) had little practical affect, but produced an enormous sociological re-enforcement to the citizens of the enclave, or in Paul Laudree own words, “It was more symbolic than substantive, but we intend to extend [our efforts more into practicable significant assistance.]…” The Doctor Laudree did berate the traditional assistance agencies for their failure to offer respite to the inhabitants (that gets us back to the U.N.’s recent decision).

In his venture in which he was one of the primary founders and strategists, he was able to put together good-sized ships that sailed from Cyprus to dock at the very difficult man-made harbor in Gaza that was primarily created for fishing ships.  Paul’s three crafts — plus now one leased vessel (i.e., four in all at the moment) – are the size of large trawlers.  The pilot has to make careful maneuvers into the harbor to docket it.  The depth of the harbor is three and one half to four meters, but it can be dredged to a full eight meters.  During the first voyage two boats were able to make it through to landing!  Subsequently, two more aid voyages of one liner each were able to race Israel’s Navy to provide much sought for supplies to this beleaguered enslaved nation!

Laudree clarified that Israel “threaten to stop – not sink – their cruisers.”  Yet, leaders within the endeavor personally received anonymous intimidation.  Paul Laudee himself received a publicly pronounced threat by a pseudo-blog-scribe.

“We need to change the lives of the Palestinian public – especially in transport!  Palestinians have the right to move about their own land, and to travel abroad which is enshrined in the U.N. Charter!” Yet, “Israel not only controls their own borders, but those of the Palestinians as well!”  Gaza is different because it borders both Egypt and Israel.  “We wish to take advantage of that fact.”  So far Tel Aviv has permitted us to employ the sea lanes since the commodities we deliver are not perceived as a security threat.

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The Hui People and the Earthquake

May 29, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Alameda (Calif.)–May 26, 2008–The recent tragedies that have overtaken Southeast Asia and the Far East have impacted Muslim communities — although in a minority there; i.e., Burma (see my recent article on the subject in this paper a few weeks ago), and Sichuan (China).  Today I shall spend my time on that huge Chinese Province devastated by the massive earthquake of mid-month (May).

We in the West do not think of Islam as a major force outside the Middle East, but the People’s Republic of China has 56 officially recognized minorities.  Ten of those are from the Muslim ummah.  The estimates of the Muslim population in Chinga vary from 10 to 100 million — making that country one of the twenty most populous Muslim countries upon our globe.

The Muslim people there are divided into those ten recognized groups plus smaller grouping – all based on ethnicity.  The Hui are the largest of the ten distinct Muslim ethnic groups.  Some say the Hui Muslims are the descendants of Arab, Persian and Turkish Muslim immigrants who intermarried with the local Han (majority) Chinese people.  Others say they are descended from Companions who emigrated in the early days of Islam to mainland China.  There are approximately ten million Hui Muslims in China. Their culture is the same as that of the majority Han Chinese with the difference that the Hui practice Islam and do not eat pork or drink alcohol.  Much of the Hui homeland is in the region of the epicenter of the devastating earthquake in Sichan Province.

Historically speaking — other than the practice of Islam — there is not much difference from the Han (majority Chinese).  For the Huis, being a Muslim means belonging to an (independent) subethnic group, and thus their [“academic” or formal] knowledge of Islam is practically non-existent to the point that they do not even know the basic pillars of Islam, and yet they consider themselves Hui.  On the other hand, there are recent Han Chinese converts who follow Islam much more stringently than the Hui, but they do not like to be called Hui because they are purely Han Chinese.  Like Christianity, Islam crosses the boundaries of race and ethnicity.  For the Musim, all that is necessary is the simple (paraphrased) Credo (in Engish): “I bear witness that there is no god except God (Allah), and Muhammad is the messenger of God!” (s).

Back to China’s disaster and her peoples (the traditional Hui Musims and the newer Han converts), in terms of lifestyles, the two groups are almost identical – to the point of speaking the same language.  Even amongst the Hui one will find people who eat pork, though, and even drink alcohol; so it is difficult to tell where the Hui begins or the Han ends.

Unfortunately, with the immensity of the destruction, I could not locate articles that addressed directly — with hard facts and figures — the impact of the earthquake upon the Hui and other Chinese Musims and their immediate needs.  Therefore, because of  their populace’s concentration, it is unfortunately fair to assume that the Hui have been unevenly affected by the tragedy.

Even before the devastation, Islamic Charities had been active in China improving the lives of poorer Chinese citizens irrespective of religion.  Beijing has recently expressed their gratitude to all the Musim charities working towards the humanitarian relief of their citizens – most especially to the Muslim relief workers, for with their geographical closeness to the disaster, they were some of the first to arrive into the interior with relief.

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