The Downward Path of Upward Mobility

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fareed Zakaria

This week’s Washington Post-ABC News poll reveals what we have all sensed, that most Americans are increasingly concerned about the growing gap between rich and poor in this country. The issue quickly divides along partisan lines, as do so many, with liberals urging government to do more to reduce this gap and conservatives opposing such measures. (Overall, a significant majority does favor government action.)

But on an issue even more significant than income inequality, there does appear to be bipartisan agreement: the importance of social mobility. Indiana Gov. Mitch Daniels (R) accurately noted that “upward mobility from the bottom is the crux of the American promise.”

Some believe we’re still doing fine. In his address to the Heritage Foundation last month, Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wis.) declared, “Class is not a fixed designation in this country. We are an upwardly mobile society with a lot of movement between income groups.” Ryan contrasted social mobility in the United States with that in Europe, where “top-heavy welfare states have replaced the traditional aristocracies, and masses of the long-term unemployed are locked into the new lower class.”

In fact, over the past decade, growing evidence shows pretty conclusively that social mobility has stalled in this country. Last week, Time magazine’s cover asked, “Can You Still Move Up in America?”
The answer, citing a series of academic studies was, no; not as much as you could in the past and — most devastatingly — not as much as you can in Europe.

The most comprehensive comparative study, done last year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, found that “upward mobility from the bottom” — Daniels’s definition — was significantly lower in the United States than in most major European countries, including Germany, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Another study, by the Institute for the Study of Labor in Germany in 2006, uses other metrics and concludes that “the U.S. appears to be exceptional in having less rather than more upward mobility.”

A 2010 Economic Mobility Project study found that in almost every respect, the United States has a more rigid socioeconomic class structure than Canada. More than a quarter of U.S. sons of top-earning fathers remain in the top tenth of earners as adults, compared to 18 percent of similarly situated Canadian sons. U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom tenth of earners are more likely to remain in the bottom tenth of earners as adults than are Canadian sons (22 percent vs. 16 percent). And U.S. sons of fathers in the bottom third of earnings distribution are less likely to make it into the top half as adults than are sons of low-earning Canadian fathers.

Surveying all the evidence, Scott Winship, a fellow at the Brookings Institution, concludes in this week’s National Review: “What is clear is that in at least one regard American mobility is exceptional. . . .

[W]here we stand out is our limited upward mobility from the bottom.”

When you think about it, these results should not be so surprising.

European countries, perhaps haunted by their past as class-ridden societies, have made serious investments to create equality of opportunity for all. They typically have extremely good childhood health and nutrition programs, and they have far better public education systems than the United States does. As a result, poor children compete on a more equal footing against the rich.

In the United States, however, if you are born into poverty, you are highly likely to have malnutrition, childhood sicknesses and a bad education. The dirty little secret about the U.S. welfare state is that it spends very little on the poor — who don’t vote much — lavishing attention instead on the middle class. The result is clear. A student interviewed by Opportunity Nation, a bipartisan group founded to address these issues, put it succinctly, “The ZIP code you’re born in shouldn’t determine your destiny, but too often it does.”

Tackling income inequality is a very difficult challenge. Tax increases on the rich will do relatively little to change the basic trend, which is fueled by globalization, technology and the increasing gains conferred by education. (Getting back to the 1990 levels of income distribution in the United States, for example, would mean hundreds of billions of dollars of redistribution every year, which is exponentially larger than the biggest tax hikes anyone is proposing.)

But we do know how to create social mobility — because we used to do it. In addition, we can learn from those countries that do it so well, particularly in Northern Europe and Canada. The ingredients are obvious: decent health care and nutrition for children, good public education, high-quality infrastructure — including broadband Internet — to connect all regions and all people to market opportunities, and a flexible and competitive free economy. That will get America moving again — and all Americans moving again.

comments@fareedzakaria.com

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Muslim Groups: FBI Response to Islamophobia Scandal Not Good Enough

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The bureau has reached out to Muslim organizations in the wake of embarrassing revelations about its counterterrorism training materials. Critics say that’s not enough.

By Adam Serwer

After reports emerged last week that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterterrorism training included materials that depicted Muslims as inherently radical and violent, the bureau moved quickly to reach out to a number American Muslim groups in an effort to smooth over relations. FBI officials promised to take the problem seriously and vowed to conduct an internal review of the materials, which included assertions that mainstream American Muslims were sympathetic to terrorism and that the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to be violent.

“There was acknowledgement that what happened is wrong and what happens needs to be addressed immediately,” says Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). “It was a good first step in rectifying this.”

But Ayoub and other Arab and Muslim leaders add that more still needs to be done to repair the damage caused by the FBI’s offensive training materials.

The problem, Muslim and Arab groups argue, is that this isn’t the first time they’ve complained about the FBI’s counterterrorism training. In August 2010, several organizations sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller after Islamophobic writer Robert Spencer, who believes “that there is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists,” was invited to give two seminars to Virginia’s Tidewater Joint Terrorism Task Force in July. Spencer was also invited to give a presentation to the US Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, which is cohosted by the FBI in Norfolk.

The FBI didn’t take the outside groups’ complaints particularly seriously. In its response to the letter, the bureau defended Spencer’s appearance on the grounds that he was a “best-selling author.” A little over a year later, the FBI would try a similar tactic, dismissing the controversial elective training offered by FBI official William Gawthrop as an innocuous one-off. But Wired’s Spencer Ackerman soon revealed that recent FBI training materials depicted Muslims—not terrorists or extremists, but Muslims generally—as collectively bent on world domination.

The FBI’s previous efforts to dismiss the issue of anti-Muslim training materials, says Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates, are one reason the FBI’s promised “internal review” won’t be enough. “We’re pleased that this very serious issue is finally receiving the attention of the FBI leadership, but we still believe that an internal FBI review is insufficient at this stage,” Khera says.

On a conference call with several Muslim and Arab organizations, the FBI took pains to note that several agents had registered complaints about Gawthrop’s training materials, and others had walked out of a session in disgust. But the FBI’s excuses left many on the conference call with more questions: If FBI officials had raised concerns about Gawthrop’s work, why was the issue not addressed immediately? A report  from an independent inspector general “is the only way to ensure that the FBI is [addressing the issue],” Khera adds.

The FBI missed opportunities by not taking the potential for cooperation with Muslim groups more seriously, other critics say. If FBI officials had asked for the Muslim American community’s input, they could have stopped the scandal before it happened. “Why did they not ask for the community’s advice on the [training material]? Why didn’t they use the resources at their disposal?” asks the ADC’s Ayoub. “There was no outreach done. That’s disappointing.”

The revelations about the training materials also damaged existing relationships, argues Mohamed Elibiary of the Freedom and Justice Foundation. “You really need very substantive community relationships and partnerships if you want to get to the point where you have community-based interventions and lessening of violent extremism and radicalization,” Elibiary says. “They need to be able to feel like they can call the FBI when there’s a problem with their kids.”

In the future, Elibiary warns, FBI headquarters has to follow the example of its best field offices and do more to reach out to Muslim communities beyond the DC area. “There’s a difference between engaging with the leadership in DC and the leadership across the country,” he says. “You need to engage with both. For what you say in DC to have an impact in Des Moines, you need to be talking to someone there.”

Adam Serwer is a reporter at the Washington, DC bureau of Mother Jones.

13-40

‘Eid in America!

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By TMO Staff

Eid_017

Most of the mosques in the US celebrated ‘Eidul Fitr on Tuesday August 30th, 2011, finalizing the festival of worship and celebration that was Ramadan of AH 1432.

In this issue is a series of reports from around the USA, where TMO reporters describe their own ‘Eid experiences.

The Bloomfield Hills’ Muslim Unity Center celebrated ‘Eid on Tuesday, filled to overflowing and forced to have three separate celebrations (at 8AM, 10AM, and 11AM).  These ‘Eid khutbas focused on keeping Allah in mind “whatever you do,” the imam arguing that if you keep Allah in your mind, that will prevent you from doing wrong.  The khutbah also focused on Tawhid. 

Children at the center had a very good time, as there were rides and slides, and plenty of good food, and a festive atmosphere permeated the atmosphere of this suburban mosque.

Other reports in this issue of TMO!

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Another Angle on the Moon

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Despite ISNA’s endorsement of the moon calculations performed by the Fiqh Council of North America, the debate in the Muslim community over the necessity of physically sighting the moon continues, and an interesting contribution to that debate has been made by Mr. Nabeel Tarabishy, of Goodsamt, LLC.  Mr. Tarabishy spoke Saturday night at the Islamic Cultural Association before a small gathering on the subject “The Moon and the Islamic Calendar.”

Mr. Tarabishy’s speech delved into background issues concerning the astronomy of moon sighting, and then described his own approach to the issue in relation to the ongoing debate.
He began by exploring the Qur`anic Ayas concerning seeking knowledge, pointing out the important issue that Allah in Holy Qur`an said that the intercalation of the months that had been done by the pagan Arabs before Islam was not just wrong, not just kufr, but was “excessive kufr,” thus showing the importance to Allah of our seeking to understand and abide by the underlying structure of the universe determined the Almighty.  “We can’t change the facts of the universe according to our desire, we must accept facts, and truth,” he said.

Allah Himself divided the year into 12 months, the week into 7 days.

Tarabishy also pointed out that no world civilization has existed without a calendar, and he explored the history of the Christian Julian and Gregorian calendars.  He explained that the lunar year is 11 days shorter than the solar year, and he spoke about the intercalation done by the Jewish and Chinese calendars–which he explained is done in a “less chaotic” fashion than was done by the pagan Arabs before Islam.

Then Tarabishy explored the physical dimensions of the lunar and solar progression through the seasons and months and years, and described the physical positions of those three astronomical bodies over the year.

Then he introduced his argument that the Islamic calendar–as a window to our history and culture and more–should be made as predictable as the solar calendar, arguing that it should be possible to plan travel to coincide with any specific day of the Islamic year, thus calculations will be necessary.  He listed extremely prominent Muslim theologians who he said had endorsed calculation, including most notably Imam Shafi’i.

His chief requirements of such a calculation-based Islamic calendar were that “false positives” and “false negatives” contradictory to the physical sightings of the moon should be avoided or excluded.

To learn more, please visit  his website, goodsamt.com.

13-32

Making Sense Out of Christian Evangelism

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

There are many Christian missionaries that are trying win souls to Christianity. One of them is Rev. Hicham Chehab, head of the Chicagoland Lutheran Muslim Mission Association (CLMMA). He is based in Chicago and is heading a campaign to convert Muslims in to Christianity. I have not been able to easily uncover any Zionist connections, which are obvious in the case of several other “former Muslim” spokespersons for pro-Israel organizations. In his facebook bio, Chehab does not state the Lebanese militia to which he belonged (or for which he was trained). It is critical information, and its absence could make all his claims dubious. It is certainly profitable to claim to be a former Islamic extremist now taking shelter in Christianity. However, nothing that I can find in the immediately accessible data can prove that his conversion was not sincere. His problems with Islam seem to be a result of upbringing and are very similar to other complaints among Muslims in Muslim cultures throughout the world.

Chehab attended the Islamic and Arab/Lebanese Nationalist Makased school system. His main issue with their approach to religion was this:

“After a few weeks in my Muslim school the teacher started giving us books that today we call political Islam. They said, the world is divided into two parts, the world of Islam and the world of Infidels.”

To be honest, it’s kind of hard to argue with this because there is at least one hadith saying as much. The issue of concern is interpretation and context. In my experience with Arab immigrant Muslims, their cultural interpretation of such verses tends to be vastly different than the way a college educated American Muslim would interpret it. It is possible, within the context of his political and educational status, that this type of teaching could have been perceived negatively by a sensitive person seeking higher truths. He may not have realized that there are other ways to interpret Islam.

When we hear about a Jew, who is tired of the “us versus them” mentality of the synagogue, accepts Islam, we rejoice. And yet, when a Muslim, who is tired of the “us versus them” mentality of the mosque, accepts Christianity, we grieve. I am not sure that we are in a position to judge in these matters, in many cases. If the person’s personal healing path leads them in a certain way, and inspires them to be a better person, only God truly knows if that is the path most suited to accessing God, given that person’s personal peculiarities. Chehab was clearly an emotionally conflicted individual, who made a choice to reject what his parents taught him and embraced a new spiritual path as a conscious choice. Maybe the version of Islam that his parents taught him was worthy of rejection. We can’t know. What we can’t deny is that Muslim activists study Bible verses to help them approach Christians with the intention of converting them to Islam.

I think every Christian has the right to preach the Gospel to anyone that is willing to listen just as every Jew has the right to preach the Ten Commandments and every Muslim has the right to teach about Islam. We argue with the best of arguments, and he who makes the most sense will gain the largest following.

The issue with this Muslim-Turned-Christian-Minister is that he was given a job to train immigration officials and also taught an anti-terrorism course to the Army Reserve. His connection with the government creates questions as to his actual motives. I think, as a majority Christian nation, it probably does help the US understanding when a former Muslim can explain Muslims to Christians using Christian language. But if you truly want to understand Islam, you also have to talk to someone who believes in it. That is where the CAIR complaint comes in. Maybe it’s not so much an issue of getting rid of the evangelist but of including more voices in the debate.

Islam is a beautiful religion. Christianity is also a beautiful religion, and they are intertwined. The interesting thing is, when you go to Palestine and observe the oldest Christian community in the world, you don’t see these boundaries between Islam and Christianity. Muslims and Christians intermarry, they give each other gifts on their respective holidays. When the Christians parade down the street in honor of the Virgin Mary, their Muslim neighbors join in. The Christians are as happy on Eid as anybody else. There is no conflict. Christianity is a very broad belief spectrum, in fact there are sects of Christianity that believe like Muslims do, that Christ did not die upon the cross.

It is so important for Muslims to love Jesus as all prophets, and especially the five holiest prophets, Prophet Muhammad (s) who is the best of them, and Jesus (as), Moses (as), Ibrahim (as), and Nuh (as).

13-31

Clinton Backs Saudi Drivers

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrew Quinn

2011-06-22T173003Z_1967305151_GM1E76N047F01_RTRMADP_3_SAUDI-DRIVING

Azza Al Shmasani alights from her car after driving in defiance of the ban in Riyadh June 22, 2011. Saudi Arabia has no formal ban on women driving. But as citizens must use only Saudi-issued licences in the country, and as these are issued only to men, women drivers are anathema.

REUTERS/Fahad Shadeed

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Tuesday praised “brave” Saudi women demanding the right to drive, but she tried to avoid an open breach with a close U.S. ally by saying the Saudis themselves should determine the way forward.

The Saudi driving ban has been publicly challenged in recent weeks by women who have risked arrest to get behind the wheel. Clinton, one of the world’s best-known advocates for women’s rights, has come under mounting pressure to take a stand.

“What these women are doing is brave and what they are seeking is right, but the effort belongs to them. I am moved by it and I support them,” Clinton said in her first public comments on the issue.

Clinton’s carefully phrased remarks appeared to be an attempt to balance her deep-held beliefs with the need to keep smooth relations with Riyadh in an era of huge political changes sweeping the Middle East and concern about oil supplies.

The United States and Saudi Arabia have seen their traditionally close ties strained in recent months as popular protests erupted in a number of Arab countries including Bahrain, where Saudi security forces were called in to restore order.

Prior to her remarks, the State Department had said that Clinton was engaged in “quiet diplomacy” on the driving ban — drawing a fresh appeal from one Saudi women’s group for a more forceful U.S. stance.

“Secretary Clinton: quiet diplomacy is not what we need right now. What we need is for you, personally, to make a strong, simple and public statement supporting our right to drive,” the group, Saudi Women for Driving, said in a statement e-mailed to reporters.

Clinton did just that on Tuesday, although she repeatedly added the caveat that the issue was an internal matter for Saudi Arabia to sort out.

“This is not about the United States, it is not about what any of us on the outside say. It is about the women themselves and their right to raise their concerns with their own government,” she said.

Clinton raised the issue in a telephone call with Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister on Friday and said the United States would continue to support full universal rights for women around the world.

Clinton said mobility was important for women to both find jobs and help care for their families.

“We will continue in private and in public to urge all governments to address issues of discrimination and to ensure that women have the equal opportunity to fulfill their own God-given potential,” she said.

Saudi Arabia — a key U.S. security ally and important oil supplier — is an absolute monarchy which applies an austere version of Sunni Islam. Religious police patrol the streets to ensure public segregation between men and women.

Besides a ban on driving, women in Saudi Arabia must have written approval from a male guardian to leave the country, work or even undergo certain medical operations.

Riyadh is also an important factor in both Yemen and Syria, where protests have challenged autocratic leaders and left Washington trying to balance its support for democratic reform with concerns over stability and security in the region.

13-26

Taking the Wheel

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehanm, TMO

car-steering-wheel-lgMost women in America don’t think twice about hopping in their cars and hitting the open road to run errands, pick the kids up from school or simply enjoy a long leisurely drive. However, in Saudi Arabia, women are still banned from driving despite several high profile incidents over the years that has thrust the global media’s attention on the issue. This past week the issue was once again brought into the limelight as a female Saudi Arabian citizen took to the wheel and later posted the video on the popular social-networking site YouTube.

With her brother in the passenger seat, 32-year-old Manal al-Sharif, took a short spin that landed her in the slammer. The drive was deliberate as al-Sharif herself revealed in a recent interview in which she lamented her frustration for not being able to find a taxi one night, “I had to walk on the street for half an hour looking for a cab. I was harassed by every single car because it was late at night and I was walking alone. I kept calling my brother to pick me up, but his phone wasn’t answering. I was crying in the street. A 32-year-old grown woman, a mother, crying like a kid because I couldn’t find anyone to bring me home.” Al-Sharif learned to drive in the United States and holds a driver’s license from America. However, in her homeland, only men are issued driver’s licenses.

According to Saudi Arabian authorities, al- Sharif broke several laws after she got behind the wheel including, “bypassing rules and regulations, driving a car within the city, enabling a journalist to interview her while driving a car, deliberately disseminating the incident to the media, incitement of Saudi women to drive cars, and turning public opinion against the regulations.” Scores of Saudi citizens have rallied behind al-Sharif and begun to question the veracity of the driving ban on women especially when there is nothing on the books that legally bars a woman from driving.

Soon after her incarceration, a Facebook page was erected entitled ‘We are all Manal al-Sharif: a call for solidarity with Saudi women’s rights’ The page has already garnered 19,000 likes. Another fan page related to the women’s driving ban in Saudi Arabia is also getting a lot of support, to the tune of 6,000 likes so far, albeit for all of the wrong reasons. The page encourages Saudi Arabian men to beat their female relatives with a heavy brocaded rope known as the “Iqal”, which adorns the Saudi Arabian men’s headdress, should any of the women demand driving rights.

Al-Sharif remains in prison and her fate is yet to be determined. Some analysts have predicted she will stay in prison for five days, however it remains to be seen if she will face further penalties for deliberately flaunting the driving ban. Meanwhile, another Saudi Arabian woman copied al-Sharif’s drive this week and was swiftly arrested at a local supermarket. However, she was only held for a few hours and released.

13-22

Pak MP’s Refuse Body Scan

April 8, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Shah-Mehmood-Qureshi
Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

Pakistani MPs abandon US visit over body scanning

Pakistani lawmakers belonging to different political parties have refused to visit the United States amid a row over body scanning at American airports.

A senior member of the Pakistani Parliament told Press TV on condition of anonymity that 18 lawmakers had rejected official invitation extended by the US embassy in Islamabad.

The lawmakers say they would not visit the US until their exemption from scanning at US airports.

Earlier this month, a six-member Pakistani parliamentary delegation, protesting full body scanning in Washington, cut short their official US visit immediately to return home.

The US state department had invited them to Washington to discuss security in the troubled tribal regions of Pakistan.

Pakistan’s foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi says he had raised the issue with US authorities during his recent visit to Washington.

The X-ray machines show naked images of passengers.

Under the new rules, citizens from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Algeria, Lebanon, Libya, Iraq, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen must receive an extra check of their body and carry-on bags before boarding a plane.

12-15

Of India and Pakistan Talks Open Up Again

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

There are mixed feelings about the recent Pakistan India talks which were the first after the Mumbai attacks in 2008. The foreign secretary of the 2 countries discussed the current situation in New Delhi last Thursday, 25th February 2010. These talks worse received with a lot of criticism from the public of Pakistan and India. No agenda was announced for the discussions. The Indaian Foreign Sectretary Ms. Nirupama Rao said that the talks would focus on the core issue of terrorism. The Pakistani Foreign Secretary Mr. Salman Bashir said that he wanted to focus on the core issue of Kashmir.

Both sides entered the conversations with different ideas and in turn were expecting completely different results. Since the direction they wanted to take the discussions was so different the chances of this event being successful was a stretch.

Mr. Salman Bashir described his talks in Delhi as exploratory to reporters, “But unstructured talks for the sake of talks, though important, will not produce any long-term results. It is crucial that India agrees to restore Composite Dialogue to move forward,” he emphasized.

About the Kashmir Issue Bashir said: “Pakistan has made it clear to India that Kashmir is an international issue since the passage of the UN Security Council resolutions on it (in 1948) and international intervention is required for its settlement.

Ms. Rao said that in the discussion it was discussed that “the networks of terrorism in Pakistan be dismantled,”  “We have agreed to remain in touch,” Rao added.

While talking to the Pakistani press at the Pakistan High Commission in the evening Mr. Bashir said, the gap between Pakistan and India was widening and he did not see any substantial progress in the talks. He also added that there is no need for secretary level talks if India remains stuck to its stand on outstanding issues.
During these talks the water issue among others was brought up, which was discussed at the talks. According to Pakistani Foreign Secretary, Pakistan had informed the Indian side about the violations of Indus Basin Treaty, storage of water, Indian plan to build more dams, Kishenganaga hydel project, pollution in sources of water and the issue of glacier melting.

From the responses from both sides one cannot say for sure what issues were discussed and at what point the conversation was left but once can say for sure it doesn’t seem like nay significant results have come out of this venture. However it does not mean that talks were a complete failure and this act should not be repeatedly in the future. On the same token no time frame has been set for future discussions.

The issues that were discussed, including the Kashmir issue, are issues that have been under discussion and have been a problem for as long as the separate history of Pakistan and India has existed. From the reports that came in it looked like India and Pakitan had completely different agendas for this meeting and both sides are not really seeing eye to eye on what the real problem is.

India wants to eliminate terrorism from Pakistan and that is its only focus at this time. On the other hand Pakistan has many issues that it needs solved that have been put on the back burners for years for different reasons.

Every time the two countries start talks something takes place that halts the talks. The cold and hot history of the two nations makes it very hard for any peace or revolutionary discussions to take place. The recent halt in discussions came due to the Mumbai attacks because of which one can assume the Indian Foreign Secretary wants to focus on terrorism building within Pakistan according to India.

The Zardari government argued that peace with India would produce economic benefits that would strengthen Pakistan and allow the military to carry out its 15-year development plan.

In January 2007, India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a comment to the similar affect when he said, “I dream of a day, while retaining our respective national identities, one can have breakfast in Amritsar, lunch in Lahore and dinner in Kabul.”

No one can be sure if such time will ever come, however we do know that as of right now just thinking about traveling frm one country to another strikes fear in the hearts of many who know what is going on in all of these countries. It would be safe to say that our leaders have yet to give us a world in which what Mr. Singh said would be possible.

12-10

Babari Masjid: As Politicians “Clash,” People Remain Calm

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Politically, the Indian public appears to be far more matured and secular than the politicians. This was marked by the 17th anniversary of demolition of Babari Masjid (December 6) being witness to primarily only political activists expressing their respective stands on the controversial issue, while the common people decided to remain away from the same. It would be erroneous to assume that the people have been unaware about politicians raking the issue again. The issue hit the headlines recently with the Liberhan Commission report being tabled in the Parliament (November 24). The commission led by retired Indian Supreme Court Judge M.S. Liberhan was formed on December 16, 1992 to investigate the demolition of the mosque on December 6, 1992 and the accompanying riots. It has taken the commission 17 years, 48 extensions, to finally submit the report to PM Manmohan Singh on June 30, 2009. A day ahead of it being tabled in the Parliament, contents of the commission’s report leaked to the media leading the politicians to level charges against each other over the leak and also the demolition.

Despite the legislators raising a row over the issue in the Parliament as well as through the media, the Indian people have not allowed themselves to be provoked to a stage of any communal frenzy in any part of the country. Though the 17th anniversary was witness to demonstrations in different parts of the country, including the capital city and Ayodhya, by and large, the day passed peacefully. While several Muslim organizations observed the anniversary as “Black Day,” the Hindu organizations marked it as “Victory Day.” There was tight security in Delhi and other parts of the country.

Ironically, though Parliament Street saw different groups assembling to voice their demands on the issue, they confined themselves to their associates and did not clash with each other. Among groups which voiced their stands at Parliament Street were All India Babari Masjid Rebuilding Committee (AIBMRC), Popular Front of India (PFI), Shiv Sena and Hindu Mahasabha. While the Muslim groups (AIBMRC and PFI) demanded action against those responsible for the demolition, Shiv Sena and Hindu Mahasabha claimed that Liberhan Commission’s report would only strengthen their movement.   

“Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani and others mentioned as culprits should be arrested and tried on a fast-track basis. Legal action is necessary against the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Bajrang Dal and Shiv Sena clique because they violated the law of the land and caused great harm to the secular image of India,” AIBMRC President Mohammed Younus Siddiqui said. The AIBMRC also submitted a memo to President Pratibha Patil for “time-bound and binding” decision on the Ayodhya issue by Supreme Court under Article 138-B of the Constitution.

During its demonstration at Jantar Mantar, the PFI demanded that Election Commission should cancel BJP’s recognition as a political party for its role in the Babari Masjid’s demolition. “The ECI should scrap BJP’s political recognition. We also demand that the Congress fulfill its promise of rebuilding the mosque,” PFI leader K.M. Shareef said.

Blaming the Congress-led government for playing with “sentiments of Hindu community,” Pandit Nandkishore Mishra, national working president of Hindu Mahasabha said: “Our movement has become stronger in the wake of the Liberhan Commission’s report being made public, which is nothing but a bundle of lies.”
The week began with the Lok Sabha debating on the controversial issue (December 7) under the non-voting Rule 193.  The debate had been postponed twice earlier due to non-availability of the Hindi version of Liberhan Commission’s report. Before the debate began, Speaker Meira Kumar asked the members to present their views in the most “dispassionate manner,” with it being a “politically sensitive” issue. Ironically, while the Lok Sabha was witness to parliamentarians going overboard to assert their stand on the issue, the people at large displayed a passive approach towards the same. The people have apparently sensed that irrespective of what the different political parties’ stand is on the controversial issue, their primary aim is to exploit it politically. Thus as politicians debated strongly and passionately in the Parliament, the common Indian remained unmoved by this political drama despite it being given a new turn by Liberhan Commission’s report.

Initiating the debate, Gurudas Dasgupta (Communist Party of India) wondered as to how to could a fundamentalist party lead to the demolition despite the Congress being in power at the center. When the mosque was demolished, Uttar Pradesh government was led by BJP, with Kalyan Singh (then a BJP member) as the chief minister, while P.V. Narsimha Rao (Congress) was the Prime Minister. “We were put to shame (by the demolition),” Dasgupta said. The demolition was a result of meticulous planning, he said. The nation wanted to know, he said:  “Why the disaster could not be prevented? Why the criminals could not be held in jail? Why did the political system fail?”

During his speech, BJP president dismissed Liberhan Commission report as a “political document” which was “baseless, biased and prejudiced” based on assumptions and presumptions.

Congress leader Jagdambika Pal laid stress on need of taking steps to ensure that such a tragic and shameful incident does not take place again. He blamed BJP for exploiting the issue not for religious reasons but to consolidate its vote bank by provoking communal fire. “It is necessary to protect our pillars of secularism and democracy. Besides, there are bigger issues like that of unemployment, staring in the face of the nation,” Pal said.

The hard-core political rivals in Uttar Pradesh, Samajwadi Party (SP) and Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) had a similar stand on the issue. Mulayam Singh Yadav (SP) held both the BJP and Congress responsible for the demolition. BSP leader Dara Singh Chohan went a step further, holding both BJP and Congress as responsible for the demolition and alleging that they had prepared the Liberhan Commission report jointly.

Seventeen years have passed, during which the Indian voters have matured enough not to be taken for a ride by communal passion being raised by politicians over a highly sensitive issue. Sadly, as displayed by the uproar raised in the Parliament over the Liberhan Commission report, the politicians have not yet learnt this!

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Why Democrats and Republicans Won’t Confront Black Mass Incarceration, and Why The Green Party Will

November 25, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bruce A. Dixon

Although the phenomenon of black mass incarceration is at the center of African American life, it continues to be obfuscated or ignored. The bipartisan consensus is that the social policy of black mass incarceration may exist only the minds of black people, and is certainly off the table as a political issue. To get this very real concern of Black America on the table then, may require stepping outside the bipartisan consensus. In Georgia, the state with the third highest black population and the largest percentage of its adults in the correctional labyrinth, the Green Party proposes to do what Democrats and Republicans won’t — make black mass incarceration a central political issue.

With less than 5% of the world’s population, the US accounts for a quarter of the world’s prisoners. While African Americans are only an eighth the population, we account for almost half the locked down. America’s widely acknowledged but rarely discussed social policy of black mass incarceration has been a decisive fact of African American family and community life for a generation. Four years ago in Black Commentator, this reporter wrote that

“…Right now, the shadow of prison squats at the corners of, and often at the center of nearly every black family’s life in this nation.

“Since 1970, the US prison population has multiplied more than six times… despite essentially level crime rates over the last four decades. This has only been possible because the public policies which enable and support locking up more people longer and for less have until now been exempt from analyses of their human, economic and social costs or from any reckoning of the relationships of spiraling imprisonment to actual crime rates and public safety. Most tellingly, while public discussions of these policies are deracialized, their racially disparate impacts are a seldom discussed but widely known fact. Thus even though the damning numbers are widely reported and well known, mass incarceration is practically invisible as a political issue, even in those heavily black communities which suffer most from its implementation.”

Little has changed since then. The number of persons in prisons, jails, on probation, bail, parole, pre-trial and post-conviction supervision continues to rise and according to a March 2009 Pew Center report is now one in 31 nationally, including one in eleven African Americans. An astounding three percent of all black Americans are in prisons and jails, the majority for drug charges, although black and white rates of drug use have been virtually identical for decades. While politicians in black constituencies are regularly obliged to wag their fingers at it, their misleading analyses often point to educational outcomes, and job markets as if these were causes of explosive growth of the carceral state rather than its outcomes. In fact, the policy of mass black imprisonment has functioned as a kind of reparations in reverse, curtailing the economic vitality of entire black communities, stressing and destroying the cohesion of millions of families and thousands of neighborhoods, worsening black health outcomes and more.

The pretense that black mass incarceration is the murky outcome of other social policies rather than a plainly failed and malevolent social policy by itself misdirects public attention and effectively takes the issue off the political table. If black joblessness, lack of family cohesion and health disparities are somehow supposed to cause black mass incarceration, there is no reason to examine the growth of the carceral state itself. Thus the social policy of black mass incarceration never has to justify itself, its costs or its outcomes, never needs to be publicly acknowledged, and can never become a political issue in and of itself. But this may be about to change.

Making mass incarceration a political issue

The ninth largest US state, Georgia leads the rest with one in every thirteen adults in its prisons, jails, on parole and probation, and various kinds of pre-trial and post-conviction court or correctional supervision. A generation of white and black politicians from both major parties have built their careers on stoking the fear of crime and the expansion and justification of the state’s vast crime control industries. The state’s current Republican governor, as well as the top two Democratic contenders who want to succeed him all had a hand in passing the state’s three-strikes mandatory sentencing legislation under former Democratic governor Zell Miller. One of those Democrats is the state’s African American attorney general, Thurbert Baker. The last Democratic governor Roy Barnes wanted to put a “two-strikes” provision into the state constitution.

But Georgia’s Green Party, BAR has learned, will announce tomorrow that its major focus for the coming two years, including the 2010 election cycle, will be making a political issue out of black mass incarceration. The Green Party of GA intends to do this by running candidates for the state legislature and for district attorney and sheriff, not just in metro Atlanta, but in Augusta, Macon, Columbus, Savannah and elsewhere. Georgia’s Green party will expect its candidates to put the fact of black mass incarceration squarely on the political table by advocating positions including but not limited to:

•opposing in principle the trials of or incarceration of juveniles as or with adults;

•repealing all mandatory sentencing legislation;

•an end to all privatized prisons and jails, and the swift phasing out of piecemeal privatization of inmate health, food services and other functions;

•an end to all privatized probation services — Georgia has an almost uniquely corrupt and oppressive regime of fines with loan-shark interest payments collected by private sector probation companies;

•ceasing the incarceration of juveniles for most or all nonviolent offenses and reexamining the “zero-tolerance” policies forced upon many school districts;

•immediate cancellation of all the private contracts enabling well-connected corporations and corrupt politicians to collect exorbitant tolls on the money sent to and phone calls made to inmates and persons in custody;

•the extension of meaningful educational opportunities beyond G.E.D. to people in the state’s jails and prisons and its extensive community corrections networks;

I should say how BAR came to know this. We know it because I have been for the last few weeks a member of the GA state committee of the Green Party and its press secretary.

We know that the effects of the nation’s policy of black mass incarceration are among the most deeply felt concerns of millions of African American families. We are confident that vigorous, competent, grassroots political campaigns that bring their concerns to the fore are the key to growing the Green Party in Georgia and bringing into existence a broader and more permanent movement for peace and justice than has ever existed before. With the third highest black population among US states, Georgia is uniquely positioned to lead the way on this issue.

In Georgia, our Green Party will look a lot like a red, black and green party. We are confident that with black majorities or near majorities in many of the state’s largest counties, including several outside metro Atlanta, that some of these contests are eminently winnable by Green candidates willing to place the issue of mass incarceration squarely on the political front burner. We will be recruiting and training those candidates and the people who want to work with them to change this failed and destructive social policy.

By comparison, the mobilization achieved by the Obama campaigns last year was superficial, a mile wide and an inch deep, its imperatives dictated from the top down rather than from the bottom up, and its activists dispersed and demobilized immediately after the election. Establishment campaigns, such as Democrats usually conduct, are not “movements”. They are where movements go to die, or are betrayed misdirected, and disbanded. To be successful the fight to change and reverse the national policy of black mass incarceration must be closer to a real mass movement than anything seen in a generation, directed and inspired in large part from below. As far as Georgia’s Green Party is concerned it will not be the slave of any candidate’s political career. It won’t go away after a few, or maybe quite a few people get elected, or not. It aims at nothing less than explaining, confronting and curtailing the carceral state with the power of organized people.

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Tricky PETA’s “Muslim” Website

November 1, 2009 by · 6 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

Editor’s Note:  PETA has addressed all of the most pressing concerns that TMO had about its website, and that is a credit to its founder, Ingrid Newkirk, and also to Kathy Nizzari and Hanif Akhtar, who all took the time to respectfully address our concerns.  The main concern was that the site should say it is sponsored by PETA, which it now does, “Sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” at the bottom of the page, a little hard to read but it is there.  The second major concern was the “empty ritual” language referred to below.  Actually PETA has been quite sensitive and responsive in addressing TMO’s major concerns, compared to which all our other concerns are minimal.  We may disagree about the substantive issues relating to animal treatment, but we no longer have ethical concerns about their website.

 

Farmington–October 28–If you had asked me October 19th about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I might have said, “aren’t they the people who protect animals?”

IslamicConcerns I would not have gone into the issue of their calling fish “sea kittens,” or their spraying fake blood to ruin the furs that people wear, or their doing demonstrations around the world wearing minimal clothing.  These things I found out about in the course of my writing this article. PETA after all wasn’t really on my plate–not really on an agenda related to Islam. 

But now things have changed.  PETA launched a website called Islamic Concerns (www.islamicconcerns.com) early last week, and we at TMO received a press release rather proudly proclaiming that fact.  I immediately went to the website and searched in vain for the notice that PETA is behind the website.  No “about” page saying “PETA proudly produced this website.” No acknowledgment that the website islamicconcerns.com was commissioned by non-Muslims with a non-Muslim agenda (as per editor’s note above this has now changed).

At a glance the website appears fine.  In large letters it says Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim.  The website is very attractive, at least until you start reading it or trying to see who is behind it.

At a closer look the website is problematic.  It stated until last Thursday that the slaughter of animals after hajj is “an empty ritual.”  (After TMO raised this issue with PETA they removed that language from their site although the site still argues against sacrificing animals in a more oblique way).  The site quotes a “scholar” who argues that all of the ahadith relating to dogs are incorrect.  The site fails to advertise that the entire website is commissioned by non-Muslims with a secular agenda.  It argues that the prescribed method for slaughtering animals in Islamic and Jewish law is too painful and should be amended to include stunning prior to slaughter.  The “fatwas” on the website are a smorgasbord of bizarre material, whatever fatwas suited the fancies of the non-Muslims who built the site.  The Muslims involved in the site care deeply about animals but do not appear to care very deeply about practicing Islam.  The website states conclusory fatwas unsupported by Islamic scholars, for instance that eating meat from animals who have themselves eaten pork is haram–this may or may not be true, but if it is it should come from a real scholar.

The website advocates extreme and unnecessary solutions to legitimate problems.  Admittedly factory farms likely feed chemicals and reprocessed animals to their livestock, and engage in other unsavory practices, and perhaps there is unnecessary mistreatment of such animals precedent to slaughter.  But if you sincerely want to help Muslims eat halal and wholesome meat, then the response to this problem is to support small farms, not to go vegan.

Also granted, animal testing is sometimes cruel.  But the solution to this is not to throw blood on people or to protest or yell and scream.  The solution is to live a simple lifestyle in which as much as possible we use the materials that don’t need animal testing–the same materials we use in following the sunnah of Prophet (s).

Immediately after learning of the site and seeing it I called PETA’s designated spokesperson on the issue, Kathy Nizzari, and in answer to my first question, “Did any Muslims contribute” to the site, Ms. Nizzari proclaimed that the “very devout Muslim” Hanif Akhtar had been involved. Nizzari, the primary spokesperson for PETA’s Islamic Concerns website, asked that I speak with Akhtar rather than her about the site.

I interviewed Mr. Akhtar three days later, last Thursday, and I say with sincerity that I respect Mr. Akhtar for his honesty and his taking the time to talk with me. 

Mr. Akhtar is not “devout,” any more than I am devout. He does not pray more than other Muslims, nor does he have a great deal of knowledge of Islam.  He is a practicing vegan (no meat no dairy) (originally from Pakistan), as are his entire family–he does not eat meat and will state with conviction that there is a branch of Muslims who believe that ahadith should not be followed.  In speaking about dogs he quoted from the surah called “Ashabul Kahf” (actually al-Kahf), speaking of the dog who was mentioned in that surah.

Still, he respects Prophet (s) and will not go as far as to state that he puts his vegan beliefs above the teachings of Prophet (s).  Confronted with the problematic issues on the website listed above, he sounded legitimately surprised and promised to speak with other PETA people about what is on the site, for example he said he “took exception with the website” in calling the slaughter of animals after hajj “an empty ritual.”   He promised to address this issue with others at PETA, and in fact a week later we no longer see that language on the site.  He said he did not know about the (still) missing “about” page. Again, he seems sincere to me, even if perhaps not religious, and certainly not “devout.”

While he admits he uses leather he says no one else in his family does.  An apparently sincere and honest man, but this is not a person who can be relied on as an expert in Islam or Islamic law. Likely PETA has never employed any such person.

Mr. Akhtar works on a purely voluntary basis for PETA, and provided some guidance in a review capacity on the website–if he saw a problem, he explained, he mentioned it to the PETA staff which corrected it–”just minor spelling mistakes,” he said. But in a cursory review of the website I was able to find the several significant problems listed above that he said he was unfamiliar with.

The Muslims who worked on the site always appear to be at the periphery.  When i mentioned Muslims to Nizzari, she pointed at Akhtar.  When I mentioned Muslims to Akhtar, he pointed at Nizzari.  One does not appear to be Muslim at all, and the other, for all his sincerity, is by his own admission not religious. 

Although the website supposedly provides Islamic law on subjects related to Islamic diet, there is no consistent school of thought referred to.  Mr. Akhtar mentioned a person named Ali–whose last name he would not share with me–who contributed to the website but was currently “in Iran,” therefore I assume he is Shi’a which is I guess a starting point although there is no attempt to clarify that perhaps the Islamic Concern website is built on Shi’a law.  There are different schools of thought, Ja’fari, Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki. 

Non-Muslims may believe that a handful of fatwas plucked from around the Muslim world form a convincing argument, any Muslim knows there is discipline involved.

So far we addressed the ethical issues of the website.  On a practical level, this website is a rather large block of uncertainty cast apparently by an extreme minority secular organization–so this is not likely to work. 

Moderate Muslims will be incensed that PETA is trying to trick them.  Shi’a are never going to accept this website when their religious authorities are marja’iyya.  Practising Sunnis are not going to take Islamic advice from shadowy online “Islamic” sites, especially insofar as they contravene the Sunnah of the Prophet (s).  Maybe some young impressionable Muslims will be swayed by the site, but the backlash against the site will likely outweigh any gains PETA might make.

How can it be Islamic to become a vegan animal worshipper who calls fish kittens, when the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s) is to eat meat, and to wear leather–just the leather socks alone that Prophet (s) wore are proof of this.  What about other sunnahs involving leather? Muslims care about animal welfare, but it is not Islam to unbalance the world to the extent that the central concern of life is that no animal be harmed in any way.

So my advice to PETA, make a website, it’s okay.  But admit who you are and do not try to trick us.  And do not expect to change the world too much with this latest attempt to subvert Islam in the interests of promoting a secular and crafty agenda. One piece of advice from Qur`an–enter houses by their front doors.

It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is virtue if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear Allah. That ye may prosper.

Baqara:189 (Y. Ali)

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