Tariq Ramadan, Keynote Speaker at SoundVision Fundraiser

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Sunday–April 11–Tariq Ramadan is not what you probably expect. 

Tariq Ramadan

You might expect someone barred by the Bush administration to have an Arabic accent, to have an angry or at least emotional manner of public speaking, but the reality is Tariq Ramadan better fits the mold of a French intellectual than the typical Muslim populist.  In fact, from his nature it does not appear that he has any intentions towards seeking any political power, other than spiritual and intellectual power or accomplishments.

The subject of a six-year ban by the Bush administration, ended only recently by Secretary of State Clinton, speaks English and even Arabic with a French Swiss accent, and has the breezy intellectual worldly air of a French intellectual–he seems as though he has certainty about many things.  For example during his speech he interrupted emotional applause for one popular point that he had emphasized, saying “let me explain the rules,” instructing listeners not to clap during his speech (“not because it is a fatwa, although it is”) and then going on to say that the emotional reaction to his words may detract from what “we are trying to accomplish.”

Tariq Ramadan is called, by the reactionary right, an “Islamist” of Egyptian ancestry. (By Islamist do they mean someone who likes Islam? So is George Bush a Christianist?) In fact it may be his ancestry which scared the Bush administration more than any other fact about him.  His mother’s father was Hassan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide and founder of the Muslim Brotherhood.  His father was Said Ramadan, who was also prominently involved in Ikhwan, and who married Hassan al-Banna’s daughter.  He was raised in Switzerland, where his famous parents sought refuge from Nasser’s Arab nationalist animosity to the Ikhwan. 

Ramadan is now 48 years old. He is no firebrand.  He was ranked by the British Prospect and American Foreign Policy magazines eightth in a list of the world’s top 100 contemporary intellectuals in 2008.  He has authored several books, focusing on the issue of Islam and the West.  He wears his intellectualism on his sleeve–on Sunday he said of his most recent book that he had made it very thin so that American journalists would actually read it, although he complained that they still do not.

Ramadan is in the book 500 Most Influential Muslims–2009, being listed in the Scholars section.  He is even an honorable mention for the top 50 listings in the book. 

His entry in the book is as follows: 

Ramadan is Europe’s preeminent Muslim intellectual writing about Islam in public life. He is a professor of Islamic Studies at Oxford University and formerly a visiting professor at the Erasmus University in Rotterdam. He has a weekly television show, ‘Islam and Life’, on Press TV, and is an advisor to the European Union on religion. He has written 15 books and produced over 100 recordings.

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Ramadan did not in his SoundVision speech show real leanings either toward extremist Islamic views nor even towards the strong organization-based approach to Islam of Ikhwan.  Rather he focused on his theme of building consciousness of God through spiritual endeavor, a consciousness of God which would empower one to seek his or her rights when those rights are denied by people (he emphasized Western anti-Muslim people) who overreach their authority in working to the detriment of Muslims.

Ramadan certainly understands the West better than his grandfather did (whose entire reaction to the West came from an unpleasant encounter with a drunk European), and to casual observation it is clear that the younger Ramadan has imbibed its values more than even he probably realizes.

He remains, despite being a European intellectual, a Muslim intellectual as well.  He thinks and speaks and writes about living Islam in a real context.  He thinks about what God says that He wants from us in His Holy Book, and Ramadan endeavors to accomplish that.

Soundvision

Soundvision’s event was, even aside from its invitation of such a memorable figure, very impressive.  The event filled the Burton Hall banquet facility nearly to capacity, with approximately 600 guests in attendance.

There was a description of the difficulties and opportunities that lie before SoundVision and then a fundraiser which appeared to gross approximately $150,000 in about 20 minutes.  There was a dinner and appetizers.

Many prominent Muslms from Southeast Michigan were in attendance, among them CAIR Michigan’s executive director Dawud Walid, Ghalib Begg of CIOM, recently selected by the Detroit News as one of a handful of “Michiganians of the Year,” and many prominent Michigan imams.

Dawud Walid spoke on the importance of SoundVision to his own family, citing the books and videos he has bought for his own children from SoundVision.

There was a brief video by SoundVision, emphasizing the Adam’s World show, with a “One Big Family” soundtrack.

Janaan Hashim, a SoundVision director, spoke at length about SoundVision and its strategic goals–and perhaps her speech did the most to reveal the terrible importance of SoundVision’s work.

Ms. Hashim is an attorney, journalist and teacher, as well as a mother.

The theme for SoundVision’s future was plastered throughout the fundraiser event, “Helping Tomorrow’s Muslims today.”  Ms. Hashim emphasized this meant helping them now.

She showed the terrible current state of Muslim youths by showing a chart of anger among youths aged 18-29 by religion, which showed anger among Muslim youths at 26%, which was almost double the rate for Protestants and Mormons (14% each).

She showed statistics that 75% of American Muslims felt that they had been discriminated against or had witnessed discimination, 12% of Muslim students in New York public schools felt doubt about Islam.  7% of Muslims had been assaulted.

95% of Muslim youths, she said, are in normal public schools, and do not attend Juma’a prayers.  Less than 5% of Muslim youths go to Muslim schools.

Where do the children spend their time? On average, they spend 53 hours per week online, 7 hours and 38 minutes per day.

Hashim quickly demonstrated the overwhelmingly negative nature of the information about Islam–much of it provided directly by people who hate Islam and Muslims, like Robert Spencer and Daniel Pipes.

Hashim pointed out that many Muslim youths respond to these many overwhelming pressures by changing their names, possibly even changing religions, or at least by caving in to such pressures as drinking alcohol or joining gangs.  She cited a statistic that 47% of Muslim college students report having drunk alcohol, and about 10% report binge drinking.

“We must rethink things for kids,” she said.  “We must reallocate our resources.”

Therefore Muslims need to create a powerful online alternative to these hate sites that assault the minds of our children with their ignorance and negative stereotypes of Islam.

SoundVision  came up with a thorough plan to address these challenges after one year of research.  This is their strategic plan:  1) they plan 1,000 pieces of new content in the next 12 months; 2) they plan to emphasize new media for ipods, pda’s, iphones, etc.; 3) they plan mega-websites, age specific, and their model is the Disney websites (they intend good sites competitive with Disney); 4) they plan to make it all free (because they need to connect to the 95% who are slipping through the cracks); 5) Weekend 2.0–a web-based Islamic School 2.0 with lesson plans for existing schools, teaching basic Islam; 6) Networking among stake holders–creative arts hubs to allow youngsters to engage in creative activities; 7) Crucial Concepts (to teach skills, values, pluralism, response to objections, citizenship training, and career and marital counseling).

Ms. Hashim explained that much of this work has already been completed:  SoundVision has enlisted the help of 270 artists, scholars, 18 editors.

SoundVision’s website is ranked a very respectable 100,000 on Alexa’s ranking system (The Muslim Observer has risen to about 335,000 over several years of assiduous work).

SoundVision pioneered Adam’s World, the Al-Qari software, Islamic songs, and a Muslim radio program (which in fact is hosted by Ms. Hashim).

She emphasized that SoundVision is at the cutting edge, and that its software has attracted attention for its very high quality and for its advanced technical competence.

In fact SoundVision has pointed out a potential disaster that faces the American Muslim community, but has also stepped forward to face our problems.

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Biden/Obama Humiliated by Israel

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

“Wiping the Spit Off Their Faces”

By Uri Avnery

March 15, 2010 “Information Clearing House” — SOME WEEKS the news is dominated by a single word. This week’s word was “timing”.

It’s all a matter of timing. The Government of Israel has insulted the Vice President of the United States, Joe Biden, one of the greatest “friends” of Israel (meaning: somebody totally subservient to AIPAC) and spat in the face of President Barack Obama. So what? It’s all a matter of timing.

If the government had announced the building of 1600 new housing units in East Jerusalem a day earlier, it would have been OK. If it had announced it three days later, it would have been wonderful. But doing it exactly when Joe Biden was about to have dinner with Bibi and Sarah’le – that was really bad timing.

The matter itself is not important. Another thousand housing units in East Jerusalem, or 10 thousand, or 100 thousand – what different does it make? The only thing that matters is the timing.

As the Frenchman said: It’s worse than criminal, it’s stupid.

THE WORD “stupid” also figured prominently this week, second only to “timing”.

Stupidity is an accepted phenomenon in politics. I would almost say: to succeed in politics, one needs a measure of stupidity. Voters don’t like politicians who are too intelligent. They make them feel inferior. A foolish politician, on the other hand, appears to be “one of the folks”.

History is full of acts of folly by politicians. Many books have been written about this. To my mind, the epitome of foolishness was achieved by the events that led to World War I, with its millions of victims, which broke out because of the accumulated stupidity of (in ascending order) Austrian, Russian, German, French and British politicians.

But even stupidity in politics has its limits. I have pondered this question for decades, and who knows, one day, when I grow up, I might write a doctoral thesis about it.

My thesis goes like this: In politics (as in other fields) foolish things happen regularly. But some of them are stopped in time, before they can lead to disaster, while others are not. It this accidental, or is there a rule?

My answer is: there certainly is a rule. It works like this: when somebody sets in motion an act of folly that runs counter to the spirit of the regime, it is stopped in its tracks. While it moves from one bureaucrat to another, somebody starts to wonder. Just a moment, this cannot be right! It is referred to higher authority, and soon enough somebody decides that it is a mistake.

On the other hand, when the act of folly is in line with the spirit of the regime, there are no brakes. When it moves from one bureaucrat to the next, it looks quite natural to both. No red light. No alarm bell. And so the folly rolls on to the bitter end.

I remember how this rule came to my mind the first time. In 1965, Habib Bourguiba, the president of Tunisia, took a bold step: he made a speech in the biggest refugee camp in Jericho, then under Jordanian rule, and called upon the Arabs to recognize Israel. This caused a huge scandal all over the Arab world.

Some time later, the correspondent of an Israeli paper reported that in a press conference at the UN headquarters, Bourguiba had called for the destruction of Israel. This sounded strange to me. I made inquiries, checked the protocol and found out that the opposite was true: the reporter had mistakenly turned a no into a yes.

How did this happen? If the journalist had erred in the opposite direction and reported, for example, that Gamal Abd-el-Nasser had called for the acceptance of Israel into the Arab League, the news would have been stopped at once. Every red light would have lit up. Someone would have called out: Hey, something strange here! Check again! But in the Bourguiba case nobody noticed the mistake, for what is more natural than an Arab leader calling for the destruction of Israel? No verification needed.

That’s what happened this week in Jerusalem. Every government official knows that the nationalist Prime Minister is pushing for the Judaization of East Jerusalem, that the extreme nationalist Minister of the Interior is even more eager, and that the super-nationalist Mayor of Jerusalem practically salivates when he imagines a Jewish quarter on the Temple Mount. So why should a bureaucrat postpone the confirmation of a new Jewish neighborhood in East Jerusalem? Just because of the visit of some American windbag?

Therefore, the timing is not important. It’s the matter itself that’s important.

DURING HIS last days in office, President Bill Clinton published a peace plan, in which he tried to make up for eight years of failure in this region and kowtowing to successive Israeli governments. The plan was comparatively reasonable, but included a ticking bomb.

About East Jerusalem, Clinton proposed that what is Jewish should be joined to the State of Israel and what is Arab should be joined to the state of Palestine. He assumed (rightly, I believe) that Yasser Arafat was ready for such a compromise, which would have joined some new Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem to Israel. But Clinton was not wise enough to foresee the consequences of his proposal.

In practice, it was an open invitation to the Israeli government to speed up the establishment of new settlements in East Jerusalem, expecting them to become part of Israel. And indeed, since then successive Israeli governments have invested all available resources in this endeavor. Since money has no smell, every Jewish casino-owner in America and every Jewish brothel-keeper in Europe was invited to join the effort. The Biblical injunction – “Thou shalt not bring the hire of a whore, or the price of a dog, into the house of the Lord thy God, for any vow; for even both these are abomination unto the Lord thy God” (Deuteronomy 23:18) – was suspended for this holy cause.

Now the pace is speeded up even more. Because there is no more effective means of obstructing peace than building new settlements in East Jerusalem.

THAT IS clear to anyone who has dealings with this region. No peace without an independent Palestinian state, no Palestinian state without East Jerusalem. About this there is total unanimity among all Palestinians, from Fatah to Hamas, and between all Arabs, from Morocco to Iraq, and between all Muslims, from Nigeria to Iran.

There will be no peace without the Palestinian flag waving above the Haram al-Sharif, the holy shrines of Islam which we call the Temple Mount. That is an iron-clad rule. Arabs can compromise about the refugee problem, painful as it may be, and about the borders, also with much pain, and about security matters. But they cannot compromise about East Jerusalem becoming the capital of Palestine. All national and religious passions converge here.

Anyone who wants to wreck any chance for peace – it is here that he has to act. The settlers and their supporters, who know that any peace agreement would include the elimination of (at least) most settlements, have planned in the past (and probably are planning now) to blow up the mosques on the Temple Mount, hoping that this would cause a worldwide conflagration which would reduce to ashes the chances of peace once and for all. Less extreme people dream about the creeping ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem by administrative chicanery, demolition of houses, denying means of livelihood and just making life in general miserable for Arabs. Moderate rightists just want to cover every empty square inch in East Jerusalem with Jewish neighborhoods. The aim is always the same.

THIS REALITY is, of course, well known to Obama and his advisors. In the beginning they believed, in their innocence, that they could sweet talk Netanyahu and Co. into stopping the building activity to facilitate the start of negotiations for the two-state solution. Very soon they learned that this was impossible without exerting massive pressure – and they were not prepared to do that.

After putting up a short and pitiful struggle, Obama gave in. He agreed to the deception of a “settlement freeze” in the West Bank. Now building is going on there with great enthusiasm, and the settlers are satisfied. They have completely stopped their demonstrations.

In Jerusalem there was not even a farcical attempt – Netanyahu just told Obama that he would go on building there (“as in Tel Aviv”), and Obama bowed his head. When Israeli officials announced a grandiose plan for building in “Ramat Shlomo” this week, they did not violate any undertaking. Only the matter of “timing” remained.

FOR JOE BIDEN, it was a matter of honor. For Mahmoud Abbas, it is a matter of survival.

Under intense pressure from the Americans and their agents, the rulers of the Arab countries, Abbas was obliged to agree to negotiations with the Netanyahu government – though only “proximity talks”, a euphemism for “distance talks”.

Clearly, nothing will come out of these talks except more humiliation for the Palestinians. Quite simply: anyone building in East Jerusalem and the West Bank is announcing in advance that there is no chance for an agreement. After all, no sane Israeli would invest billions in a territory he intends to turn over to the Palestinian state. A person who is eating a pizza is not negotiating about it in good faith.

Even at this late stage, Abbas and his people still hope that something good will come out of all this: the US will acknowledge that they are right and exert, at long last, real pressure on Israel to implement the two-state solution.

But Biden and Obama did not give much cause for hope. They wiped the spit off their faces and smiled politely.

As the saying goes: when you spit in the face of a weakling, he pretends that it is raining. Does this apply to the president of the most powerful country in the world?

Uri Avnery’s website http://www.avnery-news.co.il

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Israel and Egypt Continue to Squeeze Gaza

January 21, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ann Wright, t r u t h o u t | Op-Ed

Two weeks ago, almost 2,000 internationals came to Egypt and Gaza in a massive show of civil society’s support for the people of Gaza. Nearly 1,400 persons representing 44 countries in the Gaza Freedom March and over 500 persons with the Viva Palestina Convoy let the people of Gaza know of their concern for the tragic consequences of their governments’ support of the Israeli and Egyptian blockade.

Yet, two weeks later, with the apparent approval of governments (United States, European Community and Canada) that support the quarantine, blockade and siege of Gaza, Israel and Egypt have tightened the squeeze to wring the lifeblood out of the people of Gaza.

US Military Team Visits Underground Wall Construction

The US government continues to assist Egypt in building an underground wall to cut off tunnels under the border of Gaza and Egypt. According to Reuters, on January 14, 2010, three US military personnel from the US embassy in Cairo visited Rafah to follow up on the barrier project. According to security sources in Rafah, visits by US military have been taking place monthly.

In a press conference this week in Washington, US State Department spokesman Gordon Duguid said, “What we’d like to see is for Hamas to stop using the border crossings as methods for smuggling in weapons and let’s get the weapons smuggling stopped.” Duguid did not address the use of the tunnels to get life-saving food and materials prohibited by Israel.

In December 2009, three Palestinians were killed after a tunnel collapsed beneath the Egypt-Gaza border. The three were reported missing, and later found by rescue workers.

Deadliest Week Since Last Year’s Israeli Attack

Last week, January 6-12, was the deadliest week for the Gaza Strip in the past year since the January 18, 2009, ceasefire that ended Israel’s “Cast Lead” offensive.

According to the United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), Israeli air force bombing attacks killed seven Palestinians in Gaza, including three civilians. The attacks came in response to an increase in the number of mortar shells and rockets fired by Palestinian factions from the Gaza Strip into southern Israel that caused no injuries or property damage.

Since the ceasefire a year ago, a total of 84 Palestinians, including at least 27 civilians, and one Israeli (a soldier) have been killed. Another 160 Palestinians and seven Israelis were injured in Gaza and southern Israel.

On January 8, 2010, US aircraft flown by Israeli air force personnel bombed tunnels under the Egypt-Gaza border, killing three Palestinians, including a 15 year-old boy, and wounding another two. Another Palestinian was hurt in a separate airstrike. In two other incidents, on January 6 and 10, Israeli aircraft targeted and killed four Palestinian militants, three of them in one airstrike. Five additional airstrikes, resulting in no casualties, were carried out during the week. Also this week, on four separate occasions, Israeli forces drove tanks into Gaza and conducted land-leveling operations.

Israelis Increase Border Zone Into Gaza

On January 7 this year, the Israeli air force dropped leaflets into areas next to the border fence with Gaza, warning residents to keep a distance of at least 300 meters from the border with Israel and to avoid cooperating with “smugglers” in the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border. This doubled the buffer zone along the border from 150 meters to 300 meters, but Israeli forces have opened “warning” fire at farmers as far as 1,000 meters (3,200 feet) from the border.

A parallel ban for Gaza fishermen is applied to sea areas beyond three nautical miles from the coast, though often this distance is less in practice. This week, in nine separate incidents, Israeli naval forces opened “warning” fire at Palestinian fishing boats along Gaza’s coast, forcing them to return to shore.

The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) reported that on January 6 and 9 this year, unknown persons detonated bombs in a pharmacy and two coffee shops in Gaza City; no one was hurt, but property damage was reported.

Two Killed in January in Tunnels and Seven Youths Burned in Tunnel Fire

In January 2010, two Palestinians died in two separate incidents involving the collapse of a tunnel under the Gaza-Egypt border while they were working inside it. At least 70 people have died and 123 others have been injured in the tunnels since the end of the “Cast Lead” Israeli attack on Gaza.

On January 16 this year, seven Palestinians from Gaza were burned in a fire that broke out in one of the tunnels connecting the border towns of Rafah, Gaza and Rafah, Egypt. The seven burned tunnel workers were treated at An-Nasser and Ash-Shifa hospitals in Gaza City.

Digging tunnels and working in them is one of the few jobs available for Palestinian youth in Gaza. Tunnel workers reportedly earn $25 per day, a huge sum in the current Palestinian economy. However, they are subjected to daily bombings by US F-16 aircraft flown by the Israeli Air Force, plus tunnel collapses and fires.

Accidents in the tunnels are frequent. According to the Palestinian human rights organization Al-Mezan, 120 people have been killed working in the tunnel trade in the past three years.

According to OCHA, no commercial gasoline or diesel fuel entered Gaza via Kerem Shalom during last week. Egyptian gasoline and diesel, which is transferred through the tunnels under the Gaza-Egypt border, remains available on the open market, with nearly 100,000 liters of diesel and 100,000 liters of gasoline transferred into Gaza per day.

Israeli Tanks Shell Beit Hanoun

Israeli tanks operating near the northern Gaza border near Beit Hanoun targeted civilian properties with heavy artillery fire on January 15, 2010. Tank shells hit civilian homes on the outskirts of the town, causing material damages but no injuries.

Egypt Builds Anchorage for Border Patrol Boats

Egypt is continuing fortification of its borders with Gaza, this time by sea. According to Reuters, Egypt is constructing a port for patrol boats that will block sea routes into Gaza for merchandise, food and weapons.

The border patrol boats will keep Palestinian fishing boats in Gazan coastal waters. Egypt has said it believes the boats are being used to carry out smuggling operations, though there have never been reports of such incidents. “It is to secure the area. It will be used to direct fishing boats in the area to ensure they do not cross the Israeli sea border and risk getting fired at,” the security sources told Reuters.

As Egypt completes the 14-kilometer underground wall along the Rafah border, Egyptian surveillance of the Mediterranean Sea increases the strangling of Gaza. The tunnels are the only way Gazans can bring goods into the Strip. Israel has maintained a tight blockade of the area, letting in only 36 types of goods for the past three years.

Future Aid Missions Must Go Through Red Crescent

On January 6, hundreds of Palestinians demonstrators, protesting Egypt’s delay in allowing the aid convoy Viva Palestina into Gaza, as well as Egypt’s plans to build the underground steel wall, clashed with Egyptian forces at the Gaza-Egypt border. As a result, an Egyptian soldier was shot dead and 13 Palestinians were injured, including six who suffered gunshot wounds. Eventually, the convoy entered on the same day, carrying food and medical supplies.

However, in response to the clashes, Egypt introduced a new mechanism, through which future aid convoys into Gaza will go through the Egyptian Red Crescent.

No Internationals Allowed Into Gaza

During December, no internationals were allowed into Gaza through the Rafah crossing, until 92 persons from the Gaza Freedom March were allowed in for 48 hours on December 30. During January, only the Viva Palestina convoy personnel were allowed in for 24 hours. Many international persons have letters of invitation from non-governmental organizations to assist in a variety of ways. Only one other international has been allowed into Gaza in January. Egypt has denied the requests for all other internationals. The ability of citizens of the world to assist Gaza when their governments will not is tragically being strangled.

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