Statement by the President on the Occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

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Michelle and I would like to send Eid greetings to Muslim communities in the United States and around the world.  Ramadan has been a time for families and communities to share the happiness of coming together in intense devotion, reflection, and service. Millions all over the world have been inspired to honor their faith by reaching out to those less fortunate. This year, many have observed the month while courageously persevering in their efforts to secure basic necessities and fundamental freedoms.  The United States will continue to stand with them and for the dignity and rights of all people, whether a hungry child in the Horn of Africa or a young person demanding freedom in the Middle East and North Africa.

As Ramadan comes to an end, we send our best wishes for a blessed holiday to Muslim communities around the world. Eid Mubarak.

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Pres. Obama’s Speech on the Middle East and North Africa

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

2011-05-25T163719Z_1335237166_LM1E75P1A4V01_RTRMADP_3_OBAMA-BRITAIN
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks to both houses of Britain’s parliament, in Westminster Hall in London May 25, 2011.  REUTERS/Jeff J Mitchell/POOL

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you.  Thank you.  (Applause.)  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  Please, have a seat.  Thank you very much.  I want to begin by thanking Hillary Clinton, who has traveled so much these last six months that she is approaching a new landmark — one million frequent flyer miles.  (Laughter.)  I count on Hillary every single day, and I believe that she will go down as one of the finest Secretaries of State in our nation’s history.

The State Department is a fitting venue to mark a new chapter in American diplomacy.  For six months, we have witnessed an extraordinary change taking place in the Middle East and North Africa.  Square by square, town by town, country by country, the people have risen up to demand their basic human rights.  Two leaders have stepped aside.  More may follow.  And though these countries may be a great distance from our shores, we know that our own future is bound to this region by the forces of economics and security, by history and by faith.

Today, I want to talk about this change — the forces that are driving it and how we can respond in a way that advances our values and strengthens our security.

Now, already, we’ve done much to shift our foreign policy following a decade defined by two costly conflicts.  After years of war in Iraq, we’ve removed 100,000 American troops and ended our combat mission there.  In Afghanistan, we’ve broken the Taliban’s momentum, and this July we will begin to bring our troops home and continue a transition to Afghan lead.  And after years of war against al Qaeda and its affiliates, we have dealt al Qaeda a huge blow by killing its leader, Osama bin Laden.

Bin Laden was no martyr.  He was a mass murderer who offered a message of hate –- an insistence that Muslims had to take up arms against the West, and that violence against men, women and children was the only path to change.  He rejected democracy and individual rights for Muslims in favor of violent extremism; his agenda focused on what he could destroy -– not what he could build.
Bin Laden and his murderous vision won some adherents.  But even before his death, al Qaeda was losing its struggle for relevance, as the overwhelming majority of people saw that the slaughter of innocents did not answer their cries for a better life.  By the time we found bin Laden, al Qaeda’s agenda had come to be seen by the vast majority of the region as a dead end, and the people of the Middle East and North Africa had taken their future into their own hands.

That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia.  On December 17th, a young vendor named Mohammed Bouazizi was devastated when a police officer confiscated his cart.  This was not unique.  It’s the same kind of humiliation that takes place every day in many parts of the world -– the relentless tyranny of governments that deny their citizens dignity.  Only this time, something different happened.  After local officials refused to hear his complaints, this young man, who had never been particularly active in politics, went to the headquarters of the provincial government, doused himself in fuel, and lit himself on fire.

There are times in the course of history when the actions of ordinary citizens spark movements for change because they speak to a longing for freedom that has been building up for years.  In America, think of the defiance of those patriots in Boston who refused to pay taxes to a King, or the dignity of Rosa Parks as she sat courageously in her seat.  So it was in Tunisia, as that vendor’s act of desperation tapped into the frustration felt throughout the country.  Hundreds of protesters took to the streets, then thousands.  And in the face of batons and sometimes bullets, they refused to go home –- day after day, week after week — until a dictator of more than two decades finally left power.

The story of this revolution, and the ones that followed, should not have come as a surprise.  The nations of the Middle East and North Africa won their independence long ago, but in too many places their people did not.  In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few.  In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn  -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader.

And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well.  Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity.  But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe.

In the face of these challenges, too many leaders in the region tried to direct their people’s grievances elsewhere.  The West was blamed as the source of all ills, a half-century after the end of colonialism.  Antagonism toward Israel became the only acceptable outlet for political expression.  Divisions of tribe, ethnicity and religious sect were manipulated as a means of holding on to power, or taking it away from somebody else.

But the events of the past six months show us that strategies of repression and strategies of diversion will not work anymore.  Satellite television and the Internet provide a window into the wider world -– a world of astonishing progress in places like India and Indonesia and Brazil.  Cell phones and social networks allow young people to connect and organize like never before.  And so a new generation has emerged.  And their voices tell us that change cannot be denied.

In Cairo, we heard the voice of the young mother who said, “It’s like I can finally breathe fresh air for the first time.” 

In Sanaa, we heard the students who chanted, “The night must come to an end.”

In Benghazi, we heard the engineer who said, “Our words are free now.  It’s a feeling you can’t explain.”

In Damascus, we heard the young man who said, “After the first yelling, the first shout, you feel dignity.” 

Those shouts of human dignity are being heard across the region.  And through the moral force of nonviolence, the people of the region have achieved more change in six months than terrorists have accomplished in decades.

Of course, change of this magnitude does not come easily.  In our day and age -– a time of 24-hour news cycles and constant communication –- people expect the transformation of the region to be resolved in a matter of weeks.  But it will be years before this story reaches its end.  Along the way, there will be good days and there will bad days.  In some places, change will be swift; in others, gradual.  And as we’ve already seen, calls for change may give way, in some cases, to fierce contests for power.

The question before us is what role America will play as this story unfolds.  For decades, the United States has pursued a set of core interests in the region:  countering terrorism and stopping the spread of nuclear weapons; securing the free flow of commerce and safe-guarding the security of the region; standing up for Israel’s security and pursuing Arab-Israeli peace.

We will continue to do these things, with the firm belief that America’s interests are not hostile to people’s hopes; they’re essential to them.  We believe that no one benefits from a nuclear arms race in the region, or al Qaeda’s brutal attacks.  We believe people everywhere would see their economies crippled by a cut-off in energy supplies.  As we did in the Gulf War, we will not tolerate aggression across borders, and we will keep our commitments to friends and partners.

Yet we must acknowledge that a strategy based solely upon the narrow pursuit of these interests will not fill an empty stomach or allow someone to speak their mind.  Moreover, failure to speak to the broader aspirations of ordinary people will only feed the suspicion that has festered for years that the United States pursues our interests at their expense.  Given that this mistrust runs both ways –- as Americans have been seared by hostage-taking and violent rhetoric and terrorist attacks that have killed thousands of our citizens -– a failure to change our approach threatens a deepening spiral of division between the United States and the Arab world.

And that’s why, two years ago in Cairo, I began to broaden our engagement based upon mutual interests and mutual respect.  I believed then -– and I believe now -– that we have a stake not just in the stability of nations, but in the self-determination of individuals.  The status quo is not sustainable.  Societies held together by fear and repression may offer the illusion of stability for a time, but they are built upon fault lines that will eventually tear asunder.

So we face a historic opportunity.  We have the chance to show that America values the dignity of the street vendor in Tunisia more than the raw power of the dictator.  There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity.  Yes, there will be perils that accompany this moment of promise.  But after decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.

Of course, as we do, we must proceed with a sense of humility.  It’s not America that put people into the streets of Tunis or Cairo -– it was the people themselves who launched these movements, and it’s the people themselves that must ultimately determine their outcome. 

Not every country will follow our particular form of representative democracy, and there will be times when our short-term interests don’t align perfectly with our long-term vision for the region.  But we can, and we will, speak out for a set of core principles –- principles that have guided our response to the events over the past six months:

The United States opposes the use of violence and repression against the people of the region.  (Applause.)  

The United States supports a set of universal rights.  And these rights include free speech, the freedom of peaceful assembly, the freedom of religion, equality for men and women under the rule of law, and the right to choose your own leaders  -– whether you live in Baghdad or Damascus, Sanaa or Tehran.

And we support political and economic reform in the Middle East and North Africa that can meet the legitimate aspirations of ordinary people throughout the region.

Our support for these principles is not a secondary interest.  Today I want to make it clear that it is a top priority that must be translated into concrete actions, and supported by all of the diplomatic, economic and strategic tools at our disposal.

Let me be specific.  First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy.  That effort begins in Egypt and Tunisia, where the stakes are high -– as Tunisia was at the vanguard of this democratic wave, and Egypt is both a longstanding partner and the Arab world’s largest nation.  Both nations can set a strong example through free and fair elections, a vibrant civil society, accountable and effective democratic institutions, and responsible regional leadership.  But our support must also extend to nations where transitions have yet to take place.

Unfortunately, in too many countries, calls for change have thus far been answered by violence.  The most extreme example is Libya, where Muammar Qaddafi launched a war against his own people, promising to hunt them down like rats.  As I said when the United States joined an international coalition to intervene, we cannot prevent every injustice perpetrated by a regime against its people, and we have learned from our experience in Iraq just how costly and difficult it is to try to impose regime change by force -– no matter how well-intentioned it may be.

But in Libya, we saw the prospect of imminent massacre, we had a mandate for action, and heard the Libyan people’s call for help.  Had we not acted along with our NATO allies and regional coalition partners, thousands would have been killed.  The message would have been clear:  Keep power by killing as many people as it takes.  Now, time is working against Qaddafi. He does not have control over his country.  The opposition has organized a legitimate and credible Interim Council.  And when Qaddafi inevitably leaves or is forced from power, decades of provocation will come to an end, and the transition to a democratic Libya can proceed.

While Libya has faced violence on the greatest scale, it’s not the only place where leaders have turned to repression to remain in power.  Most recently, the Syrian regime has chosen the path of murder and the mass arrests of its citizens.  The United States has condemned these actions, and working with the international community we have stepped up our sanctions on the Syrian regime –- including sanctions announced yesterday on President Assad and those around him.

The Syrian people have shown their courage in demanding a transition to democracy.  President Assad now has a choice:  He can lead that transition, or get out of the way.  The Syrian government must stop shooting demonstrators and allow peaceful protests.  It must release political prisoners and stop unjust arrests.  It must allow human rights monitors to have access to cities like Dara’a; and start a serious dialogue to advance a democratic transition.  Otherwise, President Assad and his regime will continue to be challenged from within and will continue to be isolated abroad.

So far, Syria has followed its Iranian ally, seeking assistance from Tehran in the tactics of suppression.  And this speaks to the hypocrisy of the Iranian regime, which says it stand for the rights of protesters abroad, yet represses its own people at home.  Let’s remember that the first peaceful protests in the region were in the streets of Tehran, where the government brutalized women and men, and threw innocent people into jail.  We still hear the chants echo from the rooftops of Tehran.  The image of a young woman dying in the streets is still seared in our memory.  And we will continue to insist that the Iranian people deserve their universal rights, and a government that does not smother their aspirations.

Now, our opposition to Iran’s intolerance and Iran’s repressive measures, as well as its illicit nuclear program and its support of terror, is well known.  But if America is to be credible, we must acknowledge that at times our friends in the region have not all reacted to the demands for consistent change — with change that’s consistent with the principles that I’ve outlined today.  That’s true in Yemen, where President Saleh needs to follow through on his commitment to transfer power.  And that’s true today in Bahrain.

Bahrain is a longstanding partner, and we are committed to its security.  We recognize that Iran has tried to take advantage of the turmoil there, and that the Bahraini government has a legitimate interest in the rule of law. 

Nevertheless, we have insisted both publicly and privately that mass arrests and brute force are at odds with the universal rights of Bahrain’s citizens, and we will — and such steps will not make legitimate calls for reform go away.  The only way forward is for the government and opposition to engage in a dialogue, and you can’t have a real dialogue when parts of the peaceful opposition are in jail.  (Applause.)  The government must create the conditions for dialogue, and the opposition must participate to forge a just future for all Bahrainis.

Indeed, one of the broader lessons to be drawn from this period is that sectarian divides need not lead to conflict.  In Iraq, we see the promise of a multiethnic, multisectarian democracy.  The Iraqi people have rejected the perils of political violence in favor of a democratic process, even as they’ve taken full responsibility for their own security.  Of course, like all new democracies, they will face setbacks.  But Iraq is poised to play a key role in the region if it continues its peaceful progress.  And as they do, we will be proud to stand with them as a steadfast partner.

So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region.  Even as we acknowledge that each country is different, we need to speak honestly about the principles that we believe in, with friend and foe alike.  Our message is simple:  If you take the risks that reform entails, you will have the full support of the United States. 

We must also build on our efforts to broaden our engagement beyond elites, so that we reach the people who will shape the future -– particularly young people.  We will continue to make good on the commitments that I made in Cairo -– to build networks of entrepreneurs and expand exchanges in education, to foster cooperation in science and technology, and combat disease.  Across the region, we intend to provide assistance to civil society, including those that may not be officially sanctioned, and who speak uncomfortable truths.  And we will use the technology to connect with -– and listen to –- the voices of the people.

For the fact is, real reform does not come at the ballot box alone.  Through our efforts we must support those basic rights to speak your mind and access information.  We will support open access to the Internet, and the right of journalists to be heard -– whether it’s a big news organization or a lone blogger.  In the 21st century, information is power, the truth cannot be hidden, and the legitimacy of governments will ultimately depend on active and informed citizens.

Such open discourse is important even if what is said does not square with our worldview.  Let me be clear, America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard, even if we disagree with them.  And sometimes we profoundly disagree with them.

We look forward to working with all who embrace genuine and inclusive democracy.  What we will oppose is an attempt by any group to restrict the rights of others, and to hold power through coercion and not consent.  Because democracy depends not only on elections, but also strong and accountable institutions, and the respect for the rights of minorities.

Such tolerance is particularly important when it comes to religion.  In Tahrir Square, we heard Egyptians from all walks of life chant, “Muslims, Christians, we are one.”  America will work to see that this spirit prevails -– that all faiths are respected, and that bridges are built among them.  In a region that was the birthplace of three world religions, intolerance can lead only to suffering and stagnation.  And for this season of change to succeed, Coptic Christians must have the right to worship freely in Cairo, just as Shia must never have their mosques destroyed in Bahrain.

What is true for religious minorities is also true when it comes to the rights of women.  History shows that countries are more prosperous and more peaceful when women are empowered.  And that’s why we will continue to insist that universal rights apply to women as well as men -– by focusing assistance on child and maternal health; by helping women to teach, or start a business; by standing up for the right of women to have their voices heard, and to run for office.  The region will never reach its full potential when more than half of its population is prevented from achieving their full potential.  (Applause.)

Now, even as we promote political reform, even as we promote human rights in the region, our efforts can’t stop there.  So the second way that we must support positive change in the region is through our efforts to advance economic development for nations that are transitioning to democracy. 

After all, politics alone has not put protesters into the streets.  The tipping point for so many people is the more constant concern of putting food on the table and providing for a family.  Too many people in the region wake up with few expectations other than making it through the day, perhaps hoping that their luck will change.  Throughout the region, many young people have a solid education, but closed economies leave them unable to find a job.  Entrepreneurs are brimming with ideas, but corruption leaves them unable to profit from those ideas. 

The greatest untapped resource in the Middle East and North Africa is the talent of its people.  In the recent protests, we see that talent on display, as people harness technology to move the world.  It’s no coincidence that one of the leaders of Tahrir Square was an executive for Google.  That energy now needs to be channeled, in country after country, so that economic growth can solidify the accomplishments of the street.  For just as democratic revolutions can be triggered by a lack of individual opportunity, successful democratic transitions depend upon an expansion of growth and broad-based prosperity.

So, drawing from what we’ve learned around the world, we think it’s important to focus on trade, not just aid; on investment, not just assistance.  The goal must be a model in which protectionism gives way to openness, the reigns of commerce pass from the few to the many, and the economy generates jobs for the young.  America’s support for democracy will therefore be based on ensuring financial stability, promoting reform, and integrating competitive markets with each other and the global economy.  And we’re going to start with Tunisia and Egypt.

First, we’ve asked the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to present a plan at next week’s G8 summit for what needs to be done to stabilize and modernize the economies of Tunisia and Egypt.  Together, we must help them recover from the disruptions of their democratic upheaval, and support the governments that will be elected later this year.  And we are urging other countries to help Egypt and Tunisia meet its near-term financial needs.

Second, we do not want a democratic Egypt to be saddled by the debts of its past.  So we will relieve a democratic Egypt of up to $1 billion in debt, and work with our Egyptian partners to invest these resources to foster growth and entrepreneurship.  We will help Egypt regain access to markets by guaranteeing $1 billion in borrowing that is needed to finance infrastructure and job creation.  And we will help newly democratic governments recover assets that were stolen.

Third, we’re working with Congress to create Enterprise Funds to invest in Tunisia and Egypt.  And these will be modeled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall.  OPIC will soon launch a $2 billion facility to support private investment across the region.  And we will work with the allies to refocus the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development so that it provides the same support for democratic transitions and economic modernization in the Middle East and North Africa as it has in Europe.

Fourth, the United States will launch a comprehensive Trade and Investment Partnership Initiative in the Middle East and North Africa.  If you take out oil exports, this entire region of over 400 million people exports roughly the same amount as Switzerland.  So we will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with U.S. and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalization to construct a regional trade arrangement.  And just as EU membership served as an incentive for reform in Europe, so should the vision of a modern and prosperous economy create a powerful force for reform in the Middle East and North Africa.  

Prosperity also requires tearing down walls that stand in the way of progress -– the corruption of elites who steal from their people; the red tape that stops an idea from becoming a business; the patronage that distributes wealth based on tribe or sect.  We will help governments meet international obligations, and invest efforts at anti-corruption — by working with parliamentarians who are developing reforms, and activists who use technology to increase transparency and hold government accountable.  Politics and human rights; economic reform.

Let me conclude by talking about another cornerstone of our approach to the region, and that relates to the pursuit of peace.

For decades, the conflict between Israelis and Arabs has cast a shadow over the region.  For Israelis, it has meant living with the fear that their children could be blown up on a bus or by rockets fired at their homes, as well as the pain of knowing that other children in the region are taught to hate them.  For Palestinians, it has meant suffering the humiliation of occupation, and never living in a nation of their own.  Moreover, this conflict has come with a larger cost to the Middle East, as it impedes partnerships that could bring greater security and prosperity and empowerment to ordinary people.

For over two years, my administration has worked with the parties and the international community to end this conflict, building on decades of work by previous administrations.  Yet expectations have gone unmet.  Israeli settlement activity continues.  Palestinians have walked away from talks.  The world looks at a conflict that has grinded on and on and on, and sees nothing but stalemate.  Indeed, there are those who argue that with all the change and uncertainty in the region, it is simply not possible to move forward now.

I disagree.  At a time when the people of the Middle East and North Africa are casting off the burdens of the past, the drive for a lasting peace that ends the conflict and resolves all claims is more urgent than ever.  That’s certainly true for the two parties involved.

For the Palestinians, efforts to delegitimize Israel will end in failure.  Symbolic actions to isolate Israel at the United Nations in September won’t create an independent state. Palestinian leaders will not achieve peace or prosperity if Hamas insists on a path of terror and rejection.  And Palestinians will never realize their independence by denying the right of Israel to exist.

As for Israel, our friendship is rooted deeply in a shared history and shared values.  Our commitment to Israel’s security is unshakeable.  And we will stand against attempts to single it out for criticism in international forums.  But precisely because of our friendship, it’s important that we tell the truth:  The status quo is unsustainable, and Israel too must act boldly to advance a lasting peace.

The fact is, a growing number of Palestinians live west of the Jordan River.  Technology will make it harder for Israel to defend itself.  A region undergoing profound change will lead to populism in which millions of people -– not just one or two leaders — must believe peace is possible.  The international community is tired of an endless process that never produces an outcome. The dream of a Jewish and democratic state cannot be fulfilled with permanent occupation.

Now, ultimately, it is up to the Israelis and Palestinians to take action.  No peace can be imposed upon them — not by the United States; not by anybody else.  But endless delay won’t make the problem go away.  What America and the international community can do is to state frankly what everyone knows — a lasting peace will involve two states for two peoples:  Israel as a Jewish state and the homeland for the Jewish people, and the state of Palestine as the homeland for the Palestinian people, each state enjoying self-determination, mutual recognition, and peace.
So while the core issues of the conflict must be negotiated, the basis of those negotiations is clear:  a viable Palestine, a secure Israel.  The United States believes that negotiations should result in two states, with permanent Palestinian borders with Israel, Jordan, and Egypt, and permanent Israeli borders with Palestine.  We believe the borders of Israel and Palestine should be based on the 1967 lines with mutually agreed swaps, so that secure and recognized borders are established for both states.  The Palestinian people must have the right to govern themselves, and reach their full potential, in a sovereign and contiguous state. 

As for security, every state has the right to self-defense, and Israel must be able to defend itself -– by itself -– against any threat.  Provisions must also be robust enough to prevent a resurgence of terrorism, to stop the infiltration of weapons, and to provide effective border security.  The full and phased withdrawal of Israeli military forces should be coordinated with the assumption of Palestinian security responsibility in a sovereign, non-militarized state.  And the duration of this transition period must be agreed, and the effectiveness of security arrangements must be demonstrated.

These principles provide a foundation for negotiations.  Palestinians should know the territorial outlines of their state; Israelis should know that their basic security concerns will be met.  I’m aware that these steps alone will not resolve the conflict, because two wrenching and emotional issues will remain:  the future of Jerusalem, and the fate of Palestinian refugees.  But moving forward now on the basis of territory and security provides a foundation to resolve those two issues in a way that is just and fair, and that respects the rights and aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. 

Now, let me say this:  Recognizing that negotiations need to begin with the issues of territory and security does not mean that it will be easy to come back to the table.  In particular, the recent announcement of an agreement between Fatah and Hamas raises profound and legitimate questions for Israel:  How can one negotiate with a party that has shown itself unwilling to recognize your right to exist?  And in the weeks and months to come, Palestinian leaders will have to provide a credible answer to that question.  Meanwhile, the United States, our Quartet partners, and the Arab states will need to continue every effort to get beyond the current impasse.

I recognize how hard this will be.  Suspicion and hostility has been passed on for generations, and at times it has hardened. But I’m convinced that the majority of Israelis and Palestinians would rather look to the future than be trapped in the past.  We see that spirit in the Israeli father whose son was killed by Hamas, who helped start an organization that brought together Israelis and Palestinians who had lost loved ones.  That father said, “I gradually realized that the only hope for progress was to recognize the face of the conflict.”  We see it in the actions of a Palestinian who lost three daughters to Israeli shells in Gaza.  “I have the right to feel angry,” he said.  “So many people were expecting me to hate.  My answer to them is I shall not hate.  Let us hope,” he said, “for tomorrow.”

That is the choice that must be made -– not simply in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but across the entire region -– a choice between hate and hope; between the shackles of the past and the promise of the future.  It’s a choice that must be made by leaders and by the people, and it’s a choice that will define the future of a region that served as the cradle of civilization and a crucible of strife.

For all the challenges that lie ahead, we see many reasons to be hopeful.  In Egypt, we see it in the efforts of young people who led protests.  In Syria, we see it in the courage of those who brave bullets while chanting, “peaceful, peaceful.”  In Benghazi, a city threatened with destruction, we see it in the courthouse square where people gather to celebrate the freedoms that they had never known.  Across the region, those rights that we take for granted are being claimed with joy by those who are prying lose the grip of an iron fist.

For the American people, the scenes of upheaval in the region may be unsettling, but the forces driving it are not unfamiliar.  Our own nation was founded through a rebellion against an empire.  Our people fought a painful Civil War that extended freedom and dignity to those who were enslaved.  And I would not be standing here today unless past generations turned to the moral force of nonviolence as a way to perfect our union –- organizing, marching, protesting peacefully together to make real those words that declared our nation:  “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” 

Those words must guide our response to the change that is transforming the Middle East and North Africa -– words which tell us that repression will fail, and that tyrants will fall, and that every man and woman is endowed with certain inalienable rights. 

It will not be easy.  There’s no straight line to progress, and hardship always accompanies a season of hope.  But the United States of America was founded on the belief that people should govern themselves.  And now we cannot hesitate to stand squarely on the side of those who are reaching for their rights, knowing that their success will bring about a world that is more peaceful, more stable, and more just.

Thank you very much, everybody.  (Applause.)  Thank you. 

END               1:00 P.M. EDT

13-22

The Arabs and the Holocaust

April 15, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Among the Righteous: Lost Stories from the Holocaust’s Long Reach into Arab Lands, by Robert Satloff.
New York: Public Affairs, 2006, 204 pages. Notes to 227.
Bibl. to p. 239. Index to p. 251. $26.00.

Reviewed by Joseph V. Montville

On the afternoon of September 11, 2001, Robert Satloff was walking in the middle of Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue which was devoid of traffic in a city stunned by the terrorist attacks on the Twin Towers that morning. The question came into his mind: “Did any Arabs save any Jews during the Holocaust?” He judged, as did this writer after the second tower was hit, that Arabs were behind the deed. He wanted to teach Arabs about the Holocaust and the depths of its meaning for Israeli and Diaspora Jews. Satloff decided to answer his question, and this book is the result.

What establishes the nobility of Among the Righteous…is the conviction of its author, a historian, an Arabist and an American Jew, that there is much more to Arab and Muslim humanity than the destructive, suicidal rage that the 9/11 hijackers displayed that momentous day. While he had never heard of “righteous” Arabs—people who took great risks to protect Jews from the Nazis and their underlings–Satloff felt in his bones that he could find some. He did not believe that the apparent absence of knowledge or discussion about the Holocaust among Arabs was the complete picture.

The author thought that if he could prove that Arabs had saved Jewish lives during World War II, they might be induced to face the Holocaust squarely and understand its power in the final thrust to establish the Jewish state in Palestine. He hoped that the shared prosocial values of Islam and Judaism could induce Arab cooperation in his research and generate pride in Arab heroes. He cites Muslim and Jewish sacred literature to make his point. “‘Whoever saves one life saves the entire world,’ says the Qur’an, an echo of the Talmud’s injunction ‘If you save one life, it is as if you have saved the world.’” (p. 6.) In the process of searching for “righteous” Arabs in North Africa, Israel and Europe, Satloff has filled an important gap in the history of World War II, and he has also reflected the best traditions of Jewish humanism. It is not insignificant that Satloff is also executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy which the Jewish weekly, Forward, calls “a think tank known for its pro-Israel views and for its predominantly Jewish board.”1

The narrative concentrates on the North African states of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and Libya under French—the first three—and Italian and therefore fascist colonial rule during the Vichy and Mussolini regimes. Half a million Jews lived in these countries, and the Nazi policy of degradation and ultimately destruction was meant to apply also to these trans-Mediterranean people. There were also 30,000 Libyan Jews who faced danger and abuse.

12-16

Islam in the Bahamas

April 1, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

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Jama’at Ahlus Sunnah Bahamas, Carmichael Road, Nassau

Introduction

Vacationing in the Bahamas, who would have thought that there are Muslims living in nice neighborhoods with a beautiful mosque. There are more than 300 Muslims in Nassau, Bahamas who are organized and have five daily prayers. Islam has come to the Bahamas more than 40 years ago via United States.

History

Which country is closest to Miami?  It is the Bahamas, only 40 miles from Miami to the east while Cuba is 80 miles to the south.  The Bahamas consists of more than 700 islands, well known for their gorgeous beaches, sea of colors, vivid flamingoes, and Poinciana trees that line the edge of roads and tantalize the senses with their fragrant aromas. Christopher Columbus discovered it on October 12, 1492 and named it Bahamas (low water or sea).  The British have controlled it until the Bahamians achieved their independence on July 10, 1973.  The thirteen colonies fought the British and won the island for few years but at the treaty of Versailles in 1783, the British traded Florida for the Bahamas.

Economy

Nassau, the capital, is the queen of archipelago, most densely populated consisting of two thirds of total population of 342,000. Eighty five percent of people are of African descent with literacy rate of 95 percent. City of Nassau is decorated with architecture of British, Spanish, Indian, Chinese and flavor of southern US. In 2008, 4.6 million people visited Bahamas, 85 percent from the USA.  Its economy thrives on four areas for income:  tourism, fishing, banking, and farming.  The Bahamas, because of it strict secrecy laws, is called the “Switzerland of the West.” It has no income tax, sales tax, capital gain tax, estate tax, or inheritance tax. The nation’s stable government and economy as well as its proximity to the U.S. make it one of the most attractive areas for investors all over the world. There are 110 US affiliated businesses operating in the Bahamas, mostly in tourism and banking.

Coming of Islam

According to the old records, some of the early Muslims were brought as slaves from North Africa. In the 1960’s a Bahamian called Bashan Saladin (formerly Charles Cleare) preached Islam and converted his home into Mosque. In 1974, Dr. Munir Ahmad who returned from US as Dental Specialist and Mr. Mustafa khalil Khalfani joined hand to establish Islam. They were later joined by Br. Faisal AbdurRahmaan Hepburn. There is only one central college in Nassau and no large university.  For all higher education, the Bahamians must travel to the United States.  After independence, many Bahamians converted to Islam while studying in the US.  Everyone you meet has connection to the US.  There are many South Asian Muslims from India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, as well as Turkey and Guyana totaling to 20-30 people working as doctors, businessmen and teachers that visit the mosque.

Community Development

There are many Muslims from India, Pakistan and other countries that have helped develop this community. In 1978 when Jamaat-Ul-Islam, the Revolutionary Islamic Movement, was formed and Br. Mustapha Khalil Khalafani was chosen as its leader. The Muslims established Jamaat- Ul-Islam Mosque in Nassau runned  by Jamaat Management Consultancy Limited owned by Brother Faisal Abdurrahman Hepburn.

The Mosque

The Mosque rests on two acres of land, white in color with three domes (one large and two small) and one tall minaret.  It is surrounded by newly planted trees, a colorful courtyard and a parking lot.  Women area is separated by a perforated wooden partisan. The five daily prayers are performed punctually in congregation. Over 60 people attend the Friday sermon and prayer.  Other activities include brothers and sisters study circle as well as children’s Sunday school.

Conclusion

Islam in Nassau is growing with strong foundation for increasing the Dawa work in the area. Muslims are being ignored or marginalized in many ways, because of being a very small minority(less than 1% of the population). For example, the media refuse to air positive Islamic program and local newspapers are reluctant to cover events relating to Islam and Muslims. They are still facing problems in carrying on their activities. They could use some help and attention from US Muslims in order to energize their work. Muslims in the U. S. including doctors, engineers etc. can contribute by devoting their 1-2 week of vacation per year while doing seminars on Islam or having free medical clinics while still enjoying the scenery. The entire area is conducive to Dawa work due to high literacy, good command of English language, respect for people from US in general and religious background. The US national organizations of Muslims have special obligation to reach out and extend a helping hand. Any cooperation and coordinated activity will go a long way in establishing Islam in this part of the world. For more information about the mosque or the Islamic organization in the Bahamas, contact them at email: faisalhepburn@yahoo.com or visit their website: http:// www.jamaahlus-sunnah.com/.

Anis Ansari, MD,
Clinton, IA
Dr. Ansari is President of Islamic Society of Clinton County in Clinton, IA  and Board Certified Nephrologists. He can be reached at a.ansari@mchsi.com.

Breastfeeding Rates too Low Despite Global Education Programs

August 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

mother-and-child Despite widespread awareness of the importance of breastfeeding to the human child, mothers in developed countries demonstrate low rates of compliance with global recommendations. Nursing past six months is the exception rather than the rule. Bottle-feeding infants has become normal. Exclusive and extensive breastfeeding has become a pastime primarily for the rich with some interesting exceptions. Nordic countries exhibit the overall highest European breastfeeding rate with England ranking lowest. UAE ruling class mothers exclusively breastfeed the longest among Arabs while Iraq suffers the lowest breastfeeding rates. US Whites and Native Americans are most likely to breastfeed while Blacks and Hispanics are the least likely.

Class plays a large role in decision to breastfeed, for far fewer women belonging to the routine and manual labor socio-economic group nurse beyond six weeks than is typical of professional women and full time mothers. Yet, religion and philosophy also affect women’s decision to breastfeed. In Singapore non-Malay Muslim women are 6.7 times more likely to breastfeed than Buddhist women although Malays have the lowest rate. Urban babies receive half the breast milk of rural babies. The youngest mothers tend to supplement with bottles from birth.

The World Health Organization and UNICEF work hard to promote breastfeeding worldwide, but their success is undermined by factors such as free infant formula distribution, hospital practices and lack of personal support. Breastfeeding is a learned skill requiring effort and focus. Good intentions are not always enough to establish lactation. “Baby-friendly hospital” initiatives in many countries have significantly increased breastfeeding but rates are still well below optimum health guidelines.

Almost all new mothers attempt breastfeeding but few continue for the recommended period. According to UNICEF the early introduction of bottle-feeding and complementary food leads to premature weaning, the primary cause of malnutrition in children under age two worldwide.

Many women give up nursing in favor of bottle-feeding out of a sense of powerless over the situation. These mothers often wanted very much to nurse their child, but they lost their chance. Hospitals fail to promote exclusive breastfeeding of newborns. Most new mothers receive free samples of formula because of multi-million dollar deals between hospitals and pharmaceutical companies and come home with their babies already addicted to the bottle. Coaxing a newborn child to breastfeed after he has been bottle-fed even just once or twice can be a big struggle. Success may be impossible without the aid of a midwife or lactation counselor because unfortunately even the older generation of mothers lack sufficient knowledge.

When newborns reject the breast, mothers typically try for a while, then give up and supply a bottle. This teaches the baby that refusing to nurse will be rewarded. Parents must exercise “tough love” by declining to give the baby a bottle even if it takes several hours or even days for the baby to nurse willingly. (If the baby gets dehydrated, do give him water with a cup or medicine dropper, but introducing a bottle creates “nipple confusion” which is disastrous for the mother-child relationship).

Some women give up on breastfeeding because the husband insists. This tragedy reveals a stripping away at women’s postnatal rights and sets a dangerous precedent. Nursing a baby is an exhausting and time-consuming job requiring family help, encouragement, and support especially from the father to enable mother and child to be together undisturbed as much as possible particularly during the first 40 days of the baby’s life.

Many women manage to make it through those hardest days in the beginning and then stop breastfeeding after a few weeks out of fear of insufficient milk supply. These mothers need to increase their consumption of calories and to get adequate rest. Under no circumstances should they give their baby a bottle because this will only decrease the supply of breastmilk. Sometimes it is actually the doctor’s advice to start feeding their babies solids before 6 months that leads to premature weaning. A mother needs to weigh the fun of spoon-feeding her infant against the risk of premature rejection of the breast.

Thus bottle-feeding rates remain high despite awareness that breastmilk alone contains all the nutrients, antibodies, hormones and immune factors that a baby needs.

“Encouraging exclusive breastfeeding has to become a high priority in all sectors of society,” said Dr. Mahendra Sheth, UNICEF Regional Health and Nutrition Adviser for the Middle East and North Africa. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months followed by complementary feeding between 6-9 months with continued breastfeeding through the first year could save an estimated 1.5 million lives annually. 

Women receiving adequate advice can often prolong nursing even after returning to work outside the home. Premature or weak infants in particular need breast milk for the best odds in life.

Pregnant women should read books on how to breastfeed and understand fully the necessary commitment to avoid making a tragic mistake to be remembered with regret.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women.

11-36

How the Serenity of Swat Was Vandalized

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Javed Akbar, The Canadian Charger

Nightmarish scenes in the valley of Swat in northern Pakistan – a major tourist attraction known for its ‘indescribable beauty and serenity’ mark the latest stage of that nation’s crisis, brought to a boil by the U.S. escalation of its war in Afghanistan, which is spilling across the border.

But the turmoil is also a sign of the deepening contradictions of Pakistani politics following the downfall of the U.S.-backed strongman, Gen. Pervez Musharraf, last year amid growing unrest.

The rise of extremism, militancy and the Taliban are a reaction to the American-led “war on terror” and the occupation of Afghanistan. So big has been the displacement of people (1.7 million according to the UN) due to the latest military operations in Swat that UN officials are already comparing the unfortunate situation prevailing in Pakistan with that of Rwanda, the Central African country where genocide in 1994 forced large-scale dislocation of communities.

The resulting disequilibrium of Pakistani society has as its latest consequence an increasing influx of the internally displaced people of Swat.

The refugees from Swat are victims of a Pakistani Army offensive, backed by the U.S., against forces of the Taliban, which operate in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. Under pressure from the U.S., the Pakistani military broke a ceasefire arrangement with the Taliban and carried out a scorched-earth assault — with the excuse that this is the only way to flush out Taliban fighters.

But the civilian population is paying a terrible price. The Pakistani military will never be able to win over those people who actually experienced what is happening on the ground. And certainly those people are not Taliban supporters either, since they have experienced their terror.

The U.S. has created the bizarre new moniker “Af/Pak” as a way to cover over its expansion of the war from Afghanistan into Pakistan. Building consent for this expansion has been what all the State Department, Pentagon and media propaganda has been about before the onslaught of this military expedition.
Leading counterinsurgency theorist John Nagl, an Iraq combat veteran and now the head of the Center for a New American Security, writes that “there is a growing realization that the most likely conflicts of the next fifty years will be irregular warfare in an ‘Arc of Instability’ that encompasses much of the greater Middle East and parts of Africa and Central and South Asia.”

That goes a long way towards explaining U.S. strategic planning.

The U.S. wants to wind down its occupation in Iraq, which it sees as a distraction, and push ahead with a much larger scenario — ‘in the arc of instability’ from North Africa to the Middle East to South and Central Asia. The U.S. is gearing up for, in the shocking words of Nagl, 50 years of warfare in this area.

Such imperial-style strategic concepts echo the “Great Game” of rivalries in the region over who’s going to control the oil and natural gas resources. Beyond that geopolitical battle, the military industrial complex has a material interest in perpetual warfare.

This is the new Great Game involving the U.S., Russia, China, India, Pakistan and Iran. It’s all about the resources that we have been observing since the beginning of the war in 2001. The U.S. had planned a pipeline to go from Central Asia through the Pakistani province of Balochistan. Planners saw Afghanistan as strategically important in these designs. The strategic importance was considered high enough to open a new front on its open-ended “war on terror.”

Despite eight years of war, occupation and counter-insurgency, and seeing that war and occupation aren’t working and are, in fact, backfiring, U.S. thinking doesn’t seem to be shifting at all. The Obama administration is certainly trying to repackage its essential continuity with the Bush administration’s policy in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

But there isn’t a whole lot of finessing that needs to be done to sell this to the American public, since there is a widespread impression that the Afghan war is a moral war, a necessary response to the 9/ll attackers, and that Pakistan is an untrustworthy and reluctant ally that is crawling with militants.
The real alternative for President Obama should be to maintain a deterrent posture while immediately accelerating diplomacy to address legitimate Muslim concerns, from a Palestinian state to genuine progress on Kashmir.

By not recognizing that the unresolved Kashmir issue is a cause for promoting militancy in the region, Washington has opted for selective engagement with the underlying causes of militancy and terrorism in the region.

The anti-war movement should not let Obama continue this imperial policy of aggression into Afghanistan and Pakistan (and potentially many other states).

The heart of the crisis is that this has become a multiple-front war, and the main theater has spawned a second, more diffused arena for potentially disastrous outcomes.

Meanwhile the sufferings of the people of the Northern Pakistan continue, with the rest of country adversely affected due to a war imposed upon its people.
Barack Obama has been bombing Pakistan since the third day of his presidency, and on the ground the Pakistani army has been acting as his country’s mercenaries.

* Javed Akbar is a freelance writer based in Toronto.

Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi

February 19, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Syed Aslam, science@muslimobserver.com

Idrisi

Muhammad Ibn al-Idrisi  was born in Andalusian city of Ceuta,  in 1099 C.E. He was the descendant of Idrisid the ruler of Morocco who were said to be the direct descendant of Hazrat Hasan (ra) the grandson of Prophet Muhammad (s). Al-Idrisi received his  education in Cordoba.  He traveled to many distant places, including Europe, Africa and Asia to gather geographical data and plant samples. After  traveling a few years he gathered enough information and accurate measurements of the earth’s surface to complete a rough world map. His fame and competence eventually led to the attention of Roger II, the Norman King of Sicily, who invited him to produce an up-to-date world map.  He left Andalusia and moved to Sicily and worked in the court of the Norman king till he died in the year 1166 CE.

Mohammad al-Idrisi was a great geographer, cartographer, botanist, traveler and poet. In the West he is best known as a geographer, who made a globe using a silver sphere for King Roger of Sicily.

Al Idrisi’s contribution to geography was tremendous.  His book; ‘Nuzhat al-Mushtaq fi Ikhtiraq al-Afaq,’(The Delight of Him Who Desires to Journey Through the Climates) also known as Roger’s Book, is a geographical encyclopedia which contains detailed maps and information on European countries, Africa and Asia. Al-Idrisi completed his encyclopedia in a very unique way.  In addition to his personal travel and scholarship, he  selected some intelligent men who were dispatched to distant lands  accompanied by draftsmen. When these men returned, al-Idrisi inserted the information in his treatise.  On the basis of these observations made in the field, and from data derived from  earlier Arabic and Greek geographers,  he brought the data up to date. The book and associated maps took 15 years to complete.  It is unquestionably among the most interesting monuments of Arabian geography. In addition, the book is the most voluminous and detailed geographical work written about 12th century Europe.

Al-Idrisi compiled a more comprehensive encyclopedia, entitled ‘Rawd-Unnas wa-Nuzhat al-Nafs’ (Pleasure of Men and Delight of Souls). Al-Idrisi’s knowledge of the Niger above Timbuktu, the Sudan, and of the head waters of the Nile was remarkable for its accuracy. For three centuries, geographers copied his maps without alteration. The relative position of the lakes form which the river Nile starts its journey, as mentioned in his work, does not differ greatly from the modern map.

Al-Idrisi built a large global map made of silver weighing approximately 400 kilograms. He meticulously recorded on it the seven continents with trade routes, lakes and rivers, major cities, and plains and mountains. It is known to have been a colossal work of geography, probably the most accurate map of Europe, north Africa and western Asia created during the Middle Ages. The presentation of the Earth as a round globe was revolutionary idea in the Christian world because they believed that the earth was flat. Al-Idrisi knew that the earth was round, and he even calculated the circumference of the earth to be 22,900 miles, a difference of eight percent from the present value, and explained the revolutionary idea about earth like this;  “The earth is round like a sphere, and the waters adhere to it and are maintained on it through natural equilibrium  on the surface of the earth, the air which suffers no variation. It remained stable in space like the yolk in an egg. Air surrounds it on all sides.

Al-Idrisi’s book, Kitāb nuzhat al-mushtāq, represents a serious attempt to combine descriptive and astronomical geography. This book was not as grand as his other books, apparently because some truths of geography were still veiled from the author, nevertheless it is also considered a major geographic monument.

He also made the world map on a great disk almost 80 inches in diameter and weighing over 300 pounds–fabricated out of silver, which was chosen for its malleability and permanence.

Al-Idrisi’s other major contribution was his work on medicinal plants, which he discussed in several books, especially Kitab al-Jami-li-Sifat Ashtat al-Nabatat. (Simple Book of Medicinal Plants) He studied and reviewed all the literature on the subject of medicinal plants and came to the conclusion that very little original material had been added to this branch of knowledge since the early Greek work. He started collecting  medicinal  plants wherever he he traveled. Thus, he is credited for having added a large number of new medicinal plants, together with their evaluation to the medical science. He has given the names of the herbs in many languages like Greek, Persian, Hindi, Latin, Berber and Arabic.

Al-Idrisi was a traveler who wrote about what he saw–some historians compare him to Marco Polo–but al-Idrisi’s work was much more scientific, and generally more objective, than Polo’s work. While al-Idrisi’s books have survived in their original manuscript form, whereas Marco Polo’s writings exist primarily as later transcriptions which were often altered.

Al-Idrisi, no doubt, was a great geographer and traveler who produced original work in the field of geography and botany. Some historians regard him as the greatest geographer and cartographer of the Middle Ages. His books were translated into Latin and became the standard books on geography for centuries, both in the east and west.

11-9

Israeli Bestseller Breaks National Taboo : Idea of a Jewish People Invented, Says Historian

October 16, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy Jonathan Cook, antiwar.com

No one is more surprised than Shlomo Sand that his latest academic work has pent 19 weeks on Israel`s bestseller list – and that success has come to the history professor despite his book challenging Israel’s biggest taboo. Dr. Sand argues that the idea of a Jewish nation – whose need for a safe haven was originally used to justify the founding of the state of Israel – is  myth invented little more than a century ago.

An expert on European history at Tel Aviv University, Dr. Sand drew on extensive historical and archaeological research to support not only this claim but several more – all equally controversial. In addition, he argues that the Jews were never exiled from the Holy Land, that most of today`s Jews have no historical connection to the land called Israel and that the only political solution to the country’s conflict with the Palestinians is to abolish the Jewish state. The success of When and How Was the Jewish People Invented? looks likely to be repeated around the world. A French edition, launched last month, is selling so fast that it has already had three print runs.

Translations are under way into a dozen languages, including Arabic and English. But he predicted a rough ride from the pro-Israel lobby when the book is launched by his English publisher, Verso, in the United States next year.

In contrast, he said Israelis had been, if not exactly supportive, at least curious about his argument. Tom Segev, one of the country`s leading journalists, has called the book `fascinating and challenging.` Surprisingly, Dr. Sand said, most of his academic colleagues in Israel have shied away from tackling his arguments.

One exception is Israel Bartal, a professor of Jewish history at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Writing in Haaretz, the Israeli daily newspaper, Dr. Bartal made little effort to rebut Dr. Sand`s claims. He dedicated much of his article instead to defending his profession, suggesting that Israeli historians were not as ignorant about the invented nature of Jewish history as Dr. Sand contends.

The idea for the book came to him many years ago, Dr. Sand said, but he waited until recently to start working on it. `I cannot claim to be particularly courageous in publishing the book now,` he said. `I waited until I was a full professor. There is a price to be paid in Israeli academia for expressing views of this sort.`

Dr. Sand`s main argument is that until little more than a century ago, Jews thought of themselves as Jews only because they shared a common religion. At the turn of the 20th century, he said, Zionist Jews challenged this idea and started creating a national history by inventing the idea that Jews existed as people separate from their religion.

Equally, the modern Zionist idea of Jews being obligated to return from exile to the Promised Land was entirely alien to Judaism, he added.

`Zionism changed the idea of Jerusalem. Before, the holy places were seen as places to long for, not to be lived in. For 2,000 years Jews stayed away from Jerusalem not because they could not return but because their religion forbade them from returning until the messiah came.

The biggest surprise during his research came when he started looking at the archaeological evidence from the biblical era.

`I was not raised as a Zionist, but like all other Israelis I took it for granted that the Jews were a people living in Judea and that they were exiled by the Romans in 70AD.

`But once I started looking at the evidence, I discovered that the kingdoms of David and Solomon were legends.

`Similarly with the exile. In fact, you can`t explain Jewishness without exile. But when I started to look for history books describing the events of this exile, I couldn`t find any. Not one.

`That was because the Romans did not exile people. In fact, Jews in Palestine were overwhelming peasants and all the evidence suggests they stayed on their lands.`

Instead, he believes an alternative theory is more plausible: the exile was a myth promoted by early Christians to recruit Jews to the new faith. `Christians wanted later generations of Jews to believe that their ancestors had been exiled as a punishment from God.`

So if there was no exile, how is it that so many Jews ended up scattered around the globe before the modern state of Israel began encouraging them to `return`? Dr. Sand said that, in the centuries immediately preceding and following the Christian era, Judaism was a proselytizing religion, desperate for converts.

This is mentioned in the Roman literature of the time.` Jews traveled to other regions seeking converts, particularly in Yemen and among the Berber tribes of North Africa. Centuries later, the people of the Khazar kingdom in what is today south Russia, would convert en masse to Judaism, becoming the genesis of the Ashkenazi Jews of central and eastern Europe.

Dr. Sand pointed to the strange state of denial in which most Israelis live, noting that papers offered extensive coverage recently to the discovery of the capital of the Khazar kingdom next to the Caspian Sea.

Ynet, the website of Israel`s most popular newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth, headlined the story: `Russian archaeologists find long-lost Jewish capital.`

And yet none of the papers, he added, had considered the significance of this find to standard accounts of Jewish history.

One further question is prompted by Dr. Sand`s account, as he himself notes: if most Jews never left the Holy Land, what became of them?

`It is not taught in Israeli schools but most of the early Zionist leaders, including David Ben Gurion [Israel`s first prime minister], believed that the Palestinians were the descendants of the area’s original Jews. They believed the Jews had later converted to Islam.`

Dr. Sand attributed his colleagues` reticence to engage with him to an implicit acknowledgement by many that the whole edifice of `Jewish history` taught at Israeli universities is built like a house of cards.

The problem with the teaching of history in Israel, Dr. Sand said, dates to a decision in the 1930s to separate history into two disciplines: general history and Jewish history. Jewish history was assumed to need its own field of study because Jewish experience was considered unique.

`There’s no Jewish department of politics or sociology at the universities. Only history is taught in this way, and it has allowed specialists in Jewish history to live in a very insular and conservative world where they are not touched by modern developments in historical research.

`I`ve been criticized in Israel for writing about Jewish history when European history is my specialty. But a book like this needed a historian who is familiar with the standard concepts of historical inquiry used by academia in the rest of the world.`

This article originally appeared in The National, published in Abu Dhabi.

http://www.antiwar.com/orig/cook.php?articleid=13569

10-43

Muslim Scientists and Thinkers–Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd

September 18, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Syed Aslam

ibn rushd Abu Waleed Ibn Rushd, also known as Averroes in  Europe, was born in 1128 A.D. in Cordoba, Andalusia (now Spain). He came from a prestigious family  of lawyers and judges.  Ibn Rushd received his education in Cordoba and lived a quiet life, devoting most of his time to pursuing knowledge. He studied his familial profession, specializing in law and medicine, making good use of the magnificent library of Cordoba with its half million books.   After graduating, he practiced in al-Andalus as well as Marrakesh in North Africa. The Berber sultan offered him a judgeship in Seville, and with the patronage of the ruler, he soon moved to Cordoba as a judge–the position his father had once held. Here he passed a pleasant life for fifteen years and authored many books including a commentaries on Plato’s Republic. In 1195CE sultan’s son al-Mansur became the new ruler who banished Ibn Rushd from Cordoba and burned all his books on philosophy because of his  criticism of the Berber rulers in his commentaries. However, as a result of intervention of  leading scholars he was forgiven. He lived  another two years and died in 1198 CE in Marrakesh, capital of the Berber kingdom. Three months later his body was brought back to his beloved Cordoba to fulfill his wish.

By education, Ibn Rushd was a physician and lawyer, but he proved to be the greatest philosopher and thinker of Europe in the middle ages. He also made remarkable contributions in the fields of medicine, music, astronomy, physics, jurisprudence and psychology.

He authored more than 100 books and treatises in his life time, in which twenty were in  medicine and the rest on philosophy and other subjects. His well known treatise  Kitab al-Kulyat fi al-Tibb, Compendium of Medical Knowledge, was written while he was working in Marrakesh.  In it Ibn Rushd throws light on various aspects of medicine, including the diagnoses, cure and prevention of diseases. The treatise was divided into seven books arranging in it the works of the best physicians from the classical Greek and the Islamic world and contains several original observations of his own. Its Latin translation was known as Colliget and it became the standard text in the European universities  for several centuries.

Given his family history, it was perhaps obvious that ibn Rushd would devote some his time to jurisprudence (fiqh). His grandfather was a major figure in the Maliki school of fiqh, and so was he. By his own account it took twenty years to complete his book Bidayat al Mujtahid wa al Muqtasid; Beginning of the Independent Jurist and End of the Mere Adherent of Precedent, an excellent work on fiqh. As the title shows, he favored ijtihad or independent thinking in the areas of fiqh without specific guidance from Qur`an and ahadith.      

In astronomy ibn Rushd wrote a treatise on the motion of the sphere, Kitab fi-Harakat al-Falak. He also wrote a commentary on Almagest, the great book of mathematics and astronomy written in Alexandria Egypt in 200 CE.  He rejected the Ptolemaic model of the universe and argued for a strictly concentric model of the universe.  He wrote an excellent commentary on Aristotelian physics and was the first to to define and measure force. He defined force as the rate at which work is done–this is also the modern definition.  He wrote a valuable commentary on Aristotle’s treatise, De Anima, which deals with the nature of living things.

Ibn Rushd started his philosophical work while he was in Marrakesh, and he produced his first book; Kitab  al-Jawami fil Falsafa; The Compendium of Philosophy. Here he touched on subjects like physics, earth, meteorology, logic and metaphysics, some of these topics would occupy him for the rest of his life, His most important work Tuhafut al-Tuhafut, Incoherence of Incoherence, was written in response to Ghazali’s book The Incoherence of the Philosophers. Here he counterattacked al-Ghazali  objections one by one in a conciliatory manner. He advocated the harmony between religion and philosophy and argued that they need each other to seek the same truth.   Ibn Rush was criticized by some Muslim scholars for this book, which nevertheless had a profound influence on European thought and gave them a jump-start in reason and rationalism which ushered in the west’s “Age of Enlightenment.”

He wrote three commentaries on the works of Aristotle, the shortest, Jami, may be considered a summary of the subject. The intermediate was Talkhis and the longest was the Tafsir. These three commentaries would seem to correspond to different stages in the education of pupils; the short one was meant for beginners, the intermediate for students familiar with the subject, and finally the longest was for advanced studies. The longest commentary was, in fact, an original contribution as it was largely based on his analysis including interpretation of Qu’ranic concepts. These commentaries are considered as one of the greatest intellectual reservoir ever developed in philosophy.

After confronting conservative theologians, Ibn Rushd became a bit bold and tried to take on tougher  opponents–the rulers and kings. Close to end of his life he choose to write a commentary on Plato’s Republic, one of the  great masterpieces of Greek thought. He could have explained all those wonderful ideas of this excellent work; further, he described the Andalusian rulers as decadent tyrants. Ibn Rushd’s criticism of rulers and his political philosophy in the commentary got his book burned. He had advocated revolutionary ideas like public education, even distribution of wealth, and women’s rights; it was a plea for social justice.

When the Latin translations of his  work reached Europe in  the 13th century, they were like arrows hitting a bull’s eye. The European intelligentsia were hungry to look at the world in a new way, which Ibn Rushd provided in a big way with his commentaries and his philosophy. A new phenomena of Averrosim derived from his Latin name Averroes started to take hold among the learned people of Europe, especially the professors of newly opened universities. The Catholic church was horrified and saw the storm cloud gathering. The Pope formed a commission to look into this new phenomenon, and by 1231 CE Aristotelian philosophy, all the Ibn Rushd commentaries and his books on philosophy were banned through all of Christendom.  But it was too late, the genie was out of the bottle. The sparks of this new flame drifted northward and eastward.

One of the staunchest Averroists, Pietro d’Abano, a professor of medicine and philosophy in an Italian university, defied the decrees of the church and brought Aristotle and Ibn Rushd into the University of Padua’s curriculum in 1306 CE. He argued that experiments, observations and logic were new machines for finding truth.  This use of machines invented by Greek and Muslim philosophers was too much for the Catholic church to take- the Inquisition was formed by the Church to combat Averrosim,  and it condemned d’Abano on numerous counts. He died in 1315 CE before the Church could get him but that did not stop the Inquisition, they eventually ordered his dead body burned at the stake.

Ibn Rushd’s philosophical work, which fascinated, inspired and influenced the West, were of little interest to the Muslim world, where he is remembered as a great physician. The Islamic rejection of Ibn Rushd as a thinker and philosopher is no doubt partly because of his criticism of religious orthodoxy.       

Aslamsyed1@yahoo.com

10-39

Burning of Sanctuary Stokes Fears of Spain Islamophobia

April 24, 2006 by · 1 Comment 

By Giles Tremlett

An arson attack over the Easter weekend on a Muslim sanctuary in the Spanish city of Ceuta marked another step in what some experts fear is a growing incidence of Islamophobia in the country.
Ceuta lies on a small peninsula in North Africa and a third of the population is Muslim. The burning of the Sidi Bel Abbas sanctuary comes just three months after another sanctuary in the enclave was attacked by arsonists.
Authorities in the city said that they were considering putting security cameras around mosques, shrines and buildings belonging to other religions in order to dissuade potential attackers.
The news came amid reports of a growing number of attacks across Spain.
El Pais newspaper listed a number of mosques and other Muslim targets that have been ransacked, burned or had copies of the Qur’an set alight by intruders.
Police said that extreme rightwingers and skinhead groups were responsible for almost all the attacks.
“They want Spain to have the same sort of violent reaction that the Netherlands had after the murder of film director Theo van Gogh,” one police expert told El PaÌs. “Little by little they are creating an atmosphere for this to grow.”
Spain’s 800,000 Muslims, many of them immigrants from neighbouring Morocco, have some 600 mosques around the country.
Spain’s imams, however, prefer not to publicise attacks in order to avoid copycat incidents and angry reactions from within their own community. “We try to avoid confrontation,” Moneir Mahmoud, who runs the main mosque in Madrid, explained.
Protests against the caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that appeared in the European press were kept within the walls of Spanish mosques in order to not to provoke counter-reactions.
At least four towns in the eastern region of Catalonia, however, have seen attacks on mosques and Muslim butchers, some with Molotov cocktails.
In the eastern town of Reus, police detained two car-loads of skinheads armed with Molotov cocktails as they headed towards the local mosque.
The train bombings that killed 191 people in Madrid two years ago and growing Islamophobia since the September 11 attacks were largely to blame.
“We never had things like this happen before,” Imad Alnaddar, who is in charge of the main mosque in Valencia, told El Pais.

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