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.

P4118761

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.

12-16

America’s Credibility Takes Another Blow

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Rothkopf

court_front_med It’s ironic. At precisely the moment that Secretary of State Clinton was rightly striking out at the Chinese for their infringement of the rights of their own citizens to open Internet access, democracy was dying in America.

In fact now, following an era that might well be defined by America’s twin credibility crises of the past decade, another looms.

The first two blows — blows that have left America’s standing in the world weaker today than it has been at any time in the past half century, even with the many steps President Obama has taken to reverse the missteps of the Bush era — undercut two of what might be seen as the three pillars of American standing on the planet.

The initial credibility crisis was triggered by the Bush administration’s reckless disregard for the values upon which the republic was founded. >From Guantanamo to Abu Ghraib, from the illegal invasion of Iraq to the rendition and torture of prisoners, America’s role as a leader by virtue of our moral standing was called into question. The champions of the rule of law were now seen, rightfully, as one of its enemies, arguing as we were that there were two standards: that to which we held the rest of the world and that we chose for ourselves.

Next, America’s role as an economic model for the world, champion of free markets and opportunity for all came under fire. In the run up to the economic crisis of 2008-2009, growing inequality in the United States was leading many critics to question our “leave it to the markets” approach. But then came the crisis and once again, the United States demonstrated that the doctrine we had preached worldwide were not going to be applied at home and moreover, that our system was deeply and fundamentally flawed. Doubt about “American capitalism” were only amplified in the aftermath of the crisis, in which middle class victims of the crisis were hardly helped and many were hurt but in which Wall Street fat cats called the tune, reaped the rewards of government intervention and then flouted their power by shrugging off the government when it was no longer necessary to their business plans.

What was left for Americans to cling to? Our moral standing and our fundamental message to the world had been built on the ideas of respect for the rule of law and free markets. And now the world was left to wonder, if not America, then to whom do we turn? Should we embrace other models?

Admittedly, the Chinese model, which might have had a shot at greater influence given the damage done to the U.S. brand, wasn’t doing itself any favors with its attempt to deny its people both basic rights of all international citizens of the 21st Century … which would also have the effect of making Chinese workers less competitive in the global economy. Hillary Clinton’s speech attacking this was forceful and utterly appropriate. The Chinese whining in response to it was a sign of weakness and with some luck, the Obama administration will ignore it, shrug off the Chinese threats of consequences in other areas of the bilateral relationship, and continue to press home this essential point.

But the argument on behalf of the American way was made immeasurably harder recently by the Supreme Court’s devastating blow to several of the most fundamental precepts of American society — equal rights, for example, or truly free speech (which is to say the right speak and be heard, without having to pay for it).

By a 5-4 vote the justices of the court, with the Republican right in the majority, struck down limits on corporate campaign spending. Further building on the dangerous fiction in American law that corporations ought to have rights akin to those of individuals, the decision effectively unleashes the floodgates of corporate and union money into the political arena.

This is certainly a more powerful threat to democracy than terrorism. It may well be a more powerful threat to democracy than was the fatally-flawed Soviet Union. Because to the extent to which politicians depend on donations to remain in power, they are inevitably influenced by those who have the most money. Not surprisingly, corporate entities, representing many people and often vast economic enterprises, have vastly more financial resources than individuals. Arguing, as American right wingers do, that campaign donations are form of free speech and thus cannot be constrained, ignores the reality that by equating money with free speech we effectively say that those with more money have more free speech, are entitled to greater influence within our society.

The implications are stark. Should this decision go unreversed by subsequent action of the Congress, a future court or a future constitutional amendment, it tips the balance of power in the United States even farther away from average people and in the direction of elites. Since campaign donations do not flow from companies primarily for ideological reasons but rather to advance narrow self-interests, the business of U.S. political class will necessarily be driven by the politics of the business class.

In a nutshell, yesterday’s Supreme Court decision made it very likely that America will not be an effective leader in combating global warming or preserving global resources, it will not be able to effectively resolve the internal threats to its own society like a failing health care system, and it will pursue international policies that are driven less by the broad national interest and more by the agenda of companies that in fact, have increasingly little national identity.

In this respect, this compromise of the third and most important pillar of U.S. international leadership-democracy, may be the most damaging of all. We can repair, as the Obama administration has attempted to do, the abuses of the Bush years. But if the court’s action does in effect institutionalize Calvin Coolidge’s old idea that “the business of America is business” it will be impossible to either effectively redress the flaws in the American economic model or for us to continue to argue that the nation that was the most important pioneer of representative democracy will continue to be able to play that role.

12-5