Australia Muslims Push for Rights

May 26, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Patricia Karvelas

australia_kangarooMay 17, 2011 THE nation’s peak Muslim group is using the Gillard government’s re-embracing of multiculturalism to push for the introduction of sharia in Australia, but it says it would be a more moderate variety of Islamic law that fits with Australian values.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s new multiculturalism policy, argues that Muslims should enjoy “legal pluralism”.

In an interview with The Australian, the organisation’s president, Ikebal Adam Patel, who wrote the submission, nominated family law and specifically divorce as an area where moderate interpretations of sharia could co-exist within the Australian legal system.

In the submission, the AFIC acknowledges some Muslims believe Islamic law is immutable, regardless of history, time, culture and location.

“They claim that Muslims may change, but Islam will not,” it says.

The AFIC argues this is not the case and sharia can be applied in a way that fits in to Australia and is not extreme.

“This means most of the regulations in Islamic law may be amended, changed, altered, and adapted to social change.

“Therefore, Muslims Australia-AFIC takes the position that Islamic law is changeable according to the requirements of different places and times, and therefore suits the values shared by Australian people,” the submission says.

A hardline reading of sharia confers unilateral divorce rights on men, while women who initiate divorce are stripped of their property and financial entitlements.

A more moderate interpretation and common practice in Islamic countries is to recognise divorce by mutual consent.

In the interview, Mr Patel said: “I’m saying that instead of letting the extremists within Islam take over the agenda, we are saying there is a path whereby it will work for all the communities in a moderate way.

“It is important for someone who is Muslim or a practising Jew that aspects of our religion which can be incorporated within the greater legal system are introduced.

“This is about personal issues about family, and won’t affect any other Australian,” he said.

“It’s about a system that does not impinge on the rights of any other Australian.”

In its submission to the inquiry, the AFIC says criticisms of sharia as being biased against women and treating them as second-class citizens are wrong.

“It is important for Muslims to seriously consider this criticism,” the submission says.

“But it is also important for the Australian government to respect the rights of Muslim women who want to keep and maintain the way they dress, eat and interact with others, as long as such behaviour does not inflict harm to others.

“Muslims in Australia should accept the Australian values, and Australia should provide a ‘public sphere’ for Muslims to practise their belief. It takes two to tango.

“This approach demands a compromise from Islam, which should be open to other values, and also to make a similar demand of Australia.

“It is not only Australian Muslims who should reconcile these identities, but all Australians.”

Mr Patel says the AFIC, as the peak body of Islamic organisations in Australia, “strongly supports that multiculturalism should lead to legal pluralism . . . and twin tolerations”.

The submission cites regulations governing Islamic finance and halal certification in Australia as examples of how legal pluralism can work.

British law since 1996 has allowed for alternative dispute resolution through sharia tribunals, the rulings of which are enforceable in county courts and the High Court.

The submission calls on the inquiry members to consider “hard questions” from Muslim communities.

“Muslims are required to have social integration with the majority of people in Australia: what does this really mean? Should Muslims remove the hijab, dress like others, drink alcohol and go to the pub to demonstrate they have actually integrated?”

In most Western countries, the submission notes, the idea of an “Islamic family tribunal or arbitration is likely to fuel the debate on radicalism and liberalism”.

“But is it true that Australia will never consider Islamic law?” it asks.

“It seems that in two areas, namely Islamic finance and halal food, the Australian government has been actively involved.

“So although the Attorney-General ruled out introducing Islamic law, or sharia, at the same time Australian financial institutions are encouraged to do much more to attract Muslim business by developing innovative products which comply with Islamic law.

“Apart from the economic motive, how can we reconcile the conflicting statement and fact?”

From: The Australian

13-22

What Holbrooke Knew

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nicholas D. Kristof

US AfghanistanWhen he was alive, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke was effectively gagged, unable to comment on what he saw as missteps of the Obama administration that he served. But as we face a crisis in Pakistan after the killing of Osama bin Laden, it’s worth listening to Holbrooke’s counsel — from beyond the grave.

As one of America’s finest strategic thinkers and special envoy to the Af-Pak region, Holbrooke represented the administration — but also chafed at aspects of the White House approach. In particular, he winced at the overreliance on military force, for it reminded him of Vietnam.

“There are structural similarities between Afghanistan and Vietnam,” he noted, in scattered reflections now in the hands of his widow, Kati Marton.

“He thought that this could become Obama’s Vietnam,” Marton recalled. “Some of the conversations in the Situation Room reminded him of conversations in the Johnson White House. When he raised that, Obama didn’t want to hear it.”

Because he was fiercely loyal to his friend Hillary Clinton, the secretary of state, Holbrooke bit his lip and kept quiet in public. But he died in December, and Marton and some of his friends (me included) believe it’s time to lift the cone of silence and share his private views. At this time, with Pakistan relations in a crisis and Afghanistan under review, our country could use a dose of his wisdom.

Holbrooke opposed the military “surge” in Afghanistan and would see the demise of Bin Laden as an opportunity to go into diplomatic overdrive. He believed strongly that the only way out of the mess in Afghanistan was a peace deal with the Taliban, and his team was secretly engaged in outreach to figures linked to the Taliban, Marton says.

“Reconciliation — that was what he was working toward in Afghanistan, and building up the civilian and political side that had been swamped by the military,” Marton recalled. “The whole policy was off-kilter, way too militarized. Richard never thought that this war could be won on the battlefield.”

His aim, she says, was something like the Balkan peace agreement he negotiated at a military base in Dayton, Ohio. The process would be led by the United States but include all the regional players, including Pakistan and Iran.

“He was dreaming of a Dayton-like setting somewhere, isolated, no media, no Washington bureaucracy,” Marton said. “He was a long way from that, but he was dreaming of that.”

Vali Nasr, a member of Holbrooke’s team at the State Department, puts it this way: “He understood from his experience that every conflict has to end at the negotiating table.”

Nasr says that Holbrooke’s aim for Afghanistan was “not cut-and-run, but a viable, lasting solution” to end the civil war there. If Holbrooke were still alive, Nasr says, he would be shuttling frantically between Islamabad and Kabul, trying to take advantage of Bin Laden’s killing to lay the groundwork for a peace process.

To do that, though, we have to put diplomacy and development — and not 100,000 troops, costing $10 billion a month — at the heart of our Afghan policy. Holbrooke was bemused that he would arrive at a meeting in a taxi, while Gen. David Petraeus would arrive escorted by what seemed a battalion of aides. And Holbrooke would flinch when Petraeus would warmly refer to him as his “wingman” — meaning it as a huge compliment — rather than seeing military force as the adjunct to diplomacy.

As for Pakistan, Holbrooke told me and others that because of its size and nuclear weaponry, it was center stage; Afghanistan was a sideshow.

“A stable Afghanistan is not essential; a stable Pakistan is essential,” he noted, in the musings he left behind. He believed that a crucial step to reducing radicalism in Pakistan was to ease the Kashmir dispute with India, and he favored more pressure on India to achieve that.

Holbrooke was frustrated by Islamabad’s duplicity. But he also realized that Pakistan sheltered the Afghan Taliban because it distrusted the United States, particularly after the United States walked away in 1989 after the Soviet pullout from Afghanistan. And renewed threats of abandonment won’t build trust.

Rather, Holbrooke poured his soul into building a relationship not only with Pakistani generals but also with the Pakistani people, and there were modest dividends. He helped improve C.I.A. access to Pakistan, which may have helped with the raid on the Bin Laden compound. And he soothed opposition to drone attacks, Nasr noted.

“He was treating them as a serious player, not as if you’re just having a one-night stand but as if there might actually be marriage at the end of the relationship,” Marton said.

It’s a vision of painstaking diplomacy toward a strategic goal — peace — and it’s what we need more of. President Obama said wonderful things at the memorial service for Holbrooke. But the best tribute would be to listen to his advice.

13-21

Bin Laden: Obama Snatches Defeat from Jaws of Victory

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Yvonne Ridley

As the news of Osama bin Laden’s death filtered out onto the streets of America it triggered unsightly scenes of undiluted hysteria, chest-thumping and back-slapping which has sadly become a trademark of the vengeful ‘hang’em high’ lobby that emerged from the rubble of 9/11.

And just like George W Bush did on that horrific day way back in 2001, US President Barack Obama unashamedly wallowed in a flag-waving, nationalistic wave of emotion, crowing about national unity and everyone pulling together as he revealed the manhunt for the world’s most wanted man had finally been concluded.

It mattered not the al-Qaida leader was unarmed – that detail was kept back as hugely distorted stories zoomed around the globe about how the evil Arab used his wife as a human shield while firing off rounds at the heroic soldiers who risked their all for Uncle Sam.

The naked display of uncontrollable gung-ho emotion was bad enough but then a smug-looking Obama began sounding like Glenn Ford in a scene from High Noon as he lectured the world about “justice being done”.

To quote my favourite journalist Gary Younge: “This was not justice, it was an extra-judicial execution. If you shoot a man twice in the head you do not find him guilty. You find him dead. This was revenge. And it was served very cold indeed.”

Mercifully, in this sea of madness another sane voice in America also drowned out the hate-filled chorus and it came from an unlikely source – 9/11 survivor Harry Waizer.
If anyone had a right to jump up and down like a lunatic at the show of a full moon it was him, but instead of adding to the hatefest he said: “I just can’t find it in me to be glad one more person is dead, even if it is Osama Bin Laden.”

I hope now that America’s Number One Bogeyman is no more the USA returns to some semblance of normality that has been absent from its landscape since the now discredited War on Terror began.
And I hope that the US Administration will stop using the politics of fear on its own people who have been ruthlessly hyped up in to a state of advanced paranoia at every opportunity. High days and holidays have been blighted by accelerated levels of terror alerts while the latest airport scares and the latest suspect parcels have brought major cities and their transport networks to a halt.

While it is always dangerous to generalize the American people appear to have been kept suspended in fear ever since 9/11 – the reality is ordinary citizens have more chance of being shot in their backyard than be killed by a terrorist.

30,000 innocents die every year in gun-related crime – that’s a 9/11 multiplied by ten – but the close relationship with deadly weapons shows no sign of abating in trigger-happy America.

In terms of a violent society and armed citizens, the US is in a league of its own and sadly the state of disregard for the law and justice filters all the way down from The White House.

That the most powerful man in the world can stare straight into the cameras and say: “Justice was done” over Bin Laden’s murder borders on absurdity; it’s almost Pythonesque.

Real justice would have involved an arrest, a trial by jury and a sentence in an international court should the thought of holding him on USA soil prove too frightening.

Real justice would not have involved shooting an unarmed man in front of his wife and children – there were no bodyguards in the house in Abbottabad in Pakistan.

Real justice would not have involved charging into someone else’s country with armed forces unannounced, if indeed that was really the case in Pakistan.

I’m surprised David Cameron, the British Prime Minister and other political leaders went into congratulatory mode in the House of Commons over the whole saga.

Had it not occurred to them that if OBL had chosen to hide out in Didsbury, Tooting or Chipping Norton then US Special Forces would have come into the UK all guns blazing?

I wonder, would Cameron have gushed forth with undiluted praise then?

We don’t know who America’s next Bogeyman is going to be, but what if he does live in Britain or chooses to hide in the UK? What then? Do we sit back and allow America to breach our sovereignty in the name of US justice?

Are there any real guarantees that we won’t have US Navy Seals bursting into our neighbourhoods anytime soon?

OK, it’s highly unlikely but not impossible. This is what happens when there’s total disregard for international law, Vienna and Geneva conventions et al.

Distinguished QC Geoffrey Robertson is a man I’d like to lock in the Oval Office with the Commander in Chief for maybe 30 minutes. A renowned international human rights lawyer, he is not at all impressed by Obama’s interpretation of justice.

Writing about the OBL killing he said the law “permits criminals to be shot in self-defence. They should, if possible, be given the opportunity to surrender, but even if they do not come out with their hands up, they must be taken alive, if that can be achieved without risk. Exactly how Bin Laden came to be shot (especially if it was in the back of the head, execution-style) therefore requires explanation. Why the hasty “burial at sea” without a post-mortem, as the law requires?”

Why indeed? The trouble is various US Administrations have lied to the world – lied about the reasons for going to war in Iraq, lied about the existence of WMD, lied about Saddam being in league with al-Qaida.

And the problem with serial liars is that when they do tell the truth no one believes them.

Once again America has managed to shoot itself in the foot in the name of justice – a justice that has earned the admiration and praise of the chairman of the Israeli parliamentary Committee for Foreign Affairs and Security.

Shaul Mofaz of the right wing Kadima is now urging the Zionist Government to assassinate Palestinian leaders like the “US did with Osama bin Laden”.

He seems to have overlooked the fact that Israel has been “doing an Obama” for years as the leadership of Hamas can testify.

Nevertheless, it seems that even though international law prohibits the use of extra judicial assassination policies, various states of terror may now starting “Doing an Obama”.

After bringing an end to the biggest manhunt in US history, the US President has managed to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.

British journalist Yvonne Ridley is a patron of the London-based NGO Cageprisoners – www.cageprisoners.com

13-20

On Losing My Nana Jaan (Grandfather)

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nadia B. Ahmad

Nana“He’s letting you beat him.”

“So what!? At least I’m learning something.”

My grandfather, a chess master, would allow us to beat him at chess every time much to the chagrin of our relative onlookers. I was and still am awful at chess.

And after succumbing to a sudden bout of pneumonia this past January, my family laid my maternal grandfather to rest in Ocoee, Fla. Alongside my maternal grandmother who had passed 12.5 years earlier.  Outwardly it appeared Mohammad Sadullah had lived an ordinary life, but he was a remarkable human being distinguished by his keen intellect and penetrating wisdom. My grandfather was the only one who read all my articles in their entirety and never criticized me. He only offered ideas about what to write in the future, which is precisely what grandfathers are meant to do.

From the partition of India and Pakistan which pitted brother against brother and neighbor against neighbor and to the recent geo-politics and back to collapse of the Ottoman Empire, my grandfather preserved his observations and shared them only sparingly. For better or worse I was the usually the one he would discuss these matters. My grandfather attended everything from my high school graduation to my attorney oath ceremony for my induction into the U.S. District Court of the Middle District of Florida in Orlando’s federal courthouse, and my grandfather felt a sense of accomplishment that I was his granddaughter.

It was always the other way around, though—in that I admired that he was my grandfather.

You see, my grandfather worked intelligence for the Indian government.

He never discussed his work even after all that time passed. It was an on-going family joke. Incidentally, he took all those state secrets to his grave.

I miss my grandfather at the oddest of times. Just yesterday passing a road with the namesake of Gibraltar on the way to the Smokey Hill Library in Arapohoe County, Colorado, I thought back to when my grandfather first told me about that story. My grandfather, who has also been my SundaySchool teacher for some time, taught me about the history of Islam, a history of struggle and fortitude.

My grandfather lost his hearing and refused the use of hearing aids in his later years. It helped him be in his own world and so that he could continue to have a single minded determination without a tad of  concern for the world.

With the state of affairs as it is, I remember the battlefields of the Prophet Muhammad (s) that my grandfather would relate. From the Mount of Uhud to the Battle of the Trench, I hearken back to those lessons not for any sense of military strategy but for the lessons of self-sacrifice and the concept of working towards a greater good.

I am glad my grandfather is not alive today, though. I am glad he is not alive to see his brethren across the world celebrating the death of international justice, the loss of human rights, the unaccountability of lost lives, and the travesty and corruption of worldwide political systems.

My only regret was that my grandfather was not able to hold my newborn son, Senan, who was his fifth great-grandchild, prior to his death.

It is easy now to lose ourselves in this mad rush of geo-politics and consumer trending and hinge on the price of oil futures and the volatility of the world’s markets, but for me the world stands still because I lost my grandfather, but gained a son.

Is not that all life is? Everything between birth and death.

What we do between those two moments determines our eternities.

13-19

Who’s Serious Now?

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Paul Krugman

2011-04-05T160723Z_1858491697_GM1E74600HJ01_RTRMADP_3_USA-BUDGET

House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan (R-WI) speaks at a news conference held to unveil the House Republican budget blueprint in the Capitol in Washington April 5, 2011. The plan calls for sweeping changes to government health programs as it slashes taxes for corporations and individuals. 

REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

Paul Ryan, the chairman of the House Budget Committee, sounds upset.

And you can see why: President Obama, to the great relief of progressives, has called his bluff.

Last week, Mr. Ryan unveiled his budget proposal, and the initial reaction of much of the punditocracy was best summed up (sarcastically) by the blogger John Cole: “The plan is bold! It is serious! It took courage! It re-frames the debate! The ball is in Obama’s court! Very wonky! It is a game-changer! Did I mention it is serious?”

Then people who actually understand budget numbers went to work, and it became clear that the proposal wasn’t serious at all. In fact, it was a sick joke. The only real things in it were savage cuts in aid to the needy and the uninsured, huge tax cuts for corporations and the rich, and Medicare privatization. All the alleged cost savings were pure fantasy.

On Wednesday, as I said, the president called Mr. Ryan’s bluff: after offering a spirited (and reassuring) defense of social insurance, he declared, “There’s nothing serious about a plan that claims to reduce the deficit by spending a trillion dollars on tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires. And I don’t think there’s anything courageous about asking for sacrifice from those who can least afford it and don’t have any clout on Capitol Hill.” Actually, the Ryan plan calls for $2.9 trillion in tax cuts, but who’s counting?

And then Mr. Obama laid out a budget plan that really is serious.

The president’s proposal isn’t perfect, by a long shot. My own view is that while the spending controls on Medicare he proposed are exactly the right way to go, he’s probably expecting too much payoff in the near term. And over the longer run, I believe that we’ll need modestly higher taxes on the middle class as well as the rich to pay for the kind of society we want. But the vision was right, and the numbers were far more credible than anything in the Ryan sales pitch.

And the hissy fit — I mean, criticism — the Obama plan provoked from Mr. Ryan was deeply revealing, as the man who proposes using budget deficits as an excuse to cut taxes on the rich accused the president of being “partisan.” Mr. Ryan also accused the president of being “dramatically inaccurate” — this from someone whose plan included a $200 billion error in its calculation of interest costs and appears to have made an even bigger error on Medicaid costs. He didn’t say what the inaccuracies were.

And now for something completely wonkish: Can we talk, briefly, about politicians talking about drugs?

For the contrast between Mr. Ryan last week and Mr. Obama on Wednesday wasn’t just about visions of society. There was also a difference in visions of how the world works. And nowhere was that clearer than in the issue of how Medicare should pay for drugs.

Mr. Obama declared, “We will cut spending on prescription drugs by using Medicare’s purchasing power to drive greater efficiency.”

Meanwhile, Mr. Ryan held up the existing Medicare drug benefit — a program run through private insurance companies, under legislation that specifically prohibits Medicare from using its bargaining power — as an example of the efficiencies that could be gained from privatizing the whole system.

Mr. Obama has it right. Medicare Part D has been less expensive than expected, at least so far, but that’s because overall prescription drug spending has fallen short of expectations, largely thanks to a dearth of new drugs and the growing use of generics. The right way to assess Part D is by comparing it with programs where the government is allowed to use its purchasing power. And such comparisons suggest that if there’s any magic in privatization, it’s the magical way it makes drug companies richer and taxpayers poorer. For example, the Department of Veterans Affairs pays about 40 percent less for drugs than the private plans in Part D.

Did I mention that Medicare Advantage, which closely resembles the privatized system that Republicans want to impose on all seniors, currently costs taxpayers 12 percent more per recipient than traditional Medicare?

But back to the president’s speech. His plan isn’t about to become law; neither is Mr. Ryan’s. And given the hysterical Republican reaction, it doesn’t look likely that we’ll see negotiations trying to narrow the difference. That’s a good thing because Mr. Obama’s plan already relies more on spending cuts than it should, and moving it significantly in the G.O.P.’s direction would produce something unworkable and unacceptable.

What happened over the past two weeks, then, was more about staking out positions than about enacting policies. On one side you had a combination of mean-spiritedness and fantasy; on the other you had a reaffirmation of American compassion and community, coupled with fairly realistic numbers. Which would you choose?

13-17

Putting an End to “Scavenger” Hunts

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sumayyah Meehan, TMO

DumpsterAs the old adage goes, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” However, for hundreds of thousands of poor day laborers in the Middle East, it is an unfortunate way of life. They come by the planeloads to countries like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in hopes of a better life for their families. Hailing from countries in Southeast Asia, like Pakistan or Bangladesh, the day laborers are often exploited, forced to work an inhumane number of hours and paid very meager salaries.

Scavenging through the garbage dumpsters in some of the most luxurious streets in the world is the only way that most day laborers can support themselves. The scavengers search for precious metals and recyclables, like cardboard and plastic, that can be sold by the kilogram to recycling companies for a pittance. They also look for undamaged fruit crates and Styrofoam boxes. These kinds of packaging materials are resold to unscrupulous fruit shop owners who refill them with fresh fruit and sell them to unsuspecting customers.

This past week an environmental group in Sharjah, the United Arab Emirates oldest city, named “Bee’ah” teamed up with the Immigration Department to put an end to the scavenging through dumpsters in the region. According to the Chief Executive of Bee’ah, Khalid Al Huraimel, individuals who supposedly have no business being in the rich emirate are responsible for the scavenging epidemic. “Waste scavengers residing in Sharjah are usually illegal residents and, in best cases, fall in the low-income groups. Or they are individuals with expired visas or residency permits or people who have absconded from their employers or entered the UAE without any proper documents.” There was no mention of accountability for the wealthy businessmen who bring the laborers into the country in the first place without properly caring for them or keeping an eye on their activities.

A newly inducted anti-scavenging task force will now patrol garbage dumpsters in Sharjah and bring scavengers caught digging through the trash to justice. Huraimel believes that, by preventing scavenging, the garbage can be processed safely for the sake of the environment and human health. As part of the initiative, garbage dumpsters have been fitted with signs warning would-be scavengers in six different languages not take anything from the dumpsters. The anti-scavenging task force has planned a series of raids to stop dumpster “divers” in their tracks. The Sharjah municipality has also appealed to members of the public to report scavengers in their neighborhoods. A special hotline has been set up to handle calls.

13-16

Obama to Hold Global Summit if Latest Middle East Talks Fail

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT

File:  U.S. President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden smile as they are pictured with bipartisan members of the U.S. Senate in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, April 21, 2010.

REUTERS/Jason Reed 

Barack Obama could call a world summit by the end of the year to pave the way for a Palestinian state should hoped-for peace talks bring no breakthrough in coming months.

The US President is understood to have informed European leaders of his plan to break an Israeli-Palestinian deadlock if negotiations have not borne fruit by September or October, the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz cited unidentified Israeli officials as saying.

The US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday told reporters that special envoy George Mitchell would be returning to the Middle East next week, when she said that proximity talks – the first since peace talks stalled in January 2008 – would begin again. The planned return to the negotiating table was delayed last month after a row over Israeli plans to build new homes in East Jerusalem.

If those talks are again knocked off course, a broader summit will become more likely. The four members of the Middle East Quartet negotiating group – the US, the UN, the EU and Russia – would be expected to play a leading role in the summit to present a united front, the paper said. The summit would address core issues, including Jerusalem and final borders.

The bold move reflects Mr Obama’s resolve to find a solution to the decades-old conflict that has eluded his predecessors and raises the possibility that Washington might seek to impose its own settlement on the parties, a prospect viewed with hostility by Israeli politicians.

Mr Obama has placed negotiations at the forefront of his political agenda while acknowledging that a continued stalemate threatens the US’s own security interests.

After months of intense US diplomacy in the region, the indirect “proximity” talks represent the best chance of a breakthrough in the peace process.

While a final settlement has appeared tantalisingly close in the past, few Palestinians believe that a solution can be reached without outside help, and Israelis repeatedly insist they have no partner for peace.

“Leaving the peacemaking hostage to agreements between both sides is not a good idea,” said Ghassan Khatib, a spokesman for the Palestinian Authority. “The international community has to play a larger role.”

Earlier this month, the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas urged Mr Obama to impose a peace solution, a plea that will have worried Israeli officials, who insist that a negotiated solution between the two parties is the only way out of the impasse.

Mr Obama’s efforts to bring both sides to talks have stalled over the critical issue of Jewish settlements in Arab-dominated East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and later annexed after the Six-Day War in 1967. Palestinians covet East Jerusalem as the future capital of an independent Palestinian state.

Mr Abbas backed out of talks in early March after Israel announced plans to build 1,600 Jewish homes in East Jerusalem during a visit by the US Vice-President Joe Biden. The resulting row plunged relations between Israel and the US, its closest ally, to their lowest point in recent memory.

A US State Department official declined to confirm back-up plans for a global summit, saying: “Peace must be made by the parties and cannot be imposed from the outside. Our focus remains on seeing the discussions that are under way lead to formal negotiations that will address all of the complex issues.”

12-19

Harun Yahya – Unawareness—A Sly Threat

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Freeing Oneself from Unawareness

Reading the Qur’an and pondering its verses

The most effective solution to ending one’s unawareness is to read the Qur’an, Allah’s divine light to guide His servants, and reflect upon its verses. Reading the Qur’an draws people closer to Allah and allows them to grasp something of His supreme knowledge and power. At the same time, it provides the clearest and truest knowledge about what was previously unknown and unconsidered, and also answers questions that had perplexed them in the past. For this reason, those who read the Qur’an sincerely understand it turn to Allah with their hearts satisfied.

Those who take its verses to heart become aware of the errors in their attitudes and ideas. Gradually, they come to understand the importance and seriousness of their past deeds and what drove them to engage in such activities. In short, they finally begin to understand Allah’s supreme knowledge and power, and thus feel their fear, respect, and love for Him start to grow:

This (Qur’an) is a communication to be transmitted to humanity so that people may be warned by it and will know that He is Allah, the One and Only; and so that people of intelligence will pay heed.

Ibrahim: 52

This Qur’an guides to the most upright Way and gives good news to the believers who do right actions that they will have a large reward.

al-Isra’: 9

Those who read the Qur’an and ponder its verses with sincerity eventually come to see it in the context of its manifestations of Allah. This allows them to remember Him at all times and avoid any type of unawareness. For example, they gradually notice that some of the people around them have characteristics that the Qur’an says belong to deniers. And, due to their awareness of the punishment awaiting such people, these examples become important lessons for them. This way, by Allah’s will, they avoid unawareness and learn how to protect themselves from it. In addition, they realize that the verses in the Qur’an reveal the punishment of Hell and that, apart from Allah’s will, there is no salvation. In the same way, they ponder the eternal beauty and blessings of life in the Garden and strive to win His mercy so that they may enter the Garden. Those who read the Qur’an know that they will be called to account for what they have done and, based on this record, will enter the Garden or Hell. Therefore, aware of this truth, they avoid any type of unawareness and are careful to act in ways that win His approval.

Taking advantage of the opportunities sent by Allah

Allah has created circumstances that enable human beings to recognize His existence and turn to Him. Among these are times of anxiety and difficulty: Do they not see that they are tried once or twice in every year? But still they do not turn back. They do not pay heed (Surat at-Tawba:126). These difficult periods are very useful in causing people to realize their unawareness, for, in such moments, the lower self, which is in a constant state of rebelliousness against Allah, realizes its helplessness. During these times, people bring their consciences to the fore, see their errors, and find ways to avoid them. This important opportunity, provided people act upon it properly, helps them curtail their lower selves by recognizing their own weakness and repenting of their sins. As a result, they feel closer to Allah. They realize that Allah’s power is all-sufficient, that He is the source of all things, and that only He can end this period of testing.

It is He Who conveys you on both land and sea, so that when some of you are on a boat, running before a fair wind, rejoicing at it, and then a violent squall comes upon them and the waves come at them from every side and they realize there is no way of escape, they call upon Allah, making their religion sincerely His: “If You rescue us from this, we will truly be among the thankful.” But then, when He rescues them, they become rebellious in the land without any right to do so. O humanity, your rebelliousness is only against yourselves. There is the enjoyment of the life of this world, and then you will return to Us and We will inform you about what you did.

Yunus: 22-23

Unaware people can realize that there is no power to help them except Allah only when they feel completely helpless. But when their difficulties end, they forget Him and carry on as before:

When harm touches humanity, he calls upon Us, lying on his side, sitting down, or standing up. Then when We remove the harm from him, he carries on as if he had never called upon Us when the harm first touched him. In that way, We make what they have done appear good to the profligate.

Yunus: 12

For example, in times of natural disaster, people recognize how powerless they really are, that His knowledge and might are infinite, and that Allah is omnipresent and omniscient. At these times, they are reminded that they should fear and respect Him because He is all-powerful and that they may suffer His wrath at any moment. But earlier, these same people had ignored His commands and prohibitions, putting off their obedience until later. When fear consumes them, their consciences become clear and they recognize the truth. By causing people to see the truth, natural disasters are excellent reminders that, if understood in the proper light, will save them in the Hereafter. But once their discomfort fades, those who do not learn from such warnings allow their traditional unawareness to reassert itself, embrace this transitory world again, and resume their defiance of His commands and prohibitions. In order to escape from this vicious circle, individuals should take advantage of these opportunities by frequently recalling their difficulties and how Allah comforted them.

They must understand that these events are warnings, and thus great blessings, for such displays of Allah’s infinite power open the way for people to cast off their usual unawareness. However, it is wrong to wait for such events to happen in order to escape from unawareness, because Allah gives such warnings all the time: difficult times experienced by relatives and neighbors, natural disasters, wars, and so on. Those individuals who heed these warnings realize that the same thing could happen to them. Using such events to remind themselves just how powerless they really are when confronted with Allah’s supreme might, they try to root out their own unawareness and turn to Him. What happened to the people of ‘Ad could happen to any people:

(The people of) ‘Ad were destroyed by a savage howling wind. Allah subjected them to it for seven nights and eight days without a break. You could see the people flattened in their homes, just like the hollow stumps of uprooted palms.

Al-Haqqah: 6-7

By giving such examples in the Qur’an, Allah expects people to learn from what has happened to others and to think about His infinite power and knowledge. Daily life contains many examples that lead people to remember Allah’s power. But people merely feel sorry and pity when they see powerless individuals; they do not realize that what they see is also a warning to them. All of these examples are warnings and new opportunities for people to pierce the veil of unawareness.

12-8

Pres. Obama’s Economic Policies

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Hudson

Reality had to raise its ugly head. Barack Obama was elected with overwhelming approval to inaugurate an era of change. And at his November 25 press conference, he said that his decisive victory gave him a mandate to change the direction in which America is moving. But his recent economic and foreign policy appointments make it clear that when he chose “change” as his campaign slogan, he was NOT referring to the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors, nor to foreign policy. These are where the vested interests concentrate their wealth and power. And change already has been accelerating here. Unfortunately, its direction has been for the top 1% of America’s population to raise their share of in the returns to wealth from 37% ten years ago to 57% five years ago and an estimated nearly 70% today.

The change that Mr. Obama is talking about is largely marginal to this wealth, not touching its economic substance – or its direction. No doubt he will bring about a welcome change in race relations, environmental regulations, and a more civil rule of law. And he probably will give wage earners an income-tax break (thereby enabling them to keep on paying their bank debts, incidentally). As for the rich, they prefer not to earn income in the first place. Taxes need to be paid on income, so they take their returns in the form of capital gains. And simply avoiding losses is the order of the day in the present meltdown.

Where losses cannot be avoided, the government will bail out the rich on their financial investments, but not wage earners on their debts. On that Friday night last October when Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain held their final debate, Mr. Obama was fully on board with the bailouts. And this week’s appointment of the “Yeltsin” team who sponsored Russia’s privatization giveaways in the mid-1990s Larry Summers and his protégés from the Clinton’s notorious Robert Rubin regime shows that he knows his place when it comes to the proper relationship between a political candidate and his major backers. It is to protect the vested interests first of all, while focusing voters’ attention on policies whose main appeal is their ability to distract attention from the fact that no real change is being made at the economic core and its power relationships.

This is not what most people hoped for. But their hopes were so strong that it was easier to indulge in happy dreams and put one’s faith in a prince than to look at the systemic problems that need to be restructured in order for real change to occur. Individuals do not determine who owes what to whom, who is employed by whom or what laws govern their work and investment. Institutional economic and political structures are the key. And somehow the focus has been on the politics of personalities, not on the economic forces at work.

This is as true abroad as it is in the United States. Two weeks ago I was at an economic meeting on “financialization” in Germany. Most of the attendees with whom I spoke expressed the hope – indeed, almost a smug conviction – that Obama would be like Gorbachev in Russia: a man who saw the need for deep structural change but chose to bide his time, seeming to “play the game” with the protective coloration of going along, but then introducing a revolutionary reform program once in office.

Instead, after resembling President Carter by running a brilliant presidential primary campaign to win the nomination (will a similarly disappointing administration be about to come?), Obama is looking more like Boris Yeltsin – a political umbrella for the kleptocrats to whom the public domain and decades of public wealth were given with no quid pro quo.

Obama’s ties with the Yeltsin administration are as direct as could be. He has appointed as his economic advisors the same anti-labor, pro-financial team that brought the kleptocrats to power in Russia in the mid-1990s. His advisor Robert Rubin has managed to put his protégés in key Obama administration posts: Larry Summers, who as head of the World Bank forced privatization at give-away prices to kleptocrats; Geithner of the New York Fed; and a monetarist economist from Berkeley, as right-wing a university as Chicago. These are the protective guard-dogs of America’s vested interests.

If you are a billionaire, your first concern is simply to preserve your wealth, to avoid having to take a loss in the value of your financial claims on the economy – claims for repayment of loans and investment, as well as interest and dividends, and enough capital gains to compensate for the price inflation that erodes the spending power of more lowly income-earners.

This year has changed the typical fate of financial wealth in the face of bursting financial bubbles. Traditionally, business booms culminate in a wave of bankruptcies that wipe out bad debts–and the savings that have been invested on the ‘asset’ side of the balance sheet. This year has changed all that. The bad debts are being kept on the books–but transferred from the banks to the federal government, mainly the Federal Reserve and Treasury. The bank bailouts have aimed not so much to protect the banks themselves, but to enable them to pay off on the bad bets they made vis-à-vis the nation’s hedge funds and other institutional investors in the derivatives market.

To participate in a hedge fund, one needs to prove that one can afford to lose their money and not be much the worse off for it in terms of actual living conditions. So the $306 billion in federal guarantees of the junk mortgage packages sold by Citibank, and the $135 billion bailout of the insurance contracts written by A.I.G. to protect swap contracts from loss, could have been avoided without much impact on the “real” economy.

In fact, writing down these financial claims ON the economy would have paved the way for writing down its debt burden. If the subprime and other mortgage debts had been permitted to decline to the neighborhood of 22 cents on a dollar they were trading for, this would have made it possible to write down debts to match the price at which mortgage holders had bought these loans for. But the financial overhead of American wealth “saved” in the form of creditor claims on indebted homeowners, industrial companies and junk-insurance companies such as A.I.G. has been protected against erosion by this year’s federal bailout program.

Bloomberg has added up these programs and finds that they $7.7 trillion dollars – nearly half an entire year’s GDP. By acting to support the market for bad-mortgage loans (but not for real estate itself), the seemingly endless series of Paulson bailouts seeks to be to keep today’s debt overhead intact rather than writing it down. Service charges on this indebtedness will divert peoples’ income from consumption to paying creditors. It will help financial investors, not labor or industry. It will keep the cost of living and doing business high, preventing the U.S. economy from working its way out of debt by becoming competitive once again.

With all these trillions of dollars of bailing out the wealthy, one might easily forget to ask what is being left out. For one thing, the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp, whose $25 billion deficit is not bailed out. This year, underfunded corporate pension plans are supposed to “catch up” to full funding so as to protect the PBGC, in accordance with a law passed by Congress two years ago. If underfunded plans don’t meet the scheduled 92% coverage for this year, they have to bring their set-asides fully up to the 100% funding level. The stock market plunge has dashed their hopes to do this. The result will be to force many industrial companies into a financial bind.

On the auto front, the Bush Administration has brought pressure to force the big three Detroit companies into bankruptcy as a way to annul their defined-benefit pension plans – with no plans at all bail out money owed to labor by restoring the PBGC to solvency. State and local pension plans are almost entirely unfunded, and are at even more risk as their tax revenues plunge and property tax payments are stopped on housing and commercial buildings that have foreclosed.

And speaking of state and local finances, what role is local government to play in Mr. Obama’s promise to rebuild infrastructure, headed by transportation? Given their strapped position, one is hearing a surge of Wall Street plans to spend enormous sums. Whereas Obama’s economic team made fortunes for Russian kleptocrats by giving them public-sector assets already in place, their American counterparts are going to have to get rich by actually building new projects. In such cases the benefits are as large as the total amount of money being spent – but not in the way that most people understand at first glance. Construction contracts for new public transport systems, bridges and roads and urban or rural modernization may be entirely honest and provided at a fair cost. But it is a byproduct of such investment that it creates an amount that is of equal or often even greater magnitude in the form of rent-of-location – that is, vast windfall gains for well-located real estate.

This is where Mr. Obama’s Chicago political experience comes in so handy. It is in fact a game tailor-made for his team. Hundreds of millions of dollars were made in gentrifying Chicago’s notorious but conveniently centrally located public housing for low-income families. The developments sponsored by Mr. Obama’s mentors, the Pritzker family, the University of Chicago and assorted real estate reverends opened up vast new land sites, with public support to boot. (The house where I grew up in Hyde Park-Kenwood, a block or so from Mr. Obama’s house, was torn down along with the rest of the entire block as part of Mayor Daley’s urban renewal program in the late 1950s – after the University’s block busters had run down the neighborhood, then panicked the whites into selling to the blacks at extortionate price markups and mortgage rate premiums, then tearing down the houses into which the blacks had moved. It’s an old real estate game that one learns quickly in Chicago politics.) As Thorstein Veblen noted, any American city’s politics is best understood by viewing it as a real estate development.

The gains from providing better transport infrastructure typically are so large that transportation investment could be self-financing by taxing these property gains recapturing the added rental value in the form of property windfall taxes. London’s tube extension to Canary Wharf, for example, cost the city £8 billion but increased real estate values along the route by some £13 billion. The city could have financed the entire project by issuing bonds that would have been repaid out of taxes levied on the windfall gains created by this public expenditure.

Likewise in New York City, the transport authority has just announced that subway and bus fares will be jacked up (adding no less than $10 to the monthly commute card) and services cut back sharply. Mayor Bloomberg has just stopped work on the 2nd Avenue subway, its completion will add at least as much to upper East Side property values as the subway costs itself. The city thus could finance its construction not by issuing bonds to be paid off by city and state taxpayers in combination with user fees paid as fares. Taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay, and riders could enjoy subsidized fares simply by taxing the real estate owners.

But I see no prospect of this being done. Real estate is still the name of the game, because it remains the largest asset category in every economy today just as much as under feudalism. The difference from feudalism is that whereas landlords received the rental value of their lands in centuries past, today’s property owners acquire ownership not by military conquest (the Norman invasion of 1066 in England’s case) but by borrowing from the banks. To a mortgage banker, a commercial developer or real estate company is a prime customer, the bulwark of bank balance sheets. It is hard to imagine a new American infrastructure program not turning into a new well of real estate gains for the FIRE sector. Real estate owners on favorably situated sites will sell out to buyers-on-credit, creating a vast new and profitable loan market for banks. The debt spiral will continue upward.

The fact that state and local budgets are too burdened to afford infrastructure spending themselves will lead to it being privatized from the outset. Probably London’s notorious public-private partnerships (a Labour Party refinement more Thatcherite than even Margaret Thatcher herself could have got away with) probably will become the basic model. Users will pay higher fees rather than enjoying the subsidized or free access typical in public infrastructure spending during the Progressive Era. The main purpose of public enterprise back then was to keep prices down for basic services, thus lowering the cost of living and doing business in America. But today, infrastructure spending will be just one more item adding to America’s debt overhead to make its economy even less competitive with foreign ones than it is.

The moral is, next time a candidate promises change, ask him to say just what changes he has in mind. During the Presidential debates, only Dennis Kucinich came out and said each specific law that he had put before Congress to implement each change he promised. But most of the public didn’t want to know the details – they simply liked hearing the word “change.”

Here are some purely fiscal and financial changes that a future presidential candidate might propose – changes that I don’t expect to be hearing any more about during the next four years. Just to get the discussion going, why shouldn’t these merely marginal changes within the existing system be implemented right now by a presidential candidate who is still bragging about his “mandate for change”:

    * Regarding fiscal policy, re-introduce the estate tax, along with (at the very least) the Clinton era’s progressive-tax schedule.

    * Tax capital gains at the same rate as wages and profits, rather than at half the rate; and make these taxes be paid at the point of sale of real estate or other assets, not deferred ad infinitum if the gains simply are invested in yet more wealth.

    * Require a cost-benefit analysis of any publicly backed infrastructure spending so as to recapture all “external economies” (such as windfall real estate price gains) as the first line of financing such investment.

    * Tax corporate borrowing that is used merely to pay stock dividends or buy back one’s own stock at least at 50%.

    * Close the practice of offshore tax avoidance, and bring criminal cases against accounting firms abetting this practice.

    * Only let a building be depreciated once, not repeatedly as a tax writeoff.

    * Refocus state and local taxation on the property tax, remembering that whatever the tax collector relinquishes is simply “freed” to be paid to the banks as interest.

    * In the sphere of bad-debt banking, when a government agency takes over a bank or company that has negative net worth, the stockholders must be wiped out as their stock has lost all market value. Bondholders must stand in line behind the government in case of insolvency.

    * Write down mortgage debts to the ability of property owners to pay and/or the present market value. Banks that have made loans to these borrowers must take responsibility for their decision that the owners could afford to pay. Even better, apply New York State’s existing Fraudulent Conveyance law, and simply annul loans that are beyond the ability of debtors to pay.

None of this involves real structural change. It is simply more economically efficient under existing laws and practices – something like actually enforcing environmental law, anti-fraud and anti-crime laws, and the original intent of our tax legislation. It is a small step back toward the Progressive Era a century ago – the era that set America on the path of prosperity that made the 20th century the American century.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

12-6

An Open Letter to President Obama from Michael Moore

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Before Pres. Obama’s Afghanistan Speech of December 2009

Dear President Obama, 

Do you really want to be the new "war president"? If you go to West Point tomorrow night (Tuesday, 8pm) and announce that you are increasing, rather than withdrawing, the troops in Afghanistan, you are the new war president. Pure and simple. And with that you will do the worst possible thing you could do — destroy the hopes and dreams so many millions have placed in you. With just one speech tomorrow night you will turn a multitude of young people who were the backbone of your campaign into disillusioned cynics. You will teach them what they’ve always heard is true — that all politicians are alike. I simply can’t believe you’re about to do what they say you are going to do. Please say it isn’t so. It is not your job to do what the generals tell you to do. We are a civilian-run government. WE tell the Joint Chiefs what to do, not the other way around. That’s the way General Washington insisted it must be. That’s what President Truman told General MacArthur when MacArthur wanted to invade China. "You’re fired!," said Truman, and that was that. And you should have fired Gen. McChrystal when he went to the press to preempt you, telling the press what YOU had to do. Let me be blunt: We love our kids in the armed services, but we hate these generals, from Westmoreland in Vietnam to, yes, even Colin Powell for lying to the UN with his made-up drawings of WMD (he has since sought redemption). So now you feel backed into a corner. 30 years ago this past Thursday (Thanksgiving) the Soviet generals had a cool idea — "Let’s invade Afghanistan! " Well, that turned out to be the final nail in the USSR coffin. 

There’s a reason they don’t call Afghanistan the "Garden State" (though they probably should, seeing how the corrupt President Karzai, whom we back, has his brother in the heroin trade raising poppies). Afghanistan’ s nickname is the "Graveyard of Empires." If you don’t believe it, give the British a call. I’d have you call Genghis Khan but I lost his number. I do have Gorbachev’s number though. It’s + 41 22 789 1662. I’m sure he could give you an earful about the historic blunder you’re about to commit.

With our economic collapse still in full swing and our precious young men and women being sacrificed on the altar of arrogance and greed, the breakdown of this great civilization we call America will head, full throttle, into oblivion if you become the "war president." Empires never think the end is near, until the end is here. Empires think that more evil will force the heathens to toe the line — and yet it never works. The heathens usually tear them to shreds. Choose carefully, President Obama. You of all people know that it doesn’t have to be this way. You still have a few hours to listen to your heart, and your own clear thinking. You know that nothing good can come from sending more troops halfway around the world to a place neither you nor they understand, to achieve an objective that neither you nor they understand, in a country that does not want us there. You can feel it in your bones. 

I know you know that there are LESS than a hundred al-Qaeda left in Afghanistan! A hundred thousand troops trying to crush a hundred guys living in caves? Are you serious? Have you drunk Bush’s Kool-Aid? I refuse to believe it. Your potential decision to expand the war (while saying that you’re doing it so you can "end the war") will do more to set your legacy in stone than any of the great things you’ve said and done in your first year. One more throwing a bone from you to the Republicans and the coalition of the hopeful and the hopeless may be gone — and this nation will be back in the hands of the haters quicker than you can shout "tea bag!" 

Choose carefully, Mr. President. Your corporate backers are going to abandon you as soon as it is clear you are a one-term president and that the nation will be safely back in the hands of the usual idiots who do their bidding. That could be Wednesday morning. We the people still love you. We the people still have a sliver of hope. But we the people can’t take it anymore. We can’t take your caving in, over and over, when we elected you by a big, wide margin of millions to get in there and get the job done. What part of "landslide victory" don’t you understand? 

Don’t be deceived into thinking that sending a few more troops into Afghanistan will make a difference, or earn you the respect of the haters. They will not stop until this country is torn asunder and every last dollar is extracted from the poor and soon-to-be poor. You could send a million troops over there and the crazy Right still wouldn’t be happy. You would still be the victim of their incessant venom on hate radio and television because no matter what you do, you can’t change the one thing about yourself that sends them over the edge. The haters were not the ones who elected you, and they can’t be won over by abandoning the rest of us. 

President Obama, it’s time to come home. Ask your neighbors in Chicago and the parents of the young men and women doing the fighting and dying if they want more billions and more troops sent to Afghanistan. Do you think they will say, "No, we don’t need health care, we don’t need jobs, we don’t need homes. You go on ahead, Mr. President, and send our wealth and our sons and daughters overseas, ’cause we don’t need them, either." What would Martin Luther King, Jr. do? What would your grandmother do? Not send more poor people to kill other poor people who pose no threat to them, that’s what they’d do. Not spend billions and trillions to wage war while American children are sleeping on the streets and standing in bread lines. 

All of us that voted and prayed for you and cried the night of your victory have endured an Orwellian hell of eight years of crimes committed in our name: torture, rendition, suspension of the bill of rights, invading nations who had not attacked us, blowing up neighborhoods that Saddam "might" be in (but never was), slaughtering wedding parties in Afghanistan. We watched as hundreds of thousands of Iraqi civilians were slaughtered and tens of thousands of our brave young men and women were killed, maimed, or endured mental anguish — the full terror of which we scarcely know. When we elected you we didn’t expect miracles. We didn’t even expect much change. But we expected some. We thought you would stop the madness. Stop the killing. Stop the insane idea that men with guns can reorganize a nation that doesn’t even function as a nation and never, ever has. 

Stop, stop, stop! For the sake of the lives of young Americans and Afghan civilians, stop. For the sake of your presidency, hope, and the future of our nation, stop. For God’s sake, stop. Tonight we still have hope. 

Tomorrow, we shall see. The ball is in your court. You DON’T have to do this. You can be a profile in courage. You can be your mother’s son.

We’re counting on you.

Yours,

Michael Moore

MMFlint@aol. com

11-50

Harun Yahya – Secrets of the Hypocrites

July 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

They Remember Allah Only Rarely

Recite what has been revealed to you of the Book and perform prayer. Prayer precludes indecency and wrongdoing. And remembrance of Allah is greater still. Allah knows what you do.

Al-‘Ankabut: 45

As the above verse reveals, recalling Allah is one of a believers’ most important religious observances. People with true faith know that they live each moment among the blessings imparted by Him and constantly give thanks to Allah. They know that they are in absolute need of auspicious events that come from Him, that they must account for themselves to Him in the Hereafter, and that they can enter Paradise only if He so wills it. Allah is always in their hearts and on their tongues. They remember Him at every opportunity, and speak of the blessings He has given them, expecting nothing in return, and the perfect equilibrium in the universe created by Him.

Since hypocrites, on the other hand, do not possess such faith in their hearts, they fail to call upon Allah as they ought. The reason behind this is that they do not submit to Him sincerely and have no deep faith in Him. They are therefore unwilling to remember Him, because in doing so, they will also be repeating many things that they do not actually believe in—or which they are responsible for doing, but have failed to do. This may put them off, since it will impinge slightly on their consciences. Even if they do imitate believers and attempt to sincerely recite His names, still they will give themselves away and thus, have no effect on the hearts of those who hear them. Therefore, while in the midst of believers, they attract attention by remembering Him only seldom and in a superficial way.

Indeed, Allah has revealed this important sign that reveals the sickness in their hearts by means of verses:

. . . [They are] showing off to people, and only remembering Allah a very little.

An-Nisa’: 142

Satan has gained mastery over them and made them forget the remembrance of Allah . . .

Al-Mujadala: 19

They Ascribe Partners to Allah

Believing in powers besides Allah, assuming that they can play a part in creation, the running of the universe, or making judgments, for example, is one of the main characteristics of hypocrites. They believe that human beings are independent of Allah and thus set up partners beside Him, no matter how much they may deny it. What gives their sickness away is that they do not like Allah to be remembered as the One and Only. They are unable to recall Allah by praising Him as they ought. This is one of the features that give them away:

We have placed covers on their hearts, preventing them from understanding it, and heaviness in their ears. When you mention your Lord alone in the Qur’an, they turn their backs and run away.

Al-Isra’: 46

When Allah is mentioned on His own, the hearts of those who do not believe in the Hereafter shrink back shuddering, but when others apart from Him are mentioned, they jump for joy.

Az-Zumar: 45

They Fear Other People, not Allah

Hypocrites claim that they love Allah, and everything they do is intended to gain His approval. However, these words actually represent their way of avoiding putting Allah’s commandments and recommendations into practice.

Someone who sincerely believes in Allah feels not only love for Him, but also a fear filled with awe. In other words, the person who loves Allah best is, at the same time, one who fears Him the most because, as we have emphasized from the outset, loving Allah requires one to recognize His all “beauteous names,” and that He will manifest His infinite might—and when necessary, justice, through the torments He will give. Those incapable of appreciating Allah’s might, who do not understand that He witnesses their every action, do not fear our Lord. If someone says, “I love Allah, but do not fear Him,” or gives the impression of thinking along those lines, then that person is insincere in the most literal sense of the word.

Indeed, when we look at the lives of hypocrites, we see that this spiritual condition prevails throughout their behavior. The hypocrite claims to fear Allah, but when we look at the practicalities of the matter, we see that he seeks to harm the believers, works against them and makes up slanders about them. The picture that emerges from this is that this person does not truly fear Allah. Furthermore, as stated above, the hypocrite produces his own religious conception and lives according to the twisted laws of that religion, in order to win the approval of others. Indeed, he believes that all individuals have a unique power. He feels obliged to earn the approval and liking of each and every one.

However, the one fact that he cannot comprehend is that every human being is merely a servant created by Allah. Each is an entity who has come into being at Allah’s desire and will die in the same way. The hypocrite is unable to comprehend this—or rather, is unwilling to, because in his own religion, gaining the approval of others is an essential obligation. His fears are equally founded on that basis.

The way hypocrites fear other people and always seek their approval will reveal itself in times of difficulty. The Qur’an refers to hypocrites being terrified when they see people united against them. At first, they promised that they would definitely take part in the war. But when the order for battle came, the fear they felt carried their faith away with it:

Don’t you see those who were told: “Hold back from fighting but perform prayer and give the alms?” Then when fighting is prescribed for them, a group of them fear people as Allah should be feared, or even more than that. They say, “Our Lord, why have you prescribed fighting for us? If only You would give us just a little more time!” Say, “The enjoyment of this world is very brief. The Hereafter is better for those who guard against evil. You will not be wronged by so much as the smallest speck.”

An-Nisa’: 77

They Betray the Religion of Allah

Hypocrites, who do not fear Allah and who live by their own erroneous understanding of religion, thus exhibit no devotion to His religion. They are constantly betraying the messenger of Allah and the faithful, in their struggle to abide by the moral values of the Qur’an. Their betrayal is described in the Qur’an in these terms:

But because of their breaking of their covenant, We have cursed them and made their hearts hard. They distort the true meaning of words and have forgotten a good portion of what they were reminded of. You will never cease to come upon some act of treachery on their part, except for a few of them. . . .

Al-Ma’ida: 13

The hypocrite is aware that he is a fraud. Behaving in such a way as to deceive Allah, His messenger and believers, he lives in a constant spirit of betrayal. Every betrayal leads to another, because the hypocrite is aware of his own treachery. Even if he conceals himself from believers, he cannot hide himself from himself. And since he witnesses his own sins, his excesses increase still further. First he says something bad about the messenger of Allah, and takes pleasure from this. Later he slanders the messenger, and that too he enjoys—because he is moving along the path of satan, his true friend. Then he sets a trap for the messenger. His crimes multiply and increase. However, he is also unaware that his betrayals of Allah, His messenger and the faithful will avail him nothing, but that, on the contrary, they will lead him to Hell. On the basis of this, he is easily able to engage in betrayal. The fact is, however, that in addition to the troubles he will experience in this world, a punishment full of suffering also awaits him in the next. Allah reveals the fate of hypocrites in another verse:

Allah has promised the men and women of the hypocrites and disbelievers the Fire of Hell, remaining in it timelessly, for ever. It will suffice them. Allah has cursed them. They will have everlasting punishment.

At-Tawba: 68

11-29

After the Green Revolution Fails–Invasion Plans Anew

July 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Damian Lataan

With the failure of the Western powers to foment a popular uprising after the 12 June elections in Iran that they hoped would lead to regime change, the West has now had to return to the ‘Iran has nuclear weapons’ meme in order to pave the way for an attack against Iran in the hope that regime change can be affected that way.

In an interview on Sunday, Vice-President Joe Biden, when asked, “…if the Israelis decide Iran is an existential threat, they have to take out the nuclear program, militarily the United States will not stand in the way?” responded saying: “Look, we cannot dictate to another sovereign nation what they can and cannot do when they make a determination, if they make a determination that they’re existentially threatened and their survival is threatened by another country.”

Biden was then asked: “You sa y we can’t dictate, but we can, if we choose to, deny over-flight rights here in Iraq. We can stand in the way of a military strike”, to which he responded, “I’m not going to speculate… on those issues, other than to say Israel has a right to determine what’s in its interests, and we have a right and we will determine what’s in our interests.”

Yesterday (5 July) ‘Timesonline’ reported that the Saudis had made it clear to Meir Dagan, Israel’s Mossad chief, that they would not object to Israeli overflights if they were on their way to targets in Iran. While a flight to Iran from Israel via Saudi Arabia would be much longer that a direct flight to Iran overflying Jordan and Iraq, a flight via Saudi Arabia would not require permission from any other country; not even the US to fly over Iraq. And if the Israelis can get permission from the Saudis to have support aircraft in the air in Saudi airspace to refuel the Israeli strike aircraft over, say, the Persian Gulf, then an Israeli strike against Iran is feasible.

It’s interesting that the report about the Saudi’s giving clearance for overflights to attack Iran were quickly denied by Netanyahu’s office. Clearly, the Israelis are anxious to bury this information though, one suspects, that it is now too late and the Iran ians will now have their spies in Saudi Arabia scanning the skies and radio bands for high flying aircraft heading west to east across Saudi Arabia toward the Persian Gulf.

It may well be that Israel could be keen to take advantage of the unrest that has recently unsettled Iran but now seems to have died down. A strike now, they may feel, might just reignite the embers of insurrection that still glow especially if there was also a strike against Iran’s security forces and it’s military.

Even if Israel did strike against Iran via Saudi skies, Israel would still need to rely on the US for support. The fuel required for the mission would need to be supplied by the US as would most of the munitions. US forces would also need to be on standby ready to prevent any Iranian retaliatory strikes against Israel and the US. Israel would also need to have its troops on standby at home in preparedness for retaliatory attacks from both Hezbollah and Hamas.

For Israel, a Hamas and Hezbollah strike against them would be what they want. It would provide the casus belli for Israel to invade both the Gaza Strip and south Lebanon – perhaps all of Lebanon – knowing that the Iranians would not be in a position to help them. And with Iran out of the equation, Syria would not dare move against Israel.

With the failure of the post-election Iranian revolution, Israel will now resort to its old rhetoric of ‘Iran has a nuclear weapons program’ to try again to get public opinion onside for when they launch their attack against Iran to effect regime change. With the US now clearly not standing in the way and the Saudis prepared to let the US off the hook with regard to being seen by the world as facilitating an Israeli attack by allowing the Israelis to overfly Iraq despite all the talk of pursuing a “diplomatic solution”, everything seems in place for the Israelis to feel free to attack Iran when ever they feel they are ready.

The prospect of a final confrontation between Israel and Iran is now off the back burner and back on to the front burner. The problem is, If and when it happens, it won’t be a simple make or break fight for Israel or Iran; the repercussions will reverberate around the world for years to come.

11-29

Isn’t it Wonderful to be Muslim?

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Abdullah El-Amin

El-Amin portrait ALLAH, The Almighty, has the power to use His creation as he sees fit.  He allows people to be Christian, Buddhist, Jewish, or even disbelievers.  He also reserves the authority to bestow His special blessings on a group of people that He has favored to carry His message.  That special group of people is us – the Muslims.

When I think about the special blessings ALLAH has bestowed on me, I am filled with gratitude because I could be someplace else.  In fact, I was someplace else before ALLAH rescued me and showed me the correct path.  And I’ve been striving to stay on it ever since.

What is sometimes disturbing is when I see people abusing the good life ALLAH has put them in.  I see men abusing women and taking advantage of them simply because they can.  They can consciously choose and execute this abuse because ALLAH has put the man in a stronger position than the women. But that superior position is only so the man can maintain and protect the woman.  I see men play on women’s emotions and pull them back and forth as though they were puppeteers.  It is definitely something wrong when a person is aware of ALLAH and the goodness He intends for us; and lives a life completely opposite from what she or he knows and preaches.

I am also aware of women who have a faster, more analytical mind than some men and they use this to abuse their spouse (and anyone else who gets in their way).

These people do not have a peaceful soul that is able to rest and enjoy the blessings has bestowed on them.  They see some flaw in themselves and attempt to cover it up by being overly aggressive and finding fault in others.  It seems that today’s world is filled with self-promotion, defending our own rights, taking care of ourselves first, winning by intimidation, pushing for first place, and a dozen other self-serving agendas.  That one attitude does more to squelch our joy than any other.  So busy defending and protecting and manipulating, we set ourselves up for a grim, intense state of being – and it is not new or confined to any certain group of people.

Prophet Isa ibn Maryam, said to “Be unselfish and humble yourself.  That statement is the secret of a happy life.  While someone else is busy building a case against you, you will be in the next room, down the hall, or across the globe being happy and productive.

Do all your deeds with the thought in mind of pleasing ALLAH alone.  Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind.  Let us regard other people as being more important than ourselves.  Do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.

In this way, you, and those you are in contact with will prosper.  And it will be done with less stress and anxiety.

These are basic Islamic tenants that help guarantee a peaceful soul.  It is the way to purify your soul so you can better carry out your role as caretaker of the creation.

As Salaam alaikum
(Al Hajj) Imam Abdullah El-Amin

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11-28

Green Shoots?

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bob Wood, MMNS

If you’ve spent any time listening to the financial drones recite the rationale for buying stocks now, you might be just about as sick as I am of hearing about so-called “green shoots.” To me, this is just one more disingenuous way to sell you things you shouldn’t be buying.

Every market cycle brings with it a new trend, a strategy devised by Wall Street in order to keep you invested when you should get out or convince you to buy when you should not. The “green shoots” concept is the latest strategy following the demise of the now discredited “Goldilocks” nonsense pounded into our heads by those encouraging us to remain invested as the Dow ascended to its all-time high in late 2007. Once Goldilocks’ obituary had been written, promoters needed to find another angle, another trend for investors to follow. Of course, Goldilocks had only served as a replacement strategy once “the only risk in tech stocks is not owning them” premise failed in the late 1990’s. So “green shoots” it is, at least for now.

Although perennial optimists may find reasons for hope, they should remember that some green shoots wither and die before blossoming into something beautiful. Some have even been known to sprout in barren wastelands. I am about as sure as I can be that these tiny signs of life will soon die out just as investors begin hoping for another meager inch or two of growth.

There are just too many obstacles in the way of an impending economic recovery. The notion that positive signs abound seems like wishful thinking, like placing a higher value on hope than fact in the push to keep investors interested in high-priced stocks that should be avoided.

I have been filling this space for the past 6 ½ years with my beliefs in secular trends, and the idea that domestic markets are squarely in the throes of a long-term bear market. Today, I think my point has been resoundingly made. I’ve explained how few investors ever make money in stocks, regardless of whether we’re in a secular bull or bear market. I think I’ve made my point there, too.

I’m convinced that many investors fail in the long run due not only to the nature of secular bear markets, but also the rampant corruption that appears to permeate even the highest levels of Wall Street and Washington, D.C.

From the ‘’dotcom boom’’ and the ensuing meltdown that wiped out many thousands of investors, to the housing boom that imploded and took many more to the cleaners, domestic markets have simply not rewarded traditional “buy and hold” investors. Many have seen their retirement dreams dashed, even if they truly tried to do all of the right things. Millions of them saved, invested, diversified, and perhaps even hired a professional or two to manage their savings.

And virtually all for naught, and isn’t that how it always seems to happen? This latest round of economic disappointment brings with it invaluable lessons on why the deck is stacked against investors in ways not likely to end any time soon.

In his financial blog, market strategist Barry Ritholtz (www.ritholtz.com/blog) included this excerpt from his new book, Bailout Nation, (http://bailoutnation.net/) about how we got to this point and what triggered catastrophic losses throughout our financial system:

“We’ve come a long way from the days when the man atop the organizational chart   made 40 times what the person on the lowest rung earned. Over the past few    decades, executive compensation has exploded, with some CEOs taking 200, 300, even 400 times the base pay at the company.

With so much of this compensation made via options-based incentives, the bosses     had every reason to swing for the fences. The upside was all theirs, and the downside was   the shareholders’—and taxpayers’.

But don’t for a moment think their terrible track record had a negative impact on their compensation. Despite their performance, these CEOs were paid as if they were enormous successes. The compensation figures that follow are enormous; that they were   paid for such abject failure is a national embarrassment.
It is also an indictment of three major corporate governance issues that have not been discussed widely enough. The first is the crony capitalism that was rife in boardrooms across the United States. The cronyism of major corporate boards, especially those in the finance area, has become legendary. Rubber-stamp directors who rarely buck the chairman or challenge the CEO are unfortunately all too common. These boards did not serve either their companies or their shareholders well.

Also enabling this festival of greed are the large institutions that held the companies’ stock, most especially the big mutual funds that have been AWOL when it comes to policing the senior management. They have the time, expertise, and incentives to do so; it is beyond the capability of individual shareholders. Besides, it makes no economic sense for someone who owns 100 or 1,000 shares of stock to act as overseer and scold to corporate boards. But it was squarely in   the interest of owners of 10 million shares and up to do so. Why the mutual fund complexes failed to protect their shareholders is hard to fathom. Perhaps when it comes to the finance sector, they feared missing out on syndicate deals and hot IPOs if they asked too many questions.

Then there are the so-called compensation consultants. They did a horrific disservice to the shareholders as well as the companies. The role of these primarily ethicless weasels was to give cover for these ridiculous compensation packages. I would love to see a review of the packages as written back then. If the compensation experts were members of an actual profession with standards and ethics, they would be drummed out of that profession. Instead, these people were merely tools used by the C-level execs to transfer vast sums of wealth from the shareholders to themselves.’’

I couldn’t have said it better myself, which has everything to do with why I chose to quote Mr. Ritholtz instead. Unfortunately, this type of scenario is nothing new in America’s business environment, nor has our government done much to prevent the type of shareholder abuse we’ve witnessed over the past two decades. Most regulations were either ignored or watered down so business (at least for the top echelon) could continue as usual, with business and government leaders getting what they wanted all along.

Talk of “green shoots” ignores the fact that very little has changed, and greed, corruption, and meaningful lack of oversight is just one more obstacle for investors to maneuver. How can investors possibly hope to gain from working with a financial system so completely rigged against them?

And why should they even bother trying? I feel great about being out of the domestic markets on both the long and short sides. If the game is rigged, I say why play in it? There are plenty of options to consider, and by now you may have grown tired of hearing about my devotion to investing in international and emerging markets.

But again, results matter, and again, those markets are strongly outperforming our domestic market. Many are higher today than they were at the dawn of this decade. And that’s a strong signal that they’re in the throes of secular bull markets.

I am often asked how I know that foreign markets are more honest and fair than our home markets. My response? “How can they be any less honest than what we’ve seen here, time and time again?”

I’ll take my chances there, but of course, given the structural challenges here and how a resumption of the bear market will affect all equity markets, I prefer to tread softly. I am heavier in cash than I have ever been before, with cash positions representing well over 50% of all capital managed here. Of course, rising commodity prices will slow growth all over the world, but even more so in the U.S.

And given the enormous debt loads to be managed here, a bankrupt government, and a complete failure of leadership, everywhere else still looks better.

Have a great week.

Bob

Bob Wood ChFC, CLU Yusuf Kadiwala. Registered Investment Advisors, KMA, Inc., invest@muslimobserver.com.

11-26

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