Archive for the ‘Islam and Muslims’ Category

Terrorist attack in France

March 24, 2018

— Nasir Khan, March 24, 2018

An attack on a supermarket in France yesterday in which three innocent people were killed and 16 injured was carried out by a Muslim, who was a petty criminal but became radicalized by ISIS. The ISIS declared that the attacker was a “soldier of the Islamic Sate”. Thus, once again one Muslim commits an act of terrorism in the name of a terrorist ideology that uses the name of Islam and brings dishonor and disgrace to the Islamic religion and its followers.

Once again, Muslim communities and new immigrants living in the western countries become suspect in the eyes of many people.

What we need to keep in mind and tell others that such individual acts of terrorism and the killing of people have nothing to do with Islam or with the vast majority of Muslims living in Europe or in other western countries.

Muslim people are as much victims of such crimes as others. What ISIS did in Iraq and Syria, and now is targeting people in many other countries, such as Libya, Afghanistan, etc. etc., and other countries is directed against the ordinary Muslim people. The victims are both Muslims and non-Muslims.

On behalf of many like-minded people and friends, I strongly condemn the brutal murders and the harm to the innocent people at the hands of a misguided and pathetic individual, and the people using people like him to commit such dastardly crimes.

Along with many other politically active people, I have also opposed and wrote against the roles of imperialist powers, their policies, their wars and war crimes, and their criminal support for dictators, oligarchs and terrorists for many years. However, we should never use the policies of these governments to justify any individual acts of terror as in the present case in France.

Terrorism in the name of any religion or religious ideology (Islamism, Hindutva militarism, Christian fundamentalism, Zionism, anti-Muslim Buddhist mafia) is vicious and should be fought against by all democratic forces, and we should never compromise on this because some brainwashed maniacs and social oppressors are using the names of religions or religious symbols to advance their objectives.

 

Killing people in the name of religions and god

July 4, 2016

  Nasir Khan, July 4, 2016

In the hands of ignorant brutes any religion, good, bad or super, will be turned into a religion of brutality and violence. Killing in the name of religions and gods has a long history.

But there are no easy ways to end such violence, except for to have long-term strategies to meet the challenges of religious extremists. Secular education in traditional societies, cultivation of humanist values, limiting the role of religion only to personal sphere where it does not have any influence on the public sphere and state policies, etc. are some necessary steps.

Without a change in people’s thinking and consciousness, organised acts of violence by some people in the name of gods and religions will continue. Meeting violence with violence offers only a temporary and ineffective solution; it can’t uproot the causes of violence at the hands of groups and some misguided religious people who have their own militant and anti-human agendas.

Ideology behind the extremist violence in Pakistan

March 31, 2016
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Nasir Khan, March 31, 2016

 –

A suicide bomber belonging to extremist group, Jamaat-ul-Ahrar, associated with the Pakistani Taliban, attacked a large park in Lahore where people were celebrating Easter Sunday. His powerful bomb caused the deaths of at least 70 people, mostly women and children, and injured more than 350 people. The bomber seemed to have targeted the Christians but the people taking part in the celebration were of all faiths, including Christians and Muslims. Most of the victims were Muslims. This bomber blowing himself up in a crowed public place was following the commands of his extremist mentors. In fact, such brainwashed suicide bombers are also victims of their own right-wing organisations that send them to commit such acts.

Yet, the events of Easter Sunday in Lahore did not come as a surprise to the people who know about the politicisation of Islam in Pakistan that produced Islamist militants, willing to attack religious minorities as part of their religious mission.

It is important to keep in mind that such religious fanatics did not emerge in a political vacuum. They are a natural growth of the exploitation of Islam that Pakistan’s political elites had assiduously cultivated right after the death of Mr. Jinnah in 1948. A milestone in the regressive political scenario was reached in 1956 when the new country was baptised as the ‘Islamic Republic of Pakistan’. Thus Islam and Pakistani State had become one; this union was the beginning of the theocratic state where religious establishment and Islamist parties were free to propagate their versions of Islamic State and its political direction.

From now on, religious parties and clerics became even more vocal champions of an Islamist state in which only the Islamic law, the Sharia, was to prevail, thus excluding any man-made laws based upon modern western legal principles and codes. The full introduction of the Sharia was to be the firm foundation upon which a paradise on earth was to be built, where peace and justice would prevail.

As many ignorant clerics and their supporters had scant knowledge of Islamic jurisprudence, they visualised the model of the Islamic state strictly according to the Sharia as they wished. Apparently, many people have heard that under the Sharia laws, a thief’s hands are chopped off and a woman accused of adultery is stoned to death.  As a result, millions of indoctrinated people are jubilant about the bright prospects of a truly Islamic order and its quick dispensation of justice.  The women charged with adultery or some other sexual transgression would be readily sent to the next world; thieves with chopped off hands would prove a warning to any prospective offenders of the consequences of stealing. Such things would kindle the light of righteousness on the heavenly structure set up in Pakistan. No more worries. Worries would become a thing of the unholy past.

What the Pakistani Islamists and extremists have set their sights on are not confined to the borders of their country.  Theirs is a universal call for all the ‘true believers’, everywhere. They have a sacred task ahead of them. They should move forward and do what their Islamist leaders tell them to do.  In fact, most Pakistani Muslims, who are otherwise quite gentle and kind people in their dealings in their daily lives, support the idea of a such a truly Islamic state that is on the model of the caliphate of the seventh-century Arabia. The call for sharia laws has become the rallying cry and the heartbeat of these people.

How has religious orthodoxy and extremism affected the people of Pakistan can be illustrated from the case of Mumtaz Qadri. By all accounts, he was an ordinary man, certainly an indoctrinated poor soul, who was in the squad of the personal bodyguards of Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab. He killed Mr Taseer in the most gruesome manner by shooting him with 28 bullets at close range.  He committed this ghastly crime because Mr Taseer had opposed the notorious blasphemy laws and tried to speak on behalf of Asia Bibi, a Christian woman, who was languishing in prison after her trial and conviction under the blasphemy laws on concocted charges.

On Qadri’s arrest and subsequent trial, large crowds held public demonstrations in the country in his favour. He was the hero of Islam. The role of thousands of lawyers in this sad story was equally alarming. They were over-zealous and were in the forefront of such demonstrations. These ‘educated’ people like uneducated or poorly educated people also saw and see the blasphemy laws vital to protect the name and honour of Almighty God, the Holy Prophet and the Qur’an. Therefore, when we discuss widespread indoctrination, a person with common sense or ordinary intelligence will soon realise the havoc caused by uncritical thinking and morbid indoctrination.

When Qadri was eventually executed for his premeditated murder, hundreds of thousands Pakistanis in many cities in Pakistan demonstrated in his favour, naming him the ‘hero of Islam’ and a ‘martyr’.  Moreover, he received the same passionate support from the Pakistani communities living in Europe and elsewhere. Many ordinary people of European origin were simply amazed at what these people were saying and doing in free democratic countries.

In addition, the objective of Islamic parties and their indoctrinating clerics was to fight against what they regarded as western values, such as democratic forms of government, gender equality, freedom of expression and belief. Under this system, religious minorities have only a secondary status in Islamic Pakistan. A change of religion from Islam to any other faith is out of question. Those abandoning Islam run great risks; they become apostates and their punishment is death. However, there is a lot of goodwill towards any non-Muslim who converts to Islam.  By such an act, a convert to Islam becomes the member of Islamic community and can have unlimited divine favours here and hereafter.

To sum up, the phenomenon of Islamist terror, whose recent example was in Lahore, is not some incidental aberration but rather a result of a politically and religiously motivated world-view that has an ideological background. It is safe to say that most Pakistanis favour an Islamic order and the introduction of the sharia laws in their country because that will lead to a prosperous present and a virtuous future. However, they do not necessarily support the terrorist methods and bomb blasts of the extremists. They would love to see a peaceful transformation to the Islamic order without the terror of the Taliban and other militant groups they have seen for many years.  The support for such an outlook is not limited to ordinary, uneducated and indoctrinated people either. Many well-educated people also stand with the upholders of Islamist ideology and the champions of the sharia laws. The call to turn to ‘real Islam’ echoes the feelings of a country of 200 million people. Where things are heading in Pakistan gives no room for complacency.

 

 

 

Did God speak to the former US President G. W. Bush? Some reflections

August 8, 2015

Nasir Khan, August 8, 2015

“God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.”
— George W. Bush, quoted in Lancaster New Era, July 16, 2004

Such was the claim of the former US President. He said this after the US armed forces had invaded and occupied two large countries, Afghanistan and Iraq. At that time, he was the most powerful leader of the mighty militarist superpower as well as a ‘divinely’ elevated person because God communicated with him. To my knowledge, in modern history we do not find another instance when a mortal man and the immortal God joined forces for U.S. to unleash two destructive wars! However, the implications of his pronouncements had a direct bearing on his political stature and his policies. Even though, he made his policies and issued his executive orders with the help of his close neoconservative advisers and secretaries but in doing so he was doing God’s work. God was speaking through him; therefore, God mandated whatever he did. God had chosen the right man to do His work!

If we accept the claims of divine guidance, for the sake of argument, that he, in fact, made on many times, then we can point to the results he achieved by his genocidal wars. Under his leadership, the US armed forces invaded and occupied Afghanistan and Iraq in the most brutal way. They killed hundreds of thousands of innocent Iraqis and Afghans who had no quarrel with the people of the United States or posed any threat to the global U.S. hegemony and power. The destruction of Iraq was systematic. The Bush administration undertook the destruction of Iraqi state and its infrastructure as a necessary step to imposing the imperial diktat in the Middle East. It uprooted the social and administrative structure of Iraq and replaced it with sectarian puppet regimes that followed the orders of Washington and the Pentagon.

To make the imperial take-over easy and to neutralise any resistance to the new geopolitical order in this vast and oil-rich country, imperial masters used sectarian discord of the population as a convenient tool. How did it matter to Bush if Sunni and Shia turned against each other and started terrorist violence against their own people – the people of Iraq? Religious fanatics and miscreants were free to weaken Iraq while the occupiers could have an easy task to control the country and its resources. Thus, the US occupation could continue with greater ease while the country was drenched in bloodshed and mayhem that is still going on.

Through his destructive policies in the occupied Iraq, the Bush administration destabilised the whole region and played with the lives of millions of Iraqis by reducing them to destitution, poverty, homelessness and helplessness. The rampant killings in Iraq have claimed the lives of uncountable victims. In the first 7 years of US occupation, about 1.3 million Iraqi died. The main source of this incredible catastrophe that engulfed Iraq in 2003 was the US invasion. The ultimate responsibility of the present cycle of violence and bloodshed remains with Mr Bush.

Mr Bush’s military invasion and occupation of Afghanistan resulted in large-scale deaths of Afghans. The brutal treatment of the prisoners of war and the innocent victims in the process of occupying Afghanistan is a dark chapter in the history of twenty-first century. The occupying power violated the Geneva Conventions regarding the treatment of prisoners of war, international humanitarian conventions and all norms of international law. All this happened because God said to Bush to do so! In fact, this is a preposterous assertion that even Al Capone would not have resorted to! Let us take a common sense view of his claim and its consequences. What that means is that the former president is not responsible for the wars and war crimes but someone else is! In legal terms, he is implying that God is vicariously responsible for his wars and war crimes. In this way, he absolves himself of any responsibility for his actions and his policies as the head of US Government! A very convenient but cheap method to deceive the world, no doubt!

There is no need for us to enter into any lengthy theological discourse on God and his attributes. It is common knowledge that most believers see God as a kind, merciful and loving power. For having such attributes, believers hold Him in high respect and praise Him. It is hard to think that the Heavenly Father, as Christians call God, could have asked or encouraged Mr Bush to start major wars of aggression and commit the most heinous crimes against other weaker nations in this century. In brief, to impute such designs to God or because of fulfilling a mission from God is a reprehensible act on the part of Mr Bush. In the eyes of any sincere believers, he is maligning God in a vicious way if he believes in Him as he seemingly professes to do.

Alternatively, what if he really believed in what he asserted about God? That is something, which we can look at cursorily from a legal point of view. In criminal law, the actions of the alleged offenders are primarily judged for the mens rea – that is, their state of mind and intentions when they committed some indictable offence. In some cases, they are entitled to the defence of diminished responsibility or diminished capacity if their mental condition was impaired in such a way that they did not fully understand what they did. If such a defence is successful, the accused are given mitigated sentences or sent for medical treatment, depending on the gravity of offences involved. In an old case of acute insanity, one person beheaded a sleeping man just to see what he would do when woke up in the morning but didn’t find his head!

There are many cases when people hear sounds or messages from some unknown sources exhorting them to do something that may amount to a criminal offence. A hallucination is a perception that is not based on objective reality. It is very much a subjective condition of mind and in this condition, people may see or visualise things that having nothing to do with reality. In this age, we come across cases when some people say they have heard God or God has given them some message. If Mr Bush is sincere in his claims about God speaking to him, then that is something for which only the professional psychologists can offer their expert views.

In case  a judicial miracle (which I don’t see taking place!) takes place and the world sees the former US president, G.W. Bush, being prosecuted for his wars and the alleged war crimes in a court of law then the question of hallucinations would certainly be an issue in any legal process. However, facts point to a different direction: That he acted with deliberation and premeditation in pursuing his policies and his destructive wars.

Images of Islam and Muslims in Western media

May 16, 2010

Dr Nasir Khan, June 19, 2007

Present-day images of Muslims and Islam in Western media vary considerably. However, since the collapse of the Soviet Union the general drift of Western concerns has been to portray Islam as the main enemy of the West and the Muslim world as a hotbed of terrorism that threatens Western civilisation and its democratic values. Thus in the present-day hegemonic world order — under which all norms of civilised behaviour in the conduct of foreign policy have been discarded by the Bush Administration and its allies in London and Tel Aviv — Muslims are associated with terrorism. We have seen over the last few years the expansion of President Bush’s destructive war, the inhuman treatment of captive population of Iraq and Afghanistan, rampant abuse of prisoners from Muslim countries by American and British forces, total indifference towards the human rights of prisoners of war or of those suspected of resisting or opposing the American occupation of their countries and false propaganda to cover up the real objectives and crimes against humanity of the neocon rulers in Washington and London.

Needless to say, the so-called ‘Islamic challenge’ is based on assumptions that have no basis in reality. They misrepresent, distort and mislead rather than enlighten and inform. Over the last fifteen years a number of publications have appeared that have borne sensational titles like ‘Sword of Islam’, ‘The Islamic Threat’, ‘The Roots of Muslim Rage’, ‘Islam’s New Battle Cry’ and ‘What went wrong with Islam?’. They reveal the sort of preconceived image of Islam their writers had intended to convey to their readers. According to such projections, Islam is a challenge to Western values as well as to West’s economic and political interests. But in view of the real power wielded by the West in general and America in particular throughout the Middle East and beyond, the so-called ‘threat of Islam’ is quite groundless.

But right-wing political manipulators and Christian fundamentalists can very easily provoke major crises between the Muslim world and the West; we have only to recall the case of the cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The real aim of some Danish and Norwegian right-wing newspapers to publish these cartoons was to provoke hostile reactions from Muslims and thus cause more bitterness and resentment between Muslims and Christians. They tried to cover up their anti-Islamic campaign behind the smokescreen of the argument that publishing the cartoons was a demonstration of the West’s freedom of expression. They were xenophobic, racist and disrespectful of immigrant cultures in Europe and the Islamic culture in particular. How could hurting the feelings of over one billion Muslims was to serve the interests of free Press, freedom of expression or civil liberties? An anti-Islam fundamentalist Christian by the name of Mr Selbekk, the Norwegian editor of Magazinet reprinted the cartoons which were first published in Denmark. He was asked if he would also publish any cartoons that insulted Jesus, said: No. Thus this gentleman’s vaunted ideal of ‘freedom of expression’ was limited to insulting the Prophet Muhammad and obviously did not extend to insulting the gods, prophets and spiritual avatars of any other major religion.

However, it is important to look at the strategic goals of such editors and publishers. They did succeed in their objective, which was to cause maximum provocation to Muslims worldwide and to create an atmosphere of contempt and hatred towards them among the followers of other religions. Muslims were predictably and understandably offended and their reactions led to some horrible incidents in various parts of the globe. What those who reacted violently did not realise was that they had fallen in the trap of anti-Muslim mischief-mongers, who, through provocation had achieved their goal. Now the stage was set to repeat the old charge: Muslims were fanatics, volatile and irrational — they were ‘terrorists’! The divide between ‘us’ and ‘them’ as cultural opposites was reinforced and widened.

The anti-Muslim media keep on churning out the common stereotypes that portray Muslims, compared to Westerners, as more prone to conflict and violence. These media publish accounts of conflicts in the Muslim countries as self-evident truths to reinforce the image. There is a general tendency to oversimplify or ignore altogether diverse trends and complex socio-economic factors that lead to instability and conflicts in various Muslim countries. The explanations offered and conclusions drawn sometimes are based on implicit, but more often, explicit assumptions about the superiority of Western, ‘Judaeo-Christian’ culture, while the Islamic world is thought to be an epicentre of brutality and disharmony.

A very common stereotype in the Western media is that Islamic countries are inherently prone to violence, fanaticism, medieval ideas and prejudices. This means that Islam, both as a religion and as a cultural influence, is to bear the responsibility for all such regional ills. The West is the harbinger of sweetness and light (but occasionally also darkness and misery), peace and civility (but occasionally predatory wars and barbarism), rationality and open-mindedness (but occasionally irrationality, racism and prejudice, and always is focused on its own interests). All those who have taken the trouble to look at the last few centuries’ history of Western colonialism, extending from the time of the so-called  ‘discoveries’ of America by Columbus in 1492 and of India by Vasco de Gama in 1498 by sea routes, the ‘discovery’ of Africa by the European for slave trade show the ‘noble’ hands of Western nations that were extended to the people of Americas, Asia, Africa and Australia have left their marks on every continent. We cannot go into historical details here. But the global expansion of Western colonialism is the story of plunder and destruction across continents. No doubt, the seeds of Western civilisation were sown in this way. Within Western societies, the internal conflicts, violence and wars present us with a gory history. This superior culture when seen in the limited sphere of geopolitics and international relations in the last one hundred years only leaves a legacy of two World Wars, more wars (Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq), invasions and coups (Guatemala, Grenada, Iran, Pakistan, Indonesia, Chile, Argentina, Congo, southern Africa), concentration camps, racist massacres undertaken on a large scale by the flag-bearers of Western civilisation.

It is obvious that cultural differences between nations and peoples of the world are a fact of history. And in this context generalising about cultural differences is unavoidable. But in no way can such differences be equated with mutual exclusiveness or inevitable hostility between different cultures. Where the initial instinct is not to enter into an anthropological or historical study of comparative cultures, but rather to foment strife and hatred between nations and religions for ulterior motives the consequences can be disastrous. Let us take the events in the aftermath of the bombing of Oklahoma City in the United States on 19 April 1995. The media rushed to spread rumours that a ‘Middle Eastern man’ [i.e. a Muslim Arab] was responsible for the carnage. As a result Muslims throughout the United States were targeted for physical abuse, rough treatment and social ostracism. Their mosques were desecrated, Muslim women ere harassed and cars belonging to ‘Middle Easterns’ damaged. A British newspaper Today published on its front page a frightening picture of a fireman carrying the burnt remains of a dead child under the headline In the name of Islam’. Identifying the perpetrator of such a reprehensible act alone would not be sufficient; Islam also had to be brought in to ignite the communal passions of people against members of another faith. However, it soon became evident that the bomber was a fair-haired American soldier, a decorated Gulf War (1991) veteran. The religion of this right-wing terrorist was not Islam but Christianity. But no one in either American or British media labelled him a ‘Christian terrorist’ or apologised to Muslims for the wrongs done to them. Once again the freedom to tell the truth and report events fairly had taken a back seat.

The second instance is the 11 September 2001 attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon by a few persons, most of whom came from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a close ally of America. They saw the policies pursued by the US in the Middle East and its support for the anachronistic rule by the House of Saud as the stumbling block towards a fair social order in their country as well as the rest of the Middle East. No matter what the nature of their grievances, I regard this attack terribly wrong. It provided ammunition to the neocons and right-wing fanatics in Washington to unleash the reign of terror, war, death and destruction in the Middle East and the petroleum regions in the general vicinity. At the same time, we ask a simple question: What had these bombings to do with millions of ordinary Muslim citizens of Europe and America? The answer is: nothing whatsoever. We witnessed that they were victimised everywhere by many white Westerners in the most grotesque and despicable ways.

During my stay in Europe for more than four decades, I have become acutely aware that the negative images of Islam and Islamic civilisation need a serious historical analysis for general readers as well as academic scholars that enables us to rise above oft-repeated and worn-out clichés of media and partisan scholarship and thus show the facts of the problematic relations between the two world religions and their civilisations. My book Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms (2006) deals these themes and issues. It is clear that both Islam and the West suffer from the perceptual problems of adversary relationship going far back in history. Their mutual perceptions have been distorted by religious dogmas, political developments and traditional prejudices. If we take a look at the history of European colonial expansion in Americas, Australia and in the East (China, India, the Middle East and North Africa, etc.) the old balance of power between the East and the West had changed. The colonial power over other nations also strengthened the collective consciousness of the industrial West, or its assumption that it was more powerful and therefore superior to the rest of the world. The colonised and subjugated people also started to perceive the West as materially, culturally, and morally superior. It is true the West was superior in producing machines, modern weaponry and efficient armies to invade and subjugate other countries of the world. This made Western nations more powerful, but that did not mean they were morally or intellectually superior. But the subjugated races were not in a position to advance such challenging views. In such uneven power relations under colonialism no genuine communication was possible. The same is true of the current neo-colonial war in Iraq by the Bush Administration to achieve full control over the oil resources and assert political hegemony over the entire Middle East.

The Western ways to see Islam as a monolithic religious and political force is against all historical facts and contemporary political realities. Islam is not a monolithic force; the diversity within the Islamic world is wider than most Westerners think. Within three decades after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim community split into Sunni and Shia factions following a civil war. This division proved to be permanent, and further divisions within the two main branches have characterised Islamic faith and polity for fourteen centuries. The spread of Islam followed different paths in different countries and regions of the world. At present over one billion people of all races, languages, nationalities and cultures are Muslims. Their socio-cultural conditions as well as their doctrinal affiliations show much diversity and complexity. What this means is that Islam as a universal religion, like Christianity, is not a monolithic entity; this is despite the fact that Muslims share some fundamental beliefs in One God and His revelations through the prophets.

However, historical and religious traditions and myths have a life of their own. Once they have become part of a culture they continue to shape and restructure the collective consciousness of vast populations. The anti-Islamic tradition in the Christendoms has a long historical pedigree and it continues to be a dynamic factor affecting and determining international relations. The study of history helps us to see facts in their historical evolutionary process and thus lighten the cultural baggage that has often poisoned relationships between the two religious communities. An honest and balanced study of the past and the present-day geopolitical realities of the global hegemonic world order means that we no longer have to passively accept distorted legacies and close our eyes to what is happening in Iraq, Palestine, Afghanistan, and also in Pakistan at the hands of the United States, its allies and the marionette Muslim ruling cliques.

The question of ‘Islamic terrorism’, the denial of women’s rights under Islam and the alleged irreconcilability of Islamic and Western values appear all the time in the Western media. But such accusations reveal a deep-rooted ignorance and confusion. They have no relationship to reality. We should bear in mind that a follower of a religion is not necessarily a true representative or spokesperson of that religion. Neither can the individual acts of terrorism, state-terrorism or superpower-terrorism be imputed to religion whether it be Christianity, Judaism, Islam or Hinduism. If an individual or group from a Muslim community resorts to extremism in political or religious spheres for whatever reason or commits a crime, the general tendency is to hold the whole Islamic tradition responsible. What happens if someone from Western culture or a Christian right-wing extremist resorts to violence or commits a crime? He is held responsible as an individual and no one blames the Western culture or Christianity for his actions. Do we not have some powerful leaders in the West who are Christian right-wingers and are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of Muslim men, women and children? Does anyone blame Christianity for that? We ask these questions and expect our readers to ask these questions and then try to find some answers.

With regard to women, the Qur’an gave them legal rights of inheritance and divorce in the seventh-century, which Western women would not receive until the 19th or 20th century. There is nothing in Islam about obligatory veiling of women or their seclusion, either. In fact, such practices came into Islam about three generations after the death of the Prophet Muhammad under the influence of the Greek Christians of Byzantium. In fact there has been a high degree of cultural interaction between Christians and Muslims from the beginning of Islamic history.

The fundamental values of fraternity, respect, justice and peace are common in all the major civilisations and the five major religions. To call democracy ‘a Western value’ is simply bizarre; the monarchical system prevailed in Europe where the kings held absolute powers under the divine right to rule. The evolution of democratic and constitutional form of government took shape much later. Contrary to what the media and populist politicians assert, there is nothing in Islam that goes against democracy and democratic values.

Nasir Khan, Dr Philos, is a historian and a peace activist. He is the author of Development of the Concept and Theory of Alienation in Marx’s Writings and more recent Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey. He has written numerous articles on international affairs and the issues of human rights.

See also, Jeremy R. Hammond, Our “Enemy” Islam

Pope Benedict’s version of God and Islam

April 23, 2010

Nasir Khan, October 10, 2006

Pope Benedict XVI is the ruler of the Vatican City State and the spiritual head of more than one billion Christians across the world. What he says has an impact on political and religious thinking as well as on interfaith relations in the world. On 12 September, he delivered a well-prepared theological lecture before his home crowd of Bavarian academics and students in which he made a thinly veiled attack on the Prophet Muhammad and the notion of Holy War (Jihad). But instead of making a frontal attack on Islam, he used the derogatory remarks against Islam by a 14th century Byzantine emperor, Manuel II Paleologus, to convey his own message and thus to absolve himself of any responsibility for such remarks. Manuel II Paleologus had said:

‘Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by sword the faith he preached.’

Now, before I say anything whether such a remark has any basis in historical fact or is a mere crude misrepresentation of Islam, we should turn our attention to the method the Pope has used. It is common knowledge that whenever we use a quotation from other sources in our written or spoken words, we seek support for the particular point we may be making or we reject the view advanced by such a quotation by challenging it. To use a quotation in the former case does not need our comment; our using it evinces our – either direct or tacit — approval.

It seems the Pope has used the emperor’s words in support of his own criticism of Islam and of his theological standpoint. It may be a clever device, but it was in reality an unhealthy and unfortunate thing for a number of reasons.

First, Manuel’s formulation and accusation belongs to a particular era and historical setting in which the emperor was a direct participant in military and political struggle against the expanding Ottomans; however, his views on the Prophet and Islam have no relation to historical facts.

Secondly, the Pope is an influential leader in world affairs and he has a moral and political responsibility to help reach out to other faiths, especially Islam, to promote better interfaith relations in a world where conflicts and violence seem to be increasing; gross violations of human rights are taking place, and we are living through a time when international law and the norms of civilised behaviour are being eroded and ignored by the powerful and mighty states.

Thirdly, behind the seemingly scholarly rhetoric lies the Pope’s theology according to which Christianity is compatible with rationality, thus negating a similar compatibility in the case of Islam.

I do not intend to go into the details of such a theology, but such exclusivist views about the divine are excessively capricious and uncalled for in this century. His provocative and historically untenable remarks about Islamic teachings have led only to negative results; his ill-chosen words have inflamed the passions of Muslims throughout the world. In no way do I condone such violent responses, but at the same time we should be aware of the religious sensitivities of believers and not provoke them without good cause. We need to keep in mind that most believers, ‘the flock’, believe in a Divine Being and hold their holy books in high esteem. Indeed, they take their faiths seriously; they should not be assumed to be a gathering of philosophers, historians or doctors of theology capable of entering into dispassionate academic discussions. There are far too many people who are certain of their traditional beliefs and the authorities they rely upon. The British philosopher Bertrand Russell rightly says that the whole problem with the world is that fools and fanatics are always so certain of themselves but wiser people so full of doubts.

The political objectives?

The Pope’s speech comes amidst the growing anarchy and destruction in Iraq. The American war of aggression against Iraq has not gone according to the wishes of the Bush Administration. As a result of the militaristic policies of America in Iraq and its so-called ‘war against terror’, there is growing anger and frustration throughout the Muslim world against the American wars and terrorist policies in the Middle East. Some observers see the Pope adding his voice to throw his support in favour of President Bush and his allies in what they call ‘Islamic terror’ and portray Islam as a violent religion.

Evidently much of the Islamic world is going through an extremely difficult phase at this stage. Two Muslim countries, Afghanistan and Iraq, have been invaded and occupied by the armies of the New Crusaders – Bush and Blair – and two puppet regimes have been installed in these countries to serve the imperial interests. Also among the Western allies is Pakistan, whose ruler General Musharraf has admitted that America had threatened to bomb Pakistan back into the Stone Age if he did not join the American ‘war against terror’. This he did. I addition to launching major military operations in the Frontier Province and Balochistan, Pakistan has rounded up any of its nationals who showed hostility towards American policies in the region. This has been carried out by the intelligence services of Pakistan in return for millions of American dollars and more than seven hundred such victims handed over to the CIA. Where and how are these prisoners being held or what has happened to them? The American government gives no information. Thus the crimes against humanity continue to mount and the only explanation is the flat statement that there is a ‘war against terror’.

We all know that the Christian Right, especially evangelical and born-again Christians, are open supporters of the American invasion of Iraq, the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands and the systematic killings of Palestinians on a regular basis, not to mention the recent Israeli war against Lebanon.

The Pope is a learned theologian. He certainly knows what is happening in the Muslim world at the hands of the Christian Powers. But instead of siding with the victims, he attacks them by distorting Islam and its Prophet as well as the true message of Jesus. This is quite a sharp reversal of the path pursued by his predecessor, John Paul II, who had stood for interfaith dialogue and called for respect for other religions. It is well known that as a cardinal in the Holy See, Ratzinger (now Pope Benedict) was opposed to John Paul II’s pursuit of dialogue. But the Vatican Council II (1962-65) had already taken some important decisions in the Catholic approach towards Islam and other religious traditions. To undermine these decisions of the Second Vatican Council by anyone, by whatever means, will constitute a leap in the wrong direction.

Benedict has held Christianity to be the foundation of Europe and just a few months before he was elected, he had spoken out against the Muslim country, Turkey, joining the EU. He has argued that Christian Europe should be defended. Turkey should seek partners in Muslim countries, not in Christian Europe.

Now, a brief comment on the charge against Muhammad and his so-called use of the sword to spread his faith. The Christian polemic against Islam is almost thirteen centuries old and Christian apologists have said and written much about it. To situate the whole discussion in a historical context, I did research for more than seven years on the topic. It has resulted in the publication of my book Perceptions of Islam in the Christendoms: A Historical Survey (Oslo: Solum Forlag, 2006). (The Norwegian Research Council had paid the cost of production to the publisher, and thus I have no financial interest in the sale of the book!) I have tried to show the problematic nature of such distorted views in detail, whereas Professor Oddbjørn Leirvik in his new book Islam og kristendom, Konflikt eller dialog? has given a brilliant account of the interaction between the two faiths and explored the possibilities of dialogue and cooperation, instead of confrontation, crude misrepresentations and mutual recriminations. I believe all those who are interested in historical facts will find these two books useful for study and reflection.

The present attempt by the Pope to claim that ‘violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul’; in other words, that such a view of God cannot be extended to Islamic teachings because here ‘God is absolutely transcendent’. He is ‘not bound up with any of our categories, even that of rationality’. I find such a formulation and explication simply baffling. This reminds us of the Holosphyros Controversy during the reign of Byzantine Emperor Manuel I Comnenus (r. 1143-80), where the official Melkite theologians had held that ‘the God of Muhammad was said to be holosphyros [made of solid metal beaten to a spherical shape] who neither begat nor was begotten’. If the Pope needed a good source for inspiration then he did choose the right epoch and the right mentors!

Finally, I would add only a short comment on the old Christian cliché that Muhammad stood for war and violence while Jesus stood for love and peace. There are many Christian believers who still believe this. There is no historical or scriptural evidence that Muhammad at any time in his life advocated war or encouraged his followers to spread Islam by means of the sword. But what did Jesus say?

‘Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the world. No, I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. I came to set sons against their fathers, daughters against their mothers, daughters-in-law against their mothers-in-law; a man’s worst enemies will be the members of his own family’ (Matthew 10:  34-36).

I wonder if the Christian apologists by some strange mental confusion exchanged the roles of Muhammad and Jesus. But why do they still continue to ignore what the Bible says on the matter so clearly?

At the same time I want to emphasis that self-serving myths and dreams are not an alternative to historical facts. The question of forcible conversions in Islam is another big distortion because all the historical evidence points to the contrary. During the early period of Islamic Caliphate the Umayyad caliphs practically discouraged conversions to Islam. Far too many people had converted to Islam and that created administrative and financial problems for the State! In the Ottoman Empire, if any Muslim forced any Christian or Jew to convert to Islam, he was beheaded.

The Hypocrisy of Al-Demoqratia

December 10, 2009
Ramzy Baroud, The Palestine Chronicle, Dec 10, 2009
In Palestine, the price for democracy was even higher.

So this is how democracy works?

In 2004, France banned headscarves and school principals chased after young “defiant” Muslim girls who continued to cover their heads in school. Now, following a national referendum, Switzerland has banned the construction of minarets, because minarets also somehow symbolize oppression. Thanks to the dedicated action of the far-right Swiss People’s Party, the Alpine skies will be free from the snaking menace, which would spread intolerance and taint the splendor of Swiss architecture.

In between these two peculiar events, the targeting of Muslims in Western countries and the subjugation of entire Muslim nations all over the world has never ceased. Not for a day.

Continues >>

Who speaks for Islam?

October 30, 2009


Everyone, it seems, has a party line about who the good Muslims and bad Muslims are. Sadly, many of the dichotomies distort as much as they reveal, and use simple labels based on superficial preconceptions and over-simplifications, says Meena Sharify-Funk.

Middle East Online, Oct 30, 2009

 

Waterloo, Canada – Ever since the tragic events of 9/11, the diverse voices claiming to speak with authority about Islam have become increasingly cacophonous. Few contemporary topics are more controversial than that of how to interpret Islamic practices and beliefs.

In the West as well as in the Muslim world, interpreting Islam has become a virtual cottage industry. The ranks of interpreters are incredibly diverse, including counter-terrorism experts, policymakers and journalists, as well as religious studies academics, political scientists, Muslim ulama (Islamic legal scholars), Muslim feminists in the West, and people speaking on behalf of various religious groups. Interest in how Islam is understood and practiced has expanded dramatically in recent years, and it’s not always clear whom to listen to amongst the din.

Continues >>

Obama in Cairo: a new face for American imperialism

June 7, 2009

Patrick Martin | wsws.com, 5 June 2009

The speech delivered by US President Barack Obama in Cairo yesterday was riddled with contradictions. He declared his opposition to the “killing of innocent men, women, and children,” but defended the ongoing US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the US proxy war in Pakistan, while remaining silent on the most recent Israeli slaughter of Palestinians in Gaza. These wars have killed at least one million Iraqis and tens of thousands in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Palestinian territories.

Obama declared his support for democracy, human rights and women’s rights, after two days of meetings with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, two of the most notorious tyrants in the Middle East. He said nothing in his speech about the complete absence of democratic rights in Saudi Arabia, or about the ongoing repression under Mubarak’s military dictatorship. In the days before the US president’s arrival at Al-Azhar University, the campus was raided by Egyptian secret police who detained more than 200 foreign students. Before leaving on his Mideast trip, Obama praised Mubarak as a “steadfast ally.”

While posturing as the advocate of universal peace and understanding, Obama diplomatically omitted any reference to his order to escalate the war in Afghanistan with the dispatch of an additional 17,000 US troops. And he tacitly embraced the policy of his predecessor in Iraq, declaring, “I believe the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein.” He even seemed to hedge on the withdrawal deadline of December 2011 negotiated by the Bush administration, which he described as a pledge “to remove all our troops from Iraq by 2012.”

Obama rejected the charge that America is “a self-interested empire”—a perfectly apt characterization—and denied that the United States was seeking bases, territory or access to natural resources in the Muslim world. He claimed that the war in Afghanistan was a “war of necessity” provoked by the 9/11 terrorist attacks. This is the same argument made by the Bush-Cheney administration at the time, which deliberately conceals the real material interests at stake. The war in Afghanistan is part of the drive by US imperialism to dominate the world’s two most important sources of oil and gas, the Persian Gulf and the Caspian Basin.

There was of course a distinct shift in the rhetorical tone from the bullying “you’re either with or against us” of George W. Bush to the reassuring “we’re all in this together” of Obama. But as several commentators noted (the New Republic compared the speech line-for-line to that given by Bush to the United Nations on September 16, 2006), if you turned off the picture and the sound and simply read the prepared text, the words are very similar to speeches delivered by Bush, Condoleezza Rice and other officials of the previous administration.

The vague and flowery rhetoric, the verbal tributes to Islamic culture and the equal rights of nations, constitute an adjustment of the language being used to cloak the policy of US imperialism, not a change in substance. Obama made not a single concrete proposal to redress the grievances of the oppressed peoples of the Middle East. That is because the fundamental source of this oppression is the profit system and the domination of the world by imperialism, of which American imperialism is the most ruthless.

Obama made one passing reference to colonialism, and to the US role in the overthrow of the democratically elected Mossadegh government in Iran in 1953. But in his litany of “sources of tension” in the region, he offered the same checklist as his predecessor, with the first place given to “violent extremism”, Obama’s rhetorical substitute for Bush’s “terrorism.”

The reaction to the Obama speech in the American media was across-the-board enthusiasm. Liberal David Corn of Mother Jones magazine said Obama’s great advantages were “his personal history, his non-Bushness, his recognition of US errors, his willingness to at least talk as if he wants to be an honest broker in the Mideast.”

Michael Crowley wrote in the pro-war liberal magazine New Republic, “to see him unfold his biography, to cut such an unfamiliar profile to the world, is to appreciate how much America will benefit from presenting this new face to the world.”

Perhaps most revealing was the comment by Max Boot, a neoconservative arch-defender of the war in Iraq, who wrote: “I thought he did a more effective job of making America’s case to the Muslim world. No question: He is a more effective salesman than his predecessor was.”

In his speech in Cairo, Obama was playing the role for which he was drafted and promoted by a decisive section of the US financial elite and the military and foreign policy apparatus. This role is to provide a new face for US imperialism as part of a shift in the tactics, but not the strategy, of Washington’s drive for world domination.

Nearly two years ago, former US national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski gave his public backing to the presidential candidacy of a still-obscure senator from Illinois, holding out the prospect that as an African-American with family ties to the Muslim world, Obama would improve the worldwide image of the United States.

Brzezinski was the leading hawk in the administration of Democrat Jimmy Carter and helped instigate the political upheavals in Afghanistan in the hopes of inciting a Soviet invasion that would trap the Moscow bureaucracy in a Vietnam-style quagmire. He has remained steadily focused on what he calls the “great chessboard” of Eurasia, and particularly on oil-rich Central Asia, where a struggle for influence now rages between the United States, Russia, China and Iran.

According to Brzezinski in August 2007, Obama “recognizes that the challenge is a new face, a new sense of direction, a new definition of America’s role in the world… Obama is clearly more effective and has the upper hand. He has a sense of what is historically relevant and what is needed from the United States in relationship to the world.”

Brzezinski, a ruthless defender of the interests of US imperialism, has repeatedly issued warnings to the American ruling elite of the danger of what he calls the “global political awakening.”

In one particularly pointed comment, he told the German magazine Der Spiegel, only months before he endorsed Obama, that the vast majority of humanity “will no longer tolerate the enormous disparities in the human condition. That could well be the collective danger we will have to face in the next decades.”

To call it by its right name, what the more perceptive elements in the US ruling class fear is world revolution. The effort to prevent such a social upheaval is what impelled them to install Obama in the White House and what set him on his pilgrimage to Cairo.

Obama’s Historic Speech – A Post-Mortem

June 6, 2009
The Palestine Chronicle, June 6, 2009
Surely he had to have some hopeful surprise up his sleeve. Wrong. Nothing. (NYT)
By John V. Whitbeck

President Barack Obama’s much anticipated speech in Cairo was truly astounding. After all the months of lead-up and hype, few could have imagined that this speech would contain nothing of substance. Surely Obama would feel the need to announce some new initiative on at least one of the major matters of concern to the Muslim world. Perhaps a decision to develop a fully fleshed-out plan for a two-state solution, unilaterally or with the Quartet and/or the Organization of the Islamic Conference (King Abdallah of Jordan’s “57 Muslim countries” willing to make peace with Israel), dealing with all the difficult issues, and to present it to Israelis and Palestinians as the last best chance for peace based on partition and the acceptance of Israel by the Muslim world. Or perhaps an international conference involving all concerned regional parties to seek solutions to the interlinked problems involving Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq and/or Iran.

Surely he had to have some hopeful surprise up his sleeve. Wrong. Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There were, of course, many eloquent mood-music paragraphs and a smattering of quotes from the Holy Quran (as well as the Bible and the Talmud). Obama obviously believes that America’s unchanged objectives with respect to the Muslim world are more likely to be pursued successfully by being polite and complimentary than by being rude and intentionally insulting. But the mood-music paragraphs dealt with atmospherics or the past. When it came to the present and the future and to concrete matters of American objectives and policies, there was nothing new. Nothing hopeful. Nothing.

He certainly offered nothing new or hopeful to the Afghans and Pakistanis, to whom he implicitly promised perpetual war, saying (in a verbal and intellectual formulation uncharacteristically childish for him) that American troops will keep fighting in their countries so long as there are “violent extremists in Afghanistan and Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can” — which there are guaranteed to be so long as the Americans keep fighting in their countries.

He certainly offered nothing new or hopeful to the Iranians, again adopting the views of the Israeli, rather than the American, intelligence agencies on the issue of whether Iran has a current nuclear weapons program and menacing that “when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point”.

He certainly offered nothing new or hopeful to the Iraqis, opining that they were “better off” as a result of America’s invasion of their country.

Most certainly and emphatically, he offered nothing new or hopeful to the Palestinians, promising to pursue a two-state solution “with all the patience that the task requires” — i.e., with no sense of urgency (unlike his pursuit of Iran) and without any firm deadline, as would be essential for there to be even a miniscule hope of success. This commitment to infinite patience constitutes an effective promise to pass the problem on, in an even more intractable and hopeless condition, to his successor.

Gaza? It rated one mention: “The continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel’s security.” Israel’s security? Nothing about the holiday-season massacre of over 1300 Gazans? Nothing about the crippling Israeli blockade and siege? Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Jerusalem? Obama expressed the hope that the city could become “a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together”. Mingle? In the context of Obama’s repeated references to two states, one might have expected a vision of the city as the shared capital of those two states living together in peace and reconciliation. No. No sharing. That would have contradicted his pledge in his speech to AIPAC’s National Conference last summer. Just a right to mingle, so long as Christians and Muslims did so “peacefully”, without raising awkward questions about any rights in or to Israel’s eternal and undivided capital.

And then, of course, Obama had to say this: “To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, and to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements and recognize Israel’s right to exist” — unbalanced, even in a speech ostensibly intended to reach out to the Muslim world, by any hint that, to be worthy of interaction with civilized people, Israel must renounce violence, recognize past agreements and recognize Palestine’s right to exist.

This tired, morally bankrupt American mantra essentially argues that only the rich, the strong, the oppressors and the enforcers of injustice (notably the Americans and the Israelis) have the right to use violence, while the poor, the weak, the oppressed and the victims of injustice must renounce violence, submit to their fate and accept whatever crumbs their betters may magnanimously deign suitable to let fall from their table — a principle dear to the hearts and minds of those who are happy with the status quo but not one likely to win hearts and minds among those who are not or, indeed, anyone who believes that justice should be pursued and injustice resisted.

As if that were not enough, Obama also felt the need to declare that America’s bonds with Israel are “unbreakable” — a statement one would expect in a speech to AIPAC or on the American campaign trail but one which one would not normally have thought essential to include in this particular speech before this particular audience. At least it is a statement consistent with one of Obama’s Quranic citations — “Speak always the truth”. It constitutes a proclamation (or admission) that America is not and will never be a truly independent nation and that this is just fine with Barack Obama.

If Israelis were looking for assurance that any public “pressure” from Obama to improve their behavior would be purely rhetorical and could be ignored with impunity, here was that assurance.

Nevertheless, one intriguing paragraph in the speech is worth considering: “Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America’s founding. The same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia.”

Comparing the position of today’s Palestinians to that of black slaves in America or native South Africans under that country’s apartheid regime can only be constructive. However, Obama has not thought through the context or his conclusion. As he rightly notes, those oppressed peoples and victims of injustice whom he cites were seeking “full and equal rights”, not the partition of their countries.

If the goal of an oppressed people is to convince a determined and powerful settler-colonial movement which wishes to seize their land, settle it and keep it (eventually emptying it of them and their fellow natives) that it should cease, desist and leave, nonviolent forms of resistance are suicidal. If, however, the goal were to be to obtain the full rights of citizenship in a democratic, nonracist state (as was the case in the American civil rights movement and the South African anti-apartheid movement), then nonviolence would be the only viable approach. Violence would be totally inappropriate and counterproductive. The morally impeccable approach would also be the tactically effective approach. The high road would be the only road.

Nonviolence is clearly morally preferable to violence. Democracy and equal rights are clearly morally preferable to apartheid and partition. The better goal and the better tactic are a perfect match, the only match that truly offers hope. If and when the current Palestinian leaderships, or the Palestinian people under a new and better leadership, draw the only rational conclusion from Barack Obama’s Cairo speech — that he offers them neither change nor hope and that they must rely exclusively on themselves in the pursuit of justice — they should courageously press their own “reset” button and unite to pursue democracy and equal rights by nonviolent means.

– John V. Whitbeck, an international lawyer who has advised the Palestinian negotiating team in negotiations with Israel, is author of “The World According to Whitbeck”. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.


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