Filed under: Middle East, Muslim World | Tags: Ben Ali, Haroon Moghul, Islam, New York Times, Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia
Uncertainly rules the day in Tunisia. Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the country’s strong-armed and authoritarian ruler since 1987, is in Saudi Arabia while the interim government struggles to restore some semblance of order. “Confusion, fear and horror in Tunisia as old regime’s militia carries on the fight,” reads on headline in the Guardian. To be sure, the days, weeks and months ahead are likely to be just as tumultuous.
But the New York Times, which has otherwise done a decent job of covering the story, can’t seem to report the facts on the ground without breaking into the quite-familiar and largely-contrived secular/religious divide that seems to always explain events in the Middle East. For instance, in its description of transpiring events, Times reporter David Kirkpatrick includes this bit of insight:
Tunisia is far different from most neighboring Arab countries. There is little Islamist fervor there, it has a large middle class, and under Mr. Ben Ali and his predecessor, Habib Bourguiba, it has invested heavily in education. Not only are women not required to cover their heads, they enjoy a spectrum of civil rights, including free contraception, that are well beyond those in most countries in the region.
Tunisia, of course, is one of the most unfree societies on the face of the planet. Ben Ali was an autocrat in every sense of the word. But as the Times seems to suggest, the fact that contraception is readily available and that women aren’t forced to cover (they aren’t mandated to do so in most of the Muslim world), is supposed to make up for, soften, or perhaps, rationalize the repression. It’s an entirely bankrupt approach that fails to explain the complex nature of Tunisian affairs.
Writing in Religion Dispatches, Haroon Moghul illustrates why the secular/religious explanation is not only lazy and hackneyed, but often, useless in understanding people’s grievances. He writes:
There must be an explanation for why a journalist would make such a broad, unsubstantiated statement, and it returns us to the simple need to define Arabs as either secular (like us) or religious (unlike us), an effect of which is a confused causation. Namely, because many Arab states aren’t democracies, they must be Islamist states, where of course women must have to cover their heads.
This assumption lazily equates the public practice of Islam with all things undemocratic, whereas we are inclined to view secularism–even when enforced by a dictator–as explicitly preferable, even though in the experience of many Arabs (and Muslims), secularism is the ideology which justifies control of their lives, religion, and politics.
Moghul’s piece is excellent. Read it all here.
Early this week, disgraced former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich warned that “a commitment to religious freedom and God-given rights is being replaced by a secular oppression…” Just hours after those words appeared on Human Events, Gingrich issued a statement forcefully opposing the construction of a community center and mosque in downtown Manhattan, two blocks from Ground Zero.
Gingrich’s affinity for religious freedom and his belief in God-given rights it would seem, doesn’t extend to Americans who are Muslim. Such outright bigotry and blatant hypocrisy from Gingrich, an avid historian and former college professor, is even more repulsive when you consider his reasoning.
“There should be no mosque near Ground Zero in New York,” he writes, “so long as there are no churches or synagogues in Saudi Arabia.” Gingrich, who has been railing against the so-called secular socialist machine for trying to take religion out of the public square, and who, like most conservatives, decries the influence of foreign law, wants the U.S. to apply the same standards on Muslims that Saudi Arabia applies to those who are not Muslim.
As the Washington Monthly‘s Steve Benen, after noting that conservatives continually justify despicable acts of torture on the premise that other nations and non-state actors employ such tactics, points out, “We’re not supposed to lower ourselves to the levels of those we find offensive.”
Gingrich’s clarion call continues: “Those Islamists and their apologists who argue for ‘religious toleration’ are arrogantly dishonest.” What makes them Islamists, apologists or even dishonest? Gingrich doesn’t say but if you ask him, he’ll likely tell you about the Katusha rockets that Hamas has fired into Sderot or how Iran is hell-bent on acquiring nuclear weapons. Anything and everything to take the subject away from the “religious freedom and God-given rights” to which American Muslims are entitled.
To understand Gingrich’s paranoia that “America is experiencing an Islamist cultural-political offensive designed to undermine and destroy our civilization,” one must delve deeply into the polarizing, overzealous and paranoid minds of professional Muslim-baiters and the politicians who depend on their support and cater to their illiberal demands.
Many of them are monomaniacs who have made it their life’s mission to defeat Islam and “expose” all Muslims as radical Islamofascists. If one asks them for evidence to support their claim that no Muslim can be trusted, they will likely mention a purported plot by Muslim Brotherhood operatives to destroy America from within. The Council on American Islamic Relations and their intern/spies are routinely placed at the epicenter of the evil conspiracy.
Among these folks, any and all Muslims who “refudiate” such insane theories — who denounce violence and terror, profess their loyalty to the American system, take part in the democratic process and who have assimilated into the American landscape — are cleverly employing taqiyya, which, as any Muslim-baiter would tell you, is religiously sanctioned deception. The same was said about Jews decades ago and anti-Semites once evoked the specter of “Judeo-Bolshevism” the way that Muslim-baiters and politicians like Gingrich today warn of “Islamofascism.” But none of those awful facts really matter, even to a historian such as Gingrich, because facts have long been accused of being part of the secular-socialist machine.
Gingrich’s stand against the mosque project and his attempt to smear its backers as “Islamists” and apologists earns him his anti-Jihad bona fides, and with that, the support of an increasingly mistrustful and hateful electorate which lives off of tying American Muslims to every heinous act that occurs anywhere that remotely sounds Islamic. In this world, if the media fails to make the connection, they are clearly part of the soft-jihad.
Here is the key: The connection rarely has to be solid. In fact, the more specious the connection, the more the Muslim-baiter will be seen by others as a patriot and an enterprising investigative reporter. For instance, the New York Times‘ Robert Wright highlights one smear that has been contrived to defame the man leading the effort to bring the project to fruition. The imam behind the project is not to be trusted because conservatives say that “[his] wife has an uncle who used to be ‘a leader’ of a mosque that now has a Web site that links to the Web site of an allegedly radical organization.” If you can’t keep up with all of that nonsense, then you’re complacent about the Jihad.
Any and all statements against violence made by Muslims must always be placed in the right conservative context: scare quotes. Gingrich does this masterfully. That simple act in effect says that Muslims who preach peace are actually jihadists.
As Gingrich and his buddies believe, either you are with them or you are, through your dhimmitude, a proto-Jihadist. No, you’re worse since you probably support a second genocide against Jews. (Prominent Muslim-baiters have argued that Muslims instigated the Nazi holocaust!) Now that you’ve learned all of these made up facts, you simply do not have an excuse to not fight! Wake up and oppose the “Ground Zero Mosque” the “Islamization of America” and prove to those who hate the freedom in America that those freedoms, as Newt argues, don’t actually apply to all Americans.
Filed under: Religion | Tags: Cordoba House, Illario Pantano, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, Islam, University of Chicago
Conservative activists and the Muslim-baiters among them are furious about a proposed Islamic community center to be built near Ground Zero. The debate has become entirely unhinged and some of the more hateful folks are using the controversy as a rallying cry to oppose the construction of all future mosques. Among them is Illario Pantano, a Republican candidate for the House from North Carolina. Writing in the The Daily Caller, he notes:
This Cordoba Mosque is not benign. This is not about reconciliation or understanding. If this was truly about bridging cultures, we should be erecting a church because it was Christians who were targeted for murder, not Muslims. This is about marking religious, ideological and territorial conquest. The Mosque is a martyr marker, and it must be stopped.
How would erecting a church in this instance bridge cultures? It’s completely illogical. (Pantano can’t even call the project by its actual name. It’s not the Cordoba Mosque, it’s the Cordoba House.) And what evidence does he have to prove that the project is “not benign”?
One thank-you note can be struck early for the mosque’s front man: Kuwaiti-born Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf. Chairman of the Cordoba Initiative, Rauf is also the CEO of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA). But he’s more than just an apologist for the religion-based sharia law, which many experts see as being in direct opposition to the U.S. Constitution. Rauf is also a key member of the Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organization, which is reportedly the single biggest donor to the Free Gaza Movement (FGM) and its affiliated activists. Those activists include former Weather Underground founders William Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, as well as Jodie Evans, the leader of Code Pink: Women for Peace.
The project is not benign, writes Pantano, because Rauf, a devout Muslim, believes in both the religious and secular jurisprudential elements of his faith. That’s quite a clever argument. Worse, through a series of connections wholly-unrelated to Rauf’s personal actions, he is affiliated to those nefarious folks over at Code Pink. This Kevin Bacon game and guilt-by-association style of presenting an argument is becoming increasingly popular among conservative activists. In this case, as in most, the reasoning is downright laughable.
Here is how some other so-called activists have used it. Rauf is Egyptian and his father was associated with one of the biggest political movements there, the Muslim Brotherhood. Ayman al-Zawahiri was part of the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Zawahiri knows Osama bin Laden. Therefore, Rauf and bin Laden are inseparably linked. Using this line of reasoning, virtually anyone and everyone can be associated to every terrible thing that has ever happened.
For instance, Barack Obama taught at the University of Chicago. So did economist Milton Friedman. Friedman gave Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet advice on how to put his economy through shock treatment. Barack Obama, therefore, supported the privatization of the Chilean economy and the brutal reign of Pinochet. Pinochet was friends with Ronald Reagan, Barack Obama also supported Ronald Reagan. Since Reagan defeated the commies, then Barack Obama actually was instrumental in bringing down the Soviet Union.
Pantano and his ilk make absolutely no sense. But that’s precisely why this sort of fly-by-night reasoning is so popular. To make sense is to be an elitist.
Filed under: Religion | Tags: Emir Caner, Ergun Caner, Islam, Liberty University, Muslim, Turkey
A self-professed Muslim convert to Christianity, Caner plays an important, and arguably dangerous, role in the community. After the 9/11 attacks, when many Americans were searching for answers, Caner stepped up with enthusiasm to present himself as an expert on Islam. He used his own “personal history” (much of it since demonstrated as bogus) to confirm his audience’s deeply-held suspicions about the faith that many of them blamed for the attacks.
Today, as president of the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and a professor of apologetics, he exhibits tremendous influence in shaping the next generation of evangelical leaders.
A burly man with a charming smile, Caner is an eloquent speaker and an ever better storyteller. He blends the Gospel with humor. He’s a big fan of Glenn Beck and NASCAR. He speaks about love. He tweets. And, he is well liked by his students. In the five years that he’s been at Liberty, the school’s enrollment has nearly tripled.
Caner is a protégé of Paige Patterson, the controversial and successful leader of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, who is perhaps best known for forcing the Southern Baptist Convention into the political right. Paterson spoke at the school’s commencement this year.
By the time he came to Liberty University, a Baptist school in Lynchburg, Virginia founded by the late Reverend Jerry Falwell, Caner had already become a prolific writer. He and his brother had written several books aimed at evangelical audiences. Many of the books recounted their paths to Christ. It’s hard not to be moved by the narrative – true or not.
Born in Turkey to a religious father, a muezzin (one who performs the call to prayer), Caner grew up detesting the United States and all it stood for. He learned bits and pieces about his future homeland from watching the Dukes of Hazzard. During his teenage years, his family immigrated to the United States. His father came here to spread the message of Islam and build mosques.
During his senior year in high school, his life changed. Caner found Christ. A friend, “a solitary Christian boy,” refused to take no for an answer and insisted that Caner learn about Christianity. He invited him to his tiny store-front church where Caner talked to the pastor, a man with a sixth grade education who questioned him about his firmly-held convictions. Caner was amazed to discover the true teachings of a faith he had been trained his whole life to hate. He accepted Christianity, as did his two brothers, Emir and Erdem.
When he told his father, he was disowned. It was, he writes, a difficult experience for young Ergun, who didn’t speak to his father for many years. In one of his books, he writes, “For the other 95 percent of the world’s population, conversion to Jesus Christ often means disowning, disinheritance, expulsion, arrest, and even death.” But he was resolute in his newfound faith and was willing to give it all up for eternal salvation. Caner and his younger brother Emir (president of Truett-McConnell College, a small Bible college in Cleveland, Georgia) became shining examples to evangelicals.
If a hardened and hidebound jihadist “trained to do that which was done on 11 September” could come around to accepting Christ, the logic went, it proved beyond doubt that the message of Christ was universal.
The main problem with Caner’s journey from Jihad to Jesus is that much of it is fiction, a complex lie made up to give his conversion more authenticity. He fabricated almost everything. For someone who allegedly fought jihad, Caner’s understanding of the very basic tenets of the faith he is a so-called expert in is rudimentary.
Caner does not know the difference between Islam’s article of faith and the first chapter of the Qur’an. He’s claimed that the lunar month of Ramadan lasts for 40 days. In his book, he writes that he performed all of the rakats (daily prayers). The actual word is salah. It’s not a difference most people would know, but he says he is an expert on Islam. Muslims, he once said, followed something he called the “tobaad.” He’s claimed to have debated Muslim scholars who’ve never heard of him. Court records from his parent’s divorce indicate that he was in Ohio when he was a young child, long before his alleged move from Turkey. On his books, his middle name is Mehmet (Muhammad in Turkish), yet it is listed as Michael on his concealed-weapons permit in Virginia. Before 9/11, he went by E. Michael Caner.
Filed under: Racism, Society | Tags: Aliou Niasse, Faisal Shahzad, Islam, Islamophobia, Senegal, Times Square
My brother Aliou Niasse has saved the day. He was the first to spot smoke coming out of the Nissan Pathfinder that Faisal Shahzad intended to detonate in crowded Times Square.
Thankfully, the incompetence of Shahzab and the alertness of Niasse and two other gentlemen, both of whom are Vietnam War veterans, are the reasons why no one was hurt. The good work of the NYPD and the other law enforcement agencies must also be commended.
Much has been made about the fact that Shahzad, a Pakistani-American, is Muslim. Some of the more detestable figures have jumped on Shahzab’s faith to argue for ending immigration from Muslim-majority countries. Others have renewed calls for racial and ethnic profiling.
What’s gone somewhat unreported is that Niasse also happens to be a Muslim. The brother is from the great country of Senegal.
Niasse’s alertness in no way cancels out Shahzad’s detestable attempt at taking the life of many innocent people. But the story does offer us some perspective. Things aren’t as simple as the more delusional, myopic and hateful members of our society want us to believe.
As Frank Fredericks reminds us in an article on the Huffington Post yesterday, “Whether or not the culprit in the attempted bombing of Times Square was an angry Arab or a wacky white guy, the act is terrorism, no matter where the culprit is from or what he or she believes.”
Amen to that.
Filed under: Culture, Racism, Religion | Tags: Dixie Chicks, Franklin Graham, Islam, Islamophobia, Keith Ellison, Phil Donahue, Ross Douthat, Sarah Palin, Sinéad O'Connor, South Park
In his column today, the New York Times‘ Ross Douthat takes Comedy Central and others to task for censoring depictions of the Prophet Muhammad. Douthat sees a double standard afoot, pointing out that while our sensibilities are routinely satirized, “Islam is just about the only place where we draw any lines at all.” Phil Donahue and Sinéad O’Connor no doubt will find that statement astonishing.
Douthat is, of course, wrong. Not only has it become acceptable to attack Islam and vilify Muslims, but xenophobia directed at the community has become commonplace and in some places, rampant. These days, it’s not unusual for Muslims to be referred to as barbarians. Anti-Islam/Muslim books are New York Times bestsellers. Prominent Christian groups have called for American-Muslims to be deported. Others want Muslims barred from serving their country. The term “Islamo-fascism” is as casually used as “Judeo-Bolshevism” was in the 1920s and 30s. When Rep. Keith Ellison first won a seat in Congress, Glenn Beck said to him, “[P]rove to me that you are not working with our enemies.”
Substitute any other group in place of Muslim and you’ll see just how insidious such rhetoric truly is. Arizona recently passed a law which for all intents and purposes will open the floodgates of racial profiling. The bill is rightfully being attacked as unconstitutional and unjust. But as any Afghan or Arab man can tell you, profiling has long been a reality in the Muslim community. And we have endured and joined the democratic process and aimed to influence policy. As a group, we are neither victims (as some claim) nor a protected class (as, no doubt Douthat believes). We are Americans who are oddly asked to repudiate the actions of people we don’t know and linked to the actions of people we disagree with. Imagine for a second if a Christian in Kansas was constantly asked to repudiate the actions of Christians in Kenya.
Not only is criticism of Islam and attacks against Muslims acceptable, but actually, the fact that they occur go against Douthat’s underling claim that it is Muslims alone who are pushing for censorship in the public square. You’ll remember that several years ago, the Dixie Chicks received death threats for political speech. More recently, congressional Democrats received death threats because they voted for health care reform. Abortion clinics have been attacked because people’s religions tell them that abortion is a sin. It’s not Muslims who’ve led these attacks. That’s a fact. It wasn’t a man named Khalid that called for the banning of the dictionary.
Meanwhile, conservative politicians have openly embraced pastors who’ve said very vile things about Islam. Sarah Palin’s praise of Franklin Graham (who called Islam “evil” and advised Muslims to accept Christ so that “they don’t have to die in a car bomb“) is but the most recent example. It’s unlikely that Palin will be forced to distance herself from Graham.
This begs the question: Is Mr. Douthat being naïve, dishonest or both?
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald also has a very interesting take on Douthat’s fallacious conclusion.
Filed under: Muslim World, Religion, Society | Tags: Fitna, Freedom Party, Geert Wilders, Hate, Islam, The Netherlands
Far Right Dutch parliamentarian Geert Wilders has become somewhat of a celebrity among right-wingers, fascists and nativists who loathe Islam and by extension, Muslims. In the Netherlands, his popularity has increased tremendously and his party, whose platform is almost exclusively one of attacking Islam, did well in recent local elections and is poised to do even better in national elections this Summer.
Wilders’ trial for inciting religious hatred has become a cause célèbre for some on fringes of the American political discourse. It should come as no surprise that those who defend Wilders most vociferously are often the same ones associated with questioning the authenticity of President Barack Obama’s citizenship. In this world, conspiracy theories abound and the truth, more often than not, is disregarded as deceit or dhittude.
Wilders’ defenders see him as a “true champion of freedom,” and as one of the few politicians in Europe willing to confront the Islamization of Europe. Enough is enough, they argue. Islam is on the verge of dominating all of Europe and antifascist forces within Europe who oppose Wilders are allowing the continent to destruct from within. Of course, that narrative is pure fantasy and Muslims constitute a very small minority in much of Europe, but facts seldom get in the way of hate.
Wilders has called for a banning of the Qur’an, has supported ending immigration from countries where Muslims are in the majority and of course, wants to outlaw the hijab. Outside of the Netherlands, he is best known for his controversial movie, Fitna, which ties passages from the Qur’an to acts of violence and terror.
He contends that he does what he does because freedom of speech gives him that right. To the casual observer, that seems a bit ironic, given his own intolerance. As Ian Baruma put it, “for a man who calls for a ban on the Koran to act as the champion of free speech is a bit rich.”
The Globe and Mail’s Doug Saunders puts a little more context to Wilders’ platform.
Perhaps we’ve forgotten, perhaps he doesn’t realize it himself, but his words and the message of Fitna are exactly – to specific phrases, to the tone of louche brotherliness – what was said about the Jews.
It wasn’t the people but the “the code of Jewish ethics,” the well-documented desire of Jewish believers to take over countries and industries and societies. Judaism wasn’t another religion but an ideology, closely linked to communism (“Judeo-Bolshevism” was your grandfather’s “Islamo-fascism”). And it was the terrorism and violence that Judaic beliefs always seemed to bring to societies. Don’t forget that Kristallnacht, the concerted violence by the Nazis against Jews and their property in 1938, was provoked by an act of Jewish terrorism, the assassination of a German diplomat in Paris. The connection between the Torah and the violence was evident to many decent and otherwise liberal-minded people.
Wilders epitomizes the very definition of a demagogue. And during times of economic uncertainly, demagogues usually perform well. But while the rise of Wilders is worrisome, history has shown us that society is invariably on the road to progress and progress has never gotten along with intolerance. In fact, intolerance hates progress just as much as Geert Wilders hates Islam.
Anti-Islam Dutch MP gains momentum
Today, the New York Times posted a rather disturbing article about the level racism in Iraq. There are an estimated 1.2 million African-Iraqis. By and large, nearly all are treated like second-class citizens. In fact, the discrimination is so engrained “that they are commonly referred to as “abd” — slave in Arabic.” NPR, which also covered the issue today, notes: “Although they have lived in Iraq for more than 1,000 years, the black Basrawis say they are still discriminated against because of the color of their skin.”
It is a disturbing topic, which many Iraqis are not willing to admit in public. The Times piece quotes Ahmed al-Sulati, deputy chairman of Basra’s provincial council who says “there is no such thing in Iraq as black and white.” While he himself may see it that way, for the people who experience such discrimination, the color blind society many Iraqis describe is a mirage.
It should be noted that this sort of racism goes against the very core of Islam.
O ye who believe! Avoid suspicion as much (as possible): for suspicion in some cases is a sin: And spy not on each other behind their backs. Would any of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? Nay, ye would abhor it…But fear Allah: For Allah is Oft-Returning, Most Merciful. [49:13]