Canadian Muslims should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies

Just as I was about to write a follow-up to an earlier article on the anti-terrorism handbook published jointly by two Canadian Muslim organizations and the RCMP, a recent convert to Islam killed a member of the Canadian Armed Forces in Québec and, one day later, a shooter apparently self-identified as a Muslim attacked Canada’s House of Parliament in Ottawa. Muslim organizations were quick to denounce the attacks in the strongest terms.

Such disclaimers, while undoubtedly sincere, are no longer adequate to the security-obsessed political atmosphere that has been created in Canada. Under Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Canada is once again a belligerent in a Middle-East war. Its avowed enemy (though it may have other adversaries it prefers not to identify) is the hyper-Islamist faction ISIS, also known as the Islamic State or Da’ish, its Arabic acronym. This organization, if we are to believe media accounts, clearly intends to carry the war to the enemy, wherever he might be. Including Ottawa, we may presume.

Muslims in Canada, who have lately been going to extraordinary lengths to dissociate themselves from what has been correctly labeled as an “ideology of violence”, may soon run out of workable options. The unanimous declarations of Canadian imams condemning Da’ish and its works as un-Islamic do not appear to be having any effect on either the Harper government’s determination to bomb far-away Muslim countries as part of yet another colonial-imperialist coalition, or on the hot-headed, single-minded and often deeply troubled young men prepared to act on the call of the group’s leaders to strike their foes wherever they find them.

Put bluntly, Canada’s Muslims are caught in a bind. Trapped between the shrill propaganda of the Harper government and its policy of punitive expeditions on the one hand, and the equally shrill call for jihad, seen as sanctified combat against the enemies of Islam on the other, what plea for moderation can prevail? In fact, the extreme nature of both positions ensures that extremism will prevail. Would Stephen Harper soon channel Pierre-Elliot (“Just watch me”) Trudeau of War Measures Act fame?

We need not have held our collective breath. Prime Minister Harper announced the St-Jean-sur-Richelieu attack in the House of Commons in response to a set-up question from an obscure backbencher. He then introduced legislation to strengthen Canada’s security services. These services—the RCMP and CSIS—already notorious for their disregard for, and hostility to, civil liberties, will gain draconian new powers to monitor, detain and arrest on suspicion or “reasonable assumption.”

What should Canada’s growing Muslim population do now? Public statements by individuals and organizations, while properly expressing abhorrence of crimes committed in the name of Islam, should be expanded to describe the current political context that the Harper government (and its arch-secularist Islamophobe allies in and around the Parti Québécois) has shaped. Muslim grass-roots organizations, while declaring their abhorrence of the crimes committed in the name of their religion, should be equally firm in demonstrating their loathing for the atrocities (known as “collateral damage”) committed by their government—and the coalition of which it is a member—in their name. Canada, they might well point out, has no United Nations mandate to bomb Syrian or Iraqi territory in whatever capacity. The country to which they as citizens owe allegiance is thus a party to aggression as defined by the UN Charter.

Citizen-based organizations and anti-war movements in Québec and the rest of Canada have already taken to the streets to protest Ottawa’s policy. Muslims should join such demonstrations and make their voices heard. They cannot afford to surrender their rights as citizens. Their determination to speak out against Canada’s policy of militarism should be as bold and forthright as their condemnation of the violent acts perpetrated in the name of their religion.

No more than they should accept collective responsibility for the acts of a handful of fools, petty criminals or, at best, misled young men.  Muslims in Canada cannot abdicate their duty as citizens to call their government to account for shaping the international climate that has fostered the rise of groups like Da’ish. Indeed, the finger of accusation should be pointed straight at Ottawa for its unconditional defense and support of Zionist crimes in Palestine and, by extension, for the oppressive and unjust status quo that prevails throughout the Middle East and stokes the fires of sectarian strife.

While it is a crime for Canadians to travel abroad to join the ranks of Da’ish, the Israel-based Lone Soldier Program benefits from tax-deductible status through the Ne’eman Foundation in Toronto. This program recruits mercenaries to serve—and fight–in the Israeli army against its Palestinian “enemies.”

None of these measures, however, should allow Muslims in Canada to avoid some communal soul searching. While they can and must reject collective guilt, they cannot remain indifferent to the exclusionist language that has, over the years, become accepted as religious discourse in mosques and, worse, in informal discussion groups and on the internet. The issue is less one of financial support of institutions by Middle Eastern sponsors of violence and obscurantism, and more that of legitimizing a retrograde political ideology—Wahhabi Salafism—that masquerades as religion. Curiously, while Da’ish has been identified as the enemy of the day, the sources of its political/religious program do not appear to bother either Washington or Ottawa, both of which maintain excellent relations with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, its principal state purveyor.

Canadian political leaders, and their security services, enjoy instructing Muslims in the steps they must take to head off religiously inspired violence. They should be politely requested to keep their advice to themselves and go about their information gathering without the willing cooperation of Canadian Muslims. If state surveillance and monitoring tools and skills are as well developed and extensive as Edward Snowdon’s revelations show, does the political police really need help from us?

Ultimately the task of Muslims in Canada should be to deconstruct the pseudo-religions ideology that has enabled extremism to carve out a niche in their midst. Only Canada’s Muslims themselves can do the job. At the same time they should accept full political responsibility as citizens: loyalty to their country, critical of its policies. Especially when those policies perpetuate the climate of sectarian violence now wracking the Middle East.

Stocking up on lunch snacks at Costco, I saw a book that immediately grabbed my attention. It had a picture of a woman wearing a niqab, a face covering worn by a minority of Muslim women.

Intrigued, I bought the book, mentally congratulating the publisher for having squeezed $20 out of my pocket. They know only too well that the niqab sells, grabs headlines and diverts attention. It is also a lightening rod for emotions and fear.

A few months ago, the debate raged among Canadian politicians whether wearing the niqab and voting could jibe, and whether women would be allowed to wear the veil in legal proceedings. It has been discussed in Quebec, England, the Netherlands, Italy and many other parts of the world, usually spun to create false controversy by right-wing politicians.

Predictably, this issue is making the rounds again, this time in France, a country in the midst of identity crises. President Nicolas Sarkozy is making the burqa — a full-body covering with a screen over the face — his flavour of the month to deflect attention from his plunging popularity. Amid raucous applause from his fellow parliamentarians, he said:

“In our country, we cannot accept that women be prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity … it is a sign of subservience, a sign of debasement.”

They know that fear will easily buy votes among a population who feel increasingly vulnerable to the growing number of Muslims, and who will embrace laws which provide a false sense of security in preserving their identity. In 2004, Muslim women were the targets of this strategy through a law banning headscarves from French public schools.

U.S. President Barack Obama addressed this in his Cairo speech two weeks ago: “… it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit — for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretense of liberalism.”

In defending his words, Obama stated, “I will tell you that in the U.S., our basic attitude is that we’re not going to tell people what to wear.”

He gets it. Unfortunately, the people who lash out at the niqab or burqa are usually those who feel the most uncomfortable with it: journalists, politicians, intellectuals and feminists. Under the pretense of defending freedom of thought, they are actually legitimizing hate, thus generating the exact opposite of what they claim to defend.

Ironically, they don’t seem to be particularly attentive to those whom they are supposedly defending. In speaking for these women, they assume they are oppressed idiots who can only be spoken to, about, or for but never with.

Muslim women wear the face covering for a variety of reasons. Unfortunately, we never hear their voices, their stories, their choices, how they negotiate the challenges, how it impacts their integration and how they feel.

Sahar Ullah, a Chicago graduate student, voices her experience of wearing the niqab in an online blog, “Most people who had an opinion about niqab never asked me why I wore it although they were willing to express their opinion …” adding “It was actually Muslims that were the cruelest. They insisted that niqab was wrong, I felt more defensive about having the right to make my own choices.”

The laundry list of assumptions people had about her intentions included: ideology; adherence to law; a method of escape; entrapment; pretentiousness; performance of piety; heroism; fear of men; desire to seduce; covered naughtiness; anti-social behaviour; a vain call for attention; a passport to marriage; desire to be silent; an oppressive father; and the classic — anxiety about being too dark.

Perhaps it is time we reassess the biases that are fuelling this debate. To fear means that we lack confidence in ourselves and in others. By allowing this fear to infiltrate our societies, we are entertaining the most serious illusions about our freedom, putting in danger our notions of what a truly democratic society is.

The organization Human Rights Watch concurs: “The ban on the veil violates human rights and stigmatizes and marginalizes women who wear it. The freedom to express religion and freedom of conscience are fundamental rights … and such a ban would send a signal to many French Muslims that they are not welcome in their own country.”

It has been announced that an official commission in France will be created to assess the question of the burqa over the next six months. It smells suspiciously patriarchal.

In looking at the context and origins of the niqab, the majority of Muslim scholars do not view it as compulsory. For the minority who see it as a religious requirement, they should be, under freedom of religion provisions, afforded the right to wear the niqab.

Within Muslim communities, there are growing discussions about Islamic feminism — the struggle for women’s rights within the Islamic terms of reference, against cultural discrimination and a literalist approach to the texts.

These grassroots conversations are an important avenue to reiterate that women should not be forced to do anything against their will. But also that choices made through personal conviction need to be respected — a right embedded in most democracies.

This dialogue had already started during the Prophet Muhammad’s time. He strongly encouraged the active role of women in early Islamic society, insisting that they should never confuse modesty with disappearing from the political, scholarly, religious, social, economic or even military sphere. In other words, Muslim women were the actors of their own destinies.

In concluding his speech, Sarkozy stated that the burqa “will not be welcome on our territory.”

Hopefully he will come to understand that a potential law banning a piece of clothing won’t change anything except outward appearances. True emancipation and empowerment of Muslim women to be free, autonomous and engaged will only occur when they are afforded the right to speak on their own terms, not for someone else’s political agenda.

Shelina Merani is the spokesperson for the network Muslim Presence and has recently launched the local/global website

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VIEW VIDEO: Heal The World

There’s a place in
Your heart
And I know that it is love
And this place could
Be much
Brighter than tomorrow
And if you really try
You’ll find there’s no need
To cry
In this place you’ll feel
There’s no hurt or sorrow

There are ways
To get there
If you care enough
For the living
Make a little space
Make a better place…

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

If you want to know why
There’s a love that
Cannot lie
Love is strong
It only cares of
Joyful giving
If we try
We shall see
In this bliss
We cannot feel
Fear or dread
We stop existing and
Start living

Then it feels that always
Love’s enough for
Us growing
So make a better world
Make a better world…

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

And the dream we were
Conceived in
Will reveal a joyful face
And the world we
Once believed in
Will shine again in grace
Then why do we keep
Strangling life
Wound this earth
Crucify its soul
Though it’s plain to see
This world is heavenly
Be God’s glow

We could fly so high
Let our spirits never die
In my heart
I feel you are all
My brothers
Create a world with
No fear
Together we cry
Happy tears
See the nations turn
Their swords
Into plowshares

We could really get there
If you cared enough
For the living
Make a little space
To make a better place…

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

Heal the world
Make it a better place
For you and for me
And the entire human race
There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

There are people dying
If you care enough
For the living
Make a better place
For you and for me

You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me
You and for me

music-note-pop-art-no-hope2One man spoke to the world, and the world listened.

He walked onto the stage in Cairo, alone, without hosts and without aides, and delivered a sermon to an audience of billions. Egyptians and Americans, Israelis and Palestinians, Jews and Arabs, Sunnis and Shiites, Copts and Maronites – and they all listened attentively.

He unfolded before them the map of a new world, a different world, whose values and laws he spelled out in simple and clear language – a mixture of idealism and practical politics, vision and pragmatism.

Barack Hussein Obama – as he took pains to call himself – is the most powerful man on earth. Every word he utters is a political fact.

“A historic speech”, pronounced commentators in a hundred languages. I prefer another adjective:

The speech was right.

Every word was in its place, every sentence precise, every tone in harmony. The masterpiece of a man bringing a new message to the world.

From the very first word, every listener in the hall and in the world felt the honesty of the man, that his heart and his tongue were in harmony, that this is not a politician of the old familiar sort – hypocritical, sanctimonious, calculating. His body language was speaking, and so were his facial expressions

That’s why the speech was so important. The new moral integrity and the sense of honesty increased the impact of the revolutionary content.

And a revolutionary speech it certainly was.

In 55 minutes, it not only wiped away the eight years of George W. Bush, but also much of the preceding decades, from World War II on.

The American ship has turned – not with the sluggishness everyone would have expected, but with the agility of a speedboat.

That is much more than a political change. It touches the roots of the American national consciousness. The President spoke to hundreds of million US citizens no less than to a billion Muslims.

The American culture is based on the myth of the Wild West, with its Good Guys and Bad Guys, violent justice, dueling under the midday sun. Since the American nation is composed of immigrants from all over the world, its unity seems to require a threatening, world-encompassing evil enemy, like the Nazis and the Japs, or the Commies. After the collapse of the Soviet empire, this role was taken over by Islam.

Cruel, fanatical, bloodthirsty Islam; Islam as the religion of murder and destruction; an Islam lusting for the blood of women and children. This enemy captured the imagination of the masses and supplied material for television and cinema. It provided lecture topics for learned professors and fresh inspiration for popular writers. The White House was occupied by a moron who declared a world-wide “War on Terrorism”.

When Obama is now uprooting this myth, he is revolutionizing American culture. He wipes away the picture of one enemy, without painting another in its place. He preaches against the violent, adversary attitude itself, and starts to work to replace it with a culture of partnership between nations, civilizations and religions.

I see Obama as the first great messenger of the 21st century. He is the son of a new era, where the economy is global and the whole of humanity faces the danger to the very existence of life on the planet Earth. An era where the Internet connects a boy in New Zealand with a girl in Namibia in real time, where a disease in a small Mexican village spreads all over the globe within days.

This world needs a world law, a world order, a world democracy. That’s why this speech really was historic: Obama outlined the basic contours of a world constitution.

While Obama proclaims the 21st century, the government of Israel is returning to the 19th.

That was the century when a narrow, egocentric, aggressive nationalism took root in many countries. A century that sanctified the belligerent nation which oppresses minorities and subdues neighbors. The century that gave birth to modern anti-Semitism and to its response – modern Zionism.

Obama’s vision is not anti-national. He spoke with pride about the American nation. But his nationalism is of another sort: an inclusive, multi-cultural and non-sexist nationalism, which includes all the citizens of a country and respects other nations.

This is the nationalism of the 21st century, which is inexorably striving towards supranational, regional and world-wide structures.

Compared to this, how miserable is the mental world of the Israeli Right! How miserable is the violent, fanatical-religious world of the settlers, the chauvinist ghetto of Netanyahu, Lieberman and Barak, the racist-fascist closed-in world of their Kahanist allies!

One has to understand this moral and spiritual dimension of Obama’s speech before considering its political implications. Not only in the political sphere are Obama and Netanyahu on a collision course. The underlying collision is between two mental worlds which are as distinct from each other as the sun and the moon.

In Obama’s mental world, there is no place for the Israeli Right or its equivalents elsewhere. Not for their terminology, not for their “values”, and still less for their actions.

In the political political sphere, too, a huge gap has opened up between the governments of Israel and the USA.

During the last few years, successive Israeli governments have ridden the wave of Islamophobia that has spread throughout the West. The Islamic world was considered the deadly enemy, America was galloping grimly towards the Clash of Civilizations, every Muslim was a potential terrorist.

Israel’s right-wing leaders could rejoice. After all, the Palestinians are Arabs, the Arabs are Muslims, the Muslims are Terrorists – so that Israel was assured a central place in the war of the Sons of Light against the Sons of Darkness.

That was a Garden of Eden for racist demagogues. Avigdor Lieberman could advocate the expulsion of the Arabs from Israel, Ellie Yishai could enact laws for the revocation of the citizenship of non-Jews. Obscure Members of the Knesset could grab headlines with bills that might have been conceived in Nuremberg.

This Garden of Eden is no more. Whether the implications will become clear quickly or slowly – the direction is obvious. If we continue on our path, we will become a leper colony.

The tone makes the music – and this applies also to the President’s words on Israel and Palestine. He spoke at length about the Holocaust – honest and courageous words, full of empathy and compassion, which were received by the Egyptians in silence but with respect. He stressed Israel’s right to exist. And without pausing, he spoke about the suffering of the Palestinian refugees, the intolerable situation of the Palestinians in Gaza, Palestinian aspirations for a state of their own.

He spoke respectfully about Hamas. Not anymore as a “terrorist organization”, but as a part of the Palestinian people. He demanded that they recognize Israel and stop violence, but also hinted that he would welcome a Palestinian unity government.

The political message was clear and unequivocal: the Two-State Solution will be put into practice. He himself will see to that. Settlement activity must cease. Unlike his predecessors, he did not stop at speaking about “Palestinians”, but uttered the decisive word: “Palestine” – the name of a state and a territory.

And no less important: the Iran war has been struck from the agenda. The dialogue with Tehran, as a part of the new world, is not limited in time. As from now, no one can even dream about an American OK for an Israeli attack.

How did official Israel respond? The first reaction was denial. “An unimportant speech”. “There was nothing new”. The establishment commentators picked out a few pro-Israeli sentences from the text and ignored all the others. And after all, “these are just words. So he talked. Nothing will come out of it.”

That is nonsense. The words of the President of the United States are more than just words. They are political facts. They change the perceptions of hundreds of millions. The Muslim public listened. The American public listened. It may take some time for the message to sink in. But after this speech, the pro-Israel lobby will never be the same as it was before. The era of “foile shtik” (Yiddish for sneaky tricks) is over. The sly dishonesty of a Shimon Peres, the guileful deceits of an Ehud Olmert, the sweet talking of a Bibi Netanyahu – all these belong to the past.

The Israeli people must now decide: whether to follow the right-wing government towards an inevitable collision with Washington, as the Jews did 1940 years ago when they followed the Zealots into a suicidal war on Rome – or to join Obama’s march towards a new world.

Uri Avnery is a Jewish peace activist, a outspoken critic of official Israel. He lives in TelAviv.

Image entitled: music note, hope 2

To go to Uri Avnery’s blog, Gush Shalom, click here:

The torture memos released by the White House elicited shock, indignation, and surprise.

The shock and indignation are understandable — particularly the testimony in the Senate Armed Services Committee report on Cheney-Rumsfeld desperation to find links between Iraq and al-Qaeda, links that were later concocted as justification for the invasion, facts irrelevant.

Former Army psychiatrist Maj. Charles Burney testified that “a large part of the time we were focused on trying to establish a link between Al Qaeda and Iraq. The more frustrated people got in not being able to establish this link … there was more and more pressure to resort to measures that might produce more immediate results”; that is, torture.

The McClatchy press reported that a former senior intelligence official familiar with the interrogation issue added that “The Bush administration applied relentless pressure on interrogators to use harsh methods on detainees in part to find evidence of cooperation between al Qaida and the late Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s regime … [Cheney and Rumsfeld] demanded that the interrogators find evidence of al Qaida-Iraq collaboration…

‘There was constant pressure on the intelligence agencies and the interrogators to do whatever it took to get that information out of the detainees, especially the few high-value ones we had, and when people kept coming up empty, they were told by Cheney’s and Rumsfeld’s people to push harder’.”1

These were the most significant revelations, barely reported.

While such testimony about the viciousness and deceit of the administration should indeed be shocking, the surprise at the general picture revealed is nonetheless surprising. A narrow reason is that even without inquiry, it was reasonable to suppose that Guantanamo was a torture chamber. Why else send prisoners where they would be beyond the reach of the law — incidentally, a place that Washington is using in violation of a treaty that was forced on Cuba at the point of a gun? Security reasons are alleged, but they are hard to take seriously. The same expectations held for secret prisons and rendition, and were fulfilled

A broader reason is that torture has been routine practice from the early days of the conquest of the national territory, and then beyond, as the imperial ventures of the “infant empire” — as George Washington called the new Republic — extended to the Philippines, Haiti, and elsewhere. Furthermore, torture was the least of the many crimes of aggression, terror, subversion and economic strangulation that have darkened US history, much as in the case of other great powers. Accordingly, it is surprising to see the reactions even by some of the most eloquent and forthright critics of Bush malfeasance: for example, that we used to be “a nation of moral ideals” and never before Bush “have our leaders so utterly betrayed everything our nation stands for” (Paul Krugman). To say the least, that common view reflects a rather slanted version of history.

Occasionally the conflict between “what we stand for” and “what we do” has been forthrightly addressed. One distinguished scholar who undertook the task is Hans Morgenthau, a founder of realist international relations theory. In a classic study written in the glow of Camelot, Morgenthau developed the standard view that the US has a “transcendent purpose”: establishing peace and freedom at home and indeed everywhere, since “the arena within which the United States must defend and promote its purpose has become world-wide.” But as a scrupulous scholar, he recognized that the historical record is radically inconsistent with the “transcendent purpose” of America.

We should not, however, be misled by that discrepancy, Morgenthau advises: in his words, we should not “confound the abuse of reality with reality itself.” Reality is the unachieved “national purpose” revealed by “the evidence of history as our minds reflect it.” What actually happened is merely the “abuse of reality.” To confound abuse of reality with reality is akin to “the error of atheism, which denies the validity of religion on similar grounds.” An apt comparison.

The release of the torture memos led others to recognize the problem. In the New York Times, columnist Roger Cohen reviewed a book by British journalist Geoffrey Hodgson, who concludes that the US is “just one great, but imperfect, country among others.” Cohen agrees that the evidence supports Hodgson’s judgment, but regards it as fundamentally mistaken. The reason is Hodgson’s failure to understand that “America was born as an idea, and so it has to carry that idea forward.”

The American idea is revealed by America’s birth as a “city on a hill,” an “inspirational notion” that resides “deep in the American psyche”; and by “the distinctive spirit of American individualism and enterprise” demonstrated in the Western expansion. Hodgson’s error is that he is keeping to “the distortions of the American idea in recent decades,” the “abuse of reality” in recent years.

Let us then turn to “reality itself”: the “idea” of America from its earliest days.

The inspirational phrase “city on a hill” was coined by John Winthrop in 1630, borrowing from the Gospels, and outlining the glorious future of a new nation “ordained by God.” One year earlier his Massachusetts Bay Colony established its Great Seal. It depicts an Indian with a scroll coming out of his mouth. On it are the words “Come over and help us.” The British colonists were thus benevolent humanists, responding to the pleas of the miserable natives to be rescued from their bitter pagan fate.

The Great Seal is a graphic representation of “the idea of America,” from its birth. It should be exhumed from the depths of the psyche and displayed on the walls of every classroom. It should certainly appear in the background of all of the Kim il-Sung-style worship of the savage murderer and torturer Ronald Reagan, who blissfully described himself as the leader of a “shining city on the hill” while orchestrating some of the more ghastly crimes of his years in office, leaving a hideous legacy.

This early proclamation of “humanitarian intervention,” to use the currently fashionable phrase, turned out to be very much like its successors, facts that were not obscure to the agents. The first Secretary of War, General Henry Knox, described “the utter extirpation of all the Indians in most populous parts of the Union” by means “more destructive to the Indian natives than the conduct of the conquerors of Mexico and Peru.” Long after his own significant contributions to the process were past, John Quincy Adams deplored the fate of “that hapless race of native Americans, which we are exterminating with such merciless and perfidious cruelty … among the heinous sins of this nation, for which I believe God will one day bring [it] to judgement.”

The merciless and perfidious cruelty continued until “the West was won.” Instead of God’s judgment, the heinous sins bring only praise for the fulfillment of the American “idea.”2

There was, to be sure, a more convenient and conventional version, expressed for example by Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story, who mused that “the wisdom of Providence” caused the natives to disappear like “the withered leaves of autumn” even though the colonists had “constantly respected” them.3

The conquest and settling of the West indeed showed individualism and enterprise. Settler-colonialist enterprises, the cruelest form of imperialism, commonly do. The outcome was hailed by the respected and influential Senator Henry Cabot Lodge in 1898. Calling for intervention in Cuba, Lodge lauded our record “of conquest, colonization, and territorial expansion unequalled by any people in the 19th century,” and urged that it is “not to be curbed now,” as the Cubans too are pleading with us to come over and help them.4 Their plea was answered. The US sent troops, thereby preventing Cuba’s liberation from Spain and turning it into a virtual colony, as it remained until 1959.

The “American idea” is illustrated further by the remarkable campaign, initiated virtually at once, to restore Cuba to its proper place: economic warfare with the clearly articulated aim of punishing the population so that they would overthrow the disobedient government; invasion; the dedication of the Kennedy brothers to bring “the terrors of the earth” to Cuba (the phrase of historian Arthur Schlesinger, in his biography of Robert Kennedy, who took the task as one of his highest priorities); and other crimes continuing to the present, in defiance of virtually unanimous world opinion.

There are to be sure critics, who hold that our efforts to bring democracy to Cuba have failed, so we should turn to other ways to “come over and help them.” How do these critics know that the goal was to bring democracy? There is evidence: so our leaders proclaim. There is also counter-evidence: the declassified internal record, but that can be dismissed as just “the abuse of history.”

American imperialism is often traced to the takeover of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and Hawaii in 1898. But that is to succumb to what historian of imperialism Bernard Porter calls “the salt water fallacy,” the idea that conquest only becomes imperialism when it crosses salt water. Thus if the Mississippi had resembled the Irish Sea, Western expansion would have been imperialism. From Washington to Lodge, those engaged in the enterprise had a clearer grasp.

After the success of humanitarian intervention in Cuba in 1898, the next step in the mission assigned by Providence was to confer “the blessings of liberty and civilization upon all the rescued peoples” of the Philippines (in the words of the platform of Lodge’s Republican party) — at least those who survived the murderous onslaught and the large-scale torture and other atrocities that accompanied it. These fortunate souls were left to the mercies of the US-established Philippine constabulary within a newly devised model of colonial domination, relying on security forces trained and equipped for sophisticated modes of surveillance, intimidation, and violence.5 Similar models were adopted in many other areas where the US imposed brutal National Guards and other client forces, with consequences that should be well-known.

In the past sixty years, victims worldwide have also endured the CIA’s “torture paradigm,” developed at a cost reaching $1 billion annually, according to historian Alfred McCoy, who shows that the methods surfaced with little change in Abu Ghraib. There is no hyperbole when Jennifer Harbury entitles her penetrating study of the U.S. torture record Truth, Torture, and the American Way. It is highly misleading, to say the least, when investigators of the Bush gang’s descent into the sewer lament that “in waging the war against terrorism, America had lost its way.”6

Bush-Cheney-Rumsfeld et al. did introduce important innovations. Ordinarily, torture is farmed out to subsidiaries, not carried out by Americans directly in their government-established torture chambers. Alain Nairn, who has carried out some of the most revealing and courageous investigations of torture, points out that “What the Obama [ban on torture] ostensibly knocks off is that small percentage of torture now done by Americans while retaining the overwhelming bulk of the system’s torture, which is done by foreigners under US patronage. Obama could stop backing foreign forces that torture, but he has chosen not to do so.”

Obama did not shut down the practice of torture, Nairn observes, but “merely repositioned it,” restoring it to the norm, a matter of indifference to the victims. Since Vietnam, “the US has mainly seen its torture done for it by proxy — paying, arming, training and guiding foreigners doing it, but usually being careful to keep Americans at least one discreet step removed.” Obama’s ban “doesn’t even prohibit direct torture by Americans outside environments of ‘armed conflict,’ which is where much torture happens anyway since many repressive regimes aren’t in armed conflict … his is a return to the status quo ante, the torture regime of Ford through Clinton, which, year by year, often produced more US-backed strapped-down agony than was produced during the Bush/Cheney years.”7

Sometimes engagement in torture is more indirect. In a 1980 study, Latin Americanist Lars Schoultz found that US aid “has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens,… to the hemisphere’s relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights.” That includes military aid, is independent of need, and runs through the Carter years. Broader studies by Edward Herman found the same correlation, and also suggested an explanation.

Not surprisingly, US aid tends to correlate with a favorable climate for business operations, and this is commonly improved by murder of labor and peasant organizers and human rights activists, and other such actions, yielding a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights.8

These studies precede the Reagan years, when the topic was not worth studying because the correlations were so clear. And the tendencies continue to the present.

Small wonder that the President advises us to look forward, not backward — a convenient doctrine for those who hold the clubs. Those who are beaten by them tend to see the world differently, much to our annoyance.

An argument can be made that implementation of the CIA’s “torture paradigm” does not violate the 1984 Torture Convention, at least as Washington interprets it. Alfred McCoy points out that the highly sophisticated CIA paradigm, based on the “KGB’s most devastating torture technique,” keeps primarily to mental torture, not crude physical torture, which is considered less effective in turning people into pliant vegetables. McCoy writes that the Reagan administration carefully revised the international Torture Convention “with four detailed diplomatic ‘reservations’ focused on just one word in the convention’s 26-printed pages,” the word “mental.”

These intricately-constructed diplomatic reservations re-defined torture, as interpreted by the United States, to exclude sensory deprivation and self-inflicted painÑthe very techniques the CIA had refined at such great cost.” When Clinton sent the UN Convention to Congress for ratification in 1994, he included the Reagan reservations.

The President and Congress therefore exempted the core of the CIA torture paradigm from the US interpretation of the Torture Convention; and those reservations, McCoy observes, were “reproduced verbatim in domestic legislation enacted to give legal force to the UN Convention.” That is the “political land mine” that “detonated with such phenomenal force” in the Abu Ghraib scandal and in the shameful Military Commissions act that was passed with bipartisan support in 2006.

Accordingly, after the first exposure of Washington’s resort to torture, constitutional law professor Sanford Levinson observed that it could perhaps be justified in terms of the “interrogator-friendly” definition of torture adopted by Reagan and Clinton in their revision of international human rights law.9

Bush, of course, went beyond his predecessors in authorizing prima facie violations of international law, and several of his extremist innovations were struck down by the Courts. While Obama, like Bush, eloquently affirms our unwavering commitment to international law, he seems intent on substantially reinstating the extremist Bush measures. In the important case of Boumediene v. Bush in June 2008, the Supreme Court rejected as unconstitutional the Bush administration claim that prisoners in Guantanamo are not entitled to the right of habeas corpus.

Glenn Greenwald reviews the aftermath. Seeking to “preserve the power to abduct people from around the world” and imprison them without due process, the Bush administration decided to ship them to Bagram, treating “the Boumediene ruling, grounded in our most basic constitutional guarantees, as though it was some sort of a silly game — fly your abducted prisoners to Guantanamo and they have constitutional rights, but fly them instead to Bagram and you can disappear them forever with no judicial process.” Obama adopted the Bush position, “filing a brief in federal court that, in two sentences, declared that it embraced the most extremist Bush theory on this issue,” arguing that prisoners flown to Bagram from anywhere in the world — in the case in question, Yemenis and Tunisians captured in Thailand and the UAE — “can be imprisoned indefinitely with no rights of any kind — as long as they are kept in Bagram rather than Guantanamo.”

In March, a Bush-appointed federal judge “rejected the Bush/Obama position and held that the rationale of Boumediene applies every bit as much to Bagram as it does to Guantanamo.” The Obama administration announced that it would appeal the ruling, thus placing Obama’s Department of Justice “squarely to the Right of an extremely conservative, pro-executive-power, Bush 43-appointed judge on issues of executive power and due-process-less detentions,” in radical violation of Obama’s campaign promises and earlier stands.10

The case of Rasul v Rumsfeld appears to be following a similar trajectory. The plaintiffs charged that Rumsfeld and other high officials were responsible for their torture in Guantanamo, where they were sent after they were captured by Uzbeki warlord Rashid Dostum. Dostum is a notorious thug who was then a leader of the Northern Alliance, the Afghan faction supported by Russia, Iran, India, Turkey, and the Central Asian states, joined by the US as it attacked Afghanistan in October 2001. Dostum then turned him over to US custody, allegedly for bounty money. The plaintiffs claimed that they had traveled to Afghanistan to offer humanitarian relief. The Bush administration sought to have the case dismissed. Obama’s Department of Justice filed a brief supporting the Bush position that government officials are not liable for torture and other violations of due process in this case, because the Courts had not yet clearly established the rights that prisoners enjoy.11

It is also reported that Obama intends to revive military commissions, one of the more severe violations of the rule of law during the Bush years. There is a reason. “Officials who work on the Guant‡namo issue say administration lawyers have become concerned that they would face significant obstacles to trying some terrorism suspects in federal courts. Judges might make it difficult to prosecute detainees who were subjected to brutal treatment or for prosecutors to use hearsay evidence gathered by intelligence agencies.”12 A serious flaw in the criminal justice system, it appears.

There is much debate about whether torture has been effective in eliciting information — the assumption being, apparently, that if it is effective then it may be justified. By the same argument, when Nicaragua captured US pilot Eugene Hasenfuss in 1986 after shooting down his plane delivering aid to Reagan’s contra forces, they should not have tried him, found him guilty, and then sent him back to the US, as they did. Rather, they should have applied the CIA torture paradigm to try to extract information about other terrorist atrocities being planned and implemented in Washington, no small matter for a tiny and poor country under terrorist attack by the global superpower. And Nicaragua should certainly have done the same if they had been able to capture the chief terrorism coordinator, John Negroponte, then Ambassador in Honduras, later appointed counterterrorism Czar, without eliciting a murmur. Cuba should have done the same if they had been able to lay hands on the Kennedy brothers. There is no need to bring up what victims should have done to Kissinger, Reagan, and other leading terrorist commanders, whose exploits leave al-Qaeda far in the distance, and who doubtless had ample information that could have prevented further “ticking bombs.”

Such considerations, which abound, never seem to arise in public discussion. Accordingly, we know at once how to evaluate the pleas about valuable information.

There is, to be sure, a response: our terrorism, even if surely terrorism, is benign, deriving as it does from the city on the hill. Perhaps the most eloquent exposition of this thesis was presented by New Republic editor Michael Kinsley, a respected spokesman of “the left.” America’s Watch (Human Rights Watch) had protested State Department confirmation of official orders to Washington’s terrorist forces to attack “soft targets” — undefended civilian targets — and to avoid the Nicaraguan army, as they could do thanks to CIA control of Nicaraguan airspace and the sophisticated communications systems provided to the contras. In response, Kinsley explained that US terrorist attacks on civilian targets are justified if they satisfy pragmatic criteria: a “sensible policy [should] meet the test of cost-benefit analysis,” an analysis of “the amount of blood and misery that will be poured in, and the likelihood that democracy will emerge at the other end”13 — “democracy” as US elites determine. His thoughts elicited no comment, to my knowledge, apparently deemed acceptable. It would seem to follow, then, that US leaders and their agents are not culpable for conducting such sensible policies in good faith, even if their judgment might sometimes be flawed.

Perhaps culpability would be greater, by prevailing moral standards, if it were discovered that Bush administration torture cost American lives. That is, in fact, the conclusion drawn by US Major Matthew Alexander [pseudonym], one of the most seasoned interrogators in Iraq, who elicited “the information that led to the US military being able to locate Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the head of al-Qa’ida in Iraq,” correspondent Patrick Cockburn reports. Alexander expresses only contempt for the harsh interrogation methods: “The use of torture by the US,” he believes, not only elicits no useful information but “has proved so counter-productive that it may have led to the death of as many US soldiers as civilians killed in 9/11.” From hundreds of interrogations, Alexander discovered that foreign fighters came to Iraq in reaction to the abuses at Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, and that they and their domestic allies turned to suicide bombing and other terrorist acts for the same reason.14

There is also mounting evidence that Cheney-Rumsfeld torture created terrorists. One carefully studied case is that of Abdallah al-Ajmi, who was locked up in Guantanamo on the charge of “engaging in two or three fire fights with the Northern Alliance.” He ended up in Afghanistan after having failed to reach Chechnya to fight against the Russian invasion. After four years of brutal treatment in Guantanamo, he was returned to Kuwait. He later found his way to Iraq, and in March 2008 drove a bomb-laden truck into an Iraqi military compound, killing himself and 13 soldiers — “the single most heinous act of violence committed by a former Guantanamo detainee,” the Washington Post reports, the direct result of his abusive imprisonment, his Washington lawyer concludes.15

All much as a reasonable person would expect.

Another standard pretext for torture is the context: the “war on terror” that Bush declared after 9/11, a “crime against humanity” carried out with “wickedness and awesome cruelty,” as Robert Fisk reported. That crime rendered traditional international law “quaint” and “obsolete,” Bush was advised by his legal counsel Alberto Gonzales, later appointed Attorney-General. The doctrine has been widely reiterated in one or another form in commentary and analysis.

The 9/11 attack was doubtless unique, in many respects. One is where the guns were pointing: typically it is in the opposite direction. In fact that was the first attack of any consequence on the national territory since the British burned down Washington in 1814. Another unique feature is the scale of terror by a non-state actor. But horrifying as it was, it could have been worse. Suppose that the perpetrators had bombed the White House, killed the president and established a vicious military dictatorship that killed 50-100,000 people and tortured 700,000, set up a huge international terror center that carried out assassinations and helped impose comparable military dictatorships elsewhere, and implemented economic doctrines that destroyed the economy so radically that the state had to virtually take it over a few years later. That would have been a lot worse than 9/11 2001. And it happened, in what Latin Americans often call “the first 9/11,” in 1973. The numbers have been changed to per capita equivalents, a realistic way of measuring crimes. Responsibility traces straight back to Washington. Accordingly, the — quite appropriate — analogy is out of consciousness, while the facts are consigned to the “abuse of reality” that the na•ve call history.

It should also be recalled that Bush did not declare the “war on terror”; he re-declared it. Twenty years earlier, the Reagan administration came into office declaring that a centerpiece of its foreign policy would be a war on terror, “the plague of the modern age” and “a return to barbarism in our time,” to sample the fevered rhetoric of the day. That war on terror has also been deleted from historical consciousness, because the outcome cannot readily be incorporated into the canon: hundreds of thousands slaughtered in the ruined countries of Central America and many more elsewhere. Among them an estimated 1.5 million in the terrorist wars sponsored in neighboring countries by Reagan’s favored ally apartheid South Africa, which had to defend itself from Nelson Mandela’s African National Congress, one of the more world’s “more notorious terrorist groups,” Washington determined in 1988. In fairness, it should be added that 20 years later Congress voted to remove the ANC from the list of terrorist organizations, so that Mandela is now at last able to enter the US without obtaining a waiver from the government.16

The reigning doctrine is sometimes called “American exceptionalism.” It is nothing of the sort. It is probably close to universal among imperial powers. France was hailing its “civilizing mission” while the French Minister of War called for “exterminating the indigenous population” of Algeria. Britain’s nobility was a “novelty in the world,” John Stuart Mill declared, while urging that this angelic power delay no longer in completing its liberation of India. This classic essay on humanitarian intervention was written shortly after the public revelation of Britain’s horrifying atrocities in suppressing the 1857 Indian rebellion. The conquest of the rest of India was in large part an effort to gain a monopoly of opium for Britain’s huge narcotrafficking enterprise, by far the largest in world history, designed primarily to compel China to accept Britain’s manufactured goods.

Similarly, there is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Japanese militarists who were bringing an “earthly paradise” to China under benign Japanese tutelage, as they carried out the rape of Nanking. History is replete with similar glorious episodes.

As long as such “exceptionalist” theses remain firmly implanted, the occasional revelations of the “abuse of history” can backfire, serving to efface terrible crimes. The My Lai massacre was a mere footnote to the vastly greater atrocities of the post-Tet pacification programs, ignored while indignation focused on this single crime. Watergate was doubtless criminal, but the furor over it displaced incomparably worse crimes at home and abroad — the FBI-organized assassination of black organizer Fred Hampton as part of the infamous COINTELPRO repression, or the bombing of Cambodia, to mention two egregious examples. Torture is hideous enough; the invasion of Iraq is a far worse crime. Quite commonly, selective atrocities have this function.

Historical amnesia is a dangerous phenomenon, not only because it undermines moral and intellectual integrity, but also because it lays the groundwork for crimes that lie ahead.

1 Jonathan Landay, “Abusive tactics used to seek Iraq-al Qaida link,” McClatchy news, April 21. Gordon Trowbridge, “Levin: Iraq link goal of torture,” Detroit News, April 22, 2009.

2 Reginald Horsman, Expansion and American Indian Policy (Michigan State, 1967); William Earl Weeks, John Quincy Adams and American Global Empire (Kentucky, 1992).

3 On the record of Providentialist justifications for the most shocking crimes, and its more general role in forging “the American idea,” see Nicholas Guyatt, Providence and the Invention of the United States, 1607-1876 (Cambridge 2007).

4 Cited by Lars Schoultz, That Infernal Little Cuban Republic (North Carolina, 2009).

5 Ibid. Alfred McCoy, Policing America’s Empire (Wisconsin, 2009).

6 McCoy, A Question of Torture (Metropolitan, 2006). Also McCoy, “The U.S. Has a History of Using Torture,” Harbury (Beacon, 2005). Jane Mayer, “The Battle for a Country’s Soul,” NY Review, Aug. 14, 2008. 7 News and Comment, Jan. 24, 2009,

8 Schoultz, Comparative Politics, Jan. 1981. Herman, in Chomsky and Herman, Political Economy of Human Rights I, ch. 2.1.1 (South End, 1979); Herman, Real Terror Network, 1 (South End, 1982), 26ff.

9 McCoy, “US has a history.” Levinson, “Torture in Iraq & the Rule of Law in America,” Daedalus, Summer 2004.

10 Greenwald, “Obama and habeas corpus — then and now,”

11 Daphne Eviatar, “Obama Justice Department Urges Dismissal of Another Torture Case,” Washington Independent, March 12, 2009,

12 William Glaberson, “U.S. May Revive Guantanamo Military Courts,” NYT, May 1, 2009;

13 Kinsley, Wall Street Journal, March 26, 1987.

14 Cockburn, “Torture? It probably killed more Americans than 9/11,” Independent, 6 April, 2009.

15 Anonymous (Rajiv Chandrasekaran), “From Captive to Suicide Bomber,” WP, Feb. 22, 2009.

16 Joseba Zulaika and William Douglass, Terror and Taboo (Routledge, 1996). Jesse Holland, AP, May 9, 2009. NYT.

kenneyandGalloway.jpg image by aidanski Pretty soon psychiatrists will be the only people qualified to report the news.

As the planet goes slowly insane, we were treated this week to a sorry vignette from the lunatic villas of our own country. George Galloway was finally and officially refused entry into Canada. The bureaucratic reason was that the British MP is a security threat.-What was he planning to do, kick a Mountie in the shins, sneak into a hockey game without a ticket?-

The real reason is that he opposes this country’s one-sided policy with respect to Palestine and the war in Afghanistan.-

Galloway did have a few supporters though, including Conrad Black, who now covers the Inmate Beat for the National Post. Black wrote that although Galloway was “a magnificent absurdity” he would provide good “entertainment” value if allowed in.-

Now that Conrad has made such a fine contribution to the Post, readers are wondering: Are theatre reviews from Garth Drabinsky next, perhaps investment tips from Bernie Madoff? Maybe Martha Stewart could do a nice behind-the-bars feature after taking the boys some home-made cookies?

While we were denying free speech to a five-times elected British MP, we were extending it to a convicted felon who renounced his Canadian citizenship before being caught with his entire body in the corporate cookie jar.And there is this little item for those who think Galloway really is a security threat. We gave security clearance and a job to a guy at one of our airports who was straight out of the Sopranos. As Auditor General Sheila Fraser pointed out, this choirboy was being investigated for a murder related to drug smuggling at a major airport! But rest easy. We would surely have weeded him out if he had planned on giving a speech.

No, George was just too much of an embarrassment to Canada’s shameful behaviour toward the Palestinian people. After 1,453 of them were slaughtered in Gaza by the Israeli Defence Forces, including more than 400 women and children, Canada had nothing to say about it.

We had nothing to say about it when the United Nations condemned Israel for its super-violent Gaza operation, noting the verified reports of Israeli abuses were “too numerous to list.”

We had nothing to say when Israeli newspapers published accounts of IDF soldiers who reported that there was a “permissive” attitude toward killing civilians during the assault. As one IDF squad commander put it in the New York Times, “What I felt was, there was a lot of thirst for blood.”

We had nothing to say about it when the Israeli military was forced to condemn as “unacceptable” shocking images printed on T-shirts ordered by some IDF recruits to commemorate the end of basic training.- As was reported at the time, “One of them bore the image of a pregnant Arab woman with a bull’s-eye superimposed on her belly, along with the slogan, ’1 shot, 2 kills.’ “-

The Israeli army condemned the practice, sort of: “This type of humour is unacceptable. Commanders are instructed to use disciplinary tools against those who produce T-shirts of this type.”- Humour?

As for Afghanistan, where our soldiers are dying so that certain sectors of that society may legally rape their wives, George might have had a few things to say about the kind of democracy we are spreading so sanctimoniously.

I look forward to that great champion of free speech, Jason Kenney, demolishing this troublesome fellow in a public debate.


Wajahat Ali , The Guardian

21As the world witnesses Muslims frequently embracing “Islamic” political parties in the Middle East, many ominously foresee this trend as an inevitable threat to “the West.”

This contentious issue anchored last week’s prestigious Doha Debates moderated by veteran BBC journalist Tim Sebastian in Qatar, which hosts controversial topics in front of a diverse, engaged audience of 350 people. The motion “This House Believes that Political Islam is a Threat to the West” was defeated by 51% to 49% following a vote from the passionate audience, which included several members from the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow conference who were invited to observe and participate.

In support of the motion, Maajid Nawaz, a former leader of the radical Hizb ut-Tahir who has since totally renounced his affiliations, stressed that Muslims and Islam are not inherently undemocratic or extremist, but rather the modern politicisation of Islam creates a dehumanising ideology soaked in separatism and violence. As he told me after the debate, “Political Islam is an ideology. They believe in exporting this divisive ideology to Muslims in the West… terrorists emerge from these parties. They don’t believe in our same democratic values.”

However, Shadi Hamid, a research fellow at Stanford University debating against the motion, disagreed: “With the exception of Hamas or Hizballah, every single mainstream Islamic party has renounced violence.”

Hamid’s debating partner, Sarah Joseph, Editor of the Muslim lifestyle magazine Emel, won over the audience by vocalizing her frustration at the nebulous and generalized definitions of “the West” and “political Islam.”

Meanwhile, Yahya Pallavicini, an Italian Imam and government adviser, argued for the motion lamenting the misuse of religion by Islamist political parties who selfishly hijack theology to “legitimise violence” and demonise women.

The debate highlighted a glaring problem when discussing this powder-keg issue. Namely, these conversations routinely obfuscate the highly complex and diverse citizenry of the world by carelessly lumping them into simplistic categories, such as “the West” and “Political Islamists,” purely for the sake of rhetorical convenience and ideological propagation.

Following the debate, I asked Maajid Nawaz to clearly define “the West.” He replied: “By ‘the West’ I mean America and Europe.”

It must be comforting for some to know that the late Samuel Huntington’s antiquated model parcelling the world into fictitious, neatly carved regions is still the hallmark for enlightened debates on global relations.

To be fair, the side arguing against the motion did not articulate the complex variety of “political Islam” either. Instead, they spent an inordinate amount of time on Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood as a model of non-violent Islamism.

Without nuance, one can never understand the difference in the mindset between mainstream, practicing Muslims engaging the political arena, such as Muslim Americans for Obama, as opposed to certain “political Islamists, ” such as Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood. After the debate, Hamid offered clarification: “For the latter, Islam is the primary motivator for their politics. They want to see Islam and Islamic law play a larger role in public policy.” They are unlike the former who merely vote like other Americans citizens based on their candidates’ respective platforms, instead of a passionate desire to implement Sharia.

Sadly, many incorrectly equate the vastly different intentions of both groups merely due to their tangential nexus of being identified as “Muslim.”

Moreover, right wing, xenophobic political ideologues, especially in the United States and Europe, recklessly connect all versions of political Islam with Al Qaeda as a dire warning to those who dare let such political parties gain influence and popularity. Haroon Moghal, Director of Public Relations at The Islamic Center at New York University, underscores the key differences: “Al Qaeda has no real political goals. Its main interest seems to be in killing lots of people… men, women, children, Muslim or not.” Mona Al-Oraibi, a British-Iraqi Muslim journalist, concurred and like many in the audience, both Muslim and Non-Muslim, lamented over the fact that “all Islamic political expression is lumped into ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism.”

Also, if all “political Islam” is defined as those who use the democratic system to exalt a polarizing and violent version of Islam inspired by Sharia, then how do we explain Turkey’s successful AKB party: a pro-Western, democratic party that won the popular vote due to its adherence to conservative, Islamic values.

Although Islamist extremists used terrorism in Bali [2002 Hard Rock Café Bombings] and home-grown British citizens committed the atrocious 7/7 bombings in London, those acts should not be wholly imputed to the vast majority of diverse Muslim citizens worldwide committed to peacefully promoting their religious values by proactively engaging the democratic system.

Indeed, if the United States and UK truly embrace the democratic ideals they preach, they must eventually respect the wishes of a voting Muslim population, even one that freely elects hard-line Islamist parties, such as Hamas. The U.S. must engage them – at least diplomatically– as to not commit an affront towards the fundamental principles of free democratic elections or to the Muslim citizens that participate in them.

Furthermore, by supporting repressive regimes such as Hosni Mubarak’s Egypt and Saudi Arabia’s royal family – instead of democratically elected Islamist leaders – the U.S. reveals its glaring hypocrisy and double standards in dealing with the Middle East. This shameful Machiavellian foreign policy follows a disturbing legacy in which U.S. has deliberately circumvented Middle Eastern democracy for its owns selfish initiatives; most notably in overthrowing Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddeq in favor of the brutal tyrant, Muhammad Shah Pahlavi, in 1953. Mosaddeq’s crime? His desire to nationalize his country’s most important resource, oil, and wrest it from U.S. and European control and exploitation.

However, observing the debate with the Muslim Leaders of Tomorrow and hearing their diverse range of opinions, one should emerge hopeful that the bulwark of reactionary, monolithic thought [whether it be “Islamic” or “Western” – whatever you wish those terms to mean] will be stifled by this emerging generation. As Hussein Rashid, a PhD candidate in Harvard University’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, remarked, “One thing to keep in mind is that ‘Islam doesn’t speak, Muslims do.’ It is Muslims who define what Islam says and does, within broad parameters. The new generation is engaged, informed, and articulate. It scares the Islamists, because [the new generation] won’t fall for the ideologues.”

Ultimately, the debates highlights the utter complexity and inter-connectedness of the modern, globalized terrain; one where simplistic talking points no longer suffice to have meaningful discussions about political Islam’s relationship with itself and the world. As with any political ideology and process, the threat or benefit is ultimately derived from its adherents who must wield the power to use it proactively as a moderate, enlightened shield of self-determination rather than a poisonous, lacerating sword of intolerance and separatism.

Haroon Siddiqui , The Toronto Star

3161825399_2c093876f1A presidential inaugural speech is addressed principally to Americans. Barack Obama’s especially had to be, given the economic crisis. He was Reagan-esque in reassuring fellow citizens that the task at hand was hard but not hopeless. Together, they shall overcome.

Still, for a leader who was cheered on virtually by the entire world, he had little to say to it.

Part of what he did say was clear:

America is ready to re-engage the world. He understands, as George W. Bush never did, that “our power alone cannot protect us, nor does it entitle us to do as we please.”

He’d toss out the central tenets of his predecessor’s war on terror: “We reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals.”

He would rededicate the U.S. to “the rule of law and the rights of man.” Yesterday, he suspended the Guantanamo trials for 120 days.

But to Muslims – arguably his most important foreign audience – Obama had multiple, and mixed, messages.

He was resolute, as he needed to be, in warning terrorists: “You cannot outlast us; we will defeat you.”

He did well to say, albeit indirectly, that Muslims are Americans, too: “We are a nation of Christians and Muslims, Jews and Hindus and non-believers.” During the campaign, he had avoided Muslims.

To the larger Muslim world, he issued a clarion call: “We seek a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

But he followed that with a passage that was crisp in its generalities but confusing, or deliberately vague, in context:

“To those leaders around the globe who seek to sow conflict, or blame their society’s ills on the West – know that your people will judge you on what you can build, not what you destroy.

“To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history; but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Which Muslims was he talking about? Al Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah and other non-state actors?

Or the leaders of Iran and Syria, who also blame “the West”?

Or such close American allies as Hosni Mubarak who rules Egypt with a clenched fist?

Or the pro-American oil sheikhs, many of whom are corrupt and almost all of whom squelch domestic dissent?

Something else was jarring.

Obama’s assertion (“we can no longer afford indifference to the suffering outside our borders”), along with one of Senator Dianne Feinstein’s (“the freedom of a people to choose its leaders is the root of liberty”) and Rev. Rick Warren’s prayer (“for every one of our freely elected leaders”) must have sounded hypocritical to Gazans.

They have been starved for electing Hamas in a free and fair election. They have seen official American indifference to their plight, even after the 23-day Israeli onslaught. About 1,300 are dead and 5,000 wounded, a majority of them civilians by some counts.

To dramatize his new approach to Muslims, Obama should consider going to Gaza as soon as possible.

Without having to meet Hamas, he could witness decomposed bodies still being pulled from the rubble of 5,000 homes reportedly destroyed. He could attend some of the funerals and hear the cries of Palestinians. He could sample the foul water from the broken mains.

His visit would balance out his trip last July to Sderot, the Israeli town where he, quite rightly, shared the agony of Israelis traumatized by Hamas rockets.

A trip to Gaza would signal the end of American double standards.

It would certainly be far better received than Obama phoning Mubarak, Jordan’s King Abdullah and the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas, the three most discredited Arab leaders at the moment.

At about the same time as the president was talking to them yesterday, Human Rights Watch of New York was condemning the three, along with the governments of Israel and Saudi Arabia, as well as the ruling mullahs of Iran, for banning or cracking down on public demonstrations in solidarity with the people of Gaza.

Obama will need more than words to meet the challenge he has so eloquently set for himself and the United States.

“The struggle that Anne and her family were fighting against in Germany is what the Palestinians are struggling for today: an unconditional and unequivocal rejection of racism of any kind, be it anti-Jewish, anti-Arab, anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim.  As was the case which led to the deaths of millions of Jews during the Nazi era, today there is widespread passivity and hypocrisy with regards to the Palestinian cause, an intellectual reign of terror”



One of my most comforting memories of youth was curling up in bed reading the simple, but honest words of Anne Frank.   Entrusted with her innermost thoughts, her words spoke directly to me.

Anne shared her fears, pain and moments of happiness with Peter, her companion upstairs in the attic, the secret annex her family were hiding in from the Nazis.   He helped lighten the daily uncertainty.

I too was a teenage girl struggling with my own personal attic, not knowing where I was coming or going.   I was not alone in my struggles. Anne was with me. On March 16, 1944, she writes, “The nicest part is being able to write down all my thoughts and feelings, otherwise I’d absolutely suffocate.”

Years later, backpacking across Europe still trying to find myself, I walked through the streets of Amsterdam. Staring at the crowds of people walking by, I was irrationaly hoped I would find Anne among them.

My memories of Anne have become starker over the last few years, since the Gaza offensive 4 years ago by Israel. I imagined the desolate streets, bombs killing children, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents, cousins, loved ones, friends. I also think of the teenage girls who have lost everything. Who will be there for them as Anne was for me?

The struggle that Anne and her family were fighting against in Germany is what the Palestinians are struggling for today: an unconditional and unequivocal rejection of racism of any kind, be it anti-Jewish, anti-Arab, anti-Christian, or anti-Muslim.

As was the case which led to the deaths of millions of Jews during the Nazi era, today there is widespread passivity and hypocrisy with regards to the Palestinian cause.  Whether it be from the media or governments, there is an intellectual reign of terror as it relates to this political struggle.

We should know better-history has taught us that the media coverage and lack of accountability contributed to the escalation of the Nazi killing machine.

Here is one example of distorted media reporting: we were led to believe that the thousands of people on the streets demonstrating agains the Israeli Gaza offensive were only Muslims.

This is not so. They were the citizens of the world, mobilizing in the name of humanity against an intolerable injustice.   They are were speaking out for those who had died, those suffering  in complete and utter misery and those who have lost everything.

And on August 4, 1944, another family lost everything. As the people of the attic were going about their daily routine, the door knocked-the people in the attic were betrayed.

Are we going to let that door knock again or are going to stop the betrayal of the Palestinian people. It requires nothing short of a global movement such as the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa.

This Non-Violent Global Resistance Movement will be the struggle that we must undertake to free the Palestinians from their attic. It is an appeal for their basic and fundamental human rights.

And I truly believe this is what Anne would have wanted.

jon_stewartby Sheila Musaji

The Daily Show with Jon Stewart may be “fake news” or “comedy” to some, but regularly gets to the point on current issues much more than the “real” news.

Last night, January 5th, was the shows first night back after a holiday break, and it featured in its opening segment a brilliant capsule presentation of the current Gaza conflict and the way in which it has been presented in the media.

Cutting through the heaps of hysteria, blather and partisanship, Stewart in under 5 minutes cut to the very heart of the matter without pomp or pretense.

Stewart’s segment on Gaza put every other media outlet to shame and is essential viewing for those who have become tired of the endless propaganda being beamed out on the airwaves.

Stewart repeatedly questioned the one-sided media treatment of Israel, running clips of Republicans and Democrats alike refusing to say a bad word. He even challenged the nights interview guest, NBC’s David Gregory of Meet the Press, on the point.

The program will be repeated tonight, Tuesday, January 6th at 8:00 PM on Comedy Central and Saturday morning, January 10th at 7:00 AM.

For those who do not have access to the cable channel, the show is also available for view on The Daily Show’s website, click here:

Watch the episode if you missed it, and then go to The Daily Show Message Board on God, Faith, and Religion (re: Israel) and write a comment. They have already received over 2,500 comments and most are negative. Let Jon Stewart, and more importantly his network bosses know that you support free speech and honest journalism.

As I reported in the article Saint Louis Journalist Faces Criticism for Reporting on Gaza Demonstration this is a effort to stifle the voices of dissent. Journalists are being kept out of Gaza by Israel, we don’t want to see American journalists kept from even reporting on the fact that there are Americans who oppose this action.

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