MPO

“When people refuse to call a military coup d’État by its real name, and when most media avert their eyes, the hour for critical conscience has struck”

 

For two years now I have often been asked why I have not visited Egypt, where I had been forbidden entry for 18 years. Just as often I repeated that on the basis of the information I was able to obtain—confirmed by Swiss and European officials—the Egyptian army remained firmly in control and had never left the political arena.

I never shared the widespread “revolutionary” enthusiasm. Nor did I believe that events in Egypt, any more than in Tunisia, were the result of a sudden historical upheaval. The peoples of these two countries suffered from dictatorship, from economic and social crisis; they rose up in the name of dignity, social justice and freedom. Their awakening, their “intellectual revolution,” and their courage must be saluted. But to accept or justify a simple-minded, linear explanation of the political, geostrategic and economic issues would have been totally unconscionable. Nearly three years ago, in a book and then in a series of articles, I alerted my readers to a body of troubling evidences, and to the underlying geopolitical and economic considerations that were often missing from mainstream political and media analyses, and that insisted on submitting the euphoria that accompanied the “Arab spring” to critical analysis.

The Egyptian army has not returned to politics for the simple reason that it has never left. The fall of Hosni Mubarak was a military coup d’État that allowed a new generation of officers to enter the political scene in a new way, from behind the curtain of a civilian government. In anarticle published on June 29 2012 I noted an Army high command declaration that the presidential election was temporary, for a six-month to one-year period (its title made the premonition explicit: “An election for nothing?”). The American administration had monitored the entire process: its objective ally in Egypt over the past fifty years has been the army, not the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). The latest revelations (see the International Herald Tribune , July 5, and Le Monde, July 6) confirm what was already clear: the decision to overthrow President Mohamed Morsi had been made well before June 30. A conversation between President Morsi and General al-Sisi indicated that the head of the country’s military had planned the overthrow and imprisonment of the president weeks before the popular upheaval that would justify the military coup “in the name of the people’s will.” A clever strategy! Orchestrate demonstrations involving millions of people in order to make believe that the army truly cares about the people! Coup d’État, second act.

How then to analyze the immediate reaction of the American administration, which avoided using the term “coup d’État” (which, if accepted, would mean it could not provide financial support to the new regime)? A curious position for a government that in its ‘surprise’ uses exactly the right words to exert full political, economic and legal leverage over the coup makers. European governments will follow suit, of course: the army has responded “democratically” to the call of the people. It’s all too good to be true! Magically, chronic blackouts, gasoline and natural gas shortages came to an abrupt end after the fall of the president. It was as though people had been deprived of the basic necessities in order to drive them into the streets. Amnesty International observed the strange attitude of the armed forces, which did not intervene in certain demonstrations (even though it was closely monitoring them), allowing the violence to spiral out of control, as though by design. The armed forces then accompanied its intervention with a saturation public relations campaign, providing the international media with photographs taken from its helicopters, depicting the Egyptian population as it cheered and celebrated their military saviors, as confirmed in Le Monde.

Nothing, then, has really changed: the “Arab spring” and the Egyptian “revolution” continue under the guiding hand of General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi. Trained by the United States Army, the general has kept close contact with his American counterparts. The New International Herald Tribune (July 6-7) informs us that General al-Sisi is well known to the Americans, as well as to the government of Israel, with which he “and his office”, we are told, continued to “communicate and to coordinate” even while Mohamed Morsi occupied the presidential palace. Al-Sisi had earlier served in the Military Intelligence Services in the North Sinai, acting as go-between for the American and Israeli authorities. It would hardly be an understatement to say that Israel, like the United States, could only look favorably upon developments in Egypt.

What, after the fact, is surprising, is the simple-mindedness, the lack of experience and the nature of the mistakes made by Mohamed Morsi, by his allies, and by the Muslim Brotherhood as an organization. For the last three years, I have been sharply critical of the thinking, action and strategies of the “Liberty and Justice” party, as well as of the MB leadership (over the last twenty-five years, my analyses and commentary have been and remain sharply critical). The trap seemed glaringly obvious; my writings on the subject (book, and articles written between March and December 2012) pointed to grave shortcomings. President Morsi cannot be fairly criticized for not doing all he could to establish relations with the opposition, either by inviting it to join the government or to take part in a broad national dialogue. But his approaches were rejected out of hand, with the opposition bitterly opposing his every initiative. The fact remains, however, that his management of the business of state, his failure to listen to the voice of the people and even to some of his trusted advisors, his exclusivist relationship with the highest echelons of the MB leadership, his hasty and ill-considered decisions (some of which he later acknowledged as errors) must be unsparingly criticized. But on a more fundamental level, his greatest fault has been the utter absence of a political vision and the lack of clearly established political and economic priorities, his failure to struggle against corruption and poverty, and his egregious mismanagement of social and educational affairs. The demands of the International Monetary Fund (and its deliberate procrastination) placed the state in an untenable position: the Morsi government believed that the international institution would support it. It is only today, now that President Morsi has fallen, that the IMF appears prepared to remove what were previously insurmountable obstacles. This, coming a mere three days after the overthrow of a democratically elected government.

The naivety of the president, of his government and of the Muslim Brotherhood has been stunning. After sixty years of opposition and military repression (with the direct and indirect benediction of the US Administration and the West), how could they possibly have imagined that their former adversaries would support their rise to power, invoking democracy all the while? Did they learn nothing from their own history, from Algeria in 1992, and, more recently, from Palestine? I have been and remain critical, both of the (superficial) content of their program and the ambiguous strategy of President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood (compromise with the armed forces and the United States, surrender on the economy and the Palestinian cause, etc.) but their lack of political awareness has been quite simply stupefying. To hear President Morsi tell General al-Sisi, a mere ten days before his overthrow, that he might well demote him (after all, he had appointed him) and that the Americans would “never permit a coup d’État” was as mind-boggling as it was surrealistic.

Some observers were startled to see the salafis , in particular the an-Nour party, join forces with the military alongside the “democratic” faction opposed to President Morsi. Were the outcome not so tragic, it would be tempting to label it farce. The Western media were quick to label the “Islamist” salafis as allies of the Muslim Brotherhood while; in point of fact, they were and are allies of the regimes of the Gulf States, who are in turn the regional allies of the United States. The idea was to undermine the religious credibility of the Muslim Brotherhood, and to force it into extreme positions. At the moment of President Morsi’s overthrow, they not only betrayed him but revealed their strategy and their strategic alliances for the entire world to see. It is hardly surprising to note that the first countries to recognize the new coup d’État regime were the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, whose powerful organizations provided, and still provide, direct and indirect financial support to the Egyptian salafis (as well as to their Tunisian counterparts). A superficial reading might lead one to believe that Saudi Arabia and Qatar support the Muslim Brotherhood; in reality they are the mainstays of American power in the region. The strategy is to sow division among the various political Islamic trends, to foment confrontation and to destabilize. This same strategy focuses on contradictions between Sunni political organizations and exacerbates divisions between Shia and Sunni. The United States and Europe have no quarrel with the political Islam of the salafi literalists of the Gulf States (and their denial of democracy, their non-respect of minorities, their discrimination against women, and the application of a strict “Islamic” penal code described as “shari’a”); they protect their geostrategic and regional economic interests while their repressive and retrograde domestic policies, as long as they are applied domestically, could not matter less to the West.

It’s all about keeping up appearances. Millions of Egyptians rallied in support of the “second revolution” and appealed to the armed forces, which were quick to respond. They now promise to turn over power to the civilians. The leader of the opposition, Mohamed al-Baradei, has played a central role in the process, and his prominence has been growing apace. He has been in close touch with the youthful cyber-dissidents and the April 6 Movement since 2008; documents of the U.S. State Department, which I quote in my book, point to his close connection with the American administration. His visibility has been promoted by a clever strategy, and even though he has declined the position of Prime Minister (and announced that he will not be a candidate for president, which has yet to be seen), he has emerged as an important player on the Egyptian political scene. He has notoriously—and democratically—defended the arrest of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the closing of their television stations and the entire range of repressive measures imposed on citizens who continue to support President Morsi, even though they may not be MB members (some are supporting democratic legitimacy). The weeks to come will provide us with more details about plans for fleshing out the civilian character of this particular military state. It must be remembered that for decades the Egyptian army has managed close to 40% of the national economy as well as being the leading recipient of an annual American aid package of $1.5 billion.

An elected president has been toppled by a military coup d’État. There is no other word for it. The people, in their legitimate desire for a better life and for survival, for justice and dignity, have been unwitting participants in a media-military operation of the highest order. The situation is grave; the silence of Western governments tells us all we need to know. There has been no “Arab spring”; the perfume of its revolutions burns the eyes like tear gas.

In our day, it is not unusual for writer who does not accept the official consensus to be dismissed as a “conspiracy theorist,” for his analysis to be rejected before studying the facts upon which it is based. Are we to conclude that in our globalizing age, with its networks of national security policies and structures and its new means of communication, political scheming, malicious stratagems, manipulation of information and of peoples are a thing of the past? “Conspiracy theorist” is a new insult devised for those who think the wrong thoughts, who don’t fit in; paranoids, people who ascribe occult powers to certain states (the United States, the European countries, Israel, the Arab and African dictatorships, etc.) that they really do not possess. We must forget what we learned about the conspiracies that have left their mark on the history of Latin America and Africa (from the assassination of Salvador Allende to the elimination of Thomas Sankara); we must overlook the lies that led to the invasion of Iraq and to the massacres in Gaza (both presented as legitimate defense); we must say nothing about the West’s alliance with and support for the literalist salafis of the Gulf sheikhdoms; close our eyes to the benefit for Israel of regional instability and of the most recent coup d’État in Egypt. We must remain naïve and credulous if we are not to notice that the United States and Europe on the one hand, and Russia and China on the other, have agreed to disagree on Syria, and that the 170 Syrians who die each day count for nothing against the strategic and economic interests of the Great Powers.

Our obligation is to stick to the facts, to avoid oversimplification. The polar opposite of an over-simplified reading of events is not “conspiracy theorizing” but that of intelligence informed by history, by hard facts and by a detailed analysis of conflicting interests. The interpretation presented here may well be wrong or inexact, but substantial and verifiable evidence has repeatedly confirmed it. From those who have criticized or challenged our analysis, we look forward to a fact-based counter-analysis far from denigrations and facile slogans. When people refuse to call a military coup d’État by its real name, and when most media avert their eyes, the hour for critical conscience has struck.

You are not going to reform any society if you don’t love the people with whom you live.  You should be a mercy to the worlds.  How can you be if you come with minds that judge and not with hearts that love?

 

Highlighting the Islamic teachings of giving and contribution, a leading Muslim intellectual has called on the Muslim community in Canada to play a positive role in promoting the welfare of their society.

“The very essence of faith is not to look at yourself through your weaknesses but look at yourself through your potential power,” Professor Tariq Ramadan told the audience at the annual winter dinner of the Islamic Institute of Toronto.

“The power of this faith is to have a positive perception of yourself.”

In a speech themed “Reflections from the Heart” last week, Ramadan spoke of the moment when Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) received the first revelation from Allah, through the Angel Jibreel.

“You come to the experience of the Prophet, peace be on him, and you get the sense of this journey,” he said.

“Allah took him from a very specific situation and, step by step, helped him to understand, through the revelation, the very essence of our religion.

“The first thing that was converted with Jibreel coming to the Prophet was the self-perception – what you think you can’t do alone, with Him you can,” he added.

“This is the power of faith – you can do it, bismi rabik.

“If you think of yourselves in the light of the others, if you think of yourself in the light of the attacks and responding to questions coming from people, you end up at the periphery of your religion,” he said.

“You end up responding to questions coming from outside and not at the heart of your tradition.

“It is important not to be focused and obsessed with ‘what shall I say if I am asked’ but what should I understand when I am alone with Allah.”

Liberation

Ramadan spoke of the ‘conversions’ that Muslims should go through to experience the essence of their religion.

“The power and the strength that came to the Prophet, peace be on him, as the chosen, the purified, as the beloved is in fact the understanding that Allah took him step by step and made him understand the essence of Islam,” Ramadan said.

“The very essence of this religion is liberation.

“Change the way you look at yourself, change the way you look at the world and change the way you look at the society,” he told the audience.

The second conversion Ramadan mentioned in his speech was how Muslims relate to the natural world.

“Second, look at the world around you. You have in this country, nature and this environment – celebrate this,” he said.

“But to celebrate the environment, it means you have to study.

“There is nothing in the world that is not prostrating to Allah. If you look at them with your minds you do not get it but you get it if you look at them with your heart,” he said.

Ramadan is one of Europe’s leading Muslim thinkers and has often condemned terrorism and extremism.

An author of 20 books and 700 articles on Islam, he was named by Time magazine as one of 100 innovators of the 21st century for his work on creating an independent European Islam.

Serving Society

Professor Ramadan passionately spoke of how Canadian Muslims should relate to the society.

“Change the way you look at the society – don’t try to talk to the rich and powerful to change, be close to the poor – these are your people,” he said.

“When you serve the poor you educate the heart,” Ramadan said.

“If you serve somebody who has nothing, it means that you might be close to Allah.”

Professor Ramadan then asked the audience to reflect on their presence in Canada.

“You should know why you have to thank Allah for being in this country,” he said.

“You can keep on thinking about the countries of origin that you left but you have to convert this into something – thank Allah for being in Canada.

“And if you don’t know why you have to thank him, you must start checking and looking for an answer.”

The prominent intellectual also spoke of the role of Canadian Muslims in their society.

“You are not in Canada by accident; there are many things in this society that are better than in Muslim majority societies – say thank you and start working,” he said.

“The best way to thank Allah is to serve the people in all the fields and it has to come with generosity,” he urged.

“To believe is to give – to give to anyone who is in need; to give to women who are facing discrimination or violence – we give and we support and we protect.”

Prof. Ramadan concluded his presentation by asking the crowd to carefully consider their relationship to their fellow citizens.

“You are not going to reform any society if you don’t love the people with whom you live,” he said.

“Some of us Muslims are in this binary vision; we are Muslims – we are good and them – they are not.

“You should be a mercy to the worlds,” Ramadan said. “How can you be if you come with minds that judge and not with hearts that love.

“You will not complete your faith if you don’t love for your fellow human beings what you love for yourself – so in the name of God, serve Him, love and give.”

Muslims make around 2.8 percent of Canada’s 32.8 million population, and Islam is the number one non-Christian faith in the country.

A recent report from the Washington-based Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life said that Muslims are expected to make up 6.6% of Canada’s total population in 2030.

 
Muneeb Nasir
 
Originally published in OnIslam
 

@TariqRamadan #RIS2012

FRIDAY DECEMBER 21

6:15 – 7:00pm

7:30pm

  • Book signing, booth 1223

9:45-11pm

SATURDAY DECEMBER 22

11:00am – 12:30pm

12:30pm

  • Book signing, booth 1223

8:30-9:15pm

9:30pm 

  • Book signing, booth 1223

SUNDAY DECEMBER 23

  • No lectures or book signings

MONDAY DECEMBER 24

2 – 3:30pm

8:30 – 10:00pm

TUESDAY DECEMBER 25

11-12:30pm 

4pm

5:30pm                                                                                                    

  • Islamic Institute of Toronto winter dinner keynote address+ book signing

Promoted at this table: 

*The Centre for Islamic Legislation and Ethics (CILE), White Ribbon Campaign, Muslim Presence, Authors Fred Reed and Monia Mazigh

“In relation to ourselves, to our neighbors and to societies, we must develop counterpowers, spaces of spiritual, intellectual, social, political, cultural and economic resistance”

Men being men, vigilance must be the watchword. In his philosophical essay Human, all too Human, Nietzsche enumerated several of the characteristics of the human being above and beyond religions, philosophies, cultures and beliefs.

They included a hypertrophied ego, a taste for power, gregariousness, pretension, social role-playing, etc.: a never-ending human comedy in which men create illusions, lie to themselves, and deceive themselves and others.

The common man is nothing more than this, claimed Nietzsche; only the exceptional artist can rise above the human condition.

The moral philosophers, from ancient Greece to Kant’s practical reason—by way of the Confucian, Hindu, and Buddhist spiritual traditions, as well as the three monotheistic religions—also affirm that such is the human’s sorry state, the single cardinal difference being their claim that the common woman and man possess the intellectual and ethical capacity to overcome their state.

Humankind is in shadow; if it aspires to full existence and to light, it must seek education and critical intellectual mastery, the counter-power of the individual and collective conscience.

Mankind must be positively and constructively wary of mankind, of their fellow man, of their families, of the members of their faith community, of their fellow-citizens. Depending on whether they are alone or in a group, they are not the same; not the same in a minority as in a majority; not the same in power or in opposition; theirs are not the same victims, the same executioners.

The same persons, wearing different hats, are no longer the same: beware of self, and keep an eye on those like you.

The final verses of the Qur’an, seen in this light, are troubling: at the end of a revelation of light and of the moral horizon, the repeated appeal for the protection of the Unique against mankind delivers up the secret of our societies: with or without God, alone or in society, oppressed or oppressors, we remain human, all too human. Dangerously human.

History is replete with ideologies of freedom, justice, liberation of the downtrodden and the exploited, that have been turned against the very people they had mobilized, or that have reproduced the same logic of exclusion and terror toward those whom they claimed to set free.

No civilization, no political philosophy, no religion can claim a monopoly of its contradictions, of its opportunism, of the hopes dashed, despoiled, manipulated. The liberal and financial illusions of capitalism, the promises of equality and justice of socialism and communism, the moral ideals of the Islamists have been invoked and shown to be empty… All have guilty blood on their hands. No exceptions.

The great capitalist democracies protect their interests and sow death and dictatorship in the name of their “civilizing mission;” the socialist and communist resistance, in the name of justice, as inVietnam(and so often repeated) end up exploiting, killing, torturing.

Yesterday’s victims of extermination, who lay claim to such status, have become today’s oppressors, as withIsrael(and with so many other peoples and ethnic groups around the world).

Muslim leaders, self-proclaimed reformers, Salafi literalists or violent extremists, who had promised the Islamic ideal of peace and justice end up enmeshed in power struggles, conflicts of ego and self-serving interpretations, reproducing little more than repression, the death of intelligence, and the elimination of their opponents.

Grim realities; grim truths.

While we speak of liberating uprisings in the Middle-East and in Africa, while we speak of universal consciousness, while the shared values of democracy or the ideology of the free market and the liberal economy seem to be imposed on all of us, we must remain more than ever vigilant. Those who, in the West, yesterday supported dictators now support the people in the name of the same logic of self-interest.

Those who yesterday supported the peoples may well end up supporting dictators, as in Syria or in the petromonarchies, in the name of dark interests and calculations.

The mass movements, the emotions, the shared illusions are dubious councilors; the crowd can be carried away, can become collectively blind, blinded, and dangerously ignorant, easily manipulated.

The world is a complex place and the influence of the media in its representation and its power of communication and interpretation is a remarkable amplifier of emotions, and of illusions. Instantaneous and mass communication is the mother of mass naivety.

Should we then lose hope? Is there any hope? But to lose hope is as dangerous as to nurture false hope. Where then can we find hope that is responsible?

In relation to ourselves, to our neighbors and to societies, we must develop counter-powers, spaces of spiritual, intellectual, social, political, cultural and economic resistance.

True critical consciousness begins precisely with this essential requirement: an ethics of counter-power that observes and seeks to master and to forestall the slippage of its own ego, the potential betrayals of its sisters and brothers in faith and in struggle.

A counter-power that resists the excesses of power but does not hesitate to identify the latent oppression that slumbers among the minorities, the oppressed and the victims of today.

The ethics of counter-power require an ethical counterpower: in the name of the overreaching principles of freedom, dignity, and justice, the humanity of humankind must be submitted to ethical judgment, one that is never compromising, compromised or selective.

Such a position cannot mean that we flee human society, social or political commitment: quite the contrary. In the light mankind’s destiny, and of its human, all too human characteristics, there can be no question of offering power to those who will abuse it without counter-parties, without requirements.

To power we must hold up the demanding and determined mirror of resistance, and of counter-power, one that will make no concessions, neither to our brothers, nor to our foes.

This is the awareness that, in the final analysis, is the cradle of just and reasonable aspiration, where the oppressed, the poor, women, the excluded, who so often count for almost nothing in the circles of power, emerge as subjects of their own history, and become the motor of historical change.

The power of counter-power is but another name for conscience, a synonym for faith.

Originally published in  the Arab Gulf news and reprinted here with permission of the author.

 

(December 21, 2011) – Muslim Presence announces a rare opportunity to meet Professor Tariq Ramadan at this weekend’s Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention in Toronto.

Ramadan, a leading Islamic thinker was named by Time magazine as one of the most important visionaries of the twenty-first century.He will be signing his books (English and French), including ‘The Quest for Meaning: Developing a Philosophy of Pluralism’ and ‘In the Footsteps of the Prophet: Lessons from the Life of Muhammad,’ at the Muslim Presence booth.

Muslim Presence is also pleased to host two distinguished Canadian Muslim authors for book signings throughout the weekend.

Fred A. Reed, an international journalist and award-winning literary translator, will be signing his latest book, ‘Then We Were One.’ A three-time winner of the Governor General’s Award for translation, plus a nomination in 2009 for his translation of Thierry Hentsch’s Le temps aboli, Empire of Desire. 

Monia Mazigh will be signing her latest publication, ‘Hope and Despair.’ Mazigh was catapulted onto the public stage in 2002 when her husband, Maher Arar, was deported to Syria where he was tortured and held without charge for over a year.

The book signings will take place at times to be listed at the booth from Friday, December 23 to Sunday, December 25.

Muslim Presence will also be running a White Ribbon Campaign at its booth. The White Ribbon Campaign (WRC) is the largest effort in the world of men working to end violence against women.

Attendees at the convention will be asked to take the pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls and wear a white ribbon to signal their commitment to end violence against women.

WHERE: Reviving the Islamic Spirit Convention @ Metro Toronto Convention Centre, South Building Booth number: 1422

WHEN: Friday, December 23 – Sunday, December 25, 2011

TIME: Check booth 1422 for schedule of book signings

Some intellectuals can make a name for themselves; politicians can win the next election by surfing on people’s fears and sense of loss. But they will surely be forgotten by History. Others are prepared to face prejudices, racism and xenophobia with courage and commitment.

 

A young Norwegian has killed dozens of innocent people. Many thought at first—quite naturally these days—that we had witnessed a new Muslim terrorist attack. We had not. Muslims everywhere breathed a sigh of relief. But in Norway, the massacre came as both a shock and a wake-up call. A fundamentalist Christian had murdered his fellow citizens because he believed Norway’s political parties (as well as its self-styled centrist politicians) were betraying the country’s values and culture.  By accepting new immigrants and allowing Muslims to settle in Norway, he claimed, they were—as in so many European countries—destroying Europe’s Christian roots. So he acted to raise awareness, to try to halt the silent “colonization” of the West. One day before the attack, he had posted on the Internet a Manifesto filled with Canadian, American, British and French references to the new threats called “immigration,” “Islam,” “the other,” and non-Westerners in general.

Some Western Muslims, in Europe or America, were simply relieved that Islam was not involved. Some were even happy to point out that Christians can be terrorists as well, as if we were competing to see who is worst: a bizarre attitude. Instead, we should be sending our sincere condolences to the bereaved families and to the Norwegian population as a whole. What happened is unacceptable; it is our duty to side with the victims of any terrorist attack. Killing civilians and innocent people can never be justified. Whether the perpetrators are Jews, Christians, Muslims, or anyone else, such acts must be condemned in the strongest words.

These are sad days indeed. Norway is a peaceful country, unaccustomed to such violence. I want here to pay tribute to all those who died and to condemn these barbaric acts.  

What happened? Who is to blame? The populist and extreme right-wing parties in Norway, as well as in Europe and America, were quick to condemn the killer’s horrible act and to dissociate themselves from it. Timely words, but are they enough? If a young fundamentalist Christian was ready to kill to save his religion and his culture, as he sees it, it is because—for the last ten to fifteen years—he heard, day in day out, that both were in danger. Populist parties are propagating the idea that immigration is destroying the West and that Muslims are not truly Western citizens, even after three or four generations. Equally worrisome has been the attitude and the rhetoric of the traditional parties, from the right as well as from the left, as they very repeat, and thus confirm, the substance of the populist line. In fact they implicitly, and even very explicitly, especially at election time, agree that immigration, Islam and security are the three main problems facing the West. Even though they distance themselves from specific extremist views, they clearly view Islam as a “problem” and not yet a European or American religion. By repeating that integration has failed, that Muslims are retreating into ghettos, that multiculturalism is the wrong choice or by associating the presence of Muslims with the immigration threat they create a toxic climate, which is conducive to the growth of racism and extremist views.

The great majority of politicians from the traditional parties, the populists as well as numerous “progressive” intellectuals, can no longer speak and behave today as if they have no connection with the extremist actions of some fundamentalist or extreme right-wing groups. Western intellectuals must also assume their responsibilities: they have been active agents in creating the sickening atmosphere that is sweeping over the West. But it would be too easy to blame the Tea Party and the Neo-conservatives in the United States, the Conservative Party in Canada, or the populists of Europe if we did not scrutinize the rhetoric of politicians and intellectuals eager to spread biased and simplistic views on Islam, racist statements, hatred of Muslims, or xenophobia as if it was normal to do so, all because Islam and Muslims are such an easy target nowadays. It is normal, and even healthy to criticize Muslims, but it is quite disturbing to see intellectuals, politicians and journalists focusing on the “Islamic factor” as if it explained all our problems.

Instead, they overlook real socioeconomic and political issues such as unemployment, social injustice, discrimination and skewed urban and social policies. They support policies based on fear and then expect their hands to remain clean after an extremist kills innocent people because he has absorbed this very fear. If they are not responsible for the killings, they are surely responsible for fostering both the climate and the ideology that are two of the causes. A self-critical position would be more than welcome. Imperative, in fact.  

The killings in Norway are indeed a wake-up call.  It is time for Western Muslims to stand up, to be vocal and to refuse to be treated as second-class citizens. Instead of seeing themselves as the victims, instead of marginalizing themselves, they should be an integral part of mainstream social, political and economic debates. Islam is a Western religion, that’s a fact. The issue of immigration is another discussion, one that requires a vision for the future. No Western country can survive and prosper without the support of new and young immigrants in the work force. It is clearly not by pandering to fears that the problem is going to be solved. A climate of fear would only leads to isolation and /or fragmentation within the society, and eventually to violent and extremist behavior. The choice is ours: we can use wisdom, or become (explicitly or implicitly) populists. Some intellectuals can make a name for themselves; politicians can win the next election by surfing on people’s fears and sense of loss. But they will surely be forgotten by History. Others are prepared to face prejudices, racism and xenophobia with courage and commitment. They are the visionaries our contemporary times need even though a majority of people is still not aware of it. Sometimes History unfolds in ways that work against people’s short-term impulses—and their collective blindness.

“Today’s serious challenges cry out for concerted action. But the president’s fine, well-written speech runs once more the risk of being badly understood or misunderstood, if it is even heard at all. In the name of democratic transparency, should we not be asking that it be accompanied by something resembling coherence?”

 

Almost two years after his June 2009 speech in Cairo, American president Barack Obama once again addressed the Arab populations of the Middle East and North Africa. This time, he was responding to two major events: the revolutionary upheavals that have shaken the region, and the death of Usama bin Laden. The election of a first “African American president” raised high hopes in majority Muslim countries, due less to Barack Obama’s roots than to a perceived renewal of America’s vision and policies after the dark years of the Bush regime. Where do these hopes stand today?

The current chief executive has proven himself an adept orator and a skilled manipulator of symbols. A change has clearly come about in the United States; the final page of a sinister era has been turned. But optimism has its limits; deeds must be measured against words. Candidate Obama promised to bring the lawlessness exemplified by Guantánamo to an end; to reform discriminatory legislation and to abolish the degrading practice of torture (legitimized in the name of the War on Terror); to wind down the wars in Iraq and in Afghanistan; to advance the Middle East peace process; and, ultimately, to inaugurate a new era in multipolar international relations.

But, as we look beyond the words and symbols, we realize that little has changed. In fact, America’s obsession with security has increased: Guantánamo remains a shameful reality, under new anti-terrorist legislation certain politically or religiously “sensitive” citizens face arbitrary and discriminatory treatment (from imprisonment to deportation based on mere suspicion), the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan drag on and the peace process is nothing but sound and fury signifying nothing. What then has changed, and what, in fact, must change?

Barack Obama’s silence is as significant as his words, and reveals the true substance of his message. He faces two principal challenges: on the international front—the core of his speech—and in domestic politics (about which he has maintained total silence one year before the presidential election). Political considerations determined his timing. His speech came hard on the heels of the “legal” operation against Usama bin Laden in Pakistan.

The execution of the alleged chief revealed once more the breadth of the chasm that separates the American administration from Muslims in the United States and around the world. Compared with the Western media, which played the event as a victory over the “symbol of terrorism”, reactions to bin Laden’s death amongst Western and Eastern Muslims, not to mention in the Global South as a whole, were muted. The absence of images and of proof, the hasty disposal of the body at sea raised questions and reinforced doubts. Most of all, they underscored the gap in perceptions. For the al-Qaeda leader never commanded the respect of the masses never galvanized the hearts of the Muslim peoples (with the exception of a minority of violent extremists). By its behavior the American government proved once again how poorly it understands Muslim hearts and minds. Barack Obama’s announcement of the elimination of bin Laden may have been eloquent, but few Muslims heard it and fewer still appreciated it. The president’s audience was strictly American. He demonstrated presidential resolve, readiness to act to protect his country and to make the hard and dangerous decisions incumbent upon a military leader. Often criticized for hesitation, his ratings shot up twelve points: a successful operation on the eve of an election year.

The time had thus come for a new message, pitched this time to Arabs, democrats, and Muslims in general. Mr. Obama had realized that he was not being understood, that he had failed to win over his target audience. But behind the American president’s seductive image and fine words stands an administration concerned neither with principle nor troubled by its incoherent domestic and foreign policy. Promised American support for the pro-democracy movements in North Africa and the Middle East is marked by radically different approaches (between Libya and Syria, where the indispensable Bashar al-Asad, whose forces have opened fire on unarmed civilians, is expected with the wave of a magic wand to reform his despotic regime) or by guilty silence from its allies the petromonarchies (such as Saudi-backed Bahrein) that repress and kill civilians and non-violent opponents. We heard a clear appeal to end the sufferings of the Palestinians and to recognize their rights. But the Obama government’s policy for the last three years has been one of silence: silence during the Gaza massacre, and over the killing of dozens of unarmed civilians during the commemoration of the Nakba on May 15 2011. It is all well and good for Mr. Obama to pay lip service to the 1967 borders as a basis for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians. But American inaction in the face of the ongoing Israeli policy of colonization and of ‘facts on the ground’ reveals his position as not only as inconsistent, but inapplicable. Once again, words are employed to make Palestinians and Arabs dream, while Israel is given a free hand to implement its long-term strategy behind the media façade of tensions between the American and Israeli governments.

Guantánamo and torture are a fact of life in Barack Obama’s America, where the basic rights of prisoners are systematically denied and where the blood of Iraqi and Afghan civilians appears to count for nothing. Less, certainly, than that of Libyan civilians. Why? Is American policy in North Africa and the Middle East driven exclusively by economic considerations? Everything points in that direction. Barack Obama’s messages—spoken and unspoken—are unlikely to provide the Arab street with much reassurance. In his speech, the president emphasized the economic dimension of the Arab revolutions. There can be no true democratic process without economic stability and development, he argued. The formula is sound, the equation seductive. Barack Obama then went on to announce debt reduction, increased investment and American financial support to the region in collaboration with Europe, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It would seem that the region’s democratic opening is contingent on the opening up of lucrative new markets. The American administration, and the multinational corporations it represents, appear less committed to democracy, justice and freedom than they are to profit and to promoting the ideology of consumerism. Mr. Obama presented American economic support in terms of solidarity and generosity toward the peoples of the region, while uttering not a word about his country’s decade-long record of neglect. Noteworthy too was his failure to mention new regional economic powers such as China, South America and Turkey. Do American and European strategists consider them as negligible factors? Most unlikely, now that we have learned to decode Barack Obama’s silence. Regional economic benefits (in North Africa and the Middle East) may well prove more important than bringing democratic norms to political life. The emerging model promises superficial political independence with a handful of freedoms tied to greater economic dependence with all the restrictions it implies. Economic liberalism is liberal for only a select few. Barack Obama enjoys repeating that, “America has nothing against Islam and Muslims” while failing to add “as long as they, whether democrats or autocrats, do not stand in the way of our interests.” A new face speaks the same old words. Only concrete action can be the motor for change. Muslims can hear perfectly well what is being said, and what is not being said. And in terms of a truly new policy, they are still waiting.

At the same time, Islam is emerging as an issue in the upcoming American elections. The Tea Party movement and their Neocon allies are warning against the dangers of Islam and the “islamization” of America. Eighteen American states are currently adopting surrealist legislation that would prohibit the application of the Shari’a, which is invariably presented as the epitome of barbarity. No longer is extremist and violent Islam the target, but Islam as a religion. Building upon controversy, the movement is gaining strength; a noxious atmosphere is being created. From the Park 51 (so-called “Ground Zero”) mosque to “Burn a Qur’an Day”, from local initiatives against Muslim activities or the building of mosques, tensions are rising, based on the same arguments and slogans that have surfaced during recent years in Europe. Muslim baiting and Islamophobia have reared their ugly heads, and are being used to isolate a large segment of the American population on the basis of their religious beliefs (in addition to long-existing racism against African-Americans). The policy draws on the same mix of fear, suspicion and rejection used by European populists like Geert Wilders who plays to full houses in the United States, confirming the new xenophobia’s popular appeal.

Paradoxically, the election of Barack Obama has provided these movements with an opening to advance their agenda by discrediting him, his origins and even his religion (23% of Americans believe he is a crypto-Muslim; 42% think he is not a good Christian, for a total of 65% skeptical Americans). Criticism of the president has become more strident; rumor and innuendo are used to undermine his credibility. It is all well and good to assert that Islam is an American religion, but his administration, in its domestic policy, must do more than mouth pious wishes. It must confront the islamophobes and their xenophobic allies with greater determination—and more egalitarian policies.

The president’s fine words have produced scant results at the grass roots. The upcoming elections are unlikely to lead to any significant change. Yet firm action would certainly be the best way for Mr. Obama to position himself as the president of renewed hope, capable of winning on a just and reasonable platform in 2012. The stakes are high. On the question of rekindling relations with Islam and Muslims, international and domestic politics go hand in hand. President Obama can no longer limit himself to an intelligent (and unfailingly open) dialogue with Muslim leaders and intellectuals. On the streets of the Middle East, as in America’s inner cities and recession-hit suburbs, ordinary Muslim citizens care little about his words and images. They continue to listen closely to the silences that reveal much more, and to certify the inaction that defines the critical inadequacy of Obama’s policies over the last three years. Like all peoples, those of the Islamic world are aware of the high irony of awarding a Nobel Peace Prize to a man that talks much about peace but does nothing to bring it about.

Today’s serious challenges cry out for concerted action. But the president’s fine, well-written speech runs once more the risk of being badly understood or misunderstood, if it is even heard at all. In the name of democratic transparency, should we not be asking that it be accompanied by something resembling coherence?

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“By creating divisions and disregarding its values, even in the name of security, America tells the world that it is frightened and unstable—above all, vulnerable. In the long term, it also reinforces the religious, cultural, and social isolation of minority groups, encouraging the very kind of disloyalty that these ideological exclusions are meant to prevent”

When the American embassy called in August 2004, I was just nine days away from starting a job at Notre Dame’s Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. I had already shipped my possessions from Geneva, Switzerland, where I was living, to Indiana, and enrolled my kids in a school near our new home. Suddenly, however, an embassy official was telling me my visa had been revoked. I was “welcome to reapply,” the official said, but no reason was offered for my rejection. Sitting in a barren apartment, I decided the process had become too unpredictable; I didn’t want to keep my family in limbo, so I resigned my professorship before it began. I launched a legal battle instead.

It was hardly a fight I had expected. Less than a year earlier, the State Department had invited me to speak in Washington, D.C., and introduced me as a “moderate” Muslim intellectual who denounced terrorism and attacks against civilians. Now it was banning me from U.S. soil under a provision of the Patriot Act that allows for “ideological exclusions.” My offense, it seemed, had been to forcefully criticize America’s support for Israel and the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The U.S. accused me of endorsing terrorism through my words and funding it through donations to a Swiss charity with alleged ties to Gaza. Civil-liberties groups challenged my case in court for almost six years until, in late January, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dropped the allegations against me, effectively ending my ban.

In early April I will make my first public appearance in the U.S., at New York City’s Cooper Union, participating in a panel discussion about Muslims. While it’s a victory of sorts, the fight is not over. Numerous foreign scholars remain banned from U.S. soil. Until the section of the Patriot Act that kept me out of the country is lifted, more people will suffer the same fate. Although the exclusions are carried out in the name of security and stability, they actually threaten both by closing off the open, critical, and constructive dialogue that once defined this country.

In my case, criticizing America’s Middle East policies cast doubt on my loyalty to Western values and cost me a job. But prejudice may ultimately cost the U.S. more. By creating divisions and disregarding its values, even in the name of security, America tells the world that it is frightened and unstable—above all, vulnerable. In the long term, it also reinforces the religious, cultural, and social isolation of minority groups, encouraging the very kind of disloyalty that these ideological exclusions are meant to prevent.

It’s not the first time America has tried to shield itself from dissenting opinions. During the Cold War, dozens of overseas artists, activists, and intellectuals—including British novelist Doris Lessing, Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and Colombian author Gabriel García Márquez—were denied visas because of their left-leaning ideas. Today, though, the American concept of the “other” has taken on a relatively new and specific form: the Muslim. America must face the reality that, in the West, many adherents to Islam demonstrate loyalty to democratic values through criticism. While violence must always be condemned, such debate must be encouraged if those values are to last.

Ramadan is a professor of Islamic studies at St. Antony’s College, Oxford, and author of What I Believe.

This article appeared in today’s edition of Newsweek and has been published here with permission from the author

Artwork entitled “Mutual Understanding”  by Sally K. Green. Visit her website

This painting depicts two very different people coming together to truly listen and gain mutual understanding. It was inspired by the work Debbe Kennedy. She originally created the piece as an illustration for her diversity series.

This painting was part of an exhibition from the Power of Dialogue, Words of Wisdom Exhibition at the Global Dialogue Center

“The love that transcends love is a love that liberates. It brings both fullness and a sense of contingency. We therefore have to teach our consciousness and our hearts to love in the absolute of the moment and in full awareness of time, to be there and to know that we will pass away”

All spiritualities highlight the ambivalence and ambiguity of love; its different natures and its two faces. Love is an initiatory school in which we learn to make progress, to rise above ourselves and then to free ourselves, but it can also be a prison in which we are bound by more and more chains. We go under, get lost and eventually become totally dependent.

The universal teachings of spiritualities, philosophies and all religions are in agreement about this, and proffer the same truths: in love, the individual rediscovers what he or she went there to look for, because love is a mirror as well as a revelation. Because he is under the sway of his emotions and his need to possess, his love will always turn against him and cause him the sufferings of dissatisfaction and a chained heart. Imbued with spirituality and mastery, his love will take him out of the self and enable him to attain fulfilment and self-giving.

Love is therefore like education. It involves “going with” and learning to detach ourselves with an ever-greater awareness of the ambivalence of things and of the need for balance, which is always so difficult to achieve and so fragile. Knowing oneself, loving oneself sufficiently, learning to love better, to give, to give oneself and to forgive are lifelong learning processes that are never complete, never finished, always to be renewed. Loving without becoming attached and loving without becoming an object of attachment are probably both attitudes that require human beings to develop an acute discernment and to arm themselves with deep qualities of being and courage. Loving life and watching it fade away, loving ourselves without any illusions about ourselves, loving one’s loves in the knowledge that times will take them away, loving without idolatry, and loving with an awareness of the relativity of all things. That is the profound meaning of the loving compassion that must, in the Buddhist tradition, set us free.

In the monotheist religions, the oneness of God has the same deep meaning. We must free ourselves from our illusions, from the false worship of our desires and idols of one’s inner self if we wish to accede to a love-lucidity as we seek a proximity that can perceive the extent of distance in the absolute. That is the mystical experience that al-Jilâni (11-12th centuries) and Rûmi (13th century) tries to convey, as do all spiritual and mystical experiences. Gibran’s Prophet sums up how the love of the Whole and/or God leads us to abandon the self when he says ‘When you love, you should not say “God is in my heart”, but rather “I am in the heart of God”.’

To love without being dependent. Nothing could be more difficult, and doing so requires a long apprenticeship that is both demanding and sometimes painful. The goal is to love without any illusions. That is all the more difficult in that we sometimes have the impression that love means being deluded. How can we graduate from the illusion of love to the lucidity of love? How can we detach ourselves from the very thing to which we are, by definition, attached? Gibran’s Prophet also says: ‘Love possess not, nor would it be possessed ’, but what becomes of those who are possessed, of the women and men who are ‘blinded by love’ and who are in chains? How can we reach out of ourselves to merge into the heart of the Whole or the Light of the One? Love is indeed a promise of good, beauty and well-being, but that promise has always come with so many tears, so much suffering, and so much pain. To live is to suffer; to live is to love … to love is to suffer. And if we wish to live, must we therefore come to love our suffering until we die?

The love that transcends love is a love that liberates. It brings both fullness and a sense of contingency. We therefore have to teach our consciousness and our hearts to love in the absolute of the moment and in full awareness of time, to be there and to know that we will pass away. To love whilst learning to go away: the finest love never forgets separation, and still less does it forget death. Love and death are the most human of all couples: the deepest human love tries to have no illusions about the inevitability of death. That fragility is its strength. The power of humility lies hidden on the edge of that awareness –in love –of death.

To go back to the beginning. The sacred texts, the ancient traditions and all philosophies of all ages tell us to look at and learn from Nature, its beauty and its cycles, and to the ephemeral and eternity. We know that we love, naturally, but they still teach us to love better, to love consciously and spiritually, and to learn to apprehend meaning in detachment. And we have to choose between the reserve of Kant and Nietzsche’s impetuosity, between the way of Buddha and that of Dionysus, between the love of God and the love of Desire. Between an idea of freedom and the management of needs, between independence and dependence, and between detachment and bondage. One does not choose to love but one can choose how to love. Nature is the mirror before which we must raise our faces, gaze into proximity and distance, in the knowledge that, whilst we are now fully present, the earth will give the same fullness to others as it sanctifies our absence. The mirror of time and the infinite spaces reflect it, the liberated self understands it, and the One repeats it: to love is to be there, in proximity to the extraordinary in the ordinary, and to offer, give and forgive. To love is to reconcile the sedentary presence with nomadic migration, the roots of the tree with the strength of the winds. To love is to receive and to learn to let beings go. To love is to give and to learn to go. And vice versa

Painting entitled, “Love is Messy” by Sean Moroney

What is unfolding before our very eyes is a sharp “clash of perceptions.” If we do not exercise due caution we stand to forfeit not only our confidence (in ourselves and in our fellow citizens) but also our freedoms

 

These last few weeks, we have seen heated debate over the banning of the overly prominent minarets in Switzerland; there have been complaints against ‘offensive’ religious garb in Holland and England, and in the past, there have been curious decisions involving the removal of Christmas trees in the United States and Canada.

Is something catching? At every turn, we are confronted with impassioned and irrational reactions that either feed into a sense of victimhood among those who see islamophobia wherever they turn, or that magnify the feeling that a country’s cultural homogeneity is at risk, that is being colonized by a foreign religion.

So acute has this sensitivity become that legal or artistic authorities anticipate negative reactions, and take preventive measures. One has only to look at Germany, where an opera by Mozart was postponed because a single telephone caller suggested it would be unacceptable to Muslims. In Canada, Christmas trees are dismantled because they might offend non-Christians.

Discomfort levels in our societies are rising, or so it would seem.

In theory, we invoke diversity and tolerance. But in real life, we raise our hackles and withdraw into ourselves. Today, who can confirm with any certainty what he or she has the right to say, to show? Is the expression of difference commensurate with the rights of citizenship? The situation is serious; the dangers we face should not be minimized.

It is urgent to remind ourselves that what allows us to live together in mutual respect is the legal framework – the common legislation – that makes all citizens equal before the law. Within this framework, which forms the basis for the rule of law, and which all citizens and permanent residents must recognize, fundamental freedoms must be respected. These include the freedom of conscience, of religion, of expression, of movement, and more. In recent years we have witnessed a slow, steady erosion of these basic rights, which are being called into question in a particularly insidious manner.

Over the last eight years the overarching context of political debate has been that of terrorist threat, which implicitly raises the issue of security. In the name of security, and in a climate of fear, a majority of citizens has accepted that their civil rights be reconsidered, if not overtly challenged.

It is in this oppressive atmosphere that the issue of Islam has arisen: from fear of terrorism it has been but a short step to fear of Muslims, of their visibility, of their differences, and of the threat to national identity they are thought to represent. To terrorism, and to this heightened visibility, should also be added the reality of immigration which is not about to decrease, either in Canada or in Europe. The number of Muslim men and women living among us will continue to grow.

The debate over multiculturalism and identity has become saturated with these questions, these fears, these raised hackles. The problem is not one of legislation-few would disagree with its stated aims and principles-but our own fears and perceptions, which divide us, set us against one another, and incite some even to attempt to change the law.

What is unfolding before our very eyes is a sharp “clash of perceptions.” If we do not exercise due caution we stand to forfeit not only our confidence (in ourselves and in our fellow citizens) but also our freedoms (which would first affect Muslims, then impact later upon all citizens).

We have so far demonstrated no capacity for managing these fears, these doubts and these negative perceptions. Some believe that the only solution is to obliterate all religious-or cultural-symbols that indicate difference. The neutrality of public space would be equivalent to the disappearance of all distinctive signs. This would, its advocates argue, ensure equality and avoid giving offense. The display of diversity, others contend, can only minimize possible fears. The proposition is a seductive one. But the process of globalization reminds us every day that it is not enough to observe differences for us to be able to understand them in a positive way.

Both positions are as extreme as they are unrealistic. We are unlikely to overcome the fear of diversity and of difference by hiding them or over-exposing them.

In our view, the debate can take place in a climate of serenity on three conditions. First, we must respect the law of the land and apply it in equitable fashion for all citizens, and with respect to every religious and cultural community.

Second, rather than calling for the removal of all distinctive signs from public space, these signs should be, as a matter of urgency, made an integral part of the educational curriculum. Our pluralist society must provide its citizens with the tools to understand religions, their symbols and their practices.

To overcome fears, we must offer proper instruction to our young people; we must cultivate their understanding and their critical spirit. The same prescription should apply equally to all. This means acquiring a better understanding of the other’s philosophical and cultural orientations; seeing the other’s world as a source of richness, and not as a threat.

The third condition concerns both common sense and civility. We must become accustomed to debating social issues in a thoroughgoing and critical way, without trading on our principles, but not confusing criticism with mindless, hurtful and sometimes ill-intended and cowardly provocation.
In the guise of defending freedom of thought, some intellectuals, journalists and politicians are actually legitimizing the racialist hate-speech that is undermining our democracies, thus generating exactly the opposite of what they claim to defend.
Religious symbols should be visible in public space, in a dignified and non-provocative manner. Christmas trees here, Jewish menorahs there, and further along, a minaret…

These symbols represent human life in all its diversity. It is essential to learn to respect the sensitivities of others, all the while encouraging both discretion and good taste. To aspire to such a responsible, reasonable expression of diversity in our societies, we must explain, educate, learn to know one another and to know and respect our neighbors.

If we do not make these efforts, we shall fall together. To fear a Christmas tree and to fear that it could frighten somebody boils down to the same thing. In both cases, it reveals a lack of confidence in ourselves, and in others. Our democratic societies are in danger. In allowing ourselves to be infiltrated by fear, to be blinded by the passion of identity, we are entertaining the most serious illusions about our freedom.

But in the final analysis, it is up to us to decide how we will exercise our freedom.

Artwork entitled, Just Symbols by Sharon Benton.  She explains her work:
“The title “Just Symbols” can be read as the religious icons are merely symbols or that they are righteous symbols. I chose symbols to represent many different cultures and religions, and for their graphic quality. They were arranged according to graphic appeal and block color, with no regard to the meaning of a particular symbol, or what could be construed by placement of one symbol beside another. I used colorful blocks made from fabric scraps against a black background to resemble a stained glass window. This quilt also speaks to the beauty and unity that we could achieve by practicing religious tolerance.”

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