Blog Archive

Reject the political Muslim-bashing smears

http://www.startribune.com/562/story/754239.html

Minnesota Star Tribune

Parvez Ahmed and Nihad Awad

There has been much sound and fury in certain circles about the American Muslim community's support for Keith Ellison and his campaign to represent Minnesota's Fifth Congressional District.

A handful of right-wing bloggers, agenda-driven commentators and political operatives have used scurrilous smear tactics in an attempt to derail his campaign and to marginalize American Muslim voters. These smears and distortions send an un-American message of intolerance and bigotry.

We are proud of our personal donations to Ellison's campaign. He has proven himself to be an effective legislator and his commitment to social justice is worthy of admiration. We believe his election will send a powerful message to the world about America's commitment to religious inclusion and tolerance.

No one should be vilified merely for exercising their rights as an American citizen. Yet attacks on Ellison fit a disturbing pattern of Muslim-bashing that has been seen nationwide this campaign season.

In New York, Rep. Peter King tarred the vast majority of mosques in his state and nationwide as being run by "radicals." In California, a Muslim candidate for the Anaheim City Council is labeled "anti-American" by his Republican opponents. In Wisconsin, a candidate for Congress questioned about his call for profiling of Muslims suggested looking for anyone who is "wearing a turban and his name is Muhammad."

We understand the fear some Americans have of all things Muslim and Islamic. We hear these fears when visiting temples, synagogues and churches. We see the fear in people's eyes when we board an aircraft.

The current wave of terror committed in the name of Islam by a tiny minority of misguided individuals makes it all too easy to attack Islam and stereotype Muslims. Yet a look beyond the violent headlines reveals a more complex situation.

When churches in the Occupied Territories were vandalized, apparently in reaction to comments on Islam by Pope Benedict, major Muslim organizations condemned the violence and reached out for dialogue. Our organization also raised money to repair the damaged churches.

At the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), we are proud of our record of promoting interfaith understanding. We are also proud of our commitment to peace and our repeated condemnations of terrorism in all its forms, whether carried out by individuals, groups or states.

A CAIR statement released on the fifth anniversary of 9/11 said: "As American Muslims ... we will not allow terrorist groups like Al-Qaida to be the voice of Muslims or the representation of Islam to the rest of the world."

Other CAIR antiterror initiatives include our "Not in the Name of Islam" online petition, signed by hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and the Islamic religious ruling (fatwa) repudiating religious extremism and violence (see www.cair.com).

When President Bush visited a Washington, D.C., mosque immediately after the 9/11 attacks, he met with a CAIR official. Over the years, CAIR representatives have been in numerous discussions about our nation's affairs with Condoleezza Rice, Al Gore, Karen Hughes, Bill Clinton, and any number of other top government officials. CAIR officials have also been invited by the FBI to participate in its press conferences.

In a desperate bid to boost sagging poll numbers, an Ellison opponent sent campaign materials to voters smearing him as being linked to terrorism, all because he accepted donations from Muslims like us.

This type of guilt by association has been tried in the past. Fortunately, the vast majority of Americans rejected such tactics when the "other" of the day included Catholics, Irish immigrants, Jews or Asians.

The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."

We are clearly living at a time of challenge and controversy. In a campaign as important as this one, and in a time as trying as ours, it is perfectly acceptable to challenge the ideas and policy positions of any candidate. But smears, distortions and unfounded guilt by association are un-American and should be firmly rejected by people of conscience.

In endorsing Ellison, the American Jewish World wrote: "Voters could make an emphatic statement -- one that would gain national and international attention -- by casting their ballots for Keith Ellison."

The election of an African-American Muslim supported by Muslims, Christians and Jews will be among the finest displays of American democracy -- one that will reverberate across the globe.

Parvez Ahmed is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the nation's largest Muslim civil liberties group. Nihad Awad is CAIR's national executive director.

Escalation in Terminology

Escalation in Terminology
When President Bush described a war against ‘Islamic fascists,’ some American Muslims became very angry.
WEB EXCLUSIVE
By Lisa Miller
Newsweek

Updated: 2:17 p.m. ET Aug 12, 2006

Aug. 12, 2006 - In our collective relief at having dodged a bullet this week, some of us may have missed the rhetorical bomb in our midst. Just hours after Tony Blair announced the arrest of two-dozen Britons on charges that they were planning to blow up planes using liquid explosives, President Bush made remarks of his own, thanking British authorities for their swift work and assuring Americans that their safety was his primary concern. “This nation is at war with Islamic fascists,” he said somberly, “who will use any means to destroy those of us who love freedom, to hurt our nation.” Our terrorist enemy has been described in so much colorful language by so many, one more escalation in terminology may have been easy to overlook.

Except that this time Parvez Ahmed got really mad. That same afternoon, Ahmed, who is chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based advocacy group, released an open letter to the president, a letter that excoriated Bush for using language that “contributes to a rising level of hostility to Islam and the American-Muslim community.” He wrote, “The use of ill-defined hot-button terms such as ‘Islamic fascists’ harms our nation’s image and interests worldwide.” he wrote. The blogs went wild.

“Islamic fascist”—or “Islamofascist” as it’s popularly spelled on the Internet—is the latest explosive in the right’s semantic arsenal. It’s explosive because it instantly brings to mind the 20th century’s greatest horror, the Holocaust, because it offends the sensibilities of millions of people like Ahmed who hold Islam sacred, and because it infuriates people who believe that the Middle East conflict can be resolved at least partially through talking. It has been in wide use for about a year, mostly by hawkish conservatives who feel that five years of “war on terror” rhetoric has not gone far enough to identify who the enemy is—that is, terrorists who are Muslim—or to describe the radical Islamic movement in the Middle East as a global threat to a democratic way of life. To compare today’s terrorists to the last century’s fascists “gets at the incredibly aggressive nature of the conflict, the craziness of it,” explains William Kristol, editor of The Weekly Standard. “You imply that these are not rationally calculating people in the way that we have become accustomed to.”

Republican Senator Rick Santorum, who will be fighting for his seat in November, uses the phrase repeatedly. “Islamic fascism,” he told the National Press Club in July “is the great test of this generation.” In June, political consultant Mary Matalin told Fox News that “You either believe we’re going to fight Islamic fascism or you don’t,” and a week later, after an Israeli soldier was kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists, Rep. Eric Cantor (R- Va.) issued a statement saying that Israel “has every right to secure its citizens from these Islamic fascists.”

Even the president is more than a little familiar with the term. Nearly a year ago, in a speech before the National Endowment for Democracy, Bush defined “Islamofascism” as “a form of radicalism [that] exploits Islam to serve a violent, political vision” and several months later he spoke of the Islamofascists becoming emboldened. On the extreme end of the spectrum, on the right-wing radio talk shows and blog circuit, “Islamofascist” has the flavor of an epithet.

Like many powerful weapons, this one had an inauspicious birth. Most academics trace the genesis of the term to the mid-1990s, when an historian named Walter Laqueur wrote a book called “Fascism: Past, Present, Future,” in which he suggested that the radical Islamic movements of the developing world resembled in some ways the facism of the mid-20th century. There followed, in the scholarly press and in European newspapers, a debate of this issue among political scientists. Yes, some agreed, elements of radical Islamic fundamentalism can look like fascism, the term born in Italy to describe a political movement that, according to Webster’s, “exalts nation above the individual,” stands for a centralized government and suppresses opposition. But in many important ways the two phenomena are very different. “What politicized Islam is doing,” explains Roger Griffin, professor of History at Oxford Brookes University in England and an expert on fascism, “is to preserve religion in a secular world. What Nazism was doing was to create an alternative to religion in a secular world.” In any case, the scholars agreed, the term “Islamic fascist” was touchy and should be used with great care.

Then 9/11 happened. Not a month later, the term made its mainstream debut with a column in The Nation by Christopher Hitchens, who wrote, “The bombers of Manhattan represent fascism with an Islamic face.” Soon the phrase was circulating.

Parvez Ahmed is angry because he feels the president is being disrespectful to the millions of moderate Muslims who live in this country, who condemn terrorism and who seek the government’s protection. But he’s especially angry because he thinks that the right’s adoption of the term at this particular juncture is not just historically inaccurate, it’s a cynical bid for votes. “This is an election year,” he told NEWSWEEK. “The president is down in the polls, he’s trying to appease his base. It’s a moment of political opportunism. It goes back to the idea that in some quarters it is good to perpetuate the myth of a clash between civilizations.”

Chip Berlet, senior analyst at Political Research Associates, a progressive think tank near Boston, has a related theory. Some of the right-wing evangelicals who voted for Bush have an apocalyptic world view—that is, they are expecting the end of the world based on Biblical prophesy. Santorum, Matalin, Cantor, even the president himself—they all know this, Berlet believes, and are positioning Islam as the evil force that will bring about the End. “I am creeped out” by the term “Islamofascism,” says Berlet. The term itself is creepy, no doubt, but, however you look at it, the reality it stands for is downright terrifying.

URL: http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/14319984/site/newsweek/

Letter to President George W. Bush on his use of terms such as "Islamic Fascists"

August 11, 2006

Dear Mr. President:

This morning we woke up to the news of a thwarted terrorist plot to simultaneously blow up several aircraft heading to the U.S. using chemicals smuggled in carry-on luggage. We thank God and commend the professionalism of law enforcement authorities.

American Muslims have consistently condemned all acts of terrorism, whether carried out by individuals, groups or states. We repudiate anyone or any group that plans or carries out a terrorist act. The American Muslim community remains dedicated to the protection of our nation’s security.

In these trying times it is important for our nation stands united. Muslims form an important part of the fabric of America. As our President, we have the right to expect that you will do everything within your power to protect your fellow American Muslims. We are law-abiding citizens who should not be targeted or singled out because of their faith or national origin.

Unfortunately and regrettably your statement this morning, “this nation is at war with Islamic fascists” has contributed to the creation of fear and backlash against the American-Muslim community. Just today Gallup released a poll showing anti-Muslim sentiments to be common among Americans and four out of ten feeling “prejudiced” against Muslims.

You have on many occasions said Islam is a religion of peace. Now you have equated the religion of peace with the ugliness of fascism. What signal does this send to our fellow Americans and to the Muslims around the world with whom we should be building bridges of understanding? Is it fair to link the peaceful faith of Islam to the terrorism of a few Muslims who misguidedly commit terror in the name of Islam? Just as we do not equate the faith of Christianity to the terrorism of abortion clinic bombers like Eric Rudolph we ask the same courtesy be reciprocated to us.

Earlier this year on the eve of your State of the Union Address, I wrote to you offering suggestions that could serve to strengthen America's image and interests worldwide, particularly in the Islamic world.

Hot-button terms such as “Islamo-fascism,” “militant jihadism,” “Islamic radicalism,” or “totalitarian Islamic empire,” are ill-defined leaving their meanings to ambiguous in the minds of listeners. The European Union is recommending the use of "non-emotive lexicon for discussing radicalization." This morning, to their credit, British authorities and media refrained from connecting this contemplated act of terror with the faith of their alleged perpetrators.

In a one of a kind study, Robert Pape's in his book "Dying to Win" uses over two decades of data to show the paucity of connection between suicide terrorism and any of the world religions. Occupation is the primary motivator and religion, at best, is an "aggravating" factor.

American Muslims stand ready to serve as a bridge of understanding to the Islamic world. We can best fulfill that role by offering advice that can help prevent misperceptions and misunderstandings between different nations and cultures. We need our President to help strengthen our in favor of moderation and condemning extremism among Muslims.

Sincerely,

Parvez Ahmed

Chairman of the Board

Council on American-Islamic Relations

How has Muslim-American life changed?


The Florida Times-Union; September 10, 2006

By MATT GALNOR; The Times-Union

Five years ago Monday, terrorist attacks in New York City and Washington changed the country forever.

Those attacks also changed attitudes and actions toward Muslim-Americans, says Parvez Ahmed, national chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Ahmed, an assistant professor of finance at the University of North Florida, speaks across the country and will address students at Orange Park High School on Monday. He sat down with the Times-Union last week to discuss how things have changed in five years, misconceptions about Islam and President Bush referring to the war against "Islamic fascists" after British authorities thwarted a terror plot last month.

In the five years since Sept. 11, do you think Muslim Americans are treated differently than they were right after the terrorist attacks?

Yes. It has become progressively worse.

How so?

Number one, there is an increased attack on Islam through airwaves and through rhetoric. Talk-show hosts, commentators, even the president, have used very negative ways of describing Islam - and Muslims. For example, using "Islamic fascism" and things like that. It has linked our faith to something that is very negative, almost universally rejected, like fascism. ... [According to a CAIR report on the state of Muslim civil rights to be released this week] the numbers show that, again, since 9/11, the reports of discrimination, the reports of profiling, the reports of law enforcement overreach continue to increase at an alarming rate.

When the president says something like he did last month about Islamic fascism, does that lend credibility to people discriminating?

Yes. ... Most people will not delve into the nuances behind what the president meant and why Muslims are upset about it. ... They will just look at the rhetoric and they will simply perceive that Islam is related to fascism or fascism is inspired by Islam. If that's the way we use this terminology, when we say Islamic art, we meant art that is inspired by the teachings of Islam. When we say Islamic ethics, we mean ethics that are inspired by the teachings of Islam. When somebody says Islamic fascism, at least that's the way I interpret it and that's the way most Muslims would interpret it, is that they are meaning to say that fascism is inspired by Islam. ... That creates a perception in the Muslim mind that the war on terror is actually a war on Islam.

On that topic, what's one thing you would change in the United States' approach to the war on terror?

First of all, there is no one thing to change ... it's a much more complex problem.

Is there one thing that stands out?

Yes. The one thing that stands out is the mere absence of diplomacy and dialogue with the mainstream Muslim community, both at home and abroad. ... In other words, what has happened since 9/11 is that the administration's policy has exclusively focused on security measures and military means to tackling terrorism ... and while that is necessary, just exclusively doing that is not going to win the war on terror. It has to be augmented; it has to be supplemented with other things. And that other thing is sustained dialogue and diplomacy with mainstream Muslim communities at home and abroad.

What do you say when you when you visit schools in Jacksonville, especially when you're going to visit a school on Sept. 11?

First of all, I talk about the commonalities of faiths. That our faith traditions - whether Christianity, Judaism or Islam - they have common roots. Abraham was the patriarch of all three religions; it's based on monotheism - worship of one God. It is based on common values. The Ten Commandments are part of not only Judaism and Christianity, they are part of Islam, too ... the values espoused in the Ten Commandments. So, in other words, Islam is not any strange faith. It's a faith that is very close to Christianity and Judaism; it's just a misunderstood faith, for a variety of reasons.

Do you see things getting better in the next five years?

It can only get better if certain things happen.

Such as?

... [I]nteraction from the Muslim community, the outreach program by the Muslim community, a sustained dialogue with other faith groups and a political outreach by our leaders to the Muslim community - and vice versa. If all those things happen, then I'm hopeful the next five years will be much better than the previous five years.

matt.galnor@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4550

This story can be found on Jacksonville.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/091006/met_changes.shtml.

American Muslims Can Help With Our End-Game in Iraq

Written on March 28, 2006

In recent weeks, we have seen Iraq engulfed in sectarian strife, daily bombings and mass murders, allegations of civilian massacres by U.S. troops, revelations of Iraqi government "death squads" and torture chambers, the release of more Abu Ghraib prison abuse images, and accusations of betrayal by those American Muslims who once supported the invasion of Iraq.

Recent polls show a majority of Americans of all faiths believe things are going badly in Iraq and that Iraq is headed for civil war.

A similar majority believes President Bush lacks a clear plan for handling the deteriorating situation in Iraq.

In the past, Iraq's diverse population lived side-by-side and even intermarried. Today, suspicion and sectarian killings have replaced cooperation in mixed neighborhoods. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Iyad Allawi believes a civil war is already under way. The repercussions of such a civil war will be further erosion of support for the grand experiment of democratizing the Middle East. A civil war will give dictators in the region to further crack down on the forces of democracy, pluralism, and freedom.

Instead of confronting this reality, all we see from the Bush administration is endless public relations spin, fear mongering and the same "stay the course" mantra that got us into this quagmire in the first place.

Pundits continue to speculate as to what went wrong in Iraq. The list is long, from too few troops to just old-fashioned incompetence. But perhaps more important than re-examining past mistakes, is to figure out where do we go from here.

Neither the Bush administration nor the major political parties seem to have any new ideas. Instead, we get name-calling and political posturing. Meanwhile, Iraq burns, American soldiers and innocent Iraqis die, and America's image continues to suffer. "Staying the course" is not a viable strategy, and having a different point of view is not "cut and run."

The first step to recovery is admitting a mistake. President Bush should admit past mistakes ask the United Nations to help out with a multinational peacekeeping force. Stubbornness got us into Iraq; humility might get us out.

Blaming Iraqis for all their civic problems is not an option. As former Secretary of State Colin Powell said, you break it, you own it. Until the last American soldier leaves, Iraq will remain our problem and ours alone. To leave Iraq, we will have to listen and lead. Today America is perceived to be not listening. Not listening to the voices of the Iraqi people and not listening to the will of the international community, especially Iraq's neighbors.

Second, the Bush administration has not sought the support and advice of the American Muslim community to strategize about solutions. In a recent issue of Time magazine, author Aparisim Ghosh noted that one of the reasons current U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Zalmay Khalilzad has been more effective than Paul Bremer is that he is a Muslim who speaks Farsi and Arabic.

Humam Hamoodi, a leading politician of the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq noted, "The way he sits, the way he eats, we feel he is no stranger to us." It will take many more American Muslims reflecting the diversity of Iraq to better communicate with and mediate among Iraq's diverse population.

Using American Muslims to communicate and mediate also signals that the U.S. practices inclusion of its own minorities in formulating policies.

A poll by Georgetown University's Project MAPS and Zogby International showed that the American Muslim community is younger, better educated and better off financially than most Americans. A majority of American Muslims believe that individuals, businesses or religious organizations in their community experienced discrimination since the 9/11 terror attacks. Yet an overwhelming majority (93 percent) favored participation in the American political process.

Despite such positive attitudes, this vital political and religious asset remains underutilized as a resource to solve one of our nation's most pressing problems - how to plan and execute America's end game in Iraq.

Contacts between the American Muslim community and the Bush Administration remain sporadic and episodic. For example, the Bush Administration could have helped resolve the recent apostasy controversy in Afghanistan by amplifying the voices of American Muslim groups that cited Islamic scriptures calling for the release of the Muslim-turned-Christian facing the death penalty.

The voices of American Muslims are authentic to Islam and caring of America's image and interests. This simple fact is unfortunately not resonating in the halls of power, whether in Congress or the White House. Until we change this attitude, any efforts to win the hearts and minds of Muslims worldwide will be a much more difficult task.

Tolerance and Respect

Speech to high school students at St. Johns Country Day School, Florida

September 11, 2006

Today marks the 5 year anniversary of the ill-fated terrorist attacks against our country and against humanity. What happened on 9-11 five years ago is utterly condemnable and a crime against humanity.

Most American’s believe that 9-11 changed the world. Not only have we to put up with such inconveniences as long lines at the airport but also live in fear, perceived or real, of the next attack.

For American-Muslims, life too has changed. In addition to the things that worry all Americans, Muslims have to put up with increased scrutiny of their activities and constant second guessing of their motives, not to mention discrimination at jobs or profiling by law enforcement.

A 2004 Pew Foundation poll finds thirty-two per cent of Americans with an unfavorable view of Muslims. Forty-four per cent believe that Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions. A 2006 poll by Gallup found that 4 in 10 Americans admit to feeling prejudiced against Muslims. 1 in 4 do not want to live next to Muslims or fly with them on an airplane. Such negative views are not mere opinion but have real consequences on people’s lives and livelihoods.

A Cornell University poll finds nearly half of all Americans want the rights, liberties and freedom that you take for granted to be restricted for American-Muslims. Twenty-seven per cent want all American-Muslims to register their home addresses with the federal government and twenty-nine per cent believe undercover agents should infiltrate Muslim organizations.

It is precisely during such difficult times we need to examine our core beliefs. We need to question, we need to dialogue and we need to develop the courage to understand others. Pluralism and tolerance based upon mutual respect and understandings are the cornerstone of great civilizations. Such noble ideas are not exclusive to any one religion. All great religions of the world teach mutual respect towards each other.

God says in the Quran – the book Muslims turn to for inspiration and guidance – “O mankind! Surely We have created you of a male and a female, and made you tribes and families that you may know each other; surely the most honorable of you in the sight of Allah (God) is the most righteous of you; surely God is Knowing, Aware of all things.” [49:13].

Despite such universal values being part of Islam, Muslims constantly face two questions - Is Islam tolerant of other faiths? Can Muslims coexist with people of other faiths? We have to realize that normative Islam or Islam as proscribed in books is not identical with the actions of its “followers.”

Like other religions, followers are imperfect fallible human beings. At times the actions of Muslims will conform to the teachings of Islam while some times their actions will be either independent of or in violation of Islam’s normative teachings. People of faith easily understand this. Outsiders, either due to lack of knowledge or inherent bias, are not always as enlightened.

To some, terrorism committed by Muslims seems part of their faith. However, closer scrutiny reveals that such heinous actions are often misrepresentation of core religious teachings. The Quran in Chapter 2 verse 256 states, "Let there be no compulsion in religion." Another verse states: "Those who believe (in the Quran), and those who follow the Jewish (Scriptures), and the Christians, and the Sabians, and who believe in God and the last day and work righteousness, shall have their reward with their Lord; on them shall be no fear nor shall they grieve." (2:62)

In 628, Prophet Muhammad granted a Charter of Privileges to the monks of St. Catherine Monastery in Mt. Sinai. The charter in part stated, "Verily I, the servants, the helpers, and my followers will defend them, because Christians are my citizens; …. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. …. Their churches are to be respected."

The core message of Islam is peace. Not only Islam literally means peace, but one of the attributes of God is “Peace.” Paradise is described as the “house of peace” and believers entering paradise are greeted in “peace.” The universal greeting of Muslims is “peace be with you” or “as-salaam alaikum.”

Thus it should not be surprising that the Quran exhorts Muslims to have positive relationship with people of other faiths on the basis of equity, kindness, love and respect.

Terrorism is not a result of any religious teaching. Terrorism has its roots in socio-political factors such as colonization, occupation, brutal dictatorships, lack of freedom, scarcity of economic opportunities, etc. The 9-11 attacks brought home the horrors of a new form of terrorism – suicide bombings. In order to eradicate terrorism, it is important to explore its root causes.

More and more scholarly writings are delving deeper into this issue offering us new insights. Robert Pape's book "Dying to Win" uses over two decades of data to show the absence of connection between suicide terrorism and any of the world religions. The pioneering instigators and the largest purveyors of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are not Muslims.

A series of unfortunate events have unleashed a vicious cycle of killing and retribution. There seems to be no end in sight and perhaps there will be none unless people of conscience rise above the fray to build bridges of understanding and promote justice, much like Pope John Paul II exemplified in our contemporary times.

Today we all live in fear of terrorism. Equating terrorism with Islam makes the mainstream Muslim community doubly vulnerable to both the random acts of terror and the ensuing backlash. Muslims worldwide are the primary victims of terror. Governments in Muslim-majority nations, religious establishments and the lay community have a vested interest in fighting back to isolate and marginalize the terrorists. Hidden from our headlines are on-going efforts to do just that. Fatwas (Islamic edicts) condemning terrorism and dissociating Islam from such barbarism have been issued worldwide, including in America.

Falsely associating Islam with terrorism weakens the efficacy of these efforts by creating the impression that the global war on terror is merely a euphemism for a war on Islam.

Muslim Americans have a chance to make a difference in post-9/11 America, by insisting on an Islam that respects its neighbors, in true Islamic fashion just as Prophet Muhammad reminded long ago: “Do you want to love God? Then start by respecting those you live with.”

We are all responsible to live up to this noble calling. Remember, “Even when you think God isn't watching you, act as if he is.” May God bless you. May God bless our community, our city, and our country.

Thank you.

Unconditional Support for Israel is a Liability for U.S.

Written: August 10, 2006

The headlines are falling into a horrifyingly predictable pattern. Civilian casualties continue to mount in the Middle East while our government remains seemingly paralyzed by inaction.

The conflict has so far resulted in 95 Israeli deaths, including 35 civilians. In Lebanon, the death toll is more than 800, most of them civilians. Almost a quarter of Lebanon's population remains homeless.

Damage to that nation's civilian infrastructure could cost tens of billions of dollars to repair.

Whether the killed or injured are a result of deliberate targeting, errant bombs or mistaken identity matters little to the dead or their families. A report by Human Rights Watch stated: "The Israeli government claims it is taking all possible measures to minimize civilian harm, but the cases documented here reveal a systematic failure by the IDF to distinguish between combatants and civilians."

While the majority of the victims are Lebanese or Palestinians, nonetheless no one should underplay the loss of any innocent life, whether Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

Contrary to President Bush's assertion, the current conflict did not begin with the abduction of Israeli soldiers. The attacks, reprisals and more counter attacks now form a vicious cycle, the core of which remains Israel's inability to make peace through justice, not force of arms.

Former President Jimmy Carter said recently: "There will be no substantive and permanent peace for any peoples in this troubled region as long as Israel is violating key U.N. resolutions. . .by occupying Arab lands and oppressing the Palestinians."

Former National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft concurs. He said: "Hezbollah is not the source of the problem; it is a derivative of the cause, which is the tragic conflict over Palestine that began in 1948. . .A comprehensive peace settlement would not only defang the radicals in Lebanon and Palestine (and their supporters in other countries), it would also reduce the influence of Iran."

The Bush doctrine in the current conflict is mired in the same neo-conservative self-aggrandizement and political fantasy that got us into Iraq. Pre-emption of terrorism does not require unilateral violence and death of innocent civilians. Far from achieving peace, the Bush doctrine has only emboldened extremists on all sides, who now hold a veto over peace. This is not leadership of the traditional American values of fairness and justice.

Rabbi Michael Lerner in a recent CNN interview said, "Many Jews in this country believe that the root of the issue is the Israel-Palestinian struggle and that we need to pursue a path recognizing the humanity of the Palestinian people."

The big problem in the Middle East remains the unresolved question of a viable Palestinian state. America's unconditional support of Israel makes it behave again and again like a bully on the playground.

Israel has repeatedly abused American economic aid and military cover by pursuing settlements, building walls and bombing civilians, contrary to the desires of the American public.

Polls show that majority of Americans would like to see an immediate ceasefire and a plurality of Americans wants to see America pursue an even-handed approach to resolving the Middle East conflict.

Instead of reflecting this public opinion, the Bush administration and many other elected officials remain spellbound by the parochial views of special interest groups and messianic visions.

A poll by well known pollster Daniel Yankelovich's (www.Publicagenda.org)shows that the American public is very uneasy about the growing hostility toward of the Muslim world towards the United States.

Another poll, taken before the current conflict, by the Gallup World Poll shows that from North Africa to Southeast Asia, more than 90 percent of respondents say that they do not believe the U.S. to be trustworthy, friendly, or respectful of other countries. How else do we expect the Muslim world to react when they see our leaders speak about Israeli rights and security yet leave Palestinians and Lebanese with neither?

Our one-sided support for Israel is a liability in the war on terror.

It has turned much of the world including our European allies against us. It is time for our Mideast policy to reflect views held by the majority of Americans who desires a just and peaceful resolution that preserves the rights, security and dignity of Jews, Christians and Muslims living in the Middle East.

Give Dialogue with Mainstream Muslims a Chance

Written Sep 11, 2006

A version of this commentary was published today in the Orlando Sentinel.

Sept. 11, 2001, was undoubtedly a great tragedy. On this fifth anniversary it is time for us collectively to look forward to ensure this never happens again.

However, instead of focusing on the somber lessons learned from that ill-fated day, President Bush opened the new political season by resorting to the politics of fear. His use of ill-defined rhetoric such as "violent Islamic radicalism" sounded much like his earlier faux pas "crusades" and "Islamic fascism." Bush went on to say, "It is foolish to think you can negotiate with them." No one ever suggested negotiating with al-Qaeda.

Several reports indicate that we are not necessarily winning the war on terror. Is there an alternative way to tackle this menace? For example, is it appropriate to ask if Iraq is on the front lines of the war on terror and thus the need to "stay the course," or is it because we are "staying the course" that Iraq is spiraling into a cauldron of civil war?

Evoking emotionally charged rhetoric like "Islamic fascism" or "Islamic radicalism" obfuscates the complexity behind terrorism. By focusing almost exclusively on the views of groups such as al-Qaeda, Bush has granted undeserved legitimacy to extremists. By failing to address the legitimate concerns of the vast majority of Muslims worldwide, the president has marginalized the voices of moderation in the Muslim world who, in overwhelming numbers, disapprove of terrorism as a means for redressing grievances.

Despite common knowledge that all terrorists are not Muslims and that not all Muslims are terrorists, so much of our discourse continues to juxtapose "Islam" and "terrorism."

A few scholarly works have begun to debunk this mythical link between Islam and terrorism. Robert Pape's book "Dying to Win" argues that the real common denominator of suicide-terrorism campaigns is that they are all, in one form or another, responses to occupation or foreign control of a national homeland. Pape is deeply skeptical about the notion that suicide bombers are warriors in a "clash of civilizations" between Islam and the West. His research reveals that there is nothing intrinsically "Islamic" about suicide bombers.

Thus, security measures alone are not going to make us safe. We will be safe only when others perceive themselves to be safe from our policies.

Currently, opinions about the U.S. are at their worst ever. A recent Gallup World Poll shows that, from North Africa to Southeast Asia, overwhelming majorities (91 percent to 95 percent) do not consider the United States to be trustworthy or friendly. Nearly 80 percent believe that the U.S. does not care about human rights.

Despite such misgivings, Muslims worldwide admire our political freedoms. Studies show that overwhelming majorities of Muslims support freedom of speech, religion and assembly. Muslims are also critical of their own societies, citing extremism, terrorism, lack of political freedom, and corruption as some of their major roadblocks to progress.

Such convergence of aspirations has not translated into a common agenda of progress on matters related to security and freedom. Our lack of any serious attempt to forge meaningful dialogue with Muslims both at home and abroad is one of many sources and indicators of our misguided policies.

To overcome this spiraling of misunderstanding, it is time our policymakers constructively engage mainstream Muslim voices both at home and abroad. Those voices are asking America to demonstrate a deeper understanding of Islam and yearning to develop symbiotic relationships, all working toward the common center of mutual good.

If understood and harnessed properly, Islam could be the protagonist of this dialogue. One of the greatest philosophers of our time, Seyyed Hossain Nasr, writes, "The history of Islam has certainly not been witness to any more violence than one finds in other civilizations, particularly that of the West. . . . Islam limits (force) and opposes violence as aggression to the rights of both God and His creatures. . . . Islam seeks to enable man to live according to his theomorphic nature and not to violate that nature. . . . Islam is the exertion of human will and effort in the direction of conforming to the Will of God and in surrendering the human will to the divine Will. From this surrender (taslim) comes peace (salaam)."

We tried war. Violence has begotten more terror. Can we give meaningful and sustainable dialogue with mainstream Muslims a chance? Attorney General Gonzalez recently wrote that it is imperative to, "identify new partners and strengthen existing relationships, particularly in the Muslim community." This talk now needs to translate into actions.

American Muslims and 'Integration'

Written April 13, 2006

At a recent historic meeting in Vienna, European Muslim religious leaders, or Imams, exhorted Islamic communities to better integrate and participate effectively in all aspects of European society. They also urged European governments to give Muslims the opportunity to become full participants in their respective societies. "Integration is no one-way street, but should be seen as a mutual process," said the final declaration of the second Conference of European Imams.

Conference participants also issued an unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all its forms, urged stepped-up efforts to learn national languages and promoted development of mutual intercultural skills. Many of the participants believed the conference was a turning point in relations between Europe and its Muslim minorities.

For more than a thousand years, the discourse in Europe has been to view Muslims as outsiders and Islam as the "other." Islam and Muslims in Europe and America remain embedded in stereotypical assumptions and misguided pronouncements regarding their beliefs, attitudes and customs. But Islam and Muslims can no longer be viewed as "outsiders." Today, Islam is as integral to the West as Judaism and Christianity.

The American Muslim community has seen remarkable growth - from one congregation in the mid-1920s to more than 2,000 organizations institutions of all types at the end of the 20th century. All indications suggest a growing momentum among Muslims in favor of integration into America's civic and political life.

Mainstream Muslims consider core American values to be consistent with normative Islam. Chief among these are the norms of hard work, entrepreneurship and liberty; civilian control of the military; the clear institutionalization of political power; a diffuse process of public decision-making; and a functioning civil society that gives voice to competing interests.

The American Muslim community is unique in its diversity. Studies indicate that 36 percent of American Muslims were born in the United States, while 64 percent were born in 80 different countries around the world. No other country has such a rich diversity of Muslims. The American Muslim community is thus a microcosm of the Muslim world.

The American Muslim Poll by Project MAPS showed that the American Muslim community is younger, better educated and better off financially than average Americans. More than three-quarters of Muslim respondents reported that they had been involved with organizations to help the poor, sick, homeless, or elderly.

Seventy-one percent had been involved with a religious organization or a mosque, and over two-thirds have been involved with school and youth programs. A little over half of those surveyed also stated that they had called or written to the media or to a politician on a given issue or had signed a petition.

A majority of American Muslims (58 percent) believed that individuals, businesses or religious organizations in their community had experienced discrimination since September 11. An overwhelming majority (93 percent) nonetheless favored participation in the American political process.

Despite such integrative attitudes, the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in America creates tensions and hinders quicker integration of Muslims. A recent Washington Post poll suggests 46 percent of Americans have a negative view of Islam and Muslims.

Muslims have enjoyed an uninterrupted presence in America for more than a century. Yet they remain conspicuous by their absence in many spheres of American public life. Despite being about 2 percent of the population, Muslim representation in policy making is negligible even when such policies directly affect Muslims here or abroad. American Muslims are by and large absent from representation in major policy making circles of the three national branches of the U.S. government.

Muslims in America, like their counterparts abroad, are dealing with issues related to democratization, gender equality, minority rights, religious tolerance, freedom of thought, and social justice.

Normative Islam provides basic principles that can embrace each of these ideas in positive ways. Muslim societies that in the past have suffered from the malaise of unthinking dogma are changing as evidenced in the reviving of critical inquiry, often leading to renewed understanding of Islam's congruence with the ever-shifting ideas of "modernity."

European-Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan in his book "Western Muslims:

Isolation or Integration?" notes that Western Muslims are likely to play a decisive role in the evolution of Islam worldwide. By reflecting on their faith, their principles and their identity within industrialized, secularized societies, Western Muslims can lead Muslims worldwide in reconciling their relationship with the modern world.

A Sensible Way to Describe Terrorists

Written May 14, 2006

http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/051706/opl_3063216.shtml

The European Union will soon distribute new guidelines to its 25-member nations that recommend using "nonemotive lexicon for discussing radicalization."

Officials say that the guidelines, which are not legally binding, will ask European governments to shun the phrase "Islamic terrorism" in favor of "terrorists who abusively invoke Islam."

Associating the criminal enterprise of terrorism with the faith of 1.4 billion Muslims, 99.99 percent of whom will never come near any act of terrorism, much less use Islam as a justification for their crimes, is just plain wrong.

Unfortunately, all too often "Islam" and "terrorism" are juxtaposed in news reports and editorials.
A word search on news stories published in major newspapers over the past decade shows that reporters are 100 times more likely to associate Islam with terrorism or militancy than all other faiths combined.

Such a lopsided portrayal indicates deep-seated misunderstandings about Islam, and sometimes just plain prejudice. Surely all terrorists are not Muslim, neither are all Muslims terrorists.

The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks brought home the horrors of a new form of suicidal terrorism. In order to eradicate terrorism, it is important to explore its root causes.

Scholarly writings are offering us new insights. Robert Pape's book Dying to Win uses over two decades of data to show the paucity of connection between suicide terrorism and any of the world religions.

The pioneering instigators and the largest purveyors of suicide terrorism are the Tamil Tigers of Sri Lanka, a Marxist-Leninist group whose members are overwhelmingly Hindu. Pape writes, "From Lebanon to Israel to Sri Lanka to Kashmir to Chechnya, the sponsors of every campaign have been terrorist groups trying to establish or maintain political self-determination by compelling a democratic power to withdraw from a territory they claim." Occupation is the primary motivator and religion, at best, is an "aggravating" factor. Considering this, the Iraq war has only amplified the problem.


Today, we all live in fear of terrorism. Equating terrorism with Islam makes the mainstream Muslim community doubly vulnerable to both the random acts of terror and the ensuing backlash. Muslims worldwide are the primary victims of terror.

Governments in Muslim-majority nations, religious establishments and the lay community have a vested interest in fighting back to isolate and marginalize the terrorists.

Hidden from our headlines are efforts to do just that.

Fatwas (Islamic edicts) condemning terrorism and dissociating Islam from such barbarism have been issued worldwide, including America.

One of the more successful efforts was conducted by Turkey against PKK (a secular group) suicide campaigns, which were part of Kurdish aspirations for an independent homeland.

Terrorism is stateless and transnational. It will always require a stern response. However, it will never be defeated through force alone. It will have to be fought ideologically by attempting to win the hearts and minds of those vulnerable to terrorist manipulations.


Every religion has its own fair share of extremists who commit heinous acts in the name of their faith. Why is Islam being unfairly singled out?