Peace is an element of Islam
By Special to the Times-Union

On Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack ever to take place on American soil unfolded on live television.

That these attacks were committed by Muslim men is one factor behind the popular misperception linking Islam, the faith of over a billion people, to terrorism.

But is Islam a primary factor behind terrorism? The simple answer is no. In fact, Islam condemns terrorism. Indeed, peace and justice are the foundational elements of Islam.

The Quran states: "If anyone slays a human being - unless it be [in punishment] for murder or for spreading corruption on Earth - it shall be as though he had slain all mankind; whereas, if anyone saves a life, it shall be as though he had saved the lives of all mankind."

Taken together, Islamic jurisprudence advocates the preservation of life, honor and the dignity of all human life as a supreme endeavor.

Even when fighting is permitted, it is not without rules of engagement. The 10 rules of war in Islam state, "Do not commit treachery or deviate from the right path. You must not mutilate dead bodies.

"Neither kill a child, nor a woman, nor an aged man. Bring no harm to the trees, nor burn them with fire, especially those which are fruitful. Slay not any of the enemy's flock, save for your food. You are likely to pass by people who have devoted their lives to monastic services; leave them alone."

It should not surprise anyone that Muslims, like people of other faiths, do not always live up to the normative teachings of their faith.

Al-Qaida is one such group whose actions are contrary to the teachings of Islam, yet they are often mislabeled as "Islamic."

Military action is sometimes necessary to combat terrorism, but often it is not the best option. After all, terrorism is not an ideology. It is a tactic. How does one wage a war against a tactic?

The way forward is to engage in common-sense methods of intelligence gathering without criminalizing entire groups of people, military strategies without resorting to large-scale bombings, ending foreign occupations and investing in an agenda that gives impoverished societies economic hope that can then lead to political freedoms.

In combating terrorism, democracies should be mindful of Ben Franklin's admonition, "They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security deserve neither liberty nor security."


Use common-sense method in war on terror

Posted on Thu, Sep. 11, 2008

On Sept. 11, 2001, the worst terrorist attack ever to take place on American soil unfolded on live television. The United States was not alone in its grief. People across the world held prayer vigils and stood in solidarity with America. No one questioned America's declaration of war on ``terrorism.''

However, terrorism is not an ideology; it is a tactic. How does one wage a war against a tactic? That the 9/11 attacks were committed by Muslim men is one factor behind the popular perception of a causal link between Islam and terrorism. But is Islam a primary factor behind terrorism?

Osama bin Laden has a history of conflating political rhetoric with religious imagery. He has said, ``There is no more important duty than pushing the American enemy from the Holy Land.''

However, linking Islam to terrorism because of bin Laden's rhetoric is an oversimplification of a complex problem. Islam condemns terrorism. It provides a theology for peace and guidelines for living peacefully in a world with diverse people and nations. Indeed peace and justice are the foundational elements of Islam. The Koran emphasizes the sanctity of life.

It should not surprise anyone that Muslims, like people of other faiths, do not always live up to the teachings of their faith. Al Qaeda is one such group whose actions are contrary to the teachings of Islam, yet it is labeled Islamic. In the same vein, the Lord's Resistance Army in Uganda cannot be considered Christian despite claims that it is fighting for the establishment of a government based on the Ten Commandments.

Terrorism is obviously a threat, but does not necessitate a declaration of war. Military action is sometimes necessary to combat terrorism, but often it is not the best option. Addressing the grievances of the terrorists cannot automatically be dismissed as appeasement. In fact, the conversion of terrorist groups into peaceful political movements has occurred often because the group's rationale for violence has ceased to exist.

Terrorism is likely to persist. Democracies and free societies are usually vulnerable to terrorism but can protect themselves. The way forward is to engage in common-sense methods of intelligence gathering without criminalizing entire groups of people. It is to use military strategies without resorting to large-scale bombings, to end foreign occupations and to invest in an agenda that gives impoverished societies economic hope that can then lead to political freedoms.

PARVEZ AHMED, Jacksonville

Memo to American Muslims – Shed the Cynicism and Get Engaged

I was there. One of the 84,000 at Invesco Field witnessing history. The day and the moment were as inspiring as it was profound. As the chants of "yes we can" reverberated through the stadium, they re-ignited feelings of optimism about America's future, which in the last eight years had been jaded by the politics of fear and divisiveness. Perhaps no group has been more vilified and continues to bear the brunt of this politics of fear than Muslims and Arabs.

Seated next to me at Invesco was Mazen Asbahi, the Chicago attorney who was appointed as national coordinator for American Muslim and Arab outreach by the Obama campaign. Mazen lasted only a few weeks. His resignation came in the wake of discredited websites spuriously alleging his links to an imam (Muslim spiritual leader) and that imam's links to the Muslim Brotherhood, a socio-political, albeit often controversial, movement that originated in Egypt.

Mazen resigned not because he did anything wrong but simply because he put his country first. He understood the importance of this election and did not want smears to distract the American public from failing to heed Obama's message of change. He firmly believes that Obama will restore America's respect abroad while addressing many of the pressing issues of our time from the economy to global warming.

In Mazen's story is a lesson for all Americans. The first lesson is for those who fail to stand up to the merchants of fear. The American public and the mainstream media need to realize that there is a well coordinated effort to discredit promising American Muslims and thus marginalize the American Muslim community. These thugs of bigotry feed on ignorance and fear of the unknown. Not standing up to these bigots is not only un-American, but also leads to bad policy.

Although the Obama campaign never asked Mazen to resign, the perception remains that the campaign did not stand-up and challenge the underlying bigotry that led to his unfortunate departure. Obama was correct in denying that he was a Muslim, but in addition he should have added a Seinfeld moment by simply asserting, "Not that there's anything wrong with it (being a Muslim)."

The second lesson is for American Muslims. Community organizers are reporting a lack of enthusiasm in the Muslim community's support for Obama. Standing at the crossroads where history is being shaped, the American Muslim community must not backslide into the familiar comforts of cynicism.

Despite the hurt that the Muslim community feels and the scorns they bear they need to look beyond their immediate discomfort to what serves America and the world best. Instead of the all too familiar horse-trading that special interest group's engage-in, the American Muslim community needs to transcend their disappointments and look to the future and take into account the seriousness of the issues at stake in this election: the rule of law, war and peace, economic justice, education and health care. They must understand that an Obama presidency will not be perfect (no presidency ever is), but a John McCain presidency will only be worse. McCain's selection of Sarah Palin reinforces the perception that McCain lacks both judgment and temperament. We had enough with one decider who makes decisions from the gut. We can ill-afford another.

Beyond the emotions, objectively is there any doubt that from economic policy to environmental stewardship, Obama offers superior solutions? Is it not plainly obvious that Obama prefers diplomacy over war? In Denver he clearly stated that the decision to commit our nation to war can only be made in the face of a clear and present danger and not in the pursuit of some ideological utopia. Is it not refreshing to hear Obama's view that hearts and minds in the Muslim world can be won over by sustained American engagement in improving the lives of those affected by years of war and neglect? Yes not all is palatable in Obama's position, especially his appeasement of the pro-Israeli lobby. But if Muslims define an Obama presidency by the one issue of Israel then they are as guilty of being parochial as AIPAC and ADL (major pro-Israeli organizations), which often ignore all other realities in their blind and obsessive defense of Israel.

Undoubtedly American Muslim participation this election cycle is at record highs. However, given the closeness of the race and the enormity of its consequences, the community will have to provide all hands on deck to make sure that the right candidate gets elected.

Muslims cannot repeat the mistakes of the past when major American Muslim organizations hastily endorsed George Bush over the objections of African American Muslims, the largest sub-group in the community. Nor can they tread the path of 2004 when they gave a "qualified endorsement" to John Kerry, which understandably dampened Muslim enthusiasm at the polls.

Back to Mazen. He has every reason to sulk because he was unfairly "swift-boated." Yet he remains optimistic and enthusiastically chugs along (although not officially part of the campaign). Throughout the evening in Denver while remaining fully cognizant of the historicity of the moment, Mazen did not waste any time and kept furiously working his Blackberry making phone calls and texting friends urging them to support Obama and in the process hoping to contribute to the transformation of American politics. Just as Mazen looks beyond the dirty politics he fell victim to, so should American Muslims look beyond the flaws of the Obama campaign and take into consideration the bigger picture.

The time has come for American Muslims to demonstrably show that they can make the necessary contributions to return American politics to be once again get rooted in the universal values of peace, liberty and justice for all. It is time for the Muslim community to join the growing legions of fellow Americans who are inspired by hope and powered by a sense of optimism that things can and do change. Change does not come from just wishing for it. The way forward is clearly indicated in the Quran, "God does not change the condition of a people unless they change that which is within themselves."

War with Iran Unnecessary and Avoidable

Pubslihed in the Florida Times Union on Aug 8, 2008

By Lawrence Davidson and Parvez Ahmed

About a year and half ago did a survey and found that majority of Americans and Iranians agree with the statement, "Most people in the West and the Islamic world have similar needs and wants, so it is possible to find common ground." Only about a third of Americans and only a quarter of Iranians choose the counter-argument that "Islamic and Western religious and social traditions are incompatible with each other."

Despite such aspirations to find common ground, American-Iranian relations remain at a dangerous impasse. Earlier in July, after Iran fired long-range missiles, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice shot back reiterating that the United States remains determined to prevent Iran from threatening the interests of America and its allies, particularly Israel. The media hoopla that predictably ensued was largely devoid of the historical context to the unfolding events. That history shows that in the twentieth century Iran has been subject to interference and aggression by outside powers including Iraq, Russia, Great Britain and the United States. It is the U.S. which overthrew a democratically established Iranian government in 1953 substituting for it the dictatorship of the Shah. The bellicose position of the Bush administration is quite in tune with this history and, predictably, brings forth heightened reactions from Teheran.

The more America provokes, the worse Iran reacts, which in turn leads to harsher recriminations from Washington. This cycle of mutual bellicosity is exasperated by the Israeli claim that an assumed Iranian desire for nuclear weapons poses an "existentialist threat" to Israel. This claim is undoubtedly fueled by Iranian President Ahmedinajd's rhetorical desire to see the "regime now occupying Jerusalem vanish from the page of time," but also realistically is a far cry from any imminent "existential" threat. The Iranians have neither the capacity now nor will in the foreseeable future (if ever), to "wipe Israel off the map,” (which is a mistranslation of what Ahmedinajd actually said).

Yet a diplomatic resolution is not that far-fetched an idea. A framework for peace exists.

In a New Review of Books article Thomas Pickering, former US Ambassador to UN, proposed, "that Iran's efforts to produce enriched uranium and other related nuclear activities be conducted on a multilateral basis, that is to say jointly managed and operated on Iranian soil by a consortium including Iran and other governments....a multinational program will reduce the risk of proliferation and create the basis for a broader discussion not only of our disagreements but of our common interests as well." The article goes on to make a case for urgent diplomatic engagement.

Iran also appears to be seeking such engagement. For instance, in 2003 Iran proposed direct talks with U.S. only to be rebuffed. The Boston Globe in a May 31 article reported that Iran had made a proposal to the UN secretary general suggesting, "six months of negotiations on regional security, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, energy cooperation, and narcotics trafficking, as well as ways to improve international nuclear safeguards and monitoring and prevent the diversion of nuclear material." David Albright, president of the Institute for Science and International Security, a Washington-based think tank, said the Iranian offer "shows a willingness" to negotiate.

Adding to this, there are other facts that further underscore the case for peace. Republican Senator Lugar points out that a confrontation with Iran could trigger economic collapse at home and abroad should Iran's oil and gas resources be withdrawn from the global energy market and the sea lanes through the Straits of Hormuz disrupted. Further, Teheran has cooperated with the U.S. in the "war on terror." This reflects Iran's overwhelming rejection of bin Laden and his murderous ideology. And finally, hostility toward Iran is compounding the harm done to America's image by the invasion and occupation of Iraq.

Five countries with a Muslim-majority and four with Muslim-minority publics surveyed by Pew viewed Iran much more favorably than the United States. Can the U.S. afford to alienate the Muslim world even more than it already has? And how will such disregard for the hearts and minds of a billion Muslims help America's interests?

Sadly inane suggestions of Senator McCain that we "bomb Iran" or kill them by exporting more cigarettes only serves the interests of those failed ideologues that dragged us into a disastrous war with Iraq. American taxpayers must forcefully tell their politicians that hostility with Iran is not in our nation's interests. It does not make America more safe or free or respected. It is now time to give peace a chance. The recent meeting between a Nicholas Burns, the third ranking member in the U.S. State Department, and the top nuclear negotiator for Iran is a step in the right direction.

[Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University and Parvez Ahmed is associate professor at the University of North Florida.]

American and Muslims Voices: Both Seek Common Ground on U.S. Foreign Policy

In the latest Washington Post/ABC poll respondents by 16 points favored McCain over Obama in knowledge about world affairs. In an effort to overcome such perceptions Obama will undertake a major international trip later this month. While details of the trip remain vague, it is the expected that Obama, in addition to visiting our traditional allies in Europe will also visit Muslim countries like Jordan, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Obama is also expected to give a major speech in front of the historic
Brandenburg Gate in Berlin. After seven years of Bush unilateralism, mending fences with Europe is desirable and understandable. However, the European challenge pales in front of the continued worsening of our relationship with the Muslim world. American troops are engaged in two wars in the Muslim nations of Iraq and Afghanistan and are perhaps poised to invade a third, Iran.

Moreover, ill-advised rhetoric from the Presidential candidates, continue to add fuel to the fire. McCain singing “
bomb Iran” and “joking” about exporting American cigarettes to kill Iranians or Obama supporting an “undivided Jerusalem” (which he later backtracked on) and “willing to attack inside Pakistan” are hardening perceptions about America’s intent in the Muslim world.

Earlier last year, Steven Kull, editor of
testifying before House Committee on Foreign Affairs said, "For decades, polls in the Muslim world and the statements of Muslim leaders have shown a variety of resentments about US policies. Muslims share the worldwide view that the US does not live up to its own ideals of international law and democracy. … These attitudes persist. But now there … now seems to be a perception that the US has entered into a war against Islam itself.” No more than 5 to 10 percent of people living in Muslim majority countries find the United States to be trustworthy, friendly or respectful. Even those Muslims who aspire to better relations with the West remain skeptical of the United States (in “Who Speaks for Islam?” by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed).

Dotting these ominous clouds are many silver linings promising hope.

A recent Gallup poll, chronicled in Esposito and Mogahed’s book, shows that nearly
9 in 10 Muslims support freedom of speech, defined as allowing all citizens to express their opinions freely on all major issues of the day. Overwhelming majorities support women having the same legal rights as men. Similar numbers hold beliefs that their faith ought to inform and guide them in their politics. Yet most do not want sacred religious texts to be the exclusive source of law in their societies.

The most common aspiration, all across the Muslim world, is to see America help in reducing unemployment, improving economic infrastructure, respecting political rights and promoting freedom.

Back at home, in a poll conducted by the non-partisan group
Public Agenda, overall anxiety about foreign policy remains high. Clear majority of American’s support diplomatic and economic means to resolve conflicts. Nearly half favor the use of such methods to deal with Iran. Most respondents want America’s top foreign policy priorities to be humanitarian, such as assisting with clean water supplies, helping poor countries move out of poverty, providing more access to education or controlling the spread of deadly diseases.

Such convergence of aspiration creates new opportunities for cooperation through sustained intellectual and diplomatic engagement. To his credit,
Obama in a July 15 interview with CNN’s Larry King spoke about the need to engage with Pakistan’s newly elected government. He went on to say, “what we need to do is to form an alliance with the Pakistani people, saying that we're willing to significantly increase aid for humanitarian purposes, for schools, for hospitals, for health care. We want to support democratic efforts in Pakistan.”

In addition, increasing student and scholar exchange programs, spending on anti-poverty programs, opening new opportunities for businesses will do more to help America’s security and image than putting more boots on the ground. It is time to break our foreign policy from the grips of special interest groups whose ideological bent have dragged us into unnecessary wars fueling dangerous perceptions about America’s neo-imperialistic intentions.

Chairman of Council on American-Islamic Relations resigns
Leadership Changes at CAIR
By TMO July 10, 2008

By Ayub Khan, MMNS

Dr. Parvez Ahmed has resigned from the chairmanship of the Council on American Islamic Relations citing family and professional reasons as well as disappointment with the pace of renewal and change in the organization.

Dr. Ahmed has been leading the national organization since 2005, and has also led its Florida chapter of the organization for four years. In an telephonic interview to the Muslim Observer Dr.Ahmed said that he retains his basic membership of CAIR and will continue to help the organization whenever he is called.

“I hope my departure will create an opportunity to accelerate the process of desired change,” he said.

When contacted for their reaction a CAIR representative issued the following statement: “We thank Dr. Ahmed for his contribution to the organization over the past three years and wish him the best in his future endeavors. Leading a non-profit organization is at best a difficult task and it is understandable that Dr. Ahmed wishes to devote more time to his career and family. There are always debates and discussions about the correct course for any organization. Ultimately, the majority of organizational stakeholders supported a vision for implementing change and growth that differed from that of Dr. Ahmed.”

Dr. Ahmed, a a business professor at the University of North Florida, said that his resignation is also due to his family commitments. He has two young home schooled children and they require more of his attention.

Dr. Ahmed plans to devote more of his time to his academic and research pursuits. He is working on two books-one on American Muslims and another on Mutual Funds. The latter will have a section on Islamic finance as it pertains to social responsibility.


Jacksonville resident Parvez Ahmed has resigned as chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, saying he's frustrated about the national organization's failure to be more proactive and positive in its promotion of Muslim civil rights.

The nation's most well-known Muslim advocacy group, which he has led as board chairman since 2005, also needs to be more inclusive of younger, less-religious Muslims and encourage regular turnover of leadership ranks to ensure an infusion of new ideas, he told the Times-Union on Monday, a day after resigning.

These and other goals have been agreed to in principle by the organization's board and professional leadership, Ahmed said, but "an old guard mentality" among some of those leaders has kept elements of the strategic plan from being realized.

"And I got a little bit burned out pushing so hard" for the organization to be more open and transparent, he said.

The Washington, D.C.-based council declined to answer specific questions about Ahmed's comments. Instead, it e-mailed a four-sentence statement thanking Ahmed, 44, for his contributions and acknowledging differences in vision.

"Ultimately, the majority of organizational stakeholders supported a vision for implementing change and growth that differed from that of Dr. Ahmed," the statement said.

Two board members did not return phone calls seeking comment Monday.

An outspoken critic of the group said Ahmed did not capitalize on a golden opportunity to transform the organization.

The council was the only Muslim agency in the United States experiencing growth when Ahmed assumed its leadership, said Muqtedar Khan, director of Islamic Studies at the University of Delaware. But its continued foray into political and foreign-policy matters - such as seeking rights for foreign combatants held at Guantanamo Bay - has detracted from its mission of promoting Muslim-American rights, he said.

"He had an opportunity to take it to the next level and I think he failed," Khan said.
Ahmed said one of his unrealized goals was to transform the council into an organization that doesn't sound anti-American when it's criticizing government policies.

An example would be racial profiling, he said. In such cases the organization rightly criticizes the practice but routinely fails to work behind the scenes with government agencies to ultimately eliminate the practice.

Ahmed, a business professor at the University of North Florida, said his resignation has as much to do with a busy personal and professional life as it does with the council's sluggish movement. He's in the process of writing two books. And he said his children - a daughter, 11, and son, 7 - are beginning to require more of his time and energy for home schooling.

"I also wanted to send a message that a change in leadership is needed at the highest level, that we need some new blood at the board and executive levels," he said.

Ahmed has been a member of the council since 1991 but got actively involved after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

"Before that I was a very studious, quiet academic," he said.

By October of that year he had formed Pennsylvania's first council chapter and was named state chairman. In 2002 he had moved to Jacksonville to teach at UNF and was named chairman of Florida's council. At the time it boasted a $70,000 annual budget, one small office and a single part-time staffer. Today, he said, the council has additional offices in Tampa, Orlando and Jacksonville, 10 full-time employees and an annual budget of $900,000.

Although he will no longer be involved with the national council, Ahmed said he hopes it will devote more resources to demonstrating that Americans and Muslims share the values of peace, justice, understanding and inclusiveness. "The values of Islam and the values of America are complimentary." (904) 359-4310

Obama and the Pesky Muslim Rumors

Smear: Barack Obama is a Muslim.

Sen. Obama in his justifiable quest to correct the record, so unfairly distorted by viral emails and insidious propaganda, has launched a website titled 'Fight the Smears.' He is well within his rights to vehemently deny that he is a Muslim, when in reality he has always been a Christian.

But is it acceptable to insinuate that being Muslim is a 'smear'? That is a question Muslims, many of whom are Obamaniacs, are asking.

What if Obama was a Muslim? Would it make his message less hopeful? Will it make his personality less charming? Will it make his candidacy less viable?

A recently released report by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, titled 'U.S. Religious Landscape Survey,' shows 70 percent of Americans affiliated with a religion or denomination said they agreed that 'many religions can lead to eternal life'- a sign of progression towards a more inclusive and pluralistic society. And yet despite this progress, a Presidential candidate is being forced to go to unprecedented lengths to counter smears.

Last week New York Mayor Bloomberg speaking in front of a Jewish audience in South Florida stated that the deceptive campaign against Obama, 'threatens to undo the enormous strides that Jews and Muslims have made together in this country.' He went on to say, 'This is wedge politics at its worst, and we've got to reject it - loudly, clearly and unequivocally.' Despite the Mayor's commendable efforts, one audience member was reported in the New York Times to say, 'I still have doubts about him (Obama).'

Rumors often stick, which is why rumor mongering persists. Rumors are particularly lethal when they are easy to remember (Obama's middle name is Hussein thus it is easy to insinuate his alleged Muslim links) and they exploit emotive stereotypes (Muslims are out to destroy America). Simply dispelling the rumor without addressing the stereotype that makes such rumors stick is like treating the symptom without isolating the cause.

Thus, potential for blowbacks continue to fester. Given that Obama has not vigorously challenged the inherent bigotry behind the 'Muslim' rumors, some of his supporters got the errant message that any association between Obama and Muslims is potentially damaging to his candidacy. At a rally in Detroit last week, volunteers from the Obama campaign, citing 'a sensitive political climate,' prohibited two head scarf donning Muslim women from sitting too close to the stage lest they be visible in photo and video footage. Obama, to his credit, later apologized to the women and his campaign put out a message that the volunteers were not carrying out any campaign policy.

Over the past couple of months, I have been lecturing across America to Muslim audiences about civic and political engagement. Over the course of my trips I found that American Muslims in general recognize the historicity of the moment and are genuinely excited about the upcoming election. However, they are appalled at their faith being exploited for political gains.

Most Muslims were dismayed by Obama's clumsy denials. Many more were offended by his support for an undivided Jerusalem being the capital of Israel. Yet they are willing to look past them, partly because they perceive the alternative to be worse. They believe that Obama will restore lost civil liberties, is less likely to start a war and instinctively favors diplomatic resolutions to contentious foreign policy issues.

The second camp thinks that Obama will be so bloodied by the time he takes office that to prove his toughness he may swing to the right of Bush. They cite his comments that he may unilaterally send U.S. armed forces into Pakistan if he had actionable intelligence, as a grave concern. This group though small is prepared to sit out this election if their concerns remain unaddressed.

A recent Wall Street Journal article noted that while Muslims remain a small minority in the overall electorate, they are however likely to play a decisive role in the swing states of Michigan, Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania and Virginia. Obama ought to reach out to the Muslim community much in the same way he has reached out to Evangelicals and Jews. His claims of a holistic attitude towards all faith groups require consistency in engaging all groups.

Obama needs to not only continue assuring people that he is not a Muslim but also challenge the collective conscience of this nation to not let their fears undo the progress we have been making towards racial and religious tolerance. His ultimate legacy will not only be judged by becoming the first person of color to be elected President but more importantly what he does after he is elected.

Obama's vision of 'One America' needs to be more than mere rhetoric.

Oil Prices, Market Regulation and the 2008 Elections

On June 6, 2008 crude oil futures surged to an all-time high of $139.12 per barrel, a doubling of price in the past 12 months. U.S. Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson rightly suggested that the increasing price of oil is "a real burden on American consumers." The surge in oil prices is also threatening millions of poor people forcing them further into poverty, according to a report by the UN Development Programme.

Secretary Paulson has blamed the increase in oil prices on rising demand. However, there has not been any dramatic rise in demand even as economies in China and India continued to soar over the past year. It stands to reason that growth in energy demand is somewhat correlated with growth in gross domestic product (GDP). As an economy grows so will its need for energy. The projected annual growth rate for worldwide GDP is about 4.1 percent annually over the next quarter century. China and India is expected to lead that growth at about 6 percent per year.

Further, the demand for oil is tied to consumption of fossil fuels. According to Energy Information Administration (EIA), the official source of energy statistics from the U.S. government, worldwide consumption of energy from liquid sources, “is projected to increase from 83 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2004 to 97 million barrels per day in 2015 and 118 million bpd in 2030.” This represents a less than 2 percent annual growth in projected oil consumption. Thus, global growth or the Chinese red-scare alone cannot account for a doubling of gas prices at the pump.

On the supply side, the latest EIA estimates show that oil output from non-OPEC countries remain weak but that weakness is somewhat offset by increases in supply from OPEC countries lead by Saudi Arabia, which increased output in May by 300,000 bpd and will increase supply even more once its Khursaniyah oilfield is online. EIA projects that OPEC crude oil production is expected to increase during the third quarter of 2008, contingent on security situations in Iraq and Nigeria.

If neither demand nor supply explains the doubling of prices (and it is certainly not the falling US dollar), it leaves us with one other possibility - market speculation. Reminiscent of the Worldcom saga when telecom analysts like Jack Grubman working in concert with Worldcom CEO Bernie Ebbers put out false information about the “explosive demand for networking infrastructure” once again a group of market insiders are peddling rumors about dramatic demand increases. On May 6, Goldman Sachs speculated that oil could reach $200 per barrel fueled by the surging economies of China and India. “Goldman Sachs was one of the founding partners of online commodities and futures marketplace Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). And ICE has been a primary focus of recent congressional investigations; ….. Those investigations looked into the unregulated trading in energy futures, and both concluded that energy prices' climb to stratospheric heights has been driven by the billions of dollars' worth of oil and natural gas futures contracts being placed on the ICE—which is not regulated by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission,” wrote Ed Wallace in Business Week. Speculation coupled with lax regulation is causing untold misery to millions, while the shrewd insiders continue to game the system.

Heck even to play Monopoly you need rules! So how can complex markets trading sophisticated financial products be left without public oversight? In calling for more stringent regulation, the idea is to strike the right balance between fairness and efficiency. William Greider in his book the Soul of Capitalism writes, “With a few important exceptions, the agents of capital operate with dedicated blindness to capital's collateral consequences, an indifference to the future of society even as they search for the future's returns. The capital system does not authorize financial agents to think about such things and may well penalize them if they do.”

Undoubtedly futures markets serve an important societal function by allowing appropriate management of risk for both farmers and factories. The markets in and of itself are thus not the problem. It is the unmitigated greed of speculators and the herd mentality of the rest that creates the perfect storm for the development of price bubbles. While regulation may not be a panacea it can certainly help by injecting more transparency into markets like ICE. It appears that lessons from another unregulated energy market, Enron, have been forgotten all too soon.

Thus far both Presidential candidates have parroted the Bush administration’s line that increased demand from China is the reason for runaway gas prices. It is time they take another hard look at the data. Will any candidate favor more stringent regulation to prevent the next speculative bubble? Will they commit to using the Presidential bully pulpit to promote a culture of social responsibility such that doing well cannot come at the expense of doing good? After all the free market envisioned by Adam Smith requires human society to be “bound together by the agreeable bonds of love, affection and are, as it were, drawn to one common center of mutual good offices.”

Beyond race consciousness to God

by Prof. Parvez Ahmed and Sen. Larry Shaw

Special to the Times-Union

We are the products of, in the words of Sen. Barack Obama, "the decency and generosity of the American people."

One of us, Larry Shaw, is the son of slaves who rose to become one of the highest elected state officials and the other, Parvez Ahmed, an immigrant who came to America seeking higher education but stayed for its values. Like Obama, only in America is our story possible. And we are not alone.

Despite our successes we have been at the receiving end of the post-Sept. 11, 2001, hysteria regarding the "other" in America.

A systematic distortion of facts has painted all members of our faith and ethnic groups as either "violent" or "angry." Individual indiscretions have been conflated with group ideology.

The recent controversy over the Rev. Jeremiah Wright's sermons once again exposes the fragile state of race relations in America.

Such propensity to stereotype the "other" led former presidential candidate Gov. Bill Richardson to express concerns about how the debate over immigration has unnecessarily demonized the Hispanic people.

Through our many challenges, we stand on the fundamental idea so eloquently expressed in our holy book, the Quran: "O mankind! We (God) created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes that you may know each other (not that you may despise each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous amongst of you."

There exists in us a voice that urges us to accentuate our differences, often inducing an air of superiority. But also within us there is another voice, one that understands the universal truth - that all men (and women) are created equal and endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The Spanish-born Islamic philosopher Ibn Rushd (Averroes) noted that one of the ultimate aims of human soul is to pursue happiness. Happiness comes not from the mere accumulation of wealth, power and material comforts. Happiness comes from the pursuit of moral virtues. What can be more virtuous than eradicating race consciousness - a scourge that afflicts so many and remains the root cause of so many conflicts.

Obama has set the tone for the next generation of work on improving race relations. All of us will need to be more circumspect and less accusatory. Rather than recount grievances, we need to reckon the limitless possibilities our future holds. And we need to contend with our own prejudices.
If Sunday at 11 a.m. is the most segregated hour in America, then Friday afternoon, the time for Muslim congregational prayer, happens to be one of the most integrated.

However, pockets of our congregations remain stubbornly black, Arab or Southeast Asian. Many of our kitchen table conversations display biases that will make us cringe if such invectives were directed toward us.

We need to shed our bitterness and join hands to build an America where in the words of poet Langston Hughes, "O, let my land be a land where Liberty is crowned with no false patriotic wreath. But opportunity is real, and life is free. Equality is in the air we breathe."

Until we can come to the table of brotherhood with a standard of justice that reflects equality for all regardless of faith, gender and class, our humanity will never shine forth.

During his 1964 pilgrimage to the holy cities of Mecca and Medina, Malcolm X movingly expressed how God consciousness can transcend race consciousness: "Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors. ... I have never before seen sincere and true brotherhood practiced by all colors together, irrespective of their color."

This we believe.

Parvez Ahmed is chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and associate professor at the University of North Florida. Sen. Larry Shaw is a U.S. Democratic member of the North Carolina General Assembly.