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 WorldPublicOpinion.org 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 WorldPublicOpinion.org
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.com at http://www.jacksonville.com/tu-online/stories/070808/met_301001680.shtml.

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."

jeff.brumley@jacksonville.com (904) 359-4310