something to think about:
when a muslim man killed his wife in buffalo, everyone became obsessed with the news. there was a lot of “let’s study islamic culture and religion to understand this.” unfortunately domestic abuse and wife killing are not endemic of any particular religion or culture. each case deserves the same amount of exposure, analysis and condemnation:
when someone posted the number of civilian deaths in iraq (about 600,000 from 2003-2006) on facebook, there was a lot of brouhaha over how that number seemed too high. interesting how people sitting on their couches, watching cnn, think they have a better idea of deaths in iraq than the lancet journal which conducted an extensive study on the ground. anyway, for all the skeptics here is a great description of the methodology behind the stats.
Dear Mara, thanks for writing.
If you read my work you know I am totally opposed to Guantanamo and similar violations of human rights. I am not a defender of US imperialism. I don’t see why attacking “blasphemy,” “defamation of religion” and similar concepts makes me an imperialist. And just because the fatwas I mentioned are well-known doesn’t make them the less horrible and ridiculous. I think you are being a bit defensive there.
It’s true that in general I don’t see religion as a force for good in the world. Most of the time I discuss religion in my column I attack the Christian right, including for its intolerance toward other religions and of course its patriarchal views of women, something it shares with the other major faiths! But it would be inconsistent to attack the James Dobsons, Jerry Falwells, and Rick Warrens week in week out and never say a word about political Islam, which is imo a similar phenomenon.
my comments: although i’m glad that ms pollitt took the time to answer my letter, i think that she didn’t really address the gist of it.
attended dr ismail mehr’s excellent lecture on his work in gaza – mercy in a war zone, at suny brockport, organized by students for peace and justice. check out the website: ammgaza.com
carpet bombing pakistan (there is now talk of expanding the drone attacks to baluchistan), cambodia-style, will only radicalize more people. just so happens that pakistan has about 170 million of them. do we want to set this war in motion?
here is a sensible article by juan cole, salon.com.
saw “war made easy” on the 6th anniversary of the iraq war: looks like war is a “product” sold to us by the govt/media nexus, cuz it’s supposed to bring peace – hence perpetual war or in orwell’s words: war is peace!
narrated by sean penn, this is an excellent documentary. it’s a step by step manual on how to create, package, promote and continue war – “war for dummies” as someone said in the post screening discussion. many felt that the only way to overhaul the present system is to think of ourselves as citizens of the world, unconstrained by national boundaries or national interests.
that’s tough to sell, not only because we fear and distrust “otherness” but more so because of how we choose to live (our “way of life” which we are told is constantly under threat). can we give up the over-consumption we have gotten used to? it has taken too much from too many and given it to very few. the bigger our slice of the pie, the less others will get in other parts of the world. are we willing to change that?
zakaria makes some good points but is anyone going to listen? not sure what the agenda is anymore. war is too profitable for too many.
“Learning to Live With Radical Islam” by Fareed Zakaria
Newsweek, Feb 28, 2009
We don’t have to accept the stoning of criminals. But it’s time to stop treating all Islamists as potential terrorists.
Pakistan’s Swat valley is quiet once again. Often compared to Switzerland for its stunning landscape of mountains and meadows, Swat became a war zone over the past two years as Taliban fighters waged fierce battles against Army troops. No longer, but only because the Pakistani government has agreed to some of the militants’ key demands, chiefly that Islamic courts be established in the region. Fears abound that this means women’s schools will be destroyed, movies will be banned and public beheadings will become a regular occurrence.
The militants are bad people and this is bad news. But the more difficult question is, what should we—the outside world—do about it? That we are utterly opposed to such people, and their ideas and practices, is obvious. But how exactly should we oppose them? In Pakistan and Afghanistan, we have done so in large measure by attacking them—directly with Western troops and Predator strikes, and indirectly in alliance with Pakistani and Afghan forces. Is the answer to pour in more of our troops, train more Afghan soldiers, ask that the Pakistani military deploy more battalions, and expand the Predator program to hit more of the bad guys? Perhaps—in some cases, emphatically yes—but I think it’s also worth stepping back and trying to understand the phenomenon of Islamic radicalism.
It is not just in the Swat valley that Islamists are on the rise. In Afghanistan the Taliban have been gaining ground for the past two years as well. In Somalia last week, Al-Shabab, a local group of Islamic militants, captured yet another town from government forces. Reports from Nigeria to Bosnia to Indonesia show that Islamic fundamentalists are finding support within their communities for their agenda, which usually involves the introduction of some form of Sharia—Islamic law—reflecting a puritanical interpretation of Islam. No music, no liquor, no smoking, no female emancipation.
The groups that advocate these policies are ugly, reactionary forces that will stunt their countries and bring dishonor to their religion. But not all these Islamists advocate global jihad, host terrorists or launch operations against the outside world—in fact, most do not. Consider, for example, the most difficult example, the Taliban. The Taliban have done all kinds of terrible things in Afghanistan. But so far, no Afghan Taliban has participated at any significant level in a global terrorist attack over the past 10 years—including 9/11. There are certainly elements of the Taliban that are closely associated with Al Qaeda. But the Taliban is large, and many factions have little connection to Osama bin Laden. Most Taliban want Islamic rule locally, not violent jihad globally.
How would you describe Faisal Ahmad Shinwari, a judge in Afghanistan? He has banned women from singing on television and called for an end to cable television altogether. He has spoken out against women and men being educated in the same schools at any age. He has upheld the death penalty for two journalists who were convicted of blasphemy. (Their crime: writing that Afghanistan’s turn toward Islam was “reactionary.”) Shinwari sounds like an Islamic militant, right? Actually, he was appointed chief justice of the Afghan Supreme Court after the American invasion, administered Hamid Karzai’s oath of office and remained in his position until three years ago.
Were he to hold Western, liberal views, Shinwari would have little credibility within his country. The reality—for the worse, in my view—is that radical Islam has gained a powerful foothold in the Muslim imagination. It has done so for a variety of complex reasons that I have written about before. But the chief reason is the failure of Muslim countries to develop, politically or economically. Look at Pakistan. It cannot provide security, justice or education for many of its citizens. Its elected politicians have spent all of their time in office conspiring to have their opponents thrown in jail and their own corruption charges tossed out of court. As a result, President Asif Ali Zardari’s approval rating barely a month into office was around half that enjoyed by President Pervez Musharraf during most of his term. The state is losing legitimacy as well as the capacity to actually govern.
Consider Swat. The valley was historically a peaceful place that had autonomy within Pakistan (under a loose federal arrangement) and practiced a moderate version of Sharia in its courts. In 1969 Pakistan’s laws were formally extended to the region. Over the years, the new courts functioned poorly, with long delays, and were plagued by corruption. Dysfunctional rule meant that the government lost credibility. Some people grew nostalgic for the simple, if sometimes brutal, justice of the old Sharia courts. A movement demanding their restitution began in the early 1990s, and Benazir Bhutto’s government signed an agreement to reintroduce some aspects of the Sharia court system with Sufi Muhammed, the same cleric with whom the current government has struck a deal. (The Bhutto arrangement never really worked, and the protests started up again in a few years.) Few people in the valley would say that the current truce is their preferred outcome. In the recent election, they voted for a secular party. But if the secularists produce chaos and corruption, people settle for order.
The militants who were battling the Army (led by Sufi Muhammed’s son-in-law) have had to go along with the deal. The Pakistani government is hoping that this agreement will isolate the jihadists and win the public back to its side. This may not work, but at least it represents an effort to divide the camps of the Islamists between those who are violent and those who are merely extreme.
Over the past eight years such distinctions have been regarded as naive. In the Bush administration’s original view, all Islamist groups were one and the same; any distinctions or nuances were regarded as a form of appeasement. If they weren’t terrorists themselves, they were probably harboring terrorists. But how to understand Afghanistan and Pakistan, where the countries “harbor” terrorists but are not themselves terrorist states?
To be clear, where there are Qaeda cells and fighters, force is the only answer. But most estimates of the number of Qaeda fighters in Pakistan range well under a few thousand. Are those the only people we are bombing? Is bombing—by Americans—the best solution? The Predator strikes have convinced much of the local population that it’s under attack from America and produced a nationalist backlash. A few Qaeda operatives die, but public support for the battle against extremism drops in the vital Pashtun areas of Pakistan. Is this a good exchange?
We have placed ourselves in armed opposition to Muslim fundamentalists stretching from North Africa to Indonesia, which has made this whole enterprise feel very much like a clash of civilizations, and a violent one at that. Certainly, many local despots would prefer to enlist the American armed forces to defeat their enemies, some of whom may be jihadists but others may not. Across the entire North African region, the United States and other Western powers are supporting secular autocrats who claim to be battling Islamist opposition forces. In return, those rulers have done little to advance genuine reform, state building or political openness. In Algeria, after the Islamists won an election in 1992, the military staged a coup, the Islamists were banned and a long civil war ensued in which 200,000 people died. The opposition has since become more militant, and where once it had no global interests, some elements are now aligned with Al Qaeda.
Events have taken a different course in Nigeria, where the Islamists came to power locally. After the end of military rule in 1999, 12 of Nigeria’s 36 states chose to adopt Sharia. Radical clerics arrived from the Middle East to spread their draconian interpretation of Islam. Religious militias such as the Hisbah of Kano state patrolled the streets, attacking those who shirked prayers, disobeyed religious dress codes or drank alcohol. Several women accused of adultery were sentenced to death by stoning. In 2002 The Weekly Standard decried “the Talibanization of West Africa” and worried that Nigeria, a “giant of sub-Saharan Africa,” could become “a haven for Islamism, linked to foreign extremists.”
But when The New York Times sent a reporter to Kano state in late 2007, she found an entirely different picture from the one that had been fretted over by State Department policy analysts. “The Islamic revolution that seemed so destined to transform northern Nigeria in recent years appears to have come and gone,” the reporter, Lydia Polgreen, concluded. The Hisbah had become “little more than glorified crossing guards” and were “largely confined to their barracks and assigned anodyne tasks like directing traffic and helping fans to their seats at soccer games.” The widely publicized sentences of mutilation and stoning rarely came to pass (although floggings were common). Other news reports have confirmed this basic picture.
Residents hadn’t become less religious; mosques still overflowed with the devout during prayer time, and virtually all Muslim women went veiled. But the government had helped push Sharia in a tamer direction by outlawing religious militias; the regular police had no interest in enforcing the law’s strictest tenets. In addition, over time some of the loudest proponents of Sharia had been exposed as hypocrites. Some were under investigation for embezzling millions.
We have an instant, violent reaction to anyone who sounds like an Islamic bigot. This is understandable. Many Islamists are bigots, reactionaries and extremists (others are charlatans and opportunists). But this can sometimes blind us to the ways they might prove useful in the broader struggle against Islamic terror. The Bush administration spent its first term engaged in a largely abstract, theoretical conversation about radical Islam and its evils—and conservative intellectuals still spout this kind of unyielding rhetoric. By its second term, though, the administration was grappling with the complexities of Islam on the ground. It is instructive that Bush ended up pursuing a most sophisticated and nuanced policy toward political Islam in the one country where reality was unavoidable—Iraq.
Having invaded Iraq, the Americans searched for local allies, in particular political groups that could become the Iraqi face of the occupation. The administration came to recognize that 30 years of Saddam—a secular, failed tyrant—had left only hard-core Islamists as the opposition. It partnered with these groups, most of which were Shiite parties founded on the model of Iran’s ultra-religious organizations, and acquiesced as they took over most of southern Iraq, the Shiite heartland. In this area, the strict version of Islam that they implemented was quite similar to—in some cases more extreme than—what one would find in Iran today. Liquor was banned; women had to cover themselves from head to toe; Christians were persecuted; religious affiliations became the only way to get a government job, including college professorships.
While some of this puritanism is now mellowing, southern Iraq remains a dark place. But it is not a hotbed of jihad. And as the democratic process matures, one might even hope that some version of the Nigerian story will play out there. “It’s hard to hand over authority to people who are illiberal,” says former CIA analyst Reuel Marc Gerecht. “What you have to realize is that the objective is to defeat bin Ladenism, and you have to start the evolution. Moderate Muslims are not the answer. Shiite clerics and Sunni fundamentalists are our salvation from future 9/11s.”
The Bush administration partnered with fundamentalists once more in the Iraq War, in the Sunni belt. When the fighting was at its worst, administration officials began talking to some in the Sunni community who were involved in the insurgency. Many of them were classic Islamic militants, though others were simply former Baathists or tribal chiefs. Gen. David Petraeus’s counterinsurgency strategy ramped up this process. “We won the war in Iraq chiefly because we separated the local militants from the global jihadists,” says Fawaz Gerges, a scholar at Sarah Lawrence College, who has interviewed hundreds of Muslim militants. “Yet around the world we are still unwilling to make the distinction between these two groups.”
Would a strategy like this work in Afghanistan? David Kilcullen, a counterinsurgency expert who has advised Petraeus, says, “I’ve had tribal leaders and Afghan government officials at the province and district level tell me that 90 percent of the people we call the Taliban are actually tribal fighters or Pashtun nationalists or people pursuing their own agendas. Less than 10 percent are ideologically aligned with the Quetta Shura [Mullah Omar’s leadership group] or Al Qaeda.” These people are, in his view, “almost certainly reconcilable under some circumstances.” Kilcullen adds, “That’s very much what we did in Iraq. We negotiated with 90 percent of the people we were fighting.”
Beyond Afghanistan, too, it is crucial that we adopt a more sophisticated strategy toward radical Islam. This should come naturally to President Obama, who spoke often on the campaign trail of the need for just such a differentiated approach toward Muslim countries. Even the Washington Institute, a think tank often associated with conservatives, appears onboard. It is issuing a report this week that recommends, among other points, that the United States use more “nuanced, noncombative rhetoric” that avoids sweeping declarations like “war on terror,” “global insurgency,” even “the Muslim world.” Anything that emphasizes the variety of groups, movements and motives within that world strengthens the case that this is not a battle between Islam and the West. Bin Laden constantly argues that all these different groups are part of the same global movement. We should not play into his hands, and emphasize instead that many of these forces are local, have specific grievances and don’t have much in common.
That does not mean we should accept the burning of girls’ schools, or the stoning of criminals. Recognizing the reality of radical Islam is entirely different from accepting its ideas. We should mount a spirited defense of our views and values. We should pursue aggressively policies that will make these values succeed. Such efforts are often difficult and take time—rebuilding state structures, providing secular education, reducing corruption—but we should help societies making these efforts. The mere fact that we are working in these countries on these issues—and not simply bombing, killing and capturing—might change the atmosphere surrounding the U.S. involvement in this struggle.
The veil is not the same as the suicide belt. We can better pursue our values if we recognize the local and cultural context, and appreciate that people want to find their own balance between freedom and order, liberty and license. In the end, time is on our side. Bin Ladenism has already lost ground in almost every Muslim country. Radical Islam will follow the same path. Wherever it is tried—in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in parts of Nigeria and Pakistan—people weary of its charms very quickly. The truth is that all Islamists, violent or not, lack answers to the problems of the modern world. They do not have a world view that can satisfy the aspirations of modern men and women. We do. That’s the most powerful weapon of all.
Although I am a committed subscriber to The Nation, I was immensely disappointed by Katha Pollitt’s narrow and unoriginal piece, “Freedom of Speech Round 5,425“, The Nation, 2/18/09.
By quoting fatwas against Salman Rushdie, Taslima Nasreen, Theo van Gogh and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, she does nothing new. Those are the same old examples used ad nauseum by Western protagonists of freedom of speech.
Freedom of speech is an excellent idea. However, it is part and parcel of a larger charter of human rights, within which it makes sense and without which it becomes ridiculous to selectively mourn its compromise. Would freedom of speech apply to people let’s say who are held indefinitely in jail and tortured without due process or a fair trial? Would their inability to defend themselves and be heard by an impartial jury or an impartial judge also be deemed an attack on their freedom of speech? High profile cases such as those of Aafia Siddiqui and hundreds held at Guantanamo come to mind.
How much hate speech should be protected by freedom of speech? Western media is saturated with lopsided, distorted, even fabricated coverage of Islam and Muslims when the same people are most vulnerable to persecution and witch hunts. The profiling, deportation and detention of Arabs and Muslims which is now widespread within the United States attests to this reality. Pollitt probably understands the concept of hate media. For example, Radio Rwanda was used in the 1990s to promote the killing of Tutsi. That’s an extreme example but it’s safe to say that hate media can indirectly promote hate crimes. Pollitt’s concern for the rights of Dutch MP Geert Wilders who, according to her, should be given carte blanche to preach hate at the highest levels of European government, by using his own propagandist, anti-Islam film called “Fitna” (source of trouble) seems grossly misplaced.
It’s comical that in the same article where she so defends absolute freedom of speech, Pollitt chastises the Pope for welcoming back a “Holocaust-denying schismatic bishop” into the church. Shouldn’t that be covered by freedom of speech?
Pollitt tries to stray away from blaming it all on Islam by giving lame examples of mostly Christian acts of extremism from the 17th century. But she can’t help reiterate the thesis of her essay, “It’s true that Islamic fundamentalists are the most active and violent attackers of free speech and the most tyrannical enforcers of religious conformity through the organs of the state”. Let’s forget about the 17th century and let’s not focus so narrowly on religious sanctions on freedom of speech. What if freedom of speech were not just defined as the right to mock and defame but as people’s essential right to voice their opinion and make it matter?
Let’s talk about political freedom of speech. Should the people of Pakistan be allowed to speak their minds and elect their own leaders or should the United States get its way and install one military dictator after another? Military dictatorships don’t come with a lot of free speech, I can tell you that. Should the people of Iraq and Afghanistan be able to decide what governments they want or is that the prerogative of the American government, elected by the American people?
Let’s talk about journalistic freedom of speech. The targeted killing and harassment of journalists in Iraq is well-known and well-documented by the United Nations and FAIR (Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting). Is that conducive to freedom of speech and freedom of information?
Pollitt’s crusade in the name of free speech is as ridiculous as that of American artist John Currin who inspired by the mullahs’ attack on free speech on account of the Danish cartoons became convinced that he could check this current of fascism by producing pornographic paintings. The ultimate gift to the gods of free speech!
If we open our eyes to what is going on in the world and choose to focus on the big picture, not just meaningless cliches readily available for public consumption, then the mainstream Western definition of freedom of speech begins to look selective, small-minded, and self-serving. It’s like Thomas Friedman’s condescending and offensive metric of what success would look like in Iraq: “…when Salman Rushdie can give a lecture in Baghdad… you are not going to get a reformation in Islam or Arab politics without this”.
What arrogant, imperialistic, racist hogwash is that?
an interesting article in the los angeles times, march 3, 2009:
Muslim American prosperity is tinged with alienation, survey finds
They have a higher employment rate than the national norm but carry a sense of cultural alienation, a yearlong Gallup Poll reports. The young say they are particularly dissatisfied.
By Sarah Gantz
March 3, 2009
Reporting from Washington — A study of Muslim Americans released Monday presents a portrait of an often misunderstood community — one that is integrated socio-economically but culturally alienated; that succeeds in the workforce but struggles to find contentment.
The numbers suggest economic and career success among Muslim Americans — they have a higher employment rate than the national average and are among the nation’s most educated religious groups. Yet only 41% described themselves as “thriving.”
And though the report by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies states that Muslim Americans are more likely than the general public to hold a professional job, they expressed less satisfaction with their standard of living and community.
The disparity is a sign of the alienation some Muslim Americans may feel, experts say. Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst for the center, said some Muslim Americans feel a sense of “otherness” created by outside perceptions of their religion and a lack of involvement in their larger community.
Three-quarters of Muslim Americans polled said they were satisfied with their community, as opposed to nearly 90% among respondents from other religions. They also were less optimistic about the future of their communities. Muslim Americans ranked highest among American religious groups who believed their communities were getting worse.
The data reflect the responses of 941 Americans who identified themselves as Muslim in a survey of more than 300,000 Americans over the course of 2008. The nonpartisan research center is affiliated with the Gallup polling organization.
“There’s no doubt that there is a certain sense of isolation and alienation — there’s no doubt,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), the first Muslim elected to Congress.
One reason for this may be because Muslim communities revolve around the mosque, Ellison said in an interview after the report’s release. The key to a better-integrated Muslim American community, he said, is to make the mosque more welcoming for non-Muslims.
Muslim Americans ages 18 to 29 in particular reported discontent with their jobs and communities.
On average, those youths were unhappier, angrier and less optimistic than their peers in other religions, according to the report.
Only 78% of young Muslims reported having smiled or laughed the day before, while nearly 90% of Protestants, Catholics and Jews of the same age said they had.
A great deal of the emotional turbulence among young Muslims is due to the stereotypes and suspicion of Islam since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, experts say.
“I can only imagine a 10- or 12-year-old getting the type of questions I get” about Islam, said Suhail Khan, a board member of the American Conservative Union and former public outreach aide in George W. Bush’s administration. “I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, and it wasn’t an issue. It just wasn’t.”
Khan described Muslim Americans’ integration into American society as a long, slow process tainted with discrimination and stereotypes, but one that other minorities have overcome.
“There is no doubt in my mind that we will not only see an end to the discrimination and the fear-mongering,” Khan said, “we’ll soon look back and wonder why some of this even went this far.”
The entire report is available at www.MuslimWestFacts.com.
a team of american doctors went to gaza to provide much needed medical help. you can read about their first hand experiences, see pictures and watch coverage in american news by visiting ammgaza.com.
the military offensive might be over but we cannot forget the horrific humanitarian crisis left behind. the average age is 16 in gaza, so we are talking about a lot of wounded and traumatised children. the doctors describe how in the absence of basic medical supplies, they had to stitch kids up without anesthesia.
it is important to donate to international relief organizations operating in the region.
this is a great video from pain without borders, www.douleurs.org:
what they say in the video:
some of us know only pain.
let’s change that.
“Army leaders are fully aware that repeated deployments have led to increased distress and anxiety for both soldiers and their families,” Secretary of the Army Pete Geren said. “This stress on the force is validated by recent studies of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans reporting symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder or major depression.”
as obama escalates the war in south asia, we will be spending more on defense and less on fixing domestic problems. as the economy deflates further and unemployment rises, military enlistment is going to jump up. an untenable vicious circle. something will have to give.
here is the full article from cnn.