Western Muslims

Peretz: at it again

So, more on Mr. Hussain. In announcing his appointment, Obama again chose recherché speech. Or, to be more precise, a word he did not know. Hussain is a hafiz of the Koran—he’s memorized it all—and, as such, “he is a respected member of the Muslim community.” I can’t believe that Obama knew what hafiz meant. It may just be another one of his affectations. And as for a hafiz, I’d bet that many schoolboys who attended madrassas, which are mostly centers of ignorance like many ultra-Orthodox yeshivot, also have memorized the holy text and that says nothing about the respect in which the community holds them and certainly says nothing at all about their wisdom.

Assalamu Alaykum, Another Special Envoy And Obama’s Impoverished Grasp Of The Muslim World,” Marty Peretz, 17 February, 2010.

Here it is clear that Peretz has no idea of what a hafiz is or what his place is in Muslim communities and societies or has no idea of what madrasas are in Muslim communities and societies in the traditional sense or that he is being both disingenuous, disrespectful and contemptuous all at once.

As in practically all other instances where Peretz looks to pity President Obama’s lack of knowledge about Islam and Muslims he has ended up exposing his own lack of knowledge and bigotry toward Muslims (and Arabs, too).

On America’s Muslim problem: I

Not something you see today.

Following President Obama’s famed Cairo speech, there were those who were excited, those who were nettled and those who were simply unimpressed. Among the nettled were some American conservatives — of the Wingnut, moderate and innovative sorts — who objected to the the speech’s content and tone on a number of grounds. Most notable were those around it form a part of an “apology tour” or that it was too harsh on the Israelis. Another objection was that Obama took too conciliatory a tone with American Muslims, especially his remark that Islam has “always been a part of America’s story.” Those came from the right but they spoke to something much bigger. (more…)

New Mauritanian-American blog

I should like to direct my readers to a fellow Bostonian blogger, of Mauritanian origins, writing especially on the Ould Abdel Aziz’s government’s attacks on Hanevy Ould Dahah of Taqadoumy, which remain on going. Hanevy has been locked up, been due for release and then locked right back up again for around six months or so. He is the editor of Taqadoumy. He is on the fourth day of a hunger strike at the moment. The blog’s clever title is Dekhnstan.

To read Hanevy in his own words, see his columns at Taqadoumy and his defense in court from this past August.

On Ross Douthat and Islam

This past week the New York Times published three pieces on the minaret issue on its opinion pages. There was one, quite Neanderthal, written by Ross Douthat, the Times‘s resident conservative who has opined on the dangers of Islam before; another — by Peter Stamm, a Swiss writer – bland and half-way apologetic, and a third more courageous and reasonable than much of what the Times has published on European Islam recently. Unsurprisingly the third piece was written by the senior director of Amnesty, Claudio Cordone. The second piece shows at once the inevitable truth that tolerant voices still exist in Europe and that too often such voices fail to grasp the gravity of the problem with their compatriots’ “Muslim problem”.*

Douthat’s is more pressing from the American standpoint than either Cordone’s or Peter Stamm’s. Ross Douthat’s writing on Islam to date is disappointing from the standpoint one concerned with the well-being of western Muslims, and it deserves examination and criticism, as it represents the provincialism and bad judgment that persists in even the “reformist” set among the new generation of conservatives and Republicans, so rooted in the Culture War and revenge politics. This is not surprising, though it is disappointing and worrisome nonetheless.

Douthat has been labeled by liberals and conservatives all over, magazine and newspapers, as one of American conservatism’s up-and-coming leaders. In 2008, with Reihan Salam (whose piece on the Fort Hood massacre is worth reading), Douthat authored Grand New Party: How Conservatives can win back the Middle Class and save the American Dream (Doubleday) a tract on how to make the Republican Party credible with its “base” once more. In Douthat’s writings on “Islam,” one finds a provincialism and illiteracy that reinforces the dogmatism that make so much of American conservatism inaccessible to minorities, American Muslims in particular. Pity his lack of creativity in the time of Obama. (more…)

On the Minaret ban

One should register no surprise that the continent which produced the Inquisition, anti-Semitism, the Crusades and the Holocaust would give rise to a sentiment that would lead 57% of Swiss voters to ban the construction of minarets. It should be even less surprising that this would come round in a country where the largest party in parliament made itself so by posting up images of white sheep bucking black ones off of the national flag. Proponents of the Swiss ban on the construction of minarets say they fear the imposition of sharia law; that the towers rising off of mosques illustrate Muslim dominance over their society. They go on that Muslims, unlike Christians or Jews, make “political and legal demands.” To preserve Swiss culture and law, no more minarets ought to go up. Some feminists, representing the most assuredly misguided sect yet to speak, added that the minaret is a phallic symbol, representing male oppression of women. Cutting minarets from the skyline would, in their minds, take a stand against misogyny. “If we give them a minaret, they’ll have us all wearing burqas,” as one put it. The Muslims don’t believe women to have any worth and we ought to convince them otherwise by keeping them from building vertically, to paraphrase another. We should be eager to catch a flier compelling us to a rally urging a ban on the construction of bell towers and spires, of slender and high reaching sculptures. Such a hope would only yield disappointment, though. For even if we would like to assume the good and honest intentions of the ban — to accept the line of one parliamentarian that the trouble isn’t Muslims as people, but merely the legal implications of their religion — we would be stupid, foolish and criminally gullible to do so. It would be disingenuous to call the majority decision on the matter anything but an expression of popular and growing racism and bigotry in Swiss society. Worst of all is that we may not say that a wretched government is responsible for this violation of religious freedom. It was the Swiss people — though it is better to say the unenlightened among them. (more…)

Worth reading

Here are some stories on the region worth checking out:

  • As Algeria grows more Islamic, nightlife suffers,” 8 August, 2009. The premise of the article is somewhat wrongheaded, as its title suggests. Algeria has been Islamic for some time. That its nightlife is struggling is only slightly newsworthy but does show, as the author intends, that “reconciliation” has meant acquiescing to demands of popular Islamist (not “Islamic”) sentiments.
  • France’s Algerian shadow,” Aljazeera English, Veterans, August, 2009. An interesting segment on the memory of the Algerian War of Independence and its post-war maltreatment of Muslim harkis (Algerians who fought for the French; who were relentlessly driven from their homes, hacked up, or forced into dreary exile in France, or quiet shame within Algeria; the term is taken to mean “traitor,” the opposite of a patriot, the moral antithesis of the moudjahid or chahid). The program is interesting, interviewing harkis, Algerians, French vets and the like. French and Algerian viewers may take issue with its framing.
  • Qadhafi’s Time in the Limelight: Impact on U.S. Interests,” Dana Moss (WINEP), 28 August, 2009. Interesting summation of Qadhafi’s 40th anniversary, his upcoming visit to the United Nations (and his desire to pitch a tent in New Jersey), the release of Meghrahi, and so on and so forth. According to Moss, the Brother Leader heads “an opportunistic regime,” that “may no longer be an enemy, but it is a very unreliable friend.” She notes that the US has little to offer Qadhafi, though he may embarrass his hosts with typically ridiculous speech-making, or work contra US efforts in Africa should he feel that American engagement does not sufficiently match his liking.
  • Libya Marks 40-Years of Qaddafi,” Aljazeera English, 1 September, 2009. Describes the ghoulish glitz and kitch of Qadhafi’s anniversary celebrations, asking few tough questions, quoting planners who compare the endeavor in relation to an “Olympic opening ceremony” and outsiders who remark on how little Libya’s massive oil wealth has benefited its puny population of but 6 million. An homage to misrule.
  • Gaddafi coup celebrations expose Moroccan land dispute,” Jerusalem Post, 2 September, 2009. The Moroccan delegation stormed away from Qadhafi’s party because Mohamed Abdelaziz, president of the Saharawi SADR, was present. A set from Morocco’s security forces was to participate in the processions, but apparently no more. This mini-row is a wonderful illustration of the whole escapade’s stupendous stupidity. The celebration was also attended by Mauritania’s Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, his first foreign trip since the elections.
  • Moines de Tibéhirine : « une affaire franco-française », selon Ouyahia,” TSA, 2 September, 2o09. I received an email asking why I was not writing more about the controversy around the killing of the monks at Tiberhirine. The reason is that it is of great real consequence in the region. It holds significance in Franco-Algerian relations, and represents an effort from the French end to influence things on the Algerian side, but has more meaning for the French than the Algerians. Algerians very much see it as an attempt to undermine Ahmed Ouyahia, whom the French are said to dislike and who is thought to be a likely follow up to Bouteflika.
  • Larbi Belkheir hospitalisé à l’hôpital du Val-de-Grâce en France,” TSA, 2 September, 2009. Larbi Belkheir, once a major player in the generals’ regime during the 1990′s, before being shipped off to obscurity as Ambassador to Morocco, has suffered from complications from lung cancer for some time. This week he was sent of to the Val-de Grâce military hospital in Paris, after returning to Algiers earlier. Since his return to Algeria in 2008, his responsibilities were taken up by Boumediene Guenadi, the Deputy Ambassador. He has been dropped in a recent shuffle of Algerian diplomatic postings and the post in Rabat has yet to be filled.
  • La France et les USA rapatrient les familles des employés du pétrole,” Taqadoumy, 2 September, 2009. US and France bring home the families employees of oil companies in Mali and Niger. The State Department Reavel Warnings and Travel Alterts for Mali, and Mauritania have been updated with greater urgency. Numerous American aid and development projects (including the Peace Corps) are being scaled back or brought home from the Sahel, a reaction to increasing AQIM activity.
  • Going back a few months, the Algerian-American community in Washington, D.C.  has been grumpy since the new Algerian Ambassador, Abdallah Baali, failed to put on 5 July (Independence Day) celebrations for the Algerian community in the area, as per tradition. Local Algerians complain that while the embassy put on 4 July celebrations to mark American independence, it failed to mark its own national holiday, and that the two events could have been merged, if finances, time or whatever other possibilities were the concern. At the same time some feel disconnected from the new Ambassador, whose “style” they see as being rather different from the more personalized one of his predecessor. At the same time, personal feuds splintered celebrations elsewhere on the east coast, where multiple celebrations went on in the same city (in more than one city). In some places, communities economized and celebrated American and Algerian independence on one day, simultaneously. It said the embassy has taken note of the Washington Algerians’ concerns.

More meaningful blogging will soon commence.

On Obama’s Ramadan message

President Obama’s Ramadan message was, as his remarks to the Muslim world often are, at best well choreographed and well composed and at worst thoroughly disingenuous and problematic. As a part of the White House’s outreach to the Muslim world, it not only cross referenced the Cairo speech, and the president’s commitment to “a new beginning between America and Muslims around the world”. While there is little to argue with in the core of that message, that relationships should be based on common interests and respect, the Obama administration has yet to put anything on display beyond respect for rulers in the Muslim world. After critical examination (and much of the reporting on it has been distinctly uncritical), the Ramadan message Mr. Obama delivers is hardly about Ramadan. Like other public diplomacy efforts by the Obama administration, the Ramadan message is one of studied and dutiful vagueness.

He begins by stating that he extends well wishes on “on behalf of the American people, including Muslims in all fifty states”. So far so good. From here, the president speaks essentially to foreign Muslims, not American Muslims. He speaks of philanthropic activities in the United States, highlighting those of American Muslim organizations as well, noting that all religions encourage charitable giving. He then informs viewers of America’s effort to “engage Muslims and Muslim-majority nations on the basis of mutual interests and mutual respect,” recalling the thrust of his Ankara and Cairo speeches. (more…)

Bigotry dressed as gallantry: Sarko and the burqa

France’s strict secularism, entrenched by law since 1905, keeps religion firmly out of the state sphere. There are no religious studies (let alone nativity plays) in state schools, nor may public workers sport the headscarf. The government denies that such policies constrain religious freedom or are especially aimed at Islam. France welcomes private Muslim schools. Mosque-building is widespread. The 2004 headscarf ban outlawed “conspicuous” religious symbols of all faiths. Yet there are growing worries about the spread of hard-line Islamism in the heavily Muslim banlieues.

Now that Mr Sarkozy has publicly condemned the burqa, the chances of a ban have risen sharply. Parliament has launched a cross-party mission to report back in six months. In fact, few women wear the full garment in France. But mayors of cities with big Muslim populations report a steady increase in numbers, due not to immigration but to its adoption by French-born women—often from North African countries where the burqa is not traditionally worn.

France ponders a burqa ban: No covering up,” The Economist, 25 June, 2009. (more…)

On Obama’s Cairo speech

Official and unoffficial reactions to Barack Obama’s speech at Cairo University are out, and the minds of many have been made up. Here are this blogger’s reactions to some of its major points, thematically, with emphasis on criticism, not genuflection (for the former is more valuable than the latter). (more…)

On Cairo negatives

Obama’s speech in Cairo on June will mark the third time he has addressed the Muslim world, seeking partnership and conciliation with Muslims jaded by George Bush’s unrelentingly belligerent and humiliating “war on terror” policies and his divisive, poisonous rhetoric.

In his first major interview to Al-Arabiya, Obama proclaimed: “My job to the Muslim world is to communicate that the Americans are not your enemy.”

Yet, Obama’s choice of Egypt is an implicit endorsement and validation of Mubarak’s dictatorship, and it reiterates the oft-spoken but albeit true cliché in the Muslim world that US merely covets selfish policy interests instead of democratization, autonomy and self determination by and for the Arab and Muslim people.

“Obama chooses a reliable dictatorship,” Wajahat Ali, Information Clearing House, 12 May, 2009.

I have written on the problems posed by an Obama visit to Cairo (though in a slightly different context); I maintain those reservations towards the “symbolism” and meaning of such an address in Cairo. Having heard embassy staff slobber about the “deep meaning” of such an address depending on its location and visual composition of his address, one is partly concerned that the visit has no strong meaning based on any of the actual stated principles the government would like, outside of reassuring the Egyptians that the US perceives it as among its strongest Arab allies and will support the Egyptian government in a more congenial way than the previous administration. An American official who works on what basically comes up to [rather crude] public relations told me: this will be important for our relations with European Muslims and Muslims everywhere. In the first place the notion that the US needs a special or enhanced relationship with European Muslims (unless this individual was referring to Kosovars, Albanians, Bosnians and the like) is rather strange.¹ Aside from that, the Cairo speech will offer significant insight into the administration’s intentions and circumstance vis-a-vis the Arabic-speaking Middle East. Very often, in this blogger’s view, the relevance such happenings have in the broader Muslim world are exaggerated. But the relevance it may have to how the administration approaches the Muslim world will be half-way significant, depending on the content of what Obama says and how he says it. But it will not, I repeat, will not show any Muslim or any Arab what the United States plans to do in the Arab or Muslim worlds. What has been seen recently, as the piece notes, is a continuation of material ties between the United States and Egypt. And it is well known that the Egyptians are most concerned that the Americans perceive them as the primary power in the Arab world and behave accordingly. Thus, the emphasis on the Arab-Israeli dispute, the possible resolution of which will not yield many positive results for anyone but those directly involved (and this does not include the average Egyptian or Algerian). Such efforts re-enforce pre-existing relations between the United States and the states in the region. What the administration says the “Muslim world” it means allied governments whose staff and populations are Muslim. Reference to much of anything else is diplospeak and represents half-measures, such is the heart of the American relationship with most countries and these especially. Unless real changes begin, outside of rhetoric, the administration’s actual policy remains obscure. If the president is bold enough to speak to the concerns of Egyptians and Muslims, beyond the ruling castes, it may signal change. But that much is unlikely.


1920 or 2008?

“When you have an immigration policy that allows for the importation of millions of radical Muslims, you are also importing their radical ideology – an ideology that is fundamentally hostile to the foundations of western democracy – such as gender equality, pluralism, and individual liberty,” said Tancredo. “The best way to safeguard America against the importation of the destructive effects of this poisonous ideology is to prevent its purveyors from coming here in the first place.”

Tancredo Proposes Anti-Sharia Measure in Wake of U.K. Certification of Islamic Courts,” 18 September, 2008. (more…)

Muslim Melians

Mr. Ellison believed that Mr. Obama’s message of unity resonated deeply with American Muslims. He volunteered to speak on Mr. Obama’s behalf at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, one of the nation’s oldest Muslim enclaves. But before the rally could take place, aides to Mr. Obama asked Mr. Ellison to cancel the trip because it might stir controversy. Another aide appeared at Mr. Ellison’s Washington office to explain.

“I will never forget the quote,” Mr. Ellison said, leaning forward in his chair as he recalled the aide’s words. “He said, ‘We have a very tightly wrapped message.’ ”

When Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign, Muslim Americans from California to Virginia responded with enthusiasm, seeing him as a long-awaited champion of civil liberties, religious tolerance and diplomacy in foreign affairs. But more than a year later, many say, he has not returned their embrace.

[. . .]

“A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way,” Mr. Ellison said.

Muslim Voters Detect a Snub From Obama,” 24 June, 2008, New York Times. (more…)

Another day in Europe

One response has come from Danish-born Muslims. A poll by Politiken, a daily, of 315 young Muslim students, found that two-thirds of them were considering emigrating after graduation. Most gave as their reason “the tone of the Danish debate about Muslims”. Jakob Lange, head of studies at Copenhagen University, says that children of immigrants deliberately choose portable qualifications. “They want an education they can use abroad, where the tone of the debate is different. Which is why they often choose medicine, engineering or business-related disciplines.”

Covering up,” The Economist, 29 May, 2008. (more…)

NYT on Manji and Hirsi Ali

My favorite part of this New York Times (“Muslim Rebel Sisters: At Odds With Islam and Each Other“) article about Irshad Manji and Ayaan Hirsi is that it quites only one Muslim thinker — Irshad Manji — and that all the supposed authorities on Muslim “reformers” and modern Islam are non-Muslims closely affiliated with the two authors, who offer very little actual criticism or insight into the philosophies or tactics of the two women featured in the article. The article mentions that Hirsi Ali is herself an atheist — not a Muslim — but still treats her as if she were one, for the purposes of this envisioned “Islamic Reformation.” This is perhaps the worst profile of either of these two characters I have seen recently, not just because of its obvious bias (in the subjects’ favor), but for the dreadful quality of its reporting and lack of interest in the many Muslims in the West and elsewhere working towards change within their communities everyday but who are ignored in favor of flamboyant and remote figures, such as Manji and Hirsi Ali, who paint them as the problem and Islamists and radicals who caricature their faith and often place them in mortal danger. I would also add that the NYT does not seem to believe that Manji and Hirisi Ali’s obvious bigotry towards Arabs — or at least Arab Muslims — is a negative thing. Speaking disparagingly of “Arab desert culture” and saying that “we aren’t in the Saudi sand dunes anymore,” while constantly insinuating that the practice of Islam in Arab societies is essentially the same in Saudi Arabia is perfectly acceptable.

Kosovo and the `Ummah, II

Many Islamic-majority countries will probably end up recognizing Kosovo at some point–although they may also hesitate given the strong emphasis of many Kosovars of their secular, European identity as opposed to an Islamic one. But if and when they do, they may add caveats about possible precedents–not really caring what U.S. and European diplomats once again said at the Brussels Forum last week–that could create headaches for the U.S. down the line and which Washington still seems unprepared to deal with.

– Nikolas K. Gvosdev, “OIC Summit and the Dakar Declaration,” 20 March, 2008. (more…)