2006-03-05

A Dream Deferred

Roheet Shah of the American Islamic Congress commented on a previous article with a note about an event organised by the Hands Across the Middle East Alliance (HAMSA).

The event is called The Dream Deferred Contest which calls for American and Middle Eastern youth to write an essay about what they think of the civil freedoms situation in the Middle East. I don't know of the motivations of this contest, but I think it's going to be an interesting opportunity to see how the situation is seen from different standpoints.

Unfortunately I don't qualify because of my age: I'm not a "youth" anymore. I wished I could contribute, but I will try to put some thoughts about the subject here.

First off, it's not very clear to me why Americans, or the West in general, are so concerned about freedoms in the Middle East: is it because some think that the lack of freedoms is causing trouble back home? is it by pure compassion? Then, what freedoms are we talking about here? Is it the freedom of speech? the freedom to live in peace? the equality between genders? and what's the "Middle East"?

I am very excited about this event because I'm sure that what the American youth will write is going to be very interesting; interesting, not only because the latest American attempt to bring freedom to the Middle East has been desasterous so far, but also because the image of the Middle East displayed by US media is so distorted and, in my opinion, amounts to lies at times.

It's interesting also to see what the other side of the river thinks. Many in the Middle East are reluctant to take the West for an example of freedom because they don't think that they really need a freedom that makes 42% of British babies born to single mothers, that makes 600,000 people in Europe die from Alcohol-related causes per year and that makes 40% of all registered marriages in a German city take place between gay couples. Wasn't it the same freedom of press and speech that established an anti-semetic atmosphere in Germany in the early 30's which led to an attempt to exterminate a whole People?

It's hard to imagine that someone sane can reject freedom and democracy, but on a second thought, one may question whether they are really worth the price. The French Revolution, a symbol for the modern, free and democratic republics, has rampaged through France behading people for pronouncing the word "King". Some bright minds of France were lost victims of an excessive quest for freedom. The United States had to exterminate the native Indians, fight a bloody war against the British rule and another bloody civil war to build a "free and democratic America".

Obviously all this comes in a global situation where it seems common sense to regard the West as the beacon of freedom and the Middle East as a hole of darkness. Although I don't agree to this black-and-white classification, I think that, generally speaking, it's a lot easier to communicate one's ideas in the West than it is in the Middle East.

I also believe that it's the freedom to express difering views that guarantees a reasonably good governance. Without a trusted justice system, there's very little room for any economic, social and technical development. I'm almost sure that the wide-spread corruption in many Middle Eastern countries is holding back development. In the 12th century, Abdu Ar-Rahman Ibn Khaldun (عبد الرحمان إبن خلدون) said that "العدل أساس العمران", that is "justice is the foundation of urban life".

In my opinion, the Western attempt to "bring freedom to the Middle East" are mostly making the situation worse. For some, it's enough reason to reject an idea because it comes from America.

In my humble opinion, I think that if the motivation America is to bring democracy, then I would beg them to leave their tanks home: help people get jobs and democracy will follow. If the intention is to keep the extremists from attacking America, then the fix is even easier: "if you want to fight terrorism, then just stop bombing people".

At times I just think that maybe it was better to just leave the Middle East alone. Muhandas Gandhi once said: "What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?"

هناك 5 تعليقات:

غير معرف يقول...


It's hard to imagine that someone sane can reject freedom and democracy, but on a second thought, one may question whether they are really worth the price. The French Revolution, a symbol for the modern, free and democratic republics, has rampaged through France behading people for pronouncing the word "King". Some bright minds of France were lost victims of an excessive quest for freedom. The United States had to exterminate the native Indians, fight a bloody war against the British rule and another bloody civil war to build a "free and democratic America"

So this begs the question, Imed: Is
what was almost Abdul Rahman's fate in Afghanistan what we should settle for? His situation is not at all unique. Just more widely publicized due to the fact the US has troops there and fought to "free" Afghanistan. Only to, seemingly, help craft a constitution that defers to sharia law.

So I ask you, is it a capital crime (i.e.: punishable by death) under sharia law to leave Islam for another faith, such as Christianity? If so, is sharia law something you support? And if so, is at least this point of sharia law something we are going to see you, or maybe a mass-Muslim movement fight against?

I'm not trying to sound combative. I really do want to know.

Imed Chihi يقول...

Hello Anonymous :)

I believe that anyone advocating the death penalty for a convert is clearly on crack. Opposing the war on Afghanistan does not give Taliban credit, creticising the murderous war in Iraq does not give Saddam any credit too.

Unfortunately, the West has drawn a horrible image of "Sharia", understandably because of news about stoning to death, 4-wife "allowance", repudiation and so on.

Curiously, the Tunisians refer to Sharia to require schooling of young girls, but Taliban used to refer to the Sharia to do exactly the opposite.

I have lived in a Muslim society for the good part of my life and I personnaly have never heard of a single case like that of Abdu Ar-Rahman. My suspicion is that the Afghan people over-reacted puposely because the Americans interfered in the matter. As a matter of fact, I know that we got a few hundred converts to Christianity in Tunisia, they are practicing their faith freely and do attend mass in churches without harrassment let alone execution!

Now let's see whether we should "settle for" what _could_ have been the fate of Abdu Ar-Rahman: a good part of the World believe that around 11000 Americans die every year because of gun crime and that outlawing guns would save a few thousand lives a year. Does this give the World a reason to advocate that China invades the US to forcefully change their constitution?

I, like many, believe that Saddam Hussein was not a merciful leader and that he executed thousands of Iraqis, but was his removal worth 100,000 innocent Iraqi lives and the continuing mess we see every day?

What I was advocating is that societies need to change from inside. It does take time, but trying to force things will only generate more mess.

I do obviously support Sharia, the one I was tought at School, by my parents and at the local mosque. This is the Islamic Education that gave me examples of braveness in Antara Ibn Shaddad (a black), examples of fidelity in Samaw'al (a Jew) and examples of generousity in Hatem Al-Ta'y (a Christian), therefore I frankly don't think that the West is well positioned to teach Iraqis/Afghans about tolerance..

-Imed

غير معرف يقول...

Hi, Imed,
You answered maybe two of my questions, and that is that you do support sharia, but you do not believe that conversion away from Islam should be a capital crime.
But you have not been direct about my other inquiries. Or maybe I wasn't clear. Let me try again and expand a bit in my attempt to get a clear picture of your view of Islam and what mainstream Islam really endorses.
You bring up the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan...that opposition of them does not give credit to either regime. First, though I don't mind you offering the information, I never asked about that. You may be surprised to hear that I don't really endorse either war myself, but probably for entirely different reasons than you think. But that whole topic is somewhat tangental to my main questions.
You believe that the "West" has drawn a horrible image of "Sharia" because of news about stoning to death, polygamy, etc. But I care not about the "image" that the West paints. What I want to know is whether or not these stonings (of a woman for alleged adulerty, for example), or polygamy, or taqiyya (lying if it furthers Islam), etc, are actually something that mainstream Islam allows and/or endorses.
So Tunisians refer to sharia to require schooling of young girls. But does the mean that all (or at least young female) Tunisians are required to be schooled *in Islam*? What if I am a Christian living in Tunisia with my family. Am I required to have my daughter schooled in Islam?
As far as the relatively small number of converts to Christianity in Tunisia that you claim exist and attend church without harrassment, a few questions remain about their freedom. Can they express their faith openly (i.e.: in public)? Am I allowed to evangelize (i.e: preach my faith to others)? In regards to building structures for the purpose of practicing their faith, do they need any special permission beyond what Muslims need to build mosques? Are they required to pay the jizya? Must they give deference to Muslims in any way?
Your conflation of a tool of death (guns) and a policy of death (death penalty) is transparent. Interesting, but transparent. Should I outlaw hands because they can be used to strangle? Or should I instead outlaw the act of strangling and punish the criminal for his actions, rather than for the lethal potential that he has in his hands? I'm not trying to turn this into a debate about gun control, or even about the legitimacy of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. But the moral equivalence you try draw between a law that would put to death someone who exercises freedom of conscience and a law that debatably can save more lives than it takes is specious, at best.
And your statement about whether or not it was worth removing Saddam from power ignores the fact that even if your figure of 100,000 Iraqi deaths is accurate, that it is quite obvious that a good portion of those were not at all innocent. Many were on the side of Saddam, or Al Queda, or any number of violent jihadist groups. I won't argue with you on the point of whether or not the US should be there now, however.
The problem with just letting societies change from the inside is that there are quite often powerful forces that won't allow that to happen. And although I would like to, and did for some time, take an isolationist view and stay out of the business of other countries, I changed my tune quickly when the war was brought to our own soil. And though it had been going on for some time, it was culminated on 9/11/2001.
As far as the West not being well positioned to teach Iraqis or Afghans about tolerance, I do not think a couple of examples of braveness or fidelity in a couple of non-Muslims make one whit of difference when you look at any country ruled by Islam and note the disparity of freedom between the Muslim and the non-Muslim.
You yourself sound like a moderate Muslim. So I call on you to do at least these few things that would demonstrate your commitment to pluralism (i.e.: living equally side-by-side with non-Muslims):

1. Publically call on all Muslims to stop committing violent acts, including, for example, things such as Palestinian homicide bombings on Israeli civilians.
2. Publically call for an end to justifying those violent acts by reference to the Quran and Sunnah.
3. Publically call on Muslims everywhere to stop saying violent or hateful things in private when they think that no non-Muslims are around (as happened recently with imam Umar Abdul-Jalil, executive director of ministerial services for the NYC Dept. of Correction).
4. Call for comprehensive international programs in mosques everywhere to teach against the ideas of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism.
5. Actively work with Western law enforcement to identify and apprehend violent jihadists within Western Muslim communities.

Please note that none of the above should be interpreted as me thinking that *you* need to be told these things. And focusing on your local mosque would be a start, with the hopes that it would catch on. I presume that because you seem to be a moderate Muslim, that you do not need to be told. My point is that *I* am not the one you need to convince. It's the Zarqawis and the bin Ladens of the world that you need to convince.

I'd be more than willing to help with that, but I seriously doubt that those supposedly misguided Muslims will listen to a non-Muslim like myself.

Imed Chihi يقول...

Hello Anonymous,

I brought the question of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and the matter of guns in the US as example to draw analogy. My point was that supporting or opposing something does not imply turning a blind eye on the excesses nor ignoring the merits. The actual debate and my point of view about it are not, at all, the subject of the comment.

Your question about what "what mainstream Islam endorses" is at the heart of what I called "image painted by the West about Islam". The very notion of "mainstream Islam" suggests that the West does have a sterotype of the typical Muslim. You calling me a "moderate Muslim" is yet another suggestion that this image does exist in the Western mind: my point of view didn't apparently fit in what you portrayed of the "mainstream Islam", so you decided I must be a special case, a "moderate".

To be more direct, I just cannot answer this question. It will probably take a massive polling campaign to know. It's just like determining what mainstream Christianity thinks about a particular subject, the first hurdle you'd face is obviously defining what "mainstream Christianity is". All I can say is that the muslims I knew, including myself, think that stoning and co. have nothing to do with Islam, there is no mention to these punishment in the Koran for instance. I, for one, believe that too many tribal and old-practices have been so entranched in societies since before Islam and some societies refused to change and preferred to attribute some of these practices to Islam to maintain the status quo.

Again, for some reason (the image?) you don't seem to consider that the the Education curriculum in Tunisia can possibly be secular, which it is. Pupils in Tunisia receive a secular Education, there is semi-religious course called "Islamic thinking" which more into social sciences than theology. I don't know of how your Christian son would be treated in matters of Education because I don't know of similar instances, but I know that Tunisian Jews are exempt from attending the "Islamic thinking" course and, instead, they can attend special Talmudic schools.

I really cannot speak about how converts to Christianity are treated since I didn't meet any, but I would expect some of them to suffer social inconveniences in the family and such. Just like what may happen to any convert anywhere in the World. Proselitising is not allowed by law, so none, including Muslim Daawa volunteers, can preach his/her faith and I'm in support of this law.

Again I cannot comment on building prayer places since the case was never raised for the low number of non-Muslim faiths and, maybe, the fact that there are already 12 Catholic chruches, 2 Russian Orthodox chruches, 3 Greek Orthodox chruches and others. What I know for sure is that the ownership of mosques, once built, reverts to the Government even when their are funded by private donations. I don't know whether this applies to other prayer houses.

You have mentioned Jezia, but I'm not sure you know what it is. From my Education, I know that this is a tax paid by non-Muslims in places governed by Islamic rules. Basically, Muslims are required to paid a "tax" as a religious obligation, but the same tax cannot be claimed from non-Muslims since they are not bound by the same rules, therefore the Jizya was invented as a legal/religious artifact to collect taxes from non-Muslim citizens. It reminds me of the "aliens resident for tax purposes" in the US :)

While we are at it, let me tell what I learnt about "Taqiyya" which you describe as "lying if it furthers the cause of Islam": At the end of the 15th century, Muslim Spain was already reconquered by the Inquisition forces. The Inquisition started a campaign to eradicate any non-Christian trace from the Spanish soil: all Arabic books were burnt, except books on medecine, Jew were burnt alive, non-Christians with a Christian ancestor were forcefully baptised and Muslims executed on the spot. The dilemna was whether it was acceptable for a Muslim to deny his faith when faced with a death threat. At the time, a mufti from Algeria (Oran, Wahrane) decreed that, under these circumstances, it was. Obviously, this looks common sense to me, but the same Western image of Islam have preferred to describe it as a "lie to further the cause of Islam".

I'm not going to comment on the death panalty and the gun laws in the US because I was not trying to debate these topics. My point was to give an analogy, but you seem to believe firmly that "you're right and they're wrong" and refuse to admit to others what you permit to yourself: My assertion is that the predicate below are equivalent:

A. I _believe_ that executing a convert is killing people, but that does not give me the right to launch a war on Afghanistan

B. I _believe_ that allowing guns in the is killing people, but tht does not give me the right to launch a war on the US

Trying to justify gun laws in the US is your unquestinable right, but we expect you also to understand that those who advocate the execution of the convert got their justifications too. I disagree with both justifications, but it does not give me a reason to force my opinion on any of you. It's only your opinion that the Afghan convert didn't do any harm, which I share, and it's only your opinion that guns may save lives. I see both as wrong that do no harm other than killing people. Without attempting to turn this into a debate about gun control, I find your analogy between hands and guns quite funny, you seem to ignore the fact that hands are used for everything good and bad, but guns serve the _unique_ purpose of harming others.

Regarding the war brought on your own soil, do you realise that what the US did on other soils puts 9/11 to shame. Do you know what the US did in Nicargua, Iran, Vietnam, Japan, Chile, Lebanon and other uncountable examples? I know that you'd jump again to justify the US actions, but guess what? this is exactly what the perpetrators of 9/11 would do too.

Now to your list of demands:

1. Publically call on all Muslims to stop committing violent acts, including, for example, things such as Palestinian homicide bombings on Israeli civilians.

-> Violent acts have nothing to do with Islam, the Palestinian and Lebanese Christians have been as "violent" as their Muslim compatriots. See "Dying to Win" by Robert Pape. However, I agree with you that blowing civilians is not justifiable and I would make the call if I had the chance (nice idea for a blog article actually). However, I will still salute anyone _brave_ enough to die in an operation against an occupying army including Palestinian suicide bombers who attack _military_ facilities.
I would here ask you to call on your Israeli allies to stop shooting kids in the head, destroying their homes, uprooting their trees and maintaining them in perpetual state of deprivation. They, by the way killed a lot more civilians than the infamous suicide bombers. See http://www.ifamericansknew.org.

2. Publically call for an end to justifying those violent acts by reference to the Quran and Sunnah.

-> You are absolutely right about this. Operations against combatant forces are acts of Jihad which I salute.
I would also call on your Israeli allies and your Pentagon staff to stop killing thousands of civilians in the name of freedom, democracy and war on terror.

3. Publically call on Muslims everywhere to stop saying violent or hateful things in private when they think that no non-Muslims are around (as happened recently with imam Umar Abdul-Jalil, executive director of ministerial services for the NYC Dept. of Correction).

-> This one is really funny. Why do you think Mr Abdul-Jalil should not have private opinions and share them in private? The way you put the call suggests that only Muslims have personal opinions. I really don't see the relevance of this item and I would rather ask you to call on people like Ann Coutler who said, right in front of the President and in public, that "We should invade their countries, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity" .. and by the way I, too, think that the biggest terrorists are in the White House :)

4. Call for comprehensive international programs in mosques everywhere to teach against the ideas of violent jihad and Islamic supremacism.

-> 100% with you on this. I only hope I will find your support calling on US media and Hollywood (See Reel Bad Arabs by Jack Shaheen) to abandon teaching American supremacy and calling Arabs "two-legged animals".

5. Actively work with Western law enforcement to identify and apprehend violent jihadists within Western Muslim communities.

-> I just wonder how you're going to cooperate with the worldwide law enforcement to arrest bigger terrorists like Donald Rumsfeld?

I was blessed with having a leg in the Orient and a leg in the West to look at things with two eyes. Your last comment was a great example that further establishes the West's Orientalist approach. "Orientalism" by Edward Said is a required reading, please try to read it and stop, for a week or two, watching CNN and FoxNews..

The muslim World has lead humanity through science, technology and cultural advancement for 10 centuries, now it's a collpased civilisation and it has its own share of problems, so we really need no more, just take care of your own problems, the biggest being that you think that you don't have any..

-Imed

Imed Chihi يقول...

Here we go, the US State Department Religious Freedom Report 2005 for Tunisia:
http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2005/51611.htmInternational

Obviously there is none about the US :)

-Imed