Saturday, 11 September 2010

The Scottish Enlightenment: The Historical Age of the Historical Nation by Professor Alexander Broadie

ISBN: 9781841586403
Author: Alexander Broadie
Imprint: Birlinn
Publication Date: Sep 2007

The Scottish Enlightenment was one of the truly great intellectual and cultural movements of the world. Its achievements in science, philosophy, history, economics, and many other disciplines were immense; and its influence has hardly, if at all, been dimmed in the intervening two centuries.

This book, written for the general reader, considers the achievement of this most astonishing period of Scottish history. It attends not only to the ideas that made the Scottish Enlightenment such a wondrous moment but also to the people themselves who generated these ideas – men such as David Hume and Adam Smith who are still read for the sake of the light they shed on contemporary issues.

Having just finished reading this superb introductory book I wanted to share the conclusion which is an inspiration to us Scots!

"I conclude, that we, in Scotland, still live in an Age of Enlightenment. The reason why eighteenth-century Scotland was so special, and why the term 'Scottish Enlightenment' has been worked so hard, is that the country produced that extraordinary constellation of geniuses, men who possessed the gift of creativity by means of which they thought their way into intellectual worlds not previously visited by humankind..." (p.222)

Alexander Brodie is a Professor of Logic and Rhetoric at Glasgow University – a chair once occupied by Adam Smith – and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. He has published many books on Scottish thought.

Stand Up for the Freedom to Offend

By Mona Eltahawy
Toronto Star
Sept. 10, 2010

Offence drew me to Park51, the proposed Islamic community centre and mosque in Lower Manhattan, two blocks from Ground Zero. But not for the reasons you think.

For once, Muslims are not the ones offended but the ones being accused of offence by choosing to build Park51 “on hallowed ground.” I don't believe Park51's backers mean to offend, but let's set aside intent and talk about freedom to offend.

When the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Prophet Mohammed in 2005 that led to huge and at times deadly demonstrations across several Muslim-majority countries the following year, I defended the newspaper's right to offend.

The freedom guaranteeing publication of those cartoons is the same as that which guarantees Park51's right to build right there, two blocks from Ground Zero, and the same as that which guarantees the right of a Gainesville, Fla., pastor and his congregation to burn copies of the Qur'an on the anniversary of 9/11.

The U.S. Constitution guarantees freedom of religion and freedom of expression, whether they offend people or not. Hurt feelings cannot be the basis of public policy. And that's why I did not call on Pastor Terry Jones of Gainesville not to burn the Qur'an when he threatened to do so.

The pain of losing someone in the 9/11 attacks is unfathomable. But to ask, “Don't you see you're being offensive by building here?” is to assume that all Muslims are responsible for the attacks. It's a slippery slope to even begin that conversation, because if Park51 is forced to move it would set a dangerous precedent.

I didn't care much about Park51 at first. But over the past few months it has become just one of many mosque projects across the U.S. facing opposition and anti-Muslim rhetoric. And so for Labour Day weekend I joined a motley crew of volunteers outside Park51 to peacefully support its right to build.

The wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric has been happening as I celebrate my 10th anniversary in the U.S. The hate has just strengthened my resolve to get out there and tell my fellow Americans: I'm here, I will not be brushed away, let's talk.

I am eternally grateful to Matt Sky, 26, a web consultant who was the first to stand outside Park51 back on Aug. 15. He has inspired a small but dedicated group of volunteer sidewalk activists. Many of them are not Muslim, but I joined them as an American Muslim saddened to hear that only 37 per cent of Americans know a Muslim.

Some come to Park51 to talk. A 9/11 first responder who lost two friends thought Park51 should move out of respect. A physician who tended to the 9/11 wounded said she couldn't wait for the community centre to open so that her daughter could use its pool, but she worried Park51 would become a target of violence.

Some come to offend. Internet evangelist Bill Keller arrived with an entourage and an American flag wrapped around his neck. (Isn't that a desecration of the flag?)

“I feel passionately that 1.5 billion people will burn in hell because they believe in the lie of Islam,” he told the cameras, going on to claim he was concerned for Muslim women's rights. Ironically as he spoke, six American Muslim women stood behind him holding signs reading “Peace Tolerance Love,” and not one of us looked the least bit like chattel.

A husband and wife team dumped shoes made out of foam on the sidewalk with insults written on the soles such as “Are you stoned?” “Sticking Our Tongues Out At Sharia Law” and “Sharia Hamas Organization Extremist.” As the husband taunted us, the wife filmed our reactions.

Someone left a bag of dog feces on Park51's stoop one night. Opponents circled Park51 with a decommissioned missile attached to the back of their car.

This year's 9/11 anniversary coincides with the end of Ramadan fasting. This Muslim will spend her Eid teaching in Oklahoma. When Gainesville pastor Terry Jones threatened to lead his congregation in burning Qur'ans, I decided to instruct my students to revere books. Thank God for the Constitution.

God Bless Islam with Courageous Leadership

What will Muslims pray for at the end of Ramadan?
By Professor Ebrahim Moosa
September 9th 2010

As Muslim Americans and millions around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan 2010 what will they pray for? What was the spiritual harvest of the month of fasting, prayer, deep reflection and discipline? Given the growing hostility directed towards Muslims in the United States and the horrible deeds perpetrated by persons aligned to Islam on 9/11 and elsewhere in the world, I for my part, will be making two prayers.

The first is to urge Muslims to affirm their solidarity with all of humanity. The words of this prayer come from a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. It reads:

Oh Allah, Lord (Rabb) of all things. I testify that You alone are the Lord of the world, Lord of all things… I testify that all servants of God are one family… Make me and my family truthful to you in every moment of life in this world and the next. Oh powerful and generous one, hear and respond to my prayers…

My second prayer is that God bless Islam with a religious leadership that has a modicum of Solomonic wisdom and tons of moral courage.

Why these two prayers? I think many Muslims have forgotten the message of humanism and solidarity with all creation that are the cornerstones of Islam. All servants of God are part of a single family, the Prophet Muhammad taught. So how can faiths be at war, if only to serve earthly gods? Many of our religious leaders have forgotten that our theologies, teachings and practices were means to serve a transcendent Creator, not idolatrous ends. Many of the most prominent Muslim religious and moral authorities the world over—clergy, intellectuals, scholars, politicians—have, through silence and inaction, invited a plague of craven violence on a number of Muslim societies. In a manner of speaking, in many places, the asylum is in charge of the mosque. Religious leaders are more interested in cowing to public adulation through demagoguery than in showing courage and exhorting people to piety and sanity.

Check if the sermon in the`Id al-Fitr (End of Fasting) sermon at your mosque hinted at the cowardly acts of al-Qaeda who killed thousands on Sept 11 and elsewhere. Or if deeds of the Somalian Shabab who killed dozens of Ugandans watching a soccer World Cup match in the suburbs of Kampala caused outrage. Has anyone been able to keep track of the death toll inflicted in Pakistan by Taliban suicide bombers, who most recently killed more than 60 people in Quetta because they were Shi’a? Did anyone even notice that a radical Muslim group in India chopped off the hand of a Catholic professor in the state of Kerala in July for apparently offending the image of the Prophet Muhammad in an exam questionnaire?

`Id is a day of celebration with family and friends. But it is unconscionable if Muslims do not think seriously and act in unison about the deep moral crises afflicting our communities here and abroad. To think critically is not to bow to the hate of the Islamophobes, it is a sign of strength and faith. Those who claim that there are no “moderate” Muslim voices denouncing acts of violence committed by Muslims are wrong, and yes, there are many good things happening in Muslim societies that do not make the headlines. Yet it is delusional to think that the evil masquerading as faith does not erode the belief and values each Muslim.

To Muslim Americans I say, next time you wonder why young men like the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad become entangled in conspiracies to commit acts of violence in this country and abroad please ask the following questions: What is the qualification of the imam at your mosque? Is he enriched by the best of American and Islamic culture, in tune with his environment, or is he preaching a theology no longer even appropriate for people in Iran, Egypt, or Pakistan? Does he teach the tradition creatively and help people think imaginatively? Or does he focus on impieties and promote the virtues of paraphernalia like the dress code and the mandatory length of facial hairs? If the imam is as wise as the religious leader in the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, it will be a huge step up.

Mosque committees share their burden of responsibility too. Often they appoint preachers by applying the lowest and cheapest standard; theological diversity is frequently absent and enlightened thinking is considered too challenging and burdensome for them to contemplate. Will the smart Muslims in America and around the world stand up and be counted?

Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University. He is the author of Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination, and editor of the last manuscript of the late Professor Fazlur Rahman, Revival and Reform in Islam: A Study of Islamic Fundamentalism.

Friday, 10 September 2010

Discussing NYC Islamic Centre with American Muslims

Eid Greetings

Wishing everyone a joyous Eid and remembering all those in hardship around the world, including the Pakistan flood victims and those who perished in the Sept 11th attacks. This statement by my University's President sums it up perfectly, thank you President Shalala for your leadership and vision of peace.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

How has 9/11 changed the world's view of America?

Abdullahi An-Na'im is an Islam and human rights scholar/activist at Emory University. A muslim himself, he believes the "ground-zero mosque" debate is positive, and he says muslims around the world view America positively.

How far has America come since 9/11?

Vince Cornell is a professor of Islamic and Middle East studies at Emory University. And with the ninth anniversary of 9/11 here, he's examining where the country is nine years later. Here he discusses the rhetoric surrounding the Ground Zero mosque, Islamophobia and much more.

Muslim Americans have a history before 9/11

by Mona Eltahawy
07 September 2010

Published in Common Ground News Service

New York, New York - I live in Harlem on a street that is home to three churches and a mosque. The mosque is next door to one of those churches and when male congregants mingle on the sidewalk, it’s impossible to tell who had just been in church and who in the mosque. It’s only some of the women’s headscarves that tell you.

Muslim Americans were not invented on 11 September 2001. Our history with New York, and the rest of the country for that matter, far precedes those attacks. Some of the earliest arrivals were on slave ships that crossed the Atlantic.

Yet the anti-Muslim hate metastasising across the United States these days is ferocious in its determination to drive a wedge between the “American” and the “Muslim” of our identities.

In just one week, a cab driver was stabbed in New York by a passenger who asked him if he was Muslim; a drunk burst into a New York mosque and urinated on prayer rugs; a brick was thrown at an Islamic centre in Madera, California; and a fire at the building site of a mosque in Tennessee was being investigated by the FBI.

“What's going to happen to me, our mom, sister-in-law, and all the women in the States who wear a hijab [headscarf] and don't need to be asked if they're Muslim first?” my sister Nora, a graduate student, asked.

It’s not just about Park51, a proposed Islamic centre and mosque in Lower Manhattan, two blocks away from Ground Zero. There are at least four other planned mosques across the country, miles away from “hallowed ground”, facing anti-Muslim opposition.

Some have tried to blame Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the leader of Park51, for provoking still-hurt feelings over 9/11. But depicting him as the imam who kicked the hornet’s nest would display unforgivable amnesia in the face of the manufacture of “Muslim” as a slur in this country.

Despite an appearance by US President George W. Bush at a mosque after 9/11 to show he didn’t hold all Muslims responsible, his administration proceeded to do exactly that: military trials for civilians, secret prisons, the detention of hundreds of Muslim men without charge, the torture and harsh interrogation of detainees and the invasions of two Muslim-majority countries.

When Republicans “accused” US President Barack Obama of being Muslim during the 2008 presidential campaigns, Democrats didn’t utter a single “So what?”

A one-time strategist to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, suggested she “go negative” on Obama in 2007 when she was campaigning for president – painting him as too foreign and exotic to lead America at war. She did not heed the advice but her campaign did leak photographs of Obama wearing traditional Somali clothes.

Those incidents and others were steps up a ladder of bigotry that is now delivered with the gravitas of political office. When a former vice-presidential candidate and ex-governor (Sarah Palin), a former House Speaker (Newt Gingrich), and various House members peddle in the most lurid caricatures of Muslims it is not difficult to understand the current crescendo of bigotry.

I have not forgotten acts of violence or attempted terrorism by Muslim Americans over the past year. The Muslim American community has not tiptoed around them. It issued several condemnations but also refused to be held guilty by faith affiliation.

And we refuse to disappear. We will not allow the bigots to pick apart the fabric that is America. Those Muslims mingling outside the mosque on my street are a microcosm of America. We vote – and our votes count, especially in swing states. That taxi driver stabbed in New York is one of the thousands of Muslims who comprise 50 per cent of NYC cabbies.

We’re America’s teachers, comedians and even its current beauty queen, Rima Fakih.

And we’re also America’s doctors. My sister-in-law, an obstetrician/gynecologist, and I were watching one of those medical dramas when she told me an anecdote that neatly sums it all up: “I was delivering a baby the other day and the father was watching via Skype cam. He was a soldier in Afghanistan. And I thought, here I am: a Muslim doctor in a headscarf delivering a baby whose father is an American soldier in Afghanistan, a Muslim country.”

* Mona Eltahawy is an award-winning New York-based journalist and commentator, and an international lecturer on Arab and Muslim issues. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews)

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

In appreciation of Pakistani Tennis Star: Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi

by Hafsa on 09 6th, 2010

Spot-fixers, cheats, runners up, dopers – the list will go on except for one Pakistani sportsman, who continues to make the right kind sports news year after year. It seems like Aisam-ul-haq Qureshi has taken over the responsibility of lifting the nation’s sporting image. The fact that less people know about his feat of becoming the first Pakistani (among several other firsts) to enter the men’s and mixed doubles quarterfinals at a grand slam tennis tournament, than three Pakistani’s facing the possibility of life bans from cricket is unfortunate, to say the least. Or that the world media is not flashing images of him and Rohan Bopanna – his doubles partner from India – as they continue blasting away the big names of men’s doubles tennis as often as those of the accused cricketers on ill-fated tabloid covers, is also a shame. But then again, it always seems as if success stories here don’t sell as much as controversy does.

When I interviewed him five months back, Aisam proudly told me about his best-ever ATP doubles ranking of 51. He has come a long way since then. Not only has he leapt his way to number 34 in men’s doubles rankings, Aisam and his partner Rohan are the world’s 15th best pair. Add to that their Wimbledon quarterfinal finish, their win over world number one pair of Bob and Mike Bryan and most recently, their comprehensive shock win over number two seeds Nenand Nimonjic and Daniel Nestor at the US Open. The fact that Pakistani masses do not follow tennis is understandable, but for the media to put this lone warrior’s march right at the end of news bulletins, is regretful. This, despite him pairing up with an ‘arch-rival’ Indian player, and making ripples, if not waves, in respected sports magazines.

Being in the top 50 has also enabled Aisam to play mixed doubles on the ATP Tour for the first time in his career. Having paired up with Kveta Peschke of the Czech Republic, Aisam has landed himself in two back-to-back grand-slam quarterfinals for the first time in his career.

We keep saying that our cricketers let us down when the nation was in need of some solace from the devastating last few weeks (months, even). Well, here’s a guy who has given us something to cheer about. How about giving him some long overdue appreciation? He may hold a racquet in his hand instead of a bat, but hey, at least he is making all the right moves. He is a man who is doing Pakistan proud so let’s just stop pelting the poor donkeys and put our hands together for the man who is already Pakistan’s most successful tennis player in history. Thank you, Aisam, for giving us a reason to read ‘real’ sports news for a change.

Hafsa Adil is a sports editor at

The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.

Taboo-breaking Syrian soap causes Ramadan stir

Tuesday, 7 September 2010 (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)

A Syrian soap opera that tackles such taboos as homosexuality, corruption and extra-marital sex in the predominantly conservative Muslim country is proving hugely popular during Ramadan. "Ma Malakat Aymanukum," which takes its name from a verse in the Koran
that loosely translates as "What your right hand possesses," depicts the lives of young women struggling to cope in a male chauvinist society.

Leila, who wears the Islamic niqab, or full-face veil, is torn between virtue and vice. She eventually gets murdered and her body is found mutilated. Alia ends up selling herself to help her family, while Gharam's husband encourages his wife to forge ties with men in high places.

The programme is being aired for the first time during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when many families spend the evening watching television after iftar, the meal that breaks the dawn-to-dusk fast. But far from avoiding religious subjects, the soap opera confronts them head on, denouncing suicide attacks and satirising the power of Muslim clerics - some of whom give religious classes to women while intruding on their private lives.

Nor is it sparing on violence, with scenes of stabbing and physical abuse. One episode shows Leila's fundamentalist brother beating his sister and her friend, despite outwardly condemning such behaviour by others. In another, Leila is whipped on the orders of the Sheikh for having a sexual liaison. But there are tender moments too, as when she meets her lover in a disused apartment and lifts her veil, revealing long black hair.

The serial has been controversial as much for the subjects it tackles, and the religious and sexual taboos it challenges, as for the relatively startling scenes and explicit dialogue. "It is a soap opera that damages Islam. It shows that veiled women get punished," said Motassem, a 30-year-old technician.

But many Syrians are delighted by the new programme. "It is rare to show such daring scenes on Syrian television," said Rouba, 50, a dermatologist.

"The question I asked myself during the first few episodes was, is this really a Syrian programme?" said Najiba, a teacher. She particularly appreciated the way it exposed what she called a society "dominated by money and hypocrisy." That is exactly what the series aims to do, said its director Najdat Anzur. He says he wants "to shed light on the negative aspects" of society, like oppressive religious attitudes, corruption and violence.

"My role is to offer a forum for the moderates," Anzur added, rejecting the accusations that he is undermining Islam. "We are tackling taboos. It's not the clothes we're interested in, but human behaviour," he told AFP.

Fayez, a 50-year-old journalist, agreed. It is a work that "defends moderation" and "denounces the rise of extremism," he said. The director said religious critics, who include well-known Damascus cleric Sheikh Said Ramadan al-Buti, have even preached sermons urging Muslims to boycott the show and calling for it to be banned on Arabic TV networks.

Sheikh Buti, who added his voice to those calling for it to be suspended, accused Anzur of committing "gross errors" and of choosing the title of his series in order to ridicule the Koran. The Koranic verse used for the title refers to slaves, or to people under one's guardianship, and lays down rules on men having sex with such people, but its meaning is the subject of much debate among Muslims.

The programme is currently broadcast on the state-owned Syrian satellite channel and Lebanon's Al-Mustaqbal.

In Syria, which has a largely Muslim population but a secular constitution, the authorities encourage a moderate and apolitical form of Islam. They recently ordered 1,200 teachers wearing the niqab to be transferred to other public sector jobs and banned the full-face veil in universities.

Muslim community at a crossroads with a leadership vacuum

By J. Hashim-Brown, Special to CNN
September 2, 2010 -- Updated 1407 GMT (2207 HKT)

Muslim leaders have been unable to articulate a vision for an effective way forward on behalf of their community.

Editor's note: Jihad Hashim-Brown is a leading American Muslim jurist and theologian currently serving as an academic consultant in Abu Dhabi, UAE. A media commentator in the Middle East, he is also a regular columnist for the UAE's The National newspaper on religious and spiritual issues.

(CNN) -- Muslims are a very diverse people. Although they share timeless universals that weave them together into a common fabric, it would be dishonest to paint them with a broad brush.

A sophisticated and elegant civilization built over fourteen centuries stretching from Spain to China, it was brought to its knees in a crescendo of upheaval during the 30-year period between the two world wars.

The stabilizing institutions native to Islamic society would never recover -- imported, European-style nationalist ideologies would seal their fate. Amid this severe instability, no new post-industrial revolution thought could flourish and no space would be allowed for the intellectual framing of a contemporary yet "rooted" identity.

Making sense of the scattered pieces that remain would be a daunting task for even the best hearts and minds, let alone those who find themselves in the unenviable position of representing Muslim communities across the continents they span.

So it is with a great deal of deference to contributions and sacrifices offered up at precious price that I proceed to suggest that we have a problem. There is a vacuity in our leadership vision and the time has come for a change in course.

Community leaders both East and West have been unable to articulate a clear direction for Muslims that illustrates a positive, authentic identity that is engaged as a participant in global society.

For 10 years now, the discourse of Muslim religious leadership has been limited to a single mantra. We continue to be reminded what Islam and Muslims are not. Not extreme, not violent. We seem to be constantly trying to convince our fellow non-Muslim citizens and neighbors that Muslims are no different than them -- nothing unique, nothing authentic, nothing remarkable.

Will the time ever arrive to talk about what Islam is and Muslims are, as opposed to only what they are not? Can we not talk about what unique and authentic contributions Muslims can bring to the global table? There are many Muslims throughout the world who would love to express how they, too, in their own unique way, are earning their keep in our great cosmopolitan societies. Can we know how Islam informs and inspires these contributions?

Current discourse from Muslim leaders appears to acquiesce to the faulty premise that extreme and violent tendencies are rampant among the mainstream Muslim population.

While it is true that a minority fringe of individuals have allowed their political and human rights frustrations to carry them beyond the pale of Islam's normative teachings -- violating the very principles of the religion they invoke -- in so doing, their acts of terrorism cannot justifiably be branded "Islamic." What they are, then, is criminal. Criminal in international law, criminal in Shariah law.

The vast majority of Muslims have never accepted this behavior. Not in the name of Islam, and not in any other name.

The question remains, is there anything more to Islam and Muslims than what they are not? Is there going to be a discourse that uplifts this silent and peaceful majority; that paints a hopeful future of possibilities for them?

Responsibility, accountability, and discipline form the bedrock of effective leadership. Its substance, however, is vision and clarity about where the community needs to go and how they will constructively engage with the world around them. From here, communication becomes essential. But that articulation must be the product of listening, caring, and conversance with local contexts. One of the most important vocations of the leader is to empower those he or she leads to achieve the goals outlined in the vision. This entails a robust program for succession planning. All of this however, must be effectively grounded in fidelity to the universal principles of cultural and doctrinal continuity.

Though leaders are often benign and well intentioned, the problem is one of effectiveness. Muslim leaders have been unable to articulate a vision for an effective way forward on behalf of their community. The situation is by no means hopeless; the substance of restoration is ready to hand. However, it requires a modicum of honesty, far-sightedness, and resolve.

Any such vision will have to be at once grounded in the roots of Muslim identity and positively engaged with the greater society.

There has been, as of yet, no systematic deliberation or collective discussion across community boundaries and affiliations aimed at fleshing out viable solutions based on a thorough situation assessment. Answers and solutions are arrived at haphazardly without significant reflection. This frequently leads to contradictions at a future point in time; further contributing to the alienation of the Muslim mainstream.

One of the key causes contributing to such confusion is the conspicuous devolution of classical Islamic institutions. The original institutions, native to Muslim society -- whether religious or civil -- had always provided a balancing effect to the community, securing the integrity of self-understanding, memory, and praxis -- thereby facilitating balanced and responsible citizenship. The disequilibrium stemming from their neglect and decay is a direct contributor to the phenomenon of extremism.

For decades, Muslim elites have pursued a policy of disassociation from classical Islamic institutions and sometimes even the religion itself. This has led to the neglect of core institutions causing them to fall into a state of disrepair. However, despite this, Muslim elites have been unable to de-link themselves from the source of their identity as Muslims -- the religion of Islam itself. It means the neglect and marginalization of native institutions inevitably comes back to haunt them.

The absence of grounded authenticity has been a missing lynchpin to the success of solution-aspiring initiatives. It is imperative that new solutions demonstrate how they are grounded in the roots of the timeless world view of Islam. This must be achieved in a way that is recognizable to the Muslim mainstream or it will never gain traction amongst the grassroots.

There persists a tendency to not allow psychological, moral, or intellectual space for new energy to emerge. Along with the voice of emergent generations of Muslim youth, non-Arab and non-Asian Muslims continue to be conspicuously absent or underrepresented in national and international leadership circles and events, even in Europe and the Americas.

There now exist whole generations of Muslims who have come of age in an environment where modernity, technology, representative government, free speech, and even gender relations are familiar territory and not overwhelming or confounding phenomena. With the right credentials and given an opportunity, they are the natural candidates to negotiate the challenge of making sense of Islam in the current post-modern cosmopolitan context without sacrificing continuity of identity. To date, however, everyone is forced to wait around for the old leadership to continue playing catch up.

Saudi women raise their voices over male guardianship

Monday, 6 September 2010

Why Doesn't the World Care About Pakistanis? ...Because they live in Pakistan.

BY MOSHARRAF ZAIDI | AUGUST 19, 2010 (Copyright, All Rights Reserved)

The United Nations has characterized the destruction caused by the floods in Pakistan as greater than the damage from the 2004 Asian tsunami, the 2005 Pakistan earthquake, and the 2010 Haiti earthquake combined. Yet nearly three weeks since the floods began, aid is trickling in slowly and reluctantly to the United Nations, NGOs, and the Pakistani government.

After the Haiti earthquake, about 3.1 million Americans using mobile phones donated $10 each to the Red Cross, raising about $31 million. A similar campaign to raise contributions for Pakistan produced only about $10,000. The amount of funding donated per person affected by the 2004 tsunami was $1249.80, and for the 2010 Haiti earthquake, $1087.33. Even for the Pakistan earthquake of 2005, funding per affected person was $388.33. Thus far, for those affected by the 2010 floods, it is $16.36 per person.

Why has the most devastating natural disaster in recent memory generated such a tepid response from the international community? Something of a cottage industry is emerging to try to answer this latest and most sober of international mysteries.

There is no shortage of theories. It's donor fatigue. It's Pakistan fatigue. It's because the Pakistani government is corrupt and can't be trusted. It's because the victims are Muslim. It's because people think a nuclear power should be able to fend for itself. It's because floods -- particularly these floods -- spread their destruction slowly, over a period of time, rather than instantaneously. It's because of the tighter budgets of Western governments. It's because of the lingering effects of the financial crisis.

There's a degree of truth to all these explanations. But the main reason that Pakistan isn't receiving attention or aid proportionate to the devastation caused by these floods is because, well, it's Pakistan. Given a catastrophe of such epic proportions in any normal country, the world would look first through a humanitarian lens. But Pakistan, of course, is not a normal country. When the victims are Haitian or Sri Lankan -- hardly citizens of stable, well-government countries, themselves -- Americans and Europeans are quick to open their hearts and wallets. But in this case, the humanity of Pakistan's victims takes a backseat to the preconceived image that Westerners have of Pakistan as a country.

Pakistan is a country that no one quite gets completely, but apparently everybody knows enough about to be an expert. If you're a nuclear proliferation expert, suddenly you're an expert on Pakistan. If you're terrorism expert, ditto: expert on Pakistan. India expert? Pakistan, too then. Of South Asian origin of any kind at a think-tank, university, or newspaper? Expert on Pakistan. Angry that your parents sent you to the wrong madrassa when you were young? Expert on Pakistan.

This unique stock of global expertise on Pakistan naturally generates a scary picture. Between our fear of terrorism, nervousness about a Muslim country with a nuclear weapon, and global discomfort with an intelligence service that seems to do whatever it wants (rather than what we want it to do), Pakistan makes the world, and Americans in particular, extremely uncomfortable. In a 2008 Gallup poll of Americans, only Afghanistan, Iraq, the Palestinian Authority, North Korea, and Iran were less popular than Pakistan.

The net result of Pakistan's own sins, and a global media that is gaga over India, is that Pakistan is always the bad guy. You'd be hard pressed to find a news story anywhere that celebrates the country's incredible scenery, diversity, food, unique brand of Islam, evolving and exciting musical tradition, or even its arresting array of sporting talent, though all those things are present in abundance.

How bad is it? Well, in 2007, when the Pakistani cricket team's national coach, an Englishman named Bob Woolmer, was found dead in his hotel room, the first instinct of the international press was that a Pakistani team member must have killed him. This is the story of modern day Pakistan.

Contrary to what many Pakistani conspiracy theorists believe, the suspicion and contempt with which the country is seen with is not deliberate or carefully calculated. It's just how things pan out when you are the perennial bad boy in a neighborhood that everyone wishes could be transformed into Scandinavia -- because after 9/11, the world cannot afford a dysfunctional ghetto in South and Central Asia anymore. Or so goes the paternalist doctrine.

It is bad enough that the Pakistani elite don't seem eager to cooperate with this agenda of transformation; now, nature also seems to be set against it. The floods in Pakistan are the third major humanitarian crisis to afflict the country in recent years. The 2005 earthquake and the massive internal displacement of Pakistanis from Swat and the FATA region in 2009 were well-managed disasters, according to many international aid workers. While international support was valuable in mitigating the effects of those disasters, most experts agree that it was Pakistanis, both in government and civil society, that did the heavy lifting.

The 2010 floods, however, are a game-changer. The country will not and cannot ever be the same. The loss of life, disease, poverty, and human misery themselves are going to take years to overcome. But the costs of desilting, cleaning up, and reconstructing Pakistan's most fertile and potent highways, canals, and waterworks will be exhausting just to calculate. The actual task of building back this critical infrastructure is a challenge of unprecedented proportions.

Last week, I visited a relatively well-to-do village called Pashtun Ghari in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. Pashtun Ghari is right off the historic Grand Trunk Road, and less than two miles from the river. Flood victims there did not feel abandoned by authorities, indeed they were quite satisfied with how they had been taken care of. Still, there was inconsolable despair among residents. Why? The town's entire livestock population, some 2,300 cows, had perished beneath waters that stood more than 10 feet high in the first wave of flooding. Those cattle are both assets and income generators for Pakistani villagers along the Indus River. There is no recovering from losing that quantum of livestock.

The fact that people in other countries don't like Pakistan very much doesn't change the humanity of those affected by the floods or their suffering. It is right and proper to take a critical view of Pakistani politicians, of their myopia and greed. It is understandable to be worried about the far-reaching capabilities of the Pakistani intelligence community and reports that they continue to support the Taliban in Afghanistan. It is even excusable that some indulge in the fantasy that a few hundred al Qaeda and Taliban terrorists are capable of taking over a country guarded by more than 750,000 men and women of the Pakistani military, and the 180 million folks that pay their salaries.

But are the farmers of Pashtun Ghari, of Muzzafararh and Dera Ghazi Khan, of Shikarpur and Sukkur, really obligated to allay these fears before they can get help in replacing their lost livelihoods? Twenty million people are now struggling to find a dry place to sleep, a morsel of food to eat, a sip of clean water to drink -- and the questions we are asking have to do with politics and international security. The problem is not in Pakistan. It is where those questions are coming from.

Pakistan has suffered from desperately poor moral leadership, but punishing the helpless and homeless millions of the 2010 floods is the worst possible way to express our rejection of the Pakistani elite and their duplicity and corruption. The poor, hungry, and homeless are not an ISI conspiracy to bilk you of your cash. They are a test of your humanity. Do not follow in the footsteps of the Pakistani elite by failing them. That would be immoral and inhumane. This is a time to ask only one question. And that question is: "How can I help?"

Mosharraf Zaidi has served as an adviser on international aid to Pakistan for the United Nations and European Union and writes a weekly colum for Pakistan's The News. You can find more of his writing at

The Enlightenment Qur'an The Politics of Translation and the Construction of Islam

Iconoclastic and fiercely rational, the European Enlightenment witnessed the birth of modern Western society and thought. Reason was sacrosanct and for the first time, religious belief and institutions were open to widespread criticism. In this groundbreaking book, Ziad Elmarsafy challenges this accepted wisdom to argue that religion was still hugely influential in the era. But the religion in question wasn’t Christianity – it was Islam.

Charting the history of Qur’anic translations in Europe during the 18th and early 19th Centuries, Elmarsafy shows that a number of key enlightenment figures – including Voltaire, Rousseau, Goethe, and Napoleon – drew both inspiration and ideas from the Qur’an. Controversially placing Islam at the heart of the European Enlightenment, this lucid and well argued work is a valuable window into the interaction of East and West during this pivotal epoch in human history.

Ziad Elmarsafy is Senior Lecturer in the Department of English and Related Literature at the University of York, UK.

"Insightful, convincing and eloquent. Readers will gain a new appreciation of the complex background to our current intellectual and political reality." Andrew Rippin, Professor of History at University of Victoria, Canada

"Exquisitely persuades and provokes. Beautifully written and marvelously learned." Thomas Burman, Associate Professor of History, University of Tennessee

Don’t Call Me Moderate, Call Me Normal!

[The Wall Street Journal recently published a series of short commentaries on “moderate Islam.” Here is the one by Ed Husayn, author of “The Islamist” (Penguin, 2007) and co-founder of the Quilliam Foundation, a counterextremist think tank.]

By Ed Husain

I am a moderate Muslim, yet I don’t like being termed a “moderate”—it somehow implies that I am less of a Muslim.

We use the designation “moderate Islam” to differentiate it from “radical Islam.” But in so doing, we insinuate that while Islam in moderation is tolerable, real Islam—often perceived as radical Islam—is intolerable. This simplistic, flawed thinking hands our extremist enemies a propaganda victory: They are genuine Muslims. In this rubric, the majority, non-radical Muslim populace has somehow compromised Islam to become moderate.

What is moderate Christianity? Or moderate Judaism? Is Pastor Terry Jones’s commitment to burning the Quran authentic Christianity, by virtue of the fanaticism of his action? Or, is Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual head of the Shas Party in Israel, more Jewish because he calls on Jews to rain missiles on the Arabs and “annihilate them”?

The pastor and the rabbi can, no doubt, find abstruse scriptural justifications for their angry actions. And so it is with Islam’s fringe: Our radicals find religious excuses for their political anger. But Muslim fanatics cannot be allowed to define Islam.

The Prophet Muhammad warned us against ghuluw, or extremism, in religion. The Quran reinforces the need for qist, or balance. For me, Islam at its essence is the middle way in all matters. This is normative Islam, adhered to by a billion normal Muslims across the globe.

Normative Islam is inherently pluralist. It is supported by 1,000 years of Muslim history in which religious freedom was cherished. The claim, made today by the governments of Iran and Saudi Arabia, that they represent God’s will expressed through their version of oppressive Shariah law is a modern innovation.

The classical thinking within Islam was to let a thousand flowers bloom. Ours is not a centralized tradition, and Islam’s rich diversity is a legacy of our pluralist past.

Normative Islam, from its early history to the present, is defined by its commitment to protecting religion, life, progeny, wealth and the human mind. In the religious language of Muslim scholars, this is known as maqasid, or aims. This is the heart of Islam.

I am fully Muslim and fully Western. Don’t call me moderate—call me a normal Muslim.

University of Florida Muslims fear Koran burning may spark violence

A church's plans to observe 9/11 by burning Korans have students fearful of violence.

Sunday 5th September, 2010
In Miami Herald

GAINESVILLE -- Before she left her Miami home to return to the University of Florida this fall, Wajiha Akhtar's parents gave her some unusual advice: stay indoors as much as possible and, whatever happens, don't go near the Koran burners. ``I was fearful,'' says Akhtar, 24, a graduate student in epidemiology who says she never had any concerns as a Muslim here until recently. ``Will we get singled out?''

Far from Ground Zero, where debate over a proposed Islamic center is still roiling, a Gainesville church has aroused anger and tension among Florida's growing Muslim community and caught the world's attention -- from international headlines to rallies in Indonesia and India -- because of its pistol-toting pastor's plan to ignite a bonfire of Korans on 9/11 to protest what he calls a religion ``of the devil.''

Fearing violence, some Muslims are leaving town on the Sept. 11 weekend to avoid problems.

Last week in South Florida, 13 mosque leaders issued a call to the region's Muslims for nonviolence in anticipation of high emotions over the desecration of Islam's holy book. At UF, administrators have said they're afraid the protest at the small Dove World Outreach Center will mar the school's image, while international students and prospective foreign applicants have also expressed concern.

``Things have escalated,'' says Ismail ibn Ali, president of the university's Islam on Campus student organization, which serves about 600 Muslim students in this city with 1,500 Muslims, a population that's slowly grown over the last 30 years.

The city's two mosques, already packed in recent weeks for the holy Ramadan month, have become the site of frequent discussions between Muslims about how -- or if -- to react to the church, whose pastor also plans to burn copies of the Talmud, a sacred Jewish text. ``We're hoping people will not protest because it might turn into a volatile situation,'' says Ali, 21, a biochemistry student from Doral. ``But people still want to do something to show the positive side of Islam.''

The unexpected attention toward a city that's little known beyond its university and football team has caused an identity crisis. Gainesville, a relatively liberal and religiously diverse college town in conservative North Central Florida -- it elected its first openly gay mayor this year and has made strides in interfaith relations -- is trying to protect its image with mixed results.

Last week, 20 Jewish, Christian and Muslim clergy gathered on the steps of City Hall to denounce the nondenominational Dove church, whose 50 members regularly parade through the UF campus with T-shirts and signs in red ink declaring ``Islam is of the devil.''

Gainesville Mayor Craig Lowe has declared Sept. 11 as ``Interfaith Solidarity Day.'' Administrators and counselors have been asked to attend a special panel discussion at UF to listen to concerns of international students about church members, whom UF President Bernie Machen has called ``purveyors of harm.''

A ad-hoc group called Gainesville Muslim Initiative has planned several counter events, including an outreach to the homeless on Sept. 11, a ``Koran 101'' lecture at UF and ``Know Your Muslim Neighbor'' open houses at the city's mosques later in the month.

Muslims in South Florida and across the nation are planning similar efforts in reaction to what's happening in Gainesville and broader perceptions of anti-Muslim sentiment -- from the most extreme opposition to an Islamic center near Ground Zero to protests over mosque projects and attacks on Muslims elsewhere.

Despite those efforts, ``overseas, the story is seen as `Christian and Americans plan on burning the Koran,' '' says Hassan Baber, 21, a business student who has had several relatives from Pakistan ask him about what's happening. His experience reflects that of many foreign-born Muslim students interviewed for this report.

``They say, `It's unbelievable the type of things going on there. You have to tell them the truth or do something,' '' says Baber, who will be staying in town on Sept. 11 to join Muslim students to feed the homeless.

On Saturday, 3,000 Muslim Indonesians rallied outside the U.S. Embassy in Jakarta in one of six simultaneous demonstrations across the nation against the Koran burning, echoing a smaller protests in late August in that country and India.

The Organization of the Islamic Conference, a Saudi Arabia-based group representing dozens of Muslim states, has warned that Koran burning will stir up ``anger across the Muslim world and provoke unrest.'' ``This city is flourishing. There are new initiatives in technology and research, but this is how we get on the map?'' says Akhtar, the epidemiology student from Miami.

Since returning to school, she says she is less fearful and has been able to go on about her life as before. But when she talks to relatives in Maryland and California, ``They say `Gainesville? Are you safe there?' ''

Most Muslims say Terry Jones, Dove Center's pastor, has a constitutional right to burn their holy book.

But, ``people are feeling very overwhelmed with the amount of anti-Islamic rhetoric recently,'' says Aisha Musa, an assistant professor of Islamic Studies at Florida International University.

The stakes are high: five years ago, a Newsweek report caused a stir when it said that American interrogators at the Guantánamo Bay detention camp had flushed a copy of the Koran down a toilet to rattle a detainee. The news, later retracted, set off days of deadly anti-American rioting in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

The same year, a Danish newspaper's printing of cartoons of Muhammad -- Islam prohibits physical depictions of its prophet -- also ignited protests in several Muslim countries.

Muslims fear Jones' church could spark similar alarm. The Gainesville police department is preparing to beef up patrols on Sept. 11, according to a spokesman. The agency has been getting calls for weeks from concerned residents about the church and possible backlash.

At Dove Center, Jones also has received several death threats. The city has denied the church a permit for the demonstration, saying burning books is against the city's fire code, and the church's insurance company canceled its policy in late July after Jones announced his plans.

Jones says he'll carry on. ``I'm not doing this because it's popular,'' says Jones, who has lost about half of his congregation as his actions have become more extreme since he first put up ``Islam is of the Devil'' signs in the church yard last summer.

Despite the decline in Gainesville, the church -- its anti-Islamic thread went largely ignored outside Florida until this year -- has gained thousands of online followers.

Some Muslims believe there could be a silver lining to the controversy. ``People have been asking me lots of more questions about Islam,'' said Mona Younas, a pre-med student from Kendall, after attending evening prayers recently at the Islamic Center of Gainesville, a mosque adjacent to campus that Muslims have used for 20 years.

On campus, she regularly helps distribute Islamic literature and fields questions on topics from the role of women in Islam to jihad and terrorism.

Sitting in the parking lot of the two-story building nestled between a gas station and a fraternity house, she expressed a cautious optimism for Islam's future.

``We've come far since Sept. 11. There's an understanding of differences, of faiths and at UF, you can be who you are without being afraid,'' said Younas, 21, who had slipped on a silver head scarf over her typically uncovered hair to pray.

``But this Koran burning is exactly the kind of reason my parents would never let me wear the head scarf full time. As soon as you step outside of campus, the feeling suddenly changes. There is still an uneasiness.''

American Muslims Ask, Will We Ever Belong?

New York Times (All Rights Reserved, Copyright)
Published: September 5, 2010

For nine years after the attacks of Sept. 11, many American Muslims made concerted efforts to build relationships with non-Muslims, to make it clear they abhor terrorism, to educate people about Islam and to participate in interfaith service projects. They took satisfaction in the observations by many scholars that Muslims in America were more successful and assimilated than Muslims in Europe.

*Picture: Dr. Ferhan Asghar at a Muslim center in West Chester, Ohio, with his wife, Pakeeza, and daughters Zara, left, and Emaan

Now, many of those same Muslims say that all of those years of work are being rapidly undone by the fierce opposition to a Muslim cultural center near ground zero that has unleashed a torrent of anti-Muslim sentiments and a spate of vandalism. The knifing of a Muslim cab driver in New York City has also alarmed many American Muslims.

“We worry: Will we ever be really completely accepted in American society?” said Dr. Ferhan Asghar, an orthopedic spine surgeon in Cincinnati and the father of two young girls. “In no other country could we have such freedoms — that’s why so many Muslims choose to make this country their own. But we do wonder whether it will get to the point where people don’t want Muslims here anymore.”

Eboo Patel, a founder and director of Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based community service program that tries to reduce religious conflict, said, “I am more scared than I’ve ever been — more scared than I was after Sept. 11.”

That was a refrain echoed by many American Muslims in interviews last week. They said they were scared not as much for their safety as to learn that the suspicion, ignorance and even hatred of Muslims is so widespread. This is not the trajectory toward integration and acceptance that Muslims thought they were on.

Some American Muslims said they were especially on edge as the anniversary of 9/11 approaches. The pastor of a small church in Florida has promised to burn a pile of Korans that day. Muslim leaders are telling their followers that the stunt has been widely condemned by Christian and other religious groups and should be ignored. But they said some young American Muslims were questioning how they could simply sit by and watch the promised desecration.

They liken their situation to that of other scapegoats in American history: Irish Roman Catholics before the nativist riots in the 1800s, the Japanese before they were put in internment camps during World War II.

Muslims sit in their living rooms, aghast as pundits assert over and over that Islam is not a religion at all but a political cult, that Muslims cannot be good Americans and that mosques are fronts for extremist jihadis. To address what it calls a “growing tide of fear and intolerance,” the Islamic Society of North America plans to convene a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington on Tuesday.

Young American Muslims who are trying to figure out their place and their goals in life are particularly troubled, said Imam Abdullah T. Antepli, the Muslim chaplain at Duke University.

“People are discussing what is the alternative if we don’t belong here,” he said. “There are jokes: When are we moving to Canada, when are we moving to Sydney? Nobody will go anywhere, but there is hopelessness, there is helplessness, there is real grief.”

Mr. Antepli just returned from a trip last month with a rabbi and other American Muslim leaders to Poland and Germany, where they studied the Holocaust and the events that led up to it (the group issued a denunciation of Holocaust denial on its return).

“Some of what people are saying in this mosque controversy is very similar to what German media was saying about Jews in the 1920s and 1930s,” he said. “It’s really scary.”

American Muslims were anticipating a particularly joyful Ramadan this year. For the first time in decades, the monthlong holiday fell mostly during summer vacation, allowing children to stay up late each night for the celebratory iftar dinner, breaking the fast, with family and friends.

But the season turned sour.

The great mosque debate seems to have unleashed a flurry of vandalism and harassment directed at mosques: construction equipment set afire at a mosque site in Murfreesboro, Tenn; a plastic pig with graffiti thrown into a mosque in Madera, Calif.; teenagers shooting outside a mosque in upstate New York during Ramadan prayers. It is too soon to tell whether hate crimes against Muslims are rising or are on pace with previous years, experts said. But it is possible that other episodes are going unreported right now.

“Victims are reluctant to go public with these kinds of hate incidents because they fear further harassment or attack,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “They’re hoping all this will just blow over.”

Some Muslims said their situation felt more precarious now — under a president who is perceived as not only friendly to Muslims but is wrongly believed by many Americans to be Muslim himself — than it was under President George W. Bush.

Mr. Patel explained, “After Sept. 11, we had a Republican president who had the confidence and trust of red America, who went to a mosque and said, ‘Islam means peace,’ and who said ‘Muslims are our neighbors and friends,’ and who distinguished between terrorism and Islam.”

Now, unlike Mr. Bush then, the politicians with sway in red state America are the ones whipping up fear and hatred of Muslims, Mr. Patel said.

“There is simply the desire to paint an entire religion as the enemy,” he said. Referring to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, the founder of the proposed Muslim center near ground zero, “What they did to Imam Feisal was highly strategic. The signal was, we can Swift Boat your most moderate leaders.”

Several American Muslims said in interviews that they were stunned that what provoked the anti-Muslim backlash was not even another terrorist attack but a plan by an imam known for his work with leaders of other faiths to build a Muslim community center.

This year, Sept. 11 coincides with the celebration of Eid, the finale to Ramadan, which usually lasts three days (most Muslims will begin observing Eid this year on Sept. 10). But Muslim leaders, in this climate, said they wanted to avoid appearing to be celebrating on the anniversary of 9/11. Several major Muslim organizations have urged mosques to use the day to participate in commemoration events and community service.

Ingrid Mattson, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, said many American Muslims were still hoping to salvage the spirit of Ramadan.

“In Ramadan, you’re really not supposed to be focused on yourself,” she said. “It’s about looking out for the suffering of other people. Somehow it feels bad to be so worried about our own situation and our own security, when it should be about empathy towards others.”