PLEASE VISIT www.CenterforPluralism.com for all information


Thursday, February 28, 2008

Religion and ethics of War

Religion, world affairs and the ethics of war

CAMDEN (Feb 26): There were reasons, more than 400 years ago, that European diplomats attempted to push religion aside as they began the delicate task of building international relations following decades of religious wars and Conflicts during the 16th and 17th centuries had wiped out a third of the population in Europe and decision makers in 1648 agreed to wall off religious convictions from international politics, recognizing in some fashion that political intolerance and religious wars had failed the continent.

That rising tolerance of diversity and pluralism, that the "world is a world of sovereign states," said the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir on Friday, rooted U.S. foreign policy, and today underpins global relations and international law. It followed with a century of democratic revolutions and the development of international relations that minimized religion.

The 2008 Camden Conference comprised three days of events, beginning with the Rev. J. Bryan Hehir's keynote address on "Religion, World Politics and the U.S. Foreign Policy." On Saturday, attendees heard from Andrew Preston of Cambridge University on religious influences on American foreign relations; Scott Appleby of Notre Dame University on the role of fundamentalists in recent U.S. foreign policy; Andrew Natsios, a Georgetown University professor, on the influence of religion in American diplomacy; Philip Wilcox of the Foundation for Middle East Peace on religious identities in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; Rend Al-Rahim Francke of the Iraq Foundation on the clash between Sunnis and Shias across the Middle East; and Ellen Laipson of the Henry Stimson Center on the struggle between modern governance and resurgent Islam. On Sunday, Katherine Marshall of Georgetown University discussed religious and ethical challenges in seeking global social justice; and Douglas Johnston of the International Institute for Religion and Diplomacy talked about faith-based diplomacy.

Hehir spoke Friday night at the Camden Opera House, offering the keynote address for the 2008 Camden Conference, an annual winter gathering to exchange ideas on key global issues. This year, the theme was "Religion as a Force in World Affairs" -- a "capacious topic" said Hehir, as he welcomed attendees from the eastern seaboard and as far west as Arizona and Texas gathered during yet another Maine snowstorm.

The 1648 agreement ironed out in Westphalia, Germany, among European states established that individual countries and citizens could determine their own religions, and practice them in peace, Hehir said. Westphalia grounded the idea of noninterference in national affairs, and by extension, that religion was not considered a primary factor in balancing global affairs.

Times have change, Hehir said, with the manifestation of liberation theology, the Iranian revolt in 1979, and the solidarity movement in Poland, all events that have been treated anecdotally, but never in the context of a larger theme of religious beliefs shaping world destinies.

Hehir cautioned that simplistically framing the discussion "has great hazards," but he delivered a general historical overview of how western countries have regarded religion as a player in shaping global politics and what the future might hold.

A scholar, Catholic priest and intellectual, Hehir analyzes not only religion and society, but also the relationship of ethics and foreign policy, and the ethics of war, or "just war."

While the 2008 Camden Conference, "Religion as a Force in World Affairs," gets tucked into camcasts and recordings to be made available at the conference website,
planning is now under way for the 2009 Camden Conference, "Looking Ahead: the U.S. Role in World Affairs." The conference "will gather one month after a new president of the U.S. has been sworn in," the Camden Conference organizers said. "The new president, following the Bush administration, will face formidable tasks in foreign policy. New leaders will have to define and implement coherent and effective strategies to promote our national interests and advance our values."

While Hehir, who is a professor at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government, and who previously held such posts as adviser to the U.S. Catholic Bishops Conference and director of the Harvard Divinity School, relegated his comments about the ethics of war to the end of his address, he told the audience, which included people listening to live broadcasts in Portland, Belfast and Rockland auditoriums, that the "war in Iraq is fundamentally mistaken."

He added that he did not have the same thought about Afghanistan.

A 2003 interview with him in Religion and Ethics Newsweekly qualified Hehir as "no pacifist," who "agrees that if an attack on us is really imminent, we should preempt it. But he worries that the new policy implies going beyond preemption to a broader policy of so-called preventive attack. He fears if we do that, others will too."

Following his Friday night keynote address, questions about preemptive strikes and use of force generated further discussion about current U.S. policies.

Asked about torture in the context of the ethics of war, Hehir responded, "the intentional killing of non-combatives is always wrong," and "torture is always wrong."

The 2008 Camden Conference drew hundreds from New England, the Northeast and western states to the annual nonpartisan, educational gathering, now 21 years old, whose mission is to foster informed discourse on world issues. (Photo by Lynda Clancy)

He also contended that such practices significantly affect not only those tortured but also those who torture. It is the destruction of human dignity, said Hehir.

Hehir described on Friday a world that since the 1960s has seen the expansion of other forces that move easily across national borders – corporations, "the Jesuits," and institutions, among them, the great religious traditions. With these changes come the necessity for creating space and legitimacy to include the role of religion in politics, he said.

But the world, in its post-Sept. 11 thinking, must not define religion as primarily or solely a negative source, or define religion in the discussion as a focus on only Islam. And in the United States, he said, religion in political discussions must not be defined exclusively as evangelicalism or fundamentalism.

The task requires a systematic assessment of the role of religion in the world, its ideas, institutions and communities, Hehir said. The analysis will help create an intellectual foundation to what already exists, and extend further to the ideas of social justice and emerging relief for societies affected by war.

Hehir was asked whether his training and background influenced his perspectives.

"I can't get out of my skin," he said. "I was educated in a tradition."

But he qualified that in his teaching, he regards his own thinking as but a piece in a larger setting.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Executing the Terrorists

Executing the Terrorists
Mike Ghouse

Executing the 9/11 Terrorists is perhaps the easiest thing to do, however the editors of Dallas Morning News have prudently suggested to keep them in solitary confinement for life and deny them the only satisfaction they yearn for; to be the martyrs. Heck, they are no martyrs, they are criminals.

This certainly will hold a few potential candidates from martyrdom and cause a few in the cells to ponder and renounce violence, as some 300 of them did in Yemen about three years ago. The judge who put the Al-Qaeda terrorists in Jail came up with a novel idea and offered the prisoners a choice - he will free them if they can show where in Qur'aan (he gave them a copy each) they are allowed to kill a human being or he will join in their movement. Three months later the judge freed them when they renounced violence and volunteered to to help check the Al-Qaeda operations as they were duped to believe in the form of Jihad that ain't in the book.

It further sends a clear signal to the terrorists that we are not like them who shamelessly kill innocent humans and hang them on the bridges and place the disgusting video on the internet. They need to know that we are a civil society and value life, but will go the full lenght of the law to prevent the individual from becoming a threat to the society.

Recommended reading: http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2007/05/laser-barking-at-terrorists.html

Executing Terrorists 9/11 Justice: Dallas Morning News Editorial
Executing terrorists not in nation's best interest
07:03 AM CST on Thursday, February 14, 2008

The U.S. government's plan to seek the death penalty against six Guantánamo Bay detainees in the Sept. 11 attacks is bound to have enthusiastic public appeal. It might seem fitting punishment for anyone found responsible for nearly 3,000 deaths, 600 more than in the Japanese ambush at Pearl Harbor.

Yet the effort to assign guilt for the barbaric Sept. 11 raids – this generation's own "day of infamy" – should not end in an execution chamber. That would not be in this nation's best interest.

Carrying out the death penalty would put the government's questionable and untested military tribunal system on trial simultaneously. It's a test the nation could not afford to fail as it tries to assert moral authority in the war on terror.

Justice could not be served in a trial stemming from coerced confessions. One of the six suspects, alleged Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, has undergone CIA interrogation that included waterboarding, a practice widely considered torture and prone to produce unreliable information. American and international legal traditions demand better. And make no mistake: Trying these suspects will have global implications.

The military tribunal also could very well curtail traditional rights of defendants, such as open-court proceedings and challenging government evidence. While some deviation from standard court procedures might be tolerable for security reasons, a high-stakes capital punishment trial is not the time to grope for a balance.

There is a better option for the American people, although it's admittedly a hard case to make in light of emotions that will remain forever raw on the subject: Terrorists who bring savagery to our shores should spend the rest of their lives isolated in secure prison cells.

Advantages are many. For one, the government could gain truly useful information through methodical interviews. Second, unending solitary confinement could lead a terrorist to reflect on and renounce fanaticism, which would pay rich propaganda dividends. Third, imprisonment would have deterrent value by denying Islamo-terrorists a reward they crave – the glory of martyrdom for their twisted cause.

Finally, no one should underestimate the punitive value of condemning someone to look at four bare concrete walls for the rest of his life.

In the words of the judge who pronounced a life sentence on terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui two years ago: "You will die with a whimper."

Obama the Pluralist

Obama the Pluralist & Obama preaching hope
Mike Ghouse & Rafael Anchía

The article by Rafael Anchía prompted me to write the following note.

For the first time in our history, we have a candidate who is hoping to represent every American, he is a rare all inclusive candidate. In the California debates, Hillary baited him to respond to her statement that she will be making history as the first "Woman President" as if he was going to pigeon hole himself as "Black President".... my wife and I debated and agreed that he will not fall into the Hillary trap, sure enough, he demonstrated that within the next 2 minutes. He did not even address her, he simply went on with his inclusive appeal to all Americans giving hope.

Rafael in his article rightly points out that "Obama is referred to as a "black" candidate, in truth he is of mixed race, as are many Latinos. And, as the son of an immigrant, his experience can affirm that the American dream is still intact for everyone, regardless of where one's parents were born. His dedication to his family, strong work ethic, opposition to the war in Iraq and deep faith are all qualities that are important to Latino voters."

Indeed, he represents the hopes of every American; born, naturalized, white, Black, brown or yellow, Jewish, Christian, Hindu, Muslim or others. Obama has become a powerful icon of pluralism and inclusiveness.

Rafael Anchía: Obama is preaching the politics of hope - not division 05:24 PM CST on Thursday, February 14, 2008

Elections 2008 coverage

During recent weeks, I have watched with increasing dismay the media suggestions that Latinos will not vote for Barack Obama in the Democratic primary because of underlying racism or tension that exists between African-Americans and us.

What surprises me most is the overly facile and inaccurate juxtaposition of Latino vs. African-Americans as a "race" conflict. I chair the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund and, in that capacity, work with Latinos at every level of government across the country.

And guess what? We are black, indigenous, white and everything in between. We are also blond-haired and blue-eyed, we are Catholic and Protestant, Republican and Democratic, and, as far as I have been able to determine, we are not unanimously supporting one candidate more than another. The idea that all Latinos speak with one political voice is a false dichotomy and makes flawed assumptions that show a basic ignorance of Latinos and our very diverse culture.

As the son of a Mexican mother and Spanish father who grew up in a Cuban and El Salvadoran neighborhood, I have lived this diversity and recognize that Latino Democratic primary voting trends are much more about familiarity with the candidate and much less about race.

Hillary Clinton has done well among Latinos during the early Democratic primary season and figures to continue that success in Texas. However, rather than suggest she might win a greater share of the Latino vote in Texas because of racism, a more responsible view would acknowledge that the Clinton brand is still strong here. She campaigned in South Texas for George McGovern in the 1970s, was the first lady of a neighboring state in the 1980s and was the first lady to a president popular among Latinos for most of the 1990s.

Contrary to conventional wisdom, however, Texas provides Sen. Barack Obama with a huge opportunity to court Latinos. Texas Latinos have a recent history of supporting non-Latino African-American candidates. Dallas Mayor Ron Kirk and Houston Mayor Lee Brown were elected and then re-elected against Latino challengers (Margaret Donnelly and Orlando Sanchez, respectively) with sizeable support from Latinos.

After beating Latino candidate Victor Morales in the Democratic primary runoff in 2002, Mr. Kirk actually did as well as or better among Latinos in the Rio Grande Valley during his senatorial bid than Laredo gubernatorial candidate Tony Sanchez.

And while Mr. Obama is referred to as a "black" candidate, in truth he is of mixed race, as are many Latinos. And, as the son of an immigrant, his experience can affirm that the American dream is still intact for everyone, regardless of where one's parents were born.

His dedication to his family, strong work ethic, opposition to the war in Iraq and deep faith are all qualities that are important to Latino voters. A recently released analysis of Super Tuesday results by the Willie Velasquez Institute shows that Mr. Obama is making important strides among Latino voters, including among late-breaking undecided Latinos.

Super Tuesday results also showed that Mr. Obama makes up big ground among all voters who see him and are exposed to his message. With the Texas Democratic primary still several weeks away, there is time for Barack Obama to further connect with Texas Latinos.

With all the distracting talk of an African-American-Latino electoral divide, it is easy to lose perspective of the ultimate goal of electing a president who can bring the United States together.

Our main focus should not be on who can appeal to which racial or ethnic group more than another, but which candidate can unite all races, ethnicities, age groups, faiths and economic classes as a nation to address our common challenges and to restore our historic position as a respected leader of the free world.

I am the Latino son of immigrants, but, rather than engaging in the contrived politics of division, I want Barack Obama, a black man of mixed ethnicity, to be my president. How's that for the politics of hope?

Rafael Anchía is a state representative from Dallas, the 2005 LULAC "National Man of the Year" and chairman of the National Association of Latino Elected Officials Educational Fund.

Pluralistic or Secular?

Pluralistic or secular?
Mike Ghouse

I am pleased to include below a very short piece titled “Temple administration not government’s job by Sri Sri Ravi Shankar”.

The main value of this piece is the very title of it.

Understanding the pluralistic heritage of Indian society is critical in developing models for pluralistic form of governance. Thanks to the Hindu heritage, the society has believed in achieving knowledge about the creation and the creator through a variety of ways and has not been restrictive in the means and endless variety in worshipping the divine.

India has led the world in pluralistic form of governance; giving room to every faith and every idea to flourish. When you study the functioning of her government that accommodates religion in her governance, it makes you want to take the model every where.

The American and most of the European models have been secular and have also been fairly successful.

Both the models are going through a period of severe challenges by the fundamentalist of every faith. Religions at large have done their job in getting humans to understand the need for co-existence which stems from justice and respect for every human being.

However, the extremists are gaining significant voices, and want to compel the society to listen to their fear based rhetoric and destruction of those who do not agree. This is anti-religion to begin with, anti-democracy and goes against their heritage. I wonder if we should call them fundamentalists as neither of the Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Jewish and other faiths are fundamentalists; may be the word extremist is more appropriate.

India’s model is both admirable and deplorable; admire that the religious properties of Hindu and Muslim are largely managed by quasi governmental organizations and have done a great job in the past, with the rise of fundamentalism, abuses and mismanagement of properties is also on the rise. Do we cure the problem or rid it?

I have subscribed to the Republican Party ideals for a very long time, but I am disenchanted with the chasm between who they are and what they believe in. I wonder if we should call the “conservatives” particularly in Republican Party as conservatives. Most of their claims to conservatism are not, may be the word Political extremists would be more appropriate. They are not for peace; they are not for freedom, they are not for less government and they are not fiscally responsible.

I guess my notes are as random as the column below. Heck, if we have made a point out of the context of the topic, we have made it.

Mike Ghouse

Feb. 11 - Rediff News

Opposing any move towards acquisition of temples by a
government, spiritual guru Sri Sri Ravishankar has
said that if such a step was indispensable, it must
not apply only to places of worship of any one

“It is not the government’s job to look after the
administration of temples.

Moreover, if those in power think that it is a
necessity, they must take care not to give an
impression that the government is interfering in the
matters of sacred places of only one religion,”
Ravishankar told media persons in Allahabad on Sunday

The spiritual guru, who was in Allahabad to attend the
last rites of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi of Transcendental
Meditation fame, also said that incorporating
spirituality into modern education was the only answer
to the ills plaguing the world ‘like terrorism,
casteism, parochialism and shocking instances of
people with brilliant academic and professional
careers getting involved in heinous crimes.’Recalling
fondly his five-year-long association with Mahesh
Yogi, he said: “I owe my spiritual advancement to the
encouragement I received from him in my early youth.”

Ravishankar also blamed farmers’ suicides in various
parts of the country on ‘environmental degradation
brought about by mindless use of chemical fertilizers’
and said his Art of Living Foundation was working
towards promoting organic farming by actively
involving itself in 30,000


Faith, law and democracy

Three articles:
  1. Faith, Law and Democracy
  2. Adopting Shariah is no way to bridge cultures
  3. Integrating Islam into the West

I am pleased to hear that the North Texas Muslim leaders said that “their religious doctrine calls for Muslim migrants to abide by the laws of their host country. These are the words for everyone to live by.” Writes Dallas Morning News.

Sharia laws are derivatives from Qur’aan and the sayings of Prophet Muhammad on living a life of Justice and peace. As with every group, the extreme interpretations by certain institutions and individuals, and their perpetuation have become contentious. The conflicts are in the areas of divorce, apostasy and women where fine tuning of our understanding is needed.

The basis for Qur'aan is justice, when there is justice people feel secure and live in peace, harmony and prosperity. As far as the Sharia in public life is concerned, our civil laws are just and are good for every one. The rest of the Sharia is about one's devotion to God and how it is carried out, and it usually remains in the private domain.

The religious fundamentalists of every religion have a right to follow their religion in any fashion they want, but they do not have the right to impose it on the next person or any one else. Imposition is not part of Islamic idelology, Qur'aan is very clear about it that there is no compulsion in the matters of faith.

American and Canadian Muslims value and trust our justice system, and do not feel the need for Sharia Laws to arbitrate personal matters, that amount to civil matters by religious agency. India has functioned well with its pluralistic heritage and if I live longer, that would be the focus of my research.


Faith, law and democracy
Defining the limits of exceptionalism

From The Economist print edition

The right of faiths to run their own affairs and regulate their adherents' lives has recently become controversial—because of fear of Islam

AMONG family-law buffs, the case is seen as a key example of the messy ways in which religious and civil law can get entangled. It concerns an Italian couple who wed in a Catholic church in 1962. After 25 years of less-than-blissful union, she got a legal separation from a civil court, which told him to make monthly maintenance payments. But he had other ideas: he convinced an ecclesiastical court that their union had never been valid, because they were close blood relations.

After vain appeals to various civil and religious courts in Italy (to which she complained that she never got a chance to tell her story), she turned to the European Court of Human Rights, which in 2001 ruled in her favour and made a modest compensation award. The European judges in Strasbourg had no jurisdiction over church courts—but they did find that Italy's civil judges failed to assess the religious courts' work or note the deficiencies.

In every democratic and more-or-less secular country, similar questions arise about the precise extent to which religious sub-cultures should be allowed to live by their own rules and “laws”. One set of questions emerges when believers demand, and often get, an opt-out from the law of the land. Sikhs in British Columbia can ride motorcycles without helmets; some are campaigning for the right not to wear hard hats on building sites. Muslims and Jews slaughter animals in ways that others might consider cruel; Catholic doctors and nurses refuse to have anything to do with abortion or euthanasia.

Even in determinedly secular states like France and the United States, the political authorities often find that they are obliged, in various ways, to cope with the social reality of religious belief. America's Amish community, fundamentalists who eschew technology, has generally managed to get around the law with respect to social security, child labour and education. In France, town halls serving large Muslim populations ignore secular principles as they get involved in the ritual slaughter of sheep.

Apart from exceptions to existing laws, another sort of problem arises when religious (and other) communities establish bodies that work very much like courts—and may be called courts—that enforce ancient rules that are often called laws.

All these questions, but especially the last of them, have been on the mind of Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury. The Anglican leader caused a furore when he suggested, on February 7th, that some accommodation between British law and sharia, or the Muslim legal tradition, was inevitable and should perhaps be made official.


America's oldest exception: the Amish
At first, there seems not to be any huge problem about the existence of institutions whose members freely choose to respect a set of norms—so long as participation really is voluntary, and the rules do not horrify the rest of society. (Intuitively, most Western societies accept the circumcision, on religious grounds, of baby boys, but they would not tolerate the genital mutilation of baby girls.) But in almost every democracy which aspires at the same time to be fair, secular and tolerant of religious diversity, it is getting harder to mark out and preserve the boundary.

Until recently, religions with deep local roots—like Anglicanism in Britain or Lutheranism in Scandinavia—could rely on well-honed survival instincts; clerics had developed a keen sense of how much “soft theocracy” society could accept, and when to beat a tactical retreat. Even the existence of court-like institutions, dealing in particular with marital and property issues, caused little fuss as long as everybody involved recognised the absolute primacy of the law of land. In Britain, for example, religious courts or beth din used by Orthodox Jews have been recognised by statute—and in 2002, divorce law was adjusted in a way that acknowledged the role of these bodies. (If a Jewish husband refuses to seek a religious divorce—thus denying his wife the chance to remarry in a synagogue—a civil judge can now delay the secular divorce.)

The Church of England uses ancient canon laws to govern the use of church property and its internal workings. But like the monarchy, it knows that the way to retain some vestigial authority is to give up most powers that could be controversial.

What has upset the old equilibrium, say law pundits in several countries, is the emergence all over the world of Muslim minorities who, regardless of what they actually want, are suspected by the rest of society of preparing to establish a “state within a state” in which the writ of secular legislation hardly runs at all. The very word sharia—which at its broadest can imply a sort of divine ideal about how society should be organised, but can also refer to specific forms of corporal and capital punishment—is now political dynamite.

That has rendered controversial some things that were once well accepted, like the existence of arbitration services which lighten the burden of the state by providing an alternative arena in which disputes can be settled. As Maurits Berger, a Dutch specialist on Islam and the law, points out, most English-speaking countries have a tradition of dealing with family law through arbitration—voluntary procedures to whose outcome the parties are bound. (Things are different in continental Europe, where the nearest equivalent is non-binding mediation services.)

The Canadian province of Ontario is the clearest case of an English-speaking place where fear of Islam made religious arbitration untenable. An uproar began in 2003 when Syed Mumtaz Ali, a retired Ontario lawyer, said he was setting up a sharia court to settle family law disputes for Muslims. Such arrangements were allowed by the province's 1991 Arbitration Act and could carry the force of law.

The proposal caused an instant backlash, right across the religious and political spectrum; many Muslim groups were opposed too. Marion Boyd, a retired attorney-general, investigated the matter and initially recommended that the Arbitration Act should continue to allow disputes to be adjudicated by religious bodies—subject to stricter regulation by the state. But that turned out not to be good enough for Ontarians who were nervous of sharia. In September 2005 the province's premier, Dalton McGuinty, decided to prohibit all settlement of family matters based on religious principles under the Arbitration Act. Religious arbitrators could still offer services in the settlement of disputes, but their rulings would not have legal effect or be enforceable by the courts. The province's laws were duly changed.

The political background to these moves is no secret: a general wariness of Islam prompted not only by the September 2001 terrorist attacks, but also by NATO's war against the Taliban in Afghanistan, in which scores of Canadian soldiers have died. Moves to establish sharia tribunals, be they ever so voluntary, aroused “quite a lot of anti-Muslim feelings”, says Alia Hogben of the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (which opposed the tribunals). “It allowed people to say, here they come, they are going to ask for more and more.” Apart from a general fear of theocracy, says Jeffrey Reitz, a professor at the University of Toronto, Canadians were nervous that “some of the progress that's been made with gender equality might be lost if we begin to accommodate various group that have less concern...”

As anxiety over (real or imaginary) Muslim demands for sharia turns into a broader worry about theocracy and religious exceptionalism, many democracies are seeing bizarre multi-polar disputes between secularists, Christians, Muslims and other faiths.

In southern Europe, says Marco Ventura, a religious-law professor at the University of Siena, Catholics are now more worried about the perceived advance of Islam than about maintaining old entitlements for their faith. “Their dilemma is whether the rights which their faith enjoys can be justified when new ones, like Islam, are appearing in Europe.” Some of Italy's Muslims, meanwhile, have been demanding “secularism” in the sense of diluting the Roman Catholic culture of the state, which is epitomised by crucifixes in court rooms, classrooms and hospitals. A Muslim convert, Adel Smith, has been fighting a long battle to get such symbols removed.

In France, President Nicolas Sarkozy has dismayed secularists by stressing the country's Catholic heritage in some recent speeches. But the late (Jewish-born) Archbishop of Paris, Cardinal Jean-Marie Lustiger, was a staunch defender of the secular state as a bulwark against all forms of fundamentalism.

Defining the relationship between religion and the state was certainly easier when it could be assumed that religion's hold over people's lives and behaviour was in long-term decline. But with Islam on the rise, and many Christians—even those with the vaguest of personal beliefs—becoming more defensive of their cultural heritage, the line is getting harder and harder to draw. On that point at least, Archbishop Williams was quite correct.


The law of the land: Adopting Shariah is no way to bridge cultures
Dallas Morning News -06:37 AM CST on Friday, February 15, 2008

It's hardly surprising that British politicians and tabloids are thoroughly roasting the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, for remarking last week that partially adapting Islamic Shariah law into the U.K. legal code "seems unavoidable."

A big surprise, though, was the ripple effect his comments had in North Texas. American Web sites and blogs, including that of Fox News commentator Sean Hannity, came alive with a bizarre discussion of Islamic law already being imposed in our courts.

First, let's debunk the myth: Shariah is not now and should never be a part of the Texas legal code. We live in a secular society where the laws are designed specifically not to be influenced by religion or reflect a religious preference.

The question arose when an Arlington Muslim couple, Rola and Jamal Qaddura, filed for divorce in 1999. After prolonged court battles, they agreed to arbitration by a private Richardson-based group, the Texas Islamic Court. The arbitration agreement wound up in the 2nd Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, which upheld its validity in 2005.

Throughout the case, our courts never relinquished judicial control. And that's how it must always be. In the eyes of the law, the Texas Islamic Court has zero judicial authority and was brought in only as a private civil arbiter, a common practice.

The British and U.S. secular legal systems are rooted in the Magna Carta. The law of our land should never adapt to the ebb and flow of migrants from countries where other legal codes prevail – particularly not a religious code like Shariah, which authorizes harsh treatment of women and severing the hands of thieves.

Editors and reporters from this newspaper met 14 months ago with North Texas Muslim leaders, including, coincidentally, one of the arbiters in the Qaddura case. They said their religious doctrine calls for Muslim migrants to abide by the laws of their host country. These are words for everyone to live by.

Considering the rising tensions between Muslims and Christians across Europe, it's hard to criticize the archbishop of Canterbury for trying to strike a conciliatory tone. But adaptation to Shariah is no way to bridge our cultures.



Integrating Islam into the West
By Phillip Blond and Adrian Pabst
Thursday, February 14, 2008


The Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Reverend Rowan Williams - the titular head of the 77-million strong worldwide Anglican Church - ignited a huge controversy last week when he suggested in a lecture in the Royal Courts of Law that Britain should adopt certain aspects of Shariah law. This was done with the benign intention of integrating into British law the practices and beliefs of Britain's 1.8 million Muslims.

However, the archbishop's apparent suggestion that Muslims could opt out of secular common law for separate arbitration and judgement in Islamic religious courts created the impression of one law for Muslims and another for everybody else.

This incendiary idea (subsequently corrected by the archbishop) provoked a furor about states within states and a widespread fear that any license granted to Shariah law would also license its more extreme aspects. Unfortunately, the media storm masked the real message of the speech, which concerned the authority of the secular state and its impact on religious minorities in general and Muslims in particular.

For the genuine target of the archbishop's lecture is the increasingly authoritarian and anti-religious nature of the modern liberal state. Militant secularism has forbidden head scarves and wall-mounted crucifixes in France. It has also banned Roman Catholic adoption agencies in Britain for not selecting same-sex couples as potential foster parents. Under the banner of free speech, secular Italian leftists recently prevented Pope Benedict XVI from addressing La Sapienza University in Rome on the subject of rational enquiry.

Williams' legitimate religious concerns with freedom of conscience tie in with wider Western worries about the consequences of failing to integrate a growing, devout and alienated Islamic minority within a relativistic and increasingly aggressive secular culture.

However, the solution proposed by the archbishop repeats the errors of 1960s liberal multiculturalism. In conjuring up the idea of communities sharing the same space but leading separate lives, he unwittingly endorses a scenario that entrenches segregation and fractures any conception of a common good binding all citizens. Despite this, Williams at least recognizes that Britain is struggling to find a way of accommodating its increasingly ghettoized and radicalized Muslim population.

Clearly, the integration of Islam into secular democracies is a challenge that confronts the Western world as a whole and Europe in particular. Regrettably, there are problems with all the existing secular models of integration. British and Dutch versions of multiculturalism hoped to ensure the equal rights of all citizens, but both countries - in abandoning the cultural cohesion based around religion - lost the very medium in which majorities and minorities could share.

Germany eschewed its own Christian legacy in favor of an ethnic account of its identity. Though it grants generous socio-economic rights, the German model still refuses Muslim "guest workers" citizenship and thus participation in civic life.

In France, the Republican ideal appeals to immigrants, but its secular reality denies the primary religious form of their identity. Moreover, the Muslim population is discriminated against in the labor market and tends to be confined to the banlieues. The French model's refusal to accommodate religion prevents France from broadening its concept of French identity.

The trouble with all the European models is that they enshrine the primacy of secular law over and against religious principles. Far from ensuring neutrality and tolerance, the secular European state arrogates to itself the right to control and legislate all spheres of life; state constraints apply especially to religion and its civic influence. Legally, secularism outlaws any rival source of sovereignty or legitimacy. Politically, secularism denies religion any import in public debate and decision-making. Culturally, secularism enforces its own norms and standards upon all other belief systems. In consequence, the liberal promise of equality amounts to little more than the secular imposition of sameness. As such, contemporary liberalism is unable to recognize religions in their own right or grant them their proper autonomy.

By contrast, the United States offers a strong integrated vision that allows for the public expression of religion under the auspices of a state that guarantees not just individual rights but also the autonomy of religious communities. Even though minorities in the United States have suffered discrimination, the American model of religious integration explicitly shields religion from excessive state interference. Thus loyalty to the state is not necessarily in conflict with loyalty to one's faith. Perhaps this explains why American Muslims appear more integrated and less alienated than their European counterparts. In part, this is because the European Enlightenment sought to protect the state from religion, whereas the American settlement aimed to protect religion from the state.

Thus, the real reason for Europe's failure to integrate Islam is the European commitment to secularism. Only a new settlement with religion can successfully incorporate the growing religious minorities in Western Europe. Secular liberalism is simply incapable of achieving this outcome. Paradoxically, what other faiths require for their proper recognition is the recovery of the indigenous European religious tradition - Christianity. Only Christianity can integrate other religions into a shared European project by acknowledging what secular ideologies cannot: a transcendent objective truth that exceeds human assertion but is open to rational discernment and debate. As such, Christianity outlines a non-secular model of the common good in which all can participate.

Rather than trying to defend religion through the guise of secular multiculturalism, the Archbishop of Canterbury should have been defending religious pluralism through Christianity. What Muslims most object to is not a difference of belief but its absence from European consciousness. Thus the recovery of Christianity in Europe is not a sectarian project but rather the only basis for the political integration of Muslims and peaceful religious coexistence.

Phillip Blond is a senior lecturer in philosophy and theology at the University of Cumbria. Adrian Pabst teaches religion and politics at the University of Nottingham and is a research fellow at the Luxembourg Institute for European and International Studies.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Apology from Senator McCain?

Will John McCain have the decency to apologize?
Mike Ghouse, Dallas

I turned the TV off on McCain this afternoon.

Every TV appearance I have watched in the last two months, even if it was for two minutes, Senator McCain unfailingly delivered his vitriol, "The greatest danger facing the world is Islamic Terrorism" and Governor Romney, who is off the radar now, used "Islamic Jihaad" to appease the right wing of the Republican party.

Senator McCain in his lust for power looses the basic American decency and courtesy to show respect for his fellow Americans who number 6 Million and I am one. It is an ironic number to remember.

When I turned the TV off, the words of Edmund Burke's quote came alive as a sad image, which was pointed out by a speaker at the Holocaust Museum recently. “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.”

Well my friends, I am doing my part. Indeed the world needs to be informed again and again about the Holocaust and how it began. Martin Niemöller's poem (first they came for the Jews…) resonates with me every day, when I see the eerie silence on the part of Media when a linguistic atrocity is committed right in front of their eyes.

When our President claimed they hate us for our freedom, not one media person asked for the proof or the polls, they consumed it gullibly. They, whoever they might be, do not hate America or Americans. Just as we do not hate any people but their governments, others do the same.

Manufacturing hate and fear to earn the support is shameful, but unfortunately that is the reality concocted by the Bush administration and the rightwing Republicans have imbibed it.

I am a Muslim and I am for America like 6 million other Muslims. We are Republicans and Democrats, we are religious as well as not religious, we are conservatives and liberals but mostly moderate just like most of the Americans.

Each one of us is contributing towards the peace and prosperity of our nation. We are taking the initiatives and putting in our efforts for one nation under God with liberty and justice for all.

On 9/11, I manned a Radio station for eight hours getting the Dallas community on the air, grieving with fellow Americans, organizing blood drives, wrote articles to prove to the enemies like Osama Bin Laden that all Americans are on the same side, irrespective of personal faith.

Since then every year, with the support of the Muslim community, I have dedicated my time on 9/11 to unite people, to bring people of all faiths, races and ethnicities to come together and pray for the safety and security of America, and rededicate our pledge to one nation under God with liberty and justice for all. To call Islam or Muslims as terrorists is offensive to me; I am not one, neither the six million of us are. If there is one, we are going to turn them over to the FBI, safety and security of our nation is as important to the 6 millions of as it is to the 294 Million others.

The fear mongers manufacture enemies to polarize the electorate for crass political advantage; Native Indians, African Americans, Jews, Wicca, Atheists and now Muslims are being targeted by them. Such short term gains are deleterious to peace and long term prosperity. As Americans, we need to stand up for each other for the good of every American.

Our leaders should demonstrate their leadership in building goodwill among all Americans and make America a model nation for coexistence and harmony. We need to make peace and prosperity as our goal and our leaders should take that pledge to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill. Every one will win at the end.

I expect Senator McCain to drop the hate rhetoric and apologize to Muslims in America, or at least have the decency not to use the words "Islamic Terrorism" or "Muslims Terrorism". Call Terrorism for what it is, do not suffix or prefix or hang my religion to the evil acts; fear mongering is also evil. I am a Muslim and all the Muslims that I know in America are working hard to keep us safe and secure. If you do not have moral courage to apologize, the least you can do is restore decency in your language.

Two decades ago, when I chose to become an American, I found myself in tune with the Republican party; liberty, less government, fiscal responsibility, capitalism, security and peace through strength. Today, the party is not the same and it does not reflect those values any more. When the Presidential candidate and a few (or more) Republicans resort to this divisive rhetoric, it puts many Republicans like me to re-evaluate being Republicans.

Additional comments:

I have received a ton of emails today from several clergy men and women who have undertaken it upon themselves to forward this article to many of their friends. However, I have received the following concern from a dear friend "Indeed, Islamic terrorism is one of the greatest dangers facing the world today. I'm mystified if you don't see that and agree with that. You are usually a strong campaigner against Islamic terrorism. You did not suggest that McCain said that Muslims or Islam is the greatest threat. You quote him as saying Islamic extremists are the greatest danger."

Here is the idea behind writing this piece.

My contention is that we must call Terrorism for what it is; a disgraceful evil. Let's not dilute it by suffixing or prefixing with another word like religion, in this case Islam or Muslim. This mistake leads to development of attitudes that are detrimental to peace and co-existence in our nation. A criminal father kills his daughter for not being able to have the animalistic control on them... on the same day there were other similar incidents in the paper... but one becomes Muslim Fascism or Islamic terrorism and others didn't even hit the radar. It is building of these attitudes that we need to guard the public from. This was a malignant attitude and it is not good for social health of our society.

Osama Bin Laden is not only an enemy of America, he is a bigger threat to Islam and Muslims around the world as he has put so many lives on jeopardy and gone completely against the principles of Islam, where saving one life is like saving the whole humanity. His followers or those who subscribe to his criminal mind set are terrorists.

By giving a label of Islam to a criminal like him, we are diluting the strength of the purpose in getting that criminal. Osama is our target and we need to go after him and his gang Al-Qaeda, the specific group. By adding the word Islam or Muslim, we are wrongly implicating the religion and its followers, and impotenting our ability to hit the target, we are not focused any more.

It is our President's escapism and gutlessness to deal with the terrorist that he jumped from Afghanistan to Iraq, and then he wanted to yet jump on Iran. He wanted to get some success some where, by God, go get him. And now, John McCain shamelessly claims that he will get Osama, the question is why did he not get him or put the plan to the President and push for it and save our nation a trillion dollars and 4000 lives and a Million Iraqi lives on our conscience?

If you have the time understand our failures in dealing with the terrorism, here is an essay for you. http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2007/05/laser-barking-at-terrorists.html

Let our words mitigate conflicts be it within the family, friends, community or the society at large and that is what it takes to gradually build sustainable peace and attitudes of co-existence.

  1. http://www.mikeghouse.net/Articles/Republican-or-Democrat-which-way.asp
  2. http://www.mikeghouse.net/Articles/John-Mcain-the-Bush-lite-Neocon.asp
  3. http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/UnitydayUSA_2007.asp
  4. http://www.mikeghouse.net/Articles/Did-Senator-McCain-Betray-America.asp
  5. http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2007/05/laser-barking-at-terrorists.html

Mike Ghouse is a Speaker, Thinker, Writer and a Moderator. He is a frequent guest on talk radio and local television network discussing Pluralism, politics, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, India and civic issues. His comments, news analysis, opinions and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website www.MikeGhouse.net. He can be reached at MikeGhouse@aol.com or (214) 325-1916

Additional Articles:

Islam’s Role in the Elections


Islam’s Role in the Elections

By Sadia Ahsanuddin and Dilshoda Yergasheva

January 14, 2008

Throughout the 2008 presidential elections, several candidates have sought to utilize anti-Islam prejudices to their advantage.

In January of 2007, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton’s campaign team deliberately turned the public’s attention to Senator Barack Hussein Obama’s Muslim heritage in order to harm his popularity. Obama, in turn, worked very hard to distance himself from any past or present affiliation with Muslims and Islam, citing the Bible in his speeches and emphasizing his personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

Republicans, for their part, haven’t been much better. Formulaic prefaces from candidates about how “the enemy” is radical Islam hardly veil more broad based, antagonistic sentiments they harbor against Muslims generally. The Christian Science Monitor, for example, reported that Mitt Romney discounted out-of-hand the possibility of appointing a Muslim to his cabinet, were he to take office. In a recent speech to Republicans in New Hampshire, Mike Huckabee, speaking about energy reform and US reliance on foreign oil, stated, “We [will] no longer let the Middle Eastern people hold us hostage, wrecking our economy as well our environment.” More to the point, John Deady, co-chair of Veterans for Rudy, said: “[Rudy Giuliani] has got, I believe, the knowledge and the judgment to attack one of the most difficult problems in current history, and that is the rise of the Muslims.

“Make no mistake about it,” he continued, “This hasn’t happened for a thousand years. These people are very, very dedicated. They’re also very smart in their own way, and we need to keep the feet to the fire and keep pressing these people until we defeat them or chase them back to their caves, or, in other words, get rid of them.”

Islam is not antithetical to all things American. Yet, rather than try to build bridges and work towards engagement and understanding, since September 11, 2001 politicians have preferred to exploit people’s insecurities and biases in order to stoke fears about the supposed threat that Muslims pose to free and democratic societies. The ubiquity of anti-Muslim attitudes in American political rhetoric, even if it is only implicit, not only alienates Muslims around the world, but emboldens intolerant sects of American society. So far, this strategy has sadly shown itself to be politically successful. Being perceived as sympathetic towards Islam and Muslims is taken as evidence of spineless foreign policy where intolerance and fiery diatribes are to a candidate’s credit.

Is this the sort of America we want to live in? How can a nation founded on the precepts of equality and tolerance elect leaders in part based on their perceived ability to malign a religion that over one-sixth of the world’s population subscribes to?

Many Americans, as a result, have developed the false sense that Islam and the West are destined to clash. This misconception of a binary opposition that hawkish politicians use to paint the picture of the current balance of world power allows politicians to sell an overly simplistic picture of America’s interaction with the Muslim world. By reducing America’s relationship to the rest of the world to such black and white terms, politicians are able to derive power as crusaders against a perceived sinister force.

One only needs to watch the recent campaign ads to see these themes pandered to the masses. One such ad, approved by Giuliani, depicts a violent, irrational, out of control Muslim world. The voiceover forebodingly declares, “an enemy without borders,” and, “a people perverted,” in sync with footage of crowds of Muslims, fire, and explosions .This is all set to unearthly, frightening background music. The message is quite clear: Muslims are evil and they’re coming to get you. The ad ends with a case for Giuliani as the strong and capable defender of America: “In a world when the next crisis is a moment away, America needs a leader who’s ready.”

Such dramatic presentations create an artificial sense of unquestioned moral authority, where America and its interests constitute the “good guys” and everyone else is the “bad guys,” resulting in a populace that desires leaders who will take strong action against an evil force.

This sort of demonizing, hate-filled rhetoric is discrimination at its worst. Pitting voters against an illusory common enemy both abroad and at home, campaigners are jeopardizing the safety of six to seven million Muslim, who live among other Americans who are increasingly likely to perceive them as a threat. In doing so, campaigners are compromising the values upon which this nation was founded. Wasn’t this country established by individuals who sought refuge from the religious oppression that pervaded their homelands? Are we not a nation that takes pride in its diversity and inclusiveness? By allowing presidential campaigns to antagonize a minority group within our population, we as Americans are not fulfilling our duty to safeguard the values of equality and tolerance our predecessors fought for.

Sadia Ahsanuddin ’09 is administrative editor of “Ascent Magazine: Harvard and MIT Students on Islam and Society,” and is a history concentrator in Dunster House. Dilshoda Yergasheva ’09 is internal chair of the Harvard Islamic Society and is an applied mathematics concentrator in Cabot House.

This article can be found on the web at: http://www.thecrimson.com/article.aspx?ref=521544

Path to peace in Mid-east

Plotting the Middle Path to Israeli-Palestinian Peace
The Role of American Jews

Mike Ghouse : I am an optimist and believe in goodness embedded in every human being. There as many Jewish Organizations working for peace as others organizations. If we say there aren't enough, then we are saying we are not doing much either.

By Diane Balser

In the groundbreaking new book, Righteous Indignation: A Jewish Call for Justice, leading rabbis, intellectuals, and activists explore the relationship between Judaism and social justice. Significantly, the book contains an entire section dedicated to exploring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including a chapter (excerpted below) by Brit Tzedek's Interim Executive Director and former National Advocacy Chair, Diane Balser.

For many years, resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been left out of the conversation on Jewish social justice. This anthology is a declaration that Israeli-Palestinian peace activism deserves a place in the emerging social justice movement within our community. Brit Tzedek is cosponsoring several book launch events and strongly recommends this landmark work.


Many American Jews have long been in the vanguard of progressive politics in the United States. The traditional Jewish impulse toward social justice – rooted in our texts, manifested in our political and social history, and shaped by the great questions of the modern day – has compelled American Jews to the forefront of the contemporary world’s definitive struggles, a modern response to the imperative to work toward tikkun olam, repair of a broken world. The establishment of unions, the civil rights movement, the fight for women’s rights – each of these chapters in American history found Jews disproportionately leading the battle and persevering in the face of enormous difficulty.

For at least the first two decades of Israel’s existence, support for the Jewish State was considered part and parcel of the progressive Jewish agenda. Zionism was one of many national liberation movements to come to international attention in the wake of World War II, its ethical and egalitarian aspirations — to become, as its first Prime Minister David Ben Gurion described, “a light unto nations" — enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence:

The State of Israel will be open for Jewish immigration and for the Ingathering of the Exiles; it will foster the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions; and it will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

As we supported the rights of others to self-determination, many progressives within the American Jewish community were proud and happy to support the national liberation of our own people.

Of course, there was a potentially perilous naiveté involved in this support, in that most American Jews, along with most of the Western world, failed to understand the level of suffering and sheer disenfranchisement that the establishment of Israel meant for the Palestinian people. The oft’ repeated Zionist adage “a land without a people for a people without a land” captured the imagination of so many of our parents and grandparents in their quest for sanctuary, but now resonates tinnily for we who have seen a very different reality borne out. While some recognized early on the serious implications for Israel’s future of the massive displacement of Palestinians following the 1948 war, for many this understanding dawned slowly, only in the post-Six Day War world, as Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip increasingly took root. Without wishing to deny the right of the Jewish people to its own state, many of us came to comprehend the cost this state has entailed for another people. Particularly since the first Palestinian intifada began in December 1987, many American Jews have begun to try to bring their attachment to their own people’s national project in line with the understanding that Palestinian rights must not be denied.

The question of Israel’s place on a progressive agenda is further complicated by the complex nature of Israel’s relationship with the United States. Largely by virtue of its reliance on the United States for foreign aid and particularly military aid, as well as for diplomatic cover in an often hostile international environment, Israel has become, at least publicly, the standard bearer for the increasingly troubled and troubling American policies in the Middle East.

The effort to put pro-Israel activism back on the progressive agenda will require us to formulate, organize, and put forward a third political and cultural path for supporting Israel, independent of the right wing/neo-conservative US foreign policy agendas, and stepping clear of left wing denial that Jews need a homeland. It will comprise an understanding of the importance of a Jewish homeland to meet both the needs of Jewish survival and demands of broader justice, as well as an understanding of the urgent necessity of such a state to ally itself with a Palestinian state along its border, with which it lives at peace.

In this chapter, I will argue that a progressive Jewish movement must reclaim and reframe the sometimes forgotten progressive ideals that were essential to the establishment of the State of Israel, both as the central path to ensuring Jewish survival, and as the core of our fight for international social justice – a struggle that reflects the most basic of Jewish ethics.

Our own struggle as progressive American Jews – to cultivate a collective agenda-driven identity that is at once independent and closely interconnected to and engaged in the world around it – would then fittingly mirror our aspirations for Israel as a peaceful and secure Jewish homeland that is both integrated in and integral in the Middle East and the international community as a whole. Isolation from other peoples - particularly oppressed peoples - has historically been key to the vulnerability of Jews throughout the world and in Israel in particular. The vision of an Israel of the future is one that lives in cooperation with its Arab neighbors, not a militarized, isolated ghetto in the middle of a hostile Arab world. By cultivating a strong Jewish presence in Israel and the United States that lives in a multi-cultural, multi-national world, we will create a political home for those in the progressive movement who would advance the principle of two states for two people, and help progressive Jews develop greater confidence in their Jewish identity, from which to reach out to potential allies among Muslims, Arabs, African Americans and all peoples of color.

Brit Tzedek v'Shalom, The Jewish Alliance for Justice and Peace
11 E. Adams Street, Suite 707
Chicago, IL 60603
Phone: (312) 341-1205
Fax: (312) 341-1206

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Undermining Civil Liberties

Undermining Civil Liberties
Louay Safi

Civil liberties are always precious for free people, but particularly so during times of turbulence when the future seems uncertain and society struggles to gain its balance and move in the right direction. These are, sadly, times when opportunists try to advance their fortune without regard to other people's rights, bigots hide behind the language of patriotism, and freedom is curtailed in the name of security. It is under such conditions that civil liberties and the right to dissent become exceedingly important, as free and open debate becomes essential for pursuing the best course of action.

Yet bigots, racists, and zealots have always tried to pursue their narrow agenda during the time of war and conflict by exploiting fear and hiding behind patriotic rhetoric. The last time zealots used foreign threats to silence defenders of human rights and critics of foreign policy was during the fifties, when a junior congressman with the name of Joseph McCarthy used his position and exploited national fear and anxiety to attack his ideological opponents. McCarthy confused dissent with disloyalty, and claimed to defend freedom abroad as he was undermining it at home.

McCarthy, for instance, accused the US Army of harboring communists and described the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of being "a front for, and doing the work of, the Communist Party." He went so far as to question the loyalty of the Democratic Party, accusing it of "twenty years of treason."

His divisive and misguided approach was eloquently described by a courageous journalist with the name of Edward Murrow, who decided to confront McCarthy on March 19, 1954. "[Senator McCarthy's] primary achievement," Murrow asserted on national TV at the height of the McCarthy era, "has been in confusing the public mind, as between the internal and the external threats of Communism. We must not confuse dissent with disloyalty. We must remember always that accusation is not proof and that conviction depends upon evidence and due process of law."

The neo-conservative pundits, who lead a smear campaign with the aim to marginalize Muslim Americans, read from McCarthy's manual. They have repeatedly painted Muslim Americans critical of their inhumane and exploitative foreign policy as disloyal. They most recently chided Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England for attending the annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) in 2006 and for inviting ISNA officers to visit the Pentagon. They have accused ISNA, and every other Muslim American organization of repute, of being sympathetic to terrorism for the sheer fact that these organizations have been critical of human rights violations by friendly foreign countries, including Israel, and have defend the civil rights of minorities under occupation, including the Palestinians.

In an article published in the Washington Times under the provocative title "Front-Gate," Frank Gaffney called Congress to investigate the "judgment," even the "loyalty," of government officials who interact with Muslim leaders and organizations. Gaffney, the president of the Center of Security Policy, a neo-conservative think tank, has taken every opportunity in the last five years to rebuke public officials who met with Muslim leaders, including Karen Hughes, former Deputy Secretary of State. His insinuation was followed by an attack on Hesham Islam by Claudia Rosett, a staff of another neo-conservative think tank with the name of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracy. Rosett castigated Mr. Islam, a retired Navy commander who served his adopted country with distinction and pride, basically for having the audacity to reach the position of special assistant to Secretary Gordon, having been born in Egypt and having expressed critical views of Israel's policies.

Members of the Muslim American community, including main stream Muslim organizations and leaders, have come under concerted and intense attacks by neo-conservative organizations because they have expressed concerns about the dire conditions of Palestinians under occupation. Although these organizations have been subject to close scrutiny by government agencies, and have not been implicated in any violation of anti-terrorism statutes, neo-conservative pundits and organizations continue to use innuendo, spin, haft truths, and unfounded accusations to cast a shadow of doubt on their loyalty and their commitment to the rules of law, and to isolate them and to cut them off of political debate.

Other neo-conservative organizations, including Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum, have worked tirelessly to set up nominal Muslim organizations of insignificant membership and following, in an effort to undermine mainstream Muslim organization. Some of these organizations surfaced last month to write a letter of protest to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, the president of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), published in the Jewish Weekly. The letter asked Rabbi Yoffie to withdraw his organization from interfaith dialogue engagement with the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). The organizations, led by Stephen Schatz's Center for Islamic Pluralism, disagreed with Rabbi Yaffie's assertion of the need for American Jews to learn first hand about Muslims.

The authors of the letter, who called themselves "moderate" Muslims, had the tenacity to question whether the president of the largest Jewish group in the country can speak for American Jews, suggesting that they are in a better position to do so: "If Rabbi Yoffie believes that Jews are ignorant about Islam, he should be recognized as speaking only for himself." Schatz, converted from Judaism to Islam few years ago, continues to promote a neo-conservative agenda, and maintains close relationship with a network of Muslim bashers, that includes Daniel Pipes.

In response, Rabbi Mark Pelavin of the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), rejected the claims by the self-proclaimed "moderate" Muslims that ISNA supports terrorism and promote violence, citing past statements and positions taken by the leading grassroots Muslim organization in the United States. The URJ's response reminded the letter's authors and their sponsors that no one who is serious about engaging Muslim Americans can ignore their largest organization: "If we are serious about engagement with the Muslim community, and we are, than it makes sense to go where the American Muslims are."

The far right in general, and the neo-conservative network in particular, will press on their quest to silence the Muslim community and to prevent Muslims to engage in an urgently needed national debate on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But these efforts can succeed only at the expense of America's democracy, and America's ability to engage in national discussion, essential for developing the right policies for America's welfare and for world peace. If these undemocratic efforts are allowed to continue, they will not only lead to further isolate the United States and undermine its credibility as a society of equal rights and due process, but they will eventually undermine freedom at home.

McCarthy, who exploited the Cold War's uncertainties to persecute his ideological opponents, was defeated because courageous Americans like Edward Murrow, George H. Bender, Joseph Nye Welch, and others spoke in opposition of his witch hunt campaign against patriot Americans. Muslim bashers, who exploit the War on Terrorism to persecute Muslim Americans, will be stopped when more American leaders, like Eric Yoffie, reject their ploys to marginalize and silence Muslims, and speak out loudly against their divisive and deceptive voices that would only undermine our freedom and democracy.

It is imperative that American leaders speak out against bigoted voices that attack Islam and Muslims. We should all recall with pride the words of Edward Murrow, which are as true today as they were fifty years ago. We need only replace the phrase "Senator McCarthy" with "neo-conservative pundits." "This is no time for men who oppose Senator McCarthy's methods to keep silent--or for those who approve...We proclaim ourselves, as indeed we are, the defenders of freedom--what's left of it--but we cannot defend freedom abroad by deserting it at home."

This article appeared in the following publications:
Middle East Online
Media Monitors Network

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Gandhi and the Jews

Gandhi and the Jews
Salil Tripathi

Should the Jews, as Gandhi counseled, have submitted willingly to their Nazi oppressors?

Moderator: Thanks Rohit for posting the following article by Salil Tripathi, as usual he has done a fabulous job in explaining the situation about Arun Gandhi. Here are few observations;

"He wanted the Jews to assert themselves wherever they happened to be, as citizens of that country first (whichis why he argued that the Jews should not attempt to form a homeland in historic Palestine)"

The Jews did assimilate seamlessly into German society; however the deep seated anti-Semitism erupted with the hate speeches and propaganda of Hitler and Nazis. It is a shameful chapter in our history that the reward for assimilation was devastating. There is credence in word “assert” that perhaps was missing, the seams may have come apart from lack of asserting themselves. Although the idea of assertion makes sense, it must be researched. The assimilation busting is one of the most damaging aspects of our society.

" A Jewish cry for a national home, Gandhi argued, would in fact provide justification to the Nazis to expel them."

This stems from unwillingness to deal with the massive cruelty meted out to them or seeking a short-term solution for the long term history of the world. Perhaps the non-assertion may be a factor as well. This may partially explain the Jewish state’s adamant opposition to “right to return” of Palestinians to their home land. They are doing unto others what was done to them.

"If the Jews can summon to their aid the soul power that comes only from non-violence," he said, "Herr Hitler will bow before the courage which he has never yet experienced in any large measure in his dealings with men."

Unfortunately at that given instance in history Jews did not have a Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and a Mother Teresa to give them the moral strength, which is more powerful than any military might at their disposal. All the three leaders fought for the rights of others, and they had nothing to gain from it and their immense power came from it. You cannot defeat a moral leader who has nothing to lose but give.

May God give all the power to Sari Nusseibeh and David Shulman to bring peace and reconciliation between the peoples of Palestine and Israel, both of the people are short changed; Hope for homeland and a sense of security respectively. Both deserve this

"This was not fatalism, but an assertion of will so strong that it could not be tamed. Even as the flesh was destroyed, the individual will retained its moral superiority"

If one acquires the moral strength that comes from serving and living for the goodness of “all” others, it is easy to shake any immoral military machines. Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa were the most powerful people of the last century. I hope Sari Nusseibeh and David Shulman accumulate that moral strength.

Mike Ghouse

Salil Tripathi's article in Prospect Magazine UK, on the recent Arun Gandhi controversy and Gandhi and the Jewish question.

Gandhi and the Jews

Should the Jews, as Gandhi counseled, have submitted willingly to
their Nazi oppressors?

Salil Tripathi


Sixty years ago, on 30th January, Mohandas Gandhi was assassinated in New Delhi. In May,Israel will celebrate the 60th anniversary of its controversial creation. These two narratives got unintentionally intertwined last month, raising questions about the universality of Gandhi's message as well as his views about Jews, the nature of the state and the limits of freedom of expression.

The vehicle for this reflection was Gandhi's grandson, Arun, a mild-mannered 73-year-old writer and peace activist, who until recently ran the MK Gandhi Institute of Peace and Non-Violence at the University of Rochester, New York state. Early in January he wrote on On Faith, a Washington Post/Newsweek blog: "[The Holocaust] is a very good example of how a community can overplay a historic experience to the point that it begins to repulse friends… It seems to me the Jews today not only want the Germans to feel guilty, but the whole world must regret what happened… When an individual or a nation refuses to forgive and move on, the regret turns into anger." Gandhi blamed
"Israel and the Jews" for being the biggest players in creating "a culture of violence."

Predictably—given the disproportionate space the Palestine issue commands—all hell broke loose. Gandhi apologised, and later resigned from his post at the institute. Israel's critics were quick to blame the so-called "Israel lobby," which is supposed to control public opinion in America. Gandhi instantly became a martyr for Palestine activists—even though Palestinians have, on the whole, steadfastly refused to adopt Gandhian non-violence against their Israeli
occupiers. Moreover, Gandhi's carelessly written blog post would probably have made his grandfather blush.

Or would it? Gleaning through the elder Gandhi's remarks, the picture that emerges is complex. This much is known: when asked what the Jews should do when they were taken to concentration camps, Gandhi said they should go willingly, their forced mass suicide itself constituting an unanswerable critique of the Nazis. John Lloyd, writing recently on Prospect's blog First Drafts, said, "To attempt to overthrow tyranny, or even to oppose genocide, became for Gandhi an act almost as bad as tyranny or genocide itself."

This position has been characterised as passivity bordering on cowardice. But it is subtler than that. Gandhi expressed great sympathy for the historical persecution of the Jews. He called antisemitism "a remnant of barbarism." He supported German Jews' right to be treated as equal citizens, and admired their centuries of refusal to turn violent. He wanted the Jews to assert themselves wherever they happened to be, as citizens of that country first (which is why he argued that the Jews should not attempt to form a homeland in historic Palestine).

Jews must insist upon non-discrimination and equality wherever they lived, he said: they should fight the Nazis by insisting on practicing their faith freely, as equal citizens: "If I were a Jew and were born in Germany," he said, "I would claim Germany as my home even as the tallest gentile German may, and challenge him to shoot me or cast me in the dungeon; I would refuse to be expelled or to submit to discriminating treatment." A Jewish cry for a national home, Gandhi
argued, would in fact provide justification to the Nazis to expel them.

What about Jews willingly submitting to their fate in concentration camps? Was Gandhi suggesting a Karmic, fatalistic response to inevitability? Perhaps. But there is another way of looking at that call. Gandhi wanted the victims to remain courageous, and to adopt positive non-violence—the strength not to use force—in dealing with the Nazis. "If the Jews can summon to their aid the soul power that comes only from non-violence," he said, "Herr Hitler will bow before the courage which he has never yet experienced in any large measure in his dealings with men."

To the suicides, then. Committing suicide was forbidden in concentration camps, because the inmates were to be humiliated and objectified; they were supposed to possess no free will and no individuality. By suggesting they choose to end their lives on their own terms, it seems, Gandhi was calling upon the inmates to deny the Nazis a sense of superiority over their victims. This was not fatalism, but an assertion of will so strong that it could not be tamed. Even as the flesh was destroyed, the individual will retained its moral superiority.

Many well-meaning scholars have felt dismayed by this stance. They believe that even if what Gandhi said made sense on an intellectual and spiritual plane, at a practical level it was a disaster. The implication is that Gandhian tactics could work only against a power like Britain. For all its cruelty and draconian laws abroad, at home Britain was a functioning democracy, and Gandhi influenced British public opinion by shaming its colonial administrators before their own people. But, as Indian sociologist Ashis Nandy has asked, "Does militant non-violence work… when one of the parties to a conflict considers the other infrahuman, no different from a lifeless object, to be manipulated, exploited or kicked around?"

Gandhi was aware of this objection, but his goal was civilisational change; political independence was a way to that end. He once wrote that he could imagine the rise of a Jewish Gandhi in Germany, but that he would function for barely five minutes before being executed. But, he insisted, that would not disprove his case or shake his belief in the efficacy of ahimsa (non-violence). "I can conceive the necessity of the immolation of hundreds, if not thousands, to appease the hunger of dictators… The maxim is that ahimsa is the most efficacious in front of the great himsa [violence]. Its quality is really tested only in such cases. Sufferers need not see the result during their lifetime."

Can such an approach work today in the Middle East? Since the war, only a handful of leaders—Martin Luther King Jr, Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, Lech Walesa, Vaclav Havel, Aung San Suu Kyi and the Dalai Lama—have acted in ways that can be considered Gandhian. One modern thinker pursuing such a path is David Shulman, an Israeli academic deeply influenced by Gandhi. His recent book, "Dark Hope: Working for Peace in Israel and Palestine," encapsulates his experiences as a witness to atrocities from both sides of the Palestinian issue.

Avishai Margalit, reviewing Shulman's book in the New York Review of Books, provides two reasons why Gandhian activism has never really taken off in Israel. He points out the difficulties: at the beginning of the first intifada, in 1988, Israel expelled Mubarak Awad, a Palestinian-American child psychologist who advocated Gandhian tactics. Israel's leaders understood Awad's potential to embarrass Israel. Margalit, however, believes Israel overreacted, because Awad was ineffective among Palestinians, who preferred violence. When Margalit asked his Palestinian friends why Awad failed, he was told: non-violent struggle is perceived in Palestine as "unmanly;" they believe that what was taken by force must be regained by force. Sari Nusseibeh, a Palestinian philosopher, has not lost hope; he is giving Gandhi another chance. And if there is to be less bloodshed and bitterness, his is the only way.

Arun Gandhi was not wrong in pointing out the universality of that message. But he was wrong in holding a people accountable for the bad conduct of the state. Rather than waste more time over the younger Gandhi's words, however, Israelis, Palestinians and their friends might want to reflect on what the older Gandhi said.


Sunday, February 3, 2008

Politics divides religions

Politics divides religions

It is a enligthening to read Karen Armstrong's speech below.

It is the insecurity of individuals that seeks security by controlling, robbing and forcing others to be powerless, as such threat-less. If the moderates of the world can give security to these cranky babies, we probably can mitigate some of the chaos. The Neocons are the extremists wearing different religious robes, and are good in imagining that fear and pre-empting it, facts don’t matter to them.

We need leaders who can work to mitigate conflicts and nurture goodwill for the good of all humankind, not because it is a noble thing, but because it makes good common sense.

Bush seems to have passed on that Neocons torch to John McCain, the average American is not interested in war and chaos. When I get a chance, I would ask Senator McCain to earn his presidency through giving hope and not frightening us.

We, the moderates can never be like them, reason matters to us, respect for life matters to us, peace matters to us and the truth matters to us.

Mike Ghouse

Karen Armstrong, world-renowned scholar and author of several books on religions, talks to 'The News'
Sunday, February 03, 2008
Shahina Maqbool


Politics, coupled with egotism and sectarian attitude, is the evil genius that creates divisions among religions of the world. It is the task of any ideology - be it religious, liberal or secular - to create global understanding and respect. Islam has a very strong pluralistic element in its scriptures. Most of the world religions stress the importance of compassion, not just for your own people, but for everybody. And that is the voice we need today, because any idealism that breeds discord, disdain, or contempt is failing the test of our times.

These views came from Karen Armstrong, world-renowned scholar and author of several best-selling works on religions. Born in 1944, Karen is based in London and is currently visiting Pakistan on an invitation from The Aga Khan Foundation. She is here to deliver a series of lectures as part of the numerous events being organised to commemorate the golden jubilee of the 'imamat' of His Highness The Aga Khan - the spiritual leader of Shia Ismaili Muslims.

In an exclusive interview with 'The News' here on Saturday, Karen, who professes to be a freelance monotheist, shared her views on world politics, democracy, sectarianism, Sufism, the commonalities among religions, and the concept of pluralism in Islam. Although shaken by the news of one of her best friends' diagnosis with cancer, she was gregarious during the tete-a-tete at the Serena lobby. This is what she had to say:

Question: How would you describe your transition from a Roman Catholic nun to a student of modern literature at Oxford, a broadcaster, and eventually a renowned scholar on world religions?

Answer: Basically, I always wanted to be an academic. I wanted to teach English literature in a university, but that didn't work out for a variety of reasons so I found myself in television. It was when I went to Jerusalem to make a documentary series on early Christianity that I encountered Judaism and Islam for the first time. While studying the two religions, I started discovering other resonances that I had not found in my Christian background. There were lot of things about other religions, and from that point onwards, I started developing, what I call 'triple vision,' which is looking at those three monotheisms as one religion that went in three different ways.

Q: In one of your proclaimed television series, 'Varieties of Religious Experience,' you interviewed people subscribing to various beliefs? Could you throw some light on that experience?

A: I hated it. I don't like interviewing people, plus the British public is not interested in religion anyway. However, the experience was important for me because in order to prepare for the interviews, I had to do a lot of study - that is when I developed interest in comparative religions and started my research.

Q: You maintain that polarisation of the world has resulted from mutual suspicion while ground realities have something else to say. We have glaring examples of armed invasions and abuse of human rights in Afghanistan, Iraq, Palestine and Kashmir. And now, Iran, Syria and even Pakistan are thought to be next in line.

A: Yes, I fully agree with that statement. Before the 20th century, there has long been a suspicion in the West about Islam; it dates right back to the 12th century - long before 9/11, and long before Iraq and Iran were nations even. It is a long-based prejudice. But certainly there are political factors also, and I would constantly assert that the causes of the trouble are political. On 'The Alliance of Civilizations' - the United Nations initiative that had to diagnose the causes of extremism - we agreed that imbalance of power and bad policies were the root cause of polarisation, which meant that western people had supported bad rulers like Saddam Hussain or the Shah of Iran to get to oil; Israel and Palestine are other examples. I would blame politics to be the key.

Q: The western media is playing a negative role by portraying Islam as a violent religion? Is there any way this can be curtailed?

A: I don't know how it can be curtailed because the press is free. The western media isn't all monolithic - I think in the UK, we have a more balanced media. For example, on the issue of Palestine, some of our major newspapers are very sympathetic to the Palestinians while others like 'The Telegraph' are much more sympathetic towards Israel, so you have a balanced perspective.

But you don't have so much in the United States. And I think that in Europe, there is a much greater understanding of the political situation than there is in the United States. A lot of Americans are not interested in what goes on in the rest of the world. But having said that, Europe isn't perfect because they are obtuse about religious issues - they think religion is rubbish. They regard religious unrest with disdain and Islam is blamed for being religious. They would be equally hostile to Christianity in that respect.

Now what can we do to curtail this? You cannot tell the media what to say - not in the West - and if we did, there would be an absolute uproar and it would be counter-productive. What we are doing at the Alliance for Civilizations is that we have just created a Rapid Response Group so that a team of us is present right across the world in various countries, and when something like the Danish cartoons happens, the United Nations will point to the media so that they know that there is someone who they can talk to and whose view should also be represented.

Q: There is a general tendency to highlight the differences between religions and to conceal their commonalities. What is the most striking commonality between religions of the world and what role have your best-selling books played in bringing these into sharper focus?

A: That has been my major objective in recent years. For example, my last big book, 'The Great Transformation,' which dealt with all world religions - not just Judaism, Islam and Christianity but Buddhism, Hinduism, etc., - explains that, at the core of all religions, is the insistence on compassion as the main virtue; the golden rule: 'Don't do to other people what you would not like them to do to you.' You find that in Confucianism, Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Monotheisms. They also say that compassion is not just a test of true religion but is also the way we get to God. By leaving yourself behind and putting another person in the centre of your world, you experience transcendence, and that is the message of the religions.

Unfortunately, compassion is very demanding. It demands that you put yourself to one side, and a lot of religious people don't want to be compassionate - they prefer to be right! They feel puffed up, and pleased with themselves, and pomposity comes into them. This is ego, and ego is what holds us back from the divine. And this is what the great traditions all insist upon, at their best.

Since the 20th century, we have learnt much more about religions of the world than was ever possible. Better communications and improved linguistic skills are also having an effect. It doesn't get the headlines so much as the sectarianism, the violence, the Sunni, the Shia and the Islamophobia, but it is happening. A lot of western Christians - even in America - are very, very enthusiastic about Rumi. They read Rumi and are astonished to hear he is a Muslim. More Christians read the Jewish Philosopher Martin Boober than Jews; and Jesuit Catholic priests are going to study meditation with Buddhist monks. So people are quite naturally and spontaneously reaching out for that nourishment to more than one faith, in a way that was unthinkable before.

This is as big and important a development religiously, as terrorism, that grabs headlines. But it is changing our attitude for it is because of this development that we can never look at either our own, or other peoples' religion, in the same way. And we have learnt the profound unanimity of the religious crest worldwide.

Q: Islam has, among others, two widely practiced sects Sunnis and Shiites, each strictly adhering to its own interpretation. Interestingly, while all of them unite shoulder-to-shoulder during Hajj, they restrain themselves to their own mosques. Why is it so?

A: Egotism. Everyone thinks theirs is the right way. It is natural for there to be different sects; we have them in Christianity, Judaism and Buddhism, because a tradition must - if it is a lively one - be flexible and be able to appeal to people in all kinds of loops and abilities. Until the 16th century, Shiites and Sunnis got along very well. Shiaism was a mystical movement, a private movement, and one that was very close to Sufism in spirit. Politics is the evil genius here. When you have the Safavid Empire and the Ottomon Empire - one Shiite, one Sunni - and they are in competition for territory, that's where sectarianism comes in. Politics also plays a similar role. For instance, in Iraq, Saddam Hussain furthered the divide between Sunnis and Shiites by privileging the Sunni minority. That created antagonism. Politics is usually the course of it, plus the egotism and sectarian attitude which you find in all religions; the concept of 'we are right, you are wrong' is responsible.

Q: You talk about the need for creation of a tolerant global community? How doable is this in a world that has turned into a hotbed of sectarian conflicts?

A: Yes, we have to create a tolerant global society otherwise we are not going to have a viable world to hand over to our children. It has to be doable. Even though the present situation looks hopeless at the moment - I am not a cock-eyed optimist, in fact I am more inclined towards pessimism in my own personal view - but we have to try and make it doable.

It is the task of any ideology, any movement at all - whether it is religious or a secular one - to create global harmony, understanding, and respect, not tolerance. I don't like tolerance because the word suggests putting up with somebody. Appreciation of difference and respect is what religions teach. Islam has a very strong pluralistic element in its scriptures. Most of the world religions stress the importance of compassion, not just for your own people, but for everybody. And that is the voice we need now because any idealism that breeds discord, disdain, or contempt - whether it is secular, liberal or religious - is failing the test of our times.

Q: What role can the Muslim intelligentsia and the civil society play in promoting interfaith harmony? In a city called Antalya in Turkey, you have a mosque, a church and a synagogue located next to each other. Do you consider that to be an effective step in that direction? What practicable measures can be taken to promote religious harmony?

A: I think we all need to look back at our own traditions before we point a finger at other people and say, 'You get your act together.' In the past, Muslims had created pluralistic societies where Jews, Christians and Muslims were able to live together. It wasn't Shangrila but it was much better than anything we have got, say, in Jerusalem, today. It has been done in the past. Look at Spain, for example. Under Islam, it was by far the most tolerant country in Europe, but never been anything like it again. But that was normal in most of the world - people did live together because pluralism is part of the Middle East. But now, because people feel under threat, they are all defensive.

We need to look back into our traditions, and the intelligentsia can play an important role by getting another story out there that religion isn't about hate; look, our tradition does this, and that. And it's all there; you don't have to make it up.

Q: Is the separation of religion from politics practicable in the context of Islam?

A: It has worked very well for us in the west, and one of the reasons for that is that when we did mix religion and politics during our modernisation period, it was a horror. There were terrible wars of religion in the 17th century that left 35 percent of the population dead. This was one of the great catastrophes of European history, and it was that experience which made the enlightenment - people said, 'No, we'll keep politics out of religion.' Now, we had a long time to develop institutions - we didn't have to do it overnight.

In the Muslim world, secularism has been introduced far too rapidly. When Kemal Ataturk secularised Turkey, he closed down all the madrassas and pushed the Sufis underground; the Shah of Iran used to make the soldiers go out with their bayonets, taking off the women's veils and ripping them into pieces in front of them. In this context, secularism seems like an assault upon religion - it is too quick, and this has given it a bad name.

If you look back at the period under the Abbasids, they separated religion and politics. The court lived by different ethos - the 'adaab' - which was an aristocratic ethos and quite different from Islam; much more graded. Look at the number of wives the 'sultans' had; this has no relation to the four allowed in the Quran. Then the ulema and the Shariah began a protest against this.

Politics is a very dirty business - it is very difficult to apply the high ideals, and very often, religion remains in a state of prophetic protest against it. But at the same time, I don't think it is any good forcing secularism or democracy on to people - we in Europe came to it very slowly. We had time to make these new ideas our own, and there was time for these new ideas to trickle slowly down naturally to all levels of the population. It has to be a natural process. You cannot go out and impose democracy with a gun - it would be like going to war for democracy — it’s a complete nonsense. Democracy has to come from the people. They must feel free, and if I were in Iraq, I wouldn’t feel free at the moment.

Q: How do you see Sufism promoting pluralism and tolerance in a society which is diverse in terms of its religious, sectarian and ethnic composition?

A: Sufism, in the past, has been a very outstanding example of appreciation of other world traditions. It started getting a bad name in the 19th, 20th centuries because people got involved in showing that we are as rational as the West. Everybody started downplaying their mystical traditions to show that they were just as philosophical minded and rational as the West; that Islam is a rational religion, etc. But I think not everybody can be a mystic. Mysticism is a talent that some people have; I don’t have it. I have never been able to meditate very well. I am not a mystic. In fact, I am someone who has been trained for ballet dancing, for example, and failed to get into a ballet company. But when I watch a ballet performance, I can understand what they are doing and appreciate it perhaps. We need to look at the ideals of the Sufis — they weren’t just people locked in prayer or whirling around in an ecstasy — most of them were working in the society for justice. There was always a social concern too, and that is very important.

Q: Some schools of thought see Sufis and shrine organisations as civil society organisations providing relief to those oppressed by the state or the society while others consider them as manifesting a spiritual phenomenon only? Do you think shrine organisations have a role that transcends spiritual purification?

A: Sufi outreach usually included a very strong social outreach, always in the past. A sufi became a sufi because he was appalled by the injustice in society. So, it is not just a question of making a few social reforms; it has to come from deep within, and mysticism goes right down into the unconscious, if you can really do it.

Q: How many books do you have to your credit? Are you currently also working on one?

A: I am not sure - they must be about 20. Two of these were biographies of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH); others include ‘Islam, A Short History;’ ‘A History of God; The 4000-year Quest of Judaism, Christianity and Islam;’ ‘The Battle for God;’ ‘Jerusalem: One City, Three Faiths;’ ‘Holy War: The Crusades and their Impact on Today’s World;’ and most recently, ‘The Great Transformation: The Beginning of Our Religious Traditions.’

My next book will be titled ‘The Case for God.’ It looks at some of the modern atheists; the movement of atheism; and how the present-day atheism is due to bad modern theology. The book will be with the publisher by September 2009.