muslims, politics, war on terror

A Great (Political) Neutering

Published on The Islamic Monthly on November 25th, 2014

Every problem that afflicts the Muslim world calls out desperately for enlightened Muslim activism. Yet it can be convincingly argued that Western Muslim communities have become politically castrated in the post-9/11 era. Organizations are afraid to lose their charitable status as governments implement rigorous auditing procedures, while those who want nothing more than normal, decent lives are afraid of ending up on some no-fly list, unable to land that big job at that big firm.

This self-perpetuating quiescence occurs at a time when places like Canada and other “5-Eyes”nations (the other four being the US, Australia, New Zealand and the UK) are tabling ever more invasive security measures. Fear-mongering politicians use the “Islamic State” and “homegrown terrorism” to get what they want while civic pushback, though not insignificant, is still relatively outmatched.

But the question Muslims should be asking is, “What are all these security measures aiming at?”

Which communities are going to bear the brunt of such surveillance?

There are several candidates, but a blind person can tell that the easiest target these days are Muslims who have no interest in defending themselves politically. Obama may have rhetorically dropped the “War on Terror” title, but his administration has arguably been much more active in rolling back civil liberties than his GOP predecessor.

Canadian politics seem headed down that same road. Extra policing and surveillance will surely be applied to Muslim communities after the Harper administration gets its new anti-terror laws passed by a Tory parliamentary majority.

The problem is that there’s no real evidence to suggest that the Muslim response to these developments will be anything more than tepid.

To be sure, there are some groups who’re picking up the slack, but it’s hard to conclude that they have the material backing of larger community sectors. For all the talk about victimhood, Palestine, the War on Terror, etc., which have all become major themes of discussion in the Muslim world, people don’t want to put their money where their mouth is. The result is a set of deformed communal tendencies that often contradict each other.

Take this latest Tariq Ramadan beef with the Reviving the Islamic Spirit (RIS) conference organizers. It’s created a schism in the Muslim community Canada (and beyond), especially for those who attend the convention regularly and admire Ramadan (who thinks RIS is politically inept for inviting scholars who apparently support the Sisi regime in Egypt). It’s a fair debate with real implications, but the scope of its effects is internal (much like insider-baseball). Internal is about the only kind of political controversy that the community wants to engage with. Anything that defends against real outside threats that affect everyone on a local level is not so exciting, it seems. Why act against Stephen Harper, surveillance, over-policing, and demonization when bickering about whether some conference should/shouldn’t invite some Swiss scholar is so much more fun (and so much easier)?

Therein lies the curious, oxymoronic (a)political behavior of Western Muslims (especially in Canada): gung-ho about its own internal beefs while refusing real engagement with actual political threats from those in power. The former, however substantive, is comfortable and familiar. The latter is hard work and puts people’s reputations on the line. That’s why when it came to the emblematic issue of Omar Khadr’s repatriation, the former child soldier’s Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, got on every podium he could to literally yell “Where are you?” to the Muslims. It turns out Khadr’s stronger allies were progressive atheists and Christians.

There’s a lot of talk about sticking together, communalism, and justice when it comes to Western Muslims (who, arguably, are most free to practice their religion). That’s not a bad thing. Frustration and anger should lead to action, but action is the operative term here. For all this talk about who is speaking for (thanks Shaykh bin Affleck!) or against (Bill Maher, etc.) Muslims, the only thing that ever really matters is whether or not Muslims speak out for each other. In which case the Muslims have failed substantially, leading any outside observer to conclude that Islam isn’t much glue when it comes to binding people together for justice. (Though it’d be inspiring to be proven wrong!)

Someone once told me that Islam is the greatest source of human connection God has ever given humanity. I believe him, but only in spite of all the evidence available to me. In other words, I believe him in theory. In practice, failure to consider the shortcomings of human nature results in a rejection of reality. If Western Muslims continue to reject the reality around them in favor of class privilege, we’ll be bringing the temple down on our own heads.

Photo Credit: Hector de Pereda

[http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/a-great-political-neutering/]

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international affairs, muslims, politics, war on terror

Surveillance, Fear, and the State

My new op-ed (“Canada’s Islamophobia Problem”), published by Canada’s crowd-funded, independent outlet, Ricochet, takes issue with the Harper administration’s security rhetoric and proposed legislation after the Ottawa Shooting in October. It reads, in part:

‘The bulk of the announced security measures have yet to be introduced, but critics inside and outside of government have stated that Canada’s present laws are more than enough to do the job. Though many Conservatives love to say that Muslim terrorism and radicalization poses the greatest threat to Canadians, the number of people killed in Canada by such attacks has been small since 9/11. In other words, if “Islamicism” is indeed this country’s top concern, then our security apparatus must be pretty darn good; there’s no reason to “bolster” what already works then. Moreover, reports from North Carolina’s Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security show that homegrown terrorism remains minimal. So, if anything, a restriction of invasive security tactics should follow, but that isn’t about to happen any time soon.’

No doubt the administration will exploit the moment in order to boost its poll numbers, first by pushing through security-heavy laws while they still have a Parliamentary majority, secondly by antagonizing minority interests/communities that lack the resources to fight back. This isn’t just exclusive to Muslim Canadians, who are under-organized and misrepresented. Numeorus progressive NGOs have been under intense scrutiny by the CRA (as Gerald Caplan pointed out in an op-ed at the Globe), while politically active, but conservative think tanks have been left alone.

Canada’s surveillance regime is going to receive a boost from the Conservatives at a time when homegrown terrorism has killed less people after 9/11 than drunk driving and other, more prosaic dangers. But the West, led by the United States, is engaged in a pro-surveillance era that’s lasted for over a decade. Much of which remains in the dark despite best efforts from whistleblowers, journalists and activists.

The Wall Street Journal just revealed that US Marshals have a fleet of planes at their disposal that carry “dirtboxes,” devices that mimic cellphone towers, in order to eavesdrop on people’s cellphone conversations. The same devices, according to documents unearthed by the ACLU’s Dave Maass, are used along the US border with Mexico. The LAPD have apparently also gotten in on the act. Of course, this is all just the latest episode in a long-running melodrama that overplays the important of surveillance in the protection of civilians from domestic/foreign terrorists.

There’s no reason to think that Canada, under this government, won’t also go down that path. It’s going to be tough to peel back legislation, passed omnibus-style and with no debate, that gives spies and police more power–another reason why Harper and his boys/girls are profoundly anti-democratic.

 

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muslims, politics

Hamza Yusuf and Contemporary Muslim Discourse

By all indications, Hamza Yusuf is the most influential and recognizable Muslim figure in North America. He routinely gives talks at conventions in the United States and Canada that draw out tens of thousands of Muslims. Having studied with well-known scholars in the Muslim world, Yusuf adds to his sophisticated “Western” sensibilities a serious Islamic academic background.

He also co-founded the first Muslim seminary in the United States (Zaytuna College). He was an independent advisor to George W. Bush and other political figures (to no avail it would seem). He routinely appears on media outlets throughout the world.

So why is it that the non-Muslim populations in North America have basically no idea who he is? Why is it that his voice, and the voices of Muslim scholars like him, is almost never heard in the contemporary Muslim discourse of North America?

It’s true that Yusuf has spoken at non-Muslim gatherings and has appeared on some mainstream media programs since 9/11. This is good. For those of us who observe the Muslim communities in North America, it is obvious that even Yusuf’s religious detractors recognize his position as a pillar of the community. Yet, his presence is lacking when journalists report on issues of particular interest to Muslims. The examples are too many to list.


Sh. Hamza Yusuf spoke at the 2011 RIS Convention and gave  what may perhaps be the most important lecture (in recent years) regarding the role of Muslims in the issue of economic justice. The talk was heard by thousands of Muslims, but the conference was ignored by most established media.

This absence is emblematic of the Western Muslim communities’ abhorrent public relations situation in general. The relationship between the mass media and the vast majority of Muslim populations in the West has been unproductive. Many Muslims blame the media for perpetuating lies and stereotypes and choose not to participate. This is understandable. However, this stark absence of Muslim voices leaves a vacuum to be filled. Unfortunately, those who fill such a space often misrepresent both Muslims and Islam itself.

This is primarily why Hamza Yusuf is not a household name when it comes to setting the framework of debate on Muslim-related issues. His spot has already been taken. Of course, this can be said about many leaders within the Muslim communities, all of whom deserve to be heard when there’s a discussion on “honor killings”, “halal meat”, so-called “Islamic terrorism”, or whatever else.

Those who do pontificate on such issues usually lack the scholarly erudition of a Yusuf (or of another qualified scholar). Sadly, many such commentators delegate to themselves the task of partitioning what kind of Muslim can or cannot be trusted. Often, these very commentators describe themselves as subscribing to the Muslim faith, but paint the bulk of “lived Islam” as incompatible with “Western values”. This isolates them as the lone, brave, Muslims who stand up to the onslaught of intolerance shown to them by their co-religionists.

This handful of commentators has better public relations than all the Western Muslim communities combined.

These problems can be solved by putting someone like Shaykh Hamza Yusuf at the center of public discussions on Islam and Muslims. It’s not so we can show off his erudition. Rather, placing serious scholars and Muslim intellectuals in the middle of agenda-setting media is the only way we can solve what is perhaps the most pressing sociopolitical problem facing Muslims in North America today. Given the prevalence of television and visual media, this means having knowledgeable Muslim commentators appear on outlets like CNN and CBC. This is certainly not being done in Canada, for example.

Muslim organizations have to actively pursue journalists and feed them stories. They have to regularly meet with the board members of major newspapers and other media outlets. A journalist’s success in terms of completing a story is highly dependent on whether his/her sources call or email back on time (this is known as “the waiting game”). As far as Muslim-related matters are concerned, respected scholars like Hamza Yusuf should consistently be one of those sources. The bulk of Muslims in the West should become those sources. Organizations like the Muslim Public Affairs Council (U.S.) as well as Civic Muslims (Canada), among other groups, have already started doing these things.

Being committed to these tasks will help foster understanding and dispels myths. It will familiarize the broader society with Muslims and their concerns. It will help facilitate justice and peace for Muslims and non-Muslims this continent.

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middle east, muslims, obama, politics, war on terror

“Radicalization” and the Future of an Empire

Published On: Dissident Voice, January 4th, 2011
[http://dissidentvoice.org/2011/01/%E2%80%9Cradicalization%E2%80%9D-and-the-future-of-an-empire/]

When the GOP overtakes Congress next year, Representative Peter King (R-NY) will become chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee. For his first major initiative, King has chosen to address what he sees as the “radicalization” of American Muslims. The issue is to be taken up in a Congressional inquiry in 2011.

King told the New York Times that the inquiry is his response “to what he has described as frequent concerns raised by law enforcement officials that Muslim leaders have been uncooperative in terror investigations.” A vocal opponent of the “Ground Zero Mosque” back when it was a hot-button issue (“it is very offensive and wrong”), King harbours clear and controversial sentiments regarding Muslims in the U.S.—to put it very mildly. Citing cases where Muslim imams are slow to co-operate with law enforcement, King apparently is worried that Muslims in America are not taking the good old “War on Terror” seriously enough.

Indicative of where this new Congress is headed, the hearing/inquiry set to take place makes a number of troubling fundamental assumptions. First, following classic post-9/11 fear mongering, King has decided to isolate “radicalization” in the American Muslim community as the major problem in terms of national security. He ignores the fact that most terrorism in the U.S. is conducted by white supremacists, and that a third of suspicious activity in American Muslim communities are tipped off by Muslims. Second, King’s concern that Muslim leaders are slow to cooperate with law enforcement conveniently overlooks the fact that the past decade has been characterized by a meta-narrative of fear/demonization vis a vis Muslims. Under this climate, how enthusiastic does King expect those who adhere to Islam to be when the FBI comes knocking on their doors?

Regarding whether terrorism of the al-Qaeda kind is a major problem in the United States, it is useful to listen to what Michael Leiter, the head of the National Counterterrorism Centre [PDF], has to say:

“It has been only a tiny, tiny percentage of Americans—increasingly more this year, but still a tiny percentage of Muslim Americans—who have for a variety of reasons found appeal in this al-Qaeda ideology.”

In other words, there has been a slight increase in sentiment aligned with al-Qaeda-like ideology, but nothing that would prompt an actual Congressional hearing. Unfortunately, King seems to have already made up his mind, which is not surprising given that King is not exactly heading into the new year free of pre-concieved notions regarding American Muslim communities. Appearing on FOX’s Sean Hannity’s show in 2004, King has suggested that “80-85 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by Islamic fundamentalists,” and that “This is an enemy living amongst us.” With such a framework of mind, one wonders why King is even bothering with an “inquiry” in the first place.

In fact, if by now those in the U.S. political establishment are still wondering why a tiny fringe of Muslims (domestic or not) are still antagonizing America, they need not look very far. Here is what Faisal Shahzad, the “Times Square Bomber” had to say in court:

They don’t understand my side of the story, where the Muslim life of is no value…So decree whatever you desire to decree, for you can only decree regarding the life of this world. The crusading U.S. and NATO forces who have occupied the Muslim lands under the pretext of democracy and freedom for the last nine years and are saying with their mouths that they are fighting terrorism. I say to them: we don’t accept your democracy nor your freedom, because we already have Sharia law and freedom. Furthermore, brace yourselves, because the war with Muslims has just begun. Consider me only a first droplet of the flood that will follow me.”

It should by now be obvious that the colossal military footprint the United States has created in the Middle East is having unintended consequences. The U.S. is on its way in obliterating the dam that holds back the flood that Shahzad speaks of. However, we should not give into such hyperbole just yet. There are, estimated by Leon Panetta (Head of the CIA), around 100 Al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan. Given this reality, President Obama and General Patraeus’s decisions to escalate the war in Afghanistan can be for nothing but extraneous political reasons.

On the one hand, it is not impossible for individuals like Shahzad to exist. Anger can become a toxic elixir, especially in the face of immense injustice. Nevertheless, according to actual, empirical data, the likes of Shahzad do not exist in large numbers in the United States, despite a somewhat significant rise in the disapproval of Obama’s foreign policy. In the face of all of this, Peter King still wants to hold hearings on “radicalization”, as if nothing under his purview required more immediate attention.

The rise in hatred of Muslims after 9/11 is not the result of a random collection of individual spasms. According to investigative journalist Max Blumenthal, a veteran of covering the cultic elements of right-wing America, “it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era.”

Behind the scenes are millionaire and billionaire barons like Aubrey Chernick and the Koch Brothers, who fund right-wing thinks tanks as well as pro-Israeli outfits. More “intellectual” operatives like Daniel Pipes and Martin Kramer feed off of the funding provided by Chernick’s ilk, and use their poisonous pens to spread the fears of an “Islamist takeover”. Then there are the media clowns like Pamela Geller, who, after inheriting millions from her dead husband, spends her time blogging about how Barack Obama is Malcolm X’s love child. All of these elements have, over the years, come together in a discursive process to produce a system of mass hatred. They, and those who ally with them, bring together the causes of crazed Christian Reconstructionists, fanatical right-wing Zionists, and even neo-Nazi parties in Europe.

Capitalizing on a disenfranchised America with a crippled economy and an embittered citizenship, those who seek to incite hatred have sought to use Muslims has a scapegoat for America’s problems. Retreating into absolute infantilism, a shocked and largely deceived citizenry searches for moral renewal. Whether this renewal will be achieved through a blind following of those who seek to deceive, or through a realistic recognition of where America is actually headed, has yet to be decided.

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middle east, obama, politics, war on terror

American Hypocrisy vs. Wikileaks

Published on:  The Canadian Charger, September 7th, 2010 (http://tiny.cc/lf4rd)

A lot has been written about Wikileaks since the whistle-blowing organization leaked its 92,000-document cache on the carnage in Afghanistan caused by the American war and occupation.

Since then, the U.S. military establishment, and all those who profit from it, have tried their utmost to smear the organization, especially co-founder Julian Assange.

Assange has felt the weight of being the public face of Wikileaks.

From charges of molestation and rape in Sweden (unfounded and dropped) to constant admonishment from the White House/Pentagon, the effects of exposing governmental secrets has exacted a price.

For Wikileaks and Assange, it’s a matter of staying afloat in the storm. (The organization is Internet-based, and has no more than a handful of staff.)

For those of us who constitute the public, however, it is important to note how the American military establishment is trying to defend itself.

In times of such desperation, the White House and the Pentagon have resorted to a high level of hypocrisy.

Take, for example, the now infamous July 29 remark by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen: “Mr. Assange can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he and his source are doing, but the truth is they might already have on their hands the blood of some young soldier or that of an Afghan family.” (emphasis added)

Now, feast your eyes on this statement from the Pentagon, and reported by the mainstream Washington Post on Aug. 11: “‘We have yet to see any harm come to anyone in Afghanistan that we can directly tie to exposure in the Wikileaks documents,’ [Pentagon spokesman Geoff] Morrell said.”

Any rational human being can see Mullen’s statement as a pathetic attempt at deflection.

Sure, it’s plausible that the massive leak may have negative consequences, but to say that Assange and Wikileaks already have blood on their hands is pure fabrication.

Instead of implementing some sort of investigation to review the war effort, Mullen has tried to deflect attention onto Wikileaks itself.

For exposing the truth, Wikileaks has been portrayed as a treasonous and irresponsible organization hell-bent on destroying America’s credibility, and the corporate media has largely followed this narrative.

For anyone who has actually taken a look at the released “war logs,” however, they represent a damning exposé of America’s military effort in Afghanistan.

It’s no secret that innocent civilians have been dying in under NATO’s occupation, but the war logs give the public the full picture of how the killing has been done.

The size of the logs alone indicates the enormity and scope of the military ground operations—from sniper ops, to air raids, to nighttime raids.

The devil, however, is in the details.

Case by case, the huge trove of exposed secret documents is littered with “CIV KIAs” (civilians killed in action) and “CIV WIAs” (civilians wounded in action).

The Guardian, one of three mainstream outlets that was given the war logs—the other two were The New York Times and Der Spiegelspecified the activities of Task Force 373, an “undisclosed ‘black’ unit” of U.S. special operations forces focused on killing top Taliban and al-Qa‘ida officials.

The logs also reveal that Task Force 373 killed civilian men and women. This is only one sinister example out of a gargantuan pile of revealing data.

So, when someone like Mullen or Defence Secretary Robert Gates talks about “blood,” it’s not unreasonable to think they ought to be talking about themselves.

For example, a November 2009 nighttime raid in Paktia province ended up killing two pregnant Afghan women, a teenage Afghan girl, as well as an Afghan police officer and his brother.

U.S. soldiers covered up the incident by digging out the bullets from the corpses and washing the wounds with alcohol.

Perhaps the previous Afghan war commander Gen. Stanley McChrystal said it best: “We’ve shot an amazing number of people and killed a number and, to my knowledge, none has proven to have been a real threat to the force.”

This is the reality of war, a reality that people like Julian Assange want to put right in front of our face.

We all should start saying the following about Adm. Mike Mullen: “Mr. Mullen can say whatever he likes about the greater good he thinks he is doing, but the truth is that he definitely has on his hands the blood of many young soldiers, and that of countless Afghan families.”

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