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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

June 24, 2005

CSID EMAIL BULLETIN – WEEK ENDING JUNE 24, 2005

> SURVEY: Women’s Rights in Mideast, North Africa
> ARTICLE: The Unmentionable Freedom (by Joseph Loconte)
> EVENT: 3rd International Conference on Women and Politics in Asia-2005
> EVENT: The Future of Western-Muslim Relations

> STATEMENT: Muslim-Christian Perspectives on the Nuclear Weapons Danger
> ARTICLE: Abuse of Qur‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢an hurts U.S. democracy push (by Mohammad Ali Elahi)
> ARTICLE: Rethinking the Iraq War (by Shadi Hamid)
> ARTICLE: The Right Path to Arab Democracy (by Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber)
> ARTICLE: Rice appeals for Mideast reform and democracy (by William Wallis)
> ARTICLE: Islamists and Democracy – Keep the Faith (by Marina Ottaway)
> ARTICLE: Anwar Ibrahim: A reform character (by Victor Mallet)
> ARTICLE: Uzbekistan Crackdown Puts Bush Democracy Doctrine to Test (by Kelley Beaucar Vlahos)
> ARTICLE: Syria’s Unpredictable Force: The State-Sanctioned Clergy (by Anthony Shadid)
> ARTICLE: Veiled Praise (by Fatina Abdrabboh)
> ANNOUNCEMENT: CSID Seeking New Office Space


Survey Studies State of Women’s Rights in Mideast, North Africa

By Mercedes L. Suarez
Washington File Staff Writer
http://tokyo.usembassy.gov/e/p/tp-20050608-01.html


Washington ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” A new survey of women‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s rights in the Middle East and North Africa has found ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨a pervasive, gender-based gap in rights and freedoms‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ in every country studied, according to the report‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s authors. Presenting their findings in a seminar and roundtable discussion at Freedom House June 7, the authors and contributors painted a mixed picture of women‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s status in countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Morocco.

Freedom House, a nonprofit organization advocating freedom and democracy, organized the event in cooperation with the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID).

The survey included 16 countries and the Palestinian territories and found that even though many countries in the region have made progress in addressing issues of women’s rights, all of them fall short in a number of areas. In a ranking based on women’s legal and political rights, security and personal freedoms, Tunisia and Morocco scored highest while Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states ranked the lowest.

Survey author Sameena Nazir wrote in the opening of the report, ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨A substantial deficit in women‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s rights exists in every country reviewed in this study and is reflected in practically every institution of society: the law, the criminal justice system, the economy, education, health care, and the media.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌

Several conference participants pointed out that a number of Arab countries have made significant progress in addressing women’s rights during recent years, particularly in the realms of law and education. In 2004, Morocco passed a new family law code, and in May, Kuwait granted women the right to vote. In addition, women’s access to education has increased widely, especially in the Gulf.

Nazir stated, however, that even though the new laws are a step in the right direction, the laws mean little if they are not enforced. Another panelist added that although women now have greater access to education, they do not necessarily have job opportunities.

Other problems facing women in the region include a lack of information about their rights, persistent negative stereotypes, and the need for a greater voice. In Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, women‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s associations are not allowed to operate in the open. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨The participation of women in political life in Middle East and North African countries is the lowest in the world,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ Nazir said.

Opening the seminar with a quote from the Qur’an, Radwan Masmoudi, president of CSID, sought to point out that Islam embraces women’s rights. Panelist Margot Badran found evidence throughout the survey of how Islam is being used in a positive way to encourage women’s rights.

Many panelists also focused on the importance of devising strategies to increase women’s access to information and encourage grassroots-level activity.

In a recent trip to the Middle East, first lady Laura Bush highlighted the importance of women‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s empowerment, visiting a girls‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢 school in Cairo, Egypt, and speaking with women in the Palestinian territories. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨I think particularly girls’ education is one of the most important issues facing the world,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ the first lady told reporters.

Although the survey took a critical look at the status of women in the Middle East, its authors are hopeful that the region will see progress on these issues. Future plans for the survey include extensive dissemination to nongovernmental organizations and the media as well as regional workshops and focus groups.

‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨The report is designed to be an advocacy tool,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ said Nazir. Panelist Heba El-Shazli added, ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨A lot of programs can be developed as a result of this survey.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ It is the hope of the survey‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s contributors that the information gathered will lead to programs that will improve the lives of women in the region.

The full text of the report is available on the Freedom House Web site.

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The Unmentionable Freedom
A new report on reform in the Arab world ignores religious liberty.

Joseph Loconte
The Weekly Standard
June 6, 2005 Monday

LAST MONTH A GROUP OF Arab intellectuals released their third report in an unprecedented study of the many failures–economic, social, and political–that plague the world’s Arab states. The latest report, “Towards Freedom in the Arab World,” endorses democracy and laments the “acute deficit of freedom and good governance” in Muslim countries. Its authors are getting high marks from the Bush administration. Too bad they’ve largely ignored the most basic freedom under any democratic government: the guarantee of religious liberty.

Commissioned by the United Nations, the Arab Human Development Report has lots to say about the problems of autocratic rulers, bogus elections, restrictions on the media, and women’s second-string rights. It lays out seven nonnegotiable guarantees for the transition to democracy, including the right to vote, the freedom to join organizations, and the right of political leaders to campaign. And of course it’s true that these elementary rights are still hard to come by in the Arab world: In Egypt, political parties can’t be established without government consent. Jordan controls most media outlets and heavily restricts freedom of assembly. In Algeria, women are treated as minors under the legal guardianship of their husbands.

But what the report virtually ignores is the centrality of religious freedom among the bedrock democratic rights. That omission troubles reformers such as Radwan Masmoudi, president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. “Lack of freedom in Muslim countries is stifling societies,” he says. “The solution is to allow liberal Islam to grow, which means radically expanding freedom of the press, freedom of religion, freedom of thought, and freedom to form independent organizations.”

True, the report’s authors endorse the idea of an independent civil society, where groups may criticize government and offer alternative policies. This civic realm, they say, “must be absolutely free from control.” They also insist that government should “protect the right of people and groups not only to worship as they wish, in private; but also to promote their values publicly in civil society.” There’s even frank talk about the way political leaders have “selectively appropriated Islam” to justify oppressive policies.

Yet these themes occupy just a few pages in the 248-page report (criticism of the U.S. occupation in Iraq, for example, gets much more attention). Nowhere is there a direct challenge to the extreme interpretation of sharia, or Islamic law, current in states such as Iran, Sudan, and Saudi Arabia. Nowhere do the authors address the problem of the second-class status of religious minorities throughout the Middle East.

The same omission marked a recent panel discussion of the U.N. report at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Rima Khalaf Hunaidi, the U.N. assistant secretary general who chairs the group’s advisory board, called for “comprehensive reforms” of political and economic systems in Arab countries. But she spent almost as much time complaining about Israel’s treatment of Palestinians. None of the four panel members tackled the dearth of religious freedom under Muslim rule.

Saudi Arabia is perhaps the worst offender. Under its Wahhabi version of sharia, criticism of the government, Islam, or the ruling family is forbidden. Even on paper, there is no freedom of religion: The law requires that all citizens be Muslims. Non-Muslims officially may worship in private, but fear arrest and persecution. Even Sunni and Shia Muslim communities with long histories in Arabia are treated with contempt.

In Sudan, the Arab regime has waged a ruthless 20-year campaign against Christians and animists in the south; more recently it has helped renegade militias commit genocide against African Muslims in the west. In Egypt–despite a government-controlled press drenched in anti-Semitism–religious minorities generally fare better. One reason for this is the social strength of the Coptic Christian community, which dates back to New Testament times and now numbers at least five million, making it the largest Christian community in the Middle East. Still, converts to Christianity have been tortured by security officials.

Indeed, apostasy laws, which criminalize conversion out of Islam, remain a grave matter in the Muslim world. In Saudi Arabia, any convert from Islam faces a death penalty. Nigeria, despite its constitution, has approved new sharia laws that authorize the killing of apostates. When severe legal penalties are lacking, a culture of threat and persecution often stands in the gap. Even in states with constitutional protections for religious minorities, these minorities’ “dhimmi” status denies them a range of civil and political rights–from eligibility for employment in government posts to rights of redress in state-run courts.

“Two distinct historical experiences characterize the native Christian communities of the Middle East and Arab world: the dhimmi and the free,” writes Habib Malik, a professor and human rights expert at the Lebanese American University. “Over 90 percent of the 10 million or so Christians of Arab lands are dhimmis and have never known a free and equal and dignified existence.” The same might be said of minority Muslim groups living under Islamic governments, whether Sufis in Iran or Ahmadis in Pakistan.

Nevertheless, most Islamic leaders and institutions–and now the scholars of the Arab Human Development Report–seem to have sworn an oath of silence about the problem of religious oppression, especially the plight of Muslims who challenge state orthodoxy on religious grounds. The lack of religious liberty prevents debate over the meaning of Islamic texts–a crucial step in offering a progressive interpretation of Islam. For all the talk of a “freedom deficit,” the authors of the U.N. report fail to recognize the unique status of religious _expression. They thus see no connection between the denial of religious rights and the political and economic stagnation of most of the world’s 22 Arab states. Their two previous reports, which examined economic and educational issues, were similarly silent on the point.

“Freedom of religion is the only way to build a strong, moral society,” says Radwan Masmoudi, “where people can deal with each other with dignity, respect, trust, and fairness.” Progressive thinkers such as Masmoudi advocate “liberal Islam,” which considers freedom of conscience a sacred right as well as a central democratic doctrine. They argue that Muslims must recover the Koranic teaching that human beings are created free, and that violations of basic liberties–including freedom of worship–contradict human nature and the will of God.

A hopeful example is that of Lebanon, where there is no state religion and the constitution protects religious _expression. Moreover, the recent withdrawal of Syrian troops could help liberalize Lebanon’s struggling democracy. Though Muslims now make up about 70 percent of the population, the country is religiously diverse: Muslim groups share power with the historically influential Maronite Christians, and there are significant numbers of Greek Orthodox, Copts, Assyrians, and Baptists. A State Department report from 2002 noted that Lebanon ‘s “religious pluralism and climate of religious freedom have attracted many persons fleeing alleged religious mistreatment and discrimination in neighboring states.”

The Arab world needs a prosperous, democratic state that respects its religious diversity–perhaps a Muslim equivalent of the Pennsylvania colony, circa 1774, that so impressed James Madison. Writing to his friend William Bradford, Madison praised the connection between democratic stability and religious pluralism that was missing in his native Virginia. “You are happy in dwelling in a Land where those inestimable privileges are fully enjoyed and the public has long felt the good effects of their religious as well as Civil Liberty,” he wrote. “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.”

That seems an apt warning for political reformers in the Arab world. For until the culture of religious repression is decisively challenged, it’s hard to imagine an “Arab spring” that would survive the summer heat of the dictators and theocrats in waiting.

Joseph Loconte is a research fellow in religion at the Heritage Foundation and editor of The End of Illusions: Religious Leaders Confront Hitler’s Gathering Storm. Grace Smith provided research support for this article.

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3rd International Conference on Women and Politics in Asia-2005

The Researchers is pleased to announce the extension in the dates for receipt of abstracts/papers for the upcoming 3rd International Conference on ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Women and Politics in Asia-2005‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌, scheduled on 24-25 November 2005 at Islamabad, Pakistan.

The last date for sending the abstracts is 30 July 2005 and for paper 30 August 2005.

The Call for Abstracts and Papers with other details of the Conference are available on “The Researchers’ website; www.theresearchers.org

We look forward to receive your valuable contributions. For Further information, please contact us by e-mail: wpa2005@theresearchers.org, and wpa2005pakistan@yahoo.com


Kind Regards,
Aazar Ayaz
Executive Director
The Researchers
WPA-2005 Secretariat
C/O. The Researchers
#15, First Floor, Main Double Road (Neelum Road)
Sector G-9/3, Islamabad, Pakistan
Phone: (+92-51) 2850158, 2850161-2
Fax: (+92-51) 2850160
E-Mail: wpa2005@theresearchers.org
wpa2005pakistan@yahoo.com
Website: www.theresearchers.org

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Americans for Informed Democracy and the Atlantic Council of the United States present a Global Young Leaders Summit:

The Future of Western-Muslim Relations
Friday, July 22nd

The Atlantic Council, 1101 15th Street, NW, Fl. 11,
Washington DC
11:30 am ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” 6:00 pm
Cost: Free for selected participants
A light lunch and refreshments will be provided.

Globally conscious young leaders are invited to apply for a half-day conference being held at the Atlantic Council in Washington, D.C., on Friday, July 22nd. At the conference, students and young professionals will participate in two panel presentations and small group discussions on Western-Muslim relations, as well as learn about strategies for organizing town hall meetings and global videoconferences on America’s role in the world. Thanks to the generous support of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Open Society Institute, DarMac Foundation and Hewlett Foundation, the conference is free for selected participants.

The conference includes two panel presentations and discussions:

U.S. and European Perspectives on Conflict Resolution in the Middle East: Where does the debate end and the cooperation begin?
Fran Burwell, Director, Program on Transatlantic Relations, The Atlantic Council
Leon Fuerth, former National Security Advisor to Vice President Al Gore & Professor at the Elliott School of International Affairs at George Washington University
Robin Niblett, Executive V.P., Chief Operating Officer, and Director of the Europe Program at the Center for Strategic & International Studies

Media and Middle East Conflicts: Does media bias affect Western-Muslim relations and what can be done about it?
Mouafac Harb, News Director, Radio Sawa, United Arab Emirates
Marvin Kalb, former host of NBC’s Meet the Press and Senior Fellow at Harvard’s Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics & Public Policy
Salameh Nematt, Washington Bureau Chief, Al-Hayat, Lebanon
James Zogby, President, Arab American Institute

Interested students should send a resume and a brief note expressing interest in the event to application@aidemocracy.org. Please put ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨July 22 Application‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ in the Subject line. Applications will be considered on a rolling basis and applicants will be notified within one week of submission if they have been selected to attend a summit. For additional questions, please call (202) 270 6268 or e-mail meghan@aidemocracy.org. Please note that space is limited, so please apply promptly.

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A Statement Regarding Muslim-Christian Perspectives on the Nuclear Weapons Danger

Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund
May 23-25, 2005

A group of religious leaders and scholars, Muslims, Christians and others, was convened by the Islamic Society of North America, the Managing the Atom Project of the Kennedy School of Government of Harvard University, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy. The group met at the Pocantico Conference Center of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund in Tarrytown, New York on May 23-25, 2005, to discuss what their traditions had to contribute to the question of the nuclear weapons danger at this time in history. The consultation produced the following statement, which religious leaders of all faiths are urged to endorse:

We affirm our belief in the One God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe.

We agree that the Christian and Muslim traditions are unambiguous on the sanctity of human life and on the protection of all forms of creation, including the environment. We believe in the dignity of all human beings and their roles as trustees and humble custodians of the earth and their responsibility for the needs of future generations.

We believe that chemical, biological and particularly nuclear weapons do not discriminate between combatants and non-combatants and inevitably destroy innocent human life, even as they destroy other forms of life such as animals and vegetation, cause irrevocable damage to the environment for many generations to come and cause human suffering and disease. Therefore, we hold that these weapons are contrary to our religious and ethical principles.

We agree that the ideal response to the nuclear threat is a total and universal ban on all such weapons, including low yield tactical nuclear weapons, their development, production, possession, acquisition, deployment, use, and the threat of use. We hold further that any weakening of the nuclear “Non-Proliferation Treaty” is a setback for world peace.

We agree that all nations, without exception, must abide by international treaties, agreements and other international covenants of which they are signatories.

We further agree that the possession of nuclear weapons is an unacceptable risk for the human community in these times and is a continuing threat to the entire planet and its fragile ecosystem. The risk of theft of nuclear weapons or materials by non-state actors for nuclear terrorism as well as the continuing risk of accidental use of nuclear weapons by nation states themselves makes even the possession of nuclear weapons a danger to God’s creation.

We agree that the enormous resources spent on nuclear weapons can be put to much better use to deal with the problems of poverty, disease and ignorance and to promote a peaceful pluralistic civil society, free of hate and prejudice.

We encourage engagement on the part of civil society in the debate and policy making decisions relating to nuclear weapons.

We therefore believe that the common position held by both of our traditions, expressed as the sanctity of human life, leads us inexorably to say that the only real security for the world and the most responsible position for people of faith in our two traditions is to call upon the United States and other countries of the world to, gradually and in a verifiable manner, finally eliminate these weapons from the face of the earth.

Endorsed by these participants:

Asma Afsaruddin, Muslim
Associate Professor, Dept. of Arabic & Islamic Studies, University of Notre Dame & Chair of the CSID Board of Directors

Sadida Athaullah, Muslim
Woodbridge, Virginia

Dr. Jamal Badawi, Muslim
Islamic Society of North America

Mohamed Elsanousi, Muslim
Director of Communications and Community Outreach, Islamic Society of North America

Muneer Fareed, Muslim
Associate Professor, Dept. of Near Eastern & Asian Studies, Wayne State University

Rev. Barbara Green, Presbyterian
Executive Director, Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy

Rabia Terri Harris, Muslim
Coordinator, Muslim Peace Fellowship

Sherman Jackson, Muslim
Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies, Dept. of Near Eastern Studies
University of Michigan

Rev. Richard Killmer, Presbyterian
Program Director, Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy

Ibrahim M. Abdil-Mu’id Ramey
Director of the Disarmament Program, Fellowship of Reconciliation

Anna Rhee, United Methodist
Board of Directors, Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy

Dr. Louay Safi
Executive Director, Islamic Society of North America

Muhammad Shafiq, PhD
Imam/Executive Director, Islamic Center of Rochester, NY and Executive Director, Center for Interfaith Studies and Dialogue, Nazareth College, Rochester

Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi
Chairman, Fiqh Council of North America

Bishop Walter F. Sullivan, Roman Catholic
President of the Board of the Churches’ Center for Theology and Public Policy

Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite, United Church of Christ
President and Professor of Theology, Chicago Theological Seminary

Joe Volk, Religious Society of Friends
Executive Secretary, Friends Committee on National Legislation

Dr. Jim Walsh
Executive Director, Managing the Atom, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University

Peter Weiderud, Church of Sweden
Director, Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, World Council of Churches

Dr. Christine Wing, Presbyterian
Member of South Presbyterian Church, Dobbs Ferry, NY

This statement reflects the views of the signatories and not necessarily those of the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Organizations are listed for identification purposes only.

Religious leaders of all faiths are encouraged to endorse this statement. Those of other faiths have joined with their Muslim and Christian brothers and sisters in affirming the sanctity of human life and the need to eliminate nuclear weapons. Religious leaders may endorse by sending an email to info@nrdi.org
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Faith and Policy:
Abuse of Qur’an hurts U.S. democracy push

By Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi
Saturday, June 11, 2005
http://www.detnews.com/2005/editorial/0506/11/D07-211950.htm


The statement by interfaith partners of Michigan condemning the desecration of the Holy Quran at the Guantanamo prison was an honorable response to those shameful incidents. Besides distressing Muslims and damaging the image of our country, disrespecting the Quran was a gross insult to all Abrahamic traditions.

The U.S. military has confirmed five cases in which the Islamic holy book was kicked, stepped on and soaked. Desecrating the Quran is an attempt to create conflict between Muslims and Christians where there is none. The eminent Catholic theologian Hans Kأ¬¨¬∫ng challenges us “to stop thinking in terms of alternatives, of Jesus or Muhammad, and to think instead … of Jesus and Muhammad … Muhammad himself acts as a witness to Jesus.”

While the name of the Prophet Muhammad is mentioned only five times in the Quran, Abraham, Moses and Jesus are mentioned hundreds of times. One of the longest chapters of the Quran is dedicated to Mary, mother of Jesus. For Muslims, the Quran is the pure word of God in writing, just as Jesus is the incarnate word of God. Both were sent to humanity with the same mission: “raising humanity from the depths of evil and ignorance.”

The Quran is filled with words of wisdom, appreciated by all people of understanding. The main subject of the Holy Quran is the glorification of the God of Abraham. To dishonor this book is to dishonor the Divine.

The Quran is the final message from our caring Creator. It teaches lessons of faith, family values, caring for orphans, feeding the poor, helping the suffering, removing racism and oppression from society and bringing the joy of justice and freedom to the people of God.

How painful that instead of reading, understanding and practicing Quran, some people at Guantanamo put God’s gift under their feet and showed the greatest disrespect for it. Muslims can’t even touch the text of the Quran without cleansing themselves.

The White House tried to minimize the blasphemy. In one instance, the military said, “The guard urinated near an air vent and the wind blew his urine through the vent.” Yeah, right.

Let’s praise U.S. Rep. John Conyers, D-Detroit, for his courage and leadership for introducing a resolution condemning bigotry and religious intolerance. Let’s welcome Sen. Joseph Biden’s initiative asking for the formation of an independent commission to be sent to Guantanamo.

The Muslim and Arab communities in Detroit have been trying very hard to build bridges of friendship, cooperation and understanding between the United States and the Muslim world. Abusing the Quran hurts their sincere efforts.

Our government can’t succeed in its call for democracy and human rights abroad if it can’t practice what it preaches inside its own territories.

Ignoring the criticism of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Red Cross looks hypocritical and has sent the wrong message to the whole globe. Supporting our troops doesn’t mean that we are supporting the wrongdoings of those who bring embarrassment upon America.

Let’s remember that there were people who wanted to kill Jesus so they could kill his message, but they failed. Jesus was not mere flesh, but an indestructible idea. The ignorant may desecrate the paper of this beautiful book, but they can never demolish the purpose and principle of this book.

As the Quran says, “See you not how God sets a parable? A good word as a goodly tree, whose root is firmly fixed and its branches reach to the heavens. Giving it its fruit at all times, by the permission of its Lord and God sets forth parables for mankind in order that they may receive admonition.”

Imam Mohammad Ali Elahi heads the Islamic House of Wisdom in Dearborn Heights.

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Rethinking the Iraq War: Time for American Muslims to Support Iraqi Democracy

By Shadi Hamid
MuslimWakeUp.Com, 5/28/2005
http://www.muslimwakeup.com/main/archives/2005/05/rethinking_iraq.php#more


There is a part of me that still is and will always be against the Iraq war. However noble the ends, the means will always be wrapped in a cloud of moral ambiguity. I remain, in every sense of the word, conflicted. I remember in the early spring of 2003, empowered by the heady idealism of a young activist, I committed myself to the cause in which I so emphatically believed in. Feverishly, we organized against a war we felt was unjust, immoral, illegal, and destructive. Those were times of a bygone age, times when we could still afford to believe in a world free of hatred, violence, and ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” yes ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” war.
Not quite even realizing it, it seemed as if we had become perennial protestors, angry at the world but helpless to change it. By opposing and resisting the ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨system‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ at every turn, we thought we could change it. Looking back, I think we were wrong.

Our goal, naturally, was to stop the war before it started (or perhaps we were just being naأ¬¨√òve). As millions throughout the world flooded the streets in solidarity, it seemed ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” if only for a brief instant ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” that we might succeed.

On January 30, 2005, I saw something which would shatter any remaining illusions that opposing war in Iraq was the only moral position to take. Checking the news headlines online in my apartment in Jordan, I saw heart-wrenching pictures of thousands of Iraqis lining up, braving terrorist threats, to vote for the first time in their lives. These days, it is truly rare to be overwhelmed by hope but overwhelmed I was. In a hundred years, I expect ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” and I pray ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” that future generations will look back at January 30th as a historic moment, a moment that would forge the identity and aspirations of a people. For more than five decades, the Arab people have been denied their freedom by their own leaders as well as by Western powers, the latter fearing that free elections would lead to hostile bands of nationalists, leftists, or, now, Islamists coming to power.

The very thought of Iraqis voting after the unceremonious toppling of a most brutal dictator was both subversive and revolutionary. Millions of Arabs throughout the region, saw the same images on their television screens via satellite channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiyya. For those who dared comprehend the moment, the wall of Arab autocracy was being broken down before their eyes.

Of course, the negative aspects of the Iraq war (and there are many) should give even the most fervent supporters of regime change pause. Hundreds of Americans and thousands of Iraqis have died, cities have been destroyed, and America’s credibility further eroded by the horror of Abu Ghraib. History has recorded these crimes committed in the name of Iraqi freedom.

In any case, as American Muslims we now have a choice. It is not an easy one, but it is one that we must nonetheless ponder, for our actions ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” or, more appropriately, our silence ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” will have consequences. The war itself is over. The past is gone and we can no longer take solace in the empty chants of anti-war protestors who seem woefully unaware of the exigencies of political reality. The emotive chants of ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨bring the troops home‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ are at best laughably naأ¬¨√òve, and at worst downright offensive. If we withdraw now, Iraq will continue its tragic descent into anarchy. And then civil war and failed state status will be its fate. That much should be obvious.

The new Iraqi government does not have the capability to effectively put down the increasingly emboldened insurgents on its own. It needs American and international support ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” and firepower. The insurgency, or the ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨resistance‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ as some so disingenuously call it, aims through its terror campaign to derail one of the most noble experiments of our time ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” the cause of Iraqi democracy. So then, there is a question that each Muslim needs to ask him/herself. Do we wish to see Iraq ravaged by civil war or do we wish to see Iraq fulfill its promise, and become the first true Arab democracy, a model of inspiration in what is still the most authoritarian region in the world? Let us put our dislike of Bush and his coterie of warmongering, torture-condoning neo-cons on the side, and focus on what is really important ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” the future of our Iraqi brothers and sisters, who deserve nothing less than to live as free citizens, free from the evils of autocracy and the scourge of terrorism.

Every morning, I brace myself for the inevitable headlines ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” more Iraqis dead, more American soldiers killed in combat. We have paid an enormous price with the blood of innocents. It no longer matters whether the war was unjust or just. These debates, while interesting and at times thought provoking, have a tendency to become, in the wrong hands, intellectually masturbatory and philosophically indulgent. More importantly, such debates are not particularly relevant to the immense challenges we now face. Many of us were against the war. Some were for it. Some find ourselves stuck somewhere in between. Yet it is time now to put past disagreements behind us and unite in common cause and solidarity for the welfare of the Iraqis.

We all too easily take refuge in the pieties of protest, thinking that we have done our days work and spoken out against the perpetual straw men of empire and occupation. And, indeed, our rage might be well served by shallow rhetoric and self-pitying indignation. But, this is not the time for such selfishness or silence in the face of greater threats. There is a war currently underway between those who engage in the wanton killing of innocents in the name of ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨resistance‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ and those who wish to see the Iraqi people move courageously toward a free, dignified, and democratic future. And, I suspect that this time around, the moral position is a clear one ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” or at least it should be. There are some things in life, politics, and war which are morally ambiguous. This, however, is not one of them.

Shadi Hamid is a Fulbright Fellow in Amman, Jordan, conducting research on democratization and political Islam. His articles have appeared most recently, in the Carnegie Endowment’s Arab Reform Bulletin, The Daily Star, and The Jerusalem Post. He can be reached at sh75@georgetown.edu
 

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The Right Path to Arab Democracy

By Madeleine Albright and Vin Weber
Wednesday, June 8, 2005; Page A21
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/06/08/AR2005060800354.html?referrer=email

 

The Bush administration is right to support democratic change in the Arab Middle East. The question is how best to go about that delicate process. If we push too hard, we may add to the perception that we are trying to impose our will. If we fail to push hard enough, we may contribute to the view that America supports freedom for everyone except Arabs. To succeed, we must find a balance that combines a firm commitment to democratic principles and an understanding of the complexities of the Arab world.

In recent months we co-chaired a task force of experts organized by the Council on Foreign Relations to formulate recommendations for U.S. policy. Our report, “In Support of Arab Democracy: Why and How,” argues that if Arabs are able to express their grievances freely and peacefully, they are less likely to turn to extreme measures and more likely to build open and prosperous societies. And in promoting democratic institutions in Arab countries, we should bear in mind that sudden, traumatic change is neither necessary nor desirable. Our goal should be to encourage democratic evolution, not revolution.

The Bush administration has been eloquent in expressing a commitment to democratic principles; its challenge is to implement that commitment effectively against the backdrop of turbulence in such places as Iraq, Lebanon and the Gaza Strip. Given the Arab world’s diversity, a country-by-country approach is required, but that approach should be based in every case on support for human rights and the fundamentals of representative government. To assess progress, the administration should encourage Arab leaders to develop and make public “pathways to reform” to guide the expectations of their citizens and create benchmarks against which the pace of change can be measured.

The administration should beware of crediting Arab leaders who engage in a pretense of democratic reform while omitting the substance. Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, for example, has asked parliament to approve multiparty presidential elections — seemingly a positive step. But the system he is recommending would make it virtually impossible for truly independent parties to participate. Sham democracy should be exposed for what it is.

Arab countries will, of course, establish their own rules for democratic participation. To the extent the United States can influence that process, it should be in the direction of openness. Washington should support the participation of any group or party that has made a credible commitment to abide by the rules of democracy, including nonviolence and respect for constitutional procedures. It would be a mistake to exclude Islamist parties on the assumption that they are inherently undemocratic or prone to violence. The best way to marginalize violent extremists is to make room for as broad a range of nonviolent perspectives as possible. At the same time, we should emphasize the importance of minority representation. The current constitutional debate in Iraq is a case study of this challenge. The governing coalition has legitimacy because of the electoral support it received, but it will not be able to govern effectively unless minorities feel secure.

The United States is often portrayed unfairly in the Arab media. The solution is not to look for ways to pressure or punish Arab journalists but rather to support the expansion of independent media outlets. At the same time, U.S. public diplomacy should place new emphasis on democratic reform. America’s Arabic-language satellite channel, al-Hurra, should include C-SPAN-style coverage of legislative hearings and political rallies in the United States and other democratic countries. Arabs should be exposed to the spectacle of free political systems in action, including the questioning of senior leaders by public representatives and the press.

Building democracy requires political will, but also a good deal of technical skill. While Arabs will have to provide the former, the United States and other democratic societies should be generous in sharing their expertise in such areas as improving education, fighting corruption, promoting investment and removing barriers to trade. Washington should also review its visa policies to ensure that, while those from Arab countries who may be dangerous are kept out, those who are not (the overwhelming majority) are allowed in without having to endure humiliating delays. Exchanges of all types between the United States and Arab societies will help promote crucial improvements in intercultural understanding.

Arab leaders should know that progress toward democracy will have favorable consequences for their relations with the United States and that the reverse is also true. Countries moving toward democracy should receive special consideration on such matters as trade and aid, while Washington should distance itself from governments that refuse over time to recognize the rights of their citizens.

Democratic development in the Arab world depends, as it does elsewhere, on internal debates about national identity, interests, values and purpose. The difference between democracy and the status quo is that decisions will flow from the many, not just the few. This does not guarantee that we will agree with those decisions or that they will be the right ones, only that they will be legitimate. That is enough.

Madeleine K. Albright, secretary of state under President Bill Clinton, is principal of The Albright Group LLC and chairman of the National Democratic Institute. Vin Weber, a former Republican representative from Minnesota, is chairman of the National Endowment for Democracy.

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Rice appeals for Mideast reform and democracy

By William Wallis in Cairo
Published: June 20 2005 12:38
http://news.ft.com/cms/s/c95b43c0-e17e-11d9-9460-00000e2511c8.html

Condoleezza Rice, US secretary of state, on Monday appealed for political reform in the Middle East, saying democracy in the region was ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨inevitable‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ and that ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberty‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌.

Ms Rice was delivering a major policy speech before an invited audience of government officials, academics and other guests at the American University in Cairo during a tour of the Middle East.

Earlier she discussed Egypt’s plans for presidential and parliamentary elections at a meeting with President Hosni Mubarak in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In remarks that may have discomfited her Egyptian hosts as well as the authorities in Saudi Arabia ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” her next stop ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” she said it was ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌.

‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨There are those who say democracy leads to chaos, conflict and terror. In fact, the opposite is true: freedom and democracy are the only ideas powerful enough to overcome hatred, division and violence,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ she said.

Since President George W. Bush was re-elected last year, American pressure on Egypt to lead the way in introducing democratic reform in the Middle East has emboldened reformist groups and helped stimulate public debate.

But many opponents of the Mubarak regime remain skeptical that Washington is prepared to press for real change at the expense of a strategic alliance traditionally at the heart of US policy in the Middle East.

The outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, which has emerged from years of political repression as the most organized political force in Egypt ’s opposition, dismissed Ms Rice’s visit and said change would not come from foreign intervention.

Members of the Kefaya movement, which has launched an unprecedented series of demonstrations calling on Mr Mubarak to stand down and which has been criticized at times by the regime as US stooges, took a similar position.

But other reform-minded individuals from within the ruling NDP, opposition groups and civil society who met Ms Rice emerged convinced there would be real consequences if the election process in Egypt proved flawed.

‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨She was more interested in listening to us. But she also asserted her belief that reform is coming, that if it happened in the Soviet Union it will happen in Egypt,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ said Hisham
Kassem, an opposition newspaper editor who attended the meeting.

Frequently referring back to her own experience as a black American growing up in America’s segregated south, Ms Rice told her audience at Cairo university that the old arguments that democracy was suitable for some but not others was no longer valid.
‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East and we achieved neither. Now we are taking a different course. We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ she said.

She singled out the Syrian and Iranian regimes for her most forceful criticism. But she also described violence by thugs supporting the ruling National Democratic party that marred a referendum on constitutional change in Egypt last month as a worrying sign.
While praising Mr Mubarak‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s decision to allow contested presidential elections for the first time, she signaled that the ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨world would be watching‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ to see whether these were free and fair.

Egyptians should be free to speak, free to assemble, and candidates should have equal access to state media, she said. Ms Rice called for an end to emergency laws in place since the assassination of Mr Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, in 1981.

‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨President Mubarak has unlocked the door for change. Now the Egyptian government must put its faith in its own people.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌

Responding to questions afterwards, Ms Rice said the US would not hold talks with the Muslim Brotherhood.

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ISLAMISTS AND DEMOCRACY

Keep the Faith

by Marina Ottaway Post date 05.27.05 | Issue date 06.06.05
https://ssl.tnr.com/p/docsub.mhtml?i=20050606&s=ottaway060605


Political change is coming to the Middle East . Countries that slumbered for decades with no sign of political evolution are finally awakening. The Egyptian National Assembly has approved a constitutional amendment to allow direct, competitive presidential elections‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”a first in that country‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s history. Syrian troops left Lebanon when mass demonstrations signaled the people‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s discontent with their lack of power under the status quo. Iraq elected a government (albeit as a result of U.S. occupation rather than a renewal of Iraqi politics). Political competition has become possible in Palestine and will undoubtedly increase ahead of this summer‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s elections for the Legislative Council. Even Saudi Arabia has held elections–for powerless local councils, to be sure, and without the participation of women, but elections nevertheless. Only a few Arab countries‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”most notably Tunisia , Libya , Syria , and the United Arab Emirates ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”appear immune to the stirrings of change.

There are many reasons for this budding political activism, including the sheer magnitude of socioeconomic transformation in recent decades, which leaves static governments increasingly out of sync with their rapidly changing societies ; satellite television, which has deprived Arab governments of their traditional monopoly over information ; and the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri and the death of Yasir Arafat. But the Bush administration certainly contributed to this political ferment, in ways both intentional and not. By announcing his determination to bring democracy to the Arab world, the president triggered a lively debate about democracy in the region‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s press–a debate that started by questioning Bush‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s credibility and denouncing democracy promotion as a thinly veiled justification for the Iraq war but that soon admitted that Bush‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s hypocrisy did not excuse the absence of democracy in the Middle East.

Most Arab governments, faced with the Bush administration’s rhetorical onslaught, thought it prudent to respond by introducing some mild reforms that would not threaten their power, hoping to avoid real pressure to change. Liberal reformers are now grudgingly admitting that perhaps U.S. pressure is not a bad thing. The just-published 2004 U.N. Arab Human Development Report, for example, concludes that even policies as fundamentally flawed as the intervention in Iraq and as hypocritical as Washington ’s criticism of the autocracies it supported for decades might, in the end, encourage democracy. Even the region’s Islamist movements are debating the merits of representative government.

A major obstacle to the continuation of this process, however, is the fact that liberal reformers, upon whom many Americans place their hopes for democratization, are mostly intellectuals without organized constituencies. There is no equivalent of the broad-based Civic Forum that made the transition to democracy in the former Czechoslovakia such a success. In Egypt , for example, the kifaya (enough) movement, which has attracted a lot of attention by holding demonstrations in defiance of a government ban, appears incapable of mustering more than a few hundred people to each of its rallies. Throughout the region, it is the Islamists, not the democrats, who have the organized constituencies. That’s why religious Shia parties won the largest share of the vote in Iraq , and that’s why free elections would give significant power to religious parties in other countries as well. In Morocco , Jordan , and Algeria , for example, religious parties that have been allowed to register and compete in the elections have shown that they have a substantial following.

This means that, for the United States to further encourage democratization, it will have to cultivate the Islamists. Of course, liberal organizations also deserve support. But, unless Islamist movements become convinced that it is in their interests to advocate democracy in their countries and participate in a democratic process‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”even if the process does not produce an Islamist state‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”democratic transitions will be extremely difficult. Despite the mutual dislike and suspicion between Washington and Islamists, the United States must recognize the legitimacy of their participation and defend their rights as much as it does those of liberals.

Islamist organizations‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”that is, organizations that appeal to the religious values and social conservatism of the Arab public in their call for political reform–are the key to democratization in the Arab world. They have considerable support, as measured by the votes they receive when they are allowed to participate in elections, the turnout at their demonstrations, and the audiences attracted by radical preachers during sermons at mosques. They are also well-organized, maintaining strong networks of educational, health, and charitable programs.

Clearly, such participation and popularity suggests these organizations would be expected to play‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”and ought to play‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”a central role in Arab democracy. Indeed, there is little alternative : It would take considerable repression to prevent such groups from participating in a democratic political process, and that repression would in turn undermine the possibility of democracy itself. Furthermore, the post-cold war experience in Eastern Europe showed that a crucial element for the success of democratic transitions is the willingness of old, undemocratic parties to reinvent themselves as new organizations capable of becoming part of the new politics. The success of old communist parties in transforming themselves into new democratic actors was crucial in establishing political competition in Eastern Europe . New parties appear by the dozen in all democratic transitions around the globe, but they rarely survive. One need only look at Iraq to see that this dynamic also holds true in the Middle East today. The former exile movements and many religious parties are all represented in parliament, whereas most of the roughly 200 parties formed after Saddam‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s fall hardly received any votes, despite the considerable help they received from the U.S. government and democracy-promotion organizations.

The Bush administration‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s answer to the challenge of political Islam has been to promote moderate Islamist organizations and moderate interpretations of the religion. The Muslim World Outreach Policy Coordinating Committee‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”set up in July 2004 by the National Security Council to improve communication with Islamic organizations and better the image of the United States in the Muslim world‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”is an important part of this strategy. But trying to promote moderate interpretations of Islam is probably futile and certainly risky. Remember that, when the Iranians took over the embassy in Tehran , conventional wisdom was that the Shia were the most dangerous Muslims, whereas Wahhabis were thought to be conservative socially but rather apolitical. Obviously, that view has changed in recent years. Nevertheless, the idea has taken hold in some parts of the administration that Sufism represents a benign, moderate form of Islam that should be encouraged. It is doubtful that most people making the argument understand the roots of Sufism and why it has spread in some regions but not in others. It is even more doubtful that they have given much thought to the resentment that favoring one sect over another could cause in the Muslim world. (Imagine the reaction in this country if secular France , concerned about radical evangelical groups in the United States , decided to support moderate churches.)

The challenge that Islamist organizations pose to democracy cannot be met by befriending moderate but marginally important groups. It can only be met by dealing with the mainstream, powerful organizations that will determine the future of Middle East politics. A good place to start is with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, the first and still the most influential modern Islamist movement. Much of the radical thinking about the moral corruption of Arab states and the need for dramatic change has come from the Muslim Brotherhood. Beginning in the 1920s, Muslim Brothers were the first to denounce what they saw as the moral decadence to which Arab societies had sunk as a result of abandoning the precepts of Islam, and they were the first to call for the building of Islamic states. Egyptian Muslim Brothers, often acting as teachers, have been at the root of radical Islam‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s growth in the Middle East . Even the militancy and missionary zeal manifested in recent decades by Wahhabis is attributed by scholars and analysts to the influence of the Muslim Brothers. But the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood long ago renounced violence and is seeking to become a legal political party. Denied the right to do so‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”Egypt bans parties based on religion‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ”Muslim Brothers have still sought to peacefully participate in Egyptian politics since the early ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢80s, running for office on the tickets of other political parties or as independents. Other Islamist organizations, such as Muslim Brothers in other countries, are also debating whether to embrace the democratic process.

Still, any opening toward Islamist groups raises the vexing problem of their commitment to nonviolence and to democracy. There are no simple answers to these issues. Saying that the United States will deal only with organizations that have renounced violence and thus do not have an armed wing is tempting but unrealistic. If Washington had taken such a position in Iraq , there would have been no elections–after all, the Kurdish parties and the Shia religious parties that won the elections all have armed militias. The Kurdistan Democratic Party and the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan control the peshmerga, which includes as many as 80,000 fighters. The two major parties in the Shia coalition, Dawa and the Supreme Council for the Islamic Revolution in Iraq , probably have an additional 10,000, if not more. If Washington wants elections in Lebanon this month, as it says it does, it has to accept that Hezbollah will run without disarming. If it wants elections in Palestine in July, it has to accept that Hamas will still have an armed wing. It also has no choice but to accept that there can be no certainty about any party‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s long-term commitment to democracy. Uncertainty is an inherent part of any transition.

Islamist parties already participate in some Arab countries, and they are not proving less–or more–democratic than other organizations. But there is ample evidence that participation in an electoral process forces any party, regardless of ideology, to moderate its position if it wants to attract voters in large numbers and avoid a backlash. In Turkey, the Islamist party that now governs the country and aspires to lead it into the European Union started with radical propensities in the mid-‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢90s. It won enough votes to form the government, but it also frightened the secular army enough to seek a court‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s disbarment of the ruling party in 1997. That experience spurred the rise of the moderates within the Islamist movement, leading to their victory, as the reorganized Justice and Development Party, in 2002.

Talking to the Muslim Brotherhood and other mainstream Islamist organizations should be a central, ongoing task for American diplomats in the Middle East . We need to understand these organizations as well as we possibly can. It is only when we understand them better that we can decide whether they have a legitimate role to play in a democracy or whether their ultimate goals are dangerous. Moreover, such engagement would strengthen the hand of the more moderate, democratic Islamists who favor reform. It would do more to restore the tarnished image of the United States in the Arab world than any public diplomacy initiative launched so far. Of course, engagement won’t guarantee the success of democracy in the Middle East , but not engaging will guarantee its failure.

Marina Ottaway is a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

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ANWAR IBRAHIM: A reform character

Sunday, June 05 @ 00:00:20 MYT
http://www.harakahdaily.net/article.php?sid=13875

by Victor Mallet
Financial Times

To hear some middle-class Malaysians talk about Anwar Ibrahim, you would think he was the devil made flesh, guilty of crimes against decent society ranging from gross financial corruption and sexual deviancy to Islamic fanaticism. Such is the effect of seven relentless years of government-inspired calumny.

In person, Anwar has an impish face and a little beard, but no horns or pitchfork. The former deputy prime minister, finance minister and leader of Malaysia’s political reform movement quietly sits down at the breakfast table in the half-empty Petrus restaurant next to his wife, the reformist MP Wan Azizah Wan Ismail.

For someone who spent most of the past six years in solitary confinement after two bizarre, politically motivated trials, he seems remarkably cheerful. Perhaps reading the complete works of Shakespeare four-and-a-half times in jail has done him good. Only his smart, grey hound’s-tooth jacket and blue tie, and a keen interest in political gossip, betray him as a politician on the comeback trail, rather than the honorary academic he has become at Oxford University and at Johns Hopkins in the US.

Before we start eating, I ask him whether it angers him that his convictions for sodomy and corruption in the late 1990s have convinced Malaysians that there really is something nasty lurking beneath his liberal political persona. He sighs. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Of course, it‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s disturbing because you cannot imagine how intelligent people can be so gullible, but it was also dictated by very personal interests. They were given lucrative jobs, and people tend to compromise.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ The judges who helped convict him, he adds with a chortle, have all been promoted.

Anwar says businessmen at home and in Hong Kong, where he is on a brief visit, have offered their apologies for the way he was treated. Even Nelson Mandela has said sorry for the behaviour of his friend, Mahathir Mohamad, the former Malaysian prime minister under whom Anwar was jailed. Anwar told Mandela not to worry: ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨My walk,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ he had said, ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨was a short walk to freedom.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌
Six years in jail, nevertheless, is long enough. And although Anwar, now 57, was freed last September when the sodomy case was overturned, the corruption conviction means he cannot hold office until 2008 – probably after the next general election.

Yet the man breakfasting on a croissant and apple juice in front of me might have been a national leader twice over. Mahathir groomed Anwar as his successor in the 1990s, before turning on him when Anwar began calling for genuine democracy and speaking out against official corruption. Then there were problems with dubious government tenders, privatisation – known locally as ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨piratisation‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ – and the business deals of Mahathir‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s children from the mid-1990s. The split between the two men widened when the financial crisis struck south-east Asia in 1997.

‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌I was very disturbed by the criticism against Malaysia over Asian corruption and cronyism,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ Anwar says. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨I cannot absolve myself entirely from the criticism… I was part of the system. But I tried to alert them and reform from within. Hmm, you‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢re not eating either,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ he interjects, pointing at my untouched croissant as I scribble furiously in my notebook.

Anwar had his second chance at national leadership in 1998, when he was ousted and became the figurehead of the popular campaign for the political reform and modernisation that Malaysia still needs today. It did not seem unthinkable at the time that Mahathir would be toppled by street demonstrations, as happened to Suharto the same year in Indonesia.

Anwar, however, was outmanoeuvred and defeated by Mahathir and his allies in the dominant United Malays National Organisation (Umno). He was detained under the Internal Security Act and accused of corruption, of spying for the US and of sodomising his chauffeur.

Wan Azizah, demure in a yellow headscarf, softly reminds us that the spying suggestions, never followed up in court, were inexplicably illustrated by genuine television pictures of Anwar receiving a 19-gun salute at the Pentagon in Washington, as though such public accolades were normal for secret agents.

In prison, Anwar was beaten up by the chief of police in person, which he suggests impaired his hearing and may have contributed to a back ailment for which he was hospitalised in Germany as soon as he was released.

He calls his punishment ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨political, very vindictive‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌, but he recalls with amusement how before his downfall, in 1998, he was warned by his police security guards that an unusual meeting was taking place between Mahathir, the chief judge, the attorney-general and the inspector-general of police to discuss his fate.

To outside observers, these memories say more about the sorry state of the Malaysian government, the justice system and the state-controlled media than about Anwar’s character. It is worth recalling the farcical unfolding of the case for sodomy, an illegal act in Malaysia. The prosecution twice changed the dates on which Anwar was alleged to have sodomised his driver; one such switch was made after defence lawyers pointed out that the building where the deed was supposed to have happened did not exist at the time.

The corruption allegations are more insidious, if only because Malaysians assume that most senior Umno officials become involved in so-called ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨money politics‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌. In fact, the corruption case against him was not about bribery but about abuse of power to conceal a crime of sodomy that was never committed.

Anwar, a hospital porter‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s son from Penang, and his wife, an Irish-trained eye doctor who is now the sole member of parliament for the reformist opposition People‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s Justice Party, have six children, and I ask about their financial circumstances. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨That‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s why I‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢m here,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ Anwar laughs, explaining that he earns most of his income from speaking engagements.

If he is not corrupt and not a sexual criminal, what of the claim that Anwar is an Islamic fundamentalist? In multicultural Malaysia, where the ruling coalition wins over fearful Chinese voters and urban Malays by demonising its Islamist opponents, such accusations tend to stick.

Anwar was known as an Islamic firebrand in his youth and founded a Muslim youth organisation. He was detained without trial for nearly two years in the 1970s before being co-opted into Umno. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Even when I was an Islamic youth leader we were probably the only Muslim organisation that was talking about collaboration between Muslims and non-Muslims.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌
Shortly after September 11 2001, Anwar wrote an essay from prison condemning the terror attacks and criticising the Muslim response. In Malaysia, he believes the government victimises Pas, the main Islamic party, instead of allowing it a fair say in the democratic system, while adjusting its own policies to appear enthusiastically Islamic. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Pas is not Taliban,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ he concludes, sipping his apple juice.

The record shows that his support for human rights and a modern, inclusive Islam – encapsulated in his 1996 book The Asian Renaissance – has stood the test of time much better than the authoritarian Asian bigotry of some of his peers.

That is one reason why Anwar says he had high hopes for Abdullah Badawi, who succeeded Mahathir as Malaysian prime minister in 2003 and whom Anwar personally thanked for permitting his release from prison. Badawi promised to crack down on corruption and made a brisk start, launching an investigation into the police force and freezing a $3.7bn rail project awarded to a friend of Mahathir.

In the past few weeks, however, Anwar has publicly accused the mild-mannered Badawi of leaving corrupt officials in power and reneging on his promises.

‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌It‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s one-and-a-half years,‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ Anwar says as the meal draws to a close. ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨Not only hasn‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢t he done anything, but things have got worse – the corruption index has plunged, competitiveness, the Gini coefficient between rich and poor, all have declined dramatically. The control of the media is unfortunately worse than it was under Mahathir.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌

Elections are flawed, opposition figures are banned from Malaysian universities and Malaysian students abroad are warned not to attend the lectures Anwar has been giving around the world since his release, on pain of losing their scholarships.

Anwar can obviously smell another political battle ahead: the danger signs are there. When he left Kuala Lumpur for Hong Kong this time, his departure was delayed for a police check for the first time since he was set free.

As Anwar and Wan Azizah are whisked off by two aides to the next appointment, another small step in what promises to be a slow political comeback, I ask whether we will have to wait another decade to see reform in Malaysia. He takes a last sip of juice and offers a parting shot: ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨The form is, of course, not street demonstrations, but the clamour for reform is very pronounced among the public.‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ Somehow, I think Malaysian politics has not heard the last of him.

Victor Mallet is the FT‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚Äö√묢s chief Asia correspondent, and author of ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‚âà√¨The Trouble with Tigers: The Rise and Fall of South-East Asia‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ‌ (HarperCollins).

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Uzbekistan Crackdown Puts Bush Democracy Doctrine to Test

By Kelley Beaucar Vlahos
Wednesday, June 01, 2005
http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,158344,00.html

 

WASHINGTON ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” President Bush and administration officials have spoken in glowing terms recently about the Rose, Velvet, Orange, Purple, Tulip and Cedar revolutions, affixing vibrant colors and flowers to successful democratic movements supported by the United States throughout the world.
But foreign policy experts say not all uprisings may be destined for such colorful characterizations. Case in point: the cautious U.S. reaction to a violent government crackdown on protesters in Uzbekistan (search) that is believed to have ended in the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

Washington’s response to the Uzbekistan uprising has been much more tepid than the encouraging rhetoric America afforded the recent protest movements in Lebanon and Uzbekistan’s fellow former-Soviet states of Georgia and the Ukraine.

Calling Uzbekistan a “friend,” President Bush told reporters on Tuesday that the United States expects leaders there to “honor human rights.”
“We want to know fully what took place there in Uzbekistan, and that’s why we’ve asked the International Red Cross to go in,” Bush told a Rose Garden news conference. “We expect all our friends ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” as well as those who aren’t our friends ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” to honor human rights and protect minority rights.”
The timeline and accuracy of the Uzbekistan events are still being pieced together as President Islam Karimov (search), who has ruled since the country’s liberation from the Soviet Union in 1991, continues to shut out most international media access. After initially allowing a few investigators in for unrevealing tours of the aftermath, he has rebuffed further international calls for an independent inquiry.

The violence began on May 12 after members of a reportedly peaceful protest outside of a city courthouse were arrested and thrown into jail. They were demonstrating outside the trial of 23 Islamic businessmen who were jailed a year earlier for “religious extremism.”
The next morning, armed gunmen broke into the jail, freed the 23 men, their supporters and others. The jailbreak reportedly led to deaths inside the prison while several thousand protesters gathered outside to rally against unfair imprisonment, poor economic conditions and the government’s alleged human rights abuses.

Numerous witnesses on the ground during the crackdown, including demonstrators and local human rights groups, reported to international news services restricted from the areas immediately following the events that the demonstration was largely peaceful and the majority of people there were not connected to the jail break-in as the government contends.

According to limited news reports from the region, at one point during the protest, armored vehicles rolled up and government troops began firing into the crowd, mowing down demonstrators, many of whom were women and children. Over the next few days, the number of dead rose to more than 500, reported independent sources.

The Uzbek government, however, counted 169 dead, none civilians, a number it reached after revising upward its estimate from a few dozen “terrorists.” Karimov has blamed the jailbreak and ensuing violence on the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (search), an extremist group tied to terror attacks against U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and in Uzbekistan as recently as 2004, according to the State Department.

Meanwhile, U.S. forces in Uzbekistan said they knew little of the violence that was going on in Andijan, where the prison is located. Approximately 1,750 American personnel are stationed in Uzbekistan today.

The majority of Uzbekistan is Muslim, but Karimov’s government only allows worship at state-sanctioned mosques and has long repressed any religious dissent, according to experts on the region. Critics have suggested the extremists are being used as a scapegoat for Karimov’s crackdown.

Condemnation of the crackdown and calls for investigations have come from the European Union, NATO, the United Nations and the United States. The State Department denounced the government’s response and strongly urged political and economic reforms there. However, officials made clear that the U.S.-Uzbek relationship is unchanged.

“We have, I think, in many ways, in public and in private, made clear to the government of Uzbekistan that we think there needs to be a credible and transparent assessment of the events in Andijan with international participation. That is really the only way to clear up all the questions that have been raised, both about the violence that started this, the violence against government buildings and prisons and the government’s response, which by many reports involved indiscriminate shooting,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher last week.

“The kind of cooperation we can have with Uzbekistan ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” again, the fight against terrorism ‚àö¬¢‚Äö√ᬮ” is based on common interests, interests that the United States has in the region, interests that we all have, that the government of Uzbekistan has in fighting terrorism. It doesn’t do any of us any good to abandon the effort against terrorism in this critical region. So we will continue work with them in many areas, including the fight against terrorism,” Boucher added.

In remarks on May 17 during a joint press conference with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed that Karimov needs to make some changes.

“I think you would find that we have over the last few years, but especially since the president’s democracy agenda has been so far advanced, a record of going to the Karimov government and telling them in no uncertain terms that it is time to open up their political system and to reform,” she said.

Last year, an estimated $11 million in aid was withheld from Uzbekistan because of what the State Department said were “numerous serious abuses.” Last week, Boucher warned that $22 million in U.S. aid would be at stake if Karimov didn’t cooperate with calls for human rights reforms.

Nonetheless, critics say Washington risks setting a hypocritical tone, given the recent violence.

David Phillips, director of preventative action at the Council on Foreign Relations, said the U.S. military base in Uzbekistan, used as a staging ground for American troops in its operations in neighboring Afghanistan, is no excuse for not being more vocal and tougher on Uzbekistan’s autocratic president.

“We’re totally willing to soft-pedal mass killings and human rights abuses when they are considered a so-called ally in the War on Terror,” Phillips said. “It undermines [the administration’s] credibility.”

“There is not much we can do about it as long as we need the [U.S military] base. It’s a sad fact of life,” said Steven Blank, professor of national security studies at the Army War College in Pennsylvania. He said each country’s opposition movement must be weighed against American interests, especially in a region that plays such a pivotal role in the War on Terror.

“That does not mean we should abstain from pushing reform,” he said. But he added: “There is considerable unease about Uzbekistan’s direction.”
Lee Harris, an historian and author of “Civilization and Its Enemies,” said the Uzbekistan situation is a good example of how Bush’s muscular doctrine for promoting democracy across the globe can fall short of realistic expectations.

“I think we are holding out an illusion that is going to disappoint,” he said, noting that until all the facts on the ground are known, “caution is certainly advisable,” because no one wants to help toss out one autocrat, only to put in its place an anti-American extremist replacement.

Blank said as long as the United States is in Afghanistan, and Al Qaeda remains a threat to the region, “we don’t want to put that at risk” by encouraging the toppling of the regime.

“Up until the present, the priority for the United States in regard to Central Asia has been winning the global War on Terror,” he said. “Support for liberalization and democratization always came after that in the hierarchy of objectives.”

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Syria’s Unpredictable Force: The State-Sanctioned Clergy

By Anthony Shadid
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, May 27, 2005; Page A16
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/26/AR2005052601549.html

 

DAMASCUS, Syria — Even before the message is delivered in the form of a Friday sermon, the medium is already humming with an efficiency that makes the Abu Nour Mosque one of the Arab world’s most startling examples of Islamic evangelism.

In a nine-floor building of white stone and black marble, its windows graced with a stone arabesque, two cinema-like screens display a nearly 20-year-old speech by Syria’s late grand mufti to thousands on red carpets in the worship hall waiting for the Friday prayers. Overhead, along white columns supporting the vaulted ceiling, four television sets broadcast the same images. Captions beneath the taped message direct worshipers to http://www.abunour.net/ and another Web site. The sites clock 200,000 hits a month.

Inside curtained cubicles, interpreters render versions of the Arabic speech into English, Russian and French. On the Web site and in DVDs, that sermon and others are available in a number of other languages: Spanish, Japanese, Turkish and Chinese.

The sermon that follows is tame, a homily on the importance of scholarship in Islam. The reach is what matters — propelled by a generous, donation-driven budget and the growing religiosity of Syria’s society, and tolerated by an ostensibly secular government.

As in virtually every Arab country, a generation-long religious revival is reshaping Syria, long known as one of the Middle East’s most secular states. For decades, the Muslim Brotherhood was the most visible face of Islamic activism, taking the country to the brink of civil war in the early 1980s before retreating under a crackdown whose legacy still shadows the country. The Brotherhood remains a force inside Syria, but in terms of institutions, organization and followers, it is the state-sanctioned version of Islam — Abu Nour is an example — that wields the most influence and that may emerge as one of the most dynamic currents in a time of change.

Its institutions are spreading their influence in Syria, with access to both money and media. While careful in their criticism, its preachers have a greater sway than others in their revivalist mission. The government draws red lines, but sees in their moderate message a counterbalance to a more radical Islam and in their strength an ally in its confrontation with the United States.

The space they have begun to enjoy makes for an unpredictable force in a diverse country of 18 million. While often portrayed as a state teetering between dictatorship and democracy, Syria is far more complicated, its destiny far more opaque. At work are struggles between secular and religious forces, government and opposition figures and, at Abu Nour and elsewhere, government-backed clergy and a more radical strand buoyed by the war in Iraq. All are shaping the identity of a country where the prospect of change — still undefined and fiercely debated — courses through almost any conversation.

The sense of transition is so strong that some government-allied preachers are already beginning to ponder their reputation in the event of tumult or the government’s fall. Across the border is the example of Iraq, where the clergy, both Sunni and Shiite Muslim, emerged in the chaotic aftermath of the U.S. invasion in 2003 as one of the few institutions able to exert influence.

‘Biding Their Time’

“They’re simply biding their time at this stage, knowing that things will come their way, that their organizational skills will allow them to fill any gap,” said Ammar Abdulhamid, a publisher who runs a nongovernmental organization in Damascus that focuses on civic awareness. “They’re in no hurry. They’ve bided their time for decades, and they’re very patient.”

Syria and, in particular, its capital remain far more secular than many other Arab locales — Cairo or Baghdad, for instance. Damascus’s cobblestoned Old City has undergone a renaissance. Its distinctive houses, with their balconies suspended over winding alleys, have given way to festive bars and chic restaurants that cater to the late-night hours of Syria’s moneyed classes.

But the struggle over identity in Syria often plays out in spheres where the state has little control. The faithful are drawing borders between themselves and a Baathist government that came to power more than 40 years ago in the name of secular Arab nationalism. The veil for women is the most common manifestation, and its spread in the past decade remains striking. Other outward shows of piety also are widespread: men wearing beards and forgoing gold rings, which the prophet Muhammad is said to have discouraged. More and more Syrians visit mosques, even in the capital’s ritziest districts.

For much of Syria’s independence, the Muslim Brotherhood catered to such religious sentiments, particularly among Sunnis, who make up the majority in Syria. (President Bashar Assad and his closest allies belong to the minority Alawite community, an offshoot of Shiite Islam.) But in a bloody confrontation with the government in the late 1970s and early ’80s, thousands of the Brotherhood’s followers were killed or imprisoned, and its leadership was driven into exile.

The group remains a wild card in Syrian politics. Some opposition figures — divided and counting their support in the thousands — have called for reaching out to the Brotherhood as a way to strengthen their voice. From exile, the Brotherhood urged a national dialogue in April. The government itself has flirted with reconciliation, though it remains divided.

“We worry” about the Brotherhood’s influence, said Information Minister Mehdi Dakhlallah, considered a reformer in the government. “I am personally against a coalition between religion and politics, especially in multi-religious societies like Syria and Lebanon.”

Given far more sway are a generation of influential clerics, encouraged by the government, who are free to preach, accept students and proselytize as they wish. They espouse a conservative vision of society but a politically subdued message.

“I’m not looking to speak in the name of God,” said Mohammad Habash, an influential cleric. “That benefits no one.”

Message of Pluralism

Habash is an independent member of Syria’s largely ineffectual parliament and director of the Islamic Studies Center. A slight man with receding hair and a trimmed beard, he delivers a message of pluralism that evokes the reformist impulse in political Islam seen among some activists in Egypt, Turkey and Jordan.

With government permission and funding from the Sunni-dominated business class in Damascus, Habash has organized forums and convenes daily study groups. Each day, he provides an hour-long message for a private radio station, and he is planning a two-hour program for a new Syrian satellite television channel. He eschews any political agenda but tried — by his own admission, unsuccessfully — to broker a reconciliation between the government and the Brotherhood.

Some of Habash’s colleagues, particularly those expecting dramatic change in Syria, have urged him to keep his distance from the government to preserve his reputation. He remains careful in his criticism. But he has called for change, warning the government of trouble if it takes only half-hearted reforms.

“If they miss this chance,” he said, “the future will be very difficult here in Syria, in its political life.”

Almost since the dawn of Islam in the 7th century, the clergy have struggled with where to draw the line between their independence and authority. Often, it was drawn close to rulers whose writ was absolute, and some in Syria still use an old term to describe today’s generation: mushayikh al-sultan , clergy beholden to power (and enriching themselves along the way).

But Syria is in the throes of reviewing what constitutes authority and the legitimacy it brings, as the government struggles to justify its rule, break its isolation and fend off U.S. attempts to undermine it. Even if the clergy pose no threat to authority, they have a say in defining the ideologies that underpin Syrian identity — whether Arab nationalism, Syrian patriotism, secular liberalism or an Islamic universalism. The clerics’ influence, some believe, is almost sure to grow in any transition that Syria undergoes.

“In a democracy, they would start to be a power, but not now,” said Haitham Maleh, a lawyer and opposition activist who has tried to defend Muslim Brotherhood detainees. “If they felt protected, they would start saying, ‘We are here.’ ”

That struggle for identity is perhaps felt most acutely in Aleppo, a graceful city of 2 million in northern Syria that has long vied with Damascus for influence and is considered today one of the most religiously conservative.

In its Old City, among displays of cardamom, ginger, cumin, hibiscus and dried lemons, once-ubiquitous pictures of the president and his late father and predecessor, Hafez Assad, are overshadowed by religious banners celebrating the prophet Muhammad’s birthday. Graffiti in its oldest neighborhoods read “God” and “Muhammad.”

Distance From Politics

The chief cleric in the city is Ahmad Hassoun, a charismatic, 55-year-old former member of parliament. He is widely rumored to facilitate the passage of fighters to Iraq, a charge he denies. He espouses a moderate Islam that eschews politics and embraces justice. At the same time, he denounces the Arab nationalism that has underpinned the government, even as he supports what he describes Assad’s attempt to reform a leadership that “for 40 years has been accustomed to deciding by itself.”

In Damascus, his words are echoed by Salah Eddin Kuftaro, who oversees the sprawling infrastructure of Abu Nour Mosque. Arab nationalism, he said — code that many use for Baathist rule — has meant little more than “more weakness and defeat.”

Kuftaro’s office, adorned with a picture of his father, the late grand mufti of Syria, and a smaller portrait of the president, sits on the fourth floor of a facility that serves 7,000 students from 60 nationalities, up from 3,000 a decade ago. Its annual budget is nearly $1.5 million. One room houses 13 computers, used to update the mosque’s two Web sites. Its charity assists 1,500 orphans.

Kuftaro said his father gave him sage advice: “Our distance from politics delivers us success.” He remains firmly allied with the government. But he added, “It is incumbent on us to speak about politics, even if we don’t exercise them.”

“What is demanded from the Syrian leadership is to speed up its steps of reform,” he said, wearing a dark pinstripe suit. “The flood is coming, and it will be overwhelming. The tsunami of the American hawks will never give mercy to any person.”

On this Friday, as thousands left after the weekly sermon, Kuftaro encountered Syria’s speaker of parliament, Mahmoud Abrash. Seated in chairs, they exchanged pleasantries. They chatted. Their pictures were taken. Then Kuftaro spoke, walking the line between what was expected of him and what he expected.

“God bless the parliament and the president,” he said to Abrash. “You are making religion victorious.”

“Victory to religion!” Kuftaro then declared. “Victory to parliament!”

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Veiled Praise

By Fatina Abdrabboh
The New York Times
Published: June 23, 2005
Cambridge, Mass.
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/23/opinion/23abdrabboh.html?th&emc=th


I CONSIDER my appearance quite unremarkable. I’m 5 feet 8 inches, 150 pounds, fresh-faced and comfortably trendy – hardly, in my view, a look that should draw stares. Still, the Muslim headscarf, or hijab, that I wear makes me feel as if I am under a microscope.

I try to go to the gym just about every morning. Because I work out with my scarf on, people stare – just as they do on the streets of Cambridge.

The other day, though, I felt more self-conscious than usual. Every television in the gym highlighted some aspect of America’s conflict with the Muslim world: the war in Iraq, allegations that American soldiers had desecrated the Koran, prisoner abuse at Guantanamo Bay, President Bush urging support of the Patriot Act. The stares just intensified my alienation as an Arab Muslim in what is supposed to be my country. I was not sure if the blood rushing to my head was caused by the elliptical trainer or by the news coverage.

Frustrated and angry, I moved to another part of the gym. I got on a treadmill and started running as hard as I could. As sweat dripped down my face, I reached for my towel, accidentally dropping my keys in the process. It was a small thing, I know, but as they slid down the rolling belt and fell to the carpet, my faith in the United States seemed to fall with them. I did not care to pick them up. I wanted to keep running.

Suddenly a man, out of breath, but still smiling and friendly, tapped me on my shoulder and said, “Ma’am, here are your keys.” It was Al Gore, former vice president of the United States. Mr. Gore had gotten off his machine behind me, picked up my keys, handed them to me and then resumed his workout.

It was nothing more than a kind gesture, but at that moment Mr. Gore’s act represented all that I yearned for – acceptance and acknowledgment.

There in front of me, he stood for a part of America that has not made itself well known to 10 million Arab and Muslim-Americans, many of whom are becoming increasingly withdrawn and reclusive because of the everyday hostility they feel.

It is up to us as Americans to change how the rest of the world views us by changing how we view some of our own citizens. Mr. Gore’s act reminded me that rather than running away on my treadmill, I needed to keep my feet on the soil in this country. I left the gym with a renewed sense of spirit, reassured that I belong to America and that America belongs to me.

Fatina Abdrabboh is a student at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard.

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CSID Seeking New Office Space

The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) is pleased to announce it is expanding its headquarters in Washington DC. The rapid growth shows both the success of CSID and the heightened interest and importance of CSID’s mission.

We are currently seeking office space in Washington DC or Northern Virginia that will fulfill the current needs of CSID and accommodate for future growth.

Please inform us if you know of any locations, within the District of Columbia or in Northern Virginia (close to a metro station), that rent for $29.00 to $32.00 per square foot. We are seeking approximately 1800-2000 square feet of office space, in addition to shared secretarial, meeting, and conference space.

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For questions or comments about the information in this bulletin, contact
Zahir Janmohamed at zahir@islam-democracy.org.

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Copyright 2004 Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)
All Rights Reserved.

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