October 22, 2007

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October 22, 2007


2. Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain – Oct. 22
3. Lost History: The enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists – Oct. 24
4. The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies throughout the World – Oct. 25
5. The Art of Integration Exhibition: Islam in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Lands – Oct. 25
6. NEW REPORT: U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush – by Thomas Carothers
7. NEW REPORT: Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World – by Steve Heydemann

8. Egypt‚Äö√Ñ√ÆDon’t Give Up on Democracy Promotion (by Michele Dunne, Amr Hamzawy, and Nathan J. Brown)
9. An Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders to Christian Leaders
10. Holy See welcomes Islamic initiative
11. Anglicans welcome letter from Muslims
12. Muslims Call for Interfaith Peace (by Michelle Boorstein)
13. EGYPT – U.S. Softens Its Tone on Human Rights in Egypt (by Michael Slackman)
14. EGYPT – As Egypt cracks down, charges of wide abuse (by Dan Murphy)
15. EGYPT – The Silence in Cairo Can Be Heard in New York Editorial Notebook (by Oren Rawls)
16. PAKISTAN – Bhutto ends her eight-year exile (aljazeera.net)
17. SAUDI ARABIA – Panel urges tighter scrutiny of Saudi abuses (by David Morgan)
18. TUNISIA – Secular Tunisia may face a new, younger Islamist challenge (by Jill Carroll)
19. TURKEY – Turkey’s Finest Hour? (by Richard Falk)
20. TURKEY – Turkey’s model of Islamic democracy (by Geneive Abdo)
21. Book of the month – Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn – Book review by Richard Bulliet)
22. The Islamic case for a secular state -III- (by Mustafa Akyol)
23. Muslim secularism and its allies (by Ali Eteraz)
24. The folly of war with Iran (by Walter Rodgers)
25. Ayaan Hirsi Ali Vs. the West (by Eboo Patel)
26. Resources for Responding to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (by Sheila Musaji)
27. Armenians Who Need Help Today (by Fred Hiatt)

28. Online Film Contest – Stories of Muslims in America
29. Call for Applications: Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowships
30. CSID: Office Space Available for Sublease (Washington DC)



A monthly bulletin published by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy
Vol. 2, Issue No. 5 October, 2007

In this Issue:

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Editor’s Note: The Road to Democracy Is Still long and Difficult
• The Crisis of Arab Left and its Impact on Democracy
• The Arab Left and the Repercussions of its Withering away
• Palestine: The Palestinian Left: The Lack of Effectiveness
• Morocco: The Crisis of Moroccan Left: Causes and Perspectives
• Tunisia: The Tunisian Left and Democracy
• Tunisia: Hunger Strike for the Sake of Having a Place.
• Jordan: The Left in Limbo between Ideology and Politics
• Algeria: Searching for a New Political Horizon
• Mauritania: The Mauritanian Left
• Egypt: Ibn Khaldoun Report: The Arab World in 2006
• The Strife between the Secularists and The Islamists
• Freedom House: Political Freedom In North Africa Is Digressing

To read Democracy Watch, please go to: http://www.csidonline.org/arabic/

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The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, The Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, and The Program for Jewish Civilization and Unity Productions Foundation Present:

“Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain”

A Film Screening and Discussion with Executive Producer

Alex Kronemer

Monday, October 22, 2007 (6:00 PM – 9:00 PM)
Southwest Quad – McShain Large Room

Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain takes viewers on an epic journey back into one of the most fascinating and important periods of world history. It tells a story of vital importance for our contemporary world about the triumphs and shortcomings, achievements and ultimate failures of a centuries-long period when Muslims, Christians and Jews inhabited the same far corner of Western Europe and built a society that lit the Dark Ages.

Following the screening, Executive Producer Alex Kronemer and ACMCU Director Dr. John L. Esposito will lead a discussion on the film and on the role and legacy of Islamic Spain in interfaith dialogue in our contemporary world.

Dinner will be served.

For More Information, and to RSVP for the Event, please visit CMCU.Georgetown.edu.

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Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding invites you to:

Lost History: The enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists

A Lecture by Author Michael Morgan

In Lost History: The enduring Legacy of Muslim Scientists, Thinkers and Artists, Michael Morgan reveals how early Muslim advancements in science and culture lay the cornerstones of the European Renaissance, the Enlightenment, and modern Western society. As he chronicles the Golden Ages of Islam, beginning in 570 a.d. with the birth of Muhammad, and resonating today, he introduces scholars like Ibn Al-Haytham, Ibn Sina, Al-Tusi, Al-Khwarizmi, and Omar Khayyam, towering figures who revolutionized the mathematics, astronomy, and medicine of their time and paved the way for Newton, Copernicus, and many others. And he reminds us that inspired leaders from Muhammad to Suleiman the Magnificent and beyond championed religious tolerance, encouraged intellectual inquiry, and sponsored artistic, architectural, and literary works that still dazzle us with their brilliance. Lost History finally affords pioneering leaders with the proper credit and respect they so richly deserve.

Wednesday, 24 October 2007 (12 Noon – 2:00 pm)
Intercultural Center Suite 270
Lunch will be served.
For More Information, and to RSVP for the Event, please visit cmcu.georgetown.edu

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The Master of Arts in Democracy & Governance at G e o r g e t o w n U n i v e r s i t y Presents a Lecture:

The Spirit of Democracy: The Struggle to Build Free Societies throughout the World

By Larry Diamond
Hoover Institution, Stanford University

Thursday, October 25th
6 pm to 8 pm – ICC Auditorium

Daniel Brumberg and Marc Plattner, Discussion Chairs
John Bailey, Harley Balzer, and Marc Howard, Discussants

Larry Diamond is Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and founding coeditor of the Journal of Democracy. In 2004, he served as a senior adviser on governance to the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, Iraq. Professor Diamond has written and edited more than thirty books. His most recent book is Squandered Victory: The American Occupation and the Bungled Effort to Bring Democracy to Iraq. His forthcoming book, The Spirit of Democracy, will be released in early 2008.

International Forum for Democratic Studies & The Georgetown Forum for the Study of Democracy and Autocracy.

Please RSVP to cdacs@georgetown.edu

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The British Embassy and the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding Present:

Peter Sanders
The Art of Integration Exhibition: Islam in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Lands

Thursday, 25 October 2007
Intercultural Center (ICC) Galleria
9:00 AM – 5:00 PM

In 2005 the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sponsored Peter Sanders, a British convert to Islam, to take a collection of photographs depicting Muslim life in Britain. This resulted in The Art of Integration Exhibition: Islam in Britain’s Green and Pleasant Lands, which is a unique exhibition highlighting how Muslims in Britain are involved in ordinary every day activities. Sanders is internationally recognized as one of the leading photographers of the Muslim world.

These photos highlight activities undertaken by people from every other ethnic or religious group living in Britain. This exhibition salutes the ordinary and the extraordinary contributions made by Muslims in everyday life of the United Kingdom. They too play an integral role in medicine, law, politics and every other profession and field. They have contributed hugely to creating the wealth and prosperity which Muslims and non-Muslims alike enjoy in the UK today.

Sanders photos are available on the British Embassy website here:

The exhibition will be on public display in the ICC Galleria all day on Thursday, 25 October 2007.

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U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush

By Thomas Carothers
Publisher: Carnegie Endowment

Despite sweeping rhetoric about the global spread of democracy, the Bush Administration has significantly damaged U.S. democracy promotion efforts and increased the number of close ties with “friendly tyrants,” concludes a new report from the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Security interests, such as the war on terrorism, and U.S. energy needs have led the Bush Administration to maintain friendly, unchallenged relations with more than half of the forty-five “non-free” countries in the world.

Carnegie Vice President for Studies Thomas Carothers argues in his new report, U.S. Democracy Promotion During and After Bush, that the main U.S. presidential candidates have voiced support for democracy promotion, but not yet outlined plans to put it back on track. Carothers analyzes the Bush Administration’s record on democracy promotion and its effect on democracy worldwide, and then presents fresh ideas about the role democracy promotion can and should play in future U.S. policies.

Key Report Conclusions and Recommendations:

• Democracy promotion must be decontaminated from the negative taint it has acquired under President Bush by improving U.S. compliance with the rule of law in the war on terrorism, ending the close association of democracy promotion with military intervention and regime change, and reducing the inconsistency of U.S. democracy policy by exerting real pressure for change on some key autocratic partners, such as Pakistan and Egypt.

• Democracy promotion must be repositioned in the war on terrorism. The idea that democratization will undercut the roots of terrorism is appealing but easily overstated. The next administration should deescalate rhetorical emphasis on democracy promotion as the centerpiece of the war on terrorism while escalating actual commitment to the issue in pivotal cases where supporting democratic change can help diminish growing radicalization.

• U.S. democracy promotion must be recalibrated to account for larger changes in the international context. A host of ongoing developments, such as the rise of authoritarian capitalism, new trends in globalization, and the high price of oil and gas, have eroded the validity of a whole set of assumptions on which U.S. democracy promotion was built in the 1980s and 1990s. The next administration will need to respond in large and small ways, such as by drawing an explicit tie between energy policy and democracy policy, re-engaging internationally at the level of basic political ideas, reducing the America-centrism of U.S. democracy building efforts, and strengthening the core institutional sources of democracy assistance.

“More than ever, U.S. democracy promotion must square a daunting circle‚Äö√Ñ√Æit must embody strong elements of modesty, subtlety, and the awareness of limitations without losing the vitality, decisiveness, and creativity necessary for success,” the report concludes.

A limited number of print copies are available.

Full Text (PDF): http://www.carnegieendowment.org/files/democracy_promotion_after_bush_final.pdf

To request a copy, send request to : pubs@carnegieendowment.org

About the Author
Thomas Carothers is vice president for studies—international politics and governance at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. A leading authority on democratization and democracy promotion, he has researched and worked on democracy-building programs around the world for 20 years with many U.S., European, and international organizations.

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Upgrading Authoritarianism in the Arab World

By Steve Heydemann

The study reveals how autocratic regimes in the Arab world have adapted to external pressures for reform, by formulating new mechanisms of political and economic control that blunt the impact of Western democracy promotion programs. He identifies which pro-reform strategies prove counterproductive in practice, and argues for new approaches that will upgrade American democracy promotion in turn, taking account of the adaptive maneuvering by Arab regimes.

Steven Heydemann is Associate Vice President of the United States Institute of Peace. During 2006-2007, Heydemann served as a Nonresident Senior Fellow with the Saban Center for Middle East Policy. From 2003 to 2007, he directed the Center for Democracy and Civil So­ciety at Georgetown University, where he remains an adjunct professor in the Department of Government. He is the author or editor of several books, including Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Con­flict, 1946-1970; War, Institutions and Social Change in the Middle East; and Networks of Privilege in the Middle East: The Politics of Economic Reform Reconsidered.

Heydemann’s paper is a signal contribution to our understanding of Arab governance and how to reform it. It is also the first dedicated publication of the Saban Center’s Middle East Democracy and Development Project. The coming months will see more MEDD Project Analysis Papers on topics including freedom of association in Jordan, the effects of the oil boom in the Gulf, and the future of U.S. efforts at political and economic reform in the region.

After twenty years, Arab regimes have become profi­cient at containing and disarming democracy pro­motion—if not exploiting it for their own purposes. Strategies that take advantage of the openings offered by authoritarian upgrading are more likely to advance democratic change in the Middle East than the con­tinuation of policies that do not take into account how governance in the Arab world is being transformed. Two openings hold out particular promise:

• First, adapting U.S. democracy promotion poli­cies to exploit more effectively the openings that upgrading itself produces;

• Second, taking steps to weaken the coalitions on which upgrading depends.

Both will require substantial adjustments in U.S. de­mocracy promotion policies.

To read the full report:http://www.brookings.edu/~/media/Files/rc/papers/2007/10arabworld/10arabworld.pdf

Steven Heydemann is Associate Vice President at the U.S. Institute of Peace. He was formerly a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. From 2003 to 2007 he directed the Center for Democracy and Civil So­ciety at Georgetown University, where he remains an adjunct professor in the Department of Government. He is the author or editor of several books, including Authoritarianism in Syria: Institutions and Social Con­flict, 1946-1970; War, Institutions and Social Change in the Middle East; and Networks of Privilege in the Middle East: The Politics of Economic Reform Reconsidered.

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Egypt‚Äö√Ñ√ÆDon’t Give Up on Democracy Promotion

By Michele Dunne, Amr Hamzawy, and Nathan J. Brown
Senior Associates, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace – June 2007

The United States took up the issue of political reform in Egypt as part of a dramatic reorientation of policy toward the Middle East after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. No longer would the United States rely on authoritarian Arab governments to secure its interests; it would instead champion the cause of liberty in Arab countries.

After pushing fairly assertively (and with some success) for reform in Egypt in 2003-2005, the United States dropped the issue just as suddenly in 2006 because its priorities shifted from transformational back to traditional diplomacy to contain regional crises.

Islamist electoral gains, especially in Palestine but also in the Egyptian parliament, also gave the United States pause. But renewed U.S. support for political reform in Egypt is not only compatible with U.S. security interests in the short term but vital to a stable, productive bilateral relationship in the long term.

With Egypt’s strong institutions, array of domestic actors coalescing around a reform agenda, and admittedly thin but still real history of liberal constitutionalism, political reform is a far less quixotic quest in Cairo than it ever was in Baghdad. Now is a particularly propitious moment for pursuing reform, as Egypt is in a leadership transition from the circle surrounding 79-year-old President Hosni Mubarak, in power since 1981, to a new generation more amenable to change.

But recently the Egyptian regime has re-exerted control, after a promising political opening began in 2003, through a crackdown on opposition and a series of self-serving reforms that circumscribe more than expand political and civil liberties.

The next few years‚Äö√Ñ√Æwhich will likely see a leadership transition in Egypt‚Äö√Ñ√Æwill be a critical time. If the United States supports indigenous demands for gradual and responsible political change, it can help Egypt break out of years of political and economic stagnation and human rights abuses. If it misses this opportunity, prospects for a stable, prosperous Egypt will diminish, with negative consequences for Egypt and the United States. Governments and citizens of other Arab countries will watch closely, mindful of Egypt’s historically influential role in the region and of the billions in U.S. assistance it has received over the past thirty years. A failure to pursue reform in Egypt will also deal a decisive blow to U.S. democracy promotion in the Arab world, already threatened by cynicism and despair because of the sectarian violence in Iraq and Lebanon and the festering Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A Reform Push

Political openings have typically come immediately after a succession in leadership. But in 2003, the pendulum seemed to swing in the direction of political reform in anticipation of succession rather than following one. The realization that President Mubarak might leave the scene in the not-too-distant future opened fissures in the regime, motivating a faction around presidential son Gamal Mubarak to garner support by positioning themselves as reformers.

Three developments inside Egypt, in addition to increased pressure from the United States, helped push the political opening in modest ways. First, the political opposition showed renewed vitality. Although older legal opposition parties had largely atrophied, a new umbrella coalition of opposition actors coalesced around Kifaya, a group opposing President Mubarak’s quest for reelection. The Muslim Brotherhood added its voice to the calls for political reform. Intellectuals and civil society activists lent gravitas if not numbers to the reform movement. This opposition heralded not a mass movement or the prospect of revolutionary change but only wider discussion, more imaginative strategies, and tentative steps toward opposition coordination.

Second, elements of the Egyptian state itself began to escape some of the stultifying domination of the executive. The judiciary showed promising pockets of independent judgment and willingness to move into politically sensitive areas. A series of court decisions in the 1990s, for instance, had led to significant changes in the electoral system that opposition elements could use to advantage‚Äö√Ñ√Æand that slightly loosened the National Democratic Party’s grip on the parliament by allowing in large numbers of independents (many of them from the Muslim Brotherhood).

And, third, the government, caught between Egyptian and international calls for reforms, was unclear about its intentions, leaving room for political ferment. One day government officials firmly rejected talk of constitutional reform; the next day they embraced it in form if not content. President Mubarak made a surprise call in February 2005 to amend the constitution to allow for direct popular election of the president (heretofore chosen by the parliament and merely approved by popular referendum). The government allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to contest seats in parliamentary elections and to campaign freely, only to later arrest many of its leaders when the movement showed its electoral strength.

The reform wave seemed to crest with the 2005 presidential and parliamentary elections.

Various parties, including the president’s own, competed for the reform mantle, and the public openly discussed subjects such as constitutional amendments that had previously been kept off the agenda by presidential fiat. Judicial supervision and monitoring by civil society groups brought fairer balloting, especially in the first of the three rounds of voting. But as the magnitude of the Brotherhood’s electoral strength became clear, the security forces stepped in to sway the results, sometimes by forcibly preventing large numbers of Egyptians from voting. Despite such interventions, the Brotherhood still walked away with 88 of 444 elected seats in the People’s Assembly, winning roughly 60 percent of the races it contested.

Even at its best, the limited opening of the 2003-2005 period never offered unfettered political competition, much less functioning democracy. But it did augur for more open debate and contestation of political power. Since the elections, however, the country has begun moving sharply in the opposite direction.


The Egyptian authorities seem to have concluded from the parliamentary elections that the opening had gone too far. In the first months of 2006, the regime postponed local elections, extended the state of emergency for two years, cracked down on popular protests, and worked to undermine efforts by the country’s judges to expand judicial independence.

By the end of 2006, the government moved beyond mere reaction to a more systematic response, launching a severe clampdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and targeting several high-ranking leaders and financial heads of the organization.

Yet the most serious‚Äö√Ñ√Æand potentially farreaching‚Äö√Ñ√Æ blow to Egypt’s political opening came in March 2007. Egypt’s ruling National Democratic Party used its majority in the parliament to amend thirty-four articles of the constitution, whose largely authoritarian content is discouraging for the hopes of meaningful political reforms. The amendments were subsequently approved on March 26 in a popular referendum marked by low voter turnout and an opposition boycott. The amendments have some positive aspects; for example, they expand parliamentary oversight of the budget and give the parliament easier procedures for voting no confidence in the prime minister and cabinet. On balance, however, they hurt more than help political and civil liberties.

The Egyptian regime had several motives in introducing the amendments. First, it was intent on politically restraining the Muslim Brotherhood, fearing that an emboldened Islamist opposition could complicate presidential succession. The constitutional amendments were just short of explicit in targeting the Brotherhood, for example, banning any political activity or the establishment of any party drawing on a religious reference point.

Another amendment paved the way for a change in the electoral system from a candidate- centered system to a mixed one that depends mostly on party lists, leaving only a small unspecified margin for independent seats. The Brotherhood, barred from forming a party, had been running candidates as independents for years. Such a change in the electoral system also served to drive a wedge between the Brotherhood and the legal opposition parties, which could not secure more than a combined 5 percent of the seats in the 2005 race.

A second motive of the regime was to revamp its tools to control the electoral process.

The amended electoral procedures diluted the previous requirement that judges oversee elections with the stipulation that an electoral commission be established (whose membership includes but is not limited to current and former members of judicial bodies). Judicial supervision did not remove all fraud and repression, but it did result in a more transparent electoral process.

Third, the amendments answered a longstanding opposition and international demand to prepare for lifting the state of emergency but did so by enshrining in the amended constitution vast powers from the emergency law.

For instance, under the banner of combating terrorism, the president was given the right to refer any suspect to exceptional (primarily military) courts, and protections against arbitrary arrest, search, and violation of privacy were set aside. With these steps, the Egyptian regime made a set of legal and extralegal authoritarian tools a seemingly permanent part of the political order.

Opposition groups so far have floundered in responding to the regime’s backsliding on political and civil liberties. Confronted with the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological strength and superior organization, legal secular opposition parties have a vested interest in allying themselves with the regime to marginalize the Brotherhood and expand their own legal space as opposition parties. Despite its recent electoral success, the Brotherhood is also restricted in its ability to respond; leadership arrests and confiscation of financial assets crippled its ability to mobilize. And the new protest movements such as Kifaya and various networks of human rights activists have failed to mobilize significant popular support for their pro-democracy platforms.

Some of them also have shown signs of organizational fatigue and internal ruptures.

Recently independent labor organizations have defied government-dominated unions to hold large protests but as yet have focused on purely economic concerns.

In its backsliding, the Egyptian regime is taking advantage of a changed regional and international environment. With Washington’s attention diverted from the democracy agenda, President Mubarak can resort to outright repression of the Muslim Brotherhood or push through constitutional amendments void of democratic substance without risking a crisis with the United States or Europe.

After the Bush administration made a striking departure from decades of U.S. policy to move democracy promotion to the center of its Middle East policy agenda, it dropped the issue just as suddenly in early 2006. Islamist gains in elections in Palestine, Egypt, and elsewhere created doubts within the administration about the wisdom of pressing forward assertively on electoral democracy. The deteriorating security situation in Iraq, particularly after the February 2006 Samarra mosque bombing, and the increasing influence of Iran led the administration to devote more efforts to traditional (versus transformational) diplomacy.

With an overburdened regional agenda, suggesting reform to a testy Egyptian government began to seem an unwelcome distraction.

The policy instruments created earlier in the Bush administration (such as the Middle East Partnership Initiative and Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative) remained in place but withered on the vine because senior officials had ceased raising democratization as a serious issue.

What the United States Should Do

The idea that the United States must choose between pursuing its strategic political inter- ests and domestic reform in Arab states‚Äö√Ñ√Æand between autocratic Arab governments and revolutionary Islamist regimes‚Äö√Ñ√Æsets up false choices. The record shows, for example, that the Egyptian government cooperated closely with the United States on Arab-Israeli peace and on Iraq at the very time (2004-2005) the United States was pressing for political reform in Egypt with some seriousness. Egypt assisted Israel with security arrangements for unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and also was the first Arab country to send an ambassador to postinvasion Iraq. President Mubarak took these steps because he saw them as being in Egypt’s strategic interests and did not withhold cooperation despite some tension with Washington over democracy promotion. Future Egyptian leaders will likely make the same calculations.

The notion that the only choice in Egypt is between an autocratic but friendly government and an Islamic regime hostile to the United States is also spurious. While the Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s most popular opposition movement, constraints within the country’s political system effectively bar the Brotherhood from taking power any time in the foreseeable future. The Brotherhood claims to have made a strategic commitment to democratic and peaceful methods within Egypt, and there is evidence that the group is truly wrestling with the implications of positioning itself as a democratic opposition. The real challenge for Egyptian political reform is not to make every political force thoroughly liberal and democratic but to ensure that political differences be settled through legitimate, established, fair, and democratic channels.

That cannot be done without incorporating rather than quashing Egypt’s most powerful opposition movement. Meanwhile, the Egyptian government has also done its best to undermine and discredit already weak secular opposition forces, which could potentially fill out a broader political spectrum.

The United States should take advantage of the unique opportunity offered by the current phase of leadership succession in Egypt and encourage a gradual, responsible political opening that gives secular forces a chance to mobilize support and Islamists a stake in a system of democratic institutions. Only an approach involving sustained public and private diplomacy, in addition to assistance programs, will work. To be effective, the United States should ground its engagement in the demands of Egyptian civil society and opposition groups, who are now focusing on electoral systems, term limits, political expression by the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition forces, and human rights protections.

Electoral Supervision

The amendment replacing the constitutional requirement for comprehensive judicial supervision of elections with authorization for an independent electoral commission created both a problem and an opportunity for outside involvement.

On one hand, judicial supervision of elections in 2000 and 2005 had markedly increased the fairness and transparency of the process, and its diminution is reason for strong concern.

On the other hand, the Egyptian regime’s professed desire to abide by internationally recognized best practices by creating an independent electoral commission is an opening that the United States should seize. The United States should press Egypt now to fulfill its own declared aspirations and accept assistance from the international community in setting up a truly independent, empowered electoral commission along the lines of those that have been established in Palestine, Yemen, and Iraq.

Term Limits

The United States should support the persistent calls by opposition and civil society forces to reinstate the presidential term limits in the constitution that were abolished in 1980. This is particularly important given the likelihood of a new president (and perhaps a young one) coming into office in the next few years.

Opposition Parties and the Muslim Brotherhood

The United States should press the Egyptian government and ruling party to lift constraints on peaceful activities by opposition parties and groups‚Äö√Ñ√Æsecular and Islamist alike. The government’s claim that it wants to improve chances for opposition parties through a new electoral system is simply not credible in view of the obstacles it places before parties.

It is time for the United States to take a more forthright approach to the issue of the Muslim Brotherhood. Islamists clearly are an unavoidable part of the political spectrum in Egypt, and there can be no credible democratization without their enfranchisement in some form. To approach the Brotherhood as a security challenge—as the regime does at present— necessitates a permanent state of emergency and unending repression. The recent constitutional amendment declaring that not only can there be no political party based on religion, but no political activity drawing on any religious reference point removes any incentive for the Brotherhood to moderate its positions and engage in compromise with secularists.

Instead it drives them outside of the political system. Ironically, it was precisely such exclusion that helped the Brotherhood attain its current political influence: By concentrating on social and educational activities, the Brotherhood built a formidable constituency. That constituency now can be either brought into legal and institutional channels or driven into less manageable forms of political activity. The United States cannot force the Egyptian regime to choose a more conciliatory path, but it need not endorse a harsh solution explicitly or through inaction. It can, for instance, press the Egyptian government to allow enough breathing space for dialogue and compromise between Islamist and secular political forces to take place.

Similarly, the United States and Europe should call on the Egyptian government to license new secular parties and cease meddling in the affairs of existing parties—which in some cases has escalated to hounding parties out of existence using legal and extralegal means. Secular parties throughout the Middle East suffer from elitism and lack skill in building constituencies, but they should be given a chance to organize, reach out to the public, and compete with other political forces free of harassment and overregulation.

Antiterrorism Law and Human Rights Protections

The revised constitution and the coming new antiterrorism law present the United States with a difficult dilemma: how to discourage a significant deterioration in human rights protections while maintaining counterterrorism cooperation with the Egyptian government. The U.S. Patriot Act is widely cited as the inspiration for Egypt’s new law, so Egyptians would be quick to point out perceived hypocrisy. The major difference, however, is that the United States did not remove or suspend human rights protections from its constitution after 2001. No matter how problematic U.S. laws and practices in fighting terrorism may be, U.S. citizens may challenge them in court as unconstitutional, which Egyptians may no longer do.

Many Egyptian judges and legal scholars are saying that the constitution should be re-amended to restore human rights protections.

The United States should support that position and also press for the narrowest feasible interpretation of terrorism crimes to be covered under the new law. Egyptian authorities have long claimed that only terrorism and drug crimes were prosecuted under the state of emergency, but in fact many political and religious cases have been as well. The United States should press the Egyptian government to allow the establishment and free operation of Egyptian watchdog groups to monitor use of the new law.

A Critical Moment

Egypt has reached a moment of truth. Memories of the momentum for political opening evident in the 2003-2005 period are fading, and the authoritarian content of the recent constitutional changes threatens a prolonged chill. Rapid democratization is not likely, but Egyptians would be well served by a political opening that endures through the coming leadership transition. The country has deep economic problems and social divisions and needs leadership that enjoys enough legitimacy to build consensus and manage differences rather than repress them. The likely alternative— political and economic stagnation that threatens eventual instability—would serve neither Egyptian nor U.S. interests. The United States has an important decision to make, and Egypt is where it will be made: whether the U.S. interest in Arab democracy will be a sustained policy shift with bipartisan support or merely a whim to be dropped as soon as it faces difficulties.

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In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

On the Occasion of the Eid al-Fitr al-Mubarak 1428 A.H. / October 13th 2007 C.E., and on the One Year Anniversary of the Open Letter of 38 Muslim Scholars to H.H. Pope Benedict XVI,

An Open Letter and Call from Muslim Religious Leaders to:

His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI,
His All-Holiness Bartholomew I, Patriarch of Constantinople, New Rome,
His Beatitude Theodoros II, Pope and Patriarch of Alexandria and All Africa,
His Beatitude Ignatius IV, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East,
His Beatitude Theophilos III, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem,
His Beatitude Alexy II, Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia,
His Beatitude Pavle, Patriarch of Belgrade and Serbia,
His Beatitude Daniel, Patriarch of Romania,
His Beatitude Maxim, Patriarch of Bulgaria,
His Beatitude Ilia II, Archbishop of Mtskheta-Tbilisi, Catholicos-Patriarch of All Georgia,
His Beatitude Chrisostomos, Archbishop of Cyprus,
His Beatitude Christodoulos, Archbishop of Athens and All Greece,
His Beatitude Sawa, Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland,
His Beatitude Anastasios, Archbishop of Tirana, Duerres and All Albania,
His Beatitude Christoforos, Metropolitan of the Czech and Slovak Republics,
His Holiness Pope Shenouda III, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of All Africa on the
Apostolic Throne of St. Mark,
His Beatitude Karekin II, Supreme Patriarch and Catholicos of All Armenians,
His Beatitude Ignatius Zakka I, Patriarch of Antioch and All the East, Supreme Head of the
Universal Syrian Orthodox Church,
His Holiness Mar Thoma Didymos I, Catholicos of the East on the Apostolic Throne of St.
Thomas and the Malankara Metropolitan,
His Holiness Abune Paulos, Fifth Patriarch and Catholicos of Ethiopia, Echege of the See of St. Tekle Haymanot, Archbishop of Axium,
His Beatitude Mar Dinkha IV, Patriarch of the Holy Apostolic Catholic Assyrian Church of
the East,
The Most Rev. Rowan Williams, Archbishop of Canterbury,
Rev. Mark S. Hanson, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and
President of the Lutheran World Federation,
Rev. George H. Freeman, General Secretary, World Methodist Council,
Rev. David Coffey, President of the Baptist World Alliance,
Rev. Setri Nyomi, General Secretary of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches,
Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, General Secretary, World Council of Churches,
And Leaders of Christian Churches, everywhere….

In the Name of God, the Compassionate, the Merciful

A Common Word between Us and You
(Summary and Abridgement)

Muslims and Christians together make up well over half of the world’s population.

Without peace and justice between these two religious communities, there can be no meaningful peace in the world. The future of the world depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

The basis for this peace and understanding already exists. It is part of the very foundational principles of both faiths: love of the One God, and love of the neighbour.

These principles are found over and over again in the sacred texts of Islam and Christianity. The Unity of God, the necessity of love for Him, and the necessity of love of the neighbour is thus the common ground between Islam and Christianity. The following are only a few examples:

Of God’s Unity, God says in the Holy Qur’an: Say: He is God, the One! / God, the Self-
Sufficient Besought of all! (Al-Ikhlas, 112:1-2). Of the necessity of love for God, God says in the Holy Qur’an: So invoke the Name of thy Lord and devote thyself to Him with a complete devotion (Al-Muzzammil, 73:8). Of the necessity of love for the neighbour, the
Prophet Muhammad said: “None of you has faith until you love for your neighbour what you love for yourself.”

In the New Testament, Jesus Christ said: ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. / And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. / And the second, like it, is this: ‚Äö√Ñ√≤You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

To read the FULL Open Letter, please go to:

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Holy See welcomes Islamic initiative


Vatican, Oct. 12, 2007 (CWNews.com) – The president of the Pontifical Council for Inter-Religious Dialogue responded cautiously to a public statement from moderate Islamic leaders, saying that it was “a very interesting letter,” representing “a very encouraging sign” for dialogue between Christians and Muslims.

Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran voiced his appreciation for the “non-polemical document” prepared by 138 Muslim leaders from around the world. The French cardinal acknowledged that the Islamic leaders had shown an accurate understanding of fundamental Christian beliefs, illustrating their statement with “numerous quotes from both the Old Testament and the New Testament.”

The most important characteristic of the Islamic leaders’ statement, Cardinal Tauran said, is its reliance on shared beliefs. The 138 Sunni Muslim leaders, he said, had taken a “spiritual approach to inter-religious dialogue which I would call dialogue of spirituality.”

Cardinal Tauran said that the next advance in inter-religious dialogue should be an effort to prevent the misuse of religious faith as a pretext for violence. He praised the authors of the Islamic statement for their recognition “that God is One; that God loves us and we must love Him; that God calls us to love our neighbor.”

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Anglicans welcome letter from Muslims

Thu Oct 11, 2:47 PM ET

LONDON – The leader of the world’s Anglicans on Thursday welcomed a letter from Islamic scholars and leaders urging Christians and Muslims to develop their common ground of belief in one God.

The letter carried 138 signatures, including those of Muslim leaders from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iraq, Iran, Europe and the United States.

“The theological basis of the letter and its call to ‘vie with each other only in righteousness and good works; to respect each other, be fair, just and kind to another and live in sincere peace, harmony and mutual good will,’ are indicative of the kind of relationship for which we yearn in all parts of the world, and especially where Christians and Muslims live together,” Archbishop Rowan Williams said.

The letter, addressed to the leaders of Catholic, Orthodox and Reformed churches, said that “finding common ground between Muslims and Christians is not simply a matter for polite ecumenical dialogue between selected religious leaders.”

“If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. With the terrible weaponry of the modern world, with Muslims and Christians intertwined everywhere as never before, no side can unilaterally win a conflict between more than half of the worlds inhabitants,” the letter said. “Thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world itself is perhaps at stake.”

The Anglican bishop of London, Richard Chartres, also welcomed the letter.

“This is substantial letter which speaks of the unity of God from a Muslim perspective,” Chartres said. “It demands a substantial response which approaches the same theme from a Christian perspective.”

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Muslims Call for Interfaith Peace
Letter to Christian Church Leaders Seeks Common Ground

By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 12, 2007; Page A09

Dozens of Muslim leaders from around the world released a letter yesterday to “leaders of Christian churches everywhere” emphasizing the shared theological roots of the two faiths and saying the survival of the world depends on them finding common ground.

The document, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” was signed by 138 clerics, scholars and others and released at news conferences in Jordan, London, Abu Dhabi and Washington.

The effort was organized by the Royal Academy, the same Jordan-based group behind a letter sent last October to Pope Benedict XVI after he delivered a lecture about Islam that set off protests.

Noting that the two faith groups together make up more than half of the world’s population, the letter said: “If Muslims and Christians are not at peace, the world cannot be at peace. . . . thus our common future is at stake. The very survival of the world is perhaps at stake.”

The letter was addressed to more than 30 Christian leaders, including Pope Benedict and the leaders of the world’s Orthodox Christians and Anglicans. Its signatories include present and former grand muftis of Syria, Slovenia, Palestine and Egypt as well as professors, political leaders and advocates such as the co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

At the Washington news conference, John Esposito, director of the Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown, said that the letter was a feat partially because it was able to bring together Muslim leaders from a wide range of theological schools across Sunni, Shia, Salafi and Sufi traditions.

“This is a challenge to Christianity,” he said. “It will be wonderful to see their responses.”

The key point of the 29-page letter is that Christianity and Islam share two foundations: love of one God, and love of one’s neighbor.

“Christians don’t see how central these are to Islam, too,” said Seyyed Hossein Nasr, an Iranian-born Islamic studies professor at George Washington University who signed the letter.

Reactions were mixed.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, spokeswoman for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the letter “gives compelling reasons why Muslims and Christians should work together. As Catholics, we look forward to a broad dialogue of civilizations and cultures that will take up the challenges and hopes of the distinguished Muslim authors of this important ‘Common Word.’ ”

Rowan Williams, archbishop of Canterbury and spiritual leader to the world’s 17 million Anglicans, said in a statement that the letter “provides an opportunity for Muslims and Christians to explore together their distinctive understandings. . . . The call to respect, peace and goodwill should now be taken up . . . at all levels and in all countries.”

Anglican bishop Michael Nazir-Ali said, however, that the letter seems to undercut the role of Jesus by emphasizing a part of the Koran that urges non-Muslims not to “ascribe any partners unto” God. The two faiths’ understanding of the oneness of God is not the same, he told the Times of London. “One partner cannot dictate the terms on which dialogue must be conducted,” he said. “This document seems to be on the verge of doing that.”

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Memo From Egypt

U.S. Softens Its Tone on Human Rights in Egypt

By Michael Slackman
Published: October 16, 2007

CAIRO, Oct. 12 — Last month, Hisham Kassem, an Egyptian human rights activist, met with President Bush in Washington when he was flown there for an award granted by the National Endowment for Democracy. Mr. Kassem, the only winner from Egypt, said that Mr. Bush spoke effusively about democracy promotion to the other recipients, but did not address the topic when it came to Egypt.

“In comparison with my colleagues from other countries, this was the least of his interests,” Mr. Kassem said.

He and other democracy activists in Egypt say that when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice meets with Egyptian officials in Sharm el-Sheik on Tuesday as part of her preparation for a Middle East peace summit, they expect from her a similar approach to Egyptian human rights and democracy. Even if she does raise the issues, analysts here say, it will have little real impact.

This is in sharp contrast to the administration’s aggressive campaign for democracy in 2005 and 2006 which did have an effect and shows, activists and analysts say, shifting American priorities.

“I think the American government does give Egypt leeway to deal with the domestic opposition so long as Egypt supports the American foreign policy in the region,” said Mustapha Kamel El Sayyid, a political science professor at American University in Cairo. Those include helping Israel and the Palestinians find common ground and opposing the spread of Iran’s influence.

The shift is less that American officials no longer mention their human rights and democracy concerns. It is more that they do not follow up to assure results. Instead, there seems to be a tacit understanding whereby Washington criticizes Egypt’s human rights shortcomings, Egypt takes umbrage at the “interference” in domestic affairs and little changes.

For example, in a speech in Prague last June President Bush singled out a handful of political dissidents as “unjustly imprisoned,” including Ayman Nour, the one time presidential candidate and opposition political leader here in Egypt, and greeted democracy activists, including Saad Eddin Ibrahim, also Egyptian.

Yet Mr. Nour remains in prison, a year into a five-year sentence. Mr. Ibrahim has been living in self-imposed exile, fearful that if he returns to Egypt he will be put in prison, again, for his political activities.

With Mr. Nour in prison, and Mr. Ibrahim on the run, with a human rights organization recently shut down, with journalists being condemned to prison for their work, with the increasingly regular announcements of arrests of those out of step with the government, there is little evidence that the Egyptian government — or any other government in the region — is under any real American pressure regarding democratic reforms and human rights.

“I like to compare the U.S. to the European settlers of the past century,” said Sateh Noureddine, a columnist at As-Safir, a pro-Syrian newspaper in Lebanon. “The European settler said ‚Äö√Ñ√≤I am coming to liberate, to develop, to modernize.’ But after awhile he stumbled upon realities and facts that he did not know before and that could not be ignored. This is what is happening to the U.S. today, hence the change in its policies, from an ideological agenda to a pragmatic one. They are looking to protect themselves and their interests.”

Critics of the United States acknowledge that Washington faces resentment no matter what it does. It gets criticized for helping, and for not helping. In a public letter to the secretary general of the United Nations, for example, an Iranian dissident journalist, Akbar Ganji, recently explained how Washington’s democracy efforts ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ regardless of their intent ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ were not helping in Iran.

“The Bush Administration, for its part, by approving a fund for democracy assistance in Iran, which has in fact been largely spent on official institutions and media affiliated with the U.S. government, has made it easy for the Iranian regime to describe its opponents as mercenaries of the U.S. and to crush them with impunity,” he wrote.

In Egypt, there had been a quiet, and grudging acknowledgment that the marginal improvements in the political dynamics here were driven by pressure from Washington in the last few years. Some demonstrations were tolerated. Chanting slogans against President Hosni Mubarak was also tolerated ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ a huge shift of the red line. In 2005 and part of 2006, even leaders in the Muslim Brotherhood said privately that Washington’s pressure was helping.

But that is over. In recent days Human Rights Watch has called on Egypt to free two men active in promoting the rights of the nation’s tiny Shiite Muslim minority. The organization said the arrests appeared to be part of a broad crackdown “on Egyptian rights activists, journalists, and other government critics” and it listed the recent actions including: “On September 13, 2007, a court sentenced four editors of independent newspapers to prison and fined them for publishing what the government called ‚Äö√Ñ√≤false news, statements or rumors likely to disturb public order’.”

Four days before Human Rights Watch issued its press release, Egyptian officials quietly issued their own press release announcing that the United States had signed agreements to deliver $301 million in aid to Egypt to help improve the schools, drainage and sanitation, health care and economic reform. The press release was issued on the state-run news agency, but unlike frequent headlines in the Egyptian press chastising Washington for trying to influence Cairo, this bit of news was not reported in the Egyptian press. There was no press conference with the United States ambassador handing an Egyptian minister a big signed check.

In recent months, the United States Congress has debated the $1.7 billion in aid — which includes the $301 million — that is given to Egypt each year, asking what it receives in return. The increased aid has not translated into increased influence on domestic political reform. It has become purely about foreign policy.

“It is in the interest of the United States for Egypt to be a stable Arab country,” said Emad Ghad, an analyst with the government funded Ahram Center of Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. “Egypt’s behavior is predictable and in line with U.S. interests. The regime, for better or worse, is beneficial to the U.S. administration.”

Mona el-Naggar contributed reporting.

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As Egypt cracks down, charges of wide abuse
Regular reports of torture and police abuse are fueling protests across the country.

By Dan Murphy | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
October 10, 2007

Cairo – The regime of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak is in the midst of one of its largest crackdowns against public dissent in a decade.

Seven journalists have been given prison sentences in recent weeks; more than a thousand activists of the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s most popular political opposition, languish in jail; and labor organizers involved in a wave of strikes at government-owned factories have been detained.

On Sunday, fighting between rival Bedouin clans in the Sinai Peninsula quickly spiraled into a riot targeting the police and President Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP). While local grievances sparked the fight, regular reports of widespread police brutality and torture fed anger in the Sinai, where locals called for the police chief’s resignation, and are fueling public outrage around the country.

As the government cracks down hard in both the Sinai and on opposition activists, such as members of the Muslim Brotherhood, it is increasingly being charged with the use of torture on detainees. The charges are being publicized on the Internet by activists eager to bring about reform in Egypt, where the government has strong support from Washington.

“It’s hard to explain why, except that torture becomes a habit,” says Aida Seif al-Dawla, a psychologist who founded and runs the Nadim Center for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence in Cairo. “But there’s no question that police abuse has gone through the roof. For the past month, we’ve been getting one or two cases every day. For every case that’s reported to us, there’s bound to be many more we never hear about.”

Nasser Sedit Gadallah is just one example.

A plumber who was on his way home in late July after finishing a job in the poor town of Amrania on the western edge of Cairo, Mr. Gadallah was waylaid by a group of local cops.

He was beaten and his cellphone and payment for his work were stolen, says his brother, Ghad. Then, his brother says, Gadallah insisted on filing a complaint at the police station where some of his attackers, whom he recognized, worked.

He was rebuffed and warned against pursuing the matter further. But, says Ghad, Nasser didn’t heed those warnings. He filed a complaint with the prosecutor of Giza Governorate, which was backed up by the testimony of a witness who identified some of the police.

On Aug. 8, about 10 officers from the Amraniyah police station broke into the family’s home, tied up Ghad and another brother of Nasser’s, and tossed Nasser headfirst to his death from the family’s third-story balcony while his 9-year-old son and his wife watched, according to a recounting of the incident by Ghad.

The family’s neighbors quickly gathered to attack the police, smashing the windows of some of their cars before the police were able to flee.

Now, says Ghad, the other witness to the initial robbery says he’s afraid to testify. The prosecutor in Giza hasn’t yet decided if charges will be pressed over Gadallah’s death, and some of his brother’s alleged killers continue to work openly at the police station, according to Ghad.

“Obviously, most Egyptians are afraid to speak out against things like this,” says Ghad. “But for us, nothing will satisfy us but justice. People need to know that the police act like a mafia run out of the interior ministry.”

Today, his sister-in-law and her 9-year-old son spend a few days a week with Nadim Center therapists trying to work through the trauma. On a typical day there, the waiting room is full of patients, about half Egyptians, the rest refugees from Sudan and other parts of Africa who suffered abuse home before fleeing to Cairo.

The Egyptian government says police abuse and torture here are isolated incidents and that the guilty are prosecuted. In an interview with a local newspaper earlier this year, Gen. Ahmed Dia el-Din, an assistant to the interior minister, accused the media of sensationalizing police abuses to stir up opposition to the government.

Those words have been followed in recent months by efforts to silence those who complain. In September, the government closed the Association for Human Rights and Legal Aid after it helped bring a case against the government over a political activist, Mohammed al-Sayyed, who died in police custody.

Last week, the government arrested two political activists – Mohammed al-Dereini and Ahmed Mohammed Sobh, both members of Egypt’s tiny Shiite minority – following their recent efforts to expose torture in the Egyptian prison system. Mr. Dereini’s 2006 book, “Hell’s Capital,” chronicles torture in Egyptian prisons and includes firsthand accounts from his time in jail in 2004-2005.

“Is police torture a bigger problem today? There’s no question,” says Gasser Abdel Razek, the director of regional relations for Human Rights Watch. “Fifteen years ago, we used to say that this or that police station is bad, or if that you were an Islamist and you got picked up after a bombing, you could count on being tortured. Today, I can’t name a single police station that’s good. And the victims are middle-class, they’re educated, they’re homeless. It doesn’t make any difference.”

One case that caused particular shock and revolution was the death of a 13-year-old boy, Mamduh Abdel Aziz, after he was taken into police custody in August in the delta town of Mansoura. He was charged with theft. The boy died in hospital, four days after he was beaten while in police custody. Before his death, the nearly comatose boy was shown on a video posted to Youtube.com with extensive burn wounds in his genital area.

The boy’s mother, Saieda Sourour, has told local newspapers that government officials offered her money in exchange for her promising to keep silent about the case. The Interior Ministry, in a written response to the furor, said an autopsy showed the boy died of an infection and said the evidence of torture was simply “allegations.”

Mr. Razek, like many Egyptian human rights activists, says the spread of torture was a natural consequence of the government’s use of violent interrogations against alleged Islamist militants in the 1980s. What became standard doctrine for the country’s antiterrorist police units spread throughout the system as officers shifted to other jobs in the police force.

“It became a culture. We have two generations of police who were brought up to use torture against Islamists. But if it’s allowed and seen as effective, it spreads,” says Razek.

Razek says there has only been one successful torture prosecution of a police officer in Egypt this year, and argues that police violence is systemic, not isolated.

“We’ve seen dissent spreading beyond those who are politically organized, for instance, the labor unrest; so the regime feels it needs to make its people afraid to control its fate,” he says. “I’m not talking people agitating for democracy, but people who are worried about feeding themselves.”

Meanwhile, Ghad, whose brother was murdered in Amrania, says his family will continue to demand a prosecution. “The worst has happened. I don’t even have the energy to be afraid anymore.”

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The Silence in Cairo Can Be Heard in New York Editorial Notebook

Oren Rawls | Tue. Oct 16, 2007

Last month two Egyptians who normally wouldn’t cross paths – one a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood’s young guard, the other an outspoken liberal expatriate journalist – found a surprising bit of common ground on the Forward’s opinion page.

I was proud to have been involved in the affair. After all, it’s not everyday that voices like Ibrahim El Houdaiby and Mona Eltahawy declare that, their many differences aside, they’ll stand up together for a more democratic Egypt – and it’s certainly not everyday that it happens in an American Jewish newspaper like the Forward.

But for all my pride in my little editorial achievement, I couldn’t help but wonder: Shouldn’t some decision-makers in Egypt be embarrassed?

Think about it: Why is space found on the opinion page of the Forward, but not on the streets of Cairo, for dialogue between Egyptians like El Houdaiby and Eltahawy – two people who, at least as far as I can tell, really care about their country and genuinely want to make it a better place?

Does the Egyptian government really believe it can stifle such dialogue by throwing Ibrahim Eissa and other journalists in jail? As El Houdaiby and Eltahawy have shown, it’s going to take place no matter how hard the Egyptian authorities try to prevent it, so the only question is: Will Cairo allow for this kind of discussion at home, or will Egyptians need to find freer space elsewhere – like in an American Jewish newspaper?

Let’s be clear, what we’re talking about here is not some grand revolutionary plot against President Hosni Mubarak. In the opinion articles they wrote for the Forward, neither El Houdaiby nor Eltahawy limited their criticisms to the Egyptian government. In fact, both were rather critical of the only real political opposition in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood.

El Houdaiby described a comment about women made by the head of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammed Mahdi Akef, as “unjustifiable” and “offensive.” That may not sound like much, but consider the circumstances: This is a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood publicly criticizing his leader, in a newspaper read by tens of thousands of Jews in America.

Eltahawy had critical words as well. One of the main reasons for allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in Egyptian politics, she argued, is so their ideas can be publicly exposed and challenged – not exactly an endorsement of Shariah-based government.

Of course, they also called for democratic reform in Egypt. El Houdaiby had his vision for how the situation could be improved, and Eltahawy had hers, but both emphasized the importance of allowing different opinions to be heard in Egypt.

It wasn’t that long ago when the same words were heard coming from the Egyptian government. Three years ago, actually.

While in Cairo to observe the ruling National Democratic Party’s conference on reform, I talked with Osama el Baz, the president’s longtime political adviser, as well as Investment Minister Mahmoud Mohieldin, Muslim Brotherhood political chief Essam Elerian and democracy advocate Saad Eddin Ibrahim.

All four men spoke openly. They differed on many issues, but they spoke with the confidence of men who believed that each was entitled to his own opinion. Sure, El Baz and Mohieldin were firm in their opposition to the kind of reform advocated by Elerian and Ibrahim, but the fact is that all four were quoted together in the report I wrote for the Forward.

Three years ago, each man was free to offer his own opinion. Since then, Elerian has been jailed three times, and Ibrahim has gone into self-imposed exile, lest he, too, end up behind bars again.

The numbers tell the story better than any words: Three years ago there were four voices speaking freely, today there are two – and Egypt is the lesser for it.

Oren Rawls is the opinion editor of the Forward.

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PAKISTAN – Bhutto ends her eight-year exile

12:32 MECCA TIME, 9:32 GMT

Benazir Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, has arrived back home to the great excitement of tens of thousands of her supporters gathered in Karachi.

More than 250,000 of Bhutto’s supporters thronged the streets of Pakistan’s biggest city on Thursday, amid heightened security.

Tim Friend, reporting for Al Jazeera from Karachi, said there were “increasingly chaotic scenes” at Karachi airport as Bhutto arrived.

“There’s a lot of chanting and pushing and shoving,” he said.

“It’s an indication of the kind of excitement and anticipation that has been present here for at least four hours in the heat at Karachi international airport.”

More than 20,000 police and troops, backed up by bomb squads, patrolled the route of Bhutto’s planned homecoming parade from the airport to the mausoleum of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founding father.


Burly security guards with portraits of Bhutto on their T-shirts also lined the streets.

“I love Benazir and we are here to safeguard her life. I can sacrifice my life for her,” said Abdul Majid Mirani, a guard in a 5,000-strong private army tasked with protecting her.

Karachi was decked out with massive billboards of Bhutto and her father, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, who was executed in 1979 by the military government that ran the country.

Commenting to Al Jazeera on the crowds gathering in Karachi, Ikram Sehgal, a political analyst, said: “Obviously she has a mass following and that following makes her a major factor in Pakistani politics, but the welcome that is being seen here is not unprecedented – if it wasn’t like this, it would be a surprise.”

But in Islamabad, Pakistan’s capital, the mood was far quieter. Kamal Hyder, Al Jazeera’s correspondent in Islamabad, reported: “It’s business as usual here.”

“Her [Bhutto’s] return may be a big event for her supporters, but across the country there will be a lot of people questioning where the country will go from here,” he said.

For years, Bhutto has said she will return to Pakistan to put an end to the military’s position in power.

Before boarding her flight from Dubai to Karachi, Bhutto told reporters: “Pakistan is standing at a very critical juncture. One route leads to democracy, and the other leads to dictatorship.”

But now she is returning as a potential ally for General Pervez Musharraf, Pakistan’s president and the army chief who seized control in 1999, in an upcoming general election.

The US is believed to have encouraged their alliance in order to keep Pakistan, its ally, committed to fighting al-Qaeda and supportive of Nato’s work in Afghanistan.

The former leader’s imminent return appeared to please investors, with the Karachi Stock Exchange (KSE) benchmark 100-share index up around one per cent, amid the hope that her return bodes well for stability and democracy.

But the Pakistani authorities say that Bhutto could be a target for al-Qaeda fighters when she returns.

“She has an agreement with America. We will carry out attacks on Benazir Bhutto as we did on General Pervez Musharraf,” the Reuters news agency reported Haji Omar, a Taliban commander in Pakistan’s Waziristan tribal region, as saying.

Bhutto’s procession through Karachi could take up to 18 hours and she will be protected by bullet-proof screens as she rides in a specially modified vehicle.

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Panel urges tighter scrutiny of Saudi abuses

By David Morgan
Thursday, October 18, 2007; 12:25 AM

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia has failed to take substantial steps to promote religious tolerance, despite assurances from the Bush administration that the kingdom has made progress on reform, a U.S. watchdog said on Thursday.

A report by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom called for new congressional scrutiny of Saudi Arabia’s progress in implementing religious reform policies announced in July 2006.

The commission, established by Congress in 1998 to monitor religious freedom, also asked the administration to pressure Saudi Arabia — an important U.S. ally in the Middle East and the world’s biggest oil producer — to prove it is not involved in circulating texts blamed for encouraging Sunni Muslim militancy in religious schools and mosques worldwide.

“It appears that the Saudi government has made little or no progress on efforts to halt the exportation of extremist ideology,” said the report, which follows a commission visit to Saudi Arabia in May and June.

The 26-page document said Saudi government practices at home continued to violate the rights of minority Shi’ite Muslims, non-Muslim religious groups and women.

“The Saudi government persists in severely restricting all forms of public religious expression other than the government’s interpretation and enforcement of its version of Sunni Islam,” it said.

Nascent steps toward the creation of civil society have not been realized and government pledges of reform have not brought tangible protections for human rights, the commission noted.

The report called for U.S. pressure to disband the country’s autonomous religious police force, which clerics see as crucial to the Islamic state despite criticism of zealous behavior in its enforcement of Sunni religious law.

The commission criticized the United States for failing to move U.S.-Saudi relations beyond pragmatic concerns about Middle East politics and oil during successive U.S. administrations.

“Many observers contend that, even now, the United States does not want to jeopardize important bilateral security and economic ties by pushing for political and human rights reforms,” the report said.

The U.S. State Department designated Saudi Arabia as a “country of particular concern” under the U.S. International Religious Freedom Act in September 2004 for its systematic and egregious violations of religious rights.

But the Bush administration later granted the Saudis a waiver and announced in July 2006 that Saudi Arabia was pursuing a number of policies to promote greater religious freedom and tolerance.

“Other than the waiver, no action … has been taken by the U.S. government,” the report said.

The report specifically urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to engage Saudi Arabia about an Islamic school outside Washington, which may violate U.S. law because of evidence it is run by the Saudi Embassy in the United States.

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Secular Tunisia may face a new, younger Islamist challenge

Analysts say a growing number of young fundamentalists are increasingly restless in a country that bans all religious parties.

By Jill Carroll | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
October 10, 2007

Zarzis, Tunisia – While a potent Islamic movement once challenged this country’s ruling elite, today political Islam has all but vanished here. This kind of dissent has been quashed to near extinction.

But even though the more popular religious parties have vanished after more than 20 years of facing harsh government crackdowns, a new wave of resistance appears to be taking shape.

It is bubbling up in universities and among young people who may again attempt to challenge Tunisia’s brand of enforced secularism and agitate for greater political openness.

Some analysts and a Tunisian lawyer who defends many young Tunisian men charged with plotting attacks on the government say cutting off all political avenues is leading to the radicalization of some young people at a time when the region is particularly charged with anger over US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“At the beginning the system [tried] to finish all Islamist movements. Despite everything the government is doing, it is increasing and it became more popular among students, good students,” says Abdel Raouf al-Ayadi, a lawyer in Tunis.

He says the young men are growing more conservative and some are following the fundamentalist Salafist ideology that some militant groups have also adopted.

“Here the government is thinking [militants] are doing [violent] things because they don’t have enough money to live. But the real reason is the occupation in Iraq, Afghanistan, Palestine, Somalia. It’s political, not economic at all,” says Mr. Ayadi.

Amr Hamzawy, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace who helped author a report on Islamist movements in the Arab world, said the continued lack of political space locked mainstream political Islamists in a confrontational position with the government and “you force elements of their constituencies to consider other strategies,” says Mr. Hamzawy.

Tunisia has indeed solved what many of its Arab neighbors consider one of the region’s greatest threats: the challenge presented by political Islam. While Egypt and Morocco accord opposition groups some space, however narrow or government-controlled, Tunisia has banned all Islamic parties.

More than 20 years ago, Abdullah Zouari supported the Islamist political party an-Nahda, which hoped to bring Islamic sharia law to Tunisia by winning elections.

“Our ideas were to talk about distributing the wealth of the country and,” says Mr. Zouari, pulling out a book on the fundamentalist an-Nahda, pointing to a page listing their goals. The list includes transparency, modernizing Islam, and rebuilding an Islamic identity and civilization in Tunisia and the world.

In 1989, an-Nahda candidates made a strong showing in national elections. Soon after, the group was blamed for clashes with security forces, sporadic violence against government institutions, and plotting violent overthrow of the government. The government arrested tens of thousands of people through 1992 on charges of belonging to an-Nahda or plotting attacks in Tunisia.

“The regime depicted an-Nahda as being this brutal, Islamist force of crazies in order to get support of a pretty progressive middle class against it,” says Clement Henry, a professor of political science and political economy at the University of Texas who says he has been banned from Tunisia for writing a critical article of President Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

“Many people had joined an-Nahda as an alternative to the regime as it became increasingly repressive,” he said.

Tunisia’s approach to Islamists raises questions for governments and political Islam that are echoed across the rest of North Africa. “Is it able to endorse secular regulations and rules of law? Is the secular leadership homogenous enough and strong to resist to an Islamic uprising? Would it be an invitation to danger or would it be a credible and reliable step toward a liberal system? These questions are on the spot and in debate,” wrote Hamadi Redissi, University of Tunis political science professor, in an e-mailed response to questions.

The emerging group of young Islamists has indeed learned from their predecessors. For one, their ambitions are far humbler.

“I’m not asking to be president or anything. I just ask to [practice] my Islamic beliefs, to have a beard, and pray [so] I would satisfy my god,” says Omar Rached.

Mr. Rached is part of a group the government sentenced in 2004 to 19 years in prison on charges of downloading instructions on bombmaking and waging armed jihad from the Internet. Human rights groups said the trials were unfair. The six young men in jail were freed in 2006.

The government says it still believes the men are dangerous and that terrorism is a lurking threat, warranting its tactics, which many considered heavy-handed. Indeed, in December and January 2008, shootouts outside Tunis between government forces and militants jarred the normally quiet country.

The government said they were “terrorists” and made sweeping arrests in the aftermath. An anonymous Tunisian official said one of the six men freed in 2006 ended up fighting with the militant Islamist Islamic Courts movement that briefly took power in Somalia last year.

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Turkey’s Finest Hour?

Richard Falk
The Nation – October 11, 2007 (October 29, 2007 issue)

The decisive victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in the July parliamentary elections, followed by the selection of Abdullah Gul as the next president despite harsh objections by the country’s powerful military leadership and hard-core supporters of the secularist ideology established by Kemal Ataturk, represents a new phase in the history of modern Turkey. Those opposed to these developments claim that Turkey is drifting dangerously toward Islamist rule. They insist that the government headed by Recep Tayyip Erdogan is following a secret agenda, disguising its true intentions behind a smokescreen of disingenuous endorsements of Turkey’s secular tradition.

I share the contrary view, expressed by British Foreign Secretary David Miliband during a recent state visit to Ankara. “Turkey grew stronger in the eyes of the world,” he said. Miliband was referring not only to the orderly democratic elections but to the military’s willingness to accept a political outcome contrary to its wishes. Its acquiescence was undoubtedly helped by Gul’s inaugural speech, which stressed his commitment to secularism as well as his announced intention to respect the traditions of the presidential palace, which means his wife will be excluded from official ceremonies because she wears a headscarf. As a bright young Turkish journalist, Mustafa Akyol, observed, Gul’s presidency “signals not an ‘end to secularism’… but a bolstering of our democracy.” Gul’s recently announced support for repeal of Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, used to prosecute writers and journalists for “insulting Turkishness,” is a further encouraging straw in the wind.

This smooth transition to unchallenged AKP leadership was greatly aided by the support of the business community, as well as by the party’s grassroots popularity. Clearly, voters were not convinced by the military’s pre-election warnings. Public support stemmed from two achievements during the first phase of the Erdogan leadership: the success of market-friendly reforms in achieving high economic growth rates and Turkish successes in the world economy of a sort that had eluded prior governments; and a government outlook that was comparatively free from corruption and was seen to be genuinely committed to addressing the concerns of the poor, who make up a large percentage of the citizenry. It is a rare achievement in any country for a government to please its business and financial community and also to win over the poor. This double achievement goes a long way toward explaining the AKP’s electoral vindication and the passivity of the army and embittered secularists, whose traditional power seems to be slipping away. Put differently, if the economy had been stagnant, the business leadership restive and the grassroots disappointed, then the election results would likely have been far less supportive of the AKP, and the military would not have been nearly as likely to accept AKP initiatives of which it disapproved.

In many respects the political struggle is misperceived as one of secularism versus religion. This misperception was illustrated by a pre-election cover of Time portraying a young woman wearing a headscarf, which supposedly expressed what was at stake in the elections. A more accurate understanding would have regarded the elections as a clash between two kinds of secularism and two kinds of democracy. The AKP offers Turkey more inclusion for major groups previously neglected, oppressed or victimized by discrimination: the religiously observant, the poor and minorities (especially the Kurds).

This greater inclusiveness is also consistent with the AKP’s effort to gain Turkish membership in the European Union. Those who suspect the motives of the AKP claim that this widening of democracy is just window-dressing to win approval at home or a clever way of keeping the army in the barracks because of the European pressures on Turkey to demonstrate that the control of its government is finally now firmly in the hands of the elected civilian leadership. Such skepticism seems unfounded in view of the consistency with which the AKP has pursued these goals, as well as its pragmatic style. The party seems well aware of the dangers of pushing too hard against the red lines of secularism as guarded by the military. The military may have allowed the election results, but it has not at all relinquished its self-proclaimed role as guarantor of Kemal Ataturk’s conception of government.

Many in Turkey worry that the military, eager to demonstrate its continued hold on power, will stage dangerously disruptive cross-border operations against the country’s Kurdish guerrillas based in northern Iraq, and that the AKP government, whatever its views, would be supportive. Indeed, this month Prime Minister Erdogan announced that he would submit plans to Parliament authorizing an invasion.

The religious card is also being played by the old secular elite in a somewhat desperate effort to reverse their displacement. There are some genuine fears on the part of modern sectors of Turkish society, who worry that their freedoms are being compromised by a social climate so supportive of Islam. In more sophisticated circles, this is really a fear of what might be called “societal Islam” rather than “political Islam.” The difference here is important, although difficult to pin down. Societal Islam refers to societal practices, including the increasing number of young women wearing headscarves, as well as to the establishment of hotels and restaurants that cater to patrons who adhere to strict Islamic rules prohibiting alcohol and unclothed bathing. I heard many secular friends in Istanbul, who were not particularly political, complain that this made them uncomfortable.

Such concerns are not unwarranted, but to address them through regulations would be impractical, and it would go against any reasonable interpretation of freedom of religion. It also overlooks the far greater degree to which the religiously observant have borne the burdens of the exclusivist, almost militant secularism that dominated Turkey for so long. This discomfort includes outright discrimination that has prevented women wearing headscarves from enjoying the benefits of public education or pursuing a variety of careers. But it has also involved bias of the sort that makes those wearing headscarves feel unwelcome in many public spaces and at cultural events. The most extreme secular objectors to societal Islam are quite prepared to sacrifice democracy, if necessary, to re-establish the social atmosphere that existed in pre-AKP Turkey.

Not surprisingly, those threatened by societal Islam are also fearful of political Islam. Such opponents of the AKP, found especially among supporters of the old, nominally socialist Republican People’s Party, seem to believe that the Erdogan/Gul leadership intends at an opportune moment to introduce Sharia law and move Turkey toward the sort of theocratic state that exists in Iran, or at least in the direction of Malaysia, where the state is intolerant toward nonobservant Muslims, punishing failures to fast during Ramadan and denying Muslims access to Malaysian casinos. These critics distrust everything about the AKP, contending that its commitment to democracy is purely tactical, nothing more than “a bus we can ride until we reach our station.” In my view these anxieties border on paranoia, but they also reflect a rather cynical effort by displaced secularists to scare the masses and pave the way for a return to power by nondemocratic means. The AKP leadership is too moderate and realistic to embrace political Islam, although among the party faithful, a small minority undoubtedly favor such goals.

There are good reasons to view Turkey as one of the bright spots on the horizon of Middle East politics. Yet it would be a mistake to minimize its problems. Turkish society is harmed by cleavages between the old secular establishment and the new AKP elite, leading to misunderstandings and deep distrust. It will be important to build social bridges as well as governmental links to produce sustainable democracy. Beyond this, relations with the Kurdish minority, some 20 percent of a population of more than 70 million, raise questions about the scope of Turkish democracy. The AKP has done better than its predecessors in giving hope to moderate Kurdish aspirations, but the party must still find a path to sufficient autonomy, so Kurds do not feel victimized and dependent on a secessionist solution.

On an international level, neither the Turkish government nor the people seem ready to tackle the Armenian problem in a constructive spirit. Decades of educational brainwashing have left all sectors of Turkish society extremely defensive about facing up to the genocide against Armenians carried out during World War I; for the rather substantial far right, the refusal to admit responsibility is a life-or-death issue. Also the long-simmering dispute over the governance of Cyprus is seemingly intractable and obstructs Turkey’s efforts to join the EU. Here, though, the Turkish side has done its best to resolve the conflict. Ankara and Turkish Cyprus agreed to accept the very balanced Annan Plan developed under UN auspices, but it was rejected by the Greek side.

A big challenge and opportunity for the AKP is building a consensus in support of a more liberal Constitution. Turkey continues to operate under the 1982 Constitution imposed on the country by the military, which is definitely inconsistent with the ideals of a modern liberal democracy, especially insofar as the military is explicitly given extraordinary privileges, including exemptions from legal accountability. Encouragingly, a draft of a more progressive Constitution has been prepared under the direction of an academic commission headed by an internationally respected expert, Ergun Ozbudun.

There are some dark clouds hovering over Turkey’s future, but there are also bright patches of sky. If Turkey can continue to maintain a robust economy and reduce the plight of the poor, it will likely enjoy a period of stability and emerge as a positive, and possibly inspirational, example of a secular democracy sinking its roots deep into an Islamic society. But it is highly implausible that Turkey will serve as a model of moderate Islamic governance. This will not happen, because the AKP is genuinely secular, although in a post-Kemalist spirit, and anyway the military would intervene long before any government in Ankara were to embody an Islamic identity. There are other uncertainties, including the continuing struggle with the Kurdish guerrillas, strategic relations with the United States and Israel and the backlash that might follow from an EU rejection of the Turkish application for membership. Despite this array of potential problems, there is a fair chance that Turkey will turn out to be the only success story in the region, with respect to democracy, human rights and economic development. This favorable outlook would be enhanced by encouragement from Washington and the EU. These developments in Turkey deserve our attention, both for their promise and their possible peril.

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Turkey’s model of Islamic democracy

By Geneive Abdo | September 17, 2007

CAN TURKEY’S Justice and Development Party become a model for the ideal marriage between Islam and democracy that could be replicated in the Middle East?

Some Muslim intellectuals, politically correct commentators in the West, and officials from the European Union seem to think so. They argue that the recent election of Abdullah Gul as president of Turkey and the success in parliamentary polls last July of his AK Party are sound reasons to believe that a party made up of Islamists can hold free elections, win at the polls, and then run a state that is democratic and secular.

This presumption, however, rests upon the false belief that Turkey is much like the rest of the Islamic world and that all Islamists are similar to the leaders of the AK Party. For one thing, AK Party leaders should not be identified as “Islamists.” As Gul declared during his acceptance speech: “Secularism, one of the basic principles of our republic, is a rule of social peace.”

Islamists in most Muslim societies do not favor a secular state. In Jordan and Egypt, for example, unofficial Islamist parties and movements are fighting for Shariah, Islamic law, to be the guiding light for governing. Shariah-based governance, in fact, has been one of the foundations of opposition movements against authoritarian rulers in the Arab world for the last 30 years.

And it is not only the Islamists who are advocating Islamic law. The majority of Muslims surveyed in Arab countries and in other Muslim societies say they prefer that Islamic law be either a source, or the sole source, of legislation. By contrast, according to a recent report by the International Crisis Group, support for Islamic law in Turkey has never exceeded 20 percent.

Although many moderate Islamists in the Middle East admire the AK Party’s success, the way ahead for them is far more difficult. The vast historical differences between Turkey and the region’s other countries also have to be taken into account.

The AK Party was born out of the more ideological Welfare Party, but then evolved to become more in line with Turkey’s secular tradition. By contrast, secularism in the Arab world peaked in the 1950s and ’60s, then came to a halt with the Six Day War of 1967. The Arabs’ humiliating defeat by Israel inspired the rise of political Islam, which has grown in influence since then.

If Islamists came to power in many Arab states they would likely ban alcohol, homosexuality, and pornographic images on the Internet and in film. For years, Islamists have complained about the millions of bikini-clad foreign tourists who frequent beach resorts in Arab countries, even though tourism helps keep their beleaguered economies afloat.

In addition, Arab societies have transformed over the last 30 years and are far more religious than Turkish society, even though an increasing number of Turks are embracing Islam in ways unseen since the Ottoman Empire.

Even if the Islamists in the Arab world had every intention of emulating Turkey’s secular-style of government, they still would have to answer to the growing influence of religious authorities.

Religious authority in Turkey has always been part of the state structure, unlike in the Arab world, where religious scholars and imams have been free to interpret Islamic doctrine at will. By contrast, the state’s control over Islamic interpretation has a long history in Turkey, one that continues today.

In forging his country into a secular state, Kemal Ataturk did not allow Islam to become a basis for opposition movements, as happened in the Arab world after the Muslim Brotherhood was created in Egypt in 1928. Instead, the Turkish state institutionalized Islam by controlling the message and the messenger – only imams licensed by the state are allowed to preach in mosques – making interpretations of the faith subject to state approval.

Policy makers and pundits in the United States and Europe should not rush to judgment by assuming that the Turkish model can be applied elsewhere. Just as the Islamic world is not monolithic, so too will Islamic-style democracy vary in each country, should it develop at all.

Geneive Abdo, a fellow at The Century Foundation, is the author of “Mecca and Main Street: Muslim Life in America After 9/11.” This article first appeared in the International Herald Tribune.

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Book of the month

Making Islam Democratic: Social Movements and the Post-Islamist Turn

Book review by Richard Bulliet

Discussions of contemporary Islam in the United States tend to be held in black and white, with the religion depicted either as a backward, dangerous and hateful force, or as a misunderstood and moderate foundation for peaceful living. Discussions in Europe range over a somewhat larger spectrum because they are often based on experiences with immigrant communities, and usually engage cultural issues in addition to security-related ones.

The most colorful and useful expositions for readers in search of a deep understanding of Islam today, however, are those based on detailed and long-term observations made in Muslim-majority countries, where interactions with Euro-American sensibilities do not confound the issue. Having said that, the drawback with such in-depth analyses is that they typically examine a single country, leaving it to readers to decide how similar or dissimilar Muslim life in Morocco, say, is from that in Bangladesh or Somalia.

Whether monochromatic or broadly colorful, however, discourses involving Islam are welcome in every hue, either because of their informative contents or as manifestations of growing ideological controversies. Nevertheless, there are a few studies of exceptional value that stand out from the mass of publications and deserve to be read by every serious observer. Asef Bayat’s Making Islam Democratic is one of those few.

The flap copy tells us that Bayat is the Academic Director of the International Institute for the Study of Islam in the Modern World (ISIM) and ISIM Professor at Leiden University in the Netherlands. But even those who are familiar with ISIM and its highly informative newsletter may not know that Bayat grew up in Iran, published an outstanding book on the role of poor people in the Iranian revolution, and then spent 17 years teaching sociology at the American University in Cairo before accepting the ISIM directorship.

Consequently, his depth of knowledge about two of the world’s largest and most important Islamic countries is almost unparalleled. It informs the heart of his book, which eloquently describes the many manifestations of Islam in the public and private lives of Iranians since the 1979 revolution, and of Egyptians from the 1990s onward. The former, Bayat argues, felt the effects of an Islamic Revolution, but were never swept away by an Islamic Movement, while the latter experienced the opposite:

The tidal wave of Islamism that seemed poised to wash away the Egyptian state actually left it intact and subsided by the late 1990s. In fact, the state skillfully surfed the wave, weathered its initial crash ashore, and rode its smooth sprawl into society. But along the way society, state, and movement all went through significant change. The Islamist movement rendered the state more religious (as it moved to rob Islamism of its moral authority), more nationalist and nativist (as the state moved to assert its cultural Arab-Islamic authenticity), and more repressive, since the liquidation of radical Islamists offered the opportunity to control other forms of dissent. The “seculareligious” state both controlled and connected with conservative social forces, hindering the rise of innovative intellectual and political initiatives.

Bayat supports this basic thesis with a precise and lucid presentation based on a distinction between Islamism and “post-Islamism,” a term he first used in a 1996 essay and applied only to Iran to distinguish between the Islamic revolutionary movement of the 1970s and the emergence of a reformist movement that would climax in the election of Mohammed Khatami to the presidency:

In my formulation, post-Islamism . . . refers to political and social conditions where, following a phase of experimentation, the appeal, energy, and sources of legitimacy of Islamism are exhausted, even among its once-ardent supporters. Islamists become aware of their system’s anomalies and inadequacies as they attempt to normalize and institutionalize their rule. Continuous trial and error makes the system susceptible to questions and criticisms. Eventually, pragmatic attempts to maintain the system reinforce abandoning its underlying principles. Islamism becomes compelled, both by its own internal contradictions and by societal pressure, to reinvent itself, but it does so at the cost of a qualitative shift.

Since the term “post -Islamism” was taken up by other analysts, mostly in Europe, there has been a substantial debate about its precise meaning and applicability. Since Islamic movements in most countries have not achieved enough power to indulge in “continuous trial and error,” for example, Bayat’s precise definition cannot be exported outside Iran without modification. But there is no debate about the extent to which Islamic political movements in many countries have moved over the past quarter century from unequivocal endorsements of Islamic rule to thoughtful considerations of how an Islamic movement can function within various political systems; in particular, on how it can dovetail with the practices, attitudes, and social expectations that democracy entails.

Bayat’s arguments in Making Islam Democratic are simultaneously theoretical and practical. He uses sociological insight to clarify his observations rather than to construct an impractical typology. The level-headedness that is the hallmark of this work derives from Bayat’s own life. An atypical academic, Bayat’s earliest schooling was irregular, with his truck-driver father having to fill in the gaps in his formal education.

Bayat eventually earned his doctorate in Britain at a time when the Pahlavi regime was in its final years. Speaking of this experience to journalist Willa Thayer for a 2003 profile in Al Ahram Weekly Online, Bayat said, “When I went to Britain to study I realised I didn’t know anything . . . It was very tough because when I went back to Iran to see what was going on ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ a few months after the victory when the revolution was still unfolding ‚Äö√Ñ√ÆI had a kind of a mental block, I couldn’t make sense of things and I had many doubts about my own ability to do so.”

Doubt was perhaps the best frame of mind for Bayat to have had at that critical historical moment. Instead of having his vision of society overdetermined by his graduate training, he instead observed what was going on around him and concentrated on making conceptual sense of it. His efforts at understanding bore fruit in his outstanding book Street Politics: Poor People’s Movements in Iran. When this was published in 1997, Bayat had already been teaching for a decade at the American University in Cairo, where his analytical skills had been refined through a comparison of Egyptian manifestations of Islam with those in his homeland. Where his first book concentrated on the interactions of Iran’s revolutionary leaders with the shanty-town dwellers and push-cart peddlers of Tehran, Making Islam Democratic sets Egyptian and Iranian events within a more complex and theoretical argument.

In the concluding chapter of the book, “The Politics of Presence: Imagining a Post-Islamist Democracy,” Bayat recognizes that there is no yellow brick road leading the pure of heart to an imaginary promised land:

If one obvious conclusion can be drawn from the preceding chapters, it is that Islam is the subject of intense conflict between different segments of the faithful. Women, youths, the middle classes, the poor and the powerful, the “modern” and the “traditional,” clerics and laymen are all engaged in redefining the truth of their creed through either ordinary daily practice or deliberate campaigns. In doing so, they render religion a plural reality with multiple meanings.

The agents of historical change, Bayat says, are not theories, but decisions taken by Muslims at every level of society as they strive for a better life for themselves and their children:

Congruence between Islam and democracy is not simply a philosophical issue, as it is widely assumed, but a political one. It is a matter of struggle. The pertinent question is not whether Islam and democracy are compatible (least of all because of the contested meanings attached to both Islam and democracy), but rather how and under what conditions Muslims can make their religion compatible with desired notions of democracy; how they can legitimize and popularize an inclusive reading of their doctrine in the same way that democrats have been struggling to broaden narrow (white, male, propertied and merely liberal) notions of democracy.

Bayat argues his case strongly. Not everyone will agree with him. But even those who are not persuaded by Making Islam Democratic will find much of value in this remarkable book.

At the outset, I distinguished between books on Islam that are written within an American context, those reflecting a European perspective, and those based on a close examination of life in Muslim-majority countries. The broad spectrum of colors ascribed to the third category is vividly apparent in Bayat’s work. Yet the question may reasonably be asked whether an expert dissection of society and politics in Egypt and Iran serves the interests of readers who are mainly interested in European immigrant societies or in America’s post-9/11 anxieties. In my opinion, the theoretical envelope that Bayat constructs to contain and elucidate his observations of Egypt and Iran is broad enough to challenge all serious readers. Making Islam Democratic works on a variety of levels. Its insights are relevant to many different situations, from the parochial to the transnational, and from the quotidian to the philosophical. I hope it will challenge other authors to write about Islam with a similar combination of real world observation, analytical sophistication, and constructive purpose.

Richard Bulliet is a professor of history at Columbia University, and is the author, most recently, of The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization

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The Islamic case for a secular state -III-
A secular state is needed not because there is a problem with religion, but because we humans have very diverse ideas about it

Mustafa Akyol
Monday, October 8, 2007

In June 1998, a very significant meeting took place at a hotel near Abant, which is a beautiful lake in the east of Istanbul. The participants included some of the most respected theologians and Islamic intellectuals in Turkey. For three days, the group of nearly 50 scholars discussed the concept of a secular state and its compatibility with Islam. At the end, they all agreed to sign a common declaration that drew some important conclusions.

The first of these was the rejection of theocracy. The participants emphasized the importance of individual reasoning in Islam and declared, “No one can claim a divine authority in the interpretation of religion.” This was a clear rejection of the theocratic political doctrines ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ such as the one established in the neighboring Iran ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ which granted a divinely ordained right to a specific group of people for guiding society.

The second important conclusion of the Abant participants was the harmony of the principles of divine sovereignty and popular sovereignty. (Some contemporary Islamists reject democracy by assuming a contradiction between the two.) “Of course God is sovereign over the whole universe,” the participants said, “but this is a metaphysical concept that does not contradict with the idea of popular sovereignty which allows societies to rule their own affairs.”

The third argument in the declaration was the acceptance of a secular state that would “stand at the same distance from all beliefs and philosophies.” The state, the participants noted, “is an institution that does not have any metaphysical or political sacredness,” and Islam has no problem with such political entities as far as they value rights and freedoms.

In sum, the “Abant Platform,” as it became known, declared the compatibility of Islam with a secular state based on liberal democracy. This was a milestone not only because the participants included top Islamic thinkers, but also because the organizers were the members of Turkey’s strongest Islamic community, the Fethullah Gülen movement.

From diversity to secularity:

Let me elaborate a bit more on why a secular state is not just compatible with Islam but also good for Muslims. The need for such a neutral political entity comes basically from the diversity of modern societies. The Turkish society, for example, includes not just practicing Muslims, but also Muslims with secular lifestyles, Christians, Jews, agnostics, atheists, New Agers, and God knows what. Moreover, among practicing Muslims, there are so many different religious interpretations. Establishing a religious state will inevitably impose one of these interpretations on all other citizens. This authoritarianism will not only suppress many rights and freedoms, but also create resentment among those who feel oppressed. And this resentment will easily breed hatred towards religion, which will undermine the very reason of its existence — winning the hearts and minds of men, and leading them to God.

In the Medina of the 7th century, during the time of Prophet Muhammad, it was quite feasible to found a theocratic state, because all Muslims constituted a small, self-contained community and the definition of true Islam was clearly and unambiguously made by the prophet. Today, Muslims live side by side with non-Muslims all around the world, and there are many different Islamic interpretations, about none of which we can be sure by any objective criteria. That’s why even overwhelmingly Muslim nations like the Pakistanis who cherish Islam as their identity can not find peace with the shariah law, because they strongly and fiercely disagree on what that is.

The solution seems to be in ending the official acceptance and sponsorship of religion, and leaving matters of faith to individuals and communities. This is needed not because there is a problem with religion, but because we humans have different ideas about it, and we can’t find peace unless we accept this natural diversity.

After all, isn’t it the Koran itself that celebrates pluralism on earth? “Had Allah willed He would have made you a single community,” the Muslim scripture reminds. “So compete with each other in doing good.” (5:48) The secular state can well be an impartial institution that serves and protects all the competitors.

The problem with secularism:

All of these arguments stand in favor of a secular state. But they would not justify a secularist one. Such states are based on anti-religious philosophies and they take measures to diminish or even destroy the role of religion in their societies.

The world has seen many examples of such tyrannies since the Enlightenment. The French Revolutionaries, particularly the bloody Jacobins, inflicted terror on the Catholic Church and tried to de-Christianize French society by imposing neo-pagan myths and practices. The communists went further by their purges, gulags and massacres. “Religion is a poison,” said Mao, and he and his comrades did everything they could to wipe it out.

Today the big question in Turkey is whether our republic will be a secular or a secularist one. Our homegrown secularists have never gone as far and radical as Mao, but some of them share a similar hostility toward religion. And they have every right to do so as far as they accept to be unprivileged players in civil society. But they don’t have the right to dominate the state and use the money of the religious taxpayers in order to offend and suppress their beliefs.

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Muslim secularism and its allies
Western pundits are misdiagnosing Islamism. Democracy is not the issue; the issue is appointed clerics who override legislation.

Ali Eteraz

October 17, 2007 11:00 AM

I was not aware how thoroughly awash in Islamist propaganda members of the western public are until yesterday when I called for a Muslim left. I made a straightforward introduction to an authentic version of Muslim secularism, identified primarily by its affirmation of separating mosque from state. Its goal would be to ally with secular humanists and liberal nationalists in the Muslim world. Together, they would challenge the growing influence of the Muslim right, ie political Islam, which has replaced nationalism and one-party Marxism as the newest form of illiberalism in the Muslim world. Yet across blogs and listserves, most of the feedback has been negative, with some chiding the ideas as far-fetched and impossible. The New York Times’s Opinionator blog was one of the few to show some sense.

It is as if people cannot conceive of Islams that are other than ideological. Let me be even more blunt: westerners, with neither an appreciation of Muslim history nor of current trends in the Muslim world, inspired only by fatuous slogans (“Reform Islam!”; “Where is my Islamic Enlightenment!”), are in a de facto alliance with the Muslim right, because they refuse to entertain the possibility of any other kind of Islam beyond Islamism.

Show people the way towards an Islam that doesn’t have political aspirations and their first impulse is to start defending Qutb and Mawdudi as if their life depended on it. The cynic in me blames our new pundit class which requires the perpetuation of Muslim devilry to continue turning a buck. Then again, perhaps we’re just dealing with “realists” who simply are hungry for facts.

Let’s start by looking at the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood’s newly-released platform. I think it is obvious that the most problematic issue with it – besides the alienation of minorities and women – is that it seeks to establish “a board of Muslim clerics to oversee the government”. This is illiberal.

We can further see that the Muslim right wants to use the vote, instead of the revolution, to empower such a board of clerics.

The aspiration for this board of clerics represents the heart of the Muslim right. The most glaring way, then, to identify an Islamist is if he or she agitates for such an institution. Once such an institution is set up, all other Islamist social programmes – anti-woman, anti-minority, anti-modernity legal schemes – will be approved, while all anti-Islamist programmes and 21st century human rights schemes will be struck down.

Among friends I off-handedly refer to the desire for such a clerical oligarchy as “the Iran problem”. This is not because it has anything to do with Shi’a Islam, but because Iran is the world’s pre-eminent Muslim state using such a clerical watch-dog institution.

However, if one wants to be be historically accurate, this theo-oligarchic system should really be called “the Pakistan problem” because before Khomeini imposed such a council in 1979 Iran, Pakistan had set up a Council of Islamic Ideology in 1962. (My suspicion is that Khomeini, born into an Indian-Persian family, probably got his idea by looking at Pakistan).

Furthermore, if open polls are done across Gulf and African Muslim nations, there will be significant support for a political system that provides for the Iran model. It will be a democracy sure; but one that is then overseen by a “board of Muslim clerics”. In other words, an illiberal democracy. Just last year, in an Angus Reid poll of the Palestinian population, the Palestinians favoured precisely this “Iran model” of government (37%; the US model received 25%; Caliphate got 14%).

There are a few reasons this model finds support in the Muslim world. One is that the Muslim right has been the most active grassroots Muslim movement over the last 70 years. Second, because the Muslim right willingly became a tool of the west to get paid. The last is that Muslims who do not support “the Iran model” have become completely sidelined and meek (a case of not having political, financial, or intellectual backers).

It is to challenge the heart of Islamism – that clerical institution – that yesterday in my call for a Muslim left, point number one of the platform called directly for a “separation of mosque and state”. Meanwhile, point number eight went further and stated that the Muslim left would be committed to “opposing any and all calls for a ‘council of religious experts’ that can oversee legislation”.

I then concluded the post by promising to identify people on the Muslim left, though I didn’t set forth a criterion to use, which prompted some to speculate that the list might be arbitrary.

In light of the centrality of “the Iran model” to Islamism, I propose that if one is going to identify people who qualify to be on the Muslim left, a good substantive yardstick to use is if they oppose the “Iran model” of governance. This is better than using “democracy” as the parameter because The Brotherhood’s document and Iran’s example both show that that “democracy” can mean just about anything today; even, Kafkaesquely, theocratic-oligarchy.

So, why not begin the search for Muslim leftists by looking inside Iran? Then, perhaps, we can trail that trend outward into other Muslim countries.

The first person that comes to mind is friend of the late Richard Rorty, Akbar Ganji, the journalist, activist and lawyer, of “Freedom is not free” fame. In the western media, his presence is consigned to smaller, more “intellectual” magazines. Yet Middle Eastern journalists recognise his name quite well. Ganji is the most important of the Muslim secularists in Iran today. Others like him include Shirin Ebadi, the Nobel Prize winner, and Rahim Jahanbegloo, called “the Iranian Gandhi” for his non-violent approach to protest. These individuals match the criteria of a Muslim leftist I laid out in yesterday’s post almost to the dot. In fact, they inspired it.

But they are not the entirety of those who qualify to be on the Muslim left. Traditionalist Muslims who oppose theocracy can also be a part of the alliance. Take for example, Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi. He is not a modernist like Ganji and Ebadi. He is from the old school Shia orthodoxy. Yet he considers Khomeini’s interpretation of Shi’a Islam a heresy. Boroujerdi considers the theocratic regime to have usurped the authority of the Hidden Imam, and argues that all religious laws made by the state are null and void because the clerics do not have a right to legislate. After being tortured and beaten by the regime he now leads prayers in stadiums and has made appeals to the Pope and Kofi Annan for help. Affirmation of international law is a hallmark of the Muslim left.

A man like Boroujerdi – like many Muslim traditionalists – is a libertarian. He wants his mosque and his flock without the state interfering with either. This makes him a theist who favours separation of mosque and state – ie, a Muslim secularist. He should be viewed as a Muslim equivalent of someone like Reverend Jim Wallis in the states.

Secular humanists in Europe often cry that a person cannot be religious and committed to separation of religion and state; yet the US contains many such people, and increasingly, so does the Muslim world. In fact, it will be theist Muslim secularists who will help atheist and agnostic secular humanists exist safely among Muslims.

So, the goal of the Muslim left (and people in the west who are sympathetic to its goal), is to scan the Muslim world and find all the committed Muslims who favoor liberal democracy over the illiberal version that Islamists peddle.

In conducting such a search, they will run into a diverse multitude of people. Individuals as conservative as the Grand Mufti of Egypt (a religious, but not a political position) who believes that liberal democracy is compatible with Islam, and as liberal as Abdullahi an-Naim, the Sudanese scholar of law who was once exiled from his country but is now welcome back.

It will include the immensely popular Shaykh Waheeduddin Khan in India who, being Indian and being part of a pluralist society, has naturally been an adept expositor of an Islam that is consistent with liberal democracy.

It will include Muhammad Sa’id al-Ashmawi a judge, whose attack on political Islam provoked intense reactions from the conservatives, and Muhammad Khalaf-Allah who argued that the Quran did not simply allow democracy, but required it; both in Egypt.

It will include the Indonesian Nurcholish Madjid – of “Islam yes, Islamic parties no” – who, as long ago as 1970, called for deep-seated changes to politics among Muslims, even using the term “secularism” (which he regretted later but only because it was a tactical blunder). Madjid later became a student of the Pakistani exile Fazlur Rahman, a 1963 victim of Mawdudi’s persecution. Rahman, before his death, had an immense amount of influence and success in challenging political Islam, and people influenced by him to this day carry on his anti-Islamist, pro-spirituality Islamic project.

I myself have disagreements with each one of the aforementioned people on many points. However, the commitment of these Muslim secularists to liberal democracy is unerring. That is why I conceive of the Muslim left as a “big tent” rather than an ideological system.

My request, thus, to the self-appointed western defenders of Mawdudi and Qutb is to start learning about Fazlur Rahman and an-Naim instead; otherwise they are simply helping the Islamist cause maintain its media monopoly. My other request – especially towards Muslim readers – is to read the entire series. Links are conveniently placed at the bottom.

In my next – and last – post in the Islamic reform series, I will articulate some thoughts on how liberal democrats among Muslims can come to power.

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The folly of war with Iran
It’s instructive to recall a comment President Lincoln once made: “One war at a time….”

By Walter Rodgers – October 16, 2007

Oakton, Va.- Never is wisdom more requisite in a president than in time of war. Abraham Lincoln was perhaps America’s wisest war president and should remain a beacon to his successors.

Late in 1861, there was a public clamor for war with England when the Republic was already bogged down in a horrible fratricidal war, the outcome of which was by no means certain.

Incensed that a United States Navy ship party boarded a British packet and illegally removed two Confederate diplomats bound for Europe, Lord Palmerston sent 8,000 additional troops to Canada preparing for war with the US. More than a few Americans, including Secretary of State William Seward, wanted to give the British a thumping at a time when the bulk of the US military was tied down in a continental civil war.

Now, as the White House and Pentagon reportedly contemplate war with Iran, it is instructive to recall President Lincoln’s response to his secretary of State, “One war at a time, Mr. Seward.”

In 2001, the US launched a justifiable war against Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan. Two years later, the Bush administration launched a far more dubious war in Iraq. Neither conflict has ended in victory. Both are ongoing. With those two wars on the front burner, why is anyone considering three wars at a time?

Bombing Iran now seems no more likely to produce positive results in Southwest Asia than the Nixon-Kissinger massive bombing of Hanoi produced an American victory in Vietnam. Surgical bombing of Iraq after the first Gulf War didn’t topple Saddam Hussein. That required a brilliantly executed full-scale US military invasion in 2003. (It’s the occupation that ran amok.)

While it seems clear that an American war with Iran might be in Israel’s interest, it is not necessarily so. Some in Saudi Arabia might like to see rival Iran pummeled by the US military. But the US should not fight proxy wars for Saudi Arabia or Israel, and it’s debatable if either would ultimately be safer in the long run after a US attack on Iran.

Historically, Iranians see themselves as one of two great Asian military powers, the other being China. Launching a few cruise missiles or bombing uranium-enrichment plants will probably only fuel Iran’s historic ambition to become a regional superpower. An Iranian I spoke with in Tehran five years ago unabashedly admired the US. But he strongly affirmed his country’s right to acquire nuclear weapons as a matter of national pride. After all, he said, “The Pakistanis and the Israelis have them.”

Both Moscow and Washington have made the same two policy errors in Southwest Asia in the past 30 years. They tried to occupy rigidly Muslim countries and reshape tribal Islamic societies, tailoring them to their respective Western ideologies. Both superpowers grossly misjudged the powerful hold religion has over Muslims, and they expected Afghans and Iraqis to embrace secular communism or Western democracy. The Russians failed, and America’s prospects don’t appear much better.

Perhaps the most egregious error policy planners make is their assumption that once wars are started, their outcome is predictable. Who among the Politburo mossbacks in 1979 could have foreseen that the Soviet military venture in Afghanistan would become a major factor in the collapse and death of the Soviet Union? Mr. bin Laden and much of the Muslim world take full credit for the Soviet implosion after Moscow’s defeat there. Wars simply do not end the way those who launch them expect. Iraq was supposed to be quick and clean, and Iraqis, we were told, would welcome their American liberators. The Taliban, ousted from Afghanistan in 2001, has risen again like a phoenix.

President Bush should begin with the premise that war with Iran is not an option and the realization that constructive engagement may well be the labor of decades. That may not prevent Iran from building a bomb. But states that join the nuclear club, India, Pakistan, and China, have historically tended to behave more, not less responsibly, and treaties between adversarial states have worked.

Second, because of the brief time Bush has left in office, it is a given that Washington’s problem with Tehran will not be solved while Mr. Bush is in office, bombing or not bombing.

Third, the White House should remember the West’s profound frustrations in trying to engage the Soviets in the first 25 years after World War II. A virulently hostile Stalin malevolently tried to provoke the United States in Korea, Berlin, and elsewhere. But decades of patience by wise American presidents and diplomats slowly engaged the Russians, and over four decades gradually defused the cold war. Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan all lived and worked with belligerent communism. In the modern world, greatness is more often a consequence of wise restraint and measured responses such as economic sanctions. Restraint over Iran married to engagement on a broad front could well be Bush’s greatest foreign-policy legacy.

No one now can predict the scope, let alone the duration or cost, of the war that would ensue if the White House launches attacks on Iranian targets. But the absurdity of thinking that war with Iran would resolve much is illustrated in the following truism from an Iranian friend: “In Iraq, the leadership loves the Americans, and the Iraqi people have killed close to 4,000 American soldiers. By contrast, in Iran, the leadership hates Americans but the people generally like them.” This is the conundrum the Bush administration should consider as it reportedly calls on the Pentagon to revisit a battle plan for attacking Iran.

One sad consequence of bombing might well be a rallying of the Iranian people around their flagging leadership, boosting popular support for an unpopular regime. You can almost hear Iran’s neoconservative leadership saying, “Make my day.”

• Walter Rodgers is a former senior international correspondent for CNN.

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali Vs. the West

By Eboo Patel

The only reason we pay attention to Ayaan Hirsi Ali is because of the maniacal Muslims who want to murder her. Her superficial insights are made infinitely more interesting by the fact that there are nut jobs out there who would do her in for making them.

Ms. Ali, often and ludicrously called a “defender of the West”, has certainly mastered one of its central elements: capitalism. She has learned to make a living from the fact that her life is threatened. It is a lucrative though precarious path, as recent events make clear.

I think the people who want Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s head are cretins. They are dangerous to all of us. They would have my head and the heads of all the progressive Muslims I know in an instant.

But to make a hero of Ayaan Hirsi Ali because we deplore her would-be killers – to call her books “luminous” as Salman Rushdie and Sam Harris do in a recent International Herald Tribune OpEd – violates some of the central principles of the Enlightenment that these people laughably claim Ali is championing.

Ali’s book Infidel essentially tells a story of a woman’s escape from oppression into freedom, and from the life of a refugee cleaning lady in the Netherlands to a writer and politician. It is a genuinely inspiring tale (even a lyrical one, although reports have surfaced that Ali had a ghost writer), until Ali gets to the point where she says that the entire religion of Islam was not only the cause of her oppression, but is the central cause of oppression in the world, and moreover, it has never been, and can never be, anything but oppressive.

Let’s apply the Enlightenment principle of reason to this narrative, and let’s do it through a story. Let’s say that Ayaan Hirsi Ali, instead of incriminating Islam at the end of her book, blamed another entity whose cultural traditions had more than a little to do with her painful childhood. Let’s say she went after Africa. And let’s say she did it with the same venom and hyperbole.

What if Ali said that all of Africa was benighted and evil? Look at its civil wars, its history of corrupt leaders, its diseases. There is only one solution: we must eradicate its traditions and immediately initiate its hundreds of millions of people into other cultures lest they spread their poison all over the world. In fact, she may well add, the cultural invasion has begun – do you know how many Africans are migrating to Europe?

There would, of course, be an outcry – probably led by the likes of Bono and Angelina Jolie — that would go something like this: “It is a violation of reason and dignity for one person to universalize her experience and say that an entire continent with thousands of years of history is to blame for it.”

Nobody would fete her for “leaving Africa” as they have for her renouncing Islam. They would simply call her an ignoramus and be done with it.

Instead of the talk show circuit, Ayaan Hirsi Ali would be writing bitter articles for xenophobic journals.

Just to continue with our embrace of the Enlightenment, let’s consider a story a little closer to home, a story that focuses on our beloved nation – the one that took Enlightenment principles seriously enough to enshrine them in its founding documents and political institutions.

In Infidel, Ali quotes passages of the Qur’an that are violent, and because she is targeting an audience that either doesn’t know better or doesn’t want to know better, she suggests that those passages represent the whole text, the whole 1400 year history of Islam, its billion plus current adherents.

Let’s say that Ms. Ali was flipping through the U.S. Constitution and the first passage she read was the one that said people of her skin color counted as three-fifths of a person. Let’s say that Ms. Ali opened an American history book and read only the chapter on the slave trade. Let’s say the first Americans she met were the racists who drove around Jena during the protests with nooses hanging off their pick up trucks. Let’s say she connects these dots into a story – the story of America’s inevitable, oppressive racism.

But wait a minute you say ‚Äö√Ѭ∂ that’s not all the Constitution says. That’s not the entirety of American history, nor the whole of the American population.

But she’s got her story, and she’s taking it to the bank.

If you’re going to buy into the universal principles of the Enlightenment, then you should apply them in a universal and enlightened way.

To all those who claim Ayaan Hirsi Ali is the new face of the West:

If your ulterior motive is to deepen a narrative intended to make Muslims in North America and Europe seem and feel forever foreign – to write an entire religion out of entire continents for the foreseeable future – I suggest you reflect deeply on your bedrock principles and your core identity.

If you think the West is about marginalizing large groups of people and maligning their traditions, then Ayaan Hirsi Ali is defending it. If you believe, as I do, that the West is characterized by reason and pluralism, then Ayaan Hirsi Ali is attacking its essence.

Finally, and for the record, if Ayaan Hirsi Ali applied for refugee status in America and requested protection from the government, I would support her application and offer my tax dollars to ensure her safety.

She is repulsive to my Muslim faith and my Enlightenment sensibilities, but those same traditions cause me to wish her no harm.

Eboo Patel is founder and executive director of the Interfaith Youth Core, a Chicago-based international nonprofit that promotes interfaith cooperation. His blog, The Faith Divide, explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. He is the author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.

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Resources for Responding to Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week

By Sheila Musaji
updated 10-17-2007

Islamo-fascism Awareness Week polarizes the campus community and keeps stereotypes alive, The Daily Californian.
If schools are willing to host such events, then Horowitz has every right to bring Islamo-Fascism week to universities. However, to place it under the guise of awareness, as if it’s under the same umbrella as Mental Health Awareness Week or Breast Cancer Awareness Week is misleading. No matter what its organizers say, Islamo-fascism Awareness Week does not serve to educate, but rather to fuel bigotry and fear.
The most glaring indication that the program has a sinister motive is in the name itself. By branding the week as “Islamo-Fascism,” it immediately sets up a charged atmosphere targeting a group of people based on race and religion. It also immediately simplifies very complex issues into the current stereotypes of terrorism perpetuated by media and pundits.
These events are reminiscent of the Red Scare Era, when fear of Communism swept across the nation. Many innocent people, targeted because of their jobs, sexual orientation and other miscellaneous reasons, became victims in the infamous witch hunt led by Senator Joseph McCarthy. Islamo-fascism week feeds that same fear, the fear of an unknown or misunderstood entity. The fear that gripped this country during the ’50s has now transformed into a fear of a racial group who practices a peaceful religion. In this country, ignorance and the media have helped maintain the stereotype that a terrorist is Muslim, looks a certain way and is from a certain region. Islamo-Facism Awareness Week only contributes to keeping this wrongful image alive.
These events also contribute to the divide and the unnecessary “us-versus-them” mentality. By linking the week to Islam and Muslims, it creates the binary atmosphere and alienates individuals. Already, there are dozens of Web sites promoting the event; one urges “Americans” to mark their calendars and learn about “Islam and their quest for world domination … Learn what the Religion of Peace does not want you to know about their agenda to dominate the world much like Adolf Hitler desired before starting World War II.”

Project for a New American Century’s Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week (satire), David Swanson
In the face of the greatest danger Americans have ever confronted, the academic left has mobilized to create sympathy for the enemy and to fight anyone who rallies Americans to defend themselves. According to the academic left, anyone who links Islamic radicalism to the war on terror is an “Islamophobe.” According to the academic left, the Islamo-Fascists hate us not because we are tolerant and free, but because we are “oppressors.” This can be easily disproven in two ways. First, we can curtail our tolerance and freedom and test whether they still hate us. Second, if – as seems to be the case- they do still hate us, we can oppress the academic left to give it a better understanding of oppression.

David Horowitz Slanders Ron Paul, Iraq Vets – American Fascism Awareness Day Flier is a hoax.
You would think that David Horowitz could find enough to attack without making stuff up.
Today’s FrontPageMag.com has a “story” about “American Fascism Awareness Day” to counter Horowitz’s own “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week.” The supposed flyer for the event asks “Who Hates Americans? We Do. Your typical American is: A racist. A sexist. A homophobe. An Islamo-phobe. Is willing to invade other countries for oil and pleasure. Is easily manipulated by Rush Limbaugh and Jews. Is the cause of global warming.” The “event” is supposedly co-sponsored by a number of organizations, including Iraq Veterans Against the War and the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and speakers include Ron Paul and others.
Here’s the punch line: The Event is scheduled for NOVEMBER 31, 2007. Of course, there is no Nov. 31 on the calendar. And none of the organizations listed mentions the “event” on their websites, and a Google search for “American Fascism Awareness Day” produces only mentions of the FrontPageMag article.
– see also “Admission of responsibility” from students who admitted responsibility for the flier.
Islamo Fascism Awareness Week, Matthew Yglesias – regarding petition
In short, the main goal of the “David Horowitz Freedom Center” here is to write up a petition deliberately designed to be unlikely for Muslim groups to sign and then to use Muslim groups’ failure to sign the petition as evidence that they’re on the side of “our terrorist adversaries.” This is a great way to go about things if you want to (a) be a campus troublemaker, (b) over the long run turn hundreds of millions of Muslims around the world into hardened enemies of the United States, and (c) create a large group of disaffected Muslims inside the United States who’ve been made to feel that adherence to their faith is unwelcome in America and fundamentally incompatible with loyalty to this country.
– see also actual petition on Terrorism Awareness site.
America’s Fascists Call for “Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week”, by Reggie Dylan
A particularly racist component of this week is the targeting of the Muslim Student Association (MSA) around the country. Claiming it ise sponsored by fanatical religious movements, MSA is already being “baited” by these brownshirts‚Äö√Ñ√Æinsisting that it sign on to their “Islamo-Fascism Petition” to prove that it “reject[s] the hateful agendas of its sponsors, the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas.” This vilification of immigrants from the Middle East and Muslims of all countries is meant to appeal to and inflame the most ugly, nativist passions. In his speech to the SAF in March Santorum explained: “What losing looks like is pretty easy, in my mind. Look at Europe‚Äö√Ѭ∂.The most popular male name in Belgium‚Äö√Ñ√ÆMohammad. It’s the fifth most popular name in France among boys. They [native Europeans] are losing because they are not having children, they have no faith, they have nothing to counteract it.”
Spreading Awareness or Smearing a Religion?, GARY LEUPP.
Those seeking to link contemporary Islam with European fascism emphasize feelings of victimization and dreams of restoring lost glory. But where in the Muslim world is the charismatic leader? Bin Laden? The Baathists and Shiites hate him. Where’s the mass-based party? Where’s ultranationalism or racism? Islam emphasizes the equality of peoples before God, while the Qur’an explicitly states that righteous Christians and Jews will enter Paradise.
The real intention here is to couple “Islam” with a powerful epithet, devoid of analytical content, conjuring up images of a universally detested past. Bush insists on comparing the constitutionally weak Iranian President Ahmadinejad, leading a country that hasn’t attacked another in hundreds of years, with Hitler (as his father compared Saddam to Hitler). Similarly, the proponents of the “Islamofascism” concept want to play upon emotions rather than really spread “awareness.” Their historical analogies are absurd, while their planned week is more than an affront to Muslims. It is an insult to everybody’s intelligence.
Resist Islamo Fascism Awareness Week and [2] and [3]
A Campaign of Hate and Racism Coming to Campus?, By Yousef Munayyer
The Web site for IFAW lists approximately 150 institutions, including this one, at which it will be held. ADC contacted the presidents of each of these universities to let them know that the hate-filled campaign was scheduled to take place on campus. ADC expressed serious concerns that such rhetoric and speech will not serve to educate but only to promote hate and bigotry. The points of view espoused by this campaign are not ones that belong in any reasonable debate, as they serve to promote hatred of an entire religion or ethnic origin. While there is, and should be, ample discussion on college campuses about U.S. Middle East policy, with a diverse range of opinions present, the kinds of ideas that this campaign is trying to put forward are dangerous, hateful, and will only obviate the learning process and further Islamophobia and racism. The overwhelming response ADC received from universities was that they did not want to be associated with this campaign. Numerous universities expressed outrage that their name was being associated with Mr. Horowitz’s IFAW hate campaign. ADC is glad to say that university presidents from Jerry Falwell Jr. at Liberty University and other evangelical schools, to Princeton, Cornell, and to the chancellors of various public state system universities and private colleges are firmly opposed to this type of campaign.
Although 150 schools are listed at the Web site, it seems very few, if any, are actually participating in IFAW. It appears that if Mr. Horowitz can gather a small group of narrow-minded students in a dorm room to watch one of his poorly produced propaganda films, he thinks he can list a university as a participant.
MPAC Releases Tips for Tackling ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamo-Fascism’ Events at Universities
What You Need to Know about Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week , MPAC
MPAC is here to help you and other campus student organizations effectively respond to IFAW’s campaign with Islamic ethics, clear vision and open hearts: PRACTICE ISLAMIC ETHICS. As we are challenged by Islamophobia and other forms of bigotry, we must remind ourselves of Islamic ethics in confronting social evils. Our style of work and speaking should be a demonstration of the Quranic verse: “Good and evil cannot be equal. Repel evil with what is better – so that he between whom and yourself was enmity, may then become your closestfriend.” [Quran 41:34] SUPPORT FREE SPEECH Any action must be taken with the understanding that freedom of speech is integral to the academic setting and its participants. We advise against any move to censor or shut down the operations of the student organizations involved in the event. DO NOT RESPOND. Refrain from drawing attention to events that are part of IFAW to prevent controversy, backlash, or an escalation of tensions from occurring. IFAW organizers are seeking an angry protest from Muslim students – we should avoid this at any and all costs, both in events and statements. CONTACT CAMPUS ADMINISTRATORS. Student groups should contact appropriate campus administrators ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ such as the dean of student affairs, religious leaders, the university president ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ to address concerns raised by the presence of outside agitators on their campus whose inflammatory and controversial views could have negative consequences to student life on campus. TALK TO OTHER STUDENT GROUPS. Muslim students and Muslim student groups should initiate or enhance dialogue with other campus groups to unite efforts against hate and all manifestations of extremism on campus. REPORT INCIDENTS. Individuals and groups should report hate incidents and hate crimes that may occur as a result of backlash from IFAW to campus police and administration, city/county law enforcement, and community organizations.
Hate crimes and hate incidents can be reported to MPAC’s Hate Crime Prevention Department by calling the toll-free hotline number at (800) 898- 3558 or emailing hatecrimes@mpac.org. The following definitions may be useful in determining the types of hate acts that may take place on campus. For further information, visit http://www.mpac.org/hate-crime-prevention. Hate Crime ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ any criminal act or attempted criminal act directed against a person(s) based on the victim’s actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. Hate Incident ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ an act directed against a person(s) based on their actual or perceived race, nationality, religion, gender, disability, or sexual orientation. The difference between a hate incident and a hate crime is that a hate incident is a non-criminal act.
Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week: David Horowitz Intends to Spread Fear, Hatred, Chelsey Perkins
Iran Chosen As Official Poster of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, Azadeh Enshah
David Horowitz’ Reactionary Road Show Must be Confronted and Exposed, Reggie Dylan
Islamic Fascism: The New Hysteria, Alan Maass
No one seriously attempts to equate the tenants of the Muslim religion with the political phenomenon of fascism–historically, an extreme right-wing movement of the middle class that aims to smash all working-class organization and eliminate democracy. Fascism is nationalist and usually virulently racist–with the Nazis’ genocidal policies the classic example.
Islam and Fascism? What Next?, Dr. S. Khurshid
Fascist America, in 10 easy steps, The Guardian Special Report
Book Review: American Fascism: The Christian Right and the War on America (Chris Hedges), Stephen Lendman
Sowing the Seeds of Fascism in America, Stan Goff
VIDEO: America Freedom to Fascism
VIDEO: There Is Fascism, Indeed, Keith Olbermann
The Big Lie About ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamic Fascism’, Eric S. Margolis
There is nothing in any part of the Muslim World that resembles the corporate fascist states of western history. In fact, clan and tribal-based traditional Islamic society, with its fragmented power structures, local loyalties, and consensus decision-making, is about as far as possible from western industrial state fascism. … However, there are plenty of modern far rightists with neo-fascist tendencies. But to find them, you have to go to North America and Europe. They advocate `preemptive attacks against all potential enemies,’ grabbing other nation’s resources, overthrowing uncooperative governments, military dominance of the world, hatred of Semites (Muslims in this case), adherence to biblical prophecies, hatred of all who fail to agree, intensified police controls, and curtailment of `liberal’ political rights.
The Christian Right and `Islamo-Facism`, Dan Jennejohn
‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamo-fascism’ is an Oxymoron, Enver Masud
As for Islamo-fascism, Islam has no central authority – it does not meet the definition of fascism. Even when the community of Muslims (the ummah) had a central authority (the caliphate), it was neither totalitarian nor fascist.
Moral Superiority, 9/11, Islamic-Fascism: The Smokescreens of War, Imraan Siddiqi
Muslims Who Fought Against the ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Real’ Fascists, Sheila Musaji
Islamic Fascists?, Sheila Musaji
In just the past few months there has been a rash of articles and blog entries that bring up and expand upon the sad fact that Amin el-Husseini, the Mufti of Jerusalem collaborated with Hitler during WWII. This comes at the same time as President Bush’s use of the term Islamic Fascists appearing to validate a term used over the last few years among those determined to provoke a clash of civilizations. Whether the sudden proliferation in the use of this term (or its’ variants – Islamo-Nazi, Islamo-Fascist, etc.) and the articles attempting to find some connection with Islam and the Nazis and Fascists is simply a case of extremists feeding off of each other in our world of almost instantaneous communication, or is due to a calculated campaign is debatable, but the end result is an increase in Islamophobia and mutual distrust. Such stereotyping all too often leads to a dehumanization of the “other” and has historically been the precursor to isolation, discrimination, and violence. Such descriptions also blur distinctions and create an atmosphere in which the “enemy” becomes most or all Muslims.
Counterproductive Counterterrorism: How Anti-Islamic Rhetoric is Impeding America’s Homeland Security, MPAC
Fighting Words: The Abuse of Islam in Political Rhetoric, L. Ali Khan
It is becoming fashionable for elected officials in the Anglo-American world, notably in the United States and the United Kingdom, to employ abusive language involving Islam. Phrases such as “Islamic terrorism,” “totalitarian Islam,” “crimes of Islam,” and “Islamic fascism” are freely used, with sadist disrespect, to condemn real and imagined terrorists who practice the faith of Islam. For years, and long before the 9/11 attacks, neo-conservative scholarship has been determined to popularize the concept of the essentialist terrorist [PDF] who purportedly draws his deepest inspiration from the puritanical beliefs of Islam and equipped with cruelty, commits violence against innocent Jews and Christians. According to this, occupations, invasions, territorial thefts, assassinations, house demolitions, human rights violations, and other such grievances have nothing to do with Islamic resistance. Islamic terrorism, according to neo-conservative scholarship, stems from the Sharia, from passages of the Quran, and from a puritanical mindset that manufactures pretexts to maim and kill. These killers, it is further contended, wish to impose Islamic law over the entire world. Gradually but successfully, the propagandized essentialist terrorist and the attendant abusive language against Islam have entered political rhetoric. Presidents, prime ministers, congressmen, senators, and other officials are now freely using abusive language to malign Islam, not through uncaught moments of Freudian slips but as a policy of expressive audacity.
Who Is the Fascist Here?, Charles Evans
Wrong War, Wrong Word, Katha Pollitt
Bush’s Islamic Fascist statement: A fascist blast from the past, Susan Aschoff
Saying ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamic Fascists’ May Defeat Bush’s Purpose, Parvez Ahmed
In these trying times it is important our nation stands united. Muslims form an important part of the fabric of America. We are law-abiding citizens who have always been dedicated to the protection of our national security. We should not be targeted or singled out because of our faith. Nor should our faith be equated with the evils of terrorism or fascism. We do not control or have say over the actions of shadowy terrorist groups. But as taxpayers we certainly have a right to petition and expect our own government to do everything in its power to protect us by all means, including avoiding counterproductive rhetoric.
Speaking Out Against Islamo-Fascist Week! and Speaking Out Flier
Understanding Why Islamophobia is on the Rise, Phyllis Chessler
Berkeley Republican Group’s Islamo Fascism Awareness Event Plans Under Fire, Kelly Fitzpatrick
FROM FASCISM TO FREEDOM: Stirring the Winds of Political Climate Change, Steve Bhaerman
Are You Ready for ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamo-Fascism Week’?, Inside Higher Education
The Neo-Missionaries and their Fascism, Zuheir Kseibati
Alan Colmes Objects to Use of term Islamic Fascism Colmes commented that the phrase “Islamo-fascism” constitutes “hate speech.” Colmes: “You talk about hate speech. The words, the phrase ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamo-fascism’ is hate speech. It equates an entire religion with fascism. That’s what people object to. It conflates the two, and it’s wrong.”
Presidential Candidate Fred Thompson warns of ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamic fascism’ – Thompson said “It is a global war – Islamic fascism has declared it upon us,” during the debate with his eight rivals in Michigan on Tuesday. “They play by no rules and they are intent on bringing down Western civilisation and the United States of America,”
Presidential Candidate Rudy Guiliani Roughs Up Arabs, Maureen Dowd
A campus crusade against Muslims, Nicole Colson
A petition from the misnamed David Horowitz Freedom Center demands that “students and faculty…declare their allegiances: either to fighting our terrorist adversaries or failing to take action to stop our enemies.” In a throwback to McCarthyism, right-wing students are encouraged to issue press releases condemning those who refused to sign.
Author Naomi Wolf Warns of Fascism in America, Alex Kane
‚Äö√Ñ√≤Awareness’ weak on Islam’s truths, Adam Lichtenheld
Coining the oxymoron “Fascist Islam” has allowed radical Zionists like Mr. Horowitz to compare today’s terrorists with Germany’s Nazis, evoking shameful and chilling reminders of the Holocaust to help justify Israel’s aggressive military policies and America’s support for them. Mr. Horowitz and his hounds claim that the event’s purpose is to advocate for moderate Muslims struggling against fundamentalism and highlight the oppression of Islamic women, while refraining from attacking Islam directly. This is hard to believe when looking at the week’s speaking lineup.
Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, Christine Benlafquih
Iran Chosen As Official Poster of Islamo-Fascism Awareness Week, Azadeh Ensha
The label of Catholic terror was never used about the IRA, Karen Armstrong
Rhetoric is a powerful weapon in any conflict. We cannot hope to convert Osama bin Laden from his vicious ideology; our priority must be to stem the flow of young people into organisations such as al-Qaida, instead of alienating them by routinely coupling their religion with immoral violence. Incorrect statements about Islam have convinced too many in the Muslim world that the west is an implacable enemy. … Precise intelligence is essential in any conflict. It is important to know who our enemies are, but equally crucial to know who they are not. It is even more vital to avoid turning potential friends into foes. By making the disciplined effort to name our enemies correctly, we will learn more about them, and come one step nearer, perhaps, to solving the seemingly intractable and increasingly perilous problems of our divided world.
President prepares U.S. for conflict with ‚Äö√Ñ√≤radical Islam’ from Spain to Indonesia, by David E. Sanger
‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamic terrorism’ is too emotive a phrase, says EU, By David Rennie
Backed by diplomats and civil servants from the 25 EU members, the officials are drafting a “non-emotive lexicon for discussing radicalisation” to be submitted to Tony Blair and other leaders in June. An EU official said: “The basic idea behind it is to avoid the use of improper words that would cause frustration among Muslims and increase the risk of radicalisation.”
Bigotry and Ignorance of Islam, Charley Reese
Fascists? Look who’s talking, By Jim Lobe
The myth of Muslim support for terror, Kenneth Ballen
Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.
‚Äö√Ñ√≤Saddam, Arafat and the Saudis hate the Jews and want to see them destroyed’, Richard Webster
Those on the right who have taken up the chant of “Islamo- fascism” repeatedly enjoin us to “forget the root causes”. Yet the point of the military and political decisions being taken now is to eliminate or lessen the perils facing us. If we ignore history in doing this, we may increase those perils. We should recognise that the direct responsibility for the transfer of a murderous form of anti-Semitism from Christianity to Islam lies with the decision of the great powers, and above all of Britain, to back the Zionist project.
Toward a definition of ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Islamic fascism’, David Ignatius
Yet I balk at the term. The notion that we are fighting “Islamic fascists” blurs the conflict, widening the enemy to many if not all Muslims. It’s as if we were to call Hitler and Mussolini “Christian fascists,” implying that it is their religion, not resistance to transcendence, that is the root cause of the problem. The revolution that began in Iran in 1979 must be contained so that it doesn’t destabilize the region more than it already has. But it will only be broken from within, by people who are at last ready to transcend.
Islamofascists: a dangerous label, Michael Burleigh
Reclaiming The Issues: Islamic Or Republican Fascism?, Thom Hartmann
The film Obsession: Radical Islam’s War With the West will also be shown during this week on many campuses. Please see our resources for countering the propoganda of this film.
See also our collection of Resources “Muslims Denounce Terrorism and Extremism”

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Armenians Who Need Help Today

By Fred Hiatt
Monday, October 15, 2007; Page A15

Imagine what the Armenian diaspora might have accomplished had it worked as hard for democracy in Armenia as it did for congressional recognition of the genocide Armenians suffered nearly a century ago. It’s even possible that modern Armenia would be as democratic as modern Turkey.

The Armenian American community notched a political victory last week when the House Foreign Affairs Committee voted 27 to 21 for a resolution demanding that the U.S. government officially acknowledge that Turkey committed genocide against the Armenian people early in the 20th century. The Turkish government insists that, while terrible things happened, there was no genocide. The Bush administration, reluctant to offend an important ally, lobbied hard against the resolution.

There are passionate arguments on both sides of this fight: the urgency of facing history honestly, on one hand; unease over attempting to resolve such matters by political declaration, on the other. But what is sad, when members of Congress are hailing the vote as a victory for human rights, is how poorly human rights fare in Armenia today.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, none of its 15 component republics seemed better poised to evolve democratically than Armenia. A beautiful country of mountains and pastures and vineyards, it had a clearer sense of national identity than most, with a long pre-Soviet history as a nation; its own language, alphabet and church; and a passionate diaspora, many of whose members were ready to bring not only their skills but also their habits of democracy and civil society to Yerevan. Of an estimated 10 million ethnic Armenians in the world, only 3 million dwell in Armenia; more than 2 million live in Russia, but about 1.5 million are in the United States.

Things began well, with the honest election of a former dissident as president. But authoritarian tendencies soon emerged, the former dissident rigged his reelection in 1996, and things went downhill from there. As Freedom House noted last year, “all national elections held in Armenia since independence have been marred by some degree of ballot stuffing, vote rigging, and similar irregularities.” Meanwhile, opposition politicians have been jailed, protests have been brutally suppressed, and broadcast media have been taken under government control.

Conditions in Armenia are better than in some post-Soviet republics. Though corruption is endemic, the economy is growing and ranks relatively high in some measures of freedom for private enterprise. A parliamentary election in the spring was conducted more fairly than past polls. The ruling oligarchs tolerate some opposition parties, nongovernmental organizations and non-official newspapers.

But conditions also are a lot worse than in some republics, notably Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Many members of their diasporas also returned to their ancestral homelands, where they became passionate advocates not only of national rebirth but also of democracy and corruption-free capitalism.

Why the difference? Armenia was sidetracked early on by a war with neighboring Azerbaijan over an Armenian enclave inside that country. The enclave is under Armenian control today, but a cease-fire has not given way to a peace settlement. Consequently, the two main Armenian American lobbying organizations in Washington have focused more on security questions — opposing arms sales to Azerbaijan, for example, and opposing Turkey, Azerbaijan’s ally — than on promoting democracy in Yerevan. Armenia’s rulers have known that, no matter how they trample on individual rights at home, the lobbying groups will cover for them here.

The heads of both U.S. organizations told me that their groups have worked, sometimes quietly, to promote human rights and civil society in Armenia. Undoubtedly their influence would be limited, no matter how hard they tried.

But what if they had tried as fervently as they did to win Wednesday’s vote? It’s hard not to think that 3 million Armenians might be less poor and more free than they are today.


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Stories of Muslims in America Online Film Contest

$50,000 in Cash Prizes

The “One Nation Many Voices” Online Film Contest is offering $50,000 in cash prizes for short videos illuminating the American-Muslim experience. Everyone in the U.S. is invited to compete, regardless of race or religion, so grab a camera, visit our website for the complete Rules and Regulations, and get filming! The deadline is November 25, 2007.


Categories: There are six categories: Drama, Comedy, Documentary, Animation/Music, Youth 18 and under, One Minute and less. Online voters will determine the finalists in each category. Top vote-getters will become finalists and eligible to win the Grand Prize.

Prizes: Contest prizes will be awarded as follows:
• $50,000 in total prizes
• $20,000 for Grand Prize (best overall video)
• $ 5,000 for winner of each category mentioned above.
• Finalists will also be aired nationally on Link TV.

Judging: Prize winners will be selected by a panel that includes: actor/activist Danny Glover, journalist Mariane Pearl, comedian Azhar Usman, and philanthropist Sara Abbasi.

Watch all the films on our website: www.linktv.org/onenation

Help pick the winners by voting online. And you can leave a comment too!

About One Nation
One Nation is a philanthropic collaborative with the vision of fostering a national conversation about the common values we share as Americans, regardless of how we choose to express our spirituality. One Nation sponsors projects that challenge stereotypes and misperceptions of Muslims and Islam by shining a spotlight on our shared values, beliefs and responsibilities (http://www.onenationforall.org/)

About Link TV
Link TV is the first nationwide television channel dedicated to providing Americans with global perspectives on news, events and culture. Link TV broadcasts programs that engage, educate and activate viewers to become involved in the world, presenting issues not often covered in the U.S. media. Link TV is available in more than 30 million U.S. homes receiving satellite television. Select programs are shown on urban cable systems, campus channels and streamed worldwide on the Internet.

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Call for Applications: Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellowships

The Reagan-Fascell Democracy Fellows Program at the Washington, D.C.-based National Endowment for Democracy invites applications from candidates throughout the Middle East and North Africa for fellowships in 2008-2009. Established in 2001, the program enables democracy activists, practitioners, scholars, and journalists from around the world to deepen their understanding of democracy and to enhance their ability to promote democratic change. The program is intended primarily to support activists, practitioners, and scholars from new and aspiring democracies. Projects may focus on the political, social, economic, legal, and cultural aspects of democratic development and may include a range of methodologies and approaches. Please note that the program is not designed to pay for professional training or to support students working toward a degree. A working knowledge of English is required. The application deadline for fellowships in 2008-2009 is Thursday, November 1, 2007. For more information and application materials, please visitwww.ned.org/forum/reagan-fascell.html

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FURNISHED office space available for sublease at CSID office in DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON DC (1625 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 601, Washington DC). Space available ranges from 1 to 4 office rooms (fully furnished) and rent is between $1,500 and $4,000 per month. Rent includes use of board and conference rooms (from 10 to 90 people). Ideal location and flexible terms.

EXCELLENT LOCATION – next to Johns Hopkins, SAIS, Brookings, Carnegie Endowment, and USIP. Close to DuPont Circle metro.

For further information, please contact Aly Abuzaakuk at (202) 265-1200.

The articles in this bulletin do NOT necessarily reflect the opinions of CSID, or its board of directors. They are included in the CSID bulletin to encourage and facilitate diversity of opinions, discussions, and debates about democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, and how best to strengthen and promote it.