Friday, May 27, 2005

Again, the Pentagon Misses the Point on Allegations About Desecration of the Qur'an

The Associated Press is reporting that the anonymous prisoner at Guantanamo who initially alleged that U.S. military personnel flushed pages of the Qur'an down a toilet has "recanted" his testimony when requestioned by U.S. government agents.
See: http://beliefnet.com/story/167/story_16753_1.html

The prisoner is not identified. What a surprise. I wonder what threats were used to get him to withdraw his testimony? Perhaps he would actually be fed. Maybe they wouldn't use mental or physical abuse on him for a week.

However, the greater issue seems to be that the Pentagon has focused all of its energies on refuting this one case where U.S. military personnel were alleged to have desecrated the Qur'an, which is sacred to ALL Muslims, not just the violent ideologues in al-Qaeda. Even if this single case never happened, there have been PLENTY of other allegations, documented by third party organizations such as Amnesty International. Even the U.S. military admits that there are credible cases of "mishandling" of the Qur'an by its employees.
See: http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/G/GUANTANAMO_QURAN?SITE=ALANN&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT&SECTION=HOME

Three years after coming face to face with radical, militant Muslim extremists, the U.S. government is still fumbling around how to interact with the wider Islamic world. "Mishandling" the Qur'an by throwing it on the ground, insulting its message(s), and possibly defiling it are insults to ALL Muslims, not just the idiots in al-Qaeda. How do those "mishandling" the Qur'an think moderate (i.e. normal) Muslims view such acts? On the one hand, we support the destruction of terror in the name of Islam, while on the other, we become defensive when our core beliefs are abused, ridiculed, insulted, and attacked.

It's high time for the U.S. government to stop alienating all the world's 1.5 billion Muslims with its "War on Terror." But, like many giants, the U.S. is unwieldy, clumsy, and often cannot see the forest for the trees. In a time when greater understanding is needed between Muslims and the U.S., acts such as desecrating the Qur'an do not help fight the image that the U.S. is arrogant and fighting a war not against terrorism, but against Islam and all Muslims.

The International Committee of the Red Cross documented reports of abuse of the Qur'an at Guantanamo years ago, in 2002, and brought up its concerns with the U.S. government, apparently to no avail. Luckily, there seem to be signs that, due to increasing public exposure on the world stage, the U.S. military is cracking down on cases of "mishandling."
See: http://www.cbc.ca/storyview/MSN/world/national/2005/05/20/redcross-quran050520.html

Another issue at hand here is that of respect for others and their beliefs. This is something ALL people must do, including Muslims. I am devoted to Islam, the Words of God as I believe them to be preserved in the Qur'an, and in the Message brought by God's Messenger, Muhammad. However, I also read, study, and show respect for the other religious writings of the world, including the Christian Bible, the TANAKH (Hebrew Bible), the Bhagavad Gita, the Dhammapada, the Book of Mormon, etc. I show respect for the religious scriptures of others, even if I don't particulary like the religion (i.e. Mormonism, Christianity.)

Monday, May 16, 2005

Update: Newsweek Retracts Story That Alleged U.S. Soldiers Desecrated the Qur'an

Newsweek, which reported last week that U.S. military personnel at Guantanamo Bay desecrated the Qur'an, even flushing pages of it down a toilet, have retracted their story. Newsweek Editor Mark Whitaker (left), speaking for the magazine, said, "We regret that we got any part of our story wrong, and extend our sympathies to the victims of the violence and to the U.S. soldiers caught in its midst." This comes after the Pentagon vehemently denied that any proof of such occurrences exist and after widespread violence broke out in Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Gaza Strip in protest to the allegations. The White House and the U.S. Department of State also criticized Newsweek for not retracting its story sooner.

The story, reported originally by Michael Isikoff (right) and John Barry, was based on information from a "reliable source" that claimed that the U.S. government was looking into several allegations, including an incident where pages of the Qur'an were flushed down a toilet. Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff General Richard Myers said on Thursday that the Pentagon had not confirmed a "toilet incident," though he did say there was a report being investigated that alleged that, "a detainee was reported by a guard to be ripping pages out of a Qur'an and putting [them] in the toilet to stop it up as a protest." Myers denied that a U.S. soldier was involved.

To be blunt, Myers' allegations that a Muslim desecrated a copy of the Qur'an to "protest" U.S. human rights abuses at Guantanamo is ridiculous. Muslims are not even supposed to touch the words of the Qur'an (i.e. the Arabic, not translations) without having performed ritual ablutions or wudhu. It is extremely difficult for me to believe that a Muslim, even a member of a terrorist organization such as al-Qaeda, would treat the Qur'an in such a manner for any reason. Also, the "toilet" allegation is not the first time that U.S. soldiers or intelligence officers have been accused of such behavior toward the Muslim holy scriptures. There are, in fact, numerous cases where U.S. personnel were alleged to have stomped on the Qur'an or otherwise treated it with extreme disrespect. So, to believe additional allegations is not asking much. The profound ignorance of some in the U.S. military and intelligence services is almost too hard to believe: how could people be so blindly ignorant of what their actions represent and what they can cause?

For more information on Newsweek's backtracking, see:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/15/newsweek.quran/index.html
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran/index.html


According to a Reuters report issued May 16, Muslims around the world believe that Newsweek only backed off because of pressure from the U.S. government. In short, they don't believe that the incident never occured. Protests are expected to continue and the idea that the U.S. amorphous "War on Terror" is really a war against Islam and Muslims has been fueled yet again, either by an extreme case of journalistic error or by the U.S. government's continued blunders in its campaign to "win Muslim hearts and minds." It was probably both.

For more information on disbelief among Muslims that the Newsweek "correction" is accurate, see:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran.intl/index.html

Several prominent Muslim clerics have condemned the alleged desecration. Grand Ayatullah Sayyid Muhammad Husayn Fadlallah (right) of Lebanon said, "The desecration of the Holy Qur'an in the terrifying Guantanamo detention center that America created under the title of fighting terrorism against the Muslims who have been arbitrarily rounded up there, is one of the American methods of torture . . . This is not an isolated act carried out by an American soldier but is part of an American program...of contempt for Islam, to disfigure its image in the minds of Americans."

Grand Shaykh al-Azhar Sayyid Muhammad al-Tantawi called the alleged incident a "great crime," but he said it was the work of "a bunch of kids, criminals..."

Both quotes above are reported by Professor Juan R. I. Cole of the University of Michigan, a noted expert on South Asian and Middle Eastern history and Shi'i Islam.

To view Professor Cole's blog, see:
http://www.juancole.com
(The referenced entry is under May, Monday 16)

White House Press Secretary Scott McClellan said that Newsweek has the responsibility to spread the word that the U.S. military treats "the Qur'an with great care and respect." To be frank, that is ridiculous. Yes, Newsweek has the obligation to make its retraction is known (and judging from the comments from Muslim religious leaders worldwide, people are already aware), but the U.S. doesn't have the high ground here. Abuse of the Qur'an probably has happened and it may happen again. Unfortunately, it's not that hard to believe.

For more information on the Newsweek retraction, see:
http://www.cnn.com/2005/WORLD/asiapcf/05/16/newsweek.quran/index.html

United Press International is reporting that the International Red Cross documented cases where U.S. military personnel desecrated the Qur'an, which it reported to the U.S. government:

http://beliefnet.com/story/167/story_16703_1.html

Friday, May 13, 2005

Sacred Rage: Muslims Furious Over Probable Desecration of the Qur'an

It was recently reported in Newsweek, and further reprinted in publications and news outlets all over the world, that members of the U.S. military and/or intelligence services defiled the Qur'an, which Muslims believe contains the Revelations of God. According to sources, pages were torn out and flushed down a toilet in an attempt to humiliate security prisoners currently being held at Guantanamo Bay.

Here is a case in point of how inept and ignorant large segments of the U.S. governmental establishment is when it comes to dealing with the Muslim World. The Qur'an is sacred to all Muslims, not just members of al-Qaeda; by defiling the Qur'an, the U.S. military/intelligence services have set back any attempt to convince the world's Muslims that our government respects Islam. It is perhaps extremely difficult for those raised in the secular West to really understand how awful this act, if it happened, is. For a religious Christian, it is akin to tearing out pages of the Gospels and spitting on them. To Muslims, the Qur'an is the Word of God; to defile them is to defile God.

In Afghanistan and Pakistan, thousands of Muslims have protested violently over the last two days over this alleged act. Several people have been killed in clashes with Afghan security forces. If this act is verified, the backlash could get a lot worse. And frankly, the U.S. military would have brought it on itself. If true, the guilty parties have succeeded in proving Osama bin Laden's argument: that the American government is hostile to Islam and to Muslims. First Abu Ghraib and ow this. Good job, U.S. military intelligence. You have once again failed to grasp what your ignorance really has the power to do.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice condemned the alleged defiling of the Qur'an:
http://usinfo.state.gov/xarchives/display.html?p=washfile-english&y=2005&m=May&x=20050512160316cpataruk0.2498896&t=livefeeds/wf-latest.html

To see a story on the resulting riots and protests, see:
http://www.guardian.co.uk/worldlatest/story/0,1280,-5001820,00.html

Monday, May 02, 2005

Mason Graduate Convicted on Federal Terrorism Charges (with Additional Commentary)

This entry is a News article that appeared in the Monday, May 2, 2005 issue of Broadside, the official student newspaper of George Mason University. At the end, I have added my own personal commentary on the situation (I also wrote the News article.)

Ali al-Timimi, 41, (left) who recently earned a doctorate in computational biology at George Mason University , was convicted last week on ten federal counts of supporting and encouraging terrorist activities. Specifically, he was convicted of urging his followers to join Afghanistan’s former Taliban regime and Lashkar-e-Taiba, a violent Pakistani radical group known for participating in the decade-long insurgency in Indian-controlled Kashmir and for attacking the Pakistani Shi’ite minority. Although the charges on which al-Timimi was convicted carry a mandatory prison sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole, Federal Judge Leonie Brinkema has not ruled out tossing out some of these charges.

Al-Timimi was a frequent speaker at the Center for Islamic Information and Education, also known as Dar al-Arqam, in Falls Church, Virginia, which hosted several well-known Salafi scholars from Saudi Arabia and has come under increasing federal scrutiny since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. A native of the D.C. area, he received some religious education as a young man in Saudi Arabia, though it is unclear whether he has the religious training generally expected of a traditional Sunni Muslim religious scholar.

Dar al-Arqam, which was co-founded in June 2000 by al-Timimi, has its origins in study groups made up of Muslim students at Mason who gathered on a weekly basis to hear lectures by Shaykh Ja’far Idris, an internationally-known Salafi cleric and a member of the Saudi diplomatic corps. Idris was forced to leave the U.S. in late 2003 due to increasing pressure by the federal government. Al-Timimi was one of several speakers from Dar al-Arqam that has participated in events sponsored by Mason’s Muslim Students Association.

To visit Dar al-Arqam's web site, see:
http://www.ciie.org/

Al-Timimi, long a person of interest to federal investigators for his alleged ties to terrorism and religious extremism abroad, is widely believed to have been the unnamed “co-conspirator” mentioned in the 2004 federal indictment of eleven of his former students, in the “Paintball Jihad” case. Nine of them were ultimately convicted or pleaded guilty to traveling to Pakistan where they trained with Lashkar-e-Taiba. The three who pleaded guilty rather than go to trial were among the prosecution’s key witnesses against al-Timimi, including Yong Ki Kwon, who is currently serving an 11-year federal prison sentence.

A cornerstone of the prosecution’s case against al-Timimi were some of his own speeches and lectures, in which he lashed out against Christians and Jews, spoke of the need for Muslims to take arms against those who were oppressing them and their coreligionists around the world, and praised the Taliban. His defense attorneys, Edward MacMahon, Jr., and Alan Yamamoto, acknowledged that many of their client’s statements could be classified as hate speech, but maintained that, while repulsive, they were still protected by the First Amendment.

To view an al-Timimi support group, see:
http://www.altimimi.org/

Commentary
After reading some of al-Timimi's incendiary speeches, one of which praises the brutal Taliban regime for being the "true" Islamic government, and from in-depth discussions with several people who know him, I can't say that I am sad that he was convicted. Radical Salafism, because of its absolutist ideology and tendencies to pronounce takfir (apostasy) on other Muslims who differ in practice from themselves, is a severe stain on the beauty of Islamic culture.

However, I do have some concerns about free speech, since al-Timimi did not physically do anything. Yes, he may have supported certain sets of action, but he did not force any of the "Paintball Jihadis" to go to Pakistan and train with a virulently anti-Shi'ite/anti-mainstream orthodox Sunni Lashkar-e-Taiba militant organization. So, should he really have been convicted for actions that he himself did not take part in? As much as I hate his version of Islam, I lean toward the notion that his conviction on speech alone was not appropriate. However, the greater Muslim community should ostracize him and his ilk, and always watch for them to move from words to radical action.