Monday, June 30, 2008

Inside Rumsfeld's Pentagon

Boston Review (July/August 2008)
By Andrew J. Bacevich

Setting aside combat memoirs, of which there are a growing number, the literature of the Iraq War divides neatly into two categories. The first category, dominated by journalistic observers, indicts. The second category, accounts authored by insider participants, acquits. The two books reviewed here fall into the second category: They are exercises in self-exculpation. Pretending to explain, their actual purpose is to deflect responsibility.

Douglas Feith and Ricardo Sanchez are not exactly marquee figures. Yet each for a time played an important role in America’s Mesopotamian misadventure. From 2001 to 2005 Feith served in the Pentagon as the third-ranking figure in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (OSD) under Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld’s deputy. From 2003 to 2004 Lieutenant General Sanchez, now retired, served in Baghdad, commanding all coalition forces in Iraq.
Of the two accounts, Feith’s qualifies as the more sophisticated. It is also far and away the more dishonest. Feith trained as a lawyer, and War and Decision qualifies as a masterpiece of lawyerly, even Nixonian, obfuscation.

Like a shrewd defense attorney, Feith poses only those questions that will advance his case. As a result, his very long account confines itself to a very narrow range of issues. Although Feith styles himself a strategist, conscientious readers will learn nothing here about, say, the strategic significance of Persian Gulf oil. In War and Decision, oil just does not come up. Readers will be instructed in great detail about Saddam Hussein’s record as a vile and cruel dictator. They will remain oblivious to the record of U. S. support for the Iraqi tyrant during the Reagan era, despite the fact that Feith himself served in the Reagan administration.
They will be reminded of the many intelligence failures attributable to the CIA. They will look in vain for any reference to allegations, substantiated at the highest level of the British government, that the Bush administration engaged in “fixing” intelligence to support precooked policy decisions. They will learn that Feith is Jewish and a self-described neoconservative, and that members of his extended family perished in the Holocaust. They will find no mention of Feith’s involvement in right-wing Israeli politics, notably as a participant in the group responsible for “A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm,” prepared in 1996 for Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Among that study’s recommendations was one identifying Saddam’s overthrow as a key Israeli national security objective.
This careful discrimination between convenient and inconvenient facts enables Feith to craft a finely honed version of the Iraq War. The resulting narrative can be summarized in three sentences: Apart from the odd misstep or two, senior officials in OSD, to the man high-minded patriots and sophisticated thinkers, performed their duties brilliantly. Alas, their counterparts at the CIA and State Department, motivated by a combination of spite, prejudice, parochialism, and outright disloyalty to the president, conspired to frustrate or derail OSD’s plans. Abetted by L. Paul Bremer, who headed the Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq during the first year after Saddam’s removal, they succeeded, with terrible consequences. ............ READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE HERE.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Stolen Days in Israel: One American's Nightmare

Recently, a friend of mine of whom I have the utmost trust and respect sent me an e-mail about the traumatic experiences of a good friend of his who had traveled to Israel. An American citizen, she was not only denied entry into Israel for a spurious reason that was seemingly predicated on ethnic profiling and stereotyping (ironic, no?) but was also detained for three days in a dingy, unsanitary Israeli security facility. Denied access to the U.S. embassy, when she finally was able to meet with an American embassy official, this official proved to be less than useless and instead was cold and unhelpful. This story will never be publicized by our corporate media, which fears AIPAC and "Dual Loyalty" Dershowitz retaliation (i.e. allegations that they are "anti-Semitic") and prefers to portray a squeaky-clean image of the Israeli state and its policies, many of which do not meet international legal norms. It is up to people (us) to make sure that the such stories are made known to the rest of the general public. With her permission (see the link for the full parameters), I encourage my readers to disseminate this story/link as widely as possible. I will do the same.


If we complained about our conditions they would scream at us. The cell was dirty, the blankets they gave us were old, and nothing was cleaned. They barely took out the trash. When someone complained about the dirty cell the “big boss,” as they called him, started screaming at the woman and threw the broom and dust pan into the room and told her to clean it. There was a cleaning lady but she didn’t really clean well and made the room dirtier....There was some kind of attitude that we were in some kind of hotel....The room had 6 beds but often there would be 7 of us. It was a room of maybe 8×10, there was a bathroom and two showers. The bathroom looked like it hadn’t been cleaned for a long time. There was little air circulation. There was a window but the way the building was made no breeze came in and it had two layers of “bars” that also impeded air circulation. They would put on the air conditioning at night, not during the day, and it would get so cold, like almost 50ºF, and caused us to get sick. I started getting sick, wanting to vomit, probably because of the stress, the conditions. The only time we were able to leave the cell was to smoke a cigarette, which would be at the most three times a day. No exercise, fresh air or sunshine. And we would just stand in the hallway in front of the cell, in front of open windows to smoke the cigarettes. I would just pretend to smoke just to leave the cell. The floor was dirty, the blankets and this thin mattress cover were old. They didn’t change these things, and with people coming in and out from different countries who knows what was in the blankets. Sick people, bacteria. They gave some a toothbrush. This is about all we got.

The cells were mostly filled with migrant workers, with a few Palestinians who were trying to get to Palestine (who were coming from elsewhere). The migrant workers had come on different visas and would just overstay their time. There were women from the Philippines, Georgia, Russia, Uzbekistan, Sri Lanka, Moldova, Nepal etc. They were all shocked when I told them I was American and just a tourist. They wondered why I was there. A lot of the migrant workers would be sent to jail, or Ramle, before they came to the immigration detention center. A woman from Nepal stayed in Ramle for 6 months just because she was waiting to get paid by her employer, then she came to the detention center to get deported....

A Filipino woman said: “This place makes you crazy. You’ll see. They tell you that you will leave tomorrow, then two more days, then more. You go crazy in here.” I probably would have gone crazy if I stayed any longer than I did.

They barely gave us water. They told us to drink from the tap when it didn’t seem drinkable; it tasted like paint or something....

I couldn’t sleep because of lack of ventilation, unsanitary conditions. Whenever I put on the thick blankets they gave us, thick blankets for winter but given to us in the summer, I felt things crawling on my body and biting me. I couldn’t eat because of depression and the circumstances. I had no appetite even though I was hungry. I would eat maybe once or twice a day. I ate just so the hunger pains wouldn’t hurt as much.

I was treated like an animal. Put in a cage, yelled at, not allowed out, not allowed to call anyone. They are the animals. Surrounded by such stupid people. They were like people off the street made policemen, made to guard immigrants. They treat the migrant workers like slaves, like dirt. To lock someone up like that.

I’ll never travel alone again. I used to feel free to travel alone, and comfortable. I’ve done a lot of traveling by myself, even in Iran.....

After being back and speaking to my friends and my mom I found out even more sick information. When my mom or my friend in Palestine would call any Israeli authority they would not tell them where I was or that I was even there. They told my friend in Palestine that I was not even there and they told my mom that I was no longer being detained. This makes me even sicker.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Truth to Establishment Power: Norman Finkelstein

The son of Jewish Holocaust survivors, Dr. Norman Finkelstein, formerly of DePaul University, earned his Ph.D. in political science at Princeton University where he wrote his dissertation on Zionism. He made a name for himself for debunking the spurious scholarship of the pro-Zionist journalist Joan Peters in her book From Time Immemorial, a book which peddled the Israeli talking point that historical Palestine, which itself was part of historical Bilad al-Sham (greater Syria), was devoid of inhabitants in the late 19th century when foreign, European Zionist settlers began moving in.
More recently, he has been at the heart of the struggle for the independence of the American academe, which American conservatives and Zionist lobbyists seek to control. He was not granted tenure at DePaul by the university's president and tenure board intervened, despite having the support of his departmental committee and his College committee. It is widely believed that Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, whom Finkelstein had embarrassed and manhandled in a debate about Dershowitz's PR book The Case for Israel aired on Democracy Now!, played a role in petitioning DePaul to deny Finkelstein tenure.
Dershowitz had been further embarrassed by Finkelstein's dissection of The Case for Israel in his book Beyond Chutzpah: On the Misuse of Anti-Semitism and the Abuse of History, which Dershowitz tried and failed to have blocked from publication by the University of California Press. In their lengthy Democracy Now! debate, Finkelstein seemed to have a clearer understanding and knowledge of The Case for Israel than Dershowitz himself, who seemed surprised and befuddled. Their debate can be seen here.
Despite the denial of his tenure under lobbyist pressure, Finkelstein has continued to be an active public intellectual and a popular speaker. He was recently denied entry into Israel, purportedly because he was a "security risk," but more likely because he is one of the most vocal critics of Israeli government policies against the Palestinians, many of which violate international legal and practical norms, despite what the lobbyists at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee make up. To put things in perspective, journalists like CNN's Wolf Blitzer and political operatives like Dennis Ross and Martin Indyk are considered "balanced" and "unbiased" observers. All three were AIPAC officials.

Go to to view a trailer on the forthcoming documentary on Dr. Finkelstein's life and activism, American Radical.

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Muslim Voters Detect a Snub from Obama

The New York Times (June 24, 2008)
By Andrea Elliott

As Senator Barack Obama courted voters in Iowa last December, Representative Keith Ellison, the country’s first Muslim congressman, stepped forward eagerly to help. Mr. Ellison believed that Mr. Obama’s message of unity resonated deeply with American Muslims. He volunteered to speak on Mr. Obama’s behalf at a mosque in Cedar Rapids, one of the nation’s oldest Muslim enclaves. But before the rally could take place, aides to Mr. Obama asked Mr. Ellison to cancel the trip because it might stir controversy. Another aide appeared at Mr. Ellison’s Washington office to explain. “I will never forget the quote,” Mr. Ellison said, leaning forward in his chair as he recalled the aide’s words. “He said, ‘We have a very tightly wrapped message.’ ”
When Mr. Obama began his presidential campaign, Muslim Americans from California to Virginia responded with enthusiasm, seeing him as a long-awaited champion of civil liberties, religious tolerance and diplomacy in foreign affairs. But more than a year later, many say, he has not returned their embrace.
While the senator has visited churches and synagogues, he has yet to appear at a single mosque. Muslim and Arab-American organizations have tried repeatedly to arrange meetings with Mr. Obama, but officials with those groups say their invitations — unlike those of their Jewish and Christian counterparts — have been ignored. Last week, two Muslim women wearing head scarves were barred by campaign volunteers from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit.
In interviews, Muslim political and civic leaders said they understood that their support for Mr. Obama could be a problem for him at a time when some Americans are deeply suspicious of Muslims. Yet those leaders nonetheless expressed disappointment and even anger at the distance that Mr. Obama has kept from them.
“This is the ‘hope campaign,’ this is the ‘change campaign,’ ” said Mr. Ellison, Democrat of Minnesota. Muslims are frustrated, he added, that “they have not been fully engaged in it.”
Aides to Mr. Obama denied that he had kept his Muslim supporters at arm’s length. They cited statements in which he had spoken inclusively about American Islam and a radio advertisement he recorded for the recent campaign of Representative Andre Carson, Democrat of Indiana, who this spring became the second Muslim elected to Congress.
In May, Mr. Obama also had a brief, private meeting with the leader of a mosque in Dearborn, Mich., home to the country’s largest concentration of Arab-Americans. And this month, a senior campaign aide met with Arab-American leaders in Dearborn, most of whom are Muslim. (Mr. Obama did not campaign in Michigan before the primary in January because of a party dispute over the calendar.)
“Our campaign has made every attempt to bring together Americans of all races, religions and backgrounds to take on our common challenges,” Ben LaBolt, a campaign spokesman, said in an e-mail message. Mr. LaBolt added that with religious groups, the campaign had largely taken “an interfaith approach, one that may not have reached every group that wishes to participate but has reached many Muslim Americans.”
The strained relationship between Muslims and Mr. Obama reflects one of the central challenges facing the senator: how to maintain a broad electoral appeal without alienating any of the numerous constituencies he needs to win in November.
After the episode in Detroit last week, Mr. Obama telephoned the two Muslim women to apologize. “I take deepest offense to and will continue to fight against discrimination against people of any religious group or background,” he said in a statement.
Such gestures have fallen short in the eyes of many Muslim leaders, who say the Detroit incident and others illustrate a disconnect between Mr. Obama’s message of unity and his campaign strategy. “The community feels betrayed,” said Safiya Ghori, the government relations director in the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
Even some of Mr. Obama’s strongest Muslim supporters say they are uncomfortable with the forceful denials he has made in response to rumors that he is secretly a Muslim. (Ten percent of registered voters believe the rumor, according to a poll by the Pew Research Center.)
In an interview with “60 Minutes,” Mr. Obama said the rumors were offensive to American Muslims because they played into “fearmongering.” But on a new section of his Web site, he classifies the claim that he is Muslim as a “smear.”
“A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there’s nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way,” Mr. Ellison said. Mr. Ellison, a first-term congressman, remains arguably the senator’s most important Muslim supporter. He has attended Obama rallies in Minnesota and appears on the campaign’s Web site. But Mr. Ellison said he was also forced to cancel plans to campaign for Mr. Obama in North Carolina after an emissary for the senator told him the state was “too conservative.” Mr. Ellison said he blamed Mr. Obama’s aides — not the candidate himself — for his campaign’s standoffishness.
Despite the complications of wooing Muslim voters, Mr. Obama and his Republican rival, Senator John McCain, may find it risky to ignore this constituency. There are sizable Muslim populations in closely fought states like Florida, Michigan, Ohio and Virginia.
In those states and others, American Muslims have experienced a political awakening in the years since Sept. 11, 2001. Before the attacks, Muslim political leadership in the United States was dominated by well-heeled South Asian and Arab immigrants, whose communities account for a majority of the nation’s Muslims. (Another 20 percent are estimated to be African-American.) The number of American Muslims remains in dispute as the Census Bureau does not collect data on religious orientation; most estimates range from 2.35 million to 6 million.
A coalition of immigrant Muslim groups endorsed George W. Bush in his 2000 campaign, only to find themselves ignored by Bush administration officials as their communities were rocked by the carrying out of the USA Patriot Act the detention and deportation of Muslim immigrants and other security measures after Sept. 11.
As a result, Muslim organizations began mobilizing supporters across the country to register to vote and run for local offices, and political action committees started tracking registered Muslim voters. The character of Muslim political organizations also began to change.
“We moved away from political leadership primarily by doctors, lawyers and elite professionals to real savvy grass-roots operatives,” said Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation, a political group in Washington. “We went back to the base.”
In 2006, the Virginia Muslim Political Action Committee arranged for 53 Muslim cabdrivers to skip their shifts at Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia to transport voters to the polls for the midterm election. Of an estimated 60,000 registered Muslim voters in the state, 86 percent turned out and voted overwhelmingly for Jim Webb, a Democrat running for the Senate who subsequently won the election, according to data collected by the committee.
The committee’s president, Mukit Hossain, said Muslims in Virginia were drawn to Mr. Obama because of his support for civil liberties and his more diplomatic approach to the Middle East. Mr. Hossain and others said his multicultural image also appealed to immigrant voters. “This is the son of an immigrant; this is someone with a funny name,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute, who is a Christian who has campaigned for Mr. Obama at mosques and Arab churches. “There is this excitement that if he can win, they can win, too.”
Yet some Muslim and Arab-American political organizers worry that the campaign’s reluctance to reach out to voters in those communities will eventually turn them off. “If they think that they are voting for a campaign that is trying to distance itself from them, my big fear is that Muslims will sit it out,” Mr. Hossain said.

Throughout the primaries, Muslim groups often failed to persuade Mr. Obama’s campaign to at least send a surrogate to speak to voters at their events, said Ms. Ghori, of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

Before the Virginia primary in February, some of the nation’s leading Muslim organizations nearly canceled an event at a mosque in Sterling because they could not arrange for representatives from any of the major presidential campaigns to attend. At the last minute, they succeeded in wooing surrogates from the Clinton and Obama campaigns by telling each that the other was planning to attend, Mr. Bray said. (No one from the McCain campaign showed up.)
Frustrations with Mr. Obama deepened the day after he claimed the nomination when he told the American Israel Public Affairs Committee that Jerusalem should be the undivided capital of Israel. (Mr. Obama later clarified his statement, saying Jerusalem’s status would need to be negotiated between Israelis and Palestinians.)
Osama Siblani, the editor and publisher of the weekly Arab American News in Dearborn, said Mr. Obama had “pandered” to the Israeli lobby, while neglecting to meet formally with Arab-American and Muslim leaders. “They’re trying to take the votes without the liabilities,” said Mr. Siblani, who is also president of the Arab American Political Action Committee.
Some Muslim supporters of Mr. Obama seem to ricochet between dejection and optimism. Minha Husaini, a public health consultant in her 30s who is working for the Obama campaign in Philadelphia, lights up like a swooning teenager when she talks about his promise for change.
“He gives me hope,” Ms. Husaini said in an interview last month, shortly before she joined the campaign on a fellowship. But she sighed when the conversation turned to his denials of being Muslim, “as if it’s something bad,” she said.
For Ms. Ghori and other Muslims, Mr. Obama’s hands-off approach is not surprising in a political climate they feel is marred by frequent attacks on their faith. Among the incidents they cite are a statement by Mr. McCain, in a 2007 interview with, that he would prefer a Christian president to a Muslim one; a comment by Senator Hillary Clinton that Mr. Obama was not Muslim “as far as I know”; and a remark by Representative Steve King, Republican of Iowa, to The Associated Press in March that an Obama victory would be celebrated by terrorists, who would see him as a “savior.”
“All you have to say is Barack Hussein Obama,” said Arsalan Iftikhar, a human rights lawyer and contributing editor at Islamica Magazine. “You don’t even have to say ‘Muslim.’ ”
As a consequence, many Muslims have kept their support for Mr. Obama quiet. Any visible show of allegiance could be used by his opponents to incite fear, further the false rumors about his faith and “bin-Laden him,” Mr. Bray said.
“The joke within the national Muslim organizations,” Ms. Ghori said, “is that we should endorse the person we don’t want to win.”

Monday, June 23, 2008

Islamic Finance Explained


Islamic Finance Explained
By David Oakley, Shannon Bond, Cynthia O’Murchu and Cleve Jones

Financial Times (May 30, 2008)

The Islamic finance industry is worth about $800bn globally and is growing at an annual rate of 10 to 15 per cent. The sector’s dramatic growth since 2000, when it was worth $150bn, and profusion of investment products has been fueled by an increasing desire by Muslims for investments that comply with Islamic law. Demand has also been triggered by the big increase in wealth in the Gulf, where growth has doubled since 2002 on the back of the soaring oil price.
Our interactive feature explores the main Islamic financial instruments, the key players and where the industry is heading.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Music Makes the Scene: The Sopranos Final Scene

TV screenwriter, director, and producer David Chase, unlike many in his business, knows how to mold music into the visuals of his scenes. Take the final scene of The Sopranos, the HBO series which spanned nearly a decade and transformed what people thought was possible with television. Who would have thought that Chase would be able to transform a corny hair band song, Journey's "Don't Stop Believing," to an iconic closing to one of the best, most successful, and longest-running television series in history.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Documenting Discrimination against Non-Aryans and Non-Shi'i Muslims in Iran

Comment: It is a well-known "secret" that non-Aryan Iranian peoples continue to be discriminated against by the country's Aryan "Persian" elite. Although the advent of the so-called Islamic Republic of Iran was supposed to end such ethnic chauvinism, many of Iran's non-Aryan peoples (Azerbaijanis, Luris, Arabs, Kurds, Gilakis, Mazandaranis, Turkmen) and non-Shi'i Muslims (89% of Iranians are Shi'is as is the ruling religious autocracy) continue to allege, probably accurately, that the current regime has continued the Persianization campaign begun by the Pahlavi monarchy which Ayatullah Sayyid Ruhollah Khumayni and acolytes in the Islamic Republican Party replaced in 1979-80. Thousands of Kurds and other non-Aryans were killed (often summarily executed) by revolutionary authorities in a brutal campaign to reassert centralized control. The first Pahlavi king, Shah Reza Khan, also used violent force to sedenterize Iran's nomadic peoples in the 1920s and 1930s.
50% of Iranians do not speak Persian as their mother tongue yet are hindered in using it in their regions and districts, even though this right is guaranteed in the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran. For example, approximately one-fourth to 30+% of Iranians are Azerbaijanis (whose language I'm studying intensively this summer, though in its Latinized Republican form.)
Despite complaints by Iranian Shi'i leaders of discrimination against Shi'is in the Arab world and Pakistan, which is also a real problem, Iranian Sunnis are also discriminated against, as are Iranian Baha'is, who orthodox Twelver Shi'is view as a heretical offshoot of Shi'ism (the Baha'is are one of several prominent offshoots of Shi'i Islam...Others include the Druze, from Fatimid Isma'ilism, and the Alawis of Syria and the Alevis of Turkey.)
For background, see:
*"Iran's Ethnic Groups (on minorities)"
*"Iran Arabs Denounce Discrimination"
*"Iran: Ethnic and Religious Minorities"
Human Rights Watch reports:
Excerpt: "This report identifies areas in which the treatment of ethnic minorities has failed to meet the standard of equal treatment under the law for all Iranians regardless of their ethnic origin, set forth in the Iranian constitution and instruments of international law. The Kurds are concentrated in a remote and underdeveloped area, far from the centers of political power. An armed Kurdish insurgency has clashed with the Iranian military. Civilians have been among the main victims of the conflict as villages have been destroyed and their populations dispersed, and broad areas have been seeded with landmines."
Excerpt: "As Sunni Muslims, the majority of Iran's Kurds suffer religious discrimination in the Shi'a state. Kurds played an active role in the overthrow of the Shah, and among their demands for greater autonomy from the central authorities in Iran was the demand for more autonomy in the religious sphere. However, Ayatollah Khomeini declined to appoint as his representative in the Kurdish region the popular Sunni cleric, Ahmad Moftizadeh, choosing instead a Shi'a cleric with no local following. Sunni Kurds have seen their aspirations for greater autonomy and respect for their right to religious freedom denied. Friday prayer leaders, even in the Sunni mosques, are appointed by the central authorities. Shi'a proselytizing is encouraged. For example, in March 1995 the Friday prayer leader in a mosque in Sanandaj announced that he would issue the call to prayer and carry out other religious rites in accordance with Shi'a traditions, regardless of the fact that he was serving a Sunni congregation."
Below is a resolution adopted by the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization about such discrimination.
"The joint resolution calls upon the international community to condemn the repression and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran, furthermore it request the UN General Secretary to initiate an fact finding mission to Iran.

Below is a Member Resolution as presented and adopted before the IX UNPO General Assembly held during 16-17 May 2008 in Brussels, Belgium:
IX UNPO General Assembly
16 - 17 May 2008, Brussels Belgium

Joint Member Resolution introduced by: The Ahwazi Arab, Azeri Turk, Balochi and Kurdish nation members of UNPO on Behalf of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran

The use of Arabic, Azeri, Balochi and Kurdish languages in schools and publications has been strictly prohibited even in their own regions. No cultural institutions or activities are tolerated among the non-Persians nationalities. Only Persian history is taught as “Iranian” history, never the history of other national groups.

The rights of Iranian Sunnis in general are restricted by the provisions of Article 115, which excluded Sunnis from holding the office of the Presidency of the Republic, thus reducing Sunnis to the status of second-class citizens.

Not only do Tehran and other major Iranian cities remain without a Sunni mosque, but after the 1978-1979 revolution Sunni mosques in Mashhad, Salmas, and Shahinzadeh were destroyed, and those in Shiraz, Orumieh, Sanadaj, Saqqez, and Miyandoab were closed.
The UNPO General Assembly,

Underlines that Iran is a multi-ethnic, multinational and multilingual country, composed of Turks, Persians, Arabs, Kurds, Baloch, Turkmen and others;
Notes that the 1/3 Persian minority has ruled this country since 1925, the result of which is that today’s Iran faces a cultural and linguistic apartheid;

Notes that in this non-homogenous country, an attempt is being made to artificially turn Iran into a nation-state, a decision made by the Persian elite-aristocracy and the ultra-nationalists, at the exclusion of all other constituent national and ethnic groups;

Notes that successive governments have continued the pursuit of a centralized national-state at the exclusion of others, leaving national minorities (Azeri-Turks, Arabs, Kurds, Baloch, Turkmen, and others), along with the women of Iran, as the most discriminated segments of society;
Emphasises that there is a great deal of national awakening taking place among the non-dominant national minorities, as a result of revolution in communication technology and globalization;

Noting that the advent of the internet and emergence of satellite TV had played an instrumental role in this national and irreversible process of self-awakening;
Emphasising that while the Iranian ruling [authorities] are unwilling and incapable of addressing the root causes of instability which is the exclusion of 2/3 non-Persian national groups, there is the realization that although Azeri Turks, Kurds, Arabs, Baloch, and Turkmen, who are subjected to more or less the same repression and persecution, cannot alone change the situation, but together and in cooperation they are capable of this task. It is for this reason that the leading political parties representing these nationalities came together to form the Congress of Nationalities for Federalism in February 2005 in London;
Noting that the Congress believes that it is the responsibility of all these nationalities to decide, with equal voice, the future of Iran and to solve the chronic internal crisis brought about by successive dictatorships;
Underlining that the Congress’ mission is to energize its critical masses to bring about a peaceful change of the current regime in Iran. Its vision is to establish a peaceful, stable and secure country and a democratic, secular civil society by strengthening relations among various national and religious groups within Iran and promoting democracy, social justice, federalism, rule of law, human rights, equal rights for women and protection of the rights of all ethnic and religious minorities including Baha’is, Christians, Jews, Mandanis, Zoroastrians and Sunnis. Under CNFI’s vision, future Iran will be a responsible country and a good member of the International Community;
Noting that whilst each nationality believes in its inalienable right to self determination and does not want to forgo or forfeit this right, but that faced with the UN and the internationally community that does not necessarily share this view of the basic fundamental right of self determination, and that as a pragmatic entity, the Congress believes that all nationalities in Iran want and have the desire to live side by side in a federal or in a nonfederal system of governance;
Noting that CNFI hopes for a democratic, peaceful, secular and federal Iran, and a responsible member of the International Community;
Noting that where all Iran’s constituent national and ethnic groups unite together to chart the future course of Iran, this will present a serious challenge to the Islamic Republic of Iran, presently oppressing its peoples and presenting a danger to the peace and security of the region and the world;
Noting that the Congress believes that this is the only way out of the current crisis in Iran, and that other choices, such as the status quo, are unsustainable or face an uncertain future;
Noting that Congress members will not participate in any socio-economic experience that does not guarantee them the right of self determination – internal or external – as enshrined and guaranteed by international law;
Therefore, we urge The UNPO General Assembly to:
1. Condemn the repression and persecution of ethnic and religious minorities in Iran;
2. Request the UN General Secretary to initiate an investigation and dispatch a fact finding mission to the areas of al-Ahwaz (Khuzestan), Kurdistan, Balochistan and Azerbaijan to look into the issues of ethnic cleansing and serious human rights violations.
Submitted by Ahwazi and Baloch nation members of UNPO on behalf of the Congress of Nationalities for a Federal Iran.

Organizations: Democratic Solidarity Party of Ahwaz, Ahwaz Human Rights Organization, Balochistan People’s Party and Kurdish Democratic Party of Iran.


A young Palestinian and a group of Israeli soldiers

Monday, June 16, 2008

The Neocon & the Hobbit

Lebanese political opportunist and Chouf Montains Druze chieftain, "The Hobbit" Walid Jumblatt, who has been pro and then anti-Syrian more times than anyone (including himself) can count, shakes hands with the Neoconservative U.S. secretary of state, Condoleeza Rice, during her recent visit to Lebanon. The Bush Administration, in which Rice is a major player, has backed the March 14 faction which controls (barely) the Lebanese government with money and political backing, in addition to, reportedly, covert arms sales.
The Hobbit's political party, the Druze Progressive Socialist Party, is a member of the March 14 faction along with Sa'd al-Hariri's Future Movement (Hariri Inc.) and the radical Maronite Catholic party Lebanese Forces, led by convicted war criminal Samir Ja'Ja.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

The Israel Lobby: London Review of Books Debate (Must-see)

In March 2006 The London Review of Books hosted a debate in New York on the American-Israel-Zionist lobby and its power, centered on a discussion of the groundbreaking article by noted American international relations specialists John Mearsheimer (R. Wendell Harrison Professor of Political Science, University of Chicago) and Stephen Walt (Belfer Professor of International Relations, Harvard University) which was published in The London Review of Books that month. The two recently published a much-expanded book on the subject. American Zionists, such as Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, alleged that the article and book are "anti-Semitic" by which they mean it does not tow the line of American politics and instead is critical of Israeli policies and its American backers.
Bush at AIPAC
Ironically and to the credit of many Israelis including a dear friend of mine, the debate in Israel about Israeli policies are, generally speaking, much deeper than what is possible in the United States, thanks largely due to the pernicious influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), whose altar all American politicans are required to bow if they hope to be elected.


This debate is the best, most comprehensive debate about the American Zionist lobby to date. Tellingly, it was not broadcast by any American mainstream media outlet, nor was it hosted by an American media outlet or news organization. Instead, like the original Mearsheimer-Walt article, which was supposed to be published in The Atlantic Monthly, it was hosted (and in the case of the article, published) by a non-American entity, The London Review of Books.

AIPAC's new best pal, Democratic Party presidential nominee Senator Barack Obama (D-IL).

Participants included former U.S. ambassador to Israel and AIPAC official Martin Indyk, Columbia University professor Rashid Khalidi, former U.S. Middle East envoy and AIPAC official Dennis Ross, former Israeli foreign minister and historian Shlomo Ben-Ami, University of Chicago professor John Mearsheimer, and New York University professor and historian Tony Judt.

Friday, June 13, 2008

In Memoriam: Tim Russert (1950-2008)

Tim Russert, the longest-running host of the juggernaut NBC Sunday morning interview/debate show Meet the Press (1991-2008), died suddenly of a heart attack today at work. He was 58 years old. He leaves behind his wife of 25 years Maureen and their son Luke, who just graduated this year from Boston College. Tim Russert was one of the best and most thorough interviewers in the business today, a media which is increasingly lacking quality journalists.
He will be sorely missed. Sundays will never be the same.

By Natalie Finn, E! Online (June 13, 2008)

The floodgates opened just moments after Tom Brokaw took to the air Friday afternoon to inform the TV-watching nation that his longtime friend and NBC colleague Tim Russert had died suddenly at the age of 58.

Out poured an endless number of heartfelt, albeit stunned, tributes from fellow journalists, network executives and, of course, the politicians whom Russert made it his business to fire the tough questions at—all of whom he could also count as friends. (Well, if they weren't all his friends, at the very least he had their deepest respect.)

Here's a sampling:

Barack Obama: "I’ve known Tim Russert since I first spoke at the convention in 2004. He’s somebody who, over time, I came to consider not only a journalist but a friend. There wasn’t a better interviewer in TV, not a more thoughtful analyst of our politics, and he was also one of the finest men I knew."

John McCain: "I am very saddened by Tim Russert's sudden death. Cindy and I extend our thoughts and prayers to the Russert family as they cope with this shocking loss and remember the life and legacy of a loving father, husband and the preeminent political journalist of his generation."

Bill and Hillary Clinton: "We were stunned and deeply saddened to hear of the passing today of Tim Russert...Always true to his proud Buffalo roots, Tim had a love of public service and a dedication to journalism that rightfully earned him the respect and admiration of not only his colleagues but also those of us who had the privilege to go toe to toe with him."

George W. Bush: "Laura and I are deeply saddened by the sudden passing of Tim Russert. Those of us who knew and worked with Tim, his many friends, and the millions of Americans who loyally followed his career on the air will all miss him. As the longest-serving host of the longest-running program in the history of television, he was an institution in both news and politics for more than two decades."

Arnold Schwarzenegger: "Tim was an American icon in the world of political journalism who could relate to everybody. His insightful commentary and tough but fair interviews helped millions of Americans better understand our political system...But Tim was not only one of the top journalists of his generation; he was a close friend, a warm and generous person and a wonderful family man."

Maria Shriver: "Tim Russert was one of my closest friends and he was like a brother to me. He was not only a professional confidant but a personal one. He was always the first person to call me whenever anything happened with my family. And he always called me just to check in and see how I was doing and to encourage me."

Diane Sawyer: "No one could see Tim in a room and not smile. He brought so much joy and curiosity and sheer vitality to all our lives. As a journalist, he would set out like a great explorer. You couldn't wait to see what he discovered every day in the new world. He was a defining American newsman."

Dan Rather: "Tim had become an important part of our political process. He will be especially missed in this historic presidential election year. Tim Russert was a beacon of quality journalism. At a time when quality journalism is in increasingly short supply, Tim Russert was a leader for what is best in American journalism. He was tough but fair, pulled no punches, played no favorites. As an interviewer, he had few, if any, peers.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Fatah al-Islam's Fugitive Leader al-'Absi Threatens Hizbu'llah; Says Nasrallah Obeys 'Satan's Ayatollahs in Tehran'

Shakir al-'Absi, the fugitive leader of the Lebanese militant group Fatah al-Islam, an extremist Sunni takfiri outfit. Fatah al-Islam fought a bloody three-month battle with the Lebanese Army in the densely-packed streets of the Nahr al-Barid Palestinian refugee camp (really a city) of 40,000 outside the northern coastal city of Tripoli. The Lebanese Army eventually bombarded much of the Nahr al-Barid into ruins. Over 220 militants, 168 Lebanese soldiers, and 50 plus civilians were killed in the fighting.

In an attempt to counter Hizbu'llah's rising political power, Sunni politician Sa'd al-Hariri's Future Movement (Hariri Inc.) has funded Sunni organizations such as the Lebanese Muslim Brotherhood and ignored and perhaps even encouraged the formation of radical Sunni groups such as Jund al-Sham. These Sunni takfiri groups are only nominally loyal to al-Hariri and would ideally like to replace Lebanon's government with a radical religious system.

Fatah al-Islam Leader Threatens Hezbollah; U.S.-friendly Sunnis
William McCants (Ph.D., Near Eastern Studies, Princeton University)

From: McCants' excellent blog, Jihadica: "Jihadica is a clearinghouse for materials related to militant, transnational Sunni Islamism, commonly known as Jihadism. At the moment, much of this material is diffuse, known only to a few specialists, and inaccessible to the public and policymakers unless they pay a fee. Jihadica provides this material for free and keeps a daily record of its dissemination that can be easily searched and studied. These records are accompanied by the expert commentary of people who have the requisite language training to understand the primary source material and advanced degrees in relevant fields."

Shakir al-`Absi, the fugitive leader of Fatah al-Islam, has issued his second audio statement since the defeat of his organization at the hands of the Lebanese Army last year. In it, he claims that the U.S. knows that it cannot directly break the “power” (shawka–a favorite Jihadi term) of the Sunnis in the Middle East, so it is using proxies to achieve the same result. This is particularly the case in Lebanon. Firstly, the U.S. is working through Sunni proxies to take control of the state’s material and media resources. Secondly, it is deliberately empowering Iran and its rejectionist allies in the region. (”Rejectionists” is a pejorative term used for Twelver Shia, who reject the first three caliphs).

`Absi goes on to say that the Sunnis of Lebanon have no one to fight for them. Hezbollah is not serious about fighting Jews; they just want control of Lebanon. And the Lebanese Army abandoned the Sunnis when Hezbollah militiamen swept into their neighborhoods in May. This, despite the fact that these same Sunnis had supported the army’s crackdown on Fatah al-Islam last year.
Fatah al-Islam fighters

Toward the end of his audio statement, `Absi addresses the “heroes of Islam” in northern and southern Lebanon and the “lions of Islam” in the Palestinian camps in Lebanon: "The time of separation has come. Now you will find the lions of monotheism suddenly attacking the enemies of God, no matter who they are–Jew, Christian, hateful rejectionist [Shi'a], or apostate."

He also menacingly warns: “The car bombs of Iraq and the brigades of martyrdom seekers are not far from the enemies of God, wherever they are.”

More from the Associated Press:

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

BEIRUT, Lebanon: The fugitive leader of the al-Qaida-inspired Fatah Islam group lashed out at Lebanon's Sunni politicians and the country's Shiite Hezbollah militants, and threatened suicide attacks in a new audio posted Tuesday on the Internet and carried by Lebanese television stations.

Shaker Youssef al-Absi said in the recording that time has now come for revenge against the "enemies of God" and added that suicide attackers were ready for action. The authenticity of audio, posted on a web site commonly used by militants, could not be independently verified.
It was the second posting by al-Absi, sentenced to death earlier this year by a Lebanese court for a 2007 double bus bombings that killed three people and wounded 20.

Al-Absi remains at large after escaping last September from fierce fighting between Fatah Islam and the Lebanese army at the Nahr el-Bared Palestinian refugee camp in northern Lebanon.
Also in the audio, al-Absi claimed that Lebanese Sunni leaders and the head of the Shiite Hezbollah militant group, Hassan Nasrallah, seek to split the Sunni Muslim community, allegedly acting on American and Iranian orders to do this.

He also criticized the Lebanese army for not taking any action when Hezbollah fighters and their allies took over much of Muslim west Beirut from pro-government Sunni gunmen during bitter fighting last month that brought Lebanon close to a new civil war.

A Jordanian of Palestinian origin, al-Absi specifically named Western-backed Lebanese Prime Minister Fuad Siniora, and Parliament majority leader Saad Hariri, along with the Hezbollah chief in the audio. He also criticized Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who is a Sunni.
Their goal, he alleged, "is the same and it is to humiliate and split the nation of monotheism," a reference to Sunni Islam.
Hizbu'llah supporters rally around a photograph of the party's leader, Shaykh Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.
"One side takes orders from (U.S. President George W.) Bush while the other takes orders from the Satan's ayatollahs in Tehran," he said, referring to top Shiite clerics in Iran, adding that Sunni "lions of monotheism will destroy the enemies of God, whoever they are .... The enemies of God will not be safe from the booby-traps of Iraq and the suicide bomber battalions, wherever they are."

Iranian supreme leader Sayyid 'Ali Khamenei

Earlier this month, Fatah Islam claimed responsibility for a May 31 explosion that killed a Lebanese soldier in the northern town of Abdeh near the devastated Nahr el-Bared camp.
Lebanese authorities have said that 222 Fatah Islam militants were killed in the Nahr el-Bared fighting and more than 200 were arrested, while 169 Lebanese soldiers died. Palestinian officials said 47 Palestinian civilians also died in the camp as Lebanese army besieged the militants holed up inside.

Also Tuesday, an Islamic militant who was seriously wounded in the Palestinian refugee camp of Ein el-Hilweh in southern Lebanon died of his wounds, security officials said. Jalal Hassanein, a 27-year-old Palestinian, was shot by unknown assailants Monday night, the officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

Everyday Jihad: The Rise of Militant Islam Among Palestinian in Lebanon, by Bernard Rougier and translated by Pascale Ghazaleh, is an excellent study of the emergence of Sunni takfiri groups in the Palestinian refugee camps of Lebanon. Many have reportedly received funding from Hariri Inc. and foreign backers, such as Saudi and Gulf Salafis.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Senior Lebanese Shi'i Scholar Rejects an Iranian-style System; Grand Ayatullah Fadlallah Criticizes Sectarianism in Distributing Cabinet Portfolios

Lebanese Muslim Sunni (Hariri Inc.) Mufti Muhammed Rashid Kabbani (left) greets Muslim Shi'i Mufti 'Abd al-Amir Qabalan, head of the Supreme Shi'i Council, the country's official Shi'i religious institution, during a spiritual meeting of Muslim sects at the Druze Council headquarters in Beirut, 28 November 2006.
By Karim Tellawi

BEIRUT, Lebanon: Lebanon’s Higher Shi'i Council’s vice-president Shaykh 'Abd al-Amir Qabalan said Lebanese Shiites were not in favor of Iran-style "rule of the jurisprudent." In a statement, he said: "We don't want the rule of the jurisprudent in Lebanon. Shi'is don't want to change the regime in Lebanon, and we also don't favor a rule of the jurisprudent in Lebanon," Qabalan said. "We hide nothing from the Lebanese, we love Iran, but the rule of the jurisprudent cannot be applied in Lebanon."

Fadlallah Slams Role of Religion in Cabinet Talks
By The Daily Star (Lebanon) Staff

June 7, 2008

BEIRUT: Senior Shi'i cleric Sayyed Muhammad Hussein Fadlallah said on Friday the ongoing debate over the distribution of the different portfolios in the next cabinet shows that the formation of Lebanese governments is not based upon competence and expertise but rather on sectarian considerations.

In his weekly Friday sermon delivered from the Imamayn Hassanayn Mosque in Haret Hreik, Fadlallah said the problem in Lebanon lays in the fact that politicians are trying to reduce the country's size to that of individuals. "Politicians are trimming down the size of the country instead of boosting its position by producing the necessary elements that bring it back to its great location when it used to settle Arabic problems and serve creative culture," he said.

According to Fadlallah, sectarianism remains the Lebanese people's problem. "Sectarianism constitutes a privilege to leaders and not a means to serve the people of this or that sect," he said. "This is why those people add to their fortunes at the expense of their sects, while the deprived are getting poorer."

Criticizing the United States, the cleric said it went back to playing with our internal political situation. "The U.S. administration is trying one more time to interfere in the formation of the new cabinet and bringing to ministries whoever it wants as if the country is one of its districts or a plot of land belonging to one of its embassies," he said.

Meanwhile, the vice president of the Higher Shi'i Council, Sheikh Abdel-Amir Qabalan, said that Lebanon is currently living in a state of "worry, provocation and insecurity. We should not remain tight-lipped over the concern, viciousness and harm that are plaguing the country," Qabalan said in his Friday sermon. "The ongoing media incitement also increases that concern."
Qabalan said the Doha agreement should be implemented "in one basket." "We do not want a caretaker government. We want a national unity government that enjoys competence and good planning."

Qablan urged Prime Minister Fouad Siniora to treat people equally and not to allow certain sects or categories to monopolize ministries. "We call on all parties, of all sects, to make concessions and eliminate any discord between Muslims and Christians," he said. "We want a state of security and not a state of chaos. We should establish a government and give every minister the power he needs to work in the political and social fields."

Addressing the residents of Beirut, Qabalan said: "Some people hurt you and you hurt them back. So we have to turn over a new leaf, forget the past and work for spreading peace and stability. We should also allow the state, army and security forces to fulfill their duties," he added.

Fadlallah's Sermon (excerpt)

Sectarianism abolishes Citizenry

"In Lebanon, political debate continues regarding the issue of distributing the ministerial posts on the sects and their leaders and those who seek to benefit from them to promote their chances in the coming elections, which suggest that forming Lebanese cabinet is not based on qualifications, and expertise, but on sectarian considerations that make individuals bigger in the eyes of their sects.

The problem in Lebanon lies in that politicians are trimming down the size of their country instead of boosting its position by producing the elements that bring it back to its great position, when it used to settle Arab problems and serve creative culture.

The tragedy is that every sectarian leader has come to embody the entire sect so that sectarianism is constituting a privilege to sectarianism leaders and not a means to serve the people of this or that sect. This is why those people add their fortunes at the expense of their sects while the deprived are getting poorer."

Monday, June 09, 2008

The Future of Iraq?

Cartoon which is running on the main page of the, a web site of the Sadr Movement in Iraq, headed by Muqtada al-Sadr. The caption at the top reads: "Future of Iraq?"

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Elizabeth: The Golden Age

Elizabeth: The Golden Age is the sequel to the 1998 film Elizabeth, which loosely (in terms of historicity) told the story of the coming to power of Queen Elizabeth I, daughter of King Henry VIII. Cate Blanchett resumes her role as the title character and delivers another powerfully acted performance. The film is also visually stunning as is the costume design.

The film focuses on the titanic struggle between the emerging Kingdom of England and the Spanish Empire under King Philip II of the House of Hapsburg. It includes the failed coup against Elizabeth which was to bring Mary I of the House of Stuart, popularly known as "Mary, Queen of Scots," who was executed after the plot's failure. The film's climax revolves around the failed naval attack on England by the famed Spanish Armada. Hollywood ads drama to the already dramatic historical events and includes a side romance between Elizabeth and Sir Walter Raleigh, the stuff of popular stories.

As with many Hollywood historical productions, the details are lost in the interest of drama and straightforwardness. Philip II was simultaneously facing threats from England, France, Dutch rebels, and the Ottoman Empire to the east which still dominated the Mediterranean Sea. Following the defeat and destruction of much of his naval armada, Philip fared fairly well in the resulting conflict with England and reigned during the golden age for Spanish imperialism and expansion in the New World (the Americas.) The film has been criticized by Roman Catholic groups for portraying the Church in a negative light. However, the political role, often devious, of the Church in Renaissance Europe, when the continent was split between Catholic and Protestant kingdoms and monarchies, is a historical fact.


Friday, June 06, 2008

Obama, Clinton, & McCain Measured on Stewart's 'Kosh-o-Meter'

U.S. Presidential candidates Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and John McCain all address the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -- the right-wing leading pro-Israel lobbying group -- and The Daily Show's Jon Stewart scores them on the Kosh-o-Meter.

Thursday, June 05, 2008


An opus in three parts, Iraq In Fragments offers a series of intimate, passionately-felt portraits: A fatherless 11-year-old is apprenticed to the domineering owner of a Baghdad garage; Sadr followers in two Shiite cities rally for regional elections while enforcing Islamic law at the point of a gun; a family of Kurdish farmers welcomes the U.S. presence, which has allowed them a measure of freedom previously denied.


American director James Longley spent more than two years filming in Iraq to create this stunningly photographed, poetically rendered documentary of the war-torn country as seen through the eyes of Sunnis, Shiites and Kurds. Winner of Best Director, Best Cinematography and Best Editing awards in the 2006 Sundance Film Festival documentary competition, the film was also awarded the Grand Jury Prize at the 2006 Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature in 2007.

Comment: A stunningly beautiful and poignant documentary about post-invasion Iraq which everyone should see in order to understand the extent to havok wrecked by America's Neoconservative ideologues and their willing political executioners.

Wednesday, June 04, 2008

Lebanon’s Brush with Civil War

Children run past a gunman from Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri's AMAL movement (Harakat AMAL/Afwaj al-Muqawama al-Lubnaniyya) in Beirut, Lebanon's Corniche al-Mazraa district on May 8, 2008. Lebanon's National Opposition coalition, which includes Hizbu'llah and AMAL, the country's two largest Shi'i political parties, took control of the predominantly Muslim half of Beirut on May 9, 2008. The middle photo in the poster on the wall is of Musa al-Sadr, the leader who oversaw the political mobilization of Lebanon's Shi'a in the 1960s and 1970s.
(Ramzi Haidar, AFP/Getty Images)
A Sunni supporter of billionaire Saudi constuction tycoon Sa'd al-Hariri's Future Movement (Tayyar al-Mustaqbal)/Hariri Inc. )burns tires to block the highway linking Beirut with the coastal village of Jiyeh on May 8, 2008. . (Muhammed Zaatari/AP Photo)

Lebanon's Brush with Civil War

By Jim Quilty (May 20, 2008)

Middle East Report Online

The bloody clashes that broke out between opposition and government gunmen on May 7 have sparked fevered speculation as well. That Hizballah militants could take over West Beirut came as little surprise. Many were astonished by the speed of the advance, however, and the low number of casualties left in its wake, as the reports of 50-caliber machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades, as well as small arms, reverberated in West Beirut for a second day. The pertinent question, then, is not “How could Hizballah do this?” but “Why did the Lebanese government choose to provoke Hizballah at this time?”


"We are all (the) Resistance (Hizbu'llah)"

In a speech before a video-linked press conference that evening, Hizballah Secretary-General Hasan Nasrallah said the Siniora government’s decision to outlaw and dismantle the telecommunication network was effectively “a declaration of war...against the Resistance and its weapons for the benefit of America and Israel. The communications network is the significant part of the weapons of the Resistance. I said that we will cut off the hand that targets the weapons of the Resistance.… Today is the day to carry out this decision.” The opposition action would continue, Nasrallah said, until the government rescinded its ban on Hizballah’s security infrastructure.

In a speech televised soon afterward, Saad al-Hariri characterized opposition moves in West Beirut as “a crime that must stop immediately. We will not accept that Beirut kneel before anyone.” Hizballah, he continued, had “misinterpreted” the government decisions to probe the party’s private communications network and reassign Shuqayr. The measures, he said, were meant to protect the army and did not target Hizballah. He proposed ending the crisis by placing the two decisions in the hands of the army to implement or suspend.

Would you buy a car from this man? Future Movement chieftain, Saudi citizen, and son of the late Lebanese prime minister Rafiq al-Hariri.

After the broadcasts, the West Beirut clashes changed complexion. By the next day Hizballah and Amal forces (and their allies in the SSNP) had taken control of West Beirut, having systematically taken out select Future Movement and affiliated offices and disarmed hundreds of Future Movement militants. Since the end of the 2006 war, and particularly since the current political crisis began 18 months ago, this nascent militia (mostly composed, it seems, of underemployed young Sunnis from West Beirut) had been amply supplied with arms and ammunition. Evidently there had been less emphasis on training: Anecdotes have emerged of amateur gunmen firing on non-combatants, lobbing RPGs into the sea or, more frequently, abandoning their positions without a fight. Hariri-owned media outlets -- al-Mustaqbal newspaper, Future Television and al-Sharq Radio -- were attacked (in some cases, ransacked), shuttered and handed over to the army. On the morning of May 9, SSNP and Amal gunmen set fire to the buildings.


A poster of the leaders of the three largest and most influential political parties in the National Opposition coalition, from left: Michel Aoun (Free Patriotic Movement); Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah (Hizbu'llah); and Nabih Berri (Harakat AMAL).

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Misrepresenting Islam: Barack Obama & the (Bigoted) Muslim Allegation

Post on: The Immanent Frame: Secularism Religion, and the Public Sphere,
The Social Science Research Council

Abdullah Ahmed an-Na'im
Charles Howard Chandler Professor of Law, Emory University
Note: An excellent rebuttal to the claims that Barack Obama is a Muslim, which are made by bigots who hope to scare the millions of intellectually lazy members of the American electorate who will believe anything sent to them in a mass e-mail or who believe that "El Rushbo" is the Second Coming of Jesus.
Suggestions that Presidential candidate Barack Obama was a Muslim seemed to have subsided when his controversial pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, walked onto the stage. But even as Obama defended his Christian faith, and his choice of churches, speculation about his connection to Islam continued on-line as well as within the mainstream press, including an Op-Ed entitled “President Apostate” in The New York Times (May 12, 2008) by the military strategist and historian Edward Luttwak (and, exactly a week later, in a May 19 Christian Science Monitor Op-Ed entitled “Barack Obama–Muslim Apostate?“). Now, as if to flip the Muslim coin, Mr. Luttwak, Ms. Burki, and others speculate that Muslims will hold Mr. Obama to a higher religious standard because he does not embrace the religion of his father.

Mr. Luttwak argues that the election of Senator Barack Obama as President of the United States could cause serious complications between the United States and the Islamic world because Mr. Obama is an apostate, a result of the likely Democratic nominee being born to a Muslim father and raised Christian by his mother. The penalty for such heresy, Mr. Luttwak explains, is execution by the state or possible assassination by believers, not to mention the difficulty Muslim states would have dealing with a president who denies his true religion.

A strange paradox has emerged whereby Shari`a (the religious law of Islam) has paradoxically become mythical in its alleged power to determine the behavior of Muslims everywhere, yet defenseless against the most fanciful, even outrageous claims and charges.

It may be helpful to first note that the subject can be confusing if we mix a general discussion of the crime of apostasy under traditional interpretations of Shari`a, or the incidence of prosecutions in some Muslim-majority countries (i.e. where Muslims are the majority of the population) today, with the specific claims Dr. Luttwak made about Senator Obama.

Regarding the general subject, it is true that the dominant view among early Muslim scholars that remains popular today is that apostasy is a capital crime under Shari`a, punishable by death. It is also true that there have been reports of some recent prosecutions for apostasy in a few Muslim-majority countries like Afghanistan, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen.

But Dr. Luttwak is using that general situation as the premise and basis of his claims regarding the religious status and security risk for Senator Obama. Those claims must be challenged on at least two grounds: The claim is wrong from a Shari`a point of view, and false in terms of the present political and legal realities of Muslim-majority countries.

Taking Shari`a on its own terms as a theoretical construct developed by Muslim jurists twelve hundred years ago, the world is divided into dar al-Islam, which are lands ruled by Muslims where Shari`a prevails, and dar al-Harb, which are lands ruled by non-Muslims where Shari`a does not, therefore, prevail. In modern terms, Shari`a has jurisdiction under Muslim sovereignty and no jurisdiction under non-Muslim sovereignty. To invoke that ancient theoretical construct today is like invoking Canon law of the eighth century in determining the religious standing of someone who was raised a Catholic in the twentieth century.

Even if we assume that that theoretical construct of Shari`a is still applicable today, it cannot possibly apply as the law of the land in dar al-Harb, namely Kenya, in this case, where Senator Obama’s father was born and raised, presumably as a Muslim. As a matter of historical fact, the territory now constituting the modern state of Kenya was never part of dar al-Islam at any point in time. More specifically, when Senator Obama’s father was born, Kenya was a British colony, which means that Shari`a did not apply to determine the religious status of Senator Obama’s father.

Moreover, from a present political and legal perspective, Muslim populations are now constituted as “nation-states” under international law and their own national constitutions. All these countries have their own constitutional order (even if not a written constitution like Saudi Arabia), legal systems, penal codes, etc. It is therefore misleading to invoke general principles of Shari`a, even if we accept for the sake of argument that they may have applied in the pre-colonial era, as if they are the legal system of nation states today. Apostasy is only a crime in the penal codes of four or five out of the 40 Muslim-majority countries today.

Dr. Luttwak claims that “another provision of Muslim law… prohibits punishment for any Muslim who kills any apostate, and effectively prohibits interference with such a killing.” This claim implies that there is something called “Muslim law,” which is either the law of the land or overrides that law in present Muslim-majority countries.

If this is true, how is it that the killers of the Egyptian intellectual Dr. Farag Foda were prosecuted and executed for murder by the Egyptian state in 1994, despite the fact that a leading Islamic scholar from al-Azhar University in Cairo testified on his behalf that the killers were merely carrying out the sentence of Shari`a on Dr. Foda because the Egyptian state does not enforce the death penalty for apostasy?

Those who think Muslims will respond negatively to Sen. Obama based on his presumed religion have an overly simplistic view of what it means to be Muslim today. More than 20 percent of the world’s population embraces Islam at present. And while there is a history to the religion, as there is to all religions, beliefs vary from nation to nation and often within countries as well. Islam may be large and growing, but it is not monolithic. The notion that Muslims would wish Sen. Obama harm because he left Islam (though he never embraced Islam and was raised Christian) is purely speculative and based on a misread of Shari’a and the history of Islam. These conclusions do nothing but further stereotype a religion that is poorly understood in the West—particularly in the United States.

Muslims, like people everywhere, are interested in greater security, education for their children, health care and jobs. Like other Americans, they too want to practice their religion freely. That does not mean executing people who were raised in different faiths or who have, as Sen. Obama did not, decided to convert to a different faith.