Sunday, May 24, 2009

Are Muslims really collective ostrichs?



Thursday evening I received a telephone call from a Muslim brother in another location. He expressed indignation at the recent arrest of four Muslim men in the state of New York for an alleged plot to shoot down planes and attack a Jewish Synagogue.

His concerns were, in essence, two-fold. [A] Our Masaajid [Mosques] are not speaking about a rise in violent extremism among members of the Muslim community. In his words "we only talk about the Qur'an and the Sunnah?" [B] Islam is spreading among people who have issues with modern life, 'anti-american folks' as he termed it. In addressing point B, It is sufficient to note both from personal experience as well as statistics that Islam is being embraced, more and more, by a comfortable middle-class. One example of a stable person embracing Islam has already been discussed . Certainly, one does not need to have a bias towards America to embrace Islam.

Do we really ignore the rise of violence prone extremism?

The answer to this is a resounding NO! Blogs, webforums, books, position papers and lectures produced by Muslims are all full of various conclusions on this phenomenon.This writer has personally sat in the audience of many Friday Khateebs delivering the khutbah addressing this problem, usually from a religious viewpoint, all calling for an end to religiously inspired violence.

I told the brother that perhaps at his Masjid the issue is not discussed because the Imams there do not see it as relevant to the needs of their particular audience. Moreover, an audience does not want to hear about negative issues every Friday at the Masjid from the Imam or Khateeb. It can be argued that the Friday Jumu'ah Khutbah should keep these sort of issues, if discussed at all, to a very limited few minutes, leaving the issue to be discussed in a more appropriate setting.{Ft.2}

So, Yes we are discussing this problem. The level of discourse will of course vary from one group to another, and the proposes solutions will also vary. Most of us always assert that the solution is a "return to the Qur'an and Sunnah", some say we have to become 'modern', but nonetheless the problem of religiously-inspired violence is on the radar.

Just what is the solution?

In the context of the broader Muslim world, if we want events such as suicide bombings to end, more justice and opportunities must be forthcoming from the elites. Poverty and oppression is the daily experience of many people, especially in Palestine. Such circumstance will naturally produce reactions. Just attacking the symptoms will not due, the causes must be addressed, with an interest in fair play. Occupation of many Muslim lands by foreign armies, such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, must also end, and allow for a truly independent government to be formed, one which will address the heightened tensions in their society.

It is worth noting that there will always be "crazies" out there, but in terms of addressing the root causes, they will have to be marginalized while the root causes are examined and addressed.

The latest plot

Returning to the Bronx arrests, I have to express my doubts as to exactly how serious was the threat. After all, we all know the expression about the boy who cried wolf. Take, for instance, the following paragraph from Friday's newspaper.

According to a criminal complaint unsealed Wednesday night, federal officials had been aware of the plot for almost a year and had an informant working with the crew. The FBI arranged for the alleged plotters to receive a non-functioning missile and bogus C-4 explosives. [USA Today, 5/22/09, page 3A '4 held without bail in chilling plot']

Does it really take one year for an attack on a place of worship? For the government to 'arrange' for them to take possession of these items seems a bit like entrapment. Moreover, the Imam of a Mosque attended by some of the alleged plotters occasionally was quoted in the same article as asserting that they were "poor and needy". Do poor and needy people have the time, interest, money or training to acquire, store and use these devices? Moreover, what benefit would they have gained for such an insane and immoral attack?

Certainly we don't know all the facts, but nonetheless I think these are legitimate concerns. Fear is a motivator, and on the surface, this appears to be one of those occasions. Perhaps it is conceivable that one or two individuals among them spoke of their frustrations [they were all convicted of crimes in the past] which led to their entrapment. Below is another article explaining a similar view.

Yet Another Bogus ‘Terror’ Plot
by Robert Dreyfuss

By now it's maddeningly familiar. A scary terrorist plot is announced. Then it's revealed that the suspects are a hapless bunch of ne'er-do-wells or run-of-the-mill thugs without the slightest connection to any terrorists at all, never mind to Al Qaeda. And finally, the last piece of the puzzle: The entire plot is revealed to have been cooked up by a scummy government agent-provocateur.

I've seen this movie before.

In this case, the alleged perps -- Onta Williams, James Cromitie, David Williams, and Laguerre Payen -- were losers, ex-cons, drug addicts. Al Qaeda they're not. Without the assistance of the agent who entrapped them, they would never have dreamed of committing political violence, nor would they have had the slightest idea about where to acquire plastic explosives or a Stinger missile. That didn't stop prosecutors from acting as if they'd captured Osama bin Laden himself. Noted the Los Angeles Times:

Prosecutors called it the latest in a string of homegrown terrorism plots hatched after Sept. 11. "It's hard to envision a more chilling plot," Assistant U.S. Atty. Eric Snyder said in court Thursday. He described all four suspects as "eager to bring death to Jews."

Actually, it's hard to imagine a stupider, less competent, and less important plot. The four losers were ensnared by a creepy FBI agent who hung around the mosque in upstate New York until he found what he was looking for. Here's the New York Times account:

Salahuddin Mustafa Muhammad, the imam at the mosque where the authorities say the confidential informant first encountered the men, said none of the men were active in the mosque. ...

Mr. Cromitie was there last June, and he met a stranger.

He had no way of knowing that the stranger's path to the mosque began in 2002, when he was arrested on federal charges of identity theft. He was sentenced to five years' probation, and became a confidential informant for the F.B.I. He began showing up at the mosque in Newburgh around 2007, Mr. Muhammad said.

The stranger's behavior aroused the imam's suspicions. He invited other worshipers to meals, and spoke of violence and jihad, so the imam said he steered clear of him.

"There was just something fishy about him," Mr. Muhammad said. Members "believed he was a government agent."

Mr. Muhammad said members of his congregation told him the man he believed was the informant offered at least one of them a substantial amount of money to join his "team."

So a creepy thug buttonholes people at a mosque foaming at the mouth about violence and jihad? This is law enforcement? Just imagine if someone did this at a local church, or some synagogue. And the imam says the people "believed he was a government agent."

Preying on these losers -- none of whom were apparently actual Muslims -- the "confidential informant" orchestrated the acquisition of a disabled Stinger missile to shoot down military planes and cooked up a wild scheme about attacking a Jewish center in the Bronx.

But according to a Los Angeles Times report, it is even more pathetic:

The only one of the four suspects who appears to have aroused any suspicion was Payen, a Haitian native who attended the Newburgh mosque. Assistant imam Hamid Rashada said his dishevelment and odd behavior disturbed some members, said the assistant imam, Hamid Rashada.

When Payen appeared in court, defense attorney Marilyn Reader described him as "intellectually challenged" and on medication for schizophrenia. The Associated Press said that when he was asked if he understood the proceedings, Payen replied: "Sort of."

Despite the pompous statements from New York Mayor Bloomberg and other politicians, including Representative Peter King, the whole story is bogus.

The four losers may have been inclined to violence, and they may have harbored a virulent strain of anti-Semitism. But it seems that the informant whipped up their violent tendencies and their hatred of Jews, cooked up the plot, incited them, arranged their purchase of weapons, and then had them busted. To ensure that it made headlines, the creepy informant claimed to be representing a Pakistani extremist group, Jaish-e Muhammad, a bona fide terrorist organization. He wasn't, of course.

It is disgusting and outrageous that the FBI is sending provocateurs into mosques.
The headlines reinforce the very fear that Dick Cheney is trying to stir up. The story strengthens the narrative that the "homeland" is under attack. It's not. As I've written repeatedly, since 9/11 not a single American has even been punched in the nose by an angry Muslim, as far as I can tell.

Plot after plot -- the destruction of the Brooklyn Bridge! bombing the New York Subways! taking down the Sears Tower! bombing the Prudential building in Newark! -- proved to be utter nonsense.

Robert Dreyfuss is a contributing editor to The Nation magazine, and the author of Devil's Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam (Metropolitan).

Copyright © 2009 The Nation -- distributed by Agence Global

In any case, I hope this case will be watched carefully.


[1] One word for Ostrich in Arabic is Dhaaleem. The Ostrich bird puts his head in the sand, as shown above, so the name Dhaaleem implies a self-oppression or self-delusion.

[2] The Friday prayer's main purpose, according to the Qur'an, is "the remembrance of Allah" [Q 62:9]. Some argue that we should keep to a religious theme in the khutbah and avoid politics and the like all together. However, this position seems at variance with the practice of both the Prophet and early Khulafaa', who had no problems using it as an opportunity to share non-religious information of societal consequence. Many scholars say this is precisely why we traditionally divide the Khutbah into two parts, the latter part being used to discuss societal or communal concerns.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Label wars: the image of Muslims

Although an on-going issue, the recent developments in Swat valley in NorthWest Pakistan, in which there is a state of actual war between the government and the "Taleban" [an issue far beyond the scope of this particular post] has once again brought into focus a more subtle conflict; the assumptions automatically made when certain labels are used when it comes to anything relating to Islam or Muslims.

Take for instance Miss Irshad Manji. An open lesbian of Indian backround, she is tauted as a "Muslim reformer" or "liberal". In her book The trouble with Islam, she expresses her feelings that parts of the Qur'an are not really from God, that the Prophet Muhammad [Peace be upon him] was a violent warlord, she has said publically that she does not observe daily prayers, yet she is tauted as "modern" "forward looking" in additon to "Muslim"! It is as if this is the image many would like to adopt as the acceptable Muslim!

So, if someone like Ms. Manji is an acceptable Muslim, an example for all to follow, then it stands to reason that anything else, such as daily prayers, attempting to live according to the values and guidelines found in the Qur'an and Uswah Hasanah [goodly model] of the Prophet Muhammad, God's last prophet and universal messenger, are all examples of "radicalism" "extremist" and 'fundamentalist thinking. A person who does not frequent the bars on Friday night, abstains from alcohol and casinos is a potential terrorist, a radical whose behaviour must be observed carefully by law enforcement agencies. A woman who dresses in a modest fashion must be oppressed, another victim of Radical Islam. One Muslim sister was asked while at a barber shop if she 'Liked' Islam! As if she would never want to, out of sheer conviction, be an observant Muslim!

It is very strange that all that is antithetical to Islam is promoted by those with certain social, financial and political motivations as the ideal for Muslim progress, both societal and as individuals, and that we should, in essence, be cultural Muslims, whose only practices should be avoiding eating pork, attending 'Eid prayers only [and having a Budweiser afterwards! ] and politically apathetic.

The struggle

We have briefly outlined the broad details of the label wars. The battle is taking place on websites, newspapers, books and op-ed pages. The goal is the minds and hearts of the Muslims everywhere, of all sects, races and educational backrounds.

I agree that there is an internal struggle within the Muslim Ummah in terms of defining extremism. I agree that many people have differing views on what extent one practice takes place over another, and on how we should live and conduct ourselves in society. This blog post here is a very good perspective on how to be a Muslim while at the same time maintaining equilibrium.

But none of that means we should just ignore the basic values given in religion. Certainly, those who intentionally and unregrettably preach ideals and conduct themselves in terms that are clearly outside of Islamic teachings should not be imposed upon us as models for "progressive" "reformist" Islam.

The basic values are outlined in the Qur'an. It was not sent to sit on the shelves and decorate the walls of our houses. It is a guide, something that is to be read again and again [which is clearly implied in the name Al-Qur'an itself]. There is a difference between honest disagreements in terms of its understanding and application versus deliberate attempts to make Muslims ignorant of their religion, to turn us into cultural Muslims only, having little or no connection to its teachings, practices or values.

Don't be a victim in the label war. Be armed with faith, practice and knowledge. Arm one's self with the actual, practical values of Islam. That is the best approach in handling this. This is the advice to our Muslim readers.

To our non-Muslim readers, we would like to remind you that Muslims are humans as well, with different perspectives, mental and social abilities. We may or may not represent the best of what Islam teaches. Therefore, do not judge Islam on what you hear or see from Muslims in the news, or from what they want you to hear.Judge on the basis of the logic and teaching found in the text, mainly the Qur'an. Do not read isolated verses. Seriously read it, examine the context of whatever desired texts in order to have a better perspective on the message. At the very least, it is our hope that such reading will allow the reader to ignore the label war all together, to not be fooled by oversimplistic assertions.