Sunday, August 29, 2010

Christianity Today endorses a bigot

I just came across an article in Christianity Today. Its editor is David Neff who wrote an article “Give Franklin Graham Some Slack—and Some Credit,” which is problematic on several grounds. By writing such praises for one of the worst chauvinists of our time, the editor has shown that the paper promotes bigotry.

Neff endorses Franklin Graham’s offensive remarks about Islam. This is a sickening display of selective amnesia when one finds worst kinds of crimes committed in the name of Christianity over the last two millennia. Just in Iraq alone, Franklin Graham and his spiritual student George W. Bush killed more than a million innocent Iraqi Muslims, all under the false pretext of finding never-to-be-found WMDs. Is lying kosher in Christianity? Is killing human beings kosher in Christianity?

And then Franklin Graham had the audacity to appear in Iraq with his Samaritan Purse, which did not fool anyone as to where his motivation lied. It was not helping unarmed and maimed Iraqis, thanks to his own evil preaching in favor of war (and not peace), but to steal the souls of those victims.

Shame on Christianity Today and David Neff for endorsing a murderous bigot whose very preaching was responsible for two devastating wars that not only killed more than a million innocent human beings on the other side but also thousands of patriotic American soldiers.

Are politicians like prostitutes and pimps?

In an earlier article, I have compared politicians as prostitutes and pimps. I have also mentioned that fortunately there are some exceptions to this rule, where I mentioned amongst others the New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

As to why I sounded so negative about the politicians, just remind yourself with what John McCain and Joe Lieberman had said during the 2008 primary election. When McCain was endorsed by John Hagee, McCain said he was "very honored" to receive this endorsement and, when asked about some of Hagee's more twisted views, responded: "all I can tell you is that I am very proud to have Pastor John Hagee's support."

McCain's sainted supporter, Joe Lieberman, spoke to Hagee's group in 2007 and lavished him with such obsequious praise that Lieberman actually compared Hagee, favorably, to Moses.

Now who is this John Hagee? He is, of course, the white evangelical who is the pastor of a sprawling "mega-church" in Texas. He is the President and CEO of John Hagee Ministries, which telecasts his national radio and television ministry carried in the United States on 160 TV stations, 50 radio stations, and eight networks, including The Inspiration Network (INSP), Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), and Inspiration Now TV. He is also the founder and National Chairman of the Christian-Zionist organization Christians United for Israel, incorporated on February 7, 2006. As I noted elsewhere that many of these evangelists are not only parasites they actually live immoral lives. Ted Haggard, Jim Schwartz are well known examples. Hagee is no different either. Published reports suggest that he contradicts himself time and again in his personal life. In 1975 he was the leader of the charismatic Trinity Church and was the father of two children. He had an adulterous affair with a woman and admitted to immorality in front of his church. Pastor John Hagee then divorced the mother of his two children and married a younger woman (Diana Castro, now Diana Hagee) from that same congregation. Pastor John Hagee willfully abused his position of trust and power to take advantage of a younger gullible woman and cheat on his wife. Now he is the pastor of another congregation- the Cornerstone Church in San Antonio Texas.

Many would call him a hateful bastard, a bigot, a religious crusader who does not know right from wrong. His offensive remarks against Muslims and gay and lesbians are well known (e.g., right after Katrina hurricane, Hagee said, "God caused Hurricane Katrina to wipe out New Orleans because it had a gay pride parade the week before and was filled with sexual sin.").

Because of his pro-Israel views these days, Hagee is a darling amongst the Likudniks and many Christian Zionists. But do people know about what he had said about the Jews?
Hagee has made statements that are antisemitic, including blaming the Holocaust on Jews, stating that Adolf Hitler carried out a divine plan to lead Jews to form the modern state of Israel, calling liberal Jews "poisoned" and "spiritually blind," and stating that the preemptive nuclear attack on Iran that he favors will lead to the deaths of most Jews in Israel.
"It was the disobedience and rebellion of the Jews, God's chosen people, to their covenantal responsibility to serve only the one true God, Jehovah, that gave rise to the opposition and persecution that they experienced beginning in Canaan and continuing to this very day... Their own rebellion had birthed the seed of antisemitism that would arise and bring destruction to them for centuries to come.... it rises from the judgment of God upon his rebellious chosen people."
In another sermon, Hagee blamed American economic problems on the fact that the Federal Reserve System is controlled by "a group of Class A stockholders, including the Rothschilds." In the same series, Hagee further asserted that the Rothschilds, who are Jewish, were part of a wide-ranging conspiracy of "international power brokers based in Europe."

How about the Catholics? John Hagee calls the Catholic Church 'The Great Whore,' an 'apostate church,' the 'anti-Christ,' and a 'false cult system' . . . .

In Hagee's book, Jerusalem Countdown, he calls Hitler a Catholic who murdered Jews while the Catholic Church did nothing. 'The sell-out of Catholicism to Hitler began not with the people but with the Vatican itself,' he writes. He also states that the Roman Catholic Church "plunged the world into the Dark Ages," allowed for the Crusaders to rape and murder with impunity, and called for Jews to be treated as "Christ killers". (p. 73)

How about McCain supporter Rudy Giuliani? Just a few months into the 2008 primary election, Rudy stood on the same stage and gushed with gratitude over the endorsement by Rev. Pat Robertson of his presidential bid. That's the same Rev. Robertson who, among so many things, said that Ariel Sharon's stroke was God's punishment for giving up Gaza and the 9/11 attack was divine retribution against America -- America's fault -- for tolerating gays, feminists and the ACLU.

And yet these evil people promoting hatred and xenophobia are the most coveted items for political endorsement, especially so amongst the GOP, the Republicans. It is not difficult to understand why America is becoming increasingly intolerant of minorities. A church in Gainesville, Florida wants to burn the Qur'an on 9/11/2010 to show their hatred of Islam. Just a few hours ago, building materials at a Tennessee site for a proposed mosque were set on fire. Where will such bigotry end?

These white evangelical Ministers are free to advocate American wars based on Biblical mandates, rant hatefully against Islam, and argue that natural disasters occur because God hates gay people. They are slick marketers who play upon people's fears and hatreds to make money and push their insane policy ideas. As noted two years ago by Greenwald in a salon.com article, sadly, these hateful ministers "are still fit for good company, an important and cherished part of our mainstream American political system. The entire GOP establishment is permitted actively to lavish them with praise and court their support without the slightest backlash or controversy. Both George Bush and Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert sent formal greetings to the 2006 gathering of Hagee's group."

It is not difficult to understand why I said what I said about such politicians.

[Interested readers may like to read Billy Graham's views on Jews by clicking here.]

Ramadan – the month of self-restraint

The blessed month of Ramadan is upon us. To a Muslim no other month is as meritorious as this particular month is when the reward of every good deed done is multiplied several times. It is not difficult to understand why the Prophet Muhammad (S) said that fasting is like a curtain against the Hellfire. It is also the month when the Qur’an was sent down as a guide to mankind – with clear signs for guidance and judgment between right and wrong. As instructed in the Qur’an every able bodied Muslim who is not ill or on a journey is obligated to fast the entire month from dawn to dusk (2:185). In that practice, Muslims are also reminded that it is something that was also prescribed to people who came before them so that they may learn self-restraint (2:183). Thus, teaching self-restraint is the essence of fasting.

Probably at no other time in America is this message more relevant than this Ramadan. Truly, it has been a very difficult month for most Muslim Americans who are viciously attacked both verbally and physically by the anti-Muslim bigots and chauvinists. Last week a Bangladeshi-American taxi cab driver was stabbed severely by a young white Christian student who not too long ago was an embedded photo-journalist with the American forces in Afghanistan. The published reports also suggest that the attacker was affiliated with a group that had supported the construction of a Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan. If this report is true then it is perhaps not difficult to understand what religiously intolerant messages spewed out by bigots -- Christian ministers like Franklin Graham and John Hagee, and Republican politicians like Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, and Rudy Giuliani -- can do to anyone.

For the GOP, i.e., the Republicans Islamophobia is the new anti-communism. As a result of such onslaught on Islam, many Muslim houses of worship are vandalized and discrimination against Muslims is at an all time high. On August 28 equipment at the construction site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro in Tennessee was set on fire. In June, someone broke the sign at the future site of the center. Previously, the words "Not Welcome" were spray-painted on the sign. On the ninth anniversary of 9/11, a Christian church wants to burn the Qur’an.

A recently published Pew Research Center poll reported that more Americans now have unfavorable than favorable views of Islam by 38 percent to 30 percent. In 2005, it was reversed: 41 percent had favorable views, 36 percent unfavorable. Republicans voiced negative views of Muslims by more than 2-1, with 54 voicing unfavorable views and 21 percent giving positive ones. Obviously, America is failing in its role as a nation that values religious tolerance.

In spite of such hateful barrages, Muslims should practice self-restraint and avoid any heated discussion that can be counterproductive. They have the noble examples of their beloved Prophet Muhammad (S) and his companions to follow.

The tenth year of the Prophetic mission of Muhammad (S) was a sad one. He had lost his wife – Khadija (R) and uncle - Abi Talib who had tried to protect him for years against the pagans. To make things worse, Abu Lahab, an uncle of the Prophet and an ardent enemy of Islam, had now become the chief of the clan; and the Prophet was ill-treated as never before. On one occasion a passer-by leaned over his gate and tossed a piece of putrefying offal into his cooking pot; and once when he was praying in the courtyard of his house, a man threw over him a sheep’s uterus filthy with blood and excrement. On another occasion, when the Prophet (S) was coming from the Ka’bah, a man took a handful of dirt and threw it in his face and head. When he returned home, one of his daughters washed him clean of it, weeping while the Prophet (S) reassured her, “Weep not, little daughter, Allah will protect your father.”

It was then that he decided to seek help from the Thaqif, the people of Ta’if – a decision that eloquently reflected the apparent gravity of his situation in Makkah. Accompanied by his disciple, Zaid ibn Haritha, Muhammad (S) came to Ta’if. On his arrival, he went straight to the house of three brothers who were the leaders of Thaqif at that time, the sons of ‘Amr ibn Umayyah. When the Prophet (S) invited them to Islam and asked them to help him against his opponents, they abused him verbally. So the Prophet rose to leave them, perhaps intending to try elsewhere in Ta’if; but when he had left them they stirred their slaves and retainers to insult him and shout at him, until a crowd of people were gathered together against him who started pelting stones at him. His feet started bleeding. Zaid himself was injured with a head injury. The Prophet could not walk any longer. But the unbelievers put him on his feet and again resumed throwing stones at him. Ultimately, the Prophet (S) was forced to take refuge in a private orchard. Once he had entered it the crowd began to disperse, and, tethering his camel to a palm tree, he made for the shelter of a vine and sat in its shade.

When he felt himself to be in safety and at peace, Muhammad (S) prayed: “O God, unto You do I complain of my weakness, of my helplessness, and of my lowliness before men. O Most Merciful of the merciful, You are the Lord of the weak. And You are my Lord, Unto whose hands will you entrust me, unto some far off stranger who will ill-treat me? Or unto a foe whom You have empowered against me? I care not, so You be not wroth with me. But Your favoring help – that were for me the broader way and the wider scope! I take refuge in the Light of Your Countenance whereby all darknesses are illumined and the things of this world and the next are rightly ordered, lest You make descend Your anger upon me, or lest Your wrath beset me. Yet is it Yours to reproach until You are well pleased. There is no power and no might except through You.”

After he had made the supplication, Muhammad (S) looked up. He saw a cloud providing shade to him and in that cloud was seated the Angel Jibril (Gabriel). Jibril said, “Allah has heard what your community has said and He had also witnessed what the people of Ta’if had done to you. He has sent you the Angel who is entrusted with the mountains. Whatever you command, he will carry it out.”

The Angel who is entrusted with the mountains approached Muhammad (S) and said, “O Muhammad, I am the Angle of Mountains. I am at your command. If you command me I shall destroy this town by smashing it with the Mountain Akhshab.”

At this moment of trial, what the Prophet of mercy had to say simply surprised the Angel. The Prophet (S) said, “I beg forgiveness for them. Even if these people do not accept Islam, I do hope from Allah that there will emerge from there a people submissive unto Him who will not associate any partners to Him.”

No man has ever uttered such words for those who caused so much suffering. But such was the person Muhammad (S). No wonder that he is described in the Qur’an as the Rahmatal-lil ‘alameen -- the mercy to the entire universe (21:107)!

In later years, when asked by his wife A’isha (R) if there was ever a more troubling moment in his life than that of Uhud, the Prophet (S) replied, “I had the most troubling time in Ta’if.”

It was all too natural for the Prophet of Islam to forgive all his tormentors on the day of the conquest of Makkah some ten years later. After entering the city of his birth from where he was forced to flee, Muhammad (S) performed the ritual tawaf (encircling of the Ka'bah) on his camel, surrounded by the Muslims. When he had finished, he said, 'There no divinity except Allah and He has no partner. Men and women of Quraysh be not proud for all are equal; we are all the sons of Adam, and Adam was made of dust.' Then he recited this verse to them:
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
O mankind! Lo! We have created you male and female, and have made you nations and tribes so that you may know each another. Surely the noblest of you, in the sight of Allah, is the best in conduct. Lo! Allah is All-knowing, All-aware. (Qur’an xlix.13)

After this he said to them: 'O Quraysh, what do you think I am going to do to you?' The people thought carefully before answering because they knew that according to the laws of war they could all be taken prisoners. They also knew, however, that the Prophet Muhammad (S) was generous, so they replied, ‘You will treat us as a kind nephew and a generous brother would.' To this he replied with the words used by the Prophet Joseph when his brothers came to Egypt: 'God forgives you and He is the Most Merciful of the merciful.' Later the Prophet (S) went to the hill of Safa and there the crowd followed him and surged forward, taking his hand one by one, to declare their faith in Islam. He then turned to the Ka'bah and, pointing his staff at the three hundred and sixty-five idols, which were placed there, recited from the Qur’an:
In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
… Truth has come and falsehood has vanished away.
Lo! Falsehood is ever bound to vanish.
(Qur’an 17:81)

At this, each idol fell over onto its face. Together with his followers the Prophet (S) then proceeded to purify the Ka'bah, after which he ordered Bilal (RA), the Abyssinian companion, to climb on top of it and perform the call to prayer.

Since then the call to prayer has been heard five times a day in Makkah. The Ka'bah has served the purpose for which it was built by Abraham thousands of years ago -- as a sanctuary for the worship of Allah, our Creator, and Makkah continues to be the spiritual center of Islam. That nascent faith of Islam has now grown to become the faith of some 1.6 billion people in our planet. No fear-mongering and xenophobia will be able to stop a faith that is global and growing fast.

(Speech delivered at the Ramadan celebration in the Trinity Church, Swarthmore College, Pennsylvania on August 28, 2010. The stories are extracted from the author’s upcoming book – The Book of Devotional Stories in Islam, pub. A.S. Noordeen, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.)

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Hate Crime in New York - cabbie stabbed

As I feared, Islamophobia has its latest victim in a hate crime that saw a Muslim cab driver in New York city severely stabbed several times by a White American. The Republican leaders and right wing conservative talk show hosts cannot escape from being held responsible for spreading hate crime against Muslims. Such propaganda and hatemongering is sure to bring the worst from bigots and chauvinists.

Here is the report from the USA Today:
NEW YORK — A Manhattan cabbie who was stabbed Tuesday night by a Putnam County man questioned Wednesday whether the attack stemmed from the contentious debate over creating a mosque near ground zero.

Ahmed H. Sharif, 43, of Queens, was stabbed several times by Michael Enright, 21, of Southeast, N.Y., after Enright had asked Sharif if he was Muslim and the cabbie responded that he was, a police spokesman said.

When officers responded to the scene around 6:15 p.m. Tuesday, Sharif was outside the vehicle, suffering from stab wounds, after attempting to lock Enright inside the cab, a police spokesman said. Enright escaped but was captured nearby by police.

The charges against Enright include attempted murder as a hate crime.

In a statement Wednesday the from New York Taxi Workers Alliance, Sharif warned his fellow cabbies.

"Right now the public sentiment is very serious" because of the ground zero mosque debate, he said. "All drivers should be more careful."

Sharif, who was treated at Bellevue Hospital for stab wounds to his arms, throat and face, said the incident made him sad.

"I have been here more than 25 years. I have been driving a taxi more than 15 years. All my four kids were born here. I never feel this hopeless and insecure before," he said.

It was Sharif's first fare of his shift.

Enright, a 2007 graduate of Brewster High School and an aspiring filmmaker, recently returned from Afghanistan, where he filmed Marines as part of a project for the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan, where he is a student. In Afghanistan, he was embedded with a Marines Corps crew that included his fellow Brewster High graduate, Cpl. Alex Eckner.

Enright was highly intoxicated when he hailed the cab, the police spokesman said. Once inside the cab, Enright asked Sharif whether Sharif was Muslim. When Sharif responded yes, Enright stabbed him several times with some type of utility knife.

According to the statement from the Taxi Workers Alliance, Enright's conversation with Sharif started out friendly, with Enright asking the cabbie where he was from, how long he had been in America, if he was Muslim and if he was observing Ramadan.

Enright then went silent before suddenly cursing and screaming, the statement said.

He then shouted "'Assalamu Alaikum,' common among Muslims as a wish for peace, before pulling out the knife and slashing Sharif across the neck and stabbing several more times as Sharif tried to knock it out of Enright's hands, the alliance said.

Enright was charged with attempted second-degree murder as a hate crime, first-degree assault, felonies, aggravated harassment and fourth-degree criminal possession of a weapon, misdemeanors. He is awaiting arraignment.

Enright also worked with Intersections International, a Manhattan-based, multifaith and multicultural effort that seeks to promote justice and peace. Messages left with the School of Visual Arts and Intersections International were not immediately returned.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Islamophobia is on the rise in the USA

There is no doubt that Islamophobia is on the rise. It is no longer an isolated issue that is thriving in some bigotry-ridden corner in Europe. Thanks to its evil promoters, the beast has become a global phenomenon today. One such promoter is the group called Stop the Islamization of Europe (SIOE), which is led by Anders Gravers. As is evident from its motto “Islamophobia is the height of common sense,” the group doesn’t sugar-coat its bigotry. The group has its American equivalent in Stop the Islamization of America (SIOA), which was created by anti-Muslim bloggers, bigots and militants Pamela Geller and Robert Spencer. One may recall that in 2008, Geller announced that Barack Hussein Obama is not, as previously reported, the son of Barack Hussein Obama, Sr., but rather the illegitimate son of Malcolm X. In a 2009 blog she called for the destruction of the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem. Sadly, conservative politicians and the media in the USA continue to lend her insanity credence thereby destroying whatever slender base of credibility that they had.

Florida's Dove World Outreach Center recently announced its plan for "International Burn a Koran Day" on 9/11, as a way to what it claims "stand up for righteousness." These Christian bigots are emboldened by many Republican politicians who are trying to reclaim their leadership amongst the right-wing, conservative, racist and bigoted section of their support base. And for them, fascists by many counts, nothing could be more politically expedient than targeting a minority religion whose 19 members reportedly had the audacity to strike back in a classic blowback style. Obviously, when the hunter gets hunted it is no fun any more; it loses its wit and behaves like a stinking sewage rat. So, the religion of Islam, the faith of 1.5 billion Muslims, has to be evil! What else can explain the “terrorism” of those hijackers on 9/11!

Unfortunately, xenophobia sells, as it did in places like Nazi Germany some eighty years ago. With a deflationary economy that has yet to show a recovery sign from the almost-trillion dollar stimulus package and unending wars in Iraq and Af-Pak territories it is not difficult to fathom why the fascist elements within the American society are selling this poison pill of Islamophobia.

Take for instance the statements made by Newt Gingrich, the former speaker of the House of the Representatives in the USA, in relation to his opposition to the proposed construction of a Muslim cultural center in Lower Manhattan. The Muslim site is several hundred yards away from the former WTC and yet, if you listen to bigots like Gingrich, it would seem that the proposed site is right in the middle of the Ground Zero. He has argued, among other chauvinist and highly offensive things, that the Muslim congregation shouldn't build the center because "Nazis don't have the right to put up a sign next to the Holocaust Museum in Washington." Just in one such xenophobic outburst he has equated American Muslims with the Nazis. For years, this immoral politician has been dreaming about a political comeback, and for him nothing could be more opportunistic than selling fear of a growing Islamic polity. Sarah Palin has weighed in, too, in opposing the "Ground Zero mosque." The pain, she said, is "too raw, too real." Surely, with a bastard grandchild now she ought to know this “pain” better than most American grandmas!

Every Republican now imagines to have discovered the winning formula to either get reelected or unseat their Democratic opponent in the coming elections. The message has not lost its mark amongst vulnerable Democratic candidates either. The Senate Majority leader Harry Reid, a spineless politician, had no moral qualms in opposing the endorsement of the president. Even the president himself looked less than presidential and credible with his flip-flop remarks to reporters just within 24 hours of his earlier statement in a White House Iftar party that favored the construction of the Muslim cultural center. It was a sickening display that lacked wisdom and courage!

Karl Rove, perhaps former president George W. Bush's closest adviser in the White House, said in an interview last Wednesday on ABC News that Obama did "real damage to America's standing in the world by this inconsistent and incoherent answer that he gave Friday night with a different answer on Saturday morning." He is right.

The offensive statements from mainstream politicians against Islam and its people are sure to damage America’s liberal and open society image abroad. The opposition to the proposed Muslim center would be the greatest gift delivered on a platinum plate to the very al-Qaeda that America claims fighting since 9/11.

As I noted earlier, not all politicians are like prostitutes and pimps. Mayor Michael Bloomberg has epitomized religious tolerance with his historic speech at the Governors Island. Democratic Rep. Jerrold Nadler is another honorable mention in this fight against bigotry. He is New York City's most outspoken supporter of the Muslim congregation's right to build the center. In an interview with the Washington Post, he said, "It's disgusting," of the remarks by Gingrich and other Republicans who rarely expressed support for the city. "It is an attempt to exploit for purely political motives a sensitive issue. And to exploit people they obviously don't really care about." "It's only a slap in the face if you think that the people in the congregation are responsible for al-Qaeda." "Jews, of all people, should know that we have to support religious liberty," he said. "Because if you can block a mosque, you can block a synagogue."

The sad fact is that many minority Americans may not fathom the wisdom behind such a powerful statement from Nadler unless being victimized themselves in hate crimes. However, it would be utter stupidity to ignore lessons from history!

Many of the opponents to the Muslim project are outsiders who don’t have a clue as to how lower Manhattan even looks like. As noted by a New York columnist red cranes may slowly be rebuilding Ground Zero, but they are surrounded by a vibrant cityscape: doughnut shops and strip clubs and churches and mosques and synagogues and off-track betting parlors and podiatry centers. It would be insane to claim holiness for everything that is located within blocks of the Ground Zero.

As noted by Rabbi Arthur Waskow in a message published in The American Muslim, the Muslim real-estate developer who bought the proposed site fell in love with the patterns of Jewish Community Centers and Y’s in Manhattan. He sought land for such a center where Muslims in Lower Manhattan could reach it – and was ready to buy space on 23rd Street, till the financing fell through. He was not focused on the tip of Manhattan. But then space did become available –—not, as falsely claimed by some anti-Muslim bigots, on “hallowed ground”—but two long New York City blocks from Ground Zero, and hidden from the WTC site by tall buildings in the way. Thanks to the ill-intentioned propaganda and media carelessness, no, scratch it, call it – media meddling instead, the Muslim site came to be portrayed as the “Ground Zero Mosque”; all that geography and honorable intention of a proven Muslim visionary and leader Imam Faisel A. Rauf have lost their real meanings today.

It is probably not too late to remind fellow Americans with what our first President George Washington wrote, in a letter to the synagogue of Newport, Rhode Island, in 1790, during his very first year in office. He wrote: “For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

“May the Children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants; while every one shall sit under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.”
It is altogether worthy that our 44th president has echoed the first one: To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance. I wish the president had the hindsight to stand by such messages when push came to shove. Leaders simply cannot be populists, but must set examples of higher moral values.

While it is altogether worthy that our 44th president has echoed the first one -- To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance -- I wish he had the hindsight and moral fortitude to stand by such messages when push came to shove. He sadly failed there. It is this failure in leadership which has largely contributed to making Islamophobia as mainstream American as apple pie is on a dinner table.

Leaders simply cannot be populists, but must set examples of higher moral values. They must rise above their histories, their constituencies, their pollsters, their circumstances, and their politics to do what is right even though this may not be popular.

As noted by many experts, Islamophobia has become this century’s anti-Semitism. The role of the media is no less deplorable in allowing this dangerous trend to emerge. They must now take the lead to stop this monster before its caustic effects are felt worldwide.

As to the American voters, they can start the very process of nailing a deathblow to this mortal enemy of mankind by refusing to elect the messengers and promoters of hatred and religious intolerance.

So here comes the test for the soul of America: will it cheer lead Islamphobia or put a stopper to it?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Thoughts on Ramadhan in North America

When I first came to Vancouver, Canada nearly 32 years ago, Ramadhan – the holiest month of the Islamic calendar, in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk – was in its last week. Because of the strike by the employees of the Air Canada, I had to settle for the Greyhound Bus to complete the last leg of my journey. It was a 28-hour long trip via some of the most scenic places on earth. I ended up arriving in Saskatoon just the night before Eid-ul Fitr, the day of festivity after the month-long fasting.

With all the schedule changes with my date and time of arrival, there was no university official from the Office of the International Students to receive me at the bus terminal. Instead, Dr. Shakeel Akhtar, an Indian Canadian and an old-time friend and roommate of Professor Nuruddin Ahmed of BUET (who did his PhD from the University of Saskatchewan), whom I had called soon after my arrival was gracious enough to pick me up from the terminal. He was a noble soul and took me to his home. [In 2005, Dr Akhtar was awarded the prestigious Saskatchewan Volunteer Medal at the Legislative Building that recognized his outstanding volunteer service and exceptional community involvement.]

In the midst of the journey, I had lost count of the Ramadhan, and was told by Mrs. Akhtar (now deceased) that the next day was the Eid. The next morning we drove to the Islamic Center, located a few miles from the university campus. It was a newly bought property which was a church before it was sold to the Muslim community. In those days it was the only mosque to cater to the spiritual needs of several hundred Muslims that lived in the city. The provincial capital city Regina did not have any mosque. Dr. David Russell, a chemistry professor at the University of Saskatchewan, was the president of the Islamic Center. The congregants for the Eid prayer included several foreign students and residents – both local and from the nearby towns. Some congregants came from places that were more than a hundred kilometer away from the Islamic Center.

It was simply heartening to meet so many Muslims from so many parts of the world who had come to the center for observing the Eid. I met nearly half a dozen Bangladeshi graduate students. I also met many Pakistani and Egyptian students there. After the Eid prayer, two of the Pakistani students took me to their university dorm for temporary accommodation before I could find an apartment. Over the next 22 months, I would occasionally come to the Islamic center for the Friday prayer service and Taraweeh prayers during the month of Ramadhan.

Both Professor Russell and Dr. Akhtar tell me that as the city size and population had grown in the last 32 years, so did the Muslim community. There are now more than 3000 Muslims living in the city. As the old Islamic center was not big enough to hold the local congregants, there are now two centers in the city of a quarter million people.

When I came to southern California in the fall of 1980 to pursue a PhD degree the localities surrounding the University of California campuses had no mosques or Islamic centers. Muslim students in Santa Barbara rented a small apartment to perform daily prayers. Los Angeles city, which by then had more than a hundred thousand Muslim residents, had only a handful of Islamic centers and makeshift mosques. Other than the Islamic Center on the Vermont Avenue and the Inglewood mosque, most of these were small places, not large enough to accommodate every Muslim within the local community for the Friday prayer services. Masjid Umar ibn-al-Khattab, near the USC campus, was still in the planning stage. On the days of Eid, space was a huge constraint to accommodate congregants and most Islamic centers and mosques would have multiple offerings of the Eid prayer. Many communities would rent city or municipal halls, or open spaces to perform such yearly events, a trend which continues to this very day. While the number of mosques and Islamic centers has since multiplied several folds in California, these are still too few and far between to meet the spiritual needs of the growing Muslim community.

In the late 1980s when I moved to the Philadelphia area, the situation here with mosques and Islamic centers looked even worse than those felt in Los Angeles. Outside the Bawa Mohiuddin Fellowship Center near St. Joseph University and the two mosques on the Walnut Street of Philadelphia, close to the U Penn campus, there was hardly any full time mosque. Most of these other mosques and centers were too small for the congregants and were open only on some prescribed times of prayer, usually dawn, evening and night, i.e., three out of five required prayer times. Most Muslims living in the tri-state (Greater Delaware valley surrounding Philadelphia) area ended up praying in rented rooms or narrow basements with bare pipes snaking along the ceilings and walls.

I remember driving almost 30 miles in Philadelphia to attend my first congregation prayer in a mosque that is still located at the intersection of the 45th Street and Walnut Street. That property used to be an abandoned church which was bought for a hefty price and converted to a mosque. Attending Friday prayer there on a regular basis was simply inconvenient for me. Later when I was able to locate a Turkish mosque in Levittown, which was about ten miles from my work place, I offered my Friday prayers there occasionally.

The situation has now improved quite a bit with more mosques and Islamic centers in the Greater Philadelphia area. However, many of these new mosques are makeshift structures – mostly old homes or shops – bought from previous owners which have been converted to prayer halls or rooms. None of these is a new structure built from ground up with Islamic architecture and planning. A visit to most of these makeshift mosques and Islamic centers would also show that these places are not large enough to accommodate every congregant coming on the Fridays, let alone on the Eid days.

As expected, during the month of Ramadhan, most of these mosques and Islamic centers throughout North America are crowded with devotees who are trying to revive or improve their individual spirituality. It is the best time for seeking repentance and self-improvement. According to Islamic tradition, the reward of every good deed done during this month is multiplied several folds. And as such, many pious Muslims devote long hours in prayers, meditation, contemplation, and giving in to charity and alms-giving, and engaging in voluntary community activities.

Breaking the fast with a small meal called Iftar after sunset in the mosque or Islamic center is a common tradition amongst most devotees. North America is no exception to that general practice. Many Muslims here volunteer to feed fasting Muslims and non-Muslim visitors after the sunset prayer. Many mosques and Islamic centers offer special devotional programs between evening and nightly prayers from learned scholars. It is also the time when people get to know each other better and create bonding.

In spite of 9/11 and a plethora of problems – global and local, imposed and self-inflicting - Islam is thriving. It is the fastest growing religion in the USA. It is estimated that some six to eight million Muslims now live in the USA. Many of them are either first generation American Muslims (White, Hispanic and Afro-American) or children born to immigrant Muslim parents. Quoting the Gallup and PEW polls, Professor John Esposito says that American Muslims are one of the most diverse communities in the world, representing 68 different countries as well as indigenous African Americans and converts. Muslims represent men and women spanning the socioeconomic spectrum: professionals (doctors, lawyers, engineers, and educators), corporate executives, small business owners, or blue-collar workers and laborers. Esposito writes, “In fact, 70 percent have a job (paid or unpaid) compared to 64 percent of Americans overall. Muslim women report monthly household incomes more nearly equal to men's, compared with women and men in other faith groups. Education is a priority for many Muslims, who, after Jews, are the most educated religious community surveyed in the United States. Forty percent of Muslims have a college degree or more, compared to 29 percent of Americans overall; 31 percent are full-time students as compared to 10 percent in the general population.” (The Future of Islam, pp. 14-15)

According to published records there are some 1900 mosques in the United States, which run the gamut from makeshift prayer rooms in storefronts and houses to large buildings with adjoining community centers. That is like: one mosque for every 3000 to 4000 congregants (on the average most of these mosques don’t accommodate more than a hundred worshippers). It should not therefore come as a surprise why American Muslims are looking for newer mosques to cater to the spiritual and social needs of its growing community that is economically in a stronger footing today than ever before.

However, no time before since the first couple of years of the George W. Bush era has the Muslim community witnessed so much open hatred and xenophobia hurled against it as it has in recent days. There is no denying that Islamophobia is on the rise in America. Republican candidates and its future presidential aspirants are appealing to fascist attitudes towards Islam and Muslims as a political wedge to gain electoral votes in the coming November elections (2010 and beyond). These hatemongering bigots have turned a local issue like the proposed mosque near ground zero in Manhattan into a national issue. Aided by right-wing political commentators, chauvinist Christian ministers and bloggers, they characterize this Muslim cultural center as a "monument to terrorism." Heated confrontations have also broken out in communities across the country where mosques are proposed for far less hallowed locations. Borrowing pages from the Nazi literature, these promoters of hatred say that they are in a war against Islam “for the survival of America."

Far from the hateful message of these bigots, a two-year study by a group of academics from Duke’s Sanford School of Public Policy and the University of North Carolina on American Muslims and terrorism concluded that contemporary mosques are actually a deterrent to the spread of militant Islam and terrorism.

Last Friday, President Barack Obama, using a White House dinner celebrating Ramadhan, proclaimed that “as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.”

But who can educate a bigot? Neither the New York city Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s historic speech on Governors Island nor the President’s strong defense on Friday night of the proposed mosque in Manhattan can change their mind.

Xenophobia has no place in any society that takes pride in its civilization – which owes so much to its immigrants, openness and religious tolerance. Let this Ramadhan be an eye-opener to all those caught in the middle to see the beauty of Islam. Efforts to demonize Islam will never succeed. American Muslims will not allow the promoters of hatred to use them as political pawns.

On questions of intolerance

A reader Freek (geubel@home.nl) wrote:
"You wrote about Religious Intolerance in America.
What about Religious Intolerance in the Muslim countries?
Why can't Christians build a church in, let say Saudi Arabia or read even a Bible?
Do you understand the meaning of the word "tolerance"?
It must come from both sides will we ever live in peace on this world.

FG,
The Netherlands"

My comments follow:
Religious intolerance is against the very spirit of the Qur'an, as enunciated in many verses. One can read my detailed article on the subject, based on my lecture at the interfaith conference in Nashville, Vanderbilt University.

If some Muslims are violating the noble precepts then it is they themselves who are blameworthy. Such intolerance against anyone including fellow Muslims of different sects is simply unacceptable, and would be punished by God on the Day of Judgment.

The question on Saudi Arabia (SA) is a flawed one. Nonetheless I shall try to answer it. First, SA does not have any Christian citizen, unlike what we have here with Muslim citizens in the western world. Muslim citizens in the West are tax paying citizens, as do the temporary or guest work permit holders. There is a well known principle on statecraft: no taxation no representation. So, with no taxes paid the people in SA cannot even expect representation. And yet, the Saudi rulers allow a limited form of representation from the tribes and communities that live within the kingdom. This statement should not be construed as approving the Saudi policy on people representation.

Second, Saudi Arabia is a monarchy, with its rules and policies that are not only at odd with other democratic countries but also with Islam in so many grounds. The ruling elite comes from the most extreme group within the religion of Islam, i.e., Wahabism, which historically killed fellow Muslims on the ground that they were not Muslims having adhered to certain traditions that they considered innovation or deviance. Interestingly though, the monarch considers itself the custodian of the Islam and its holy shrines, much like how the Vatican leadership sees itself as the custodian of Christianity in general, or Catholicism in particular. When the Vatican allows a mosque to be built on its holy ground probably the Saudis may allow the same for church.

Third, it is NOT true that Christians can't read the Bible in SA. No one in SA cares about what goes inside the house or office. Unlike western countries, it does not spy on its citizens or visitors, esp. on matters happening inside the four walls. Thus, all non-Muslim workers are allowed to practice their religion within the confines of their homes and offices. These non-Muslims have been celebrating their mass services inside their workplaces and homes, and offices for many decades. During Christmas, many hospitals where the Christians work host the mass service with approval of the Saudi Directors. The propaganda that non-Muslims can't either read the Books or worship is a blatant lie. Again, let me reiterate -- the absence of a structure for church or temple does not mean that they are prohibited from worshiping or reading their books in SA.

Again, comparing apples and oranges can only delude one's judgment on a serious issue like tolerance. Muslims in the West whether they are in Europe or Americas are citizens with rights, protected by the constitution. If they were non-tax paying non-citizens then it would have been a different thing altogether. Similarly, if they had lived in a country where the laws of the land don't permit mosques, it would have been a different thing. Comparing their plight today in the West with Christian temporary workers in SA is not unfair, it is outright stupid and criminal. Let's face it: what the opponents of mosques are doing is sheer bigotry. It is Islamphobia, much like what anti-Semitism has been for centuries. Both are vices and condemnable.
Enough said.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

What the hatemongers say about the proposed mosque in lower Manhattan

There is no doubt that Islamophobia is on the march. In New York, opponents of a Muslim community center and mosque are trying to stop its construction near the site of the 9/11 attacks. They are hatemongers. Just a reading of their statements and speeches show that they are closet fascists.

The Slate writes, "There's that telltale phrase again: a mosque. It's the same phrase Gingrich used a week ago: "It is simply grotesque to erect a mosque at the site of the most visible and powerful symbol of the horrible consequences of radical Islamist ideology." The same phrase Sarah Palin used: "To build a mosque at Ground Zero is a stab in the heart of the families of the innocent victims of those horrific attacks." The same phrase Rudy Giuliani used when he called it "a mosque that's in exactly the wrong place." The same phrase Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty, a Republican presidential aspirant, used this weekend: "I'm strongly opposed to the idea of putting a mosque anywhere near Ground Zero.""

Promotion of hatred and xenophobia is a crime against humanity. Not only do such crimes prepare the groundwork for persecution of the targeted group, in so doing they also rob the very persecutor of its humanity. It is a loss-loss proposition on all sides, and must therefore be stopped before its caustic effects create serious problems in the society.

America cannot afford Islamophobia or any form of prejudice to win. Let's stop the promoters and merchants of xenophobia from winning the 2010 election, and enable voices of reason and plurality like Mayor Bloomberg to win.

Mayor Bloomberg's speech on the near-Ground Zero Mosque

The following are New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg's remarks as delivered on Governors Island.

We have come here to Governors Island to stand where the earliest settlers first set foot in New Amsterdam, and where the seeds of religious tolerance were first planted. We've come here to see the inspiring symbol of liberty that, more than 250 years later, would greet millions of immigrants in the harbor, and we come here to state as strongly as ever - this is the freest City in the world. That's what makes New York special and different and strong.

Our doors are open to everyone - everyone with a dream and a willingness to work hard and play by the rules. New York City was built by immigrants, and it is sustained by immigrants - by people from more than a hundred different countries speaking more than two hundred different languages and professing every faith. And whether your parents were born here, or you came yesterday, you are a New Yorker.

We may not always agree with every one of our neighbors. That's life and it's part of living in such a diverse and dense city. But we also recognize that part of being a New Yorker is living with your neighbors in mutual respect and tolerance. It was exactly that spirit of openness and acceptance that was attacked on 9/11.

On that day, 3,000 people were killed because some murderous fanatics didn't want us to enjoy the freedom to profess our own faiths, to speak our own minds, to follow our own dreams and to live our own lives.

Of all our precious freedoms, the most important may be the freedom to worship as we wish. And it is a freedom that, even here in a City that is rooted in Dutch tolerance, was hard-won over many years. In the mid-1650s, the small Jewish community living in Lower Manhattan petitioned Dutch Governor Peter Stuyvesant for the right to build a synagogue - and they were turned down.

In 1657, when Stuyvesant also prohibited Quakers from holding meetings, a group of non-Quakers in Queens signed the Flushing Remonstrance, a petition in defense of the right of Quakers and others to freely practice their religion. It was perhaps the first formal, political petition for religious freedom in the American colonies - and the organizer was thrown in jail and then banished from New Amsterdam.

In the 1700s, even as religious freedom took hold in America, Catholics in New York were effectively prohibited from practicing their religion - and priests could be arrested. Largely as a result, the first Catholic parish in New York City was not established until the 1780's - St. Peter's on Barclay Street, which still stands just one block north of the World Trade Center site and one block south of the proposed mosque and community center.

This morning, the City's Landmark Preservation Commission unanimously voted not to extend landmark status to the building on Park Place where the mosque and community center are planned. The decision was based solely on the fact that there was little architectural significance to the building. But with or without landmark designation, there is nothing in the law that would prevent the owners from opening a mosque within the existing building. The simple fact is this building is private property, and the owners have a right to use the building as a house of worship.

The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right - and if it were tried, the courts would almost certainly strike it down as a violation of the U.S. Constitution. Whatever you may think of the proposed mosque and community center, lost in the heat of the debate has been a basic question - should government attempt to deny private citizens the right to build a house of worship on private property based on their particular religion? That may happen in other countries, but we should never allow it to happen here. This nation was founded on the principle that the government must never choose between religions, or favor one over another.

The World Trade Center Site will forever hold a special place in our City, in our hearts. But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves - and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans - if we said 'no' to a mosque in Lower Manhattan.

Let us not forget that Muslims were among those murdered on 9/11 and that our Muslim neighbors grieved with us as New Yorkers and as Americans. We would betray our values - and play into our enemies' hands - if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists - and we should not stand for that.

For that reason, I believe that this is an important test of the separation of church and state as we may see in our lifetime - as important a test - and it is critically important that we get it right.

On September 11, 2001, thousands of first responders heroically rushed to the scene and saved tens of thousands of lives. More than 400 of those first responders did not make it out alive. In rushing into those burning buildings, not one of them asked 'What God do you pray to?' 'What beliefs do you hold?'

The attack was an act of war - and our first responders defended not only our City but also our country and our Constitution. We do not honor their lives by denying the very Constitutional rights they died protecting. We honor their lives by defending those rights - and the freedoms that the terrorists attacked.

Of course, it is fair to ask the organizers of the mosque to show some special sensitivity to the situation - and in fact, their plan envisions reaching beyond their walls and building an interfaith community. By doing so, it is my hope that the mosque will help to bring our City even closer together and help repudiate the false and repugnant idea that the attacks of 9/11 were in any way consistent with Islam. Muslims are as much a part of our City and our country as the people of any faith and they are as welcome to worship in Lower Manhattan as any other group. In fact, they have been worshiping at the site for the better part of a year, as is their right.

The local community board in Lower Manhattan voted overwhelming to support the proposal and if it moves forward, I expect the community center and mosque will add to the life and vitality of the neighborhood and the entire City.

Political controversies come and go, but our values and our traditions endure - and there is no neighborhood in this City that is off limits to God's love and mercy, as the religious leaders here with us today can attest.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Fareed Zakaria and the ADL

Today my attention was drawn to Dr. Fareed Zakaria's letter to ADL in which he deplored the latter's opposition to the construction of a mosque on a Muslim property, located a couple of blocks from the Ground Zero. While I have sometimes critiqued Zakaria on some issues relating to his analysis of the Muslim world, I have always admired his ability to present his views in a concise manner. His successful career as the International editor of the Newsweek and the popular host of the Fareed Zakaria GPS in the CNN all speak high about his talent and skill as a good communicator, something lacking in many good writers and analysts of global politics. I have also read his books, and found them to be serious books for anyone interested in global politics to read.

I must however admit that I have often entertained some doubts about him whether he would have the moral guts to stand on highly controversial positions that are politically incorrect. I have imagined that he would behave like an Uncle Tom on issues that affect his own kind, the Muslims. The mosque controversy is a great one to judge his character. I am glad that he passed it with a clean slate. He had the guts to tell Foxman of the ADL:
Dear Mr. Foxman,
Five years ago, the ADL honored me with its Hubert Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. I was delighted and moved to have been chosen for it in good measure because of the high esteem in which I hold the ADL. I have always been impressed by the fact that your mission is broad – “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens” – and you have interpreted it broadly over the decades. You have fought discrimination against all religions, races, and creeds and have built a well-deserved reputation.
That is why I was stunned at your decision to publicly side with those urging the relocation of the planned Islamic center in lower Manhattan. You are choosing to use your immense prestige to take a side that is utterly opposed to the animating purpose of your organization. Your own statements subsequently, asserting that we must honor the feelings of victims even if irrational or bigoted, made matters worse.
This is not the place to debate the press release or your statements. Many have done this and I have written about it in Newsweek and on my television show – both of which will be out over the weekend. The purpose of this letter is more straightforward. I cannot in good conscience hold onto the award or the honorarium that came with it and am returning both. I hope that it might add to the many voices that have urged you to reconsider and reverse your position on this issue. This decision will haunt the ADL for years if not decades to come. Whether or not the center is built, what is at stake here is the integrity of the ADL and its fidelity to its mission. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain your reputation."

Like me, Zakaria has also been very positive about Mayor Bloomberg's position on the mosque. In the latest issue of the Newsweek, Zakaria writes, "Bloomberg’s eloquent, brave, and carefully reasoned address should become required reading in every civics classroom in America. It probably will.

Bloomberg’s speech stands in stark contrast to the bizarre decision of the Anti-Defamation League to publicly side with those urging that the center be moved. The ADL’s mission statement says it seeks “to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens.” But Abraham Foxman, the head of the ADL, explained that we must all respect the feelings of the 9/11 families, even if they are prejudiced feelings. “Their anguish entitles them to positions that others would categorize as irrational or bigoted,” he said. First, the 9/11 families have mixed views on this mosque. There were, after all, dozens of Muslims killed at the World Trade Center. Do their feelings count? But more important, does Foxman believe that bigotry is OK if people think they’re victims? Does the anguish of Palestinians, then, entitle them to be anti-Semitic?
Five years ago, the ADL honored me with its Hubert H. Humphrey First Amendment Freedoms Prize. I was thrilled to get the award from an organization that I had long admired. But I cannot in good conscience keep it anymore. I have returned both the handsome plaque and the $10,000 honorarium that came with it. I urge the ADL to reverse its decision. Admitting an error is a small price to pay to regain a reputation."

I hope Zakaria's letter and return of the plaque with the honorarium would help the ADL to rethink its wrong decision and see the light, much like Mayor Bloomberg. An organization can't expect itself to be honored as a civic or human rights organization fighting religious bigotry when it joins the wagon of hatred. Shame on the ADL and cheers to Dr. Zakaria. You make us proud. Thank you.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Is Xenophobia eating up American fabric on mutli-culture and pluralism?

As I noted earlier, religious intolerance is penetrating America. It is a sign of fascism that is led by some hateful, bigoted elements within the American society. Unless, this evil is smashed promptly, America will traverse the same fate that visited many such countries that once embraced xenophobia. It is time for America to wake up and stop this hatred once and for all time.

Here is a NY Times article that discusses resistance to some proposed mosques in various localities in the USA. It is a sign of disgrace and shame for America.

Gingrich and Palin – Two of the same kind

Last Tuesday, August 3, 2010, New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted 9 to 0 approving the construction of the mosque and Islamic center. As the New York Times editorial rightly concluded “It was not just the right thing to do, it was the only thing to do.” With this vote, the commission reaffirmed one of the basic tenets of democracy: religious tolerance.

New York Mayor Bloomberg has also endorsed the mosque proposal and correctly said that the owners of the building (i.e., the Muslim) have the right to use their property as a house of worship. “The government has no right whatsoever to deny that right,” he said.

What the opponents wanted was use the mosque controversy to foment hatred and bigotry against some six to eight million Muslims who live in the USA. As we know quite well the Republicans have been shamelessly playing the politics of fear since 9/11. It was therefore not surprising that with just about three months left for the mid-term November election, the Republican politicians saw this near-Ground Zero mosque as an opportunity to whip up anti-Muslim hysteria amongst the non-Muslim voters. With outsider players vying for national attention and conservative radio and TV talk show hosts beating the drum hysterically, soon the proposed mosque project became a national controversy. These promoters of religious intolerance wanted to portray New York Attorney General Cuomo (a Democrat) and Mayor Bloomberg (an independent) – both vying for the Gubernatorial seat – as soft, liberal and out of touch with the New Yorkers.

Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich, both presidential hopefuls from the Republican Party, came out roaring like a bitch and a boar, respectively, trying to sell their prejudices against Muslims. The Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio of New York did not want to fall behind either in such hysteria and joined the hate campaign. “This is not about religion,” he said. “It’s about this particular mosque.” He can’t hide his bigotry under such charade.

It is worth mentioning here that both Palin and Gingrich have many things in common. Both are registered Republicans and are perceived by many conservative party members as their mouthpieces. Both are however viewed very negatively by most Americans for their shallow and polarizing opinions. But such public opinions have not been able to throw a cold shower on their hot ego. Both tried to self-promote themselves as highly ethical and social conservatives. But such exaggerated claims could not hide their rather problematic past records on ethics and morality.

In May 1988, Gingrich along with 77 other House members brought ethics charges against Democratic Speaker Jim Wright, who was alleged to have used a book deal to circumvent campaign-finance laws and House ethics rules. During the investigation, it was noted Gingrich had his own unusual book deal, for Window of Opportunity, part of whose publicity expenses were covered by a limited partnership, which raised $105,000 from Republican political supporters around the country to promote sales of the book. That is not the end of Gingrich’s double standards. It is only a small part of his flawed character. As noted in the New York Times (Clymer, Adam, "House Revolutionary,” August 23, 1992) Gingrich himself was among the 450 members of the House who had engaged in check-kiting; he had overdrafts on twenty-two checks, including a $9,463 check to the Internal Revenue Service in 1990. Wait, there is more on Gingrich’s not-so-ethical past. On January 21, 1997, the House voted 395 to 28 to reprimand Gingrich for ethics violations dating back to September 1994. The House ordered Gingrich to pay a $300,000 penalty, the first time in the House's 208-year history it had disciplined a Speaker for ethical wrongdoing. Eighty-four ethics charges, a record in the House, were filed against Speaker Gingrich during his term.

By 1998, Gingrich had become a highly visible and polarizing figure in the public's eye, making him a target for Democratic congressional candidates across the nation. His approval rating dropped to 45% in April 1998. Gingrich suffered much of the blame for the election loss. Facing another rebellion in the Republican caucus, he announced on November 6, 1998 that he would not only stand down as Speaker, but would leave the House as well. We thought that we had seen the end of this political clown in the American politics. But we were terribly wrong.

Gingrich has not given up on his hope for a political comeback and has been trying hard to draw attention of his fellow Republicans to his side. He is affiliated with a neocon think tank (AEI). It is not too long ago that Gingrich authored a book, Rediscovering God in America, in which he tried to demonstrate that the Founding Fathers of America actively intended the new republic to not only allow, but encourage, religious expression in the public square. And yet, it is the same Gingrich who wants to stop Muslims of New York from expressing their religious freedom in praying in their own mosque. Hypocrites can’t hide their ugly self and Gingrich has proven this age-old maxim once again.

As to Gingrich’s personal life, it is quite interesting to note that Gingrich has been married three times. He first married Jackie Battley, his former high school geometry teacher, when he was 19 years old and she was 26. He left Battley in the spring of 1980. According to Battley, Gingrich visited her later that year while she was in the hospital recovering from cancer surgery to discuss the details of their divorce. That says a lot about what kind of insensitive man Gingrich has been! Six months after the divorce was final, Gingrich wed Marianne Ginther in 1981.
One may recall also that Gingrich was very vocal about President Clinton’s flawed character and wanted him impeached for the Lewinsky scandal. During the same period while he was asking for impeachment, Gingrich began an extra-marital affair with Callista Bisek, who is 23 years his junior, in the mid nineties. This again shows what a hypocrite he has been! In 2000, Gingrich married Bisek shortly after his divorce with second wife Ginther was finalized. He, a Baptist, converted to Catholicism, his wife's faith, on March 29, 2009. Many would discover an opportunist trait in this conversion.

It is perhaps correct to say that Gingrich has been one of the most prejudiced and polarizing American politicians of our time. He wants to finish Bush’s unfinished war against Islam, and has been trying to sell his poison pill for quite some time, esp. in the Obama period. True to his hateful character, he has even tried to bring a non-issue like the shariah law in American politics. Fortunately, that has not seen much success thus far.

As to the other demagogue, Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska, the least said the better. She, a former beauty peasant, was the running mate of Senator John McCain in the last presidential election when they unsuccessfully tried to play the race card to polarize American voters. Like Gingrich, she also tried to present herself as an ethical person with higher moral values. She presented herself as a social conservative and became the symbol of Christian Right and a favorite amongst the neoconservatives. As it turned out, however, her own family was a far cry from what one could call an ethical family. Her teenage daughter Bristol gave birth to a child out of wedlock. Bristol’s boyfriend was later to be found posing nude for the Playgirl. After some two-years of separation, and bad-mouthing and trashing the Palin family, the boyfriend is now back with his bastard child and Bristol.

During the presidential campaign of July 2008, Palin was involved in a political scandal – the Troopgate – when she dismissed Public Safety Commissioner Walt Monegan citing performance-related issues, such as not being "a team player on budgeting issues." Monegan, however, challenged the accusation citing that he had resisted persistent pressure from Palin, her husband, and her staff, including State Attorney General Talis Colberg, to fire Palin’s ex-brother-in-law, Alaska State Trooper Mike Wooten; Wooten was involved in a child custody battle with Palin’s sister after a bitter divorce that included an alleged death threat against Palin's father.
On August 1, 2008 the Alaska Legislature hired an investigator to review the Monegan dismissal. Legislators stated that Palin had the legal authority to fire Monegan, but they wanted to know whether her action had been motivated by anger at Monegan for not firing Wooten. On October 10, 2008, the Alaska Legislative Council unanimously voted to release the Branchflower Report, in which investigator Stephen Branchflower found that firing Monegan "was a proper and lawful exercise of her constitutional and statutory authority," but that Palin abused her power as governor and violated the state's Executive Branch Ethics Act when her office pressured Monegan to fire Wooten. The report stated that "Governor Palin knowingly permitted a situation to continue where impermissible pressure was placed on several subordinates to advance a personal agenda, to wit: to get Trooper Michael Wooten fired." The report also said that Palin "permitted Todd Palin to use the Governor's office [...] to continue to contact subordinate state employees in an effort to find some way to get Trooper Wooten fired."

On July 3, 2009, Palin announced at a press conference that she would not run for reelection in the 2010 Alaska gubernatorial election and would resign before the end of July.

In recent months, Palin has been credited with the revival of the Republican Party in the post-Bush era. As noted earlier by me, she remains one of the most venomous voices opposing the construction of the Mosque in New York. She is joined by Christian evangelist and bigot Pat Robertson of 711 Club. The latter has filed a lawsuit threatening the mosque construction proposal. Such lawsuits against the mosque should be easily thrown out by the court, because giving air to bigotry would only make a laughing stock of New York and its court system.

It is disconcerting to note that what the Republican politicians like Palin, Gingrich, Lazio and others are doing today against Muslim minorities is no less worse than what the Nazis did in the early days of Hitler against Jews. One would have thought that Jews would have no role in this kind of prejudice against minority Muslims. But as I noted earlier, some of the most hateful campaigns are led by Jews. More problematic is the behavior of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which eagerly piled on with the opponents of the mosque. It should not be built “in the shadow” of the World Trade Center, the group said, because it would “cause some victims more pain.” The New York Times was distressed to see the rationalization of bigotry used by an organization that has been fighting discrimination of all kinds, especially during some of the worst days of the Ku Klux Klan.

But I am not surprised at all. For too long I have been studying the behavior of ADL and self-righteous bigots like Paterson, Palin, Eli Wiesel, Gingrich and others. When push comes to shove, they show their true ugly naked self. None of them have higher moral grounds. Most of them are closet fascists, let alone being opportunists and bigots. They are all essentially evil people who would have had no problem bowing down to anyone for the right kind of price or stick. They deserve each other, and no one else. As it is said in Bangla: ratan-e ratan cheenay (birds of the same feather flock together).

It is silly that they try to sell the poison pill that 9/11 was a war of Islam lodged against America. When did OBL become a symbol of Islam?

I am reminded here that when the hunter gets hunted it is no longer fun. It loses its common sense and wit. Shame on such messengers and promoters of hatred!!