Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Ghosts of Al-Hajjaj in the Muslim World

A dervish, whose prayers met with answers, made his appearance, and Hajjaj Yusuf, calling him, said: ‘Utter a good prayer for me’, whereon the dervish exclaimed: ‘O God, take his life.’
He replied: ‘For God’s sake, what prayer is this?’
The dervish rejoined: ‘It is a good prayer for you and for all Muslims.’ [Gulistan: Shaykh Sa’di]

Al-Hajjaj bin Yusuf al-Thaqafi (40-95 A.H.) was a tough military general who later became governor in the service of Umayyad rulers. In 73 A.H. he was sent by Abd-al Malik ibn Marwan to Makkah to bring the territory under Umayyad control. His seize of Hejaz resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent inhabitants. Although he was a brilliant orator, a highly gifted man of literature and an effective administrator, history remembers him mostly for his cruelty whose campaign had killed such Islamic luminaries as Abd-Allah ibn Jubayr (RA). So, it is not difficult to understand the prayer of the saint, quoted by Shaykh Sa’di.

The Muslim experience since the days of colonization of their vast territories, especially after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the early 20th century has been anything but a pleasant one. As the colonizers left – forced out or negotiated, new states emerged with new flags under new leaders from Indonesia to Senegal, each promising to better the lives of their citizens. And, as if by some odd design or bad karma, they failed miserably to deliver their promises. Of course, there are some exceptions, but the gain achieved in the post-colonial era was more like a zero-sum result for vast majority of the people.

The new leaders governed, borrowing rules and traditions that seemed to have worked well for their former masters, but were a total mismatch for the new states under the new environment. What was worse, the very religion that has had always induced its adherents to seek equity, truth and justice was even misused by the newer leaders that soon replaced the old guards. Mindful of the role of religion in Muslim society, Islam came to be falsely portrayed as a religion that is not at odds with monarchy, dictatorship and all other mumbo-jumbo systems.

As the ruling system strayed away from the dictates of Islam, the Muslim world was visited by military rulers like Yahya Khan, Suharto, Zine ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak, Ali Abdullah Saleh and Mu’ammar al-Qaddafi, let alone the kings and emirs that even bought security for their very existence from their former colonial masters. Many of them were al-Hajjaj in spirit. They forgot the advice for good governance so many times uttered by men of piety: “Know that subjects are God's dependents, and he who wrongs the people has wronged God. Among the rights of subjects are that (the ruler) prevent them being wronged either by himself or by his agents; that he keep the roads safe, protect caravans on the highways, and punish thieves and brigands; that he give justice to the oppressed and support the poor; that he not conceal himself from them …; that he enforce the command of what is right, strengthen the qadi [judge] and the muhtasib [officer in charge of detecting and punishing offenders of the Law and public morals], and respect strangers.” - [Bahr al-Fava'id]

As these Muslim rulers enriched themselves with wealth beyond imagination denying the due share to their people, they promoted cronyism by creating a class of sycophants. The best of those who protested were killed, and the good ones were either forced out to a life of exile or left to rot inside solitary prison cells. So the landscape that once produced revolutionary leaders like Husayn bin Ali, Mus’ab and Nafs-e Zakiyah in the early decades of Islam became a land of the silent majority and wicked few under the neo-Pharaohs and neo-Nimrods.

Truly, the post-colonial experience in the Muslim world has been a history of shame imposed upon the people who deserved better.

It is no surprise to find that the Arab world, which had a glorious history of resisting occupation, tyranny and injustice, is now trying to correct its sad past by overthrowing its despots. Two have gone, and others are trying to avoid joining their queue by acting like al-Hajjaj. Many of these despots are inherently bad. They inherited bad genes and are now showing their real evil selves through the massacres that they are committing against their own people. So when push came to shove the son - Seif Al-Islam al-Qaddafi is found to be no better than his half-educated father. He even has a Ph.D. from the London School of Economics. What a waste of education!

And look at the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad! More than 400 people have died since demonstrations began two months ago. On Monday, the Syrian Army stormed the city of Dara’a, the center of the popular opposition. Phone, water and electricity lines have been cut and journalists barred from reporting firsthand what is really happening there. Bashar’s father Hafez was a butcher of Hama that killed some 40,000 people nearly three decades ago, and if needed, the younger British-educated ophthalmologist will have no moral qualms in surpassing his father’s murderous records.

And what about the Arab League, which has issued a statement declaring that pro-democracy protesters “deserve support, not bullets” without even mentioning Syria? If the Arab League and its leaders want to be taken seriously, including in their own countries, they have to do better; better than what they did for Libya. They must also come against the murderous regime in Bahrain without any equivocation.

The silence to condemn the Syrian massacre is simply inexcusable. The UN Security Council hasn’t even been able to muster a press statement. The International Criminal Court should investigate the Syrian and Bahrain governments’ abuses. It is good to see Obama administration’s push to have the United Nations Human Rights Council spotlight Syria’s abuses in a session on Friday. This welcome gesture shouldn’t and can’t excuse its earlier hypocritical stand with the findings of the Goldstone report, prepared by the same UNHRC that found Israel guilty of war crimes in Gaza in 2008-2009 (days before Obama was sworn in). Ultimately, Syrians will determine their country’s fate. Others can either choose to support them or simply stand like an immoral bystander.

The best defense against the emergence of ghosts of al-Hajjaj is to ensure that they are held accountable for their crimes against our people. As the recent events show the Muslim world has many such diabolical personalities. Sooner we understand that ‘forbearance with the wicked only increases their iniquity’ the better we are prepared never to allow a repeat of our humiliation.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Goldhagen’s book is worse than half-truths

Book Review: Worse than War by Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Public Affairs, New York (2009), First edition, 658 pages.

Harry Truman, the thirty-third president of the United States was a mass murderer. He twice ordered nuclear bombs dropped on Japanese cities… In effect, Truman chose to snuff out the lives of approximately 300,000 men, women, and children. Upon learning of the first bomb’s annihilation of Hiroshima, Truman was jubilant, announcing that “this is the greatest thing in history.” He then followed up in Nagasaki with a second greatest thing. It is hard to understand how any right-thinking person could fail to call slaughtering unthreatened Japanese mass murder.

The above passage comes from Daniel Jonah Goldhagen’s book – Worse than War. With such a real honest-to-goodness statement found in the first few pages, I was drawn into reading the book soon after it went into circulation. Unfortunately, like many readers, I was dismayed to find that his was yet another disingenuous attempt to tackle a subject like the eliminationist policy. For a highly sensitive subject like this it is often difficult to keep distinct the three tasks of definition, explanation, and moral evaluation that muddle considerations of mass murder. One must keep distinct the tasks of definition, which requires specifying what is examined; of explanation, which requires accounts for why events occur and people act; and of moral evaluation, which requires one to judge the character of events and the culpability of the actors. As much as the passions of assigning guilt, blame, or moral responsibility hijack the objectivity so does the reverse case of hiding or ignoring obvious cases of eliminationist policy. As we shall see later it is in this latter matter that the author miserably fails to be objective and credible.

It is always easy to finger point others about their alleged eliminationist tendencies and crimes – past or present, but confession requires serious courage. For Americans, Japanese, Russians, Chinese, French, British, Italians, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Australians, Burmese, Guatemalans, Croats, Serbs, Hutu, and countless others, the ugliness that they easily see in others, they fail to acknowledge in themselves, their own countries, or their countrymen. Thus, how often do we see any serious historian outside Howard Zinn writing about European elminationist crimes against the Native Americans? Hardly anyone!

Goldhagen suggests that any serious investigation of mass murder must reject two widespread notions. The first consists of several related notions: that people’s actions are determined by external forces; that they have little or no say over how they act; that free will is an illusion. The second faulty notion is the first’s curious analogue - it holds that internal drives impel people to commit mass murder. (p. 9) Have not we seen enough of those excuses from every mass exterminator even in our time?

George W. Bush and his murderous advisors had no problem justifying the use of the Daisy Cutters and other sophisticated arsenals known to mankind (shy of dropping the nuclear bombs) to wipe out nearly a million innocent civilians in Afghanistan and Iraq who had nothing to do with either 9/11 or the WMDs. Was G.W. Bush any better than Harry Truman? So ruthless was the campaign in Afghanistan in 2001 that his Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld had to actually ‘complain’ about running out of ‘targets’ to drop the bombs! Even the children’s schools with clearly visible signs painted on their roofs were not spared. And yet, Goldhagen ignores Bush and his cabal that were responsible for starting this century’s first major wars – the decade long war campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The preemptive strikes to eliminate the enemy became the much sought-out, if not the only, tactics practiced by eliminationist leaders throughout the world – from Israeli leaders to George W. Bush of America. Once the enemy was portrayed as the ugly beast, it became so easy to justify its slaughter before it could even imagine to strike! There was not the feeling of guilt or association with mass murder! It was, therefore, all too natural to hear these mass murderers boast today – years after their crimes – that, knowing what they do know now, they won’t hesitate to repeat such crimes. If you are looking for an apology from Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld for misleading America and the rest of the world with their false claims about the WMDs and the ensuing mass murder that they committed, forget it. They remain remorseless and arrogant!

Goldhagen discusses why do some people kill (though not just anyone) and other people who find themselves in the same situation do not. Why do some people torture and others similarly positioned do not? On a larger scale, why do some groups of people perpetrate mass murder, including slaughtering children, and others who find themselves in very much the same circumstances, say to deprivation or of being at war, do not? To answer these and the many other questions about mass murder, Goldhagen suggests that we must begin with several fundamental truths about human beings: people make choices about how to act, even if they do not choose the contexts in which they make them. People make these choices according to their understanding of the social world and their views of what how the world is to be shaped and governed, even if different contexts makes some choices more or less plausible, or easier or more difficult to choose. He says that “people ultimately are the authors of their own actions because humans are fundamentally beings with a moral dimension (which does not mean we endorse their moral views), and they are so because the human condition is one of agency, namely the capacity and burden of being able to choose to say yes, which means also being able to say no. We must keep these facts about human beings in mind for another reason. Ignoring them depersonalizes and dehumanizes the perpetrators. It turns them into puny abstractions, fleshy automatons with internal robotics programmed by whatever theories are supplying the motor.” (pp. 10-11)

With those words, Daniel Goldhagen, the son of a Holocaust survivor Erich Goldhagen, has no problem calling the ordinary Germans ‘Hitler’s willing executioners’ that not only knew about but also supported the Holocaust, which is the main theme of an earlier work with that very title.

Goldhagen writes about five principal forms of elimination: transformation, repression, expulsion, prevention of reproduction, or extermination. Surely, the Palestinian people in the Occupied Territories, let alone the Rohingya people of Burma, are the worst victims that have been facing these five forms of elimination, and yet, in his thick book of 658 pages, outside the lukewarm mention of deportation, he fails to analyze the on-going criminal activities of the Zionist state of Israel. Such an omission is simply inexcusable. Did he have the hindsight to avoid sounding like Goldstone?

It is worth noting here that the South African judge Richard Goldstone chaired a fact-finding mission appointed by the U.N. Human Rights Council to investigate what happened in the Gaza war of 2008-09. Recently he had a retraction in which he said, “If I had known then what I know now, the Goldstone Report would have been a different document.” Two of the three other members of the mission disagree with their former chairman's change of heart.

The retracted allegation refers to the attack which killed 22 members of the Samouni family, who, following instructions from Israeli soldiers, were sheltering in a house in Zeitoun. But there are 35 other incidents that Goldstone's team investigated. It found seven cases where civilians were shot leaving their homes waving white flags; a direct and intentional attack on a hospital which may amount to a war crime; numerous incidents where ambulances were prevented from attending to the severely injured; nine attacks on civilian infrastructure with no military significance, such as flour mills, chicken farms, sewage works and water wells – all part of a campaign to deprive civilians of basic necessities. The key paragraph of the report states: "The Mission finds that the conduct of the Israeli armed forces constitute grave breaches of the Fourth Geneva Convention in respect of willful killings and willfully causing great suffering to protected persons and as such give rise to individual criminal responsibility." On the Samouni killings it states that even if it amounted to an operational error and the mission concludes that a mistake was made, "state responsibility of Israel for an internationally wrongful act" would remain. All of these still stands and Goldstone’s recent cowardly retraction won’t be able to bury Israeli brutality in Gaza between 27 December 2008 and 18 January 2009 -- events which led to the deaths of 1,396 Palestinians, 763 of whom, according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, were not taking part in hostilities when they were killed.

Dr. Alon Liel, a friend of Goldstone’s from his days as a Foreign Ministry representative in South Africa, provides some explanation to understand his retraction. He said that Goldstone has “been through hell.” Liel said, “He was being constantly harassed, received threatening letters, and was forced to change his phone number and email addresses. When Israel decided to boycott him, it was an overwhelming insult. ‘I'm a Jewish judge, a respected Zionist - and Israel doesn’t trust me?’ He was a broken man.”

As noted in the Goldstone report Israel’s “Operation Cast Lead” was "deliberately disproportionate" and intended to "punish, humiliate and terrorize". That charge stands unanswered. Indiscriminate warfare was undoubtedly state policy. Shooting the messenger is always easier than dealing with the message itself. And that is what Israel and her friends did to Goldstone that forced the man to retract. It does neither change what happened in Gaza nor what will happen the next time war will break out there.

Goldhagen is not unaware of the social pressure that comes for criticizing the ‘worse than war’ strategy of the criminal Zionist state. As a Jew, you can be brutally honest about everything -- calling a spade a spade -- but when it comes to reprimanding and chastising the Zionist state, hide your feelings; otherwise, you would have to settle for unkind epithets like the ‘self-hating Jew.’ And thus while one can imagine his plausible reasoning to overlook the more visible signs of eliminationist policy of the Government of Israel, the reader is left puzzled with half truths and feels betrayed for author’s disingenuous treatment of the entire subject.

Goldhagen is often inconsistent in following his own logic and makes many unsubstantiated claims in his book. As if America didn’t bomb Japan and, Israel, the so-called ‘only democracy’ in the Middle East, hasn’t been at war since its illegitimate birth with all its neighbors, including Lebanon, the author is delusional with his claim that democracies don’t fight or go to war. He is critical about the roles of veto-wielding powers Russia and China, which he claims as ‘rogue and lawless’, but ducks the responsibility of the USA and her allies in misusing the same veto power to hide the crimes of Israel and themselves (p. 536). Some of his prescriptions for stopping eliminationist politics are silly, if not hypocritical.

The book claims to be searing investigation into genocide by a political scientist and public intellectual. Unfortunately, in spite of its large size, the book fails to do a thorough and honest job in identifying genocides of our time, and provides only partial measures to combat the crime. His silence about genocides of our time, especially the decade-long wars of the USA and her allies, the slow but definite eliminationist project in Israel against the indigenous Palestinians, silence about the Rohingya and Uyghur humanitarian crisis where the latter two peoples are subjected to some of the worst forms of eliminationist projects make the book an incomplete one, let alone a hypocritical rendering.

In summary, Goldhagen is a cowardly political scientist who has tried to hide the crimes of his co-religionist Zionists who are some of the hideous practitioners of eliminationist projects of our time. When an aspirant intellectual fails to scrutinize issues neutrally in an unbiased manner and offers solutions that are meaningful, any claim to providing hope to eradicate the most catastrophic scourge of humankind is simply ridiculous and faulty.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

The New York Times on Israeli Luminaries who pressed for a Palestinian State

Last Tuesday, the New York Times posted a very important news item about Israel. Unfortunately, the news did not draw the kind of attention many would have love to see. Here it is:

Israeli Luminaries Press for a Palestinian State
By ETHAN BRONNER
Published: April 19, 2011

JERUSALEM — Dozens of Israel’s most honored intellectuals and artists have signed a declaration endorsing a Palestinian state on the basis of the 1967 borders and asserting that an end to Israel’s occupation “will liberate the two peoples and open the way to a lasting peace.”

The signers plan to announce their position on Thursday from the same spot in Tel Aviv where the Jewish state declared its independence in the spring of 1948. The page-long declaration is expected to be read there by Hanna Maron, one of the country’s best-known actresses and a winner of the Israel Prize, the country’s most prestigious award, which is granted yearly on Independence Day.

Of the more than 60 who had signed the declaration by Tuesday, about 20 were winners of the Israel Prize and a number of others had been awarded the Emet Prize, given by the prime minister for excellence in science, art and culture. Signatures were still being collected on Tuesday.

“The land of Israel is the birthplace of the Jewish people where its identity was shaped,” the statement begins. “The land of Palestine is the birthplace of the Palestinian people where its identity was formed.” It goes on to say that now is the time to live up to the commitment expressed by Israel’s founders in their Declaration of Independence to “extend our hand to all neighboring states and their peoples in an offer of peace and good neighborliness.”

Yaron Ezrahi, a political theorist at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem and one of the signers, said the group chose this week to issue its declaration because it was Passover, which marks the freedom of the Jewish people from slavery.

“We don’t want to pass over the Palestinian people,” Mr. Ezrahi said. “This is a holiday of freedom and independence.” He added that given the struggle for freedom across the Arab world today and the Palestinians’ plans to seek international recognition of their statehood by September, it was important for Israeli voices to be added to the call.

Two weeks ago, another group of several dozen prominent Israelis, many of them from the fields of security and business, issued what they called the Israeli Peace Initiative, a more detailed but somewhat similar plan for a two-state solution. Both groups say they are upset by their government’s policies in this regard, which they consider insufficient.

The Palestinian leadership says that unless Israel ends the building of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, it will not return to negotiations with it and will instead seek international recognition of Palestinian statehood by September at the United Nations.

The government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the real problem is that the Palestinians refuse to acknowledge that Israel is a Jewish state. Official recognition of that, it says, would revive negotiations, although there are also clear differences over land and Israel’s security needs.

Mr. Netanyahu is expected to announce by the end of May his proposal for moving forward with talks on a two-state solution.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

The Secular Talibans in France -- are they any better?

Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) was an English philosopher who formulated some of the fundamentals of European liberal thought: the right of the individual; the natural equality of all men; the artificial character of the political order; the view that all legitimate political power must be “representative” and based on the consent of the people; and a liberal interpretation of law. He famously said, “A free man is he that ... is not hindered to do what he has a will to.”

Obviously, the French Republic is a far cry from Hobbes’s notion of freedom. Last week, neo-Taliban Sarkozy’s government gave birth to two new crimes: hiding one’s face in public and encouraging another to hide her face. Sarkozy has made it clear that Muslim women who hide their faces are not welcome in France. The French government believes that “to hide the face breaches minimal needs of social life.” So hiding one’s face in public is now a misdemeanor, with a €150 fine and/or civic training to teach the criminal the need to show her face. The prosecutor must prove that (a) the face was hidden and (b) the person was in a public space. He need not show intent to violate the law. If one encourages another to hide her face, one risks a year in prison and a €30,000 fine, two years and a €60,000 fine if the person encouraged is under 18.

Although the new law claims to be drafted as gender neutral, the marks of chauvinism, bigotry and xenophobia are all too visible. It clearly targets the few Muslim women who wear the niqab. According to the prime minister’s circular, women who hide their faces wear a badge of inferiority that is “incompatible with the principles of liberty, equality and human dignity affirmed by the French Republic.” How true are such farcical claims? Why should forcing one to bare her faces make her feel liberated, equal and dignified?

The French parliamentary inquiry which recommended the ban lasted six months and heard 211 witnesses. Yet just one of those was a niqab-wearing woman – and even she was seen only after she repeatedly insisted. The commission’s report runs to 658 pages. A total of just one paragraph is devoted to this woman’s testimony! What a biased report! What a farce and mockery with people’s intelligence, let alone abuse of high-sounding and well-meaning words like equality and liberty! By refusing to interview and listen to the voices of women who wear niqab, the French government showed how narrow-minded and Taliban-like it is.
Since April 11 when the new law went into effect, the French Muslim women who dared to challenge it with their niqab said that they were not forced by anyone to put it, and that it was not a badge of inferiority but rather of freedom and self-assertion that they were exercising. They are not the stereotypically repressed or un-westernized, but young and articulate women. Many of them are western converts to Islam who had seen how the popular culture created a false notion about human dignity that was defined by one’s outward looks or visible signs of beauty, and not intelligence and other moral values. They refused to be treated like grocery meats for public consumption!

The new law violates a fundamental principle that defines a free society. In a free society the individual should not be crushed by the majoritarian opinion. A free society allows full expression of individuality, even signs and symbols that may offend some. But as we all know there is nothing called absolute freedom, and thereby, no absolutely free society. There are limits that the society (and, by default, the state) often imposes if unbridled freedom can cause harm. Thus, what is allowed behind the curtain or within the walls of a home may be considered indecent or undesirable for public consumption. It is not difficult to understand why the police arrest anyone exposing oneself nude in the public, let alone those who harm others.

It is simply absurd to believe that those Muslim women who wear niqab are a threat to public and national security, and neither the French police nor the president and French legislators have offered a shred of evidence suggesting any such connection. So, if they pose no danger to public security, safety or health, why should such expressions of personal choice and freedom are forbidden, especially in a country that claims to be free, liberal and secular?

The French government claims that the new law had everything to do with women’s equality, liberty and human dignity. These secular fanatics, closet bigots and xenophobes of the French Republic may like to read John Stuart Mill’s short essay “On Liberty,” published in 1859. There he defined liberty: Each person is the best judge of his or her own happiness; it is not the business of the state to tell people how to be happy; people need not respect the views of others, but must tolerate conduct to the extent that the conduct does not harm others. “The only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or moral, is not a sufficient warrant,” Mill wrote.

The new French law does not mesh well with the principles laid out by either Mill or Hobbes. If they were alive, they would have declared the new law as oppression of a minority.

As I have noted elsewhere, niqab is practiced by a very small fraction within the Muslim community. Outside places like Saudi Arabia (and in Wahabi/Salafi-influenced and highly conservative culture) it is rarely visible today in the Islamic world.
The Islamic law concerning modesty in women’s dress is found in the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an says, “And say to the faithful women to lower their gazes, and to guard their private parts, and not to display their adornment except what is apparent of it, and to extend their khumur to cover their juyub.” (Surah an-Nur, verse 31) Much has been written about the meaning of these two terms – khimar and jayb (the singular forms). The overwhelming view of the scholars of Islam is that they mean ‘covering’ (i.e., something that covers) and ‘breast.’ As to the phrase ‘what is apparent of it,’ a much-quoted Prophetic hadith suggests that it means ‘the face and the hands.’ (See, e.g., the tafsirs of Imams Tabari, Zamakhshari, Fakhr ad-Din Razi and Qurtubi.)

Imam Zamakhshari offered a very rational interpretation about the exemption. He wrote, “The strongest and most accurate view is that which says that the exemption refers to the face and the hands. Also included are kohl, rings, bracelets, and makeup. We say that this is the strongest and most accurate opinion because all scholars are unanimous that everyone who needs to pray must cover the awra in his or her salat (prayer). A woman may reveal the face and the hands in her salat, while she must cover the rest of her body. What is not awra is not haram to be revealed.” Similarly, Imam Qurtubi wrote: “Since the normal case is that a woman’s face and hands are revealed by the force of habit and for worship, as this is required in salat and hajj, then it is appropriate to say that the exemption applies to these (parts).”

As to the reason behind citation of the above mentioned Qur’anic verse, Imam Qurtubi says, “Women in those days used to cover their heads with the khimar, throwing its ends upon their backs. This left the neck and the upper part of the chest bare, along with the ears, in the manner of the Christians. Then Allah commanded them to cover those parts with the khimar.”

A reading of the tafsirs of the Qur’an from the early scholars of Islam makes it quite clear that covering the face (e.g. niqab) was not something that was probably meant in the Qur’an. And Allah knows the best!

Over the centuries, as the Muslim society started deviating away from the norms and practices of the Islamic society that Muhammad (S) – the Prophet of Islam and his righteous companions established in Madinah and the Arabian peninsula it is not difficult to understand how new interpretations emerged. What was once deemed desirable became compulsory, and so on and so forth.

If a Muslim woman today wears niqab and burqa out of her sense of piety and/or interpretation of the divine text it is still her right to do so. As much as imposition of such a practice with a law is an affront to liberty so is the banning of the practice. No state authority should punish them for wanting to hide their faces in public when their conduct presents no danger to the public. The secular fanatics in France aught to measure their conducts against the very precepts of a free society that they claim to uphold. They are no better than the Taliban in the Af-Pak area. Because of their despicable hypocrisy, they are actually worse! Shame on France and its French-fried-Talibans for enacting laws that epitomize bigotry and chauvinism!

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Treatment of Captives in Islam

The treatment of captives in Islam set it on a higher moral level than every other system that preceded it. The prophet Muhammad (S) ensured that they be treated with kindness. So, we find that captives of the Battle of Badr were better fed than those who were entrusted to hold them. Many of those poor companions of the Prophet (S) remained hungry while they fed those captives. So overwhelming was the influence of kind treatment of the non-Muslim captives that many of those former captives quickly embraced Islam, let alone renouncing violence against the nascent Islamic state. This tradition continued throughout the Caliphate of the righteous companions.

During his rule, Caliph Umar made it illegal to separate related prisoners of war from each other, after a captive complained to him for being separated from her daughter.[Naqvi (2000), pg. 456]

These principles were also honoured during the Crusades, as exemplified by sultans such as Saladin and al-Kamil. For example, after al-Kamil defeated the Franks during the Crusades, Oliverus Scholasticus praised the Islamic laws of war, commenting on how al-Kamil supplied the defeated Frankish army with food:
"Who could doubt that such goodness, friendship and charity come from God? Men whose parents, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, had died in agony at our hands, whose lands we took, whom we drove naked from their homes, revived us with their own food when we were dying of hunger and showered us with kindness even when we were in their power." [Judge Weeramantry, Christopher G. (1997). Justice Without Frontiers. Brill Publishers. pp. 136.]

As hinted above, upon capture, the prisoners must be guarded and not ill-treated.[Nigosian, S. A. (2004). Islam. Its History, Teaching, and Practices. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. p. 115.] Islamic law holds that the prisoners must be fed and clothed, either by the Islamic government or by the individual who has custody of the prisoner. This position is supported by the verse [Qur'an 76:8] of the Quran. The prisoners must be fed in a dignified manner, and must not be forced to beg for their subsistence.[Maududi (1967), introduction of Ad-Dahr, "Period of revelation", pg. 159] Muhammad's early followers also considered it a principle to not separate prisoners from their relatives.[Naqvi (2000), pg. 456]

After the fighting is over, prisoners are to be released, with some prospect of survival, or ransomed. The freeing or ransoming of prisoners by Muslims themselves is highly recommended as a charitable act.[Nigosian, S. A. (2004)] The Qur'an also urges kindness to captives ([Qur'an 4:36], [Qur'an 9:60], [Qur'an 24:58]) and recommends, their liberation by purchase or manumission. The freeing of captives is recommended both for the expiation of sins ([Qur'an 4:92], [Qur'an 5:92], [Qur'an 58:3]) and as an act of simple benevolence.([Qur'an 2:177], [Qur'an 24:33], [Qur'an 90:13])


Muslim scholars hold that women and children prisoners of war cannot be killed under any circumstances, regardless of their faith.

Muslim scholars prohibit altogether the killing of prisoners and hold that this was the policy practiced by Prophet Muhammad. The 20th century Muslim scholar, Sayyid Abul Ala Maududi states that no prisoner should be "put to the sword" in accordance with a saying of Muhammad.

Yusuf Ali, another 20th century Muslim scholar, while commenting on verse [Qur'an 9:6], writes, "Even those the enemies of Islam, actively fighting against Islam, there may be individuals who may be in a position to require protection. Full asylum is to be given to them, and opportunities provided for hearing the Word of Allah...If they do not see their way to accept Islam, they will require double protection: (1) from the Islamic forces openly fighting against their people, and (2) from their own people, as they detached themselves from them. Both kinds of protection should be ensured for them, and they should be safely escorted to a place where they can be safe." [Ali, Abdullah Yusuf (1991). The Holy Quran. Medina: King Fahd Holy Qur-an Printing Complex.]


Maududi further states that Islam forbids torturing, especially by fire, and quotes Muhamad as saying, "Punishment by fire does not behoove anyone except the Master of the Fire [God]."

According to a French author, "By guaranteeing them [male POWs] humane treatment, and various possibilities of subsequently releasing themselves, it ensured that a good number of combatants in the opposing armies preferred captivity at the hands of Muslims to death on the field of battle." [Wikipedia]

America’s Bankruptcy – not just limited to its failing economy

Working late hours on Friday, the congressional and White House negotiators finally agreed on a plan to pay for U.S. government operations through the end of September while trimming $38.5 billion in spending. Lawmakers then approved a measure to keep the government running for a few more days while the details of the new spending plan are written into legislation. Actual approval of the deal is expected in the middle of next week.
In the end, all sides claimed victory. For Republicans, it was the sheer size of the spending cuts. For President Obama and Senator Reid, it was casting aside Republican policy initiatives that would have blocked environmental rules and changed a program that provides family planning services. The deal came together after six grueling weeks as negotiators virtually dared each other to shut down the government.
Although the U.S. still remains the world's largest economy, and has the most powerful military, the most dynamic technology companies and a highly entrepreneurial climate, its infrastructure is ranked 23rd in the world, well behind that of every other major advanced economy. It is dying like a dinosaur. The signs of decay are everywhere. Economy is usually the first of such major signs that become so obvious when the empire is sinking. Americans today have the largest amount of debt in the world.
Yesterday on the doorsteps to my local mosque I noticed a young mother begging for donation holding an umbrella stroller in one hand and a cardboard in the other hand that said she and her husband had lost jobs, and that she needed help to support her two kids. It was an odd scene, especially considering the fact that the mosque is located in an affluent neighborhood and that it was not a pleasant afternoon. The young mother had to risk her dignity and endure the unpleasant weather to come out of her home and seek help. Her little baby, lying in the stroller, was crying – probably because of hunger or from raindrops.
Over the last 22 years of my residence in the Greater Philadelphia area, I have once in a while seen elderly people standing near highway entrances with placards or cardboards in their hands that said they would work for food, which was another way of begging or saying that they needed financial help. But never before do I recall seeing a young mother begging in front of a mosque.
With millions of lost jobs and the ever growing budget deficit it does not take a genius to know that the USA is a debtor nation today. The two wars – started by Bush Jr. – have broken the back of the American camel. Not only were these unnecessary, their consequences were not even thought out properly. The merchants and promoters of the war forgot the lessons of history, the basic reasons why empires fall, and more importantly the thematic cause and effect so richly imbued throughout the Qur’an and the Bible. Funny that these warmongers portrayed themselves as deeply religious people, even getting directives from God to invade and commit massacre of innocent civilians!
So the American people should feel good about the debate on economy that has been taking place in the Capitol Hill. After all, these elected reps own the problem and they must fix it now. As pundits would tell you, if it had not been for their policies, we could have possibly avoided those wars (and the ensuing economic crisis), stopped outsourcing of jobs to China and India, and put higher priorities on developing human capital that would benefit the U.S. economy and guarantee its prosperity on a long-term.
In spite of all the claims as to their objectivity, outside the Congressman Dennis Kucinich there seems no one really serious about curtailing funding to Israel. We are told that such cuts (which are less than 1 percent of the deficit) won’t put a dent in the budget deficit. True. But when the same Republican politicians voted 228-192 to bar National Public Radio (NPR) from receiving any more federal funds last month it is not difficult to fathom their naked hypocrisy. It is worth noting here that the total federal funding to NPR amounts to only 2% of its overall revenues of $180 million, i.e., less than 4 million dollars. If a $4 billion yearly handout to the government of Israel can’t put a dent, why should a mere $4 million grant to the NPR? Whom are these Israel-firsters trying to fool? Such an over-protectionist attitude towards Israel is unsustainable.
As I noted many times, the American politicians are failing their people. Many are openly behaving like fascists. Many others are closet fascists who would reveal their true ugly self when push comes to shove. If they are serious about finding intelligent solutions to our fiscal problems, they better carryout the recommendations made by the Simpson-Bowles commission proposing $4 trillion in savings mostly through cuts in some of the largest drivers of the long-term deficit, e.g., Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare.
The treatment of prisoners is a defining characteristic that separates great nations from others that are not. No nation can legitimately claim greatness when demeaning abuses and horrendous tortures are approved by its highest authority. Such practices show that it is bereft of moral higher values that define our humanity. And we had more than some random snapshots of such unspeakable displays committed by the American occupation forces in prisons of Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo Bay. We wondered how such evil acts could have been practiced by highly professional forces of a liberal democracy like the U.S.A. that has been so vociferous with the rule of law, democracy and human rights in the rest of the world! We were told that Abu Ghraib should not define America; it was an aberration. Then we found out that the abuses and tortures of Muslim detainees were actually authorized at the highest echelon of power within the White House. The torture of the prisoners and detainees were systemic and no random affair. The former president and vice president of the U.S.A. still remain boastful of the justification of torture practices.
Years ago in my after-work spare times I had volunteered to work as a social worker towards behavior modification of prisoners in a couple of prisons (or what are called correction centers) in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. I learnt then that some prisoners would be confined to solitary cells for bad behavior. They would be denied pillow, mattress and other privileges. Sexual abuses were not uncommon either. It was a very depressing environment for everyone: the prisoners - who had little chance of becoming better or correcting their errors and crimes, the employees and volunteers – who worked there. Once imprisoned those prisoners were treated like worthless scum; they were simply dehumanized. Once released after serving their time, they could not fit in or adjust to their freedom. No wonder that there were many repeat offenders or prisoners to the prison system. It was like revolving doors for most of them.
I was told how some prisoners would be body-cavity checked every time they had outsider visitors, including lawyers. Short of sexual abuses, nothing could be more dehumanizing and painful experience for those unfortunate prisoners. Unable to cope with the traumatic experience that they suffered, many would plead their loved ones, including their lawyers, not to come for a face to face meeting.
Recently, news reports surfaced that the Wikileaks whistleblower Private First Class Bradley Manning is being tortured in a US military prison. Manning is subjected to utter isolation that can drive many people insane, with short periods each day where he is stripped naked and abused by jeering inmates. Manning’s attorney David Coombs revealed last month that for at least two nights in row, the Army private had been "stripped naked" for as long as seven hours at a time. In the mornings, he was left without clothes and forced to stand at attention. "This type of degrading treatment is inexcusable and without justification," he added. "It is an embarrassment to our military justice system and should not be tolerated. No other detainee at the Brig is forced to endure this type of isolation and humiliation."
You may remember that Manning is awaiting trial for releasing secret military documents to Wikileaks – including a video of US soldiers massacring Iraqi civilians. He was able to expose the war crimes of some American soldiers (much like the Mi Lai massacre), something that the U.S. government tried to hide from its citizens. And his brutal treatment appears to be part of an intimidation campaign to silence whistleblowers and crack down on Wikileaks. The US government is split on this issue, with diplomats publicly criticizing the military for Manning's treatment. However, the White House sees nothing wrong with the treatment of Manning.
Apparently, speaking out publicly against your government’s near-torture of a prisoner convicted of no crime is worse than the actual abuse itself. State Department chief spokesman P.J. Crowley resigned after publicly bashing the Pentagon’s treatment of jailed soldier Bradley Manning. Crowley, appearing at a journalism event at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology called the US military’s abusive treatment of Manning “ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid.”
But does American government care about its tainted pattern of abuses and tortures? If it does, it ought to know that the exercise of power in today’s challenging times and relentless media environment must be prudent and consistent with her laws and values. It cannot say all the good things and do just the opposite. Today’s internet-savvy population will not settle for such hypocrisy, not even in communist China.
Last week, Attorney General Eric Holder backed down from his original intention of trying Khalid Sheik Mohammed (KSM), the man accused of planning and executing the 9/11 attacks, in civilian courts. In the early days of the Obama administration he had said that trying KSM in civilian courts would be the "defining event" of his time as attorney general. After some ten years, it seems that like the Guantanamo Bay prisoners, KSM will also be tried under military tribunal.
What does it say about a government that locks up hundreds of detainees indefinitely in the most abject way known to mankind and then denies them the right to have fair trial? We are told that as part of a compromise with the Republicans, the Obama administration has agreed not to close down the Guantanamo Bay detention center. All that moral preening that Obama made when he was on the campaign trail has been revealed to be just that - a posture that earned him later a Nobel Prize and nothing good! Are we surprised with such flip-flops? I am not.
As I see, all these are signs of moral bankruptcy of this nation. No nation can be taken seriously about its hollow claim to greatness when it is rotting from within.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Terry Jones – the hateful provocateur

Remember Christian pastor Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida? He caused an international uproar last year by threatening to burn 200 copies of the Qur’an, the Muslim Holy Scripture, on the anniversary of the September 11 attacks. Among others, the overall commander of forces in Afghanistan, Gen. David H. Petraeus, had warned at that time that such an action could provoke violence in Afghanistan and could endanger American troops. Jones subsequently promised not to burn the Qur’an.

Last month, on March 20, however, with only 30 worshipers attending, Terry Jones held a self-styled mock trial of the Qur’an in which he presided from the pulpit as a judge. Sitting in judgment was a jury of 12 members of his church. Punishment was determined by the results of an online poll. Besides burning, the options included shredding, drowning and facing a firing squad. Jones said voters had chosen to set fire to the book, according to a video of the proceedings. So the Qur’an was burned.

The hateful act drew little publicity inside the USA, but provoked angry condemnation in the Af-Pak region, where it was reported in the local media and where anti-American sentiment already runs high. Last week, President Asif Ali Zardari of Pakistan condemned the burning in an address before the Parliament, and President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan on Thursday called on the United States to bring those responsible for the Qur’an burning to justice. A prominent Afghan cleric, Mullah Qyamudin Kashaf, the acting head of the influential Ulema Council of Afghanistan and a Karzai appointee, also called for American authorities to arrest and try Terry Jones in the Qur’an burning.

Obviously, the U.S. government will not take any action against the Christian pastor. There is absolute freedom in this country to trash a religion, its founder and its holy book, although Tomahawks may be fired and bombs dropped to kill anyone considered hostile to the USA. The U.S. government doesn’t have to put the suspect into a lengthy trial process; it is easier this way to simply vaporize him, his family and tribe, and the neighborhood he lived!

I am sure many westerners would see no problem with such a politically secular and chauvinistic attitude, considered so outlandish, one-sided or hypocritical by so many in the East. They forget that every freedom that we enjoy has its limitations. When the rights of others are violated, it is no longer deemed freedom but can be an abuse or a crime. Many of these bigots and self-righteous nuts like Jones forget that we live in a highly connected world in which information flies instantly. So the provocation here can trigger a political-diplomatic tsunami elsewhere. And we have witnessed plenty of such occurrences in recent years.

Consider for instance, the reaction to the demolition of the Buddha statues in Afghanistan. In the days following the Taliban insanity, scores of Muslim houses of worship were burned down in many Buddhist majority countries in south and south-east Asia. The same was the consequence in Nepal during the height of Iraqi occupation when thousands of Nepalese Hindus burned at least two mosques including the "Jamaa" mosque, the largest mosque in the capital Katmandu, in protest against the killing of 12 Nepalese who had been working as cooks and cleaners for the occupation forces by an Iraqi insurgent group in August 31, 2004. In Nepalgunj, Nepal's western capital, nine houses inhabited by Muslims were burnt down. At least three Muslims were killed; several Muslim shops and businesses were also destroyed by the angry mob.

And who can forget the post-9/11 backlash in the USA — the steady stream of more than 800 cases of violence and discrimination suffered by American Muslims at the hands of know-nothing abusers? (It is worth nothing that while Muslims make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population, they are victims in 14 percent of religious discrimination cases. These range from homicides and mosque burnings to job, school and zoning law abuses, according to the Justice Department.)

Afghanistan is not impervious to information either. Its people had more than its share of troubles since the 1970s with foreign occupation forces and their stooges. Deeply religious and reflexively volatile, it has long been highly reactive to perceived insults against Islam. Thus the provocative desecration of the Qur’an in Gainesville was not lost in its information radar screen. Last Friday some 20,000 protesters overran the compound of the United Nations in Mazar-i-Sharif, the northern Afghan city, during which 12 people died. The dead included at least seven United Nations workers, and five Afghans. The top U.N. official in Afghanistan blamed Taliban infiltrators for the killings. Violent protests against the burning continued on Saturday in Kandahar where 9 people got killed and 81 injured.

The attack once again underscored the latent hostility toward the nine-year foreign presence here, even in a city long considered to be among the safest in Afghanistan. The indiscriminate NATO bombing campaigns and drone attacks that have killed thousands of civilians have only reinforced the perception amongst most Afghans, including the western-back government of Karzai, that these western forces and their mercenaries have no respect for Afghan lives. They want them out.

Terry Jones, the provocateur responsible for triggering this latest episode, was well aware of the consequences of his sacrilegious action. He remains unrepentant and says that given the chance he would do it all over again. He audaciously demanded that the United States and United Nations take “immediate action” against Muslim nations in retaliation for the deaths. “The time has come to hold Islam accountable,” he said.

Such deranged talks from a bigoted Christian pastor should not surprise us. In the post-9/11 era these Christian zealots have been trying everything possible to expand the West’s war against the Muslim world. Knowing very well that they are protected by laws, these provocateurs have abused the notion of freedom of speech to incite violence, thereby endangering the lives of too many innocent people. And one death is too many!

It is high time for the U.S. government to understand that their nonchalant attitude against these ‘terrorists’ sends out a very incoherent message to the rest of the world when they see the same government justifying their bombing campaigns against hideouts of a radical Muslim cleric for inciting violence against occupation forces in a Muslim land. They call it the pinnacle of hypocrisy! It is simply inexcusable.

The Dying Days of a Dinosaur

It takes long time for carcass of an elephant to decay compared to small animals like a rat. The signs are all too visible these days that the United States of America is dying or decaying. It is not as strong economically as it used to be some two decades ago. However, contrary to conservative right-wing claims, the process of its downfall did neither start with the bailout of the Wall Street moguls in 2008 or 2009 nor with the election win of Obama.

Pinpointing a definitive time for this beginning of decline in super status is not an easy one since pundits will differ for a plethora of reasons. I would like to believe that it started with Bush Jr.’s two wars in Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003). By all counts these American wars have been pyrrhic wars for this giant nation, the same way it was for King Pyrrhus of ancient Epirus in 279-80 BCE. In both of Pyrrhus's victories against the Romans, the latter suffered greater casualties than Pyrrhus did. However, the Romans had a much larger supply of men from which to draw soldiers, so their casualties did less damage to their war effort than Pyrrhus's casualties did to his.

GW Bush’s wars -- the first two of the 21st century – have been quite similar. With unmatched lethal power and raw brutality, his American forces were able to replace two unfriendly regimes and devastate those countries – turning the clock back to the pre-modern era. The casualties on the American side have been rather small – only some 6000 dead while it has managed to kill nearly a million – mostly unarmed civilians. And yet, the Afghan war shows no signs that it would end without a viable political solution allowing the Taliban to share power with the Karzai regime. Like the defeated Romans, the Taliban have a much larger supply of men from which to draw soldiers, so their casualties did less damage to their war effort than Bush's casualties did to his. The Afghan war – now continued by President Obama, is costing ordinary Americans more than a trillion dollar.

The US economy is on the brink of bankruptcy. If the Arab and Chinese investors pull their money away today, the entire economy would collapse like a deck of cards. It is not surprising that in spite of hundreds of billions of dollars of economic stimulus, some 10 to 14 million people are still out of job. The only jobs found are those seemingly linked with the Homeland Security Department, responsible for keeping America safe from outside terror attacks with insane measures that do very little towards quashing any real threat from a suicide attacker if it so chooses. Thus, the beneficiaries of the war have been those linked with the national/business/personal safety and war industries. The price of every consumer item - from bread to butter to oil - has skyrocketed. So have the education and insurance costs.

When I went to graduate school at the University of California some 30 years ago, as a foreign student I was paying a tuition fee of only $1700 per trimester (or a total of $5100 per year). The yearly cost for room and board was no more than $6000. Now my son is a sophomore at the U Penn, and it costs me nearly $60,000 a year for his education expenses. Even the tuition fees in state-run universities have grown several folds in the last three decades.

Optimism is in short supply these days within the USA. Most of the jobs now created or available for jobless Americans are not nearly enough to pry open the doors to a middle-class standard of living. Young people today will have to settle for a much worse future than their elders, a reversal of fortune that should send a shudder through everyone.

As I noted earlier, Bush’s wars were the last straws that broke the American camel’s back. From that time onward, the US has been on a downward roller-coaster ride with little chances of recovering its past glory. Its uncontested status in the post-WW II era created the nostalgia for greatness. Unfortunately, its metric for greatness was wrong. It glorified war and invested on war machines that perfected the art of large-scale killing with pin-point precision rather than on its human capital to sustain the prosperity that was once the envy of the world. Instead of funding schools and colleges, research and development it chose to do the reverse. In the Pennsylvania state run university system, where my wife is a chairwoman and professor of a science department, the newly elected Republican governor has proposed 50% reduction of state appropriation of the budget for college education. Even the school programs are affected by such cost cutting measures. Last week, I got a similar message of reduced state funding from the superintendent of my school district.

It is no wonder that the contribution of American scientists and engineers in major peer-reviewed journals is now below 25 percent. This figure should be a sufficient wakeup call for America given the fact that it continues to host most of the best schools in our world with its unrivaled graduate school programs providing the most comprehensive education possible and that over the years the country has successfully absorbed some 90 percent of foreign students who had come for their doctoral studies. Only ten percent, mostly from the prosperous Arab world, Malaysia and South Korea would return to their native countries. [I remember when I was a student in a Canadian university, how I was repeatedly told by professors and graduate students that my education would be incomplete without a Ph.D. from a good American university.]

So scarce is the job market today that on the average there are ten applicants for each job. In certain sectors this ratio is unbelievably high. There may be hundreds of job applicants for a skilled position in science and engineering. With so much job outsourced in the last two decades, there are not too many left inside today for skilled jobless applicants.

As noted by Bob Herbert in his last op/ed column for the New York Times, income and wealth inequality in the U.S. have reached stages that would make the third world blush. The current mal-distribution of wealth is also scandalous. In 2009, the richest 5 percent claimed 63.5 percent of the nation’s wealth. The overwhelming majority, the bottom 80 percent, collectively held just 12.8 percent. Despite profits of $14.2 billion — $5.1 billion from its operations in the United States — General Electric did not have to pay any U.S. taxes last year. And it is the nation’s largest corporation. What a mockery of tax laws!
Overwhelming imbalances in wealth and income has inevitably resulted in enormous imbalances of political power. So while the corporations and the very wealthy continue to do well the employment crisis never gets addressed. The wars never end. And nation-building never gets a foothold here at home.

Welcome to new America! It is dying like a dinosaur. But just like those in a big ship that is slowly drowning, its inhabitants are still unaware of it.