Saturday, February 27, 2010

Danish daily issues apology over prophet drawing

by Jan M. Olsen
The Associated Press

COPENHAGEN (AP) -- A Danish newspaper on Friday apologized for offending Muslims by reprinting a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, rekindling heated debate about the limits of freedom of speech.

Danish daily Politiken said its apology was part of a settlement with a Saudi lawyer representing eight Muslim groups in the Middle East and Australia.

It drew strong criticism among Danish media, which previously had stood united in rejecting calls to apologize for 12 Muhammad cartoons that sparked fierce protests in the Muslim world four years ago.

Prime Minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen expressed surprise at Politiken's move, saying he was worried that Danish media no longer were "standing shoulder to shoulder" on the issue.

Read the complete story (Some news sites require registration)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Launch of Religious Perceptions in America

Religious Perceptions in America: With an In-Depth Analysis of U.S. Attitudes Toward Muslims and Islam is a study of Americans’ opinions regarding a number of world religions with a special focus on Islam and Muslims. The results are based on the Gallup World Religion Survey, which explores Americans’ opinions of four major religions — Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism — and their followers. This analysis examines Americans’ self-reported level of prejudice toward members of those faiths.

A Very Riviting Video

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What the Danish Cartoon Controversy Tells Us About Religion, the Secular, and the Limits of the Law

By Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Taken from here.

A new book by four leading intellectuals (Talal Asad, Judith Butler, Saba Mahmood, and Wendy Brown) brings attention to the ongoing failures of the Euro-American liberal legal order in the face of the conflict between religious and secular values—and in doing so puts those very categories into question.

Is Critique Secular? Blasphemy, Injury, and Free Speech
by Talal Asad, Wendy Brown, Judith Butler, and Saba Mahmood
(California, 2009)

This very rich little book seems to me a very good place to begin the new decade. It is smart, informed, thoughtful, urgent—and properly unsettling. It is also very difficult to read quickly or to summarize in short order. It is well worth the effort.

The principal essays, by anthropologists Talal Asad and Saba Mahmood, take the Danish cartoon controversy as a starting point. They review the contexts of the publication of the satirical cartoons of Mohammed in Jyllands-Posten, a Danish newspaper, and the angry responses that ensued; they ask us to take seriously the fundamental incoherence of the assumptions about religion that underlie the dominant narratives of those events (dominant narratives that were repeated again this week in the stories about a recent attack on one of the cartoonists.) The book also includes an introduction by political scientist Wendy Brown and a response to the essays by philosopher Judith Butler.

The Danish cartoons were first published in 2005. The angry response from Muslims around the world was incomprehensible—and repellent—to many outside those communities. In some places there were riots, and later boycotts of Danish goods. The most common explanation for the violence in the English and European language press was that the production of images of Mohammad is prohibited by Islamic law and further that Muslim immigrants in Europe and elsewhere have failed to internalize the democratic value of free speech. Jyllands-Posten, for its part, self-righteously claimed to be heroically rescuing free speech in the face of the fearful self-censorship practiced by Danish writers and artists with respect to criticism of Islam. The incident was portrayed as a clash between the liberal values of an open society and an anti-modern, authoritarian, and superstitious religion.

In their essays, Asad and Mahmood convincingly argue that this narrative largely misses the point in almost every respect. It misunderstands Islam; it misunderstands the liberal political order; and it misunderstands the complex common genealogy of Christianity and secularism.

(click here to read the rest)

Yes yes, another Danish Cartoon article... Very well written though, don't you think?

Monday, February 22, 2010

Obama Names US Envoy to Islamic Conference

Taken from here.

President Obama has appointed someone to help him improve relations with the Muslim world. Rashad Hussain will be Obama’s special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the umbrella group for predominantly Muslim countries. Hussain is a former White House lawyer. He’s also a hafiz—someone who has memorized the entire Qur’an.

Friday, February 19, 2010

As Saudi Women Meet Clinton, No Talk of Rights

Taken from here.

JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton spoke to young women at a Saudi women’s college here on Tuesday, the site of a spirited exchange five years ago with a female official of the Bush administration over the rights of women in Saudi Arabia.

But despite Mrs. Clinton’s invitation to raise the issue, none of the women in the audience asked her about it. The discussion, while lively, focused on the same foreign-policy and security themes that have dominated her visit to the Persian Gulf, notably Iran and the Middle East peace process.

Mrs. Clinton said she wanted to hear the views of the students on women’s rights, noting that “American media presents a very unidimensional portrayal of Saudi women,” focusing on the black veils most wear.

She called for women to get better access to education and to play a bigger role in society. But she avoided criticism of Saudi Arabia, instead praising King Abdullah for his support of coeducational and women’s-only institutions, like the one that played host to her visit, Dar al-Hekman College.

None of the students picked up on Mrs. Clinton’s observation about how the American media portrays Saudi women, which had been a point of contention when Karen Hughes, the under secretary of state for public diplomacy in Bush administration, visited this college in 2005.

In that session, Ms. Hughes raised the hackles of some in the audience when she said the image of Saudi Arabia in the United States had been tarnished by the country’s refusal to allow women to drive.

On Tuesday, the students responded enthusiastically to Mrs. Clinton, though afterward, some expressed confusion about why women’s rights did not come up, given Mrs. Clinton’s iconic status.

“Maybe because it was Hillary Clinton, people wanted to ask her about issues bigger than whether Saudi women can drive,” said Duaa Badr, 18, a freshman management student from Jidda. She noted that many young women wanted to ask questions, but did not get a chance. The college appeared to exert tight control over who was handed a microphone.

Among the questions asked was why the United States was putting so much pressure on Iran not to make a nuclear bomb when other countries in the region, like Israel, possess nuclear weapons.

Mrs. Clinton did not answer directly about Israel, which has never confirmed its nuclear-weapons status. But she repeated the sharp criticism of Iran she has voiced at every stop on this three-day trip, saying the Iranian government was the world’s largest supporter of terrorism and backed radical Islamic groups that threatened its neighbors, including Saudi Arabia.

A young woman asked Mrs. Clinton to explain the debate in the United States over reforming the health-care system. Mrs. Clinton offered a short tutorial about the political complexities, and expressed sympathy that President Obama and his White House advisors were still grappling with it.

The earnest tone of the gathering was broken somewhat when a young man asked Mrs. Clinton whether she was horrified by the prospect of Sarah Palin becoming president, and if she were elected, whether Mrs. Clinton would consider emigrating to Canada or Russia.

“The short answer is no, I will not be emigrating,” she said with a laugh, before ducking the rest of the question.

“I’m not going to speculate on who might or might not be nominated by the Republicans,” she said. “I am very proud to support Barack Obama and I will continue to support Barack Obama.”

President Barack Obama has addressed the U.S.-Islamic World Forum by video this evening in Doha, speaking of ways to transform the initiatives mentioned in last June's Cairo speech into action. In addition, he named his Deputy Associate Counsel (and Forum participant) Rashad Hussain as Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Watch the entire video below, courtesy of the White House.

A full text transcript of the speech is available here on the White House Blog.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

2010 U.S.-Islamic World Forum

Taken from here.

Since our last Forum we have witnessed a significant shift in the dialogue between the United States and global Muslim communities. A new American President has endeavored to set a new and positive tone for engagement, exemplified by his historic remarks in Cairo. Over the next three days we will explore how much has changed and whether this altered discourse has been translated into substantive policy recommendations and programs. In recognizing the need for a sustained civic infrastructure to coordinate and complement the activities of our partners in the non-governmental and private sectors, we have designed a special session this year entitled “Maintaining the Momentum: A Strategy Session to Develop Public and Private Partnerships.”

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Muslim Legal Fund of America

Taken from here.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America was established in November, 2001, by a group of Muslim civil rights activists concerned with the growing trend of racial and religious profiling by law enforcement before and after the events of September 11, 2001. While about thirty Muslims were detained indefinitely through the unconstitutional use of secret evidence since Congress passed the Omnibus Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996, the Muslim community did not experience widespread profiling and discriminatory prosecution until 9/11.

After the horrible attacks of that day, law enforcement, as well as many members of the general public, reacted by mistreating and violating the safety and civil rights of Muslims in America. This period of time is commonly referred to as the �Backlash of 9/11�.Thousands of Muslims were detained and held without charge during this Backlash, which is still continuing.

Law enforcement agents are questioning Muslims about their constitutionally protected right of free speech, peaceful assembly and religion. Individuals and small vigilante groups reacted by committed acts of discrimination and violence � even murder. Articles, books, speeches and websites that unfairly paint the entire Muslim community as terrorists and Islam as a religion of terrorism appeared with increasing and alarming frequency.

The situation worsened after Congress passed the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001 (USA Patriot Act) with virtually no debate about the merits of the Act�s provisions. Much of the Act expanded the existing Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) to allow domestic spying on Americans, citizens and non-citizens, at a level normally reserved for criminal investigations. Wiretaps, searches and other methods of �intelligence� gathering are now allowed without probable cause. Agents only need to demonstrate a desire to seek probable cause.

Shortly after the passing of the USA Patriot Act, other laws and executive orders were passed that placed undue suspicion on the Muslim community. One example was the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which requires nonimmigrant aliens from Muslims countries to register with the government. During these special registrations, volumes of Muslims were treated like criminals, fingerprinted, interrogated, detained and deported. Another example was the President�s executive orders to shut down and freeze the assets of the three largest Muslim charities in the United States. These seizures marked the first time in the history of Islam that zakat and sadaqat (Islamic charitable funds) were seized by a government and prevented from reaching their intended recipients.

The government is continuing to target Islamic organizations, Muslim leaders and activists. Law enforcement agents raided numerous Muslim homes and offices, arrested Muslim individuals and continue to focus on the Muslim community in a clearly disproportionate manner while virtually ignoring real security threats from non-Muslim groups and individuals.

The Muslim Legal Fund of America is non-profit, charitable organization committed to preserve, safeguard and promote the civil and legal rights of American-Islamic institutions and Muslim individuals in the United States of America. In the six and a half years since its founding, MLFA received thousands of requests for legal aid and has processed over 450 cases in over 30 states. These cases include federal, immigration, discrimination, indefinite detention, hate crimes and profiling cases. Some cases are high-profile due to the news coverage and government press conferences, but most cases involve everyday Muslims who would be left defenseless without the help of MLFA and its supporters.

MLFA maintains a database of over 350 pre-screened attorneys nationwide to represent Muslims in various types of cases. Individuals who are financially underprivileged can apply to receive financial aid towards their legal defense. Through the generous support of the Muslim community, MLFA was able to provide legal aid to individuals who would otherwise not have the financial means to hire competent attorneys.

As part of its mission to help protect the civil and legal rights of Muslims in America, MLFA regularly conducts workshops and seminars to teach the Muslim community about their rights when encountering law enforcement, discrimination and other issues of concern. MLFA works with several other organizations to promote legal and civil rights for Muslims through education and fundraising. Currently, MLFA is developing a Liberty Task Force of like-minded organizations in an effort to launch a nationwide campaign to educate, motivate and mobilize the community to be civil rights activists by joining and supporting the efforts of organizations that promote liberty and justice for all.

MLFA received its tax exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service in November, 2002 and a fatwa from the ISNA Fiqh Council of North America in March, 2003, declaring donations to MLFA as legitimate Zakat-ul-Mal. MLFA also received endorsements from numerous imams and Muslim leaders, including Imam Siraj Wahhaj, Dr. Abdullah Idris, Sheikh Muhammed Nur Abdullah of ISNA, Dr. Souhail Ghanouchi of MAS and Br. Omar Ahmed of CAIR.

After the horrendous attacks of September 11, 2001, law enforcement and many members of the general public reacted by mistreating and violating the safety and civil rights of Muslims in America. Thousands of Muslims were, and are still, being detained and held without charge due to this backlash.

With the sole initiative to tackle this growing trend and the increase of racial and religious profiling of Muslims, a group of civil rights activists rallied together. And in 2001, The Muslim Legal Fund of America (MLFA) was established. Since then MLFA has been challenging the unconstitutionality of these alarming trends.

Law enforcement officials have questioned Muslims about their right of free speech, peaceful assembly and religion. Individuals and small vigilante groups have reacted by committing acts of discrimination, violence, and even murder. Uncountable articles, books, speeches and websites unfairly paint the entire Muslim community as terrorists and Islam as a religion of violence.

MLFA is dedicated to eradicating this trend and to preserving the civil liberties of Muslims in America.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

This Time We Went Too Far

Taken from here.

by Mohammed Ashik


“Better than any other book, ‘This Time We Went Too Far’ shows how the massive destruction visited on Gaza was not an accidental byproduct of the Israeli invasion but its barely concealed objective.” — Raja Shehadeh, author, Palestinian Walks

For the Palestinians who live in the narrow coastal strip of Gaza, the December 2008 Israeli invasion was a nightmare of unimaginable proportions: in the 22-day-long action 1,400 Gazans were killed, several hundred on the first day alone. More than 6,000 homes were destroyed or badly damaged. The cost of the destruction and disruption of economic life, in one of the world’s poorest areas, is estimated at more than $3 billion.

And yet, while nothing should diminish recognition of Palestinian suffering through these frightful days, it is possible something redemptive will emerge from the tragedy of Gaza. For, as Norman Finkelstein details, in a concise work that melds cold anger with cool analysis, the profound injustice of the Israeli assault has been widely recognized by organizations impossible to brand as partial or extremist.

Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN investigation headed by Richard Goldstone, in documenting Israel’s use of indiscriminate and intentional force against the civilian population during the invasion (100 Palestinians died for every one Israeli), have had an impact on traditional support for Israel. Jews in both the United States and the United Kingdom, for instance, are beginning to voice dissent, and this trend is especially apparent among the young.

Such a shift, Finkelstein contends, can result in new pressure capable of moving the Middle East crisis towards a solution, one that embraces justice for Palestinians and Israelis alike. The seeds of hope were thus sown in the bitter anguish of Gaza. “This Time We Went Too Far”, written with Finkelstein’s customary acuity and precision, will surely advance the process it so eloquently describes.

Norman G. Finkelstein’s books include Beyond Chutzpah, The Holocaust Industry, A Nation on Trial and Image and Reality of the Israel-Palestine Conflict.

“[Finkelstein’s] place in the whole history of writing
history is assured.” — Raul Hilberg, author,
The Destruction of the European Jews

Publication March 31 2010 208 pages
Hardback $20/£12 Ebook $10/£6
Hardback and Ebook $25/£16

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Keeping faith, courting conservatives

Taken from here.

by Peter Wallsten
The Wall Street Journal

President Barack Obama's willingness to keep Bush-era policies on government-backed religious charities has angered many liberals but is helping to woo traditionally Republican evangelical leaders who can influence key blocs of voters.

The approach, according to conservative leaders and liberal critics alike, is part of a broader strategy by Mr. Obama and fellow Democrats to regain credibility with centrist and conservative voters who tend to be more religious and have supported the GOP in recent polls and elections.

Mr. Obama has left in place a contentious Bush policy permitting charities that receive federal aid to hire employees based on their religious beliefs--a policy that civil-liberties groups consider unconstitutional and that candidate Obama had criticized.

The president will consider retaining a Bush-era practice of allowing government-backed religious charities to display crucifixes, "Jesus saves" posters and other symbols in the rooms where people receive aid, according to people involved in the discussions. Critics say that essentially amounts to taxpayer-funded proselytizing. This week, a majority of members of a faith advisory council appointed by Mr. Obama to examine the program voted against requiring charities to remove the images, according to emails reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Read the complete story (Some news sites require registration)

In many ways, a religious Democrat is the perfect President for Muslims. ("Religious," meaning allowing faith to play a larger role in governmental affairs.) The fact that the President is religious means that they will ensure that faith and God are not taboo in American society and allow religious organizations more leeway in what they may say and do. The fact that the President is a Democrat, ensures that the words "religious," "religion," and "faith" don't mean "born again," "Christianity," and "Judeo-Christian."

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Imam's autopsy report raises more questions

Taken from here.

by Eric D. Lawrence
The Detroit Free Press

DETROIT -- U.S. House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers, along with a coalition of civil rights and Muslim activists, again is calling for a Justice Department investigation into last fall's shooting of a Detroit imam by FBI agents. The cleric's long-awaited autopsy report was released Monday.

Conyers and the others will hold a news conference at 10 a.m. Tuesday in Detroit to reiterate a request that the Justice Department's Civil Rights Division investigate the death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah. Abdullah died from 21 gunshot wounds, according to the autopsy.

The autopsy was completed in November, but the report's release was put off until Monday at the request of Dearborn, Mich., police because the incident remains under investigation. The shooting happened at a Dearborn warehouse.

The investigation is likely to take several more weeks, Dearborn Police Chief Ronald Haddad said Monday, noting the results are to be sent to Michigan Attorney General Mike Cox.

Read the complete story (Some news sites require registration)

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Obama the Savior?

The Washington Post recently asked:

"Q: In the Weekly Standard, University of Virginia professor James. W. Ceaser argues that President Obama's approval ratings are suffering, in part, because Obama has been cast as a secular savior by people who are trying to "replace God with the Religion of Humanity." Ceaser writes: "Being the leader of humanity is incompatible with being the president of the United States. No man can serve two masters."

Do we expect our presidents to be spiritual leaders as well as political leaders? Can they be? Should they be?"

America's religion is constantly changing into what it was before. Since the inception of our country, America has been a country of agnostics: believing in some great power with some great plan, for some great purpose. We are "religious" in that we acknowledge faith as important, but as a whole, do nothing with that "religiosity" in our personal lives. "You don't have to go to church to be a Christian," one coworker recently told me. As new cultures and religions were added to the mix throughout American history, new ways of viewing God and religion were explored; eventually, coming to the same conclusion: there is some great power, with some great plan, for some great purpose.

Up until Watergate, we as Americans viewed our president to be the best version of us. The president was honest, moral, and of course, God-fearing. The president was expected to be about as religious as we were: pray during times of hardship, but not too much; then he'd just be crazy. Hence, Obama is not expected to be a spiritual leader, as much as he's expected to be spiritual.

As a leader, it's true that Obama is expected to be the secular prophet who leads us out of our dark times. In that sense, he's like a spiritual leader. He gave us "hope," in times of crises, and promises of a better tomorrow. For most Americans however, tomorrow is always a day away.

Obama's approval ratings are slipping because his supporters are getting impatient and want their miracle now. The economy is still a mess, we're still in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the health care reform made good progress, but fell short of what was promised. People who view Obama as "the answer to our prayers" need to reread the religious book of their choice and remember that the Great Power who has a great plan for a great purpose always expects His followers to first have great patience with their great leader before they can have any great payoff.