A Political Reality


Those who support democracy must welcome the rise of political Islam

From Tunisia to Egypt, Islamists are gaining the popular vote. Far from threatening stability, this makes it a real possibility

Wadah Khanfar

Andrzej Krauze 2811

Illustration by Andrzej Krauze

Ennahda, the Islamic party in Tunisia, won 41% of the seats of the Tunisian constitutional assembly last month, causing consternation in the west. But Ennahda will not be an exception on the Arab scene. Last Friday the Islamic Justice and Development Party took the biggest share of the vote in Morocco and will lead the new coalition government for the first time in history. And tomorrow Egypt’s elections begin, with the Muslim Brotherhood predicted to become the largest party. There may be more to come. Should free and fair elections be held in Yemen, once the regime of Ali Abdullah Saleh falls, the Yemeni Congregation for Reform, also Islamic, will win by a significant majority. This pattern will repeat itself whenever the democratic process takes its course.

In the west, this phenomenon has led to a debate about the “problem” of the rise of political Islam. In the Arab world, too, there has been mounting tension between Islamists and secularists, who feel anxious about Islamic groups. Many voices warn that the Arab spring will lead to an Islamic winter, and that the Islamists, though claiming to support democracy, will soon turn against it. In the west, stereotypical images that took root in the aftermath of 9/11 have come to the fore again. In the Arab world, a secular anti-democracy camp has emerged in both Tunisia and Egypt whose pretext for opposing democratisation is that the Islamists are likely to be the victors.

But the uproar that has accompanied the Islamists’ gains is unhelpful; a calm and well-informed debate about the rise of political Islam is long overdue.

First, we must define our terms. “Islamist” is used in the Muslim world to describe Muslims who participate in the public sphere, using Islam as a basis. It is understood that this participation is not at odds with democracy. In the west, however, the term routinely describes those who use violence as a means and an end – thus Jihadist Salafism, exemplified by al-Qaida, is called “Islamist” in the west, despite the fact that it rejects democratic political participation (Ayman al-Zawahiri, the leader of al-Qaida, criticised Hamas when it decided to take part in the elections for the Palestinian legislative council, and has repeatedly criticised the Muslim Brotherhood for opposing the use of violence).

This disconnect in the understanding of the term in the west and in the Muslim world was often exploited by despotic Arab regimes to suppress Islamic movements with democratic political programmes. It is time we were clear.

Reform-based Islamic movements, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, work within the political process. They learned a bitter lesson from their armed conflict in Syria against the regime of Hafez al-Assad in 1982, which cost the lives of more than 20,000 people and led to the incarceration or banishment of many thousands more. The Syrian experience convinced mainstream Islamic movements to avoid armed struggle and to observe “strategic patience” instead.

Second, we must understand the history of the region. In western discourse Islamists are seen as newcomers to politics, gullible zealots who are motivated by a radical ideology and lack experience. In fact, they have played a major role in the Arab political scene since the 1920s. Islamic movements have often been in opposition, but since the 1940s they have participated in parliamentary elections, entered alliances with secular, nationalist and socialist groups, and participated in several governments – in Sudan, Jordan, Yemen and Algeria. They have also forged alliances with non-Islamic regimes, like the Nimeiri regime in Sudan in 1977.

A number of other events have had an impact on the collective Muslim mind, and have led to the maturation of political Islam: the much-debated Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979; the military coup in Sudan in 1989; the success of the Algerian Islamic Salvation Front in the 1991 elections and the army’s subsequent denial of its right to govern; the conquest of much of Afghan territory by the Taliban in 1996 leading to the establishment of its Islamic emirate; and the success in 2006 of Hamas in the Palestinian Legislative Council elections. The Hamas win was not recognised, nor was the national unity government formed. Instead, a siege was imposed on Gaza to suffocate the movement.

Perhaps one of the most influential experiences has been that of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey, which won the elections in 2002. It has been a source of inspiration for many Islamic movements. Although the AKP does not describe itself as Islamic, its 10 years of political experience have led to a model that many Islamists regard as successful. The model has three important characteristics: a general Islamic frame of reference; a multi-party democracy; and significant economic growth.

These varied political experiences have had a profound impact on political Islam’s flexibility and capacity for political action, and on its philosophy, too.

However, political Islam has also faced enormous pressures from dictatorial Arab regimes, pressures that became more intense after 9/11. Islamic institutions were suppressed. Islamic activists were imprisoned, tortured and killed. Such experiences gave rise to a profound bitterness. Given the history, it is only natural that we should hear overzealous slogans or intolerant threats from some activists. Some of those now at the forefront of election campaigns were only recently released from prison. It would not be fair to expect them to use the voice of professional diplomats.

Despite this, the Islamic political discourse has generally been balanced. The Tunisian Islamic movement has set a good example. Although Ennahda suffered under Ben Ali’s regime, its leaders developed a tolerant discourse and managed to open up to moderate secular and leftist political groups. The movement’s leaders have reassured Tunisian citizens that it will not interfere in their personal lives and that it will respect their right to choose. The movement also presented a progressive model of women’s participation, with 42 female Ennahda members in the constitutional assembly.

The Islamic movement’s approach to the west has also been balanced, despite the fact that western countries supported despotic Arab regimes. Islamists know the importance of international communication in an economically and politically interconnected world.

Now there is a unique opportunity for the west: to demonstrate that it will no longer support despotic regimes by supporting instead the democratic process in the Arab world, by refusing to intervene in favour of one party against another and by accepting the results of the democratic process, even when it is not the result they would have chosen. Democracy is the only option for bringing stability, security and tolerance to the region, and it is the dearest thing to the hearts of Arabs, who will not forgive any attempts to derail it.

The region has suffered a lot as a result of attempts to exclude Islamists and deny them a role in the public sphere. Undoubtedly, Islamists’ participation in governance will give rise to a number of challenges, both within the Islamic ranks and with regard to relations with other local and international forces. Islamists should be careful not to fall into the trap of feeling overconfident: they must accommodate other trends, even if it means making painful concessions. Our societies need political consensus, and the participation of all political groups, regardless of their electoral weight. It is this interplay between Islamists and others that will both guarantee the maturation of the Arab democratic transition and lead to an Arab political consensus and stability that has been missing for decades.

Muslims are the most loyal American religious group, new poll says


Bet you didn’t know this did you?

Muslim Americans are loyal to the US and optimistic despite facing high levels of discrimination, a Gallup poll on American religious groups finds.

A poll released Thursday revealed curious contradictions in the Muslim-American community, which is more enthused about its country and president than any other religious group, yet is the least politically active and faces the greatest discrimination.

The Gallup poll on American religious groups offers a counterpoint to the stereotype that Muslims in the US lead isolated lives because they do not feel comfortable fitting in or associating with mainstream American culture. Moreover, it also offers insights into the Muslim-American experience – from how dramatically the election of President Obama affected them to how little they trust the activists who work on their behalf.

In total, the poll paints a picture of a community characterized by optimism but still seeking acceptance among its fellow citizens.

For instance, 93 percent of Muslim Americans say they are loyal to America. They have the highest confidence in the integrity of US elections (57 percent), and they are the most hopeful about their lives over the next five years, compared with other groups.

Yet 48 percent of Muslim Americans report they experienced some kind of racial or religious discrimination, a finding that places them far ahead of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and atheists/agnostics.

One reason for the optimistic outlook despite discrimination could be that Muslim Americans see their financial fortunes improving. Some 64 percent of Muslim Americans in 2011 reported their standard of living got better, compared with 46 percent in 2008.

But the presidency of Mr. Obama has arguably had an even more powerful affect on Muslim Americans. Muslim Americans give him the highest approval rating – 80 percent – of any religious group. American Jews are a distant second, giving Obama a 65 percent approval rating.

The number is even more striking when compared with Muslim American support for George W. Bush in 2008, which was 7 percent.

The shift in leadership in Washington was “truly transformational” for US Muslims in how they viewed their loyalties to democratic institutions and the nation at large, says Dalia Mogahed, director and senior analyst of the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, based in the United Arab Emirates.

After the 9/11 attacks, Muslim Americans faced intense scrutiny, both individually and from federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Obama is credited with helping smooth tensions through his outreach to the US Muslim community and his effort to end the Iraq war responsibly. The poll shows that 83 percent of Muslim Americans – more than any other religious group – say the war was a “mistake.”

Despite the positive signs, “there are still obstacles” for Muslim Americans, Ms. Mogahed says.

“They embrace American values and democratic principles but aren’t sure if the rest of American embraces them,” she says.

Some 56 percent of Protestants said American Muslims had no sympathy for Al Qaeda, the lowest number of any faith group. By comparison, 63 percent of Catholics and 70 percent of Jews thought Muslim Americans had no sympathies for Al Qaeda.

“That’s certainly a challenge for the [US Muslim] community – to have their loyalty questioned by such a large number of their fellow Americans,” Mogahed says.

Those challenges, however, have not led Muslim Americans to try to affect change at the ballot box. They are the least likely religious group to vote, with just 65 percent of Muslims in America are registered. One reason is age: The average age of a Muslim-American is 35, while the average American Protestant is 55. Younger people tend to be less politically active, Mogahed says.

Another reason is affiliation: Poll findings show that the majority of Muslim Americans say that none of the leading Muslim organizations in the US, such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations or the Islamic Society of North America, represents their interests.

With the 2012 election around the corner, Mogahed says political parties that want to reach out to Muslim-American voters might be better off establishing partnerships with local mosques than focusing on winning endorsements from national advocacy organizations. This is especially relevant considering that Muslim Americans who attend a religious service once a week are two times more likely to be politically active than those who attend less frequently, the poll found.

“The mosque should be more the mobilization engine” for get-out-the-vote drives than it has been in the past, she says.

The poll surveyed 2,482 adults, 475 of whom were Muslim. For Muslims, there was a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 7 percentage points.

Which begs the question, where does everyone else rank in comparison?  This article addresses that with respect to Christian evangelicals, one of the groups largely responsible for the current Islamophobic public attacks going on in America today.  Citing a Pew Research Center poll the article makes the point that Christian evangelicals are far less patriotic than American Muslims

Among Christians in the U.S., white evangelicals are especially inclined to identify first with their faith; 70 percent in this group see themselves first as Christians rather than as Americans, while 22 percent say they are primarily American.

so the upshot of this is the next time you hear someone ranting about the Muslim fifth column or taqiyah or any other cliches used by people on the right to justify casting suspicion of members of the Islamic faith remind them that they are more a threat to the national security than the Muslims against whom they rail.

A Smooth Comeback!


In response to Pastor Terry Jones’ International Burn a Koran day, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation has decided to post the advertisement below in Jones’ city local newspapers.  MRFF is acting because of concern members of the US military have expressed about the impact Jones’ book burning will have on the lives of military personnel posted in Muslim countries.  It wasn’t but a few short years ago that any act considered endangering the lives of US servicemen was considered treasonous, but today racist elements in American society have managed to turn that notion on its head and instead say any act which doesn’t outrage Muslim sensitivities is appeasement, no matter how provocative the act may be or how it might endanger lives.  MRFF’s response is the kind that will defeat the likes of Jones and the rest of the pilers on who’ve got on board with this xenophobic, Islamophobic notion of either denying Muslims their citizenship rights or provoking them. ‘Attaboy’ to MRFF!

Keith Ellison has it right


In an interview with the BBC, US congressman from Minnesota, Keith Ellison said ‘those spearheading the effort against the Park51 project were not adequately represented as families of 9/11 victims rejecting the proposal on emotional ground, and were rather anti-Obama, xenophobic types who wanted to suppress Islam throughout the country.’

The real driver of it are people who openly proclaim that Barack Obama is not a citizen. The real organizers of this thing are people who are just proponents of religious bigotry. Nothing more, nothing less.

Around the country, this thing is emblematic of a larger issue… There have been anti-mosque efforts in Kentucky, one gentleman who wants to burn a Qur’an in Florida, there have been efforts in Wisconsin and in the Chicago area and others.

It’s not difficult to know who these proponents of religious bigotry are; and Ellison should be the keenest among us in knowing who they are for they launched personal attacks against him. Indeed they are people who openly oppose every Muslim/Islamic attempt at engagement in American public life using the tactic of linking American Muslims to any and every terrorist incident that has taken place on the world’s stage. Their rhetoric is easy to spot, ‘not all Muslims are terrorists but all terrorists are Muslims’, or this time worn phrase of ‘radical Islam’ and equating even the most passive of Muslims, such as Faisal Abdur Raouf as a follower of “radical Islam”.  So let’s spotlight some of these useful idiots and hang their names and photos on America’s wall of racist shame, who have plagued our history.

Martin Peretz, the editor of  The New Republic actually had the following words attributed to him

But, frankly, Muslim life is cheap, most notably to Muslims. And among those Muslims led by the Imam Rauf there is hardly one who has raised a fuss about the routine and random bloodshed that defines their brotherhood. So, yes, I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

It should be apparent to all that Peretz is in the throes of Alzheimer’s or has succumbed to it completely. He is supposed to be one of the more intelligent among American voices having taught at Harvard University, with scores of honorary degrees, but that just goes to underscore the difference between book sense and common sense is sometimes as stark as night and day. He is somewhat well connected however, among Democrats, which might be the reason why both Harry Reid and Howard Dean have taken more subdued positions than Peretz’s but with the same outcome, the demonization or marginalization of American citizens. Oh, and I neglected to mention how Peretz, a Jew, making statements that sound so like those made against his fellow coreligionists over the centuries  now using the same diatribe is the height of chutzpah/hypocrisy. Peretz is a self-admitted racist however so having his name on the racist wall of shame is a no brainer, in my opinion.   And we think we don’t have a racial problem in this country or that it was solved with the election of Obama? Think again America!

No Comment


Terrorism: I am a Muslim; I am a victim of terrorism


By Dr. Bouthaina Shaaban

Those who try to make the word ‘terrorism’ a synonym of the word ‘Islam’ try to brainwash us these days by the phrase “I am a Muslim, I am against terrorism”, which many Arabic-language TV stations have started to use during the month of Ramadan, when TV viewing becomes a dominant pastime in the Arab world. This phrase is coined neither by Muslims nor by the real enemies of terrorism; and the objective of funding the intensive broadcasting of this phrase in Ramadan is not exonerating Islam of an accusation levelled against it by Zionists and their allies among the neo-cons in the wake of 9/11. This is clear from the political connotations of this phrase which suggest that “although I am a Muslim; yet, I am against terrorism”. In this sense, our enemies accuse a billion Muslims of terrorism; while Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus and others are exonerated of any link with terrorism.

One is entitled to ask: how many terrorist crimes the Zionists commit against Muslim and Christian Arabs in and outside Palestine, including murder, assassination, home demolition, setting mosques on fire, etc. Yet, have we ever seen a phrase saying “I am a Jew, I am against terrorism”?

How many war and terrorist crimes have the invading American and Western allied troops have committed in Iraq and Afghanistan, including genocide, torture and assassination which claimed the lives of over a million Iraqis and hundreds of thousands of Afghanis and Pakistanis. The victims are always Muslims: civilians, women and children. Yet, have we ever seen a phrase such as “I am a Christian, I am against terrorism?”

The fact is that the intensive racist campaign since 9/11, 2001 has targeted Islam and Muslims. If measuring events by their outcomes is the right way, it can be said that 9/11 aimed in principle at finding an excuse for waging a war on Muslims and covering up all the crimes committed by the Zionist and racist Israeli troops in Palestine, like Judaization, expulsion, killing, imprisoning, torture and displacement.

One cannot but ask, are not 1.3 billion Muslims capable of facing this racist campaign through well-informed and open-minded research institutes capable of addressing the West in its own language and style and conveying to it the sublime message of Islam? If this message is spread and soundly implemented, it will be a genuine savior to humanity of all sins and tragedies which destroy spiritual peace and social cohesion.

NetworkLet us remember how the word ‘terrorism’ was coined and how it was used by of the Apartheid regime to brand Nelson Mandela as terrorist; and how all resistance movements have been branded as terrorist by Fascists and Nazis until they triumphed and achieved freedom and independence for their nations.

What we read today on Wikileaks shows that the United States exports terrorism to the world: “Wikileakes releases CIA paper on U.S. as ‘exporter of terrorism'” (Washington Post, 25 August 2010). Three papers described as ‘classified’ by the CIA’s red cell name the Pakistani David Headley and others to show that the U.S. government has become an exporter of terrorism. Headley acknowledged his responsibility for the Bombay attack which claimed the lives of 160 people. The paper adds that “Such exports are not new. In 1994, an American Jewish doctor, Baruch Goldstein, emigrated from New York to Israel, joined the extremist group Kach and killed 29 Palestinians praying at a mosque at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron”.

It should be recalled that last month Wikileakes published 76,000 secret documents, part of American military files and field reports about the war in Afghanistan. The Pentagon asked for the documents to be withdrawn because they make the American troops and their Afghani agents liable to the charge of terrorism. This coincided with the scandal of Mohammed Zia Salehi, the chief of administration for the National Security Council about whom the New York Times published an article entitled “Key Karzai Aide in Corruption Inquiry Is Linked to C.I.A.” (25 August 2010). Reports confirm that Salehi was released upon Karzi’s intervention because he knows everything about corrupt deals inside the Karzi’s administration. An American official stated that it was common practice to deal with corrupt people in Afghanistan. He adds: “If we decide as a country that we’ll never deal with anyone in Afghanistan who might down the road — and certainly not at our behest — put his hand in the till, we can all come home right now,” the American official said. “If you want intelligence in a war zone, you’re not going to get it from Mother Teresa or Mary Poppins.” (New York Times, 25 August 2010).

This is a clear acknowledgment of the absolute separation between morality and what American troops are doing in Afghanistan. In an article entitled “Making Afghanistan More Dangerous,” Jason Thomas asserts that American troops use mercenaries they call ‘security firms’ in protecting “foreigners, civil-society organizations and aid,” but also corruption money sent in cash in protected vehicles”. (The Herald Tribune, 25 August 2010).

What do these people have to talk about Islam as a source of terrorism? And how could they accuse Muslims of terrorism, while thy themselves are major exporters of terrorism? Can those who use torture, assassination, corruption and wars as their declared method of occupying one Muslim country after another and killing millions of innocent Muslims accuse those who defend freedom, dignity and sovereignty of terrorism?

The phrase which should be promoted on Arabic-language TV channels should be “I am a Muslim, I am a victim of terrorism”. As to our enemies, the stigma of terrorism, war, Judaization, settlement building, home demolishing, assassination and other crimes will haunt them throughout history, because they are the makers of terrorism regardless of their religion.

No Comment