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.

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Americans Should Not Remember 9/11


The memory of 9/11 should be buried in a time capsule and sent to the earth’s core to be forever forgotten.  As we approach September 11, 2011, what happened 10 years ago should be blocked from the Nation’s conscience.  At the very least, if not, then we should also remember what we did and have done since 9/11.

We have invaded two countries whose governments had nothing at all to do with the events of that day.  We oversaw the assassination of one country’s president/ruler/leader and attempted to kill or murder another.  We fostered an entire administration of international war criminals who went about justifying everything that before 9/11 we opposed and fought against ourselves.  We re-elected a president who was responsible for the plunder of the national treasury at the hands of greedy, despotic bankers who felt no remorse nor sense of responsibility to the welfare or anyone but themselves.  We became cannibals on September 11, 2001, turning against ourselves, engaging in demagoguery and hatred that haven’t been seen since the days of Reconstruction; pitting one religious community against another in nonsensical, fabricated assertions that are not even remotely connected to reality.  We have exaggerated the political differences among us to heights of disrespect and rude discourse to the point the Nation’s interests are no longer important, only partisan political gains.  Whereas just 5 short years ago we were demanding the country respect its president, we now heap scorn upon him with sophomoric imagery becoming of elementary illiterates and all this under the gaze of an omnipotent media which spun the corporate line to make it palatable to an angry country that wanted nothing more than blood…….anyone’s blood, even the blood of innocents.

We will be regaled with images and orchestral music evoking the pain and suffering we experienced that day, while our own war criminals’ victims have no place in our national conscience  and the crimes which they suffered go unpunished.  We were once a nation that demanded justice, yet we willingly want to see our criminals spared that process.  We no longer have leaders who inspire us, we elect and want leaders who frighten and anger us, who push us towards hatred of our fellow citizens who are different than us because of faith or skin color.  We have gone backwards in time…..to the time of our primal ancestors who killed their brothers for no apparent reason than jealousy or envy and that seems to be ok with a great many of us who want to “remember” 9/11.

I want to forget 9/11 and  all that because our country is greater than all the things previously mentioned in this piece.  Born out of hope and struggle we achieved greatness until we started remembering 9/11 at which time we fell out of Grace.  We cannot continue down the paths we started on 9/12 without negative consequences, yet we seem to not even consider what those consequences are, focusing instead on our suffering while ignoring what we have reaped on others.  In other words, we’ve become a country of cry babies….bellyaching about every perceived injustice we’ve had while forgetting about our own criminality.

I want no part of remembering 9/11 because I remember everything that happened after 9/11 and it was/is just as much a nightmare for me as the events on that awful day.  But unless we as a Nation make amends for what happened on 9/11 and beyond there will be more 9/11s, not by unknown, foreign, dark skinned people with funny names invading our shores, but rather at the hands of people we elect to office, or listen to or watch on our ever present media, or our neighbors unemployed for years with no sign of hope, or business people who either want more or don’t have enough and on and on it goes.  I want no part of that America and I want no part of anything that brings it on.  I want to forget 9/11.

Obama’s well wishing to the Muslim world


President Obama’s remarks on the advent of Ramadan

On behalf of the American people, Michelle and I want to extend our best wishes to Muslims in America and around the world. Ramadan Kareem.

Ramadan is a time when Muslims around the world reflect upon the wisdom and guidance that comes with faith, and the responsibility that human beings have to one another, and to God.  This is a time when families gather, friends host iftars, and meals are shared.  But Ramadan is also a time of intense devotion and reflection – a time when Muslims fast during the day and pray during the night; when Muslims provide support to others to advance opportunity and prosperity for people everywhere.  For all of us must remember that the world we want to build – and the changes that we want to make – must begin in our own hearts, and our own communities.

These rituals remind us of the principles that we hold in common, and Islam’s role in advancing justice, progress, tolerance, and the dignity of all human beings.   Ramadan is a celebration of a faith known for great diversity and racial equality.  And here in the United States, Ramadan is a reminder that Islam has always been part of America and that American Muslims have made extraordinary contributions to our country. And today, I want to extend my best wishes to the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world – and your families and friends – as you welcome the beginning of Ramadan.

I look forward to hosting an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan here at the White House later this week, and wish you a blessed month.

May God’s peace be upon you.

That said, my wish list is for  President Obama to keep his word about Guantanamo Bay and the withdrawal of American forces in Iraq so that Muslims in those places can have “peace”.

Bush and Blair lied intentionally


So says Tariq Aziz in a moment of candor that we’ve all come to know is correct.  That lie led to the total destruction of Iraq and the United States and allowed for the propaganda against Islam and Muslims all over the world which has further plunged America into an abyss of poverty and weakness.

We’ve heard a lot of claims about recidivism of Guantanamo Bay detainees much of it hyped to keep Gitmo Bay open. One of the questions I’ve never seen asked is if the people placed in Gitmo Bay are the worst of the worst, why isn’t recidivism 100% instead of the more reliable 4% to the exaggerated 20%?  It would appear terrorists dedicated to their cause plucked from their homeland would relish the opportunity to return to battle.  This guy,Izatullah Nasrat Yar imprisoned at Gitmo for 5 years,  however has decided to take the battle to the enemy to a higher level. Let’s hope such attempts at change will go down better than the offense which originally put him in Gitmo Bay, which was another lie…..they just seem to follow the efforts of the US government around wherever it goes.

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Historical Revisionism-Changing the meaning of Words


wordsPeople are fond of saying words have meaning, and indeed that’s true.  Perhaps this notion of changing the use of words to serve a political purpose is something that’s been going on in America for some time, I don’t know, but with the onset of the war on terror, the politicization of words, applying them or changing them to mean something else and with a different value has been stark.  The first instance that comes to mind is the use of the word “insurgent” in place of the word “resistance fighter” because the latter signified opposition to American imperialism which in all of its form and substance is intended to be benign and beneficial for the people on whom it is imposed while the former was meant to signify an illegal opposition to authority, in this case ours.  Of course that is a subjective application of words, with a definite western leaning lexicography and Americans eventually applied  the term to all who fought against American and Iraqi forces on the ground which by default meant they were enemies of the State.  It was a nifty trick which seeped into our consciousness and made it possible for us to feel good about ourselves while fueling a rage for a people we went both to liberate as well as fight.

Now comes word of the change from the use of the word “torture” to “enhanced interrogation”. In an attempt to deny history the chance to note the United States as a country that used torture, which is in and of itself criminal,  many in media are now using words that don’t signify American culpability in criminal behavior.  Glen Greenwald does an excellent job dismantling this bizarre slow evolution from an America that used torture, and lied, to forge a new Iraq to a country that “interrogated: suspects,  and I strongly recommend you read his piece here and here.  That the media seems to be in lock step with this idea that torture doesn’t apply to what America does, but only to what our enemies do is nothing less than historical revisionism that puts the proponents of that idea on the same level as those who question the Holocaust or those who assert present day America has the right to its exceptionalism; meaning the United States is somehow  “above” or an “exception” to the law, even those laws which it drafts and codifies.  The people who accept  and pass on this change in the meaning of torture versus interrogation have made a mockery of themselves and the institutions they work for, ignoring all the treaties and laws the country has signed which obligates it to follow as well as  prosecute those among us who break these laws.   Any claim America has to moral relevancy or legitimacy is diminished each time we change the meaning of words through omission or otherwise to further political agendas that are not at all based in fact.  It is only a matter of time, as America becomes increasingly engaged in wars of aggression, before the same rationale and language will be used by America’s enemies  against us as they straddle and cross lines of legal and illegal behavior.

More Iranian, US intrigue


I strongly encourage you to run over to Consotiumnews. com to read the article, Iran Divided & the ‘October Suprise.  Niqnaq’s blog also carries it here.  It contains some interesting observations about today’s major players on the Iranian scene, as well as revelations that there was an October surprise meeting between the at the time aspiring Reagan administration and Iranians officials.  These  Reagan officials wanted to thwart the Carter reelection in 1980 while at the same time appearing to be hawks when it came to Iran, a typical neocon ‘slight of hand’ deception. There is also the explicit charge that George H.W. Bush did indeed meet with the Iranians in Paris, despite constant denials to the contrary.

While the article  covers “old news” it gives insight into why some people in Iran think and react the way they do to today’s events unfolding in Iran.