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Islamic World News ( 15 Jan 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Afghan editor arrested for alleged blasphemy

Riyadh: OK for 10-year-old girls to marry: Saudi grand mufti

Afghani girls pass acid test by Somdatta Sengupta

Lisbon: Portugal cardinal warns of marriage with Muslims

Radio disc jockey Michael Smith accused of anti-Islamic remarks over hijab by Robyn Ironside

Married Iranian Muslim Cleric Sex Tape Video by Toshiba Reynolds

The hunt for Britain's most powerful Muslim women by Ruth Gledhill and Michael Binyon

View: Reviving Muslim democracy - Charles Tannock

Tehran: Mottaki offers Islamic states to participate in Arab summit meeting

Istanbul: Islamic nations' parliament speakers discuss Gaza

Hamas: Victory is close

Osama vs. Obama (and Everyone Else) by Noah Shachtman

One on One: It's religion, stupid! By RUTHIE BLUM LEIBOWITZ

Srinagar, Ulema, Imams to frame response to Jamia Masjid siege by ARIF SHAFI WANI

Abuse of religious fervour paves way to doom by HASSAN ABBAS

Obama’s inheritance of torture

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau




Afghan editor arrested for alleged blasphemy

KABUL (AFP) — An Afghan news editor has been arrested for a publishing a newspaper article rejecting that religions, including Islam, were passed to humans through divine revelations, an official said Wednesday.


The news editor of a small Kabul newspaper, Payman Daily, was picked up Tuesday, days after the allegedly blasphemous article was printed, the deputy attorney general, Fazel Ahmad Faqiryar, told AFP.


"He was arrested for publishing an article in which he has rejected revelation. This is an insult to Islam and the rest of the religions," Faqiryar said.

The journalist, whom Faqiryar would not name, was being investigated. If found guilty under Afghanistan's law, which is based on Islamic Sharia law, he could face a sentence ranging from a reprimand to the death penalty, the official said.


The journalist was arrested after a council of Islamic clerics and a government media disciplinary commission found that the article was "an insult to Islam," the official said.


The paper had earlier apologised for publishing the article.

Razaq Mamoon, a former editor-in-chief, told AFP that the article had been taken from an Afghan website and was not written by the newspaper's staff.


After the hardline Islamic Taliban regime was ousted in 2001, Afghanistan installed a Western-style democratic system that provides for freedom of speech.


However, there have been several cases in which journalists have been arrested for alleged blasphemy.

Last year, a young Afghan journalism student and reporter was sentenced to death for distributing an article, downloaded from the Internet, that questioned aspects of Islam and other behaviour said to insult the religion.


The sentence was later reduced to 20 years in jail.

In September, an ex-journalist and a mullah were sentenced to 20 years in jail for producing a translation of the Koran, Islam's holy book, which allegedly contained errors.


Meanwhile, the media commission has decided to summon the owner of a privately run television station, named Imroz (Today), for broadcasting programmes in which women were not fully covered. The programmes were shown during the Ashura religious holiday, which ended recently.



OK for 10-year-old girls to marry: Saudi grand mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh

RIYADH, Jan 14, 2009 (AFP) - Saudi Arabia's senior-most cleric said girls as young as 10 years old can be married, local media reported Wednesday.

The powerful Grand Mufti Abdul Aziz al-Sheikh said in a speech late Monday that Islamic Sharia law allows the practice of pre-teen girls getting married, and that critics of the practice were doing the girls 'an injustice,' reports said.

'We hear often in the media about the marriage of minors. We must know that Sharia law is not unjust for women,' the cleric is quoted as saying.

'If it is said that a woman below 15 cannot be married, that is wrong. If a girl exceeds 10 or 12 then she is eligible for marriage, and whoever thinks she is too young, then he or she is wrong and has done her an injustice.'


His comment came in the wake of several well-publicized cases of young girls being married to men sometimes old enough to be their great-grandfathers.

On Monday a court in Taif allowed an 11-year-old girl to separate from her 75-year-old husband after the girl's mother petitioned the court, according to a report in Okaz newspaper. The girl's father had arranged the marriage in exchange for a dowry, it said.


In December a Saudi court at Unayzah, 220 kilometres (135 miles) north of Riyadh, rejected a plea to divorce an eight-year-old girl married off by her father to a man who is 58, saying the case should wait until the girl reaches puberty.

Saudi human rights groups are fighting the old practice of children being married off to much older men by their parents and seek to establish a legal minimum age for women to be married.



Afghani girls pass acid test

Somdatta Sengupta,Editor

Jan 14, 2009

Last year The Courier reported on Highlands resident Kathy Muradi’s efforts to rebuild schools in her native town Kabul, Afghanistan.


Afghanistan still remains a war zone and progress on any rebuilding project is slow. However, if resources are in short supply, courage isn't. Today’s New York Times report points out those Afghani women have not given up.


It was only two months ago that 15 women, both students and teachers, were attacked with acid while attending school in Kandahar.


While the exact reason behind the attack is yet to be determined, the action was aimed at discouraging women from attending schools.


Reportedly, most Afghani women do not seek a formal education because of the conservative nature of Afghan society.


According to the report, the attacks appeared to be the work of the Taliban, the fundamentalist movement that is battling the government and the American-led coalition in Afghanistan. Banning girls from school was one of the most notorious symbols of the Taliban’s rule before they were ousted from power in November 2001.


To read more about The Courier’s coverage and find out what progress Muradi has made visit Afghan Women and Children in Need.




Radio disc jockey Michael Smith accused of anti-Islamic remarks over hijab

By Robyn Ironside | January 15, 2009


A BRISBANE radio station may have to explain why it should keep its licence after an announcer was accused of making anti-Islamic comments.


Former Victorian police officer, now 4BC drive-time announcer, Michael Smith called for Muslim women who wear an Islamic hijab in public to be fined for offensive behaviour, The Courier-Mail reports.


He made the remarks on-air and on the 4BC website, saying: "Any reasonable person would find this offensive."

Islamic Council of Queensland president Suliman Sabdia said Mr Smith's remarks amounted to "a clear case of intolerance".


Under the Commercial Radio Code of Practice, a licensee must not broadcast a program likely to incite hatred against or vilify any person or group on the basis of age, ethnicity, nationality, race, gender, sexual preference, religion, or disability.


Christine Donnelly from the Australian Communications and Media Authority said Mr Smith's comments could be a breach of the Code of Practice.

4BC general manager David McDonald said Mr Smith's remarks were not intended to be anti-religion or anti-Muslim.



Portugal cardinal warns of marriage with Muslims

Jan 14, 2009


LISBON (Reuters) - Portugal's Cardinal Jose Policarpo has warned young women in the predominantly Catholic nation against marrying Muslims.


"The advice that I give to young Portuguese girls is -- be careful with relationships, think twice about marrying Muslims," the patriarch of Lisbon said.

"It is getting into a pile of troubles, that not even Allah knows where would end."

Policarpo made the statement at a gathering on Tuesday evening in a well-known casino that organises meetings of public figures with paying guests. His comments were repeated on several television stations on Wednesday.


There are about 40,000 Muslims in Portugal, which like neighbouring Spain was once ruled by Muslims from North Africa, where many Muslim immigrants come from. Calls to the Islamic community of Lisbon for comment went unanswered.


The Vatican discourages Catholic women from marrying Muslims and Policarpo echoed that position in blunt terms.


"I know that if a young European of Christian background marries a Muslim, as soon as they go to his country, they'll be subject to the regime of Muslim women," Policarpo said. "Just imagine it."


Policarpo, a leading cardinal who was tipped as a contender in the 2005 conclave that elected Pope Benedict, also said dialogue with Muslims was not easy in Portugal.

"It is only possible to dialogue with those who want to have dialogue, for example with our Muslim brothers’ dialogue is very difficult," he said.



The hunt for Britain's most powerful Muslim women

By Ruth Gledhill and Michael Binyon, January 15, 2009


The search is on for the most influential Muslim women in Britain, for inclusion on the first Muslim Women Power List. It is hoped that those named will act as role models.

Companies and individuals are being invited to make nominations for the awards, run by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in association with The Times and Emel, the Muslim lifestyle magazine.


The Muslim Women Power List is intended as a celebration of the 100,000 Muslim women in Britain who have reached the top of their field or are on the fast track to success.


The aim is to challenge the view that Muslim women conform to a stereotype. The commission also wants to encourage mentoring and networking among Muslim women to help people fulfil their potential.

A recent survey of Pakistani and Bangladeshi women aged up to 35 by the commission found that they had the same aspirations as their non-Muslim counterparts - to balance a career with having a family - and that their families largely supported them in realising those goals.


The list is intended to focus on women in business. But those in other influential female roles, such as teachers or civil servants, can also be considered. The winners will be honoured at a dinner in Manchester on March 24.

Trevor Phillips, chairman of the commission, said: “I hope our first Muslim Women Power List will make the rest of Britain sit up and take note - many members of the Muslim community are making a valuable economic and social contribution to our future.”

How to apply

Any British Muslim woman over the age of 18 and in employment may apply. Nominations may be submitted by or on behalf of an individual. Nominations can be submitted up until February 16, 2009, via

Short listed nominees are required to:

— demonstrate significant results through strong leadership;

— illustrate successful performance in their chosen career;

— demonstrate how their actions have made a positive difference to their work and the work of others;

— demonstrate that they are viewed as a role model/figure of leadership/inspiration to their colleagues and peers.

For further information or to download a nomination pack, please visit



View: Reviving Muslim democracy —Charles Tannock

January 15, 2009

Bangladesh is a country rich with human potential, but that potential can only be realised by making poor people’s needs — which Islamists around the world have previously made their own political territory — the new government’s top priority


As fears about the Islamisation of politics in the Muslim world grow, Bangladesh, with the world’s fourth-largest Muslim population (126 million), has moved dramatically in the opposite direction.

Bangladesh is usually heard about only when cyclones and tsunamis ravage its low coastline, but the country’s relatively anonymous international stature belies its strategic importance. Its secular politicians’ ability to defeat the country’s Islamists decisively in the recent parliamentary election may, indeed, have revived the viability of “Muslim democracy” around the world.


The recent landslide victory (with a huge turnout) for the Awami League in Bangladesh’s first election in seven years, after two years of a military-backed caretaker government, has moved the country to the forefront of the battle between secular democrats and Islamists that is now underway across South Asia. The election was a credit to the country’s democratic yearnings — and I say that as the chairman of the European Parliament’s short-term election observation mission to Bangladesh.


The new electoral register was more robust than in many Western countries, with a photo ID picture alongside each elector. The violence that had been widespread in previous Bangladeshi elections was entirely absent, with the security services’ professionalism in policing the elections — and the army’s willingness to return voluntarily to its barracks — playing a key role.

In Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Bangladesh now has a charismatic leader whose massive electoral mandate augurs well for creating the type of strong, secular government that the country needs. She returned to Bangladesh from exile, which the army had imposed on her. After her return she still had to endure imprisonment and trumped-up murder charges.


Hasina’s enormous popularity as a former prime minister, and her status as one of only two surviving daughters of Bangladesh’s founder, Sheikh Mujib Rahman, always ensured that she would be a leading contender in the election. Her overwhelming triumph has vindicated her belief that ordinary Bangladeshis want a secular and stable future for their country — one that, in contrast to Pakistan, is characterised by warm relations with their giant neighbour, India.


The comprehensive defeat of the Islamist parties that sought to take Bangladesh away from its democratic and secular roots, and which had sought in 1971 to impose Urdu as a national language and suppress Bengali language and culture, is the real story of the election. The vote demonstrated that Bangladesh’s 153 million people have little appetite for bringing Islamism into politics. Bangladesh needs only to look west to India and Pakistan to see the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.

But if Hasina is to succeed in continuing to blunt Islamism, she must address the fundamental problems that have destabilised Bangladeshi society for decades. Chief among these is the poverty endured by the majority of her country’s population.

To some extent, it is surprising that the Islamist parties did not do better, considering their success elsewhere in mobilising the most marginalised and vulnerable in society. If the Awami League is unable to address the country’s systematic poverty and social inequality, Islamism may well yet succeed in rallying the impoverished to its banner. The Jama’at-e Islami, indeed, told me during my stay that they had a 30-year agenda to introduce sharia law into Bangladesh.


The examples of Hamas and Hezbollah provide a salutary reminder of the challenges faced by the new government in Bangladesh. Although these terrorist groups are better known internationally for atrocities against Israel, they have established strong political support by providing organised social services such as schools and clinics for poor people.


Hamas and Hezbollah prospered in this way because the governing authorities were either unable or unwilling to address grassroots poverty. In the case of Hamas, this displacement was due largely to the massive corruption of the Palestinian Authority under Yasser Arafat, whose cronies pocketed billions of dollars intended to alleviate poverty and suffering in the Gaza Strip.


Given that endemic corruption in Bangladesh is perhaps the primary obstacle to providing essential services for poor people, it is essential that Hasina adopt a tough approach to corruption from the outset. Corruption is also a potential trigger for intervention by the military, a recurring feature of Bangladesh’s history that has consistently impeded the country’s development.


Beyond fighting corruption, Hasina must also ban all foreign donations to political parties, in particular the “Wahhabi gold” that Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states use to fund Islamist parties.


The challenges facing the Awami League are many and varied, but it is not without resources. Bangladesh is in a better position to weather the global financial storm than most Asian countries, because its banks are not over-exposed and its garment industry focuses on the lower end of the market, which, so far, appears to be holding up. But chief among Bangladesh’s opportunities is the chance to show the world that a Muslim-majority country can freely embrace liberal democracy and make it work by confining religion to the private sphere.


With its constitutional majority, the government should ensure this outcome by restoring the 1972 Constitution, which established Bangladesh as a secular democratic state. Bangladesh is a country rich with human potential, but that potential can only be realised by making poor people’s needs — which Islamists around the world have previously made their own political territory — the new government’s top priority. —DTPS


Charles Tannock is UK Conservative Foreign Affairs Spokesman in the European Parliament and led the EU parliamentary delegation of election observers to the recent Bangladesh elections



Mottaki offers Islamic states to participate in Arab summit meeting

Tehran Times

TEHRAN – Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki proposed on Wednesday that Iran and some other influential Islamic states like Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, and Senegal to take part in Arab League summit in Qatar over the Gaza conflict.


The proposal by Iran’s top diplomat came as the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip has so far left about 1000 people dead and more than 4000 others injured.

Qatar has proposed to host an emergency Gaza summit and has sent out invitations to all 22 Arab League states to come to Doha on Friday. However, Egypt, which has been mediating between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas, is against the idea. Saudi Arabia has also rejected the proposal.

The Arab League summit can be held only if two thirds of the members participate.

Mottaki said the participation of Islamic states in the summit can help resolve the Gaza crisis



Islamic nations' parliament speakers discuss Gaza

January 14, 2009

ISTANBUL, Turkey: Parliament speakers from Islamic nations are meeting in Istanbul to discuss the conflict in the Gaza Strip.


Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency says the representatives from about 30 of the 57 nations in the Organization of the Islamic Conference are expected to issue a joint declaration condemning the violence in Gaza.


Turkish Parliament Speaker Koksal Toptan said in opening remarks to the meeting Wednesday that "this tragedy cannot be allowed to continue any longer."



Hamas: Victory is close

January 13, 2009

Washington (JTA) -- The leader of Hamas in the Gaza Strip said victory is close.

"We trust Allah and know that he is by our side despite what people are trying to tell you to affect your spirits; I say that victory is close," Ismail Haniyeh, the Gazan prime minister, said Monday in a taped message released from his hiding place.


Haniyeh said he would cooperate with initiatives that would end Israel's actions in Gaza, where fighting has raged since last month when Hamas ended a fragile cease-fire, but vowed to continue fighting "occupying forces."

Israel has conditioned a cease-fire on Hamas ending its rocket fire and the smuggling weapons into Gaza.

Israel has killed or driven much of the Hamas leadership underground during the war. Fighting has killed more than 900 Palestinians -- about half of them civilians, according to some reports -- and 13 Israelis, including four civilians.



Married Iranian Muslim Cleric Sex Tape Video

By Toshiba Reynolds, Jan 14, 2009


A Muslim cleric, a religious person, has been exposed as an adulterer on video - and the Intelligence Ministry has acknowledged that the man is married and committing an unlawful act in the video.


The cleric, who is unnamed, was reportedly a member of the Friday Prayers Committee in the Hamadan province, which is government-run.

The sex tape, which was leaked out of an Intelligence Ministry investigation, reveals the cleric committing unlawful adultery.


This Iranian 'religious' cleric sex tape leak is the first leak that has captured so much public attention. The video is below.



Osama vs. Obama (and Everyone Else)

By Noah Shachtman, January 14, 2009


Osama Bin Laden isn't going to let a new president get in the way of his global jihad. In a new audio statement, the Al-Qaeda chief begs for continued terror attacks around the world -- in part, to bedevil a new White House, already facing a pair of wars and an economic meltdown. At least he didn't stoop to calling the President-elect a "house Negro," like the terror group's #2 did, a little while back.


George W. Bush, Osama says in the new audio, "created a grave inheritance for his successor, and left him between two bitter options, like swallowing a two-edged dagger that will wound him however he moves it."


The worst inheritance is represented by long guerrilla warfare against a patient, stubborn opponent. This is financed by usurious loans.  If he withdraws from the war, it will be a military defeat. If he continues it, he will drown in the economic crisis.  How will he act, having inherited two wars, not one of which he is capable of continuing?  We are on our way to open other fronts, God willing...

My Islamic ummah, all these wars, crises, and calamities have gifts inside them... you have a great opportunity... to take your rights forcibly. should cooperate with your Mujahdeen sons to continue jihad against the enemies of the religion, and to continue exhausting them on these two fronts, and other fronts that are open before you against the Zio-Crusader coalition and its agents in the region, in Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Waziristan, the Islamic Maghreb, and Somalia.


But Bin Laden has just started to assemble his enemies' list. He lashes out at Iraqi Shi'ite leader Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani and other Islamic scholars. He bashes "media people, who falsely give legitimacy to the representatives of the Crusaders in our countries." He takes a veiled shot at other Arab countries, for taking up the Gaza war with the United Nations. "This is one way to evade responsibility and waste the Palestinian cause," he spits. Then Osama hits Iran, who allegedly nagged jihadists' requests to go fight the Israelis. Asking the permission "from the rulers to carry out jihad to free Palestine... is also another way to evade responsibility, and the result is burying heads in the sand." Which sounds a little like a dis of his fellow bombers, come to think of it. Is there anybody who is still on this guy's side?



One on One: It's religion, stupid!

Jan 15, 2009 10:56


'Most people in the world take their beliefs very seriously," says Roberta Green Ahmanson. "Some deadly so." Which is precisely why the 59-year-old, California-based writer and philanthropist bemoans what she calls the media's "blind spot" in relation to religion. Blind Spot: When Journalists Don't Get Religion, in fact, is the title of her newly released book (published by Oxford University Press, and co-edited with Paul Marshall and Lela Gilbert).

Indeed, warns the award-winning former religious-affairs reporter and editor, and co-author of Islam at the Crossroads (Baker, 2002), there is a tendency on the part of the Western press to pooh-pooh faith as a motivating force. As a result, she asserts, citizens and voters are basing their choices and decisions on false premises.


Here late last month on one of numerous visits to the Holy Land over the years - this one to celebrate Christmas - the Anglican/Episcopalian (who spent last New Year's Eve at Mumbai's Taj Mahal Palace, a target of the November terrorist attacks) found herself faced with Operation Cast Lead.


In an hour-long interview at the King David Hotel on the eve of her return to the United States, Green Ahmanson who, along with her husband, Howard Ahmanson, was named by Time magazine in 2005 as among America's 25 most influential evangelicals, explained why it is necessary for the events in Gaza to be seen in their proper context - that of "re-establishing Islamic control."


You arrived in Israel a few days before Operation Cast Lead was launched. How do the events in Gaza tie in to the thesis of your book?


The events that led to the operation in Gaza illustrate how people are motivated by their religion. An organization like Hamas latches onto certain things that are deep within the history and teachings of Islam, and it uses them in the modern world - by shelling Israel, for example - because it believes that this land once was Muslim land, and it's its duty to take it back. Within the Muslim community, this is going to be part of the issue forever, because its goal, of course, is to have the entire world living under Islam.


And you are certain that the press doesn't really grasp that this is a religious conflict?


In the American media, you often see the conflict reduced either to land-ownership issues or to issues related to poverty - that people who call themselves Palestinians are poor, and that Israel is largely responsible for their plight. In this respect, it doesn't seem like the Western press grasps the real story.


During what has come to be called the "second intifada," the media usually attributed the phenomenon of suicide bombing to desperation - though it often emerged that bomber and their dispatchers were educated and affluent. Is this what you mean by reducing the issue to poverty issues?


Yes, which brings us to the original point that this conflict is religious first. It is about re-establishing Islamic control. It's pretty much that simple - and that scary.


There are many reports of Christians fleeing Palestinian-run cities due to intimidation on the part of Muslims. Is this something about which the media have exhibited an equal blind spot? Is it, too, reported in a political, rather than religious, context?


Yes, if it's reported at all. In the United States, certainly, it has been given minimal coverage. The New Republic ran a piece about the shame of the lack of attention paid to what was happening to the Christians in Iraq ["Who Will Save Iraq's Christians?" by Lawrence F. Kaplan, March 28, 2006] - the group with maybe the highest number of casualties, percentage-wise, of any in that war.


The same goes on here. I don't know how many fatalities there are; I haven't been able to follow it. To be frank, I don't know where you can follow it. But I do know that the Christian population in Bethlehem has diminished radically since the Palestinian Authority took control there - and that's because it's simply not comfortable for Christians there any more, to put it mildly.


What difference does it make whether the media "get it" or not?


It matters in free societies, because people make decisions and vote based on how they understand what is happening in the world. And if you don't understand the role that religion plays, you are not going to be an informed voter or an informed citizen - one who calls up your congressman and says, "I've heard about such and such; what are you doing about it?" This is the way these things work in a free society - and the quality of your action is determined by the quality of your information. If you ignore religion, you can't act very well.


A classic example is the story of Richard Ostling, Time magazine's religious affairs editor in the 1970s. He kept telling his editors that they should be watching the Ayatollah Khomeini, whose movement was very serious. His editors responded, "Come on, Dick, it's just a religious movement."


In the fall of 1979, he was promoted, since clearly he had understood something that they had not. Since then, we've seen many more examples. The attack on the Twin Towers in 1993 wasn't understood, nor was the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000. But even before that, also in 1979, our media didn't cover the siege of Mecca well at all. That was when radical Sunnis took charge of the holiest places in Islam - the Kaaba and the Great Mosque - out of which came a whole slew of decisions made by the Saudi government. To this day, nobody seems to realize how important that was.


If your assessment that the press doesn't pay enough attention to religion is correct, how do you explain the media's critical portrayal of evangelical Christians and Orthodox Jews?


The roots of that go way back [she laughs] - you know, to the Renaissance, the Reformation, the wars of religion, the Enlightenment - and all that's happened since.


Let me explain by way of an example. Following the events of 9/11, British blogger and political commentator Andrew Sullivan published a piece in The New York Times Magazine ["This is a Religious War," October 7, 2001], in which he explained that the problem behind the flying of the planes into the Twin Towers was that the perpetrators were Muslims with an exclusivist, absolutist, fundamentalist view of their religion. And he equated them with fundamentalist Christians and ultra-Orthodox Jews. This has come to be the fear among many in the West: that anybody who believes in one god or absolute truth automatically is a potential murderer. That's not only a misunderstanding of the situation. In fact, it's dead wrong.

On the contrary, people who believe in their religions are often best able to communicate with one another. The only time that line that gets crossed is when a person who believes in absolute truth also believes that his is the absolute truth, and that he is the font of that truth.

Any serious Christian, Jew or, I think, even Muslim knows that he's not God or Allah or Yahweh. Any such person is able to talk to other people of faith and respect them, because they take their faith very seriously. It's not just a political or a social thing for them. It is a matter of the belief about the nature of reality. Most religions also teach that other human beings are therefore to be respected.


Muslims claim that Islam teaches that, as well.


In Islamic history, I think you can find Muslims who have indeed taught that. You can also find those who have not. That's the difference between Islam and other religions - that you can find both strands in it.


Didn't Christianity historically have that "other strand" as well?


Well, certainly not in its founding, or first 300 years. The Crusades are a straw man. You have to know history, which is that by the time the prophet Muhammad died in 632, Islam had already raised armies. Muhammad himself was a rather successful military commander. There's a new book out about this [Muhammad: Islam's First Great General, by Richard A. Gabriel, University of Oklahoma Press], in fact. The Arab armies had taken what is now Israel and Palestine. They conquered Egypt in 642; by 698, they had conquered all of North Africa. And by 722, all of Spain, other than the northern strip. In 732, they were within 100 kilometres of Paris, where general Charles Martel stopped them. So, there's been a military thread here from the very beginning. And it continued beyond that, up to 1453, when the Byzantine Empire was finally destroyed, and in 1529 and 1683, when the city of Vienna was besieged.


The point is that this military strain is old and deep in Islam. Christianity has nothing like that. The Crusades were a response to that. They were too little, too late. And they did some pretty horrible things in Europe - before they ever got to the lands that had been captured by Islam - among them pogroms against the Jews, which were unconscionable. But compared to what had happened already, well, it's not comparable.


Returning to more current events, in the book, you take issue with the press for ignoring the intelligent design movement. Why?


In a 2005 article in the Columbia Journalism Review ["Undoing Darwin"], authors Chris Mooney and Matthew Nisbet made the argument that the media should not cover the intelligent design movement, because it's not what it says it is.


Now, I don't know how one determines whether something is what it says it is. What I do know is that it's not the business of journalists in a free society. Journalists are supposed to cover what people say, do, think and talk about, and then let the reader decide for himself. So, I found that article disturbing - particularly since it was published in one of the two most important journalism reviews in the US, and particularly when millions of Americans think that God created the universe. Whatever else it is, reporters ought to cover it, whether they agree with it or not.


Couldn't one argue that this is more a function of politics than religion? Isn't it true that believers are associated with the Right, and non-believers - as most of the Western media - with the Left? Wouldn't the authors of the article in question also argue that scientists who deny the existence of global warming, for example, should be equally ignored?


Yes, in this respect, a lot of it is political. Here it's important to note that secularism - or the notion that only secular societies can guarantee peoples not being at each other's throats - is, in itself, a kind of religious idea. Nor does it work very well. [Indian prime minister] Indira Gandhi died [in October 1984] for her faith in secularism, in fact. Though she knew her life was threatened, she wouldn't get rid of her Sikh bodyguards, and they killed her.

Indeed, much of religious fundamentalism is a reaction to that very extremist secularism that characterized the late colonial period - around the time of World War I.


In the Muslim world, this took the form of pan-Arab nationalism. It was certainly [Egyptian president] Gamal Abdel Nasser's project. Ultimately, however, it was people's faith, not ethnicity, that connected them.


Speaking of secularism, what about the separation of church and state? Are you saying it doesn't work?


No, but I think the way it's interpreted and implemented today in the US goes too far.


The US attempted to be the best of all options. There was a profound respect for religion. Many of the founders were devout Christians. They were also influenced by Enlightenment thinkers. They knew that people's ability and freedom to worship God was critical to creating a virtuous society. The Declaration of Independence says: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, and that they are endowed by their creator [emphasis added] with certain unalienable rights."


So we don't have to look far for an acknowledgment that there is someone or something beyond us.


That is the Founding Fathers' acknowledgment of the existence of God. You are concerned with the media's not taking such acknowledgment on the part of most of the world seriously enough. Is it really a "blind spot," however? Couldn't it be a more wilful oblivion?


I can't speak for what goes on in their hearts and minds. But judging by their behaviour, reporters have not been willing or able to face the religious motivation behind actions like those of Hamas or Hizbullah. Newsrooms are made up of people who are pretty much secular. So, for them to say something negative about Islam, without saying something equally negative about Christianity and Judaism, goes against their grain. Equally against their grain, apparently, is acknowledging that most of the conflict in the world is about what people believe. It's the refusal to recognize this that is the media's blind spot.



Ulema, Imams to frame response to Jamia Masjid siege

Mirwaiz Accuses New Delhi Of Religious Infringement


Srinagar, Jan 14: Ulema, Imams, and religious scholars would meet on Thursday and discuss their response to the government restrictions due to which people couldn’t offer Friday prayers at Jamia Masjid for seven consecutive Fridays during the elections in November and December last year.

 Accusing New Delhi of infringing religious rights of Kashmiri Muslims during elections, Chairman of Hurriyat Conference and Mirwaiz (chief preacher) of Kashmir, Umar Farooq, has called for conference of Ulema, Imams and religious scholars where the response to the restrictions on prayers would be discussed.

 Religious leaders in Kashmir term the siege of Jamia Masjid as the worst in history of Kashmir, surpassing even the infamous siege by soldiers during Sikh rule in the nineteenth century.

 Mirwaiz told Greater Kashmir, “On the pretext of facilitating so-called elections the authorities snatched our religious rights. It is sheer interference into our religious affairs. We are not going to remain silent over the serious issue and have called a conference of Ulema, religious scholars and Imams for appropriate action.”

 The Chief Mufti of Kashmir, Mufti Bashir-ud-Din, in December issued fatwa against the Jamia Masjid siege and asked people to demonstrate against the “shameful act.” Mirwaiz did not rule out a fatwa against the government. “The Ulemas will discuss the issue and if they feel necessary they can even issue fatwa,” he said.

 Mirwaiz said the authorities have the legal and moral responsibility to allow Muslims to perform their religious obligations. “We are not against Hindus, but the state machinery is put at the beck and call of pilgrims during the Amarnath and Vaishno Devi pilgrimages. Muslims only gets batons and bullets. Despite being a Muslim-majority state, the authorities at the behest of New Delhi did not allow people to offer prayers at Jamia Masjid,” Mirwaiz Umar told Greater Kashmir.

 Mirwaiz said it was during the Sikh rule that Kashmiri were not allowed to offer prayers at Jamia Masjid. “New Delhi with the help of its puppets here repeated the black history.  India claims to be the biggest democratic and secular nation but suppression of our religious rights by its agencies has exposed real face of its so-called democracy.”



Abuse of religious fervour paves way to doom

By HASSAN ABBAS, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. -- The terrorist assault in Mumbai targeted not only India's economy and sense of security, but also the India-Pakistan detente that has taken shape since 2004.


The attackers did not hide their faces or blow themselves up with suicide jackets. Anonymity was not their goal. They wanted to be identified as defenders of a cause.


Unless this cause is fully understood, and its roots revealed across the region, this attack may prove to be the beginning of the unmaking of South Asia.


Regional conflict, involving all of the region's states and increasing numbers of non-state actors, has produced large numbers of trained fighters, waiting for the call to glory. Within both India and Pakistan, economic disparities and a sense of social injustice have created fertile ground for conflict. The use and abuse of religious fervor, whether "jihadi" or "Hindu fundamentalist," are striking at the roots of communal harmony across South Asia.

Much of the current trouble can be traced to Afghanistan, whose tragedy could never have remained confined within its designated borders. The dynamics of the region changed when the Afghan freedom fighters of 1980s were converted into mujahedin through a criminal enterprise in which both the West and the Muslim world happily participated. Pakistan, always insecure about India, became the hub of this transformation. The West thought it had moved on after the fall of the Soviet empire, but the region — and increasingly the global community — continues to pay a heavy price for this unholy project.


The ills of two decades in South Asia can be attributed to the Afghan jihad years: the rise of the Taliban, the dominance of Pakistani-sponsored religious fanatics within the Kashmir freedom movement, and the eventual spread of sectarian conflict within Pakistan. In Afghanistan, Pakistan's military and intelligence agencies sought "strategic depth" against India. Moreover, they wanted payback for India's role in supporting the revolt in the 1960s and 1970s that led to Bangladesh's independence from Pakistan.


India is not blameless. It was pursuing a two-pronged strategy — arguing that all was well in Kashmir (a blatant lie) while supporting ethnic confrontation in Pakistan. Violent intelligence wars between Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) and India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) have become a brutal reality in South Asia.


Lashkar-e-Taiba (LET) — Army of the Pure — a Pakistan-based militant outfit supporting insurgency on the Indian side of Kashmir, was a product of these years. According to Indian investigators, this group is implicated in the Mumbai attacks. Pakistan's clampdown on its offices throughout the country essentially confirms this conclusion, though Pakistan is publicly demanding more evidence.


LET was the armed wing of an Ahle-Hadith organization, a South Asian version of Saudi-style fundamentalism, whose purpose was to hit Indian forces in Kashmir. Though the group was banned by former Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf after the terrorist attacks on the United States of Sept. 11, 2001, some of its operators went underground and others joined Jamaat-ud-Dawa (JuD) — Party of Proselytizing — an organization that runs religious educational centres and charities.


Given its established linkages with Pakistan's intelligence outfits, the group was never targeted strongly. In fact, it was even involved in rescue operations on the Pakistani side of Kashmir after the devastating 2005 earthquake there.


What Pakistan's military strategists failed to realize was that groups like LET and JuD had local agendas as well — converting Pakistan into a theocracy.


Hafiz Saeed, the founder of LET and currently head of JuD, once proudly said: "We believe in the 'Clash of Civilizations,' and our jihad will continue until Islam becomes the dominant religion."


JuD, along with many other like-minded groups, radicalized thousands of young Pakistanis. Through its Web and print publications, it also routinely challenged the teachings of the Sufi mystics who originally brought Islam to South Asia by promoting pluralism and love for humanity.


Even while demanding strong action against JuD, India must recognize that Pakistan is itself a victim of terror. Any military confrontation with Pakistan will only empower Pakistani radicals. India also needs to look inward, as anti-Muslim violence in Gujarat and the activities of Hindu fundamentalist groups have potentially created recruitment opportunities for Muslim extremists within India. An amicable resolution of the Kashmir conflict will only help improve peace prospects in South Asia.


For Pakistan, a concerted and sustained effort against all extremist groups operating in the country is necessary. Militants of all stripes must be decommissioned completely and transparently. Equally important for Pakistan is to expand and reform its public education system and improve basic services so that radical groups cannot lure young people into their educational and welfare networks. Otherwise, the status quo can gravely threaten Pakistan's — and South Asia's — future.

Hassan Abbas is a fellow at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and Institute for Policy and Understanding. © 2009 Project Syndicate (


Obama’s inheritance of torture

January 15, 2009

The courtrooms of America sometimes take us by surprise. Last week Charles “Chuckie” Taylor, the son of the former Liberian president and notorious warlord, Charles Taylor, was sentenced in a Miami court to 97 years in prison for torture. It was the first time that an American court had applied a law passed in 1994 allowing the prosecution of citizens who commit torture overseas. (Taylor was born in the US; but then moved to Liberia to join his father.)


Is there now one law in America for those who commit torture overseas and those who commit it at home with the authority of government? Perhaps for not much longer. In a television interview last weekend President-elect Barack Obama said that the attorney general would investigate whether some senior members of the Bush administration should be prosecuted for their part in torture. Also last week he said that he had given his new appointees to top intelligence positions a clear charge to restore the US’ stance on human rights. “Under my administration the United States does not torture.”


It was during the presidency of Ronald Reagan that the US helped push for the UN to agree to a legally binding treaty against torture, and then propelled Congress to rap idly ratifies it. It is this treaty that provides the legal underpinning for the prosecution of Taylor.


Still, even the Bush administration has done its bit for some aspects of international law. For years it waged war against the creation of the International Criminal Court, meant to try those charged with crimes against humanity. Most recently it has encouraged the ICC for the first time to prosecute a head of state, the president of Sudan, Omar Bashir. Bush seems to have put to one side his fears that the ICC might put the US in its sights. Surprisingly too, the Bush administration has quietly supported the UN Security Council in working closely to act on grave issues. Even though the US abstained last week on a Security Council resolution ordering the Israelis and Hamas to agree to a cease-fire, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made it clear that the US was not against the resolution, only its early timing.

The US abstention was considered a shot across Israel’s bows. But there was total unanimity in the Security Council following the Mumbai killings when it declared that the Pakistani Jamaat-ud-Dawa was a front for the militant movement Lashkar-e-Taiba. Likewise last Tuesday the Security Council voted, again unanimously, authorizing member states to conduct land and air attacks on pirate bases in Somalia.


Often overlooked is the fact that during the time of the Bush administration a fourth of all UN Security Council resolutions in its entire history were voted on, and usually passed without dissent.

A test case for the US observing international law will be the Obama’s administration’s willingness to close down Guantanamo. With Obama pushing, the other Western countries will have to step forward and agree to take many of the prisoners the US wants to release. But Obama will still have the so-called “hard-core” on his hands, and public opinion does not appear to want them brought to the mainland and prosecuted in domestic courts. The fear is that too many of them will be acquitted for lack of evidence or because they were tortured, and then will be free to arrange another atrocity.

Maybe part of the answer to this is to bring a domestic court to Guantanamo to replace the military court. If convicted they can be moved to incarceration in the US, but with their rights of appeal intact. If freed they can be refused entry to the US and be deported to the country of their choice. If no one will take them they can be given a house and a plot of land in Guantanamo and wait until some country does.