Nine bodies still lying in a hospital morgue:
Mumbai Muslims will not bury Pakistani Muslim terrorists
India’s Muslims have consistently rejected the ‘martyrdom’ mentality of militant Islam
No Way, No How, Not Here By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN
A child of Cairo's streets, with a child of her own by Jeffrey Fleishman
Muslim man beheads wife, in New York by April MacIntyre
We Need Ideas, Not Just Tactics, Against Islamism by Melik Kaylan
Yemen: All holy books call for peace and tolerance
Islamabad: Islam is a religion of peace, love and tolerance
6th US-Islamic Forum puts the accent on deeds by Sarmad Qazi
Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation by Roger Scruton
Pan-Africanist Scholar Ali Mazrui on the Election of Barack Obama as the First Black President in the Western World
Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau
Nine bodies still lying in a hospital morgue as Mumbai Muslims will not bury Pakistani Muslim terrorists
India’s Muslims have consistently rejected the ‘martyrdom’ mentality of militant Islam
No Way, No How, Not Here
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN, February 17, 2009
NEW DELHI: There are nine bodies — all of them young men — that have been lying in a Mumbai hospital morgue since Nov. 29. They may be stranded there for a while because no local Muslim charity is willing to bury them in its cemetery. This is good news.
The nine are the Pakistani Muslim terrorists who went on an utterly senseless killing rampage in Mumbai on 26/11 — India’s 9/11 — gunning down more than 170 people, including 33 Muslims, scores of Hindus, as well as Christians and Jews. It was killing for killing’s sake. They didn’t even bother to leave a note.
All nine are still in the morgue because the leadership of India’s Muslim community has called them by their real name — “murderers” not “martyrs” — and is refusing to allow them to be buried in the main Muslim cemetery of Mumbai, the 7.5-acre Bada Kabrastan graveyard, run by the Muslim Jama Masjid Trust.
“People who committed this heinous crime cannot be called Muslim,” Hanif Nalkhande, a spokesman for the trust, told The Times of London. Eventually, one assumes, they will have to be buried, but the Mumbai Muslims remain defiant.
“Indian Muslims are proud of being both Indian and Muslim, and the Mumbai terrorism was a war against both India and Islam,” explained M.J. Akbar, the Indian-Muslim editor of Covert, an Indian investigative journal. “Terrorism has no place in Islamic doctrine. The Koranic term for the killing of innocents is ‘fasad.’ Terrorists are fasadis, not jihadis. In a beautiful verse, the Koran says that the killing of an innocent is akin to slaying the whole community. Since the ... terrorists were neither Indian nor true Muslims, they had no right to an Islamic burial in an Indian Muslim cemetery.”
To be sure, Mumbai’s Muslims are a vulnerable minority in a predominantly Hindu country. Nevertheless, their in-your-face defiance of the Islamist terrorists stands out. It stands out against a dismal landscape of predominantly Sunni Muslim suicide murderers who have attacked civilians in mosques and markets — from Iraq to Pakistan to Afghanistan — but who have been treated by mainstream Arab media, like Al Jazeera, or by extremist Islamist spiritual leaders and Web sites, as “martyrs” whose actions deserve praise.
Extolling or excusing suicide militants as “martyrs” has only led to this awful phenomenon — where young Muslim men and women are recruited to kill themselves and others — spreading wider and wider. What began in a targeted way in Lebanon and Israel has now proliferated to become an almost weekly occurrence in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
It is a threat to any open society because when people turn themselves into bombs, they can’t be deterred, and the measures needed to interdict them require suspecting and searching everyone at any public event. And they are a particular threat to Muslim communities. You can’t build a healthy society on the back of suicide-bombers, whose sole objective is to wreak havoc by exclusively and indiscriminately killing as many civilians as possible.
If suicide-murder is deemed legitimate by a community when attacking its “enemies” abroad, it will eventually be used as a tactic against “enemies” at home, and that is exactly what has happened in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
The only effective way to stop this trend is for “the village” — the Muslim community itself — to say “no more.” When a culture and a faith community delegitimizes this kind of behaviour, openly, loudly and consistently, it is more important than metal detectors or extra police. Religion and culture are the most important sources of restraint in a society.
That’s why India’s Muslims, who are the second-largest Muslim community in the world after Indonesia’s, and the one with the deepest democratic tradition, do a great service to Islam by delegitimizing suicide-murderers by refusing to bury their bodies. It won’t stop this trend overnight, but it can help over time.
“The Muslims of Bombay deserve to be congratulated in taking this important decision,” Raashid Alvi, a Muslim member of India’s Parliament from the Congress Party, said to me. “Islam says that if you commit suicide, then even after death you will be punished.”
The fact that Indian Muslims have stood up in this way is surely due, in part, to the fact that they live in, are the product of and feel empowered by a democratic and pluralistic society. They are not intimidated by extremist religious leaders and are not afraid to speak out against religious extremism in their midst.
It is why so few, if any, Indian Muslims are known to have joined Al Qaeda. And it is why, as outrageously expensive and as uncertain the outcome, trying to build decent, pluralistic societies in places like Iraq is not as crazy as it seems. It takes a village, and without Arab-Muslim societies where the villagers feel ownership over their lives and empowered to take on their own extremists — militarily and ideologically — this trend will not go away.
A child of Cairo's streets, with a child of her own
Amira has a baby girl and is expecting. She is 13, with no permanent place to stay, one of thousands of street children in Egypt, whose laws make a hard life harder for a single mother like her.
By Jeffrey Fleishman, February 17, 2009
Reporting from Cairo -- She has a baby in her arms and another growing inside. She says she knows about love, says she found it on the streets, where boys fight with razors and a one-armed glue-huffer whispers the pretty things a girl yearns to hear before she curls and sleeps in the abandoned buildings that clutter Cairo's heart.
Amira Osman Dakhly left the streets a few days ago, rushing past the new houses on the hill to the homeless shelter, the one with yellow walls and toddlers in the courtyard. She'll stay, maybe until next month, or maybe until tonight. That's the thing about Amira, she changes direction as quick as a starling in a winter sky.
But for now, the 13-year-old with the snug white blouse and gap-tooth smile will sit and talk, cracking her knuckles and squinting her eyes, narrow and thin, like shutter slats.
One of her love stories began after she quit first grade. Her mother left home to marry a rich man, and her father, a taxi driver with a drug habit, took up with women. Amira's four sisters were divvied among family. She chose the city's streets and alleys, wandering between broken cars and rubbish bins, pretending to be as glittery as moonlight. That's how she felt in her new dress, the one she stole from a store a few nights before she met Ahmed, a 24-year-old waiter in a coffee shop.
"I love him," says Amira, holding Randa, the 18-month-old daughter she had with Ahmed. "I had an affair with him four years ago. I love him because he protected me. When anybody bothered me, he'd fight for me, and when it got cold he took me into his house. I still love him. I saw him last Friday."
There are reasons why there has been no wedding: They couldn't afford marriage, he didn't want to, she was too young, life plays tricks, and the streets, hard as they are, sometimes offer more comfort than a grown man's bed.
Then there are the problems with Randa that can twist a street girl's wiles inside out. Randa is a numberless child of a child; in the eyes of the state she doesn't exist.
In Egypt, where Islam and tradition can intertwine at the harshest places, a single mother bumps against walls in all directions. Until 2008, the government stipulated that a child's birth certificate and identity card could be granted only if the father signed the documents. Amended legislation allows mothers to register their children, but human rights groups say that in cases such as Amira's, state officials are reluctant to grant birth certificates or have yet to be informed about the new guidelines.
"Our laws don't deal with the rising phenomenon of new generations of street children," said Adel Samei Labeeb, a social worker with the Hope Village Society, an outreach organization that helps about 9,000 homeless children a year and runs the shelter where Amira plots her next move. "Nobody knows how many street kids are in Cairo. But their numbers are growing. Every day I have a new case. Many of these street girls have no identity cards themselves, so how can they register their children?"
Street girls don't go to "hospitals for medical care because they can get arrested. Some of them give birth on the street, under a tree or in a taxi," said Abla El-Badry, director of the Hope Village Society. "Anyone can take the child from the girl, because she has no evidence that it is hers. These babies cannot get their vaccinations or be sent to school. . . . Egypt will face disaster in the next 10 years. The criminal rate will rise and the street will be full of children that nobody knows anything about."
Amira sits, fixes her hijab. She rests her long hands on a table, moves them to her lap, then back to the table. She cracks a knuckle and smiles. Clerics beyond the shelter's walls regard Amira as a stain against Islam in a country that prays five times a day. Even indifferent Cairo, a capital crowded with 17 million people, about 40% of whom live on $2 a day or less, groans at the prospect of another life born to the streets.
Amira has scars, and sometimes she hides in gardens.
A young man cut her face and arm with a knife when she was 10. He thought she was a prostitute, and when he realized she wasn't, he got mad. Another man offered to buy one of her kidneys and sell it on the black market. He told her that young organs fetch the best prices; they aren't damaged and can bring in about $16,000. Seems everyone wants a piece of a homeless girl. But Amira wants her kidney; just like she wants Randa and this new one pushing at her from the inside. She says they all belong to God, and you can't sell what God has given you.
"A woman came to me once and offered 5,000 pounds for my baby" -- about $900 -- Amira says. "She said she couldn't have children and that she'd protect my child. I refused. Once I was sleeping in a garden and someone tried to kidnap her while she was sleeping in my arms."
Amira hasn't slept in her own mother's arms in years. "I never miss my mom because I hate her," she says.
"She abandoned us to live with a rich man. She should have been content with what we had."
Amira is not always content, either, although there was that night in her stolen dress, when she walked to Ahmed's coffee shop and stood in the window until the waiter invited her home. "We exchanged glances," she says, "and then he came to me and I told him that I could not find a place to sleep, so he took me to his hut and there I did it with him."
She later became pregnant with Randa. She gave birth at the shelter. She left Ahmed and tried living in an apartment near her father, but one day she bundled her child and slipped back to the dust and grit, the noise and broken bottles of the streets, where glue fumes calm restless boys amid the smoke of grilled corn and the scents of subsidized bread.
"The streets are free," she says. "You can come and go. I am loved by everyone on the streets. . . . We eat and sleep and go to the Arguda neighbourhood, and I beg for 30 pounds. My boyfriend buys glue. I buy food."
Her boyfriend these days is Tamir, a 19-year-old Christian Copt who lost one arm in a car accident and has a history on the street. She doesn't love Tamir like she loves Ahmed. She likes him. He is adventure. He is her unborn baby's father. They were married. Not a real marriage, an "urfi marriage," a ceremony with two witnesses and a signed piece of paper, a temporary arrangement that circumvents Islamic law, like when rich sheiks from the Persian Gulf want sex partners during vacations in Egypt.
But for Amira and Tamir, it was a declaration of want and need, a way of letting other street kids know that two lives have tangled into one, and that though it may not last, it's something to hold on to in a world of bartered kidneys and no running water.
Then Amira got mad at Tamir. Maybe it was his glue habit, maybe his wild nature. Or maybe it was because he beat her. She ripped up the false marriage paper and after a while headed to the shelter.
So she sits, cracking her knuckles beneath a Mickey Mouse dangling from a cabinet as if to say, yes, even a girl with a daughter on her hip and knife marks on her skin can still be a child. The shelter echoes with other girls, the gurgling of babies and toddlers. It is safe, she can bathe, clean her clothes, put bows in Randa's hair.
Will she stay? Return to Ahmed? To Tamir?
The future. What can a 13-year-old homeless mother say about the future? She'd like to learn to sew, to work in a factory, to watch her children grow. But that's just a girl talking like a woman. Email id: email@example.com
Muslim man beheads wife, in New York
By April MacIntyre, Feb 17, 2009
A New York Muslim man is charged with beheading his wife.
CNN reports that the man was described as an "influential member of the local Muslim community."
Police identified the victim as Aasiya Z. Hassan, 37.
Detectives have charged her husband, Muzzammil Hassan, 44, with second-degree murder.
"He came to the police station at 6:20 p.m. [Thursday] and told us that she was dead," Orchard Park Police Chief Andrew Benz said late this morning.
Muzzammil Hassan told police he left the body and the head of his wife at his media company, Bridges TV, on Thorn Avenue in the village.
Officers went to that location and discovered her decapitated body.
Muzzammil Hassan is the founder and chief executive officer of Bridges TV, which he launched in 2004, amid hopes that it would help portray Muslims in a more positive light.
Authorities say Aasiya Hassan recently had filed for divorce from her husband.
We Need Ideas, Not Just Tactics, Against Islamism
Melik Kaylan, 02.17.09, 12:00 AM EST
Historical knowledge can help reverse militancy.
I have met U.S. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke a few times and found him to be a practical man, perhaps even a little too practical for his new role as the trouble-shooter on Afghanistan. He will no doubt try to solve the problem of a resurgent Taliban in practical ways, by rejigging military deployments, moving money around or fine-tuning Afghan democracy.
My friend Ann Marlowe, expert on Afghanistan and general counter-insurgency theorist, suggested a menu of just such concrete measures in her recent Wall Street Journal op-ed. Solutions of that kind could certainly work--in the short term. But the problem will pop up elsewhere around the world, not least in nearby Pakistan.
We can deal with the Islamist threat country by country, indeed we will have to, but the West won't prevail without a full-blown macro strategy of the kind deployed in the Cold War. We need to launch a counter-insurgency of ideas to challenge the mullahs on their own turf.
Islamic societies are by no means all alike, but they are more alike than they once were. And there are enough similarities that certain generalizations can be made. It's often the case that extreme minorities hijack the rest of the society, even when the majority inclines in a different direction.
In such disparate places as Lebanon, Pakistan, Iran, Algeria and Syria, small groups have exerted greater influence than their numbers should have allowed. This echoes Islam's history, in which an austere and warlike faction grew by conquest to rule over larger tribes, and in which various dynasties took over the caliphate by being hungrier and bloodier than the established powers.
This historical psychodynamic is part of the scenario that Islamists and violent extremists implicitly appeal to nowadays, when they operate within target countries, such as Egypt or Pakistan. They invoke the revolutionary dialectic that existed at the beginning of Islam--the pure, hardened, inevitable and therefore divine force that comes out of the desert and sweeps over the too-comfortable urbanized stable community.
From the Prophet's lifetime to the Abbasids, Fatimids, Timurids, Ottomans, et al, the pattern repeated itself and with it always came a tighter code of warrior discipline, which merged easily with doctrinal Islam's core Puritanism and social discipline.
This same actuating principle is central to Wahhabism, Salafism and other forms of revolutionary Islam in our time. Such are the forces that the U.S. incentivized during the Cold War to spread out of Arabia (Saudi Arabia and the Gulf) to confront the secular socialism which at the time prevailed in many Muslim countries. Islamism has largely pushed aside secularism in Arab countries. Armed with a unifying formula and a coherent world view, it has set its sights on the rest of Islam.
What it confronts in much of the Muslim world is a heterogeneous, even heterodox, state of affairs from Malaysia and Indonesia to Central Asia to various parts of Africa. But because it has funds and a fully articulated world view, it has an advantage over the Muslim communities it confronts.
Rather than acknowledging or respecting their pluralism, modern Islamism treats these other Islam’s as incomplete and ignorant forms of the faith. (During the Bosnia wars, Islamic money from the Gulf insisted on levelling the decorative tombstones and mosque walls of Balkan Muslims before giving them aid.) Then, with money, narrow scholarship and intimidation, it proceeds to convert the non-Arabian faithful to the new, virulent Islamism.
Thus far, we've barely responded to the global challenge. Even controversial Dutch politician Geert Wilders, who was refused entry to Britain, last week, after his terrifying anti-Islamic film Fitna caused such outrage, doesn't bother to understand the thing he deplores. His film won't convince many Muslims, that's for sure. And if it wasn't meant for Muslims, what was the point?
It is no good arguing that Islam's ideas are manifestly hostile, warlike, anti-democratic and the like, and to assume that anyone's mind will change, when many value it for exactly those reasons. We respected the threat of Marxist-Leninism enough to study its underlying ontologies minutely, to parse its appeal and logic and to mount a coordinated intellectual response. Why not with Islamism?
It's worth remembering that until the mid 1980s, the Muslim world was not very Islamic. If the direction can be changed in favour of religion, there is no reason it cannot be reversed. One should remember also that almost all écoles and movements affecting the Muslim world for the last two centuries or so have either come from the West or were reinvigorated by the West: nationalism, democracy, capitalism, socialism, fundamentalism, medicine, transportation, communication and the like.
Even the increase in Islamism usually had its source in the West. Russia used the mosque as a way of imposing its rule on Central Asia in Czarist times. Britain unseated Amanullah Khan, the Afghan King who showed too much independence in the 1920s, by inciting conservative Pashtun tribes against him. Finally, the U.S. helped export Wahhabism by encouraging the Saudis to build madrassas abroad, notably in Pakistan, to bolster the mujahideen in their anti-Soviet struggle in nearby Afghanistan. It would not have happened without Western guidance--until then, Wahabbism was a tiny, localized force. But if it can be done in one direction, it can be done in the reverse. There is no law of nature that says Muslim countries are doomed to be ultra-religious.
What Westerners do not understand is that Islamic pluralism has always existed. Because Islam merged everywhere with differing customs, and ultimately merged with different forms of modernity or archaism, many aspects of the Quran simply could not be equally applied. So Islam, like Christianity, became a selectively applied and interpreted code. This meant that no one tradition held the absolute key.
That is how things stand in much of the Islamic geo-sphere to this day. A crucial part of the process of inoculating the populace against the in-rush of radical ideas is to encourage pride in the local faith--first by a form of religious nationalism with all the popular emotion centred on local history, and then by a form of rejectionism against the imposition of an alien brand of the religion, by identifying Wahhabism or Salafism as a form of imperialism.
The closer you look at Islam, the more fissures appear, from the Shia and Sunni division, down to the smaller Hanefi, Shafii and Hanbali branches and beyond. Caliphs through the centuries tried to unify the faith, forcibly and otherwise, but always failed.
Islam is a loose and baggy thing by evolution. How many in the West know that? The Islamists are trying to reverse the evolutionary narrative. Theirs is a more uphill road than ours is against them. It's a matter of caring enough, knowing enough, to mount an informed challenge.
Melik Kaylan, a writer based in New York, writes a weekly column for Forbes. His story "Georgia in the Time of Misha" is featured in The Best American Travel Writing 2008.
All holy books call for peace and tolerance
Eighty-five male and female students from more than 30 schools around the Sana’a governorate gave a theatrical performance directed by the Dar Al-Salam organization on peace and its significance in Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
The play was centred on the idea that the three religions denounce terrorism and advocate for tolerance. Children held symbols of the religions and stood against others holding signs of violent acts such as terrorism, kidnapping, killing innocents and revenge. The theatrical performance ended with the religions coming together and prevailing against evil and violence.
The Dar Al-Salam organization and Al-Amjad Private School jointly organized the event, which was sponsored by the Dutch Embassy in Sana’a and held earlier this week at the school’s premises.
The play was complimented by a fine arts’ exhibition showing art work by the students. A quiz was organized challenged children’s knowledge of the verses of the Quran or the Prophet’s teachings on tolerance, peace and respecting other religions as well as incidents from Islamic history depicting the fight of the religion against terror and violence. Winning children received small awards and all the students received participation certificates.
“Our organization bets on the role of theatre and art as active instruments to change negative conceptions and confront the culture of extremism,” said Abdul Rahman Al-Marwani, director of the Dar Al-Salam organization. “We hope that through our advocacy work we can create an aware and responsible generation.”
This event is a part of a five year program funded by the Dutch government through which Dar Al-Salam will launch a number of awareness and training activities targeting Yemeni youth on religious extremism, violence and fire arms.
Islam is religion of peace, love and tolerance
ISLAMABAD, Feb 16 (APP): Ambassador of Republic of Kazakhstan, Bakhytbek Shabarbayer called on Federal Minister for Religious Affairs, Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi here Monday and discussed with him matters of bilateral cooperation in various sectors.
Talking to the Ambassador of Kazakhstan, Syed Hamid Saeed Kazmi said that Islam was religion of peace, love and tolerance. He said that the present government was taking concrete steps for the establishment of an egalitarian society based on social justice, mutual respect, tolerance and moderation among the different sects of the society in Pakistan.
The Federal Minister informed the Kazakhstan Ambassador that the PPP-led government was also making efforts to create an inter faith harmony among the people different faiths of the country.
The Minister told the Envoy that government of Pakistan had always condemned terrorism and extremism in all its forms and manifestations.
Ambassador of Kazakhstan, Bakhytbek Shabarbayer told the Federal Minister that the government and people of Kazakhstan felt proud to have brotherly relations with Pakistan.
The Envoy expressed the desire that Pakistan and Kazakhstan should exchange visits of various delegations comprising Ulema, Religious Scholars for creation of better understanding, inter-faith harmony and peace in the Muslim countries and other parts of the world.
The Ambassador informed the Religious Minister that a Committee of Religious Affairs and the International Centre of Culture and Religion of Kazakhstan has been established under the administrative control of the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan to create an inter-faith harmony and peace between different religions of the world.
The Kazakh Envoy thanked the government of Pakistan for participation in the conference of Foreign Ministers of Muslim and Western Countries in Kazakhstan last year for inter-religious dialogue.
The Envoy presented a book on “cultural heritage of Kazakhstan” to the Minister and invited him to visit Kazakhstan, The Minister accepted the invitation and said that he would visit Kazakhstan at an appropriate time, Aidar Jundy Baev, Deputy Head of Mission of Kazakhstan in Pakistan was also present during the meeting.
6th US-Islamic Forum puts the accent on deeds
By Sarmad Qazi
After three days of intense dialogue on topics ranging from human development to arts and culture to security, the Sixth US-Islamic World Forum yesterday ended on a high-note on the back of political change in the US and signs of acceptability being shown by the Muslim world.
Insistence on “deeds” now, rather than continued dialogue was also echoed by participants at a highly-charged closing session.
“We have discovered over six years that we can serve as an incubator but its up to you (the participants from across the Muslim world and US), who have been involved over the years to take the initiative forward,” Martin Indyk, the director of Saban Centre at Brookings Institute, which co-organise the annual event with Qatari Foreign Ministry, said.
Offering her closing perspective, Nashwa al-Ruwaini, executive director and board member of the Middle East International Film Festival said she would like Muslims to be treated on equal grounds.
“As an Arab Muslim, we don’t want America to love us or hate us. We want to be treated equal ground. What we were trying here was to find a common ground,” al-Ruwaini, who was instrumental in starting the ‘Muslims on the Screen’ project, said.
“It took two women to start that initiative. Then it spread from Abu Dhabi to San Francisco and that’s when we found that we (Arabs) weren’t really the new Russians or Germans,” she added.
Her recommendations included more government fundings for arts and cultures; US funding certain TV or media initiatives that can “really make a difference” and opening of American cultural centres across the Muslim world.
Sally Quinn of The Washington Post made a more compelling call when she remarked that the “common word has been established for over a year. It is now time for a common deed.”
She was referencing to “a common word”, a letter signed by over 130 Muslims scholars of all Islamic thoughts on October 13, 2007, who unanimously came together to declare the common ground between Christianity and Islam.
“Interfaith dialogue is good but more of it is counter-productive. It’s basically the people who already agree, agreeing to each other,” Quinn said.
“There should have been more ‘action’ this year (forum).”
Anies Baswedan, rector of Paramadina University, Indonesia pointed out much focus was put on the Muslims outside the US, while the Muslims in the US, one of the fastest rising populace, were not discussed.
Baswedan also noted how improved governance and democratic institutions in the Muslim World can bring stability by giving examples of Indonesia.
“Muslim leaders must get away from rhetoric and turn abstracts into realities for billions of Muslims.”
US Congressman Brian Baird said: “One of things I noted here is the recurrent awareness that we have a responsibility and the idea that, instead of looking at the US, it can start from here is overwhelming.”
Appreciating Qatar-based Education City and the technology incubator, Baird added to Nashwa’s comments on arts and culture as a bridge and said: “More than TV and culture what people admire more is scientific innovation and technology.”
And this region, particularly, is heading exactly in that direction of investing on science, according to him.
Islam and the West: Lines of Demarcation
By Roger Scruton, www.azure.org
What it is about our civilization that causes such resentment, and why we must defend it.
The West today is involved in a protracted and violent struggle with the forces of radical Islam. This conflict is intensely difficult, both because of our enemy’s dedication to his cause, and also, perhaps most of all, because of the enormous cultural shift that has occurred in Europe and America since the end of the Vietnam War. Put simply, the citizens of Western states have lost their appetite for foreign wars; they have lost the hope of scoring any but temporary victories; and they have lost confidence in their way of life. Indeed, they are no longer sure what that way of life requires of them.
At the same time, they have been confronted with a new opponent, one who believes that the Western way of life is profoundly flawed, and perhaps even an offence against God. In a “fit of absence of mind,” Western societies have allowed this opponent to gather in their midst; sometimes, as in France, Britain, and the Netherlands, in ghettos which bear only tenuous and largely antagonistic relations to the surrounding political order. And in both America and Europe there has been a growing desire for appeasement: a habit of public contrition; an acceptance, though with heavy heart, of the censorious edicts of the mullahs; and a further escalation in the official repudiation of our cultural and religious inheritance. Twenty years ago, it would have been inconceivable that the archbishop of Canterbury would give a public lecture advocating the incorporation of Islamic religious law (shari’ah) into the English legal system. Today, however, many people consider this to be an arguable point, and perhaps the next step on the way to peaceful compromise.
All this suggests that we in the West stand on the edge of a dangerous period of concession, in which the legitimate claims of our own culture and inheritance will be ignored or downplayed in an attempt to prove our peaceful intentions. It will be some time before the truth will be allowed to play its all-important role of rectifying our current mistakes and preparing the way for the next ones. This means that it is more necessary than ever for us to rehearse the truth and come to a clear and objective understanding of what is at stake. I will, therefore, spell out in what follows some of the critical features of the Western inheritance which must be understood and defended in our current confrontation. Each of these features marks a point of contrast, and possibly of conflict, with the traditional Islamic vision of society, and each has played a vital part in creating the modern world. Islamist belligerence stems from having found no secure place in that world, and from turning for refuge to precepts and values that are at odds with the Western way of life. This does not mean that we should renounce or repudiate the distinguishing features of our civilization, as many would have us do. On the contrary, it means that we must be all the more vigilant in their defence.
The first of the features that I have in mind is citizenship. The consensus among Western nations is that the law is made legitimate by the consent of those who must obey it. This consent is given through a political process in which each citizen participates in the making and enacting of the law. The right and duty of participation is what we mean by “citizenship,” and the distinction between political and religious communities can be summed up by the view that the former are composed of citizens, whereas the latter are composed of subjects who have “submitted” (which is the primary meaning of the word Islam). If we seek a simple definition of the West as it is today, it would be wise to take this concept of citizenship as our starting point. Indeed, it is what the millions of migrants roaming the world are in search of: an order that confers security and freedom in exchange for consent.
Traditional Islamic society, by contrast, sees law as a system of commands and recommendations laid down by God. These edicts cannot be amended, though their application in particular cases may involve jurisprudential argument. Law, as Islam understands it, is a demand for our obedience, and its author is God. This is the opposite of the concept of law that we in the West have inherited. Law for us is a guarantee of our freedoms. It is made not by God, but by man, following the instinct for justice that is inherent in the human condition. It is not a system of divine commands, but rather the residue of human agreements.
This is particularly evident to British and American citizens, who have enjoyed the inestimable benefit of the common law—a system which has not been laid down by some sovereign power but, on the contrary, built up by the courts in their attempts to do justice in individual conflicts. Western law is therefore a “bottom-up” system that addresses the sovereign in the same tone of voice that it reserves for the citizen. It insists that justice, not power, will prevail. Hence, it has been evident since the Middle Ages that the law, even if it depends on the sovereign to impose it, can also depose the sovereign if he tries to defy it.
As our law has developed, it has permitted the privatization of religion and of large areas of morality. To us, for instance, a law punishing adultery is not just absurd, but oppressive. We disapprove of adultery, but we also think that it is none of the law’s business to punish sin just because it is sin. In the shari’ah, however, there is no distinction between morality and law. Both stem from God, and are to be imposed by the religious authorities in obedience to his revealed will. To some extent, the harshness of this is mitigated by a tradition which allows for recommendations as well as obligations in rulings of the holy law. Nevertheless, there is still no place in the shari’ah for the privatization of the moral, and still less of the religious, aspects of life.
Of course, most Muslims do not live under shari’ah law. Only here and there—in Iran, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, for example—is the attempt made to impose it. Elsewhere, Western codes of civil and criminal law have been adopted, following a tradition begun in the early nineteenth century by the Ottomans. But this recognition accorded to Western civilization by the Islamic states has its dangers. It inevitably provokes the thought that the law of the secular powers is not really law; that, in truth, it has no real authority, and is even a kind of blasphemy. Sayyid Qutb, the former leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, argued precisely this in his seminal work Milestones. Indeed, rebellion against the secular powers is easy to justify when their law is seen as usurping the sovereign authority of God.
From its origins, then, Islam has found it difficult to accept that mankind stands in need of any other law, or any other sovereign, than those revealed in the Koran. Hence the great schism following the death of Muhammad, which divided Shi’ia from Sunni. From the point of view of secular government, questions of legitimate succession such as those that drove these two groups apart are settled by the very same constitution that governs the daily operation of the law. That is to say, ultimately they are a matter of human agreement. But a community that believes itself to be governed by God, on terms conveyed by his messenger, has a real problem when the messenger dies: who takes over, and how? The fact that rulers in Islamic communities have a greater-than-average tendency to end up assassinated is not unconnected with this question. The sultans of Istanbul, for instance, surrounded themselves with a household guard of Janissaries chosen from among their Christian subjects precisely because they did not trust any Muslim to miss the opportunity to rectify the insult to God represented in the person of a merely human ruler. The Koran itself speaks to this point, in sura 3, verse 64, commanding Jews and Christians to take no divinity besides the one God and no lords (ârbâbân) from among each other.
In short, citizenship and secular law go hand in hand. We are all participants in the process of law-making; hence we can view each other as free citizens, whose rights must be respected and whose private lives are our own concern. This has made possible the privatization of religion in Western societies and the development of political orders in which the duties of the citizen take precedence over religious scruples. How this is possible is a deep and difficult question of political theory; that it is possible is a fact to which Western civilization bears incontrovertible witness.
This brings me to the second feature which I identify as central to European civilization: nationality. No political order can achieve stability if it cannot call upon a shared loyalty, a “first-person plural” that distinguishes those who share the benefits and burdens of citizenship from those who are outside the fold. In times of war, the need for this shared loyalty is self-evident, but it is as necessary in times of peace, if people really are to treat their citizenship as defining their public obligations. National loyalty marginalizes loyalties to family, tribe, and faith, and places before the citizen, as the focus of his patriotic feeling, not a person or a group, but a country. This country is defined by a territory, and by the history, culture, and law that have made that territory ours. Nationality is composed of land, together with the narrative of its possession.
It is this form of territorial loyalty that has enabled people in Western democracies to exist side by side, respecting each other’s rights as citizens despite radical differences in faith and absent any bonds of family, kinship, or long-term local custom to sustain the solidarity between them. Such national loyalty is not known everywhere in the world, and certainly not in the places where Islamists are rooted. People sometimes refer to Somalia, for example, as a “failed state,” since it has no central government capable of making decisions on behalf of the people as a whole, or of imposing any kind of legal order. The real trouble with Somalia, however, is not that it is a failed state, but that it is a failed nation. It has never developed the kind of secular, territorial, and law-minded loyalty that makes it possible for a country to shape itself into a nation-state, and not simply an assembly of competing tribes and families.
The same is true of many other places where Islamists are produced. Even if, as in the case of Pakistan, these countries function like states, they are often failures as nations. They have not succeeded in generating the kind of territorial loyalty which enables people of different faiths, different kinship networks, and different tribes to live peacefully side by side, and also to fight side by side on behalf of their common homeland. The recent history of these countries might lead us to wonder whether there is not, in the end, a genuine and profound conflict between the Islamic conception of community and the conceptions which have fed our own idea of national government. Maybe the nation-state really is an anti-Islamic idea.
This observation is, of course, highly pertinent to the Middle East today, where we find the remnants of a great Islamic empire divided into nation-states. With a few exceptions, this division is the result of boundaries drawn by Western powers, most notably by Britain and France in the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. It should hardly be surprising, therefore, that Iraq has had such a checkered history as a nation-state, given that it has only spasmodically been a state, and has never been a nation. It may be that Kurds, Sunnis, and Shi’ias in Iraq will all come, in time, to see themselves as Iraqis. But this national identity will likely be fragile and fissiparous, and in any conflict the three groups will identify themselves in opposition to each other. Only the Kurds seem to have developed a genuine national identity, and it is one opposed to that of the state in which they are included. As for the Shi’ias, their primary loyalty is religious, and in turbulent times they look to the homeland of Shi’ia Islam in Iran as a model.
It is true that not all the nation-states carved out of the remnants of the Ottoman Empire are as arbitrary as Iraq. Turkey, which saved itself as the rump of the empire, succeeded in recreating itself as a genuine nation-state—though not without the expulsion or massacre of many of its non-Turkish minorities. Lebanon and Egypt have enjoyed a kind of quasi-national identity under Western protection since the mid-nineteenth century. And, of course, Israel has established a thoroughly Western form of national government, over territory which is disputed for that very reason. These examples, however, in no way serve to allay the suspicion that Islam is not friendly to the idea of national loyalties, and certainly not friendly to the idea that, in a crisis, it is national rather than spiritual allegiance which should prevail.
Consider Turkey. Atatürk created the Turkish nation-state by imposing a secularist constitution; adopting a secular legal system based on French and Belgian models; outlawing Islamic dress; expelling the traditional scholars of Islamic law (‘ulema’) from public office; forbidding polygamy; and rooting out Arabic words from Turkish and adopting the Latin alphabet, thus cutting the language off from its cultural antecedents. As a result of these revolutionary changes, he succeeded in pushing the conflict between Islam and the secular state underground, and for a long time it seemed as though a stable compromise had been achieved. Now, however, the conflict is erupting all over again: Secularists have attempted to outlaw the ruling Islamic party (the AKP), recent electoral victors in a landslide vote, and the government has attempted to arraign leading secularists in a terrorist trial of dubious legality.
Lebanon, to take another example, owes its exceptional status in the Arab world to its erstwhile Christian majority, and to the longstanding alliance of Maronite and Druze against the Ottoman sultan. Its current fragility is largely due to the Islamists of Hezbollah, who have allied themselves with Iran and Syria and reject Lebanon as a national entity to which any loyalty is owed. Egypt, too, has survived as a nation-state only by taking radical measures against the Muslim Brotherhood, and by leaning upon a legal and political inheritance which would likely be rejected by its Muslim population—though not by the Coptic Christian minority—in any free vote. As for Israel, it has been condemned by its neighbours to live in a permanent state of siege.
The third central feature of Western civilization is Christianity. I have no doubt that it is the long centuries of Christian dominance in Europe which laid the foundations of national loyalty as a type above those of faith and family, and on which a secular jurisdiction and an order of citizenship could be founded. It may sound paradoxical to identify a religion as the major force behind the development of secular government. But we should remember the peculiar circumstances in which Christianity entered the world. The Jews of first-century Judea were a closed community, bound by a tight web of religious legalisms but nonetheless governed from Rome by a law which made no reference to any God, and which offered an ideal of citizenship to which every free subject of the empire might aspire.
Jesus found himself in conflict with the legalism of his fellow Jews, and in broad sympathy with the idea of secular government. Hence his famous words in the parable of the tribute money: “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” After his death, the Christian faith was shaped by Paul for communities within the Roman Empire that sought only the freedom to pursue their worship, and had no intention of challenging the secular powers. This idea of dual loyalty continued after Constantine, and was endorsed by Pope Gelasius I in the fifth century in his doctrine of the two swords given to mankind for their government: that which guards the body politic, and that which guards the individual soul. This endorsement of secular law by the early Church was responsible for subsequent developments in Europe, from the Reformation and the Enlightenment through to the purely territorial law that prevails in the West today.
During the early centuries of Islam various philosophers attempted to develop a theory of the perfect state, but religion was always at the heart of it. The tenth-century polymath al-Fârâbî even tried to recast Plato’s Republic in Islamic terms, with the prophet as philosopher-king. When all such discussion stopped, at the time of Ibn Taymiyya in the fourteenth century, it was clear that Islam had decisively turned its back on secular government, and would henceforth be unable to develop anything remotely like a national—as opposed to a religious—form of allegiance. Indeed, the most important advocate of Arab nationalism in recent times, Michel Aflaq, was not a Muslim but rather a Greek Orthodox Christian, who was born in Syria, educated in France, and died in Iraq, disillusioned with the Baath party he had helped to found. If national loyalties have emerged in the Muslim world in recent times, it is in spite of Islam, and not because of it. And it should come as no surprise if these loyalties seem peculiarly fragile and fractious, as we have noticed in the case of Palestinian attempts at national cohesion, and in the troubled history of Pakistan.
Christianity is sometimes described as a synthesis of Jewish metaphysics and Greek ideas of political freedom. No doubt there is truth in this, given the historical context of its inception. And it is, perhaps, the Greek input into Christianity which is responsible for the fourth of the central features that I believe worthy of emphasis when addressing the Western confrontation with Islam: that of irony. There is already a developing streak of irony in the Hebrew Bible, one that is amplified by the Talmud. But there is a new kind of irony in Jesus’ judgments and parables, one which looks at the spectacle of human folly and wryly shows us how to live with it. A telling example of this is Jesus’ verdict in the case of the woman taken in adultery. “Let he who is without fault,” he says, “cast the first stone.” In other words, “Come off it. Haven’t you wanted to do what she did, and already done it in your hearts?” It has been suggested that this story is a late interpolation—one of many culled by early Christians from the store of inherited wisdom attributed to Jesus after his death. Even if that is true, however, it merely confirms the view that the Christian religion has made irony central to its message. This irony is shared by the great Sufi poets, especially Rumi and Hafiz, but it seems to be largely unknown in the schools of Islam that shape the souls of the Islamists. Theirs is a religion which refuses to see itself from the outside, and which cannot bear to be criticized, still less to be laughed at—something we have abundantly witnessed in recent times.
Indeed, this is nowhere more apparent than in the matter that called forth Jesus’ ironical judgment. Death by stoning is still officially endorsed in many parts of the Muslim world as a punishment for adultery, and in many Islamic communities women are treated as prostitutes as soon as they step out of the lines drawn for them by men. The subject of sex, which cannot be usefully discussed without a measure of irony, has therefore become a painful topic among Muslims, especially when confronted, as they inevitably are, by the lax morals and libidinous confusion of Western societies. The mullahs find themselves unable to think about women as sexual beings, and unable to think for very long about anything else. As a result, an enormous tension has developed in the Muslim communities of Western cities, with the young men enjoying the surrounding freedoms and the young women hidden away and often terrorized lest they do the same.
Irony was seen by the late Richard Rorty as a state of mind intimately connected with the post-modern worldview.
1 It is a withdrawal from judgment that nevertheless aims at a kind of consensus, a shared agreement not to judge. It seems to me, however, that irony, although it infects our states of mind, is better understood as a virtue, a disposition aimed at a kind of practical fulfilment and moral success. If I were to venture a definition of this virtue, I would describe it as the habit of acknowledging the otherness of everything, including of oneself. However convinced you are of the rightness of your actions and the truth of your views, look on them as the actions and the views of someone else, and rephrase them accordingly. So defined, irony is quite distinct from sarcasm. It is a mode of acceptance, rather than a mode of rejection. And it points both ways: Through irony I learn to accept both the other on whom I turn my gaze, and also myself, the one who is gazing. Pace Rorty, irony is not free from judgment. It simply recognizes that the one who judges is also judged, and judged by himself.
Irony is intimately related to the fifth notable feature of Western civilization: self-criticism. It is second nature to us, whenever we affirm something, to allow a voice to the opponent. The adversarial method of deliberation is endorsed by our law, by our forms of education, and by the political systems that we have built to broker our interests and resolve our conflicts. Think of those vociferous critics of Western civilization such as the late Edward Said and the ubiquitous Noam Chomsky. Said spoke out in uncompromising and, at times, even venomous terms on behalf of the Islamic world against what he saw as the lingering outlook of Western imperialism. As a consequence, he was rewarded with a prestigious chair at a leading university and countless opportunities for public speaking in America and around the Western world. The consequences for Chomsky have been largely the same. This habit of rewarding our critics is, I think, unique to Western civilization. The only problem with it is that, in our universities, things have gone so far that there are no rewards given to anyone else. Prizes are distributed to the left of the political spectrum because it feeds the ruling illusion of those who award them: namely, that self-criticism will bring us safety, and that all threats come from ourselves, and from our desire to defend what we have.
This habit of self-criticism has created another critical feature of Western civilization, and that is representation. We in the West, and the English-speaking peoples pre-eminently, are heirs to a longstanding habit of free association, in which we join together in clubs, businesses, pressure groups, and educational foundations. This associative genius was particularly remarked upon by Tocqueville in his journeys through America, and it is facilitated by the unique branch of the English common law—equity and the law of trusts—which enables people to set up funds in common and to administer them without asking permission from any higher authority.
This associative habit goes hand in hand with the tradition of representation. When we form a club or a society which has a public profile, we are in the habit of appointing officers to represent it. The decisions of these officers are then assumed to be binding on all members, who cannot reject them without leaving the club. In this way, a single individual is able to speak for an entire group, and in so doing, to bind it to accept the decisions made in its name. We find nothing strange in this, and it has affected the political, educational, economic, and leisure institutions of our society in incalculable ways. It has also affected the government of our religious institutions, both Catholic and Protestant. Indeed, it was among nineteenth-century Protestant theologians that the theory of the corporation as a moral idea was first fully developed. We know that the hierarchy of our church, be it Baptist, Episcopalian, or Catholic, is empowered to take decisions on our behalf, and can enter into dialogue with institutions in other parts of the world, in order to secure the space that we require for worship.
Association takes a very different form in traditional Islamic societies, however. Clubs and societies of strangers are rare, and the primary social unit is not the free association, but the family. Companies do not enjoy a developed legal framework under Islamic law, and it has been argued by Malise Ruthven and others that the concept of the corporate person has no equivalent in shari’ah.
2 The same is true for other forms of association. Charities, for instance, are organized in a completely different way than are those in the West: not as property held in trust for beneficiaries, but as property that has been religiously “stopped” (waqf). As a result, all public entities, including schools and hospitals, are regarded as ancillary to the mosque and governed by religious principles. Meanwhile, the mosque itself is not a corporate person, nor is there an entity which can be called “the Mosque” in the same sense as we refer to the Church—that is, an entity whose decisions are binding on all its members, which can negotiate on their behalf, and which can be held to account for its misdeeds and abuses.
As a result of this long tradition of associating only under the aegis of the mosque or the family, Islamic communities lack the conception of the spokesman.3 When serious conflicts erupt between Muslim minorities in Western cities and the surrounding society, we have found it difficult, if not impossible, to negotiate with the Muslim community, since there is no one who will speak for it or take responsibility for imposing any decision upon it. If by chance someone does step forward, the individual members of the Muslim community feel free to accept or reject his decisions at will. The same problem has been witnessed in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other countries with radicalized Muslim populations. When someone attempts to speak for a dissident group, it is very often on his own initiative, and without any procedure that validates his office. Like as not, should he agree to a solution to a given problem, he will be assassinated, or at any rate disowned, by the radical members of the group for whom he purports to be speaking.
This point leads me to reflect once again on the idea of citizenship. An important reason for the stability and peacefulness of societies based on citizenship is that individuals in such societies are fully protected by their rights. They are fenced off from their neighbors in spheres of private sovereignty, where they alone make decisions. As a result, a society of citizens can establish good relations and shared allegiance between strangers. You don’t have to know your fellow citizen in order to ascertain your rights against him or your duties toward him; moreover, his being a stranger in no way alters the fact that you are each prepared to die for the territory that contains you and the laws which you enjoy. This remarkable feature of nation-states is sustained by the habits to which I have referred: self-criticism, representation, and corporate life, the very habits not to be found in traditional Islamic societies. What the Islamist movements promise their adherents is not citizenship, but “brotherhood”—ikhwân—an altogether warmer, closer, and more metaphysically satisfying thing.
And yet, the warmer and closer an attachment, the less widely can it be spread. Brotherhood is selective and exclusive. It cannot extend very far without exposing itself to sudden and violent refutation. Hence the Arab proverb: “I and my brother against my cousin; I and my cousin against the world.” An association of brothers is not a new entity, a corporation which can negotiate for its members. It remains essentially plural—indeed, ikhwân is simply the plural of akh, “brother”—and denotes an assembly of like-minded people brought together by their common commitment, rather than any institution which can claim sovereignty over them. This has significant political repercussions. For instance, when Nasser’s successor as president of Egypt, Anwar Sadat, set aside seats in the Egyptian parliament for the Muslim Brotherhood, they were immediately occupied by those judged suitable by the president, and disowned by the real Brotherhood, which continued its violent activities, culminating in Sadat’s assassination. Simply put, brothers don’t take orders. They act together as a family—until they quarrel and fight.
This brings me to a final and critical point of difference between Western and Islamic communities. We live in a society of strangers who associate rapidly and tolerate each other’s differences. Yet ours is not a society of vigilant conformity. It makes few public demands that are not contained in secular law; and it allows people to move quickly from one group to the next, one relationship to the next, one business, religion, or way of life to the next, and all with relative ease. It is endlessly creative in forming the institutions and associations that enable people to live with their differences and remain on peaceful terms, without the need for intimacy, brotherhood, or tribal loyalties. I am not arguing that this is a good thing, but it is the way things are, and this is the inevitable by product of citizenship as I have described it.
What makes it possible to live in this way? There is a simple answer, and that is drink. What the Koran promises in paradise but forbids here below is the necessary lubricant of the Western dynamo. You see this clearly in America, where cocktail parties immediately break the ice between strangers and set every large gathering in motion, stimulating a collective desire for rapid agreement among people who a moment before did not know each other from Adam. This habit of quickly coming to the point depends on many aspects of our culture besides drink, of course, but drink is critical, and those who have studied the phenomenon are largely persuaded that, for all the costs that our civilization has paid in terms of alcoholism, accidents, and broken homes, it is largely thanks to drink that we have been, in the long run, so successful. Of course, Islamic societies have their own ways of creating fleeting associations: the hookah, the coffee house, and the traditional bathhouse, praised by Lady Mary Wortley Montague as establishing a solidarity among women that has no equivalent in the Christian world. But these forms of association are also forms of withdrawal, a standing back from the business of government in a posture of peaceful resignation. Drink has the opposite effect: It brings strangers together in a state of controlled aggression, able and willing to engage in any business that should arise from the current conversation.
The features to which I have referred do not merely explain the uniqueness of Western civilization; they also account for its success in navigating the enormous changes that have come about through the advance of technology and science, just as they explain the political stability and democratic ethos of its component nation-states. These features also distinguish Western civilization from the Islamic communities in which terrorists are cultivated. And they help to explain the great resentment of those terrorists who cannot match, with their own moral and religious resources, the easy competence with which the citizens of Europe and America negotiate the modern world.
If this is so, then how should we defend the West from Islamist terrorism? I shall suggest a brief answer to that question. First, we should be clear about what it is that we are and are not defending. We are not defending, for example, our wealth or our territory; these things are not at stake. Rather, we are defending our political and cultural inheritance, embodied in the seven features which I have singled out here for attention. Second, we should be clear that you cannot overcome resentment by feeling guilty or by conceding fault. Weakness provokes, since it alerts your enemy to the possibility of destroying you. We should therefore be prepared to affirm what we have, and to express our determination to hold on to it. That said, we must recognize that it is not envy but resentment that animates the terrorist. Envy is the desire to possess what the other has; resentment is the desire to destroy it. How do you deal with resentment? This is the great question that so few leaders of mankind have been able to answer. Christians, however, are fortunate in being heirs to the one great attempt to answer it, which was that of Jesus, who drew on a longstanding Jewish tradition that goes back to the Tora, and which was expressed in similar terms by his contemporary R. Hillel. You overcome resentment, Jesus told us, by forgiving it. To reach out in a spirit of forgiveness is not to accuse yourself; it is to make a gift to the other. And it is here, it seems to me, that we have taken a wrong turn in recent decades. The illusion that we are to blame, that we must confess our faults and join our cause to that of our enemies, only exposes us to a more determined hatred. The truth is that we are not to blame; that our enemies’ hatred of us is entirely unjustified; and that their implacable enmity cannot be defused by our breast-beating.
There is a drawback to realizing this truth, however. It makes it seem as though we are powerless. But we are not powerless. There are two resources on which we can call in our defence, one public, and the other private. In the public sphere, we can resolve to protect the good things that we have inherited. That means making no concessions to those who wish us to exchange citizenship for subjection, nationality for religious conformity, secular law for shari’ah, the Judeo-Christian inheritance for Islam, irony for solemnity, self-criticism for dogmatism, representation for submission, and cheerful drinking for censorious abstinence. We should treat with scorn all those who demand these changes and invite them to live where their preferred form of political order is already installed. And we must respond to their violence with whatever force is required to contain it.
In the private sphere, however, Christians should follow the path laid down for them by Jesus: namely, looking soberly and in a spirit of forgiveness on the hurts that we receive, and showing, by our example, that these hurts achieve nothing save to discredit the one who inflicts them. This is the hard part of the task—hard to perform, hard to endorse, and hard to recommend to others. Nonetheless, it is the task at hand, and in a battle the stakes of which are so high, it is a task that we cannot fail to undertake.
Pan-Africanist Scholar Ali Mazrui on the Election of Barack Obama as the First Black President in the Western World
Ali Mazrui has been an intellectual giant in African studies for the past four decades. In 2005, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines named him among the top 100 public intellectuals in the world. Mazrui has met Nelson Mandela, Ghana’s founding president Kwame Nkrumah; he had tea with the Indian prime minister; he met with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in his tent; he’s met with the Queen of England; and was forced out of Uganda under Idi Amin. Today, a conversation with Pan-Africanist professor Ali Mazrui. [Includes rush transcript]
Ali Mazrui, Albert Schweitzer Professor in the Humanities and the Director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at the State University of New York at Binghamton. Born in Mombasa in 1933, Mazrui studied in Manchester, New York, and Oxford before becoming a professor at Makerere University in Uganda. In 1973, he was forced into exile by then-Ugandan dictator Idi Amin and has taught in the United States as well as at institutions across the world ever since. In addition to his appointments at Binghamton, Professor Mazrui is also Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large at the University of Jos in Nigeria, the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies at Cornell University, and Chancellor of the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.
AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to our next guest, an intellectual giant in African studies for the past four decades. In 2005, Foreign Policy and Prospect magazines named him among the top 100 public intellectuals in the world, written over thirty enormously influential books, including Towards a Pax Africana, The African Condition, Black Reparations in the Era of Globalization, The Power of Babel: Language and Governance in the African Experience, Islam: Between Globalization and Counterterrorism, as well as the book The African Predicament and the American Experience: A Tale of Two Edens. He’s written and narrated a much-discussed 1986 TV series on BBC and PBS called The Africans: A Triple Heritage.
I’m talking about the Kenyan-born, Pan-Africanist thinker Ali Mazrui. He is Albert Schweitzer Professor in Humanities and the director of the Institute of Global Cultural Studies at State University of New York, Binghamton. Born in Mombasa in Kenya in 1933, Dr. Mazrui studied in Manchester, New York, and Oxford, then became a professor in Uganda, in 1973 forced into exile by the Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, and has taught in the United States as well as at institutions around the world.
In addition to his appointments at Binghamton, Professor Mazrui is also Albert Luthuli Professor-at-Large at University of Jos in Nigeria, the Andrew D. White Professor-at-Large Emeritus and Senior Scholar in Africana Studies at Cornell University, and he is chancellor of Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya.
Professor Ali Mazrui joins us now in our firehouse studio. Welcome to Democracy Now!
ALI MAZRUI: Delighted to be here, Amy, and congratulations on your very successful program.
AMY GOODMAN: It is great to have you with us. You have had many experiences in your life that really go to the connection between the United States and Africa. You met with the founding president of Ghana, Kwame Nkrumah, in New York as well as other places. You were driven out of Uganda by Idi Amin, though met with him many times. You met with Jomo Kenyatta. You’re the chancellor of a university by that name in Kenya. You met with the Queen of England and sat in a tent with Muammar Qaddafi and discussed world affairs. You just had tea with the Indian prime minister in November.
This is the hundredth anniversary of the birth of Kwame Nkrumah, the founding president of Ghana. It’s also the time of the election of the first black president of the United States, his father from Kenya, Barack Obama. I heard you speak yesterday at the International Studies Association in New York, and you said it’s bigger than that for Barack Obama.
ALI MAZRUI: Yes, indeed. Barack Obama is setting a precedent not just for the United States, but for the entire Western world. In none of the countries in the Western world with a white majority population has there been an election to install a head of state or a head of government who was black. So—
AMY GOODMAN: You’re saying he’s the first black president of the Western Hemisphere?
ALI MAZRUI: And of the Western world. That is, including Europe, not just the Western Hemisphere, but the Western world as a whole, because we keep on wondering when we’ll have a black president of France, for example, although there’s been progress in appointing ministers who are from Africa or from the world of colour. And then, a black prime minister of Great Britain would be very nice, and I’m sure it will happen, not necessarily in my lifetime, but probably in yours or in the lifetime of my children. And then, even more surprising, but—historically, but perfectly understandable in modern terms, a black chancellor of Germany, and that will take a while. But I’m sure because of Barack Obama breaking that original taboo in the Western world about appointing as heads of states people who are not of European extraction; it opens other doors around the Western world as well as the Western Hemisphere.
And then, Barack Obama, himself, becomes the most powerful single black individual in the history of civilization, you know? There’s never been a person in control of the resources which the United States has, of the creative and destructive powers that the United States has. We’ve had great individuals in African history, like Menelik II of Ethiopia or Ramesses II of Egypt or even a more recent one like Kwame Nkrumah. Those were powerful within their countries or their regions. They were not globally powerful in the sense in which a president of the United States is. So he’s easily the most powerful single black individual that’s ever walked planet earth. And that’s a major breakthrough in race relations.
AMY GOODMAN: His father also is Kenyan, as you are.
ALI MAZRUI: Yes, indeed.
AMY GOODMAN: The significance of Barack Obama’s links, his relations to Kenya?
ALI MAZRUI: Yes, well, although I didn’t know the older Barack Obama personally, we share friends. There are friends even now I talk to for information about the older Obama. And we are waiting for the first book about the older Obama, the father, which will be published in Nairobi.
AMY GOODMAN: Really?
ALI MAZRUI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: But he was a student at University of Hawaii, right?
ALI MAZRUI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: And also at Harvard?
ALI MAZRUI: Yes. He did go to Harvard, as well, yes. And then he went back home, and he had ups and downs with the authorities, unfortunately, the way I have had ups and downs with the authorities.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean “ups and downs with the authorities”?
ALI MAZRUI: Well, he—unlike me, he actually was a part of the government, because he was appointed into the civil service. And then, now and again, he took positions which put him into a bad light with authorities, including his very strong position upon the assassination of Tom Mboya, who was a fellow Luo, but much more importantly, he was a potential next president after Kenyatta and was probably eliminated because of those credentials, presidential credentials for Kenya. And the older Obama was trying to get the government to be much more serious about investigating and not to engage in cover-up, because the chances were that people in government knew about the plot to kill Mboya and were hiding. So, he was a fairly brave man. And he was sacked out of the civil service on one occasion and then readmitted later on. He had ups and downs. But he didn’t realize he had produced a son who would change the history of race relations in the world.
AMY GOODMAN: How do you respond to someone like—critics like Glen Ford—he writes for the Black Agenda Report—who says, “Obama will provide US Empire with a black face, and that could be very destructive.”
ALI MAZRUI: It is a risk, really, because sometimes people are swallowed up by the position they occupy. I would hope he would help reshape the position he occupies, the presidency of the United States. And I’ve spoken, including in India—the one thing I hope he will avoid is initiate another military conflict for the United States, because since the 1930s, every single American president has initiated a conflict, either large-scale war or some kind of confrontation with another country involving weapons—everybody since Franklin D. Roosevelt. So, my hope is he will break that tendency for the American presidents to feel the way to be really presidential and commander-in-chief is to be ordering an army into action on another society.
AMY GOODMAN: And what sense do you have that he will go that way? I mean, since he has come into office, we see one after another of these unmanned drone attacks in Pakistan. Of course, while he says he’s going to draw down in Iraq, he’s talking about a surge that wills double the force in Afghanistan.
ALI MAZRUI: Absolutely. So, at the moment, I’m not optimistic that he’ll necessarily be just a peacemaking president with the conflicts that are on. So my dream was he will be the first president not to start a conflict, not that he would be the first president not to preside over a war, because he’s inheriting two wars, anyhow. And then, with one of them, the Afghanistan, he’s not planning to end it, really. He’s planning to escalate it for a while, so that is disappointing. So my prayer was slightly different, that I don’t want him to start a war with Iran. I hope he wouldn’t start a war with Syria. He would be mad if he started a war with North Korea, you see? So, in general, I hope he won’t start any war and break this idea that a commander-in-chief has to be engaged in an actual war to be a credible president of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: The Ethiopian invasion of Somalia that took place—
ALI MAZRUI: Yes.
AMY GOODMAN: —looking at modern conflicts and the US role in that, Professor Mazrui?
ALI MAZRUI: Oh, absolutely. I think although Ethiopia always has reasons for being suspicious about its neighbour, Somalia, and has reasons to engage in hostile action against Somalia, the actual use of troops to enter into Ethiopia and virtually be an occupying power had a lot to do with American encouragement to do so. So the Ethiopians were allowing themselves to be used by the United States against another African country, in spite of the fact that you could argue that Ethiopia had its own national interests at stake in Somalia, whatever happened. So, we must be fair to Ethiopia. They weren’t just doing Washington’s dirty work, although they were doing that, but they had also good reasons to be cautious about dealing with Somalia, but that was not the answer.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Ali Mazrui, we have to break one more time, but we’re going to come back to this Kenyan-born, Pan-Africanist scholar, intellectual, professor at Binghamton University, also at Cornell, and chancellor of a Kenyan university in Africa. Be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Professor Ali Mazrui. He is known for, among other things, his series for PBS and BBC called The Africans. He’s joining us in studio here in New York.
You were invited to Prince Charles’s sixtieth birthday party in Oxford, but you’re turning him down?
ALI MAZRUI: Yeah, I’m afraid so. It’s very tempting. Of course, you don’t turn down an invitation to a royal occasion, least of all a British occasion, which is even more exclusive than others. And I did consider seriously going there, but it’s really—first, it’s a long way to go just for a banquet. And secondly—
AMY GOODMAN: What is your relation with Prince Charles?
ALI MAZRUI: Well, mainly because he’s the patron of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, and I’m one of the trustees of the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies. So I serve on the board of that centre, and I go to Oxford every year in connection with that centre. So—and he’s been remarkable in trying to reach to the world of Islam. He even gave a lecture at Oxford on Islam and the Western world, which was very Muslim-friendly. And he attempted to have the oath of coronation, when he does become king, changed to be not just defender of the faith, which originally envisaged the defender of the Church of England, but defender of faith in the sense more generally of all religions, etc. But he’s had trouble selling that concept to the people in charge of the rules of the coronation.
AMY GOODMAN: You will be celebrating your seventy-sixth birthday at just about the time he’s celebrating his sixtieth birthday. But not that long ago, you were sitting in a tent in Libya with Muammar Qaddafi. When was that?
ALI MAZRUI: A few years ago, maybe three, four years ago. Yeah.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, now Muammar Qaddafi has been elected as head of the fifty-three-member African Union. He has vowed to pursue his vision of a United States of Africa, where African nations join together in a unified state. He has proposed establishing a single currency, army and passport for the entire continent. Tell us about him and what you think of his proposal.
ALI MAZRUI: Well, he’s definitely a very important individual for a head of state of such a small country, because Libya looks large on the map, but it’s, population-wise, a small society. And he’s been in power longer than I normally would recommend, because he’s been in power forty years this year. So that’s too long, even by African standards, etc.
But even in my conversations with him, he had already begun to change, that he was looking for a legacy in his capacity as an African and less for a legacy in his capacity as an Arab. In fact, in our four or five hours in his tent, one of the debates I was trying to convince him of, that he wasn’t being fair to the Arab world. You can imagine me trying to convince an Arab leader, “Don’t be so rough on the Arab world,” etc. And in general, he is seeking a legacy as a great African. It may be because he’s given up trying to forge a legacy as a great Arab. But in fairness to him, he has regarded himself consistently as part of the African scene, including at one time trying to save the regime of Idi Amin in Uganda by sending some troops there at the time Idi Amin’s regime was in danger from troops coming in from Tanzania.
And then, his dream of an instant United States of Africa, it’s nice. Many of us have had that kind of dream. But I’m realistic enough to believe that the speed he envisages is not doable. Africa needs to have the stage-by-stage approach, which the European Union has embarked upon ever since the Treaty of Rome in the 1950s, and they still haven’t reached a federation of Europe. So I’m sceptical about his timetable for African unification. But I’m intrigued by the optimism that it can be done, and I like the idea that there are still Africans who believe that we are one and should attempt to be politically united, even if his particular approach is unrealistic.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to end on this centenary of the birth of Kwame Nkrumah. For viewers or listeners, particularly young Americans who have never even heard of him—we’ll start part two of our discussion on him, as well—but just briefly, in this last minute we have, explain who he is. Actually, we have thirty seconds, so it’ll have to be very brief.
ALI MAZRUI: Yes. Well, it’s arguable he’s the first post-colonial black president of the world. So, Obama being the first black president of the Western world, Nkrumah was the first of the world in post-colonial terms. There were president in Liberia before him, but Liberia was not a regular type of colony. And Nkrumah, although I have described him as not a great Ghanaian, in terms of what he did for Ghana, I’ve also described him as a great African, because he was the most ambitious Pan-Africanist of the twentieth century.
AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to leave it there, but we’re also going to pick it up there in part two of our conversation, which we will play this week. Professor Ali Mazrui, I want to thank you very much for being with us.