In the United States, it's legal to burn the country's flag; it's legal to put a Christian cross in a glass of urine and call it art; and it's legal to create a painting of the Virgin Mary that incorporates elephant dung. Despite the fact that many people understandably find these acts to be highly repugnant and offensive, they are protected as free speech.
Last Friday, however, a 23-year-old man was arrested on hate-crime charges after surveillance photos linked him to two incidents of throwing Korans into toilets at Pace University in New York. Granted, the behavior was offensive and inappropriate: It does not elevate the debate about Islam and terrorism.
But in the compelling interest of protecting free speech, this man's alleged Koran flushings should be treated as property crimes, not hate crimes. He appears to have taken the Korans from the university's meditation room. If true, then he should be charged with theft. If the toilets' plumbing was damaged, then he should also be charged with vandalism.
In fact, Pace University initially classified the first book flushing as an act of vandalism, but later referred it to the hate crimes unit of the New York Police Department. If the university wishes to punish such asinine behavior, then as a private university, it has the right to establish a code of conduct that takes disciplinary action against those who create a hostile environment on campus.
Free speech is essential for democracy. It doesn't require us to agree with what everyone says, but it does require us to tolerate—and even defend—the right of others to express themselves in offensive ways.
I know we're supposed to be frightened by Jay Solomon's recent story in the Wall Street Journal about how the U.S. State Department has been reaching out to Syria's Muslim Brotherhood—in Solomon's telling, "the decades-old political movement active across the Middle East whose leaders have inspired the terrorist groups Hamas and al Qaeda"—but I'm actually encouraged by the news.
It's not because the Syrian opposition, led by the Brotherhood, would have any real impact while Bashar al-Assad is so strong. Rather, I'm encouraged because sooner or later, the White House will understand that it has to deal with Hamas, as distasteful as that prospect is. If the current momentum towards peace between Israel and the Palestinians is to lead anywhere, Hamas needs to be inside the tent pissing in, not outside the tent blowing things up.
No less a personage than Colin Powell understands that a group that won the 2006 Palestinian elections simply isn't going to wither away and die, and an excluded Hamas will have every incentive to ensure that Mahmoud Abbas fails. The State Department's flexibility in dealing with Syria's Muslim Brotherhood, a kindred spirit of Hamas, shows me that pragmatism is alive and well in Foggy Bottom. If you can talk to the Brotherhood—and, for that matter, Sunni insurgents in Iraq—it's not much of a leap to talk to Hamas.
The latest Pew Global Attitudes survey contains the following good news:
The percentage of Muslims saying that suicide bombing is justified in the defense of Islam has declined dramatically over the past five years in five of eight countries where trends are available. In Lebanon, for example, just 34% of Muslims say suicide bombings in the defense of Islam are often or sometimes justified; in 2002, 74% expressed this view.
Today, two terrorists blew themselves up amid a crowd of soccer fans whose only crime was cheering Iraq's recent victory over South Korea in the wrong place at the wrong time. Is it any wonder why support for suicide bombing is dropping so rapidly in the Muslim world?
Back in March, Passport highlighted the achievements of Australia's first Muslim lifeguard contingent and the ability of Muslim women to participate in this lifesaving program thanks to the "burqini"—a two-piece, full-body, lightweight swimsuit designed by Sydney's Aheda Zanetti, a fashion entrepreneur. Now the burqini, and "Splashgear," another brand offering full-length swim gear, has made it to Time's fashion page along with an interesting report about the growing popularity of the swimsuit.
It not just Muslim women who have taken to the burqini, Time reports. Conservative Christians, cancer patients, the elderly and others have found the burqini liberating, and demand for the product has grown in places as distant as Malaysia, South Africa, and the United States. But with its growing popularity, the burqini has also attracted its fair share of critics. Conservative Muslims have denounced the swimsuit as un-Islamic (for revealing curves), while some feminists have decried it as dehumanizing, just like the traditional burqa.
"Clearly you're not considered a full human being if you're mandated to cover yourself head to toe in this tent," says Taina Bien-Aimé, the executive director of the women's rights organization Equality Now.
In spite of these condemnations, the burqini has succeeded in filling a gap in the market, and has been lauded an "export success" (pdf) by Austrade, Australia's international trade promotion body. As Zanetti puts it,
I'm a very small business with a product the whole world wants."
Correction: "Splashgear" was mistakenly referred to as the "scuba equivalent" of the burqini. It is actually a loose-fitting, nylon/lycra surfer rash guard shirt coupled with a polyester swim bottom that are a pants version of the popular men's board shorts. While some Splashgear wearers like to use it for snorkling, it can also be used for regular swimming in pools and the ocean. Apologies for the error.
Copies of a strange, enormous, beautiful book arrived unsolicited at Foreign Policy magazine and its publisher, the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, last month. The Atlas of Creation uses 759 heavy, glossy pages to illustrate its author's view that the scientific theory of evolution is just plain wrong. The thick, 11-by-15-inch tome, with hologram-like images on its cover, was written by a mysterious Turkish man, Harun Yahya (whose real name is Adnan Oktar). Nearly every page features brilliant color photos of fossils and animals, all which supposedly prove that creationism is correct, and evolution is balderdash.
On page after page, the same formulaic argument appears, which is typified by this quote from a page with a photo of a 150-million-year-old shrimp fossil:
Since shrimp first came into existence, they have always displayed all the same organs and characteristics as they have today and have undergone no changes in all that time. This shrimp fossil shows plainly that evolution is an imaginary scenario. (p. 110)
The book has been mailed unsolicited—at undoubtedly ludicrously high postage costs—to scientists, academics, members of Congress, museums, and now apparently think tanks across the United States. Copies have also turned up in France.
If Yahya wants to do something positive for the world that also promotes Islam as a religion of genuine peace, he might want to mail Muslims and non-Muslims alike copies of his more promisingly titled books (listed at the end of the Atlas of Creation), including Only Love Can Defeat Terrorism and Islam Denounces Terrorism, or direct people to some of his websites such as Islam Denounces Antisemitism and Islam Denounces Terrorism.
Question: What's the quickest way to get Muslim women to stop wearing extremely conservative clothing?
Answer: Get prostitutes to start dressing like them.
In Mombasa, Kenya, the coastal city's "twilight ladies" have ditched their skimpy "uniforms" for the much more conservative buibui—a billowing, ankle-length gown with head covering that Muslim women in the region wear. Sex workers say it lets them hide their identity, avoid arrest, and look respectable.
Unsurprisingly, Muslim women who cover themselves head to toe with the buibui aren't exactly happy with this fashion makeover. One woman says:
I feel so embarrassed that sometimes I contemplate removing my buibui and throwing it away. The buibui has lost its respect.
In addition to the risk of being mistaken for a prostitute, there is another reason why this woman may want to reconsider covering herself head to toe: Conservative Muslim dress codes may be bad for women's health.
You know, when I see a woman walking around with a burqa, I see a Nazi. That's what I see -- how do you like that? -- a hateful Nazi who would like to cut your throat and kill your children. Don't give me this crap that they're doing it out of a sacred ritual or rite. It's not required by the Quran that a woman walk around in a seventh-century drape. She's doing it to spit in your face. She's saying, "You white moron, you, I'm going to kill you if I can."
I'm no fan of the "burqa," or niqab as the full Islamic veil known in Arabic. But there's a difference between respectful criticism and hate-mongering. Obviously, Savage crossed the line. And naturally, his words are getting picked up overseas. Here's Egypt's al-Masry al-Youm ("The Egyptian Today"), an independent daily in Cairo:
US 'Arab American News' newspaper said that US hard-line radio stations are some of the main platforms to attack Muslims in the US. It also affirmed that US Muslims are almost every day exposed to racial discrimination in radio programs, most of which are presented by intransigent conservatives.
To prove that Muslims are targeted in US radios, the newspaper, which is the Arab community's mouthpiece in the US, reported the dialogue in which US hard-line presenter, Michael Savage, whose program is the third most-listened-to in the US, while talking about the last attacks in Britain, described a woman wearing the 'Burqa' (Complete Veil) as a 'hateful Nazi' who wants to kill Americans and their children.
Readers of Passport will be able to place Savage in his proper context. He's a buffoon, a performance artist who says shocking things to get attention. But read about him for the first time in al-Masry al-Youm, and you might think he is a mainstream, influential figure. And that is a very dangerous impression for the United States to be sending.
Conservative Muslim dress codes may be causing vitamin D deficiency in women by limiting their exposure to sunlight, humans' main source for the vitamin, according to new research.
Scientists had previously found high rates of vitamin D deficiency in Arab and East Indian women living in the United Arab Emirates. A follow-up study investigated the effect of vitamin D supplements on 178 UAE women, many of whom covered themselves entirely, faces and hands included, when outside their homes. Only two of the women did not have vitamin D deficiency prior to receiving supplements. The results were published by a team of scientists in the June issue of the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.
One of the researchers concludes, "When sunlight exposure … is limited, much higher dietary intake of vitamin D is needed than currently recommended," particularly for those who breast-feed.
At least one commentator, though, is saying it's not higher doses of vitamin D that are needed, but rather, lower doses of fundamentalism.
Recently, I wrote about how some people in Switzerland want to ban the building of minarets. Now a right-wing citizens' group in the German city of Cologne is protesting the construction of what will be the country's largest mosque. The group, Pro Cologne, has even enlisted help from far-right activists in Belgium and Austria.
The protest is driven by a fear of the Islamization of Europe. This anxiety, which Philip Jenkins argues is overblown in a recent web exclusive for FP, is a variant of what one sociologist has described as "cultural displacement" — "the fear that your children will grow up in a world different than the one you grew up in." In the United States, it's captured by those white Americans who, in the face of a rising Hispanic population, worry about a day when Spanish will be the language on the streets and there will be more Miguels than Michaels. In Europe, it's captured by a woman in Cologne who says she wants to feel at home, not as if she's in a foreign land.
The issue of the mosque, which will have space for 2,000 worshipers, started receiving national attention in Germany after Jewish writer and Holocaust survivor Ralph Giordano said, "There is no fundamental right to the construction of a large mosque." Pro Cologne has tried recruiting Giordano to its cause, but he has said the group is the "local variety of Nazism."
With Europe's low birthrates and growing immigrant population, it won't at all be surprising to see far-right groups gain in popularity. When a people feel that they and their culture are essentially "going extinct" and being displaced by another group, expect extreme reactions. Already, Germany's population has been decreasing, and wolves (pdf) are even reclaiming sparsely populated areas. With the rise of the far right, let's hope that Germany doesn't end up going the way it did in 1933.
Last week we learned that Mohammed was the #2 name for baby boys in Britain last year, when the top 14 spellings were considered.
Of course, that made me wonder, how popular is Mohammed in the United States? So I visited the website of the U.S. Social Security Administration, which provides the top 1,000 baby names for each sex going back to the late 1800s. No spellings of Mohammed made it into the top 1,000 until 1976, when Muhammad came in 976th place with 73 births.
In 2006, Mohammed ranked #217, between Dominick and Rafael, when the four spellings that made it into the top 1,000 (Mohamed, Mohammad, Mohammed, and Muhammad, in order of decreasing popularity) were considered. No other spelling has ever made it into the top 1,000.
Then I wondered, were Muslims hesitant to name their sons Mohammed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks? It looks like that might have been the case, at least for a while. The graph below shows how many Mohammeds of all four aforementioned spellings were born in the United States each year since 1976, with data coming from Social Security card applications.
Interestingly, a total of 27,350 Mohammeds of the top four spellings were born from 1976 to 2006. That may sound like a lot, but 24,418 Jacobs were born last year alone.
Quick, before you read down to the next paragraphs, guess what was the #2 most popular name for baby boys in Britain last year?
Was it perhaps Harry, Hugo, Jack, or Joshua?
Actually, it was Mohammed, if all 14 spellings are taken into account. (The top spelling, Mohammed, comes in at #23.)
It's a sign of our times, and predictably, commentators are already freaking out about Eurabia. Keep in mind, though, that the list of top baby boy names probably makes it look like there are more Muslims in Britain than there really are since Mohammed is so hugely popular of a name among the tiny 3 percent of the British population that is Muslim.
Nevertheless, the ethnic shift in the popularity of baby names isn't new. A 2005 New York Times article reported that Mohammed (when all spellings were considered) was more popular than Richard and Charles in New York City. Additionally, over the years, Fatoumata had become more popular than Lisa; Aaliyah had sped ahead of Melissa; and Miguel had surpassed Jeffrey. Interestingly, in 1920, Francesco, Antonio, and Giuseppe were top 20 baby boy names in New York City, reflecting immigration from southern Italy.
These changes may make some people feel uncomfortable. But the reality is that change is simply part of the human condition. Hanging onto the past is futile. Shift happens.
Outgoing British Prime Minister Tony Blair has made clear that promoting dialogue between religious faiths will be a centerpiece of his retirement. He's kicking things off this week with an international conference hosted by Cambridge University entitled, "Islam and Muslims in the World Today."
Blair said today that the conference is an opportunity "to hear Islam's true voice." Among the participants (pdf) who apparently represent this voice is Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt who is said to be on the liberal end of the Sheikh spectrum. Yet among Gomaa's more famous beliefs is a fatwa that condemned artists and banned the displaying of statues in people's private homes, a statement supporting the terrorist group Hezbollah during last summer's war with Israel, and this bizarre comment justifying the beating of women in some instances:
Women in some cultures are not averse to beatings. They consider it as an expression of masculinity, and as a kind of control, which she herself desires. In other societies, it is the exact opposite. [...]
I got a question from Canada. The man said: "Here, it is a crime to beat a wife, even with a toothbrush. Is this prohibition acceptable in Islam?" Yes. Islam accepts that the beating of Canadian wives, in this culture and ambience [...] From childhood they are taught that beating women is a type of barbarism, savagery, and so on. There is nothing wrong with taking this into consideration, and adapting to society, because Islam did not command us to be aggressive towards women.
If in their culture, this constitutes aggression towards women, then we are forbidden to be aggressive towards women. [...] But when Allah permitted wife-beating, He permitted it to the other side of culture, which considers it as one of the means to preserve the family, and as one of the means to preserve stability.
Interfaith dialogue is an admirable goal. We need more of it and, particularly, those of us in the West could use more exposure to the "true" voices of Islam. But it's sad when these efforts amount to little more than pathetic displays of cultural relativism.
(Hat tip: Damian Thompson)
I call it ‘hadith slinging,’ ” said Prof. Khaled Abou el Fadl, a specialist in Islamic law at the University of California, Los Angeles. “I throw a couple of hadiths at you, and you throw a couple of hadiths at me, and that is the way we do Islamic law,” he added. “It’s like any moron can do that.”
That's from an interesting article in today's New York Times about the search for U.S.-born Islamic prayer leaders, known as imams. Apparently, there's a huge shortage of qualified imams in the United States who can speak to the real concerns of young American Muslims.
Question: What are we to make of Paul Berman's grandiose, self-indulgent, 28,000-word essay on Tariq Ramadan in the latest issue of the New Republic (aside from the fact that it happens to have the same title as an FP interview with Ramadan from 2004)?
Answer: Not much. After printing out 49 pages and reading Berman's piece (as well as Ian Buruma's vastly more concise profile of Ramadan in the New York Times Magazine, which Berman critiques at great length), I'm still not sure what he would have the world do with Ramadan. Arrest him? Criticize him? Ignore him? What's it all about?
Berman seems not to understand, moreover, that while Ayaan Hirsi Ali certainly offers some insightful criticisms of Islam, as someone who has renounced her religion, she's not very influential within the Muslim world itself. Ramadan, however, is popular and influential among Muslims in Europe. He matters. An essay in an elite Washington magazine won't change that, no matter how long and comprehensive it may be.
Some people think that bombing and other types of attacks intentionally aimed at civilians are sometimes justified while others think that this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that such attacks are often justified, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?
Recently, a survey by the Pew Research Center (pdf) asked Muslim Americans:
Some people think that suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilian targets are justified in order to defend Islam from its enemies. Other people believe that, no matter what the reason, this kind of violence is never justified. Do you personally feel that this kind of violence is often justified to defend Islam, sometimes justified, rarely justified, or never justified?
The responses were:
Any statistician will tell you that you have to be cautious in comparing the results of two separate polls, but at the very least, the results above show that when it comes to intentionally attacking civilians, Muslim Americans don't support it any more than Americans at large do.
In my blog post yesterday, I said it was "unsettling" that "one in four young U.S. Muslims surveyed agreed that suicide bombing of civilians was at times acceptable." Well, now I also find it unsettling that 51 percent of my fellow Americans think it's acceptable to intentionally attack civilians. It's not too surprising, however. Many Americans think that dropping nuclear bombs on Japanese civilians during World War II was acceptable, so it makes sense that a sizable fraction think—at least on certain occasions—that bombing civilians is justifiable. Troubling indeed.
The Pew Research Center just released the results of the first, nationwide random-sample survey of Muslim Americans (pdf) and has found them to be largely assimilated. But some findings are nonetheless troubling.
The good news: The survey found that the U.S. Muslims surveyed were middle class and mostly mainstream. A strong 71 percent believe you can get ahead in the United States by working hard. They also reject extremist Islam by larger margins than their counterparts in European countries.
But when asked the question, "Can suicide bombings of civilian targets to defend Islam be justified?", 13 percent of those ages 18-29 said "sometimes," 11 percent said "rarely," and 2 percent said "often." In all, one in four young U.S. Muslims surveyed agreed that suicide bombing of civilians was at times acceptable. (In contrast, among Muslims 30 and older, 6 percent said "sometimes" or "often," and 3 percent said "rarely.")
The survey report doesn't suggest reasons why there is a gap between younger and older Muslims' attitudes about suicide bombing, but it does say that similar gaps have been found among Muslims in European countries. The president of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, a U.S. organization that advocates the compatibility of Islam and democracy, suggests that the Internet and television may be exposing impressionable young people to extreme ideologies. Or perhaps it's a function of age: Young people, and young men in particular, tend to have more violent attitudes.
Whatever the reason, it's just plain unsettling.
Earlier this week I blogged about "Tomorrow's Pioneers," a shocking children's show on Hamas' al-Aqsa TV station in which a Mickey Mouse clone named "Butterfly" teaches Palestinian youngsters how to be good Hamas members. At the time, it seemed that Hamas had agreed to pull the show off the air following a global cry of disgust and pressure from the more pragmatic Fatah and independent factions of the Palestinian Authority.
That information was wrong; Hamas rejected the PA's intervention and ran the show as normal today. In explaining his decision, al-Aqsa station manager Hazem al-Sharawi said:
We have an educational and entertainment message. It carries knowledge, a sense of humor and morality. There is no shame in this, and we will not go back on it."
By now, you may have seen a clip of this disgusting show that had been running on Hamas' al-Aqsa television channel. The program features a Mickey Mouse-like character in dialogue with Saraa, a young girl; together, they school young viewers in the ways of the jihad.
The show, named "Tomorrow's Pioneers," has been pulled at the behest of the Palestinian Authority—following an international outcry. Granted, Saraa and the mouse are speaking in a stilted Modern Standard Arabic rather than the dialect spoken by Palestinian Arabs, and as Der Spiegel notes, it's boring and preachy. But whatever its real-world impact, it's not the kind of thing permitted to air in a healthy society.
"Tomorrow's Pioneers" dramatically illustrates why Hikayet Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street that launched recently, is so necessary. It's extremely disquieting to realize, however, that Hamas Mickey is what Palestinian society produced on its own, whereas Hikayat Simsim was made possible only through heavy Western funding and involvement.
Edward Luttwak literally wrote the book on strategy. So when he talks about war and peace, people listen. As Blake notes in the "Must Read" column to your right, Luttwak argues in the May issue of Britain's Prospect magazine that, oil aside, the Middle East is a backward and irrelevant place. So why not just leave the losers who live there to their own devices? Below are some of Luttwak's money quotes.
On the Arab-Israeli conflict:
Strategically, the Arab-Israeli conflict has been almost irrelevant since the end of the cold war.... Yes, it would be nice if Israelis and Palestinians could settle their differences, but it would do little or nothing to calm the other conflicts in the middle east from Algeria to Iraq, or to stop Muslim-Hindu violence in Kashmir, Muslim-Christian violence in Indonesia and the Philippines, Muslim-Buddhist violence in Thailand, Muslim-animist violence in Sudan ....
[T]he Mussolini syndrome [that got us into Iraq] is at work over Iran. All the symptoms are present, including tabulated lists of Iran's warships, despite the fact that most are over 30 years old; of combat aircraft, many of which (F-4s, Mirages, F-5s, F-14s) have not flown in years for lack of spare parts; and of divisions and brigades that are so only in name. There are awed descriptions of the Pasdaran revolutionary guards, inevitably described as "elite," who do indeed strut around as if they have won many a war, but who have actually fought only one--against Iraq, which they lost. As for Iran's claim to have defeated Israel by Hizbullah proxy in last year's affray, the publicity was excellent but the substance went the other way ....
On the Middle East generally:
We devote far too much attention to the middle east, a mostly stagnant region where almost nothing is created in science or the arts--excluding Israel, per capita patent production of countries in the middle east is one fifth that of sub-Saharan Africa. The people of the middle east (only about five per cent of the world's population) are remarkably unproductive, with a high proportion not in the labour force at all.
There's little doubt that what's been happening in East Asia, in India, and in many of the post-Soviet countries over the last decade is much more profound and important than anything that's happened in the Middle East—with one little caveat. The Middle East seems to produce terrorists. Even if the West withdrew from the region and left it to its own devices, there's no reason to believe this trend would stop. As long as countries like Saudi Arabia breed guys who feel it necessary to murder large numbers of U.S. civilians, the United States will have to take a strategic interest in the region.
Prerna flagged an alarming poll on Tuesday showing that publics in four Muslim countries overwhelmingly believe that the United States aims to weaken Islam.
Yesterday I discovered that atheist author Sam Harris, never one to shy away from controversial arguments, had weighed in several years ago to say, "yes indeedy."
It is time we admitted that we are not at war with "terrorism." We are at war with Islam. This is not to say that we are at war with all Muslims, but we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran. The only reason Muslim fundamentalism is a threat to us is because the fundamentals of Islam are a threat to us. Every American should read the Koran and discover the relentlessness with which non-Muslims are vilified in its pages. The idea that Islam is a "peaceful religion hijacked by extremists" is a dangerous fantasy — and it is now a particularly dangerous fantasy for Muslims to indulge.
I agree that one can find plenty of problematic material in the Koran, and yet, only recently has this religion that is over a thousand years old become such a problem. What's changed? Saudi money has tipped the scales in favor of a more intolerant strain of Islam, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has festered, and rapid urbanization in Arab countries has brought rural migrants into contact with aspects of Western culture that they reject. What do you think?
The United States may be even further from winning "hearts and minds" of people in many parts of the Islamic world than originally thought. According to the results of a new survey undertaken between December 2006 and February 2007 by WorldPublicOpinion.org and the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START), the vast majority of people surveyed in four Muslim countries believe that the United States probably seeks to "weaken and divide the Islamic World." An extensive number of people were surveyed in Egypt, Indonesia, Morocco and Pakistan, and at least 73 percent in all of these countries—including a shocking 92 percent in Egypt, a country with a Coptic Christian minority estimated to be in the high single digits—were convinced that this is a primary U.S. goal. Further, an average of 64 percent believed that the United States also aims to "spread Christianity in the region."
While the substantial majority of people surveyed (the lowest in Morocco at 57 percent, and the highest in Indonesia at 84 percent) believe that attacks on civilians to achieve political goals are not justified at all, around half, on average, do favor attacks on US troops in Iraq, Afghanistan and in the Persian Gulf. In fact, very strong majorities in all the countries involved in the survey support the goal of getting the United States to withdraw its forces from Islamic countries (ranging from 64 percent in Indonesia to 92 percent in Egypt). And on average, 70 percent or higher approve of al Qaeda's principal goals. Yet despite this, only 3 in 10 respondents view Osama bin Laden positively, and large majorities believe such groups as al Qaeda are "violating the principles of Islam," though Pakistani sentiment is ambiguous on this question.
The results resoundingly show that the United States has failed in its public diplomacy efforts. But they also indicate that the majority of people surveyed in these Muslim countries are opposed to violence against civilians and the terrorist tactics of al Qaeda. Three quarters also had favorable feelings about globalization, and overall 67 percent agreed that "a democratic political system" is a good method of governing their countries. So perhaps it's not too late for the United States to overhaul its image and convince Muslims that it's not just out to undermine Islam.
So, I watched Faith Without Fear last night. Overall, I enjoyed the program and thought Irshad Manji was a brave, inspiring woman. It takes a lot of courage to swim against the current and critique your own religion. She's saying a lot of the things that need to be said, things that probably a lot of Muslims are too afraid to say. (Manji receives death threats, and her home has bulletproof windows.)
Four quick points:
1. Manji has a great sense of humor. Watch this clip of her buying a burqa in Yemen.
2. Yesterday, I wrote, "If Christianity could have its Protestant Reformation, it seems possible for Islam to have one too." Yesterday's program mentioned that the Protestant Reformation was accompanied by its share of violence, which took place over centuries. (Bloody Mary and Catholic violence against Huguenots in France come to my mind.) Does that mean that a reformation of Islam would be accompanied by violence? If so, would it be worth it?
3. Manji is a lesbian. Unfortunately, that seems to stop all discussion. People can't seem to get over that. One of her critics says, "You are leading our young people to fire because you want them to follow your lifestyle." Based on other people's criticisms I've read, Manji's sexual orientation seems to distract people from the important theological issues she raises.
4. Some Muslims may be confusing freedom of speech with discrimination (at least that's how it seems from my Western mindset). In one scene, Manji is talking with a Dutch Muslim teenager about the murder of Theo van Gogh, who made a film critical of Islam. The teenager said such offensive speech was discrimination against Muslims. It was clear that "free speech" and "discrimination" don't mean that same thing to everyone, and Manji and the youth were just talking past one another.
When she was 14 years old, Irshad Manji, a Canadian Muslim, asked her madrasa teacher, "Where is the evidence of the 'Jewish conspiracy' against Islam?"
Her teacher responded by kicking her out of the madrasa.
Since then, Manji has been using her own brain to study Islam and launch a campaign to reform her religion. Manji, who moved to Canada as a child when Idi Amin expelled the East Indian community from Uganda, has written the book The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. Her latest endeavor is the documentary Faith Without Fear, which debuts tonight in the United States on PBS as part of the channel's series America at a Crossroads.
In 2003, the New York Times described Manji as Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare. She reads the Koran and abstains from pork and alcohol. She's also a lesbian feminist who admires Israel and supports the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
I'm intrigued by Manji's current Project Ijtihad (pronounced "ij-tee-had"). On her website, Manji says that ijtihad is Islam's long-lost tradition of independent thinking that was stomped out at the end of the 11th century. Manji wants to create a network of reform-minded Muslims who engage in critical thinking and bring about a reformation of Islam that updates it for the 21st century. If Christianity could have its Protestant Reformation, it seems possible for Islam to have one too.
Manji has her critics on both the left and the right. She also has supporters ranging from Arianna Huffington to Glenn Beck. I plan to make my own assessment tonight when I watch Faith Without Fear. I encourage you to watch the documentary too.
Dalia Mogahed of the Gallup Organization, who teamed up with Georgetown scholar John Esposito to write What Makes a Muslim Radical? last fall, is back with a fascinating new web exclusive for FP that is full of surprising new data on what Muslims in London really think.
Along with coauthor Zsolt Nyiri, regional research director for Europe at the Gallup World Poll, Mogahed argues that the furious debate over the veil has obscured wide areas of agreement between Muslims and the public about what it means to be British:
When four British-born Muslims blew themselves up on the London transit system on July 7, 2005, many Britons were convinced that their country’s model of assimilation had failed. The attacks, coupled with a war on terror that seems to reveal an ever-widening gulf between Islam and the West, sparked talk of a crisis of integration, seen most clearly in the acute alienation of the country’s Muslim youth.
But for all the talk of crisis, a new Gallup World Poll finds that more binds the British majority with its religious minority than not. The greatest challenge of all may be in moving beyond minor, symbolic controversies in order to pave a path toward a shared future.
Remember in the aftermath of 9/11 when it seemed like every U.S. media outlet was asking plaintively "Why do they hate us?"—where "they" meant Muslims? The question prompted a media search for allies in an Islamic world that seemed universally hostile. But who were these sympathetic faces?
A new study out today from the International Center for Media and the Public Agenda has the answer. The study is titled The 'Good' Muslims: US Newspaper Coverage of Pakistan and one of its surprising findings is that the "good" Muslims are women.
ICMPA's newest study analyzes news coverage of Pakistan by 13 major U.S newspapers during two time periods: September 11, 2001 to December 31, 2002 and January 1, 2006 to January 15, 2007.
It is common in mainstream media's coverage of international affairs for entire countries (and even regions) to be tarred with a wide brush. Much of the reporting on the Palestinians and the Iranians falls into this category. But in other situations, especially when reporters are stationed on the ground and there is ongoing interest in a region, the politics and the peoples are not represented so monolithically. In those situations—coverage of the Balkans is a case in point—often one distinct group is identified as holding the moral high ground. Sometimes that group is represented as the victims of another group (often true, but not always as blamelessly as represented). Sometimes that group is identified as potential "saviors" in the situation—i.e. if only that group held the reins of power the situation would be ameliorated, at the very least. (Read the rest after the jump)
ISLAMABAD, PAKISTAN - APRIL 06: Students at an Islamic madrassa burn thousands of DVDs, videos and music CDs April 6, 2007 at the Lal Mosque in Islamabad, Pakistan. The event, reminiscent of the early days of the Taliban in Afghanistan, took place within two kilometers of the Pakistani presidential palace, as well as the heavily-fortified U.S. embassy. Thousands of Pakistani soldiers and paramilitary troops were deployed to the capitol in the previous week, and many believe a confrontation between government troops and the students is imminent. Clerics at the mosque, known as the most radical in Islamabad, want Pakistan to adopt a Taliban-style government. They maintain that movies and music are un-Islamic.
Last Thursday, Passport explained why the U.N. Human Rights Council is now officially a joke. But that was a day before the council passed a decidedly unfunny resolution that condemns "defamation of religion." It was sponsored—surprise, surprise—by Pakistan, on behalf of the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The resolution decries defamation of religion in general, but Islam is the only religion it mentions explicitly. The resolution also states that freedom of expression "should be exercised with responsibility and may therefore be subject to limitations as provided by law."
That's rich. Some of the OIC's members—Saudi Arabia comes to mind—are some of the world's worst offenders when it comes to anti-Semitic hate speech. Will they be cracking down when their own citizens defame Jews? Additionally, anti-blasphemy laws have been abused in Pakistan to settle property and business disputes.
It's no surprise that authoritarian countries like China, Cuba, Russia, and Saudi Arabia would be eager to establish the precedent, even in a laughingstock of a forum like the U.N. Human Rights Council, that "defamation" should be prohibited by law. But what are democracies like the Philippines, South Africa, and Mexico doing voting in favor?
The students gathered each Friday night at someone's apartment and at the end of the meal they put on a show called "Friday Night Live," a takeoff on "Saturday Night Live." Mohammed, Ali said, was often in charge of putting together the comedy routines.
"Here is this man who used to be very spiritual. The only unique thing about him was that he had a sense of humor," said Ali. "He was the star. He created plays, the Islamic way. And people would laugh for hours all night. All of the students loved him."
-Babi Ali, president of Muslims for a Better North Carolina and a college friend of al Qaeda mastermind Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Chicago Tribune, April 3, 2007
In honor (is that the right word?) of the fourth anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq, we'll be blogging this week about our cover package, Who Wins in Iraq? For those of you who haven't read it, it's a fascinating set of stories about the top ten winners of a war that, at least so far, hasn't turned out very well for either the United States or the Iraqis.
Story number one, Vali Nasr's take on Iran's triumph in Iraq, tells a tale that many Iraq analysts got wrong early on.
I remember reading an otherwise prophetic article by Jon Lee Anderson, "Dreaming of Baghdad: What Regime Change Means to the Iraqi Shia Opposition," which came out in the February 10, 2003 edition of the New Yorker. It's no longer online, so I'll have to quote from the print version:
Iranian and Arab Muslims have a very distinct sense of identity, which contradicts the long standing American assumption that Iraqi Shias would probably ally themselves with Iran in a post-Saddam scenario .... In Tehran, I had spoken with Davoud Hermidas Bavand, a political analyst who worked in the Iranian mission to the U.N. under the Shah, and who now teaches political science and international law. "The Iraqi Shias' dedication and devotion to Arabism is much stronger than to Shiism," he said. "If a Shia were to take power in Iraq, there would be a honeymoon with Iran, but this would soon end."
This analysis was echoed in dozens of other outlets, and similar thinking led the Bush administration to believe that the new Iraq wouldn't become an Iranian playground. But as Nasr notes, the particular groups that emerged to become players in the new Iraq had deep ties to Iran. Some of them, such as the Badr Brigades affiliated with the Supreme Council for Islamic Revolution in Iraq, actually fought on Iran's side in the past. Others, such as Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani, maintained good ties with Iran in order to survive. So it wasn't enough to point to the "Arabness" of Iraq's Shiites in general, because the specific groups and individuals running the show were predisposed to be friendly with the neighbors to the east.
The honeymoon may yet end. Iraqi's Shiites might someday decide that their true friends are not the devious Persians, but the Sunni Arabs of Iraq, many of whom are trying to blow them up at the moment. For now, though, Shiite Iran is in the driver's seat and riding high.
It's not just Germany that's getting creative in trying to integrate its Muslim population. The Australian state of New South Wales has launched a training initiative called "On the Same Wave" designed to integrate Australians of different ethnic backgrounds into its iconic Surf Live Saving program. Seventeen young Muslim men and women have graduated, after a rigorous, eight-week training course, to become Australia's first Muslim lifeguards. Women were encouraged to participate, and could wear the Islamic Council of Australia-approved "burqini," a full-body swimsuit that covers the hair. The suit was designed by a local fashion entrepreneur, Aheda Zanetti, and over 9,000 have been sold. Her label, Ahiida, offers "dynamic swimwear and sportswear for today's Muslim female."
It's heartening to think that Cronulla beach (south of central Sydney), the site of Australia's deeply disturbing race riots in December 2005, will be host to the first successful contingent of Australian Muslim lifesavers.
Passport, FP’s flagship blog, brings you news and hidden angles on the biggest stories of the day, as well as insights and under-the-radar gems from around the world.