Saturday, November 14, 2009

Ebrahim Moosa quote

What is really required and will become necessary will be to do a lot of very, very hard questioning. The key issue will be questions of global social justice, in America in particular. The prophetic voice of religion in this country has not been heard. We are caught in a cycle of patriotism, but when it runs its course I'm looking forward to the prophetic voice coming to the fore.

-from pg. 216-217 of "Hajj in a Time of War: An Interview with Moulana Ebrahim Moosa by Deborah Caldwell" in Taking Back Islam: American Muslims Reclaim Their Faith (2002)

Race & the Ummah: Jamillah Karim is brilliant and balanced!

I don't feel like typing out long passages right now, but I'm reading the first chapter "African American and Immigrant Relations" in Jamillah Karim's American Muslim Women: Negotiating Race, Class, and Gender Within the Ummah and feel she is very balanced and brilliant in her critical analysis on our community. Very much recommended so pick it up! :)

Right-Wing Professor Goes Postal on Diversity by Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown

Sheikh Jihad Hashim Brown – 14 November 2009

The NYU Stern School’s professor of business, Tunku Varadarajan, is trying to be clever. But watching the Hoover Institution’s own version of Michael Steele falling flat on his face would be entertaining if it wasn’t so potentially dangerous to the well-being of both visible minorities and American principles.

Writing in his regular column in Forbes on Monday, in reference to the Fort Hood shooting spree last week, he invented a new reference for the old phrase “going postal”. He suggested we should now refer to employees who snap, bring weapons to work, and fire them on their colleagues as “going Muslim”. Not only does it not have the same resonance as the old standard, but the reasoning is so awkward that it leaves everyone at the party standing in utter silence looking at the uncomfortable professor who has just put his foot in it. Bad form.

Interestingly, an Orlando man opened fire on co-workers at an architectural firm on that Friday. In the hours that followed, two other US soldiers turned their weapons on fellow soldiers at military bases elsewhere in the country. Given what we know from the past seven years, the pattern of soldier-on-soldier crime, as well as workplace violence in the US seems to be broader than the individuals involved.

His logic starts to break down as he proceeds to undermine his own argument. “The difference between ‘going postal’ and ‘going Muslim’ in the sense that I suggest,” is not a psychological snap but a “calculated discarding of the camouflage of integration.” So what he really wants, is to resuscitate the old neocon-cum-Fox News insinuation that all Muslims are potential sleeper cells awaiting activation. His xenophobic premises don’t add up to his “postal” conclusions.

“We are a civilised society,” he says. When Varadarajan uses the word “we” here, things start to get real weird for me. Our society is also premised, at least on paper, on giving all minorities a chance. We are all – except for the small minority that our forebears “went postal on” – a nation of immigrants. But Varadarajan warns us not to allow the bugbear of “political correctness” to prevent us from singling out the “hundreds of thousands of Muslims in our midst” for special treatment. Will the next step be to suspect all Latinos as being potential Mara Salvatrucha?

The sad thing here Professor, is that your students, “in the hundreds of thousands,” need to be able to look up to you as a mentor and a leader. They need to be able to rely on your belief in fairness and unbiased reasoning.

In a flourish of anthropological reductionism he sums up 1,400 years of Islamic civilisation as “a religion founded on bellicose conquest”. For analysis to be relevant, even valid, it has to start out with dispassionate observation. Varadarajan fails on all points.

He goes on to advise the US Army – the most successfully integrated institution in America – on how they should run their policies, without looking at the institution’s history and experience with race and minorities. These men have a great deal of experience in best practice on this issue, let’s leave it to them.

Furthermore, indigenous American Muslims are not going to take lightly the insinuation of Islam as “an immigrant religion”, foreign to American culture. Mr Varadarajan, stick around with us a bit longer and you’ll learn just how robust and vibrant the American fabric of diversity can be.

At the same time, I think we’re safe in our assumption that we should be able to expect a little better from Forbes, and a little more responsibility from NYU.

Let the Trumpets Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

The following quotes are taken from Let the Trumpets Sound: The Life of Martin Luther King, Jr. the text used in Imam Shair Abdul-Mani's "Unmerited Suffering" class at the Islamic Center at NYU.

"At one point in his mid-teens, he did feel a call to preach, but fought it off. An emotional, fundamentalist ministry had little relevance to the modern world, he thought, and he wanted nothing to do with it." (13)

"But he had a serious side, too, an introspective side that made him seem aloof sometimes. He liked to read alone in his room to study the way authors and orators put words together. He asserted later that his "greatest talent, strongest tradition, and most constant interest was the eloquent statement of ideas." (14)

"That September he entered Morehouse in search of a useful profession that might enable him to help his people. He felt a burning need to heal blacks, to break their bonds, to emancipate them." (16)

"There there was Professor George D. Kelsey, director of the Department of Religion, who became King's favorite classroom teacher....Kelsey also contended that pulpit fireworks were both useless and obsolete and that the modern minister should be a philosopher with social as well as spiritual concerns." (17)

"Finally, he felt under the spell of Dr. Benjamin Mays, the college president and "a notorious modernist" in the eyes of the orthodox. As a preacher and theologian, Mays was out to renew the mission of the black church, charging in his books that too many preachers encouraged "socially irrelevant patterns of escape." (18)

"Mays challenged the traditional view of Negro education as "accomodation under protest" and champoined it instead as liberation through knowledge. Education, he told his students allowed the Negro to be intellectually free; it was instrument of social and personal renewal. Unlike most other Negro educators, Mays was active in the NAACP and spoke out against racial oppression. He lashed the white church in particular as America's "most conservative and hypocritical institution." (18)

"King was enormously impressed. He saw in Mays what he wanted "a real minister to be" - a rational man whose sermons were both spiritually and intellectually stimulating, a moral man who was socially involved. Thanks largely to Mays, King realized that the ministry could be a respectable force for ideas, even social protest." (18)

"He realized, too, that he could never be "a spectator in the race problem". He hoped, of course, to be involved through the church. But how, by what method and means, were black folk to improve their lot in a white-dominated country? In his study of American history - and King was developing an acute sense of the past - he observed that Negroes since emancipation had searched in vain for that elusive path to real freedom, too often finding themselves on a dead-end street without an exit sign. In the 1890's with Jim Crow segregation practices sweeping Dixie, Booker T. Washington advised Negroes to "let down your buckets where you are" and accept segregation, which the U.S. Supreme Court in Plessy v. Ferguson (1896) upheld as the law of the land. Washington admonished his people to forget about political and social equality for now and to learn skills and trade to support themselves. By imitating white standards and values perhaps they could earn white people's friendship and preserve racial peace. But in King's judgement it was "an obnoxious negative peace" in which "the Negro's mind and soul were enslaved." (20)

"For the role of the church concerned him deeply. As a potential minister, he was more determined than ever to be like Benjamin Mays and serve God and humanity from his pulpit. As a consequence, King was not content simply to follow Crozer's [his seminary's] prescribed course of study. On his own, he began a serious quest for a philosophical method to eliminate social evil, a quest that sent him poring over the works of the great social philosophers, "from Plato and Aristotle," as he wrote later, "down to Rousseau, Hobbes, Bentham, Mill, and Locke." (23)

For information on King's study of Walter Rauschenbusch, Karl Marx, Lenin, pacifism, Nietzche, Gandhi, Thoreau, Reinhold Niebuhr, Hegel, studies under Brightman and DeWolf, comparative religions, psychology, philosophy, George Berkeley, Charles Renouvier, Borden P. Bowne - see pages 22-40.

On Synthesis:

"For another thing, Hegel convinced King that the higher level of truth was found in a synthesis that reconciled an assertible proposition (the thesis) with another and seemingly contradictory proposition (the antithesis). Hegel's "truth as a whole" thus freed King from an either-or choice in his social and theological concerns and furnished him "a philosophical method of rational coherence." This meant forging "a creative synthesis of opposites in fruitful harmony." (37)

"By now, things were falling together for him. From divergent intellectual currents, he had fashioned the rudiments of a coherent "synthesis" theology and a positive social philosophy, one predicated on nonviolence and an awareness of the complexity of human existence. He hadn't all the answers, by any means. He realized how much more he had to learn. But how he enjoyed intellectual inquiry. He would love to do this for the rest of his life, to become a scholar of personalism, the Social Gospel, and Hegelian idealism, inspiring young people as his own mentors had inspired him. Yes, that would be a splendid and meaningful way to serve God and humanity." (39)

Friday, November 13, 2009

"Islam and Liberal Democracy: How Tradition Matters"

November 17, 2009 | 04:30PM

Bunn Intercultural Center (ICC) Auditorium

»rsvp required

The Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and the Berkley Center are sponsoring a seminar with leading scholars to address how tradition matters in Islamic political thought today.

Please join us for a wide-ranging discussion of how the Islamic tradition - including the Qu'ran, the life and sayings of the Prophet, and diverse legal schools - relates to the idea of a liberal democratic state.

Moderator: Jane McAuliffe, President, Bryn Mawr College

Abdullahi An-Na'im, Visiting Professor, Georgetown University
Sherman Jackson,, Professor, University of Michigan
Ebrahim Moosa, Professor, Duke University
John Esposito, Professor, Georgetown University

Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im is a Visiting Professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University and a Senior Fellow at the Berkley Center for the fall 2009 semester. He is on leave from his position as Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory University, where he focuses on cross-cultural human rights issues, with an emphasis on Islam. A native of Sudan and human rights activist, An-Na'im places the Qur'an and the development of the Islamic tradition in its historical context and examines their implications for our contemporary thinking about justice and the state. He is the author of Toward an Islamic Reformation(1990), African Constitutionalism and the Role of Islam(2006) and Islam and the Secular State: Negotiating the Future of Shari‘a(2008). At Emory, he directs projects on Women and Land in Africa and Islamic Family Law, and a Fellowship Program in Islam and Human Rights. An-Na'im holds LL.B. degrees from the University of Khartoum and the University of Cambridge, and earned his Ph.D. in Law from the University of Edinburgh.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Cornel West - "Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time" 4

"The fight for democracy has ever been one against the oppressive and racist corruptions of empire. To focus solely on electoral politics as the site of democratic life is myopic. Such a focus fails to appreciate the crucial role of the underlying moral commitments and visions and fortifications of the soul that empower and inspire a democratic way of living in the world. These fortifications also fuel deep democratic movements both within the American empire and across the world in global democratic efforts." (15)

"Three crucial traditions fuel deep democratic energies."

1. "In the face of elite manipulations and lies, we must draw on the Socratic. The Socratic commitment to questioning requires a relentless self-examination and critique of institutions of authority, motivated by an endless quest for intellectual integrity and moral consistency. It manifests in a fearless speech - parrhesia - that unsettles, unnerves, and unhouses people from their uncritical sleepwalking. As Socrates says in Plato's Apology, "Plain speech [parrhesia] is the cause of my unpopularity" (24a)."

2. "In the face of callous indifference to the suffering wrought by our imperialism, we must draw on the prophetic. The Jewish invention of the prophetic commitment to justice - also central to both Christianity and Islam - is one of the great moral moments in human history. This was the commitment to justice of an oppressed people....Prophetic witness consists of human acts of justice and kindness that attend to the unjust sources of human hurt and misery. Prophetic witness calls attention to the causes of unjustified suffering and unnecessary social misery. It highlights personal and institutional evil, including especially the evil of being indifferent to personal and institutional evil."

3. "In the face of cynical and disillusioned acquiescence to the status quo, we must draw on the tragicomic....Within the American empire it has been most powerfully expressed in the black invention of the blues in the face of white supremacist powers....This powerful blues sensibility - a black interpretation of tragicomic hope open to peoples of all colors - expresses righteous indignation with a smile and deep inner pain without bitterness or revenge."

"Much of the future of democracy in America and the world hangs on grasping and preserving the rich democratic tradition that produced the Douglasses, Kings, Coltranes, and Mobleys in the face of terrorist attacks and cowardly assaults. Since 9/11 we have experienced the niggerization of America, and as we struggle against the imperialistic arrogance of the us-versus-them, revenge driven policies of the Bush administration, we as a blues nation must learn from a blue people how to keep alive our deep democratic energies in dark times rather than resort to the tempting and easier response of militarism and authoritarianism.

No democracy can flourish against the corruptions of plutocratic, imperial forces - or withstand the temptations of militarism in the face of terrorist hate - without a citizenry girded by these three moral pillars of Socratic questioning, prophetic witness, and tragicomic hope. The hawks and proselytizers of the Bush Administration have professed themselves to be the guardians of American democracy, but there is a deep democratic tradition in this country that speaks powerfully against their nihilistic, antidemocratic abuse of power and that can fortify genuine democrats today in the fight against imperialism. That democratic fervor is found in the beacon calls for imaginative self-creation in Ralph Waldo Emerson, in the dark warnings of imminent self-destruction in Herman Melville, in the impassioned odes to democratic possibility in Walt Whitman. It is found most urgently and poignantly in the prophetic and powerful voices of the long black freedom struggle - from the democratic eloquence of Fredrick Douglass to the soaring civic sermons of Martin Luther King Jr., in the wrenching artistic honesty of James Baldwin and Toni Morrison, and in the expressive forces and improvisatory genius of the blues/jazz tradition, all forged in the night side of America and defying the demeaning strictures of white supremacy. The greatest intellectual, moral, political, and spiritual resources in America that may renew the soul and preserve the future of American democracy reside in this multiracial, rich democratic heritage."

-pg. 16-22 of Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Dr. Cornel West

"Post Ft. Hood, the Far-Right Anti-Muslim Backlash Begins"

Bill O’Reilly conceding that ‘killing all the Muslims would be challenging, so we might as well try something else’ may be one of the low-lights of the recent spike in anti-Muslim bigotry, but it doesn’t get much better from there. Not when you’ve got Pat Robertson calling Islam a “violent political system,” the author behind the House GOP’s anti-Muslim intern-hunt wishing aloud for (and I can’t stress enough that this is his own words) a “professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders,*” Michelle Malkin railing against Muslim soldiers with “attitude,” and the American Family Association calling for an outright ban on Muslims serving in the military.

Looks like the teabagging crowd’s long-simmering anti-Muslim bigotry is now back in full force. So it’s time for a reality check.

Caution from Korematsu

"As a historical precedent it [Korematsu] stands as a constant caution that in times of war or declared military necessity our institutions must be vigilant in protecting our constitutional guarantees. It stands as a caution that in times of distress the shield of military necessity and national security must not be used to protect governmental actions from close scrutiny and accountability. It stands as a caution that in times of international hostility and antagonisms our institutions, legislative, executive and judicial, must be prepared to protect all citizens from the petty fears and prejudices that are so easily aroused.”

-Judge Marilyn Hall Patel of the US District Court of the Northern District of California

Haroon Moghul: Muslim Students Shocked By Professor’s Column

See Haroon Moghul's post at Religion Dispatches on NYU Stern professor Tunku Varadarajan's recent article in Forbes "Going Muslim"

"Our memories of history are short and ill informed in this country"

"Our memories of history are short and ill informed in this country," Myers reminded me. "Prejudice and intolerance...have certainly not diminished since the 1940s. We need to be reminded that what happened to those of Japanese ancestry in the 1940s can happen again. None of us are free if we forget this dark moment of American history."

-from pg. 9 of Whispered Silences: Japanese Americans and World War II with an essay by Gary Y. Okihoro and photographs by Joan Myers

Also from the introduction of A Fence Away From Freedom: Japanese Americans and World War II by Ellen Levine

"In 1942, just months after war was declared, more than 110,000 Japanese Americans on the West Coast were removed from their homes under orders of the United States government. U.S. soldiers herded them onto buses and trains. They were driven to racetracks, stockades, and fairgrounds, where they were temporarily quartered, and then moved to prison camps, hastily constructed in desolate areas of the United States. On February 19, 1942, President Franklin Roosevelt had signed Executive Order 9066, which authorized the removal. On that date, the president committed this nation to a journey of shame...

In the months after Pearl Harbor, the government issued a series of orders restricting the rights of Japanese Americans, ostensibly to protect national security. Government intelligence agencies, however, had reported and continued to report to the president and his aides that the Japanese community in America posed no threat to security. Nonetheless, political leaders on both the national and state levels indulged their personal biases and pandered to those of others. Along with newspaper and radio commentators, they incited and encouraged the rising tide of anti-Japanese rhetoric by repeating stories of subversion by American Japanese that were absolutely false.

Government officials lied not only to the American people about the dangers to be expected from the Japanese community living in its midst, but also to the courts of the nation. The United States Supreme court, for example, relied on misleading government reports when, in 1944, it upheld the conviction of Fred Korematsu for failing to report for evacuation.

Supreme Court Justices Roberts, Jackson, and Murphy wrote vigorous dissents in the Korematsu case. Justice Murphy argued that the reasons given for the forced evacuation " be largely an accumulation of much of the misinformation, half-truths, and insinuations that for years have been directed against Japanese Americans by people with racial and economic prejudices." He concluded,

I dissent, therefore, from this legalization of racism. Racial discrimination in any form and in any degree has no justifiable part whatever in our democratic way of life. It is unattractive in any setting but it is utterly revolting among a free people who have embraced the principles set forth in the Constitution of the United States. All residents of this nation are kin in some way by blood or culture to a foreign land. Yet they are primarily and necessary a part of the new and distinct civilization of the United States. They must accordingly be treated at all times as the heirs of the American experiment and as entitled to all the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution." -pg. iix-ix

"There is no assurance that such an event will never happen again. Without the knowledge of what happened to Japanese Americans, why it happened, and what could have prevented it, the same thing may well occur again. The question is only against whom. The answer is a group that is powerless, that had no strong political voice, that we perceive as different from ourselves.

The voices of the young people in this book are typical of those who suffered the indignity of being labeled "disloyal," not because they were disloyal but solely because they were of Japanese ancestry. To prevent another such explosion of hatred in our midst, we must listen to them." - pg. x

AP: "Feds move to seize 4 mosques, tower linked to Iran"


Associated Press
11/12/09 7:10 PM EST


NEW YORK — Federal prosecutors took steps Thursday to seize four U.S. mosques and a Fifth Avenue skyscraper owned by a nonprofit Muslim organization long suspected of being secretly controlled by the Iranian government.

In what could prove to be one of the biggest counterterrorism seizures in U.S. history, prosecutors filed a civil complaint in federal court against the Alavi Foundation, seeking the forfeiture of more than $500 million in assets.

The assets include bank accounts; Islamic centers consisting of schools and mosques in New York City, Maryland, California and Houston; more than 100 acres in Virginia; and a 36-story glass office tower in New York.

Confiscating the properties would be a sharp blow against Iran, which has been accused by the U.S. government of bankrolling terrorism and trying to build a nuclear bomb.

A telephone call and e-mail to Iran's U.N. Mission seeking comment were not immediately answered. Nor was a call to the Alavi Foundation.

It is extremely rare for U.S. law enforcement authorities to seize a house of worship, a step fraught with questions about the First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

The action against the Shiite Muslim mosques is sure to inflame relations between the U.S. government and American Muslims, many of whom are fearful of a backlash after last week's Fort Hood shooting rampage, blamed on a Muslim American major.

The mosques and the skyscraper will remain open while the forfeiture case works its way through court in what could be a long process. What will happen to them if the government ultimately prevails is unclear. But the government typically sells properties it has seized through forfeiture, and the proceeds are sometimes distributed to crime victims.

Prosecutors said the Alavi Foundation managed the office tower on behalf of the Iranian government and, working with a front company known as Assa Corp., illegally funneled millions in rental income to Iran's state-owned Bank Melli. Bank Melli has been accused by a U.S. Treasury official of providing support for Iran's nuclear program, and it is illegal in the United States to do business with the bank.

The U.S. has long suspected the foundation was an arm of the Iranian government; a 97-page complaint details involvement in foundation business by several top Iranian officials, including the deputy prime minister and ambassadors to the United Nations.

"For two decades, the Alavi Foundation's affairs have been directed by various Iranian officials, including Iranian ambassadors to the United Nations, in violation of a series of American laws," U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara said in a statement.

There were no raids Thursday as part of the forfeiture action. The government is simply required to post notices of the civil complaint on the property.

As prosecutors outlined their allegations against Alavi, the Islamic centers and the schools they run carried on with normal activity. The mosques' leaders had no immediate comment.

Parents lined up in their cars to pick up their children at the schools within the Islamic Education Center of Greater Houston and the Islamic Education Center in Rockville, Md. No notices of the forfeiture action were posted at either place as of late Thursday.

At the Islamic Institute of New York, a mosque and school in Queens, two U.S. marshals came to the door and rang the bell repeatedly. The marshals taped a forfeiture notice to the window and left a large document sitting on the ground. After they left a group of men came out of the building and took the document.

The fourth Islamic center marked for seizure is in Carmichael, Calif.

The skyscraper, known as the Piaget building, was erected in the 1970s under the shah of Iran, who was overthrown in 1979. The tenants include law and investment firms and other businesses.

The sleek, modern building, last valued at $570 million to $650 million in 2007, has served as an important source of income for the foundation over the past 36 years. The most recent tax records show the foundation earned $4.5 million from rents in 2007.

Rents collected from the building help fund the centers and other ventures, such as sending educational literature to imprisoned Muslims in the U.S. The foundation has also invested in dozens of mosques around the country and supported Iranian academics at prominent universities.

If federal prosecutors seize the skyscraper, the Alavi Foundation would have almost no way to continue supporting the Islamic centers, which house schools and mosques. That could leave a major void in Shiite communities, and hard feelings toward the FBI, which played a big role in the investigation.

The forfeiture action comes at a tense moment in U.S.-Iranian relations, with the two sides at odds over Iran's nuclear program and its arrest of three American hikers.

But Michael Rubin, an expert on Iran at the American Enterprise Institute, said the timing of the forfeiture action was probably a coincidence, not an effort to influence Iran on those issues.

"Suspicion about the Alavi Foundation transcends three administrations," Rubin said. "It's taken ages dealing with the nuts and bolts of the investigation. It's not the type of investigation which is part of any larger strategy."

Legal scholars said they know of only a few cases in U.S. history in which law enforcement authorities have seized a house of worship. Marc Stern, a religious-liberty expert with the American Jewish Congress, called such cases extremely rare.

The Alavi Foundation is the successor organization to the Pahlavi Foundation, a nonprofit group used by the shah to advance Iran's charitable interests in America. But authorities said its agenda changed after the fall of the shah.

In 2007, the United States accused Bank Melli of providing services to Iran's nuclear and ballistic missile programs and put the bank on its list of companies whose assets must be frozen. Washington has imposed sanctions against various other Iranian businesses.


Associated Press writers Samantha Gross in New York City, Juan A. Lozano in Houston, investigative researcher Randy Herschaft in New York City and AP photographer Jacquelyn Martin in Maryland contributed to this report.


On the Net:

Going after Imam Siraj..

The hate campaign continues...after a meeting today with Mayor Bloomberg who had said "he wants to keep the lines of communication open in the hopes of preventing any backlash following last Thursday's shooting rampage at Fort Hood."

In the New York Post today "1993 WTC 'plotter' in Mike meet"

"Bloomberg Linked to Terrorist"

Apparently, Bloomberg "seemed to defend the concept of inviting Wahhaj, saying:

“[I]ncidentally, he is the leader of a large mosque. And we’re going to reach out to everybody. I don’t care what their background is. We do not want to have people in this city who feel that they are so estranged from the community that they start fighting the community. Our job here is to bring people together, to listen to people and to make sure that everybody is protected regardless of whether there are things in their background that find – that I don’t agree with, or [are] unacceptable or whatever the case may be.”

“My job is to reach out to everybody and that is exactly what we did and what we will continue to do,” he said. [read here]

Cornel West - "Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time" 3

"Democracy matters require that we keep track of the intimate link between domestic issues and foreign policies. Like the empires of old - especially the Roman and British ones - what we do abroad affects what we do here and what we do here shapes what we can do abroad." (10)
If we are to grapple critically with the three antidemocratic dogmas that are raising their ugly heads at this critical juncture, we will need a more realistic understanding of the crushing ways in which they have operated in the country throughout our history. The first step for any critique of a dogma is to lay bare the history of that dogma - to disclose its contingent origins and ignoble beginnings and to show that the critique of that dogma in history has its own tradition and history. America has a long tradition of excoriating, painful, and powerful critiques of the arrested development of our democracy - critiques of the ravages of our imperial expansionist genocide of the Native Americans; of the crushing of the lives of workers by the callous machinery of capitalist excesses; of the wholesale subjugation of women, gays, and lesbians; and most especially and centrally of the deeply antidemocratic and dehumanizing hypocrisies of white supremacy. This is why the lens of race becomes indispensable in our attempt to understand, preserve, and expand America's democratic experiment.

The brutal atrocities of white supremacy in the American past and present speak volumes about the harsh limits of our democracy over against our professed democratic ideals. Race is the crucial intersecting point where democratic energies clash with American imperial realities in the very making of the grand American experiment of democracy. The voices and viewpoints of reviled and disempowered Amerindians, Asians, Mexicans, Africans, and immigrant Europeans reveal and remind us of the profoundly racist roots of the first American empire - the old America of expansionist Manifest Destiny.
-pg. 13-14 of Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Dr. Cornel West

Why Two White Kids Are a Senseless Tragedy but an Arab American Is Terrorism by Brian Ross

When a couple of white kids shoot up a school, it is a tragedy, and a search for mental defect. Bring on a shooting at a military base that involves an Arab-American though, and the media does everything that it can to shout "TERRORISM" without really saying it.

Sadly, in our gun-laden, NRA-shielded America, shootings at schools, post offices, hospitals and military installations are all too common. School shootings barely elevate to the national news. You need something new in the tragedy department, like a university, or a military base, and a high enough body count, before the media takes much notice nationally.

That Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan was disturbed is without question. He was a psychiatrist, which is in itself a bit more mentally-edgy occupation. He was treating the symptoms of war on a daily basis, and he did not want to go over the edge himself by being sent into combat, so he went over the edge and shot up a processing center at Fort Hood when his greatest personal terror was being realized without any way to stop it.

That is a senseless tragedy, but it is not terrorism. Likewise, the media's handling of shooters who are not white and suburban is racism, not journalism.

Prior to Hasan being named as the suspect, the TV talking heads were LIVE, spinning senseless tragedy and soldiers pushed to the breaking point. Once the FBI dumped a bucket of blood in the media waters that Hasan was an Arab-American who might have blogged something that agreed with Arab terrorists, the feeding frenzy began.

The New York Times even reported:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation earlier became aware of Internet postings by a man calling himself Nidal Hasan, a law enforcement official said. The postings discussed suicide bombings favorably, but the investigators were not clear whether the writer was Major Hasan.

They point to the Website with the blog post. Then they mention again:

"It could not be confirmed, however, that the writer was Major Hasan."

Of course the posting itself features a paper called "Martyrdom in Islam Versus Suicide Bombing" which actually is a six page paper making the distinction between Islamic martydom and suicide bombings which is AGAINST suicide bombings.

The author states:

"It is only with the proliferation of suicide bombing in our time that the distinction between suicide and martyrdom has become marred as the former is being justified with textual support [in the Koran] for the latter.

The Times writer, James Dao, quoted the juicier passage of the blog item:

"If one suicide bomber can kill 100 enemy soldiers because they were caught off guard that would be considered a strategic victory"

Without giving any regard to the conclusion of the Hasan who blogged this piece in response to the six page paper whose link sits right below the commentary:

"So the scholars main point is that "IT SEEMS AS THOUGH YOUR INTENTION IS THE MAIN ISSUE" and Allah (SWT) knows best."

In its entirety this Hasan, whether the Major or not, seems to be agreeing with the author that the taking of life in combat and opposing one's enemies is not the same as walking into a crowded market full of civilians and exploding oneself.

Dao got it wrong when he wrote "The postings discussed suicide bombings favorably" because he did not take the extra ten minutes to read the original document and understand the context of this Hasan's remarks.

There is nothing inconsistent in that thinking from anything that we preach either. We send young men off to kill "enemy combatants" and that is acceptable. We tell them to stop killing when they come home. We make a distinction, in our Armed Forces manuals, between enemy combatants and civilians, even though the distinction in the real world of Iraq or Afghanistan can be so grey that women and children may well be the armed enemy.

He was too busy doing what the FBI apparently hoped to do: Distract a shooting based on a soldier snapping his twig by misdirecting the media down the terrorist trail.

Similarly, the Times article on the Virginia Tech shootings identified:

Cho Seung-Hui, 23, a South Korean who was a resident alien in the United States was finally identified as the shooter in the Virginia Tech campus shooting spree.

Which suggests that he was perhaps a foreign student until you read, many paragraphs down:

Mr. Cho moved to the United States with his family as a grade school student in 1992, government officials in South Korea said.

Cho arrived in the US as an 8-year-old. He spent the majority of his youth living in the suburbs of Virginia, not the streets of Seoul.

Again the times did in-depth reporting on the family history of the shooter. His poor family that subsisted off a used bookstore in South Korea who moved here for opportunity but shunned the Korean community and kept to themselves. The silent boy who was obedient for whom the mother prayed.

As if any of this explains how a "quiet" young man suddenly bursts into a gun-toting maniac.

When Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold shot up the school in Colombine, it was a senseless tragedy, but no one profiled Harris or Klebold's ethnicity, or their religious views, or lack thereof.

If you check on the Colombine pages of the New York Times, you will find extensive literature from the Unit for the Study of Personality in Politics on the psychological profiles of Harris and Klebold. Their homes and home life get fractional mention, days after the dust settled from the shooting. Most of what was covered, was their mental state and what mental defect drives kids from white suburbia to shoot their fellow students. This would also be true of the majority of the media that covered that event at the time.

White shooters get psych profiles. Non-white shooters get family backgrounds, and, in the case of Maj. Hasan, stretches to link to terrorism.

Apparently you cannot just be mentally disturbed and Arab-American or South Korean. There has to be something in your origins that explains the sudden violence and the seemingly mindless rage.

I selected the Times to illustrate a point because the more incendiary news or news-ish outlets like Fox are a bit too oversimplified. It is too easy to listen to Wolf Blitzer do everything that he can to keep seeding the notion of terrorism into the discussion without using the word. The media in the United States has always been very adept at turning the non-white into bogeymen.

The Times has stood as one of the great bellwethers of American journalism standards. So it is especially troubling when you see the NYT engage in this more veiled form of racism.

It is sad when it takes a week, and several smaller, Internet-based publications to start catching up with the inconsistencies.

Hasan did many of the things that Cho and Harris and Klebold did. He showed signs. He was giving away things. He exhibited serious personality shifts.

The problem is that we are not attuned to picking up those warning signs, in part because they could be a hundred-thousand other, less lethal things. We do not know why someone at the post office finally goes "postal." We do not track gun purchases and mental health histories well enough to set off alarm bells when someone is arming themselves who shouldn't be in the possession of a firearm because NRA lobbyists connect any form of monitoring with the inalienable right for Bubba in Biloxi to hold on to his rifle and six pack in a duck blind on a cold November morning.

It is too easy to lay off a tragedy with labels that are comfortable to us. I checked in with my avid Fox News junkie at the gym. Hasan is a "terrorist" and he "wrote about supporting terrorism." That is the final word from Average Joe, burned into his brain because the media served up a Twinkie story, misdirecting the public, and giving them a simple verdict that catered to their fears.

The Times should have verified the blog as belonging to Hasan instead of reporting the sensational quote and back-pedaling away from it with "It could not be confirmed, however, that the writer was Major Hasan."

During the Virginia Tech shootings, the more adept NYT team covering that story at least managed to achieve some balance when they ended their background on Cho with:

The single deadliest shooting in the United States came in October 1991, when George Jo Hennard crashed his pickup truck through the window of a Luby's cafeteria in Killeen, Tex., then shot 22 people dead and wounded at least 20 others. He shot himself in the head."

Why is Hennard not as infamous as Hasan, Cho, Harris or Klebold? Because the folks at Luby's in Kileen watching the news and eating their macaroni and cheese might find that a whole lot harder to swallow than a crazed Arab terrorist shooting up their military base.

White people do not like seeing themselves as being able to be that deranged, that awful, even though, by simple population dynamics alone, more often than not, Caucasians are the shooter, the mass murderer, the teen killer.

Perhaps it is time to revisit our treatment of these tragedies and find some balance in the coverage. Maybe we need to stop, and vet even the word of the FBI before we rush to beat the next guy to the story.

The truth is out there. It is just getting lost in the rush to be first.

Responding to the Fort Hood Tragedy By Imam Zaid Shakir

on 12 November 2009

This is my response to the Fort Hood tragedy and events both associated with it and ensuing from it. I begin by expressing my deepest condolences to the families of all of the dead and wounded. There is no legitimate reason for their deaths, just as I firmly believe there is no legitimate reason for the deaths of the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghani civilians who have perished as a result of those two conflicts. Even though I disagree with the continued prosecution of those wars, and even though I believe that the US war machine is the single greatest threat to world peace, I must commend the top military brass at Fort Hood, and President Obama for encouraging restraint and for refusing to attribute the crime allegedly perpetrated by Major Nidal Malik Hasan to Islam. We pray that God bless us to see peace and sanity prevail during these tense times.


One of the greatest foundations of Islam is truth. One of the ninety-nine names of God is al-Haqq (the Truth) It is unfair to distort the truth, to present falsehood as fact, or to present half-truths as definitive declarations. Truth, along with Goodness and Beauty are the three great transcendental realities that Islam and all other religions strive to aid us towards both realizing and actualizing in our lives. In the Arabic/Islamic lexicon these are known as al-Haqq (the Truth), al-Ihsan (Goodness), and al-Jamaal (Beauty).

Concerning the truth, our Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, taught us to pray, Allahumma Arinal Haqqa Haqqan wa Zurqnat Tiba’ahu, “O God! Show us the truth as truth and bless us to follow it.” The Qur’an presents the truth as a powerful, self-evident reality that is distinguishable from falsehood without any need for extraneous clarification (2:256). The mere presence of the truth is enough to dispel the clouds of darkness and falsehood (17:81). Therefore, a great objective of our religion is discovering and then following the truth.

One of the unfortunate consequences of tragic and highly emotive events like the shootings that recently occurred at Fort Hood, Texas, is that such events are used to advance agendas that by their very nature make a mockery of the truth. This event is no exception. There are those who seek to use this event to portray the Muslim community in this country as an inherent menace whose very existence has to be challenged. Traveling the length and breath of this country in the service of that community, I know this is not the truth. The Muslim community in this country is a peace-loving, law-abiding community that has in ways great and small advanced the general welfare of this nation and its citizenry. To present it otherwise is a blatant lie.

Like any other community that has a fairly large percentage of immigrants among it members, the Muslim community does have those elements, especially older members or those newly arrived from the Muslim world whose strongest sentiments, emotional and cultural attachments may be towards the lands they have come from than to the country they find themselves in. This is true for many members of most immigrant populations. However, generally speaking, such attachments are not found among Muslims born and raised here, nor do they translate into animosity towards or a desire to do harm to this country.

Saying that is not to deny the existence of Muslims who may be agitated by the injustices and inequities they find in American foreign policy, or the increasingly prejudicial or even racist attitudes being advanced by some parties towards America’s Muslims. Among them is a small minority whose anger and frustration may render them vulnerable to the appeal of demagogues who would attempt to exploit their emotions to advance a nefarious agenda, or a number of factors may converge in their lives pushing them towards acts of violence against their fellow citizens. This might prove to be the case for Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who has been identified as the shooter at Fort Hood, and a few other random individuals. However, it is not and never will be anything that can even begin to approach the norm in our community.

What is unequivocally true is that such violent outbursts that involve attacks against the lives or property of American citizens in this country have nothing to do with Islam. There are no teachings from the normative corpus of Muslim political writings that allow a Muslim to violate the security of the public square, to endanger the lives of the general public, to attack non-combatant civilians, even in a battlefield situation, or to aggress against soldiers who are not in a battlefield. This is especially true where Muslims have entered into an explicit or implicit covenant of protection from non-Muslim political authorities and constitute a distinct minority in a particular land.

Much of the balance of this article will be dedicated to presenting Islamic teachings that substantiate what I have mentioned above concerning the duties of Muslims to protect the public square in a non-Muslim land they may find themselves in, and those teachings that warn against foolhardy, ill-conceived attacks that only bring harm and hardship to innocent, unsuspecting people, Muslims among them.

My argument is a direct refutation of Muslims who seek to distort Islamic teachings to motivate ignorant Muslims to undertake ill-advised and unsanctioned actions against the citizenry of this country. It also restates my position on this issue. [1]

No Room for Vigilante Treachery in the Divine Law

In his expansive work, al-Jihad wa’l Qital fi al-Siyasa al-Shar’iyya (Sanctioned Warfare and Fighting in the Divine Law) Muhammad Khayr Haykal mentions, concerning the implications accruing from an oath of protection: [2]

The cessation of hostilities that is mentioned here might be a consequence of an oath of protection given by non-Muslims to Muslims, or a consequence of an oath of protection given by Muslims to non-Muslims. In both cases, it obligates a cessation of hostilities against the members of the opposing community who might technically be at war with the Muslims. [This is so] whether the Muslims have granted the oath of protection or it has been granted to them. [3]

Haykal continues:

It is not permissible for Muslims who have been granted an oath of protection from members of other communities to launch into fighting them, because this is treachery. [4]

Two concepts are critical in what Haykal mentions here, one is the idea of treachery, and the other is the idea of reciprocity. Islam is predicated on honorable behavior. It is the height of dishonor to violate the trust that is extended to a person given the right to move about freely in a particular land based on the assumption that that person has accepted the responsibility to protect and preserve public order in that land and the lives and property of its people.

In his commentary on al-Mughni, one of the definitive compendiums of Islamic law according to the Hanbali rite, Imam al-Maqdisi mentions in this regard, “If an oath of protection is given to a non-Muslim population, it is forbidden to fight them, usurp their wealth, or to expose them to any harm.” [5] Imam al-Shafi’i clarifies that this includes Muslims who have entered into a non-Muslim land. He states, “If a group of Muslims enter the land of non-Muslims with an oath of protection, the others are safe from them […] they [the Muslims] have no right to oppress or betray them.” [6]

It should be clear that a Muslim is not allowed to transgress against non-Muslims as long as he or she resides in their lands under their protection. Any aggression from their quarter is unsanctioned treachery. If they feel they can no longer accept the perceived or real abuses or injustices of the host people then they are obliged to leave that land if remaining there would push them into acts of violence or aggression against the host community.

The idea of reciprocity is critical in this particular area of inquiry. All of our major legal texts discuss this idea. It is the idea that the responsibilities expected of non-Muslims minorities in Muslim lands are incumbent on Muslims in non-Muslim lands. Hence, just as it would be unacceptable for a non-Muslim residing in a Muslim land to attack the people of that land, civilian or military, it is unacceptable for a Muslim residing in a non-Muslim land to engage in similar acts. This is an undeniable principle in our law. Hence, respecting it is not a stratagem or a convenient contingency; it is upholding an inviolable principle.

It is also well-known amongst Muslim scholars that it is prohibited to undertake any acts that will result in widespread harm returning to Muslims. This is based on the prophetic Hadith, “There is no initiating or reciprocating harm.” [7] This Hadith has given rise to the legal maxim, “Harm is to be removed.” Hence, any action that is likely to result in widespread harm to Muslims is unsanctioned and necessarily removed.

In the current political climate in America where the demonizing of Muslims has evolved into an industry, where rules of civility and the rejection of any meaningful anti-defamation statutes allow for indiscriminate calls to murder Muslims on public airwaves; where Mosques and other Muslim organizations are infiltrated by agent provocateurs who are encouraging Muslims to engage in acts that could potentially unleash waves of anti-Muslim venom, it is clear to anyone with a modicum of intellect that attacks such as the one occurring at Fort Hood have no Islamic sanction, neither in principle nor from a tactical point of view.

Such attacks only give credence to those foul elements who desire to justify ongoing wars against Muslim populations. There are those in the Muslim world who think that by calling for such attacks they can draw America into deeper involvements in places such as Iraq or Afghanistan which will then become America’s Vietnam. Little do they realize that there are fanatical elements in these western lands that use such attacks to argue for a full-blown assault on Muslim lands as opposed to the current limited engagement. Some of those calls are for nuclear attacks, and their advocates would not be bothered seeing the number of dead Iraqis resulting from our involvement in that country growing from the currently lamentable number of over one million to five or six million.

Little do those Muslims realize that they are encouraging elements that would bomb Afghan towns and villages with the same insane impunity that was visited upon places like Tokyo, Dresden, Hamburg of Berlin during World War II; for they are arguing that Islam, like fascism, poses an existentialist threat to America and western civilization. One of the things giving any credence to their perverse arguments and turning a hesitate public towards their camp are belligerent actions they hope can be attributed to Muslims. We should neither contribute to such actions in deed nor should we applaud them.

Ibn Juzayy mentions in Qawanin al-Ahkam al-Shar’iyya:

If the Muslims know that they will be slaughtered in wholesale fashion it is fitting that they abandon fighting. If they know that they will be slaughtered and that their losses will do little to alter the strategic balance vis-à-vis the enemy forces, it is absolutely obligatory that they abandon any encounter. [8]

Any Muslim who thinks that an unsanctioned act of violence he may undertake in this country is going to alter the strategic balance is grandly deluded or inexcusably ignorant. His undertaking any violent act in this country is additionally forbidden because he is likely going to be killed, gravely injured, or captured in the encounter. Imam al-Shawkani mentions in al-Sayl al-Jarrar, “It is well-known legal reasoning that one who strikes out [against an enemy] knowing beforehand that he will be killed, captured or vanquished, has hurled himself to destruction.” [9] Imam al-Shawkani goes on to explain that such an act is forbidden based on the Qur’anic verse, Do not hurl yourself to destruction with your own hands. (2:195) [10] The discouragement of foolhardy acts of desperation based on this verse, is also made by Ibn ‘Abideen in his commentary on al-Durr al-Mukhtar. [11]

There is another salient point that we must mention in this context. No one, even in a Muslim land, has the right to undertake violent acts, even against a recognized enemy when the political authorities of that land determine that those acts will incur harm to Muslims [or other innocent people]. Dr. Haykal elaborates on this point at length:

The lawful authorities in a land possess the right, and this right is similarly conferred by valid legislative principles, to absolutely prevent any method, or any organization whose very nature would result in consequences that would expose the Muslims to grave danger and harm. Therefore, when the legislative authorities perceive that something that may originally be permissible has consequences that involve any degree of harm, it is their responsibility to prevent that harm. Rather, it is incumbent on them to prevent it. This is accomplished by preventing individuals from arming themselves and preventing them from forming armed militias that are independent of the standing army. Indeed, the divine law has given the authorities a number of legislative principles to use in order to cut off any path where the winds of harm may blow from. [12]

If this is the case for a Muslim country, what is the permissibility for vigilante acts and underground militias in a non-Muslim land where Muslims are forbidden to threaten public order or to independently implement any Islamic teachings related to strategic affairs?

Finally, as implied above, Muslim leaders have the responsibility to protect the faithful from foolhardy acts that will lead to unnecessary lose of life, and to warn them again individuals who would lead them towards such acts. For this reason, ‘Umar bin al-Khattab, warned against reckless commanders who would expose the faithful to unnecessary hardship. This led to him advising his governors, “Do not appoint al-Bara’ ibn Malik over any Muslim army.” [13]

This warning was issued owing to al-Bara’s known recklessness and his ill-consideration of the consequences of his actions for his troops. It is a shame that there are Muslims who have no connection with this country yet are recklessly and insensitively endorsing actions that endanger innocent Muslims and non-Muslims alike. They are not on the ground in this country and are therefore not attuned to the nature of the struggles and vulnerabilities of our community.


So what are the Muslims of this country to do in the aftermath of the tragedy at Fort Hood? We have to do the good things we were doing before it occurred. Indeed, we need to increase that good. Our civil rights can be assailed, we can be denied equal protection under the law, our lawful and law-abiding organizations can be closed down, but no one can take our dignity from us, no one can prevent us from being decent neighbors, honest workers, dedicated students, faithful citizens, and pious believers. Furthermore, no one can prevent us from engaging in a heroic struggle to secure our God-given and constitutionally-mandated rights, and from working for the creation of the kinds of policies that will prevent the current bloodletting that is occurring in some Muslim lands with the active complicity of our country’s military and security apparatuses.

Certainly, the heightened levels of hate speech, the whispers of a coming backlash, and the elected officials who have gone on record promising to do nothing to mitigate such a backlash are all unsettling. However, if we preserve and remain ever mindful of the wise commandments that are available to guide our steps, we should rest assured that God will not abandon us. He states in the Qur’an, You will surely be tested in your property and your persons. And you will hear from [some of] those given the Scripture before you, and from the idolaters much abuse. If you patiently persevere, and remain mindful of God, surely this is a manifestation of prophetic resolution. (3:186)

So brothers and sisters, at this time when very powerful and well-financed interests are rallying against us; at this time when we can entertain no real hope of meaningful support from any Muslim country, we have to redouble our dependence on God; we have to live for Him and seek our strength through him. Whoever remains mindful of Allah, He makes for him a way out, He bestows His sustenance upon him from directions he could never imagine, and one who places his trust in God finds that He suffices him… (65:2-3) This is the way of the Prophets, peace upon them. Let it be our way.

Imam Zaid Shakir 11/11/09


[1] My position on a number of controversial issues has been stated at length, among other places in my book, Scattered Pictures: Reflections of an American Muslim, published in 2005 by the Zaytuna Institute, and a 4-CD set entitled, Looking Back to Look Ahead, produced by Zaytuna Institute in 2006.
[2] In the modern context, such an oath of protection may result from the acceptance of citizenship, residency permits, visas issued for tourism, study or work, and other well-known means.
[3] Muhammad Khayr Haykal, al-Jihad wa’l Qital fi al-Siyasa al-Shar’iyya (Beirut: Dar Ibn Hazm, 1417/1996), 3:1499
[4] Haykal, 3:1502
[5] Imam Ibn ‘Abd al-Rahman ibn Muhammad ibn Qudamah al-Maqdisi, al-Sharh al-Kabir ‘ala Matn al-Muqni’ (Beirut: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 1372/1972), 10:555
[6] Imam Muhammad ibn Idris al-Shafi’i, Kitab al-Umm (Beirut: Dar al-Ma’rifa, nd), 4:248
[7] Ibn Majah, no. 2341
[8] Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Juzayy al-Kalbi, Qawanin al-Ahkam al-Shar’iyya (Beirut: Dar al-‘Ilm li’l Malayin, 1374/1974), p. 165
[9] Imam Muhammad ibn ‘Ali al-Shawkani, al-Sayl al-Jarrar (Beirut: Dar al-Kutub al-‘Ilmiyya, 1405/1985), 4:519
[10]There are those who argue that the correct interpretation of this verse is the opposite of what is implied here. Namely, it was encouraging those who stayed away from a battle in order to mind their crops and cattle to go forth to the fray lest they be destroyed by the advancing enemy forces. However, Imam al-Shawkani and others argue that the meaning is contingent on the situation. While that meaning may be the one applicable to the occasion of the verse’s revelation, to argue that the verse is discouraging involvement in foolhardy acts of desperation is also operative. This is so based on the interpretive principle, العبرة لعموم اللفظ لا لخصوص السبب al-‘Ibra li ‘Umum al-Lafdh, la li Khusus al-Sabab (The applicability of a verse is based on the generality of its wording not the specificity of its revelation).
[11] See Imam Ibn ‘Abideen, Radd al-Muhtar ‘ala al-Durr al-Mukhtar (Cairo: Matba’ Khidaywi Isma’il, 1286), 3:337
[12] Haykal, 2:1008
[13] Imam Muhammad ibn Ahmad al-Sarkhasi, Sharh al-Siyar al-Kabir (Cairo: Jami’ al-Makhtutat Jami’ al-Duwal al-‘Arabiyya, 1372/1972), 1:62

Howard Zinn quote

Howard Zinn is speaking on campus today with Matt Damon on a tour for "The People Speak"

Why should we cherish "objectivity," as if ideas were innocent, as if they don't serve one interest or another? Surely, we want to be objective if that means telling the truth as we see it, not concealing information that may be embarrassing to our point of view. But we don't want to be objective if it means pretending that ideas don't play a part in the social struggles of our time, that we don't take sides in those struggles.

Indeed, it is impossible to be neutral. In a world already moving in certain directions, where wealth and power are already distributed in certain ways, neutrality means accepting the way things are now. It is a world of clashing interests - war against peace, nationalism against internationalism, equality against greed, and democracy against elitism - and it seems to me both impossible and undesirable to be neutral in those conflicts.

New Book: Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America

I went to hear San Francisco State professor Shawn Ginwright speak on his new book Black Youth Rising: Activism and Radical Healing in Urban America yesterday at NYU. Here's the book description:
Black Youth Rising is a book that restores hope and possibility to the lives of urban black youth. In this pathbreaking account, author Shawn Ginwright details the powerful positive impact that community-based organizations can have in rebuilding the lives of urban black youth, in a process he calls radical healing. Readers can see how caring adults in a community setting are able to create safe spaces for youth to turn away from neighborhood violence and their own traumatic pasts. Together, young people build a refuge within their own community that allows them to turn away from the common dangers of street life and toward building healthy identities and a productive future for themselves and others.

Combining a theoretically grounded framework with practical strategies, Black Youth Rising offers a new model for understanding what African American youth need in order to succeed in school and in life. This book is essential reading for educators, social workers, community organizers, after-school coordinators, and all who work with inner-city adolescents.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

NYT: Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died

November 11, 2009

Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died

WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials.

Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.

Stacy DeLuke, a spokeswoman for the company, now called Xe Services, dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said the company would not comment about former employees. Mr. Black did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Reached by phone, Mr. Jackson, who resigned as president early this year, criticized The New York Times and said, “I don’t care what you write.”

The four former Blackwater executives, who had held high-ranking posts at the company, would speak only on condition of anonymity. Two of them said they took part in talks about the payments; the two others said they had been told by several Blackwater officials about the discussions. In agreeing to describe those conversations, the four officials said that they were troubled by a pattern of questionable conduct by Blackwater, which had led them to leave the company.

A senior State Department official said that American diplomats were not aware of any payoffs to Iraqi officials.

Blackwater continued operating as the prime contractor providing security for the United States Embassy in Baghdad until spring, when the Iraqi government said it would deny the company an operating license. The State Department replaced Blackwater with a rival in May, but the company still does some work for the department in Iraq on a temporary basis.

Five Blackwater guards involved in the shooting are facing federal manslaughter charges, and their trial is scheduled to start in February in Washington. A sixth guard pleaded guilty in December. The company has never faced criminal charges in the case, although the Iraqi victims brought a civil lawsuit in federal court against Blackwater and Mr. Prince.

Separately, a federal grand jury in North Carolina, where the company has its headquarters, has been conducting a lengthy investigation into it. One of the former executives said that he had told federal prosecutors there about the plan to pay Iraqi officials to drop their inquiries into the Nisour Square case. If Blackwater followed through, the company or its officials could face charges of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials.

Officials at the United States Attorney’s Office in Raleigh declined to comment on their investigation, and it is not clear whether the payment scheme is a focus of the grand jury.

Federal prosecutors in North Carolina have interviewed a number of former Blackwater employees about a variety of issues, including allegations of weapons smuggling, according to several former employees who say they have testified before the grand jury or been interviewed by prosecutors, as well as lawyers familiar with the matter. Two former employees have pleaded guilty to weapons charges and are believed to be cooperating with prosecutors.

Since 2001, Blackwater has undergone explosive growth, not only from security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also from classified work for the Central Intelligence Agency that included taking part in a now defunct program to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda and to load missiles on Predator drones.

The Nisour Square shooting was the bloodiest and most controversial episode involving Blackwater in the Iraq war. At midday on Sept. 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy opened fire on Iraqi civilians in the crowded intersection, spraying automatic weapons fire in ways that investigators later claimed was indiscriminate, and even launching grenades into a nearby school. Seventeen Iraqis were killed and dozens more were wounded.

The matter set off an international outcry and intense debates in Iraq and the United States over the role of private contractors in war zones. Many Iraqis condemned Blackwater, which they had long seen as an arrogant rogue operation, and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki declared that the Blackwater shooting was a challenge to his nation’s sovereignty. His government opened investigations into the episode and previous fatal shootings by Blackwater guards, and threatened to bar the company from operating in the country.

Those responses deeply worried Blackwater officials. Before the Nisour Square shootings, the company had operated in Iraq without a license largely because the Iraqi government had never enforced the rules. Being blocked from the country would have been costly — the State Department deal was Blackwater’s single biggest contract. From 2004 through today, the company has collected more than $1.5 billion for its work protecting American diplomats and providing air transportation for them inside Iraq.

“It would hurt us,” Mr. Prince, the chairman, said in an interview in January about losing the diplomatic security contract. “It would not be a mortal blow, but it would hurt us.”

The former Blackwater executives said it was not clear who proposed paying off Iraqi officials. But after Mr. Jackson, the former company president, approved the plan, the cash for the payoffs was taken from Amman and given to Rich Garner, then a top manager in Iraq, the former executives said. One of those executives said that officials in Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which is responsible for operating licenses, were the intended recipients.

Mr. Garner, who still works for the company, could not be reached for comment. The former executives said they did not know whether Mr. Garner was involved in decisions about the bribery scheme.

At that time, Mr. Black was in a series of discussions with Patricia A. Butenis, the deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Baghdad, about compensation payments to the Nisour Square victims. According to former Blackwater officials, Mr. Black was furious when he learned that the payoff money was being funneled into Iraq, and he swiftly broke off the talks with Ms. Butenis.

“We are out of here,” Mr. Black told a colleague, one former executive said. After returning to the United States, Mr. Black and Robert Richer, who had also joined Blackwater after a C.I.A. career, separately confronted Mr. Prince with their concerns about the plan, one former Blackwater executive said.

Mr. Richer left Blackwater in February 2008, followed by Mr. Black several months later, amid a battle inside Blackwater between former C.I.A. officers working at the company’s office outside Washington and executives at Blackwater’s headquarters in North Carolina.

The former officials said that Mr. Black, Mr. Richer and others believed that Blackwater had cultivated a cowboy culture that was contemptuous of government rules and regulations, and that some of the company’s leaders — former members of the Navy Seals including Mr. Prince and Mr. Jackson — had pushed the boundaries of legality. Contacted by telephone, Mr. Richer would not discuss specifics of why he left the company.

Ms. Butenis, now the United States ambassador to Sri Lanka, declined to comment for this article. But other State Department officials confirmed that embassy officials had met with Blackwater executives to encourage them to compensate the victims of Nisour Square.

The United States military had a well-established program for paying families of civilian victims of American military operations, but at the time of the Nisour Square shooting, the State Department did not have a similar program, officials said.

In interviews, three Iraqis wounded in Nisour Square said that Blackwater had made payments of several thousand dollars to them and other victims. Still, some of them joined the civil lawsuit against Blackwater. Settlement talks collapsed Tuesday, according to Susan Burke, a lawyer for the victims.

Even after the furor that was set off by the shootings, State Department officials made it clear that they did not believe they could operate in Baghdad without Blackwater, and Iraqi officials eventually dropped their public demands for the company’s immediate ouster.

Raed Jarrar, the Iraq consultant to the American Friends Service Committee, said in a recent interview that the Maliki government had gone too easy on Blackwater. “They had two different messages,” he said. “The Iraqi public, and even the Iraqi Parliament, was told that all private contractors would be pulled out of the country, while the contractors and the State Department were told the opposite.”

In late 2008, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government hammered out an agreement governing the role of security contractors in Iraq. Under the new rules, security contractors lost their immunity from Iraqi laws, which had been granted in 2004 by L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country after the start of the American-led war. The Iraqi government also made it mandatory for security contractors to obtain licenses to operate in the country.

In March 2009, the Iraqis said that the company would not be awarded a license. Two months later, the State Department replaced it with a competing security contractor, Triple Canopy.

Barclay Walsh contributed research from Washington, and Mohammed Hussein from Baghdad

Imam Zaid: Remembering Imam Luqman Abdullah

The poor people, including poor Muslims, are oftentimes denied a voice. The meaning of their lives and their legacy is then left in the hands of an oftentimes unsympathetic media to define, shape and mold. Hopefully, these words will help to provide a little insight into who Imam Luqman was and the context that shaped him.
Read here

Cornel West - "Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time" 2

The ugly events of 9/11 should have been an opportunity for national self-scrutiny. In the wake of the shock and horror of those attacks, many asked the question, why do they hate us? But the country failed to engage in a serious, sustained, deeply probing examination of the possible answers to that question. Instead, the leaders of the Bush administration encouraged us to adopt the simplistic and aggressive "with us or against us" stance and we ran roughshod over our allies, turning a deaf ear to any criticisms of the course of action the Bush leadership had determined to take. We have been unwilling - both at this critical juncture and throughout our history - to turn a sufficiently critical eye on own behavior in the world. We have often behaved in an overbearing, imperial, hypocritical manner as we have attained more and more power as a hegemon.

Our hypocritical, bullying behavior in regard to so many of the regions of the world is surely not the only reason for the 9/11 attacks - and it certainly doesn't justify those horribly callous, violent terrorist acts - but we have failed to even consider deeply as a culture the role of our imperialist behavior has played in the contempt we have inspired in so much of the world. The Bush administration's abuse of power both at home and in unilaterally invading Iraq and waging a campaign of lies have now provoked an intense scrutiny, and this scrutiny needs to dig deeper than throwing angry barbs at the Bush's administration's policies. We've got to reconnect with the energies of a deep democratic tradition in America and reignite them.
-pg. 12-13 of Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Dr. Cornel West

Cornel West - "Democracy Matters Are Frightening in Our Time"

Democracy matters are frightening in our time precisely because of the three dominant dogmas of free-market fundamentalism, aggressive militarism, and escalating authoritarianism are snuffing out the democratic impulses that are so vital for the deepening and spread of democracy in the world. In short, we are experiencing the sad American imperial devouring of American democracy. This historic devouring in our time constitutes an unprecedented gangsterization of America - an unbridled grasp at power, wealth and status. And when the most powerful forces in a society - and an empire - promote a suffocation of democratic energies, the very future of genuine democracy is jeopardized.

How ironic that 9/11 - a vicious attack on innocent civilians by gangsters - becomes the historic occasion for the full-scale gangsterization of America. Do we now live in a postdemocratic age in which the very "democratic" rhetoric of an imperial America hides the waning of a democratic America? Are there enough democratic energies here and abroad to fight for and win back our democracy given the undeniable power of the three dominant dogmas that fuel imperial America? Or will the American empire go the way of the Leviathnans of the past - the Roman, Ottoman, Soviet, and British empires? Can any empire resist the temptation to become drunk with the wine of world power or become intoxicated with the hubris and greed of imperial possibilities? Had not every major empire pursued quixotic dreams of global domination - of shaping the world in its image and for its interest - that resulted in internal decay and doom? Can we committed democrats avert this world - historical pattern and possible fate?

Our fundamental test may lie in our continuing response to 9/11.
-pg. 7-8 of Democracy Matters: Winning the Fight Against Imperialism by Dr. Cornel West

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

A Call to Reflection

Piece on Fort Hood by Shaykh J. Brown on Imam Zaid's site

Cornel West on Aggressive Militarism

I picked up Cornel West's Democracy Matters again yesterday. In the first chapter, he identifies "the rise of three dominating, antidemocratic dogmas":

1. free-market fundamentalism
2. aggressive militarism
3. escalating authoritarianism

On the second point he writes:
The second prevailing dogma of our time is aggressive militarism, of which the new policy of preemptive strike against potential enemies is but an extension. This new doctrine of U.S. foreign policy goes far beyond our former doctrine of preventive war. It green-lights political elites to sacrifice U.S. soldiers - who are disproportionately working class and youth of color - in adventurous crusades. This dogma posits military might as salvific in a world in which he who has the most and biggest weapons is the most moral and masculine, hence worthy of policing others. In practice, this dogma takes the form of unilateral intervention, colonial invasion, and armed occupation abroad. It has fueled a foreign policy that shuns multilateral cooperation of nations and undermines international structures of deliberation. Fashioned out of the cowboy mythology of the American frontier fantasy, the dogma of aggressive militarism is a lone-ranger strategy that employs "spare-no-enemies" tactics. It guarantees a perennial resorting to the immoral and base manner of settling conflict, namely, the perpetration of the very sick and cowardly terrorism it claims to contain and eliminate. On the domestic front, this dogma expands police power, augments the prison-industrial complex, and legitimates unchecked male power (and violence) at home and in the workplace. It views crime as a monstrous enemy to crush (targeting poor people) rather than as an ugly behavior to change (by addressing the conditions that often encourage such behavior).

As with the bully on the block, one's own interest and aims define what is moral and one's anxieties and insecurities dictate what is masculine. Yet the use of naked forced to resolve conflict often backfires. The arrogant hubris that usually accompanies this use of force tends to lead toward instability - and even destruction - in the regions where we have sought to impose our will. Violence is readily deployed by those who cloak themselves in innocence - those unwilling to examine themselves and uninterested in counting the number of innocent victims they kill. Note the Bush administration's callous disregard for both the U.S. soldiers and innocent Iraqis killed in our recent adventurous invasion. The barbaric abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghuraib is a flagrant example. -pg. 5-6

NYT: "At Fort Hood, Some Violence Is Too Familiar"

November 10, 2009


FORT HOOD, Tex. — Staff Sgt. Gilberto Mota, 35, and his wife, Diana, 30, an Army specialist, had returned to Fort Hood from Iraq last year when he used his gun to kill her, and then took his own life, the authorities say. In July, two members of the First Cavalry Division, also just back from the war with decorations for their service, were at a party when one killed the other.

That same month, Staff Sgt. Justin Lee Garza, 28, under stress from two deployments, killed himself in a friend’s apartment outside Fort Hood, four days after he was told no therapists were available for a counseling session. “What bothers me most is this happened while he was supposed to be on suicide watch,” said his mother, Teri Smith. “To this day, I don’t know where he got the gun.”

Fort Hood is still reeling from last week’s carnage, in which an Army psychiatrist is accused of a massacre that left 13 people dead. But in the town of Killeen and other surrounding communities, the attack, one of the worst mass shootings on a military base in the United States, is also seen by many as another blow in an area that has been beset by crime and violence since the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq began. Reports of domestic abuse have grown by 75 percent since 2001. At the same time, violent crime in Killeen has risen 22 percent while declining 7 percent in towns of similar size in other parts of the country.

The stresses are seen in other ways, too.

Since 2003, there have been 76 suicides by personnel assigned to Fort Hood, with 10 this year, according to military officials.

A crisis center on base is averaging 60 phone calls a week from soldiers and family members seeking various help for problems from suicide to anger management, with about the same volume of walk-ins and scheduled appointments.

In recent days, Army officials have pledged to redouble their efforts to help soldiers cope with deployment. The base, which uses some of the most innovative approaches in the military, plans to expand a help center set up in September that provides a variety of assistance to soldiers, including breathing techniques for handling combat stress and goal-setting skills upon their return.

“Fort Hood is very attuned to this,” said Col. William S. Rabena, who runs the help center known as the Resiliency Center Campus. “It’s the only thing to do.”

The Army has also sent an array of specialists to Fort Hood to help soldiers and their families, including chaplains, social workers, combat stress specialists, counselors and experts in crisis and disaster behavioral management. Army officials said more such assistance might be sent to the base.

But interviews with soldiers who have deployed one or more times to Iraq or Afghanistan, and with family members of those who died violently back here in Texas, show that the Army’s efforts are still falling short. Even some alarm bells rung by the Army leadership have gone unanswered.

In July, two weeks after Sergeant Garza’s death, Lt. Gen. Rick Lynch, then the base commander, told Congress he was in dire need of more mental healthprofessionals. “That’s the biggest frustration,“ he told a House subcommittee. “I’m short about 44 of what I am convinced I need at Fort Hood that I just don’t have.”

Among the medical personnel brought to Fort Hood to help deal with the growing mental health issues was Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, who arrived in July. Major Hasan is accused in the attacks last week, but little is known about what might have driven him.

“Our soldiers are coming back and not getting the help they need,” said Cynthia Thomas, an Army wife who runs a private assistance center for soldiers in Killeen called Under the Hood Café. “Whether it’s self-medicating, anger or violence, these are the consequences of war, and you have to think about all the people affected by soldiers coming home, the parents, spouses, children, brothers, sisters, aunts and cousins.”

Pfc. Michael Kern, of Riverside, Calif., said he tried unsuccessfully to obtain help for stress last year in Baghdad, but was ridiculed by an officer in front of his tanker unit. “He said he would have to impose mandatory sleeping times,” said Private Kern, 22, “and that health care was for people with serious problems.”

Back at Fort Hood, Private Kern said he had a breakdown that led to hospitalization and is now awaiting discharge at his request. If he had received therapy in Iraq, he said, “I might not be in this situation now.”

Military officials say the crime and violence associated with Fort Hood must be viewed with the base’s size in mind. With 53,000 soldiers assigned to the base, it has become the largest facility in the country, and much of the surrounding area is tied to the military through family or business.

Col. Edward McCabe, a Catholic chaplain at Fort Hood, said signs of fatigue and other strains are “rampant” on the base. “The numbers of divorces I’ve had to deal with are huge, the cases of physical abuse,” Colonel McCabe said. “Every night in my apartment complex some soldier and his wife are screaming and shouting at each other.“

The Army influences nearly every aspect of life in Killeen, a cotton town until the base moved in during World War II. About 55 miles north of Austin, the town straddles U.S. 190 and is split by a long corridor of strip malls. Most of the 102,000 residents are soldiers, their families or Army retirees. Business here and in the surrounding smaller communities like Belton and Harker Heights ebbs and flows around the first and 15th of each month — military paydays — and around deployments.

At The Killeen Daily Herald, which covers the base with a sympathetic ear to its military readers, employees see similar patterns play out with each troop rotation.

One day, it is a homecoming, with hundreds of families waving flags and homemade signs along T. J. Mills Boulevard leading into the base’s main gate. The next day, crime reports increase, especially cases of domestic violence. “Unfortunately, you see the trend every time there’s a homecoming, when the divisions come home,” said Olga Pena, the paper’s managing editor.

Nicolas Serna, the managing attorney of the local legal aid office, said requests for protective orders had steadily increased over the last several years.

He questioned whether Fort Hood was doing nearly enough for soldiers or for victims of domestic violence. A few years ago, he said, the base refused the group’s offer to provide legal assistance and to help with protection orders for families on Fort Hood.

Some social workers in the area see it differently. The Army, while not perfect, has been trying to address the situation, said Suzanne Armour, the director of programs at the Families in Crisis shelter in Killeen.

Michael Sibberson, the principal of Killeen High School, which has 1,880 students, a little over half with military parents, said in one sense the wars had helped the students relate to one another. On the other side, Mr. Sibberson said, the students are not getting the parental guidance they need because so many have parents deployed. That has led to poor grades, and more behavioral problems.

“Kids are not getting the support at the dinner table they need because Mom or Dad is not there,” he said, adding, “When you call the house you are likely to get Grandma, or a mom who says, ‘I am so full I don’t know what to do with him anymore.’ ”

Henry Garza, the district attorney for Bell County, which includes Killeen, said increases in crime might reflect the town’s rapid growth, though the federal crime data is adjusted for population changes. But the data may be understated because it does not count crimes prosecuted by the military authorities, who sometimes handle serious felonies and misdemeanors by active-duty soldiers even when they occur off base.

Base officials declined to release crime data without a Freedom of Information Act request.

Whether civilian or military official investigate deaths, the proceedings often leave families frustrated by the lack of clear answers.

The list of medals awarded to Sergeant Garza (no relation to the district attorney) tell of a good soldier. After two tours in Iraq, he shared a tight bond with unit members and missed them greatly when the Army sent him to a base in Georgia for additional training after a second deployment. He was troubled by a breakup with a girlfriend. And though he seldom spoke with his family about his combat tours, he once confided to his mother that he had a killed a person in Iraq. “He said, ‘It was him or me,’ ” Ms. Smith said. “But you could tell it troubled him.”

His family believes he did not get the care he needed, despite signs he had fallen into despair.

In June, he left the Georgia base without permission, and the Army tracked him to a hotel room in Paris, Tex. In a suicide note he sent to a friend before leaving, he said he wanted to end it close to his friends. Among his purchases was a shotgun.

Sergeant Garza was brought back to Fort Hood and committed for psychiatric care, first to a civilian hospital because there was no room at the base hospital, said his uncle, Gary Garza, who lives in Killeen. After three days, he was transferred to the base hospital. He was released after two weeks and assigned to take outpatient counseling.

“We thought he was doing better,” said his grandfather, Homer Garza, a retired command sergeant major who served in Korea and Vietnam and who himself had silently suffered for decades with post-traumatic stress.

In fact, Sergeant Garza had shared misgivings about his treatment at the base hospital with his uncle.

“He said he felt like he was getting really good treatment at the civilian hospital,” his uncle said. “He said the civilian doctors seemed to care more. And for the military doctors, it was just like a job for them.”

True or not, on July 7 Sergeant Garza received a message on his cellphone canceling what was to be his first outpatient appointment.

Though his family says the Army was supposed to be checking his apartment for guns and alcohol, that Sunday he put a pistol to his head and pulled the trigger. His mother later listened to the message.

“They said, ‘Sorry, we don’t have a counselor for you today,’ ” Ms. Smith said. “ ‘If you don’t hear back from us by Monday, give us a call.’ ”

Clifford Krauss and Campbell Robertson contributed reporting from Killeen, Tex., and Griff Palmer from New York.