Saturday, December 19, 2009
New Islamic Directions19 December 2009
Thomas Friedman, in his recent New York Times Op-ed entitled, “www.jihad.com,” states that Muslims lack the moral courage to condemn the murderous outrages of “Jihadi” extremists. Part of the reason for this moral failure, in his view, is because the West has not demanded that Muslims take responsibility for their societies, beginning with a strong condemnation of their violent extremists. Without such a condemnation, coupled with concerted action, America’s efforts to rebuild the Muslim world in her image will prove a futile endeavor.
Mr. Friedman posits that very few Muslim political or religious leaders are willing to challenge the violent ideology of Islamic extremists. Mr. Friedman apparently fails to realize is that there is an intense ideological struggle underway in the Muslim world, and at the heart of that struggle is the effort of orthodox scholars to delegitimize the arguments of those who would use Islamic teachings to justify wanton violence and destruction. Furthermore, contrary to his assessment, orthodoxy is gaining the upper hand.
In making his argument, Friedman quotes Mamoun Fandy, an analyst at London’s Institute of Strategic Studies, as saying: “What Muslims were talking about last week were the minarets of Switzerland, not the killings of people in Iraq or Pakistan.” Indeed, there are Muslims who are concerned about the fate of their coreligionists in the West, and are quick to comment on the real or perceived injustices involving Muslims in western lands. However, most of those commentators condemn the violence of the modern-day Khawarij  with far more words, passion and fervor.
By way of example, Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah, one of the preeminent jurists in the Muslim world, has written a brief statement on the Swiss minaret controversy. However, he has recently written an entire book condemning the violence and misinterpretations of the so-called “Jihadis.” That book is currently being translated into English and will be available in this country early next year.
Shaykh bin Bayyah is not alone. Many scholars from al-Azhar University, the most prestigious center of learning in the Muslim world, have been engaging in a deep dialogue with members of al-Gama’ah al-Islamiyya, Jihad Islami and other violent Egyptian groups. This dialogue has led to hundreds if not thousands of members of these groups renouncing violence against civilian and noncombatant forces. It has resulted in thousands of pages of literature and a deep societal debate in Egypt. Dr. Sherman Jackson, an Islamic studies and Arabic professor at the University of Michigan is currently translating some of this literature into English and has lectured extensively about this initiative.
A similar effort by scholars and jurists in Yemen has also met with tremendous success. Even within the Jihad movement, there is a deep debate about the moral sanction and strategic efficacy of violence against civilian and noncombatant targets. An excellent article, The Rebellion Within, examining this debate in great detail appeared in the June 2, 2008 edition of the New Yorker Magazine. Written by Lawrence Wright, the article highlighted one of the most influential theorists of the Jihad movement, Dr. Fadl, born Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, and his rejection of the wanton violence of al-Qaeda. In England, Johann Hari has recently written, in The Independent, about similar ideological debates and their influence on British-born Muslim radicals.
This debate about the moral validity and strategic efficacy of wanton violence is raging in every Muslim society. Even in Palestine, many have questioned the moral, strategic, and tactical efficacy of suicide bombings against Israeli targets. The disappearance of that tactic there indicates that the voices arguing against it have prevailed. One wonders how Mr. Friedman can miss all of these developments as he pontificates to “infantilized” Muslims about what they must do to put their house in order.
Mr. Friedman is free to condemn Muslims for a lack of moral courage. However, the same issue he raises can be posed to American political and religious leaders. Namely, when will they find the moral courage to seriously challenge the American military machine that is currently spending a trillion dollars a year, more than the rest of the world combined, for war? If Mr. Friedman thinks that the wanton violence visited upon Muslims by America is less a factor in stimulating Muslims to contemplate violent actions than the agitation of al-Qaeda or similar movements he is seriously mistaken.
I ask Mr. Friedman, are not Americans just as “objectified” in their passive acquiescence to what President Dwight Eisenhower referred to as the military industrial complex, and the tremendous violence ensuing from it, as are Muslims, according to his view? If, as Mr. Friedman argues, Islam needs a civil war to confront the odious idea of a violent minority that believes it is okay to murder Muslims and non-Muslims who will not accept “the most rigid Muslim lifestyle and submit to rule by a Muslim caliphate,” does not America need another civil war to challenge the foul idea that any country, Muslim or non-Muslim, that will not submit to American strategic designs can be bombed, invaded, occupied, or otherwise systematically destroyed?
Yes, Americans defeated the idea of slavery domestically. However, have we as a society defeated that idea internationally? What is the fate of those weak people and states that will not submit to our political and economic domination? Are they not brutalized in the most horrific fashion like rebellious slaves?
As Mr. Friedman argues, a corrosive mindset has indeed set in since 9/11. That corrosion is not limited to what he mentions. It also states that hapless Muslims are the major cause of violence and instability in the world and to deal with them we can engage in preemptive wars, we can develop a generation of tactical nuclear weapons to use against them, we can bomb, invade and occupy their lands on the flimsiest pretexts, and we can silently sit back as they are demonized and dehumanized in the media –as if we do not know what the ensuing political climate has led to in places like Bosnia and Rwanda.
I will make Mr. Friedman a wager. I bet that Muslims will wage an ideological civil war to address their violent extremists long before Americans will. I bet that long after Muslims have reclaimed their subjectivity in this regard, most “objectified” Americans will still be passively acquiescing to the imperatives of the military, and now, terrorist industrial complexes. Like Mr. Friedman, their failure to meaningfully address Americas militarism, aggression and violence will render them prisoners in a glass house.
 The Khawarij were a fanatical group who emerged in the early days of Islam. One of their well-known excesses was there removing Muslims who disagreed with them from the fold of Islam, and then making it lawful to kill them.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
The pulpit will -- warily and cautiously -- object -- at first; the great, big, dull bulk of the nation will rub its sleepy eyes and try to make out why there should be a war, and will say, earnestly and indignantly, 'It is unjust and dishonorable, and there is no necessity for it.'
Then the handful will shout louder. A few fair men on the other side will argue and reason against the war with speech and pen, and at first will have a hearing and be applauded; but it will not last long; those others will out shout them, and presently the anti-war audiences will thin out and lose popularity.
Before long you will see this curious thing: the speakers stoned from the platform, and free speech strangled by hordes of furious men who in their secret hearts are still at one with those stoned speakers -- as earlier -- but do not dare to say so. And now the whole nation -- pulpit and all -- will take up the war-cry, and shout itself hoarse, and mob any honest man who ventures to open his mouth; and presently such mouths will cease to open.
Next the statesmen will invent cheap lies, putting the blame upon the nation that is attacked, and every man will be glad of those conscience-soothing falsities, and will diligently study them, and refuse to examine any refutations of them; and thus he will by and by convince himself that the war is just, and will thank God for the better sleep he enjoys after this process of grotesque self-deception."
ALBANY — New York’s system of juvenile prisons is broken, with young people battling mental illness or addiction held alongside violent offenders in abysmal facilities where they receive little counseling, can be physically abused and rarely get even a basic education, according to a report by a state panel.
The problems are so acute that the state agency overseeing the prisons has asked New York’s Family Court judges not to send youths to any of them unless they are a significant risk to public safety, recommending alternatives, like therapeutic foster care.
“New York State’s current approach fails the young people who are drawn into the system, the public whose safety it is intended to protect, and the principles of good governance that demand effective use of scarce state resources,” said the confidential draft report, which was obtained by The New York Times.
The report, prepared by a task force appointed by Gov. David A. Paterson and led by Jeremy Travis, president of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, comes three months after a federal investigation found that excessive force was routinely used at four prisons, resulting in injuries as severe as broken bones and shattered teeth.
The situation was so serious the Department of Justice, which made the investigation, threatened to take over the system.
But according to the task force, the problems uncovered at the four prisons are endemic to the entire system, which houses about 900 young people at 28 facilities around the state.
While some prisons for violent and dangerous offenders should be preserved, the report calls for most to be replaced with a system of smaller centers closer to the communities where most of the families of the youths in custody live.
The task force was convened in 2008 after years of complaints about the prisons, punctuated by the death in 2006 of an emotionally disturbed 15-year-old boy at one center after two workers pinned him to the ground. The task force’s recommendations are likely to help shape the state’s response to the federal findings.
“I was not proud of my state when I saw some of these facilities,” Mr. Travis said in an interview on Friday. “New York is no longer the leader it once was in the juvenile justice field.”
New York’s juvenile prisons are both extremely expensive and extraordinarily ineffective, according to the report, which will be given to Mr. Paterson on Monday. The state spends roughly $210,000 per youth annually, but three-quarters of those released from detention are arrested again within three years. And though the median age of those admitted to juvenile facilities is almost 16, one-third of those held read at a third-grade level.
The prisons are meant to house youths considered dangerous to themselves or others, but there is no standardized statewide system for assessing such risks, the report found.
In 2007, more than half of the youths who entered detention centers were sent there for the equivalent of misdemeanor offenses, in many cases theft, drug possession or even truancy. More than 80 percent were black or Latino, even though blacks and Latinos make up less than half the state’s total youth population — a racial disparity that has never been explained, the report said.
Many of those detained have addictions or psychological illnesses for which less restrictive treatment programs were not available. Three-quarters of children entering the juvenile justice system have drug or alcohol problems, more than half have had a diagnosis of mental health problems and one-third have developmental disabilities.
Yet there are only 55 psychologists and clinical social workers assigned to the prisons, according to the task force. And none of the facilities employ psychiatrists, who have the authority to prescribe the drugs many mentally ill teenagers require.
While 76 percent of youths in custody are from the New York City area, nearly all the prisons are upstate, and the youths’ relatives, many of them poor, cannot afford frequent visits, cutting them off from support networks.
“These institutions are often sorely underresourced, and some fail to keep their young people safe and secure, let alone meet their myriad service and treatment needs,” according to the report, which was based on interviews with workers and youths in custody, visits to prisons and advice from experts. “In some facilities, youth are subjected to shocking violence and abuse.”
Even before the task force’s report is released, the Paterson administration is moving to reduce the number of youths held in juvenile prisons.
Gladys Carrión, the commissioner of the Office of Children and Family Services, the agency that oversees the juvenile justice system, has recommended that judges find alternative placements for most young offenders, according to an internal memorandum issued Oct. 28 by the state’s deputy chief administrative judge.
Ms. Carrión also advised court officials that New York would not contest the Justice Department findings, according to the memo, and that officials were negotiating a settlement agreement to remedy the system.
Peter E. Kauffmann, a spokesman for Mr. Paterson, said the governor “looks forward to receiving the recommendations of the task force as we continue our efforts to transform the state’s juvenile justice system from a correctional-punitive model to a therapeutic model.”
The report contends that smaller facilities would place less strain on workers, helping reduce the use of physical force, and would be better able to tailor rehabilitation programs.
New York is not unique in using its juvenile prisons to house mentally ill teenagers, particularly as many states confront huge budget shortfalls that have resulted in significant cuts to mental health programs. Still, some states are trying to shift to smaller, community-based programs.
The report by New York’s task force does not say how much money would be needed to overhaul the system, but as Mr. Paterson and state lawmakers try to close a $3.2 billion deficit, cost could become a major hurdle.
Ms. Carrión has faced resistance from some prison workers, who accuse her of making them scapegoats for the system’s problems and minimizing the dangerous conditions they face. State records show a significant spike in on-the-job injuries, for which some workers blame Ms. Carrión’s efforts to limit the use of force.
“We embrace the idea of moving towards a more therapeutic model of care, but you can’t do that without more training and more staff,” said Stephen A. Madarasz, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, the union that represents prison workers. “You’re not dealing with wayward youth. In the more secure facilities, you’re dealing with individuals who have been involved in pretty serious crimes.”
Advocates have credited Ms. Carrión, who was appointed in 2007 by former Gov. Eliot Spitzer, with instituting significant reforms, including installing cameras in some of the more troubled prisons and providing more counseling.
But the state has a long way to go, many advocates say.
“Even the kids that are not considered dangerous are shackled when they are being transferred from their homes to the centers upstate — hands and feet, sometimes even belly chains,” said Clara Hemphill, a researcher and author of a report on the state’s youth prisons published in October by the Center for New York City Affairs at the New School.
“It really is barbaric,” she added, “the way they treat these kids.”
By MICHAEL LUO and MEGAN THEE-BRENAN
More than half of the nation’s unemployed workers have borrowed money from friends or relatives since losing their jobs. An equal number have cut back on doctor visits or medical treatments because they are out of work.
Almost half have suffered from depression or anxiety. About 4 in 10 parents have noticed behavioral changes in their children that they attribute to their difficulties in finding work.
Joblessness has wreaked financial and emotional havoc on the lives of many of those out of work, according to a New York Times/CBS News poll of unemployed adults, causing major life changes, mental health issues and trouble maintaining even basic necessities.
The results of the poll, which surveyed 708 unemployed adults from Dec. 5 to Dec. 10 and has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus four percentage points, help to lay bare the depth of the trauma experienced by millions across the country who are out of work as the jobless rate hovers at 10 percent and, in particular, as the ranks of the long-term unemployed soar.
Roughly half of the respondents described the recession as a hardship that had caused fundamental changes in their lives. Generally, those who have been out of work longer reported experiencing more acute financial and emotional effects.
“I lost my job in March, and from there on, everything went downhill,” said Vicky Newton, 38, of Mount Pleasant, Mich., a single mother who had been a customer-service representative in an insurance agency.
“After struggling and struggling and not being able to pay my house payments or my other bills, I finally sucked up my pride,” she said in an interview after the poll was conducted. “I got food stamps just to help feed my daughter.”
Over the summer, she abandoned her home in Flint, Mich., after she started receiving foreclosure notices. She now lives 90 minutes away, in a rental house owned by her father.
With unemployment driving foreclosures nationwide, a quarter of those polled said they had either lost their home or been threatened with foreclosure or eviction for not paying their mortgage or rent. About a quarter, like Ms. Newton, have received food stamps. More than half said they had cut back on both luxuries and necessities in their spending. Seven in 10 rated their family’s financial situation as fairly bad or very bad.
But the impact on their lives was not limited to the difficulty in paying bills. Almost half said unemployment had led to more conflicts or arguments with family members and friends; 55 percent have suffered from insomnia.
“Everything gets touched,” said Colleen Klemm, 51, of North Lake, Wis., who lost her job as a manager at a landscaping company last November. “All your relationships are touched by it. You’re never your normal happy-go-lucky person. Your countenance, your self-esteem goes. You think, ‘I’m not employable.’ ”
A quarter of those who experienced anxiety or depression said they had gone to see a mental health professional. Women were significantly more likely than men to acknowledge emotional issues.
Tammy Linville, 29, of Louisville, Ky., said she lost her job as a clerical worker for the Census Bureau a year and a half ago. She began seeing a therapist for depression every week through Medicaid but recently has not been able to go because her car broke down and she cannot afford to fix it.
Her partner works at the Ford plant in the area, but his schedule has been sporadic. They have two small children and at this point, she said, they are “saving quarters for diapers.”
“Every time I think about money, I shut down because there is none,” Ms. Linville said. “I get major panic attacks. I just don’t know what we’re going to do.”
Nearly half of the adults surveyed admitted to feeling embarrassed or ashamed most of the time or sometimes as a result of being out of work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given the traditional image of men as breadwinners, men were significantly more likely than women to report feeling ashamed most of the time.
There was a pervasive sense from the poll that the American dream had been upended for many. Nearly half of those polled said they felt in danger of falling out of their social class, with those out of work six months or more feeling especially vulnerable. Working-class respondents felt at risk in the greatest numbers.
Nearly half of respondents said they did not have health insurance, with the vast majority citing job loss as a reason, a notable finding given the tug of war in Congress over a health care overhaul. The poll offered a glimpse of the potential ripple effect of having no coverage. More than half characterized the cost of basic medical care as a hardship.
Many in the ranks of the unemployed appear to be rethinking their career and life choices. Just over 40 percent said they had moved or considered moving to another part of the state or country where there were more jobs. More than two-thirds of respondents had considered changing their career or field, and 44 percent of those surveyed had pursued job retraining or other educational opportunities.
Joe Whitlow, 31, of Nashville, worked as a mechanic until a repair shop he was running with a friend finally petered out in August. He had contemplated going back to school before, but the potential loss in income always deterred him. Now he is enrolled at a local community college, planning to study accounting.
“When everything went bad, not that I didn’t have a choice, but it made the choice easier,” Mr. Whitlow said.
The poll also shed light on the formal and informal safety nets that the jobless have relied upon. More than half said they were receiving or had received unemployment benefits. But 61 percent of those receiving benefits said the amount was not enough to cover basic necessities.
Meanwhile, a fifth said they had received food from a nonprofit organization or religious institution. Among those with a working spouse, half said their spouse had taken on additional hours or another job to help make ends meet.
Even those who have stayed employed have not escaped the recession’s bite. According to a New York Times/CBS News nationwide poll conducted at the same time as the poll of unemployed adults, about 3 in 10 people said that in the past year, as a result of bad economic conditions, their pay had been cut.
In terms of casting blame for the high unemployment rate, 26 percent of unemployed adults cited former President George W. Bush; 12 percent pointed the finger at banks; 8 percent highlighted jobs going overseas and the same number blamed politicians. Only 3 percent blamed President Obama.
Those out of work were split, however, on the president’s handling of job creation, with 47 percent expressing approval and 44 percent disapproval.
Unemployed Americans are divided over what the future holds for the job market: 39 percent anticipate improvement, 36 percent expect it will stay the same, and 22 percent say it will get worse.
Marina Stefan and Dalia Sussman contributed reporting.
Monday, December 14, 2009
In his Friday lecture, "A Spoken Qur'an: American Voices," [PhD candidate from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill Timur] Yuskaev analyzed how two influential American Muslim preachers brought the Quran to life in their speeches.
Yuskaev played a clip of Imam Warith Deen Mohammed belting out an impassioned commentary about the Quranic character Yusuf being thrown into the "bottomless pit" and sold into slavery by his brothers. The clip, like many of Mohammed's speeches, reveals a redemption theme in the Quran, which resonated with Mohammed's African-American audience, Yuskaev said.
"To his audiences, he tells them their history has a God-ordained meaning," Yuskaev said. "Their collective historical suffering has a parallel in the Quran. Like Yusuf, they were once cast off, considered to be worthless. Just as God worked in Yusuf, God has also been working in his people in the United States."
The preachers Imam Warith Deen Mohammed and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf have localized the teachings of the Quran to their modern-day audiences, Yuskaev said. He said Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, who emerged as a prominent Muslim preacher after Sept. 11, encouraged American Muslims to be active in public life.
Yuskaev said speaking the Quran means orally explaining the text and relating it to modern-day life.
"There's a problem when we approach a religious text, such as the Quran," Yuskaev said. "The text is there, we can look at it, we can read it. But how does it enter the daily lives of human beings?"
Posted on Dec 13, 2009
By Chris Hedges
Editor’s note: Video of Gravel’s speech can be found on Page 2.
I have spent enough time inside the American military to have tasted its dark brutality, frequent incompetence and profligate ability to waste human lives and taxpayer dollars. The deviousness and stupidity of generals, the absurdity of most war plans and the pathological addiction to violence—which is the only language most who command our armed forces are able to understand—make the American military the gravest threat to our anemic democracy, especially as we head toward economic collapse.
Barack Obama, who is as mesmerized by the red, white and blue bunting draped around our vast killing machine as the press, the two main political parties and our entertainment industry, will not halt our doomed imperial projects or renege on the $1 trillion in defense-related spending that is hollowing out the country from the inside. A plague of unchecked militarism has seeped outward from the Pentagon since the end of World War II and is now sucking our marrow dry. It is a familiar disease in imperial empires. We are in the terminal stage. We spend more on our military—half of all discretionary spending—than all of the other countries on Earth combined, although we face no explicit threat.
Mike Gravel, the former two-term senator from Alaska and 2008 presidential candidate, sat Saturday on a park bench in Lafayette Park facing the White House. Gravel and I were in the park, along with Rep. Dennis Kucinich, Ralph Nader, Cynthia McKinney and other anti-war activists, to denounce the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan at a sparsely attended rally. [Click here for video clips of speeches by Kucinich, Hedges and Nader.] Few voices in American politics have been as consistent, as reasoned and as moral as his, which is why Gravel, on a chilly December morning, is in front of the White House, not inside it.
“I suspect that from the get-go he had an inferiority complex with respect to the military,” Gravel, who was a first lieutenant in the Army, said of the president. “It is the same problem [Bill] Clinton had by not serving in the military, by not having an actual experience. You don’t have to go into combat, you just have to get into the military and recognize at the lower reaches how incompetent the military can be. So not having that experience, and only dealing with generals, who of course learn to be charming—it’s the sergeants who inflict the pain—he has this aura about the military. We have acculturated the nation to a military culture. This is the sadness of it all because that sustains the military-industrial complex.”
“Obama comes on the scene,” he added. “He is endorsed in the course of the campaign by some 19 generals and admirals. These people had no confidence in [George W.] Bush. They recognized that Bush’s unilateralism and cavalier approach to torture was injurious to the American military. They gravitated towards Obama. It turned his head. He thought he could be commander in chief and he could, he has the intelligence, but he does not have fortitude. He lacks courage.”
Time is rapidly running out. The massive bailouts, stimulus packages, giveaways and short-term debt, along with imperial wars we can no longer afford, will leave the country struggling to finance nearly $5 trillion in debt by 2010. This will require the United States to auction off about $96 billion in debt a week. Once China and the oil-rich states walk away from our debt, which is inevitable, the Federal Reserve will become the buyer of last resort. The Fed has printed perhaps as much as 2 trillion new dollars in the last two years, and buying this much new debt will see it print trillions more. This is when inflation, and most likely hyperinflation, will turn the dollar into junk. A backlash by a betrayed and angry populace, one unprepared intellectually and psychologically for collapse, will tear apart the social fabric, unleash chaos and violence, and strengthen the calls for more draconian measures by our security apparatus and military.
Obama uses the veneer of intellectualism to promote the dirty politics of Bush. The president spoke in Oslo, when he accepted the Nobel Prize, of “just war” theory, although the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan do not meet the criteria laid down by Thomas Aquinas or traditional Catholic just-war doctrine. He spoke of battling evil, dividing human reality into binary poles of black and white as Bush did, without examining the evil of pre-emptive war, sustained military occupation and imperialism. He compared al-Qaida to Hitler, ignoring the difference between a protean group of terrorists and a nation-state with the capacity to overwhelm its neighbors with conventional military force. “The instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace,” Obama insisted in Oslo. The U.S., he said, has the right to “act unilaterally if necessary” and to launch wars whose purpose “extends beyond self-defense or the defense of one nation against an aggressor.” Obama’s policies, despite the high-blown rhetoric, are as morally bankrupt as those of his predecessor.
“The first time I met him I felt there was arrogance with a touch of cynicism,” Gravel said of the president. “Now the cynicism and the arrogance have overwhelmed his intelligence. Like Clinton, he is into power.”
Gravel’s shining moment as a politician occurred in 1971 when Daniel Ellsberg, a military analyst, handed the secret Pentagon Papers to The New York Times. The newspaper published portions of the document, which painted a picture of a failing war at odds with official pronouncements. The Justice Department swiftly blocked further publication and moved to punish newspaper publishers who revealed its contents. Gravel responded by reading large portions of the Pentagon Papers into the Congressional Record. His courageous public release of the papers made it possible for the publication to resume. Gravel also launched in 1971 a one-man five-month filibuster to end the peacetime military draft, forcing the Nixon administration to cut a deal that allowed the draft to expire in 1973. He was a feisty and blunt candidate in 2008 who lambasted the Democratic Party and its major candidates for being in the service of corporations, especially the arms industry. His outspokenness saw him banned by the Democratic leadership from later primary debates.
“Obama has wasted an opportunity to be a great president,” Gravel lamented. “More than 50 percent of the American people do not buy into this war. He could have stood up and said ‘we are getting out.’ Forget the Congress. Forget the Republicans. Forget the hawks. Forget mainstream media, including The New York Times and The Washington Post, which are hawks. He would have weathered that storm because he would have had the American people on his side. And what did he do? He caved in to the leadership of [David] Petraeus and [Stanley A.] McChrystal and adopted a scenario that is a total loser.”
“When he hugs his children at night, when he puts them to bed, he has got to begin to think there are little girls like this in Afghanistan who are being killed and maimed,” Gravel told me. “If he can’t have that kind of a thought then his arrogance knows no boundaries. I saw this in the Senate during the Vietnam War. People detach themselves from the immediacy of the crime. They vote for the money. They vote for the policy. The picture of people dying is distant. My God, if you are sitting next to me and a bomb explodes and your arm is ripped off that is not distant. It is immediate. I saw the film by Robert Greenwald, “Rethink Afghanistan.” It rips your heart out. And America under the leadership of Obama is a party to this crime. Close your eyes. Listen to the media. Listen to the pundits. Listen to the rhetoric. It is Vietnam all over again. What is the difference between our vital interests and the domino theory? We could leave Afghanistan and it would be as significant as when we left Vietnam.”
“Don’t be hoodwinked by Obama going to Dover [Air Force Base] to watch the caskets or going to Arlington to salute the graves, with his snappy salute,” Gravel says. “Adolf Hitler lionized soldiers dying. This is the old idea that it is honorable to die. It is not honorable to die in vain. People died in vain in Vietnam. They are dying in vain in Iraq and Afghanistan. And more people will die in vain because of the leadership of Barack Obama.”
“They don’t hate us because we are free,” Gravel said of the insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan. “They hate us because we are killing them.”
Chris Hedges, whose column is published on Truthdig every Monday, spent two decades as a foreign reporter covering wars in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East. He has written nine books, including “Empire of Illusion: The End of Literacy and the Triumph of Spectacle” (2009) and “War Is a Force That Gives Us Meaning” (2003).
Collage: Gravel photo from Flickr / Center for American Progress Action Fund
A Progressive Journal of News and Opinion. Editor, Robert Scheer. Publisher, Zuade Kaufman.
Copyright © 2009 Truthdig, L.L.C. All rights reserved.
By Kate Linthicum
December 12, 2009
The antiwar movement isn't what it was in 2003.
Then, hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets across America to protest the lead-up to the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq.
Today in Washington -- in what's billed as the largest peace protest since President Obama announced that he would send more soldiers to Afghanistan -- organizers are planning for a crowd of 1,500.
"People are burned out," explained the rally's organizer, Laurie Dobson. As she and other antiwar activists struggle to remake their movement, they also acknowledge there are obstacles.
"We're fighting a harder fight right now," said Dobson, who said antiwar efforts had been upstaged by the battle for healthcare reform and had been hampered by the bad economy. She and others also acknowledge a certain awkwardness: Activists now find themselves up against the same politician many of them helped elect.
"The peace movement has a new adversary in front of them," said Tom Hayden, a former California state senator who was a leading critic of the Vietnam War. "He's intelligent, speaks the language of the peace movement and is trying to reach out to the center-left of the country with his message. It's much more formidable to argue with Barack Obama than it was with Bush or Cheney."
Hayden said many of the activists who once used antiwar protest to convey their contempt of President George W. Bush have been reluctant to criticize Obama, who, while he was a candidate, made much of his opposition to the war in Iraq.
While he was campaigning, Obama pledged to end the war in Iraq within 16 months of entering office. His current timeline calls for most soldiers to be out of Iraq by the end of August, but he has said he will keep up to 50,000 troops there through 2011 to train Iraqi military and protect "our ongoing civilian and military efforts" -- a plan that displeased antiwar activists.
Neither were they happy when Obama announced this month that he would send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Obama's Afghanistan plans didn't come as a surprise -- during the campaign he spoke of sending additional brigades there -- but they were a disappointment, said activist and Iraq war veteran Mike Prysner.
"There was this honeymoon period where people believed we were going to get some change," said Prysner, who works for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism, or ANSWER, a coalition of antiwar groups.
Prysner, whose group helped organize a Los Angeles protest last week against the escalation of the war in Afghanistan, predicted that the antiwar movement would strengthen once people start realizing that "Obama represents the same interests that the Bush administration represents."
He expects protests to be increasingly aimed at Obama -- and to shift focus from Iraq to Afghanistan.
More than 5,000 U.S. military and Department of Defense-employed civilians have died in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For activists, it may be harder to drum up opposition to the war in Afghanistan because it served as a base for Al Qaeda, which launched the Sept. 11 attacks.
The fact that some Americans may find the war in Afghanistan "morally ambiguous" has hurt antiwar efforts, said Todd Gitlin, a Columbia University professor who studies social movements.
During the Vietnam War, Gitlin said, many people on the left "felt very clear emotionally that the war was wrong and unjustified." Without that conviction, he said, "you won't throw yourself into the antiwar movement."
Julie Schneyer, an activist in New York City, said peace protesters have always struggled to make wars abroad seem relevant to people at home.
Schneyer said antiwar activists should shift efforts away from marches and use new tactics to draw connections between America's defense spending and the financial crisis. "We need to ask people: 'What are we giving up, and what are we getting, and are those things equal?' " she said.
Others say activists need to rethink their mission.
"The so-called antiwar movement has been a colossal failure," said the Rev. James Lawson, a longtime peace activist who played a key role in the civil rights struggle of the 1960s. "The whole thing has failed. We have not prevented the United States from becoming the most militarized society in the world. We have not stopped our tax dollars from going toward military and war."
Dobson, the organizer of today's rally, said future antiwar efforts would be fueled by criticism of Obama. "People have struggled and fought, and they need new blood and new passion and a new vision," she said. "But the president who campaigned for change is instead continuing war."
The theme of the rally, she said, is "No You Can't."
Demonstration follows President Obama's Nobel speech
Nico Colombant | Washington 12 December 2009
Hundreds of protesters have gathered near the White House to try and start a new anti-war movement. Saturday's demonstration closely follows President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize speech, in which he said war is sometimes needed to establish lasting peace. Demonstrators in Washington opposed this view, as well as the president's request for 30,000 more U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
"Make it personal, make it personal, because killing is personal. It's immoral. It's personal," chanted protesters.
Former Democratic Alaska Senator and 2008 presidential candidate Mike Gravel led protesters in anti-war chants, while calling for a mass movement to help end U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The gathering, full of peace signs, anti-war posters, and one mock Guantanamo detainee, began under sunny,but cold skies with music from the hip-hop band Head-Roc.
The headline speaker at the event was current U.S. Democratic Representative from Ohio Dennis Kucinich.
"We must rally, protest, march to exercise our civic capacity to bring about real change. Congress must take responsibility. I will soon introduce two bills invoking the War Powers Act, which will force votes on withdrawal from Afghanistan. The decision to go to war is not the president's alone to make" stated Kucinich.
But Kucinich acknowledged Congress has other plans in mind. He went on to say, "this coming week, Congress will fold unemployment compensation into a bill which will provide $ 130 billion dollars to keep the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq going. The message is clear: 'we have money for war, but not for jobs; money for war, but not for peace.'"
Many at the rally said they had voted for President Obama in the 2008 election, including Bill Steyert who took a morning train from New York City.
Steyert said, "I would go after al-Qaida if and where we know they are and get them. But having thousands of troops shooting up villages, breaking in doors, looking for needles in haystacks, many times, it's ridiculous. And I am just furious because I am a Vietnam veteran and I saw the terrible waste of lives there. You can go to the (Vietnam Veterans War Memorial) Wall here in D.C. and see what that got us, and for what: an independent, communist Vietnam who now we trade with."
One unemployed woman, Wendy Fournier, said the protest was just a start.
"I think that there is such a thing as critical mass, the more protests, the more people out, the more people have to be aware of what is going on, the more people are conscious, that right there throws weight in our favor. Consciousness is the beginning of the whole thing," she stated.
Speaker after speaker called for a safe return of all troops, the end of drone strikes and torture and secret detentions, while police looked on and singers like Jordan Page provided musical interludes.
Rally organizers have put together a roster of speakers that include consumer advocate Ralph Nader, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich, former Rep. Cynthia McKinney, former Sen. Mike Gravel, Kathy Kelly, Chris Hedges, David Swanson, Gael Murphy, Debra Sweet, and others opposed to current U.S. war policies in the Middle East.
The rally will directly call for vigorous opposition to the military escalation in Afghanistan and a rejection of defeatist thinking and futile rationales, which have been hampering the anti-war movement in America.
Laurie Dobson, a lead organizer of the rally believes it is the peace community's responsibility to focus on peace and justice for the world's people and for our people. And the reason she and others are taking action is because the peace movement must be the consciences for our leaders especially when they choose expansion of war rather than a phased withdrawal of war.
Speakers will directly challenge Obama's bizarre justifications for continuing the war in Afghanistan especially the idea that expanding a war is the best way to prepare for a withdrawal.
For example, Ralph Nader recently wrote in his In the Public Interest column, To say as Obama inferred in his Oslo speech that the greater plunge into Afghanistan is self-defense, with proportional force and sparing civilians from violence is a scale of self-delusion or political cowardliness that is dejecting his liberal base.
There is no real way to gauge right now how disenchanted liberals and progressives might become with Obama but if he stays the course, this surge could create a trap for Democrats in this country.
Cynthia McKinney says in Congress Republicans may be willing to support Obama and vote for his war legislation now but come 2012 they will put up their own candidate. She suspects that voters will remember Obama's actions on U.S. wars and Obama could be in trouble.
Elaine Brower, who is with Military Families Speak Out (MFSO) and who will be speaking at the rally, thinks many didn't expect Obama to do this because his rhetoric suggested he would act differently when elected president.
Brower suggests people of this country look past his rhetoric and see the politician. She says Obama is trying to sell the American people a war that isn't really a war because we aren't really fighting anybody; we are really just waging a massive occupation that is resulting an enormous loss of human lives.
Those participating in the rally see this as a way of reigniting the fire within a movement that unfortunately chose to temper their opposition during Obama's presidential campaign and now his first year in office.
For those wondering why they should be participating in any actions that allow people to show they oppose the Afghanistan War, Matthis Chiroux, a member of Iraq Veterans Against the War who will be speaking at the rally, thinks the Nobel Peace prize speech Obama gave should give people reason to oppose this war.
Chiroux hopes all would resist this war because Americans did not elect Obama to wage war but to wage peace instead.
Kathy Kelly, a peace advocate who has visited and witnessed firsthand the impact of conflict in Iraq, Lebanon, Gaza and Sarajevo is convinced that if the U.S. public can recognize the folly of the war in Iraq, followed by the folly of the war in Afghanistan, and then recognize the folly of maintaining 700-900 bases around the world then we will be able to stop these wars.
She hopes people that are retired and still have a lot of energy will use their twilight years to ensure that there will be an inhabitable world for those grandchildren. And she hopes parents who love their children will begin to recognize the choices ahead, engage in the community, change their lifestyle, and let the elected leaders know Americans won't accommodate their ruthless warmongering behavior anymore.
Chris Hedges, Truthdig.com columnist and author whose most recent book is The Empire of Illusion, will also be a speaker at the rally and suggests that, A lot of this is about doing something rather than doing nothing and attempting to influence events because it's clear the Democratic Party has betrayed us.
Hedges understands no antiwar organizer or leader can promise it will work but if we do nothing, we're guaranteeing that the imperial wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will go on for years.
It's all we have left, says Hedges. Unless people get out in the street and actively build grassroots opposition against the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's going to be never-ending war.
Thanks to Dandelion Salad for this
Sunday, December 13, 2009
In a forthcoming book, Islam and the Black American, I too, as a neo-traditionalist and not a romantic, argue that Muslim tradition holds the greatest promise for the future of Islam in America. The great promise of tradition resides, however, precisely in its ability to accommodate and, indeed, authenticate multiple, even mutually contradictory interpretations and expressions of Islam. From this perspective, tradition is emphatically opposed to any effort at artificially fordizing Muslim doctrine or practice or reducing these to any single expression. Under the pressure of post-9/11 anti-Muslim mania, however, American Muslim romantics have turned to tradition as a means of "compressing" Islam into a single-minded commitment to one or another moral or aesthetic vision, categorically denying or affirming this or that contemporary "vision of the truly Islamic." This enterprise often entails both an appeal to the dominant culture and the invocation of a false universal. More importantly, it exposes tradition itself to being converted into a tool for "domesticating" Islam,
[footnote 13: On the domestification of religion, Yale law professor Stephen L. Carter writes: "The domestification of religion is the process through which the state tries to move religion from a position in which it threatens the state to a position in which it supports the state." See Stephen l. Carter, God's Name in Vain: The Wrongs and Rights of Religion in Politics (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 30.]
whereby the religion forfeits any ability to challenge the dominant culture and finds itself in a position where it can only support the latter.
[footnote 14: Lamenting American Christianity's forfeiture of its ability and duty to challenge the dominant culture, Stephen Carter writes: "So much of American religion today has become so culturally comfortable that one can scarcely find differences between the vision of the good that is preached from the pulpit and the vision of the good that is believed by the culture." Ibid., 185. Moreover, Carter adds, "If a religion wants to be just like everything else, it needs no guarantee of religious liberty." Ibid.]
To the extent, again, that this process equates "dominant" with "universal," those who are or perceive themselves to be disadvantaged by the dominant culture will be called on to acquiesce, this time in the name of Muslim tradition, and accept such disadvantage as both normal and normative - indeed, Islamic. This is the great liability posed by American Muslim romanticism. And it is essentially this liability that the remainder of this essay will seek to address."-pg. 115-6 of Sherman Jackson's "Islam(s) East and West: Pluralism Between No-Frills and Designer Fundamentalism" in September 11 in history: a watershed moment?
AS the pilgrims in Mecca complete the annual ritual of pilgrimage today, Muslims across the globe will begin the Id al-Adha, the three-day Feast of Sacrifice, in solidarity with them.
For Muslims seeking to make sense of the annual pilgrimage, a question arises: is the hajj only an elaborate ritual?
Hajj literally means, "to continuously strive to reach one's goal." The rite of visiting the sacred sites need be completed only once in a lifetime, but its meaning ought to be enduring. Yet, no pilgrim can claim strictly to imitate the Prophet Muhammad in this ritual. Such despotic literalness would only invest the observance with fraudulence. Is the imagination not at the heart of pilgrimage?
Centuries ago, the Arabic literary figure and philosopher, Abu Hayyan al-Tawhidi, who died in 1023, mused about what the pilgrimage might have meant for those who could not make it to Mecca. Sadly, we can now only mourn the lost text of Tawhidi, but there is more than a hint in his title: "Undertaking the Mental Pilgrimage When the Physical Pilgrimage Is Impossible."
Exile, sacrifice and atonement underscore the commandment of pilgrimage in Muslim religious life. The faithful re-enact the pilgrimage rituals in imitation of their spiritual forbears. They relive exile by treading in the footsteps of Abraham. But the hajj also recalls the temporary exile of Adam and Eve, who wandered the earth after their expulsion from paradise. According to Muslim tradition, Adam and Eve reconciled with God in the desert of Arabia. The spot where they met each other again and atoned - an obligatory destination for pilgrims - is called Arafat, from the Arabic word 'arafa, "to know."
The theme of knowing and imagining the divine is embroidered through the trials of Abraham and his family. After Abraham's first child, Ishmael, was born to his slave wife Hagar, he was confronted by the jealousy of his other wife, Sarah, who was then childless. God upgraded this domestic squabble into a legacy issue for the Patriarch and his admirers. But he ordered the dutiful Abraham to banish Hagar and Ishmael to Arabia.
Years later, Muslim tradition holds, Abraham reconciled with Hagar and Ishmael. But more trials awaited. This time Abraham had to do the unthinkable: sacrifice his son. Mainstream Muslim tradition believes that the son in question was Ishmael, while a minority view holds that it was Isaac, Sarah's son. But after a miraculous substitution of Ishmael (or Isaac) by a ram, Abraham's reputation was sealed as the "friend of God."
To express their loathing of evil, the pilgrims will participate in that ancient drama of Abraham and Ishmael. They will first stone three pillars, each symbolizing Satan's failed attempts to mislead Abraham's family. Then, in a place called Mina, meaning "desires," each pilgrim will sacrifice an animal. With this act they seek to replace their destructive desires with productive ones. Away from Mecca, non-pilgrims with means will also slaughter animals as a show of hospitality to friends, family and the indigent. Pilgrimage embodies exile by requiring seekers to suspend customary routine, enter new environments and live by new rhythms and rituals. For a limited time, pilgrims experience the transitions and dislocations exiles perpetually undergo. As a performance, the pilgrimage links people to a past shared by several Abrahamic traditions, just as, by bringing together Muslims from a great multiplicity of cultures, it celebrates the diversity of our common humanity. Pilgrims return home enriched by this cosmopolitan outlook, but with a new appreciation for their own origins.
In the 1980's, the Iranian revolution inspired some attempts to use the hajj as a platform to express Muslim grievances. But such efforts ended in 1987, when Iranian pilgrims clashed with Saudi authorities, resulting in carnage and mayhem.
The more subtle political significance of the hajj, however, persists in the realm of the spiritual imagination. To play on the words of the poet Federico García Lorca: the imagination hovers above ritual, the way fragrance hovers over a flower.
Pilgrimage ought to fire the imagination and celebrate transitions, creativity and innovation. And imagination is a weapon, one that tyrants and autocrats fear. If we find it in short supply in the corridors of power, that does not mean that the rest of us should be deprived of its constructive possibilities as well.
A prolific 13th century mystic, Ibn Arabi, wrote that pilgrims were mistaken if they believed that swarming like moths around the cube-like stone centerpiece, the Kaaba in the Holy Mosque, was the loftiest act of venerating God. Rather, noted Ibn Arabi, it was the human heart that deserved the highest sanctity. For neither the offerings made, nor the hardships endured, reaches the divine. Instead it is the compass of the heart that counts.
The heart symbolizes the inviolability of human dignity. But the supreme gift, Ibn Arabi artfully explains, is the imagination radiating from the heart. The fulcrum of the pilgrimage is also the essence of life: a caring heart fired by the imagination.
For instance, after paying homage to the two women Eve and Hagar in the rites of pilgrimage, how can some Muslims still violate the rights and dignity of women in the name of Islam? Is this not a contradiction? If the pilgrimage is done not by rote but with imagination, honor killings become unthinkably loathsome, a curse to be condemned like the Satan just stoned.
The truth of the imagination pertains today, not just for Tawhidi and Ibn Arabi, but also for all their contemporary successors who still believe the imagination to be the healing balm for our deeply troubled world.
Ebrahim Moosa, a professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, is the author of "Ghazali and the Poetics of Imagination."
By Husna Haq Correspondent
posted December 12, 2009 at 9:07 pm EST
I knew I was in trouble the moment I sat down. I’d just taken a seat next to an elderly Asian woman on the D-line train, on my way to a college class last year. She immediately stiffened. I began reading a book. She started twitching and looking around the train. We passed the first stop. She took out her pocket Bible, reading rapidly aloud as she rocked back and forth, clearly agitated. I felt awful, but I didn’t know how to calm her. Before we reached the next stop, she gathered her bags, hurried down the aisle, and quickly took a seat next to someone else.
I’d just scared a sweet, elderly woman with my petite, head-scarf-wrapped frame, and I felt like a monster. I was upset that my hijab – a strip of cloth, a head scarf – had become so loaded with negative connotations that it inspired such distrust.
For centuries, the West has appropriated the hijab as a symbol of oppression, subjugation, repression, and allegiance to fundamentalist beliefs. And while this may be a reality for some Muslim women around the world, it’s not true for me or those I know. Frustrated with the labels others have imposed upon them, Muslim women, including me, are reclaiming hijab and what it stands for. We are empowered and educated and choose to wear hijab because we are proud of our identity. And our experiences are generally positive.
THERE ARE AN ESTIMATED
7 million Muslims in America, many of whom were born and raised here, like me. They bring attention to Islam through constructive contributions (Dalia Mogahed, this year, became the first veiled Muslim woman appointed to a presidential advisory panel), and through destructive violence (as in the case of Fort Hood, Texas, shooter Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan).
For good or ill, “Islam is the most discussed religion in the media,” says Ms. Mogahed, who is executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships.
As a result, mainstream America is encountering Islam – and hijab – as never before. Although there are no definitive studies tracking the number of hijab-wearing Muslims in the United States, experts say veiling is a growing phenomenon.
“Certainly, you see more women wearing hijab in the last two decades,” says John Esposito, a leading expert on Muslim-Western relations at Georgetown University.
"It’s part of the American mosaic, this point at which you say to yourself, ‘How do I blend where I came from, where I am, and where I’m going?’ Muslim women simply believe ‘I can be who I am – young, bright, upwardly mobile – without having to completely let go of my identity.’ ”
I BEGAN WEARING hijab in ninth grade, not because anyone told me to, but because I believed that it is compulsory in Islam. I was the only hijabi (Muslim slang for a person who wears hijab) in my upstate New York school, and my head scarf occasionally made me squirm self-consciously, but it also spared me from the identity angst my non-Muslim friends were experiencing. I was comfortable in my hijab, and in my skin.
Then, 19 Muslim hijackers flew planes into the World Trade Center, and I knew my world had fundamentally changed. I was as angered by the senseless, indiscriminate violence as any American, but I realized my hijab placed me in a precarious position. My parents cautioned me to be careful, worried about the backlash. And although I did field a small share of abuse (“If you people don’t like America,” I heard more than once, “get the **** out!”), and read daily about mosque burnings and Muslim beatings, I also witnessed the generous spirit of fellow Americans. An interfaith group formed a human chain around our Syracuse, N.Y., mosque, expressing their solidarity. My sociology professor advised her students to reach out to Muslims on campus, who were probably scared. As a freshman in my second week of college, I was scared, and her words provided me enormous comfort.
In spite of my fear, I never considered removing my hijab. I wasn’t especially brave, and I certainly didn’t enjoy the extra attention. But something had happened during the previous four years – my hijab became a part of me, as intrinsic to my identity as my name. As uncomfortable as life became after 9/11, it would be hard to imagine without hijab.
I learned to live with the stares and suspicious looks and to compensate with warmth and smiles to set others at ease. I amassed a collection of hijabs in different colors and patterns to wear according to my mood. I never had bad hair days – and even if I had, nobody would have known.
Proudly, timidly, self-consciously, I wore hijab to class, to graduation, to job interviews, and to my first job in Washington, D.C. As a young single woman in a city of young singles, I occasionally got hit on.
But hijab is more than a piece of cloth. It is modesty in dress and behavior. As an observant Muslim, I didn’t date, didn’t go to bars or clubs, and tried not to invite advances. As a friend remarked, “No man will whistle at a hijabi covered head to toe.”
But hijab is not, as many believe, a suppression of sexuality – it distinguishes between public life and private life. Cognizant of the potentially intrusive, debasing power of the gaze, God instructs men and women to lower their eyes and dress modestly in public. (In Islam, men must also dress conservatively, wearing loose clothing that covers their bodies.)
Feminist Naomi Wolf wrote in her 2008 essay, “Behind the veil lives a thriving Muslim sexuality,” that Islam and its injunction of modesty channels sexuality into marriage and family life: “When sexuality is kept private and directed in ways seen as sacred – and when one’s husband isn’t seeing his wife (or other women) half-naked all day long – one can feel great power and intensity when the headscarf or the chador comes off in the home.”
Unlike other religious traditions, which portray sexuality as sinful, Islam sanctions, even celebrates, sexuality in the context of marriage.
In fact, the Koran and hadith, or traditions of Muhammad, give women the right to sexual satisfaction in marriage, as well as the right to vote, to education, to work if they wish, to keep any money they earn for their own use, and the right to own property – truly revolutionary when the Koran was revealed in the 7th century. Of course, not every Muslim – or Muslim country – respects these rights. That’s a plain abuse of Islam.
A year and a half ago I married a man who loves me in hijab. He supports my choice to wear it – I wore it for our wedding – and he says that in hijab I am beautiful and empowered.
Not everyone thinks so. A few years ago a hairdresser shepherded me into a backroom for a private cut, away from public view.
“You’re in America now, honey,” she confided, trying to help me. “You don’t have to wear that thing on your head.”
My hairdresser was trying to liberate me from hijab. But for me, hijab is liberation. It is the freedom to assert my identity and live according to my values.
I LIVE IN A COUNTRY where I can do just that. And where, for every discouraging encounter I experience, I have 10 positive ones.
Like another time on the D-line train in Boston on my way home after a long day of classes. It was Ramadan, the Muslim month of fasting, and I was hungry and tired and had no place to sit.
“You’re fasting, right?” asked a man, standing and offering me his place.
I smiled and gratefully took his seat.