Showing posts with label islam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label islam. Show all posts

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Conspiracy Theories Permeate Pakistani Society

Pakistan Taliban Lambastes Schoolgirl for U.N. Speech. By Saeed Shah
Anti-Western View Shown in Verbal Attack Permeates Pakistani Society
The Wall Street Journal, July 18, 2013, on page A7
For full article:

ISLAMABAD—Malala Yousafzai, a teenage campaigner for girls' education who was nearly killed by Pakistani militants, was feted at the United Nations last week. Here at home, however, she has been widely portrayed as part of a Western conspiracy against Islam and the developing world.

A 1,800-word open letter in imperfect English by Adnan Rasheed, one of the most feared Taliban leaders in Pakistan, outlined these conspiracy theories Wednesday, describing the type of secular education that Ms. Yousafzai championed as "satanic" and arguing that the U.N. wanted to "enslave the world."

Even as the 16-year-old girl is celebrated abroad as a hero, such radical views are becoming mainstream in Pakistani society, where even commentators hostile to the Taliban widely portray Ms. Yousafzai as a pawn of the West or even a CIA agent.

While Pakistanis usually condemn the violence of the Taliban, the paranoid worldview of the group has soaked deep into society, making the fight against extremism much more difficult. Many in the country, for example, still refuse to believe that Osama bin Laden was found living here in 2011.

"Public opinion is confused about the Malala issue. Many people hate Malala," said Zubair Torwali, a newspaper columnist from her home valley of Swat. "Anything here in Pakistan related to the West or America becomes a thing of conspiracy. The Taliban's ideology is flourishing in Pakistan. It is victorious."

Pakistani society is also influenced by the support that the military has long given to jihadist groups. More recently, the backlash over nearly a decade of U.S. drone strikes, and over the unilateral American raid to kill bin Laden deep inside Pakistan, has created a virulently anti-Western culture that sees spies everywhere.

Ms. Yousafzai narrowly survived an assassination attempt by the Pakistani Taliban in October last year, when she was shot in the head from point-blank range.

When aged just 11, Ms. Yousafzai became a powerful voice against the Taliban through a diary she kept of the extremists' takeover of Swat Valley, in northwest Pakistan. The diary was broadcast by BBC radio in 2009. Following the shooting in Swat, she was airlifted for treatment in England, where she now lives with her family.

Ms. Yousafzai, brought to the U.N. headquarters in New York to mark her 16th birthday, said in a speech Friday that "extremists are afraid of books and pens."

Mr. Rasheed's open letter to Ms. Yousafzai was the first reaction to these remarks by the Taliban leadership.

Mr. Rasheed began the letter by saying that he wishes that the attack on her had "never happened." Then, however, he went on to justify it with detailed arguments, showing, if there were any doubt, the dangers that Ms. Yousafzai would face if she returned home.

"Taliban believe that you were intentionally writing against them and running a smearing campaign to malign their efforts to establish Islamic system in Swat and your writings were provocative," he wrote.

Mr. Rasheed denied that the Taliban were against education—though he went on to spell out the movement's opposition to the "satanic or secular curriculum," which is a "conspiracy of tiny elite who want to enslave the whole humanity for their evil agendas in the name of new world order."

He advised Ms. Yousafzai to return to Pakistan and enroll in a madrassah, or Islamic seminary.

"Your propaganda was the issue and what you are doing now, you are using your tongue on the behest of the others and you must know that if the pen is mightier than the sword then tongue is sharper…In the wars tongue is more destructive than any weapon," the letter said.

When the shooting happened, there was an unprecedented outpouring of public sympathy for Ms. Yousafzai, and anger against the Taliban, inside Pakistan.

However, since then, opinion has hardened against the girl. Last week, on the local Pakistani language versions of the BBC website, in the national language Urdu and the Pashto spoken in her native Swat, the majority of comments were venomously against the schoolgirl. Some even described her as a "prostitute."

Detractors seized on the assistance and attention Ms. Yousafzai received from Western governments and media after the attack. Her appearance at the United Nations seemed to confirm the view that she was somehow working on a Western agenda.

Even Shahbaz Sharif, chief minister of the largest Punjab province and brother of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, issued an oblique criticism of Ms. Yousafzai's speech, posting on his Twitter account that it "seemed to be written for global consumption."

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Two Muslim Brothers Who Took the Assimilation Path. By Kenan Trebincevic

Two Muslim Brothers Who Took the Assimilation Path. By Kenan Trebincevic
The Wall Street Journal, April 27, 2013, on page A11

'I hope they're not Muslim," I told my brother, Eldin, when we first saw the pictures of the Boston bombers. We soon found out that Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev shared our religion, as we'd dreaded, when my Jewish college roommate jokingly texted: "Hey, would you please tell your people to stop blowing things up?"

I laughed, in sadness, but soon felt completely unnerved by how much the Tsarnaevs' story mirrored our own. My brother and I were born six years apart, and we're two foreign-born-and-named, athletic, Islamic brothers from difficult backgrounds in Eastern Europe, where we had experienced persecution and then been generously taken in by Americans. The 26-year-old Tamerlan Tsarnaev, killed in the police shootout, was the eldest, strong-minded child, like Eldin. Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, now in a federal medical detention center in Massachusetts, looked up to his sibling, as I always looked up to my strong-minded brother.

Boxing is big in Chechnya and nearby regions where the Tsarnaev family has its roots, and the brothers excelled in the sport, like their father. Martial arts are big in the Balkans, where we're from. Our dad owned a gym in our hometown of Brčko, Bosnia, where he trained athletes and where Eldin and I won brown belts and awards for karate.

The Tsarneavs were caught in the confusing war between Chechnya and Russia that erupted in 1999, and they wound up emigrating in 2003 to Cambridge, Mass. Caught in the bloody war between Bosnia and Serbia, factions of the former Yugoslavia, my family moved to Westport, Conn., in 1993.

Like the Tsarnaevs' father, our father suffered setbacks to his career in America, and to his health. While Anzor Tsarnaev reportedly toiled as a mechanic for $10 an hour, our dad, Senahid, slung poultry at a fast-food chicken place and took other low-paying jobs. While the Tsarnaevs' mother, Zubeidat, did facials at a Boston spa and later at their home to make ends meet, my mother, Adisa, baby-sat and found work at a data-processing firm. We too had little money, and it was hard to get jobs without connections or language skills.

Yet the Tsarnaev boys became angry, alienated young men who never quite assimilated into their new country (Tamerlan said on Twitter: "I don't have a single American friend, I don't understand them"), while my brother and I made many friends in the U.S. and wound up on the more successful side of the American dream.

There is a well-documented connection between unhappy, disenfranchised immigrants who can't connect and crime and terrorism. When I first moved here at age 13 I felt as lost, estranged and resentful as Tamerlan Tsarnaev appeared to be. In the days since the Boston bombing, I kept comparing Eldin's and my circumstances with the Tsarnaevs' to see where our paths diverged and what saved us from becoming embittered.

I was struck by news accounts that the Tsarnaev parents moved back to Russia, where they separated two years ago. One of their daughters lived in New Jersey, and she admitted that she hadn't spoken to her brothers in years. I was fortunate that my immediate family of four stayed together, first in Connecticut until my mother died of cancer in 2007, then in Queens, N.Y., where my father, brother and I now live blocks away from each other.

Even when I moved into my college dorm room at the University of Hartford and Eldin moved to the Stony Brook campus in Long Island, we spoke to our mother, father and each other daily—either by cellphone or email. I'm convinced that remaining a close-knit family kept my brother and me saner and safer. The Tsarnaev family, by contrast, seemed constantly roiled—by war, immigration, work and financial difficulties, serious illness and a marriage breakup. Throw in radical religion and, in retrospect, it seems a recipe for disaster.

Perhaps because my family survived the ethnic cleansing in the Balkans to wipe out Muslims, my family members—unlike Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his mother—did not seek solace with any specific religious figure or house of worship. While we remained proud of our heritage, we were sponsored by the Interfaith Council in Connecticut, a group of liberal churches and synagogues.

When we arrived in 1993 at JFK airport, we were met by the Rev. Don Hodges, a Methodist minister. He drove us to his Westport home, where we stayed for four months. It's not surprising or wrong for immigrants to deepen their focus on religion in a strange land. But I would speculate that in our case we felt such gratitude to the people of differing faiths who helped us that our chances of assimilating, and succeeding, in America were enhanced.

When my mother found a lump in her breast, the late surgeon Dr. Malcolm Beinfeld at Norwalk Hospital operated on her. Dr. Beinfeld, who was Jewish, told us that the Bosnian genocide against Muslims reminded him of the Holocaust. We never received a bill for the surgery or for my mother's subsequent radiation and chemotherapy.

A Protestant dentist, Richard Sands, asked my mother: "What does your son need?" At 13, I was taken to an orthodontist who gave me braces and took care of me for two years. I was embarrassed but deeply grateful that he never asked for a dime.

On my first day of school in Westport, Dr. Glenn Hightower, the principal, and a member of Mr. Hodges's church, introduced me to the seventh-grade English class with his arm draped around my shoulders. He explained that my family had been exiled in the Bosnian war, and he asked the other students to help me out. I had a foreign name, strange accent and could barely speak the language. I felt scared and pathetic, like a mutt waiting to be adopted. I was immediately befriended by Miguel Peman, a Catholic Spanish-American student, who offered me a seat.

When the school-bus driver who drove me home noticed that I had a long walk to Mr. Hodges's house, he introduced himself as Offir, from Israel, and dropped me off right at the driveway, making me promise not to tell anyone. Later, my Greek Orthodox soccer coach, Ted Popadoupolis, gave me rides to practices and games when my parents couldn't.

My brother and I didn't pursue sports with the dreams of Olympic glory that Tamerlan Tsarnaev apparently did. At schools in Westport, Norwalk and Hartford, a series of teachers and mentors helped us formulate a realistic career plan. They geared us toward a more feasible field than sports stardom: physical therapy.

We didn't experience the sort of disappointment and resentment that Tamerlan seems to have endured when his boxing dream went sour. Instead, sports teams gave us a sense of belonging.

Since my athletic father was a health nut, under his strong influence, my brother and I steered clear of the alcohol and drugs that seem to have plagued the Tsarnaevs—and might have fueled depression and hopelessness that, I would guess, twisted their judgment.

It is impossible to know what went on in someone else's childhood or what is happening in another's mind or heart. The Tsarnaevs took one path. My brother and I, despite our family's war displacement, persecution and years of poverty, thrived—but only with stable parents by our side, good jobs and help from many and diverse guardian angels. During a dark week, it was easy to forget that countless immigrants to America have similar stories to tell.

Mr. Trebincevic, a physical therapist who lives in Queens, is the coauthor, with Susan Shapiro, of "The Bosnia List," to be published by Viking next year.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Algeria: structural and other reasons for regime stability

Kal writes:
Richard Phelps argues that Algeria has not seen a popular uprising this year on broad structural lines (‘An Algerian Exception?‘ CMEC Blog): ‘Algerian regime does not have an identifiable leader with whom political power truly lies’.


And the government has focused its strategy toward them based on this reality and avoided the provocative showings of ‘symbolic’ violence that gave fuel to protest movements in Tunisia and Libya and Syria and Egypt (part of this is owed to the government’s relationships with the private media as well). Official and unofficial media has not covered demonstrations extensively to the extent that protesters in one city would necessarily be aware of those in another. The massive showing of ‘force’ at the February demonstrations — which were quite small, using barely a few thousand people if that — was a show of bodies more than anything else, and while protesters were manhandled and some beaten few or none were shot or killed in the way their counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world were. The government issued reforms, after long deliberations, and statements of intent to reform on a range of issues. It acted quickly to buy off organizers and potential participants or to contain and frustrate them rather than making public ‘examples’ of children or attempting to use overwhelming and direct force. The ‘crackdowns’ on protesters in Algeria this year were in large measure qualitatively different from those elsewhere, as were the demonstrations themselves.

Structurally it is important to understand that Algeria’s politics do operate in a diffuse manner, that power is spread through regional and professional and bureaucratic networks which often compete with one another but are also sometimes dependent on one another. (One might quibble with any comparison of the Algerian presidency to the power of any single office in Lebanon or to even its strongest Lebanese za’im; the perception and reality of the president’s power in Algeria is an interesting thing to follow and to try an gage at any one time but the presidency has frequently overwhelmed the military under Bouteflika.) The business class and the military officers and the technocrats and local notables intersect and it would be difficult to ‘purge’ the government as the Tunisians are now trying to do and it would also be difficult to make removing Bouteflika in a coup appear to Algerians as a symbolic act with and the armed forces a trusted ‘care taker’ of some transition process (let alone a ‘savior’) as the Egyptian Army did with Mubarak, since Algerians are generally more cynical and probably distrust their military and opposition more than their cousins in the rest of the region. It is also important to understand the field in which these various networks and factions (‘clans’) interact, overlap and struggle; it involves a great deal of both external and internal opacity and risk. There are enormous uncertainties involved. Longtime Algeria hand John Entelis wrote in September that change of some kind would wind up taking place in Algeria, if only so that the country’s elite could keep its own interests, and that  ’[w]hether this process develops peacefully or violently is ultimately in the hands of le pouvoir’.

But structural reasons are not the only ones Algeria has not seen an uprising. The Algerian military and political class has dealt with uprisings and transitions before and probably had a better idea of how to deal with such problems technically given its experience in the 1988-1990 period and the youth uprising in 2001 and the tens of thousands of youth riots which have struck the country in the last decade. In other words, it is important to recognize that the Algerian regime — like its counterparts elsewhere — made choices this year.

Read the whole post at

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Some Root Causes of the Arab Revolution: Rising Literacy and a Shrinking Birth Rate (due to the first)

A Look at the Root Causes of the Arab Revolution. Spiegel interview with Emannuel Todd,1518,763537,00.html
May 20, 2011

Rising Literacy and a Shrinking Birth Rate


SPIEGEL: Aren't poverty or affluence also crucial? Tunisia, Syria, Egypt and Yemen don't have bubbling oil revenues.

Todd: Of course, one can placate the people with bread and money, but only for a while. Revolutions usually erupt during phases of cultural growth and economic downturn. For me, as a demographer, the key variable is not the per capita gross domestic product but the literacy rate. The British historian Lawrence Stone pointed out this relationship in his study of the English revolution in the 16th and 17th centuries. He saw the critical threshold at 40 to 60 percent.

SPIEGEL: Well, most young Arabs can now read and write, but how is the birth rate actually developing? The population in Arab countries is extremely young, with half of its citizens younger than 25.

Todd: Yes, but that's because the previous generation had so many children. In the meantime, however, the birth rate is falling dramatically in some cases. It has fallen by half in the Arab world in just one generation, from 7.5 children per woman in 1975 to 3.5 in 2005. The birth rate among female university graduates is just below 2.1, the level needed to maintain a population. Tunisia now has a birth rate similar to that of France. In Morocco, Algeria, Libya and Egypt, it has dropped below the magic threshold of three children per woman. This means that young adults constitute the majority of the population and, unlike their fathers and mothers, they can read and write, and they also practice contraception. But they suffer from unemployment and social frustration. It isn't surprising that unrest was inevitable in this part of world.


SPIEGEL: Why has it taken so long for the values of the modern age to reach the Islamic world? After all, the golden age of Arab civilization ended in the 13th century.

Todd: There is a simple explanation, which has the benefit of also being applicable to northern India and China, that is, to three completely differently religious communities: Islam, Hinduism and Confucianism. It has to do with the structure of the traditional family in these regions, with its debasement and with the disenfranchisement of women. And in Mesopotamia, for example, it extends well into the pre-Islamic world. Mohammed, the founder of Islam, granted women far more rights than they have had in most Arab societies to this day.

SPIEGEL: Does that mean that the Arabs conformed to older local circumstances and spread them across the entire Middle East?

Todd: Yes. The patrilinear, patrilocal system, in which only male succession is considered valid and newlyweds, preferably cousins in the ideal Arab marriage, live under the roof and authority of the father, inhibits all social progress. The disenfranchisement of women deprives them of the ability to raise their children in a progressive, dynamic fashion. Society calcifies and, in a sense, falls asleep. The powers of the individual cannot develop. The bourgeois achievement of marriage for love, and the free choice of one's partner, replaced the hierarchies of honor in Europe in the 19th century and reinforced the desire for freedom.

SPIEGEL: Is female emancipation the prerequisite for modernization in the Arab world?

Todd: It's in full swing. The headscarf debate is missing the point. The number of marriages between cousins is dropping just as spectacularly as the birth rate, thereby blasting away a barrier. The free individual or active citizen can enter the public arena. When more than 90 percent of young people can read and write and have a modicum of education, no traditional authoritarian regime will last for long. Have you noticed how many women are marching along in the protests? Even in Yemen, the most backward country in the Arab world, thousands of women were among the protesters.

SPIEGEL: The family is the private sphere par excellence. Why do changes in its structure necessarily spread to the political sphere?

Todd: The relationship between those at the top and those at the bottom is changing. When the authority of fathers begins to falter, political power generally collapses, as well. This is because the system of the patrilinear, endogamous extended family has been reproduced within the leadership of nations. The family patriarch as head of state places his sons and other male relatives in positions of power. Political dynasties develop, as in the case of the senior and junior Assad in Syria. Corruption flourishes because the clan runs things for its own benefit. The state is of course privatized as a family business. The power of obedience is based on a combination of loyalty, repression and political economics.

h/t ‘A Convergence of Civilizations’,

Francis Fukuyama said very much this same thing in 1999, The Great Disruption. I don't know if he did it independently.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Statements by the Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens/حزب العمال الشيوعي التونسي‎

Statements by the Parti communiste des ouvriers tunisiens/حزب العمال الشيوعي التونسي‎

1. Libya

PCOT: “Statement on the military intervention in Libya”
DATE: 20 March, 2011
A number of imperialist countries (France, the United States, etc.) have launched air and missile attacks on sites said to belong to Mu’amar al-Qadhafi. These attacks came after the decision of the “Security Council,” which gave the green light to initiate military operations in Libya.
The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party is concerned that the purpose of this intervention is not the protection of the Libyan people from the oppression of Qadhafi, but instead the occupation of the country, to subjugate its people, plunder its resources and use its territory to establish military bases for the control of North Africa in order to ensure the security of the Zionist Entity and safeguard the interests of the imperialist powers in the region. France, the United States and all western countries which have launched attacks on Libya today have no interest in the triumph of the popular revolts blowing down Arab regimes, corruption and unemployment, things which long found support and backing from the colonial powers, so today we see they are quick to take the necessary precautions so as not to let things get out of hand.
The brotherly Libyan people will be able to overthrow Qadhafi, depending on their capabilities and the support of other Arab peoples (and all the revolutionary forces of the world), and are not in need foreign intervention which will only bring them more killing and destruction, as well as violations of their sovereignty and the occupation of their land and the plunder of their resources.
The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party expresses its rejection of the military intervention and calls for their immediate halt. It also calls on all anti-imperialist forces in the Arab and Islamic world at large to move and calls on all the peoples of the world to come out in marches and demonstrations and engage in all forms of struggle in order to stop this interference.
Long live the struggle of Arab peoples for freedom, dignity and the fall of the Arab regimes and corrupt puppets. Down with the imperialist enemies of the people and the protectors of the Zionist Entity.
– The Tunisian Communist Workers’ Party, 20 March, 2011.

2. Palestine

Tunisian Union of Communist Youth: “On the Anniversary of Land Day: Let the Revolution of the Arab Peoples be a step in the direction of the liberation of Palestine”
DATE: 30 March, 2011
Let the Palestinian people be revived today, the thirty-fifth anniversary of Land Day under the obnoxious Zionist occupation and under political division, which has bedeviled Palestinian ranks and prevented success in stopping the gushing of settlements, which seek to obliterate the Arab identity of Palestinians towns and villages under the mantle of “more land and fewer Arabs”. The celebration of this anniversary in these particular circumstances mark national resistance and are a reminder of the persistence of resistance in the face of this racist [regime] which does not hesitate to use the dirtiest and most arrogant methods to swallow up the Palestinian territories. There is no doubt that the return of sovereignty to the Arab peoples, especially the Tunisians, will provide strong support for the Palestinian cause after the removal Ben Ali and Mubarak, who dedicated themselves in service of the occupation and forced their people to remain silent and easily suppressed demonstrations and campaigns [against Israel] in obedience to the racist entity to provide a good “neighborhood” and faith.
The Tunisian Union of Communist Youth salutes the steadfastness of the Palestinian people, reiterates its absolute support as it has since its establishment as an advanced and progressive site for the Palestinian national cause and:
  • That the unity of the Palestinian ranks, nation, resistance, democracy best answers and expresses the demands of the Palestinian reality, especially with the failure of successive governments to put an end to the barbaric and racist policy back up by the United States of America and employed by the regimes of the Arab countries;
  • That the Tunisian people, on the day after their glorious revolution bear more responsibility on the basis of national and humanitarian bonds to provide support for the brotherly Palestinian people in regaining their usurped land and their right to impose their sovereignty in the context of a progressive and democratic state.
Thus it emphasizes breaking all forms of normalization with the Zionist enemy and annulling all secret treaties which the previous regime spent its time on.
It calls for all the activities of the community of activists, parties, organizations, associations and personalities toward the activation of solidarity with and to publicize the Palestinian cause and to celebrate this anniversary in a manner fitting of its symbolism.
Long live the Palestinian people.
Downfall to Zionism, imperialism and reactionary Arabs.
Long live the Tunisian Revolution supporting the brotherly Palestinian people.
Immortality to the martyrs and victory to the resistance. 
– Tunisian Union of Communist Youth. Tunis, 30 March, 2011.

3. Syria

Article by Samir Hammouda: “Syria: The Pending Dictatorship…”
DATE: 1 April, 2011
The Arab masses continue to make history. Current events in Syria today developed from ideological struggle and political fact. The most notorious dictatorships, including those hide by painting themselves as “nationalist” and “resisting Zionism” also downfall by means of mass vibrations.
From its start till now the popular uprising in Syria proceeds with more than 150 martyrs and hundreds of wounded after only a few days. The martyrs and the wounded are not the result of Zionist bombing or terrorism. Instead they come from the bloody repression of the “nationalist” Syrian regime.
In that country, as in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Algeria, Morocco and Libya events are in essence repeating by similar ways, despite different specificities in this or that country, for be sure that the catastrophe is the Arab reality and true despotism for all Arab regimes.
The uprising of the masses in Syria is the result of the same underlying social, economic and political causes which shook the pillars of dictatorship in the rest of the Arab world. Syria is also a country of poverty, unemployment, regional disparities and is penetrated by liberal capitalism. In Syria, too, there is a total absence of freedoms, suppression of the opposition for the sake of maintaining sectarianism and smashing people’s most basic political, economic and cultural rights. In Syria corruption is rampant and the minority of the local bourgeoisie holds a monopoly on the country’s economy and wealth and the control of the political police has a hold on the judiciary and the throats of the citizens.
The policies and words of the Syrian regime in the face of popular protests and its suppression and distortions are of the same version know  to Arab peoples under the despotic regimes in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen and other countries. If Bashar al-As’ad accused his opponents of being controlled by outsiders and the public of a tendency to drift along according to foreign schemes hostile to the country’s interests this is not the best political speech since Ben Ali and Mubarak or Qadhafi and Ali Saleh. All dictatorships, whatever their ideological dress — “nationalist” or “socialist” or “Islamic” — resort to the same outdated and false arguments to justify tyranny and the depravation of the people’s liberties as is necessary for political and social emancipation. While the Syrian regime boasts of thousands at the demonstrations of its supporters its security and military apparatus massacres and tortures its opponents. But history does not run out of lessons. Yushenko was boasting thousands at his crowds before his downfall, Ben Ali bragged of two million members in his own party a few days before fleeing.
But the popular uprising in Syria increases the taste for blood and for politics and other dimensions at the local level as in the rest of the Arab world. The Syrian regime is the last in a series of regimes that embraced the Ba’th project on the basis of Arab nationalist aspirations for unity, socialism and liberation from colonialism and Zionism. In recent decades, the Syrian regimes support has been an important component in Arab power, not only on the nationalist file, but also on the leftist and Islamist ones. This was done under the banner of “nationalism” and claiming that the Syrian regime is part of the nationalist forces that stand on the front lines of confrontation with the Zionist Entity.
We have stood on many occasions against political forces urging us to overlook the dictatorial approach of this regime on the pretext of standing against the Zionist Entity and we consider this approach opportunistic, harmful and against the development of the revolutionary movement and combativeness in the Arab world and national liberation. Patriotism and resistance to colonialism and to Zionist and imperialist plans facing us cannot be in contradiction with the people’s enjoyment of their full democratic and political freedoms, or their condition at the forefront. It is true that political freedoms alone are not sufficient to realization of national aims, but the sovereignty of the Arab peoples and the revival of the Arab world and unity in the face of imperialism will not be achieved without them. Why would democracy for the Arab peoples not antagonize the Zionist Entity if this were not a threat to its very existence?! And why has America supported and still support the tyranny of Arab regimes if these do not serve its interests and objectives?! And how can our peoples achieve unity and finally dispose of the poisons of religious conflict, sectarianism, tribalism and local infighting among their parties without citizenship and equality without democracy and the triumph of citizenship and equality without conquering discrimination based on classism, sectarianism, religion, gender or ideology?!
The failure of the Syrian regime once again confirms the failure of authoritarian regimes in achieving national goals: unity and socialism and liberation from colonialism and Zionism. If bourgeois democracy is the gateway to the dismantlement of Arab dictatorships and despotic regimes then the Arab people are not doomed to merely copy them and are instead able to overcome their shortcomings and negative aspects toward  broader and greater democracy, democracy responsive to the grassroots, national political ambitions and economic and cultural rights.
No one today can predict how events in Syria will evolve, nor the depth or extent of the preparedness of the Syrian people to topple Bashar al-As’ad yet it is certain the Syrian regime will not respond to calls for political reform for it is not in its character or interest of a single Arab dictatorship to respond to the people’s demands for freedom. The regime that represses its people and harasses its opponents does have a future or a way out of crisis and collapses by its own internal rot, the laws of its own design and by the advancement of the masses, sooner or later.
– Samir Hammouda, 1 April, 2011

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

“The Day of Rejection” in Mauritania

Kal posts this:

"For pictures, flyers, video and a summary of the 24 May youth demonstrations in Mauritania (The Day of Rejection), see here and here. The youth staged a mock funeral for democracy in Mauritania, marching on the Blokate square in Nouakchott. As in previous demonstrations, there was an emphasis on reducing the military’s role in politics, corruption and commodity prices. The demonstrators were met by plain cloths police and security men, who allegedly distributed knives to thugs. The demonstrations on 24 May were smaller than in April and saw less head on violence from the authorities. But the government does appear somewhat spooked by the youth movement: aside from the use of plain clothes police and agents provocateurs, it has used misinformation campaigns to confuse and hamper the protests with false flyers (and by setting up false Facebook accounts and pages, according to activists). Here is a link to an al-Akhbar article on the demonstration [Ar.]. For background on the youth protest movement see the previous posts on this blog and this writer’s recent article in the Arab Reform Bulletin."

Here is one flyer, "posted by organizers on Facebook and by this writer on Twitter last week (they are also in a gallery in the links above)":

There is a second flyer in Arabic at the original post.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam - Indonesia's first democratic president espoused a philosophy of religious and ethnic tolerance

Wahid and the Voice of Moderate Islam. By Paul Wolfowitz
Indonesia's first democratic president espoused a philosophy of religious and ethnic tolerance.
WSJ, Jan 07, 2010

Abdurrahman Wahid, who died last week at the age of 69, was the first democratically elected president of Indonesia, the world's fourth largest country and third largest democracy. It has the largest Muslim population of any country in the world. Although he was forced from office after less than two years, he nevertheless helped to set the course of what has been a remarkably successful transition to democracy.

Even more important than his role as a politician, Wahid was the spiritual leader of Nahdlatul Ulama, the largest Muslim organization in Indonesia, and probably in the world, with 40 million members. He was a product of Indonesia's traditionally tolerant and humane practice of Islam, and he took that tradition to a higher level and shaped it in ways that will last long after his death.

Wahid recognized that the world's Muslim community is engaged in what he called in a 2005 op-ed for this newspaper "nothing less than a global struggle for the soul of Islam" and he understood the danger for Indonesia, for Islam and for all of us from this "crisis of misunderstanding that threatens to engulf our entire world."

Wahid was one of the most impressive leaders I have known. Although his formal higher education was limited to Islamic studies in Cairo and Arabic literature in Baghdad, his breadth of knowledge was astounding. With a voracious appetite for knowledge and a remarkably retentive memory, he seemed to know all of the important Islamic religious and philosophical texts. He also loved reading a wide range of Western literature (including most of William Faulkner's novels) as well as Arabic poetry. He enjoyed French movies, and cinema in general, and could identify the conductor of a Beethoven symphony simply by listening to a recording. He was an avid soccer fan and once compared the different styles of two German soccer teams to illustrate two alternative strategies for economic development. He loved jokes, particularly political ones. During Suharto's autocratic rule he published a collection of Soviet political humor in Indonesian, with the obvious purpose of teaching his own people how to laugh at their rulers.

Despite all that learning, Wahid had a common touch that enabled him to express his thoughts in down-to-earth language. He thus gained broad legitimacy for a moderate and tolerant vision. He could speak to young Indonesians, grappling with the relationship between religion and science by explaining to them the thoughts of a medieval Arab philosopher like Ibn Rushd (known to Christian philosophers as Averroes). And he was all the more effective because he himself had grappled with controversial ideas.

Wahid had been somewhat attracted in his youth by the writings of Said Qutb and Hasan al Banna, the founders of the Muslim brotherhood, but his deep humanism led him to reject them. When I visited him recently he told me of a long-ago visit to a mosque in Morocco where an Arabic translation of Aristotle's "Nichomachean Ethics" was on display. Seeing that book had brought tears to his eyes and Wahid explained: "If I hadn't read the 'Nichomachean Ethics' as a young man, I might have joined the Muslim brotherhood."

No doubt, what had so impressed Wahid was that Aristotle could arrive at deep truths about matters of right and wrong without the aid of religion, based simply on the belief that "the human function is activity of the soul in accord with reason" (Nichomachean Ethics, Book I). But his tears must have reflected the thought of how close he had come to accepting a cramped and intolerant view of life and humanity.

Throughout his public career, three ideas were central to Wahid's thinking. First was that true belief required religious freedom. "The essence of Islam," he once wrote, is "encapsulated" in the words of the Quran, "For you, your religion; for me, my religion." Indonesia, he believed, needs "to develop a full religious tolerance based on freedom of faith." Second was his belief that the fundamental requirement for democracy—or any form of just government—is equal treatment for all citizens before the law. Third, that respect for minorities is essential for social stability and national unity, particularly for Indonesia with its extraordinary diversity.

Throughout his career Wahid spoke up forcefully for people with unpopular ideas—even ones he disagreed with—and for the rights of ethnic and religious minorities. He was admired by the Christian and Chinese minorities for his willingness to do so. One of his first acts as president was to participate in prayers at a Hindu temple in Bali where he had earlier spent several months studying Hindu philosophy. Later he removed a number of restrictions on ethnic Chinese and made Chinese New Year an optional national holiday.

Even after leaving office, Wahid's role as a defender of religious freedom was extremely important. Indonesian voters have rejected extremist politics at the polls—and the leadership of the current president, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono deserves much credit for that. Nevertheless, extremist views and even violent extremism too often go unchallenged. A recent report from The Wahid Insitute (which he founded in 2004) notes that a minority with extremist views, now in control of the Indonesian Ulama Council, has issued religious rulings against "deviant" groups. An even smaller minority that espouses violence, particularly the Islamic Defender Front, has attacked Christian churches and the mosques of the small Muslim Ahmadiyah sect.

Wahid was one of the few prominent Indonesians to defend the rights of the Ahmadiyah or to speak out forcefully against the Islamic Defender Front. Doing so takes courage. But he was always courageous, whether in defying President Suharto at the height of his power or in his personal struggle against encroaching blindness and failing health.

Although optimistic that "true Islam" will prevail, as he wrote in his 2005 op-ed, Wahid did not underestimate the dangers facing the world from an "extreme . . . ideology in the minds of fanatics" who "pervert Islam into a dogma of intolerance, hatred and bloodshed" and who justify their brutality by declaring "Islam is above everything else." This fundamentalist ideology, he said, "has become a well-financed, multifaceted global movement that operates like a juggernaut in much of the developing world." What begins as a misunderstanding "of Islam by Muslims themselves" becomes a "crisis of misunderstanding" that afflicts "Muslims and non-Muslims alike, with tragic consequences."

No one who knew Abdurrahman Wahid can believe that those fanatics who preach hatred and violence speak for the world's Muslims. Even though the extremist ideology represents a distinct minority of Muslims, it is well-financed and well-organized. To confront it, Muslim leaders like himself need, as he wrote in 2005, "the understanding and support of like-minded individuals, organizations and governments throughout the world . . . to offer a compelling alternate vision of Islam, one that banishes the fanatical ideology of hatred to the darkness from which it emerged."

That support includes material support, but it also includes the moral support that comes from international recognition and attention for Muslim leaders who speak out with the courage that Wahid did.

When Wahid was only 12 he was riding in a car with his father, Wahid Hasyim, himself a prominent Muslim leader at the time of Indonesian independence, when the car slid off a mountain road and his father suffered fatal injuries. What Wahid most remembered from that tragic event was the sight of thousands of people lining the roads as his father's casket traveled the 80 kilometers from Surabaya to his burial at Jombang. Overwhelmed by the affection people had for his father, he wondered "What could one man do that the people would love him so?"

As the funeral procession for Wahid himself traveled the same route on the last day of 2009, thousands of mourners, deeply moved, again lined the road. What had he done that Indonesians so loved him? Perhaps the question is answered by the words that he asked to have on his tomb: "Here lies a humanist." That he was and a great one as well. No one can replace him, but hopefully he has inspired others to follow in his path.

Mr. Wolfowitz, a former U.S. ambassador to Indonesia and assistant secretary of state for East Asia, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Grand Mufti on Islam, Israel and the United States

Islam, Israel and the United States. By Sheikh Ali Gomaa
Peace among the Abrahamic faiths will be built on respect and the law.
WSJ, Oct 08, 2009

America and the West have been victims of violent extremists acting in the name of Islam, the tragic events of 9/11 being only the most egregious of their attacks. Western officials and commentators are consumed by the question, "Where are the moderates?" Many, seeing only the extremism perpetuated by a radical few, despair of finding progressive and peaceful partners of standing in the Muslim world.

However, reconciling Islam with modernity has been an imperative for Muslims before it became a preoccupation for the West. In particular, the process dates back to the 19th century, when what became known as the Islamic reform movement was born in Al Azhar University in Cairo, Islam's premiere institution of learning.

At the Dar al Iftaa, Egypt's supreme body for Islamic legal edicts over which I preside, we wrestle constantly with the issue of applying Islam to the modern world. We issue thousands of fatwas or authoritative legal edicts—for example affirming the right of women to dignity, education and employment, and to hold political office, and condemning violence against them. We have upheld the right of freedom of conscience, and of freedom of expression within the bounds of common decency. We have promoted the common ground that exists between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. We have underscored that governance must be based on justice and popular sovereignty. We are committed to human liberty within the bounds of Islamic law. Nonetheless, we must make more tangible progress on these and other issues.

We unequivocally condemned violence against the innocent during Egypt's own struggle with terrorism in the 1980s and 90's, and after the heinous sin of 9/11. We continue to do so in public debates with extremists on their views of Islam, in our outreach to schools and youth organizations, in our training of students from all across the world at Egypt's theological institutions, and in our counseling of captured terrorists. As the head of the one of the foremost Islamic authorities in the world, let me restate: The murder of civilians is a crime against humanity and God punishable in this life and the next.

Yet, just as we recommit to reinforcing the values of moderation in our faith, we look to the United States to assume its responsibility for the sake of a better relationship between the West and Islam.

First, it is essential that the U.S. confront the fear and misunderstanding that has often pervaded the public discourse about Islam, especially in the media.

Second, while we must strive to reinforce the common principles that we share, we must also accept the reality of differences in our values and in our outlook. Islam and the West have distinct value systems. Respect for our differences is a foundation for coexistence, and never for conflict.

Finally, there must a true commitment to the rule of law, and to sovereign equality, as the legitimate basis for international relations. While some of the divide between Islam and the West lies in the realm of ideas, it lies mostly in the realm of politics. The violence and the aggression to which many Muslim countries have been subjected are the main sources of a deep and legitimate sense of grievance, and they must be addressed.

Israel's occupation of Palestine must be brought to an end; its continuation is an affront to the fundamental tenets of justice and freedom that we all seek to uphold. In Iraq and Afghanistan, full sovereignty and independence must be restored to their people with the withdrawal of all foreign forces. President Barack Obama's historic address to the Muslim world from Cairo on June 4 was a landmark event that opened the door to a new relationship between Islam and the West, precisely because it acknowledged these imperatives. Yet much work needs to be done by both sides.

This week in Washington I am participating in the Common Word Initiative, a group of religious leaders hosted by Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding. While the focus of this initiative has been to foster dialogue between Islam and Christianity, I will call for its expansion to include representatives of all the Abrahamic faiths. The road ahead will be difficult, but we can, God willing, arrive at a more peaceful future together.

Dr. Gomaa is the Grand Mufti of Egypt.

Islamists misrepresent the liberal legacy of the Ottoman Empire

Bring Back the Caliphate. By Soner Cagaptay
Islamists misrepresent the liberal legacy of the Ottoman Empire.
WSJ, Oct 08, 2009

The reaction in Turkey to the recent death of Ertugrul Osman, heir to the Ottoman throne and successor to the last Caliph, could not be more shocking. Islamists in kaftans and long beards gathered in Istanbul two weeks ago to bury the titular head of the world Muslim community, a scotch-drinking, classical music-listening Western Turk who until recently lived on New York City's Upper East Side.

The Islamists' embrace of Osman, a descendant of the westernized Ottoman sultans, provides a periscope into the Islamist mind: Islamism is not about religion or reality. Rather it is a myth and a subversion of reality intended to promote Islamism, a utopian ideology. Osman, raised by a line of West-leaning caliphs and sultans, loved Atatürk's Turkey, yet the Islamists abused his funeral and the memory of the caliphate, changing it into a symbol for their anti-Western, anti-secular and anti-liberal agenda.

Were Ertugrul Osman alive and were the Ottomans around today, he would be Sultan Osman V and no doubt, he would be going after the fundamentalists who abused his funeral in an attempt to distort his legacy.

Despite what the Islamists want the world to believe, the Ottoman caliphate was not anti-Western. The Ottoman Empire always interacted with the West—an interaction that goes all the way back to 16th-century Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent, who envisioned himself as the Holy Roman emperor. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the Ottoman sultans and caliphs embarked on a program of intense reforms to remake the Ottoman Empire in the Western image to match up with European powers. To this end, the caliphs launched institutions of secular education, and paved the way for women's emancipation by enrolling them in those schools. By the beginning of the 19th century, the sultans and caliphs of the Ottoman Empire embodied Western life and Western values. The last caliph, Abdulmecid Efendi, considered the Ottoman state a Western power with a Western destiny. An enlightened man and avid artist, the caliph's sought-after paintings, including nudes, are on exhibition at various museums, such as Istanbul's new museum of Modern Art.

It is therefore wrong to represent the Ottoman Empire as the antithesis to the secular republic Atatürk founded in 1923. True, when Atatürk turned Turkey into a secular republic in 1923 by abolishing the Ottoman state and the caliphate, Atatürk did noteradicate the sultan-caliphs' legacy. Rather, he fulfilled their dream of making Turkey a full-fledged Western society. Atatürk's reforms are a continuation of the late Ottoman Empire—he merely pursued Ottoman reforms to their logical conclusion.

Moreover, Atatürk was the product par excellence of the Ottoman Empire. He was raised in Salonika, the hub of cosmopolitanism and Western culture in the reforming empire. He studied in secular Ottoman schools, and he was trained in the Westernized Ottoman military.

The debate over the Ottoman caliphate's legacy has ramifications not only for Turkey, but also for contemporary Muslims and the Western world's desire to counter radical Islamists. Years before emergence of al Qaeda, the caliphs produced an antidote against radical jihadists, a progressive vision for a Western-oriented Muslim society. The sultan-caliphs built the institutional foundations of this society, including the first Ottoman parliament and constitution of 1876, and planted in it seeds of Western values, such as secular education and women's emancipation. Modern Turkey owes its existence as much to Atatürk as to the sultan-caliphs who were among the first to promote liberal and Western values in a Muslim society.

Now, the Islamists want to usurp the caliphate and its legacy. The fundamentalists first distort the caliphate's politics, reimagining it as an anti-Western institution. Then, they portray the revival of this invented caliphate as the ultimate political dream in an anti-Western ideology.

Eighty years ago, the Ottoman caliph-sultans imagined a Turkey that is more akin to modern Turkey than to the Islamist society envisioned by al Qaeda or others who dismiss Atatürk's dream of a Western Turkey and liberal values as anomalies. Ertugrul Osman himself told Turkish journalist Asli Aydintasbas shortly before his death that "the republic has been devastating for our family, but very good for Turkey."

Caliph Osman was Turkish by birth, Muslim by religion, and a Westerner by upbringing. I want my caliph back, and so should all Muslims who want deliverance from the distorted and illiberal world envisioned by the Islamists.

Mr. Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and author of "Islam Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who is a Turk?" (Routledge, 2006).

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Autocracy and the Decline of the Arabs

Autocracy and the Decline of the Arabs. By FOUAD AJAMI
The Arab world is plagued by despots. But don’t expect the U.N. to give President Bush any credit for challenging this order.
WSJ, Aug 06, 2009

‘It made me feel so jealous,” said Abdulmonem Ibrahim, a young Egyptian political activist, of the recent upheaval in Iran. “We are amazed at the organization and speed with which the Iranian movement has been functioning. In Egypt you can count the number of activists on your hand.” This degree of “Iran envy” is a telling statement on the stagnation of Arab politics. It is not pretty, Iran’s upheaval, but grant the Iranians their due: They have gone out into the streets to contest the writ of the theocrats.

In contrast, little has stirred in Arab politics of late. The Arabs, by their own testimony, have become spectators to their history. A struggle rages between the Iranian theocracy and the Pax Americana for primacy in the Persian Gulf and the Levant. The Arabs have the demography—360 million people by latest count—and the wealth to balance Iran’s power. But they have taken a pass in the hope that America—or Israel, for that matter—would shatter the Iranian bid for hegemony.

We are now in the midst of one of those periodic autopsies of the Arab condition. The trigger is the publication last month of the Arab Human Development Report 2009, the fifth of a series of reports by the by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) on the state of the contemporary Arab world.

The first of these reports, published in 2002, was treated with deference. A group of Arab truth-tellers, it was believed, had broken with the evasions and the apologetics to tell of the sordid condition of Arab society—the autocratic political culture, the economic stagnation, the cultural decay. So all Arabs combined had a smaller manufacturing capacity than Finland with its five million people, and a vast Arabic-speaking world translated into Arabic a fifth of the foreign books that Greece with its 11 million people translates. With all the oil in the region, tens of millions of Arabs were living below the poverty line.

Little has altered in the years separating the first of these reports from the most recent. A huge oil windfall came into the region, and it was better handled, it has to be conceded, than earlier oil windfalls. But on balance the grief of the Arabs has deepened, and the autocracies are yet to be brought to account. They remain unloved, but they remain in the saddle.

In a clever turn of phrase, The Economist recently wrote of an Arab Rip Abu Winkle awakening from a slumber into which he had fallen in the early 1980s to marvel at how little has changed. He would find Hosni Mubarak still at the helm in Cairo, the policeman Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia, and Moammar Gadhafi in Libya. He would miss Hafez Assad in Damascus, but he would be reassured that his son Bashar had inherited his father’s dominion. He would of course find the same dynasties in Jordan and in the Arab states of the Peninsula and the Gulf.

Wily rulers, the men at the helm may have failed their peoples. They may have denied them decent educational systems. They may not have figured out a way into the modern world economy. But they have mastered the art of political survival. “He who eats the sultan’s bread, fights with the sultan’s sword,” goes an Arabic maxim. The economic dominance of the rulers, the absence of the countervailing power of property and the private sector, has increased the awesome power of the governments and their security establishments.

It is no mystery, this sorrowful decline of the Arabs. They have invested their hopes in states, and the states have failed. According to the UNDP’s report, government revenues as percentage of GDP are 13% in Third World Countries, but they are 25% in the Middle East and North Africa. The oil states are a world apart in that regard: the comparable figures are 68% in Libya, 45% in Saudi Arabia, and 40% in Algeria, Kuwait and Qatar. Oil is no panacea for these lands. The unemployment rates for the Arab world as a whole are the highest in the world, and no prophecy could foresee these societies providing the 51 million jobs the UNDP report says are needed by 2020 to “absorb young entrants to the labor force who would otherwise face an empty future.”

The simple truth is that the Arab world has terrible rulers and worse oppositionists. There are autocrats on one side and theocrats on the other. A timid and fragile middle class is caught in the middle between regimes it abhors and Islamists it fears.

Indeed, the technocrats and intellectuals associated with these development reports are themselves no angels. On the whole, they are unreconstructed Arab nationalists. The patrons of these reports are the likes of the Algerian diplomat Lakhdar Brahimi and the Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi, intellectuals and public figures whose stock-in-trade is presumed Western (read American) guilt for the ills that afflict the Arabs. Anti-Americanism suffuses this report, as it did the earlier ones.

There is cruelty and plunder aplenty in the Arab world, but these writers are particularly exercised about Iraq. “This intervention polarized the country,” they say of Iraq. This is a myth of the Arabs who are yet to grant the Iraqis the right to their own history: There had been a secular culture under the Baath, they insist, but the American war begot the sectarianism. To go by this report, Iraq is a place of mayhem and plunder, a land where militias rule uncontested.

For decades, it was the standard argument of the Arabs that America had cast its power in the region on the side of the autocrats. In Iraq in 2003, and then in Lebanon, an American president bet on the freedom of the Arabs. George W. Bush’s freedom agenda broke with a long history and insisted that the Arabs did not have tyranny in their DNA. A despotism in Baghdad was toppled, a Syrian regime that had all but erased its border with Lebanon was pushed out of its smaller neighbor, bringing an end to three decades of brutal occupation. The “Cedar Revolution” that erupted in the streets of Beirut was but a child of Bush’s diplomacy of freedom.

Arabs know this history even as they say otherwise, even as they tell the pollsters the obligatory things about America the pollsters expect them to say. True, Mr. Bush’s wager on elections in the Palestinian territories rebounded to the benefit of Hamas. But the ballot is not infallible, and the verdict of that election was a statement on the malignancies of Palestinian politics. It was no fault of American diplomacy that the Palestinians, who needed to break with a history of maximalist demands, gave in yet again to radical temptations.

Now the Arabs are face to face with their own history. Instead of George W. Bush there is Barack Hussein Obama, an American leader pledged to a foreign policy of “realism.” The Arabs express fondness for the new American president. In his fashion (and in the fashion of their world and their leaders, it has to be said) President Obama gave the Arabs a speech in Cairo two months ago. It was a moment of theater and therapy. The speech delivered, the foreign visitor was gone. He had put another marker on the globe, another place to which he had taken his astounding belief in his biography and his conviction that another foreign population had been wooed by his oratory and weaned away from anti-Americanism.

The crowd could tell itself that the new standard-bearer of the Pax Americana was a man who understood its concerns, but the embattled modernists and the critics of autocracy knew better. There is no mistaking the animating drive of the new American policy in that Greater Middle East: realism and benign neglect, the safety of the status quo rather than the risks of liberty. (If in doubt, the Arabs could check with their Iranian neighbors. The Persians would tell them of the new mood in Washington.)

One day an Arab chronicle could yet be written, and like all Arab chronicles, it would tell of woes and missed opportunities. It would acknowledge that brief interlude when American power gave Arab autocracies a scare, and when a despotism in Baghdad and a brutal “brotherly” occupation in Beirut were laid to waste. The chroniclers would have to be an honest lot. They would speak the language of daily life, and the truths that Arabs have seen and endured in recent years. On that day, the “human development reports” would be discarded, their writers seen for the purveyors of double-speak and half-truths they were.

Mr. Ajami, a professor at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University and an adjunct fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, is the author, among other books, of “The Arab Predicament: Arab Political Thought and Practice since 1967 (Cambridge University Press, 1981).

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fukuyama: Iran, Islam and the Rule of Law

Iran, Islam and the Rule of Law. By FRANCIS FUKUYAMA
Islamic political movements have been one form of revolt against arbitrary government.
WSJ, Jul 28, 2009

When Columbia University President Lee Bollinger introduced Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad at his school in September 2007, he denounced him as a “petty tyrant.”
Ahmadinejad is many bad things, including a Holocaust denier and a strong proponent of a nuclear Iran. But as recent events have underlined, Iran is not quite a tyranny, petty or grand, and the office Ahmadinejad occupies does not give him final say in Iranian affairs. That role is more truly occupied by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, head of the Council of Guardians and Iran’s supreme leader.

A real tyranny would never permit elections in the first place—North Korea never does—nor would it allow demonstrations contesting the election results to spiral out of control. Yet Iran is no liberal democracy. So what kind of beast is it? And in what ways should we want its regime to evolve?

Political scientists categorize the Islamic Republic of Iran as an “electoral authoritarian” regime of a new sort. They put it in the same basket as Hugo Chávez’s Venezuela or Vladimir Putin’s Russia. By this view, Iran is fundamentally an authoritarian regime run by a small circle of clerics and military officials who use elections to legitimate themselves.

Others think of Iran as a medieval theocracy. Its 1979 constitution vests sovereignty not in the people, but in God, and establishes Islam and the Quran as the supreme sources of law.

The Iranian Constitution is a curious hybrid of authoritarian, theocratic and democratic elements. Articles One and Two do vest sovereignty in God, but Article Six mandates popular elections for the presidency and the Majlis, or parliament. Articles 19-42 are a bill of rights, guaranteeing, among other things, freedom of expression, public gatherings and marches, women’s equality, protection of ethnic minorities, due process and private property, as well as some “second generation” social rights like social security and health care.

The truly problematic part of the constitution is Section Eight (Articles 107-112) on the Guardian Council and the “Leader.” All the democratic procedures and rights in the earlier sections of the constitution are qualified by certain powers reserved to a council of senior clerics.

These powers, specified in Article 110, include control over the armed forces, the ability to declare war, and appointment powers over the judiciary, heads of media, army and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Another article lays out conditions under which the Supreme Leader can be removed by the Guardian Council. But that procedure is hardly democratic or transparent.

One does not have to go back to the Middle Ages to find historical precedents for this type of constitution. The clearest parallel would be the German Constitution adopted after the country was unified in the 1870s. Pre-World War I Germany had an elected parliament, or Reichstag, but reserved important powers for an unelected Kaiser, particularly in foreign policy and defense. This constitution got Germany into big trouble. The unelected part of the leadership controlled the armed forces. Eventually, though, it came to be controlled by the armed forces. This seems to be what’s unfolding in Iran today.

Compared to Section Eight, the references in the Iranian Constitution to God and religion as the sources of law are much less problematic. They could, under the right circumstances, be the basis for Iran’s eventual evolution into a moderate, law-governed country.

The rule of law was originally rooted in religion in all societies where it came to prevail, including the West. The great economist Friedrich Hayek noted that law should be prior to legislation. That is, the law should reflect a broad social consensus on the rules of justice. In Europe, it was the church that originally defined the law and acted as its custodian. European monarchs respected the rule of law because it was written by an authority higher and more legitimate than themselves.

Something similar happened in the pre-modern Middle East. There was a functional separation of church and state. The ulama were legal scholars and custodians of Shariah law while the sultans exercised political authority. The sultans conceded they were not the ultimate source of law but had to live within rules established by Muslim case law. There was no democracy, but there was something resembling a rule of law.

This traditional, religiously based rule of law was destroyed in the Middle East’s transition to modernity. Replacing it, particularly in the Arab world, was untrammeled executive authority: Presidents and other dictators accepted no constraints, either legislative or judicial, on their power.

The legal scholar Noah Feldman has argued that the widespread demand for a return to Shariah in many Muslim countries does not necessarily reflect a desire to impose harsh, Taliban-style punishments and oppress women. Rather, it reflects a nostalgia for a dimly remembered historical time when Muslim rulers were not all-powerful autocrats, but respected Islamic rules of justice—Islamic rule of law.

So what kind of future should we wish for Iran, in light of the massive demonstrations? My own preference would be for Iran to some day adopt a new, Western-style constitution guaranteeing religious freedom, a secular state, and sovereignty vested firmly in the people, rather than God.

But a considerable amount of anecdotal evidence (we don’t have anything better) suggests this is not necessarily the agenda of the protesters. Many of them, including opposition candidate Mir Hossein Mousavi, say they want Iran to remain an Islamic Republic. They look at the radical regime change that occurred in next door Iraq and don’t want that for themselves. What they seem to wish for is that the democratic features of the constitution be better respected, and that the executive authorities, including the Guardian Council, and the military and paramilitary organizations, stop manipulating elections and respect the law.

Iran could evolve towards a genuine rule-of-law democracy within the broad parameters of the 1979 constitution. It would be necessary to abolish Article 110, which gives the Guardian Council control over the armed forces and the media, and to shift its function to something more like a supreme court that could pass judgment on the consistency of legislation with Shariah. In time, the Council might be subject to some form of democratic control, like the U.S. Supreme Court, even if its members needed religious credentials.

Eliminating religion altogether from the Iranian Constitution is more problematic. The rule of law prevails not because of its formal and procedural qualities, but because it reflects broadly held social norms. If future Iranian rulers are ever to respect the rule of law as traditional Muslim rulers once did, it will have to be a law that comes from the hearts of the Iranian people. Perhaps that will one day be a completely secular law. That is unlikely to be the case today.

Unfortunately, Iranians may never get to make the choice for themselves. The clerical-military clique currently exercising power is likely to drag Iran into conflict with other countries in the region. This could easily consolidate its legitimacy and power. Let us hope that the country’s internal forces push for an evolution of the political system towards genuine rule of law and democracy first.

Mr. Fukuyama, professor of international political economy at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, is author of “America at the Crossroads: Democracy, Power, and the Neoconservative Legacy” (Yale, 2006).

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Presidential speeches about relationships with Islamic countries

President Obama speech in Cairo:
Cairo University Cairo, Egypt, Jun 04, 2009 @1:10 P.M. (Local)

President Bush Attends World Economic Forum
Sharm el Sheikh International Congress Center
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, May 18, 2008

Both speeches follow:

Cairo University Cairo, Egypt, Jun 04, 2009 @1:10 P.M. (Local)

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you very much. Good afternoon. I am honored to be in the timeless city of Cairo, and to be hosted by two remarkable institutions. For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning; and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt's advancement. And together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I'm grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. And I'm also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalaamu alaykum. (Applause.)

We meet at a time of great tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate. The relationship between Islam and the West includes centuries of coexistence and cooperation, but also conflict and religious wars. More recently, tension has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.

Violent extremists have exploited these tensions in a small but potent minority of Muslims. The attacks of September 11, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. All this has bred more fear and more mistrust.

So long as our relationship is defined by our differences, we will empower those who sow hatred rather than peace, those who promote conflict rather than the cooperation that can help all of our people achieve justice and prosperity. And this cycle of suspicion and discord must end.
I've come here to Cairo to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles -- principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.

I do so recognizing that change cannot happen overnight. I know there's been a lot of publicity about this speech, but no single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have this afternoon all the complex questions that brought us to this point. But I am convinced that in order to move forward, we must say openly to each other the things we hold in our hearts and that too often are said only behind closed doors. There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground. As the Holy Koran tells us, "Be conscious of God and speak always the truth." (Applause.) That is what I will try to do today -- to speak the truth as best I can, humbled by the task before us, and firm in my belief that the interests we share as human beings are far more powerful than the forces that drive us apart.

Now part of this conviction is rooted in my own experience. I'm a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the azaan at the break of dawn and at the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith.

As a student of history, I also know civilization's debt to Islam. It was Islam -- at places like Al-Azhar -- that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe's Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities -- (applause) -- it was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality. (Applause.)

I also know that Islam has always been a part of America's story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President, John Adams, wrote, "The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims." And since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, they have served in our government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they've excelled in our sports arenas, they've won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Koran that one of our Founding Fathers -- Thomas Jefferson -- kept in his personal library. (Applause.)

So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn't. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. (Applause.)

But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. (Applause.) Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire. The United States has been one of the greatest sources of progress that the world has ever known. We were born out of revolution against an empire. We were founded upon the ideal that all are created equal, and we have shed blood and struggled for centuries to give meaning to those words -- within our borders, and around the world. We are shaped by every culture, drawn from every end of the Earth, and dedicated to a simple concept: E pluribus unum -- "Out of many, one."

Now, much has been made of the fact that an African American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. (Applause.) But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores -- and that includes nearly 7 million American Muslims in our country today who, by the way, enjoy incomes and educational levels that are higher than the American average. (Applause.)

Moreover, freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state in our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That's why the United States government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab and to punish those who would deny it. (Applause.)

So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations -- to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity.

Of course, recognizing our common humanity is only the beginning of our task. Words alone cannot meet the needs of our people. These needs will be met only if we act boldly in the years ahead; and if we understand that the challenges we face are shared, and our failure to meet them will hurt us all.

For we have learned from recent experience that when a financial system weakens in one country, prosperity is hurt everywhere. When a new flu infects one human being, all are at risk. When one nation pursues a nuclear weapon, the risk of nuclear attack rises for all nations. When violent extremists operate in one stretch of mountains, people are endangered across an ocean. When innocents in Bosnia and Darfur are slaughtered, that is a stain on our collective conscience. (Applause.) That is what it means to share this world in the 21st century. That is the responsibility we have to one another as human beings.

And this is a difficult responsibility to embrace. For human history has often been a record of nations and tribes -- and, yes, religions -- subjugating one another in pursuit of their own interests. Yet in this new age, such attitudes are self-defeating. Given our interdependence, any world order that elevates one nation or group of people over another will inevitably fail. So whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it. Our problems must be dealt with through partnership; our progress must be shared. (Applause.)

Now, that does not mean we should ignore sources of tension. Indeed, it suggests the opposite: We must face these tensions squarely. And so in that spirit, let me speak as clearly and as plainly as I can about some specific issues that I believe we must finally confront together.
The first issue that we have to confront is violent extremism in all of its forms.

In Ankara, I made clear that America is not -- and never will be -- at war with Islam. (Applause.) We will, however, relentlessly confront violent extremists who pose a grave threat to our security -- because we reject the same thing that people of all faiths reject: the killing of innocent men, women, and children. And it is my first duty as President to protect the American people.

The situation in Afghanistan demonstrates America's goals, and our need to work together. Over seven years ago, the United States pursued al Qaeda and the Taliban with broad international support. We did not go by choice; we went because of necessity. I'm aware that there's still some who would question or even justify the events of 9/11. But let us be clear: Al Qaeda killed nearly 3,000 people on that day. The victims were innocent men, women and children from America and many other nations who had done nothing to harm anybody. And yet al Qaeda chose to ruthlessly murder these people, claimed credit for the attack, and even now states their determination to kill on a massive scale. They have affiliates in many countries and are trying to expand their reach. These are not opinions to be debated; these are facts to be dealt with.

Now, make no mistake: We do not want to keep our troops in Afghanistan. We see no military -- we seek no military bases there. It is agonizing for America to lose our young men and women. It is costly and politically difficult to continue this conflict. We would gladly bring every single one of our troops home if we could be confident that there were not violent extremists in Afghanistan and now Pakistan determined to kill as many Americans as they possibly can. But that is not yet the case.

And that's why we're partnering with a coalition of 46 countries. And despite the costs involved, America's commitment will not weaken. Indeed, none of us should tolerate these extremists. They have killed in many countries. They have killed people of different faiths -- but more than any other, they have killed Muslims. Their actions are irreconcilable with the rights of human beings, the progress of nations, and with Islam. The Holy Koran teaches that whoever kills an innocent is as -- it is as if he has killed all mankind. (Applause.) And the Holy Koran also says whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind. (Applause.) The enduring faith of over a billion people is so much bigger than the narrow hatred of a few. Islam is not part of the problem in combating violent extremism -- it is an important part of promoting peace.

Now, we also know that military power alone is not going to solve the problems in Afghanistan and Pakistan. That's why we plan to invest $1.5 billion each year over the next five years to partner with Pakistanis to build schools and hospitals, roads and businesses, and hundreds of millions to help those who've been displaced. That's why we are providing more than $2.8 billion to help Afghans develop their economy and deliver services that people depend on.

Let me also address the issue of Iraq. Unlike Afghanistan, Iraq was a war of choice that provoked strong differences in my country and around the world. Although I believe that the Iraqi people are ultimately better off without the tyranny of Saddam Hussein, I also believe that events in Iraq have reminded America of the need to use diplomacy and build international consensus to resolve our problems whenever possible. (Applause.) Indeed, we can recall the words of Thomas Jefferson, who said: "I hope that our wisdom will grow with our power, and teach us that the less we use our power the greater it will be."

Today, America has a dual responsibility: to help Iraq forge a better future -- and to leave Iraq to Iraqis. And I have made it clear to the Iraqi people -- (applause) -- I have made it clear to the Iraqi people that we pursue no bases, and no claim on their territory or resources. Iraq's sovereignty is its own. And that's why I ordered the removal of our combat brigades by next August. That is why we will honor our agreement with Iraq's democratically elected government to remove combat troops from Iraqi cities by July, and to remove all of our troops from Iraq by 2012. (Applause.) We will help Iraq train its security forces and develop its economy. But we will support a secure and united Iraq as a partner, and never as a patron.

And finally, just as America can never tolerate violence by extremists, we must never alter or forget our principles. Nine-eleven was an enormous trauma to our country. The fear and anger that it provoked was understandable, but in some cases, it led us to act contrary to our traditions and our ideals. We are taking concrete actions to change course. I have unequivocally prohibited the use of torture by the United States, and I have ordered the prison at Guantanamo Bay closed by early next year. (Applause.)

So America will defend itself, respectful of the sovereignty of nations and the rule of law. And we will do so in partnership with Muslim communities which are also threatened. The sooner the extremists are isolated and unwelcome in Muslim communities, the sooner we will all be safer.
The second major source of tension that we need to discuss is the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world.

America's strong bonds with Israel are well known. This bond is unbreakable. It is based upon cultural and historical ties, and the recognition that the aspiration for a Jewish homeland is rooted in a tragic history that cannot be denied.

Around the world, the Jewish people were persecuted for centuries, and anti-Semitism in Europe culminated in an unprecedented Holocaust. Tomorrow, I will visit Buchenwald, which was part of a network of camps where Jews were enslaved, tortured, shot and gassed to death by the Third Reich. Six million Jews were killed -- more than the entire Jewish population of Israel today. Denying that fact is baseless, it is ignorant, and it is hateful. Threatening Israel with destruction -- or repeating vile stereotypes about Jews -- is deeply wrong, and only serves to evoke in the minds of Israelis this most painful of memories while preventing the peace that the people of this region deserve.

On the other hand, it is also undeniable that the Palestinian people -- Muslims and Christians -- have suffered in pursuit of a homeland. For more than 60 years they've endured the pain of dislocation. Many wait in refugee camps in the West Bank, Gaza, and neighboring lands for a life of peace and security that they have never been able to lead. They endure the daily humiliations -- large and small -- that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: The situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable. And America will not turn our backs on the legitimate Palestinian aspiration for dignity, opportunity, and a state of their own. (Applause.)

For decades then, there has been a stalemate: two peoples with legitimate aspirations, each with a painful history that makes compromise elusive. It's easy to point fingers -- for Palestinians to point to the displacement brought about by Israel's founding, and for Israelis to point to the constant hostility and attacks throughout its history from within its borders as well as beyond. But if we see this conflict only from one side or the other, then we will be blind to the truth: The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security. (Applause.)

That is in Israel's interest, Palestine's interest, America's interest, and the world's interest. And that is why I intend to personally pursue this outcome with all the patience and dedication that the task requires. (Applause.) The obligations -- the obligations that the parties have agreed to under the road map are clear. For peace to come, it is time for them -- and all of us -- to live up to our responsibilities.

Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing is wrong and it does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. This same story can be told by people from South Africa to South Asia; from Eastern Europe to Indonesia. It's a story with a simple truth: that violence is a dead end. It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus. That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.

Now is the time for Palestinians to focus on what they can build. The Palestinian Authority must develop its capacity to govern, with institutions that serve the needs of its people. Hamas does have support among some Palestinians, but they also have to recognize they have responsibilities. To play a role in fulfilling Palestinian aspirations, to unify the Palestinian people, Hamas must put an end to violence, recognize past agreements, recognize Israel's right to exist.
At the same time, Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's. The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. (Applause.) This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop. (Applause.)

And Israel must also live up to its obligation to ensure that Palestinians can live and work and develop their society. Just as it devastates Palestinian families, the continuing humanitarian crisis in Gaza does not serve Israel's security; neither does the continuing lack of opportunity in the West Bank. Progress in the daily lives of the Palestinian people must be a critical part of a road to peace, and Israel must take concrete steps to enable such progress.

And finally, the Arab states must recognize that the Arab Peace Initiative was an important beginning, but not the end of their responsibilities. The Arab-Israeli conflict should no longer be used to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems. Instead, it must be a cause for action to help the Palestinian people develop the institutions that will sustain their state, to recognize Israel's legitimacy, and to choose progress over a self-defeating focus on the past.

America will align our policies with those who pursue peace, and we will say in public what we say in private to Israelis and Palestinians and Arabs. (Applause.) We cannot impose peace. But privately, many Muslims recognize that Israel will not go away. Likewise, many Israelis recognize the need for a Palestinian state. It is time for us to act on what everyone knows to be true.

Too many tears have been shed. Too much blood has been shed. All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of the three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Isra -- (applause) -- as in the story of Isra, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed, peace be upon them, joined in prayer. (Applause.)

The third source of tension is our shared interest in the rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons.

This issue has been a source of tension between the United States and the Islamic Republic of Iran. For many years, Iran has defined itself in part by its opposition to my country, and there is in fact a tumultuous history between us. In the middle of the Cold War, the United States played a role in the overthrow of a democratically elected Iranian government. Since the Islamic Revolution, Iran has played a role in acts of hostage-taking and violence against U.S. troops and civilians. This history is well known. Rather than remain trapped in the past, I've made it clear to Iran's leaders and people that my country is prepared to move forward. The question now is not what Iran is against, but rather what future it wants to build.

I recognize it will be hard to overcome decades of mistrust, but we will proceed with courage, rectitude, and resolve. There will be many issues to discuss between our two countries, and we are willing to move forward without preconditions on the basis of mutual respect. But it is clear to all concerned that when it comes to nuclear weapons, we have reached a decisive point. This is not simply about America's interests. It's about preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East that could lead this region and the world down a hugely dangerous path.

I understand those who protest that some countries have weapons that others do not. No single nation should pick and choose which nation holds nuclear weapons. And that's why I strongly reaffirmed America's commitment to seek a world in which no nations hold nuclear weapons. (Applause.) And any nation -- including Iran -- should have the right to access peaceful nuclear power if it complies with its responsibilities under the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. That commitment is at the core of the treaty, and it must be kept for all who fully abide by it. And I'm hopeful that all countries in the region can share in this goal.

The fourth issue that I will address is democracy. (Applause.)

I know -- I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: No system of government can or should be imposed by one nation by any other. That does not lessen my commitment, however, to governments that reflect the will of the people. Each nation gives life to this principle in its own way, grounded in the traditions of its own people. America does not presume to know what is best for everyone, just as we would not presume to pick the outcome of a peaceful election. But I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from the people; the freedom to live as you choose. These are not just American ideas; they are human rights. And that is why we will support them everywhere. (Applause.)

Now, there is no straight line to realize this promise. But this much is clear: Governments that protect these rights are ultimately more stable, successful and secure. Suppressing ideas never succeeds in making them go away. America respects the right of all peaceful and law-abiding voices to be heard around the world, even if we disagree with them. And we will welcome all elected, peaceful governments -- provided they govern with respect for all their people.
This last point is important because there are some who advocate for democracy only when they're out of power; once in power, they are ruthless in suppressing the rights of others. (Applause.) So no matter where it takes hold, government of the people and by the people sets a single standard for all who would hold power: You must maintain your power through consent, not coercion; you must respect the rights of minorities, and participate with a spirit of tolerance and compromise; you must place the interests of your people and the legitimate workings of the political process above your party. Without these ingredients, elections alone do not make true democracy.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Barack Obama, we love you!

PRESIDENT OBAMA: Thank you. (Applause.) The fifth issue that we must address together is religious freedom.
Islam has a proud tradition of tolerance. We see it in the history of Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition. I saw it firsthand as a child in Indonesia, where devout Christians worshiped freely in an overwhelmingly Muslim country. That is the spirit we need today. People in every country should be free to choose and live their faith based upon the persuasion of the mind and the heart and the soul. This tolerance is essential for religion to thrive, but it's being challenged in many different ways.

Among some Muslims, there's a disturbing tendency to measure one's own faith by the rejection of somebody else's faith. The richness of religious diversity must be upheld -- whether it is for Maronites in Lebanon or the Copts in Egypt. (Applause.) And if we are being honest, fault lines must be closed among Muslims, as well, as the divisions between Sunni and Shia have led to tragic violence, particularly in Iraq.

Freedom of religion is central to the ability of peoples to live together. We must always examine the ways in which we protect it. For instance, in the United States, rules on charitable giving have made it harder for Muslims to fulfill their religious obligation. That's why I'm committed to working with American Muslims to ensure that they can fulfill zakat.

Likewise, it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practicing religion as they see fit -- for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We can't disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism. In fact, faith should bring us together. And that's why we're forging service projects in America to bring together Christians, Muslims, and Jews. That's why we welcome efforts like Saudi Arabian King Abdullah's interfaith dialogue and Turkey's leadership in the Alliance of Civilizations. Around the world, we can turn dialogue into interfaith service, so bridges between peoples lead to action -- whether it is combating malaria in Africa, or providing relief after a natural disaster.

The sixth issue -- the sixth issue that I want to address is women's rights. (Applause.) I know –- I know -- and you can tell from this audience, that there is a healthy debate about this issue. I reject the view of some in the West that a woman who chooses to cover her hair is somehow less equal, but I do believe that a woman who is denied an education is denied equality. (Applause.) And it is no coincidence that countries where women are well educated are far more likely to be prosperous.

Now, let me be clear: Issues of women's equality are by no means simply an issue for Islam. In Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, we've seen Muslim-majority countries elect a woman to lead. Meanwhile, the struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life, and in countries around the world.

I am convinced that our daughters can contribute just as much to society as our sons. (Applause.) Our common prosperity will be advanced by allowing all humanity -- men and women -- to reach their full potential. I do not believe that women must make the same choices as men in order to be equal, and I respect those women who choose to live their lives in traditional roles. But it should be their choice. And that is why the United States will partner with any Muslim-majority country to support expanded literacy for girls, and to help young women pursue employment through micro-financing that helps people live their dreams. (Applause.)

Finally, I want to discuss economic development and opportunity.
I know that for many, the face of globalization is contradictory. The Internet and television can bring knowledge and information, but also offensive sexuality and mindless violence into the home. Trade can bring new wealth and opportunities, but also huge disruptions and change in communities. In all nations -- including America -- this change can bring fear. Fear that because of modernity we lose control over our economic choices, our politics, and most importantly our identities -- those things we most cherish about our communities, our families, our traditions, and our faith.

But I also know that human progress cannot be denied. There need not be contradictions between development and tradition. Countries like Japan and South Korea grew their economies enormously while maintaining distinct cultures. The same is true for the astonishing progress within Muslim-majority countries from Kuala Lumpur to Dubai. In ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education.

And this is important because no development strategy can be based only upon what comes out of the ground, nor can it be sustained while young people are out of work. Many Gulf states have enjoyed great wealth as a consequence of oil, and some are beginning to focus it on broader development. But all of us must recognize that education and innovation will be the currency of the 21st century -- (applause) -- and in too many Muslim communities, there remains underinvestment in these areas. I'm emphasizing such investment within my own country. And while America in the past has focused on oil and gas when it comes to this part of the world, we now seek a broader engagement.

On education, we will expand exchange programs, and increase scholarships, like the one that brought my father to America. (Applause.) At the same time, we will encourage more Americans to study in Muslim communities. And we will match promising Muslim students with internships in America; invest in online learning for teachers and children around the world; and create a new online network, so a young person in Kansas can communicate instantly with a young person in Cairo.

On economic development, we will create a new corps of business volunteers to partner with counterparts in Muslim-majority countries. And I will host a Summit on Entrepreneurship this year to identify how we can deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and social entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

On science and technology, we will launch a new fund to support technological development in Muslim-majority countries, and to help transfer ideas to the marketplace so they can create more jobs. We'll open centers of scientific excellence in Africa, the Middle East and Southeast Asia, and appoint new science envoys to collaborate on programs that develop new sources of energy, create green jobs, digitize records, clean water, grow new crops. Today I'm announcing a new global effort with the Organization of the Islamic Conference to eradicate polio. And we will also expand partnerships with Muslim communities to promote child and maternal health.

All these things must be done in partnership. Americans are ready to join with citizens and governments; community organizations, religious leaders, and businesses in Muslim communities around the world to help our people pursue a better life.

The issues that I have described will not be easy to address. But we have a responsibility to join together on behalf of the world that we seek -- a world where extremists no longer threaten our people, and American troops have come home; a world where Israelis and Palestinians are each secure in a state of their own, and nuclear energy is used for peaceful purposes; a world where governments serve their citizens, and the rights of all God's children are respected. Those are mutual interests. That is the world we seek. But we can only achieve it together.

I know there are many -- Muslim and non-Muslim -- who question whether we can forge this new beginning. Some are eager to stoke the flames of division, and to stand in the way of progress. Some suggest that it isn't worth the effort -- that we are fated to disagree, and civilizations are doomed to clash. Many more are simply skeptical that real change can occur. There's so much fear, so much mistrust that has built up over the years. But if we choose to be bound by the past, we will never move forward. And I want to particularly say this to young people of every faith, in every country -- you, more than anyone, have the ability to reimagine the world, to remake this world.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort -- a sustained effort -- to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It's easier to start wars than to end them. It's easier to blame others than to look inward. It's easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There's one rule that lies at the heart of every religion -- that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples -- a belief that isn't new; that isn't black or white or brown; that isn't Christian or Muslim or Jew. It's a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It's a faith in other people, and it's what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.

The Holy Koran tells us: "O mankind! We have created you male and a female; and we have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another."

The Talmud tells us: "The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace."

The Holy Bible tells us: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God." (Applause.)

The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now that must be our work here on Earth.

Thank you. And may God's peace be upon you. Thank you very much. Thank you. (Applause.)
END 2:05 P.M. (Local)

2 President Bush Attends World Economic Forum
Sharm el Sheikh International Congress Center
Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, May 18, 2008

THE PRESIDENT: Klaus, thank you very much. Thanks for inviting me. Klaus said, it's about time you showed up. Proud to be here. Laura and I are so honored that, Klaus, you gave us a chance to come. I do want to thank President Mubarak and Mrs. Mubarak for their wonderful hospitality. I want to thank the members of Congress who are here. I appreciate the heads of state who have joined us. I thank the foreign ministers who are here, including my own, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. And I want to thank the members of the Diplomatic Corps.
Laura and I are delighted to be in Egypt, and we bring the warm wishes of the American people. We're proud of our long friendship with your citizens. We respect your remarkable history. And we're humbled to walk in the ancient land of pharaohs, where a great civilization took root and wrote some of the first chapters in the epic story of humanity.

America is a much younger nation, but we've made our mark by advancing ideals as old as the pyramids. Those ideals of liberty and justice have sparked a revolution across much of the world. This hopeful movement made its way to places where dictators once reigned and peaceful democracies seemed unimaginable: places like Chile and Indonesia and Poland and the Philippines and South Korea. These nations have different histories and different traditions. Yet each made the same democratic transition, and they did it on their own terms. In these countries, millions every year are rising from poverty. Women are realizing overdue opportunities. And people of faith are finding the blessing of worshiping God in peace.

All these changes took place in the second half of the 20th century. I strongly believe that if leaders like those of you in this room act with vision and resolve, the first half of 21st century can be the time when similar advances reach the Middle East. This region is home to energetic people, a powerful spirit of enterprise, and tremendous resources. It is capable of a very bright future -- a future in which the Middle East is a place of innovation and discovery, driven by free men and women.

In recent years, we've seen hopeful beginnings toward this vision. Turkey, a nation with a majority Muslim population, is a prosperous modern democracy. Afghanistan under the leadership of President Karzai is overcoming the Taliban and building a free society. Iraq under the leadership of Prime Minister Maliki is establishing a multi-ethnic democracy. We have seen the stirrings of reform from Morocco and Algeria to Jordan and the Gulf States. And isolation from the outside world is being overcome by the most democratic of innovations: the cell phone and the Internet. America appreciates the challenges facing the Middle East. Yet the light of liberty is beginning to shine.

There is much to do to build on this momentum. From diversifying your economies, to investing in your people, to extending the reach of freedom, nations across the region have an opportunity to move forward with bold and confident reforms -- and lead the Middle East to its rightful place as a center of progress and achievement.

Taking your place as a center of progress and achievement requires economic reform. This is a time of strength for many of your nations' economies. Since 2004, economic growth in the region has averaged more than 5 percent. Trade has expanded significantly. Technology has advanced rapidly. Foreign investment has increased dramatically. And unemployment rates have decreased in many nations. Egypt, for example, has posted strong economic growth, developed some of the world's fastest growing telecommunications companies, and made major investments that will boost tourism and trade. In order for this economic progress to result in permanent prosperity and an Egypt that reaches its full potential, however, economic reform must be accompanied by political reform. And I continue to hope that Egypt can lead the region in political reform.

This is also a time to prepare for the economic changes ahead. Rising price of oil has brought great wealth to some in this region, but the supply of oil is limited, and nations like mine are aggressively developing alternatives to oil. Over time, as the world becomes less dependent on oil, nations in the Middle East will have to build more diverse and more dynamic economies.

Your greatest asset in this quest is the entrepreneurial spirit of your people. The best way to take advantage of that spirit is to make reforms that unleash individual creativity and innovation. Your economies will be more vibrant when citizens who dream of starting their own companies can do so quickly, without high regulatory and registration costs. Your economies will be more dynamic when property rights are protected and risk-taking is encouraged -- not punished -- by law. Your economies will be more resilient when you adopt modern agricultural techniques that make farmers more productive and the food supply more secure. And your economies will have greater long-term prosperity when taxes are low and all your citizens know that their innovation and hard work will be rewarded.

One of the most powerful drivers of economic growth is free trade. So nations in this region would benefit greatly from breaking down barriers to trade with each other. And America will continue working to open up trade at every level. In recent years, the United States has completed free trade agreements with Jordan, Oman, Morocco, and Bahrain. America will continue to negotiate bilateral free trade agreements in the region. We strongly supported Saudi Arabia's accession to the World Trade Organization, and we will continue to support nations making the reforms necessary to join the institutions of a global economy. To break down trade barriers and ignite economic growth around the world, we will work tirelessly for a successful outcome to the Doha Round this year.

As we seek to open new markets abroad, America will keep our markets open at home. There are voices in my country that urge America to adopt measures that would isolate us from the global economy. I firmly reject these calls for protectionism. We will continue to welcome foreign investment and trade. And the United States of America will stay open for business.

Taking your place as a center of progress and achievement requires investing in your people. Some analysts believe the Middle East and North Africa will need to create up to 100 million new jobs over the next 10 to 15 years just to keep up with population growth. The key to realizing this goal is an educated workforce.

This starts early on, with primary schools that teach basic skills, such as reading and math, rather than indoctrinating children with ideologies of hatred. An educated workforce also requires good high schools and universities, where students are exposed to a variety of ideas, learn to think for themselves, and develop the capacity to innovate. Not long ago the region marked a hopeful milestone in higher education. In our meeting yesterday, President Karzai told me he recently handed out diplomas to university graduates, including 300 degrees in medicine, and a hundred degrees in engineering, and a lot of degrees to lawyers, and many of the recipients were women. (Applause.)

People of the Middle East can count on the United States to be a strong partner in improving your educational systems. We are sponsoring training programs for teachers and administrators in nations like Jordan and Morocco and Lebanon. We sponsored English language programs where students can go for intensive language instruction. We have translated more than 80 children's books into Arabic. And we have developed new online curricula for students from kindergarten through high school.

It is also in America's interest to continue welcoming aspiring young adults from this region for higher education to the United States. There were understandable concerns about student visas after 9/11. My administration has worked hard to improve the visa process. And I'm pleased to report that we are issuing a growing numbers of student visas to young people from the Middle East. And that's the way it should be. And we'll continue to work to expand educational exchanges, because we benefit from the contribution of foreign students who study in America because we're proud to train the world's leaders of tomorrow and because we know there is no better antidote to the propaganda of our enemies than firsthand experience with life in the United States of America.

Building powerful economies also requires expanding the role of women in society. This is a matter of morality and of basic math. No nation that cuts off half its population from opportunities will be as productive or prosperous as it could be. Women are a formidable force, as I have seen in my own family -- (laughter and applause) -- and my own administration. (Applause.) As the nations of the Middle East open up their laws and their societies to women, they are learning the same thing.

I applaud Egypt. Egypt is a model for the development of professional women. In Afghanistan, girls who were once denied even a basic education are now going to school, and a whole generation of Afghans will grow up with the intellectual tools to lead their nation toward prosperity. In Iraq and Kuwait, women are joining political parties and running campaigns and serving in public office. In some Gulf States, women entrepreneurs are making a living and a name for themselves in the business world.

Recently, I learned of a woman in Bahrain who owns her own shipping company. She started with a small office and two employees. When she first tried to register her business in her own name, she was turned down. She attended a business training class and was the only woman to participate. And when she applied for a customs license, officials expressed surprise because no woman had ever asked for one before.

And yet with hard work and determination, she turned her small company into a $2 million enterprise. And this year, Huda Janahi was named one of the 50 most powerful businesswomen in the Arab world. (Applause.) Huda is an inspiring example for the whole region. And America's message to other women in the Middle East is this: You have a great deal to contribute, you should have a strong voice in leading your countries, and my nation looks to the day when you have the rights and privileges you deserve.

Taking your place as a center of progress and achievement requires extending the reach of freedom. Expanding freedom is vital to turning temporary wealth into lasting prosperity. Free societies stimulate competition in the marketplace. Free societies give people access to information they need to make informed and responsible decisions. And free societies give citizens the rule of law, which exposes corruption and builds confidence in the future.

Freedom is also the basis for a democratic system of government, which is the only fair and just ordering of society and the only way to guarantee the God-given rights of all people. Democracies do not take the same shape; they develop at different speeds and in different ways, and they reflect the unique cultures and traditions of their people. There are skeptics about democracy in this part of the world, I understand that. But as more people in the Middle East gain firsthand experience from freedom, many of the arguments against democracy are being discredited.

For example, some say that democracy is a Western value that America seeks to impose on unwilling citizens. This is a condescending form of moral relativism. The truth is that freedom is a universal right -- the Almighty's gift to every man, woman, and child on the face of Earth. And as we've seen time and time again, when people are allowed to make a choice between freedom and the alternative, they choose freedom. In Afghanistan, 8 million people defied the terrorist threats to vote for a democratic President. In Iraq, 12 million people waved ink-stained fingers to celebrate the first democratic election in decades. And in a recent survey of the Muslim world, there was overwhelming support for one of the central tenets of democracy, freedom of speech: 99 percent in Lebanon, 94 percent here in Egypt, and 92 percent in Iran.

There are people who claim that democracy is incompatible with Islam. But the truth is that democracies, by definition, make a place for people of religious belief. America is one of the most -- is one of the world's leading democracies, and we're also one of the most religious nations in the world. More than three-quarters of our citizens believe in a higher power. Millions worship every week and pray every day. And they do so without fear of reprisal from the state. In our democracy, we would never punish a person for owning a Koran. We would never issue a death sentence to someone for converting to Islam. Democracy does not threaten Islam or any religion. Democracy is the only system of government that guarantees their protection.

Some say any state that holds an election is a democracy. But true democracy requires vigorous political parties allowed to engage in free and lively debate. True democracy requires the establishment of civic institutions that ensure an election's legitimacy and hold leaders accountable. And true democracy requires competitive elections in which opposition candidates are allowed to campaign without fear or intimidation.

Too often in the Middle East, politics has consisted of one leader in power and the opposition in jail. America is deeply concerned about the plight of political prisoners in this region, as well as democratic activists who are intimidated or repressed, newspapers and civil society organizations that are shut down, and dissidents whose voices are stifled. The time has come for nations across the Middle East to abandon these practices, and treat their people with dignity and the respect they deserve. I call on all nations to release their prisoners of conscience, open up their political debate, and trust their people to chart their future. (Applause.)

The vision I have outlined today is shared by many in this region -- but unfortunately, there are some spoilers who stand in the way. Terrorist organizations and their state sponsors know they cannot survive in a free society, so they create chaos and take innocent lives in an effort to stop democracy from taking root. They are on the wrong side in a great ideological struggle -- and every nation committed to freedom and progress in the Middle East must stand together to defeat them.

We must stand with the Palestinian people, who have suffered for decades and earned the right to be a homeland of their own -- have a homeland of their own. I strongly support a two-state solution -- a democratic Palestine based on law and justice that will live with peace and security alongside a democrat Israel. I believe that the Palestinian people will build a thriving democracy in which entrepreneurs pursue their dreams, and families own their homes in lively communities, and young people grow up with hope in the future.
Last year at Annapolis, we made a hopeful beginning toward a peace negotiation that will outline what this nation of Palestine will look like -- a contiguous state where Palestinians live in prosperity and dignity. A peace agreement is in the Palestinians' interests, it is in Israel's interests, it is in Arab states' interests, and it is in the world's interests. And I firmly believe that with leadership and courage, we can reach that peace agreement this year. (Applause.)

This is a demanding task. It requires action on all sides. Palestinians must fight terror and continue to build the institutions of a free and peaceful society. Israel must make tough sacrifices for peace and ease the restrictions on the Palestinians. Arab states, especially oil-rich nations, must seize this opportunity to invest aggressively in the Palestinian people and to move past their old resentments against Israel. And all nations in the region must stand together in confronting Hamas, which is attempting to undermine efforts at peace with acts of terror and violence.

We must stand with the people of Lebanon in their struggle to build a sovereign and independent democracy. This means opposing Hezbollah terrorists, funded by Iran, who recently revealed their true intentions by taking up arms against the Lebanese people. It is now clearer than ever that Hezbollah militias are the enemy of a free Lebanon -- and all nations, especially neighbors in the region, have an interest to help the Lebanese people prevail. (Applause.)

We must stand with the people of Iraq and Afghanistan and other nations in the region fighting against al Qaeda and other extremists. Bin Laden and his followers have made clear that anyone who does not share their extremist ideology is fit for murder. That means every government in the Middle East is a target of al Qaeda. And America is a target too. And together, we will confront and we will defeat this threat to civilization.

We must stand with the good and decent people of Iran and Syria, who deserve so much better than the life they have today. Every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in stopping these nations from supporting terrorism. And every peaceful nation in the region has an interest in opposing Iran's nuclear weapons ambitions. To allow the world's leading sponsor of terror to gain the world's deadliest weapon would be an unforgivable betrayal of future generations. For the sake of peace, the world must not allow Iran to have a nuclear weapon. (Applause.)

The changes I have discussed today will not come easily -- change never does. But the reform movement in the Middle East has a powerful engine: demographics. Sixty percent of the population is under 30 years old. Many of these young people surf the web, own cell phones, have satellite televisions. They have access to unprecedented amounts of information. They see what freedom has brought to millions of others and contrast that to what they have at home.
Today, I have a message for these young people: Some tell -- some will tell you change is impossible, but history has a way of surprising us, and change can happen more quickly than we expect. In the past century, one concept has transcended borders, cultures, and languages. In Arabic, "hurriyya" -- in English, "freedom." Across the world, the call for freedom lives in our hearts, endures in our prayers, and joins humanity as one.

I know these are trying times, but the future is in your hands -- and freedom and peace are within your grasp. Just imagine what this region could look like in 60 years. The Palestinian people will have the homeland they have long dreamed of and deserve -- a democratic state that is governed by law, respects human rights, and rejects terror. Israel will be celebrating its 120 anniversary as one of the world's great democracies -- a secure and flourishing homeland for the Jewish people.

From Cairo, Riyadh, Baghdad to Beirut, people will live in free and independent societies, where a desire for peace is reinforced by ties of diplomacy and tourism and trade. Iran and Syria will be peaceful nations, where today's oppression is a distant memory and people are free to speak their minds and develop their talents. Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and Hamas will be defeated, as Muslims across the region recognize the emptiness of the terrorists' vision and the injustice of their cause.

This vision is the same one I outlined in my address to the Israeli Knesset. Yet it's not a Jewish vision or a Muslim vision, not an American vision or an Arab vision. It is a universal vision, based on the timeless principles of dignity and tolerance and justice -- and it unites all who yearn for freedom and peace in this ancient land.

Realizing this vision will not be easy. It will take time, and sacrifice, and resolve. Yet there is no doubt in my mind that you are up to the challenge -- and with your ingenuity and your enterprise and your courage, this historic vision for the Middle East will be realized. May God be with you on the journey, and the United States of America always will be at your side.

Thank you for having me.

END 3:25 P.M. (Local)