Showing posts with label Religion and Culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion and Culture. Show all posts

December 1, 2010

US credibility in the Islamic world hinges on consistent & principled diplomacy

    Wednesday, December 01, 2010   No comments

The Obama administration promised a new era with the Islamic world based on mutual respect and common interests. The US and the Islamic world must work together to end deadly extremism and dislocating suspicions.

The global relations can be balanced when each side of the equation is also balanced. While the US administration must respect the will and interests of its people, the Arab and Muslim leaders, too, must be asked to respect the interests of their peoples. Lasting relations are achieved when peoples feel connected, not just leaders do. When it comes to the Islamic world, the US is seen as a friend of some regimes not of the people. A couple of examples will illustrate the problem.

Nearly two years ago, the US condemned the Iranian regime for holding an election that did not meet the “standards.” Western media ran daily stories about protests and the government crackdown. The US and its Western allies continue to criticize the Iranian government arguing that it does not represent the will of all Iranians. Let’s assume that this true the purpose of this article; and see if US holds the same standard when dealing with other Muslim leaders.

This Sunday, the Egyptian regime held national elections where less than 15% of the 40 million registered voters participated. International observers were barred from monitoring the process. Before and during the elections, more than 700 members of the main opposition group (the Muslims Brethren) were arrested and several people were killed. Just today, Arab media reported that protests are still underway and at least one more person was killed. The regime harassed voters and relied on hired criminals to intimidate opposition figures. The outcome so far: all but half a dozen of the 508 seats went to the ruling party. The main opposition block (Muslims Brethren that won 20% of the seats in the 2005 elections) did not win a single seat in the first round held on Sunday.

Next fall, Egypt will hold its presidential elections and it is safe to predict that Mubarak or whomever Mubarak appoints to succeed him will win. The US will, again, release a statement saying that it is disappointed and Western media will ignore the story. But the peoples in the Islamic world want more than statements; they want consistency: the US should either hold all Muslim leaders to the same standard or keep quiet and let the peoples fight their own battles.

Surely, Iranians may have some problems with Mahmoud Ahmadinejad; but here is the difference: In two years,Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, cannot and will not run again. Iranians will be electing their fifth different president in just 29 years. Egyptians, on the other hand, will be electing the same president who has been ruling for 29 years.

August 25, 2010

Where should Muslims build mosques? - The Daily Iowan

    Wednesday, August 25, 2010   No comments

Where should Muslims build mosques?

- GUEST OPINION | AUGUST 25, 2010 7:20 AM

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The Muslim-American community is growing, and with growth comes the need for community centers, mosques, and a public presence. Every state in the United States contains at least one mosque, according to the multicultural marketing agency Allied Media. However, the plan to construct a large community center in Manhattan has started a heated debate about the "wisdom" of building a mosque two blocks from where the World Trade Center once stood.

Some of those who are protesting the plan claim that they are not against American Muslims' rights to worship, they are merely opposed to the erection of a mosque near Ground Zero.

Hence the obvious questions: Why can't Muslims build a mosque there? Where can they build mosques? And why do Muslims really want to build a mosque there?

While some of those opposed argue that building an Islamic center near Ground Zero is disrespectful to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, many are simply opposed to any public presence of Islam in America.

Representatives of American Muslims in Manhattan contend that they need the center because the current prayer hall is too small. They further add that blocking American Muslims from building a place of worship on private land and in accordance with city ordinances would (1) stoke fear domestically and further marginalize American Muslims and (2) give credence internationally to extremists' claim that America is at war with Islam.

Given these positions, the third position (that the center be built elsewhere) obviously makes no sense — Muslims have mosques elsewhere. And where exactly is "elsewhere?" Ten blocks away? Outside Manhattan? Outside New York City?

To suggest that a mosque should be built away from Ground Zero implies that Islam (all forms and expressions of it) is guilty of killing innocent people in the World Trade Center. If we opposed the building of a religious center near areas (or cities) where innocent people were killed, then there would be no place on Earth to build a synagogue, a church, or a mosque — throughout the history of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, self-described Jews, Christians, and Muslims (and in many cases, official representatives of these faiths) have committed, encouraged, and/or catalyzed acts that resulted in the killing of thousands of innocent people.

There is, without a doubt, an undercurrent of hate and total rejection of Islam in the West. There are many (beyond the usual fringe elements) who are opposed to building mosques anywhere. Indeed, there are organized groups around the world whose aim is to ban any public manifestation of Islam in the West. Europe's ban on minarets is one example; the bombing and vandalizing of mosques in numerous American cities is another.

Just recently, a self-proclaimed Christian group in Florida applied for a permit to inaugurate the so-called "International Burn a Koran Day," which would coincide with the remembrance of the 9/11 tragedy. Should the trend persists, 9/11 could turn into "International Bomb a Mosque Day" event.

Sadly, 9/11 is being used as a pretext to demonize Islam and Muslims. And that need to be addressed.

At the same time, Muslims should build their mosque if they need it for the community, not use its proximity to Ground Zero as a context for interfaith dialogue. I am of the view that using tragedies such as 9/11 and the loss of civilian lives anywhere for political or religious propaganda purposes is suspect.

And that applies to both sides.

UI Associate Professor Ahmed Souaiaia teaches courses in the College of Law, International Programs, and religious-studies department.

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February 17, 2010

Obama’s agenda for the Muslim world trivializes its problems

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010   No comments

President Barack Obama delivering his State of the Union address on Captitol Hill, Jan. 27, 2010.
AP Photo/Charles Dharapak
Given the economic hardships that we--as a nation--are facing, it is understandable if the president dedicates more than ninety percent of his state of the union address to domestic issues. But if he felt the need to address the US-Muslim world relations, he should have done that appropriately and imaginatively; or leave out the subject altogether.
In his 7400 words speech, President Obama used 15 words to identify the problems and prescribe solutions for the Muslim world saying, “We’re working with Muslim communities around the world to promote science and education and innovation;” as if those were the most critical challenges or obstacles Muslims face.
Fifty-seven nations around the world constitute the Organization of Islamic Conference, which accounts for more than one-fifth of the world population (1.57 billion people). Most of the active wars in which the U.S. is engaged today are taking place in the Muslim world. OIC member states sell America an average of $200 billion worth of goods in the last several years, $147 billion of which in the form of crude oil, gas and refined fuels. A large percentage of more than $900 billion of US yearly export makes its way to Muslim countries. A community of this significance must have more serious problems than indifference to science, education, and innovation. The chronic problem from which the Muslim world is suffering is not science and learning; it is foolish governance that is the root cause of a brain drain.
There are knowledgeable, educated, and innovative Muslims all over the world. In fact, in America alone, one finds thousands of Muslims holding the highest honors in medicine, engineering, physics, mathematics, social sciences, and humanities, and the arts. Similar talents are contributing to societies in Europe, Japan, Australia, and South America. Few are working and inventing in few Muslim countries.
The majority of Muslim scientists, however, leave their homelands because of political corruption, abuse of power, and tyrannical governments. It is simply difficult for an educated person with an advanced degree to live in a country where his life and family are under constant threat unless he aligns himself with the ruling clique. It is even more difficult for a person to live within a system that subordinates the learned ones and glorifies brute, uneducated, tyrants who happen to have a monopoly on guns and institutions of subjugation.
The problem in the Muslim world, then, is not Muslims’ apathy to science, education and innovation. It is their leaders’ lack of commitment to their citizens’ inalienable right to respect, dignity, and responsible governance. And that is what the U.S. should be promoting in mutually respectful ways; not through wars.

December 1, 2009

Ban on Minarets is not Aimed at Muslims but at Islamic Fundamentalism

    Tuesday, December 01, 2009   No comments


Swiss Justice Minister, Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf, said that Sunday's referendum, during which voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional ban on minarets, was not "a referendum against Islam... but a vote directed against fundamentalist developments." I say, what the &%@#! Seriously, can someone explain to me how a ban on building minarets could fight fundamentalism?

In my mind, the only thing this ban does is embolden fundamentalism, both Western and Islamic. It bolsters the position of those who argue that democracy is only a tool of convenience that is used selectively to subjugate Muslims. The ban weakens the position of Muslims who believe in civil society and pluralism. This ban does target Muslims; and empowers Western fundamentalists.

The ban encourages countries such as Saudi Arabia to continue its ban on building churches; it provides a powerful precedent that can be used by (ethnically or religiously) homogeneous societies to capitalize on one of the weaknesses of democracy: the tyranny of majoritism.

The ban exposes Europe’s hypocrisy. The ban illustrates the West’s selective commitment to human rights by prescribing a constitutional law that targets a specific religious group. When France enacted the other shameful ban on headscarf, at least it did so under to pretext of seemingly banning all religious symbols.

This discriminatory ban happened in the wrong place and at the wrong time: it happened in a country that symbolizes neutrality and during a time when this country presides over the European Court of Human Rights, which rules on breaches of the European Convention on Human Rights. I hope Switzerland will use this leadership position and overturns this shameful, bigoted law as fast as possible.

Some comfort themselves by the fact that the Swiss government opposed the ban. Obviously it did not oppose it hard enough; it did not educate the public about its legal and ethical implications. The only argument they put forth is that such a ban would tarnish the image of the country and hurt the national economy. Of course, it would hurt the national economy only if most of the corrupt Arab tyrants stop stashing their stolen public funds in Swiss banks. But most people know, now, that will never happen because the last thing a usurper of public money would want to see is an iconic minaret that may remind him of divine retribution. So sleep easy, this ban will not hurt the Swiss economy and the voters knew it.

October 23, 2009

Axis of… Power: Emerging Alliances in the Islamic World

    Friday, October 23, 2009   No comments

By Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

October 19, 2009

War is very destructive. However, despite the human and economic costs, war also creates new opportunities and ends oppressive political and administrative stagnation. The human cost of the Iraq war could be mitigated by the economic and political return of the reshuffling of the cards in the Middle East. There are ample indications that a new alliance is emerging that will change the balance of power in the Islamic world (and the world over) for a very long time.

When the Bush Administration officials failed to find weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, which was originally the stated pretext for war, they argued that the war practically removed a tyrant and that should legitimatize the war. Many members of the Administration further contended that a new era of democracy is ushered in. They promised an era of freedom and peace that will marginalize the extremists and empower the moderates of the region. Six years later, Iraq is still a war zone, Iran (an element of the axis of evil (or the exemplar of extremism)) is still getting stronger, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (the moderates) are still abusing the rights of their citizens, the Israelis and the Palestinians stopped talking peace, and certainly no emerging democracies in the Middle East are taking their cues from the Iraqi model.

Here is what is happening and what will be happening in the next 25 years and beyond.

Turkey is realigning itself to play a major role in the politics of the Middle East. Turkish leaders mediated a series of indirect negotiations between the Syrians and the Israelis, they criticized Egypt and Israel for their treatment of Gazans before and after the Gaza War, they mediated and resolved an extradition conflict between Syria and Iraq in September, and they offered to help the West deal with Iran (they even offered to host the first direct talks between Iran and the G-5+1).

Moreover, during the last three weeks alone, Turkey held a high profile meeting with the Syrian leadership and signed a plethora of security, economic, and cultural agreements. Just last week the first fruits of these agreements were cultivated: Passport-holding Turkish citizens no longer need an entry visa to visit Syria and vice versa, Syrian citizens who carry valid passports of any kind can travel to Turkey without an entry visa. Days later, the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, visited Baghdad and signed no less than 50 agreements with the Iraqi government. The most significant development is yet to take place (as this piece is being written). Upon his return from New York where he spoke on behalf of the Islamic world in the UN general Assembly, the Turkish leader announced that he "will make a trip to Iran towards the end of October... We will discuss regional problems, including this (nuclear) one," Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted him as saying.

It seems that neither the extremists nor the moderates (as defined by the Bush Administration) have fulfilled the expectations of the West. Instead, pragmatism is about to transform the region and create a new axis of power right in the heart of the Islamic world. This new axis will consist of Turkey, Iran, Syria, and Iraq (and possibly Lebanon). This alliance makes sense: Iran needs Turkey to ease Western pressure and to provide it with a path to European markets where it will sell its natural gas and petroleum. Syria and Iraq need Turkey to secure the flow of water. Turkey needs Syria, Iraq, and Iran to secure its borders and defeat the Kurdish separatists. Moreover, Turkey needs Iran and Iraq to power its emerging economy with reliable and inexpensive energy.

For Turkey, this new alliance is either a Plan B that is a good substitute should its bid to join the European Union fails or a trump card that Turkey will use to goad the Europeans vis-à-vis its membership in the EU.

Even if Turkey were to join the EU, this alliance could only offer it more leverage over other members of the EU. First, Turkey will be a reliable gateway between Europe and Asia. Second, Turkey will be the “middleman” (or shall we say middle state) between the EU and the Islamic world. Third, Turkey will be a reliable conduit of Middle Eastern energy to starving European markets.

The natural gas shortage that threatened some EU states when Russia shut off gas supplies in 2008, has convinced the EU to consider alternatives to Russia’s energy. Iran, who has the second largest natural gas reserve in the world, is a very reasonable option that will supply Europe and enrich Turkey in the process.

In addition to the economic benefits, this emerging axis makes sense socially and culturally.

Although the form of Islam practiced in Turkey is Sunni Islam, Turkey is not appreciative of the conservative Islam that Saudi Arabia and its allies espouse. Iran, being a Shi`ite country, will be willing to ease sectarian tension by embracing the Sunni Islam that is practiced in Turkey rather than that of Saudi Arabia.

In terms of demographics, should this new alliance materialize, the center of gravity of the Islamic world will shift to this axis. After all, when considering that the population of Iran, Turkey, Iraq, and Syria combined will approach or exceed 200 million people, the economic benefits—given the concentration of natural resources—are positively significant.

The Iraq-Iran relations are not good; they are spectacular when considering that these two neighbors had fought a war that lasted eight years and that killed nearly two million people on both sides. If the U.S. did not invade and remove Saddam from power and replace him with a Shi`ite-run government, it would have taken the two countries generations before normalizing relations. This war, however, instantaneously made strong allies out of bitter foes.

The blueprint for this axis of power is further enhanced by existing warm relationships. Ties between Iran and Turkey are very strong. For instance, the most recent figures show that the total volume of mutual commercial relations surpasses 10 billion dollars, of which Iran's share of exports is six billion dollars. Additionally, Iran is the second largest exporter of oil and gas to Turkey. Turkey enjoys utmost importance as a transit route for Iran and Europe. Iran and Turkey can act as complimentary economies. Turkey can import raw material from Iran and export industrial goods to the country. Iran and Turkey are important members of two regional cooperation organizations, the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) and the Developing Eight (D-8), comprising the eight most populous Muslim countries of the world. If Turkey joins the European Union, it can work as a bridge between the Union, the ECO and D-8, a step that will further enhance Turkey's status among its neighboring countries, including Iran.

There is no need to highlight the reliable and strong relationship between Iran and Syria given that Syria was the single Arab state most supportive of Iran during its war with Iraq. The Syrian-Iranian bilateral relations are in fact the strongest when compared to the ties between any combinations of the other three states.

Should these predictions materialize, how should the world consider and characterize this new axis?

Despite the drum-beating for war against Iran under the pretext of world peace and security, the records of these countries do not raise serious alarm, especially the current Turkish regime. Together, they are the most stable countries in the region. They are, to some degree, nationalists and are eager to preserve their borders as they are (no expansion). The ruling regimes are fairly vested in the welfare of their people and each of these countries realize that it will be in its best interest to preserve these ties. Moreover, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad are more popular in the eyes of the Arab and Muslim public than any other Arab or Muslim leader.

Turkey’s vibrant democracy and temperate social conservatism will interact with Iran’s ordered social conservatism and muffled democracy to produce a new model for Islamic governance. Together, they will influence the Syrians and Iraqis to produce a pluralistic, stable, and powerful block that can be emulated by their neighbors. The axis has huge potential and can be harnessed to produce stability and peace in a very volatile region.

The elements needed for stability and growth are nearly immeasurable (compared to their Arab neighbors): the members states together constitute a highly educated population that is 2/3 the size of the U.S. population with direct access to 2/3 of the world’s most sought after natural resources, like oil (oil reserve estimates for 2009 is 745.998 bb in the Middle East vs. 275.657 bb in the rest of the world).

Given the ethnic, religious and linguistic diversity within and without each of these countries (Arab, Kurd, Turk, Turkic, Persian; Sunni, Shi`ite, Zoroastrian, Christian…), only a pluralistic democracy that emphasizes and promotes responsible citizenry instead of zealous nationalism and civility instead of exclusion can emerge should this alliance actually materialize.

This axis is, indeed, an axis of power. But it is a constructive and stabilizing power given the level of self-reliance and pride these peoples take in developing their respective countries. In short, this axis is the needed one to stabilize the region and stimulate positive political change in the region without Western direct interference; a region that has seen enough war, enough bloodshed, and enough abuse of human rights. President Obama should find in these Turkish leaders reliable allies to advance his agenda of peace and mutual respect with the Islamic world.

*Dr. Ahmed E. Souaiaia teaches course in International Studies, Islamic studies, and law at the University of Iowa; he is the author of the book, Contesting Justice.

October 15, 2009

Islam confined its followers to a Single Book?!

    Thursday, October 15, 2009   No comments
by Ahmed Souaiaia

In a speech given at the 2009 O’Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing conference, while attempting to highlight the advances in print and press technology, Jason Epstein, declared: “Retrograde Islam banned Gutenberg’s technology as satanic, confining its followers within a single book.”
Granted, Mr. Epstein is a successful business person with a keen sense of emerging trends. But his grasp of history and his understanding of the Islamic civilization are either spectacularly bigoted, stunningly ignorant, or patently false-authoritative; if not all of the above.

When Europe was in a state of somnolent, snoozing in the emptiness of the Dark Ages and Medieval Times, it was the Islamic civilization that labored in the production of its own heritage and in the translation of timeless literature from the Greek, Persian, Indian, and even Roman civilizations. Before many Europeans learned to read and write, the Islamic civilization was building bridges between ancient and modern communities; an activity without
which Europe would have remained a bit longer in the Dark Ages. Remember that the Europe of the Middle Ages that you are accrediting with enlightening the world was the same Europe that burned books because such books did not meet the standards of orthodoxy (recall the cartloads of Talmuds and philosophy books burned from 12th _ 17th centuries by order of religious and political leaders).

No single nation or single person can be or should be accredited with advancing a human civilization because civilizations have no borders, no race, no religion, and no ethnicity. It was not Gutenberg who reinvented the world; it is humanity that produces civilizations. Islam did not confine its followers within a single book, as you claim; Islam and the Islamic civilization contributed to the advancement of your ancestors. Mr. Epstein, your hubris is astonishing, your generalizations are mind-numbing, and your Euro-centrism is thwarting. For you comment that Islam confined its followers to a single book, Mr. Epstein, you earned a spot on What the &%@#!

Assimilation; Seriously?

    Thursday, October 15, 2009   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has become the most vocal supporter of the ban on religious symbols worn by people in public (government) institutions; specifically, the ban on the headscarf worn by Muslim women. His foundation for this argument is this: France is for French and anyone wishing to live in France must be fully integrated and assimilated. At one point, he used the following analogy: If I am in a Muslim country visiting a mosque, I would remove my shoes. I respect others’ cultures and I would want others to respect France’s.
The shoes’ analogy, besides the fact that it is a false analogy, speaks also to the double standard and hypocrisy of Western elite who privilege their own way of life as the “standard” that must be emulated by everyone else.

It is utterly disingenuous for Mr. Sarkozy to make use of the cliché, when in Rome act like the Romans. For, if that were his position, then he would not have an issue with women being forced to wear some form of Islamic dress while in Saudi Arabia or in Iran. Western nationalists such as President Sarkozy are not supportive of a culture that forces women to dress according to an Islamic code because it violates women rights. If the aim is to protect women and individual rights, then the universal argument is that no culture is above the standards that protect human rights and personal autonomy.

The real issue is that universal standards for the protection of human dignity and individual rights are a double-edged sword: legal and social restrictions on women (and men in many cases) necessarily and universally infringe on individual rights. The fact is, the ban on Islamic dress, like the prescription of an Islamic dress, equally infringes on personal autonomy and personal choice.

Choice, as the expression of free will and the prerequisite of responsibility, must be available and protected in all societies that recognize personal autonomy. It is counterproductive to legalize limits on women’s right to dress in France and other European countries while condemning prescription of Islamic dress in some Muslim countries. To argue that a woman in Europe should not wear an Islamic dress, is not different from arguing that a woman must wear Western clothes. After all, the same argument has been made by some repressive regimes in some Muslim countries: women in Muslim societies must wear Islamic attire.

Here is the important point: Mr. Sarkozy, in the name of integration thinks that Muslim women should dress the way the French women dress. Would he accept the argument by his counterparts in Saudi Arabia who also say that in the name of integration, all women must dress like Saudi women? Or is assimilation a good thing only when it leads to Western lifestyles being preserved and privileged? For these reason, President Sarkozy earned to be highlighted in What the &%@#!?

June 21, 2006

Nuclear Technology and Nuclear Weapons

    Wednesday, June 21, 2006   No comments

Politics of nuclear arms issue complex

This week's Q&A is with Dr. A. E. Souaiaia. He is a professor of Modern Religious Thought at the University of Iowa. He teaches and researches on the subjects of Islamic ethics and moral philosophy, Islamic law, human rights, and religion and politics.

Q: Approximately how many countries in the world have nuclear weapons, or have the capabilities of creating nuclear weapons right now?

A: In terms of actual possession of nuclear weapons, we know of seven states. These states have declared that they have actually test-exploded nuclear weapons. The first country that acquired such weapons was the United States of America. Soon after, the Soviet Union also declared itself a nuclear power.

Three other states (the United Kingdom, France, and the People's Republic of China) successfully exploded nuclear weapons and have built a huge arsenal of such weapons. In order to limit the proliferation of these weapons of mass destruction, an international treaty known as the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty was proposed by Ireland in 1968. About 188 countries have ratified this treaty.

However, India and Pakistan, two countries with a significant arsenal of nuclear weapons remain non-signatory states. Israel, which continues to neither confirm nor deny its possession of these weapons is strongly believed to have more than 100 nuclear weapons in its inventory and also is not party to the NPT.

Most recently, North Korea has declared itself to possess nuclear weapons. South Africa was reported to have had at least six nuclear weapons but was forced to give them up after the fall of the apartheid regime in the 1990s. Also, after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, only Russia was allowed to keep nuclear weapons but Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan gave them up. It is worth noting that the latter originally inherited more than 1,400 nuclear weapons but returned them to Russia in 1995.

Q: Why are the U.S. and U.N. so adamantly opposed to Iran's nuclear program when we have one, and other U.N. countries do as well?

A: If we look at the issue from the point of view of other countries from around the world, especially countries of the Muslim world, the matter is generally reported as a confrontation between the U.S. (and its Western allies) and Iran. The U.N. is only involved in as much as it is made involved by requests initiated by the U.S. and its allies. Given that the Security Council is dominated by Western states, issues of concern to the West tend to jump to the top of the agenda. That is the extent of the U.N. involvement. Arab and Islamic media for instance cover this issue as a "confrontation between Iran and the West". So whatever reasons or fears the U.S. and some European states have concerning the Iranian nuclear program, these countries have clearly failed to communicate those fears and concerns, convincingly, to the rest of the world community. Proof of this failure is Russia and China's resistance to any meaningful measures proposed by the U.S., U.K., France, and Germany. You are absolutely right when you point out that all these Western states have nuclear weapons and what they are saying is that Iran cannot have a nuclear program. There is no consistent position on why Iran now cannot have a nuclear program especially when we consider the fact that some of these same Western nations were building the first Iranian nuclear plant during the time the Shah. It would appear as if some regimes could have weapons if they are friendly to the West, but if a regime is not, then it has no right. There is a lack of a principled approach to a very serious problem.

Q: If the U.S. decides to use military force in Iran in an attempt to shut down its nuclear facilities, do you think it would inevitably lead to another long and drawn out conflict? Would it be more complex than the war in Iraq?

A: What we have learned from the invasion of Iraq is that even a weak regime and unpopular regime, such as that of Saddam, will not necessarily galvanize the citizens of the country to welcome change that is imposed militarily by foreign countries. Furthermore, intelligence assessments have concluded that the Iranian regime is more stable than that of Saddam. The elections in Iraq under the watch of the U.S. produced conservative governments every time, which indicates the level of support for the religious leaders. Additionally, there is no absolute proof that a free and transparent election in Iran after an attack would necessarily bring secular pro-West figures to governance. Anyone having doubt about that should think of the embarrassing performance of pro-Western Iraqi figures such as Ahmed Chalebi, who failed to win a single seat in this parliament. Clearly, Shi'ite Muslims have a different view of political and religious leadership and the West needs to come to terms with that reality. Add to that the fact that Iran is clearly more capable, militarily, than Saddam's regime was, and it is abundantly clear that a military conflict with Iran will be more than drawn out, but devastating to the region and to the world.

Q: Is Iran and its nuclear program a legitimate threat to not only the U.S. but other countries as well? Is there a justified cause for alarm?

A: The West has failed to make the case that a nuclear Iran is more of a threat to the world than say Pakistan or India for example. In fact, all indicators show that Iran is in fact more stable and hence, more predictable than Pakistan. Firstly, Pakistan and India are still in a state of war and any one of them could use nuclear weapons. Secondly, if we were to compare Pakistan's and Iran's stability in the last 25 years, we will notice that Pakistan remains the least stable and unpredictable one. General Pervez Musharraf, for instance, came to power through a military coup. In the past 4 years there were numerous reports of attempted military coups to unseat him. He was the target of more than two assassination attempts. His popularity is low. At any given day, just as he came to power, someone else could replace him and blackmail the world with his nuclear capabilities. None of that can be said about Iran. Since the 1979 revolution, they have never started a war (the 8-year war with Iraq was started by Saddam), they never had a military coup, they have had more elections in 25 years than all the Arab states combined, and the regime seems to enjoy more public support than Pervez Musharraf or any other Arab leader for that matter.

What we know for sure is that the pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program altogether is turning Mahmoud Ahmadinejad into the most popular Iranian president ever. The Western approach that denies Iran any control over a significant nuclear program, peaceful or otherwise, is portrayed in Iran and the Muslim world as a denial of the fundamental right to technology to Muslims. In Iran, for instance, it has become a matter of national pride for Iranians to support the government on this issue.

What complicated the matter even further is that many around the world see a Western double standard when it comes to limiting the spread of nuclear weapons. This perception is reinforced by the recent agreements between the U.S. administration and India in the area of nuclear programs. Not only is India a state of unsettled military conflict with its nuclear foe Pakistan, but India did not sign the NPT; which means that not only would India continue to expand its nuclear program, but it will do so without international checks. Yet at the same time, the West is asking Iran, who went beyond the terms of the NPT and signed on the additional protocols, to give up all rights to a nuclear program be it peaceful or otherwise.

Every country with nuclear weapons is a dangerous country. However, since science and technology can no longer be kept from reaching other countries, it is more practical to manage this problem of manufacturing and proliferation of destructive weapons wisely and consistently. War is never a wise solution. Hence, world peace can be better served by opening channels of communication and encouraging more countries to live within the legal framework. In other words, a nuclear Iran under the supervision of the IAEA is safer than an Iran under military threat and outside the treaty. In the meantime, the world community needs to work together to eliminate the logic of using such weapons, and the first step is for nuclear countries to stop declaring that they will use nuclear weapons to protect their interests. Such threats only re-enforce the misguided utility of horribly destructive and indiscriminate weapons.

Read Interview Transcript, courtesy of Iowa Press-Citizen

February 11, 2006

A conversation about Muslims’ reaction to the depiction of Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist

    Saturday, February 11, 2006   No comments

Iowa City Press-Citizen Q&A with Professor A. E. SOUAIAIA

1) Why is there a taboo against any visual depictions of the prophet?

Western media has been reporting that Muslims’ reaction to the depiction of the Messenger Muhammad stems from the Islamic prohibition of visual representation of prophets. Such prohibition is couched in the explicit Qur’ānic proscription of idolatry. By nature, satirical caricatures are hardly an image that would encourage or inspire adulation, it can be concluded then that Muslims’ reaction to these cartoons is not necessarily rooted in rejecting a taboo for fear of idolatry.

It must be noted also that not all Muslims prohibit visual depiction of prophets. Only some Sunni schools of thought hold this prohibition. Shi`ite Muslims for instance, have images of the Messenger Muhammad and the fourth Caliph Ali in many forms: from paintings to coins. Given that the reaction is widespread and cuts across sectarian lines, one ought to look for other reasons for their reaction.

From what I read in Arabic, Persian, and other Islamic media; it seems to me that the content of the drawings is what was found offensive. Consider the scene of posters held by a protesters in Pakistan that say “Our Prophet is not a terrorist!” or another from Indonesia that says “Prophet Muhammad is the Messenger of Peace.” A third yet reads “Yes to freedom of expression; no to inciting hate.” In other words, Muslims were offended by the cartoonists’ suggestion that Islam is a violent religion by virtue of it being founded by a violent man. The cartoonists stereotyped Muslims and portrayed them all as violent and blood thirsty thugs; I would think any social group painted as such will be offended.

The reductionism of stereotyping over one billion Muslims as violent people is counter productive and reinforces the project advanced by extremists who wish to divide the world along religious fault lines. It strengthens the hands of those who argue for a perpetual conflict and unavoidable “clash of civilizations”. Such project ought to be shown for what it is: a “clash of ignorance” in the words of the late Edward Said.

2) To what degree are observant Muslims supposed to protest any visual depictions of the prophet?

The avoidance of visual depiction is less of religious prohibition of imagery and more of reverence to prophets and religious figures. Keep in mind that for many Muslims, not only the Messenger Muhammad is never visually represented but also all other prophets (Jesus, Moses, Abraham, etc…) were kept “faceless”, if you will, even in artistic stories about them. There is a movie made in Egypt about Moses I’ve seen where all that was shown of him was his staff. Furthermore, even non-prophets like early Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Abu Bakr, `Umar, Uthmān, and Ali) are never shown in visual representations be it in film or in print. In other words, were the images positive renditions of the Messenger Muhammad, no one would have protested. Again, it seems to me that, given the widespread protests, Muslims are protesting the content and the message of these cartoons and caricatures and not the images per se.

3) Is the majority of the Western press hypocritical in their decision not to reprint the offending cartoons?

Generally, no good comes from an action that causes the loss of innocent lives and destruction of property. But if there is any positive side effect of the publication of these cartoons, to me, it is the ensuing debate over rights and responsibilities of the press in the West and the need for free press in the Muslim world. Western media needs to answer to the charge of hypocrisy and double standards not only in regard to this matter, but also in the context of other stories. In other words, should the press cower in the face of public protest? Is the freedom of press dependent on a dip in revenues or loss in market share? Did the New York Times act irresponsibly when they delayed the publication of the report on the government’s domestic spying program for over a year? Can governments exert pressure to delay or repress the publication of news stories? What are the boundaries of freedom of press? Who and what govern the determination of whether a news outlet had crossed the boundaries or professional ethics and public responsibility? In other words, this event is as much of an opportunity for Western media to rethink the boundaries of freedom and responsibilities as it is a chance for Muslims to work harder to creating the civil institutions that would allow them to react in a more constructive manner to incidents like these.

4) In what ways is this a clash between the literal and symbolic definitions of iconoclasts (those who would physically smash images and those who are irreverent toward cherish symbols)?

That is the irony of it all, if you think about it. The clash between the literal and symbolic definitions of iconoclasts is retold in the Islamic traditions in the form of a clash between rational and irrational iconoclasts as represented by Abraham and his father and religious leaders. It is said in the Qur’ān that Abraham smashed the idols his people worshipped because those were objects that could not harm or benefit anyone (irrational) [see Qur’ān 21; verses 51-73]. Abraham, according to Islamic tradition still, will go on to found the form of monotheism that will require absolute resignation (submission, hence, Islam) to the deity that he discovered by default [see Q6: v74-90; Q14: v35-52]. With that said, that seemingly logical contradiction explains the wide range of ideas that shaped Islamic thought for nearly fourteen centuries.

To wit, if we consider the traditional accounts, all Semitic religions were founded by a typical iconoclast. One who attacks and seeks to overthrow traditional or popular ideas or institutions. As told in the Islamic tradition, Abraham, Jesus, and Muhammad all have taught unpopular ideas and undertook non-traditional practices and for that they were exiled, crucified, or persecuted. With time however, their teachings have become mainstream and ordinary and a new fence was built by religious authorities around the newly organized religion in order to guard against iconoclasts. That is the irony and wonder of contradictions in organized religions.

5) Who are manipulating these indignant sentiments for political ends? Clerics in the Arab world? Empire-builders in the West? Both?

In general, power hungry politicians in the Arab world and in the West are not helpful to say the least. But it amazes me that the West, in this climate of skepticism and war, when there is a great need to gain the trust of the Muslim masses, the issue is treated only in the context of politics.

The Arab politicians and rulers on the other hand, are using this opportunity to redirect their citizens’ anger away from them and from their record of abuse, torture, and corruption. This is obvious given the fact that the first officially sanctioned boycotts and protests took place in countries like Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and Syria: states known for repression, tyranny, and authoritarianism. In essence, they are trying to marginalize those who are demanding freedom of the press and freedom of expression by manipulating the rest of the population into believing that freedom of expression is equal to freedom of denigrating religious symbols. They are telling their people that if you wish to revere your religious values then you must reject the idea of freedom of expression as an alien and immoral concept altogether. To me that is the real danger.

6) What needs to happen for the situation to calm?

People in the West and in the Muslim world need to work towards strengthening civil institutions in the Muslim world even if that would mean short term risks for the West. The Muslim masses must be reminded that basic civil liberties will be irreparably compromised if we allow the government to encroach the freedom of the press. At the same time, the news media needs to adhere to higher standards of ethics and responsibility and be able to self-govern itself without the intrusive intervention of other controlling entities. The media need to show a degree of independence and communicate directly with the Muslim masses without relying on governments as intermediaries.

It must be made clear that freedom of the press is not about insulting one’s faith or demeaning one’s religious icons; it is about a fundamental and essential public service without which no civil society can exist and grow. For the sake of this greater public good and for the necessary independence of the press from government intrusion, people must tolerate the irresponsible few who may publish offensive content. As is the case with everything worth fighting for, there is always a price. If freedom of expression and of the press is the absolute good that we, in the West, see it to be; I have no doubt that if put in the proper context, Muslims will embrace it and fight for it. For that to happen, the media in the West need to polish its image as an independent, fair, and responsible institution regardless of the circumstances. A first step in this direction will be for the US and Western media to explain to the public why they did not re-print the cartoons: if it was because the content was found offensive, tasteless, and worthless; then that is what ought to be said. Otherwise, it will be seen as a sign of timidity and faltering under the pressure of public protest which could take away from the credibility of this institution and empowers opponents of freedom of the press. A unified clarification of the media position will serve at least three purposes: rebuke those who sully the profession, assure the public of the independence and integrity of the press, and show Muslims the value of having a free press that does not need a government to make it clean its act.

Also see the guest editorial on IC Press-Citizen Feb. 11, 2006

February 7, 2006

Cartoons Depiction of Prophet Muhammad

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006   No comments

Muslims condemn cartoon-sparked violence


February 7, 2006
Offensive cartoons of the prophet Muhammad tempt outrage, Iowa Muslims said Monday, but the religious leaders condemned the violence that continued Monday in protests around the world... Read full story on Des Moines Register


Transcripts of the Question and answer session:

1) You think this [violent rioting] is an appropriate response to the cartoons?

A. Personally, I don’t think that this is an appropriate response to the cartoons; but that is the opinion of person like myself aware and informed of the values that make democracy works especially freedom of speech and freedom of expression. So my judgment hardly reflects the way the issue is perceived in the Muslim world.

The more important question is whether Muslims in the Muslim world see this response as appropriate. In order to understand that, one must know what Muslims see in the message communicated by those drawings.

The second important question is if these cartoons and methods are a case of free speech that ought to be protected; then what will be the reaction if negative and hate-inciting drawing depicting the West, Christians, and Jews start to emerge in the Muslim world? Would not that be a race for filthy dialogue and counter productive to understanding and mutual respect?

2) Why it's so offensive?

A. First, for Sunni Muslims, any rendition of the Prophets in image forms is highly undesired and for some it is prohibited for theological reasons. But I don’t think that is the real reason behind this situation because not all Muslims are against the depiction of the Prophet in the form of paintings or other forms of images. In fact Shi`ite Muslims are known to have produced images of him on paper and on coins for centuries. Although the media has been saying that this is the reason for the “outrage”, I personally doubt that this is the case.

What is at issue here is that the cartoons communicated the idea that Muslims are violent because the Prophet Muhammad himself was one (consider the message of the depiction of Prophet Muhammad wearing a Bomb for a turban). In other words, the message is that Islam is inherently violent since its founder is someone who taught violence. Such a message does not distinguish between the various facets of Islam, a religion that is so diverse to be stereotyped by reductionist cartoons like the ones published.

3) You think this whole situation is just creating more "bad press" for Muslims, or whether the violence is justified?

A. I am more concerned with its impact on radicalizing many new Muslims. “Radical Islam”, to use the words of President Bush, aims at portraying the current conflict as a “clash of civilization” and as “Western assault” on Islam. The portrayal of the founder of Islam the way he was portrayed by these cartoons is reinforcing that line of thinking and giving force to the project of dividing the world along religious fault lines. In other words, I see the whole situation as a real test for Westerners' commitment to diversity and Muslims' commitment to civility.

4) Whether you think it's right that the majority of American news outlets are not showing or printing these cartoons.

A. That is a very interesting question that you, as a news outlet, need to answer for us. What stopped the US and some European media from re-printing the cartoons? If freedom of press and freedom of speech are inviolable rights in civil and democratic societies; then why did the US media cower in the face of what may happen? Interestingly enough, the same question was addressed yesterday by an influential Muslim scholar from Lebanon (see news report on the Arabic al-Jazeera on the statements by S. H. Fadlallah) who suggested that the US government broke national and international laws and blocked certain news outlets from covering war stories. Muslims are aware that the US administration pressured the NY Times to withhold the publication of news stories (like the NSA spying program) for over a year, and asked al-Jazeera to stop showing pictures that are “not helpful to the coalition’s efforts.” In other words, the Muslim street sees that there are at least limits to freedom of the press in these instances, and in their view, they see the depiction of their Prophet Muhammad as a terrorist as one of these off-limit stories.

If there are limits to freedom of expression and freedom of press, then the issue should be framed like so: the publishing of the cartoons is stereotyping Muslims and Islam and encourages hate and bigotry. Be as it may, should such discourse be allowed? On the other hand, if the freedom of the press has no limits, then the press is still under the obligation to explain why they withhold certain information from the public. This situation is reminding everyone of the values that ought to be protected. The press is reminded of their duties and responsibilities and Muslims are reminded of their need to respect freedom of expression and work towards establishing the rule of law.

5) Why haven't there been open, public demonstrations among Muslims in the
U.S., and how might this situation play out in the coming weeks?

A. Only recently have the US media and the world media for that matter began to cover the story although it has been simmering in the Muslim world since September of last year (2005). Then, about 11 government representatives of Muslim countries wanted to meet with the Danish PM to discuss the issue. The Arab media reported that he refused to meet with them. Then when the cartoons were published again, the story came to the forefront again. The demonstrations were limited because it was seen as a matter between the Danish and some Muslim countries only (mainly Saudi Arabia and Denmark). With the republishing of the cartoons, the situation took a different course. American Muslims did not demonstrate because until now they do not see it as global divisive issue and the reluctance of the US media to re-print helped keep this issue in perspective. They do not see it as “a clash of civilization”; rather a “clash of ignorance” to quote the late Edward Said of Columbia University.

Afghanistan election raises questions

    Tuesday, February 07, 2006   No comments

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Afghanistan election raises questions

This week's Q & A is with Ahmed Souaiaia, assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Iowa.

Q: Earlier this month, Afghanistan held its first presidential elections since the Soviet invasion more than 20 years ago. U.N. officials have reported a higher-than-expected turn out, there was no significant violence, and nearly all the major opposition candidates have agreed to abide by an independent investigation into any irregularities of the election. How did the election match up to your expectations?

A: Elections per se in the Muslim world are not a novelty, and participation is rarely a problem in places where they take place. It is the long-term implications that ought to be considered. In countries run by dictators (Iraq during Saddam, Syria, and Algeria) as well as in police states (like Tunisia and Egypt), whenever there is an election people still turn out in droves to vote.

What is troubling is that the outcome is always the same: 80-99 percent of the votes go the incumbent or the ruling party. This seemingly "public consensus" is alarming to me; clearly there is something wrong. Because of this, I tend to be, and will remain, skeptical of any process that produces these kind of results.

Q: While the official results won't be known for a few weeks, all reports suggest that Hamid Karzai, the U.S.-backed interim president, is winning by a landslide. Why is Karzai so popular among Afghans? Couldn't his support of and from the U.S. actually be viewed as a detriment by Afghan voters skeptical of U.S. intentions in the region?

A: Exactly. It is only natural that the Afghan people are divided as they deal with the aftermath of war and continued violence; and if the election results do not reflect the social, ethnic, political and economic division, then it stands to reason to be skeptical of the process.

Take the case of our own election here at home: If the American public were to elect the incumbent by a margin of 90 percent to 10 percent, we all will question such unusual results and look for reasons. Because we know in truly free societies, rational beings will hold different opinions and those differences will be expressed in their choices.

So if the voters giving the incumbent a large percentage of the votes -- or the percentage is only reflective of the ethnic make up of the country -- then we can conclude that democracy in Afghanistan will have a long way to go.

My sense is that Karzai being the Pashtun candidate will win the capital and Pashtun vote which will give him nearly 60 percent.

The rest of the candidates will get the votes of their respective ethnic groups.

Q: All reports suggest that turnout of female voters was significant.

For a country recently governed under a very fundamentalist interpretation of Islamic gender roles, what does this change represent?

A: Women's participation in elections in the Muslim world again is not as groundbreaking as we are led to believe by the media here.

Whenever there is a good opportunity for real democratic process in any Muslim country, women always participated. They not only voted, but ran for top offices and won.

A case in point is Turkey who had a woman as prime minister, Bangladesh, also who had a woman on top of the political hierarchy; even Pakistan was led by a woman as prime minister for sometime.

Compare that to our country, where we've yet to see a woman even as vice president. It is better to look at the political problems of the Muslim world as a total rejection by the status quo to allow real and legitimate power sharing.

True, women are greatly affected by this exclusion, but so are ethnic groups, economic classes, and religious groups.

So it is essential that institutions of civil society are encouraged and established instead of cheering the symbolism of an Afghan woman who is casting what might become an insignificant vote.

Q: In the past, the theory has been that conservative Islam is inimical to democracy.

Is that still the case?

A: The only Muslims who are enjoying democratic processes are minorities living in non-Muslim countries.

Indian Muslims for instance enjoy the benefits of democratic institution but Muslims in Pakistan. Muslims in some non-Muslim countries in South East Asia for example enjoy the benefits of democracy.

The only exception may be Bangladesh.

Theoretically everyone now says that Islam is not necessarily inimical to democracy; but there is no conservative Muslims in power anywhere in the Muslim world to test that theory.

The closest you can get to this is the current regime in Turkey which is seen as a conservative Islamic regime, and time will tell but clearly they seem to function just fine and they seem to be even more democratic than their "secular" predecessors.

You may point to Iran as another example of "conservative Muslim government" but that again is a Shi'ite regime and some would argue that it is not representative of the rest of Muslims.

So in short, we will have to see more conservative governments in order to see how true they are to democracy.

What we know for sure though is that Arab nationalists and current monarchs and totalitarian regimes seem to be unable to function in a real democratic setting. That much we know.

Q: Because Afghanistan has never been a centralized state, the still-to-come parliamentary elections in the country will probably be more contentious and important for future the Afghan democracy than the recent presidential election. What major factors of Afghanistan's experiment with democracy are consistent with that of other predominately Muslim nations, and what major factors are wholly unique to Afghanistan?

A: We will have to wait and see. If the current regime gets an extension for their governance by a large percentage of the vote, then that could be taken as a bad sign. It is a sign that people have more faith in "personalities" than in the institutions of democracy. And to me that is the real problem in the Muslim world: lack of faith in institutionalism. I wish they had taken the opportunity in Afghanistan to build more democratic institutions: trade unions, women's organizations, human rights organizations, schools, universities, and even political parties. Institutions that would sustain a democracy once it flourished and not just introduce a democracy based on ethnicity in which the vote will probably break down across ethnic lines.

Q: How is the recent Afghanistan election being viewed by the rest of the Muslim world?

A: I do not know. Again the environment is so repressive that we may never be able to gauge the popular view with any sort of certainty. We may never have a good feel of where the Muslim and Arab street stand on public policy and politics matters until tension, fear, despair, and want are satisfactorily eliminated.

See original story at: Iowa Press-Citizen

April 1, 2005

Democracy: Historical Victim of “Operation Iron Hammer”

    Friday, April 01, 2005   No comments
Democracy: Historical Victim of “Operation Iron Hammer”

With the stream of data coming from Iraq, any informed individual can conclude that the days ahead may be even harder to manage. With the rising death toll and spiraling violence that is spreading to formerly quiet areas, one does not need a CIA analyst’s opinion to surmise that the situation may worsen. However, there is another equally important side of this conflict which has not been adequately addressed and that is the long term repercussions and implications of this ongoing war on the stated goal of this administration. With the charge of illegal possession of weapons of mass destruction as the pretext for launching this war significantly enfeebled; the administration is now defending this costly conflict with the need to create a democratic regime in Iraq.
Admittedly, history does not record the theories and the assumptions; rather, the actions on the ground and the stated goals. The stated goal of choice of the proponents of this war is the preparation of the ground for democracy to grow in the Middle East. It can be argued that the tools used in this process are actually counterproductive and depreciatory to say the least. It is like using poison for a cure.

January 26, 2005


    Wednesday, January 26, 2005   No comments

Because of the role the US finds itself in, and because of its economic and military weight, American politics is hardly a domestic or “private affair”. For this reason, countries of the world sometime pay more attention to elections taking place here than to others taking place within their own borders. Election results therefore, are the best way to at least sense the pulse of a nation. How the results are interpreted and what do they really represent continue to be an academic and intellectual exercise. In the following paragraphs, an attempt will be made to explain the outcome and contextualize its roots and implications.

After being subjected to nearly one full year of painful political campaigning and debating; Americans were given their 24 hour taste of power. About 113 million of them exerted it. Subsequently, barely more than 58 millions sided with the incumbent; while 55 million Americans wanted to fire President Bush. As the rules of democracy have it, 2% of the voters (equaling nearly 3 million people) rendered moot the choices of 49% of the voters. Technically, a president elected in such a fashion is not obliged—at least politically—to consider the demands of the voters who voted for his opponents. Morally on the other hand, he ought to be mindful of the interests and issues that propelled them to vote against him just as he ought to be true to the platform of the people who elected him.

The next four years will tell for sure how this President understood this razor-thin margin of victory. However, those who are interested in the practical aspects of this matter rather than the academic/historical one, should be able to predict the direction of this administration. The emphasis in the new government’s agenda, the movement of personnel and the ideological and philosophical orientation of the people holding the top cabinet positions are all good indicators.

There is of course the need for political parties’ leaders to assess their performance and come up with answers to explain their successes and failures. In that context, and in the light of exit polls’ findings that showed that “moral issues” being the deciding factors in this election, political thinkers and strategists will have to answer questions such as whether or not America is moving towards the right and why.

Finally, people would want to know what will be the social, economic, and political consequences of this election. Undoubtedly, this is one of the very few times where voters turn-out reached the 60% barrier in the history of the country. The large turn out however did not seem to hugely benefit one political party over the other; it would seem that the more one party mobilized its constituents, the bigger the reaction from the other party. In other words, the political parties seem to have maxed-out during this election. The question will remain: what is keeping 40% of American eligible voters from voting.

Regarding how this mandate is seen by the President, all signs now indicate that he is interpreting it as a validation of his actions, beliefs, and agenda. He is moving towards consolidating his base in order to make a final push for “greatness”. Unfortunately, the country is divided over many issues on which very little compromise can be achieved. Therefore, the President will necessarily make his choices and they will be in most cases contrary to the wishes of the 49% of the voters. He should have no problem whatsoever achieving his goals given that both the house and the senate are in conservative hands.

Just as was the case during his first term, this President remains consistent regarding his refusal to accept any mistakes. When faced with failed policies and unfulfilled assumptions, this administration did not hesitate to appropriate others’ plan and continue to run forward from issues in the areas that cannot be fixed without admittance of fault. If this trend were to continue in the next four years; the economic, moral, and political capital of the United States at home and abroad will shrink to unmanageable status.

The dismissal of moderates (like Powell) from the administration and the solidifying of the neo-conservatives’ grip over key cabinet positions will facilitate the achieving of Bush’s goals. So if these goals are sound; that can be a positive thing. However, the consolidating of institutional powers in the hands of one person or one political entity represents more harm than benefits. The causes of these are social phenomena and are universal and they usually signal the failure of civil society to protect itself from the scared self.

During times of wars and economic hardships, a country that is based on popular mandates tends to slide towards the right. More alarming, it also tends to allow the political leaders to grab more power. Once this trend reaches the point where the ruler has control over all branches of government, and in the absence of strong civil institutions and with the alarming rise of partisan or timid media outlets; the country would slowly fall under tyrannical control. As the violence is now worldwide, one can easily see that countries that are effected most by these conditions are moving towards the right. Israel moved to the extreme right as a result of the on-going war and occupation. Russia’s Putin is grabbing more power as he deals with the on-going military crisis in the Chechen republic. The entire Muslim world is embracing conservative movements and conservative parties. And most recently, the US has shown signs of embracing conservative rhetoric.

The US politics is especially important, not just because of its role policing the rest of the world, but also because of the specifics of the internal policies and politics and its military standing in the world. With little global influence on US election outcomes; it becomes essential that US citizens take seriously their civil obligations. If it is true that the American voters primarily voted their religious convictions; then, it follows that this administration is therefore unguided as far as the war is concerned. However, the war will continue to weigh heavily on the national economy and financial welfare of the future generations. Whatever the case may be, more Americans will need to participate during election years in order to provide a more representative agenda for local and federal governments.

By all accounts, the conservative elements who needed to vote voted during this election. Admittedly, the Bush campaign strategists knew that as long as voters’ turnout remains under 120 million; they reckoned that they stand a good chance of the results going their way. They were right. In other words, almost every voter in the rural “red states” who wanted to vote could have and did vote. There were virtually no long lines in voting locations.

In contrast, in the swing states especially, and in major metropolitan centers in general; voters had to wait four to six hours before they were able to cast their ballot. It is highly possible then that many who wanted to vote could not do so due to the long lines. Given that elections take place on a work-day; not all people can afford to take a day off or go to work late. Given the implication and the importance of this year’s election; it is only reasonable to conclude then that at least the majority of the 40% of the voters who did not vote are from large metropolitan areas who could not afford the long wait. Florida and Ohio are especially good cases in point.

The responsibility for these disparate conditions falls on the shoulders of the federal government which had failed to fund and undertake election reforms and establish national standards. It is true that since most states allow absentee balloting, busy citizens ought to take advantage of that option; but given the importance of voting in democratic systems; it remains the responsibility of the government to make sure that every citizen can vote without any undue inconvenience. It is legally and morally wrong that people in different areas have different standards and different conditions for casting a ballot in the same political campaign.

Regardless of the outcome of any election, the elected leaders are expected to govern in the name of all: those who voted for and those who voted against them are equally important for the direction of the country. When candidate A is elected by 51% of the voters; A ought to be mindful that 49% of the voters also preferred a different approach and A ought to govern from the middle to reflect the political makeup of all constituencies not just half of them. Doing otherwise is poor governance, unwise choice, and down-right political opportunism. The outcome of elections like the one we just had is humbling to politicians and that is how they should interpret it.

If the choices of the rest of the population are not understood in this context; four years from now, the victors of today will realize that it was a hallow victory. After all, this administration is the one that decided on deep tax cuts, the deficit, and the war; they will need the next four years to reap their harvest. If their policies are sound, then they better deliver in the next four years because they have no excuse: after all, the same political party is now in control of the House, the Senate, the Supreme Court, and of course the White House. Moreover, the executive branch is now monolithic, in that the very few so-called moderates were replaced by neo-conservatives. In short, the American voters will not forgive them if they do not succeed; since this is one of the very few instances—if not the only one—where all branches of government are in the hands of one political entity. It is in a sense, poetic justice: 49% of the voters think that this administration has broken the country; their minority voice is then telling the President: YOU broke it, now YOU must fix it.

Sadly, the individuals associated with this administration do not seem to recognize this reality. The head of the Defense Department for instance does not understand that one cannot win a war of ideas with big guns. He stubbornly insists that overwhelming force and military might can and will defeat any enemy. A good example of this trend is his attitude (that of Donald H. Rumsfeld), the man in charge of the War on Terror and his assessment of its outcome. When invited to congress to explain the Abu Ghrayb scandal; and after more than four hours of testimony, which began with a prepared statement offering a ''deep apology" for the torture of Iraqi prisoners, he showed his real position which is far from contrition. When Rhode Island Democrat Jim Langevin asked him how the United States can ''restore our credibility" on human rights matters, Rumsfeld asserted that America was already superior: ''I mean, why do people line up to get into this country year after year after year? I read all this stuff—people hate us, people don't like us. The fact of the matter is, people line up to come to this country every year because it's better here than other places, and because they respect the fact that we respect human beings."

The secretary of defense is either out of touch with reality or he is simply incapable of distinguishing between the economic opportunities that our country presents (which is the real motive behind the influx of workers) and human rights standing. There are many other great Western states that show equal respect to human rights and civility as we do here; but they lack the economic opportunity. That is why even citizens of those countries flock to America. Human rights are intrinsically linked to economic opportunities and America has been superior because both human rights and economic opportunities were honored. If anyone of these two is omitted, it will not take long before the second vanishes.

The mentality of supremacy is detrimental to the wellbeing of this country. And this country cannot afford to not know that humility and respect for dissent are good road-signs on the path to greatness; not military power and arrogance. The laws of nature and the lessons of history show us that no superpower could ever defeat ideas by brute force. The simplistic framing of the military conflict as a war against those who “hate us” is fatal. The wars that are won are against other military forces. No military power has ever defeated an idea no matter how potent, simple, or ridiculous it might be. The minute a state resorts to crushing ideas by the use of brute force; such a state has automatically put itself on a course of defeat.

The handling of the war is central to an economic recovery and to the US standing around the world. There is no logic that can ever make the war acceptable morally. That is because any logic that is embraced by one group party to a violent conflict could be easily claimed and appropriated by the opponent. Continued violence in the form of war ultimately risks either legitimizing violence or creating an opponent who is just as committed to it. Either way the logic of violence is a losing one when taken in its broader context.

The characterization of this administration’s approach to war and to the world as being one that is arrogant is not one that stems from ideological differences. In fact many voices from the neo-conservative camp are now saying the same thing. Just last week, William Kristol, the neoconservative editor of The Weekly Standard magazine, circulated a surprise demand for Rumsfeld’s dismissal. “What remains to be done is to announce new leadership for the department of defense,” wrote Kristol. “I am allergic to Rumsfeld,” said another champion of the war on terror, Ralph Peters. “We did a great thing in Iraq, but we did it very badly… He is an extremely talented man but he has the tragic flaw of hubris. His arrogance is unbearable. My friends in uniform just hate him.” Not to adopt the flawed logic of guilt by association; but the fact that people like Powell are gone while Rumsfeld and Rice are still around can only suggest the strong affinity between Bush and them and his approval of what they represent.

Unless the declining capital of the US around the world is blamed on the State department; there is no other way to interpret the early dismissal of Powell. Not only is the military solution is failing to win the war, but it is also causing more damage to the country’s image. Again, this is not a judgment stemming from political dissent; rather, it is one that is supported by the findings and recommendations of an advisory board that is working for the Defense department and that is supposed to guide Rumsfeld. In a detailed report released this thanksgiving week, the Defense Science Board (DSB) concluded that al-Qaeda is essentially winning the propaganda war. How could an organization whose leadership is on the run win, you might ask; simple, we are winning it for them every time this administration take the wrong step. For instance, and as argued by the authors of the report, the US-led invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq have actually increased anti-American sentiments across the Muslim world:

"US actions appear... to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination."

The report also concluded that the US government had failed to adapt its Cold War communications strategy to deal with the threat of extremism in the Muslim world.

“In stark contrast to the Cold War, the United States today is not seeking to contain a threatening state empire, but rather seeking to convert a broad movement within Islamic civilization to accept the value structure of Western Modernity—an agenda hidden within the official rubric of a “war on terrorism”… Today we reflexively compare Muslim “masses” to those oppressed under Soviet rule… This is a strategic mistake. There is no yearning-to-be-liberated-by-the-US groundswell among Muslim societies—except to be liberated perhaps from what they see as apostate tyrannies that the US so determinedly promotes and defends."

More damning is the suggestion that the US is also losing the "war of ideas" in the Muslim world, referring to all attempts by Washington to convey information crucial to the so-called war on terrorism the report asserts:

"In this war, it is an essential objective because the larger goals of US strategy depend on separating the vast majority of nonviolent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists… But American efforts have not only failed in this respect. They may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended…”

During the past four years, the administration consistently took one step forward and two steps backward due to the unsynchronized action plans undertaken by the state and defense departments. Even outside observers could see that Powell had spent more time putting out fires started by the defense department than on fulfilling the normal diplomatic mission of the State Department. From the treatment of POWs, to the justification of Iraq war, to the handling of the Palestinian conflict; the State department spent all its energies on the defensive. The National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, whose job was to articulate a coherent and comprehensive national security policy, was herself caught in the ideological and academic theories and failed to pay attention to the reality on the ground. May be giving her the task of “making friends” with other countries will give her a steady dose of the hard reality when she realizes that no one will share a cafeteria table with her with that kind of arrogant attitude.

The moral and legal dilemma in which the US finds itself is that while it is preaching to the rest of the world that armament and the development of weapons of mass destruction are losing propositions and are bad for the world; its military civilian and uniformed leaders are bragging that it is because of the military superiority that America is superior to everyone else. In other words, it is the use of force that will ultimately be accredited with any emerging democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan. That in itself is a validation to amassing weaponry instead of books and channels of communications between the citizens of the world.

Until four years ago, the military leadership was hardly seen on TV screens and newspapers’ pages. Thereafter, Rumsfeld and the generals became daily TV stars. They became prominent and their role and function was not restricted to their area of responsibility. Rather, they answered questions related to defense matters as well as matters of diplomatic and even domestic nature. In a sense, they even set the tone for the homeland departments as well as the foreign policy leadership. A good example that shows this alarming trend is the tone and content of remarks made November 29 by Army Gen. John Abizaid, head of U.S. Central Command.

"We can generate more military power per square inch than anybody else on Earth, and everybody knows it… If you ever even contemplate our nuclear capability, it should give everybody the clear understanding that there is no power that can match the United States militarily."

These are the kind of statements that are made glorifying brute force and nuclear capability at a time the US is telling North Korea, Iran, and the rest of the world that weapons of mass destruction are bad. Either nuclear and chemical weapons are tools of the uncivilized and they ought not exist in a world yearning for peace; or they have a positive function that is the basis why civilized and advanced nations ought to pursue them. But the logic of “good for us bad for them” will not and cannot stand regardless of how superior the entity that subscribes to it is.

The reliance on military power to spread democracy is flawed and shortsighted. It is already producing the opposite results of the intended ones. Recently, there were reports that even Saudi Arabia was in the market for “ready-to-use” nuclear gadgets as a security backup plan in case its alliance with the US were to fall apart. North Korea sped up its production of nuclear weapons immediately after the Iraq war. Iran is on the brinks of acquiring nuclear capability and its legislature passed laws prohibiting the executive branch from ever giving up its right to nuclear technology. Russia’s Putin bragged about his country’s possession of nuclear weapons and programs that no other nation around the world has. In short, the cold war is in phase two, and the world is more dangerous because of the glorification of wars, tools of murder, and violence. The world is not safer because of the rhetoric of superiority that takes weapons of mass destruction, war, violence, and “democracy as a foundation. The situation shall become inveterate if this election’s results are used to embolden this trend and give free reign to those in power.

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