Monday, February 26, 2007
FRIENDS AND ALLIES
proverbial saying which I came across recently (with its origins in the Middle East, as I recall), goes something like this:
He who has a thousand friends, has not a single one to spare; he who has but one enemy, will find him everywhere.The civilised world has many friends among what I like to call normal Muslims. That is, people with normal human values like compassion and empathy toward others, and who also happen to follow the Islamic faith. The world cannot afford to take even a single one of these friends for granted.
Yet when any of these friends speak out or write in opposition to intolerant violent jihadism, and in favour of those normal human values they can seem like a rare voice in the wilderness. Such voices are remarkable, given that it is their opponents within Islam who boast of loving death more than normal people love life. As more such voices join with the courageous few, in time it will become less of a survival imperative to keep quiet in the wilderness. The normal Muslims who abhor the extreme fanaticism will gradually understand that they are not so few after all, but rather the silent majority. More voices will mean less imminent risk to any particular one -- strength in numbers.
At the current stage however, those pioneering Muslim voices are still relatively few. Though they love life much more than the cadre of fascistic ideologues they speak against, they know they are courting death by their own free speech. The word "courageous" only begins to adequately describe such people.
I have previously quoted the member of the Iraqi parliament, Iyad Jamal Al-Din within these pages. Here's a wonderful short clip of him engaging in a panel discussion on Lebanese television, courtesy of MEMRI (The Middle East Media Research Institute), and a wai to Pat Dollard. Do yourself a big favour and watch this.
Moving around the globe now, next stop Tulsa, Oklahoma, where Jamal Miftah was threatened by the imam and congregation of his own mosque, simply for writing this opinion piece in his local newspaper, the Tulsa World. Mr. Miftah had immigrated to the US with his family from Pakistan in 2003, after having lost a close friend to Islamist recruitment for jihad in Afghanistan. He had some blunt words for Ayman and Osama, and appealed to the normal Muslims of the world to begin the real jihad:
I appeal to the Muslim youth in particular and Muslims of the world in general to rise up and start jihad against the killers of humanity and help the civilized world to bring these culprits to justice and prove that Islam is not a religion of hatred and aggression.For this he was expelled from his mosque, denounced by the imam, and threatened by many of its Arab members. You can hear more about the story, including Jamal Miftah's own description of what happened, in this Hot Air video.
By the way, al-Salaam, the name of this mosque, means "Peace." I guess the imam must have forgotten that. The manner in which many of these institutions are able to come under the leadership of intolerant radicals, seems to be one of the central issues that need to be examined by Muslims generally. It doesn't happen through any sort of election, as far as I can tell, yet it has a huge influence on the peer pressure-induced expression of intolerant attitudes among members, and the intimidation felt by normal Muslims like Jamal Miftah.
Continuing westward -- next stop Indonesia -- where a very interesting visit by a Yemenese cleric was reported by Indonesia Matters recently. Habib Umar bin Hafiz bin Sheikh Abu Bakar has a very long and impressive name which invites comparisons with certain other Islamic figures in the country, and this cleric seems to have not been averse to addressing them. He hails from the Hadramaut region of Yemen, where many Indonesians of Arab descent trace their origins. Included among these is the notorious jihadist cleric, Abu Bakar Ba'asyir. Habib Umar addressed the issue of extremist teachings during a conference in Kediri, East Java.
It doesn’t matter which country, Islamic teachings are the same. If you want to spread Islam do it in a peaceful and brotherly way. We very much regret that there are clerics in Indonesia who have Hadramaut ancestry but who don’t understand our way of teaching Islam.Habib Umar is described in the article as being well-known in the Muslim world as a respected Sufi scholar, and here I draw the readers' attention back to the Iyad Jamal al-Din video above, where he draws a sharp distinction between an "inferior" culture that produces a slave mentality, and a beautiful, tolerant culture which respects humanity. In criticising aspects of the "Arab Islamic culture," he specifically excludes Sufism from the blame in creating "slaves to the ruler" who follow "obsolete values and traditions."
Continuing again westward, we find ourselves full circle and back in Iraq. Specifically, in the peaceful oasis known as Iraqi Kurdistan. CBS "60 Minutes" recently aired a brief video report on attitudes among Kurdish Muslims and the tremendous political and economic progress there. This is a must-watch piece of reporting, and I give high marks to CBS for putting it together and making it available to view in full, via their website. It's only 12 minutes, and its worth every second of your time.
Michael Totten, who has done some excellent reporting from Kurdistan on his blog, writes that "If I could distill everything I heard, saw, and learned in the Kurdistan region of Iraq into a 12-minute video, it would look a lot like this." That is a very potent, and well-justified recommendation.
The Kurds have a saying, to the effect that "the Kurd's only friends are the mountains." Perhaps they might amend that now to recognise that they do actually have other friends. Many of them now keep a picture of a certain US president in a prominent place in their homes, so there's at least one exception to their old adage. The civilised world should also know that it has many, many friends in Iraqi Kurdistan.
There are currently around 60 American troops in all of Iraqi Kurdistan, and not a single American soldier has been killed there during or after Iraqi liberation. Their economy is booming, and it looks like it would be a great place for a vacation. One small inaccuracy in the CBS report noted by Michael, is that the Iraqi flag is not "banned in Kurdistan." They recognise the original Iraqi flag, before Saddam added his inscription to it, and it is flown there. However, they understandably prefer their own, which is the Iraqi colours centred by a Kurdish sun.
Learn more about "the other Iraq" here. Wai to Hot Air for the CBS link.
We'll wrap up this brief global tour with the news that the first ever "Secular Islam Summit" will be taking place next week in St. Petersburg, Florida, with participation from Egypt, Jordan, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and more. Check the Secular Islam blog for latest information and details of speakers, including Ibn Warraq, Irshad Manji, Amir Taheri, Wafa Sultan, Walid Phares, Nonie Darwish and many others.
I expect it to be denouced by the hard-heads as a gathering of apostates, and this will be an extreme exaggeration of course. A few of the participants are former Muslims, but only a few. It looks like it will be a great program, with the potential of helping to advance the movement of Islam into the 21st century. CNN's Glenn Beck will be broadcasting from the Summit on Monday, March 5 (unavailable to me, since CNN International doesn't carry Beck at all).
These are just a few exposed tips of a vast, hidden iceberg. At least, that's what my gut tells me, and I sincerely hope it's right. My gut derives this feeling from 17 years of frequent re-immersion into the most populous Muslim-majority country on earth, and the uncountable good people there who have exemplified the meaning of true friendship and unconditional acceptance toward your humble correspondent.