Thursday, January 26, 2006

Gay and Muslim

The idea of being gay and Muslim seems irreconcilably mutually exclusive, given the Quranic injunctions on the matter:

"Of all the creatures in the world, will ye approach males, And leave those whom Allah has created for you to be your mates? Nay, ye are a people transgressing (all limits)!"

"Would ye really approach men in your lusts rather than women? Nay, ye are a people (grossly) ignorant!"

"For ye practise your lusts on men in preference to women : ye are indeed a people transgressing beyond bounds."

"And we rained down on them a shower (of brimstone): Then see what was the end of those who indulged in sin and crime!"

Channel 4 earlier this week aired the Gay Muslims documentary, so obviously the idea of being homosexual and Muslim is entering public conciousness. Especially after Iqbal Sacranie of the MCB came out with the injunction that homosexuality was "harmful". A statement for which he had to suffer the indignity of a police investigation. Way to go Sir Iqbal - just when you needed another PR indignity like a hole in the head.

Anyone would think that Sacranie is being overly defensive. Either that or he has no idea of just how widespread homosexuality is in the Muslim world, not just Muslims in the West, but also in its history. Homosexuality is widespread in Muslim countries today - even if societies dare not speak its name. Historically, there have been many Muslim saints who have chastely adored the male form as a path to gnostic enlightenment - as recorded by Ibn Arabi in his writings of travels amongst Andalucian saints. So, there's certainly a spiritual precedent of conciliation.

Still, one hopes that blogs that tackle this matter head on get all the support they need. And such a blog is Eye on Gay Muslims.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Iraqi Misadventure

You've got to laugh:
A Text Misadventure.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Kanan Makiya on Islam and Democracy

Kanan Makiya is the author of Republic of Fear and Cruelty and Silence. He has brilliantly and authorotatively argued for regime change and the deposal of Saddam since the first Gulf War. He is also Iraqi (his mother is British and his father the Iraqi architect Muhammad Makiya) and is now one of the very few Arab Muslim voices that speaks with any credibility whilst at the same time delivering some difficult messages to the Arab (and the wider Muslim world) for the need to accept democracy and, crucially, for the need for a disengagement of Religion from State.

I have excerpted large tracks of his interview that has been published in Democratiya 3. These are the sections that deals specifically with Islam and its need for its adherents to face up to some fundamental cultural choices, such as the role of Islam in government and the need to reclaim the voice of Muslims from the Salafis and the Jihadis. This will not be an easy message for the large majority of Muslims living in Islamic countries, particularly Arab Muslims, but Makiya’s words are directed at Muslims to address and debate these ideas.

I hate the word modernise, as in an embrace of Modernism. We who live in a Post-Modern world know that Modernism has not come close to answering all the questions, particularly for cultures with deep Traditional foundations. But Makiya deals with that here in the following text by saying that Muslims must and will find their own way to reform Islam and it will most likely not take the same form as the (European Christian) Reformation – which dealt Christianity a death knell in the late 17th century with the last coffin nails banged in with Vatican 2 in the 60s. Islam’s Reformation, when it is to happen, must avoid throwing the baby out with the bath water, at all costs.

On the future transformation of Islam

On a simple level, I mean there is a culture of not taking responsibility for the state of one's house. The culture of constantly shunting that responsibility to others—'imperialism', 'Zionism', and so on—has become a break on moving forward across the Middle East. Look at Muslim societies today. They are relatively backward in terms of income levels. They have been unable to create democracies. They are stuck in a language and a rhetoric that is patently unmodern. The defensive wall that exists between Islam (at least as it is currently constructed) and the necessary changes needed is, above all, the idea that others are responsible for what we've done, and that everything bad that happened to us has happened because of others. The answer to the question 'what is wrong?' is always 'it's somebody else's fault'.  

Now, why is Islam in that position, and is it changing? The 'civilisational challenge' is this: can the Arab Islamic world come to terms with the fact that it is responsible for its own ills, and for pulling itself up by your own bootstraps in order to get into the world, rather than keep finding ways of staying out of it? This is not an easy thing. For a religion to undertake that kind of internal self-critique means it has to accept a real reformation of itself. Christianity was able to do that. Judaism was, in a completely different way, more or less able to do that (not as completely). But Islam hasn't even begun to do that. And in the meantime there is a kind of rot. We don't live in a world that allows long periods of time for making this kind of internal reformation of oneself. In the meantime the rot represented by the rise of Salafi Islam, Jihadi Isalm, etc is so great, so palpable, that it is threatening us all, and is threatening Islam itself, above all.

 Islam is largely at war with itself. The greatest number of people who are dying on the battlefields are Muslims. Muslims are fighting Muslims. Think of Algeria. Think of the struggle inside Egypt. Think of the Lebanese civil war. The greatest number of casualties so far, 9/11 notwithstanding, is Muslims fighting Muslims. But we don't have a properly focussed debate, with those trying to reform and transform the religion leading one side and those trying to hold it back leading the other.

However, there are very important changes starting to take place, New voices are being heard. Cruelty and Silence is everywhere. That was impossible in 1993. There are Muslims critiquing Islam itself. These voices are starting to emerge. This reformation may be beginning. But they haven't yet cohered into a clear movement with an agenda that is tackling the other side, the Jihadi view of Islam, the obscurantist and fundamentalist side of Islam. So while there are reasons for optimism, there are also reasons to worry. Because, as yet, these new voices aren't anywhere near as strong as they need to be. Moreover, Jihadi Islam now has a substantial social base it didn't have ten years ago. One could even say we look like we're losing the battle at the moment. I certainly hope that's not the case. But we are in the throws of a deep convulsion that is taking place within Islam itself, among Muslims, and we have no way of clearly predicting how this is going to turn out. I call that a civilisational crisis of the first order.

On Islam and Democracy

It's a tension only in the sense that every great religion has to find its own way of freeing itself and moving forward in the world. Islam will find a way that is different to that of Christianity. The same formulas—separation of church and state, etc—may not play themselves out, in the convulsions that take place within Islam, in exactly the same way they played out in Christianity. We should not look for a straight line between the European experience and the Islamic experience. But can it in principle be resolved? Absolutely, I think it can.

Yes, Islam's relation to politics - it's insistence that it legislates for day to day life – can cause problems when you try to separate it from politics (quite different from Christianity where you can start to put religion and politics into two separate boxes). However we negotiate this reformation-transition, we know it is going to be different. But that it can take place is a proposition I completely believe. It hasn't taken place this far simply because the individuals, the subjective factor able to make it take place, have not yet emerged strongly enough from within Islam.

It's not the same thing for a person like me to write from a secular point of view about these issues, and for a cleric, breaking with his own traditions, to write about these issues. In Iraq today there are such clerics. Think of Sayyid Ayyad, a remarkable man in his mid-forties. who has arrived at a series of conclusions utterly from within the Shiite tradition of Islam, which accept the separation of church and state. He's on the lists, he's up for elections, he's on TV, and he's a real firebrand. He is a new kind of force speaking a new kind of language, shocking traditional Muslim audiences. He has a very high opinion, for instance, of the American constitution and the Bill of Rights. Many more people like him need to engage in the debate, as well as people like myself. I and others like me can't break through that wall by themselves; we need help from inside the fortress of Islam. Missing, at the moment, are the clerics who will fight from within and make their argument not in the way I make my argument (from western texts, general texts of human rights or from someone like Hannah Arendt), but from within the religion itself. This is, after all, how the reformation came about. It was largely by very religious, pious men constructing arguments for human rights from within their own tradition. That this can be done in Islam I have not the slightest shadow of a doubt. The nature of scriptural texts is that they are infinitely malleable. It is what you chose to put forward that counts. In fact, it is really quite remarkable how the growing Salafi, or Jihadi, trend of Islam rests on a tiny body of text. It represents a very small minority position within Islam. It has succeeded largely through the strength, vigour and energy of its own militancy, which it has used to capture a whole section of the tradition. That's never happened before. There is, in principle, a huge body of texts and many traditions with which to create an alternative version of Islam. I haven't a shadow of a doubt that it can be done. It just needs the men and women from within to do it.

 The whole interview is invaluable.


Friday, January 06, 2006

Corrupt Lobbyists and Jewish Terrorism

The latest corruption scandal to hit Washington circles is the biggest one since, erm, the last one. The main concern of the indictment of Jack Abramoff, is how many more Republicans he is going to bring down with him, as he sings like a canary. See chart, for those in his immediate circle who are high risk individuals, not just to themselves but to the reputation of the Bush Administration.

An excellent analysis of the repercussions of this latest scandal is here, by Sunny.

But one of the most interesting encapsulations of the details is provided here, by Prof Juan Cole. And in particular:

Indeed, it was this terror funding of Israeli far right militiamen that tripped Abramoff up, since the FBI discovered that he had misled Indian tribes into giving money to the Jabotinskyites, and then began wondering if he had defrauded the tribes in other ways. (You betcha!) The Indian leaders were furious when they discovered they had been used to oppress another dispossessed indigenous people, the Palestinians, calling it "Outer Limits bizarre" and saying that they would never have willingly given money to such a cause.

Somehow, the thought of Native American Indians holding solidarity with Palestinians, another "dispossessed indigenous people", and their input in blowing the lid off this scandal, has a karmic ring to it.

The language used by Prof Cole in this article is as powerful at blowing the lid of the brand of insipid apologia of Jewish terrorism is as powerful as it gets:

But here's a prediction. None of the Jewish extremists, some of them violent, who are invading the West Bank and making the lives of the local Palestinians miserable will ever be branded "terrorists" by the US Government, and Abramoff's foray into providing sniper lessons will be quietly buried.

Terror isn't terror and aggression is not aggression when it has lobbyists in Congress who can provide luxury vacations and illegal campaign funding.

Read it.

Iraqi Rebuilding Funding Runs Dry

Even before the USA/UK pulls out their troops from Iraq, the funding gets pulled first. Back in 2003, Bush made a promise that Iraq was to have the best possible infrastructure to rise from the ashes of the destruction wrought by war. But instead, we now have this:

The $18.4bn (£10.6bn) allocation is scheduled to run out in June 2007. The move will be seen by critics as further evidence of the administration's failure to plan for the aftermath of the war.

A decision not to renew the reconstruction programme would leave Iraq with the burden of tens of billions of dollars in unfinished projects, and an oil industry and electrical grid that have yet to return to pre-war production levels.

Which means the destruction done to infrastructure and institutions will have to be paid by the people of Iraq. Wasn't this always the way it was going to turn out?

Boycott Quandrary

In an earlier post back on Harry's Place, on the boycott by the Norwegian county council of Sør-Trøndelag, Gene (the original author of the post and a Harry's Place co-blogger) quoted from an email he sent to one of the council members:
I too hope for peace between Israel and a Palestinian state, but I believe boycotts like this impede rather than advance that goal.
[my emphasis]

However, in an exchange he and I had on the matter in a comments thread discussion on this blog, I asked him what Burmese products he thought Norway ought to boycott, to which he wrote:

A number of Norwegian companies import timber from Burma, a trade that represents ten percent of that country's export earnings.

I'd start there.

So "boycotts like this impede rather than advance that goal" and is why Gene argues that Norway should not boycott Israeli products. Yet he contradicts this by writing to me that Burmese timber should be boycotted. Please note that I'm not suggesting that Burma should not be boycotted nor defending its regime's transgressions. I also agree with Norway's decision to boycott Israeli products. Ultimately, a boycott is nothing more than of gesture politics, but nevertheless conveys a powerful message.

The point to make is if "boycotts impede rather than advance", then surely that should apply universally. Why should Israel alone qualify for this generous sentiment, whereas Burma (or any other country's on the shit list) should be firmly boycotted?

Who said it was only the Left who dealt in moral relativisms?

Not Mill

Civitas, was earlier this week calling for an end to Political Correctness (PC), because they argued, it has allowed the creation of "Muslim Ghettos". Anthony Browne, author of a pamphlet on PC, written under the aegis of Civitas, claimed that PC closed down debates, labelled groups as victims and banned dissent. I've always thought that PC was a device created by others to argue in defence of those who are purportedly marginalised by society. It has its benefits but it has also its abuses. In reality, can't it be argued that the motive for the call for less Political Correctness is almost always made by those who are in the upper echelons of the social food chain, to make generalisations about the those in the lower echelons without the danger of censure? You don’t hear about the Black or Asian communities calling for a need for less PC so that they can comment on the flaws (White Ghettoes?) of the indigenous community without being labelled racists.

Further analysis and discussion is found at Pickled Politics and Robert Sharp.

And while on Civitas, Chris Dillow, economist and author of the informative and tidily written Stumblings and Mumblings, takes umbrage at the claim made by Civitas that John Stuart Mill was a Tory.
Now, Mill was many things, almost all of them good. But an inspiration to the stupid party? Surely, only a very small minority of them, and on a very partial reading of his works.
Here I would like to take the un-PC opportunity to call Civitas a stupid and opportunistic bunch of patriarchial cretins. Tory by definition and, therefore, not at all like John Stuart Mill.

Inspirations and Creative Thoughts: Hindu thoughts around the blogs

Inspirations and Creative Thoughts: Hindu thoughts around the blogs

Nice round-up of some excellent blogs on Hindu doctrine by Sadiq Alam from Bangladesh.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Is it a wall?

No its a “fence”. And its not “occupied”, its “disputed”. Here is Robert Fisk with more examples of the Semantics of Occupation in use by the media, Telling it like it isn’t.

Then there is the "wall," the massive concrete obstruction whose purpose, according to the Israeli authorities, is to prevent Palestinian suicide bombers from killing innocent Israelis. In this, it seems to have had some success. But it does not follow the line of Israel's 1967 border and cuts deeply into Arab land. And all too often these days, journalists call it a "fence" rather than a "wall." Or a "security barrier," which is what Israel prefers them to say. For some of its length, we are told, it is not a wall at all — so we cannot call it a "wall," even though the vast snake of concrete and steel that runs east of Jerusalem is higher than the old Berlin Wall.

 Toopi Tip: Jews sans frontieres

Failure at WTO

Nitin at Acorn covers Bangladesh’s miserable performance at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Doha round last week.

While its government has put a brave face in the face of this setback, Bangladesh’s Centre for Policy Dialogue, an independent think-tank, has cited the government’s lack of political and negotiation skills as contributing to the failure. And the ‘South Asian solidarity’ that it was counting on didn’t really materialise. While India supported full exemption for LDCs, Pakistan and Sri Lanka argued against giving duty-free access exclusively to the LDCs.

Yes that said “Pakistan and Sri Lanka argued against giving duty-free access exclusively to the LDCs”. In plain language that means that Pakistan and Sri Lanka voted against Bangladesh to secure duty-free and quota-free access to US and European markets. India voted for Bangladesh.

I hope that message goes out loud and clear to contingents in Bangladesh who have developed a deep-seated hatred for all things Indian (whilst enjoying the benefits of cheap Indian health services and Hindi movies).

The T word

One of my favourite blogs is The Religious Policeman. Its one and only remit is to lampoon the pecadilloes of the Saudi Royal Family and the excesses of Wahhabism. It also contains large amounts of piss-taking of the idiosyncracies peculiar to Saudi Arabians. Now it must be said that there are no lack of people willing to lampoon the Saudi Royal Family and take the piss out of Saudi Arabians and I’ve met plenty of them. But none that I’ve come across have ever been a Saudi. Alhamedi claims to be a bone fide Saudi who blogs from London. The Religious Policeman has taken the laughter from behind the closed doors of air-conditioned villas in Riyadh to the blog readers of the world. This has been for me one of the successes of the blogosphere phenomenon.

One of the reasons the Religious Policeman has been so successful is because it offers some real insights into Saudi Wahhabism which is a puritanical interpretation of Islam and happens to form the blueprint of faith for the Islamist Terrorism that is springing up in any number of places around the world. Not least Bangladesh, where this writer comes from.

However, all this hilarity comes with a qualification. As an Arab, Alhamedi cannot be seen to address the plight or even, in fact, to take the side of Palestinians in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To do that would be to blow his lampooning credentials and he can be sure, if he were ever to do so, that the Religious Policeman would cease to be as amusing. If there were a blog that lampoons Bangladesh and the shameless legacy of the political parties which have held the future of 150 million Bangladeshis to ransom (and God knows that the BD diaspora is crying out for such a blog), I know that if it wanted to “stay in business” it could never be seen to buy into the sentimental politics of either the BNP or the Awami League. That would be seen as siding with one 'mythology' over another 'mythology' and any cachet of objectivity would be lost. Its not for nothing that Alhamedi has been careful not to pour scorn on the failure of the Saudi kingdom, and the Arab World, to come to a consensus about the Palestinian problem.

While it is important for Arabs like Alhamedi to build bridges he must not fall into the trap set by those who equate the support of the Palestinian cause with anti-Semitism or anti-Jewishness. The question of terrorism is often addressed by the Religious Policeman and, in particular, he has been a vociferous critic of Saudi Arabia’s inability or unwillingness to address the thorny issue of the 9/11 atrocity which was wholly the action of 19 Saudi terrorists. But Alhamedi’s obligation to critique his country means that he must skirt around the Islamophobic perception that all Saudis and/or all Arabs (and by a skip and a hop, all Muslims) are violent terrorists.

Lets check out Robert Fisk for a definition of the word Terrorist taken from his book Pity the Nation: Lebanon at War

For the Israelis - for Sharon and Begin and their soldiers - 'terrorist' did not have the same connotation as it does elsewhere. In Europe and America, in many Asian countries, even in the Soviet Union, the word 'terrorism' evokes images of hijackings, bombs planted in restaurants or schools or airports, the murder of civilians on planes, buses, trains or ships. But in Israel, 'terrorist' means all Palestinian Arabs - and very often, all Arabs - who oppose Israel in word or deed. Loren Jenkins used to refer to 'the careless depreciation of meaning' that the Israelis imposed on the word, claiming that this distorted the reality of terrorism. But it was not 'careless'. It was deliberate. Like the Syrians, the Soviets, the Americans and the British, the Israelis drew a careful distinction between good terrorists and bad terrorists. In Israel's case, the fomer were sympathetic to Israel and were graced with various, less harmful epithets - 'militiamen', 'fighters', 'soldiers' -- while the latter opposed Israel and were therefore terrorists pure and simple, guilty of the most heinous crimes, blood-soaked and mindless, the sort of people who should be 'cleansed' from society.

By labelling Palestinians as terrorists, the Israelis were describing their enemies as evil rather than hostile. If the Palestinians could be portrayed as mindless barbarians, surely no sane individual would dare regard their political claims as serious. Anyone who expressed sympathy for the Palestinians was evidently anti-semitic - and therefore not just anti-Israeli or anti-Jewish, but pro-Nazi - which no right-thinking individual would wish to be. Anyone who even suggested that the Israelis might be wrong in their war against the Palestinians could be castigated in the same way. Do you think Hitles was right? Do you agree with what happened at Auschwitz? No, of course not. If Israel called the PLO its enemy, then the Middle East dispute involved two hostile parties. But if the world believed that the Palestinians were evil -- that they represented sin in its crudest form - then the dispute did not exist. The battle was between right and wrong, David and Goliath, Israel and the 'terrorists'. The tragedy of the Israelis was that they came to believe this myth.

I hope the Muttawa the RP continues to be as funny and relevent in 2006 and, at some stage, can address the T word with his customary wit and humour.