Category Archives: U.S.

Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future – Part III

Part III of “An Imam in America” series by the NY Times.

Part I can be found here.
Part II can be found here.


PART III

March 7, 2006
An Imam in America
Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future
By Andrea Elliott

The young Egyptian professional could pass for any New York bachelor.

Dressed in a crisp polo shirt and swathed in cologne, he races his Nissan Maxima through the rain-slicked streets of Manhattan, late for a date with a tall brunette. At red lights, he fusses with his hair.

What sets the bachelor apart from other young men on the make is the chaperon sitting next to him — a tall, bearded man in a white robe and stiff embroidered hat.

“I pray that Allah will bring this couple together,” the man, Sheik Reda Shata, says, clutching his seat belt and urging the bachelor to slow down.

Christian singles have coffee hour. Young Jews have JDate. But many Muslims believe that it is forbidden for an unmarried man and woman to meet in private. In predominantly Muslim countries, the job of making introductions and even arranging marriages typically falls to a vast network of family and friends.

In Brooklyn, there is Mr. Shata.

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Filed under Islam, Islam & Modernity, Islamic Scholarship, Muslims, U.S.

To Lead the Faithful in a Faith Under Fire – Part II

Part II of “An Imam in America” series by the NY Times.
Part I can be found here.
Part III can be found here.


PART II

James Estrin/The New York Times
Sheik Reda Shata begins a seminar in cultural sensitivity at the 68th Precinct in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Through these kinds of efforts, the imam hopes to foster better understanding between law enforcement and his fellow Muslims.

March 6, 2006
An Imam in America
To Lead the Faithful in a Faith Under Fire
By Andrea Elliott

The F.B.I. agent and the imam sat across a long wooden table at a Brooklyn youth center last August.

Would the imam, the agent asked, report anyone who seemed prone to terrorism?

Sheik Reda Shata leaned back in his chair and studied the agent. Nearly a year had passed since the authorities had charged two young men, one of whom prayed at Mr. Shata’s mosque, with plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan.

The mosque had come under siege. Television news trucks circled the block. Threats were made. The imam’s congregants became angry themselves after learning that a police informer had spent months in their midst.

At the meeting, the imam chose his words carefully. It is not only the F.B.I. that wants to stop terrorism, he answered; Muslims also care about keeping the country safe.

“I would turn him in to you,” Mr. Shata finally said, pointing his finger at the agent, Mark J. Mershon, the top F.B.I. official in New York City. “But not because I am afraid of you.”

The moment captured one of the enduring challenges for an imam in America: living at the center of a religion under watch.

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A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds – Part I

The NY Times has recently come out with a 3-part series on Reda Shata, an Imam at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, New York. The following 3 posts will contain each part of the series. The links to the NYT articles contain interactive media, video, and photographs.

 


Part II can be found here.
Part III can be found here.


PART I

James Estrin/The New York Times

March 5, 2006
An Imam in America
A Muslim Leader In Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds
By Andrea Elliott

The imam begins his trek before dawn, his long robe billowing like a ghost through empty streets. In this dark, quiet hour, his thoughts sometimes drift back to the Egyptian farming village where he was born.

But as the sun rises over Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Sheik Reda Shata’s new world comes to life. The R train rattles beneath a littered stretch of sidewalk, where Mexican workers huddle in the cold. An electric Santa dances in a doughnut shop window. Neon signs beckon. Gypsy cabs blare their horns.

The imam slips into a plain brick building, nothing like the golden-domed mosque of his youth. He stops to pray, and then climbs the cracked linoleum steps to his cluttered office. The answering machine blinks frantically, a portent of the endless questions to come.

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How Internal Efforts to Ban the Abuse and Torture of Detainees was Thawrted in America

Annals of the Pentagon

The Memo
By Jane Mayer
The New Yorker

How an internal effort to ban the abuse and torture of detainees was thwarted.

Issue of 2006-02-27
Posted 2006-02-20

One night this January, in a ceremony at the Officers’ Club at Fort Myer, in Arlington, Virginia, which sits on a hill with a commanding view across the Potomac River to the Washington Monument, Alberto J. Mora, the outgoing general counsel of the United States Navy, stood next to a podium in the club’s ballroom. A handsome gray-haired man in his mid-fifties, he listened with a mixture of embarrassment and pride as his colleagues toasted his impending departure. Amid the usual tributes were some more pointed comments.

“Never has there been a counsel with more intellectual courage or personal integrity,? David Brant, the former head of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, said. Brant added somewhat cryptically, “He surprised us into doing the right thing.? Conspicuous for his silence that night was Mora’s boss, William J. Haynes II, the general counsel of the Department of Defense.

Back in Haynes’s office, on the third floor of the Pentagon, there was a stack of papers chronicling a private battle that Mora had waged against Haynes and other top Administration officials, challenging their tactics in fighting terrorism. Some of the documents are classified and, despite repeated requests from members of the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee, have not been released. One document, which is marked “secret? but is not classified, is a twenty-two-page memo written by Mora. It shows that three years ago Mora tried to halt what he saw as a disastrous and unlawful policy of authorizing cruelty toward terror suspects.

The memo is a chronological account, submitted on July 7, 2004, to Vice Admiral Albert Church, who led a Pentagon investigation into abuses at the U.S. detention facility at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. It reveals that Mora’s criticisms of Administration policy were unequivocal, wide-ranging, and persistent. Well before the exposure of prisoner abuse in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison, in April, 2004, Mora warned his superiors at the Pentagon about the consequences of President Bush’s decision, in February, 2002, to circumvent the Geneva conventions, which prohibit both torture and “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.? He argued that a refusal to outlaw cruelty toward U.S.-held terrorist suspects was an implicit invitation to abuse. Mora also challenged the legal framework that the Bush Administration has constructed to justify an expansion of executive power, in matters ranging from interrogations to wiretapping. He described as “unlawful,? “dangerous,? and “erroneous? novel legal theories granting the President the right to authorize abuse. Mora warned that these precepts could leave U.S. personnel open to criminal prosecution.

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Bearded Arabs 1; American ladies 0

Bearded Arabs 1; American ladies 0

The Daily Star
Saturday, February 25, 2006

By Rami G. Khouri

Nothing better captures the broad lines of the great contestation that now defines the Middle East than the four very telegenic characters who have crisscrossed the region during the past week: U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, her colleague in charge of U.S. public policy, Karen Hughes, Hamas official Khaled Meshaal and the young Iraqi cleric Moqtada al-Sadr. Their travels have been closely followed by the news media, which instinctively recognize a gladiatorial battle for the future when they see it, as is the case here.

Two of these four Middle Eastern itinerant ideologues are slick, appointed American political figures who spend many of their waking hours preaching the benefits of democratic elections in the Arab world. Two others are bearded Arab Islamists who have come to power through the American-supported vehicle of democratic elections in the Arab world. It would seem to be a match made in heaven: bearded Arab politicos who wish to expand their own efficient constituencies and militias into governing systems that enhance the wellbeing of their fellow citizens; and the American ladies who combine the bouncy enthusiasm of young high school cheerleaders with the more daring inclination to engage in political genetic engineering in order to enhance the wellbeing of Arab citizens and the security of Americans, in one fell swoop.

This convergence and happy ideological marriage has not happened. Instead, Rice and Hughes, when they are not preaching democracy for Arabs, spend the few remaining hours of their days fighting the incumbency of democratically elected Arabs. In response, elected bearded Arab politicos like Meshaal, the head of Hamas’ Political Bureau, and Sadr, who leads a powerful Shiite movement and militia in Iraq, increase their legitimacy and their impact through two parallel routes. They engage in electoral politics by being more responsive and accountable to the needs of their constituents, and they generate wider emotional and political appeal by defying Washington and its policies and presence in the Middle East.

The likelihood is that this past week will go down in the record books as one in which the American ladies significantly lost ground to the bearded Arabs. This is due to the simple reason that both the style and substance of American policies run sharply counter to the sentiments of ordinary Arabs, while the Meshaal-Sadr school of politics caters directly to ordinary people’s powerful emotional and political needs.

Rice’s trip to four Arab capitals embodies the explicit American diplomatic drive to convince Arab governments to quarantine Hamas and starve the Palestinians of aid funds, until Hamas changes its views and actions vis-a-vis Israel. This policy will be rejected by all Arab governments, and is also likely to set back Washington’s standing in the region more than any other action in recent years, even the unpopular Iraq war. That is because opposition to Hamas touches on and sharply inflames several deep nerves that already form the foundation of widespread skepticism about American foreign policy in the Arab world and internationally.

The first is the sense that the United States is neither serious nor consistent about promoting democracy. The second is that it fights mightily against Arabs or others in the region who try to manifest their identity through expressions of Islamism. The third is that Washington wages vigorous battles against any Arabs, Muslims, or others in the world who dare to resist Israel’s occupation and subjugation of Arabs, in Palestine and elsewhere. The fourth is that Washington treats sovereign Arab governments with contempt, expecting them to ignore their own public opinion and bend to America’s desires at the snap of a finger.

Not surprisingly, the trend of public opinion and political sentiments on the ground throughout the Middle East has been in favor of mainstream Islamists who simultaneously accept democratic pluralism, defy the U.S., resist Israeli occupation and colonization, and demand less corruption and more efficient governance at home. So Hamas, Hizbullah, the Muslim Brotherhood and movements like Sadr’s are winning elections, even when America-friendly governments such as Egypt’s restrict their freedom of movement.

Meshaal’s and Sadr’s travels around the Middle East this week were more like a victory lap than anything else. We must challenge some of their past behavior and future plans, to be sure. But we must also admit that these Islamist leaders have more legitimacy in the Middle East than all of Rice’s and Hughes’ copious democratic rhetoric, and all the Marines in Mesopotamia put together.

What to do instead? Elected democratic incumbents in Washington, Palestine, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Egypt and elsewhere should engage honestly, to move toward a common middle ground where Arab, Iranian, Turkish, European and American policies could happily coexist. This desirable terrain would include indigenous religious and social values, universal good governance standards, global principles that assert national sovereignty and reject colonial occupation, and legitimate leaders who have both the political credibility and the managerial capacity to synchronize all these factors into sensible, sustainable policies. High-profile American officials should explore this more humane, mutually beneficial approach during their visits to our convoluted lands, rather than mainly lecture and offend us.

This week’s score: bearded Arabs 1, American ladies 0.

Rami G. Khouri writes a regular commentary for The Daily Star.

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Michael Jackson’s “Islam” song hoax

UPDATE: We’ve now been informed that MJ song is actually a recording by Zain Bhika. Hikm fell prey to a hoax. Apologies.
We at Hikm received the following email:

ASA

Insha’Allah, I have attached a mp3 version of the new Michael Jackson “Islam” track where MJ praises God (Allah SWT) and curses the Devil (Shaytan). Michael recorded this from his new home in Bahrain. I hope that you like it and are patient, Masha’Allah.

Maa’Salaams,
Abdul-Jalil

To listen, click here.

It seems MJ is going the way of Cat Stevens, or should we say Yusuf Islam. This obviously raises the question, has MJ become Muslim? What a site it would be to see him at a protest moonwalking over a Danish flag.

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Torture in the Name of Freedom

AMERICA’S SHAME

Torture in the Name of Freedom

The new pictures from Abu Ghraib provide the most recent evidence: America’s moral bank account is empty — and it has lost the image wars. The entire Muslim world no longer trusts the world’s most powerful nation.

Some quotes (full article below):

From the perspective of the Middle East, the freedom and human rights the Americans profess to be bringing to an oppressed world are nothing more than a front, Washington’s false alibi in pushing its agenda of globalization. And for many in the Arab world, they are merely the sinister elements of a slick and even fraudulent marketing campaign aimed at humiliating Muslims.”

The crimes committed by US soldiers in the name of freedom and human rights, documented in unalterable photographs, appear to confirm the suspicion that America’s true aim is something entirely different — that the US is primarily interested in imposing its own world order and preserving its dominance.

In short, for the United States, the most powerful and influential global power ever, the images from Abu Ghraib — and the ongoing debate over the legality of its prison camp at Guantanamo — have produced a moral catastrophe that’s likely to endure for a very long time.

The battle for the hearts and minds of the Iraqis can likely already be penciled into the loss column — the inability to provide such basic necessities as electricity and drinking water for everyone represents a major strike against the US military. The daily suicide bombings and kidnappings mostly hit ordinary Iraqis. For many of them, life is now more difficult than it was under Saddam. The American military, too, is suffering. Losses mount almost daily; the death toll had reached 2,272 by last Friday.

And now the Americans have also lost the battle of images.

The images from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib will endure, and they will haunt America for decades to come. A global power can make mistakes and give in to folly, but when its moral foundation begins to crumble, it is constantly forced to deal with the images of its own humiliation and disgrace.

Anything goes once islands have been created outside the rule of law. If Guantanamo is elevated to the status of acceptability — if those in detention are granted neither the presumption of innocence nor the protections of the Vienna Convention — isn’t Abu Ghraib simply the logical and foreseeable end of this long chain? Does it not become the innate product of a new system the government has inaugurated in its war against terror?

Nowhere is the fallout from the images more dramatic, the resignation greater, than among those in the Islamic world who had disdained the extremists and had truly believed that the Islamic world stands a chance of being reformed.

There are those in the Arab world who have welcomed the Iraq war and America’s project of democratizing the Middle East. “The fall of Saddam established a fundamental moral concept in our political culture,” says Egyptian telephone magnate Naguib Sawiris: “responsibility.” Despite its many shortcomings, says Shibli Mallat, a Beirut attorney and democratic challenger of Lebanese President Emile Lahoud, the war in Iraq did put an end to appeasement in dealing with the despots.

But who wants to listen to it anymore?

“The second group of Abu Ghraib images spells the preliminary end to liberalism in the Arab world, ” says Mohammed al-Sayyid Said of the Ahram Center for Strategic Studies in Cairo. The secular, leftist and moderate wings of all political groups, Said believes, launched a faint-hearted attempt to take advantage of the new freedom last fall. But, he adds, “it’s over.”


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