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Archive for October, 2009

The struggle for overall hegemony in the Middle East continued yesterday, as the Saudi Minister for the Hajj (pilgrimage) warned ‘Iranian leaders’ (an oblique reference to the Faqih, Ayatollah Khamene’i, his running dog, President Ahmedinejad, and the fanatics of the Hojjatieh Society) not to ‘politicise the Hajj’ .

al-Quds

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I’ve already outlined the lengths Islamists will go to, to push through their nefarious agendas.  Still, lawfare as an instrument of Islamism; in effect, abusing hard-won democratic freedoms to silence debate and cow a Western public already rendered mute on pain of being accused of racism, is perhaps the most serious threat to liberal democracy since fascism.

http://www.csmonitor.com/2009/1027/p08s01-comv.html

Islamic countries push a global ‘blasphemy’ law | csmonitor.com via kwout

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I’ve been following Turkey’s domestic politics from afar for quite some time, with particular attention paid to the hotly debated commitment to secular democracy of the country’s ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP).  In some circles they are seen as moderate Islamists; a friendlier, more modern version of Necmettin Erbakan’s Refah Partisi (Welfare Party), which was subsequently banned by Turkey’s constitutional court; the last preserve of the founding ideology of Kemalism.  Others see them as a wolf in sheep’s clothing; political Islamists in tailored suits.  According to Bassam Tibi:

AKP leaders pursue a double strategy: They verbally dissociate their party – and themselves – from political Islam while simultaneously embracing Islamic identity politics and, like many Islamist parties across the globe, also engaging in anti-Christian polemics.  The AKP uses education as its major instrument to further Islamist identity politics, introduce reinvented Islamic values, and de-Westernize society.  And while the AKP claims secular credit for pursuing Turkey’s EU membership, it defames Europe as an exclusionary “club of Christians.”  Since its November 2002 accession, the AKP has engaged in a “creeping Islamization.”  The AKP has sought to further this through politics of cultural Islamization, especially in education and media.  Erdoğan has worked to expand Anatolian culture in the cities, helped by internal migration.  The slums and shanty towns have become the AKP’s chief base of support.

Whatever your opinion of the AKP, there’s no doubt that Turkey has acquired a more prominent role on the international stage under the stewardship of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and President Abdullah Gül.  Yet, for all the talk of accession to the EU and a favourable relationship, as a key member of NATO it must be stated, with the US, its Turkey’s relationship with its fellow Muslim-majority countries in the Middle East that is starting to cause consternation.  As Soner Cagaptay observes:

Some analysts have described the AKP’s foreign policy as a “zero problems with neighbours” approach.  Under the AKP, Ankara has indeed eliminated problems and built good ties with some neighbours, such as Syria and Iran, and signalled a thaw with Armenia, with whom Turkey shares a closed border.  On the other hand, Ankara’s traditionally good ties with other neighbours such as Georgia and Azerbaijan have deteriorated under the AKP, and Turkish-Israeli ties could unravel despite diplomats’ best efforts.  The AKP’s foreign policy, far from producing “zero problems with neighbours,” has resulted in significant ups with some neighbours and significant downs with others—especially those that are pro-Western.

And it’s Turkey’s pursuit of close ties with the Iranian theocracy  and the Syrian Ba’athist state apparatus  that has analysts most worried.  Turkey has supported Iran’s nuclear ambitions as well as forging ahead with joint Turco-Syrian military manœuvres.

At the same time, Turkey’s bilateral relations with Israel have suffered:

The party’s critical rhetoric regarding Israel, which has eroded all Turkish public support for ties with Israel, had been dismissed for a long time in the West and in Israel as domestic politicking.  However, that evaluation changed earlier this month.  On October 7, the AKP dis-invited Israel to “Anatolian Eagle,” a NATO air force exercise that has been held in central Turkey with U.S., Israeli and Western states’ participation since the mid-1990s.  Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan justified his party’s decision by saying that Israel is a “persecutor.”  Yet, the next day, the AKP announced that it had requested that Syria, whose regime persecutes its own people, participate in joint military exercises.  A proverbial mountain is moving in Turkish foreign policy: the AKP’s “us versus them” mindset, which does not see nations but rather religious blocks in the Middle East, is corroding the foundations of Turkey’s 60-year-old military and political cooperation with Israel.

Contemporaneous with the AKP’s wooing of its pro-Islamist Middle Eastern neighbours, has been the reorientation of public opinion at home.  For instance, according to a recent survey by the International Republican Institute, of Turks asked whether they felt their country had become more religious since the AKP came to power in 2002, nearly 70% replied in the affirmative.  Yet, in the same survey, over 70% agreed that restrictions should be placed on the activities of Islamic foundations.  Overall, the findings presented a mixed bag, with a large majority (74.3%) indicating their ambivalence towards the wearing of the hijab, desiring more religious education (63.8%), but a plurality (73.4%) rejecting the Shari’ah as a model for government.  Indeed the figures probably reflect Turkey’s unique cultural admixture of secularism, Islamic roots and pan-Turkism.

So where is Turkey heading?  Some suggest that the AKP’s objective is to have the best of both worlds: membership of the EU, yet a staunch ally and bulwark against perceived US-led interference in the Near and Middle East; an overtly secular state with Western institutions coupled with a quietist, moderate form of Islam enculturated amongst the population at large.

Whichever direction Turkey chooses, it has important strategic implications for all of the key global players.

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Lord Ahmed, the ‘soon to be expelled’ Labour peer, is fond of appearing as a  kind of  hirsute caped crusader.  He’s been to Khartoum to discuss teddy bears called Muhammad, invited the anti-Semite Jöran Jermas for tea at the House of Lords and lobbied for ‘a force of 10,000 Muslims to lay siege to the Lords if the campaigning anti-Islamist Dutch MP Geert Wilders was allowed to speak’.  Well, now safely ensconced back in the House of Lords, he’s providing a valuable service to Britain’s sizeable Islamist community by cosying up to Muhammad Abdul Bari of the MCB and Anas al-Tikriti’s Cordoba Foundation with parliament’s Friends of Islam.

http://www.spittoon.org/archives/3235

Lord Ahmed, the All-Party Parliamentary Friends of Islam Group and the Cordoba Foundation via kwout

 

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Having seen the dynamics of Islam and politics in secular Indonesia, we turn our attention to Malaysia and the difficulties of reconciling political Islam with pluralism.  In the following article, Maznah Mohamad, draws on the several recent incidents of religious intolerance as well as a questionable legal ruling to highlight the increasing Islamisation of the state.  This paragraph, in particular, made me think of the difficulties inherent in trying to synthesise positive law from uncodified Islamic law:

Islamic laws in Malaysia are based on religious doctrine but codified and passed as statutes by state parliaments. Not much debate attends their enactment, because a fear of heresy keeps most critics from questioning anything deemed Islamic.

This is precisely the sort of inbuilt legislative awkwardness that prevents Islamic states such as Iran being considered truly democratic.  The idea of sovereignty vested in the people is a fig leaf, as positive law must still conform to the diktats and dogma of the Qur’an, Sunnah of the infallibles and the legal opinions of both the faqih and his Guardian Council.  Experience suggests that, just as in Iran, the Malaysian legislature must operate within a straightjacket; no laws can ‘transgress’ the eternal limits of the Shari’ah, whatever their democratic legitimacy.

This profoundly alien concept is what Mohsen Milani calls ‘limited popular sovereignty’.  It’s just one of the many paradoxes manifested within a politico-legal system constrained by constant recourse to a divine law.

http://www.realclearworld.com/printpage/?url=http://www.realclearworld.com/articles/2009/10/26/malaysia_goes_islamic_97295.html

RealClearPolitics – Articles – Print Article via kwout

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In the early 1980s, Nasir Tamara, a young Indonesian scholar, needed money to fund a study of Islam and politics. He went to the Jakarta office of the U.S.-based Ford Foundation to ask for help. He left empty-handed. The United States, he was told, was “not interested in getting into Islam.”

The rebuff came from President Obama’s mother, Ann Dunham, a U.S. anthropologist who lived in Indonesia for more than a decade. Dunham, who died in 1995, focused on issues of economic development, not matters of faith and politics, sensitive subjects in a country then ruled by a secular-minded autocrat.

“It was not fashionable to ‘do Islam’ back then,” Tamara recalled.

Today, Indonesia is a democracy and the role of Islam is one of the most important issues facing U.S. policy in a country with many more Muslims than Egypt, Syria, Jordan and all the Arab countries of the Persian Gulf combined. What kind of Islam prevails here is critical to U.S. interests across the wider Muslim world.

“This is a fight for ideas, a fight for what kind of future Indonesia wants,” said Walter North, Jakarta mission chief for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), who knew Dunham while she was here in the 1980s.

It is also a fight that raises a tricky question: Should Americans stand apart from Islam’s internal struggles around the world or jump in and try to bolster Muslims who are in sync with American views?

A close look at U.S. interactions with Muslim groups in Indonesia — Obama’s boyhood home for four years — shows how, since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, rival strategies have played out, often with consequences very different from what Washington intended.

In the debate over how best to influence the country’s religious direction, some champion intervention, most notably a private organization from North Carolina that has waded deep into Indonesia’s theological struggles. But, in the main, U.S. thinking has moved back toward what it was in Dunham’s day: stay out of Islam.

A change in public mood

In many ways, Indonesia — a nation of 240 million people scattered across 17,000 islands — is moving in America’s direction. It has flirted with Saudi-style dogmatism on its fringes. But while increasingly pious, it shows few signs of dumping what, since Islam arrived here in the 14th century, has generally been an eclectic and flexible brand of the faith.

Terrorism, which many Indonesians previously considered an American-made myth, now stirs general revulsion. When a key suspect in July suicide bombings in Jakarta was killed recently in a shootout with a U.S.-trained police unit, his native village, appalled by his violent activities, refused to take the body for burial.

A band of Islamic moral vigilantes this month forced a Japanese porn star to call off a trip to Jakarta. But the group no longer storms bars, nightclubs and hotels as it did regularly a few years ago, at the height of a U.S. drive to promote “moderate” Islam. Aceh, a particularly devout Indonesian region and a big recipient of U.S. aid after a 2004 tsunami, recently introduced a bylaw that mandates the stoning to death of adulterers, but few expect the penalty to be carried out. Aceh’s governor, who has an American adviser paid for by USAID, opposes stoning.

Public fury at the United States over the Iraq war has faded, a trend accelerated by the departure of President George W. Bush and the election of Obama. In 2003, the first year of the war, 15 percent of Indonesians surveyed by the Pew Research Center had a favorable view of the United States — compared with 75 percent before Bush took office. America’s favorability rating is now 63 percent.

There are many reasons for the change of mood: an economy that is growing fast despite the global slump; increasing political stability rooted in elections that are generally free and fair; moves by President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, a U.S.-trained former general who won reelection by a landslide in July, to co-opt Islamic political parties.

Another reason, said Masdar Mas’udi, a senior cleric at Nahdlatul Ulama, Indonesia’s — and the world’s — largest Islamic organization, is that the United States has backed away from overt intrusions into religious matters. A foe of hard-line Muslims who has worked closely with Americans, Mas’udi said he now believes that U.S. intervention in theological quarrels often provides radicals with “a sparring partner” that strengthens them. These days, instead of tinkering with religious doctrine, a pet project focuses on providing organic rice seeds to poor Muslim farmers.

In the immediate aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks, Washington deployed money and rhetoric in a big push to bolster “moderate” Muslims against what Bush called the “real and profound ideology” of “Islamo-fascism.” Obama, promising a “new beginning between America and Muslims around the world,” has avoided dividing Muslims into competing theological camps. He has denounced “violent extremists” but, in a June speech in Cairo, stated that “Islam is not part of the problem.”

North, the USAID mission chief, said the best way to help “champions of an enlightened perspective win the day” is to avoid theology and help Indonesia “address some of the problems here, such as poverty and corruption.” Trying to groom Muslim leaders America likes, he said, won’t help.

Rethinking post-9/11 tack

This is a sharp retreat from the approach taken right after the Sept. 11 attacks, when a raft of U.S.-funded programs sought to amplify the voice of “moderates.” Hundreds of Indonesian clerics went through U.S.-sponsored courses that taught a reform-minded reading of the Koran. A handbook for preachers, published with U.S. money, offered tips on what to preach. One American-funded Muslim group even tried to script Friday prayer sermons.

Such initiatives mimicked a strategy adopted during the Cold War, when, to counter communist ideology, the United States funded a host of cultural, educational and other groups in tune with America’s goals. Even some of the key actors were the same. The Asia Foundation, founded with covert U.S. funding in the 1950s to combat communism, took the lead in battling noxious strands of Islam in Indonesia as part of a USAID-financed program called Islam and Civil Society. The program began before the Sept. 11 attacks but ramped up its activities after.

“We wanted to challenge hard-line ideas head-on,” recalled Ulil Abshar Abdalla, an Indonesian expert in Islamic theology who, with Asia Foundation funding, set up the Liberal Islam Network in 2001. The network launched a weekly radio program that questioned literal interpretations of sacred texts with respect to women, homosexuals and basic doctrine. It bought airtime on national television for a video that presented Islam as a faith of “many colors” and distributed leaflets promoting liberal theology in mosques.

Feted by Americans as a model moderate, Abdalla was flown to Washington in 2002 to meet officials at the State Department and the Pentagon, including Paul D. Wolfowitz, the then-deputy secretary of defense and a former U.S. ambassador to Jakarta. But efforts to transplant Cold War tactics into the Islamic world started to go very wrong. More-conservative Muslims never liked what they viewed as American meddling in theology. Their unease over U.S. motives escalated sharply with the start of the Iraq war and spread to a wider constituency. Iraq “destroyed everything,” said Abdalla, who started getting death threats.

Indonesia’s council of clerics, enraged by what it saw as a U.S. campaign to reshape Islam, issued a fatwa denouncing “secularism, pluralism and liberalism.”

The Asia Foundation pulled its funding for Abdalla’s network and began to rethink its strategy. It still works with Muslim groups but avoids sensitive theological issues, focusing instead on training to monitor budgets, battle corruption and lobby on behalf of the poor. “The foundation came to believe that it was more effective for intra-Islamic debates to take place without the involvement of international organizations,” said Robin Bush, head of the foundation’s Jakarta office.

Abdalla, meanwhile, left Indonesia and moved to Boston to study.

One U.S. group jumps in

While the Asia Foundation and others dived for cover, one American outfit jumped into the theological fray with gusto. In December 2003, C. Holland Taylor, a former telecommunications executive from Winston-Salem, N.C., set up a combative outfit called LibForAll Foundation to “promote the culture of liberty and tolerance.”

Taylor, who speaks Indonesian, won some big-name supporters, including Indonesia’s former president, Abdurrahman Wahid, a prominent but ailing cleric, and a popular Indonesian pop star, who released a hit song that vowed, “No to the warriors of jihad! Yes to the warriors of love.” Taylor took Wahid to Washington, where they met Wolfowitz, Vice President Richard B. Cheney and others. He recruited a reform-minded Koran scholar from Egypt to help promote a “renaissance of Islamic pluralism, tolerance and critical thinking.”

Funding came from wealthy Americans, including heirs of the Hanes underwear fortune, and several European organizations. Taylor, in a recent interview in Jakarta, declined to identify his biggest American donor. He said he has repeatedly asked the U.S. government for money but has received only $50,000, a grant from a State Department counterterrorism unit.

“You can’t win a war with that,” said Taylor, who is working on a 26-part TV documentary that aims to debunk hard-line Islamic doctrine. “People in Washington would prefer to think that if we do nothing we will be okay: just cut off the heads of terrorists and everything will be fine.”

As the atmosphere has grown less hostile, Abdalla, the much-reviled American favorite, returned this year to Jakarta. He hasn’t changed his liberal take on Islam but now avoids topics that fire up his foes. “I’ve changed. The environment has changed,” he said. “We now realize the radical groups are not as dominant as we thought in the beginning.”

Tired of being branded a fringe American stooge, he plans to run in an election next year for leadership of Nahdlatul Ulama, a pillar of Indonesia’s traditional religious establishment. He doesn’t stand much of a chance but wants to “engage with the mainstream instead of the periphery.” His Liberal Islam Network doesn’t get U.S. money anymore, skirts touchy topics on its radio show and no longer hands out leaflets in mosques.

“Religion is too sensitive. We shouldn’t get involved,” said Kay Ikranagara, a close American friend of Obama’s late mother who works in Jakarta for a small USAID-funded scholarship program. Ikranagara worries about Islam’s growing influence on daily life in the country, but she’s wary of outsiders who want to press Indonesians on matters of faith.

“We just get in a lot of trouble trying to do that,” she said.

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Hizb ut-Tahrir (HuT) are seldom out of the news these days.  Like other organisations that peddle extremism in the UK, HuT have a tiny membership (3-4000), yet punch far above their weight through the use of the new media, by employing various front organisations and recruiting amongst the most politically active and technologically savvy.

HuT’s raison d’être is thus:

[…] to resume the Islamic way of life by establishing an Islamic State that executes the systems of Islam and carries its call to the world.

The organisation’s ideology rejects secular democracy and hence procedural secularism:

Hizb-ut-Tahrir…struggles against colonialism in all its forms and attributes in order to liberate the Ummah from its intellectual leadership and to deracinate its cultural, political, military and economic roots from the soil of the Islamic lands. Hizb-ut-Tahrir endeavors to change the erroneous thoughts which colonialism has propagated, such as confining Islam to rituals and morals.

Furthermore, as if this weren’t enough to set alarm bells ringing, HuT’s strategy is revolutionary in scope:

The party proceeds in the three periods which the Messenger of Allah (saw) proceeded in order to achieve his objective:

1- The period of study and culture in order to generate the party culture and incorporate the ideology in a group of individuals, i.e. in order to form the bloc.

2- The period of interaction with the Ummah and the struggle for the sake of making her adopt the ideology of the party as her own, make it her raison d’être and work towards establishing it.

3- The period of attaining and seizing the reins of power through the Ummah in order to implement the ideology in a comprehensive manner, because it is forbidden to seize partial power. Hence, the arrival at the ruling must be total and the implementation of Islam must be comprehensive.

Clearly, HuT is incompatible with a liberal democracy such as the UK’s, which makes today’s report in The Daily Telegraph that 3 schools with connections to HuT have received over £100,000 in government funding all the more astounding:

Accounts filed at the Charity Commission show that the Government paid a total of £113,411 last year to a foundation run by senior members and activists of Hizb ut-Tahrir — a notorious Islamic extremist group that ministers promised to ban.

The public money helped run a nursery school and two Islamic primary schools where children are taught key elements of Hizb’s ideology from the age of five.

The name of the ‘foundation’ responsible for the administration of the three schools is enlightening:

The three schools — in Tottenham, north London, and Slough, Berks — are run by the Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation, a registered charity.

Shakhsiyah (or shakhsiyyah) is a transliteration of the Arabic word for ‘personality’ (شخصية) and the term ‘Islamic personality’ or Islamic Shakhsiyah, coincidentally, happens to be the title of a famous three volume treatise written by the founder of Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Jordanian-Palestinian Taqi ud-Deen an-Nabhani.  You can view the three volume treatise here and here (unfortunately the 3rd volume is not available in English, but each volume is available in Arabic here, here and here).

According to the Charity Commission’s site, the ISF (Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation) actually run 4 schools (2 primarys each with a nursery):

Islamic Shakhsiyah Foundation runs two independent primary schools and two attached nurseries.  The schools and nurseries run on an alternative ethos as detailed on our website.  We provide other services to the community including various classes and community events.

The article goes on to examine the schools’ management team:

The foundation’s lead trustee is Yusra Hamilton, a leading Hizb activist who is married to Taji Mustafa, the group’s chief spokesman in Britain.

At least three of the four trustees are Hizb members or activists, including Farah Ahmed, the head teacher of the Slough school, who has written in a Hizb journal condemning the “corrupt Western concepts of materialism and freedom”.

A spokesman for the foundation insisted that it was not a Hizb ut-Tahrir operation but involved “Muslim women from a wide variety of backgrounds”.

And we can see what sort of  ‘alternative ethos’ guides the ISF’s approach to teaching and learning, their so-called an-Nabhani inspired Shakhsiyah Model:

The Islamic belief of the purpose of life is fundamentally in opposition to the secular belief. The secular education system therefore has fundamentally different goals to the Islamic education system. It is not sufficient to insert some Islamic aspects into secular systems.

The curriculum fits perfectly with HuT’s ‘three steps to Khalifah’ goal:

The schools’ history curriculum states that children are taught that “there must be one ruler of the khilafah [caliphate]”. The schools’ website says that “in the glorious history of Islam… the Sharia was the norm”.

And the ISF, despite clearly being a HuT front organisation, received funds via local government from the Department for Children, Schools and Families:

The Shakhsiyah Foundation spokesman said the government money, from Whitehall’s “Free Entitlement” and “Pathfinder” programmes, had been claimed by parents on behalf of the school.  However, a spokesman for Haringey council, which administered the grant, said this was incorrect and that the foundation had applied for the money.

This means that British taxpayers are helping to fund the ideological indoctrination of children by an extremist Islamist group; a group that former PM Tony Blair claimed he would proscribe in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, but then reneged on his promise; a group which has now been banned in Bangladesh for attempting to foment an Islamic revolution and destabilise the government; a group with nuclear ambitions.  

Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, promised to ban HuT if the Tories form the next government

The Home Office has another key responsibility.  The security of our people and of our nation.  To take the lead in the battle against terrorism.  And the fight against an ideology of hate and violence.  An ideology that damages the reputation of decent, law abiding British Muslims as well as threatening life and limb.  And let’s be clear. That ideology wants to destroy the civil liberties that make this country what it is. No Government should allow them to do so, and the way this Government has eroded those liberties is shameful and must be reversed.

Our police and security services have done a magnificent job in protecting us against the terrorist threat.  We owe them a huge debt of gratitude.

But we are still not tough enough on those who spread a doctrine of hate in Britain.  So I will immediately ban Hizb ut-Tahrir, and any other group that actively incites hatred and violence.

We also have extremists using video links to hold meetings with banned preachers of hate from overseas who urge violence against our society.  If I am Home Secretary the people who organise those meetings will be arrested and prosecuted.

Under this Government the extremists have been free to protest on our streets and incite violence and hatred in the most blatant ways.  We cannot and we will not allow this to continue.

HuT are unlikely to be banned under the Tories as it would be reasonable to assume that, had it been possible, Blair would have added them to the proscribed list of organisations.  That he didn’t suggests two things:

1 – There is as yet, despite the plethora of anecdotal and documentary evidence (not least here), no hard evidence linking HuT in the UK to violence.

2 – Banning HuT is seen as counter-productive.  When Omar Bakri’s outfit, al-Muhajiroun, and several of its offshoots were outlawed, another organisation, Islam4UK, popped up featuring many of the same individuals involved in the previous incarnations.  Meanwhile, Islam4UK continue to spout extremist rhetoric within the letter of the law,  as it seems do HuT.

A useful discussion on the merits of banning Hizb ut-Tahrir and the likely problems with such a strategy can be found here

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