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30 January 2015

The Christian Example for Modernizing Islam

Catholics and Protestants once killed in the name of God, but eventually liberal ideas took hold.
By KEVIN MADIGAN
Violent. Illiberal. Intolerant. Anti-Semitic. After the tragic, murderous events in Paris earlier this month, these adjectives have been applied not only to murderous jihadists but to Islam itself. Yet these words could just as easily apply to medieval Christianity and to much of Christianity in the 20th century.

Medieval Christians notoriously persecuted, incarcerated and burned religious dissenters. Less well-known is that Protestant Reformers in early modern Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, despite their differences with the old Western church, agreed that religion was not a matter of private judgment but of deep communal concern and unitary. Reformers believed that religious orthodoxy must be safeguarded, and almost all agreed that dissidents deserved severe punishment and even death. Calvin ’s Geneva was a theocracy; one theologian who doubted the Trinity was burned to death—with Calvin’s approval.

Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries, popes habitually fulminated against modernity. One reason that popes like Pius XI (1922-39) supported the fascist dictator Mussolini —he once stated that Il Duce had been sent by “Providence” to rescue Italy—was that they shared antipathy for parliamentary democracy and for freedom of the press and association. Generally speaking, sacred and secular leaders in Catholic parts of Europe loathed modernity and all it represented: liberal democracy, emancipation, tolerance, separation of church and state and freedom of thought.

Only in the early 1960s did the Roman Catholic Church reject this medieval worldview. Only then did it begin to tolerate other world religions, representative democracy and the disenfranchisement of religion. It was only recently that it started to be reluctant to use political agencies to achieve religious objectives—even to accept the idea that the modern citizen is free to be nonreligious.

As Pope Francis recently remarked, reflecting this relatively new attitude of tolerance and pluralism, “Each individual must be free, alone or in association with others, to seek the truth, and to openly express his or her religious convictions, free from intimidation.” It has been said, and not without reason, that the church changed more from 1960-2000 than in the previous millennium. Yet even today, outside Western Europe and the U.S., predominantly Christian states—Russia and Uganda, for instance—have notoriously repressive laws.

All of this is to say that traditionalist Islamic states and Muslims have not, historically speaking, had a monopoly on authoritarianism, violence against apostates, the wholesale rejection of religious pluralism, and the manipulation of religion to realize political agendas. But in the same sad set of facts lies some good news: The startling changes experienced by Western churches over the past several centuries suggest that similar changes might occur within the world of Islam.

As Christianity has taken many twists and turns in its history, so has Islam, and so might it again, only this time moving toward the more open posture of most contemporary Western Christians. The Christian experience should caution us against assuming there is something intrinsic to Islam that mandates that Islamic societies be anti-modern. In fact, in the 16th through 20th centuries, liberal ideas were imported into Muslim societies with remarkable success, and harmonized with Islam, especially in the Ottoman Empire. Less happily, at critical moments in Islamic history, reactionary interpretations—or misinterpretations—of the Quran and Shariah triumphed over others.

Fortunately, some Muslims have begun to reinterpret ancient traditions in light of modernity and begun their own, albeit often-quiet reformations, distressed by the authoritarian elements smuggled into their tradition. They are intent on synthesizing—as have so many branches of Judaism and Christianity—features of their religious traditions with democratic ideas. Such reformations have been institutionalized successfully in several countries with significant Muslim populations, such as Turkey and Tunisia.

We can only hope that, with the quickening pace of historical change in modernity, Islam can adjust more rapidly than Christendom, so that a broad-minded form of the religion will prevail. Muslims will have to recognize what the West, through many centuries of hard experience and reflection, has learned: that religious texts arose in a particular context and must be reinterpreted in the new context of modernity; that pluralism within one’s own tradition and the tolerance of other faiths must be appreciated anew; and, finally, that the coercive imposition of faith will generate only nominal or hypocritical, not authentic, conversions.

This will require patience on the part of the West, and more. Above all, the West must not panic and extend its battle with radical Islam—most of whose victims have been Muslims—to the world-wide population of Muslims. The Christian world passed through its era of repression and theocracy; there is no reason to presuppose that the Islamic world cannot do likewise.

Mr. Madigan, a professor of history at Harvard Divinity School, is the author, most recently, of “Medieval Christianity: A New History” (Yale University Press, 20)

https://www.google.com/webhp?sourceid=chrome-instant&ion=1&espv=2&ie=UTF-8#q=christian%20reconstructionism

Even today in Western society we see large groups of people that are uneasy with modern technology and want to force living standards back to the 19th century.
There is evidence all over the world that either for religion, language or economic reasons Muslims are failing to integrate into Western Society
We don't have multiple centuries for  religions steeped in third world thinking and dedicated to isolate themselves from Western thinking to catch up when so many efficient ways to kill in mass are available to these creatures.
Is the government going to wait and watch while millions of people are killed in the name of a religion?
I surely hope not!

http://www.wsj.com/articles/kevin-madigan-the-christian-example-for-modernizing-islam-1422578153

27 January 2015

The maddening reality of the Middle East


The only guarantee we have at this point is that the dramatic free fall some Arab countries are undergoing is unavoidable and even necessary. Let things fall where they may to see how and with whom the future will rise from there.

In the midst of an ever-changing Middle East, more often for the worst and rarely for the better, it has become more challenging to spearhead resolutions to the raging wars and lingering problems. Where can one get inspiration to end the bloodshed or return refugees to their homes or simply imagine life as it used to be only a short few years ago? It is therefore not surprising that many, including Arabs themselves, are turning their backs.

Power across the region
It is not difficult to see that the extremists have found their way to power across the region. Dictatorships were only replaced by militancy. Tyrants fell only to give rise to brainwashed underground groups. Disoriented, the latters practice intolerance and abuse power exactly as has been the case against them for decades. Their reactions are violent with deadly consequences, but we should expect their hatred to rage on as long as there is no one to stand up to them and stop them.

The situation today is the result of years of carelessness and neglect, blinded tyrannies, failed western foreign policies, old vendettas, hate-driven alliances and a systematic alienation of moderate voices.

Today, the Middle East stands at a crossroad with a major imbalance of wealth and power. Although “Instability” should be the headline of this era, some are still pretending not to be affected by it. A dangerous rise in extremism threatens friends and foes alike. Add to that upcoming Israeli elections and the winding of a confused U.S. administration that made the region worse one bad decision at a time and one late response at a time.

The only way out of this impasse is for the people to take charge of their lives. Not as a region or nation but as individuals coming together to create, grow and defend an independent, sustainable and dignified life for themselves and for the generations after them.

Lucky are those who have already started such process and are ready to apply it even at a small, individual scale. For the future is in their hands.
http://english.alarabiya.net/en/views/news/middle-east/2015/01/27/The-maddening-reality-of-the-Middle-East.html

This article was first published in al-Nahar on January 27, 2015.

_____________________

20 January 2015

Why single out Islam for this patronising treatment?

Eric Pickles, the British communities secretary, wrote a letter to Muslim leaders in which he asked them to ‘explain and demonstrate how faith in Islam can be part of British identity’.
A response

Dear Eric,

Walaikum salam warahmatullahi wabarakatuhu.

Serious question. Will you be sending a letter any time soon to members of the Roman Catholic church following the child-abuse scandals in Catholic institutions? Or a letter to the Board of Deputies of British Jews on the subject of illegal Israeli settlements in the West Bank?

No?

Thought as much.

Ten years on from 9/11 and you’re still asking the same questions, questions that have proved worse than useless in the intervening years. Still wondering aloud about the loyalty of British citizens based on their spiritual beliefs. Still demanding that these people prove themselves compatible with the “British way of life”, as defined by you.

In your letter this week, you say that you “know acts of extremism are not representative of Islam”. You mention that “British values are Muslim values”. Yet you insist on asking us to speak to our young people, telling them that “extremists have nothing to offer them”. Do you really think that little of our young people? That they can’t tell the difference between right and wrong? Do you imagine that they are already that different, that set apart from British society, simply because they’re Muslim? Do you think that little of our ability to bring them up to know that taking life is a sin?

To accept the terms of your argument for a moment, we already know that 83% of Muslims living in the UK say they identify with British values. Others are as free not to identify with them as any non-Muslim might be – the right to be disaffected isn’t limited to Christians. That a tiny number of Muslims are also lost to violent extremism says as much about other members of our faith as the conduct of abusers in the Catholic church does about theirs. But still you require our religious leaders do more in “demonstrating how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”.

Rather than send a patronising letter telling Muslim leaders what to do, maybe you should actually sit down with Muslim leaders and listen to them, really listen. You’ve been in the job for nearly five years. They would tell you that since 9/11 we have condemned, apologised and worked tirelessly to expose the incompatibility of the terrorists’ ideology with Islam. We have done what you have asked us to do. But we are like any other citizens of the UK today. We are anxious. Anxious about an increase in intolerance towards minorities, including but not limited to our own. Anxious about the economy. Anxious about whether the NHS can continue to meet our needs. Anxious about whether our children will be able to afford higher education. In general, it seems our fears are not listened to.

You are communities secretary. You have a duty of care to the diverse peoples who make up Britain and define British values. Sadly, it seems the only time you engage with us is under the rubric of counter-terrorism. With attacks against Muslims taking place across the country, more than ever before we need your reassurance and protection.

Instead we get a letter suggesting we’re not doing enough.

I would say it’s you, communities secretary, who hasn’t done nearly enough. I’m afraid your letter will be received respectfully, but with disappointment, up and down the country.

Yours sincerely,

Areeb

"Dear Eric Pickles – why single out Islam for this patronising treatment?"
theguardian.com | January 19

18 January 2015

Causes of Islamist militancy

AS terrorist violence from ‘Islamic’ militants spreads across the world, from Peshawar to Paris, affected states are struggling to devise effective responses. So far, most of their responses have addressed the visible symptoms of the terrorist threat through military, police and intelligence measures. These are, of course, essential to stem the terrorist tide. Unfortunately, these responses are often insufficient or incorrect.

To develop the right responses, it is essential to honestly analyse and address the principal causes of ‘Islamic terrorism’.

The fundamental origins of Islamist extremism and militancy lie in the failure of Muslim states, and other states with Muslim populations, to deliver jobs, justice and dignity to a growing army of young people. The economic, social and demographic indicators in Muslim countries are some of the worst in the world. Their societies are imbued with inequality and injustice. Similarly, Muslim youth in the advanced Western countries have not become integrated in the social and economic mainstream. Poor, unemployed and disaffected youth have always provided ready recruits for radical and rebellious movements.

The basic rationale for radicalism has been provided by the political and economic suppression of Muslims for so long in many places. The plight of the Palestinians and Kashmiris are two examples. The memories of brutal colonial actions in Turkey, Algeria, Iran, Indonesia and other Muslim countries, are part of historical Muslim grievances. The oppression and discrimination against Muslim minorities in India, Burma, Russia etc, have added to these grievances. These real and perceived historical injustices provided the basic justification and support for ideologies that advocate antipathy towards the West and the active propagation and ‘defence’ of Islam.

The rise of radical Islamist movements was gradual and fitful. At some periods in the post colonial era, some of these Islamists were sponsored and supported by Western powers. However, with the ‘failure’ of the Western capitalist and the Soviet communist models, Islamic movements, financed often from abroad, were able to move into the political mainstream in many Muslim countries. Tolerant societies, like Pakistan, saw the rise of parties propagating a narrow and exclusivist version of Islam.

The basic rationale for radicalism has been provided by the suppression of Muslims.
A major turning point was the use of Islamist zealots to combat the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. The seven-member mujahideen alliance, sponsored by the US, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, other Arab countries and Iran, was composed exclusively of ‘Islamist’ groups. Forty thousand ‘Islamic’ radicals were imported from across the Arab and Muslim world, including Osama bin Laden and Ayman al Zawahiri. These original ‘foreign fighters’ also included Muslim rebels from Uzbekistan, Chechnya and Xinjiang.

After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, this deadly cocktail of hardened local and foreign ‘jihadists’ either stayed on in Afghanistan-Pakistan or returned to their countries to spread their toxic ideology and fighting experience. These fighters and their descendants form the core of Al Qaeda and its franchises in the Arabian peninsula and North Africa as well as the IMU, ETIM and TTP.

With the Soviet withdrawal and an equally hasty American withdrawal from Afghanistan, Islamist groups ran amok in Afghanistan, Pakistan and their ‘home’ countries. The first attack was engineered by Al Zawahiri against the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. He later joined Osama bin Laden to form Al Qaeda. The mujahideen, meanwhile, split into several factions, vying for control of Kabul. A struggle for influence ensued between Pakistan and Iran in Afghanistan. Pakistan became the battleground for externally sponsored Sunni-Shia violence. Meanwhile, Iran sponsored Shia groups in Lebanon, Iraq and elsewhere.

During the 1990s’ Afghan civil war, many mujahideen groups became criminalised, raising money to finance themselves through drug production and trafficking, kidnapping and extortion. Criminality opened the door to the infiltration of these groups by state intelligence agencies, including those of Pakistan, India, Saudi Arabia, Iran and the West. Such infiltration of certain Kashmir groups by India was critical in transforming the legitimate struggle for freedom in Kashmir into a ‘terrorist’ threat.

Notably, it was Mullah Omar’s Taliban who restored order in southern and eastern Afghanistan, overcoming or winning over the warring groups, except those in the Iran-India backed Northern Alliance. Mullah Omar’s association with Al Qaeda came about only after the US and Western decision to isolate the Taliban. His adamant refusal to surrender Osama bin Laden or expel him led to the Taliban’s ouster by the US with the help of the Northern Alliance.

The 2001 US military intervention in Afghanistan and its 2003 invasion of Iraq provided a second life to Al Qaeda and other Islamist movements, offering a rallying cause and proximate targets for ‘jihad’. Al Qaeda received new recruits. Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq was born, a predecessor to today’s Islamic State. AQAP, AQIM, TTP, Al Shabab, Boko Haram and several lesser known groups all emerged in the renewed jihad generated by opposition to Western interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The recent spread of jihadi movements across the Muslim world has been made possible by three factors. One, the weakness of most Muslim states, in terms of their police, military and intelligence capabilities, political laxity towards extremist movements and official corruption. Two, misguided Western-engineered overthrow or erosion of authoritarian regimes in Muslim states including Egypt, Libya and Syria, which opened the door to Islamist groups. Three, the external sponsorship of some of these groups, like the IS and TTP.

The ‘successes’ of jihadi movements and their narrative — Muslim rights can be regained only through violent struggle — have attracted thousands of alienated youth in Western countries. Reportedly, there are over 5000 ‘foreign fighters’ from Europe who have joined the IS. The Paris attacks have brought the war home for the Europeans, transforming a foreign policy challenge into a domestic priority. These attacks have also laid bare the cultural and religious divisions within these advanced countries, manifested by the anti-Islam Pegida movement in Germany, the National Front in France and burning of mosques in traditionally tolerant Sweden.

Addressing ‘Islamic terrorism’ is thus now a global challenge and priority. However, unless the origins and causes of this phenomenon are fully understood, it will prove difficult to formulate and agree on comprehensive policies and actions to meet this challenge.

Causes of Islamist militancy
by Munir Akram, dawn.com
The writer is a former Pakistan ambassador to the UN.



Paris attacks: Jean-Marie Le Pen says French terror attacks were work of western intelligence

The Charlie Hebdo massacre may have been the work of an “intelligence agency”, working with the connivance of French authorities, according to Jean-Marie Le Pen, founder of the far right Front National.

In an interview with a virulently anti-western Russian newspaper, Mr Le Pen, 86, gave credence to conspiracy theories circulating on the internet suggesting that the attack was the work of American or Israeli agents seeking to foment a civil war between Islam and the west.

His comments – only partially retracted in an interview with the French newspaper Le Monde today – provoked outrage amongst French politicians. They will also infuriate Marine Le Pen, his daughter, and successor as leader of the FN, who has been trying to distance the party from her father’s extreme and provocative remarks.

Mr Le Pen stood down as FN leader three years ago but remains President-for-life. He made the comments in an interview with Komsomolskaïa Pravda , a newspaper which had already blamed the United States for the terrorist mayhem in France.

Charlie Hebdo: Mourning in Paris

“The shooting at Charlie Hebdo resembles a secret service operation but we have no proof of that,” the newspaper quoted Mr Le Pen as saying. “I don’t think it was organised by the French authorities but they permitted this crime to be committed.  That, for the moment, is just a supposition.”

To justify his comments, Mr Le Pen pointed to the fact that one of the Kouachi brothers, who carried out the Charlie Hebdo massacre, left his identity card in a crashed getaway car. He compared this to the “miraculous fact” – beloved by conspiracy theorists – that one of the passports of the 9/11 hijackers was found on the ground in New York after two planes collided with the twin towers of the World Trade Centre in 2001.

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Mr Le Pen made two other provocative remarks in the interview. He said that the 1,500,000 who marched “against hatred” in Paris last Sunday were not “Charlies” but “Charlie Chaplins” (ie clowns). He also said that there were 15,000,00 to 20,000,000 Muslims in France – three or four times the generally accepted figures of 5,000,000 people who are practising Muslims or have Muslim backgrounds.

In an interview with Le Monde today, Mr Le Pen repeated his suspicions about the identity card but said he “could not recall” talking about “secret services” to the Russian newspaper.

Mr Le Pen’s original quoted remarks run directly counter to the official line of his daughter and his party. They have suggested that the attacks on Charlie Hebdo and a Jewish supermarket are the final proof that France faces an  “enemy within”, which has been created by immigration and open EU borders.

Conspiracy theories of the kind espoused by the elder Le Pen sprang up on the internet within hours of the Charlie Hebdo attacks. They have been repeated in recent days by some – not all - young Muslims in France,  torn between identifying with the Kouachi brothers and insisting that they were stooges of the French authorities, Washington and Israel.

The  French “pope of conspiracy theories”, Thierry Meyssan, now based in Damascus, insisted that the Charlie Hebdo massacres were “ordered by US neo-cons and liberal hawks”. An American conspiracy site, McLatchy, has claimed that the Kouachi brothers were working for French intelligence.

By John Lichfield, independent.co.uk