Friday, 23 December 2011

The veil war continues

And the newest soldier in this fight is Egypt's minister of culture!
Farouq Hosni, the Egyptian minister of culture, has offered his resignation but refused
to apologise for comments he made about the hijab in which he said wearing of Islamic veils was a "regressive" trend.
Hosni said that the controversy over the hijab and veil was prompted by political motives, stressing that Islam does not impose wearing of the hijab on women. He also said that it was a fashion trend and not a sign of good morals.
The minister told the Egyptian daily, al-Masri
Al-Youm: "There was an age when our mothers went to university and
worked without the veil. It is in that spirit that we grew up. So why
this regression?"
Hosni offered his resignation after the the Muslim
Brotherhood, Egypt's largest Islamic political group, called for the
minister to "apologise and resign", calling his remarks insults that
were directed at Islam's religious leaders.
This had led to outrage from the Saudi mufti, who says that Hosni's remarks are a calamity!
Saudi Arabia's top Muslim cleric described the Egyptian culture
minister's recent criticism of the veil as a "calamity," a Saudi
satellite channel reported on Saturday.
"It is a calamity that struck Islamic lands and contradicts the
teachings of the Quran," Saudi Arabia's Grand Mufti, Sheik Abdul-Aziz
al-Sheik responded. "It is truly painful to hear such declarations from
within Islamic lands, from people who are considered Muslims," he added
in a statement aired by Al Majd television, a religious channel.
Ok, first of all, there is nothing in the Koran on their kind of Hijab, so the saudi mufti is full of shit. The Hijab that is talking about is not a religious, but a tribal, dress and isn't mendatory for muslim women. For the Mufti to say that is an outright lie. The Koran says women should dress modestly, but didn;t specify headcovering or any of that other crap. I am glad that somebody in power in this country finally had the balls to say it. It's 5 years too late, but oh well, I will take it!

The veil and the niqab

By Dr Farrukh Saleem
The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:

International The News, Pakistan, Sunday , December  3, 2006, Zeeqaad  11, 1427 A.H.

Does the Quran require women to wear a niqab? Does the Holy Quran require women to wear an all-enveloping, Saudi-style outer garment that hides all but eyes?

To be certain, there are 177 Ayahs about women in the Quran (verses that have the word 'women' in them). Not one requires women to wear a niqab. Not one requires women to cover themselves in an all-enveloping outer garment. Not one requires seclusion for women.

Does the Quran grant Muslim women fewer rights -- with regards to marriage, divorce, dress code, civil rights, legal status or education -- than Muslim men? No, the Quran does not.

Yes, the Quran recommends both males (al Quran 24:30) and females (al Quran 24:31) to dress modestly but there is no uniform Islamic clothing. Muslim women in Indonesia -- the largest Muslim population in any one country -- wear skirts,  the hemlines of which vary from being as high as the lower thigh or as low as the ankles. Muslim women in Istanbul wear skirts and mini-skirts with a hemline as high as the upper thigh (some 20 cm or more above knee level).At the other end of the spectrum, the Taliban regime (1996-2001) required women to wear an all-enveloping outer gown to be worn over the usual shalwar kameez. Not to forget that the Taliban administered beating with thin sticks at the ankles for wearing burqas that were 'too short' and granted far fewer rights to Muslim women than men -- in marriage as well as divorce, civil rights, legal status and education.

The operative Quranic term in 24:30 and 24:31 is modesty; first for men and then for women. The definition of modesty changes with time and varies regionally. A skirt in the heart of Lahore will be immodest. An all-enveloping 'batman-style' burqa in the heart of Paris will also be immodest and thus against the prescription of Quran.

Question: Are Turkish Muslim women less Muslim than Afghan Muslim women?

Muslim Tunisia, the 25th largest Muslim-majority member-state of the OIC, is fighting its own 'war over the veil'. For the record, Tunisia is 98 per cent Muslim, while Pakistan is 97 per cent Muslim.

In Tunisia, Decree 108 ''forbids the full veil (niqab) as well as the less restrictive head covering (hijab) in public places.' According to President Zine el Abdine bin Ali, niqab as well as hijab are "imported forms of sectarian dress" (an obvious reference to the role of Saudi-style Wahhabism in North Africa).
In a recent speech, President Zine el Abdine said: "Tunisia remains faithful at all times to its true religion of Islam -- the religion of moderation, openness, tolerance, and constructive dialogue. It is imperative to differentiate between imported sectarian dress and authentic Tunisian clothing. The substitution of foreign dress for Tunisian clothing is a clear and open repudiation of national identity. Sectarian dress should be rejected just as immodest dress is rejected."

Decree 108 may have gone too far. Niqab is not indigenous to Pakistani Muslim society and neither is a mini-skirt. Shouldn't they both be rejected with the same degree of persistence? For Pakistan, niqab is an imported form of sectarian dress and symbolizes the growing role of Saudi-style Wahhabism in Pakistan. To be sure, niqab has nothing to do with the religion of Islam. Some one intelligent once said: "Islam is in the heart of the believer, not in the piece of cloth wrapped in various fashions based on cultural practices."

The writer is an Islamabad-based freelance columnist. Email:

The veil and the niqab

(1) I had the pleasure of reading Dr Farrukh Saleem's article 'The veil and the niqab' published in your newspaper on December 3. There is no doubt that the article was a fair attempt to address a contentious issue.

The article stated that women are not required to 'cover themselves in an all-enveloping outer garment'. I wonder how he failed to see verse 33:59, which states "O Prophet! Tell thy wives and thy daughters and the women of the believers to draw their cloaks close round them" (Pickthall). I believe a cloak is an 'outer garment'.

As far as the niqab goes I agree that it is not an essential part of a woman's dress. I came to this conclusion when I found nothing to the contrary in the Quran. But I did find a hadith quoted by Hazrat Ayesha (RA). It relates to her sister Asma who visited the Prophet's (PBUH) home in an attire that did not meet his approval. On the occasion he is said to have stated:" It is not proper for her that any part of her body should be seen except this.." and the Prophet pointed towards his face and hands. I believe that this hadith sums up the need for an 'outer garment' as well as a head covering.

S K Bangash, Islamabad, Pakistan


(2)  The article by Dr Farrukh Saleem titled 'The veil and the niqab' has discrepancies. Why does Dr Saleem ignore the fact that there are a number of hadiths which explicitly explain that women in the time of Prophet Muhammad used to cover themselves in chaddars which would cover up their bodies (very similar to the modern day burqa).
There is no objective evidence neither in history nor in the modern world that wearing hijab is associated with society's retrogression. The first female pilot of Pakistan, Shahnaz flew her plane wearing a full burqa and there are hundreds of female doctors, engineers and professionals who go about doing their job while wearing hijab.

Dr Farooq Azam Rathore, Rawalpindi, Pakistan

(3) Mr Farrukh Saleem's article "The veil and the Niqab" (Dec. 3), was concise and logical like all his other articles. The hijab and the veil have nothing to do with Islam. They are merely Middle Eastern imports. The veil is specifically Saudi Arabian.

We are a large Muslim country and should have our own cultural identity based on modesty, flexibility and logic. We have to practice the more difficult tenets of Islam like honesty, integrity and strength of character. It is much easier to wrap a hijab around the head and feel like a good Muslim, but that is not enough. In fact, it detracts from the other more important principles of Islam by putting the spotlight on headgear.

Mobina Khan,   Lahore, Pakistan

The Veil (Hijab) Controversy

In 1989, the first hijab incident in Europe took place in Creil, a suburb of Paris, when three high school girls tried to go to class wearing the Islamic headscarf. The students were expelled. Fifteen years later, with the hijab spreading fast among Muslims in France, the government formally banned the wearing of religious symbols in public schools. At the time, most European countries criticized French "intolerance" and deemed the issue a uniquely Gallic problem. But it wasn't. Today most European countries--and a number of Muslim countries--are debating what to do about this increasingly problematic sign of Islamization.
The British were among the most vocal critics of the French ban--back when they were still quite pleased with their own multicultural model. But on October 5, ex-foreign minister Jack Straw revealed that he regularly asked women who came to see him wearing face veils to take them off. Straw pointed out that veils are bad for community relations, and Prime Minister Blair added that the veil is a "mark of separation." This debate coincided with the decision of a British principal to fire an assistant teacher who refused to remove her full-face veil, or niqab, while teaching. Joining the fray was author Salman Rushdie, whose elegant contribution was the statement, "Veils suck." Tensions are rising, fueled by accusations of Islamophobia from some Muslim officials. There is fear that race riots could break out in some British suburbs.
Then there is Germany, where four states have barred public school teachers from wearing the hijab. Some brave female politicians born in Turkey spoke out on the issue in an October 15 interview with Bild am Sonntag. One of them, Ekin Deligoz, a Green party member of parliament, advised fellow Muslim women: "You live here, so take off the headscarf." She added that the headscarf is a symbol of female oppression. Because of her comments, Deligoz has received death threats and is now under police protection.
Finally, in Italy, where the niqab is banned, the controversy has reached new heights since the broadcast of a heated exchange on a television talk show. Right-wing member of parliament Daniela Santanche clashed with the imam of a mosque near Milan, Ali Abu Shwaima. Said Santanche: "The veil isn't a religious symbol and it isn't prescribed by the Koran." Retorted Shwaima: "The veil is an obligation required by God. Those who do not believe that are not Muslims. You're ignorant, you're false. You sow hatred, you're an infidel."
Coming from an imam, this rant carried almost the weight of a fatwa, or religious edict, in certain quarters, where it could be seen as a death sentence. Santanche has been given 24-hour police protection. She says she is speaking out because Muslim women forced to wear the veil have asked her to. She told the Sunday Times, "It's time to turn our backs on the politically correct. It's a question not of religion but of human rights."
And not only in Europe. Muslim countries are not immune to the controversy over the veil. In Egypt--where some 80 percent of women are now veiled, according to sociologist Mona Abaza--the dean of Helwan University has recently expelled female students for wearing the niqab. Interestingly, Soad Saleh, a former dean of the female faculty and Islamic law professor at the most prestigious Islamic university in the world, Cairo's Al-Azhar, confirmed that the niqab is not an obligation. Gamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, goes further: "Neither the Koran, nor the hadith require women to wear a headscarf."
But the country whose government is currently going after the hijab most vigorously is Tunisia. The wearing of the hijab has been spreading rapidly in Tunisian towns, prompting President Ben Ali recently to reactivate a 1981 decree banning the wearing of the hijab in government offices, schools, universities, and public places in general. His government views the hijab as one more sign of the unwelcome but growing influence of Islamists in Tunisian society. This past Ramadan, in a reversal of the standard pattern for Muslim religious police, Tunisian police were seen tearing headscarves off women in the streets.
The authorities consider the hijab unacceptable in a country that enshrined women's rights as long ago as 1956, with the banning of repudiation (male-initiated casual divorce), polygamy, forced marriage, and the granting of women's rights to vote and sue for divorce. Ben Ali sees women "as a solid defense against the regressive forces of fanaticism and extremism."
Interestingly, the Tunisian author and feminist Samia Labidi, president of A.I.M.E., an organization fighting the Islamists, recounts that she personally started wearing the veil before puberty, after Islamists told her the hijab would be a passport to a new life, to emancipation. After a few years, she realized she had been fooled and that the veil made her feel like she was "living in a prison." At first, she could not bring herself to stop wearing it because of the constant psychological pressure. But the 1981 ban on the hijab in public places forced her to remove it, and she did so for good  Labidi's experience suggests that in both Tunisia and France the recent banning of the hijab has actually helped Muslim women who are subject to Islamist indoctrination.
For Islamists, the imperative to veil women justifies almost any means. Sometimes they try to buy off resistance. Some French Muslim families, for instance, are paid 500 euros (around $600) per quarter by extremist Muslim organizations just to have their daughters wear the hijab. This has also happened in the United States. Indeed, the famous and brave Syrian-American psychiatrist Wafa Sultan recently told the Jerusalem Post that after she moved to the United States in 1991, Saudis offered her $1,500 a month to cover her head and attend a mosque.
But what Islamists use most is intimidation. A survey conducted in France in May 2003 found that 77 percent of girls wearing the hijab said they did so because of physical threats from Islamist groups. A series in the newspaper Libération in 2003 documented how Muslim women and girls in France who refuse to wear the hijab are insulted, rejected, and often physically threatened by Muslim males. One of the teenage girls interviewed said, "Every day, bearded men come to me and advise me strongly on wearing the veil. It is a war. For now, there are no dead, but there are looks and words that do kill."
Muslim women who try to rebel are considered "whores" and treated as outcasts. Some of them want to move to areas "with no Muslims" to escape. However, that might not be a solution, as Islamists are at work all over France. The Communist newspaper L'Humanité in 2003 interviewed two Catholic-born French women who said they had converted to Islam and started wearing the niqab after systematic indoctrination by the Muslim Brotherhood.
In light of this, wearing the hijab may or may not be a manifestation of the free exercise of religion. For any individual, it may reflect the very opposite--religious coercion. In fact, millions of women are forced to wear the veil for fear of physical retribution. And the fear is well founded. According to Cheryl Benard of RAND, every year hundreds of women in Pakistan and Afghanistan alone are killed, have acid thrown in their faces, or are otherwise maimed by male fanatics.
Given the Islamists' ferocious determination on this point, it is worth asking: Why exactly is covering the female so important to them? The obvious answer is that it is a means of social control. Not coincidentally, it is one of the only issues on which Sunni and Shia extremists agree. It's not by chance that use of the hijab really took off after Iran's Islamic regime came to power in 1979. Some Shiite militias in Iraq have actually started forcing women--Muslim or not--to wear the veil or face the consequences.
If this issue were not vital for Islamists, how can one explain their reaction when France banned the hijab in public schools? Al Qaeda's number two, Ayman al Zawahiri, "strongly condemned" President Chirac's decision and threatened actions against France. Likewise, Sheikh Fadlallah, founder and spiritual leader of Hezbollah, wrote to Chirac threatening "likely complications" for France. Mohammad Khatami, former president of the Islamic Republic of Iran, called on the French government to "cancel this unjust law."
Commenting recently on the veil and the Islamists' strategy, Professor Iqbal Al-Gharbi, from the famous Islamic Zaytouna University in Tunis, explained: "The veil is just the tip of the iceberg. Behind the veil, there is the regressive interpretation of the sharia [Koranic law]. There are the three essential inequalities which define this interpretation: inequality between man and woman, between Muslim and non-Muslim, between free man and slave."
"Islam is the solution" is the motto of the Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, the real solution to the veil problem in Europe and in modern countries elsewhere is the defeat of radical Islam, making possible the peaceful integration of normal Muslims into Western societies on Western terms.

To My Dear Hijabi Sisters

By Ali Eteraz                  
I care not for your scarfs, your shawls, or your headwraps. In what you deem an ‘Islamic legal requirement,’ I find too much interpretive ambiguity in the verses. In the obsession with cloaking your hair I find that you create a fetish — one that benefits you. In the posture of presumptive piety you assume, and which is allotted to you by brothers who turn your ‘modesty’ into their insecurity, I find very much that is reprehensible. If I should be a Shaykh I would say that the hijab is not a religious requirement. I would say that one does not need the hijab to be truly Muslim. I would say that a cloth does not create modesty. I would say that what goes in the head is much more important than what goes on it.
Having said that, dear hijabi sisters, I would like to impinge upon your famed defense against a non-mahram’s entreaties and say to you that I find you beautiful. I think you beautiful when you tuck the hijab behind your ears and show off your mother’s Indian earrings. I love the way you wear your hijab in the “j-lo” style and your necks look so langorous. I love the way in which you pin your hijab with diamond clasps or tiny pink butterfly clips because it evokes so much grace and feminine innocence. I love the way in which you hastily wrap your scarfs when I intrude upon your parties: it makes me feel like a conqueror before whom the subjects must take evasive maneuvers. I love the way your hijab matches your eyes, or your purse, or when its just white like purity, or when you get together with your friends at a protest and put on the black hijab of fashionable militancy and lipstick jihadism — those black hijabs evoke an aura of tribalism and severity that slaps away all the vestiges of metrosexuality in me. I love how when you turn shy you chew a corner of your hijab and when you let the corner fall, it is stained by the sweet secretions of your mouth. Or how when you are upset you twist it around your finger or re-wrap it tightly even as you turn away. I love the feeling of when you let me take it off; but I love it more when you do that yourself. I love the assorted outfits that go with your chosen Chanel scarf, the Dior heels whose straps match the secondary color of your hijab, the supple silk monochromatic skirt that contrasts with your hijab (all the while falling on your soft thighs, the seductive silhouette of which I so dastardly observe from the corner of my sinful eyes even in the company of a Shaykh).
Dear sisters of the hijab, your insistence, which is sometimes ill-informed, sometimes ill-advised, sometimes idealistic, and sometimes imitative, evokes the primordial protector in me. In seeing or hearing of you being boo’d at Walmart, or derided at the subway, or harassed at a Jazz Club, I want nothing more than to be your marauding Mahdi, your scimitar carrying savior, your guardian angel, your avenging Iblis. In witnessing the way in which you non-chalantly thrust yourself into large groups of diametrically different people — and the way in which you fake that non-chalance, too — I often find a tremendous strength of character and seductive stubbornness which I wish I could marshal in my own battles. During the course of my own struggles I find in your resolve to be assuredly attached, not just to a cloth, but to an IDEA, an inspiring affirmation of Thoreau’s Civil Disobedience, and Steinem’s assertions, and Brutus’ conviction. You give me a lesson in intensity and for that I find you laudable.
In times of reflection when one has the ability to doubt and question everything including a woman’s irrational insistence that a piece of cloth that makes her more conspicuous makes her less noticeable, I say, off with her hijab. But in times of chaos I look to her fidelity to her decided principle and find in it a strength that is both spiritual and comforting. It is worthy of emulation.
My dear hijabi sisters, you might succeed in hiding your hair from me (though that only means that I will look more closely at you walking away). You might succeed in proving your purity and chastity to me (which only means that I will only pretend to be more pious in your company). But what you cannot keep from me is your strength — the audacity, the assertion, and the affirmation of principled belief. I should like to make a mirror of your conviction and speak to it when I am stuttering (which is often). If you let me have that much, dear hijabi sisters, I promise to stop imagining you undressed and nubile.


The following article is part of a chapter in a book entitled The Muslim Renaissance: The Birth of a New Era, which was launched at the 2nd World Islamic Economic Forum organized by the Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute (ASLI) in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 5 to 7 November 2006.



Columnist (, Jakarta, Indonesia


This book and the 2nd World Islamic Economic Forum organized by the Asian Strategic and Leadership Institute in Islamabad, Pakistan, from 5 to 7 November could not have been timelier.

During a lecture at the University of Regensburg in Germany, where he was previously a professor of theology, Pope Benedict XVI quoted the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus, who said:

“Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”

This quote has caused anger across the world, particularly among Muslim communities. From the Middle East to Asia, Muslims put out protests, burned churches, and attacked Christians in reaction to the Pope’s usage of the quote in his lecture, which was interpreted as a condemnation of, or an insult to, Islam.

On 1 October, Indonesia—the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation— commemorated the 2nd anniversary of the 2nd Bali bombing. Along with the first Bali bombing in 2002 and other terrorist attacks in Jakarta, the 2nd Bali bombing was the work of the al-Qaida-linked Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), an Indonesian radical Islamic network with links and operations across Southeast Asia.

And amid the Iraq War and the Palestine-Israel conflict, Israel attacked Lebanon in August this year. The attack, which took place under a vacuous pretext that Israel needed to rescue two of its soldiers whom the Hezbollah had captured, killed thousands of civilians and destroyed several cities in Lebanon. It must be noted that the international community, except for the US and UK, condemned this attack, but Israel forged ahead with its plan and only stopped it when too much blood was shed in Lebanon.

Altogether, these wars, attacks, and conflicts raise several questions. Why do they happen to, or in, Muslim countries? Is terrorism the way for them to fight back? Or is there a smarter way to do it? But most importantly, how do Islamic nations—at one point in history an advanced civilization—rise against the rest of the world in today’s competitive environment?

This essay is a humble attempt to answer these questions. The first section lays out key challenges that the Islamic world faces. The second part shows why the Islamic World has been unable to overcome them. The third part suggests what the Islamic nations need to do to deal with its challenges and gain power in today’s competitive world. Finally, the article will conclude that the challenges facing the Islamic world are formidable, but they are not impossible to deal with; however, overcoming them will require some self-critical thinking and pragmatic actions.


If we take a good look at the Islamic world today and ask ourselves which countries that are peaceful, prosperous, and progressed, we can only name a few: Brunei, Malaysia, Qatar, and the United Emirates. As for the rest, some are either at war with a foreign country or in a civil war, e.g. Iraq, while others face the threat of terrorism that is masterminded and launched by homegrown radical Islamic groups, e.g. Indonesia.

Ironically, this is the Islamic world that is 1.3 billion strong and has the biggest oil reserve in the world, among a wealth of other natural resources. And, to be sure, this is the same Islamic world that was the most powerful, advanced, and enlightened civilization at one point in history. For this reason, many Muslims and scholars of Islam have started to question what has happened to Islam.

The Middle East scholar Bernard Lewis phrased this question as follows.

What went wrong? For a long time people in the Islamic world, especially but not exclusively in the Middle East, have been asking this question...There is indeed good reason for questioning and concern, even for anger. For many centuries the world of Islam was in the forefront of human civilization and achievement...In the Muslims’ own perception, Islam itself was indeed coterminous with civilization, and beyond its borders there were only barbarians and infidels.

The answer to this question, according to Lewis and some Muslims themselves, is the rise of the West, first on the battlefield and later in science and the marketplace. Along with technology, modernity, and economic growth that enabled the rising power of the West, particularly the US, came the concept of democracy, secularism and other values.

As the West became more dominant, Muslims started to retreat. What’s more, they started to perceive the West as a force that is incompatible with—if not antithetical to—Islam. This is part of what Harvard political science professor Samuel Huntington called The Clash of Civilizations:

Indeed, it is hard to find statements by any Muslims, whether politicians, officials, academics, businesspersons, or journalists, praising Western values and institutions. They instead stress the differences between their civilization and Western civilization, the superiority of their culture, and the need to maintain the integrity of that culture against Western onslaught. Muslims fear and resent Western power and the threat [that] this poses to their society and beliefs. They see Western culture as materialistic, corrupt, decadent, and immoral. They also see it as seductive, and hence stress all the more the need to resist its impact on their way of life. Increasingly, Muslims attack the West not for adhering to an imperfect, erroneous religion, which is nonetheless a “religion of the book,” but for not adhering to any religion at all. In Muslim eyes Western secularism, irreligiosity [sic], and hence immorality are worse evils than the Western Christianity that produced them.

In other words, the biggest problem that the Islamic world is facing today is that it is still living in the past in which it was once one the most superior civilization; it fails to realize that it is so far behind the West in every sphere; and, it is in denial of such issues as poverty, backwardness, and terrorism as their problems.

Thus, the Islamic world can only conclude that the West causes all their problems and, as such, the West is their enemy. As long as Muslims throughout the world keep thinking like this, they will never be able to solve their problems and rise again to be a leading civilization that they once were. Like the treatment of a patient of alcoholism, the first step for the Islamic World is to admit its problems—political, social, economic, or otherwise. Only then can they start to change the Islamic world for the better.


In addition to the dominance of the West in the world today, the overwhelming support of Israel from the US, and the UK, has worsened the anti-Western mentality and resentment among Muslim communities across the globe.

As a matter of fact, Muslims see the killings of Palestinians and the blatant US support of Israel as a direct attack against the Islamic world as a whole. The al-Qaida leader Osama bin Ladin, for instance, has cited the Palestinian struggle as one of the reasons why his organization has launched the 911 attacks in the US and the London bombing in July 2005.

To be sure, US foreign policy under the Bush Administration has fueled more anger from the Muslim world than any other previous one. Examples are plenty. For one thing, the US bypassed the United Nations and invaded Iraq under the false pretext that Baghdad had weapons of mass destruction (WMD). What is more, while the Bush Administration supported India’s development of nuclear programs, it opposes Iran’s. Why, Muslims worldwide ask. Is because Iran is a Muslim nation and India is not?

Thus, Muslims across the world have increasingly joined the Islamic struggle against the US and its allies, including Australia, India and the UK. In Asia, for instance, terrorist attacks continue to happen in Pakistan and India as of this writing, following the two bombings in the Indonesian island of Bali in 2002 and 2005 as well as those of the Marriott Hotel and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta in 2003 and 2004, respectively.

In what they see as their defense against the rise of the West and its anti-Islamic values and the unilateral US foreign policy, leaders of Muslim organizations have found no other way other than resigning themselves to terrorism. For them, this is a battle for Islam, or a jihad, which is often interpreted as a holy war. The religion expert Karen Armstrong wrote in The Battle for God:

Jihad (“struggle”) [in Arabic] was not a holy war to convert the infidel, as Westerners believed, nor was it purely a means of self-defense, as Abdu had argued. Mawdudi de.ned jihad as a revolutionary struggle to seize power for the good of all humanity...Mawdudi, who developed this idea in 1939, shared the same perspective as such militant ideologies as Marxism. Just as the Prophet had fought the jahiliyyah, the ignorance and barbarism of the pre-Islamic period, so all Muslims must use all means at their disposal to resist the modern jahiliyyah of the West. The jihad could take many forms. Some people would write
articles, others make speeches, but in the last resort, they must be prepared for armed struggle.

As justified as it is in the eyes of Muslim jihadists, terrorism cannot and will not help them win their battle against the US and its allies. To be sure, the 911 attacks have changed the world in many ways, but they have not defeated the US—still the world’s superpower – or stopped its support of Israel or foreign policy towards Muslim countries. Quite the contrary: The US is as aggressive and powerful as ever. The proof is its invasion of Iraq and its silent backing of Israel in the recent attack on Lebanon, not too long after its retaliation in Afghanistan to “wipe and smoke” the al-Qaida out of its caves.

Moreover, Islamic militant and terrorist attacks don’t help Muslims win their battle against the US or the West; in fact, they are costly – in financial terms and otherwise. But most importantly, as Muslims spend more financial and other resources on jihad, they forgo the same resources that can be used to improve their economies, which in turn will translate into peace, prosperity, and power.

The former Prime Minister of Malaysia, Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad, capture the problems facing the Islamic world very clearly in his speech at the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Putrajaya, Malaysia, on October 16, 2003:

None of our countries are truly independent. We are under pressure to conform to our oppressors’ wishes about how we should behave, how we should govern our lands, how we should think even.

Today if they want to raid our country, kill our people, destroy our villages and towns, there is nothing substantial that we can do. Is it Islam which has caused all these? Or is it that we have failed to do our duty according to our religion?

Our only reaction is to become more and more angry. Angry people cannot think properly. And so we .nd some of our people reacting irrationally. They launch their own attacks, killing just about anybody including fellow Muslims to vent their anger and frustration. Their Governments can do nothing to stop
them. The enemy retaliates and puts more pressure on the Governments. And the Governments have no choice but to give in, to accept the directions of the enemy, literally to give up their independence of action.

There is a feeling of hopelessness among the Muslim countries and their people. They feel that they can do nothing right. They believe that things can only get worse... They will forever be poor, backward and weak. Some believe, this is the Will of Allah, that the proper state of the Muslims is to be poor and oppressed in this world.

But is it true that we should do and can do nothing for ourselves? Is it true that 1.3 billion people can exert no power to save themselves from the humiliation and oppression inflicted upon them by a much smaller enemy? Can they only lash back blindly in anger? Is there no other way than to ask our young people to blow themselves up and kill people and invite the massacre of more of our own people?

There is a way – there must be – for the Islamic world to deal with its many formidable challenges. But it is only possible if the world’s Muslim community starts to think instead of reacting in a state of anger.


As shown in the previous section of this essay, fundamentalism – as expressed by Muslims in the various forms of jihad, including terrorism – is not the way for the world’s Islamic community to solve its problems. As a matter of fact, it is counterproductive.

Thus, instead of fundamentalism, Muslims need to come together as one united community to assess their strengths and weaknesses, make good use of their wealth of oil and other resources, and think of strategies that will improve their economies and, thereby, enhance their national defense and power.

As they control 57 out of the 180 countries in the world, Muslims are a considerable group. Unfortunately, their voice in the international community is weak, however. For one thing, it is because most of them do not have the economic power that can make them be heard. But, more importantly, they are not united as a community. Thus, Muslim nations need a collective coordinating body to ensure that all members act in concert and, thereby, wield strength among them for the improvement of the Islamic world.

Working closely with such organizations as the League of Arab Nations, the World Islamic Economic Forum (WIEF) can be used for that purpose. In addition to addressing challenges that the Islamic world faces, the WIEF is a place where delegates can share knowledge and skills, build networks of valuable contacts, and seize business opportunities worldwide.

But creating and participating in such forums as the WIEF is not enough to improve the knowledge or enhance the skills that Muslims need to compete in today’s global economy. If we take a close and honest look at the curriculum at schools across Muslim countries, we can see that it still focuses a little too much on the teachings of the Koran and not enough on computer science, math and natural sciences, writing and the English language, which enable students to be find jobs easily upon graduation and more competent at the workplace.

To be sure, students who read more than one book and study more than one discipline must be more knowledgeable and well-rounded than those who read only one book or study only theology. Upon graduation, the former will be able to contribute better and more to their jobs, organizations, families, communities, and societies than the latter. This is the reason why in the US there are many liberal arts colleges where students are required to take courses in all disciplines, aside from their majors or concentration.

In addition to education, the Muslim world needs to focus more on other requirements of economic development. A progressive educational system will produce a good labor force for their economies, but that, alone, is not enough for economic growth. For one thing, Muslim countries need to spend more on research and development (R&D) because it is where new ideas, inventions, and advancements come about. If we look at the US, it is a young nation compared with the Islamic world. But it is the strongest economy. How
is that possible? One of the reasons is, in addition to its first-rate educational system, it has a lot of think tanks, such as the Rand Corporation, where smart graduates get paid to think and come up with new ideas that are applied in business and daily life.

Furthermore, economic growth requires good infrastructures. These include roads, telecommunication systems, ports, and so on. Like bones and vessels in a human body, infrastructures facilitate business transactions and other economic activities. To be sure, a country with poor infrastructures cannot
have a strong economy, and it takes more time and costs more to do business in such an uncompetitive environment.

Finally, and most importantly, economic growth requires a country that is politically stable. If a Muslim nation does not like the idea of democracy as a form of government and would rather stick to a monarchy or sultanate system, that is a choice that others – especially the US – should respect. Nevertheless,
if such a country is constantly bombarded with terrorist attacks or conflicts caused by home-grown militant, radical Islamic groups, then it cannot blame investors, domestic and foreign alike, to close their businesses and move them somewhere else safer. So, if governments of Muslim nations want to enhance their economic growth by increasing the level of investment in their economies, they should work hard to provide security in their countries.

As for Muslim nations that are fighting wars that the US has started or supports, namely Iraq and Palestine, peace is still a dream. But there are things other than telling young Muslims to commit suicide attacks that their leaders can do to help stop the violence that has been shedding too much Muslim blood already. For one thing, as Dr. Mahathir bin Mohamad suggested, they should work more closely with other Muslim nations and non-Muslim nations that sympathize with them to gain more support in the international community for
their causes. What’s more, use their own media – not Fox News, of course – to show the world the killings and sufferings of innocent civilian Muslims and that it is as wrong to kill a Muslim as it is to kill a Jew or anyone else, for that matter. Until the world sees and acknowledges this, more Muslim blood will be shed.


As shown in this essay, the Islamic community has moved from being, for centuries, a most powerful civilization in the world to being one that is far behind the West. Today, the Islamic world is confronted with poverty, backwardness, and oppression, and that is sad – if not ironic – for a 1.3 billion community with
the largest oil reserve and a wealth of other national resources. This has made Muslims and Islam scholars question what has happened to, or gone wrong with, Islam. Some have pointed to the rise of the West and modernity as the causes of Islam’s turmoil, while others go back to Islamic fundamentalism, or jihad, as a solution.

To be sure, some Muslim nations are fighting wars that the US has started or supports, but the US and its allies cannot be blamed entirely for what has happened to the Islamic world. And terrorism, which is committed in the name of Islam, is not the way for Muslims to .ght these wars. Nor is it the way for the Islamic world to rise against the West and be the powerful civilization that it once was.

Rather, as suggested in this essay, the Islamic community needs to think collectively of how to deal with its challenges. While the challenges facing the Islamic world are formidable, they are not impossible to overcome. What the Muslim world needs to deal with its challenges effectively are unity, knowledge, and economic growth. Only when these requirements are met can the Islamic community gain peace, prosperity, and power and rise again in the world.

Thang D. Nguyen is a writer, editor, and communications consultant. He pens frequently on Indonesian and Asian affairs for international and major Asian newspapers. His publications include three books:
Indonesia Matters, The Malaysian Journey, and The Indonesian Dream. Prior to moving to Indonesia in 2003, Thang was a manager for Asian affairs at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Geneva, Switzerland.
Among his other credentials, he holds degrees from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS); Hobart College; and Springfield Technical Community College (STCC), USA.

‘Thinking Skills’ in Islamic Education

‘Thinking Skills’ in Islamic Education
by Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
Increasing emphasis is being placed on ‘Thinking Skills’ in Western education systems, either as a specific program or as a strand ideally woven into all subject areas.
In the UK, for example, one of the factors behind this development is the justifiable concern that the national curriculum has progressively abandoned the philosophy and practice of holistic education and is now dominated by a narrow concept of ‘schooling’ (and its associated testing regime) geared disproportionately to uninspiring utilitarian objectives. Tony Blair has made it clear on more than one occasion that it is the provision of a ‘workforce’ to drive forward national economic performance which is the top priority in his vision of ‘education’.
The negative effect of this target-driven schooling regime on the morale of schoolchildren has been well documented. Disaffection and truancy are rife, and self-harm, depression and even suicide are increasing alarmingly amongst young people.
In his challenging book, Dumbing Us Down: The Hidden Curriculum of Compulsory Schooling, New York State Teacher of the Year John Taylor Gatto makes a powerful indictment of the assumptions and structures which underlie modern state schooling in the USA and exposes the same deadening utilitarian agenda which informs British educational policy - an agenda geared to turning children into cogs in an economic machine, children who are dependent, conforming, materialistic, and lacking in curiosity, creativity, imagination, self-knowledge, and powers of intellectual inquiry and reflection.
The thrust for Thinking Skills education has largely focused on the development within schools of a teaching and learning culture which promotes ‘Critical and Creative Thinking’.
This is a welcome development in many ways, and it has to be said that there is a particularly pressing need to revive such a teaching and learning culture in the Muslim world. I say ‘revive’, because, as Muhammad Asad eloquently reminds us in the Foreword to his magnum opus, The Message of the Qur’an, it was the spirit of the Qur’an itself which was the ultimate source of that dynamic revival of the culture of inquiry in Europe: “through its insistence on consciousness and knowledge, it engendered among its followers a spirit of intellectual curiosity and independent inquiry, ultimately resulting in that splendid era of learning and scientific research which distinguished the world of Islam at the height of its cultural vigour; and the culture thus fostered by the Qur’an penetrated in countless ways and by-ways into the mind of medieval Europe and gave rise to that revival of Western culture which we call the Renaissance, and thus became in the course of time largely responsible for the birth of what is described as the ‘age of science’: the age in which we are now living.”
But let us always be aware that the dynamic process of learning and inquiry engendered by the spirit of the Qur’an was a spirit not restricted to a merely ‘rational’ concept of ‘enlightenment’ which in its most debased form has reduced a rich and multi-layered scientia sacra to the poverty of scientism. It was, above all, a spiritual ‘enlightenment’, under which all other levels of enlightenment are subsumed in the natural order, and that superordinate enlightenment is both the origin and goal of an authentic Islamic education, as it is for all truly holistic systems of education in any culture which endeavour to ‘unwrap’ (i.e. ‘develop’ in its original meaning) our full humanness.
There is always the danger that supposedly enhanced ‘thinking’ skills, both critical and creative, if detached from a higher vision of human intellectual and spiritual capacities, will merely be pressed into the service of the same materialistic and utilitarian goals which govern the underlying schooling process and its prevailing ideology.
Indeed, without an understanding of the full range of human intellectual faculties, and without any awareness of the moral and spiritual dimension which animates an authentic vision of human excellence, education in Thinking Skills can rarely go beyond the reductionism which focuses solely on the sharpening of the lower intellectual functions – the level of logical reasoning, argument and analysis which has been so productive in the field of scientific and technological advancement but which cannot encompass the deeper needs of the human soul and spirit.
An authentic Islamic vision of education has the power to re-animate a truly holistic conception of education which encompasses not only the higher intellectual faculties, but also the realisation that human excellence (ihsan) is inseparable from beauty and virtue and should never be limited to an individualistic concept of personal achievement, mastery and success. This is a vision of tawhid, in which cognitive, moral and spiritual functions are all intertwined and interdependent, and necessarily actualised in right action.
“I seek refuge from God from a knowledge which has no use”, said the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings upon him). The useful knowledge he was referring to was not of course merely utilitarian knowledge, but the knowledge which enables us to live as fully human beings under the grace and guidance of our Creator. A solely utilitarian education elevates the least aspect of useful education to the first priority, and, what is worse, reduces the concept of livelihood itself from the ideal of right livelihood to a solely materialistic enterprise in which we become ‘consumers’, enslaved by the larger goal of ‘national economic development’.
Whilst we must give due regard to the cultivation of rational thinking in any proper education system, we must not forget that the Arabic word for ‘intellect’ (‘aql) encompasses not only this lower intellectual level (Latin ratio, Greek dianoia) which depends on the power of definition and conceptualisation endowed on mankind through the divine gift of language, but also the higher organ of moral and spiritual intelligence and insight (intellectus, nous) which at its highest level can be equated with the Heart.  Rumi expresses it in his typically concrete style:  “The Intellect of intellect is your kernel; the intellect is only the husk.”

In a detailed study of the concept of ‘aql in an earlier issue of Islamica (Vol. 3. Number 1, Summer 1999, pp 49-64), Karim Douglas Crow notes the re-appearance of the term ‘wisdom’ in recent descriptions of human intelligence to connote “a combination of social and moral intelligence, or in traditional terms: that blend of knowledge and understanding within one’s being manifested in personal integrity, conscience, and effective behaviour.” He concludes that one of the key components of the concept of ‘intelligence’ expressed by the term ‘aql was “ethical-spiritual”. 
In subsequent contributions to this series on our interactive forum, I would like to explore further the nature of higher human faculties and suggest ways in which they can be awakened and nurtured in an authentically Islamic educational process. It is through this revival that Muslims can not only transform education in the Muslim world but, through engaging with mainstream educators in other traditions, can also make a real contribution to the revival of the best educational practice in the wider world, and for all mankind.
© Jeremy Henzell-Thomas
First Published in Islamica, Issue 15, 2006

The Decline and Fall of Arab Civilization: The Influence of the Crusades and the Jihad

In a powerful look at the crusades from an Islamic perspective, Amin Maalouf asks pointedly:
"At the time of the crusades, the Arab world, from Spain to Iraq, was still the intellectual and material repository of the planet's most advanced civilization. Afterwards, the center of world history shifted decisively to the West. Is there a cause-and-effect relationship here? Can we go so far as to claim that the crusaders marked the beginning of the rise of Western Europe -- which would gradually come to dominate the world -- and sounded the death knell of Arab civilization?" (The Crusades Through Arab Eyes, p 261)
To which Maalouf answers with a qualified "yes": Islam was already suffering from certain weaknesses which the crusaders "exposed and aggravated, but by no means created" (ibid); the unmaking of Islamic civilization owed as much to Islam as it did to the crusaders. Let's see why.

The Abbasid caliphate based in Baghdad, at the height of artistic and scientific achievements in the 8th-9th centuries, lost control of its destiny in the 10th, when the rival Fatimid caliphate established itself in Cairo (969). Palestine and Syria were now caught between two dynasties -- the Shi'ites (Fatimids) of Egypt and Sunnis (Abbasids) of Iraq/Iran. Then in the 11th century, the Abbasids became virtual puppets when the Seljuks of Turkey (converts to Sunnism) conquered Iraq/Iran, and were "welcomed" by the Abbasid caliph (1055). From this point on, the Abbasids would be dominated by foreigners (Turks and Kurds), unable to nurture the achievements of their earliest years.
"Dominated, oppressed, and derided, aliens in their own land, the Arabs were unable to continue to cultivate the cultural blossoms that had begun to flower in the seventh century. By the epoch of the arrival of the [crusaders], they were already marking time, content to live on their past glories... Their decline had begun." (Ibid, p 262)
But their decline continued -- even after they were reunited by the end of the twelfth century. Saladin (a Kurd) succeeded in overthrowing the Fatimid Caliphate in 1171, established his new Ayyubid dynasty in Cairo, and in another fifteen years wrested control of key cities: Damascus (1174), Aleppo (1183), and Mosul (1186), finally with the "blessings" of the Abbasid caliph. With the Muslim world in his fist, he could now take Jerusalem back from the crusaders, which he did in the fateful year of 1187. And yet, despite this new unity,
"The Muslim world turned in on itself. It became over-sensitive, defensive, intolerant, sterile -- attitudes that grew steadily worse as world-wide evolution continued. Henceforth progress was the embodiment of 'the other'. Modernism became alien." (Ibid, p 264)
What led to this stagnation of Islam? The very thing which led to its reunification under Saladin: the jihad revival, in reaction to the success of the First Crusade (1099). This didn't happen overnight. Christopher Tyerman explains:
"Jihad rhetoric and action came partly in consequence of a religious revival, partly because it was good politics. The qadi of Aleppo, Ibn al-Khashshab, who organized resistance to Frankish attacks in 1118 and 1124, urged a principled stand against the infidel. During the campaign leading to the defeat of Roger of Antioch at the Field of Blood in 1119, Ibn al-Khashshab rode through the Muslim lines 'spear in hand' preaching the virtues of jihad, the novelty of such clerical interference causing some resentment. A generation later, such clerical cheerleading would have seemed normal." (God's War: A New History of the Crusades, p 271)
Indeed, by the 1140s the jihad was effectively underway. The warrior Zengi demolished the crusader County of Edessa (1144), prompting in turn the Second Crusade. Contemporaries portrayed him as a champion of the jihad, and his son Nur al-Din explicitly invoked it in his own war against crusaders and Muslim rivals. Saladin brought the jihad to its fruition, taking back Jerusalem (1187) and calling forth the Third Crusade. Islam was now reunified, but the Abbasids remained puppets, ineffective and powerless; in 1258 the caliphate was finally destroyed by the Mongols, who in turn were countered by the new and highly centralized Mamluk dynasty (more militant than even Saladin's Ayyubids). It wasn't long before the crusaders themselves were expelled for good in 1291.

The decline and fall of Arabic civilization, then, owed to its fragmentation in the 10th-11th centuries (which the crusaders exploited), and then its reunification under jihadist regimes in the 12th-13th centuries (in reaction to the crusaders, and which the crusaders couldn't hope to prevail against for long). It's a great irony that the Muslim world reacquired the holy lands at the expense of its cultural sophistication, while Christendom, as it relinquished those lands, was able to take from abroad and propel itself into the Renaissance.

In the next post, we will look at the jihad a bit more and see how it differed from the crusades in theory and practice.

Terrorized by 'War on Terror'

How a Three-Word Mantra Has Undermined America
By Zbigniew Brzezinski
Sunday, March 25, 2007; B01

The "war on terror" has created a culture of fear in America. The Bush administration's elevation of these three words into a national mantra since the horrific events of 9/11 has had a pernicious impact on American democracy, on America's psyche and on U.S. standing in the world. Using this phrase has actually undermined our ability to effectively confront the real challenges we face from fanatics who may use terrorism against us.

The damage these three words have done -- a classic self-inflicted wound -- is infinitely greater than any wild dreams entertained by the fanatical perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks when they were plotting against us in distant Afghan caves. The phrase itself is meaningless. It defines neither a geographic context nor our presumed enemies. Terrorism is not an enemy but a technique of warfare -- political intimidation through the killing of unarmed non-combatants.But the little secret here may be that the vagueness of the phrase was deliberately (or instinctively) calculated by its sponsors. Constant reference to a "war on terror" did accomplish one major objective: It stimulated the emergence of a culture of fear.

Fear obscures reason, intensifies emotions and makes it easier for demagogic politicians to mobilize the public on behalf of the policies they want to pursue. The war of choice in Iraq could never have gained the congressional support it got without the psychological linkage between the shock of 9/11 and the postulated existence of Iraqi weapons of mass destruction. Support for President Bush in the 2004 elections was also mobilized in part by the notion that "a nation at war" does not change its commander in chief in midstream. The sense of a pervasive but otherwise imprecise danger was thus channeled in a politically expedient direction by the mobilizing appeal of being "at war."

To justify the "war on terror," the administration has lately crafted a false historical narrative that could even become a self-fulfilling prophecy. By claiming that its war is similar to earlier U.S. struggles against Nazism and then Stalinism (while ignoring the fact that both Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia were first-rate military powers, a status al-Qaeda neither has nor can achieve), the administration could be preparing the case for war with Iran. Such war would then plunge America into a protracted conflict spanning Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan and perhaps also Pakistan.

The culture of fear is like a genie that has been let out of its bottle. It acquires a life of its own -- and can become demoralizing. America today is not the self-confident and determined nation that responded to Pearl Harbor; nor is it the America that heard from its leader, at another moment of crisis, the powerful words "the only thing we have to fear is fear itself"; nor is it the calm America that waged the Cold War with quiet persistence despite the knowledge that a real war could be initiated abruptly within minutes and prompt the death of 100 million Americans within just a few hours. We are now divided, uncertain and potentially very susceptible to panic in the event of another terrorist act in the United States itself.

That is the result of five years of almost continuous national brainwashing on the subject of terror, quite unlike the more muted reactions of several other nations (Britain, Spain, Italy, Germany, Japan, to mention just a few) that also have suffered painful terrorist acts. In his latest justification for his war in Iraq, President Bush even claims absurdly that he has to continue waging it lest al-Qaeda cross the Atlantic to launch a war of terror here in the United States.

Such fear-mongering, reinforced by security entrepreneurs, the mass media and the entertainment industry, generates its own momentum. The terror entrepreneurs, usually described as experts on terrorism, are necessarily engaged in competition to justify their existence. Hence their task is to convince the public that it faces new threats. That puts a premium on the presentation of credible scenarios of ever-more-horrifying acts of violence, sometimes even with blueprints for their implementation.

That America has become insecure and more paranoid is hardly debatable. A recent study reported that in 2003, Congress identified 160 sites as potentially important national targets for would-be terrorists. With lobbyists weighing in, by the end of that year the list had grown to 1,849; by the end of 2004, to 28,360; by 2005, to 77,769. The national database of possible targets now has some 300,000 items in it, including the Sears Tower in Chicago and an Illinois Apple and Pork Festival.

Just last week, here in Washington, on my way to visit a journalistic office, I had to pass through one of the absurd "security checks" that have proliferated in almost all the privately owned office buildings in this capital -- and in New York City. A uniformed guard required me to fill out a form, show an I.D. and in this case explain in writing the purpose of my visit. Would a visiting terrorist indicate in writing that the purpose is "to blow up the building"? Would the guard be able to arrest such a self-confessing, would-be suicide bomber? To make matters more absurd, large department stores, with their crowds of shoppers, do not have any comparable procedures. Nor do concert halls or movie theaters. Yet such "security" procedures have become routine, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars and further contributing to a siege mentality.

Government at every level has stimulated the paranoia. Consider, for example, the electronic billboards over interstate highways urging motorists to "Report Suspicious Activity" (drivers in turbans?). Some mass media have made their own contribution. The cable channels and some print media have found that horror scenarios attract audiences, while terror "experts" as "consultants" provide authenticity for the apocalyptic visions fed to the American public. Hence the proliferation of programs with bearded "terrorists" as the central villains. Their general effect is to reinforce the sense of the unknown but lurking danger that is said to increasingly threaten the lives of all Americans.

The entertainment industry has also jumped into the act. Hence the TV serials and films in which the evil characters have recognizable Arab features, sometimes highlighted by religious gestures, that exploit public anxiety and stimulate Islamophobia. Arab facial stereotypes, particularly in newspaper cartoons, have at times been rendered in a manner sadly reminiscent of the Nazi anti-Semitic campaigns. Lately, even some college student organizations have become involved in such propagation, apparently oblivious to the menacing connection between the stimulation of racial and religious hatreds and the unleashing of the unprecedented crimes of the Holocaust.

The atmosphere generated by the "war on terror" has encouraged legal and political harassment of Arab Americans (generally loyal Americans) for conduct that has not been unique to them. A case in point is the reported harassment of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for its attempts to emulate, not very successfully, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Some House Republicans recently described CAIR members as "terrorist apologists" who should not be allowed to use a Capitol meeting room for a panel discussion.

Social discrimination, for example toward Muslim air travelers, has also been its unintended byproduct. Not surprisingly, animus toward the United States even among Muslims otherwise not particularly concerned with the Middle East has intensified, while America's reputation as a leader in fostering constructive interracial and interreligious relations has suffered egregiously.The record is even more troubling in the general area of civil rights. The culture of fear has bred intolerance, suspicion of foreigners and the adoption of legal procedures that undermine fundamental notions of justice. Innocent until proven guilty has been diluted if not undone, with some -- even U.S. citizens -- incarcerated for lengthy periods of time without effective and prompt access to due process.

There is no known, hard evidence that such excess has prevented significant acts of terrorism, and convictions for would-be terrorists of any kind have been few and far between. Someday Americans will be as ashamed of this record as they now have become of the earlier instances in U.S. history of panic by the many prompting intolerance against the few.

In the meantime, the "war on terror" has gravely damaged the United States internationally. For Muslims, the similarity between the rough treatment of Iraqi civilians by the U.S. military and of the Palestinians by the Israelis has prompted a widespread sense of hostility toward the United States in general. It's not the "war on terror" that angers Muslims watching the news on television, it's the victimization of Arab civilians. And the resentment is not limited to Muslims. A recent BBC poll of 28,000 people in 27 countries that sought respondents' assessments of the role of states in international affairs resulted in Israel, Iran and the United States being rated (in that order) as the states with "the most negative influence on the world." Alas, for some that is the new axis of evil!

The events of 9/11 could have resulted in a truly global solidarity against extremism and terrorism. A global alliance of moderates, including Muslim ones, engaged in a deliberate campaign both to extirpate the specific terrorist networks and to terminate the political conflicts that spawn terrorism would have been more productive than a demagogically proclaimed and largely solitary U.S. "war on terror" against "Islamo-fascism." Only a confidently determined and reasonable America can promote genuine international security which then leaves no political space for terrorism.

Where is the U.S. leader ready to say, "Enough of this hysteria, stop this paranoia"? Even in the face of future terrorist attacks, the likelihood of which cannot be denied, let us show some sense. Let us be true to our traditions.

Zbigniew Brzezinski, national security adviser to President Jimmy Carter, is the author most recently of "Second Chance: Three Presidents and the Crisis of American Superpower" (Basic Books).

The Sword of Islam

By Dr. Ibrahim B. Syed
President, Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc.
Louisville, KY
Pope Benedict XVI created uproar by quoting the words of a 14th-century Byzantine emperor: “Show me just what Mohammed brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached.”
Apparently trying to prove the pope wrong, ignorant  Muslims responded by attacking churches, murdering a nun and condemning Benedict to death.
The Pope's imputing to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) the teaching of spreading his faith by the sword is absurd and refuted even by scholars of his own faith, for example it is written by A.S Tritton in his book Islam, "The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other is quite false." And De Lacy O’ Leary in his book "Islam at the crossroads” states, "History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated."
To judge Islam, one has to judge it by its doctrine and history.
The fact is Prophet Muhammad never called for spreading Islam with the sword. The Quran states in Surah (chapter) al-Nahl, v. 134, "Invite to the path of thy Lord with wisdom and good advice, and argue with them kindly, for Thy Lord is well aware of those who go astray and He is aware of those who follow true guidance."

Indeed, the very next verse states that "if thou should punish (aggressors) punish only in proportion to the aggression inflicted upon you, but if ye be patient, it will be better for the patient."

The expansion of the Muslim Empire within 100 years after the Prophet's death has two reasons: the political ambitions of the Muslim Rulers and an invitation from the Christians who wanted to be liberated from the Byzantine rule by assisting the Muslims.
They gradually embraced Islam to the extent that they even changed their mother tongue to Arabic.

Which sword of Islam made Indonesia to become the largest Muslim country in terms of population size? Islam spread to many countries by Sufis, Indian and Arabian merchants and sailors who had exemplified to the natives the Islamic ideals of honesty, purity and faithfulness.

Muslims ruled Spain for 700 years, then why did they fail to convert the Christians into Islam by using the sword?  The Muslims ruled India for about 1000 years. Today India's population is 1.1 billion, and at least 80 per cent are Hindus. Why the Muslims failed to convert the Hindus into Islam by using the sword?

On the other hand, people believe that Christianity spread from Rome to European countries, North and South America by love. Really?  One can know the truth by reading the history books written by Christian Scholars.

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks an estimated 20,000 Americans have embraced Islam. Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world and by 2025 it will be largest religion in the world, as one out of three will be a Muslim.

It was the Church that invented the Indulgences and Simony systems, it was the Catholic world that invented the Inquisitions, the pogroms, and all other abominations associated with its dark practices against critics and opponents, including Christians who didn't extend fealty to Rome.

And the Crusades? And the Holocaust? Must we re-open these dark chapters again? Do we have to remind his holiness that in the past century alone, over a hundred million Christians were killed by other Christians in numerous wars, including two world wars?

The war on Terrorism is a myth. The US administration has spent over 300 billion dollars on the war on Terrorism. It is worth every penny to invest money on the weapons of anti-terrorism. The weapons of anti-terrorism are freedom from occupation, freedom from dictatorships, elimination of corruption (6 of the top 10 most corrupt countries are Muslim countries), giving opportunities to the Muslim population in political activity, education (65 per cent are illiterate) and employment ( a staggering  40 to 60 % are unemployed in Muslim countries).

The Pope's imputing to the Prophet (sallallahu alayhi wasallam) the teaching of spreading his faith by the sword is absurd and refuted even by scholars of his own faith, for example it is written by A.S Tritton in his book Islam, "The picture of the Muslim soldier advancing with a sword in one hand and the Koran in the other is quite false." And De Lacy O’ Leary in his book "Islam at the crossroads” states, "History makes it clear, however, that the legend of fanatical Muslims sweeping through the world and forcing Islam at the point of the sword upon conquered races is one the most fantastically absurd myths that historians have ever repeated."
According to the Quran, "There is no compulsion in religion" (2:256), thus, no one can be forced to become a Muslim. While it is true that in many places where Muslim armies went to liberate people or the land, they did carry the sword as that was the weapon used at that time. However, Islam did not spread by the sword because in many places where there are Muslims now, in the Far East like Indonesia, in China, and many parts of Africa, there are no records of any Muslim armies going there. To say that Islam was spread by the sword would be to say that Christianity was spread by guns, F-16's and atomic bombs, etc., which is not true. Christianity spread by the missionary works of Christians. Ten-percent of all Arabs are Christians. The "Sword of Islam" could not convert all the non-Muslim minorities in Muslim countries. In India, where Muslims ruled for 700 years, they are still a minority. In the U.S.A., Islam is the fastest growing religion and has 6 million followers without any sword around.

Pope Benedict XVI has told diplomats from Islamic countries that the peace of the world relies upon them learning to respect one another, to discuss differences constructively, and to recognise the call within both faiths to reject violence decisively.

In response, Muslim scholars have called for a reassessment of the past, and for the churches to face up to their own history of violence in a frank re-assessment of the historical relations between the two faiths.

The Pope’s plea came in a special meeting on 25 September 2006 with Islamic leaders at the pontiff’s residence, in which the leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Catholics stressed his respect for Muslims, following a furore about a speech in which he quoted a 14th century Christian emperor who referred to "evil and inhuman" aspects of the religion.

"I should like to reiterate today all the esteem and the profound respect that I have for Muslim believers," Pope Benedict told the ambassadors of Islamic countries accredited to the Holy See, as well as representatives of various Muslim communities in Italy.

For the sake of the world, Christians and Muslims needed to learn to work together, Pope Benedict declared, "to guard against all forms of intolerance and to oppose all manifestations of violence".

Pope Benedict XVI's reference to dark aspects in Islam's history also opened up fresh examinations of its own past as conqueror, inquisitor and patron of missionaries whose zeal sometimes led to harsh actions against those of other faiths, points out Brian Murphy of Associated Press.

Many Islamic leaders have appealed, in turn, for onlookers not to judge their faith's nearly 1,400-year history solely by modern calls for ‘holy war’, which they say is a clear distortion of the Qur’an’s teaching about jihad as a spiritual struggle, and Muslim rage over Benedict's 12 September speech in Germany.

"There is this impression among Muslims that the pope was saying, 'We are superior and we are without problems,'" explained Ali El-Samman, president of the interfaith committee for Egypt's High Islamic Council. "The history books will tell you otherwise."

In recent years the Vatican has tried to clear away some of its historical baggage, says Murphy. This includes a well-publicised (but subsequently overlooked) 2001 apology by Pope John Paul II for the medieval Crusades, which are widely seen both by Muslims and Orthodox Christians as Western invasions.

Meanwhile, a professor of Islamic law at Qatar University, Muhammad Ayash al-Kubaisi, has proposed on the website of the Al-Jazeera television that Christians should study their own turbulent past and that a constructive way forward might be a public debate about the history of Muslim-Christian relations.

In 1099 Christian crusaders captured Jerusalem and began wholesale attacks on its population, including Muslims and Jews, historians say. At the same time in other parts of the Muslim world, a golden age had its intellectual hub in Baghdad.

In the early 13th century, Crusaders sacked Constantinople, the ancient centre of Greek-led Byzantium, in part to use the plunder to fund more forays into Muslim lands. The Byzantine Empire never fully recovered from the blow.

"No religion is without their unholy periods," commented the Rev Khalil Samir, a Vatican envoy for interfaith links in Lebanon. "To admit this is an important step to real understanding and dialogue."


ope Benedict XVI has still not apologized for equating Islam with violence in a speech and now seems to be using the ensuing controversy to forge an allegiance with conservative Muslims, Canada's largest Arab organization says.

"He should come clean," Khaled Mouammar, president of the Canadian Arab Federation, said yesterday after meeting with the Toronto Star editorial board.

His strong reaction stood in sharp contrast to those of Muslim envoys to the Vatican who met Benedict yesterday to discuss fallout from a speech the Pope gave Sept. 12.

At a German university, Benedict quoted 14th-century Byzantine Emperor Manuel II Palaeologus, a Greek Orthodox Christian, as saying the Prophet Muhammad commanded "to spread by the sword the faith he preached."

That unleashed anger in the Muslim world, forcing the Pope repeatedly to say he regretted the reaction to his speech.

Mouammar said all Arabs felt targeted by the remarks, even those who are not Muslim.

"My wife was infuriated and she's Catholic," Mouammar, a Christian Palestinian, told the Star's editorial board.

Mohamed Boudjenane, federation executive director, said Benedict's words need to be seen in the context of others from the Roman Catholic leader, who laments Christianity's waning influence in Europe and argues against Muslim Turkey joining the European Union.

"That Pope has a precedent with the Islamic world," said Boudjenane, a Muslim.

Yesterday, Benedict met envoys from Muslim nations and representatives of Italian Muslim groups at his summer residence outside Rome. He used the 30-minute meeting to call for more interfaith dialogue.

Mouammar stressed that the Pope still has not apologized for the comments themselves, only the reaction to them.

"He has never apologized that he really condoned what this emperor said," Mouammar said. "He should say: `I am sorry that I quoted this guy and based my conclusions on him.'"

The Pope repeatedly has said he does not agree with the emperor he quoted. Mouammar does not accept this explanation because the Pope based his conclusion in the speech — that reason and violence are not compatible — on the emperor's statement.

"He indirectly agreed," Mouammar said.

Some at yesterday's meeting with the Pope saw good in it.

Mario Scialoja, adviser to the Italian section of the World Muslim League, told Reuters News Agency he had not expected "another (papal) apology.

"He recalled the differences but expressed his willingness to continue in a cordial and fruitful dialogue," said Scialoja, who described the pontiff's speech as "very good and warm."

Nearly all those at the meeting drove off without comment.

The Pope used the word "dialogue" eight times during his five-minute address at Castel Gandolfo.

He said Catholics and Muslims should focus on what they agree on, not on what divides them.

"It is imperative that Christians and Muslims engage with one another (on) the numerous challenges that present themselves to humanity, especially those concerning the defence and promotion of the dignity of the human person and of the rights ensuing from that dignity," the Pope said.

Mouammar said such a plea would only appeal to conservative Muslims. "He is talking about family-values issues, such as same-sex marriage, abortion, that sort of thing."

Boudjenane said the Vatican stand on such issues would appeal to the conservative "fringe" of Islam, but not to more moderate Muslims.

Iraq's ambassador to the Holy See said the pontiff's meeting with Muslims should end the anger over his address at the university in Regensburg where he once taught theology.

"The Holy Father stated his profound respect for Islam. This is what we were expecting," Iraqi envoy Albert Edward Ismail Yelda said, as he left. "It is now time to put what happened behind and build bridges."

Al-Jazeera, in Arabic, carried Benedict's speech live.

Others attending included a diplomat from Indonesia, where Christian-Muslim tensions were heightened last week by the execution of three Catholic militants.

Saudi Arabia, the seat of Islam, does not maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican.

with files from Star wire services
Karen Armstrong
Monday September 18, 2006
The Guardian,,1874786,00.html

In the 12th century, Peter the Venerable, Abbot of Cluny, initiated a dialogue with the Islamic world. "I approach you not with arms, but with words," he wrote to the Muslims whom he imagined reading his book, "not with force, but with reason, not with hatred, but with love." Yet his treatise was entitled Summary of the Whole Heresy of the Diabolical Sect of the Saracens and segued repeatedly into spluttering intransigence. Words failed Peter when he contemplated the "bestial cruelty" of Islam, which, he claimed, had established itself by the sword. Was Muhammad a true prophet? "I shall be worse than a donkey if I agree," he expostulated, "worse than cattle if I assent!"

Peter was writing at the time of the Crusades. Even when Christians were trying to be fair, their entrenched loathing of Islam made it impossible for them to approach it objectively. For Peter, Islam was so self-evidently evil that it did not seem to occur to him that the Muslims he approached with such "love" might be offended by his remarks. This medieval cast of mind is still alive and well.

Last week, Pope Benedict XVI quoted, without qualification and with apparent approval, the words of the 14th-century Byzantine emperor Manuel II: "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new, and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached." The Vatican seemed bemused by the Muslim outrage occasioned by the Pope's words, claiming that the Holy Father had simply intended "to cultivate an attitude of respect and dialogue toward the other religions and cultures, and obviously also towards Islam".

But the Pope's good intentions seem far from obvious. Hatred of Islam is so ubiquitous and so deeply rooted in western culture that it brings together people who are usually at daggers drawn. Neither the Danish cartoonists, who published the offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad last February, nor the Christian fundamentalists who have called him a paedophile and a terrorist, would ordinarily make common cause with the Pope; yet on the subject of Islam they are in full agreement.

Our Islamophobia dates back to the time of the Crusades, and is entwined with our chronic anti-semitism. Some of the first Crusaders began their journey to the Holy Land by massacring the Jewish communities along the Rhine valley; the Crusaders ended their campaign in 1099 by slaughtering some 30,000 Muslims and Jews in Jerusalem. It is always difficult to forgive people we know we have wronged. Thenceforth Jews and Muslims became the shadow-self of Christendom, the mirror image of everything that we hoped we were not - or feared that we were.

The fearful fantasies created by Europeans at this time endured for centuries and reveal a buried anxiety about Christian identity and behaviour. When the popes called for a Crusade to the Holy Land, Christians often persecuted the local Jewish communities: why march 3,000 miles to Palestine to liberate the tomb of Christ, and leave unscathed the people who had - or so the Crusaders mistakenly assumed - actually killed Jesus. Jews were believed to kill little children and mix their blood with the leavened bread of Passover: this "blood libel" regularly inspired pogroms in Europe, and the image of the Jew as the child slayer laid bare an almost Oedipal terror of the parent faith.

Jesus had told his followers to love their enemies, not to exterminate them. It was when the Christians of Europe were fighting brutal holy wars against Muslims in the Middle East that Islam first became known in the west as the religion of the sword. At this time, when the popes were trying to impose celibacy on the reluctant clergy, Muhammad was portrayed by the scholar monks of Europe as a lecher, and Islam condemned - with ill-concealed envy - as a faith that encouraged Muslims to indulge their basest sexual instincts. At a time when European social order was deeply hierarchical, despite the egalitarian message of the gospel, Islam was condemned for giving too much respect to women and other menials.

In a state of unhealthy denial, Christians were projecting subterranean disquiet about their activities on to the victims of the Crusades, creating fantastic enemies in their own image and likeness. This habit has persisted. The Muslims who have objected so vociferously to the Pope's denigration of Islam have accused him of "hypocrisy", pointing out that the Catholic church is ill-placed to condemn violent jihad when it has itself been guilty of unholy violence in crusades, persecutions and inquisitions and, under Pope Pius XII, tacitly condoned the Nazi Holocaust.

Pope Benedict delivered his controversial speech in Germany the day after the fifth anniversary of September 11. It is difficult to believe that his reference to an inherently violent strain in Islam was entirely accidental. He has, most unfortunately, withdrawn from the interfaith initiatives inaugurated by his predecessor, John Paul II, at a time when they are more desperately needed than ever. Coming on the heels of the Danish cartoon crisis, his remarks were extremely dangerous. They will convince more Muslims that the west is incurably Islamophobic and engaged in a new crusade.

We simply cannot afford this type of bigotry. The trouble is that too many people in the western world unconsciously share this prejudice, convinced that Islam and the Qur'an are addicted to violence. The 9/11 terrorists, who in fact violated essential Islamic principles, have confirmed this deep-rooted western perception and are seen as typical Muslims instead of the deviants they really were.

With disturbing regularity, this medieval conviction surfaces every time there is trouble in the Middle East. Yet until the 20th century, Islam was a far more tolerant and peaceful faith than Christianity. The Qur'an strictly forbids any coercion in religion and regards all rightly guided religion as coming from God; and despite the western belief to the contrary, Muslims did not impose their faith by the sword.

The early conquests in Persia and Byzantium after the Prophet's death were inspired by political rather than religious aspirations. Until the middle of the eighth century, Jews and Christians in the Muslim empire were actively discouraged from conversion to Islam, as, according to Qur'anic teaching, they had received authentic revelations of their own. The extremism and intolerance that have surfaced in the Muslim world in our own day are a response to intractable political problems - oil, Palestine, the occupation of Muslim lands, the prevelance of authoritarian regimes in the Middle East, and the west's perceived "double standards" - and not to an ingrained religious imperative.

But the old myth of Islam as a chronically violent faith persists, and surfaces at the most inappropriate moments. As one of the received ideas of the west, it seems well-nigh impossible to eradicate. Indeed, we may even be strengthening it by falling back into our old habits of projection. As we see the violence - in Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon - for which we bear a measure of responsibility, there is a temptation, perhaps, to blame it all on "Islam". But if we are feeding our prejudice in this way, we do so at our peril.

· Karen Armstrong is the author of Islam: A Short History

Survey Finds US Muslims Mostly Mainstream

by Jim Lobe
Despite deep dissatisfaction with U.S. foreign policy and President George W. Bush, U.S. Muslims tend to be better assimilated and more content with the larger society in which they live than their European counterparts, according to a   released here Tuesday by the Pew Research Center.
The survey, based on interviews with nearly 60,000 people, found that younger U.S. Muslims, aged 18-29, tended to identify more closely with their religion as their primary identity and to justify the use of violence, including suicide bombing, than their older co-religionists.
But those attitudes were found significantly less frequently among Muslims here than among Muslims, both younger and older, in France, Spain, and Great Britain, according to the survey, which compared the U.S. findings to those found in a survey of European Muslim attitudes conducted by the Pew Global Attitudes Project (PGAP) a year ago.
The new survey also found that a small majority of U.S. Muslims believe their lives have become more difficult since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks but that only one in four believes they have ever been a victim of discrimination in the U.S. due to their Muslim identity.
Nearly three quarters of respondents also said they believed that U.S. society rewards them for hard work regardless of their religious background and they considered life in their local community to be "excellent" or "good."
And by a nearly two-to-one margin, respondents said they do not believe there is any conflict between being a devout Muslim and living in a modern society.
The survey, the most comprehensive of Muslim Americans ever undertaken, according to Pew itself, estimated the total number of U.S. Muslims at approximately 2.35 million, or slightly less than 1 percent of the total U.S. population, substantially less than estimates of up to 6 million by some other recent surveys. Because the U.S. Census Bureau is prohibited from asking about religious affiliations in its national polling, the actual population of Muslim Americans has long been a matter of speculation.
That population is highly diverse, according to the new survey. Nearly two thirds (65 percent) of Muslims here are foreign born – about 24 percent from the Arab world, 18 percent from South Asia, 8 percent from Iran, and the rest from Europe, sub-Saharan Africa, and elsewhere, according to the survey, which was conducted in Arabic, Urdu, Farsi, and English.
Of the remaining 35 percent native-born Muslims, more than half are African-American, the survey found. Twenty-one percent of native-born Muslims are converts.
Of the various groups, native-born Muslims tend to be most alienated from mainstream U.S. society. While 74 percent of foreign-born Muslims said they believed that the U.S. rewarded hard work, only 64 percent of the native-born agreed. Similarly, while 45 percent of the foreign born said they were satisfied with the state of U.S. society, only 20 percent of the native born agreed.
Native-born Muslims also expressed less satisfaction with their personal financial situation and more support for the idea that Muslim Americans should try to remain distinct from mainstream society than their foreign-born counterparts.
In terms of their attitudes towards Islamic extremism, foreign-born Muslims from the Arab world also held somewhat distinct views. Twelve percent of Arab-born Muslims, for example, said suicide bombing could be justified often or sometimes, compared to 8 percent for all Muslim-Americans and 6 percent for African-American Muslims. Only 22 percent said they believed that Arabs carried out the 9/11 attacks, compared to 40 percent of all Muslim Americans.
On the U.S. war on terrorism, U.S. Muslims tended to be considerably more opposed to its conduct than the general public, according to the report. Three-quarters of respondents said going to war in Iraq was the "wrong decision," a position shared by only about half of the population as a whole. Similarly, a plurality (48 percent) of Muslim Americans also said they believed the war in Afghanistan was a mistake, compared to less than 30 percent of the general public.
U.S. Muslims also give Bush substantially lower marks than does the general population. Only 15 percent of respondents said they approved of his performance as president, compared to 35 percent of the general public, according to recent polls.
Similarly, while about one third of the public considers itself reliably Republican, that applies to only 11 percent of U.S. Muslims, according to the survey. Conversely, 63 percent of respondents said they were Democrats or were mostly likely to vote Democratic, compared to 51 percent of the population as a whole.
On their general political views, U.S. Muslims were found to favor an activist government that provided more assistance to the poor than the public as a whole. At the same time, they expressed more conservative views on social and moral issues, such as acceptance of homosexuality.
Still, the survey found that, as a group, Muslims approached religion in ways that were "not all that different" from U.S. Christians – both in the frequency of church or mosque attendance and prayer. On the question of religion's role in politics, U.S. Muslims were, if anything, somewhat more supportive of separating church or mosque from state than their Christian counterparts, the survey found.
Nearly half (47 percent) of U.S. Muslims were inclined to think of themselves first as Muslims, rather than U.S. citizens, according to the survey which noted, however, that that percentage was substantially less than the 81 percent of British Muslims, 69 percent of Spanish Muslims, and 66 percent of German Muslims who identified more with their religion than their nationality.
U.S. Muslims (eight percent) were also half as likely as their counterparts in France, Spain, and Britain (16 percent) to believe that suicide bombing could be justified often or sometimes in defense of Islam. Only German Muslims (7 percent) were less likely to justify suicide bombing. In Jordan and Egypt, by contrast, nearly 30 percent of respondents told PGAP last year that the tactic could be justified often or sometimes.
Among U.S. Muslims, Arab-born respondents tended to be more concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism in the U.S. and also to believe that suicide bombing could be justified. They were also the most likely to believe that Arabs to have been responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
U.S. Muslims (61 percent) – like the U.S. public as a whole (67 percent) – were also much more sanguine than their foreign counterparts about the possibility of devising an acceptable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, according to the survey.
(Inter Press Service)