Monday, November 29, 2004

Executive Director of PMUNA responds to critics!

The Executive Director of Progressive Muslims Union, North America, Ahmed Nassef, recently responded to critics of PMUNA on his web site MWU! The response: critics of PMUNA are "neo-salafis" (!)

In another entry on his web site - Nassef says that he is "confused" about concerns expressed in this article that appeared in the Vancouver Sun. (excerpts below)

(Itrath) Syed, who made front-page headlines in The Vancouver Sun during this June's federal election when she upset her mosque's imam by running for the New Democratic Party, is part of an international group of noted scholars and activists who say the Progressive Muslim Union (PMU) shouldn't include supporters of the war against Iraq.

They're challenging the way they say the PMU invited active participation from both left- and right-wing Muslims, including staunch supporters of President George W. Bush and the U. S. invasion of Iraq.

Syed said the international controversy has been "emotionally difficult" for her, because she admires Safi and Nassef and, until recently, considered them friends.

The dissidents, some of whom had been asked to serve on the PMU board, were appalled that PMU organizers had tried to draw in high- profile supporters of Republican policies in Iraq, such as Seeme and Malik Hassan, founders of Muslims for Bush, and Farid Zakaria, who wrote in Newsweek that the invasion of Iraq is "the single best path to reform the Arab world."

Syed's group also protested how the PMU approached noted Muslim Nawaal al-Sadawi, who has campaigned for enforcement of the head- scarf ban in France. "Such a ban," said the Muslim dissidents, "is as reactionary as forcing women to wear it."

A member of Syed's disaffected group, Farid Esack, a South African theologian who teaches at St. Xavier University in Cincinnati, stunned PMU organizers by refusing an invitation to join the board.

He didn't want to work with right-wing Muslims, who, although they might defend gender equity and homosexual rights, also support Bush's "expansionist" policies.

"The PMU is a liberal organization, not a progressive one," Syed says. "It should be standing up for justice and offering geo- political analysis," she said.

The board announced by the PMUNA excluded (for reasons unknown at this time) several of the initial controversial invitees - those excluded are Seeme and Malik Hassan (The Muslims for Bush people) Fareed Zakariyya, and Nawaal el-Sadaawi.

Click here to read A comment on the Progressive Muslims Union, North America that is a more comprehensive statement on this and other very important issues of concern to Muslims.

And read this blog for other important concerns regarding the PMUNA.

Friday, November 19, 2004

The PMUNA announces their advisory board

The board announced by the PMUNA excluded several of the initial controversial invitees - those excluded are Seeme and Malik Hassan (The Muslims for Bush people) Fareed Zakariyya, and Nawaal el-Sadaawi.

The current list of advisory board members, according to PMUNA announcement, include:

Ali Abunimah

Akbar S. Ahmed

Ziad Asali who at a UN-NGO conference publicly denied the right of return to Palestinian exiles and refugees (click here for an update on Ziad Asali)

Muqtedar Khan who worte that as soon as it became clear that Muslims were behind 9/11, I told my wife ‘there goes my chance to be this country’s first Muslim Henry Kissinger’ And in reference to the US war on Iraq, he wrote: "We will fight with America and we will fight for America. We have a covenant with this nation, we see it as a divine commitment.

Scott Siraj Al-Haqq Kugle
Tariq Ramadan
Amina Wadud

Note: Tariq Ramadan is no longer on the advisory board (update 2/14/05)

others that PMUNA listed as invited (but not on board):

Of these, only Mohja Kahf is on the board of directors - Click here for more info. on others invited, but not listed here.

Khaled Abou El Fadl
Leila Ahmed
Tariq Ali
Shirin Ebadi
Shaykha Fariha
Mohja Kahf
Rashid Khalidi
Ebrahim Moosa
Imam Warith Deen Muhammad
Abdolkarim Soroush

Saturday, November 13, 2004

Links to most of NPM discussion removed - summary remains

An uproar took place on the Network of Progressive Muslims list because of the public display of comments that were considered to be private. Names and e-mails of those not associated with the PMUNA were initially removed.

However, according to administrators of NPM - there was a prior agreement that comments appearing on NPM would not appear in public without the author's consent.

With respect to the admin. of NPM - the links to the discussion have been removed -only comments of those individuals who've given their consent will now appear. Comments will re-appear as folks give their consent...

You can read a summary that highlights the main points of concern. And you can read several comments that have been re-added with consent of the authors... So, read on ...

And stay tuned for further developments... :-)

Happy Eid Mubarakh! :-)

Friday, November 12, 2004

A Comment on the "PMUNA"

A Comment on the formation of the Progressive Muslims Union, North America was released on Friday, November 12th.

We are activists and/or scholars who have been part of the shaping and articulation of a global progressive Islamic discourse for a number of years. Some of us are from North America while others are not.

For us, progressive Islam has been about an approach to our faith that is discovered in actual engagement with other Muslims and those who live on the margins of society (e.g., persons living with AIDS, under occupation, dying as the victims of multi-national corporations, under-funded or non-funded health programs or genocidal regimes).

Click here to view the document, and add your comments.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

The Progressive Muslims Union, North America Debate!

Early October/ late September of this year (2004) - Ahmed Nassaf, Omid Safi, Hussen Ibish, and Sara Eltantawi announced themselves as the executive board of a new Muslim organization calling itself "The Progressive Muslims Union, North America."

They sent out a packet of information to a prospective board of advisors. Among the invitees were the following:

Seeme and Malik Hassan, founders of Muslims For Bush, (see photograph above) who have raised and/or donated over a million dollars to the Bush presidential campaign. Their Muslims For Bush campaign included an article on belief net titled:
The Muslim World's Savior (refering to Mr. Bush) "The best thing I can do for Muslims is to vote to re-elect President Bush." The article included this sentence:"I believe Bush is bringing liberation not war"

- Fareed Zakariyya from Newsweek whose public imperialist credentials are
impeccable and whose only problem with the empire is that it is doing an
inefficient job. In an August 5th, 2002 Newsweek article titled "Invade Iraq, but bring friends" Zakaria stated: "Done right, an invasion (of Iraq) would be the single best path to reform the Arab world."

- Nawaal al-Sadawi who has campaigned for the enforcement of the hijab (head
scarf) ban in French public schools. Enforcing the wearing of hijab is as
reactionary as a ban on wearing it.

- Ziyad Asali who at a UN-NGO conference publicly denied the right of return to Palestinian exiles and refugees.

- Muqtedar Khan, who worte that as soon as it became clear that Muslims were behind 9/11, I told my wife ‘there goes my chance to be this country’s first Muslim Henry Kissinger’ And in reference to the US war on Iraq, he wrote: "We will fight with America and we will fight for America. We have a covenant with this nation, we see it as a divine commitment..."

The inclusion of these individuals - and others who have publicly stated that they are not Muslim (Tariq Ali) resulted in an impassioned debate/conversation on the direction this new organization was going to take. Much of this debate has taken place on a discussion e-list The Network of Progressive Muslims.

Given that the debate took place over an e-mail list, it is somewhat cumbersome to read, but some time spent on this will no doubt benefit the North American Muslim community, so as to continue this debate/conversation in a public setting.

While I've attempted to divide up the comments thematically, there are many important, wideranging, and often overlapping issues. The comments are unedited, and the sometimes heated dialogue are a reflection of the importance of these issues.

the participants include:

Ahmed= Ahmed Nassaf

Farid = Farid Esack

Itrath = Itrath Syed

Na'eem= Na'eem Jeenah

Omid = Omid Safi

Sara = Sara Eltantawi

Tarek=Tarek Fateh

and many others...

Read on

The Rand Report

On March 18th, 2004, The Rand Corporation released a report titled

"Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies"

From their web site:

"The study calls for a strategy that can distinguish between Muslims with whom peaceful relationships and dialogue are possible, and extremist Muslims whose values are fundamentally incompatible with democracy and the contemporary international order."

Many Muslims saw this report as yet another attempt by the US to engage in "religion building" and creating divisions based on who the United States government preceives to be the "good guys" within the Muslim community.

Again from their web site:

Support the modernists first.

Support the traditionalists against the fundamentalists

Confront and oppose the fundamentalists.

Selectively support secularists.

The debate on NPM began with a member asking the following question:

Do you all remember the Rand report that came out several months ago about how to make a more western friendly islam by subsidizing/promoting/ supporting the work of 'modernists' and 'secularists'.

Well that has been something that we have talked about here in our meetup group and now it is being brought up within the greater muslim community here (that we are part of this orchestrated attempt to define islam by the U.S.) and elsewhere from what i gather.

Do people see MWU! and PMU as falling in line with the U.S. agenda? I seems to be going that way from what I can tell, whether intentional or not. Just wondered what other thought.


The Media, The "bad" and "good" Muslims... and more

Salaams all:

I know that I have been quiet on this issue and on the list in
general, but I have been closely following the issue. Various folks
on the NPM list has done a good job in identifying many of the
problems with PMU. I will just add a few more points, and please
forgive me if there is some overlap:

1) One of the things that bothered me right from the beginning was
the obsession by PMU folks of getting media coverage for this group.
Even before its official inauguration as an organization on Eid,
PMUNA has received ample publicity in the media, and we can expect
much more publicity, and publicity in more of the major establishment
media, after Eid. I thought to myself, what genuine dissidents,
particularly in the heart of an Empire where the parameters of debate
are kept so narrow, receive this type of coverage. The answer is
simple: practically none. Why don't we see people associated with Z,
like Chomsky or Mike Albert or Robert Jensen or the international
socialist organization, etc. and the issues they raise covered in the
media. The conclusion is simple: a dissident must be doing something
wrong if she is receiving such coverage from the mainstream
establishment media of the empire. At times, PMU folks have sounded
like they have some fetish for as much media coverage as possible,
which wouldn't be a negative thing in a decent society that did
without the undemocratic and concentrated corporate media of the US.
Knowing that the US media is on the search for nice, moderate,
even "progressive" muslim reformers, folks like us need to be extra
careful in these matters, again for reasons of the possibility of co-
optation (as farid and others have mentioned).

If we assume that Ahmed and PMUNA are aware of the problems of media
(and its specific position vis-a-vis "bad" and "good" moderate
Muslims) in the heart of the empire, then I can't help feeling as if
they are engaged in something entirely unethical.
For "progressives," the general aim has been understood to be one
that undermines power and authoritarian structures, either at the
political, social, or economic level. From this it follows that the
reliance on the US media, certainly a core ideological institution of
US imperial power, is to effectively depend one form of power (a very
powerful one in fact) to try to confront another form of power
("islamic orthodoxy," a far weaker power). Whether or not Ahmed or
Omid have this intention or not is irrelevant. Right now, in a
situation where Muslims in the US do have their backs against the
wall and are being told to get their act together or else, showcasing
oneself as the "progressive muslims" amongst the herd of
reactionaries is to have the practical effect of using the imperial
ideological system for one's "progressive" purposes. This might
undermine one form of "power" (Muslim institutions such as ISNA, male-
female mosque dynamics IN THE US), but strengthens a far more
powerful propaganda system that's not shy of using force and
violence. The point is simple: as progressives activists, the goal
is not to use one power structure against another one (that one
despises more); rather, it is to undermine all such power

2) It seems like some who've otherwise been consistently anti-
imperialist have demonstrated a softness for the liberal/secularist
defenders of the Empire. I remember a while ago when I spoke about
the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan, Tarek bitterly condemned their
collaboration with US imperialism in Pakistan. However, in this
instance, he's able to take these Hassans lightly and joke about them
and give a de facto acceptance of their presence on the board. Is
the criterion NOW only one having liberal social views, such as on
homosexuality, middle class pluralism, etc. It was once said that if
one takes a sample of the views of corporate CEOs and also of most of
the people working in the mainstream US media, their views will be
pretty liberal, on very narrow social issues of course (what are also
called "wedge" issues here in the U.S.; they are used to divide
people by the so-called family values rhetoric, as Itrath mentioned
recently). However, does that in any way affect their views on
empire, both its militarism and capitalist exploitation? Not at
all. And so, ultimately we reduce everything to putting such and
such individual on trial for such backward social views, rather than
putting the system on trial. Our venom is then really saved for the
conservative/backward Pakistani or Arab who has recently migrated,
rather than a system that continues to impoverish those countries
from which these people are forced to flee.

3) I take issue with an implicit "othering" of non-North Americans.
The arrogance of calling this a North American organization, yet
inviting Muslims from all over the world has already been mentioned.
There is the claim made that the privileges of freedom and liberties
accorded to American Muslims will be used for good purposes and
ends. This, I think, really translates into support for american
discursive domination of the world. If you are privileged in the
first place, privileged for not having to face bombings, or curfews,
or starvation, etc., your first bloody objective ought to be to
challenge that privilege day in and day out, and refuse to be a
moderate, decent voice when you know your government is a key factor
behind the suppression of millions of your sisters and brothers
throughout the Muslim world. Unfortunately, there is the assumption
that the brave new progressive islamic world will be ushered in
america. The struggles of AIDS activists and folks like Farish Noor
and Chandra Muzaffar in Malaysia, of Asghar Ali Engineer and others
in India, in Iran, of Na'eem Jeenah and others in South Africa, etc.,
ALL OF IT is ignored as if this is not taking place since it does not
receive the type of media that a group of western activists get for
setting up a group of a handful of people.

4) We really need to emphasize that the principal contradiction in
the world today is NOT talibanism, "islamic fundamentalism,"
wahhabism, etc. The hundreds of millions who suffer and die from
AIDS, poverty, starvation, lives of boredom and rote work,
meaningless and commodified human relationships, etc. are not the
victims of wahabbism. "Islamism" is just another symptomatic
reaction to the fundemantalism of a modernity/progress narrative that
inflicts only misery and malaise on the social majorities of the
world. Rather, the main culprit is a world system of empire which is
relentless in its efforts to destroy any and all remaining social
spaces for liberation, in all human spheres of life (political,
economic, cultural). This is the reduction of human beings, of
ihnsan, to homo oeconomicus (economic man). Aspects of
kinship/gender and race/nationality are all exploited to serve the
cause of the ever-expanding imperial profit machine. Although i am
hesitant to use this marxist formula of one specific principal
contradiction, for some reason, during these times, it seems
difficult not to.

5) As some have said, it may be time to dump the term progressive in
front of Islam or Muslim for something that refers to liberation or
its derivative. Friends from the UK disliked the term progressive
islam when i first mentioned it to them. Reflecting on how we need
to rethink our approach to the adjective we use (if any) before Islam
(which is probably unnecessary and unwise; but perhaps necessary
before "Muslim") is important. However, let us not beat this issue
ad nauseum and let our adjectives and descriptions, in other words
simply language, become substitutes for concrete praxis from which
languages and discourses of liberation will emerge themselves.

6) One thing which all of this points to is a healthy skepticism that
we should have about organizations that emerge out of no context of
mass movement or struggle. There are tons of "progressive Muslim"
NGOs cropping up throughout the Muslim world, promising to
bring "enlightened moderation" (as pakistani military man musharraf
calls it) to the masses through their intellectual forums and bad
pamphlets. It has become a racket and the corruption of the worst
kind, where many of these enlightened muslim intellectuals act as the
intermediaries between the civilized west and its generous funding
through USAID and Asia Foundation, and the mass of Muslim uncouths
who these intellectuals are hired to tame. In many ways, my bitter
criticism of this ngo/think tank model extends to somewhat less
harsher criticism of the vanguardist approaches of parties and other
organizations. The peoples movements in the world will give voice to
themselves, and will also be shown solidarity by others who are
privileged BUT are using that privilege to expose the complicity of
their own governments in pepertuating the underdevelopment of the
majority of the world. But some folks (either the communist party,
or PMU or whoever) already setting the agenda for them and getting
the glory and fame on the backs of their struggles, i don't think
so. Come to think of it, all of the decent organizations in north
america, like global exchange or rivers first, etc. focus almost
entirely on how the bloody empire is ravaging the two-third world
(the first on issues of trade, debt, etc., the latter providing
crucial support and solidarity to activists in places like india
against western-supported big dam projects).

Finally, let me just mention something that will make us think. I'm
working with various Muslim Student Associations in the DC area on an
Islam and worker justice conference, where huge muslim communities
will interact with unions, etc. Some of the leading organizers
(various female students and Imams) are very cool and progressive,
yet they have never heard of these progressive Muslims nor have they
read any of the progressive Muslim thinkers we are fond of. They are
just DOING IT, working with organizations such as jobs for justice,

Our approach not TO the struggle but IN the struggle in these
scandalous times is crucial, and should not be taken lightly.



The Fundamentals of Islam

Following was the last substantive post on this topic on NPM. And well worth reading in full - to give a broad context to the debate.

The debate/conversations continue at various levels, privately and amongst many individuals who find themselves dissapointed, and sad with the turn that the "progressive muslim" movement has taken in North America.

For sure, it was never the idea of so many activists - and non-activists who had found a home in progressive Islam, to see a day when neo-cons, and supporters of a horrible war (with over a 100,000 Iraqis killed) would be offered advisory positions in an organization that we could have called our own.

Farid Esack wrote on NPM:

Salaams everyone

Some of you may recall that I entered this debate quite a well after it started. This is my third or forth posting on the PMUNA issue in a month (This is hardly a “barrage” but I can understand why some people feel like this.

In this period there have been some off-the-list attempts to talk to me about some kind of a “reconciliation”. My difficulty with this is that public decisions (or decisions of public import) have been made and these have to be justified in public. A personal touch to things is always nice. However this progressive Islamic movement is not something that belongs to important well-heeled and well connected people, academic, authors or editors of books. These folks may belong to it; it does not belong to them. And so notions of “if only we (the “big-wigs”) can sort it out among ourselves, reach some sort of an agreement then it will be fine” are really not the best way forward.

I am not sure of the “movement-memory of the PMUNA folks, but this has been a movement of many activist who actually do things in many different parts of the world. While my own work and that of others such as Engineer, Shariati, Wadud etc have inspired people for many years - and in the last year or so the book edited by Professor Safi – this movement does not have any Muftis. There is going to be no deals struck behind the back of “ordinary” activists who have given meaning to progressive Islam.

The questions have been raised in public, they are serious politicalquestions and they impact on who wants to do what to this ummah. Some folks may well be swayed by personal e-mails or by personal phone conversations and this is fine. The PMUNA folks are trying to build a real organization and so it is understandable that there is this flurry of side conversations and attempts at reconciliation or to get people on to ‘our side’.

Of course the public discussions on this list do affect personal relationships and the hope earlier on expressed by Omid Safi that we try to maintain a sense of decorum (Adab and akhlaq) as well as the more recent request by Jeanette to halt the “aggressive tones,” and avoid “too much sarcasm and accusations” are important. This is a requirement of our faith, as Omid Safi has pointed out. (This is a requirement that I have not always been able to fulfill. So, may I take this opportunity to apologize to the list for the intemperate tone of my first posting on this issue?)

This need to maintain a civil or personable tone however is very different from personalizing the debate. The fact that Dick Cheney’s daughter is a lesbian and that he loves her dearly says nothing about the homophobic party that he co-leads. I am quite frankly utterly disinterested in his relationship with his daughter. It is his public
policies that gall me. If he keeps insist on referring to the love for his daughter every time I want to discuss his party’s homophobia than it is quite understandable if I become suspicious of his interminable resort to love as weapon of escapism and digression.

So, many thanks for the personal letters, expressions of love and offers to resolve this at a personal level. In respect to who those who really constitute the progressive Islamic movement I prefer to keep the discussion in the public realm.

Some years ago - I wrote about it somewhere - when I was a rather lonely critical student at madressah in Pakistan, I became really excited in chatting to a new-comer from South Africa. He spoke at length about the
need for us as “the new generation” of `ulama to concentrate on the “fundamentals of our faith”, “stop nitpicking on all the peripherals (furu’iyyat)”, “the need to deal with things that really matter to our people” and so he went on and on. This all sounded to too good to be true and so I said; “Can you give me an example of what you are talking about?” he replied: for example the `ulama never tell people that when they take ghusl (a bath) that the water should go into their navels and that without this, their ghusl is incomplete…

In some ways, this PMUNA story is like this. The words that the PMUNA folks use are familiar to us and very dear to us, all the stuff of anti- imperialism, pluralism, gender justice (not so sure about the “Palestine- Israeli issue”, which sound like reducing apartheid to a “Black-white Issue” or gender violence to ‘domestic issues’) etc. When an example is gleaned of what is meant by all the words by the choice of advisors… what do we get?

Unlike the encounter with this newcomer from South Africa to the madrassah in Pakistan, we the critics of PMUNA have for long thought that we are reading from the same page as these PMUNA folks. In fact, about two three months ago a number of us handed over the domain to them. This awakening from the illusion and what we see as the hijacking of a term is what pains us.

Now we are asking for clarity about the examples that they have offered us of what they mean by progressive Islam and there are only repeated protestations of the need to “concentrate on the fundamentals of our faith”, “stop nitpicking on all the peripherals (furu’iyyat)”, “we need to deal with things that really matter to our people”, “let’s stop arguing and get on with the work”. There seem to have emerged a profound inability to understand each other and the only way that we can do is to see if we mean the same things by our use for words.

We were stumped by their use of word which was particularly vividly manifested in the story of the Hassans – but not confined to them. (This is an important point because we should not confuse George Bush with the
Empire.) And so, we raised our horror at their presence on the Advisory board of – not ordinary Republicans that must be pitied – but a couple that have given two million to the Bush Campaign and who founded Muslims for Bush and ho have their sordid record that they do have on health care (rather the denial thereof) that they have).

We asked pointed questions such as do you make a distinction between comrades and folks that you must reach out to.

What did we get in response? Curses on George Bush from Sarah al-Tantawi, prayers for the gods to deliver Ohio from the Republicans from Professor Safi and accusations of dishonesty and being misleading from Naseef Ahmed when I had failed to make a distinction between advisors and directors.

We had simple question, repeated over and over: Did you or did you not approach the Hassans of under-the-moonlight-with-Bush-fame to serve on the Board of Advisor of PMUNA? If you did, what motivated you to do so?
Instead we are getting questions about we make of Tariq Ramadan latest book.

We asked about Fareed Zakariyya (again no relation of mine!), and we raised questions about a number of others whose public imperialist credentials are impeccable that were invited on the advisory Board and instead we were told about how anti-imperialist Safi, Naseef and Tantawi are.

We asked questions about Nawaal al-Sadawi who has campaigned for the enforcement of the Hijab ban in French public schools and who slapped her domestic worker in public on TV and instead we got confessions of your
own commitment to gender equality. We cannot imagine anyone enforcing hijab being awarded a progressive Muslim badge and we will also deny that anyone who calls for an enforced a ban on hijab can be a progressive Muslim

We asked questions about people invited to serve on the board who deny the right of return to Palestinian exiles and refugees and we told about how your careers were risked to bring pro-Palestinian Israelis to your campusses.

We asked questions about how far broad-tentism and our questions were met with silence or protestations of more broad-tentism or how you preferred the term broad ummah.

When hell was raised about people who have publicly distanced themselves from Islam, who yearned to be the first “Muslim” Henry Kissinger, there were no responses. Instead we were told “I don't know if this is clear, but the purpose of the Board of Advisors is not to set policy, it is only to help in fund raising. It is not a decision making body. The Hasans do not set the policy for PMU. Decision making and setting policy would fall under the rubric of the Board of Directors.<<<>>> You are right--there ARE many important questions, but it's really not up to me to answer them. The answers will depend on the members who become active in the organization.<<

And El-Farouk wrote sounding seemingly very reasonable: “should any organazation have all the answers BEFORE it even takes baby steps. that is asking tooooooooooo much. it is not possible.”

No, my brothers, we are not asking you to answer everything about the future; we are asking you to explain something that you have done in the name of progressive Islam! In the past. And Ahmed Naseef, please do no impose the terrible burden of your choices and justifying them on to the people who are joining later or were not a part of your decision. This, my brother, is escapism and digression at best, dishonesty an deceit at worst.

Your initiative is supposed to have its origins on this and or the PMN list, from these lists you have drawn your support, then you guys went of and did what you did. Word of it leaked out slowly, very slowly and we are simply and sincerely asking questions about what you did in our name and more important, what do your choices say about your ideological agenda.

Gosh, this whole series of questions and your responses are so reminiscent of politicians on TV. Regardless of what is asked, they will say what they want to say in utter disregard to the questioner. That may
work on TV because the audience is not really the interviewer. My brothers and sisters, we hope that you are talking to us who are asking these question and not merely having your eyes on all the silent audience that you may want to attract to PUNA.

Well, in all fairness, we did get a few answers

A question was raised about whether Osama was entitled to get into the tent and a fatwa was issued that Osama was not a Muslim and he would not be welcome. So your tent shrunk. Then it came to Irshad Manji and your
tent shrunk further and you launched into an ad hominem attack on her sincerity. (You had, of course, first agreed to her coming to the conference and then when Tarek Fatah pointed out that she would steal the
show at your conference, you rapidly agreed to disinvite her because she was no not “sincere”, not “really progressive”. Here you have someone who has ‘self-identified’ – your term – as a Muslim and progressive but she
cannot come to your conference as a mere participant? On the other hand you have people who have publicly denied that they are Muslims or would cringe at being described as such being invited to serve on your Board of Advisors.

Safi wrote: “I have listened to Irshad very closely on multiple occasions, and read her book and website closely. When I listen to her address the shortcomings of Muslims, I never get the sense that it is motivated by a love and compassion for the people that she is addressing. Instead, it always come across as condescending and self-righteous.”

Talk to many a Toronto Muslim about this and they will happily substitute Manji’s name for someone on this list that is now emerging as one of PMUNA’s Canadian cheerleaders. Forget about talking to Toronto based Muslims, several of us on this list will not have failed to have noticed the bitterness and venom spat upon other Muslims by some of these reformers. Gosh if those of us who are merely dissenting from PMUNA are now being described as Shari’ah Bolsheviks, you can imagine what is the venom of choice reserved for run-of-the-mill Muslims?

So Torontonians who promise not to steal our show cannot come and those will cheer us can?

When it comes to folks that you have decided to foreground as Advisors to PMUNA and we ask questions about their public lives and public positions we are told “I am not willing to engage in talking about what is in people's hearts--this is up to God, and perhaps those who are closer to God than I.”

For Irshad Manji, who threatens to steal your show, there is a thorough autopsy of her heart and mind and a willingness to eat her dead flesh by Omid Safi and Sarah el-Tantawi?

Until now there has been a trivialization and very selective responses at our horror that you are talking about water getting into the navel whereas ….

Tarek Fatah who can spit venom at the slightest mention of the Jamati Islami can happily make a couple silly jokes about the imperial pay- masters, policy vanguard and military suppliers of religious fundamentalism and obscurantism in the Muslim world. Muslims cannot be given the “benefit of the doubt” but the war-mongers of the empire can? The puppets of the empire – Zia, Musharraf, the Saudis, etc get nothing but curses and venom from us but there sustainers are embraced as comrades and Muslims encouraged to co-operate with their systems of enforcement?

Ahmed Naseef was a bit more helpful in at least one respect in a recent mail wherein he outlined a list of things that PMUNA envisages doing. Cool. That gave us an idea of where you were heading for. There is a space for liberalism in contemporary Islamic discourse and your emphasis on diversity and pluralism rather than justice and liberation shows your ideological lines clearly. Liberalism values space for the sake of space (seemingly as a value in and of itself, but really to creat more choices to serve the market in different ways). That is why you can provide space for murderers on the Muslimwakeup site on your Ramadan Blogs in the name of “space and diversity”. Progressive Islam values diversity as part of a process of liberation – and not part of middle class butterfly dance of escapism and digression away from the cutting issues of justice, occupation and poverty

The problem is that you had supplied a list of people that you wanted to have advising you on all of this and that was the horrific small print which revealed confusion and nothingness. You have refused to discuss your small print and become angry when I and others enlarged it. The devil – and there were several of them – is in the details.

We are bewildered at your logic. Clearly you guys are making this up as you are going along. Trial and error is fine – but only when there is acknowledgement of error.


Farid Esack

Is being Muslim an ethnicity?

An important concern regarding the PMUNA is that it considers itself inclusive of "cultural" and "secular" Muslims. Tariq Ali, who has publicaly stated that he is not a Muslim was also invited to be on the advisory board.

This raised the question of how Muslim was being defined by the PMUNA:

An NPM member states:

...but i continue to be confused on many points one being the seeming development of a muslim ethnicity. a moroccan friend complained about this trend several years ago and i was unable to see what he was talking about but in the last few weeks it is throwing itself in my face.

what is a muslim? a one point i thought it was a common belief in God, that we all agreed as a point of departure in our life journey in la illaha ill allah, but that seems to be false. are we going the way of the jewish tradition. there are spiritual jews of various types, cultural jews, atheist jews....that seems to me to be the big tent pmu is building...
And another important contribution:

In the Name of God, the Gracious, the Dispenser of Grace

To include "Muslim atheists" defies the purpose of the organisation as I see it and wastes what has been achieved.

There is a fundamental difference between a progressive agenda _within_ Islam and one that sees its purpose in _overcoming_ Islam. If someone doesn't believe in the fundamentals of the faith (the existence of a single supreme God, ultimate judgement etc.), then the only sensible aim must be to get rid of it. What's the point in 'reforming' something that doesn't have any substance? "Islam" as a mere cultural identity is pointless.

Click here to read more

Who can join the PMUNA?

Following up on the above conversation on what being a Muslim means in the context of the PMUNA, the question is asked who can join the PMUNA?

An NPM list member writes:

As has been said already, it IS necessary to define what we mean by progressive Muslim. And that means first defining 'muslim'. I do notbelieve that atheists are Muslims. Sorry. I have lots of friends and comrades who are atheists. I respect them for their work and they style respect me for mine. But they wouldn't pretend to be 'Muslim' or 'Christian' - because they are not. Being Muslim means surrenderingone's self to Allah. If one does not believe that Allah exists, then how does one still call one's self a Muslim. And at least one of the names Isaw on the list of people invited to be on the board is an atheist.

The Living Tradition Blog

The Living Tradition Blog has several interesting critiques of progressive Muslims - a member posted an entry to the list - that led to another round of conversation/discussion/debate! And Irshad Manji makes a surprise appearance (but the media is not allowed to talk to her - because it would take attention away from PMUNA).

this is from a blog ,that is going around the states. interestingly enough it asks some of the same questions that are being asked here. hmmmm maybe i'm a closet conservative and just dont know it (o:

The Advisory Board

Possibly the most egregious act of the "executive board" of the PMUNA was to have invited people such as Fareed Zakariya, and the Muslims For Bush people who consider the invasion of Iraq to be a "liberation" of that nation:

I think the people who have voiced the most concerns about the PMU are mostly concerned about the *board* membership and whether it includes (a) atheists, who many would say are by definition not Muslims and (more importantly for many of us) (b) imperialists or people who have a right-wing world view and are therefore by many people's definition not Progressive.

Read more here

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

rand report shia sunni

New Rand study suggests exploiting Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world
By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

A new Rand Corporation study suggests that Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides should be exploited to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world.

The recently released Rand study - titled “The Muslim World After 9/11” – was conducted on behalf of the US Air Force. One of the primary objective of the study was to “identify the key cleavages and fault lines among sectarian, ethnic, regional, and national lines and to assess how these cleavages generate challenges and opportunities for the United States.” The research brief was issued by the Rand Corporation under the title: US strategy in the Muslim World after 9/11.

“The majority of the world’s Muslims are Sunni, but a significant minority, about 15 percent of the global Muslim population, are Shi’ites….. The expectations of Iraqi Shi’ites for a greater say in the governance of their country presents an opportunity for the United States to align its policy with Shi’ite aspirations for greater freedom of religious and political expression, in Iraq and elsewhere,” the study said.

The study pointed out that with the moves toward rapprochement between Tehran and Riyadh, there are reports that Saudi Arabia’s Shi’ites are now turning from Iran and placing their hopes on the United States.

“Their expectation is that any move toward democracy in Iraq would give the Shi’ite majority a greater say in the politics of that country and increase their ability to help their brethren in Saudi Arabia. Such expectations could present an opportunity for the United States to align its policy with Shi’ite aspirations for greater freedom of religious and political expression and a say in their own affairs in countries controlled by others.”

On the division between the Arab and the non-Arab worlds, the Rand Study pointed out: “Arabs constitute only about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims, yet interpretations of Islam, political and otherwise, are often filtered through an Arab lens. A great deal of the discourse on Muslim issues and grievances is actually discourse on Arab issues and grievances. For reasons that have more to do with historical and cultural development than religion, the Arab world exhibits a higher incidence of economic, social, and political disorders than other regions of the so-called developing world.”

“By contrast, the non-Arab parts of the Muslim world are politically more inclusive, boast the majority of the democratic or partially democratic governments, and are more secular in outlook. Although the Arab Middle East has long been regarded (and certainly views itself) as the core of the Muslim world, the most innovative and sophisticated contemporary work in Islam is being done on the “periphery”—in countries such as Indonesia and in Muslim communities in the West, leading some scholars to ask whether Islam’s center of gravity is now shifting to more dynamic regions of the Muslim world.”

The Rand Report holds the post independence political and economic failures responsible for the current political environment of the Muslim world in general and the Arab world in particular. “Many of the ills and pathologies that afflict many countries in this part of the world and that generate much of the extremism we are concerned about derive from—and contribute to—economic and political failure.”

This situation, the study argued, leads to the concept of structural anti-Westernism (or anti-Americanism). “This concept holds that that Muslim anger has deep roots in the political and social structures of some Muslim countries and that opposition to certain U.S. policies merely provides the content and opportunity for the expression of this anger.”

According to the Rand study, “outside the Arab Middle East, Islamization has involved the importation of Arab-origin ideology and religious and social practices— a phenomenon that we refer to as Arabization.”

The Rand study said that a number of critical or catalytic events have altered the political environment in the Muslim world in fundamental ways. “Catalytic events include the Iranian revolution, the Afghan war, the Gulf War of 1991, the global war on terrorism that followed the September 11 terrorist attacks, and the Iraq war of 2003.”

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Kashmir conflict, the study said, are not catalytic events per se but rather chronic conditions that have shaped political discourse in the Middle East and South Asia for over half a century, the study said.

The Palestinian-Israeli conflict and the Kashmir have retarded the political maturation of the Arab world and Pakistan by diverting scarce material, political, and psychic resources from pressing internal problems, the study added.

The Rand study called for madrassa and mosques reforms in the Muslim world and suggested that US should “support the efforts of governments and moderate Muslim organizations to ensure that mosques, and the social services affiliated with them, serve their communities and do not serve as platforms for the spread of radical ideologies.” In chapter on Islam & Politics in Pakistan, the Rand Study even suggested that there should be government appointed and paid professional imams in all mosques to promote “civil Islam”.

“While only Muslims themselves can effectively challenge the message of radical Islam, there is much the United States and like-minded countries can do to empower Muslim moderates in this ideological struggle,” said Angel Rabas, RAND senior policy analyst and lead author of the report. “The struggle in the Muslim world is essentially a war of ideas, the outcome of which will determine the future direction of the Muslim world and profoundly affect vital U.S. security interests,” he added.

The Rand Study also calls on the United States and its allies to support efforts in Muslim nations to:

* Create a strong and vocal network to unite the fractured voices of moderate Muslims. This can provide moderates with a platform for their message and provide alternatives to extremist movements. An external catalyst may be needed to give life to this goal.
* Support Muslim civil society groups that advocate moderation and modernity. The United States may have to assist in the development of civil society institutions where they do not currently exist.
* Disrupt radical networks. Engage Islamists to participate in the political process, and strengthen relations with the military in Muslim nations. In the war against terror, the U.S. should demonstrate that its efforts are meant to promote democratic change.
* Reform Islamic schools. Educational systems have long been a vital component of radical Islamic indoctrination and recruitment. The best way to counter this is to help Islamic schools ensure they are providing modern education and marketable skills for future generations.
* Create economic opportunities in Muslim nations, particularly for young people. Economic assistance programs will not guarantee an end to extremism or terrorism, but could reduce the perception that the U.S. relies solely on military instruments. Creating jobs and social services would also give young people an alternative to radical Islamic organizations.

In March 2004, the Rand Corporation released a report - titled “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies” – that called for supporting the modernists Muslims against “fundamentalists and traditionalists” and promoting Sufism to formulate a market economy version of Islam.

Angel Rabasa, RAND senior policy analyst, is the lead author of the 567-page new study. Other authors of the study include Cheryl Benard, author of “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies” and Christine Fair, formerly of RAND and now at the U.S. Institute of Peace heading by Daniel Pipes.

also the article entitlted: U.S. Strategy in the Muslim World After 9/11 follows below:

Rand Project Air Force Research official brief
U.S. Stratey in the Muslim World After 9/11


In light of 9/11 and the war on terrorism, it is important for U.S. leaders to develop a shaping strategy toward the Muslim world. This study describes a framework to identify major ideological orientations within Islam,examines critical cleavages between Muslim groups, and traces the long-term and immediate causes of Islamic radicalism. It also outlines political and military strategies available to help ameliorate conditions that produce extremism.

The tectonic events of the past three years — including September 11 and the war on terrorismin Afghanistan, Iraq, and beyond — have dramatically affected the Muslim world and attitudes toward the United States. However, some of the dynamics that are influencing the environment in Muslim countries are also the product of trends that have been at work for many decades.The continuation of these trends will make management of the security environment in the Islamic world more difficult in years to come and could increase the demands on U.S. political and military resources. Consequently, it is important to develop a shaping strategy toward the Muslim world that will help to ameliorate the conditions that produce religious and political extremism and anti-U.S. attitudes. The U.S. Air Force asked RAND Project AIR FORCE (PAF) to study the trends that are most likely to affect U.S. interests and security in the Muslim world. Researchers developed an analytic framework to identify the major ideological orientations within Islam, to examine critical cleavages between Muslim groups, and to trace the long-term and immediate causes of Islamic radicalism. This framework will help U.S. policymakers understand the political and military strategies available to respond to changing conditions in this critical part of the world.

Attitudes Toward Democracy and Nonviolence Are Key Markers

The Muslim world encompasses a band of countries stretching from Western Africa to the Southern Philippines as well as diaspora communities throughout the globe. Researchers developed a typology to differentiate Muslim religious and political currents according to their overarching ideologies, political and legal orientations, preferred forms of government, attitudes toward human rights, social agendas, links to terrorism, and propensity for violence. Based on these markers, Muslim groups fall within a spectrum from those that uphold democratic values and reject violence to those that oppose democracy and embrace violence. This typology can help U.S. policymakers identify potential partners in the Muslim world who may cooperate in promoting democracy and stability and countering the influence of extremist and violent groups.

Cleavages Within the Muslim World Pose Challenges and Opportunities

In addition to the ideological differences noted above, certain divisions cut across the Muslim world and have implications for U.S. interests and strategy: Sunnis and Shi’ites. The majority of Muslims are Sunni. Shi’ites, who number about 15 percent of the world’s Muslims, are dominant in Iran and are politically excluded majorities in Bahrain and the eastern province of Saudi Arabia, as they were in Iraq prior to the removal of Saddam. The United States may have an opportunity to align its policy with Shi’ite groups, who aspire to have more participation in government and greater freedoms of political and religious expression. If this alignment can be brought about, it could erect a barrier against radical Islamic movements and may create a foundation for a stable U.S. position in the Middle East.

Arab and non-Arab Muslims. Arabs constitute about 20 percent of the world’s Muslims. The Arab world exhibits a higher incidence of economic, social, and political disorders than other regions of the so-called developing world. By contrast, non-Arab sectors of the Muslim world are more politically inclusive, boast the majority of democratic or partially democratic governments, and are more secular in outlook. Although the Middle East has traditionally been regarded as the “core” of the Muslim world, it appears that the center of gravity may be shifting to non-Arab sectors. The most innovative and sophisticated thinking about Islam is taking place in areas outside the Arab world such as Southeast Asia and in the diaspora communities of the West. The United States should pay attention to these progressive developments because they can counter the more extreme interpretations of Islam held in some parts of the Arab world.

Ethnic communities, tribes, and clans. The failure to understand tribal politics was one of the underlying causes of the catastrophic U.S. involvement in Somalia. Ten years later, the U.S. government still knows very little about Muslim tribal dynamics in areas where U.S. forces are or may be operating. As the United States pursues an activist policy in disturbed areas of the world, it will be critical to understand and learn to manage subnational and tribal issues.

Conditions, Processes, and Catalytic Events Fuel Islamic Radicalism

Researchers identify both ongoing and immediate causes for the spread of Islamic radicalism over the past several decades. More or less permanent conditions in the Muslim world, such as the failure of political and economic models in many Arab countries, have fueled anger at the West, as disenfranchised Muslims have blamed U.S. policies for their own countries’ failures. This “structural” anti-Americanism is not amenable to amelioration through political or diplomatic means. Moreover, the decentralization of religious authority in Sunni Islam has opened the door for extremists with scant religious credentials to manipulate the religion for their own ends.

Several processes have developed over time to aggravate Islamic radicalism. The Islamic resurgence in the Middle East over the past 30 years and the exportation of Arab ideology and religious practices to the non-Arab Muslim world have increased support for fundamentalism. Radical Islamic ideology has spread to tribal societies that lack strong central political authority (e.g., Pashtun areas of Pakistan and Afghanistan), producing a mix that some observersbelieve “leads to bin Laden.” Moreover, radical Islamists have succeeded in forming networks that support fundamentalist and even terrorist activities through funding and recruitment. Many of these networks provide social services to Muslim communities, making them difficult to detect and disrupt. Finally, the emergence of satellite regional media such as Al-Jazeera has provided a powerful means to reinforce anti-American stereotypes and narratives of Arab victimization that play into radicals’ agendas.

Beyond these long-term factors, certain catalytic events have shifted the political environment in the Muslim world toward radicalism. Major events include the Iranian revolution, the Afghan war with the Soviets, the Gulf War of 1991, and the global war on terrorism after September 11. The Iraq war and the removal of Saddam Hussein have surely had an effect on the Muslim world, but the long-term implications remain to be seen. A stable, pluralistic, and democratic Iraq would challenge anti-Western views in the Middle East and would undermine extremist arguments. On the other hand, if Iraq reverts to authoritarianism or fragments into ethnic enclaves, then U.S. credibility would diminish and radical groups would have greater opportunities to take hold.

The United States and Its Friends and Allies Can Help to Ameliorate Negative Trends in the Muslim World
How can the United States respond to the challenges and opportunities that current conditions in the Muslim world pose to U.S. interests? Researchers suggest a variety of social, political, and military options:

Promote the creation of moderate networks to counter radical messages.
Liberal and moderate Muslims have not formed the effective networks that radicals have. Creation of an international moderate Muslim network is critical to transmitting moderate messages throughout the Muslim world and to provide protection for moderate groups. The United States may need to assist moderates who lack the resources to create such networks themselves.

Disrupt radical networks.
It is important to understand the characteristics of radical networks and their support communities, how they communicate and recruit, and any weaknesses they have. A strategy of “nodal disruption” would target these critical areas, breaking up radical groups and empowering Muslim moderates to take control.

Foster madrassa and mosque reform.
There is an urgent need for the United States and the international community to support reform efforts to ensure that madrassas provide a broad, modern education and marketable skills. One course of action is to help establish or strengthen higher education accreditation boards that monitor and review curricula in state and private schools. Although outsiders may be reluctant to involve themselves in ostensibly religious affairs, ways may be found to support the efforts of governments and moderate Muslim organizations to ensure that mosques do not serve as platforms for radical ideologies.

Expand economic opportunities.
The ability of some radical organizations to address entrenched social and economic problems has created a growing base of support for their politics. Provision of alternative social services in many places might help to indirectly undercut the appeal of the extremists. In particular, the United States and its allies should focus on initiatives that improve the economic prospects of the young. Programs that promote economic expansion and self-sufficiency can help reduce the opportunities for extremists to exploit economic hardship and the perception that the United States has only military interests in the Muslim world.

Support “civil Islam.”
Support of “civil Islam”—Muslim civil society groups that advocate moderation and modernity—is an essential component of an effective U.S. policy toward the Muslim World. Assistance in efforts to develop education and cultural activities by secular or moderate Muslim organizations should be a priority. The United States and its allies may also have to assist in the development of democratic and civil society institutions.

Deny resources to extremists.
A complementary element of the strategy of supporting secular or moderate Muslim organizations is to deny resources to extremists. This effort needs to be undertaken at both ends of the radical funding cycle, in countries where funds either originate (e.g., Saudi Arabia) or are channeled (e.g., Pakistan) to support extremist groups.

Balance the requirements of the war on terrorism with the need to promote stability in moderate Muslim countries.
The United States should ensure that the actions it takes do not play into the hands of radicals, who depict such moves as a war against Islam. The United States should demonstrate that its efforts are not meant to strengthen authoritarian or oppressive regimes, but to promote democratic change.

Seek to engage Islamists in normal politics.
A difficult issue is whether developing Muslim democracies should allow Islamist parties that may not have fully credible democratic credentials to participate in politics. While there is always a danger that an Islamist party, once in power, may move against democratic freedoms, the inclusion of such groups in open democratic institutions may encourage moderation in the long run. An unequivocal commitment to nonviolence and democratic processes should be a prerequisite for inclusion.

Engage Muslim diasporas.
Diaspora communities are a gateway to networks and may be helpful in advancing U.S. values and interests. The United States, for instance, can work with Muslim nongovernment organizations in responding to humanitarian crises.

Rebuild close military-to-military relations with key countries.
Military establishments will continue to be influential political actors across the Muslim world. Therefore, military-to-military relations will be of particular importance to any U.S. shaping strategy in the Muslim world. Rebuilding a core of U.S.-trained officers in key Muslim countries is a critical need. Programs such as International Military Education and Training (IMET) not only ensure that future military leaders are exposed to American military values and practices but can also translate into increased U.S. influence and access.

Build appropriate military capabilities.
The United States faces a need to reduce the more obvious aspects of its military presence in sensitive areas of the Muslim world, while working to increase different types of presence (e.g., intelligence, psychological operations, and civil affairs such as medical assistance). The U.S. military should improve its cultural intelligence through more Arab, Persian, and African regional and language specialists.