Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Omid Safi, the Progressive Muslim Union Good Cop

Omid Safi is one of the four original founders of the Progressive Muslim Union North America (PMUNA) and is the chair of the group.

Apparently, Safi’s role in the PMUNA is to act as the “good cop” the guy who talks sweet, and presents the kinder gentler face - while Hussein Ibish, Tarek Fatah, and Ahmed Nassef roles are to attack the critics of PMUNA’s strange brand of “progressivism.”

Recently, Omid Safi was interviewed (titled "adl" and "ihsan") by the on-line zine: Unfortunately, the Naseeb interviewer did not bother to ask for specifics, and let Safi off the hook very easily.

There is no reason whatsoever why public figures, who seek to engage in sometimes arrogant controversy, should be allowed to just slide.

But in this day and age we have blogs - and so we’ll try to fill in some of the blanks.

Omid Safi states:

How have we translated that to the Progressive Muslim Union ethos? In the sense that we are trying to adopt a “big tent” approach: that there will be different folks, coming from different backgrounds, pursuing different projects.

At this point the Naseeb interviewer might have asked: What do you mean by a “big tent?” Who do you include in your “big tent?

A Big Tent?

Do you include, for example, Muslims For Bush (“Bush is bringing liberation...” pictured above) or how about Fareed Zakaria ("Invade Iraq, but bring friends..." and "Done right, an invasion (of Iraq) would be the single best path to reform the Arab world.").

Omid Safi did invite these people to his board, and you can view this information by clicking here. The only reason why some of these people (Muslims for Bush, Fareed Zakaria) are not on the PMUNA board is because they declined the invitation!

But, there are others who are on the PMUNA boards, such as a former employee of the infamous Rand Corporation, and those who oppose the Palestinian right of return, along with a guy who was dreaming of becoming a Muslim Henry Kissinger! This is Safi's "big tentism."

Add to this mix are self-proclaimed athiests and agnostics such as Tariq Ali and Hussein Ibish. So we now have reformers of Islam, who have no qualms about proclaiming that they are athiests and agnostics! This is Safi's "progress!"

Like other PMUNAists, Safi too appears to be obsessed with the word “Salafi” and “not falling into the Salafi trap” and “I don’t advocate a Salafi approach.” According to Safi this means: “I do not believe that we can or should limit our approach only to the Qur’an or hadith...”

VIBES: Most Progressive Muslims, you say are also anti-imperialist. Does this threaten/promote the longevity of the PMU in terms of gaining popularity?

Omid Safi: I for one am not obsessed with how to become popular. My concern is with doing that which is morally the right thing to do, in the sight of God and the mandate of our own conscience. Imperialism, both in its classical manifestation and its current permutations, represent an exercise of brutality, force, privilege, and arrogance. We will continue to speak out against all forms of domination and oppression.

But what kind of “anti-imperialism” is this? Invitations to Muslims For Bush? Former employees of the Rand corporation? Creating a media feeding frenzy around salaat (the Amina Wadud event), that portrayed PMUNA as the “good Muslims” and forced US Muslim groups into a corner - at a time when Muslims are under scrutiny? Promoting Asra Nomani who recently claimed on Nightline that:

America has a history of bringing human rights to the world, of bringing social justice to the world.
And that too at a time when the United States has invaded, and is occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, and lending its full support to the "man of peace" Ariel Sharon of Israel, against the Palestinians! And your own Executive Director: Ahmed Nassef hanging out with an anti-Palestinian group!

Like much of the Progressive Muslim Union North America - these "anti-imperial" words of Safi are mere air, without substance, and without any of the “educated, compassionate, historically rigorous perspectives” that Safi says he wants to talk about...

But the best part is this:

This ability to be grounded and self-critical is a great sign of a mature discourse.

BUT the PMUNA board members and/or their supporters have called their critics “neo-salafis” “chickens” “extremists” “people wanting to impose sharia on North America” “converts to ultra-conservative brands of Islam” and people whose "masters are the "Iranian mullahs"" This is the PMU level of "mature discourse!"

And the supposed “independent” PMUNA media outlet, Muslim Wake Up (editor Ahmed Nassef is Executive Director of PMUNA) - well, they will not publish anything even remotely critical of the PMUNA brand of “progressive Islam” --- So much for being “self critical!”

Omid Safi, you may like to sound like a sweet and articulate person, but your rethoric is empty. Your actions, and those of your board members and supporters are deeply contradictory and inconsistent with your words. But you do play the role of the “good cop” very well...congratulations.

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