Tuesday, 2 October 2007

American Islam by Paul M. Barrett

Jake Shimabukuro LIVE Concert: While My Guitar Gently Weeps

American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion
by Paul M. Barrett
Farrar, Straus and Giroux. 320 pp. $25.00

Paul Barrett, formerly a reporter for the Wall Street Journal and now an editor at Business Week, became convinced in the aftermath of September 11 that we needed to learn much more about Islam in our own country, and so wrote a series of engaging profiles of American Muslims for his paper. Adding to them while on a sabbatical in 2004, he has now produced this book, whose aim is to explore what, for adherents of the Muslim faith, a “normal life” means at this turbulent moment in the history of the United States.

Barrett begins with a broad overview. He informs us that 59 percent of American Muslims hold college degrees, far above the American average of 27 percent. Most are white-collar workers or professionals, with a median family income that is 20 percent above the national norm. As for their ethnic breakdown, 34 percent are South Asians, 26 percent Arab-Americans, and 20 percent native-born American blacks, primarily converts. The remainder are principally from “Africa, Iran, Turkey and elsewhere.” About 85 percent are Sunni, mirroring the Sunni-Shiite proportion in the world at large.

This demographic sketch is followed by in-depth profiles of seven widely different individuals, whom Barrett designates according to their callings in life: “Publisher,” “Scholar,” “Activist,” “Feminist,” and so forth.

The publisher is Osama Siblani, a gregarious Shiite who arrived in Dearborn, Michigan from Lebanon in 1976, made and lost money, and in 1984 started the Arab American News, the largest Arab-oriented paper in America. A figure sought out by Michigan’s politicians, Siblani praises the American Dream—“It doesn’t matter who you are,” “You can make something of yourself”—but has gradually become radicalized. He openly supports Hizballah, for example, and his paper, Barrett writes, often projects “a grim conspiratorial world.”

Siraj Wahhaj, a Brooklyn-based African-American imam, is Barrett’s activist and “unquestionably a star in American Islam.” To criminals and others in the underclass, he stresses “personal responsibility and hard work” and condemns “liquor, drugs, gambling, and pornography.” But Wahhaj combines this stress on personal renewal with the hope that America will adopt Islamic law, including the stoning of adulterers and amputating the hands of thieves. He refuses to condemn Osama bin Laden.

Barrett’s feminist is the Indian-born Asra Nomani, whom he met when she too worked at the Journal and who was a friend of their late colleague Daniel Pearl, butchered by Islamist extremists in Pakistan. For years she has fought to persuade her mosque in Morgantown, West Virginia, to allow women to use the front entrance and pray together with men. Her campaign has been noisy, drawing national media attention, but has met with limited success.

Having introduced us to these and others in his cast of characters, Barrett offers, in a concluding chapter entitled “The Way Ahead,” his thoughts on the troubles besetting American Muslims since 9/11. Here he emphasizes the pressures they have had to bear, especially the widespread suspicion that has fallen on them and the increased surveillance to which they are subjected.

He also provides a set of proposals designed to improve their lot. Among other things, Barrett calls on national politicians to denounce “Islam-hating Christian fundamentalists” like Pat Robertson, demands an end to the abuse of detainees, asks prosecutors to show restraint in terrorism-related cases, and urges the White House to pressure Israel to make concessions.


By spending months with his subjects, Barrett hoped to bring them alive, with all their virtues, vices, foibles, and hopes. As he writes, he wanted to make them “real and three-dimensional, as opposed to . . . merely talking points or op-ed pieces.” In this, he succeeds admirably. But his journalistic approach to American Islam in general has its distinct limitations.

Summarizing a slew of sources, for example, Barrett suggests that there are 3 to 6 million Muslims in the United States. The lower figure in this range is derived from survey data; the higher one is methodologically suspect. Instead of merely citing dueling experts, a book-length study of Islam in America should reasonably be expected to reach careful conclusions of its own.

According to Barrett, again, there is “a broad consensus that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world and in the country.” As for the world, this assertion would be true only if we excluded many faster-growing smaller religions and measured by rates of growth rather than by absolute numbers; Christianity is currently adding more adherents than Islam. And as for America, reliable estimates show that Hinduism and Buddhism, as well as Sikhism and Baha’i, are growing faster than Islam.

More to the point, and more problematic, is that Barrett’s artfully drawn profiles, while they do illustrate the diversity of American Islam, tell us little about who, in the words of his subtitle, is actually winning the “struggle for the soul of a religion.” Yet this is something that, in an age of extremism and terror, most of his readers would dearly like to know.

Even as Barrett declines to answer the question directly, some of his profiles give cause for concern. Those among his subjects who are involved with mosques, for example, tend to be more attuned to radical fundamentalist thinking than those who are not; mosque leadership is still further along the spectrum. Although the moderates among Barrett’s subjects may be more typical of Muslims in general, comparatively they lack organizational clout or rank-and-file support.


As Barrett notes, the many students who come from the Middle East to study in the U.S. tend to exercise a radicalizing effect on American Muslims. There is a reason for that. “If there is one source of influence that bears special responsibility for exporting the Muslim world’s worst ideas to the West,” he writes, “it is our equivocal ally Saudi Arabia.” Half of American mosques have received Saudi money, and “Saudi publishers inundate American mosques with books and pamphlets” pushing the fundamentalist Wahhabi doctrine. Throughout American Islam, one finds numerous examples of the baneful influence of Saudi texts, tapes, videos, students, imams, websites, and money.

Yet Barrett’s recommendations ignore these influences entirely. Most of his proposals are, in fact, entirely divorced from the human landscape he presents, seeming instead to fall from the sky. An example is his call to condemn “Islam-hating Christian fundamentalists” so as to protect Muslim sensibilities. This draws on almost nothing he has offered in his text apart from a few disgruntled asides of his own.

In any case, shielding Muslim sensibilities these days would seem to be a full-time job. As newspaper headlines make clear, some Muslims are upset by Salman Rushdie novels, Danish cartoons, German operas, papal pronouncements, and portrayals of Muhammad in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and in the chamber of the Supreme Court. Nor is that all. Most Muslims, Barrett informs us, also frown “on accommodating homosexuality and permitting abortion.” To be consistent, should he not also be urging gay-rights and pro-abortion activists to quiet down? And what about the famed Oxford evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins, who in his current best-selling book The God Delusion describes Islam as “analogous to a carnivorous gene complex”?

The same observation can be made of Barrett’s out-of-nowhere appeal to the White House to apply pressure on Israel. This, too, is a point whose relevance he never demonstrates, any more than he debates the actual pros and cons of U.S. policy toward Israel. Instead, it seems to be tacked on as a kind of afterthought—presumably as a way to assuage the ire of Islamic radicals.

But why should Islamic radicals be allowed to hold U.S. foreign policy hostage in the first place? And if we start with Israel, then why not similarly adjust our policies toward Iraq, Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Darfur, India, or any of the numerous other areas around the world concerning which radical Muslims hold sharply defined views? And why stop with foreign policy? Are we likewise to step gingerly around those who advocate the stoning of adulterers?

Of course, the proper way to treat putatively offended sensibilities is not to silence ourselves but to demand that, like other newcomers to our shores, American Muslims adjust to living equably in an opinionated, boisterous, free society in which being contradicted, criticized, and calumniated is the normal order of things. This, indeed, is exactly what many of Barrett’s subjects have done. American Islam has great value in illustrating for us the diversity of American Muslims. It is a pity that its conclusions and recommendations should not only be at such variance with the reality it describes but should contribute so little to solving the very real problems that it brings to light.

Muzzling in the Name of Islam

while my guitar gently weeps special edition

From the September 29, 2007 WashingtonPost.com

October 1, 2007

by Paul Marshall

Some of the world's most repressive governments are attempting to use a controversy over a Swedish cartoon to provide legitimacy for their suppression of their critics in the name of respect for Islam. In particular, the Organization of the Islamic Conference is seeking to rewrite international human rights standards to curtail any freedom of expression that threatens their more authoritarian members.

In August, Swedish artist Lars Vilks drew a cartoon with Mohammed's head on a dog's body. He is now in hiding after Al Qaeda in Iraq placed a bounty of $100,000 on his head (with a $50,000 bonus if his throat is slit) and police told him he was no longer safe at home. As with the 2005 Danish Jyllands-Posten cartoons, and the knighting of Salman Rushdie, Muslim ambassadors and the OIC have not only demanded an apology from the Swedes, but are also pushing Western countries to restrict press freedom in the name of preventing "insults" to Islam.

The Iranian foreign ministry protested to Sweden, while Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad asserted that "Zionists," "an organized minority who have infiltrated the world," were behind the affair. Pakistan complained and said that "the right to freedom of expression" is inconsistent with "defamation of religions and prophets." The Turkish Ministry of Religious Affairs called for rules specifying new limits of press freedom.

These calls were renewed in September when a U.N. report said that Articles 18, 19 and 20 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights should be reinterpreted by "adopting complementary standards on the interrelations between freedom of expression, freedom of religion and non-discrimination." Speaking for the OIC, Pakistani diplomat Marghoob Saleem Butt then criticized "unrestricted and disrespectful enjoyment of freedom of expression."

The issues here go beyond the right of cartoonists to offend people. They go to the heart of repression in much of the Muslim world. Islamists and authoritarian governments now routinely use accusations of blasphemy to repress writers, journalists, political dissidents and, perhaps politically most important, religious reformers.

On Sept. 22, three political dissidents in Iran, Ehsan Mansouri, Majid Tavakoli and Ahmad Ghassaban, were put on trial for writing articles against "Islamic holy values." Iran's most prominent dissident, Akbar Ganji, was himself imprisoned on charges including "spreading propaganda against the Islamic system." In August, Taslima Nasreen, who had to flee Bangladesh for her life because her feminist writings were accused of being "against Islam," was investigated in India for hurting Muslims' "religious sentiments."

Egypt has been unusually active of late in imprisoning its critics in the name of Islam. On Aug. 8, it arrested Adel Fawzy Faltas and Peter Ezzat, who work for the Canada-based Middle East Christian Association, on the grounds that, in seeking to defend human rights, they had "insulted Islam." Egyptian State Security has also intensified its interrogation of Quranist Muslims, whose view of Islam stresses political freedom. One of them, Amr Tharwat, had coordinated the monitoring of Egypt's June Shura Council elections on behalf of the pro-democracy Ibn Khaldun Center, headed by prominent Egyptian democracy activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim. Prominent Egyptian 'blogger' Abdel Kareem Soliman was sentenced earlier this year to three years for "insulting Islam."

Saudi Arabian democracy activists Ali al-Demaini, Abdullah al-Hamed, and Matruk al-Faleh were originally imprisoned on charges of using "unIslamic terminology," such as 'democracy' and 'human rights,' when they called for a written constitution. Saudi teacher Mohammad al-Harbi was sentenced to 40 months in jail and 750 lashes for "mocking religion" after discussing the Bible in class and saying that the Jews were right. He was released only after an international outcry led King Abdullah to pardon him. The Indonesian Ulema Council, considered the country's highest Islamic authority, issued a fatwa banning the Liberal Islamic Network, which teaches an open interpretation of the Koran. Then the radical Islam Defenders Front has threatened Ulil Abshar Abdulla, the network's founder.

Of course, these are not the only threats in repressive states' arsenals. In Egypt activists and critics have been imprisoned for forgery and damaging Egypt's image abroad. Saudi Arabia and Iran use a host of restrictive measures. But blasphemy charges are a potent weapon and are used systematically to silence and destroy religious minorities, authors and journalists and democracy activists. As the late Naguib Mahfouz, the only Arab winner of the Nobel Prize in literature, and whose novel Children of Gebelawi was banned in Egypt for blasphemy, put it: "no blasphemy harms Islam and Muslims so much as the call for murdering a writer."

Repressive laws, supplemented and reinforced by terrorists, vigilantes and mob violence, are a fundamental barrier to open discussion and dissent, and so to democracy and free societies, within the Muslim world. When politics and religion are intertwined, there can be no political freedom without religious freedom, including the right to criticize religious ideas. Hence, removing legal bans on blasphemy and 'insulting Islam' is vital to protecting an open debate that could lead to other reforms.

If, in the name of false toleration and religious sensitivity, free nations do not firmly condemn and resist these totalitarian strictures, we will abet the isolation of reformist Muslims, and condemn them to silence behind what Sen. Joseph Lieberman has aptly termed a "theological iron curtain."

Email Paul Marshall

© Copyright 2007 Hudson Institute, Inc.

02/10: Khairy will kick his butt, just you wait.....

Category: General
Posted by: Raja Petra
Zorro Unmasked

pic courtesy of Mob's Crib

Most of us are familiar with this non-practising lawyer who loves to hear his own voice and trumpets His Master's Voice. Read what he has been mouthing (whenever the PM is not around) to one main stream media:

PETALING JAYA, MALAYSIA: Lawyers who participated in the "Walk for Justice" should join the opposition party, so that I know how to handle them, said Minister in the Prime Minister Department. Parenthesis mine: (You cant handle the opposition.....you only bully....or your Speaker will say it is not urgent matter....you call that handling.....and you mean you are the only one in the BN who will handle any opposition. Your colleagues, just sit and sleep?)

"Those who participated in the "Walk for Justice", their brains are like opposition party. (At least they have brains, you like the bully-elephant have the smallest, they say.) It is better for them to register as members of opposition party. I will be more delighted if they (Bar Council) register as an Opposition party. So that I know how to handle them," he told Sin Chew Daily when contacted today. (Hail to the almighty de facto law minister....how can you handle the opposition, when you could not handle taxi licences?????,,,,,,,,this reminds me of a she-Minister who asked a Citizen Nades to stand for election against her......sheesh....another Pundat.)

"I will ignore them as if they are non-governmental organizations (NGOS)," he continued. (NGOs.....he is belittling you again.....reminds me of schoolboys arguing.....)
He said the Bar Council does not need to organize the "Walk for Justice" because the council could contact or meet him at first. (The Bar Council only speaks/negotiates/dialogue with intelligent people.....you are just a loud-mouth mouth-piece......you need to learn to be civil before anybody will want to be seen with you, much less talk to you....sheessssh. Podah!)

"They can meet me (for submission of memorandum) after calling me. But why don't they call me?" he asked. (Ayahhhhh! why you so char one? Who are you? They want to give it to Pak Lah, not to office-boy loh. So blur one lah you. Don't you know neither the Bar Council nor any right-minded Malaysians want to have anything to do with you. You got licence or not to receive memorandum from professional bodies?)

He said the Bar Council should investigate the authenticity of the video clip before they organized the "Walk for Justice". (Hello, you clever or Najib? He already appointed 3 fellas to investigate. Even if the Bar Council gets the truth....you will say they are not qualified...they are like the opposition. Even if the tapes are proved authentic, the retired MB who sits as speaker will say it is not urgent matter. Luckily Najib chose and not you. You would have chosen the one-eyed guy and the leaky Sabahan.....birds of a feather flock together mah......Correct, Corek, Correct!)

Commenting on the Bar’s demand that the Government set up a Royal Commission of Inquiry immediately to investigate the above issue, he said :"I object to it. We do not need to set up a Royal Commission." (You object? Who you? Khairy will kick your butt, trying to wield power from his FIL! Seriously you need a break.....because whatever comes out from you, both front and back will fill the tank below.

This shit-sucking-storage tank generously donated by KERP (read the caution).

But I can only dedicate the picture below to you because you cannot deserve anything better.

After hearing all the trash that is coming out from Government's machais, lets hear something refreshing from none other than Law Professor Azmi Sharom, whom Zorro was proud to share the same panel table during the Bangsa Malaysia do.

We need a Royal Commission to determine the legitimacy of the entire judiciary, and we need it now.

Judiciary must be protected

(extracts from his column)

The government has to set up a Royal Commission with the necessary powers to thoroughly investigate the entire judiciary, as there is a desperate need to clean house and to do so comprehensively.

Let’s just take a look at how low the legal system has sunk. The judge who was supposed to be at the other end of the videotaped phone conversation, in true Bart Simpson style, told the de facto Minister of Law that it wasn’t him. The Minister then told this to the press.

My question is: “So what”? Does that mean the next time someone is accused of murder or corruption, all he needs to say is “I didn’t do it”?

Who cares what the judge said. If the video is not a fake (and it looks mighty authentic to me, no Tian Chua Photoshop trickery here), the suspects must be cross-examined.

And to top it off, the Minister tried to deflect the situation by saying that an opposition political party released the videotape and therefore there had to be a political agenda.

I’m sorry YB, but I don’t care who came up and delivered the video. If it is true, it shows that we need major changes in our judiciary and no political blame shifting is going to alter that.

Two things struck me during Wednesday’s “Walk for Justice”. First, the demand for a Royal Commission is more than reasonable, it is necessary.

Secondly, standing there in Putrajaya, first in the scorching sun and then the chilling rain, I could not have been prouder. Amongst the crowd were ex-students who came up and said hello.