Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Assassination of Former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto: A Terrible Day for Pakistan and for Islam

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Dec. 27, 2007 - I am struggling to find words to express my grief and outrage after hearing the news of the murder of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto earlier today in Pakistan.

Regardless of one's political sentiments, or support for any of the factions struggling for political supremacy in that nation, the killing of Mrs. Bhutto is a tragic blow to democratic rule in Pakistan.

And, make no mistake about it, while the identities of the culprits are not known at this time, one thing is a virtual certainty: they are Muslims.

Sadly, the phenomenon of Muslims killing other Muslims is not shocking news for a world drenched in sensational, mass violence; and the people of Pakistan are certainly no strangers to political intrigue or fratricide. But with Pakistan - the world's second most populous majority-Muslim nation - at the crossroads of political change, and with the promise of that change being electoral, and nonviolent - the consequences of this killing are both profound and immense.

Benazir Bhutto, to be sure, had both staunch supporters and vehement enemies, among them being Muslims who categorically rejected the idea of a woman possibly, once again, becoming the leader of their nation.

There were also numerous Pakistanis, of all ideological persuasions, who viewed Bhutto's previous terms of leadership with deep disfavor.

But the idea of political assassination as a legitimate expression of dissent is un-categorically haram.

For those of us who claim al-Islam as our way of life and call ourselves Muslim, murder is unlawful, and an abomination in the eyes of our Creator.

Now is not the time to deconstruct and interrogate the legacy of Benazir Bhutto's past terms as a Prime Minister of Pakistan. Nor should we speculate on who is responsible for her murder, or for the deaths of scores of her supporters in the suicide bombing and shooting that claimed her life.

We must recognize that the violent authoritarian and repressive government of Pakistan has created a climate of hostility and hatred that made the murder of Mrs. Bhutto not only likely, but perhaps inevitable.

The unconditional U.S. political support for the Musharraf dictatorship, coupled with massive American economic and military support, added fuel to the fire of extremism that ultimately claimed her life.

And now, as we offer our condolences to the family of Benazir Bhutto and the people of Pakistan, we must pray for an end to the cancer of violence that has affected our Ummah, as we diligently work for the restoration of peace and democratic values that are vital to our collective survival.

Benazir Bhutto Killed in Attack
Pakistani former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto has been assassinated in a suicide attack.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Who Is To Blame for Our Messed Up and Violent World?

By Ibrahim M. Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

For some time now, I've taken the position that we, as Muslims, must take collective responsibility for the actions of those who profess Islam. In my humble opinion, this is what our beloved Qur'an instructs us to do when we are told to be "witnesses for justice, even when we are witnesses against ourselves".

But some misguided people believe that this internal self-examination is tantamount to admitting that either (1) all Muslims are unjust, or (2) that Muslims are apologists for injustice, or (3) that Islam, itself, is the locus of evil in the modern world.

None of these things are true.

In response to one a recent blog critic otherwise known as 'Pundita', who slammed my essay on the "Teddy Bear" incident in Sudan, accusing me of not knowing "whay year we'in today" - I have written the following response.

For the record, I do, indeed, know what year it is, and what you mischaracterize as the "self-pity" of the title of my essay was actually meant to convey that Muslims should not "bear" the identification of involvement with injustice, which certainly characterized the actions of the Sudanese government in this issue.

Muslims do, indeed, need to collectively uphold human rights and democracy; as do the Chinese government, the ZANU-PF party of Robert Mugabe, Hindu fundamentalists, North Korean Stalinists, Burmese militarists, Russian nationalists, Christian fundamentalists (and their Israeli allies who have institutionalized the occupation and theft of Palestinian land), and many, many others.

This indictment doesn't even begin to examine the ongoing structural and environmental violence of an out-of-control system of consumption that drives the global poor into more poverty and desperation (Ghandi, I believe, taught us that poverty is the most extreme form of violence).

The world is full of injustice. Blood is on many, many hands.

Muslims are certainly guilty of our share of it, and we are certainly collectively responsible for overturning injustice and establishing a universal respect for human rights and individual dignity.

But not all of the unjust villains are Muslims, and I would suggest that you, yourself, look at what year it is, and how many other parties in our violent and divided world are complicit in the abominations and oppressions that you singularly heap on Muslims and "Islamists".

Friday, November 30, 2007

The 'Teddy Teacher' Incident...More Than Muslims Can Bear

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

UPDATE: BBC News - Dec. 3, 2007
Teddy Row Teacher To Be Released

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Nov. 30, 2007 - As the world knows by now, a British secondary school teacher in Khartoum, Sudan was arrested by Sudanese authorities for allegedly defaming the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Unto Him) when, as part of a class project at the Unity School, a stuffed toy bear was named Muhammad. The name was voted on by the entire class, apparently not to refer to the Prophet of Islam, but in honor of a male classmate.

The teacher, Gillian Gibbons, was then reported to authorities by another faculty member and subsequently charged with blasphemy and promoting religious hatred. The initial, possible penalty faced by Gibbons was one year imprisonment and 50 lashes; which was, at the time of this writing, reduced to 15-days jail time and deportation.

News sources report that some 600 demonstrators congregated in Khartoum to protest the alleged defamation of Prophet Muhammad. Some were reported to have called for the execution of the teacher.

Lets review: the naming of a stuffed, toy bear after a boy in a classroom in Sudan has been transformed into a major international incident; a teacher has been incarcerated; a few zealots have called for her severe punishment; and the governments of the United Kingdom and Sudan are now embroiled in a major spat.

This incident is perfect for fueling the rhetoric of Islamophobes and Islamic extremists alike, and selling tabloid newspapers.

But it's also a matter that has serious repercussions, not only for Muslims in Sudan, but for the global Muslim community as well.

Why should we be concerned about a single teacher and a Teddy Bear? The emerging truth of the matter is that the school children themselves, and not their teacher, chose to name the toy bear. That alone should have been enough to exonerate Ms. Gibbons, and bring the matter to a swift (and innocuous) conclusion, however, the current climate of mutual distrust and animosity between many people in the "West" and the Muslim world, has grown into something so pervasive that an 'incident' such as this has erupted into a major incident.

There are people in the Muslim world - particularly in the aftermath of last year's Danish cartoon incident - who believe that Muslims should vigilantly defend their faith and Prophet against defamation. And we should. But we should be collectively judicious in judging if, and when, the defamation of our faith actually occurs.

I seriously doubt that Ms. Gibbons acted in an intentionally disrespectful way toward Islam and Prophet Muhammad. She should not have been punished, and she is owed a serious apology by the state and people of Sudan.

Then, there is the issue of what the people of Sudan should really be concerned about.

Given the ongoing crisis in Darfur, the disintegration of the North-South unity government, armed insurrection in eastern Sudan, and the Herculean task of rebuilding the nation after a horrific 20-year civil war, I would humbly submit that the Sudanese government, and its people, might want to invest their energy in responding to issues much more important than the naming of a toy.

I trust that Ms. Gibbons will be freed by the authorities in Khartoum, although I expect that her teaching experience in Sudan will come to an abrupt, and unhappy, conclusion given the news of her pending deportation.

It is my sincere hope that responsible parties on both sides of the issue will use this incident as an opportunity to examine the danger of over-reaction, on the part of some Muslims, to unintentional offenses. Likewise, people in the Christian world should not use such events to mischaracterize or stereotype all Muslims as extremists.

It's all too much for the Muslim world to bear.

Sudan Demo Over Jailed UK Teacher
Case History

Thursday, November 29, 2007

We're NOT Number One

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

U.S. Falls to 12th Place in 2007/2008 UN Human Development Index Rankings Report

Each year, the United Nations releases a statistical table that tells us how various nations rank in measurable development. The index reflects life expectancy, literacy, education, and standard of living. It ranges from the highest ranking (at least in theory, the most desirable nation in the world to live in) to the lowest (the one place you would not want to live) - 187 world nations were ranked in the 2007/2008 report.

Typically, European countries have the highest development index rankings, and this year, Iceland takes the highest spot on the index, followed by Norway, Australia, Canada, and Ireland, respectively.

In all, seven of the ten nations with the highest development rankings are in Europe.

The United States fell from the 8th position to 12th in the 2007/2008 report.

Majority-Muslim nations, however, fared very poorly in the rankings.

Singapore and Kuwait, the two highest ranking nations with predominantly Muslim populations, fell in 25th and 33rd positions, while Indonesia, with the world's largest Islamic population, came in at 107.

Egypt, the most populous Arab country, ranked 112; Pakistan came in at 136; Sudan and Nigeria, the two largest majority-Muslim nations in sub-Saharan Africa, were ranked 147 and 158, respectively.

Of course, it's always necessary to note the vast disparities in income and standard of living within nations, as well as between them. It is equally true that "developed" nations, to a large extent, owe their superior level of development, at least in part, to centuries of capital accumulation produced by their domination and exploitation of what is usually termed the "Third World".

But several other things are evident.

The first observation is that military domination does not necessarily bring economic security to a population. Neither Iceland nor Norway, the two highest ranking nations, devotes significant portions of their national wealth to defense spending or international military deployments. The U.S., in contrast, spends in excess of half a trillion dollars (or more) for national defense. But the measurable overall quality of life in America is falling, not rising.

However, the second, and perhaps less obvious reality is that, the enormous oil and mineral wealth of majority-Muslim nations has not provided a rising economic tide that lifts their populations from relative poverty to economic security. Nations like Saudi Arabia, for instance, may possess vast energy resources (and healthy foreign exchange balances), but their relative wealth has not resulted in a re-distribution of wealth to the benefit of poorer Muslim nations.

I believe that for all nations, a practical suggestion for economic and social advancement is the adoption of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals, which offer an ambitious, but attainable, prescription for the educational and social uplifting of the poorest people and nations of the earth by 2015, including the reduction of global poverty by 50 percent within the same period.

We can all do this, provided that there is a collective commitment to economic democracy, effective development assistance, and an end to the global arms race and the obscene ($1 trillion U.S.) annual expenditure for armaments.

And wealthier Muslim nations should obey the religious obligation to uplift the poor, whether those poor people (and nations) are Muslim or not.

All of this, in the final analysis, is perhaps a bit more practical that a mass global migration to Iceland and Norway.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

How NOT to Pay for a 1.6 Trillion Dollar War

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Nov. 14, 2007 -This week, the Democratic Party leadership in Congress announced that the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are projected to cost American taxpayers somewhere in the neighborhood of $1.6 trillion dollars over the next decade or so. Of course, these numbers don't include the price tag for a major military venture into Iran, which is clearly on the drawing board, or possible armed intervention into any other place on the planet with petroleum deemed necessary for the American consumption machine.

A hundred billion here, a hundred billion there, and soon, as the saying goes, you're talking about real money.

But on a more intimate and comprehensible level, the Democrats estimate that this cost for war, just in Iraq and Afghanistan will amount to a tax burden something in the neighborhood of around $20,600 for every family in the nation.

To be honest, I've been in the business of trying to quantify the real amount of American annual military spending for the last 16-years, and frankly, I've failed miserably at coming up with a precise number.

Do you add the CIA and covert operations budget to the Pentagon total, if even Congress isn't sure what that figure is? Do you calculate into the total, for example, the part of the Department of Energy budget that is devoted to maintaining and upgrading the U.S. nuclear weapons arsenal? How about the part of the NASA budget that is related to military technology and applications in the space program? Or the amount that the Pentagon gets (under a very big table) from less-than-honest weapons contractors? Or greens fees at the numerous golf courses for the generals and admirals?

Obviously, whatever the cost of war is, it's a very large amount of money. And you and I pay for it with our tax dollars.

Most of us are probably aware of a category of citizens who are known as Conscientious Objectors, or CO's for short. This is a group of men and women, largely part of the Christian tradition, who believe, as a matter of individual conscience, that war is morally wrong. Many of them are part of "peace" churches like the Mennonites, the Church of the Brethren, the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers), or members the Catholic peace tradition. Usually (but not always) these war objectors are exempted from military service, or at times, like in World War II or the Vietnam conflict, they may be assigned to non-combat related jobs while serving in uniform.

But the problem also comes down to this: How might people who object to war have an legal, and respected, option to not pay for it?

There is, in fact, a long and honorable tradition of war tax resistance in America, going back to a period even before the American Revolution. Many people who object to killing have elected to stop paying all or part of the income taxes that are used by the United States government for military expenditures. However, the government does not recognize, at the present time, this form of civil disobedience as legitimate dissent, and many war tax resisters were, and are, penalized by wage and property seizures from the Internal Revenue Service.

However, since 1972, there has been a small, but determined movement to create a fund into which citizens can pay taxes that will not be used for killing. It's called the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund.

The moral principle underlying the idea is simple: If you chose, as a matter of conscience, to decline to pay for military expenditures, you should have a legal option to pay your taxes and designate them for human services that are not based on militarism and violence.

Interestingly enough, the idea of a peace tax fund is gaining more note, and respect, from members of Congress. Representative John Lewis (D-GA), an honored hero of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960's, is the principle sponsor of The Religious Freedom Peace Tax Fund Bill (H.R. 1921) before the House of Representatives that would make the fund a legal option for taxpayers. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), Rep. John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI), Rep. Eleanor Holmes (D-TX), Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), and Rep. Jesse L. Jackson, Jr. (D-IL), are also H.R. 1921 co-sponsors.

But some Republican members of Congress, like Rep. Ron Paul of Texas, who happens to be a candidate for his party's 2008 nomination for the presidency, also believe in the right of religious freedom to decline to pay for war, provided that individuals fulfill their obligation to pay taxes.

The successful passage of peace tax legislation is certainly a long way off, but it's important, I believe, for Muslims to know about this issue.

I believe that the question of how our taxes are used by the government is not just a fiscal issue, but a moral one as well.

You have a voice in making this choice. Unless, of course, you prefer things as they are, and you happen to have an extra $20,000 or so in your checking or savings account that you'd love to send to the Pentagon.

Ibrahim Abdil-Mui'd Ramey is an individual advocate of the right of conscientious objection to war, but neither MAS nor MAS Freedom have official positions on the issue. More information on the National Campaign for a Peace Tax Fund can be found at:

Monday, November 12, 2007

When Soldiers Come Home…

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Nov. 12, 2007 - The epidemic of homelessness among military veterans is an abomination, and an indictment of the war system

Yesterday, news media reports in the Washington, D.C. area released a statistic that will startle most people in America: of the more than 12,000 homeless people in the Washington, D.C. area, about a quarter of them are veterans of the U.S. military.

National statistics are equally bleak. On November 8, 2007, the National Alliance to End Homelessness released a 36-page report indicating that, on any given night, there are nearly 200,000 homeless veterans in America; twice that number experience homelessness at some point during the year.

For a military that prides itself of projecting an image of egalitarianism and real opportunity for soldiers, these numbers aren’t just troubling – they are disgraceful.

Most veterans are certainly not homeless, and most homeless men are not veterans. But the staggering number of persons who served honorably in the armed forces of the United States, only to find themselves without a roof over their heads, should tell us something about the war system - and the moral priorities of the leaders who recruit people into the military.

The United States will spend, in the next fiscal year, more than $500 billion on the military, and more that that if you count billions more for supplemental appropriation for the virtually bottomless pit of the conflict in Iraq.

While it seems to be relatively easy for our tax dollars to buy rifles, and tanks, and helicopters, it seems equally impossible for our taxes to provide adequate housing, jobs, and rehabilitation for the men and women who find themselves trapped under the cold, hard underbelly of the system that many of them fought to defend.

In my numerous conversations over the years with veterans from the first Gulf War to the 2003 Iraq invasion, I'm struck by their nearly unanimous feeling of bitterness and alienation from the Veterans Administration, and the failure of the V.A. to provide them with the assistance and resources they need to re-integrate themselves into society. V.A. facilities for counseling, civilian job training, and health care resources are totally inadequate; the family challenges created by ever-longer combat tours enormous.

For wounded and disabled vets, however, the story is much worse. Many of them have experienced being denied disability claims. And growing numbers of combat veterans are coming back with not only physical wounds, but with combat-related psychological disabilities that the government won’t acknowledge - or treat. They, like the heroin-addicted soldiers of the Vietnam era, all too often find themselves on the waste heap of war.

President Bush and Vice President Cheyney, who are zealously sending hundreds of thousands of men and women into the vortex of the Iraq war, seem less that eager to demand the resources needed to care for them when they come back home.

I'm not a supporter of war, and especially the one being fought by the United States in Iraq. But the personnel in the armed forces are honorable human beings who deserve the care and consideration due to them for their service to the country.

For the richest nation in the world, and one that has the capacity to build shelter for everyone, the idea of a soldier who comes home to homelessness is more than unfortunate. It is morally intolerable.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Waterboarding IS Torture, Mr. Bush

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

"The presidency of George W. Bush has now evolved into a conspiracy to cover the a** of George W. Bush."

These words, uttered by syndicated television host Keith Olbermann, do not refer to some sinister plan to shelter the donkey on the President’s ranch in Texas. On the contrary, they mean something far more important, not only to the executive branch of the government, but to the integrity of American law and morality.

Mr. Olberman, you see, interviewed Mr. Daniel Levin, a former Acting Assistant Attorney General under former AG Alberto Gonzales. In his attempt to find out how dangerous the technique of "waterboarding" actually is, he allowed himself to undergo this form of "enhanced interrogation", surrounded by medical and rescue personnel - confident that the waterboarding would not result in his death.

Mr. Levin’s conclusion? Simply this: "Waterboarding is torture."

When Mr. Levin conveyed this message to his superiors in the Justice Department, he was promptly fired from his post.

There is now the façade of a national debate about waterboarding as an interrogation technique used by the U.S. military and covert intelligence agencies to extract information from captives deemed to be "terrorist suspects".

As you probably know, waterboarding involves submerging the head of a captive in water and holding him down until he nearly drowns - and then yanking his head up, only to repeat the process again and again.

Anyone who has ever nearly drowned will tell you the sheer terror of this barbaric act.

And the suspects held in Guantanamo, in Abu Ghraib, and in the nameless, faceless secret U.S. detention centers around the world, have no assurance that their torture will not end in death.

Both the President and Vice-President Cheney have declared that the United States does not torture captive combatants. In their convoluted logic, waterboarding isn't really torture, but a form of "enhanced interrogation". This pronouncement, straight from the mind of Machiavelli, allows them to sleep at night, thinking that just because a form of torture is called something else, most of the rest of us will believe it, too.

But Daniel Levin didn't believe them - and he was fired for telling the truth about one form of torture that is, in fact, used by the United States against Muslims deemed to be the "enemy".

Levin, Keith Olbermann suggested, is a real hero in the ongoing struggle for real justice.

The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), and numerous other human rights groups, have maintained a long and principled stand against waterboarding and numerous other forms of "enhanced interrogation".
Why the resurgence now in discussions surrounding the issue of waterboarding?

President Bush's nominee for Attorney General, Judge Michael B. Mukasey, refuses to declare his position on whether waterboarding is really torture.

Some Democrats may oppose Mukasey's confirmation on the floor of the U.S. Senate because of his refusal to make a declaration on the issue of waterboarding, but the majority of the Senate is likely to approve him anyway.

I doubt that Daniel Levin or Keith Olbermann would approve Mukasey's confirmation as U.S. Attorney General.

We should not approve Mukasey's confirmation either.

Regardless of what you call it, waterboarding is torture.

And the last time I checked, torture was still a violation of U.S. and international law – in addition to being an abomination in the eyes of the Creator.

We must not tolerate torture, or those in positions of authority who continue to allow torture to happen in the name of the people of this nation.

Mukasey Refuses to Call Waterboarding Torture
"Torture is a Moral Issue" NRCAT Letter to U.S. Senate Committee on the Judiciary Opposing Confirmation of Judge Michael Mukasey

Destroying Democracy in Pakistan is Not an Option

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Nov. 6, 2007 - As I write this commentary, Pakistan is imploding.

General/President/Dictator, Pervez Musharraf, has suspended the constitution of the nation. The supreme court, and parliament, have both been dissolved. Martial law has been declared, and more than 1,500 political opposition leaders, lawyers, and judges have been arrested. Thousands of citizens are battling police in the streets of Islamabad, and other cities across the country.

The chaos of constitutional crisis and autocracy now verge on catastrophe – a catastrophe in an unstable nuclear weapons state that, if left unaddressed, could spiral into the virtual disintegration of the nation itself.

All dictators have their own made-for-mass-consumption reasons for attempting to squash the fundamental democratic rights of their own people.

In the case of General Musharraf, the big, public card in his geopolitical hand is the (alleged) war against Islamic 'extremists' in Pakistan's remote northwest region. This is, of course, the primary glue that binds Pakistan to the global "war against terror", led and orchestrated by the United States.

The 'war against terror' is also the single most important factor in maintaining the personal relationship between General Musharraf and the ruling circles of the U.S. government, including his personal relationships with President Bush and Vice-President Cheyney, who guarantee the unrestricted flow of money and weapons to their Pakistani 'ally'.

But this time, the General may have overplayed his 'anti-terrorism' hand in his brutal attempt to end any semblance of real democratic rule in Pakistan.

By dismantling Pakistan's national judiciary, and throwing hundreds of political opponents in jail, Musharraf is saying, in effect, that any challenge to his autocratic rule only emboldens the supporters of Al Queda and the Taliban.

Is it in the national interest of the United States to tolerate Musharraf's attempt to destroy his opposition, and the democratic institutions of his country? The answer is an emphatic NO.

If left unchecked, the current crackdown will only result in a bloody civil conflict in Pakistan - possibly even civil war. If this happens, there is no guarantee that the entire Pakistani military will remain loyal to Gen. Musharraf. And any internal rebellion will leave open the unthinkable possibility that the control of Pakistan's small atomic arsenal might become compromised.

But a more probable scenario is the diminished possibility of an open, democratic electoral transition to a representative civilian government that is capable of addressing the myriad of divisions and contradictions in Pakistan. And that would leave the business of government to those political elements in Pakistan with the most guns - and the most money behind them.

It is unthinkable that Muslims, and real democrats of any description, would allow Pakistan to devolve into becoming another Somalia - and in this case, a Somalia with nuclear weapons.

The United States, which has supplied Musharraf with weapons, foreign aid, and international political cover, must not be allowed to remain on the sidelines while things in Pakistan become more bloody and desperate.

If America truly means what it proclaims to the world about respect for democracy and human rights, it must do now what is absolutely necessary to safeguard both.

The United States must immediately halt all military and foreign assistance to the government of Gen. Musharraf, and use all its power and prestige to persuade Gen. Musharraf to resign from office, thereby ending his personal onslaught against popular rule in Pakistan.

As I have stated previously, it is time for Gen. Musharraf to go. And that time is now more urgent than ever.

Thousands Face Down Pakistani Police
Musharraf Imposes Emergency Rule
Text of Emergency Declaration
Timeline: Pakistan Emergency Rule
General Moves Deeper Into Labyrinth
World Leaders Respond (Quotes)
Musharraf Targets Key Opponents
UK Urges Restraint

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Is it the U.S. and Israel Against the World?

International Leaders, U.N. Secretary General Condemn Latest Move Against Gaza, While U.S. Remains Silent

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Oct. 31, 2007 - World leaders and major international organizations have been issuing statements this week condemning the latest Israeli plan to cut off the supply of electricity to the population of Gaza.

The Secretary-General of the United Nations, the European Union (EU), and other major figures, condemn the planned action by Israel as a display of the collective punishment of a civilian population that would bring almost certain economic devastation and hardship to the 1.4 million isolated and economically-stressed people of the territory.

While the world condemns Israel's actions as violations of the basic human rights of Palestinians, the State of Israel and the United States, remain silent - a dichotomy that is, indeed, a dangerous one.

This is not a matter of calling for the "destruction" of a nation-state, or advocating for the persecution of the Jewish people.

It is not a demand, even, for Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories, or an expression of support for the Palestinian right of return to the lands and homes confiscated by Israel throughout the past 59 years.

It is not a claim for universal support of Hamas, or the particular forms of armed resistance that Hamas employs.

The world simply calls for an end to the actions of economic warfare that, if taken to their logical conclusion, will lead to no other result than the unnecessary and continued loss of life in the region - the 'world' – excluding Israel itself, and the United States.

It is worth noting here, that America's traditional European allies also want an end to the cycle of violence that embroils both the Palestinian and Israeli population.

Ending the cycle of violence is certainly a necessary pre-condition of a just and enduring peace in the region – a position shared by the majority of the worldwide population; including those living in Palestine and Israel.

Yet, if the Israeli's pull the power plug in Gaza - and they provide 60 percent of the electricity used in the territory - the consequential damage would be catastrophic. Food refrigeration would fail, agricultural irrigation would stop, and hospitals would be without the electricity required to sustain life-saving medical equipment.

In short, more Gazans would die – and, ironically, the armed Hamas resistance in Gaza would find new and more fertile ground for recruitment.

Regrettably, the role of the United States in this ongoing conflict remains that of the superpower that guarantees that Israel military and economic actions will be backed, at any cost - despite any world consensus of opposition to Israel's policy of collective punishment.

This myopic and amoral position will only encourage the pro-militarist forces in Israel (and Gaza), and make the possibility of peace and stability less and less likely. Moreover, both the United States and Israel will become even more isolated in the international community, and more at odds with their traditional allies.

Cutting off electricity to Gaza would be a tragedy for the people of Palestine. But supporting this Israeli action further isolates the United States, and creates a situation where, literally, the U.S. and Israel oppose the clear moral consensus of virtually the rest of the world.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A Turkish Invasion of Iraq Would Only Bring More Tragedy to the Region

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Oct. 18, 2007 - Some of us who are old enough to remember this episode in American history will recall the decision by the Pentagon, in 1970, to invade Cambodia in the height of the war for national liberation in Vietnam. Ostensibly, the U.S. military invasion was carried out to dislodge North Vietnamese Army and National Liberation Front troops from their sanctuaries in Cambodia. However, the real effect of the American incursion was to bring more fervor to the U.S-and global-anti-war movement.

Three years later, in 1973, U.S. forces withdrew in defeat from Vietnam. A much more recent, but similar fate, befell the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006.

It's unfortunate that the war planners in Ankara are apparently not very astute students of recent military history, because the Turkish parliament is now apparently ready to approve an incursion by Turkey into Northern Iraq, with the purpose of routing Kurdish militants from the PPK from their Iraqi staging areas. The proposed invasion, much to the dismay of Iraq (but with the approval of Syria, which has its own problems with a Kurdish minority) would bring heightened war to the one region of Iraq that has avoided much of the carnage that grips the southern part of than nation. And it would likely result in untold deaths and casualties, not only among armed resistance fighters, but primarily among innocent civilians as well.

But an invasion of Iraq would hardly mean the end of the armed resistance by the Kurds, or the desire for an autonomous Kurdistan favored by the Kurdish minority in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria. Armed resistance movements are mobile, and resilient; many of them would simply withdraw from some areas and regroup in others. And widening the war could possibly increase the militancy and resistance of the Kurdish population in Iraq to Turkish military forces. Moreover, it could poison the already-strained relationship between Turkey and its southern neighbor.

For the sake of human lives and the hope of an end to bloodshed, we urge the government of Turkey to resist any pressure to invade Iraq. The centuries-old issue of the political status of the Kurdish people must be resolved in some other way.

In the final analysis, history has a way of demonstrating that these cross-border military incursions, for whatever reason they are executed, almost always come back to harm the invading nation more than those whom they attack.

Support Wanes in House for Genocide Vote
Turkish MPs Back Attacks in Iraq

Friday, September 28, 2007

The Kyl-Lieberman Amendment Means a Green Light for War with Iran

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Sept. 28, 2007 - A bold and potentially dangerous amendment has been added to the U.S. Defense Authorization Bill of 2008 that could very well lead to a pre-emptive U.S. attack on Iran.

If you missed it, you're not alone. It's the Kyl-Lieberman amendment, named after its principle sponsors in the United States Senate (Republican Jon Kyl of Arizona and crypto-Republican Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, who used to be, at least in name, a Democrat). The amendment, which expressed the sentiment of the Senate, was passed by an overwhelming majority of 77 to 23.

What the amendment actually means is this: The Senate urges the U.S. to formally regard the Iranian Revolutionary Guards, and the Al Quds Force, as "terrorist" organizations, and to authorize the use of "military instruments" to confront Iran.

This amendment to the bloated Department of Defense (DOD) authorization bill was largely created as a response to recent congressional testimony from General David Petraeus, the commander of U.S. forces in Iraq, who testified that Iran trains Iraqi insurgents and supplies them with munitions, including sophisticated bombs used against U.S. armored vehicles and convoys.

Senator Hillary Clinton, by the way, voted in favor of the amendment. Senator Barak Obama did not vote at all.

Senator Lieberman did, in fact, address the Senate to assert that the amendment calls for economic sanctions, rather than military attacks, against the Iranian military organizations. But while falling short of an all-out call for, the Kyl-Lieberman amendment is widely believed to be a measure that opens the door for a pre-emptive military attack on Tehran.

It's certainly no secret that the Bush administration is moving in the direction of war with Iran. U.S. military assets are being positioned for air strikes against suspected Iranian military (and suspected nuclear) installations, while the U.S. is busy galvanizing international support for even more stringent sanctions against that nation.

Kyl-Lieberman now gives what amounts to a green light for the kind of aggression that could very well lead to a shooting war that would result in the catastrophic loss of untold human lives in the region - including, sadly, even more Americans in uniform.

I believe that any economic or military attack on Iran would only expand the tragedy, and folly, of a war in Iraq that should never have begun in the first place.

The Kyl-Lieberman amendment is regressive and dangerous, and we encourage you to contact the offices of your Senators to express your objections to a new U.S. war on the people of Iran.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Presidency for Sale

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) September 10, 2007 - Think you'd like to be President of the United States? Great! Just be sure to bring your checkbook.

And make sure it's a very big checkbook.

That's the advice from Michael E. Toner, Chairperson of the Federal Election Commission, who commented recently that the "entry fee" for serious presidential candidates in the 2008 election will reach an estimated record figure of no less than $100 million dollars. And this amount only buys an admission ticket to the game!

For candidates seriously aspiring to win the general election, campaign expenses continue to skyrocket, that is to say, unless the candidate is other than a Democrat or Republican. History has repeatedly demonstrated that Libertarians, Greens, and other independents, seem to fall short of being given serious consideration in the electoral process when it comes to Presidential elections.

As we are well aware, the mad scramble for the Democratic and Republican party nominations is in full swing, and it has started earlier than in any previous election cycle in history.

The current Democratic Party front-runners, Senators Clinton and Obama, raised, at the end of the second quarter of 2007, $63 million and $58.9 million, respectively. Senator Clinton, who is also a millionaire, accepts money from Political Action Committees, while the less-affluent Senator Obama - at least for now - does not.

By contrast, Rep. Dennis Kucinich of Ohio, the grassroots "peace" candidate in the field of Democratic contenders, has pulled in campaign contributions totaling approximately $1.17 million.

On the GOP side, Former Governor Mitt Romney, who has a personal fortune estimated at over $350 million, has successfully raised $44.4 million, and will "loan" a great deal more to his campaign from his own very deep pockets.

But if money is the primary fuel that propels the national electoral machinery, how important, really, are the values of integrity, wisdom, compassion, and competence?

Is access to money - and a lot of it - the best criterion for national leadership?

And how could a credible candidate without deep pockets possibly compete for a presidential nomination?

One idea - that of public financing for presidential campaigns - has been around for awhile. The trade-off, in this case, would be the guarantee of federal campaign funds while imposing a cap on overall campaign spending. However, faced with the possibility of limited spending, most of the announced candidates opt for no public money, and, therefore, no restrictions on the campaign money they raise, and spend, in pursuit of their presidential ambitions.

Many people in America are probably dissatisfied with this money-driven, and special interest driven, quadrennial political pageant.

The highest elected office in the land is now, unofficially, open only to individuals who are either themselves millionaires, or who primarily serve the economic and political interests of the rich and ultra-rich.

The common loss for the voting public is evidenced by a severely limited range of political options presented in the national debates.

Rich people have good ideas about government and national policies, to be sure. But the vast majority of us, who are neither rich nor politically connected to money, have important things to add to the national discourse as well. And a government "of, by, and for the people" must be, primarily, a government made up of, and responsible to, the rest of us.

This is why, as activists for democratic change (as in the small "d"), we should not only carefully weigh the decision of how to cast our primary election votes, but also on how we can, and must, participate in a broad, national initiative to demand radical changes in the way we finance presidential campaigns.

And ultimately, on how we can open the entire political selection and representation process up, to the vast majority of non-millionaires in America.

Monday, September 17, 2007

What the 'Jena Six' Says About the 'Two Americas'

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Sept. 17, 2007 - Much of the civil rights community, and a significant part of the global (as in, non-American) news media, is focused on the prosecution of six African-American secondary school students in the small town of Jena, Louisiana.

The accused, known collectively as the "Jena Six", were originally charged with the beating, and attempted murder of a 17-year old white student at a local high school currently in a cycle of escalating racially charged tensions amongst its student population.

The white participant in the altercation was not seriously injured. But the wounds inflicted on the entire community of Jena, Louisiana are profound.

All of this apparently started when, some months ago, a group of African-American students at the school attempted to sit under a tree that has traditionally been a meeting place for white students. The following day, nooses - symbolic of the ropes used to hang African-Americans in the era of racial segregation - were found hanging from the tree.

Three white students were determined to be the culprits behind the offensive act, however, instead of expulsion from the school, they were only given a three-day suspension.

In many ways, this sad episode is indicative of two deeply historical and persistent truths in America: the first is that racial separation, segregation, and animosity are alive and well, and the second, that African-Americans, all too frequently, must deal with a separate, and unequal, system of "justice".

None of this suggests that schoolyard fights are a suitable way to address the deep problem of racial injustice in America, and especially the deep racial divide in Jena, Louisiana, and many parts of the South. But African-American kids involved in a fight face criminal charges that could lead to long prison sentences, while their white schoolmates were given less than a slap on the wrist for instigating the conflict by displaying a crude, and ugly, symbol of racially-inspired murder.

There is something very wrong with this picture. And it's been wrong for centuries.

De jure (legal) segregation may have been abolished by the U.S. court system some time ago, but de facto (in the real world) racial apartheid still exists in much of the country.

The small town of Jena (population 2,971) is just an example of the larger problem that many Black folks take for granted; that equal justice before the law is a largely a myth in the still-segregated South, just as equality in education, housing, health care, employment, and access to municipal services are all separated by the racial fault line.

And as long as the mentality of white racial superiority exists, these institutional disparities and injustices will persist as well. The America of 2007 is, simply put, still held in the grip of institutional racism and racial inequality.

On September 20, MAS Freedom will join major civil rights organizations and leaders in making a pilgrimage to Jena, Louisiana, to stand in solidarity with the young men, and their families, who are caught up in this incident.

There is a growing demand from the international community that the criminal charges against the 'Jena Six' be dropped, or reduced to a more appropriate misdemeanor.

MAS Freedom also intends to continue to speak out about the 'Jena Six' and to educate the non-African American Muslim community about the realities of anti-black racism and racial inequality that persist in America.

This is clearly a time to mobilize against racism and inequality in courts, and the institutions, of the United States. Muslims, like the rest of the people in America, must learn from this sad incident and renew our efforts to work for equal justice.

MAS Freedom Calls For Release of 'Jena Six' Suspect Mychal Bell
Civil Rights Leaders Urge Action in Racially Charged La. Beating Case
Al Sharpton Calls for Investigation of Prosecutor in Racially Charged School Fight

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Remembering September 11 Envisioning September 12 and Beyond

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) September 11, 2007 - Like almost all of us, I have a vivid recall of September 11, 2001. A great deal changed for me, and for all of us, on that infamous day six years ago.

I remember my fatigue, and relief, when my flight from Durban, South Africa landed at Kennedy Airport, a little less than an hour before the World Trade Center was incinerated.

I recall, too, seeing the burning buildings that were visible from the Major Deegan Expressway in New York City, and later, arriving in Rockland County just before the highways, and almost the entire New York City region, went into shut-down, and later; war-mode.

The nearly 3,000 innocent victims of the 9/11 tragedy were simply a prelude for the bigger carnage that followed – a carnage, and war that continues today.

Like most of us in the Muslim American community, this terrible day marked a pivotal point in U.S. history. Our communities were both vehemently attacked and valiantly defended by numerous interfaith and ethical allies who refused to blanket us with the stigma of collective guilt.

Over 500 incidents of reactionary violence against innocent Muslims were recorded, and some 1,500 Muslim "suspects" were rounded up for interrogation and arrest by U.S. security forces - although all of them were exonerated from guilt.

But while "flying while Muslim" (or Muslima) became, and still is, a very precarious adventure for many of us, the deeper and more permanent attacks on Muslim leadership and Muslim institutions remains an ongoing challenge for Ummati Muhammad here in America.

The essential infrastructure of our collective community remains vulnerable to financial and legal maneuverings designed to limit, if not silence, our collective demand for freedom and respect for our civil rights.

Muslims in visible leadership positions, even when exonerated by jury trials, are re-tried by judicial ideologues who believe that even when Muslims are innocent, they must be guilty of something that merits their incarceration.

Even our charitable assistance for the victims of occupation and colonialism in Palestine is regarded by some as prima facie evidence of some Muslim conspiracy and wrongdoing - even though this great nation, itself, was born in a struggle against colonialism and occupation some 231 years ago.

Yet, despite all of this, I believe that the collective cup is not half-empty. In fact, it is more than half-full.

I believe that the Muslim community has made solid and significant gains across the nation over the past six-years, sometimes in the face of formidable opponents, and even some who would like to obliterate our very existence in America.

Mosques, neighborhood centers, youth programs, and other institutions continue to be built, and yet, despite the open and underhanded opposition of others, we remain deeply committed to both community service and interfaith dialogue.

And Islam continues to grow.

But perhaps the most noticeable and solid achievement in the last six years is the growth, and consolidation, of real Muslim presence and power in the political realm.

We have now (Alhamdulillah!) our first elected member of Congress, numerous mayors and local elected officials, and new respect throughout the country for a growing community of civic-minded voters.

We are making a significant impact on the national electoral scene, and this impact will not be diminished.

As I travel throughout the MAS national network, I am impressed with the dedication and deep, spiritual impact of our members, and especially our youth, who continue to build, teach, serve, and pray, despite the power of those who oppose us.

And so, on this solemn day and as we enter into the blessed season of Ramadan, I am certain that, just as Allah (SWT) will test us as believers, that He will not abandon us, or let us be unsuccessful in our collective struggle for freedom, justice, and ultimately a nation and a world that is better for all.

Our work here at MAS is invigorated, and becoming even greater as a result of the challenges that confront Muslims today, and tomorrow.

Today is September 11th - and our struggles are ever present - but we must also hold fast to the hope that, on September 12, and each day thereafter, we will continue to flourish as a community.

Muslims have a great deal to contribute to this nation, and to the future of humanity - these contributions will continue, insha'Allah.

Peace, justice, and success to you all.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Fasting for the Earth: A Muslim View

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) September 5, 2007 - On September 4, I had the opportunity to join over 1,000 people from across the nation, partnering with thousands of others from over 14 different countries for a 'Climate Emergency Fast' – a day of fasting to bring awareness to the deepening climate of crisis confronting humanity.

Some of the participants agreed to fast for a single day, others, like my friend, and event coordinator, Ted Glick, will fast for as long as several weeks, subsisting only on water to bring attention to the issue of global warming.

You may ask, "Why should Muslims fast for an environmental issue just nine days before their own fast in the sacred month of Ramadan?"

I believe that this additional act of fasting is necessary because, as Muslims, we are called to pray for the well-being of all mankind, and if we pray for humanity, fasting is indeed, our most powerful and sincere form of prayer.

Believe me when I say that the earth itself is in crisis. Real crisis. And this crisis threatens the delicate balance of nature that sustains all life on the planet.

Truly, if nature is harmed beyond repair, everything that we as Muslims care about - human rights, economic justice, ending the war in Iraq, justice for Palestine, better schools and housing, religious freedom – to name a few - will be obliterated by the single most dangerous threat to the survival of the human species in the last thousand years.

For any of us who haven't been in deep hibernation or vacationing on the moon, the scientific evidence of massive climate change is not real news. Multiple category five hurricanes, record heat waves throughout the country, massive droughts, gigantic forest fires, and a proliferation of floods, are all evidence that the increase of man-made greenhouse gasses have pushed the global ecosphere practically to the breaking point.

As food production and water supplies are threatened by climate change, it is likely that fierce competition for food and water will result in more armed conflicts, especially in areas of the world already devastated by extreme poverty and violence

Many of us in the United States complain about weather that is noticeably hotter and drier than in previous years. But the real impact of this global warming phenomenon is more profoundly felt in the southern hemisphere of the earth, where island nations are being submerged by rising sea levels - and huge populations, especially in Africa and Asia, are in danger of starvation due to crop failures caused by steep declines in rainfall.

There is also a rise in the temperature and acidity of the earth's oceans that could bring about the extinction of countless fish and marine species that feed human populations.

While the scientific evidence of global warming is overwhelming (even President Bush has finally admitted that something is wrong), the will to take massive and necessary action to stop it is still lacking.

The United States, which constitutes some 5% of the world's population, has contributed about 25% of the greenhouse carbon load in the earth's atmosphere. Africa, with a total population of a billion people, contributes just 3% of the total carbon load.

Yet only a small group of courageous women and men are at the forefront of the struggle to enact policies that might reverse the rising level of environmental pollution that is the primary cause of global warming.

We, as a species, don't have much time to act, and the Muslim community must be a vital, and active, part of
the solution.

This past April, on Earth Day, I posted an essay on the benefits of energy-saving light bulbs, and the fact that such devices could significantly cut not only our own electricity bills, but our collective dependency on power generated from non-renewable (and polluting) enerty sources.

Now, for the sake of our earth, I am appealing to Muslim institutions to take collective action toward shifting to enerty conservation for a green future.

Already, some 300 colleges and universities in America have taken bold and dramatic action to develop "green" technologies for energy conservation and reduced dependency on polluting, fossil fuels. Muslim mosques, schools, and civic institutions should join them.

I pray that, as we fast during the sacred month of Ramadan, that we remember the thousands of people, representing many spiritual and ethical traditions, who have also fasted, for the sake of the earth.

And I pray that we will become more aware of our collective responsibility as Khalifah for the creation entrusted to us by Allah the Almighty.

I urge all of you to visit the websites listed below for information on how Muslims might become more engaged in the struggle to, quite literally, save the earth, and all of us who dwell here.

Please visit the following sites:

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Poverty Is Also an Issue for Muslims

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) Aug. 30, 2007 - There were two bits of interesting economic news that surfaced this week. In one story, the late hotel magnate, Leona Helmsley, willed the sum of $12 million from her vast estate for the care of her beloved dog, named Trouble, while leaving absolutely nothing at all for two of her grandchildren.

The second, and much more relevant story, was a report that the poverty rate in America had declined, for the first time in the years of the Bush presidency, to a little more than 12 percent of the population. This means that, statistically, a little over 36 million people in America are classified as "poor"- that is, having less than $20,000 in income for a family of four persons.

In the Washington, D.C. area, the statistics were less than encouraging. The capital of our nation has a higher statistical poverty rate (21% of our residents) than all but one state in the union (Mississippi), and the reported racial income and wealth gaps that separate black and white D.C. residents were startling. White Washingtonians earn, on average, 150 percent more than their African-American counterparts.

Poverty is not an economic issue that most people in America - except the poor themselves - pay much attention to. With the exception of former Senator John Edwards, none of the Democratic or Republican candidates have mentioned poor people in their campaign speeches. We are, for the most part, much more likely to watch the gyrations of the stock market, or the rising price of milk, or worry about the interest we pay on our mortgages, than to think about the 36 million Americans living in poverty, or the 35 million more who are classified as "working poor" - barely surviving from paycheck to paycheck.

Poverty has not gone away in America. It is pervasive, and destructive – and an it an issue that Muslims must engage. But how?

I have two suggestions. First, and most radical, is that we share with others the Islamic concept of prohibition of Riba, or interest, as a cornerstone of our interpretation of economic justice. Our religion teaches that people must not be oppressed by usury, and that economic fairness requires us to seek alternative ways to engage in financial transactions. In an Islamic economic system, for instance, predatory payday loans, with annual interest rates sometimes exceeding 300 percent, would not exist - and society would seek to eradicate the financial exploitation of poor and working people by encouraging fair and livable wages, instead of "minimum" wages that only allow for a "sub-minimum" standard of living.

Secondly, a more immediate Muslim response is simply that we vote, as individuals and members of a value-centered community, and that we cast our votes for policies that address the terrible reality of poverty in America.

All too often, we seem to forget that poverty is not just about personal issues, or purely economic factors. It is also dependent upon a large set of factors determined by political empowerment. When we vote on issues related to, for instance, funding for public schools, or health care, or child care for working moms, or public employment creation, we are voting for policies that impact on the economic lives of tens of millions of poor people. Similarly, when we support (or hopefully challenge) the enormous allocation of public funds for the war system, we are sending a direct message to the leaders of America regarding whether we should wage a war in Iraq, or a serious war against poverty here in the most affluent nation on earth.

In a nation where dead billionaires leave millions of dollars for their pets, and the shopping mall is a virtual temple of worship, some might say that the goal of totally eradicating poverty in America is hopelessly utopian. But I believe that ending poverty is a struggle that can be won in a generation, and one that Muslims can positively impact. It will require moral character and courage, but the task is far from impossible.

I truly believe that the plight of poor people is one than we must lift up, not only by sharing the positive Islamic vision of economic justice and fairness for all human beings, but by also taking our "souls to the polls" in 2008 and voting for public policies that will move us all toward the end of eradicating, once and for all, poverty in America.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Goodbye, Mr. Gonzalez

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) August 29, 2007 - Alberto Gonzalez, to the surprise of virtually no one, has stepped down in shame from his position as Attorney General of the United States. Abandoned by core Republican supporters suffering from relentless attacks by congressional Democrats - including the real possibility of perjury charges in the wake of the questionable firings of numerous U.S. attorneys, Gonzales was perceived as another large albatross around the neck of a badly wounded, and largely discredited, Bush administration.

The most memorable failure of Mr. Gonzalez may well be the most recent one involving highly politicized terminations of good, respectable lawyers who did not apparently toe the administration's ideological line. But the more egregious forms of the attorney general's misconduct may have inflicted even deeper wounds on the body politic.

You will recall that, in the early days of the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, Mr. Gonzalez was the most vehement supporter of the permissibility of physical abuse - otherwise known as torture - torture against both Iraqi prisoners and Guantanamo detainees. This put the government on the side that opposed both international law and common decency.

Then, there are the matters of both national security letters and the expansion of the role of the National Security Agency as a domestic center of espionage, directed against thousands of law-abiding citizens and U.S. residents. Under the watch of Mr. Gonzalez, the power of U.S. security agencies to monitor phone calls and internet messages was vastly expanded - and largely unchecked - all in the name of prosecuting the "war against terror".

Ironically, on the home front of protecting civil rights, Mr. Gonzalez was a colossal failure. The Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department was dismantled to the point on virtual nonexistence, with experienced civil rights attorneys removed in favor of corporate lawyers, in the Bush loyalist mode, who had neither the experience nor the inclination to prosecute civil rights violations, or even to make the defense of civil rights a major priority of the one government agency charged with that responsibility. The result of all of this has been a well-publicized state of utter demoralization within the civil rights division.

Muslims, of course, certainly feel this shift away from the promotion and protection of equal justice under the law. We have, thanks to Gonzalez and company, experienced an unprecedented attack against Muslim charities, institutions, and vocal critics of war and injustice, all wrapped in the banner of anti-terrorism. Countless innocent people, and their families, suffer because of Mr. Gonzales and his warped sense of values.

But he has resigned. So the question remaining for Muslims, and progressive Americans is: what's next for us?

The simple answer is that the people of this nation must demand the appointment, and Senate ratification of a new Attorney General who demonstrates a respect for law and civil rights that have been woefully absent, so far, from the Bush administration. The attorney general must be the chief proponent of respect for law and equal protection under it. This value is completely at odds with the cronyism and good-ole-boy-business-as-usual operating style that placed Alberto Gonzalez in his position.

The United States Senate must be thorough and rigorous in its examination of the next nominee for Attorney General, who will serve during the critical period of the 2008 presidential election.

But more than this, we must insist that Alberto Gonzales is not let off the hook quite as easily as his resignation might suggest.

There is the matter of possible perjury in his testimony before the Senate concerning his previous conversations with then Attorney General John Ashcroft, on expansion of domestic surveillance activities on the part of the government.

Few people believe that Gonzalez told the truth about his true role in the U.S. attorney firings, which is only likely emerge when he is subpoenaed to testify, under oath, about this possible grave ethical violation.

The commitment of true justice under the law has suffered tremendously under President Bush and the individuals he has entrusted to lead the federal government. Donald Rumsfeld, Karl Rove, and Alberto Gonzalez may be gone, but the enormous damage of their respective legacies is very much alive.

We continue to believe that a nation must be governed by law, and not the arbitrary abuse of power in pursuit of a narrow political agenda, and the chief protector of the law should be committed to this principle, too.

For the sake of the countless victims of government torture, illegal spying, and a host of other violations, and for the sake of a real respect for law and justice under it, we must demand that the next Attorney General be a vastly different person than the one that will be heading back to Texas in dishonor and disgrace.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Arabic Language Education is NOT a Crime

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Aug. 14, 2007 − A few days ago, I was invited to be a guest on one of the more notoriously anti-Muslim and anti-progressive programs on the FOX cable television news network. The scheduled September opening of the Khalil Gibran Academy in Brooklyn, New York was the topic of the five-minute segment. The academy is a dual Arabic-English language facility for some 60 elementary school children in a community with a substantial Arabic-speaking population.

The academy was established to facilitate the learning of both the Arabic language and Middle Eastern culture, the school, however, is not intended to be a facility for religious training or indoctrination, and it will be fully certified by, and accountable to, the New York City Board of Education.

Of course, I support multi-cultural education (I worked for the New York City Board of Education in the 1980's), and as a person who is bilingual in both English and Spanish, I believe that when children learn about other cultures and languages, they grow both intellectually and as future global citizens. That said, I found it of interest to learn that the Gibran Academy is under ferocious attack by some elements of the New York City community who consider Arabic language and educating students regarding Middle Eastern culture to be an open invitation for Islamic "extremism" and the indoctrination of children.

As the program segment commenced, the first question thrown at me was not about the Gibran school or its proposed curriculum; it was whether I, as an individual, support the Palestinian Intifada. After I responded in the affirmative, the program host then inferred that supporting the Palestinian people meant that I also approved of the killing of "innocent Jews". (Interestingly, the television program host didn't ask me my opinion about the overwhelming number of innocent Palestinians who have been, and are being, killed by Israel occupation forces.)

So what does the Israel-Palestine conflict have to do with Arabic language instruction in an American elementary school?

On the surface, perhaps nothing. But this type interviewing on a televised program is typical of the way mainstream media combines global politics, such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, the Middle East, and the fear of Islam, to fuel opposition to the legitimate rights of Muslims and Arabic-speaking citizens in the United States.

The designated principal of the academy, Debbie Almontaser, is a respected, veteran New York City school teacher with a history of community leadership and deep involvement in interfaith dialogue. The proposed conflict resolution program for the Khalil Gibran Academy will be created by the Tannenbaum Center, one of America's most highly regarded interfaith institutions.

But none of this matters for the haters of the Muslim/Arabic community who equate the Arabic language and Islam with terrorism.

Since the plans were announced to open the school, there has been a relentless campaign to close it. Numerous letters have been sent to the New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and public school Chancellor Joel Klein, demanding that the academy not be allowed to open. Ms. Almontaser and other Muslim organizations and leaders associated with her, have been excoriated and slandered as being associated with violence and terrorism - all without any particle of evidence that these assertions are true.

It is not necessary for the Academy's opponents to bring any credible arguments against the school in their resolve to see that it does not open. It is only necessary for them to trade in a climate of fear and hatred towards Muslims in order to have any chance of success.

Sadly, the naysayers are one step closer in their campaign to stop the Academy from opening. Last Friday, Debbie Almontaser resigned as the Academy's principal-designate.

I'm sure Ms. Almontaser - an honorable woman whom I have personally met and spoken with - left her position only because she did not want unwarranted personal attacks to be a distraction from the struggle to open the school and serve the kids in her community.

Speaking the Arabic language in America is not a crime. And receiving school instruction in this language, or exploring the rich and diverse cultures associated with it, are not acts of subversion.

I am sure that the Khalil Gibran Academy will indeed open this Fall. It will be one of the most highly scrutinized elementary schools in America, but then again, it has nothing to hide.

I believe that it will become a beacon of learning for the children of Brooklyn.

But the school will remain open only if we are prepared to organize for the defense of rights of our children, our communities, and the integrity and value of cultural and religious diversity in the institutions of a nation that is, indeed, our nation, too.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

For U.S. Muslims, More Surveillance Could Mean More Intimidation

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Aug. 7, 2007 − The next time you have a telephone conversation with your brother Hassan in Cairo, be aware. Be very aware.

It doesn't matter if you're a law abiding U.S. citizen, or if Hassan is a medical student who plans to open a clinic one day to serve needy patients in the Washington, D.C. area. And frankly, it doesn't matter if both you and Ali have deep convictions about the immorality of terror attacks on civilians.

What does matter, at least for the intelligence services of the United States, is that both you and Hassan are Muslims, and that your call from the United States to him in Cairo is being electronically routed through telecommunications equipment in the U.S. Under the expanded provisions of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) signed by President Bush this week, your call can be secretly monitored by the U.S. government without an order from a U.S. court.

In a fair and functional democracy, of course, you should have nothing to fear, because neither you, nor your brother, harbor any malicious or criminal intent to violate American law or cause harm to people in this nation. After all, you are a registered voter, a law-abiding citizen, and this country is your home, too.

There are people in the Muslim world who have taken and harmed innocent American lives, and who are conjuring up plots to create even more acts of brazen, illegitimate violence. These Muslims do not represent your understanding of the Qur'an or the traditions of our Prophet (Peace be Unto Him). You want these people to be stopped by any and all legitimate means of law enforcement, including the inevitable part of law enforcement that requires gathering intelligence from human and electronic sources.

Fair enough. But who polices the intelligence gatherers? And who guarantees that completely innocent people, like you and Hassan, won't be falsely accused of involvement in some sinister plot against the U.S. government or its people? The answer is: no one.

Already, there is clear evidence that the prosecutorial power of the U.S. court system is willing and able to stretch, and even distort, the law when it comes to Muslims.

Professor Sami Al-Arian languishes in a prison, suffering from diabetes and severe deprivation and cruelty, without being convicted of any crime.

Our young and courageous brother Sabri Benkhala, was convicted last month of perjury before a grand jury and is now serving ten years in prison, simply because the government prosecutor believed that he knew more than he was willing to tell the court about alleged terrorist recruitment.

And let's not forget the attack on the Holy land Trust, and the vast list of "un-indicted co-conspirators" that includes practically every Muslim imaginable except for you and Muhammad Ali. For some, it is (and has been) time for a legal hunt directed against the wider Muslim community, with, all too often no real regard for the innocence of most of the victims of this aggression.

Each one of us, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, wants to enjoy a sense of safety from violence. But those of us who are Muslim have reason for justifiable suspicion of this unprecedented expansion of the power of the state when it comes to the invasion of our private telephone conversations, our personal associations, our choices for charitable giving, and even our places of worship. This wide net of espionage against Muslims is framed by hidden, and not so hidden, attitudes of fear, and even animosity, directed by a political establishment that all too often projects Islam and Muslims as adversaries.

FISA is simply the most recent manifestation of the expansion of the net.

MAS Freedom will continue to struggle for the civil liberties that are rightfully ours because we know that dissent from injustice is not a crime, and that our community must be protected from those forces that have little regard for real justice or the hallowed concept of equal protection-for all-under the law.

But in the mean time, when you speak again with your brother in Cairo, be very aware that the two of you may not be the only people listening to the conversation.

Friday, August 3, 2007

Darfur Peacekeepers: A Positive Sign for Sudan's Future

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) Aug. 3, 2007 − The long and terribly complex road to genuine peace in Darfur took an optimistic turn this week when Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir agreed − after long negotiations and serious international pressure − to the deployment in Darfur of a joint African Union/United Nations peacekeeping force of some 27,000 troops. These soldiers, who will likely form a Pan-African protective contingent, will most likely come from Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Egypt, and South Africa, and they will mark the first ever peacekeeping collaboration between the UN and the African Union.

A substantial on-the-ground protective force in Darfur is necessary, of course, for the safekeeping of the victims of the internal war and violence, who now number perhaps 200,000 killed, and more than twice that number suffering from internal displacement. The current African Union force in Darfur, numbering about 7,000 beleaguered troops, is badly under-manned and under-equipped for the protection of human life in a land area the size of France. This larger contingent is scheduled for deployment at the earliest possible time.

Later this week, about a dozen Darfur rebel factions will meet at a conference in Arusha, Tanzania to attempt, once again, to hammer out a collective agreement for starting another round of peace negotiations with the government of Sudan. These negotiations, which have failed since the original round of talks began in Nigeria (2005), will take place without the approval of at least one major rebel faction.

But Sudan faces other challenges as well.

A recent report from the United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in Sudan, indicates that security forces within the country still have the power to arrest individuals without formal charges, and to hold them in detention for as long as six months. A number of such persons, including former military commanders, police officials, security agents, and the leaders of two major political opposition parties in northern Sudan, have recently been detained under this national security provision for alleged plots against the current national government.

There is also the ongoing question of whether Sudan will agree to the extradition of suspected war criminals to the International Criminal Court, which Khartoum has adamantly refused to do since earlier this year. And the equitable sharing of resources throughout the country, coupled with the internal displacement of some 4 million people in southern Sudan and the massive poverty of the region (where some 90 percent of southern Sudanese people subsist on less than $1 U.S. a day), present equally formidable problems for the leadership and the people of Sudan.

Sudan may well have accepted the peacekeeping troop deployment as the only way to avoid international sanctions, but this agreement is nonetheless a necessary one, not only for the sake of the people of Darfur but equally for the sake of the integrity of the nation-state as well. We applaud the government of Sudan for finally agreeing to the deployment of this force.

Finally, there is real hope that the end to the violence in Darfur is in sight. And when the killing is stopped, the possibility for national reconciliation, reconstruction, and the building of real democracy in Sudan can truly begin.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Playing "Favorites" in the Palestinian Civil Conflict Will Not Resolve the Issue

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) June 19, 2007 - Over the last several weeks, the bloody internal struggle in the Palestinian Territory has resulted in a military victory for the forces of Hamas. In Gaza, security forces loyal to the Fatah-led government of President Mahmoud Abbas were overrun by Hamas fighters, with scores of Fatah security officers and government officials forced to flee to Egypt or the West Bank.

The Gaza offices of the Prime Minister and the private home of the late Yasser Arafat were also ransacked.

The fragile coalition government of Hamas and Fatah was also a casualty of the internal war: Mr. Abbas fired his former Hamas-affiliated Prime Minister and replaced him Salam Fayyad.

And, in a reversal of the 15 month U.S. and international boycott of the Palestinian government, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has communicated with Mr. Fayyad to offer both diplomatic support and material assistance to the newly-installed Palestinian government-one that has no official role for the most popular political faction in Gaza and the West Bank. The European Union has also followed suit in an attempt to both disempower, and isolate, Hamas as a political force in Palestine.

In the short run, the end of the diplomatic and foreign assistance boycott against Palestinians could provide some desperately needed humanitarian aid, and possibly, the release of millions of dollars in Palestinian customs revenue withheld by Israel, which constitutes some 60% of the necessary operating budget of the Palestinian Authority. But in the long run, the political-and military-situation in Palestine will only become worse.

Why? Consider that Hamas remains the political choice of a clear majority of Palestinians. This is not necessarily because Hamas is a militant "Islamic" front, but because, in fact, they are seen as an alternative to a Fatah movement widely criticized for both corruption and cronyism. The further isolation of Hamas by Western governments and aid agencies will not likely result in the moderation of the views of the Islamic resistance toward the state of Israel, or the use of armed violence as a tactic of resistance. And there is also a danger that the armed conflict in Gaza will spill over into a more violent civil war in the West Bank.

Moreover, the United States and its European allies may have inadvertently placed the "kiss of death" on the Fatah movement by recognizing and supporting one party in a violent civil conflict without providing assistance for the resolution of the underlying conflict itself.

Lobbing missiles at Israeli border settlements may not be a way to resolve the greater issue of the occupation of Palestinian land. But playing favorites in this war, and denying any legitimacy to the political entity elected to govern the people of Palestine will not advance the legitimate interests of the people either.

We believe that the only way out of this dilemma is for both Hamas and Fatah to declare an end to armed hostilities-both for the sake of political security, and for the sake of the lives of real people in Palestine being murdered in this conflict. Revenge killings and reprisals must also end if the hopes for an independent Palestinian state are to ever be realized.

The United States should also use economic and political power to strategically bring the conflicting parties together. Hamas will not simply fold up their tent and go quietly into the night simply because they are being denied U.S. diplomatic recognition and material support.

It would also behoove America to put more direct pressure on Israel to stop the expansion of settlements and the gross violations of Palestinian human rights that are at the core of the Palestinian resistance.

Hamas could, and should, use the power of its popular political mandate to truly serve the material interests of the Palestinian people through means that exclude internal or external warfare.

If all parties in this conflict would agree to advance an agenda of non-violent coexistence with each other, and a strategic use of nonviolent means to end the occupation of their homeland, they would probably, in the long run, be able to offer the people of Palestine the true gift of freedom-both political freedom, and freedom from fear.

It will, in all probability, be a difficult road ahead for both Fatah and Hamas. But it might very well be the only road that can ultimately lead to an end to the Israeli occupation and, in the final analysis, peace and security for the people of Palestine and the entire Middle East.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Does A New Arms Race Threaten Muslims?

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

WASHINGTON, DC (MASNET) June 1, 2007 - Earlier this week, Russian federation President Vladimir Putin announced the development and testing of a new Russian Inter-Continental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). This new weapon is designed to penetrate and defeat anti-ballistic missile defense that the United States plans to deploy in former Warsaw Pact nations now within the orbit of NATO.

President Putin, in announcing this development, accused the United States of initiating a new arms race that would once again pit these former Cold-War adversaries in a renewed struggle for global domination.

This new development is certainly alarming for those of us who believed that the nuclear face-off between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union had dissolves into improbability. While the two global powers are far from being allies, and while numerous political and economic issues separate Russians and Americans, conventional wisdom assumed that, since the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1990, a strategic arms race, and the likelihood of a shooting war between these old antagonists, was a thing of the past.

Apparently, we were wrong.

Despite numerous rounds of negotiation and nuclear arms reductions, both nations still have thousands of nuclear warheads pointed at each other. The Russians believe, with some justification, that the U.S. plan to place missile defenses in Eastern Europe is a direct threat to their own security. And the Russian response will be to fortify their own nuclear war capability with new weapons designed to overwhelm missile defense systems.

The likelihood of a new strategic arms race is very real. And the impact of this development on the global community, and, especially on Muslim nations, could be quite severe.

There are several reasons why this news should be alarming for Muslims. Aside from the increased likelihood of a nuclear exchange between Russia and America-an potential apocalypse that the world has avoided since 1945-a new arms race would fuel the development and exchange of new missile and nuclear weapons technologies developed by states like North Korea and Iran who want to get into the game with the “big boys”.

The proliferation of these weapons, and their delivery systems, would increase the objective threat of nuclear war between numerous parties in conflict around the globe, or even between state parties and non-state actors.

But there is another danger of an even greater conventional arms race. Because the Russians will need to pay for their new missiles, and that will mean, at least potentially, pushing for even more conventional arms exports throughout the world, and especially in the Muslim world. And remember that, in the nuclear age, more human beings have been killed by Kalashnikov assault rifles and rocket propelled grenades that by nuclear bombs.

And even if there is no shooting war between these two superpowers, the economic impact of billions and billions of more dollars and rubles spent on weapons of mass destruction will divert scarce resources from confronting, and defeating, the real weapons of mass destruction in our world: hunger, disease, poverty and hopelessness.

All of these great maladies are alive and well in the Muslim world.

A new arms race helps no one, but it severely threatens all of humankind, and especially those populations most devastated by warfare and poverty. The nuclear-and conventional-merchants of death will push and push for an expansion of their markets to pay for their new and more expensive toys. These weapons are the raw material of war, crime, and genocide all over the planet. The poorest and most vulnerable people in the world will be those most likely to suffer.

Here in the United States, Muslims should use our growing political clout to help reign in the military expansion of the American empire, and call for no new deployment of missiles in Europe that would likely result in a new round of saber-rattling and superpower arms competition between the United States and Russia. Moreover, we should support the demilitarization of the foreign policy of this nation, which constitutes five percent of the human population but accounts for more than 40 percent of the global arms trade.

Neither Russian nor American missiles will feed the devastated population in Darfur or provide water and medicine to the people of Gaza. Our voices and our work should join with the great majority of the people of the world who call for an end to warfare and any renewed threat of an arms race between the two nations that held the world in the grip of threatened nuclear annihilation for more than half a century.

Monday, April 16, 2007

The Incredible Persistence of a Proven Lie

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey
MAS Freedom Civil and Human Rights Director

Yet Another Unprincipled Attack on the Muslim American Society and our President, Dr. Esam Omeish

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MASNET) April 16, 2007 - When Dr. Esam Omeish, the President of the Muslim American Society, spoke at the mass rally against the U.S. war in Iraq on March 17th March, he put his remarks in the context of a patriotic response to a war that he, and MAS, both believe to be unjust and illegal. He called for an end to the war and the withdrawal of U.S. military forces from Iraq.

More than 30,000 demonstrators that day, and a majority of the population of the United States, apparently agree with him.

Dr. Omeish, for the record, is a highly acclaimed surgeon and activist for justice and community service. He is also a naturalized American citizen, an honors graduate of Georgetown University and the Georgetown Medical School, and a man who has devoted his professional time and resources selflessly to both Muslims and his non-Muslim neighbors. In fact, he was one of the doctors who offered treatment to the casualties of the September 11th, 2001 attack on the Pentagon.

Yet Dr. Omeish, according to a diatribe written by Paul Sperry for on April 9th, is nothing more than a closeted terror supporter in league with Al-Queda, the Muslim Brotherhood, and assorted other domestic and international individuals and organizations whom the writer claims to be agents of violence directed against the United States and the West.

To quote the late African American singer Marvin Gaye, it’s enough to make you want to holler and throw up both your hands.

It’s no secret that Muslim activist organizations have numerous detractors, especially on the political right, who are never reluctant to express their disdain, and even hatred, for Muslims and the religion of Islam. That comes with the territory of simply being who we are, regardless of our ideological professions or actual deeds, in a national atmosphere polluted with both Islamophobia and racism.

But the often-repeated slur that MAS (and many of our associates) are fronting for “Jihadists” or other violent opponents of the United States has become, once again, the central, and provocative, untruth upon which many of our opponents base their excoriations.

Never mind that Dr. Omeish is, quite openly and publicly, both a respected physician and a man celebrated for both his professional brilliance and his commitment to humanity. Never mind that the Muslim American Society (and the MAS Freedom Foundation) are both above-board, transparent, and certified tax-exempt organizations doing charitable and service work throughout the United States and the world. Never mind that, as an example of our “extremism”, we have organized food drives, Boy and Girl Scout troops, provided emergency relief for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, and registered thousands of Muslim voters.

All that matters for the opponents of MAS, and Muslim haters, is the baseless claim that we are simply associated with the “terrorist” Islamic Brotherhood in Egypt (with whom, by the way, the Democratic House Majority leader met last week on an official congressional delegation to the Middle East), and a laundry list of many others on the hit list of the U.S. security agencies.

No “proof” of our guilt is necessary for them, of course. All that is required is for them to say that “terrorist X met with suspect Y in the vicinity of of Masjid Z, which is in the same town as the MAS office and the home of Dr. Esam Omeish. And presto! The Muslim American Society is transmogrified, by specious association, into a violent organization fronting for the “Death to America” crowd.

MAS has stated, repeatedly, that we oppose all forms of violence and extremism, including violence committed in the name of our faith. And we are an indigenous Muslim American movement, with organized chapters in 35 states. We take no marching orders or directives from anyone outside the country, despite the international scope of our concerns and our work.

But we are also quite open in our support for the democratic right of Muslim citizens to organize, politically empower ourselves, and speak out against any and all forms of injustice, racism, and violence committed in the name of the people of the United States. And we are, indeed, part of the American people.

In a democratic society, or at least one professing democratic principles, freedom of the press is a sacred right. We support that right, even for those who vehemently disagree with us, or who even oppose the religion of Islam.

But we will not be silent when confronted with blatant lies, distortions, and false claims about unproven linkages between the Muslim American Society, or our leaders, and other opponents of the policies of the United States.

MAS welcomes open and honest discourse with our detractors about our faith, our works, and our organizational vision. Such a discourse, we believe, is in the best tradition of American democracy. Our participation in numerous national and global interfaith (and trans-political) dialogues underscores this commitment. We are quite prepared to discuss, with anyone, both who we are and who we are not.

But we also believe that there is a critical difference between the expression of free speech and honest disagreement, on one hand, and vicious, unsupported slander on the other.

Mr. Don Imus learned that painful lesson last week. And we pray that Allah (Most Exalted and Glorified), who is the Knower of all Truth, will help Mr. Paul Sperry and to learn this important lesson as well.