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