Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Santa's Shocking Announcement to the World: "I am Now a Muslim"

Stating that "In my heart, I have always believed in the oneness of God Almighty", Saint Nicholas, the jolly, venerable Christmas figure known for centuries as Santa Claus, announced that he had taken his Shahada, or declaration of faith, and formally 'reverted' to the religion of Islam.

It is believed that this religious transition is unprecedented in the thousands of years of Christmas celebrations that take place every December 25th.Nicholas, who is thought to be some 1100 years of age, apparently made the transition to Islamic belief during one of his recent visits to the Arab world. He is thought to have made the declaration in Egypt last December 25th, at a private ceremony in Cairo.

It is not immediately known if his wife, any of his elves, or other North Pole denizens joined him in leaving his (presumed) religion of Christianity and declaring faith in Islam, although sources at the North Pole have indicated that the Santa workshop is in "utter confusion and chaos" following the announcement from Claus.

Commenting on his embrace of the world's fastest-growing religion, Claus-who will now be formally known as Mustafa Jabbar Ali Al-Islam-noted to reporters that he was "sick" of bringing Pagan traditions into the veneration of the traditional birthday of Jesus, and that "the December 25th date was really an invention that came from the celebration of the (Pagan) Winter Solstice, and had nothing to do with the birth of Christ, Peace Be Upon Him."

"And what's more", Claus reminded the stunned reporters, " the so-called Christmas holiday is really a money making scheme for business, and not a genuine celebration of the birth of Jesus. I'm just sick of the deception, and although he is certainly a prophet but not a deity, Islam-true Islam-is the real way to honor him".

The stock prices of major retailers and toy manufacturers plummeted by 50 per cent on major exchanges throughout the world as the news of Claus' conversion to Islam spread throughout the post-Christmas investment community.

When asked about his future plans, Claus/Al-Islam told reporters that he did plan to resume his December flights around the globe, but instead of toys, he would be carrying "translations of the Qur'an and the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad, Peace be unto him, to children around the world."

Spokespersons for major Christian denominations, including the Vatican, expressed "shock and outrage" on hearing the news. Also, Air Force Brigadier General John Watson, a spokesperson for NORAD, the North American Air Defense Command responsible for monitoring the flight of Santa's sleigh every December 25th, noted that "we will do everything we can to prevent future flights of the sleigh and the Reindeer, and we reserve the right to take military action if Claus decides to test us and fly next year."

"After all", General Watson concluded, "If he's a Muslim now, we simply can't trust him, or know what he's really carrying in that big bag of his."

Ibrahim Ramey

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Muslim Greeting on Christmas Day

December 25th is just a few days away. And for Muslims, this day of Christmas celebration is
a time for deep reflection.

For some of us, of course, this Christian holiday is one that underscores our religious alienation from the majority Christian culture in America. We have no trees, no Santas and little elves, no reindeer, and certainly no ham or spiked egg nog on our dinner tables. Our children receive no special gifts on this day, as do their Christian ( and secular) schoolmates and friends.

And, more important, we do not revere Jesus as a deity or celebrate this time as his authentic birthday. Muslims are incorrigibly monotheistic, and we dismiss the trinitarian understanding as our primary, and irreconcilable, difference with Christianity.

But for Muslims like me who were born into Christian families, the day is far from painful or strange.

We remember the gatherings of mothers, fathers and grandparents and friends in a spirit of holiday sharing. The Christmas gifts that we exchanged were reminders of the legendary gifts presented to the baby Jesus by the wise men from the East. And even though the Nordic mythology of Santa and yule logs is conflated into Christian religious symbolism, there was, and is, an undeniable feeling of joy in the holiday celebration.

For me, as a Muslim born into a Christian family, Christmas is a time for contemplating the gift that God Almighty gave to humankind in the form of the birth of Isa (Jesus). And even if, in our tradition, this event did not happen at this time of year, it is worthy of our respect as a time when much of the world celebrates the arrival of this blessed child.

Perhaps Christmas, if not a time of religious celebration for Muslims, can be a time for building bridges of solidarity, and even mutual forgiveness, with our Christian neighbors, friends, and family members. It can also be an occasion to share our different, and parallel, scriptural understandings of Jesus; Many of my Christian friends, for example, are startled to discover that the 19th Book of the Holy Qur'an is the Book of Mary (Suratul Maryum), which, from the Quran'ic perspective, narrates the wonderful story of Mary's visitation by the Holy Spirit and the virgin birth of this most wondrous child, whom Muslims revere as the Messiah, and a mighty Apostle of God.

There are, to be sure, theological and cultural divides between the global Islamic community and the Christian world. As Muslims, we do not worship Jesus, and we certainly remove ourselves from the deity of commercialism that feeds on the this particular holiday celebration.

But despite our theological differences with the Christian world, , Muslims can, and do, honor a pervasive social spirit of charity, caring, and good will that can do enormous good in our world as it helps bind wounds of religious conflict and create new possibilities for genuine interfaith cooperation and respect.

Perhaps this day, more than any day on the calendar, might also evolve as an opportunity for Muslims to consider the evocation from the Qur'an that there is no compulsion in religion-and certainly, no tolerance in our text for religious discrimination or oppression by any community, including our own.

My late Christian mother, who loved her Christmas trees and decorations, gave love and charity to all of her neighbors, without any regard for their faith or religiosity. December 25th was a special day for her, and for her family.

And for all Christian families, and for Muslims as well, I pray that it will be a day that symbolizes the renewal of love, tolerance, and caring for humankind in the name of God, and in the spirit of Jesus the Messiah.

Salaaam Aleikum to all. And Merry Christmas.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Saving NO to an Escalation of the War in Afghanistan

By almost all estimates, President Barack Obama's upcoming speech on a new American "strategy" in Afghanistan will not be a matter of "if" the United States escalates the war, but rather, by how much.

The U.S. military commander in Afghanistan, General McCrystal, is reported to have asked for an increase in the neighborhood of 40,000 additional combat troops; other, more moderate voices in the administration, and probably the President himself, favor a more modest increase in military deployment. But whether the President calls for a lot more, or just somewhat more, U.S. military forces, MAS Freedom believes that they will be thrown into the vortex of an impossible war that the United States, with all of its military prowess, cannot possibly win.

Why is the war in Afghanistan a no-win proposition for the American military? Let's count the ways. First, there is no stable,
popular Afghan government with which American policy can align; the "government" of Afghan President Hamid Kharzai is impossibly corrupt, administratively inept, and hardly able to control any significant national territory outside of Kabul. Moreover, the recent cancellation of the much-touted Afghan presidential "runoff" election after the withdrawal of challenger Abdullah Abdullah did little to bolster confidence, whether domestically or internationally, in the credibility of a genuine, democratic regime in Kabul that represents Afghans of all political persuasions and ethnic identities.

But the U.S. war objective is not the reconstruction of an Afghan central government. Rather, most of the American foreign policy eggs are placed in the basket of destroying, or at least neutralizing, the Taliban resistance to both the Kabul regime and the U.S. invasion forces. And the Taliban, despite the authoritaran excesses of their rule ( and their tribalistic and gender-insensitive understanding of Islam) are not likely to be decisively defeated on the battlefield. In fact, most insurgencies are rarely put down by conventional armed opponents.

The Taliban, driven out of state power after the 2001 U.S. invasion, are not a unified opposition force,and their brutality does inspire both fear and anger among their compatriots. But they are Afghans, and they are fighting against NATO forces ( including U.S. forces) that are widely viewed as invaders, and not saviors from insurgents. And the more incidents of "accidental" civilian killings and casualties resulting from errant NATO bombings, the greater the popular resentment-transmogrified into hatred-that the U.S. must deal with.

Then, too, there is the fact that the U.S. NATO allies are getting increasingly gun-shy about their own combat role in Afghanistan. Some months ago, it was reported that soldiers from some of the European armies stationed in Afghanistan actually refused to go on combat patrols, or to engage in night combat operations. And recent public opinion polls in the United Kingdom and Germany have shown growing opposition to continued Western troop deployment in that country.

Some American military commanders, however, seem to be prepared to go it alone, and tough it out in a protracted war. They believe that victory over the Taliban ( assuming that the Taliban are a single, unified force, which they never have been) is possible. But even the most proficient fighting force is not likely to defeat the one greatest opponent confronting NATO-history itself.

The people of Afghanistan, from Alexander the great to the Soviet Union, have not yielded to any invading army. Invading armies from the U.S. an the NATO countries are not likely to fare any better.

There is, I believe, a legitimate interest in preventing Afghanistan from becoming (again) a launching ground for attacks against U.S. civilians as we experiences on September 11th, 2001. But the hard political reality is that, by some estimates, Al-Queda is deeply entrenched in Pakistan, and not Afghanistan, and the Taliban, who continue to fight ferociously against US forces, have never pursued a strategy of planning attacks on the United States homeland. Some voices in the Obama administration are now attempting to "unbundle" the Taliban groups and build de facto alliances with some of the local warlords. But much of those efforts could be swept away by any escalated U.S. war drive.

President Obama should realize that, like in Vietnam, it is not possible for an invading army to "win" a civil war. The road back from chaos and national division to peace and stability in Afghanistan will be a long and difficult struggle, but it is not one that can be won in the form of a military contest. Rather, the United States should use its (still) enormous economic power to assist the Afghan people in a massive material reconstruction effort, while allowing them to demilitarize their internal conflicts and build a civil society and government that is suitable for-and responsible to- them. America can help this process. But the ultimate responsibility for building peace and national reconciliation rests on the shoulders of the people of Afghanistan themselves.

Continued backing of an egregiously corrupt puppet government in Kabul is not the answer. Calling for fake elections won't work. Continued (largely North American) illicit demand for Opium only serves to finance the very forces that American troops are opposing. President Obama must courageously resist the pressure from the political Right and the military establishment and completely change course in Afghanistan.

Escalating this war will only make things worse, for all parties concerned. It will increasing look like what it actually is-the world's richest nation waging war in one of the world's poorest. A widened military conflict will only success in killing more civilians, galvanizing U.S. public opinion against the Obama administration's war policies, making the anti-American resistance in Afghanistan more recalcitrant, and, ironically, driving American opponents into an even greater frenzy in a Afghanistan's nuclear-armed neighbor-Pakistan-as well as in much of the rest of the Muslim-majority world.

American resources for national reconstruction and support for genuine self-determination is the answer in Afghanistan, President Obama. A plan for troop withdrawal is certainly part of the answer. A wider war, most certainly, is NOT.

Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Hail To the Redskins? Not in My House!

A couple of weeks ago, Washington Redskins fans were treated to a couple of improbable "victories": one, an unlikely win over a much superior Denver Broncos football team, and two, a refusal by the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a lawsuit filed by Native Americans calling for the team to change ts offensive name.

The "'Skins" are habitual losers on the football field, at least in 2009. But they are even bigger losers in the arena of racial justice and sensitivity.

How, I ask, is it still possible, in the 21st Century, for athletic teams to sport openly racist names? I mean, if Charleston, South Carolina has an NFL team, could they conceivable be called the "Charleston Jigaboos"? Our would a new NBA franchise in, say, the State of Maine, dare to label themselves the "Portland Kikes"?

Ugly? Unthinkable? Ourtageous? Absolutely. Yet fans in DC, of all colors and ethic backgrounds, are very comfortable with a home team that sports a name demeaning to Indigenous people and their heritage.

We are so desensitized, so alienated from the realities of many oppressed people, that we have little collective consciousness of the painful implications of words. And here in the capital of the United States, it is all the more sad and ironic that many of the unconscious folks doing the demeaning are, themselves, people of African ancestry often demeaned with racial epithets.

Say the word "Nigger" to an African-American are you might have a physical confrontation to deal with. Yet, say the work "Redskin" to the same person, and you'll likely find yourself in a deep discourse about his or her favorite team.

Native Americans may not be a large part of the D.C. population. But they are fully human, and entitled to the respect that is habitually violated by this racist name. The Supreme Court should have realized this, and decided to ( at the very least) hear the argument made for re-naming this team.

So call me a hater, if you will- not because I dislike the players, but because the team is emblematic of the unexamined paternalism and racial stereotypes that still litter the collective mentality of this nation. And if the former Baltimore Bullets NBA team had the presence of mind to change their name to the Washington Wizards because of the issue of opposing gun violence, then the "Redskins" could, out of respect for native people and their history, do the same thing for their football franchise.

If this were to happen, I'd still be a loyal New York Giants fan, mind you. But I'd be more inclined to have some respect for the Washington, DC football team-regardless of their play cord on the field.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Anti-Socialist Ideologues Could Use a Lesson In Real History

By Ibrahim Abdil-Muid Ramey

It's no surprise that the free market fundamentalists on the Right side of the ideological spectrum have rolled out all of their big guns-and a few of their small caliber weapons as well-in the onslaught against the Obama health care reform proposal. Their arsenal includes not only well-placed and prominent conservative voices, but a small platoon of people of color who serve as a buffer that would hope to protect the (mostly) white and affluent voices of the Republican Party from the counter-charge of racism.

Perhaps they calculate that, if a few Black people join in their collective attack on the Obama health care "public option", African-Americans and other people of color won't see the issue as one with a social class or racial subtext. One such Obama critic-Star Parker, who writes a column for the stridently anti-Obama Washington Examiner, has even labeled the Obama proposal as "Socialism" and a demonstration of what she calls "fatal conceit", and even "hubris".

It's interesting to note that "Socialism" is the common epithet hurled from the Right as they attempt to whip up Americans into an anti-collectivist frenzy over the issue of universal health care and a proposed public insurance option. To their way of thinking, public health care is just a shade away from a Bolshevik-style takeover of the national government. They predict, quite openly, the erosion of personal freedom in the arena of health care choices, and creeping government control over the medical profession.

The came charge of "Socialism" was leveled at President Franklin Delano Roosevelt when the massive social reforms of the 1930's included the creation of something called Social Security. That term may be used in a pejorative way, but it has never been a deterrent to pursuing, and achieving, the kinds of social change that benefit the masses of people in this society. Southern racial bigots called Dr, King a "communist", but that did not derail his movement.

The phony "death panel" charges from the Right were also exposed as bogus. And a majority of Americans now believe that sweeping health care and health insurance reform is certainly a change whose time has come.

I agree that it is legitimate to debate, and disagree, about the size, scope, and cost of this proposal, and there is clearly no unanimity of thinking in either major national party about the precise content of any proposed reform of our health care and health insurance systems. And whatever the final political choices may be, this will me a gargantuan undertaking that is likely to progress more slowly that many people would like.

But to characterize the public health care option as "fatal conceit" or political hubris is either profound ignorance, or an example of extreme political malice. We don't speak of "socialist" education, or "socialist" food and drug inspection, or "socialist" air traffic control, but the federal government is, most assuredly, responsible for those protections, too.

I would remind Ms. Parker, ( and her friends at the Washington Examiner), that what she scornfully calls "socialized medicine" is alive and well in virtually every industrial democracy in the world, with the exception of the United States. Perhaps that fact contributes to the fact that the overall quality of life in America is only 11th or 12th in global ranking, behind the Nordic nations of Europe and Japan. These nations do not view public health care as harmful to their own plural democratic systems.

No medical insurance and delivery system is perfect, and the U.S. system, whatever it might become, will not be an exception to this rule. But the fundamental need for health affordable and proper health care, as a human right of citizens, can only be advanced if and when the insurance monopolies cease to be the arbiters of who can, and cannot, receive treatment for injury or illness. The growing legion of poor people, the unemployed, and the dispossessed in America have not been well served by the for-profit nature of the status quo. They deserve-and demand-change.

The possible challenge to the unchecked profits of the health insurance monopolies will certainly be far short of a cure-all for the ills of this society. The fight for health care reform and universal coverage is only one skirmish in the continuous struggle for inclusive social justice in this great nation.

But make no mistake about it: the rich and the comfortable will still have their property, their constitutional freedoms, and their human rights when the dust settles and a final legislative compromise is worked out. What they will not have, though, is a system that caters to their health needs while excluding access to millions more who of their compatriots who cannot afford to be sick, or who die in squalid hospital emergency rooms because they can't afford anything else.

No, the red banner of socialism won't fly over the White House. But if health care reform is realized, a banner of greater economic justice just might flutter over it-at least for the next three, if not seven, years.

And even if Star Parker sees it differently, it is a flag that most poor people, working people, and people who believe in dignity and human rights will not only celebrate, but salute.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Dave Gaubatz and the Insidious Gang of Four: Yet Another Display of Public Racism and Ignorance

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

It never ceases to amaze me how tiny minds can claim so much intellectual territory.

In this instance, it's not the ravings of the (un-elected) lunatic "Right", but the specious claims of four elected members of the U.S. House of Representatives, joined by one Dave Gaubatz, formerly of the Mapping Sharia Project, a lunatic that even respectable Republicans dismiss as 'off the hook'.

Their allegation? Simply that Muslim interns from the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), have attempted to "infiltrate" the U.S. House of Representatives, presumably to supplant the venerable Constitution with Sharia, thus effecting the demise of the Republic and the triumph of "radical Islam" in the land.

The four House members – all conservative Republicans (surprise, surprise) are
John Shaedegg (AZ), Paul Broun (GA), Trent Franks (AZ), and Sue Myrick (NC) who, with Gaubatz, announced this week the publication of a new book called The Muslim Mafia.

Their intent is to not only bash a respected national Muslim organization, but to paint all Muslims as un-American, subversives and terrorists who seek to infiltrate the political establishment as Fifth Column agents of some nefarious global Islamist conspiracy.

As evidence of our hostile intentions, they unveiled their star witness: a young man who misrepresented himself for the purpose of securing a summer internship with CAIR, only to reveal his true patriotic allegiance in this great undercover "tell-all" against Muslims.

But does Gaubatz offer any credible proof that CAIR, or any other national Muslim organization, is operating in a way that is a threat to democratic principles, or in violation of our laws? No.

Give me a break. If brains were dynamite, this crowd couldn't even blow their noses.

Had the aforementioned members of our Congress done their homework, they would clearly have concluded that any association with this nut would be a horrific embarrassment to their constituents, their offices, and their colleagues in our national legislature.

Gaubatz has, for the record:
  • Claimed the existence of vast depots of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD's) in Iraq (a false claim that even the CIA now denies).
  • Called President Obama the front-man for a "Communist" takeover of America.
  • Made publicly defaming and racist slurs against African-Americans.
  • All while openly excoriating and insulting 1.5 billion Muslims by slandering Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and the religion of Islam.
Not only does this unprincipled and false attack on CAIR goes beyond an expression of political dissent and free speech, it is utterly vile, repugnant, and drenched with the radical hatred that even political conservatives are loathe to publicly embrace.

I have often said, and I continue to state, that people should be free to criticize and even condemn actions that jeopardize the security and integrity of society. When individual Muslims are guilty of these things, then the charges are more than justified. But the hatchet-job directed against CAIR is painfully similar to the "Communist" smear directed against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. during the Civil Rights Movement.

Like J. Edgar Hoover back then, this group apparently believes now that if you tell a lie enough times, and express it loudly enough, people will believe that it is true.

It's no surprise that all of this is happening at a time when the public profile of Muslims is rising, and when our national community is coming into its own in terms of political sophistication and electoral clout.

This "Gang of Four" is quite aware of the demographics related to the 2006 Senate election in Virginia, when a mobilized Muslim vote provided the margin of victory for a Democratic party candidate and, in the process, changed the partisan balance of power in the Senate.

And, for the record, the last time I checked, it's legal for CAIR, or any other non-profit organization, to offer internships for young people interested in government policy.

How can someone "infiltrate" Congress – an institution that they already own as a right of their American citizenship?

Neither CAIR nor the larger American Muslim community has anything to apologize for, or to hide.

We proudly exercise our right to free political association and free religious expression.

We are not criminals, and we are not carrying out the agenda of any criminal organizations.

We will continue to mobilize not only Muslims, but millions of other decent people in this society who reject the politic of slander and division.

And in conclusion, I remind these "patriotic" members of Congress that their association with open racists and religious bigots like Dave Gaubatz is as un-American as it gets.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

No, White People, it IS About Race!

Hatin' On the President is Driven by More than the Health Care Debate

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

First it was the arrest of Henry Louis Gates, in his own home, at the hands of an irate white Cambridge Massachusetts police officer. Our nation's first Black President jumped into the fray and took more than a little heat from white journalists and politicos alike, when he characterized the actions of the arresting cop as "stupid" and did an about-face damage control maneuver by inviting the officer and the professor to join him over a few beers in the White House garden.

Now, and arguably more seriously, politicians, prevaricators, and pundits alike, and even a former American President, are stirring the cauldron of race in the aftermath of the boorishly vulgar remark of "liar" that spat from the lips of one Joe Wilson – an otherwise undistinguished Republican congressman from South Carolina – where, apparently, some of the good citizens have yet to realize which side did, indeed, lose the Civil War.

All of this has led to some visible shifting of the tectonic plates of American racial discourse. Black folks (and apparently, most Democrats as well), were mortified to hear the President of the United States shouted at as a "liar" in the middle of an important speech to a joint session of the United States Congress. And Conservatives, nearly all of them white (with a few colored folks thrown in the mix for their amusement), are rallying around the good South Carolina Congressman as if he were he were some modern incarnation of Patrick Henry.

Give me liberty, or give me thinly-disguised racial animosity fronting as "free speech".

But this incident is more than an apparent breech of political etiquette in Washington, D.C., a town for dainty dialogue between the contending parties.

Neither is it some random verbal outburst that can be forgotten after the apology that President Obama got from the offender.

It is, in my view, symptomatic of not only a deep racial division, but a malignant racial animus that still simmers in the melting pot of U.S. culture.

As Black folks have known all along, former President Jimmy Carter, himself a Southerner, was right on point when he mentioned the deep resentment that Obama stirs up in the hearts of many European- Americans.

Consider the constant vilification of Obama as a "Nazi", or a "Communist", or someone with a deep-seeded hatred of white people (the last accusation, from Right-wing media talkster Glen Beck being totally baffling in light of the racial identity of the President's late mother).

Add to that the "Birthers" who assert that Obama is not really an American citizen at all, and the weapons that frequently appear in public when the President appears before not-so-friendly public gatherings, and you get the impression that all of this goes beyond legitimate political disagreement over health care issues.

This is, straight up, about hatred, and a particularly toxic strain of that old American virus that evidenced in the political and social corpus of the nation.

It even has an effect of the "responsible public opinion leaders" who claim-falsely, in my opinion, that their anti-Obama positions are not motivated by racism.

Just a few weeks ago, the hate-spewing Washington Examiner ran a cartoon that depicted a gigantic eared caricature of the President, dressed in a while lab coat, calling one of his opponents a "Nazi" in full view of a medical diploma earned from "Karl Marx University".

Of course, Black folks know that even the most egregiously obvious white racists would never refer to themselves at that. In fact, it's much more strategically suitable for many whites to pretend that they have no fear or dislike of a Black President (or in the immortal words of Public Enemy, fear of a Black planet). Their frequent claim is simply that Obama, as a "liberal", is simply too far to the political Left for their liking.

The freedom of political association, and the right of dissent, should be sacrosanct privileges in this, and any, democratic form of government.

Not all disagreements with current administration policies are rooted in racism, of course, and Congressman Wilson has every right to disagree with President Obama's policies, even if his positions seem to be influenced by notions of racial (and class) privilege.(Wilson, for the record, supported the movement to keep the Confederate battle flag on the South Carolina state flag.).

But the Joe Wilson incident should be a wake-up call to white people and people of color alike.

It speaks volumes to the sad reality that racially fueled animosity in public life is very much with us. It is fed by both unchanged notions of white superiority and the concomitant fear of real black authority and political power.

President Obama would, I believe, wish that this weren't true, because he has an abiding, optimistic belief, in the inherent goodness of America. But it is also worth noting that Congressman Wilson has received, as a reward for his boorish and imprudent public remark, more than a million dollars (and counting) in new campaign donations and pledges, presumably from the folk who share his sentiment about President Obama

We may wish that this situation were otherwise, and that political disagreements – even heated ones – are driven by things other than color privilege, hatred, and prejudice. But Mr. Wilson represents haters, not political dissidents. And we should all be wise enough, and vigilant enough, to understand the dangerous reality of race in America.

Racism has not been swept away because some white people are in denial of it. It is all too real, and it is being galvanized by the election of a Black man to the office of the Presidency of the country. And anyone who grew up in the segregated South, as I did, clearly understands that some white people don't have to resort to using the "N" word in public to demonstrate that they regard you that way.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Racist Attacks Against President Obama

Dear Friend,

As racist attacks increase and protestors continue to bring guns to presidential events, it is strikingly clear that President Obama is vulnerable to harm. Are the Secret Service and the FBI doing enough to protect him? Are they confronting those who threaten our president?

Ronald Kessler, a veteran investigative journalist and conservative who recently authored a book about the Secret Service, notes that funding cutbacks have already left the first African-American president in U.S. history particularly vulnerable. The book, which alleges that the cash-strapped Secret Service is endangering the president by cutting corners, has sent shockwaves through Washington.

We cannot allow funding problems to weaken the organizations charged with protecting the life of our nation's president. It is time for Americans of every stripe to insist that the Secret Service and the FBI operate at the highest levels of effectiveness.

I just signed a petition to ask Janet Napolitano, Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security, to ensure that efforts of the Secret Service and FBI to protect President Obama from escalating threats are expanded and fully funded. I hope you will, too.

Please have a look (HERE) and take action.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ending War and Political Agendas in Sudan

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

The war in Darfur is now, essentially over.

The person making this assessment is no less an authority on the subject than General Martin Agwai, who commands a multinational peacekeeping force in Sudan composed of United Nations and African Union military personnel.

General Agwai, who is leaving his command position in a few days, did not, of course, say that all the violence in Darfur has ended.

The territory remains under the threat of bandit attacks and attacks by so-called 'rebel' groups against civilians and other targets of convenience.

There is still hunger and suffering in Darfur, and throughout much of the continent of Africa.

There remain enormous political divides that must be bridged, and deep wounds to heal.

But the war, as we define war, has ended.

Much of the attention directed to Darfur, at least in the United States, has come from anti-Khartoum political elements and Darfur 'activists' who have collected millions of dollars for the humanitarian cause of helping the Darfurese – the majority of which has never reached the people who are suffering – despite the moralization and pontification of many within the 'Save Darfur' movement.

Make no mistake – there have been violent atrocities committed in this horrible tragedy, and some of the blame for the situation does indeed rest with the actions of the government of Sudan - but the issue of Darfur has never been one of 'Arabs'' on a murderous rampage against 'Africans', or one of unilateral malfeasance on the part of a single belligerent party.

The 'Africans' and the 'Arabs' in the region are hardly distinguishable in phenotype, language, and culture.

Much of the framing and analysis of the Darfur issue is developed, packaged, and sold to the U.S. Congress and the American corporate media by individuals and groups with both anti-Sudan and anti-Muslim agendas. Some of these groups have been transparently evangelical pro-Christian with a history of involvement in the Sudanese civil war (while promoting the bogus 'buy a slave and set him free travesty'.

Others are backers of the foreign policy of one particular nation-state, not even in the region, that actually supplied weapons and material support to anti-government rebels in the Sudan Peoples Liberation Army (in South Sudan) and, very likely, the two main Darfur rebel groups as well.

Still other geo-political interests seek to isolate and possibly balkanize Sudan as a precondition for gaining U.S. corporate access to that most precious of global commodities; oil (and at the same time, cutting of the supply of this petroleum to a major U.S. economic rival, China).

None of these factors make the Krartoum government blamless in this mess. But all of these factors must be taken into account in understanding how the issue of Darfur is both perceived, and distorted.

What remains for those of us in this country to do, I believe, is to support both ongoing reconciliation and peacekeeping work in Sudan, and the sending of material aid that actually reaches the people most in need in the region.

The belligerent parties in Darfur must be part of these efforts, as well as the government currently in power in Khartoum.

When I visited Sudan in 1995 as part of an interfaith MAS Freedom delegation led by Imam Mahdi Bray, I was convinced that, tragic though the situation was (and is), the real solution could only lie in actions taken by the people of Sudan themselves, with the honest collaboration and assistance of the pan-Islamic world.

We called for then, and now, an end to the multilateral violence and war that has creates massive dislocation and suffering in Darfur.

But I am equally clear that the economic and political agendas of outside actors must not become factored into the solution that the people of Darfur, and all of Sudan, must work out for themselves.

I am truly happy with General Agwai's assessment about the end of the war. And now, I am hopeful that this situation will evolve into both peace and justice for the region, orchestrated by the people of Sudan themselves with the support of the international humanitarian community.

This, in the final analysis, is the only way that lasting and legitimate peace can be built and sustained.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Senator Edward M. Kennedy: A Few Reflections on a Splendid Life

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

As I join the untold millions of people here in the United States and around the world in mourning the passing today of Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy, I pause to reflect on his life and the significance of his great contributions to human rights and justice in our world.

Born into a life of privilege and blessed with the mantle of an enormously powerful family name, Edward Kennedy followed in the footsteps of his assassinated elder brothers, President John F. Kennedy and Senator Robert F. Kennedy. His tireless advocacy of "liberal" political positions put him at odds with his conservative counterparts in the U.S. Senate, and contributed to his anathema within the right wing and reactionary political elements in the society.

But with grace, wit, and tireless political energy, Ted Kennedy fought the good fight for civil rights, workers' justice and peace. At the end of his life, he took on one last battle: the gargantuan struggle for health care reform.

Among Senator Kennedy's most memorable advocacy campaigns was his enthusiastic endorsement of the candidacy of Senator Barack H. Obama in the midst of a ferocious Democratic Party campaign fight in 2008. It would be no exaggeration to say that his support was crucial for then Senator Obama, being the key political act that opened the door to the election of the nation's first African-American president.

There will be those in the body politic who will focus on the memory of not-so-tidy aspects of Ted Kennedy's personal life, especially the incident at Chappaquiddick which resulted in the death of a young woman in his company; however, his ferocious and uncompromising stand for democracy and inclusion – even where it concerned counting the Muslim community as a part of the tapestry of the American political and cultural mosaic – was undeniable.

A true giant in the political life of America has passed away. He was a man who struggled for principles that, in the final analysis, uplifted millions of oppressed and marginalized people in this society.

For this, and for many other things, I add my small voice to the choir of millions in saying, simply, "Thank-you Senator Kennedy. You will be greatly missed."

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Muslim Physicians on the Front Line of National Health Care Battle

In the Name of Allah, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

MASNET (July 29, 2009) – The titanic political struggle that continues today in the 110th U.S. Congress, emerging from the resounding challenge to the medical status quo in America made by President Barack Obama through his call (VIDEO) for health care reform in the United States, resonates across the nation as negotiations continue in an attempt to make a final push to rescue a deal before adjourning for the August recess. In the balance: America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (H.R. 3200), legislation proposed July 14, 2009, intended to provide quality health care for uninsured Americans, while slowing the rise of insurance premiums and health care costs which, if left unchecked, could cripple the national economy.

On the Republican side of the debate, most officials and operatives are claiming that the proposed reforms are "too costly and too big", and that they are the harbingers of that anathema to the U.S. system otherwise known as "socialized" health care.

Not to be left out of the debate, Muslim physicians and allied health care professionals have staked their own claim in this critical national discourse.

Earlier this month, the Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) of Illinois, hosted an important briefing at the United States Capitol in Washington, D.C. on some of the perspectives that Muslim medical care providers have on the issue of health care reform.

IMANA Executive Director, Rasheed Ahmed, Ms. Karen Davenport, Director of Health Policy at the Center for American Progress, Dr. Khalid Quzi and Dr. Khalique Zahir, made presentations offering insight into the significant size and impact that Muslim medical professionals have within the national health care system.

Of the 800,000 medical doctors in America, for example, more than 60,000 are Muslim.

These Muslim physicians contribute in excess of $40 billion in health care services to the national economy.

Additionally, some 25 to 30 percent of physicians who received their medical degrees from foreign institutions are Muslim.

But more than the monetary value of Muslim generated health care services, there is the importance of Islamic values as they relate to health care policies in America.

IMANA, more than a mere professional association, is deeply committed to the idea that health care is a human right, and that the best available technology and most advanced care should be available to every person, regardless of their financial circumstances, medical insurance status, or ability to pay.

Individual IMANA physicians already contribute generous amounts of free medical care for indigent patients, including expensive and complicated surgeries for poor or uninsured patients.

Moreover, IMANA physicians provide services and staff numerous clinics throughout the United States, including the UMMAH clinic in Los Angeles, acclaimed by our very own U.S. Congress.

MAS Freedom, through its 12-Point 2008-2012 Legislative Agenda (Point III), has endorsed the movement for comprehensive national health care reform, including the need to provide medical insurance for the more than 47 million people in America who have no health insurance at all.

As the political debate about health care reform intensifies, and as the enormous quantity of health care proposals and counter-proposals are sifted through, one thing is for certain: Muslim professionals in the health care arena will remain true to the prophetic calling for compassion and mercy, not only for the fortunate Americans who can afford quality medical care, but for every human being in this nation.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Ethnic Tensions in China Turn Bloody as Uighurs and Han Chinese Clash in Western China

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

Most of the world is aware of the tension in China over the occupation, and some might say, oppression of the Buddhist majority of Tibet by the majority Han people who rule the People's Republic. Since 1950, untold numbers of monasteries and other Tibetan cultural institutions have been destroyed, while the massive resettlement of ethnic Han Chinese in Tibet has altered the cultural landscape of the region perhaps for all time.

Now we are witnessing yet another spasm of ethnic/racial violence in the world's most populous nation; but this time the killing involves people of the Uighur nationality, made up of roughly 20 million Chinese Muslims.

To date, news reports indicate numerous clashes in the streets of the city of Urumqi in China's western Xingiang province, with more than 150 persons – likely far more - killed and scores seriously injured.

After an incident in which two Uighurs were killed in a factory fight, Uighurs began attacking Han people on the streets, which led to the retaliation of local Han residents along with a crackdown on local news reporting, internet and Twitter access in the region.

There are also reports of systematic Han reprisals against Uighur Muslims who seek to pray, or to fast during the upcoming month of Ramadan.

But the deeper underlying conflicts are not widely known. The Uighur population of China, like the people of Tibet, has been dealing with attempts by the central Chinese government to vigorously oppose the free practice of Islam, and to enforce the secularization of the Uighur society, including the imposition of Communist/atheist education in local schools. Moreover, the Uighur people, like the Tibetans, have witnessed the displacement of vast areas of their pastoral lands by energy and industrial operations. Like in Tibet, ethnic Han people have also been massively settled by the government into the region.

This spasm of mass killing should force us to confront some central questions: do all Chinese ethnic groups have equal access to the Chinese economic miracle. Is freedom of religion a right for Chinese citizens who belong to religious minorities? And are there any mechanisms in place to deal with the frustrations of the Uighurs (and others) who are regarded as marginalized within the larger society.

Certainly, mob violence – regardless of who instigates it or suffers from it – cannot be a way forward for Chinese Muslims or Chinese of any description.

The killing must stop immediately, for the sake of all human beings.

We should morn the deaths and injuries resulting from this latest wave of violent attacks. But the Muslim population of Xinjiang, from all indications, has numerous legitimate grievances that can only be addressed by negotiation with the Chinese national government. And the world is waiting to see if such possibilities exist, or if mechanisms for settling the disputes might be operative.

Muslim Uighurs, like Buddhists in Tibet, should enjoy the full human rights afforded to all citizens of their nation. These rights include the freedom of worship and cultural expression. They are conveyed upon human beings by our creator, and they must never be arbitrarily abolished or truncated by the powers of a state.

The majority Han government may be a powerful one, but Muslims should be prepared to voice their concern for the freedoms of our brothers and sisters in faith, and indeed, the human rights of all the citizens of China.

If the world cares about the situation in Tibet – as we should – we must also care about the sad plight of religious Muslims in China.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Reflections on the Death of Michael Jackson, and the Worship of Celebrities

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

Like almost everyone, I was stunned to hear the news of Michael Jackson's sudden death on Thursday, June 25, 2009. The community around Georgia Avenue in Washington, DC was literally buzzing with the news. As I walked toward my apartment after a long day at the office, several people even stopped me on the street to ask if I had heard of Jackson's passing.

Somehow, the man-child who dominated the universe of popular music for nearly 40-years was someone who seemed to flirt with immortality. Michael Jackson, to hundreds of millions of people who celebrated him with a passion that bordered on worship, never grew old, and wasn't supposed to die. But now that are confronted with the reality that, at the age of 50, Jackson, is indeed, dead.

As the Qur'an teaches us, from God Almighty we come, and to Him, we shall (all) surely return.

As I contemplate on the life and death of Michael Jackson, described by another famous recording artist as "a major strand of our cultural DNA", a second Qur'anic truth resonates with me: there is no deity worthy of worship but the One Lord of Creation. How true these words must be for those of us who believe in God.

Yet we live embedded in a culture where the mass adulation that society pours out on athletes and performing artists approaches, and all too frequently crosses over into, the territory of idolatry.

Michael Jackson, for all of his obvious troubles and even moral ambiguities, was truly an "idol" for millions. His phenomenal talent as a child leading the legendary Jackson 5 had grown, over the years, into entertainment legend equaling that of Elvis Presley and the Beatles.

Our culture looked beyond his fixation with self-mutilation and his fascination with children; brushing them off as nothing more that the eccentricities of genius.

And when reports revealed that Jackson's $20 million annual income could not pay for his extreme spending habits, our culture brushed it off, and seemed prepared to pour more money into his gigantic pockets of self-indulgence; feeding his appetites and the legions of sycophants feeding off him.

As we come to terms with Jackson's untimely demise, a deeper question comes to mind: "When the music stops, who, or what do we actually worship? And what is the nature of our relationship with God if the objects of our adoration are nothing more than false deities?

I believe Michael Jackson was a mirror held up before society, and one that yielded a reflection of the shape and form of modern form of idol worship.

How often do we hear the word "idol" used in context with our celebration of mega-athletes and entertainers? And how is it that we collectively allow these "idols" to hover just above the moral judgments that we reserve for lesser mortals?

When a ballplayer injects steroids, or kills someone while driving under the influence of alcohol, or when an actor gets busted for drug possession at an airport, we say, "So sad", "Too bad", "It's so unfortunate". And within just a few short weeks, after the intervention of a few ultra-expensive lawyers and a team of public relations professionals, we place these "idols" right back in the temple of collective popular worship.

The world treated Jackson the same way.

His phenomenal talent trumped his need to carve away his face and bleach his skin to the point transmogrifying his African-American identity into a white death mask.

And the numerous allegations of his sexual relationships with minor children – one of which was "settled" out of court for a reputed payment of $10 million to the family of the boy who filed the lawsuit – dissolved in the brilliant light of his on-stage persona.

Even when Michael admitted to sleeping with children who were not his own, we winced and kept giving him props, love, and adoration; and yes, the fuel of nearly all idolatry - money.

But now the "King of Pop" is gone, and like all earthly kings who pass away, his soul must answer to the Celestial King of the Universe.

Don't misunderstand me. I'm not complaining about Michael Jackson's phenomenal talents, fame, or earlier financial success.

In the final analysis (as once shared by another deceased icon, Tupac Shakur) only God can judge Michael Jackson.

Collectively, however, we can, and we must, judge ourselves for the celebrity worship that permeates modern culture, and ignores the need to give real help to our "famous" – and very human – brothers and sisters when they spin out of control.

I pause to mourn with the rest of those alarmed and saddened by the passing of Michael Jackson, and I offer my sincerest condolences to his family and loved ones.

But I must remind myself, and everyone, that the worship of celebrity, any celebrity, is both false and utterly destructive to the objects of worship and to those who bow down before them.

Let us honor great talent, but save worship for the Almighty God alone.

Michael Jackson Dead at 50 (LA Times June 26, 2009)
Sony Comments on the Passing of Michael Jackson (NY June 25, 2009)
Jackson's Legacy Remains Unsullied by Scandal (Arizona Republic, June 26, 2009)
Jermaine Jackson Press Conference on Michael Jackson's Death (June 25, 2009) (Closing comment in video: "May Allah be with him, Michael, always.")

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

A Muslim Response to the Recent Presidential Election in Iran

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

As more than 32 million people cast their votes in Iran's 10th presidential election on Friday, June 12, 2009, I, like many if my brothers and sisters in the U.S. Muslim community, experienced conflicting emotions when the results of the election were announced the following day.

On one hand, I felt deep satisfaction that a relatively open and free election, with clearly distinct electoral choices, actually took place – albeit with much vigorous debate – in a majority-Muslim nation. On the other hand, however, I felt deep concern that the election results in Iran might lead to more civil strife and political polarization in a nation that faces extraordinary international scrutiny and criticism – not to mention the threat of military attack from either, or both, the United States and/or Israel.

The initial report of a landslide victory (62% of the popular vote) by the current Iranian President and his ruling party was not a huge surprise to many of us. President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, after all, commands a huge (but not universal) base of political support in Iran, although his victory over primary challenger, Mir-Hossein Mousavi, has clearly now become tainted by charges of massive electoral fraud and other voting irregularities.

Mousavi's challenge was broadly considered to be based on a demand for broad social reform in Iran, more openness in the overall society, and a repudiation of the hard-line theocratic rule of the current Iranian religious leadership.

The election results are now in the fifth day of vigorous and violent protests, described as the most dramatic political uprising in Iran since the 1979 revolution, with Iranians in the hundreds of thousands defying a ban on rallies and a crackdown on media coverage.

Although I am fully aware that Iran is a sovereign nation, and that the trajectory of social change in that nation must be determined by the people of Iran themselves, I offer three observations with the hope that they may be helpful for Muslims, the world-at large watching what is happening in Iran, and perhaps even the leadership of Iran as well.

Observation One: Now is the time for a full and impartial review of the election itself. I commend the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, for his commitment to respond to the election fraud charges leveled by Musavi and his supporters. There may be evidence that some of these allegations are true, even if the magnitude of the fraud/irregularities might not be sufficient to change the outcome of the vote. But it is also true that any democratic process must also have safeguards to insure the integrity of popular participation. The election review should be swift and thorough, and any persons found guilty of fraud or vote manipulation, on behalf of any candidate or party, must be held fully accountable for the crime.

But I inject a cautionary note here to the American critics and detractors of the Iranian leadership: Most elections in the world, in fact, are tainted by allegations of fraud and voting irregularities. We have only to look at the American presidential elections of 1996 and 2004 realize the ubiquity of democratic imperfection, if not fraud. Any ongoing dispute of President Ahmedinejad’s victory must not be a pretext for directing more threats and hostility toward Iran.

Observation Two: Popular democratic structures and personal freedoms must be safeguarded. The role of independent journalism and free access to the global internet cannot, and must not, be infringed upon – particularly in a time of great volatility and significant desire for change. One of the great strengths of the early Islamic Ummah was the confidence that the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be Upon Him) demonstrated in his recognition of the rights of non-Muslims in the plural society of Medina. The Iranian government must recognize Iranian youth, Sunni Muslims, members of the Baha’I’ community, journalists, secular activists, and many others, are Iranian, too. There is no place in a democracy for second-class citizenship. Any and all Iranians must be allowed to freely express their (non-violent) political sentiments, and their political associations, without the fear of authoritarian crack-downs and the violation of their civil rights.

Observation Three: President Ahmedinejad should not be afraid of constructive change that embraces democratic freedoms within the context of a majority Shi’a Muslim society. The real question that I believe is in front of the people of Iran is not that of Islam vs. the secular "West", but the question of what kind of Islam is best for the people of Iran in the current historical moment. Our faith can certainly be one that rejects modernity and fears the ideas of the outside world, but it can also be a faith that embraces progress, peace, and especially the notion that women can be – and in fact are – a vital constituency in shaping a new, and better, society.

The results of the Iranian election, and it's unfortunate aftermath, will continue to reverberate in both Iran and the entire Muslim world. We must defend the right of self-determination of the people of Iran as we uphold their right to be free from outside aggression and any hostile ambitions of foreign powers.

And the best way to do this, in my opinion, is to encourage and support the development of internal democracy and the advancement of the social changes that will make the Iranian nation – indeed, an Islamic nation – stronger and better.

To the Leadership of North Korea: the Worship of Power is a Form of Shirk

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

As one of 16 members of a delegation invited to visit the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) some 20-years ago, when it was under the leadership of North Korean state founder President Kim II-sung, I was keenly aware that as a U.S. "peace" activist, I had been invited to undergird North Korean opposition to U.S. nuclear weapons that were, at the time, deployed in South Korea. I supported the withdrawal of these nukes from the Korean Peninsula, and considered them to be a grave provocation and potential threat to the North.

Although not allowed to speak with political dissidents or visit the notorious labor camps in which they are confined, myself and my fellow delegates were treated to lavish receptions in villages and cities throughout the country as the DPRK strove to impress us with their accomplishments in science, architecture and industry.

That was then, as they say, and this is now; the nuclear threat on the Korean Peninsula today is far more ominous – the DPRK has now embarked on its own nuclear arms race.

The U.S. government officially confirmed on Monday that in addition to a long-range ballistic missile test conducted in April this year, North Korea carried out an underground atomic test on May 25, reportedly larger than its first test conducted in 2006, which resulted in U.N. sanctions against the country.

In addition to testing long-range missiles capable of striking targets in the Pacific, U.S. Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn told lawmakers on Capitol Hill Tuesday that North Korean missiles could also conceivably threaten the continental United States.

North Korea's de facto leader, Chairman of the National Defense Commission, Kim Jong-iI, son of Kim iI-sung ('Eternal President of the Republic'), has grown increasingly intransigent and belligerent on the issue, vowing to continue the country's nuclear program and threatening war on any nation that attempts to intercept shipments of strategic materials to Pyongyang.

On Friday, June 12, the U.N. Security Council unanimously voted to impose additional security and economic sanctions, including a trade and arms embargo on North Korea, also supported by two DPRK allies, China and Russia. Tens of thousands North Koreans rallied in the nation's capital on Monday denouncing the U.N.'s sanctions and Pyongyang responded by vowing to "weaponize" all its plutonium, further asserting that any blockade would be considered "an act of war".

On Tuesday, Japan announced its decision to impose fresh sanctions on North Korea, to include a ban on all exports, followed by a joint declaration from President Barack Obama and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, calling for pursuit of a "sustained and robust effort" to implement the U.N.'s resolution.

It now seems almost inevitable that some kind of military showdown between the DPRK and much of the rest of the world is almost inevitable; and in a significant shooting war, the short fuse of a nuclear weapons exchange could very well be lit.

The DPRK is hardly the first nation to threaten to use nuclear weapons against another country. The United States, with more than 7,000 in its arsenal, along with Russia, China, and Israel, have threatened to use these weapons in the past; America being the only nation to carry out such a threat against an adversary in war time.

But none of these historical precedents excuse, in the least, the bellicose saber-rattling of the regime in Pyongyang.

Many political analysts offer the opinion that the leadership of Kim Jong-il borders on psychopathic, and that the pursuit of a North Korean nuclear deterrent is a grave danger to peace and stability in Asia and the world. And the fact that two former military allies of the DPRK are supporting the U.N.'s sanctions against his nation should be a clear indicator that he has few, if any, political friends left in the outside world.

My own interpretation of these events, however, is a little different.

The North Korean pursuit of nuclear weapons is not only grave and dangerous, but it also represents the worship of a false god; in this case, the god of the all-powerful dictatorship that is marching an entire nation to potential annihilation.

I believe that the massive adoration of political leaders and the power of the political state, is not a characteristic of Socialism, but actually a form of idolatry; and nuclear weapons in this reality, are nothing more than dangerous props supporting an immense, malignant ego that thrives on the energy of false worship and mass adoration focused on the Kim dictatorial dynasty.

Remove the idolatry, and the North Korean rationale for building and possibly using nuclear weapons would dissolve.

North Korea is, officially, an atheistic society functioning as a theocracy centered on the worship of state ideology and the elevation of its political leader to the status of a god; and when a false deity desires limitless power and adoration, the consequences will almost certainly be catastrophic for that leader and the nation that follows him.

I don't believe that there should be any type of U.S.-led pre-emptive military attack against North Korea.

It would be better, for now, to rely on international economic and trade sanctions as an instrument to push for ending North Korea's nuclear weapons ambitions, while the other nuclear weapons states get down to the serious business of working for abolition.

Détente with the DPRK could be possible in the future, but only if and when it stops threatening to annihilate other nations with atomic warheads.

In the meantime, let us keep in mind the conviction of all Muslims, that there is no deity worthy of worship but the One Lord of Creation.

Possessing the ultimate weapons of mass destruction will not make the North Korean people happier, more prosperous, or freer; and these weapons will not transform Kim Jong-il into a deity.

The worship of power is a form of shirk (idolatry). That is a truth that the North Korean dictator must submit to – either in this life, or in the life to come.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Keeping It Real While Feeling the Hope: A Response to President Barack Obama's Historic June 4, 2009 Speech at Cairo University

By Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey

Like many people who trade in the world of political commentary, I was prepared to write a response to President Obama's speech from the perspective of content analysis and criticism of not only what he communicated, but what, from my perspective, he left unsaid.

And I will still do that because there are areas of concern that many, including Muslim Americans have about the status of the relationship between the broader Islamic world, the Muslim American community and the policies and practices of the United States government.

That said, I believe all of us must acknowledge President Obama's remarks at Cairo University today as not only incisive and hopeful, but even prophetic.

A new paradigm for official US-Muslim world relations may well emerge as a result of President Obama's message. There is critical work (on all sides) to be done, and the task in front of us remains a daunting one.

But in at least three areas, President Obama's words signal a momentous and hopeful shift in the understanding that the new American government may have regarding its present and future relationship with Muslims and the Islamic world.

What are the things that make me hopeful? Here are four of them:

1. President Obama's speech advanced the understanding that Islam is not only a part of the heritage of global civilization, but part of the American historical and cultural mosaic as well. He mentioned, quite accurately, a number of important contributions that Muslims have made, and continue to make, for the advancement of American civil society, including that the fact that the Muslim American community numbers in excess of seven million, with 1,300 mosques nationwide and communities in every state. This fact alone refutes the characterization, by some that Islam is essentially alien to the American landscape, and that Muslim values and practices are incompatible with "American" culture.

Moreover, by further emphasizing the Muslim scientific, literary, and cultural underpinnings of Western and global civilization, President Obama's remarks served to advance a more enlightened understanding of Islamic and Qur'anic ethics and values as an integral part of the larger Abrahamic faith context.

2. There is recognition, for once, of both the oppression and the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people. It is true that President Obama spoke, quite accurately, of the continued U.S. commitment to the safety and security of the Jewish state, the acknowledgement of the historical suffering of the Jewish people, and the legitimate aspiration for a Jewish homeland. But his recognition of Palestinian displacement and the "intolerable" conditions that afflict the West Bank and Gaza civilian population represented a major shift in American understanding of human conditions rooted in historical Palestinian displacement since 1948. Also – and this was a major pronouncement – President Obama clearly stated the opposition, by his administration, to the continuation and expansion of (illegal) Israeli settlements in the West Bank.

3. President Obama spoke of support for a genuinely universal democratic ideal. There should be no doubt about the significance of a strong statement in support of real democracy articulated by a U.S. president standing on Egyptian soil. No doubt, the Egyptian people listening today, particularly the younger generation sitting in the Cairo University audience, understood that the anti-democratic and authoritarian character of the Mubarak regime, although not named, was one of the political systems in the majority Muslim world that President Obama had in mind when he spoke these words. True social progressives and supporters of popular democracy here in the United States should be encouraged by this implied criticism of past U.S. support for anti-democratic Muslim regimes, past and present, throughout the world.

4. President Obama spoke to the centrality of building economic opportunity in the Islamic world, and especially the linkage between broad societal advancement and the elevation of the human and civil rights of Muslim women. One major (and quite legitimate) criticism of majority-Muslim nations is the fact that they have not pushed strongly for the broad social (and economic) equality of women. The President challenged those nations – in a way that was neither hostile nor disrespectful – to see the education and advancement of women as central to the need for broader economic evolution within the Muslim world. And there was also his announcement of a new cooperative venture between the United States and the Organization of Islamic Conference (O.I.C.) to work for the eradication of Polio.

Of course, pundits and critics (from both the Left and Right) will undoubtedly focus on the things that were missing from the speech, and especially the lack of details related to the architecture of new American policy related to Muslim nations.

For example, would the U.S. government choose to deal with right-wing Israeli intransigence on the issue of West Bank settlements, and for that matter, the idea of a shared Jerusalem with equal human rights and access for Palestinians? How should the U.S. engage Israel on the issue of Israeli nuclear weapons? Should the huge American military policy-stick be transformed into something qualitatively different – say, a genuine Middle East 'Marshall Plan" constructed along the lines of the vision of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Closer to home, though, there's the question of how the new Obama vision will translate to a shift in the reality of U.S. government assaults on Muslim charities, the continued reliance on arrest and torture rendition, and as we have witnessed in the legal issues related to Dr. Sami Al-Arian and so many others, the outrageous twisting of the American judicial system by prosecutors who have clearly evident prejudice against Muslims brought before the bar of justice.

We must also harbor our illusions about the ferocious, and still significant, political opposition aligned against President Obama and any progressive vision he may have for constructive engagement with Muslims, abroad or at home. He will face challenges from the pro-Israel lobby, Conservatives of all stripes, reactionaries and racists who are committed to American hegemony and the maintenance of old imperial relationships.

This speech was historically significant and deeply moving for many of the millions, and perhaps hundreds of millions of people in the global Muslim community who saw and heard it. And there is much that all of us must do to address unanswered questions and translate good intentions into tangible results.

We do live in the world of realpolitik, but we also live in a world of imagination, hope, and commitment to a common humanity.

I am thankful that, on the morning of June 4, 2009 at Egypt's Cairo University, Barack Hussein Obama, the 44th President of the United States of America, reminded us of the enduring reality of not only an American dream, but also a transformative one – clearly shared by many in the broader global community as well.

Transcript of President Barack Obama's June 4, 2009 Speech at Cairo University
VIDEO: Obama Calls for New Start Between U.S. and Muslims (AP)