Tuesday, March 30, 2010

How Should Rebels Rebel? Truth, Terror, and the Tragedy in Moscow

I am still not quite recovered from the shock of the horrific bombing of two Moscow subway
trains on March 29th, which killed at least 38 people and left scores more maimed and seriously
injured. Preliminary reports, while not complete or definitive, seem to suggest that the
attacks were carried out by two women bombers who might have been affiliated with separatist/
nationalist rebels in the North Caucasus region of Russia. The translation: the bloody conflict
between Russia and the majority Muslim territory of Chechnya is far from over.

Some "experts" have suggested that the bombings were done in retaliation for Russian
attacks on known Chechnyan nationalist leaders, or perhaps for the ongoing warfare between
the Chechnyan nationalist forces and Russia. Despite the perception that the Russian army
was victorious over the rebels, and that the rebellion has ended, the Moscow bombings would
suggest that the bitter warfare continues.

But we are left with the question of how a struggle for independence ( or autonomy) should-and should not-be carried out. And all of this now brings to mind the 19 years of bloodshed since the declaration of Chechnyan independence in 1991, which led to the deaths of some 15,000 Russian troops and perhaps 300,000 or more Muslim civilians in the territory.

My first response is that the slaughter of innocent civilians is simply unacceptable, whether for Muslims or for any human beings engaged in conflict. The consequence of the killings in Moscow will only be bad-bad for Muslims who will feel the iron fist of retaliation from Russia, and even worse for the prospects of an eventual resolution of the conflict itself. This renewed cycle of violence is likely to leave Russia more violently militarized, and thirsty for revenge, while innocent Muslims in the North Caucasus will suffer even more.

But my second response is even more pessimistic, because it involves the calculation that the political aims of the parties responsible for the carnage now cannot be heard over the din of the explosions and the cries for vengeance. from the Russian people.The people slaughtered on those trains in Moscow were not combatants. They were, most likely, ordinary working people, like the ones who ride Metro trains anywhere in the world. It is not definitely known that the attackers were Muslims, but the Russian and the international press have already branded them already as "Islamic terrorists".

The likely outcome of this will simply been more virulent hatred of Muslims in Russia, and more intransigence from Moscow on the question of peace and autonomy for the Muslim-majority areas in the old Soviet empire.

There are, no doubt, legitimate grievances that Muslim peoples have with the Russian Federation, and the issues have not been resolved in the least. But in my opinion, the way forward to justice, however justice is imagined, does not go through the path of terrorism and the murder of non-combatants. This is a lesson that the great Mahatma Ghandi taught the entire world, but sadly, it is a lesson that most of the world has forgotten.

Nonviolent direct action in the pursuit of justice is morally legitimate, and in the final analysis,
the best way for a righteous cause to win. Terrorism, which is contrary to the laws of God and all human rights norms, is not.

Monday, March 29, 2010

The "Other" Homegrown Terrorism-And The One You Should REALLY Be Afraid Of

The "Other" Homegrown Terrorism-And the One You Should Be REALLY Afraid Of

They carry guns. They scoff at the authority of their government.They are willing to
commit acts of violence kill in the name of an extreme religious ideology.

But are they Muslims? No. They are fundamentalist Christians who are armed, trained, and ready to carry out the most terrible of missions as "Christian warriors" under the command of "General Jesus". And they are incorrigibly opposed to Muslims, whom they believe to be the "Anti-Christ".

On March 28th, a band of nine of these soldiers for Jesus were arrested by federal authorities
in three separate raids in Oho, Michigan, and Illinois. A day later they were charged with conspiracy to kill police officers, although, not yet, conspiracy to murder Muslims.

But while one might be tempted to dismiss these Hutarees, as they call themselves ( the name means "Christian Warriors" in some undetermined language) as a few kooks with paramilitary fantasies, they are far from marginal, or alone: they represent just one fringe element among some 932 groups in America identified as extremists by the Southern Poverty law Center. And the ultra-Right is growing at an alarming rate: in 2009 alone, some 363 new groups of extremists came into existence in America, fueled in part by the election of a Black president
(whom most of these people consider to be not even a real American citizen) and the
changing demographic reality that is making Caucasian Americans a shrinking majority population.

But will federal agents infiltrate the churches that these Hutrees attend? Will they take their pastors into custody and interrogate them about their theological views concerning the Bible and Jesus? Will their friends and non-Hutaree family members, have their homes invaded and ransacked? Not likely. Because Christian reactionary extremism, whether armed or not, is not
taken as a serious threat to national security.

Muslims, though, certainly know what it is like to suffer the outrage of collective suspicion, and even collective punishment, for violent actions done in the name of Islam. Even when responsible Muslim organizations condemn extremism and violence, there are those-even in "respectable" political circles-who are quick to assign some conspiratorial blame to the entire community for the violent actions of a few. But despite nearly 1,000 such extremist groups that profess opposition to the policies and even the authority of the State, the Christian majority is not examined under the microscope of law enforcement.

Will prominent Christian pastors like Franklin Graham or T.D. Jakes feel compelled to appear on FOX News to explain that conservative Christians are not blood-thirsty gun nuts with racist motivations, or that Christians actually love the government even if a Black President leads it? No. Because the rules that collectively apply to Muslims do not apply to them, even when some of "them" are part of a reactionary, armed, and hateful fringe element.

Remember that, just a week ago, the "Tea Party" crowd converged on the House of Representatives and called African-American Congressmen "Niggers" while spitting on them. Well, the militia boys are worse, because they will spit out the verbal abuse while threatening to use their guns if the need arises for armed "self defense".

Conservative Christians are not compelled to apologize for the behavior of a minority of armed Christian extremists. The American Muslim community, long excoriated by the press and spied on by the national security apparatus, simply demands the same level of respect, and freedom from the odious stigma of collective guilt that Christians enjoy as a fundamental right.

Ibrahim Ramey

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

In Yemen, Activists Push for an End to the Marriage of Girl Children

In Yemen, Civil Society Challenges the Marriage of Underage Girls

Is a ten year old girl too young to marry? Apparently, in some religious circles in Yemen, the answer is "No".

But this week, hundreds of demonstrators converged on the capital of San'a to vigorously voice their support for proposed national legislation that would make the marriage of girl children in Yemen illegal.

In many conservative and agrarian societies, including majority-Muslim cultures, it is not uncommon for girl children to be forced into marriage, usually to adult men. The arrangements are made by families, and clearly, not on the
volition of the girls. These girls live as virtual chattel and sexual slaves to their new "husbands". Typically, they remain poor, uneducated, victimized by domestic violence, and extremely exploited.

It all comes down to the irrefutable truth that a 10 year old human being is not suitable as a wife.

Yet in Yemen, some conservative Muslim scholars are challenging the proposed ban on child marriages, claiming that those who would reject the "right" of 10 year old girls to marry are apostates-that is, people who deviate from Islam and the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad. Indeed, the label of apostasy can result, in some cultures, in the imposition of the death penalty on those who are found guilty of it.

It is certainly true that child marriage, like slavery, was an element in the culture of the early evolution of Islam. Girls would typically be given in marriage in their early teenage years, or even much younger. These actions are underpinned by centuries of gender inequality, the denial of the fundamental human rights of both females and children, and the notion that females were created by God to serve the interests and cater to the appetites of men.

But no more. We now live in the 21st century ( not the 7th), and females are rapidly reaching social parity with men. Children are recognized as human beings who have inalienable human rights. One of those rights is the right of a female child to not be subjected to forced marriage, or any form of sexual exploitation.

As Muslims, we should also recognize, as most of the world certainly does, that the social, economic, cultural, and yes-spiritual-health of a nation is inextricably connected to the health and equality of its girls and women. Girls must be educated, nurtured, protected, and loved. They are not ready to become wives at the age of ten.

The beauty of Islam is evident in the values of justice, piety, the seeking of intellectual enlightenment, and the moral development of human beings for the sake of our relationship with Almighty God, and the overall betterment of human society. Freeing young girls from the subservience and degradation of forces marriage is definitely a step that Yemen, and all Muslims, should both legislate and vigorously enforce. This is a law that would not only be good for the children of Yemen, but for the global Muslim Ummah as well.

Ibrahim Ramey

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Will President Obama Stand Up to Bibi Netanyahu?

On Tuesday, March 23rd, President Barrack H. Obama will have a one-on-one meeting with the visiting Prime Minister of Israel. Already, the event is being touted as a kind of political heavyweight throw-down,underscored by tensions related to Israeli policies of occupation, and the planned erection of "Jewish-only" housing units in the traditional Palestinian areas of East Jerusalem.

Others of us hope, and pray, that there are two heavyweights in the ring today-and that one of them will stand up for international law and human rights.

Over the course of the last several weeks, prominent American politicians, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, have taken a few soft swings at the Israeli Prime Minister over the planned construction of 1,600 exclusive Jewish housing units in East
Jerusalem. Some public media comments have characterized the criticisms as indicative of a 20 year "low point" in the bilateral Washington-Tel Aviv relationship.

But Secretary Clinton, in an obvious attempt to send a different signal, mentioned in her remarks to the AIPAC banquet crowd last Monday that the relationship between the two governments is "secure". And now, it iss up to President Obama to remind the Israeli Prime Minister that the relationship is not.

Of course, it's important to frame the issues of contention is a way that is absolutely unambiguous. No one is talking about proposed break in diplomatic relationship between the two nations, or a denial of any of the fundamental human rights of the people of Israel to live in peace and security.

But what President Obama must put on the table for his discussion with Netanyahu is the categorical American rejection of land theft, ethnic cleansing, and certainly, the inhumane Israeli embargo of the people of Gaza. The current flow of U.S. arms, technology, and money to Israel facilitates Israel's ability to commit these actions, including the Gaza embargo that was characterized earlier this week by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as "unsustainable" and causing" unacceptable suffering of human beings".

But what if-and I imagine this will be the case-President Obama faces an intransigent Israeli Prime Minister? Well, there is another big card our president's hand that he should be prepared to play-and that is the suspension of U.S. military assistance to Israel until there is a freeze on illegal settlements, and full Israeli compliance with human rights laws pertaining to not only the populations in the West Bank and Gaza, but to the Arab Christian and Muslim population of the State of Israel.

Such a stand would have major political risks, to be sure, given the power of the pro-Israel lobby and their incorrigible support of the Jewish state. But there is another element of the political equation that President Obama should consider: there is also a rising voice of American Jewish opposition to the policies of Israeli occupation and the settlements, as well as the Gaza blockade. He, and AIPAC, should both realize that there is no absolute AIPAC monopoly on Jewish American opinion in the matter of uncritical support of Zionist ambitions.

What the American president, and government, must confront is the question of whether they are willing to be on the right side of both international law and morality, or on the side of convenient pro-Zionist politics. If the long-term goal of all (reasonable) parties is the creation of a state of mutual justice, security, and non-belligerence , the U.S must be prepared to use its enormous political weight to stop the policies-on both sides-that impede progress.

Arguably, Israel's security would be enhanced if both the embargo of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank were both to end, along with the end to the illegal settlements on the West Bank. These actions could no longer be used as a pretext for the sporadic attacks made against Israeli civilians coming from Gaza And the US could then offer (interim) security guarantees to the satisfaction of both the Israeli and Palestinian leadership, until a final two-state solution could be hammered out.

Is this an ambition, and even risky, push-back on Netanyahu from the U.S. government? Yes. But it pales in comparison to the danger of continued damage to the United States, especially in the Muslim world, as a result of continuous U.S. support for Israel's policies of occupation and ethnic expulsion.

For the sake of real peace and justice for both Israel and Palestine, let's hope that President Obama has his gloves on-and does a gut check-when he climbs into the political ring with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Monday, March 1, 2010

A "Post-racial" America? Not at the University of California

There are some people who have, since the election of a Black American president, promoted the notion that we now live in a "post-racial" historical epoch that evidences the decline of race and ethnicity in the construction of the American social reality. But apparently, that optimistic message has yet to reach the campus of the University of California in San Diego.

UCSD has witnessed recent incidents that point out the fact that racism is alive, and even thriving, at the university. On February 25th, a noose-symbolic of the lynching of African-Americans-was discovered on a book shelf at the main library of the university. This outrage prompted a group of irate students to stage a four hour sit-in demonstration at the office of the President of the University on the following day.

But not to be outdone, anonymous students at the university then held an off-campus "Compton Picnic", full of ugly racial satire and even uglier racial epithets, in which students were asked to come dressed in "ghetto" attire and eat watermelon-all to demonstrate
their disdain for African-Americans and for the celebration of Black History Month.

These incidents, added to the detention of Muslim student demonstrators earlier in February at the University of California campus in Irvine, have both exacerbated racial and ethic tensions throughout the University of California system, and cast light on the under-representation of Black students throughout the system.

At UCSD, for example, incoming Black freshmen represent less than 2 percent of the class of 2013, even though African-Americans make up more than 10% of the area population. For some in the "majority" community, this level of diversity is acceptable, since the USCD is touted as a "research" campus (translation: Blacks are expected to matriculate elsewhere, where "lower" academic standards prevail).

However, the incidents on and around the UCSD campus reflect hard-core racist attitudes that simply cannot be dismissed as insensitive pranks or demonstrations of bad taste.

Arguably, the national climate of race relations is still troubling, and reflective of deep sentiments of both racism ( in the examples of the noose and the "Compton Picnic" incidents), and Islamic xenophobia at UC-Irvine. Some students apparently feel that it is safe to display openly racist and hateful sentiments. Others, perhaps, feel the same way about people of color but are a little more circumspect about expressing themselves so openly.

Racist demonstrations that are tantamount to cross burnings underscore the need for a deeper examination of the need for real pluralism and a a more open discourse on racism in America. And the unfortunate incidents on these two prestigious University of California campuses underscore the reality that racism still festers in American society.

Just as students challenged racial segregation in the 1960's, they must rise up and organize to challenge it again in its most ugly, recent manifestations.

Ibrahim Ramey