Thursday, June 24, 2010

Standing With Muslim Youth-And Against Extremism

Five Muslim-American youth from Virginia, who traveled to Pakistan in 2009 and allegedly met with representatives of banned organizations, were convicted in a Pakistani court on June 23rd of conspiracy against the state, and funding a terrorist organization.

The youth-Ahmed Abdullah Minall, Aman Hassan Yemer, Waqur Khan, Umer Farooq, and Ramy Zamzam- all come from the northern Virginia area. They receive sentences of 10 years at hard labor in a Pakistani prison. None of them have previous histories of criminal activity or had expressed intentions, while in America, or any desire to support armed anti-American resistance activities while in Pakistan.

Prior to their sentencing, the young men claimed that they were victims of torture while in Pakistani custody and that the evidence presented against them in court by the prosecutors in the case had been fabricated.

But while these convictions were met with great concern and sadness from the Muslim-American community, they raise another serious issue: impressionable Muslim young men being swayed by the allure of militant anti-American “Jihadis”, and the consequence, for the young people, for their families, and most of all, for the entire Muslim community, are nothing short of disastrous.

There is evidence that these convictions will be appealed to a higher court in Pakistan, and many Muslims in the United States are hopeful that these young people will eventually be found innocent of these extremely serious charges. And, in fact, the U.S. wars in both Iraq and Afghanistan are opposed by a sizable portion of the Muslim population in this nation.

But many Muslim leaders also know that young men who struggle with feelings of alienation from American foreign policy, or who oppose the U.S. government collaboration with the Israeli occupation of Palestine, might be tempted into the kind of naive adventurism that would lead them to leave America and seek common cause with extremist groups.

MAS Freedom does support the right of appeal for the young men convicted in Pakistan, and we hope that all the relevant facts in their case will be brought to light. We are well aware that in the current political climate of “anti-terrorism” zeal, innocent people have been, and continue to be, unjustly accused of conspiracy against the U.S. government, or in this case, an American ally.

Now, at this critical moment in Muslim American history, we need to stand with our youth, and help them resist the temptation to take any actions that will only likely result in their imprisonment, or their death. Muslims do have legitimate issues that must be heard. But we should advocate for the political and social empowerment of our community, and especially of our youth, in ways that are both consistent with the morality of our faith and our adherence to the laws of the land.

All of us should pray and hope for the best for the five young Muslim men convicted in Pakistan. But we must also work seriously to implement the MAS vision of our “Straight Path” program that challenges injustice effectively, and without the possibility of the terrible consequences of unnecessary death or imprisonment that all too often lie at the end of those fateful, and fruitless, collaborations with the “enemies” of America.

Monday, June 7, 2010

U.S. Power Must Do the Right Thing for Gaza, Israel, and Humanity

As Israel continues to play plays the role of the playground bully in Gaza, the United States government is left to struggle with a profound political dilemma: should America keep arming and financing a nation that is rapidly becoming an international pariah, or should the United States demand a radical change in
Israeli policy and risk the extreme antagonism and backlash from the massive, and well-funded, pro-Israel lobby and political/media machinery?

There is, without a doubt, a price to be paid for doing the right thing and pressing for an end to the economic strangulation of Gaza. But the political calculus facing the Obama administration should also recognize that there are some major benefits in taking a different line with Tel Aviv on the question f the Gaza embargo.

1. Pressing to end the embargo would strengthen. America's image and prestige in the Muslim world. Remember how President Obama declared last June in his famous Cairo speech that American is not, and would never be, at war with Islam? Well, here's the perfect way to prove it. Muslims across the globe, and across the entire political spectrum, detest the Israeli treatment of Palestinians in general,and the people of Gaza specifically. If America truly cares about protecting the human rights of the downtrodden throughout the world, here is the one most politically salient one way to demonstrate it.

2. Stopping the embargo also protects the people of Gaza from the rise of armed extremists even more "radical" than Hamas. Despite their 'terrorist" designation by the State Department, Hamas is actually an elected government in Gaza that faces a rising challenge from smaller formations that are anxious to unleash even more rocket attacks and suicide missions against Israel. Those groups have not yet attracted a huge following in Gaza. But just last Summer, some 21 members of a radical group were killed by Hamas security forces in an attempt to create an Islamic "Caliphate" in Southern Gaza. Some observers foresee a scenario in which Hamas will, at some point, be unable to prevent even more armed retaliations against Israel.

3. Using U.S. power responsibly is an affirmation of the rule of international law over the paranoia of settler colonialism. Israeli claims that the interception of the Gaza- bound aid vessels( in international waters) was done in self-defense is, of course, bogus: motorized wheel chairs and text books aren't weapons. But the imposition of collective punishment by Israel on the civilian population of Gaza is, indeed, a violation of international law, under the terms of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Compelling Israel to stop would be a signal that the United States stands for the rule of international law, even when that rule puts the USA at odds with an ally.

4. A positive United States intervention in the Gaza boycott could be the catalyst for the growing nonviolent response, in both Palestine and Israel, to the conditions on the ground in Gaza and the West Bank. This might seem to be far-fetched, but what if U.S. naval vessels were to accompany future humanitarian aid flotillas,and "pre-inspect" the vessels to guarantee to Israel that they were not transporting weapons? I doubt that Israeli commandos would try to intercept American naval ships. And this action would send a overwhelmingly positive message to the global community. It would also serve to create more political space for the evolution of a different, non-violent possibility for the people of both Palestine and Israel.

The current United States position of arming Israel to the teeth and tacitly supporting Israeli settler colonialism and the immoral, and illegal, economic blockade of the people of Gaza (and all of Palestine) serves the rational interests of no one-not the people of Palestine, not the people of Israel, and certainly, not the people of the United States of America.

Indeed, it is possible ( I am ever the optimist ) that Palestinians and Israelis can co-exist in peace, with guarantees for the security and human rights for both national communities. all. But in order for this to ever happen, America must abandon its unilateral support for the Israeli actions that make peace and reconciliation virtually impossible, and that drive more Palestinians into the no-win position of endless, futile military confrontation with the Israeli war machine.

People of conscience and integrity, from Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu and Mairead Corrigan Maguire to Pope Benedict XVI, to the Secretary General of the United Nations, have called for Israel to end to the Gaza embargo. The European Union has done the same. None of them are anti-Semites or "Jew-haters".

Now, what is required, much more than the call for "caution" and "investigation", in the courage for the United States to break free from the pro-Israel lobby and do the right thing for international law, for peace, and ultimately, for all of humanity. AIPAC does not represent the Jewish people or, frankly, the real interests of the people of Israel.

The time for American political equivocation is over. The voices of suffering people are calling for the United States to stand with oppressed and suffering people for the sake of justice and peace. Are you listening, President Obama?

Ibrahim Abdil-Mu'id Ramey