Monday, July 19, 2010

Propaganda May Rage, But It Still Isn't Truth

We live in an information age where it is possible for many impressionable people to believe that,if they see something on the internet, then it must be true. But there still needs to be both an intellectual and a moral filter present in human perception to separate lies from truths, and fiction from fact.

In the case of the current media frenzy concerning the planned construction of an Islamic worship and community center in the neighborhood of the September 11th, 2001 militant attack on New York City, propagandists from the radical political Right are doing everything possible to stir up a climate of fear, anger, and even hatred, directed not only at the Cordoba Initiative but at MAS, and by extension, the collective Muslim community of New York City and America.

The planned facility, even though it is certainly not on the location where the aircraft struck the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, is being vilified as an "Islamic supremacist" mosque and an insult to the sensitivities of 9-11 victims' families. Despite the reality of the Cordoba Initiative's clear history of anti-radicalism and positive interfaith bridge-building, Imam Faisal Abdur-Rauf and his wife, Sister Daisy Khan, are vilified as stealth Jihadis bent on the propagation of "Radical Islam" and the desecration of the September 11, 2001 memorial location.

And on a personal note, one such propagandist, armed with little more than her own rage and propensity for hatred of Al-Islam, has characterized me as participating in a "hate-fest against Jews" simply because I attended a rally calling for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza.(Note: U.N. Secretary General Bak Ki-Moon and Nobel Peace Prize winners Desmond Tutu and Mareid Corrigan Maguire, among countless others, have takes the same position against the Israeli blockade of Gaza and the illegal occupation of Palestinian land. Are they Jew-haters, too)?

Yes, there are those who oppose the right of Muslims to establish places of worship in America, despite the total lack of evidence that these mosques, or their organizers, promote violence or intolerance. Muslims, like other people in America, should respect the law, and challenge any and all people who violate it, whether they are Muslim or not. But the same law that we should respect and obey also guarantees religious freedom, and provides for the presumption of innocence until parties are proven guilty.

The drumbeat of attacks and slander against us is not a substitute for truth and reason-two qualities that both define the best of the American historical tradition and illuminate the unsavory conduct of those who violate this tradition for their own political purposes.

Being a Muslim is not a crime, and neither is it an indication of collusion with criminals. We do have a right to assert our freedom to build Islamic houses of worship, as the Mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, stated on the website of the Cordoba Initiative.

On the other had, some Tea Party leaders seethe with anger when others characterize them as being racist, yet they say precious little to repudiate the hateful public remarks that have clearly been made by prominent members of their movement.

We will not engage in name-calling or provocative verbal counter-attacks against those attack us. We will continue to believe in faith over fear, and in the basic decency of the people of the United States. And, deep within my heart, I am certain that the Lord of the Worlds will guide, and protect, all people who seek to do good, even if those people are excoriated by those with other motives in their hearts.


Thursday, July 15, 2010

Is True Religious Freedom in America in Danger?

Is True Religious Freedom in America In Danger?

When American Muslims seek to establish houses of worship, many people outside the Muslim community respond with skepticism, and even disdain. In recent months, for example, numerous mosques in America have been vandalized, and there is even one Christian pastor in Florida who places a sign in front of his church proclaiming that “Islam will take you to Hell”.

All of these things are an ongoing part of the American social mosaic, and the vehement opposition to Islam, particularly from some Christian fundamentalist and pro-Israel proponents is not cause for concern. But what we are witnessing in the current moment of history is an orchestrated attempt, by anti-Muslim organizations, to actually deny Muslims the constitutional right to establish houses of worship, citing every pretext imaginable to cast Islam itself in an un-American, and even sinister, light.

In numerous locations in America-from Murfreesboro, Tennessee to Los Angeles to New York City- anti-Muslim activists are forming coalitions to drum up fear and revulsion for Muslims who attempt to establish new mosques and community centers, or expand existing facilities to better serve growing communities. Blatant fear-mongering is whipped up into a frenzy by forces that insist that Muslims seek to impose “Sharia” on Christians and Jews. Neighborhoods are mobilized by the suspicion that any Muslim organization seeking to build a mosque in league with foreign “extremist” or “terrorist” formations is seeking the ultimate destruction of the American way of life. This is not at all unlike the racist hysteria that pervaded many pre-integration white Southern communities, who trembled at the thought of “race mixing” and the contamination of the morals of upstanding white youth by ‘Negro” music.

This is certainly more than the free expression, by some, of their contempt for Islam as an “anti-Christian” religion. It indicates that there are some who will openly organize to prevent the “Islamization” of America (as they put it), and use both legal and extra-legal tactics to ensure that Muslim communities cannot expand.

There may be a tendency to see such groups as being extreme or politically marginal. But such an evaluation would be false. Already, “respectable” political and community leaders are coming out in increasing numbers to say, quite openly, that Muslims must be challenged and controlled. They have money, political will. and in some cases, the tacit support of mass media as allies in a new Crusade against Islam.

We may well insist that freedom of religion is a cherished civil right in the United States, and that assertion would be correct. But as history painfully teaches us, civil rights mean nothing without the organized commitment to defend them, and to build expanding alliances with other groups that are equally committed to this idea.

In the final analysis, the money that Muslims raise to build ornate mosques and community centers will mean nothing if we lack the legal, financial, and organizational means to defend our legitimate collective interests. MAS Freedom believes in the idea of “faith over fear, and justice for all.”

The great experiment in American democracy also teaches another lesson: there is a great cost for any community that challenges prevailing ideas that under gird racism, bigotry, and the demonization of the group by elements of the larger society.

Freedom is precious, indeed. But we must now collectively understand that freedom isn’t free.

Ibrahim Ramey

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Has President Obama Sold Out the People of Palestine?

If you paid any attention to the photographs and videos from the July 6th meeting between the President of the United States and the Prime Minister of Israel, you could not help but notice Barrack Obama, smiling like a ten year old who just found a dollar in the street, as he talked about the commitment of the United States to the "security" of Israel.

Really? Why was Obama so ebullient in his praise of Netanyahu? I wonder what the consensus of public opinion might have been if our President had bothered to mention the continuing expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank, the housing demolitions in East Jerusalem, the invasive and destructive "security wall" that sliced up Palestinian villages and communities into powerless Arab Bantustans, and, most egregiously, the persistence of systematic economic warfare on the people of Gaza.

It is understandable that the Jewish people, having suffered the monstrous crime of genocide at the hands of the Third Reich, should have a fierce loyalty to the State of Israel. It is also logical that the people the United States should express deep concern for the protection of human life in Israel, as they should be concerned for any human community in the world.

But the plight of the Palestinian people, who are occupied and oppressed by Israel, is nothing to grin about. And that brings up another inconvenient question: Did Netanyahu walk out of his meeting with Obama with carte blanche to continue the occupation and expansionist policies of the Israeli government with almost total impunity, and with a blank check for continued U.S. military and economic support for his dirty deeds?

In the short term, President Obama may have looked at the political calculus of the U.S.-Israel relationship and concluded that the Democratic Party base of support from the pro-Israel community-in terms of both votes and money-necessitated his cuddle-up with Netanyahu.But in the longer term, such a gesture means even more trouble for the U.S., not only in the Arab/Muslim world, but among all people in the world who detest the violence of colonialism and human oppression.

Moreover-and we have General Petraeus to thank for this observation-the uncritical U.S. support for the Israeli regime gives legitimacy to militant anti-Americanism throughout the world, dis-empowers moderate U.S. allies in the Muslim world, endangers the lives of U.S. soldiers, and feeds the recruitment machines of the Taliban and Al-Queda.

In the final analysis, Obama's apparent submission to Netanyahu and the pro-Israel lobby will neither assure him of their political support, nor elevate his stature as a principled moral leader on the global stage. The survival of the Jewish state is not in question, but the protection of the human rights of the people of Palestine most certainly is.

This is, fundamentally, a question of whether America is willing to take a principled stand against blatant human oppression and the violation of international laws perpetrated by a U.S. ally. Our president has nothing to grin about concerning this matter, and neither do we.

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Is the War in Afghnistan About Protecting Democracy, or Protecting Capital?

A lot of people in the United States may have missed this story, but in May, President Horst Koehler of Germany was forced to resign from his very visible (but largely ceremonial) position in the German Government. Why is this important? Simply because Herr Koehler was quoted as saying that Germany's military deployment in Afghanistan was done "to protect our (German) interests, such as preserving free trade routes or preventing regional instabilities, which are also certain to regularly impact our (German) ability to safeguard trade, jobs, and income."

President Koehler's statement infuriated a German public that had been led to believe that the German military presence in Afghanistan was essentially a "peace keeping" mission - not a resource war. The blunt honesty of these words were troubling to a nation that, while a vital part of the NATO alliance (and the third largest troop contingent in Afghanistan, after the United States and Great Britain), is committed (militarily, at least), to non-aggression. And all of this happened weeks before a huge news story announcing a geological finding of vast strategic mineral deposits in Afghanistan, which may be worth an estimated one to three trillion dollars, at current market prices. One of these minerals, Lithium, is vital in the alternative energy industry, while another, Niobium, is an essential component in the making of cellular phones.

And that is in addition to the vast deposits of Gold, Copper, Cobalt, and Iron!

Germans were troubled that one of their political leaders told them that foreign troops in Afghanistan are there for reasons related to markets, and not saving the country from the Osama Bin-Ladens of the world. But how would the American public react to the same statement if it had been made by President Obama- or General Petraeus?

If you begin to connect the dots, it becomes apparent that the war in Afghanistan is about much more than chasing the Taliban out of the country, or supporting the construction of "Democracy". It is certainly true that marauding bands of anti-modernist religious extremists are not conducive to the evolution of peace and popular rule in that nation. But it's also true that the enormous human and economic cost of the war in Afghanistan is about more than "Democracy" or "Freedom", which, in any case, cannot be imposed on people by outside invaders.

The United States has seemingly recovered from the effects of the recent "regime change" in the U.S. Afghanistan military command, concluding that General Stanley McCrystal deserved to get bounced after publicly dissing the President and virtually the whole U.S. national security team.

McCrystal's departure from the scene, and the entrance of General Petraeus, was a war management change. But there has been no serious national conversation about either morality (as in the killing of untold Afghan civilians), or motive (as in, what economic interests are on the table) as they relate to the mounting U.S. combat death toll or the growing sense that the United States, and its allies, aren't winning the war.

Germany has, admittedly, a smaller stake in this outcome than America: some 5,350 German troops will be in Afghanistan by August, and only 42 of them have died there this far. But the essence of former President Koehler's words are no less true for the United States than they are for the German people.

The political leadership in America doesn't like the terms "capitalism" or "imperialism" when used to define the policies of the nation. But if the Afghanistan deployment project is essentially about extending and protecting business interests and the control of resources, and not about defeating an insurgency. President Obama must explain that to this nation - and especially to the families of the 1,062 U.S. soldiers who were sent to die in Afghanistan because they were told something very different.

Ibrahim Ramey