Sunday, February 27, 2005

Krauthammer: A fence to enforce peace

Charles Krauthammer has a very solid piece analyzing the state of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, notably the two unilateral actions that Israel has undertaken, and how they fit into a general defensive strategy: 1. unilateral withdrawal from Gaza, and 2. building of the security fence (mostly) along the Green Line. Krauthammer is more neocon-esque than I and paints the security fence as essential to circumventing the perception that the Gaza withdrawal is a "reward" for terror; I personally think that the fence's merit stands on its own (pun unintended), and that the Gaza withdrawal was essentially an untenable over-exposure of the Israeli security posture to begin with.

His point about the efficacy of the Gaza fence is well-taken, however. I have been convinced for some time that the fence is an essential step for peace, not as punishment of the Palestinians but rather as a means to thwart the "bomber's veto". Most Palestinian sympathizers will argue the fence is unjust; I refer them to Jonathan Edelstein's excellent comments about the various diplomatic and economic pressures at work that have largely kept the fence from being an overt land-grab. Most Israeli sympathizes will dismiss my fear that there will be no West Bank withdrawal, however. I am not yet as convinced as Krauthammer that the Israeli Right has matured and truly "chosen two". Still, this is a hopeful sign, especially with the real reforms that Mahmoud Abbas has been undertaking on the Palestinian side.

Full text of the article posted at Dean Nation below the fold.

Monday, February 21, 2005

hirabah, the muharib, and hujjat

via praktike, this great transcript of a radio interview with Khaled Abou el Fadl, who I have mentioned before in my hirabah post. This is a lengthy essay which deserves full respect and I will not even attempt to sumarize it here, other than noting that El Fadl essentially reveals the framework upon a free society could be built within the context of Islam. I note with interest the part about Ali AS commanding the Qur'an to speak - there's alot more depth to that riwayat (anecdote), in the Shi'a tradition, than appears at first glance.

Paul "Bird Dog" also found an older link with some of El Fadl's thoughts on the moral foundation of just war, as articulated by 11th century jurists. The pre-eminent Islamic dynasty of that era was the Fatimid dynasty in Egypt, the direct antecedents of my own sect, the Dawoodi Bohras. Excerpts follow:

Building upon the proscriptions of the Prophet Muhammad, Muslim jurists insisted that there are legal restrictions upon the conduct of war. In general, Muslim armies may not kill women, children, seniors, hermits, pacifists, peasants or slaves unless they are combatants. Vegetation and property may not be destroyed, water holes may not be poisoned, and flame-throwers may not be used unless out of necessity, and even then only to a limited extent. Torture, mutilation and murder of hostages were forbidden under all circumstances. Importantly, the classical jurists reached these determinations not simply as a matter of textual interpretation, but as moral or ethical assertions. The classical jurists spoke from the vantage point of a moral civilization, in other words, from a perspective that betrayed a strong sense of confidence in the normative message of Islam. In contrast to their pragmatism regarding whether a war should be waged, the classical jurists accepted the necessity of moral constraints upon the way war is conducted.

Fadl also expands the concept of hirabah by mentioning the term those classical jurists had for those who wage it, the muharib (the root Arabic word is the same, just as the root words for jihad and muhajedin are the same):

Muslim jurists reacted sharply to these groups, considering them enemies of humankind. They were designated as muharibs (literally, those who fight society). A muharib was defined as someone who attacks defenseless victims by stealth, and spreads terror in society. They were not to be given quarter or refuge by anyone or at any place. In fact, Muslim jurists argued that any Muslim or non-Muslim territory sheltering such a group is hostile territory that may be attacked by the mainstream Islamic forces. Although the classical jurists agreed on the definition of a muharib, they disagreed about which types of criminal acts should be considered crimes of terror. Many jurists classified rape, armed robbery, assassinations, arson and murder by poisoning as crimes of terror and argued that such crimes must be punished vigorously regardless of the motivations of the criminal. Most importantly, these doctrines were asserted as religious imperatives. Regardless of the desired goals or ideological justifications, the terrorizing of the defenseless was recognized as a moral wrong and an offense against society and God.

The basic point here is that when combating terrorism from within the Islamic framework, there is a rich vein to mine. Via Laura, the tactic of hujjat[1] to promote the moral foundation that Islam provides has already been successfully pursued in Yemen, with impressive results:

When Judge Hamoud al-Hitar announced that he and four other Islamic scholars would challenge Yemen's Al Qaeda prisoners to a theological contest, Western antiterrorism experts warned that this high-stakes gamble would end in disaster.

Nervous as he faced five captured, yet defiant, Al Qaeda members in a Sanaa prison, Judge Hitar was inclined to agree. But banishing his doubts, the youthful cleric threw down the gauntlet, in the hope of bringing peace to his troubled homeland.

"If you can convince us that your ideas are justified by the Koran, then we will join you in your struggle," Hitar told the militants. "But if we succeed in convincing you of our ideas, then you must agree to renounce violence."

The prisoners eagerly agreed.

Now, two years later, not only have those prisoners been released, but a relative peace reigns in Yemen. And the same Western experts who doubted this experiment are courting Hitar, eager to hear how his "theological dialogues" with captured Islamic militants have helped pacify this wild and mountainous country, previously seen by the US as a failed state, like Iraq and Afghanistan.

"Since December 2002, when the first round of the dialogues ended, there have been no terrorist attacks here, even though many people thought that Yemen would become terror's capital," says Hitar, eyes glinting shrewdly from beneath his emerald-green turban. "Three hundred and sixty-four young men have been released after going through the dialogues and none of these have left Yemen to fight anywhere else."..

...Seated amid stacks of Korans and religious texts, Hitar explains that his system is simple. He invites militants to use the Koran to justify attacks on innocent civilians and when they cannot, he shows them numerous passages commanding Muslims not to attack civilians, to respect other religions, and fight only in self-defense.

For example, he quotes: "Whoever kills a soul, unless for a soul, or for corruption done in the land - it is as if he had slain all mankind entirely. And, whoever saves one, it is as if he had saved mankind entirely." He uses the passage to bolster his argument against bombing Western targets in Yemen - attacks he says defy the Koran. And, he says, the Koran says under no circumstances should women and children be killed.

If, after weeks of debate, the prisoners renounce violence they are released and offered vocational training courses and help to find jobs.

Hitar's belief that hardened militants trained by Osama bin Laden in Afghanistan could change their stripes was initially dismissed by US diplomats in Sanaa as dangerously naive, but the methods of the scholarly cleric have little in common with the other methods of fighting extremism. Instead of lecturing or threatening the battle-hardened militants, he listens to them.

"An important part of the dialogue is mutual respect," says Hitar. "Along with acknowledging freedom of expression, intellect and opinion, you must listen and show interest in what the other party is saying."

Only after winning the militants' trust does Hitar gradually begin to correct their beliefs. He says that most militants are ordinary people who have been led astray. Just as they were taught Al Qaeda's doctrines, he says, so too can they be taught more- moderate ideas. "If you study terrorism in the world, you will see that it has an intellectual theory behind it," says Hitar. "And any kind of intellectual idea can be defeated by intellect."...

..."It's only logical to tackle these people through their brains and heart," says Faris Sanabani, a former adviser to President Abdullah Saleh and editor-in-chief of the Yemen Observer, a weekly English-language newspaper. "If you beat these people up they become more stubborn. If you hit them, they will enjoy the pain and find something good in it - it is a part of their ideology. Instead, what we must do is erase what they have been taught and explain to them that terrorism will only harm Yemenis' jobs and prospects. Once they understand this they become fighters for freedom and democracy, and fighters for the true Islam," he says.

Some freed militants were so transformed that they led the army to hidden weapons caches and offered the Yemeni security services advice on tackling Islamic militancy. A spectacular success came in 2002 when Abu Ali al Harithi, Al Qaeda's top commander in Yemen, was assassinated by a US air-strike following a tip-off from one of Hitar's reformed militants...

...As the relative success of Yemen's unusual approach becomes apparent, Hitar has been invited to speak to antiterrorism specialists at London's New Scotland Yard, as well as to French and German police, hoping to defuse growing militancy among Muslim immigrants.

US diplomats have also approached the cleric to see if his methods can be applied in Iraq, says Hitar.
"Before the dialogues began, there was only one way to fight terrorism, and that was through force," he says. "Now there is another way: dialogue."

This approach is the key to solving the terror problem within the Islamic world. It will take time. But the tools are there, forseen by Allah to have been of need.

[1] literally, "proof". Yhe concept means to engage in rigorous argument with assertions supported by universal and non-controversial facts. There is a strong tradition of hujjat, especially in the Shi'a tradition. Here is a good example of hujjat upon the most common topic, the ascension of Ali AS, based on arguments from mostly Sunni sources.

Aside. The link also goes into Fadl's analysis of Wahabbism and Salafism. I want to reiterate my point that Wahabism is no more objectionable than is strict Puritanism or evangelical Christianity. It is the extremists within Waabbism that are the problem. I of course defend CAIR on similar grounds, and do not draw the dichotomy of "good vs bad" that Paul applied to CAIR vs other groups like FreeMuslims and ISCA. These organizations play complementary roles in domestic American muslim politics, and demonization of one should be a warning to the others that the Daniel Pipes standard of "moderate" is unattainable.

The role of the Brass Crescent

I was recently asked to describe in more detail the purpose of the Brass Crescent Awards, so here are some thoughts.

The basic concept was to promote muslim voices in the blogsphere. Given the blogsphere's expanding role in influencing the traditional media, both press and punditry, I wanted to make sure that the Islamsphere did not get overlooked, and so retain a voice in shaping the influence of the blogsphere as a whole. I don't want muslim voices to be marginalized online as they pretty much have been in domestic politics or foreign policy.

The name "Brass Crescent" is a reference, like the City of Brass blog itself, to the story in The Arabian Nights' Thousand and One Tales. That story is fundamentally about the transience of the glories of a civilization past. I think that the present-day muslim world is living very much in the shadow if its own past, and that the muslim blogsphere is something truly fresh and forward thinking. In a sense, we are crafting the very foundation of a new dialouge and muslim identity, one that isn't focused so much on glories past but rather on possibilities ahead. By calling them the Brass Crescent Awards, we refer to the past, but also remind ourselves of its limitations - and garner appropriate humility as we proceed ahead.

A further observation about the byline on City of Brass blog itself, "maghrib of one age, fajr of another". I think we truly are at the fajr (dawn) of a new age, not least of which due to the Iraq war which will have undeniable consequences in shaping the future of the middle east, but also because that nascent democracy, with all the challenges ahead, is coming into being at the same time as the Islamic blogsphere and maturity of the internet medium. That has never happenned before, and as the spate of Iraqi blogs demonstrate, it is a synergy that is being exploited creatively. Recall that it was the pamphleteers in the Original Colonies who did the most to spread their message of rebellion against the British King in the 18th century; will blogs play the same role in Iran? How will the middle class in Iraq use blogs, will it help them preserve the newfound freedom from tyranny, will it help them respond and formulate their own messages and vision to compete with the Ba'athist remnants and foreign jihadis? We often pay too much attention to the forces of destruction and anarchy at work in the muslim world. The result of those forces are indeed Cities of Brass. But there are other forces at work on a much more fundamental scale whose influence upon the "historical now" will only be clear in decades' time.

And regarding the maghrib (sunset), there are numerous empires of the present day whose time may indeed be limited. Will the tyrants in the muslim world go the way of Saddam Hussein? Or even Muamar Qadafi? Both are progress, though of varying stripes. In addition, the best Islamic country in the world, the United States, is itself at a semi-existential crisis of its own. There are grave challenges ahead for the United States with regard to the direction the country has taken, and there are plenty of lessons in history for previous healthy democracies that fell from forces within rather than external enemies. That's more a tangential topic but the point is that this present day is a true historical nexus, from which everything (especially my beloved nation, America) may emerge unscathed and and stronger. But there is unquestionably some non-negligible risk now that it may not. While I am generally an optimist about America, there would be ironies indeed if the Arab world were to finally achieve constituional liberalism and the United States were to lose it a few decades hence as a result of events set in motion today, under the rhetoric of "freedom on the march". Is liberty a zero-sum game?

Wednesday, February 9, 2005


The dawn of the new year is a poignant time for a Shi'a, for it heralds the beginning of the ten days of Ashara, the martyrdom of Imam Husain AS. I have chosen to pay homage by reproducing the intro to the book, A Story of Faith, by Rashidabhen Ghadiali of Mumbai, which tells the history and background of this event:

Rasulullah (SAW) himself had declared that the community of Islam would split into seventy-two fragments and one more, before the Day of Judgement. Hardly had Rasulullah passed away, when the first major split occurred when tempted by the wealth and power of the Islamic world, a large group of the Muslims acknowledged Abu Bakr as their leader, choosing to forget that Rasulullah had, in the presence of seventy thousand people sworn that Ali was heir to all that he, Rasulullah, was Maula of. The community of Islam reeled. Rasulullah had died. If that was not catastrophe enough, his companions had already betrayed the pledge. To maintain calm in a time of such distress, Maulana Ali AS refrained from the assertion of his rights, choosing forebearance, telling Maulatena Fatema AS as the muezzin's voice asserted that Rasulullah was the messenger of Islam, "Why do I keep silent? Because if I lifted the sword you would not hear your father's name in the azaan anymore."

Abu Bakr, Umar, Usman, died one after another. Maulana Ali had always been leader of the mumineen whether or not he controlled the Islamic empire. But now, he ascended the caliphate for four years until his death. After him, his son, Imam Hasan AS was designated caliph. Muawiya, son of Abu Sufyan, found this unbearable and violently claimed the post. Imam Hasan made peace with Muawiya, appearing to acede to his claim to political leadership while in Medina, he continued with his quiet work. Imam Hasan was poisoned and died a little while later, and Imam Husayn suceeded him as the second Imam of the Shias.

In Damascus, the political centre of the Umaiyyads, Yazid succeeded Muawiya. He was aware that in Medina Imam Husayn still called people to Islam and the Shias continued to follow and revere him whether or not he offered them a chance to rule the world. The deen of Islam showed no signs of weakening and day by day Husayn's strength grew. Incensed, he sent word to Imam Husayn to come to his court and offer him a pledge of allegiance in order to ensure that Imam Husayn would never be a threat to him. Husayn went to Syria and found Yazid drinking wine, playing with dogs, allowing the dancers to entertain him, and enraged and impassioned at the mockery of the faith, Imam Husayn swore that he would never pledge loyalty to this man.

Yazid threatened by the power of the son of Maulana Ali and fearing the wrath of the idealistic Shias, had Imam Husayn slaughtered by Shimr, with his two sons, sixteen other men from the family, and fifty-four others, after starving them all, depriving them of water for three days in the blazing heat, before outnumbering each one by a thousand in one of the most heartrending battles in the history of mankind.

And so Imam Husain was martyred, and that was on 10th Muharram - Yawm - e Ashura. Ya Husain!

This is a time for grief, reflection, and ibadat. Nothing else.

These are some marathiya recited by members of my community that commmemorate Imam Husain AS:

Mubarak to everyone for the dawn of this year, 1426 Hijri.

Many more can be found at's audio archive in Arabic, Urdu and Lisan al Dawat.

Friday, February 4, 2005


It's pretty fashionable nowadays to take a hiatus - hey, if Andrew Sullivan is doing it, it's gotta be cool - but with an impending PhD dissertation to write I think that I've got more pressing priorities. I'll be back around June or so if all goes well. In the meantime, check out Dean Nation, where I might post occassionally, and where the rest of the blog team there is still going strong.

Save Hubble

V838 Monocerotis (a star 20,000 light years away) "stellar outburst, captured by Hubble Space Telescope in October 2004
The photo at right is just one example of the awe-inspiring capabilities of the Hubble Space Telescope. The telescope's funding is perpetually threatened with cutbacks or cancellation. Such actions are penny-wise pound-foolish, because as this photo illustrates, the Hubble is a window into the realm of the scientific divine.

The HST is a source of inspiration to those seeking a career in science, and of reflection upon the Cosmos and Creation to those who are students of the divine. To those such as myself, who are both, it is simply a source of awe - the embodiment of pride in our technical skills and humility at the vistas it reveals.

We have an obligation not just to American science but to the world to preserve this tool, until auch time as it can be replaced with something even better.

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

Star Trek Enterpise canceled

Boldly gone, where all too many Star Treks have gone before.

If the franchise takes 5 years off, and comes back with new people at the helm (and not Berman or Braga - they had their chance, it's time for fresh blood), it might actually be something that can reignite fandom again.

Star Trek's roots are in social criticism, raw idealism, and triumphalism about the human spirit. There was very little of any of those themes in Star Trek series in recent years. A return to roots is neccessary, especially since the bar has been raised on production values (Battlestar Galactica), story arc writing (Babylon 5) and character development (Farscape).

Or, they could just hire Wil Wheaton as the next captain - playing a different character than Wesley Crusher, natch - give him a starship, and set him loose.

Just stop having episodes with Nazis. Or on historical Earth. Or both.

I confess that I haven't even been watching Enterprise for two years. I was just reading The Jammer's episode reviews to keep up with canon.

Tuesday, February 1, 2005

Zen and the art of blogroll maintenance

A Fistful of Euros is hosting their first annual awards contest for European blogs, the Satin Pajama Awards. As with the Brass Crescent (which AFOE was kind enough to plug), these awards are less a popularity contest and more a high-pass filter for finding great blogs.

I've added a few blogs and categories to my blogroll. I still do not provide (or request) reciprocal links, as per current blogroll policy. I favor short blogrolls of a select few blogs rather than a lengthy list because I think that some filtering is neccessary given the vast array of potential reading material out there. Being informed is important, but information overload only serves to raise the noise floor.

I added a section on group blogs, populated with those that I think have a good dynamic of internal communication between front page posters. Group blogs rae often the hoghest quality debate because the conversation is filtered down to a select few people with specific areas of expertise (either overlapping, complementary, or both). I rarely read or participate in comments on such blogs; I am visiting for the marquee event, not the sideshow.

Another section is titled "neolibs" which is my attempt to label the emergent strain of classical liberalism as an identity in its own right in the blogsphere. The main criteria here is a blog which discusses the universality of freedom but which is not bound by a partisan perspective; namely, the principled pragmatists. This includes group blogs like The Arabist Network which talk about middle east freedoms from an institutional perspective and blogs like Abu Aardvark which focuses more on the media aspect (ie the Arab press). I have lured praktike to post at Dean Nation which I envision being a role model for neolib politics, or "purple" nation politics, on both foreign policy issues as well as domestic (but with a more progressive rather than libertarian emphasis). Hence, I feel justified in including Dean Nation amongst the list.

Finally, I've got some new thinkers up, including Wretchard at The Belmont Club who like Steven den Beste before him provides for immensely useful material with which I can disagree. I have utmost respect for wrechard despite his tendency to be even more blindly loyal to the Administration than Steven was. Still, such filters are evident and can be taken into account when reading his work.

As usual, I welcome suggestions for more blogs in any category, but I have a definite need to maintain brevity else I will never be able to keep up.

Closing note - I did regretfully drop Head Heeb from my blogroll after continous presence there for three years, solely because the wider African perspective adopted by Jonathan and his new guest posters is not really among my priorities. However, as with Thomas Nephew and Demosthenes, Jonathan's blog is one I still find myself reading via other arrival vectors.