Thursday, July 28, 2005

Brass Crescent links roundup

With all the muslim meta-blogging activity of late, it's long past overdue for another Brass Crescent links roundup. This is as usual a collection of excerpts from posts within the larger Islamsphere, not just restricted to practicing muslim blogs, which I found particularly thought-provoking and of relevance to the Islamic community.

ihath has penned another long piece which is titled "Adventures of a boring sinner in Lotus-land". ihath is no longer a practicing muslim, and writes here (with some tounge in cheek, as is her indomiytable style) about a quest to sin successfully, which is a lot harder to achieve than she expected. It's a piece with a lot of wit and heart, as usual - but this part particularly struck me:

Oh how cruel this cosmic joker is. He sends me to the holy lands to lose my religion and then back to lotus land to experience spirituality. He must have watched too many monty python episodes or something.

Few weeks ago, my daughter was learning about world religions in her social studies class. She asked that I give her some things from our Muslim heritage for show and tell for her class. I dig up my old prayer rug from the closet, find a copy of the Qur'an in the library with the beautifully decorated test, I find a piece of dirt from holy city of Najaf that all she'a seem to carry. Suddenly I find tears in my eyes. I wipe them off and dismiss them as fake sentimentality.

ihath has a way of lulling the reader into thinking she is writing frivolously, but then hitting you with a dose of authentic insight. I am reminded of (proud atheist) Razib's recent mention of still knowing the Surat al Fatiha by heart - and feeling a chill down his spine when he hears the azaan (call to prayer) aloud. Perhaps it is time to explicitly define a broader "Islamic" identity which transcends religious belief. More on this later.

Next in the roundup is a thoughtful essay in the Christian Science Monitor by Shadi Hamid, reflecting on the London attacks of 7/7/05. Hamid's prescription does not differ from what other muslim-Americans have been saying must be done, but is worth repeating here:

...national Islamic organizations and local mosques must do more to encourage political integration of young American Muslims. Most Muslims will continue to oppose the Bush administration's policies abroad, especially its unbalanced approach to the Palestinian conflict and its continued support for various Arab and Muslim autocracies. Yet, at the same time, an effort should be made to convince young, easily impressionable Muslims that the key to change lies not in a return to some idealized notion of an Islamic state, but rather in a pragmatic, nuanced approach to involvement in the American political process.
Muslims must rediscover their religion's deep respect for the sanctity of human life - whether the lives in question are British, Iraqi, or Israeli. The Muslim community's inability or unwillingness to speak out against suicide bombing in Israel is reflective of the moral depths to which we've so tragically sunk. Some things in life are morally ambiguous. The killing of Israelis in cafes and pizzerias, however, is not one of them. When we argue that the immorality or illegality of suicide bombing is contingent upon political considerations, we're on a dangerously slippery slope.

If these steps are taken, the preachers of hate will find it harder to gain support in the Muslim community.

There are parts of Hamid's essay that are aimed at a non-muslim audience, but given my blog's focus I chose to excerpt the paras above rather than those. That doesn't mean that they are more or less important, however.

Next is a diary at, posted by jadedmara, who is no longer a believer but who still counts herself as within an Islamic identity - and whose family remains believers. Responding to the way that Republican congressman Tom Tancredo's remarks about bombing Mecca were disturbingly embraced by many Republicans, she wrote passionately about how her party needs to make it clear that this is not a war on Islam:

WE are the Muslims that are offended by Tancredo's remarks. WE are the Muslims who do denouce terrorism and Usama and al-Qaida and all those who support him, whether overtly or by sympathy. WE are the ones who are trying what we can do to change the Muslim worldview that most on RedState so denouce,yet WE are being blamed for doing nothing.

I'm not usually melodramatic; I'm not usually PC. After all, I'm a fellow Republican. However, the prevailing view of most of the editors on RedState regarding Islam saddens me. I understand that we shouldn't whitewash and say that Islam is a peaceful religion, without any sort of atoning for what is being done in our name. I am furious with the Muslim masses who consider any form of terrorism justifiable. But I'm sick and tired of myself and my family being painted with a broad brush as belonging to a community of hatred.

I think that her perspective is an important one - she's a conservative, and she's not a practicing muslim, but she is within Islamic culture and feels the same association that we do. Our goals are the same, even if our political loyalties differ. Excluding voices like hers because she is a member of the GOP or no longer practicing is foolish, because it is people like her who are our best hope for countering the ignorance of the people like Tom Tancredo and those who would support him.

If by this point you've detected a theme - responses to the ramifications of the London bombings - it's because I am as unsubtle as a freight train :) Let us now turn to sepoy at A Chapati Mystery, who has a landmark series of essays which are simply must-reads - they really are a single long post, broken into four pieces. These are in order: London 2005, That Terror Thing II, That Terror Thing III, and That Terror Thing IV. OK, so Part III is a bit of a break, but it's still somehow fitting. This excerpt from Part IV is particularly important, however:

The jihadist aim is not to bring back some artifact of the Muslim past but to shape the Muslim present on their terms. It is a twisted notion of the ummah that constitutes a fulcrum upon which jihadists construct the worldview persuading a Muslim in Lahore to bear arms for a political cause in Palestine, eg. It is one particular sense of belonging and outrage that the jihadist narrative seeks to emphasize in its propoganda. It may be as broad as the Muslims all over the world or as narrow as the racism-tinged reality of Leeds. To convince a teenager to give his or her life up to avenge wrongs that s/he never experienced is not a task easily accomplished. The appeal of the ummah is that like any other imagined community - say, nationalism - it is far more maleable and powerful than a mere membership in the Super Secret Organization of al-Qaeda Subsidiary, Leeds Branch. The ummah becomes one more tool to give sense to their feelings of dispossession, alienation and uprootedness. Seen this way, what we are talking about is not Islamic theology but social constructions - community, prejudice, fear, belonging. As I mentioned earlier, the language of religion is incidental to this narrative. It is incidental but not irrelevant. Jihadists employ it as cryptic transmitters of their own, twisted worldview. That it gets accepted into the WoT narrative is hardly surprising. That it doesn't get questioned or examined is frustrating.

There is no superstring theory of terrorism. And I am not proposing any, please.

I have also blogged previously on the way that the concept of "Ummah" often interferes with muslim self-interest, a harmful construct rather than a helpful one. What is really needed is a better formulation of Islamic-ness, one that is broader than merely adherence to the faith, but one in which jadedmara, ihath, and Irshad Manji can feel a part of, while also providing a sense of community for dispossessed Pakistani youth in Britain.

What is really needed is not a Reformation of the faith, but rather a redefinition of the faithful. As things stand, we have the allure of fundamentalism in defense of a nebulous Ummah at one ed of the extreme spectrum, and at the other, those like Manji who are obsessed with changing the religion itself to be more accommodating to their preferences. Manji's self-adopted refusenik label smacks more of self-promotion than anything else, but her solutions are ultimately more damaging to the end goal of a more inclusive Islamic identity than helpful. The core of such an Islamic concept must be the Qur'an - as a holy text it is of course abused by the extremists, but there is a depth to it that transcends any single interpretation.

Um Yasmin has actually written an excellent editorial, originally intended for publication in the Australian, addressing Manji's recent expressed desire to excise from the Qur'an those passages that she finds oppressive or objectionable. Entitled "Tampering with the Text", Umm Yasmin shows how such butchery would be self-defeating:

For fourteen centuries (and a hundred or so years in Australia) Muslims have been able to interpret their scripture in enlightened ways, without resorting to wholesale excision. It did not take a trimmed-down Koran to produce Rumi, the most famous Muslim poet, who said: "The middle path is the way to wisdom," or Ibn Arabi, who compared his heart to the Koran, saying: "I follow the religion of Love... this is the true religion."

But if we do attempt this strange immolation of scripture, where should Muslims start and where should they finish? What Manji might find offensive, another might find benign. Who is the ultimate judge of what is offensive and what is palatable? Perhaps if there is potential for violence, we should consider deletion. In the Bible, Jesus instructs his followers to hate their parents, and warned that he was no peace-maker, but that he came with a sword. But it is only the cultic mind who might interpret these statements literally. What if those statements were designed to bear fruit of a different fashion? What if they were deliberately provocative so as to force people to think about them?

William P. White wrote: "The Bible is a harp with a thousand strings. Play on one to the exclusion of its relationship to the others, and you will develop discord. Play on all of them, keeping them in their places in the divine scale, and you will hear heavenly music all the time." Might we not extend that analogy to the other great texts that have produced world civilizations? The Avesta, the Vedas, the Pali Tipitaka, the Tao Te Ching, and the Koran (to name a few) have endured for centuries as mystical books of guidance. There is something in these pre-modern texts that has given humanity the ability to glimpse beyond the everyday, mundane reality. They have been the source of ethics, morality, legal guidance and more for countless generations of humans across the globe. For this reason alone, we should respect their words, and not rush foolhardily into tampering with their precious texts.

Finally, a few quick hits. First is Haroon's excellent response to Tom Friedman's assertion that there aren't enough "fatwas" against terror. Haroon patiently shows Friedman the examples under his nose, and then goes on to helpfully de-mystify just what a fatwa really is. Hint: it's not a religious ruling that must be obeyed. Next comes a link via Thabet at Muslims Under Progress to a letter by Yakoub Islam, responding to the question posed by Charles Moore in the Daily Telegraph, "Where is the Gandhi of Islam?". Unsurprisingly, the letter was not published, but Thabet obtained permission from YI to reproduce it on the blog. Lastly, a somewhat geeky discussion on international relations (IR) theory by Abu Aardvark, which is written in a deliberately triumphalist tone in order to provoke some, er, constructive criticism. The debate between constructivism and rationalism has I think some implications for successful foreign policy with respect to the Islamic world.

Thats about it - the purpose of this roundup is to touch a bit more deeply on what is going on in the Brass Crescent and also to find some common themes. The concept of Islamic community is really the heart of today's roundup, but all the pieces are stimulating in their own right for discussion.

Monday, July 25, 2005

The Brass Donkey and the State of the Ummah

Haroon has proposed a Brass Donkey Awards for the worst muslim blogs - the yang to the Brass Crescent's yin. The categories are as follows:

Brass Donkey Awards
Most Lopsided Blog
Least Interesting Post
Post Most Likely To Have Been Posted By an Uncle
Most Annoying Commenter
Most Incendiary Blogger
Worst Group Blog

Visit avari/nameh to learn more about each category, and nominate your favorite jafis accordingly.

In addition, Maryam of A Dervish's Du'a has begun a "carnival" for muslim blogging, entitled The State of the Ummah, which is akin to the other various blog carnivals like the Carnival of the Liberated and the Blog Mela.

I have not yet coordinated with Shahed, but we will indeed be launching the Brass Crescent Awards for 1426H/2005 in a few months. I also will be continuing my Brass Crescent roundup, which is somewhat similar to the State of the Ummah[1], but more a function of what I personally found interesting rather than a call for submissions. I think they serve complementary functions.

[1] To be honest, I am uncomfortable with the word Ummah, even when used (as by Maryam) in a completely benign manner. I subscribe to Tariq Ramadan's view that the very concept of Dar ul-Islam, when interpreted in any political sense, has been largely harmful to muslims' self interest as a community. I am immediately suspicious and even hostile to any argument that rests upon the "good of the ummah" because I find that such arguments are often a thin cloak of religion upon political aims (or worse). None of this is of course relevant to Maryam's effforts and she is to be lauded for her initiative in trying to bring the community of muslim bloggers together, which is the same aim of the Brass Crescent Awards.

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Al-Jazeera: the Arab NPR

(This post is a condesed version and further reply to a discussion at Dean's World)

I've blogged on Al-Jazeera before, but feel compelled to mention again just how little respect that the Arabic news channel gets from those people most interested in promoting human freedom. That's a shame, because it's one of the few venues for a genuine battle of ideas that exists in the Arab broadcast media. Al-J doesnt shy away from giving air to both extremes of opinion as well as the mushy middle on any given topic. It gets lambasted for showing the POV of the terrorist, but few will also credit the organization for then showing the POV of the Bush Administration immediately afterward (google for how many times Condoleeza Rice has been interviewed on Al J and you will be surprised).

I strongly believe that the way that freedom and liberty are promulgated is by dissemination of speech, when people are exposed to ideas and see for themselves how those ideas fare against each other. Al J isnt a propaganda outlet, as most supporters of the WoT would prefer; instead it is something far more important.

A commentator at Dean's World had the following critique:

The problems people have with Al J, however, go to their news reporting (Al-Jazeera has a practice of describing Palestinian suicide-bombers who strike in Israel as "martyrs")as well as well as their financial affiliation with people like Saddam.

Most of the accusations about AlJ's use of terminology is ultimately sourced to MEMRI, which has an explicit agenda and bias. They are guilty of cherry-picking as well - would we characterize "American Media" as innately hostile to Islam just because one talk radio show had broadcast a sentiment to bomb Mecca by a US Congressman? I could certtainly create the impression that the US was an implacable enemy of Islam by cherrry picking stupid quotes by fools off our diverse media landscape if I chose to (or had an agenda that demanded I do so).

A fairer assessment of AlJ's actual content is provided by Abu Aardvark, who is not Arab but speaks fluent Arabic. Some of his posts on Al-Jazeera include:

How to criticize al Jazeera
Arab TV and Regional Transformation
Bush says the right thing and the Arab media notices

As for financial affiliations, I have not yet read the Jpost article linked to by TD but will do so soon and comment. Still, given that AlJ is an ARAB media organization, it makes sense that there would be financial ties to Arab regimes - but the question is do those ties translate into editorial control? I dont think so. AlJ's distinction is that its been vilified by every single Arab regime for some sacred cow or another - including Saddam Hussein. And its perhaps crass to suggest it, but AlJ has benefited as much from the largesse of war (in terms of advertising revenue and viewership) as did CN from the Persian Gulf War. I really dont see why a fiscal connection automatically should translate into an indictment, especially given that AlJ's programming remains absolutely broad in scope.

This will undercut my argument to some people, but I cant resist the analogy: AlJ is the analogue to NPR in the Arab world. Not the FOX News! That means, warts and all, its the furthest from a media entertainment enterprise, and closest to the ultimate journalistic ideal, as we can reasonably expect in this day and age. Given that AlJ is in the Arab world, however, it stands to do much more good than harm, because debate is sorely lacking there, while one might argue we here have a surplus.

UPDATE: I have read the JPost article and it's a thin reed. Abu Aardvark had already addressed the issue in some detail (responding to the same allegations as published by The Weekly Standard):

The Weekly Standard piece recounts Mohammed Jassem al-Ali's taped meeting with Uday Hussein, for the umpteenth time, but still can't prove that the sycophantic pleasantries add up to "on the payroll" (maintaining good relations with the regime in order to get access to the country, something which all the news organizations did for better or for worse, explains it just as easily). For the record, the fact that al-Ali was "resigned" from his position shortly after the Iraq war suggests to me that he personally might well have been compromised, but the evidence on offer here doesn't prove it.

The piece insinuates that Ahmed Mansour (host of No Limits and the correspondent in Fallujah in April 2004) was on the Iraqi payroll, but the evidence they cite only shows that the Iraqis liked him, not that he was on the Iraqi payroll. There were plenty of other reasons for al-Jazeera to hire Ahmed Mansour, who is one of the most popular and effective talk show hosts in the Arab media.

I see no evidence that Al J sanctioned Al Ali's liason with Saddam; in fact he was dismissed from the channel after the US invasion. My reading of the JPost article hardly supports the contention that ALJ as a media organization was in any kind of fiscal collusion with Saddam's regime.

Given that the role of Al J is to be an Arab media news source, I think it is reasonable for ALJ to try to initiate and maintain a relationship with every regime in teh region, irrespective of its good, bad, or despicable status on human rights. How they use that access is a different matter, and if someone can find evidence that ALJ sanctioned the deliberate softpedaling of Saddam's crimes, especially in return for some kind of financial kickback, that would be far more damning. However, in the meantime, I stand by my assessment that ALJ is being unfairly vilified - and the reason for this vilification campaign is that ALJ refuses to toe the propaganda line and filter one side out.

Monday, July 18, 2005


I have invented a new term. "jafi" - which stands for "just another frothing Islamophobe." You can of course substitute another adjective for "frothing".

I make a distinction between people who are genuinely concerned with the rise of islamic fundamentalism, which fuels islamofascism (note however the distinction), and genuine jafis who are simply ignorant fools.

I am hesitant to label Daniel Pipes a jafi, for example, but he has strayed into jafi territory from time to time. Neither would I label Charles Johnson of LGF a jafi, but his commentators are as frothing a pack of jafis you will ever find.

Today's jafi, however, is Congressman Tom Tancredo (Colorado-R), for suggesting on talk radio that a nuclear strike upon Mecca would be a legitimate response to a nuclear terror attack on US soil:

Colorado congressman says U.S. could retaliate against Islamic holy sites

July 18, 2005, 8:16 AM

DENVER (AP) -- A Colorado congressman told a radio show host that the U.S. could "take out" Islamic holy sites if Muslim fundamentalist terrorists attacked the country with nuclear weapons.

Rep. Tom Tancredo made his remarks Friday on WFLA-AM in Orlando, Fla. His spokesman stressed he was only speaking hypothetically.

Talk show host Pat Campbell asked the Littleton Republican how the country should respond if terrorists struck several U.S. cities with nuclear weapons.

"Well, what if you said something like -- if this happens in the United States, and we determine that it is the result of extremist, fundamentalist Muslims, you know, you could take out their holy sites," Tancredo answered.

"You're talking about bombing Mecca," Campbell said.

"Yeah," Tancredo responded.

I think that the "nuke Mecca" standard is a useful one for establish whether one is a jafi or not.

UPDATE: This guy is clearly a jafi too, but those who support a fatwa against him reveal themselves to be far worse. To any such fool, I ask you: Can the infinite, timeless message of the Qur'an really be harmed by a fat white guy's bladder?

Profile of Salafi jihadists

Razib is beginning a series of posts at GNXP to analyze the intersection of Islam with terrorist organizations. His first post is a review of Marc Sageman's book, Understanding Terror Networks, including a tabulated summary of the relevant demographics. There's a healthy debate in his comment thread as well, where Razib clarifies that the Sageman's analysis is not addressing the global sympathy towards islamofascism, but rather the "the few hundred that have actually actively engaged in jihad against the far enemy of in the dar-al-harb." In other words, the people who are the actual and direct threat, not a broader and circular attempt at defining a self-serving clash of civilizations narrative.

The main question that this debate is trying to address is whether terror arises from socioeconomic roots or not. I think that this is a valid route of inquiry, but not one that will bear much fruit. The real root of terror is not grinding physical oppression, but rather the intellectual oppression that the jihadis universally relate as their motivators - partly imposed as a legacy of the post-colonial world, but also one imposed upon themselves from within, borne of seeing the world with the adopted mantle of vicimization. The focus is presently on Islam, but I think that we are speaking about something far more intrinsic to the human condition.

Thursday, July 7, 2005

Terrorist attacks in London

Multiple explosions rock London

explosions - central London

A bus was ripped apart in an explosion in central London today and several blasts rocked the Tube network leaving dozens of people injured.

The Tube blasts at the height of the rush hour on Thursday were initially blamed on a power surge.

But amid the chaos eyewitnesses reported that a packed double decker bus in the Russell Square area had been severely damaged in a blast.

Union officials blamed the Tube blasts on a series of bombs, and Scotland Yard confirmed the bus explosion and said it was dealing with "multiple explosions" in London.

Tony Blair acknowledged that the attacks were terror-related:

Two people have been killed and scores have been injured after at least seven blasts on the Underground network and a double-decker bus in London.

UK Prime Minister Tony Blair said it was "reasonably clear" there had been a series of terrorist attacks.

He said it was "particularly barbaric" that the attack was timed to coincide with the G8 summit which he would be leaving to return to London.

London's police chief said traces of explosive had been found at one site.

Sir Ian Blair urged people to stay where they were and not to call emergency services unless it was a life-threatening situation.


One caller to BBC Five said his friend had seen "the bus ripped open like a can of sardines and bodies everywhere".

Loyita Worley, who works for a City law firm, said she was on the underground train when an explosion took place in the next carriage, while it was in a tunnel.

The 49-year-old said: "All the lights went out and the train came to an immediate halt. There was smoke everywhere and everyone was coughing and choking, but remained calm. We couldn't open the doors."

Wednesday, July 6, 2005

blogger layout gremlins II

this time, its my fault, I've switched the DOCTYPE to XHTML 1.0 / Transitional. Layout will be wierd for a while until i get all teh validation errors fixed. Bear with me...

UPDATE: fixed, and the blog template now validates to XHTML 1.0 Transitional. Yay! CSS validation is still not 100% due to errors in Blogger's code, not mine. The archive page is also broken, but who is really reading my archives anyway? I'll add a google search box.

Friday, July 1, 2005

Gonzales for SCOTUS: the perfect is the enemy of the good...

It's a shame justice Sandra Day O'Connor is retiring. I always thought she would have made a fine Chief Justice. As one of the most interesting and articulate justices on the court, she will leave a huge vacuum to be filled.

Why not fill it with Gonzales?

To be honest, I think that perhaps it would be an overall good thing if President Bush nominates Gonzales to replace her. The far right hates Gonzales for being pro-choice. Gonzales' authorship of the torture memos is deeply troubling, but contesting his nomination and the threat of the filibuster makes little strategic sense for Democrats. Far better to reserve that for when Rehnquist retires and a anti-Roe justice is nominated. And inevitable GOP charges of Democrat obstruction and cries of "Bork!" would be much harder to sell if Gonzales is given a free path.

Gonzales would at worst be conservative-moderate, and given that Justices Souter and Kennedy have hardly been threats to the Republic, I don't think that Gonzales would singlehandedly destroy us. He might even do less harm from SCOTUS than as AG.