Saturday, March 31, 2007

Thabet has moved

Thabet of Muslims Under Progress fame has progressed indeed, leaving behind his creaky MT-powered digs for a brand-new Wordpress-powered blog called Pixelization. He intends to talk about more than just Islam and politics (for which he can still be spotted over at Check out his new site and update your blogrolls...

Friday, March 30, 2007

Iran, the model?

via eteraz, comes this on what the mullahs fear. It isn't American military might:

The specter of nonviolent democratic Islam is haunting the suicide bombers and religious zealots of every stripe. The fear of democratic civil society among Islamist fundamentalists grips the entire Middle East region with the realization that the Iranian dissidents have outgrown both the ultra-left and the religious right—the two forces responsible for the anti-democratic subversion of the 1979 revolution’s emancipatory promise. It is possible this might only apply to Iran, and that the situation in other Islamic countries is more complex, especially regarding the relationship between Islamism, civil society and democracy; yet crucial for my point is that the Iranian dissidents, within the framework of Islam, now embrace nonviolent change and what Karl Popper and George Soros call the open society. Iranian dissent has become, like the Central-East European and Soviet underground before it, the laboratory for imagining another possibility, a future world that would wed the most spiritual resources of religious life with the most advanced forms of democratic and economically-just institutions...
the pro-democracy yet deeply religiously-inflected dissent in Iran is underscored by its radical nonviolence and opposition to all religious terror (whether by a totalitarian state or by religious fanatics).

This whole thing reminds me of a prescient analysis by Thomas Friedman (really!) about five years ago. He described the Iranian political ranks as divided into three components:

Iran has three power centers. There is Iran-E -- the evil conservative clerics, intelligence services and shock troops of the regime, who still have a monopoly on all the tools of coercion and are responsible for Iran's support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the killing of Iranian intellectuals a few years ago.

Then there is Iran-C -- the rational conservatives among the clerics and bazaari merchants, who backed the Islamic revolution out of a real revulsion for the Shah's secular despotism, but who favor democracy and the rule of law. For now, Iran-C is aligned with Iran-E.

Finally, there is Iran-R, all the reformers -- the economically strapped middle class, the rising student generation and former revolutionaries who are fed up with clerical rule. They want more democracy and less imposed religion, and they are leading the opposition in Parliament but they have the least power.

That's why the key to peaceful change in Iran is a break within the conservative ruling elite. The key is to get Iran-C, the rational conservatives, to break with Iran-E, the dark conservatives, and forge a new alliance with the reformers. It's not impossible.

Of course it is much less possible if the threat of war with America unites the patriots within these power centers against a common external threat. Ironically, a nuclear Iran might well be much less hostile; much like China considerably cooled its rhetoric once it attained nuclear status.

As before, the key is soft power; engaging the Iranian reformers on the merits and logistics of freedom, and framing liberty in the proper Islamic context to entice Iran-C - a good start is Qur'an ayat 2:256.

Incidentally, have I really been blogging at UNMEDIA/City of Brass for over five years? woah. I'm too lazy to actually check/keep track of my blog anniversary. What is really disturbing is how five years ago we were talking about Iran and since then nothing has really changed. Five years wasted.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007


Elayne Riggs buried her father this week.


Dean defines a new term: Americaphobia

It is a fact that Iraq is a much better place than it was under Saddam, unless you were an Iraqi Baathist. It is also a fact that Iraq is now, thanks to American intervention, the freest Arab country in the world.

It is to the great shame of the Muslim community in the United States that they did not do more to try to help, and instead spent most of their time on Bush-bashing.

To be honest I don't really understand this. Iraqis themselves don't think it's better now than under Saddam. Iraq certainly isn't the freest Arab country in the world. And what exactly were muslim americans supposed to do to "help" ? Dean himself often points out that there are thousands of muslims serving in the Armed Forces. What else does he want? And do muslims in the US really spend "most of their time" Bush Bashing? Is that an accurate statement? Odd, that. Maybe he meant, "most muslims who blog online" but given the systematic way in which the Right has institutionalized Islamophobia, is it surprising that american muslims online are polarized in opposition and embrace the left en masse? Reap what you sow, o Right!

It seems to me that one can in fact love America, and also hold the opinion that George Bush has been wrong on matters of policy. I think that Iraq could have been much better executed than it is now; I am a pragmatic liberal interventionist and so I do believe in military power as one essential (and not neccessarily "last resort") pole of a multi-pole projection of American hard/soft power in the service of promoting liberty (though not neccessarily democracy).

I think that if you look at the spirit of Dean's critique rather than the literal way he makes the case, you could argue reasonably that most leftists are Americaphobic. So too are most radical rightists though, because they reject 50% of America and believe in an authoritarian interpretation of American society and heritage that is fundamentally at odds with the Founding. But why single out muslim americans? Frankly I've had enough litmus tests and if a genuine, issues-based and factual analysis-based dislike of George Bush and our Iraq strategy marks me an Americaphobe, then add that label up alongside anti-semite and blood libelist and transnationalist progressive and all the other nasty names I've been called.

At any rate I am still marginally more in favor of staying in Iraq in some capacity than leaving; I think however that no matter which Democratic president gets elected in 2008 we won't truly ever leave and I also praise Hillary Clinton in particular for being the sole Democratic candidate to admit this openly. Though I'm an Edwards man.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Umm Yasmin of Dervish blog fame has started a new blog project, called It's only a few days old but already has a number of excellent posts. I am pleased to see her return to active blogging.

You can have the West

This thread at Dean's World about the movie 300 is stupefyingly predictable. One one side, people who know history. On the other, commentators like Kevin D who insist that the modern West was exclusively the product of Judeo-Christian values. Another commentator tries to explain to Kevin:

much of the knowledge of the ancient Greeks was brought back to Europe through the crusades... "Rescued" from the Muslims who had been protecting it. It's part of why Europe emerged from the Dark Ages.

Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye chimes in as well, arguing,

Aristotle (and, I believe, Herodotus—our primary source on the Battle of Thermopylae) was unknown in the West until his works were promulgated in Latin translations of Arabic translations by Muslim scholars. Thomas Aquinas, for example, relied exclusively on one such translation.

Kevin's response?

So, we should thank the Muslims for stealing our stuff and being kind enough not to destroy it until we could get it back?

Well, there is a kind of logic to that.

Essentially, you're all saying that Islam didn't actually add to the West, it just held on to the documents the West wrote.

How about I rob your house and you can thank me for helping you get a TV when you come to take yours back? Deal?

In the above exchange - which takes place on the Internet, upon which detailed and informative articles about Aquinas and Ibn Rushd are just mouse-clicks away - Kevin seems almost proud of his anti-intellectual stance. I can't explain why someone would choose to be so doggedly ignorant.

John of Crossroads Arabia tries to educate Kevin:

I think the use of the term 'stole' is hysterically anachronistic. Really quite funny.

Now that, with Kevin's permission, we can redefine 'conquest' as 'theft', we can go about righting all sorts of historic wrongs, all the way back to the days Cro Magnon dealt from the bottom of the deck to Neaderthal.

Let the Goths give back to Rome what they took; let the Romans give back to Etrusca and Greece what they stole.

The Arab armies didn't 'steal' Western treasures. They didn't even share, for a long time, a common sense of what 'treasure' was outside of gold and jewelery. By the Medieval period, though, Muslim culture (formed by Muslim, Christian, and Jewish tought) did recognize the value of what they had in their hands. They didn't just store it, either, but interpreted it, used it as the basis of more modern ways of looking at the world. Averroes, Avicenna, Maimonedes were all products of that Muslim civilization that transferred 'Greek' wisdom to the West through their mediation, both physically and intellectually.

and another commentator DanielH also chimes in,

Science was advanced by Muslims during the European Dark Ages. Roger Bacon learned science by studying original works of physics, optics, etc. written by Muslims and translated in Toledo. The preservation of Aristotle is a minor, but laudable part of the contribution of Muslims to world civilization. One could add that it wasn't just Aristotle, but Aristotle through the perspective contemporary scholarship of Ibn Rushd that was soaked up by Aquinas et al in Paris.

and later provides a handy list of historical figures with links to their Wikipedia entries. However it's a safe assumption that Kevin's worldview, which hinges on a Christianized polemical reading of history, is largely immune.

The irony is that there was no West in antiquity, and the very concept of the West is still one that no one can satisfactorily define. Why not just go ahead and let The West be defined as the nonsensical phrase "civilization founded on Greek principles and informed by Judeo Christian values" ? Its just as arbitrary as any other definition.

I look at history and I see two civilizations - that of the Islamic-Christian arc, and the East (China). I also see a vast struggle between barbarians and nations. Those are the obvious dividing lines of history and even the modern day. Kevin can have the West; I don't care.

Monday, March 12, 2007


I was surprised - pleasantly so - to find that one of my posts here was nominated for a Koufax Award.

I am genuinely thankful for the accolade - I consider it an honor enough to have been nominated, alongside the other several dozen examples of truly excellent writing in the Best Post category.

Friday, March 9, 2007

The St. Petersburg Declaration: text and analysis

Here is the full text of the St. Petersburg declaration from the Secular Islam Summit.

We are secular Muslims, and secular persons of Muslim societies. We are believers, doubters, and unbelievers, brought together by a great struggle, not between the West and Islam, but between the free and the unfree.

We affirm the inviolable freedom of the individual conscience. We believe in the equality of all human persons.

We insist upon the separation of religion from state and the observance of universal human rights.

We find traditions of liberty, rationality, and tolerance in the rich histories of pre-Islamic and Islamic societies. These values do not belong to the West or the East; they are the common moral heritage of humankind.

We see no colonialism, racism, or so-called “Islamaphobia” in submitting Islamic practices to criticism or condemnation when they violate human reason or rights.

We call on the governments of the world to

reject Sharia law, fatwa courts, clerical rule, and state-sanctioned religion in all their forms; oppose all penalties for blasphemy and apostacy, in accordance with Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human rights;

eliminate practices, such as female circumcision, honor killing, forced veiling, and forced marriage, that further the oppression of women;

protect sexual and gender minorities from persecution and violence;

reform sectarian education that teaches intolerance and bigotry towards non-Muslims;

and foster an open public sphere in which all matters may be discussed without coercion or intimidation.

We demand the release of Islam from its captivity to the totalitarian ambitions of power-hungry men and the rigid strictures of orthodoxy.

We enjoin academics and thinkers everywhere to embark on a fearless examination of the origins and sources of Islam, and to promulgate the ideals of free scientific and spiritual inquiry through cross-cultural translation, publishing, and the mass media.

We say to Muslim believers: there is a noble future for Islam as a personal faith, not a political doctrine;

to Christians, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, Baha’is, and all members of non-Muslim faith communities: we stand with you as free and equal citizens;

and to nonbelievers: we defend your unqualified liberty to question and dissent.

Before any of us is a member of the Umma, the Body of Christ, or the Chosen People, we are all members of the community of conscience, the people who must chose for themselves.

It won't surprise regular readers of mine to learn that I largely agree with the declaration as written. Note that I am taking the Declaration at its word; I have emphasized some words above upon which my agreement is contingent.

Agreement aside, however, I simply cannot sign or endorse the St. Petersburg Declaration. The reason is not for what it does say, but rather for what it does not. The signatories explicitly reject Shari'a as Law; that's fine, but they do not acknowledge it as a valid source of law, which is not fine. Shari'a is a complex tradition with many schools of thought and as such is as perfectly valid as the Judeo-Christian jurisprudential tradition for deriving inspiration and guidance for Law. As matoko puts it, they suck at bricolage.

By excluding Islam and excluding muslims of faith from the conversation about how to achieve these noble goals, they have marginalized themselves.

To be taken seriusly, the declaration must live up to its assertion of freedom of religion, by validating the choice of Islam as faith as compatible with the freedoms they enunciate. Instead, they have created a document that explicitly separates Islam from freedom, and in so doing becomes an attack on Islam and muslims themselves. The skeptical muslim might well conclude that - noble lofty rhetoric about rich Islamic traditions and no war between West and Islam aside, the real purpose of this Summit was to erode the legitimacy of Islam itself in the eyes of the West. Having wild-eyed reactionaries like Wafa Sultan aboard certainly doesn't help their credibility in this regard, either. I also note that Irshad Manji refused to sign the declaration and protested vigorously when her name was added to it without her consent. Based on an insider report from a practicing muslim at the Summit, I have revised my opinion of Manji and in fact am unashamed to admit that I misjudged her. She has my authentic respect.

How could the signatories of the Secular Islam Summit obtained my support? I am after all a signatory to the Euston Manifesto; I am pro-freedom (though I think democracy is putting cart before horse); I am pro-Israel (I support the Wall and was pleased at Arafat's demise). Simply put, they could have made an attempt to acknowledge that being a pious muslim is perfectly compatible with these universal principles. That could have been achieved by including something like this addendum via eteraz:

1. We believe that faithful, practicing Muslims are an integral part of the global community and that there is nothing inherently irreconcilable between the practice of Islam and affirmation of universal human rights. 2. In democracies the world over practicing Muslims routinely affirm the principles of separation of religion from the state by participation in such civic systems. 3. We believe that practicing Muslims, as holds true for every person in every faith tradition, should be free to rely upon their faith tradition to inform their social and political decisions as long as they are consistent with the principles of pluralism. 4. We stand by those who practice the religion of Islam and draw from it empathy, justice, peace, and humanity and oppose violence of any kind including violence in the name of Islam.

In addition, they could make some effort at outreach to those who have already done much yeoman's work in explaining liberty and freedom from within the Islamic context. That includes the blogsphere as well as noted thinkers like Khaled Abou el Fadl and Syed Hussein Nasr.

Ultimately, for any kind of true progress towards the goals that the St. Petersburg signatories desire, they must talk to muslims themselves and rely on Islam itself for the solution. Or be irrelevant; as they choose.

Friday, March 2, 2007

Happy 171st birthday, Texas!

In 1836 this day, the Texas Declaration of Independence was signed. It closes with these words:

We, therefore, the delegates with plenary powers of the people of Texas, in solemn convention assembled, appealing to a candid world for the necessities of our condition, do hereby resolve and declare, that our political connection with the Mexican nation has forever ended, and that the people of Texas do now constitute a free, Sovereign, and independent republic, and are fully invested with all the rights and attributes which properly belong to independent nations; and, conscious of the rectitude of our intentions, we fearlessly and confidently commit the issue to the decision of the Supreme arbiter of the destinies of nations.