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The Center for the Study of Islam Democracy

August 31, 2007

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August 31, 2007

CSID RESPONSE to DANIEL PIPES:

1. Preaching Hatred in America

EVENTS:

2. Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, Secretary General of the OIC on “The Role of the Media in West-Islam Relations” – Sept. 21
3. My Trip to Al-Qaeda – by Lawrence Wright – Sept. 22-24

ARTICLES:

4. What do they say about CSID?
5. Worldview | Turkey’s democracy faces a test (by Trudy Rubin)
6. Turkey – Gul Elected to Turkey’s Presidency (by Ellen Knickmeyer)
7. Muslim Democracy in Action (by Jackson Diehl)
8. A Religious Candidate Is Ascendant in Turkey (by Sabrina Tavernise and Sebnem Arsu)
9. Former Islamist Wins Turkish Presidency (by Suzan Fraser)
10. Islam and Democracy (The Guardian)
11. Europe should celebrate milestone in Turkey’s transition (by David Gardner)
12. Turkey and Democracy in the Muslim World (by Mohamed Nawab Mohd Osman)
13. Turkey discredits some Orientalist myths (by Rami G. Khouri)
14. As Democracy Push Falters, Bush Feels Like a ‘Dissident’ (by Peter Baker)
15. Empty-hearted secularism (by Azmi Bishara)
16. A Plight in Tunisia (by Nasser Weddady and Jesse Sage)
17. Tunisian democracy: To hope or despair? (by Kamel Labidi)
18. Egypt – Their Only Witness (by Hany Safwat)
19. Egypt’s Unchecked Repression (by Saad Eddin Ibrahim)
20. A new push for change in the war on terror (by Alexandra Marks)
21. TO DEFEAT THE TALIBAN: Fight Less, Win More (by Nathaniel Fick)
22. Why America is losing to al-Qaida (by David Schanzer)
23. Not so fast, Christian soldiers (by Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan)
24. A Response to Western Views of Islamist Movements (by Radwan Ziadeh)
25. Islamic Spain: History’s refrain (by Alexander Kronemer)
26. Of Islam and Inventions (by Anahad O’Connor)
27. Muhammadiyah warns of misunderstanding of Islamic teachings (thejakartapost.com)
28. Islam’s message of tolerance (by Mohammad Habash)
29. The Politics of God (by Mark Lilla)
30.

ANNOUNCEMENTS:

31. CSID: Office Space Available for Sublease (Washington DC)
32. Arab Insight Quarterly – “Do We Hate America?” The Arab World Responds
33. 2008-2009 USIP Senior Fellowship Competition
34. CALL FOR PAPERS – International Conference on Inter-Asian Connections (Dubai, UAE: February 21-24, 2008)
35.

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PREACHING HATRED IN AMERICA

Recently, Mr. Daniel Pipes launched a vicious, biased and ignorant attack on CSID as well as against Mr. Irvin Borowsky, Carl Gershman, and Joshua Muravchik for working with and supporting CSID. This vicious attack came in the form of an article posted on FrontPageMagazine.com and two articles posted on an unknown and shadowy website http://www.pipelinenews.org/, dedicated to promoting hatred and fear of Islam and Muslims in America. It is worth mentioning that both pipelinenews.org and the so-called Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) were both founded by Daniel Pipes himself, so it is not surprising that they would advocate his extremist views, not only about CSID but about Islam in general. In the following, I will try to address all of the points or accusations made in the two articles against CSID, and prove that they are all false:

1. These allegations are not new, they are a rehash of false accusations made by Daniel Pipes in 2004, when he tried to prevent the United States Institute of Peace (USIP) from collaborating with CSID. As you remember, the USIP Board of Directors decided to take a stand against Mr. Pipes’ allegations, and issued a public statement rebuking Mr. Pipes, and clearing CSID’s name as a moderate and respectable think tank organization (please see the USIP Statement below).

2. CSID is proud to be a multi-faith organization. Nearly half of its members and supporters, and probably more, (we are not sure, because we do not ask them what their religion is) are not even Muslim. Many are Christians and Jews, and others, who share a desire to live in peace and harmony with Muslims, both in America and in the Muslim World. Half the members of the Board of Directors are also not Muslims, and for this reason, we have refrained from calling CSID an “American Muslim” organization.

3. It is utterly ridiculous to claim that CSID is part of the “Militant Islamist lobby”. If many of us are not even Muslim, how can we be “Islamist”? And if we are not “Islamist”, how can we be “Militant”? CSID has consistently, and for the past 8 years, spoken in favor of tolerance, peaceful coexistence, religious dialogue and harmony, respect for human dignity, human rights, freedom, and democracy in America and throughout the world. Yes, we have advocated, and continue to advocate the rights of “moderate Islamists”, who denounce and reject violence and terrorism, to be engaged in dialogue and in the political system of their own countries, but we have also consistently defended and engaged Muslim democracy activists, scholars, and leaders of all stripes (moderate Islamists, liberal reformists and secularists) throughout the world.

4. CSID is an independent non-profit NGO (501-c-3 org.) and is not a “subsidiary” of any other entity. Throughout the past 8 years, we have received donations and contributions from the International Institute for Islamic Thought (IIIT) that amount to approximately $18,000 in total, which represents roughly 0.7% of our budget. We are also proud of our collaboration with IIIT, which even though it was raided in 2002, has not been accused of any wrongdoing – more than 5 years after the raids. Sheikh Taha Jaber Alalwani, a former board member of CSID, (between 1999 and 2002) is in fact a well known and well respected Muslim scholar, who has consistently advocated moderation and condemned violence. Despite the unsubstantiated allegations made by Mr. David Kane, Sheikh Taha has never been accused or charged for any wrongdoing. Guilt by association is a vicious and deceptive practice and a favorite of demamogues since time immemorial — and for Pipes and his followers. CSID is “vulnerable” for the very reason that it invites a wide range of people to articulate a wide range of views regarding Islam and democracy. Pipes has even attacked neo-conservative thinkers at the American Enterprise Institute, such as Joshua Muravchik, for speaking at CSID conferences. It would be false to then imply that AEI endorses CSID anymore than CSID endorses AEI.

5. Mr. Borowsky, a well known Jewish leader and philanthropist, is interested in peace-building and was ELECTED by the members of CSID to the Board of Directors in 2004 (over three years ago). He has attended CSID events and conferences for many years before that, and therefore he knows CSID quite well. Radwan Masmoudi, President of CSID, spoke at the National Liberty Museum back in 2003. This relationship is not new, and we are very proud of it, because it proves that American Muslims, Christians, Jews, and others can work together in mutual respect, dignity and honor for the good of our country and the world. CSID does not now, and never has, subscribed to the “Dhimmi mentality”. We believe in, speak for, practice, and advocate equal rights for all citizens, and respect for peoples of all faiths.

6. We are shocked and disappointed by the quote from Mr. Pipes that “should Islamists get smart and avoid mass destruction, but instead stick to the lawful-political and non-violent route, and should their movement remain vital, it is difficult to see what will stop them” to again link CSID somehow with Islamists, and claim that all Islamists (even those who reject violence) are enemies of the US. This is nonsense, because moderate Islamists represent roughly between 30 and 40% of the 1.5 Billion Muslims worldwide, and it is entirely their right to organize, mobilize, and express their opinions peacefully. If they did so, and rejected the violent route, this would be a major step forward for the whole world, and the United States should encourage them to do so! Pipes again demonstrates here what the Washington Post editors once described as his “disturbing hostility to contemporary Muslims.”

The second Article:

7. CSID has never been a “Saudi Think Tank” and has never received a single penny from the Saudi government or any Saudi institution. Even when we organized a conference on Islam and Democracy in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia in 2004, it was funded by the USIP, and not by the Saudi government. CSID has consistently spoken against theocracy (whether in Saudi Arabia or Iran) and in favor of Muslim democracy, which is based on Islamic values, but respects and provides equal rights to all its citizens. When there are “Saudi Think Tanks” with Shi’a, Christian and Jewish board members, chaired by a woman and that hold conferences on “The Rights of Women in Islam” then CSID will probably have achieved its mission.

8. CSID believes very strongly in interfaith dialogue, cooperation, and understanding. We not only practice it within CSID, but also encourage it and promote at every turn and opportunity we get. We reject the idea that “faith-sharing is a one-way proposition and a means of recruiting converts”. We have in fact never invited anyone to convert to Islam, or to any other religion. We have simply tried to inform everyone about the common heritage, history, and beliefs that Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) share. The author’s hostility to and ignorance of Islam reaches the point of absurdity when he or she writes of “the preposterous assertion that Islam is one of the ‚Äö√Ñ√≤Abrahamic faiths,’ thus creating a false sense of kinship and moral equivalency with Judaism and Christianity.” We refer the authors to the Book of Genesis.

9. CSID does not aim to “Islamize America,” as the author proclaims. Our stated goals, clear to everyone who has read our publications or participated in our events, is to promote peace, tolerance, freedom, and democracy in America and in the Muslim World. We do not believe that the concept of “Islamic democracy” is oxymoronic at all (as neither is Christian democracy or Jewish democracy). All these Abrahamic traditions have deeply entrenched notions of intrinsic human dignity and hospitality which are conducive to pluralistic and democratic values. Through mutual understanding, America in particular and the Muslim world can come to appreciate the common ground between them. This will help to make for a more peaceful world.

10. The speakers at the Dec. 9 event in Phildelphia (Irv Borowsky, Geneive Abdo, Asma Afsaruddin, Abdallah Idris, and Radwan Masmoudi) all spoke about religious harmony, dialogue, mutual understanding and respect in America and in the world. Geneive Abdo is a well-known scholar and journalist, and she speaks frequently at mosques, synagogues, and churches throughout America. It is impossible for her to check the history of every staff member or board member at every mosque or institution she speaks at, especially if these allegations date back over 10 years. Tariq Ramadan is a well-known and respected Muslim scholar and leader who has never advocated nor supported terrorism. CSID and hundreds of other NGO’s have criticized the decision of the DHS to deny a visa for Prof. Ramadan to teach at the University of Notre Dame. America would have been a richer place had Mr. Ramadan been allowed to come, live here, and represent America to the outside world.

11. Mr. Jani Seyed is in fact not (and has never been) the webmaster of CSID. He is a computer engineer, who has studied under Prof. Sami Al-Iryane at University of Florida, and who was hired by CSID as a contractor to assist in designing and troubleshooting our website. To the best of our knowledge, he has never committed any crime.

We urge all peace-loving and freedom-loving Americans to denounce this non-sensical and absurd attack by Mr. Pipes against an organization that has been, for eight years, at the forefront of the struggle to promote freedom and democracy in the Muslim world, and help build mutual understanding, cooperation, and respect between all religions to build a more peaceful world for all.

Radwan Masmoudi
President, CSID

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The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim Christian Understanding presents

Dr. Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu
Secretary General of the Organization of the Islamic Conference

“The Role of the Media in West-Islam Relations”

Friday, 21 September 2007 9:00 am
Mortara Center Conference Room
3600 N Street NW

For more information and to RSVP for the event, please email Brian Glenn atbpg7@georgetown.edu

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My Trip to Al-Qaeda

by Lawrence Wright

September 22-24, 2007
Kennedy Center
Washington, DC

Buy Tickets: http://www.lawrencewright.com/

This unique presentation is based on Wright’s recent bestseller, The Looming Tower. According to the New York Times, “More than a linear narrative about the formation of Al Qaeda, the show is an informal scrapbook of Middle Eastern politics and culture seen through a Westerner’s sharp, informed and sometimes sorrowful eyes, complete with visual aids in the form of slides and video clips.” More on the show‚Äö√Ѭ∂

This unique presentation is based on Wright’s bestseller, The Looming Tower. According to the New York Times, “More than a linear narrative about the formation of Al Qaeda, the show is an informal scrapbook of Middle Eastern politics and culture seen through a Westerner’s sharp, informed and sometimes sorrowful eyes, complete with visual aids in the form of slides and video clips.” View a video excerpt‚Äö√Ѭ∂

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What do they say about CSID?

In response to the Statement signed by Daniel Pipes and by CIP’s four board members, we attach below quotes from over 40 well-known leaders and scholars, both Muslim and non-Muslim, about CSID’s activities and success in promoting a tolerant, modern, and democratic interpretation of Islam, and in building better bridges of understanding between the US and the Muslim world.

“The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID) plays an absolutely vital role in creating a platform for the voices of democracy and reform throughout the Muslim World. Equally vital is the role they play in bringing a better understanding of the diversity within Islam to the people of America. CSID’s advocacy of Islamic values coupled with democratic principles needs and merits our support.”

John D. Sullivan , Executive Director
Center for International Private Enterprise

“The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy has for seven years played a critical role in setting out a vision of a Muslim world that would be modern and democratic, in promoting debate about the political development of the Middle East, and in promoting better appreciation of Islam at a time when distrust and misunderstanding are rampant.”

Francis Fukuyama
Johns Hopkins University

“Today, more than ever, we in the United States of America and beyond need to hear, understand, and promote the voices of reason, moderation, and democracy among Muslims. The CSID is one of the most articulate platforms serving this need. Through the CSID we can and have been tackling the deficit of democracy, human rights, especially women’s rights in many Islamic societies. By supporting CSID we help support dialogue and understanding, instead of clash, among civilizations.”

Nayereh Tohidi , Professor & Department Chair
Women’s Studies, CSUN & UCLA

“The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy is one of the most important institutions in the West helping to bring concepts of political liberalization, democratization and rule of law to states in the Muslim world. It engages in direct and personal outreach to Muslim leaders around the world; indeed, many of the Center’s leaders come from Muslim background themselves and therefore possess an understanding of Muslim culture and an appreciation of how best to promote these ideas within traditional societies. CSID enjoys a reputation of independence, balance and integrity, free of any taint of association with the policies of any administration. Today the Muslim world is in deep crisis; its peoples are frustrated and suffering from lack of any voice over the policies of their own governments. It is only this democratic option– achieved not through foreign intervention but through the work of local activists–that represents the best hope for the future of the region. CSID is at the center of these activities.”

Graham E. Fuller
Author of The Future of Political Islam

“There is no American Muslim organization that understands Islam and America as well as CSID and at the same time knows how to meet the challenges of promoting a better understanding of the issues of common interests between the United States and global Muslims.”

Omar Kader , PhD
President, Pal-Tech Inc.

“In just a few years, CSID has done remarkable work in facilitating the vital discussion about Islam and democracy in the United States and beyond. In so doing it has made an invaluable contribution to breaking down prejudice and misunderstanding and to meeting the crucial challenge of advancing human rights and democracy in the Muslim world.”

Neil Hicks , Director
Human Rights Defenders Program

“The work the CSID is doing is remarkable. It works in and on one of the most difficult regions of the world with patience, consistency and commitment. CSID is a symbol that Islam and Democracy are not only compatible but can be mutually reinforcing.”

Razmik Panossian , Director
Rights & Democracy, Canada

“CSID was talking about the importance of Muslim democracy as early as 1999, long before it was popular. In this respect and in so many others, it has been that rare organization – ahead of the curve, willing to carve out strong, principled positions, and able to bridge the theoretical with the practical through its programming. Today, when so many are despairing of the possibility that Arab democracy may yet come, CSID remains steadfast in its belief that democracy is not – and cannot be – the purview of only some peoples, cultures, and religions. No, democracy is universal and few have done more to convey this vital point than CSID.”

Shadi Hamid , Associate
The Project on Middle East Democracy

“The CSID’s role is crucial in Muslim societies and in the West. It is instrumental in contextualizing democracy in Muslim societies by underscoring the areas where Islam values and democratic principles meet. The CSID also bridges this arbitrary and unnecessary gap between the Muslim democrats and the secular democrats, an essential step for making the establishment of democracy and effective participatory systems a mainstream quest. Further, the CSID’s role in the US is equally important in presenting the moderate, tolerant and pluralistic nature of Islam.”

Emad El-Din Shahin , Visiting Professor
Harvard University

“There are few issues of greater concern to the future of the Muslim world than the prospects for democracy. CSID has pioneered the promotion of democracy at the practical level, and in this regard has provided invaluable service through education and social activism.”

Vali Nasr , Professor
Naval Postgraduate School

“CSID is a crucial part of the global effort to democratize Muslim society around the world. Again and again others ask, “where are the moderate Muslims?” They are everywhere, of course, in the hundreds of millions, but nowhere are they more clearly expressed and represented than in the work and words of CSID.”

Michael Wolfe , Author & Film Producer
Unity Productions Foundation

“CSID has been a pioneer from the very start of its existence. Most recently, it has focused its energies on promoting understanding and dialogue between secularists and Islamists‚Äö√Ñ√Æ path-breaking work that has won it praises in both the Islamic world and the West.”

Daniel Brumberg
Georgetown University & USIP

“The CSID is doing vital work to explore and demonstrate the compatibility of Islam and democracy, and to promote innovative thinking, fresh analysis, informed assessment, and free debate on the need for democratic development and reform in the Muslim world. Now, more than ever, when we need understanding of Islam in the United States, and tolerant, moderate, and democratic voices of Islam to be heard worldwide, we need the CSID, and it merits generous support.”

Larry Diamond
Stanford University

“I would like to congratulate CSID on the excellent work done by the Center over the past 7 years. I remember when Dr. Radwan Masmoudi single-mindedly began this timely initiative. He, along with many other dedicated scholars, has brought international prominence to the organization. There is nothing more important than promoting democracy in the Muslim world and CSID should be commended for their efforts. The twenty-first century will be the century of democracy in Islam.”

Akbar S. Ahmed
American University

“CSID provides a valuable source of discussion and debate on issues which are crucial to the world we live in today, and engages a wide range of authoritative views in the process. The Centre has added real value in its first seven years.”

David French, Chief Executive
Westminster Foundation for Democracy, London

“I have admired the work of CSID in promoting genuine democracy in the Muslim world. I am extremely grateful to them for facilitating contacts with their global network of Muslim scholars and political practitioners. I have found their papers insightful and their work essential in counter balancing the negative perception of a clash of civilizations between the Muslim and Western worlds.”

Oliver McTernan
Director of Forward Thinking, UK

“In a few short years, CSID has propelled itself into a vital role in promoting democracy and toleration in the Muslim world, both conceptually and practically, in a manner that has earned it much respect. Its mission in Muslim countries cannot be more important and timely and is supplemented by another important mission in perusing good and responsible citizenship in the United States.”

Shibley Telhami
Univ. of Maryland and the Brookings Institution

“In our ‚Äö√Ñ√≤global village,’ one that celebrates diversity and self-determination, it is notable that the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy is the only US-based Muslim organization promoting genuine democracy in Muslim-majority countries. Other American efforts, however well-intentioned, are not rooted in both scholarly and innate understandings of Islam nor appreciation for cultural distinctions among Muslims. Empowerment of Muslims by Muslims is essential for substance, sustainability and success.”

Anisa Mehdi , President
Whetstone Productions

“These are difficult times for Muslim Democrats. All the more reason why the painstaking work that the CSID undertakes in the Arab and Islamic world to train and encourage Muslim Democrats, is of greater importance than ever, for CSID stands uncompromised, and its mission more critical than ever before.”

S. Abdallah Schleifer
Washington bureau chief, Al Arabiya Channel

“The important challenge of our time is creating peaceful vibrant communities with a strong civil society sector. CSID’s superb work promotes real cross-cultural understanding and engages people to take their civic responsibilities seriously. There are very few American Muslim organizations that are successful in executing workshops, conferences and educational programs which bring serious debate and dialogue. CSID’s constructive engagement has fostered peace and tolerance in the global community.”

Qamar-ul Huda, Ph.D.
United States Institute of Peace

“Those of us who benefit from working in countries with strong democratic traditions and a free enterprise system understand the importance of CSID. Radwan Masmoudi founded CSID to promote political liberties in the Muslim World a couple of years before the September 11 attacks. Its efforts were needed then, and are more needed today. CSID democratic convictions and its moderate interpretation of Islam are helping create a rich dialogue around the world and is a source of hope for millions of Islamic friends of the free society.”

Alex Chafuen , President
Atlas Economic Research Foundation

“CSID is one of the most courageous and important institutions today in the Muslim world. There is nothing more important for the steady growth and empowerment of the Muslim world than genuine, culturally authentic processes of democratization that CSID has advocated and pioneered. This is the truly nonviolent way for the Muslim world to become empowered and meet in a spirit of nonviolence and peace with the other cultural worlds that occupy our crowded earth. I am very encouraged by all of their work.”

Marc Gopin
Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and
Conflict Resolution, George Mason University

“CSID, since its inception, has been bringing together the best minds in academia, as well as in the Muslim community of North America, to discuss the relationship of Islam to democracy. Thanks to these efforts we now have available, several articles, and some monographs, that deal exhaustively with Islamic law and democratic rule, democracy in the Muslim World, and, Islam in the United States.”

Muneer Fareed, Ph.D. , Secretary General
Islamic Society of North America

“The most important issue that needs to be addressed in the Muslim World is about enabling self governance. CSID is not only at the forefront, but is uniquely dedicated to this goal, to help the Muslim World develop epistemologies of self governance and learn how to balance the imperatives of Islam and the virtues of democracy.”

Muqtedar Khan , Professor & Author of Islamic
Democratic Discourse, University of Delaware

“The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy fills an important niche in current discussions of whether democracy is compatible with Islam. Its work highlights the ideas and writings of scholars who believe in a liberal interpretation of Islam. By doing so, the Center both disseminates information that combats stereotypes about Islam and encourages scholars fighting to define what Islam means in the 21st century.”

Marina Ottaway , Director, Middle East Program
Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

“It is difficult for me to overemphasize the professional and personal value I have found in the global work of CSID, and in attending its annual meetings for several years in a row. This is because I for over 20 years have been a professor at an evangelical Christian university, with a current specialization on the clash within Islam today between the rationales various Muslim groups give for their moderation or militancy. I recently described CSID’s value in Chuck Colson’s www.Breakpoint.org website (archived 8/22/2006): “As for the democratic side of this Islamic clash, a good source for examining their efforts and literature for democracy education, both in English and in Arabic, is the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy in Washington, D.C. (Radwan Masmoudi, president).” Democracy education is precisely where we Jewish, Christian and Muslim members of CSID find our most fruitful, and encouraging, exchanges and contributions in the face of modern extremist and statist remedies.”

Joseph N. Kickasola , M.Div., Ph.D.
Professor, Regent University

“At a time of great challenges to the Islamic culture, CSID has provided a forum for thinkers and reformers from various ideological streams to engage in serious debates & dialogues about crucial issues that have been avoided for a long time.”

Wael Nawara , Writer & Activist
Co-founder & Former Sec. Gen. of El Ghad Party

“The Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy has become an important source of knowledge about Islam both for non-Muslims as well as Muslims. In seven years, it has become a model for Muslim minority communities on how to effectively engage their governments by uniting their voices.”

Amina Rasul , Lead Convenor
Philippine Council for Islam and Democracy

“CSID’s endeavor in the past 7 years to promote a better understanding of Islam in the West and a genuine dialogue in the Muslim world about Islam and democracy is worthy of our admiration and sustained support. CSID’s efforts to promote a dialogue about democracy that is rooted in the respect for the rights of all human beings everywhere in the world to lead a free and dignified life in fulfillment of their God-given potential help in bridging the gap between the West and the Muslim world, at a time when this gap has never been wider.”

Randa Slim , Vice President
International Institute for Sustained Dialogue

“As peoples of the Muslim world ponder democratic alternatives that grow out of their own cultures, alternatives that they are beginning to act on and will inevitably attain in the future, they will owe a great debt to the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy. In the brief span of its existence CSID has nobly served as a bridge between cultures, worldviews and civilizations. Here in the West it has greatly helped us understand how to engender mutual understanding between the West and the Muslim world to the mutual benefit of both.”

Robert R. LaGamma , Executive Director
Council for a Community of Democracies

“CSID has lead the battle of democracy in Islamic World and promoting the rethinking in Islam from new perspectives.”

Radwan Ziadeh , Director
Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies

“It was our great privilege in IFID that we cooperated with CSID in a number of projects in the Arab and Muslim world, as well as in Europe and USA. Not only CSID was so innovative in their work based on a modern democratic and moderate interpretation of Islam and greater understanding of Islam in the United States, but alos promoting genuine democracy in the Muslim World.”

Najah kadhim
International Forum for Islamic Dialogue

“CSID is a very important collaborating partner with CCD on a “Transition to Democracy” project for activists and leaders from Middle East and North African countries meeting in conversation with East European and African leaders who have successfully made such a transition and exploring how these experiences can be applied in the Middle East and North African. The insights CSID brings to this endeavor are playing a key role in the creation of a “handbook” on democracy transition in the Middle East.”

Richard C. Rowson , President
Council for a Community of Democracies

“Dr. Masmoudi and his team at CSID are doing extremely important work to lay the foundation for the spread of democracy in the Muslim world. I cannot stress enough how much I respect and support their work”

Lorne Craner , President
International Republican Institute

“The CSID is free from tendentious activities, and by training Muslim youths across the globe, it lays the foundations for a solid growth of democratic societies in the troubled Islamic world. The CSID helps Muslims learn about democracy, while training the westerners to appreciate the essence of peaceful Islam, which has functioned as a creative culture for many centuries.”

Rasool Nafisi , PhD
Strayer University

“CSID has been doing very useful work in projecting a moderate and enlightened vision of Islam and promoting greater understanding of the Islamic world here in the United States, as well as advancing the cause of democracy and tolerance in the Muslim world by bringing together in proactive dialogue scholars and policy makers from both side of the divide.”

Amb. (Ret) A. Tariq Karim
Political Analyst and Ind. Consultant

“CSID is accomplishing a great mission in terms of promoting democracy and liberty in Muslim World, and developing a modern and moderate interpretation of Islam in US, through conferences, seminars and workshops. The world needs this great effort the most today.”

Dr. H. Ali Yurtsever , President
Rumi Forum, Washington DC

“CSID’s sincere efforts to bring an understanding between the two polarizing worlds is groundbreaking. CSID, a trailblazer in the field, contributes invaluably to the intellectual discourse on the closure of the chasm between Islam and the West.”

Merve Kavakci ,
Former Member of the Turkish Parliament

“In the current global environment of growing animosity between the Western and Muslim worlds, CSID has played an invaluable role as bridge between these cultures. CSID’s programs that seek to promote cross-cultural understanding are crucial to bridging the divide between the West and the Muslim World.”

Mona Yacoubian
United States Institute of Peace

“CSID is a groundbreaking organization that has been an essential component in promoting democracy throughout the Muslim World and beyond, in fact. Its emphasis on adopting a moderate interpretation of Islam is truly inspirational and echoes the thoughts of a growing body of thinkers. In doing so, CSID has also done invaluable work towards promoting peace, understanding and goodwill across cultures, civilizations and religions.”

Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi LLB
Al-Khoei Foundation, London & New York

“The work of CSID and its activities, in the US and in the Arab and Islamic world, has had a tremendous impact in promoting moderate and centrist viewpoints against extremism and radicalism, which has appeared here and there. CSID has made an important contribution in linking Islam and democracy, as many people especially in the West, thought the two were incompatible. I especially appreciate CSID’s efforts to strengthen and promote a democratic culture in the Arab world, and the acceptance of democracy by Muslims leaders, as well as bringing Muslim democrats and secular democrats together. All of these efforts have born positive results, and need to be continued.”

Abou Elela Mady , Founder
Al-Wasat Party, Egypt

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Worldview | Turkey’s democracy faces a test

The election of a devout Muslim as president could challenge the nation’s secular traditions.

By Trudy Rubin
Inquirer Columnist
http://www.philly.com/inquirer/opinion/20070829_Turkeys_democracy_faces_a_test.html

The real test of whether Islam and democracy are compatible is taking place not in Iraq or in the Arab world but in Turkey. Right now.

Yesterday, a devout Muslim named Abdullah Gul, whose wife wears a head scarf, was elected president of Turkey by the country’s parliament. Turkey is a country where the presidency has traditionally been held by a secular figure, and women in head scarves are banned from government buildings.

Gul’s election has unnerved many secular Turks. He is a member of the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, which is commonly described as having “Islamic roots”; his new post will give AK control over laws, education, and the appointment of judges. His rise has provoked deep opposition inside the Turkish military, which has zealously guarded the Turkish secular model that was established by modern Turkey’s founder, the legendary Mustafa Kemal Atatürk.

Shortly after the vote, I spoke to Bulent Gultekin, a top adviser to the former Prime Minister Turgut Özal and a professor at University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School. “This is definitely a change, a kind of shock,” he said on the phone from Istanbul. “Some people are depressed and concerned, and everyone is watching to see how things will turn out.”

Gul’s presidency will provide a fascinating test case of whether democracy can flourish where moderate Islamists hold power.

Gul started in politics as a member of a hard-line Islamist party banned by Turkey’s courts in 1998. But he broke with that party, and with the concept that politics should be based on Islam. As Turkey’s foreign minister over the last four years, he pressed for reforms that would enhance his country’s bid to join the European Union.

When AK first nominated Gul for president, in April, Turkey’s military strongly objected; the Turkish Supreme Court upheld a technical objection by the parliamentary opposition. In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan called for new elections, and his AK party sharply boosted its previous tally to nearly 47 percent of the total. In Turkey’s multiparty system, this was a smashing triumph, and AK was able to get a parliamentary endorsement of Gul.

But did this vote mean the public wanted a religious government? “Absolutely not,” says Henry Barkey, chairman of international relations at Lehigh University and a well-known specialist on Turkey. Barkey says, “Turkey is a conservative country and AK a pro-business, conservative party” comparable to center-right Christian Democratic parties in Europe.

“Economics is the number-one reason that people voted for AK,” says Barkey. The party’s policies have created an economic boom, expanded exports, and improved services. Meantime, secular opposition parties have had little positive to offer. Also, Turks of Kurdish origin voted heavily for AK because it has given them more rights.

Would AK, now that it controls both parliament and the presidency, try to impose more religious constraints on Turkey? Not at all, says Barkey: “Religiosity doesn’t sell televisions.” The new, pro-business middle class in the Turkish Anatolian heartland that supported the AK party may be traditionally religious, but it isn’t looking for religious law.

However, many secular Turks still worry about whether Gul’s conversion to moderation is wholehearted. The president has the power to veto laws: Will Gul give a blank check to legislation sponsored by his AK party? Secularists also are concerned about coming constitutional changes and fear AK hard-liners might seek more religious influence on schools.

The Turkish military chief, Gen. Yasar Büyükanit, posted an ominous note on the military’s Web site on Monday, warning of “centers of evil” that “systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish republic.” This post has sparked speculation about whether the military might intervene, as it has several times since 1960.

Such a move would be tragic – and very, very premature. The process that led to Gul’s selection was wholly democratic. Voters picked AK not because they want sharia law, but because self-defined secular parties failed to provide a convincing agenda. Instead of waiting for military intervention to restore their fortunes, those parties should rejuvenate themselves so they can attract more votes.

Gul has a chance to demonstrate to Turks, and to the West, that Muslim religious values can be incorporated into democratic politics within a secular, constitutionally based system. His party’s politics are more pro-Western than much of the secular opposition. The AK party rejects an Islamist label, describing itself as a conservative party of the center-right.

“This is a test of whether you can have a Muslim-Democratic party,” says Barkey. The State Department and White House, which were cool to the Gul candidacy, should encourage such a political model. The results matter greatly not only to Turkey, but to Europe and to us.

Contact columnist Trudy Rubin at 215-854-5823 or trubin@phillynews.com. Read her recent work at http://go.philly.com/trudyrubin

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Gul Elected to Turkey’s Presidency

Parliament Defies Strongly Secular Military to Choose Figure Rooted in Political Islam

By Ellen Knickmeyer
Washington Post Foreign Service
Wednesday, August 29, 2007; Page A12

CAIRO, Aug. 28 — Beaming as the votes were counted, a veteran government figure with roots in political Islam won a parliamentary vote to become Turkey’s president Tuesday, in defiance of the country’s strongly secular military. Abdullah Gul’s triumph presented Turkey’s generals with a choice: overthrow Gul in what would be a deeply unpopular coup or accommodate the rise of political Islam in the Muslim world’s most rigidly secular state.

Gul immediately sought to reassure the military and other doubters. “Turkey is a secular democracy. . . . These are basic values of our republic, and I will defend and strengthen these values,” he told parliament after taking the oath as Turkey’s 11th president.

Many Turks say the popularity of Gul’s mildly Islamic Justice and Development Party after five years in power, and the unprecedented economic prosperity it has brought, will probably shield it from any immediate putsch. Turkey’s military sees itself as the guardian of the secular state established by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923. Generals have driven out four governments since 1960, including an overtly Islamic government in the 1990s in which Gul held a cabinet post.

Recent overthrows have been accomplished through pressure; the military has not used force to bring down a government since 1980.

Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, posted a statement on the military’s Web site Monday warning against “furtive plans that aim to undo modern advances and ruin the Turkish republic’s secular and democratic structure.” There was no immediate comment from the military after Gul’s election victory.

Gul won 339 votes in the 530-seat parliament.

His wife, Hayrunisa Gul — whose wearing of an Islamic-style head scarf has fixated Turkey’s generals and others in the secular opposition — was conspicuously absent from Gul’s swearing-in ceremony later Tuesday. Turkish law forbids the head scarf in public buildings.

Also absent were the military commanders who normally attend such ceremonies.

For the government, Gul’s election marked a victory after months of risky brushes with the military.

Gul initially had been poised to win the presidency in a vote parliament was to have held in April. A warning then from the military on its Web site and street protests by hundreds of thousands of secularists, as well as legal challenges, prompted Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to back off from nominating Gul, his foreign minister.

Erdogan instead called early national elections, gambling that his party would increase its majority in parliament and strengthen his hand against the military. The move succeeded, giving the Justice and Development Party nearly 50 percent of the votes cast in the July vote, up from 34 percent in the previous vote.

Many members of Turkey’s military took the vote count as a rebuke of their preelection move against a largely popular and successful democratically elected government. “In Turkey, a new period already has started,” said Nejat Eslen, a retired brigadier general and an ardent supporter of secularism, speaking Tuesday by telephone after Gul’s election. “And I believe the military side will watch carefully and closely.”

The Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002, taking parliament and the prime minister’s office. Since then, Erdogan and his ministers have presented themselves far more as Rotary Club than religious zealots.

Under their guidance, Turkey’s economy has been transformed, turning Istanbul into a bustle of construction projects and high-design restaurants. With Tuesday’s election, Erdogan and Gul pledged to push for economic reform and constitutional amendments and try to win European Union membership.

Many Turks have been won over by the boom times, especially for a growing middle class; improvements in public services; and the ruling party’s comparative restraint in helping itself to the economic spoils. But among secular Turks, there remain widespread concerns that Erdogan’s government has given political Islam a toehold that will lead Turkey the way of much of the Middle East, perhaps starting with lifting Ataturk’s restrictions on the head scarf, outlawing alcohol or criminalizing adultery.

“With a first lady in a head scarf, a taboo is finished in Turkey. Some people are not happy about that,” said Ehmet Ali Birand, a columnist in Turkey’s press, which seized upon the military chief’s warning as a sign of grave tension between the military and the government.

Turkey is a U.S. partner in the NATO alliance, although Turkey’s opposition to the U.S. invasion of Iraq created bilateral strains. In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said Gul’s election “continues the course of democratic development in that country.” President Bush called Gul to congratulate him, the White House said.

The rise of the Justice and Development Party came in the same period as political gains made by the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and the radical Islamic group Hamas in the Palestinian territories. Hamas’s gains, in particular, are regarded by many analysts in the region as leading the Bush administration to back off from its earlier avowed enthusiasm for promoting democracy in the Middle East.

But Turkey — a country bridging Europe and Asia, as well as Islam and secularism — is different, and the Justice and Development Party doesn’t fit well into the growth of political Islam elsewhere, said Omer Taspinar, a Turkey expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

The election success of “Hamas or Muslim Brotherhood is . . . essentially a protest vote” in countries with authoritarian leaders and little viable political opposition, Taspinar said by telephone. “But the reason the [Justice and Development Party] won is largely due to the services they have provided,” he said.

Hard-liners in the military believe that “it is thanks to the military’s efforts that the [party] and political Islam are learning to become moderate,” Taspinar said. “Islam in Turkey is getting closer and closer to the West,” he added, even as “the global trend is that Islam is getting more confrontational with the West.”

Special correspondent Zehra Ayman in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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Muslim Democracy in Action

By Jackson Diehl
Monday, August 27, 2007; A13
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/26/AR2007082600906_pf.html

The notion that democracy and Islam are fundamentally incompatible is about to get a resounding rebuke, just at the moment it is threatening to congeal as conventional wisdom in Washington.

Barring a last-minute surprise — such as a military coup — a liberal and pro-Western politician named Abdullah Gul will be elected president of Turkey by the country’s parliament tomorrow. Gul speaks fluent English and has been a steady if somewhat quiet friend of the United States during more than four years as foreign minister. He also identifies himself as a religious Muslim in a country with an 85-year history of militant secularism. His wife wears a headscarf, which is banned from public offices, universities and — until now — the president’s Cankaya Palace in Ankara.

A lot of people in Turkey say they’re worried that Gul’s election will mark the beginning of the end of Western-style modernization in their country. Turkey’s prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, also has political roots in Islam. The Justice and Development (AK) Party will then control two branches of government, with broad power to enact new laws, appoint judges and university rectors, and, in theory, command the military. Some people in Washington are worried, too — including partisans of Israel who suspect Erdogan of sympathy for the Palestinian Hamas movement and conservatives who charge him with plotting to undermine Turkey’s secular democracy.

The hardening conventional wisdom is that Islamists use democracy only to gain power so as to impose their totalitarian ideology — that any election they win will be the last one. Yet in the byzantine five-month power struggle that has preceded tomorrow’s election, the sides in Turkey have been reversed. The Islamists have stood not only for democracy but also for compromise and moderation. The threat to Turkey’s political stability has come from the professed secularists, who have employed street demonstrations and twisted court rulings and pulled off what has come to be known as the world’s first Internet coup.

That bizarre event unfolded April 27, when the army — which has carried out four conventional coups against elected governments since 1960 — posted a late-night statement on its Web site claiming to detect a “growing threat” to secular government. At that moment Gul’s nomination as president was before parliament, but the Supreme Court was considering an improbable legal challenge based on the alleged absence of a quorum. No doubt encouraged by the martial bluster, the court ruled in favor of the opposition plaintiffs, creating an impasse. The generals and Turkey’s traditional leftist and nationalist parties assumed that Gul would be forced to retire in favor of a “compromise” candidate cooked up in a back room.

Instead, Erdogan called a general election. By forcing a vote, he invited Turks to consider the record of his party in office, as opposed to the dark scenarios of creeping Islamization sketched by the opposition and the military.

That was a brilliant maneuver. After all, Erdogan’s government has been one of the most liberal and modernizing regimes in recent Turkish history. Under Gul’s leadership, it pressed for membership talks with the European Union and in the name of winning them enacted a series of legal and human rights reforms. Minority Kurds and women won greater rights; the death penalty was abolished. The economy was liberalized and foreign investment welcomed, touching off a boom that has turned Turkey from a basket case in the International Monetary Fund’s emergency ward to an emerging tiger with annual growth rates over 7 percent.

The election results last month must have stunned the generals: The moderate Islamists won nearly 47 percent of the vote, compared with 34 percent in the election of 2002, and captured 340 of parliament’s 550 seats. The message from voters was crystal clear: Military intervention was unwanted. Millions of Turks like the moderate religiousness of Erdogan and Gul, they like their pro-capitalist and pro-Western policies — and they don’t see any contradiction between them.

Gul’s election by parliament now looks like a victory for democracy as well as for the principle that a Muslim political party can be moderate and liberal. You’d think the Bush administration would be ecstatic. Instead, it has looked curiously conflicted since the crisis began. The State Department and White House mostly kept quiet during the events of April, even while European governments publicly urged the military to respect the democratic system. Even after Erdogan’s landslide, U.S. officials were endorsing “consensus” on the presidential election — that is, a candidate other than Gul.

Gul didn’t back down, which means that Turkey will have a president who is more friendly to the United States than the vast majority of “secular” Turkish politicians — or Turks. Shouldn’t he be welcomed?

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A Religious Candidate Is Ascendant in Turkey

By SABRINA TAVERNISE and SEBNEM ARSU
Published: August 28, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/28/world/europe/28gul.html

After being shut out of the presidency last spring, Abdullah Gul, a religious man in the assiduously secular realm of Turkish politics, allowed himself a little soul-searching.

“Has the government limited women’s rights?” Mr. Gul, 56, asked a panel of newspaper editors on national television, hoping to persuade Turkey’s establishment that it had nothing to fear from his candidacy.

After all, he argued, his party was already in power, but “has the government closed down places where young people or modern people go? Has the government done some secret things and those been disclosed? What happened?”

As he saw it, he had done everything right. As foreign minister, he pushed for Turkey to join the European Union. He called for changes to a law that punished writers for “insulting Turkishness.” He raised Turkey’s profile abroad and helped devise a set of democratic reforms.

But for Turkey’s secular class, all that was beside the point. Mr. Gul came from a party that espoused political Islam, his wife wore an Islamic head scarf and the fear that inspired outweighed his accomplishments. A high court blocked his candidacy at the request of the main secular opposition party.

Four months later, he is running again, after Turks voted overwhelmingly for his party in a national election. This time, in today’s parliamentary vote, he is almost certain to win.

Turkey’s secular class is still clearly uncomfortable with the choice. Turkey’s powerful military, which has ousted four elected governments, said on its Web site on Monday that there were “centers of evil” that “systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic.”

But Turkey’s secular elite won only a fifth of the vote last month, and Mr. Gul, an outsider from Turkey’s religious heartland, seems to be calculating that he no longer needs its consent.

His approval will thrust a group of young, reform-minded members of the Islamic middle class into the upper echelons of secular power in Turkey, a fundamental reversal of the hierarchy in place since the founding of the state in 1923. For most of Turkey’s history, upper-class Turks have occupied the presidency and imposed Western values onto the conservative Anatolian heartland below. With Mr. Gul’s election, that heartland is on top.

“The pupils of Anatolia have grown up,” said Joost Lagendijk, a member of the European Parliament who works on Turkish issues. “The ones that were taught by Ankara and Istanbul how to behave are now asking for their own representation in politics.”

Metin Heper, a political science professor at Bilkent University, argues that despite Mr. Gul’s past participation in parties that espoused political Islam, he and his close ally, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, did not. They have an entirely different motivation. A review of their political activity, Mr. Heper said, shows they want to build a strong economy and healthy society, and that Islam is a moral compass to achieve it. “They thought you need people who would be industrious, who would take things seriously, who would also act in an honest manner,” he said. “They thought religion would be a source for the internalization of such values and attitudes.”

Mr. Gul was born in Kayseri, a conservative city of religious traders and merchants on the plains of central Turkey. The city had a strong part in Turkey’s current economic boom, creating a new Islamic middle class of which Mr. Gul was a part.

His early life was more village than city. He married a woman his mother chose, and she was just 14 at the time they were introduced — half his age. But he waited for her to finish school and to reach the legal marriage age, 15, before they wed.

In Kayseri, the art of selling was the important skill, but the young Mr. Gul was considered talentless. Mehmet Ozhaseki, an old friend and mayor of Kayseri, tells how Mr. Gul failed to sell soft drinks because he was too shy to sing the jingle, “cold enough to make your 32 teeth dance to the rhythm of the violin.”

So he went into academics, putting him on track to compete for power with the secular establishment. He earned a doctorate in economics, which included study in London and Exeter. In 1983, he moved to Saudi Arabia, working in the Islamic Development Bank for eight years.

In 1991, he ran for Parliament as part of the Welfare Party, an openly Islamist party.

The party was banned after the military forced it from power in 1997. Several years later, he joined Mr. Erdogan in breaking with the conservative Islamic party and founding the Justice and Development Party, which came to power in 2002.

“They became disenchanted with the undue attention that the party gave to religion,” Mr. Heper said. “They wanted to separate religion from politics altogether.”

But many critics remain unconvinced. “There is a large group of people in Turkey who still think that the statements he has made as a member of the Islamic political movement are his fundamental thoughts and cannot change with time,” said Yilmaz Esmer, a professor at Bahcesehir University.

His supporters argue that he is an agile politician who pursued the restructuring of the Turkish state needed for entry into the European Union. Mr. Gul calls the changes a “silent revolution.”

He argues deftly before foreign audiences on topics like partition in Iraq (he is against it), and Turkey’s largely peaceful blend of Islam and democracy that makes it exceptional in its region. “For the Europeans, he is considered to be very competent and the driving force behind reforms that have taken place over the past few years,” Mr. Lagendijk said.

The question ahead, he said, is will Mr. Gul manage to include all of Turkish society in his appointments to important posts, particularly in the judiciary. “The big challenge for him is to prove he’ll be the president for all the Turks,” Mr. Lagendijk said.

Sabrina Tavernise reported from Baghdad, and Sebnem Arsu from Ankara, Turkey.

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Former Islamist Wins Turkish Presidency

By SUZAN FRASER
The Associated Press
Tuesday, August 28, 2007; 12:03 PM
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/28/AR2007082800223.html?hpid=moreheadlines

ANKARA, Turkey — A devout Muslim with a background in political Islam won the Turkish presidency on Tuesday, in a major triumph for the Islamic-rooted government after months of confrontation with the secular establishment.

Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul received a majority of 339 votes in a parliamentary ballot and took the oath of office, pledging impartiality and loyalty to Turkey’s historic separation of religion and politics.

“Secularism _ one of the main principles of our republic _ is a precondition for social peace as much as it is a liberating model for different lifestyles,” Gul said. “As long as I am in office, I will embrace all our citizens without any bias. I will preserve my impartiality with the greatest of care.”

Gul’s victory took place a day after the military, which has ousted four governments since 1960, issued a stern warning about the threat to secularism. Gul’s initial bid for president was blocked over fears that he planned to dilute secular traditions.

“Our nation has been watching the behavior of those separatists who can’t embrace Turkey’s unitary nature, and centers of evil that systematically try to corrode the secular nature of the Turkish Republic,” Gen. Yasar Buyukanit, chief of the military, said in a note on the military’s Web site Monday.

Turkey’s president has the power to veto legislation, and Gul has failed to allay secularist fears that he would sign into law any legislation passed by the government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan _ a close ally _ without concern.

Also, his wife wears an Islamic-style head scarf _ which is banned in government offices and schools. Islamic attire has been restricted in Turkey since the country’s first president, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ushered in secularism and Western-style reforms in the 1930s.

Gul failed to win the presidency in two rounds of voting last week because the ruling Justice and Development party lacked the two-thirds majority in Parliament needed for him to secure the post. But the party _ which holds 341 of the 550 seats _ had a far easier hurdle on Tuesday, when only a simple majority was required.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the United States welcomed “this exercise in Turkish democracy. We think it continues the course of democratic development in that country.”

Erdogan said he planned to submit his new Cabinet to Gul for his approval on Wednesday. Erdogan had presented his list earlier this month to outgoing President Ahmet Necdet Sezer, who said the new president should approve it.

“I hope (Gul’s presidency) is beneficial to the country, the people and the republic,” Erdogan said. “God willing, together, shoulder to shoulder, we will carry Turkey forward.”

In Gul’s hometown of Kayseri, in Turkey’s conservative heartland, hundreds gathered at a main square to celebrate his victory, private NTV television reported.

Secularist Turks staged mass rallies and the military threatened to intervene when Erdogan nominated Gul for president in the spring.

Gul insisted that he be re-nominated for president earlier this month, arguing that his party’s victory in the elections gave him a strong mandate to run. He rejected calls from secularist parties to step aside in favor of a non-Islamist, compromise candidate.

“A person who has defied the (secular) republic, who has said he finds it to be wrong, is about to move to the top of the state. This is a contradiction,” said Deniz Baykal, leader of the secular opposition. His party boycotted the vote on Tuesday and has said it would not take part in some state occasions, including presidential ceremonies.

As foreign minister, Gul _ who speaks English and Arabic _ has cultivated an image as a moderate politician.

In a recent meeting with foreign journalists, Gul said he would make use of his experiences as foreign minister to boost Turkey’s European Union bid and make the Turkish presidency more active on the international scene.

“Turkey will be more active; Turkey will be contributing more to world issues,” he said.

The EU said the vote “represents a considerable achievement for Turkey and the Turkish people,”

In a statement, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said he hoped the government “will be able to resume work … to give fresh, immediate and positive impetus” to EU entry talks.

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Islam and Democracy

Leader
The Guardian – Wednesday August 22, 2007
http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/story/0,,2153572,00.html

Barring some unforeseen event, Abdullah Gul, a devout Muslim who once flirted with Islamism, will become the president of Turkey next week. In a parliamentary vote on Monday he failed to win the prescribed two-thirds majority, but he will almost certainly secure victory in a later ballot where only a simple majority is required.

Mr Gul, who is currently foreign minister, was first nominated for the presidency back in April by the prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the leader of the ruling Justice and Development party (AKP). The army – which regards itself as the guardian of Ataturk’s secular revolution and suspects Mr Gul of still harbouring an Islamist agenda – objected. Undaunted by the military, Erdogan called an early general election in July, which his party won handsomely.

In anticipation of becoming president, Mr Gul has made some reassuring noises and even called in an Austrian couturier, whose clothes have adorned Catherine Zeta-Jones, to redesign his wife’s politically charged Islamic headscarves. The military, if it is wise, will let parliamentary events take their course. The army has toppled four Turkish governments during the past 50 years, and to do so again would be bad for the military itself (since the AKP has a clear mandate), bad for Turkey and, indeed, bad for the rest of the Muslim world.

Despite the AKP’s core of religious support, it has behaved in power with remarkable pragmatism, pursuing economic and political reforms that should pave the way for eventual EU membership. Tellingly, the party’s victory was greeted by record prices on the Turkish stock market. Secularists and the military fear a hidden agenda, but the Turkish brand of secularism has its unattractive side too, associated as it is with the wealthy elite and politics that at times can be far from progressive.

Beyond party politics there are certainly religious tussles taking place in Turkey, such as the attempt by municipal officials to ban posters advertising skimpy swimsuits from the streets of Istanbul earlier this year. Turkey has also become the main propagation centre (with encouragement from Christian fundamentalists) for an Islamic version of creationism. But according to one study, only 9% of Turks want an Islamic state.

From a European liberal perspective, some of this is worrying, but in parts of the Middle East – among reformers in Egypt, for example – it is often seen as a model. If Islam and democracy can be proved compatible in Turkey, why not elsewhere? Mr Gul’s coming presidency, and the army’s response to it, will make waves far beyond the Bosphorus.

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Europe should celebrate milestone in Turkey’s transition

By David Gardner
Published: August 16 2007 19:07 | Last updated: August 16 2007 19:07
http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/a4526084-4c22-11dc-b67f-0000779fd2ac.html

An awful lot is riding on the outcome of the presidential contest in Turkey, which Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister with an Islamist past, has re-entered – to the consternation of the overmighty generals who transformed his earlier candidacy into a summer-long constitutional crisis.

It is hard to think of any greater geopolitical imperative today than to demonstrate that Islam and democracy can be bound successfully together. Turkey is well on the way to proving this, in an experiment that is resonating far beyond its borders.

It is the Turks, of course, who are responsible for the success of this great challenge. But their partners in Europe and Nato must rise to it too.

The crisis erupted in April after the army issued an elliptical ultimatum – on its website – against Mr Gul’s candidacy, in effect saying Turkey’s secular heritage could not be entrusted to a man who had entered politics as an Islamist and whose wife wears the Muslim headscarf.

The ruling Justice and Development party of Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the charismatic prime minister, called early elections and was returned with a hugely increased share of the vote. Turks stood four-square with democracy as the generals tripped over their clumsy digital démarche.

Before the AKP emerged in late 2001, the army had ousted four governments – and closed four Islamist parties – in four decades. This resounding vote showed Turkey has changed and that it has done so, to the horror of its cosmopolitan and secular elites, under a neo-Islamist banner. How did this happen?

Three reasons for the AKP’s success seem to stand out.

First, it helps to be competent and to have a national project. When Mr Erdogan’s party first won office in 2002 the nationalist right was a howling irrelevance, the left a museum-piece, and the liberal and social democratic centre had fragmented into shrinking personality cults for giant egos, cut off from the conservative heartland of Anatolia and, indeed, the lives of ordinary Turks they did so little to improve.

The AKP, by contrast, is a considered project. Recycled from the wreckage of two banned Islamist parties, liberally seasoned with mainstream conservatives and Turkey’s new business class, Mr Erdogan and his friends did their homework while they were putting the party together. They interviewed 41,000 people nationally, learning that ties to Europe and an economy in the worst recession since 1945 overwhelmingly dominated Turkish concerns; headline issues such as headscarves came a distant ninth.

The AKP has since provided good governance, with high economic growth and stability, rocketing inward investment, 2.5m new jobs and near doubled per capita income, while raising spending on education and infrastructure. It has also, as part of Turkey’s attempt to meet the criteria of European Union membership, presided over a constitutional revolution: abolishing the death penalty and criminalising torture, introducing democratic freedoms of expression and association and minority rights for the Kurds – and, above all, subordinating the army to civilian authority.

But a second reason for the AKP’s success is its astute reading of the social transformation of the country. The party is now the chosen path to modernity of the socially conservative, religiously observant but at the same time dynamic and entrepreneurial middle classes of central Anatolia, who now demand their rightful share in power, hitherto monopolised by a self-perpetuating secular elite.

The AKP’s appeal is aspirational, about giving people the chance to build fulfilling lives; but reassuring, by holding fast to the moorings of family, religion and the villages from which many Turks are just a generation away. In Islamist terms this is a traditionalist world-view that looks forward, rather than a radical outlook that harks backwards in a violent lament for past glory.

Many Turkish secularists know full well this is not theocracy by stealth; there is, indeed, a definite whiff of class animus in their resistance to the shift in the balance of power towards Turks from the provinces and the countryside. Their outlook is ossified. They are shrine-keepers for Mustafa Kemal Atatürk who, like many of those who built republican Turkey from the remains of the Ottoman empire, was a refugee, regrouping behind an essentially defensive political (and military) culture.

The AKP’s third ace – and Turkey’s – has been Europe. EU membership, finally under negotiation but now stalled, is still a popular and unifying idea in Turkey. Just about. Until reluctant partners such as France, Germany and Austria raised the bar for Turkish entry, the European project provided Turkey with not only an engine of reform but the glue of political cohesion. The Kemalists and military saw in the EU a fulfilment of the country’s western vocation forseen by Atatürk, while the AKP saw in the EU’s democratic club rules a shield against the generals.

Despite the maladroitness of its politicians, Europe’s “soft power” is still seductive enough to arrange a marriage between Islam and democracy, bound by EU vows. Put another way, the interaction of Europe and Turkey is creating the Muslim world’s first, as it were, Christian Democrats.

Like Christian Democrats in government across Europe, these Muslim Democrats differ from the mainstream centre-right – over moral issues or social justice, for instance – but they should be easy to recognise.

For all the hiccups and upsets, over free speech for writers perhaps, or free votes for a parliament that rejected a US invasion force for Iraq, they are a much better bet than the autocrats of the Middle East who, even when ostensibly enlightened like the Shah of Iran and his White Revolution, create social dislocation and bitterness that breeds extremism.

That is why Mr Gul’s candidacy, following Mr Erdogan’s democratic triumph, is a milestone in Turkey’s political transition, perhaps akin to the 1982 Socialist landslide with which Spain’s voters answered an attempted military coup by residual Francoism.

Europe should respond with enthusiasm to this and stop behaving as though the Turks were still menacing the gates of Vienna.

The assertion, especially in France, that Turkey shares none of Europe’s heritage, is ahistorical: unless there was no Byzantium, no eastern Roman empire, no classics of Greek science and philosophy that, transmitted through the world of Islam, dragged Europe out of the dark ages. This is a country embedded in the history of Europe and Christendom as well as Islam – a precious commodity.

david.gardner@ft.com

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Turkey and Democracy in the Muslim World

The experience of the AKP in Turkey suggests that Islam and democracy are compatible.

By Mohamed Nawab Mohd Osman for RSIS (08/08/07)
http://www.isn.ethz.ch/news/sw/details.cfm?ID=17956

The recent results in the Turkish parliamentary elections serve as an important reminder that, contrary to the stereotype of the incompatibility between Islam and democracy, the two can coexist and are indeed compatible. The Justice and Development Party (AKP), which also formed the last Turkish government, had increased its electoral support from 34 percent in 2002 to 47 percent in the 22 July elections. Western liberal stereotypes portray the picture of modern liberal principles and Islamic politics not being able to co-exist, strengthened by the experiences of undemocratic Islamist regimes in Iran, Sudan and Afghanistan. This portrayal may have become obsolete in light of the recent developments in Turkey.

In the elections, the victorious AKP does not fit these Western stereotypes. In fact, the competition in Turkey has been between an AK Party which is promoting democracy against the old Turkish political elite, the military commanders and the leaders of the old Republican Peoples’ Party (CHP), who are extremist secularists supporting old-style programs of “Westernization” and secularism at the expense of democracy. The elections were called after the AKP nominated Abdullah Gul, the foreign minister and a devout Muslim, to be president, which resulted in street protests by secularists over the fact that his wife wears a headscarf.

Turkish model of Islamic politics

Graham Fuller, in book The Future of Political Islam published in 2003 argued that the AKP government would be a serious test for the compatibility between Islam and democracy. Four and the half years after its initial win, the AKP has proven that a government with Islamic credentials can also promote robust economic development, enhance ties with the US and Europe and galvanize support for its cause. The AKP has demonstrated that democracy and secularism in the Muslim world are not mutually exclusive, or have to grow only at the expense of the other. Perhaps most importantly, the AKP’s victory could give voice to the emergence of “Muslim Democratic” parties throughout the Muslim world along the lines of the Christian Democratic parties in Europe.

The AKP successfully balanced the need to distance itself from its Islamist background to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the Turkish political elites. At the same time, they were able to appeal to their more Islamic constituencies by embodying the traditional values of Islam and maintaining Turkish links to its Islamic past. The idea of promoting a Turkish model of Islamic politics is not a new one. American policymakers, aware that their long-lasting support for the friendly authoritarian regimes in the Middle East led to strong anti-Americanism and radicalism, proposed a middle way through the creation of Islamist democracies that are friendly to the US. The logic of this approach is underlined by the belief that, just as there are radical, democrat or pro-violence lines under the roof of the left, there could be democrat, radical and pro-violence types among Islamist parties and groups. The key is to support Islamist stance that are moderate and democratic along the line of the AKP.

Can the Turkish model work for the Muslim world?

The key problem in promoting the Turkish model is Turkey’s negative image in the Muslim world. Most Muslims perceive Turkish modernization as de-Islamization and Westernization. Turkey’s top down cultural reform and restrictions on Islamic symbols and identity in the public sphere are seen negatively. The regime of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, father of modern Turkey, is remembered for abolishing the Islamic Caliphate. The regime’s repression of Sufi orders and madrasahs and its enforcement of compulsory Western dress codes on its populace are unacceptable even to many moderate Muslims. While some Arab countries such as Tunisia and Syria had attempted similar reform agendas, these reforms have not been implemented as radically as in Turkey.

Despite these negative perceptions, many Muslims draw a distinction between the Turkish state and the current Turkish government of the AKP. Many Islamic parties throughout the world draw inspiration from the experience of the AKP. For instance, prior to the publication by PAS (the Islamic Party of Malaysia) of its blueprint for an Islamic state, key members of the party had gone to Turkey to study the Turkish model of Islamic politics. The initial blueprint of the Islamic state (which was rejected by the more conservative elements in the party) encapsulated many features of the current Turkish government.

Similarly, the leaders of the Justice and Development Party (Adalat) in Morocco also began to reform the party along the lines of the AKP following the 2003 Casablanca bombings. In the 2002 Moroccan elections, the party had secured 42 out of the 325 seats in the Moroccan parliament. While it was initially more conservative in its outlook, it has followed the AKP’s example by focusing on issues of justice and democracy rather than the promotion of Islamic laws or establishing a theocratic Islamic state. The fact that other Islamic parties such as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and Jordan posted articles of support in their websites for the AKP following its electoral success means that there are some possibilities that these parties may also emulate the AKP Islamic position.

The West and democracy in the Muslim world

The experience of the AKP in Turkey suggests that Islam and democracy are compatible. The US and other Western policymakers should head the eminent scholar of Islam, John L Esposito’s call that “the United States restrain its one-dimensional attitude to democracy and recognize that the authentic roots of democracy exist in Islam.” These moderate Islamists can prove to be important and legitimate partners for the West. Recognizing the rise of these parties could lessen the anti-American and anti-Western sentiments which are currently prevalent in most of the Muslim world and will de-legitimize the radical Muslim groups.

Mohamed Nawab Mohd Osman is an Associate Research Fellow at the S.Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University.

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Turkey discredits some Orientalist myths

AKP authenticates a synthesis of Islam and democracy by their tremendous electoral victory.

By Rami G. Khouri – 04/08/2007 11:15:00 AM GMT
http://www.aljazeera.com/news/newsfull.php?newid=23966

BEIRUT — The sweeping victory of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Turkey’s parliamentary election last month is historic for Turkey, but it also holds important lessons for others, such as the United States, European Union and other Western governments, and Islamist political parties throughout the Arab world.

The lessons revolve around three related issues: the participation of Islamic parties in democratic transformations in the Middle East; the relationship between secularist nationalism enforced by armed forces and electoral Islamism supported by much of the citizenry; and, how Western democracies should most effectively deal with situations in which democracy and Islamist parties rear their heads simultaneously in the developing Middle East. As always, Turkey has much to teach us all.

Many in the Arab world, and honest men and women in the West and Israel, should now compare and contrast the experience of political Islamists in Turkey and Arab countries, and ask: Why the glaring contrast between how the U.S.-EU democracies engage with triumphant Islamist democrats in Turkey, and how these same U.S.-EU democracies sanction and lay siege to triumphant Islamists in the Arab world, especially Hamas in Palestine?

The trajectory of previous Islamist parties in Turkey, that were twice banned and ejected by the armed forces in the 1990s, ultimately gave way to the pragmatism and realism of the AKP. This has led them not only to victorious incumbency, but also to this week’s strong popular reaffirmation by the most important force in a real democracy — the thinking, voting citizenry.

This week’s victory is especially significant because it is also a slap in the face to the strong-armed tactics of the armed forces, who made it clear in early May that they would intervene to safeguard Turkey’s secular system in the face of any real or imagined Islamist threat. The populace and the AKP both reaffirmed their commitment to Turkish secularism, democracy, rule of law, economic reform, and the desired entry into the European Union.

The election, in one fell swoop, telescoped centuries of Orientalist distortions about Middle Eastern governance and political values into a single, clear affirmation of contemporary Turkey’s most important lesson for us all: It is, in fact, easy to reconcile democracy, nationalism, secularism, republicanism, constitutionalism, stability, prosperity and Islam in a single process. That process is inclusive, honest democracy, in which all legitimate players take part and the winner is allowed to govern.

The U.S.-EU wisely engaged Turkey’s political system over the past two decades and gently prodded it towards a combination of liberal human rights norms and economic reforms that have served the country well. The armed forces accepted the need to give way to legitimate elected governments. The AKP and its precursor Islamist parties learned that to be taken seriously they must adhere to reasonable rules defined by the majority of Turks, not by the armed forces or the West alone. Their repeated success reflects their ability to identify and respond to the will of the Turkish majority, which wants to affirm its Islamic values while simultaneously enjoying the benefits of a democratic electoral system, a secular public space, a growing economy, and national Turkish pride. Consequently, the constitutional issues being contested in Turkey are playing out impressively in the arenas of elections, peaceful rallies, court hearings, the media, and the court of public opinion.

Why this process did not happen in any Arab country? One key element is there: the willingness of mainstream Islamists to engage in democratic and electoral politics, as we have witnessed in Lebanon, Palestine, Yemen, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco and Egypt since the late 1980s.

Other key elements, however, are not in place in the Arab world. The armed forces and security systems that rule many Arab countries do not feel the need to meet the Islamists and their citizens halfway. The United States and European Union have not engaged Arab Islamists fairly, as they have the Turks. The Western-Israeli boycott of victoriously elected Hamas has been devastating for the credibility of democratic transformations in Arab lands — though it does not seem to have hurt Hamas’ legitimacy very much. Arab ruling elites are not very inclined to engage Islamist parties honestly, or afford them the opportunity to govern should they win a free and fair election.

The issue of Israel also looms large, because Arab Islamist sentiments are fostered in part as a form of resistance to Israeli occupation and aggression. Islamists who fight Israel in legitimate resistance or self-defense find themselves nullified and rejected as democratic actors in domestic politics — a nullification fervently supported by the United States, with the Europeans dragged behind unimpressively.

Turkey’s lesson is that absolutist governance formulae do not work, and relative political compromises and balances are better options that enjoy widespread popular support. Islamists (as well as nationalists, leftists and others driven by firm ideologies) who are accepted in democratic politics and win elections usually become more pragmatic when they are subjected to the accountability of their entire citizenries.

Thank you, Turkey, for reminding us of this.

— Rami G. Khouri is an internationally syndicated columnist, the director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut, editor-at-large of the Beirut-based Daily Star, and co-laureate of the 2006 pax Christi International peace Award.

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As Democracy Push Falters, Bush Feels Like a ‘Dissident’

By Peter Baker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, August 20, 2007; A01
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/19/AR2007081901720_pf.html

By the time he arrived in Prague in June for a democracy conference, President Bush was frustrated. He had committed his presidency to working toward the goal of “ending tyranny in our world,” yet the march of freedom seemed stalled. Just as aggravating was the sense that his own government was not committed to his vision.

As he sat down with opposition leaders from authoritarian societies around the world, he gave voice to his exasperation. “You’re not the only dissident,” Bush told Saad Eddin Ibrahim, a leader in the resistance to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. “I too am a dissident in Washington. Bureaucracy in the United States does not help change. It seems that Mubarak succeeded in brainwashing them.”

If he needed more evidence, he would soon get it. In his speech that day, Bush vowed to order U.S. ambassadors in unfree nations to meet with dissidents and boasted that he had created a fund to help embattled human rights defenders. But the State Department did not send out the cable directing ambassadors to sit down with dissidents until two months later. And to this day, not a nickel has been transferred to the fund he touted.

Two and a half years after Bush pledged in his second inaugural address to spread democracy around the world, the grand project has bogged down in a bureaucratic and geopolitical morass, in the view of many activists, officials and even White House aides. Many in his administration never bought into the idea, and some undermined it, including his own vice president. The Iraq war has distracted Bush and, in some quarters, discredited his aspirations. And while he focuses his ire on bureaucracy, Bush at times has compromised the idealism of that speech in the muddy reality of guarding other U.S. interests.

The story of how a president’s vision is translated into thorny policy is a classic Washington tale of politics, inertia, rivalries and funding battles — and a case study in the frustrated ambition of a besieged presidency. Bush says his goal of “ending tyranny” will take many generations, and he aims to institutionalize it as U.S. policy no matter who follows him in the White House. And for all the difficulties of the moment, it may yet, as he hopes, see fruition down the road.

At this point, though, democracy promotion has become so identified with an unpopular president that candidates running to succeed him are running away from it. At a recent debate, they rushed to disavow it. “I’m not a carbon copy of President Bush,” one said. Another ventured that “maybe going to elections so quickly is a mistake.” A third, asked if he agreed with Bush’s vision, replied, “Absolutely not, because I don’t think we can force people to accept our way of life, our way of government.”

And those were the Republicans.

Seeds of a New Policy

Bush did not wait long after reelection in November 2004 to begin mapping his second term. Relaxing from the burdens of the campaign, he leafed through galleys of a book given to him by Tom A. Bernstein, a friend and former partner in the Texas Rangers. The book, “The Case for Democracy,” was a manifesto by Natan Sharansky, the Soviet refusenik, Israeli politician and favorite of neoconservatives.

Bush found it so riveting, he asked aides to invite Sharansky to visit. The next day, nine days after the election, the author was ushered into the Oval Office. He and Bush talked about the nature of democracy and how to advance it. Bush was struck by a metaphor in the book comparing a tyrannical state to a soldier pointing a gun at a prisoner until his arms tire, he lowers the gun and the captive escapes. “Not only did he read it, he felt it,” Sharansky said last week.

Within weeks, according to several aides, Bush called his chief speechwriter, Michael J. Gerson, to discuss using his second inaugural address to “plant a flag” for democracy around the world. Bush had made democracy in the Middle East a cornerstone of his response to the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, but now he wanted to broaden the goal.

Enthusiasm within the White House grew with events in far-off Ukraine. Even as the speech was being developed, hundreds of thousands of orange-clad Ukrainians protested a stolen election and, as in the former Soviet republic of Georgia, forced the old regime out in a new vote the day after Christmas. That had a big impact in the West Wing. “You do get influenced by the season,” said former Bush counselor Dan Bartlett. “At the time, there were the Georgias of the world . . . all those revolutions. There was a momentum behind it.”

A mission to spread democracy would also offer an ideological underpinning to the “war on terror” beyond hunting al-Qaeda. “To have an optimistic, forward-leaning, idealistic call, we felt, would be more inviting for people on both sides of the aisle in this country and with governments that may be skeptical overseas,” Bartlett said.

Such sweeping rhetoric might have generated objections from the professional diplomats at the State Department who normally review presidential addresses. “That’s why you don’t show them the speech,” Bartlett explained.

Instead, the Bush team consulted conservative scholars. Gerson, Bartlett, Karl Rove, Peter Wehner and other aides met at the White House on Jan. 10, 2005, with a group of academics. Yale University historian John Lewis Gaddis suggested that Bush promise to work toward “ending tyranny” by a date certain in 20 or 25 years. Some scoffed, but Gerson liked the idea.

The group adjourned to lunch in the White House mess, where, Gaddis later recalled in a lecture, Rove recommended the “chocolate freedom tart,” a French desert renamed during the Iraq invasion. In the end, Gerson and other aides married Sharansky’s idea of promoting democracy and Gaddis’s idea of ending tyranny, although they set no target date and described it as the task of generations.

Other presidents had promoted liberty or human rights, from Woodrow Wilson and Franklin D. Roosevelt to John F. Kennedy and Jimmy Carter. But none had gone as far as Bush. “Rhetorically, nobody, including even Ronald Reagan, devoted more words in a major speech to this objective than George W. Bush,” said Michael McFaul, head of Stanford University’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law.

Just hours before Bush arrived at the Capitol to take the oath and deliver his inaugural speech, Ukraine’s Supreme Court rejected the losing candidate’s appeal. The Orange Revolution had succeeded. It seemed the start of more to come.

An Ideal Is Tested

The days after the speech were heady. Eight million Iraqis went to the polls to elect an interim parliament, their purple-stained fingers a global symbol of emerging democracy. A political assassination in Lebanon triggered demonstrations known as the Cedar Revolution that toppled a pro-Syrian government and forced Damascus to end a three-decade occupation. And protests over a stolen election in Kyrgyzstan ousted another entrenched leader in the Tulip Revolution.

“There was this sort of euphoria,” recalled Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, which promotes democracy worldwide.

Bush and his team tried to demonstrate their commitment. The president met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Slovakia for a tense discussion about the Kremlin’s crackdown on dissent. And when Egypt arrested opposition leader Ayman Nour, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice canceled a trip to Cairo. Two weeks later, Egypt released Nour.

The most serious test came in May, when Uzbekistan, a U.S. ally, massacred hundreds of protesters in the town of Andijan. The Pentagon, which maintained a base in Uzbekistan, resisted making a strenuous protest, but even the restrained criticism provoked Uzbekistan enough to expel U.S. troops. It was the first tangible price paid for the focus on freedom.

But it was all ad hoc. “There was no blueprint here,” said Joshua Muravchik, an American Enterprise Institute scholar who serves on Rice’s democracy advisory panel. “No one knew how to do this. People at the State Department felt they were groping in the dark.”

At the White House, aides that summer tried to create a formula. An interagency group divided nations into three categories: newly democratic with weak institutions, such as Ukraine and Georgia; authoritarian with reformist tendencies, such as Pakistan; and reform-resistant, such as Belarus and Uzbekistan. Altogether, they identified 49 countries for attention.

But funding did not track those priorities. Bush’s budget slashed money for democracy programs in Russia and the former Soviet Union, where civil society was in retreat. And some officials tried to redefine existing development projects as democracy promotion — road construction counts, they argued, because voters need to reach polling stations.

“They don’t want to do it, not because they’re evil but because they’re development people,” said a top official who works on democracy issues. “They want to inoculate children. They want to build schools. And to do that, they have to work with existing regimes. And you’re getting in their way.”

Defiance of Bush’s mandate could be subtle or brazen. The official recalled a conversation with a State Department bureaucrat over a democracy issue.

“It’s our policy,” the official said.
“What do you mean?” the bureaucrat asked.
“Read the president’s speech,” the official said.
“Policy is not what the president says in speeches,” the bureaucrat replied. “Policy is what emerges from interagency meetings.”

And so the Arab Spring proved short-lived both in Washington and abroad. By August came the pushback, as Russian officials warned authoritarian governments around the world that Bush wanted to foment revolutions as in Ukraine and Georgia. Nongovernmental organizations promoting civil society were harassed and even kicked out.

In September, Mubarak held Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election, but it turned out to be an exercise in preserving power. The manipulated contest delivered Mubarak 88.6 percent of the vote to 7 percent for Nour, his main challenger. By Christmas, Nour was back behind bars, sentenced to five years in prison.

In Foreign Vote, a Turning Point

In a conference room at State Department headquarters, Rice and national security adviser Stephen J. Hadley sat down with aides that winter to consider a pressing question: Should Palestinian parliamentary elections scheduled for January 2006 be canceled?

Israeli leaders, including Tzipi Livni, now the foreign minister, had implored Bush advisers to not let the vote proceed. Hamas, deemed a terrorist group by the United States, could easily win, they warned. Even Sharansky, the president’s apostle, urged the Americans to postpone the vote, arguing that democracy is about building institutions and civil society, not just holding elections.

But Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the Americans that his Fatah party needed the vote for credibility and it had to include his opposition. Rice and Hadley heeded his wishes. “We didn’t think that postponing the elections would have solved any problems,” said Philip D. Zelikow, who was Rice’s counselor at the time and attended the meeting. “You would have been conceding Fatah’s illegitimacy.”

It was, they thought, a test of Bush’s democracy agenda. What was more important, the principle or the outcome? The elections went forward and Hamas won big. Now Bush was stuck with an avowed enemy of Israel governing the Palestinian territories. And critics saw it as proof that the president’s democracy agenda was dangerously na‚àö√òve. “They were saying, ‘We told you so,’ ” recalled Thomas Carothers, director of the democracy project at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Many now see that election as a turning point that emboldened internal resistance and left democracy advocates gun-shy. More battles ensued. White House aides drafting a National Security Strategy in March 2006 included language decrying Russian backsliding on democracy. Senior Russia adviser Thomas E. Graham Jr. tried to soften it, an official said. The fight went all the way to Bush, who kept the wording.

Less than two months later, Vice President Cheney went to Lithuania to deliver the toughest U.S. indictment of Putin’s leadership. But the next day, Cheney flew to oil-rich Kazakhstan and embraced its autocratic leader, Nursultan Nazarbayev, with not a word of criticism. The juxtaposition made the talk of democracy look phony and provided ammunition to the Kremlin.

Another test came the same month. Bush was regularly meeting with dissidents from around the world, and he was set to host several Chinese religious rights activists. But Clark T. Randt Jr., a Bush friend serving as ambassador to China, “threw a fit,” an official said, warning it would damage relations with Beijing. Bush aides compromised by moving the meeting from the Oval Office to the White House residence. (A spokeswoman said Randt was concerned that one particular invitee “was inappropriate.”)

By fall, the compromises grew more serious. When tanks rolled through Bangkok in a military coup overthrowing Thailand’s elected prime minister, Bush was at the United Nations delivering a speech on democracy. But Bush mustered no outrage on behalf of the ousted Thai leader and left town without seeing him, even though he was also at the United Nations. The National Security Council pushed for a stronger response, but the State Department and the office of the vice president resisted. “OVP has this little-girl crush on strongmen,” said an official on the losing side.

In the end, Bush suspended $24 million in military aid only to watch China replace it. By May, the U.S. Navy was conducting exercises with the Thai military. And yesterday, the Thai military pushed through a new constitution limiting the role of elected officials once civilian rule is restored.

Fitful Progress and Frustration

Sharansky invited Bush to Prague this spring hoping to jump-start the democracy agenda. Bush advisers saw it as a chance to reaffirm his vision of ending tyranny. “Some have said that qualifies me as a ‘dissident president,’ ” Bush told the gathering. “If standing for liberty in the world makes me a dissident, I wear that title with pride.”

But his frustration came through during his private talk with Ibrahim, who recalled it to the Jordanian newspaper Ad-Dustour, in an account White House aides endorsed.

Bush aides said they are trying to institutionalize the goal of the inaugural address. They created a new democracy unit in the intelligence community. They helped start a U.N. democracy fund and other international forums. They made political rights and rule of law criteria for aid under the Millennium Challenge anti-poverty program.

Most significantly, they restructured how U.S. foreign aid is determined, developing a complicated formula to evaluate each country’s state of freedom and target money accordingly. Overall, they say they have doubled democracy funding since 2001.

Yet the latest administration budget cut millions of dollars for human rights and democracy programs in places such as Burma, Azerbaijan, Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan. The administration allotted less democracy money for Russia than for Liberia, according to Freedom House. Even better-funded programs in Iraq have relied on Congress to provide money the administration would not.

“The promotion of democracy has been institutionalized in the State Department,” said Undersecretary of State Paula J. Dobriansky. “There has been very significant change. At the same time, there are areas where we can change more, and we will.”

Others aren’t as sanguine. “If the president was announcing a grand strategy, it doesn’t look like his goals are being attained,” Zelikow said.

Lorne W. Craner, Bush’s first-term assistant secretary of state for democracy and now president of the International Republican Institute, which advocates democracy, said: “I don’t think the bureaucracy was reorganized to follow up on the policy. The architecture has not yet been configured to realize the president’s promise.”

Many of the original architects of Bush’s vision are gone. Gerson, Bartlett and Wehner have left the White House, and Rove will by the end of the month. Deputy national security adviser Elliott Abrams has been perhaps the most forceful advocate of democracy promotion within the administration, yet he has less time to work on it these days because he also oversees Middle East policy.

And every day brings a new test. As Bush was in Prague, aides debated an upcoming White House visit by Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet. Hanoi was arresting political opponents, and the White House “came this close” to canceling the visit, one official said. Instead, it decided to demonstrate its pique by refusing to issue a joint statement with Triet and not letting him stay at Blair House.

An ongoing debate involves the Kazakh leader, whom Cheney called “my friend.” Nazarbayev wants to chair the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, which monitors elections. Some Bush aides are appalled that voting would be overseen by a man who arranged his reelection with 91 percent of the vote and changed the constitution in May to allow himself to remain in office for life. Just this weekend, the OSCE monitored parliamentary elections in Kazakhstan and concluded that, while there was progress, they did not meet international standards.

But some officials worry about alienating a friend in a region where Russia is reasserting influence. Assistant Secretary of State Richard A. Boucher has argued for giving Nazarbayev more time to reform. The discord has gotten so personal that rivals have dubbed him Boucherbayev. In an interview, Boucher said those promoting democracy are not responsible for the broader picture. “We have to work on an overall relationship,” he said. “The issue of democracy is not to be able to denounce people. The issue is to make progress.”

Still, after an invigorating start in 2005, progress has been harder to find. Among those worried about the project is Sharansky, whose book so inspired Bush. “I give him an A for bringing the idea and maybe a C for implementation,” said Sharansky, now chairman of the Adelson Institute for Strategic Studies at the Shalem Center in Israel. “There is a gap between what he says and what the State Department does,” and he is not consistent enough.

The challenge Bush faced, Sharansky added, was to bring Washington together behind his goal.

“It didn’t happen,” he said. “And that’s the real tragedy.”

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Empty-hearted secularism

False oppositions and machinations are rife in the Arab world, where secularism has become a corrupted political fashion, writes Azmi Bishara

http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2007/856/op2.htm

Modern Turkey has never experienced as extended a period of stability and economic growth as it has under the last government. This government was led by the Justice and Development Party, which just scored another major electoral triumph in the Turkish general elections. In its victory speeches, the Islamist party pledged to safeguard the constitution of Turkey’s secular republic. As I recall, in the trial over the murder of the Egyptian writer Farag Fouda, some mainstream members of the Muslim Brotherhood testified on the behalf of the accused that the killers had been rightfully motivated by religious zeal, because the secularism that Fouda advocated was heresy. What a striking difference! One Islamist party swears to uphold the state’s secularist system while another rules that secularism is anathema and justifiable grounds for murder. Not that this kept mainstream Islamist movements from jubilation, in turn, over the victory of a party whose position on secularism they would roundly condemn if that party had declared it openly in their own countries.

The Justice and Development Party is far from a leftist or liberal democratic party. But it has certainly governed Turkey better than any other Turkish party that I know of, leftist, liberal, republican or otherwise. Even so, it did not have any easy ride. At one point it had to dissolve and change its name. More recently, it was the victim of a massive hate campaign waged by the left and right in concert in the name of secularism.

Many factors combined to propel this mainstream Islamist movement to embrace parliamentary life. For one, the military establishment certainly put a cap on its ambitions. Undoubtedly, too, Turkish cultural and national identity, the conflicting ramifications and repercussions of globalisation, and economic progress and development also played a part. Whatever these factors were, the party retained its equilibrium, adjusted to present limitations, and decided to play by the rules of the game.

This placed Europe in an awkward spot. As it hemmed and hawed over granting membership to an industrially developed nation with a democratically elected government, a nation many times better than some of the Eastern European countries that were gaining admission, Europe was once again exposed for its widespread and deeply seated undercurrent of racism. But the platitudes keep coming fast and furious to cover up the resounding moral collapse of European policy towards Turkey (in spite of a brave attempt to revive it in the post- colonialist era of the Kreisky and Brandt generation), a collapse that was merely a sideshow to the even more telling and more hastily swept under the carpet collapse of the German handling of the Jewish question and Palestine.

Of course, the issue has some bearing on the history of Islamism in Turkey. Unlike in the Arab world, Turkey never had that clear divide between radical political Islam versus mystical Sufism on the one hand and the conservative clergy on the other. In Turkey, things are more subtle: a vast social base of subscribers to a rational and tolerant form of Sufism and an invisible give-and-take between “the military” and “the Sufi lodge” that is constantly recalibrating itself.

While in Turkey, a victorious Islamist party displays more moderation, rationality and pragmatism, and less demagoguery and populism than all its secularist rivals, the Arab world is experiencing a curious decline in the rhetorical lip service paid to democracy. I say “curious” because one sniffs hidden agendas and because there is a sudden increase in the talk of “secularism” and “the unity of secularist forces”. Not that this should be all that surprising. Most of the ruling regimes are secularist and undemocratic, and most of the corruption they foster, and the nepotism they thrive on, is secular. At the same time, everyone knows that democracy could open the corridors of power to Islamist forces. Not that anyone would be so bold as to come out against democracy, even if they never supported it in their lives. The fashion, now, is to say you’re a secularist instead.

Of course, there are some very sincere liberal secularists out there who have not been co-opted by the prevailing regimes and sucked into their cycles of corruption. Many of these oppose suffrage for all, a position that, as much as I take issue with it, I find I have to respect. I’m the last to claim that “democracy is the solution”, to borrow from the Muslim Brotherhood chant “Islam is the solution.” I don’t subscribe to panaceas.

This said, secularism to some is a way of life; as opposed to a political philosophy that espouses the separation of religion and the state. More often than not, these self-acclaimed secularists are not secularist at all, but inveterate narcissists who do not like to be crossed. They worship worldly values perhaps more than others revere spiritual ones, and they can be more fundamentalist and verbally and physically aggressive in the defence of these values than ultra nationalists and even ultra opportunists. Criticism puffs up their vanity even more and goads them into peddling to the consumerist middle and upper classes a rhetoric seething with a phobia of religion and religious devotion. In effect, they have founded a new secular religion that is hostile to Islam in particular. And they are not put off by the George W Bush brand of fundamentalism and the bigotry of a broad segment of his grassroots base.

Democracy was fashionable among some antidemocratic intellectuals at the time the US moved to export democracy by gunboat. They joined the American chorus in the chant that some regimes can only be changed from the outside, even though some of these intellectuals were good friends with the regimes in question and moved from one to the other when they had to. A life of luxury sometimes depends on someone to support it, and the intellectual life in our countries certainly can’t feed itself as well as that mode of “secular” existence. But what is sadder yet is that these panderers to American rhetoric dropped democracy like a hot potato as soon as the neo-cons (apart from Bush) realised that their advice was backfiring and decided to revert to their former pragmatism that entailed taking their allies for better or worse, laying off with the democratisation blackmail and reconciling themselves to that bitter truth that political reform only opened the floodgates to their enemies. So much is perfectly understandable. What defies comprehension, however, is how fast our neo-liberals, here, took up “secularism” in the course of this past year. “Secularism,” now, has become a multipurpose word. It can even be used to justify siding with Bush, Olmert and the secular Arab regimes against what the legitimately elected Hamas movement did, let alone to support the practices of corrupt security agencies in defending the secular consumerist way of life in the face of the backwardness of those who turned against it.

Of course this brand of secularism has very little to do with the latest definition of secularism as privatising religious self-determination and separating it from the public sphere, and very much to do with taking a stance against political Islam. It is a position that expresses itself in the Arab world in the form of corrupt regimes that have hitched themselves to the skirts of Western powers and, occasionally, Israel. Here, secularism is not a prerequisite for democracy, or a means to rationalise politics, but a form of the worship of consumerism and the wares of certain classes.

Secularist forces, in their original sense or in the latest sense of anti-Islamist forces, do not form a sufficient majority to establish a democratic order. They are highly dependent upon dictatorships. In the best of circumstances, they criticise dictatorship without presenting a democratic alternative. But this is a form of camouflage. Secularist forces will never be able to offer a democratic alternative until they, themselves, become democrats and conceive of a reasonable way to run the country in a democratic and secular manner. But this challenge will remain beyond their reach unless they take into account the influence of Islamist parties and Islamist political forces.

Democratic secularists must reach out to and speak with Islamists. There is a vast spectrum of them, and it is important to distinguish between those who share democratic values and those who condemn the democratic process. To toss all of them into a single basket on the grounds of a shared religious frame of reference is to be pointlessly rigid and closed-minded. Even if secularists have some grounds for suspicion, to yield to this sentiment is irrational and futile. The fact is, not only is there a rift in the greater Islamist movement; its mainstream segment will constantly evolve the more it is given the opportunity to involve itself in the affairs of society and state, and the more it discovers, through practice, the diversity and limitations of pluralistic interaction. In addition, the desire to attain and keep power necessitates certain compromises with both self and others.

But reaching out to Islamists does not mean flattering them to the extent of abandoning important secularist principles. Nor should it stem from that paternalistic self-righteous attitude that Arab nationalists, in particular, seem to cling to without cause. Islamist movements have deep experience and diversified expertise; they do not need tutors or custodians, but people they can converse with and whom they can trust at times when it is necessary to fight for a common cause. The Arab nationalist trend may still attract the majority of the Arab public, and its Nasserist version may still appeal to the majority of Egyptians. However, it is not a sufficiently unified and organised movement to make its political clout felt. For this, it has only itself to blame. It should not cast the onus on organised Islamist forces to carry out tasks it should have performed itself long ago. For Arab nationalists to turn around now and exclude Islamists on the pretext that they are not “secularist”, and therefore not ready to practice democracy, apart from being hypocritical, is unrealistic. What kind of democracy excludes that many people from across the various sectors of society and with such enormous potential to offer the nation?

Of course, the Islamist mainstream must be expected to abide by both the spirit and principles of democracy. This does not only mean adhering to democratic practices, such as holding free and fair elections and handing over power peacefully when the polls tell it to. It also means respecting the human rights and civil liberties of all citizens during its period of rule, something for which Arab “secularist” governments have a dismally poor track record. Islamists will also be expected to accept and work for the national agenda and to honour and safeguard national sovereignty. Equally, if not more importantly, it must do this in collaboration with other political forces and, moreover, it must educate its own rank and file on how to engage in a constructive process of give-and-take.

This brings me to some observations on the difference between internal awareness raising and the discourse used to placate others. The very fact that a movement perceives the need to modify its discourse to allay the qualms of others is, in itself, a significant development, even if the discourse has yet to be channelled for absorption within the movement. Islamists that brand all other political movements and ideologies heretic do not care at all about how others think of them. Of course, the radical left, in its time, made no such distinctions. To it, hypocrisy was worse than fascism and, anyway, it perceived little difference between social democracy and Nazism: both were essentially forms of the rule of the bourgeoisie. To me, Nazism and fascism are worse than hypocrisy. So is absolutist Islamism. However, the transformations through which mainstream Islamist movements are passing are not hypocrisy, but a historic imperative for the type of reforms needed to make the transition to a real and robust democracy. This fact must be acknowledged and handled appropriately.

Those who do not recognise that the Muslim Brotherhood has undergone a sea of change since the days of Sayed Qotb, that Hamas today is not what it was a few years ago and that Hizbullah is not the same party that shot Shia leftists in the 1980s are, themselves, fundamentalists of a different stripe. They cling to their ideas or preconceptions without subjecting them to rational scrutiny or the light of reality, whether out of rigid closed-mindedness or simply because it is not in their interests to try to understand. Or perhaps it is because they, too, have changed? I, for one, find it difficult to understand a left that now finds itself collaborating with the US and Israel against Islamists. I find it even harder to understand a left that is now so remote from the poor and the culture of the underprivileged, and from the quest for social justice, and is so cosy with the prosperous classes that are so aloof from their own societies.

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COMMENTARY

A Plight in Tunisia

By NASSER WEDDADY and JESSE SAGE
August 23, 2007
http://online.wsj.com/article/SB118781734758705679.html?mod=googlenews_wsj

Franz Kafka could hardly have devised a more absurd fate for one of his protagonists: In early 2005, Tunisian lawyer Mohammed Abbou penned an article for an online journal decrying the state of his country’s prisons. He was arrested that March, and the next month was sentenced to four years in jail for “defaming” the state. Tunisian officials evidently wanted to ensure he got a first-hand view of the very problem he sought to ameliorate.

Last month, thanks to international pressure on Tunis, Mr. Abbou was released early. His ordeal is emblematic of both the pervasive civil-rights repression in the Middle East and the new means that advocates of liberty have for fighting it.

At the start, l’Affaire Abbou sparked an international human-rights solidarity campaign. Activists in Tunisia, Egypt, France, Yemen, the U.S. and beyond held rallies and demonstrations. Hundreds of blogs featured the lawyer’s face on a campaign icon banner. Online petitions to Tunisian President Zine El-Abdin Ben Ali — in office since a 1987 coup — demanded Mr. Abbou’s release.

To many observers, the campaign seemed a lost cause. President Ben Ali had locked up hundreds of political dissidents. Moreover, Mr. Abbou’s arrest came as the cause of Mideast democracy seemed to have lost momentum. Reform movements that once lit up the streets in Lebanon, Kuwait and Egypt had stalled, and the region’s dictators were becoming re-emboldened as Iraq degenerated.

Yet Mr. Abbou refused to resign himself to four years behind bars over a simple op-ed. And so in October 2005 he launched a grueling protest in prison, sewing his own mouth shut to vivify the regime’s muzzling of free speech. News of Abbou’s bold act spread like wildfire over the Internet, infusing fresh energy into the solidarity campaign.

In France, the departure of President Jacques Chirac, a longtime Ben Ali booster, this spring created an opening. Responding to public pressure, President Nicolas Sarkozy raised Mr. Abbou’s plight during a state visit with Mr. Ben Ali on July 10. Suddenly, on July 24, midway through his jail term, Mr. Abbou was released from prison and dumped outside his home. The popular solidarity campaign had borne fruit.

The day after his release, Mr. Abbou spoke to us by telephone from his home, which remained surrounded by Tunisian police. He sounded defiant and unbroken.

“If the regime thinks they can silence me and stop my work, they are mistaken,” he said. “I do not regret what I wrote about the terrible situation in Tunisian prisons. My time inside as a prisoner only confirmed my outside impression as a lawyer. I am only more determined to promote the rule of law instead of the rule of the dictator.”

Mr. Abbou credited his release to the fact that Tunisian officials underestimated the new power of Web-based solidarity campaigns: “The Tunisian regime thinks it is still the 1970s, when activists could be thrown in jail and the world would stay silent.” Mr. Abbou’s release illustrates how dedicated campaigners can leverage global communications to pressure international leaders to assist civil-rights reformers under fire.

His freedom is not absolute: Mr. Abbou must abide by strict guidelines set by the Tunisian justice minister, and he could be rearrested at a moment’s notice. In dictatorships like Tunisia, civil liberties are granted only to citizens who submit.

Still, Mr. Abbou’s homecoming signals that all hope for reform is not lost, and that the Middle East’s clique of dictators remains vulnerable to outside pressure. This is good news for hundreds of political prisoners languishing in jails across the region.

In the meantime, Mr. Abbou faces a new technology challenge himself now that he is free. He reveals the daunting task before him: “I haven’t checked my email in two years!”

Messrs. Sage and Weddady direct the Hamsa civil-rights initiative of the American Islamic Congress.

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Tunisian democracy: To hope or despair?

By Kamel Labidi
The Daily Star , friday, august 17, 2007
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_id=10&categ_id=5&article_id=84570

The release of 21 Tunisian political prisoners at the end of July, on the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Tunisian Republic, provoked satisfaction among local and international human rights groups. However, no one ventured to describe the conditional liberations as a sign of softening on the part of President Zein al-Abedin ben Ali’s police state.

The most prominent of these former political prisoners was Mohammad Abbou, a human rights lawyer whose arrest and three-and-a half-year prison sentence in 2005 spurred an international outcry and embarrassed even Western leaders on friendly terms with Tunisia’s autocratic ruler. French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who like his predecessor Jacques Chirac never earned a reputation for caring much about human rights in former French colonies, nevertheless publicly said that he had raised Abbou’s case during talks in Tunis with Ben Ali in July.

Abbou’s main “crime” was to denounce attacks on freedom of expression and association unheard of even under the French protectorate, and to compare torture in Tunisia’s prisons to the conditions that existed in Iraq’s notorious Abu Ghraib prison under American command. Scores of Tunisian political prisoners have died under torture or from lack of medical attention in recent years. Abbou’s critical articles were posted on Tunisnews, one of the dozens of Web sites blocked in Tunisia.

The other political prisoners freed are members of the banned Islamist Al-Nahda movement. Most of them had spent nearly 15 years in prison following trials in military courts deemed unfair and politically motivated by international human rights groups and Western diplomats. Nearly 30 leading figures of Al-Nahda remain in prison, and those previously released on parole are regularly harassed by the police and denied the right to earn a living and to travel. Furthermore, hundreds of young people are currently held in prison under a 2003 anti-terrorism law, which turned out to be a license to impose more constraints on Tunisia’s already greatly curtailed freedoms of expression and association.

Despite the constantly alarming reports by local and international human rights groups and by Transparency International, which elevated Tunisia’s ranking on its list of corrupt countries from 32nd in 2000 to 51st in 2006, many maintain that the country remains one of the best qualified in the Middle East and North Africa to emerge as a democracy.

This optimistic view seems to be shared not only by many Tunisians of different backgrounds, but also by foreign observers familiar with Tunisia. A similar perception prevailed in the wake of independence in 1956, when President Habib Bourguiba launched a bold policy of social and economic reform that granted Tunisian women unequalled rights in a Muslim country and courageously combated poverty and illiteracy. But this perception soon vanished as Bourguiba and his ubiquitous Destourian Socialist Party tightened the screws on civil society, eventually creating the conditions for Ben Ali’s coup in 1987.

The re-emergence of the idea that it would be easier to democratize Tunisia than most other Arab countries is due to the fact that despite 20 years of unprecedented political repression and rising corruption, Tunisian society remains one of the best-educated and least crippled by social injustice and prejudice in the region. Ironically, countries with higher rates of illiteracy, poverty, corruption and social injustice, such as neighboring Algeria, Morocco, Mauritania or Egypt, today offer more room for freedom of expression and association than Tunisia.

Brave and highly educated female human rights defenders are regularly harassed and called prostitutes by Ben Ali’s police in the streets of Tunis, simply for being on the frontline in the peaceful struggle for democracy. There is resistance to continuous government attempts to silence the Tunisian League of Human Rights, the first of its kind in the Arab world, and to stifle mushrooming non-governmental organizations such as the National Council for Liberties in Tunisia, the Observatory of Press Freedom, Publishing and Creation, the Tunisian Association against Torture, and the International Association to Support Political Prisoners. This gives an idea about the strong feeling among Tunisians against injustice. Many of them pride themselves on the fact that their country enshrined limits on absolute power in the region’s first constitution in 1861. Tunisia abolished slavery in 1846 and was the first Arab country to see the emergence of an Amnesty International section in 1988.

There is no doubt that the policy of free education for all under Bourguiba contributed to the society’s growth and maturity. Unfortunately, the level of education has been rapidly deteriorating in the past two decades. Young Tunisians today are less educated than their parents and less inclined to serve their communities. This is due at least in part to pervasive nepotism and poor management of educational institutions.

Nearly 1,000 parents, for instance, recently protested a government attempt to close down a successful private school which was competing with a new private school allegedly affiliated with the country’s first lady, Leila Ben Ali, and Suha Arafat, the widow of the late Yasser Arafat. Ben Ali’s recent and unexpected decision to strip Suha Arafat of her Tunisian nationality might mean an end to the parents’ protest.

The policy of repression, compounded by confiscation of public property and murky privatization deals by Ben Ali’s relatives and cronies, has prompted many Tunisians to take steps publicly to help stop the degradation of what used to be a well-managed economy and educational system. “Tunisia needs us,” says Mahmoud bin Romdhane, an economist and former chair of Amnesty International Tunisia. His diagnosis of the Tunisian economy is alarming, but seems to reflect that there is still hope to push Tunisia forward on the road to democracy.

Thousands of competent professionals and committed human rights and political activists of different leanings are eager and able to help lead reform Tunisia. Tunisians and foreign observers who believe that the country is one of the best candidates to become democratic argue that it is the responsibility of Ben Ali’s friends in the European Union and the United States to advise him not to run for the presidency in 2009 and to start paving the way for a democratic transition.

But this would mean Western states will have to believe that Tunisians and Arabs in general deserve to live in democratic societies. The Westerners must also be able to address, and to accept, the sometimes dangerous consequences of compelling dictators like Ben Ali to take the healthy initiative of ceding power. Will they go through with it?

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Their Only Witness

Hany Safwat, IkhwanWeb – Egypt
Monday, August 20, 2007
http://ikhwanweb.com/Article.asp?ID=13833&LevelID=1&SectionID=0

State Security Apparatus (SSA) Officer, Atef el Huseiny, is the only witness in the case of 40 Muslim Brotherhood leaders standing before a military tribunal. Of course this is not his real name; for SSA officers know what they do as part of their jobs, torture, mass arrests, beating demonstrators…etc, is not socially acceptable. Their wives and children will not be proud of them, and probably would be ashamed to walk with them down the street, or be identified as their relatives, siblings or spouses by any means. Therefore, they do not use their real names.
During the court session last Sunday, El Husiny said that he has been solely undertaking the investigation for the entire groups of suspects for six months. How could that be true? I simply cannot find an answer.

The suspects live in different provinces, most of which have never been visited by the notorious officer. Moreover, some of them are being trialed in absentia, simply because they are not members of the Brotherhood, live abroad, and have not visited Egypt for decades. So how could the super-officer investigate such a case alone? This is a question that requires a logical answer.

In his testimony during the session, el Husiny said nothing of legal importance. He did not provide any substantial evidence for his claims. He kept speaking about the suspects having money and financing MB activities. He was reading his testimony from a notebook, and yet failed to present a solid argument, or respond to any questions.
When asked about the link between MB leaders and Islamists living elsewhere in the world, El Huseiny, provided a name of a person who does not exist; a name that appeared for the first time in the court session, and never appeared before in any investigations. When Khayrat El Shater, the detained Muslim Brotherhood deputy chairman, and the primary suspect in the case, challenged him, he retracted the name. The judge, a military officer, rescued the El Huseiny by adjourning the session for two days, till El Husieny was able to reorganize himself, and of course come up with a justification for the contradictions.

El Huseiny’s testimony could not be taken seriously for a few reasons. First, different civilian courts that acquitted MB members before their referral to military tribunals found his investigations to be “groundless and politically motivated”. They said the investigations could not be taken seriously as they are “claims that lack any sort of evidence, and are completely fabricated by the SSA.” This should be more than enough to denounce his testimony altogether. Nonetheless, there are other reasons where it should be denounced.

El Huseiny is a clear deviation from the stereotype of police officers we watch in movies and TV series. He is not the officer who sacrifices his life and safety for his country, or for the people. Although the very same statement applies to most SSA officers, el Huseiny is still different. His notorious history does not solidify his testimony any more than civilian courts do.

I first heard of El Huseiny during the parliamentary elections of 2005. Although he serves in Cairo, as the SSA Officer in charge of following Muslim Brotherhood activities in East Cairo, he did not miss beating up voters and fabricate election results in Sharqiyyah. I remember seeing him with his smuggling surrounded by a handful of thugs giving them orders to prevent people from going into the voting center in Zagazig, where MB Executive Council member Muhamed Mursi was running for a parliamentary seat. Later on that day, he was personally supervising the vote count process. Needless, to say, Mursi failed to make it to the parliament that year.

It took only a few more months to hear his name once again. During the demonstrations supporting the judges’ call for judicial independence in May 2006, El Huseiny’s name popped out once again. He was leading the thugs and police forces brutally cracking down on demonstrators. He was seen in several locations on that day, each time accompanied by reports about erupting violence.

It was then that I heard of other chapters of his notorious history. He was a leading figure in the police forces cracking down on a Kifaya demonstration on the day of the referendum in May 2005. These ‚Äö√Ñ√≤brave’ police forces sexually assaulted female demonstrators, and almost raped one of them. It was a sad day in Egypt’s modern history, and another disgusting chapter in El Huseiny’s history.

Besides being the only witness in the 40 MB members standing today in front of a military tribunal, El Husieny was also the sole witness in the military tribunal which took place in 2001. With the same extralegal procedures, disrespect of law, and sidelining legal processes, a large number of Brotherhood members were sent to prison, including Mohamed Ali Bishr, one of the suspects in the ongoing tribunal.

Being the one and only witness for a couple of times, and knowing that no one could challenge him because the stage is already set to send Brotherhood members behind bars, El Huseiny frequently threatens MB members to add their names to the list “in the first upcoming military tribunal.” This happened with two of the ongoing case’s suspects, who were not ‚Äö√Ñ√≤cooperative’ during investigations in one of their earlier detentions.

I am writing this article knowing that my personal security might be endangered, and that my personal freedom might be undermined. But I am writing it so that people could see how unjust the ongoing trail of Muslim Brotherhood members is. I am writing it so that human rights’ activists will realize how hypocrites they will be if they do not move to defend the detainees. I am writing it so that those who are interested in international peace and security know how moderate groups are being dealt with, and to understand the reasons for the empowerment of the radical sentiment. I am writing this article, hoping that human rights, freedom and democracy activists, as well as journalists, academicians, writers, policy makers and civil society organizations do take a step against tyranny, injustice and authoritarianism.

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Egypt’s Unchecked Repression

By Saad Eddin Ibrahim
Tuesday, August 21, 2007; Page A15
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/20/AR2007082001500.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

This month marked the fourth anniversary of the disappearance of Egyptian journalist Reda Hilal. Rumors about the involvement of a secret government death squad tasked with silencing detractors of the ruling Mubarak family in this and other disappearances — such as that of Libyan dissident Mansour Kikhia in Cairo in 1993 — have spiked in recent weeks.

On Aug. 8, the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights reported that it had confirmed more than 500 cases of police abuse since 1993, including 167 deaths — three of which took place this year — that the group “strongly suspects were the result of torture and mistreatment.” The organization previously found that while Egypt’s population nearly doubled during the first 25 years of Hosni Mubarak’s regime, the number of prisons grew more than fourfold and that the number of detainees held for more than one year without charge or indictment grew to more than 20,000.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have corroborated chilling accounts of torture in Egyptian prisons. The independent daily Eldestour recently published two important facts: that the annual budget for internal security was $1.5 billion in 2006, more than the entire national budget for health care, and that the security police forces comprise 1.4 million officers, nearly four times the size of the Egyptian army. “Egypt has become a police state par excellence,” the paper’s editor noted.

Yet Mubarak’s regime has gone unchecked for years, since long before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the “war on terror” and despite the billions of dollars in foreign aid the United States continues to give Egypt each year. The question is: Why?

Part of the answer lies in Mubarak’s skillful use of Egypt’s role in the Arab-Israeli peace process. Despite Egypt’s proximity to Gaza and its potential to contribute, the regime has not advanced the status quo far beyond what the late president Anwar Sadat accomplished. Mubarak boasts about his refusal to visit Israel, while his predecessor broke ground as the first Arab leader to visit Israel.

Another reason for U.S. silence is Mubarak’s exploitation of Islamophobia, rampant in many Western circles. On Mubarak’s own turf, the banned opposition group the Muslim Brotherhood has steadily increased its support among voters, with its candidates, running as independents, garnering 20 percent of the seats in parliamentary elections in 2005, despite the regime’s continuous harassment and arrest of Brotherhood leaders and rank-and-file members. Hamas, which is affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood, swept Palestinian parliamentary elections in January 2006. Increasingly, in majority-Muslim countries where autocracies have bred inefficiency and corruption, populist groups such as the Brotherhood can attract a strong protest vote.

Yet in Egypt, the regime remains strong and is quick to silence critics. Recently it focused its attacks on the work of democracy activists and researchers at the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies, which I founded nearly two decades ago. Nine members of the ruling party have filed legal requests to close the center. They want to see me and other staff members prosecuted, alleging that we have tarnished the country’s image abroad, shown contempt for religion, undermined the national interest and committed high treason.

Between 2000 and 2003, the center’s offices were ransacked by the State Security Agency, and 27 employees were jailed. It took three years, multiple trials and three tours in prison — where my health deteriorated — before Egypt’s Court of Cassation, the country’s sole remaining independent court, acquitted us of all charges. The egregious nature of the case led the court to rebuke those responsible, citing abuses emanating from the presidency.

More recently, similar attacks have been orchestrated against Ayman Nour, head of the Tomorrow Party, and two nephews of Anwar Sadat. The men, all members of the Egyptian parliament, were arrested on flimsy charges, tried and imprisoned. Nour is now in precarious health, and recently published photos show bruises he sustained from mistreatment while jailed.

Like other autocrats with declining legitimacy, Mubarak is trying to tighten his grip on power. His family is grooming 44-year-old Gamal to succeed his father. Any real or potential competitors, especially ones with charisma and name recognition, are to be defamed, jailed, driven from the country or otherwise eliminated. Hence the hounding of Nour, Sadat’s nephews and Islamic youth leader Amr Khaled, all of whom are ambitious, popular and about Gamal Mubarak’s age.

I am a 68-year-old pacifist academic in poor health. I do not fit the profile of these other men. Yet, according to regime-controlled media accounts, I am very influential with oil-rich Gulf Arabs, Hamas, Hezbollah, Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood, the European Union, and, above all, the White House and the U.S. Congress. None of these media outlets admits that in my scholarly capacity as a student of social movements I see all kinds of activists and political actors.

My real crime is speaking out in defense of the democratic governance Egyptians deserve. In May, I helped organize a meeting of Arab democrats in Doha, Qatar. Soon after, I attended a conference of veteran European and Third World dissidents in Prague at which President Bush gave a speech. Afterward, Bush chatted with me and a few others for a couple of minutes. To some, this is “proof” of my “influence” in Washington. When the House Appropriations Committee voted a few days later to attach conditions — mainly regarding political reform and tighter security of the borders with Gaza — to the $1.3 billion annual aid package to Egypt, I was solely to blame, according to the regime. (Would that I had a fraction of the influence attributed to me by the state-controlled media!)

Sadly, this regime has strayed so far from the rule of law that, for my own safety, I have been warned not to return to Egypt. Regime insiders and those in Cairo’s diplomatic circles have said that I will be arrested or worse. My family is worried, knowing that Egypt’s jails contain some 80,000 political prisoners and that disappearances are routinely ignored or chalked up to accidents. My fear is that these abuses will spread if Egypt’s allies and friends continue to stand by silently while this regime suppresses the country’s democratic reformers.

The writer, a professor of political sociology at the American University in Cairo, is chairman of the Ibn Khaldun Center. He is a visiting fellow at the Ratiu Center for Democracy in Romania.

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A new push for change in the war on terror

In Foreign Policy magazine’s Terrorism Index, experts paint a bleak picture of progress and point to diminishing security for the US.

By Alexandra Marks | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
August 22, 2007
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p03s03-usmi.html

New York

The US is losing the war on terror. That’s the assessment of the nation’s top foreign-policy, intelligence, and national-security leaders from across the ideological spectrum. In this year’s Terrorism Index, a survey released Monday by Foreign Policy magazine, 84 percent of these experts believe the nation is losing the war on terror, while more than 90 percent say the world is growing more dangerous for Americans.

That’s prompted a variety of leaders to call for a complete rethinking of the nation’s strategy. And some are looking back to the cold war’s battle against communism to find models for the ideological struggle against terrorism.

A key component is deterrence, the policy that, at the height of the cold war, kept the superpowers’ nuclear warheads safely in their bunkers – the only way to avoid mutually assured destruction (MAD). Another is a call for a Middle East Marshall Plan to help develop the region’s economies and confront the alienation of the young.

“We need a grand strategy to address not only the question of al Qaeda, but also, how do you put out the fires in the region?” says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College. “How do you diffuse the crisis and help the Muslims in order to counterbalance the militant ideologies that are simmering above the surface and below the surface?”

The Terrorism Index was developed by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress a year ago, as a way to gauge progress in the war on terror. The original idea was to determine whether the nation was deterring, capturing, or killing more terrorists each day than were being recruited, trained, and deployed. Such information proved nearly impossible to obtain. So the groups decided to survey top foreign-policy, intelligence, military, and academic experts on their sense of progress.

This is the third Terrorism Index they have issued. Among its findings are that foreign-policy experts “see a world that is growing more dangerous, a national security strategy in disrepair, and a war in Iraq that is alarmingly off course,” according to the magazine.

“The main reason for this pessimism appears to be events on the ground,” says Mike Boyer, senior editor of Foreign Policy. “Eighty-three percent of the experts say the surge of troops into Baghdad is having a negative impact on the war effort, an increase of 22 percent from just six months ago.” The sentiment crosses party lines, he says. So, too, does a desire to disengage from Iraq. Seven out of 10 experts surveyed believe it’s time to draw down forces there, although a majority do not favor an immediate withdrawal.

Experts are also blaming the war in Iraq for a diminishing sense of security in America. Eighty percent of them say the war has had a negative effect “on protecting the American people from global terrorist networks and in advancing U.S. national security goals.” Only 15 percent of the experts say that creating a stable, secure Iraq should be the top foreign-policy objective of the next five years. In contrast, 30 percent believe that winning the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world should be the most important US policy objective in that time frame.

These and other conclusions, says Mr. Boyer, indicate that the Iraq experience is informing experts’ broader views on the war on terrorism – and prompting calls for new strategies.

“This poll presents an enormously bleak and melancholy picture … and it’s difficult not to read it as a complete repudiation of the entire current conduct on the war on terrorism,” says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. “Where we have been particularly remiss or ineffectual is in fighting the al Qaeda brand as hard as we’ve fought the al Qaeda terrorists.”

Middle East experts like Dr. Gerges say that while the majority of Muslims reject al Qaeda’s violence, they have come to believe that much of al Qaeda’s rhetoric is correct. “The US is losing the ideological struggle against al Qaeda,” says Gerges. “Some of the most intelligent people in that part of the world believe the US is waging a crusade against Islam and Muslims and is trying to subjugate the Arab world and remake it in its image, and that it’s doing it brutally.”

Many experts say it’s critical that the US focus on countering such perceptions. The solution lies in changing US policy in the region and supporting Islamic scholars who can show how al Qaeda is distorting the Koran.

“Once you strip the adversary of their extremist message of religion, there’s nothing left but criminality and thuggery,” says Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “There’s growing recognition this needs to be done, but we haven’t marshaled and mobilized those resources as much as we ought to.” Some scholars believe a comprehensive strategy should include a massive economic and social investment similar to the Marshall Plan after World War II. They also think it’s crucial to develop a strategy of deterrence.

“Deterrence is probably the hardest part of counterterrorism,” says John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA. “Classical deterrence in the past worked against adversaries who played by certain rules and didn’t want to die. Here, you’re up against an adversary who plays by no particular rules and is willing to die.”

It’s equally important to combat the terrorist narrative, he says. Others agree and again point to the findings of the Terrorism Index.

“Part of the results … is a warning that we must change our strategy, or otherwise we’ll be … fighting this struggle ad infinitum,” says Hoffman.

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TO DEFEAT THE TALIBAN: Fight Less, Win More

By Nathaniel Fick
Sunday, August 12, 2007; Page B01
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/09/AR2007080900667.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

On a highway north of Kabul last month, an American soldier aimed a machine gun at my car from the turret of his armored Humvee. In the split second for which our eyes locked, I had a revelation: To a man with a weapon, everything looks like a threat.

I had served as an infantry officer in Afghanistan in 2001-02 and in Iraq in 2003, but this was my first time on the other end of an American machine gun. It’s not something I’ll forget. It’s not the sort of thing ordinary Afghans forget, either, and it reminded me that heavy-handed military tactics can alienate the people we’re trying to help while playing into the hands of the people we’re trying to defeat.

Welcome to the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare — the kind of war you win by not shooting.

The objective in fighting insurgents isn’t to kill every enemy fighter — you simply can’t — but to persuade the population to abandon the insurgents’ cause. The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: Money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the U.S. mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing.

My unnerving encounter on the highway was particularly ironic since I was there at the invitation of the U.S. Army to help teach these very principles at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy. The grandly misnamed “academy” is a tiny collection of huts and tents on Kabul’s dusty southern outskirts. Since May, motley classes of several dozen Afghan army officers, Afghan policemen, NATO officers, American officers and civilians have been learning and living side by side there for a week at a time.

The academy does much more than teach the theory and tactics of fighting the Taliban insurgents who are trying to unseat President Hamid Karzai and claw their way back to power. It is also a rare forum for military officers, civilian aid workers, academics and diplomats — from Afghanistan and all 37 countries in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force — to unite in trying to bring good governance, prosperity and security to Afghanistan. The curriculum is based on the Army and Marine Corps’ new counterinsurgency doctrine, released in December. Classes revolve around four so-called paradoxes of counterinsurgency. Unless we learn all four well, we’ll continue to win battles in Afghanistan while losing the war.

The first tenet is that the best weapons don’t shoot. Counterinsurgents must excel at finding creative, nonmilitary solutions to military problems.

Consider, for example, the question of roads. When U.N. teams begin building new stretches of road in volatile Afghan provinces such as Zabul and Kandahar, insurgents inevitably attack the workers. But as the projects progress and villagers begin to see the benefits of having paved access to markets and health care, the Taliban attacks become less frequent. New highways then extend the reach of the Karzai administration into previously inaccessible areas, making a continuous Afghan police presence possible and helping lower the overall level of violence — no mean feat in a country larger and more populous than Iraq, with a shaky central government.

Said another way: Reconstruction funds can shape the battlefield as surely as bombs. But such methods are still not used widely enough in Afghanistan. After spending more than $14 billion in aid to the country since 2001, the United States’ latest disbursement, of more than $10 billion, will start this month. Some 80 percent of it is earmarked for security spending, leaving only about 20 percent for reconstruction projects and initiatives to foster good governance.

The second pillar of the academy’s curriculum relates to the first: The more you protect your forces, the less safe you may be. To be effective, troops, diplomats and civilian aid workers need to get out among the people. But nearly every American I saw in Kabul was hidden behind high walls or racing through the streets in armored convoys.

Afghanistan, however, isn’t Iraq. Tourists travel through much of the country in relative safety, glass office towers are sprouting up in Kabul, and Coca-Cola recently opened a bottling plant. I drove through the capital in a dirty green Toyota, wearing civilian clothes and stopping to shop in bazaars, eat in restaurants and visit businesses. In two weeks, I saw more of Kabul than most military officers do in a year.

This isolation also infects our diplomatic community. After a State Department official gave a presentation at the academy, he and I climbed a nearby hill to explore the ruins of an old palace. He was only nine days from the end of his 12-month tour, and our walk was the first time he’d ever been allowed to get out and explore the city.

Of course, mingling with the population means exposing ourselves to attacks, and commanders have an obligation to safeguard their troops. But they have an even greater responsibility to accomplish their mission. When we retreat behind body armor and concrete barriers, it becomes impossible to understand the society we claim to defend. If we emphasize “force protection” above all else, we will never develop the cultural understanding, relationships and intelligence we need to win. Accepting the greater tactical risk of reaching out to Afghans reduces the strategic risk that the Taliban will return to power.

The third paradox hammered home at the academy is that the more force you use, the less effective you may be. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are notoriously difficult to tally, but 300-500 noncombatants have probably been killed already this year, mostly in U.S. and coalition air strikes. Killing civilians, even in error, is not only a serious moral transgression but also a lethal strategic misstep. Wayward U.S. strikes have seriously undermined the very legitimacy of the Karzai government and made all too many Afghans resent coalition forces. If Afghans lose patience with the coalition presence, those forces will be run out of the country, in the footsteps of the British and the Soviets before them.

I stress this point because one of my many gratifying moments at the academy came at the start of a class on targeting. I told the students to list the top three targets they would aim for if they were leading forces in Zabul province, a Taliban stronghold. When I asked a U.S. officer to share his list, he rattled off the names of three senior Taliban leaders to be captured or killed. Then I turned and asked an Afghan officer the same question. “First we must target the local councils to see how we can best help them,” he replied. “Then we must target the local mullahs to find out their needs and let them know we respect their authority.” Exactly. In counterinsurgency warfare, targeting is more about whom you bring in than whom you take out.

The academy’s final lesson is that tactical success in a vacuum guarantees nothing. Just as it did in Vietnam, the U.S. military could win every battle and still lose the war. That’s largely because our primary enemies in Afghanistan still have a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. Rather than make a suicidal stand against the allied forces invading Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters melted away to create a parallel “Talibanistan” in the lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan. Last fall, Gen. James Jones, then NATO’s supreme commander, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Taliban leadership now operates openly from Quetta, a Pakistani border city that’s long been a hotbed of Islamic militancy. Karzai reiterated this point during his visit to Camp David last week.

Chasing terrorists and the Taliban around Afghanistan leads to little lasting progress as long as they can slip across the border to rest and regroup. Since 2001, the United States has tolerated this quiet reconstitution of the Taliban in Pakistan as long as Islamabad granted us basing and overflight rights, tepidly pursued al-Qaeda’s leadership and cracked down on A.Q. Khan’s nuclear-proliferation network. The Durand Line, which separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, is a mapmaker’s fantasy. Without political reform, economic development and military operations on both sides of the border, we can do little more than put a finger in the dike that’s keeping radicalism and instability in Pakistan from spilling back into Afghanistan.

On the last afternoon of the course, I asked my students to define victory in Afghanistan. We’d talked about this earlier in the week, and most of their answers had focused on militarily defeating the Taliban or killing Osama bin Laden. Now the Afghan officers took the lead in a spirited discussion with their U.S. and NATO classmates. Finally the group agreed on a unanimous result, which neatly expresses the prize we’re striving for: “Victory is achieved when the people of Afghanistan consent to the legitimacy of their government and stop actively and passively supporting the insurgency.”

Winning that consent will require doing some difficult and uncomfortable things: de-escalating military force, boosting the capacities of the Karzai government, accelerating reconstruction, getting real with Pakistan. It won’t be easy. But the alternative, which I glimpsed while staring down the barrel of that machine gun, is our nation going zero for two in its first wars of the new century.

ncfick@gmail.com Nathaniel Fick, a former captain in the Marines, is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.”

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Why America is losing to al-Qaida

By DAVID SCHANZER, The Baltimore Sun
http://www.infocusnews.net/content/view/15990/358/

The intelligence community’s report in July that al-Qaida has “regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability” confirms that our six-year effort to undermine the radical Islamist movement that fuels al-Qaida and its affiliated organizations is in tatters.

The report notes that planned attacks have been thwarted and we’ve become a harder target to hit, but this is akin to treating the symptoms without curing the disease. We are winning battles but losing the larger war.

How has this happened? The conventional wisdom – that we diverted our efforts from al-Qaida’s stronghold in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq – tells only the tactical part of the story. The more fundamental problem is that our policy of killing and arresting as many al-Qaida personnel as possible is an incomplete strategy.

Al-Qaida is not simply an outlaw organization that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, religion-based social movement that has deep support in elements of the Muslim world. If al-Qaida can be isolated and deprived of public support, it will wither and die. If not, it will continue to be a resilient franchise capable of regeneration, growth and ultimately additional strikes inside the United States.

From the very beginning, President Bush has misunderstood the genesis of al-Qaida’s animus toward the United States. In his Sept. 20, 2001, address to Congress, he declared, “They hate what they see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. …

They hate our freedoms.” Well, not exactly. Osama bin Laden is certainly no fan of liberal constitutional democracy, but that dislike did not fuel his call for jihad against America and its allies. It is our policies that bin Laden detests, policies that, in his view, have contributed to the rapid decline of a once-expansive Muslim empire, the taking of Muslim territory and the imposition of oppressive, sacrilegious rulers in Muslim nation-states.

The Bush administration has also failed to recognize that although the vast majority of Muslims reject bin Laden’s violent tactics, they support his stance against Western domination in the Middle East, his desire for heightened Islamic identity and his demand for greater respect for Islam and Muslim people. To isolate al-Qaida, therefore, it is necessary to craft a nuanced message that support for al-Qaida will undermine these popular goals and resistance to al-Qaida will help to advance them.

Our actions since 9/11 have not projected this message; in fact, just the opposite has occurred. We launched a war on terror that was widely interpreted as a war on Islam. We invaded and occupied two Muslim nations, not as part of a globally sanctioned multilateral force to combat terrorism but on our own, for a variety of purposes.

We consistently referred to fundamentalist Islamist ideology as “evil.” We disengaged from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and projected indifference to the plight of the Palestinian people.

Yes, we removed a tyrannical and hated dictator from Iraq, but we permitted security there to collapse, leading to death, carnage and displacement. We issued lofty rhetoric about promoting freedom around the globe but gave unconditional support to military rulers and dictators in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to crush domestic opposition. We tortured and humiliated Muslim men in Abu Ghraib and have held hundreds of Muslims in Guantanamo for years without charges.

With this record, how can it possibly come as a surprise that, in the words of the intelligence community, “we live in a heightened threat environment”?

Improving the situation will require regime change here at home followed by deft, skillful action from whoever inherits the shambles left behind. Violent, radicalized movements are on the rise in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Lebanon, Somalia, Algeria and other hot spots.

The next president will need to maintain the aggressive counterterrorism operations that have been established under the Bush administration, but totally recraft the way in which we engage with the Muslim world.

The challenge will be to advance our security goals while projecting a vision for the future that is both sensitive to Muslim aspirations and able to undercut popular support for al-Qaida and its extremist affiliates. That will require a much different approach from the one we have taken these past six years.

David H. Schanzer is the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His e-mail is schanzer@duke.edu

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Not so fast, Christian soldiers

The Pentagon has a disturbing relationship with private evangelical groups.

By Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan
August 22, 2007 – Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-aslan22aug22,0,4674900.story?coll=la-opinion-center

Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that’s the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering “freedom packages” to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which “soldiers for Christ” hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the “Military Crusade.”

Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word “crusade” and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.

In the end, the Defense Department realized the folly of participating in any Operation Straight Up crusade. But the episode is just another example of increasingly disturbing, and indeed unconstitutional, relationships being forged between the U.S. military and private evangelical groups.

Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he’d assumed the organization was a “quasi-federal entity.”)

The Pentagon’s inspector general recently released a report recommending unspecified “corrective action” for those officers who appeared in the video for violating Defense Department regulations. But, in a telling gesture, the report avoided any discussion of how allowing an evangelical group to function within the Defense Department is an obvious violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

The extent to which such relationships have damaged international goodwill toward the U.S. is beyond measure. As the inspector general noted, a leading Turkish newspaper, Sabah, published an article on Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, who is the U.S. liaison to the Turkish military — and who appeared in the Christian Embassy video. The article described Christian Embassy as a “radical fundamentalist sect,” perhaps irreparably damaging Sutton’s primary job objective of building closer ties to the Turkish General Staff, which has expressed alarm at the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups inside the U.S. military.

Our military personnel swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not the Bible. Yet by turning a blind eye to OSU and Christian Embassy activities, the Pentagon is, in essence, endorsing their proselytizing. And sometimes it’s more explicit than that.

That certainly was the case with Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The Pentagon put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 2003. The same year, Boykin was found to be touring American churches, where he gave speeches — in uniform — casting the Iraq war in end-times terms. “We’re in is a spiritual battle,” he told one congregation in Oregon. “Satan wants to destroy this nation . . . and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” The story wound up in newspapers, magazines and on “60 Minutes.” And, of course, it was reported all over the Muslim world. The Pentagon reacted with a collective shrug.

American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?

It’s time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.

Michael L. Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.” Reza Aslan, author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is on the MRFF advisory board.

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A Response to Western Views of Islamist Movements

Radwan Ziadah
Director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Arab Insight
http://www.arabinsight.org/pdf/Arabinsight23.pdf

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, made Islam a domestic concern in the West. After having viewed it as only a foreign, religious source of agitation, the West now views Islam as a source of political and military threats. An opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in July 2005 showed that a majority of Americans and Europeans are concerned about the global rise of Islamic extremism. The poll covered 17 countries, and showed that 75 percent of citizens in the United States and European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Russia are worried about Islamic extremism around the world. Most of those polled in America, the European states, and India described Islam as the most violent religion out of a list that included Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. A total of 87 percent of the French and 88 percent of the Dutch polled considered Islam the most violent of all religions.

A total of 22 percent of those polled in the United States indicated that they held a negative view of Islam, compared to 57 percent who expressed a positive view. In France, 34 percent of those polled said they had a negative perception of Islam, compared to 64 percent who expressed a positive view of it. A majority of those polled in European states said they sensed that Islamic identity is on the rise in their countries, a phenomenon they considered a negative development.1

Negative image of Islam

The image of Islam as reflected by this poll can be described as extremely negative. Perhaps this stems from political and historical causes reaching much further back than the events of Sept. 11. Yet the subsequent, more deeply entrenched negativity since then has likely produced policies that aim to respond to such negative perceptions, but indirectly reflect them. Take, for example, the manner in which the Danish government dealt with the Prophet Muhammad cartoon crisis, which was a natural reaction stemming from Western preconceptions about Islam.

The construction of such an image stems primarily from the arbitrary judgments issued by the Western media and the political, intellectual and cultural elite standing behind it. Malise Ruthven, a Scottish writer and historian on religion, fundamentalism, and especially Islamic affairs, for example, blames Islamic failures on ruptures within Islamic societies as embodied in the break between a traditional past and higher education with its Western, civil content. The shaken identity of these societies leads them to play a pivotal role in hosting various forms of clashes between Islam and the West.2

Another example is Fred Halliday, who holds that all fundamentalist movements, and not only Islamic ones, are inimical to both modernism and democracy because they reject the “other” on principle. They combine religious and ethnic identities matched by hatred for the “other” that brings them closer to espousing racism.3 He breaks with Ruthven in stressing that fundamentalist movements are not concerned with development or globalization, but rather they funnel their fury toward their rulers, toward moral corruption, and toward the West and Israel. Their vision of the West is based on their view of themselves and the world. More precisely, it stems from their view of their own identity, which has become solely religious.

Yet some go further in their analysis, reading into the social and political background that has allowed the rise of political Islam. This background is represented by the collapse of modernization plans led by the Arab regimes following independence in the 1950s, as well as their failure to liberate Palestine. This led to the Palestinian cause gaining greater importance in the Arab and Islamic consciousness. This was followed by the failure of socio-economic development, reflected significantly in the rise of poverty and the dwindling living standards of citizens in the Arab and Islamic worlds. This was accompanied by the further growth of various forms of absolute political domination that vary from one Arab state to the next, but that are similar in their failure to achieve any sort of democratic advancement. This deteriorating situation was also accompanied by Israel’s rise as a regional military, economic, and technological force and the failure of Arabs to respond to any of the criticisms leveled against Israel. All of this created an environment conducive to the growth of religiosity that permeated the rural poor and middle classes, in turn creating fertile ground for the growth of extremist currents within villages and impoverished neighborhoods.4 While Osama bin Laden offered an alternative through the rise of extremist Islam, his vision was limited to the elite and the vanguard. It was not entirely the case with regard to the public or its followers, most of whom were raised in slums with nothing – neither water, nor work opportunities, nor healthcare, nor anything else.

This brings us to the divisions of political Islam and the serious challenges posed by the standards or methods on which these divisions are based. Differences are found in intellectual and ideological orientations, as well as those stemming from various geographic areas and others related to political positions and views. Yet most of the sanctioned divisions and standards by which researchers sort Islamist movements rest upon their position towards violence or extremism. This standard focuses on the political effect of these movements and either their ability to change through peaceful means or their adoption of various forms of violence, the latest manifestation of which has been intercontinental violence as represented by the attacks of Sept. 11. Searching for either deep-rooted or superficial differences between Islamist movements surely springs from a political sentiment stipulating separate dealings with each movement on the basis of its popularity, effectiveness and influence on the street. These factors might make overlooking them, or even choosing to ignore or condone them, foolhardy because it would not treat the root causes for their growth or their rising popularity that is “real,” as opposed to the forms of popular mobilization some Arab regimes impose upon their societies. Such popularity is fraudulent and used to ensure society’s submission, compelling it to validate “truths” presented by the regime.

In general, most of the studies that classify Islamist movements focus on the fact that there is a mainstream version that is characterized by tolerance and moderation. This is what traditional Islamic scholarship calls “Islam of the majority,” from which examples are drawn in many of the scholarly works on Islamic law when reference is made to the Muslim masses. Sunni, or Orthodox Islam, is thus the middle way. The others are splinter groups the extent of whose Islamism can be measured by their proximity to the Islam of the majority in the way of beliefs and practices.5

And thus we find many Western politicians, including U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, describing al-Qaida as an organization that has hijacked Islam from its primary adherents, having diverged from the general guidelines of Islam that mandate moderation, tolerance, and the disavowal of violence.

As for the West in general, with the exception of some right-wing parties and personalities, it does not have a problem with Islam as a religion or the people who profess it. Yet it has suffered, particularly following the bombings that took place in London and Madrid, from those who hold a special understanding of Islam they believe allows adherents to kill their enemies due to differences over political, intellectual, religious and ideological views. The coverage these individuals received in the media – especially considering that they were raised among Western, liberal values in the major Western cities of London, Paris and Madrid – has caused a setback by unleashing a fear of Islam and its followers.

This scenario has varied depending on the degree to which the people of a given country have experience with pluralism and concepts of cultural difference. It also depends on the country’s understanding of itself. For instance, there is a significant difference between the Muslims of Britain and those of France and their role and influence in their respective societies.

Searching for mainstream Islam

During the last three decades, the West’s focus has been on Shiite Islam, which has generally been considered more of a threat than other brands of Islam. Now, however, the Western focus is directed at Sunni activity, and most Western fear stems from the perception of Sunni Islam as strict and fundamentalist.6 The International Crisis Group’s (ICG) report “Understanding Islamism” affirms that the term “political Islam” is of American origin and came into use following the Iranian Revolution, although this supposes that there was an apolitical Islam until Khomeini surfaced and turned everything upside down, after which Islam became a force in the political life of the Middle East.7

The ICG report attempts to categorize the main currents in Sunni Islamist activity in a manner that goes beyond a simplified and discriminatory classification of “extremist” and “moderate.” Instead, it distinguishes between movements on the basis of the beliefs held by their followers. These beliefs include different characterizations of the problems faced by Islamic societies and different views on Islamic law, as well as different conceptions of political, religious and military issues that require action. The report also defines the type of activity movements consider legitimate or appropriate. In other words, it relies on criteria that can form a source of difference and over which goals are in many cases contradictory. This approach is fundamentally different from the traditional distinction between Sunni and Shiite; it is a distinction between the forms of contemporary Islam more than that between historical Islamic traditions. The presence of such a distinction within the ranks of Sunni Islam in particular is a relatively new development that is not yet complete. It appears to be an ongoing process, as noted in the report.8 The report splits Sunni Islamist currents into three primary orientations. The first is termed political Islamism, in that these movements prioritize political activity over religious proselytism. They seek to gain power through political means and not violence, in particular through organizing themselves as political parties.

The primary example of this current is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its various branches, particularly those in Jordan and Algeria. The second current includes both revivalist and fundamentalist missionary activism. Movements in this category avoid direct political activity and neither seek power nor classify themselves as political parties. Rather, they focus on missionary activity such as preaching to reinforce or revive belief. Examples include the Salafi movement9 that is widespread in the Arab world and the Tabligh movement,10 which was founded in 1926 in India and has since spread throughout the world. The third current is that of the jihadists, activists committed to violence because they are concerned with what they consider the defense of Islam, and in some cases the expansion of its dominion. This current comprises two primary groups. The first is the jihadist salafis, comprising people with a fundamentalist outlook who have been mobilized as extremists and who eschew non-violent activity related to preaching in order to join the ranks of armed jihad. The other group is the Qutbists, activists influenced by the radical thought of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian thinker and writer who is often credited with providing an ideological basis for violence in the name of religion, though this contention can be debated. In the beginning they were prepared to wage jihad against the “near enemy,” the local regimes they described as infidels, particularly in Egypt. This was before redirecting their jihad to the outside world, against the “distant enemy,” in particular Israel and the West, led by the United States.11

The report issued by the U.S.-based Rand Corporation in 2003 titled “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources and Strategies” classifies contemporary Islamic currents into four groups: secularists, fundamentalists, traditionalists and modernists. It defines the positions of these currents towards a number of primary issues, including democracy and human rights, polygamy, penal measures and Islamic justice, minorities and the status of women. It concludes with an attempt to form a recommended strategy for the United States based on identifying partners in the development of democratic Islam, which it views as accepting American values and particularly those of democracy.12

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report entitled “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring Gray Zones,” differentiates between Islamist movements based on whether or not they employ violence. It holds that the moderate Islamist movements, and not the radical ones, will have the greatest influence on future political developments in the Middle East. It defines these moderate movements as those that have eschewed violence and formally renounced it, and which seek to reach their goals through peaceful political activity. The most important of these movements are the Muslim Brotherhood and its various derivatives, the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, and the Reform Party in Yemen, among others.13 The report admits the limitations of this differentiation, and stresses that it does not assume that these movements are fully committed to democracy, that they have relinquished their goal of making Islamic law a basis for all legislation, or that they accept full equality for women. What the report refers to as “grey zones” in the thought of Islamic movements are the results of the contradiction found in the moderate Islamist movements’ purposeful refusal to openly declare their positions on thorny Islamic issues. This is done so as not to aggravate the West or lose their reputations as moderate movements. Yet the report also recognizes a qualitative development within these movements’ thought and in their political strategies.14

The United States Institute of Peace has issued several reports on ijtihad, the effort to exercise reason in interpreting Islamic law in a contemporary context, and on dealings with Islamists. It considers one of the primary reasons for the failure of Muslims to reconcile Islam and modernism as the fact that ijtihad, within the circles of Sunni Islam, has been halted for centuries. Despite this, however, there have been attempts to interpret Islam’s divinely revealed texts in light of modern facts and knowledge. In order for ijtihad to succeed in any society, democracy and the freedom of opinion must prevail.15 As such, a separate report authored by the Rand Corporation directs U.S. foreign policy to support “Islamic renewal,” or those initiatives characterized by Islamic moderation and that adopt programs based upon religious reform and renewal within the Islamic arena.16 The Rand Corporation report also suggests that U.S. foreign policy should generally encourage diplomacy towards the Islamic world.

This latter recommendation was adopted in the most recent publication of the Defense Science Board of the U.S. Defense Department. It warned that any plan for open relations must be built on a strategic basis and attempt to explain its diplomacy to the Islamic world by stressing that their embracing of moderation does not mean submitting to the American way. It also called for distinguishing the majority of Muslims who do not practice violence from those extremist Muslims who embrace the idea of jihad.17 This has materialized in U.S. support for the spread of democracy in the Middle East despite the fact that Islamists recently swept the elections in Egypt, Iraq and Palestine – a development that led Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader in the al-Qaida organization, to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for its participation in the elections. The United States attempted to take advantage of this apparent rupture and employ it to deepen the differences between moderate movements on the one hand and the al-Qaida organization and the extremist movements that support it on the other, so as to benefit and legitimize the “war on terrorism.”18 The democratic victory recently gained by Islamist movements has driven the United States to form a “strategic vision” based on the encouragement of political reform in the Arab region despite the likelihood that such reform could strengthen the influence of forces inimical to America and the West. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed that this fact reflects a necessary transition period prior to the realization of political regimes that are more stable and open to the West. Regimes allowing for some reform would reap benefits that could include the ability to offer better choices to their peoples and the opportunity to establish more constructive relations with the rest of the world.19

And thus, Bush vowed to continue supporting political reform in the Middle East, even if its results run counter to the wishes of Washington. He stated, “The only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change.” Yet he also admitted that the choices decided by the region’s people would not always conform with American views, for “democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens.”20 This is the position the European Union also formed following major resistance.

It now holds that one must enter into dialogue with Islamist opposition organizations in the Middle East to encourage a transformation towards democracy. This was stressed in a report issued by the foreign ministers of the European Union in Luxembourg, which opened by noting that the EU had in the past preferred to deal with the secular intelligentsia of Arab civil society at the expense of the more representative Islam-inspired organizations. It thus convinced the EU of the necessity of opening a dialogue with “Islamic ‚Äö√Ñ√≤faith-based’ civil society” in Arab states.21 Overall, this European-American congruence on the inevitability of dealing with Islamist movements can be considered a strategic move, especially if one considers the disparities that have in the past characterized American and European views on their dealings with Islamism.

Footnotes:

1 See Al-Safir, Beirut, July 15, 2005.
2 Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America. (London: Granta Books, 2002).
3 Fred Halliday, Two Hours that Shook the World. (London: Saqi Books, 2002).
4 Francois Burgat, Face to Face with Political Islam. (London: I.B. Taurus, 2003).
5 Radwan Al-Sayyid, “Contemporary Islam: Its intellectual and political currents and cultural transformations around the world,” London, April 9, 2005.
6 International Crisis Group, “Understanding Islamism,” Middle East/North Africa Report, no. 37, March
2, 2005.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 The term “salafi movement” generally refers to those movements committed to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
10 The Tabligh movement is generally considered to be an apolitical social movement that seeks to bring
about a spiritual revival among Muslims.
11 Ibid.
12 Al-Sayyid Yassin, “The American Roots to a Theory of a Liberal Islam,” in Al-Nahhar, Beirut, July 25,
2004.
13 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the
Arab World: Exploring Gray Zones,” Carnegie Paper No. 67, March 2006.
14 Ibid.
15 The United States Institute of Peace, “Ijtihad: Reinterpreting Islamic Principles for the Twenty-first Century,”
Special Report No. 125, 7, August 2004.
16 Abdeslam M. Maghraoui, “American Foreign Policy and Islamic Renewal,” United States Institute of
Peace Special Report No. 164, June 2006.
17 Al-Mustaqbal, Beirut, Nov. 26, 2004.
18 See the speech of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the United States Institute of Peace, in which she described the situation between America and the Islamic world as being a relationship in which the
United States has gone to war five times since the end of the Cold War to help Muslims. “Without exception,
these were wars of liberation and of freedom.” Quoted in Al-Safir, Beirut, Aug. 20, 2004.
19 George W. Bush, State of the Union Address by the President, United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.,
Jan. 31, 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/.
20 Ibid.

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Islamic Spain: History’s refrain

It’s a model for interfaith ties, and a warning about religious division.

By Alexander Kronemer
Washington – August 22, 2007
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p09s02-coop.html

The past sometimes provides examples of glory and success that serve as models. Other times, as the philosopher George Santayana said, it warns of impending calamity for those who do not learn from it.

For the past several years, I’ve been immersed in a history that does both. As one of the producers for an upcoming PBS documentary on the rise and fall of Islamic Spain, I’ve witnessed its amazing ascent and tragic fall countless times in the editing room, only to go home and watch some of the same themes playing out on the nightly news.

Islamic Spain lasted longer than the Roman Empire. It marked a period and a place where for hundreds of years a relative religious tolerance prevailed in medieval Europe.

A model for religious tolerance

At its peak, it lit the Dark Ages with science and philosophy, poetry, art, and architecture. It was the period remembered as a golden age for European Jews. Breakthroughs in medicine, the introduction of the number zero, the lost philosophy of Aristotle, even the prototype for the guitar all came to Europe through Islamic Spain.

Not until the Renaissance was so much culture produced in the West. And not until relatively recent times has there been the level of pluralism and religious tolerance that existed in Islamic Spain at its peak. Just as the vibrancy and creativity of America is rooted in the acceptance of diversity, so was it then.

Because Islam’s prophet Muhammad founded his mission as a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition, Islamic theology gave special consideration to Jews and Christians. To be sure, there were limits to these accommodations, such as special taxes levied on religious minorities. But in the early Middle Ages, official tolerance of one religion by another was an amazingly liberal point of view. This acceptance became the basis for Islamic Spain’s genius. Indeed, it was an important reason Islam took hold there in the first place.

When the first Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, the large Jewish population there was enduring a period of oppression by the Roman Catholic Visigoths. The Jewish minorities rallied to aid the Arab Muslims as liberators, and the divided Visigoths fell.

The conquering Arab Muslims remained a minority for many years, but they were able to govern their Catholic and Jewish citizens by a policy of inclusiveness. Even as Islam slowly grew over the centuries to be the majority religion in Spain, this spirit was largely, if not always perfectly, maintained.

Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. After years of enlightened leadership, a succession of bad leaders caused the unified Muslim kingdom to fragment among many smaller petty kingdoms and fiefdoms.

Though they competed and fought, the spirit of pluralism continued. Indeed, it thrived as rival kings sought the best minds in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish worlds for their courts. This was just as true in the Christian petty kingdoms, as the Muslim ones. Christian and Muslim armies even fought alongside each other against mutual rivals of both faiths.

It is at this point that the darker parallels to our time begin. Into the competition for land, resources, and power, some leaders on both sides began to appeal to religion to rally support for their cause. Wars became increasingly religious in nature. Into this tinderbox a match was thrown: the Crusades – the same term that many Arabs use today when referring to America’s adventure in Iraq.

The Crusades deepened Spain’s religious divide. Minorities in both Christian and Muslim kingdoms become increasingly suspect. Persecutions, expulsions, and further warfare ensued. Nothing could stop it, not even the black plague.

Ultimately, Christian kingdoms gained the upper hand as the Muslim kingdoms of Islamic Spain fell. Spain’s Muslims and Jews were forced to either leave or convert. This led to the rise of the Inquisition, whose purpose was to verify the loyalty of suspect converts. The expulsions and inquisitions racked Spain economically, culturally, and morally. Its power was severely compromised. The fall of pluralism in Spain was the fall of Spain itself.

Dark parallels with today

This fall directly links to events today and raises many of the same stakes. Though few Americans note it, one of Osama bin Laden’s justifications for the 9/11 attacks was to avenge the “tragedy” of Islamic Spain.

So far, the post-9/11 world and the policies it has spawned seem to be heading in the same dangerous direction as witnessed before. The religious intolerance that engulfed and overwhelmed medieval Spain threatens the increasingly beleaguered pluralism of our own time.

At its best, the history of Islamic Spain is a model for interfaith cooperation that inspires those who seek an easier relationship among the three Abrahamic faiths. At its worst, it’s a warning of what can occur when political and religious leaders divide the world. It reminds us what really happens when civilizations clash.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Alexander Kronemer is a writer, lecturer, and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam, and cross-cultural understanding. His film “Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain” premieres on PBS Aug. 22.

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Of Islam and Inventions

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
Published: August 12, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/12sciencenj.html

THE story of aviation often begins with Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for flying machines, which would later inspire the Wright brothers and their famous sustained flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Yet centuries before Leonardo, in A.D. 875, Abbas bin Firnas, a Muslim inventor in Spain, cloaked himself in bird feathers, strapped himself to a glider made of wood and silk, then jumped into the air and stayed aloft for some time — making him the first person in recorded history to fly.

This tidbit and many others like it can be gleaned from “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” an intriguing new exhibition at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City that explores the vast spectrum of accomplishments by Muslim scientists from A.D. 700 to 1700. It is a copy of a show that has been at the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai since last year; it may make other stops in the United States after it ends its run in Jersey City.

Through interactive models and vivid displays and artifacts, the exhibition illustrates how Muslim scholars helped advance nine different scientific disciplines, including medicine, engineering and astronomy.

On display are 13th-century surgical tools that influenced many of today’s medical instruments, ancient precursors of the internal combustion engine, and astronomical equipment that traced the movements of celestial bodies hundreds of years ago.

The show, designed by MTE Studios in South Africa, is one of several new exhibitions that await visitors to the Liberty Science Center, which reopened last month after a two-year, $109 million transformation. The new center contains high-tech, hands-on exhibitions like one on skyscrapers and another on the Hudson River that replace the simpler exhibits on subjects like static electricity that visitors to the old center may remember.

Simply put, this is science for big kids.

With “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” a primary goal is to showcase the work of early Muslim scientists and their influence on Western society ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ an effort to offer a balanced perspective on Islam.

“This show is basically about science and technology,” said Wayne LaBar, the center’s vice president for exhibitions and theaters. “But at the same time it is also a show that allows us to create an understanding of a different culture that in some ways is demonized these days.

“Where we are today is based on a lot of different people and a lot of different cultures,” he added, “and the show offers a way of connecting our modern cultures.”

The exhibition begins with a visit to a re-created souk, or Arab market, that includes a large and colorful timeline showing the dates of scientific achievements in the Muslim world juxtaposed with the dates of momentous events in other societies.

Rather than overwhelm viewers with wall text and complicated descriptions — as scientific exhibitions sometimes do — this one engages with interactivity.

Visitors can play with engineering models, grip pulse sensors to see their own heartbeats, examine a four-foot-tall elephant clock, and experiment with optical illusions.

Another compelling element of the exhibition is its attempt to bring to life the personalities behind the brilliant inventions. Many of the displays revolve around individual scientists and explorers, and visitors can see their portraits and learn about the quirks and convictions that guided them.

There is Ibn al-Jazari, the 12th-century scholar and engineer whose myriad inventions and mechanical contraptions make him seem a kindred spirit to Thomas Edison. There is Al-Kwharizmi, the Persian astronomer and mathematician whose name gave rise to the word “algorithm.” And, of course, there is the aviation-obsessed bin Firnas, who made his historic first flight at the age of 70 and, just before leaping into the air, is said to have told friends, “If all goes well, after soaring for a time, I should be able to return safely to your side.”

He did, and “Islamic Science Rediscovered” celebrates his achievement.

The Liberty Science Center is at 251 Phillip Street in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Open daily this summer, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Starting in September: closed Mondays; open Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends and holidays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Information: (201) 200-1000 or lsc.org.

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Muhammadiyah warns of misunderstanding of Islamic teachings

http://www.thejakartapost.com/detailnational.asp?fileid=20070827.H04&irec=3

The chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second largest Muslim organization, Din Syamsuddin, was recently invited to Thailand for a series of meetings and visits to that country’s conflict-torn southern provinces. Following his return, he sat down with The Jakarta Post’s Tifa Asrianti and Imanuddin Razak to discuss his Thailand trip and his future plans. The following are excerpts.

Question: Can you tell us about your visit to Thailand?

Answer: I was invited for a four-day visit there. I had meetings with Thailand’s Supreme Buddhist monk, Army chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the director of the National Security Council, the foreign affairs minister, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

I also visited Pattani, a region in southern Thailand, where I met four governors of southern provinces — Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla — and some 500 Muslim clerics from those provinces. I also met the director general of the Southern Border Province Administrative Center.

I had the impression that the King and Gen. Sonthi accept and welcome the role of the Indonesian Muslim civil society, in this case Muhammadiyah, to help create peace and prosperity in southern Thailand. We did not and would not intervene in Thailand’s domestic affairs or take on the role of mediator, but rather want to help empower Muslims there in education, health and economy.

I told them that Muhammadiyah would be ready to help. We did not discuss the form of the cooperation, as this will be discussed later. We might send teachers, Muslim preachers and medical officers there, or they might come here for schooling … or short-term education for cultural enrichment.

I concluded the Thai government has a great deal of concern and a willingness to solve the conflicts in southern Thailand, and is committed to building prosperity there.

I suggest the Thai government use more soft power than hard power, like the military, which will only add more problems. Soft power is more like persuasive actions, but it should also come along with efforts to reduce the wealth gap and improve prosperity.

Conflicts do not always have religious motives, but more social and political factors. Sometimes, religion is only used as a justification. Islam in Thailand is a moderate Islam, which is why we should empower them.

I am not the first person invited there. Last year the Thai government invited Mahathir Mohammad and two years ago they invited (Nahdlatul Ulama chairman) Hasyim Muzadi.

What kind of cooperation will Indonesian and Thai Muslims have, besides education?

The cooperation may not only be in education, even though one of the problems there is Islamic education, which is too conservative … and the curriculum taught is very rigid. As a result, students graduating from Islamic schools get nothing and have no clue about global issues. In the end, they are trapped in the devil’s ring of unemployment and poverty, which will create a perfect breeding ground for separatism and radicalism.

Is the conflict in southern Thailand similar to the Aceh conflict? Are they seeking autonomy?

Actually, there are not many religious-based separatist groups, only a small minority. In the Muslim community in southern Thailand, the existence of these groups is not obvious. According to information, such groups are found in one or two districts, especially in Yala. In other areas they are not widespread, so it’s an underground activity and it has signs of terrorism. Rumor has it that global terrorists are based in Thailand, including Hambali who was caught in Thailand.

I confirmed this with Gen. Sonthi. He said that there was such activity, according to their intelligence analysis. So it is possible that there is a similarity with GAM (Free Aceh Movement) in the aspirations for separation.

They also want to relive the glory of the past, when there was a self-reliant Pattani kingdom and they used to have connections with the Kelantan (Malaysia) sultan.

The conflict in southern Thailand is a bit unique and has huge potential for separatism, because there are two factors: religion and ethnicity, with Islam and Melayu in the south and Buddhism and Thais in the north. I told the prime minister and armed forces officers to prevent the third factor, which is the economy and the sociopolitical gap. I can see that southern Thailand is not as prosperous as northern parts.

How do you see pluralism in Thailand and Indonesia?

Pluralism in Indonesia is good, if we see it from the religious side. We recognize an old religion, which is Confucianism, as a new religion. Other countries don’t have Confucianism as an official religion, not even China.

In Thailand, they accommodate to some extent. Prominent figures from southern Thailand can also play important roles, for example Foreign Affairs Minister Surin Pitsuwan and Gen. Sonthi are Muslims. I can see that the Thai people accept Sonthi as a general and have no objections about it.

There are two things that harm the image of Islam, polygamy and jihad. How does Muhammadiyah view these issues?

Muhammadiyah sees polygamy as an improper action and tends to avoid it … At the leadership level, the practice may reap harsh criticism and lead to impeachment.

The issue of polygamy is more about a misinterpretation of the Holy Book and the Prophet’s history, as if the Holy Book allows and obliges it. If we thoroughly understand it, the end conclusion does not encourage polygamy. This misunderstanding supports an incorrect practice that is based on sexual urge.

(The passage allowing polygamy) in Surah Annisa begins with “and”, with means the passage is connected with preceding passages. The first says that Islam teaches its believers to have a household life based on passion and give and take. The second says that Islam also obliges believers to pay attention to people outside family line, for example orphans. Then, if you can’t be fair to orphans and your biological children, you should marry the orphan’s mother.

Polygamy is allowed (in Islam), but it’s not obligatory. The purpose is to give more attention to extended families. Unfortunately, the passage is never related to other passages, and the practice is only for lust. Men usually find a younger and more beautiful second wife.

There should be tough requirements, for example it should be based on passion and it must not destroy the existing family.

The Prophet Muhammad had a monogamous marriage with his wife Khadijah for 26 years, even though she was older than he was. He married Aisyah and the war veteran widows three years after Khadijah died.

Jihad is part of Islamic holy teaching, meaning that we should make all attempts to reach the divine purpose, but not necessarily with war.

Jihad can be done with wealth or spirit. It is not with soul, but rather with attitude. Jihad is not related with war, but people often relate it with terrorism and suicide bombings. In Palestine, there is a cleric who allows such actions because they were evicted from their own land and they have no other way to fight for their freedom. the But the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) does not allow this.

We shouldn’t avoid the term of jihad, just because it has been misinterpreted. We can use the term with new meaning, for example jihad to solve (corruption) cases.

How do you see sharia bylaws?

I do not agree at the level of content. I think Islamic values should be portrayed in ethics and morals, and not in legalization and formalization. Formal enforcement doesn’t solve problems.

On the other hand, if it is a local administration/community decision, we need to view it as a part of democracy. But there should be a regulation to prevent formalistic and exclusive regional regulations, because the law is for everybody.

The regulation can be put at the highest level, like the Constitution. It is all right to have laws that encompass people’s aspirations, but they should take the form of consensus.

Dutch laws have influenced Indonesian laws for decades. When we want to change the laws, the available options are sharia, customary law and other laws.

Please choose the one that suits you best. If there are good things in Islamic teaching and the community agrees to it, why not? But don’t bring Islamic terms into the bylaws, let justice be a communal thing.

I oppose headscarf restrictions in other countries, such as in France. But don’t make it an obligation either. Let the people choose for themselves.

Rumor has it a political party has approached you about playing a role in the 2009 presidential election?

I am flattered that prominent figures respect me. But it gives me a sense of awkwardness to answer those questions. If I said that I never had such a desire, it would not be completely true. But it doesn’t mean I have been planning for this. It’s just things that I pick up along the way.

I want to be honest here, I am committed to the Muhammadiyah conference decision that appointed me as the chairman for 2005 to 2010 and I have spent much time and work to accomplish that.

If I had that opportunity (to take part in the presidential election) and people supported me, it would be an honor, but it would be perceived as fatalistic. As a mandate holder, I would ask Muhammadiyah whether they allowed me to do that. If they allowed me, I would use the available opportunity, under their requirements. If not, I would obey the decision.

About my meeting (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle chairwoman) Megawati, I want to melt the dichotomy between santri abangan and Islamic nationalists, which I consider a great obstacle for our national life. Islamic nationalism has become an ideology and has been misused by political parties, but it is not like that. When I approached them, people looked through their political eyeglasses and speculated. I think I should not stop just because there is much speculation.

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Islam’s message of tolerance

By MOHAMMAD HABASH
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20070821a1.html

DAMASCUS — I am often invited by religious authorities in the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia to attend meetings that are held to urge people to follow Islamic faith and law, while avoiding any debate connected to politics or political rights. Political rights, my hosts insist, are maintained by the ruling regimes themselves, and these follow the teachings of the Quran.

But recently an invitation came from the Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, which actually wanted me to talk about democracy, or “good governance,” as the participants called it.

Until recently, this topic was taboo in Saudi Arabia, where the regime doesn’t allow any margin for political debate, and commands people to listen, obey, and leave matters of government to their rulers. It was obvious that the conference organizers’ goal was to revive religious and political speech in order to find a middle ground between Islamic faith and democracy.

I argued that, as many Islamic scholars have recognized, Islamic jurisprudence is compatible with democratic values. Every country that has chosen democracy has come closer to achieving Islam’s goals of equality and social justice.

Democracy suffers in the Islamic world due to skepticism about everything that comes from the West, especially the United States. Thus some leaders view democratization efforts as a new form of colonialism or imperialism in disguise. But this region’s hesitancy to embrace democracy goes beyond mere fear of Western hegemony.

There is a deep philosophical dispute about the nature of democracy. Some Islamic thinkers point to an inevitable contradiction between Islamic and democratic values. They argue that Islam requires submission to the will of God, while democracy implies submission to the will of people.

This notion was clear in the writings of Said Kotb, who saw parliaments as preventing people from submitting to the rule of God. Yet Kotb’s understanding contradicts with the established practices of the Prophet Muhammad, who created the first real state in the Arabian Peninsula by declaring the constitution of Medina, which stated: “Muhammad and the Jews of Bani-Aof [who were citizens of Medina at that time] are one nation.” Thus, social relations were to be based on equality and justice, not religious beliefs.

Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad’s most important political truce, the Hodibiah Agreement between his rising nation and the leaders of Quraish (the dominant tribe in Mecca at that time), stated clearly that “everybody is free to join the league of Muhammad or the league of Quraish.”

Many non-Muslim tribes, such as the Christians of Nagran, the Jews of Fadk and the pagans of Khozafa, joined Muhammad’s league and became part of the Islamic state. All Muslim and non-Muslim tribes had equal rights and freedoms, and enjoyed the protection of the state. Most importantly, Mecca was later opened to protect the pagan people of Khozafa against the attacks of Quraish.

So it was not Muhammad’s intent to build a theocratic or religious state under the rule of mullahs. He was establishing a democratic civil state where people were equal in rights and obligations.

Reconciling the true understanding of Islam and democracy will, I believe, lead to a full realization of the richness of the Islamic experiment. It could also add great vitality to the democratic experiment by bringing it closer to the Muslim street. But the Islamic mainstream must first realize the importance of democratic reform, which is possible only by clearly understanding the prophet’s message, which promises genuine solutions for every time and place.

Although the creation of study centers to debate the concept of Islamic democracy reflect the natural evolution of Islamic thinking, it will not go unopposed. Indeed, during one of the sessions I attended, Sheik Ahmad Rageh of Al-Imam University responded angrily to the Tunisian researcher Salah Edeen Al-Jorashi: “How do you expect us to accept freedom of faith in Islam? It is something that exists only in your illusions. We believe in a religion that doesn’t bargain with right, or hesitate in creed. We believe in a religion that orders us to kill the converts. There is no place in our nation for a malevolent or a renegade.”

I find it hard to understand how Sheik Rageh can miss (or ignore) the clear verses in the Quran that order us to do the very opposite:


– “Let there be no compulsion in religion”;

– “Thou art not one to manage their affairs”;

– “We have not sent thee to be disposer of their affairs for them”; and

– “Say, ‘The truth is from your Lord,’ let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject.”

There are many other verses in the Quran that bear a message of tolerance and freedom. The mine of Islamic jurisprudence is very rich, but the problem is in the way its treasures are used.

As the ancient Arabs used to say: “A man’s choice is a piece of his mind.” The struggle in the Islamic world nowadays is a struggle for a piece of the Muslim mind.

Mohammad Habash, a member of the Syrian Parliament, directs the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus. Copyright 2007 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)

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The Politics of God

By MARK LILLA
August 19, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/magazine/19Religion-t.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin

I. “The Will of God Will Prevail”

The twilight of the idols has been postponed. For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.

An example: In May of last year, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent an open letter to President George W. Bush that was translated and published in newspapers around the world. Its theme was contemporary politics and its language that of divine revelation. After rehearsing a litany of grievances against American foreign policies, real and imagined, Ahmadinejad wrote, “If Prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Joseph or Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior?” This was not a rhetorical question. “I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (peace be upon him) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth,” Ahmadinejad continued, reminding his fellow believer that “according to divine verses, we have all been called upon to worship one God and follow the teachings of divine Prophets.” There follows a kind of altar call, in which the American president is invited to bring his actions into line with these verses. And then comes a threatening prophecy: “Liberalism and Western-style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today, these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems. . . . Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.”

This is the language of political theology, and for millennia it was the only tongue human beings had for expressing their thoughts about political life. It is primordial, but also contemporary: countless millions still pursue the age-old quest to bring the whole of human life under God’s authority, and they have their reasons. To understand them we need only interpret the language of political theology ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ yet that is what we find hardest to do. Reading a letter like Ahmadinejad’s, we fall mute, like explorers coming upon an ancient inscription written in hieroglyphics.

The problem is ours, not his. A little more than two centuries ago we began to believe that the West was on a one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once placed on that track, would inevitably follow. Though this has not happened, we still maintain our implicit faith in a modernizing process and blame delays on extenuating circumstances like poverty or colonialism. This assumption shapes the way we see political theology, especially in its Islamic form — as an atavism requiring psychological or sociological analysis but not serious intellectual engagement. Islamists, even if they are learned professionals, appear to us primarily as frustrated, irrational representatives of frustrated, irrational societies, nothing more. We live, so to speak, on the other shore. When we observe those on the opposite bank, we are puzzled, since we have only a distant memory of what it was like to think as they do. We all face the same questions of political existence, yet their way of answering them has become alien to us. On one shore, political institutions are conceived in terms of divine authority and spiritual redemption; on the other they are not. And that, as Robert Frost might have put it, makes all the difference.

Understanding this difference is the most urgent intellectual and political task of the present time. But where to begin? The case of contemporary Islam is on everyone’s mind, yet is so suffused with anger and ignorance as to be paralyzing. All we hear are alien sounds, motivating unspeakable acts. If we ever hope to crack the grammar and syntax of political theology, it seems we will have to begin with ourselves. The history of political theology in the West is an instructive story, and it did not end with the birth of modern science, or the Enlightenment, or the American and French Revolutions, or any other definitive historical moment. Political theology was a presence in Western intellectual life well into the 20th century, by which time it had shed the mind-set of the Middle Ages and found modern reasons for seeking political inspiration in the Bible. At first, this modern political theology expressed a seemingly enlightened outlook and was welcomed by those who wished liberal democracy well. But in the aftermath of the First World War it took an apocalyptic turn, and “new men” eager to embrace the future began generating theological justifications for the most repugnant ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ and godless ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ ideologies of the age, Nazism and Communism.

It is an unnerving tale, one that raises profound questions about the fragility of our modern outlook. Even the most stable and successful democracies, with the most high-minded and civilized believers, have proved vulnerable to political messianism and its theological justification. If we can understand how that was possible in the advanced West, if we can hear political theology speaking in a more recognizable tongue, represented by people in familiar dress with familiar names, perhaps then we can remind ourselves how the world looks from its perspective. This would be a small step toward measuring the challenge we face and deciding how to respond.

II. The Great Separation

Why is there political theology? The question echoes throughout the history of Western thought, beginning in Greek and Roman antiquity and continuing down to our day. Many theories have been proposed, especially by those suspicious of the religious impulse. Yet few recognize the rationality of political theology or enter into its logic. Theology is, after all, a set of reasons people give themselves for the way things are and the way they ought to be. So let us try to imagine how those reasons might involve God and have implications for politics.

Imagine human beings who first become aware of themselves in a world not of their own making. Their world has unknown origins and behaves in a regular fashion, so they wonder why that is. They know that the things they themselves fashion behave in a predictable manner because they conceive and construct them with some end in mind. They stretch the bow, the arrow flies; that is why they were made. So, by analogy, it is not difficult for them to assume that the cosmic order was constructed for a purpose, reflecting its maker’s will. By following this analogy, they begin to have ideas about that maker, about his intentions and therefore about his personality.

In taking these few short steps, the human mind finds itself confronted with a picture, a theological image in which God, man and world form a divine nexus. Believers have reasons for thinking that they live in this nexus, just as they have reasons for assuming that it offers guidance for political life. But how that guidance is to be understood, and whether believers think it is authoritative, will depend on how they imagine God. If God is thought to be passive, a silent force like the sky, nothing in particular may follow. He is a hypothesis we can do without. But if we take seriously the thought that God is a person with intentions, and that the cosmic order is a result of those intentions, then a great deal can follow. The intentions of such a God reveal something man cannot fully know on his own. This revelation then becomes the source of his authority, over nature and over us, and we have no choice but to obey him and see that his plans are carried out on earth. That is where political theology comes in.

One powerful attraction of political theology, in any form, is its comprehensiveness. It offers a way of thinking about the conduct of human affairs and connects those thoughts to loftier ones about the existence of God, the structure of the cosmos, the nature of the soul, the origin of all things and the end of time. For more than a millennium, the West took inspiration from the Christian image of a triune God ruling over a created cosmos and guiding men by means of revelation, inner conviction and the natural order. It was a magnificent picture that allowed a magnificent and powerful civilization to flower. But the picture was always difficult to translate theologically into political form: God the Father had given commandments; a Redeemer arrived, reinterpreting them, then departed; and now the Holy Spirit remained as a ghostly divine presence. It was not at all clear what political lessons were to be drawn from all this. Were Christians supposed to withdraw from a corrupted world that was abandoned by the Redeemer? Were they called upon to rule the earthly city with both church and state, inspired by the Holy Spirit? Or were they expected to build a New Jerusalem that would hasten the Messiah’s return?

Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians argued over these questions. The City of Man was set against the City of God, public citizenship against private piety, the divine right of kings against the right of resistance, church authority against radical antinomianism, canon law against mystical insight, inquisitor against martyr, secular sword against ecclesiastical miter, prince against emperor, emperor against pope, pope against church councils. In the late Middle Ages, the sense of crisis was palpable, and even the Roman Church recognized that reforms were in order. But by the 16th century, thanks to Martin Luther and John Calvin, there was no unified Christendom to reform, just a variety of churches and sects, most allied with absolute secular rulers eager to assert their independence. In the Wars of Religion that followed, doctrinal differences fueled political ambitions and vice versa, in a deadly, vicious cycle that lasted a century and a half. Christians addled by apocalyptic dreams hunted and killed Christians with a maniacal fury they had once reserved for Muslims, Jews and heretics. It was madness.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes tried to find a way out of this labyrinth. Traditionally, political theology had interpreted a set of revealed divine commands and applied them to social life. In his great treatise “Leviathan” (1651), Hobbes simply ignored the substance of those commands and talked instead about how and why human beings believed God revealed them. He did the most revolutionary thing a thinker can ever do ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ he changed the subject, from God and his commands to man and his beliefs. If we do that, Hobbes reasoned, we can begin to understand why religious convictions so often lead to political conflicts and then perhaps find a way to contain the potential for violence.

The contemporary crisis in Western Christendom created an audience for Hobbes and his ideas. In the midst of religious war, his view that the human mind was too weak and beset by passions to have any reliable knowledge of the divine seemed common-sensical. It also made sense to assume that when man speaks about God he is really referring to his own experience, which is all he knows. And what most characterizes his experience? According to Hobbes, fear. Man’s natural state is to be overwhelmed with anxiety, “his heart all the day long gnawed on by fear of death, poverty, or other calamity.” He “has no repose, nor pause of his anxiety, but in sleep.” It is no wonder that human beings fashion idols to protect themselves from what they most fear, attributing divine powers even, as Hobbes wrote, to “men, women, a bird, a crocodile, a calf, a dog, a snake, an onion, a leek.” Pitiful, but understandable.

And the debilitating dynamics of belief don’t end there. For once we imagine an all-powerful God to protect us, chances are we’ll begin to fear him too. What if he gets angry? How can we appease him? Hobbes reasoned that these new religious fears were what created a market for priests and prophets claiming to understand God’s obscure demands. It was a raucous market in Hobbes’s time, with stalls for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Ranters, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchy Men and countless others, each with his own path to salvation and blueprint for Christian society. They disagreed with one another, and because their very souls were at stake, they fought. Which led to wars; which led to more fear; which made people more religious; which. . . .

Fresh from the Wars of Religion, Hobbes’s readers knew all about fear. Their lives had become, as he put it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And when he announced that a new political philosophy could release them from fear, they listened. Hobbes planted a seed, a thought that it might be possible to build legitimate political institutions without grounding them on divine revelation. He knew it was impossible to refute belief in divine revelation; the most one can hope to do is cast suspicion on prophets claiming to speak about politics in God’s name. The new political thinking would no longer concern itself with God’s politics; it would concentrate on men as believers in God and try to keep them from harming one another. It would set its sights lower than Christian political theology had, but secure what mattered most, which was peace.

Hobbes was neither a liberal nor a democrat. He thought that consolidating power in the hands of one man was the only way to relieve citizens of their mutual fears. But over the next few centuries, Western thinkers like John Locke, who adopted his approach, began to imagine a new kind of political order in which power would be limited, divided and widely shared; in which those in power at one moment would relinquish it peacefully at another, without fear of retribution; in which public law would govern relations among citizens and institutions; in which many different religions would be allowed to flourish, free from state interference; and in which individuals would have inalienable rights to protect them from government and their fellows. This liberal-democratic order is the only one we in the West recognize as legitimate today, and we owe it primarily to Hobbes. In order to escape the destructive passions of messianic faith, political theology centered on God was replaced by political philosophy centered on man. This was the Great Separation.

III. The Inner Light

It is a familiar story, and seems to conclude with a happy ending. But in truth the Great Separation was never a fait accompli, even in Western Europe, where it was first conceived. Old-style Christian political theology had an afterlife in the West, and only after the Second World War did it cease to be a political force. In the 19th and early 20th centuries a different challenge to the Great Separation arose from another quarter. It came from a wholly new kind of political theology heavily indebted to philosophy and styling itself both modern and liberal. I am speaking of the “liberal theology” movement that arose in Germany not long after the French Revolution, first among Protestant theologians, then among Jewish reformers. These thinkers, who abhorred theocracy, also rebelled against Hobbes’s vision, favoring instead a political future in which religion ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ properly chastened and intellectually reformed ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ would play an absolutely central role.

And the questions they posed were good ones. While granting that ignorance and fear had bred pointless wars among Christian sects and nations, they asked: Were those the only reasons that, for a millennium and a half, an entire civilization had looked to Jesus Christ as its savior? Or that suffering Jews of the Diaspora remained loyal to the Torah? Could ignorance and fear explain the beauty of Christian liturgical music or the sublimity of the Gothic cathedrals? Could they explain why all other civilizations, past and present, founded their political institutions in accordance with the divine nexus of God, man and world? Surely there was more to religious man than was dreamed of in Hobbes’s philosophy.

That certainly was the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who did more than anyone to develop an alternative to Hobbes. Rousseau wrote no treatise on religion, which was probably a wise thing, since when he inserted a few pages on religious themes into his masterpiece, “‚àö√¢mile” (1762), it caused the book to be burned and Rousseau to spend the rest of his life on the run. This short section of “‚àö√¢mile,” which he called “The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” has so deeply shaped contemporary views of religion that it takes some effort to understand why Rousseau was persecuted for writing it. It is the most beautiful and convincing defense of man’s religious instincts ever to flow from a modern pen ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ and that, apparently, was the problem. Rousseau spoke of religion in terms of human needs, not divine truths, and had his Savoyard vicar declare, “I believe all particular religions are good when one serves God usefully in them.” For that, he was hounded by pious Christians.

Rousseau had a Hobbes problem, too: he shared the Englishman’s criticisms of theocracy, fanaticism and the clergy, but he was a friend of religion. While Hobbes beat the drums of ignorance and fear, Rousseau sang the praises of conscience, of charity, of fellow feeling, of virtue, of pious wonder in the face of God’s creation. Human beings, he thought, have a natural goodness they express in their religion. That is the theme of the “Profession of Faith,” which tells the parable of a young vicar who loses his faith and then his moral compass once confronted with the hypocrisy of his co-religionists. He is able to restore his equilibrium only when he finds a new kind of faith in God by looking within, to his own “inner light” (lumi‚àö¬Ære int‚àö¬©rieure). The point of Rousseau’s story is less to display the crimes of organized churches than to show that man yearns for religion because he is fundamentally a moral creature. There is much we cannot know about God, and for centuries the pretense of having understood him caused much damage to Christendom. But, for Rousseau, we need to believe something about him if we are to orient ourselves in the world.

Among modern thinkers, Rousseau was the first to declare that there is no shame in saying that faith in God is humanly necessary. Religion has its roots in needs that are rational and moral, even noble; once we see that, we can start satisfying them rationally, morally and nobly. In the abstract, this thought did not contradict the principles of the Great Separation, which gave reasons for protecting the private exercise of religion. But it did raise doubts about whether the new political thinking could really do without reference to the nexus of God, man and world. If Rousseau was right about our moral needs, a rigid separation between political and theological principles might not be psychologically sustainable. When a question is important, we want an answer to it: as the Savoyard vicar remarks, “The mind decides in one way or another, despite itself, and prefers being mistaken to believing in nothing.” Rousseau had grave doubts about whether human beings could be happy or good if they did not understand how their actions related to something higher. Religion is simply too entwined with our moral experience ever to be disentangled from it, and morality is inseparable from politics.

IV. Rousseau’s Children

By the early 19th century, two schools of thought about religion and politics had grown up in the West. Let us call them the children of Hobbes and the children of Rousseau. For the children of Hobbes, a decent political life could not be realized by Christian political theology, which bred violence and stifled human development. The only way to control the passions flowing from religion to politics, and back again, was to detach political life from them completely. This had to happen within Western institutions, but first it had to happen within Western minds. A reorientation would have to take place, turning human attention away from the eternal and transcendent, toward the here and now. The old habit of looking to God for political guidance would have to be broken, and new habits developed. For Hobbes, the first step toward achieving that end was to get people thinking about — and suspicious about — the sources of faith.

Though there was great reluctance to adopt Hobbes’s most radical views on religion, in the English-speaking world the intellectual principles of the Great Separation began to take hold in the 18th century. Debate would continue over where exactly to place the line between religious and political institutions, but arguments about the legitimacy of theocracy petered out in all but the most forsaken corners of the public square. There was no longer serious controversy about the relation between the political order and the divine nexus; it ceased to be a question. No one in modern Britain or the United States argued for a bicameral legislature on the basis of divine revelation.

The children of Rousseau followed a different line of argument. Medieval political theology was not salvageable, but neither could human beings ignore questions of eternity and transcendence when thinking about the good life. When we speculate about God, man and world in the correct way, we express our noblest moral sentiments; without such reflection we despair and eventually harm ourselves and others. That is the lesson of the Savoyard vicar.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Terror and Napoleon’s conquests, Rousseau’s children found a receptive audience in continental Europe. The recent wars had had nothing to do with political theology or religious fanaticism of the old variety; if anything, people reasoned, it was the radical atheism of the French Enlightenment that turned men into beasts and bred a new species of political fanatic. Germans were especially drawn to this view, and a wave of romanticism brought with it great nostalgia for the religious “world we have lost.” It even touched sober philosophers like Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. Kant adored “‚àö√¢mile” and went somewhat further than Rousseau had, not only accepting the moral need for rational faith but arguing that Christianity, properly reformed, would represent the “true universal Church” and embody the very “idea” of religion. Hegel went further still, attributing to religion an almost vitalistic power to forge the social bond and encourage sacrifice for the public good. Religion, and religion alone, is the original source of a people’s shared spirit, which Hegel called its Volksgeist.

These ideas had an enormous impact on German religious thought in the 19th century, and through it on Protestantism and Judaism throughout the West. This was the century of “liberal theology,” a term that requires explanation. In modern Britain and the United States, it was assumed that the intellectual, and then institutional, separation of Christianity and modern politics had been mutually beneficial ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ that the modern state had benefited by being absolved from pronouncing on doctrinal matters, and that Christianity had benefited by being freed from state interference. No such consensus existed in Germany, where the assumption was that religion needed to be publicly encouraged, not reined in, if it was to contribute to society. It would have to be rationally reformed, of course: the Bible would have to be interpreted in light of recent historical findings, belief in miracles abandoned, the clergy educated along modern lines and doctrine adapted to a softer age. But once these reforms were in place, enlightened politics and enlightened religion would join hands.

Protestant liberal theologians soon began to dream of a third way between Christian orthodoxy and the Great Separation. They had unshaken faith in the moral core of Christianity, however distorted it may have been by the forces of history, and unshaken faith in the cultural and political progress that Christianity had brought to the world. Christianity had given birth to the values of individuality, moral universalism, reason and progress on which German life was now based. There could be no contradiction between religion and state, or even tension. The modern state had only to give Protestantism its due in public life, and Protestant theology would reciprocate by recognizing its political responsibilities. If both parties met their obligations, then, as the philosopher F. W. J. Schelling put it, “the destiny of Christianity will be decided in Germany.”

Among Jewish liberal thinkers, there was a different sort of hope, that of acceptance as equal citizens. After the French Revolution, a fitful process of Jewish emancipation began in Europe, and German Jews were more quickly integrated into modern cultural life than in any other European country ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ a fateful development. For it was precisely at this moment that German Protestants were becoming convinced that reformed Christianity represented their national Volksgeist. While the liberal Jewish thinkers were attracted to modern enlightened faith, they were also driven by the apologetic need to justify Judaism’s contribution to German society. They could not appeal to the principles of the Great Separation and simply demand to be left alone. They had to argue that Judaism and Protestantism were two forms of the same rational moral faith, and that they could share a political theology. As the Jewish philosopher and liberal reformer Hermann Cohen once put it, “In all intellectual questions of religion we think and feel ourselves in a Protestant spirit.”

V. Courting the Apocalypse

This was the house that liberal theology built, and throughout the 19th century it looked secure. It wasn’t, and for reasons worth pondering. Liberal theology had begun in hope that the moral truths of biblical faith might be intellectually reconciled with, and not just accommodated to, the realities of modern political life. Yet the liberal deity turned out to be a stillborn God, unable to inspire genuine conviction among a younger generation seeking ultimate truth. For what did the new Protestantism offer the soul of one seeking union with his creator? It prescribed a catechism of moral commonplaces and historical optimism about bourgeois life, spiced with deep pessimism about the possibility of altering that life. It preached good citizenship and national pride, economic good sense and the proper length of a gentleman’s beard. But it was too ashamed to proclaim the message found on every page of the Gospels: that you must change your life. And what did the new Judaism bring to a young Jew seeking a connection with the traditional faith of his people? It taught him to appreciate the ethical message at the core of all biblical faith and passed over in genteel silence the fearsome God of the prophets, his covenant with the Jewish people and the demanding laws he gave them. Above all, it taught a young Jew that his first obligation was to seek common ground with Christianity and find acceptance in the one nation, Germany, whose highest cultural ideals matched those of Judaism, properly understood. To the decisive questions ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ “Why be a Christian?” and “Why be a Jew?” ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ liberal theology offered no answer at all.

By the turn of the 20th century, the liberal house was tottering, and after the First World War it collapsed. It was not just the barbarity of trench warfare, the senseless slaughter, the sight of burned-out towns and maimed soldiers that made a theology extolling “modern civilization” contemptible. It was that so many liberal theologians had hastened the insane rush to war, confident that God’s hand was guiding history. In August 1914, Adolf von Harnack, the most respected liberal Protestant scholar of the age, helped Kaiser Wilhelm II draft an address to the nation laying out German military aims. Others signed an infamous pro-war petition defending the sacredness of German militarism. Astonishingly, even Hermann Cohen joined the chorus, writing an open letter to American Jews asking for support, on the grounds that “next to his fatherland, every Western Jew must recognize, revere and love Germany as the motherland of his modern religiosity.” Young Protestant and Jewish thinkers were outraged when they saw what their revered teachers had done, and they began to look elsewhere.

But they did not turn to Hobbes, or to Rousseau. They craved a more robust faith, based on a new revelation that would shake the foundations of the whole modern order. It was a thirst for redemption. Ever since the liberal theologians had revived the idea of biblical politics, the stage had been set for just this sort of development. When faith in redemption through bourgeois propriety and cultural accommodation withered after the Great War, the most daring thinkers of the day transformed it into hope for a messianic apocalypse — one that would again place the Jewish people, or the individual Christian believer, or the German nation, or the world proletariat in direct relation with the divine.

Young Weimar Jews were particularly drawn to these messianic currents through the writings of Martin Buber, who later became a proponent of interfaith understanding but as a young Zionist promoted a crude chauvinistic nationalism. In an early essay he called for a “Masada of the spirit” and proclaimed: “If I had to choose for my people between a comfortable, unproductive happiness . . . and a beautiful death in a final effort at life, I would have to choose the latter. For this final effort would create something divine, if only for a moment, but the other something all too human.” Language like this, with strong and discomforting contemporary echoes for us, drew deeply from the well of biblical messianism. Yet Buber was an amateur compared with the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, who used the Bible to extol the utopia then under construction in the Soviet Union. Though an atheist Jew, Bloch saw a connection between messianic hope and revolutionary violence, which he admired from a distance. He celebrated Thomas M‚àö√⬨¬∫ntzer, the 16th-century Protestant pastor who led bloody peasant uprisings and was eventually beheaded; he also praised the brutal Soviet leaders, famously declaring “ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem” ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ wherever Lenin is, there is Jerusalem.

But it was among young Weimar Protestants that the new messianic spirit proved most consequential. They were led by the greatest theologian of the day, Karl Barth, who wanted to restore the drama of religious decision to Christianity and rejected any accommodation of the Gospel to modern sensibilities. When Hitler came to power, Barth acquitted himself well, leading resistance against the Nazi takeover of the Protestant churches before he was forced into exile in 1935. But others, who employed the same messianic rhetoric Barth did, chose the Nazis instead. A notorious example was Emanuel Hirsch, a respected Lutheran theologian and translator of Kierkegaard, who welcomed the Nazi seizure of power for bringing Germany into “the circle of the white ruling peoples, to which God has entrusted the responsibility for the history of humanity.” Another was Friedrich Gogarten, one of Barth’s closest collaborators, who sided with the Nazis in the summer of 1933 (a decision he later regretted). In the 1920s, Gogarten rejoiced at the collapse of bourgeois Europe, declaring that “we are glad for the decline, since no one enjoys living among corpses,” and called for a new religion that “attacks culture as culture . . . that attacks the whole world.” When the brownshirts began marching and torching books, he got his wish. After Hitler completed his takeover, Gogarten wrote that “precisely because we are today once again under the total claim of the state, it is again possible, humanly speaking, to proclaim the Christ of the Bible and his reign over us.”

All of which served to confirm Hobbes’s iron law: Messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics. The idea of redemption is among the most powerful forces shaping human existence in all those societies touched by the biblical tradition. It has inspired people to endure suffering, overcome suffering and inflict suffering on others. It has offered hope and inspiration in times of darkness; it has also added to the darkness by arousing unrealistic expectations and justifying those who spill blood to satisfy them. All the biblical religions cultivate the idea of redemption, and all fear its power to inflame minds and deafen them to the voice of reason. In the writings of these Weimar figures, we encounter what those orthodox traditions always dreaded: the translation of religious notions of apocalypse and redemption into a justification of political messianism, now under frightening modern conditions. It was as if nothing had changed since the 17th century, when Thomas Hobbes first sat down to write his “Leviathan.”

VI. Miracles

The revival of political theology in the modern West is a humbling story. It reminds us that this way of thinking is not the preserve of any one culture or religion, nor does it belong solely to the past. It is an age-old habit of mind that can be reacquired by anyone who begins looking to the divine nexus of God, man and world to reveal the legitimate political order. This story also reminds us how political theology can be adapted to circumstances and reassert itself, even in the face of seemingly irresistible forces like modernization, secularization and democratization. Rousseau was on to something: we seem to be theotropic creatures, yearning to connect our mundane lives, in some way, to the beyond. That urge can be suppressed, new habits learned, but the challenge of political theology will never fully disappear so long as the urge to connect survives.

So we are heirs to the Great Separation only if we wish to be, if we make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. Yet more is required still. Since the challenge of political theology is enduring, we need to remain aware of its logic and the threat it poses. This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness. We must never forget that there was nothing historically inevitable about our Great Separation, that it was and remains an experiment. In Europe, the political ambiguities of one religion, Christianity, happened to set off a political crisis that might have been avoided but wasn’t, triggering the Wars of Religion; the resulting carnage made European thinkers more receptive to Hobbes’s heretical ideas about religious psychology and the political implications he drew from them; and over time those political ideas were liberalized. Even then, it was only after the Second World War that the principles of modern liberal democracy became fully rooted in continental Europe.

As for the American experience, it is utterly exceptional: there is no other fully developed industrial society with a population so committed to its faiths (and such exotic ones), while being equally committed to the Great Separation. Our political rhetoric, which owes much to the Protestant sectarians of the 17th century, vibrates with messianic energy, and it is only thanks to a strong constitutional structure and various lucky breaks that political theology has never seriously challenged the basic legitimacy of our institutions. Americans have potentially explosive religious differences over abortion, prayer in schools, censorship, euthanasia, biological research and countless other issues, yet they generally settle them within the bounds of the Constitution. It’s a miracle.

And miracles can’t be willed. For all the good Hobbes did in shifting our political focus from God to man, he left the impression that the challenge of political theology would vanish once the cycle of fear was broken and human beings established authority over their own affairs. We still make this assumption when speaking of the “social causes” of fundamentalism and political messianism, as if the amelioration of material conditions or the shifting of borders would automatically trigger a Great Separation. Nothing in our history or contemporary experience confirms this belief, yet somehow we can’t let it go. We have learned Hobbes’s lesson too well, and failed to heed Rousseau’s. And so we find ourselves in an intellectual bind when we encounter genuine political theology today: either we assume that modernization and secularization will eventually extinguish it, or we treat it as an incomprehensible existential threat, using familiar terms like fascism to describe it as best we can. Neither response takes us a step closer to understanding the world we now live in.

It is a world in which millions of people, particularly in the Muslim orbit, believe that God has revealed a law governing the whole of human affairs. This belief shapes the politics of important Muslim nations, and it also shapes the attitudes of vast numbers of believers who find themselves living in Western countries ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ and non-Western democracies like Turkey and Indonesia ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ founded on the alien principles of the Great Separation. These are the most significant points of friction, internationally and domestically. And we cannot really address them if we do not first recognize the intellectual chasm between us: although it is possible to translate Ahmadinejad’s letter to Bush from Farsi into English, its intellectual assumptions cannot be translated into those of the Great Separation. We can try to learn his language in order to create sensible policies, but agreement on basic principles won’t be possible. And we must learn to live with that.

Similarly, we must somehow find a way to accept the fact that, given the immigration policies Western nations have pursued over the last half-century, they now are hosts to millions of Muslims who have great difficulty fitting into societies that do not recognize any political claims based on their divine revelation. Like Orthodox Jewish law, the Muslim Shariah is meant to cover the whole of life, not some arbitrarily demarcated private sphere, and its legal system has few theological resources for establishing the independence of politics from detailed divine commands. It is an unfortunate situation, but we have made our bed, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Accommodation and mutual respect can help, as can clear rules governing areas of tension, like the status of women, parents’ rights over their children, speech offensive to religious sensibilities, speech inciting violence, standards of dress in public institutions and the like. Western countries have adopted different strategies for coping, some forbidding religious symbols like the head scarf in schools, others permitting them. But we need to recognize that coping is the order of the day, not defending high principle, and that our expectations should remain low. So long as a sizable population believes in the truth of a comprehensive political theology, its full reconciliation with modern liberal democracy cannot be expected.

VII. The Opposite Shore

This is not welcome news. For more than two centuries, promoters of modernization have taken it for granted that science, technology, urbanization and education would eventually “disenchant” the charmed world of believers, and that with time people would either abandon their traditional faiths or transform them in politically anodyne ways. They point to continental Europe, where belief in God has been in steady decline over the last 50 years, and suggest that, with time, Muslims everywhere will undergo a similar transformation. Those predictions may eventually prove right. But Europe’s rapid secularization is historically unique and, as we have just seen, relatively recent. Political theology is highly adaptive and can present to even educated minds a more compelling vision of the future than the prospect of secular modernity. It takes as little for a highly trained medical doctor to fashion a car bomb today as it took for advanced thinkers to fashion biblically inspired justifications of fascist and communist totalitarianism in Weimar Germany. When the urge to connect is strong, passions are high and fantasies are vivid, the trinkets of our modern lives are impotent amulets against political intoxication.

Realizing this, a number of Muslim thinkers around the world have taken to promoting a “liberal” Islam. What they mean is an Islam more adapted to the demands of modern life, kinder in its treatment of women and children, more tolerant of other faiths, more open to dissent. These are brave people who have often suffered for their efforts, in prison or exile, as did their predecessors in the 19th century, of which there were many. But now as then, their efforts have been swept away by deeper theological currents they cannot master and perhaps do not even understand. The history of Protestant and Jewish liberal theology reveals the problem: the more a biblical faith is trimmed to fit the demands of the moment, the fewer reasons it gives believers for holding on to that faith in troubled times, when self-appointed guardians of theological purity offer more radical hope. Worse still, when such a faith is used to bestow theological sanctification on a single form of political life ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ even an attractive one like liberal democracy ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ the more it will be seen as collaborating with injustice when that political system fails. The dynamics of political theology seem to dictate that when liberalizing reformers try to conform to the present, they inspire a countervailing and far more passionate longing for redemption in the messianic future. That is what happened in Weimar Germany and is happening again in contemporary Islam.

The complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism we’ve encountered are not the only theological options. There is another kind of transformation possible in biblical faiths, and that is the renewal of traditional political theology from within. If liberalizers are apologists for religion at the court of modern life, renovators stand firmly within their faith and reinterpret political theology so believers can adapt without feeling themselves to be apostates. Luther and Calvin were renovators in this sense, not liberalizers. They called Christians back to the fundamentals of their faith, but in a way that made it easier, not harder, to enjoy the fruits of temporal existence. They found theological reasons to reject the ideal of celibacy, and its frequent violation by priests, and thus returned the clergy to ordinary family life. They then found theological reasons to reject otherworldly monasticism and the all-too-worldly imperialism of Rome, offering biblical reasons that Christians should be loyal citizens of the state they live in. And they did this, not by speaking the apologetic language of toleration and progress, but by rewriting the language of Christian political theology and demanding that Christians be faithful to it.

Today, a few voices are calling for just this kind of renewal of Islamic political theology. Some, like Khaled Abou El Fadl, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, challenge the authority of today’s puritans, who make categorical judgments based on a literal reading of scattered Koranic verses. In Abou El Fadl’s view, traditional Islamic law can still be applied to present-day situations because it brings a subtle interpretation of the whole text to bear on particular problems in varied circumstances. Others, like the Swiss-born cleric and professor Tariq Ramadan, are public figures whose writings show Western Muslims that their political theology, properly interpreted, offers guidance for living with confidence in their faith and gaining acceptance in what he calls an alien “abode.” To read their works is to be reminded what a risky venture renewal is. It can invite believers to participate more fully and wisely in the political present, as the Protestant Reformation eventually did; it can also foster dreams of returning to a more primitive faith, through violence if necessary, as happened in the Wars of Religion.

Perhaps for this reason, Abou El Fadl and especially Ramadan have become objects of intense and sometimes harsh scrutiny by Western intellectuals. We prefer speaking with the Islamic liberalizers because they share our language: they accept the intellectual presuppositions of the Great Separation and simply want maximum room given for religious and cultural expression. They do not practice political theology. But the prospects of enduring political change through renewal are probably much greater than through liberalization. By speaking from within the community of the faithful, renovators give believers compelling theological reasons for accepting new ways as authentic reinterpretations of the faith. Figures like Abou El Fadl and Ramadan speak a strange tongue, even when promoting changes we find worthy; their reasons are not our reasons. But if we cannot expect mass conversion to the principles of the Great Separation — and we cannot — we had better learn to welcome transformations in Muslim political theology that ease coexistence. The best should not be the enemy of the good.

In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen.

Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men.

Mark Lilla is professor of the humanities at Columbia University. This essay is adapted from his book “The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West,” which will be published next month.

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A new push for change in the war on terror

In Foreign Policy magazine’s Terrorism Index, experts paint a bleak picture of progress and point to diminishing security for the US.

By Alexandra Marks | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor
August 22, 2007
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p03s03-usmi.html

New York

The US is losing the war on terror. That’s the assessment of the nation’s top foreign-policy, intelligence, and national-security leaders from across the ideological spectrum. In this year’s Terrorism Index, a survey released Monday by Foreign Policy magazine, 84 percent of these experts believe the nation is losing the war on terror, while more than 90 percent say the world is growing more dangerous for Americans.

That’s prompted a variety of leaders to call for a complete rethinking of the nation’s strategy. And some are looking back to the cold war’s battle against communism to find models for the ideological struggle against terrorism.

A key component is deterrence, the policy that, at the height of the cold war, kept the superpowers’ nuclear warheads safely in their bunkers – the only way to avoid mutually assured destruction (MAD). Another is a call for a Middle East Marshall Plan to help develop the region’s economies and confront the alienation of the young.

“We need a grand strategy to address not only the question of al Qaeda, but also, how do you put out the fires in the region?” says Fawaz Gerges, a Middle East expert at New York’s Sarah Lawrence College. “How do you diffuse the crisis and help the Muslims in order to counterbalance the militant ideologies that are simmering above the surface and below the surface?”

The Terrorism Index was developed by Foreign Policy magazine and the Center for American Progress a year ago, as a way to gauge progress in the war on terror. The original idea was to determine whether the nation was deterring, capturing, or killing more terrorists each day than were being recruited, trained, and deployed. Such information proved nearly impossible to obtain. So the groups decided to survey top foreign-policy, intelligence, military, and academic experts on their sense of progress.

This is the third Terrorism Index they have issued. Among its findings are that foreign-policy experts “see a world that is growing more dangerous, a national security strategy in disrepair, and a war in Iraq that is alarmingly off course,” according to the magazine.

“The main reason for this pessimism appears to be events on the ground,” says Mike Boyer, senior editor of Foreign Policy. “Eighty-three percent of the experts say the surge of troops into Baghdad is having a negative impact on the war effort, an increase of 22 percent from just six months ago.” The sentiment crosses party lines, he says. So, too, does a desire to disengage from Iraq. Seven out of 10 experts surveyed believe it’s time to draw down forces there, although a majority do not favor an immediate withdrawal.

Experts are also blaming the war in Iraq for a diminishing sense of security in America. Eighty percent of them say the war has had a negative effect “on protecting the American people from global terrorist networks and in advancing U.S. national security goals.” Only 15 percent of the experts say that creating a stable, secure Iraq should be the top foreign-policy objective of the next five years. In contrast, 30 percent believe that winning the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim world should be the most important US policy objective in that time frame.

These and other conclusions, says Mr. Boyer, indicate that the Iraq experience is informing experts’ broader views on the war on terrorism – and prompting calls for new strategies.

“This poll presents an enormously bleak and melancholy picture … and it’s difficult not to read it as a complete repudiation of the entire current conduct on the war on terrorism,” says Bruce Hoffman, a terrorism expert at Georgetown University. “Where we have been particularly remiss or ineffectual is in fighting the al Qaeda brand as hard as we’ve fought the al Qaeda terrorists.”

Middle East experts like Dr. Gerges say that while the majority of Muslims reject al Qaeda’s violence, they have come to believe that much of al Qaeda’s rhetoric is correct. “The US is losing the ideological struggle against al Qaeda,” says Gerges. “Some of the most intelligent people in that part of the world believe the US is waging a crusade against Islam and Muslims and is trying to subjugate the Arab world and remake it in its image, and that it’s doing it brutally.”

Many experts say it’s critical that the US focus on countering such perceptions. The solution lies in changing US policy in the region and supporting Islamic scholars who can show how al Qaeda is distorting the Koran.

“Once you strip the adversary of their extremist message of religion, there’s nothing left but criminality and thuggery,” says Frank Cilluffo, director of the Homeland Security Policy Institute at George Washington University. “There’s growing recognition this needs to be done, but we haven’t marshaled and mobilized those resources as much as we ought to.” Some scholars believe a comprehensive strategy should include a massive economic and social investment similar to the Marshall Plan after World War II. They also think it’s crucial to develop a strategy of deterrence.

“Deterrence is probably the hardest part of counterterrorism,” says John McLaughlin, former acting director of the CIA. “Classical deterrence in the past worked against adversaries who played by certain rules and didn’t want to die. Here, you’re up against an adversary who plays by no particular rules and is willing to die.”

It’s equally important to combat the terrorist narrative, he says. Others agree and again point to the findings of the Terrorism Index.

“Part of the results … is a warning that we must change our strategy, or otherwise we’ll be … fighting this struggle ad infinitum,” says Hoffman.

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TO DEFEAT THE TALIBAN: Fight Less, Win More

By Nathaniel Fick
Sunday, August 12, 2007; Page B01
http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2007/08/09/AR2007080900667.html?hpid=opinionsbox1

On a highway north of Kabul last month, an American soldier aimed a machine gun at my car from the turret of his armored Humvee. In the split second for which our eyes locked, I had a revelation: To a man with a weapon, everything looks like a threat.

I had served as an infantry officer in Afghanistan in 2001-02 and in Iraq in 2003, but this was my first time on the other end of an American machine gun. It’s not something I’ll forget. It’s not the sort of thing ordinary Afghans forget, either, and it reminded me that heavy-handed military tactics can alienate the people we’re trying to help while playing into the hands of the people we’re trying to defeat.

Welcome to the paradoxical world of counterinsurgency warfare — the kind of war you win by not shooting.

The objective in fighting insurgents isn’t to kill every enemy fighter — you simply can’t — but to persuade the population to abandon the insurgents’ cause. The laws of these campaigns seem topsy-turvy by conventional military standards: Money is more decisive than bullets; protecting our own forces undermines the U.S. mission; heavy firepower is counterproductive; and winning battles guarantees nothing.

My unnerving encounter on the highway was particularly ironic since I was there at the invitation of the U.S. Army to help teach these very principles at the Afghanistan Counterinsurgency Academy. The grandly misnamed “academy” is a tiny collection of huts and tents on Kabul’s dusty southern outskirts. Since May, motley classes of several dozen Afghan army officers, Afghan policemen, NATO officers, American officers and civilians have been learning and living side by side there for a week at a time.

The academy does much more than teach the theory and tactics of fighting the Taliban insurgents who are trying to unseat President Hamid Karzai and claw their way back to power. It is also a rare forum for military officers, civilian aid workers, academics and diplomats — from Afghanistan and all 37 countries in NATO’s International Security Assistance Force — to unite in trying to bring good governance, prosperity and security to Afghanistan. The curriculum is based on the Army and Marine Corps’ new counterinsurgency doctrine, released in December. Classes revolve around four so-called paradoxes of counterinsurgency. Unless we learn all four well, we’ll continue to win battles in Afghanistan while losing the war.

The first tenet is that the best weapons don’t shoot. Counterinsurgents must excel at finding creative, nonmilitary solutions to military problems.

Consider, for example, the question of roads. When U.N. teams begin building new stretches of road in volatile Afghan provinces such as Zabul and Kandahar, insurgents inevitably attack the workers. But as the projects progress and villagers begin to see the benefits of having paved access to markets and health care, the Taliban attacks become less frequent. New highways then extend the reach of the Karzai administration into previously inaccessible areas, making a continuous Afghan police presence possible and helping lower the overall level of violence — no mean feat in a country larger and more populous than Iraq, with a shaky central government.

Said another way: Reconstruction funds can shape the battlefield as surely as bombs. But such methods are still not used widely enough in Afghanistan. After spending more than $14 billion in aid to the country since 2001, the United States’ latest disbursement, of more than $10 billion, will start this month. Some 80 percent of it is earmarked for security spending, leaving only about 20 percent for reconstruction projects and initiatives to foster good governance.

The second pillar of the academy’s curriculum relates to the first: The more you protect your forces, the less safe you may be. To be effective, troops, diplomats and civilian aid workers need to get out among the people. But nearly every American I saw in Kabul was hidden behind high walls or racing through the streets in armored convoys.

Afghanistan, however, isn’t Iraq. Tourists travel through much of the country in relative safety, glass office towers are sprouting up in Kabul, and Coca-Cola recently opened a bottling plant. I drove through the capital in a dirty green Toyota, wearing civilian clothes and stopping to shop in bazaars, eat in restaurants and visit businesses. In two weeks, I saw more of Kabul than most military officers do in a year.

This isolation also infects our diplomatic community. After a State Department official gave a presentation at the academy, he and I climbed a nearby hill to explore the ruins of an old palace. He was only nine days from the end of his 12-month tour, and our walk was the first time he’d ever been allowed to get out and explore the city.

Of course, mingling with the population means exposing ourselves to attacks, and commanders have an obligation to safeguard their troops. But they have an even greater responsibility to accomplish their mission. When we retreat behind body armor and concrete barriers, it becomes impossible to understand the society we claim to defend. If we emphasize “force protection” above all else, we will never develop the cultural understanding, relationships and intelligence we need to win. Accepting the greater tactical risk of reaching out to Afghans reduces the strategic risk that the Taliban will return to power.

The third paradox hammered home at the academy is that the more force you use, the less effective you may be. Civilian casualties in Afghanistan are notoriously difficult to tally, but 300-500 noncombatants have probably been killed already this year, mostly in U.S. and coalition air strikes. Killing civilians, even in error, is not only a serious moral transgression but also a lethal strategic misstep. Wayward U.S. strikes have seriously undermined the very legitimacy of the Karzai government and made all too many Afghans resent coalition forces. If Afghans lose patience with the coalition presence, those forces will be run out of the country, in the footsteps of the British and the Soviets before them.

I stress this point because one of my many gratifying moments at the academy came at the start of a class on targeting. I told the students to list the top three targets they would aim for if they were leading forces in Zabul province, a Taliban stronghold. When I asked a U.S. officer to share his list, he rattled off the names of three senior Taliban leaders to be captured or killed. Then I turned and asked an Afghan officer the same question. “First we must target the local councils to see how we can best help them,” he replied. “Then we must target the local mullahs to find out their needs and let them know we respect their authority.” Exactly. In counterinsurgency warfare, targeting is more about whom you bring in than whom you take out.

The academy’s final lesson is that tactical success in a vacuum guarantees nothing. Just as it did in Vietnam, the U.S. military could win every battle and still lose the war. That’s largely because our primary enemies in Afghanistan still have a sanctuary in neighboring Pakistan. Rather than make a suicidal stand against the allied forces invading Afghanistan after Sept. 11, 2001, many Taliban and al-Qaeda fighters melted away to create a parallel “Talibanistan” in the lawless tribal areas of western Pakistan. Last fall, Gen. James Jones, then NATO’s supreme commander, testified before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the Taliban leadership now operates openly from Quetta, a Pakistani border city that’s long been a hotbed of Islamic militancy. Karzai reiterated this point during his visit to Camp David last week.

Chasing terrorists and the Taliban around Afghanistan leads to little lasting progress as long as they can slip across the border to rest and regroup. Since 2001, the United States has tolerated this quiet reconstitution of the Taliban in Pakistan as long as Islamabad granted us basing and overflight rights, tepidly pursued al-Qaeda’s leadership and cracked down on A.Q. Khan’s nuclear-proliferation network. The Durand Line, which separates Afghanistan from Pakistan, is a mapmaker’s fantasy. Without political reform, economic development and military operations on both sides of the border, we can do little more than put a finger in the dike that’s keeping radicalism and instability in Pakistan from spilling back into Afghanistan.

On the last afternoon of the course, I asked my students to define victory in Afghanistan. We’d talked about this earlier in the week, and most of their answers had focused on militarily defeating the Taliban or killing Osama bin Laden. Now the Afghan officers took the lead in a spirited discussion with their U.S. and NATO classmates. Finally the group agreed on a unanimous result, which neatly expresses the prize we’re striving for: “Victory is achieved when the people of Afghanistan consent to the legitimacy of their government and stop actively and passively supporting the insurgency.”

Winning that consent will require doing some difficult and uncomfortable things: de-escalating military force, boosting the capacities of the Karzai government, accelerating reconstruction, getting real with Pakistan. It won’t be easy. But the alternative, which I glimpsed while staring down the barrel of that machine gun, is our nation going zero for two in its first wars of the new century.

ncfick@gmail.com Nathaniel Fick, a former captain in the Marines, is a fellow at the Center for a New American Security and the author of “One Bullet Away: The Making of a Marine Officer.”

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Why America is losing to al-Qaida

By DAVID SCHANZER, The Baltimore Sun
http://www.infocusnews.net/content/view/15990/358/

The intelligence community’s report in July that al-Qaida has “regenerated key elements of its homeland attack capability” confirms that our six-year effort to undermine the radical Islamist movement that fuels al-Qaida and its affiliated organizations is in tatters.

The report notes that planned attacks have been thwarted and we’ve become a harder target to hit, but this is akin to treating the symptoms without curing the disease. We are winning battles but losing the larger war.

How has this happened? The conventional wisdom – that we diverted our efforts from al-Qaida’s stronghold in Afghanistan to the war in Iraq – tells only the tactical part of the story. The more fundamental problem is that our policy of killing and arresting as many al-Qaida personnel as possible is an incomplete strategy.

Al-Qaida is not simply an outlaw organization that can be put “on the run.” Rather, it is part of a broad, religion-based social movement that has deep support in elements of the Muslim world. If al-Qaida can be isolated and deprived of public support, it will wither and die. If not, it will continue to be a resilient franchise capable of regeneration, growth and ultimately additional strikes inside the United States.

From the very beginning, President Bush has misunderstood the genesis of al-Qaida’s animus toward the United States. In his Sept. 20, 2001, address to Congress, he declared, “They hate what they see right here in this chamber – a democratically elected government. …

They hate our freedoms.” Well, not exactly. Osama bin Laden is certainly no fan of liberal constitutional democracy, but that dislike did not fuel his call for jihad against America and its allies. It is our policies that bin Laden detests, policies that, in his view, have contributed to the rapid decline of a once-expansive Muslim empire, the taking of Muslim territory and the imposition of oppressive, sacrilegious rulers in Muslim nation-states.

The Bush administration has also failed to recognize that although the vast majority of Muslims reject bin Laden’s violent tactics, they support his stance against Western domination in the Middle East, his desire for heightened Islamic identity and his demand for greater respect for Islam and Muslim people. To isolate al-Qaida, therefore, it is necessary to craft a nuanced message that support for al-Qaida will undermine these popular goals and resistance to al-Qaida will help to advance them.

Our actions since 9/11 have not projected this message; in fact, just the opposite has occurred. We launched a war on terror that was widely interpreted as a war on Islam. We invaded and occupied two Muslim nations, not as part of a globally sanctioned multilateral force to combat terrorism but on our own, for a variety of purposes.

We consistently referred to fundamentalist Islamist ideology as “evil.” We disengaged from the Israeli-Palestinian peace process and projected indifference to the plight of the Palestinian people.

Yes, we removed a tyrannical and hated dictator from Iraq, but we permitted security there to collapse, leading to death, carnage and displacement. We issued lofty rhetoric about promoting freedom around the globe but gave unconditional support to military rulers and dictators in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and elsewhere to crush domestic opposition. We tortured and humiliated Muslim men in Abu Ghraib and have held hundreds of Muslims in Guantanamo for years without charges.

With this record, how can it possibly come as a surprise that, in the words of the intelligence community, “we live in a heightened threat environment”?

Improving the situation will require regime change here at home followed by deft, skillful action from whoever inherits the shambles left behind. Violent, radicalized movements are on the rise in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Gaza, Lebanon, Somalia, Algeria and other hot spots.

The next president will need to maintain the aggressive counterterrorism operations that have been established under the Bush administration, but totally recraft the way in which we engage with the Muslim world.

The challenge will be to advance our security goals while projecting a vision for the future that is both sensitive to Muslim aspirations and able to undercut popular support for al-Qaida and its extremist affiliates. That will require a much different approach from the one we have taken these past six years.

David H. Schanzer is the director of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security at Duke University and the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. His e-mail is schanzer@duke.edu

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Not so fast, Christian soldiers

The Pentagon has a disturbing relationship with private evangelical groups.

By Michael L. Weinstein and Reza Aslan
August 22, 2007 – Los Angeles Times
http://www.latimes.com/news/opinion/la-oe-aslan22aug22,0,4674900.story?coll=la-opinion-center

Maybe what the war in Iraq needs is not more troops but more religion. At least that’s the message the Department of Defense seems to be sending.

Last week, after an investigation spurred by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, the Pentagon abruptly announced that it would not be delivering “freedom packages” to our soldiers in Iraq, as it had originally intended.

What were the packages to contain? Not body armor or home-baked cookies. Rather, they held Bibles, proselytizing material in English and Arabic and the apocalyptic computer game “Left Behind: Eternal Forces” (derived from the series of post-Rapture novels), in which “soldiers for Christ” hunt down enemies who look suspiciously like U.N. peacekeepers.

The packages were put together by a fundamentalist Christian ministry called Operation Straight Up, or OSU. Headed by former kickboxer Jonathan Spinks, OSU is an official member of the Defense Department’s “America Supports You” program. The group has staged a number of Christian-themed shows at military bases, featuring athletes, strongmen and actor-turned-evangelist Stephen Baldwin. But thanks in part to the support of the Pentagon, Operation Straight Up has now begun focusing on Iraq, where, according to its website (on pages taken down last week), it planned an entertainment tour called the “Military Crusade.”

Apparently the wonks at the Pentagon forgot that Muslims tend to bristle at the word “crusade” and thought that what the Iraq war lacked was a dose of end-times theology.

In the end, the Defense Department realized the folly of participating in any Operation Straight Up crusade. But the episode is just another example of increasingly disturbing, and indeed unconstitutional, relationships being forged between the U.S. military and private evangelical groups.

Take, for instance, the recent scandal involving Christian Embassy, a group whose expressed purpose is to proselytize to military personnel, diplomats, Capitol Hill staffers and political appointees. In a shocking breach of security, Defense Department officials allowed a Christian Embassy film crew to roam the corridors of the Pentagon unescorted while making a promotional video featuring high-ranking officers and political appointees. (Christian Embassy, which holds prayer meetings weekly at the Pentagon, is so entrenched that Air Force Maj. Gen. John J. Catton Jr. said he’d assumed the organization was a “quasi-federal entity.”)

The Pentagon’s inspector general recently released a report recommending unspecified “corrective action” for those officers who appeared in the video for violating Defense Department regulations. But, in a telling gesture, the report avoided any discussion of how allowing an evangelical group to function within the Defense Department is an obvious violation of the establishment clause of the 1st Amendment.

The extent to which such relationships have damaged international goodwill toward the U.S. is beyond measure. As the inspector general noted, a leading Turkish newspaper, Sabah, published an article on Air Force Maj. Gen. Peter Sutton, who is the U.S. liaison to the Turkish military — and who appeared in the Christian Embassy video. The article described Christian Embassy as a “radical fundamentalist sect,” perhaps irreparably damaging Sutton’s primary job objective of building closer ties to the Turkish General Staff, which has expressed alarm at the influence of fundamentalist Christian groups inside the U.S. military.

Our military personnel swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, not the Bible. Yet by turning a blind eye to OSU and Christian Embassy activities, the Pentagon is, in essence, endorsing their proselytizing. And sometimes it’s more explicit than that.

That certainly was the case with Army Lt. Gen. William “Jerry” Boykin, deputy undersecretary of Defense for intelligence. The Pentagon put him in charge of the hunt for Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda in 2003. The same year, Boykin was found to be touring American churches, where he gave speeches — in uniform — casting the Iraq war in end-times terms. “We’re in is a spiritual battle,” he told one congregation in Oregon. “Satan wants to destroy this nation . . . and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army.” The story wound up in newspapers, magazines and on “60 Minutes.” And, of course, it was reported all over the Muslim world. The Pentagon reacted with a collective shrug.

American military and political officials must, at the very least, have the foresight not to promote crusade rhetoric in the midst of an already religion-tinged war. Many of our enemies in the Mideast already believe that the world is locked in a contest between Christianity and Islam. Why are our military officials validating this ludicrous claim with their own fiery religious rhetoric?

It’s time to actively strip the so-called war on terror of its religious connotations, not add to them. Because religious wars are not just ugly, they are unwinnable. And despite what Operation Straight Up and its supporters in the Pentagon may think is taking place in Iraq, the Rapture is not a viable exit strategy.

Michael L. Weinstein, founder of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, wrote “With God on Our Side: One Man’s War Against an Evangelical Coup in America’s Military.” Reza Aslan, author of “No god but God: The Origins, Evolution, and Future of Islam,” is on the MRFF advisory board.

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A Response to Western Views of Islamist Movements

Radwan Ziadah
Director of the Damascus Center for Human Rights Studies
Arab Insight
http://www.arabinsight.org/pdf/Arabinsight23.pdf

The events of Sept. 11, 2001, made Islam a domestic concern in the West. After having viewed it as only a foreign, religious source of agitation, the West now views Islam as a source of political and military threats. An opinion poll conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in July 2005 showed that a majority of Americans and Europeans are concerned about the global rise of Islamic extremism. The poll covered 17 countries, and showed that 75 percent of citizens in the United States and European countries such as Britain, France, Germany, Holland, Spain and Russia are worried about Islamic extremism around the world. Most of those polled in America, the European states, and India described Islam as the most violent religion out of a list that included Islam, Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism. A total of 87 percent of the French and 88 percent of the Dutch polled considered Islam the most violent of all religions.

A total of 22 percent of those polled in the United States indicated that they held a negative view of Islam, compared to 57 percent who expressed a positive view. In France, 34 percent of those polled said they had a negative perception of Islam, compared to 64 percent who expressed a positive view of it. A majority of those polled in European states said they sensed that Islamic identity is on the rise in their countries, a phenomenon they considered a negative development.1

Negative image of Islam

The image of Islam as reflected by this poll can be described as extremely negative. Perhaps this stems from political and historical causes reaching much further back than the events of Sept. 11. Yet the subsequent, more deeply entrenched negativity since then has likely produced policies that aim to respond to such negative perceptions, but indirectly reflect them. Take, for example, the manner in which the Danish government dealt with the Prophet Muhammad cartoon crisis, which was a natural reaction stemming from Western preconceptions about Islam.

The construction of such an image stems primarily from the arbitrary judgments issued by the Western media and the political, intellectual and cultural elite standing behind it. Malise Ruthven, a Scottish writer and historian on religion, fundamentalism, and especially Islamic affairs, for example, blames Islamic failures on ruptures within Islamic societies as embodied in the break between a traditional past and higher education with its Western, civil content. The shaken identity of these societies leads them to play a pivotal role in hosting various forms of clashes between Islam and the West.2

Another example is Fred Halliday, who holds that all fundamentalist movements, and not only Islamic ones, are inimical to both modernism and democracy because they reject the “other” on principle. They combine religious and ethnic identities matched by hatred for the “other” that brings them closer to espousing racism.3 He breaks with Ruthven in stressing that fundamentalist movements are not concerned with development or globalization, but rather they funnel their fury toward their rulers, toward moral corruption, and toward the West and Israel. Their vision of the West is based on their view of themselves and the world. More precisely, it stems from their view of their own identity, which has become solely religious.

Yet some go further in their analysis, reading into the social and political background that has allowed the rise of political Islam. This background is represented by the collapse of modernization plans led by the Arab regimes following independence in the 1950s, as well as their failure to liberate Palestine. This led to the Palestinian cause gaining greater importance in the Arab and Islamic consciousness. This was followed by the failure of socio-economic development, reflected significantly in the rise of poverty and the dwindling living standards of citizens in the Arab and Islamic worlds. This was accompanied by the further growth of various forms of absolute political domination that vary from one Arab state to the next, but that are similar in their failure to achieve any sort of democratic advancement. This deteriorating situation was also accompanied by Israel’s rise as a regional military, economic, and technological force and the failure of Arabs to respond to any of the criticisms leveled against Israel. All of this created an environment conducive to the growth of religiosity that permeated the rural poor and middle classes, in turn creating fertile ground for the growth of extremist currents within villages and impoverished neighborhoods.4 While Osama bin Laden offered an alternative through the rise of extremist Islam, his vision was limited to the elite and the vanguard. It was not entirely the case with regard to the public or its followers, most of whom were raised in slums with nothing – neither water, nor work opportunities, nor healthcare, nor anything else.

This brings us to the divisions of political Islam and the serious challenges posed by the standards or methods on which these divisions are based. Differences are found in intellectual and ideological orientations, as well as those stemming from various geographic areas and others related to political positions and views. Yet most of the sanctioned divisions and standards by which researchers sort Islamist movements rest upon their position towards violence or extremism. This standard focuses on the political effect of these movements and either their ability to change through peaceful means or their adoption of various forms of violence, the latest manifestation of which has been intercontinental violence as represented by the attacks of Sept. 11. Searching for either deep-rooted or superficial differences between Islamist movements surely springs from a political sentiment stipulating separate dealings with each movement on the basis of its popularity, effectiveness and influence on the street. These factors might make overlooking them, or even choosing to ignore or condone them, foolhardy because it would not treat the root causes for their growth or their rising popularity that is “real,” as opposed to the forms of popular mobilization some Arab regimes impose upon their societies. Such popularity is fraudulent and used to ensure society’s submission, compelling it to validate “truths” presented by the regime.

In general, most of the studies that classify Islamist movements focus on the fact that there is a mainstream version that is characterized by tolerance and moderation. This is what traditional Islamic scholarship calls “Islam of the majority,” from which examples are drawn in many of the scholarly works on Islamic law when reference is made to the Muslim masses. Sunni, or Orthodox Islam, is thus the middle way. The others are splinter groups the extent of whose Islamism can be measured by their proximity to the Islam of the majority in the way of beliefs and practices.5

And thus we find many Western politicians, including U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair, describing al-Qaida as an organization that has hijacked Islam from its primary adherents, having diverged from the general guidelines of Islam that mandate moderation, tolerance, and the disavowal of violence.

As for the West in general, with the exception of some right-wing parties and personalities, it does not have a problem with Islam as a religion or the people who profess it. Yet it has suffered, particularly following the bombings that took place in London and Madrid, from those who hold a special understanding of Islam they believe allows adherents to kill their enemies due to differences over political, intellectual, religious and ideological views. The coverage these individuals received in the media – especially considering that they were raised among Western, liberal values in the major Western cities of London, Paris and Madrid – has caused a setback by unleashing a fear of Islam and its followers.

This scenario has varied depending on the degree to which the people of a given country have experience with pluralism and concepts of cultural difference. It also depends on the country’s understanding of itself. For instance, there is a significant difference between the Muslims of Britain and those of France and their role and influence in their respective societies.

Searching for mainstream Islam

During the last three decades, the West’s focus has been on Shiite Islam, which has generally been considered more of a threat than other brands of Islam. Now, however, the Western focus is directed at Sunni activity, and most Western fear stems from the perception of Sunni Islam as strict and fundamentalist.6 The International Crisis Group’s (ICG) report “Understanding Islamism” affirms that the term “political Islam” is of American origin and came into use following the Iranian Revolution, although this supposes that there was an apolitical Islam until Khomeini surfaced and turned everything upside down, after which Islam became a force in the political life of the Middle East.7

The ICG report attempts to categorize the main currents in Sunni Islamist activity in a manner that goes beyond a simplified and discriminatory classification of “extremist” and “moderate.” Instead, it distinguishes between movements on the basis of the beliefs held by their followers. These beliefs include different characterizations of the problems faced by Islamic societies and different views on Islamic law, as well as different conceptions of political, religious and military issues that require action. The report also defines the type of activity movements consider legitimate or appropriate. In other words, it relies on criteria that can form a source of difference and over which goals are in many cases contradictory. This approach is fundamentally different from the traditional distinction between Sunni and Shiite; it is a distinction between the forms of contemporary Islam more than that between historical Islamic traditions. The presence of such a distinction within the ranks of Sunni Islam in particular is a relatively new development that is not yet complete. It appears to be an ongoing process, as noted in the report.8 The report splits Sunni Islamist currents into three primary orientations. The first is termed political Islamism, in that these movements prioritize political activity over religious proselytism. They seek to gain power through political means and not violence, in particular through organizing themselves as political parties.

The primary example of this current is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and its various branches, particularly those in Jordan and Algeria. The second current includes both revivalist and fundamentalist missionary activism. Movements in this category avoid direct political activity and neither seek power nor classify themselves as political parties. Rather, they focus on missionary activity such as preaching to reinforce or revive belief. Examples include the Salafi movement9 that is widespread in the Arab world and the Tabligh movement,10 which was founded in 1926 in India and has since spread throughout the world. The third current is that of the jihadists, activists committed to violence because they are concerned with what they consider the defense of Islam, and in some cases the expansion of its dominion. This current comprises two primary groups. The first is the jihadist salafis, comprising people with a fundamentalist outlook who have been mobilized as extremists and who eschew non-violent activity related to preaching in order to join the ranks of armed jihad. The other group is the Qutbists, activists influenced by the radical thought of Sayyid Qutb, an Egyptian thinker and writer who is often credited with providing an ideological basis for violence in the name of religion, though this contention can be debated. In the beginning they were prepared to wage jihad against the “near enemy,” the local regimes they described as infidels, particularly in Egypt. This was before redirecting their jihad to the outside world, against the “distant enemy,” in particular Israel and the West, led by the United States.11

The report issued by the U.S.-based Rand Corporation in 2003 titled “Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources and Strategies” classifies contemporary Islamic currents into four groups: secularists, fundamentalists, traditionalists and modernists. It defines the positions of these currents towards a number of primary issues, including democracy and human rights, polygamy, penal measures and Islamic justice, minorities and the status of women. It concludes with an attempt to form a recommended strategy for the United States based on identifying partners in the development of democratic Islam, which it views as accepting American values and particularly those of democracy.12

The Carnegie Endowment for International Peace report entitled “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the Arab World: Exploring Gray Zones,” differentiates between Islamist movements based on whether or not they employ violence. It holds that the moderate Islamist movements, and not the radical ones, will have the greatest influence on future political developments in the Middle East. It defines these moderate movements as those that have eschewed violence and formally renounced it, and which seek to reach their goals through peaceful political activity. The most important of these movements are the Muslim Brotherhood and its various derivatives, the Moroccan Justice and Development Party, the Islamic Action Front in Jordan, and the Reform Party in Yemen, among others.13 The report admits the limitations of this differentiation, and stresses that it does not assume that these movements are fully committed to democracy, that they have relinquished their goal of making Islamic law a basis for all legislation, or that they accept full equality for women. What the report refers to as “grey zones” in the thought of Islamic movements are the results of the contradiction found in the moderate Islamist movements’ purposeful refusal to openly declare their positions on thorny Islamic issues. This is done so as not to aggravate the West or lose their reputations as moderate movements. Yet the report also recognizes a qualitative development within these movements’ thought and in their political strategies.14

The United States Institute of Peace has issued several reports on ijtihad, the effort to exercise reason in interpreting Islamic law in a contemporary context, and on dealings with Islamists. It considers one of the primary reasons for the failure of Muslims to reconcile Islam and modernism as the fact that ijtihad, within the circles of Sunni Islam, has been halted for centuries. Despite this, however, there have been attempts to interpret Islam’s divinely revealed texts in light of modern facts and knowledge. In order for ijtihad to succeed in any society, democracy and the freedom of opinion must prevail.15 As such, a separate report authored by the Rand Corporation directs U.S. foreign policy to support “Islamic renewal,” or those initiatives characterized by Islamic moderation and that adopt programs based upon religious reform and renewal within the Islamic arena.16 The Rand Corporation report also suggests that U.S. foreign policy should generally encourage diplomacy towards the Islamic world.

This latter recommendation was adopted in the most recent publication of the Defense Science Board of the U.S. Defense Department. It warned that any plan for open relations must be built on a strategic basis and attempt to explain its diplomacy to the Islamic world by stressing that their embracing of moderation does not mean submitting to the American way. It also called for distinguishing the majority of Muslims who do not practice violence from those extremist Muslims who embrace the idea of jihad.17 This has materialized in U.S. support for the spread of democracy in the Middle East despite the fact that Islamists recently swept the elections in Egypt, Iraq and Palestine – a development that led Ayman al-Zawahiri, a leader in the al-Qaida organization, to condemn the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt for its participation in the elections. The United States attempted to take advantage of this apparent rupture and employ it to deepen the differences between moderate movements on the one hand and the al-Qaida organization and the extremist movements that support it on the other, so as to benefit and legitimize the “war on terrorism.”18 The democratic victory recently gained by Islamist movements has driven the United States to form a “strategic vision” based on the encouragement of political reform in the Arab region despite the likelihood that such reform could strengthen the influence of forces inimical to America and the West. U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stressed that this fact reflects a necessary transition period prior to the realization of political regimes that are more stable and open to the West. Regimes allowing for some reform would reap benefits that could include the ability to offer better choices to their peoples and the opportunity to establish more constructive relations with the rest of the world.19

And thus, Bush vowed to continue supporting political reform in the Middle East, even if its results run counter to the wishes of Washington. He stated, “The only way to defeat the terrorists is to defeat their dark vision of hatred and fear by offering the hopeful alternative of political freedom and peaceful change.” Yet he also admitted that the choices decided by the region’s people would not always conform with American views, for “democracies in the Middle East will not look like our own, because they will reflect the traditions of their own citizens.”20 This is the position the European Union also formed following major resistance.

It now holds that one must enter into dialogue with Islamist opposition organizations in the Middle East to encourage a transformation towards democracy. This was stressed in a report issued by the foreign ministers of the European Union in Luxembourg, which opened by noting that the EU had in the past preferred to deal with the secular intelligentsia of Arab civil society at the expense of the more representative Islam-inspired organizations. It thus convinced the EU of the necessity of opening a dialogue with “Islamic ‚Äö√Ñ√≤faith-based’ civil society” in Arab states.21 Overall, this European-American congruence on the inevitability of dealing with Islamist movements can be considered a strategic move, especially if one considers the disparities that have in the past characterized American and European views on their dealings with Islamism.

Footnotes:

1 See Al-Safir, Beirut, July 15, 2005.
2 Malise Ruthven, A Fury for God: The Islamist Attack on America. (London: Granta Books, 2002).
3 Fred Halliday, Two Hours that Shook the World. (London: Saqi Books, 2002).
4 Francois Burgat, Face to Face with Political Islam. (London: I.B. Taurus, 2003).
5 Radwan Al-Sayyid, “Contemporary Islam: Its intellectual and political currents and cultural transformations around the world,” London, April 9, 2005.
6 International Crisis Group, “Understanding Islamism,” Middle East/North Africa Report, no. 37, March
2, 2005.
7 Ibid.
8 Ibid.
9 The term “salafi movement” generally refers to those movements committed to a fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran and the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad.
10 The Tabligh movement is generally considered to be an apolitical social movement that seeks to bring
about a spiritual revival among Muslims.
11 Ibid.
12 Al-Sayyid Yassin, “The American Roots to a Theory of a Liberal Islam,” in Al-Nahhar, Beirut, July 25,
2004.
13 Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, “Islamist Movements and the Democratic Process in the
Arab World: Exploring Gray Zones,” Carnegie Paper No. 67, March 2006.
14 Ibid.
15 The United States Institute of Peace, “Ijtihad: Reinterpreting Islamic Principles for the Twenty-first Century,”
Special Report No. 125, 7, August 2004.
16 Abdeslam M. Maghraoui, “American Foreign Policy and Islamic Renewal,” United States Institute of
Peace Special Report No. 164, June 2006.
17 Al-Mustaqbal, Beirut, Nov. 26, 2004.
18 See the speech of U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice at the United States Institute of Peace, in which she described the situation between America and the Islamic world as being a relationship in which the
United States has gone to war five times since the end of the Cold War to help Muslims. “Without exception,
these were wars of liberation and of freedom.” Quoted in Al-Safir, Beirut, Aug. 20, 2004.
19 George W. Bush, State of the Union Address by the President, United States Capitol, Washington, D.C.,
Jan. 31, 2006, http://www.whitehouse.gov/stateoftheunion/2006/.
20 Ibid.

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Islamic Spain: History’s refrain

It’s a model for interfaith ties, and a warning about religious division.

By Alexander Kronemer
Washington – August 22, 2007
http://www.csmonitor.com/2007/0822/p09s02-coop.html

The past sometimes provides examples of glory and success that serve as models. Other times, as the philosopher George Santayana said, it warns of impending calamity for those who do not learn from it.

For the past several years, I’ve been immersed in a history that does both. As one of the producers for an upcoming PBS documentary on the rise and fall of Islamic Spain, I’ve witnessed its amazing ascent and tragic fall countless times in the editing room, only to go home and watch some of the same themes playing out on the nightly news.

Islamic Spain lasted longer than the Roman Empire. It marked a period and a place where for hundreds of years a relative religious tolerance prevailed in medieval Europe.

A model for religious tolerance

At its peak, it lit the Dark Ages with science and philosophy, poetry, art, and architecture. It was the period remembered as a golden age for European Jews. Breakthroughs in medicine, the introduction of the number zero, the lost philosophy of Aristotle, even the prototype for the guitar all came to Europe through Islamic Spain.

Not until the Renaissance was so much culture produced in the West. And not until relatively recent times has there been the level of pluralism and religious tolerance that existed in Islamic Spain at its peak. Just as the vibrancy and creativity of America is rooted in the acceptance of diversity, so was it then.

Because Islam’s prophet Muhammad founded his mission as a continuation of the Abrahamic tradition, Islamic theology gave special consideration to Jews and Christians. To be sure, there were limits to these accommodations, such as special taxes levied on religious minorities. But in the early Middle Ages, official tolerance of one religion by another was an amazingly liberal point of view. This acceptance became the basis for Islamic Spain’s genius. Indeed, it was an important reason Islam took hold there in the first place.

When the first Muslims crossed the straits of Gibraltar into Spain, the large Jewish population there was enduring a period of oppression by the Roman Catholic Visigoths. The Jewish minorities rallied to aid the Arab Muslims as liberators, and the divided Visigoths fell.

The conquering Arab Muslims remained a minority for many years, but they were able to govern their Catholic and Jewish citizens by a policy of inclusiveness. Even as Islam slowly grew over the centuries to be the majority religion in Spain, this spirit was largely, if not always perfectly, maintained.

Pluralistic though it was, Islamic Spain was no democracy. After years of enlightened leadership, a succession of bad leaders caused the unified Muslim kingdom to fragment among many smaller petty kingdoms and fiefdoms.

Though they competed and fought, the spirit of pluralism continued. Indeed, it thrived as rival kings sought the best minds in the Muslim, Christian, and Jewish worlds for their courts. This was just as true in the Christian petty kingdoms, as the Muslim ones. Christian and Muslim armies even fought alongside each other against mutual rivals of both faiths.

It is at this point that the darker parallels to our time begin. Into the competition for land, resources, and power, some leaders on both sides began to appeal to religion to rally support for their cause. Wars became increasingly religious in nature. Into this tinderbox a match was thrown: the Crusades – the same term that many Arabs use today when referring to America’s adventure in Iraq.

The Crusades deepened Spain’s religious divide. Minorities in both Christian and Muslim kingdoms become increasingly suspect. Persecutions, expulsions, and further warfare ensued. Nothing could stop it, not even the black plague.

Ultimately, Christian kingdoms gained the upper hand as the Muslim kingdoms of Islamic Spain fell. Spain’s Muslims and Jews were forced to either leave or convert. This led to the rise of the Inquisition, whose purpose was to verify the loyalty of suspect converts. The expulsions and inquisitions racked Spain economically, culturally, and morally. Its power was severely compromised. The fall of pluralism in Spain was the fall of Spain itself.

Dark parallels with today

This fall directly links to events today and raises many of the same stakes. Though few Americans note it, one of Osama bin Laden’s justifications for the 9/11 attacks was to avenge the “tragedy” of Islamic Spain.

So far, the post-9/11 world and the policies it has spawned seem to be heading in the same dangerous direction as witnessed before. The religious intolerance that engulfed and overwhelmed medieval Spain threatens the increasingly beleaguered pluralism of our own time.

At its best, the history of Islamic Spain is a model for interfaith cooperation that inspires those who seek an easier relationship among the three Abrahamic faiths. At its worst, it’s a warning of what can occur when political and religious leaders divide the world. It reminds us what really happens when civilizations clash.

‚Äö√Ѭ¢ Alexander Kronemer is a writer, lecturer, and documentary producer focusing on religious diversity, Islam, and cross-cultural understanding. His film “Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain” premieres on PBS Aug. 22.

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Of Islam and Inventions

By ANAHAD O’CONNOR
Published: August 12, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/12/nyregion/nyregionspecial2/12sciencenj.html

THE story of aviation often begins with Leonardo da Vinci’s designs for flying machines, which would later inspire the Wright brothers and their famous sustained flight at Kitty Hawk in 1903.

Yet centuries before Leonardo, in A.D. 875, Abbas bin Firnas, a Muslim inventor in Spain, cloaked himself in bird feathers, strapped himself to a glider made of wood and silk, then jumped into the air and stayed aloft for some time — making him the first person in recorded history to fly.

This tidbit and many others like it can be gleaned from “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” an intriguing new exhibition at the Liberty Science Center in Jersey City that explores the vast spectrum of accomplishments by Muslim scientists from A.D. 700 to 1700. It is a copy of a show that has been at the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai since last year; it may make other stops in the United States after it ends its run in Jersey City.

Through interactive models and vivid displays and artifacts, the exhibition illustrates how Muslim scholars helped advance nine different scientific disciplines, including medicine, engineering and astronomy.

On display are 13th-century surgical tools that influenced many of today’s medical instruments, ancient precursors of the internal combustion engine, and astronomical equipment that traced the movements of celestial bodies hundreds of years ago.

The show, designed by MTE Studios in South Africa, is one of several new exhibitions that await visitors to the Liberty Science Center, which reopened last month after a two-year, $109 million transformation. The new center contains high-tech, hands-on exhibitions like one on skyscrapers and another on the Hudson River that replace the simpler exhibits on subjects like static electricity that visitors to the old center may remember.

Simply put, this is science for big kids.

With “Islamic Science Rediscovered,” a primary goal is to showcase the work of early Muslim scientists and their influence on Western society ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ an effort to offer a balanced perspective on Islam.

“This show is basically about science and technology,” said Wayne LaBar, the center’s vice president for exhibitions and theaters. “But at the same time it is also a show that allows us to create an understanding of a different culture that in some ways is demonized these days.

“Where we are today is based on a lot of different people and a lot of different cultures,” he added, “and the show offers a way of connecting our modern cultures.”

The exhibition begins with a visit to a re-created souk, or Arab market, that includes a large and colorful timeline showing the dates of scientific achievements in the Muslim world juxtaposed with the dates of momentous events in other societies.

Rather than overwhelm viewers with wall text and complicated descriptions — as scientific exhibitions sometimes do — this one engages with interactivity.

Visitors can play with engineering models, grip pulse sensors to see their own heartbeats, examine a four-foot-tall elephant clock, and experiment with optical illusions.

Another compelling element of the exhibition is its attempt to bring to life the personalities behind the brilliant inventions. Many of the displays revolve around individual scientists and explorers, and visitors can see their portraits and learn about the quirks and convictions that guided them.

There is Ibn al-Jazari, the 12th-century scholar and engineer whose myriad inventions and mechanical contraptions make him seem a kindred spirit to Thomas Edison. There is Al-Kwharizmi, the Persian astronomer and mathematician whose name gave rise to the word “algorithm.” And, of course, there is the aviation-obsessed bin Firnas, who made his historic first flight at the age of 70 and, just before leaping into the air, is said to have told friends, “If all goes well, after soaring for a time, I should be able to return safely to your side.”

He did, and “Islamic Science Rediscovered” celebrates his achievement.

The Liberty Science Center is at 251 Phillip Street in Liberty State Park in Jersey City. Open daily this summer, 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Starting in September: closed Mondays; open Tuesdays through Fridays, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., and weekends and holidays, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Information: (201) 200-1000 or lsc.org.

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Muhammadiyah warns of misunderstanding of Islamic teachings

http://www.thejakartapost.com/detailnational.asp?fileid=20070827.H04&irec=3

The chairman of Muhammadiyah, the country’s second largest Muslim organization, Din Syamsuddin, was recently invited to Thailand for a series of meetings and visits to that country’s conflict-torn southern provinces. Following his return, he sat down with The Jakarta Post’s Tifa Asrianti and Imanuddin Razak to discuss his Thailand trip and his future plans. The following are excerpts.

Question: Can you tell us about your visit to Thailand?

Answer: I was invited for a four-day visit there. I had meetings with Thailand’s Supreme Buddhist monk, Army chief Gen. Sonthi Boonyaratglin, the director of the National Security Council, the foreign affairs minister, Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont and King Bhumibol Adulyadej.

I also visited Pattani, a region in southern Thailand, where I met four governors of southern provinces — Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat and Songkhla — and some 500 Muslim clerics from those provinces. I also met the director general of the Southern Border Province Administrative Center.

I had the impression that the King and Gen. Sonthi accept and welcome the role of the Indonesian Muslim civil society, in this case Muhammadiyah, to help create peace and prosperity in southern Thailand. We did not and would not intervene in Thailand’s domestic affairs or take on the role of mediator, but rather want to help empower Muslims there in education, health and economy.

I told them that Muhammadiyah would be ready to help. We did not discuss the form of the cooperation, as this will be discussed later. We might send teachers, Muslim preachers and medical officers there, or they might come here for schooling … or short-term education for cultural enrichment.

I concluded the Thai government has a great deal of concern and a willingness to solve the conflicts in southern Thailand, and is committed to building prosperity there.

I suggest the Thai government use more soft power than hard power, like the military, which will only add more problems. Soft power is more like persuasive actions, but it should also come along with efforts to reduce the wealth gap and improve prosperity.

Conflicts do not always have religious motives, but more social and political factors. Sometimes, religion is only used as a justification. Islam in Thailand is a moderate Islam, which is why we should empower them.

I am not the first person invited there. Last year the Thai government invited Mahathir Mohammad and two years ago they invited (Nahdlatul Ulama chairman) Hasyim Muzadi.

What kind of cooperation will Indonesian and Thai Muslims have, besides education?

The cooperation may not only be in education, even though one of the problems there is Islamic education, which is too conservative … and the curriculum taught is very rigid. As a result, students graduating from Islamic schools get nothing and have no clue about global issues. In the end, they are trapped in the devil’s ring of unemployment and poverty, which will create a perfect breeding ground for separatism and radicalism.

Is the conflict in southern Thailand similar to the Aceh conflict? Are they seeking autonomy?

Actually, there are not many religious-based separatist groups, only a small minority. In the Muslim community in southern Thailand, the existence of these groups is not obvious. According to information, such groups are found in one or two districts, especially in Yala. In other areas they are not widespread, so it’s an underground activity and it has signs of terrorism. Rumor has it that global terrorists are based in Thailand, including Hambali who was caught in Thailand.

I confirmed this with Gen. Sonthi. He said that there was such activity, according to their intelligence analysis. So it is possible that there is a similarity with GAM (Free Aceh Movement) in the aspirations for separation.

They also want to relive the glory of the past, when there was a self-reliant Pattani kingdom and they used to have connections with the Kelantan (Malaysia) sultan.

The conflict in southern Thailand is a bit unique and has huge potential for separatism, because there are two factors: religion and ethnicity, with Islam and Melayu in the south and Buddhism and Thais in the north. I told the prime minister and armed forces officers to prevent the third factor, which is the economy and the sociopolitical gap. I can see that southern Thailand is not as prosperous as northern parts.

How do you see pluralism in Thailand and Indonesia?

Pluralism in Indonesia is good, if we see it from the religious side. We recognize an old religion, which is Confucianism, as a new religion. Other countries don’t have Confucianism as an official religion, not even China.

In Thailand, they accommodate to some extent. Prominent figures from southern Thailand can also play important roles, for example Foreign Affairs Minister Surin Pitsuwan and Gen. Sonthi are Muslims. I can see that the Thai people accept Sonthi as a general and have no objections about it.

There are two things that harm the image of Islam, polygamy and jihad. How does Muhammadiyah view these issues?

Muhammadiyah sees polygamy as an improper action and tends to avoid it … At the leadership level, the practice may reap harsh criticism and lead to impeachment.

The issue of polygamy is more about a misinterpretation of the Holy Book and the Prophet’s history, as if the Holy Book allows and obliges it. If we thoroughly understand it, the end conclusion does not encourage polygamy. This misunderstanding supports an incorrect practice that is based on sexual urge.

(The passage allowing polygamy) in Surah Annisa begins with “and”, with means the passage is connected with preceding passages. The first says that Islam teaches its believers to have a household life based on passion and give and take. The second says that Islam also obliges believers to pay attention to people outside family line, for example orphans. Then, if you can’t be fair to orphans and your biological children, you should marry the orphan’s mother.

Polygamy is allowed (in Islam), but it’s not obligatory. The purpose is to give more attention to extended families. Unfortunately, the passage is never related to other passages, and the practice is only for lust. Men usually find a younger and more beautiful second wife.

There should be tough requirements, for example it should be based on passion and it must not destroy the existing family.

The Prophet Muhammad had a monogamous marriage with his wife Khadijah for 26 years, even though she was older than he was. He married Aisyah and the war veteran widows three years after Khadijah died.

Jihad is part of Islamic holy teaching, meaning that we should make all attempts to reach the divine purpose, but not necessarily with war.

Jihad can be done with wealth or spirit. It is not with soul, but rather with attitude. Jihad is not related with war, but people often relate it with terrorism and suicide bombings. In Palestine, there is a cleric who allows such actions because they were evicted from their own land and they have no other way to fight for their freedom. the But the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) does not allow this.

We shouldn’t avoid the term of jihad, just because it has been misinterpreted. We can use the term with new meaning, for example jihad to solve (corruption) cases.

How do you see sharia bylaws?

I do not agree at the level of content. I think Islamic values should be portrayed in ethics and morals, and not in legalization and formalization. Formal enforcement doesn’t solve problems.

On the other hand, if it is a local administration/community decision, we need to view it as a part of democracy. But there should be a regulation to prevent formalistic and exclusive regional regulations, because the law is for everybody.

The regulation can be put at the highest level, like the Constitution. It is all right to have laws that encompass people’s aspirations, but they should take the form of consensus.

Dutch laws have influenced Indonesian laws for decades. When we want to change the laws, the available options are sharia, customary law and other laws.

Please choose the one that suits you best. If there are good things in Islamic teaching and the community agrees to it, why not? But don’t bring Islamic terms into the bylaws, let justice be a communal thing.

I oppose headscarf restrictions in other countries, such as in France. But don’t make it an obligation either. Let the people choose for themselves.

Rumor has it a political party has approached you about playing a role in the 2009 presidential election?

I am flattered that prominent figures respect me. But it gives me a sense of awkwardness to answer those questions. If I said that I never had such a desire, it would not be completely true. But it doesn’t mean I have been planning for this. It’s just things that I pick up along the way.

I want to be honest here, I am committed to the Muhammadiyah conference decision that appointed me as the chairman for 2005 to 2010 and I have spent much time and work to accomplish that.

If I had that opportunity (to take part in the presidential election) and people supported me, it would be an honor, but it would be perceived as fatalistic. As a mandate holder, I would ask Muhammadiyah whether they allowed me to do that. If they allowed me, I would use the available opportunity, under their requirements. If not, I would obey the decision.

About my meeting (Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle chairwoman) Megawati, I want to melt the dichotomy between santri abangan and Islamic nationalists, which I consider a great obstacle for our national life. Islamic nationalism has become an ideology and has been misused by political parties, but it is not like that. When I approached them, people looked through their political eyeglasses and speculated. I think I should not stop just because there is much speculation.

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Islam’s message of tolerance

By MOHAMMAD HABASH
Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2007
http://search.japantimes.co.jp/cgi-bin/eo20070821a1.html

DAMASCUS — I am often invited by religious authorities in the Persian Gulf countries and Saudi Arabia to attend meetings that are held to urge people to follow Islamic faith and law, while avoiding any debate connected to politics or political rights. Political rights, my hosts insist, are maintained by the ruling regimes themselves, and these follow the teachings of the Quran.

But recently an invitation came from the Faisal Center for Islamic Research and Studies, which actually wanted me to talk about democracy, or “good governance,” as the participants called it.

Until recently, this topic was taboo in Saudi Arabia, where the regime doesn’t allow any margin for political debate, and commands people to listen, obey, and leave matters of government to their rulers. It was obvious that the conference organizers’ goal was to revive religious and political speech in order to find a middle ground between Islamic faith and democracy.

I argued that, as many Islamic scholars have recognized, Islamic jurisprudence is compatible with democratic values. Every country that has chosen democracy has come closer to achieving Islam’s goals of equality and social justice.

Democracy suffers in the Islamic world due to skepticism about everything that comes from the West, especially the United States. Thus some leaders view democratization efforts as a new form of colonialism or imperialism in disguise. But this region’s hesitancy to embrace democracy goes beyond mere fear of Western hegemony.

There is a deep philosophical dispute about the nature of democracy. Some Islamic thinkers point to an inevitable contradiction between Islamic and democratic values. They argue that Islam requires submission to the will of God, while democracy implies submission to the will of people.

This notion was clear in the writings of Said Kotb, who saw parliaments as preventing people from submitting to the rule of God. Yet Kotb’s understanding contradicts with the established practices of the Prophet Muhammad, who created the first real state in the Arabian Peninsula by declaring the constitution of Medina, which stated: “Muhammad and the Jews of Bani-Aof [who were citizens of Medina at that time] are one nation.” Thus, social relations were to be based on equality and justice, not religious beliefs.

Indeed, the Prophet Muhammad’s most important political truce, the Hodibiah Agreement between his rising nation and the leaders of Quraish (the dominant tribe in Mecca at that time), stated clearly that “everybody is free to join the league of Muhammad or the league of Quraish.”

Many non-Muslim tribes, such as the Christians of Nagran, the Jews of Fadk and the pagans of Khozafa, joined Muhammad’s league and became part of the Islamic state. All Muslim and non-Muslim tribes had equal rights and freedoms, and enjoyed the protection of the state. Most importantly, Mecca was later opened to protect the pagan people of Khozafa against the attacks of Quraish.

So it was not Muhammad’s intent to build a theocratic or religious state under the rule of mullahs. He was establishing a democratic civil state where people were equal in rights and obligations.

Reconciling the true understanding of Islam and democracy will, I believe, lead to a full realization of the richness of the Islamic experiment. It could also add great vitality to the democratic experiment by bringing it closer to the Muslim street. But the Islamic mainstream must first realize the importance of democratic reform, which is possible only by clearly understanding the prophet’s message, which promises genuine solutions for every time and place.

Although the creation of study centers to debate the concept of Islamic democracy reflect the natural evolution of Islamic thinking, it will not go unopposed. Indeed, during one of the sessions I attended, Sheik Ahmad Rageh of Al-Imam University responded angrily to the Tunisian researcher Salah Edeen Al-Jorashi: “How do you expect us to accept freedom of faith in Islam? It is something that exists only in your illusions. We believe in a religion that doesn’t bargain with right, or hesitate in creed. We believe in a religion that orders us to kill the converts. There is no place in our nation for a malevolent or a renegade.”

I find it hard to understand how Sheik Rageh can miss (or ignore) the clear verses in the Quran that order us to do the very opposite:


– “Let there be no compulsion in religion”;

– “Thou art not one to manage their affairs”;

– “We have not sent thee to be disposer of their affairs for them”; and

– “Say, ‘The truth is from your Lord,’ let him who will, believe, and let him who will, reject.”

There are many other verses in the Quran that bear a message of tolerance and freedom. The mine of Islamic jurisprudence is very rich, but the problem is in the way its treasures are used.

As the ancient Arabs used to say: “A man’s choice is a piece of his mind.” The struggle in the Islamic world nowadays is a struggle for a piece of the Muslim mind.

Mohammad Habash, a member of the Syrian Parliament, directs the Islamic Studies Center in Damascus. Copyright 2007 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)

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The Politics of God

By MARK LILLA
August 19, 2007
http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/19/magazine/19Religion-t.html?_r=2&oref=slogin&pagewanted=print&oref=slogin

I. “The Will of God Will Prevail”

The twilight of the idols has been postponed. For more than two centuries, from the American and French Revolutions to the collapse of Soviet Communism, world politics revolved around eminently political problems. War and revolution, class and social justice, race and national identity — these were the questions that divided us. Today, we have progressed to the point where our problems again resemble those of the 16th century, as we find ourselves entangled in conflicts over competing revelations, dogmatic purity and divine duty. We in the West are disturbed and confused. Though we have our own fundamentalists, we find it incomprehensible that theological ideas still stir up messianic passions, leaving societies in ruin. We had assumed this was no longer possible, that human beings had learned to separate religious questions from political ones, that fanaticism was dead. We were wrong.

An example: In May of last year, President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran sent an open letter to President George W. Bush that was translated and published in newspapers around the world. Its theme was contemporary politics and its language that of divine revelation. After rehearsing a litany of grievances against American foreign policies, real and imagined, Ahmadinejad wrote, “If Prophet Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Ishmael, Joseph or Jesus Christ (peace be upon him) were with us today, how would they have judged such behavior?” This was not a rhetorical question. “I have been told that Your Excellency follows the teachings of Jesus (peace be upon him) and believes in the divine promise of the rule of the righteous on Earth,” Ahmadinejad continued, reminding his fellow believer that “according to divine verses, we have all been called upon to worship one God and follow the teachings of divine Prophets.” There follows a kind of altar call, in which the American president is invited to bring his actions into line with these verses. And then comes a threatening prophecy: “Liberalism and Western-style democracy have not been able to help realize the ideals of humanity. Today, these two concepts have failed. Those with insight can already hear the sounds of the shattering and fall of the ideology and thoughts of the liberal democratic systems. . . . Whether we like it or not, the world is gravitating towards faith in the Almighty and justice and the will of God will prevail over all things.”

This is the language of political theology, and for millennia it was the only tongue human beings had for expressing their thoughts about political life. It is primordial, but also contemporary: countless millions still pursue the age-old quest to bring the whole of human life under God’s authority, and they have their reasons. To understand them we need only interpret the language of political theology ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ yet that is what we find hardest to do. Reading a letter like Ahmadinejad’s, we fall mute, like explorers coming upon an ancient inscription written in hieroglyphics.

The problem is ours, not his. A little more than two centuries ago we began to believe that the West was on a one-way track toward modern secular democracy and that other societies, once placed on that track, would inevitably follow. Though this has not happened, we still maintain our implicit faith in a modernizing process and blame delays on extenuating circumstances like poverty or colonialism. This assumption shapes the way we see political theology, especially in its Islamic form — as an atavism requiring psychological or sociological analysis but not serious intellectual engagement. Islamists, even if they are learned professionals, appear to us primarily as frustrated, irrational representatives of frustrated, irrational societies, nothing more. We live, so to speak, on the other shore. When we observe those on the opposite bank, we are puzzled, since we have only a distant memory of what it was like to think as they do. We all face the same questions of political existence, yet their way of answering them has become alien to us. On one shore, political institutions are conceived in terms of divine authority and spiritual redemption; on the other they are not. And that, as Robert Frost might have put it, makes all the difference.

Understanding this difference is the most urgent intellectual and political task of the present time. But where to begin? The case of contemporary Islam is on everyone’s mind, yet is so suffused with anger and ignorance as to be paralyzing. All we hear are alien sounds, motivating unspeakable acts. If we ever hope to crack the grammar and syntax of political theology, it seems we will have to begin with ourselves. The history of political theology in the West is an instructive story, and it did not end with the birth of modern science, or the Enlightenment, or the American and French Revolutions, or any other definitive historical moment. Political theology was a presence in Western intellectual life well into the 20th century, by which time it had shed the mind-set of the Middle Ages and found modern reasons for seeking political inspiration in the Bible. At first, this modern political theology expressed a seemingly enlightened outlook and was welcomed by those who wished liberal democracy well. But in the aftermath of the First World War it took an apocalyptic turn, and “new men” eager to embrace the future began generating theological justifications for the most repugnant ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ and godless ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ ideologies of the age, Nazism and Communism.

It is an unnerving tale, one that raises profound questions about the fragility of our modern outlook. Even the most stable and successful democracies, with the most high-minded and civilized believers, have proved vulnerable to political messianism and its theological justification. If we can understand how that was possible in the advanced West, if we can hear political theology speaking in a more recognizable tongue, represented by people in familiar dress with familiar names, perhaps then we can remind ourselves how the world looks from its perspective. This would be a small step toward measuring the challenge we face and deciding how to respond.

II. The Great Separation

Why is there political theology? The question echoes throughout the history of Western thought, beginning in Greek and Roman antiquity and continuing down to our day. Many theories have been proposed, especially by those suspicious of the religious impulse. Yet few recognize the rationality of political theology or enter into its logic. Theology is, after all, a set of reasons people give themselves for the way things are and the way they ought to be. So let us try to imagine how those reasons might involve God and have implications for politics.

Imagine human beings who first become aware of themselves in a world not of their own making. Their world has unknown origins and behaves in a regular fashion, so they wonder why that is. They know that the things they themselves fashion behave in a predictable manner because they conceive and construct them with some end in mind. They stretch the bow, the arrow flies; that is why they were made. So, by analogy, it is not difficult for them to assume that the cosmic order was constructed for a purpose, reflecting its maker’s will. By following this analogy, they begin to have ideas about that maker, about his intentions and therefore about his personality.

In taking these few short steps, the human mind finds itself confronted with a picture, a theological image in which God, man and world form a divine nexus. Believers have reasons for thinking that they live in this nexus, just as they have reasons for assuming that it offers guidance for political life. But how that guidance is to be understood, and whether believers think it is authoritative, will depend on how they imagine God. If God is thought to be passive, a silent force like the sky, nothing in particular may follow. He is a hypothesis we can do without. But if we take seriously the thought that God is a person with intentions, and that the cosmic order is a result of those intentions, then a great deal can follow. The intentions of such a God reveal something man cannot fully know on his own. This revelation then becomes the source of his authority, over nature and over us, and we have no choice but to obey him and see that his plans are carried out on earth. That is where political theology comes in.

One powerful attraction of political theology, in any form, is its comprehensiveness. It offers a way of thinking about the conduct of human affairs and connects those thoughts to loftier ones about the existence of God, the structure of the cosmos, the nature of the soul, the origin of all things and the end of time. For more than a millennium, the West took inspiration from the Christian image of a triune God ruling over a created cosmos and guiding men by means of revelation, inner conviction and the natural order. It was a magnificent picture that allowed a magnificent and powerful civilization to flower. But the picture was always difficult to translate theologically into political form: God the Father had given commandments; a Redeemer arrived, reinterpreting them, then departed; and now the Holy Spirit remained as a ghostly divine presence. It was not at all clear what political lessons were to be drawn from all this. Were Christians supposed to withdraw from a corrupted world that was abandoned by the Redeemer? Were they called upon to rule the earthly city with both church and state, inspired by the Holy Spirit? Or were they expected to build a New Jerusalem that would hasten the Messiah’s return?

Throughout the Middle Ages, Christians argued over these questions. The City of Man was set against the City of God, public citizenship against private piety, the divine right of kings against the right of resistance, church authority against radical antinomianism, canon law against mystical insight, inquisitor against martyr, secular sword against ecclesiastical miter, prince against emperor, emperor against pope, pope against church councils. In the late Middle Ages, the sense of crisis was palpable, and even the Roman Church recognized that reforms were in order. But by the 16th century, thanks to Martin Luther and John Calvin, there was no unified Christendom to reform, just a variety of churches and sects, most allied with absolute secular rulers eager to assert their independence. In the Wars of Religion that followed, doctrinal differences fueled political ambitions and vice versa, in a deadly, vicious cycle that lasted a century and a half. Christians addled by apocalyptic dreams hunted and killed Christians with a maniacal fury they had once reserved for Muslims, Jews and heretics. It was madness.

The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes tried to find a way out of this labyrinth. Traditionally, political theology had interpreted a set of revealed divine commands and applied them to social life. In his great treatise “Leviathan” (1651), Hobbes simply ignored the substance of those commands and talked instead about how and why human beings believed God revealed them. He did the most revolutionary thing a thinker can ever do ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ he changed the subject, from God and his commands to man and his beliefs. If we do that, Hobbes reasoned, we can begin to understand why religious convictions so often lead to political conflicts and then perhaps find a way to contain the potential for violence.

The contemporary crisis in Western Christendom created an audience for Hobbes and his ideas. In the midst of religious war, his view that the human mind was too weak and beset by passions to have any reliable knowledge of the divine seemed common-sensical. It also made sense to assume that when man speaks about God he is really referring to his own experience, which is all he knows. And what most characterizes his experience? According to Hobbes, fear. Man’s natural state is to be overwhelmed with anxiety, “his heart all the day long gnawed on by fear of death, poverty, or other calamity.” He “has no repose, nor pause of his anxiety, but in sleep.” It is no wonder that human beings fashion idols to protect themselves from what they most fear, attributing divine powers even, as Hobbes wrote, to “men, women, a bird, a crocodile, a calf, a dog, a snake, an onion, a leek.” Pitiful, but understandable.

And the debilitating dynamics of belief don’t end there. For once we imagine an all-powerful God to protect us, chances are we’ll begin to fear him too. What if he gets angry? How can we appease him? Hobbes reasoned that these new religious fears were what created a market for priests and prophets claiming to understand God’s obscure demands. It was a raucous market in Hobbes’s time, with stalls for Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Quakers, Ranters, Muggletonians, Fifth Monarchy Men and countless others, each with his own path to salvation and blueprint for Christian society. They disagreed with one another, and because their very souls were at stake, they fought. Which led to wars; which led to more fear; which made people more religious; which. . . .

Fresh from the Wars of Religion, Hobbes’s readers knew all about fear. Their lives had become, as he put it, “solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.” And when he announced that a new political philosophy could release them from fear, they listened. Hobbes planted a seed, a thought that it might be possible to build legitimate political institutions without grounding them on divine revelation. He knew it was impossible to refute belief in divine revelation; the most one can hope to do is cast suspicion on prophets claiming to speak about politics in God’s name. The new political thinking would no longer concern itself with God’s politics; it would concentrate on men as believers in God and try to keep them from harming one another. It would set its sights lower than Christian political theology had, but secure what mattered most, which was peace.

Hobbes was neither a liberal nor a democrat. He thought that consolidating power in the hands of one man was the only way to relieve citizens of their mutual fears. But over the next few centuries, Western thinkers like John Locke, who adopted his approach, began to imagine a new kind of political order in which power would be limited, divided and widely shared; in which those in power at one moment would relinquish it peacefully at another, without fear of retribution; in which public law would govern relations among citizens and institutions; in which many different religions would be allowed to flourish, free from state interference; and in which individuals would have inalienable rights to protect them from government and their fellows. This liberal-democratic order is the only one we in the West recognize as legitimate today, and we owe it primarily to Hobbes. In order to escape the destructive passions of messianic faith, political theology centered on God was replaced by political philosophy centered on man. This was the Great Separation.

III. The Inner Light

It is a familiar story, and seems to conclude with a happy ending. But in truth the Great Separation was never a fait accompli, even in Western Europe, where it was first conceived. Old-style Christian political theology had an afterlife in the West, and only after the Second World War did it cease to be a political force. In the 19th and early 20th centuries a different challenge to the Great Separation arose from another quarter. It came from a wholly new kind of political theology heavily indebted to philosophy and styling itself both modern and liberal. I am speaking of the “liberal theology” movement that arose in Germany not long after the French Revolution, first among Protestant theologians, then among Jewish reformers. These thinkers, who abhorred theocracy, also rebelled against Hobbes’s vision, favoring instead a political future in which religion ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ properly chastened and intellectually reformed ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ would play an absolutely central role.

And the questions they posed were good ones. While granting that ignorance and fear had bred pointless wars among Christian sects and nations, they asked: Were those the only reasons that, for a millennium and a half, an entire civilization had looked to Jesus Christ as its savior? Or that suffering Jews of the Diaspora remained loyal to the Torah? Could ignorance and fear explain the beauty of Christian liturgical music or the sublimity of the Gothic cathedrals? Could they explain why all other civilizations, past and present, founded their political institutions in accordance with the divine nexus of God, man and world? Surely there was more to religious man than was dreamed of in Hobbes’s philosophy.

That certainly was the view of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, who did more than anyone to develop an alternative to Hobbes. Rousseau wrote no treatise on religion, which was probably a wise thing, since when he inserted a few pages on religious themes into his masterpiece, “‚àö√¢mile” (1762), it caused the book to be burned and Rousseau to spend the rest of his life on the run. This short section of “‚àö√¢mile,” which he called “The Profession of Faith of the Savoyard Vicar,” has so deeply shaped contemporary views of religion that it takes some effort to understand why Rousseau was persecuted for writing it. It is the most beautiful and convincing defense of man’s religious instincts ever to flow from a modern pen ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ and that, apparently, was the problem. Rousseau spoke of religion in terms of human needs, not divine truths, and had his Savoyard vicar declare, “I believe all particular religions are good when one serves God usefully in them.” For that, he was hounded by pious Christians.

Rousseau had a Hobbes problem, too: he shared the Englishman’s criticisms of theocracy, fanaticism and the clergy, but he was a friend of religion. While Hobbes beat the drums of ignorance and fear, Rousseau sang the praises of conscience, of charity, of fellow feeling, of virtue, of pious wonder in the face of God’s creation. Human beings, he thought, have a natural goodness they express in their religion. That is the theme of the “Profession of Faith,” which tells the parable of a young vicar who loses his faith and then his moral compass once confronted with the hypocrisy of his co-religionists. He is able to restore his equilibrium only when he finds a new kind of faith in God by looking within, to his own “inner light” (lumi‚àö¬Ære int‚àö¬©rieure). The point of Rousseau’s story is less to display the crimes of organized churches than to show that man yearns for religion because he is fundamentally a moral creature. There is much we cannot know about God, and for centuries the pretense of having understood him caused much damage to Christendom. But, for Rousseau, we need to believe something about him if we are to orient ourselves in the world.

Among modern thinkers, Rousseau was the first to declare that there is no shame in saying that faith in God is humanly necessary. Religion has its roots in needs that are rational and moral, even noble; once we see that, we can start satisfying them rationally, morally and nobly. In the abstract, this thought did not contradict the principles of the Great Separation, which gave reasons for protecting the private exercise of religion. But it did raise doubts about whether the new political thinking could really do without reference to the nexus of God, man and world. If Rousseau was right about our moral needs, a rigid separation between political and theological principles might not be psychologically sustainable. When a question is important, we want an answer to it: as the Savoyard vicar remarks, “The mind decides in one way or another, despite itself, and prefers being mistaken to believing in nothing.” Rousseau had grave doubts about whether human beings could be happy or good if they did not understand how their actions related to something higher. Religion is simply too entwined with our moral experience ever to be disentangled from it, and morality is inseparable from politics.

IV. Rousseau’s Children

By the early 19th century, two schools of thought about religion and politics had grown up in the West. Let us call them the children of Hobbes and the children of Rousseau. For the children of Hobbes, a decent political life could not be realized by Christian political theology, which bred violence and stifled human development. The only way to control the passions flowing from religion to politics, and back again, was to detach political life from them completely. This had to happen within Western institutions, but first it had to happen within Western minds. A reorientation would have to take place, turning human attention away from the eternal and transcendent, toward the here and now. The old habit of looking to God for political guidance would have to be broken, and new habits developed. For Hobbes, the first step toward achieving that end was to get people thinking about — and suspicious about — the sources of faith.

Though there was great reluctance to adopt Hobbes’s most radical views on religion, in the English-speaking world the intellectual principles of the Great Separation began to take hold in the 18th century. Debate would continue over where exactly to place the line between religious and political institutions, but arguments about the legitimacy of theocracy petered out in all but the most forsaken corners of the public square. There was no longer serious controversy about the relation between the political order and the divine nexus; it ceased to be a question. No one in modern Britain or the United States argued for a bicameral legislature on the basis of divine revelation.

The children of Rousseau followed a different line of argument. Medieval political theology was not salvageable, but neither could human beings ignore questions of eternity and transcendence when thinking about the good life. When we speculate about God, man and world in the correct way, we express our noblest moral sentiments; without such reflection we despair and eventually harm ourselves and others. That is the lesson of the Savoyard vicar.

In the aftermath of the French Revolution, the Terror and Napoleon’s conquests, Rousseau’s children found a receptive audience in continental Europe. The recent wars had had nothing to do with political theology or religious fanaticism of the old variety; if anything, people reasoned, it was the radical atheism of the French Enlightenment that turned men into beasts and bred a new species of political fanatic. Germans were especially drawn to this view, and a wave of romanticism brought with it great nostalgia for the religious “world we have lost.” It even touched sober philosophers like Immanuel Kant and G. W. F. Hegel. Kant adored “‚àö√¢mile” and went somewhat further than Rousseau had, not only accepting the moral need for rational faith but arguing that Christianity, properly reformed, would represent the “true universal Church” and embody the very “idea” of religion. Hegel went further still, attributing to religion an almost vitalistic power to forge the social bond and encourage sacrifice for the public good. Religion, and religion alone, is the original source of a people’s shared spirit, which Hegel called its Volksgeist.

These ideas had an enormous impact on German religious thought in the 19th century, and through it on Protestantism and Judaism throughout the West. This was the century of “liberal theology,” a term that requires explanation. In modern Britain and the United States, it was assumed that the intellectual, and then institutional, separation of Christianity and modern politics had been mutually beneficial ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ that the modern state had benefited by being absolved from pronouncing on doctrinal matters, and that Christianity had benefited by being freed from state interference. No such consensus existed in Germany, where the assumption was that religion needed to be publicly encouraged, not reined in, if it was to contribute to society. It would have to be rationally reformed, of course: the Bible would have to be interpreted in light of recent historical findings, belief in miracles abandoned, the clergy educated along modern lines and doctrine adapted to a softer age. But once these reforms were in place, enlightened politics and enlightened religion would join hands.

Protestant liberal theologians soon began to dream of a third way between Christian orthodoxy and the Great Separation. They had unshaken faith in the moral core of Christianity, however distorted it may have been by the forces of history, and unshaken faith in the cultural and political progress that Christianity had brought to the world. Christianity had given birth to the values of individuality, moral universalism, reason and progress on which German life was now based. There could be no contradiction between religion and state, or even tension. The modern state had only to give Protestantism its due in public life, and Protestant theology would reciprocate by recognizing its political responsibilities. If both parties met their obligations, then, as the philosopher F. W. J. Schelling put it, “the destiny of Christianity will be decided in Germany.”

Among Jewish liberal thinkers, there was a different sort of hope, that of acceptance as equal citizens. After the French Revolution, a fitful process of Jewish emancipation began in Europe, and German Jews were more quickly integrated into modern cultural life than in any other European country ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ a fateful development. For it was precisely at this moment that German Protestants were becoming convinced that reformed Christianity represented their national Volksgeist. While the liberal Jewish thinkers were attracted to modern enlightened faith, they were also driven by the apologetic need to justify Judaism’s contribution to German society. They could not appeal to the principles of the Great Separation and simply demand to be left alone. They had to argue that Judaism and Protestantism were two forms of the same rational moral faith, and that they could share a political theology. As the Jewish philosopher and liberal reformer Hermann Cohen once put it, “In all intellectual questions of religion we think and feel ourselves in a Protestant spirit.”

V. Courting the Apocalypse

This was the house that liberal theology built, and throughout the 19th century it looked secure. It wasn’t, and for reasons worth pondering. Liberal theology had begun in hope that the moral truths of biblical faith might be intellectually reconciled with, and not just accommodated to, the realities of modern political life. Yet the liberal deity turned out to be a stillborn God, unable to inspire genuine conviction among a younger generation seeking ultimate truth. For what did the new Protestantism offer the soul of one seeking union with his creator? It prescribed a catechism of moral commonplaces and historical optimism about bourgeois life, spiced with deep pessimism about the possibility of altering that life. It preached good citizenship and national pride, economic good sense and the proper length of a gentleman’s beard. But it was too ashamed to proclaim the message found on every page of the Gospels: that you must change your life. And what did the new Judaism bring to a young Jew seeking a connection with the traditional faith of his people? It taught him to appreciate the ethical message at the core of all biblical faith and passed over in genteel silence the fearsome God of the prophets, his covenant with the Jewish people and the demanding laws he gave them. Above all, it taught a young Jew that his first obligation was to seek common ground with Christianity and find acceptance in the one nation, Germany, whose highest cultural ideals matched those of Judaism, properly understood. To the decisive questions ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ “Why be a Christian?” and “Why be a Jew?” ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ liberal theology offered no answer at all.

By the turn of the 20th century, the liberal house was tottering, and after the First World War it collapsed. It was not just the barbarity of trench warfare, the senseless slaughter, the sight of burned-out towns and maimed soldiers that made a theology extolling “modern civilization” contemptible. It was that so many liberal theologians had hastened the insane rush to war, confident that God’s hand was guiding history. In August 1914, Adolf von Harnack, the most respected liberal Protestant scholar of the age, helped Kaiser Wilhelm II draft an address to the nation laying out German military aims. Others signed an infamous pro-war petition defending the sacredness of German militarism. Astonishingly, even Hermann Cohen joined the chorus, writing an open letter to American Jews asking for support, on the grounds that “next to his fatherland, every Western Jew must recognize, revere and love Germany as the motherland of his modern religiosity.” Young Protestant and Jewish thinkers were outraged when they saw what their revered teachers had done, and they began to look elsewhere.

But they did not turn to Hobbes, or to Rousseau. They craved a more robust faith, based on a new revelation that would shake the foundations of the whole modern order. It was a thirst for redemption. Ever since the liberal theologians had revived the idea of biblical politics, the stage had been set for just this sort of development. When faith in redemption through bourgeois propriety and cultural accommodation withered after the Great War, the most daring thinkers of the day transformed it into hope for a messianic apocalypse — one that would again place the Jewish people, or the individual Christian believer, or the German nation, or the world proletariat in direct relation with the divine.

Young Weimar Jews were particularly drawn to these messianic currents through the writings of Martin Buber, who later became a proponent of interfaith understanding but as a young Zionist promoted a crude chauvinistic nationalism. In an early essay he called for a “Masada of the spirit” and proclaimed: “If I had to choose for my people between a comfortable, unproductive happiness . . . and a beautiful death in a final effort at life, I would have to choose the latter. For this final effort would create something divine, if only for a moment, but the other something all too human.” Language like this, with strong and discomforting contemporary echoes for us, drew deeply from the well of biblical messianism. Yet Buber was an amateur compared with the Marxist philosopher Ernst Bloch, who used the Bible to extol the utopia then under construction in the Soviet Union. Though an atheist Jew, Bloch saw a connection between messianic hope and revolutionary violence, which he admired from a distance. He celebrated Thomas M‚àö√⬨¬∫ntzer, the 16th-century Protestant pastor who led bloody peasant uprisings and was eventually beheaded; he also praised the brutal Soviet leaders, famously declaring “ubi Lenin, ibi Jerusalem” ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ wherever Lenin is, there is Jerusalem.

But it was among young Weimar Protestants that the new messianic spirit proved most consequential. They were led by the greatest theologian of the day, Karl Barth, who wanted to restore the drama of religious decision to Christianity and rejected any accommodation of the Gospel to modern sensibilities. When Hitler came to power, Barth acquitted himself well, leading resistance against the Nazi takeover of the Protestant churches before he was forced into exile in 1935. But others, who employed the same messianic rhetoric Barth did, chose the Nazis instead. A notorious example was Emanuel Hirsch, a respected Lutheran theologian and translator of Kierkegaard, who welcomed the Nazi seizure of power for bringing Germany into “the circle of the white ruling peoples, to which God has entrusted the responsibility for the history of humanity.” Another was Friedrich Gogarten, one of Barth’s closest collaborators, who sided with the Nazis in the summer of 1933 (a decision he later regretted). In the 1920s, Gogarten rejoiced at the collapse of bourgeois Europe, declaring that “we are glad for the decline, since no one enjoys living among corpses,” and called for a new religion that “attacks culture as culture . . . that attacks the whole world.” When the brownshirts began marching and torching books, he got his wish. After Hitler completed his takeover, Gogarten wrote that “precisely because we are today once again under the total claim of the state, it is again possible, humanly speaking, to proclaim the Christ of the Bible and his reign over us.”

All of which served to confirm Hobbes’s iron law: Messianic theology eventually breeds messianic politics. The idea of redemption is among the most powerful forces shaping human existence in all those societies touched by the biblical tradition. It has inspired people to endure suffering, overcome suffering and inflict suffering on others. It has offered hope and inspiration in times of darkness; it has also added to the darkness by arousing unrealistic expectations and justifying those who spill blood to satisfy them. All the biblical religions cultivate the idea of redemption, and all fear its power to inflame minds and deafen them to the voice of reason. In the writings of these Weimar figures, we encounter what those orthodox traditions always dreaded: the translation of religious notions of apocalypse and redemption into a justification of political messianism, now under frightening modern conditions. It was as if nothing had changed since the 17th century, when Thomas Hobbes first sat down to write his “Leviathan.”

VI. Miracles

The revival of political theology in the modern West is a humbling story. It reminds us that this way of thinking is not the preserve of any one culture or religion, nor does it belong solely to the past. It is an age-old habit of mind that can be reacquired by anyone who begins looking to the divine nexus of God, man and world to reveal the legitimate political order. This story also reminds us how political theology can be adapted to circumstances and reassert itself, even in the face of seemingly irresistible forces like modernization, secularization and democratization. Rousseau was on to something: we seem to be theotropic creatures, yearning to connect our mundane lives, in some way, to the beyond. That urge can be suppressed, new habits learned, but the challenge of political theology will never fully disappear so long as the urge to connect survives.

So we are heirs to the Great Separation only if we wish to be, if we make a conscious effort to separate basic principles of political legitimacy from divine revelation. Yet more is required still. Since the challenge of political theology is enduring, we need to remain aware of its logic and the threat it poses. This means vigilance, but even more it means self-awareness. We must never forget that there was nothing historically inevitable about our Great Separation, that it was and remains an experiment. In Europe, the political ambiguities of one religion, Christianity, happened to set off a political crisis that might have been avoided but wasn’t, triggering the Wars of Religion; the resulting carnage made European thinkers more receptive to Hobbes’s heretical ideas about religious psychology and the political implications he drew from them; and over time those political ideas were liberalized. Even then, it was only after the Second World War that the principles of modern liberal democracy became fully rooted in continental Europe.

As for the American experience, it is utterly exceptional: there is no other fully developed industrial society with a population so committed to its faiths (and such exotic ones), while being equally committed to the Great Separation. Our political rhetoric, which owes much to the Protestant sectarians of the 17th century, vibrates with messianic energy, and it is only thanks to a strong constitutional structure and various lucky breaks that political theology has never seriously challenged the basic legitimacy of our institutions. Americans have potentially explosive religious differences over abortion, prayer in schools, censorship, euthanasia, biological research and countless other issues, yet they generally settle them within the bounds of the Constitution. It’s a miracle.

And miracles can’t be willed. For all the good Hobbes did in shifting our political focus from God to man, he left the impression that the challenge of political theology would vanish once the cycle of fear was broken and human beings established authority over their own affairs. We still make this assumption when speaking of the “social causes” of fundamentalism and political messianism, as if the amelioration of material conditions or the shifting of borders would automatically trigger a Great Separation. Nothing in our history or contemporary experience confirms this belief, yet somehow we can’t let it go. We have learned Hobbes’s lesson too well, and failed to heed Rousseau’s. And so we find ourselves in an intellectual bind when we encounter genuine political theology today: either we assume that modernization and secularization will eventually extinguish it, or we treat it as an incomprehensible existential threat, using familiar terms like fascism to describe it as best we can. Neither response takes us a step closer to understanding the world we now live in.

It is a world in which millions of people, particularly in the Muslim orbit, believe that God has revealed a law governing the whole of human affairs. This belief shapes the politics of important Muslim nations, and it also shapes the attitudes of vast numbers of believers who find themselves living in Western countries ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ and non-Western democracies like Turkey and Indonesia ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ founded on the alien principles of the Great Separation. These are the most significant points of friction, internationally and domestically. And we cannot really address them if we do not first recognize the intellectual chasm between us: although it is possible to translate Ahmadinejad’s letter to Bush from Farsi into English, its intellectual assumptions cannot be translated into those of the Great Separation. We can try to learn his language in order to create sensible policies, but agreement on basic principles won’t be possible. And we must learn to live with that.

Similarly, we must somehow find a way to accept the fact that, given the immigration policies Western nations have pursued over the last half-century, they now are hosts to millions of Muslims who have great difficulty fitting into societies that do not recognize any political claims based on their divine revelation. Like Orthodox Jewish law, the Muslim Shariah is meant to cover the whole of life, not some arbitrarily demarcated private sphere, and its legal system has few theological resources for establishing the independence of politics from detailed divine commands. It is an unfortunate situation, but we have made our bed, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Accommodation and mutual respect can help, as can clear rules governing areas of tension, like the status of women, parents’ rights over their children, speech offensive to religious sensibilities, speech inciting violence, standards of dress in public institutions and the like. Western countries have adopted different strategies for coping, some forbidding religious symbols like the head scarf in schools, others permitting them. But we need to recognize that coping is the order of the day, not defending high principle, and that our expectations should remain low. So long as a sizable population believes in the truth of a comprehensive political theology, its full reconciliation with modern liberal democracy cannot be expected.

VII. The Opposite Shore

This is not welcome news. For more than two centuries, promoters of modernization have taken it for granted that science, technology, urbanization and education would eventually “disenchant” the charmed world of believers, and that with time people would either abandon their traditional faiths or transform them in politically anodyne ways. They point to continental Europe, where belief in God has been in steady decline over the last 50 years, and suggest that, with time, Muslims everywhere will undergo a similar transformation. Those predictions may eventually prove right. But Europe’s rapid secularization is historically unique and, as we have just seen, relatively recent. Political theology is highly adaptive and can present to even educated minds a more compelling vision of the future than the prospect of secular modernity. It takes as little for a highly trained medical doctor to fashion a car bomb today as it took for advanced thinkers to fashion biblically inspired justifications of fascist and communist totalitarianism in Weimar Germany. When the urge to connect is strong, passions are high and fantasies are vivid, the trinkets of our modern lives are impotent amulets against political intoxication.

Realizing this, a number of Muslim thinkers around the world have taken to promoting a “liberal” Islam. What they mean is an Islam more adapted to the demands of modern life, kinder in its treatment of women and children, more tolerant of other faiths, more open to dissent. These are brave people who have often suffered for their efforts, in prison or exile, as did their predecessors in the 19th century, of which there were many. But now as then, their efforts have been swept away by deeper theological currents they cannot master and perhaps do not even understand. The history of Protestant and Jewish liberal theology reveals the problem: the more a biblical faith is trimmed to fit the demands of the moment, the fewer reasons it gives believers for holding on to that faith in troubled times, when self-appointed guardians of theological purity offer more radical hope. Worse still, when such a faith is used to bestow theological sanctification on a single form of political life ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ even an attractive one like liberal democracy ‚Äö√Ñ√Æ the more it will be seen as collaborating with injustice when that political system fails. The dynamics of political theology seem to dictate that when liberalizing reformers try to conform to the present, they inspire a countervailing and far more passionate longing for redemption in the messianic future. That is what happened in Weimar Germany and is happening again in contemporary Islam.

The complacent liberalism and revolutionary messianism we’ve encountered are not the only theological options. There is another kind of transformation possible in biblical faiths, and that is the renewal of traditional political theology from within. If liberalizers are apologists for religion at the court of modern life, renovators stand firmly within their faith and reinterpret political theology so believers can adapt without feeling themselves to be apostates. Luther and Calvin were renovators in this sense, not liberalizers. They called Christians back to the fundamentals of their faith, but in a way that made it easier, not harder, to enjoy the fruits of temporal existence. They found theological reasons to reject the ideal of celibacy, and its frequent violation by priests, and thus returned the clergy to ordinary family life. They then found theological reasons to reject otherworldly monasticism and the all-too-worldly imperialism of Rome, offering biblical reasons that Christians should be loyal citizens of the state they live in. And they did this, not by speaking the apologetic language of toleration and progress, but by rewriting the language of Christian political theology and demanding that Christians be faithful to it.

Today, a few voices are calling for just this kind of renewal of Islamic political theology. Some, like Khaled Abou El Fadl, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles, challenge the authority of today’s puritans, who make categorical judgments based on a literal reading of scattered Koranic verses. In Abou El Fadl’s view, traditional Islamic law can still be applied to present-day situations because it brings a subtle interpretation of the whole text to bear on particular problems in varied circumstances. Others, like the Swiss-born cleric and professor Tariq Ramadan, are public figures whose writings show Western Muslims that their political theology, properly interpreted, offers guidance for living with confidence in their faith and gaining acceptance in what he calls an alien “abode.” To read their works is to be reminded what a risky venture renewal is. It can invite believers to participate more fully and wisely in the political present, as the Protestant Reformation eventually did; it can also foster dreams of returning to a more primitive faith, through violence if necessary, as happened in the Wars of Religion.

Perhaps for this reason, Abou El Fadl and especially Ramadan have become objects of intense and sometimes harsh scrutiny by Western intellectuals. We prefer speaking with the Islamic liberalizers because they share our language: they accept the intellectual presuppositions of the Great Separation and simply want maximum room given for religious and cultural expression. They do not practice political theology. But the prospects of enduring political change through renewal are probably much greater than through liberalization. By speaking from within the community of the faithful, renovators give believers compelling theological reasons for accepting new ways as authentic reinterpretations of the faith. Figures like Abou El Fadl and Ramadan speak a strange tongue, even when promoting changes we find worthy; their reasons are not our reasons. But if we cannot expect mass conversion to the principles of the Great Separation — and we cannot — we had better learn to welcome transformations in Muslim political theology that ease coexistence. The best should not be the enemy of the good.

In the end, though, what happens on the opposite shore will not be up to us. We have little reason to expect societies in the grip of a powerful political theology to follow our unusual path, which was opened up by a unique crisis within Christian civilization. This does not mean that those societies necessarily lack the wherewithal to create a decent and workable political order; it does mean that they will have to find the theological resources within their own traditions to make it happen.

Our challenge is different. We have made a choice that is at once simpler and harder: we have chosen to limit our politics to protecting individuals from the worst harms they can inflict on one another, to securing fundamental liberties and providing for their basic welfare, while leaving their spiritual destinies in their own hands. We have wagered that it is wiser to beware the forces unleashed by the Bible’s messianic promise than to try exploiting them for the public good. We have chosen to keep our politics unilluminated by divine revelation. All we have is our own lucidity, which we must train on a world where faith still inflames the minds of men.

Mark Lilla is professor of the humanities at Columbia University. This essay is adapted from his book “The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics and the Modern West,” which will be published next month.

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OFFICE SPACE AVAILABLE FOR SUBLEASE

FURNISHED office space available for sublease at CSID office in DOWNTOWN WASHINGTON DC (1625 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Suite 601,Washington DC). Space available ranges from 1 to 4 office rooms (fully furnished) and rent is between $1,500 and $4,000 per month. Rent includes use of board and conference rooms (from 10 to 90 people). Ideal location and flexible terms.

EXCELLENT LOCATION – next to Johns Hopkins, SAIS, Brookings, Carnegie Endowment, and USIP. Close to DuPont Circle metro.

For further information, please contact Aly Abuzaakuk at (202) 265-1200.

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Arab Insight Quarterly Journal, Fall 2007

“Do We Hate America?” The Arab World Responds.

Complete PDF now available on our website: www.arabinsight.org
http://www.worldsecurityinstitute.org/temp/ArabInsightVol1No2.pdf

It was no surprise that in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks questions regarding the U.S.-Arab relationship abruptly surfaced, most notably with the ubiquitous question, “Why do they hate us?”

Littered across magazine covers and newspaper headlines, the question loomed in the hearts and minds of Westerners, particularly Americans. Despite its prevalence, however, the question “Why do they hate us?” is rife with misconceptions, if not complete inaccuracies.

It is because of the aforementioned reason that the second issue of Arab Insight – the recently launched journal which brings the voices of Arab scholars to Washington, published by the World Security Institute’s Cairo office – has chosen its thematic focus.

In response to the Western question, “Why do they hate us?” the Arab scholars in the second issue of Arab Insight answer another: “Do we hate America?”

Through detailed studies dissecting Arab public opinion, such as the perceived view of the United States in various Arab media outlets, to the discussion of sources of anti-Americanism, including the Arab-Israeli conflict and U.S. foreign aid in Egypt, this issue of Arab Insight allows Western readers to reverse their roles, entering the minds and hearts of Arabs, gaining unprecedented insight into both of the above questions.

Please visit our website (www.arabinsight.org), or the links below, for information on how to subscribe to the print edition of the journal, if you have not done so already.

Sincerely,

Whitney Parker
Director of Communications
World Security Institute
202-797-5287
wparker@worldsecurityinstitute.org

Mohamed Elmenshawy
Editor in Chief, Arab Insight
World Security Institute
202-797-5262
mohamed@taqrir.org

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2008-2009 USIP Senior Fellowship Competition

REMINDER: APPLICATION DEADLINE IS SEPTEMBER 17

The United States Institute of Peace invites applications for the 2008-2009 Senior Fellowship Competition in the Jennings Randolph Program for International Peace.

The United States Institute of Peace is an independent, nonpartisan institution created by Congress to strengthen the nation’s capacity to promote the peaceful resolution of international conflict. Twelve to fifteen fellowships are awarded annually to scholars and practitioners from a variety of professions, including college and university faculty, journalists, diplomats, writers, educators, military officers, international negotiators, NGO professionals and lawyers.

The Institute funds projects related to preventive diplomacy, ethnic and regional conflicts, peacekeeping and peace operations, peace settlements, democratization and the rule of law, cross-cultural negotiations, nonviolent social movements, U.S. foreign policy in the 21st century, and related topics. This year the Institute is especially interested in topics addressing problems of the Muslim world, post-war reconstruction and reconciliation, and responses to terrorism and political violence. Projects which demonstrate relevance to current policy debates will be highly competitive. Fellows reside at the Institute in Washington DC for a period of up to ten months to conduct research on their projects, consult with staff and contribute to the ongoing work of the Institute. Books and reports resulting from fellowships may be published by the USIP Press.

The fellowship award includes a stipend of up to $80,000, travel to Washington for the fellow and dependents, health insurance, an office with computer and voicemail, and a half- time research assistant. The competition is open to citizens of all nations. Women and minorities are especially encouraged to apply. All application materials must be received in our offices by September 17, 2007. In addition to materials requested in the application, please include a current CV.

For more information and an application form, please visit the Institute’s website at www.usip.org, or contact the Jennings Randolph Program, U.S. Institute of Peace, 1200 17th Street, NW, Suite 200, Washington, DC 20036-3011, USA. phone: 202 429 3853, fax: 202 429 6063, email: jrprogram@usip.org

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Social Science Research Council (SSRC)
CALL FOR PAPERS
DEADLINE: FRIDAY, September 14, 2007

International Conference on Inter-Asian Connections (Dubai, UAE: February 21-24, 2008)

The Social Science Research Council (SSRC) is pleased to announce an open call for individual research paper submissions from researchers in any world region, to participate in a 4-day thematic workshop at an international conference on “Inter-Asian Connections.”

To be held in Dubai, February 21-24, 2008, the conference will host concurrent workshops showcasing innovative research from across the social sciences and related disciplines, on themes of particular relevance to Asia, reconceptualized as a dynamic and interconnected historical, geographical, and cultural formation stretching from the Middle East through Eurasia and South Asia, to East Asia

The conference structure and schedule have been designed to enable intensive ‚Äö√Ñ√≤working group’ interactions on a specific research theme, as well as broader interactions on topics of mutual interest and concern to all participants. Accordingly, there will be public keynotes, plenaries, and roundtables addressing different aspects of Inter-Asian research in addition to closed workshop sessions. The concluding day of the conference will bring all the workshops together in a public presentation and exchange of research agendas that have emerged over the course of the deliberations in Dubai.

Individual paper submissions are invited for the following workshops:

> Sites of Inter-Asian Interaction
> Networks of Islamic Learning across Asia: The Role of International Centers of Islamic Learning in Building Ties and Forging New Identities
> Distant Divides and Intimate Connections: Migrant Domestic Workers in Asia
> Law-in-Action in Asian Societies and Civilizations
> Multiple flexibilities: nation-states, global business and precarious labor
> Neoliberal Globalization and Governmentality: State, Civil society and the NGO Phenomena in Asia
> Initiatives of Regional Integration in Asia in Comparative Perspective: Concepts, Contents and Prospects
> Border Problems: Theory, Culture, and Political Economy
> Post-collective Economic Lives and Livelihoods: Studies of Economy, Institution and Everyday Practice in Post-socialist Eurasia and Asia

> Transnational Circuits: ‘Muslim Women’ in Asia
> Inter-Referencing Asia: Urban Experiments & the Art of Being Global

Descriptions of the individual workshops, along with information on the application process, are available at: http://www.ssrc.org/program_areas/global/papers/.

Application materials are due by Friday, September 14, 2007. Junior and senior scholars are encouraged to apply, whether graduate students and faculty affiliated to colleges and universities, or researchers in NGOs or other research organizations. Please note that an individual cannot apply to more than one workshop.

Selection decisions will be announced on October 19, 2007. Accepted participants are required to submit a 20-25 page research paper by January 14, 2008.

The SSRC will make every effort to subsidize the travel and accommodation costs associated with attending the conference, and we will issue a formal announcement about availability and levels of financial assistance for individual participants in the coming months. In the meantime, prospective participants are encouraged to seek out alternative sources of funding that may be available from their home institutions or other agencies.

For additional inquiries, please contact the SSRC at intl_collaboration@ssrc.org

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DISCLAIMER:

The articles in this bulletin do NOT necessarily reflect the opinions of CSID, or its board of directors. They are included in the CSID bulletin to encourage and facilitate diversity of opinions, discussions, and debates about democracy in the Arab/Muslim world, and how best to strengthen and promote it.

 

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