Monday, November 23, 2009

On the fifth anniversary of Arafat's death

Are Hamas and Fateh the new "notables of Palestine"?

November 11 was the fifth anniversary of the death/murder of Palestinian President Yasser Arafat, Abu Ammar. Much has been written about Abu Ammar. Those who loved him thought of him as a saint, the very symbol of Palestinian nationalism, Mr. Palestine. Those who disliked him/hated him blamed the setbacks of the Palestinian national movement, unfairly but squarely, on him. In the last stage of his life, the George W. Bush administration adopted the Israeli view that Arafat is the problem and that that he should not be "isolated." Arafat, with the Arab and Islamic world watching, was held as a prisoner in his compound. Israel barged into his compound destroying and wrecking havoc to shake his resolve. He remained steadfast as he always liked to say, "ya jabal ma yhizak reeh," a mountain is not shaken by strong winds. To the very end, the symbol of the Palestinian national movement, remained steadfast to the principles of the Palestinian struggle - the right of return, the end of the occupation and an independent state with Jerusalem as its capital. He died on November 11 in France. Some say he was assassinated, not a far-fetched possibility given Israeli behavior and American official acquiescence to the terrorism of the "butcher of Sabra and Shatila," as Palestinians have come to know Ariel Sharon.

The Post Arafat Period
Five years ago the post- Arafat Palestinian era began. Those who disliked or hated Arafat expected change and promised it in irrational exuberance. They expected that the Palestinians will be crushed by the death of their leader and will take whatever their regional- power occupier, backed by the world's superpower, throws their way. The Israeli thinking was that a segment of Palestinians who have benefited from the Israeli status quo would have a vested interest in pleasing Israel and would sell their people on whatever Israel gives. Settlements continued. Checkpoints multiplied. The collective punishment of the Palestinians continued. Violations of human rights and international law continued. Israel continued the colonization of East Jerusalem and the oppression and gradual uprooting of its people. Israel unleashed more wars on Palestinians. The criminal siege of Gaza was followed by a war designed to break the will of the Palestinians to fight the Israelis, as the Goldstone Report concluded. After years of all these violations of human and international laws the will of the Palestinian people to be steadfast did not weaken. Israel with all its crimes, a world which watches passively while Israel piles abuse over abuse on the Palestinians and a super power giving Israel a de facto veto power in the Security Council did not shake their determination. Even the world's fixation on Israeli prisoner of war Shalit while ignoring the plight and illegal imprisonment of 11,000 Palestinians by Israel did not move them. The world's behavior and Israel's behavior are things the Palestinians got used to. They were not expecting and did not deserve to see their biggest groups Hamas an Fateh act the way they have been acting.

Hamas and Fateh
Every Palestinian who cares about his people laments the travesty that is going on in Palestine. Hamas takes over Gaza and suppresses Fateh, even disallowing the observation of Arafat's anniversary. Hamas begs Israel to negotiate with it and agree to a "long term truce," uses force against those who want to attack Israel from Gaza, suppresses basic freedoms and focuses on curtailing individual freedoms. Their steps to "liberate Palestine" are checking the IDs of men and women seen in public together and forcing female attorneys to wears an Islamic scarf because some of them allegedly "have been wearing clothes clinging to their bodies, walking into court with sunglasses holding their hair and wearing bright colors that might distract male attorneys." The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is controlled by Fateh. The U.S. and Israel keep pushing Mr. Abbas and his group for more and more humiliating concessions while Israel is marching on with its settlements and massacring of Palestinians. The Palestinian house is beyond disorder.
Always on the Losing Side of History?
The Palestinians are facing a vicious enemy in the Zionist movement, a movement organized and focused to take over all of historical Palestine and remove its rightful owners and native population, the Palestinians. Justice, international law and human rights organizations are on their side. The setbacks and failures of the Palestinians are mostly the result of forces beyond their control. However, the Palestinians can do a lot to strengthen their position for the ongoing conflict with the Zionist movement. Having trusted leaders and functioning institutions is a must in the struggle. It is time to have new elections in Palestine, choose new leaders, and revitalize Palestinians national institutions. Let history not repeat itself. Let us read and act upon the conclusions of Issa Khalaf. Issa Khalaf in Politics in Palestine: Arab Factionalism and Social disintegration, 1939-1948 writes "[T]o the Palestinian notability of the 1940s, politics was a profession of continual conflict and little compromise. They were able neither to unite nor to organize themselves, much less lead their people. Compromise and cooperation were practically unknown, as each man pursued a disruptively individualistic path and jealously guarded his prerogatives." He adds, "[T]hroughout the mandate, the notables were unable to achieve any significant length of time a united political program or to cooperate in effectively creating local autonomous institutions, that would have served as a basis for governing their people. Despite the fact that they were denied legislative councils, the Palestinians could have developed self-governing institutions at the community level at their own initiative. However, the notability worried that such institutions would mean wider participation ad more democratic participation and therefore a weakened grip."

Are Fateh and Hamas the new notability unwilling to compromise and leading Palestine to more setbacks and failures in the epic confrontation with the Zionist movement?

Major Hasan and the revival of American exclusionary ideals

Fort Hood shooting and the redefining of American identity

The crimes that Major Hasan stands accused of have rocked the nation. A fellow soldier, a doctor, went on a rampage killing his fellow soldiers. It is not unheard of that a soldier would open fire on fellow soldiers. But this is the country which is fighting a "war on terror" and two external wars in Muslim-majority countries. The nationality, religion and religio-political views of the alleged perpetrator became relevant.

In times like this we Arab and Muslim Americans transform from what Professor Amaney Jamal aptly put it, from invisible citizens to visible subjects. Somehow we are seen as responsible or at least able to explain the behavior of one of us gone bad. If a close friend of mine commits a crime, God forbid, I expect that I would be sought to explain. There is no logic to seeking Arabs and Muslim to explain and account for the behavior of one of more than millions of us. Jamal Dajani, senior director and producer of Mosaic News, spoke for all of us when he wrote in the Huffington Post Don't Ask me about Hasan "…different Bay Area reporters, all wanting to know the Muslim community's reaction about the recent heinous killings of Nidal Malik Hasan… Why did he do it? Apparently, I fit the profile of someone who has these answers: I am a Muslim Palestinian American: I must know what one out of the 1.5 billion Muslims around the globe is thinking at any given time. I'm sick and tired of these kinds of questions from media outlets whenever some kooky Muslim decides to commit a random act of violence...or in this case when a GI psychiatrist goes psycho. At the same time, I'm also sick and tired of self-appointed Muslim experts and spokespersons who jump at every miserable opportunity like this one to try to explain Islam."

Muslims in the armed forces as a "Difficult Issue"?
Right- wing nuts had a field day with the story. Pro- Israel fanatics , right- wing Christian nuts and Hindu fanatics took this as a opportunity to attack the Muslim community they hate, a community they would keep hating even if the newspaper had reported that a Muslim American had discovered a cure for cancer and invented a time- travel machine. We expect such from individuals with known agendas. However, what we do not expect is the mainstream media joining that ugly choir. On 11/9/2009 Yochi Dreazen of the Wall Street Journal wrote "Muslim Population in the Military Raises Difficult Issues": "The deadly rampage at Fort Hood is forcing Pentagon officials to confront difficult questions about the military's growing Muslim population. The military has worked hard to recruit more Muslims since the start of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the number of Muslim troops, while still small, has been increasing. There were 3,409 Muslims in the active-duty military as of April 2008, according to Pentagon statistics." The Fort Hood shootings make all our Muslim soldiers are guilty by association and seen as a threat. All the men that have served honorably don't count.

The CAIR roundup of "illiberal ascendancy"
On 11/12/2009 I received an email from CAIR Council on American-Islamic Relations documenting national responses to the Fort Hood Shootings:
'CAIR: U.S. Leaders Should Reject Anti-Muslim Rhetoric Prompted by Fort Hood Shootings
Pat Robertson says American Muslims should be treated as ‘members of some Fascist group’
CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad cited a number of statements by anti-Muslim extremists seeking to exploit the Fort Hood attack to generate hostility to Islam and to marginalize American Muslims.
Tunku Varadarajan, a professor at NYU's Stern Business School suggested that the term “going postal” be changed to “going Muslim.”
Television evangelist Pat Robertson said Muslims should be treated as communists or fascists. Robertson told his “700 Club” audience: "Islam is a violent -- I was going to say religion -- but it's not a religion. It's a political system. It's a violent political system bent on the overthrow of governments of the world and world domination…I think you should treat it as such and treat its adherents as such. As we would members of the Communist party and members of some Fascist group."
Dave Gaubatz, author of a Muslim-bashing book, called for a “backlash” against American Muslims. Gaubatz wrote on a right-wing Web site: “Now is the time for a professional and legal backlash against the Muslim community and their leaders.”
Widely-syndicated conservative columnist Cal Thomas said the Fort Hood shooter’s “preference for Muslim clothing” should have alerted authorities “that he might be a time bomb waiting to go off.”
The American Family Association has called for a ban on Muslims in the military. In an article titled "No More Muslims in the U.S. Military," the group's Director of Issues Analysis Bryan Fischer wrote: “It is time, I suggest, to stop the practice of allowing Muslims to serve in the U.S. military. The reason is simple: the more devout a Muslim is, the more of a threat he is to national security.”
Oklahoma writer Timothy Rollins echoed the call to exclude all Muslims from the military. He wrote: "What [the Fort Hood] attack does is further strengthen the case for the honorable discharge of all Muslims from the United States Armed Forces, regardless of the degree to which they may adhere to their faith."'

American Muslims need to Alter their view of US Citizenship?
It is understandable that the motives of a perpetrator of a crime be studied. Motive is important in a crime. The second reason is learning so polices can be developed to possibly prevent future outbreaks. Fair enough. But it did not stop there. The issue became Muslims in the US and particularly those serving in the armed services. What explains this and other mainstream media doing the same? Is it Islamophobia as CAIR puts it? Is it the "clash of civilizations" or the eternal hatred of the West for islam as Bin Laden, his crew propose It is useful in such time to read or re--read Rogers M. Smith book Civic Ideals: Conflicting Visions of Citizenship in US History. The publisher synopsis of the book is: "Is civic identity in the United States really defined by liberal, democratic political principles? Or is U.S. citizenship the product of multiple traditions - not only liberalism and republicanism but also white supremacy, Anglo-Saxon supremacy, Protestant supremacy, and male supremacy? In this powerful and disturbing book, Rogers Smith traces political struggles over U.S. citizenship laws from the colonial period through the Progressive era and shows that throughout this time, most adults were legally denied access to full citizenship, including political rights, solely because of their race, ethnicity, or gender. Basic conflicts over these denials have driven political development in the U.S., Smith argues. These conflicts are what truly define U.S. civic identity up to this day. Smith concludes that today the United States is in a period of reaction against the egalitarian civic reforms of the last generation, with nativist, racist, and sexist beliefs regaining influence. He suggests ways that proponents of liberal democracy should alter their view of U.S. citizenship in order to combat these developments more effectively."

American Muslims and American Fading Moments of "Liberal Ascendancy"

A review of the book by Michael McCann of U of Washington Smith’s challenge to the "hegemonic liberalism" thesis runs deeper yet. In short, he argues that liberal democratic values have historically been at a decided disadvantage in mobilizing support from constituents. The reason is that liberal values ask much of people --to be rational, industrious, self reliant, and respectful of others-- while offering them little sense of distinctive membership in a larger group. By contrast, ascriptive norms both rationalize inherited patterns of privilege and offer individuals the prospect that, "regardless of their personal achievements and economic status, their inborn characteristics make them part of a special community" that is "distinctively and permanently worthy" (p. 38). Smith acknowledges that liberal commitments have "checked" the appeal of ascriptive doctrines and inspired democratic reform at various historical junctures, most dramatically in the last half of the twentieth century. But such moments of liberal ascendance are generally short-lived and we can see about us today much evidence for the continuing allure of exclusionary ideals.
The response of America to the Fort Hood shootings tells us more about America than about the shooter or out community. The sooner we recognize this the better we will be able to deal with the crisis that we find imposed on us.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Dir. Offenbacher's "TEA" Demystifies Syria, Unveils Its Beauty and Diversity, and Wins AFF's Noor Award for Best Documentary

13th Annual Arab Film Festival ("AFF") Held in California from October 15 to October 25
Dir. Offenbacher's "TEA" Demystifies Syria, Unveils Its Beauty and Diversity, and Wins AFF's Noor Award for Best Documentary

In California, October was a special month for Arab Americans. San Francisco's Mayor Gavin Newsom declared October "Arab Heritage month." Events celebrating this designation were held during the month. Another event, no less important, is the Arab Film Festival (AFF). From October 15 to October 25. Arab films from around the world were screened in San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose and Los Angeles. In all forty- one Arab films were screened from throughout the world.

The opening night film was a Palestinian film, Pomegranates and Myrrh by Najwa Najjar. "A powerful story of love and freedom under repression and control, as described by AFF's program director, Daniella Jubran. Michele Shehadeh AFF's Executive Director Arab wrote in the event booklet "We are proud to present many great features, documentaries, and shorts highlighting this year's theme, "bridging cultures."… Two of our recently screened films, captain Abu Raed and Amreeka, were picked up for national distribution." When asked by the writer of this column if there is a need to hold a similar event, a Muslim Film Festival, to fight the backlash against Muslims, Mr. Shehadeh correctly noted that the discrimination "we face as people of color, as Arab, is not based on religion, it is based on skin tone and the fact that we are not white. When we are seen by non- Arabs they focus on our looks and act accordingly. "

The writer of this review attended a number of the screened films and enjoyed the most the film Tea on the Axis of Evil, affectionately called "TEA" by its director Jean Marie-Offenbacher's ("Jean"). The film takes the viewers throughout Syria from the Bedouins in the desert to the city dwellers with their Westernized lifestyle. Throughout the film, Jean manages to present lovely scenes from throughout Syria while having Syrians from different backgrounds speak for themselves about among other things marriage, love, religion and politics. The Forum and Link met with Jean asking her about her experience making the film:

Forum: When and how did you conceive of this project?
Jean: After the U.S. invaded Iraq in 2003, the media and representatives of the Bush regime began to describe Syria and Iran in the same terms that they had used to justify that invasion. I was afraid that destabilization or invasion of Syria and Iran could proceed with no opposition from U.S. or European citizens because they were so saturated with fear and loathing of "Muslim hordes." Images of both countries provided by our media were illogical, but Syria was particularly a black hole. Iran exports its film and art, while an opaque veil hides Syria's beauty from the West. References to Syria as a "Muslim" country seemed to intentionally deny the fact that it has a secular government and is a home of Christianity. In the spring of 2004 I decided it would be a good idea to move there and experience what was real and what was propaganda.
Forum: What were the obstacles to this project?
Jean: I did not know anyone in Syria. I asked everyone I knew if they knew anyone in Syria, so by the time I arrived I had a lovely greeting party at the airport and people to help me find an apartment and settle in to Damascus and show me how to get buses, planes and trains to travel.
I did not speak Arabic. Many people in Syria speak English and French and I am a good communicator.
I had not worked in film for 7 years and the last projects I had edited were on 35mm film, so I had to learn to shoot and edit in digital media. Digital media is much easier to learn than traditional so I was way ahead of the curve on camera and in the edit.
Forum: . How long did it take you to finish it?
Jean: I was glacial at completion, because I only had a few donations, so I could not hire a great staff to edit and post production supervise and produce and direct and cast and raise more money…too many hats on my head and some of them were covering my eyes. I shot from September of 2004 until July of 2006, but never edited at all until early in 2006. To make matters worse, my Macintosh computer kept destroying my work until Apple finally admitted that it was a lemon about a year and a half into the edit.
Forum: Where was the first screening? What are the plans for future screenings? Did TEA win any awards?
Jean: The first screening was in Northern Ireland at the Foyle Festival when it was still a work in progress. It was the only film at the festival that was sold out – the other screenings were attended by only a handful of people…that was when I was started to feel confident that ordinary citizens were thirsting for information about Syria – at least in N. Ireland. TEA’s first real screening as a completed film was at Sonoma International Film Festival in April 2009. The screening was so overcrowded that about 50 people were standing throughout and many had to be turned away. Californians were curious about Syria!

The Dubai Int Film Fest requested a screener, but I have not heard if it is accepted. The UNA and Harvard Kennedy School women alumni are creating an event for TEA in Boston in March for International Women’s Day. An exciting upcoming event in April is the Southern Circuit Tour, in which I am paid to travel to small towns in the south to present the film to rural audiences.
The first award was a Special Mention for being poetic at Salento International Film Festival in Italy. The first real award was in the Arab Film Festival in California, where it won the Noor Award for Best Documentary. It was thrilling to be recognized at this event by this community – the other films there were great, better all around than any festival I have ever attended so I was amazed that I won.
Forum: Is TEA available for purchase? Where and for how much?
Jean: As the film is new I am not settled on distribution in North America. For international distribution, Long Tale represents TEA. Anyone interested in purchasing "Tea" should contact me through my website.

Forum: Any thoughts/memories from the making of TEA you would like to share?
Jean: I have so many. The fondest memory, so many...but there are few moments on earth that compare to nights under the darpotabani in the desert...One weekend I took two friends of mine with me to Palmyra. Though they had grown up in Damascus, they had never been to the desert. My Bedouin friends met us there and put us up in a hotel that they had built. It was a beautiful, fantasy hotel that a few months later was mysteriously destroyed. On the second day, two of my Bedouin friends and I rode 40 kilometers - me on horseback, them on motorcycle - to desert hotsprings. One of the heads of a nomadic Bedouin family heard that I rode very fast and challenged me to a stakes race set for the following spring. My friends from Damascus arrived and the springs were opened for us. When we returned to the fantasy hotel, a sheep had been freshly prepared into a delicious mensaf in our honor. Every moment of this weekend was pure magic.
A one-word favorite memory would be food and it is probably misspelled: "macduce"; I ate it for the first time on the morning of day 1 of Ramadan with the Jasm family in Deir Ez Zur. I could probably tell you 1001 tales from the experience of making TEA in Syria.
Note: Dir. Jean Marie Offenbacher contact information is: Re Orient Films, More information about the Arab Film Festival can be found at

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Remembering the Houla Massacre. 10/31/1948

Houla Massacre of 1948
Apathetic State: No Military Readiness or Political Will to Stand and Fight

The 1948 Houla Massacre Anniversary
October 31, 2009 is the sixty- first anniversary of the Zionist massacre in Houla, a village in South Lebanon. The Zionist Hagganah gang, led by Menachem begin, blew up houses and massacred in cold blood tens of the town's men. As a consequence of the Zionist attack, (one of a string of subsequent attacks on South Lebanon over the years), led to the people of Houla becoming refugees in their own homeland in 1948, living in the Dbayeh refugee camp. It was not until the beginning of May of 1949 that these displaced Southern Lebanese were able to go back to their destroyed village.

The Need for Strong defense of Lebanon
The Lebanese right wing elements has always claimed that there is no problem between the Zionists and Lebanon. They blame all the troubles of Lebanon on the victims of Israeli aggression, the Palestinians, instead of blaming the aggressors. To this group, the "strength of Lebanon is in its weakness" as the late Pierre Gemayel put it. As a result, there has been a determined policy of keeping Lebanon weak- a policy conceived even before the birth of the state of Lebanon. Lebanon has been paying dearly for this official policy since.

1948 Revisited: Failures and Flawed Performance
A few weeks ago a dispute arose in Beirut over the use of a Modern History Book at the International College (IC) school. The book calls Hizbullah and other resistance movements "terrorist organizations." The matter was seen by the supporters of the March 14th Movement some as an attempt by the supporters of the 8th of March Movement to discredit the Minister of Education, the sister of the late Prime Minister of Lebanon Rafic Hariri, and a member of the former grouping. Indeed, there is a problem with history books used in Lebanon across the board but it was not the IC book, which in reality had that offensive statement taken out or covered up. The real problem is that not one textbook used to teach the history of Lebanon actually teaches history. One of the matters that is not taught in history books is the truth about the performance of Lebanon in the 1948 Palestine war. The failures of the Lebanese state and the flawed performance of the Lebanese army are not taught. The massacre of Houla, and the subsequent occupation of a part of Southern Lebanon, are direct results of these failures and flawed performance.

The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948
An excellent book on the 1948 war is The War for Palestine: Rewriting the History of 1948, edited by Eugene Rogan and Avi Shlaim. The article of interest for this column is Mathew Hughes', Collusion Across the Litani? Lebanon and the 1948 War.

Debunking Lebanon's False History of a Valiant Fight:
A Belligerent in Name Only
No Political Will or Military Strength to Fight
The main argument of Mr. Hughes is that the official history of Lebanon's role in the 1948 war is false. He writes "In the debates surrounding the events of 1948, Lebanon's role is either exaggerated militarily or relegated to a few footnotes." He adds "[I]t is clear that Lebanon had neither the political will nor the military strength to fight Israel in 1948. It was a belligerent in 1948 in name only, leaving the fighting to others. Politically, its Christian dominated government had little incentive to fight Israel, elements of the Christian community preferring to collude with the Jewish Yeshuv before and after 1948. "

Who's Your Enemy, Past and Present?
Hughes writes about Lebanese Maronite Monsignor Ignace Mubarak "finding common cause with the Jewish Yishuv as minorities in an overwhelmingly Muslim region, Mubarak in an interview with the Palestine Post in March 1, 1946, made abundantly clear his support for Zionism and s Jewish state. The following year, in September 1947, he appealed on behalf of the Yishuv to the United nations (UN) Committee (UNSCOP) sent to investigate the future status of Palestine, linking together the Jews and the Maronites."

1948 War: A Weak Army, an Apathetic State
Policy Delivers the Galilee to Israel, Galilee Palestinians End Up the Much Complained About Refugees in Lebanon
The Lebanese army was unprepared to defend the budding state- instead it was groomed as an auxiliary to the state's police force. Hughes writes, "Until the war with Israel, the Lebanese Army was more of a police force than an offensive military force, not least because its main duties involved assisting the police and gendarmes in internal security…" This army, by design, fought only one battle with Israel, a much ballyhooed battle celebrated by the state's ruling elite. "Lebanese army sole engagement with Israel at village of Malikiyya on 5-6 June 1948 located 700 meters over the border inside Palestine/Israel…In effect, by 9 June the war for the Lebanese army, which had began on 5 June, was over. " He adds, "Lebanon did very little to help the ALA [Arab Liberation Army] during operations Dekel and Hiram." Incidentally, the Hiram battle is the battle were Israel succeeded in taking over the Galilee, a part of Palestine allocated to Arabs in the UN Partition Plan. This led to the uprooting of most of the residents of the Galilee who took refuge in Lebanon and have become the much complained about and mistreated Palestinian refugees living in Lebanon today.

The lack of a fight extended to the lack of political will or military readiness to defend Lebanese territories. When Zionist forces advanced into Southern Lebanon "the Lebanese army withdrew without a fight or remained in its bases, as Israel occupied between fourteen and twenty Lebanese villages in the Marj'Ayun valley stretching up to the Litani, in one of which (Houla) they massacred between thirty four and fifty two villagers…" Mr. Hughes concludes his assessment of Lebanon's war effort: "[I]n 1948, Lebanon did very little to confront Israel; nor did it do much to help Arab irregular forces fighting across the border in Galilee…The insignificant, operationally flawed performance of the Lebanese army and the ALA was a strategic asset for the Israelis who, untroubled on their northern border," were able to focus their better forces on other battlefields thus helping in the total defeat of the Palestinians.

Readiness and Political Will to Stand and Fight.

The performance of official Lebanon in 1948 is contrasted to the solid preparedness and resistance of the Hizbullah in 2006. Mr. Hughes concludes his chapter with citing a counter-factual comment by Charles Glass published in the London Review of Books of 17 August 2006, Hughes writes:"Political factors in 1948 were undoubtedly important considerations in the outcome of the war but so was a willingness to stand and fight. This point is nicely illustrated by Israel's 2006 war with Hizbullah in Lebanon when Hizbullah fighters took on and successfully checked the IDF along the Lebanese border leading one commentator to make the intriguing counter-factual comment that had Israel faced an enemy like Hizbullah in 1948 the outcome of the war might have been different."

Lebanon Today
The opponents of the presence of Hizbullah as a military force have stated that Lebanon needs alternative ways to defend itself. However, so far no official strategy has emerged to confront Israeli aggression against Lebanon. The recent folkloric making of the largest Hummus and Tabbouleh plates will not protect the Southern Lebanese from another Houla. Only military preparedness and the will to stand and fight does. Do these exist at the official level today, unlike 1948?

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Love Palestine, love its Palestinians?: The plight of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Love Palestine, love its Palestinians?: The plight of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon

Support for Gaza stops short, operation cast lead and the outpouring of support

During Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, a large number of Arab-Americans, leaders and community members turned out to protest the crimes of Israel in Gaza and the unlimited American support of Israel that enables this carnage. In the Greater Detroit area many of those in the protest were Lebanese who sincerely care about the Palestinian cause. It is great that the Palestinians have this show of support—it is heartening to see the throngs of supporters line up on Warren Avenue.

However, Palestinians in the Arab world are also victims of mistreatment and abuse. This mistreatment reaches appalling levels in Lebanon. One wonders how many of those Lebanese protesting Israeli crimes know, care or do something about the appalling situation of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon, refugees who are now into their fourth or fifth generation of refuge. There is not a single week that goes by without the Lebanese daily al-Akhbar writing a story about the plight of the refugees—the excessive use of force by the national army and the looting of the Nahr al Bared Camp, the foul language written on the walls of the houses of the refugees, the ill treatment of the displaced refugees at the security checkpoints, etc.
You wonder what explains the loudness on the suffering of Palestinians on the hands of Israel versus the deadly silence as to the suffering of the Palestinians who live in Arab lands, particularly Lebanon. You wonder what is behind the almost universal silence of Arab-American newspapers run by Lebanese-Americans who are vocal supporters of Palestine but ignore completely the plight of the Palestinians in Lebanon? Suspicious.

Cognitive dissonance or tribal logic?: Lebanese civil war begins with a lie, ends with a lie

Is it cognitive dissonance? Is it fear of upsetting governments that are prone to abuse those who dissent? Is it a reality lived according to the Arab saying of me and my cousin against the stranger and me and my brother against my cousin? The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon face de jure and de facto discrimination that is not being seriously challenged in any way. A false history of the Palestinians in Lebanon has hardened many hearts to the plight of the Palestinian refugee and sunk into the unconscious of others allowing them the guilty comfort of the false sense of doubt about the injustice that the Palestinians live daily.
The Lebanese civil war began with the grand lie that the Palestinians either hate Lebanon or want it as a substitute for Palestine. One Lebanese fascist group has made the claim that the Palestinians hate Lebanon because it is "green" or that they want to take it over and forget about Palestine. Those deluded Lebanese forget that if Palestinians like Yasser Arafat, Nayef Hawatmeh, Dr. George Habash, Khalil al Wazir and Salah Khalaf wanted to replace Palestine with Lebanon, the Israeli army itself would have been glad to help them do just that. Israeli behavior and Palestinian behavior exposes this claim for the lie it is–the Israelis invaded Lebanon to crush the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Palestinian nationalism aided by none other than the obnoxiously loud and militarily fickle supporters of Israel who provided aid and comfort to the occupier of their own land, the Israelis, time and time again. This includes massacring civilians in cold blood while the Israelis light up the sky and watch from a safe distance.

The reality is that the civil war began with a lie about the Palestinians and ended with a lie about the Palestinians. Not wanting to face the demons of the causes of the civil war and the Lebanese on Lebanese atrocities, the Lebanese ended their war with the myth that it was all the fault of the Palestinians and the Lebanese were merely victims. A former prime minister aptly called The War of the Victims Against the [other] Victims.

Also, the late President of the Republic, Elias Hrawi, summarized this national amnesia and demonizing of the Palestinians in a TV interview stating "let [civil war atrocities] bygones be bygones." When asked about the rights of the Palestinian refugees he stated that he would not "privilege the Palestinians over the Lebanese." That statement sealed the fate of the refugees and ushered decades of discrimination and abuse.

The courage of Natalie Abu Shakra and the shameful silence of others

Not all Lebanese approve of the mistreatment. Al Quds al Arabi of Sept 15., 2009 published an interview with a Lebanese young woman, Natalie Abu Shakra, who was part of the ship that broke the siege on Gaza. Natalie stayed behind and experienced Operation Cast Lead. Abu Shakra compared the lives of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon to the lives of the Gazans. She described the Palestinian camps in Lebanon as "ghettos, just as Gaza is." She told al Quds al Arabi reporter Zahra Merhi that the Palestinian refugees suffer from Lebanese government policy, have no rights, live in ghettos created by the state and that the reality of the camps in Lebanon is a "shame to mankind."

What a courageous woman young Abu Shakra is, a courage that we do not see from many men. No one expects all supporters of Palestine to brave the siege of Gaza and experience Cast Lead. However, it is not much to ask that the Lebanese who support Palestine communicate their disapproval of their country's shameful treatment of the Palestinian refugees and demand a change.

There are a number of consulates and an embassy to communicate this concern to. Also, in the Greater Detroit a number of delegations leave for Lebanon to meet with Lebanese officials to raise the concerns of the Lebanese community in the United States. Not one time I heard or read that any of these delegations raised the issue of the plight of the refugees. Not one time even though some of these delegations include some who wear the cause of Palestine on their sleeve, collar and elbow.

Lebanese sectarian democracy: Regime extends rights to groups, not individuals
Human rights groups ignore the biggest victims of abuse among them

The Palestinian refugees in Lebanon are victims of the country's consociational regime and its sectarian politics. In this regime individuals are not recognized, only sects that run the government and the lives of their flock. The rights and obligations of individuals are seen through the prison of the sectarian politics and sectarian spoils. In this regime, the refugees are thought of as another "sect" that wants to share the spoils of the sectarian pie. This thinking sees the Palestinians as a demographic threat rather than as a group of human beings that is owed decency and civility in treatment from a people known to have emigrated in large number throughout the world and knows what it means and feels to be outside the country of origin.
It is time for official Lebanon and Lebanese leaders in the United States to make the leap of thinking outside the sectarian box, dealing with the refugees as a human group rather than as a sectarian collection and obsessing about how they play out in the sectarian balance or imbalance. The civil war hardened sectarians in Lebanon are excused for not being able to escape the straightjacket of sectarianism.

However, there is no easy pass for the others—those who merrily and loudly advocate the concept of citizenship, individual rights and liberties, over political sectarianism but have chosen to ignore the Palestinian issue and to instead revel in their pyrrhic victory of the optional removal of the religious affiliation from state IDs. They would have had a bigger impact and a claim to consistency and solid principle in respect for human rights if they had centered their campaign on the Palestinians and challenged the core of the sectarian regime and not its manifestations.

Those in the Mahjar or diaspora, especially those who wear Palestine on their sleeve, simply have no excuse to inaction. They co-own the national shame.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Palestinian Refugees to be Resettled in America

Victims of Iraq's Gangs are Coming to the U.S. this Fall

Miriam Jones wrote in The Wall Street Journal of July 17, 2009: "The US agreed to resettle 1,350 Palestinian displaced by fighting in Iraq, marking the largest resettlements ever of Palestinian refugees in the nation. The decision appears to signal a shift in Washington's previous position against resettling Palestinians out of concern about the potential impact on US relations with Israel and the Arab world. The resettlement which is slated to begin this fall, is likely to illicit strong reactions from people on both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."

There are many victims of the US unjust war on Iraq from the sanctions' regime to the invasion of 2003 and the reckless way the country was run in the war's aftermath. Much suffering occurred because our former C student President wanted to implement what he thought God wanted him to do. One group that suffered much from the invasion is the Palestinian refugees who have lived in Iraq since the aftermath of the Nakba.

Life is never easy for refugees. The international system recognizes states and citizens. To be a refugee is to be outside the system, to be in a transitional position. A refugee's rights are limited. It is the job of the international community to provide assistance to refugees and to work on their repatriation or re-settlement. Most are. Not the Palestinians'.

The Rights of the Palestinian Refugees in Syria

The Palestinians stand out in their refugee status. They have a special international organization, UNRWA (no Arab or Muslim country among its biggest donors, not even close), that provides assistance to them, an assistance that is ever dwindling. The Palestinians fled or were forced to leave Palestine by Zionist criminal gangs who committed war crimes and ethnic cleansing to uproot the native population. The reality now is that the Palestinian refugees fare better in some countries than others. The Palestinian refugees in Syria, for example, have all the rights of Syrian citizens except citizenship. The refugees serve in the army, work in the private and public sector. The biggest camp in Syria is al Yarmouk, which I visited , and does not look in any way like the ghettos that exist in Lebanon. The Syrians deserve much credit for their decent treatment of the refugees and their open door policies to Iraqi refugees as well as to the Lebanese refugees during the many years of civil war/s. This fact was lost on those who instigated hate and aided and abetted the hate crimes against Syrian workers after the Syrian troops withdrawal from Lebanon.

Iraq and the Attacks of Sectarian Blood Hounds

Using the fig leaf of the lie that the Palestinian refugees were supporters of the former regime of Saddam Hussein, sectarian gangs pursued the Palestinian refugees with a vengeance. The Palestinian refugees were seen as a threat to the sectarian gangs, thugs that were set free to kill and pillage in the aftermath of the US occupation and the dismantling of the Iraqi state in the name of the Debaathification shibboleth. Iraqis fearing the bloodshed in Iraq could leave to Syria and Jordan, however, the Palestinian refugees could not. They had no militia and the US forces would not protect them. There were a number of brutal killings. Thousands of Palestinians got stuck at Iraq's borders. The refugee travel document that the Palestinian refugees hold is not an instrument for travel, it operates as an excuse for mistreatment and/or lack of admission (one refugee who lives in Saudi Arabia waited for two months for a transit visa from an Arab country). The refugees lived in makeshift camps, in open desolate areas, with humanitarian organizations providing basic assistance.

Ziad Asali and the Arab World Reaction

Dr. Ziad Asali, president of the American Task Force on Palestine, welcomed the decision, telling Ms Jones of the Wall Street Journal that it is "a significant step …consistent with the new US message of accommodation with the Muslim world." Dr. Asali noted however that the decision to settle the refugees in the United States might be seen as "conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian refugee issue." Arab governments and non Palestinian Arabs always express the fear that the Palestinians' acquiring of citizenship of any country would mean the liquidation of the Palestinian cause. The fact that Zionists had citizenship of other countries and it did not stop them from working to take over Palestine and displace its people is somehow lost. Even today, a high percentage of Israelis have dual, if not more, citizenships along with foreign passports just in case. In fact, many of the radical Jewish settlers who terrorize the Palestinians in the West Bank, stealing and/or burning their crops, among other crimes, are American citizens. The Israeli soldier who perpetrated the massacre in Hebron, Baruch Goldstein, was an American citizen, a medical doctor nonetheless [I am not holding my breath for the US government to investigate how and why American Jews who come from privileged backgrounds get radicalized and indoctrinated with hate enough to go to Israel to steal Palestinian land and commit war crimes].

Decent Treatment Obviates the Need for Citizenship

The country whose government is the loudest on the issue of the "conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinians cause" is none other than the government of Lebanon. Day in, day out the issue of the Palestinian refugees is used as a political football. Some Lebanese groups like the right- wing Guardians of the Cedars use such base language when attacking the Palestinians- language that would make Meir Kahane and Jabotinsky blush. The Palestinian refugees are subject to de facto and de jure discrimination that is an embarrassment not only to Lebanon and its people but to humanity as well, as the Lebanese supporter of Palestinian rights, the brave Natalie Abu Shakra put it. This mistreatment, as the Lebanese al Akhbar newspaper reported, makes the Palestinians curse the day they were born Palestinian refugees and aspire to be naturalized in Lebanon or in any other country. If there is a conspiracy to liquidate the Palestinian cause it is the Lebanese government policy of abuse and discrimination that is the very embodiment of this "conspiracy." Those Lebanese who claim to support Palestine have offered only rhetorical support with no plan of action to change the reality and no follow up. Some of those supporters have gone to extreme measures for a lot less noble causes.

It is also important to note that the Palestinian refugees of Lebanon include a large number of naturalized highly successful people. The overwhelming majority of Palestinian Christians who sought refuge in Lebanon have been naturalized by the Lebanese government. A Christian Palestinian American reporter who went to Lebanon to write a story on the Palestinian refugees told me that he was shocked by the extent of denial of the Christian Lebanese citizens of Palestinian descent of their origin. He told me that he had to keep pushing and asking questions for most of those he interviewed to admit their Palestinian origin. He was surprised. Anyone familiar with Lebanese politics would not. That origin is used as an excuse to discriminate and abuse- rational people avoid that. No doubt this phenomenon is not limited to the naturalized Christian Palestinians but includes the Muslim Palestinians who have also been naturalized. However, it is more damaging to the Palestinian cause to have falsely defined as an issue of Muslim refugees losing their homeland to Zionist aggression- Christian Palestinians also lost their homes to the Zionist enterprise.

Thank you America, Brazil, Sweden, the U.K. and the Netherlands. The only thing the refugees will miss is the inflated rhetoric of Arab and Muslim support. And if you miss that you can watch on Al Jazeera. Palestine is wherever a Palestinian lives.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Battle of the Head Scarf: a Muslim Woman, a Circuit Judge, and an Arab Muslim Attorney

Moughni’s Character Assassination is Reminiscent of Abuse of Victims of Sexual Molestation

I was shopping on Warren Avenue when I saw an orange pamphlet distributed by attorney Majed Moughni. In a footnote it reads “Please copy, post and distribute until Judge Callahan is exonerated.” I was eager to read the judge’s story. My Facebook friends were posting articles that were all presenting the woman’s side. These facts are undisputed. An Arab Muslim woman, Raneen Albaghdady, appears in Court before Wayne County court judge William Callahan. She is the last person to go on record. The judge asks her to remove her head scarf. She removes it. Then comes the lawsuit against the judge filed by the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) on her behalf for violating her religious rights. Attorney Nabih Ayad, a Michigan Civil Rights Commission member is the attorney representing Ms Albaghdady.

Wayne County: Many Litigants and a Judge Wear the Muslim Head Scarf

My first reaction to this case was wondering how the judge could fail to recognize the Muslim scarf. After all, he has been a judge for a number of years in Wayne County, a county with a large Muslim presence. Day in day out Muslim women litigants wearing head scarves appear before the judges in that circuit. There is even a Wayne county judge, Charlene Makled Elder, a powerful symbol of political and legal integration of the community, who wears a head scarf. Is it possible that judge Callahan mistook the Muslim scarf for an improvised fashion statement head gear? It is possible. Lawsuits continue when there are questions of fact or law in dispute.
Mr. Moughni Steps In: “Counsel” “frivolous” “boyfriend” “singles bar”
Judge Callahan retained Dearborn attorney Mr. Majed Moughni to represent him in the lawsuit filed by CAIR. I have a passing knowledge of Mr. Moughni and respect him as a fellow attorney. But in this case he has been unfair to the litigant and used awful tactics in defending his client. The first thing that struck me is that he got the name of CAIR wrong- it is the Council not the “Counsel” as he wrote in his release. I expected Mr. Moughni to present the judge’s version of the events and make the reader give him the benefit of the doubt and tell us how the judge’s record shows that he is a tolerant person who would not violate anyone’s religious rights. Instead, Mr. Moughni arbitrarily usurped the role of the judiciary by declaring this lawsuit that raises constitutional questions “frivolous.” It gets worse. I thought that the bad old days where a woman risked that her reputation would be sullied for bringing a lawsuit were long gone. These days were resurrected by Mr. Moughni. The pamphlet referred to “singles bar” and “last boyfriend.” These are cheap shots that are reminiscent of the days when an abused woman would have her personal history, real or imagined, paraded in public as punishment for seeking justice for being wronged. Parading the victim’s personal history was also meant to shift the focus from the perpetrator to the victim.

The Mystery of the Head Scarf Revealed: No Magic

A woman that wears a head scarf does not magically transform into an angel or a superwoman. Muslim women who wear a head scarf do it out of a religious obligation they believe in. The fact that they wear it does not mean they don’t watch MTV, drink diet Cola or listen to Lady Gaga. When I was a student at Wayne State University a professor told me how he was working out in the college gym when he saw a woman wearing a Hijab playing a “mean” basketball game. He remarked how that scene was intriguing to him. It should not. Women who wear head scarves can play basketball too. That professor, who is a wonderful and tolerant man, told me how over the years he has seen an increase in the number of female students who wear a head scarf in his classroom. He stated that they tend to be the brightest students in his class. In the Greater Detroit area there is an increase, especially in the second generation, in the practice of wearing a Hijab as a religious observance and/or assertion of identity and non- Muslims are used to seeing women wearing head scarves. These women come from all walks of life.
Not Frivolous: The Hijab, a Religious Obligation, and an American Choice
It is the consensus of the Muslim religious scholars/ulema that a Hijab (Muslim head covering as well as clothes that cover most of the body) is mandated by the faith. A Hijab, however, is not a pillar of the faith like prayer, the pilgrimage to Mecca/Hajj and Zakat/alms giving are. In America the right to wear a Hijab, just like the Jewish men’s right to wear a yarmulke, is protected by the Constitution. This country gets many things right and one of the things it gets right is the balance between church and state and a nuanced secularism. There is nothing “frivolous” about that.

In this country the Hijab is a choice that women make. However, there is a mistaken belief that Muslim American women are forced to wear a Hijab. An observant Arab Muslim relayed to me an incident that occurred in California. It was a hot day in Los Angeles when a stranger approached him and his wife who wears a Hijab. The following conversation ensued:

Stranger: “How dare you dress in short sleeves while you force this poor woman to cover up like that in the heat?”
Husband: “Ask her if I made her dress like that?’
Stranger: “I can talk to her?”
Husband: “Yes”
Wife:”You think he is making me dress like that. He can not make me dress like this or not dress like this. I dress like this because God wants me to.”
The stranger got embarrassed and walked away.

Women Who Wear a Muslim Head Scarf: Women Who Are More Courageous than Many Men

After 9/11 women who wear head scarves were easy targets since they were readily identifiable. Still these women, the stronger sex, stood their ground and wore their head scarves despite the risks. For us in the Muslim community, these women wearing a Hijab are the most courageous members of our community- those who hate Muslims and want to act on the hate hesitate to attack a Muslim bearded man who might appear menacing to them. However the cowards would not fear attacking what they perceive is a meek woman.

Debatable Guilt, Clear Guilt

Despite the odds, these Muslim women exercise the religious obligation and the Constitutional right to wear a head scarf. We owe them to stand up to them, stand with them, and offer our respect and support. Judge Callahan’s culpability is debatable. I would say Judge Callahan probably deserves the benefit of the doubt on whether he knew that Ms Albaghdadi’s head cover was a religious head scarf or not. However, there is no doubt that the person who intentionally and willfully violated Ms Albaghdady is none but one of our own- Mr. Moughni who did it for less than thirty silver coins.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Release of Political Prisoner Yemeni Imam Al Moayad: The End of a Saga of an Innocent Victim of “War on Terror" Gone Wild

Three Appellate Judges, McLaughlin, Parker and Wesley, Exemplify Judicial Integrity
Another Bush/Ashcroft Ugly Chapter Closes

The recent release of the Yemeni Imam Al Moayad closes one of the ugliest chapters of the Presidency of George W. Bush. The frail Imam Al Moayad is now free, with his many friends, supporters, and people he helped in his long career in charity works. Upon arrival in Sana’a, he was met by a crowd of supporters that included three Yemeni government cabinet- level ministers.

Seeds of the Imam's Trial and Tribulation: A Desperate/Disturbed Man, a Religious Fundamentalist Attorney General, and an Overly Ambitious FBI Agent

The saga of Imam Al Moayad makes excellent material for a Hollywood drama. A down on his luck Yemeni “illegal immigrant “walks into an FBI office offering help in "bagging a big terrorist." An ambitious FBI agent in the post 9/11 heady times wants glory, just like his President George W Bush, and the law-despising Christian fundamentalist Attorney General Ashcroft and his successor Gonzalez- regardless of the collateral damage. A plan is hatched to set up the well- respected Yemeni Imam, the Imam of the biggest mosque in Sana’a, Al Moayad. The informer is sent to Yemen to sell the Imam on a plan to send money to Hamas. Mind you this happens in Yemen where Hamas is hugely popular and support for Hamas, material and/or sentimental, is perfectly legal in Yemen. In the US, however, in 1997 Hamas was designated as a terror group and it’s a crime to provide it with “material support.” Al Qaeda was designated in 1999. As to the support of Hamas, the Imam’s defense was that support for Hamas is legal in Yemen. As to Al Qaeda, the Imam admitted supporting al Qaeda during America’s Jihad against the Soviet Union. The Imam argued that his relationship with al Qaeda and Osama Bin Laden ended with the end of the American Jihad with America’s defeat of the Soviet Union.

From Yemen to Germany to Judge Johnson's American Kangaroo Court

"The Most Significant Terrorism Case since 9/11"
5-week Legal Lynching in 2005

In the US, the informer’s statements and taped conversations with Al Moayad are used to get an indictment for Imam al Moayad for material support of Al Qaeda and Hamas. The Iman is induced to travel to Germany from where he is extradited to the United States to face charges. The politics of the case is obvious. The administration was eager to show progress in the “War on Terror.” The media reported that the Bush administration hailed the capture of the Imam as a "significant blow to al Qaeda." Attorney General Ashcroft claimed that al Moayad had "personally" handed Osama Bin laden twenty million dollars. The media described the case as "the most significant terrorism case since 9/11."

The behavior of the prosecutors and the district judge was troubling. The government wanted to win at any cost and dealt with evidentiary rules and fairness as obstacles in America's way to winning its “war on terror.” One of the government attorneys in the courtroom "celebrated" American ethnic and religious diversity and inclusion by referring to a Quranic verse as "the terrorist verse." The district judge, Sterling Johnson Jr., took leave of judicial sense and functioned as a part of the team of the prosecution. The defense team that included Robert J. Boyle and William Goodman put up a great fight but the playing field was uneven. The judge was a de facto part of the prosecution team. The district judge sentenced the good Imam to seventy- five years in prison. The Imam was mind boggled with the sentence and turned to the judge and asked: "Your Honor, what have I done? [to deserve this sentence.] But for the judge that was his Patriot day and he was making sure that the government bags the alien Imam.

The Other Irrational Exuberance: Government and Media Celebrate

The conviction of the Imam was celebrated in the media. A New York Post headline read "Brooklyn Jury Nails Bin Laden's Sheik. Imam Al Moayad was repeatedly described as Bin Laden's "spiritual advisor." Attorney general Gonzalez stated "[t]oday's convictions mark another important step in our war on terrorism." While the case was still on appeal to the Second Circuit Court, cheerleader John H. Richardson wrote a puffery jingoistic piece in Esquire of February 26, 2007, "Brian Murphy and The Bad Guys- How the FBI and One Extraordinary Agent Pursued and won a Terrorism case without Changing the Standards of American Justice." Mr. Richardson described the Al Moayad case as "the biggest and cleanest terrorism prosecution cases of our time." Reading the appellate court’s opinion it becomes abundantly clear the reality is the exact opposite.

I did not read the trial- court’s transcript but I read the appellate court’s sixty- eight page ruling. Reading the transcript makes you scratch you head and wonder what on earth was the district judge thinking. You would think that you see kangaroo- court antics from judges and prosecutors only in authoritarian regimes. It happened in Brooklyn. That travesty of justice was swept away with a unanimous 3-judge panel in October 2008.

Arabic- Media Reports on the Imam’s Release:
Appellate Court’s Courage and Analysis Shortchanged

While the district court’s proceeding is a travesty, the appellate court’s decision is American justice at its best. The appellate court’s courage in tackling the case with integrity without surrendering to jingoism and political pressure highlights the best feature of American government. There is so much to learn and admire about America, the Constitution and the American justice system from examining the appellate court’s opinion. The appellate court raised serious questions about the admissibility of the evidence in trial and determined that the fact that many highly prejudicial pieces of evidence were admitted, cumulatively, lead to an unfair trial. The appellate court held that the graphic testimony on the bus bombing in Israel, the video on the bombing, and the Bin Laden tape were all meant to inflame the jury with prejudicial effect outweighing the benefit of the evidence- especially that the defendant stipulated to the arguments the government wanted to make. The appellate court not only took the unusual step of vacating the judgment but also the rare step of sending it back, if it were to be retried, with direction that a different judge preside over the case.

These three appellate judges, McLaughlin, Parker and Wesley, should be honored for their judicial integrity in a time of crisis and enormous political pressure to deny due process to those who look like the enemy or are perceived as the enemy.

To read the opinion go to and under search type al Moayad.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Landmark Senate Hearing on Islamists- Insights into Explaining Government Behavior toward Muslims in US and Abroad- Part II-

Baran Advises Open War on American Activist Muslims
Void Likely to Result, Most Likely to be filled by Radicals

In the landmark hearing on Islamists held on July 10, 2008 before the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Zeyno Baran, a Turkish immigrant and Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute offered a broad indictment of almost all American Muslim institutions. If her argument is accepted by the government, and there is evidence it is, then the existing American Muslim institutional presence is at risk with no plausible alternative offered by Baran's favorite Muslims: "the secular, liberal and cultural Muslims." This void is bound to be filled by a radical alternative that will make the present Muslim establishment dearly missed.

The Islamist Infrastructure in the US

Activist Muslims are often associated with schools of thinking such as the Brotherhood and the Salafis. Baran states: "To understand how and why this [American Muslim radicalization process] is happening, one has to look at where people learn about Islam, who represents Muslims and Islam, what activities are conducted by these groups, and other related infrastructure questions. This is where the MB [Muslim Brotherhood] comes in- the most prominent Muslim organizations in America are either created by or are associated with the Brotherhood and the Wahhabis and are therefore been heavily influenced by Islamist ideology. Over the course of four decades, Islamists have taken over the leadership in almost all Islam related areas in America. This is worrisome, yet almost no one in the US government deals with it" [Baran's emphasis].
While individuals influenced by one school of thought might have been involved in violence this does not indict the whole school of thought. After all, the Crusaders claimed to be motivated by Christianity. The Jewish, Eastern Christian and Muslim victims can not justly argue that the Crusades present an indictment of Western Christianity.

NAIT: The Waqf as a Radical Idea

Baran does not spare any of the major American Muslim organizations from her indictment. The Muslim Student Association (MSA) is indicted though MAS it is not unlike Christian or Jewish campus groups. This obsession with Muslims takes away from attention that should be paid to American Christian and Jewish extremists. I am not sure if Baran saw the documentary Jesus Camp to see what very young children are exposed to in the name of Christianity to know what radicalism and brain washing is. Baran even attacks the North American Islamic trust (NAIT)- NAIT is a Muslim endowment that holds title to Muslim institutions.


Of course an Islamic conspiracy would not be a ball without CAIR and MAS. The federal government has received much criticism for its engagement efforts with CAIR, the largest American Muslim advocacy group with national and international credibility. Caving in to the pressure the noise produced on the web based garbage spread by extremist Jewish and Christian extremists and fanatics, the government has disengaged CAIR. One Arab American leader told me that he heard that the “government unhappiness” with the leadership of CAIR is behind the government’s position. Baran’s argument shows otherwise.

A Huge Conspiracy: Islamization Effort or Political Islam?

Immigrant communities are close knit communities. Personal relationships and friendships are very important. However, when it comes to American Muslims this reality is seen as part of a conspiracy:
"What is critically important in all these organizations is their support for one another; the same leaders appear in multiple organizations, tend to have familial relations, and move within the same close trusted circles. Outwardly they all appear different entities, but they are actually part of a carefully planned Islamization effort."

Intelligence and Advocacy: You quote me I quote You

The most troubling aspect of the wild accusations of “experts” on American Muslims is their circular argument. Intelligence relies on them to indict Muslims and they in turn reference the government action to validate their position. Baran adds: "It is also very important to note that despite their outwardly moderate positions, NAIT, ISNA, and CAIR were all named as un-indicted co-conspirators in the federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF), which was charged with providing millions of dollars to Hamas." One Muslim activist told me that the government provided his attorney with a blogger’s hateful lunatic rants as evidence of his culpability in the case. The blogger in turn referenced the government case as evidence that she was right all along about the Muslim activist. This is the justice the US provides Muslim activists.

Baran’s Illogic: American Islamists Hate the US but Genuinely Want to Cooperate to Thwart Terrorism

Muslim activists have unequivocally condemned attacks against the US and offered their sincere efforts to combat extremism. It is not uncommon to hear these dedicated, ethical, indeed model citizen activists say to anyone who cares to listen from the government: "we are an asset not a liability," "we are against violence." "We are not the problem," "let us be part of the solution." These offers of partnership have been rebuffed due to this Baran logic:"Terrorist acts inside the US are huge setbacks for American Islamists…It is not surprising that most of these organizations offer their cooperation to prevent Islamist terrorism inside the US."[my emphasis]

America and the Turkish Un-delight: DOJ as an Islamization Agent

Baran's testimony is based on her immigrant background as a secular Muslim from a country that has adopted radical secularism that is completely different from the comparatively nuanced and sophisticated American secularism. The US Constitution guarantees freedom of speech, freedom of association, no establishment of religion and most importantly the free exercise of religion. While Baran's native Turkey bans the Muslim scarf in universities and government buildings with this ban strongly backed by the hard line secularizing courts, the United States department of Justice (DOJ) sued on behalf of a Muslim girl who was not allowed to wear her head scarf in school. Given Baran’s logic, one would conclude that the DOJ is an Islamizing organization intent on spreading Dawa and imposing Shariah on the US.

The Government Unleashed on Baran’s “Undesirable Muslims”

While Ms Baran is entitled to her personal preference to the "secular, liberal and cultural" Muslims, she is not entitled to privileging this group as “true Islam” and using the government as a sledgehammer to bludgeon the others who incidentally have more credibility and grassroots following. It is a stubborn fact that activist Muslims are the ones who have built the institutions of American Islam that provided the much needed services that a “Friday Muslim” or a “Eid Muslim” needs from a place to pray Jumaa/Friday prayer to an Islamic will template. Those who are not happy with the "Islamists" dominance in American Muslim life are outlaw them, Turkish style, due to American tradition and the US Constitution. The battle is therefore being waged through investigations, prosecutions, indictments, harassment (an example is the Holy Land case who’s who list of Muslim activists unindicted co conspirator) and exclusion based on dubious allegations and legal theories.

The Other Muslims to the Test: Creating Alternatives

It is time for Ms Baran and her “pious and practicing, liberal, secular, and cultural Muslims” to establish their own American Muslim institutions and compete in the marketplace of ideas for the hearts and minds of American Muslims. I highly doubt that Baran’s favored groups are willing or able to produce alternatives. Baran’s ideas carried into government policy would ultimately create an institutional void that is bound to be filled by radical alternatives that will make the present Muslim establishment sorely missed.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Landmark Senate Hearing on Islamists- Insights into Explaining Government Behavior Towards Muslims in the US and Abroad- Part I-

Puzzling Reality

A few years ago I worked for an Islamic charity, Life for Relief and Development (LIFE). LIFE wanted to bring national and international attention to the crisis facing Muslim charities in the aftermath of 9/11. LIFE and Interaction, a major umbrella organization for non- governmental organizations (NGOs) engaged in relief work co-sponsored a forum at Interaction's annual conference dedicated to the issues facing the Muslim charity sector. LIFE retained an Arab American interlocutor to handle its contacts with the government. LIFE gave the interlocutor a list of Muslim charities in the Arab and/or Muslim world and asked her to check the list with the government and help with the visa issue. It turned out the government had a problem with about all of them. The government seemed to have a problem with all of them.. A puzzling reality until one reviews the testimonies at the Senate hearing entitled "[T]he Roots of Violent Islamist Extremism and Efforts to Counter It," held on July 10 2008 before the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs headed by none other big- time Israel supporter Senator Joe Lieberman.

Listening to those Who Validate Islamophobia: The Media Focuses on Hysterical Baran over Reasonable Mandaville

One of the witnesses before the Committee is Professor Peter Mandaville of George Mason University. Not much media attention was given to Mandaville's testimony. The witness whose testimony got the most attention and coverage is that of "observant Muslim" Turkish- born Zeyno Baran, wife of US diplomat Mathew Bryza. Baran's native Turkey has adopted European secularism that is anti religion in a most vulgar form. Ms Baran provided an "observant Muslim" cover for waging a war against all the Islamists painting them all as the enemy who wants to "impose Sharia law." As an "observant Muslim" making blanket accusations against all non secular activist Muslims she received the bulk of media coverage. The Christian Action Network dedicated 18 lines to her testimony versus the 4 lines given to Mandaville's. Surprisingly, the Congressional Quarterly (CQ) Newsletter also dedicated the bulk of its coverage of the hearing to the spread of the hell and brimstones testimony of Baran. Baran was in effect screaming the Muslim Brotherhood is here the Muslim Brotherhood is here and they want to impose Shariah law on the US.

Islamism is not a Monolith: Mandaville's Case for Engagement

Mandaville advocates that the US engage the nonviolent Islamists who constitute the overwhelming majority of the world's Islamists. Mandaville told the Senate that there is "a diverse universe of contemporary Islamic political thought and activism" and that "there are various manifestations of Islamism-violent and nonviolent. "Just as Islam cannot be said to be a monolith, the same goes for Islamism as an ideological project" he added. While other speakers such as Baran blamed violence unfairly but squarely on Islamism, Mandaville stated that there is "no definitive determination whether Islamism as a political ideology fosters or hinders violent extremism."

The testimony Mandaville gave before the Committee resonates with an article he wrote in CTC Sentinel published by the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point entitled "Engaging Islamists in the West" June 2008 volume 1, issue. It is helpful to go back to that article to put his testimony in its proper context. Mandaville wrote:

"In recent years , US national security policy orthodoxy has deemed it too far "out of the box" to suggest that Islamist groups might have a role to play in countering terrorist threats. According to this reasoning, even if movements such as the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood or its affiliates in other countries have renounced violence or are not actively involved in fostering militancy, they still at some level, have common ideological foundations with groups such as al-Qaida."
Islamism and Violence: The Relationship Between Ideas and Behavior
In reality, the general tone and name of the session and the politics of its leadership indicate that the premise is that Islamism fosters violence.- that Islamism as an idea breeds violence. Mandaville responds: "While ideas are undoubtedly important, they will only drive an individual to act if articulated in terms that resonate with and seem to provide solutions that can address a person's own life circumstances and needs. In this regard I believe that the sociological and psychological contextualization of Islamist ideology holds the key to understanding the conditions under which it potentially poses a violent threat."

Slouching Towards a "Grievance Base"

Mandaville compares favorably the situation of American Muslims to British Muslims: "In the case of the UK, the experience of Muslims in that country as being a community subjected historically to discrimination and, more recently, singled out and defined in terms of the threat it potentially poses to security has provided a tangible basis on which to graft violent Islamist ideology. Heretofore, such a "grievance base" has been largely absent among Muslims in the United States. Should Muslims in this country begin to feel more markedly singled out and/or defined in terms of terrorism and threats to national security, the easier it may be for some among them to understand the worldview and vision of Islamic extremism as something that addresses their life circumstances." There is a real threat that with the extremists and bigots such as Daniel Pipes and Robert Spencer campaign of hate, along with government targeting of institutions run by Islamists or individuals sympathetic to Islamism, we are seeing, slowly but surely, the manufacturing of a "grievance base" were none has existed before.

American Islam: The House the Muslim Activist Built

It is naïve to think that institutions such as Muslim charities that are run by American Islamists or individuals sympathetic to Islamism can be targeted for selective prosecution/persecution with this action not contributing to the creation of a "grievance base" even among those who are Muslims in the most marginal and superficial sense. The real threat that Mandaville does not highlight is that an open season on the Islamists and those sympathetic to them will play out as a war on Islam itself in the United States. There is no doubt about this. It is a fact that individual Muslims in the US enjoy rights and freedoms just like every other citizen. However, by targeting the Islamists and those sympathetic to them in the US the government in effect is waging a war on the organized American Muslim presence. The segment of our population that is wantonly designated as the enemy is the force behind the institutions that make us (practicing Muslims, secular Muslims, lapsed Muslims, etc.) a community- the mosques, the centers, and the charities. The Rand Corporation has advocated government engagement of anyone but the Islamists: liberal Muslims, seculars, and the neo-Sufis. But these groups, as Mandaville points out have insignificant grassroots following, and worse, little credibility in the broad Muslim community. The activist Muslims, call them Islamists if you will, whether they belong to the Muslim Brotherhood or are sympathetic to its ideology, have built the institutions of the organized American Muslim presence. Therefore, irresponsibly and arrogantly tagging all American Islamists as the enemy within presents a real threat that the American institutional Muslim presence itself is at risk.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

American Subjects Celebrating the 4th of July and the Promise of Equal Citizenship:

In a few days we will be celebrating the 4th of July. Americans of all backgrounds, all religions and nationalities, celebrate the day of the birth of America as a nation. We will also be celebrating the rights and freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution, rights and freedoms that define America as a nation. These are promised to all American citizens. American history, however, shows that for many groups the enjoyment of these constitutional rights has been a struggle. The struggle of African Americans, for example, to overcome slavery and Jim Crow laws is the most powerful example of promises going unfulfilled without a prolonged and costly struggle. At this historical juncture, it is our turn to struggle to have our rights and freedoms respected by the government.

The Political Persecution of the Holy Land Foundation

We celebrate the 4th of July while we are the subjects of unfair treatment by the government. Many of our American Muslim charities have been shut: Holy Land Foundation, Global Relief Foundation, Benevolence International Foundation, and Help the Needy. Individuals of high moral caliber, such as the group that ran the Holy land Foundation, find themselves convicted and serving many years in prison on a flimsy legal theory of prosecution. Muslim charities are pursued ruthlessly while we see real spies for Israel receiving a slap on the wrist and our most infamous spy, Jonathan Pollard, receiving Israeli citizenship with the Israeli government treating him as a hero and lobbying for his release. Also, despite the fact that a number of Jewish organizations and other organizations are on the terror list, the bulk of law enforcement attention is focused on American Muslim organizations, especially the charities. When is the last time anyone was charged with supporting the Zionist fanatics of Kiryat Arba who have built a shrine to the terrorist and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein?

Through Our Enemies’ Eyes: Blanket Conviction of Muslim Charities

National security scholarship sees American Muslim charities as a threat to be eliminated. Michael Scheuer, a veteran CIA officer writes in Through Our Enemies’ Eyes:
“Islamic NGOs have been another source of funding, as well as a fairly easy and secure mechanism for invisibly transferring funds to Bin laden and other Islamist leaders. These organizations proliferated and matured during the Afghan war and are now found in virtually every location in the world where Muslims are at war, suffering, in refugee camps, where there are populations susceptible for conversion to Islam…Most Islamic NGOs are overwhelmingly occupied with humanitarian work…All are equipped, however, to knowingly or unknowingly, assist Bin Laden’s movement and other Islamists because they can provide employment, move and distribute funds and acquire legitimizing documents and work permits.” He adds “[T]he use of Islamic NGOs as conduits for funds and contraband, and as curtains behind which to hide illicit activities is an excellent example of how Bin Laden and other Islamists have manipulated the West’s legal system to their benefit.”

Muslim NGO Abiding by the Law Seen as a Disaster

The fact that the NGOs are law abiding is seen by Mr. Scheuer as a disaster: “Disastrously for Western countries, Islamic NGOs are largely immune from western police action because they are almost always legally registered, certifiably involved in humanitarian and charitable activities and affiliated with legitimate religious organizations. The use of Islamic NGOs as conduits for funds and contributions, and as curtain, behind which to hide illicit activities is an excellent example of how Bin Laden and other Islamists have manipulated the West’s legal system to their benefit.”

National Security Scholarship and Arabs and Muslims Americans: Subjects, not Citizens

Reading the scholarship on national security as it relates to Arab and Muslim Americans it becomes clear that these communities are not being thought of as communities of American citizens. Missing from the writing of individuals such as the 22-year CIA veteran Michael Scheuer and CIA veteran Marc Sageman are references to the rights of citizens, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, due process, free exercise, freedom of association- all these key democratic values are missing form their analyses. The government, which seems to be listening to these writers and implementing at least some of their ideas, needs to be reminded that Arab Americas and Muslim Americans are also citizens covered by the constitution and the promises of the Declaration of Independence. However, it is a big net being cast. The former attorney general John Ashcroft in Never Again (it is interesting that this is the same title as one of the late terrorist Meir Kahane’s books) writes: “The truth is, we don’t know how many people we caught who may have been involved in terrorist activity. But if they were involved in any criminal or immigration violations, we prosecuted them aggressively, incarcerated them, or sometimes expelled from the country, if we had that option.”

Recognizing Our Heroes: ACLU, ADC, CAIR

This Fourth of July, the Arab and Muslim communities should be celebrating groups that are fighting for the civil rights of Arab and Muslim Americans- fighting to have Arab and Muslim Americans treated as citizens and not as subjects. They are doing so by injecting into the national security debate the key democratic terms of Constitution, civil rights, civil liberties, free exercise, free association, chilling effect on exercise of rights; all terms that have been absent from the national security scholarship and seemingly forgotten by the government. Of these groups the American Arab anti Discrimination Committee (ADC), the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) deserve special recognition. Recently the ACLU issued its report on American charities that highlighted the heavy price that government policy on Muslim charities has inflicted on the American Muslim community. ADC continues to fight for our rights locally and nationally. CAIR, despite enormous pressures, continues to educate on American Muslim issues and fight for the civil rights and liberties of American Muslims.

Joining, Donating or Simply Thanking

Let the Fourth of July be an occasion to recognize the vital work of the advocates that toil tirelessly to make this country what it promises to be. To show appreciation, you can engage in any and all of these constitutional rights’ affirming activities: joining, donating or simply saying thank you.

Happy Fourth of July ADC, ACLU and CAIR- and thank you.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Criminalizing the American Arab and Muslim Communities: Dressing Up Guilt by Association as "Terror Networks"

The Biases and prejudices Guiding American National Security Research

Questioning the" National Security" Research and the Researchers?

Who is advising the US Government on the "War on Terror"? What is the logic behind the measures that have been inflicted on our community: massive wiretapping, delays in processing citizenship and other immigration applications, a massive "watch list," a large contingent of informers and agent provocateurs and the obsession with mosques and vocal activists and imams? The answer is usually given that the government is going by "guilt by association." Letters are written to the President and the Congress hoping to change this ugly reality. Community -law enforcement meetings are held to discuss the challenges/constitutional violations that law enforcement work is inflicting on Arab and Muslim Americans.

The Architects of the Guilt by Association: National Security Policies Drafters are the Domestic Policy Version of the Torture Memo Drafters

There is much truth to the summarizing of the problem we are facing as guilt by association. The blame is often placed on Congress and the President for the laws that enable law enforcement to engage in practices that civil libertarians correctly believe are anathema to the Constitutional rights of all American citizens. Blame is also often put on law enforcement agencies. While not exonerating law enforcement, there is a lot of blame that is not placed where it rightfully belongs- on the scholars that are engaged in national security research- research that is mostly done in secret thus escaping the vital peer review. The drafters of the national security research that criminalizes the whole Arab and Muslim American communities are as guilty as the drafters of the infamous torture memos that have resulted in lower level government agents engaging in torture such as waterboarding.

Underlying Theme of the National Security Research: Arab and Muslim Americans as Subjects and not as Citizens
Israel and Dictatorships as Models to Emulate

The architects of the law enforcement policies are to blame. Many of these architects are consultants and advisers who do research and then offer training seminars to law enforcement- this training allows the researchers to have great influence on how citizens experience the US government. These architects of national security policies are not the Congress, the President or law enforcement agencies. Much of the blame and the responsibility for the hardships inflicted on the Arab and Muslim communities should be placed on the national security researchers who have been treating Arab and Muslim Americans as subjects and not as citizens and copying law enforcement tactics from human rights violators such as Israel (as to its Arab citizens and the occupied Palestinians) and other authoritarian regimes.

Marc Sageman's Understanding Terror Networks: Old Wine in New Bottles- Classic Authoritarian Regime Methods Dressed up and fancied Up for Use on Arab and Muslim Americans

An example of the troubling research that criminalizes the whole American Arab and Muslim communities is Understanding Terror Networks by Marc Sageman. Mr. Sageman describes himself as "a former foreign service officer who was based in Islamabad from 1987 to 1989 where he worked closely with Afghanistan's mujahedin. He has advised various branches of the U.S. government in the war on terror." Mr. Sageman's advice has been described as ground breaking in its approach. Many of us in the Arab and Muslim communities have experienced the logic and methods that Mr. Sageman presents and I have heard many times American Muslims and Arabs complain that the US government is acting like Israel or some other authoritarian homeland they have left.. Sageman's logic and methods have been practiced by Israel and by authoritarian regimes in the whole world- regimes that do not have a constitution like the US has- a constitution that guarantees civil rights and civil liberties to all the country's citizens.
Mr. Sageman argues that the government should not go after the individual terrorist only but after a large circle of friends and aquaintances- he states: the "social bonds predated ideological commitment- it was these social networks that inspired alienated young Muslims to join the Jihad.” " Mounting an effective defense against future attacks is a thorough understanding of the networks that allow the new terrorism to proliferate." He adds:
"Social bonds play a more important role in the emergence of the global salafi Jihad than ideology. Friends and relatives of identified terrorists need to be pursued and investigated wherever they reside. Especially important are those who were friends of the terrorist just before he started acts in the furtherance of the Jihad, such as traveling to Afghanistan for training. These friends helped transform him from an alienated Muslim, into a dedicated global Salafi mujahid…Relatives,. Including in-laws, especially of converts, should not be overlooked in the process."
It's not only friends and relatives that come into the circle of suspicion that leads to investigation and monitoring, in order to criminalize the whole community, even acquaintances are thrown in the mix by Mr. Sageman:

"Peripheral social acquaintances were crucial to the process of joining the Jihad. These need to be identified and investigated as well, as they were the ones who made the introduction without these bridges, potential candidates would not have been able to join the jihad. These individuals will be more difficult to identify because they were part of the dense networks of the cliques. However, they are probably where the members of the clique found them, namely around the mosques that traditionally send potential candidates to Afghan training camps. These few mosques need to be closely monitored or shut down."

The Imam as an Informer

One imam complained to me about law enforcement always asking to meet with him to ask him about his congregants- this came to my mind when I read Sageman stating: "Imams of conservative or fundamentalist mosques who reject terrorism could be excellent sources of information on their congregants. They know which members of their congregations re relatives or former friends of suspected terrorists. Such persons can become intermediary agents who can probe the terrorist." The Imam who complained to me heads a masjid that is perceived as the farthest from being a "conservative or fundamentalist mosque."

Exposing the National Security Researchers: Biases, Prejudices, Premises, Assumptions and Conclusions

To fight back against the law enforcement policies that are abridging our civil rights and liberties it is not enough to lobby the three branches or governments, to educate the media or to have law enforcement agencies- community meetings. We need to pay attention to the architects of the discriminatory policies. Their research is done in secret but there is enough information publicly available about these scholars and their research agendas, and their consulting for law enforcement to question them. Only by challenging the premises and the conclusions, and exposing the biases and prejudices of these researchers, do we have a real hope of changing the reality we are dealt.

Friday, May 29, 2009

From Begin to Netanyahu: Can President Obama, like Carter Before him, Deliver the Promised Peace with the Zionist Entity?

Netanyahu: a Chip off the Old Begin Block

President Clinton, after a frustrating meeting with prime minister Netanyahu exclaimed "that SOB does not want a deal." In his former term as prime minister, Netanyahu gave plenty rhetorical support for peace while doing everything possible to derail any progress from 1996 to 1999. Another American president had to deal with an Israeli prime minister who talks peace but does everything to derail it. President Carter described the terrorist- turned- prime minister of Israel, the late Menachem Begin, as "psychotic." President Carter was able to bring peace between Israel and Egypt despite Begin's tactics. Throughout the peacemaking efforts of President Carter, Begin threw obstacle after obstacle. President Sadat, knowing that Begin is stalling and trying to derail the process, gave in more than one time to Begin's demands in order to bring peace between Egypt and Israel. The fact that Sadat gave in to Begin's demands many times made Sadat seem like a bad negotiator that had conceded much to Israel. Sadat knowingly made these concessions to have an American brokered peace treaty that Begin clearly did not want.

Israel: Talking Peace, Making War

Despite the claims that Israel wants peace and the Arabs want to "throw the Jews in the sea," throughout most of the Arab-Israeli conflict it is Israel and the armed Zionist gangs that predated the creation of the state of Israel that have wanted and were able to go to war and the Arabs unable and not ready to go to war. Those who are knowledgeable about peace negotiations between Arabs and Israel know that Israel does not want peace with its Arab neighbors.

Netanyahu and Sabotaging American Peace Efforts: From Waiting for "Arab democracy to Take
Hold" to the Manufacture of the Iran" Threat"

Prime Minister Netanyahu, the record of peace making during the Clinton years shows, just like his spiritual father Begin, does not want peace. Before the invention of the "Iran threat," Netanyahu used to speak about the need to wait for democracy to take hold in Arab societies before Israel is asked to engage in peace with its neighbors. Netanyahu's fancy rhetoric was intended to veil the reality of Israel continuing to occupy and colonize Palestine. Now that certifiably free elections brought Hamas to power Netanyahu and the pro- Israel American fanatics are singing the tune of the "Iran threat." In his first meeting with President Obama, Netanyahu wanted to focus on the Iran threat that he and allegedly the Arab moderate states agree is a priority- despite the fact that even Egypt's president Mubarak has made it clear that the priority is pursuing peace with the Palestinians.

Obama calls Netanyahu's Bluff? Changing the Subject and Negotiating for the Sake of Negotiating

While the world speaks of a two- state solution in Palestine and the urgent need to freeze settlement activity, Netanyahu came to the US intending to change the subject of Palestine by speaking about the "existential threat" that a nuclear Iran poses to Israel. Netanyahu, to waste everyone's time while creating facts on the ground and launching wars against Lebanon and the Palestinians, wants to renegotiate everything anew regardless of the positions of former Israeli governments. Renegotiating from scratch is a tactic that Israeli governments religiously follow in order to keep on talking peace, while making war. It is a tactic that has sickened Syria's Assad, the father and the son.

Israel and the Manufacture of the Iran Threat: Forget Palestine, let's Talk Iran

One of the scandals of Arab politics is the presence on the agenda of the "Iran threat" and "the Shia threat." Israel is promoting the idea of the Iranian threat that Israel and the "moderate Arabs" are facing. While there are a number of real issues between the Arabs and Iran, the question of Palestine remains the main issue and the manufacture of the Iran threat is an attempt to demote the issue of Palestine from the number one spot on the agenda. The question of Palestine is being made a secondary item on the Arab public agenda and in the Arab public sphere. These efforts have largely failed because it is Israel who keeps bombing Arabs, keeps colonizing their lands and keeps creating and threatening to create more refugees. Is it Iran that is holding a siege on Gaza and starving it to the extent that tunnels are built to smuggle diapers and food items? Is it Iran that uprooted the Palestinian people and destroyed more than five hundred villages and created the tragedy of the 61 year old exile? Is it Iran that is passing a law that makes it a crime for the Palestinians who live in Israel to even observe the tragedy of the Nakba?

Obama and the Politics of Engagement: President Obama Can't Do It Alone

We need a grassroots effort to support President Obama. President George W. Bush used to say that he is sick and tired of hearing about the Arab Israeli conflict. President Bush wasted eight years with the US not only not pushing for peace but actively supporting the aggressor, occupier and colonizer of Arab lands with American taxpayer money and unlimited diplomatic and military support despite the damage to American interests this unlimited support is causing in the Arab and Muslim world. President Obama is good for Arabs and Muslims for a number of reasons- one of them is that he is knowledgeable on the issues. Obama is inching closer to engagement with America's adversaries, including Hamas and Hizbullah, without whom no peace can materialize. The policy of refusing to talk to them has only increased their credibility and popularity in the Arab and Muslim world. Both Hizbullah and Hamas have won democratic elections and will not be fading away as political forces in the foreseeable future. It is impossible to have a deal that has a chance of survival with either Lebanon or Palestine without Hizbullah and Hamas at the table. However, a reasonable American foreign policy will face resistance from a solidly pro- Israel Congress. On embarking on the serious tackling of the Arab-Israeli conflict, President Obama deserves the full support of the Arab and Muslim American communities.

American Muslims in the Mosque: God and the FBI are Watching You?

God, for sure. The FBI, maybe.

FBI Director Robert Mueller testified before the Senate in February 2005 on the issue of the "war on terror" stating "Efforts by extremists to obtain training inside the U.S. is also an ongoing concern. Although there are multiple reports and ongoing investigations associated with the paramilitary training activities of suspected extremists nationwide, the majority of these cases involve small groups of like-minded individuals who are inspired by the jihadist rhetoric experienced in radical mosques or prison proselytizing." (my emphasis).

A Google search using "Detroit Muslims FBI" brings up a first page with 10 items, 9 of them negative. One of these items is "Detroit Muslim groups claim FBI coercion" which quoted Imad Hamad, regional director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, stating "We have worked extensively with the FBI and others in the past, and certainly we would provide any information of a national security concern. But the issue now is this: Will they treat us as partners, or suspects, or both? We want to know." The writer quotes John Miller of the FBI stating that the FBI does not "target mosques" and does not "send people out on fishing expeditions. We investigate people … and with probable cause to do so under the attorney general's guidelines." But what is" Jihadist rhetoric"? A "radical" mosque? that FBI director referred to in his testimony?

Evil Israel, Ungodly US Foreign Policy= Jihadist Rhetoric?

The reality is that a tiny group of Muslims have declared an armed struggle on the US and have based this intention on religious grounds. The list of grievances include support for Israel in its occupation and oppression of the Palestinians, support for undemocratic regimes in the Arab and Muslim world, among other claims. The overwhelming majority of Muslims and Arabs condemn the use of violence and/or terrorism against civilian targets. However, the overwhelming majority of Muslims and Arabs condemn the unlimited support that the US provides to Israel, in many instances in harsh rhetoric. Many of the grievances of the radicals and terrorists are seen by many in the Arab and Muslim world as legitimate grievances. This agreement on grievances, however, does not translate into agreement and acceptance of anything else that involves the terrorists. The US considers Hamas and the Hizbullah as terrorist organizations. The majority of Arabs and Muslims think Hizbullah and Hamas are legitimate resistance groups that deserve to be supported. Providing material support for Hizbullah or Hamas is a serious offense. However, sympathy or emotional support is not a crime. Is that how law enforcement sees it too? It is not unusual in the US for a foreign group to be seen as terrorist by the government but not by a visible ethnic group- the experience of the IRA and the Irish American community comes to mind.

The Metrics of a "Radical" Mosque- The Business of Counting Headscarves

What is a "radical" mosque? How do we know one? Is emotional or rhetorical support for Hizbullah and Hamas an indication of hostility to the US? Is a mosque whose attendees express solidarity with Gaza and even with Hamas a breeding ground for terrorists and therefore should be monitored, infiltrated and manipulated? If a board member once said "Islam is the answer and will one day become the dominant religion in the United States, God willing," does that make the mosque radical? Is hoping and praying that Islam will be the dominant faith in the US and in the world an indication of radicalism and hostility to the US? Radical anti Muslim advocates/Israel cheerleaders such as Daniel Pipes are trying to indoctrinate the public and law enforcement through their "research and advocacy" that wishing that Islam become the major faith of America present a clear and present danger. The underlying theme of the anti-Muslim advocacy is indirect Israel support by weakening the other side and painting it as the enemy within? Who is buying this? One self-described expert on American Muslims concluded that a mosque in Chicago is becoming "radical" because over time more of the female mosque goers were wearing head scarves!

Love Me, Hate My Terrorist Designee?

Loving Uncle Sam and Sayed Hassan
Law enforcement is a balancing act between constitutional protections of the individual and the need to provide security. The government has every right to protect its citizens from attacks, preferably stopping them before they materialize. However, Muslims have the right to free exercise of their faith and free association. Emotional and rhetorical support for groups the US deems terrorist should not be taken as evidence of hostility to the US. I recall speaking with an elderly woman from South Lebanon who asked me if I were a US citizen and recounted how proud she was to get her US citizenship. The old woman at the citizenship interview was asked if she would fight for the US and she told the interviewer that "she would hold a machine gun and shoot the enemies of the US." The officer laughed and granted her the citizenship, she told me. But minutes later this proud American citizens told me how she admires Hizbullah [a group the FBI called the A team of terrorism,] and Sayed Hassan Nasrallah for liberating the South from the Israeli occupation and restoring the dignity of the Southern Lebanese. I laughed when she made these seemingly contradictory statements but on second thought I realized that to her it makes sense. This woman loves the US for what it did for her, providing her with opportunities undreamt of in her native land. At the same time, she admires Sayed Nasrallah and Hizbullah for making it possible for her to visit her village freely without Israel and its mercenaries humiliating her and her children in the process. Also, the Israelis used to think that going into South Lebanon, Rambo style, bombing and occupying is a picnic. The Hizbullah, the fact is the sons and fathers of her family and fellow Southerners, made this "picnic" a nightmare. She has no complaint against the Hizbullah and probably right after she watches the fourth of July fireworks on Michigan Avenue and waives the American flag she performs her evening prayers and prays that" God protect the resistance and the Sayed." This is not cognitive dissonance- to this woman and many like her it makes perfect sense.
Would this woman or a similarly situated person incite violence against the US? If the people she goes to the mosque with hold the same values, is that a mosque that needs to be monitored or infiltrated? Is a preacher who calls the occupation of Iraq a crime a person who is teaching hostility to America and encouraging terrorist attacks on the US, therefore there is a need to dig through his immigration file for a pretext to deport him?

Hating America vs. Hating American Foreign Policy/Policies

American mosques are not teaching hostility to America, hostility to America's foreign policy as to Israel maybe but not to America. American mosques are not encouraging terrorist attacks on the US. American Muslims are strongly against US foreign policy- the occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan and the US support for Israel. It is alarming to law enforcement that some of the rhetoric used by ordinary Muslim Americans is similar to that used by foreign terrorists/ sworn enemies of the US. While there is some logic for concern, it helps to remember that Timothy McVeigh made arguments about the federal government taking liberties and becoming a danger to the US citizenry and their existence. There is a major political party that has won elections making almost identical arguments about the government being too big and threatening constitutional freedoms.