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Today's New York Times carries an interesting piece on the issue of religion
and the consequences of one religion being considered superior and the only
valid one for the rest of the world. Thomas Cahill studies the role of
Christianity through history and how it came to terms with accepting other
religions as equally legitimate. He says that "over the ages, each religion
learns — with many steps backward and sideways but, finally, with more steps
forward — that it must find a way to live with its "heretical" offshoots and
with other religions."
In closing he wonders about Islam:
"For Islam, seven centuries younger than Christianity and nearly three
millennia younger than Judaism, to achieve such a relationship it needs a
distinguished theoretical peacemaker like Courtney Murray and a
warm-hearted, iconic peacemaker like John XXIII. If such figures emerge,
they would stand on the shoulders of great theologians and saints who came
before them in the rich tradition of Islam."
Yes Mr. Cahill, such Muslims have emerged. One such Muslim is President
Muhammad Khatami of Iran, but he was last week labeled as part of an "Axis
of Evil." A democratically elected government with a mandate by 70% of the
population, reaching out to the rest of the world's religions, but rejected
and rebuffed by a man as evil as he is ignorant and corrupt; George W. Bush.
February 3, 2002
The One True Faith: Is It Tolerance?
By THOMAS CAHILL
The New York Times
ONCE upon a time, there was a religion whose adherents thought it to be the
only true one. Because their God wished everyone (or so they thought) to
believe as they did, they felt justified in imposing their religion on
Toward those who refused to bow to the "true" religion, these true believers
took different tacks at different times. Sometimes, they hemmed in the
infidels (as they were called) with civil disabilities, limiting their
license to practice their own religion, forcing them to listen to propaganda
and otherwise restricting their freedom; at other times they became more
aggressive, burning holy books, smashing sacred statues and even engaging in
wholesale slaughter of infidels — men, women and children — as if they were
rats carrying plague.
The religion is not Islam but Christianity, whose dark history of crusades,
inquisitions and pogroms lies not as far in the past as one might prefer to
What changed Christianity? How did Christians learn the virtue of tolerance?
Centuries of bloody religious wars and persecutions finally convinced most
Christians that there must be a better way to organize society, a way that
did not involve quite so many burning bodies, human charnel houses and
The slow germination of this revolution in consciousness can be dated at
least to the 18th century, toward the end of which a country finally
emerged — America — that officially refused to play the old game of whose
religion was true, and took a generously agnostic view of religious truth:
you may believe what you like, and so may I, and neither can impose belief
on the other.
Is there an essentially different dynamic at work in Islamic countries that
keeps them from arriving at the civic virtue of tolerance? The forces of the
Enlightenment that exalted tolerance in the West were given their impetus by
the European wars of the 16th and 17th centuries in which Christian was
pitted against Christian — wars over points of doctrine that must have
looked exceedingly abstruse, even absurd, to non-Christians, who could see
only similarities between the warring systems. One might well wonder if this
Enlightenment would have emerged with such vigor had the battles involved
Christian against Jew — or, more exotically, against Muslim or Buddhist or
Zoroastrian. Protestants and Catholics had to learn to be tolerant of one
another — of different forms of Christianity — before they could learn to
tolerate those whose religions were non-Christian.
In a similar way, the Muslim world is more likely to develop the virtue of
tolerance as it surveys the hopelessly diverse ways in which different
communities and peoples have responded to the core insights of Islam. What
do Turks have in common with Taliban, or Wahhabi Muslims with Sufis? Very
little, it would seem at first glance. What do Sunni Muslims have in common
with Shiites? If non-Muslims can see similarities, warring Muslim factions
can often see only deadly differences.
The West should not allow itself too many congratulations on its vaunted
tolerance. In Northern Ireland, Catholic children are still unable to walk
to school without hearing vile epithets hurled at them by foul-mouthed
adults. In Britain, a Catholic may still not serve as prime minister or sit
upon the storied throne of Edward the Confessor. The Vatican, for its part,
first blessed tolerance as a civic virtue a scant 36 years ago — at the
close of the Second Vatican Council. Prior to that time, the official
Catholic position was little different from that of the mullahs of Kandahar:
when we are in power, we will impose religion as we see fit.
This new Catholic blessing of tolerance — which took the form of a
declaration that religious liberty is the right of every human being — was
made possible chiefly because of the life and work of two uncommon human
beings. The first was the courtly Jesuit theologian John Courtney Murray,
who was able to reinterpret Catholic political theory to give theological
primacy to freedom of conscience. Not incidentally, he was a 20th-century
American, deeply in love with American political ideals.
The other was John XXIII, the pope who convoked the council with the express
aim of bringing the teaching of the Catholic Church up to date. John lived
his life as a man of tolerance; he hated using religion to divide people
from one another. Many historians today consider him the greatest pope who
ever lived, a man beloved by people of all kinds throughout the world. As he
lay dying, his secretary read to him from mountains of sympathetic letters.
One correspondent wrote, "Insofar as an atheist can pray, I'm praying for
you." Hearing this, John, despite his pain, smiled with delight. For him,
the common bond of humanity was all that was needed for profound friendship
and understanding — and a little humor always helped.
Each of the great religions creates, almost from its inception, a colorful
spectrum of voices that range from pacifist to terrorist. But each religion,
because of its metaphorical ambiguity and intellectual subtlety, holds
within it marvelous potential for development and adaptation. This
development will be full of zigzags and may sometimes seem as slow as the
development of the universe, but it runs — almost inevitably, it seems —
from exclusivist militancy to inclusive peace.
The tolerant Islam that in the 15th and 16th centuries let the Jews of
Spain, expelled by Catholic tyrants, find homes in Arab lands has not
disappeared. The peace-loving Islam that in the seventh and eighth centuries
protected the world's oldest portrait of Jesus from destruction by Christian
iconoclasts has not been erased. These humane responses are living seeds, a
little buried perhaps but capable of a great flowering.
The bloodthirsty Judaism of the Book of Joshua, in which God commands the
Israelites to put all Canaanites, even children, to the sword, is hardly the
Judaism of today, except perhaps at the extreme end of its spectrum — in the
followers of someone like Meir Kahane or the religious fanatics who
encouraged the assassination of the peacemaker Yitzhak Rabin. But in the
same period as Joshua, or soon thereafter, when Gideon builds an altar in
the desert to replace the altar of Baal, the god of thunder and war, he
calls the new altar "Peace Is the Name of God." And the Christianity of
13th-century Europe — a time of bloody crusades and inquisitions, when Pope
Boniface VIII proclaimed that complete subjection to him was "utterly
necessary for the salvation of every living creature" — is very different
from the Christianity of John XXIII, who wrote in his diary that "the whole
world is my family."
At the extreme end of the Christian spectrum there are still intolerant
bigots, as well as deranged militants who shoot up abortion clinics, but
they are now far from the mainstream. And even in the 13th century,
Christianity could bring forth an utterly pacifist figure like Francis of
Over the ages, each religion learns — with many steps backward and sideways
but, finally, with more steps forward — that it must find a way to live with
its "heretical" offshoots and with other religions. It can't have the whole
world (as Boniface VIII imagined), except in love (as John XXIII intended).
For Islam, seven centuries younger than Christianity and nearly three
millennia younger than Judaism, to achieve such a relationship it needs a
distinguished theoretical peacemaker like Courtney Murray and a
warm-hearted, iconic peacemaker like John XXIII. If such figures emerge,
they would stand on the shoulders of great theologians and saints who came
before them in the rich tradition of Islam.
In fact, Islamic peacemakers are already at work. There is, for example, the
Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh, who speaks repeatedly of the
fruitlessness of violence and points to the irreducibly Judaic roots of
Islam. Such people exist not just among the Palestinians but in countries
throughout the Islamic world. At present, they may appear to be lonely
voices — but not more lonely than Courtney Murray and Pope John once were.
Today's New York Times magazine cover shows a silhouette of Arafat against a
blood-red background. The headline succinctly states, "The State
Palestinians Are In."
After reading bits and pieces of the inner politics within the PA where I
hear there is an increasing rift between the PFLP and Fatah, I realized how
little non-Arab supporters of the Palestinian cause know about the inside
politics of Palestine. We may love to hate the NYT, but the attached story
is an eye-opener for so many of us who are not Arabs yet feel their pain in
every blood cell.
Deborah Sontag's cover story made me feel like I was there in Gaza; with my
Palestinian comrades. It is sad it took the New York Times to get me there.
Read and reflect.
February 3, 2002
The Palestinian Conversation
By DEBORAH SONTAG
The New York Times
It was Christmas in Gaza, where Christmas is irrelevant, yet the day felt
somehow special. A brilliant sun glinted off metal debris in the dirt
streets of the Rafah refugee camp and bathed that desperate place in an
unusual glow. It was, in fact, downright tranquil inside the camp. The
shebabs, the youths, who had spent much of the previous 15 months hurling
stones, were bent over books in a ramshackle library. Their leader, a
grown-up named Abed al-Raouf Barbakh, had slicked his hair with pomade and
donned a tie. ''I dressed up for the cease-fire,'' he said, as he strode
through the camp waving left and right, palming the heads of some boys and
chasing others off with a hiss.
Barbakh is a stocky, rough-edged street leader of Yasir Arafat's Fatah
organization who, by his own account, is wanted by the Israelis for inciting
the kids in Rafah to violence. During the bloody period that began in late
September 2000, he indeed directed much of what he called the resistance
effort inside the camp. On the day of my visit, however, he presented
himself as a kind of youth counselor. His handgun tucked inside a pert black
vest, he talked of planting a garden among the weeds and of setting up
foreign exchange programs. He suggested that I consider sending my own
children for a week in Rafah. ''I promise I won't teach them to use
weapons,'' he said.
After Arafat asked the Palestinians on Dec.16 to halt attacks on Israelis,
he visited Barbakh's turf to beseech the residents of Rafah to honor his
request. Barbakh boasted that he wagged his finger at Arafat and declared:
''May the cease-fire go to hell. They are shooting at us. We can't offer
them flowers.'' He said that Arafat waited him out. ''Then he told me I was
too agitated, and when the meeting ended, he ordered me arrested,'' Barbakh
Immediately, though, the loyal shebabs -- my kids'' -- came to Barbakh's
defense by burning the neighborhood police station. So a truce was reached;
Palestinian police officers did not take Barbakh into custody, and he
embraced the cease-fire in practice if not in principle. ''We'll give Abu
Amar a chance,'' he said, using Arafat's nom de guerre and speaking in his
own way for a majority of Palestinians at that moment in time.
We sat in the camp's smoky cafe, which overlooks a Bank of Amman branch set
in a tableau of muddy depression near the Egyptian border. A blue-uniformed
Palestinian police officer, a friend of Barbakh's, joined us silently. We
all sipped hot tea from glasses. And taking advantage of the relative quiet,
we talked and talked. It was one of dozens of conversations that I had with
Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza during that odd (and heartbreakingly
short-lived) moment that began just after Arafat, under intense pressure
from the international community, ordered his own men to hold fire and
forcefully persuaded Islamic fundamentalist groups to halt suicide bombing
attacks inside Israel. The tit-for-tat violence had temporarily ceased.
For 16 months, the downward spiral has been otherwise unrelenting. Since the
failure of the Camp David negotiations in the summer of 2000, there has been
one provocation after another. Ariel Sharon made his heavily guarded visit
to the plaza outside Al Aksa Mosque to demonstrate Jewish sovereignty over
the Temple Mount, the Palestinian street exploded, the Israelis quelled
volatile demonstrations with deadly fire, the Palestinians moved from stones
to guns to bombs, the Israelis began assassinating suspected militants and
the momentum of attacks and counterattacks took on a bloody life of its own.
It has been a devastating period for everyone, and the Palestinians know
what it has cost them. The Aksa intifada, as it has come to be known, has
resulted in about 800 Palestinian deaths, thousands of injuries, a crippled
economy and an infrastructure devastated by bombardment and bulldozer.
Suicide bombings have weakened international support for the Palestinian
nationalist cause. Arafat, once a frequent flier to the Clinton White House,
is stuck in Ramallah with Israeli tanks hemming his compound. Most
Palestinians are under a kind of lock-down inside their towns, ''220
discontinuous little ghettos,'' Edward W. Said, the Palestinian-American
intellectual, has called them. The checkpoints have become more backlogged
and humiliating than ever: as if time were going backward, many Palestinians
have returned to riding donkeys on dirt roads to circumvent them. And
Arafat's crackdown on militant Islamic groups -- Hamas and Islamic Jihad --
has provoked turbulent divisions inside Palestinian society itself.
Yet for a moment there was this lull. Granted, it felt more like a standoff
as the Palestinians waited to see whether Israel would either reciprocate by
loosening restrictions on their movement or nudge Palestinian fighters back
into action with another assassination. But even the standoff gave people
the time and the mental space to think with cooler heads about their
situation, and I felt as if I was tapping into a vibrant communal
conversation that revealed both deep disagreements within Palestinian
society and a startling, defiant optimism about the future -- if not the
And so it was that in our conversation, even someone like Barbakh, a human
powder keg, could allow himself to entertain the idea of peace. When we
spoke, he made his intifada credentials perfectly clear -- shot 11 times
during the first Palestinian uprising, wanted by the Israelis during the
second. But he also mentioned a few pacific credentials, like some
coexistence programs in which he had once participated. And whether or not
he was sincere, he sensed that it would be politic to ask me to send the
world a message that even he, a fighter, really wanted quiet. ''We are tired
and fed up with all the fighting,'' he said. ''We want all the blood that
has been shed to be enough. Give us our small, little country, our West Bank
and Gaza, and then it will all end. Israel can keep Israel and leave us the
efore I traveled to Jerusalem, which I left in August after three years
there as a reporter, I e-mailed friends to commiserate about how things had
gone from horrible to worse over the fall. My Israeli pen pals sounded
pretty despairing, but the Palestinians didn't. It wasn't as if they saw a
rainbow on the horizon, but they seemed to have reset their clocks,
accepting the idea that their struggle for independence might take a good
My Palestinian e-mail correspondents reminded me never to underestimate, as
one put it, ''the capacity of the Palestinians to withstand sufferness.''
That is the term that many Palestinians use in English; it sounds more
eternal than suffering. Its linguistic companion is steadfastness.
Sufferness and steadfastness. My Palestinian correspondents told me that I
was looking at the situation like an American, a Westerner, with a terrible
impatience for the conflict to be resolved. ''Of course, we can't tolerate
it,'' David Khoury, a Palestinian-American businessman, later told me. ''But
we have to, so we have extended the limits of our tolerance.''
The Khoury clan lives in Taybeh, a charming village near Ramallah, which is
the center of cultural and commercial life in the West Bank. Arriving at the
family's house, I came upon a slightly surreal image. David's 12-year-old
son, Constantine, was Rollerblading in circles in the garage, a floppy felt
Santa hat on his head and a GameBoy under his nose. ''Our kids are going
stir crazy because of the closure,'' David said. ''They haven't had school
for three weeks.''
The Khourys are not typical Palestinians. They are Christian and affluent,
and in a land of few drinkers they produce what has become the Palestinian
national beer, Taybeh. But they nonetheless represent an important group of
Palestinians, who returned from abroad after the Oslo peace declarations of
1993 to wager on a future. Oslo created a framework in which Israel would
transfer territory in the West Bank and Gaza to a newly created Palestinian
Authority that would guarantee Israel's security. During a five-year interim
period, Israel and the Palestinian Authority would negotiate the thorny
final issues -- including the status of Jerusalem and the Palestinian
refugees -- and establish a permanent peace accord. Implicit in Oslo was a
two-state solution whereby Israel and Palestine would coexist.
Like many Palestinians, the Khourys embraced what they saw as the compromise
in Oslo -- that the Palestinians would recognize Israel, renounce their
claim to all of what they called historic Palestine and settle for 22
percent of the land; that is, the West Bank and Gaza. They embraced it with
such enthusiasm that David and his younger brother, Nadim, flew from the
United States to Tunis before Arafat returned from exile to secure his
permission for, of all things, a brewery in the West Bank. A photograph of
them with Arafat in Tunis hangs near their tanks and fermenters, next to St.
George, the patron saint of Taybeh, slaying a dragon.
We were chatting beneath these incongruous images in the dim, unheated
microbrewery next door to their home. David wore a short-sleeved polo shirt,
while his silver-haired father, Canaan, was wrapped tightly in a wool
overcoat and cashmere scarf. Dressed in a smart pantsuit, David's wife,
Maria, looked nothing like a typical villager; she is Greek-American,
although an extremely articulate advocate of the Palestinian cause.
In the late 1970's, the Khoury brothers went off to Massachusetts to attend
college and ended up working at a liquor store after classes. Eventually,
they bought Foley's Liquors in Brookline, kept its good Irish name, married
and produced American children and became naturalized citizens. Still,
something was missing from their lives. So after Oslo, they were thrilled to
extract their children from their American lifestyle and take them home.
''We felt this was a good, innocent upbringing until the Palestinian
uprising started, you know, with the shooting and the bombing,'' Maria said.
Before the uprising began, the Khoury brothers had been made uneasy by all
the potholes along what they had assumed would be a one-way road to peace.
They saw Ofra, the settlement next door, grow with every passing year and
other new settlements plant themselves in what was supposed to become
Palestine. They saw May 1999 pass ominously without the resolution of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict foreseen in Oslo.
But they lived on hope, choosing to believe that the Israeli and Palestinian
people were moving toward peace even if their leaders were dueling over
borders. They themselves were building business relationships with Israeli
winemakers and playing host to Israeli tour groups. A rabbi from Ofra
kosherized their fresh-tasting light beer, which found a clientele in
Israel. So optimistic were they that they sank a foundation for their new
lives and built atop it a white stone mansion.
Then everything unraveled, and the Taybeh Brewing Company was devastated
along with the rest of Palestinian civil and commercial life. Taybeh, which
had been turning out 6,000 cases a month in the summer of 2000, suffered a
75 percent decline in business the following year. Travel restrictions
prevented it from importing ingredients and transporting its product in a
timely fashion. It essentially lost its markets in Jordan, Israel and
Bethlehem. Even Ramallah, theoretically 10 minutes away, became a
circuitous, sometimes daylong haul for its trucks. So the Khourys all but
halted production. ''We are idling,'' David said. ''All of Palestine is
David told me about a recent phone conversation with an Israeli commerce
official who was trying to determine how much in taxes to collect from him.
David told him that he was barely producing beer. The official then said:
''You're American. The best thing for you and your father and your brother
would be to go back.'' David responded: ''And leave the land here for you?
In your dreams.''
During their summer vacation in the States, Maria did propose that they
remain rather than face another academic year of roadblocks on the way to
school. But Elena, 16, had a breathtaking answer for her mother: ''That's my
legacy as a Palestinian -- I have to suffer.''
While we talked, David, his craggy face betraying little emotion, declared,
''I am for this uprising.'' He described himself as a man of peace, but he
said: ''If we sit still, Palestine will never be ours again. Algeria had one
million martyrs before they had their independence.''
A Palestinian poll, published at the end of December, seemed to speak for
David Khoury. It showed that a strong majority of Palestinians supported an
immediate cease-fire and a return to peace negotiations. But the poll also
reflected a second sentiment: 9 out of 10 Palestinians hypothetically --
that is, if the cease-fire failed, which they presumed it would -- supported
armed attacks on Israeli soldiers and settlers in the occupied territories
as a form of self-defense and as a tactic to pressure the Israelis to
withdraw. ''This is our right, to resist the occupation,'' David said. ''The
Israelis defend themselves, and we defend ourselves.''
Toward the end of our conversation, David ruminated a bit on the suicide
bombers. He and his wife condemned the bombings because ''we don't want
innocent civilians to die.'' But Maria said that the bombers themselves had
to be understood as products of desperate circumstances, and David
effectively said that he was impressed by their self-sacrifice. ''Theirs is
real faith,'' he said.
This appeared to be a bit much for his father to handle. He sputtered:
''Excuse me, David, but what did they do, these noble creatures? Blow
themselves up? They blew themselves up and blew us up with them. To hell
with them. What is the result of their self-sacrifice? Now America is saying
Arafat is bin Laden? Bravo for Hamas.''
David changed the subject. ''Are you sure we can't get you a beer?'' he
From hilltop mansions in the West Bank to seaside shanties in Gaza, almost
every Palestinian has been shaken economically by the last 16 months.
According to the most recent United Nations estimates, the Palestinian
economy lost as much as $3.2 billion by the end of September 2001, one year
after the intifada began. For someone like Khoury, that meant deferred
earnings. For someone like Saeda al Ghandar, the wife of a street vendor in
Gaza, that meant deferred meals. Almost half the Palestinian population is
getting by on less than $2 a day now -- more than double the poverty rate
before the intifada began.
When I knocked on Ghandar's door in a fetid alleyway of the Jabaliya refugee
camp, I interrupted her packing. Ghandar, 25, was anxiously stuffing clothes
into a plastic bag to move her four young children to her sister's apartment
for the night. Israeli warplanes had been buzzing the skies all day, and she
feared that the evening would bring another bombardment. Since she barely
has a roof over her head, she felt particularly exposed.
We sat in the family's outer room, a cement cube with a missing top. Her
laundry hung between us, dancing in the wind, and a gingham curtain hid the
hole in the ground that serves as her family's toilet. The bedroom, where
all six of them sleep in one bed, had a tin roof that just barely fit.
Ghandar rested for a few minutes, leaning her pregnant body on a stool as
her children -- all under the age of 5 -- whizzed around her. The oldest
boy, his bare feet dirty and his nose running, was lost in make-believe.
With a rag on his head, he was hawking invisible goods. ''Fish here!'' he
cried like his father, who sells bream in the streets.
''All the time, we have to leave our house,'' Ghandar said. ''When I hear
the planes, I leave. When I hear about a suicide bombing in Israel, I leave.
It's not good, these attacks that the Palestinians are doing. It only brings
Israeli retaliation. We were really very happy before this intifada, but the
shelling, it makes us very scared.''
Was Ghandar really very happy before this intifada? Her family was poor then
too, she readily admitted, but now they are dirt poor; the Israelis, citing
security concerns, have intermittently prevented fishing off the Gaza coast,
and her husband has little to hawk. Ghandar said she has sold all her
possessions except a gilded bangle and one pair of dangly earrings. What she
really misses, though, is not her jewelry or even the security of knowing
that she will have food to put on the table. She misses the quiet.
I asked Ghandar if she aspired to anything more than quiet. She said, sure,
a Palestinian state, but she said it as if it were as likely as her getting
wall-to-wall carpeting. I asked if she held Arafat responsible for the mess
she is in. ''What more could he do than he is already doing?'' she said.
''If he could do more, he would. He spent all his life working for us.''
Besides, she contested my assertion that her situation was a mess.
''All my days are beautiful,'' she said. ''If we let ourselves be depressed,
we would die. God won't forget us. God doesn't forget anything he creates,
even in Gaza.''
If only Hussam Khader could have such faith. Khader, a maverick Palestinian
legislator, is as hypercritical of God and of Arafat as Ghandar is a
believer. Khader once took the podium in the Legislature to sarcastically
propose a new law: that Yasir Arafat, once and for all, be declared the god
I was thinking about that little bit of theater as I sat waiting to see
Khader in his modest office in the Balata refugee camp, a hardscrabble
shantytown on the edge of Nablus in the West Bank. Khader grew up in Balata,
and he cut his teeth politically in the first intifada, during which he
found himself on the first helicopter of Palestinians deported by Israel to
Lebanon. Khader was Fatah through and through -- Arafat's Fatah was and
remains the dominant political organization -- and he revered Arafat until
the Palestinian leader returned from exile and began running the Palestinian
Authority with the associates he had brought home with him from Tunis.
Khader was one of the first Palestinians to suggest that the Tunisian
returnees were setting up an economy that might benefit them at the expense
of the people. He warned against corruption and called for transparency in
government. During the 1996 elections for the Palestinian Legislative
Council, which was created by Oslo, Khader snubbed Fatah and won as an
A few days before my visit to Nablus, Palestinian police officers killed six
Palestinians in Gaza who were rioting against Arafat's crackdown on Islamic
groups. After resisting Israeli and American pressure to jail Islamic
militants, Arafat was finally doing so because he was finding himself
increasingly isolated internationally.
That was the subject of discussion in the antechamber of Khader's office,
with Khader's assistant vehemently proclaiming, ''Arafat is a dictator,''
and then nervously insisting that I not use his name in this article. Khader
had no such compunctions. A gregarious, mustachioed character, he expresses
himself pungently, punctuating his words with hoarse laughter.
Some fellow Fatah members paid a call on Khader while I was there. With
slaps on the back, they tried to persuade him to participate in a march in
Nablus the following day to rally support for Arafat after the bloody
showdown in Gaza. All the local schoolchildren would be going and government
employees and, of course, le tout Fatah.
''Forget about it,'' Khader said. ''These marches will not change the fact
that with time our Monsieur Arafat is losing his power as the symbol of our
national struggle. All the Viagra in the world will not give him back his
potency. After the Israelis bombed his helicopter, you might have persuaded
me to get out on the streets in solidarity with Abu Amar. But not at the end
of a week in which Palestinian security forces shot dead their fellow
Khader laughed at the banners for the march that proclaimed Arafat ''the
hero of the legendary steadfastness in the Camp David negotiations.'' But
understanding those banners is crucial. Although many Israelis and Americans
believe that Arafat's ''steadfastness'' at Camp David was deadly for the
Palestinian cause, this is not one of the many things that Palestinians
debate. Palestinians, Khader included, universally believe that Camp David
offered nothing more than a half-baked, hurried ultimatum of a deal. They
had grown discouraged with the protracted peace process over the seven years
that followed Oslo's promises, and many Palestinians had lost faith in
Arafat's ability to deliver what he had promised: a Palestinian state in all
of the West Bank and Gaza with East Jerusalem as its capital. So when he
walked away from Camp David empty-handed, they applauded him. Better to wait
another generation, they said, than to accept an unjust peace after a
half-century of struggle.
In Israeli eyes, Arafat walked away from the most generous offer he will
ever get from an Israeli prime minister. In Palestinian eyes, however, the
outline of an offer put on the table by Ehud Barak ''fell far short of
minimum requirements for a viable, independent Palestinian state,'' as a
senior Palestinian negotiator wrote in a letter to members of the United
States Congress. Barak was offering nothing more than ''three noncontiguous
cantons'' surrounded by Israeli-controlled territory in the West Bank, the
letter continued, concluding, it ''would have made Palestine nothing more
than Arab 'Bantustans' perpetually at the mercy of Israeli economic and
Khader, who agrees with this assessment, rose to take me down the stairs and
past the giant spools of wire crowding the sidewalk beneath his office. He
wanted to show me a wall. In May 2000, four Israeli artists came to Balata
and worked with local youths to paint a brilliant ode to peace on that wall.
In rainbow colors, they splashed, ''A Future Without Fear,'' in Arabic and
in Hebrew. But in October 2000, after the intifada began quite raucously in
Nablus, residents of the camp tore down the wall and then rebuilt it with a
new slogan, ''One Choice -- to Return or to Die,'' referring to the
refugees' desire to return to their homes in what is now Israel.
Khader told me that he had given his all to the peace process. ''I went to
the Knesset, and they introduced me as a man of peace,'' he said. ''I went
to Neve Shalom and preached coexistence. I went to Cairo and preached
normalization. But now I am just another number in the Israelis' computer.
There is nothing in my file that says, 'He was a peace partner.' Now I am
another Palestinian face into which the soldiers can shine their
When the Palestinian uprising began in 2000, Khader, like others, saw it as
an explosion of frustration -- frustration with the peace effort and with
the Palestinian Authority itself. He says that the intifada has succeeded on
a military level and explained this coldbloodedly: ''There was one Israeli
killed for every three Palestinians killed, and this is the first time we
reached such a ratio. This created a balance of fear between the two sides.
And Israel's fear will give us leverage. That can be seen by what happened
to Barak's offer between Camp David and Taba.'' Even while the intifada was
raging, Israeli and Palestinian negotiators met in Taba, Egypt, in January
2001, and the Israelis significantly improved on their offer to the
Palestinians. But the negotiations ended inconclusively, postponed until
after the election that Barak lost to Sharon in February 2001, and there
have been no peace talks since.
Khader, however, thinks that the intifada has degenerated into an orgy of
revenge and should be terminated. He thinks that Arafat should do everything
in his power to push the Israelis back to the negotiating table, which he
assumes means helping to engineer the collapse of Sharon's government. But
he is deeply disappointed that the Palestinian government succeeded in
channeling all the Palestinian rage at the Israelis and that there was no
real uprising against the authority itself. He tried to plant the seeds. He
publicly criticized high officials of the Palestinian Authority for sending
their families abroad after the intifada began. But his criticism did little
more than create a stir.
Which means that if negotiations start again, ''it will be the same corrupt
people representing us,'' Khader said. ''I pray to God that I wake up one
morning and discover that these people have fled to Europe with their money
and their children. If I were Yasir Arafat, I'd start to clean house. If he
wants to end his life as a hero, he will do this. Otherwise, Arafat will not
be remembered by history. I am told that there is a saying in the Torah that
many who are now in their graves believed that life would not continue
without them. But it did.''
asked Ahmed Yousef, a farmer, if he retained faith in Arafat's ability to
lead the Palestinians to statehood. Arafat's popularity dropped from about
70 percent in 1996, after he was elected president of the Palestinian
Authority, to about 36 percent in the most recent poll. He still has no real
rival, though; Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the infirm spiritual leader of Hamas, is
a distant second at 14 percent.
Yousef invited me into his home in Janiya, an isolated West Bank village,
and we sat beneath the long branch of a caoutchouc tree that had insinuated
itself into his living room. He glanced sideways at me as if I were an idiot
to ask such a question and spoke very slowly in answering.
''Yasir Arafat is the only man who can lead us,'' Yousef said. ''The whole
world has relations and connections with Arafat, and if we want support for
our struggle, we need the world. I'm afraid that if anything happens to
Arafat, the people will tear each other apart to see who will be our next
leader. So we must put our faith in Arafat.''
Like many Palestinian farmers, Yousef sees the world through his olive
trees. Their oil is the elixir of his existence; their roots are his roots.
This year, for the first time, he has not been able to reap the harvest from
his groves, which are adjacent to a settlement. ''This is the first season
in my life and in the life of my father before me that they did not allow us
to pick our olives,'' he said. He lifted a metal teapot. ''If you placed
this cold pot on my heart, it would start boiling as a result of the fire
that I have inside me.''
His wife, Nabieha, who wore a traditional black dress with purple
embroidery, led me to a hill and pointed out the settlement block that has
grown, year by year since 1983, to surround them. ''What do you think is the
problem with this picture?'' she asked me. ''We are the problem with this
picture. We are in their way. We are a bone in their throats. We are not
warriors. Do I look like a warrior? But if I go down to my fields, they will
shoot me, a little old lady, and they will say that I was on my way to plant
a bomb.'' She literally wrung her hands. ''We tried to reach an
understanding with the soldiers. We even asked the Red Cross to accompany us
to our trees. But they met us with rifles. If they were human beings, they
would feel for us.''
I asked the Yousefs if they see any hope on the horizon. ''I was listening
to the news this morning, and they said that in eight weeks there would be a
Palestinian state,'' Ahmed said. I raised an eyebrow. ''I have come to
expect the unexpected,'' Ahmed answered. ''Did we ever believe there would
be a Palestinian Authority? No. Did I expect to see Arafat in the White
House? No, no, no. So don't raise your eyebrow.''
Anyway, Ahmed said, maybe statehood should not be the goal; maybe
negotiations should be. ''If they are talking, the Israelis will loosen up
on us,'' he said. ''Maybe there won't be a state in eight weeks or eight
years. But if the two sides are talking, we will get back to our olive
trees. I lost 7,000 dinars'' -- about $10,000 -- this year!''
In a desolate Gaza city neighborhood devoid of olive trees, or any trees for
that matter, I waited for a Hamas leader in an open field of sand behind his
home. There, a small boy pointed to a photographer's waist pack filled with
film. ''If you go like this to Israel, they will think you're going to
BOOM,'' the boy said.
Sayeed Siyam, 43, arrived late from a meeting with Palestinian Authority
officials. In his button-down shirt, tie and cardigan, he looked like the
Mr. Rogers of Hamas, and it turned out that he was an elementary-school
teacher. Since the Palestinian Authority had placed top Hamas officials
under house arrest and jailed others in its crackdown, I asked him why he
was roaming free. ''Till the moment, I'm lucky not to be behind bars, but
the campaign of arrests is ongoing,'' he said. He sat in a plastic chair
under a tin roof on his porch overlooking the sandy lot. I asked him if the
intifada was over.
''The intifada was the choice of the Palestinian people,'' he said. ''Now,
because of pressure imposed on the Palestinian Authority from Israel and the
United States, the people are not allowed to exercise their choice fully.
Clearly, the Palestinian Authority has declared its opposition to suicide
bombing attacks and mortar attacks on Israel, although they understand our
position, and you should, too, because Americans have it all backward. Why
don't you and your government press Israel to stop this occupation? Why are
we considered animals if we defend ourselves? Didn't you Americans defend
yourself after Sept. 11?
''We in Hamas consider suicide bombing attacks inside the 1948 borders'' --
inside Israel -- to be the card that Palestinians can play to resist the
occupation. We often do this in response to Israeli attacks. We do not own
Apache helicopters ourselves, so we use our own methods. Given the methods
used by the Israelis, we consider the door to hell is open. Their
assassination policy and the bombardment -- all this theater of war inside
Palestinian villages and homes -- we respond to that by seeking to make
Israelis feel the same, insecure inside their homes.''
Siyam spoke as softly as if he were in a library explaining the Dewey
Decimal System. ''The Palestinian people do not consider us terrorists; they
consider us their liberators,'' he continued, making a point that is backed
by polls. ''They do not want to see the Palestinian Authority locking us up.
But for the moment, we cannot let the other side egg us on into a civil war.
So we are respecting Arafat's requests for a cease-fire in the interest of
national unity, and in that interest alone.''
In late January, after Israel resumed its killings of Palestinian militants,
Hamas made it clear that its begrudging respect for the cease-fire was null
and void. But at that moment in December, Siyam rubbed his cropped beard,
grabbed his two cellphones, rose and excused himself ever so politely.
It was no small thing to declare Hamas's bombings ''immoral'' at a time when
Palestinian society was craving revenge. But Saleh Abdel Jawad began doing
so almost as soon as the bombers joined in the intifada, which in his mind
should have been a nonviolent uprising from the start.
Back then, at the start, Abdel Jawad, a professor of political science at
Bir Zeit University, tried unsuccessfully to keep the street violence from
spiraling out of control. On the fateful day in October 2000 when a
Palestinian mob set upon two Israeli soldiers in Ramallah, Abdel Jawad went
to the scene, which was near his house, and urged Palestinian police
officers to turn their weapons on the mob. ''I was almost lynched myself,''
he said. When he later asked officers why they had let the soldiers be
murdered, one responded, ''What do you want, for the population to think
that we are collaborators?''
''That was interesting,'' Abdel Jawad said. ''Because of the weakness of the
Palestinian Authority, the policemen in Ramallah couldn't act. They were
guided by the mob.''
Later that month, Abdel Jawad wrote an essay in which he called the use of
arms fruitless, even suicidal; it took him quite some time to find a
Palestinian publication willing to print it. By using guns, he wrote, the
Palestinians would push the Israelis to respond with their far greater
military might, and the situation would snowball until daily life was
Abdel Jawad takes no pleasure in what has turned out to be his prescience.
The situation makes him a nervous wreck. Sometimes you can see him riding
around Ramallah on his bicycle, sweating profusely, as he tries to document
where the Israeli tanks are positioning themselves. He judges the Israeli
government and the Palestinian Authority so harshly that he can barely bring
himself to write what he thinks. He would love to escape for a few months to
regain his equilibrium. That, however, would require exiting the West Bank
through an Israeli-controlled border, and for the moment he keeps away from
checkpoints to prevent himself from being clouded intellectually by rage.
He last left Ramallah in June, when he traveled to Amman. On his return, he
ended up stuck at a checkpoint near Jericho, baking in a clot of traffic as
young Israeli soldiers slowly examined each car, single-file. ''As I sat
there, with the cars beeping and the soldiers barking at people twice their
age, I actually had a fantasy -- it was like in slow motion -- of getting
out of my car and killing those soldiers. And I am a humanist. But I felt it
firsthand; these are the daily humiliations that push Palestinians to commit
acts that are not in our self-interest. Israel is doing its best to get us
all to join Hamas.''
Abdel Jawad said that he has long been depressed by the constant discourse,
not only by Palestinian officials but also by some of his fellow
intellectuals about the supposed gains of the intifada. ''I would be
watching them on TV while trapped in my house,'' he said.
This fall, the intellectual climate in the West Bank and Gaza began
shifting, or rather, more intellectuals began saying aloud what they were
saying in their salons, that the intifada had gone off course. Martyrdom is
not our goal, independence is, a Palestinian minister said on Voice of
Palestine. It is time to stop extremists from hijacking the Palestinian
national movement, other prominent Palestinians said. They began to
dissociate themselves from attacks on Israeli civilians and to bemoan that
they hadn't made it clearer to Israelis that, as the professor said, ''we
don't want Haifa, we don't want Jaffa, we don't want to threaten Israel's
Those Palestinian voices found echoes in Israel, where the peace camp began
challenging Sharon's military aggressiveness as counterproductive, and by
the time of my visit, there was a feeling that for the first time since the
intifada started, peaceniks on both sides were shaking off their despair and
starting to stir popular dissatisfaction with the violent status quo. So
far, that reawakening has survived the resurgence of violence.
Sari Nusseibeh, the president of Al-Quds University in Jerusalem and the
P.L.O. representative in the city, even went so far as to gore a sacred cow:
the right of return of Palestinian refugees to the towns and villages they
lost in 1948. Nusseibeh said publicly what Palestinian negotiators have long
known -- that the right of return is a deal breaker. A two-state solution,
he said, implied one home for Israelis and one for Palestinians -- not one
for the Palestinians and the other also for the Palestinians.'' His remarks
caused a tremendous ruckus, but Arafat stood by Nusseibeh.
''I wish that I had the political cover that Sari has,'' Abdel Jawad said.
''You don't know who will give you a bullet. Not that I'm not willing to pay
the price, but I'm worth something to Palestinian society. I have to
preserve myself. Maybe they will need me and others like me in the future,
those of us who are convinced ideologically of the need for peace.''
Ahmad Abu Salem, a Jordanian-born Palestinian, is convinced, but his
convictions didn't save him from Israeli bullets. He has been living for
more than a year in a rehabilitation hospital in the hilly, predominantly
Christian village of Beit Jala in the West Bank. Beit Jala has been used by
Palestinian gunmen as a base to fire on Gilo, which they consider an illegal
settlement and not, as the Israelis do, a Jewish neighborhood of Jerusalem.
From his hospital bed, Abu Salem stares out a large a picture window at
Gilo, a view that other patients believe adds insult to injury. But Abu
Salem doesn't care that much about the battles over Gilo or even about the
larger battle. He just wants to get back on his feet.
A truck driver for an Israeli company, Abu Salem was shot in November 2000
when he turned into the midst of an exchange of fire between Palestinian
gunmen and Israeli settlers and soldiers. He heard ''Arab, Arab,'' in
Hebrew, and he accelerated. The cab of his truck had no door; he took
several high-velocity bullets in his left leg, which erupted. That was 13
months and 11 operations before we spoke on Christmas Eve.
''My injury is for nothing,'' he said. ''I was just in the wrong place at
the wrong time. I should not be celebrated as a martyr. I wasn't even
resisting. I don't believe in throwing stones. You throw a stone; they bring
a tank. It's not my nature to get involved in politics. My reality was that
I had a good job and I worked with Israelis. It was a natural thing for us
to coexist. Actually, after this happened, my Israeli bosses used to call
me. Then it fell off; they are busy in their work and they don't think of
We had moved to the hospital cafeteria so that he could eat his supper, a
concoction featuring diced hot dogs. He was busy hobbling on crutches to a
pay phone, searching for a ride to the evening's festivities in Bethlehem.
The Israelis had forbidden Arafat to attend the Christmas Eve ceremony.
''But they can't stop me, can they?'' Abu Salem, who is Muslim, said. ''When
they humiliate Yasir Arafat, they humiliate all of us. It is my duty to go
in his place.''
I asked Abu Salem if he had any advice for Arafat. ''My advice is for the
Palestinian people,'' he said. ''I think it's in the interest of the people
to calm things down because we are the ones who are paying a heavy price. I
feel bad that the Israelis have lost innocent civilians. But we have lost
more. We are under siege. We are hungry. We are unemployed. We are -- I
am -- crippled.''
Abu Salem shook my hand. ''Thank you for paying attention to me,'' he said
and hopped away.
When I visited Abdel Kareem Eid in his Gaza City home, he was reclining on
embroidered cushions on his living-room floor, overseeing an intifada soap
opera starring members of his own sizable family. The 74-year-old patriarch,
a retired truck driver, wore a flowing pinstriped caftan. And moving his
hands like a traffic cop, he tried to direct the flow of heated conversation
between the half of his family that is Fatah and the half that is Hamas.
Adding extra zip to the raucousness, almost all the men were packing.
To his left sat wife No. 1, to his right wife No. 2, and gathered around
them in concentric circles were dozens of children and grandchildren. As
best as Kareem Eid could count, he has 20 children and 87 grandchildren,
some black (like wife No. 1), some light (like wife No. 2). Five are
Palestinian security officers, members of Fatah. At least five others are
Hamasniks, and an 11th son identified himself as a fan of Saddam Hussein.
While one grandmother knitted, one mother breast-fed and the teenage girls
giggled, a well-groomed police officer son declared: ''We have one
authority, one leadership, one book of law, and we have to abide by it. If
my brother breaks the law, I will put him in jail.''
A Hamas brother who was wearing a New York Giants ski cap scowled: ''You
better put on a mask so I don't recognize you! Why should I go to jail? You
think you're better than me because you're with the authority. The authority
changes its policies every day. Today cease-fire, tomorrow fire. You pretend
you have the rule of law. But you're really no different from us.''
Another Hamas brother, also wearing a Giants cap, interjected, ''You're a
Muslim just like us, and your constitution should be the Koran.''
The oldest Fatah brother, joking around, took off his jacket as if he were
preparing for a fight on the Jerry Springer show. ''Seriously,'' he said,
''Hamas thinks we wimped out on the struggle, that we don't care anymore.
But there's struggle their way and there's struggle our way, and sometimes
those ways overlap.''
Kareem Eid said: ''If the Israelis attack us, we should attack back. If they
give their hand in peace, we should give ours.'' One of his Hamas sons spat:
''There will be no peace. It's us or them.''
I asked the Hamasniks if they were Giants fans. ''It's just for warmth,''
one said, squirming and folding under the logo on the knitted hat. The other
barked out, ''I like New York because of what happened to it in September.''
A Palestinian police officer brother jumped to his feet: ''I condemn that
remark. Eat it! Eat it!'' The Hamasnik snickered, ''Or what, you'll arrest
The patriarch laughed throughout the conversation. ''This is normal for
Gaza,'' he said. ''You find a father who's Hamas, his son may be Fatah or
vice versa. It's like you find a father who sells stuff on a donkey, his son
may be a doctor. Do you like grilled meat? I like boiled meat. You like
falafel? I like salad.''
Wife No. 1 interrupted: ''What nonsense are you spouting?'' And the
patriarch answered, ''You are my moon,'' and to the other wife, ''You are my
The lights blinked out, a routine electricity break. All that could be seen
in the darkness was the glow of a dozen cigarettes. When the lights came
back on, the patriarch and his sons invited me into the old man's bedroom to
see something special: a stuffed white kitten. It was not just any stuffed
white kitten, though. The Hamas brothers demonstrated. They clapped their
hands, and the cat meowed. Other brothers, police officers, joined them.
They all laughed and clapped, and the cat kept up its mechanical purring.
The father said: ''You see, there will never be a civil war in Gaza. We are
The morgue in Gaza City was empty of the victims of the fratricide that had
taken place just days before when the Palestinian police officers killed the
Islamic militants. The cold steel tables were empty of any trace of the
Israeli-Palestinian conflict, too. So were the freezer boxes where Dr. Abdel
Razik el-Masri stores the bodies before he autopsies them.
So we sipped tiny cups of coffee in a sanitized house of horrors. In the
previous 15 months, Masri said, nibbling a cookie, he had dissected hundreds
of bodies, many belonging to children. Would I like to see the CD-ROM's? he
asked. I declined. He told me that I was better off because the Israelis
''killed without any respect for humanity.'' (That is what the Israelis say
about the Palestinians, too, each believing the other is killing with
''If there existed other forensic specialists in Gaza, we would have left
our work after two or three months,'' Masri said. ''But there was no one
else, so we tolerated what Allah wanted us to tolerate. We didn't get tired
so others wouldn't get tired. We didn't weep so others wouldn't weep.''
I asked Masri how his work had affected his outlook on the conflict. He had
sounded so embittered that I did not expect his answer to start with a
reference to an Israeli coastal town.
''I miss Netanya,'' he said. ''I used to go to ulpan there in the summer,
and my Hebrew was really getting somewhere. I'd like to go back to Netanya.
I'd like to go again to Tel Aviv. We used to spend the night there without
any fear. I'd like to live together again with the Israelis as neighboring
peoples. We can visit them, they can visit us. We can live with them, sleep
with them, and they can live with us, sleep with us. But they need to change
their way of believing. They need to put their hand in the hand of our
president, and we will all have success and a civilized life.''
It would be only a couple of weeks before the good doctor, like his Israeli
colleagues, would start to get busy again and his brief honeyed reverie
would be shattered by death, death and more death. Nonetheless, the doctor
would cling to his hopes even as he extracted more bullets from more bodies.
The doctor, like most of those with whom I spoke, chose to defy the
depressing reality by stubbornly -- steadfastly -- believing that an
equitable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not only
possible but inevitable. ''It is just and right, and therefore it shall
be,'' he said. The doctor was fuzzy about how it would happen; almost
everybody was fuzzy about the means to the end. But the end -- well, the
doctor told me, even if it takes another generation or two, eventually there
will be a Palestinian state alongside Israel that will make all the
Fadime Sahindel, daughter of Kurdish refugees in Sweden, was executed by her
father. Her crime? She fell in love with a Swedish man.
Muslims need to stand up and speak out against this madness. There is no
honour in killing women; not in my religion Islam.
Thursday January 31, 2002
'Honour' killing in Sweden silences courageous voice on ethnic integration
Johanne Hildebrandt in Stockholm
For four years Fadime Sahindal's father had threatened to kill her. But last
week she took a risk and went to say goodbye to her mother and her sisters
before leaving to study in Africa.
Just before 10pm, as they sat in her sister's flat in the Swedish city of
Uppsala, the doorbell rang. Her father burst in and shot Fadime in the head.
She died in her mother's arms.
Sahindal, 26, paid the ultimate price for falling in love with the wrong man
and defying the patriarchal values of her culture. Her father was an
illiterate Kurdish farmer who moved to Sweden in 1980. His family arrived
four years later, when Fadime was seven.
Her parents discouraged her from speaking to Swedish children at school.
Instead, she was told the important thing was eventually to return to Turkey
and get married. She grew up under the control of her father and younger
brother, who physically abused her.
During a computer course in 1996 she met and fell in love with a Swedish boy
called Patrik Lindesjö. Sahindal was under no illusion about her father's
reaction. She knew that he would think she was dishonouring the family. They
kept their relationship secret for a year. When her father eventually found
out, his first reaction was to beat them both up.
Her father disowned her, but the couple refused to be intimidated. Lindesjö
parents went to Fadime's family to propose on his behalf, but were turned
down. Sahindal moved to another town, only to be pursued and threatened by
her brother. The police simply advised her to stop talking to her family.
Instead she turned to the press, giving interviews about the conditions
faced by Kurdish girls in Sweden. Single-handedly she started a debate about
integration and double standards. The police's inaction in the face of her
father's threats infuriated the public.
On a visit to Uppsala her father spotted her with Lindesjö. He attacked her,
spat in her face and screamed: "Bloody whore. I will beat you to pieces."
She told police: "He said I was rejected from the family and was not allowed
to come back to Uppsala. If I did I would never leave the city alive." Her
father was charged, and in 1998 was convicted of making unlawful threats.
Her brother, who had cursed her as a whore during the trial, was also found
It was a bittersweet victory for Sahindal, who had stood up for her beliefs
but lost her family. She often said that she loved her father, and that he
understood no better way of treating her.
Then, in June 1998, as the couple prepared to move into a flat together,
Lindesjö was killed when his car crashed into a concrete pillar. A police
investigation, which found nothing suspicious, has now reopened.
Fadime carried on, and last November spoke to the Swedish parliament about
her struggle for freedom. Then, last week, her father caught up with her. He
was arrested a couple of hours later. In court he called Fadime "the whore"
and then confessed to having killed her. He said that he had to protect the
The story has stirred deep emotions in Sweden. The government has promised
about $170,000 to help girls in the same position. The legal age of marriage
for foreigners will be raised from 15 to 18, on par with the age for Swedes.
Six groups representing foreigners in Sweden want to turn Sahindal's funeral
into a demonstration against patriarchal cultures that allow "honour"
Sahindal, who had said that she did not want a funeral according to the
rites of her native religion, may be laid to rest beside Lindesjö at
Uppsala's Protestant cathedral.
Many of us who live in Europe or North American often wonder why the
democracy we enjoy in these countries is not possible in the Muslim World,
barring a few exceptions; Malaysia, Iran, Turkey and Bangladesh.
Ray Takeyh is a Soref research fellow at the Washington Institute for Near
East Policy and the author of an upcoming book; The Receding Shadow of the
Prophet: Radical Islamic Movements in the Modern Middle East. In this piece,
Ray Takeyh argues that "Ultimately...the integration of an Islamic democracy
into global democratic society would depend on the willingness of the West
to accept an Islamic variant on liberal democracy.
Read and reflect.
Can Islam bring democracy to the Middle East?
By Ray Takeyh
The televised footage of an airliner crashing into the World Trade Center is
now the prevailing image of Islam. Media pundits decry anti-Muslim bigotry
and hasten to remind the public that Islam is a religion of peace and
tolerance, notwithstanding the actions of an extremist minority. But in the
same breath many of those pundits warn of a clash of civilizations—a war
that pits the secular, modernized West against a region mired in ancient
hatreds and fundamentalist rage.
This simplistic choice between "Islam" and "modernity" ignores a third
option that is emerging throughout the Middle East. Lost amidst the din of
cultural saber-rattling are the voices calling for an Islamic reformation: A
new generation of theological thinkers, led by figures such as Iranian
President Muhammad Khatami and Tunisian activist Rached Ghannouchi, is
reconsidering the orthodoxies of Islamic politics. In the process, such
leaders are demonstrating that the region may be capable of generating a
genuinely democratic order, one based on indigenous values. For the Middle
East today, moderate Islam may be democracy's last hope. For the West, it
might represent one of the best long-term solutions to "winning" the war
against Middle East terrorism.
Militant Islam continues to tempt those on the margins of society (and
guides anachronistic forces such as Afghanistan's Taliban and Palestine's
Islamic Jihad), but its moment has passed. In Iran, the Grand Ayatollah's
autocratic order degenerated into corruption and economic stagnation.
Elsewhere, the Islamic radicals' campaign of terror—such as Gamma
al-Islamiyya in Egypt and Hezbollah in Lebanon—failed to produce any
political change, as their violence could not overcome the brutality of the
states they encountered. The militants' incendiary rhetoric and terrorism
only triggered public revulsion, not revolutions and mass uprisings. Indeed,
the Arab populace may have returned to religion over the last two decades,
but they turned to a religion that was tolerant and progressive, not one
that called for a violent displacement of the existing order with utopias.
Political Islam as a viable reform movement might have petered out were it
not for one minor detail: The rest of the world was changing. The collapse
of the Soviet Union and the emergence of democratic regimes in Eastern
Europe, Latin America, and East Asia electrified the Arab populace. Their
demands were simple but profound. As one Egyptian university student
explained in 1993, "I want what they have in Poland, Czechoslovakia. Freedom
of thought and freedom of speech." In lecture halls, street cafes, and
mosques, long dormant ideas of representation, identity, authenticity, and
pluralism began to arise.
The task of addressing the population's demand for a pluralistic society
consistent with traditional values was left to a new generation of Islamist
thinkers, who have sought to legitimize democratic concepts through the
reinterpretation of Islamic texts and traditions. Tunisia's Ghannouchi
captures this spirit of innovation by stressing, "Islam did not come with a
specific program concerning life. It is our duty to formulate this program
through interaction between Islamic precepts and modernity." Under these
progressive readings, the well-delineated Islamic concept of shura
(consultation) compels a ruler to consider popular opinion and establishes
the foundation for an accountable government. In a modern context, such
consultation can be implemented through the standard tools of democracy:
elections, plebiscites, and referendums. The Islamic notion of ijma
(consensus) has been similarly accommodated to serve as a theological basis
for majoritarian rule. For Muslim reformers, Prophet Mohammed's injunction
that "differences of opinion within my community is a sign of God's mercy"
denotes prophetic approbation of diversity of thought and freedom of speech.
The new generation of Islamists has quickly embraced the benefits wrought by
modernization and globalization in order to forge links between Islamist
groups and thinkers in the various states of the Middle East. Through
mosques, Islamists easily distribute pamphlets, tracts, and cassettes of
Islamic thinkers and writers. In today's Middle East, one can easily find
the Egyptian Brotherhood's magazine Al-Dawa in bookstores in the Persian
Gulf while the Jordanian Islamist daily Al-Sabil enjoys wide circulation
throughout the Levant. The advent of the Internet has intensified such
cross-pollination, as most Islamist journals, lectures, and conference
proceedings are posted on the Web. The writings of Iranian philosopher Abdol
Karim Soroush today appear in Islamic curricula across the region, and
Egypt's Islamist liberal Hassan Hanafi commands an important audience in
In the future, such Islamists will likely vie to succeed the region's
discredited military rulers and lifetime presidents. But what will a
prospective Islamic democracy look like? Undoubtedly, Islamic democracy will
differ in important ways from the model that evolved in post-Reformation
Europe. Western systems elevated the primacy of the individual above the
community and thus changed the role of religion from that of the public
conveyor of community values to a private guide for individual conscience.
In contrast, an Islamic democracy's attempt to balance its emphasis on
reverence with the popular desire for self-expression will impose certain
limits on individual choice. An Islamic polity will support fundamental
tenets of democracy—namely, regular elections, separation of powers, an
independent judiciary, and institutional opposition—but it is unlikely to be
a libertarian paradise.
The question of gender rights is an excellent example of the strengths—and
limits—of an Islamic democracy. The Islamists who rely on women's votes,
grass-roots activism, and participation in labor markets cannot remain deaf
to women's demands for equality. Increasingly, Islamic reformers suggest the
cause of women's failure to achieve equality is not religion but custom. The
idea of black-clad women passively accepting the dictates of superior males
is the province of Western caricatures. Iran's parliament, cabinet, and
universities are populated with women, as are the candidate lists for
Islamic opposition parties in Egypt and Turkey. But while an Islamic
democracy will not impede women's integration into public affairs, it will
impose restrictions on them, particularly in the realm of family law and
dress codes. In such an order, women can make significant progress, yet in
important ways they may still lag behind their Western counterparts.
Moderate Islamists are likely to be most liberal in the realm of economic
policy. The failure of command economies in the Middle East and the
centrality of global markets to the region's economic rehabilitation have
made minimal government intervention appealing to Islamist theoreticians.
Moreover, a privatized economy is consistent with classical Islamic economic
theory and its well-established protection of market and commerce. The
Islamist parties have been among the most persistent critics of state
restrictions on trade and measures that obstruct opportunities for
The international implications of the emergence of Islamic democracies are
also momentous. While revolutionary Islam could not easily coexist with the
international system, moderate Islam can serve as a bridge between
civilizations. The coming to power of moderate Islamists throughout the
Middle East might lead to a lessening of tensions both within the region and
between it and other parts of the world. Today, security experts talk of the
need to "drain the swamps" and deprive terrorists of the state sponsorship
that provides the protection and funding to carry out their war against the
West. Within a more open and democratic system, dictatorial regimes would
enjoy less freedom to support terrorism or engage in military buildups
without any regard for economic consequences.
Ultimately, however, the integration of an Islamic democracy into global
democratic society would depend on the willingness of the West to accept an
Islamic variant on liberal democracy. Islamist moderates, while conceding
that there are in fact certain "universal" democratic values, maintain that
different civilizations must be able to express these values in a context
that is acceptable and appropriate to their particular region. Moderate
Islamists, therefore, will continue to struggle against any form of U.S.
hegemony, whether in political or cultural terms, and are much more
comfortable with a multipolar, multi-"civilizational" international system.
Khatami's call for a "dialogue of civilizations" presupposes that there is
no single universal standard judging the effectiveness of democracy and
Certainly, the West should resist totalitarian states who use the rhetoric
of democracy while rejecting its essence through false claims of cultural
authenticity. But even though an Islamic democracy will resist certain
elements of post-Enlightenment liberalism, it will still be a system that
features regular elections, accepts dissent and opposition parties, and
condones a free press and division of power between branches of state. As
such, any fair reading of Islamic democracy will reveal that it is a genuine
effort to conceive a system of government responsive to popular will. And
this effort is worthy of Western acclaim.
IF YOU LIVE OUTSIDE TORONTO, PLEASE DELETE
Salaam Alaikum friends,
The Toronto Peace Action Coalition is holding a "War and Peace" teach-in
tomorrow (Saturday, Feb. 9) where a number of Toronto's Muslim activists
will join other Canadians to discuss and debate the challenges facing all
peace loving people around the world.
The event starts at 11 am at the OISE auditorium, located at 252 Bloor
Street West in Toronto. The keynote speaker will be Humberto Brown of the
Black Radical Congress.
The teach-in will include workshops on a number of subjects including the
Palestine-Israel war; the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir; and the war
Faisal Kutty and Abdel-Rehman Malik talk about Islam: The myth and reality
Rogerio Santana, Consul-General of Cuba, on Cuba
Michael Mandel and Maliha Chisty discuss International Law and War
Mughir Hindi and Max Silverman debate the Palestine-Israel contradictions
Himani Bannerji and Tarek Fatah dwell over India, Pakistan and Kashmir
Uzma Shakir and Sabra Desai relate Muslim women's experiences of hate
David Cheeter and El-Farouk Khaki touch on Sexual minorities
See you tomorrow at the OISE Auditorium. If you don't live in Toronto, its
time you thought of moving to this great city where Muslims live and work in
peace with Jews, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists and Sikhs.
Today's Toronto Star carries a disturbing article written by a freelance
writer about the institution of poor children being employed as live-in
domestic servants in the homes of Pakistan's educated elite. The story is
not disturbing because it brings to light the plight of these children,
rather it condones it as some bizarre act of generosity; the precise
justification of any form of slavery.
The writer, an amateur journalist, hides her real name and writes under a
pseudonym, 'Lena Mian', better translated in English as "Here, take it
The writer in defending and justifying the practice of child labour as
domestic help, doesn't see anything wrong in that child being forced to
sleep on the floor while other children of the family in the same room sleep
on their beds. The host defends her decision of not letting the child get
education because as she puts it, "she allowed her last servant girl to go
to school and later arranged a marriage for her. Being more educated than
her husband and having been accustomed to the Khan's lifestyle, the young
woman is now having trouble fitting in with her husband's family." Wow!
A nine-year old girl working from 7 am to 9 pm serving grown men and women
and then sleeping on a hard floor...May Allah have mercy on these
slave-owners and those who defend them.
This shameful practice in Pakistan is NOT shameful just because a child is
being kept out of school and forced to work. It is shameful because the rich
elite are passing this act of cruelty as a symbol of their generosity. If
the employers were truly generous, what forces them to make the child slog
14 hour workdays and then sleep a bed on the floor?
Read and reflect
Servant girl another face of child labour
By Lena Mian
The Toronto Star
The car stopped in front of a big steel gate. Usman Khan, our host and my
husband's cousin, honked three times and the gate was slowly opened from
inside. Beside it stood a waif-like little girl, barefoot, her long black
hair wrapped tightly under a headscarf. As we got out of the car, the child
rushed forward, eager to carry our bags.
"Who is this?" I asked Alia Khan, our hostess, assuming it was one of her
"She is my servant," Alia replied.
Hadia, the servant girl, served refreshments and dinner to us and the
friends who had come to Lahore Airport to receive us as we arrived from
Toronto to visit some of my husband's relatives. It was my first visit to
In Pakistan, desperately poor parents send children into domestic service
After dinner, Hadia served tea and cleared the table. The other servants had
left for the night. At 1.30 in the morning, I found her washing the kitchen
Hadia is 9 years old, but looks more like 7. She is one of more than 3.3
million child workers in Pakistan between the ages of 5 and 14.
It is common for upper- and middle-class families to employ children in
their homes. As live-in servants, they are available around the clock,
regarded as more honest than adults, and more compliant and obedient. They
handle tasks like shopping and running errands outside the home that adult
servants, especially females, may be less willing to perform.
The children's pay is negligible. Hadia receives the equivalent of $10 a
month, about 20 per cent of what an adult domestic worker earns in
Pakistan — and 10 per cent of the monthly tuition fees the Khans pay for
each of their five children to attend American private schools.
It is not illegal to employ children as domestic workers in Pakistan.
However, in the face of international pressure, the government has drafted a
national action plan aimed at ending child labour. International efforts
have focused mainly on the children who labour in the factories that
manufacture carpets, textiles, soccer balls and other goods for export. They
do not address domestic labour.
Hadia's working day begins around 7 a.m. She moves quietly about the house,
tidying up, making beds, dusting, sweeping, helping to prepare food and
serving meals. She answers the telephone, runs errands and complies with
countless requests by family members. Her day ends around 9 or 10 p.m.,
sometimes later. When she works late, she's allowed to sleep in until about
Hadia spends two or three days a month with her parents and seven siblings,
who live in a one-room, concrete shack across the street. Her father is
unemployed and occasionally works as a day-labourer. Her brothers, 11 and 12
years old, work in a factory.
During our visit, I became increasingly uneasy about the endless demands
made on Hadia by family members and the heavy loads she was carrying. This
was child labour.
But I suddenly realized that perhaps I was looking at the issue through my
blinkered Western mind, without regard for the harsh realities of life in
Even though Hadia looks worn out and undernourished in a house of plenty,
she seems to be content. She is a quiet, serious girl. She calls her
employers Auntie and Uncle. They address her in a soft, gentle manner.
To the Khan children, Hadia is both a playmate and a servant. She sleeps on
a mat beside the king-size bed of two of the children. Eight-year old Ayesha
teaches her to read and write.
Hadia does not attend school. Alia says she allowed her last servant girl to
go to school and later arranged a marriage for her. Being more educated than
her husband and having been accustomed to the Khan's lifestyle, the young
woman is now having trouble fitting in with her husband's family.
This, then, is not a clear case of black or white. There is no question that
children must be protected from exploitation, but they also require proper
nutrition and housing in an atmosphere of affection and security.
Domestic child labour in Pakistan is a response to desperate poverty in a
system without strong labour laws, mandatory school attendance and social
Working as a domestic in an affluent family is viewed by many poor Pakistani
parents as a privilege for their children. It is preferred over work that
may be harsher and more perilous, like labouring in a factory or mine. It
places the children in an environment more favourable than their own.
Hadia has ready access to food and enjoys adequate clothing and shelter.
And, on the whole, she is treated with kindness, dignity and respect.
The Khans are not ruthless child exploiters — they are just following common
practices. While they do not appear to have reflected much on the impact
that work is having on Hadia, they clearly do not intend to harm her.
She cleans, helps prepare food, serves meals, answers phone and runs errands
Once, when friends came to visit, Hadia struggled in with a tray of drinks
and I leaped up to take it from her, mumbling: "This is far too heavy for
you." Alia turned pale. I had made her lose face in front of her guests.
After that, the Khans made a point of reminding Hadia to carry small loads
and reduced the number of chores she was given.
The Khans are kind people, charitable to those in need, as long as it does
not upset their comfortable way of life. That is precisely what makes them
so similar to middle-class and upper middle-class people in Canada.
In the West, we respond with moral outrage to practices in other countries
that we consider to be violating human rights, especially when they involve
children. The practices we so vigorously condemn in others are sometimes
little more than practices unacceptable by our own social standards. As a
friend points out: "Is the Khans' employment of Hadia morally any more
reprehensible than us eating three meals a day, while thousands of children
in Canada and around the world are starving?"
We often get caught up being de-sensitized to the plight of the
Palestinians as a result of the biased coverage in the media. This
slide-show attachment should put things in some perspective. (Click the
attachment to open it; don't worry, its virus-free).
Today's Washington Post carries an exclusive front page story about the
inner workings of the US-Saudi relationship and what is being portrayed as a
serious disagreement. Fascinating insight into working of the Saudi
dictators; feinting anger, yet submitting unconditionally. Is this mere
shadow-boxing or is the concubine finally asking to be treated with some
respect by her master? Who knows.
However, we do know that the cowardice of the Saudis in the past has made
them America's favorite hand maiden. As long as the Saudi Royal family
continues to practice their medieval racist dictatorship and usurp the
resources of the holy land to serve the needs of American Corporations, Bush
will not utter the words "Talaaq, Talaaq, Talaaq."
Of course, we all know that under Saudi laws, the concubine does not have
the right to demand Talaaq :-)
Read and reflect.
Sunday, February 10, 2002
Marriage of Convenience : The U.S.-Saudi Alliance
Saudi Leader's Anger Revealed Shaky Ties
By Robert G. Kaiser and David B. Ottaway
The Washington Post
On Aug. 24, Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz, the leader of Saudi Arabia,
was in his palace in Riyadh watching President Bush's televised news
conference in Texas when Bush was asked about the Israeli-Palestinian "peace
process," which had again been undermined by a new round of violence.
"The Israelis will not negotiate under terrorist threat, simple as that,"
Bush said. "And if the Palestinians are interested in a dialogue, then I
strongly urge Mr. Arafat to put 100 percent effort into . . . stopping the
terrorist activity. And I believe he can do a better job of doing that."
Abdullah interpreted the president's remarks as absolving Israel and blaming
Yasser Arafat, the Palestinian leader, for worsening conditions, according
to a senior Saudi official. An impulsive, emotional man, Abdullah "just went
bananas," the same official said. The crown prince picked up the telephone
and called his ambassador to the United States, Prince Bandar bin Sultan,
who was watching the same news conference at his palatial residence in
Abdullah said he wanted Bandar to see Bush at once and deliver a harsh
message, the culmination of months of tension between Saudi Arabia and the
new Bush administration. The message delivered by Bandar to national
security adviser Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of State Colin L. Powell was
summarized by a senior Saudi official in these terms:
"We believe there has been a strategic decision by the United States that
its national interest in the Middle East is 100-percent based on [Israeli
Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon." This was America's right, the message
continued, but Saudi Arabia could not accept the decision. "Starting from
today, you're from Uruguay, as they say. You [Americans] go your way, I
[Saudi Arabia] go my way. From now on, we will protect our national
interests, regardless of where America's interests lie in the region."
Bandar was instructed to cut off further discussion between the two
countries. The time had come to "get busy rearranging our lives in the
Bandar's message was a shock to the Bush administration. As had often
happened in the past, these two countries -- intimate strangers in many
respects -- had not really been hearing each other. But over the next two
days, the United States went to extraordinary lengths to try to repair the
relationship, its closest with any Arab country, finally satisfying the
Saudis with a personal letter to Abdullah from the president himself.
Two Disparate Nations
Not really hearing each other has long helped both countries sustain the
idea that they are close allies, and not an odd couple. In fact, they could
hardly be more different. Saudi Arabia is an Islamic monarchy ruled
secretively by one family, the huge Saud clan, in collaboration with Islamic
fundamentalists; it has neither free media nor transparent legal
institutions, nor any guarantees of human or civil rights.
By not acknowledging their fundamental differences, neither country has had
to confront them. Their relations have been a diplomatic version of "don't
ask, don't tell," a phrase Bandar said might have been inspired by a verse
from the Koran: "Ask not about things which, if made plain to you, may cause
What has been plain to officials of both countries is their self-interest.
Saudi Arabia wants, and has always received, American protection. The United
States needs, and has nearly always received, Saudi oil. What can cause
trouble is the realization that these two allies have very little in common
beyond security and oil.
"Have we [the United States and Saudi Arabia] understood each other
particularly well?" asked Brent Scowcroft, national security adviser to the
first President Bush. "Probably not. And I think, in a sense, we probably
avoid talking about the things that are the real problems between us because
it's a very polite relationship. We don't get all that much below the
Oil and security did provide the basis for a fruitful relationship from the
mid-1970s through the Persian Gulf War in 1991. With U.S. backing, Saudi
Arabia transformed itself from a medieval desert kingdom to a modern and
wealthy state. Saudi money greased the relationship and supported U.S.
policy goals from Afghanistan to Nicaragua, while Saudi leaders often
defended U.S. interests in the councils of Arab states.
Sept. 11 and its aftermath confronted Americans with the impolite fact that
their principal Arab ally is a theocratic monarchy that has supported
Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Muslim world. Even more upsetting,
Osama bin Laden and 15 of the terrorists who crashed planes into the
Pentagon and the World Trade Center were Saudis. These discoveries prompted
an angry American reaction that alarmed the Saudis and shook their
confidence in their most important diplomatic relationship.
But as Abdullah's own anger in August demonstrated, the relationship was
coming under serious strain even before Sept. 11. After the Cold War and the
Gulf War, "a lot of common interest disappeared," said Chas. W. Freeman Jr.,
a former U.S. ambassador to Saudi Arabia.
Sharp differences had already emerged about how to deal with Iraq and
Iran -- two of the three countries in Bush's "axis of evil" and both
neighbors of Saudi Arabia. Potentially more threatening have been starkly
differing views over how to deal with Israel and Arafat, which caused the
previously unreported incident in August. Saudis have begun to question the
continued efficacy of the U.S. military presence in their country.
Altogether, points of disagreement now threaten to overwhelm the two
countries' shared interests.
These articles will explore the evolution of this "special relationship" and
examine its uncertain future as Bush presses the U.S. war on terrorism
beyond Afghanistan. They are based on official documents and more than 60
interviews with U.S. officials and senior Saudi analysts and officials, many
of whom insisted on anonymity. Senior U.S. officials refused to discuss the
August episode or the future of Saudi-U.S. relations, apparently because of
the extreme sensitivity of the relationship. "We've decided we won't be
participating in these articles," said Sean McCormack, spokesman for the
National Security Council.
2001 began hopefully for the Saudis. The new U.S. president was the son of
the most popular American in Saudi Arabia, George H.W. Bush, a national hero
for his role in protecting the kingdom from Iraq's Saddam Hussein in
1990-91. Saudis, who know about dynasties, had high expectations for the
Those expectations turned into bitter disappointment as the year progressed
and Israeli-Palestinian relations continued to deteriorate. Throughout the
Arab world, frustration grew with theUnited States for standing silently on
the sidelines as the violence intensified. Abdullah, Saudi Arabia's de facto
ruler because of the prolonged incapacitation of King Fahd, his
half-brother, became increasingly angry, according to Saudi sources.
The Americans realized that Abdullah was upset and tried repeatedly to calm
him, U.S. officials said. Bush invited him to visit Washington, Camp David,
his ranch in Crawford, even the Franklin D. Roosevelt Library in Hyde Park,
N.Y. -- a venue proposed because Roosevelt and Abdullah's father, King
Abdulaziz, known also as ibn Saud, established the modern Saudi-American
relationship in a meeting onboard a ship on the Great Bitter Lake in the
Suez Canal in 1945. The president's father telephoned Abdullah to try to
assure the crown prince that the new president's "heart was in the right
place." But Abdullah rebuffed all of these advances.
Making Frustrations Clear
Palestine, and then Israel, had been a sensitive subject in Saudi-U.S.
relations since Roosevelt's first contacts with ibn Saud. Israel's
battlefield successes provoked a Saudi-led oil embargo against the United
States in 1973. After Ariel Sharon was elected Israel's prime minister in
February 2001, the Saudis pressed the United States repeatedly to restrain
Sharon and bring him back to the negotiating table.
In a series of letters to Bush and in other messages to Washington, Abdullah
made his frustrations clear. "Don't they see what is happening to
Palestinian children, women and the elderly?" Abdullah asked in an interview
with the Financial Times in June. He was seeing this himself, his associates
said, on television almost every night. Official Saudi television showed
extensive film clips of the fighting and of Israel's forceful military
actions in nearly every news broadcast.
But the Bush administration did not respond, and did not take action to stop
the violence. The new administration sought to distance itself from the
policy of Bush's predecessor, Bill Clinton, who made the last serious effort
to negotiate an Israeli-Palestinian peace agreement in his final weeks in
office. The Bush administration told the Israelis and the Palestinians that
if they wanted to resume the peace talks, they should do so themselves.
In July, the Saudis issued a statement in the name of King Fahd, warning
that Israel's "systematic actions" against the Palestinians risked plunging
the Middle East "into a dangerous phase." Two weeks later, Vice President
Cheney gave an interview that appeared to endorse Israel's preemptive
attacks against Palestinians whom Israel suspected of terrorism, further
upsetting the Saudis.
On Aug. 9, the Saudi ambassador to Britain, Ghazi Qussaibi, published an
article in Al Hayat, a London-based Arabic newspaper, that ridiculed Bush as
a know-nothing governed by "complexes" -- first of all, a desire to avoid
looking like his father or his predecessor. "In a few months, this man
created enemies for America to an extent making him worthy of a new prize,
to be called the prize for transforming friends into adversaries,
effortlessly," wrote Qussaibi. Saudi diplomats learned that Bush saw an
account of this article and that he was not amused.
On the night of Aug. 23, Israeli tanks made their deepest incursion yet into
the West Bank, into the town of Hebron, marking a new escalation of the
fighting. On the same day, according to two Saudi officials, Abdullah saw
news footage from the West Bank of an Israeli soldier holding a Palestinian
woman to the ground by putting his boot on her head. "Abdullah saw that and
he went berserk," one senior Saudi recounted. "A woman being beaten by a
man -- he just felt this is the ultimate insult."
Abdullah responded by calling Bandar, his unusual ambassador in Washington.
Bandar is the son of Prince Sultan, the Saudi defense minister and
Abdullah's half-brother. Bandar's mother was a servant, and Sultan did not
recognize him as a legitimate son until he was a teenager. After training as
a pilot, Bandar became the Saudi Air Force's one-man acrobatic team -- its
version of the Blue Angels. He was then assigned to Washington as a military
attaché, lobbying Congress to approve the sale of F-5 fighter jets to Saudi
Arabia and learning about U.S. politics. He was just 34 when King Fahd, his
uncle and mentor, named him ambassador to the United States in 1983.
Over the years, Bandar came to personally embody the Saudi-American
relationship. His gregarious charm and gift for the big gesture won him easy
access to high-level officials, and he became a close personal friend of the
first President Bush, invited to family events at the Bush compound in
Kennebunkport, Maine. The dean of the diplomatic corps by virtue of his long
assignment in Washington, Bandar is the only ambassador who has his own
State Department security detail -- granted to him because of "threats" and
his status as a prince, according to a State Department spokesman. But in
the 1990s, held at arm's length by the Clinton administration, he seemed to
lose his fire for the job. "I was getting completely bored," Bandar
When Abdullah telephoned that day in August, Bandar was in Aspen at the vast
compound he built there, appraised at $55 million by the local tax
collector. The 70,000-square-foot main house has 15 bedrooms and 16 baths.
Bandar also has a house overlooking the Potomac in McLean, a palace in Saudi
Arabia and a country estate in the English countryside.
Bandar was out when the crown prince called, and by the time he got home,
according to a Saudi official, it was the middle of the night in Riyadh, the
Saudi capital -- too late to talk with Abdullah. The next morning, after the
Bush news conference, Abdullah called again to dispatch him with his
The Saudi embassy thought there might be a U.S. answer within four or five
days, but it came in only 36 hours. "We were told there was an answer ready
to go back [to Abdullah] that answers every point," one senior official
said. Bandar picked up the letter and took it personally to the crown prince
Crucial Letter From Bush
For the Saudis, Bush's letter was "groundbreaking. . . . Things in it had
never been put in writing," one Saudi official said. According to Saudi
accounts, Bush outlined an even-handed approach to settling the Arab-Israeli
dispute that differed considerably from Sharon's positions on the peace
process. One Saudi official said this was a key element: a U.S. vision of a
peace settlement that was acceptable to the Saudis, and that differed from
any Israeli plan.
Bush's letter, according to Saudi officials, endorsed the idea of a viable
Palestinian state on the West Bank and Gaza Strip. He expressed a
willingness to begin participating more actively in the peace process.
Altogether, said Adel Jubeir, a foreign policy adviser to Abdullah, "where
he stood was not that much different from where Clinton stood when he left
A particularly important passage in Bush's businesslike, two-page letter,
Saudi officials said, was his response to Abdullah's complaints about the
ways Israelis were treating Palestinians in the occupied territories. In the
message to Bush that was conveyed by Bandar, the crown prince said,
according to a Saudi official's account: "I reject this extraordinary,
un-American bias whereby the blood of an Israeli child is more expensive and
holy than the blood of a Palestinian child. I reject people who say when you
kill a Palestinian, it is defense; when a Palestinian kills an Israeli, it's
a terrorist act." He also referred to the scene he saw on television of the
Israeli soldier putting his boot on the head of a Palestinian woman.
In reply, a Saudi official recounted, Bush said he believes the blood of
innocent people is the same -- Palestinian, Israeli, Jewish, Christian or
Muslim. He rejected the humiliation of individuals, which Abdullah took as a
response to his comment about the Israeli soldier's boot. "Suddenly, what
came through in that letter was the humane part of George W.," said a senior
It is impossible to say what might have happened if Bush had not so quickly
mollified the crown prince at the end of August. According to well-placed
sources, the Saudis had conveyed to the United States their intention to
convene an emergency summit meeting of Arab leaders to offer full support to
the Palestinians. They alluded to the possibility of ending all law
enforcement and intelligence cooperation with the United States -- of which
there had been a great deal. And they signaled their intention to reconsider
the Saudi-U.S. military relationship.
Abdullah made this last threat virtually explicit. On Aug. 24, the Saudi
chief of staff, Gen. Salih Ali bin Muhayya, arrived in Washington for a
high-level review of Saudi-U.S. military collaboration. On the 25th, when he
spoke to Bandar by telephone, Abdullah ordered that Salih return immediately
to Riyadh, without meeting any Americans. He also ordered a delegation of
about 40 senior Saudi officers who were about to leave for Washington to get
off their plane. The annual review of military relations was canceled.
"You don't cancel visits like this on the day before," said a senior adviser
to the crown prince. "It was a big, big event, and we downplayed it
completely." In fact, the cancellation received no public attention at all.
But it shocked the Pentagon, according to a senior Defense Department
official who had expected to join the meetings with the Saudis.
Bush's letter transformed his reputation in the small circle of Saudis who
run their country. Before the letter, these people had come to the
conclusion that Bush was a lightweight -- "goofy," as one of them put it.
After the letter, "he was strong, judicious, deliberate. . . . His
reputation went from rock bottom to sky high."
Abdullah decided to share his correspondence with Bush -- his message
delivered by Bandar, which filled 25 pages, and Bush's two-page reply --
with other Arab leaders, including the presidents of Egypt and Syria and the
king of Jordan. He summoned Arafat, who was in South Africa, to Riyadh to
According to Saudi officials, they extracted from Arafat a written pledge to
satisfy Bush's demands for what Arafat had to do to revive the peace talks,
and they sent it back to Washington with their own enthusiastic reply to
Bush's letter. The crown prince sent Bandar back to Washington to try to
convert the letter into policy and action, first by urging the president to
say in public what he had told the Saudis in his letter.
Bandar was convinced that Bush could not have adopted the positions outlined
in his letter in just 36 hours. "This must have been something . . . that
the administration was thinking about, that they just didn't share with
everybody [but] were waiting for the right time," he said. But before he
could pursue the matter, he needed to patch things up with U.S. officials. A
knowledgeable source quoted American officials as telling Bandar when he
returned to Washington, "Hey, you guys scared us." And Bandar reportedly
replied: "The hell with you -- we scared ourselves."
On Friday, Sept. 7, Bandar told U.S. officials that Saudi Arabia was
"pleased and grateful," as one official put it, to discover that it had
misread the Bush administration's attitude toward the Middle East. Saudi
Arabia would continue to try to protect U.S. interests, he promised. The
Americans indicated a willingness to pursue a new Mideast initiative
immediately, Saudi officials said -- a sharp departure from the
administration's policy for seven months.
Over the weekend of Sept. 8 and 9, officials of the two countries discussed
what should happen next: a speech by Bush, or by Powell, or perhaps both?
There was also discussion of a Bush-Arafat meeting at the United Nations
later in September, an important point for the Saudis, who were pleased that
Bush seemed willing to have the meeting. Powell left for a previously
scheduled trip to Latin America on Monday, Sept. 10, with these decisions
Even without the final decisions, Bandar was euphoric. After months in what
he called "a yellow mood" over the deteriorating situation in the Middle
East, "suddenly I felt the same feeling I had as we were going to Madrid [to
the peace conference that followed the Gulf War in 1991], that we really
were going to have a major initiative here that could save all of us from
ourselves -- mostly -- and from each other."
So "the happiest man in the world that night, on Monday night, was Bandar
bin Sultan. I was in the [indoor] swimming pool [of the McLean residence],
smoking a cigar. I gave myself a day off because I worked the whole weekend.
I had been to Saudi Arabia . . . out with the [Bush] response, back with our
response. I worked on the weekend up to 3 o'clock, 4 o'clock in the morning.
. . . I worked all Monday. And I said to my office, Tuesday I'm taking the
Tuesday was Sept. 11. Instead of a day off, Bandar got the worst crisis of
his career. Dreams of a new Mideast peace initiative evaporated. The
realization that most of the hijackers were Saudis "fell on me . . . like
the whole house collapsed over my head," Bandar said later. He couldn't
imagine a way to "do more damage or worse damage to Islam or to Saudi
The Washington Post today prints fascinating details into US-Saudi
relationship as part of a 3-part series.
Its like going through a John Le Carre novel; Saudis funding the Contras in
Nicaragua; bank rolling the Italian right-wing Christian Democrats in
elections; millions to Nancy Reagan; Barbara Bush; and of course to the
Read and reflect; these are the guardians of Islam's holy places.
Monday, February 11, 2002
Marriage of Convenience: The U.S.-Saudi Alliance
Oil for Security Fueled Close Ties
But Major Differences Led to Tensions
By Robert G. Kaiser and David Ottaway
The Washington Post
The worst day in Saudi-American relations was Oct. 20, 1973, when Saudi King
Faisal joined an Arab oil embargo against the United States. In a matter of
days, the global oil market was thrown into chaos. Americans waited in long
lines to buy gasoline. Within weeks, the price of oil more than tripled.
Not for the first or last time, the United States had misread the situation
inside Saudi Arabia. When Egypt and Syria launched the Yom Kippur waragainst
Israel that October, American officials said, publicly and privately, that
the Saudis would never join an oil embargo to support their Egyptian and
Syrian allies. But when it became clear that Israel was about to humiliate
the Arabs once again and the Nixon administration asked Congress for an
emergency appropriation of $2.2 billion to pay for arms shipments to Israel,
Faisal yielded to the wishes of the Saudi Ulema, the country's Muslim
elders, and wielded his oil weapon to punish the United States.
The oil embargo, accompanied by production cuts, was short-lived, but it
changed the world. Faisal was pleased to find a way, in March 1974, to lift
it, but by then the price of oil had risen from less than $3 a barrel to
more than $11. It was a change destined to transfer hundreds of billions of
dollars from oil-consuming nations to oil producers, making Saudi Arabia
enormously rich. On the foundation of that wealth and the oil that produced
it, the modern Saudi-American relationship was constructed.
It was constructed urgently by the United States, which was chastened and
scared by the embargo. William E. Simon, one of its architects as the
secretary of Treasury at the time, neatly summarized the United States'
suddenly intense interest in Saudi Arabia on the eve of a visit to the
kingdom in August 1974.
"My visit to Saudi Arabia," Simon wrote in a memorandum, "is an important
next step in the continuing process of establishing the closest possible
partnership with the Saudis. For the U.S. the primary interest is our
continued access to Saudi Arabian oil in adequate quantities . . . at an
acceptable political as well as economic price. We wish to assure that the
Saudis continue to exercise their growing power in oil and monetary matters
with moderation and in ways consistent with our own objectives."
Simon's memo, preserved in his papers at Lafayette College, makes the policy
objective sound quite simple, but the reality was much more complicated, as
the embargo had demonstrated. The sharing of power between the secular and
religious authorities of Saudi Arabia is one of the many factors that have
made the Saudi-American alliance "one of the most complicated relationships
that we have," in the words of former secretary of state Madeleine K.
The history of the modern relationship -- much of it never publicized and
little understood by Americans -- makes clear that it isn't just
complicated; it is also intensely intimate in many respects but always
colored by profound cultural differences.
Saudi Arabia's new horde of "petrodollars" was on Simon's mind as he
prepared for his visit to the kingdom. The Americans hoped the Saudis would
use much of their windfall to help finance the U.S. budget deficit by buying
American Treasury bills and bonds. Simon wanted to be sure the Saudis had
easy access to these securities. A list of talking points prepared for Simon
shows the arguments Americans made to the Saudis, some of which sound like a
commercial for Salomon Smith Barney or Merrill Lynch: "Investment directly
with the U.S. Treasury can provide great convenience and protection against
the adverse movements otherwise likely to face an investor when placing or
liquidating large investments."
To keep the petrodollars flowing, Simon and Secretary of State Henry A.
Kissinger proposed a Saudi-U.S. Joint Commission on Economic Cooperation.
Its innocuous name disguised its role in pursuing what Simon called "a new
concept of foreign relations . . . to develop a link of relationships"
between the two countries "that will permeate many levels of economic life."
The idea, according to Charles Schotta, a senior Treasury Department
official at the time, was to create a mechanism that would allow Americans
to provide technical advice and assistance to Saudis on a broad range of
issues, from how to create a modern customs service and how to collect
statistics on a fast-growing economy to how to desalinate and distribute
drinking water. The arrangement had one unique aspect: The recipient of the
assistance, Saudi Arabia, paid for all of it.
The Saudis ultimately deposited well over $1 billion in an account at the
Treasury Department in Washington to pay the costs of everything done under
the auspices of the Joint Commission, including the salaries and living
expenses of the Americans who worked for it. Americans administered that
fund and, after consultations with Saudis, decided how it would be spent.
Its impact is visible today in many ways. Americans taught Saudis how to
create the infrastructure of a modern state -- something they had to build
from scratch beginning in the mid-1970s. Not surprisingly, the Americans
taught them to do what Americans do. Schotta put it this way:
"If you were a U.S. businessperson doing business in Saudi Arabia, the
apparatus there would be entirely familiar to you because it looks and
operates very much like its counterpart agencies in the U.S." This begins on
arrival, Schotta said. "Arriving in Saudi Arabia, going through customs and
immigration, is just like arriving in the U.S." The Saudi banking system,
financial markets and many other governmental practices and institutions,
all were shaped or influenced by advisers hired under the Joint Commission.
An Arranged Marriage
Like the work of the Joint Commission, the Saudi-American relationship went
unnoticed, or barely noticed, in the United States. "What the public knew
[about the relationship] was not very much," said Don DeMarino, who lived in
Saudi Arabia from 1985 to 1987 and was the local director of the Joint
Commission. "When I lived there, no Americans were interested."
The Saudis liked it that way, according to an American with experience in
Saudi Arabia. They "have always preferred to operate this relationship on a
small and high pedestal" -- between the most senior officials.
Given the differences between them, the Saudi-American relationship was
always more like an arranged marriage than a romantic union. On one side, a
theocratic monarchy sitting atop one-fourth of the earth's oil, a strict
Islamic regime allowing neither freedom of speech nor any political rights
to its citizens; on the other, the modern world's oldest, most open
democracy and by far its largest consumer of oil. The values, customs and
beliefs of either society would horrify the other if they were imposed upon
it, yet since the time of Simon's visit to Saudi Arabia, the two governments
have played the parts of the closest of friends. And they really have been
close, relying on each other for national security, oil, political support,
money, intelligence and more.
The alliance has been convenient for both parties, giving Saudi Arabia the
security it craved in a dangerous neighborhood while assuring the United
States a reliable supply of oil at -- nearly always -- an affordable price.
But there were inherent sources of tension.
The Saudis have made an ongoing effort to prevent Americans from
understanding them, particularly their politics. What goes on inside the
councils of the ruling House of Saud, the royal family, has remained hidden.
For their part, Americans have given the Saudis ample opportunity to be
cynical about U.S. attitudes and intentions.
From the moment the Saudis became rich, Americans materialized who were
eager to share their wealth -- from reputable giants such as Boeing and
Bechtel to fly-by-night crooks looking for a fast buck, or riyal. The Saudis
have reciprocated with demands that foreign contractors pay "commissions" of
at least 5 percent to well-connected locals, often one of the kingdom's
8,000 princes. Prince Bandar bin Sultan, the Saudi ambassador to the United
States, said recently that of the $400 billion or so Saudi Arabia has spent
over three decades to construct a modern nation, perhaps $50 billion was
lost to corruption or mismanagement. "So what? We did not invent
corruption," he told a PBS interviewer.
The U.S. government, eager to help in countless ways, was always alert for
an economic advantage. U.S. government agencies have always charged the
Saudis top dollar while accepting Saudi generosity whenever it was offered.
For example, U.S. aircraft have used Saudi jet fuel since the first American
AWACs flew to the kingdom in 1979. When the Saudis send a military officer
to a U.S. training facility, they pay a higher tuition than other countries,
including America's NATO allies.
The U.S. Corps of Engineers supervised billions of dollars worth of
construction projects in Saudi Arabia, beginning soon after World War II,
and intensely from 1974 onward. The corps moved its Mediterranean Division
from Italy to Riyadh, renaming it the Middle East Division, and ultimately
divided the country into three districts. Over the years, the corps
supervised construction of three huge bases, including the $6 billion King
Khalid Military City, a Saudi military academy, two deep-water ports for the
Saudi navy, airfields, barracks and housing estates, and much more. When
signed, the contracts for this work were worth more than $14 billion --
several times that much in 2002 dollars.
The Saudis spent well over $100 billion on American weapons, construction,
spare parts and support, and for years have ranked first in the world as a
customer for American arms makers. They bought F-5 and F-16 fighter jets,
AWACs observation aircraft, Abrams M-1 tanks, Bradley armored vehicles,
naval vessels and much more. "Let's face it," said Edward S. Walker Jr.,
former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, "we got a lot
of money out of Saudi Arabia."
Over time, the Saudis became almost as efficient at exporting money to the
United States as they were at exporting oil. There was simply no way the
kingdom -- population 10 million in 1980 -- could absorb the hundreds of
billions of dollars it was earning from oil, even with its aggressive
program of domestic development. The government, through the Saudi Arabia
Monetary Authority, or SAMA, bought securities from the U.S. Treasury while
individual Saudis who benefited from the new oil wealth made investments
with Western financial institutions.
Saudis came to America to learn new skills. In the 1950s and 1960s, the
American-owned Arabian-American Oil Co. (Aramco) sent hundreds of Saudis to
American universities. In the 1970s and '80s, the Saudi government financed
college educations in the United States for tens of thousands of Saudi
students. For Saudi men who were born between the 1940s and 1960s, American
degrees are a badge of membership in the national elite. Today, 21 of the 30
ministers of the Saudi government have American degrees, 16 of them PhDs.
Saudis who studied here often fell in love with America and have chosen to
live parts of their lives here. Chas W. Freeman, who was the U.S. ambassador
to Riyadh in the early '90s, estimates that 100,000 Saudis own houses or
apartments in this country. Saudis can pursue lives here they couldn't dream
of in the kingdom -- the men exploiting creature comforts not permitted at
home and the women enjoying freedoms denied them in Saudi Arabia.
These are "bicultural" Saudis, a term Bandar uses to describe himself, and
they are far from typical of their countrymen. "We are the ones who have to
fight the temptation" to assume they are typical of the majority of Saudi
Arabians, Bandar said.
Saudis have used their money to make new American friends or reward old
ones. In 1991, the governor of Arkansas asked Saudi Arabia to contribute to
a new center of Middle East studies at his state university. There was no
reply for more than a year. Then, in November 1992, the governor got a call
from King Fahd, who was calling to congratulate Bill Clinton on being
elected president of the United States. Fahd told Clinton the Saudi
government had decided to give $20 million to fund the Middle East studies
In 1985, Fahd gave $1 million to first lady Nancy Reagan's "Just Say No"
anti-drug program. In 1989, the king gave another million to first lady
Barbara Bush's campaign against illiteracy. The Saudis have contributed to
every modern president's presidential library, according to a Saudi source.
Bandar has made a number of charitable donations, including a
multimillion-dollar gift to Children's Hospital in Washington. In 1991, he
put up $250,000 to pay for the Disabled American Veterans winter sports
clinic. He has also used money to do favors for American officials.
In a more substantive gesture of friendship, the Saudi envoy made a secret
trip to Rome to deposit $10 million into a bank account in Vatican City at
the request of William J. Casey, President Ronald Reagan's
entrepreneurial -- and secretive -- director of central intelligence. The
money was intended for the coffers of Italy's Christian Democratic Party to
be used against the Italian communists in an Italian election.
Not long afterward, in June 1984, Robert C. "Bud" McFarlane, Reagan's
national security adviser, told Bandar that the contra rebels in Nicaragua
were running out of money. Congress would not let the administration give
them more, a blow to Reagan's policies, McFarlane explained. The contras
were anti-communists fighting a civil war against Nicaragua's leftist
Sandinista regime -- not a matter of great concern to the Saudis, but Bandar
got the message.
Several days later, he came back to McFarlane with the news that the Saudis
would secretly put up $1 million a month for the contras. Later, the stipend
was doubled. Ultimately, Saudi contributions to the contras totaled more
than $30 million. They were supposed to be a secret but became known when
the Iran-contra scandal erupted.
Americans who have worked with the Saudis in official capacities often
remain connected to them when they leave public office, from former
president George H.W. Bush, who has given speeches for cash in Saudi Arabia
since leaving office, to many previous ambassadors and military officers
stationed in the kingdom. In some cases, these connections have been
Walter Cutler, who served two tours as the U.S. ambassador in Saudi Arabia,
now runs Meridian International Center in Washington, an organization that
promotes international understanding through education and exchanges. Saudi
donors have been "very supportive" of the center, Cutler said. Walker, the
former assistant secretary of state for Near Eastern affairs, is president
of the Middle East Institute in Washington, which promotes understanding
with the Arab world. Its board chairman is former senator Wyche Fowler,
ambassador to Riyadh in the second Clinton administration. Saudi
contributions covered $200,000 of the institute's $1.5 million budget last
year, Walker said.
Bandar has told associates that he makes a point of staying close to
officials who have worked with Saudi Arabia after they leave government
service. "If the reputation then builds that the Saudis take care of friends
when they leave office," Bandar once observed, according to a knowledgeable
source, "you'd be surprised how much better friends you have who are just
coming into office."
A Secret Deal
Secrecy is a regular feature of Saudi-American interactions. It was an
important part of the worst moment in the relationship between the 1973 oil
embargo and Sept. 11. Once again, Bandar was the central actor.
Though the Saudis were easily America's biggest customer for armaments, they
resented the process they had to go through to acquire the most advanced
U.S. systems. Twice they survived showdown votes in Congress when friends of
Israel opposed the sale of advanced aircraft to them. And on other occasions
administrations had to evade congressional opposition to sell weapons to
Riyadh. The United States refused to sell some kinds of advanced weapons to
the Saudis, including missiles. So the Saudis bought from other countries,
too, including Britain, France and -- in one deal that caught the United
States by surprise -- China.
In secret talks that began in China in 1985, Bandar negotiated a
billion-dollar purchase of Chinese CSS2-class missiles with a range of about
1,500 miles, or enough to reach Turkey and Israel from Saudi territory. The
United States -- and Israel -- failed to discover what was going on for two
years. When intelligence agencies in both countries realized what had
happened, they were livid. The State Department instructed Hume Horan, the
recently arrived U.S. ambassador in Riyadh, to see King Fahd in March 1988
to deliver a stern message expressing "surprise and disapproval of this
action," as Horan recalled in an interview.
Horan had served as the No. 2 man in the embassy from 1972 to 1977. He had
wide-ranging contacts in Saudi society. He was known in the foreign service
as America's best Arabic linguist and as a scholarly student of the Arab
world. He was the son of an Iranian aristocrat who had been Iran's foreign
minister and an American mother, a fact known to the Saudis, who have never
liked the Iranians.
Horan said he knew the king would be offended by the verbal spanking he had
been ordered to deliver, so he called Washington to confirm that officials
there understood the import of their instructions. Yes, he was told --
deliver the message. He did so. When he returned to the embassy, he found a
new telegram from Washington revoking his previous instructions -- which he
had just carried out. "My goose was cooked," he recalled.
Bandar had persuaded senior officials of the Reagan administration not to
deliver an official protest to Fahd. Bandar reassured the Americans that the
missiles would be deployed in a way that made clear they were no threat to
Israel. They had a conventional warhead and were intended to deter Iraq and
Iran, Saudi's traditionally hostile neighbor, and would be used only in
retaliation, the Saudis said.
The administration sent Philip Habib, a retired undersecretary of state then
serving as a special Mideast peace envoy, to Riyadh to try to mend fences
with Fahd. Habib brought Horan to his meeting with the king, a diplomatic
mission that has never previously been described.
Fahd was clearly furious with the ambassador, Horan recounted, and asked
Habib, in front of him, to have Horan replaced. When Habib raised the issue
of the missiles, the king said angrily that he had told Horan "to keep his
nose out of it." He complained to Habib about Horan's Iranian ancestry.
The Reagan administration decided to quickly replace Horan by bringing back
his predecessor, Cutler, also a foreign service professional, but not an
Arabic speaker and scholar like Horan. The decision was so quick that even
before Horan could leave the country, the State Department asked him to seek
Saudi approval for Cutler's reappointment as ambassador. This was a mission
that humiliated Horan, as he makes clear nearly 14 years later.
"They made us kowtow," he said. Successfully forcing the Americans to
replace their ambassador gave the Saudis a palpable psychological edge in
their dealings with the United States. "The American ambassador's influence
ended in Riyadh," Horan said. Henceforth, Bandar dominated the relationship
When Iraqi troops marched into Kuwait in August 1990, the oil-for-security
bargain at the center of the Saudi-American relationship was fulfilled.
Saddam Hussein threatened the world's greatest oil basin in and around the
Persian Gulf, with Saudi Arabia at its center. Within months, half a million
American soldiers had arrived in Saudi Arabia preparing for Desert Storm, a
massive military campaign to expel the Iraqis from Kuwait.
This huge deployment was made without any formal agreements. The Americans
promised to withdraw from Saudi Arabia when the job was done, or when asked
to leave, but they never completely left. About 5,000 U.S. troops remain
today, and their presence has become a source of controversy.
Saudi leaders have been criticized by Islamic extremists abroad and
religious leaders inside the kingdom for allowing the American military to
become a seemingly permanent presence in the land of Islam's two holiest
shrines in Mecca and Medina. The ruling House of Saud is particularly
sensitive to the views of its Ulema because it depends on their support for
Muslim clerics have been partners in power in Saudi Arabia since the 18th
century, when the king's ancestor, Mohammed Ibn Saud, made a deal with
Mohammed ibn-Abd al-Wahhab, a charismatic Muslim who led a fundamentalist
religious revival in Arabia. From that moment to the present day, the House
of Saud has ruled Arabia (as it has for most of the past 250 years) in
concert with the leaders of the Wahhabi religious establishment.
Fahd pleaded and prodded to win a reluctant endorsement from his Islamic
elders. The 1990 fatwa, or religious edict, issued by the most influential
elder, Sheikh Abdel-Aziz Bin Baz, suggested this reluctance: "Even though
the Americans are, in the conservative religious view, equivalent to
nonbelievers, as they are not Muslims, they deserve support because they are
here to defend Islam."
Many other members of the Ulema accepted this conclusion only reluctantly,
or not at all, according to Saudi sources. But first the Bush and then the
Clinton administrations decided that as long as Hussein remained in power
and posed a threat to his neighbors, the United States would need the
facilities provided by Saudi Arabia, particularly the Prince Sultan Air
There, the Pentagon has built a state-of-the-art command center that it used
to coordinate the air war against Afghanistan.
In the first flush of victorious enthusiasm after the Gulf War, the Saudis
were happy to pick up much of the tab for the allies who helped defend
them -- a tab of perhaps $60 billion. And the Saudis began an aggressive
arms acquisition program -- $33 billion more for America's arms makers. But
by the mid-1990s, the Saudis could no longer afford these purchases. They
fell $6 billion to $7 billion into arrears and had to stretch out some
payments and slow down the delivery of F-16s to avoid canceling contracts.
Plans to buy more aircraft were shelved.
With help from European and American allies, the Saudis could defeat
Hussein, but they could not prop up oil prices. From a peak of $227 billion
in 1981, Saudi oil income fell below $60 billion a year in the '90s to as
low as $35 billion in 1998 (all these are expressed in constant, 2000
dollars). This led to big deficits in the Saudi budget and severe cuts in
military spending. Even the $80 million to $100 million the Saudis paid
annually to cover local costs of the U.S. military presence was becoming a
New political problems arose as well. With the inauguration of Clinton in
1993, Bandar and the Saudis lost their best friends, the comrades-in-arms
from the Gulf War of the first Bush administration. Clinton wasn't as
interested in the Gulf as Bush had been, and Bandar never had the access to
the new administration that he had to the old.
Bandar -- by his own admission -- got bored with his job and began to spend
more time at his English country estate or in his Aspen, Colo., retreat.
"The Saudi-American relationship went into auto-pilot basically," said
Bandar, himself a former Saudi warplane pilot. "There was nothing dangerous
that could derail it or require constant watch."
Then in 1995 and 1996, terrorists attacked American targets in Saudi Arabia,
in Riyadh and then at Khobar Towers. Twenty-four Americans were killed in
the two incidents. The perpetrators of both had ties to Saudi
fundamentalists. Four men who confessed to the Riyadh bombing were quickly
beheaded -- so quickly that American investigators were given no chance to
interview them. The four said they were inspired by Osama bin Laden.
American investigators also complained about limited access to the Khobar
The United States reacted to Khobar Towers by moving its personnel to a
remote desert location and sending all dependents home. Americans serving in
Saudi Arabia were put on short tours of duty, from 60 days to a year.
Meanwhile, Saudi religious leaders were pursuing their own agenda throughout
the Muslim world, funding mosques and schools from Turkey to the Far East
and actively supporting the Taliban movement in Afghanistan. They could do
these things with the generous donations of Saudi citizens, led by members
of the royal family, who consider charity a fundamental part of life and
give primarily to religious institutions. Saudi Arabia's Wahhabi clerics
made no secret of their proselytizing ambitions.
According to a Saudi analyst, Nawaf E. Obaid, the United States, and
particularly U.S. intelligence agencies, never grasped the influence of the
Wahhabi elders on Saudi policies, from the time of the 1973 oil embargo
through the period of Saudi support for the Taliban. In a Harvard master's
thesis, the Saudi-born Obaid concluded that "U.S. analysts have
underestimated, overlooked or misunderstood the nature, strength and goals
of the Wahhabi movement in Saudi Arabia, as well as the extent to which the
secular leaders are beholden to this group."
Obaid ended his prescient paper with a warning that Saudi Arabia was
entering a period of "rapid and enormous change" featuring dramatic
population growth, decreasing oil revenue and an uncertain royal succession.
"In this situation," he predicted, "it is likely that the religious
establishment will gain a relatively larger share of power and, therefore,
represent a greater challenge to the U.S."
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Written a month after the 9/11 tragedy, Edward Said's article exposing the
false premise of Sam Huntington's "Clash of Civilizations" makes particular
sense, now that we are entering the next phase of the war against "The Axis
However, is it possible that Huntington may be right and Edward Said wrong?
Irrespective, what are our responsibilities? How do we expose the real Axis
of Evil--US/Israel/India--to ordinary Americans, Canadians and Europeans.
The challenge to change public opinion in the west is more important than to
preach to the converted and win kudos.
Read and reflect.
October 22, 2001
The Clash of Ignorance
by Edward W. Said
Samuel Huntington's article "The Clash of Civilizations?" appeared in the
Summer 1993 issue of Foreign Affairs, where it immediately attracted a
surprising amount of attention and reaction. Because the article was
intended to supply Americans with an original thesis about "a new phase" in
world politics after the end of the cold war, Huntington's terms of argument
seemed compellingly large, bold, even visionary. He very clearly had his eye
on rivals in the policy-making ranks, theorists such as Francis Fukuyama and
his "end of history" ideas, as well as the legions who had celebrated the
onset of globalism, tribalism and the dissipation of the state. But they, he
allowed, had understood only some aspects of this new period. He was about
to announce the "crucial, indeed a central, aspect" of what "global politics
is likely to be in the coming years." Unhesitatingly he pressed on:
"It is my hypothesis that the fundamental source of conflict in this new
world will not be primarily ideological or primarily economic. The great
divisions among humankind and the dominating source of conflict will be
cultural. Nation states will remain the most powerful actors in world
affairs, but the principal conflicts of global politics will occur between
nations and groups of different civilizations. The clash of civilizations
will dominate global politics. The fault lines between civilizations will be
the battle lines of the future."
Most of the argument in the pages that followed relied on a vague notion of
something Huntington called "civilization identity" and "the interactions
among seven or eight [sic] major civilizations," of which the conflict
between two of them, Islam and the West, gets the lion's share of his
attention. In this belligerent kind of thought, he relies heavily on a 1990
article by the veteran Orientalist Bernard Lewis, whose ideological colors
are manifest in its title, "The Roots of Muslim Rage." In both articles, the
personification of enormous entities called "the West" and "Islam" is
recklessly affirmed, as if hugely complicated matters like identity and
culture existed in a cartoonlike world where Popeye and Bluto bash each
other mercilessly, with one always more virtuous pugilist getting the upper
hand over his adversary. Certainly neither Huntington nor Lewis has much
time to spare for the internal dynamics and plurality of every civilization,
or for the fact that the major contest in most modern cultures concerns the
definition or interpretation of each culture, or for the unattractive
possibility that a great deal of demagogy and downright ignorance is
involved in presuming to speak for a whole religion or civilization. No, the
West is the West, and Islam Islam.
The challenge for Western policy-makers, says Huntington, is to make sure
that the West gets stronger and fends off all the others, Islam in
particular. More troubling is Huntington's assumption that his perspective,
which is to survey the entire world from a perch outside all ordinary
attachments and hidden loyalties, is the correct one, as if everyone else
were scurrying around looking for the answers that he has already found. In
fact, Huntington is an ideologist, someone who wants to make "civilizations"
and "identities" into what they are not: shut-down, sealed-off entities that
have been purged of the myriad currents and countercurrents that animate
human history, and that over centuries have made it possible for that
history not only to contain wars of religion and imperial conquest but also
to be one of exchange, cross-fertilization and sharing. This far less
visible history is ignored in the rush to highlight the ludicrously
compressed and constricted warfare that "the clash of civilizations" argues
is the reality. When he published his book by the same title in 1996,
Huntington tried to give his argument a little more subtlety and many, many
more footnotes; all he did, however, was confuse himself and demonstrate
what a clumsy writer and inelegant thinker he was.
The basic paradigm of West versus the rest (the cold war opposition
reformulated) remained untouched, and this is what has persisted, often
insidiously and implicitly, in discussion since the terrible events of
September 11. The carefully planned and horrendous, pathologically motivated
suicide attack and mass slaughter by a small group of deranged militants has
been turned into proof of Huntington's thesis. Instead of seeing it for what
it is--the capture of big ideas (I use the word loosely) by a tiny band of
crazed fanatics for criminal purposes--international luminaries from former
Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto to Italian Prime Minister Silvio
Berlusconi have pontificated about Islam's troubles, and in the latter's
case have used Huntington's ideas to rant on about the West's superiority,
how "we" have Mozart and Michelangelo and they don't. (Berlusconi has since
made a halfhearted apology for his insult to "Islam.")
But why not instead see parallels, admittedly less spectacular in their
destructiveness, for Osama bin Laden and his followers in cults like the
Branch Davidians or the disciples of the Rev. Jim Jones at Guyana or the
Japanese Aum Shinrikyo? Even the normally sober British weekly The
Economist, in its issue of September 22-28, can't resist reaching for the
vast generalization, praising Huntington extravagantly for his "cruel and
sweeping, but nonetheless acute" observations about Islam. "Today," the
journal says with unseemly solemnity, Huntington writes that "the world's
billion or so Muslims are 'convinced of the superiority of their culture,
and obsessed with the inferiority of their power.'" Did he canvas 100
Indonesians, 200 Moroccans, 500 Egyptians and fifty Bosnians? Even if he
did, what sort of sample is that?
Uncountable are the editorials in every American and European newspaper and
magazine of note adding to this vocabulary of gigantism and apocalypse, each
use of which is plainly designed not to edify but to inflame the reader's
indignant passion as a member of the "West," and what we need to do.
Churchillian rhetoric is used inappropriately by self-appointed combatants
in the West's, and especially America's, war against its haters, despoilers,
destroyers, with scant attention to complex histories that defy such
reductiveness and have seeped from one territory into another, in the
process overriding the boundaries that are supposed to separate us all into
divided armed camps.
This is the problem with unedifying labels like Islam and the West: They
mislead and confuse the mind, which is trying to make sense of a disorderly
reality that won't be pigeonholed or strapped down as easily as all that. I
remember interrupting a man who, after a lecture I had given at a West Bank
university in 1994, rose from the audience and started to attack my ideas as
"Western," as opposed to the strict Islamic ones he espoused. "Why are you
wearing a suit and tie?" was the first retort that came to mind. "They're
Western too." He sat down with an embarrassed smile on his face, but I
recalled the incident when information on the September 11 terrorists
started to come in: how they had mastered all the technical details required
to inflict their homicidal evil on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon and
the aircraft they had commandeered. Where does one draw the line between
"Western" technology and, as Berlusconi declared, "Islam's" inability to be
a part of "modernity"?
One cannot easily do so, of course. How finally inadequate are the labels,
generalizations and cultural assertions. At some level, for instance,
primitive passions and sophisticated know-how converge in ways that give the
lie to a fortified boundary not only between "West" and "Islam" but also
between past and present, us and them, to say nothing of the very concepts
of identity and nationality about which there is unending disagreement and
debate. A unilateral decision made to draw lines in the sand, to undertake
crusades, to oppose their evil with our good, to extirpate terrorism and, in
Paul Wolfowitz's nihilistic vocabulary, to end nations entirely, doesn't
make the supposed entities any easier to see; rather, it speaks to how much
simpler it is to make bellicose statements for the purpose of mobilizing
collective passions than to reflect, examine, sort out what it is we are
dealing with in reality, the interconnectedness of innumerable lives, "ours"
as well as "theirs."
In a remarkable series of three articles published between January and March
1999 in Dawn, Pakistan's most respected weekly, the late Eqbal Ahmad,
writing for a Muslim audience, analyzed what he called the roots of the
religious right, coming down very harshly on the mutilations of Islam by
absolutists and fanatical tyrants whose obsession with regulating personal
behavior promotes "an Islamic order reduced to a penal code, stripped of its
humanism, aesthetics, intellectual quests, and spiritual devotion." And this
"entails an absolute assertion of one, generally de-contextualized, aspect
of religion and a total disregard of another. The phenomenon distorts
religion, debases tradition, and twists the political process wherever it
unfolds." As a timely instance of this debasement, Ahmad proceeds first to
present the rich, complex, pluralist meaning of the word jihad and then goes
on to show that in the word's current confinement to indiscriminate war
against presumed enemies, it is impossible "to recognize the
Islamic--religion, society, culture, history or politics--as lived and
experienced by Muslims through the ages." The modern Islamists, Ahmad
concludes, are "concerned with power, not with the soul; with the
mobilization of people for political purposes rather than with sharing and
alleviating their sufferings and aspirations. Theirs is a very limited and
time-bound political agenda." What has made matters worse is that similar
distortions and zealotry occur in the "Jewish" and "Christian" universes of
It was Conrad, more powerfully than any of his readers at the end of the
nineteenth century could have imagined, who understood that the distinctions
between civilized London and "the heart of darkness" quickly collapsed in
extreme situations, and that the heights of European civilization could
instantaneously fall into the most barbarous practices without preparation
or transition. And it was Conrad also, in The Secret Agent (1907), who
described terrorism's affinity for abstractions like "pure science" (and by
extension for "Islam" or "the West"), as well as the terrorist's ultimate
For there are closer ties between apparently warring civilizations than most
of us would like to believe; both Freud and Nietzsche showed how the traffic
across carefully maintained, even policed boundaries moves with often
terrifying ease. But then such fluid ideas, full of ambiguity and skepticism
about notions that we hold on to, scarcely furnish us with suitable,
practical guidelines for situations such as the one we face now. Hence the
altogether more reassuring battle orders (a crusade, good versus evil,
freedom against fear, etc.) drawn out of Huntington's alleged opposition
between Islam and the West, from which official discourse drew its
vocabulary in the first days after the September 11 attacks. There's since
been a noticeable de-escalation in that discourse, but to judge from the
steady amount of hate speech and actions, plus reports of law enforcement
efforts directed against Arabs, Muslims and Indians all over the country,
the paradigm stays on.
One further reason for its persistence is the increased presence of Muslims
all over Europe and the United States. Think of the populations today of
France, Italy, Germany, Spain, Britain, America, even Sweden, and you must
concede that Islam is no longer on the fringes of the West but at its
center. But what is so threatening about that presence? Buried in the
collective culture are memories of the first great Arab-Islamic conquests,
which began in the seventh century and which, as the celebrated Belgian
historian Henri Pirenne wrote in his landmark book Mohammed and Charlemagne
(1939), shattered once and for all the ancient unity of the Mediterranean,
destroyed the Christian-Roman synthesis and gave rise to a new civilization
dominated by northern powers (Germany and Carolingian France) whose mission,
he seemed to be saying, is to resume defense of the "West" against its
historical-cultural enemies. What Pirenne left out, alas, is that in the
creation of this new line of defense the West drew on the humanism, science,
philosophy, sociology and historiography of Islam, which had already
interposed itself between Charlemagne's world and classical antiquity. Islam
is inside from the start, as even Dante, great enemy of Mohammed, had to
concede when he placed the Prophet at the very heart of his Inferno.
Then there is the persisting legacy of monotheism itself, the Abrahamic
religions, as Louis Massignon aptly called them. Beginning with Judaism and
Christianity, each is a successor haunted by what came before; for Muslims,
Islam fulfills and ends the line of prophecy. There is still no decent
history or demystification of the many-sided contest among these three
followers--not one of them by any means a monolithic, unified camp--of the
most jealous of all gods, even though the bloody modern convergence on
Palestine furnishes a rich secular instance of what has been so tragically
irreconcilable about them. Not surprisingly, then, Muslims and Christians
speak readily of crusades and jihads, both of them eliding the Judaic
presence with often sublime insouciance. Such an agenda, says Eqbal Ahmad,
is "very reassuring to the men and women who are stranded in the middle of
the ford, between the deep waters of tradition and modernity."
But we are all swimming in those waters, Westerners and Muslims and others
alike. And since the waters are part of the ocean of history, trying to plow
or divide them with barriers is futile. These are tense times, but it is
better to think in terms of powerful and powerless communities, the secular
politics of reason and ignorance, and universal principles of justice and
injustice, than to wander off in search of vast abstractions that may give
momentary satisfaction but little self-knowledge or informed analysis. "The
Clash of Civilizations" thesis is a gimmick like "The War of the Worlds,"
better for reinforcing defensive self-pride than for critical understanding
of the bewildering interdependence of our time.
Here is the last of the 3-part series on the Marriage of Convenience between
the US and Saudi Arabia; or better described as the "Axle of Evil."
After 60 years of propping up the world's worst racist and oppressive
regime, the US should have known that the 'chickens will one day come home
to roost.' Malcolm X could not have said it better.
Read and reflect.
Tuesday, February 12
Marriage of Convenience: The U.S.-Saudi Alliance
After Sept. 11, Severe Tests Loom for Relationship
By David B. Ottaway and Robert G. Kaiser
The Washington Post
The day after the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center,
Crown Prince Abdullah ibn Abdulaziz, the Saudi leader, summoned Oil Minister
Ali Nuaimi. Saudi Arabia, they quickly decided, would renege on a recent
promise to other OPEC nations to cut oil production. Instead, it would rush
an extra 9 million barrels of oil to the United States to ensure ample
supplies and show Saudi support for a wounded ally.
For the next two weeks, using its own tankers, Saudi Arabia shipped 500,000
barrels or more a day to the United States. This extra Saudi oil helped
reduce the price of crude from $28 a barrel in late August to less than $20
a few weeks later. Ever since, American consumers have enjoyed cheap
Though it was known in the oil industry, the Saudis never advertised or
explained their decision. Abdullah's instant gesture of support for the
United States went unnoticed and unappreciated. Instead, Saudi Arabia became
the target of angry American criticism.
Politicians and the news media blamed Saudis for financing Osama bin Laden's
terrorist network, supporting the Taliban movement that harbored bin Laden
in Afghanistan and creating conditions that made it easy for him to recruit
the terrorists who had attacked the United States, 15 of whom were Saudi
For the Saudis, the timing of these attacks on them was painfully ironic.
Just days before Sept. 11, they thought they had made an important
breakthrough by persuading the Bush administration to change course and
seriously engage in the Middle East "peace process." Now, unexpectedly, the
Saudi-American relationship was under more strain than at any time since
1973, when the Saudis imposed an oil embargo on the United States because of
its support for Israel.
Since Sept. 11, "the veil has been lifted and the American people see a
double game that they're not terribly pleased with," said Samuel "Sandy" R.
Berger, President Bill Clinton's national security adviser, who considers
the relationship with Saudi Arabia an "extremely important" one. "They see a
[Saudi] regime that is repressive with respect to the extremists that
threaten them, but more than tolerant -- indeed, the more we find out,
beneficent -- to the general movement of extreme Islamists in the region."
The Saudi government has become so alarmed about expressions of American
hostility toward the kingdom that it has launched a multimillion-dollar
public relations campaign to try to restore confidence in the Saudi-American
"special relationship," and to guide it through what Prince Bandar bin
Sultan, the Saudi ambassador here since 1983, describes as "a massive storm
called 11th September."
But the strains in the relationship may be beyond the reach of public
relations. For a variety of reasons, said policymakers and American
specialists on Saudi Arabia, U.S. relations with the kingdom will be tested
in new ways in the years ahead.
These experts see serious disagreements emerging between the Bush
administration and the Saudi ruling family over how to deal with Iraq and
Iran. Already, the two sides are at odds over Israeli Prime Minister Ariel
Sharon's hard-line policy toward the Palestinians and PLO leader Yasser
Arafat, an issue that almost ruptured their relations last August.
The future of the U.S. military presence in the kingdom is also in question.
At stake for the United States is its continued use of the Prince Sultan Air
Base southeast of Riyadh, where the Pentagon has built a state-of-the-art
command center that has been used to help direct U.S. war operations in
Afghanistan and to orchestrate military activities throughout the Persian
Gulf. The air base hosts 5,000 U.S. servicemen, mostly Air Force personnel,
and American aircraft used to monitor southern Iraq.
The Washington Post last month quoted a senior Saudi official as saying his
government might ask the United States to stop using the air base on a
regular basis once the war in Afghanistan is over. White House Chief of
Staff Andrew H. Card Jr. confirmed in an interview with CNN that the Saudis
want a reduction of U.S. forces, and said the United States is interested in
"reducing the [American] footprint" in Saudi Arabia. Card predicted that "it
will happen over time."
U.S. policymakers and analysts also express concern about the ability of the
Saud family to handle what may be a rapid turnover of kings in the next few
years and its political resolve to undertake pressing domestic reforms
judged critical to Saudi Arabia's future stability.
"The mass murder of September 11th . . . has raised many questions in the
minds of Americans and others about Saudi Arabia and our relationship to
it," said Chas. W. Freeman Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to Riyadh who is
now president of the Middle East Policy Council. "Is there something rotten
in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia? Is it still stable enough to be a reliable
partner of the United States in the future?"
"If one takes the president's question seriously, 'Are you with us or
against us?' " Freeman continued, referring to President Bush's rhetorical
challenge to the nations of the world after Sept. 11, "where does Saudi
Arabia really stand?"
A Ruler Of Two Minds
One of the principal uncertainties is Abdullah, who has progressively taken
over day-to-day rule of the kingdom since his half-brother, King Fahd, 79,
suffered a debilitating stroke in 1995. Fahd is now attended by 26
physicians, according to an American adviser to the Saudi government; while
he remains alive, Abdullah, 78, lacks full royal authority to make decisions
on his own.
Abdullah appears to be of two minds about the kingdom's relationship to the
United States. On the one hand, he firmly defends his country's alliance
with America. "Our relationship has been very strong for over six decades,
and I don't see any reason why there should be a change," he told visiting
editors of The Post in Riyadh last month. But he has also provoked a debate
within the ruling Saud family over whether the American military presence
has become more of a political liability than a security benefit for the
kingdom, according to Saudi sources. And he has stood by Saudi religious
authorities who propagate the Islamic fundamentalism that alarms Americans.
In the interview last month, Abdullah discussed the strictures that govern
Saudi society, where the Koran is described as the national constitution.
The rules banning alcohol, denying women the right to drive or reveal their
faces in public and banning non-Islamic religious practice "emanate from the
fact that we are home to the House of God [Mecca] and the Prophet's Mosque
[Medina]. The presence of the two holy mosques guide what we can do. . . .
Our faith and our culture is what drives this country."
Abdullah has been described as less devoted to the United States than
Fahd -- more of a Saudi nationalist, and more sensitive to Saudi public
opinion that may be skeptical of the royal family's dependence on foreign
support. Saudi analysts say Abdullah is much more popular than Fahd, in part
because of his populist reputation as a pious man who listens to Saudi
But if Abdullah is an independent figure in the royal family, he has also
demonstrated continued respect for the fundamental, oil-for-security bargain
at the heart of Saudi-U.S. relations. Even when he toyed with a rupture in
political relations with the United States last August, Abdullah ruled out
any use of the oil weapon, according to a senior Saudi official. And it was
Abdullah who decided to pump more oil for the Americans on Sept. 12.
It was also Abdullah who, in 1998, pushed through a historic reversal in
Saudi oil policy and invited U.S. oil companies, whose Saudi interests were
nationalized in 1975, back into the kingdom. The decision gave ExxonMobil
and four other American companies a favored position in multibillion-dollar
deals to develop Saudi Arabia's vast natural gas reserves.
That decision illustrated Saudi anxiety long before Sept. 11 that ties with
the United States were deteriorating. Abdullah wanted to reverse the
deterioration, according to senior Saudi officials, and decided to use the
kingdom's vast natural resources to try to reinvigorate the American
"Is any Saudi king going to take a chance on its relations with the United
States? Absolutely not. It would be suicidal," said a Saudi official, one of
several Saudis who said Abdullah's desire to make the U.S. connection
somewhat less visible is actually intended to strengthen the alliance.
"The Saudis have this strange kind of attitude of not wanting to be seen in
their own circles as having a relationship with the United States, yet
wanting a relationship with the United States," said former secretary of
state Madeleine K. Albright.
Perhaps the most important fact about Abdullah is his age. What happens
after he is gone is uncertain. Several U.S. analysts have compared the Saudi
challenge to that facing the aging Politburo leadership in the final years
of the Soviet Union -- short tenures at the top and many successions.
Next in line is Abdullah's half-brother Prince Sultan, the defense minister
(and Bandar's father). But Sultan is Abdullah's age, and is said to be in
worse health than the crown prince. There is no obvious candidate in line
behind Sultan, raising the possibility of a power struggle in the relatively
A Demographic Dilemma
Whoever is king, Saudi Arabia faces daunting new challenges in the years
ahead that grow out of an immutable fact of Saudi life: The country's
population is growing much faster than its wealth or its ability to create
job opportunities. U.S. analysts say these conditions are creating a social
caldron that can breed Islamic extremism.
Abdullah is a social conservative who has shown little interest in
confronting his country's demographic dilemma. Saudi Arabia has been
probably the fastest-growing nation on Earth. Its population, now about 18
million (plus 5 million or 6 million foreign workers) grew about 4.4 percent
a year from 1980 to 1998. The average Saudi family now has six or seven
children. A population of 33.7 million is projected for 2015.
Per-capita income has dropped from a peak of $19,000 in 1981 to $7,300 in
1997, measured in constant 1997 dollars -- a stunning reversal. Forty-three
percent of the kingdom's 22 million people are 14 years of age or younger,
and unemployment is rampant, according to a study by the Center for
Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).
Saudi schools and universities are graduating students -- 343,000 in 1999 --
far faster than the economy is creating jobs. However, Saudi young people
have shown little interest in taking over the lower-paying jobs held by
foreigners working in the kingdom.
The government can no longer support the generous social welfare system it
created at the height of the oil boom. Nor can it spend to revive its
stagnant economy. From a peak of $227 billion in 1981, its oil revenue
dropped to only $31 billion five years later, and remained at less than $60
billion annually throughout the 1990s (in constant 2000 dollars), according
to the U.S. Department of Energy. This year, oil revenue is projected to
reach only about $48 billion.
Despite their vast reserves, the Saudis have little influence on oil
revenue, which is determined more by global supply and demand than by
anything they can do unilaterally.
Falling state revenue has contributed to a sharp decline in the number of
Saudi students coming to the United States for higher education, a fact that
worries some Saudis. "Our children won't be as close to Americans as we have
been," said one successful Saudi businessman.
Saudi Arabia's rulers do not believe they have a population problem.
"Abdullah won't listen. It's one issue he won't discuss," said a foreigner
who tried to discuss the issue with the crown prince. "The attitude is: The
bigger the population, the better. When we have 45 million people, then you
can talk to us about family planning."
"They look around and see Iran and Iraq with much bigger populations," he
Anthony H. Cordesman, author of the CSIS study, said it was not only
Abdullah who is indifferent to the burgeoning population. "The technocrats
don't listen, either. . . . Only a handful understand the population
problem, and the Saudi clergy doesn't want to hear about it."
A Saudi official said Abdullah was aware of the population problem and had
begun to discuss it. The official said it was an issue that had to be dealt
with gingerly "because of cultural and religious sensitivities."
Abdullah does care about economic reforms, but Cordesman expressed doubt
that the government has found ways to create the jobs it needs. For example,
the Saudis had hoped each $1 billion of investment by foreign oil companies
in the new gas projects would produce 15,000 jobs. But the companies told
the Saudi government the project under discussion could never meet that
"Gas and oil are capital-intensive, not labor-intensive, and so cannot solve
the unemployment problem," said Cordesman.
Another concern among American Saudi specialists is Saudi Arabia's five
Islamic universities, currently churning out thousands of clerics -- many
more than will ever be hired to work in the mosques and religious
institutions of Saudi Arabia. Many end up spreading and promoting the
kingdom's strict brand of Wahhabi Islam at home and abroad, according to
U.S. and Saudi analysts.
"Abdullah doesn't seem to care," said the foreigner who also tried to
discuss the birthrate with the crown prince. One reason for that
indifference, other specialists said, is Abdullah's close ties to the
Wahhabi religious establishment, the Ulema.
Clerics dominate the Saudi education system, which places heavy emphasis on
religious instruction and comparatively little on science and math necessary
for a "real-world job," according to Cordesman. The religious leaders also
control the metaween, the Taliban-like religious police who enforce Saudi
Abdullah is probably the best-placed of any senior Saud family member to
control the kingdom's Wahhabi clerics because of his own reputation for
piety, according to U.S. and Saudi analysts. He has used that stature to
call on them to condemn more forcefully Islamic extremism and terrorism
after Sept. 11, but Abdullah has yet to take any steps to curb their control
of the education system or of the religious police.
Appealing to 'Joe Sixpack'
Last fall, when U.S. politicians and editorial pages lit into Saudi Arabia
for perceived failures to help prevent or fight terrorism, the Saudi
officials who have worked hardest on the Saudi-American relationship were
"Everyone in America was dumping on Saudi Arabia," said Adel Jubeir, a Saudi
diplomat who served for years in Washington and is now foreign policy
adviser to Abdullah.
Jubeir rushed to Washington to plead the Saudi cause on television and
before editorial boards. The hostility they encountered was painful for
Jubeir, Bandar and other Saudis who were accustomed to generally warm
relations with the United States.
Saudi newspapers featured stories about the harassment of Saudis and other
Arabs by American authorities and ordinary citizens angry about the
terrorist attacks. According to numerous Americans and Saudis, many of the
Saudis who usually travel often to the United States stopped coming.
Freeman, the former ambassador to Riyadh who still travels regularly to the
Gulf countries, said after a trip in October, "I did not find a single
businessman or woman in the Gulf who was willing to come to the U.S. for any
Taking a cue from Abdullah, many Saudis repeated the idea that for
inexplicable reasons, the American news media had launched a campaign
against Saudi Arabia.
In an interview, Bandar said saving the relationship would depend on large
measure on "Joe Sixpack" -- the average American. "I believe the Saudi
relationship with America will fall or continue based on how successful we
are to reach the masses of Americans in their homes and villages," he said.
"If we fail there, everything we do with the [American] body politic, with
the elites, government to government, will be irrelevant," he added, because
"the first wind that shakes this relationship it will collapse because it
will have no roots, no basis."
To help regain the mind and heart of Joe Sixpack, the Saudis have turned to
a Washington-based public relations firm, Qorvis Communications Inc., to
design and run a year-long campaign aimed at selling Saudi Arabia to the
Qorvis is still designing a campaign strategy that will target "the average
American" and begin by trying to answer the question, "Is Saudi Arabia a
friend or foe? A lot of people don't know," said one company official.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll confirms that conclusion. A survey
taken last month found that 10 percent of Americans considered Saudi Arabia
an ally, and 14 percent said it was an enemy of the United States.
Fifty-four percent said Saudi Arabia was a friendly country, but not an
Qorvis has already run advertisements in major newspapers and magazines
portraying a dove of peace in flight with the words "two nations, one goal"
and the two countries' flags beneath them. The second phase of the campaign,
according to Qorvis planners, will focus on "the values we share."
But what are those values? Jubeir, the crown prince's foreign policy
adviser, compared the Saudi-American alliance to the Anglo-American
relationship: "You will not find any country [besides Saudi Arabia] with
which you have closer ties or a closer congruence of interests, except maybe
The Saudis have promoted that view for many years, but Americans who have
been deeply involved in the relationship generally don't accept it. Exposure
to the Saudis convinces many Americans that "they" and "we" could hardly be
"These are two countries for which values are immensely important, but the
values they hold are about as different as values can be," said Joseph
McMillan, a Defense Department official who for years was the Saudi desk
officer in the Pentagon's Bureau of International Security Affairs.
Walter B. Slocombe, undersecretary of defense in the Clinton administration,
said Saudi Arabia and the United States are "two political cultures talking
to each other in totally different languages."
And there's another potential problem: The two countries no longer share the
same evaluation of the strategic situation in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia
has achieved a new detente with its traditionally hostile neighbor, Iran,
which the United States still considers a hostile power. The Saudis do not
believe a weakened Saddam Hussein can threaten them, while Americans debate
whether to invade Iraq (a move Saudis say would cause a crisis in relations
with the United States). And the Saudis are staunch defenders of Yasser
Arafat, the Palestinian leader, and his cause.
President Bush appeared to be addressing Saudi concerns last Thursday during
a visit with the Israeli prime minister, when he rejected Sharon's request
to marginalize Arafat and went out of his way to say he was "deeply
concerned about the plight of the average Palestinian." However, these
gestures fall short of the new U.S.-sponsored peace initiative that the
Saudis thought they had persuaded the Bush administration to undertake just
before Sept. 11.
In the face of persistent differences, said a number of American
specialists, U.S. administrations and Saudi governments have created a
veneer of comity that tends to hide small and large disagreements alike.
"When there are disagreements, they go unresolved because resolving them
would require contention and debate and argument," said McMillan, the
Pentagon official who used to help manage the U.S.-Saudi relationship.
In McMillan's words, "What we have is a relationship that is based not on
shared values, but on shared interests" -- security, and oil.
U.S. consumers are actually depending less on Saudi oil; the Saudi share of
U.S. imports fell from 24 percent to 14 percent during the 1990s. The Saudis
now provide about 8 percent of the oil consumed in the United States. But
Saudi Arabia remains the world's dominant producer, because it alone has the
capacity to turn on the spigot in a matter of days and transform the global
oil market, just as Abdullah did on Sept. 12.
Saudi Arabia is the only oil producer capable of increasing production by 2
million barrels a day. This means, according to Fareed Mohamedi, chief
economist at the Petroleum Finance Co., that Saudi Arabia is likely to
remain "the dominant oil player and manager of global oil prices" for the
The Saudi ability to parlay its oil power into political access in
Washington seems assured for years to come, Mohamedi suggested, "especially
if the American consumer wants to consume oil at the rate that they're
become accustomed to, and U.S. politicians will pander to that taste."
Richard Holbrooke, ambassador to the United Nations in the second Clinton
administration, agreed: "Our greatest single failure over the last 25 years
was our failure to reduce our dependence on foreign oil . . . which would
have reduced the leverage of Saudi Arabia."
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.
© 2002 The Washington Post Company
Benjamin R. Barber is a distinguished university professor at the University
of Maryland who wrote the now famous "Jihad vs. McWorld," a book that talked
about the contradictions between brand consumerism of the West and the
growing frustrations of the Islamic world.
In addressing the American audience, Barber poses the question: "Bombing
Hanoi never brought the Vietcong to their knees, and they were only
passionate nationalists, not messianic fundamentalists; do we think we can
bomb into submission the millions who resent, fear and sometimes detest what
they think America means?"
Read and reflect.
January 21, 2002
Beyond Jihad Vs. McWorld
by Benjamin R. Barber
The terrorist attacks of September 11 did without a doubt change the world
forever, but they failed to change the ideological viewpoint of either the
left or the right in any significant way. The warriors and unilateralists of
the right still insist war conducted by an ever-sovereign America is the
only appropriate response to terrorism, while the left continues to talk
about the need for internationalism, interdependency and an approach to
global markets that redresses economic imbalances and thereby reduces the
appeal of extremism--if, in the climate of war patriotism, it talks a little
more quietly than heretofore. The internationalist lobby has a right to grow
more vociferous, however, for what has changed in the wake of September 11
is the relationship between these arguments and political realism (and its
contrary, political idealism). Prior to September 11, realpolitik (though it
could speak with progressive accents, as it did with Ronald Steel and E.H.
Carr before him) belonged primarily to the right--which spurned talk of
human rights and democracy as hopelessly utopian, the blather of romantic
left-wing idealists who preferred to see the world as they wished it to be
rather than as it actually was.
Following September 11, however, the realist tiger changed its stripes:
"Idealistic" internationalism has become the new realism. We face not a
paradigm shift but the occupation of an old paradigm by new tenants.
Democratic globalists are quite abruptly the new realists while the old
realism--especially in its embrace of markets--looks increasingly like a
dangerous and utterly unrealistic dogma opaque to our new realities as
brutally inscribed on the national consciousness by the demonic architects
of September 11. The issue is not whether to pursue a military or a civic
strategy, for both are clearly needed; the issue is how to pursue either
The historical realist doctrine was firmly grounded in an international
politics of sovereign states pursuing their interests in a setting of
shifting alliances where principles could only obstruct the achievement of
sovereign ends that interests alone defined and served. Its mantras--the
clichés of Lord Acton, Henry Morgenthau, George Kennan or, for that matter,
Henry Kissinger--had it that nations have neither permanent friends nor
permanent enemies but only permanent interests; that the enemies of our
enemies are always our friends; that the pursuit of democratic ideals or
human rights can often obfuscate our true interests; that coalitions and
alliances in war or peace are tolerable only to the degree that we retain
our sovereign independence in all critical decisions and policies; and that
international institutions are to be embraced, ignored or discarded
exclusively on the basis of how well they serve our sovereign national
interests, which are entirely separable from the objectives of such
However appealing these mantras may seem, and though upon occasion they
served to counter the hypocritical use of democratic arguments to disguise
interests (as when true democrats attacked Woodrow Wilson's war to make the
world "safe for democracy"), they can no longer be said to represent even a
plausible, let alone a realistic, strategy in our current circumstances. To
understand why, we need to understand how September 11 put a period once and
for all at the end of the old story of American independence.
Many would say the two great world wars of the past century, even as they
proved American power and resilience, were already distinct if unheeded
harbingers of the passing of our sovereignty; for, though fought on foreign
soil, they represented conflicts from which America could not be protected
by its two oceans, struggles whose outcomes would affect an America linked
to the then-nascent global system. Did anyone imagine that America could be
indifferent to the victory of fascism in Europe or Japanese imperialism in
Asia (or, later, of Soviet Communism in Eurasia) as it might once have been
indifferent to the triumph of the British or Belgian or French empires in
Africa? By the end of the twentieth century, irresistible interdependence
was a leitmotif of every ecological, technological and economic event. It
could hardly escape even casual observers that global warming recognizes no
sovereign territory, that AIDS carries no passport, that technology renders
national boundaries increasingly meaningless, that the Internet defies
national regulation, that oil and cocaine addiction circle the planet like
twin plagues and that financial capital and labor resources, like their
anarchic cousins crime and terror, move from country to country with
"wilding" abandon without regard for formal or legal arrangements--acting
informally and illegally whenever traditional institutions stand in their
Most nations understood the significance of these changes well enough, and
well before the end of the past century Europe was already on the way to
forging transnational forms of integration that rendered its member nations'
sovereignty dubious. Not the United States. Wrapped in its national myths of
splendid isolation and blessed innocence (chronicled insightfully by Herman
Melville and Henry James), it held out. How easy it was, encircled by two
oceans and reinforced lately in its belief in sovereign invincibility by the
novel utopia of a missile shield--technology construed as a virtual ocean to
protect us from the world's turmoil and dangers--to persist in the illusion
of sovereignty. The good times of the 1990s facilitated an easy acquiescence
in the founding myths, for in that (suddenly remote) era of prideful
narcissism, other people's troubles and the depredations that were the
collateral damage of America's prosperous and productive global markets
seemed little more than diverting melodramas on CNN's evening "news" soap
Then came September 11. Marauders from the sky, from above and abroad but
also from within and below, sleepers in our midst who somehow were
leveraging our own powers of technology to overcome our might, made a
mockery of our sovereignty, demonstrating that there was no longer any
difference between inside and outside, between domestic and international.
We still don't know authoritatively who precisely sponsored the acts of
September 11 or the bioterror that followed it: What alone has become clear
is that we can no longer assign culpability in the neat nineteenth-century
terms of domestic and foreign. And while we may still seek sovereign
sponsors for acts of terror that have none, the myth of our independence can
no longer be sustained. Nonstate actors, whether they are multinational
corporations or loosely knit terrorist cells, are neither domestic nor
foreign, neither national nor international, neither sovereign entities nor
international organizations. Going on about states that harbor terrorists
(our "allies" Egypt and Saudi Arabia? Our good friend Germany? Or how about
Florida and New Jersey?) simply isn't helpful in catching the bad guys. The
Taliban are gone, and bin Laden will no doubt follow, but terrorism's
network exists in anonymous cells we can neither identify nor capture.
Declaring our independence in a world of perverse and malevolent
interdependence foisted on us by people who despise us comes close to what
political science roughnecks once would have called pissing into the wind.
Pakistan and Saudi Arabia still foster schools that teach hate, and suicide
bombers are still lining up in Palestine for martyrdom missions in numbers
that suggest an open call for a Broadway show.
The American myth of independence is not the only casualty of September 11.
Traditional realist paradigms fail us today also because our adversaries are
no longer motivated by "interest" in any relevant sense, and this makes the
appeal to interest in the fashion of realpolitik and rational-choice theory
seem merely foolish. Markets may be transnational instruments of interests,
and even bin Laden has a kind of "list of demands" (American troops out of
Saudi Arabia, Palestine liberated from Israeli "occupation," down with the
infidel empire), but terrorists are not stubborn negotiators pursuing
rational agendas. Their souls yearn for other days when certainty was
unencumbered, for other worlds where paradise offered other rewards. Their
fanaticism has causes and their zeal has its reasons, but market conceptions
of interest will not succeed in fathoming them. Bombing Hanoi never brought
the Vietcong to their knees, and they were only passionate nationalists, not
messianic fundamentalists; do we think we can bomb into submission the
millions who resent, fear and sometimes detest what they think America
Or take the realist epigram about nations having neither permanent friends
nor permanent enemies. It actually turns out that America's friends, defined
not by interests but by principles, are its best allies and most reliable
coalition partners in the war on terrorism. Even conservative realists have
acknowledged that Israel--whatever one thinks of Sharon's policies--is a
formidable ally in part because it is the sole democracy in the Middle East.
By the same token, we have been consistently betrayed by an odd assortment
of allies born of shifting alliances that have been forged and broken in
pursuit of "friendship" with the enemies of our enemies: Iraq, Iran and
those onetime allies of convenience in the war against the Soviets, the
Taliban. Then there are the countless Islamic tyrannies that are on our side
only because their enemies have in turn been the enemies of American
economic interests or threats to the flow of oil. I will leave it to others
to determine how prudent our realist logic is in embracing Egypt, Saudi
Arabia, Yemen or Pakistan, whose official media and state-sponsored schools
often promulgate the very propaganda and lies we have joined with them to
On the other hand, the key principles at stake--democracy and pluralism, a
space for religion safe from state and commercial interference, and a space
for government safe from sectarianism and the ambitions of
theocrats--actually turn out to be prudent and useful benchmarks for
collecting allies who will stand with us in the war on terrorism. In the new
post-September 11 realism, it is apparent that the only true friends we have
are the democracies, and they are friends because they are democracies and
share our values even when they contest our interests and are made anxious
by our power. In the war against terror or the war for freedom, what true
realist would trade a cantankerous, preternaturally anti-American France for
a diplomatic and ostentatiously pro-American Saudi Arabia?
Yet the pursuit of democracy has been a sideline in an American realist
foreign policy organized around oil and trade with despots pretending to be
on our side--not just in Republican but in Democratic administrations as
well, where democracy was proclaimed but (remember Larry Summers) market
democracy construed as market fundamentalism was practiced. In the old
paradigm, democratic norms were very nice as emblems of abstract belief and
utopian aspiration, or as rationalizations of conspicuous interests, but
they were poor guides for a country seeking status and safety in the world.
Not anymore. The cute cliché about democracies not making war on one another
is suddenly a hard realist foundational principle for national security
Except the truth today is not only that democracies do not make war on one
another, but that democracies alone are secure from collective forms of
violence and reactionary fundamentalism, whether religious or ethnic. Those
Islamic nations (or nations with large Islamic populations) that have made
progress toward democracy--Bangladesh, India or Turkey, for example--have
been relatively free of systematic terrorism and reactionary fundamentalism
as well as the export of terrorism. They may still persecute minorities,
harbor racists and reflect democratic aspirations only partially, but they
do not teach hate in their schools or pipe propaganda through an official
press or fund terrorist training camps. Like India recently, they are the
victims rather than the perpetrators of international terrorism. Making
allies of the enemies of democracy because they share putative interests
with us is, in other words, not realism but foolish self-deception. We have
learned from the military campaign against the Taliban and Al Qaeda how,
when push comes to shove (push has come to shove!), the Egyptians and the
Saudis can be unreliable in sharing intelligence, interdicting the funding
of terrorism or standing firm against the terrorists at their own door.
Pakistan still allows thousands of fundamentalist madrassahs to operate as
holy-war training schools. Yet how can these "allies" possibly be tough
when, in defense of their despotic regimes, they think that coddling the
terrorists outside their doors may be the price they have to pay for keeping
at bay the terrorists already in their front parlors? The issue is not
religion, not even fundamentalism; the issue is democracy.
Unilateralism rooted in a keen sense of the integrity of sovereign autonomy
has been another keynote of realism's American trajectory and is likely to
become another casualty of September 11. From the Monroe Doctrine to our
refusal to join the League of Nations, from the isolationism that preceded
World War II, and from which we were jarred only by Pearl Harbor, to the
isolationism that followed the war and that yielded only partially to the
cold war and the arms race, and from our reluctance to pay our UN dues or
sign on to international treaties to our refusal to place American troops
under the command of friendly NATO foreigners, the United States has
persisted in reducing foreign policy to a singular formula that preaches
going it alone. Despite the humiliations of the 1970s, when oil shortages,
emerging ecological movements and the Iranian hostage crisis should have
warned us of the limitations of unilateralism, we went on playing the Lone
Ranger, the banner of sovereign independence raised high.
We often seem nearly comatose when it comes to the many small injuries and
larger incursions to which American sovereignty is subjected on a daily
basis by those creeping forms of interdependence that characterize
modernity--technology, ecology, trade, pop culture and consumer markets.
Only the blunt assault of the suicide bombers awoke the nation to the new
realities and the new demands on policy imposed by interdependence. Which is
why, since September 11, there has been at least a wan feint in the
direction of multilateralism and coalition-building. The long-unpaid UN
bills were finally closed out, the Security Council was consulted and some
Republican officials even whispered the dreaded Clinton-tainted name of
nation-building as a possible requirement in a postwar strategy in
et there is a long way to go. While the Colin Powell forces do battle with
the Dick Cheney forces for the heart of the President, little is being done
to open a civic and political front in the campaign against terrorism. After
what seemed a careful multilateral dance with President Putin on missile
defense, President Bush has abruptly thrust his ballroom partner aside and
waltzed off into the sunset by himself, leaving the Russians and Chinese
(and our European allies) to sulk in the encroaching gloom. Even in
Afghanistan, Nicholas Kristof, in his first contribution as the New York
Times's new crisis-of-terrorism columnist, complained that even as other
nations' diplomats poured into the capital after its fall, the United States
posted not a single representative to Kabul to begin nurturing a postwar
political and civil strategy--a reticence it has only just now begun to
Is there anything realistic about such reluctance? On the contrary, realism
here in its new democratic form suggests that America must begin to engage
in the slow and sovereignty-eroding business of constructing a cooperative
and benevolent interdependence in which it joins the world rather than
demanding that the world join it or be consigned to the camp of the
terrorists ("You are with us or you are with the terrorists," intoned the
President in those first fearful days after September 11). This work
recognizes that while terrorism has no justification, it does have causes.
The old realism went by the old adage tout comprendre, c'est tout pardonner
and eschewed deep explanations of the root causes of violence and terror.
The new realism insists that to understand collective malice is not to
pardon it but to assure that it can be addressed, interdicted and perhaps
even pre-empted. "Bad seed" notions of original sin ("the evil ones")
actually render perpetrators invulnerable--subject only to a manichean
struggle in which the alternative to total victory is total defeat. Calling
bin Laden and his associates "the evil ones" is not necessarily inaccurate,
but it commits us to a dark world of jihad and counterjihad (what the
President first called his crusade), in which issues of democracy, civil
comity and social justice--let alone nuance, complexity and
interdependence--simply vanish. It is possible to hate jihad without loving
America. It is possible to condemn terror as absolutely wrong without
thinking that those who are terror's targets possess absolute right.
This is the premise behind the thesis of interdependence. The context of
jihadic resistance and its pathology of terrorism is a complex world in
which there are causal interrelationships between the jihadic reaction to
modernity and the American role in shaping it according to the peculiar
logic of US technology, markets and branded pop culture (what I call
McWorld). Determining connections and linkages is not the same thing as
distributing blame. Power confers responsibility. The power enjoyed by the
United States bestows on it obligations to address conditions it may not
have itself brought into being. Jihad in this view may grow out of and
reflect (among other things) a pathological metastasis of valid grievances
about the effects of an arrogant secularist materialism that is the
unfortunate concomitant of the spread of consumerism across the world. It
may reflect a desperate and ultimately destructive concern for the integrity
of indigenous cultural traditions that are ill equipped to defend themselves
against aggressive markets in a free-trade world. It may reflect a struggle
for justice in which Western markets appear as obstacles rather than
facilitators of cultural identity.
Can Asian tea, with its religious and family "tea culture," survive the
onslaught of the global merchandising of cola beverages? Can the family
sit-down meal survive fast food, with its focus on individualized consumers,
fuel-pit-stop eating habits and nourishment construed as snacking? Can
national film cultures in Mexico, France or India survive Hollywood's
juggernaut movies geared to universal teen tastes rooted in hard violence
and easy sentiment? Where is the space for prayer, for common religious
worship or for spiritual and cultural goods in a world in which the 24/7
merchandising of material commodities makes the global economy go round? Are
the millions of American Christian families who home-school their children
because they are so intimidated by the violent commercial culture awaiting
the kids as soon as they leave home nothing but an American Taliban? Do even
those secular cosmopolitans in America's coastal cities want nothing more
than the screen diet fed them by the ubiquitous computers, TVs and
Terror obviously is not an answer, but the truly desperate may settle for
terror as a response to our failure even to ask such questions. The issue
for jihad's warriors of annihilation is of course far beyond such anxieties:
It entails absolute devotion to absolute values. Yet for many who are
appalled by terrorism but unimpressed by America, there may seem to be an
absolutist dimension to the materialist aspirations of our markets. Our
global market culture appears to us as both voluntary and wholesome; but it
can appear to others as both compelling (in the sense of compulsory) and
corrupt--not exactly coercive, but capable of seducing children into a
willed but corrosive secular materialism. What's wrong with Disneyland or
Nikes or the Whopper? We just "give people what they want." But this
merchandiser's dream is a form of romanticism, the idealism of neoliberal
markets, the convenient idyll that material plenty can satisfy spiritual
longing so that fishing for profits can be thought of as synonymous with
trolling for liberty.
It is the new democratic realist who sees that if the only choice we have is
between the mullahs and the mall, between the hegemony of religious
absolutism and the hegemony of market determinism, neither liberty nor the
human spirit is likely to flourish. As we face up to the costs both of
fundamentalist terrorism and of fighting it, must we not ask ourselves how
it is that when we see religion colonize every other realm of human life we
call it theocracy and turn up our noses at the odor of tyranny; and when we
see politics colonize every other realm of human life we call it absolutism
and tremble at the prospect of totalitarianism; but when we see market
relations and commercial consumerism try to colonize every other realm of
human life we call it liberty and celebrate its triumph? There are too many
John Walkers who begin by seeking a refuge from the aggressive secularist
materialism of their suburban lives and end up slipping into someone else's
dark conspiracy to rid the earth of materialism's infidels. If such men are
impoverished and without hope as well, they become prime recruits for jihad.
The war on terrorism must be fought, but not as the war of McWorld against
jihad. The only war worth winning is the struggle for democracy. What the
new realism teaches is that only such a struggle is likely to defeat the
radical nihilists. That is good news for progressives. For there are real
options for democratic realists in search of civic strategies that address
the ills of globalization and the insecurities of the millions of
fundamentalist believers who are neither willing consumers of Western
commercial culture nor willing advocates of jihadic terror. Well before the
calamities of September 11, a significant movement in the direction of
constructive and realistic interdependence was discernible, beginning with
the Green and human rights movements of the 1960s and '70s, and continuing
into the NGO and "antiglobalization" movements of the past few years.
Jubilee 2000 managed to reduce Third World debt-service payments for some
nations by up to 30 percent, while the Community of Democracies initiated by
the State Department under Madeleine Albright has been embraced by the Bush
Administration and will continue to sponsor meetings of democratic
governments and democratic NGOs. International economic reform lobbies like
the Millennium Summit's development goals project, established by the UN to
provide responses to global poverty, illiteracy and disease; Inter Action,
devoted to increasing foreign aid; Global Leadership, a start-up alliance of
corporations and grassroots organizations; and the Zedillo Commission, which
calls on the rich countries to devote 0.7 percent of their GNP to
development assistance (as compared to an average of 0.2 percent today and
under 0.1 percent for the United States), are making serious economic reform
an issue for governments. Moreover, and more important, they are insisting
with Amartya Sen and his new disciple Jeffrey Sachs that development
requires democratization first if it is to succeed.
George Soros's Open Society Institute and Civicus, the transnational
umbrella organization for NGOs, continue to serve the global agenda of civil
society. Even corporations are taking an interest: Hundreds are
collaborating in a Global Compact, under the aegis of UN Secretary General
Kofi Annan, to seek a response to issues of global governance, while the
World Economic Forum plans to include fifty religious leaders in a summit at
its winter meeting in New York in late January.
This is only a start, and without the explicit support of a more
multilateralist and civic-minded American government, such institutions are
unlikely to change the shape of global relations. Nonetheless, in closing
the door on the era of sovereign independence and American security,
anarchic terrorism has opened a window for those who believe that social
injustice, unregulated wild capitalism and an aggressive secularism that
leaves no space for religion and civil society not only create conditions on
which terrorism feeds but invite violence in the name of rectification. As a
consequence, we are at a seminal moment in our history--one in which trauma
opens up the possibility of new forms of action. Yesterday's utopia is
today's realism; yesterday's realism, a recipe for catastrophe tomorrow. If
ever there was one, this is democracy's moment. Whether our government
seizes it will depend not just on George Bush but on us.
When Muslims talk about their 'glorious past,' they are probably referring
to Andalusia, Abbaside Baghdad, Ottoman Istanbul or Mughal Delhi. Rarely do
we take ownership of our rich heritage that came from the depths of Africa.
Timbuktu in Mali stands out as one such forgotten place of pride.
Shamil Jeppie, who teaches African and Middle Eastern history at the
University of Cape Town in South Africa, recently visited Timbuktu. Here is
report from that historical forgotten city.
Read and reflect.
February 01, 2002
Reading, writing, talking Timbuktu:
Ancient manuscripts, which provide tangible evidence of African scholarship
centuries before colonialism, are being rediscovered in this desert town.
By Shamil Jeppie
The Daily Mail & Guradian
Johannesburg, South Africa
Timbuktu is not a venue for any of the African Cup of Nations games
currently being played in Mali. It does not have a sports stadium, not even
a green patch to host a local five-a-side match. Furthermore, there is no
road linking the capital, Bamako, to Timbuktu. An exhausting and bumpy
two-day drive in a 4x4 will take a visitor there, or the weekly flight. A
very slow riverboat is another option. Such precarious transport choices are
obviously not suited to the world of international soccer.
On most maps Timbuktu is shown to be on the Niger river but it is, in fact,
13km away. Instead of the verdant landscape of a riverside settlement,
Saharan sand dominates the townscape. The desert aspect of the town
overwhelms its environment as new sand dunes build up almost within its
boundaries. Buildings around the northern edge have steadily begun to sink
under piles of white sand.
Timbuktu appears to be just another town in the contemporary Sahel – neither
a nomadic encampment nor an international trading entrepôt. An American
student told me in Bamako that there was very little to see in Timbuktu. As
a tourist she, of course, followed the usual directions in the guidebooks:
see this mosque, visit that market – a town to visit but a really
disappointing destination. With some luck such a guidebook may mention the
Cedrab, which stands for the Centre de Documentation et de la Recherché du
Ahmadu Baba. This is a modern, unremarkable set of buildings unlike the
mosques of the town, the earliest of which dates to around 1325. The
attraction of this centre is its library, or rather its archive, for it is
really a depository of written materials, without reading or research
facilities, and its repository of rare literary materials is compelling.
This centre should earn instant celebrity status in the world of books –
making it the sole reason to visit Timbuktu.
The library's present collection consists of about 20 000 manuscripts. They
are in various stages of disintegration depending on their age and exposure
to the elements over time. This collection is, in fact, modest given the
amount of materials in private hands and buried in walls in mosques in
Mali's Sixth Region, which could be around 300 000 items.
All these materials, like those in the centre's archive, date from the
beginning of the 1300s to the late 1900s. Many are codices in local leather
bindings, others are loose leaves; there are a few heavy multi-volume tomes,
while others are pocket size. There are also letters, contracts and other
items of a documentary nature.
In the centre, due to a shortage of shelving, they are tightly and seemingly
haphazardly piled on top of each other in glass cabinets. What is visible
are many uneven, dark brown layers of bindings and fading paper. There is no
complete catalogue of this collection although one has been published
listing the first 9 000 items. A small glass display cabinet in this cramped
space allows one to see a sample of the texts, which are also stacked tight
together hardly affording a clear view of a full folio. An embarrassment of
riches without the means to adequately store or display them. They are all
written in the Arabic script – not in Middle Eastern styles, but in the
unique calligraphy of North-Western and Sudanic Africa called Hatt Maghribi.
In the usual works on Arabic calligraphy these styles are hardly
represented, unlike those of Western Asia. This collection is virtually all
in this regional style of Arabic script and most of the works are in the
Arabic language itself. While Arabic is the dominant language, the
collection is multi-lingual. There are a number of fascinating examples of
local languages written in Arabic characters. Songay, Tamasheq and Hausa
texts are on display but there would be Fulfulde ones as well buried among
the piles of works. Here may be the earliest records of these languages as
Very few of contemporary Timbuktu's citizens speak Arabic and those who come
closest speak what they call Hasaniyya, which sounds like a mixture of a
Berber dialect and Arabic. But before the 20th century Arabic would have
been spoken and written more widely, although probably not used in everyday
affairs. What is certain is that it was the language of scholarship very
much the way Latin once was in Europe.
Today Arabic in Timbuktu has the status of a devotional language and very
few manage to achieve complete fluency in it through study at the local
Unfortunately, even most of those associated with the centre and other
libraries are not able to read the materials they wish to conserve and are
proud to exhibit as their intellectual and cultural patrimony.
The Cedrab material is thus a symbol of a productive past that has only
tenuous continuity into the present. The centre's collection is a record of
lively and extensive literary activity. It is tangible evidence of African
scholarship, of Africans reading and writing, and at extremely high levels
of sophistication as well, and centuries before colonialism. The levels of
discourse were often abstract and speculative. These African scholars left
traces of their work on grammar and rhetoric, on jurisprudence, and religion
and mysticism. Many of the manuscripts reflect scientific pursuits covering
mathematics, astronomy, medicine, astrology and geomancy. It is this past of
intellectual endeavour and what would now be called "academic excellence"
that a number of educated locals want to save from complete effacement.
Collecting and preserving as many of the thousands of manuscripts in and
around Timbuktu, and as soon as possible, is their way to salvage this past.
A number of projects have been established in the past three decades to
preserve this heritage but in the past few years these flagging attempts
have been revived. Among historians from outside the region John Hunwick at
Northwestern University in the United States and Sean O'Fahey at Bergen
University in Norway have been leading the campaign to draw attention to
Timbuktu and other African scholarship in Arabic (whether in the language
and/or only the script). To date they have published three huge catalogues
and are in the process of completing two more.
O'Fahey and Hunwick see the latest discoveries, and there are more all the
time, as revolutionising our understanding of African history. They have had
to work hard against, on the one hand, a Western Orientalist establishment
that has largely ignored African Arabic scholarship and, on the other hand,
a tendency in Africanist historical studies making oral tradition virtually
the only legitimate mode through which the African past can be claimed.
Cedrab's collection also represents the rich and complex social history of
this part of the Sahel. It represents the legacy of Timbuktu as a recognised
seat of research and writing. Apart from the achievements of higher learning
in Timbuktu, the manuscripts testify to a range of arts related to the
culture of the book that used to thrive in the town. They speak of a vibrant
book trade: merchants traded in salt, gold and fabric but there was also a
market for books and for the related materials such as paper, ink and
leather. About the demand for books, Leo Africanus (al-Hasan bin Muhammad
al-Wazzan al-Zayyati) the Andalusian-Moroccan who visited Timbuktu in the
early 1500s, noted that: "In Timbuktu there are numerous judges, scholars
and priests, all well paid by the king. Many manuscript books coming from
Barbary are sold. Such sales are more profitable than any other goods."
The book crafts, copying and scribal services were flourishing and full-time
occupations in the town. All these aspects of Timbuktu's social and
intellectual history could be reconstructed through the manuscripts.
Ahmadu Baba, Timbuktu's most famous scholar and in whose name the centre was
founded, was captured in 1593 during the Moroccan conquest and his
collection of 1 600 books was seized as well. He complained to his captors
saying that his collection was the smallest in the town. There is a record
of about 50 works written by him, one of which is a biographical
dictionary – a supplement to a well-known earlier dictionary – in which he
notes the achievements of the scholars of the time. The entry on his
teacher, Muhammad Baghayogho, a Mande scholar who migrated to Timbuktu from
Jenne reads: "Moreover, he was constantly attending to people's needs, even
at cost to himself, becoming distressed at their misfortune, mediating their
disputes, and giving counsel. Add to this his love of learning, and his
devotion to teaching – in which pursuit he spent his days – his close
association with men of learning, and his own utter humility, his lending of
his most rare and precious books in all fields without asking for them back
again, no matter what discipline they were in. Thus he lost a large portion
of his books ... One day I came to him asking him for books on grammar, and
he hunted through his library and brought me everything he could find on the
The colophons (the last page of a book giving details about the printer, and
so on) of a few volumes that have been examined reveal immensely valuable
information about the history of books. One colophon in a copy of a
28-volume dictionary by an Andalusian scholar completed in 1574 gives the
names of the copyists, who provided the blank paper, from whom the copy was
made, the amount paid to the copyist, and independent verification of the
copy. The colophon reveals that the copyist received the equivalent of
4,238g of gold, the verifier half that amount.
Another source of evidence for the history of the region is the margins of
the manuscripts. All Timbuktu paper was imported, usually from Europe, and
there were periods when the imports were slow in arriving or expensive when
texts were reinscribed in their margins. In an untitled work by one of
Timbuktu's major chroniclers, Mahmud al-Ka'ti, he records on the margins a
range of everyday events, such as: "In that year God caused prices to fall,
rains were abundant, and wells filled up. As soon as rain began to fall,
people began to plant, and God facilitated harvesting of the crop. He sent
successive rains to His servants following the year 910 (1504-5) and people
continued thus for five years." An entry for another year records "stars
flew around the sky as if fire had been kindled in the whole sky – east,
west, north and south. It became a mighty flame lighting up the Earth, and
people were extremely disturbed about that. It continued until after dawn."
Was this a meteorite shower in 1583? From such notes a whole range of
researchers – from intellectual historians to climatologists – could benefit
and illuminate various aspects of West Africa's past and present.
Mahmud Ka'ti's collection is a private one gathered by one of his
descendants, Ismail Daidie Haidara, a shy man with a degree from the
University of Granada in Spain and author of three studies on Timbuktu
published in Morocco. He has been visiting his extended family to gather
their ancestor's works, in an attempt to reassemble his library. His Fondo
Ka'ti archive now holds 3 000 items. Recently he had a catalogue prepared
with the help of a German researcher, but it is still only an unbound
computer print-out. Meanwhile, the archive is a regular cramped room at home
without special shelving, storage facilitates and proper temperature
controls. There are numerous private libraries, such as the reconstructed
Mahmud Ka'ti archive, inside the town and the surrounding settlements.
The most impressive in terms of organisation and management is the Mamma
Haidara library run by Abd al-Qadir Haidara. He inherited his father's
library of about 5 000 volumes and was fortunate to have Henry Louis Gates,
a well-known Harvard English professor who was making a TV series on Africa,
stumble upon his collection a few years ago. When Gates saw the perilous
state of the manuscripts he raised a grant from the Mellon Foundation for
Haidara to build a modest but functional five-room building. Yet it is still
not properly outfitted with air-conditioning or a laboratory in which to
undertake conservation work, for instance. But it is the best in Timbuktu
and the materials, neatly stacked in beautiful, locally made cabinets, can
be consulted. He has also worked on cataloguing his material. The
London-based Al-Furqan foundation has already published his first three
volumes as part of a projected five- to six-volume catalogue.
The private collection of the frail Imam of Timbuktu's oldest mosque,
Djingere Ber, is in a hazardous condition. It is stuffed without apparent
order or particular consideration into a few cabinets and boxes in an annex
on the roof of his apartment. There is space for about two persons in this
unlit room filled with all variety of manuscripts and books, from Quranic
commentaries to works on astronomy. His son-in-law dipped into boxes
producing volume upon volume, some of which were in relatively good
condition, while others were mostly eaten away. A few had intricate gold
work on their front pages as well as exquisite calligraphy in various
colours. He estimated that there were only about 500 works in this
collection. This seems like an underestimate. There are perhaps hundreds of
such collections that are in desperate need of rescue. Even if one views
these manuscripts in complete ignorance of their content or context they are
extraordinarily beautiful to behold. Before they land up in private
collections in Europe, America or Kuwait or under an auctioneer's hammer in
Paris or London they need to be saved for Africa and hopefully kept in
Timbuktu by its people.
In 1990 Timbuktu was declared a World Heritage Site by Unesco and is
considered an endangered historical space. This is the case for the town's
built environment. The original Sankore mosque, which started out as a
college, is, in places, heavily sunken under sand. The manuscripts, for long
hidden but now slowly being rediscovered, are integral to Timbuktu. It is
also an African legacy and an expression of humanity's collective
Timbuktu witnessed an African renaissance at the time of Europe's – long
before the term was coined in South Africa. President Thabo Mbeki's visit
there last year excited the locals and they expect South Africa to work with
them to preserve this heritage and revitalise their town. Our curiosity
about the legendary Timbuktu should be extended to assistance and
collaboration. But how we do this meaningfully is the critical issue. As a
start, expertise in preservation in the National Library of South Africa
system should immediately be made available to Timbuktu archival projects.
At the same time our emerging writers and historians should be encouraged to
look north of the Limpopo to study and engage with the historical traditions
of the Niger bend and adjoining regions. We could also collaborate with the
locals in finding ways to let its brighter past provide opportunities to
improve Timbuktu's difficult present.
For now the continental soccer tournament will be synonymous with Mali.
However, after these over-financed games we should ensure that the rich and
productive literary past of Timbuktu gets the funds, public attention and
critical scholarly inquiry it deserves. A preamble to our engagement could
be the words of Leo Africanus, the early 16th-century visitor to Timbuktu,
who wrote in his great Della discrittione dell'Africa: "Africa has indeed
been my nurse. I grew up there and spent the most delightful part of my life
there. But I have, before everyone, the excuse of my role as historian which
demands speaking the truth about matters regardless, and without
accommodating the wishes of anyone in particular."
© Weekly Mail & Guardian
Tariq Ramadan, the grandson of Hassan Al Banna, has been at the forefront of
what I call a movement for a renaissance in Islam. I've heard him in Toronto
and he struck an immediate chord in me.
In this long interview with Salon.Com, Tariq is very critical of the role of
Saudi money and ideology. He accuses western governments of being complicit
in promoting and encouraging Saudi Islam, suggesting it is being done with
He says, "Let me be very frank and honest about that. If someone wants to
demonize Islam, it could help to let [the Wahabis] work. Afterward, you can
say: "look at what the Islamic reality is" and you show the Wahabi posture.
It could help you today, but tomorrow it will promote fractures within
Western societies. It is a very short-sighted and dangerous strategy. Even
in the States, if you want to build a mosque, it is sometimes easier for
someone coming with Saudi money, than it is for some Muslim citizens in
America who do not have money, whereas if there is a state behind you, well,
we know the money will help."
Read and reflect.
Tariq Ramadan: The Muslim Martin Luther?
The author of "To Be a European Muslim" discusses terrorism, the problem of
Saudi Arabia and whether Islam can peacefully coexist with the West.
By Paul Donnelly
Feb. 15, 2002 | Tariq Ramadan is not a household name in the United
States, but the Swiss professor could be one of the most important
intellectuals in the world. Ramadan's thinking, his methods and his personal
history are all connected to the same question: Islam's encounter with the
modern world. Can the youngest of the world's three great monotheisms
co-exist harmoniously with the Western world and its Enlightenment legacy?
Or is it fated to be reactionary, closed off from the world, an excuse for
terrorism and failure?
Ramadan's books, mostly in French, focus on the growth of Muslim populations
in Western Europe -- that area once called Christendom. For America, founded
on the separation of church and state, the presence of religious minorities
is simply a fact of life. Centuries of Americanizing newcomers (and
expanding American identity to include them) tends to obscure how
revolutionary -- and rare -- that is for the rest of the world. The
questions in Ramadan's English-language book "To Be a European Muslim"
identify just how profound a shift being Muslim in a non-Muslim country is
for Islam itself: "Early in Islamic history ... [jurists ruled that] it was
not possible for Muslims to live [outside of Muslim-ruled states] except
under some mitigating circumstances. What bearing does this have on those
Muslims who came to work and are now living in the West with their families?
What about their children and their nationality? Can they ... be true,
genuine and complete citizens, giving allegiance -- through the national
constitution -- to a non-Islamic country?"
At the start of the 21st century, there can be few more important questions.
Ramadan's theological inquiries cut to the heart of the motivations of the
Sept. 11 terrorists, of the apocalyptic claims of Hamas and Hezbollah and
the Iranian mullahs. Above all, however, they are concerned with that
disputed terrain where Islamic tradition collides with modernity.
Ramadan has the credentials and credibility to confront Islam's modern
identity on its own terms. Muslim scholars recognize that no one is more
orthodox in his methods and sources, or more innovative in his conclusions.
He is genuinely radical, rather than reactionary. Quiet, thoughtful and
deeply religious, he closes an e-mail: "May the Light protect you and go
with you and all the people you love."
Ramadan's personal history is inextricably tied to his thinking. Born in
Switzerland in 1962, Ramadan received a classical Islamic education (he
wrote his dissertation on Nietzsche) and went on to become a high school
principal and later a professor at prestigious European universities
(College of Geneva and Fribourg University). Ramadan's grandfather was
Hassan al-Banna, an Egyptian schooteacher and founder of the Muslim
Brotherhood, which the journalist Milton Viorst called "the flagship of
fundamentalism in the Arab world." It was al-Banna who most effectively
connected Islamic fundamentalism with the struggle against colonialism. That
struggle still reverberates in countless ways today -- many of them deeply
alarming to his grandson, interviewed by phone from Geneva.
Q1: If Islam is beginning what in a Christian context would be called a
Reformation, you might be cast for the Martin Luther role. Do you have a
list that you would nail to a church door?
I don't have a list. I know what might be the priorities when we think about
reform and revival within the Islamic landscape. And the first thing for me
is the way Muslims today are reading our text. There are a lot of
misconceptions within the Islamic communities. We have to come back to a
very thorough understanding of what it does mean to have a text coming from
God. This is an Islamic credo, and at the same time we have to know that
some principles are universal and eternal, and some prescriptions should be
understood in a specific context.
It is also important to understand the way that scholars, from the very
beginning, tried to present some normative tools to read the Quran. For
example, when someone says there is no difference in Islam between politics
and religion, we have to say that the sources are the same, for example the
Quran and the Sunna [lessons from the life of the Prophet], but the
methodologies are different. This is the problem we have today in the Muslim
world : we repeat slogans, but we don't know exactly what they mean.
When I am speaking about worship and social affairs, there is a crucial
difference. In worship we have to do what is written and in social affairs
everything is open, except what is strictly forbidden. And these differences
are extremely important.
Q2: Islam is now the excuse for the world's premier us vs. them ideology.
You wrote in "To Be a European Muslim" that Muslims need to get past the us
vs. them worldview, the old concept of Dar al-Islam, the Islamic world,
opposed to the non-Muslim world (the Dar al-Harb, the House of War), and
propose the new concept of a House of Testimony, a Space of Witness,
available to Muslims anywhere.
That is exactly what I was saying about the way we are reading the text.
Some Muslims are saying, "We are more Muslim when we are against the West or
the Western values" -- as if our parameter to assess our behavior is our
distance from or opposition to the West. They are promoting this kind of
binary vision of the world that comes from a very long time back in the
Muslim psyche. We have to get rid of this kind of understanding and evaluate
if an act or a situation is Islamic or not, on the scale of the Islamic
ethics and values per se, not against any other civilization
Our values are not based on "otherness." Our values are universal. We have
to come to the understanding that it's not "us against them," it's us on the
scale of our own values. This defines the place I live in. That is to say,
my role in this world is to understand that I am a witness to the Islamic
message before mankind.
We need an intellectual revolution within the Muslim world. We are Muslims
according to our spirituality and these universal values, and not against
the West, not against the Jews, not against the Christians, not against
secular people. The way I'm trying to re-read our texts is based on the
awareness that this message is universal: that is why, for instance, the
definition of our Muslim identity could by no means be a closed one against
the others. This definition will help, God willing, in the way we deal with
The concept of Dar al-Islam is a hindrance today within the Muslim world.
Even when we speak of Dar al-'ahd [the House of Treaty, which stipulates
that Muslims living as a minority among unbelievers should live peacefully
but without truly joining these societies], it means peaceful coexistence
but it also promotes this kind of binary vision, "us and them." It does not
allow us to feel that we are part of the Western societies, that we are
sharing with others our values and belonging.
It's always, "OK, I'm with you but ..." It's not enough for me. It's still a
very old understanding of our belonging to Islam. When I'm speaking of
Dar-ash-Shahada, the abode, the space of testimony, I'm saying we have to
get past these tendencies.
Q3: In the modern context, what does Dar al-Islam, the House of Submission,
It means the space where the Muslims are in the majority. People will say it
is where the rules of Islam are implemented, which is not the reality for
the majority of the people who are speaking about Dar al-Islam. We have
other definitions: the Hanafi school of thought, for instance, says that Dar
al-Islam is the space where we are at peace, where we are safe.
Which of the two definitions is for me the [most] accurate, today? Am I not
in a safer place, in the West, than in the majority of the so-called Islamic
countries experiencing dictatorship?
It's very difficult for Muslims, we don't have a safe place [to call Dar
al-Islam]. So even this word, for me, is relatively outdated. It's not
because we are in the majority that we are faithful to our principles. It's
not because we are in the majority that we are in a safe place. That is why,
in my perception, we have to say that all these concepts are outdated, and
come to new concepts.
But it is more than that. I was talking to Muslims in the States, and they
said: "Oh, it's just new concepts." I said, no, it is a new understanding of
our texts. It's a new understanding of our universal values and these
universal values, we can share them with others -- with Christians, with all
our fellow citizens in our countries. And this will help, in the near
future, Muslims throughout the world to understand their own references.
Q4: You wrote that for the last seven centuries Islam has followed a path of
blind imitation, and that in applying thoughtful judgment it isn't so much
that Islam will modernize, as that it will renew itself. What did you mean?
We are not against modernity. The problem is that mainly, since the 13th
century, we have not read our texts in order to face up to reality of
modernity, but to take a defensive posture in order to fight against Western
hegemony, to fight against "the other." And to withdraw within ourselves and
be preoccupied with speaking of halal [lawful] and haram [unlawful]. You
know, this kind of discussion and obsession of limits is not all that Islam
is about. This is not the real message of Islam. Yes, we have limits, but we
have to face the reality to reform the world, not just to resist aggression
or indulge in the feeling that we are oppressed by others. This has to
My perception is that what we need has to come from within. Sometimes when I
am speaking to non-Muslims, I say, don't ask us just to follow your models,
your ways or paths, what we need is something from within. We need Islamic
tools that will help the Muslims to understand better what the main message
of Islam is.
What are the tools we can use? First and foremost is ijtihad, which, as you
know, is the reasoning effort of creativity according to our sources, but
facing our context and our environment. To achieve it from within takes time
but it is the only way.
If I'm speaking to Muslims today, and tell them that we have to imitate
Western society, the Western models, they're not going to listen because
they are still in the binary perception of reality. I have to come back to
find something from within, and promote this kind of contextualization and
promoting of Islamic values.
For example, the way Muslims for the last 20 years have answered the
question "What is the Islamic identity?" is revealing: they were confusing
Islamic principles and their culture of origin, which is wrong. The
Pakistani or the Turkish or the Egyptian culture have nothing to do with
Islamic principles. They are but the dress of these principles.
The fact that we are living in the West, helps us to come back to this deep
understanding of what are the Islamic principles. Now we have to face a new
culture and take from that culture what does not contradict our principles,
and face new challenges. I think this is now helping Muslims.
Q5: For decades what the press lumps together as radical Islamic groups have
committed terrorist attacks, with the Sept. 11 attacks taking this to a
whole new level. Your grandfather Hassan al-Banna founded the Muslim
Brotherhood, historically the most important and inspirational of radical
Islamic groups. He said that Islam is "all-inclusive ... a home and a
nationality, a religion and a state ... a book and a sword."
The problem is that that was a slogan used in a specific situation under
English colonization. He was using slogans against the Western presence in
Egypt, and trying to understand from the Islamic sources the kind of project
he wished to implement. It was in Egypt, but it was wider than that. This is
one thing I'm trying to communicate to Muslims, especially to the Muslim
Brotherhood: they repeat Hassan al-Banna slogans, but they do not always
understand what he meant.
His point to the English colonizers was, you have to go away. We don't want
you here. We want a society here that is based on our Islamic principles. In
one way, he was a reformer, saying that we have global principles in our
text and a new context in which to read the text. He said, speaking about
the Quran, for example, we have the Shura [a council that advises
government], and we can take from the concept of consultation we have in our
source, but also take from the West organizations that they have promoted
from their history, and try to adapt them to our history. He was of the
opinion that we can take the parliamentary system, and adapt it to the
[Hassan al-Banna] founded more than 2,000 schools, and he believed that we
have to take the pedagogy that we find in the West, and adapt it, because it
is very effective. This was completely new for people. His point, with which
I agree, was that we don't have to look at the West as a monolithic reality.
He was very young when he started, and he changed his opinion on many
issues, for example pluralism. He believed that the English were trying to
create political parties to divide the Egyptian resistance. He thought it
was a game the colonizers were playing against them, and he thought, "we
have to be united." But at the end of his life [al-Banna was assassinated in
1949, during Egypt's struggle for independence], he said, we can use the
plural parties. We can ask the Muslim Brotherhood to join any party you
want, and play the political role you want in this society. He changed.
If we read what he said at this time about sharia [Muslim law], it was
absolutely not all about the penal code. He was promoting social justice.
This is why, afterwards, we had two groups within the Muslim Brotherhood,
people who believed "we have to educate people, we have to implement social
justice," and others following the other aspect of some of his statements,
which were dealing with government, dealing with power, saying that we need
a khalifa [a restoration of Ottoman-style Muslim rule]. I think he was very
engaged in the society with tools and the means to change it. He wanted an
Islamic society, and he understood that the state is but a means. But after
Gamel Abdul Nasser took over, he persecuted the Muslim Brotherhood. In jail,
some of the followers understood the message in a different way. They were
upset with those in power. They said, what we want is to kill them, to take
over the government: we reject Gamel Abdul Nasser's authority. There was a
shift within the Muslim Brotherhood.
Q6: You are a Swiss citizen.
Yes. When I speak about citizenship, I am a Swiss with a Muslim background.
But when I speak of philosophy, my perception of life, I am a Muslim with a
Swiss nationality. In French, we have the problem of which word is the
first: "Français musulman ou musulman Français" [French Muslim or Muslim
Frenchman] and we make a big problem out of this formulation or phrase. It
is an artificial dilemma: when we are speaking of philosophy, and you ask me
which comes first, I am a Muslim. If you ask about my civic and political
involvement, I am a Swiss. It is as simple as that.
Q7: Isn't there a difference between what your grandfather said and what you
mean by this? Who are you first?
Of course there is a difference. What I took from him and from all the
reformists throughout Islamic history was not their conclusions, but rather
their methodology. This is important for me. They said: We have the Quran,
we have to understand the Quran through contextualized reading. They did
that, adapting the reading to their own environment. Now, I am in Europe --
and it is the same for those in the States -- we face the same situation. We
have to follow similar methodology. You have a philosophy of life, which
enables you to think that your life has meaning, and after this life you
will be called to account before God. This is part of my philosophy -- my
life has a meaning, but also ethics and values. It's exactly the same
situation for a Jew or a Christian or a humanist.
Now, as a citizen, I have to ask myself: what could I take from the culture
I live in, but also from my sources, which can help me to be a true citizen?
My loyalty to my country must be genuine -- this is why I am coming back to
my sources, and taking elements or values, which are universal.
Let me give you an example that applies three principles. When I have to
vote for someone, am I going to say that I am going to vote for the Muslim
only? Or only the one who is telling me, "I am going to give you a mosque,
or some advantages"? Or should I vote for the one who holds universal
values, which are consistent with my Muslim values and at the same time can
help our common society? We have three very important values, or principles,
that are our references.
First, I have to vote for the more competent man or woman. Competence is a
specific feature. I am not going to vote for you just because you are a
Muslim, I want you to be competent.
Second point: intellectual probity. Honesty. Integrity. That is important
for me. If I'm supporting you, I want you to be upright.
The third principle, is that I want you to work. I want you not to forget
about the people for five years, and then come back asking me for a new
vote. I want you to be active at the grassroots level, and to serve the
people who elected you. This is your duty.
These three principles are completely in accordance with the Islamic
references. But they are based on values that are universal. These are new
answers. Of course Hassan al-Banna or others during the '40s, or in an
Islamic society today, might have other answers in other social, economic or
political fields because of difference in the context. But my point is, that
my living in a secular society in the West helps me to understand the
universality of my message, common values with my fellow citizens. This is a
complete shift in our perception of our new societies.
Q8: Let's talk about economics. I know Muslims who accept that the Quran
prohibits lending money at interest, period. They have a problem with the
whole of the modern, globalized economy -- and much of the Muslim world is
an economic basket case. Other religions, like Christianity and Judaism, had
a similar prohibition, and resolved it by saying simply: times have changed.
Can Muslims do that?
When we speak about ribbah [Arabic for "usury" or "interest"], the text is
explicit. When the text is explicit, you can't say it is not, because that
would be saying: we'd have to change the text. If you have to face the
contemporary economy, if you want to play a role, of course we have to find
solutions. But in the end, the principle is that we have to avoid ribbah.
I know which way we have to go. I know the path. At the end of the day, what
we have to find is an alternative, to promote an economy without ribbah.
Why? It's not only to help me to respect formally the Islamic proscription,
but also because I'm sure the contemporary economy does not necessarily
promote justice and development for all the people of the world. My point is
that this kind of liberal economy based on speculation and ribbah is not the
At least what we have to know is that Allah asks us to find alternatives,
find new solutions ... I was discussing once with Michel Camdessus, who was
the president of the International Monetary Fund, that at least at the grass
roots level, we have micro-credit programs to try to avoid this kind of
ribbah. To think locally, and to create bridges with other economists, who
are trying to avoid speculation, which is part of the ribbah process.
I know what's reality. But I'm not going, in the name of performance, to
forget the Islamic proscription. The Islamic proscription is pushing me to
be more creative and dynamic to find alternatives at least at the grass
My forthcoming book, "Western Muslims: Facing the Future," will be about
practical issues, about education, social involvement, political
participation, cultural and economic alternatives and I will speak about
that aspect of our activities. This will make some noise in the Muslim
communities, because I'm trying to say that we have to go in, in order to
find a way to go out. When looking for solutions it's not possible for
always to speak outside the economic process. People are stuck, because they
don't know how to deal as Muslims with the classical economy.
Is this possible, or is this a dream? [laughs] For many it's a dream. I
think it is the only way. But at least it helps to be resistant. In any
case, a dream which helps you to live your reality with dignity and justice
is a good dream.
Q9: You and many others make distinctions between Islam and terrorism, and
many other anachronisms, crimes and distortions. But at some point the
hairsplitting among scholars comes smack up against the Salman Rushdie
fatwa. I was struck that in your book, you didn't use it as an example.
Because it is not a strict matter of itjihad [reasoned judgment]. From the
very beginning, I was against the fatwa. The fatwa is not an Islamic answer
to what [Rushdie] did. In that field, what we need is not itjihad, we need
intra-community dialogue. This is the other aspect of our struggle today --
we need also to acknowledge that we have a problem of authority within the
Muslim world. We need to know who is speaking in the name of what -- that is
to say, who is legitimate to speak. This was also my position after Sept.
11, that we have to be self-critical within the Muslim world.
But it's not enough. We have also to say where we draw the line, to say that
this act is Islamic and can be legitimized, and that one is not. Even if
someone is part of the Islamic landscape, we have to be able to say, for
example, that to say you can kill a Jew, a Christian or an American, only
because they are American, Christian or a Jew, has nothing to do with Islam.
To ask the people to kill Salman Rushdie because he wrote a book, telling
people that you are going to be paid for that, this is not Islamic.
This is the responsibility of the Muslims, in the States, and in Europe and
throughout the Muslim world, that we have to agree on the essentials of our
religion, and to say: this is not Islamic. This stance is lacking today.
Q10: It becomes an institutional question.
It could be, yes.
I was particularly struck by your concept of the House of Witness, and your
application of the surah that calls for competition in good works between
Muslims and unbelievers. But of course, Islam has no pope. Strictly
speaking, one reason Islam does not have a separation of church and state is
because Islam is not a church.
Q11: So, from a purely institutional point of view, how would you have this
dialogue within Islam that would say, we don't care that he's an ayatollah,
This may be the main challenge we are facing now. In the beginning, the fact
that there is no church in Islam, in our minds, was an asset. It was
something that was positive. But if we don't know how to deal with it, it
would become a weakness. We don't have a church, which in our perception was
a way to accept diversity, to accept different tendencies and to let the
people find their own way. But now there is a lack of authority. Even bin
Laden, who is not a scholar, could say things -- and some Muslims are not
following him because he is Islamically right, but because he is giving them
some kind of pride ... This is not the solution.
In the near future, Muslims in the West are going to help Muslims in the
Islamic world. Because we are facing challenges and we can do things that
are forbidden in the so-called Islamic countries. We need to think about
think tanks, platforms, councils that would share views and opinions that
could be critical toward Islamic authorities. For the time being, we are
afraid of that. We are not self-confident. We are a bit afraid of being
branded as out of Islam, or too Westernized. People are speaking from Medina
in Saudi Arabia with this kind of influence that is coming from a kind of
literalist Salafism, sometimes called Wahabi [the sub-branch of Islam
closely associated with the Saudi ruling family], and their strong financial
support is helping this school of thought to settle, so to speak, in the
West. That poses a problem.
We have to think about institutions, organizations, platforms, think tanks,
councils, which will help the Muslims. We have one example, the European
Council for Itjihad and Research, with Muslim scholars from the West and
also from Islamic countries. But it's not enough.
Q12: Are we talking about an organized House of Testimony?
No, no. To organize the Muslims in order to have a voice, which is
pluralistic, but which at the same time is legitimate and authorized to say
something. One that, like you said, can say "Okay, he's an ayatollah, but we
don't agree with him." Having many legitimate voices within is important,
but also we need a unified voice authorized to criticize some opinions
within the Islamic world that we may disagree with. We need people who are
ready to say, we don't agree with, for example, what is coming from Saudi
Q13: How much of a problem is Saudi money and Wahabi influence?
It is a problem. They are a minority group today, but they are very active.
Their number is growing today because of their money. The approach to Islam
they are promoting is for us a real catastrophe.
They are not going to help us. I respect their views, as long as they have
their views for themselves, and try to live in accordance with their own
principles. But now we have a very strong problem from this school of
thought, coming with money and planting these ideas throughout the world,
playing upon the feelings of Muslims. That way, there will be more Muslims
who will be against the West, believing that everything that is Western is
against Islam. That to be a Muslim means to act against the West, or to act
far from Western values. This kind of understanding is today promoted by
these kinds of schools of thought and we have to be very, very careful about
Q14: Let me be clear: It's your view that Wahabism spread through money and
intellectual influence out of Saudi Arabia, out of Medina and Riyadh, is
intentionally promoting an anti-Western philosophy?
By them, of course. But also by Western governments. We know that.
Q15: What do you mean by Western governments?
Many Western governments keep quiet about what they are doing, because [the
Saudi Wahabis] have money and they can pay. They are also promoting and
presenting a very bad image of Islam.
Let me be very frank and honest about that. If someone wants to demonize
Islam, it could help to let [the Wahabis] work. Afterward, you can say:
"look at what the Islamic reality is" and you show the Wahabi posture. It
could help you today, but tomorrow it will promote fractures within Western
societies. It is a very short-sighted and dangerous strategy. Even in the
States, if you want to build a mosque, it is sometimes easier for someone
coming with Saudi money, than it is for some Muslim citizens in America who
do not have money, whereas if there is a state behind you, well, we know the
money will help.
Western governments are sometimes very blind, or apparently blind, about
what is behind the Saudi politics, the Saudi policy. We have to be very
careful. It's the responsibility of the Muslims in the West to say
something, and to be very critical. This is why, in the West, I am promoting
financial and political independence -- in order to bear witness to our
message in the West, and to be completely free. To work as European citizens
and American citizens, we have to be completely free.
Let me tell you, some governments are not happy with me, because I am very
critical. This was said to me here in Switzerland, don't speak so harshly
against the Saudi government, because we have $450 million in trade with
them. Because of the money, we don't want Muslims to be vocal about the
I was very critical since '96 about the Taliban -- but at the same time, I
was saying that the Saudi government, other Islamic governments, were [also]
supporting tendencies that would be damaging. Just look at what's going on
in central Asia, in Indonesia, in Malaysia -- these same kinds of trends are
happening there, and no one is speaking out. A dictatorship is a
dictatorship, with or without money, religious or secular, pro or against
the West ... at the end of the day these qualifications are not the
question. A dictatorship is not acceptable and must be rejected as such.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
After sending the post on Timbuktu last week, I recalled a NYT Magazine
story on the plight of a man from Mali and his pitiful existence as a slave
today; barely a shadow from the once mighty seat of learning in Africa.
Here is the story of a slave in the land that hosts the physical as well as
intellectual ruins of Timbuktu. It appeared in the New York Time Magazine
Read and reflect.
November 18, 2001
Is Youssouf Male A Slave?
The Journey of a 15-Year-Old From Mali Who Sold Himself Into Bondage
By MICHAEL FINKEL
The New York Times Magazine
The man came to the village on a moped. Youssouf Malé watched him. A man on
a moped was unusual. When visitors did come to Nimbougou, deep in the hill
country of southern Mali, they were almost always on foot, or on bicycle.
The man on the moped had come to sell fabrics, the flower-patterned kind
from which the women in Youssouf's village liked to sew dresses. Youssouf
sat beneath a palm tree and watched.
He saw that the man was wearing blue jeans. The man was not that much older
than Youssouf, and already he owned a pair of genuine blue jeans. Maybe
three people in Youssouf's whole village owned blue jeans. And on this man's
feet -- my goodness. On this man's feet was something that Youssouf had
never before seen. In Nimbougou, people either wore flip-flops or plastic
sandals or nothing. What this man wore on his feet looked to Youssouf like a
type of house. Like a miniature house, one for each foot. Two perfect,
miniature houses, painted white, with curved walls that rose to the man's
ankles, with a fence up the front of each one made of thin rope.
Youssouf asked the man about his shoes. He asked how he might be able to get
money to have a pair of shoes like that -- shoes that made you look
important. The man asked Youssouf how old he was, and Youssouf said that he
was 14 or 15, though he didn't know for sure. People in Nimbougou didn't
keep track of such things. The man told Youssouf that he was old enough to
get money. He said it was easy. All Youssouf had to do was leave Mali, where
everybody was poor, and cross the southern border to the Ivory Coast, where
everybody was rich. In the Ivory Coast, the man said, there were jobs and
there was money, and Youssouf could find one of these jobs and earn some of
this money, and then he could buy a pair of shoes.
The man said he knew many people who had done this. He said that he himself
had gone to the Ivory Coast when he was younger and had started his own
business with the money he'd brought home. What the man did not say, but
what he surely knew, was that many people come home from the Ivory Coast
with nothing. Less than nothing, actually. They come home broken from labor;
they come home unable to afford even a loaf of bread; they come home with
machete wounds that have turned all the wrong colors. Some of these people
have said that the work in the Ivory Coast is not work at all. They've said
it is more like slavery.
But the man did not mention such things. He focused on what was good.
Youssouf listened to the man. He listened, and he made a decision.
One morning, not long after the man with the moped had visited, Youssouf
woke before dawn. He shared a room with a half-dozen other boys -- a few
brothers, a few cousins -- and was careful not to disturb anyone. He put on
a T-shirt and a pair of shorts. He placed another T-shirt and a pair of long
pants and his slingshot in a little plastic book bag, and he walked out of
his village. Nobody saw Youssouf leave. He did not say goodbye to his
parents; he knew that if he did they'd forbid him to go. He knew this
because he had mentioned the Ivory Coast to his father, and his father had
said that the Ivory Coast was a bad place, and that there was plenty of work
to do right here, picking cotton in the fields. His mother said the same
thing. It would have been rude to disagree with his parents, so Youssouf
stayed quiet. But it seemed strange to him -- if picking cotton was so good,
why did his parents still wear flip-flops on their feet?
Youssouf walked through his village and into the bush. Soon, he was as far
from home as he had ever been. He kept walking. Later in the day, he worked
for a few hours in a family's fields, in exchange for a meal and a place to
sleep. The next morning he walked on. He walked for 12 days. Then he reached
a very wide path that looked to be made out of a wonderful kind of rock. He
had never seen an asphalt road before. The road was filled with bicycles and
mopeds and four-wheeled mopeds and giant four-wheeled mopeds that had rows
and rows of seats and even bigger mopeds that carried enough sacks of rice
to feed his village for a year. It was a very exciting road. It led to a
city named Sikasso.
Along the road, at tiny wooden stalls, people were selling things. They were
selling watches and sunglasses and toothbrushes and knives and razor blades
and nail clippers and key chains and shoe polish and padlocks and
cigarettes. Youssouf wanted one of everything. But of course he had no
money. Or, rather, he had a little. He had been paid two coins by one of the
families whose fields he had worked in. It was the first time he had ever
been paid, and when those two coins were pressed into his palm, he felt,
well, he felt different. Like maybe he wasn't a kid anymore. Like maybe he
was an adult.
He asked a shopkeeper how he might get to the Ivory Coast, and he was
directed to the bus station. The bus station seemed to Youssouf like a big
corral that contained one example of every color and every noise and every
food in the world. He walked around until his head felt filled up, and then
he sat at a table and ate a plate of rice and beans and drank a soda out of
a glass bottle and spent both his coins. While he was sitting there, holding
his soda, a man came up to Youssouf. He had a friendly face. He had eyes
that seemed to have seen important things. He had nice shoes, though not as
nice as the shoes that Youssouf desired. His name, he said, was Dosso. He
asked Youssouf if he wanted to work in the Ivory Coast. What an amazing
thing to be asked, thought Youssouf. He could not believe his luck. Yes,
Youssouf said. Yes, yes. Good, Dosso said. Then he said that he could find
Youssouf an excellent job, a high-paying job, a job that would allow
Youssouf to buy anything he wanted. Come with me to the Ivory Coast tomorrow
morning, Dosso said, and I will get you a job. Yes, Youssouf said. Yes, yes.
Dosso said that he could pay for Youssouf's trip to the Ivory Coast, and
that once Youssouf had earned enough money he could pay him back. Yes,
Youssouf said. Dosso then led Youssouf to a one-room shack near the bus
station and told him that he could stay there. He would bring some rice
Inside the shack there were nine other boys. Most seemed a little older than
Youssouf; some had hair on their chins. They were also waiting for Dosso to
take them to the Ivory Coast. All had been promised jobs. A few said that
their fathers had worked in the Ivory Coast and had encouraged them. Some
had older brothers or friends who'd been across the border. Others were like
Youssouf; they left without the permission of their families. Everyone,
though, had the same goal -- to make money.
hat evening, in the shack, Youssouf made a friend. His name was Abdoul
Toure. Abdoul looked at least as young as Youssouf. His hair was short and
clean and neat, as if he had just had it cut. Abdoul seemed relaxed. He
seemed to know exactly what was going to happen. Abdoul told Youssouf that
he was heading to a big city, to a place called Abidjan, where he would work
in a restaurant. He had discussed everything with Dosso, the man who was
going to take them across the border.
This was the second time that Abdoul had left home. The first time, he said,
he went to Mauritania, where he had washed dishes in a Chinese restaurant
called Bird of Paradise. He stayed for a year and came home with 200,000
Central African francs -- the equivalent of almost $300. He gave most of the
money to his family, but not all. He showed Youssouf his backpack. It was
filled with clothes. Nice clothes, including an extra pair of shoes --
still, though, not as fine as the shoes that Youssouf was going to buy for
himself. This time, said Abdoul, he planned to bring home more money. The
Ivory Coast, he explained, was richer than Mauritania. His goal was to
return to Mali and open a restaurant of his own. Youssouf found this idea
very satisfying. He realized that he hadn't asked about the type of work
that Dosso could find him. He didn't care. A restaurant sounded good. He
asked Abdoul if he could work with him in the restaurant, and Abdoul said
that he could.
In the morning, when Dosso returned, he escorted Youssouf and Abdoul to a
place nearby, where a man took their pictures with an instant camera. Dosso
pasted each photo into a little cardboard booklet. He asked the boys if they
could write, and they all said no -- none had attended school -- so he wrote
their names for them and filled in their birth dates. Youssouf and Abdoul
promptly gained several years. Both were now 19. Dosso did not give the
papers to the boys. He kept them in his hands.
They boarded a minibus. The bus had no windows, just holes cut in the sides
where windows would normally go. About 20 passengers got on, along with
Dosso and a driver. Three of the passengers were girls, and the rest were
boys. Youssouf sat next to Abdoul. The bus shimmied along the road, and
Youssouf imagined that he had become a king. All he had to do was sit, while
the countryside moved past.
After a while, the minibus drove off the pavement and headed across the
roadless outback. Youssouf wondered what was happening, but he did not say a
word. Nobody said a word.
They were taking the back way into the Ivory Coast. Dosso no doubt knew that
the official crossing could cause trouble. Border guards ask questions, and
it takes a lot of money to stop them from asking questions. Border guards
can tell which identification papers are real and which are not. It would be
easier to skip the whole border crossing and instead sneak through the bush.
The terrain was rough. The bus made noises that sounded to Youssouf as if
someone were trying to split the vehicle in half, like a coconut. There was
a lot of dust. For a while Youssouf tried to keep track of where he was, so
that if he had to walk home, he could. Later he just worried. They rode
until the sun went behind the hills. Then they rejoined the pavement.
By the time the bus stopped, it was night. They were in another city. Dosso
took Youssouf and Abdoul and two of the other boys off the bus and put them
in a room. The walls and ceiling and floor were made of cement. There were
no windows. Abdoul asked if he was going to work in a restaurant, and Dosso
told him that if he wasn't quiet he'd be put in jail. Then Dosso left. He
locked the steel door behind him. From inside the storage room, Youssouf
could hear the minibus drive away.
Dosso did not return until late the next morning. Youssouf and Abdoul and
the other two boys were hungry; they hadn't eaten since the previous
morning, at the bus station in Mali. Dosso was with two other men. One was
wearing a police uniform, the other a loose-fitting robe.
Dosso and the policeman spoke to each other in a language that Youssouf
could not understand. The man in the loose-fitting robe walked up to each
boy and motioned for him to stand and then looked him up and down, as if he
was trying to guess how much he weighed. The man in the loose-fitting robe
asked Youssouf if he was willing to work. He asked the question in Bambara,
which is Youssouf's tribal language. Youssouf nodded yes.
The man in the robe told Youssouf that he owned a cocoa plantation. He told
Youssouf that if he took him to the farm, Youssouf would have to work for
several months in order to pay off his purchase price. Then, once he'd paid
it off, Youssouf was told that he would start to earn a monthly salary of
7,500 Central African francs -- about $10. The man in the robe also told
Youssouf that he would not give him any of this money until Youssouf had
worked on the plantation for a full year. He asked Youssouf if he
understood, and Youssouf nodded yes. Then he asked Abdoul the same
questions. Abdoul, too, nodded yes.
The man in the robe and the policeman and Dosso then stood together and
spoke in the language that Youssouf could not understand. They pointed at
the boys and spoke in loud voices and pointed some more. Eventually, the man
in the robe reached into a pocket and brought out a bundle of paper money
and handed some of it to Dosso and some to the policeman. Dosso handed the
man in the robe two identification papers. Then the man in the robe took out
a pen and a little book and wrote something down.
If Youssouf had spoken French, he would have known that the men had just
agreed to a purchase price for him of 33,000 Central African francs -- the
equivalent of $45. He would have known that Abdoul's purchase price was the
same. If he had been able to read, and had been allowed to look at the robed
man's little book, he would have seen, written in blocky letters, in blue
ink, the words le transport, le kaxeur and la police. Next to each word he
would have seen a number. And he would have known that the $90 paid for the
two boys included $17 for transportation costs, $42 for the trafficker fee
and $31 to send the police officer home happy.
After the money was spent, the man in the robe took Youssouf and Abdoul out
of the room. He said his name was Lagi and introduced them to his oldest
son, Saydou. Both Lagi and Saydou had bicycles. Lagi asked Youssouf to sit
on his bicycle seat and Abdoul to sit on his son's bicycle seat. The men
climbed on the bikes in front of the boys and pedaled out of the city.
From the back of the bicycle, Youssouf studied the land. They rode on
pavement for a while, and then they rode on a thin path. This is when
Youssouf knew that he had arrived in a wealthy place. Here, the corn was so
tall that the stalks on either side of the path bent toward one another,
almost covering the sky. Back home, in Mali, the corn came up to Youssouf's
thigh. The soil here was as red as a bolt of freshly dyed fabric. Even the
weeds were impressive. A giraffe, thought Youssouf, might be able to hide in
They bicycled for such a long time that it was past nightfall when they
reached Lagi's farm. When Youssouf saw the living quarters, he was
disappointed. After he had seen the corn and the soil and the weeds, he had
expected a castle. What he saw was less impressive than the houses in his
own village. In Youssouf's village, almost everyone lived in a round house,
made of mud brick, with a conical roof made of palm thatch. On Lagi's farm,
the houses looked like places where chickens might live. They looked like
There were two of them, each with two rooms. The roofs of the houses were
flat, though instead of thatch there was metal. The walls were mud brick.
There were no windows. One house, Lagi said, was for him and his family. He
said he had nine children and two wives. The other house was for his 11
workers. Both houses looked the same. In front of the two houses was a dirt
yard, and in the yard was a fire pit, a few metal bowls and, tied to a
stake, a young goat. The forest seemed to be creeping in on all sides. The
insects made a noise that sounded to Youssouf like someone screaming.
Youssouf looked around, but there was nothing more. Just two houses and a
yard. There was no four-wheeled moped. There was no regular moped. There
were only the two bicycles, their chains orange with rust. Lagi's robe,
Youssouf had seen, was sewn with many patches. Lagi's son wore clothes whose
holes didn't even have patches. On their feet, Youssouf had noticed, both
men wore flip-flops.
Youssouf and Abdoul were given a room with four others. There was no
furniture. Once Youssouf's eyes adjusted to the dark, he could see the other
workers sprawled on the floor, on reed mats, bent about each other, like
pieces of a jigsaw puzzle. Clothing was piled in one corner, along with a
flashlight and a radio, both of which turned out to be broken. In another
corner was a gas lantern, a broom fashioned out of thin twigs and a small
prayer rug, rolled tightly.
Lagi came by and handed Youssouf and Abdoul each a machete. The wooden
handle on Youssouf's machete had cracked and was held together with a bit of
vine. Lagi told the boys to take care of their tools -- if they were lost or
broken they'd have to buy new ones. A new machete, he said, cost two weeks'
salary. Many of the workers, Youssouf noticed, slept on top of their
machetes. Then Lagi told the boys that work would start the next morning, at
hen Youssouf woke, he was finally allowed to eat -- his first meal in two
days, a bowl of cornmeal flavored with oil and salt; a dish known as kabato.
Lagi's wives had made the food. The workers and Lagi and his family all ate
the same thing. They ate out of two big bowls and dipped their hands in to
serve themselves. After they ate, Lagi's oldest son, Saydou, and two of
Lagi's younger sons and Youssouf and Abdoul and the nine other workers left
the compound. They walked single-file. They followed a trail and waded
through a swamp and arrived at the fields.
The day's job was to clear weeds from the cocoa groves. This was done by
holding a machete in one hand and a stick in the other. The stick was shaped
somewhat like an old man's cane. On the way to the fields, Saydou hacked a
few branches off a tree and made sticks for Youssouf and Abdoul.
Saydou assigned every worker a row of trees. He told Youssouf and Abdoul to
be careful not to damage the trunks of the cocoa trees. He told them to be
careful not to chop off their toes. Then Saydou and his brothers and the
other workers began to cut. Youssouf and Abdoul watched for a minute. They
saw that the stick was used to gather weeds into a bundle, so that they
could be chopped, close to the ground, by the machete. Then Youssouf and
Abdoul began to cut, too.
Youssouf had worked in his family's fields since he was a young boy. He had
handled a machete but never had to cut anything like the weeds on Lagi's
plantation. The other workers made the job look easy, but it wasn't. The
machete had to be held at just the perfect angle, or it wouldn't slice
smoothly through the weeds. Sometimes Youssouf found the right angle, but
usually he didn't. The others looked almost as if they were sweeping up a
dirty floor. They swung their machetes once and every weed fell. They moved
swiftly up the row. Youssouf had to hack at each bundle as if he were trying
to chop down a tree.
By the time Youssouf finished his row, he could hardly lift his right arm.
He felt as if there were a rock inside his arm. He was so sweaty that he
would not have been wetter if he'd jumped in a river. On Lagi's plantation
all the workers moved from one row to the next at the same time. The fastest
ones got the longest breaks, waiting for the slower ones to finish. When
Youssouf was done, the other workers were already resting -- all except
Abdoul, who was still cutting. The workers had jammed their sticks into the
soil and were sitting on the short ends. Youssouf was so tired that he just
flopped on the ground.
As soon as Abdoul finished, everyone was assigned another row. They cut some
more. Again, Youssouf finished second-to-last, and Abdoul finished last.
Again, Abdoul was not given a rest. This made him even slower. One of the
wives brought out some water, but it was gone before Abdoul finished
working. Abdoul, Youssouf knew, had grown up in a city. He was not used to
fieldwork. He was supposed to be working in a restaurant.
Youssouf could see in Abdoul's face that he wanted to cry. He was sure the
other workers could see it, too. The sun rose, and the day was very hot. But
no one offered to help. The workers just sat on their sticks and waited.
Some of them were older and had spent years on plantations. Some had arrived
just a few months before. Nine of the workers were from Mali and two were
from Burkina Faso. Some were so fast that they could fall asleep for a short
time before they had to work again. Not even these workers offered to help
Abdoul. They told Youssouf that he, too, was forbidden to help his friend.
They said Abdoul had to learn the job by himself.
They worked another row, and as everyone was waiting for Abdoul to finish,
one of the older boys sat next to Youssouf and told him a story. He said
that sometimes, when the work was too hard, a boy would try and run away
from the plantation. When a boy tries to run, Youssouf was told, the owner
and his family chase after him. People who grow up in the forest know the
paths very well, and they can always catch the boy. When they catch him,
they bring him back to the plantation. They take off all his clothes. They
tie his arms together and his legs together. They whip him with a tree
branch until he is bloody from head to toe. Then they leave the boy outside,
all night, still tied up, and the mosquitoes feast on him and the ants crawl
into his wounds. The older boy admitted to Youssouf that he had never
actually seen such a thing with his own eyes, but he had heard the story
many times and was very sure it was true. Youssouf believed him.
Abdoul finished the day, but he was so weak he could barely walk back to the
compound. That night he told Youssouf that he wanted to run away. Youssouf
tried to talk him out of it. Where would he run? How would he even know
which direction to go? Then Youssouf told Abdoul the story that had been
told to him.
Abdoul decided to stay. The next day, though, was worse. Abdoul lagged even
farther behind. Again he threatened to run, and again Youssouf persuaded him
not to. The third day was worse than the second. It took all of Youssouf's
efforts to persuade Abdoul to keep working. He even secretly helped cut some
of Abdoul's rows.
On the morning of the fourth day, as they were walking to the fields, Abdoul
said to Youssouf that he'd had enough. He said he was going to run. He asked
Youssouf to go with him, and Youssouf said that he was scared. He told
Abdoul that he didn't know the paths. He didn't know the language. He didn't
know the country.
Abdoul said he didn't care. He was going, with or without Youssouf. He told
Youssouf that he'd rather die running than continue to work. Youssouf said,
again, that he was scared. And Abdoul said goodbye. He said goodbye, and he
darted off the path and into the tall grass. The weeds rustled for a moment
and then closed behind him, like a door, and in a moment Abdoul was gone.
he owner looked for him, and his sons looked for him, and even the wives
looked, but nobody found Abdoul. At first, Youssouf thought about him all
the time. Then, as the weeks passed, he thought of him less and less.
Eventually, he hardly thought of him at all.
Youssouf's life on the plantation felt like a little circle. Every day was
the same day. He woke up and ate cornmeal and walked to the fields and
worked and walked back and ate cornmeal and went to sleep. That was it. He
learned how to swing his machete as if it were part of his arm, and how to
sharpen it with a piece of hardwood, and how to hurl it into an orange tree
to bring down a snack. He hacked weeds and dug holes and trimmed trees and
hauled bags of cocoa beans.
He wore the same shirt and the same pants every day, and soon his clothing
looked like the other workers' clothing -- a series of holes held together
with thread. He made friends with Dramane and Massa and Madou and Adama and
Modipo. He did not become friends with Lagi, the owner, but he did not hate
him either. He worked during the rainy season and he worked during the dry
season. For a full year, he never once left the jungle. At night, during a
heavy rainstorm, the drops crashing against the metal roof sounded to
Youssouf like the end of the world. When it wasn't raining, he spread his
shirt on the roof so that it would be dry by morning. Before they went to
sleep, the boys often dreamed out loud. They dreamed of eating beef, and
owning a moped, and building a house. They spoke about running their own
plantations. If they were not too exhausted, they played a dice game called
ludo. One boy gave Youssouf his first cigarette. Occasionally, they talked
about girls. Youssouf learned a lot about girls.
When it was quiet, Youssouf sometimes thought about his home village. He
wanted to tell his family where he was. A few times, when he was in a bad
mood, Youssouf considered running into the weeds. He thought often of how
nice it would be to go home for just a single night.
Late one afternoon, Youssouf was distracted by a bee and swung his machete
poorly and sliced open his left foot. He watched his blood spill into the
soil. He learned that there was no medicine on the plantation. He was
informed by Lagi that if he stayed home from the fields he would not be paid
for those days. He worked for two weeks with a plastic sandal on his right
foot and a bandanna wrapped around his left.
He was attacked by fire ants so often that he no longer noticed their
stings. Once, he was bitten by a snake, and he sat down in the field and
waited to die. The snake turned out to be nonpoisonous. No matter how many
times he saw a scorpion, he was so frightened that he wouldn't touch it even
after he'd chopped its head off. Three of the workers became sick with
malaria, but Youssouf stayed healthy.
A few months after Youssouf was hired, Lagi rode his bicycle out of the
jungle and returned with two more boys. He watched as one of the older boys
told the newcomers the story of what would happen if they ran away.
Youssouf worked on Lagi's plantation six days a week. Nobody worked on the
farm on Fridays, because Lagi is Muslim. Only a few of the workers, though,
stayed home with Lagi. On Fridays, Youssouf and most of the others walked to
nearby plantations and hired themselves out for the day. They charged 500
Central African francs each -- about 68 cents for an 11-hour workday. They
were paid in cash before they headed home. Youssouf kept his money buried in
a secret spot.
When visiting other plantations, Youssouf always talked with the laborers
who worked there. He learned about good farmers and about bad ones. He
learned that some workers were paid a little more than he, and some a little
less. Some ate three times a day, some twice. He saw workers who seemed far
younger than he, and others who looked as old as his father. He met a few
boys who had worked more than a year but had not been paid at all. Some of
them said that the trees on their farms were sick. The others didn't know
why they hadn't been paid. All of them, though, kept working. They told
Youssouf that they had no choice -- if they stopped and left, there'd be no
chance of ever being paid. They said that they'd be ashamed to return home
after so long with nothing. They said that people in their villages would
look at them as failures.
The trees on Lagi's plantation stayed healthy. The weeds were kept low. The
cocoa pods grew, and when the pods were ripe, the boys chopped them down and
Lagi's wives split them open and laid the seeds out to dry. Then the workers
put them in sacks, and Lagi sold the sacks to people from the city. And
then, like that, Youssouf had worked a year. His contract was over. Lagi
asked if he'd like to stay for another year, and Youssouf said no. And so
Lagi paid him the money. He paid him 75,000 Central African francs -- 7,500
a month for 10 months, with two months' work used to pay for his purchase
For a year of hard labor, six days a week, sunrise to sunset, Youssouf was
paid a total of $102. It was more money than he had ever seen. He was proud
of himself. He knew for certain that he was now an adult. Lagi's oldest son
pedaled him out of the jungle, and Youssouf's time on the cocoa plantation
came to an end.
e was dropped off in the same city where Lagi had purchased him. The city is
called Daloa. Many people in Daloa, Youssouf discovered, speak his tribal
language, Bambara, and almost everyone who spoke Bambara told him the same
thing -- they told him to go to the Malian Association. They said that the
association would give him a free place to sleep. And so Youssouf made his
way to the cinder-block building on a quiet side street in central Daloa,
and said to the person who opened the door that he had just finished working
on a cocoa plantation.
The person at the door was named Diarra Drissa. He was a vice president of
the Malian Association. He told Youssouf that the association was there to
help boys who had escaped or had been released from the cocoa plantations.
Inside the association's building, sitting on a soft couch, Diarra had a
long talk with Youssouf. He asked Youssouf if he knew what chocolate was.
Youssouf said that he did not. Diarra explained that cocoa beans were the
main ingredient in a food called chocolate, a food that was eaten mostly in
other countries, far away. He said that to keep the price of chocolate low,
some very bad things were happening. He told Youssouf that it might seem as
if he had been paid a lot of money, but he really hadn't been. He said that
nobody in the Ivory Coast would work for such a low wage. Youssouf said he
didn't know that, and Diarra said that's exactly why the plantation owner
had bought him.
Diarra said that the work Youssouf was made to do was wrong. A teenage boy
should not be made to work so hard, under such conditions, trapped in a
place he could not leave. He said that Youssouf was fortunate -- other boys
worked for years and were never paid. Some were beaten. Others ran away.
When Diarra said this, Youssouf asked if a boy named Abdoul Toure had
visited, almost a year ago. Diarra said yes. Abdoul, Youssouf learned, had
spent two nights in the forest before he eventually found his way to the
Malian Association and later returned home to Mali.
Diarra said that he wanted men like the one who took Youssouf across the
border to be stopped, and he wanted the farmers who bought the boys to be
punished. He said that many people agreed with him -- including people from
countries where there was a lot of chocolate. He said that many people from
other countries agreed that boys like Youssouf were working as slaves, and
that some human rights groups were encouraging a boycott of Ivory Coast
cocoa. In the United States, Diarra had just learned, some of the companies
who sell chocolate might soon start monitoring the working conditions on
cocoa plantations in the Ivory Coast. These companies would buy cocoa from
only those farms that did not hire under-age workers. They would then label
their chocolate bars with the words: "No child slave labor."
Diarra told Youssouf that he shouldn't feel bad; he said that every year
thousands and thousands of boys came from Mali to work in the cocoa fields.
But it was too late. Youssouf felt bad. He felt as if somebody had played a
trick on him. He felt that maybe his father had been right all along. Maybe
the Ivory Coast was a bad place. Maybe, Youssouf thought, maybe he really
wasn't an adult after all.
The Malian Association paid for a bus to return Youssouf to Mali. The bus
took Youssouf over the border and into the city of Sikasso, where Youssouf
had first met Dosso, the man who had taken him to the Ivory Coast. In
Sikasso, there is another group that helps Malian children who have gone to
work in the Ivory Coast. It is a branch of the international organization
Save the Children. The Save the Children office consists of five or six
rooms on the second floor of a whitewashed stucco building. It's one of the
city's nicest and cleanest buildings -- nicer and cleaner than even the
Sikasso hospital. Sometimes 20 or more children are housed there. They sleep
on the floor, often bent about one another in the same positions they'd
slept in while on the cocoa plantations.
Youssouf lived in the office for five days. Each day, he met with a young
Malian psychologist named Ibrahim Haidara. Ibrahim told Youssouf that
leaving his country had been a bad idea. He told him it was dangerous. He
explained that it was best for Youssouf to remain always in a familiar
place, surrounded by people he knew. He said it was never a good idea to
abandon your family. He told Youssouf that if everybody left Mali, there
would be no one left in their country. Then he taught Youssouf some
patriotic songs, including the Malian national anthem. Finally, Ibrahim
showed him a video.
The video had been made by a British documentary team that was financed by a
human rights organization called Anti-Slavery International. It is a
disturbing film. One boy in the video has horrible, poorly healed scars
across his torso; he was, he says, brutally beaten by the owner of the
plantation where he worked. The camera lingers on images of this boy's
scars, while the soundtrack plays and replays the sound of a cracking whip.
Though this is the only boy whose scars are shown, an official from the
Malian Association states that 90 percent of the 600,000 plantations in the
Ivory Coast use slave labor, and implies that there are thousands, and
possibly tens of thousands, of boys who have been beaten or otherwise
The movie was both frightening and confusing to Youssouf. During his year on
the plantation, Youssouf had never seen anyone with scars like the boy's in
the movie. He had seen only people with machete scars. Maybe, thought
Youssouf, he had just been lucky.
The young psychologist did not tell this to Youssouf, but Ibrahim himself
had never actually seen a child whose body showed evidence of beatings, and
he had worked with several hundred boys. Even so, Ibrahim said he felt that
cocoa plantations were no place for children. After playing the video,
Ibrahim asked Youssouf about his plans for the future. At first, Youssouf
said that he'd like to try and work in the Ivory Coast again, this time in a
restaurant. He said that his parents would want him to. When he said this,
Ibrahim held up a machine that was making a tape of Youssouf's voice. He
told Youssouf that the red light on the machine was glowing because he had
just given a bad answer. Youssouf could not see that the light was always on
when the machine was recording. Soon, though, Youssouf was saying only good
This was when he was sent home to his village. Before he went, though, he
had a chance to go shopping. He purchased a pair of shoes, a very nice pair;
the kind of shoes that looked like little houses for his feet. Youssouf
arrived home, wearing these shoes, on the back of a moped. It had taken him
12 days to walk out of his village and a matter of hours to return. Both his
mother and his father began to cry when they saw him. They had feared that
Youssouf was dead. They were so happy to see him that they forgot to be
angry. Youssouf told his parents about his time away. He said that the
experience had been both good and bad. He said that he learned many things
about the world, but he also learned that there were many things he did not
know. He also told his parents something he knew they wanted to hear. He had
promised the psychologist he would tell them this, and so he did. He told
his parents he never wanted to leave his village again. He had seen some of
the world, he said, and now he was finished.
Michael Finkel is a contributing writer for the magazine. His last article
was about the international trade in human organs.
Aziz Choudry is a New Zealand based, British born activist of Pakistani
origin. He has organized and participated in a wide range of solidarity
campaigns and initiatives in the anti-globalization campaign.
A regular commentator in the New Zealand media on human rights and security
intelligence, Aziz Choudry recently wrote about the growing phenomena of
Muslimphobia and anti-immigrant hysteria in New Zealand and Australia. In
this article on ZNet Magazine today, Aziz Choudry writes about his identity
as a "paki," thanks to George Bush.
Read and reflect.
February 17, 2002
To Beard Or Not To Beard – That’s Not The Question
By Aziz Choudry
Now that we’re all supposed to be Americans as the fight against "the evil
ones" expands, a recent incident has reminded me that some of us, wherever
we may live, are just, as George Bush said recently, "Pakis".
What does a boy with a name like Abdul Aziz do these days to travel without
being hassled by the authorities? Try and look meek when you are at the
airport, advised a friend in Pakistan. Don’t wear your leather jacket into
Hong Kong, said an Australian comrade, after a media beat-up there in
anticipation of my participation in an anti-World Economic Forum East Asia
Summit meeting in October.
As I checked in for a flight from Vancouver airport last October, an
Algerian worker at the airline counter chatted with me about how it is going
to get harder for people with names like ours to travel.
A New Zealand trade unionist friend rang me while I was vacillating about
whether to go ahead with a trip to Canada, certain that had I been on one of
the planes in the September 11 attacks, my name alone would have led to an
assumption of being a "terrorist".
Last October when we spoke at a panel session on globalisation and the
criminalisation of dissent at an Ottawa teach-in, anti-imperialist anarchist
activist, writer and friend, Jaggi Singh pointed out that both of us fitted
the prevailing profile of the archetypical modern terrorist/hijacker:
clean-shaven, brown-skinned males, between 25 and 35, with some higher
education and a good command of English.
Funnily enough, without talking to each other about this, both of us had
already begun to grow beards...
His beard didn’t stop Jaggi from being questioned, searched and held by US
Immigration and Customs officers at the Canada/US border last November.
On January 14th, I left for Vietnam. After checking in and getting my
boarding pass, I went to catch my Air New Zealand flight to Sydney for the
first leg of travel before 6am at Christchurch Airport. But my beard and
meek smile couldn’t save me from being stopped and detained. On presenting
my (New Zealand) passport and departure card at customs and immigration, I
was handed over to Aviation Security after the officer referred to a note on
her desk, and maybe a computer entry.
My name, I was informed, matched that of a "potentially very nasty person"
on a "list from London" provided by the airline, according to the Aviation
Security Service officer who took my passport and boarding pass and escorted
me over to an armed policeman. I had to be "checked out". I was not under
arrest - I do not know under what legal authority I was held. At least my
bags were not searched -- this time. In the circumstances, who knows what
reactions my chocolate bars, New Zealand scenery calendars, let alone my
Pakistan cricket team top and holey socks might have elicited?
So was this what my newly-attained "higher level of recognition" as an
"Elite Gold" frequent flyer really meant. My initiation into "Elite Gold"
status which promised a "new level of travel comfort and convenience" was to
be treated as a terrorist suspect.
Having a Muslim name is obviously incriminating enough, even before
September 11, especially in a country where most people’s understanding of
the Muslim world is mediated by Hollywood depictions of foaming-at-the-mouth
"Islamic terrorists" who are threatening to unleash weapons of mass
destruction. Or the almost indistinguishable slop served up served up by CNN
and the other global infotainment giants which passes for "world news" here.
But I am also an anti-imperialist organiser, writer and researcher with a
strong commitment to supporting Indigenous Peoples struggles for sovereignty
and other struggles for social and economic justice. Five years ago my home
was broken into in probably the most embarrassing and spectacularly-botched
"security intelligence" operations in New Zealand history. Meanwhile New
Zealand’s Police "intelligence" service seems to have regarded me as an
"extremist" worthy of its attention long before September 11.
I have to admit, I really cannot keep up with what’s hot and what’s not when
it comes to judging appearances and male facial fashion in this "war against
For if we are to believe what we are shown through the lens of the corporate
media the index of freedom, justice, liberty and civilisation for Afghani
people right now is whether men have beards and women wear burqas, not
whether they have the right to determine their own futures and to live in
dignity. Not that the US administration really gives a damn about ordinary
Afghanis any more than it cares about the hundreds of thousands of Iraqi
children, women and men it has murdered. And its allies in this crusade, bit
players in the war like the New Zealand and Australian governments are
Some may say that the world has changed since September 11, but we must ask
what is new? Since the Cold War, Western intelligence agencies have
constructed new security threats which justify surveillance of many migrant
communities on the basis of their real or perceived ethnic and religious
affiliations, while also spying on advocates for Indigenous Peoples’
sovereignty, and opponents of corporate capitalism. Some of us, like Jaggi
and myself fit into all three categories. Beard or no beard.
The policeman went away with my passport to talk to someone, came back, and
disappeared again. Eventually -- after doubting I would be going anywhere, I
was allowed to board the flight, but neither the policeman nor the aviation
security officer could or would throw any real light as to what was going
on. I asked if it was just open season on Muslim males of a certain age and
got a blank stare. I explained that if there was going to be a problem with
me travelling then they had better make sure the Vietnamese government
ministry which had sponsored my visa knew about it and that they would
probably be unimpressed by my being held up. I was left none the wiser as to
how -- of if - it had been decided that I was not the "potentially very
nasty" Abdul Aziz Choudry.
Air New Zealand staff at Sydney said there was nothing on their computer
system about me and that it could not have been their airline that
circulated my name. Blame New Zealand Customs, they said.
I cancelled my plans for Sydney and spent a frustrating time seeking answers
from authorities in Christchurch by phone, before flying to Bangkok that
evening. Aviation Security initially said that Customs had given them my
name. Customs told me the opposite story.
Finally the Air New Zealand terminal manager called from Christchurch. A
security intelligence organisation (he was "pretty sure" that it was an
overseas one, not a New Zealand one) had circulated my name, and that this
had been "routine checking". The airline then sent the information to my
primary point of departure. He categorically denied that his airline was
profiling passengers, "assuring" me that it was on the basis of my name that
I was stopped. He could not guarantee that I would not be stopped before my
other flights -- although fortunately I was not -- this time.
I do not want to inflate the significance of what happened. Far, far worse
things are happening to people with names like mine all over the world. From
the bombed villages of Afghanistan to the hundreds of innocent "suspects"
rounded up and imprisoned in the USA thanks to racial and religious
profiling, to the privately-run detention centres -- the concentration camps
housing desperate asylumseekers in Australia. Our world increasingly
resembles the set of a horrific B-movie, with all the same stereotypes and
roles pre-ordained by a power-hungry director who never learnt how to chew
his food properly, and a sycophantic filmcrew spread worldwide, desperate to
please him. But this ain’t no movie.
Tariq Ali, after his detention and search by German police at Munich airport
last October wrote: "I suppose that my experience was a dress rehearsal for
what is yet to come. It was a tiny enough scratch, but, if untreated, these
can lead to gangrene." That gangrene has spread to every corner of the
Meanwhile we are supposed to shrug, accept our fate, and take it all on the
chin. It’s only "routine checking" after all. Yeah, right.
Musharraf berates Muslim world
By Zaffar Abbas in Islamabad
BBC World Service
Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf has said Islamic countries will remain
backward unless they concentrate more on scientific and technological
Muslim nations are internally involved in fratricidal conflicts and
perceived by the outside world as terrorists with little attention being
given on their uplift, he said. General Musharraf made his comments in an
address to a conference of science and technology attended by ministers from
President Musharraf said the time had come for Islamic nations to take part
in collective self-criticism. Once such an assessment is made, it would not
be difficult to realise that the entire Islamic world was far behind the
developed world, he argued.
'The most unhealthy'
The Muslim Ummah, or the Islamic world, he said was presently living in
darkness. "Today we are the poorest, the most illiterate, the most backward,
the most unhealthy, the most un-enlightened, the most deprived, and the
weakest of all the human race," he told the delegates.
President Musharraf then made a comparison of the economic growth in Islamic
countries with some developed countries. While the collective Gross National
Product of the all Muslim countries stands at $1,200bn, that of Germany
alone is $2,500bn and that of Japan $5,500bn.
He said one of the main reasons for this disparity was that none of the
Muslim countries had ever paid any attention to educational and scientific
development. He asked the countries participating in the conference to
concentrate on scientific and technological development in order to compete
with the developed world.
The real jihad
The Pakistani leader suggested the setting up of a multi-billion dollar fund
for such a purpose. Beside this, he said, there was a need for creating
centres of excellence in the field of science and technology.
He also called for the creation of scholarships for young scientists to seek
knowledge from universities in developed countries. President Musharraf
described it as the real jihad, or holy war. Unless this was done, the
Islamic world and Muslims would always be perceived as backward, illiterate
- those who only indulge in extremism and violence.
[Non-text portions of this message have been removed]
This Sunday's New York Times Magazine carries a detailed cover story about
life in remote Afghanistan. The magazine cover shows a black & white picture
of an Afghan carrying a frozen pail of water across a snow covered field.
The headline screams, "Trapped."
Inside writer Michael Finkel chronicles the desperation of the Hazaras in
Northern Afghanistan; a people in a life and death struggle to survive. A
moving report worth a serious read.
Read and reflect.
February 17, 2002
T R A P P E D
To Wait or to Flee:
Caught in the mountains by the cross-fire of war, history and winter, a
thousand-year-old Afghan community calculates how to stay alive.
By MICHAEL FINKEL
The New York Times Magazine
They had a radio, just a single battery-powered radio, so the news traveled
by word of mouth up and down the footpaths of Abdulgan, village to village,
until everyone knew. They knew what was happening elsewhere in Afghanistan.
And therefore the people of Abdulgan not only suffered, they suffered with
the knowledge that they were some of the last ones suffering. The news on
the radio throughout the fall and early winter was of Taliban retreats and
food-relief plans and celebrations in cities released from oppression. Yet
in the district of Abdulgan, where they had been tortured by the Taliban for
years, people were still dying. Not just a few people, but hundreds, even
thousands -- a few thousand dead, and more dying.
The people of Abdulgan did not die all at once, and they did not die on
television or in a manner that could be called spectacular. They died in
prosaic ways -- of disease and cold and starvation. They died because they
were trapped by nature and politics and war. They died because they were
caught in the cross-fire of Afghan history. They died deep in the mountains
of northern Afghanistan, dozens of miles from the nearest dirt road. And
they died because this war, like all wars, is a complicated and messy
For those who didn't die, for those still healthy as conditions appeared to
be improving almost everywhere but in Abdulgan, a choice had to be made.
People had to decide whether to believe the radio reports, which said that
the remaining pockets of Taliban fighters would quickly be defeated. They
had to decide whether to trust the governor of Abdulgan, who promised that
relief agencies would send food their way. And if they doubted the radio
reports or weren't certain about their governor's knowledge, and if they
were still physically strong and mentally steely, then they had to decide --
and decide quickly, before the snows eliminated any choice at all -- whether
they wanted to remain in Abdulgan and leave themselves to fate, or whether
they wanted to try an escape.
Khuda Bakeh decided to escape. He felt that he and his family had waited
long enough. Too long, maybe. In mid-October, when the American planes first
flew over Abdulgan on their way to bombing runs in the northern cities,
Bakeh thought he was witnessing his family's salvation. ''We thought it was
a gift from God,'' he says, speaking in Dari, the Afghan dialect of Persian.
''We thought we would be freed, released from our situation. We all did.''
The planes flew directly over Bakeh's head -- the little buzzy F-14's and
F-18's from the aircraft carriers, then later the B-52's with their
horizon-to-horizon contrails. Every day for 15 days, fighter planes flew
over Abdulgan. Bakeh waited for them to drop the yellow food packets that
he'd heard about from the radio reports, but the food never fell. One day
the planes stopped. Before long his own food supplies were dangerously low.
He waited as disturbing news reached his village. The news came in typical
Abdulgan fashion -- relayed along the web of footpaths that link the 55 or
so villages in the district of Abdulgan, high up in the mountains, with the
more fertile districts in the valleys far below. The disturbing news came
not from those who had been listening to the radio but from people who had
recently made the trek up from the valleys. The American bombing, they said,
had sparked a mass Taliban retreat, which had brought the Taliban into the
mountains near Abdulgan. This was an unintended consequence of the American
action, but devastating nonetheless.
Rather than fewer Taliban troops patrolling the foothills, there were now so
many soldiers that the Taliban had nearly surrounded the entire region,
blocking all the traditional footpaths to Abdulgan. It was nearly impossible
for supplies to get up the mountains and extremely dangerous for anyone to
come down. So Bakeh and his family waited. They waited as the month of
October expired and November began. They waited as the wind carried a chill
with it, indicating that winter was on the way. They waited as friends and
relatives and neighbors fell ill, and they wondered how long their own
health would endure.
In truth, if he really thought about it, Bakeh had been waiting for years.
The residents of Abdulgan are Hazara, and they had been suffering since the
Taliban finished capturing most of northern Afghanistan by summer 1997. The
Hazara, the third-largest ethnic group in Afghanistan, after the Pashtuns
and the Tajiks, live primarily in the mountains of central and northern
Afghanistan, a region they call the Hazarajat -- the land of the Hazara.
Unlike nearly every other ethnic group in Afghanistan, the Hazara are
followers of the Shia sect of Islam. They do not accept the legitimacy of
Islam's three earliest caliphs, or spiritual leaders. The Taliban, who are
Sunni Muslims, regard the Hazara as infidels and have done everything in
their power to destroy them.
Only the rugged terrain, which had protected the Hazara for centuries,
prevented Taliban troops from launching an all-out ground assault. Instead,
the Taliban planted land mines throughout the Hazarajat and sent their small
air force on bombing runs over Abdulgan. They tried to stop all supplies
from reaching the Hazara's mountaintop settlements and to block all Hazara
farm goods from reaching the markets down in the valley. If the Hazara, even
civilians, were caught trying to descend from their villages, they often
faced imprisonment and, sometimes, execution.
The Hazara tend to be short and stout and rather Mongol in appearance; they
are, by anthropologists' best estimates, descendants of the Mongol invaders
of the 13th century. They do not look like the other peoples of Afghanistan;
many do not grow facial hair particularly well. On this basis, above and
beyond religious beliefs, they were vulnerable to being persecuted by the
At the same time that the Taliban were tormenting the Hazara, northern
Afghanistan was struck by drought. Many Hazara do not find this a
coincidence. ''It was as if God was angry at us,'' Bakeh says, ''but we did
not know what we had done.'' Beginning in 1998, there was simply no more
rain. Bakeh is a wheat farmer, and the drought destroyed his fields. His
family had no source of income; they couldn't harvest enough wheat even to
make their own bread. Almost nothing was growing in Abdulgan, and only a
tiny quantity of goods made it through the Taliban blockades. Those goods
were now extremely expensive. Soon there was no water in Abdulgan's wells.
Food was scarce; what little water was available was dirty and brackish.
Disease began spreading -- first a districtwide outbreak of malaria, then
cholera, then measles, then tuberculosis. People were dying.
During the spring and summer of 2001, many families elected to abandon their
homes and try to make their way to refugee camps. ''We all thought about
it,'' Bakeh says. ''Everyone did.'' But it was always dangerous to go. There
were reports that Taliban troops were torturing civilians, sometimes killing
them like cattle, hanging them by their feet before slitting their throats.
This is why Bakeh decided to wait. He had a wife and five young children,
and he did not want to put his family in danger.
At the time of the terrorist attacks in the United States, Bakeh and his
family still had a little to eat. But soon, in order to pay for food, Bakeh
was forced to sell his possessions. He sold his donkey to a merchant who had
come up from the valley. He was paid about $80, the equivalent of several
months' earnings. This helped for a while. But without a donkey, the family
could not haul water; because of the drought, the nearest source of water
was now an eight-hour hike away. The family had to buy water. Five liters of
muddy water was selling in Abdulgan for $3. The money from the donkey soon
ran out, so Bakeh sold his goats and then his chickens. He sold his two cows
and his new wooden plow. He knew this meant that even if the drought ended,
he would not be able to till his fields; the future was something he no
longer planned for. He sold his carpets and his teapot. His family sold
everything they could sell to merchants in the valleys, and still they had
very little food.
And then, because they live in a place where the nearest trees are miles
away and because they had sold their donkey, there was no way for Bakeh's
family to collect firewood. They would have to burn twigs and wheat stubble.
Winter was approaching. Snow had already fallen. The American planes had
flown over with bombs but not with food. To people in Abdulgan, the Taliban
forces seemed stronger than ever. Panic was setting in.
Nearly every household in Abdulgan was in the same situation as Bakeh's
family. In fact, Bakeh's family was comparatively fortunate. ''Children in
other homes would complain of stomach cramps,'' Bakeh says. ''And then they
would be dead by that night. It happened to many, many children. It got so
that when a child would clutch his stomach and say, 'I have pain, I have
pain,' we would all cry and say goodbye to that child, because we knew he
would be dead.''
By this point, in early November, Bakeh realized that it was only a matter
of time before his own children -- who ranged from a 7-month-old son to a
12-year-old daughter -- would come down with stomach cramps. Bakeh was 34.
His wife, Gulnegar, was 31. ''We felt we could not just sit and die,'' Bakeh
says. ''We were, by the grace of God, still healthy. We had to take a
chance.'' And so he made the decision to leave. ''It was,'' he says, ''the
hardest decision of my life.''
Leaving Abdulgan, even under the best of conditions, is never easy. Abdulgan
is possibly the most remote district in all of Afghanistan. It is located
about 150 miles south of the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, high in the Mushkel-Hal
Mountains, which roughly translates from the Dari as the Hard Walking
Mountains. The district encompasses several hundred square miles, though how
many exactly is hard to say, as the land is so rent and riven. It takes days
to walk from one end to the other. Each of the 55 villages within Abdulgan
is perched upon its own mountain -- 55 villages atop 55 mountains. It is
actually quite beautiful, the type of backdrop better suited for a fairy
tale. When you are in Abdulgan, it can seem as if it is the only place in
the world, and when you are anywhere else in the world, it can seem
impossible that Abdulgan exists. On maps of Afghanistan, the district does
not appear to be there; where its name should be printed, maps show nothing
but uninhabited wilderness.
Bakeh's family was not the only one to abandon Abdulgan. Thirty-nine
neighboring families joined them -- a total of about 200 people. They were
some of the strongest in Abdulgan. They decided, for safety, to travel
Their plan was audacious. They knew that they could not descend the
mountains following traditional paths -- with the presence of the Taliban,
they felt, this was akin to suicide. Instead, they were going to journey
through the vast, craggy wilds of central Afghanistan, a land of seemingly
endless mountains, a realm that looks, from high points, like a still life
of roiling seas. They would leave by the back door, through terrain so rough
the Taliban would never be there; no humans at all, they expected, would be
there. They'd be completely on their own.
Such a route would not take them near any refugee camps. Instead, their plan
was to walk nearly 400 miles to the west, all the way to the border of Iran.
Most Hazara feel a strong affinity with Iran, primarily because Iran is home
to the largest Shiite Muslim population in the world. The families who left
Abdulgan believed that if they were able to make it to the Iranian border,
they would appeal to their fellow Shiite Muslims and, given their desperate
circumstances, be allowed to cross into Iran.
Early on the morning of Nov. 8, 2001, Bakeh and his wife and five children
and the other 39 families began to walk. It was the first time any of
Bakeh's children had left Abdulgan. They walked down the far side of the
mountains, into the wilderness, toward Iran. They turned their backs on
their village, their people, their country. They were giving up on
Afghanistan. They were escaping.
The owner of Abdulgan's only radio is a man named Atahulla Kashifi. Most
people who know him, though, refer to him simply as the doctor. The fact
that he is not really a doctor is of little significance; he is more of a
doctor than anyone else in Abdulgan. In 1979, when he was a soldier in the
government army, Kashifi worked as a nurse for eight months in the military
hospital of Kabul. Later, he read two textbooks, which he keeps in his
house: ''Drug Treatment and Complications'' and ''Medical Information for
All.'' These are his full medical qualifications. Kashifi is also Abdulgan's
governor, military commander and -- by virtue of owning the radio -- the
primary source of news from the outside world.
Kashifi lives in the center of Abdulgan, in a mud-walled fortress he built
for himself and his family in the district's largest village, a place called
Bini Gaw. In Dari, bini means ''head'' and gaw means ''cow,'' though even
the doctor, who was born here, cannot explain why his village is called
Cow's Head. There is no electricity or plumbing in Bini Gaw or anywhere else
in Abdulgan. Nor is there a school, a bakery, a butcher shop or even the
most meager of stores. The only communal building is a mosque.
Before the Taliban took control of northwestern Afghanistan, about 3,000
families, by the doctor's tally, lived in Abdulgan. Three thousand families
means at least 15,000 people. From the time that the Taliban came to power
until the United States entered the war, the doctor estimates that the
district lost about half its population -- more than 7,000 people. ''Some of
them escaped to refugee camps,'' he says. ''Some were killed in the
fighting. But many of them died right here.''
Prior to the American bombing, the doctor could still conduct a modest
amount of trade with the merchants who were willing to travel the paths
between the valleys and the mountains. He was able to procure a few needed
medicines. He felt, as Abdulgan's one-man hospital, that he was solely
responsible for the health of everyone in the district.
To purchase medicines, he sold his most treasured possessions: his horses.
''Before the Taliban were here,'' he says, ''I used my horses to ride into
the valleys. I rode them to other districts, to faraway villages. When I
sold my horses, it was like saying to the people: 'I am staying here. I am
staying with you. I am staying until the end of this terrible time.'''
When the American planes flew overhead, the doctor, like everyone else in
Abdulgan, was joyous. After the bombings, though, it was nearly impossible
to obtain medicines. The doctor feared that he was unable to provide even
the most basic help. It wasn't long before he felt the first twinges of
despair. ''I saw too much suffering,'' he says. ''It made me an old man.''
He was 45, which is just about the life expectancy of a person living in
Afghanistan. The doctor was, in fact, an old man.
As if to confirm this, his health began to falter. He suffered, almost
daily, from severe headaches -- some so bad he had to lie down until they
passed. To combat the headaches, he began chewing a substance called naswar,
a powdery bright-green tobacco and herb mix, intensely strong, that numbs
the entire body. He'd purchased a large supply of naswar over the summer, in
part to dispense as a medicine. He began it chew it every day, all day,
keeping himself perpetually numbed.
The doctor, of course, listened to the reports on his radio about the
imminent demise of the Taliban, and he heard the conflicting information
emerging from the valleys about the increasing potency of the Taliban. But
unlike most people in Abdulgan, he realized what was happening. Kashifi had
been a soldier for 22 years. He had lived through two decades of continual
fighting. He understood how war worked.
He knew that American planes were first bombing Taliban positions near major
cities. This made sense: the cities had to be liberated before the
countryside. He knew, too, that the Taliban had retreated into the foothills
below Abdulgan. He realized that it had to be this way -- the bombing, he
thought, was good for the country as a whole, no matter how unfortunate it
was, at least in the short term, for the people of Abdulgan.
What panicked the doctor, though, what made his head throb and his desire
for naswar intensify, what made him grab at his yellow strand of prayer
beads and run his thumb over them as fast as he could -- two beads at a
time, like a man in need of miracles -- was a simple question that he was
unable to answer: how long would the short term last? For he knew that this
was a race against time.
''People were getting sick; people were dying,'' the doctor says. ''I knew
this would stop only when help came -- or when there was nobody left to
Kashifi calculated that the bombing raids would move from the cities to the
countryside and that the Taliban would indeed be defeated. Then he figured
that relief agencies would follow the same course as the bombs -- the cities
first and then the countryside. So, in late October, he made an announcement
and sent word of it to the 55 corners of Abdulgan. The situation, he
announced, was going to get better. He said that it would be best to remain
in Abdulgan rather than to try to leave. And then he made a promise, one
that he later wished he hadn't made. He promised the people of Abdulgan that
they would soon receive help.
Days after the doctor's announcement, when news circulated through the
villages that 40 families were planning to leave, there was tension in
Abdulgan. The doctor says he felt it. Some people thought that by leaving
Abdulgan, the 40 families were essentially surrendering their homeland to
the Taliban. Others wished that they were healthy enough, or brave enough,
to go along.
The doctor did not try to stop them. He knew that his promise was not really
a promise. It was more of a guess, a prayer phrased as a promise. He thought
that Bakeh and the others had made a bad decision, but he could not know for
sure. It was conceivable that Bakeh's choice to leave was the right one.
Which meant it was possible that Kashifi's announcement had actually further
imperiled the lives of everyone who was still healthy in Abdulgan.
But Kashifi could not abandon his village. As governor of Abdulgan, he felt
rooted in the place, but it was more than that. Abdulgan, he says, is part
of his genetic code. One of the doctor's favorite pastimes is to count the
names of his ancestors. He does it in a singsongy style, as if reciting a
lyric poem: ''My father's name was Qamberali. His father's name was
Haiderqul. His father was Boi Mohammed. His father was Jafar Big. His father
was Masum Big.'' He can go on for some while. ''My family,'' he says, ''has
lived in Abdulgan for a thousand years.'' And so he decided to stay and
minister to his people.
The 40 families walked out of Abdulgan and into the wilderness. Bakeh walked
with his wife, Gulnegar, who carried their infant son, Ali. Their four
daughters -- Rabia, Razia, Samana and Chamangul -- walked alongside them.
They had only a tiny amount of food. They had no tent. There were 10
blankets to share among 200 people.
They were wholly dependent on the offerings of nature and the fickle moods
of the skies. They drank water out of mountain streams; they foraged for
roots and wild berries in the lowlands. They ate nothing when they were in
snow-covered areas. They inched up mountain faces, worked their way around
cliffs and exhausted themselves climbing in and out of canyons. ''It was
harder than any of us had imagined,'' Bakeh says. At night, they all slept
together, on the ground, under the stars. ''We slept in one big pile,''
Bakeh says, ''like dogs.'' During the night, the people on the outer edges
of the sleeping pile rotated inward, and the people in the middle were spun
outward. In this way, no one froze to death.
Even the youngest children had to walk -- the group had no donkeys. They had
no warm clothes. Some had plastic shoes; some only had open-toed sandals.
The drought had ended, and they walked through snow and ice and freezing
rain. They walked through some of the most challenging terrain on earth.
They walked for 20 days and slept outside for 20 nights. And then, at last,
without suffering a single fatality, they arrived at the Iranian border.
As the 40 families walked, so, too, did the doctor. He had decided that he
would travel the footpaths of Abdulgan and tend to the ill until his promise
of relief was fulfilled. During the three weeks it took for Bakeh and the
others to reach the Iranian border, there was no sign that any aid was
coming to Abdulgan. The situation grew worse. The doctor walked as far as he
could. Sometimes he walked all day to reach a distant village. Often, when
he grew weak and tired, he wished he were riding one of his horses, but such
thoughts, he says, made him even more weary, and so he tried not to think
about his horses.
There seemed to be a different epidemic in every village. Some of the
sicknesses the doctor could not identify -- sicknesses with strange and
alarming symptoms. In Dasht-Kodogh, people's eyes teared as if they could
not stop crying, and then they went blind. In Folad, people's teeth turned
brown and rotted away. In Bunawash, it was hair that fell out, and scalps
became covered with sores.
Starvation was no longer a threat -- it was a daily reality. Every week,
through the month of November and into December, Kashifi says that more than
a hundred people in Abdulgan died of malnutrition. The precise number is
hard to know, but just in Bini Gaw, the doctor's village, there were at
least two deaths every day.
On some of his walks, the doctor would pass a home he'd visited a week or
two before, and it would seem unnaturally silent, and he would look to the
stovepipe and that, too, would be still. He'd walk inside and no one would
be there. And then he'd ask the neighbors, and they would confirm his worst
fears: the whole family was dead. Dead and buried, up on a ridge, in graves
that bulged from the frozen earth, marked with a single unadorned stone.
In Boya Boya, in the most remote corner of Abdulgan, the doctor was told of
an elderly woman whose husband had died of hunger. By Islamic custom,
respect must be shown to the dead by burying them as quickly as possible.
The ground was frozen, though, and the woman was unable to dig a grave. Her
neighbors were too weak to help her. So she buried her husband in the only
patch of soft dirt she could find. She buried him inside their home. A few
days later, the doctor was told, she became convinced that her husband's
spirit was angry. The spirit demanded a proper burial place. The woman
realized that she could not live on top of her husband's grave and fled her
home. She did not make it far. Her frozen body was found the next morning.
At many places, the doctor saw what he called ''skeleton people'' -- people
who were alive but who were not really alive.'' Meanwhile, his own health
deteriorated. His headaches seemed ceaseless. He chewed and spit out so much
naswar that a trail of green stains marked his daily journey through the
His health problems troubled him. He was used to being robust, energetic.
And indeed the doctor was, for the most part, an imposing-looking man, with
a wide, sun-wrinkled face, a broad chest and thick fingers -- and yet with
ankles and calves so thin that he often gave the impression, while standing,
of being precariously balanced.
By mid-December, when Bakeh and the families had been gone for nearly six
weeks, the snow became almost too deep for the doctor to travel through. The
wind seemed never to quit. He felt weaker and weaker, so he began limiting
his walks solely to the paths around Bini Gaw. The village is made up of
about 200 houses spread over a large flat-topped mountain, with outlying
communities on smaller peaks all around. The terrain is barren and severe,
treeless save for six spindly aspens, which are fenced off as if in a
Kashifi tried to visit at least two dozen families a day. These walks were
never easy. He carried what few supplies he had left -- vitamin C tablets,
protein syrup, rehydration salts, rubbing alcohol, a ledger book and a
stethoscope. He wore black plastic shoes and a brown turban and a navy blue
jacket. He tucked his pants into his socks. He hid his head within the folds
of his large brown shawl, prodded at the path with a thin hiking stick and
pushed his way through the snow.
The houses in Abdulgan are little mud-and-straw boxes, with thick walls and
tiny mouse-hole-shaped windows covered with cellophane. Inside most homes is
a cylindrical steel stove, about the size of an oil drum, with a door at the
bottom for feeding in wood and a section on top, with a spout, in which to
boil water for tea. The poorer families have only a fire pit, and their
walls were usually black with soot.
The doctor would knock, twice, then duck under the low doorway and stand in
the entrance for a moment, blinking as his eyes adjusted to the smoke and
the dark, until gradually there were shapes, and the shapes became humans.
He would take in the scene and do what he could to help. He checked on the
ailing and the elderly and the weak. He checked on the children. He saw
people he had pulled from the womb die of starvation and sickness.
He visited his friend Abdul Razik, who had stepped on a land mine in the
foothills below Abdulgan and was missing most of his toes, eight of his
fingers and both of his eyes. He spent some time with Mohammed Ghula, who
was shot by the Taliban at close range and had a gap in his face where his
lower jaw used to be.
He looked after Rahela Ayob, whose husband, daughter and son all died of
malnutrition -- he tended to her as best he could while she squatted in the
corner of her unheated home, mute, unkempt, rocking back and forth on her
ankles, clutching herself with her arms, waiting to die. In front of her
house, on her laundry line, was a string of frozen clothes. It was as if
she'd given up on life, midwash.
Starvation, he saw, can be an unpredictable killer. In another home, a
grandmother and grandfather -- Merza and Sakena -- tended to their
4-year-old grandson, Ahmed Ali. For some reason, the elderly and the infant
were alive, while Ahmed's parents were dead.
He stopped by the home of Safder Abas and his 11-year-old daughter, Razia.
Abas owned one of the only Korans in Bini Gaw. It was well worn but
beautiful, nearly the size of a tabloid newspaper, with a red silk cover.
Abas, though, could no longer read it -- he was blind and near death, too
weak even to sit up. Razia was evidently something of an artist; she had
taken a bit of charcoal from the stove and had decorated the walls of her
home with drawings of trees and flowers and chickens and two people riding
horses into a sunset.
One thing the doctor did, at the end of every visit, was enter the name of
the family in his ledger book, with the services rendered and the fee owed.
There was not one family in all of Abdulgan with extra money, but still the
doctor made entries. In his home, Kashifi had a second ledger that was
completely filled up -- a chronicle of thousands of unsettled balances. He
did not actually expect to be paid, but it was part of his routine, and even
when things were at their worst in Abdulgan, he did not want to change it.
His patients knew that he made entries, and he felt that if he stopped, they
might think he'd given up on them. So he continued with his ledger.
Once Kashifi stopped walking beyond Bini Gaw, people sometimes walked to
him. Three mothers made a six-hour hike from Bandak village, each carrying a
sick child. The children had fevers, spots on their faces and bloody
diarrhea. ''I did not know what to do,'' the doctor says. ''I had nothing to
give them. I let them lie in my house, but by the time the sun came up, all
the children were dead. The mothers had to walk back alone.''
When things like this happened, it made the doctor angry. He was upset that
there was not a better doctor in Abdulgan. ''I am a doctor,'' he admits,
''who is not really a doctor.''
He saw a hundred different types of suffering. Most families suffered
silently. They sat in their homes, around their stoves, and said nothing.
Those who were too weak to sit lay down. Some families hardly spoke a word
all day. Some scarcely moved. There was only the hiss of the fire and the
drip of snowmelt coming through the roof. At times, the doctor walked down a
path, house after house, and heard not a single human voice. The houses were
so silent it frightened him. Abdulgan, he says, used to sound like a riot of
children. Now even the babies didn't seem to cry.
But not all families were quiet. Some starved angrily, some aggressively,
some with wails that could be heard halfway across a village. Abdul Ahad,
who was near death, lay with his 8-year-old daughter, Roqia, squatting next
to him and cradling his head while Ahad moaned and yelled and wailed and
shrieked. His eyes were light brown and cloudy. Most of his teeth had fallen
out. He owned an aluminum trunk and a wool jacket, both of which he had
refused to sell. Two teacups were on the floor, and three-quarters of a
piece of bread.
On the wall, in a wooden frame, was a photograph of Ahad and his wife,
Amena. It was taken more than 10 years before. Ahad had made one trip out of
Abdulgan in his life, to Mazar-i-Sharif, a weeklong journey by donkey each
way. He went with Amena. They had their photo taken. Now Amena was dead. His
brother and his brother's family had left Abdulgan months ago in an effort
to reach a refugee camp; they hadn't been heard from since. As Ahad wailed,
his hands balled into fists, as if he wanted to strike someone. Snowflakes,
taken by the wind, flashed by the windows of his house like shooting stars.
He cried nonstop the entire time the doctor was there. His daughter never
left his side.
Some families starved stoically, in almost unbearable circumstances. The
four Hussain siblings -- Ali, 15; Hashem, 10; Kazem, 9; and Salima, 8 --
lived in the charred remains of their family's home. A Taliban bomb, dropped
from a plane, had landed on the home, killing both their parents and an
infant girl. They huddled in the half of their home that was still standing.
They did not have a fire, though neighbors had brought over some hot tea and
a few blankets. Salima, the only girl, had huge brown eyes and an emerald
green shawl. She shivered uncontrollably. A wicker bird cage sat near the
entrance of the home, but there was nothing in it.
On these walks, Kashifi says, he felt an incredible range of emotions --
sometimes bitter, sometimes defeated, sometimes oddly hopeful. Sometimes, he
says, he felt nothing at all. In front of his patients, he never appeared
anything less than calm. ''I try to keep all of my feelings inside,'' he
says. He hardly slept. He spent little time with his wife and six children.
He seemed to subsist solely on tea and naswar. At night, he often stood
outside in the cold and wondered why all of this was happening. The doctor
did not blame God. ''I never became angry with God,'' he says. ''I became
angry with humans.''
One family that inspired the doctor was Sayid Mossa's. There were five in
the family -- Mossa and his wife, Massoma; his mother, Mariun; his
11-year-old son, Mahdi; and his 3-year-old son, Murtza. There was also a
cat. On the day the doctor visited, everyone was sitting around the stove.
Because they had no firewood, they were forced to burn hay -- hay that was
originally supposed to feed the family's donkey, which they had sold to buy
food. The hay burned quickly; the room was cold.
When the doctor entered their home, Mossa pushed himself to his feet and
nodded a greeting. The rest of his family did the same. They had decided, as
a family, that there was no reason to toss aside tradition, to ignore
decency, to trample politeness. This was all they had left. So when a
respected elder entered their home, they stood up. They were not aware that
in many other homes, people had stopped standing, even for the doctor.
Mossa kept his blue turban wrapped crisply about his head. His children wore
fez-shaped hats, colorful as bouquets, and sequined vests. His wife and his
mother were wearing flowered dresses and flowered head scarves. The family's
sleeping mats were folded and stacked in a cubby cut into the wall. Shoes
were lined up at the door. The floor was swept. Elsewhere in the village, in
other homes, some people had lost interest in grooming or cleaning or
dressing. A few men had stopped tying their turbans.
Kashifi examined the two children. He pressed on their chests and checked
their eyes and looked into their ears. The children were sick -- they had
headaches, stomach pains and diarrhea. ''Malnutrition,'' Kashifi said. He
said it dozens of times a day, in every house. He asked if the family had
anything to eat. Mossa pointed to a bowl on the floor. Inside the bowl was a
lump of greenish-brown paste; it was made of flour mixed with grass and
water. Yesterday, Mossa said, the family had dug through the snow and found
They had a little more grass and a small quantity of flour, which was kept
wrapped in a swatch of burlap. The family, Mossa said, had decided that they
would not eat their cat. The cat was their pet, though it didn't have a
name. Or, rather, it did. ''The cat,'' Mossa said, ''is named Cat.'' He
smiled when he said this. He was starving and he was making a little joke.
The elder son, Mahdi, rubbed the cat. The cat nudged against him. Mahdi
reached into the bowl with the flour and the grass and scooped out a bit of
the paste and put it in front of the cat, and the cat gobbled it up.
At the border of Iran, the 40 families met a group of men who were willing
to smuggle them across and bring them to a place where other Afghans were
living. All the men wanted was money. The families, of course, did not have
any money, none at all. They begged the men to take them across anyway. They
begged them to do it out of compassion, out of religious duty. ''We told
them that we were Shia,'' Bakeh says. ''We pleaded with them.''
But illegal border crossings are generally not situations in which there is
a surplus of humanity. The men wanted money, and without money they refused
to even consider aiding the families. ''They told us,'' Bakeh says, ''We are
not running a charity.' They said, 'If we are caught helping you, we will
pay with our lives.' They didn't care if we died right there. They said that
if we tried to cross without their help, they would have us arrested.''
The group turned back. They had nowhere else to go. ''It was the worst
moment of my life,'' Bakeh says. They started walking back toward Abdulgan.
By this time, though, the snows had drifted deeper. No one had much energy
left. Gulnegar, Bakeh's wife, became ill. She had severe stomach cramps; she
coughed up blood. The next day, she could no longer hold Ali, her infant
son. She could hardly walk. Bakeh took the infant and begged his wife to try
and stay with the group -- if they fell behind, they would surely die. But
Gulnegar was unable to go on. On the fourth night of their return trip, she
died. Bakeh used up much of his own remaining strength to bury her.
He continued on with Ali and his four daughters. But without breast milk,
Ali also became ill. There was nothing Bakeh could do. Ali, his only son,
also died. He stumbled on, grief-stricken. ''I would have laid down and died
if it wasn't for my daughters,'' he said. On the trip back to Abdulgan, five
more people died.
But, of course, even those who made it back were far from safe. They were
exhausted, hungry and trapped, and once again in Abdulgan. The day they
returned happened to be Id al-Fitr, the biggest celebration of the Muslim
year, the feast marking the end of the monthlong fast of Ramadan. They had
nothing to eat. Bakeh's four daughters sat in their house and wailed so
loudly that they could be heard a valley away, where Kashifi was walking.
The doctor hurried to Bakeh's house, but there wasn't much he could do. It
was mid-December. The people who had tried to leave had failed, and his
promise of aid seemed to have been a false one. The evening the 40 families
returned, the doctor had a dream. ''I dreamed,'' he says, ''that everyone in
Abdulgan had died. I was the only one left.''
After the dream, the doctor woke up and felt very disturbed. ''I had a
thought that I'd never had in my entire life,'' he says. ''I thought, I have
begun to hate this place.''
Less than three weeks later, in early January, something of a miracle
happened in Abdulgan: the doctor's promise was fulfilled. The miracle began
with a man named Hamidullah Hamidi, a 38-year-old professor of engineering
at the University of Balkh, in Mazar-i-Sharif. During the Taliban
occupation, the university had been closed, except for Koranic studies and a
few other classes. Though the city had recently been captured by the
Northern Alliance (with the help of the American bombing runs that the
citizens of Abdulgan witnessed) and the university had reopened, there were
no funds to pay professors. Hamidi needed a job.
He was hired by the International Rescue Committee, a worldwide relief
agency specializing in refugee aid. Hamidi's job was to seek out remote
places in northern Afghanistan where people were in desperate need of help,
spots that relief agencies may have overlooked. The assignment called for
someone who was willing to explore mountainous terrain and endure no small
amount of discomfort. The salary was $10 per day.
Hamidi was perfect for the position. He was familiar with discomfort. When
the Taliban controlled Mazar-i-Sharif, Hamidi had been arrested and
imprisoned for teaching classes in his home. While in custody, he was
severely beaten about the head and nearly blinded. He now wears glasses so
thick that his eyes, when you look at him, seem small and far away. The
opportunity to help others who had been hurt by the Taliban was highly
appealing, and he threw himself into the job.
He spent weeks in the Hazara homeland, traveling by foot and by donkey, up
and over dozens of mountain passes, through ravines, above the tree line.
Finally, he came upon Abdulgan. He was horrified. ''I could not imagine a
more dire situation in all of Afghanistan,'' he says. He met Kashifi and
swore to return. He left his entire salary behind, so that the doctor might
one day acquire more medicines.
The demand for relief goods in Afghanistan currently far outstrips supply,
and it took a few weeks before Hamidi was able to organize a rescue
mission -- weeks that tortured him, he says, for he knew people were dying
every day. Eventually, through a massive effort that included some 400
donkeys, several of whom froze to death during the journey, the
International Relief Committee brought supplies of wheat to the people of
Abdulgan. When the relief workers arrived, they found a scene of complete
devastation, village after village filled with the dead and the dying.
Without conducting a survey of every family in Abdulgan, it is impossible to
know exactly how many people have died since the start of the American
bombing. The doctor says that in Bini Gaw alone, more than 300 people died
during this time. In the nearby village of Bunawash, at least 50 people,
according to Kashifi, are dead. In Shikar Darah, International Rescue
Committee workers discovered that out of the 50 to 60 families who once
lived there, only 3 survived -- at least another 250 dead. These are just 3
villages out of 55. The total number of dead over the last few months has to
run into the thousands.
In the far-off villages of Abdulgan, the snow was so deep that not even the
donkeys could get through. In their desperation to obtain food, several
young men from these villages tried to walk down toward the valleys so that
they might carry some wheat back home. The journey was so difficult that
four of these men ended up dead from hypothermia. In other villages, where
the wheat was more easily distributed, there were celebrations. There were
even a few weddings, the first in Abdulgan in four years.
The International Rescue Committee's effort greatly slowed starvation deaths
in Abdulgan, at least temporarily. If it were not for this action, it is
nearly certain that few in Abdulgan would survive the winter. Now, several
thousand, including Kashifi and Bakeh and Bakeh's four daughters, probably
This may, however, be too little, too late. The International Rescue
Committee would like to revive Abdulgan, but it seems an uphill battle. Too
many people have died. People are still dying -- in the first week of
February, an undiagnosed disease struck the village of Zarda Badam, and 11
people died. As soon as the snow melts, it's very likely that many of those
who are healthy enough to leave will abandon their villages. Even the doctor
wants to go. The Hazara have lived in these mountains for a thousand years,
but this war may have been too much. It's possible that by next winter the
55 villages of Abdulgan will cease to exist. They were never on the map to
begin with, so there will be no need to cross them off.
As we learn about Pentagon plans for 'planting propaganda and even
misleading stories in international media,' it is interesting to note, this
leak comes from inside the US!
Sections of the US media continue to pose the difficult questions and expose
the truths of this war. One such article appeared in Atlantic Monthly. Jack
Beatty poses a tough question to his American readers.
"The collateral damage wrought by bombing Afghanistan, we may reluctantly
conclude, had the justification that we faced a real threat to our security.
Attacks on these other states [Iraq, Iran and North Korea]—none of which
have been shown to have had a part in September 11—would kill real people
over a putative threat. How could we justify that?"
Read and reflect.
February 13, 2002
Many have died in Afghanistan to make us more secure. Are we?
by Jack Beatty
Few of us can have been enthusiastic about the U.S. attack on Afghanistan,
but most of us conceded its inevitability. Would we have done so, however,
if we knew its human costs—knew that our bombing would kill at least a
thousand civilians, would indirectly lead to an estimated 3,000 other
civilian deaths, and produce 500,000 refugees and displaced persons? In
short, if we knew that our campaign would kill more Afghan civilians than
the September 11 terrorists killed Americans would we have demanded that the
government find an alternative to bombing?
In October, when the bombing began, voices, our consciences echoing them,
warned that Afghan civilians would be killed. But we had been attacked, and
we felt justified in striking back. Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan, al
Qaeda ran terrorist training camps there—camps where at least some of the
September 11 mass murderers had learned their tactics. Bin Laden had to be
apprehended, al Qaeda broken up, the camps destroyed to make Americans safe
against future terrorist attacks. The Taliban government of Afghanistan,
sustained with bin Laden's money and helped in its civil war against the
Northern Alliance by al Qaeda's fighters, had to be dislodged to accomplish
these objectives. International law experts assured us we didn't need worry
that the Afghan government had declared no belligerency against us and that
no Afghan citizen had been among our attackers. A state can be held
responsible for crimes against other states committed by groups on its
territory, and in any case as a practical matter the Taliban was
indistinguishable from al Qaeda. Invading Afghanistan to defeat the Taliban,
army against army, was a logistical and historical impossibility. Besides,
there already was an army on the ground, the Northern Alliance, as U.S.
planners eventually realized. Our part would be to bomb the Taliban out of
power. There was no other way.
Of course our leaders told us to expect civilian casualties—but not this
many, not the 4,000 calculated by Carl Conetta in a comprehensive assessment
of the war published by the Project on Defense Alternatives. Whether Human
Rights Watch, which will soon investigate the extent of collateral damage in
Afghanistan, will confirm these figures remains to be seen. In any case,
many died, and many others were maimed to make us more secure. Are we? What
has the campaign in Afghanistan achieved?
According to an FBI estimate cited by Conetta, al Qaeda's capacity to strike
American interests has been degraded by 30 percent. Could we have
accomplished that by limiting ourselves to bombing the terrorist training
camps and sending U.S. Special Operations forces to capture or kill al
Qaeda's leaders? The Taliban are gone, but Afghanistan is less stable than
it was before the attack, riven among rival warlords. The country is less
repressive but also less safe for ordinary Afghans—or so the journalist
Peter Maass writes in the January 6, 2002 issue of The New York Times
Magazine, citing a rise in inter-ethnic violence and of the outlawry stamped
out by the Taliban. Thus, at least for now, in the let-us-hope brief
interregnum before the new central government in Kabul can exert control,
the conditions that gave rise to the Taliban have returned. We have taken
several hundred Taliban and al Qaeda prisoners, but, according to a
well-sourced New Yorker article by Seymour Hersh, we allowed Pakistan to
airlift several thousand of its nationals fighting for the Taliban out of
the besieged city of Kunduz and many al Qaeda fighters went with them to
Pakistan. Did we let more escape than we captured, and if so, can the al
Qaeda-directed thrust of Operation Enduring Freedom be reckoned a success?
And, of course, we have yet to capture Osama bin Laden, though, together
with the Northern Alliance, we have killed up to 4,000 Taliban and al Qaeda
troops trying to get at him. A majority of Americans say they won't consider
the war on terror successful unless he is killed (he may already have been)
or captured. Finally, will we experience "blowback" from the bombing
campaign? Conetta cites polls showing nearly 70 percent of Turks opposed to
the bombing, and Turkey is our NATO ally. Anger against us in the rest of
the Muslim world, where fundamentalism has deeper roots, can be assumed.
Will hate-filled young men who would not have joined al Qaeda before the
bombing now turn to terrorism? Will innocent American lives be lost
because—unintentionally and tragically—we took innocent Afghan lives?
These considerations—instability, blowback, and above all civilian
casualties—should give us pause as the Bush Administration threatens to
expand the war on terrorism to Iraq, Iran, and North Korea, if it determines
that these "rogue states" are developing weapons of mass destruction to use
against us. The collateral damage wrought by bombing Afghanistan, we may
reluctantly conclude, had the justification that we faced a real threat to
our security. Attacks on these other states—none of which have been shown to
have had a part in September 11—would kill real people over a putative
threat. How could we justify that?
Sarah Elton is senior editor of Montreal's SHIFT magazine. In this article
in Canada's Globe and Mail, Sarah exposes the slow encroaching of civil
liberties, and freedom of the press in the US. Having said that, the very
fact this article appears in Canada's number newspaper and the victim of the
censorship has fought back successfully, is evidence that there are still
decent people fighting the good fight for all of us.
Read and reflect.
February 19, 2002
Downsize Michael Moore at your peril.
When his new book was almost pulped after Sept. 11, librarians didn't take
it sitting down
By SARAH ELTON
Special to The Globe and Mail
When you think of a banned author, Michael Moore is hardly the name that
comes to mind. Moore, a biting social critic, best-selling author of
Downsize This! and agent provocateur in the documentary Roger and Me, is
famous for being outlandishly outspoken -- someone who couldn't possibly be
Yet Moore's new book, Stupid White Men, almost became a victim of the
post-Sept. 11 political puritanism and censorship now streaking across North
The book, a vituperative attack on the Bush administration, exposing fraud
and corruption in America's holiest institutions -- big business and
government -- had been scheduled to be launched by HarperCollins in October.
The publisher was expecting big things of the tome and commissioned a first
print run of 100,000 copies -- large even by U.S. standards. But after Sept.
11, the climate changed. The book was put on hold.
"Sept. 10, the presses were rolling. There were 50,000 copies. They were
supposed to be shipped out on the 11th," Moore said on the phone from his
home in New York. "And then the world changed. They [HarperCollins] put a
halt to everything."
At first, Moore understood their decision to postpone the release. He knew
victims of the attacks and didn't want to head out on a book tour. But in
October, he says he was told the publisher no longer felt comfortable
putting out a book that vehemently criticized the president -- let alone one
that portrayed him as an alcoholic thief who has no legal claim to the White
According to Moore, the company asked him to rewrite large sections of the
manuscript, tone down his dissent and change the cover art -- a giant Moore
standing smugly in front of a group of white men at a boardroom table. Of
particular concern was the chapter titled "Kill Whitey," about racism
against African Americans.
"I said, you've got to be kidding me. I'm not changing a thing in this
book," he recounted. "Thus began a series of phone and in-person meetings.
The threat was constantly being made to me: 'We're going to shred this book,
we're going to pulp this book.' "
Then, they asked him to cough up $100,000 to compensate them for their loss
since they'd printed half the run already.
"I couldn't believe it. I said, you want me to pay you $100,000 for the
privilege of censoring myself?" he said. "I've been able to get away with a
lot in the last decade, in part because I make the corporations that own the
media money. I never thought I would find myself in this place."
When contacted, HarperCollins refused to discuss what happened. "There were
a lot of decisions to be made at that time. I'm not going to get into a
discussion about our discussions with him," said Lisa Herling, a
What happened next is the stuff of inspirational talks at community
meetings. Moore told his saga at a reading in New Jersey. In the audience
was one Ann Sparanese, a librarian with the suburban Englewood Library.
When she heard Moore's book had been more or less banned by its publisher,
she decided she had to report it to her fellow librarians -- despite Moore's
request that people not take action. She posted what she learned at the
meeting on two librarian e-mail lists and inadvertently started a campaign
to bring Moore's book back from the dead.
"I felt obliged after I heard what was going on," she said. "It just seemed
chilling to me that a publisher would voluntarily forgo profits, tell a
writer to change their work, for no reason other than their own
In no time, HarperCollins was awash with complaints from many librarians, a
group that controls a sizable portion of book sales. Whether it was
Sparanese and the librarians who saved Stupid White Men will never be known.
But the book was rescheduled for release in the United States today. And
Moore did not have to alter a word.
"The book was postponed after the events of Sept. 11 as many books were,"
Herling said. "It was later decided that we should move forward and publish
"I'm not going to take any responsibility," Sparanese said. "But I'm really
happy that the book is going to be distributed."
Regardless of what made the company change its mind, the story echoes the
kind of censorship happening quietly since Sept. 11.
"There has certainly been a chilling of dissent in the United States in
general since Sept. 11," said Rachel Coen, media analyst with the New
York-based national media watch group, Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting.
"A lot of that has to do with how the media responded to the attacks and to
A number of journalists at smaller U.S. newspapers, she said, have been
fired from their jobs after expressing views that aren't palatable to the
political mainstream since the fall.
Moore's book, interestingly, does not deal with Sept. 11 and its political
aftermath, since it was written before that date. During the recent
negotiations with HarperCollins, Moore offered to update the publication and
write a new chapter on Sept. 11. It is possible to remove bindings of an
already-printed work and strip in a new chapter. He decided against this
when, he says, he was told that he would have to say something positive
about Bush's reaction to the crisis.
Nevertheless, Moore thinks his book -- which reads like a mix between a
standup routine, a political diatribe and an investigative report -- will be
well received by the American public because it is so outspoken, not in
spite of this.
"I think that a lot of people are tired of the steady drumbeat that comes
out of the Bush White House. People have been afraid to speak up, to voice
their dissent, and I hope that through this book they will feel more
comfortable in speaking out against what's going on," he said. As for
Canadian readers, Moore thinks we'll be an even better audience.
"Hello, Canadians, read this book. You're on the wrong path. Canadians
should read it as a cautionary tale for what is already starting to happen
A disproportionate number of Canadians were among his strongest supporters
during the controversy. His book tour will include a trip to Canada this
Moore ends his introduction on an uncharacteristically earnest note:
"There's got to be a better way."
"I'd like to see it happen in my lifetime," he added over the phone. "I'd
like to see this country turn into a nation of people who saw each of their
fellow citizens in the same boat that they're in and start to take care of
each other with the incredible resources we have."
Let us all pray Jamil Al-Amin gets a fair trial. I am worried he may have to
pay a heavy price and join Mumia Abu Jamal on the death row. I hope they
both see the light of freedom soon. Inshallah.
February 19, 2002
Al-Amin trial gets under way:
Deputy identifies Al-Amin as man who killed his partner
By STEVE VISSER and LATEEF MUNGIN
Atlanta Journal-Constitution Staff Writers
A Fulton County sheriff deputy stood up in court today and identified Jamil
Abdullah Al-Amin as the man who shot him and killed his partner. Deputy
Aldranon English stood glaring at Al-Amin even after the judge told him he
could sit down, demonstrating a steely resolve.
But minutes later, as he started to describe the shooting. English's voice
lowered and slowed down from what had been his fast-clipped testimony. He
said he had approached Al-Amin on a West End Street, expecting to serve a
low-risk arrest warrant.
"I asked to see his right hand," said English. "He said, 'Yeah,' frowned,
and swung up an assault rifle and started shooting."
Tears welled in the deputy's eyes. Prosecutor Robert McBurney brought him a
packet of tissues and the 30-year-old witness took one and dabbed his eyes.
The judge took a recess.
English was the first witness to take the stand as testimony began this
afternoon in the death-penalty murder trial of Al-Amin, once known as H. Rap
Brown. Kinchen's family sat stonefaced in the courtroom during the
English is a linchpin witness for the prosecution, regarding the shooting
that took place on March 16, 2000, in front of Al-Amin's small grocery on
Oak Street. Until the shooting, English described it as a typical night in
the sheriff's warrant divisions. He had partnered with Kinchen - whom he
called "Pretty Rick" - to try to serve about 15 arrest warrants.
Al-Amin was wanted in Cobb County for skipping a court date on charges of
receiving stolen property and impersonating a police officer. English said
he and Kinchen spied a tall man in Muslim garb who had pulled up besides the
grocery that doubled as a residence and thought it fit the description of
the 6-foot-five-inch Al-Amin.
English said he approached Al-Amin in a well-lit area but didn't draw his
pistol or pull his baton. McBurney asked English why he didn't have his
weapon ready since the warrant described Al-Amin as possibly armed. English
said it was a standard warning.
"Everybody is possibly armed," he said. "He didn't appear to be a threat. He
was an older black male in Muslim attire. In my past experience, I never had
any trouble with Muslims:
In her opening statement this morning,. prosecutor Kellie Stevens suggested
that Al-Amin attacked because he was carrying two firearms, and that as a
convicted felon, he knew he could be convicted on more serious offenses than
the relatively minor charges he faced in Cobb County. The defense argued
that Al-Amin was not the shooter. Al-Amin has claimed he is being framed as
part of a government conspiracy because of his Muslim faith and his black
militant past as H. Rap Brown, who advocated violence to achieve racial
justice in the 1960s.
Defense: English in no condition to recognize Al-Amin
Fulton County Deputy Algranon English had just undergone surgery and taken 4
milligrams of the drug morphine, so he was in no condition to identify the
man who wounded him and killed his partner, Deputy Ricky Kinchen, defense
attorney Jack Martin said today in the death penalty trial of Muslim cleric
Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin.
English picked Al-Amin's photograph from his hospital bed a day afer the
March 16, 2000, shooting, prosecutors said earlier during opening
statements. But Martin countered by saying that English's identification was
dubious and that English was coerced by police to choice Al-Amin.
Before he was given the photo lineup, English was asked if he knew Al-Amin,
implying that Al-Amin would be in one of the photographs, Martin said.
In fact, English may have made up an initial description of the shooter to
match physical attributes he thought he knew about Al-Amin, Martin said.
English and Kinchen were looking to arrest Al-Amin that night on an arrest
warrant on minor charges from Cobb county the night of the shootout. English
described the shooter as having gray eyes and this description came from the
arrest warrant, Martin said. The arrest warrant the deputies carried that
night mistakenly stated that Al-Amin had gray eyes and brown hair instead of
gray hair and brown eyes.
"The authorites made mistakes in this case," Martin told the jury. "And the
most important mistake in this case was within minutes of the shooting they
assumed that Jamil Al-Amin must be guilty. They assumed he was guilty and
they closed the case. Closed their ears and closed their eyes. But now it is
time to take the blinders off."
A man who lives near where the shootout took place will testify that it was
not Al-Amin who shot at the deputies, Martin said.
Prosecutor: Final gunshots sent cruel message
Muslim cleric Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin took deliberate care to send Fulton
County Sheriff Deputy Ricky Kinchen a very personal message after shooting
him, a prosecutor told a jury as opening statements began today in Al-Amin's
death-penalty murder trial.
Al-Amin, once known as H. Rap Brown, stood over the wounded Kinchen and
pointed a pistol as Kinchen lay on his back with what would be a fatal wound
in his abdomen and fired three more rounds into him, said Kellie Stevens, a
Fulton County prosecutor. Kinchen's weapon had been rendered inoperable in
"Those three rounds were fired right between the legs of Deputy Kinchen,"
Stevens said. "He shot him in his testicles."
Stevens described the gunfight that happen in vivid detail -- giving the
public the first picture of the drama that played on March 16, 2000, when
Kinchen and Deputy Aldranon English went to serve an arrest warrant on
Al-Amin for unrelated charges.
The deputies approached Al-Amin unarmed, Stevens said, to identify him.
Al-Amin opened fire with a .223 assault rifle, the prosecutor said. English,
who was closest to Al-Amin, returned fire and tried to run for cover while
Kinchen also fired, trying to protect his partner, Steven said.
Kinchen was shot in his hand and the bullet fractured his pistol, as he
tried to take cover behind an automobile all the bullets spilled from his
weapon, Stevens said. As he lay there helpless, Al-Amin, whose Ruger rife
was now empty, pulled a 9mm Browning pistol and approached him, Stevens
Kinchen later died from his wounds. English, who was wounded in several
places, survived and immediately identified Al-Amin as the shooter from a
photo lineup the next day.
Al-Amin was captured in White Hall, Ala., a hamlet near Montgomery, four
days later after federal and local police pursued a man into the woods.
Police recovered Al-Amin's passport, $1,000 cash, and ownership papers of
black Mercedes Benz, which English said the shooter had been driving. Police
said they found both a bullet-riddled Mercedes in White Hall and found both
the assault rifle and pistol in the woods where Al-Amin had fled. Ballistic
tests later tied the weapons to the shooting, Stevens said.
One of Al-Amin's attorneys indicated the defense will raise accusations of
brutality involving the FBI during Al-AminÕs arrest nearly two years ago.
Al-Amin, who has had a mosque in West End for nearly 25 years, contends the
FBI has targeted Al-Amin since he rose to prominence in the late 1960s as H.
Rap Brown and later as he was investigated, but never indicted, in
connection with ties to Muslim terrorist groups and West End homicides.
Just before opening statements began Tuesday, Superior Court Judge Stephanie
Manis announced that the trial had already lost a juror, leaving the case
that is expected to last three to five weeks, with only four alternates.
The juror, apparently angry he or she had been chosen, sent the judge a
letter after being selected Monday. It didn't change the racial composition
of the 12-member jury panel, which consists of nine blacks, two whites and
In choosing from a jury pool split almost evenly along racial lines,
prosecutors used nine of their 10 strikes against blacks while the defense
used 18 of its 20 strikes to reject whites.
Manis said the jury appeared "skewed" racially, but found it legal.
Robert McBurney, the lead prosecutor, contested defense lawyers' exclusion
of 12 white males as racially biased, but Manis ruled the rejections -- or
"strikes" -- were proper because the defense gave legal reasons.
Manis noted the mirror images: Prosecutors used 70 percent of their strikes
to reject women; the defense used 70 percent to shun men.
"I don't think it's very funny, but it's neat and tidy," Manis said. "I am
concerned about the strikes because they're so striking. Every white male
The nine African-Americans on the jury are six men and three women; the
other three jurors are women.
Defense attorneys said many white males were struck as potential jurors not
because of race, but because of their views on the death penalty or the
Black Panthers. As H. Rap Brown, Al-Amin was associated with the 1960s group
and made speeches that called for violence.
Al-Amin supporters say English's account points to another gunman and not
the Muslim cleric.
One of Al-Amin's attorneys indicated the defense will raise accusations of
brutality involving the FBI during Al-Amin's arrest nearly two years ago.
The defense contends the FBI has targeted Al-Amin since he rose to
prominence in the late 1960s as H. Rap Brown and later as he was
investigated, but never indicted, in connection with ties to Muslim
terrorist groups and West End homicides.
The jurors chosen to hear Al-Amin's trial have diverse backgrounds,
according to statements they made during five weeks of questioning of 425
Eight jurors reflect strong academic and professional backgrounds.
One, a 64-year-old white real estate saleswoman, graduated from Emory
University, but was at the University of Alabama when a white mob rioted to
block Autherine Lucy from integrating the university in 1956.
The confrontation left a strong impression on the young Atlantan, who said
news coverage of the event skewed the facts.
Al-Amin's lawyers and other supporters have complained vehemently that news
coverage has portrayed the cleric as guilty.
Another juror, a young black man from West End whose father is a minister,
wore a Masonic T-shirt during jury questioning, which lasted five weeks. He
disclosed he has a close friend who is an FBI agent and a Masonic brother.
During questioning, he said he knew a lot about the Black Panthers but held
no strong views about them. He said he would generally believe the police
but added: "They're human, everybody makes mistakes."
The jury also includes a 40-year-old black woman with a master's degree in
business administration from Indiana University and a bachelor's degree from
Washington University in St. Louis. She is married to a pediatrician and has
a 10-month-old child.
Another is a woman who is a corrections officer. She said she felt the Black
Panthers and the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee, with which
Al-Amin was affiliated when he was H. Rap Brown, made valuable
The jury also includes a 38-year-old black woman who works for an Atlanta
cab company and whose brother-in-law is a sheriff's deputy.
The Hispanic woman on the jury has an MBA, works as a product manager for a
software company and described herself as a lapsed Catholic.
The defense challenged the jury pool as under-representing Hispanics -- an
increasingly common complaint in many Georgia counties, such as Hall and
Gwinnett, and one that could be raised on appeal should Al-Amin be
Al-Amin's brother Ed Brown said the trial itself will determine whether a
truly fair jury had been selected.
"A fair jury is a jury that is prepared to rise above the pre-trial
publicity, rise above their individual bias and look at all the evidence,"
said Brown. "Whether this jury can accomplish that is yet to be seen."
-- Staff writer Bill Montgomery contributed to this report.
Carolyn Briggs received an MFA in creative writing from the University of
Arkansas. Her memoir, "This Dark World: A Memoir of Salvation Found and
Lost," will be published next month.
In this article, published late last year on Salon.Com, she tells the tale
of her journey to Christian fundamentalism and back "to see the world
clearly and not through stained glass."
Read and reflect.
Seeing the light
A former Christian fundamentalist recalls a life of ferocious, intractable
faith -- and the moments it began to crumble.
By Carolyn S. Briggs
Dec. 21, 2001 | This morning I drive to work thinking about the lipstick on
my front tooth that I can't fix until I exit the freeway, my college
freshmen students who will not be prepared for class and firemen, my new
heroes. I turn on NPR. An interview.
A scholar explains how difficult it is for a religious fundamentalist to
function with the concept of multiple identities. While most of us are
comfortable defining ourselves in several different roles, a fundamentalist
cannot. She is called to forsake anything that challenges her mission as a
single-minded follower of God. Even good things can distract her from the
narrow road. Once the image of "zealot" has been forged, the radical will
cling to that self-definition and disregard anything but her mission of
serving God with her whole heart, soul and strength.
Can the zealot be a city councilman, a lover of literature, an expert at
chess or backgammon? Unlikely. These pursuits have the potential to hinder
the believer from becoming a sold-out follower of God. The Old Testament God
who consumed his servants' sacrifices in a blinding flash of fire is not a
God content to be a suburban pursuit, a scheduled event on a crowded
calendar. The zealot capitulates in the face of this demand and is rewarded
with sure answers secreted in inerrant scriptures and promises of eternal
security. In a chaotic world, the clarity of seeing oneself simply and
irrefutably as a child of God is immeasurably comforting. No need to quibble
about what is important and what is not -- God is important and everything
else is not.
I know this to be true. The interviewee on the radio is describing my former
incarnation, a religious fundamentalist who would have died defending her
faith. Remembering how I spent my youth clinging to a sole identity makes me
cry, there on Interstate 235 on my way to teach paragraph development to
sleepy and hung-over youngsters.
I was born in Iowa in the middle of the 20th century. My parents dropped me
off on Sunday mornings at a small Baptist church with red carpet where I was
taught to turn my back on the world, to retreat, hug my truth to myself and
pray for the doomed on the outside. It was clearly a case of "us" and
"them." We were the sanctified, the born-again, the elect of God. The others
were lost. The others didn't have a clue. My seventh-grade Sunday school
teacher warned the knobby-kneed bunch of us 12-year-old girls that the
unsaved would trip us up, bring us flat and destroy our faith. We were to be
watchful. Yes, she told us, tell the unbelievers about Christ, but don't
become friends. For the love of Jesus, don't let the unbelievers influence
you to compromise or turn away from the one true God.
My exposure to fundamentalism germinated below the surface throughout my
adolescence and finally took root when I turned 18. I was a child bride,
pregnant and unhappy when I turned to the Sunday school Jesus for my only
likely salvation. I surrendered everything -- my will, my thought processes,
my questions -- in return for him coming in and straightening the place up.
I began to measure everything against the Holy Scriptures and the one true
God and his son Jesus Christ. I plotted each event in my life in the grid of
God. I saw the hand of God in everything, and I mean everything. Parking
spots at a crowded mall were a gift of God. My daughter's earaches were a
test from God. The Del Monte vegetables on sale at the market were a sign of
God's provision. I called myself his handmaiden and I began each entry in my
prayer journal with a plea to be "used by God." What rich pleasure it was to
know the Creator of the Universe was inhabiting me, using me as his
mouthpiece. I asked God to speak through me and then I believed each word
that left my mouth was his word.
I would not have killed anyone
I would not have killed anyone in the name of God, but beyond that important
distinction between me and some fundamentalist extremists, I see very little
difference. I feared and suspected those who believed in a God who was not
my God. I knew I had the answer of the universe. I knew I was right about
the path to God. And for years, I didn't doubt it, not for a minute. I
didn't waver in the face of others who embraced another religion as fiercely
as I. They were mistaken. They had been deceived by their own desires, their
prejudice, their allegiance to the Father of Lies, Satan himself.
I believed God to be merciful and loving, but that knowledge paled in my
understanding of God as a strict and merciless judge of sin. When the Bible
said the beginning of wisdom was the fear of God, I took that seriously. God
was not going to take my sin lightly -- not a God who sacrificed his own son
for my sin. I kept a tight rein on my actions for two decades of my life. I
could not lose my temper, tell a lie, speed even one mile over the speed
limit. If I were leafing through a magazine and saw an astrology column, I
slammed it shut for fear that I would read even a word of such pagan and
I was filled with anxiety much of the time because, while I could control my
actions, I could not control my thoughts. And sometimes the thoughts in my
head, my modest and bowed head, were evil. I wanted attention. I was proud.
I was jealous. I could hide these emotions from the other believers, but I
could not hide them from God and it made me very, very afraid. I resented
the flash and dazzle of the world, the temptations always there before me.
For a long time, God's approval meant everything to me. He was my meat and
drink. I wanted Him to love me and I longed to prove my love to Him. I often
thought about heaven. I daydreamed about walking with Him on a green,
celestial hillside, His eyes on me. There were no flames of judgment, no
fury over sin, only love for me, a holy and fierce love for me, His
disciple, the one who denied herself the pleasures of this world out of
adoration of Him. I knew He would reward me and I could not wait to see His
The fundamentalist is intractable. Can you convince her to compromise in any
of the tenets she holds sacred? You cannot. Even in the most benign case,
she will see you as a contaminant. Your values and your ideas are not worthy
of her consideration because they are wrong. The fundamentalist does not
need to understand you and has no desire to try: You are of your father, the
devil, the deceiver, the one who is the enemy of her soul. You are not
redeemable as far as the fundamentalist is concerned. Your fate is sealed.
You, in fact, are dead already.
That is why it's not such a leap for these fundamentalist extremists from
another part of the world to see others as nonentities. As far as they are
concerned, those outside the true faith might as well be dead. Unbelievers
have missed out on the only real thing on planet Earth, the only opportunity
for redemption and a ticket to paradise. Through their own choice and
because of their own rebellion, they have sealed their fate. Even a loving
God must allow humans to exercise free will and take the path they choose.
I have returned, like a dog to his vomit
I understand the fundamentalist. Even now, I know what my former brethren
think when they look at me and listen to my denial of all things holy. I
know how I would have reacted to someone like me, a believer who has fallen
away. I am the one the Scripture says has returned like a dog to his vomit,
a newly cleansed pig who has gone back to the mud and mire of the world to
wallow in it. I am now an apostate, but how did it happen? Why did I set
down the cross I had once so eagerly shouldered?
I was 18 when I embraced fundamentalist Christianity as the only truth. I
had the untapped zeal of youth, ready to attach to any worthwhile cause. I
was young and in love, in love with God much more than I was with my
husband. I believed everything I read in the Bible, accepted everything
other believers told me about God, and stopped any analytical or reflective
thoughts in their tracks. I gulped dogma and opened my mouth for more. I
felt so safe, so secure, so infinitely sure of who I was and what my future
held. I dressed modestly and evangelized every chance I had. "The church," I
told strangers, "is the bride of Christ. And he's coming back any day now to
But he didn't show, and that was just the beginning of the disappointments I
would tally through the next 20 years. Unanswered prayer, tragedies that
could not be properly explained, events that made my loving God look cruel
and heartless. Leaders in my church who were lecherous beneath the surface,
a glance across a church pew that stripped me of clothes. I read Christian
publications that were militant and ignorant, calling women to keep their
hair long and their heads covered out of respect to their men and to wear
long skirts, no slacks, ever. An elder in our church paddled my infant for
not lying still during a diaper change. He left bruises on her legs. A
couple got divorced and we all whispered our disdain. One morning I sat with
Bible on my lap and found my mind wandering. I tried to make myself read, to
learn, to be cleansed, but I was thinking of going to the library instead.
My prayers grew perfunctory. I sang the hymns on Sunday morning less
enthusiastically. I began to listen to our talk at our church suppers. We,
the whole lot of us, were arrogant, smug and intolerant for any way of life
but our own.
Finally I slipped my hand from God's. We had been walking hand in hand for a
long time, but one day I just let go. I saw his back in front of me, and
some part of me said to hurry, catch him before he's completely out of
sight, but I did not. I just watched him until he disappeared. God had
become a demanding husband, an aloof one. He was a hot and cold lover who
would withdraw without explanation. No matter how much I strove to please
him, it was obvious of how far I had to go, how frustratingly unattainable
my goal of holiness. My love for him faded, and with that love went my
submission, my unquestioning acceptance of everything I was taught. I looked
at other believers and marveled that they continued to persevere. They were
cheerful in the face of disaster, assuring everyone else that God would
bring something good out of their brain tumors, lost jobs, missing children.
Extricating myself from the church was the most difficult thing I have ever
done. I didn't know how I could admit to anyone that I had stopped believing
in the word of God. My children bowed their heads in prayer at the dinner
table and asked me questions about the devil and God and who was stronger
and I realized that I had raised them to be followers of something that
wasn't real. When I read the Bible, I saw contradictions and a bloody
religion that had arisen from myth. My husband became an elder in the church
and I went to college. He went to prayer meetings and I went to poetry
readings. One year into graduate school, I knew what I had to do. I was
terrified to make it official, to pull out, to deny, to be a Judas, but I
had to. I left it all behind: my marriage, God and the simple answers
catalogued and filed inside my head.
During the next few years, I went to Europe several times. Always, I felt
compelled to visit the cathedrals. I lit candles but said no prayers. It was
so cold in those churches. I was always glad to leave and feel the sun on my
face, to see the world clearly and not through stained glass.
As we celebrate Eid al Adha along with the lucky two million who performed
Hajj, the focus on Saudi Arabia continues to grow. The bizarre alliance
between a corrupt monarchy and an extremist religious order is not just
ensuring the continuation of a dynasty, but also the slow destruction of
Islamic heritage and history.
Last month the Saudis destroyed a historic 17th century Ottoman castle near
Makkah prompting Turkey to accuse Saudi Arabia of a "cultural massacre."
This however is not new. We all know about the bulldozing of Jannat al Baqi
in Madina where the graves of the Sahabah were razed flat. Now news is
leaking out of more destruction.
In the attached article, Dr. Sami Angawi of the Hajj Research Centre in
Makkah, points his finger at the religious extremists for this outrage. "Dr.
Angawi pulled out a 100-year-old photograph of Mecca and pointed out three
forts and several mosques and schools that no longer exist. In recent years,
a well where Muhammad is said to have dropped a ring has been paved over and
the site of a major Islamic battle has become a parking lot."
"Can you imagine if the Jews found the home of Moses?" he asked. "It would
be on every television news show, in every newspaper. Instead, the sites of
the prophet are gone. The gardens that he walked in, the wells that he drew
water from — gone," laments Dr. Angawi.
Read and reflect.
February 15, 2002
Where the Prophet Trod, He Begs, Tread Lightly
By ELAINE SCIOLINO
The New York Times
JIDDA, Saudi Arabia — Sami Angawi built his house around the wind. The Saudi
architect began with the corner that catches the north wind from Syria and
the west wind from the Red Sea. He designed the three- story structure from
He laid mosaic tiles on the floor of an indoor swimming pool that he lined
with green pillars. He found a 300-year-old carved wooden door in old Mecca,
white stone at the Red Sea, ceramics in Morocco and Turkey and inlaid wood
in Syria. He designed stained-glass windows, a Japanese-style dining area
with sunken brocade-covered seats and a roof garden where he sometimes
sleeps under the stars.
In a kingdom that has come to value the new, because the old recalls
backwardness and poverty, Dr. Angawi is struggling to preserve the past.
"Islamic architecture is the outward reflection of culture and
civilization," he said over cardamom coffee and cookies of dates and nuts.
The goal is to find calmness, tranquillity and peace in your surroundings,
the same as you do with a soul mate."
To this end, Dr. Angawi has embarked on a treacherous campaign: to record
and save what remains of the historic sites of Mecca, the birthplace of the
Prophet Muhammad, and Medina, which houses his tomb.
Dr. Angawi's mission runs counter to the kingdom's longest and most
ambitious building project: the never-ending modernization of the two
holiest sites of Islam with roads, tunnels, housing and parking lots for the
more than two million pilgrims who visit each year. That has meant the
razing or covering over of hundreds of historical sites, many of them
relating to the life and times of Muhammad, Dr. Angawi said.
The most recent demolition came several weeks ago when Saudi authorities
ignored protests from Turkey and destroyed an 18th-century Ottoman castle
overlooking Mecca's Grand Mosque.
The six-acre site of the Al Ajyad fortress, which was built by the ruling
Ottomans to protect the city and its Muslim shrines from invaders, will be
used now for high-rise residences, a five-star hotel, a trade center and a
parking lot. One of the two main contractors for the $120 million
development plan is the bin Laden family.
Turkey's culture minister, Istemihan Talay, called the Saudi action a
"cultural massacre." The Saudi minister of Islamic affairs, Saleh bin
Abdul-Aziz bin Muhammad al-Sheikh, insisted that the fortress was only being
dismantled and would be rebuilt elsewhere.
But for Dr. Angawi, the razing of the fortress is part of a strategic
decision to destroy monuments dating back to early Islam out of the
misguided fear that they could become places of idol worship.
The decision illustrates that the Taliban's destruction of two 1,500-
year-old giant Buddhas at Bamiyan last year, which drew international
outrage, was not an isolated phenomenon, but is grounded in the harsh
version of Islam dictated in Saudi Arabia.
In fact, there is a Saudi fatwa, or religious ruling, signed by the
kingdom's most senior religious authorities in 1994, that allows the
destruction of historical places as a way to discourage idolatry.
"It is not permitted to glorify buildings and historical sites," the fatwa
stated. "Such action would lead to polytheism because people might think the
places have spiritual value. And the prophet (peace be upon him) has
forbidden building on or praying at graves because it is a form of
polytheism. So it is necessary to reject such acts and to warn others away
from them. May God guide us all."
A copy of Fatwa No. 16626, which has never been made public, was obtained by
The New York Times. Dr. Angawi said the fatwa appeared authentic.
The struggle to preserve his country's religious heritage has been a long
and painful one for Dr. Angawi, who said he is now "close to 50." He studied
architecture at the University of Texas and focused on the architecture of
Mecca for his doctorate at the University of London.
In 1975, he created the Hajj Research Center in Jidda to fill in the
historical gaps relating to the pilgrimage to Mecca. But in the face of
opposition, he abruptly resigned in 1988. "It was like seeing my children
killed every day," he said.
In the library of his home, Dr. Angawi pulled out a 100-year-old photograph
of Mecca and pointed out three forts and several mosques and schools that no
longer exist. In recent years, a well where Muhammad is said to have dropped
a ring has been paved over and the site of a major Islamic battle has become
a parking lot.
"Can you imagine if the Jews found the home of Moses?" he asked. "It would
be on every television news show, in every newspaper. Instead, the sites of
the prophet are gone. The gardens that he walked in, the wells that he drew
water from — gone."
"I am loyal to my government," Dr. Angawi insisted. "My battle is with
He blamed what he called "our religious fanatics" for the demolition policy.
But he said that he had found some refuge from such views in both his
scholarly study of Islam and in his private life. He is using CD- ROM's to
study Islamic texts and challenge rigid Islamic interpretations.
Dr. Angawi, the father of five, often fishes on the Red Sea. His wife of 30
years designs and sells traditional crafts from their home.
About a year ago, feeling the need for an "intellectual partner," he took a
second wife, Fatina Anin Shaker, a well-known retired sociology professor 10
years his senior with a Ph.D. from Purdue University.
He informed his first wife of his decision, and neither he nor she wanted a
divorce, he said. (In Islam, a man is allowed to have four wives.)
"I just wanted someone to make use of my creative mind," he said. "When you
have so many sides, there should be something that completes you. And it was
done in God's way."
Much of the mess created by the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan has its
roots in an Indian city called Deoband. The 135-year old seminary in the
city has produced thousands of 'Deobandis' since it started under British
patronage after the defeat of the Muslims in the 1857 First Indian War of
Independence that brought a formal end to Moghul India.
The New York Times carries a story on Deoband today. This makes interesting
reading. The head of the Indian Madrassah says: "We are Indians first, then
Muslims." This is contrary to what Deobandis and their allies in the Wahabbi
movement say. Around the Muslim world and even in North American the
Deobandis insist, "We are Muslims first."
Indian Deobandis insist on Secular Democracy as their politics; other
Deobandis insist on absolute theocratic states like the Taliban Emirate.
Caught in the confusion are British, US, and Canadian Deobandis. No other
group is 'for' and 'against' secular democracy at the same time; depending
on the audience, depending on the country :-)
Read and reflect.
February 23, 2002
Indian Town's Seed Grew Into the Taliban's Code
By CELIA W. DUGGER
The New York Times
DEOBAND, India — The orthodox Islamic school of thought that came to find
its most virulent expression in the Taliban originated in this placid north
Indian town where Hindus and Muslims peaceably coexist to the eternal
rhythms of sowing and harvesting.
Along streets ornamented with shrines to blue-skinned Hindu gods, cows,
sacred in Hinduism, forage unfettered. Five times a day, the muezzins' calls
to prayer sound from the minarets of the 135-year-old Darul Uloom seminary
that is famed throughout the Islamic world and teaches the form of Islam
known as Deobandism.
But while the Deobandis of India, and India's 130 million Muslims in
general, have embraced India's secular Constitution and religious diversity,
the Deobandis of Afghanistan and Pakistan sought to impose their
fundamentalist brand of Islam by force.
Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, the nations that were once Britain's Indian
empire, have the world's second-, third- and fourth-largest Muslim
populations. Almost one out of every three of the world's 1.2 billion
Muslims lives in the subcontinent.
So, to American policy makers newly interested in South Asia, it is
important to ask why South Asia's Deobandis have taken such sharply
"Everybody thinks of Islam as Arab, but you have to pay attention to Islam
in South Asia," said Vali Nasr, a political scientist at the University of
San Diego. "If you don't, you confront something like the Taliban and
everyone says, `Where did these guys come from?' To understand that, you
have to understand Deoband."
Here in Deoband, the concept of jihad as a holy war is simply not taught.
"In our madrassas you will not find even a stick to beat anyone," said
Marghboor Rahman, the seminary's elderly vice chancellor.
By contrast, the Deobandi madrassas of Pakistan became training grounds for
holy war and many of the Taliban leaders. Masood Azhar, Deobandi leader of
the Pakistan- based Army of Muhammad, is believed to have been behind
terrorist attacks on India, and the Taliban, as the Deobandi harborers of
Osama bin Laden, posed a mortal threat to the United States.
The answers about the different brands of Deobandism on the subcontinent
appear rooted in India's secular, democratic tradition and in the region's
complex interplay of history, politics and demography.
To step onto the campus of Darul Uloom in Deoband is to step back in time.
The 3,500 boys and young men, mostly from peasant backgrounds, attend free
of charge. They leave their sandals outside the scalloped doorways of
classrooms that are more than 100 years old.
In one, a teacher read by the hour from the Hadith, a collection of the
sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, while hundreds of students wrapped in
shawls against the winter chill and wearing white caps sat on the floor,
Mr. Rahman, 86, the school's leader, turns to history when he talks about
why India's Deobandis are different from their cousins across the border. He
explains that the seminary opposed the creation of Pakistan, a Muslim
homeland. "We are Indians first, then Muslims," he said, speaking in Urdu.
The divide between Deobandis had its origins in the 1947 partition of the
British Indian empire into India and Pakistan, an event that set off
cataclysmic violence between Hindus and Muslims and sundered the Muslims of
the subcontinent, too.
No longer were devout young Muslims from all over the former empire free to
attend the seminary at Deoband, and today, the Deobandis of Pakistan who
were educated in Deoband itself have largely died out.
"They have adopted the same educational syllabus, but beyond that, they
developed in a different manner," Mr. Rahman said. "We do not have any
relationship with them."
The seminary in Deoband was founded in 1866 to preserve Muslim identity and
heritage in the face of British imperialism, which had replaced the rule of
the Mughals, India's Muslim conquerors.
The seminary's teachers imparted to their students a socially conservative
vision of Islam purified of folk and Hindu customs and concerned with
teaching individuals how to practice their faith properly.
In politics, the Deobandis joined the independence movement led by Mohandas
K. Gandhi, a Hindu, and opposed the separate Muslim homeland of Pakistan
that was ultimately founded by Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a secular-leaning
barrister who smoked cigarettes, wore hand-tailored suits and spats and
married a Parsi, a non-Muslim.
"Jinnah never used to offer prayers, so how could he have created an Islamic
state?" Mr. Rahman asked.
Secular democracy has proved to be a bulwark against fundamentalism in
India, and it was built on a demographic foundation that made Islamic
nationalism impractical here.
While Pakistan is 97 percent Muslim — and religion has been routinely
exploited there for political gain — India, a much more populous nation with
almost as many Muslims numerically, is only 12 percent Muslim.
"The Muslims of India are scattered all over the place," said Syed
Shahabuddin, editor of Muslim India, a monthly magazine. "Out of 545
parliamentary districts, just 11 have a Muslim majority. How can you make a
Muslim political party?"
Still, in more districts Muslims form a crucial swing vote in a social
system where the Hindu majority is often fractured politically by caste. As
a result, they have a measure of influence at the ballot box, if not the
ability to win outright control.
Deoband is in the state of Uttar Pradesh, where the state election season is
under way. The political parties of the low castes and the peasant castes
are competing ferociously for Muslim votes.
The severest provocation of Muslims happened here in Uttar Pradesh in 1992,
when Hindu fanatics tore down a 16th-century mosque at Ayodhya. Ever since,
Muslims have often cast their votes tactically for the party best positioned
to defeat the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, whose leaders led
the movement to build a Hindu temple on the site of the mosque.
Less than a mile from Deoband is the majority-Muslim village of Labakri. The
villagers consider themselves Deobandis, but the purity of Islamic practice
expounded by the scholars at the nearby seminary does not extend even this
far from the gates of Darul Uloom.
The people continue to follow a caste system that is theoretically
forbidden. Like most Muslims in India, their forebears were low- to middle-
caste Hindus who converted to Islam over centuries. Hindu cultural practices
of caste and dowry have persisted.
In this village, people had barely heard of Mr. bin Laden and voiced little
interest in distant Afghanistan, far from their everyday concerns of the
sugar cane harvest, low wages, petty corruption and poor government
Liaquat Ali, a 48-year-old farmer, declared that he supported the Samajwadi
Party, led by a Hindu from the cowherd caste, because it is more secular and
But as Mr. Ali ranted on about the evils of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya
Janata Party, a young farm hand, Mohammad Mustaqeem, cut him off. "He was
the B.J.P. regional chief in the area!" Mr. Mustaqeem exclaimed. "He voted
B.J.P. last time! He supported them because he realized they would be in
power and that it would be good to be friendly with them."
A bit defensive, Mr. Ali conceded the point but insisted, "I supported the
B.J.P. because they talked about justice, but in the past five years, they
did everything but deliver it."
The Deobandi villagers of Labakri, like the Muslims of India, have
overwhelmingly chosen to express themselves at the ballot box, not through
But in Pakistan, Deobandis, who are Sunni Muslims, have been instrumental in
armed Islamic militancies in Afghanistan and Kashmir and in efforts to turn
Pakistan into a theocratic state.
A series of powerful players — Pakistani military dictators and democrats,
rich Saudis and the American government — tried to harness Islam to their
own political and geopolitical purposes. They fed zealotry on a rich diet of
money, patronage and arms, creating a fundamentalist force in Afghanistan
and Pakistan that no one could control, say scholars and political analysts.
The Pakistani military sought to strengthen its rule through an alliance
with clerics and from the 1980's funded thousands of madrassas.
The Saudis, many of whom followed their own austere and conservative brand
of Islam known as Wahhabism, sought to build a Sunni wall around
Shiite-dominated Iran and contributed heavily to Pakistan's Deobandi
madrassas, as well.
The Americans poured money into Pakistan to fund Islamic militants who
fought the Russians in Afghanistan. The elected government of Benazir Bhutto
nurtured the Taliban in the hopes of setting up a malleable government in
Since the mid- to late 1990's, both Pakistani military rulers and prime
ministers have allowed secret funding of Islamic radicals who have fought
Indian rule of Kashmir, India's only majority-Muslim state. (Notably, with
the exception of Kashmiris, India's Muslims have not joined the war against
their own country and often insist, like Hindus, that Kashmir belongs to
Even here on the campus of Darul Uloom in Deoband, students admire the
exploits of the Taliban, the Deobandis they have never known, but who stood
up to the Americans.
"Our schools have nothing to do with them, but still, what Americans did to
the Taliban was unfair," said Khalil-ur Rehman, 20. "They wanted to finish
the Taliban because they brought Islamic rule. They tried to implement the
teachings of Allah."
But asked whether he would rather live in Afghanistan under Taliban rule, or
in secular India, Mr. Rehman did not hesitate. "India is our motherland," he
said. "And we love it."
Pervez Hoodbhoy is Pakistan's leading anti-nuclear peace activist who was
once referred to by the New York Newsday as "Lonely Voice of Peace In
Warring Pakistan." In an article today for the on-line ZNet magazine, Dr.
Hoodbhoy comes out lashing at the country's right-wing foreign policy
In the article Dr. Hoodbhoy wonders about the motivation of Pakistan's
Foreign Policy advocates who have led the country to its current dilemma. He
"Are they so filled by hate of India that they see nothing else? Are they
mere intellectual soldiers of fortune, paid to defend the indefensible? Is
it about getting airtime and column inches, a power trip? Being invited to
head institutes or sit on policy meetings?"
Read and reflect.
February 24, 2002
The Wages Of Obedience
By Pervez Hoodbhoy
Buried under the rubble of the World Trade Centre lies a decade-worth of
Pakistani foreign policy. Faced by a furious United States, Pakistan’s
establishment abandoned what had earlier been declared as vital national
First, Pakistan junked the mullahs beyond the western border. A still bigger
earthquake followed just weeks later as thousands of jihadists suddenly
found themselves being hunted down and carted off to jail rather than
ushered across the Line of Control.
General Musharraf did well to surrender to these American demands. In all
likelihood the Americans would "have done an Iraq on Pakistan", as one
highly placed member of the foreign ministry conceded to me in the week
after September 11. He was probably right. Generations of Pakistanis would
have cursed a leadership that gave the US a reason to destroy the country’s
agricultural and industrial infrastructure.
But pragmatism should not be mistaken for principle, and temporary reprieve
for victory. Pakistan’s present crisis desperately demands reflection upon
the ruinous impact of its past plans and policies. Tragically, our
officially designated foreign policy experts remain unmoved.
They cavort daily on television screens, fill newspaper columns with vacuous
political commentaries, and energetically condemn today what they had
passionately defended until yesterday. As ever, they are tasked with
articulating, elaborating, and justifying the ever-changing wishes and
desires of their patron-of-the-moment.
The aim of this article is to understand the systemic failure of a whole
class of people to think honestly and seriously, in short a failure to do
their job as political analysts. Personalities are incidental. Nevertheless,
it is important to be specific at times.
Consider first the writings of right-wing columnist for The News, Nasim
Zehra. Well-known for impassioned defense of the Taliban, she ridiculed
those who insisted Pakistan was being isolated internationally for
supporting the mullahs of Kabul.
In "The Myth of Isolation", Zehra glowed about our being in the best of all
possible worlds since "Pakistan’s bilateral relations with its regional
friends and other global players are on track....There exists no crisis in
diplomatic, security and economic relations with any of these countries."
An article entitled "Defending Taliban" was followed with another wherein
Mullahs Mutawakil and Omar were represented as tragically misunderstood by
the world. Zehra reassured us the kinder, gentler aspects of the Taliban
needed only our eyes to see: "since coming to power the Taliban worldview
has demonstrably evolved. There is also a demonstrable willingness to
gradually adopt a contemporary mode of governance"[3.3.2000].
Alas for the Taliban, Zehra’s staunch support evaporated immediately after
Pakistan joined the US led coalition and B-52’s darkened the skies of
Afghanistan. The death, the dying, the refugees, our responsibility in
helping destroy Afghanistan, induced no remorse or rethinking from Zehra.
Instead, we were given proof of the triumph of strategic analysis over
commonsense when she insisted that "the fundamentals of Pakistan’s Afghan
policy remain unchanged" [13.11.2001].
Example Number Two. Before September 11, The News columnist Dr. Shireen
Mazari had a similar world-view but still more critical of the US and UN
(for not recognizing Mullah Omar’s regime). As Pakistan ditched its friends,
Mazari somersaulted, writing "The rapid fall of the Taliban government from
Kabul vindicates Pakistan’s support to the anti-terror coalition"
Never short of praise for whatever the state chooses, Mazari was moved to
laud "Pakistan’s timely decision to join the war on terrorism" [30.12.01]. A
tailor of principles, she explained the now urgent need to deal with the
"armed obscurantists" who had "led so many innocent and misguided Pakistani
youth to their death in Afghanistan".
Deceptions, contradictions, lies, abound. Consider Mazari again, who flatly
denied that jihadist organizations operated from within Pakistan and warned
of those suggesting such a thing, writing "One dangerous theme that is being
propagated is that the struggle is being waged by jehadis from Pakistan"
Seemingly blind to the obvious implication, she explains that "the
mujahideen struggle on the ground is of prime importance and it cannot be
allowed to stop prematurely"[12.07.2001, emphasis added]. Nevertheless, once
the jihadists were dumped, she joined in the chorus of clapping.
Astonishingly, Mazari, a star of Pakistan’s strategic community offered
publicly the well-considered advice that Pakistan-based mujahideen must
attack targets not just in Occupied Kashmir but also deep inside India.
This statement was repeated in a BBC Radio program in early February this
year, in a debate between Mazari and myself. When the Indian Parliament was
attacked on December 13, she took no credit. The heinous attack was, she
said, obviously a cunning plan by the Indians to smear Pakistan.
It is for others to consider why these pundits and their many peers did not
recognize earlier the ruthless oppression of those who not only stifled and
crushed women but also prohibited chess, football, the homing pigeon, kite
flying, and singing in Afghanistan. Or why they were so blind to the erosion
of Pakistan’s social, economic and political fabric by the Kashmir jihad.
Are they so filled by hate of India that they see nothing else? Are they
mere intellectual soldiers of fortune, paid to defend the indefensible? Is
it about getting airtime and column inches, a power trip? Being invited to
head institutes or sit on policy meetings?
Nations that have confidence in their future approach the past with
seriousness and critical reverence. They study it, try to comprehend the
values, aesthetics, and style. By contrast, peoples and governments with an
uncertain sense of the future manifest deeply skewed relationships to their
history. They eschew lived history, shut out its lessons, shun critical
inquiries into the past.
It is an important fact that, over the last decade, several Pakistani
dissidents -- marginalized and made irrelevant by the establishment -- had
repeatedly warned that Pakistan’s Afghanistan and Kashmir policies, built
upon unbridled fantasy and wild assumptions, were doomed to collapse. None
said this more eloquently and forcefully than the late Eqbal Ahmad.
Banned from Pakistani television, Eqbal Ahmad wrote about the Taliban as
being the expression of a modern disease, symptoms of a social cancer that
could destroy Muslim societies if its growth was not arrested. He warned
that the Taliban would be the most deadly communicators of this cancer if
they remain organically linked to Pakistan. He foresaw catastrophe -- and he
was proved right.
It is therefore important to seriously reflect on Eqbal Ahmad’s words on
Kashmir. He warns that although New Delhi's moral isolation from the
Kashmiri people is total and irreversible, yet it will be foolish of
Pakistani leaders to believe that India's chronicle of failures can ever
translate into Pakistan's gain. Pakistan once had most of the cards.
Yet, its Kashmir policy has been so fundamentally and severely defective
that it has repeatedly "managed to rescue defeat from the jaws of victory".
Over the years, Pakistan’s policy has been reduced to bleeding India, and
India's to bleeding the Kashmiris, and to hit out at Pakistan whenever a
wound can be inflicted. Indian intransigence and bloody-minded determination
to crush the Kashmiris has increased, not decreased, as a result of covert
Pakistani involvement. Tens of thousands of Kashmiris have died yet the
liberation of Kashmir from the Indian yoke is further away today than at any
time in the past.
While the General Aslam Begs and General Hamid Guls fantasize about bleeding
India to death, it is now Pakistan that teeters on the brink of a precipice.
Internationally, Pakistan stands isolated -- countries that support Pakistan
’s stand on Kashmir can be counted on the fingers of one hand.
Today India and Pakistan must realize that a military solution of the
Kashmir dispute is simply not possible. The solution must be political, may
take decades, and must be left for the Kashmiris to handle. The people of
Pakistan will support General Musharraf if he takes this wise course.
The proof for this support exists: ordinary Pakistanis condemned the
killings of innocent Afghans as they fled the Daisy Cutter bombs and the
Cobra gunships flying from Pakistani bases into the slaughterhouses of Qila
Jhangi and Kunduz.
But almost everyone breathed a sigh of relief at being rid of the misogynist
and mindless Taliban. There was also silent public approval as the
Lashkar-i-Tayyaba and the state-sponsored Jaish-i-Mohammad were stripped off
their status as liberation movements, declared "terrorist organizations",
and their accounts frozen.
The people of Pakistan have their own battles to fight against the monsters
of mass unemployment, ignorance, misogyny, ethnic and religious hatreds. It
is time we turned our attention to these battles, started reflecting
seriously upon battle strategies, and stopped the puppet shows on PTV.
[The author teaches at Quaid-e-Azam University, Islamabad.
With all the talk about an expected US intervention in Somalia and the
timely release of "Black Hawk Down," it is interesting to peep into the past
and read what was being written about Somalia in the US Press in 1993.
Here is a piece from the Los Angeles Times. The LA Times online edition
allows access to this story only to paid customers, but NetNomad.com has
posted this story on their website.
Read and reflect.
January 18, 1993
THE OIL FACTOR IN SOMALIA:
Four American Petroleum Giants had agreements with the African nation before
its civil war began. They could reap big rewards if peace is restored.
By MARK FINEMAN
Los Angeles Times
MOGADISHU, Somalia: Far beneath the surface of the tragic drama of Somalia,
four major U.S. oil companies are quietly sitting on a prospective fortune
in exclusive concessions to explore and exploit tens of millions of acres of
the Somali countryside.
That land, in the opinion of geologists and industry sources, could yield
significant amounts of oil and natural gas if the U.S.-led military mission
can restore peace to the impoverished East African nation.
According to documents obtained by The Times, nearly two-thirds of Somalia
was allocated to the American oil giants Conoco, Amoco, Chevron and Phillips
in the final years before Somalia's pro-U.S. President Mohamed Siad Barre
was overthrown and the nation plunged into chaos in January, 1991. Industry
sources said the companies holding the rights to the most promising
concessions are hoping that the Bush Administration's decision to send U.S.
troops to safeguard aid shipments to Somalia will also help protect their
multimillion-dollar investments there.
Officially, the Administration and the State Department insist that the U.S.
military mission in Somalia is strictly humanitarian. Oil industry spokesmen
dismissed as "absurd" and "nonsense" allegations by aid experts, veteran
East Africa analysts and several prominent Somalis that President Bush, a
former Texas oilman, was moved to act in Somalia, at least in part, by the
U.S. corporate oil stake.
But corporate and scientific documents disclosed that the American companies
are well positioned to pursue Somalia's most promising potential oil
reserves the moment the nation is pacified. And the State Department and
U.S. military officials acknowledge that one of those oil companies has done
more than simply sit back and hope for pece.
Conoco Inc., the only major multinational corporation to mantain a
functioning office in Mogadishu throughout the past two years of nationwide
anarchy, has been directly involved in the U.S. government's role in the
U.N.-sponsored humanitarian military effort.
Conoco, whose tireless exploration efforts in north-central Somalia
reportedly had yielded the most encouraging prospects just before Siad
Barre's fall, permitted its Mogadishu corporate compound to be transformed
into a de facto American embassy a few days before the U.S. Marines landed
in the capital, with Bush's special envoy using it as his temporary
headquarters. In addition, the president of the company's subsidiary in
Somalia won high official praise for serving as the government's volunteer
"facilitator" during the months before and during the U.S. intervention.
Describing the arrangement as "a business relationship," an official
spokesman for the Houston-based parent corporation of Conoco Somalia Ltd.
said the U.S. government was paying rental for its use of the compound, and
he insisted that Conoco was proud of resident general manager Raymond
Marchand's contribution to the U.S.-led humanitarian effort.
John Geybauer, spokesman for Conoco Oil in Houston, said the company was
acting as "a good corporate citizen and neighbor" in granting the U.S.
government's request to be allowed to rent the compound. The U.S. Embassy
and most other buildings and residential compounds here in the capital were
rendered unusable by vandalism and fierce artillery duels during the clan
wars that have consumed Somalia and starved its people.
In its in-house magazine last month, Conoco reprinted excerpts from a letter
of commendation for Marchand written by U.S. Marine Brig. Gen. Frank
Libutti, who has been acting as military aide to U.S. envoy Robert B.
Oakley. In the letter, Libutti praised the oil official for his role in the
initial operation to land Marines on Mogadishu's beaches in December, and
the general concluded, "Without Raymond's courageous contributions and
selfless service, the operation would have failed."
But the close relationship between Conoco and the U.S. intervention force
has left many Somalis and foreign development experts deeply troubled by the
blurry line between the U.S. government and the large oil company, leading
many to liken the Somalia operation to a miniature version of Operation
Desert Storm, the U.S.-led military effort in January, 1991, to drive Iraq
from Kuwait and, more broadly, safeguard the world's largest oil reserves.
"They sent all the wrong signals when Oakley moved into the Conoco
compound," said one expert on Somalia who worked with one of the four major
companies as they intensified their exploration efforts in the country in
the late 1980s.
"It's left everyone thinking the big question here isn't famine relief but
oil -- whether the oil concessions granted under Siad Barre will be
transferred if and when peace is restored," the expert said. "It's
potentially worth billions of dollars, and believe me, that's what the whole
game is starting to look like."
Although most oil experts outside Somalia laugh at the suggestion that the
nation ever could rank among the world's major oil producers -- and most
maintain that the international aid mission is intended simply to feed
Somalia's starving masses -- no one doubts that there is oil in Somalia. The
only question: How much?
"It's there. There's no doubt there's oil there," said Thomas E. O'Connor,
the principal petroleum engineer for the World Bank, who headed an in-depth,
three-year study of oil prospects in the Gulf of Aden off Somalia's northern
"You don't know until you study a lot further just how much is there,"
O'Connor said. "But it has commercial potential. It's got high potential . .
. once the Somalis get their act together."
O'Connor, a professional geologist, based his conclusion on the findings of
some of the world's top petroleum geologists. In a 1991 World
Bank-coordinated study, intended to encourage private investment in the
petroleum potential of eight African nations, the geologists put Somalia and
Sudan at the top of the list of prospective commercial oil producers.
Presenting their results during a three-day conference in London in
September, 1991, two of those geologists, an American and an Egyptian,
reported that an analysis of nine exploratory wells drilled in Somalia
indicated that the region is "situated within the oil window, and thus (is)
highly prospective for gas and oil." A report by a third geologist, Z. R.
Beydoun, said offshore sites possess "the geological parameters conducive to
the generation, expulsion and trapping of significant amounts of oil and
Beydoun, who now works for Marathon Oil in London, cautioned in a recent
interview that on the basis of his findings alone, "you cannot say there
definitely is oil," but he added: "The different ingredients for generation
of oil are there. The question is whether the oil generated there has been
trapped or whether it dispersed or evaporated."
Beginni 1986, Conoco, along with Amoco, Chevron, Phillips and, briefly,
Shell all sought and obtained exploration licenses for northern Somalia from
Siad Barre's government. Somalia was soon carved up into concessional blocs,
with Conoco, Amoco and Chevron winning the right to explore and exploit the
most promising ones.
The companies' interest in Somalia clearly predated the World Bank study. It
was grounded in the findings of another, highly successful exploration
effort by the Texas-based Hunt Oil Corp. across the Gulf of Aden in the
Arabian Peninsula nation of Yemen, where geologists disclosed in the
mid-1980s that the estimated 1 billion barrels of Yemeni oil reserves were
part of a great underground rift, or valley, that arced into and across
Hunt's Yemeni operation, which is now yielding nearly 200,000 barrels of oil
a day, and its implications for the entire region were not lost on then-Vice
President George Bush.
In fact, Bush witnessed it firsthand in April, 1986, when he officially
dedicated Hunt's new $18-million refinery near the ancient Yemeni town of
Marib. In remarks during the event, Bush emphasized the critical value of
supporting U.S. corporate efforts to develop and safeguard potential oil
reserves in the region.
In his speech, Bush stressed "the growing strategic importance to the West
of developing crude oil sources in the region away from the Strait of
Hormuz," according to a report three weeks later in the authoritative Middle
East Economic Survey.
Bush's reference was to the geographical choke point that controls access to
the Persian Gulf and its vast oil reserves. It came at the end of a 10-day
Middle East tour in which the vice president drew fire for appearing to
advocate higher oil and gasoline prices.
"Throughout the course of his 17,000-mile trip, Bush suggested continued low
(oil) prices would jeopardize a domestic oil industry 'vital to the national
security interests of the United States,' which was interpreted at home and
abroad as a sign the onetime oil driller from Texas was coming to the aid of
his former associates," United Press International reported from Washington
the day after Bush dedicated Hunt's Yemen refinery.
No such criticism accompanied Bush's decision late last year to send more
than 20,000 U.S. troops to Somalia, widely applauded as a bold and costly
step to save an estimated 2 million Somalis from starvation by opening up
relief supply lines and pacifying the famine-struck nation.
But since the U.S. intervention began, neither the Bush Administration nor
any of the oil companies that had been active in Somalia up until the civil
war broke out in early 1991 have commented publicly on Somalia's potential
for oil and natural gas production. Even in private, veteran oil company
exploration experts played down any possible connection between the
Administration's move into Somalia and the corporate concessions at stake.
"In the oil world, Somalia is a fringe exploration area," said one Conoco
executive who asked not to be named. "They've overexaggerated it," he said
of the geologists' optimism about the prospective oil reserves there. And as
for Washington's motives in Somalia, he brushed aside criticisms that have
been voiced quietly in Mogadishu, saying, "With America, there is a genuine
humanitarian streak in us . . . that many other countries and cultures
But the same source added that Conoco's decision to maintain its
headquarters in the Somali capital even after it pulled out the last of its
major equipment in the spring of 1992 was certainly not a humanitarian one.
And he confirmed that the company, which has explored Somalia in three major
phases beginning in 1952, had achieved "very good oil shows" -- industry
terminology for an exploration phase that often precedes a major
discovery -- just before the war broke out.
"We had these very good shows," he said. "We were pleased. That's why Conoco
stayed on. . . . The people in Houston are convinced there's oil there."
Indeed, the same Conoco World article that praised Conoco's general manager
in Somalia for his role in the humanitarian effort quoted Marchand as
saying, "We stayed because of Somalia's potential for the company and to
protect our assets."
Marchand, a French citizen who came to Somalia from Chad after a civil war
forced Conoco to suspend operations there, explained the role played by his
firm in helping set up the U.S.-led pacification mission in Mogadishu.
"When the State Department asked Conoco management for assistance, I was
glad to use the company's influence in Somalia for the success of this
mission," he said in the magazine article. "I just treated it like a company
operation -- like moving a rig. I did it for this operation because the
(U.S.) officials weren't familiar with the environment."
Marchand and his company were clearly familiar with the anarchy into which
Somalia has descended over the past two years -- a nation with no
functioning government, no utilities and few roads, a place ruled loosely by
Of the four U.S. companies holding the Siad Barre-era oil concessions,
Conoco is believed to be the only one that negotiated what spokesman
Geybauer called "a standstill agreement" with an interim government set up
by one of Mogadishu's two principal warlords, Ali Mahdi Mohamed. Industry
sources said the other U.S. companies with contracts in Somalia cited "force
majeure" (superior power), a legal term asserting that they were forced by
the war to abandon their exploration efforts and would return as soon as
peace is restored.
"It's going to be very interesting to see whether these agreements are still
good," said Mohamed Jirdeh, a prominent Somali businessman in Mogadishu who
is familiar with the oil-concession agreements. "Whatever Siad did, all
those records and contracts, all disappeared after he fled. . . . And this
period has brought with it a deep change of our society.
"Our country is now very weak, and, of course, the American oil companies
are very strong. This has to be handled very diplomatically, and I think the
American government must move out of the oil business, or at least make
clear that there is a definite line separating the two, if they want to
maintain a long-term relationship here."
An interesting analysis in the New York Times today talks about the rise of
Hindu fundamentalism in India, notwithstanding the election blows to the BJP
this week. The writer finds it ironical that in 'Islamic' Pakistan the
mullahs are on the run while in 'Secular' India, Hindu fundamentalists are
on the rise.
Read and reflect.
February 25, 2002
Hinduism's Political Resurgence
By PANKAJ MISHRA
New York Times
NEW DELHI -- A few weeks ago I was in Ayodhya, a North Indian pilgrimage
town. In 1992 a crowd of Hindu men demolished a 16th-century mosque in
Ayodhya. They claimed it had been built by the Mogul emperor Babur over the
birthplace of Lord Rama. India changed fast after that moment of Hindu
nationalist rage. The politicians who had led the crowd to the mosque that
morning and later watched their followers erect Hindu idols over the
rubble — and who for most of the 50 years since independence had been on the
political sidelines — now hold top positions in the Indian government.
Since the 1992 destruction, an enthusiasm for the free market has also
overtaken India, but the new middle- class affluence hasn't reached Ayodhya.
Down its monkey-infested alleyways, the richest people are still Hindu
abbots. One whom I met in Ayodhya was Ramchandra Paramhans, who helped
initiate, in 1950, the legal battle for the temple and who in the early
1980's entered into an opportunistic alliance with Hindu nationalist
organizations then attempting to attract Hindu voters through an explicitly
anti- Muslim program.
Mr. Paramhans described to me, as he fed cows in his vast straw-littered
compound, how he had upbraided India's home minister, L. K. Advani, on the
phone that morning for having neglected the temple issue. In his white
dreadlocks and long beard, he seemed like a Hindu version of the
self-important mullahs I had met in Pakistan. But senior bureaucrats really
had traveled, a few weeks before, to his compound to mollify him after he
threatened to bring down the government. And a few days after my visit to
Ayodhya, Mr. Paramhans showed up in New Delhi at the head of a heavily
publicized procession of abbots to deliver personally a blunt ultimatum to
Prime Minister Behari Vajpayee.
I couldn't help but recall my meeting early last year with some prominent
Islamic clerics and politicians at an old madrasa near Peshawar, Pakistan.
The madrasa had become notorious after some of its alumni became the leaders
of the Taliban. Its teachers were keen to impress upon me the apolitical
nature of their work. I suspected they were dissembling, but I was more
struck by their defensiveness. It was as though they could sense what has
been confirmed since by the fundamentalists' failure to stir up trouble for
Pervez Musharraf: that public opinion overwhelmingly opposes the fanatical
ideologies that have undermined Pakistan in every way. It is this strong
anti-extremist sentiment that General Musharraf now relies on — much more
than American support — in his crackdown on militant groups and his more
discreet confrontations with the ideologues given high places by the
previous military ruler, Mohammad Zia ul- Haq.
While General Musharraf strives toward a secular polity, the ruling
politicians of India head in the opposite direction. Hindu nationalists have
long exalted Hindutva, or Hindu-ness, over the secular identities proposed
for India by Gandhi and Nehru. So now the federal minister for education,
Murli Manohar Joshi, promotes a new Indian history that highlights the
depredations of Muslim invaders (as they are called) and celebrates Hindu
bravery. Mr. Joshi has also allocated funds for such "Hindu sciences" as
astrology. This sectarian-minded education is objected to by many of India's
distinguished historians — especially those who had stressed India's
pluralist traditions in their now discarded textbooks. Mr. Joshi recently
denounced these historians as "academic terrorists" who were more difficult
to fight than the usual kind of terrorist.
This may be bluster; and perhaps India's largest-circulation news magazine,
India Today, describes an isolated mood in a recent cover story on the
"return of the militant Hindu." But that mood does exist. Fed by a patriotic
media and film industry and reflected in bellicose posturing against
Pakistan, it nearly dominates public life now; its urban middle-class
constituency hopes that nationalism may provide a measure of security
against the economic and political crises that, in the early 90's, had
looked so threatening. And nationalist leaders continue to strengthen their
hold over the heavily centralized Indian state as their constituents
continue to gain from a globalized economy.
An antiterrorist ordinance — introduced by the government before the recent
attacks on the parliaments in Kashmir and Delhi — would have required up to
three years' imprisonment for a journalist who failed to assist government
authorities. It has been challenged by human rights groups and political
parties concerned about the possibility of its misuse against minorities. In
any case, the ordinance is unlikely to curtail the activities of Hindu
extremist outfits affiliated with the government like Shiv Sena, which
claimed some credit for demolishing the Babri mosque in Ayodhya in December
1992 and was indicted by a judicial commission for inciting the pogrom
against Muslims in Bombay in 1993.
What was once quickly identified as unreasonable and aberrant — Hindu
majoritarianism — enjoys a growing influence and legitimacy as the ruling
ideology of the Indian government. Oddly, the illiberal tendencies a
military dictator seeks to expel, with popular support, from Pakistan seem
to be finding a hospitable home in democratic India.
The Washington Post today carries a story on a Saudi Islamic school in the
DC area. Here is an excerpt from this report:
"The 11th-grade textbook, for example, says one sign of the Day of Judgment
will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees
that say: "Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me.
Come here and kill him." Several students of different ages, all of whom
asked not to be identified, said that in Islamic studies, they are taught
that it is better to shun and even to dislike Christians, Jews and Shiite
With young minds exposed to such hate in the USA, I shudder at the thought
of what is being taught in Saudi funded madrassahs around the world.
Read and reflect.
Monday, February 25, 2002; Page A01
Where Two Worlds Collide
Muslim Schools Face Tension of Islamic, U.S. Views
By Valerie Strauss and Emily Wax
Washington Post Staff Writers
Eleventh-graders at the elite Islamic Saudi Academy in Northern Virginia
study energy and matter in physics, write out differential equations in
precalculus and read stories about slavery and the Puritans in English.
Then they file into their Islamic studies class, where the textbooks tell
them the Day of Judgment can't come until Jesus Christ returns to Earth,
breaks the cross and converts everyone to Islam, and until Muslims start
At the Al-Qalam All-Girls School in Springfield, seventh-graders learn about
the American Revolution and about respecting other people's beliefs. But
students in class also talk about the taunts they face outside the school
gates -- being called "terrorist" and "bomber" -- and ask whether Osama bin
Laden is simply the victim of such prejudice. Maps of the Middle East hang
on classroom walls, but Israel is missing.
Such tensions within the walls of Muslim day schools are in many ways
emblematic of the U.S. Muslim community's political concerns, fears, biases
and hopes, all brought into sharp focus since the events of Sept. 11.
Today, these schools -- and Muslims in this country -- are at a crucial
juncture, as some work to stay true to their religion while they try to
adapt to the U.S. experience, a process that Catholics and Jews went through
before them. At stake, educators acknowledge, is how the next generation of
Muslims coming of age in the United States will participate in the country
they live in.
The fall attacks could serve as the catalyst in determining whether these
schools and their students focus on the culture and politics of faraway
Muslim lands or find within Islamic tradition those ideals consistent with
U.S. democracy and religious liberty.
"This is going to get us out of the cocoon, out of our little comfort zone
that is more of an isolation from the community at large," said Shabbir
Mansuri, founding director of the California-based Council on Islamic
Education. "And it is going to put us into a position where we are going to
have to put our own feet to the fire."
The growth of the Muslim population in the United States in the past two
decades has prompted a proliferation of day schools, with about a dozen
located between Richmond and Baltimore. Nationally, there are estimated to
be 200 to 600 of these schools, with at least 30,000 students. Thousands of
others attend Islamic weekend schools.
Most Muslim children in the United States attend public schools, but there
is a growing desire for more day schools. Some schools face the same
prejudices that Catholics and their schools did beginning in the 1800s, when
their loyalty to the pope was seen as inherently anti-American.
"We put Catholics through that, Jews through that, Mormons through that and
many other groups," Mansuri said. "It is the Muslims' turn . . . and if
Muslims are not living up to the ideas of Islam, then we certainly should
take them to task."
To that end, some Muslim educators are writing a new curriculum that infuses
tenets of the religion in every lesson while providing a broad-minded
worldview. Textbooks, often from overseas and rife with anti-American
rhetoric, are being replaced in some schools. Some parents are forming PTAs
and seeking a curriculum that teaches the civic virtues of tolerance and
"I wouldn't be surprised if some teachers are sometimes anti-American or
anti-Semitic," said Abdulwahab Alkebsi, whose 12-year-old daughter attends
the Islamic Saudi Academy. "But I don't want it to be that way.
"I choose the school because of the same reason why all American parents
choose private schools -- it's a better environment and no peer pressure of
drugs and being a sex symbol at too young an age. But there are other
American values -- like freedom of speech and assembly -- that we should be
teaching our kids to respect."
'A Lot of Growing to Do'
Ali Alkhafaji, 9, a fourth-grader, poses a question for his classmates at
the Washington Islamic Academy, echoing a lesson from their teacher:
"Is it better to be a fashion star or to listen to Allah?"
The youngsters agreed it was better to listen to God, though wide-eyed India
Abdullah, 8, said: "It's hard to be a good Muslim. But if we do the right
deeds and stuff, the devil is locked up and the door of heaven is unlocked."
Yet the pictures of Britney Spears and the Islamic holy city of Mecca
adorning the lockers and notebooks of two Muslim schools in Springfield
attest to the challenge of providing an Islamic education amid the beckoning
In fact, many such schools are not considered by Muslims to be truly
"Islamic" because there is not yet a curriculum that teaches all subjects
through an Islamic prism -- nor is there an Americanized curriculum for
Islamic studies, said Hamed El-Ghazali, head of the Muslim American
Society's Council on Islamic Schools.
Instead, they use public school curriculum and add classes in Islamic
studies, Arabic language and the study of the Koran.
The schools "do have a lot of growing to do," said Sharifa Al-Khateeb,
president of the Muslim Education Council and the North American Council for
Muslim Women. "They are still working out the exact curriculum. They are
still working out how much readiness they would like to see in the children
for taking mainstream exams. They are still going through the throes of
rewriting materials that would be more appropriate for kids here in the
With the exception of one network of schools for African American Muslims,
most Muslim schools develop their own approach.
At the coeducational New Horizon School in Los Angeles, Principal Shahida
Alikhan said the school is "on the progressive side," with teachers
stressing tolerance and students feeling connected to the outside world.
In Springfield, Islamic studies teacher Majida Zeiter described a different
role for the Washington Islamic Academy, serving kindergarten through
"We want it to be a place where they don't have to assimilate, where they
can practice their religion. It's like any other religious school," Zeiter
said. "We teach them the history and good values and what it takes to be a
Still, Zeiter said she takes pains to present balanced lessons to students,
piecing together a curriculum from books published both in the United States
When she feels she must use material in a popular Pakistani textbook, she
said, she makes photocopies of pages she needs and never uses those calling
Christian beliefs "nonsense" or portraying Jews as treacherous people who
financially "oppress" others. Yahiya Emerick, the author of "What Islam Is
All About," said he will soon release a new edition for U.S. audiences that
eliminates the tendentious parts.
Political views, though, pervade the school.
Third-graders at the academy spent one recent morning learning how volcanoes
work and where the Great Smoky Mountains and Yosemite National Park are.
Yet on world maps that hang every day in the classrooms, Israel is missing.
Upstairs in Al-Qalam girls school, the word is blackened out with marker,
with "Palestine" written in its place.
Officials at the two schools defended the maps, pointing out that some of
the students are refugees from Palestine and want their heritage
The schools, they said, have no anti-Israeli policy, or any policy teaching
students to be disrespectful of others, saying Islam is a religion of peace
and tolerance. If teachers are slipping opinions into lessons, they say, it
is because they lack proper qualifications. The average salary at Muslim
schools across the country is about $16,000.
In a history class at Al-Qalam, Jill Fawzy teaches events from the
Revolutionary War to the Civil War. But even before Sept. 11, a major topic
of conversation had been what Muslims consider the U.S. government's unfair
treatment of Muslims abroad, particularly in the West Bank and Iraq. Given
their distrust of U.S. policy, some students question the government's claim
that bin Laden is responsible for the terrorist attacks -- disputing that
videotapes actually show him taking credit.
Fawzy, a 19-year-old who will graduate from George Mason University in 2003,
said she isn't so sure and wonders whether the United States just needed
someone to blame and picked a Muslim.
"A lot of the students can't make up their minds if he is a good guy or a
bad guy," Fawzy said. "There are some Muslims who think he did it and others
who don't. The thing is, we don't have any real proof either way. I think a
lot of people feel this way."
Rigid Strain of Islam
With two lavish campuses in suburban Virginia, dozens of highly qualified
teachers and accreditation from two respected organizations, the Islamic
Saudi Academy stands out among Muslim schools in the Washington area.
The academy educates the children of Arabic-speaking diplomats along with
other children of differing heritages -- about 1,300 students altogether.
But the financial support from the Saudi government brings with it a
curriculum that reflects the particularly rigid strain of Islam practiced
there, Muslim educators say.
"One of the things the community has been concerned about for years is the
Saudi influence and Saudi money," said Amir Hussain, a California professor
who has researched Muslim communities in North America. "You have people who
come in and say, 'Hey, I'll build you a school.' Then people begin to
realize, if that school gets built with Saudi money, do we want that kind of
The Islamic Saudi Academy does not require that U.S. history or government
be taught, offering Arabic social studies as an alternative. Officials there
said that only Saudis who intend to return home do not take U.S. history,
though a handful of U.S.-born students who plan to stay in this country said
they opted against it, too.
School officials would not allow reporters to attend classes. But a number
of students described the classroom instruction and provided copies of
Ali Al-Ahmed, whose Virginia-based Saudi Institute promotes religious
tolerance in Saudi Arabia, has reviewed numerous textbooks used at the
academy and said many passages promote hatred of non-Muslims and Shiite
The 11th-grade textbook, for example, says one sign of the Day of Judgment
will be that Muslims will fight and kill Jews, who will hide behind trees
that say: "Oh Muslim, Oh servant of God, here is a Jew hiding behind me.
Come here and kill him."
Several students of different ages, all of whom asked not to be identified,
said that in Islamic studies, they are taught that it is better to shun and
even to dislike Christians, Jews and Shiite Muslims.
Some teachers "focus more on hatred," said one teenager, who recited by
memory the signs of the coming of the Day of Judgment. "They teach students
that whatever is kuffar [non-Muslim], it is okay for you" to hurt or steal
from that person.
Other teachers present more tolerant views, students said. Usama Amer, a
veteran math teacher, is popular not only for his math skills but also for
regularly allowing students free debate about topics within Islam.
"We do not teach hatred," Amer said.
None of the academy's officials would publicly address the students'
statements. One, who spoke anonymously, said he had no knowledge of
intolerant passages being assigned or intolerant views being taught. He said
textbooks with such passages would be replaced soon.
Mont Bush, of the Secondary and Middle School Commission of the Southern
Association of Colleges and Schools, one of the academy's accrediting
agencies, said that the organization does not delve into curriculum
extensively but that it would be "concerned" about such material being
The schools are legally allowed to teach whatever they want -- as long as
they meet state requirements -- but have a responsibility to be accurate,
"As a matter of educational policy, no, it's not a good idea to cross a
nation off the map or to in any way misrepresent history," said Charles
Haynes, of the First Amendment Center in Arlington. "It is a civic
responsibility of all schools, religious and secular, to do the best job of
educating students to a variety of perspectives."
That should be particularly true for Muslim schools, where many of the
students are unfamiliar and uncomfortable with U.S. institutions, said Fawaz
A. Gerges, a professor at Sarah Lawrence College and author of "America and
Political Islam: Clash of Cultures or Clash of Interests?"
"One would hope that Muslim day schools serve as a bridge that enable young
men and women to make the journey into the safe harbor of open society," he
February 25, 2002
NAKED FROM SIN
The Ordeal of Nahla and Sami Al-Arian
By Alex Lynch
There were no streetlights down the long back-road; the arms of
the yellow gates were left open just enough for a car to fit
through. The darkness of the hidden stretch of road left the
Muslim community center of north Tampa secluded from the outside
In the parking lot, a photographer was politely asked to leave
until she said she had an appointment with one of the sisters.
Effects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on Muslim communities
in America have been powerful. Many Americans reach out in
understanding; others have sought retribution through vandalism
The children didn't seem to notice anything had changed. A dozen
of them ran from the playground past the Mosque and through the
courtyard squeaking and sweating on a humid January night under
the floodlights. Nahla Al-Arian walked quickly out of the
community center for greetings and offered tea for comfort. A
number of women dressed from head to toe in finely detailed cloth
chatted to one another in Arabic and offered to watch Nahla's
youngest daughter while she spoke with the reporter.
Being an Arabic woman in the United States has proved trying since
Sept. 11, being a Palestinian is another matter entirely. Once,
while at a local mall, Nahla offered to help a woman with her baby
carriage down an escalator. The woman gasped and pulled the
carriage away from Nahla as if she were "going to kidnap the
child," Nahla said. Because she wears a hijab (Islamic
head-covering) she has often been looked at in trepidation and
mistrust and when she and her kids visited her homeland in 1998,
now occupied by Israel, they felt they were looked at like
"animals and terrorists".
Nahla's older brother Mazen, spent 3 years of his life in federal
custody without being charged for a crime, 1,307 days from
1997-2000. The secret evidence the government had held against him
proved not to be so incriminating according to an Immigration and
Naturalization Services judge.
Nahla spent those three years fighting for his release and
lobbying to end the use of secret evidence.
In November of last year, while doing laundry, Mazen was again
detained after Attorney General John Ashcroft received powers
given to him by Congress to round up those he felt were a risk to
national security. Two months earlier in late September, her
husband was put on 'paid leave' from his job as a tenured
professor of computer engineering at the University of South
Florida for an appearance he made on the conservative talk show
The O'Reilly Factor. O'Reilly claimed Al-Arian had ties to
terrorists and pointed to an earlier speech he made when a comment
was translated in English to "Death to Israel". Al-Arian said the
producer deceived him by saying he was to speak for the Muslim
community in the U.S. to educate viewers and avoid unwarranted
attacks on American-Arabs.
In December, when Sami's student and faculty supporters were gone,
the university's board of trustees, a group of local conservative
business leaders hand-picked by Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, recommended
to university President Judy Genshaft that Al-Arian be fired.
Nahla's husband of 23 years has been the center of attention in
local news and has received quite a bit of national news as well.
He's been called a terrorist link in the United States by some
pundits in the media, but has also been a rallying point for civil
libertarians and academicians.
Their eldest son Abdullah, a Duke University undergrad and intern
to Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., was asked to leave the White House
without explanation while attending a briefing with members of the
Faith-Based and Community Initiatives. The incident caused all
other groups participating to walk out in protest.
The FBI has shown up unannounced, searched her home and
confiscated some of the family's possessions. There have been
death threats on her husband and the media have humiliated her
family. Since Sept. 11 she and her family have been treated with
suspicion, harassed and yet her voice remains soft and centered,
her movements are gentle and direct.
"She is such an inspiration," Jodi Nettleton, co-president of
Graduate Assistants United at USF and a campus activist said. "She
is so strong and has such courage to stand up during these times.
And she's just such a sweet woman."
Although she's been through a lot before and after Sept. 11, she
is a woman who says she can't complain. Talking to a reporter
seems like too much attention, but she does offer some insight.
"You know, sometimes I wake up at five in the morning and I start
thinking about all of this and can't get back to sleep," she said
staring at her thin fingers through her hijab. "I feel very scared
for my family and I feel insecure."
"This is stuff she's had to go through her whole life," Laila
Al-Arian, Nahla's daughter said. "She's a Palestinian refugee.
She's very strong in her convictions even though she's soft
Only Mazen, the eldest, was born in Gaza in a country once called
Palestine. Nahla was born in the city of Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, 75
miles northeast of the holy city of Mecca. Her father was an
Arabic teacher there and supported the family, which eventually
grew to seven children. Nahla was a shy young girl who didn't
speak much, remained dedicated to religion and studied
meticulously at school. Nahla's father knew the value of education
especially for stateless Palestinians. He made it a priority for
all of his seven children and made countless sacrifices to ensure
that they were given a higher education in college. "My father
always used to say, 'education is a Palestinian's only weapon,'"
When Nahla was very young, her father brought the family to the
occupied Palestinian territories (Nahla still refers to it as
Palestine) every year for vacation to keep the old homeland close
to his children's heart. Nahla remembers a little family that
lived in Gaza whom was close to her family when they vacationed
during those long hot summer days in the early 1960s. She
remembers the family was not rich, but didn't struggle, most of
all though, she remembers how happy and humble they were. Speaking
of that little family brings a smile to Nahla's face.
In the beginning of the summer of 1967, Nahla's father again
prepared his family for a vacation in Palestine. Days before
departure on June 5, the news came through her father's little
transistor radio in Jeddah. The Israeli army had attacked and
bombed the Egyptian air force that lay idle. The Six Day War had
"My father literally fainted and fell on the floor right in front
of everybody when he heard the news on the radio," Nahla said. "It
was devastating." At the end the Six Day War, Israel, armed by the
Americans, humiliated the Arab world. Israel now occupied Syria's
Golan Heights, Egypt's Sinai as well as the Gaza Strip and the
West Bank in Palestine. The biggest embarrassment though, was the
loss of Jerusalem.
Gamal Abd-Al Nasser, the charismatic Egyptian socialist president
who tried so hard to unite the Arab world in a Pan-Arab political
alliance, offered to resign afterwards.
By 1971 the political environment in the Arab world had changed.
The Saudi Arabian leaders had begun a closer relationship with the
West, and Palestinians, already immigrants there, were finding it
more difficult to stay. It wasn't long before Nahla's father began
having trouble with the Saudi government.
"The whole situation was very similar to Mazen's many years
later," Nahla said. "There was a lot of secrecy involved."
Nahla's mother was crushed.
"She cried as if somebody died, she was very scared about what the
future held for us," Nahla's brother Mohamed said.
The family was again displaced and unsure of what to do. In a
moment of clarity, or necessity, Nahla's father decided on Cairo.
Contrasting her mother, 11 year-old Nahla was very excited to move
from Saudi Arabia to the cultural center of the Arab world. Cairo
was a place of modern buildings, the arts and excellent education
and was the center of the Arab world for women's freedom. She
would no longer be forced to wear a hijab, she would have a choice
in Cairo. "Saudi Arabia was much more strict, especially for
women. Segregation was everywhere. In Cairo, women had choices.
I was very happy to leave Saudi Arabia even though my mother was
At 12 years-old in October 1973 Egyptian president Anwar Sadat
earned the respect of his countrymen when he invaded the Sinai on
the Jewish holiday of Yom Kippur. Eventually the Israelis
countered and sped toward Cairo where Nahla was introduced to war.
Living in Eastern Cairo with Israeli planes flying above, the
family got up in the middle of the night to break the Ramadan fast
but wasn't allowed to turn the lights on for fear of Israeli
bombs. The young family was left in the dark and if someone
accidentally turned on a light in the house, neighbors would
scream at them to turn it off for fear of being targeted.
"That was the worst thing, I don't ever want to experience
anything like that again." Nahla said. At 14 years old Nahla was
devastated when she witnessed the death of a close girlfriend who
was run over by a street trolley right next to her. The difficulty
in watching a close friend die stayed with her for many years.
During those years in Cairo, there was a cultural revolution.
Cairo was being heavily influenced by the West, Sadat was
liberalizing the economy and the Americanization of Cairo was in
full swing. Like many girls in Cairo, Nahla stopped wearing her
hijab. She went to the movies, public parks and enjoyed the open
But when she reached the age of 15, she began to have deep
questions about life and faith and drew inspiration from a close
friend who was a devout Muslim. Unlike most girls her age, Nahla
began wearing her hijab again and started taking religion
She was ridiculed by some men in Cairo for wearing it in a time of
social change. There were very small Islamic youth movements
beginning though. Cairo was starting to show the ugly side of
Westernization such as greed, disparities in wealth and sexual
promiscuity. Mosques began to reach out to those in need, a place
where the increasing amount of poor people could go for free
schooling, food and medical attention which outlines the
traditional sense of Islamic charity in the Arab world.
"People turned to God for justice. Going back to God was a revolt
against mass consumerism and wearing the head-covering was a
revolt against being treated as sex objects for young woman,"
Nahla said. "It was liberating to wear the hijab again."
An Islamic Marriage
It was about this time that Nahla's older brother Mazen began
hanging around with another Palestinian. His name was Sami
Al-Arian. Nahla never paid any attention to Sami, he was just
another guy to Nahla. Yet the friendship between the young
Palestinian boys in Cairo was a very special and intellectual one.
They went to lectures, spent their money on books and conversed
for hours at a time on philosophy, religion and politics.
"My parents used to get mad at Mazen for spending all of his
allowance on books," Nahla said proudly. "Mazen is a walking
encyclopedia, he really has a photographic memory."
Nahla's grades were excellent, even better than Sami's. When it
was time for college she chose to study English Literature even
though she was accepted to study medicine. She studied
Shakespeare, Milton, Keats and Blake and was enjoying college
Every once in a while she would sneak into Mazen's room and read
letters that were written to him from Sami who had moved to
America and was studying engineering in Illinois. Sami was very
active in America, he organized Islamic groups, gave speeches on
awareness of Islam and even went to prisons to speak to Muslim
"I learned a lot about him through his letters," Nahla said.
"I loved reading those letters and I learned a lot about his
personality. I was impressed."
In 1979, after earning an undergraduate degree in engineering,
Sami came back to Egypt to look for a wife. When Mazen said his
younger sister was available Sami jumped at the opportunity, as he
had already been attracted to her for some time. And thus began
the four steps of an Islamic marriage.
First, Sami's mother came to visit Nahla and although they never
once spoke of Sami, Nahla was quickly given approval. "My mother
and grandmother fell in love with her," Sami said. Second, the
future bride and groom sat down together to make sure there was a
mental and mutual agreement.
"After one visit we felt we were ready to accept an engagement,"
Nahla said. Third, the men of Sami's family gathered with the men
of Nahla's family for a formal marriage proposal. Nahla's father
traveled from south Yemen and didn't accept Sami's proposal until
he got the word from Nahla that she was sure. Nahla's father had
only one stipulation, after starting a family Sami had to promise
that he would see to it that Nahla would finish her education, of
which Sami agreed.
The fourth step is the signing of the marriage contract finalizing
the union. Nahla is quick to point out where she comes from
marriage is important and not taken lightly. "In our culture, a
man enters through the front door, not the window," Nahla said.
"To go to the family of the woman to ask for her hand shows that
he is willing to commit. Marriage is not just between a man and a
woman, but between two families," Nahla said.
Sami said he had been attracted to her years before he proposed
but never said anything and after reading Sami's letters to Mazen,
Nahla felt attracted to him from a distance as well. "I had
proposals from other men who were much richer than Sami. But
because he was religious and I felt I we were connected, I chose
By then, Sami had been accepted in a graduate program in computer
engineering at North Carolina State University. As an English
Literature student in Cairo, Nahla thought she would be able to
understand English when she arrived in North Carolina. "Wow was I
surprised, I didn't understand a single word, it was nothing like
what I had studied," she said.
In order to learn, she started watching Star Trek re-runs over and
over until she improved.
By 1981 she had given birth to Abdullah and Laila. Abdullah now is
a senior at Duke University majoring in political science and
history, a columnist for The Chronicle, a campus newspaper. Laila
is an undergrad at Georgetown University and was recently elected
to the editorial board of La Hoya, also a campus newspaper.
After Leena was born in 1985, Sami fulfilled his promise to his
father-in-law and Nahla went back to college after a six-year
hiatus earning a degree in religious studies from USF and has had
two of her papers published in nationally recognized periodicals.
For many years she lived the American dream. She was free to teach
Islam in the Muslim community where she now has 270 students from
many different countries and races. After graduating from North
Carolina University, both Sami and Mazen were offered doctoral
degrees from USF and afterwards were given jobs as professors at
the Tampa university. Both Sami and Mazen organized groups
centered around Arab and Palestinian causes. The World and Islam
Studies Enterprise and the Islamic Concern Project.
After the first bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 was
connected to a previous speaker both Mazen and Sami were targeted
by the U.S. government for whom they were associated. Later,
another speaker ended up becoming the leader of the Palestinian
Islamic Jihad, a militant group connected to terrorist attacks on
The links prompted an FBI to investigate and brought unwanted
attention to USF. Both Sami and Mazen were placed on paid leave in
1995 pending the FBI investigation, and an inquiry by William
Reece Smith, an attorney hired by the university to conduct an
inquiry on his own. Lama, the youngest in the family, had a
nightmare about one of the FBI agents that searched Nahla's home.
Sami was eventually given his job back but in 1998, Mazen was
detained by federal agents without being charged for a crime. The
Secret Evidence Act allowed the government to hold illegal aliens
it deemed a threat to national security.
The detention became a national issue and catapulted Sami into the
national spotlight in his stance against the use of secret
evidence. But Sami was not alone Nahla and many other Muslim women
gave speeches in New York, Washington D.C., Georgia and Michigan.
"It was the Muslim women that stood up for Mazen the most. Many of
the men were themselves scared of secret evidence.. For myself, I
had to learn to push my shyness to the side to be able to speak in
public but I had no other choice," Nahla said showing off smiling
pictures of George W. Bush on his 2000 campaign trail holding her
youngest daughter Lama in his arm.
On a nationally televised debate, after three years of working the
legal system for Mazen's release, Republican nominee for president
Bush spoke out against the use of secret evidence.
"Millions of people were listening to him when he said that," Sami
said. "I couldn't believe what I was hearing. At that moment, he
had every American Muslim on his side."
By October 2000, Judge R. Kevin McHugh, after viewing the
government's secret evidence against Mazen, released a scathing
review of the government's mistreatment of Mazen and proclaimed
that "WISE was a reputable and scholarly research center and the
ICP was highly regarded. Not one excerpt of the composite
depicted (Al-Najjar) engaging in fundraising for any (terrorist)
The government then appealed to Attorney General Janet Reno to
review the case on behalf of the government to which she denied.
In November, Mazen was finally released, but the government had
When the tragedies of Sept. 11 occurred, Sami, Mazen, Nahla and
the Muslim community of north Tampa immediately released a
statement distancing and denouncing them as acts of cold-blooded
murderers. But the USA Patriot Act was pushed through by a
landslide and in a perplexing move, the government suddenly linked
Mazen to terrorists again in a statement released through the
Department of Justice even after Judge McHugh thoroughly denied
the government on every front less than a year earlier.
On Sept. 26, Sami was asked to appear on The O'Reilly Factor
where, according to Sami, he was to speak for Muslim Americans in
the U.S. Sami was then questioned by host Bill O'Reilly about ties
to terrorists and then mentioned that if he were the FBI, he'd be
following Sami everywhere he went. Over the next few days, threats
were sent to USF where he was a professor of computer science. The
administration immediately put Sami on paid leave until an
investigation of the threats was undertaken and the campus calmed.
On Nov. 13, 2001, an Atlanta appeals court ordered Mazen deported,
yet, no country was willing to take him since he had been
considered a terrorist threat in America. Add to that the fact
that he is a stateless Palestinian and he has absolutely nowhere
Yet 15 INS agents took him by surprise and pushed him to the
pavement in his apartment complex while he was doing laundry
and didn't identify themselves until after he was subdued.
"He thought he was being kidnapped," Nahla said. "He had no idea
who they were." Mazen's daughters were still in the apartment and
when the agents finally told him who they were, he struggled to
let his daughters know what was going on. Mazen was then
manhandled by the agents as was apparent by the bruises and
scratches on his arms and hands. His daughters didn't know until
over an hour later what had happened and for a week the family and
his lawyers had no idea where he was taken.
Since that day in November last year, Mazen has been under 23-hour
solitary confinement in Coleman Federal Correctional Facility
about 75 miles north of Tampa. He is only allowed one phone call
per week for 10 minutes, three-hour visitation on weekends only
and is strip-searched twice a day. "They even check behind his
ears for weapons," Nahla said. "If it was already held in an open
hearing that he is not a threat, why detain him again in a high
security correctional facility?" Martin Schwartz, a Tampa attorney
defending Al-Najjar said.
Three days after Mazen was detained, Nahla and Sami appeared on a
live local television show, The Cathy Fountain Show. A neighbor in
Mazen's apartment complex, who witnessed Mazen's detention, called
the show and described how Mazen was treated "like a dog" and went
on to explain that it reminded him of how blacks were treated
during the civil rights era.
"I just started crying," Nahla said. "I was shocked to hear the
description of how my brother was arrested because until that day,
we hadn't heard from him. Then (Cathy Fountain) asks me what I
thought of it while we were on live television."
"It seems heartless and inhumane to detain him now," David Cole, a
constitutional law expert at Georgetown University Law Center in
Washington said (in November).
Unfortunately, Mazen's health is deteriorating. He was detained
during the holy month of Ramadan where Muslims fast and one of his
attorney's, Joe Hohenstein said he and Mazen's family were
"worried that he may not be receiving proper treatment for his
"Nothing is helping my brother," Nahla said. "He is suffering
terribly from the 23-hour solitary confinement."
On one of the family's weekend visitations recently, Lama was
complaining about school and Mazen began crying. "He cries for
anything," Nahla said. "He even cries when he prays. "
Life went from bad to worse for Nahla when USF's board of trustees
called for an emergency meeting to discuss what to do about Sami
who was still on paid leave. The board recommended to university
president Judy Genshaft in a 12-1 vote that Sami be fired, the
single vote coming from the only academic on the board. University
Provost David Stamps immediately sent Sami a letter of intent to
By the time school had come back in session, controversy split the
campus in two and a national debate has since ensued. On Jan. 9,
2002, the USF Faculty Senate voted not to support Genshaft's
intent to fire because of the lack of due process at the
clandestinely held emergency meeting in December. Afterward, the
state and national faculty union, the ACLU and numerous civil
libertarian groups followed suit as well as scathing editorials
from the local St. Petersburg Times to the New York Times and the
American Association of University Professors (AAUP) also sent
words of discouragement to Genshaft.
The student government voted to support Genshaft although 14 of
the 36 senators abstained because they said the student body
hadn't been properly polled to represent them. The Coalition of
Progressive Student Coalitions, which includes 15 campus groups,
decided unanimously not to support Genshaft and so did the
graduate assistants union.
Although most people don't agree with Sami's views of the Middle
East with statements such as 'Death to Israel,' what is at issue
with the firing of Sami is academic freedom, especially for a
tenured professor as he is. "Sami didn't mean death to any
particular person or peoples when he said that," Nahla said of the
English translation 'death to Israel.' "He only means death to the
occupation. The Palestinian people are treated like dogs and it
just such a horrible injustice."
Many people have also questioned Sami why he even went on
O'Reilly's show in the first place and find it hard to believe he
is gullible enough to get duped by the show's producers. "It's
true, he always thinks positively of people," Nahla said. "We have
to treat all people with positive assumptions until they prove
otherwise. As Muslims, we believe in the goodness of human nature
and that people are not evil."
Nahla smiles proudly and shows the remnants of her old shyness
when she speaks of her husband and in a passing tone mentions that
the word "Arian," Sami's last name and the name she adopted when
she married him, actually means 'naked from sins' in Arabic.
Although she has grasped the courage to overcome her shyness to
speak in public and has avoided becoming cynical, the effects of
having her husband and brother arrested, treated like second-class
citizens and admonished in the media are beginning to show.
"She's definitely been affected by all of this," her brother
Mohamed said. "She is not the same person as she was before Mazen
was first taken in 1997. She was much stronger and happier then."
"I felt at home here until Sept. 11," Nahla said. "After that I've
felt like I'm living in a nightmare. I don't know what will happen
to my husband and my brother or my kids.
"I have a lot of sleepless nights because of these worries," she
said. "I feel better after reading the Quran. When I put my
sacrifice in place of other Palestinian women, I feel grateful
that (Mazen and Sami) are still alive. Then I think I'm not
suffering enough. God gives me patience and makes me feel guilty
if I complain."
The media has been a quandary for Nahla. At once it has been
extremely helpful, cruelly invasive and inflammatory. Bill
O'Reilly of The O'Reilly Factor first created the problem for Sami
by digging up speeches he made 12 years earlier and later took a
stand against the USF administration's intent to fire, while
calling for the head of President Genshaft.
"I have anxiety when I watch American television, especially talk
shows that are sometimes very aggressive toward Muslims in
general," Nahla said. "I feel tormented by the media how it
portrays that American people are against us."
She then goes on to explain that the people she meets are not
against her family and speaks of when she recently visited a
friend at Tampa General Hospital. A white man who was walking by
shook Sami's hand and wished him and his family good luck.
One particular media critic, NBC terrorism correspondent Steven
Emerson, has gone after the family with a fervor and at a speech
given locally in January mentioned he was very hopeful that Sami
would be picked up by the FBI in the next coming days.
"I was crying everyday after that," Nahla said. "You know, they
accuse us of being hateful after so much horrible injustice. I
just can't understand it sometimes. The media doesn't look at us
as if we're human beings sometimes."
The Muslim community where Sami is imam, or preacher, is a 15-acre
piece of land that includes a mosque, school, playground, a center
for picnics and offices. At their Muslim community, 20 percent of
the board of directors are women and includes members of six
"Sami is the one who wanted to open the board for women," Nahla
said. "Every member's vote weighs equally." Recently though, the
most important aspect of the community to Nahla is the emotional
support she gets from her friends. Especially now that her brother
is back in jail and Sami is under fire.
"I am very lucky," Nahla said. "When I feel sad my friends
surround me, without their help I wouldn't be able to make it. If
I ever need help with my children they are there for me. They just
want me to ask for help so they can reach out to me."
The parochial school in the community where Nahla is a teacher has
over 270 students. "We teach tolerance," Nahla said. "We are proud
of the fact that it has a wide curriculum. Above all, we emphasize
tolerance and promote fairness."
Nahla is a religious woman and takes pride in the fact that Islam
accepts other forms of religion. "God wanted people to be able to
choose," Nahla said.
She explains that Osama bin Laden and the Taliban are a very small
group of extremists out of 1.2 billion faithful. "It is not fair
to judge Islam by a small group of crackpots," Nahla said.
Yet, the community is isolated from the rest of Tampa, secluded
down a long stretch of road. Muslims are still new to America and
the adjustment to understand American culture has not been an easy
one. Many times, Nahla's students tell her they are scared of the
clash of cultures. They feel Americans don't want to understand
their culture and ever since Sept. 11, they've become a source of
hatred. One of the sisters spoke about how a man was following her
in his car and how she took off her head covering to avoid him.
Nahla said American women sometimes smile at her strangely.
In 1998, Nahla decided to take Abdullah, Laila and Leena to the
Palestinian territories to get a sense of where they come from.
They landed in Cairo where they took a six-hour cab ride to the
Egyptian-Palestinian territory border where Israeli soldiers
checked their American passports. They were made to wait almost
half a day but eventually were allowed in. Nahla took them to meet
relatives in Gaza and once again met up with the little family she
knew as a child. "They remembered me from when I was a baby,"
Nahla said. "But their living conditions had deteriorated
incredibly. They were despondent and living in absolute squalor."
In Gaza, where the vast majority of men are unemployed there is a
saying that states 'Palestinian men can beat Israeli men in bed
because they're always at home.'
In 1982, hundreds of Palestinians were massacred in the refugee
camps of Sabra and Shatila when Ariel Sharon was defense minister
for Israel. Back then Sharon lobbied to have Palestinian men
sterilized, now Sharon is Prime Minister and has dashed any hopes
the Palestinian's once had since Sept. 11. "The Palestinian people
are completely despondent right now," Nahla said. "I see children
killed for throwing stones, they are portrayed as animals." Nahla
and family were able to roam freely in Israel and the Palestinian
territories because of their American passports, a fact that
others were jealous of, Nahla said. Palestinians have to put in a
request weeks and even months in advance just to go to a movie or
a lecture and more times than they are turned down.
They visited and attended mosques in Jerusalem, Bethlehem and
Hebron but one particular occasion in a northern coastal city
where a lot of Israeli tourists were vacationing hurt Nahla when
her children said they felt like foreigners in Palestine.
"The tourists were looking at us like we were terrorists," Nahla
said. "It was very sad for me to have my children looked at that
way." "That was a bizarre experience." Laila said.
Throughout her life, Nahla has been treated like a second-class
citizen without ever being able to call a country home. Her
brother is suffering in solitary confinement and her husband
ostracized. Even through this, she has decided to believe in the
positive aspects of human nature and shield herself from becoming
pessimistic, something that truly isolates her from American
"We have to understand the human side of suffering and
humiliation," Nahla said. "I refuse to be cynical."
Alex Lynch can be reached at: shanachie51@...
Last year, renowned Muslim scholar and Fellow of Islamic Studies at UCLA,
Khaled Abou El_Fadl wrote a soul uplifting piece about Islam in The Boston
In its current issue, The Boston Review has published responses to Professor
El-Fadl's article. One such response is from Amina Wadud who is professor of
Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of the book,
Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a Woman's Perspective.
Here is Amina Wadud's response to Khaled Abou El-Fadl.
Read and Reflect.
A Response to "The Place of Tolerance in Islam"
By Amina Wadud
I want to commend Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl for his insightful assessment of
the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon and especially for his
parallel historicization of those events and the work of Qur'anic
interpretation. The tendency to de-contextualize September 11—to treat it as
a single random act of violence—has been challenged by Muslim thinkers,
activists, and political analysts since September 12. Many have been
condemned as apologists for the heinous act, as if understanding implies
What is unusual here, and what draws my interest to this particular
discussion is Abou El Fadl's juxtaposition of the historical reading of
political events with an interpretive imperative that calls for a similar
historical reading of the Qur'an. Indeed, the absence of such an historical
reading has provided, he argues, a partial catalyst for the intolerant,
exclusivist and extremist rendition of Qur'anic meaning advanced by Muslim
puritans, who proceed from that understanding to the most extreme Muslim
practice and the perpetration of violent acts.
What Abou El Fadl does not point out is that such extremist interpretive
modalities and their resulting social operations are as equally destructive
within Muslim society as they are in non-Muslim communities. Within Muslim
communities women are the primary victims. My own research on Qur'anic
interpretation and implementation focuses on gender and the ways that
exclusionary textual readings marginalize women's full human agency within
society. Not only are non-Muslims subjected to sub-human standards and
victimized by violent acts, but Muslim women are as well, as an outcome of
practices that stem from the authoritarian voice of puritanical
In explaining the distinction between tolerant and intolerant readings of
the Qur'an, Abou El Fadl emphasizes that "puritans construct their
exclusionary and intolerant theology by reading Qur'anic verses in
isolation, as if the meaning of the verses were transparent—as if moral
ideas and historical context were irrelevant to their interpretation." In
contrast he asserts that it is "impossible to analyze these and other verses
except in light of the overall moral thrust of the Qur'anic message" for
certain general moral imperatives that, while not clearly defined, presume
"a certain amount of moral probity on [the] part of the reader." Thus, he
continues, "the idea that Muslims must stand up for justice even against
their own self-interests is predicated on the notion that human
beings…achieve a level of moral conscientiousness, which they will bring to
their relationship with God.…[T]he Qur'anic text assumes that readers will
bring a pre-existing, innate moral sense to the text. Hence, the text will
morally enrich the reader, but only if the reader will morally enrich the
I agree that interpretation demands interaction between the text and reader
on several different levels: intellectual, spiritual, linguistic, and moral.
But I would locate the higher level of this exchange not between the reader
and the text but within the text itself as part of the Divine origin of
revelation. No matter how moral the reader is, he or she can only benefit
maximally from this engagement with the text through surrender (islam) of
the ego or of self-interest. Only then can the reader be witness to an
unveiling of higher, deeper, and yet more subtle potentials of textual
meaning for understanding and implementation.
This observation is fully consistent with Abou El Fadl's account of the
mutual enrichment of text and reader. It merely states that religious
belief, while ineffable and immeasurable, has a certain degree of
significance to the enrichment that comes through reading. It presumes that
the one who reads will be enriched more than the text being read.
Furthermore, self-interest is a barrier to this enrichment of individual or
collective reading and results, as Abou El Fadl puts it, in "emptying the
Qur'an both of its historical and moral context…[and] transforming the text
into a long list of morally non-committal legal commands."
Although textual meaning is not fixed, the actual utterances are immutable.
Inevitably the reader has the greater flexibility and a greater potential
for transformation than does the text. The Qur'an is an excellent catalyst
in growth and transformation of moral consciousness but the manner of this
enrichment remains part of the mystery of the Divine becoming known through
the text. These observations about interpretation lead to my strongest note
of caution about Abou El Fadl's argument. He says both that "the Qur'anic
discourse…can readily support an ethic of diversity and tolerance" and that
it "would be disingenuous to deny that the Qur'an and other Islamic sources
offer possibilities of intolerant interpretation…exploited by contemporary
puritans and supremacists." But this observation simply returns to our
starting place. We are no closer to determining precisely how to sustain the
moral trajectory, and cannot expect that contemporary Muslim interpreters
will carry the entire substantial burden.
Taking all of Abou El Fadl's insights into consideration, then, a more
tenable proposal would be to enact a modern version of the "essential lesson
taught by Islamic history…that extremist groups are ejected from the
mainstream of Islam; they are marginalized, and eventually treated as
heretical aberration to the Islamic message." Along with contemporary
liberatory interpretations of the text, this movement within the mainstream
community would form a cohesive means of promoting the Qur'an's tolerant,
inclusive message. What is needed, in short, is not simply an intellectual,
interpretive enterprise—a less literal way to read the texts—but a deeply
forged cooperation between intellectuals and lay Muslims—who after all
number well over one billion and have been scrambling to reclaim the
integrity of Islam from the acts committed by extremists, whose numbers
cannot even amount to a fraction of a percent of their population. In other
words, it is time for an historical moral imperative to come alive in
Amina Wadud is professor of Islamic studies at Virginia Commonwealth
University and author of Qur'an and Woman: Rereading the Sacred Text from a
Just address an email to MuslimChronicle@yahoogroups.com
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