News in Brief: China: 'Pakistan is our Israel'
- China: 'Pakistan is our Israel'
The world's most populous country is showing more international assertiveness, which bothers the US.
Thalif Deen Last Modified: 28 Oct 2010 14:56 GMT
When a US delegate once confronted a Chinese diplomat about Beijing's uncompromising support for Pakistan, the Chinese reportedly responded with a heavily-loaded sarcastic remark: "Pakistan is our Israel".
But judging by China's unrelenting support for some of its allies, including North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe and Sudan, its protective arm around these countries is no different from the US and Western political embrace of Israel - right or wrong.
While China is battling the West over exchange rates, import tariffs and its territorial claims in the South China Sea, Beijing is also lobbying furiously to stall a Western- inspired proposal for a Commission of Inquiry on possible war crimes by the military junta in Burma (Myanmar).
"Such a commission should not be seen as a way to punish the government, but to prevent impunity and help prevent further abuse," says the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar, Tomas Ojea Quintana.
But China, which in January 2007 exercised its veto, along with Russia, to prevent Security Council sanctions against Burma, has not shown any willingness to back the proposal - even for a watered-down commission.
Lebanon simmers as Hezbollah braces
The movement has made it clear that to cooperate with the Special Tribunal is to collaborate with its enemies.
Lamis Andoni Last Modified: 31 Oct 2010 11:37 GMT
By calling for a boycott of the tribunal investigating the assassination of Rafiq al-Hariri, the late Lebanese prime minister, Hezbollah has drawn a line in the sand: collaborating with the investigation is paramount to collaborating with the US, Israel and all other external forces that are targeting the party.
For Hezbollah, the Special Tribunal on Lebanon (STL) has become no more than a tool to achieve what Israel failed to in the 2006 war - disarming the movement credited with the 2000 liberation of southern Lebanon from Israeli occupation.
Hezbollah has repeatedly accused the STL of being politically motivated, but this is the first time that it has called on all Lebanese not to cooperate with the international body.
This new position was triggered by what has come to be known as the Dahyeh (a southern suburb of Beirut) incident.
Last Thursday, two STL investigators, accompanied by a translator, arrived at a private gynaecology clinic to meet with the chief physician there. They were surrounded and hit by tens of women protesting against their presence.
The incident was condemned by Hezbollah's Lebanese rivals, the US and the United Nations as an example of Hezbollah instigated "obstruction of justice".
Hezbollah responded by saying that the investigators' request for the mobile telephone numbers of 14 female patients, some of whom are the wives and daughters of Hezbollah officials, crossed all lines and constituted an unacceptable intrusion.
Hassan Nasrallah, the Hezbollah leader, made a speech in which he said the incident had tested the movements' patience and calmly, but sternly, warned against cooperating with the tribunal.
Suicide blast hits Istanbul
At least 32 wounded in explosion carried out by suicide bomber in heart of Turkish city, police say.
A suicide bomber has injured 32 people in an attack in the Turkish city of Istanbul, police say.
The incident occurred on Sunday close to where police were stationed in Taksim Square, in the heart of the city's shopping district.
Among those wounded, 17 are civilians while 15 belong to the police force, two of whom are said to be in a serious condition.
"It was a suicide bomb and it appears as if the bomber blew himself up. It appears to be a male body," Huseyin Capkin, the police chief, said.
Al Jazeera's Anita McNaught, reporting from the scene, said police were looking for a second attacker.
"A second bomb had been planted right next to the suicide bomber," she said.
"That bomb did not go off but had it done so, with huge crowds gathered after the first explosion as you would expect, that bomb was designed to cause maximum damage."
Our correspondent said the only confirmed death was that of the suicide bomber.
"On one side of the square, usually a series of police buses are parked, on guard for any kind of civil disorder. The target of this explosion appears to have been one or two of those buses," she said.
Some buildings around Taksim Square were damaged in the blast.
"It was a terrifying, very loud explosion," Mehmet Toz, who was in the square at the time of the blast, said. "Everyone started to run around, people fell on the ground. There was panic, we couldn't make out what had happened."
Following the blast, a security cordon was thrown round the area and the nearby Istiklal street was closed off for pedestrians.
Girls killed by Islamist firing squad in Somalia
Victims reported to be 18 or younger were shot in front of hundreds of residents in Beledweyne, near border with Ethiopia
Xan Rice in Nairobi and agencies
guardian.co.uk, Friday 29 October 2010 15.07 BST
An Islamist militia in Somalia has publicly shot dead two teenage girls by firing squad after accusing them of spying for the government, it emerged today.
The victims – reported to be 18 or younger – were killed in front of hundreds of residents in Beledweyne, near the border with Ethiopia.
The town is controlled by the hardline al-Shabaab rebel movement, which has become notorious for its extreme form of punishment, including stonings and cross-amputations, for various crimes, usually adultery and theft.
The killings, which happened on Wednesday, are believed to the first instance of any females in Somalia being executed for spying. The girls' relatives denied they were guilty of the charge.
According to eyewitnesses accounts, a Shabaab "judge" sentenced the girls to death shortly before they were executed. No evidence was presented, and the two were not allowed legal representation.
Militiamen then used pickup tricks with loudspeakers on the back to summon residents to attend the ceremony at the Islamists' headquarters. They were warned not to take mobile phone pictures.
The girls – named by the Associated Press as Ayan Mohamed Jama, 18, and Huriyo Ibrahim, 15 – were brought to the site blindfolded, with their hands bound. They were made to sit on the ground. About 10 masked men then shot them.
"Two very young girls were shot ... and no one could help," Dahir Casowe, a local elder, said.
After the execution, the local Shabaab commander, Sheikh Yusuf Ali Ugas, told the crowd that Islamist fighters had arrested the girls last week. He claimed hey had confessed to the crime, and said dozens of other people in custody faced a similar fate.
The girls reportedly came from poor families, and had not been attending school due to a lack of funds.
Ayan's father, Mohamed Jama, confirmed that his daughter had been in custody for a week, and said he had been refused permission to visit her.
"Al-Shabaab officials ... told me that she was captured during fighting between the militants and the government soldiers outside the town and that she would be brought before court," he said. "As I waited for good news, she was killed on Wednesday. I am shocked and cannot say more."
The public punishments have a duel purpose for the Shabaab – to restore security in areas under their control by deterring would-be criminals, and to create a climate of fear so locals are too terrified to show dissent or offer support to the government.
Together with another Ismalist militia, Hizbul Islam, Shabaab fighters are trying to overthrow President Sheik Sharif Ahmed's weak administration, which is protected in Mogadishu by 8,000 African Union peacekeepers.
Infighting among ministers and the inability to provide even basic services on the ground has lost the government the sympathy of most Somalis and allowed insurgents to take over much of south and central Somalia since early 2009.
But the Islamists' extreme version of the their religion, which runs counter to Somali tradition, has seen their own support whittled away.
In a statement condemning the executions, Somalia's information ministry said: "This act of killing innocent children does not have Islamic and humanitarian justifications."
Mohammed, the nation's (secret) favourite name
According to the official version, Oliver is recognised today as the most common name for baby boys. But the official version is disguising the truth.
March of Jewish extremists inflames Arab stronghold
Riot police protecting 30 far-right Israeli extremists who marched in the country's largest Arab town yesterday chanting "death to terrorists" used a barrage of tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesting residents.
Ten arrests were made during clashes between stone-throwing Israeli Arab youths and riot police after the arrival of the marchers, who were led by two of the country's most extreme right-wing activists, Hebron settlers Baruch Marzel and Itamar Ben Gvir.
Hundreds of armed police were deployed at the flashpoint on an outer edge and elsewhere in Umm el-Fahm to keep apart local Arab protesters and Jewish ultranationalists taking part in the short symbolic march, which had been permitted by Israel's Supreme Court. The court decision had fuelled tensions between some Israeli Jews and the country's Arab minority, already exacerbated by a series of legislative proposals targeting Arab Israelis and promoted by Avigdor Lieberman, the country's hard-right foreign minister. These include the demand that newly naturalised citizens should pledge loyalty to Israel as a "Jewish state".
After a resident shouted that he had seen a bus bringing the marchers to the neighbourhood, at least two stones were thrown at a protective cordon of police carrying riot shields. Within seconds officers fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades, scattering bystanders, reporters, and around 350 Arab and other demonstrators, including a few from the small ultraorthodox Jewish anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta.
As a minority of the Arab protesters – mainly youths, some masked by headscarves – returned to burn tyres and throw stones at police, undercover officers, dressed as Arabs, made arrests.
Police said four officers had been slightly injured. One arrested teenager could be seen bleeding from a head wound as he was frogmarched away by police. Two Arab Knesset members taking part in the protest, Hanin Zoabi and Afu Aghbaria, were lightly injured by stun grenades. Police kept journalists away from the marchers. But Amneh Jabari, 38, a woman who lives by the designated route, told Associated Press that the marchers brandished Israeli flags and recited prayers, chanting "death to the Arabs" and "Umm el-Fahm will be Jewish".
The leaders of the march are admirers of Meir Kahane, an overtly racist US-born rabbi who demanded that Palestinians should be expelled from Israel and the West Bank. He was shot dead by an Arab gunman in a New York Hotel exactly 20 years ago.
Mr Marzel said that the activists had come to demand that Israel's government should ban the Islamic Movement, which dominates the local council here, as it had Kahane's Kach Party. "If the Kach Party was outlawed, then the Islamic Movement deserves to be outlawed 1,000 times over," he said.
But Khaled Hamdan, the town's mayor, criticised police for protecting the marchers and their leader, calling them "a madman and a bunch of racists. The purpose behind this (march) clearly is to provoke and to cause chaos," he said.
One Arab resident, Adeeb Mahdid, 56, said the marchers were not representative of Israeli Jews. "Arabs cannot do without the Jews, who come here to our shops and are welcome," he said. "Baruch Marzel is just trying to hurt good relations between us."
The march coincided with the separate conviction of an Israeli Arab political activist, Ameer Makhoul, who confessed to espionage for Hizbollah in a plea bargain. He was arrested in May.
Arundhati Roy faces arrest over Kashmir remark
Booker prize-winner says claim about territory not being an integral part of India was a call for justice in the disputed region
Indonesia tsunami death toll rises
At least 113 dead and up to 500 missing after earthquake triggers tsunami, while volcanic eruption kills at least 18
449 Dead, 96 Still Missing in Tsunami-Hit Indonesia
Local Muslim leaders condemn al-Qaida video urging attacks
A U.S.-born spokesman for al-Qaida today urged Muslims living in the United States and Europe to carry out attacks there, calling it a duty and an obligation.
In a 48-minute video posted on militant websites, Adam Gadahn directed his appeal to Muslim immigrants in what he called the "miserable suburbs" of Paris, London and Detroit, as well as those traveling to the West to study or work.
"It is the duty of everyone who is sincere in his desire to defend Islam and Muslims today, to take the initiative to perform the individual obligation of jihad ... by striking the Zio-Crusader interests," he said, referring to Western and Jewish interests.
Gadahn, who has been hunted by the FBI since 2004, also sought to discredit attempts by moderate Muslim leaders to suppress the "jihadi awakening."
He spoke in Arabic in the video, which was made available by the U.S.-based SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors extremist activity.
Gadahn grew up on a farm in California and converted to Islam before moving to Pakistan in 1998 and reportedly attending an al-Qaida training camp.
Dawud Walid, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations' Michigan chapter, called Gadahn's video "a desperate plea for attention" that will be ignored in the Detroit area — home to one of the largest Muslim communities in the U.S.
"I see little to no chance of such sentiment taking root in metropolitan Detroit. ... We're not a group of people who feel powerless," Walid said.
"If any Muslim community has grown in civic engagement and empowerment, it would be this community. He invoked the wrong population to try and stir up."
Sandra Berchtold, FBI Detroit media coordinator, referred calls to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. A Homeland Security representative could not be reached for comment.
Steve Mustapha Elturk, vice chairman of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan, said he is unfamiliar with Gadahn, but an emergency meeting of imams may still be called, because any call for an attack must be taken seriously.
Elturk said Metro Detroit imams know their own communities and know that threats or acts of violence are unlikely to emanate from local Muslim communities. But he recalled a comment made once by an FBI official who spoke to a group of imams at a town hall meeting a few years ago.
"He said, 'We're not worried about the ones that frequent the mosque,'" Elturk said. "'We're concerned about the ones that go into the basement.'"
Associated Press writer Jeff Karoub and Detroit News Staff Writer Micki Steele contributed.
Al-Qaida message aimed at region
Local Muslims decry call for U.S. attacks
Tony Blair's sister-in-law converts to Islam
Iran trip prompted journalist Lauren Booth to become a Muslim and wear a hijab
Tony Blair's sister-in-law has converted to Islam after having what she describes as a "holy experience" during a visit to Iran.
Journalist and broadcaster Lauren Booth, 43 – Cherie Blair's sister – now wears a hijab whenever she leaves her home, prays five times a day and visits her local mosque whenever she can.
She decided to become a Muslim six weeks ago after visiting the shrine of Fatima al-Masumeh in the city of Qom.
"It was a Tuesday evening and I sat down and felt this shot of spiritual morphine, just absolute bliss and joy," she said in an interview today.
When she returned to Britain, she decided to convert immediately.
Booth – who works for Press TV, the English-language Iranian news channel – has stopped eating pork and reads the Qur'an every day. She is currently on page 60.
Booth has stopped drinking alcohol and says she has not wanted to drink since converting.
Before her spiritual awakening in Iran, she had been "sympathetic" to Islam and has spent considerable time working in Palestine, she said, adding that she hoped her conversion would help Blair change his presumptions about Islam.
Thief's hand 'cut off in front of prisoners'
Authorities in Iran have amputated the hand of a convicted thief in front of other prisoners, state radio is reporting.
The report did not identify the 32-year-old convict, whose hand was reportedly cut off in the central city of Yazad, or provide details of his crime.
Iran's judiciary uses a strict interpretation of Islamic law in handing down such sentences. Cutting off the hands of thieves has been rare in the past, but today's amputation was the second this month.
A week ago, a judge ordered the same punishment for a man who stole from a sweet shop.
Critics say amputations, public executions and floggings hurt Iran's image and reflect badly on Islam.
A death-by-stoning sentence for a woman convicted of adultery has also sparked an international outcry.
Poll success for Bahrain Shia bloc
Opposition bloc wins nearly half of the seats in Gulf state's parliament amid allegations of voting irregularities.
Bahrain's main Shia Muslim opposition group has won nearly half of the seats in parliament in an election it says was marred by irregularities.
The electoral commission said on Sunday that the Islamic National Accord Association (INAA) had won 18 of parliament's 40 seats in the first round of the legislative poll, gaining one seat compared to the 17 it won in the Gulf state's previous parliamentary election.
Nine seats remain up for grabs in the second round of voting which is to take place on October 30, Abdullah al-Buainain, the electoral commission chairman, said.
However, the credibility of Saturday's parliamentary election risks being undermined by allegations of voting problems.
Sheikh Ali Salman, head of the INAA, claimed that at least 890 voters were turned away from polling stations in mostly Shia areas because their names were not on electoral lists. Even small numbers of votes are crucial in the country which has fewer than 319,000 eligible voters.
"This is not the full number [of eligible voters]," Salman told a news conference. "We expect it to be higher."
INAA supporters set up tables outside voting stations to tally up voters who said they backed the party's candidates. The lists will be used for any possible challenges to the official results.
With Sunday's results, INAA strengthens its presence in the lower house of parliament which has the authority to examine and pass legislation proposed by the king or cabinet.
An appointed upper chamber, or consultative council, has the power to block legislation coming out of the lower house. The king names the members of the 40-strong upper chamber separately.
Bahraini officials did not immediately comment on the latest claims of voting troubles. But Sheikh Khaled bin Ali Al-Khalifa, Bahrain's justice minister, said he expected "only a number of infringements" and hailed the voting as fair.
Election officials said voter turnout was 67 per cent.
Bahrain is one of the few Arab states with a Shia majority, though it is dominated by Sunni Muslims.
Many had hoped Saturday's elections would allow the Shias to air their differences with the Sunni dynasty that maintains a centuries-old grip on power.
But Shia leaders claim voting districts have been gerrymandered to undercut Shia strength. They also worry about government policies that give citizenship to Sunnis from around the region to boost their ranks.
Mahjoob Zweiri, a Gulf political analyst, said sectarian tensions similar to those in Bahrain are increasingly becoming an issue throughout the Arab world.
"It's the same process as happened in Iraq, where they ask about who's ruling and who's not ruling, who's marginalised and who's not marginalised," he told Al Jazeera.
Zweiri said Bahrain is relatively progressive compared to other countries in the region, but that other factors such as press freedoms and human rights should be taken into account when evaluating the progress that has been made.
"The reform process has started," he said, refering to the 2001 reform package.
"But you have to assess it by the outcome ... not only just the elections."
Election security was extensive, with police patrols and helicopter surveillance over some of the most violence-wracked districts. There were no reports of significant violence, but protesters - apparently from the Shia community - set several tyres ablaze.
Bahrain authorities did not allow international election monitors, so verifying the allegations will depend on 292 observers from Bahraini non-governmental organisations which monitored the polls.
In the last election in 2006, voting was also marred by allegations of irregularities. Sunni authorities rejected those claims and pro-government candidates took control of parliament.
Analysts warned the outcome of Saturday's vote could touch on the long-term stability of Bahrain, a strategic partner of the US. Home to the US navy's 5th Fleet, the island nation is a core part of Washington's efforts to confront Iran's military expansion in the Gulf.
"Bahrain has the potential to turn really nasty," Christopher Davidson, a professor at the University of Durham in Britain, said.
'Widening wealth gap'
Davidson, who has written extensively about the region, said "there is a widening wealth gap between rich and poor and it just so happens that the rich are the Sunni leaders and the poor are the Shias".
The parliament has only limited powers and can be overruled by King Hamad bin Isa Al-Khalifa and his inner circle. For many Shias, however, gaining more seats - and possibly even taking a majority - is seen as a message not to ignore their demands for a greater say in how the country is run.
The authorities have launched a wave of arrests and clampdowns in recent months against suspected Shia dissidents.
Twenty-three Shia activists are due to go on trial next week accused of plotting a coup.
Pro-government crews have canvassed Bahrain trying to paint over graffiti condemning the crackdown or showing stencilled images of leading opposition figures.
Viva Palestina convoy reaches Gaza
Pro-Palestinian activists enter Gaza through Rafah crossing with $5m of aid for residents of Israeli-blockaded strip.
The Story of Prophet Hud - Founder of Hebrew
By: Aisha Stacey
Many people out side the Islamic faith may be surprised to learn that Muslims also believe in many of the Prophets found in Jewish and Christian traditions. Noah, Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, () amongst many others, all figure prominently in the pages of Quran. Believing in all of God's prophets and revealed Books are two of the requirements of faith in Islam therefore; Muslims accept the Torah and the (Injeel) Gospels of Jesus. However they also believe that these books were altered, or lost over the course of time. Consequently Muslims believe only what has been confirmed in the Quran or the authentic traditions of Prophet Muhammad.
In the Old Testament reference is made to a descendant of Noah named Eber. In some traditions, he is called Heber, and known as the father of the Hebrew language.1 In Islam however he is known as Hud 2 and is one of four Arabian prophets, the others being, Saleh, Shuaib and Muhammad (). Renowned Islamic scholar of the 14th century, Ibn Kathir, reports that Ibn Jarir also claims that Hud was a 5th generation descendent of Prophet Nuh .
Sent by God to his brethren, Hud spread the message that God is One and to worship Him alone. It was the same message spread by all the Prophets of God. Hud said to his people, "O my people, worship God, you have no other God but Him". (Quran 11:50). Hud belonged to the ancient civilization known as Aad, and its capital city is believed to have been the fabled city of Ubar, known in Quran as Iram. (Quran 89:6-7)
Aad is believed to have been situated in the wind swept hills between Oman and Yemen. The people were known to build lofty towers, and thus the area became known as the land of a thousand pillars. It was a civilization unlike any other. God blessed Aad and its people. He provided them with fertile land and abundant agriculture, many children, an ample supply of livestock and easy access to water resources. The people themselves were described as tall, strong, and well built.
In many ways, Aad could be described as a society much like many of the wealthy and powerful societies that exhibit some of the same tendencies today. There was an excess of wealth and the proud, arrogant people were not satisfied with fulfilling their basic needs. They began to build towers and dwellings to display their wealth and they accumulated worldly possessions as if they were a people destined to live forever.
The rulers and leaders of Aad were powerful tyrants, their wealth did not make them soft, as sometimes happens, but rather they grew strong and dominated the lands around them. All their deeds seemed fair to them. Their arrogance and pride grew and the worship of idols became prevalent.
Prophet Hud was also a strong man but he used his strength to confront the problems that plagued in his society, however, the people were too conceited to listen. They did not want Hud to point out their mistakes but he persisted in calling them to righteousness. He said, "O my people! Ask forgiveness of your Lord and then repent to Him, He will send you (from the sky) abundant rain, and add strength to your strength, so do not turn away as criminals, or disbelievers in the Oneness of God."
Hud tried to explain to his people that seeking God's forgiveness for their rebelliousness and arrogance would only cause an increase in their strength and wealth. God, he said, would reward their repentance with abundant rain and an increase in strength. In the manner of arrogant people throughout time the people of Aad looked at Hud with disdain, they then looked around and found that they were the most powerful people in existence.
Leep Reading : http://www.islamicity.com/articles/Articles.asp?ref=IC1010-4320
Somali schoolboy tells of how Islamists cut off his leg and hand
Ismael Khalif Abdulle's story provides rare insight into regime of al-Shabaab rebels trying to overthrow Somali government
Deaths in Chechen parliament attack
At least six killed as suspected separatists launch attack on building in Russia's North Caucasus region.
Lebanon – land of phantom oil deals, spies and political murder
While the West reacted with predictable horror to the Lebanese visit of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran – the US President Barack Obama called it "provocative" while Israel claimed that its northern neighbour was now "a hub of regional terror" – it largely failed to notice that the Iranians were busy signing a set of massive energy, oil exploration and economic agreements with Lebanon.
They included a £300m Iranian letter of credit for the Lebanese to begin financing new projects – possibly including two new power stations and a direct electricity link between the two countries via Turkey.
On the surface, it's easy to see all this as another attempt by Iran to dominate Lebanon through oil and electricity – and the Lebanese government's acceptance of the agreements as a sign of submission. Lebanon is believed to have considerable reserves of oil off the northern city of Tripoli which Iran suggested it might be able to explore – other fields may lie further south, close to Israel. Certainly, the Lebanese, who in some regions suffer eight-hour power cuts every day, are ready to allocate more than £1bn to the electrical project, with £1.5bn from the private sector and another £600m from largely western donor nations. This will come as something of a shock to the donors.
But, like everything in Lebanon, the whole fandango is more mirage than reality, as the Lebanese economist Marwan Iskander discovered when he researched his files. For the Iranians are demanding a matching guarantee of £300m from the Lebanese Central Bank – which it cannot provide without breaching UN sanctions against Iran. In fact, Iskander says, Iran wrote out a £75m pledge to Lebanon 10 years ago which the Central Bank could not guarantee – and for the same reason. The UN thus long ago put Iran out of the sub-financing business in this part of the Middle East.
And the dark spectre of Iranian oil men drilling the Mediterranean seabed 70 miles north of the Israeli border is also illusory. French and Norwegian companies have done much of the drilling in Iran; the refining has been carried out by French and Italian companies. Now the Russians and Chinese are doing the same job in Iran. The idea that Tehran would furnish cash to pay Moscow and Peking to explore reserves off Lebanon is close to fantasy.
So why on earth did the Iranian Foreign Minister Manouchehr Mottaki and the Lebanese Energy Minister Gebran Bassil sit down to sign those 17 agreements a week ago? Herein lies a tale. For it just so happens that Mr Bassil is the son-in-law of the Christian Maronite ex-general Michel Aoun whose political party long ago aligned itself with Syria and Iran. In Lebanon, its Christian supporters have thus found themselves an ally of Hizbollah and in opposition to the majority government of the Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
On the surface, this makes sense. Aoun is helping the Iranians to move into the Lebanese economy. But right now, the ex-general has a few other things on his mind. For a start, three of the team of alleged spies for Israel arrested by the Lebanese army over the past nine months have turned out to be working for Aoun's party. And this "spy ring" is supposed to have been involved in amassing data within the Lebanese communications system. Indeed, one of them was a senior official in Lebanon's largest mobile telephone network.
But the plot thickens. Hizbollah is deeply concerned that forthcoming accusations by the UN international tribunal in The Hague will finger members of the militia in the murder of Prime Minister Hariri's father Rafic on 14 February, 2005. Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah, the chairman of Hizbollah, has already denounced such accusations in advance – and suggested that the Israeli spy network inserted false phone traffic into the mobile phone records of the day of the murder; in other words, the records – a key part of the tribunal's evidence – were deliberately tampered with in order to implicate Hizbollah members in the murder.
And it has to be said that immediately after Rafic Hariri's killing, the UN was quietly pointing the finger at Syria rather than its Hizbollah ally. A censored UN report originally named four Syrian figures supposedly involved in the assassination. But now – after Der Spiegel (and its Israeli informants) suggested Hizbollah men were to blame – everyone is suspecting Israel's most security-conscious enemy in the Middle East of the crime. It's not unlike the Lockerbie airliner bombing, when the Syrians were originally fingered and then – when Syria's help was needed in the coalition against Saddam following his invasion of Kuwait in 1990 – the West started blaming Libya.
And those 17 Iranian-Lebanese agreements? Just bits of paper, maybe, signed by Bassil to keep the heat off his father-in-law's embarrassment. Spies and dodgy oil deals and a five-year murder hunt. It had to happen in Lebanon.
Yemen setback for Arabic learning
Pursuing an Islamic metamorphosis
The Muslim world faces a decline similar to that of medieval Europe; a potential rebirth requires a new consensus.
In his book, The Autumn of the Middle Ages, Dutch historian Johan Huizinga describes the decline of the medieval world as a process of "dying and rigidifying of a previously valid store of thought".
The main thesis of Huizinga’s book is that, by the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the cultural forms and norms on which medieval Europe was based became overused and exhausted. When any ideal becomes exhausted, it fails to be a source of inspiration; rather it becomes an artificial burden.
From Huizinga’s perspective, the European world of the late middle ages was a world of artificial vanity and self-deception, a ruin of a world that had died a long time before.
I think that the abstract aspect of Huizinga's thesis on cultural forms is enlightening, and can be extended to explain transitional moments in other cultures, including contemporary Islamic culture. The cultural legacy modern Muslims inherited from their ancestors is exhausted, and - with lack of self-criticism - much of this legacy is becoming a burden rather than a source of inspiration.
The Islamic world is going through a deep metamorphosis. The lessons of history from the American and French revolutions show that these kinds of transitive moments are sometimes bloody and painful. At this moment, Muslims need new ideas and ideals that transcend their divisions and heel their wounds.
One of these deep wounds is the conflict between secularists and Islamists, and that is what we will explore here.
State and religion
At the heart of the crisis of Muslim societies today is the lack of consensus about the social contract on which society should be based, especially in terms of an agreed understanding for the relation between religion and state.
Secularism can be seen from an institutional, legal or ideological angle. In the western experience, it is also important to distinguish between the Anglo-Saxon 'soft' secularism which basically means positive neutrality of the state towards religion, and the French 'hard' laïcité that goes beyond neutrality to negative intervention against religion.
Institutional separation between religious and political organisations is not difficult to accept in the Islamic world. It is indeed in compatibility with the Islamic historical experience, where religion was never institutionalised as a political competitor with the state, the way it was in medieval Christianity.
But ideological secularism the French way, and legal secularism that excludes Islam as a source of legislation, will never take root in Islamic culture.
Muslims cannot, however, continue ignoring new developments in the morality of all humanity regarding the religion-state relations. First, the foundation of the modern state is geographical, not faith-based.
Second, the equality of all citizens in political rights is, theoretically at least, unquestionable in any respected modern state. Third, every nation needs to consider the laws and legislation of other nations.
Fortunately for modern Muslims who are deeply rooted in their cultural heritage, there are potentials in their inherited culture that might help. First, Muslim societies have always been open to religious diversity.
The unbroken existence of Christian minorities in the Middle East from the birth of Islam until today is a good illustration of this potential. Second, Islamic law is very flexible and open to perpetual interpretation and adaptation, and it is easy to incorporate most modern laws within the Islamic legal vision.
A closer look at the conflict over religion and state in the Islamic world reveals the existence of three players who have a stake in the outcome of this conflict. These players are the Muslim majorities, the non-Muslim minorities, and the non-practising Muslims. Each one of these players has its own set of concerns.
The Muslim majorities see Islam as an essential part of inspiration in public life, and they don't want their value system to be compromised. They are also afraid of foreign manipulation of the minority’s case.
Some people among these majorities believe that the issue of secularism is irrelevant. We have no church, they argue, and secularism, by definition, is "the separation between the state and the church".
Some would even go as far as saying that Islam is a secular religion, and we are already secular, because we have no clergy who have a claim on being God's legate on earth.
The non-Muslim minorities don't want to be treated as second class citizens, and they don't want their religious freedom restricted. They are not willing to accept less than equal rights and responsibilities in their land of birth.
As for non-practising Muslims, Islam is acceptable as an individualistic observance, but not a social or political system. They believe the state should avoid legislation of morality, especially religious morality.
Towards a compromise
The three players in this Islamic metamorphosis need to come to a historical compromise that will save much time and energy, and help produce a swift transition of the Muslim societies to democracy and modernity.
Non-Muslim minorities and non-practising Muslims need to accept the fact that Islamic law is too rich and too important to be discarded. The historical analogy with Western experience is misleading, since there was never a universally subscribed to "Christian law" that governed societies and states. Unlike the Islamic law that has been the law of many Muslim states and empires throughout the last 1400 years, the medieval Canon law was to govern the Church, not the state or the society at large.
Muslim majorities need to accept that faith is no longer the basis for a social contract; geography is the new basis.
They must also guarantee the political and legal equality of their non-Muslim and non-religious citizens. Any legalisation of discrimination against non-Muslim citizens in terms of constitutional and political rights is absurd. Unfortunately that is what we still have today in many Arab countries—including the very secular ones, where constitutions deprive non-Muslim citizens from running in presidential elections (good for them anyway, since the elections are never fair or transparent).
Institutional secularism that prevents rulers from misusing religion, and guarantees freedom of conscience for all, should be accepted by all. Ideological secularism that chases religion away from public life should be rejected by all, because it is pure coercion.
Legal secularism that ignores the centrality of Islamic laws is meaningless. However, a great reinterpretation and adaptation of Islamic laws is necessary to help this compromise take place. These laws are flexible, and there has never been a monopoly in interpreting them.
Rule of law
Those who complain about Islamic laws need to shift their discourse to a more positive and practical formula: what should matter for them should be equality before the law, more than the source of the law.
As I told my friends at a Texas church a few years ago, I don't care if US law is drawn from a biblical source or a Roman source; what I care about is that the law does not discriminate against me as a Muslim.
The three players in the debate over religion and politics in the Islamic world need to be focusing on the rule of law instead of fighting over what kind of law should rule.
The Islamic world has suffered a lot from the lack of consensus on the social contract within Muslim societies.
It is time to explore new roads towards this necessary consensus. Both Islamists and secularists share the responsibility to achieve common ground through mutual respect and compromise.
A creative synthesis that is seen by Islamists as 'Islamic', and by secularists as 'secular', is very possible. After all Islam never accepted splitting the human personality into spiritual and material parts, and the Islamic ideal was never the self-absorbed asceticism, but the practical ethicality.
Mohamed El-Moctar El-Shinqiti is an author in political history and history of religion. He is a research coordinator at the Qatar Foundation in Doha, Qatar.
The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.