News in brief: So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews? and other news
- So, what did the Muslims do for the Jews?
12/5/2012 - Interfaith - Article Ref: JC1206-5123
By: David J Wasserstein
The Jewish Chronicle* -
Islam saved Jewry. This is an unpopular, discomforting claim in the modern world. But it is a historical truth. The argument for it is double. First, in 570 CE, when the Prophet Mohammad was born, the Jews and Judaism were on the way to oblivion. And second, the coming of Islam saved them, providing a new context in which they not only survived, but flourished, laying foundations for subsequent Jewish cultural prosperity - also in Christendom - through the medieval period into the modern world.
By the fourth century, Christianity had become the dominant religion in the Roman empire. One aspect of this success was opposition to rival faiths, including Judaism, along with massive conversion of members of such faiths, sometimes by force, to Christianity. Much of our testimony about Jewish existence in the Roman empire from this time on consists of accounts of conversions.
Great and permanent reductions in numbers through conversion, between the fourth and the seventh centuries, brought with them a gradual but relentless whittling away of the status, rights, social and economic existence, and religious and cultural life of Jews all over the Roman empire.
A long series of enactments deprived Jewish people of their rights as citizens, prevented them from fulfilling their religious obligations, and excluded them from the society of their fellows.
Had Islam not come along, Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance and Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult
This went along with the centuries-long military and political struggle with Persia. As a tiny element in the Christian world, the Jews should not have been affected much by this broad, political issue. Yet it affected them critically, because the Persian empire at this time included Babylon - now Iraq - at the time home to the world's greatest concentration of Jews.
Here also were the greatest centres of Jewish intellectual life. The most important single work of Jewish cultural creativity in over 3,000 years, apart from the Bible itself - the Talmud - came into being in Babylon. The struggle between Persia and Byzantium, in our period, led increasingly to a separation between Jews under Byzantine, Christian rule and Jews under Persian rule.
Beyond all this, the Jews who lived under Christian rule seemed to have lost the knowledge of their own culturally specific languages - Hebrew and Aramaic - and to have taken on the use of Latin or Greek or other non-Jewish, local, languages. This in turn must have meant that they also lost access to the central literary works of Jewish culture - the Torah, Mishnah, poetry, midrash, even liturgy.
The loss of the unifying force represented by language - and of the associated literature - was a major step towards assimilation and disappearance. In these circumstances, with contact with the one place where Jewish cultural life continued to prosper - Babylon - cut off by conflict with Persia, Jewish life in the Christian world of late antiquity was not simply a pale shadow of what it had been three or four centuries earlier. It was doomed.
Had Islam not come along, the conflict with Persia would have continued. The separation between western Judaism, that of Christendom, and Babylonian Judaism, that of Mesopotamia, would have intensified. Jewry in the west would have declined to disappearance in many areas. And Jewry in the east would have become just another oriental cult.
But this was all prevented by the rise of Islam. The Islamic conquests of the seventh century changed the world, and did so with dramatic, wide-ranging and permanent effect for the Jews.
Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond. Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms - all for the better.
First, things improved politically. Almost everywhere in Christendom where Jews had lived now formed part of the same political space as Babylon - Cordoba and Basra lay in the same political world. The old frontier between the vital centre in Babylonia and the Jews of the Mediterranean basin was swept away, forever.
Political change was partnered by change in the legal status of the Jewish population: although it is not always clear what happened during the Muslim conquests, one thing is certain. The result of the conquests was, by and large, to make the Jews second-class citizens.
This should not be misunderstood: to be a second-class citizen was a far better thing to be than not to be a citizen at all. For most of these Jews, second-class citizenship represented a major advance. In Visigothic Spain, for example, shortly before the Muslim conquest in 711, the Jews had seen their children removed from them and forcibly converted to Christianity and had themselves been enslaved.
In the developing Islamic societies of the classical and medieval periods, being a Jew meant belonging to a category defined under law, enjoying certain rights and protections, alongside various obligations. These rights and protections were not as extensive or as generous as those enjoyed by Muslims, and the obligations were greater but, for the first few centuries, the Muslims themselves were a minority, and the practical differences were not all that great.
Along with legal near-equality came social and economic equality. Jews were not confined to ghettos, either literally or in terms of economic activity. The societies of Islam were, in effect, open societies. In religious terms, too, Jews enjoyed virtually full freedom. They might not build many new synagogues - in theory - and they might not make too public their profession of their faith, but there was no really significant restriction on the practice of their religion. Along with internal legal autonomy, they also enjoyed formal representation, through leaders of their own, before the authorities of the state. Imperfect and often not quite as rosy as this might sound, it was at least the broad norm.
The political unity brought by the new Islamic world-empire did not last, but it created a vast Islamic world civilisation, similar to the older Christian civilisation that it replaced. Within this huge area, Jews lived and enjoyed broadly similar status and rights everywhere. They could move around, maintain contacts, and develop their identity as Jews. A great new expansion of trade from the ninth century onwards brought the Spanish Jews - like the Muslims - into touch with the Jews and the Muslims even of India.
All this was encouraged by a further, critical development. Huge numbers of people in the new world of Islam adopted the language of the Muslim Arabs. Arabic gradually became the principal language of this vast area, excluding almost all the rest: Greek and Syriac, Aramaic and Coptic and Latin all died out, replaced by Arabic. Persian, too, went into a long retreat, to reappear later heavily influenced by Arabic.
The Jews moved over to Arabic very rapidly. By the early 10th century, only 300 years after the conquests, Sa'adya Gaon was translating the Bible into Arabic. Bible translation is a massive task - it is not undertaken unless there is a need for it. By about the year 900, the Jews had largely abandoned other languages and taken on Arabic.
The change of language in its turn brought the Jews into direct contact with broader cultural developments. The result from the 10th century on was a striking pairing of two cultures. The Jews of the Islamic world developed an entirely new culture, which differed from their culture before Islam in terms of language, cultural forms, influences, and uses. Instead of being concerned primarily with religion, the new Jewish culture of the Islamic world, like that of its neighbours, mixed the religious and the secular to a high degree. The contrast, both with the past and with medieval Christian Europe, was enormous.
Like their neighbours, these Jews wrote in Arabic in part, and in a Jewish form of that language. The use of Arabic brought them close to the Arabs. But the use of a specific Jewish form of that language maintained the barriers between Jew and Muslim. The subjects that Jews wrote about, and the literary forms in which they wrote about them, were largely new ones, borrowed from the Muslims and developed in tandem with developments in Arabic Islam.
Also at this time, Hebrew was revived as a language of high literature, parallel to the use among the Muslims of a high form of Arabic for similar purposes. Along with its use for poetry and artistic prose, secular writing of all forms in Hebrew and in (Judeo-)Arabic came into being, some of it of high quality.
Much of the greatest poetry in Hebrew written since the Bible comes from this period. Sa'adya Gaon, Solomon Ibn Gabirol, Ibn Ezra (Moses and Abraham), Maimonides, Yehuda Halevi, Yehudah al-Harizi, Samuel ha-Nagid, and many more - all of these names, well known today, belong in the first rank of Jewish literary and cultural endeavour.
W here did these Jews produce all this? When did they and their neighbours achieve this symbiosis, this mode of living together? The Jews did it in a number of centres of excellence. The most outstanding of these was Islamic Spain, where there was a true Jewish Golden Age, alongside a wave of cultural achievement among the Muslim population. The Spanish case illustrates a more general pattern, too.
What happened in Islamic Spain - waves of Jewish cultural prosperity paralleling waves of cultural prosperity among the Muslims - exemplifies a larger pattern in Arab Islam. In Baghdad, between the ninth and the twelfth centuries; in Qayrawan (in north Africa), between the ninth and the 11th centuries; in Cairo, between the 10th and the 12th centuries, and elsewhere, the rise and fall of cultural centres of Islam tended to be reflected in the rise and fall of Jewish cultural activity in the same places.
This was not coincidence, and nor was it the product of particularly enlightened liberal patronage by Muslim rulers. It was the product of a number of deeper features of these societies, social and cultural, legal and economic, linguistic and political, which together enabled and indeed encouraged the Jews of the Islamic world to create a novel sub-culture within the high civilisation of the time.
This did not last for ever; the period of culturally successful symbiosis between Jew and Arab Muslim in the middle ages came to a close by about 1300. In reality, it had reached this point even earlier, with the overall relative decline in the importance and vitality of Arabic culture, both in relation to western European cultures and in relation to other cultural forms within Islam itself; Persian and Turkish.
Jewish cultural prosperity in the middle ages operated in large part as a function of Muslim, Arabic cultural (and to some degree political) prosperity: when Muslim Arabic culture thrived, so did that of the Jews; when Muslim Arabic culture declined, so did that of the Jews.
In the case of the Jews, however, the cultural capital thus created also served as the seed-bed of further growth elsewhere - in Christian Spain and in the Christian world more generally.
The Islamic world was not the only source of inspiration for the Jewish cultural revival that came later in Christian Europe, but it certainly was a major contributor to that development. Its significance cannot be overestimated.
David J Wasserstein is the Eugene Greener Jr Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University. This article is adapted from last week's Jordan Lectures in Comparative Religion at the School of Oriental and African Studies.
Source: The Jewish Chronicle Online
Indian officers named in report on Kashmir abuses
Report identifies 500 'alleged perpetrators' of human rights abuses from low-ranking policemen to Indian army generals
Jason Burke in Delhi
guardian.co.uk, Thursday 6 December 2012 05.30 GMT
Hundreds of serving Indian soldiers, including senior officers, are accused of involvement in widespread human rights abuses in Kashmir in a new report to be published on Thursday.
Many have been decorated and promoted despite serious allegations against them, the authors say. In a move likely to provoke anger, the report, by a team of veteran legal activists in the Himalayan state, names 500 "alleged perpetrators" ranging from low-ranking policemen to Indian army generals.
The charges relate to incidents occurring throughout more than 20 years of violence pitting armed religious and separatist groups against New Delhi's rule in Kashmir, and include shootings, abductions, torture and rapes.
The allegations will embarrass India, which takes great pride in being the world's largest democracy, and increase the pressure on local authorities to repeal emergency legislation implemented in Kashmir in 1990 at the beginning of the insurgency.
Though violence has subsided in recent years, in part due to warming relations with neighbouring Pakistan, which supported some insurgent groups, the Indian security establishment believes the potential for renewed conflict in Kashmir remains high.
The report is based on documents obtained under new freedom of information legislation, police statements, the government's own investigations and hundreds of interviews with family members and other witnesses. "Cases … reveal that there is a policy not to genuinely investigate or prosecute the armed forces for human rights violations. On the contrary, alleged perpetrators of crimes are awarded, rewarded and promoted," the report's authors said in a press statement. The report is published by the International People's Tribunal on Human Rights and Justice in Indian-administered Kashmir along with the Association of Parents of Disappeared Person.
Spokesmen from the Indian army and paramilitary forces deployed in Kashmir refused to comment on Wednesday.
The earliest incident covered in the report occurred in 1990, at the beginning of the conflict, when a 19-year-old student suspected of links to the growing militant movement in Kashmir was abducted by military personnel led by a major – named in the report – then tortured and killed. The report's authors were unable to find any evidence of any official investigation or disciplinary proceedings against the officer.
The worst of the violence occurred during the mid-1990s, when thousands of militants took on Indian security forces supplemented by locally hired irregulars. Human rights abuses were routine, with militants intimidating local communities and killing so-called spies while Indian authorities resorted to abduction, torture and extra-judicial execution on a wide scale. Sexual assaults on women were also common.
One incident from 1993 involved local police opening fire on peaceful, unarmed demonstrators and killing 35. No one has been disciplined despite a series of inquiries blaming police and describing how officials had attempted to cover up an "act of vengeance", the researchers found.
Other incidents in the 450-page report include a colonel paying off bereaved relatives after his unit used local villagers as human shields in a shootout with militants, scores of abductions and apparently random shootings designed to intimidate.
Specialised counter-insurgency units such as the Rashtriya Rifles feature repeatedly. In one incident in 2006, a "Major Rambo" and his men are accused of opening fire on children and youths fleeing after a suspected militant had been shot dead during a raid. Two 18-year-olds, a six-year-old and an eight-year-old were killed. The report notes that no police investigation was conducted. Military authorities blamed "terrorists" and "crossfire" for the deaths.
The most recent incident investigated by the authors of the report occurred in July last year, when a 28-year-old in the tense town of Sopore, a hotbed of militant activity, was arrested by a group of anti-terrorist police and soldiers on charges of possession of weapons. After several hours in police custody, Nazim Rashid Shalla telephoned his father to tell him he had been badly tortured and needed medical help, police documents and witness statements reveal.
His father was able to gain access to the police station, where he saw his semi-conscious son being beaten. Shalla died in custody the next morning.
Three constables have been suspended for their role in the death, but two senior officers named by the report as overseeing the arrest were awarded gallantry medals this year.
One frequent accusation is that Indian security forces in Kashmir have killed innocent civilians in staged gun battles and passed them off as separatist militants to earn rewards and promotions. One such alleged incident occurred in 2010, in which three labourers recruited to move arms and ammunition for the army were shot dead and then subsequently described as extremists who had crossed over from Pakistan. The report blames the killing on 11 people, including three Indian army officers. However, though three local informers have been detained, no others have been sanctioned as the case has become bogged down in legal battles. The Indian army maintains that servicemen must face a court martial not a civilian court.
Up to 70,000 people died in violence in Kashmir over recent decades, it is widely estimated. Civilians and security forces were killed in a series of suicide-style attacks and bombings. Such attacks justified the hardline often taken by security forces, former officers say. However, as the intensity of the conflict has ebbed in recent years, there has been a steady stream of revelations detailing abuses. In recent years, dozens of unmarked graves containing more than 2,000 corpses have been discovered on the Indian side of the line of control, the de facto border that has split the former kingdom between India and Pakistan for nearly 40 years.
A US diplomatic cable leaked by WikiLeaks and published by the Guardian in December 2010 revealed a briefing to the US embassy in Delhi in 2005 by representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) which described continuing torture and arbitrary detention by security forces in Kashmir.
The dispatches, obtained by website WikiLeaks, revealed the ICRC's concerns about the use of electrocution, beatings and sexual humiliation against hundreds of detainees. Other cables show that as recently as 2007 American diplomats were concerned about widespread human rights abuses by Indian security forces, who they said relied on torture for confessions.
Mali civilians vow to take up arms against Islamist extremists
Militias train male and female recruits for possible offensive amid anger over delayed international intervention
Tamasin Ford and Bonnie Allen in Bamako
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 4 December 2012 13.56 GMT
Sitting on the roof of his mud-walled compound on a hillside near Bamako, Amadou Maiga is dreaming of war. As the spokesman for the Gando Iso militia, Maiga says Malians cannot wait for international help to reclaim the north of his country from Islamist extremists. So they are preparing to take matters into their own hands.
"If we wait… we will give time for these terrorists to occupy the area because, according to the information, on the ground, more terrorists are coming," he said, from his home in Boulkassoumbugu, a suburb of the Malian capital.
The UN security council is expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss plans for a 3,300-strong regional Ecowas force to enter Mali, but it is unlikely any sort of military operation will begin before next September. Last week the UN secretary general, Ban Ki-moon, said military force may be required as a last resort, but stressed the importance of dialogue over war.
The militias are angry about the delay, and about the suggestion that Mali's government will offer the minority Tuareg separatists autonomy in exchange for joining the fight against al-Qaida-affiliated insurgents.
"There is nothing to negotiate with these criminals who killed people, who broke everything, who looted everything on the way," Maiga said.
Gando Iso, meaning sons of the land, is one of three militia groups unofficially supported by the government which have been training fighters at army military camps in Sevare, outside Mopti, 400 miles north of Bamako. Since the coup in March that left power precariously shared between a weak interim government and military junta leaders, the militias have gathered around 3,000 men and women who are willing to start a rebellion. "We don't want to work outside the law but if we have to do it… then we will take the decision to go," Maiga said.
The militias, many of which are accused of atrocities in earlier rebellions against the Tuareg, add another dangerous dimension to the crisis in the west African country. Gregory Mann, a professor at Columbia University specialising in the history of Mali, said there was a risk that militias would pursue their own objectives and "open the Pandora's box of the conflict; a set of grudges and grievances that have been difficult to contain in the past".
Ganda Iso is a successor to the Ganda Koy militia, whose name means masters of the land. They are disorganised, lack leadership and yearn for revenge against the minority Tuareg separatists, who have fought for more than 50 years demanding the independent state of Azawad. "Every day people are calling me, [saying] 'I want to go [to fight], I want to go,'" said Maiga.
Many civilians, who had been hoping for outside military intervention before the end of the year, now say they will take up arms to reclaim their country. "I am ready to go and fight myself," said a 40-year-old mother of three from Bamako.
"If I have to take a weapon and be in front of them and fight why should I not to do it? This is my country… I don't have anywhere else to go," she said.
She wiped tears from her face as she remembered the refugees she visited in the camps in neighbouring Niger. "We don't have oil, we don't have all this mineral wealth, but we are still human beings," she said.
More than 400,000 people have been forced to leave their homes in the north of the country since insurgents began moving through towns and villages looting and raping earlier this year. About 50,000 are in Bamako.
In a small hall in the centre of the city, 15 displaced women share a meal of jollof rice. Aramata Maiga, 62, explained how rebels looted her clothing shop in Gao, leaving only the chairs. "They are killing soldiers. They are killing citizens. They are killing everyone," she said.
Maiga has been sharing a room with her six children at a friend's house for eight months. She has no idea whether her home and business are still standing, but she's tired of "living in hell here in Bamako" and wants to go back to "fight to free my place".
At the chaotic Banke bus station in eastern Bamako, smoke-spewing buses leave for Gao and Timbuktu every day full of people returning to check on their property, livestock and, in some cases, stay behind in rebel-held areas – despite the risk.
"Many adults are returning to participate in the liberation in order to be there on D-day when the army returns," said Amadou Touré, a deputy mayor in Bamako responsible for registering the internally displaced people in his region.
Touré criticised the delayed military intervention. "It speaks of an international community who doesn't understand what's at stake at all," he said. He is still hopeful the Malian army, which left the country divided in two after abandoning its northern posts with barely a fight, will take action.
"It's simple. All we ask of the Malian army is to stick to their positions. They won't even need to fight – they just have to come and the people will help."
Analysts say the talk of a civilian rebellion is more than just bravado, and fear for the escalation in violence. Mann warns that Malians cannot rely on their army to support them. Ordered to retreat rather than fight, they lack equipment, money and clear leadership. "There's not a shred of evidence that the Malian army can actually perform," said the professor. "It's an army consistently weakened by internal fighting. My suspicion is that's why there's a delay in the international intervention."
Country in crisis
Mali was left rudderless in March when a coup by military officers, angry at the lack of action against northern Tuareg separatists, ousted President Amadou Toumani Touré ahead of the April elections. It paved the way for the Tuareg rebel groupthe Movement for the Liberation of Azawad (MNLA) to take advantage of the power vacuum and overthrow the weak Malian army. They seized control of the north, declaring the independent state of Azawad. They soon merged with the Ansar Dine rebel group but the partnership did not last; Mujao, Ansar Dine and al-Qaeia in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), armed groups linked to al-Qaida, turned on Tuareg MNLA and captured the northern cities of Timbuktu, Kidal and Gao, destroying Muslim shrines and enforcing strict forms of Sharia law. A new government has since been formed in Bamako, but military junta leaders still hold much of the power.
Mali rebels agree to respect 'national unity'
Ansar Dine and MNLA agree in talks with the government to respect territorial integrity and unity of country.
Last Modified: 05 Dec 2012 10:16
Worked to death
The deaths of thousands of migrant workers in recent years bring Malaysia's safety standards into question.
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The House Fata Didn't Build
Tensions in the aftermath of the Bosnian war are exposed through a widow's fight against the state, police and church.
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Malaysia hotels cater to Muslim tourists
Qurans, prayer garments, and ablution taps are among the accoutrements some hotels offer to attract Muslim travelers.
More than 112 killed in Bangladesh clothing factory fire
At least 112 people were killed in a fire that raced through a multi-story garment factory just outside of Bangladesh's capital, an official said Sunday.
Life and Beyond according to the Quran
11/13/2012 - Religious - Article Ref: IC0610-3124
By: Muhammad Abdel Haleem
11/6/2012 - Religious Opinion - Article Ref: AE1001-4045
By: Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi
AllExperts.com* - Dec 2005
Thailand says Muslim fighters seeking peace
Increasing number of surrendering separatists means battle in south is finally slowing, officials say.
Last Modified: 05 Nov 2012 05:36
Tintin racism row puts spotlight on children's literature
The decision to reshelve Hergé's books because of their perceived colonial and racist tint has generated heated debate
Imran Khan detained and 'interrogated over drone views' by US immigration
Former cricket captain turned politician detained on flight from Canada to New York to be questioned over his views on jihad
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 27 October 2012 14.12 BST
Massacre of Thai Muslims remembered
Eight years after the deadly southern crackdown, military still reluctant to talk about the Tak Bai incident.
Last Modified: 25 Oct 2012 12:44
Mali: no rhythm or reason as militants declare war on music
Islamist militants are banning music in northern Mali, a chilling proposition for a country where music is akin to mineral wealth
guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 23 October 2012 17.29 BST
Russian forces kill 49 militants in North Caucasus
Russia's top anti-terrorism agency announces deaths days after Vladimir Putin led meeting of country's security council
Reuters in Moscow
guardian.co.uk, Sunday 21 October 2012 13.30 BST