Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Moderation: A Time for Reassessment

Readers of this blog will not be new to this kind of discussion, but there are times when it is good to step back and take a larger view and see if, maybe, things have really changed. The news of the last week or two has definitely been such a time. In the last few days, I sent a version of the text below to a selected group of friends, Muslims, and other countryfolk. I think it is now time to share it on the blog, as well.

It does seem like we are at a time when some folks are asking anew to hear the silent majority of the Muslim world speak. But as we keep saying, the problem is not whether anyone is speaking, but whether anyone is listening. So let us, for a moment, assume that the folks that don't usually listen to moderation, either because it doesn't make for good TV and sound bites or for other reasons, are now listening. And I might start sounding like a broken record, but I do mean both within and from outside the global Muslim community.

So here goes:

A lot of readers will not need much of an introduction to who I am. But some things bear repeating. One of the first names that comes up when things like what I am thinking and saying come up is that of Irshad Manji. Some readers will know that I am not a fan of Irshad Manji. When her name comes up, I usually refer folks to the following:

And I am definitely not on the payroll of Daniel Pipes.

But I am in an odd mood. I guess I have the cartoon controversy and the explosion that, in my humble opinion, started in Samarra on my mind. For background on what I have been saying about that, see: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2006/02/cartoon-controvesyand-new-tet.html and http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2006/02/blast-at-shrine.html .

On the other hand, one very interesting thing to watch is a 1 hour documentary from the BBC about British Muslims: http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/programmes/panorama/4727513.stm .

And here's a comment from Lebanon:
http://www.dailystar.com.lb/article.asp?edition_ID=10&article_ID=22084&categ_id=5 . (To my Muslim brethren: in case you're thinking this guy's part of Daniel Pipes' team, read his comment on the cartoon controversy: http://www.reason.com/links/links022306.shtml)

But frankly, I doubt we are yet equipped here in the US to enagage with the issue in any way that does not involve most Muslims screaming "Anti-Muslim Nazis!" and all others--most particularly the press--screaming, or seeming like they are screaming, "All Muslims are Murderous Fanatics".

Where do we go from here? I don't know. But it does seem like some more folks, especially within the community, have been startled out of denial about the power, depth and breadth of the influence of "theo-cons"/"neo-cons" on our local communities, and about where we're headed. Of course, in terms of alternative voices, besides Irshad Manji, there are the Progressives, who seem to be doing good work to develop a progressive alternative. But a progressive is a progressive; a progressive is not a moderate. We need voices from the right and from the left; but if we don't get real about recognizing what is what, we don't have a chance of really providing an alternative and getting through to the average, common Muslim and changing how they engage with the 21st Century. Some of what I mean in that regard came up in the discussion on WNYC earlier this morning. (See: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2006/02/ifaqeer-on-wnyc-new-york-public-radio.html)

I am not saying I have a solution right here, right now. (Like some others I could mention.) I am just saying that I don't see any solutions on the table right now that will, on the one hand, solve the problems facing the world right now in terms of making the world a safer, saner place, and most importantly, be embraced by the 1 billion plus Muslim population in the world. At least not anything that's visible in the press, on the grapevine, or otherwise in the mainstream. I am saying that what we might have in the present moment might, just might, be an opportunity to start a conversation that gets us to such a solution.

Let's talk.

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Cartoon Controversy: Must-Hear Radio (no, not me)

Another NPR discussion from the last week that has a very passionate participant from the "Moderate Muslim" side is this:


And in this case, I am not talking about Irshad Manji; she is, at best, part progressive and part radical neo-con; you can read what I recommend as background on her at: http://ifaqeer.blogspot.com/2005/05/irshad-manji-progressive-muslim.html

But listen to Dr. Adil Najam; his segment starts about 12 minutes in. Sit back and really listen to him.

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iFaqeer on WNYC, New York Public Radio

You should be able listen to my appearance on The Brian Lehrer Show on WNYC, New York Public Radio, in a short while off the web page for the segment:

[The audio file directly is at: http://audio.wnyc.org/bl/bl022806a.mp3]

Brian asked who Abdus Sattar Edhi is. (I have a quote from him in my e-mail signature.) Here's a previous post where I explain that:


If you do listen to it, please let me know if I came thru as a blathering idiot--and throw in any and all other comments.

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Martin and Islam

Digging through some notes I have been piling up and not getting to, I found a reference to the following item from a program on WBUR in Boston nearabouts Martin Luther King day a couple of years ago:

Martin Luther King and Islam
Story aired: Monday, January 19, 2004

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would have been 75 years old last Thursday and today is the national holiday set aside to remember him. Around the country protests, rallies, and quiet reflection will commemorate the man and his legacy.

Colgate University Professor Omid Safi suggests traditional remembrance my watering down the real King, who may have found a new appreciation for Islam near the end of his life.

He also particularly mentions that Martin spoke out about things that were wrong in America because he loved America, what it stands for and what it can be; something that, I dare say, resonates well beyond Martin.

The story is at:


and the bit on Martin and Islam starts at about six and a half minutes (6:30) in.

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Carttons: I like the sweep of this article

I like the sweep of this article and how it puts all the pieces together; from the free speech argument and its internal contradictions, to how "local" politics internal to the Muslim World and to each local Muslim community plays into the whole thing:


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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Cartoon Controvesy...and a new Tet

The other story breaking surface today is that someone in Britain thinks the name "Mustafa Shag" for a sex toy is an attack on Islam, and one person--a rather active Progressive Muslim leader, actually--said that Muslims are digging holes for themselves. My reply:

This not just Muslims digging holes. This is the Neo-Cons of the Muslim world launching initiatives in the "War for the Hearts and Minds of the World's Muslims" to help them in their quest to be undisputed in being the ones standing up for Islam and Muslims; for leadership of the global Muslim community. Seizing on the cartoon controversy was the Tet Offensive of that war. And if you ask me, The West lost. And us Progressives (both Muslims and non) have been either very ineffective or AWOL.

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Blast at the shrine...

I sent the following to a mailing list I am on yesterday. This was before Sunni mosques started being attacked--a development that only makes the statement even more relevant...

I say we all--Shia, Sunni, Progressive, Conservative, Muslim, non-Muslim--observe Ayatollah Sistani's call not just for calm, but for mourning. Whether one accepts their status as Imams (as Shias do), the assault on the object of such reverence is a symbol of all that's wrong with our world today.

To quote the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., I am not a doctrinaire pacifist. Wars can be necessary. The USA had a civil war that is today considered both necessary and positive in in its long-term effects. What I rise to condemn is the act of wanton, offensive violence which can in no way be considered a valid act of war whichever side committed it.

And I pointedly do NOT want to express any opinion on who did it. Whether it was an anti-Shia act, an act to fuel the civil war by one side to intimidate the other, or an act of a cynical player to make the Shias angrier against Sunnis, or even by someone to discredit the US. I don't care. I think it was a heinous thing to do.

And we need to call it that.

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Saudis Bemoan Poor Image in U.S.
Published: February 22, 2006

Aren't they cute; just two peas in a pod: the Saudis bemoaning their image in the US and the US bemoaning its image in the Muslims world. From the rest of the word's point of view maybe we should all just get some therapy, since we're all just misunderstood, really. Us Muslims and Americans. As for for American Muslims, Allah help you, you Multiple Personality Disorder victims (which, in this case means that you have multiple dysfunctional personalities, I guess), you poor dears!!

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Letting Democracy Flower

Woodrow Wilson said that our job is to make the world safe for democracy. Notice the order of things...the world has to be made safe and then democracy can flower. Not the other way round; we can't either force democracy, or keep doing things that prevent democracy from flowering and then complain about riots in the streets.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Polling on the Cartoons

I get tens of requests from friends and relatives asking me to go to this or that media website and vote on a poll about "Those Cartoons".

Whichever side of the discussion you fall on, personally I feel that a news organ running a poll on whether to run the cartoons or not is like the police taking a poll on whether to punish a criminal or not. Of course, the BBC might do it a little more subtly by asking what they are rather than whether to run them; but as a Western leader once put it, "Is it progress if a cannibal uses a knife and fork?"

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Editorial about Cartoon Protests in Pakistan

The Daily Times, published out of Pakistan's second largest city, the historical metropolis of Lahore, has become the paper most people involved with Pakistan turn to for a different point of view, a slightly more unvarnished look at things than that provided by the two dominant papers in the market. Of course, there are other views out there, like The Nation and others, but The Daily Times is, shall we say, the darling of the more well-spoken liberal circles.

Here's a link to their editorial for February 16th, 2006, The Day After major "protests" in Lahore:


Protest Schedule in Pakistan

Someone's posted a schedule of protests in Pakistan on their blog:


I can't vouch for accuracy, etc. but it's worth a look-see if you're in Pakistan, going to be visiting, or just plain want to know what's going on.

Cartoon Controvesy: Human Rights Commission of Pakistan comments

Official statement:


News report:


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

PhotoBlogging Cartoon Protests in Karachi

As the protests against "Those Cartoons"j move ("spread" doesn't seem appropriate) into Karachi, Pakistan's largest city, Cemendtaur is covering them on the Karachi Photo Blog. He's posting reports from the day on the Photo Blog. You can start at:


and following on from there:


The Pakistani "Reaction" to "Those Cartoons"

Daal main kuch kaala hai, as we say in South Asia; there's something not quite right about this picture. How do we go from this:


to this:


in a few days? And the recent reaction has been mainly in Islamabad and Peshawar; places that are the least dense population centers but have different political context than our larger population centers in Lahore and Karachi. (Yes, I know Lahore has had riots. But how long after the issue hit the international front pages?) Is it this:


I have sent a request for information to some real journalists on the ground in the region. Let's see what we hear...

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Window into Pakistan; The Karachi Photo Blog

Friend and fellow writer/blogger Cemendtaur is in Pakistan for a while and has a photoblog providing a rather nuts and bolts stream from The Land of the Pure:


My favorite post is the very first one; scroll all the way down to the bottom of:


PS, February 15th, 2006: As a postscript to that review, almost as if on cue in the last couple of days, there've been some reports of a McDonald's being torched in Pakistan. The only thing I can say for now is that the latter report seems to be from Islamabad, while the picture above is of the Mickey D's in Karachi.

Monday, February 13, 2006

An Insult to Islam

Yes, the cartoons are an insult to Islam and to Muslims and to An Hazrat; but the following cartoon in USA Today over the weekend struck a chord:


Saturday, February 11, 2006

Neo-Conservative Revisionism; A Rant

In the middle of a discussion about activism, I had reason to say the following:

On one cannot pick-and-choose between going after
  • Muslim neo-conservative revisionists taking over issues related to Muslim-majority communities, because it is bad for non-Muslim minorities those communities can have power over (including Hindus and Christians);
  • Christian neo-conservative revisionists taking over issues related to Christian communities, because it is bad for non-Christian minorities those communities can have power over (including Muslims and Hindus);
  • Hindu neo-conservative revisionists taking over issues related to Hindu communities, because it is bad for non-Hindu minorities those communities can have power over (including Muslims and Christians); or
  • Jewish neo-conservative revisionists taking over issues related to Jewish communities, because it is bad for non-Jewish minorities those communities can have power over (including Muslims and Christians);

That really is how I see things. The issue is not each other's religious faith or each other's religious community; the issue is that a certain 21st century chauvinism of a tribal nature is on the march masquerading as "traditionalism". Hamas, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Jamat-e-Islami are no more "traditionalist" than the Christian Right are no more "traditionalist" than the Hindutva movement are no more "traditionalist" than the "Israel-right-or-wrong" crowd.

And no, I am not saying that just because someone follows a certain interpretation of their faith or ideology--Islamic, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Communist, Free Market, or what-have-you--they are automatically either terrorists, or oppressors, or extremists. People are terrorists when they use terror to achieve political aims--and Marxists have done it as often as religious people. People are oppressors when they oppress other people--and people of various faiths, various communities, and various ethnic backgrounds have done that. People are extremists and fanatics when, as Winston Churchill once said (I wince to quote an architect of chemical warfare on the side of humanity) "they redouble their efforts when they forgotten their aims", or lost touch with the principles they claim to be fighting for. When people do things like that, they need to be taken on by legal and political means--or by other means if all else fails. But if people that fit in one of the four bullet points above--or similar categories for other faiths and ideologies--are not falling in one of these categories, they need to be engaged intellectually, theologically, socially, and politically and overwhelmed that way.

Or am I smoking the wrong stuff?

Friday, February 10, 2006

Muslim Anger about "Those Cartoons"

One thing that crosses my mind is the Hadith often quoted in Desi Muslim circles, that goes "Ghussa himakath say shoroo ho kay paagalpan/nadaamath pay khatham hoe tha hai," or "Anger starts at silliness and ends at madness." Instructive since most of the reaction you see in Muslim circles--especially in the streets, and very commonly in South Asia--on the issue is anger; very little wisdom there.

"Islam is the Solution"; a Familiar Slogan

A phrase I referred to in my recent post on political and power duopolies,: "Islam is the solution" is something that has come up in the news pretty often recently. It is the slogan you heard from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the recent elections that gave them an enhanced presence, and it is what you heard from Hamas supporters in Palestine during their recent elections. It is also a phrase--and quite literally--a bumper sticker familiar to the likes of me from our campus days in Pakistan. I'd really like to discuss it and the political ideology that goes with it. I will try to post stuff about that, but in the meantime, if any readers have comments, etc. about the issue--or experiences of their own--please post them as comments here and let's start a discussion?

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Muslims of Britain on the Cartoon Controversy

I am still struggling with what do about the whole cartoon controversy; thinking of putting together a "Cartoon Reader", so to speak. But let's start getting information and comments out there. Here's one:

I am usually very critical of "Islamic" organizations in the West, but I liked the "Unity Message" put out by the MAB (Muslim Association of Britain):


It's worth noting how "mainstream"--and I mean mainstream British, not mainstream Muslim--the event is in its content and the people involved with it. It gives one the feel not of "Muslims versus everone else" but "British folk--with British Muslims in the lead".

Of course, I know I will find something to criticize very soon...

Treason and the US Constitution

The clarity of parts of the US constitution is amazing; often startlingly so. I have often remarked how the First Amendment always startles me when I go back to read the actual text. It's uncompromisingly clear definition of the Freedom of Speech is what gets me. It would do a lot of people a lot of good--especially given recent events to read it once in a while.

But today, I wanted to mention another very interesting thing came up in an NPR show I was listening to yesterday:
Article III Sect. 3 of the US Constitution starts: Treason, against the United States, shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort..."
Nothing one says or does, unless it directly makes the work of an enemy of the US easier in their actions against the same can
constitute treason.

Thursday, February 02, 2006

IRC Briefing - Q&A and conlcusion


UN--how good: not as good as they had hoped for. Because it is a more difficult situation, too.

Role of the INdia-Pak Conflict: Actually helping. IRC had been asking permission to go in and work in kashmir for years and been denied.

Cost of proiding health care: 5-10 dollars per person per year. (Kenya and Tanzania is 2-3 dollars.) US 5260 dollars per year.

Drugs donated?: The practice of relief medicine has advance over the last few years--there are pre-packaged kits available now and we ask for them to be deployed as we fly out.

Psychologic care: What people need is their lives normalized. We stress a lot on psych-social are--re-uniting kids with parents. Providing spaces where they can feel safe. Providing work to surviviors--all of a sudden, they have control on their lives.

Are there trust issues towards Westerners and International Agencies: Interesting thing is that the local staff had always heard of the Tribal Areas as the boogeyman woods of their childhood--but were very surprised and moved by the response they got and the suffering.

Orphans, how many? And are you planning to talk to expats from India/Pakistan here?: Did a presentation in NY to the Asia Society with people from all over the South Asian regions. About children, don't have exact numbers, but thousands. But this is a very close-knit communities and most kids were brought, almost without thinking, into the care of extended family. Families would actively seek out children that had been evacuated. The IRC had child protection staff dedicated to helping with child issues, too.

Also, the winter hasn't been as bad as expected. But we might need just as much help next winter, too, since the scale of this so large.

Conclusion from a SF-based Board Member: What was presented was only a sliver of the IRC work. And most of the places they work, unlike Pakistan, have the added layer of day-to-day terror and war on top of disaster.

IRC Briefing --Update 2

Dr. Rick: What is the first thing you do? You make sure that what you are doing is what is needed, you try to address gaps and you try to be as effective as possible. They ended up serving 103, 000 refugees. They had to do Rapid Assessments, using Quick-and-Dirty methods rather than formal epidemiology. And they had to make sure they delivered aid as they did this.

In the area they focused in, the information they gathered in the three weeks they did the survey, their results included:

* 22 communities, 17 healtth facilities
* 231,000 population (media, 2000)

* 800-900 acute deaths
* Mortality not elevated two weeks post-EQ

* ARI, diarrhea, skin infections
* No acute outbreaks

First few weeks, focus was rescue and retrieval. But most of that happens mostly in the first 48-72 hours. Once that was done, the focus had to majorly be infections.

First assessment of Enviromental health was:

* >90% houses non-habitable
* less than 10% in normal structures
* 75-90% in makeshift shelters
* less than 10% had useable latrines and toilets
* 67% had access to clean water--actually better than expected.

Of the health facilities hey visited:

* 82% were destroyed or damaged
* 50% had adequate staffing
* 43% had inpatient services

But when they asked around, the thing everyone wanted was shelter, shelter, shelter. And the thing was that they needed first of all to get remaining health staff with shelter so that they could stay in the area. These are people usually better off than the rest of the community and could very easily go somewhere else--say, Peshawar--and get a new place.

Gender issues are big. In some clinics only 10% of the patients were women--but IRC made sure they had female doctors and therefore had about 55% women patients. Very difficult to convince female doctors to go up there and live in a tent. Still is a challenge.

They had Afghan refugee staff and Pakistani staff working 12 hour days in cramped conditions while fasting in Ramazan.

In October 2005, only 10% off what they say was injuries.

One of the major killers in refugee populations is measles, so on of the priority health interventions was Measles and Tetanus vaccinations. Asked the authorities to give them the vaccines. 2000 measles shots and lots of tetanus. One other agency started a tetanus hospital just focused on that.

Assistance with Health Strategy

* Basic Package of Health Services
** Infectious disease control
** Child health
** Reproductive health

* Geographic distribution of responsibility for health services between the NGO's, signing MoU's with the Ministry of Health in Mansehra District and Azad Kashmir.

Currently working in both Mansehra and Kashmir with a total population of 115-150000 people. Trying to make sure that permanent health facilities are rebuilt and reset up.

IRC Briefing on Earthquake Work -- Update 2

IRC Briefing 02/02/06

Sorry about this being a little choppy. I am trying to write as fast as I can and as properly as I can.

Started with thanks from a partner from MoFo. Mentions that he worked for a week in Tsunami camps--and understanding that need in Pak is bigger.

Then came Jennifer Brokaw; member of Board of Overseers. ER physician. Worked in pakistan in 1989, Afghani refugee camps. Introduced Shama and Nadeem Anwar who she introduced as mentors of hers from when she was a very young doctor working in the camps. And said that her experiences then and her being the citizen of an earthquake prone city made the earthquake hit home. Natural disasters are not usually IRC's purview, but they've been there for over 20 years and she said she knew they would jump in..

Ms. Brokay introduced Mark Bartonlini, formerly regional director for ME (incl. Pak).

Food was donated by Rotee, a San Francisco restaurant (http://www.roteesf.com). Wine, space.

IRC intro: One of the largest and oldest organizations. Started in 1933, on the suggestion of Einstein--initially to work with population fleeing the Nazi regime. Only do work with War-affected populations. When they do work, they respond to natural disasters--Tsunami (Aceh), Katrina, first Pak.

938 or so staff, only 3 expats. About helping people who help themselves. there were a lot of staff personally affected.

He introduced a video about IRC work in Pakistan and then Gillian Dunn and Rick Brennan.

Video: They were one of the first organizations on the ground with health professionals. Including women doctors--for a time, the only ones. One thing I really liked is their mention of a Cash for Work program harnessing local folks to get rebuilding and relief work done.

Ms. Dunn: Started with basics about the quake. Then IRC's profile in Pakistan. They've been there for 25 years. Their work started with Afghan refugees. They have quite a focus on Promoting and Protecting Human Rights, and therefore they were very conscious of privacy issues (purdah, etc.). Destruction of homes meant that the private zone that women have in that society went away. The lack of that has health implications, etc. And also equal access issues.

Covered the following:

Shelter: A lot of villages were built on the sides of roads and were hit by avalanches, etc. Real reconstruction can't begin till the spring.

Health Care: They have doctors, a lot of them women; almost all of them, it seems, locals.

Child Protection & Development: Creating child-friendly zones, places that could help them start on the path to "normalizaton".

Of the 2.8 Million homeless, 135K are in organized camps. Others are in spontaneous camps, with relatives, and so on.

Options and Challenges include the quality, and not just th quantity of aid. A lot of people are being urged to go back to their villages. The IRC is taking that up with the government.

Looking towards recovery. Recovery from a disaster is a sprint followed by a marathon. But because of the situation, both of those components have to go on in parallel. The IRC is urging that though there is a lot of relief work still happening, it should not be at the cost of recovery and rebuilding.

She related some details about things that have happened. For example, saying that the total loss of employment is 35%, affecting 1.6 million (or so; I hope I remember right) people. The area is already very poor and a lot of these people don't expect any services from the government--and get none. A lot of this is in the Tribal Areas, where the writ of the Pakistani government does not reach. The IRC is trying to form local community-based organizations that will plan and implement the programs--deciding what needs to be done and so on. They are hoping train people in a new construction technique.

Primary construction material is stabilized compressed earthblocks, with metal roofs. The original buildings were earth with heavy timber roofs with earth on top of it. That's what killed people; the roofs falling in. Their program is hoping to train people in the new, safer building technique. This will continue on for many years. One room structures is not the end of it. Traditionally, houses are large, given the social structures there.

There is a lot of work to be done; but these are very strong people.

IRC Briefing Event - Update 1

I am at the Briefing by the International Rescue Committee at the offices of Morrison and Forrester (http://www.mofo.com). Will be posting updates as I go along.