Saturday, April 28, 2007
Yesterday I attended a conference at the Tufts Fletcher School, sponsored by The Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies and The Hudson Institute, entitled, "Islam in Democratic Societies." It was an exceptional experience.
These are my notes, and nothing here should be considered to be a direct quote, even stuff that appears in quotation marks which should be taken as "scare quotes" rather than any sort of transcript. I understand video will be available. Extra commentary that does not come directly from my notes is enclosed in brackets. This is long. I understand video of the conference will be posted some time next week.
There were plenty of seats still in the hall as things proceeded, and many unclaimed name tags of people who pre-registered but didn't show, which was too bad as they missed quite a conference. Miss Kelly was also there, and I expect she'll have something to say about the event in due course [Updates on Monday: Miss Kelly's post, here, as well as more about Naser Khader here, and from Gates of Vienna, here.]. The -- as a very rough guess -- about seventy-five people who did attend were in for a treat.
This one was moderated by Herbert I. London, President, The Hudson Institute and included:
- Hussain Haqqani, Director, Center for International Relations, Boston University
- Zeyno Baran, Senior Fellow and Director, Center for Eurasian Policy, The Hudson Institute
- Irshad Manji, Canadian and Muslim author, journalist, and activist who was added to this panel since Mohamed Sifaoui had visa issues
Hussain Haqqani began. He noted that the 57 Muslim majority nations have a lower combined GDP than that of France alone, and huge amounts of illiteracy. If you exclude the leaders, Iran, Turkey and Indonesia, the overall numbers would be even worse. He's currently doing research into the moribund world of book publishing in the Muslim World.
He noted that there has been a Muslim decline when compared to the progress of the West over the past few centuries, and that there have been four main Muslim responses to this decline:
1) Islam is the problem so get rid of it. This would be the Kemalist reaction, for instance. This is different from our separation of church and state, it's more of a total secularization, though this is called the "imitate the west" faction.
2) There are the "traditionalists," people who say, "ignore the West." They don't care about the West, don't view things as a competition and are content with whatever comes.
3) There are those who wish to learn from the West and modernize the Muslim World. Modernizers often get confused by the co-religionists with secularizers which often makes it difficult for the modernizers as they receive more opposition than they probably otherwise would.
4) There are the Islamic Revivalists. Here Haqqani avoids the term "fundamentalist," since he (and this seemed to be a matter of agreement among participants) that this is a misnomer that leaves "real Islam" to the radicals, when "fundamental" Islam is perfectly capable of being used for modernization and regression alike. The Revivalists believe that Islam's glorious past is also its future, and that the definition of "progress" in the West is different from its definition in Islam. Going back to the past is progress to these people, and they believe they must pull down what has been built up since the glory days.
Up until very recently, the Revivalists were underestimated. In 1917, Sykes told the British that Wahhabism was a "dying flame."
Real Reformers are those who believe there must be a new approach to faith, history and women.
The most important solution is to recognize the crisis within Islam and not focus the blame outward.
We in the West need not simply to look for people in the Muslim World who look exactly like us, but instead people who promote our values in their milieu -- people who promote pluralism and tolerance, and those who reject violence.
We also need to be careful with how we support them. If Martin Luther had been taking funding from the Ottoman Empire he may not have been as successful in reforming the Catholic Church. Glenn Beck isn't going to change many minds in Egypt, Pakistan or Bangladesh...
Next up was Zeyno Baran. She pointed out that the title of the panel didn't work. What's a radical? Words? Actions? Sheik Qaradhawi is called (and calls himself) a moderate, yet Irshad Manji is called a radical -- yet Manji is a radical in a good way.
Baran said that when she was growing up as a Muslim in Turkey, she was first taught basic values, and only later taught the "what's allowed and what's not allowed." That's the opposite of what goes on today.
The Ulama in Turkey originally accepted that the Koran was an evolving document and originally agreed with Attaturk's separation of Church and State because there were so many differing schools of Islamic thought anyway. [Compared to today's flowing Wahhabist supremacism, it's no wonder that compromise and separation are more difficult. Wahhabis are not interested in being one among equals.]
Attaturk asked if women and men can be equal under sharia -- after consultation, the Ulama came back and said, no. Attaturk asked how Turkey could achieve greatness with half the population chained to the ground.
The Islamists have found the West a fertile place for Dawa, and much of what's taught in the Mosques here in the West is Islamism, but the Muslims here don't even know it. They are not in touch with the way Islam was often taught even up until recently. There's not enough knowledge if the plurality of Islam.
The solution may actually NOT come from Muslims in the West since they don't necessarily know enough about Islam to understand its pluralistic roots.
Finally, Irshad Manji. Democracies impose the burden of election and re-election, so moral cowardice will always be a stock in trade of politicians. Only ordinary citizens can make real changes because only they can take the unpopular moral stands. [This is terrific, and spot on. This is why we have so many politicians appearing at CAIR fund raisers -- they go after what one panelist called "the low hanging fruit" of Muslim outreach. The citizens just need to avoid being sued, as is happening here in Boston with the Islamic Society of Boston's lawsuit.]
Where are the Moderate Muslims? They are part of the problem. There is a difference between "moderate" and "reform-minded." Both condemn terrorism, but only the Reform Minded admit that their religion is being used and is in fact playing a part in the violence. When Moderates refuse to engage and simply say that Islam isn't the problem, they immediately give the ground to the Radicals, they abandon the theological fight.
Reform does not mean re-writing, it means re-thinking. There are three times as many verses saying one should think and reflect in the Koran, than there are verses laying out rules.
US Foreign Policy plays a role. Foreign Policy doesn't cause the violence, but we have to acknowledge that it gives the recruiters ammo, even if it's unfair.
We need to pay attention to the UN Arab Human Rights reports (reports written by Arabs) that show a huge deficit in women's empowerment, knowledge and freedom.
Microcredit loans for women are a part of the solution [this was a frequent theme]. This will allow them to earn their own assets which, according to widely recognized Islamic doctrine, women can keep for themselves and use as they see fit. They can use these assets to learn to read, and that means learning to read the Koran for themselves. They'll find that the Koran encourages pre-nups! They'll be able to find the portions of the Koran that protect their rights and make their own arguments. Manji told the story of one woman who ended up reading the Koran to her illiterate husband, and stopped him beating her by using the Koran.
We must look for ways that are theologically compatible with Islam -- change Muslims, not Islam.
There must be a new coalition of the willing in the West to make a pool to give micro-business loans to women. Interestingly, General Abizaid had exactly the same idea for Iraq without hearing Manji's idea.
Manji began talking about the role of Western Civil Society in helping. We're hobbled by negative views of the Bush Administration, and also by a form of multi-culturalism where people are afraid of criticizing the "other." A publisher she knows bailed on a major reformist translation of the Koran for fear of Muslim backlash.
On the proposal to bring Sharia into Canadian Civil law: Politicians covered it up at first, trying to let it go through quietly, but when it became public, the first to protest against it were Muslim women. They didn't make a dent at first until an op-ed appeared signed by ten high-profile non-Muslim women appeared asking what kind of a State we want -- do we want a small group of Muslims defining what it means to be a "proper" Muslim?
So she disagrees with Haqqani (Haqqani says they don't really disagree) in that there is an important place for non-Muslims to speak out on behalf of reformists when they come from an honest place of trying to help. [Of course, so much of what I heard yesterday hearkens to what's going on here in Boston with the Islamic Society of Boston's lawsuit -- a suit designed to stifle the community from speaking out, a suit on behalf of self-appointed Muslim spokesmen funded by Saudi Arabia.]
We have to find a way to have an open society that knows what it stands for without falling into a cultural relativism that refuses ever to judge. Those who stand for nothing will fall for anything.
Notes from the Q&A: The Ummah doesn't exist politically, but it exists sentimentally. Reform Minded Muslims all over the world need to come together and support each other.
Irshad Manji noted that when her book came out she got many, many requests to translate it into Arabic, but of course no Arab publisher would put it out, so she had it made into a downloadable PDF which has been downloaded over 200,000 times. Urdu and Farsi versions are on their way.
She predicted, after much build-up ("this is on camera, you can write it down," etc...), that there would be a full-fledged, organized Reform movement in the next 5-10 years, barring something catastrophic like a nuclear war. [I thought this was a rather disappointingly long time-frame. I also think it's going to be absolutely impossible as long as the "Revivalists" have a monopoly on violence and a willingness to stage acts of horror.]
Haqqani was asked how to fight the Revivalists. He said it's about providing an alternate idea so the young people have an alternative to turn to. Yes, use law or military when necessary, but fight ideas with ideas. Revivalism isn't really religion, it's politics in religious garb.
End Panel 1
Moderated by Brigadier General (Ret) Russell Howard, Director, The Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies
- Zuhdi Jasser, Chairman of the Board, American Islamic Forum for Democracy
- Mateen Siddiqui, Vice President, Islamic Supreme Council of America
- Naser Khader, Member of Parliament, Denmark; Founder, Democratic Muslims movement
[Zuhdi Jasser is the real deal. He was phenomenal speaker who's words really resonated. After hearing him speak I could tell this guy is one to watch and one to help. I didn't need to hear him say explicitly how he feels about the situation in the Middle East to know this is a guy to talk to. I heard him say that 2+3=5, and 4+4=8...I didn't need to hear his answer to 2+2 to know this is a guy you can discuss math with, you know what I mean?] Jasser began by explaining that his parents escaped persecution in Syria and gratefully embraced American ideals. Many audiences have forgotten what it means to be an American.
De Tocqueville said that Democracies need God while Dictatorships do not. Islam is being torn apart by a loss of God, a turn to tribalism and a loss of values.
Muslims think they have nothing to learn from atheists, yet the enlightenment thinkers who in many ways reformed Christianity were not all religious.
If religions don't coincide with universal human values then they cannot exist in America. The courts have ruled that the Establishment Clause doesn't always protect it. The example was given of a banned polygamy cult in northern Arizona.
Muslims need to re-establish the central tenets of Islam -- Democracy and Islam cannot exist without people with basic values.
We counter the fundamentalists by understanding the enemy. Haqqani is an "anti-Islamist." We need to engage people who are not making their money off religion. We need people who are willing to name the enemy and be specific (Hamas and Hizballah do not represent my religion).
We need to bring back a respect for questioning authority.
Jasser thinks non-Muslims should create a platform for Muslims to debate. [This is exactly what I and others hope will be America's unique contribution to the world on this. That is, we just have to avoid things like the ISB's frivolous defamation lawsuit which threaten this entire structure.] He's sick of going to the Mosque and hearing politics, not religion.
What makes us human is not our actions but our creativity.
[At this point, a little mouse started running around the room and I was distracted from taking notes for a couple of minutes.]
Most American Islamic groups -- CAIR, MPAC, ISNA -- are NOT about values. They are political, using victimization to get across a political agenda. Politicians need to stop only reaching out to these "low hanging fruit" that DON'T speak for all Muslims.
He's been trying for years to raise money for his efforts among the Muslim community but had no luck, so he doesn't worry about the source of funding -- at least he can say it comes from America. [Other groups don't mind theirs comes from Saudi Arabia.] Here Jasser mentions Maimonides and the fact that he lived amongst the Muslims, so this great Jewish scholar clearly had Muslim funding which no one minds.
Jasser said he's an American first and a Muslim second. Those are his values.
The collectivism of Islamism must be de-Umaized(?) -- he must be judged individualy and turns away from the Islamist system of judging society as a collective whole [whether society is properly Islamic and run under their version of Islamic rules].
Naser Khader (from Denmark) focused on the Danish Cartoon Crisis.
He said that Western societies tend to give those who exaggerate their religion the monopoly on speaking FOR their religion.
I believe it was Khader who said he was asked by another Muslim if he prayed five times a day. Khader replied that it was none of his business (this garnered nods from the other panelists).
Before the Cartoon Crisis, the Islamists had the monopoly, but as a result of the Crisis, others found their voice and now the Danes no longer say "THE Muslims..."
Until the CC, the Danes used the Islamists as advisers. Abu Laban (instigator of the crisis) was an adviser to the Danish FBI. Islamists used these connections and this access to enhance their power.
There is an unholy alliance between the Left and the Islamists -- the Left loves victims, and the Islamists are masters at playing the victim. The Communists even ran an Islamist for Parliament -- where they would never run a Jew or a Christian, they would run an Islamist.
Khader said he considers himself a democrat, a Dane and a Muslim -- in that order. Religion shouldn't mix with politics. He believes as a matter of principle that religion should mix with politics, and that one shouldn't organize on the basis of ethnicity, but he was willing to violate his own rules to provide an alternative to the Islamists. He worked to give the Democratic Muslims (in that order) a place to stand.
It's not about "no" to Islam, it's about "yes" to democracy.
He recommends a Cartoon Crisis for the USA -- you will discover who are democracy-minded Muslims and who are not.
Finally, Mateen Siddiqui.
Siddiqui said that Muslims seem shy about taking money from any governments -- but not from the Saudi Government.
The university system in Thailand is funded by the government, meanwhile the Muslims are teaching Islamist stuff there...and people wonder why Thailand is boiling.
His Mosque has been boycotted by other Muslims because they oppose the Wahhabism that has taken over in many AMERICAN Mosques. Radical thought pervades the American Muslim establishment.
He thinks the flying Imams were an instigated incident to test the limits and stifle dissent. He agreed with the previous speakers that groups use politics and push religion down lower in importance.
He says the Sufi tradition is a "natural antidote to the Wahhabi virus."
Imam certification is an answer -- don't certify Salafist/Islamists.
Support Mosques with an open door policy, women's involvement, open debate.
One Suffi group wanted to bring a group of scholars in to the country. The State Department gave the list to a group of Imams that included Wahhabis for vetting...oy.
During the Q&A, Jasser was asked about how to prevent Saudi funding from coming here. He replied that it's about shining the light of day on it. Ask reporters to go in and see what books are in there, that kind of thing [ironically exactly what's gone on here with the ISB, and why the ISB is now suing.]
About the backdrop of violence, and a recent Mark Steyn column that talked about the radicals' form of MAD -- how can reformers win against violence -- Jasser replied that it's tough, but it's about being brave to make a better world for our kids.
All in all it was an inspiring evening. I think it's good for people to know that there are Muslims out there like this -- real reformers who not only repeat bromides and denials but who understand that there's a deep ideological war that needs to be fought.
At base, what's required overall is that we remain true to our own values. Setting aside those values for the sake of convenience here at home is not only a betrayal of ourselves, but also of real reformers like these. When we ignore the statements of Saudis like Walid Fitaihi (the Jews are the rapists of the sons of Allah...) and continue to engage the ISB as though they speak for Boston's Muslims, we are complicit in empowering the radicals and betraying our well-meaning friends -- friends we may not have met yet -- standing quietly in the shadows. The evening left me more convinced than ever that the ISB needs to lose this suit, and not just lose it, but pay damages. I'm more convinced than ever of the wrong-headedness of engaging and empowering Hamas, dealing with Hizballah, and white-washing the Iranian Mullahs and the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who do so are traitors to friends and are selling the rope with which we shall be hung.
It's not an easy fight. We need to be bold in speech here at home where we have no excuses, and we need to continue a multi-pronged approach that includes force when necessary across the Globe.
Let's emphasize -- here in America we have no excuse for empowering the wrong friends and making the wrong choices.
Listed below are links to blogs that reference this entry: Fletcher School: Islam In Democratic Societies -- Report.
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