June 21, 2012

Western Muslims and the Voice of Egyptian Voters

Was over reading FrontPage Magazine this morning. To some people that I have communicated with, this alone defines me as a neocon of the highest order. No less than the abusers in the neocon crowd, these definers look for ways to tear down the people they disagree with, instead of their ideas. This personalization is a significant factor of why people get so divided over ideas.

Anyway, I read FrontPage AND Daily Kos. So what does that mean? That I am not afraid of different sources and ideas, but need them all to help develop my own thoughts. I am wary of the echo chamber, especially when the issue is controversial. Indeed, how is it possible to make an intelligent decision without consideration of competing views? Deliberative discourse is the food of an informed citizenry and democracy. Except to the partisan that could actually care less. More important to them is winning and imposing ideology.

All of this leads me to an essay by Nonie Darwish about the election in Egypt and Muslims in the West. Born in Egypt, Darwish is an Egyptian-American, the daughter of an Egyptian Army Lieutenant General, Mustafa Hafez, assassinated by the Israeli army in 1956. Her father was sent by Gamal Abdel Nasser to serve as commander of the Egyptian Army Intelligence in Gaza, then under supervision of Egypt, and he founded the fedayeen who launched raids across Israel’s southern border, killing some 400 Israelis between 1951 and 1956. During his speech announcing the nationalization of the Suez Canal, Nasser vowed that all of Egypt would take revenge for Hafez’s death. More about Darwish can be found here

Darwish noted that half of the voters in Egypt voted against the Islamist Muslim Brotherhood and Sharia, while Egyptian voters in the USA supported the Islamist agenda in far greater percentages, perhaps even 95%. She finds that these voters in the USA are more radical than the Egyptian populace overall.

As to those who live in societies where there is relative freedom, Darwish raises a larger point:
Muslim immigrants to the West have, in general, rejected taking the hard role of positively changing their countries of origin and inspiring them with new ideas of freedom, democracy and human rights. Instead, Muslims in America have focused on building mosques with aid from Saudi Arabia rather than protesting against Iran’s execution of apostates and stoning of women. They have focused on defending and lying about Sharia in America rather than teaching values of life liberty and pursuit of happiness to their countrymen. They have focused on a message of anti-Semitism, blaming America and holding Israel apartheid weeks, rather than on assimilating in America, initiating peace dialogue or holding an olive branch out to Jewish students.
Contrary to logic and to the brotherhood of all humans and cultures, American Muslim groups have maintained the same high levels of hate, anger and victim mentality that exists in many areas of the Muslim world. And now Muslim Egyptians in the West have not only ignored the welfare of the 50% Egyptians who do not want to live under Sharia, but have also ignored the reasonable fears from Islam by the American public and instead insulted them as racists and “Islamophobes.”
Why are there so few Arabs and Muslims that speak out in favor of Western values and advocate adoption in their countries? Who better to address the issues than members of a group? Because of their position, they could have profound influence in helping to bring progress, democracy and peace, both at home and internationally, using a realistic approach to existing, intractable problems, and offering positive alternatives based on principles of human dignity and self-determination.

I hope that more voices like Darwish, Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Simon Deng and the "Son of Hamas" are heard, unafraid to be truthful and self-critical. So far there are just a handful of individuals, and they are often shunned, but I think they offer our best chance.

June 20, 2012

The "Son of Hamas" and "Ijtihad"

Mosab Hassan Yousef is the eldest son of Sheikh Hassan Yousef, one of the founders of Hamas. He spent his early years as a Hamas activist. He then became a spy for Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) and helped prevent dozens of terrorist attacks during the second intifada, saving hundreds of Israeli lives.

Now, Yousef is planning a movie depicting the life of Muhammad, Islam’s holiest prophet. He insists that the film will be faithful to Muslim texts, an historical depiction of Muhammad’s life as told through Ibn Ishaq, an Arab historian from the eighth century who is believed to be one of the most reliable biographers of the prophet. He notes that scholars and others examine the lives of many figures of history, but Muhammad is somehow off limits to discuss or even depict in a simple cartoon.

I hope you watch the video below because it speaks for itself, and read the news article from which it came.


Yousef is engaging in ijtihad, the exercise of critical thinking and independent judgment. Such behavior was once the norm in Islam, but became impermissible as the ideology became more authoritarian, until Muslim scholars decided that, as all questions had been addressed, there was no longer any need to debate new issues that arose or to accept differing views, differing conclusions and differing sorts of influences that arose as part of the cultures of its large empire.

Harold Rhode has explained the evolution in his latest essay, Can Muslims Reopen the Gates of Ijtihad? He puts the matter in context:
The Chinese peasants who went to work as laborers for the British in Singapore in the 19th century managed to produce the economic marvel that Singapore is today. Similarly, South Korea went from a semi-medieval kingdom 50 years ago to the tenth largest economy in the world. The Muslims of Aden in southern Arabia, however, lived under British rule, like the Singaporeans, yet they remain as underdeveloped as their neighbors who never lived under foreign domination. Singapore's Lee Kuan Yu, for example, once asked a well-known scholar of Islam, "Why is it that whatever we do to help our Muslims advance fails? We provide them with educational opportunities, give them financial incentives, and so on, but nothing works. They still remain at the bottom. Why?"
In any event, I commend the "Son of Hamas" and wish him well in his venture to engage in ijtihad, not to mention all the other brave folks that seek to to express themselves freely -- without fear of reprisal, rather than merely follow the forces which now control Islam

I further commend Rhode's essay, especially to those who care to better understand the state of modern Islam and how it may become as it used to be, a center of science, creativity and tolerance.

June 2, 2012

Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World

I never had a distinct awareness of Harold Rhode until I read Existential Questions Facing the Muslim World, his recent article at Gatestone Institute

Rather than getting into a debate over who he is, as many prefer to do, perhaps a better route is to examine what he says. You need not agree with the substance, but in my mind there is certainly value to look at different sides of the issues, particularly when they are controversial in scope.

The article begins:
Many parts of the world, such as Korea, China, and India - basically medieval kingdoms fifty or sixty years ago -- are now among the pacesetters of the modern world, both producing, and improving on, existing inventions. The Muslim world, however, often better off than these countries just half a century ago, has remained as it was, or has even, in many instances, deteriorated.

This inertia in the Islamic world seems to stem not from any genetic limitations, or even religious ones, but purely from Islamic culture.

Although one can gain some insight into Islamic culture from books and other written material, if one is to really understand the Muslim world, there is no substitute for sitting in coffee or tea houses, spending time with Muslims, and asking them questions in their own surroundings and in their own languages. A result of these approaches would seem to indicate, with respect, some of the factors citizens of the Arab and Muslim world might wish to consider to use their extraordinary talents even more fully:
Whether anyone reading here wishes to delve into the factors with Rhodes is a personal choice. The topics he addresses are:
  • The Ability to Question
  • The Role of the Individual vs. the Role of the Group
  • Encouraging Creativity
  • The Ability to Admit Failure and Learn from It
  • The Learning Process
  • Taking Responsibility for One's Actions
  • How Information Is Passed On To Others
  • The Western Concept of Compromise
  • The Western Concept of Peace
  • Book Publishing
  • The Status of Women
  • The Oil Curse
He concludes with reference to Palestinians and Jews:
Palestinians, as well, are easily capable of accomplishing what anyone else does, if only their education, governance and cultural incentives were changed from destroying their neighbor, Israel, to building a felicitous society. Palestinian political leaders, however, seem to have decided that the rewards from the international community, at least for them, will be greater if they are seen as victims receiving perpetual handouts, rather than as leaders receiving rewards linked to accomplishments. The economic system seems to have evolved into bribes in exchange for promises that are never kept, followed later by the request for still more bribes.
Ironically, all genetic analyses of the many ancient Muslim Palestinian families indicate that they are largely from the same genetic stock as Ashkenazi Jewry. [...] So what is the difference here? The Jewish culture encourages questioning and thinking from an early age, whereas the Palestinian Muslim culture does not. What is encouraged instead is the unexamined acceptance of whatever is set before one, whether on government-run television or in government-written textbooks. Religion has nothing to do with this situation; Islam therefore is not the problem: Islamic culture is. Only when Muslims address their culture head-on can there be any real hope for their world to overcome its self-imposed limitations and start fully contributing to the wonders of the 21st century.
I suggest the article is both informative and thought provoking, and worth a full read, no matter one's persuasion, including those who habitually reject most anything uttered by political adversaries, and will leave it at that.