Friday, February 5, 2016

Thank You Obama for Your Mosque Speech: New Age Islam's Selection, 05 February 2016

New Age Islam Edit Bureau
05 February 2016
Thank You Obama for Your Mosque Speech
By Mehdi Hasan
Syria, Geneva, London – Three Parallel Universes
By Chris Doyle
The States Remain Despite Terrorism
By Turki Al-Dakhil
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Thank You Obama for Your Mosque Speech
By Mehdi Hasan
04 Feb 2016
It only took him seven years. But maybe it was worth the wait.
On Wednesday afternoon, the president of the United States mounted a podium inside a Maryland mosque to give a much-trailed speech challenging the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in his country. (Although, as the author and lawyer Qasim Rashid joked on Twitter, "I heard @POTUS wants to make his landmark address at a mosque a truly authentic American Muslim experience, so he's arriving an hour late.")
Born to a Muslim father from Kenya, raised from the age of six to 10 by a Muslim stepfather in Indonesia, Barack Hussein Obama has been dogged by crazy, conspiratorial claims that he is a "secret Muslim" ever since he first declared his candidacy for president.
Banal Islamophobia
A recent poll found that 29 percent of Americans and 43 percent of Republicans still believe Obama is a Muslim and, as Salon noted: "The number of Republicans who think Obama is a Muslim has actually increased since 2010." For the record, the president is a Christian who had both of his daughters baptised.
It cannot be stated often enough that the astonishing prejudice, not to mention sheer ignorance, displayed by Republican voters in states such as Iowa - where only 49 percent of them believe Islam should be legal - is the product of a well-funded and coordinated campaign to demonise Islam and Muslims in the US.
This has ranged from nonsensical protests against "creeping sharia" to a manufactured controversy over the so-called "Ground Zero" mosque; from claims that Hillary Clinton's chief aide is part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the US government, to smears against a Muslim ninth-grader in Texas who was wrongfully arrested for bringing a home-made clock (a bomb!) to school.
In party-political terms, Islamophobia is now a vote-winner in right-wing Republican circles. How else to explain the number of Republican Party presidential candidates falling over one another to find new and obscene ways to bash Muslims? The campaign has seen Donald Trump call for a ban on Muslims entering the US, Ben Carson refusing to countenance a Muslim president and "moderate" Jeb Bush demanding that the US government focus its support on Christian, rather than Muslim, refugees from Syria.
On Wednesday, the commander-in-chief pushed back. Obama loudly denounced "distorted media portrayals" of Islam and the people "conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs of an entire faith". He condemned the "inexcusable political rhetoric against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country" and drew a causal link between hate speech and violence.
Putting aside some of my own criticisms of Obama's domestic and foreign policies for a moment, let me say this, on behalf of my Muslim-American daughters and my headscarf-wearing Muslim-American wife, who has been verbally abused on the streets of this nation's capital: thank you, Mr President.
"No surprise, then, that threats and harassment of Muslim Americans have surged," he told his audience in Maryland. "Here at this mosque, twice last year, threats were made against your children. Around the country, women wearing the hijab … have been targeted. We've seen children bullied. We've seen mosques vandalised." The first non-white president of the US also had no qualms about identifying the racial component of Islamophobia: "Sikh Americans and others who are perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well."
Dismissing talk of a "clash of civilisations between the West and Islam", Obama refused to ask Muslim Americans to choose between their identities. "You're not Muslim or American," declaimed the president. "You're Muslim and American."
To which the only sane response from any Muslim, and anyone who claims to care about racial equality or religious liberty, surely has to be: Hallelujah!
Yes, Obama has been silent on the issue of growing Islamophobia for far too long (though, to his credit, he did slam Trump's anti-Muslim vitriol in his State of the Union speech in January).
Yes, he should have visited a US mosque much earlier in his presidency: it is scandalous that Obama's trip to the Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday was his first appearance at a mosque on US soil since entering the White House (a mosque which, as it happens, is less than 50 miles from his Pennsylvania Avenue home).
Bigotry Prevails
A belated denunciation of anti-Muslim bigotry from the president of the US, in front of a Muslim audience in a mosque, is a denunciation nevertheless. A much-needed denunciation from the most important public figure in the land. Would some of his Muslim critics, I wonder, prefer it if he had not given the speech?
In fact, given the rise of Trump and the fallout from the massacre in San Bernardino, California, Obama's timing, ironically and unwittingly, couldn't have been better. "Coming to a mosque is a public reminder that Muslims have been part of America since our nation's founding," Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates told CNN in the run-up to the event.
A public reminder in an era in which, as the president himself openly acknowledged and the statistics clearly demonstrate, there has been a surge in the number of attacks on Muslims and mosques in the US.
A public reminder, to quote Obama, that "an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," especially in the midst of a Republican primary campaign in which proudly Christian candidates rush to smear and stigmatise Muslims. (Marco Rubio, incidentally, claimed Obama's mosque visit was another example of him "pitting people against each other"; Trump sneered that the president "feels comfortable there".)
Mere Rhetoric?
As I have argued elsewhere, Obama's own official statements and policies on counterterrorism and civil liberties issues have been far from perfect. From NSA spying on Muslim Americans to drone strikes in Pakistan, from anti-Muslim profiling at US airports to support for Israel's bombardment of Gaza, the president has undoubtedly upset, frustrated and angered millions of Muslims at home and abroad.
Some might justifiably argue that his administration's militarism and surveillance helped to incite the fear of, and hatred towards, Muslim Americans that he so eloquently rebuked in his speech on Wednesday.
Cynics, therefore, may dismiss Obama's mosque speech as mere rhetoric. But rhetoric matters. Those who argue that the president's speech won't, or can't, have an impact are either naive or disingenuous.
As Christopher Smith, of Claremont University, has demonstrated, one of the best ways to combat anti-Muslim bigotry is a "bipartisan effort by government and media to avert discrimination by framing Islam in a positive way".
It may indeed be depressing and disturbing that, in 2016, the US president feels compelled to make a speech reminding Muslim Americans that "you're right where you belong. You're part of America, too". But, to be honest, I'm glad he did. And I also worry whether the next president will even bother.
At the very beginning of his address at the Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama told his audience that he wanted to say "two words that Muslim Americans don't hear often enough - and that is, thank you."
"Thank you for serving your community," he continued. "Thank you for lifting up the lives of your neighbours, and for helping keep us strong and united as one American family."
So, putting aside some of my own criticisms of Obama's domestic and foreign policies for a moment let me say this, on behalf of my Muslim-American daughters and my headscarf-wearing Muslim-American wife, who has been verbally abused on the streets of this nation's capital: thank you, Mr President. Thank you for standing up to anti-Muslim bigotry and racial demagoguery; thank you for challenging the "New McCarthyism" that is Islamophobia.
Better late than never.
Mehdi Hasan is an award-winning journalist, author, political commentator and the presenter of Head to Head and UpFront.
Syria, Geneva, London – Three Parallel Universes
By Chris Doyle
4 February 2016
Approaching five years of the conflict, the international community is stuck in three parallel universes on Syria. The negotiators and mediators congregate in Geneva unable to agree even to preparatory talks leading to proximity talks to indirect talks let alone direct talks. The warmongers continue their remorseless attacks unabated in Syria, a combination of medieval sieges and modern day carpet bombing and scorched earth tactics. The donor countries flock to London, sadly not to fund the fruits of the political process but to underfund the barbaric consequences of the conflict.
What a message that this sends to Syrians - that the political, humanitarian and military tracks are so tragically divorced. What should be complementary processes, are still heading in opposite directions.
In London, on February 4 at least the donors can gather in one room but does this mean it will be any more successful? Around 70-80 governments will be represented at the Supporting Syria and the Region conference. This is the fourth donors’ pledging conference for Syria, the first three having been hosted in Kuwait.
The international community, including donor states, have consistently proved incapable or unwilling to address either the causes or symptoms of the Syria conflict.
With the bombardment continuing apace inside Syria and with little or no relief to the 400,000 living in besieged areas, the bill for long-term political failure is measured in billions. The U.N.'s total funding requirement is an eye-watering $8.96 billion up from $7.4bn in 2015. Last year it was 53% funded. Donor funding is hugely constrained not least with the oil price below the $30 dollar mark.
Many would argue that actually the donors have not been nearly generous enough. Jan Egeland, Secretary General, Norwegian Refugee Council has written that the U.S. and EU gave only $5 per capita to Syrians last year. His argument is that the U.N. funding requirement is the bare minimum. Limping over the halfway mark will be a sign of acute failure. Many of those states professing to be the most supportive of Syrians have failed to deliver a fair share according to research by Oxfam. France for example managed a derisory 45% of its fair share in 2015.
But billions of dollars of aid is not the sole requirement.
Political Will
Firstly, the political will to end the conflict is still lacking. Above all no major power is prepared to confront and face down the Russians. Putin seems convinced that there is a military solution to Syria or at least that the opposition groups will be compelled whatever Pax Russia he is prepared to ordain.
The Russian bombing is now the major engine behind the continued refugee exodus.
Secondly, the scale and nature of the response has to change. There has to be a transformational new deal for refugees and host countries. The focus of the conference indicates that donors have finally started to accept that stop gap funding is not enough. It has to include long term developmental assistance not least for protection, education and livelihoods. Reconstruction planning must also feature as planning cannot wait to the end of fighting.
That the donors’ conference is in Europe, or on the periphery as half of Britain seems to believe is perhaps appropriate. Many argue that hitherto, such conferences were to prevent and protect the Middle East from the spill over from the conflict. The political imperative of the London donors’ conference appears to many to be to stem the flow of Syrian refugees into Europe and elsewhere by giving huge sums of aid to the key transit countries. European states have put up walls, ripped up their asylum rules and torn down the welcome signs, anything to limit the numbers.
This is unfair on many donor governments but it does reflect positions of states desperate to keep refugees and migrants out. The premise that the transit countries can handle another twelve months of refugee influx solely on additional aid is misplaced. Turkey, Jordan and Lebanon all require investment in infrastructure and public services. A key focus of the conference is on providing livelihoods but even with huge investment these states will not be able to
The refugees will keep on coming not least as long as the conflict and the bombing continues. Those hoping that dollops of aid with stop this or even control it may be disappointed. European states must provide safe and legal routes into Europe especially for the most vulnerable refugees.
Syria’s neighbours require massive investment to continue to act as primary refugee hosts. Will donors agree to fund significant upgrading of public services? Education stands out as a key priority with 2.1 million children out of school inside Syria and with 1.4 million Syrian refugee children lacking proper schooling.
The international community, including donor states, have consistently proved incapable or unwilling to address either the causes or symptoms of the Syria conflict.
It is time that state actors turned more to those they have neglected for too long, Syrians and Syrian civil society. The three previous pledging conferences in Kuwait lacked a civil society component. London at least has. Although organised late in the day, a half day civil society conference on the 3rdFebruary allowed a degree of influence on the main donor conference.
From the outset of the Syria crisis, civil society organizations (CSOs) inside Syria have typically proven to be the most positive and effective inside the country achieving extraordinary results on such limited means. CSOs are viewed with immense distrust by many of the actors in the conflict from the Syrian regime to many regional states and international actors, basically those who do not wish to see a democratic transition in Syria. The civil society conference’s communique called for the end of limitations that CSOs face in acquiring legal status in neighbouring countries and beyond.
Civil Society
Even in the “West”, support for Syrian civil society has been lukewarm, its representatives rarely consulted. Above all, Syrian CSO efforts have been systematically hampered by the inability to use banking facilities with many Syrian groups having their accounts closed and loans denied. No surprises then that the civil society conference communique openly pushing for EU and U.S. sanctions reform.
Syrian civil society actors are the closest embodiment of the protests of 2011 that called for freedom and dignity. One lamented that “Peace now is replacing democracy" as an aim as far as the international community was concerned. Whilst appreciative of international generosity, many called for a real true, equal partnership between donors, international agencies and Syrian organisations.
Civil society may not have all the answers but they are closer to the actual events and trends on the ground. But one things stands out – for the most part they have adopted a truly inclusive approach that puts Syrians first. There is genuine and fervent desire not just to end the conflict but develop Syria as well. All too often the same cannot be said for the international community.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November, December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw.
The States Remain Despite Terrorism
By Turki Al-Dakhil
4 February 2016
Videos and photographs have circulated online of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef’s visit to Al-Ahsaa region in the Eastern Province following the terrorist attack on Imam Rida mosque last week. He even appeared in a selfie with one of the injured victims. His meetings and dialogue with people there were distinguished by goodwill.
Society must detect terrorists, limit their activity and report them. Security forces will handle the rest.
When he met the brave young man who attacked the second suicide bomber before he could blow himself up, bin Nayef confirmed that the kingdom will triumph over terrorism. Society has become a partner with the state in fighting extremism, but without getting involved in the state’s role. This is the whole point. The state’s role will always be paramount, as the prince has said before.
People’s help, unity and attentiveness is important, but it is unacceptable that some enthusiastic citizens in several areas want to form what resembles popular mobilization forces in mosques. The roles of the community and individuals end when they interfere with that of the state.
Everyone was happy with the young man’s deterrence of the terrorist in the mosque, and with youths’ efforts in general to limit terrorist activities around mosques. However, all this falls within the context of complementing, not interfering with, the state’s role. Society must detect terrorists, limit their activity and report them. Security forces will handle the rest. May God protect His worshippers from all evil.
Turki Al-Dakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and, the news channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies.

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