Archive for Ahmed Rehab

Let’s Face it: It’s the Radical Right, not Islam, that is the Greatest Threat to the American Way

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Media with tags , , , , , , , , on December 13, 2011 by loonwatch

Hand Star Crescent

One of the most thorough and insightful pieces regarding the Lowe’s fiasco and the Muslim reality show, All American Muslim.

Let’s Face it: It’s the Radical Right, not Islam, that is the Greatest Threat to the American Way

by Ahmed Rehab (MindfulOfDreams)

Imagine if a major American advertiser were to pull its ads off of Jersey Shore because they received objections that the show while portraying a group of Italian-Americans, made the glaring error of excluding Mafiosi.

Imagine if the absence of characters “whacking knee caps” and “making offers you cannot refuse” was deemed as an “omission” and therefore pro-Italian propaganda, and as a result too controversial to sponsor.

Pathetic? Incredulous?

Well imagine no more.

Such is the pitiful state that Islamophobia has reached in this country, and it’s very real.

All-American Muslim is an American reality show like any other. It portrays the trials and travails of five Michigan families with typical reality show themes like marriage, birth, business, faith, food and of course drama queens.

There is one problem however, at least for the Florida Family Association:  the characters in the show are American Muslims.

The Florida Family Association got its members to send in dozens of emails to the show’s advertisers based on a pre-written template that stated in part:

“The show profiles only Muslims that appear to be ordinary folks while excluding many Islamic believers whose agenda poses a clear and present danger to the liberties and traditional values that the majority of Americans cherish.”

So basically, their objection is that the show is portraying “ordinary Muslims” as – you may need to sit down for this – “ordinary Muslims”! Of course this runs the risk that unsuspecting Americans may come to view their ordinary Muslim neighbors as ordinary. According to this Florida group of nuts, this would be a travesty that American corporations must not contribute to.

We are more or less used to the unfortunate fact that there are anti-Muslim loons lurking about out there. There’s the burn-a-Quran-day pastor from Florida, there’s the group from Florida that tried to ban a Muslim professor from the Jacksonville Human Rights Commission because he was Muslim, and there’s that guy who tried to organize against Muslim family day at a Six Flags Texas theme park in Texas. Yes, yes, he was from Florida.

But what is real cause for alarm is the creeping influence of Islamophobia into mainstream American politics and culture.  From the Peter King radicalization hearings that use taxpayer funds to put mainstream American Muslims and their institutions on mock trial, to the frequent anti-Muslim rantings of the Congressman from Florida, Allen “Islam is not really a religion” West all the way to presidential hopeful Newt “Palestinians don’t really exist” Gingrich. And now, we have the weak-kneed primetime corporate sponsors.

That a group of extremists from Florida would exercise their first amendment right to carry out bigoted campaigns is unfortunate but not all that shocking. That 65 out of 67 advertisers (according to the Florida Family Association’s website of which only Lowe’s is independently confirmed) would capitulate to their nonsensical complaints that “ordinary Muslims are being portrayed as ordinary” is an alarming new milestone in the mainstreaming of bigotry in this country. For that reason, it ought to catch the attention of Americans who, for far too long, have stayed on the sidelines of the Islamophobia horror picture show.

Lowe’s admitted that they cut their ads short as a result of the emails they were receiving and after reviewing some websites and blogs out there (in the “bigotosphere”). Lowe’s is not just a tool in the hands of the far right, it’s the entire hardware store.

What Lowe’s is essentially saying by choosing to pull its sponsorship is that NOT portraying American Muslims as terrorists is just, well, too controversial for its brand:

“We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individuals and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance. We strongly support and respect the right of our customers, the community at large, and our employees to have different views. If we have made anyone question that commitment, we apologize.”

Lowe’s is putting forth a very dangerous argument: that the far right bigots and the mainstream Muslim voices with their pro-tolerance allies of all faiths are equal opposites; that those who wish to humanize a faith community that comprises 25% of humanity and those who wish to demonize them are equal opposites; that the forces of bigotry and the forces of anti-bigotry are equal opposites. The pervasive assumption that there is a moral equivalency between the two sparring sides is a major factor in the rise of Islamophobia in the US. But Lowe’s goes further than to claim moral equivalency. It actually takes sides, the wrong side: the side of the bigots.

The running complaint used to be that Muslims are always portrayed as terrorists. But now, the message being sent is that “not portraying American Muslims as terrorists” is sufficient for complaint and controversy. It’s moving the goal posts to a dangerous new “lowe”.

There are three lessons to be extracted from this episode:

First, it is a confirmation of what we have been stating all along:  Islamophobia is not merely a reaction to terrorism or radical ideologies (which would have been a welcome exercise), but, in fact, it is a form of bigotry that targets an entire faith community: the religion of Islam itself and its mainstream practitioners.

Second, Islamophobia is a self-fulfilling prophecy. It’s sort of like “we hate you because you are terrorists, but when you’re not terrorists, we want you to be terrorists so we can hate you.” In the case of American Muslim leaders and organizations, the line is “we hate you because you are terror-linked, but when you’re not, we need you to be terror-linked so we can hate you.”

Third, Islamophobia is but a smokescreen, a projection of sorts. We are often told that Muslims are trying to Islamize America and institute Islamic Shariah law (“Sharrorize” America as Imam Suhaib Webb puts it). We are told that the less than 1% of American Muslims is but a fifth column who is here to take over and subjugate the remaining 99% plus. Setting aside the obvious ludicrousness of the claim for a second, ask yourself when was the last time American Muslims organized to pull advertisements off the air from shows that do not conform with their faith values (and trust me there are many)? Our organizing campaigns are themed around anti-bigotry and social justice, not the imposition of our faith.

To the contrary, it is the Christian right, the same folks who comprise many of the leading anti-Muslim alarmists, groups like the Florida Family Association (and trust me there are many) that are time and again organizing to force their way of thinking on other Americans. A quick visit to their website shows that this is not the first time they have successfully harassed advertisers for advertising on shows that do not conform to their ideology. They’ve targeted gays, sexually liberal shows, and others they disagree with.

It is not a coincidence that the organized Islamophobia networks in this country often include the same people who are trying to force-feed the Bible into government, schools, and public life.

And so comes the most important realization:

The organized American Muslim community’s agenda is in fact a social justice agenda. Any objective scrutiny of our organizations, campaigns, projects, and discourse reveals that this is widely and consistently the case.

On the other hand, as I already mentioned, you will find that it is it is none other than the far right that is out to force their narrowly conceived socio-religious ideology and way of life on Americans.

They conveniently promulgate the whole Islamist supremacist takeover fantasy and the Shariah scare as a divergence, a distraction, a smokescreen.

Projection is the name of the game.

They often use soft namesakes like “family” and “freedom” to give the impression of docility, and they inundate their websites and blogs with American flags and eagles to give the impression that they are the tried and true patriotic Americans who are best poised to speak for the majority.

They are not the majority, but they are not less than 1% either. They are in the millions, have access to billions of dollars, and have sufficiently organized at both the grassroots level and onas well as the internet in recent years to start to flex some muscle. (It is often stated that if fascism were to ever come to America, it would be wrapped in the US flag and bearing a cross.)

There is a ray of light. More Americans are beginning to wake up to the Islamophobia disease and the attempts at divergence from the real threat to our freedoms and democracy.

A year ago, the scorching Park51 controversy, while contrived and sensationalized at the end of the day, failed to impress the media or the public. In the case of the Lowe’s controversy, Americans are joining hands in speaking out against bigotry. Muslim, Catholic, and Jewish groups, as well as notable individuals, including 2010 Spirit of Anne Frank awardee Anya Cordell, California State Senator Ted Lieu, music mogul Russell Simmons, actress Mia Farrow, and several other celebrities, have come out strongly to say “enough is enough.”

For Lowe’s and other companies that gave in to bigotry, the choice is simple: own up to your error and do the right thing – or risk being chalked up on the wrong side of history (not to mention the wrong side of an impending boycott).

O’Hare TSA Employee Fired over Racist, Homphobic, Anti-Muslim Facebook Posts

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on November 21, 2011 by loonwatch
Roy Egan

Roy Egan was fired due to violating the TSA code of conduct.

O’Hare TSA Employee Fired Over Racist, Homphobic, Anti-Muslim Facebook Posts

Sun-Times Media Wire

Chicago – Roy Egan, an O’Hare Airport baggage handler who allegedly spewed racist and bigoted rants against Muslims, African Americans, Latinos and homosexuals on his Facebook page has been fired, according to the Chicago Council on American-Islamic Relations.

CAIR said Egan had worked at the airport for nine years, was suspended in October and terminated this month.

Egan used his Facebook page, where he openly identified himself as a TSA officer, to post comments such as: “FILTHY MUSLIM,” Muslims “need to be exterminated”, “BURN ISLAM”, “Islam, a cult that glorifies death,” and ”Does anything at all make you smile more than a Muslim burning by his own hateful hand.”

He also posted remarks about President Barack Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Attorney General Eric Holder.

CAIR-Chicago representatives met with Transportation Security Administration leadership in Chicago three weeks ago to voice the concerns of the Muslim community about the incident and to ask that more be done to prevent future incidents from happening.

“We made it clear that Egan’s discourse was as much an embarrassment to the agency and the values it stands for, as it was an affront against Muslims and other minorities,”

“By the end of the meeting, we felt convinced that the TSA leadership takes such violations of its code of conduct very seriously and that they genuinely set out to do their utmost to ensure that all constituents are treated with fairness and respect.”

“The TSA works hard everyday to keep Americans safe,” Amina Sharif, TSA communications coordinator said in the release. “When such egregious behavior is flagged on the part of one of their agents, it breeds confidence in us as passengers that it is dealt with as swiftly and as seriously as it was in the case of Roy Egan.”

Egan was in violation of the TSA code of conduct which stipulates that its employees — on or off duty — behave in a manner that avoids causing the public to raise questions about their judgment and ability to enforce the mission of the agency, the release said.

Self-Hating Muslim Irshad Manji’s WTF Tweet of the Day

Posted in Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 29, 2011 by loonwatch

(Update I below)

Muammar Gaddafi’s regime collapsed yesterday, as the capital Tripoli was liberated by freedom-fighters.  As people all over the world rejoiced–including Libyans and Muslims across the globe–this is what faux-progressive Muslim Irshad Manji had to say; she tweeted:

Regardless of what happens in #Libya, may the victims of Pan Am 103 be at rest.” #Qaddafi #Tripoli

Ahmed Rehab tweeted in response:

WTF tweet of the day: @IrshadManji: “Regardless of what happens in #Libya, may the victims of Pan Am 103 be at rest.” #Qaddafi #Tripoli

Rehab described Manji’s tweet in the best possible manner: a WTF tweet.  WTF, indeed.

(“Pan Am 103″ is referencing a terrorist attack in the 1980′s, in which about 270 people were killed.  Libyans were implicated in this attack.  As one reader pointed out, it was actually Gaddafi himself, but Irshad Manji won’t let that fact bother her too much–it was those damn Libyans!)

In any case, a twitter war ensued thereafter, with one person responding to Manji saying:

and how about the 20 thousand Libyans who died in battle fighting Qadafi?

To which Manji replied:

Of course. While we’re busy praising them (rightly), let’s not overlook others. It’s not either/or. It’s and/both.

Umm, yeah.  Except that she specifically chose to highlight a terrorist attack that took place decades ago , without mentioning the thousands of Libyans who were killed recently.  Is it not likely that Manji cares much more about good white folk that die but cares much less about brown Muslims who are killed in record numbers?

The fact that Irshad Manji’s first thought when it comes to Libya is “1980′s Pan-Am 103 terrorist attack” is proof that–far from being the “Muslim representative” she parades around as–she is an outsider posing as an insider, who can only see the Muslim word through the lens of Orientalism.  To her, Libya is reduced to whatever America’s experience and simplistic stereotype of it is.  So, to her, Libya is 1980′s Pan-Am terrorist attack.  The more than two decades of Libyan history that followed after that are largely irrelevant to her understanding of the region.

Ahmed Rehab commented on Manji’s Facebook page:

I found it strange that of all the things that could be said at such a historic moment in the plight of a people dying for their freedom, this is what you could think of. I mean, what is it about Libyan citizens fighting for freedom against a 42 year oppressive rule, giving life and limb, and finally celebrating being on the cusp of finding it, that conjures up a 1980′s terrorist attack in your mind? Very Bizarre for me.

Very bizarre indeed.  WTF more like it.

Update I:

Ahmed Rehab threw another grenade, saying:

@Irshad, the phenomenon of the people of Libya fighting for freedom and celebrating their victory yesterday has nothing to do with a terrorist act by Qaddafi in the 80′s. But since you’re in the business of randomly mentioning things and associating events together because they’re “human too” then why not throw in that tweet mention of the 1000+ dead in the last Gaza war at the hands of an occupation you seem to support and say something like “I wish they too could have seen a free day”? Seems like just as much a logical association if not more than the one you threw out. Come on, why not? What’s happening in your heart that you would need to view this as an either/or scenario, rather than an and/both sentiment?

But of course Irshad Manji doesn’t sympathize with the Palestinians under Israeli occupation.  That would put her in the bad books with the right-wingers and neo-conservatives whose approval she so desperately needs.  So much for the “and/both” claim.

Rehab said further:

There’s nothing wrong with evoking the victims of Hiroshima, but it would be bizarre if one tweeted “regardless of who wins the olympic gymnastics Gold between the US and Romania, I hope the victims of Hiroshima rest in peace” and then when someone rightly wonders WTF, the response is “what is it in your heart that you cannot BOTH celebrate the US gold AND have it in your heart to remember Hiroshima”. It’s the bizarre forced associaton that makes your tweet incoherent. I know you are intelligent enough to grasp this simple point. So, there’s something else going on with you. And I will tell you what it is: expediency. I don’t personally believe that you are concerned with the freedom of Libyans, or with the victims of terrorism for that matter (if you were you’d have – even if once by sheer accident – decried Israeli state terrorism against unarmed Palestinian families). I think instead you are a professional panderer givning a segment of Western society what you think they want to hear from a Muslim to be patted on the back and hansomely rewarded as a “good, civilized, educated” Muslim. And you never waste an opportunity to deliver the goods. In fact, you’ve made a career of mastering that art. You will forgive my honesty.

That’s pretty much spot-on.

Ahmed Rehab: The Denial of Islamophobia

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon People, Loon Sites with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 11, 2011 by loonwatch

Greeneye recently did a great piece on Pascal Bruckner, a (wanna-be) “philosopher” who made thevery poor and contradictory case that the word Islamophobia was “invented” to silence critics of the Koran, while at the same time minimizing bigotry against Muslims.

Much to our delight Marty Peretz wanted to help make our case that Pascal Bruckner’s article was not only woefully anemic intellectually, but thoroughly Islamophobic. Peretz of “Muslim lives are cheap fame” latched onto Bruckner’s article hoping that in some way another fake liberal might exonerate him of his lewd beliefs and laughingstock position, in doing so he just made our point even stronger. Good company you are in Pascal!

Ahmed Rehab shreds Peretz (hat tip: John P.):

The Denial of Islamophobia

by Ahmed Rehab

Faux liberal and pro-occupation advocate, New Republic editor Martin Peretz is back at it again.

Last fall, he caused a firestorm with his racist comments that “Muslim life is cheap” in a piece lambasting the New York Times for speaking out against anti-Muslim prejudice and defending constitutionally-protected religious rights.

Sounding more like a slumlord than a former Harvard assistant professor, he wrote at the time:

I wonder whether I need honor these people and pretend that they are worthy of the privileges of the First Amendment, which I have in my gut the sense that they will abuse.

Peretz, who was slated to be honored by Harvard prior to the controversy, was roundly rebuked for his offensive comments, with Harvard put under intense pressure for honoring a bigot. Harvard students rallied outside his ceremony which several professors and staff boycotted; disgusted alumni returned their certificates to the university. Though the ceremony took place, his acceptance speech was cancelled.

But that humiliation has not stopped Peretz from his downward spiral to kookdom. On Monday, he dished out some raw Islamophobia-denial in a gullible column entitled “The Invention of Islamophobia”:

Anyone who suggests that there is a war being waged by Muslims in their own lands and in the lands in which they have settled–these last, by the way, are the really aggressive “settlers”!–against rationalists and true liberals, traditional conservatives and Islamic dissenters, Christians and Jews is likely to be labeled an “Islamophobe.” I have been, and thousands of you out there, perhaps millions, have been so labeled…or almost. And, at dinner with friends, have anyone of you just raised questions about the tyranny of silence which the “politically so correct” are trying to impose on those who are fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs and then not found yourselves attacked as at least “intolerant” and perhaps even a bigot? Or, yes, even an Islamophobe.

He goes on to claim:

Islamophobia–that is, the word itself–is meant to silence you. It has already silenced President Obama, hasn’t it? He hasn’t even spoken up for his fellow Christians who in recent weeks have been victimized in Iraq (where maybe we still wave some sway), Egypt (our very expensive ally), Nigeria, Pakistan et al.

(Actually that’s a lie. “President Obama, in a statement, called the attack ‘barbaric and heinous,’” the AP reports. But that’s not our topic.)

Allow me to clarify a few things for the confused, self-victimizing Peretz.

Firstly, being “fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs” does not constitute Islamophobia.

In fact, most Muslims in the world would admit to being afraid of this admixture.

I understand that it is difficult for stereotype-minded individuals to understand that other people are largely just like their own – that is, with their share of some bad who do bad things and a good majority who fear bad things – but that is what makes them bigots.

Bigots, by definition, tend to not only fear the bad apples in “other” group – which would be understandable – but they tend to go further by propping them up as the headline for the entire group, even if the bad apples are a small percentage.

And so for a certified bigot, all Blacks are street criminals, all Latinos are gang bangers, all Jews are greedy, and all Muslims mix faith with bombs.

As such Islamophobia is just another form of bigotry – in this case, bigotry against Muslims. But here’s the point Mr. Peretz, like other forms of bigotry, it is not so much about criticizing something as negative (as you cheekily posit), but the generalization of what is negative to all members of the group (which you and others demonstrably indulge in).

So when Peretz talks of a war being waged by “Muslims in their own lands and in the lands in which they have settled … against rationalists and true liberals, traditional conservatives and Islamic dissenters, Christians and Jews” without context, scope or qualification – as if all 1.4 billion Muslims are waging a war against all the billions of liberals, conservatives, Christians and Jews in the world – then Peretz is engaging in simplistic and vitriolic generalizations against Muslims that certainly constitute Islamophobia.

There is another related indicator of Islamophobia: selectivity.

So when Peretz is “fearful of the admixture of faith and bombs” only when that faith is Islam, but not when that faith is Christianity, Hinduism, his native Judaism or some other faith, then chances are Peretz is mired in Islamophobia.

Funny enough, there is one more common indicator of Islamophobia: criticizing those who resist the trigger-happy generalizations of Muslims as supposedly “succumbing to political correctness.” In that warped world view, the bigoted are the courageous freedom fighting patriots, and those responsible souls who say “no thanks” to generalizations are the weak-kneed politically-correct liberals who are going to bring America down.

So no, Mr. Peretz, before you start crying victim and feeling sorry for yourself as someone who is ridiculed for daring to speak out against the evils of Islam and Muslims and against the oversensitivity of the poor old politically correct masses, perhaps you can explain to us how opposing an American Muslim mosque for the alleged transgressions of Muslims in medieval Muslim lands is not a double generalization across time and space for which you should rightly be ridiculed and dismissed?

Islamophobia – that is negative stereotyping, bigoted expressions, and rampant generalizations against Islam and Muslims – is not only a sad reality in America today but one that is hard to miss just reading through the news headlines in 2010, let alone the third page. Not coincidently, those who are leading the Islamophobic movement in this country are the same people now leading the Islamophobia-denial movement. And in truth, Martin Peretz, though a member of the club, is not at the top of the list.

Whether anti-semitism or Islamophobia, those who coined the phenomenon did not “invent” the phenomenon, they simply called it out. It is an insult to Harvard, that someone like Peretz does not possess the requisite intellectual fortitude to tell the difference.

 

Ahmed Rehab: A Silver Lining in Egypt’s Dark Cloud

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on January 4, 2011 by loonwatch

An inspiring and heartening post by Ahmed Rehab on the bombing of the Coptic church. We were alerted to this late but this is certainly thus far one of the best posts on the subject. (hat tip: Ivan)

A Silver Lining to Egypt’s Dark Cloud

by Ahmed Rehab

The recent bombing outside a Coptic church in the Egyptian seaport of Alexandria that claimed 21 lives and 96 injuries sent shockwaves throughout Egypt and made headlines around the world.

Much of the global media has limited its interest in the story to the bombing itself and the subsequent angry street protests by Coptic youth; more savvy journalists included some discussion of government negligence and the context of sectarian strife that plagues Egypt today.

Still, an integral part of the story remains untold outside of Egypt: the strong response of everyday Egyptians – Muslims and Copts.

A popular storm of anger, defiance, and national unity is sweeping the country expressed by political leaders, members of the clergy, movie stars, students, and men and women on the street all reiterating one resounding theme: this is an attack against Egypt and all Egyptians.

While sectarian strife – even violence – is a serious problem in this mostly Muslim nation with a sizable Coptic population, Muslims and Copts generally live in peace side by side and have for many centuries.

Ali GomaaEgyptians of all stripes seem to concur that the Alexandria bombing – the most serious act of terrorism in a decade – is an attack on the Egyptian way of life with the intent to drive a wedge between faith communities and push the nation into turmoil.

“This is not just an attack on Copts, this is an attack on me and you and all Egyptians, on Egypt and its history and its symbols, by terrorists who know no God, no patriotism, and no humanity,” said Sheikh Ali Gomaa, the grand mufti of Egypt.

Khaled El Gendy“This cannot be classified as religious extremism, this can only be classified as religious apostasy,” said sheikh Khaled El Gendy a popular Muslim TV personality. “I do not offer my condolences to Christians, but to all Egyptians and to Egypt, All Copts are Egyptian and all Egyptians are Copts; their places of worship are national places of worship, a bomb that targets them bleeds us all.” A high ranking member of the Coptic clergy who sat beside him echoed his words.

“An act like this is wholly condemnable in Islam. Muslims are not only obligated not to harm Christians, but to protect and defend them and their places of worship,” said Imam Ahmed Al Tayeb the Grand Imam of Al Azhar, Egypt’s seat of Orthodoxy.

Adel Imam“Let us hang black flags from our homes and black ribbons on our cars to mourn this cowardly attack against our brothers and sisters, let us send a symbolic message of defiance against those who are trying to divide us”, said a visibly enraged Adel Imam, Egypt’s most popular living actor, a Muslim, and a long time advocate for Coptic rights.

The message was not much different on Egypt’s most watched talk shows that were abuzz with Muslim and Coptic guests in the studios and on the streets, expressing their solidarity with each other and defiance against what they see as a common enemy trying to drive a wedge between Egyptians.

Muslim college students in Alexandria and Cairo have vowed to join Copts at their upcoming Christmas celebrations (January 7th for the Coptic Church). “We will be there with signs bearing the Crescent and the Cross, celebrating with them, standing with them, and falling with them if necessary,” said a young, veiled student leader surrounded by her colleagues.

As an Egyptian, I am as invigorated by the current mood in Egypt as I am distraught by the bombing. However, I pray that this welcome surge of unity and camaraderie is seized and eternalized. I hope that it becomes ingrained into our societal fabric and that it is leveraged to induce long needed reforms.

I agree that an attack such as this has the bearings of Al Qaeda and its imitation groups therefore taking us outside the realm of common sectarian strife and into one of national security; nonetheless, Egyptians should see the current atmosphere of empathy as an opportunity to address Coptic grievances and strive towards a more equal society.

We can no longer deny that since the rise of Muslim extremist ideology in the 1970′s, Egypt’s once exemplary Muslim-Coptic relations has deteriorated significantly.

My father tells me that growing up in the 50′s, he often did not know if one of his friends was a Muslim or Copt except by sheer coincidence, and then when he did it mattered little. This was not my experience growing up in Egypt where my religion teacher made sure to warn me against the “treachery” of my Coptic colleagues.

Naguib El RihanyIn the 40′s, no one seemed to care that Naguib El Rihany, Egypt’s then greatest comedian and a national treasure, was a Copt; he was simply Egyptian. Likewise, Copts did not bat an eyelid when Omar Sharif, a Christian, converted to Islam in the 50′s, at the height of his celebrity, a far cry from today’s intense reactions against conversions.

As far back as the 12th century, Egyptian Muslims and Copts fought side by side against the Crusaders, viewed then as a national security threat and not a religious war. Together, they stood tall against British colonialism – a lasting image of the period depicts Muslim sheikhs and Coptic priests marching together side by side and chanting “long live the crescent and the cross!”

One needs not look farther than the Alexandria Church itself to gain a glimpse of the sort of religious cohabitation that is uniquely Egyptian: the church is brightly lit up by flood lights perched up on a Mosque, only 30 feet across the street.

Egyptians are asking today privately and publicly, where has all this gone?

But we need to do more than ask and lament. We need to act.

The post-Alexandria solidarity between Muslims and Copts – the likes of which Egypt has not witnessed in decades – represents a silver lining in Egypt’s dark cloud of sectarian strife and mistrust.

We would be wrong not to acknowledge and applaud it, but equally wrong to settle for it; a silver lining never made for a brighter day.

We need to carry the momentum forward into the realm of real change:

When extremist religious discourse at Mosques (and in Coptic circles) is regularly and unequivocally condemned and countered with a proactive and effective discourse of respectful coexistence, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptians no longer have to list their faith affiliation on their official government ID’s, it will be a brighter day.

When Copts no longer need a special government decree to build churches (or fix bathrooms in their churches), it will be a brighter day.

When I see talented young Coptic men playing on the Egyptian football national team at a rate proportional to the Coptic talent in my 6th grade class in Cairo, it will be a brighter day.

When the glass ceiling barring Copts from reaching the highest levels of government is shattered, it will be a brighter day.

When Egyptian law, prosecutors, officers, and judges treat Muslims and Copts as merely Egyptians – that is as equal citizens – with merit being the only qualifier, it will be a brighter day.

Given the candid conversations happening all over Egypt today, I believe that a brighter day is within reach. It is up to us “to change this tragedy into an opportunity,” to borrow the words of Sheikh Ali Gomaa.

Clearly, the immediate priority is security, but that must be followed – if not paralleled – with addressing Coptic civic grievances. For this to stand a realistic chance of success, the Coptic cause must become a national cause led and fought for by Muslims under a program of comprehensive civil rights reform.

Ahmed Rehab is a board member of the Egyptian American Society and a co-author and signatory of the Chicago Declaration, a practical document calling for equal treatment of Copts under the law, submitted to the Egyptian government in 2005.

 

Ahmed Rehab: Passion and Peril at a Pro-Christian Rally

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on November 11, 2010 by loonwatch

Muslims in Chicago joined their Christian brethren in condemning and opposing the slaughter of Christians in Iraq. (hat tip: Robert Spencer)

Beyond the Comfort Zone: Passion and Peril at a Pro-Christian Rally

(ahmedrehab.com/blog)

by Ahmed Rehab

Yesterday, CAIR-Chicago staff and interns participated in a rally alongside the Assyrian community of Chicago to condemn violence against Iraqi Christians. The rally was organized in response to the massacre of dozens of Assyrian Christians in Baghdad on October 31st.

It was a tricky decision for us. We knew that there could be anti-Muslim sentiment at the rally that would put is in a precarious position, but we decided that our disdain for the heinous acts of Al Qaeda far exceeded our concern for personal inconvenience.

We decided that the right thing for us to do was to act on our values and our sincere feelings of camaraderie with our fellow human beings in times of anguish. We wanted to raise our voices as Muslims in support of the Assyrian community and against terrorists who purport to act in the name of our faith.

Al Qaeda does not have reverence for any innocent life, including those of Muslims. It is a fact that they have bombed many more Mosques in Iraq than churches.
While we were weary of the possibility that some people at the rally could lash out at us, Muslims-at-large who condemn terrorism, we were not interested in seeing ourselves as victims. The only victims we were prepared to recognize were the 52 innocent souls that were claimed by the recent church bombing, and the many others – Christian, Muslim, Jewish, and otherwise – claimed by terrorism.

And so we set out with signs including “An Attack on Your Church is an Attack on my Mosque,” “American Muslims, Iraqi Christians, One Blood,” “My Brother is an Assyrian,” “We Stand with Iraqi Christians,” and “Muslims for Peace.”

We held our signs up high and marched in solidarity with the predominantly Assyrian Christian crowd.

The reaction we got was mixed.

In an interesting scene that summed up my experience, I was asked by one man if I was a Muslim. I said “Yes, I am.” He then asked, “Am I impure?”

I joked, “I don’t know did you shower this morning?”

He dismissed the joke and asked me if I thought “his blood was impure.” I told him, “why would you expect that, you’ve never met me, I am here supporting you, what about me leads you to ask me such a question?” He told me, “You said you are a Muslim.” I told him, “so what?” He said that Muslims believe this sort of thing. I told him that he had been grossly misinformed, “you’re blood like all innocent blood is holy to me.”

Another man interjected and started yelling that I was “unwanted” there, motioning with his arms for me to leave. As he continued to yell at me, my attention was drawn to something that touched me. A young woman a few yards away leaned down on a stroller she was pushing and started to sob uncontrollably.

At first, I thought it had nothing to do with us but my intuition told me otherwise. I asked here, “what’s wrong, why are you crying?”

She said unable to hold back her tears, “I am so sorry you and your friends have to deal with idiots like that, this man does not represent us, I am so embarrassed. This is so wrong.”

Here I was standing before a stark display of contrasts, extreme animosity on one end and extreme compassion on the other.

In a single powerful moment, I was reminded yet again at the absurdity of those who generalize about any one group of people. Here were two people of the same religion, color, and ethnic background standing side by side rallying for the same cause — and yet they could not be any more different.

I hugged her and tried to comfort her, “Trust me, I know, we have our share of idiots too, everyone has them, most people here have been kind.”

And it was true. Many in the crowd were genuinely happy – almost relieved – to see Muslims standing with them at this rally. Some smiled, some nodded, others simply said “thank you!” It reinforced my feeling that our participation was extremely important.

While there were other incidents – one lady held a cross up to my face and told me I was a “bad Muslim” for condemning terrorism which is “in my Quran”, two people told us that we are going to hell for not accepting Jesus as our Saviour, some guy yelled profanities and was held back by a girl half his size, another called for reciprocal violence – in every single instance, someone else would take a strong stance, telling the others to back off and apologizing.

As we made our way back to the office, we were chased by two girls. “Can I ask you a question?” one of them said. “Can I just give each of you guys a hug?”

We met back in the office for an evaluation.

I learned that my colleagues’ experience mostly mirrored mine.

Despite the bigotry of some, we all felt strong solidarity with most people. We felt as if the Assyrian community, with its good and bad, was our own.

It is of no surprise to any of us that there are some negative feelings among some Arab and Assyrian Christian communities regarding Islam and Muslims. Part of it is understandable to us, given the ugly acts by saboteurs claiming to act in the name of Islam. Part of it is due to the opportunistic work of preachers like father Zakaria Boutros who make a living out of telling Arabic-speaking Christians that Islam is an evil religion. Part of it still is due to the lack of dialogue and engagement between our faith communities, and that was the part we resolved to try to change.

Assyrians have a long and proud history that goes back to one of the earliest civilizations in the world. They live as a religious minority in their indigenous homeland. For centuries, they have coexisted peacefully with their Muslim neighbors. But at other times, especially now, the instability and violence is leaving them feeling frightened for their loved ones and overall vulnerable. Some of them blame Al Qaeda, others demonize all Muslims, and others still blame the United States and its wars.

One thing we must never allow is for the bad amongst us – terrorists, extremists, ideologues of exclusion and hate – to succeed in turning the rest of us against each other. We must condemn them, ostracize them, and disempower them. The way to do that is to strengthen our relations, and stand with one another. That is the only way to spell defeat for the agents of hate.

We must emerge from our comfort zones and stand together as one against all forms of violence, ignorance, and intolerance.

When Christians are attacked, they should NOT have to rally alone. We must rally along with them. When Jews are attacked, they should NOT have to rally alone. When Muslims are attacked, we should NOT have to rally alone.

 

Ahmed Rehab: The Real Meaning of Islam

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , on November 7, 2010 by loonwatch
ahmed rehabAhmed Rehab

A well-argued analytical piece by Ahmed Rehab in the Chicago Tribune that looks at the role of language, translations, and definitions as a factor in shaping (or misshaping) Western public perception and discourse on Islam – the first piece in the series is the word “Islam” itself.

Chicago Tribune: Language Matters: Islam, A Definition

By Ahmed Rehab

Language is to ideas what the body is to the soul. It is the physical manifestation of thought. It is the mortar with which we shape our understanding of the world.

But what happens when words are transmuted from one language to another and subjected to preconceived notions or limitations prevalent in the new language? Do they lose some of their original meaning?

If we are interested in gaining a better, more accurate understanding of Islam, its concepts, doctrine, and ideas, we must concede that there needs to be more robust scrutiny of the definitions that shape our discourse on Islam.

So with that in mind, I will be running a special series here at the Chicago Tribune’s The Seeker faith blog in which I will attempt to analyze definitions and translations of key Islamic terms to test them for authenticity. I am calling the series “language matters,” an intended pun on the importance of language in the understanding of faith constructs.

For this first installment, let us start at the root, the word “Islam” itself.

Islam is commonly translated into English, by both Muslims and non-Muslims, as simply “submission” (or “surrender”).

This is a simplistic translation that fails to convey the full meaning of the Arabic word.

There are namely two problems here.

First, “submission” and “surrender” in English contextualized usage imply a sense of coercion, a usurpation of one’s free will. When we say “surrender!” for example, it’s usually at gun point.

This contradicts a foundational criterion of Islam: freedom of will.

In Arabic, “Istislam,” not “Islam”, means “surrender” (noun). Like its English counterpart, “Istislam” implies coercion, and like its English counterpart it can be used to describe the act of one man vis-a-vis another. Conversely, “Islam” is used ONLY in the context of God, and ONLY in a state of free will (there is no single word in the English language that conveys this).

In other words, for a Muslim to be a Muslim, he or she must accept Islam free of force or coercion. God wishes for us to choose him because we want him, and for no other reason but that. This is a key point that is often misunderstood. Since faith is a matter of the heart, it can never be forced. It is technically impossible that Islam could ever be spread by the sword or by coercion, as some suggest, since even if at gun point (or at the sword blade), one could just as well proclaim to be a Muslim to avoid death, but reject Islam in their heart.

That is not to say that an “empire,” whether Islamic or otherwise, cannot be spread by the sword. But faith cannot. Just as no physical force can coerce you to love someone you do not love, none can coerce you to believe something you do not believe.

God understands this; in fact, he ordained that it be so. Since he is a judge of hearts first and foremost, it is logically necessary that he makes faith a matter of free choice, a matter of the heart and mind. Islam can only be spread by invitation (Da’wah) and persuasion (Hujjah), not coercion (Ikrah). The Qur’an explicitly states: “La Ikrah fel Deen” or “Let there be no compulsion in matters of faith.” (Ultimately, Muslims believe that faith is decreed by divine guidance.)

The second problem this translation poses is that there is no linguistically derived relationship between the English “submission” and the English “peace,” unlike the case in Arabic where “Islam” and “Salam” (peace) are derived from the same root word “slm” (to be in peace).

This etymological relationship is critical and cannot be lost in translation. We submit willingly to God in search of peace. As Muslims, we cannot take the “peace” out of our relationship with God, we cannot be Muslims resigned to anger, trepidation, or bitterness. Human beings are free to choose God’s peace or reject it. The Quran puts generous emphasis on these themes. When we achieve peace with God whom Muslims regard as the ultimate Peace, only then can we be at peace with ourselves. And only when we are at peace with ourselves can we then be at peace with others.

In conclusion, a qualified translation is in order for the real meaning of the Arabic word “Islam” to be fully and faithfully conveyed in the English language. Islam does not mean “submission,” Islam means “to freely submit one’s will to God’s, in pursuit of divine peace.” A simpler version that carries the same meaning is “to enter into God’s peace,” as Professor Tariq Ramadan proposes.

It is ironic that two important characteristics of being a Muslim, in fact the two most basic criteria (freedom and peace), are two of the most misrepresented and conflated when it comes to the West’s conception of Islam. But that is of little surprise when you consider that the building blocks of our discourse and understanding – the language we use – is itself flawed.

[Ahmed Rehab Chicago Tribune Original Link]