November 29, 2006

Welcome to America, Kid!

There's a rather funny/scary account of a Polish teenager who spent some time in North Carolina as a foreign exchange student. The problem was, the host family was an extreme Christian fundamentalist family. How extreme? Check out these passages:

"...every Monday my host family would gather around the kitchen table to talk about sex. My host parents hadn't had sex for the last 17 years because -- so they told me -- they were devoting their lives to God. They also wanted to know whether I drank alcohol. I admitted that I liked beer and wine. They told me I had the devil in my heart.

"My host parents treated me like a five-year-old. They gave me lollipops. They woke me every Sunday morning at 6:15 a.m., saying 'Michael, it's time to go to church.' I hated that sentence. When I didn't want to go to church one morning, because I had hardly slept, they didn't allow me to have any coffee.

"One day I was talking to my host parents about my mother, who is separated from my father. They were appalled -- my mother's heart was just as possessed by the devil as mine, they exclaimed. God wanted her to stay with her husband, they said.

"...the religious zealots finally brought up a subject which had clearly been on their minds for a long time: They wanted me to help them set up a Fundamentalist Baptist church in my home country of Poland. It was God's will, they said. They tried to slip the topic casually into conversation, but it really shocked me -- I realized that was the only reason they had welcomed me into their family. They had already started construction work in Krakow -- I was to help them with translations and with spreading their faith via the media."

The rest of the story can be read here.

November 21, 2006

What Makes a Muslim Radical?

Interesting, brief survey on the Foreign Policy website by John Esposito and Dalia Mogahed. The differences between "moderate" Muslims and "radical" Muslims are extremely slight. This doesn't surprise me in the respect that comments aimed at the "radical" Muslims or "Islamists" I often find to be rather offensive and, yes, I do consider myself to be "moderate." Non-Muslims should be much more tactful when talking about Islam and the Muslim world (a point lost on many Americans). The last survey question asked, What else can the West do to improve relations?, I actually agree with both answers.

Ask any foreign-policy expert how the West will know it is winning the war on terror, and the likely response will be, “When the Islamic world rejects radicalism.” But just who are Muslim radicals, and what fuels their fury? Every politician has a theory: Radicals are religious fundamentalists. They are poor. They are full of hopelessness and hate. But those theories are wrong.

Based on a new Gallup World Poll of more than 9,000 interviews in nine Muslim countries, we find that Muslim radicals have more in common with their moderate brethren than is often assumed. If the West wants to reach the extremists, and empower the moderate Muslim majority, it must first recognize who it’s up against.

Religion an important part of your daily life
Radicals: 92%
Moderates: 91%

Attended religious service in last 7 days
Radicals: 56%
Moderates: 59%*

* Difference is statistically insignificant given the +/- 3% margin of error.

Because terrorists often hijack Islamic precepts for their own ends, pundits and politicians in the West sometimes portray Islam as a religion of terrorism. They often charge that religious fervor triggers radical and violent views. But the data say otherwise: There is no significant difference in religiosity between moderates and radicals. In fact, radicals are no more likely to attend religious services regularly than are moderates.

Primary school or less
Radicals: 23%
Moderates: 34%

Secondary school through university
Radicals: 44%
Moderates: 38%

Low or very low income
Radicals: 22%
Moderates: 31%

Above-average or very high income
Radicals: 25%
Moderates: 21%

It’s no secret that many in the Muslim world suffer from crippling poverty and lack of education. But are radicals any poorer than their fellow Muslims? We found the opposite: There is indeed a key difference between radicals and moderates when it comes to income and education, but it is the radicals who earn more and who stay in school longer.

Where do you expect to be in the next 5 years?
Worse off
Radicals: 7%
Moderates: 7%

Better off
Radicals: 53%
Moderates: 44%

Whenever a suicide bomber completes a deadly mission, the act is often attributed to hopelessness—the inability to find a job, earn a living, or support a family. But the politically radical are not more “hopeless” than the mainstream. More radicals expressed satisfaction with their financial situation and quality of life than their moderate counterparts, and a majority of them expected to be better off in the years to come.

Most admired aspects about the West
Western technology (top response for both groups)
Radicals: 30%
Moderates: 31%

Liberty/Democracy/Freedom of Speech (second-most common response)
Radicals: 22%
Moderates: 22%

The war on terror is premised on a key question: Why do they hate us? The common answer from Washington is that Muslim radicals hate our way of life, our freedom, and our democracy. Not so. Both moderates and radicals in the Muslim world admire the West, in particular its technology, democratic system, and freedom of speech.

What can the West do to improve relations?
Respect Islam (top response for both groups)
Radicals: 39%
Moderates: 36%

What else can the West do to improve relations?
Radicals (Refrain from interfering or imposing its beliefs and policies): 17%
Moderates (Economic development/Jobs): 22%

What, then, separates a Muslim moderate from a Muslim radical? Although almost all Muslims believe the West should show more respect for Islam, radicals are more likely to feel that the West threatens and attempts to control their way of life. Moderates, on the other hand, are more eager to build ties with the West through economic development. This divergence of responses offers policymakers a key opportunity to develop strategies to prevent the moderate mainstream from sliding away, and to check the persuasive power of those who would do us harm.

Respondents who said 9/11 was unjustified (1 or 2 on a 5-point scale, where 1 is totally unjustified and 5 is completely justified) are classified as moderates. Respondents who said 9/11 was justified (4 or 5 on the same scale) are classified as radicals. The data for this poll were obtained during 2005-06 from Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia. Approximately 1,000 in-home interviews were conducted in each country. The sampling mix of urban and rural areas is the statistical equivalent of surveying each nation’s adult population, with a statistical sampling error rate of +/- 3 percent.

John L. Esposito is professor of religion and international affairs and founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.

Dalia Mogahed is executive director of Muslim studies for the Gallup Organization. They are working on a forthcoming book titled, Can You Hear Me?: Listening to the Voices of a Billion Muslims, to be published by Gallup Press in September 2007.

November 19, 2006

Wary of Arab voices, West promotes Malay views on Islam

I came across this story recently in The Halal Journal, a Malaysian magazine that focuses on various aspects of "halalness" (primarily with regard to halal food, but also on Islamic finance, environmentalism, etc.). Reuters published the story in late September, but this was the first time I came across the article.

I have mixed emotions about this idea of translating the works of Malay Muslims in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, etc., into English. It's not that the works of the Malay Muslims shouldn't be translated; I think that the ummah would benefit if more works on Islam worldwide were translated into numerous languages, including but not limited to English. Ideas such as Islam Hadhari deserve a wider audience than just the greater Malay community here in SE Asia.

However, what worries me are the motives these foundations and governments have in doing these self-funded translations. The article claims "Arab radicalism," but that's an extremely weak argument in my book. Islam <> "Arab radicalism." Moreover, I'm also concerned about other aspects of the translations: Who chooses what is to be translated and what are the criterion for those choices? (Don't tell me there won't be an agenda in the selection of what should be translated, especially when government funding is involved.) How accurate will the translations be? Will these be MEMRI-style hachet jobs? I'm extremely, extremely leery of non-Muslims being involved in this type of work.

Western governments and institutions, eager to dilute what they see as Arab radicalism, are actively encouraging the translation of works by Malay-speaking Muslims from across Southeast Asia. Drawn to the region's history of pluralism and its recent experience with democracy, supporters say Islamic thought from Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and Thailand has a lot to offer the modern world -- if only language were not a barrier. But some experts say the traditions of Islam, its heart and head rooted in the Arab Middle East, and the insular nature of the approximately 234 million Malay Muslims themselves, could blunt the effort's impact.

"There is very progressive thought in Indonesia, but it doesn't get out," said Robin Bush, of the U.S.-based Asia Foundation, which helped launch the budding translation movement. The perception is Southeast Asia is much more complex, historically and culturally" than the Arab world, said Bush, deputy head of the Asia Foundation's Indonesia office.

Funding for the effort has also come from such organizations as the Ford Foundation, with additional support from Western embassies.

"Too much of the Islamic tradition derives from the Middle East, from so many centuries ago," said Lily Zakiyah Munir, a Jakarta-based intellectual promoting Malay Muslim writings. We want to show the relevance of contemporary (religious) issues ... and promote the humanitarian side of the religion," she said.

Few Malay-Muslims write in English or Arabic and even fewer Muslims outside the region know the Malay languages. Later plans call for translations directly into Arabic. Among those produced so far are "Understanding Women in Islam: An Indonesian Perspective," by Syafiq Hasym, and "Indonesia, Islam, and Democracy," by Azyumardi Azra. Both books are said to highlight modernist elements in Southeast Asian Islam: the relatively prominent role for women in public life; and general support for democratic norms and practices.

Proponents also say Islam's history of gradual spread throughout the region, by commercial interests and cultural advance rather than battle, makes it an effective counterweight to the traditions of the tumultuous Arab world.

"Indonesia is a moderate Muslim country and these views can be very helpful in contrast to the militant voice of Arab Muslims today," said a diplomat from one Western country that helped fund the translations.

But Vali Nasr, an expert on contemporary Islam at the Naval Postgraduate School, in Monterrey, California, said such works were unlikely to find acceptance among Arab Muslims. "Arabs are perfectly happy to export their ideas, but they are not very good at importing," he said by telephone.

What's more, important developments in Southeast Asian Muslim societies, such as the advance of pluralistic democracy, were never seen as universal prescriptions.

"Indonesia and Malaysia have their own form of Islam that is much more integrated into the globalized world, but it was only for local consumption. They don't claim to be a spokesman for Islam, and the Arabs don't want them. It's not a linguistic problem," Nasr said.

November 7, 2006

Muslim Veil Also Can Be Free Choice

The following letter to the editor appeared in the Arizona Republic (Phoenix) yesterday (Nov. 6), written by Sister Nicole Hadley of Mesa. It's pretty good and she makes an interesting analogy at the end: the niqab as a "flag" of liberty and freedom.

The House of Commons leader Jack Straw has been widely criticized - and commended - for proclaiming the veil worn by some Muslim women a hindrance to full assimilation into society.

As an American Muslim woman, I see this as an extremely ignorant statement. I am a Caucasian Muslim raised in America, and I am about as "American as apple pie."

In accordance with my religious beliefs, I cover my hair, but does that make me any less American? Would Straw ask me to assimilate into my own country?

Granted, Straw's comment was in reference to the veil that covers the face and not the hair, but we have to be careful when speaking about taking away people's rights. When one right is taken away, where does it stop? If covering the face is taken away for the sake of "assimilation," will covering the hair be next?

I think I speak for all Muslim women when I say that I appreciate the fact that Prime Minister Tony Blair said that covering is a matter of choice for women. This should remain a choice that every woman has the right to make for herself, whether she originates from a Western, Middle Eastern or Asian country.

If the goal really is assimilation, then what better way for an immigrant to assimilate into a Western nation than to embrace its laws of freedom of religion? Many immigrants come to the West fleeing religious persecution in their own countries.

Women in the United States and the United Kingdom have the right to dress the way that best suits their identities. We should be proud of the fact that women do not have to endure religious persecution here, and hold this triumph up high for the world to see and take as its example.

By exercising their religious right to cover as they please, Muslim women in the West are brandishing their flag of liberty. This is the pride of America - freedom.

November 4, 2006


"If you are part of a society that votes, then do so. There may be no candidates and no measures you want to vote for…but there are certain to be ones you want to vote against. In case of doubt, vote against. By this rule you will rarely go wrong. If this is too blind for your taste, consult some well-meaning fool (there is always one around) and ask his advice. Then vote the other way. This enables you to be a good citizen (if such is your wish) without spending the enormous amount of time on it that truly intelligent exercise of franchise requires."
-- The Notebooks of Lazarus Long (Robert A. Heinlein)

(Graphics h/t to TBogg (above) and Patriotboy (below).)