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“Nuke Sweden”, “Shoot the Women”, Let Them Eat Bacon”!

Loon Watch - 29 March, 2017 - 09:56

What happens when Breitbart and the ex-Breitbart propagandist Milo Yiannopoulos hears about an attack in Sweden where a racist harasses Muslim women? They write about it and implies that the women are lying. What happens when their readers read the articles? The readers write that they want to nuke Sweden, kill these women (and all Muslims): “shoot them, hang them, and throw bacon at the mosques. “Shoulda wrapped it around his fist and beat the shit out of them”, “shoot them with bacon greased bullets”. And of course as always: “hang the Jews”.

A racist went up to some Muslim women that was sitting on a train in Stockholm. He took out bacon and shoved it in their faces while he shouted hat he hates “Muslims and negroes”. When they got up to move away from him, he followed them waving the bacon in their faces and screaming racial slurs.

Swedish media reports that the women told the police that they were afraid that the man would attack them. A witness told the police that he yeled that he hated “Muslims and negroes”:

“He went up to three women that carried a veil and shoved the bacon at their faces and their hands. He said: “what is it, am I not allowed to eat bacon?”

Two of the women were only visiting Sweden and did not understand Swedish.  “I could hear the words “islam, islam” in what he said. His behavior was very aggressive and I was really scared that this man would attack us”, one of them told the Police,

Milo and Breitbart

A clear case of harassment?

Not so for Breitbart and the ex-Breitbart journalist Milo Yiannopoulos.

Breitbart obviously found the news so important that they wrote an article which reports about how people in social media ridicules the Swedes and the harassed women.

Reaction to the incident on social media has been a mix of laughter and disbelief amongst English language users. Twitter user PeterSweden tweeted his disbelief at the charges saying: “What’s the next step, being racist for walking your dog?”

As usual the article is followed by a comment section filled with hatred against Swedes, Muslims and Jews. “Kill them, shoot them, force them to eat bacon, nuke Sweden”.

Click to view slideshow.

Milo Yiannopoulos implies that the women were lying and his followers on Facebook get furious.

Click to view slideshow.

The comment sections of Breitbart and the “ex-Breitbart” writer Milo are disgusting. But sometimes it is important to look at them. Dont forget that Steve Bannon and Steve Gorka, two of the main security advisors of Trump, comes from Breitbart. This is the articles Trump hears about and base his security policy on. That is the kind of hatred they whip up, and the kind of supporters they have.

They claim that the Muslims are the barbarians, while they themselves are the “crown of the creation”… That is hardly the impression you get when reading the comment sections of Milo and Breitbart.

 

Why is Salah Not Allowed Except In Arabic?

Muslim Matters - 29 March, 2017 - 08:46
 Answer:

This is a frequently asked question by people – Muslims and non-Muslims alike. We know that Muslims all over the World rely on the Arabic language to perform their prayer (Salah). It is required from them that they recite certain portions from the Qur’an that affirms the greatness of Allah and the submissiveness of the people to Him. This is practiced equally by both the native Arabic speaking worshippers as well as non-native speakers who, in most cases, may not understand what they recite in their prayers (Salah). This was the situation during the time of the Prophet and continues to be the case today.

In answering this question, I will summarise (with additional notes) the answer given by the late erudite Syrian scholar Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa (in Fatawa Mustafa Zarqa, p.106-109) to a similar question and hope that this will give more credence and authority to the explanation.

Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa states that it would seem natural and logical (practical) that a believer address his prayers (Salah) and supplications from the deep feelings of his conscious- and the mother tongue is the most effective way to achieve that objective of successfully expressing what one feels and desires. He explains that looking at it from this perspective may seem to be prudent, in terms of expressing adab (manners) with Allah in view of the fact that people are able to communicate more appropriately and show better etiquette in their mother tongue that they grew up with. However, he asserts, the matter is deeper and more complex than simply looking at the issue from this perspective due to the following reasons:

  1. There are certain theological and psychological implications to consider. Allah states:
ٱلنَّبِيُّ أَوْلَىٰ بِٱلْمُؤْمِنِينَ مِنْ أَنْفُسِهِمْ وَأَزْوَاجُهُ أُمَّهَاتُهُمْ

‘’The Prophet is closer to the believers than their ownselves, and his wives are their (believers’) mothers.’’ (33:6)

This explicit text of the Qur’an considers the wives of the Prophet as the mothers of the believers; and we know that all of the wives of the Prophet spoke the Arabic language. Therefore, from this angle the Arabic language is regarded as the mother tongue of all Muslims. Hence, there should be no room for any objection in performing the prayers (Salah) except in the Arabic tongue since this is the (spiritual) mother language (of all believers).

  1. In Islamic theology (aqida), the Qur’an is considered the kalam (speech) of Allah, the Most High. And its recitation is accepted or valid as a form of drawing closer to Allah. Also, from the spiritual angle, the believer journeys to Allah (سياحة إلى الله) through reciting His Holy speech, and the original text of this speech, which was revealed to the Prophet, is in Arabic. As a consequence, no matter how accurate the translation is, it is an estimation of the translator (to explain the spirit of the original language) and cannot possibly attain the same objective of journeying to Allah (سياحة إلى الله) which is achieved through the Arabic language. It is not humanly possible to render the same precise maqsad (meaning, spirit) conveyed in the Arabic language in any other foreign tongue.

 

A simple example: (112:1) { قُلْ هُوَ ٱللَّهُ أَحَدٌ } Translator(s)  Translation(s)  Comments                            Sahih International Say, ‘He is Allah , [who is] One,’ Although the translations try to convey the original meaning of the Arabic, they are still not precise. The word ‘ahadun’ in Arabic signifies or denotes the number one. The word ‘wahidun’ also means one, but the difference between them is that after ‘wahidun’ (one) you have ithnanun (two), but after ‘ahadun’ (One) there is no two in the Arabic language. Thus, Allahu Ahadun means that Allah is that Being Who is One and Alone in the sense that when we think of Him, the very idea that there is any other being or thing is absent from our minds. He is One and Alone in every sense. He is neither the starting link of any chain, nor its last link. Nothing is like Him, nor is He like anything else Pickthall Say: ‘He is Allah, the One!’ Yusuf Ali Say: ‘He is Allah, the One and Only;’ Shakir Say: ‘He, Allah, is One.’ Muhammad Sarwar (Muhammad), say, ‘He is the only God.’ Mohsin Khan Say (O Muhammad (Peace be upon him)): ‘He is Allah, (the) One.’ Arberry Say: ‘He is God, One,’

 

  1. A distinction needs to be made between supplication (dua) and prayer (Salah). Both are generally called salah in Arabic. However, the former is the original and more general meaning of salah (supplication) and not the formal and specific form to worship Allah. It is also known as the intimate pleading (munajat) to Allah. Therefore, there is no objection to a person who directs his/her prayers (duas/supplications) in any language he/she chooses in any form or method. This is because supplication is a specific and personal connection through individual relationship between the creation and the Creator.

As for the latter, prayer (Salah) in the specific and formal meaning: the worship in the form of the prescribed Islamic method – it is a specific prayer which has a universal quality or description that must be observed. The prescribed prayer (Salah) of the Muslim should be, in its original ruling, performed in the universal description with others (in a jama’ah); although performing Salah individually is valid, the desired option, which carries more virtue, is to perform it behind the Imamship (leadership) of an Imam in congregation. This ruling is applicable to both men and women.

Table of comparison between Salah and Dua: Salah Dua Salah is formal Dua is not formal Salah is performed at fixed time Dua may be performed at any time Salah requires ablution Dua does not require ablution Salah should be performed in congregation Dua is performed individually Salah must be performed in Arabic Dua can be performed in any language In Salah specific passages must be performed In supplication, a person can ask or use any words

 

  1. If Islam was a national or a geographical or a tribal or an ethnic religion, which is connected to a specific race, it would have been unavoidable not to employ the language of that nation, race or tribe in Salah (prayer). However, in the case of Islam, which is a universal religion, the issue is completely opposite to that given that the believers speak in the tongue of hundreds of local and regional languages and no one except he who is from the same region or race will understand another nation’s language. Therefore, as a point of unification, and as our life is ever growing and widening towards the universal way, prayers performed in one language is more conducive to ease and tranquillity.
  2. There is no religion in the world other than Islam that can claim their text has not been changed or altered in some way or another. Muslims are the only people who still preserve the original Book, which was revealed hundreds of years ago to the Prophet without even a single dot being erased, changed, or manipulated. This is a great blessing for the Muslims to know, learn and understand.
  3. In addition to what has preceded it must be observed that the Qur’an (although it is not poetry) includes all the qualities, language, prose and taste of a poem. The stoppage signs, the expressive language and the eloquence of the Qur’an are such that a single addition or omission of a letter will reveal discrepancies and contradictions. Similarly, in a poem, if there were any additions or omissions made to it, the rhythm would be lost.
  4. A translation may not engender the same religious awe and reverence as the original text of the Qur’an revealed from Allah to His Prophet; This is because the translation is only a estimation and production of a common person and it is not a construction coming from a source that is protected from mistakes and error, as is the case with the original Arabic Qur’an, which was protected by Allah, the Most High.
A simple example: (12:23) وَرَاوَدَتْهُ ٱلَّتِي هُوَ فِي بَيْتِهَا عَن نَّفْسِهِ وَغَلَّقَتِ ٱلأَبْوَابَ وَقَالَتْ هَيْتَ لَكَ

In this verse, Allah Almighty describes how the wife of the chief of Egypt tried to seduce Yusuf (pbuh). We do not appreciate the intensity of her work or the great wrong she is carrying out against Prophet Yusuf in the translation of the verse. However, a simple look at the Arabic gives us a more profound insight of what happened.

Translation And she, in whose house he was, seduced him towards herself, and closed the doors, and said, “come on!” Comments عَن نَّفْسِهِ

 

This part (seduce him towards herself) uses ‘the’ (al) – it describes the injustice and the wrong of the chief’s wife against Yusuf (pbuh). When ‘the’ (al) is placed before a relative pronoun (he, she, we, etc -) it conveys six different meanings: 1) singling out, 2) definition, 3) intensification, 4) informing of fault, 5) attention, 6) glorification. In this verse it is used to emphasise the great wrong and injustices done to Prophet Yusuf. This is done by placing the ‘an’ before ‘nafsishi’. Hence in the translation this meaning is lost.

  وَغَلَّقَتِ

 

This part (and she closed) the doors. Allah uses this verb to mean ‘closed’. But there is another word which is in the same root to mean closed and that is ‘aghlaqa’ (اغلق) – to ‘close’. But why did Allah use the former? The pattern of ‘gallaqa’ is ‘faa’ala’ which denotes intensity and repetition. Implying that the wife of the chief worked tirelessly, intensely and vigorously to close the doors. There are some reports that state that there were several doors in the room – again implying that she run to shut, close and bolted the doors. Thus, in the English language this eloquent and precise meaning is lost.

 

  1. There are some people (writers/academics) who rely on an opinion expressed by some of the elite scholars of Islam such as Imam Abu Hanifa, who allowed the recitation of the Qur’an to be done in translation during Salah. However, these scholars mentioned one aspect and failed to discern the other. Imam Abu Hanifah, although holding this view at the beginning of his scholarship, later retracted it and agreed with the opinion of the majority of the scholars. This is mentioned in the books of the Hanafi school of thought such as al-Hidaya by Imam Margiyani, al-Dar al-Mukhtar by Imam Hasfaki, al-Hashiyat Rad al-Muhtar by Imam Ibn Abidin and other texts. (There is a view that Imam Abu Hanifah did not retract but scholars later reconciled the various views in the hanafi school).  

Shaykh Mustafa Zarqa then states that in reality there are some exceptional situations where the translation of the Qur’an may be used in Salah, such as when a non-Muslim embraces Islam and does not know the Arabic language. This new Muslim has to perform the Salah from the time he/she embraces Islam. This of course includes the obligatory portion of the Qur’an that a person must recite in order for the Salah to be complete. Therefore, since this person is unable, due to necessity he/she is allowed to read the translation of the Qur’an in Salah until he/she learns the sufficient sections of the Qur’an to perform the Salah.

This is based on the report from the companion, Salman al-Farsi, which was approved by the Prophet that the people of Persia wrote to Salman al-Farisi to send them sura al-Fatiha written in Persian. He did so and the Persians used to recite it in prayer until their tongues became used to it. (This is reported in Kitab Taj al-Shari’at, and the Chapter on Salah in Nihayat Hashiyat al-Hidaya).

It should be noted that all the scholars of the other schools are against the use of translations in prayer, whether one is able to recite the original Arabic or not. They state that a new Muslim should do some basic tasbih, such al-hamdulillah or subhan Allah, in the prayer or remain silent.

In conclusion:
  1. A person, whether he/she is a new Muslim or does not know Arabic, should exert all efforts and endeavour to learn the required portion of the Qur’an which is sufficient to fulfil the obligation of the Salah.
  2. Otherwise, a person has the following options: a) he/she may read the translation in Salah, b) recite praises such as al-hamdulillah, subhan Allah, etc, c) or remain silent. To overcome any difficulty for the new Muslim or a person who does not know the Arabic language or has not learnt any portion of the Qur’an by heart and is not able to pronounce it, he/she is encouraged to attend the mosque for the obligatory prayers and follow the Imam. The Imams recitations will be his/her recitation. At the same time, he/she should try to learn the Qur’an as best as his/her ability affords them. In case of the Muslim who is not able to recite from the Qur’an due to the reasons mentioned above, he/she is encouraged (take the view of the majority) to simply recite the praises of al-hamdulillah or subhan Allah, and that would suffice.

And Allah knows best.

 

 

 

Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood wasn't an Islamist, says ex boss

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 March, 2017 - 20:48

Killer was open about violent past but showed no interest in local radical groups, says Luton language school director

Westminster terrorist Khalid Masood was an “apolitical” man who showed no interest in radical Islam in the two years he lived in Luton, his former boss said.

Farasat Latif, a director at language school Elas UK where Masood worked between 2010 and summer 2012, said he knew Masood as a charming, friendly and professional employee who was open about getting his life back on track after a violent past.

Related: Westminster attack: Khalid Masood's wife 'saddened and shocked'

He did not fit to me as a potential extremist in any way, shape or form

Related: The mystery of Khalid Masood’s journey into violence and terror

Continue reading...

Fredi Kanouté: ‘Muslims have to prove they are not terrorists before talking’ | Paul Doyle

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 March, 2017 - 17:43
The former Sevilla and Mali striker is proud of his faith and would rather be known for working with orphans than his footballing achievements

Fredi Kanouté jokes that he has joined a rock band but none of the motley crew he is touring with claims to be a professional musician. Instead the former West Ham United, Tottenham Hotspur and Sevilla striker shares stages around the world with extraordinary characters such as Emi Mahmoud, a former Darfur refugee and Poetry Slam world champion, and Dr Rouba Mhaissen, the economist and development activist ranked by Forbes magazine as one of the planet’s most influential people under 30.

Related: Skilled, determined and broke: Africa's female football pioneers

Continue reading...

What do many lone attackers have in common? Domestic violence | Hadley Freeman

The Guardian World news: Islam - 28 March, 2017 - 15:30
Desperate attempts to profile Khalid Masood after the Westminster attacks blame Islam, Kent or even drunk teenagers, but the common thread in terrorism is often misogyny

The reactions to Khalid Masood’s attack last week played out with script-like predictability: rightwing commentators tried desperately to blame the actions of this Kent native on immigration, while the media pored over whatever anecdotes they could find from neighbours and schoolmates. All The Day Today cliches were ticked off: he was “always polite”, he came from “a normal family”, he once “got drunk” as a teenager.

This kind of desperate profiling plays to people’s desire to believe we should be able to spot terrorists. But while rent-a-gobs flail around naming and shaming Kent and drunk teenagers, it is telling how rarely one feature common to many “lone wolf” attackers is called out: a history of domestic abuse.

Before Katie Hopkins gets excited, this isn’t evidence of a misogyny unique to the Muslim culture, or Muslim killers

Related: Don’t heed the hysterical voices of ‘patriotism’. Britain isn’t broken | John Harris

Continue reading...

Zaid Karim, Private Investigator, Part 8 – Badger

Muslim Matters - 28 March, 2017 - 05:13

See the Story Index for Wael Abdelgawad’s other stories.

Previous chapters of this story: Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7

(Note to readers: I just went back and made some major edits to Chapter 5. You may recall that there was a discovery Zaid made about Anna. I removed that, as I realized that it belongs at the end of the book, not in the middle. If you know what I mean, please do not mention it in the comments. Also, I apologize that the surprise is spoiled for you. This is one of the drawbacks in writing – and reading – serially like this. Lastly, I added a new character in Chapter 5 – Yusuf Cruz, an old prison buddy from Panama).

***

“I do care,” I said, and it was true. I always cared. That was my problem. One of my problems, anyway.

I told Chausiki everything, narrating a very near version of the truth, leaving out only Imam Abdus-Samad’s name. I said I’d been recruited by Horse, whose real name I did not know, and explained how in my youthful stupidity and zealousness I’d believed myself to be a part of some greater Islamic struggle.

1967 Chevy Impala

“Red died in my arms, bleeding in the backseat of a Chevy Impala…”

I told her how Red had ultimately died protecting me. How he bled out in my arms, talking about his love for his family. How we left his dead body in front of the hospital. I looked down as I described this last part, my face hot with shame. “That was when I quit,” I said. “I loved uncle Malik. If I could go back and change – “

“But you can’t.”

She was right, of course. We sat in silence. I lifted my eyes finally and watched the winter sunlight sparkling on the surface of the pool. My hair was still wet, and every time the breeze blew a chill went through me. My life was in Chausiku’s hands now. If she told Badger, I was a moldering corpse waiting to happen.

Again she seemed to read my mind. “You are a husband and a father. I see how much you love your daughter.” Her tone was stiff, belying the kindness of the words. “In spite of everything, you are Amiri’s only true friend, or so he believes. Don’t worry. I’ll keep your secret. But don’t presume to judge me. You have no idea what I’ve been through. I lived by my ideals for thirty years, and what did it get me? A dead husband and a pile of unpaid bills. When Malik died, I was penniless. I went to the masjid for a loan and they turned me away. I was homeless for a while, did you know that?”

I shook my head.

Living on the streets

“I lived in a cardboard box…”

The corners of Chausiku’s mouth turned down in bitterness. “I lived in a shelter downtown, and sometimes in a cardboard box. Do you know what saved me?”

“No.”

“Amiri. My son. He stepped up, became a man, took care of me. So don’t you dare come in here and lecture. You haven’t slept in a box. You haven’t suffered the humiliation of relieving yourself on the street, having people look at you like you’re subhuman. I tried living a principled life. Then I grew up. Can you possibly understand that?”

I nodded, saying nothing.

“Get dressed.”

I did. In the bathroom, I noticed that the strand of hair I’d placed carefully on my belongings was gone. They had searched my clothing as well, and perhaps looked through my wallet and phone. It didn’t matter. I had nothing to hide anymore.

When I returned to the patio, Chausiku said, “Be in front of the used bookstore at Van Ness and McKinley in an hour. Amiri will meet you there.”

“Oh, and Zaid,” she added as I turned to leave.

“Yes, Auntie?” I met her gaze, finally. She sat at the patio table with legs crossed and hands resting primly on her knees. Her spine was erect, her eyes as flat as flint stones.

I had a sudden memory of sitting at the kitchen table in the Sulawesis’ old house on First Street, along with Aziz, Amiri, Titus and Tarek – all five of the Five Musketeers. We sat there chatting about baseball or skateboards or Kali, and eating hot cornbread with butter. Chausiku’s given name, I knew, was Amanda. She’d become a Black Panther revolutionary in the early seventies and adopted the name Chausiku, which, she liked to remind us, meant “born at night.” “What do you think?” she’d ask us. “Do you see the night stars in my eyes?” I would look at her and yes, it seemed like her sparkling black eyes held the answers to the mysteries of the universe, and that I could see the twinkling of the stars in their depths.

Now, there were no stars in her eyes. She sat there looking angry, rich and sadly pedestrian, seemingly unaware that she had betrayed everything she once believed in.

“You are no longer welcome here,” she said. “Don’t come back.”

***

Friday, February 5, 2010 – 11:15 am
Fresno, California

I had time for a quick detour before heading to the bookstore. I knew that Safaa would be in class, but I needed to see her.

The Fresno Islamic Academy was a small school, funded as much by donations as by the monthly tuitions. It was located on Shaw west of Cedar, not too far from Masjid Fresno, the oldest masjid in town.

The front door at FIA was always locked during school hours. I knocked, and the door was opened by the receptionist, a young Somali woman named Asma. She knew me and greeted me with a smile.

A small Pakistani-looking boy sat in a chair in the reception area, rhythmically filling his mouth with air and making popping sounds with his lips. I wondered if he was waiting to see the principal for some infraction.

“Ali,” Asma commanded the boy. “Go get sister Safaa.” Pleased at this reprieve from whatever doom awaited him, the boy leaped up and dashed through the open door that led into the school corridors.

“Cool hat,” Asma commented.

I nodded but said nothing. The last thing I needed was for Safaa to accuse me of flirting with the receptionist. Sensing my mood, Asma went back to work, and I took the boy’s chair and waited.

Time ticked by. I checked my watch repeatedly, aware that I had an appointment across town with one of the most dangerous men in America.

“What is it?” Safaa stood before me, arms akimbo. “I’m in the middle of class. This had better be important.” She wore a long black skirt that was a little too tight for my liking – I mean, I liked it fine, but I didn’t think it appropriate for everyone else – along with a long-sleeved blue blouse and a burgundy hijab. She looked and sounded about as happy to see me as a judge staring down at a repeat offender who stood before the bench accused of yet another crime.

In spite of the irritation on her face, she was a vision. Her skin was dark for an Iraqi, somewhere between copper and coffee. She’d been teased about that as a child, she once told me. She had often complained about her nose being too big as well, as well as other imperfections that she saw or imagined in herself.

“In my eyes, she was lovely as a tree.”

In my eyes, she was as lovely as a tree. I found her utterly beautiful from crown to roots.

I stood. “Could we talk in private? I have something for you.”

“What is it? I’m busy. If you can’t respect my job and my time, I might have to file a restraining order.”

“It’s important.”

She clucked her tongue. “Fine.” She turned and walked away. I followed her into the unoccupied computer room two doors down from reception. The computers sat on long tables that circumnavigated the walls.

“How have you been?” I said. “I’ve missed you.”

Safaa pursed her lips and made no reply.

“You’ve been so cold and angry lately,” I commented.

She didn’t like that. “Why is that a problem?”

I opened my hands in a helpless gesture. “Because we’re husband and wife. Because we have a daughter together. Because I thought we loved each other.”

“This is outrageous,” Safaa snapped. She turned to leave.

“Okay, hold on!” I withdrew an envelope from my pocket and handed it to her.

“What is this?”

“Five thousand dollars. That’s my child support backlog, and a little extra. I’d like to set up a regular visitation schedule with Hajar.”

“Wow.” The anger was replaced by surprise, at least momentarily. “You’re on a case?”

“Yes. Can I tell you one more thing?”

Her jaw tightened. “What?”

“I’m disappointed in you.”

Her mouth fell open and her eyes widened. “You’re disappointed in me? In what bizarro universe does that make sense?”

“I’ve never been unfaithful to you. Wallahi I never wanted to, or even considered it. You and Hajar are everything to me in this dunya. I love you. When I pray, I pray for you to fulfill your dreams. When you smile, it heals my heart. Just thinking of your laughter makes me happy. When you feel the chill of the world upon you, I yearn to warm you with my arms. When you’re tired, when you’re down on yourself, I have enough faith in you for both of us.”

I hadn’t planned this lyricism or memorized it in advance. Safaa had always brought out the poet in me. I wished that I could turn my words into almond blossoms and scatter them at her feet. I wanted to feel her head resting on my shoulder once again. I wanted to be a shelter and a garden for her when dark days came, as they always did in this life.

I had to drop the hammer, though. I had to shake her up.

“Yet,” I continued, “you choose to listen to rumors and gossip spread by people with bad intentions, rather than believe in me, your husband. I thought you were better than that. In fact, I know you are better than that.”

For the first time since our separation, I saw a chink appear in her armor. Uncertainty passed across her features like a cloud across a winter sky. Her mouth opened but no words came out.

She found her tongue. “I’ll email you about visitation.” With that she turned and walked away.

I counted it as a victory. One does not traverse Antarctica in a day. There were a lot of people in the community who mistrusted me, a lot of voices arrayed against me. That didn’t matter. In the end, all that mattered was trust. If I could somehow open Safaa’s eyes and restore her trust in me, the love between us would return like spring rain after a drought, I was sure.

***

In spite of its expansive name, the Bookazon was a cluttered corner of tranquility a few blocks from City College, not far from Masjid Madinah. Formerly a three bedroom house, it was jammed from floor to ceiling with mostly used books, though there was some new selections as well. In spite of the crowding, the owners had managed to fit several comfy armchairs into corners here and there. I sometimes went in after Jum’ah. I’d sit in one of those comfy chairs and read for an hour or more, and the management never seemed to mind.

I arrived five minutes ahead of my appointed time to find the sign on the door had been turned to the “Closed” side. That was unusual. The Bookazon didn’t normally close at lunchtime. Two women – one a hip-hoppy Asian, the other an attractive Latina – stood near the entrance, one on either side.

Fresno Grizzlies baseball cap

“Her hair was tucked under a Fresno Grizzlies cap.”

The Asian woman was small and could have been any age between twelve and twenty five. Her hair was either cropped short or tucked under her Fresno Grizzlies baseball cap. She could almost have passed for a boy in her baggy basketball shorts, gray sweatshirt and black Adidas hi-top shoes.

The Latina was my height. She had lustrous black hair, full lips, and a hard cast to her hazel eyes. She was dressed like a college student in jeans, a City College sweatshirt and stylish brown boots.

I approached the door to try the knob and maybe peer through the window, but the Latina stepped to bar my way.

“Closed for lunch,” she said in English that might have sounded unaccented to anyone else. I have a good ear for accents and could hear her Mexican ancestry in the slightly lisped “s” in “closed” and the o-sounding “u” in “lunch.”

“I’ll look myself if you don’t mind.” I moved to step around her but she blocked me again and – like a Vegas magician doing a hey presto – pressed the barrel of a silver automatic pistol against my forehead, jamming it in hard enough to tip my head back. She was fast. I hadn’t even seen her draw the gun.

“You best get steppin’, cabron,” the Latina said quietly but intensely. “Before I drill your dome. We’ll see what comes out. Brains or frijoles negros.”

My nostrils dilated and my teeth clenched. I had a vast internal reservoir of anger, love, guilt, grief and outrage, and it was never more than a nerve’s length away. I could access it in an instant, for good or bad, like a tap that is under pressure and needs only a quarter turn of the handle to send forth a geyser.

Dale cabron,” I snarled in Spanish, returning the insult and daring her to shoot. “But you best look down before you pull that trigger.” The full-lipped Latina glanced down to see the blade of my knife pressed against the inside of her thigh – my own hey presto to match hers. Her eyes widened slightly. The knife was angled up, so that the Latina could not step away without cutting herself.

“That’s your femoral artery,” I informed her. “I cut that and you’ll bleed out in six seconds. The knife is razor sharp. It’ll go through your jeans and skin like a bullet through paper. Even if you shoot me, I’m gonna slice you open on the way down.”

A gun cocked and I felt yet another steel barrel press into the base of my skull beneath the brim of my fedora.

“Don’t you hurt her!” the Asian girl screamed. “Put the knife down or I will freakin’ cap you right now.”

“Go ahead,” I said, fighting to keep a grin from breaking out on my face. I wanted to laugh, not because I didn’t take the Asian seriously, but because I always wanted to laugh when my life was on the line. “If you do, your girl is dead.” Then I recited the shahadah – the Muslim testimony of faith – in Arabic, out loud. I was fully prepared to die in that spot, standing on the sidewalk on Van Ness Avenue on a cool February morning.

My behavior made no sense. In prison I’d survived by being ready to die. When a man sees that you are willing to die to defend your property, your dignity and the smallest right that he might seek to infringe, he turns around – if he has any sense – and walks away.

Now, though, things were different, I had a wife and daughter who I loved. I had a career, shaky and erratic though it might be. I had freedom, relative youth, the wispy sunshine on my face, and the blessing of faith. I had everything to live for, but here I was, challenging this woman to pull the trigger because I didn’t know how to conduct myself as a free man, and could not shut off the electric thrill that ran through me at the prospect of violence.

I was a mess. I knew that. I was a flawed personality, a damaged machine. All my cylinders were firing, but something was busted in the gearbox, and the grinding of my spirit was so loud I wondered that the whole city couldn’t hear it.

The Latina and I were so close our noses almost touched. I smelled lemon and chilies on her breath. Her eyes were large and dark, and I thought that if I stared into them I might become mesmerized and forget who and where I was. Then, to my surprise, the corners of her mouth turned up in the barest hint of smile. “You wouldn’t happen to be Stick, would you?” she said softly.

“You know my name,” I assented. “So you must know whether you plan to kill me or not.”

The Latina withdrew the gun and stuffed it in her waistband, hiding it beneath the baggy sweatshirt. “Yo, it’s cool, Pinkie,” she said to her friend. “Put the gun away.”

The pressure of the gun disappeared from the back of my head. I folded my knife and stepped back where I could see them both. Pinkie was – true to her name – pink-faced with fear or rage. She’d tucked her gun away but still had her hand on the grip, I could tell.

The Latina nodded in greeting. “I’m Jelly. This is Pinkie.” She inclined her head toward the bookstore. “Badger’s waiting for you inside.”

I turned my back on the ladies, feeling fairly confident that they would not shoot me. As I opened the door and entered the store, an argument ensued between Pinkie and Jelly. Apparently Pinkie was angry because she thought Jelly was flirting with me. I supposed the two of them were a couple.

Only in Badger’s world – or in an elliptical orbit around his world – could I meet people for whom threatening to kill someone was a form of flirtation.

***

The bookstore was deserted. The lights were off and there were no customers, and not even a salesperson or cashier behind the register. I found Badger in one of the back rooms, sitting in an armchair with one leg draped casually over the arm, reading The Downfall of Communism and Capitalism by Ravi Batra.

My old friend Amiri Malik Sulawesi, who went exclusively by the name Badger these days, was shorter than me at 5’6” or so. He was the color of cafe au lait, and was wiry and strong. He wore black slacks, comfortable-looking brown walking shoes, and a blue trenchcoat over a white t-shirt and bulletproof vest. I had no doubt that he had one or two guns secreted on his person somewhere.

I wasn’t surprised to see him reading a treatise on economics and social philosophy. Badger was the most brilliant human being I had ever met. In school he’d achieved straight A’s even though he barely studied. He could glance at a page and absorb the content in seconds. Furthermore, he would remember it years later. I recall seeing him at the age of ten, sitting on the playground during recess, reading Locke’s Essay Concerning Human Understanding – a memory that came back to me years later when I had to study it in university. In Kali class he always beat me during sparring sessions, not because he practiced more than me – no one in the group practiced as obsessively as I did – but because he was able to instantly internalize whatever was taught, intuitively grasping the underlying principles of body mechanics, so that he did not have to remember specific techniques per se.

He could have been anything he wanted. Neurosurgeon, astronaut, technology innovator, anything. He could have changed the world.

“Seems to me that book is obsolete,” I commented by way of greeting. “Communism has already fallen, and capitalism is taking over the world.”

“Yeah homey,” Badger replied, “but you know this book was written in 1978. Batra said Communism would fall within twenty five years, and twelve years later the Berlin wall come tumblin’ down. Man was a genius. He predicted that capitalism was doomed to extinction as well. He says here that money was meant to serve man, not the other way around, and that the abandonment of spirituality and social justice under unregulated capitalism is unsustainable. He proposes a quadrivisional model of society in which there are acquisitors, money lenders, thinkers and warriors. He says capitalism is run by the money lenders and acquisitors, and out of the rubble of its collapse will come the rise of the warriors and thinkers. Basically he suggests that these four cultural classes rise and fall in cycles.”

“Some of that sounds like Islamic philosophy,” I pointed out. “I mean the part about spirituality and social justice. Capitalism and Communism are flip sides of the same coin. They’re both systems based on the distribution of wealth. Islam instead proposes a society based on human values, where everything begins with submission to Allah and compassion for one’s fellow man. Instead of either allowing people to hoard wealth unchecked, or forcibly taking it away from them, Islam establishes systems, such as such as zakat and the abolition of usury, that prevent the accumulation of too much wealth in the hands of a few. Plus, Islam encourages people to share their wealth fee sabeel-illah.”

This was all knowledge I had acquired from Shaykh Rashid during my time in Qatar. He’d been keen to teach us the Islamic worldview, rather than just halal and haram.

Badger pointed at me and clucked his tongue. “You’ve been reading Sayyid Qutb. That part about human values is straight out of Milestones on the Path.”

Milestones on the Path, by Sayyid Qutb

Milestones on the Path

He was right. Milestones was one of the books I studied in high school. But it surprised me that Badger recognized it. “I didn’t know you read Islamic books,” I said.

Badger stood from the chair and stretched. “Of course homie. Ain’t nothin’ new under the sun.” He waggled the book back and forth. “Whatever solution these thinkers stumble on, Islam beat ‘em to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Ravi Batra read Milestones too.”

“And what’s your take on it?”

“Oh, Ravi Batra is right. Modern capitalism is unsustainable, and not only for the reasons he described. Technology gonna snatch the means of production away from the bourgeoisie and put it in the hands of the common man. It’s already happening. A child can write code. Anyone can set up an online store, any writer can indie publish. Open source software be better than commercial. And 3D printing gonna do the same for physical goods. It won’t be long before you can download open source digital blueprints for any physical object, then print that object in plastic. Even a open source house. You’ll download digital plans into a CNC machine that will cut the wood as needed. The pieces come out numbered and designed to slot into each other. No tools required. Voila, instant house.”

“That’s incredible.” I didn’t ask Badger if he was sure that such a thing was possible. If he said it, it was almost certainly true.

“Yeah homie. So what happens then? A lot of manufacturers operate on razor-thin margins. People start making their own stuff, these vertically structured corporations topple like dominoes. What other things nations war over?”

I tongued my teeth, thinking. “Energy. Land. Water.”

“Precisely. In twenty years, solar and fuel cell technology gonna be so efficient, oil and coal will be obsolete. That’ll turn the world upside down right there. That leave only land reform, since the means of food production is soil and shovel. If every home owner start plantin’ vegetables and fruits ‘stead of grass, these corporate growers and their patented GMO crap go belly up.”

“What about water?”

Badger nodded. “True dat. Future wars gonna be over water. Thing is,” he went on, “these sweeping trends have to play themselves out. Before capitalism falls we’ll see extreme separation of rich and poor. Think Brazil and China but worse. Riots, chaos, anarchy. I’d say fifty years ‘fore it all crashes down. What do I care, though? Men like you and me thrive in chaos.”

I shook my head and laughed. “You maybe. Not me. I have a wife and child.”

“Yeah, how they doin’?”

“Safaa and I are separated.”

He curled his bottom lip in surprise. “Hmm. That won’t last. Keep doin’ what you do, she’ll come around.”

“Why do you say that?”

“‘Cause you a good man and she a good woman. One in a thousand, both of you.”

“Huh.” I was heartened by Badger’s prediction. He possessed deep insights. His prognostications always came true, a fact that I could not explain but had learned to trust.

“What about you?” I asked. “What are you up to these days?”

Badger shrugged. “Rippin’ and runnin’, like always.”

I knew what that meant. Committing robberies and getting away. I rolled my eyes. “I meant aside from that. Don’t you have anything else going?”

“Just the game, brother. Always the game.”

I looked around. “What’s with the store? Where is everyone?”

“Oh you know, now and then I pay ‘em to shut down and let me browse. I make it worth their while. I can’t be mingling with strangers. The bounty on me is up to a million dollars.”

He shelved the book, approached me and without warning threw a straight right cross, not pulling the punch at all. I parried it easily, and came over the top with a forearm strike that would have smashed him in the nose if he hadn’t blocked it. Badger caught my strike, rolled his elbow over my arm and pulled me into a hug.

“You a sight for a tired heart, brother,” he said, then stepped back.

“You don’t want to pat me down?”

“Naw homey. If I can’t trust you I got nothin’ left.”

Badger’s broken speech annoyed me. He’d grown up speaking the King’s English. He was perfectly capable of grammatically correct syntax. He was playing a part, I knew. Showing people what they expected to see, or maybe allowing people to underestimate him so he could spring the whammy at the right moment. In any case it wasn’t my business to tell him how to talk.

“Your mom’s bodyguard patted me down. In fact your mom made me take a dip in the pool, I’m guessing to make sure I wasn’t wired.”

He grinned. “The higher the bounty go, the more paranoid she get.”

“You could do something else with your life, you know. You could do almost anything.”

He waved this off. “Anyway watchu need? Mom say you need help with a case.”

I told him about the case and everything I’d learned. “Do you know where Angie might have gotten the forty five thousand?” I asked when I was done. “Have you heard of any dealers getting robbed recently?”

“You mean by someone besides me?” He shook his head. “Ain’t no one crazy enough for that.”

“Except you.”

“Fo’ shore. Why you think they call me Badger?”

“Because you’re short and fuzzy headed?”

He laughed. “You know, anybody else talk to me like that I put a bullet in ‘em.”

“Must be nice. Well, I need to find Tarek ASAP. I hear he’s living in one of the drug dens on Jamestown. I don’t know that area.”

“You need a guided tour.” He nodded. “I can do that. Come on.”

Badger stuck his head out the front door of the bookstore and whistled loudly through his teeth. Then he threaded his way through back through the store. I followed him through a yellow wooden door into a small stockroom, and from there through a rear exit that consisted of a thick wooden door with a vertical deadbolt and a heavy duty metal screen door.

Yellow Corvette convertible

“Jelly sat behind the wheel of a yellow Corvette convertible.”

In the parking lot behind the store, the women were already waiting. The Latina – Jelly – sat behind the wheel of a yellow Corvette convertible, parked back-in against a low brick wall. Pinky stood beside the passenger door, her hand tucked beneath her sweatshirt, no doubt gripping her gun. She flashed a hand sign to Badger, which I assumed was the all-clear.

It wasn’t unusual for Badger to take on helpers. I wondered what had happened to the curly-headed Mexican youth he’d been working with last time I saw him. Badger’s partners were not jumped in or beholden to him in any way. They were equals, free to depart. Maybe the boy had gone back to school, or moved away. Or maybe he was rotting in an early grave. I didn’t ask because I didn’t want to know.

A young white guy with acne and black hair tied in a ponytail stood in the parking lot, smoking an electronic cigarette. The smoker gave Badger a genial nod. “You done?”

“Yeah. Thanks, man.”

“Anytime, Mr. Badger sir.”

I chuckled at that. “How much you pay that kid?” I asked when we were seated in the car, Badger and I in the backseat and the women in the front.

“More than he make in a week.”

“‘Fore we go looking for Tarek,” Badger said casually, “I need your help with a li’l su’m su’m’.”

“What?”

“Little job we got planned.”

My internal alarm bells began to ring as if the entire neighborhood were burning down. There were no “little jobs” where Badger was concerned.

“Hold up,” I objected. “You want me to help you move furniture or wash your car, I’m down. But if you mean what I think you mean, forget it. I’m on the straight and narrow, Badge. I have a family to think about.”

“It ain’t all that. All you got to do is drive. You come ‘round askin’ for my help, well I need yours.”

I rubbed my hand over my cheeks and forehead. This was a bad idea. Everything I was trying to cultivate in life: compassion, patience, sincerity – all these qualities were like trees struggling in a drought, while Badger was a forest fire that would incinerate them in an instant. I shouldn’t have come to him. I could find Tarek on my own. It would just take longer, and wear out a lot more shoe leather, and be more dangerous.

But no. I didn’t have time for that.

“Okay,” I said.

Que bien,” Badger enthused in perfectly accented Spanish. “Good man. Andale, Jelly. Vamonos!”

“Pull around to my car for a sec,” I requested.

My car would probably be safe parked in front of Bookazon for a few hours, but I wasn’t leaving the money and gun. I activated the trap and withdrew the remaining cash. It was just under three thousand. I also took out my gun, which I strapped to my ankle.

I hopped back into the convertible, and ten minutes later we pulled to the curb in a quiet residential district off Kings Canyon. This was a lower-income neighborhood, but the residents took pride in their smaller sized homes and older cars. The homes were well maintained, and the yards neatly mowed and trimmed. At this time of day, with the adults mostly at work and the kids at school, the neighborhood was quiet.

Badger took a pair of binoculars from the seat pocket in front of him and handed them to me. “Green house halfway up the block, other side,” he said.

I peered at the house in question. It looked like any other house in the neighborhood, except that a tall, heavyset bald man in a purple track suit sat in a rocking chair on the front porch. He looked like a Pacific Islander, maybe Samoan or Tongan. He was reading one of those little Archie comic books that are sold on the aisle racks at the grocery store.

Moving the lenses around, I saw that the windows of the house were heavily barred.

“You see the front door?” Badger asked.

I studied it. “Looks like an ordinary wooden door.”

“It ain’t. That’s a veneer. Underneath it’s heavy duty steel.”

“So?” I didn’t need to know how he knew that.

“So what do that tell you?”

“It tells me,” I said flatly, “that it’s a stash house, and whatever you’re up to I don’t want to be involved.”

“Once me and Jelly effect entry,” Badger said as if I had not spoken, “you pull the car directly in front of the house and wait. You know the T-Ball towing yard two miles southeast of here, by 99?”

I nodded.

“Once we all in the car, you head straight for that yard. That’s all you gotta do.”

With that, Badger, Jelly and Pinkie exited the car. Pinkie stripped off her outer garments and tossed them into the front passenger seat, revealing a slender, feminine body in a black mini skirt and semi-transparent black sleeveless blouse. She took off the ball cap and shook out a mane of long, silky black hair. Lastly she shucked the Adidas sneakers and slipped on a pair of black high heels that she took from under the car seat. Thus transformed, she was – well, she was not hard on the eyes, I’ll put it that way.

I averted my gaze. That is what Islam teaches us. And anyway Pinkie – no matter how scantily dressed – could not compete with Safaa in the beauty department.

As Pinkie strolled casually up the sidewalk toward the stash house, Badger and Jelly opened the trunk of the car and began their own transformation. Jelly donned a bulletproof vest and black ski mask that she pulled over her face. Badger was already wearing a vest, and he too added a ski mask. Both of them strapped on utility belts. To the belts they attached holstered 9 mm Glock pistols and green canisters that looked like Thermoses with pockmarks and handles.

“Are those grenades?” I asked, stunned.

“Flash bangs,” Jelly replied. “M84’s.”

“I can’t be a part of this, Badge. You have to do this some other time.” My heart was beginning to thud in my chest. I’d been a part of operations like this many, many times, and I’d paid the price. This was the last place in the world I wanted to be.

“Ain’t no other time,” Badger said. “There’s normally two guards, but one of ‘em make a lunch run every day at this time. You in it to win it, Stick. We movin’.”

Badger and Jelly completed their ensemble by hefting short-barreled Mossberg shotguns. They looked like commandos about to take on the army of a small European nation. Last of all, Jelly slung a large black messenger bag over one shoulder.

“I suggest you take off that Fedora,” Badger said, “and put on Pinkie’s ball cap. You stand out like like Omar Sharif at a KKK rally.” With a last nod to me, Badger said, “Eyes open, Stick.” He and Jelly ducked low and scurried up against the houses on the same side of the street as the stash house. Keeping low, they hugged the walls of the houses and slipped forward, darting across open spaces and using trees and shrubbery as cover.

Cursing under my breath, I scurried into the front seat. The engine was still running, never having been shut off. Peering through the binoculars, I saw Pinkie stroll right up the short flight of steps to the stash house’s porch, swaying her slim hips, her long black hair stirring in the late winter breeze. She began to flirt with the big Samoan in the rocking chair. She smiled, flipped her hair, and touched his arm lightly. After a few minutes the Samoan stood and knocked on the front door. Someone inside must have said something, because the Samoan called out a reply, and the door opened.

By that time, Badger and Jelly were already in position, crouching beside the low wall that edged the steps up to the porch. As soon as the door opened, Jelly stood and fired her shotgun into the Samoan’s belly from less than five feet away. I almost dropped the binoculars in shock. I don’t know why I was surprised. I knew what Badger and his people were like, and I’d certainly seen – and committed – my share of violence in the world.

Binoculars

“I adjusted the binoculars…”

I adjusted the binoculars and saw to my amazement that the big Samoan was not down. His face was twisted with rage as he reached behind his back, presumably for a weapon. Jelly charged up the steps and fired into the Samoan’s chest from almost point blank range. The man folded almost in two and collapsed to the ground. Jelly fired into him once more for good measure.

Meanwhile Pinkie caught the door before it could close, pulled it all the way open and propped it open with the chair the Samoan had been sitting on.

By this time Badger was up the steps as well. He and Jelly hugged the wall on each side of the door. They both removed flash-bang grenades from their utility belts, pulled the pins and threw them into the house. A second later there was a tremendous crack of noise and a burst of light through the window and open door that made me wince even in broad daylight.

This entire operation, from the first shot fired to the tossing of the flash bangs, had taken no more than seven or eight seconds. It was obvious they had practiced this maneuver many times.

Badger was first in. He charged in crouched low, firing his shotgun as he went, and Jelly followed immediately, pausing only to unclip her roll of duct tape and toss it to Pinkie. The slender Asian girl rolled the Samoan over and duct taped his hands behind his back, then his ankles and finally his mouth. What was the point of that if the man was dead? Lastly she took a huge pearl-handled handgun from his waistband, and followed the others into the house.

I scurried around to the front seat of the car and pulled up in front of the stash house. Gunfire had erupted inside the house, along with shouts of anger and screams of pain. I reached down to my ankle and drew my gun. The gunfire inside the house intensified, and what sounded like a fully automatic machine gun roared into life. It was hair-raisingly loud, shattering the stillness of this neighborhood like a bomb. My heart raced and my hands jittered.

The gunfire went on. I heard the pop of handguns, the booming of shotguns, and the continued scream of the machine gun. The windows of the house shattered. Chunks of wood flew from the walls as bullets tore through. A bullet struck the car with a loud pang, and I ducked low in the seat.

Gradually the gunfire diminished until it was just the occasional shotgun blast, punctuated by ripping volleys from the machine gun. Someone screamed something that I couldn’t make out.

This wasn’t right. They should have come out by now. The continued gunfire was a bad sign. There was no doubt that some of the residents would have called 911 by now. Multiple police cars were probably already racing this way. If I remained here, I’d be nabbed as an accomplice to whatever had happened inside the house. I could very well spend half my life in prison.

On the other hand, I could not abandon Badger. He was a bad man, I was under no illusions about that. One might even call him evil. But he was my friend. I could not leave him here.

I put my hands on my head and squeezed. La ilaha il-Allah, I said to myself. La ilaha il-Allah.

I am a man of action. I don’t always make the right choice. Sometimes I make dismayingly bad choices. But I don’t sit still and wait for the world to decide for me. Right or wrong, I act.

I opened the car door, stepped out and ran toward the stash house.

***

Next Tuesday: Zaid Karim Private Investigator, Part 9: Stash House

Reader comments and constructive criticism are important to me, so please comment!

Exploring the links between religion and violence | Letters

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 March, 2017 - 18:45

The problem remains with all religions that literal interpretations of sacred texts, favoured by fundamentalists, leave vulnerable people open to exploitation by those whose purpose is evil (Well-trodden path from criminality to extremism, 25 March). Clearly, mainstream Muslim leaders must challenge such aberrations. But seeing the pictures of the young Khalid Masood at school, Keir Starmer’s words “if you want a really effective criminal justice strategy, you don’t build bigger prisons, you invest money in young kids” (Interview, 25 March) ring out most effective.
David Murray
Wallington, Surrey

• Though now a lapsed, recovering, Catholic, from 1947 to 1965 I was fully versed daily by priests, monks and nuns in Christian lore and practice. Contrary to your editorial (27 March), we were commanded to “turn the other cheek” and to pray for, not to slaughter or even harass, non-believers. Medieval Christians did mercilessly torture and murder selected heretics in order to steal their assets; but that was politics as usual, not religion.
Noel Hodson
Oxford

Continue reading...

The Astroturf “Muslim Reform Movement”

Loon Watch - 27 March, 2017 - 18:01

By Jonas Spooner & Jono Stubbins

It is difficult to get a man to understand something when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.

-Upton Sinclair

In this present climate of engineered anti-Muslim hysteria and it’s resulting anti-Muslim prejudice and discrimination there exists one career path that has exploded with opportunity for Muslims; that of the “Muslim Reformer”.  However, the ‘Muslim Reform’ kingmakers are not equal-opportunity anointers. Muslim candidates will be heavily-vetted but well rewarded. They must be prepared to sanction the discrimination and the persecution of their Muslim brethren “as a Muslim”. They must be prepared to turn a blind-eye and a silent tongue to the excesses of the Israeli regime. They must be prepared to serve as the exotically named and non-white tools of a manufactured echo-chamber – a propaganda machine actively working against the interests of Muslims.

To understand the value of the ‘Muslim Reformer’ it’s helpful to first understand Gray Propaganda. The Encyclopedia of American Foreign Policy states:

The objective of gray propaganda is to advance viewpoints that are in the interest of the originator but that would be more acceptable to target audiences than official statements. The reasoning is that avowedly propagandistic materials from a foreign government or identified propaganda agency might convince few, but the same ideas presented by seemingly neutral outlets would be more persuasive.

Enter the “seemingly neutral” Muslim Reform Movement (MRM). It’s January, 2017,  nativist euphoria is peaking as the demagogue Trump is sworn in as President. This backdrop provides a golden opportunity for the MRM. In league with the Tea-Party backed Republican Kyle Biedermann (who has a penchant for re-creating “gay Hitler”) and Nonie Darwish from the SPLC-listed, AIPAC funded, anti-Muslim hate group the Center for Security Policy (CSP) they sent out a loyalty-oath to Islamic Organisations and Muslim leaders within Texas. The oath is slammed by the American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and an affront to the U.S. Constitution.

It is to be Nonie Darwish’s third attempt. Acting as Pamela Geller’s surrogate Darwish had tried the same stunt in 2009 and 2012. The agenda of the founder and President of Arabs For Israel is crystal clear and it certainly isn’t ‘reform’. Darwish considers Islam a “poison” that must be “annihilated”.  To understand why the ostensibly secular-Muslim and progressive Muslim Reform Movement would enter into alliances with anti-Muslim extremists and the Tea-Party’s gay Hitler we must peel back the layers of the organisation itself.

LAYER 1 – The Muslim Reform Movement

Founded in December 2015 the Muslim Reform Movement doesn’t appear to exist much further than on paper. It serves as a credibility vehicle which enables its members to label themselves as “Muslim Reformers” without the inconvenience of ever having to actually reform anything.

Founding member, Zuhdi Jasser candidly observed in 2016 that the Muslim Reform Movement’s greatest achievement to date was their own declaration. This declaration is claimed to be the backbone of the movement, highlighting the three main principles that MRM declare they stand for. One of these three core principles is “Human Rights: Women’s Rights and Minority Rights” in which MRM declares that they “support the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by United Nations member states in 1948.”

Upon reading the 1948 UN Declaration, it soon becomes alarmingly apparent that the MRM not only struggles to align itself with these universal standards, but blatantly rejects them. Likening their own declaration to that of the world’s highest governing body is a great idea in theory, however when analysed, this comparison appears extremely hollow and rather deceiving:

1948 UN UNIVERSAL DECLARATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS

Article 5 “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Now it is worth noting that one of Donald Trump’s major Presidential campaign promises was of course in direct contradiction to this, when he pledged to ‘broaden’ the laws on torture, allowing it to be brought back. High profile members of the MRM such as Nomani have publicly stated that they voted for Trump. In Nomani’s article justifying her vote, she makes no mention of the policy of torture. Maybe it slipped her mind?

Article 12 – “No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks”. In another rejection of this right and therefore the MRM declaration, see Asra Nomani’s support for heightened police surveillance of Muslims here, Zuhdi Jasser’s here, and Raheel Raza’s here.

Article 14 (1) “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”. This is perhaps the most openly and vehemently rejected of these rights by those within the MRM. Once again, in stark contrast to their own declaration, MRM members have publicly supported and whitewashed Trump’s ‘Muslim Ban’. In doing so, the MRM not only shows a distinct lack of empathy for those requiring it the most, but also denies them one of their most basic human rights.

Jasser, Nomani and their acolytes at the MRM will tell you that they have their own good reasons for their support of the above policies. However, while that may or may not be true, they would be wise not to pretend that the MRM is founded in Human Rights, whilst simultaneously opposing them. Some might say it makes them look foolish, while others might not be as kind when discovering this ‘public interest’ group’s ‘greatest achievement’, is based on a lie.

The Muslim Reform Movement’s Members

Zuhdi Jasser:  President of the American Islamic Forum for Democracy (AIFD), an organisation heavily financed by pro-Israel and anti-Islam vested interests.  A member of the Christian-Supremacist Council for National Policy. A member of the anti-Islam Gatestone Institute’s International Advisory Council. He sits on the Advisory Board at Clarion for whom he narrated Obsession; a film widely denounced by Jewish leaders for its Islamophobic propaganda and which was cited in the terrorist Anders Breivik’s Manifesto. Consistent Republican Donor.

Asra Nomani: One of the leading “as a Muslim” validators. Has over the years expressed solidarity with the Pamela Geller/Robert Spencer led anti-Muslim protests,  advocated the racial-profiling of Muslims, defended and subsequently participated in Peter King’s McCartyite Muslim Hearings, enthusiastically welcomed the spying-on of innocent Muslims and infamously voted for Trump.

In the week succeeding the January 2017 Quebec mosque shooting, which saw six people shot dead and 19 injured, Nomani tweeted incessantly, sending out over 80 tweets to her 34,000 Twitter followers. Astoundingly however, not one of these tweets even mentions the shooting, the perpetrators and/or expressed any sympathy or solidarity with the victims.

Raheel Raza: Sits on Advisory Board at Clarion. Writes at Gatestone. Director at Tarek Fatah’s Muslim Canadian Congress and President of ‘Muslims Facing Tomorrow’ (MFT).

MFT’s Vice-President is Salim Mansur. He is an academic consultant at Frank Gaffney’s CSP. A Senior Fellow at the Canadian Coalition for Democracies and a board member at the Center for Islamic Pluralism (all pro-Israel). CIP is funded by Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum and it’s Executive Director is the Neocon Stefan Schwartz who also sits on the Advisory Board at Raza’s Muslims Facing Tomorrow.

Hasan Mahmud: General Secretary at Raza’s ‘Muslims Facing Tomorrow.  President of the Muslim Canadian Congress which was founded by Tarek Fatah. Fatah is a Fellow at Daniel Pipes’ Middle East Forum and gleefully shares stages with the leader of the Jewish Defence League (JDL) of Canada, Meir Weinstein; who speaks of his “good rapport” with Fatah.

Tahir Aslam Gora: His pro-Israel blog is carried by the Jewish Defence League. He appeases them with wildly anti-muslim claims, such as that “bin Laden (is) a hero in most Islamic countries”.

Tawfik Hamid: A registered speaker at Aish’s Hasbara Fellowship. A self-described ‘Muslim Zionist’. Wrote “Why I Love Israel”.

Usama Hassan: A member of the UK based Quilliam Foundation who are heavily funded by Conservative and Zionist donors and whose Chairman Maajid Nawaz is listed by the SLPC as an “anti Muslim extremist”.

Naser Khader: Senior Fellow at the far right, pro Israel Hudson institute, whose donors include occupation advocate and billionaire Seth Klarman. The Hudson Institute has no qualms in funding extremist Israeli Settler Organisations.

Farahnaz Ispahani: The apparent exception to the rule. Doesn’t follow same pattern as her co-’reformers’. However, her husband and former Pakistani Ambassador Husain Haqqani hosts Israel Lobby fundraisers and has worked for Daniel Pipes.

Courtney Lonergan: Described by Robert Spencer as Jasser’s ‘Assistant’. Director with Jasser at the Arizona Interfaith Movement. Works at Jasser’s AIFD. Wherever you find Jasser, Lonergan is not far away.

Arif Humayun: Another one of Zuhdi Jasser’s minions.  Director at Jasser’s American Islamic Forum for Democracy. Makes up the numbers.

LAYER 2 – The Clarion Project

The Clarion Project (formerly Fund) is a non-profit organisation created in November 2006 by Rabbi Raphael Shore of Aish HaTorah. Clarion has been described by the SPLC as an “anti-Muslim group” that “promotes conspiracy theories” and by Jewish Voice For Peace as an “anti-Muslim hate group”. The Council on American Islamic Relations has labelled The Clarion Project as being “part of the inner core of the U.S. Islamophobia network” and Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative observed that “among the members of Clarion’s advisory board are Frank Gaffney, Zuhdi Jasser, and Daniel Pipes, well-known commentators who consistently advance misleading or unfounded notions about Islam.”.

Clarion earned its infamous reputation due to their highly inflammatory style, coupled with an anti-muslim bias which underlines the very nature of their work. In 2015 for example, Clarion released an article from ‘research’ which showed that over 8 million people in the Arab world “support” ISIS, and alarmingly, as many as 42 million hold “somewhat positive” views towards them. This article was penned by Muslim Reform Movement Founder(??), and Clarion Editor, Meira Svirksy. In typical Svirsky style, the article, “ISIS Has at Least 42 Million Supporters in the Arab World”, was loaded with alarmist discourse and fear-inducing rhetoric, both of which complemented its highly questionable research. The Bridge Initiative released its own detailed critique of this study, concluding that it was “premised on conflations, inconsistencies, extrapolations, and misrepresentations”.

‘Inconsistencies’ and ‘misrepresentations’ seem to be a common theme arising throughout the work of the Clarion Project. A report from the independent watchdog, Right Web, on Clarion has observed the following:

Among its many questionable claims, the site asserts that “there are 35 Radical Islamic communities spread across the United States” and that the U.S. legal and financial systems have been infiltrated by “Stealth Jihad.”

Many of Clarion’s “fact sheets” have to do with Iran. One such report, titled, “The Iranian Nuclear Program,” reiterates the claim that “evidence abounds” that the Iranian government “long term desire is to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Echoing arguments pushed by neoconservative-aligned groups in Europe, such as the Henry Jackson Society, Clarion has a dedicated page titled “Eurabia” that has characterized Muslim immigration as a global problem irrespective of religious or political ideology.

Aside from fear mongering, error-prone analysis and pseudo reform movements, Clarion has also heavily invested their pro Israel donations into the creation and distribution of anti-Islam propaganda films, most notably it’s first being 2007’s  Obsession.This achieved little more than igniting irrational fears, fanning the flames of islamophobia and smearing Barack Obama, in what critics argued was an attempt to pave the way for John McCain in the 2008 Presidential Election. Following the release of Obsession, Clarion have released 2008’s ‘The Third Jihad’, 2010’s ‘Iranium’ and 2013’s ‘Honor Diaries’.  

Earlier this year, Asra Nomani tweeted: “On all things, we must demystify the propaganda & follow the money”. In a rare moment of clarity, Nomani hits the nail on the head and makes a good argument for further investigation of the Clarion Project. Analysis of who is funding the organisation can provide vital insight into why they produce disingenuous films and misleading studies like the ones mentioned above.

In 2014, Clarion received $238,000 from the Jewish Communal Fund (JFC). The JFC is the America’s biggest Jewish donor advised fund, an organisation enabling the mega rich to donate whilst remaining anonymous. The JFC has propped up multiple anti-muslim organisations in the past such as Pamela Geller’s American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI), provided funding for hardline Zionists such as Aish International (see below), and even financed illegal settlement construction in the Occupied Palestinian Territories via The Jerusalem Foundation. Also in 2014, Clarion received $50,000 from the pro settlement, Irving I Moskowitz Foundation. Moskowitz used this foundation to channel his wealth into building projects of settler movements that work to create a Jewish majority in Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem. Other Clarion Donors have included: The Benjamin Netanyahu-funding billionaire Sheldon Adelson, the conservative christian run Giigle Foundation, fellow anti-muslim financiers The Randolph Foundation and The Snider Foundation, as well as the ‘Sugar Mama of Anti Muslim Hate’, Nina Rosenwald’s affiliate, The William Rosenwald Family Fund.

LAYER 3 – Aish Hatorah (Fire of Torah)

Aish are a Jewish ultra-orthodox outreach (kiruv) movement which attempts to convert secular/atheist Jews to the ultra-conservative Haredi sect. They’ve been described by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic as “Jewish extremists” and “just about the most fundamentalist movement in Judaism today”. Goldberg recalls a conversation he had with Aish representative Ronn Torossian:

“I think we should kill a hundred Arabs or a thousand Arabs for every one Jew they kill…If someone from a town blows himself up and kills Jews, we should wipe out the town he’s from, kill them all.”

Desperate to fight the ‘threat” of assimilation the late Rabbi Noah Weinberg founded Aish in 1974 in a Jerusalem apartment. Its humble beginnings now a world away from the current Aish behemoth which now spans five Continents and is patronised by celebrities and billionaires.

Today they continue the fight against the “problems” intermarriage and assimilation began by their founder Weinstein – Its mission is to “turn the tide of assimilation”. They segregate by gender. Advocate a nuclear “first strike” on Iran. Its Rabbis demand of Jews eventual “ full and complete observance of the entire Torah”. Further, Aish Rabbis preach that families should disown their apostate family members and only halacha sanctioned divorces are “proper” divorces.

However, Rabbi Weinstein had a cause beyond his war on Jewish assimilation and intermarriage; the state of Israel. He personally provided the seed money to establish The Sderot Media Center. Aish’s site explains “Rabbi Weinberg believed passionately in the idea of Israel activism”.  Weinberg’s Zionist tribalism had an appeal beyond the ultra-Orthodox. He recruited non-religious Jews to his cause. The Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) was established to “foster support and appreciation for Zionism” and Aish are a member.  Weinberg’s quote below could be seen as the core motive for the Clarion Project’s incessant dehumanising anti-Muslim propaganda.

“If there is a threat to the Jewish nation, or to the Western world, it cannot be ignored. We must meet the challenges facing us head on and do whatever we can to remedy the situation.”

Both Clarion and Aish deny their involvement with the other but the overlaps are manifold, too many to list. ‘Jerusalem U’, likewise founded by Rabbi Raphael (Robert) Shore also denied their links to Aish. However, the links were proven by former Orthodox Jew Shmarya Rosenberg who describes Jerusalem U as “an Aish Hatorah missionary front meant to prey on unsuspecting non-Orthodox Jews”.

The same Raphael Shore is a former Aish employee and the founder and CEO of Clarion. He has produced all of the Clarion anti-Muslim films. His brother Ephraim heads Aish from it’s headquarters in occupied East Jerusalem. All four of its Directors have ties to Aish Hatorah, while Aish and Clarion once even shared an address.  The many links continue up the present. Clarions forthcoming (secretly funded) propaganda film ‘ Kids: Inside The Terror Factory’ is being made by Wayne Kopping of ‘Jerusalem U” and Shoshana Palatnik, daughter of Aish’s Lori Palatnik.

Aish connections are littered throughout Clarion and, as a result, the Muslim Reform Movement. Previously mentioned Clarion Editor, Meira Svirsky, claimed ownership of the Muslim Reform Movement on behalf of Clarion. Svirsky is part of the faculty at Aish Hatorah and is married to an Aish Rabbi. A petition was subsequently initiated on change.org by the “Friends of The Muslim Reform Movement” urging Trump to meet with the MRM. These “friends” are registered as the Clarion Project. The petition was launched on Clarion’s site by the same Meira Svirsky. The seemingly infinite number of links between Clarion and Aish only serve to reinforce an assumption that many observers are already beginning to make: Clarion was formed to act as an ‘independant’, propaganda arm of the Aish International juggernaut.  

LAYER 4 – The Israeli Government

Aish have received strong support from the Israeli Government. They were granted the final two sites adjacent to the Western Wall.  From here, they installed their “Second Temple” opposite the wall. In 2001 The Israeli Foreign Ministry partnered with Aish to create ‘The Hasbara Fellowship”.

The Hasbara Fellowship had a document leaked earlier this year, part of their propaganda booklet that instructed students of what terminology to use when discussing Israel-Palestine. These instructions include:

Instead of Israeli-Palestinian conflict —> Arab/Israeli conflict

Instead of ‘Settlements’ —-> Neighbourhoods

Instead of ‘Hamas/Hezbollah’ —–> ‘Iranian-backed Hamas’, ‘Iranian-backed Hezbollah’.

MRM and Biedermann: a match made in Heaven?

When the MRM sent out their 2016 founding declaration, it was as expected, largely ignored by those it was aimed at. As Jasser describes below:

We spent significant resources on this outreach over a period of ten months. We reached out through snail mail, e-mail, and telephone to over 3,000 mosques and over 500 known public American Muslims. We received only 40-plus rather dismissive responses from our outreach, and sadly less than ten of them were positive. In fact, one mosque in South Carolina left us a vicious voice mail threatening our staff if we contacted them again.

Unsurprisingly however, this declaration did appeal to the Christian conservative, Texas Republican Representative Kyle Biedermann, and his office reached out to Clarion’s ‘reformers’. The MRM held no issue in collaborating with Biedermann, resulting in the widely discredited ‘loyalty oath’, which among other things, aims to poll muslims on the specifics of exactly what they do and do not believe.

That the MRM and Biedermann’s paths would happen to cross, is down to more than just mere coincidence or political networking. Apart from the obvious embrace of far right ideologies, the two share in common a history of controversies which emanate from, among other things, a broken moral compass. The anti-abortion Biedermann can be seen here dressing as a ‘gay Hitler’ while making a Nazi “sieg heil” salute. Taste it appears, is not his strong suit.  

Furthermore, during a messy divorce/custody battle with his ex wife in a Texas district court, some rather disturbing details emerged. Republican Party-affiliated website TexasGOPVote.com, warned of his chequered past during Biedermann’s campaign run, reporting on and providing court documents that show (among other distressing allegations) a district court “judge called Biedermann a ‘very sick’ man who at one point was ordered to stay 100 yards from his family members and to avoid contacting his daughters by telephone”. The article was titled “Court Documents Say Texas House Candidate Kyle Biedermann Mentally Abused his Children; Was Physically Abusive to Their Mother”, and called for further scrutiny on those “candidates for public office who claim to have conservative values”.  

Should we blame Islam for terrorism? | David Shariatmadari

The Guardian World news: Islam - 27 March, 2017 - 16:18
It’s a question even liberals can find themselves asking after attacks such as the one in Westminster. But the answer can’t be yes – and here’s why

Since the Westminster attacks, many people seem to have been getting stuck on the following question, as they do after most acts of jihadi violence: “Is there something special about Islam? Something that lends itself to terrorism?”

I’m not just talking about the Katie Hopkinses of this world (they have already decided to privilege gut feeling over actually finding out, so this piece isn’t really for them). Or even the Roger Scrutons: on Radio 4’s Start the Week on Monday, he said: “We do need to have a discussion about the Qur’an … how do we deal with those difficult suras [chapters] which are full of these tetchy pronouncements.” It sits at the back of progressives’ minds too, the kind of people who think it’s not good to generalise, and that there are definitely lots of nice Muslims, but still …

Related: Enough of the language and politics of fear. We remain a calm, sane and robust society | Nicci Gerrard

Related: Iran 1979: a time of revolution – in pictures

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Hijab and Sex: Does Islam Respect Free Choice?

Muslim Matters - 27 March, 2017 - 11:17

“Is it then other than Allah’s religion that they seek (to follow), and to Him submits whoever is in the heavens and the earth, willingly or unwillingly, and to Him shall they be returned?” (Surat Ali Imran: 83)

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Everyone from my nation will enter Paradise except those who refuse.” They said, “O Messenger of Allah, who will refuse?” The Prophet said, “Whoever obeys me enters Paradise and whoever disobeys me has refused.” (Bukhari)

***

In this day and age, we hear a lot about the importance of choice, autonomy, and all the other values associated with personal agency that make liberty and freedom so great and wonderful. But what if these concepts when examined more closely were not all that meaningful?

The Challenge of Choice

Islam is often portrayed as a religion that does not acknowledge free choice or sexual autonomy. Critics of Islam claim, for example, that Muslims do not have a choice in terms of how they can dress. Also, Muslims do not have sexual autonomy since Islam has strict constraints on sexual behavior.

How can Muslims respond to these charges? Given the importance with which modern society views these concepts — namely, free choice and autonomy — Muslims need to be able to speak to such concerns.

The temptation that Muslims face is to respond with straight denial, i.e., to insist that Islam does acknowledge and, in fact, champion free choice and sexual autonomy in the sense that these terms are deployed in liberal secular discourse. But this would be in many ways dishonest. We do not find concepts like free choice and autonomy as independent values as such in the way they are meant in the modern context within the corpus of Islamic ethical and legal thought.

A more honest and intellectually compelling response would be to question the coherence of these concepts on their own terms. Undermining these concepts allows Muslims to throw a wrench in the motor that drives the intuitions behind these attacks on Islam.

The Hijab as Choice

First let’s consider the question of dress and free choice. Can Muslim women, for example, freely choose to wear the hijab or are they coerced to do so?

Critics of Islam claim that Muslim women are forced to wear the hijab and therefore it is not a free choice in the slightest. What is problematic to these critics is Muslim women’s lack of agency. They have no choice in certain aspects of their dress.

Against this, many Muslims argue that, as a matter of fact, there is a choice when it comes to hijab. Those women who do wear it are exercising free choice by doing so, and that choice is empowering. Some even go so far as to claim that, in the age of Trump, wearing the hijab is an act of defiant resistance against tyranny, and what could be more free and liberating than that?

So who is right? What we can notice is that both sides take the notion of “free choice” for granted. This is a mistake.

Consider the distinction between the following kinds of choices.

You are at the ice cream parlor and you can choose what flavor ice cream you prefer. That seems like a benign choice. This is a scenario where the concept of choice seems perfectly suited. It is a preferential choice and our intuition is that preferential choices ought to be “free” in the sense that to restrict them is nothing more than an arbitrary exercise of power. The idea is, if someone prefers vanilla, why force them to get chocolate? What reason would there be to coerce a choice in this case other than malice?

Here is a second scenario. You are at a red traffic light and you can choose whether to stop or to pass through the red light. This is a choice that is available to you. But this is not about preference. In contrast to the preferential choice, this is a choice that has to do with obeying the law. And since obedience to the law of the land has moral implications, we can call this a moralistic choice.

Along those same line, imagine you are at home and you have just changed your car’s motor oil. You could illegally dump the old oil down your drain even though that would be illegal and cause considerable environmental damage by contributing to the pollution of the water system. Local environmental authorities would never know if you did it, but you have that choice. Again, this is not a preferential choice. Rather, it is a moralistic one.

The Ambiguity of Choice

Even though these scenarios can be described as involving personal choice, the two kinds of choices are in no way analogous. We do not understand the choices that involve following the law or doing the right thing as “free choices.” There is a moral and ethical obligation to do what is right and what is just. And though we do describe a person as having the ability to “choose” to do what is wrong, unethical, and unjust, clearly that is not the same thing as saying that a person has the “free choice” to completely ignore, forego, or violate the moral code.

It is this ambiguity between preferential choice and moralistic choice that causes a great amount of confusion when discussing Islamic ethics and law. Equivocating between the two kinds of choices allows critics of Islam to attack the religion and characterize it as intolerant and dogmatic. In reality, Islamic law is as “intolerant” and “dogmatic” as all other ethical systems and legal codes which, by definition, require and obligate people to behave in certain ways and refrain from behaving in others despite what they may choose to do otherwise.

We all seem to have an aversion to the idea of constraining and using coercion in the realm of people’s preferential choices. We should also note that, while it is obvious to many that curtailing preferential choice is an illegitimate use of power, it is equally obvious that moralistic choice ought to be subject to restriction. People ought to obey the law, which is to say, people ought to choose to obey the law, people ought to choose to do the right thing, etc., and if they fail to do so, there ought to be some sort of consequence.

The Illusion of Choice

The existence of such consequences for disobedience means that moralistic choices are not truly free choices per se. Yes, in one sense, a person has the choice to obey the law and the requirements of morality. But in another sense, no real choice is available since disobedience will be met with repercussions.

The driver behind the red light certainly can choose to run the light, but that could result in a hefty fine if he is caught. And the person who has changed his motor oil certainly can choose to dump the oil down the drain, but that could result in a fine as well and if others were to find out about this dumper’s selfish behavior, that could result in social opprobrium. So these cannot be meaningfully described as “free choices” at all.

Besides these examples, we all are faced with countless moral choices in our day to day lives. We technically can choose to act against the requirements of morality. We can choose to act out in wrong and detestable ways. But those choices have consequences, sometimes severe, sometimes not, sometimes tangible, sometimes social, sometimes worldly, sometimes otherworldly, etc. Unlike our preferential choices, our moralistic choices are not free. And we all recognize that that is a good and perfectly natural thing.

The same considerations apply wherever Islam is charged with not respecting “free choice.” Yes, technically Muslims have a choice to abide by the religious code, but these are considered moralistic choices, not preferential ones. As such, it is a category mistake to charge Islam with restricting free choice. In the case of hijab or any other aspect of Islamic dress code, it is true that Muslims have a choice, but it is a moralistic one. All else being equal, going against the law has consequences, e.g., the requirement for the violator of the law to repent. Ultimately, when it comes to hijab, both those who argue that Islam does respect free choice as well as those who argue that Islam does not respect free choice are incorrect in that they are making a conceptual error.

Rhetoric that Masks Substance (or Lack Thereof)

Claiming that “Islam violates free choice” is merely rhetorical bluster. Similarly, claiming some other religion or ethical system “upholds free choice” is equally vacuous since, as we have seen, all ethical systems permit free choice in the matters that fall squarely within the preferential domain. Of course, the boundaries between these two domains, viz., the preferential and the moralistic, are subject to debate.

And this is what the conversation about Islamic dress vis-à-vis “conventional” standards of dress really boils down to. What about the way we dress and present ourselves to others should be up to personal preference and what should be determined by larger ethical considerations outside of that and who gets to decide?

This is a deep ethical question that requires delving into a host of metaphysical and quasi-religious considerations. In its rejection of all things metaphysical and religious, liberal secularism does not have the conceptual resources even to begin to wrestle with these issues. But this crippling inadequacy of liberal secularism is masked behind a facade of “free choice.” Appealing to this empty concept allows secularism and its proponents to pretend to have an intellectually and morally compelling perspective on issues such as dress, when in reality, they have only constructed a house of cards.

To complicate matters further, this is not a straightforward question to answer for those who mistakenly believe that, as a matter of principle, all dress should be a matter of personal preference. But how could all dress be solely a matter of personal preference? The existence of dress codes, standards of dress at different social functions and in different cultural contexts, and even indecent exposure laws found in every single nation on earth all belie this silly idea that people in the “free world” exercise full, unfettered choice in their clothing decisions in contrast to those in the Islamic world who must submit to draconian Islamic regulations. In reality, no respectable person in the history of God’s green earth has ever made a truly “free” choice about what clothes to wear in public, “free” in the sense of “without significant outside influence.” All such “choices” are inescapably influenced by social and cultural norms. For Muslims who abide by the Islamic dress code, these choices are influenced by what are held by Muslims to be guidelines set by God. Within those guidelines, Muslims have historically cultivated a great diversity of fashions. But for the wider non-Muslim culture, there are also strict standards and guidelines of dress, but it is not clear from where those standards originated other than the unmoored ebb and flow of mass infatuation and, in recent times, commercial interests.

Islam and Sexual Autonomy

The notion of autonomy is as vacuous as free choice and for much the same reasons. No one believes in an autonomy that permits one to break the law and violate moral principles, whatever those may be. Autonomy is not conceived of as a license to be a vile person. But if people want autonomy within the boundaries set by ethics, then all religions and ethical systems guarantee this sort of autonomy. So again, the notion of autonomy is empty.

Autonomy as a concept rides on what ethical commitments one subscribes to. If an adult believes that having sexual relations with 16- or 17-year-olds (i.e., individuals just under the legal age limit) is morally acceptable, then anyone who hinders that person from having that kind of sex is violating that person’s autonomy as far as that person himself is concerned. But according to those who deem sex with minors immoral, this is not an issue of autonomy because, according to them, sex with minors ought to be criminalized regardless of what any particular individual believes to be his sexual right.

Islamic law restricts and prohibits certain kinds of sexual behavior in this way, and for this, many have branded Islam as blind to people’s right to sexual autonomy. But, again, this is fundamentally confused. If we recognize the hollowness of the notion of autonomy, then it easily can be claimed that Islam fully grants sexual autonomy to all. It is Islam’s definition of sexual autonomy that is really what people have a problem with. Here again, we reach a moral and metaphysical question: What is correct, moral sexual behavior and what is indecent and immoral and who gets to decide that? Secular thought simply does not have the ability to give a compelling story for all the complicated sexual norms the average secular Westerner dutifully abides by in the course of life.

(And no, the notion of consent is not very helpful either, by the way, given that there are plenty of sexual behaviors that are fully consensual but are still considered immoral and illegal within major strands of liberal secular thought, e.g., sex with minors, prostitution, incest, among others. Philosophers and legal scholars, such as Yale Law School professor Jed Rubenfeld, have also problematized the notion of consent and its adequacy in accounting for common contemporary moral intuitions regarding permissible sex. But this is a larger topic beyond the scope of this essay.)

This inability on the part of secularism to justify satisfactorily its sex norms is overlooked because the notion of sexual autonomy is put on a pedestal as the ultimate good we must all strive for. This allows liberal secularism to criticize the sexual mores of Islam (and Christianity and Orthodox Judaism) for the crime of not adequately respecting sexual autonomy in the way that liberal secularism does. All the while, secularism’s deficiencies go unnoticed and unaddressed. It’s all smoke and mirrors.

These deficiencies ought to be brought to light and openly discussed (as I have done in past articles that can be read here and here, on zina and homosexuality respectfully). In the meantime, critics of Islam, especially those invoking empty liberal secular concepts of free choice and autonomy, need to find better arguments to make their case against the religion.

The Guardian view on religion and violence: context is everything | Editorial

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 March, 2017 - 19:33
There are no religions that are entirely pacifist because there are no societies entirely free of conflict. What matters is how the holy books are read

Lord Pearson of Rannoch, the Ukip peer, has complained three times in the House of Lords that he cannot access the website called the Religion of Peace from there, and has been told three times that it is classed by parliament’s internet service as a racist hate site – and, in the opinion of the deputy speaker, that is exactly how it should be classified. It is indeed a site dedicated to the proposition that Islam is a uniquely violent and hateful religion. It is hardly surprising that a former leader of Ukip should draw nourishment from such a poisoned well. But behind the name there lurks a serious question, which goes to the heart of integration: how seriously should we take the warlike scriptures of any religion?

There are no religions whose message is entirely pacifist, any more than there are societies without conflict. Any world religion will contain sacred texts that have seemed to urge its followers on to murder. Christianity, quite as much as Islam, can call on texts that seem to make the slaughter of unbelievers mandatory. So can the enlightenment ideologies, which have to some extent superseded religions in the west. The Marseillaise is a bloodthirsty anthem, and in our own time the horrendous cruelty of colonial and post-colonial wars was often justified in the name of spreading freedom and democracy.

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The 712-page Google doc that proves Muslims do condemn terrorism

The Guardian World news: Islam - 26 March, 2017 - 17:00

When a classmate told 19-year-old Heraa Hashmi that “all terrorists are Muslims” she began to compile a dossier of all instances of Muslims condemning terror attacks

It happened in history class. Heraa Hashmi, a 19-year-old American Muslim student at the University of Colorado, was supposed to be discussing the Crusades with the man sitting next to her. Within a few minutes, however, he was crusading against Islam.

“Not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims,” Hashmi’s classmate told her. What’s more, he complained, not enough Muslims were making a stand against terrorism.

Related: UK Muslim leaders condemn 'cowardly' London attack

Related: Why it's wrong to demand that Muslims condemn Isis

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