Placing the village of Issawiyeh under siege has not stopped local youth from resisting Israel’s occupation.
After the release of the CIA torture report by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA) the world is reeling in shock at the level of brutality revealed in the documents. In fact, the whole report is nothing more than a confession of sadistic procedures that could have been lifted from the diaries of Torquemada, from “rectal feeding” to nude beatings and humiliation — horrors that were well-known but not officially confirmed. But the report remains incomplete. Indeed, some 9000 documents have been withheld.
What new horrors could be discovered with the publication of these records?
Perhaps the most gut-wrenching story to emerge from Bagram has been buried in the German media and remains unknown to much of the world. Published by German author and former politician Juergen Todenhoefer in his latest book, “Thou Shalt Not kill, the account stems from a visit to Kabul. At a local hotel, a former Canadian soldier and private security contractor named Jack told Todenhoefer why he could not longer stand working in Bagram.
“It’s not my thing when Afghans get raped by dogs,” Jack remarked.
Todenhoefer’s son, who was present with him in Kabul and was transcribing Jack’s words, was so startled by the comment he nearly dropped his pad and pen.
The war veteran, who loathed manipulating Western politicians even as he defended tactics of collective punishment, continued his account: Afghan prisoners were tied face down on small chairs, Jack said. Then fighting dogs entered the torture chamber.
“If the prisoners did not say anything useful, each dog got to take a turn on them,” Jack told Todenhoefer. “After procedure like these, they confessed everything. They would have even said that they killed Kennedy without even knowing who he was.”
A former member of parliament representing the right-of-center Christian Democratic Union from 1972 to 1990, Todenhoefer transformed into a fervent anti-war activist after witnessing the Soviet destruction of Aghanistan during the 1980’s. His journalism has taken him to Iraq and back to Afghanistan, where he has presented accounts of Western military interventions from the perspective of indigenous guerrilla forces. Unsurprisingly, his books have invited enormous controversy for presenting a sharp counterpoint to the war on terror’s narrative. In Germany, Todenhofer is roundly maligned by pro-Israel and US-friendly figures as a “vulgar pacifist” and an apologist for Islamic extremism. But those who have been on the other side of Western guns tend to recognize his journalism as an accurate portrayal of their harsh reality.
Though his account of dogs being used to rape prisoners at Bagram is unconfirmed, the practice is not without precedent. Female political prisoners of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet’s jails have described their torturers using dogs to rape them.
More recently, Lawrence Wright, the author of the acclaimed history of Al Qaeda, “The Looming Tower,” told National Public Radio’s Terry Gross, “One of my FBI sources said that he had talked to an Egyptian intelligence officer who said that they used the dogs to rape the prisoners. And it would be hard to tell you how humiliating it would be to any person, but especially in Islamic culture where dogs are such a lowly form of life. It’s, you know, that imprint will never leave anybody’s mind.”
I spoke to an Afghan named Mohammad who worked as an interpreter in Bagram and insisted on anonymity for fear of reprisals. He told me Todenhoefer’s account of dogs being used to rape prisoners in the jail was “absolutely realistic.”
Mohammad worked primarily with US forces in Bagram, taking the job out of financial desperation. He soon learned what a mistake he had made. “When I translated for them, I often knew that the detainee was anything but a terrorist,” he recalled. “Most of them were poor farmers or average guys.”
However, Mohammad was compelled to keep silent while his fellow countrymen were brutally tortured before his eyes. “I often felt like a traitor, but I needed the money,” he told me. “I was forced to feed my family. Many Afghan interpreters are in the very same situation.”
A “traitor” is also what the Taliban think about guys like Mohammad. It is well-known that they make short-shrift of interpreters they catch. Mohammad has since left Afghanistan for security reasons and is reluctant to offer explicit details of the interrogations sessions he participated in. However, he insisted that Todenhoefer’s account accurately captured the horrors that unfolded behind the walls of Bagram.
“Guantanamo is a paradise if you compare it with Bagram,” Muhammad said.
Waheed Mozhdah, a well-known political analyst and author based in Kabul, echoed Muhammad’s account. “Bagram is worse than Guantanamo,” Mozdah told me, “and all the crimes, even the most cruel ones like the dog story, are well known here but most people prefer to not talk about it.”
Hometown for soldiers, hellhole for inmates
It is hard to imagine what more hideous acts of torment remain submerged in the chronicles of America’s international gulag archipelago. Atrocities alleged to a German journalist by a former detainee at the US military’s Bagram Airbase in Kabul, Afghanistan, suggest that the worst horrors may be too much for the public to stomach.
Bagram Airbase is the largest base the US constructed in Afghanistan and also one of the main theaters of its torture regime. You have to drive about one and a half hour from Kabul to reach the prison where hundreds of supposedly high-value detainees were held. The foundations of the base are much older, laid by the Soviets in the 1950s, when the last king of Afghanistan, Mohammad Zahir, maintained friendly connections with Moscow. Later, during the Soviet occupation, Bagram as the main control center for the Red Army.
Known as the “second Guantanamo,” even though conditions at Bagram are inarguably worse, you will find the dark dungeons, which were mentioned in the latest CIA report, next to American fast food restaurants. During the US occupation, the military complex in Bagram became like a small town for soldiers, spooks and contractors. In this hermetically sealed hellhole, the wanton abuse of human rights existed comfortably alongside the “American Way of Life.”
One of the persons sucked into the parallel world of Bagram was Raymond Azar, a manager of a construction company. Azar, a citizen of Lebanon, was on his way to the US military base near the Afghan Presidential Palace known as Camp Eggers when 10 armed FBI agents suddenly surrounded him. The agents handcuffed him, tied him up and shoved him into an SUV. Some hours later Azar found himself in the bowels of Bagram.
According to Azar’s testimony, he was forced to sit for seven hours while his hands and feet were tied to a chair. He spent the whole night in a cold metal container. His tormentors denied him food for 30 hours. Azar also claimed that the military officers showed him photos of his wife and four children, warning him that unless he cooperated he would never see his family again. Today we know that officers and agents have threatened prisoners with their relatives’ the rape or murder.
Azar had nothing to do with Al Qaida or the Taliban. In fact, he caught in the middle of a classic web of corruption. The businessman’s company had signed phony contracts with the Pentagon for reconstruction work in Afghanistan. Later, Azar was accused of having attempted to bribe the U.S. Army contact to secure the military contracts for his company. This was not the sort of crime for which a suspect is normally sent to a military prison. To date, no one has explained why the businessman was absconded to Bagram.
Most prisoners from Bagram are not rich business men or foreign workers from abroad, but average Afghan men who had a simple life before they had been kidnapped. One of these men was Dilawar Yaqubi, a taxi driver and farmer from Khost, Eastern Afghanistan. After five days of brutal torture in Bagram, Yaqubi was declared as dead on December 10th 2002. His legs had been “pulpified” by his interrogators, who maintained that they were simply acting according to guidelines handed down to them by the Pentagon and approved by Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld. The case of the Afghan taxi driver’s killing was highlighted in the Oscar-winning documentary “Taxi to the Dark Side.” The film established that Yaqubi had simply been at the the wrong place at the wrong time. His family, his daughter and his wife, are waiting for justice.
(Watch the full version of Taxi To The Dark Side here).
A US-backed government of rapists, warlords and torturers
Allegations that Ein al-Hilwe camp is sheltering Lebanese Islamist extremists are baseless, say Palestinians.
Anger in Pakistan at the massacre of 141 people in a school in Peshawar hit Islamabad’s infamous Red Mosque on Thursday as protesters condemned its hardline clerics over their failure to fully condemn the killings.
By the standards of civil protests in Islamabad the turnout of nearly 200 was sizeable. But it was the location, which one protester said symbolised “the Taliban mindset”, that was remarkable.Continue reading...
The rise of Muslim intellectual achievement that began in the mid-eighth century was partially a by-product of a massive translation effort undertaken by the enormous Muslim empire. Ancient Greek, Latin, Persian, and Indian works were translated into Arabic, primarily at Bayt al- Ḥikmah in Baghdad. While much of the translation was in the field of empirical sciences, some of it had to do with ancient Greek philosophical ideas. The works of Socrates, Aristotle, and Plato were translated. The result of this was the development of a school of theology based on reason and rational thought, known as the Mu‘tazila.Origins of Mu‘tazilism
Mu‘tazilism was a very broad and dynamic theological movement, and it’s thus difficult to pinpoint exactly where and how it began. What is clear, however, was the impact of ancient Greek philosophical reasoning on the movement. A prime contention of the Mu‘tazila was that rationalism can be used to understand not just the physical world, but also the nature of God and creation.
The Mu‘tazila adapted Greek philosophical reasoning and attempted to understand it in an Islamic context. To them, the Qur’an and Sunnah were not necessarily the only sources of truth. Like the Greeks, they elevated the role of reason in understanding the world to be equal to, or in some cases, higher than revelation. Using rationalism and reason (dubbed kalam), the Mu‘tazila came to conclusions regarding God that most other scholars considered to be outside of mainstream Muslim belief.
Mu‘tazili belief was summarized by its adherents into five principles:
- Unity: The basic concept that the Mu‘tazila organized themselves around was Tawhid, the Oneness of God. While this is a concept that all Muslims accept, the Mu‘tazila took it a step further than most in insisting that the attributes of God (as exemplified by his names in the Qur’an, such as al-Raḥman, the Source of Mercy) should not be considered part of God himself. Based on their reasoning, they believed that God’s essence should not be associated with His names and attributes, for fear of falling into a form of polytheism as Christians had through their concept of the Trinity.
- Justice: Like the ancient Greeks, the Mu‘tazila believed in absolute free will. In their view, God does not predetermine the lives of humans, but rather that they make decisions entirely independently of what God wills. As a result, they believed that humans are bound to a fate on the Day of Judgment that is entirely determined by Divine justice (‘adl). The Mu‘tazila rationalized that any faḍl (mercy) exercised by God was a violation of justice and incompatible with His nature.
- The Promise and the Threat: A by-product of the third point, the Mu‘tazila believed in al-wa‘d wa al-wa‘id, a belief that God is bound by an obligation to exercise absolute justice.
- The Intermediate Position: The Mu ‘tazila believed that any Muslim who died after committing a grave sin but before repenting for it, was to be considered neither a believer nor a disbeliever in God. They claimed that such a person was in an “intermediate position” that would be judged separately by God.
- Commanding Good and Forbidding Evil: This is a primary belief in Islam, taken directly from the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muḥammad ﷺ. In their interpretation of it, however, force may be used to command what they saw as good and forbid evil, a concept that directly led to the Miḥna.
The Mu‘tazila gained ascendancy in the ‘Abbasid caliphal government during the reign of Caliph al-Ma’mun (r. 813-833). The founder of Bayt al-Ḥikmah accepted Mu‘tazili beliefs as truth and used his position as the most powerful man in the Muslim world to enforce them. In an inquisition known as the Miḥna (Arabic for “the test”), al-Ma’mun (and his successors al-Mu‘tasim and al-Wathiq) imprisoned, tortured, and killed scholars of Islamic theology that did not follow the official governmental positions regarding Mu‘tazili belief, especially the idea that the Qur’an is not the uncreated, eternal Word of God.
While scholars many accepted the government’s official dogma, or at least remained silent on it, Imam Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal refused and was famously tortured during the reigns of al-Ma’mun and his successors for it. Due to his insistence on the uncreatedness of the Qur’an and the supremacy of traditional Islamic belief over Greek rationalism,
The Miḥna was wildly unpopular with the general population. Riots in the streets of Baghdad threatened ‘Abbasid rule, and in 848, Caliph al-Mutawakkil ended the Miḥna and released Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal from prison. But the Miḥna had already done its damage to the Mu‘tazili cause. The brutal methods used by those in power to led to the inevitable decline of Mu‘tazilism.Theological Alternatives
The unpopularity of Mu‘tazili thought among the general population was further compounded by the opposition of more orthodox-minded approaches towards theology. The Mu‘tazila believed, after all, that reason supplants revelation, and many of their resulting theological conclusions directly contradicted orthodox Islamic belief as stated in the Qur’an. Various Muslim scholars thus attempted to refute Mu‘tazili thought and re-emphasize the role of the Qur’an and Sunnah in deriving Islamic belief.
The first approach was that of Aḥmad ibn Ḥanbal, who insisted on the truth of traditional Islamic belief, but was not in favor of proving it using the kalam that Mu‘tazila believed in. This way of understanding theology became known as the Athari approach to ‘aqidah (belief). Proponents of the Athari approach resisted diving into rational explanations of God, free will, or metaphysics. Instead, they relied on a literal understanding of the Qur’an and Sunnah to guide their ‘aqidah. While the Athari approach is firmly within the realm of traditional, mainstream Islam, it did little to turn back the tide of the Mu‘tazila, who fundamentally rejected the Athari approach as being un-intellectual and irrational.
A more direct and effective opposition to Mu‘tazilism came from the Ash‘ari and Maturidi schools of ‘aqidah. These two approaches, founded by Abu al-Ḥasan al-Ash‘ari (d. 936) and Abu Mansur al-Maturidi (d. 944), accepted the use of kalam, but only to defend traditional Islamic belief as stated in the Qur’an. The Ash‘aris and Maturidis refused to use reason to derive new beliefs that contradicted revelation as the Mu‘tazila had, and attempted to use the same reason that the Mu‘tazila championed against them. Al-Ash‘ari and al-Maturidi were contemporaries who independently arrived at similar conclusions regarding reason, and thus founded their two parallel schools. For the most part, these two approaches are identical. They both accept the same orthodox points about ‘aqidah that the Atharis champion, and only differ on minor issues that generally come down to no more than semantics.
Throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries, the scholars of these two schools became masters of philosophy, logic, and rationalism. They managed to find a balance between reason and revelation that the Mu‘tazila could not, and formed a series of arguments based on reason that refuted key Mu‘tazili beliefs such as the createdness of the Qur’an and the inability of God to have mercy on sinners. These scholars argued that God’s attributes not separate from Him, but are simply no more than characteristics that He describes himself by. And that believing so is not a form of polytheism, but orthodox Islamic belief as typified by the Quran and Sunnah. By using reason with the Mu‘tazila considered the highest form of human thought and achievement, they managed to win converts to a more traditional understanding of ‘aqidah.
The greatest scholar of the tradition-based kalam approach was the eleventh century Ash‘ari scholar Abu Ḥamid al-Ghazali (d. 1111). He saw the Muslim world as plagued by numerous unorthodox theologies, such as Ismai‘ili (Sevener) Shi‘ism, propagated by the Fatimid Empire in Egypt, and the remnants of Mu‘tazilism. His works thus rely heavily on kalam to prove traditional Islamic beliefs, while also invoking spirituality to guide the layman towards a life of subservience to God. His most profound work was Tahafut al-Falasifah (The Incoherence of the Philosophers), in which he addressed all the major theological claims of Muslim philosophers and the Mu‘tazila and refuted them using their own methods.
What is remarkable about al-Ghazali’s career is that he did not physically fight his theological opponents, yet effectively vanquished them through his writings. Mu‘tazilism did not entirely die out after al-Ghazali, but its popularity dropped precipitously. Outside of Shi‘ism, which adopted some Mu‘tazili concepts, it is difficult to find much in the way of Mu‘tazili works from the eleventh century onwards.
The bulk of Ahl al-Sunnah wal-Jama‘ah (Sunni Islam) came to accept the Athari, Ash‘ari, and Maturidi approaches to ‘aqidah as legitimate. And while knowledge of kalam and rational discourse meant to prove Islamic orthodoxy is not considered to be mandatory on every Muslim in Sunni Islam, that field of Islamic sciences has been used throughout history to defend orthodoxy. In the past hundred years, opposition to the use of kalam has developed among some Muslims who believe it to be an unlawful innovation and who fail to differentiate it from Mu‘tazilism. Yet throughout Islamic history, the use of kalam to defend Islamic beliefs as relayed in the Qur’an and Sunnah has been almost universally accepted. It was, in fact, the kalam-based traditional approach of the Ash‘aris and Maturidis that helped bring about the fall of the unorthodox Mu‘tazili approach towards theology in the first place.
Al-Ghazali, Abu Hamid, and Richard McCarthy (trans.). Deliverance from Error. Beirut: American University of Beirut, 1980.
Brown, Jonathan. Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy. London: Oneworld, 2014.
Yusuf, Hamza. The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi. Zaytuna Institute, 2007.
Jerusalem court indicts 3 for arson at Jewish-Arab school
Three members of a right-wing religious Jewish group have been charged in Jerusalem District Court of allegedly setting fire to and vandalizing the Max Rayne Hand in Hand bilingual school in Jerusalem last month.
The three young men – activists in the Lehava organization, which fights intermarriage – were charged Monday with arson, breaking and entering, and destroying property at the school, because Jewish and Arab children study there.
They were allegedly acting in keeping with their mission to battle assimilation and coexistence, according to the charge sheet, “after it became known to the accused that there had been a memorial ceremony for [the late Palestinian leader] Yasser Arafat a number of weeks previously, on the background of the terror attacks in the city and with the aim of committing an act that would resonate in the media.”
However, officials at the Hand in Hand school assert that no one could have had any information about such a ceremony, since one was never held at the school or by the members of its greater community.
“Such a claim may have been made during their interrogation, making its way into the charge sheet, but there is no truth to it,” said the school sources.
The sources added that “the fingerprints of the arsonists who defiled the school’s walls with their racist and hateful slogans left no doubt as to the motive for the attack. We insist that this error be rectified immediately lest it serve as a pretext for the next attack.”
The Jerusalem District Attorney’s office has asked that the three suspects – Yitzhak Gabai, 22, of Jerusalem, and brothers Shlomo and Nahman Twito (20 and 18, respectively) of Betar Ilit – be held in custody until the end of legal proceedings.
Stop asking Muslims to condemn terrorism. It’s bigoted and Islamophobic.
There’s a certain ritual that each and every one of the world’s billion-plus Muslims, especially those living in Western countries, is expected to go through immediately following any incident of violence involving a Muslim perpetrator. It’s a ritual that is continuing now with the Sydney hostage crisis, in which a deranged self-styled sheikh named Man Haron Monis took several people hostage in a downtown café.
Here is what Muslims and Muslim organizations are expected to say: “As a Muslim, I condemn this attack and terrorism in any form.”
This expectation we place on Muslims, to be absolutely clear, is Islamophobic and bigoted. The denunciation is a form of apology: an apology for Islam and for Muslims. The implication is that every Muslim is under suspicion of being sympathetic to terrorism unless he or she explicitly says otherwise. The implication is also that any crime committed by a Muslim is the responsibility of all Muslims simply by virtue of their shared religion. This sort of thinking — blaming an entire group for the actions of a few individuals, assuming the worst about a person just because of their identity — is the very definition of bigotry.
It is time for that ritual to end: non-Muslims in all countries, and today especially those in Australia, should finally take on the correct assumption that Muslims hate terrorism just as much as they do, and cease expecting Muslims to prove their innocence just because of their faith.
Bigoted assumptions are the only plausible reason for this ritual to exist, which means that maintaining the ritual is maintaining bigotry. Otherwise, we wouldn’t expect Muslims to condemn Haron Monis — who is clearly a crazy person who has no affiliations with formal religious groups — any more than we would expect Christians to condemn Timothy McVeigh. Similarly, if someone blames all Jews for the act of, say, extremist Israeli settlers in the West Bank, we immediately and correctly reject that position as prejudiced. We understand that such an accusation is hateful and wrong — but not when it is applied to Muslims.
This is, quite literally, a different set of standards that we apply only to Muslims. Hend Amry, who is Libyan-American, brilliantly satirized this expectation with this tweet, highlighting the arbitrary expectations about what Muslims are and are not expected to condemn:
As a Muslim, I condemn acts of sexual assault following time spent as a self-proclaimed spiritual healer specializing in black magic.
— Hend (@LibyaLiberty) December 15, 2014
Israel refuses to give construction permits and gives demolition orders when Palestinians build without them.
This latest act of terrorism by an Islamic militant has to be the last straw for any moderate and civilised Muslim (Three dead in Sydney cafe siege, 16 December). Enough of this madness, this murder and mayhem.
This senseless and inhuman carnage, this slitting of throats, the indiscriminate blowing-up of innocent men, women and children and general blood-letting has set Islam back in the dark ages and has shamed every right-thinking Muslim on the planet. It is we who really pay the price in our daily lives for the havoc they create around the world.Continue reading...
An award-winning young Palestinian photographer reflects on life in the war-torn refugee camp in Syria.
Mutual solidarity has grown since Michael Brown’s slaying on 9 August.
Moves to “recognize Palestine” and co-opt the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement aim to guarantee Israel’s survival as a racist state.
Modern Islam is a potent grammar for capturing and expressing grievance. Lone wolves like Sydney Siege gunman Man Haron Monis must tap into its symbols to sustain their fantasies
The gesture that turned the Sydney siege from a gunman’s crime into an act of terrorism was the unveiling of the Islamic flag across the Lindt cafe’s window.
The human loss was sad enough. Now the siege has become an episode in a global war, announced by white calligraphy on black fabric.Continue reading...
Prime minister says hostage taker was a ‘deeply unstable person’ rather than representative of Islamic community, telling the ABC: ‘we don’t blame the pope for the IRA’
Tony Abbott has refused to link Sydney hostage taker Man Haron Monis with Islam, pointing out: “We don’t blame the pope for the IRA and we don’t blame the Catholics living next door for the folly and madness of some people who may claim Christian motivations.”
The prime minister was repeatedly asked by the ABC AM presenter Chris Uhlmann whether it was necessary to have a more “honest” discussion with Islamic community leaders about the “significant minority” in their community attracted to extremism.Continue reading...
Rightwing parties are on the rise across Europe. Should we worry? Such movements have come and mostly gone for decades. They draw strength from immigrant surges and economic woes. The Pegida rallies – Germany’s “pinstripe Nazis” – now drawing thousands of marchers to German cities, are specifically anti-Muslim. But are they different from similar movements in France, Sweden, the Netherlands or Britain?
Any expression of racial hatred from Germany is bound to be alarming, but every nation has its political fringe. That the rallies are well-dressed and called a “stroll” is neither here nor there. Comments made by participants might be arrestable offences in Britain, but the sentiments are familiar to fringe politics everywhere, and laws and arrests will never curb them.Continue reading...
He may have been unnerving but few expected the erratic Monis to be involved in anything like a marathon siege with a bloody end
• Rolling coverage
• Sydney siege: magistrate gave Man Haron Monis bail saying he did not pose risk to public
• Islamic leaders say Australians have risen above fear in wake of Sydney siege
• #illridewithyou: hashtag offers solidarity with Sydney’s Muslims
• Richard Ackland: We’re entitled to ask why a firmer grip wasn’t applied to Sydney siege gunman Man Haron Monis
Man Haron Monis unnerved many of the people he knew in the 18 years he spent in Australia. But few believed he could be responsible for anything like the marathon siege that ended with two dead hostages early on Tuesday morning.
Indeed the competing identities he claimed – self-styled peace activist, an alleged ayatollah, a firebrand sheikh, a carpet seller, and briefly, a nightclub bouncer – are difficult to reconcile and stretch credulity.Continue reading...
Broader community ‘has come out in solidarity’ with the online show of support for Muslims, despite threats by rightwing groups and isolated verbal attacks
• Following continuing coverage here
• #illridewithyou: hashtag offers solidarity with Sydney’s Muslims
• Catch up with our coverage so far
Australian Islamic representatives have expressed optimism that the Sydney siege will not trigger an escalation of physical and verbal attacks on Muslims, despite sporadic threats made during the unfolding crisis.
Man Haron Monis, long viewed as a fringe figure in Sydney’s Islamic community, held 17 people hostage in the Lindt cafe in Martin Place. Monis, along with two hostages, died in the shootout that ended the siege.Continue reading...