Tuesday, 16 December 2008

Book Review : A Clockwork Orange By Anthony Burges

I have been meaning to read this novel for a long time now.I knew that the book received great criticism when it was originally published in the 1960s.Many audiences found it extremely ultra violent and very scatological.Back in the 1960s when it was released it was a completely different time to where we are now.Our values and our culture is very different and has changes considerably since then.At the time the book was very outrageous because it talked of rape, gang culture,sinister government intervention, and yobs in disguise of the police. People back in the swinging sixties could not comprehend and absorb this book.It was ahead of its time, in talking about theses problems that society faces.Although, many of the problems in the book were present in the swinging sixties, it was very much less apparent and often hidden away from the mass audiences.When sinister stories did appear they received great outrage from the general public, an example, of this is Moor Murderers.People could not imagine that something so vile could happen.

It is quite fitting that I read this book at this time, because in our present cities many of the problems illustrated in the book are present today.Burgess study of violence and human choice is very relevant today as societies morality and ethics continue to be on the decline.Does anyone feel comfortable when they walk down the city centre at night ?I certainly don't and I know many feel the same way.Just look at the gun culture in London.Even, in the United Kingdom so many young lives are wasted each year.Lets look at the Rhys Jones the young school kid who was brutality shot down while walking to his home from football practice aged 11. His murderer was suppose to shoot a member of a rival gang but missed his target and shot Rhys. Who was caught in the line of fire. (Many God grant Rhys Paradise and eternal peace).In the sixties their was gangs, but it was less in the public domain.Now days, it is so easy for children to get guns and follow the wrong path.I think the blame should be on the media to because of the way they make gang culture appear so pleasant and fun.Why study and work so hard to get lots of money, when you can get more money and instant respect from the streets for so little ?

This is a question that is going through the mind of youngsters today.A very recent movie about football hooligans is Green Street.This is a very interesting movie because it shatters the common notion that football hooligans are government dependants dole livers but professionals working in the highest stages of industries.It also, shows how the gang culture offers a kind of security from the membership in gangs this appeals and attracts children.Its like they have joined something that is very special and only they can understand.However, we know the reality is very different.

The book tells a story the early life of Alex, a cocky, intelligent school boy thug and his relationship with his gang and "droogs" Pete, Georgie and Dim.They gang operate on a unknown city after school at night causing mayhem to anyone they choose, be it old women, couples or passersby.The book is very unusual because it is written in Anglo-Russian slang called Nadat.This makes it very difficult to understand by at the same makes it interesting.The more you read the book , the more your imagination runs wild , you can imagine it happening in the streets of Moscow or in the eastern European countries, or in London.Alex and his droogs always start the evening in the Korova Milk Bar, and a spurred on to perform violence after having drug spike milk.They beat up innocent pedestrians passing by and perform vicious fights with a rival gang of school kids called Billyboys.Alex, life takes a turn for the worst when the gang breaks into a writers home called Frank Alexander. The vicious kids ruined Mr Alexanders work called A Clockwork Orange, reduce the writer to nothing by beating him up savagely and disgustingly gang rape his wife.Thereafter, still not satisfied with their nights work the school kids decide to break into an old women's home in a distinguished area of the city.This is where Alex like dramatically changes and the book story develops. Alex who is the leader of his group is betrayed by his brother droogs and arrested by the police. What Alex does not know is that while breaking in to the old women's home, he beats her to hard and because of this she dies.Now Alex who is known to the police as a thug is arrested and sent down for murder and robbery at the mere age of 15.While in prison Alex lives a life a deception by pretending to take up religion to reform him self and reduce his years and learns the sciences of criminality.From sucking up unexpectedly Alex is nominated for the new Ludovico Technique aversion therapy, designed by wacky psychologist.This unusual techniques works and Alex criminal tendices are completely washed away leaving him as a unthinking zombie.The Ludovic treament is a government strategy where young juveniles are given nausea-inducing drugs and forced to watch violent scenes.After this treatment every time he tries or even thinks of committing a wrong he is suddenly engrossed in intense sickness.Alex can no longer listen to his majestic Beethoven, as the music accompanied the violent videos.The story shows that every bad action you undergo to others will come round to haunt you.When Alex is realised he is attacked in numerous ways by his former victims.He tragically meets the author whose wife he raped, understand what has happened to his droogs who betrayed him and what their lives how become.After his experiences of life, he still unexpectedly decides to start a new gang where he is the supreme leader.However, when one night he suddenly realises how dumb and stupid his life is and decides to start a new.Great book, great story yet not so greatly written.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Al Ghazzali's Last Poem

One day the great Imam, Hujjatul Islam, Muhammed Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (peace be upon him) woke up one morning and offered his prayers.Next he asked for his white shroud, kissed it, and stretched himself out full length.Then said "Lord I obey willingly".He then breathed his last.
And underneath his headrest they found the following verses;

Say to my friends when they look upon me, dead
Weeping for me and mourning me in sorrow
Do not believe that this corpse you see is myself
In the name of God, I tell you it is not I
I am a spirit and this is naught but flesh
It was my abode and my garment for a time
I am a treasure, by a talisman kept hid
Fashioned of dust, which served me as a shrine
I am a pearl which has left its shell deserted
I am a bird and this body was my cage
From which I have now flown forth, and it is left as a token
Praise to God who hath set me free
And prepared for me my place in heaven
Untill today I was dead, but alive in your midst
Now I live in truth with the grave clothes discarded
Today I hold converse with the saints above
With no veil between, I see God face to face
I look upon "Loh I Mahfuz"and therein I read
Whatever was, and is, and all that shall be
Let my house fall in ruins, lay my cage in the ground
Cast way the talisman, it is a token not more
Lay aside my cloak it was but my outer garment
Place them all in the grave and let them be forgotten
I have passed on my way and you are left behind
Your place of abode was no dwelling place for me
Think not that death is death, nay, it is life
A life that surpasses all we could dream of here
While in this world were granted sleep
Death is but sleep but prolonged
Be not frightened when death drawn nigh
It is but the departure for this blessed home
Think of the mercy and love your Lord
Give thanks for His grace and come come without fear
What I am now so shall you be
For know that your as I am
The souls of all men come forth from God
The bodies of all are compounded alike
Good and evil it was ours
I give you a message of cheer
May Gods peace and joy for evermore be yours

Muhammed Abu Hamid al Ghazli (1058-1111CE/450-505 AH) was one of the greaters thinkers and mystics of the 12 century.

Thursday, 27 November 2008

Protecting Knowledge

Abu al Hasan Abd al Aziz al Jurjani said :


They say to me that you are withdrawn, but they saw a man more humiliated and withdrawn.
I saw people who belittle any humble soul who drew near to
anyone who was exalted by pride they received with honour.
I gave not knowledge its due,
And every time a craving for the world came to me,
I used my knowledge as a staircase to attain it.
When it was said, “This is a fountain.” I said, “I see”.

I strove not in the service of knowledge,
Nor as a servant of the needy souls I met.
I sought, instead, to be saved.
Am I to be made wretched by the seedling I planted,
Harvesting only humiliation?
If this is so, it would have been better to have sought ignorance!
If only the people of knowledge had protected it,
It would have protected them.

If they had magnified it in their souls,
They would have been magnified.
To the contrary, they belittled it,
And thereby became despicable.
They disfigured its face with their craving for the world, leaving it frowning and dejected.

Demise of Woolworth : Analysis by Robert Peston

By Robert Peston

The manner of Woolworth's demise as a going concern was almost as shocking as the fact of its collapse into administration.
Although Woolworth had been one of the UK's weaker retailers for years - propped up by a decade of benign, debt-fuelled trading conditions which we now know to have been unsustainable - it was done in by a sudden deterioration both in the real economy and in financial markets that took hold four weeks ago.
And it's the suddenness of how everything turned bad that shocks - and means Woolies will not be the last casualty.
Up till then, Woolies sales had been broadly flat. Then, on an underlying or like-for-like basis, sales dropped off a cliff, falling by double-digit amounts in percentage terms.
Around the same time, many of its suppliers found they could no longer insure against the risk that Woolies would no be able to pay its bills. So Woolies was forced to pay suppliers in cash for all that important Christmas stock.
In the process Woolies maxed out its borrowing facility: its debt rose to the £385m limit imposed by its lenders, led by GMAC and Burdale (part of Bank of Ireland).
Perhaps unsurprisingly, GMAC and Burdale - each of which is owed around £70m - yesterday decided enough was enough, and pulled the plug. Other financial creditors include Bank of America, Barclays, GE, Wachovia and KBC, with GE owed the most of this bunch, or £50m.
Now what's significant is that Woolies is far from being the only retailer pummelled by the sharp contraction in Britain's economy and also by a sharp and painful rationing of credit insurance.
Many thousands of British businesses have had their insurance cover withdrawn for supplies to companies perceived by insurers as poor risks - and that's causing havoc on the high street.
Unless something can be done to persuade the big providers of credit insurance to reinstate cover - and that would probably require taxpayers to provide some kind of guarantee - Woolies will not be the last substantial victim.
Also, just because Woolies has been something of a lame duck for years, that does not mean its demise is somehow a self-contained episode, with little consequence for the broader economy.
The inevitable loss of jobs, perhaps 20,000 of them, will cause misery and hardship in itself.
There's a hole in the pension fund of £100m, so the Pension Protection Fund will have to pick up the bill for some of the group's pension liabilities - which drains the resources provided to the official protection scheme by other pension funds.
And then there's the knock-on to companies that supply Woolies stores with more than £1.5bn of goods every year. At a time when the UK economy is shrinking fast, the loss of these orders will be painful for hundreds of businesses.
Also Woolies owns a substantial wholesaler of books, music, games and DVDs, Entertainment UK, whose turnover is well over £1bn. Entertainment UK has also gone into administration, which has raised the alarming prospect for some big supermarkets and high street stores that they won't be able to get hold of vital stock during the all-important Christmas selling period.
The corollary is that publishers and music businesses are anxious they won't be able to get their stock on the supermarkets' shelves.
What's more, as Richard Fletcher points out this morning in the Telegraph (and on Tuesday night he made the correct call that neither Woolies or MFI could avoid administration), Woolies' collapse will probably spark a price war - since the administrators will probably keep the stores open for the next few weeks, and slash prices to shift all the stock.
That would be good news for shoppers, very bad news for weak competitors.
So perhaps we should all weep for poor, lost Woolies. As it happens, I love its eclectic mix of light bulbs, pic'n'mix and gadgets you never knew you wanted. And for many kids, it's a treasure chest.
But even if you wrote it off years ago as an anachronism, you can't be wholly insulated from the indirect damage inflicted by the manner of its end.


Thursday, 20 November 2008

Poem about Bullying

A Poem by my little cousin, God bless her .........

They call me a megabyte
Because they think I am bright
The numbers on the page wave at me with delight
My literature continues to inscribe, my pen never stops; my literature points its pen at me

My cheeks are so very chubby
And my body is round
I get called fatty this makes me put on a big frown
What is the need to go to school?
When you just get shoved and pushed around like a fool
This matter is so frustrating, that my nights are getting freightening

I am always thinking thinking
Till my brain is going to explode
This drains me and makes me feel very low
Suddenly I feel the freeze
My legs are jelly knees

What a way to the day
Cyber, physical and verbal
What do you care?
Just remember if you

By Shakeela Sheikh, Age 11

Wednesday, 19 November 2008

Sir Alan Sugar gives his career advice

How do you go from selling vegetables and car radio aerials to becoming a successful businessman?

I think you have to understand the background and where I lived and where I came from and the environment at the time. People think we're living in tough times now but they don't know what they're talking about. Back in the late '50s, they were really tough times where there were no employment laws. Take my father for example. He worked in a garment factory and literally never knew from one day to the other whether he had work the next day. He was literally told on Friday, 'Don't bother to come in Monday. Phone up on Tuesday to see if there's any work'.
That's how it was. That's the kind of environment that I was brought up in which made me feel, 'I've got to provide for myself'. It wasn't a case of the mums and dads didn't want to do anything. It's a case of, they can't. They're doing their very best, bringing up their children.
Wheeling and dealing came along from an entrepreneurial spirit that I had inside of me. I had a job in the morning going to work in a greengrocer's shop. You turned up at 6.30 in the morning, first thing you did was fill this metal bath up with water, chucked beetroots in, switch the gas ring on and off on to the next job. An hour later they'd been boiled, chuck 'em out on the front, get paid and go to school.

Was your motivation money or getting a better life for yourself?

Being self sufficient and having an understanding that it wasn't mum and dad's fault that one couldn't have things. It was the environment at the time. It was a case of having to fend for oneself. At school I was always making a few quid one way or the other.

Should you get an education or start working your way through a company as soon as you can?

There's nothing wrong in reading books about certain business practice. But I've said many times before, you can't go into boots and buy a bottle of entrepreneur or get a book or CD about how to become an entrepreneur in 48 hours. It's all rubbish. I can't play a piano but I guess, given enough time, someone could teach me to knock out a couple of tunes. Would I ever be a concert pianist? No. And I suppose that's the same kind of analogy. You can't be taught to smell a deal or innovate something. You've either got it or you haven't got it.

When you're employing someone, do you take qualifications into account or do you want people with experience. Or is it a mix of both?

I think the most important thing is the experience the person has amassed in what jobs they've been doing up until now, what they've achieved up until now. These certificates and qualifications, all they tell any employer is that the person's got a brain. It really doesn't matter whether someone comes to me with an MBA, an OBE, a KFC or a YMCA, as far as I'm concerned. They could just as well come to me and show me that they've excelled in metrology.
You can't learn business practices out of a book. The most important thing is what experience you've amassed and people have to decide what they want to do in life. I used to write articles for a national newspaper inviting people to write in. You'd get letters coming in saying, 'Hello. I'm John. I'm 16 and I want to start an airline tomorrow'. That is the naivety. It goes from that to very complex business plans.
There's nothing wrong in having those aspirations and being another Richard Branson (Virgin founder) or Stelios Haji-Ioannou (easyJet founder). But if he wants to do that, the first thing he needs to do is become a baggage handler and then become a check-in clerk at the airport and then maybe a managerial person in the airline and then up and up and up the ladder until he understands what the airline business is about. Or marry a rich sheikh's daughter and ask him to give him £500m.

Do people ask you how to become a millionaire?

I go back to John and his airline again. It's exactly the same thing. Sometimes people ask me how I started my business and I go into the story of telling them how I bought these car aerials for £50 and went and sold then the next day and got £80.
I then sold them for a bit more money, then went out and bought some more stuff. Then I got an automatic packing machine which enabled me to make them a bit quicker. And then my grandfather died and left me £500m. That's how silly it can be. How to you become a millionaire? It's a ridiculous question. It doesn't really warrant answering.

Can you apply the business philosophy to running a football club, like you did with Spurs, as any other business?

No because of the very weird nature of the football industry. It is an industry which is unique in the sense of the amounts of money that fly around in massive transactions that happen sometimes minutes of the sale of players.
Pressure's put to bear upon the owners of the clubs to perform, which make them do irresponsible and silly things because they're frightened of having their heads beaten in by a few yobs. Maybe it's more having their heads beaten in by the back pages of the newspapers.

It's a weird business. If you try and apply normal business principles in a football club, you end up getting criticised. Although that's what I did for 10 years in Spurs and that's why the club is still there, as far as a corporate entity is concerned.
But here's the point. Do the fans care whether it is financially stable? Not really. And why is that? It's because clubs have been allowed to go bust and then start again the next day. To the actual fan that turns up every Saturday, what does all this balance sheet nonsense mean? Nothing.

Monday, 17 November 2008

Understanding the Credit Crunch

If you have difficulty understanding the current world financial situation, the following should help...

Once upon a time a man announced to the villagers that he would buy monkeys for Rs. 10.The villagers seeing there were many monkeys around, went out to the forest and started catching them.
The man bought thousands at Rs. 10, but as the supply started to diminish, the villagers stopped their efforts. The man further announced that he would now buy at Rs. 20. This renewed the efforts of the villagers and they started catching monkeys again.Soon the supply diminished even further and people started going back to their farms. The offer rate increased to Rs. 25 and the supply of monkeys became so little that it was an effort to even see a monkey, let alone catch it!The man now announced that he would buy monkeys at Rs. 50! However, since he had to go to the city on some business, his assistant would now act as buyer, on his behalf.In the absence of the man, the assistant told the villagers: ' Look at all these monkeys in the big cage that the man has collected. I will sell them to you at Rs. 35 and when he returns from the city, you can sell them back to him for Rs. 50. 'The villagers squeezed together their savings and bought all the monkeys.
Then they never saw the man or his assistant again, only monkeys everywhere!

Friday, 14 November 2008

The Palestinian Representative's Speech at the UN

'Before beginning my talk I want to tell you something about Moses. When he struck the rock and it brought forth water, he thought, 'What a good opportunity to have a bath!'
He removed his clothes, put them aside on the rock and entered the water.
When he got out and wanted to dress, his clothes had vanished.
An Israeli had stolen them.'
The Israeli representative jumped up furiously and shouted, 'What are you talking about? The Israelis weren't there then.'
The Palestinian representative smiled and said:
'And now that we have made that clear, I will begin my speech.'

Saturday, 8 November 2008

After The Election President Elect Barack Hussein Obama

After The Election ........

"Yes we can!"
With that rhythmically repeated trope, three of the simplest Anglo-Saxon monosyllables, Barack Hussein Obama greeted his victory in the United States presidential election. In the same breath he dedicated it to a future that can fulfil the audacity of his hope, and the dreams from his father, his mother and the grandmother who sadly died on the eve of his triumph
For more than eight years, those of us who were disappointed and even disgusted by way that the reckless cynicism and spiteful nationalism of American conservatives betrayed our hopes for America have ended conversations, articles, books with variants on one theme. In the long run, we knew, the decency and good sense of the American people would reassert itself. We asked how long it would take. But we knew they could. And now they have - and can.
The challenge
The road will indeed be hard, not least because of the equivalent of improvised explosive devices with which the carriageway has been littered by conservative incompetence and ideological arrogance. The economy has been
ruined by mortgage-sellers who hawked poor-people's hopes as a "product", and by smoother metropolitan salesmen sneaking out toxic loans disguised as sophisticated derivatives. Both teams of culprits, it should not be forgotten, were overwhelmingly Republican voters and funders. America's reputation has been seriously damaged by officials who took the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington as a licence to panic, to lie, to kidnap, to torture and to jeer at the ancient and modern guarantees of civilisation: habeas corpus, Geneva conventions, alliances, United Nations, common decency
Even the hard power of the country that was obsessively described as the "lone superpower" - victor in a contest no one else was engaged in - has been seriously damaged. America's public debt is one-third owned by foreigners who have no special reason to do America any favours. Trillions of dollars have been poured into equipping the military with weapons for wars that could never be fought; while the armed services do not have the manpower, the weaponry or the money to prevail in the wars they do have to fight.
The urgent need to arrest environmental damage before it is too late has been excused by one exceptionalist illusion after another. "We don't have to worry because of our biofuels. We don't have to worry because the higher the price of energy, the more we can avoid self-denial by offshore drilling in increasingly marginal waters or with Athabasca tar sands".

So, yes, it will be a long and a hard road.
President Obama will have a strong Democratic majority in both houses of Congress, but for that very reason he will meet division in his own party.
He will face an acute dilemma in
dealing with the economic disaster. If he allows the bankers to take the government's money and walk off with it in unconscionable bonuses for failure, he risks losing the political confidence of frightened millions among the voters he has recruited. If he is too tough with Wall Street, he risks damaging business confidence at home and abroad.
He will have to act swiftly. Lyndon B Johnson, the last Democrat to win on as big a scale, said "you only have one year". Yet he must avoid the temptation to go for quick fixes He must have the courage to risk structural change: in
healthcare, in education, in replacing infrastructure, in shoring up the social-security pension, the greatest achievement of the last new deal. There will be many other dangers to be sidestepped, including those called by Donald Rumsfeld, the wisest fool in Christendom, the "unknown unknowns

The leader
He does however have considerable and even unmatched political resources.
He has, first of all, his own political talent, reinforced by the aura of victory, the "mandate of heaven", and the influx of talent to his campaign. He is
more than an inspired orator, though he is certainly that - perhaps the most gifted since Martin Luther King. He has self-control. He understands timing. He can inspire those around him and offer hope to whole blocks of voters.
The very severity of the economic crisis may make it easier to slay some familiar demons. He can now, for example, stop talking about the war on terror, close the prison-camp at
Guantánamo, move decisively on national health-insurance, help struggling homeowners and compel the banks to behave responsibly.
He has a chance to reconnect the presidency with the political nation, restoring the connecting-rods that have rusted away since they were so effectively used by Franklin D Roosevelt: the party, the government bureaucracy, the ness media and the Congress. To those atrophied limbs he can add new growths: the power of the internet not only to raise formidable sums of money without putting himself in debt to lobbies and special interests, but also to interact with the people in the way that the old party machines had long neglected.
Above all, he has created (in part thanks to the stupidity of the conservatives) a new national coalition to support him. With the exception of the deep south and Texas, this is a national coalition. Barack Obama has won Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio and Colorado, as well as New York and California. But he has also won the support of retired people and young people, white people, black people, Hispanics, WASPs and Catholic and Jews and Muslims. Only among the over-65s as he failed to break through. Like Roosevelt and John F Kennedy before him, he appeals to intellectuals and professionals, and to women in all these categories.
Not all Americans share his vision. There was no "Bradley effect", the name for residually prejudiced white voters who told pollsters they would support a liberal candidate only to vote the other way in the privacy of the polling-booth. But the Republicans did use a good deal of veiled racism in the campaign, even if John McCain personally (as opposed to the old pros he had inherited from the Bush machine) fought in the main honourably. There is residual racism in America, as elsewhere. But a society that has come to admire Oprah Winfrey and Tiger Woods, Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice is not scared by Barack Obama.

The conversation
Every American presidential election has two functions. One can be called political, the other meta-political. The voters decide who will enjoy the power and emoluments of literally thousands of elected "officials" (the word is used differently in America from Europe). These go all the way up the country's administrative apparatus - from dog-catchers through the members of school boards and regulatory bodies; some judgeships; municipal, state and federal legislatures; some state governorships (others are chosen in "off-years"); the federal House of Representatives and one-third of the members of the Senate; and at the apex of this immense structure, the vice-president and president of the United States.
The other function is an equally vast but looser process of self-examination and self-criticism. This involves not only the politicians and the voters, but also a self-appointed commentariat. The election year is the opportunity for the American people to argue about what has happened, where they are, and where they want to go. Once upon a time this discussion was led by editorial writers. Then, because most of the 15,000 newspapers could not afford specialist commentators, and most editors were too busy getting the paper out to offer political reflections, a tribe arose of national syndicated columnists. Later, television pundits joined the fray. Now thousands of bloggers, running the gamut from the sagacious to the hysterical, have pitched in. The election becomes the occasion for something not far short of national self-psychoanalysis.
Once, the commentariat was overwhelmingly liberal. But conservatives and especially neo-conservatives have made a special effort to supply their arguments and their people, generously funded through conservative foundations.
In this diversifying media landscape, the new president will have the opportunity to build on his super-efficient and coordinated campaign that used all the tools of new media. The presidency and the American political conversation are set to combine in fascinating and perhaps surprising new ways.

The contest
The great issue of the campaign for me from the start was not whether the United States could elect an African-American president, dramatic as that was always going to be as a sign of how far the United States has changed and is changing in racial matters. I am, after all, old enough to remember signs on park-benches in the nation's capital forbidding persons with African blood from sitting on them. In my working lifetime sexual "miscegenation" was a felony in many northern and all southern states. (These were, it used to be said, the most frequently broken laws in all human history.)
The even greater issue in 2008 was whether this was to be what the political scientists call a "critical election" bringing about what is called a "realignment" of politics.
That means something more than even the most decisive a decisive win for a particular candidate for the presidency. It means a shaking of the political kaleidoscope, as has happened at fairly regular intervals: in 1912, 1932, 1968. In those years, and (so the learned argue) in some 19th-century elections as well, blocs of voters and interest groups abandoned one of the two historic parties and came together in different predominating alliances.
Such political cataclysms do not happen by spontaneous generation. They are forged by the hammer-blow of events in the heat of national perception of those events: the great depression (1932); the unrest of the progressive era (1912); and the triple impact of the civil-rights revolution urban rioting and the Vietnam war (1968).
For months during the primary campaigns and the early stages of the general election, I feared that a desirable and necessary realignment was not going to happen. The media focused obsessively on how much money the candidates had to spend. Often reports counted dollars without even mentioning policies. The conflict between Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama split the Democratic Party and came close to losing the election.
The McCain campaign, once reinforced by veterans of the Karl Rove era and the "Swift Boat" barrage that sank John Kerry's campaign, lowered the tone and launched its own firestorm of unreconstructed political insinuation. After his choice of Sarah Palin as his running-mate, McCain even pulled ahead in the polls.
Then, in mid-September, Lehman Brothers, a true Wall Street thoroughbred, went bankrupt. The government thought it would be clever to let it go, to avoid what was called "moral hazard". That meant the danger that bankers might behave recklessly because they thought they could count on the government to bail them out. (The moral hazard of tempting people with unheard of salaries and bonuses to take reckless risks with other people's money did not trouble the "masters of the universe".)
Suddenly, people woke up to the fact that the presidential election was serious business, not gossip or farce. Suddenly, issues of policy were not just for wonks. The underlying issue, buried under a mountain of garbage (what did McCain call his wife? Was Obama a secret Muslim? Was Governor Palin's daughter pregnant? Was Michelle Obama sufficiently proud of her country?) surfaced again.
The question before the electorate now was: do we want an end to the conservative ascendancy?
The answer given by the American people on 4 November 2008 was: yes, we do.

The change
It's true that many Americans, like many people anywhere, are and will remain "social conservatives". Many will continue to believe that abortion is wrong under almost all circumstances. Many hate the idea of anyone telling them they cannot own a gun. Many (perhaps more than elsewhere) are suspicious of government - though they certainly have more government than most other democracies. Many (certainly more than elsewhere) are prepared to pay unimaginable amounts for cold-war hardware. Most, indeed almost all, don't like to hear foreigners criticise their country.
That will not change. Senator Obama does not have much of a problem with that He is himself, as a matter of fact, a man with many conservative instincts. His Christian faith is important to him. His family is at the centre of his world. He is, in his own way, an America exceptionalist. His ideas on foreign policy, while a welcome change from the Prussian posturing of the Bush administration, are not outside the mainstream of traditional policy. And his domestic strategy does not seem to be anywhere near as radical as the Republicans have tried to claim.
What he stands for, he repeats on every occasion, is change.
It is right that we should all try to find out precisely what he means by that word. It is with words, not bayonets, that men are ruled.
I believe that what he means by change is the reduction of inequality, of injustice, of arrogance. In short, he means to end conservative ascendancy. That is what a decisive majority of the American people have said they want. Given the historic dimensions of his victory, can he achieve that? Yes, he can.

By Godfrey Hodgson
From the amazing http://www.opendemocracy.net/article/yes-he-can

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Interview on Education, Inner City, Empowerment…

Shaykh Hamza Yusuf Interview on Education, Inner City, Empowerment…

From http://qa.sunnipath.com/issue_view.asp?HD=1&ID=2485&CATE=115

QUESTION 1. EDUCATION AND THE INNER CITY One of the broad, common threads that runs through Zaytuna Institute, the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and a host of other Muslim organizations in the United States is that of education. Organically grown organizations will necessarily have differences, one from the next, in substantive focus, instructional method and academic intensity of educational programs. Despite these organizational differences, what are the core elements of a successful curriculum that will (a) sustain and (b) empower contemporary Muslims?

SHAYKH HAMZA: The key element of any sound curriculum is to ensure that basic humanistic tools are imparted to help a student become a better human being and a critical element in the human process. By critical here, it is implied that someone is able to see what’s wrong, identify it as a wrong and then able to evaluate the steps needed to redress the wrong.
For instance, a major wrong in contemporary America is consumerism (i.e. the goal of life is to accumulate wealth and material goods). This disenfranchises the poor from a societal project and builds resentment, which leads to anger and envy, which are two of the seven deadly sins, ... and one alone is enough to kill you! When we assess the project of consumerism, we realize that as an increasing venture it becomes clearly untenable for large numbers of people. It is a selfish path and ignores the very reality that if resources continue to be exploited at present rates, we will exhaust the earth's plentitude. An example: the monitoring of areas in which have ocean fishing takes place has shown that in the last twenty years, over ninety percent of the fish have been decimated. The root problem is that fish are not allowed to replenish their numbers due to over-fishing of areas that once had seemingly inexhaustible resources. Much of the fishing is processed into cat food. In most cultures, cats live off the leftover food of families, but here, they are spoiled into tasty treats that devastate our ocean's supplies further upsetting the delicate balance of the natural food chains in the oceans. Due to the critical nature of this type of information, it may surface from time to time; however it isn't news that one finds in daily corporate owned newspapers.
A student must also be able to think critically about the world he or she finds himself or herself in. So teaching students to think is of the essence of any serious training. For Muslims this includes an ability to access divine or sacred tradition in his or her daily life – in other words, to make the message real through implementation. This can only be done in an environment in which people are helped to live the message of submission to God.

IMAN's Taking it to the Streets is held in Chicago's Marquette Park, where Martin Luther King, Jr. marched, and was stoned, only decades ago. Many Muslims today have drawn analogies between the current state of Muslims in America and the state of the broader African-American population during the era of MLK, Malcolm X, Thurgood Marshall and others. To what extent are these analogies on point? How can a focus on the history of race relations in this country enhance or detract from a contemporary Muslim's consciousness?

Enfranchisement is a process that has been present in this country since the start. Many communities who have been here for hundreds of years, in the case of native people, millennia, are still struggling for full inclusion into America. However, we must not despair due to clear signs of improvement. To deny advancement in many areas is ingratitude. Minority communities are in fact majorities in many communities now and they are running entire cities in America for the first time in over two hundred years. There is an immense opportunity to realize the dreams of philosophers of the past today in this country. The idea of equality before the law has rarely been conceived in human history, let alone achieved, and yet it is an ideal that is accepted now by the majority of people in this country. It still has a long way to go before it is indeed a reality experienced by all peoples in all cases. The Muslims are at the end in a long line of people that have come to these shores or were already here, attempting to realize their rights as equal before the law.
Many people before the Muslims have struggled and many have died in order that we as offspring or migrants might enjoy the rights that we do today. Those people must never be forgotten; it is incumbent upon Muslims in America to know their stories. The stories have people of all colors as protagonists. There have always been people of color who have opposed the injustices of racism, sexism and intolerance but we should not forget that there have been numerous good white people who have opposed injustice and they should not be forgotten. The issue cannot be black and white but rather wrong and right. It is as simple as that. We stand not with our tribe but with our principles and should they be against our tribe then we must act as witnesses "unto God even against yourselves."

QUESTION 3. "PROGRESS" IN THE INNER CITY AND THE WORLD You have previously discussed the "myth of progress" and asserted that the highest level of spiritual progress was achieved over a millennium ago in the desert and oasis of Arabia during the time of God's Emissary, may He grant him His peace and blessings. While "spiritual entropy" may be a regrettable reality facing humanity (at least en masse), today's Muslims in and out of the inner city, and abroad, hold conflicting views about the extent to which achieving material comfort necessarily involves dealing with, or is equated with, embracing "capitalism" with all of its arguably negative aspects (exploitation of labor, riba, corruption of big business, environmental neglect, etc.) and thereby losing religion. Is there a confluence or a contradiction in attempting to achieve both spiritual and material success in the contemporary globalizing economy?

The problem with poverty in America is that it deprives the poor of their dignity. This is so for a number of reasons: one, the Calvinist view, which affects many Americans, states that wealth is a sign of God's blessings upon the person. In that way, poverty is seen almost as a punishment. In essence, this perspective states that in this land of plenty, there must be something wrong with you if you don't have anything. This way of viewing the world permeates our culture and does untold damage to countless souls.
Islam teaches us that wealth is inner wealth. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, "Contentment is an inexhaustible treasure." He also said, "Wealth is not a lot of goods but it is being satisfied with what one has." The endless pursuit of more is a disease, and as the hadith (prophetic tradition) states, "Nothing will fill the mouth of the child of Adam except the dirt of the grave. If someone had a mountain of gold, they would only desire another."
What we need to learn in this country is how to be poor with dignity. We need to learn to keep clean houses, clothes and bodies, to eat pure food, and to do this with money earned untarnished by illegal transactions. This is available to anyone willing to turn to God for support.
We must also free ourselves of resentment and envy of others and what they have. The Prophet, peace be upon him said, "Look to those better than you in your spirituality but look to those with less than you in your material reality. For indeed that will help you to aspire to be better and to be grateful for what you have."

Finally, poverty is "all my glory" according to the richest man that ever lived, the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. He chose to lower his standard of living in order that others might have more. That is his way.

Grand Mufti and Pope meet to end religious rifts

Pope Benedict XVI has called for mutual respect between Christians and Muslims to heal tension between the two faiths. He met Grand Mufti of Bosnia Mustafa Ceric and other religious leaders at the Vatican.

See the video......on link below


or read the article ......


Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Listening to the Voices of a Billion Muslims

Despite the explosion of media coverage and publications on Islam and Muslims, a major challenge today involves getting accurate information. The politicization of scholars, experts and media commentators post 9/11 has created a minefield for policymakers and the general public as they search for answers to questions like: “What are the causes of radicalism and anti-Americanism?”, “Why do they hate us?”, “What do Muslim women think about their status in Islam?” “Is Islam compatible with democracy?”, “What are the causes of global terrorism?” and so many others. Too often, a reader is caught between the contending positions of seemingly qualified experts as well as a new cadre of Islamophobic authors who engage in a revisionist reading of Islam and Islamic history. So, what are we to do? Suddenly a new empirically grounded tool emerged to get us beyond the limited interpretations and opinions of experts when answering the question: What do Muslims think and what do they care about?

More than a year ago, I was asked by Gallup to be a Senior Scientist for the Gallup World Poll. To my astonishment I discovered a plan not only to poll 95 percent of world’s population, but to also focus on the Muslim world. In terms of the Muslim world, between 2001 and 2007, Gallup had conducted tens of thousands of hour-long, face-to-face interviews with residents of more than 35 nations that are predominantly Muslim or have substantial Muslim populations.

A sample representing more than 90 percent of the world’s 1.3 billion Muslims, young and old, educated and illiterate, female and male, living in urban and rural settings, makes this the largest, most comprehensive study of contemporary Muslims ever done. Gallup posed questions on the minds of millions of people: Is Islam to blame for terrorism? Why is there so much anti-Americanism in the Muslim world? Who are the extremists? Where are the moderates? What do Muslim women really want? And many, many more.

The result is the book Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, which I co-authored with Dalia Mogahed, director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. It is a book that enables the voices of the silenced majority in the Muslim world to be heard. The results are often startling; they challenge the conventional wisdom, and we expect them to stir both interest and debate. Below is a look at some of the more salient findings.
How widespread is political radicalism?

Given the seemingly global presence and threat of extremism and terrorism, a basic question is how widespread is political radicalism, and thus the potential pool of extremism. The key questions asked to demarcate moderates from the politically radicalized was whether the 9/11 attacks were completely justified and whether they have an unfavorable or favorable view of the United States. Respondents were then categorized as moderate or politically radicalized:
(1) Moderate – the vast majority who said the 9/11 attacks were unjustified
(2) Politically Radicalized and thus potential supporters of extremism – 7 percent – who said the attacks were completely justified and view the United States unfavorably.

Identification as “politically radicalized” does not mean they commit acts of violence but that they are a potential source for recruitment or support for terrorist groups. The intensity of their commitment to changing political situations makes them more likely to view other civilian attacks as justifiable.
Where relevant subsequent responses to additional questions (attitudes towards the West, democracy, etc.) were broken out or assessed in terms of these categories.
Defying the conventional wisdom about the drivers of Islamic extremism, both moderates and politically radicalized have similarly strong religious sentiments, as measured by frequency of religious service attendance and affirmation that religion is an important part of their lives. The politically radicalized are on average more educated and affluent than moderates; convey a more intense sense of being "dominated" or even "occupied" by the West. Responding to an open-ended question, politically radicalized frequently cite "occupation/U.S. domination" as their biggest fear, while moderates most often mention economic problems.
Who are the Politically Radicalized?

The conventional wisdom and intuitive sense of many has been that extremism and terrorism are driven by profound psychological, economic, political or religious problems: deranged, social misfits, unemployed, poorly educated, reject democracy and modernization, religious fanatics or zealots.

Thus, there has often been a reluctance to see extremists as otherwise intelligent, rational people responding to perceived grievances. Within weeks after 9/11, the media reported the “stunning discovery” that the attackers were not from the poor, unemployed and dispossessed.
Comparing the political radicals who justify 9/11 and are anti-U.S. with the moderate majority produces some surprising results. Political radicals are younger but not substantially. Forty-nine percent are between the ages of 18-29 while 41 percent of those with moderate views are between the same age-range. Contrary to what some might expect, while the politically radicalized are more likely to be male (62 percent), 37 percent are female.

The politically radicalized, on average, are more educated than moderates: 67 percent of those with extremist views have secondary or higher educations (vs. 52 percent of moderates). They are also more likely to report average or above-average income: 65 percent of the politically radicalized say they have average or above-average income versus 55 percent of moderates.
While unemployment, like poverty, is a major social problem in many Muslim countries, neither unemployment nor job status differentiate the politically radicalized from moderates. No difference exists in the unemployment rate among politically radicalized and moderates. Among those who are employed, the politically radicalized hold jobs with greater responsibility. They are not more “hopeless” than the mainstream. Larger percentages of politically radicalized than moderates respond that they are more satisfied with their financial situation, standard of living, and quality of life, with 64 percent of the politically radicalized vs. 55 percent of moderates believing their standard of living is getting better. The politically radicalized are also, on average, more optimistic about their personal future than moderates, more optimistic about their own lives. However, they are more concerned and pessimistic about world affairs and international politics regarding issues like U.S. hegemony, invasion, and dependency.

Nearly two-thirds (63 percent) of the politically radicalized compared to 48 percent of moderates disagree that “the U.S. will allow people in the region to ’fashion their own political future as they see fit without direct U.S. influence’.” Surprisingly, 50 percent of the politically radicalized feel more strongly that their progress will be helped by “moving toward governmental democracy” compared to 35 percent of moderates.
Why do they hate us?

The question “Why do they hate us?” raised in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 continues to loom large in Western minds following continued terrorist attacks in Europe and the Muslim world and the dramatic growth of anti-Americanism. A common answer has been, “They hate our way of life, our freedom, democracy, and success.” Is there a blind hatred of the United States?

Although the Muslim world expresses many common grievances, do the politically radicalized and moderates differ in attitudes about the West?
While many believe anti-Americanism is tied to deep West-East religious and cultural differences, the data contradict these views. When asked what they admired most about the West, many Muslims – both politically radicalized and moderates – say they admire the West’s technology, freedom of speech, and value system of hard work. In contrast, 57 percent of Americans when asked what they most admire about Muslim societies offer two responses: “Nothing” and “I don’t know.”

And even more surprising, the politically radicalized are more likely than moderates to associate Arab/Islamic nations with an eagerness to have better relationships with the West: Fifty-eight percent of the politically radicalized (versus 44 percent of moderates) expressed this.
Finally, no significant difference exists between the percentage of the politically radicalized and moderates who said: “better understanding between the West and Arab/Islamic cultures concerns me a lot.”

Although many in the West believe that anti-Americanism is tethered to a basic hatred of the West, respondents’ assessments of individual Western countries reveal a different picture. Unfavorable opinions of the United States or Great Britain do not preclude a favorable attitude toward other Western countries such as France or Germany. Across all predominantly Muslim countries polled, an average of 75 percent associate “ruthless” with the United States (in contrast to only 13 percent for France and 13 percent for Germany).

The politically radicalized are consistently more negative than are moderates in their opinions of all Western countries tested in the survey. However, there is a stark contrast in their view of individual Western nations. Even those who are politically radicalized consistently differentiate between countries and leaders and do not see a monolithic West. For example, while only a quarter of the politically radicalized have very unfavorable opinions of France (25 percent) and Germany (26 percent), this percentage jumps to 68 percent for Britain and 84 percent for the United States.

Unfavorable opinions of Western heads of state also vary significantly. Ninety percent of the politically radicalized and 62 percent of moderates express absolute dislike for George W. Bush; 70 percent of the politically radicalized and 43 percent of moderates do not like former British Prime Minister Tony Blair “at all.” That level of dislike does not extend to other Western leaders. For example, dislike of former French President Jacques Chirac is significantly lower: 39 percent among the politically radicalized and 24 percent among moderates.
Is Shari‘a the problem?

Few issues crystallize “the problem” with Islam than the Shari‘a, regarded by a significant minority of Muslim women and many non-Muslims as an oppressive corpus of law only supported by conservative religious leaders and extremists, who oppose basic liberties and human rights for Muslims and non-Muslims including women’s rights. However, for the majority of Muslims the Shari‘a is considered the blueprint for an Islamic society, providing a centuries-old paradigm. Thus, however different and diverse Muslim populations may be, for many Shari‘a is central to faith and identity:

Gallup data shows that majorities in most countries, with the exception of a handful of nations, want Shari‘a as at least “a” source of legislation. And at the same time, a majority also supports freedoms of religion, speech, and assembly. The majority of those surveyed also support a woman’s right to vote, drive and work outside the home. Majorities in every nation surveyed, save for Saudi Arabia and Egypt, also believe it appropriate for women to serve at the highest levels of government in their nation’s Cabinet and National Council (and even in Saudi Arabia, 40 percent of all adults subscribe to this view).

Democracy vs. Theocracy?

Is the conclusion: “If Muslims don’t want to totally separate Shari‘a and state, they want a medieval style theocracy where religious leaders have absolute power” correct? While the conventional wisdom in the West has been that democracy requires secularism, separation of church and state, the desired Muslim model is neither a theocracy nor a secular democracy but rather a model that integrates faith and democratic values; more specifically the data show that a majority want a system of government that combines democracy and faith/Shari‘a. Of course, what respondents mean by Shari‘a can vary widely from no law that contradicts Shari‘a to laws based on Shari‘a.

Responses to the Gallup Poll indicate that wanting Shari‘a does not automatically translate into wanting theocracy. Significant majorities in many countries say religious leaders should play no direct role in drafting a country’s constitution, writing national legislation, drafting new laws, determining foreign policy and international relations, or deciding how women dress in public or what is televised or published in newspapers. Others who did opt for a direct role tended to stipulate that religious leaders should only serve in an advisory capacity to government officials.
While the spread of democracy has been the stated goal of the U.S. government, majorities in Jordan, Egypt, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and Morocco disagreed that the United States is serious about spreading democracy in their region of the world. For the politically radicalized, their fear of Western control and domination, as well as their lack of self-determination, reinforce their sense of powerlessness. Thus, a belief has developed among the politically radicalized that they must dedicate themselves to changing an untenable situation.

The importance of religious and cultural identity
Issues of religious identity are very important to both politically radicalized and moderates. The most frequent response to what they admire most about themselves was “faithfulness to their religious beliefs” and the top statement they associate with Arab/Muslim nations is “attachment to their spiritual and moral values is critical to their progress”.

However, what distinguishes the politically radicalized from moderates is their greater emphasis on their spiritual and moral values. In contrast to less than half (45 percent) the moderate group, roughly two-thirds (65 percent) of the politically radicalized give top priority to holding onto their spiritual and moral values as something that is critical to their progress. The politically radicalized also, in significantly higher percentages, emphasize preservation of their culture, traditions and principles as well as their holy places and Islamic values as admirable aspects of the Islamic world. Belief in the Islamic heritage, which is critical to their progress, is also perceived to be in danger of being weakened by the West’s denigration of Islam and perception of Arabs and Muslims as inferior.

Only 12 percent of the politically radicalized and 17 percent of moderates associate “respecting Islamic values” with Western nations. For both groups, the West’s “Disrespect for Islam” ranks high on the list of what they most resent. Therefore, as one might expect, when asked what the Arab/Muslim world could do to improve relations with Western societies, the top response from both the politically radicalized and moderates who offered a response was “improve the presentation of Islam to the West, present Islamic values in a positive manner.”

The sense of threat to cultural identity is enhanced by a predominant feeling that a secular and powerful West that does not share its values is overwhelming the Muslim world. When asked the open-ended question, “In your own words, what do you resent most about the West?”, the most frequent response across all countries for both moderates and politically radicalized was “Sexual and cultural promiscuity”; followed by “ethical and moral corruption” and “hatred of Muslims.”
Another source of resentment comes from the depiction of Muslims in Western media. A survey by Jack Shaheen in his book, Reel Bad Arabs: How Hollywood Vilifies a People, found that the vast majority of Arab characters in 900 American films were outright racist caricatures. Images of ordinary Muslims and Muslim cultures in a Western mass media that is distributed globally are almost non-existent or distorted. Moreover, Western TV programs and films that are most popular in the Muslim world encourage a superficial emulation of Western fashions, personalities and values.

What are the primary drivers of extremism?

A primary catalyst or driver of extremism, often seen as inseparable from the threat to Muslim religious and cultural identity, is the threat of political domination and occupation. The interplay of the political and religious is strongly reflected in radical and moderate responses to open-ended questions like, “What can the West do to improve relations with the Muslim World?” and, “What is the most important thing the United States could do to improve the quality of life of people like you in this country?” Given what they admire about themselves and resent about the West, answers to these questions paint a consistent picture: Reflecting the importance of Islam, the most frequent response given by both groups was: more respect, consideration and understanding of Islam as a religion; not underestimating the status of Arab/Muslim countries; being fair and less prejudiced. In addition, reflecting the priority they give to democracy, the politically radicalized give equal importance to the need for political independence. Their responses include: stop interfering; meddling in our internal affairs; colonizing; and controlling natural resources.

A significantly greater proportion of politically radicalized than moderates cite Western cultural penetration, Western immorality and moral corruption as the top reasons for resentment. Politically radicalized were far more intense in their belief that Western political, military and cultural domination is a major threat. When asked to define their greatest fears about the future of their country, the politically radicalized most frequently cite interference in their internal affairs by other countries, national security, colonization, occupation, and fear of U.S. dominance. In contrast, moderates rank economic problems as their top concern.
Even more stunning, but consistent with their responses to other questions, is the quality mentioned earlier, the commitment of radicals to sacrifice to promote change. Fully half said that to “give one’s life for a cause, to fight against injustice” is “completely justifiable”. This contrasts with only 18 percent of moderates.

Although both groups are concerned about bias and Western political interference in their affairs, the greater intensity and fear expressed by the politically radicalized predisposed them to have a more sympathetic ear for terrorists if their grievances are not addressed.
The heightened sense of the West’s threat to political freedom and to Islamic identity has reinforced the politically radicalized’s desire for Islamic law. While both moderates (83 percent) and politically radicalized (91 percent) want Shari‘a as a source of law, a significantly higher percentage of politically radicalized (59 percent vs. 32 percent of moderates) want to see Shari‘a as the only source of law. This may reflect their desire to limit the power of rulers and regimes that they regard as authoritarian, “un-Islamic” and corrupt.
One of the most important insights provided by Gallup’s data is that the issues that drive the politically radicalized are also issues for moderates. The critical difference between these two outlooks is one of prioritization, intensity of feeling, degree of politicization and alienation.

How to improve relations?

If, as conventional wisdom often indicates, the heart of Muslim resentment is an envy of our success, wealth and prosperity, they ‘hate’ us for what we have, not what we do, then does it mean that what Muslims really want to ‘improve relations’ with the West is for the West to provide economic support?

When asked how the West could improve relations with the Muslim world, the most often offered response was: respect Islam, stop treating us like we’re inferior, stop degrading Muslims in your media as well as a desire for assistance with technology, jobs and economic development.
The politically radicalized (40 percent) are far more likely than moderates (20 percent) to say Western societies do not show any concern for better co-existence with the Arab-Muslim world. The politically radicalized (37 percent) are also far more likely than moderates (20 percent) to feel the time for a better understanding between the West and the Arab/Muslim world probably will never come.

Americans, like the vast majority in the Muslim world, share a fundamental aversion to extremism. Asked what they admire least about the Muslim world, Americans said overwhelmingly “extremism/radicalism/not open to others’ ideas.” Likewise, when asked what they admired least about their own societies, Muslims’ top concerns included extremism and terrorism. This should not be surprising if we recall that the primary victims of Muslim extremism and terrorism have been Muslims. The “terrorist fringe,” far from being glorified, is rejected by citizens of predominantly Muslim countries just as it is by citizens in the United States.

Diagnosis or Misdiagnosis?

Diagnosing terrorism as a symptom and Islam as the problem, though popular in some circles, is flawed and has serious risks with dangerous repercussions. It confirms extremist beliefs and fears, alienates the moderate Muslim majority, and reinforces a belief that the war against global terrorism is really war against Islam. Whether one is radical or moderate, this negative attitude is a widespread perception.

The good news is that Americans and Muslims throughout the world have a fundamental aversion to extremism and terrorism. In addition, 9 out of 10 Muslims are moderates, another piece of good news for those optimistic about coexistence. However, if the 7 percent (91 million) of 1.3 billion Muslims today worldwide are politically radicalized and they continue to feel politically dominated, occupied and disrespected, the West’s opportunity to address these drivers of extremism will be as great as the challenge of succeeding.

JOHN L. ESPOSITO is University Professor of Religion & International Affairs and Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University.
DALIA MOGAHED is a Gallup Senior Analyst and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

French Muslims Find Haven In Catholic Schools

Amina at the blackboard. In a French magazine’s recent ranking of high schools, 15 of the top 20 were Catholic schools.


Published: September 29, 2008MARSEILLE, France —
The bright cafeteria of St. Mauront Catholic School is conspicuously quiet: It is Ramadan, and 80 percent of the students are Muslim. When the lunch bell rings, girls and boys stream out past the crucifixes and the large wooden cross in the corridor, heading for Muslim midday prayer.“There is respect for our religion here,” said Nadia Oualane, 14, a student of Algerian descent who wears her hair hidden under a black head scarf. “In the public school,” she added, gesturing at nearby buildings, “I would not be allowed to wear a veil.”In France, which has only four Muslim schools, some of the country’s 8,847 Roman Catholic schools have become refuges for Muslims seeking what an overburdened, secularist public sector often lacks: spirituality, an environment in which good manners count alongside mathematics, and higher academic standards.No national statistics are kept, but Muslim and Catholic educators estimate that Muslim students now make up more than 10 percent of the two million students in Catholic schools. In ethnically mixed neighborhoods in Marseille and the industrial north, the proportion can be more than half.The quiet migration of Muslims to private Catholic schools highlights how hard it has become for state schools, long France’s tool for integration, to keep their promise of equal opportunity.Traditionally, the republican school, born of the French Revolution, was the breeding ground for citizens. The shift from these schools is another indication of the challenge facing the strict form of secularism known as “laïcité.”Following centuries of religious wars and a long period of conflict between the nascent Republic and an assertive clergy, a 1905 law granted religious freedom in predominantly Roman Catholic France and withdrew financial support and formal recognition from all faiths. Religious education and symbols were banned from public schools.France is now home to around five million Muslims, Western Europe’s largest such community, and new fault lines have emerged. In 2004, a ban on the head scarf in state schools prompted outcry and debate

Nadia Oualane, right, and Amina Zaidi may wear head scarves at St. Mauront, a Roman Catholic school in Marseille. The scarves are forbidden in state schools.

about loosening the interpretation of the 1905 law.“Laïcité has become the state’s religion, and the republican school is its temple,” said Imam Soheib Bencheikh, a former grand mufti in Marseille and founder of its Higher Institute of Islamic Studies. Imam Bencheikh’s oldest daughter attends Catholic school.“It’s ironic,” he said, “but today the Catholic Church is more tolerant of — and knowledgeable about — Islam than the French state.”For some, economics argue for Catholic schools, which tend to be smaller than public ones and much less expensive than private schools in other countries. In return for the schools’ teaching the national curriculum and being open to students of all faiths, the government pays teachers’ salaries and a per-student subsidy. Annual costs for parents average 1,400 euros (less than $2,050) for junior high school and 1,800 euros (about $2,630) for high school, according to the Roman Catholic educational authority.In France’s highly centralized education system, the national curriculum proscribes religious instruction beyond general examination of religious tenets and faiths as it occurs in history lessons. Religious instruction, like Catholic catechism, is voluntary.And Catholic schools take steps to accommodate different faiths.
One school in Dijon allows Muslim students to use the chapel for Ramadan prayers.Catholic schools are also free to allow girls to wear head scarves. Many honor the state ban, but several, like St. Mauront, tolerate a discreet covering.The school, tucked under an overpass in the city’s northern housing projects, embodies tectonic shifts in French society over the past century.Founded in 1905 in a former soap factory, the school initially served mainly Catholic students whose parents were French, said the headmaster, Jean Chamoux. Before World War II, Italian and some Portuguese immigrants arrived; since the 1960s, Africans from former French colonies. Today there is barely a white face among the 117 students.Mr. Chamoux, a slow-moving, jovial man, has been here 20 years and seems to know each student by name. Under a crucifix in his cramped office, he extolled the virtues of Catholic schools. “We practice religious freedom; the public schools don’t,” he said.

“We teach the national curriculum. Religious activities are entirely optional.”“If I banned the head scarf, half the girls wouldn’t go to school at all,” he added. “I prefer to have them here, talk to them and tell them that they have a choice.

Many actually take it off after a while. My goal is that by the time they graduate they have made a conscious choice, one way or the other.”Defenders of secularism retort that such leniency could encourage other special requests, and anti-Western values like the oppression of women.“The head scarf is a sexist sign, and discrimination between the sexes has no place in the republican school,” France’s minister of national education, Xavier Darcos, said in a telephone interview. “That is the fundamental reason why we are against it.”Mr. Chamoux said he suspects that some pupils (“a small minority,” he said) wear the scarf because of pressure from family. He acknowledged that parents routinely demand exemptions from swimming lessons for daughters who, when denied, present a medical certificate and miss class anyway. Recently, he said, he put his foot down when students asked to remove the crucifix in a classroom they wanted for communal prayers during Ramadan, which in France ends on Tuesday.The biology teacher at St. Mauront has been challenged on Darwin’s theory of evolution, and history class can get heated during discussions of the Crusades or the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In 2001, after the Sept. 11 attacks, some Muslim students shocked the staff by showing glee, Mr. Chamoux recalled.The school deals swiftly with offensive comments, he said, but also tries to respect Islam. It takes Muslim holidays into account for parent-teacher meetings.
For two years now, it has offered optional Arabic-language instruction — in part to steer students away from Koran classes in neighborhood mosques believed to preach radical Islam.When Zohra Hanane, the parent of a Muslim student, was asked why she chose Catholic school for her daughter, Sabrina, her answer was swift. “We share the same God,” she said.But faith is not the only argument. Even though Ms. Hanane, who is a single mother and currently unemployed, struggles to meet the annual fee at St. Mauront of 249 euros ($364) — unusually low, because the school receives additional state subsidies and has spartan facilities — she said it was worth it because she did not want her children with “the wrong crowd” in the projects.“It’s expensive and sometimes it’s hard, but I want my children to have a better life,” Ms. Hanane said. “Today this seems to be their best shot.”Across town, in the gleaming compound housing the Sainte-Trinité high school in the wealthy neighborhood of Mazargues, the rules and conditions are different, but the arguments are similar. Muslim girls there do not wear head scarves.But Imene Sahraoui, 17, a practicing Muslim and the daughter of an Algerian businessman and former diplomat, attends the school, above all to get top grades and move on to business school, preferably abroad.“Public schools just don’t prepare you in the same way,” she said.Fifteen of the top 20 high schools in France are Catholic schools, according to a recent ranking in the magazine L’Express.
Catholic schools remain popular among Muslims even in cities where Muslim schools have sprung up: Paris, Lyon and Lille.Muslim schools have been hampered in part by the relative poverty of the Muslim community. And only one Muslim school, the Averroës high school on one floor of the Lille mosque, has qualified for state subsidies. To survive, the other three charge significantly higher fees.Also, as M’hamed Ed-Dyouri, headmaster of a new Muslim school just outside Paris, said, “We have to prove ourselves first.” For now, he plans to enroll his son in Catholic school.

To watch Katrin's video Report

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Malaria No More

Malaria No More is determined to end malaria deaths.
A child dies every 30 seconds from malaria—so every second counts. The fastest way for us to have impact is to blanket Africa with mosquito nets, effective medicine and targeted spraying to stop people dying from malaria. Our role as a catalyst is to maximize opportunities to save lives through communications, resources and investments. Each area of our work leverages the others to form a virtuous cycle for impact.

Malaria No More was born of a simple, startling insight: that ending malaria's death grip on Africa is the best humanitarian investment we can make in the world today. Nothing else can have the same impact on as many people's lives and livelihoods as quickly or cheaply.
"An approach as bold as our ambitions and as audacious as our name."Peter CherninChairman, Malaria No More
We have the
tools (mosquito nets, medicine, spraying) to eliminate malaria deaths, but we need to dramatically scale up efforts to deliver them to the people who need them most. The challenge is principally operational, not scientific, and therefore amenable to business-style problem solving. Malaria No More was established in December 2006 by two widely respected business leaders—News Corporation President and COO Peter Chernin and Wall Street pioneer Ray Chambers—who are applying their private-sector experience and considerable networks to tackle this problem.
Malaria No More is not a typical global health organization. We aren't strictly a funding body, or a grassroots movement, or an advocacy shop, or an on-the-ground implementer. Rather, we are a uniquely entrepreneurial organization with elements of each. What unites these disparate activities is leverage.
We are a catalyst for impact. Everything we do is designed to spur the community toward ending malaria deaths. In its two-year history, Malaria No More has been at the center of some of the biggest successes in the malaria fight:
We co-hosted the White House Summit on Malaria and prompted U.S. participation in World Malaria Day.
We educated more than 40 million Americans about the disease and raised tens of millions of dollars through our involvement in two "Idol Gives Back" charity specials on American Idol.
We were instrumental in securing a pledge of 100 million mosquito nets at the July 2008 G8 meeting in Japan.
Our direct investments have helped mobilize 15 million mosquito nets to protect 30 million African mothers and their children from malaria.
"It's an approach as bold as our ambitions and as audacious as our name,” says Chairman Peter Chernin. "It's just what's required to make Malaria No More."

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Women of God : Syrian Women Muftis

A project unique in the Islamic world is training Muslim women to become muftis in Syria.

June, Syria’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badruddin Hassoun announced that he is personally supervising a project that trains Syrian women to serve as muftis – Sunni religious figures officially authorised to issue Islamic religious rulings. While a handful of Syrian Muslim women scholars and preachers are already unofficially issuing rulings, known as fatwas, and conducting Islamic lessons in mosques and elsewhere, the grand mufti’s initiative will for the first time allow women to officially interpret Islamic law.

The move to train women as muftis has been welcomed by the Syrian government as giving Syria’s 9 million Muslim women a great push forward, particularly among extremely conservative members of this community.

“I think the mufti wants to send a message to Syrian society and the world at large that there is no difference between men and women in work, life, mental stature and even religious positions,” Dialah Haj Aref, minister of Social Affairs and Labour, said. “It also shows that women and men are equal in giving advice and opinions and in issuing fatwas.”

Asma Kiftaro, a feminist Muslim scholar at the Damascus-based Islamic Studies Center, said the move to train female muftis would be welcomed by Syria’s Muslim women. “It is an important and courageous step by the grand mufti,” she said.

Kiftaro, who is presently being considered as an advisor to the Ministry of Religious Affairs, said female Muslim scholars are increasingly calling for a greater role in government and religious institutions in line with their modern aspirations.

While Syrian women occupy 12 percent of the country’s parliamentary seats and a number of high positions within the government, including the vice-presidency, no official female Muslim scholar has gained such a position. “There are many women in parliament but not one of them is a Muslim scholar who speaks in the name of Muslim women,” Kiftaro said.

Religious and secular concern
While government figures have publicly welcomed the move, heralding it as a positive push in the development of women, the decision to train women as muftis has drawn heavy fire from conservative clerics.

Nominating a woman to a position on the Syrian Iftaa Council, the institute in charge of issuing fatwas, is seen by many as the first step in introducing female muftis throughout the Muslim world, a move many bitterly oppose.

“I have met with many conservative scholars who have expressed their strong opposition to the mufti’s statements,” Kiftaro said

The new breed of female Muslim scholars is not only causing concern among Syria’s conservative religious scholars. The growing organisation of Islamic women’s groups is also causing much angst among Syria’s secular community.

Attallah Rumheen, a professor at Damascus University who has documented the rising fundamentalism within Syria’s universities, said religious fundamentalism has long been on the rise in Syria.

“In the 1960s and 70s there were two or three muhajabah (women who wear Islamic head cover) students out of 100 female students in a class,” Rumheen said. “Today it’s the opposite. Today I only see a few female students without a hijab in my class.”

Georgette Attiah, a secular Syrian feminist writer, said what concerns the country’s secular society is not the number of women wearing the hijab, but rather the number of female Islamic groups and organisations that are expanding their activities in the fields of education, social services and charity. Many like Attiah feel such activities are simply a cover for the wider goal of Islamising Syrian society.

“These groups attract Muslim women who are mothers, sisters and wives. By appealing to them they can extend their influence into all families who make up the country’s Muslim community,” Attiah said. “They want to Islamise Syrian society, which is not purely Muslim.”

One of the most secret and controversial of these Muslim groups is the Qubaysiat, a quasi-Sufi Islamic group that was founded by Munirah al-Qubaysi in Syria and has reportedly spread to many other countries.

Qubaysi, 75, graduated from Damascus University with a degree in natural sciences in the mid-1950s and began working as a school teacher. In the early 1960s, Qubaysi began mixing preaching with teaching from the Abu Nour Mosque, at that time headed by Syria’s late and long-serving Grand Mufti Ahmed Kiftaro, Asma Kiftaro’s grandfather.

The group, which shuns media attention, organises religious lessons in homes and has been instrumental in spreading religious sentiment among young women throughout the Middle East. According to a report in the pan-Arab daily Al-Hayat newspaper, the group now boasts some 75,000 members throughout the Muslim world.

Iman, a 36-year-old mother and housewife from the conservative Damascus suburb of Midaan who attends Qubaysiat meetings, said the group does not face problems from authorities. “We are a peaceful group and we call for believers to pray to God and follow Islamic principles through peaceful means,” she said.

Others, however, are not convinced the group is devoid of political ambition. Ubai Hassan, a Syrian expert on Islamic movements and minorities, said women’s Islamic groups have mushroomed rapidly in Syria as there are very few other forums for women to voice their problems. “Women are joining Qubaysiat either to root their position in society or for prestige in the upper class,” she said.