Archive for the ‘ Manzer Munir ’ Category

Richard Holbrooke: The Death of a Peacemaker

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

President George H.W. Bush once described him as the “most persistent advocate I’ve ever run into.” President Obama’s special envoy to Afghanistan and Pakistan, Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, died earlier today after complications from heart surgery. He was a gifted diplomat and a tough negotiator who was considered one of the superstars of international diplomacy. Richard Holbrooke died Monday evening at George Washington University Hospital after doctors had performed emergency surgery Saturday to repair a tear in his aorta, the largest artery in the human body responsible for carrying blood from the heart to all parts of the body.

Described only days ago by President Obama as a “towering figure in American diplomacy,” Holbrooke was a career diplomat who started his career in 1962 as an officer during the Vietnam War where he initially worked at the US Agency of International Development. He continued to work on Vietnam issues during the war under President Lyndon B. Johnson and was a part of the delegation that presided in Paris for the peace negotiations to end the war. He also served as the director of the Peace Corps in Morocco in the early 1970’s as well as the assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the Carter administration. He was in charge of US ties with China when relations between the two countries were “normalized” in late 1978.

Later in his career, he also held senior positions at a few prestigious Wall Street firms before returning to diplomacy under the Clinton administration. During this time he was credited with his most illustrious achievement to date when he helped orchestrate the Dayton peace agreement which ended the horrific war and genocide in Bosnia. He later went on to write a memoir titled “To End a War” and become somewhat of a celebrity in the Balkans, and is widely believed to have become the Secretary of State under Hillary Clinton if she had won. He also went on to serve as the US ambassador to Germany as well as the United Nations under President Bill Clinton before being tapped by the incoming Obama administration with the herculean task of being the special envoy of the United States to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

His last assignment was arguably his most difficult as he himself stated that “There’s no Slobodan Milosevic. There’s no Palestinian Authority. There is a widely dispersed group of people that we roughly call the enemy. There’s also al Qaeda, with which there’s no possibility of any discussion at all.” He mentioned that in the AfPak region, (a term he is credited with having coined), there are a range of militant groups such as the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani Taliban, the Haqqani Network, Lashkar-e-Taiba, and that “an expert could add another 30.”

Such was the difficulty of his last assignment that some close to him are speculating whether the high level of stress and travels associated with shuttling between Washington, Kabul and Islamabad might have been a factor in causing a tear in his aorta. Certainly the complex and high strung meetings with Karzai and Zardari as well as the delicate balancing acts of diplomacy along with military operations in a region of the world described as “the most dangerous in the world” possibly took a toll on his health.

But to those that knew Richard Holbrooke, he was a man capable of taking on and winning the challenges of this and any difficult assignment as he had done so many times in his career. A New York Times reporter once wrote “if you want somebody to pull the trigger, or close a deal, think Holbrooke.”

Tonight in Washington DC, President Obama, Secretary Clinton, and the thousands of employees of the US State Department mourn the death of this icon of American diplomacy and celebrate his lifelong service to the United States and the American people in search of peace in troubled spots the world over. Meanwhile, thousands of miles away, a job vacancy has sadly opened up in the dangerous AfPak region of the world for an assignment that no one is capable of fulfilling quite like Mr Holbrooke. For the sake of the success in the Afghan war, peace and stability in Pakistan and securing America’s vital national interests in the region and around the world, let us hope that his successor will be half as capable a diplomat and negotiator as the late Richard C. Holbrooke, truly a giant of American diplomacy.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Aasia Bibi and Impurities in the Land of the Pure

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The case of Aasia Noreen aka Aasia Bibi illustrates how far Pakistan has to go to secure freedoms for its religious minorities. Christians and Hindus are not the only minorities who are persecuted for their beliefs but it is also Muslim minorities such as the Ismailis, Ahmadis, and Shiites who are routinely harassed, discriminated and also killed. Sadly, it is the case of Aasia Bibi that has brought some much needed attention to Pakistan’s sad state of affairs towards the treatment of its religious minorities.

Several sections of Pakistan’s Criminal Code consist of its blasphemy laws and of all the Muslim countries of the world that have anti-blasphemy laws, Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy laws are by far the strictest. There is section 295 that forbids damaging or defiling a place of worship or a sacred object. Then there is section 295-A that “forbids outraging religious feelings.” There is also 295-B which prohibits defiling the Qu’ran and was originally punishable by life imprisonment but has since been amended to up to three years imprisonment.

No section of the blasphemy law is more controversial or harder to prove than Article 295-C, the law that Aasia Bibi is allegedly charged with having broken. In respect to prophet Muhammad, this statute states that ” Whoever by words, either spoken or written, or by visible representation, or by any imputation, innuendo, or insinuation, directly or indirectly defiles the sacred name of the Holy Prophet Muhammad shall be punished with death, or imprisonment for life and shall also be liable to a fine.”

Aasia’s case and charges against her started almost a year and a half ago when there was a quarrel over a bowl of water in a dusty village in the heart of Pakistan’s Punjab province. A group of women were working the fields in the heat of the Pakistani sun when one of them, Aasia Bibi, dipped her glass in the communal bucket of drinking water to fetch herself and others a glass of water to drink and immediately was rebuffed by the other women who claimed that the water was now unclean as it had been touched by a non-Muslim. According to witnesses, instead of quietly bowing her head and taking the indignities, Aasia’s crime was that she mounted a strong defense of her faith and remained steadfast in her demeanor that she did nothing wrong. Too often in Pakistan, the blasphemy laws are used against religious minorities to settle personal vendettas and old scores according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch, a watchdog group monitoring the case.

The news traveled fast in Aasia’s village of Ittan Wali, in Punjab’s Sheikhupura district that a Christian woman had insulted the prophet. The local mullah got on the mosque loudspeakers, urging the “faithful” to take action against Aasia Bibi. In sad but familiar pattern, her defense of her faith was somehow twisted into an accusation of blasphemy, according to her family and others familiar with the case. Soon as a mob gathered outside her home ready to take the law into their own hands and handing out vigilante justice, the police moved in and took her into custody. But instead of protecting her, they charged her with insulting Islam and its prophet under the blasphemy laws.

And then on Nov. 8, after suffering 18 months in prison, Aasia Bibi was sentenced to death by a district court, making her the first person to be handed the death penalty in Pakistan under the blasphemy laws. Many before her over the years have been charged, but punishment had been commuted to lesser penalties than the death sentence imposed on Aasia Bibi. No concrete evidence was ever presented against Aasia, according to Pakistan’s Human Rights Watch. Instead, the district judge relied on the testimonies of three other women, all of whom were hostile towards her.

Unfortunately this is a common insult hurled at many of Pakistan’s 2 million Christians who make up just 1.59% of the total population. Often, Christians in Pakistan are discriminated and persecuted and many times only get the lowest of the low jobs such as street sweepers, janitorial and sanitation workers. In fact, in Pakistan, the term ‘Chura‘ has become synonym with the Christian community as it relates to an unclean person akin to how the untouchables or Dalit community is seen in India. In India however, the Dalits are not subjected to arcane state blasphemy laws geared towards religious minorities as in Pakistan or are threatened with their lives at the hands of the Hindu majority.

As discussed in a couple of my previous articles, Taliban 1o1, History and Origins and Taliban 201, The Rise of the Pakistani Taliban, the Islamization of Pakistan started under the late General Zia ul Haq of Pakistan who took over the leadership of the country through a military coup in 1977 when he hung the deposed and democratically elected Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto. Earlier in 1973, the 1973 Constitution of Pakistan had declared that “Islam shall be the religion of the Pakistan” and had systematically begun the process of restricting the participation of religious minorities in government and politics.

Before General Zia, there were only two reported cases of blasphemy. Since the death sentence was inserted in 1986 into the Penal Code for the blasphemy laws, this number has now reached 962 — including 340 members of the Ahmadi Muslim community, 119 Christians, and 14 Hindus. A close examination of the cases reveals the blasphemy laws are often invoked to settle personal scores, or they are used by Islamist extremists as cover to persecute religious minorities, sadly with the help of the state under these laws.

General Zia began this policy of Islamization of Pakistan in conjunction with his support for the war against the Russians and assistance to the Afghan Mujahedeen as well as the building of thousands of madrassahs or religious schools across Afghanistan and Pakistan which nurtured the young men into what later became the Taliban. Many of these blasphemy laws fully came into being under his reign, although some were around since as early as more than 100 years prior when the British drew up the Indian Penal Code of 1860 which was initially an ill foreseen aim at keeping the peace among the many fractured faiths of the subcontinent. For instance, section 295-A, which “forbids outraging religious feelings”, could have been applied against a Muslim who insulted a Hindu or a Hindu who taunted a Sikh or Christian or vice versa. However under Zia, the blasphemy laws were expanded and almost exclusively applied against Muslim minorities such as the Ahmadis, Islamilis and Shiites as well as against the Christian and Hindu populations.

Recently, a religious ‘leader’ came out and has offered over $6000 to anyone who can kill Aasia Bibi while she awaits her punishment in police custody. Outrage and denunciations on this case are coming from across the world as many people are appalled at the sad state of rights for religious minorities in Pakistan. The Pope has intervened also asking for clemency for Aasia Bibi from Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari. Against all manner of reason and justice, Lahore’s High Court recently issued an order on November 29, 2o1o, preventing Zardari from exercising his constitutional authority to pardon Aasia Bibi.

In a country rife with violence and chaos and one that has become synonymous with terror the world over, the case of Aasia Bibi is yet another dark stain on the country’s image around the world. The Taliban and the extremist groups ravaging Pakistan can be explained as being a violent minority and do not and should not reflect on the nation as a whole as the majority of people in Pakistan are opposed to them and their views of Islam. But the blasphemy laws, for as long as they have stayed on the books in Pakistan and in the constitution, cannot and should not be excused in any shape or form. These laws need to be repealed and the constitution needs to be amended in an emergency manner so that Aasia Bibi and other religious minority citizens of Pakistan are not subjected to cruel and subjective laws that are almost exclusively used against minorities to settle scores, personal vendettas, and instill terror in less than 3 percent of the country that is not part of the religious majority of Sunni Muslims.

There needs to be international pressure placed on Pakistan from the United Nations, the United States, Europe and others to modify the constitution immediately and to pardon this 45 year old mother of five children. It is ironic that in a country where many people sympathize with Osama’s Al Qaeda and profess to hate the west with one hand, they decry with the other why not enough western aid has came to their country when it recently saw the worst flooding in its history. Can you blame the American citizens, the Europeans or citizens of any other Christian nation from hesitating to give aid to a country that not only plays a duplicitous game when it comes to terrorists and terror havens but also treats Christians and other religious minorities in the manner as in the case of Aasia Bibi?

The name Pakistan literally translates into “The Land of the Pure”. And as a child growing up I was told that the meaning of Pakistan’s flag is this: “The green is a traditional Islamic color and the crescent moon and star are also Islamic symbols. The white stripe represents the non-Muslim minority and religious groups of Pakistan and there place in the country.” In my view, as long as the nation sanctions and tolerates these utterly unjust and biased blasphemy laws, the religious minorities of Pakistan clearly have no place in this land of the ‘pure’.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

The Nexus of US-India-Pakistan Relations

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

As President Obama wraps up his visit to India in the next day, a couple of things are important to point out about relations between the United States and India as well as how Pakistan fits into the equation.

The balance of power between India and the US still lies with the United States, however, India is set to make more and more gains in becoming more influential as its economy grows and as the United States looks to it to counter China in Asia.

The strategic partnership between the two countries and the importance of India for the United States is going to become vital as America uses India to contain China’s influence in the region and around the world.

We do believe that President Obama is correct in stating that relations between the two countries warrant being called the defining relationship of the century as there is no other country that compliments the United States presently in the world as does India. Not only do both countries share democratic ideals and a multiethnic population, but both countries are also increasingly dependent on each other’s economies. Add to this the nuclear cooperation as well as America’s support for India to get a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, and it becomes evident that this relationship will continue to grow over time.

President Obama has offered criticism on Pakistan already but is careful in trying to walk the tight rope act that is India-Pakistan relations. There are certainly more behind the scene steps taking place that will chide Pakistan into doing more. But in our view, the single most important thing that the US and the Obama administration can do is to help India and Pakistan come back to the table to get the peace process moving along. There is widespread agreement with the President’s assessment that a prosperous and stable Pakistan is in the best interests of India, Afghanistan and the region. In this effort, we believe there needs to be done more by all parties involved.

India’s argument has always been that the terrorist infrastructure and support for some anti-India militant groups needs to end before New Delhi will resume the peace process with Pakistan.

India should not refuse extensive trade relationships with the US due to American support of Pakistan as it does not do anything to help India. India realizes the situation both inside Pakistan and America’s dependency of the Pakistan Army’s support in flushing out the Taliban. It would go against India’s interests if it put its relationship and advancement with the United States as being dependent on American support for Pakistan and its vital assistance in the war in Afghanistan and on terror.

Peace between India and Pakistan and in the Kashmir valley is the only solution to both the conflict between the two nations as well as it is in America’s interests for both countries and the region. Furthermore, peace between the two countries will allow both Pakistan’s full focus on the Afghan border in helping American troops against the Taliban as well as the elimination of anti-India militant groups within Pakistan, many of whom are alleged to still be receiving support from elements within Pakistan’s ISI spy agency, much to India’s chagrin.

Meet Nikki Haley, the Next Indian American Governor of a US State

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Nikki Haley is not destined to be the first Indian American governor of a US state. No that honor already belongs to Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana. Haley however is poised to do something greater and that is to become the first minority female governor as she competes for South Carolina’s highest office on Tuesday November 2.

Already the first Indian to hold office in South Carolina, she currently serves as a member of the South Carolina House of Representatives from the 87th district. A past president of the National Association of Women Business Owners, she is a CFO and an accountant by trade who worked in her mother’s apparel business that has grown into a multi-million dollar company.

Although born to Sikh parents, she converted to Methodism after marrying her husband Michael Haley and describes herself as a Christian. Her religious conversion as well as her ethnicity has not hampered her dreams of becoming the first female governor of South Carolina.  Neither have allegations of extramarital affairs or reports of paying taxes late.

Nikki Haley’s candidacy received a boost when Sarah Palin and Tea Party officials gave her their backing for the election and she is leading her opponent, Democrat Vincent Sheheen, in most polls. If she wins, this will not be the first time she has won in a state where politics is mainly a male run enterprise. In 2004, she challenged and won against Rep. Larry Koon who was South Carolina legislature’s longest serving member, having served 30 years in the House. She is a tough lady who also happens to have a concealed weapons permit and strongly supports gun rights, a staple of Republican Party values.

Aside from Haley, an unprecedented number of Indian Americans are contesting for office this year across the country. There is Manan Trivedi in Pennsylvania running for the House of Representatives in the state legislature. Others running for house seats in their states are Ami Bera in California, Raj Goyle in Kansas, Ravi Sangisetty in Louisiana, where Bobby Jindal is the governor, and Surya Yalamanchili in Ohio.

After making inroads into American boardrooms with top jobs in the corporate world such as Vikram Pandit, the CEO at Citibank and Indra Nooyi, the boss at PepsiCo, Indian Americans are exploring opportunities in politics which is good for America as more involvement by minorities in public service makes the country stronger and shows that there is room for everyone at the top. Many other minorities also can take encouragement from her candidacy and be mindful that race and ethnicity is not always a barrier for running for office and that the right candidate and platform can land a person in the governor’s mansion.

Should Nikki Haley be successful in winning the governorship of South Carolina, she will instantly become one of the rising young stars of the Republican Party and a face for women leaders the world over. Regardless where you stand on the political aisle, her candidacy and subsequent election will be a turning point in the US for Indian Americans and South Asians who have become an indispensable part of the nation’s fabric.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s  Note 11/03/2010- We at Pakistanis for Peace want to congratulate Nikki Haley for winning the governorship of South Carolina in a very tough and hard fought race. Both as an American as well as ethnically being a person from the Indian subcontinent aka Desi, we are proud to see her elected to serve as governor, despite disagreeing with her party on many issues.

Her rise as well as that of Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana to the top of American politics is a source of pride for all Desis, be they Indian, Pakistani, Bengali, etc. We invite people of all races, ethnicities, and backgrounds to join our Facebook group at Pakistanis for Peace and strengthen those who support peace between India and Pakistan and around the world. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=37793413510&v=wall

Pakistan Should Celebrate Gandhi’s Life, Legacy and Contributions

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who was born 141 years ago today on October 2, 1869, is a revered figure in India as well as in many countries around the world for his peaceful civil disobedience techniques that succeeded in granting India its independence from Britain. He is also credited by Martin Luther King Jr., the American civil rights leader, as an inspiration in using similar peaceful protests to change unjust laws against blacks and other minorities in the United States. These protests and opposition eventually led to the Civil Rights Act of 1965 being passed granting all Americans of every ethnicity equal freedoms and protection in the eyes of the law.

Gandhi’s birthday, October 2nd, is celebrated by the United Nations as International Day of Non-Violence. He is an admired figure in India where his contributions for the freedom of his countrymen is celebrated on stamps, currency, and folklore. Gandhi is also appreciated in many other countries outside the Indian subcontinent. Statues of him are found in such disparate places like New York’s Union Square, Gandhi Square in Moscow, the Johannesburg city center in South Africa, and even as far away as Waikiki Hawaii where a statue to the leader stands in Kapiolani Park in Honolulu.  

Yet in Pakistan, a country that also benefitted from Gandhi’s movement for independence, he is vilified and not thought of highly. Many in Pakistan blame Gandhi for his failing to prevent the deaths of thousands of Muslims during the religious violence the precipitated the independence of both countries. In many Pakistani books he is depicted as a villain; however few people know that he died because of his great favour for Pakistan and that he was seen by right wing Hindu groups as someone who was concerned with the appeasement of the Muslims of India.

India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had refused to give Pakistan their share of the money that was due to them after partition. But Gandhi went on a fast till death to protest against this injustice against the newly created Pakistani state and this pressure led to Nehru’s agreeing to pay the money so direly needed by the new Muslim nation.

He was assassinated by a young Hindu fanatical, Nathuram Godse, who felt that M.K. Gandhi was more of a hindrance to India than an asset. Godse, like many fanatical right wing Hindus felt that Gandhi was solely responsible for the partition of India into a country for Hindus and one country for the Muslims and he felt that he was a traitor to other Hindus.

Sadly, this man who ultimately gave his life in the cause of others is not very appreciated in Pakistan and neither are his contributions for freedom and independence from the British colonizers taught to today’s school children. In a country rife with violence, intolerance and instability, many Pakistanis can learn a great deal in the lessons of brotherhood and peaceful co-existence preached by Mahatma, the great soul. He would be the perfect anti-Taliban in today’s Pakistan, a country inflamed by animosity and hatred between all ethnic and religious groups. His ideas of tolerance and harmony with others would go a long way against the barbaric views of the Taliban, the enemies of man.

His belief that violence was not a solution towards any objective would benefit today’s Pakistani society if his message was given importance and taught at an early age. His reasoning towards peace and nonviolence lead him to once say that “An eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind.”  In today’s chaotic and violent Pakistan, there is a lot that my fellow Pakistanis can learn from this man and how he lived his life with humility, simplicity and non-violence as well as towards his service of others. More people inside Pakistan should be taught about Gandhi as he is as much responsible for Pakistan’s independence from Britain as was Jinnah, the founder of the country.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a freelance journalist and writer.

Arabs Must Recognize Israel’s Right to Exist

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

New York – President Obama delivered his speech to the United Nations General Assembly Thursday in New York and it focused largely on his desire to see the Middle East peace process proceed ahead despite all the difficulties. 

Mr. Obama stated that he wanted it to succeed in accomplishing the peace that has eluded the Arabs and the Israelis for over 60 years. Realizing that there are many obstacles and hurdles ahead during tough negotiations for diplomats from both sides, he stated his concerns and his hopes for the road ahead.

“I hear those voices of skepticism, but I ask you to consider the alternative,” Obama said. If no peace agreement is reached, he added, “then the hard realities of demography will take hold. More blood will be shed. This Holy Land will remain a symbol of our differences, instead of our common humanity.”

“I refuse to accept that future,” he added. “And we all have a choice to make. Each of us must choose the path of peace. …We can say that this time will be different – that this time we will not let terror, or turbulence, or posturing, or petty politics stand in the way.”

“If we do, when we come back here next year, we can have an agreement that will lead to a new member of the United Nations – an independent, sovereign state of Palestine, living in peace with Israel,” Obama said to a loud applause by the delegates of all the countries at the United Nations.

In order for this to happen, the Arabs must first recognize Israel’s right to exist and the right of the Jewish people to claim specifically a part of the Holy Land as theirs. I know, it sounds so basic and a no- brainer. But surprisingly a large portion of the Arab world does not believe in Israel’s right to exist and specifically their right to exist in the southern Levant area which makes up the majority of the area for present day Israel. They want to ignore history and all the Biblical and historical evidence of Jewish settlement and claims to the land. They point to the migration of many Jews all over the world the last few hundred years as reason enough as to why they no longer can call Israel home.

Some Arabs demand that the Jewish homeland should be in Germany. After all, they claim, it is where so many of them were killed by Hitler and the main reason that precipitated the need to allow the Zionists of Europe and America, post World War II, to demand a home for the Jews. Why should the Palestinians pay for the crimes of the Europeans they argue?

Others have blamed the British and the Balfour Declaration when in 1917 the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur James Balfour, declared in a letter to Baron Rothschild, a leader of the British Jewish community for a need for a home for the Jews when he stated: “His Majesty’s government view with favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavors to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”

Quite simply, no other place makes any sense whatsoever. First of all, there is extensive mentioning of the land of Israel that is promised to the Jews in the Bible as well as the Hebrew texts, not to mention the Qur’an. All three identify geographic areas in present day Israel that has historically been identified as the homeland of the Jews. Jewish people do not even make up more than 1% of any country’s overall population other than in United States (2.2% of overall population), Canada (1.2% of population), France (1% of population) and Israel (75% of population). That means that for the rest of the world, each country’s Jewish population is not even one half of one percent of the overall population of that nation! Where else would the Arabs have them go? Certainly not Germany where many claim that they should be settled since that is where over 6 million of them were killed in the holocaust. The United States actually has more Jews in its boundaries than are currently residing in all of Israel. So they cannot very well say that they should go there as over half the population already lives here.

Most people do not realize that the Jewish population of the world is very small compared to Christianity or Islam. There are an estimated 15 million Jews around the world including in Israel. By comparison, there are over 2.1 billion Christians and nearly 1.5 billion Muslims. Nearly 105 countries of the world are majority Christian nations while there are perhaps at best 55 majority Muslim countries on the planet. Did you ever wonder how many majority Jewish countries of the world are there?  There is just one. Israel.

This is one of the great religions of the world and also one of the oldest monotheistic beliefs aside from Zoroastrianism, and came at a time when polytheistic beliefs were more prevalent as a human concept of divinity. No doubt, both Christianity and Islam owe a great deal of their religious thoughts and laws to the early Hebrew laws and traditions. In fact, large parts of both the Bible and the Qur’an constitute the Old Testament, also known as the Torah, the Jewish holy book and the scriptures revealed to Moses.

Jewish contributions to humanity have been disproportionate and staggering when one realizes that as less than one half of one percent of the world’s populations, the Jews have made immense advances in nearly every field that has benefitted the whole world. We can go from Albert Einstein’s advances in physics to Jonas Salk’s polio vaccine, discuss Galileo’s contributions in astronomy to Freud’s understanding of the mind. We could illustrate how Baruch Spinoza’s rationalist ideas and philosophies laid the groundwork for The Enlightenment of the 18 century or marvel at the brilliant filmmaking of 21st century Jews like Steven Spielberg and Oliver Stone. The list of Jewish contributions and the value of their culture to man’s history cannot be ignored.

What also cannot be ignored is that historically these are a persecuted people. The troubles that they faced in ancient Egypt as illustrated in the Bible as well as the deaths and expulsions during the Spanish Inquisition are part of their sad history. They faced persecution at the hands of both Christians and Muslims during the Crusades and at the time of the Papal States as well as during Muslim rule when they were subjected to the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males). The worst crimes nonetheless happened in the 20th century leading up to World War II when millions were killed in the Holocaust in Germany by Hitler’s Nazism and by Stalinist Russia.

So as the Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the other Arab countries, sit down over the next couple of weeks to resolve once and for all the Middle East conflict, the Arab street and indeed the entire Muslim world, must come to a realization and acceptance of the fact that the state of Israel has a right to exist; and has a right to exist in this ancient land as much as the Palestinians, who also have the rights to parts of this holy soil that is so important to all three religions. No doubt, historically and Biblically, the Palestinians can make similar claims also. Except, in Israel’s case, there is no other nation for the Jews, whereas, there are 55 others for Muslims. It is only with this undeniable understanding that true and lasting peace will ever be achieved and it can clear the way for a two state solution that President Obama envisions and one that will allow the normalization of relations between Israel, the Arab and the entire Muslim world. 

As perhaps the most famous Jew of all time, Jesus, once said, “Greet ye one another with a kiss of charity and may peace be with you.” Indeed, Shalom and Salaam equal peace and that can finally be achieved once there is mutual respect and acceptance of the right of the other to exist.

-Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, looks forward to a day when there will be peace between Israel and all the Muslim countries of the world, including Pakistan. He is the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com as well at other websites as a free lance journalist and writer.

Why The Mosque Needs To Be Built At Ground Zero

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

This is already my third article on the NYC Mosque controversy. When I started my Facebook group and website Pakistanis for Peace by the same name nearly two years ago, I did it in response to the tragic and callous terrorist attacks in Mumbai India in 2008 and my desire to see peace in that region and beyond. As a firm believer in God, but not a particularly religious person, I never would have imagined that I would end up making a big part of my focus not just peace between India and Pakistan, but also peace and understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds as well. Heaven knows I have my own questions and issues with certain Muslim laws and practices and I of all people am the least suitable to be one of its defenders. However, I am a strict constitutionalist and as mentioned in my previous articles on this subject, I have advocated the building of the mosque simply on First Amendment religious freedom grounds.

Now here I am in less than one month, I find myself already writing a third article on the mosque controversy. Much has been written already by others on this topic also, but I wanted to give a few more opinions from a rational, moderate and patriotic American Muslim perspective, one which is missing in the current dialogue.

We know that many people who are opposed to the building of the mosque in lower Manhattan simply ask “Why there?” “Why would “they” possibly want to build it there of all places? It is seen as an affront by them that Muslims should want to build an inter-faith mosque, community center and a planned outreach ministry in the heart of Manhattan two city blocks from the site of the World Trade Center and the attacks of September 11, nine year ago. In fact, last night, while watching CNN, I saw Rick Sanchez ask former Governor George Pataki of New York about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy and his views on the subject. “Why there of all places would you build a mosque?” asked Gov. Pataki.  Why there?  As if he had fully bought into a favorite point of right wing groups that “Muslims build mosques at places they conquer” and that this is somehow a celebration of their “victory” over us because of the deaths of so many of our fellow countrymen on 9/11. That statement is wrong on so many levels that normally I would not even waste energy answering a clearly misguided assumption, but I will make an exception to clear the air as that is precisely what this article aims to do.

First of all, the 9/11 attacks were not a result of the actions of mainstream Muslims or the collective billion plus adherents of the religion but instead by members of a terror group known as Al-Qaeda, whose leader, Osama Bin Laden, we were very familiar and friendly with during the Soviet Afghan War of the 1980’s as he had assisted us in stopping the Red Army from conquering Afghanistan at the height of the Cold War between the two superpowers. Also a mosque is a place of worship. It is not a place where bombs are made and terrorists are trained either in ideology or practical training. To equate the building of a mosque to a direct link to terrorism or some other nefarious activity is in itself a deeply offensive argument to any Muslim, if one must speak of insensitivities.

So are we at war with Islam? This really is the only question we must ask ourselves to understand the debate over the mosque controversy. Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, issued a statement saying that “Building a 15-story mosque at Ground Zero is a deliberately provocative act.” This is simply not true as it is not exclusively just a mosque, but rather a multi layered structure that will house an auditorium, restaurant, gymnasium, library, conference rooms and multi-faith prayer halls devoted to allowing non-Muslim visitors the chance to come explore the center and at the same time take time to meditate and pray according to their own customs.

The center, as its leader Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf pointed out recently, “will establish this community as the place where the moderate Muslim voice condemns terrorism and works for new, peaceful, and harmonious relationships with all New Yorkers and indeed all Americans.” Just the fact that this center will have a restaurant, conference rooms, a library and multi-faith dialogue and prayer rooms, already makes this proposed building the most uniquely American mosque in the world. Nowhere else will one find a mosque so devoted to understanding and bridge building between Islam and other religions and no other place and location will it be more sorely needed in the years to come than in New York City! Too often, many non-Muslims complain about the self segregation practices of Muslims and indeed a characteristic of all minority communities to be in their own bubble and for not having a lot of interaction between other communities or faiths.

Many times my own non-Muslim friends have been curious and inquired on how Muslims pray and what they believe in and what exactly goes on in a typical mosque. But typically a small, regular mosque does not have the sort of access and resources to satisfy this curiosity and neither the infrastructure nor the logistics to handle curious visitors of other faiths. Primarily mosques in this country have been built with Muslims as its sole audience and occupants. This is the first time a mosque and cultural center is being proposed that will eliminate the barriers that many non-Muslims feel when it comes to understanding Islam and Muslims and actually takes into considerations its non-Muslim visitors when planning the structure. For many years to come, many Americans and indeed tourists from around the world will be coming to the proposed complex now under construction at the site of the World Trade Centers that will house the 9/11 Memorial. What better place  will there be than a few blocks away from the 9/11 Memorial where visitors can be told about the Islam of the great boxer Muhammed Ali and hall of fame basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar and not that of evil individuals such as Mohammed Atta and Osama Bin Laden? Where else should they be told of the difference between the Islam that is practiced by comedian Dave Chappelle and Oprah’s Dr Mehemt Oz versus the one practiced by the backward barbarian murderers known as the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan? Where else can they come to know of the type of Islam practiced by patriotic Bronze Star and Purple Heart decorated deceased US soldier Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan or the one practiced by the deranged Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused perpetrator of the Fort Hood Army base who sadly killed 13 fellow soldiers almost 1 year ago?

Now in order to satisfy the opponents and critics of the center, I also believe that all the funding needs to be transparent, there needs to be a multi-faith board of directors, and the Muslim leadership needs to be cognizant that this is indeed a very special place for all Americans and a place of national mourning. This mosque needs to therefore address the attacks of 9/11 and also needs to be a reminder not just to non-Muslims of the tragedy that was 9/11 but more importantly it needs to  serve as a constant reminder to the rest of the Muslim world of the terrible actions some have committed in the name of Islam.

Why build it here of all places you may still ask? Why not here? What other place in America, nay, what other place in the world did Islam take the biggest blow to its reputation and image? It is Ground Zero and lower Manhattan itself where this religion of over a billion people got literally hijacked and its message of peace and tolerance got forever destroyed in the eyes of the world’s non-Muslims by events of 9/11 and the actions of a handful of radical extremists who were terrorists and part of a network known as Al-Qaeda. So, why not build a monument to tolerance and understanding for the very religion that took the biggest hit to its global credibility by events that happened in this area?  I believe that it is not out of any provocation or insensitivities that Muslims want to build a community center near Ground Zero, but rather because this is the one place in the world where truth about the religion needs to be told and the need to showcase the real Islam of the world’s Muslims rather than allow the story of the hatred and violence perpetrated by the terrorists to be the only story one hears when discussing the religion of Islam. This center needs to be a part of the healing process we must go through as a nation and will be a testament for the rest of the Muslim world outside our shores of the grandeur of our nation and for our acceptance of Muslims and for not allowing the stereotyping of a religion of hundreds of millions of people over the actions of 19 evildoers. 

Trust me, the terrorists will triumph if this mosque does not get built.  We must not forget who we’re fighting against, and what we are indeed fighting for. The Taliban, the terrorists and other radical Islamists do not respect religious freedom or tolerance. Their distorted and narrowly interpreted Wahhabi views of Islam leave no room for dissent, debate or disagreements. These terrorists are responsible for more deaths of dissenting and or differing Muslims than of any other religion at their hands. These terrorists are Islam’s biggest enemy and threat and we must remember that this is not a war between us and the Muslim world. It is a war between us and Al-Qaeda. And to prevent moderate, peace seeking, bridge building, and patriotic American Muslims from building a structure that will help ease the pain and misunderstanding of the events of that dark day 9 years ago in September will only play into the hands of those who hate us for our freedoms. To have Muslim Americans potentially lose these very freedoms due to all the pressure, in this land built on freedom and liberty, will only strengthen the hands of the terrorists and bolster their claims that this is truly a war on Islam and that they are second class citizens who do not even have the fundamental rights to worship that is afforded to all Americans. This is a battle for Islam itself, one where the forces of evil are attempting to commandeer the entire religion towards their narrow minded interpretation of the sacred texts. We must hold steadfast to our principles and ideals and support moderate Islam in taking back the religion from the extremists and allowing this mosque to be built will go a long ways in turning the tide of radicalism, and ensuring that we stand for our time tested principles, no matter how unpopular they may be in the current climate.

-Manzer Munir, founder of Pakistanis for Peace, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a freelance journalist that writes for PakistanisforPeace.com and other publications.

Ground Zero Mosque Controversy Helps Give Rise to Islamophobia Across the US

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

A man was accused of attempted murder for his vicious knife attack on a Muslim New York City Cab driver Tuesday evening in what is being described as a hate crime by the authorities.

Michael Enright, a college student who also did some volunteer work in Afghanistan, was being held without bail on charges of assault and attempted murder as hate crimes.

In a criminal complaint filed by the New York Police Department, Michael Enright allegedly asked the driver if he was a Muslim. The cab driver, Ahmed H Sharif, an immigrant from Bangladesh, replied that yes he was indeed a Muslim. At this point, Mr. Enright is alleged to have uttered the customary Arabic greeting of “Aslaam-a-laikum” (Peace be with you) and brutally attacked the cab driver with a knife, slashing him badly on the face, hands and neck. During the attack, Mr Enright also uttered “Consider this a checkpoint” to the cab driver, all the while brutally attacking him with his knife.

 Besides a serious neck wound, the cab driver, Mr Sharif, suffered cuts on his forearms, face, and hands while trying to defend himself from the attacker.

Inexplicably, Einright had volunteered with Intersections International, a group that promotes interfaith dialogue between religions and an organization that has also supported the plans for the Islamic center and mosque 2 blocks from Ground Zero. He had also recently returned from Afghanistan where he volunteered to be embedded with a combat battalion so that he could document their experiences as soldiers that Einright wanted to showcase in an upcoming documentary.

Police stated that Einright was drunk and intoxicated at the time of the attack on Mr Sharif and it is not clear what his motive was for perpetrating the violence on the cab driver. There is growing speculation however amongst members of the American Muslim community as well as several civil rights organizations such as the ACLU and CAIR that the attack is a result of the growing Islamophobia and fear amongst the American public as a direct result of the Ground Zero Mosque controversy that has been brewing for weeks and has been front and center in the media and the American public for some time now.

The plan to build an Islamic community center and mosque two blocks from the 9/11 tragedy and the site of the World Trade Center towers became controversial as right wing groups seized on what they believed to be “an insensitive provocation towards the American public”. Muslim groups demanded their First Amendment rights of freedom of religion and pointed to the New York City council vote allowing them the permit to build as reasons for what they are doing as legal and in fact an effort to build bridges between Islam and other faiths following the events of September 11. However, the issue became nationally prominent and controversial by then as fanned by right wing blogs and ad campaigns, the majority of the American public became against the building of the mosque, according to recent polls.

Thankfully, the voice of reason in this whole debate has been none other than the billionaire Jewish mayor of New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg. His stance and views in support of the mosque as a constitutionally protected right has been welcomed by Muslims as well as civil rights organizations and he should be commended for standing up for what is constitutionally the right thing to do. Briefly, President Obama also came out in support of the group’s right to build the mosque as being a constitutional right, before making statements the next day that “questioned the wisdom” of building it there.

Nonetheless, a link has been made by the right wing, no matter how unfairly, that Islam promotes terror and violence. This can be seen in the fact that the vast majority of Americans now have a negative and unfavorable view of Muslims. For the country to be even having a debate whether a group of Americans can build a house of worship is a testament to how far things have regressed.

No one would ever have thought that a constitutionally protected right such as that of freedom of religion would ever seem controversial. Many have argued that only the area around Ground Zero is off limits to Muslims and they are free to build their mosques elsewhere. This does not appear to be the case as mosques thousands of miles away from Ground Zero in California, Tennessee, Ohio and elsewhere across the country have now come under heavy opposition by local zoning boards and people in those communities. The fear and hatred of Muslims is becoming a growing problem as the Ground Zero Mosque controversy has began to fuel acts of violence against Muslims as seen in the attack on the NYC cab driver. It is a message that is being sent to the American public that Muslims in the United States do not deserve the same rights and privileges enjoyed by all others. In fact, there is an attempt to link all mosques to terror somehow, which is very offensive to millions of peaceful Muslims who abhor violence and who live decent hard working lives in their communities.

At first I was not happy to learn that Muslims planned to build a mosque near Ground Zero as I knew that this would become controversial. But as the opposition to mosques has grown across the nation, and not just for building near Ground Zero, but hundreds and thousands of miles away, it has become clear that this anti-mosque movement is not just about that hallowed area near the World Trade Center site but is in fact becoming an opposition to the religion of Islam as a whole.

This idea by the opponents of the mosque and the right wingers that somehow it is perverted and insensitive to build a mosque several blocks from Ground Zero is in reality only true if we buy into the belief that Muslims and Islam brought down the towers and not a handful of radical extremists of the religion of Islam. If we believe that mainstream Islam itself was responsible for all those deaths on American soil and not Osama Bin Laden and his Al-Qaida network, only then would building the mosque there be insensitive. But for us to somehow associate the whole religion of Islam of over 1.5 billion people by the actions of 19 terrorists is ridiculous.

It is my fear that attacks similar to the one a few days ago on the NYC cab driver will continue to grow as we allow an environment of hate to perpetuate and grow against a group of people. At the very least, this opposition to mosques across the country will certainly grow and continue to spread the notion that ALL Muslims are violent and terrorists. This is simply not true as the 5-7 million American Muslims and the 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will attest.

We must remember that we have a war on terror and not a war on Islam. Far away from Ground Zero in cities across the US as more and more mosques come under opposition in their communities, we must hold steadfast to our ideals, principles and to the US Constitution. As the best nation in the world, we have to defend our ideal and the basis of what makes us the best and that is the US Constitution. Speaking as an American and not even as a Muslim, I know that if we stop defending it for fear of being distasteful, insensitive, or inconsiderate, then we lose what makes us who we are as the freest nation in the world and we must not ever let that happen!

-Manzer Munir, a peace activist, and the founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for www.PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.

NYC Mosque Should Be Seen As a Reconciliation Not a Provocation

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

A New York City panel cleared the way Tuesday for an Islamic Center and mosque to be built several blocks from Ground Zero and the tragedy of September 11, 2001. The New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny historic status to a 19th century building near Ground Zero. By doing so, it paves the way for the old building’s demolition and the construction of a 15 story Muslim community center, a mere two blocks from the World Trade Center site. The controversy has brewed for months over the creation of a mosque and an Islamic center so close to the site of the World Trade Centers where nearly 3,000 Americans died in terrorist attacks blamed on Muslim terrorists affiliated with the terrorist group Al-Qaeda.

Opponents of the mosque have argued that the creation of it so close to the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks disrespects the memory of those killed. They also question who is behind the funding and bankrolling of the proposed structure, Cordoba House, which is estimated to cost nearly $100 million. Many prominent members of the Republican Party such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin have come out strongly against the building of the mosque and Muslim center so close to the site of the attacks. Gingrich argued that “that the Ground Zero mosque is all about conquest and thus an assertion of Islamist triumphalism which we should not tolerate.”

Seemingly directed at peace seekers such as myself, Sarah Palin posted the following message on her Twitter page “Peace-seeking Muslims, please understand. Ground Zero Mosque is UNNECESSARY provocation; it stabs hearts. Please reject it in the interest of healing.”

Some of the relatives of the victims of the 9/11 attacks have come out and said that the mosque and Islamic center would amount to a monument for terrorists as the extremists would see it as a celebration of their destruction of an American monument and lives lost. According to them, the building of the Muslim structure gives an impression that the Islamic extremists won and we Americans lost, not just in terms of lives lost but also in terms of lost and lowered morale.

The proponents of the Cordoba House have advocated the building of the structure especially since they see the center as an organization that promoted tolerance and inter faith dialogue, reflecting the rich diversity of New York City. They say that the “center will be community-driven, serving as a platform for inter-community gatherings and cooperation at all levels, providing a space for all New Yorkers to enjoy.”

Their website further states that the Cordoba House project is “about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture. Cordoba House will provide a place where individuals, regardless of their backgrounds, will find a center of learning, art and culture; and most importantly, a center guided by Islamic values in their truest form – compassion, generosity, and respect for all.”

In fact the name Cordoba House, takes its name from the medieval Spanish city where Christians, Jews and Muslims lived in peace and harmony under the Moors of Spain for over 800 years. Mayor Michael Bloomberg was right in supporting the construction of the Cordoba House not just on the basis that religious freedom is enshrined in our constitution, but because it was the right thing to do. Denying the building of this structure would have been a blatant admission on the part of the city and indeed the entire country that there is absolutely no difference in the twisted misinterpretation of Islam practiced by the hijackers and the Taliban and the one practiced by the rest of the 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. As if a mere 19 deranged, misguided, yet determined adolescent men could change the fact that the vast majority of the adherents of Islam are peaceful, hardworking, average people like you and me who want nothing more than to live a good life, raise their kids, and worship their creator.

No, the opponents of the Cordoba House and their hate wagering backers and right wing politicians like Palin and Gingrich want nothing more than to incite people into believing that Islam in general is bad and evil and to suspect anything that goes on in a mosque. Oddly enough, it seems that much like their enemy, the Taliban and Muslim fundamentalists, the right wing politicians in the GOP want nothing more than “Clash of Civilizations” to come about between Islam and the West. Preachers like the Pastor Terry Jones in Gainesville, Florida who is organizing an “Everybody burn a Quran Day” as well as mainstream evangelicals like Pat Robertson also condone this view and treatment of Islam and Muslims.

Little do these so called “leaders” realize that scores of Muslim Americans also perished that day on September 11, 2001. The hate and fear mongers will not want you to know the story of Salman Hamdani, a NYPD police cadet, who was a part time ambulance driver, an incoming medical student, and devout Muslim whose remains were found at the North Tower, with his EMT medical bag beside him, presumably trying his best to help those at the site of the attacks. Or the Muslim waiter at the Windows of the World restaurant, who never got to see his wife give birth to their son two days after the attacks. I wonder if Gingrich, Palin or any of the others could look US Army Specialist Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan’s mother in the eye and tell her that although her son died in an American uniform fighting in Iraq under the American flag, his religion and his beliefs system are evil and have no place in American life. The deceased Purple Heart and Bronze Star recipient would turn in his grave at Arlington National Cemetery if he knew how his faith was being disrespected and marginalized by politicians and right wing blowhards like Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck, individuals who never served this country or risked their life as had Specialist Khan.

It is heartening to see that good sense prevailed by the New York City panel that had the tough job of deciding on this issue and this heavily watched story. Although there promises to be a further fight and appeal by the opponents of the Islamic center, one hopes that the ruling would stand as denying it would clearly violate the freedom of religion that all faiths should get in America, regardless of the actions of some of their members. After all, one should not punish and ostracize the many for the actions of a few.

-Manzer Munir, founder of Pakistanis for Peace, is a freelance journalist who writes for PakistanisforPeace.com and other online journals.

A Pakistani American Celebrates July 4

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Thousands of Pakistani Americans celebrate the July 4 Independence Day holiday with their friends and families across the United States today. As different as Pakistan and the United States may be as countries and societies, one thing they both have in common is that both countries were founded on religious reasons. Unfortunately, that is where their similiarites end as the religious freedom experience in these present day countries varies greatly.

The earliest settlers of these United States were in fact Europeans who felt persecuted in the old countries of Europe for their religious beliefs. Many of these Puritans came to America in search of religious freedom.  Their hope was to escape the religious persecution they were facing in their countries and so the United States was founded on religious grounds.

Pakistan too is a country that sees the basis of its founding for a religious purpose. The nationalist movement for an independent India from British rule also caused communal conflicts between the Hindus and Muslims as there were calls by many Muslim leaders for a separate country for the Muslims of India since many felt being a minority in a Hindu dominated country would come at the expense of their rights. So a separate country for the Muslims of India and for their right to practice their religion gained momentum and indeed on August 14, 1947, the Islamic Republic of Pakistan became independent, a country founded on religious freedom for the Muslims of India.

This is not to deny the fact that Muslims still exist in India and are free to practice their religion under a Hindu dominated country. In fact, there are more Muslims in India than there are in present day Pakistan. However, many Muslims at the time of partition felt that they would be freer to practice Islam in a Muslim country rather than a Hindu one. It is an open debate whether people in Pakistan today have more freedom to practice their religion. If you are a member of either a minority Muslim group as Shiite or if you happen to be a Christian, Hindu, Sikh or Jew In Pakistan today, you have far less freedom of religion than a comparable religious group in present day India. There is absolutely a very low level of tolerance in Pakistan today for other religions or ways of life different than the majority group.

The promise of religious freedom that saw the founding of both Pakistan and the United States has seen the two countries go separate ways in realizing the dream of each countries forefathers. While the American Founding Fathers dream of a nation that respects freedom of religion and honors a separation between church and state held true, Pakistan unfortunately  has become a country that has become intolerant of other religions. Many religious minorities such as Christians, Hindus, and even Muslim Ahmadis are routinely persecuted or attacked by Muslims who see these groups as infidels and heathens and not merely as human beings with different religious beliefs. The influx of Taliban and religious extremists inside Pakistan has further made life difficult for anyone who is not a devout Sunni Muslim. On many occasions, the police does not investigate or prosecute attacks on religious minorities by various extremist groups leading to a constant fear of their lives and properties.

As Pakistani as well as Muslim Americans across the United States today celebrate the the July 4 holiday, they are keenly aware  that their brethren back in their original countries are not as free to practice their religion, speak their minds, and or protest peacefully as they are able to do in the United States. For this nation indeed guarantees freedom and liberty for all and not just a certain religious or ethnic group.

That is why Pakistani Americans such as myself and Muslim Americans across the US are appreciative of the fact that in this, our adopted country, our religious and civic freedoms are safe guarded in that greatest of living documents, the US Constitution. I have long felt that after the three great religious books of the Torah, the Bible, and the Koran, the US Constitution is the next best thing that man ever wrote down on paper. The Founding Fathers of America were indeed some of the greatest minds in history for crafting a document that continues to make the United States the freest country in the world and one that stayed true to its founding of liberty and freedom for all. Happy Birthday America, May you have many more!

–Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American plans to celebrate the July 4 Independence Day with family and friends at a picnic with fireworks and by watching a parade.

BP Stands for Let’s Blame Palin for the Recklessness of “Drill Baby Drill!”

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

As the BP Oil Spill passes into its 61st day, I began to wonder what the BP in British Petroleum could also stand for. Here is a list of things that I and some friends have come up with that could be the abbreviation for BP.

BP= Bad Planning- The Bad Planning and lack of a coherent emergency response in the event of a rig collapse such as the one that caused the BP Oil Spill and has made a bad situation worse as the company, now still in charge 61 days after a disaster of their own causing, struggles to find a way to stop the leak.

BP= Barely Plugging- More than 6 weeks after the spill started, BP was able to attach a pipe to the well at the bottom of the ocean and is able to siphon 250,000 gallons a day (one tenth of what is estimated to be spilling into the Gulf each day). This clearly is not a solution as this is Barely Plugging the oil spill that continues to poison the ocean and all that live in and around it.

BP= Beach Pollution= See also Bathing Prohibited. The oil from the spill has caused Beach Pollution in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Texas, and Florida. The loss of revenue by the towns and cities in these states that would normally welcome millions of tourists in the summer months is going to have a very damaging effect to many of these states already reeling from the worst recession since the Great Depression.

BP= Bankrupt Probably- Many experts are saying that BP will not be able to financially survive this disaster and most likely will go Bankrupt Probably. If that happens, will the American public foot the bill as we did for the Wall Street failure? One thing is for sure, the company is looking at a very bleak future both criminally and financially.

BP= Be Prepared- This disaster shows the lack of planning for events such as these and underscores the reason for oil companies as well as government agencies such as the Minerals Management Service to Be Prepared in the event of disasters such as this spill. A lack of an emergency plan both by BP and the government is also at fault for making this disaster as bad as it has been.

BP= Bad People- Are the executives at BP Bad People for being at the helm of a company that caused the greatest disaster in history and worse yet for calling the residents of the Gulf “Small People” and showing great indifference to the plight of the residents of the Gulf and to the American public?

BP= Barren Planet- The oil spill is causing irreparable damage to the environment and to the ecology of the ocean and its long term effects are unknown by scientists at this point. One thing is for sure, water is the source of all life on the planet and as we kill the ocean and all living creatures in it with this oil spill, we are guaranteeing ourselves future where life will be hard to sustain on a Barren Planet.

BP= Behemoth Plume- The oil spill has created a Behemoth Plume that is at least 15 miles wide and 3 miles long and growing. This plume is a dead zone with no oxygen and a place where no living creature can survive. As the oil continues to flow and goes unchecked the size of this plume grows and there are reports of second and third oil plumes now forming in the Gulf.

BP= Beyond Pathetic- 61 days and counting and the leak has not been stopped. This is beyond pathetic for BP, and the government’s oversight departments.

BP= Be Patient- How long can the people of the Gulf of Mexico as well as the American people wait for BP and the government to fix the spill and stop the oil leak, not to mention clean up the gulf? And is that even a possibility?

BP= Barely Progressing- 61 days into the oil spill and it seems we are Barely Progressing as oil continues to spill into the Gulf at alarming rates.

BP= Bad Publicity- No amount of new splashy television or print advertisements will replace the Bad Publicity that the company of BP has received. Rarely in the annals of corporate history has a company ever faced such a public relations nightmare as has BP and it will be interesting to see if it ever recovers from this or ends up going under, much like the rig.

BP= Big Problems- The BP Oil Spill is perhaps the biggest of the Big Problems facing the Obama administration and the American people. The economy can be eventually fixed, the housing prices will come back up, people will eventually get rehired, wars will eventually be won or lost and will come to an end, but an ecological and environmental disaster such as this spill we will never fully recover from as a planet.

BP= Birds Poisoned- Tens of thousands of Birds Poisoned as a result of the oil spill. Many birds and animals that are unique to the Gulf region are feared irreparably harmed due to the disaster.

BP= Black Plague- The oil spilled into the Gulf of Mexico and continuing to do so each day means that this spill has become the Black Plague of death not just to the people and the animals of the area, but indeed quite possibly for marine life and perhaps eventually for the planet as no one knows the true effects of this unprecedented disaster on the ecology of the planet.

BP= Broken Pipeline- The Broken Pipeline at the bottom of the Deepwater Horizon rig in the Gulf of Mexico continues to spill as much as an estimated 1.5 million to 2.5 million gallons of oil a DAY into the ocean!

BP= Blood Pressure- Blood pressure was further raised for those living along the Gulf of Mexico as the administration imposed a ban on all new offshore oil drilling and exploration. This has caused many workers in the area who rely on this industry to feed their families, to be laid off by other oil companies as the government assesses the situation and the safety of offshore drilling.

BP= Boiling Point= The Americans affected by the oil spill that rely on the fishing, boating, and tourism in the area have long reached a Boling Point in their patience with BP and with the government’s response.

BP= Better Prosecute= Attorney General Eric Holder is assigned by President Obama to investigate the BP Oil Spill and into criminal charges against the company are now a certainty, especially given the deaths of 11 workers in the explosion that caused the Deepwater Horizon rig to collapse and start the spill on April 20.

BP= Black Pelicans= Pictures of Black Pelicans and other animals as environmentalists worry that number of dead and affected animals is in the tens of thousands. The animal and sea creatures of the Gulf region are expected to be devastated for many years to come.

BP= Billions Paid- This stands for the billions and billions of dollars already paid by BP and the untold billions that will be paid by them in the future and possibly all of us tax payers if the company goes under and becomes bankrupt

BP= Barack’s Problem- This disaster has become President Barack Obama’s Katrina. But at least with hurricane Katrina, the calamity passed within hours and the government started the clean up and rescue, whereas with the BP Oil Spill this is a disaster that keeps on spewing and keeps on polluting as today is the 61st day the spill has continued to flow. How he has handled himself at the onset of this disaster and its continuation could be the defining moment of his presidency as this is squarely Barack’s Problem, unlike the economy, Iraq, and Afghanistan, which all he inherited.

BP=Bankruptcy Protection- See also bankruptcy probably. The amount of damages and compensation that BP will have to pay out in claims and also in penalties could wipe out the company and it may have to seek Bankruptcy Protection.

BP= Brand Problems- See also Bad Publicity. The BP brand has been damaged forever and no amount of advertisements will change the public image and Brand Problems that the spill has created for BP.

BP= Bleeding Planet- The unchecked, endless, and prolonged seepage of the thick crude oil into the ocean is causing death to millions of wildlife and is making earth a Bleeding Planet which one wonders whether we can survive this catastrophe.

BP= Bathing Prohibited- See also Beach Polluted, hence bathing prohibited. And if no beach visitors, no revenue for many states like Florida from tourists and many other places in and around the Gulf of Mexico that depend on the billions of revenue dollars from the fishing and tourism.

BP= Blame Palin- Probably one of the most poignant points of this article and one ignored by major media publications is that there is a correlation to the BP Oil Spill and Palin’s “Drill Baby Drill” slogan during the presidential campaign. Her proposals of allowing the oil drilling everywhere during the 2008 campaign, including in some of America’s most pristine places such as Alaska, galvanized the oil industry and revved them up into a “Gold Rush” mentality where short cuts were taken and oversight lost by the government in a greedy push for more oil saw sloppiness and Bad Planning cause the worst environmentalist disaster in history.

BP= Bye Planet- If the oil spill continues to go on and spill up to 2.5 million gallons into the ocean each day, how long before it engulfs all our oceans and kills a large portion of plant and animal life on the planet? Would that mean the end of the world when that happens?

So in conclusion, BP stands for The Black Plague, because of the Bad Planning,  now let’s Blame Palin, for the Beach Pollution casued by Broken Pipes, with Billions Paid, now it’s Beyond Pathetic, as we’re Barely Progressing, while Black Pelicans, become Barack’s Problem, and the Behomoth Plumes, mean bye Bye Planet!

American Arrested in Pakistan was on Solo Mission to Hunt Bin Laden

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Gary Brooks Faulkner, a 51 year old construction worker from California was arrested by Pakistani police Monday night with a pistol, night vision goggles, and a 40 inch sword and apparently on a mission to kill Osama Bin Laden in revenge for the September 11 attacks on the US.

Faulkner was captured by the Pakistani police in the city of Chitral in the northwestern region of Pakistan near the Afghanistan border. According to a senior police officer, Faulkner was carrying religious Christian books and was reportedly on a mission to avenge the victims of the 9-11 attacks in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania.

According to Pakistani officials, Faulkner arrived in Pakistan on June 3 and stayed in a local hotel in an area of Pakistan known for its spring festivals and frequented by foreign tourists also. Apparently this was Mr. Faulkner’s sixth trip to Pakistan since 2002. At a press conference in his present state of Colorado, Faulkner’s brother Scott Faulkner, a physician, stated that his brother Gary was “on a mission.”

“He’s not crazy,” Dr. Faulkner said of his brother. “He’s not a psychopath. He’s not a sociopath.” Because of Osama Bin Laden’s security and Gary Faulkner’s kidney condition, Dr Faulkner did not believe he would see his brother again as he dropped him off at the airport prior to his flight to Pakistan this month. “I did not think I was going to see my brother again,” Dr. Faulkner said. “That’s the nature of going to Pakistan and hunting a wanted man who is surrounded by people with automatic weapons.”

Dr Faulkner stated that his brother underwent kidney dialysis three times a week and that if he killed or capture Bin Laden, he would use the reward money to live the rest of his life in Nicaragua helping build houses for the homeless.

According to Pakistani police, Mr Faulkner disappeared from his hotel Sunday night and away from the posted police guards, who are customarily there for the security of foreigners. When he checked out without informing police, officers began looking for him, according to the top police officer in the Chitral region, Mumtaz Ahmad Khan. He was in custody after a 10 hour search in a forest area in a high security zone close to the border with Afghanistan. He surrendered without any resistance and was flown to Peshawar where members of the United States embassy were notified of the arrest of an American.

“We initially laughed when he told us that he wanted to kill Osama bin Laden,” Khan said. But when officers seized the weapons and night-vision equipment, “our suspicion grew.” He said the American was trying to cross into the nearby Afghan region of Nuristan.

Chitral and Nuristan are among several rumored hiding places for bin Laden along the mountainous border between Afghanistan and Pakistan. He is currently being questioned by members of Pakistan’s intelligence officials according to reports and is in Peshawar where at present he has not been charged with any wrongdoing.

Whether Faulkner was there on a half baked suicidal, Rambo style mission or he truly believed he could be successful in finding and infiltrating Osama’s inner circle in order to capture or kill him remains to be seen. Nonetheless, it is a testament to the American “Can-do” spirit that a patriotic yet perhaps disillusioned and aging construction worker could take it upon himself to go to dangerous areas of Pakistan in order to avenge the victims of September 11. Whether he is simply crazy or foolish, one can not deny his desire to capture one of the most wanted man in history. We can only dream of the possibilities of real capture or death of Bin Laden if the majority of people in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region wanted to capture Osama and the terrorist Taliban leaders like Mullah Omar and others who shelter him.

Outrage in India As Mumbai Attacks Terrorist Leader Set to Be Freed By Pakistani Courts

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

Pakistan’s Supreme Court on Tuesday upheld a lower court’s decision to free the leader of Lashkar e Taiba (LeT), a militant group that is blamed by India for masterminding  and orchestrating the November 2008 Mumbai attacks in India that killed 166 people.

Hafiz Mohammad Saeed, the leader of the terrorist group had been placed under house arrest. However, he was released a year ago by the provincial Lahore High Court due to the fact that there was insufficient evidence against Hafiz and other members of the group. The only evidence against him and the group was the confession of Mohammed Ajmal Amir Kassab, the lone person charged with attacks in India, who was given a death sentence earlier this month. Pakistan’s government appealed the decision of the Lahore High cCourt to the Supreme Court which upheld the lower court’s decision.

Lawyers for the government of Pakistan had requested that India extradite Kassab so that he could give testimony in Pakistani courts against Saeed and the militant group. However, India understandably did not hand over Kassab for fear that the sole surviving perpetrator of the Mumbai attacks could end up in a Pakistani court that sets him free. Sadly, this now happens to be the case as the masterminds of the attacks and leader of an already banned terrorist group, Hafiz Saeed, is set to be freed soon.

This obviously is very disappointing news to India to say the least. It would be the equivalent of letting the mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, have a long and high profile trial in New York, only to be set free for lack of evidence and or a weak case by the prosecution. The families of the victims would not stomach such a travesty and neither would the American people. In this same manner, the families of the Mumbai attacks are very upset by this decision by Pakistan the Supreme Court to release Saeed will now surelyonly serve to stall peace talks between India and Pakistan that were slowly progressing at the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) meeting in Bhutan in April of this year.

At a time when the world’s attention is on Pakistan and Pakistanis for being associated with terrorism due to the attempt to bomb Times Square by Faisal Shahzad, the country and its courts have shot themselves in the foot by allowing to set free a known terrorist leader of a group that is not only attacking India and trying to provoke a war between the two countries, but is believed to be behind many attacks inside Pakistan also killing many innocent people.

If the shoe was on the other foot and the attackers came from India and killed 166 Pakistanis in a busy shopping area, while simultaneously attacking a major hotel, railway station and other locations throughout any of Pakistan’s major cities, then trust me, there would be demand for blood by Pakistani citizens and militias would have formed with or without the government’s blessings, and theywould have retaliated against the Indians. The Indian government and the Indian people are showing great resolve and patience with Pakistan and all along hoping that it truly becomes 100 percent committed to fighting and rooting out terrorism and terrorist groups within its borders as it is touted to be.

But as Tuesday’s decision by the Supreme Court illustrates, Pakistan’s government has a mixed record when fighting extremist groups within the country. As mentioned in previous articles on this site, the government of Pakistan and the army have supported and helped organize some of these militant groups like Lashkar e Taiba in order for the Pakistan army to have a guerrilla outfit as an ally in the event of a war with India. That is why there is reluctance by some inside the military and ISI to fully disband Saeed’s group, believed to be one of the largest and well funded militant groups in Pakistan. The government of Pakistan needs to realize that it cannot talk out of both sides of its mouth. It cannot present itself as one of the biggest allies of the US in the War on Terror, while at the same time not deal effectively with militant groups that are hostile to India.

We at Pakistanis for Peace are outraged that Hafiz Saeed, a known terrorist leader is set to be free from Pakistani courts. Our group and website Pakistanis for Peace was founded immediately after the Mumbai attacks in 2008 by concerned Pakistani Americans in response to the cowardly terrorist attacks by individuals who snuck in from Pakistan to cause one of the biggest terrorist incidents to ever hit India. These attacks certainly became their 9-11. 

To now have the leader of this terrorist group be set free by Pakistani courts only serves to strengthen the claims of opponents of Pakistan that it is not doing enough in the fight against terrorism. Certainly the families of the 166 dead Indian nationals deserve justice and better outcome than what transpired in Pakistan’s Supreme Court this week. One should make no mistake, only a just and lasting peace with India will ever lead to a prosperous Pakistan and the sooner there is an earnest effort to stop ALL militant and terrorist groups operating within inside the country by Pakistan, the sooner the two sides can sit across from each other at the peace table.

Pakistan, Training Camps, and a Culture of Terror

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

The arrest of the would be Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad has brought increased scrutiny to the fact that Pakistan has become the central destination for the world’s would be terrorists and extremists. This should not come as a surprise to anyone as there have been reports of everyone from the militant Muslims of the Philippines to the Arab Al-Qaeda extremists of Yemen and Saudi Arabia who have all trained side by side with each other. Now Pakistan and Pakistanis everywhere are increasingly coming under suspicion due to the numerous instances of Pakistani men’s involvement in attacks and attempted terrorist attacks.

The London Tube bombings in 2005 by young Pakistani British men, the Mumbai attackers in late 2008, and the attempted Times Square bombing by Faisal Shahzad all are linked by the fact that all the perpetrators in these instances were Pakistani men and that they all got their schooling at terrorist training camps in Pakistan.

Something I have never understood is how are these guys from all over the world able to come to Pakistan and simply find training camps to attend? If these camps are so easy to find by your average would be terrorist wanna-be, then how come with the billions being spent on the war on terror are we not able to find the locations, the leadership, and the infrastructure of these camps and destroy it? I know that the US government has been aiding Pakistan with billions of dollars for the fight against the Taliban and Al Qaeda. So how come are there still terrorist training camps and extremist groups in throughout Pakistan?

Part of the problem as to why there are still terrorist and militant camps in Pakistan is because a number of Pakistan’s army leadership and specifically Pakistan’s spy agency, Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI), view India as the ultimate threat to Pakistan’s security and sovereignty. And in order to fuel a low level insurgency in the disputed state of Jammu and Kashmir, the rationale was to use the militants and insurgents in causing maximum havoc and to use them in the decades old war with India over the disputed Kashmir region.

The real issue is that the groups such as Lashkar e-Taiba and Harkat-ul-Mujahideen were originally founded by the ISI to help obtain volunteers for the Pak army who would be willing to fight India and aid the militancy in Indian Kashmir. Pakistan’s army and the ISI used the same technique used by the US during the Soviet-Afghan war where militants were encouraged to wage a “jihad” against the Russians and were now asked to do the same in Kashmir against India. So this climate of tacit state approval for militancy and the funding and support for militant groups took root at the time of the Russian invasion of Afghanistan and continued after the Soviet retreat.

Once the Soviets left, warring factions or warlords in neighboring Afghanistan led to great instability and hardship for the average Afghani who was just trying to survive in a thoroughly destroyed and desperate country. During this time, students or Talibs of local madrassas in Afghanistan and neighboring Pakistan, emerged as a force as they started to defeat various powerful warlords around Afghanistan with the help of Pakistan’s ISI.

These young men, and in many cases boys, were made up mostly of Afghan refugees who had studied at Islamic religious schools in Pakistan during the Soviet-Afghan war. These young Talibs had received important training, supplies and arms from the Pakistani government and particularly from the ISI as well as logistical and financial support. The ISI historically supported the Taliban throughout the 1990s, viewing it as a counter to what they regarded as an Indian-supported Northern Alliance. In a matter of months, the Taliban captured many key provinces inside Afghanistan and soon Kabul and declared themselves rulers of the country. Only three countries ever did recognize the Taliban government’s 5 years in office running Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001, and they were United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan.

For the Pakistani government, the psychological thinking has always been figuring out this: How do you contain India to the east? What ways can we leverage ourselves in a retreat and counter strike strategy if ever the eastern border with India collapsed in the event of an all out 4th war in 60 years? This is what has always kept the generals up in their barracks in Rawalpindi at Pakistan Army’s Headquarters. When the country of Afghanistan was embroiled in a struggle for power between the warring factions of among others Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud, and other warlords for control of various provinces and cities, the Taliban were gaining valuable training from the ISI and eventually becoming into the force they did culminating in their rise to power in 1996.

When 9/11 happened in 2001, the Taliban were in the cross hairs of the US forces for not handing over their guest, Osama Bin Laden. And since the arrival of US troops have continued to be on the run from American and Pakistani forces. The problem is that certain elements in the ISI still view the predominantly Pashtun Taliban as an important ally in Afghanistan. Despite Pakistan’s efforts to combat and eradicate the Taliban, there is evidence that they are still receiving some support from some members within the Pakistani spy agency.

Now despite being on the run in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the Taliban have joined forces with other militants in the country. These previously separate and independent Islamic extremist groups are now joining forces to fight the Pakistani government. What makes the apparent link-up of Islamic militant groups so much more dangerous than they were on their own is the fact that now the fighters are also coming from Punjab, the country’s largest and most important province, and who were originally trained by the Pakistani military to fight a guerilla war in Kashmir against India.

So now the chickens have come home to roost as both the Taliban who were trained to fight the Soviets and the other groups trained to fight the Indians are instead now causing chaos and mayhem inside Pakistan while fighting Pakistani and foreign forces. These extremist groups are the real threat to Pakistan as they are responsible for near daily civilian deaths inside the country as they battle government forces. This culture of jihadist and militant Islam propagated during the time of General Zia-ul-Haq’s efforts to fight the Soviets has ended up making Pakistan a haven for terrorist groups and militant Islamic ideology. Now couple this with the fact that elements in both the Pakistan army and the spy agency, ISI, continue to provide support, logistics, and information about Pakistani and American forces efforts to capture them, and you start to see picture why there are still terrorist networks and camps available for individuals like Faisal Shahzad to join and get support from in terrorist activities.

Several decades of both fighting the Russians, each other, Pakistani and now American forces along with training from the ISI has made these terrorist and militant groups very adept at surviving. And even though by all accounts the Pakistani government is now fighting the Taliban with full force and in all earnest, it is not doing enough to dismantle and destroy all the other groups that have sprung up throughout the country. If it is so easy for a thirty something year old Pakistani American from a Connecticut to come and get training from a terrorist group as is the case with Shahzad gaining assistance by the Pakistan Taliban, then why can the ISI or Pakistan army or even American or Nato forces sniff out all the training camps and terrorist infrastructure within Pakistan?

Unfortunately that answer is more complex than this simple question. There are many competing interests fighting each other inside Pakistan. As their conflict flares on and continues to escalate, the citizens of Pakistan continue to pay the biggest price with their lives as slowly Pakistan is itself turning into Afghanistan in front of our very eyes. The only solution that makes any sense is a durable peace with India. For if there is peace with the giant neighbor to the east, the very reason for the existence of many of these militant groups will cease and that will allow Pakistan to focus entirely on the Taliban and stabilization of Afghanistan to the west. Also it would free up hundreds of thousands of troops from the Indian border who would go into Waziristan and the North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan to finish off the Taliban and destroy their terror training camps and infrastructure.

Eliminating the terrorist infrastructure and militant and extremist network ingrained in Pakistan is the only way that the war on terror will have a fitting and lasting end. And in order for Pakistan to successfully accomplish that, it must eliminate the threat it constantly feels from India by aggressively attaining the elusive peace treaty with its neighbor. Just like the French and the British are such good enemies that they cannot resist being friends, so too must Pakistan extend a hand of friendship to India, if only to ensure its survival from the vicious cycle of violence it now finds itself as a result of decades of militant ideology primarily directed at its Hindu neighbor.

France Pushes Ahead With Controversial Law To Ban The Veil in Public

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

President Nicolas Sarkozy of France has ordered the French government to draw up legislation that will allow for the total ban on the Islamic veil or niqab. This includes not just state or government offices or buildings, but in fact it will make it illegal anywhere in public. The government of Sarkozy is pressing ahead with writing and planning to enact this law despite many legal analysts in France and in Europe stating that it could eventually prove to be unconstitutional.

Despite having Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, France was one of the first to enact laws outlawing the veil in government buildings and schools in 2004. The move comes after a French driver was stopped last week for driving while veiled in the French city of Nantes. She was penalized a 22-Euro or $29 fine as police cited her for posing a “safety risk” while driving.

French government spokesman Luc Chatel said that the proposals for a full ban on the niqab and burqa would be submitted to parliament in the coming months and could theoretically be made into law by this summer.

The plans to ban the veil, he stated, were “in line with the wishes of the head of state”, who has made clear on numerous occasions his opposition to face covering garments prevalent in the Muslim culture. “The ban on the full veil must be total in all public places because women’s dignity cannot be watered down,” said Chatel, as he kept to the official view that a ban would be in keeping with “republican French values of gender equality and secularism.”

He added: “Everything must be done to ensure that no one feels stigmatized because of their faith or religious beliefs. The president and the prime minister have asked all members of the government to commit to this point.” Clearly, these are contradicting actions to many Muslims across France and Europe as they feel signaled out for the differential treatment. There is no attempt to include other religious articles of clothing from being banned such as the turban for Sikhs or the habits for the Catholic nuns.

Sarkozy’s right-wing UMP party and other groups within France have been lobbying for well over a year in support of the ban. The French Council of State, a body made up of legal experts and is a part of the executive branch in charge of giving the government legal advice, has said that the burqa ban may be unconstitutional under French and European law as it violates the protections for religion. In fact, the French Republic is based on the principle of “laicite” or freedom of conscience preserved in the 1789 Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen. Undeterred, French president Sarkozy is pressing ahead with his attempts to push the law through in the next few weeks.

The Muslim veil has become the symbol of a cultural clash between a secular France concerned with preserving its Christian and Western identity, with the rise of a Muslim population that is estimated at roughly 5 million people, making 1 in 10 Frenchmen, a Muslim. Although the presence of Muslims in France started in the 8th century when Muslims had conquered Spain and pushed into France. But Islam then totally disappeared from France until the 20th century. After World War II, many people emigrated from former colonies in Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and elsewhere, putting Islam in a distant second place as next most practiced religion after Catholicism which is roughly 85% of the population. Of France’s estimated 5 million Muslims, only as little as perhaps 3,000 women wear the veil, according to French government estimates.

The ban on the veil is not constitutional as it conflicts with the country’s freedom of religion and conscience that are ingrained in the French constitution and indeed psyche. Furthermore, to explicitly single out the Muslim religious articles of clothing, the law is blatantly discriminatory and certainly therefore unconstitutional. There is a big concern in France and indeed across Europe over the Arabization or Talibanization of Europe.

Many people in France see the Muslim religion as being repressive towards women and the veil is the symbol of that oppression. It may even seem commendable that France is standing up for the rights of oppressed Muslim women. However, the banning of the veil will certainly be seen by the Muslims of France as a direct assault on their personal and religious rights of expression. In a country where the majority of Muslim women do not wear the veil and have successfully assimilated into French society, the ban will actually serve to further divide and alienate the Muslim population already feeling stigmatized in France and across Europe since 9-11.

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