Archive for the ‘ US Commission on International Religious Freedom ’ Category

Stand with Ahmed against Islamophobia

By Haroon Moghul for CNN

(CNN)The last time I wrote about events in Texas, it was so ridiculous it almost seemed funny. This time, though, I confess my reservoir of sympathy has run nearly dry. Fourteen-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, who attends Texas’ MacArthur High School, was arrested for bring a bomb to school.

Except it was a clock.

Ahmed had actually told his teacher that he’d made the clock at home and brought it in to show what he was capable of. Well, one teacher showed us what this country is capable of, too. The police were called, arrested Ahmed on suspicion of building a bomb and the snap of a shocked young teenager in a NASA T-shirt has gone global.

Irving, Texas, is not far from Dallas, the same part of the country that was making a bid for the 2024 Olympics. Before you welcome the world, might I suggest you welcome your own citizens?

On Tuesday, Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz wrote an op-ed for The Daily Beast asking us to pay attention to Islam’s “jihadism problem.” (A few decades off, but hey, better late than never, guys.) Today, however, America woke up to its Islamophobia problem. It’s a reality American Muslims have endured for years.

Because let’s be real. The clock didn’t look like a bomb. Ahmed just looked to some like someone who might want to make bombs. He’s that very menacing brownish color that racists and bigots associate with either everything south of Texas or some country they probably think is called Terroristan. As it happens, he’s of African, specifically Sudanese, descent. He’s got a doubly Muslim name.

Are you surprised he was arrested?

It’s been 14 years since September 11, and some Americans still cannot believe Muslims are human beings, or American Muslims are Americans or that no people shouldn’t be judged by the actions of people they are completely unrelated to.

And why? Let’s not beat around the bush. We have a whole class of professional bigots — I’ve called them “Islamsplainers” — whose very purpose in the world is to tell us what Islam really is. Except their explanations are based on no evidence, little argument and zero interaction with actual Muslims. They make broad, sweeping, ridiculous generalizations, which would be wholly and completely unacceptable if directed at any other people. Yet America takes them seriously.

It’s trickle-down Islamophobia, the opportunistic and grimy peddling of misinformation, making money and accumulating airtime by alarming Americans with exaggerated fears and wholly decontextualized theses.

Glenn Beck. Bill Maher. Robert Spencer. Pamela Geller. Sam Harris. Maajid Nawaz. Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Their views are vile, hateful, ignorant and, frankly, scary. Yet instead of being called out, they continue to receive mainstream endorsement. In fact, Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a fellow at Harvard, while Sam Harris and Maajid Nawaz’s terrible new book was also published by Harvard Press. Is this what passes for intelligent conversation in supposedly sophisticated circles?

Our professional Islamophobes say the same things, over and over again. They publish the same arguments, over and over again. Glenn Beck’s new book, cleverly titled “It IS About Islam,” is pretty much a rehash of Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s latest book, “Heretic: Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now.” (Probably none of them could invent a clock. Probably they’re just jealous.)

And people who don’t know any better eat it up. They think it’s the truth. They believe Muslim extremism is somehow different from other kinds of extremism. That radicalism is pervasive in Muslim communities. That American Muslims are terrorists. That our cemeteries are secret jihadist training grounds. (Really, we couldn’t think of a better cover story for jihad camp than “Muslim burial ground?”) That all Muslims are either jihadist apologists or jihadist denialists. That the dangerous nature of Muslims requires persistent surveillance.

As Daily Beast columnist and CNN contributor Dean Obeidallah has shown, Irving has proved especially receptive to these arguments, and its mayor has partaken in the demonization of Islam. People like her are part of the Islamophobia problem and why a 14-year-old kid got arrested for doing the most American of things: Tinkering. Inventing. Creating. For heaven’s sake, he’s got a NASA T-shirt on. He’s looking to the future, the place we used to think we owned. And do you know why we feel like we don’t? It’s not because of people like me, or kids like Ahmed. We believe in America. It’s the racists and bigots that don’t.

When I was 14, I loved “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” I watched each episode religiously. I had and still have a man crush on Capt. Jean-Luc Picard. I wanted to marry Counselor Troi in a Sharia-compliant ceremony. I screamed out in agony at the third season finale. I believed I’d become a theoretical physicist. But I didn’t.

Fast forward to today, and instead of being able to focus on what I want, studying what I want, contributing what I feel most able to, I have to talk about my identity 24/7, because who else is going to respond to the racists, the bigots, the misinformants? Who’s going to read Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s next book, or Sam Harris’ subsequent screed and tell you, once again, that despite all their advantages, they still know next to nothing about Islam, about Muslims, about America’s Muslims?

So yes, I and countless other Muslims will keep fighting the good fight, joining hands with people of conscience and conviction to oppose injustices, inequalities and racism of all kinds. Why? So that the real next generation — Ahmed’s generation — can follow their dreams. Not suffer for some people’s nightmares.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note: Haroon Moghul is a fellow at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is an author, essayist and public speaker. Follow him @hsmoghul. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

#IStandwithAhmed, #AhmedMohamed, #Texas, #Irving, #Islam, #Islamophobia, #Mulims, #Clock, #IT, #SiliconValley, #Tech

Reflections On Pakistan From A Recent Visitor

By Alan Jones for The Huffington Post

Pakistan is in the news – not least because of the violence leading up to the elections. H.L Mencken told us that “for every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.” Sometimes something happens and we’re hit between the eyes not only with complexity but with a sense of both urgency and humility. Last month I traveled to Pakistan as part of a UPIC (US-Pakistan Interreligious Consortium) delegation led by the Reverend Robert Chase who runs a remarkable project — Intersections International – which is part of the Collegiate Church of New York.

My involvement came through a sponsoring organization called Convergence, a bi-partisan group centered in Washington DC. Before I went to Pakistan, I thought I was reasonably informed. Now that I’ve had an absurdly short but intense five days there, I find that I know even less, except for two things: one, how intensely tribal human beings are, not least those who wouldn’t admit to belonging to a tribe at all; and two, there is no substitute for personal contact and one-on-one relationships.

Not very profound insights in themselves but significant nevertheless, because my sense of tribe was greatly extended through finding new friends. The intense tribalism on the planet is fed by the lust for power by means of violence and death. But there’s a countervailing “tribalism” which is convinced that if we are to survive and flourish we’d better realize that there really is only one tribe, one ethnic group and that’s all of us. That surviving and flourishing will involve more and more of us in the pursuit of justice and peace.

I found myself in Islamabad sitting next to the scariest looking Muslim in the room (given my prejudices and assumptions – surely modeled on Osama Bin Laden – white turban and dress — suitable for hiding a weapon?). He had a large beard and an intense presence. I found out he was born in Bolton in the UK and now lives in Maryland where he has a farm, a body shop and an Islamic center. We hit is off right away and have become good friends. He is spiritually grounded and intellectually critical and we found that our approach to the great mystery of our different (but not so different) traditions were, in crucial respects, not so much sympathetic as identical.

I came away with two basic insights – one discouraging, the other bright with promise. First, the discouraging part. In some ways Pakistan is a basket-case of a nation. Public opinion polls reveal much that is neurotic and paranoid (not unlike other nations we might mention nearer home). One of our hosts – a distinguished academic – outlined for us the perceptions many Pakistanis have of us. There is overwhelming anti-American feeling revealed in the polls in Pakistan (it wasn’t always so) Why? There are deep problems of perception that have been internalized.

Many are convinced that the War on Terror is really a War on Islam. Moreover this war is being encouraged by a deep conspiracy of Jews and Christians. The US government is not to be trusted because the US wants to break up Pakistan and take control of Pakistan’s assets (the nuclear issue). Finally, the US wants to impose India’s hegemony over Pakistanis. All of the Pakistani delegates agreed with the analysis but also insisted that the perception was distorted – a caricature.

The encouraging insight was our interaction with Pakistani university students and faculty both in Islamabad and Lahore – particularly the women, who were passionate, critical, articulate and energized. What was particularly striking was their clear and biting honesty both about their own country and their severe critique of the appalling ignorance of what is going on in the world and in our name on the part of the US populace.

Alasdair McIntyre some years ago in an essay “How to be a North American” wrote: “We become people one of whose aims is to make sure that we please others, so that they are pleased at being pleased by us. And this wanting to be liked is one of the great American vices that emerges from this refusal of particularity and conflict. Americans tend under the influence of this vice to turn into parodies of themselves – smiling, earnest, very kind, generous, nice people, who do terrible things quite inexplicably. We become people with no depth, no depth of understanding, masters of technique and technology, but not of ourselves.” Colonel Tuan of the Republic of Vietnam once called Americans well-disciplined and generous but a people without a culture. He was not referring to high culture McIntyre commented,, “He meant that he could not recognize what it was about them that made them Americans in the way that he was Vietnamese. And I think that is what happens to people with no story to tell themselves, people who do not confront their future as a narrative future. They, or rather we, become superficial people, people with surfaces, public relations people.”

It struck me that these young Pakistanis were speaking from the point of view of a culture – a culture to be sure that was being challenged by change but a culture nevertheless. Where to begin? It might seem rather thin simply to affirm that there are now strong ties and friendships between members of the two delegations. But these relationships are strengthened by a deep commitment to go on meeting both here and in Pakistan; and not only to meet but to work on projects which will build bridges between our two countries.

It isn’t as if we have to start from scratch. There is already a strong corps of Pakistani-Americans who are dedicated bridge-builders. What comes through when I reflect on my trip to Pakistan is my conviction of the urgency of a new vision for humanity. How can the best of religion be galvanized for the common good? One of my colleagues at the seminary where I taught for many years, often used this aphorism: “Don’t let the demons set the agenda.” It seems to me that this is a good injunction for our age both in our country and in our relations with others. It’s time to jump into the complexity of things with a sense of urgency, humility and humor and realize that there is, in the end, only one ethnic group, only one human race.

Pakistani mobs use blasphemy as excuse to persecute, say Christians

By Sib Kaifee for Fox News

PakistanLahore

In Pakistan, the mere accusation of blasphemy is enough to spur angry mobs to violence, and human rights advocates say the victims are usually Christians.

Last weekend, some 3,000 Muslims stormed Christian churches, torched hundreds of homes and burned hundreds of Bibles in a Christian neighborhood of Lahore, the country’s second largest city.  It apparently began as an argument between two men, but once the accusation of blasphemy was invoked, it exploded into violence and mayhem.

“The attackers were given a free hand when they were torching the belongings and our homes,” a witness told FoxNews on condition of anonymity. “The attackers were Pashtuns and workers of different steel factories and warehouses.”

The violence came two days after Sawan Masih, a Christian sanitation worker , and Shahid Imran, a Muslim barber, scuffled.  When Imran accused Masih of blasphemy, police and a local mosque got involved and the situation spiraled out of control. Remarkably, no one was killed.

“I was beaten by the mob despite the fact I had nothing to do with what happened,” said a shaken up Chaman Masih, father of the suspect, “but I know one thing that my son is innocent.’’ Masih accused the Police of prior knowledge of the attack.

In Pakistan, where Christians make up about 1.6 percent of the population of 180 million, a blasphemy conviction can bring a sentence of life in prison or even death. And a religious political party also made attempts to urged the Islamic nation’s courts to ban the Christian bible altogether, arguing that “it contains blasphemous passages that are a cause of humiliation for Muslims”.  Although the nation has so far not taken that step, the sentiment provides cover for vigilante attacks on minorities, according to Christians.

Salamat Akhtar, founding chairman of the All Pakistan Christians League, told FoxNews.com it was the mob that committed blasphemy in the latest case, by burning two churches and destroying the bibles.

“We request the government to register the same blasphemy case against the perpetrators,” said Akhtar.

Nearly 200 houses were burned in the Christian neighborhood, called, Joseph Colony. The destruction has left about 300 poor Christian families homeless and wondering why police, instead of providing protection, told them to evacuate ahead of the mob backlash.

A senior police official from Lahore told FoxNews.com that the Christian residential colony comprises a quarter of an otherwise industrial area, and noted the factory owners have long been trying to dislodge them so they could expand their operations.

After hundreds of Christians took to the streets to protest the day after the violence, Pakistan’s Supreme Court criticized local police on Monday. A hearing has been adjourned for Wednesday, but Asif Aqeel, director of Center for Law and Justice, said the courts were not likely to be able to do much.

“Judicial inquiries into such incidents mostly remain useless as the administration influenced by [the] powerful government does not provide facts and dodges the judges,” Aqeel said.

Though Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Raja Pervaiz Ashraf both have ordered an investigation in to the attack and condemned it, Christian activists are skeptical.

“The government, courts and institutions are not serious about our plight and after so many incidents, our confidence level is decreasing,’’ Naila Diyal, chairperson of Christian Progressive Movement, told FoxNews.com.

 

The Massacre of Shias in Shia founder Jinnah’s Pakistan

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

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Another day brings news of a yet a new massacre on the Shia community in Pakistan. By last count, at least 47 people have been killed in a bomb attack in the Shia enclave inKarachi Pakistan by the name of Abbas Town with many other injured.

I’m ashamed of this brutality and for the 3rd consecutive large scale attack on the Shia people in Pakistan. The founder of the nation, Jinnah and his sister Fatima Jinnah were Shia Pakistanis. My wife’s family is Shia. Now for the first time, today I am also a Shia Pakistani.

I feel for the fear that this Shia community across Pakistan must be feeling for the last several weeks. Earlier this year, nearly 200 people had been killed in two separate attacks targeting the Shia community in the south-western city of Quetta in January and February. And for what? For having a different view on certain events in Islam’s history? For that these murderous theologically ‘purists’ would want us to believe? Are they not Muslim? And if you answered no to that, then are they not at least human?

These are your fellow Pakistani who cheer for the same cricket team, sing the same anthem, love the same green and white crescent star flag, they read the same history books, and eat the samechaat. Do they not also face Mecca when praying? Did Allah not also create them? Stop killing everyone that does not see the Qu’ran with your Salafist and Wahaabi eyes. No matter what Islamic school of thought you may follow, one thing is certain, bombing and killing scores of innocent women and children is not something God, any God would ever condone, certainly not in his name. Certainly, this is not Prophet Muhammad’s Islam.

I wish the people of Pakistan somehow would put a stop to this weekly targeting of this community throughout Pakistan. Obviously this is the job of a competent government to arrest and dismantle the network throughout the country so that there are no more perpetrator left. This is not the job of the populace. Sadly, the most inept administration in Pakistan’s history is still in power. Zardari’s government is highly incompetent in running a country effectively. With elections a few weeks away, the desperate general population of the country is hopeful for a good change.

The current sad and alarming nation in the country is not what the father of the nation, Mohammed Ali Jinnah envisioned. Jinnah was a “was an Ismaili by birth and according to Vali Nasr, a noted expert on Shia Islam, he believed that Jinnah was a Twelver Shia by confession, although not a religiously observant man. He wanted a tolerant and secular Pakistan, a nation of majority Muslims, but one that also respected all religions and their right to exist freely within its borders. What we have is the opposite of that and not the Islam nor the country that neither the prophet nor the leader had preached about. Pakistan needs to stop this insanity. Stop killing Shias, stop imprisoning Christians for allegedly ‘blaspheming’, stop desecrating the graves of Ismailis and most of all I want these criminals to stop destroying this already fractured country by carrying attacks on helpless citizens.

A nation unable to protect its minorities is not in the end much different than Germany during the Holocaust. The standing by of the majority Sunni population will mean that they have blood on their hands also. This time its Shia blood. Tomorrow it will be Christian or Sufi blood, or perhaps that of a soldier or policeman targeted by these militants and terror outfits. Arrest and grant death penalty to those who are responsible.

Pakistan needs to get rid of all the militant groups for the safety of the common citizen and make peace with its neighbor India instead of cultivating many of these terror groups for proxy wars in Kashmir. The same dog bites you back and is not controllable. It should have never been raised for attacking. Best to put it to sleep, make peace with India, solve the problems of its own people and develop the economy and provide safety and security for a hungry population.

Of course for this to all happen, Pakistan needs to have a fair and free election later this year where the best person should win, one who is a patriot and wants to better the nation and not enrich their pockets from it. I am not sure there is anyone in the bunch running that qualifies.Imran Khan comes pretty close, although not a candidate without his own fallacies. All I can say week after week after hearing the news that comes from Pakistan is that may God help this nation, the most precarious country in the world.

Suicide bomber devastates Shiite enclave in Pakistan, killing 83

By Nasir Habib and Holly Yan for The CNN

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Pakistani police have revised the cause of a blast that killed 83 people on Saturday, saying a suicide bomber was behind the attack that pulverized a busy marketplace.

The explosion targeted Shiite Muslims in Hazara, on the outskirts of the southwestern city of Quetta, authorities said.

Police now say a suicide bomber, driving an explosive-laden water tanker, rammed the vehicle into buildings at the crowded marketplace.

The water tanker carried between 800 and 1,000 kilograms (1,760 to 2,200 pounds) of explosive material, Quetta police official Wazir Khan Nasir said.

Previously, police said explosives were packed in a parked water tanker and were remotely detonated.

The blast demolished four buildings of the marketplace, leaving dozens dead and 180 injured.

The banned Sunni militant group Lashkar-e-Jhangvi claimed responsibility for the attack, spokesman Abu Bakar Sadeeq told CNN Sunday.

The assault left some wondering what could stop the bloodshed in Quetta.

Zulfiqar Ali Magsi, the governor and chief executive of Balochistan province, told reporters Saturday that law enforcement agencies were incapable of stopping such attacks and had failed to maintain law and order in Quetta.

Pakistan, which is overwhelmingly Sunni, has been plagued by sectarian strife and attacks for years.

Last month, two deadly suicide bombings in a predominantly Shiite neighborhood of Quetta known as Alamdar Road killed 85 Shiite Muslims.

Police described that double bombing as one of the worst attacks on the Shiite minority.

Lashkar-e-Jhangvi also claimed responsibility for that dual attack.

According to its interpretation of Islam, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi believes that Shiites are not Muslims. The group believes Shiites insult close companions of Muslim’s prophet Muhammad. Therefore, the militant group believes killing Shiites is a justified in Islam.

Families of victims from Alamdar Road protested for several days bylaying their relatives’ bodies on a road in Quetta until the federal government dissolved the provincial government and imposed governor rule.

Although Balochistan is the largest Pakistani province in Pakistan, analysts and some locals have criticized the federal government for neglecting it, leading to instability.

The Shiite community has repeatedly asked for more protection but to no avail.

During the Alamdar Road protest, Pakistani Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf met with Shiites in Quetta, Pakistani media reported. He agreed to toss out the provincial government and putting a governor in charge.

All administrative powers of the provincial government were given to the governor, who deployed paramilitary forces to maintain law and order in Quetta.

 

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- This attack and the continued attacks on Shiites, Christians and other minorities in Pakistan completely goes against the teachings of the prophet and civilized society in general. We are deeply saddened by this and past attacks and condemn all violent attacks in the name of religion and any other ideology. May God help Pakistan and soon.

Muslims: #RemoveHate or Pakistan Will Disintegrate

As Reported By Dr Faheem Younus for The Huffington Post

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The irony was aptly captured by this picture, taken by a BBC journalist and now going viral on social media. It shows a group of Shiites protesting the recent attacks under another banner in the background, spewing anti-Ahmadi hatred.

Unless protestors #RemoveHate against all groups, they cannot #RemoveHate against any. That’s why I always had trepidations about the Shiite sect becoming the next target — the next Ahmadis if you will. Leading Pakistani analysts feel the same way.

So here is my unifying proposal for all Pakistani Muslims: redeem yourselves by starting a#RemoveHate Twitter campaign. You cannot change the discriminatory laws and you cannot change the school curricula — at least not that easily. But why not, physically and literally, tear down the banners, whitewashing the graffiti and throw away the pamphlets that incite hatred or violence against any religious group?

Americans may argue to confront such hate speech with “more good speech.” But here lies the rub: These banners actually incite violence by calling minorities “worthy of death” and leaving thousands dead.

These deaths — or target killings — are not happening in a vacuum. Just look at the anti-Ahmadi play book: First, the political arm of the Saudi funded Wahabi sect pigeonholes a minority sect as non-Muslims. This is followed by changing the public opinion and poisoning the public discourse, which manifests as hate filled banners and graffiti, and culminates into constitutional edicts and discriminatory laws.

For Pakistani minorities, the process has been kick-started. A 2012 Pew poll showed that 50 percent of Sunnis in Pakistan now believe Shiites to be non-Muslims. For Sufis, that number was at 25 percent.

Historically, Muslim sects in Pakistan chose to appease the “worthy of death” rhetoric against another minority because they saw it as an insurance policy for themselves. Perhaps they should listen to John F. Kennedy’s inauguration speech of 1961: “…remember that, in the past, those who foolishly sought power by riding the back of the tiger ended up inside.”

The tiger has already swallowed so many. Just look around: Shiite processions? Terrorized. Sufis shrines? Bombed. Christian leaders? Assassinated. Hindu girls? Kidnapped.

Don’t #RemoveHate and soon liberals and working women will be next.

I believe in unity against hatred. I believe that our love for Pakistan should not be measured by the amount of hatred we express for America. I believe that our love for Islam cannot be reckoned by our hatred for those who differ with our interpretation. I believe that if Pakistan’s Muslims did not#RemoveHate , Pakistan will disintegrate.

Let your Twitter feeds go wild with #RemoveHate. Let Facebook pages be dedicated to exploring and sharing the best ideas to remove hate from our surroundings. Did you use a ladder or climb on top of boxes to tear down the banner? Did you use paint or white wash to remove graffiti? Is pre-dawn a better time than post-dusk?

I beseech you, my Pakistani Muslim family: Sectarian killings are neither a Shiite nor an Ahmadi issue; they are a human rights issue. Instead of resorting to conspiracy theories, take individual responsibility to #RemoveHate from your streets. But if you still choose to stand under a hateful banner today, don’t complain if you are on it tomorrow.

Dr. Faheem Younus is a clinical associate professor at the University of Maryland. He is the founder of Muslimerican.com. Follow him on Twitter at @FaheemYounus.

 
 
 

 

My Take: It’s time for Islamophobic evangelicals to choose

By Brian McLaren, Special to CNN

I was raised as an evangelical Christian in America, and any discussion of Christian-Jewish-Muslim relations around the world must include the phenomenon of American Islamophobia, for which large sectors of evangelical Christianity in America serve as a greenhouse.
At a time when U.S. embassies are being attacked and when people are getting killed over an offensive, adolescent and puerile film targeting Islam – beyond pathetic in its tawdriness – we must begin to own up to the reality of evangelical Islamaphobia.

Many of my own relatives receive and forward pious-sounding and alarm-bell-ringing e-mails that trumpet (IN LOTS OF CAPITAL LETTERS WITH EXCLAMATION POINTS!) the evils of Islam, that call their fellow evangelicals and charismatics to prayer and “spiritual warfare” against those alleged evils, and that often – truth be told – contain lots of downright lies.

For example, one recent e-mail claimed “Egyptian Christians in Grave Danger as Muslim Brotherhood Crucifies Opponents.” Of course, that claim has been thoroughly debunked, but the sender’s website still (as of Friday) claims that the Muslim Brotherhood has “crucified those opposing” Egyptian President Mohamed Morsy “naked on trees in front of the presidential palace while abusing others.”

Many sincere and good-hearted evangelicals have never yet had a real Muslim friend, and now they probably never will because their minds have been so prejudiced by Islamophobic broadcasts on so-called Christian television and radio.

Janet Parshall, for example, a popular talk show host on the Moody Radio Network, frequently hosts Walid Shoebat, a Muslim-evangelical convert whose anti-Muslim claims, along with claims about his own biography, are frequently questioned. John Hagee, a popular televangelist, also hosts Shoebat as an expert on Islam, as does the 700 Club.

Many Christian bookstores that (used to) sell my books, still sell books such as Paul Sperry’s “Infiltration: How Muslim Spies and Subversives Have Penetrated Washington” (Thomas Nelson, 2008). In so doing, they fuel conspiracy theories such as the ones U.S. Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota,
promoted earlier this year.

In recent days, we’ve seen how irresponsible Muslim media outlets used the tawdry 13-minute video created by a tiny handful of fringe Christian extremists to create a disgusting caricature of all Christians – and all Americans – in Muslim minds. But too few Americans realize how frequently American Christian media personalities in the U.S. similarly prejudice their hearers’ minds with mirror-image stereotypes of Muslims.
Meanwhile, many who are pastors and leaders in evangelicalism hide their heads in the current issue of Christianity Today or World Magazine, acting as if the kinds of people who host Islamophobic sentiments swim in a tiny sidestream, not in the mainstream, of our common heritage. I wish that were true.

The events of this past week, if we let them, could mark a turning point – a hitting bottom, if you will – in the complicity of evangelicalism in Islamophobia. If enough evangelicals watch or try to watch the film trailer that has sparked such outrage in the Middle East, they may move beyond the tipping point.

I tried to watch it, but I couldn’t make it halfway to the 13-minute mark. Everything about it was tawdry, pathetic, even pornographic. All but the most fundamentalist believers from my evangelical Christian tribe who watch that video will be appalled and ashamed to be associated with it.
It is hate speech. It is no different from the anti-Semitic garbage that has been all too common in Western Christian history. It is sub-Christian – beneath the dignity of anyone with a functioning moral compass.
Islamophobic evangelical Christians – and the neo-conservative Catholics and even some Jewish folks who are their unlikely political bedfellows of late – must choose.

Will they press on in their current path, letting Islamophobia spread even further amongst them? Or will they stop, rethink and seek to a more charitable approach to our Muslim neighbors? Will they realize that evangelical religious identity is under assault, not by Shariah law, not by the liberal media, not by secular humanism from the outside, but by forces within the evangelical community that infect that religious identity with hostility?

If I could get one message through to my evangelical friends, it would be this: The greatest threat to evangelicalism is evangelicals who tolerate hate and who promote hate camouflaged as piety.

No one can serve two masters. You can’t serve God and greed, nor can you serve God and fear, nor God and hate.
The broad highway of us-them thinking and the offense-outrage-revenge reaction cycle leads to self-destruction. There is a better way, the way of Christ who, when reviled, did not revile in return, who when insulted, did not insult in return, and who taught his followers to love even those who define themselves as enemies.

Yes, “they” – the tiny minority of Muslims who turn piety into violence – have big problems of their own. But the way of Christ requires all who claim to be Christians to examine our own eyes for planks before trying to perform first aid on the eyes of others. We must admit that we have our own tiny minority whose message and methods we have not firmly, unitedly and publicly repudiated and rejected.
To choose the way of Christ is not appeasement. It is not being a “sympathizer.” The way of Christ is a gentle strength that transcends the vicious cycles of offense-outrage-revenge.

Brian D. McLaren is author of “Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road? Christian Identity in a Multi-Faith World”

Judge Grants Bail to Young Christian Girl Accused of Blasphemy in Pakistan

As Reported by The Associated Press

A Pakistani judge granted bail Friday to a young, mentally challenged Christian girl accused of insulting Islam for burning pages of the religion’s holy book. Rights activists welcomed the decision after calling for her release since she was arrested three weeks ago.

The case has focused attention on Pakistan’s harsh blasphemy laws, which activists claim are used to persecute minorities and settle personal vendettas.

Judge Mohammed Azam Khan set bail at 1 million Pakistani rupees, or about $10,500, a significant sum in a country where many families live on only a few dollars a day. The girl’s impoverished family may need outside financial support to free her.

The young girl, who is reported to be 14 years old and suffering from some form of mental impairment, was arrested after an angry mob showed up at a police station in her neighborhood in Islamabad and accused her of burning pages from the Quran, an act punishable by life in prison under the country’s harsh blasphemy laws. Her lawyer has denied the allegation.

In an unusual twist, police arrested a Muslim cleric from her neighborhood a week ago after a follower from his mosque accused him of stashing pages of a Quran in her bag to make it seem as if she burned them. He allegedly planted the evidence to push Christians out of the neighborhood and is now being investigated for blasphemy himself. He has denied the allegation.

The head of Human Rights Watch in Pakistan, Ali Dayan Hasan, praised the judge’s decision to grant the young girl bail.

“The fact is that this child should not have been behind bars at all,” Hasan said. “All charges against her should be dropped, and Pakistan’s criminal justice system should instead concentrate on holding her accuser accountable for inciting violence against the child and members of the local Christian community.”

Hasan added, “Human Rights Watch hopes that the blatant abuse that has come to light in this case will lead to a considered re-examination of the law, and all stake-holders in Pakistan will actively seek to end frequent abuses perpetrated under cover of blasphemy allegations.”

Is Pakistan’s Hard Line on Blasphemy Softening?

By William Dalrymple for The Guardian

It is rare these days to read any good news coming out of Pakistan. It is rarer still to read good news concerning matters of religion. However, in one week two stories seem to show that Pakistan is for once bringing the force of law to bear on those who abuse religion to provoke violence against minorities.

Last Sunday Mohammed Khalid Chisti, the mullah who had accused a 14-year-old Christian girl, Rimsha Masih, of blasphemy, was himself arrested and charged with the same law. The turnaround took place after the muezzin of his mosque gave evidence that he had framed the girl and falsified evidence. More remarkable still, the far-from- moderate All Pakistan Ulema Council came to Rimsha’s defence, calling her “a daughter of the nation” and denouncing Chisthi: “Our heads are bowed with shame for what he did.”

On Tuesday an even more unexpected event took place. Malik Ishaq, the leader of the banned Sunni terrorist group Lashkar–e-Jhangvi, which is accused of killing hundreds of Shias, was arrested on his return from a fund-raising trip to Saudi Arabia. Lashkar operates quite openly in Lahore despite being officially banned; yet on this occasion Ishaq was immediately brought to court. There he was accused of involvement in more than 40 cases in which 70 people have been killed. He now resides in Kot Lakhpat jail on 14-day judicial remand.

When Pakistan was created in 1947 as a homeland for Indian Muslims, its clean-shaven, tweed-jacketed, spats-wearing and pork-eating founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, made sure the constitution of his new country provided the right for all its citizens to profess, practise and propagate their religion: “You may belong to any religion, caste or creed,” he said in his first address to the constituent assembly of Pakistan on August 11 1947. “That has nothing to do with the business of the state. In due course of time Hindus will cease to be Hindus and Muslims will cease to be Muslims – not in a religious sense, for that is the personal faith of an individual – but in the political sense as citizens of one state.”

It was Zulfikar Ali Bhutto who started the rot. In 1974 he bowed to pressure from the religious right and had the country’s small Ahmedi minority declared non-Muslim. The situation became worse still in the 1980s with the military coup of General Zia. Zia was responsible for initiating the fatal alliance between the conservative military and the equally reactionary mullahs that led to the use of Islamic radicals as part of state policy. At the same time Zia started tinkering with the law. He introduced the Islamic punishment of amputation for theft, and established the Hudood ordinances of sharia law, which asserted that the evidence of one man was equal to that of two women, and made any sex outside marriage a punishable offence for women. Rape was to be punished with the public flogging of the female victim as well as the perpetrator.

Between 1982 and 1986 Zia introduced radical changes to Pakistan’s blasphemy laws – the notorious sections 295 B and C of the penal code – prescribing life imprisonment for anyone who defiles a copy of the Qur’an and death for insulting or criticising the prophet Muhammad. Because there is no strict definition of blasphemy, and virtually no evidence above the word of the accuser is needed to bring a guilty verdict, the laws have often been exploited by individuals with grudges against innocent non-Muslims. In 1988 Bishop John Joseph of Faisalabad publicly committed suicide to protest against the laws; and although no one has yet been executed under the statutes, an estimated 1,200 to 4,000 blasphemy cases have been filed. The number of cases has multiplied in recent years, and the result is often prison sentences of three years or more.

Christians are widely derided in Pakistan; most are descended from “untouchable” converts who still perform the most menial tasks: cleaning the sewers and sweeping the streets. There has been a steady stream of attacks on the community, most bloodily in the murder of 16 Christians at a church in Bahawalpur in 2001. But it is not just Christians who have suffered. Hysteria about blasphemy has also been used to target Hindus, Sikhs, Ahmadis and Shias. In addition to formal convictions, there were at least 34 extrajudicial killings of people accused of blasphemy between 1990 and 2010. Of those, 15 were Muslim, 16 Christians, two Ahmadis and a Hindu. Indeed it is the Shias, not the Christians, who have suffered the brunt of the violence meted out by Lashkar–e-Jhangvi.

The high-water mark for religious intolerance in Pakistan was reached last year when the former governor of the Punjab, Salman Taseer, and the only Christian minister in the government, Shahbaz Bhatti, were both shot dead for suggesting that the blasphemy laws should be reviewed. Last week’s turnaround seems to represent a dawning realisation that things had gone too far – that a descent into mob violence was imminent. “There has been some genuine remorse on the right,” Pakistan’s leading human rights lawyer Asma Jahangir told me. “They realised a line had been crossed.”

This is certainly good news, but it is only a beginning. Rishma remains in custody and Malik Ishaq has yet to be convicted. “I am not optimistic that the laws will be repealed,” says Jahangir. “In fact, you cannot even discuss it.” While politicians such as Imran Khan have bravely called Rishma’s arrest “shameful … against the very spirit of Islam”, neither he nor any other major political figure has called for an outright repeal of the blasphemy laws. Nor, given the fate of Salman Taseer, are they likely to any time soon.

And as long as the laws remain on the statute books, cases like these will continue to occur, and major injustices will continue to be perpetrated on all of Pakistan’s religious minorities.

Pakistan Minister ‘Hopeful’ For Blasphemy Girl Bail

As Reported by The Associated Press

A Pakistani cabinet minister says he is “very hopeful” a young Christian girl accused of blasphemy will be released on bail later this week after spending more than three weeks in custody.

Rimsha Masih is currently on remand in the high-security Adiyala jail in Islamabad’s twin city Rawalpindi after being arrested on August 16 for allegedly burning pages containing verses from the Koran.

She is “uneducated” and has a mental age of less than 14, according to a medical report, and her case has prompted international concern and anger from rights campaigners.

Proceedings to free Rimsha on bail have been repeatedly postponed, most recently on Monday when Judge Muhammad Azam Khan again adjourned the matter after the lawyer for her accuser asked for a stay to show solidarity with a provincial lawyers’ strike.

Paul Bhatti, the Minister for National Harmony told AFP in an interview on Monday he was optimistic the youngster would be released at the next hearing, on Friday.

“Unfortunately there was strike of the lawyers and that was a technical problem and it was not possible to proceed (with) the hearing,” he said.
“On the 7th we are very hopeful that she would be released.”

The case took an unexpected twist on Saturday when the imam who first gave police evidence against Rimsha was accused by his deputy of adding pages from the Koran to the burnt papers taken from Rimsha.

Activists say legislation is often abused to settle personal vendettas, and even unproven allegations can prompt a violent public response.
But it is rare to see anyone investigated for making a false allegation or interfering with evidence of blasphemy and Bhatti said it could be an important turning point.

“The disclosure about the tampering with the evidence will discourage future accusers to misuse this law,” Bhatti said.
Bhatti is Pakistan’s only Christian cabinet minister. His brother and predecessor Shahbaz was gunned down last year for speaking out against the blasphemy law.

Why Do Republicans Dislike Muslims?

By Dr Hesham A. Hassaballa for Patheos

For many years of my adult life, I was a Republican and voted with the GOP in almost every election. For several of those years, in fact, I was in the Republican Party organization in my local township. I felt at home in the Republican Party, with its insistence on personal liberty and limited government. Moreover, I felt that it was more “faith-friendly,” with people of faith being more welcome among Republicans than Democrats.

In 2008, however, that all changed. With the repeated whispers among Republicans that Obama was a “Muslim,” as if that was some sort of plague or flaw, I was totally soured against the GOP, and I officially left the Party. Since then, I have periodically wondered whether I made the right decision. In 2011, in a column I wrote for Patheos, I came to the conclusion that I had done the right thing.

Since then, it seems that the Republican Party has decided that demonizing Islam and Muslims is good politics. Never mind that American Muslims are some of the most successful Americans around. Never mind that American Muslims are just the sort of people who would be good allies of the Republican Party. Never mind that American Muslims are an important part of the fabric of our country and marginalizing them—as with any other minority—can only hurt the country going forward.

No. It seems that the Republican Party does not want any Muslims in its ranks, and it is quite content with that.

Now, that last sentence that I wrote may have been out of emotion and without much basis in fact. But, in fact a recent poll by the Arab American Institute backs up that contention with actual fact. According to the survey, 57 percent of Republicans have an unfavorable view of Muslims. Only 26 percent have a favorable view of Muslims. Now, when asked about “Muslim Americans,” it got a little better: 47 percent have unfavorable views versus 35 percent with favorable views.

According to the survey, “Republicans and Romney voters only give strong negative ratings to Arabs, Muslims, Arab Americans, and American Muslims.”

As a whole, Republicans are just not that into Muslims. But, does that explain the seemingly endless demonization of Islam and Muslims from members of the Republican Party? Is it a personal bias and dislike of Muslims that leads Republican lawmakers from more than a dozen states to try an enact laws that ban “Sharia law”? It would be easy to draw this conclusion and move on.

But as I read on in the study, I was struck by something that really explained a lot behind this negative attitude toward Muslims. When asked, “Do you personally know anyone who is Arab or Muslim?” 49-63 percent of respondents answered in the negative, the most being among Romney voters. Among those who said they knew an Arab or Muslim, 56-65 percent had a favorable view.

That is the key, and it actually gave me a lot of hope. Simply put, we need to know one another better. I suspect that many of the negative feelings toward Muslims found in this study are due to the fact that most of the respondents do not know a Muslim. Once they know a Muslim, they realize that Muslims are Americans just like them who love their country deeply and wish for many of the same things that they do.

It’s going to take a lot of effort, for both the American Muslim community and their neighbors of other faiths. That work, however, is critical to our cohesion as a nation and a people. There are forces of hatred and division that are actively at work to make sure that this divide amongst us stays as wide as possible. We have to make sure that these efforts end up in miserable failure.

Hesham A. Hassaballa is a Chicago-based physician and writer. He is author of, most recently, Noble Brother: The Story of the Prophet Muhammad in Poetry (Faithful Word Press). You can follow Hesham Hassaballa on Facebook. Hassaballa’s column, “An American Islam,” is published monthly on the Muslim portal. Subscribe via email or RSS.

Free Rimsha Masih Now and End The Blasphemy Law Witch Hunts in Pakistan

The latest victim of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws, is an 11 year old girl suffering from Downs Syndrome. Rimshah Masih screamed pitifully as she was brutally snatched from her mother by an angry mob intent on killing her. Burnt religious texts had been mischievously planted in a bag she was carrying. We call on the Pakistani Government to take action to stop the ongoing discrimination, persecution and hatred towards minorities living there. We call on the Britisha Government the EU and the Un to intervene on behalf of this poor child and to bring about her freedom.

To bring an end to hatred towards minority faiths in conservative Pakistan and to defend otherwise helpless victims like Rimsha please sign the petition below: http://www.petitionbuzz.com/petitions/freerimshamasih

This petition will be sent to the Pakistan Government at the highest levels.

“Whilst the Burmese’s treatment of the Rohingya is indeed appalling and deserves condemnation, our minorities are living in their very own Burma right here in Pakistan.

“As the rest of the country goes about its way, having just celebrated another joyous Eid, spare a thought for a little girl with special needs, languishing in a juvenile jail.

“She is probably all alone, and scared. With her condition, she very well might not even know the reason she is in there.

“But ask her neighbours, some who are frothing at the teeth to have a go at her, and they will tell you that she deserves to die.

“Rimsha Masih, an 11-year-old Pakistani girl of the Christian faith, who reportedly suffers from Down Syndrome, was arrested on allegations that she had desecrated the Holy Quran.

“The girl and her mother were severely beaten by an enraged mob that had converged outside their house, while the rest of her family managed to flee. If the police had not intervened, there is no telling what else could have happened….”

Please sign the petition and help free Rimsha and Aasia Bibi and put an end to Pakistan’s Blasphemy Laws.

Michele Bachmann and Muslim Witch Hunts

By Haris Tarin for The CNN

It is difficult being an American Muslim engaged in civic activities, let alone working in government or politics. We Muslims must always second-guess what we say, guard against people questioning our loyalty and make sure that nobody thinks we are trying to infiltrate the government to sabotage it from within and hand it over to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most Americans would dismiss these accusations, especially the last one, as outrageous conspiracy theories written by loonies on their blogs. Yet American Muslim public servants are facing these charges from sitting members of Congress. The sad reality is that it has been happening for a decade, and has been met with complete indifference from the media and the public.

Recently, Rep. Michele Bachmann, briefly the front-runner for GOP presidential candidate, sent letters to the State Department, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security asking them to investigate American Muslim organizations, individuals and government employees to determine if they are infiltrating the government and sabotaging it from within. This week, Newt Gringrich wrote an op-ed defending Bachmann’s request.

Bachmann and her friends — Republican representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tom Rooney of Florida and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia — pulled out all the stops. They not only hurled these outrageous claims at our organization, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and others like ours, but also accuse Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief-of-staff of being part of the conspiracy.

Huma Abedin, married to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, has served Clinton since she was the first lady. The slurs against her are beyond malicious. They accuse Abedin’s late father and her family of being a part of an international conspiracy seeking to sabotage the United States.
This latest witch hunt comes as no surprise to those of us in public life. This is a natural next step for hate mongers. First, people who do not have mainstream political backing start the rumors. Next, if we take a page from Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s playbook, the rumors become accusations leveled by the most politically privileged. It’s simple — the more accusations thrown at American Muslims trying to serve their country, the harder it is for them to be hired and the more politicians shy away from engaging them.

For years, we have watched presidential candidates talking about their discomfort with appointing Muslims to senior positions in government. We have seen them sparring over our ethics and principles. Legislation against Sharia law has been introduced in 20 states, frightening residents into thinking Sharia is an imminent threat. President Obama still faces vicious and pointed accusations of being a Muslim, as though it were a slur.
These attacks are real and hurt people’s lives. Public servants have been forced out of jobs, with suspicion shadowing them. Very few public officials have had the courage to publicly condemn the escalating witch hunt. Will this latest absurdity finally force our politicians and policy-makers to not only defend someone like Huma Abedin, whose public service needs no defense, but also all American Muslims who serve this country every day?

A few Republicans have rallied to Abedin’s side. This week, Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s former campaign chief, denounced her in an op-ed on Fox News. Speaker of the House John Boehner defended Abedin’s character.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain felt compelled to stand on the floor of the Senate and denounce the accusations. “Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be,” he said.
The question is whether this incident will serve as a tipping point. Will our political and religious leaders and the media push back against Islamophobes whose clear agenda is to marginalize American Muslims? Will this wave of McCarthyism be exposed, condemned and made politically unacceptable? Will American Muslim public servants be able to serve their country without suspicion?
Every year, my organization brings 25 young American Muslim leaders to Washington to help them better understand policy making. The majority are inspired to develop careers in government and public service.

Yet every year I ask myself: Are these individuals better off in banking, medicine and less high-profile careers? Am I exposing them to a career that will be tarnished by the likes of Michele Bachmann? In the end, I still believe that the sacrifice to serve this nation and make America a better place is worth the headache, and heartache, of dealing with bigots — including those in Congress.

Haris Tarin is the director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

15,000 Muslims To Attend Memorial-Day Weekend Islamic Convention Targeting Anti-Shariah Movement

As Reported by The Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Some 15,000 Muslims are expected to attend a weekend convention in Hartford dedicated to religious freedom.

The theme of the campaign by the Islamic Circle of North America was chosen in response to a wave of bills introduced in statehouses around the country to ban the use of Shariah law and other foreign legal codes

A vice president of the group, Naeem (NY-eem) Baig, says such proposals are motivated by deep-rooted hatred toward Muslims. He says the convention is part of a nationwide campaign that also aims to educate Muslim-Americans about Shariah laws that were rarely discussed here even two or three years ago.

The gathering will take place from Saturday through Monday at a Hartford convention center. Connecticut’s capital is hosting the annual convention for the seventh consecutive year.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– My fellow Americans, Happy Memorial Day to all of you across this great land as we think of our fallen those who defended it and the US constitution, which we Americans all pledge allegiance to. It contains perhaps the greatest words man penned to paper and within its words lie in our freedoms that the men and women of the United States Armed Forces died to provide us. May their sacrifice never be in vain and may we continue to be free, all of us~ Manzer Munir

Memorial Day Personal For All Generations

As Reported by Michael Beall for The Great Falls Tribune

It arrives when spring begins its slow transition to summer, as high school seniors prepare their next steps and, when the fickle Montana weather cooperates, it’s a day for barbecues, parades, picnics and remembrance — surrounded by loved ones, bouquets of flowers and American flags.

Memorial Day is a national holiday with a personal connotation that dates back to 1868 and the wake of the Civil War. It stems from contentious roots in a time when the North and South honored their dead on separate days, until the country united the holiday after World War I to remember all American soldiers from every war.

It was known as Decoration Day in the 19th century, when Americans from both battlefronts carried flowers to graves or makeshift monuments honoring the approximately 620,000 soldiers who died on American soil.

“The procession went on, and stopped here and there at the little graveyards on the farms, leaving their bright flags to flutter through summer and winter rains and snow. They sent flags to all the distant graves and proud were those households who claimed kinship with valor,” wrote Sarah Orne Jewett on Decoration Day 1892, remembered in the book “Race and Reunion: the Civil War in American Memory.”

Jewett’s words ring true today in the graveyards and cemeteries, memorial parks and main streets, and in homes and backyards. Memorial Day is as personal as an individual’s relationship with a war, a veteran, a living or fallen soldier.

Maureen Blake, a third-grader at Morningside Elementary, planned to celebrate the holiday with an annual barbecue to spend time with her mom, dad and sister.

“Memorial Day means to me and my family to celebrate soldiers and their hard work in the military, army, marines or whatever they do,” Blake said in a shy but excited voice. “I think it’s a day for remembering the soldiers.”

She said she remembers her dad, Ferrel, who is an Air Force sergeant, and her uncle, who passed away in a car wreck. When she grows up, she wants to follow her father into the military so she can help people.