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February 23, 2006

United States of America

On Port Security: Slower, Please

By Steve Schippert | February 23, 2006

After several days of battling both for and against the prospect of Dubai Ports World acquiring P&O Steam Navigation and, thus, operation of several of our largest maritime ports, I have consistently come to one daily conclusion: Breathe.

That suggestion, by the way, is not directed solely at the many in such spirited opposition to the deal, but also at the Bush Administration and the Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States (CFIUS). There is absolutely no need to rush this through, especially when there is quite obviously a great deal of concern among the American public. Neither the ports nor P&O Steam Navigation nor their buyers, Dubai Ports World, are going to vaporize within a 30-day or 45-day window for review. Our nation’s security (and our public’s peace of mind) deserve this consideration.

There are many aspects that warrant a closer look, including the true nature of the UAE’s support in the War on Terror, the current state of their banking system - long used throughout the region for nefarious causes, the fact that it will be a government-owned company servicing our ports and not a private entity, and how they intend to staff the various ports’ management. The Committee on Foreign Investments in the United States may very well have vetted this to their own satisfaction in their customary secrecy. But, in this case, such secrecy will not be deemed acceptable. There are means of publicly vetting these important issues without compromising sensitive information. Perhaps not perfectly, but for a matter of such great public concern, complete secrecy is counterproductive regardless of the ultimate result of any hearings and public review. In this instance, the risk of secrecy appears far greater than the risk of sensitive exposure.

With that being said, the ownership of the US port operations by a UAE government-owned firm is not the security concern that the degree of current hyperventilating seems to insist in much of the political and media spheres (both old and new).

Let’s take a logical look at a few of the issues of concern.

  • The UAE is not buying US ports.

There still seems to be a fair number who characterize the issue as the United Arab Emirates ‘buying’ ports. They are not. Their DP World is buying a company who happens to have rights to the leases to operate the various ports. DP World will own nothing but rights (important rights, to be sure) and heavy equipment. Those rights also expire with the leases offered by the states that own the various ports.

  • The US Coast Guard and US Customs, now under DHS command, is in charge of inbound maritime port security, not the port operator.

It is not the function of port operators to inspect cargo or enact the type of security measures that many seem to assume. The security checks in question are addressed before the port operator has ‘custody’ of the ship for unloading operations. Inbound cargo vessels are stopped and inspected by the US Coast Guard at a safe distance. One can argue that they do not inspect all/enough cargo containers, but that does not fall under the auspices, control or even influence of the port operators. If one desires more inspections, then the proper channel is through elected officials and the Department of Homeland Security, but not Peninsular & Oriental Steam Navigation today or, potentially, the UAE-owned Dubai Ports World at a future date. Screening simply does not fall to them.

  • The concern over potentially dubious UAE hiring practices is largely a non sequitur.

Why? Because the hiring of the hands-on crews that operate the equipment to dock, unload and load the commercial transport vessels is determined by the American unions who man the yards. Anyone who has ever attempted to become a longshoreman has had to either go through the International Longshoreman’s Association on the East Coast or the International Longshoremen & Warehousers’ Union on the West Coast, and getting into the union is no easy task. Is an American Union going to tolerate quietly any attempt by the UAE (or US Federal Government, for that matter) to employ a non-union member on the docks or an attempt to squeeze a foreign citizen onto their payrolls?

Let’s also consider that these longshoremen are by and large a secondary line of defense who are not tasked with inspection. Their job is to ‘yank and crank’, to unload and load cargo as quickly as is safely possible.

If one still has concerns, right after a major shift change, stroll down to the local watering hole near Port Long Beach or outside New Jersey’s Port Elizabeth servicing New York City. When you get inside, amidst the lifted beers and tall tales of high school football glory days, shout out loud, “You people cannot be trusted with this port any longer!” Be sure to observe the response with alertness and quick feet. They take great pride in what they do, and to suggest that they would allow anything untoward to happen to their own dock or their own country is an exercise in folly. These are the men who ran the docks before the March 2 purchase of P&O by the UAE’s DP World, and they will be the same ones manning the docks afterwards.

If DP World (or P&O, for that matter) decided who loaded & unloaded the ships, operated the cranes and moved the cargo, this would be a potential concern. But, they do not, did not and will not.

If DP World were to even actually have in its employ at a port a questionable character in a management position with ill intent, he would have no more effect on an inbound shipment’s ability to thwart US Customs and Coast Guard security checks than he would from the sending end. The idea that a port operator would somehow be more able to sneak a deadly container into a port is an idea founded without understanding the disconnect between the port operator and the inbound inspections system employed by the USCG and Customs before entering the port.

  • With few allies in the region, what does it say to those we do have if we reject the UAE and DP World for essentially ‘Operating While Arab’?

Consider the inexplicable context provided by our own former vice president, Al Gore, who charged just days ago in a paid speech at a Saudi Arabian-hosted Middle Eastern economic summit that America has and is mistreating Arabs worldwide. He said that Arabs are "indiscriminately rounded up, often on minor charges of overstaying a visa or not having a green card in proper order, and held in conditions that were just unforgivable. Unfortunately there have been terrible abuses and it's wrong. I do want you to know that it does not represent the desires or wishes or feelings of the majority of the citizens of my country."

Ironically, it should not go without notice that many of the American politicians now loudly opposed to this deal are doing so in generalities and pouncing upon the Arab aspect largely for public consumption, playing to the wave of initial reaction. Yet, these politicians who opposed racial profiling of young Arab males for particular attention in our airports after the attacks of September 11, 2001, are now engaged in openly racially profiling and entire nation. This incongruous stance should disqualify them from the ranks of those who should be taken seriously. With little doubt and much irony, they are 'playing on our fears'.

If we simply reject the UAE-owned DP World bid with this tone amid the backdrop mindlessly and erroneously laid by our own former vice president, it will carry loud and lasting reverberations throughout the Middle East, a region whose slow self-transformation we rely upon heavily for the future safety and security of our own children.

This is a long war with few clear victories. Are we prepared to now cede one of the few allies we have in the region and accept the long-term consequences without taking a longer, closer look?

For these key reasons, while it is important to take our time and be certain and look for other potential risks, the key fears cited are not necessarily based on a solid understanding of the security impact of a port operator. With a longer and more detailed public look at both the role of a port operator and the UAE’s DP World, it will likely become clear that this is not at all the security risk that it first seemed to be. But, to assume otherwise or even to arrive at that judgment without such further review is wholly irresponsible.

To be sure, there are many aspects that warrant a more patient and more public inspection. So, let’s take our time and have a closer look and have it very publicly for our own peace of mind, one way or the other.

But be forewarned on potential Congressional review: So long as there are cameras in the chambers, we will be more likely to see many politicians seeking to bend testimony around their already-stated public positions rather than seeking a true understanding, regardless of their perceptions. Most will, typically, exit any such procedure with the same view they entered into it with. For this reason, the public must not let this rest on The Hill. The American public must remain engaged.

We, the people, need to review and work to understand the facts and implications.

The items listed above are not offered as justification for waving the DP World deal through. Not at all. Their purpose here is to simply serve as a brown paper bag for the hyperventilating to breathe into. We need to make an important security decision with long term implications. We cannot possibly make a sound judgment with a rubber stamp in one hand while hyperventilating into the other.

February 22, 2006


What You've Wrought

By Marvin Hutchens | February 22, 2006

Many people here in the United States, and throughout the West, are now concerned with the potential escalation of civil unrest and violence – and potential civil war - in or from the Islamic and Arab influenced world. Particularly in Iraq, in light of recent attacks on magnificent historic mosques. We find Americans in increasing numbers opposed to the potential sell of the business operating a vital group of American ports to Dubai Ports World, a UAE company. Our concern - the security of our ports and the potential compromising of that security. When a few weeks back I first read of the potential sale - to either DPW or a company from Singapore - I caught the trickle of a tinge of hope within that it would be the Singapore based company, if it couldn't be a US based or other Western firm.

To call it a tinge is somewhat of an understatement. It was clearly to me something that I didn't want. I knew that while a trickle only, it had the potential to gush as a river and so I sought to vanquish it and to do so with some reflection on the cause. In doing so it became apparent that the cause of my hope against the deal - and perhaps that of many others now being voiced - was not that a viable threat to security was apparent in the deal but rather due to my failed belief that the people of the Middle East, and more broadly that the 'ummah of Muslims around the world are true partners in defeating the terror brought on by their fellow believers.

For four and a half long years I held the belief, likely held by many Americans of various faiths and of no faith, that you, the Muslim 'ummah, are not only as opposed to the terrorist acts taken in your faith's name as I am, but that you are eventually going to stand against it. On more than one occasion I've written that you would find the means to oppose terrorism and the values which make it possible. Likewise, I've held that while those values are not shallowly supported among your brethren - perhaps being more deeply rooted that we or you acknowledge - that the means to discover and remove the cause is available to you in your faith and customs. It also is a necessity that you do so.

From our far away perspective and shores it is difficult for us to grasp the problem before us. From a lack of real understanding we are also incapable of seeing the solution. The result is that we are threatened by you. It is not that Americans haven't tried to understand. Many from across the political spectrum and from myriad of walks of life have made the effort. We've held back the might of our defense capabilities – restraining our ability to make war beyond the absolute minimum force required, and more than once it can be argued we've done even less than the minimum needed to secure our safety. As a whole, we've sacrificed the lives of our servicemen and taken a far smaller number of steps here at home to separate ourselves from the Middle East and your chief export – petroleum. But the problem and its solution do not rest within our shores or behind our might and force – unless further provoked.

And therein lies the problem. We are fighting against terrorism. The fight is against terrorists and their view of your faith. Not against Muslims, Arabs or Islam. And the part we are to play in this war will not be against Islam and Muslims – for the soul of the faith is determined by its adherents, not those who could oppose it. You, the Muslim 'ummah, must be the ones who define that soul and the values your brothers in faith are permitted to espouse and act on.

From these distant shores it appears that you've dammed the flow of discussion within your ranks for centuries too long. Time's affect being to reduce your balanced application of the spirit and law provided in Islam to a blind application of the ahl us-sunnah with little regard for the moral and ethical guidance availed to you in the Qur'an and ahadith. The great value of open discourse and study of the nature of your faith, of Kalam, and of fiqh ul-sunnah to the early years of the 'ummah was apparent in the reverence the West held for your thinkers and in the success of your culture. Across long seas of time and water the West seeks to understand the gulf between us and to suppose a gulf must likewise exist among Islam's adherents. That is, we long to believe you are not like - in faith and deed - those who strike against us with terror.

It is not for us to say that the drying up of any particular school of thought or the flowering abundance of another is at fault. Was it the end of ijtihad and the study of the nature of Allah that bound the faithful as a river between dikes, dams and levies? What we can be certain of is that the flow of thought and voices of opposition are essential to the building of successful societies and to the free practice of faith. I once wrote that I was still waiting on you to take the reigns of the war on terror. It was long ago and, while there have been those among you who like a summer rain have refreshed my hope, it has been a dry season.

Americans are not a people unwilling to forgive and to help, nor are we a people who will believe that a body as large as the Muslim 'ummah is incapable of evicting from its ranks the ideals of those who threaten the peace of the entire world. It is your task. Until and unless there is progress from within the Islamic world it should be clear that the citizens of the US will experience the trickle of fear and apprehension with regard to the Muslim world. If you act - that trickle may never become the uncontrolled river of iron and steel, fire and force, free of hope for a peaceful future between us.

February 10, 2006


The Muslim Brotherhood in the Egyptian People's Assembly

By Guest Contributor, Magdi Khalil | February 10, 2006

In November 2002, the Saudi Prince Nayef ben Abdelaziz made the following statement about the Muslim Brotherhood: "The Muslim Brotherhood is to blame for our current predicament, they have ruined the Arab World ... they are the root cause of our problems in the Arab World and perhaps in the Islamic World as well." Coming from the veteran Minister of Interior, this statement holds much weight.

On May 18, 2004, Mr. Otto Schily, the German Minister of Interior stated that: "Islamic terrorism poses the biggest danger to the German society." He warned against the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which, according to the German minister, is a group that promotes violence and seeks to influence the Muslim youth in Germany.

A few months ago, Mr. David Welch, the American Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, answered a question about an American dialogue with the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood by saying: "we do not hold a dialogue with a banned, terrorist group."

Furthermore, seven out of the twenty-two dangerous terrorists that are being haunted by the United States happen to be Egyptians who, at a certain point in time, have operated under the umbrella of the Muslim Brotherhood (Carl Murphey, researcher, American Council on Foreign Relations - Obsession with Islam: The Egyptian Experience). The remaining fifteen terrorists have been influenced to one degree or another by the group's philosophy, and its key ideologists, whether Said Qutb from back then, or Yusuf al-Qaradawi in our present time.

In 2003, the November issue of the American magazine, Atlantic Monthly, featured an article written by Ms. Mary Anne Deaver - author of the book "A Journey Through the World of Militant Islam" (1999), where she stated the following:

"In the last few years, we can say that the Islamists, and the Muslim Brotherhood in particular, have come close to attaining their supreme goal: to seize power either by force or through the elections, if the regime makes it possible for a free and honest election to take place."

Clearly this statement suggests that the Muslim Brotherhood will either take advantage of a state of chaos to jump to power, or will take power via an honest election--the end result in both cases being the same. The results of the recent parliamentary elections in Egypt seem to confirm this scenario, as the Muslim Brotherhood candidates have achieved tremendous success in some districts, in spite of being victims of blatant forgery in some electoral districts such as "el-Dokki" and "Damanhour."

All those who monitor Egyptian affairs are well aware that the late President Sadat is responsible for introducing the Muslim Brotherhood to public action, and that by resisting all attempts at a genuine reform, President Mubarak will end up effectively handing power over to the Muslim Brotherhood. The recent voting in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood is, in big part, a protest at, and a rejection of, the current regime.

The Muslim Brotherhood claims to have changed, and the truth is it has not ... not at all! They have only added a soft layer to their speech for political consumption. Behind this ambiguous and misleading layer lies the same rigid, ideological and militant speech. Talking to "Al Arabiya" channel, on 18 November 2005, the Muslim Brotherhood leader Essam Al Erian confirmed this fact when he said: "our goals and values remain the same, (unchanged) since 1928 and till the present time."

The argument made against the Muslim Brotherhood was seriously weakened by the fact that it usually revolves around the movement's origin, its first years and secret organization; and while these issues were over-analyzed, almost drowning us in a deluge of information, little attention was paid to the movement's political conduct ever since Sadat gave them access to public action.

Therefore, I am deliberately focusing on their political conduct during the last three decades. What are their beliefs and where do they stand vis-à-vis the following important issues:

The relation between the state and religion, women's rights, citizenship and how it relates to the status of non-Muslims in a country with a Muslim majority, art and creativity, monuments and tourism, economy, banking, interest rates and foreign investment, the relation with the West and with the United States in particular, the peace with Israel, terrorist operations and organizations, globalization, international institutions, international law and international treaties, Islamic khilafa (Islamic rule where the ruler is regarded as a successor of Prophet Muhammad), Islamic Ummah (nation), and what they think of the daily life problems faced by the Egyptian citizen.

The Muslim Brothers have been members of the People's assembly in Egypt since 1984, but their presence was clearly felt in the last term, where they became an influential power. Let us study a sample of the requests for information that were presented by the Muslim Brotherhood in the last parliamentary term (2000 - 2005), to recognize the approach they take in serving their fellow citizens in Egypt, which, by the way, doesn't differ much from the approach of the Muslim Brotherhood in the National Council of Kuwait or the Jordanian Parliament.

  • On 1 Jan 2001, Mr. Gamal Hishmat - a Muslim Brotherhood deputy - presented a request for information concerning three books: "kabl wa baad" (before and after); "abnaa el-khataa el-romansi" (sons of a romantic mistake); and "ahlam moharama" (forbidden dreams), the request created an uproar at the time, and, as a result of that, a number of senior officials in the Ministry of Culture lost their jobs.

  • Several members presented a request for information asking the government to remove the ban imposed on the newspaper Al-Shaab, which was known for its extremist attitude and support of terrorism, they also wanted the Egyptian Labor party to resume its activities (Asharq Al-Awsat, 1 Jan 2001).

  • A request for information concerning the agricultural normalization between Egypt and Israel, and other aspects of cooperation between the two countries, as to put an end to all forms of normalization with Israel (Asharq Al-Awsat, 13 April 2001).

  • A request for information questioning the Minister of Justice regarding the charges against Ragab Rizk el-Swirki - known as Egypt's Shahriar - for having married more than 4 wives simultaneously, and marrying 21 women over the years. Swirki is the owner of a chain of well known Islamic stores "el-nour wa el-tawhid", and the Muslim Brotherhood accused the government of framing him (Asharq Al-Awsat, 15 May 2001).

  • Another request for information presented by Gamal Hishmat about the discrimination against veiled women, citing two specific incidents: an Egyptian University professor who was not admitted into the American University's library because she was wearing a "nikab" (a cloth that covers the whole face except for the eyes), and refused to reveal her face to the security officer; and the second incident about an assistant-pilot working in a private company who was fired after she started wearing the veil (Asharq Al-Awsat, 17 March 2002).

  • A request for information presented by the Muslim Brotherhood deputies to the People's Assembly Speaker, asking to be referred to as "The Islamic Mass" (Asharq Al-Awsat, 23 April 2002).

  • The Muslim Brotherhood deputy, Hassan Ibrahim, presented a request for information proposing a law to prohibit alcoholic beverages in Egypt, specifying a punishment of 40 lashes for anyone caught consuming alcohol. (Asharq Al-Awsat, 10 May 2003).

  • The Muslim Brotherhood deputies rejected a proposed legislation regulating in-vitro fertilization, and organ transplant, claiming that they were in conflict with the Shari'a (Islamic law) (Asharq Al-Awsat, 2 April 2002).

  • They led a campaign against the US economic aid to Egypt, and presented a request for information to the USAID assistance, and substitute it with a number of agreements with Arab and Islamic funds (Asharq Al-Awsat, 15 May 2002).

  • A request for information concerning the project to incorporate Islamic "Shari'a" in the legal code, seeking to revive the legislations devised by Sufi Abu-Taleb in 1979 (Asharq Al-Awsat, 17 May 2002).

  • An urgent request for information about a universe beauty contest for fashion models that was held in Sharm El-Sheikh. The Muslim Brotherhood deputy, Mr. Hussein Hassanin Mohamadeen, was highly offended by that event, and expressed his feelings of disbelief and revulsion loudly: "Aren't we Muslims? Isn't Egypt an Islamic state? How come that Egypt is, shamelessly, allowing immorality, unabashed faces and naked bodies to visit its land?" (Asharq Al-Awsat, 28 Feb 2002).

  • The Muslim Brotherhood deputies have opposed Egypt's decision to abide by the UN Declaration of "The Rights of the Child" that forbids the selling and the exploitation of children and sanctions adoption (Asharq Al-Awsat, 27 May 2002).

  • They accused the government of undermining al-Azhar's role and curtailing religious education and Arabic language teaching. The Muslim Brotherhood deputies also stood against reform of the religious discourse (Asharq Al-Awsat, 7 June 2002).

  • Mr. Ali Laban, a Muslim Brotherhood deputy, presented a request for information to prohibit mixed-gender schools (Asharq Al-Awsat, 5 Oct 2002).

  • Three deputies presented a request for information to forbid the enemies of Islam and those who do not show proper respect to the Prophet from entering Egypt (Asharq Al-Awsat, 20 Oct 2002).

  • Mr. Hamd Hassan, a Muslim Brotherhood deputy, presented a request for information to the Minister of Health asking him to hasten the production of Viagra in Egypt to allow them to carry out their marital duties in accordance to Islamic decrees (Asharq Al-Awsat, 5 Jan 2002).

  • They presented a request to shut down the Israeli Academic Center in Cairo, deport its staff, and confiscate the center's documents and records (Asharq Al-Awsat, 1 Nov 2002).

  • They have rejected the banking law, claiming that the interests are in fact a form of usury, (direct or indirect forms of usury are not allowed in Islamic Law) (Asharq Al-Awsat, 27 Nov 2002).

  • The Muslim Brotherhood deputy, Mr. Mohamed Morsi, presented a request for information to the Minister of culture concerning the ministry's decision to establish a modern dance school in Egypt.

  • The Muslim Brotherhood deputy, Mr. Hassan Ibrahim, presented a request for information to outlaw television contests (Asharq Al-Awsat, 20 Jan 2003).

  • The Muslim Brotherhood deputies presented a request for information to reduce the number of foreign schools in Egypt, and to disallow the establishment of new schools. (Sept 2000).

  • They presented a request for information to protest the "QIZ" agreement between the United States and Egypt.

  • They presented a request for information for a public referendum on the Egyptian - Israeli peace treaty.

  • Miscellaneous amusing requests for information that touch on the entertainment industry and vary in their level of absurdity, for example: a ban on kissing in movies, on naked statues and models in Art schools, a ban on the American movie "Air Force One," a ban on some video clips, and a campaign against female singers such as "Nancy Agram," "Ruby" and "Alicia" to ban their songs and concerts, and even an extremely nonsensical request to ban the "Barbie" doll because it is a lust-inspiring object!

Given this bizarre track record, it is no wonder that the Muslim Brotherhood blames the "imperial powers" for the terrorist incidents in Sharm El-Sheikh, and that the supreme guide Mohamed Mahdi Akef has actually accused The United States and Israel of murdering Rafik El-Hariri!

During the last parliamentary term, the Muslim Brotherhood has presented a great number of requests for information, and the ones mentioned above serve to give us a fair picture of what the Muslim Brotherhood has in store for the Egyptian society, and how it plans to go about solving the problems that are crushing the Egyptian citizens. This is being just a sample of the requests that were cited in the highly credible newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat.

I hope that a researcher would take a serious interest in this issue, and conduct a scientific analysis of all the requests for information that they have presented since 1984. A comprehensive study of the Muslim Brotherhood record in the People's Assembly will allow the Egyptian and Arab citizens to see this group for what it really is, and how it has operated since its early beginnings: the violent streak that has inspired terror in our hearts, their obsession with marginal and trivial matters, their relentless pursuit of a fascist religious state, their attempts to ruin Egypt's relation with the international community, and how they have failed to touch on real life challenges or to acknowledge the citizen's rights in a modern state.

Magdi Khalil is a political analyst, researcher, author and Executive Editor of the Egyptian weekly Watani International. He is also a columnist for Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, London, a free-lance writer for several Arabic language newspapers, and a frequent contributor to Middle East broadcast news TV. Mr. Khalil has also published three books and written numerous research papers on citizenship rights, civil society, and the situation of minorities in the Middle East.


The Futility of Democracy Without Choice

By Steve Schippert | February 10, 2006

Is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood the model for Islam’s political adaptation?

This is the assertion made in a Washington Post column from last week that many may have missed, titled Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood May Be Model for Islam's Political Adaptation.

The Muslim Brotherhood may be the model for Islamists’ political adaptation, but one should surely hope that it is not the model for all of Islam. In fact, the assertion that it is screams of absurdity. There is a profound difference between the two.

Observers should also pause before cheering too loudly for the success of former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam’s designs to unseat Syrian dictator Bashar Assad, as he has chosen to saddle up with the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood to do it.

Do not mistake this as a ringing endorsement for either Mubarak or Assad, for it surely is not. But it is to merely point out the frustrating futility of emerging democratic processes in the Middle East that are devoid of any reasonable democratic alternative on the cherished and empowering ballot, looked to by the West to transform a region through that very empowerment.

In Egypt, the choice in the first real election recently was between Team Mubarak, whose only redeeming quality may be simply that he is not an Islamist, and the candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood, who most certainly are.

In the Palestinian Territories, the choice was between Fatah and Hamas. Fatah has been proven corrupt beyond reproach and the parent organization of the al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades whose attacks on Israeli civilians Fatah was either unwilling or unable to prevent. Hamas is, by their own charter, a Muslim Brotherhood offshoot terrorist organization with the blood of hundreds and hundreds of Israeli civilians who were guilty of riding a bus or eating in a restaurant at the wrong time and place. Hamas ran successfully on the plank of non-corruption. But perhaps they simply had yet to taste the power.

In Syria, the choice will not even be for the people to make, as change there will come by blasts, not ballots. But what kind of change will the newly aligned tandem bring? The Muslim Brotherhood has been tapped by former Syrian Vice President Abdel-Halim Khaddam to join in the effort, himself with hands not clean of brutal oppression in Syria. Further, Khaddam believes he was cheated when Hafez al-Assad was not succeeded by his ever-faithful vice president, but rather by his own son, Bashar Assad. Khaddam now says he wants to bring democratic reform, but he has with certainty no track record of supporting such, aside, of course, from uttering words of late that Washington wants to hear and might support. To be sure, the Syrian Muslim Brotherhood has been put down with brutal force by two generations of secular Ba’athist dictatorship, including Khaddam, where membership in the Muslim Brotherhood is punishable by death. So what form of government will emerge in with the new hands at the levers of power potentially belonging to an Islamist Muslim Brotherhood with one ambitious grip and a heavy-handed authoritarian former Ba’athist firmly with the other grip?

Surely Americans, at least, would need no lesson in the difference between campaign platforms and post-electoral governance. Why would Egypt, the Palestinian Territories or the so-called promise of Syria be different?

In Iran, there are indeed regular elections. In this aspect, the Islamic Republic of Iran is unlike the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea or the People’s Republic of China, where neither government remotely resembles anything democratic, of a republic, nor for or of the people. The Islamic Republic of Iran certainly elects its Mejlis (parliament) through its people. But the catch is that the Guardian Council, comprised of unelected radical mullahs, chooses the candidates that will appear for the Iranian public to ‘choose’ from. As seen in the last election’s resultant ballot, moderates and reformists need not apply.

The true difference between Iran and China or North Korea is that Iran indeed has a democratic system and institutions, but they're simply rigged. Net effect? Not much difference at all.

In Egypt, should the Muslim Brotherhood eventually achieve a strong majority and eventual control of the Egyptian government, sans-Mubarak, the form of government that will surely emerge will not resemble the budding democratic process that will have propelled them there.

So, is Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood really the model for Islam’s political adaptation?

"No one needs be afraid of us," said Essam Erian, a top Brotherhood official. He pointed out that the group was cooperating with other political parties and pro-democracy movements to forge a strategy of street demonstrations and propaganda to promote reforms. "We want to be more than a voice," Erian said. "We want to take action."

The brand of 'action' taken by the quasi-parent organization of Hamas and the group that spawned al-Qaeda's Ayman al-Zawahiri is precisely what should be feared.

February 3, 2006


Cartoonish Behavior

By Marvin Hutchens | February 3, 2006

The original cartoon depictions of Muhammad were published in the Danish paper Jyllands-Posten. They've been republished now in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Jordan. Ostensibly the reproductions are in support of free speech. That is likely true.

After the re-issuance of the cartoons, or some portion of them as there were 12 in the original publication, the cultural component of the War on Terror is likely to get a significant boost in attention. More likely, the widespread uproar, protests, riot and outrage over the depictions are drawing attention to the ideological component of the war. Protests have been held in Turkey, Pakistan, Indonesia, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Tunisia, Morocco and the Palestinian Territories. Statements of "Death to Denmark" and "Destroy our enemies" are no doubt common, as are calls for embargoes and boycotts of European and Danish goods. Embassies are being closed, stormed and pelted with eggs. And governments have sent emissaries to meet with Danish prime minister, Anders Fogh Rasmussen who wanted to explain his countries position on the issue.

The Jordanian paper Shihan, also republished a selection of the offending cartoons. And went on to note that the original publisher of the cartoons has apologized, along with its call for Muslims to "be reasonable." And therein lies the crux of the issue.

Whether in the context of the Global War on Terror or as a clash of civilizations or in the culture war between the West and the Islamic world the inevitable challenge rest in the hands of Muslims to discover and embrace reason. The position of the offended believers is that no depiction of Muhammad or Allah is permitted under Islamic tradition in order to prevent idolatry. Reasonable enough - except that no one is suggesting that believers worship the cartoons or that they even be held in high regard. Having seen them, they aren't that impressive.

What has happened to a religion and people that once led the way in scientific and reasoned scholarship? It can't be blamed on oil, as their making a living from the underground natural resource is a relatively recent event, and not one shared by all Islamic lands or Muslim peoples. Is in that the teachings of the faith have been bound to such a degree by the variety of Islamic leaders who rant against any innovation, who define every action a man can take in context of the Sunna of the Prophet rather than teaching their followers to reason as to the moral foundations of the Prophet's life. Surely some lessons of his life are available to be used not as definitive law but as guides to a life of good and proper service to God in a modern world. Or are we to believe that he would have been so petty as to be outraged by his depiction as to call for the death of Denmark.

When learning about Islam more than a decade ago one of the most often repeated comments of one tutor was that balance is found in Islam. He would describe the role of the law and the role of the spirit as mutual and required for the proper practice of the faith. In all aspects of life he believed that Islam would play a role as his guidepost. Yet it was to be his reasoning, knowledge and faith that would lead him to make decisions. On more than one occasion his words would be challenged by others who believed that forsaking the bad required withdrawal from the Western culture completely. On each occasion he would stand his ground and say that the Prophet of Islam was not the prophet of an unknowing and incapable people and that he must, therefore, be able to discern things for himself.

From his home in Saudi Arabia, I would guess that he is neither pleased by the publication of the cartoons nor by the behavior of those who are so offended.

  • AudioFebruary 2, 2010
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    What on Earth can Usama bin Laden, the mystical calculus of climate change and US Homeland Security have in common? Does bin Laden really agree with the President of the United States on matters weather? How is it that the...

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