Thursday, July 10, 2008

COMMENT: Here come the moderates ...

The Australia-Israel Jewish Affairs Council, a thinktank I've never known to have ever published anything even mildly critical of any decision or action of any Israeli government, has invited a "terrorism researcher" to inform it that there are some "moderate" Muslims emerging in a place called "the Islamic world".

As we all know, terrorism is a purely Muslim phenomenon. The Columbian group FARC are just an example of how far and wide nasty Muslim terrorists have spread. And we all know that FARC wants to establish an Islamic state in Columbia.

Further, one can only understand Muslims through the prism of national security. Hence AIJAC has decided that instead of inviting a Muslim social scientist or even someone with a proper understanding of Muslim societies (e.g. Professor Ira Lapidus), they'll get some "terrorism researcher" promoted by a neo-Conservative speakers bureau.

The Australian Jewish News reports on July 8 2008 that Muslim "moderates" are "making their voices heard". As if their voices were never heard before. Unlike the universe (which only began with a big bang), the "Islamic world" has just been a constant loud bang lasting fourteen centuries until recently.

And who are these recently-emerged "moderates"? Apparently, there is one Egyptian chap named Sa'ad Ed-Din Ibrahim. His moderate credentials arise from him declaring that he was ...

... seen on Egyptian TV stating that Israel had become a technology powerhouse with a strong economy because it was a democracy.
Amazing. So what you need to do to be declared "moderate" is declare that Israel's IT industry and economy has been caused not by it being the largest recipient of US foreign aid or to the fact that Israeli Jews live longer and lower infant mortality rates to Israeli Arabs. Rather, you attribute it purely to the idea that Israel is a democracy.

Now there's no doubt that Israel is a few trillion times more democratic than most of its Arab neighbours. But does that mean democracy is unknown among Muslim-majority states. Is Indonesia a theocratic regime? Is Bosnia Herzegovina on the verge of returning to absolute monarchy? Is the Ottoman Caliphate about to be restored in Turkey?

Then there is Ali Ahmed Said, described as "a voice in Syrian affairs". What the ...? What kind of affairs is he involved in? Does Mr Said sleep with lots of Syrian women? Does he run an antique store in Aleppo?

Said is regarded as a moderate because he ...

... has publicly targeted radical interpretations of Islam and also campaigned against corruption.
So if you don't campaign against corruption, you must be an extremist. I guess on that basis, some of these Arab countries lining up to establish embassies in Tel Aviv are led by some rather nasty people.

Then there is the poster girl for every Muslim-phobe, far-right cultural warrior and wacko, Dr Wafa Sultan. The AJN report describes Sultan as ...

... a Sunni Muslim living in California ...

Someone should tell Dr Sultan that she is a Sunni. I'm sure it will be news to her. Just about every credible report about Dr Sultan says that she grew up in a Syrian Alawi/Nusayri family. Anyway, what makes Dr Sultan so moderate? Apparently, it is because ...

... she has challenged her own religion in numerous forums ...

Actually, she doesn't regard Islam as her religion. She has openly declared that she no longer regards herself as a Muslim. That's her choice, of course. Yet for some reason, AIJAC and/or AJN persist in describing Sultan as a Muslim.

That's a bit like me describing Maryam Jameelah (Margaret Marcus) as a Jew. The fact that she doesn't believe in Judaism and openly describes herself as an ex-Jew doesn't matter. The fact that she adopted the Islamic theocratic religion and politics of the Jama'at-i-Islami is irrelevant. The fact that she has written that Judaism treats God as "a real estate agent for the Jewish people" and has called for the destruction of Israel and its replacement with an Islamic state is inconsequential.

Even more absurd are claims by this "terrorism researcher" that in

... the Islamic diaspora ... there is a secularist influence but it ­hasn’t touched the core.
Where did that remark come from? Do Muslims living in countries like Australia, New Zealand and Canada regard themselves as a "diaspora"? Do they regard their real home (spiritual or otherwise) as somewhere else? And in what sense has secularism not touched the core of these communities? Do they all refuse to vote? Do they boycott secular political parties? Do they refuse to pay taxes? Do they live in Amish-style settlements and drive horse-drawn carts?

I almost fell of my chair when I read this "researcher" described as describing "Sufism" (by which I resume he means what Muslims refer to as zuhd or tasawwuf or ihsan or even irfan) as

... a form of Islamic mysticism that is seen as a moderate stream of Islam.
A form of Islamic mysticism? How many other forms are there? Has a type of Muslim kabbalist emerged? Have Jesuit Muslims set up their first monastery in Lakemba?

If this is the best AIJAC can do to understand Muslims, Allah/G-d help them.

UPDATE I: One anonymous reader has pointed out that the AIJAC speaker, Nir Boms, also spoke at the Limmud Oz Festival of Jewish Learning & Culture. The official Limmod Oz website gives a preview of Boms' lecture. I'm not sure whether Boms wrote this preview. That preview is as follows:

A war of civilizations? A battle of faiths? A peaceful Jihad? The dawn of the new millennium has brought the words “terrorism” and “Islamic Radicalism” much closer to our lives. New York, London, Madrid, Bali and Melbourne have ‘tasted’ these new realities and have been forced to provide some answers. Using video presentations, the session will provide an introduction to some surprising and uncommon voices. It will further explore the questions presented by this new era with a particular focus on Islamic radicalism and on some of the unique and brave voices within Islam that seek to counter it.
According to the anonymous reader, Boms' presentation was limited to the Midle East. Yet the preview reproduced above clearly refers to "unique and brave voices within Islam", not "within the Middle East". Further, I'm really not sure why these voices are described as unique. The implication is clear: that "terrorism" and "Islamic Radicalism" are the norm and everything else is "unique and brave".

Words © 2008 Irfan Yusuf

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Anonymous said...

If you're thinking of Nir Boms, as far as I am aware, he was not in Australia as a guest of AIJAC, but rather to speak at the recent Limmud-Oz conference.

What's more, Boms spoke on democratisation trends in the Middle East, not the Muslim world.

He also used many examples from courageous people like Sa'id Ibraham, not just one. I would suggest that if you went to the primary source, and didn't cherry pick from the AJN, which a) is hardly considered a quality newspaper and b) clearly doesn't know a great deal about reform trends in the Arab Middle East and thus is expected to poorly report someone who does, you wouldn't have so many errors in your blog.

I found Boms' lecture at the Limmud-Oz conference measured, informative and hopeful.

Anonymous said...

Adding to the above, rather than rely on how an AJN reporter described Mr Boms' talk or how the Limmud Oz program previews his talk, why not read his opinions for yourself:,25197,23928381-7583,00.html

Anonymous said...

seriously what did you expect?