Saturday, March 16, 2013

Accepting “New Anti-Semitism”

In 1879, German journalist Wilhelm Marr originated the term anti-Semitism, denoting the hatred of Jews and many other things sometimes associated with Jews. The term anti-Semitism has long outlasted the man who coined the term, and has become synonymous not only the hatred or persecution of Jewish people, but with the questioning of the Israeli government.  Anti-Semitism is also defined as hating Jewish people because they are Jewish.

Anti-Semitism came to a head during the 1930’s under the Nazi directives which called for the outright ‘liquidation’ of the Jewish ‘threat’. The anti-Semitic propaganda and direct Nazi action cost upwards to 7 million people lose their lives due to an irrational hatred and willful ignorance. This crime, which was not exclusive to Jews although they by far were highest casualties, should never have happened and should never be allowed to happen again.

So much was the pain of Jewish people felt (from the pogroms and general anti-Semitic discrimination of Europe, to the Holocaust during WWII) that numerous countries around the world drafted laws that not only make anti-Semitism illegal but also make illegal the denial of the Holocaust, culminating with the US President George W. Bush signing legislation requiring the US State Department to monitor not only anti-Semitism but to also rate countries annually on their treatment of Jews.

Events leading upto the destructive and deadly pogroms of Europe did not happen overnight, rather they were built up over years of fear and hate mongering. People often singled out Jewish people, often making false accusation against them. Many Jews lived within and primarily associated with only their own Jewish communities, they dressed different, had a different culture and even had a different religion. Those factors combined with the fact that some Jews (not all) were successful during hard times across Europe were all reasons that spurred anti-Semitic hatred. Year after year these accusations were made, simply because the Jews were ‘different’ and misunderstood, fear and ignorance fueled the flames of anti-Semitism until it erupted.
Today we can see a new anti-Semitism growing in the form of Islamophobia. Since the tragic events of ‘9/11’ we have seen the rise of the anti-Islam propaganda cottage industry. When a people are attacked and they see the loss of nearly three thousand lives there is no question there will be anger, and more specifically there will be anger towards the perpetrators of such a heinous act. A group of 19 men with a ‘violent disagreement with US foreign policy’ were identified and the light was thus affixed onto a worldwide community.

The atrocious acts of ‘9/11’ were attributed to Muslims and Arabs and since then there have been those who have tried to associate the belief systems of over 1.6 billion Muslims and 400 million Arabs to those acts of these 19 men. Fear mongering demagogue’s have appeared overnight as self-styled Islamic experts or scholars and have begun a purposeful and deliberate attack on Islam. They methodically misquote or take out of context information to further their hate mongering, inciting anger, fear, and distrust of every Muslim, or Arab.

In the same vein as the beginnings of anti-Semitism throughout Europe, we now see a collective attacking a specific group because it is easily identified (as the Jews were) by a distinctive religion, culture and dress. We have seen what years of unchecked fear and hatred leads to and we should never allow such acts to happen again. Not only should we be stepping up our efforts to promote mutual understanding, we should be discouraging acts of fear mongering and hatred.

It is a crime to be Anti-Semitic but is not a crime to be Anti-Islam. You would be hard pressed to find a magazine that would accept paid advertisements that promote the Jewish stereotypes of Nazi propaganda yet there have been numerous magazines and papers which have openly flaunted anti-Islam ads as ‘freedom of speech’. Try and find a book store that would sell your hate filled anti-Semitic book (if you were able to find a publisher) and see how many take you up on that offer, yet time and time again, anti-Islam books get published and sold all over the place. Hateful ads have sprung up in subways and public transportation, and yet we do nothing.

How do we attack anti-Semitism with such vigor and yet do nothing when we see hate being spread about another group? How many more murders, or destruction of property must we see before we act. How many more people will suffer for the acts of others? Demonizing a religion or people should never be acceptable, no matter how hurt we are from individuals.

Nearly 1 out of every 4 people on the earth (technically about 23%) is a Muslim and we, like most people, for the most part more worried about our jobs, our families and our friends then we are about some mythical war against the West. We are individuals of a collective, while we share the same religion, we also have our own views and perceptions; we have our own dreams and ambitions. If we do not stop the hate and fear mongering we have seen what it leads to. We must not pervert the ideology of free speech so that we can hide behind it as we promote and hate and encourage fear. We as a people must remember the past, and remember where this leads to. No good can from ignoring the inherent dangers of this should we allow it continue.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Perceptions on Anti-Shari’a Legislation

Perceptions on Anti-Shari’a Legislation

The understanding of Islamic Law (Shari’a) is something that is normally done in universities as postgraduate education. Typically, one who studied Islamic law would have built a foundation of understanding of what Shari’a is and its historical, social, and economic implications (to name but a few). In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks there has been a dramatic upsurge in Anti-Islam paranoia (which can be directly related to the fear mongering of special interest groups) and this paranoia has begun to manifest itself with physical, social and political attacks on Muslims.

Of particular note has been the Anti-Shari’a bill legislation presented in several states, the justification of which is to prevent the “Islaminization” of America. The proponents of such legislation argue that Islamic law is not only contrary to American values but that it opposes the American Constitution and the rights and liberties provided therein. These proponents however have little to know true understanding of Shari’a or its depth in Islamic culture and instead choose to argue very limited, inflammatory reference points meant to capitalize on its sensationalism. Mathew Shmitz pointed out the illusionary aspects of such legislation, which only demonstrates is sensational nature, rather than effectiveness.

“We face a grave threat, they say, one that will swamp every article of our Constitution and sweep away all our laws. Unless, of course, we adopt their anti-sharia laws. But — and here’s the magic part — these laws, they claim, actually do nothing at all, other than instruct judges to do what they already were supposed to do.”

Robert Vischer further opined that such legislation was actually acting against such constitutional freedoms as religious liberty.

“Anti-Sharia legislation does not defend against theocracy but calls into question our society’s fundamental commitments to meaningful religious liberty and meaningful access to the courts. These commitments have been relied on by generations of Protestants, Catholics, Mormons, and Jews, and to try to remove them for Muslims both is unjust to Muslims and sets a dangerous precedent for other religious groups.”

Such perceptions are often overlooked or ignored in favor of sensationalist ‘reports’ of how Shari’a is implemented in foreign countries and then qualifying how it is against American sensibilities. Upon investigation of how Shari’a is implemented in different regions or countries, it is also important to note specific cultural or social differences which can also play into the administration of Shari’a, the same way it does American law as illustrated by Sentencing Disparity and Discrimination in “How Do Judges Decide? The Search for Fairness and Justice in Punishment Second Edition”.

The implementation of Shari’a like any legal code has been left in the hands of the judges who issue their verdicts or opinions based on their understanding of Shari’a. This understanding is not given lightly, as they have been trained in Law, and acted as lawyers for years before becoming a judge. A judge is however still a person, one capable of mistakes or of being influenced by his or others social, religious, or other bias. When there is concern of how a system is implemented one should not immediately ban the system, rather they should try to understand the system and learn if it is the fault of the system of of its application by individuals.

There are several schools of thought on Islamic Jurisprudence called Madh’hab as well as what is called Ijtihad or understanding through personal effort independent of any singular Madh’hab. The importance of Islamic law lies in the fact that it has a depth in Islamic society far greater than simple litigation, as Frank Griffel, professor of Islamic studies at Yale, points out Sharia goes beyond what most Americans would consider “legal discourse, for it extends to matters concerning proprieties of clothing, conduct between spouses, filial piety, behavior at funerals, and other questions that Westerners would treat not as legal, but as moral issues or mere etiquette.”

Before trying to ban something out of fear and ignorance, perhaps there should be proper communication on the topic that would help each side understand the other. For those of us who believe in the application of Shari’a and for those who fear its implementation, there is alot of ground between us, and if we together could share that by establishing some common ground through thoughtful and insightful discourse which is not meant to alienate or offend, then perhaps we could move forward as a nation. Just as Jews and Christians have their own laws, we as Muslims have ours; it is a slippery slope when one begins to take away rights because of religious misunderstanding, and its potential impact is often ignored.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Stop Ignoring Muslims in Myanmar!

The recent outbreak of violence in Myanmar has finally shown a light on the dirty little secret of Myanmar, a secret the media seems blissfully ignorant of. There can be no justification for the actions which started this firestorm of violence, the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman, nor can we justify the retaliatory lynching of ten Muslims dragged from a bus by an angry Buddhist mob; the retaliatory attacks have left scores dead and over 90,000 people displaced.

That being said, it sheds light on the alarming plight of the Rohingya people. The Rohingya are Muslim, according to the Myanmar government do not exist. The State Peace and Development Council stated “In actual fact, although there are (135) national races living in Myanmar today, the so called Rohingya people is not one of them. Historically, there has never been a ‘Rohingya’race in Myanmar. The very name Rohingya is a creation of a group of insurgents in the Rakhine State. Since the First Anglo-Myanmar War in 1824, people of Muslim Faith from the adjacent country illegally entered Myanmar Ngain-Ngan, particularly Rakhine State.” This quote is in reference to the Citizenship Act of 1982 adopted in order to disqualify the Rohingya from citizenship.

In reality, Muslims traders came to the Irrawaddy Delta (Ayeyarwady Delta), Tanintharyi and Arakan (Rakhine) coastal territories in the ninth century, as documented in contemporary books such as “The Muslims of Burma” A study of a minority Group, by Moshe Yegar and “Ancient Pyu” by Professor U Than Tun. Furthermore it has been argued that after Bengal became a Muslim country in 1203, Islamic influence grew in Arakan to the extent of establishing Muslim vassal state beginning in 1430 and lasting until it was invaded and occupied by the Burmese king Bodawpaya in 1784.

Continued denial of the Rohingya people as citizens of Myanmar has as much to do with ethnicity as it does with religion since there are Muslims in the Rakhine State who are not Rohingya and do not speak the Rohingya dialect. The Rohingya have distinct Bangladeshi characteristics and as such are seen as interlopers due to mass immigration from Bangladesh during the British colonial occupation of Burma from 1824-1948. This argument however ignores the fact that Muslims have been in the Rakhine (Arakan) region for hundreds of years, and that many of these recent immigrants would inter marry with more long standing people of the area. None of this matters as the Rohingya and most Muslims whose ancestors originate from India and Bangladesh were considered citizens of Burma under the 1948 Constitution and civilian administration until the military coup d'état of 1962. Their status was subsequently downgraded under the 1974 Constitution, which does not recognize them as indigenous, and the Citizenship Act of 1982, which states that citizens must belong to one of 135 'national races' as recognized under the constitution, or whose ancestors settled in the country before 1823. Given the lack of documentation to satisfy the latter requirement, the result has been a hugely discriminatory denial of citizenship for most Rohingya and many other Muslims, effectively rendering them stateless.

Aside from Anti-Indian and Anti-Islam clashes in the 1930’s, the ongoing cycle of violence, rebellion and crackdown by authorities as well as the particularly repressive and systematic measures taken against Muslims – and the Rohingya in particular – resulted in waves of hundreds of thousands, perhaps even over a million, fleeing to Bangladesh in the 1960s, 1980s and 1990s. Rohingya have been systematically persecuted, oppressed and targeted by the Burmese army who committed such atrocities as torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment and punishment, extra-judicial killing and summary execution, arbitrary arrest and detention, rape, destruction of homes, forced labor, forced relocation and eviction, and confiscation of land or property. Discriminatory government policy and regulations based on the refusal to recognize them as citizens, means the Rohingya do not have an automatic right to education, work or necessary social services. Due to severe travel restrictions, unemployment (often due to citizenship), lack of education and an overall demeaning of the Rohingya existence the Rakhine has become the ghetto of southeast Asia and has led to the continued, ongoing, systematic abuse of these people with nothing being said.

When the Christian minority of East Timor claimed they were persecuted by the Muslims of Indonesia it made international headlines and resulted in the creation of an independent state. A Jewish minority in Palestine created massive immigration waves and promoted a national homeland for themselves because of the persecution of the Jewish people particularly during WWII – result, Israel. Coptic Christians in Egypt, who make up less than 10% of the population, have been in the news for weeks if not months, not because of any specific persecution, but because Egypt was electing a new president. Once it was announced a so called ‘Islamist’ had won the Egyptian presidency, there was another slew of articles questioning his stance on the Coptic Christians and how he would treat them. Not because of any particular instance but rather because the ‘Islamist’ might persecute them.

Time and time again we see a persecuted people or even a people who may be at risk of persecution and it grabs international headlines, causing an outpouring of emotion and sentiment (if not action) by government officials as well as its people. Yet it seems when the persecuted people are Muslim, it is perfectly alright for them to languish in obscurity without any public outcry for justice. This tragedy must be stopped, the Rohingya people must be allowed the rights of all other citizens of Myanmar, and the government must build up the Rakhine State through political, economic and social reform. If nothing is done, if the deteriorating conditions continue, if the human rights violations continue, we will see far more tragedy in this region; we will see civil war, genocide or some other great tragedy that could have been prevented.