New Age Islam Edit Bureau
05 February 2016
Thank You Obama for Your Mosque
By Mehdi Hasan
Syria, Geneva, London – Three
By Chris Doyle
The States Remain Despite Terrorism
By Turki Al-Dakhil
Compiled By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Thank You Obama for Your Mosque Speech
04 Feb 2016
It only took him seven years. But maybe it
was worth the wait.
On Wednesday afternoon, the president of
the United States mounted a podium inside a Maryland mosque to give a
much-trailed speech challenging the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry in his
country. (Although, as the author and lawyer Qasim Rashid joked on Twitter,
"I heard @POTUS wants to make his landmark address at a mosque a truly
authentic American Muslim experience, so he's arriving an hour late.")
Born to a Muslim father from Kenya, raised
from the age of six to 10 by a Muslim stepfather in Indonesia, Barack Hussein
Obama has been dogged by crazy, conspiratorial claims that he is a "secret
Muslim" ever since he first declared his candidacy for president.
A recent poll found that 29 percent of
Americans and 43 percent of Republicans still believe Obama is a Muslim and, as
Salon noted: "The number of Republicans who think Obama is a Muslim has
actually increased since 2010." For the record, the president is a
Christian who had both of his daughters baptised.
It cannot be stated often enough that the
astonishing prejudice, not to mention sheer ignorance, displayed by Republican
voters in states such as Iowa - where only 49 percent of them believe Islam
should be legal - is the product of a well-funded and coordinated campaign to
demonise Islam and Muslims in the US.
This has ranged from nonsensical protests
against "creeping sharia" to a manufactured controversy over the
so-called "Ground Zero" mosque; from claims that Hillary Clinton's
chief aide is part of a Muslim Brotherhood plot to infiltrate the US
government, to smears against a Muslim ninth-grader in Texas who was wrongfully
arrested for bringing a home-made clock (a bomb!) to school.
In party-political terms, Islamophobia is
now a vote-winner in right-wing Republican circles. How else to explain the
number of Republican Party presidential candidates falling over one another to
find new and obscene ways to bash Muslims? The campaign has seen Donald Trump
call for a ban on Muslims entering the US, Ben Carson refusing to countenance a
Muslim president and "moderate" Jeb Bush demanding that the US
government focus its support on Christian, rather than Muslim, refugees from
On Wednesday, the commander-in-chief pushed
back. Obama loudly denounced "distorted media portrayals" of Islam
and the people "conflating the horrific acts of terrorism with the beliefs
of an entire faith". He condemned the "inexcusable political rhetoric
against Muslim Americans that has no place in our country" and drew a
causal link between hate speech and violence.
Putting aside some of my own criticisms of
Obama's domestic and foreign policies for a moment, let me say this, on behalf
of my Muslim-American daughters and my headscarf-wearing Muslim-American wife,
who has been verbally abused on the streets of this nation's capital: thank
you, Mr President.
"No surprise, then, that threats and
harassment of Muslim Americans have surged," he told his audience in
Maryland. "Here at this mosque, twice last year, threats were made against
your children. Around the country, women wearing the hijab … have been
targeted. We've seen children bullied. We've seen mosques vandalised." The
first non-white president of the US also had no qualms about identifying the
racial component of Islamophobia: "Sikh Americans and others who are
perceived to be Muslims have been targeted, as well."
Dismissing talk of a "clash of
civilisations between the West and Islam", Obama refused to ask Muslim
Americans to choose between their identities. "You're not Muslim or
American," declaimed the president. "You're Muslim and
To which the only sane response from any
Muslim, and anyone who claims to care about racial equality or religious
liberty, surely has to be: Hallelujah!
Yes, Obama has been silent on the issue of
growing Islamophobia for far too long (though, to his credit, he did slam
Trump's anti-Muslim vitriol in his State of the Union speech in January).
Yes, he should have visited a US mosque
much earlier in his presidency: it is scandalous that Obama's trip to the
Islamic Society of Baltimore on Wednesday was his first appearance at a mosque
on US soil since entering the White House (a mosque which, as it happens, is
less than 50 miles from his Pennsylvania Avenue home).
A belated denunciation of anti-Muslim
bigotry from the president of the US, in front of a Muslim audience in a
mosque, is a denunciation nevertheless. A much-needed denunciation from the
most important public figure in the land. Would some of his Muslim critics, I
wonder, prefer it if he had not given the speech?
In fact, given the rise of Trump and the
fallout from the massacre in San Bernardino, California, Obama's timing,
ironically and unwittingly, couldn't have been better. "Coming to a mosque
is a public reminder that Muslims have been part of America since our nation's
founding," Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates told CNN in the run-up to the
A public reminder in an era in which, as
the president himself openly acknowledged and the statistics clearly
demonstrate, there has been a surge in the number of attacks on Muslims and
mosques in the US.
A public reminder, to quote Obama, that
"an attack on one faith is an attack on all our faiths," especially
in the midst of a Republican primary campaign in which proudly Christian
candidates rush to smear and stigmatise Muslims. (Marco Rubio, incidentally,
claimed Obama's mosque visit was another example of him "pitting people
against each other"; Trump sneered that the president "feels
As I have argued elsewhere, Obama's own
official statements and policies on counterterrorism and civil liberties issues
have been far from perfect. From NSA spying on Muslim Americans to drone
strikes in Pakistan, from anti-Muslim profiling at US airports to support for
Israel's bombardment of Gaza, the president has undoubtedly upset, frustrated
and angered millions of Muslims at home and abroad.
Some might justifiably argue that his
administration's militarism and surveillance helped to incite the fear of, and
hatred towards, Muslim Americans that he so eloquently rebuked in his speech on
Cynics, therefore, may dismiss Obama's
mosque speech as mere rhetoric. But rhetoric matters. Those who argue that the
president's speech won't, or can't, have an impact are either naive or
As Christopher Smith, of Claremont
University, has demonstrated, one of the best ways to combat anti-Muslim
bigotry is a "bipartisan effort by government and media to avert
discrimination by framing Islam in a positive way".
It may indeed be depressing and disturbing
that, in 2016, the US president feels compelled to make a speech reminding
Muslim Americans that "you're right where you belong. You're part of
America, too". But, to be honest, I'm glad he did. And I also worry
whether the next president will even bother.
At the very beginning of his address at the
Islamic Society of Baltimore, Obama told his audience that he wanted to say
"two words that Muslim Americans don't hear often enough - and that is,
"Thank you for serving your
community," he continued. "Thank you for lifting up the lives of your
neighbours, and for helping keep us strong and united as one American
So, putting aside some of my own criticisms
of Obama's domestic and foreign policies for a moment let me say this, on
behalf of my Muslim-American daughters and my headscarf-wearing Muslim-American
wife, who has been verbally abused on the streets of this nation's capital:
thank you, Mr President. Thank you for standing up to anti-Muslim bigotry and
racial demagoguery; thank you for challenging the "New McCarthyism"
that is Islamophobia.
Better late than never.
Mehdi Hasan is an award-winning journalist, author, political commentator
and the presenter of Head to Head and UpFront.
Syria, Geneva, London – Three Parallel
4 February 2016
Approaching five years of the conflict, the
international community is stuck in three parallel universes on Syria. The
negotiators and mediators congregate in Geneva unable to agree even to
preparatory talks leading to proximity talks to indirect talks let alone direct
talks. The warmongers continue their remorseless attacks unabated in Syria, a
combination of medieval sieges and modern day carpet bombing and scorched earth
tactics. The donor countries flock to London, sadly not to fund the fruits of
the political process but to underfund the barbaric consequences of the
What a message that this sends to Syrians -
that the political, humanitarian and military tracks are so tragically
divorced. What should be complementary processes, are still heading in opposite
In London, on February 4 at least the
donors can gather in one room but does this mean it will be any more
successful? Around 70-80 governments will be represented at the Supporting
Syria and the Region conference. This is the fourth donors’ pledging conference
for Syria, the first three having been hosted in Kuwait.
The international community, including
donor states, have consistently proved incapable or unwilling to address either
the causes or symptoms of the Syria conflict.
With the bombardment continuing apace
inside Syria and with little or no relief to the 400,000 living in besieged
areas, the bill for long-term political failure is measured in billions. The
U.N.'s total funding requirement is an eye-watering $8.96 billion up from
$7.4bn in 2015. Last year it was 53% funded. Donor funding is hugely
constrained not least with the oil price below the $30 dollar mark.
Many would argue that actually the donors
have not been nearly generous enough. Jan Egeland, Secretary General, Norwegian
Refugee Council has written that the U.S. and EU gave only $5 per capita to
Syrians last year. His argument is that the U.N. funding requirement is the
bare minimum. Limping over the halfway mark will be a sign of acute failure.
Many of those states professing to be the most supportive of Syrians have
failed to deliver a fair share according to research by Oxfam. France for
example managed a derisory 45% of its fair share in 2015.
But billions of dollars of aid is not the
Firstly, the political will to end the
conflict is still lacking. Above all no major power is prepared to confront and
face down the Russians. Putin seems convinced that there is a military solution
to Syria or at least that the opposition groups will be compelled whatever Pax
Russia he is prepared to ordain.
The Russian bombing is now the major engine
behind the continued refugee exodus.
Secondly, the scale and nature of the response
has to change. There has to be a transformational new deal for refugees and
host countries. The focus of the conference indicates that donors have finally
started to accept that stop gap funding is not enough. It has to include long
term developmental assistance not least for protection, education and
livelihoods. Reconstruction planning must also feature as planning cannot wait
to the end of fighting.
That the donors’ conference is in Europe,
or on the periphery as half of Britain seems to believe is perhaps appropriate.
Many argue that hitherto, such conferences were to prevent and protect the
Middle East from the spill over from the conflict. The political imperative of
the London donors’ conference appears to many to be to stem the flow of Syrian
refugees into Europe and elsewhere by giving huge sums of aid to the key
transit countries. European states have put up walls, ripped up their asylum
rules and torn down the welcome signs, anything to limit the numbers.
This is unfair on many donor governments
but it does reflect positions of states desperate to keep refugees and migrants
out. The premise that the transit countries can handle another twelve months of
refugee influx solely on additional aid is misplaced. Turkey, Jordan and
Lebanon all require investment in infrastructure and public services. A key
focus of the conference is on providing livelihoods but even with huge
investment these states will not be able to
The refugees will keep on coming not least
as long as the conflict and the bombing continues. Those hoping that dollops of
aid with stop this or even control it may be disappointed. European states must
provide safe and legal routes into Europe especially for the most vulnerable
Syria’s neighbours require massive
investment to continue to act as primary refugee hosts. Will donors agree to
fund significant upgrading of public services? Education stands out as a key
priority with 2.1 million children out of school inside Syria and with 1.4
million Syrian refugee children lacking proper schooling.
It is time that state actors turned more to
those they have neglected for too long, Syrians and Syrian civil society. The
three previous pledging conferences in Kuwait lacked a civil society component.
London at least has. Although organised late in the day, a half day civil
society conference on the 3rdFebruary allowed a degree of influence on the main
From the outset of the Syria crisis, civil
society organizations (CSOs) inside Syria have typically proven to be the most
positive and effective inside the country achieving extraordinary results on
such limited means. CSOs are viewed with immense distrust by many of the actors
in the conflict from the Syrian regime to many regional states and
international actors, basically those who do not wish to see a democratic
transition in Syria. The civil society conference’s communique called for the
end of limitations that CSOs face in acquiring legal status in neighbouring
countries and beyond.
Even in the “West”, support for Syrian
civil society has been lukewarm, its representatives rarely consulted. Above
all, Syrian CSO efforts have been systematically hampered by the inability to
use banking facilities with many Syrian groups having their accounts closed and
loans denied. No surprises then that the civil society conference communique
openly pushing for EU and U.S. sanctions reform.
Syrian civil society actors are the closest
embodiment of the protests of 2011 that called for freedom and dignity. One
lamented that “Peace now is replacing democracy" as an aim as far as the
international community was concerned. Whilst appreciative of international
generosity, many called for a real true, equal partnership between donors,
international agencies and Syrian organisations.
Civil society may not have all the answers
but they are closer to the actual events and trends on the ground. But one
things stands out – for the most part they have adopted a truly inclusive
approach that puts Syrians first. There is genuine and fervent desire not just
to end the conflict but develop Syria as well. All too often the same cannot be
said for the international community.
Chris Doyle is the director of CAABU (the London-based Council for
Arab-British Understanding). He has worked with the Council since 1993 after
graduating with a first class honors degree in Arabic and Islamic Studies at
Exeter University. As the lead spokesperson for Caabu and as an acknowledged
expert on the region, Chris is a frequent commentator on TV and Radio, having
given over 148 interviews on the Arab world in in 2012 alone. He gives numerous
talks around the country on issues such as the Arab Spring, Libya, Syria,
Palestine, Iraq, Islamophobia and the Arabs in Britain. He has had numerous
articles and letters published in the British and international media. He has
travelled to nearly every country in the Middle East. He has organized and
accompanied numerous British Parliamentary delegations to Arab countries. Most
recently he took Parliamentary delegations to the West Bank in April, November,
December 2013 and January 2014 including with former British Foreign Secretary
Videos and photographs have circulated
online of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Nayef’s visit to Al-Ahsaa region in
the Eastern Province following the terrorist attack on Imam Rida mosque last
week. He even appeared in a selfie with one of the injured victims. His
meetings and dialogue with people there were distinguished by goodwill.
Society must detect terrorists, limit their
activity and report them. Security forces will handle the rest.
When he met the brave young man who
attacked the second suicide bomber before he could blow himself up, bin Nayef
confirmed that the kingdom will triumph over terrorism. Society has become a
partner with the state in fighting extremism, but without getting involved in
the state’s role. This is the whole point. The state’s role will always be
paramount, as the prince has said before.
People’s help, unity and attentiveness is
important, but it is unacceptable that some enthusiastic citizens in several
areas want to form what resembles popular mobilization forces in mosques. The
roles of the community and individuals end when they interfere with that of the
Everyone was happy with the young man’s
deterrence of the terrorist in the mosque, and with youths’ efforts in general
to limit terrorist activities around mosques. However, all this falls within
the context of complementing, not interfering with, the state’s role. Society
must detect terrorists, limit their activity and report them. Security forces
will handle the rest. May God protect His worshippers from all evil.
Turki Al-Dakhil is the General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. He
began his career as a print journalist, covering politics and culture for the
Saudi newspapers Okaz, Al-Riyadh and Al-Watan. He then moved to pan-Arab daily
Al-Hayat and pan-Arab news magazine Al-Majalla. Turki later became a radio
correspondent for the French-owned pan-Arab Radio Monte Carlo and MBC FM. He
proceeded to Elaph, an online news magazine and Alarabiya.net, the news
channel’s online platform. Over a ten-year period, Dakhil’s weekly Al Arabiya
talk show “Edaat” (Spotlights) provided an opportunity for proponents of Arab
and Islamic social reform to make their case to a mass audience. Turki also
owns Al Mesbar Studies and Research Centre and Madarek Publishing House in
Dubai. He has received several awards and honors, including the America Abroad
Media annual award for his role in supporting civil society, human rights and
advancing women’s roles in Gulf societies.