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Tuesday, Mar. 08, 2005 at 6:19 AM
"Last year, three South Africans were invited to be on the Advisory Board
of an organisation that was about to be launched in the US, the
Progressive Muslims Union of North America. Quite an honour. However, after much reflection, istikharah and many emails, all three – Ebrahim Moosa, Farid Esack and I – declined."
Suddenly, scholars who, just a few weeks earlier, had been criticising America’s imperialist role in the world, became Bush advisors. Suddenly, there was a stream of Muslims seeking the road to the White House and Pentagon."
There can be no excuse
Last year, three South Africans were invited to be on the Advisory Board of an organisation that was about to be launched in the US, the
Progressive Muslims Union of North America. Quite an honour. However,
after much reflection, istikharah and many emails, all three – Ebrahim
Moosa, Farid Esack and I – declined. And one of the main reasons was that
others invited – at the time – to the board included two founders of a
group called “Muslims for Bush” and a Muslim neo-con political
commentator, Farid Zakariya. And, being the arrogant South Africans we
are, we said no.
Pressure, harassment, threats to one’s life and livelihood and fear can do
strange things to people. We Muslims in South Africa, living in a relative
comfort zone, generally do not realise how much the Muslim ummah has
changed over the past three years as a result of the stresses that
followed the terrorist attacks of the 11 September 2001 in the US.
The events of that day were followed by attacks against Muslims in various
parts of the world; the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq, the sudden
changing-over of allegiance by many Muslim politicians in the Muslim
world, the closure of madrasahs in parts of the Middle East and Pakistan,
the arrests, detentions, tortures of hundreds of Muslims from across the
But I don’t wish to give a list of these difficulties; I would prefer we
learn some lessons from them. From Indonesia to the US, Muslim responses
to these challenges have varied. And the responses to those responses have
varied. Some of our responses have included anger, disappointment,
disillusionment, confusion, political strategising, lobbying or claiming
One of the Muslim trends that emerged after 2001 was also the
accommodationist tendency, particularly in parts of North America and
Europe. In the US, for example, many Muslims who had, up to then, regarded
themselves as immigrants trying to find a place in their “adopted” country
became, overnight, more American than apple pie. So that they could fit in
and because of the fear that characterised the arrests and harassment
post-9/11. Suddenly, scholars who, just a few weeks earlier, had been
criticising America’s imperialist role in the world, became Bush advisors.
Suddenly, there was a stream of Muslims seeking the road to the White
House and Pentagon.
Of course, the American Empire too was thinking of ways to deal with the
bad Muslims – beyond bombing their countries. Especially those living
within the US. One such strategy was described in a report of the
conservative US think-tank, the Rand Corporation, called “Civil Democratic
Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies”
(http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1716/). After dividing the Muslim
community into “fundamentalists”, “traditionalists”, “modernists” and
“secularists”, the author, Cheryl Bernard, makes a few recommendations,
· “Support the modernists first, enhancing their vision of Islam… by
providing them with a broad platform to articulate and disseminate their
views. They… should be cultivated [including financially].”
· “Support the secularists on a case-by-case basis.”
· “Back the traditionalists enough to keep them viable against the
fundamentalists… and to prevent a closer alliance between these two
· “Oppose the fundamentalists energetically by striking at vulnerabilities
in their Islamic and ideological postures.”
Many Muslims reading this might sense an initial shock before being lulled
into a false sense that no Muslim would buy into this crap. Not true.
Firstly, some Muslims have already bought into this crap. Secondly, one
doesn’t have to consciously buy into it to be used for its agenda.
Less than two months ago, a new organisation was launched in the US – the
“American Muslim Group on Policy Planning (AMGPP)”.
According to Muqtedar Khan, the group’s founder: “Its foundation is based
on the premise that the American Muslim community is not only capable of
providing valuable assistance to the US in the war on terror but can also
play a pivotal role in helping build bridges of confidence, trust and
communication between the US and the Muslim World.”
Let’s get this right: this Muslim “leader” is suggesting that American
Muslims should be helping the Bush government in its war against the world
(a.k.a War on Terror)! What does that mean? Supporting the occupation of
Iraq? The war against Afghanistan? The torture in Guantanamo Bay, Baghram
and Abu Ghraib? The erosion of civil liberties in the US itself? The
wholesale privatisation of Iraq to American companies?
But that’s not all. “AMGPP is willing to play a very active role in
helping improve US image and counter the tide of extremism and
anti-Americanism in the Muslim World. The group is eager to take a
leadership role on issues of public diplomacy and outreach on behalf of
the State Department and also act as a spokesperson for American policies,
concerns and interests,” explains Khan.
So while millions of Muslims and millions more of other poverty-stricken
and oppressed people around the world, choke under the yoke of the
American government and corporations – from Chechenya and Palestine to
Venezuela and Cuba – Khan wants his new organisation to do PR (“outreach”)
for the US State Department, to “improve US image” to all the unhappy
Whether Khan is simply sincerely misguided or whether he is – in the words
of one commentator – a “Rand Robot” is a question many people have been
Interestingly, Khan is also on the Advisory Board of the PMUNA – launched
on ‘Id day, whose executive director is on the AMGPP’s Programme
I know many of the people involved with the PMUNA and I know them to be
sincere Muslims concerned about the future of Islam and the Muslim
community globally. But, with people like the Rand Corporation and the US
Department of Homeland Security, one’s sincerity alone can be dangerous.
One does not have to be on a group’s payroll to be manipulated by it.
And manipulation comes in many forms. Who is to say, for example, that if
a well-known South African anti-war activist gets a visa to attend an
anti-war conference in the US, it’s not because the CIA believes it serves
some purpose to have him there. Or, for that matter, who’s to say that if
a well-known anti-war activist does not get a visa, s/he is not regarded
as serving some purpose.
The times we live in are not easy. And addressing the challenges of these
times is not a simple matter. But these are times that require men and
women of integrity to make their voices heard. Sadly, there aren’t too
many of those. And, sadly, those who rush to represent the global ummah
could easily be charlatans or people without integrity or, at best, people
who sincere but naïve. In these times, we can do without all of these. And
the fear and harassment are not good enough excuses for any of them.
Do these American experiences, though, have lessons for us in South
Africa. Yes. Next column.
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