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"Progressive" Muslims Union: South African View

by union 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”

( 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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