30 August 2010

Shas rabbi prays for Palestinians to perish

Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Shas party, which has four ministerial seats in the current Israeli government, has prayed for the destruction of the Palestinians. While delivering a sermon, Yosef said "Abu Mazen and all these evil people should perish from this world. God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians."

In 2001, Yosef said, regarding the Arabs, that "it is forbidden to be merciful to them." He called on Israel to "send missiles to them and annihilate them", because "they are evil and damnable". After a controversy arose regarding these statements, Yosef claimed that he had only meant Arab terrorists, and not all Arabs.

Yosef was born in Basra, and was originally named Abdullah Youssef.

The Palestinian Authority and the US State Department have condemned Yosef's latest remarks. The Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat has described Yosef's statement as an "incitement to genocide".

Badakhshanis celebrate the Aga Khan's birthday

The BBC has some spectacular pictures of the Tajik province of Gorno-Badakhshan up today (BTW, the picture on the left isn't one of them; this one's from Wikipedia). Among other things, the photo essay shows Isma'ili Badakhshanis in Khorugh celebrating the Aga Khan's birthday last month.

29 August 2010

30 Mosques profiles Masjid Muhammad in DC

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Back when I lived in Washington, D.C., I'd pray at the Islamic Center of Washington, and sometimes at the Indonesian embassy, where I learned the phrase "dalam bulan suci Ramadhan". But one mosque I'd never even heard about until a few days ago is Masjid Muhammad, the subject of an interesting profile on the 30 Mosques/30 States blog. It sounds like this mosque is a lot better integrated into the general Washington, D.C. community than the Islamic Center is. On the other hand, its congregation also faces more of the social problems that plague some parts of the city. It makes you think.

Anyhow, this is one mosque I'd love to visit on my next trip to D.C., in sha' Allah.

24 August 2010

Manufactured hatred

What I first took to be a storm in a tea cup ended up turning into anything but. Even more than the tragedy of September 11, the current mosque controversy will, I think, define for a generation what it means to be an American Muslim. While I'm not an American myself, my wife is American and Muslim, and so, like millions of others, I have a stake in this issue.

What shocks me more than anything about the mosque debate is that being a Muslim in the US is not as "normal" as I once took it to be. After all, I lived in the US for about five years, both in the Midwest and on the East Coast, both before and after September 11. My faith was pretty much never an issue in any of my dealings with non-Muslim Americans. The sense I got from my stay there was that, unlike the current climate in Western Europe, where being a Muslim automatically places you in the "dodgy" category for a large chunk of the population, in the United States you are judged more by your individual actions than any group identity (barring race, but that's not really the subject here). Well, that was then. Reading about the vitriol that surrounds the Park51 project has made me think again.

A Time poll shows a rather disheartening picture of Americans' attitudes about their Muslim compatriots. Only 55% of the people surveyed believe that most American Muslims are patriotic. Yes, that is a majority, but quite a slim one. Again, 55% would agree to a mosque being built in their neighbourhood. That means that we should be prepared for a slew of anti-mosque protests around the US from the 45% who disagree -- the kind of protests we've already been seeing in California, Tennessee and Wisconsin. It gets worse, though: around 30% of Americans think that Muslims should be prevented from occupying the post of president or Supreme Court judge. Only 44% say that they have a favourable attitude towards Muslims. What do you make of numbers like that? I'm not alone in making comparisons between the current American wave of Islamophobia and older, more ingrained European Islamophobia.

Politicians from both major US parties have been falling over each other in making outrageously Islamophobic remarks, the most infamous, of course, being Newt Gingrich's comparison of Muslims to Nazis. If Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is currently touring the Middle East on behalf of the State Department, is a "radical Islamist", as Gingrich claims, then which Muslim is not?

Some media players have not been much better. In particular, News Corporation, which owns the New York Post, the Wall Street Journal and Fox News (among many other media outlets) unleashed the whole furore in the first place. The New York Times, which has launched a concerted and refreshingly sane attack on the mosque rejection movement, still featured a column that accused American Muslims of supporting "illiberal causes", and an article by the editor of National Review Online, who claimed that Park51 was "a Hamas-endorsed Islamic center". This is one example of the kind of demagoguery that has surrounded the issue. Yes, Hamas has "endorsed" the mosque, while "endorsing" churches and synagogues in the same breath. So are the Sarah Palins of this world going to "refudiate" churches next?

The pleasantly surprising part in all this has been that, as Maureen Dowd has pointed out, some of the most spirited defence for Park51 has come from Republicans, namely Michael Bloomberg and Chris Christie. Now Ron Paul has joined this group, issuing one of the most lucid statements that has yet been made in favour of building Park51. It is a sad thought, though, that Ron Paul, of all people, offers more hope on the issue than Barack Obama does.

So there's some hope here that even right-wing Americans will come to their senses. Newsweek suggests that the issue will go away after the primaries. Perhaps it will. But it certainly leaves a very bitter taste in the mouth, one which may linger for years to come. Perhaps one day Muslims will be praised for revitalising Park Place by building Park51 (some are doing so already). But rebuilding a secure place for Muslims in American society will most likely take far longer.

Something Even More Magical

In other news...