Tina K. Russell

June 24, 2009

Missing the point

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:20 pm

Op-Ed Contributor – The Koran and the Ballot Box – NYTimes.com
Yet in the current demonstrations we are witnessing not just the end of the first stage of the Iranian democratic experiment, but the collapse of the structural underpinnings of the entire Islamic approach to modern political self-rule. Islam’s categorical imperative for both traditional and fundamentalist Muslims —“commanding right and forbidding wrong” — is being transformed.

This imperative appears repeatedly in the Koran. Historically, it has been understood as a check on the corrupting, restive and libidinous side of the human soul. For modern Islamic militants, it is a war cry as well — a justification of the morals police in Saudi Arabia and Iran, of the young men who harass “improperly” attired Muslim women from Cairo to Copenhagen. It is the primary theological reason that Ayatollah Khamenei will try to stop a democratic triumph in his country, since real democracy would allow men, not God and his faithful guardians, the mullahs, to determine right and wrong.

Oh, shut your pie hole already! Khamenei isn’t transparently grasping at power for religious reasons; it’s because he’s a cynical despot who’s abandoned his legitimacy for the faint hope of longevity. Indeed, a fundamental tenant of Shiism is the concept of a divine mandate to rule; opposition to Iran’s rulers shouldn’t be interpreted automatically as opposition to the Islamic system. I would imagine that in the minds of many protestors, Khamenei just lost his divine right to rule. (After all, I doubt those shouting “Allahu Akbar!”—God is great—in defiance of the government are secular liberals.)

I doubt Khamenei is acting out of fear for the future of Islam; I think he’s acting out of fear for the future of Khamenei.

December 12, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 3:48 am

Op-Ed Contributor – Grand Theft Nautical – NYTimes.com
There was some semblance of law and order in 2006, when the Islamic Courts Union, loosely linked with Al Qaeda, took over much of the country and imposed Shariah law. Though there were cruel tradeoffs, the Islamists virtually eradicated piracy. The crime was a capital offense punishable by beheading.

When Ethiopian forces, supported by the United States, replaced the Islamists with an ineffective transitional government in 2006, piracy returned with an intensity not seen since the 17th century.

It is evident that no nation can impose its will on Somalia; the colonial British and Italians learned the hard way. And certainly no nation can force Somalis to stop the best business in town. But if the West really hopes to eliminate the scourge of piracy in these strategic shipping lanes, then it should consider involving the courts union, the only entity that has proved it could govern the country, and its militant wing, Al Shabaab, in a new government.

If there is movement to talk to the Taliban in Afghanistan, then there should be some effort to talk to the fundamentalists in Somalia. If the Islamists were permitted to form a viable, functioning and effective government, this shattered land might be able to return to the community of nations — and supertankers will be able to deliver oil to the United States without fear of getting hijacked.

Yes, you read it here first. Who needs human rights when we have cheap oil?

I’ve written here before that I don’t think the West should be obsessed with keeping the “Islamists” out of power in Somalia; I don’t approve of religious rule or Sharia law, but it’s not my place to decide what governments other countries should have. (That, and bloody, endless wars hardly advance the stated aim of upholding human rights.) The concept of international intervention is hotly contested, but I think we can all agree that it’s the sort of drastic step with such dramatic consequences that it should only be used in international emergencies, such as genocide. If we fired our guns on every country with a miserable human rights record, we’d have to start with Saudi Arabia and China on down, a mess that would hardly justify itself.

This op-ed writer, though, takes the opposite extreme; we should endorse cruel, abusive regimes in the interest of stability. We should help them come to power. (I should note that the sort of desperation caused by war, the kind of war advocated by militant idealists and interventionists, is what helps extremists come to power, but that’s a separate subject.) Yes, yes… that’s why the West installed or helped install the Shah in Iran (twice!), Pinochet in Chile, the Taliban in Afghanistan, etc. In fact, he doesn’t even discuss any human need for stability, speaking only of a need for safe, cheap passage for oil tankers. Anything else would be unacceptable!

I need a shower.

October 29, 2008


Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 5:19 pm

I’ve spoken recently on Ethiopia’s human rights abuses and Somalia’s right to self-determination. In the interest of fairness, here’s what an Islamist court in Somalia has decided to do with all that self-determination:

World Briefing – Africa – Somalia – Rape Victim Executed – NYTimes.com
A woman was stoned to death for adultery on Monday in an Islamist-controlled region of Somalia. Somali human rights officials said the woman, 23, had been raped, but the Islamist authorities determined that she was guilty of adultery.

That’s disgusting. (The article is just one more sentence, but I snipped that because it’s graphic.) This is reprehensible on, like, a million levels. To note three:

  1. The death penalty is wrong. Always.
  2. They say that she was an adulterer. Even if that were true, which I doubt, it is wrong to punish adulterers. Government should not legislate individual choice, or attempt to fix families.
  3. Punishing the victim is wrong.

While the mistake of punishing the victim occurs on many levels in many governments, to punish the victim of rape is to take what is already a crime to an unspeakable degree. To punish her with death is beyond my comprehension. I cannot imagine how anyone who asserts that is moral can claim with a straight face to speak for God.

Jesus, a prophet of Islam, once espoused that “he who is free of sin shall cast the first stone”; and that was about a woman who was actually guilty of what she was accused of. I step carefully when I talk about this because I think stoning her to death would still be wrong if she were guilty. I think it would be wrong if she were guilty of murder. I think it would be wrong if she were guilty of murder and the execution were administered with a lethal injection of painkillers in the most humane way you could possibly think of. It’s clear, though, that the people who delivered, carried out, and supported this verdict have vast oceans of sin in their hearts, given their willingness, their enthusiasm, for such an unequivocally evil act as this. They should not throw stones; and neither should we.

October 25, 2008

Progress in the weakest sense

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 12:50 am

Freedom is on the march, huh? Nice to know that Afghanistan is such a staunch ally in the fight for freedom and justice. By that I mean… okay, they’re an enormous letdown.

No Death Sentence for Afghan Journalist – NYTimes.com
KABUL, Afghanistan — An appeals court sentenced a young Afghan journalist to 20 years in prison for blasphemy on Tuesday, overturning a death sentence ordered by a provincial court but raising further concerns of judicial propriety in the case.

The defendant, Sayed Parwiz Kambakhsh, 23, was a journalism student in the northern city of Mazar-i-Sharif and worked for a daily newspaper there. He was arrested last October and accused of printing and distributing an article from the Internet about Islam and women’s rights, on which he had written some comments about the Prophet Muhammad’s failings on that issue.

While insults to Muhammad are anathema in Afghanistan, the decisions by both the lower court and the appeals court shocked many of Mr. Kambakhsh’s supporters and outraged international journalism organizations, which suggested that neither of the trials had been fair. The defendant’s brother, also a journalist, said the proceedings had been prompted by his own critical writings about local militia and political leaders.

That’s right! Twenty years for criticizing the Prophet Muhammad. Or, twenty years for having a brother who criticized local media and politicians. I’m not sure which is worse.

It should be noted here that Muhammad was a man who invited criticism and stood up for women’s rights. I’ll get letters, but it’s true.

Mr. Kambakhsh’s defense lawyer said he would appeal to the Supreme Court, and he called on President Hamid Karzai for help.

“We request the president of Afghanistan to intervene and to not let the corruption in the judicial system violate the rights of Afghan citizens,” said the lawyer, Mohammad Afzal Nuristani.

’Cause if they don’t, support for Afghanistan among Americans will become timid, at best.

October 13, 2008

The Cure for What Veils You

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 10:30 pm

World Briefing – Europe – France – Agency Rules That Burqa Violates Values – NYTimes.com
The French agency devoted to combating discrimination has determined that the burqa, the all-encompassing garment that some Muslim women wear, violates French values and inhibits integration into French society. “The burqa is a sign of the submission of women that surpasses its religious aspect and could be considered as a breach of republican values,” the agency, the High Authority for the Fight Against Discrimination and for Equality, said in a ruling, the daily newspaper La Croix reported Thursday. The decision means that women will not be permitted to wear burqas or niqabs, a related garment, in state-sponsored French-language classes.

I have mixed feelings about the burqa. On the one hand, everyone should have the right to wear whatever they want; I’d think that’s a cornerstone of American, and French, values. On the other hand, I don’t like knee-jerk liberal defense of the burqa because I don’t just dislike it when women are explicitly forced to wear the burqa (as under the Taliban), I dislike it when women are socially coerced or universally expected to wear the garment. So, in that sense, I do feel that the burqa represents oppression of women worldwide. However, I do understand that there are women who wear the burqa of their own free will, without any sort of coercion from outside, and such freedom to wear what you want ought to be encouraged. This French ruling pre-empts women’s right to wear what they want, and that I find distasteful.

I guess what I’m saying that a) I want to go to bat for the burqa because I feel this ruling is unconscionably restrictive, and b) I’m reluctant to go to bat for the burqa, because while I know many women wear it out of free will, I don’t want my (proud!) liberal sensibilities to get in the way of acknowledging that many women don’t get that choice and are forced to wear it through explicit force or through social coercion and expectation.

I wish I could wear whatever I wanted to, but society expects a standard of modesty for me. The burqa is a spectacularly restricting garment, expressing practically nothing of the women behind it. I suppose some women like it that way, and more power to them (or they like the garment for other reasons), but it still represents oppression so as long as women are forced (in any way) to wear it. I think that’s the kind of prejudice, the real threat to women, that this French ruling is meant to oppose, and it’s a shame that for such good intentions the bill is just more restriction of women’s freedoms. I don’t like the burqa, but the whole point of freedom is that I cannot and should not impose my beliefs upon others, and nobody should have the choice made for them beforehand.

July 20, 2008

Islamic PR

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Tina Russell @ 7:32 pm

Pope Calls for Unity to Oppose Violence – NYTimes.com
Pope Benedict XVI, in Australia for World Youth Day, called on religious leaders of all faiths Friday to find common ground and to unite against those who resort to violence to achieve their ends.

“In a world threatened by sinister and indiscriminate forms of violence, the unified voice of religious people urges nations and communities to resolve conflicts through peaceful means and with full regard for human dignity,” he said at a meeting with Muslims, Jews, Hindus and Buddhists.

“The universality of human experience, which transcends all geographical boundaries and cultural limitations, makes it possible for followers of religions to engage in dialogue so as to grapple with the mysteries of life’s joys and sufferings,” he said. “At their core, human relations cannot be defined in terms of power, domination and self-interest. Rather, they reflect and perfect man’s natural inclination to live in communion and accord with others.”

The message of reconciliation came from a pope who angered many Muslims when, in a 2006 lecture in Regensburg, Germany, he used a quotation from a 14th-century Byzantine emperor that appeared to vilify Muslims. The pope subsequently said that he did not subscribe to the views expressed in the quotation and, although the furor subsided, some strained feelings have remained.

Sheikh Mohamadu Saleem, of the Australian National Imams Council, told the pope at the meeting that, while Muslims should become more understanding of other religions, “significant segments of the Christian and the other religious communities should overcome their misconceptions and prejudices of Islam and Muslims.”

Mr. Saleem is right, but the key thing is that I think that prejudice stems more from lack of information than anything else. While it’s the onus of the media to present the world as it is, instead of sitting around waiting for ABC to run a feature story on the non-shocking truth about Islam we could be engaging people with the faith and teaching them what what Muhammad actually said, whether or not they are inclined to follow him. (I think his teachings are worthy of great respect, in any case.) That vacuum allows stereotypes and misinformation to slip in and quickly become the basis for even (or perhaps especially) the most enlightened liberal’s view on Islam. When I read Karen Armstrong’s Muhammad: Prophet for our Time (again, highly recommended), I was surprised to find out not just that there are many wrong stereotypes about Islam, but that they’re almost universally wrong and not grounded in even the most remote fact. With one billion Muslims in the world, you must look to the Koran for the common threads in a diverse practice, and the themes are overwhelmingly ones of discarding your petty arguments and tribal affiliations and surrendering yourself to God. The word islam means “surrender,” and Muhammad considered contemporary Christians and Jews to be fellow muslims, sincere in their surrender to God. Muhammad was a populist, an altruist, and a feminist, and within the context of the violent practices of tribal Arabia, he was progressive for his time on matters of war. In fact, the one war he waged was on behalf of his people, who had been driven out of their homeland; this put a massive lump in my stomach when I realized that Hamas must have a similar conviction. (Israel, of course, must have similar conviction, which is exactly why an equitable deal must be reached and the violence of neither side should be rationalized or romanticized.)

I’m positive I’m doing violence to Muhammad’s words and life as well simply by going from only one book and using my memories of it to summarize core beliefs of a vast portion of world cultures. It’s just remarkable that but one brief taste, one scratch of the surface, has given me a vastly different impression of Islam, of Muslims, and Muhammad. Knowing the similarities between Muhammad and my personal savior–a man I like to call “Jaysy C.”–really warms my heart when considering the sizable Muslim population of my school, including women I really admire. (You can now add “Muslim friends” to the list.) So, it shouldn’t be hard for a public-relations campaign, long overdue in this day and age, to show the Christian world what I’ve been shown, shine a light in the darkness and drive out the prejudice and misinformation. Our choice is whether we want to replace stereotypes with a vague feeling of “well, I’m sure they’re sincere in their religion” (a convenient and well-meaning mantra), or with the actual poetry of the Koran and the scope and depth of Islamic thought. The question is whether we’re willing to let stock footage of angry men rioting over cartoons have a monopoly on the portrayal of Islam, or if we’re willing to compete with that on the news and in the public mind. The question is whether or not we’re willing to lay the foundation, in people’s minds, of a sound and informed impression of Islam. And, lest I lay responsibility unevenly, remember that it is not your Muslim friends’ responsibility to teach you about their religion, it is your responsibility to learn, and in a globalized world it is all part of being a good citizen. We should take that one step further and, whether or not you are Christian, whether or not you are religious, venture to tell your friends what you learned about Islam, what does and does not appeal to you, and help create a more solid ground for world religious dialogue than vague mistrust and stereotypes.

June 9, 2008

I recommend we swing both ways

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — Tina Russell @ 1:33 pm

Here’s an article about the State Department’s Foreign Visitor Leadership Program, which has a new focus of letting young French Muslims from the crisis-ridden suburbs of Paris visit the United States and get an idea of how awesome we all are.

Giving Young French Muslims a Close Look at the U.S. – NYTimes.com
For the three men who participated in the program in recent months, the exposure to America softened views of a superpower generally distrusted and disliked in their communities.

“Many young people think that America is waging a war on Muslims,” said Mr. Zahi, 32, chief of staff for the mayor of Clichy-sous-Bois, where the 2005 rioting started after the deaths of two teenagers of African origin who were being chased by the police.

“I tell them America is many things,” said Mr. Zahi, who is also on his local town council. “It is a country that has a black presidential candidate and a self-confident Muslim community. I tell them the American people are hospitable and generous.”

This sounds like a good idea… I always support active efforts to improve America’s image abroad, which could help defuse tensions before they begin. I just hope we start doing something the other way, as well, help Americans learn about the Muslim world and become more comfortable with it. I’d guess that most Americans are okay with Islam, they’re just a little scared of it ’cause they don’t know much about it, and so their image of it is mostly defined by terrorists and ignorant TV pundits. So, meaning well, they try to balance what they see on TV with a general sense of “well, they can’t be all that bad,” in an attempt to be respectful. We should fill that void with actual knowledge of the depth and diversity of Islamic thought.

I say this because I worry all our good efforts to promote our image in the Muslim world will be undone as soon as a young French Muslim visits the States and the first thing his host family asks is, “so, do you wear a turban?”

June 2, 2008

On framing, understanding

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , , , , , — Tina Russell @ 6:37 pm

Op-Ed Contributors – What Do You Call a Terror(Jihad)ist? – Op-Ed – NYTimes.com
The word “jihad” means to “strive” or “struggle,” and in the Muslim world it has traditionally been used in tandem with “fi sabilillah” (“in the path of God”). The term has long been taken to mean either a quest to find one’s faith or an external fight for justice. It makes sense, then, for terrorists to associate themselves with a term that has positive connotations. For the United States to support them in that effort, however, is a fundamental strategic mistake.

This op-ed combines two interests of mine: a) the importance of framing the issue properly, and b) the need for us in the West to understand and respect the Islamic world.

To call our fight against terrorists a “war on terror” was an enormous strategic and psychological blunder for the United States. Criminals have no honor, but warriors do. To call our fight a “war” gave terrorists dignity they do not deserve, and saying they are fighting a “jihad”–a holy struggle–even more so.

It’s sad that we were woken out of our slumber by pseudo-Islamic terrorists with no respect for the message of the Koran. Now we know that we need to do more to understand the Muslim world, but our impressions of it have been shaped by those terrorists and by bigots nudging us to bomb Mecca for the hell of it. So, “jihad”–a sacred struggle, internal or external–and “intifada”–a shaking off–have been defined in our minds by people who do nothing but vandalism to the words of Prophet Muhammad. Michelle Malkin even went nuts over a traditional Arab scarf. Clearly, something has to give.

We cannot let a billion people be defined by the people least qualified to represent them: Islamic terrorists and Western racists. Make some effort to learn about Islam. I listened to Muhammad: Prophet for Our Time, by Karen Alexander, on audiobook. I recommend that, but you can find your own way. It’s all part of being a good citizen.

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