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IOS Minaret Vol-1, No.1 (March 2007)
Vol. 5    Issue 22   01-15  April 2011

Professor A. R. Momin

US-led air strikes against Libya

The whiff of the “scent of jasmine” –the revolutionary fervor that gripped Tunisia in January 2011 and resulted in the ouster of its dictatorial ruler, Ben Ali, and inspired a successful popular uprising against Hosni Mubarak—is rapidly spreading across the Middle East, especially in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya and Syria. Following large-scale protests against the tyrannical rule of Col Muammar Gaddafi, who has ruled Libya for more than 41 years with an iron hand, the state’s security forces reacted with a violent and brutal retaliation. However, the defiant rebels and fighters managed to capture some towns and cities. Col Muammar vowed to liquidate all opposition to his regime and ordered the military to open fire on protesters, resulting in the death of scores of people.

The United Nations, the European Union and the Arab League denounced the Gaddafi regime for its gross violation of human rights and civil liberties. The 22-member Arab League took the unprecedented step of suspending Libya from the membership of the organization and on 12 March requested the United Nations to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. On 17 March the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed the resolution 1973, which called for immediate ceasefire and authorized the use of “all necessary measures” in order to protect civilians in Libya. On 19 March French military jets entered Libyan air space to enforce a UN-mandated no-flying zone and destroyed five Libyan tanks. Carrying what has been nicknamed Operation Odyssey by the allied forces further, the US and Britain launched a series of blistering attacks on Libyan air force, using Tomahawk cruise missiles. The Libyan air force has virtually been decimated. The allied air strikes have forced Col Gaddafi’s forces to retreat and have helped the rebels to recapture Ajdabiya and some other towns.

An American F-16 bomber during the operation Odyssey Dawn (AFP)

The military operations against Libya are fraught with worrying implications and consequences and are reminiscent of the US-led invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan. Divisions and fissures among the allied forces surfaced soon after the air strikes began. US officials complained that France “jumped the gun” by launching the first are attacks on 19 March. After much intense diplomacy and negotiations, the command and control of the operations have been entrusted to Nato. There is considerable ambiguity about the overall control and coordination of the military operations. While Nato has assumed command of the no-fly zone, the core coalition group—the US, France and the UK—call the political and strategic shots. Apart from Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, no Arab state has committed military forces to the no-fly zone. The US, France and the UK have declared that the air strikes will continue until Gaddafi stops oppressing his people. The preposterous attack on his compound shows beyond any doubt that the intention of Barack Obama, Nicolas Sarkozy and David Cameron is the liquidation of Gaddafi’s regime. In London, Britain’s armed forces minster, Nick Harvey, acknowledged that the crisis could end in stalemate and partition of Libya. He refused to rule out the deployment of British forces on the ground. In an interview on 29 March, President Barack Obama did not rule out arming the rebels seeking to overthrow the Gaddafi regime. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton told the London conference on 29 March that the UN resolutions allowed for the “legitimate transfer of arms to the rebels should any country wish to do so.” France said it would also consider supplying arms to the rebels. In his speech on March 28, President Barack Obama stated: “Broadening our military mission to regime change would be a mistake.” It remains to be seen whether Obama really meant what he says or it is one of his rhetorical but vacuous statements.

Libyan rebels prepare for battle (Photo: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images)

The decision to launch air strikes against Libya was far from unanimous. China, Russia, India and Brazil abstained from voting. Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin said the raid “resembled medieval calls for crusades.” Russia has accused the coalition of siding with one group in Libya’s civil war, which breaches the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973. India has said that external powers cannot take a decision about a regime change in Libya. The African Union has called for an end to the military intervention in Libya.

Air strikes by the coalition forces along a road between Benghazi and
Ajdabiya on March 20 (Reuters/Goran Tomasevic)

There is hardly any public support in Europe for the military action in Libya. More than 53% of Britons feel it is not advisable to the UK to get embroiled in another war. A majority of Germans have endorsed Angela Merkel’s decision not to participate in the military intervention. When the air strikes began, the allied leaders claimed that “what we want is the protection of civilians and not the bombing of other civilians.” However, Libyan health officials have claimed that the air strikes have resulted in the death of at least 64 civilians. In a significant development, Qatar has agreed to market crude oil produced from east Libyan fields that are no longer in Gaddafi’s control.

A missile, fired by the American-led forces, destroyed an administrative
building attached to the residence of Col Gaddafi in Tripoli (DPA)

The Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, and the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, have denounced the air strikes. On 23 March, Mr Gul told reporters, “the issue is essentially about people’s freedom and ending oppression….but unfortunately, it is obvious that some countries are driven by opportunism. Some who, until yesterday, were closest to the dictators and sought to take advantage of them….display an excessive behavior today and raise suspicions of secret intentions.” Without mincing words, President Gul said that France and others were being driven primarily by economic interests. “The aim (of the air raids) is not the liberation of the Libyan people,” he said. “There are hidden agendas and different intentions.” The Turkish prime minister accused France of seeing Libya as a “source of oil, goldmines and underground treasures.” Mr Erdogan warned of a protracted and bloody civil war that could make Libya “another Iraq.” The Turkish government accused Sarkozy of launching not only the no-fly zones but also his presidential reelection campaign. It may be pointed out that the chances of Sarkozy wining the 2012 presidential reelection are fast receding. According to the latest polls, Marine Le Pen, the daughter of France’s best-known far-right leader, Jean-Marie Le Pen, who has taken over the reigns of the National Front, is far ahead of Sarkozy.

A pro-government march on March 21 (DPA)

Arab bloggers are saying that lurking behind the military intervention in Libya is the Western greed and lust for Libyan oil and has nothing to do with safeguarding civilians. They, as well as several astute European commentators accuse the Western powers of having prioritized “cheap oil, arms sales and support for Israel’s oppression of the Palestinians over the rights of Arab peoples.” Dirk Niebel, a minister in Angela Merkel’s coalition government, has accused the United Nations of hypocrisy in approving the air strikes against Libya. The famed Al-Azhar University has condemned the military intervention while saying it supports the legitimate demands of the Libyan people.

Libyan women gather at the mass funeral of people killed in allied
air bombings (Photo: Jerome Delay/AP)

Preparations for the funeral of those killed in the
allied air bombings (Photo: Mohamed Messara)

Col Gaddafi’s tyrannical rule and his brazen suppression of the rights and democratic aspirations of the Libyan people undoubtedly deserve to be condemned in the strongest of terms. It is high time he saw the writing on the wall and relinquished his post. The fate of two of his good friends—Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak—is too glaring to be missed by him or anybody else. But to aim at “regime change” through military intervention and by providing arms and ammunition to motley groups of rebels sets a dangerous precedent.

A Libyan soldier killed by the French
air strike on March 20 (Reuters/Finbarr O’Reilly)

The military intervention by the US, France and the UK not only bristles with hypocrisy, opportunism and a “hidden” agenda (as alluded by the Turkish President Abdullah Gul) but is also fraught with frightening prospects. One would like to ask these self-appointed guardians of freedom, human rights and democracy (as many in the Middle East and elsewhere are asking): Why doesn’t the brutal suppression of the Yemeni people by President Ali Abdullah Saleh prick your collective conscience? Is it because he is a Western ally, or because Yemen has no oil? Why no serious action by the allied leaders is being contemplated in Bahrain, where peaceful protesters are being mercilessly beaten and fired on? Is it because Bahrain’s ruler, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, is your ally and because the US Navy’s Fifth Fleet is stationed there? And most importantly: How do you continue to turn a deaf ear to the sufferings and hardships of the Palestinian people, with no serious qualms? What about the protection of their human rights? Is it because Israel is the closest ally of the US? Isn’t it an open secret that Israel continues to defiantly flout international law and human rights conventions because of the active connivance and support of the US and other Western powers?

In a major speech on 28 March, President Obama defended the military intervention in Libya and said that he had ordered military action to prevent a massacre that would have “strained the conscience of the world” and could have meant “the democratic impulses that are dawning across the region would be eclipsed by the darkest form of dictatorship.” He added: “Some nations may be able to turn a blind eye to atrocities in other countries. But the United States of America is different.” Obama’s high-flown rhetoric can scarcely conceal the hypocrisy and duplicity in the US foreign policy. There is ample evidence to show that the US applies its yardstick of democracy, freedom and human rights selectively and discriminately and in consonance with its geo-political and strategic interests and that it is often guilty of violating human rights under the pretext of democracy. It is the only country which has been criticized by the International Court of Justice for carrying out terrorism in Nicaragua. In Latin America, the US was responsible for the overthrow of democratic regimes and for legitimizing the rule of ruthless dictators. The US has one of the most deplorable records in ratifying international conventions aimed at the implementation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has often violated many UN resolutions designed to enforce the human rights of refugees and displaced persons. In fact, the US has the dubious distinction of having used its veto power, often in favour of Israel, than any other member of the Security Council. The 2008 annual report of Amnesty International says that the US has “distinguished itself in recent years through its defiance of internal law”.

“Wherever people long to be free, they will find a friend in the United States,” Obama said. This is nothing less than a false and misleading rhetoric, which rings hollow in the face of recent events. It is well-known that the US initially stood by the former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak even as huge numbers of Egyptians were agitating for his ouster. In his speech, Obama stressed “America’s opposition to violence directed against one’s own citizens.” This sounds ironical in the face of the apathetic American response to Israeli atrocities on Palestinians and to the violent and brutal suppression of pro-democracy protests in Yemen and Bahrain—which are American allies.

One wishes President Barack Obama, the Nobel Peace laureate, pondered over these troubling questions in a spirit of self-introspection.

Islamic bonds are back—with a vengeance

According to JWT, a well-known American advertising agency, food, finance and packaged goods are the three consumer markets most affected by Islamic law. Islamic finance, which is essentially premised on Islamic principles governing trade, banking and investment, is steadily gathering momentum across large parts of the world, including Europe, North America and Australasia. Islamic finance embraces a wide range of institutions and products, including Islamic banks, Islamic investment companies, Islamic investment banks and Islamic e-commerce. The products include insurance securities, mutual funds, Islamic bonds and stocks. Islamic finance is no longer a niche business and is increasingly becoming a mainstream component of the global banking system.

Currently, more than 300 Islamic financial institutions exist in 75 countries across the world with an asset holding size of $280 billion. Standard and Poor’s, an international rating agency, puts the market for Islamic financial markets at about $700 billion. At present, investments in Islamic financial products represent just about 1 per cent of the global financial market, but the segment has grown at some 15% annually in the past three years and was worth $1,000 billion in 2010. In the UK it has grown to more than £ 500 million.

The global market for Islamic bonds, or sukuk, experienced a positive and healthy growth in 2010. According to report by Standard and Poor’s, Islamic bonds issues reached a record $51.2 billion in 2010, an increase of 34% from 2007. The value of Islamic bonds issued in the Gulf alone rose to 61% in 2010, with issuances valuing $7 billion in 2009-2010, compared to $4.3 billion in the previous year. By mid-February 2011, more than $16 billion worth had already been issued worldwide since the beginning of the year.

Malaysia remains the key driving force in the sukuk market, accounting for nearly 78% or 39.8 billion of total issuances in 2010, followed by Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the UAE.

Conversions on the rise in the UK

Since the publication of the report Islamophobia: A Challenge to Us All by the Runnymede Commission in 1997, the term Islamophobia has gained wide currency in academic discourse and in the media in Britain and other European countries as well as in the United States. The report defined Islamophobia as “an outlook or worldview involving an unfounded dread and dislike of Muslims, which results in practices of exclusion and discrimination”. A report of the Council of Europe entitled Islamophobia and its Consequences for Young People (2005) described Islamophobia as “the fear of or prejudiced viewpoint towards Islam, Muslims and matters pertaining to them. Whether it takes the shape of daily forms of racism and discrimination or more violent forms, Islamophobia is a violation of human rights and a threat to social cohesion”.

Islamophobia is manifested in various forms, including assaults on Muslims, attacks on mosques and cemeteries, abuses and obscenities hurled at Muslims and humiliation of Muslims with conspicuous Islamic features such as the headscarf and beard.

The far-right political parties in Britain, especially the British National Party, thrive on fanning people’s primordial sentiments and Islamophobic passions. The BNP often takes advantage of sensitive issues and fans racist and xenophobic sentiments in the majority population in order to draw political advantage. A recent report of the Commission for Racial Equality in Britain has pointed out that racial discrimination is still a reality in the country and that Britain continues to be racially divided. The report notes that Britain remains a place of “inequality, exclusion and isolation”.

Strangely, despite the prevailing atmosphere of Islamophobia, the number of Britons embracing Islam has nearly doubled in the past decade. A new study by the inter-faith think tank Faith Matters suggests that the number of Britons who have entered the fold of Islam is as high as 100,000, with 5,000 new conversions each year. The estimate is based on a variety of sources, including the 2001 Scottish census, data from mosques and local authority data.

The converts include many prominent persons and intellectuals, including Martin Lings, a former Keeper of Oriental Manuscripts at the British Museum, Yusuf Islam, the former pop singer Kete Stevens, Timothy J. Winter, an Oxford scholar, Yahya Birt, the son of BBC’s former chief, and Joe Ahmad Dobson, the son of a former cabinet minister in Britain.

Hana Tajima, fashion designer, converted to Islam when she was 17. Reminiscing about the things about Islam that brought her into the fold of Islam, she says: “ The fact that the Qur'an is the same now as it ever was means there's always a reference point. The issues of women's rights were shockingly contemporary. The more I read, the more I found myself agreeing with the ideas behind it and I could see why Islam coloured the lives of my Muslim friends. It made sense, really, I didn't and still don't want to be Muslim, but there came a point where I couldn't say that I wasn't Muslim.”

Denise Horsley, a dance teacher, was introduced to Islam by her Muslim boyfriend. Reflecting on her conversion, she says, “During Ramadan I'd sit and listen to the Qur'anic recitations and would be filled with such happiness and warmth. One day I decided there and then to take my shahada. I walked down to the reception and said I was ready to convert, it was as simple as that….. I grew up Christian and went to a Catholic school. Islam to me seemed to be a natural extension of Christianity. The Qur'an is filled with information about Jesus, Mary, the angels and the Torah. It's part of a natural transition.”

Paul Martin was just a student when he decided to embrace Islam. He says: "I liked the way the Muslims students I knew conducted themselves. It's nice to think about people having one partner for life and not doing anything harmful to their body. I just preferred the Islamic lifestyle and from there I looked into the Qur'an. I was amazed to see Islam's big emphasis on science.”

"Then I was introduced by a Muslim friend to a doctor who was a few years older than me. We went for a coffee and then a few weeks later for an ice cream. It was there that I said I would like to be a Muslim. I made my shahada right there, in the ice cream shop. I know some people like to be all formal and do it in a mosque, but for me religion is not a physical thing, it is what is in your heart.”

Stuart Mee is a 46-year-old civil servant, who embraced Islam in 2010. He says: "Everything is so consumer-driven here, there are always adverts pushing you to buy the next thing. I knew there must be something longer term and always admired the sense of contentment within my colleagues' lives, their sense of peace and calmness. It was just one of those things that happened - we talked, I read books and I related to it. I emailed the Imam at London Central Mosque and effectively had a 15 minute interview with him. It was about making sure that this was the right thing for me, that I was doing it at the right time. He wanted to make sure I was committed. It is a life changing decision. It is surprisingly easy, the process of converting. You do your shahada, which is the declaration of your faith. You say that in front of two witnesses and then you think, 'What do I do next?' I went to an Islamic bookstore and bought a child's book on how to pray. I followed that because, in Islamic terms, I was basically one month old.

"I went to a local mosque in Reading and expected someone to stop me say, 'Are you a Muslim?' but it didn't happen. It was just automatic acceptance. You can have all the trappings of being a Muslim - the beard and the bits and pieces that go with it, but Islam spreads over such a wide area and people have different styles, clothes and approaches to life.”

(Source: www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/the-islamification-of-britain-record-numbers)

German Muslims face growing intolerance

A new study commissioned by Germany’s Interior Ministry has revealed that the population of Muslims in the country is between 3.8 and 4.3 million, or about 5% of Germany’s population.

Of late there has come about a resurgence of sentiments and outbursts against Islam and Muslims in Germany. The context is provided by the growing popular resentment against immigration and the increasing visibility of Germany’s 4 million Muslims. According to a recent survey conducted for the tabloid Bid, nearly 66% of Germans believe that Islam does not belong to Germany. The rising public resentment and anger against immigration can be gauged from the popularity of a recently published book Deutschland schafft sich ab (Germany Does Away with Itself) by Thilo Sarrazin, a German economist who was until recently on the board of Germany’s Bundesbank. In his controversial book, which has sold more than a million copies since its publication in August 2010, Sarrazin says that German women are having far too few babies, while Muslims and other immigrant minorities are producing too many. The result, according to him, is that Germany’s population is shrinking and is getting dumber. Sarrazin has been thoroughly denounced by Germany’s political establishment and Chancellor Angela Merkel accused him of “dividing society”. The Bundesbank has sacked him. However, Sarrazin’s book remains on the best seller list. A study by the Friedrich Ebert Foundation in October 2010 found that more than 30 per cent people questioned agreed that Germany was “overrun by foreigners.”

In March 2011, Germany’s interior minister Hans-Peter Friedrich said that Islam does not belong in Germany. The foreign minister Guido Westerwelle recently declared that children of immigrants should learn German before learning the language of their parents and grandparents. Wolfgang Schauble, Germany’s finance minister, has recently said it had been a mistake to bring so many Gasterbeiter (guest workers) from Turkey during the economic boom of the 1960s. He said when Turkish workers were invited to work in German factories a half century ago, it was believed that their children would integrate into German society automatically, but this did not happen.

A new study, carried out in five European countries by the University of Munster in Germany, revealed that Germans agitate against new mosques and minarets much more than the French, the Dutch, the Danes and the Portuguese. “They are also less willing to concede equal rights to other religions,” said Professor Detlef Pollack, director of the study. “Compared to other Europeans, their image of Hindus, Buddhists and Jews is more negative.” According to the study, while 62% of the Dutch, 56% of the French and 55% of the Danes have a generally positive perception of Muslims, the majority of Germans (66% in the West and 74% in the East) have a negative image of Muslims.

The study, based on interviews with 10,000 people each in East and West Germany, France, Denmark, the Netherlands and Portugal, noted that the frequency of contact or interaction with Muslims (and other religious groups) in the country has a highly significant bearing on the overall perception of Muslims. “The more often you meet Muslims, the more you view them as generally positive,” Pollack said. Contact between Germans and Muslims in the eastern part of the country was found to be as low as 16%, while it was 40% in the western part. Some three-quarters of West Germans and two-thirds of East Germans reported that that their encounters with Muslims were pleasant. According to the survey, only 49% of respondents in West Germany and 53% in East Germany think that all religious groups should have equal rights--in contrast with 72% in Denmark, 82% in the Netherlands, 86% in France and 89% in Portugal. In West Germany, more than 70% and in the East more than 80% of respondents were opposed to the building of new mosques.

Pollack says that the prevalence of the generally negative perception of Muslims in Germany is due to four factors: the infrequency of contact and interaction between ethnic Germans and Muslims; the lack of a serious and honest about Muslims and about integration in Germany; the growing strength of far-right political parties; certain events at the turn of the century, including the cartoon controversy in Denmark, violence and vandalism by French youth of North African origin in 2005, the headscarf ban in France, and the murder of the Dutch film maker Theo van Gogh.

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