Thursday, 30 July 2009

President Sarkozy’s comments on burqa -
It’s outrageous, offensive and inflammatory

Dr. Mozammel Haque

President Sarkozy made his attack on a small minority of Muslim women in his ‘state of the nation’ speech, the first by a French President to both houses of the French Parliament since 1873, stating that the burqa was not welcome in France: A parliamentary commission has been set up to investigate the use of the burqa in France, home to the largest Muslim community in Western Europe – five million and growing..

Sarkozy’s speech should be seen as a piece of politics. Despite good results at the European elections, Sarkozy and his government are not popular. With gloomy economic forecasts and discontent in workplaces across Europe, he made a feeble attempt to deflect his nation’s attention from more pressing issues to the quintessentially French preoccupation with women’s clothes.

President Sarkozy’s comment on burqa
President Sarkozy said, “The problem of the burka is not a religious problem, it's a problem of liberty and women's dignity. It's not a religious symbol, but a sign of subservience and debasement. I want to say solemnly, the burka is not welcome in France. In our country, we can't accept women prisoners behind a screen, cut off from all social life, deprived of all identity. That's not our idea of freedom.”

Nationally, the speech was attacked by all the opposition parties as an ‘act of self-promotion by a President with monarchical pretensions’. French Muslim leaders reacted cautiously saying this would further stigmatize a big immigrant population. “To raise the subject like this…. Is a way of stigmatizing Islam,” said Mohammed Moussaoui, the head of the French Muslim Council.

The speech already received criticism of France abroad. President Obama attacked the French headscarf rule in his historic speech in Cairo University saying that the United States prized freedom of religion and the United States did not believe that the Government should dictate people’s dress. “We are not going to tell people what to wear”, said President Obama

Analytical study of President Sarkozy’s remarks
Before looking into the reaction and response to Sarkozy’s comment on burqa, let me analyse his remarks.

Not sign of religion: First of all, Sarkozy said burqa is not sign of religion. Observers raised question: since when did Sarkozy become an authority on Islam? Has he read the verse of the Qur’an (Surah Ahzab, Verse 59) which explicitly enjoins believing women to wear an outer garment when outdoors, so that they are identified as Muslim women and not harassed? If so, how is he qualified to offer a different conclusion from centuries of Muslim exegetes and scholars who affirmed that such a garment is undoubtedly a religious obligation? Has he ever spoken to any of the thousands of Muslim women who choose to wear the burqa/abaya/jilbab and asked them the rationale behind their choice of that garb?

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is 'not qualified' to judge the Muslim women's dress code, said Muslim scolar in reaction to his branding of full-body veils as a sign of servitude. "This man is not qualified to tell Muslim women what they should or should not wear," said Moustafa Al Shaka'a, a member of the Islamic Research Centre, an influential arm of Al Azhar, the Sunni Muslim world's prestigious institution. "First, he (Sarkozy) does not believe in Islam, which is a heavenly religion that holds women in high regard. Another reason is that he belongs to a culture, which is unfair to women," Al-Shaka'a told Gulf News. "One example, Islam gives women the right to keep her family's name after marriage, which is not the case in the West (...)

Secondly, Sarkozy said, it’s a sign of subservience: Observers commented, “It is a sign of subservience – not to human beings, fickle fashion trends and social mores – but to the Higher Wisdom of the One who decreed it an obligatory protection for Muslim women.”
Thirdly, Sarkozy said, it’s a sign of debasement. Observer explained debasement thus: “Debasement is trading in the bodies of women, displaying them and using them as a means of provoking and gratifying unnatural biological urges in strangers. Debasement is the deliberate, systematic dehumanization of women and their relegation to being sexual toys in the hands of profiteers – not the covering of a woman’s body in public, that protects her from precisely such predators.” Wrote Rahla Khan.

Response and Reaction in the United Kingdom
In the United Kingdom, people from different levels and different walks of life reacted to President Sarkozy’s interference in woman’s rights to their dress code. Responding to President Sarkozy’s remarks on burqa, the Communities Minister of the British Government, Shahid Malik, M.P. said, “It is not the job of government to dictate what people should or should not wear in our society – that is a matter of personal choice.”

Communities Minister
“There are no laws stating what clothes or attire are acceptable and so whether one chooses to wear a veil or burqa, a miniskirt or goth outfit is entirely at the individual’s discretion,” said Minister Malik and added, “It is true that many Muslims feel the veil and its rationale are misunderstood and so sensible discussion provides an opportunity to create a better understanding and ultimately ensures we are more at ease with the diverse society within which we live.”

Lord Ahmed
“President Sarkozy’s remarks are inflammatory,” Labour Peer, Lord Nazir Ahmed of Rotharham, told me in an interview and added, “Burqa is worn by a small minority of Afghani women and there are only a handful of Afghani women in France. It is a deliberate diversion from his domestic problems to stir up heat against Muslims.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “According to Sarkozy, ‘burqa is a sign of subservience and debasement’. Many would say that naked women posing for photograph and using them to amuse men in the sea beeches is also sexual exploitation of women. I am fully aware that Carla Bruni (Mrs. Sarkozy) posed naked in Magazines and there is this of other women who posed naked in the beeches of southern France.”

“In a society where you are allowed to take off your clothes in the name of liberty, equality and fraternity they want to ban those who want to keep their dignity and modesty in line with morality,” said Lord Ahmed.

Lord Sheikh
Conservative Peer, Lord Sheikh, said, “I don’t agree with President Sarkozy’s remarks concerning wearing burqa. I feel that Muslim ladies should be given the opportunity to wear Burqa or Hijab or Niqab if they want to do so. The State should not be interfering with the dress code of the Muslim ladies; they should be given the choice. In the United Kingdom, there is no such restriction and I very much hope that this is continued and there is no interference in our beliefs and our attitudes to the dress code of Muslim or any other racial or religious groups.”

Sir Iqbal Sacranie
Sir Iqbal Sacranie, former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain and the present chairman of Muslim Aid, told me in an interview, “These comments coming from such a senior political figure in Europe is extremely disturbing. It goes against the very tradition and values of a liberal secular democratic system which guarantees respect to individual rights, to address in accordance with the culture and religious traditions.”

“There may be arguments within the Muslim community whether wearing of burqa is part of the Islamic teachings but it is for the authentic Islamic scholars and renowned Islamic institutions, such as Fiqh Council in Makkah al-Mukarramah and Al-Azhar in Cairo to give a clear directive on this contentious issue,” said Sir Iqbal.

The Muslim Aid chairman also said, “However, looking at the recent pronouncement of the French government including the banning of headscarf in French schools clearly shows that these measures are clear infringement of the basic human right and breach of both UN and European Convention of Human Rights.”

“Such statements are deeply worrying and gives succor to the extreme right-win fascist groups in Europe to openly incite hatred against Muslims,” said Sir. Iqbal.

Muslim Organizations:
Muslim Council of Britain
“French leader’s burqa remarks are designed to whip-up further xenophobia against Muslims,” reacted by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) in its press release on 23 June 2009 and called on Sarkozy to "desist from engaging in and promoting divisive politics" towards France's Muslim population.

“The Muslim Council of Britain criticized French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s intention to ban the wearing of Burqa - a garment worn by a minority of Muslim women in accordance with their religious belief. Reiterating its long established position that individuals must have the freedom to choose their attire on the basis of deeply-held religious beliefs, the MCB called upon the French President to desist from engaging in and promoting divisive politics towards its Muslim inhabitants,” the press release said.

In this respect, the MCB echoes the US President Barack Obama’s caution that “it is important for Western countries to avoid impeding Muslim citizens from practising religion as they see fit - for instance, by dictating what clothes a Muslim woman should wear. We cannot disguise hostility towards any religion behind the pretence of liberalism.”

Dr Reefat Drabu, Assistant Secretary General of the MCB, said in a statement: “It is patronising and offensive to suggest that those Muslim women who wear the burqa do so because of pressure or oppression by their male partners or guardians.”

Speaking for the umbrella group of more than 500 Muslim organizations including mosques, charities and community groups, she added: “Such suggestions can legitimately be perceived as antagonistic towards Islam.”

“Instead of taking a lead in promoting harmony and social cohesion amongst its people, the French President appears to be initiating a policy which is set to create fear and misunderstanding and may lead to Islamophobic reaction not just in France but in the rest of Europe too,” Dr. Reefat Drabu said.

Union of Muslim Organizations (UMO)
“It is all the more disturbing coming from the President of a country which prides itself to be the pioneer of liberty, equality and fraternity. President Sarkozy has brought humiliation on the French people by denying their right to wear whatever the dress they want to wear. Secondly, as it is targeted against Muslim women, he is infected with the disease of Islamophobia which is not being acceptable to the Muslims throughout the world,” said Dr. Syed Aziz Pasha, the General Secretary of the Union of Muslim Organizations of the United Kingdom & Ireland (UMO), in an interview with me.

Dr. Pasha urged “the President of the European Union to demand the French President that he should not enact any law which deprives the fundamental human rights of all French citizens.,”

Sister Yvonne Ridley
Respect Party politician Yvonne Ridley, revert to Islam and Press TV Journalist, told me in an interview, “It is outrageous but this man is using his position to try and to dictate what women should or should not wear. I will defend any woman’s rights to wear what she wants. This is nothing to do with religion but it is unacceptable attack on woman’s rights by a man who obviously regards woman as inferior.”

“When will man learn to stay out of the women’s wardrobe?” enquired Sister Ridley.

Most broadsheets continue to engage in the debate surrounding Nicolas Sarkozy's controversial comments on the burqa in France. Selected comments from The Times and The Guardian published on this issue.

Frank Skinner in The Times
Writing in The Times, London, Frank Skinner, English writer and award-winning comedian and best known for the hit football song, observed, “I don’t believe that any man should force his wife to wear a burka but I’m not sure that Mr. Sarkozy, the extremely proud owner of a trophy wife, is the best man to speak on the matter. Add to this that he was once seen to be checking his text messages during a private audience with the Pope and one might also ask whether religious sensitivity is one of his strengths.”

“To ban it (burqa) is to remove women’s choice, using oppression to combat oppression. Rigid Rules that make no allowance for personal choice are more suited to the Taleban than to one of Europe’s great democracies. So that’s my take on the burka issue,” said Skinner.

Stuart Jeffries in The Guardian
Writing in The Guardian under the caption, ‘Brush up your Hegel, Sarko’, Stuart Jeffries, feature writer and columnist of The Guardian, observed, “What’s striking in Sarkozy’s speech is that it is yet again a man who denounces women and presumes that they are cut off from social life. They may be cut off from Sarkozy’s secular French society, and that may be difficult for allegedly tolerant Western liberals, but they are not cut off from all society. In fact they’re very much part of the society that many Westerners despise as oppressing women.”
Obama on Arab-Israeli Conflict
Need turning noble words into bold action

Dr. Mozammel Haque

US President Barack Hussein Obama’s speech at the Cairo University calling for a new beginning between US and Muslims was greeted as the most important international affairs pronouncement of Obama's presidency. It was a departure from the Bush era. He has started turning the page on eight years. President Obama has changed the tone of relations between the West and the world of Islam. He did not mention the lethal word ‘terror’ or ‘terrorism’ which became the ‘part of the obscene grammar of the Bush era’.

Not only in relationship between the West and the Muslim world but he also distance himself adequately from the policies of his predecessor on Iraq and Afghanistan. He has taken some strong decision: “He reasserted his plan to keep to a tight withdrawal of all forces from Iraq by 2010. He said he would close the detention centre in Guantanamo Bay by the next year and that America would never again torture terrorist suspects. He pledged to seek a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by the creation of a Palestinian state alongside a Jewish one,” wrote Richard Beeston, Foreign Editor of The Times on 5 June, 2009.

Palestinian-Israeli conflict
The most controversial and decade-long issue is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which is termed by someone as ‘the graveyard of American hopes of bringing any resolution to the world’s most intractable conflict’. But President Obama made it clear in his address at Cairo University and affirmed his commitment to a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. Obama pledged to pursue Palestinian statehood. The Palestinians had suffered without a homeland. Obama said, “They [Palestinians] endure the daily humiliations – large and small – that come with occupation. So let there be no doubt: the situation for the Palestinian people is intolerable.”

“The only resolution is for the aspirations of both sides to be met through two states, where Israelis and Palestinians each live in peace and security,” said Obama and the US President told the Israelis there had to be a total end to their colonisation in the West Bank. “The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

“Despite the pressure from the pro-Zionist lobby groups in Washington, the recent visit of Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu, the new (and young) President has held firm to his public stance that the only way forward is a two-state solution, that Israel should cease all settlement expansion and that the US is ready for direct talks with Iran and Syria,” said Adrian Hamilton in The Independent on Thursday, 4 June 2009.

Obama also said “Israel must take concrete steps” to give the Palestinian progress in their daily lives as part of a road to peace. “Israelis must acknowledge that just as Israel's right to exist cannot be denied, neither can Palestine's,” said Obama.

US President did not confine his recognition of Palestinian suffering to the situation since 1967. “For more than 60 years, they have endured the pain of dislocation,” he said, surely coming closer than any previous US president to acknowledging what Palestinians call the nakba – catastrophe – of 1948. And he repeated his demand for Israeli ­settlement activity to stop.

“But make no mistake,” Jonathan Freedland wrote in The Guardian on 4 June, 2009, “this was no exercise in pandering to the Muslim world. He passionately defended Jews' right to a homeland, before condemning Muslim anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial as “baseless … ignorant …hateful”. He recognised that Hamas has genuine support among Palestinians, but excoriated the group's methods: “It is a sign neither of courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,” he said. “That's not how moral authority is claimed; that's how it is surrendered.””

Obama referred to America’s “unbreakable bond” with Israel, which he coupled with a bold attack on “baseless, ignorant and hateful” denial of the Nazi Holocaust, a remark obviously aimed at Iran. Israel deserved security and Obama said Palestinians had to abandon violence. “It is a sign of neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up old women on a bus,” he said.

Obama also said, “All of us have a responsibility to work for the day when the mothers of Israelis and Palestinians can see their children grow up without fear; when the Holy Land of three great faiths is the place of peace that God intended it to be; when Jerusalem is a secure and lasting home for Jews and Christians and Muslims, and a place for all of the children of Abraham to mingle peacefully together as in the story of Israel, when Moses, Jesus, and Mohammed – peace be upon them – joined in prayer."

Response and reaction of the People
The reaction and response to Obama’s speech particularly with regard to Israeli-Palestinian conflict was mixed, both regionally and internationally and people of different levels responded differently to his policy on the Middle East.

Regional elite class. The Palestinian Authority praised the speech as “an important step towards a new American policy”. “President Obama's speech is a good start and an important step towards a new American policy,” Palestinian official Nabil Abu Rdainah said (quoted by Ross Colvin and David Alexander in The Independent, on 4 June, 2009). Fawzi Barhoum, a Hamas spokesman said: “There is a change between the speech of President Obama and previous speeches made by George Bush. But today's remarks at Cairo University were based on soft diplomacy to brighten the image of the United States.” (The Independent, on 4 June, 2009)

In Lebanon, Hassan Fadlallah, a lawmaker for Lebanon's Hezbollah, said, “The Islamic world does not need moral or political sermons. It needs a fundamental change in American policy,” whereas in Egypt, Mohamed Habib, deputy leader of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist movement that poses the strongest opposition to Hosni Mubarak's regime, said: “It's a public relations address more than anything else.” In Damascus, the Hamas leader Khaled Meshal told Time magazine: “Undoubtedly Obama speaks a new language. We are looking for more than just mere words … We are keen to contribute to this. But we [believe that cannot happen] merely with words.”

Non-elite group: In this category, I considered those who are not the elite class but the common average people, especially from the younger student generation. Their opinions carry special weight and cannot be ignored. They are the most powerful non-elite group.

Many people in Cairo were pleased at the US Administration’s tougher stance on Israel's settlement building, which Washington has said must stop completely as part of renewed peace efforts. There was loud applause when Obama said emphatically: “The US does not accept the legitimacy of continued Israeli settlements. This construction violates previous agreements and undermines efforts to achieve peace. It is time for these settlements to stop.”

Yasmeen El Khoudairy, a 19-year from Gaza who is studying at the American University of Cairo, said, “I hope he’ll get serious on the Palestine issue.” “He has to stop Binyamin Netanyahu,” he said of the Israeli Prime Minister who refuses to endorse the idea of an independent Palestinian state, and backs continued “natural growth” of the half-million settler population in the territories that Israel conquered in 1967. Mohammed Ghaneim, 19, a student, was much less impressed. “This is not going to change anything,” he said. “It was all words.” (As reported by to Donald Macintyre in The Independent on 5 June 2009)

But this was not the majority view in the Gaza City’s al Waha café. Those who were from the elder generation have different views: “For me it was a very important speech,” said Munir Dweik, 47, a taxi driver. “I hope this will lead the world to become serious about reconciliation in every place, including between Israelis and Palestinians.” Adeeb Zarouk, 47, a satellite dish repairman, said the President was trying, post-Bush, “to improve the image of America in the Arab world, in American interests”. But he was encouraged overall by the passages on the Israel Palestinian conflict, saying: “It is a good start. The question is whether the Zionists in America will allow him to move on this or not.” Indeed, Mr Zarouk was sufficiently impressed to worry aloud “that someone might attempt to kill him like they killed Kennedy”. (Donald Macintyre in The Independent on 5 June 2009).

Intelligentsia: The third group is intelligentsia; here I include journalists, researchers and analysts from the region. This intelligentsia group has a strong voice of wisdom to be reckoned with.

Abdel Bari Atwan, Editor-in-Chief of Al-Quds wrote in The Independent on 5 June 2009 under the caption: ‘Fine words, but the real test is to come’ that “But for all his fine – very fine – words, Obama offered nothing new in terms of the reality on the ground. There was no pledge to withdraw troops from Afghanistan, and no apology, let alone compensation, to the people of Iraq. If Obama genuinely seeks reconciliation, he cannot stop short of such an apology. While I, and all Palestinians, rejoice in his condemnation of the Israeli settlement programme, the only problem remains – how to implement their dismantling. Obama declared that the two-state solution was the only solution, but even George Bush said this. The enduring problem is how to achieve it.”

“If he wants to bridge the gap he must speak positively about Islam," Emad Gad, of the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, said. He noted that Mr Obama had already appeared on Arabic-language news channels talking about how his father and relatives in Kenya were Muslims, in an attempt to establish a bond with the man on the street. (The Times, 4 June 2009).

“It was basically a very conciliatory speech,” said Hisham Kassem, one of Egypt's leading commentators. “Obama was saying 'I'm not
George Bush’. But there was very little policy and very little you could hold him accountable to.”

But in Saudi Arabia, as elsewhere in the region, enthusiasm was tempered by caution. “We know that no single speech can eradicate the mistrust or dismantle the hostility inherited from the Bush and Cheney era,” said Mr Awaji, referring to the former US administration. In Cairo, Badawi al-Sawi, an Egyptian language teacher, summarised the region's expectations after the speech. “These were good words but the eloquence of action is more powerful than the eloquence of words,” he said. (Financial Times, 5 June 2009)

A similar tone was heard in Pakistan. “He hit all the right notes,” said Maleeha Lodhi, former Pakistani ambassador to the US and UK. “But the test will come in the conduct of US policy, not the offer of promises.” (reported in Financial Times)

World Media
David Usborne, US editor of The Independent quoted : “If talking is going to resolve all the problems in the world, Obama got a good bit of that out of the way today,” wrote the New York Post's reporter in Cairo. “He talked and talked and talked and talked. And then kept talking.” (The Independent, 5 June 2009)

“It is true, as a few less benevolent critics noted yesterday, that words are not the same thing as deeds. But words set a tone, and Mr Obama's every nuance was calculated to say that today's White House, politically and philosophically, is as far from George Bush's as it is possible to be,” wrote The Independent editorially and observed, “A time will come when Mr Obama – and the US public on his behalf – will, rightly, expect his outstretched hand to be reciprocated. Foreign leaders will not be able to bask indefinitely in the US President's reflected goodwill.”

“The President did not unveil a new policy programme or
Middle East peace plan. Instead, it will be the tone – even the vocabulary – he used that will have the greatest impact,” wrote Jonathan Freedland in The Guardian and observed, “Whether this sensitive, supple and sophisticated speech will be remembered will depend on whether the rhetoric of respect is matched by a change in action. And that, as Obama admitted, is more than the work of one day.”

Simon Tisdall quoted in The Guardian
Frida Ghitis who said in World Politics Review: “Unfortunately Obama is backing away from the bold steps required to achieve strategic, Nixon-to-China-type rapprochement with Tehran.” What Obama had yet to demonstrate, they said, was the necessary “strategic vision, political ruthlessness and personal determination” to achieve a breakthrough.

The Guardian editorially Observed, “In all, this was a brave speech by a man who is undoubtedly sincere about his aims. Whether it turns out to be a groundbreaking speech depends on whether he can turn noble words into bold action.” (5 June 2009)

Monday, 13 July 2009

President Obama’s historic speech at Cairo University
President Obama Seeks a New Beginning
between the US and the Muslim World

Dr. Mozammel Haque

US President Barack Hussein Obama issued an ambitious seven-point manifesto for better ties with the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims in his long-awaited, long promised historic address to the Muslim world at Cairo University in Egypt, on Thursday, the 4th of June, 2009.

Speaking from the lectern at Cairo University in a speech also sponsored by Al-Azhar, one of the oldest centers of Islamic learning, President Obama spoke at Cairo University after meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak on the second stop of a four-nation trip to the Middle East and Europe. The speech was the centrepiece of his journey.

While the 55-minute speech before a 3,500 invited audience of politicians, opposition leaders, scholars and human rights activists was billed as an effort by the President to soothe grievances of more than one billion Muslims across the world but choosing Cairo underscored his focus on the Middle East. Iran’s top diplomat in Egypt was also invited to attend and so the members of the semi-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt’s largest opposition group. The President covered the Middle East peace process, Iran, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq in his speech.
On the same day, “The Israeli newspaper Haaretz printed a cartoon today of Mr Obama wearing Arab headdress, captioned "Barack Hussein Obama the Anti-Semitic Jew-hater", which was being posted up around Jewish settlements this morning ahead of his speech.” reported in The Times, London, on 4 June, 2009.

President Obama’s seven-point manifesto for better ties with the world’s 1.5 billion Muslims, includes, besides bridging gap between Islam and the West; first, confront violent extremism in all of its forms; second, the situation between Israelis, Palestinians and the Arab world; third, rights and responsibilities of nations on nuclear weapons; fourth, democracy; fifth, religious freedom; sixth, women’s rights; and finally, economic development and opportunity.

But Obama dwelled most heavily on an Arab-Israeli peace. He spoke 6,000 words in Thursday’s speech, 1,000 about the Mideast conflict. “Too many tears have flowed. Too much blood has been shed,” he said.

New Beginning between US and Muslim World
In this part, I have mainly concentrated on his efforts to start a new beginning of relationships between the United States and the Muslim world. President Obama paid homage to the Islamic culture and civilizations, noted his Muslim roots, referred to America’s biography etc.

“I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world; one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect; and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles – principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings,” said the US President Barack Hussein Obama in his long-awaited, long promised historic address to the Muslim world at Cairo University in Egypt, on Thursday, the 4th of June, 2009.

Al-Azhar: a beacon of Islamic learning
In his historic speech at the Cairo University, President Obama said, “For over a thousand years, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning, and for over a century, Cairo University has been a source of Egypt’s advancement. Together, you represent the harmony between tradition and progress. I am grateful for your hospitality, and the hospitality of the people of Egypt. I am also proud to carry with me the goodwill of the American people, and a greeting of peace from Muslim communities in my country: Assalamu Alaikum.”
Relationship between Islam and the West
In a gesture to the Islamic world, Obama conceded at the beginning of his remarks that tension “has been fed by colonialism that denied rights and opportunities to many Muslims, and a Cold War in which Muslim-majority countries were too often treated as proxies without regard to their own aspirations. Moreover, the sweeping change brought by modernity and globalization led many Muslims to view the West as hostile to the traditions of Islam.”

View Islam as hostile to America
President Obama mentioned, “The attacks of September 11th, 2001 and the continued efforts of these extremists to engage in violence against civilians has led some in my country to view Islam as inevitably hostile not only to America and Western countries, but also to human rights. This has bred more fear and mistrust.”
“This cycle of suspicion and discord must end,” said President Obama.

Quoting from the Qur’an
Obama’s ambitious speech also represented an opportunity to shape his own image in the eyes of Muslims. He quoted from the Qur’an, paid homage to the cultural and intellectual achievements of Muslims and noted his middle name and his father’s ties to the faith. Obama said, “As the Holy Qur’an tells us, “Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.” That is what I will try to do – to speak the truth as best as I can.”

Noted his own biography
This frank discussion was punctuated and given credibility by Obama’s own biography, which he invoked to remind his audience that he does indeed understand the Muslim point of view. “I am a Christian, but my father came from a Kenyan family that includes generations of Muslims. As a boy, I spent several years in Indonesia and heard the call of the Adhan at the break of dawn and the fall of dusk. As a young man, I worked in Chicago communities where many found dignity and peace in their Muslim faith,” said President Obama.

Civilization’s debt to Islam
US President Barack Obama paid tribute to Islam’s influence in culture and civilization in his well-admired speech in Cairo. Obama said, “As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was innovation in Muslim communities that developed the order of algebra; our magnetic compass and tools of navigation; our mastery of pens and printing; our understanding of how disease spreads and how it can be healed. Islamic culture has given us majestic arches and soaring spires; timeless poetry and cherished music; elegant calligraphy and places of peaceful contemplation. And throughout history, Islam has demonstrated through words and deeds the possibilities of religious tolerance and racial equality.”

Islam a part of America’s story
President Obama said, “I know, too, that Islam has always been a part of America’s story. The first nation to recognize my country was Morocco. In signing the Treaty of Tripoli in 1796, our second President John Adams wrote, ‘The United States has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Muslims.’”

Contributions of American Muslims
President Obama also acknowledged, “Since our founding, American Muslims have enriched the United States. They have fought in our wars, served in government, stood for civil rights, started businesses, taught at our universities, excelled in our sports arenas, won Nobel Prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic Torch. And when the first Muslim-American was recently elected to Congress, he took the oath to defend our Constitution using the same Holy Qur’an that one of our Founding Fathers – Thomas Jefferson – kept in his personal library.”

Freedom in America
The President pointed out that freedom in America is indivisible. “That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the US government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the Hijab, and to punish those who would deny it,” said Obama and also pointed out that Muslims there enjoy the same successes as non-Muslim Americans. He pointed out that US congressman Keith Ellison was sworn into office using Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Holy Qur’an. He quoted the Qur’an and spoke of the Prophet (peace be upon him).

Fight against negative stereotypes of Islam
Weaving his personal biography and America’s biography into his speech, Obama said, “So I have known Islam on three continents before coming to the region where it was first revealed. That experience guides my conviction that partnership between America and Islam must be based on what Islam is, not what it isn’t. And I consider it part of my responsibility as President of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear.” At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. “Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.”

Dream of Opportunity exists for all
Obama also said, “Much has been made of the fact that an African-American with the name Barack Hussein Obama could be elected President. But my personal story is not so unique. The dream of opportunity for all people has not come true for everyone in America, but its promise exists for all who come to our shores – that includes nearly seven million American Muslims in our country today who enjoy incomes and education that are higher than average.”

Islam is a part of America
“So let there be no doubt: Islam is a part of America. And I believe that America holds within her the truth that regardless of race, religion, or station in life, all of us share common aspirations – to live in peace and security; to get an education and to work with dignity; to love our families, our communities, and our God. These things we share. This is the hope of all humanity,” said the President.

America is not at war with Islam
Recalling his speech in Ankara, Turkey, earlier this year, Obama said, “In Ankara, I made clear that America is not – and never will be – at war with Islam.” Quoting the Holy Qur’an, Obama said, “The Holy Qur’an teaches that whoever kills an innocent, it is as if he has killed all mankind; and whoever saves a person, it is as if he has saved all mankind.”

I have mentioned all those areas which President Obama invoked to bridge the gap between the US and the Muslim world, particularly, Islam’s contribution to culture and civilizations, his Muslim roots, America’s biography, etc. I would like to draw the conclusion only on this part of his speech. Other issues which President Obama mentioned in his speech will be dealt with in the second part.

Writing on the President Obama’s speech at the Cairo University, Robert Fisk commented in The Independent, “It was a clever speech we heard from Obama yesterday, as gentle and as ruthless as any audience could wish for – and we were all his audience. He praised Islam. He loved Islam. He admired Islam. He loved Christianity. And he admired America. Did we know that there were seven million Muslims in America, that there were mosques in every state of the Union, that Morocco was the first nation to recognise the United States and that our duty is to fight against stereotypes of Muslims just as Muslims must fight against stereotypes of America?” (Robert Fisk: Words that could heal wounds of centuries, in The Independent, London, 5 June 2009)

Commenting editorially The Independent observed, “As a President seeking to bridge the gulf that now yawns between the United States and the Islamic world, Mr Obama started out with three advantages. The first derived from his biography. His references to his Kenyan family, his childhood in Indonesia and his Chicago years all rang true. The second, not unconnected, is the cultural sensitivity that derives at least in part from that variegated background. When he quoted from the Koran – as he did several times and always to applause – the allusions flowed naturally, without the slightest affectation. And the third is his skill as a communicator, which encompasses not just his formidable rhetorical gifts, but his ability to explain a complex message in such a way that it will be heard and understood. These qualities, which played such a large part in winning him the presidency, were displayed to full effect again yesterday.” (Leading article: Mr. Obama makes his case for a historic rapprochement, The Independent, London, 5 June, 2009)
Two-day International Conference on the
Challenges Facing Women of Darfur

Dr. Mozammel Haque

El-Fasher: Two-day International Conference on the Challenges Facing Women of Darfur, organized by the Sudanese Women General Union in collaboration with Sudan International University and the British Muslim Initiative, was held at the Assembly Hall of the Governor’s House at el-Fasher, the capital of North Darfur, on Saturday-Sunday, 23rd and 24th of May 2009.

Dr. Nimaat Mohammad Bilal
Dr. Nimaat Mohammad Bilal presented a paper on “Information Handling and its Impact on Darfur Issue” at the first session of the second day of the conference on Sunday, the 24th of May, 2009. Dr. Nimaat said, “The Darfur news, for instance, are conveyed negatively only from inside the IDP camps. No positive news about the efforts exerted to relieve these people are disseminated. All the operations dedicated to modernize large towns and villages are ignored.”

“The Sudan’s image is distorted by the Western media because of the inability of our local information to race these media,” alleged Dr. Nimaat and said, “The International Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) working in the fields of voluntary actions are part of the sources which provide the information organs with inaccurate and pointed information. They have become key communicators of intelligence information. Notwithstanding the role played by most of these NGOs in human aid, some of them, however, transfer false information to external circles, which have led to the expelling of 13 organisations from Sudan.”

Speaking about the crime of rape, Dr. Nimaat said, “The allegations of wide and systematic rape crimes against Darfur women constitute a type of war against Sudan and its values, heritage and against the facts on the ground.”

The National Investigation Committee, established by the government to investigate the situations in Darfur, reported that the data and facts collected from the people could not be taken as concrete evidence that the rape crimes were committed in a wide systematic range, by one group against the other group.

The National Committee reported, mentioned Dr. Nimaat, “that the rape crimes were limited, and the doers were prosecuted before the specified judicial courts, the crimes committed, according to the committee report, do not constitute crimes against humanity, according to the definition which determines rape as a human crime in accordance to the International Law Standards.”

Dr. Nimaat also mentioned, “Propagation of rape crimes aims to confirm the practice of ethnic cleansing which is one of the weapons used against Sudan. The far end of all these allegations is to halt the progress of Darfurian women, through disheartening, intimidation, humiliation and exclusion, after the Darfur Women have become significant social and economical figure which preserves the values and heritage.”

“This confused understanding of the dispute and describing it as the dispute of domination, marginalization, ethnic cleansing and other similar terms is one of the main obstacles of the negotiation track,” said Dr. Nimaat and added, “This confused understanding has also resulted in some international request to solve the dispute.” Dr. Nimaat described those requests as “exaggerated, non-realistic and fanatic, and have given wrong signals to the armed factions”.

Dr. Nimaat also made an allegation saying “They ignored many reports about the anti-human atrocities committed by the rebels, focusing only on the government actions, even if these actions were made as self-defense actions.”

Sister Yvonne Ridley
Sister Yvonne Ridley, former reporter of Daily Express and a revert to Islam; said, “As a journalist I believe it is my duty to report on the ground what is happening.” She spoke about the lies, distortions which were made in the media.

“Telling the truth is revolutionary in the region” said Sister Yvonne and mentioned about the minority “persecuted and demonized in the media.”

Sister Yvonne also talked about Hollywood stars. “I don’t know how many of you have seen the Cartoon – Aladdin.” After mentioning the way the Arab world/the Muslim world was portrayed as ‘barbaric and primitive’, Sister Yvonne said, “People in the West are very naïve to understand, for example, international relief charity it first accepted without questions.”

Sister Yvonne said, “No doubt, charity organizations did a most commendable job most of the times but at times Charity has also been failed.”

Sister Yvonne said, “As Lord Ahmed suggested, you come to London and hold free discussion and let the world see you are not wretched; you like to move forward and take your culture and situation. No one could help more than you can.”

Mentioning about Save the Darfur Campaign, Sister Yvonne said, “the biggest distortion of the fact that I have said before come from Hollywood.”

Sister Ali Guwn
Sister Ali said, “I want to talk about how it will make a difference. I am here, not only as a woman, but someone who has been working in the media, New York, London and Australia, for 20 years. I am here with you to hear your voice, the voice of the women. Finally, I want to say one thing the most important thing to do is to move forward. I’ll talk to Lord Ahmed when I will back to London, and I will see how that could be happen. I can assure you one hundred and one thousand per cent that we will do good in making your message spread through the internet, through the face book, through the Television and through any other media.”

Sister Glyn Strong
Sister Glyn Strong, a British journalist and part of the delegation, said, “I cannot say one hundred percent seriously. In fact, for me, it is the most significant element of this conference and I show you how clearly I read it and marked it up last night while I was reading it again. It is a very powerful piece of work.”

Sister Glyn also mentioned, “I can speak from my heart because I feel very strongly about it. I am a journalist for 30 years. I worked all over the world in conflict zones; particularly the women rights issue like yours. I worked in Afghanistan quite recently. One thing I would like to appeal to you is: please don’t judge media all the same; we are not all the same. Some journalists have an agenda; some don’t. Some journalists are neutral, open-minded, willing to learn, keen to learn and they think the world is one for education, not propaganda.”

“We are here in a spirit of humanity and we feel it privileged to be welcome as one of your community,” Sister Glyn said and added, “One of the things I do apart from writing is to teach media; explain people how to use media and I have to say that Western media is very well-organised and very well-funded. They are also very well-trained and they invested money in the training.”

Speaking about the alternatives to mainstream journalism and mentioning about using internet, face book, networking sites, sister Glyn said, “This may be new idea or may not but it is something you should explore because it questions information into the public domain; challenges the statistics you get from NGOs, you get from another journalists and you get from the government. This is something that is vitally important that the people who are challenging information.”

Sister Glyn also mentioned, “Press freedom is very valuable thing but the free press works nothing; that’s why journalists talk about integrity; I will say to you; don’t underestimate media or the power of the media.”

Speaking about her understanding of the Darfur issue, Sister Glyn said, “I knew very little about Darfur before I came here. What I learnt here in the last few days has changed my mind completely. It has been a very valuable experience. Anything I could do to help you to tell your story I will do and my final word for you: don’t accept what appears in media, fight it.”

Dr. Mrs. Basirat Ali Niasse
Dr. Basirat Ali Niasse, Founder/President of Women Advancement for Economic & Leadership Empowerment in Africa (WAELE) visited Sudan first time last year “to support President Omar al-Bashir in the ICC indictment.” “We tell the British media that followed our brothers here that they have a lot of works in their hands. You have to go back to your country and make sure that the world knows what is actually happened here. You have come, you have seen and you should be able to help us to tell the rest of the world what you have seen,” said Dr. Basirat.

Dr. Basirat also said, “We are continuing to raise our voices against the indictment and in support of the Sudanese women and we will continue to do so on different international conferences. I will be going to Nairobi next week on the same issue and I pledge my support and my organization support to make sure that we continue to fight. It is not only against you and your country. I tell the African leaders that today this is against the President of Sudan and tomorrow is my leader. It is not going to stop. We will continue to fight this; we will continue to raise our voice against it and we will continue to speak in support of our Sudanese sisters.”

“They should think of their rights and the time is right now. Nobody can fight for you. You have to fight yourself,” Dr. Basirat advised Sudanese women.

Mentioning about her experience of the past conferences where there was no action plan, Dr. Basirat said, “I thought and pray that this conference will not be like other conferences. I hope that there would be action plan for this conference. I hope Lord Ahmed will be happy to continue to support and represent Sudan people and Sudan government.”

Lord Ahmed
While thanking the organizers, Sister Rajaa Hasan Khalifa, Secretary General of the Sudanese Women General Union, Minister of the State Sister Halima and Sister Helen for chairing this very critical session (Applause), Lord Ahmed said a few words in conclusion: “This is being an amazing, inspiring, exceptional and extraordinary conference.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “I know each one of you has an amazing leadership quality that you want to make a contribution. So let me ask sister Khalifa to hold a women’s parliament in Darfur, in Khartoum, in Southern Sudan, in West of Sudan and in the North of Sudan. A Women’s Parliament is necessary so our sisters can express their views and so it should be over 38/48 hours or even beyond that so they can have the opportunity to be able to speak on other issues instead of just concentrating on peace in Darfur.”

Lord Ahmed also mentioned, “We all know that for some war has become an industry and we know that peace missions have become political tourisms for some organizations and Hollywood stars. But what we have to do is as individuals, as groups and as organizations in this country and abroad is to work for peace and these recommendations that have been made today, I can tell you that I will be your advocate. Tonight my colleagues and I shall be meeting the President of Sudan and Insha Allah, we will be expressing.”

“It is good that we have heard the discussion in relation to rape. There are those who deny that there is any rape and there are those who want change in law to make the case as easier so the people can be prosecuted in this country,” said Lord Ahmed and added,” We have a similar debate in the United Kingdom too. I don’t think anyone should denying rape that there was no rape. Of course there is rape and of course, we got to admit it. Where there are problems, where there are shortfalls, whether they are done by the government, whether they are done by those who resort to armed struggle; and those who are just bandit and thieves we have to acknowledge that these are problems that we have to deal with them.”

The leader of the British Muslim delegation also said, “I think, for the next step, you have choices with your recommendations and you have choices you can either me in The Hague and invite or come forward to come and visit you and you can also address me and I would be very happy to organize that with my colleagues. You can come to London and address the international media and the press and my colleague will help me to do that. You can come to Brussels and address the European members of Parliament and talk to them and we can organize a conference for you at the UN in New York and so that you can address the rest of the world as well.”

Lord Ahmed also said, “The recommendations have to be from yourself and you have to be being prepared and you have also to campaign. But we would be very happy to work with our partners in this country and in London to organize this for you so the voice of Darfur can be heard at the level in the international community.”