Friday, January 05, 2007
Why the rush to execute Saddam?
Second trial might have proven too embarrassing
to the White House, notes Tarek Fatah
The Toronto Star
Four days after the ugly and degrading execution of Saddam Hussein, neither Prime Minister Stephen Harper nor any other Canadian politician has the courage to comment or say anything on the matter.
The execution, which was more reminiscent of a public hanging in the 18th century than a considered act of 21st-century justice, has shocked even the harshest critics of Saddam, but has left our politicians in a state of paralyzed silence.
If the Canadian Prime Minister chose to maintain silence, the American president did not lose much sleep and managed to express his now familiar musing about freedom and liberty. George Bush may consider the hanging of Saddam Hussein "as a milestone on the road to Iraqi democracy," but the reality is that no one outside his administration, not even Saddam's executioners, take the U.S. president's prognosis seriously.
The fact is that far from fostering democracy in Iraq, the execution of the Iraqi dictator has turned a murdering monster into a martyr of mythical proportions for the Arab people.
Saddam's stature will grow across the Arab world as each day passes and his crimes against his own people will be largely forgotten as new generations of Arab youth will see in him a rare Arab who stared death in the face and did not blink.
The man responsible for the death, torture and imprisonment of tens of thousands, should have been remembered for those crimes. Instead, because of the great American folly in Iraq, future generations of people in the Middle East will embrace his memory as an epitome of courage and resistance.
The fact that Saddam was sent to the gallows on the day a billion Muslims were commemorating the patriarch Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son to God – Eid al Azha – will add a religious texture to Saddam's legacy.
Canada was not always a silent spectator on Iraq. In 1988 when Saddam was a U.S. client and had bombed the Kurds with chemical bombs, the United Nations Sub-Committee on Human Rights wanted to condemn Iraq for rights violations. However, so strong were the links between Saddam's Iraq and the U.S. that despite the massacre of the Kurds in Halabja, the vote was defeated 11 to 8. It was Canada and the Scandinavian countries that stood up to U.S. pressure and voted to censure Saddam's regime.
The question that remains unanswered and is a mystery to many is, why was there such haste in executing Saddam? Even though he was judged guilty by a questionable court, Saddam had yet to face a second trial where the charges were of a far more serious nature and which had international implications. His hurried execution appeared to be revenge, not justice.
At the second trial, which began in August 2006, Saddam and six co-defendants were charged with genocide during the Anfal military campaign against the Kurds of northern Iraq. In March 1988, Iraqi air force jets allegedly dropped chemical bombs on the town of Halabja killing thousands.
The trial could have shed much light on the massacre of the Kurds in Halabja. It could also have shed light on the links between Iraq and the U.S. during the Iran-Iraq War. At that time Saddam was a U.S. ally.
The trial would certainly have delved into the discussions former U.S. defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld had with Saddam during the three meetings the two had in Baghdad.
In fact, the ties that bound the United States to Saddam go back to the 1960s when the CIA helped the Baath Party stage a coup against the pro-Communist government of Abdel-Karim Qassim. Hundreds of Iraqi leftists, identified by the CIA, were systematically murdered – killings in which Saddam himself is said to have participated.
Additionally, the Halabja trial would also have shed light on the claim by Stephen C. Pelletiere, the CIA's senior political analyst on Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, that both Iran and Iraq "used gas against the other in the battle around Halabja." Pelletiere made the astonishing claim in The New York Times in January 2003 that the "condition of the dead Kurds' bodies, however, indicated they had been killed with a blood agent – that is, a cyanide-based gas – which Iran was known to use."
With the death of Saddam, the secrets that could have emerged at the Halabja trial will probably never come to light. His death will be a relief to those in America who feared being exposed for having aided Saddam as he murdered so many of his countrymen.
To the teeming millions in the Muslim world who saw Saddam being led to his death by slogan-chanting masked men, his hanging was an act of revenge, not justice, a lynching, not the carrying out of a death sentence.
Sunday, October 22, 2006
Born in Bradford
I witnessed the birth of political multiculturalism in Britain. It was in Bradford in the late 1980s when the left, shamefully, swapped secular universalism for ethnic particularism.
Prospect Magazine, London
It was February 1988. I was in Bradford, a few weeks after the demonstration on which a copy of Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses had been burned. I was there to interview Sher Azam, president of the Bradford Council of Mosques, and the man who had torched the book. Waiting in the drab building that housed the Bradford Council of Mosques, I heard a familiar voice.
"Hello Kenan, what are you doing here?"
It was Hassan, a friend from London, whom I had not seen for a couple of years. "Good to see you Hassan. I'm doing some interviews about Rushdie," I said. "What are you doing in this godforsaken place?"
"Trying to make it less godforsaken," said Hassan. "I've been up here a few months, helping in the campaign to silence the blasphemer."
"No need to look so shocked. I've had it with the white left. I'd lost my sense of who I was and where I came from. So I came back to Bradford to rediscover it. We need to defend our dignity as Muslims, to defend our values and beliefs, and not allow anyone-racist or Rushdie-to trample over them."
I was astonished. The Hassan I knew in London had been a member of the Socialist Workers party (as had I for a while). Apart from Trotskyism, his indulgences were sex, Southern Comfort and watching Arsenal. We had marched together, chucked bricks at the National Front together, been arrested together. I had never detected a religious bone in his body. But here he was in Bradford, an errand boy to the mullahs, inspired by book-burners.
Today, "radical" in an Islamic context means someone who espouses a fundamentalist theology. Twenty years ago it meant a secularist who challenged the power of the mosques. The expunging of that radical secularist tradition has played an important part in the rise of Islamic militancy in this country. Hassan embodied this mutation from left-wing activist to Islamic militant. He was not alone. A large number of
anti-Rushdie demonstrators were young. Many were not religious, only a handful could recite the Koran, and most flouted traditional Muslim taboos on sex and drink.
The Rushdie affair was a turning point in the relationship between British society and its Muslim communities. It was also the moment that Britain realised that it was facing a new kind of conflict. From the Grunwick dispute in 1976 to Broadwater Farm in 1985, black and Asian people had often been involved in bitter conflicts with authority. But these were political or law and order issues. The Rushdie affair was the first major cultural conflict, one that seemed to question the very possibility of social integration.
The Rushdie affair made me question my own relationship to the left. For the transformation of Hassan mirrored a wider political shift. It was a conversion from a belief in secular universalism to the defence of ethnic particularism and group rights. At one time, the left had been a champion of Enlightenment rationalism, of a common humanity and universal rights.
The roots of the politics of difference can be found in the new forms of radicalism that emerged in the 1960s. Radicalism came to mean the rejection of all that is "western" in the name of marginality or difference.
Traditionally even those hostile to capitalism saw themselves as standing in the western intellectual tradition. "I denounce European colonialism," CLR James once wrote. "But I respect the learning and... discoveries of western civilisation." James was one the great radicals of the 20th century, a historian of black struggles. Over the past 30 years, though, many on the left would have dismissed his defence of "western civilisation" as insufferably Eurocentric.
The postwar left was shaped by the experience of Nazism, the failures of old-style class politics and the emergence of new struggles such as the civil rights movement and feminism. People asked why it was that Germany, with its deep roots in the Enlightenment, should succumb to Nazism. The answer seemed to be that it was the logic of Enlightenment rationalism itself that gave rise to such barbarism. As Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer, founders of the Frankfurt school, put it in their seminal work, Dialectic of Enlightenment: "Enlightenment is totalitarian."
"Concentration camps, mass exterminations, world wars and atom bombs are no 'relapse into barbarism' but the unrepressed implementation of the chievements of modern science, technology and domination."
Where the "old left" of the communist parties and trade unions still looked to the working class as the agency of change, the "new left" found surrogate proletariats in the "new social movements"-third world liberation movements, feminist groups, campaigns for gay rights, and so on.
These ideas echo the late 18th-century Romantic backlash against the Enlightenment. Whereas Enlightenment philosophes saw progress as civilisation overcoming the resistance of traditional cultures, for the Romantics, the steamroller of progress was what they feared. For Johann Gottfried Herder, the 18th-century German philosopher who best articulated the romantic idea of culture, each people or Volk was unique, and this uniqueness was expressed through its Volksgeist-the unchanging spirit of a people refined through history.
The romantic idea of culture flowered in the 1960s through the idea of self-organisation, a concept that emerged from the struggle for black rights in the US. Many activists accused the left of indifference and argued that black people must take matters into their own hands. They ceded from integrated civil rights organisations and set up separate black groups.
Soon, not just black people but everyone had an identity that was uniquely theirs and that separated them not just from the white man, but from every other kind of man and from men in general. "The demand is not for inclusion within the fold of 'universal humankind' on the basis of shared human attributes; nor is it for respect 'in spite of one's differences,'" wrote feminist and sociologist Sonia Kruks. "Rather, what is demanded is respect for oneself as different."
Social and political developments over the next two decades further entrenched such ideas. The weakening of both social democratic and Stalinist parties, the demise of third world liberation movements, the transformation of many third world countries into tyrannies and, finally, the end of the cold war all added to the belief that radical social transformation was a chimera. The new social movements themselves had largely disintegrated by the 1990s.
It is against this background that we must understand the transformation of someone like Hassan from left-wing activist to Islamist. In Britain, the black and Asian population is smaller than in the US, and its political and economic clout less significant. The attempts at self-organisation have been much weaker, while the authority of both the moderate and radical left in Britain has been far greater. As a result, until the 1980s, the influence of identity politics remained weak.
Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, three issues had dominated the struggle for political equality: discriminatory immigration controls, racist attacks and police brutality. These struggles radicalised a new generation of activists and came to a climax in the inner city riots of the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In April 1976, 24 people were arrested in pitched battles in the Manningham area of Bradford, as Asian youths confronted a National Front march. It was seen as the blooding of a new movement. The following year the Asian Youth Movement was born. Built on the model of self-organisation, the AYM was nevertheless outward-looking, working closely with other anti-racist and radical organisations.
AYM activists did not distinguish themselves as Muslim, Hindu or Sikh; indeed many did not even see themselves as specifically Asian, preferring to call themselves "black" which they viewed as an all-inclusive term for non-white immigrants. They challenged not only
racism but also many traditional values too, particularly within the Muslim community.
The next few years brought further conflict between Asian youth and the police, culminating in the trial of the Bradford 12 in 1982. Twelve young Asians faced conspiracy charges for making petrol bombs to use against racists. They argued that they were acting in self-defence-and won.
Faced with this growing militancy, Labour-controlled Bradford council drew up a new anti-racist strategy, based on a template pioneered by the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone. It established race relations units, drew up equal opportunities policies and dispensed millions of pounds in grants to black and Asian community organisations. Bradford's 12-point race relations plan declared that every section of the "multiracial, multicultural city" had "an equal right to maintain its own identity, culture, language, religion and customs." At the heart of this multicultural strategy was a redefinition of racism built on the insights of identity politics.
Multiculturalism transformed the character of anti-racism. By the late-1980s the focus of anti-racist protest in Bradford had shifted from political issues, such as policing and immigration, to religious and cultural issues: a demand for Muslim schools and for separate education for girls, a campaign for halal meat in school, and the confrontation over The Satanic Verses. As different groups began asserting their identities ever more fiercely, so the shift from the political to the cultural arena helped to create a more tribal city.
This process was strengthened by a new relationship between the local council and the local mosques. In 1981, the council helped to set up and fund the Bradford Council of Mosques and looked to it as a voice of the community. This marginalised secular radicals-the AYM eventually broke up-and allowed religious leaders to reassert their power.
Multiculturalism did not create militant Islam, but it created a space for it within British Muslim communities that had not existed before. It fostered a more tribal nation, undermined progressive trends within the Muslim communities and strengthened the hand of conservative religious leaders. It is true that since 9/11 and particularly since 7/7 there has been growing questioning of the consequences of multiculturalism. From David Blunkett to CRE chief Trevor Phillips, many have talked of the need to reassert common values. Yet the fundamental tenets of the politics of difference remain largely unquestioned.
The lesson of the past two decades, however, is this: a left that espouses multiculturalism makes itself redundant. Back in the 1980s, my old friend Hassan may well have taken to militant Islam because of his disenchantment with the left. But it was the disenchantment of the left with its own secular, universalist traditions that eased his path to the mosque-and the path of many others since.
If ever you had a desire to understand the workings of an Islamist family, who hate everything about Canada except its passport and free healthcare, you now have an opportunity to get a rare peek.
The August 4, 2006 issue of Maclean's Magazine has a cover story about the Khadr family of Canada. Dysfunctional, hypocritcal and dangerous are just three words that come to mind.
Read and reflect.
August 04, 2006
The house of Khadr
Canada's 'first family of terror' is caught between two worlds -- hoops and holy war, infidels and the Internet, movie scripts and martyrdom
Maclean's Magazine, Canada
Kareem Khadr is kneeling on the living room carpet, a short crawl from his wheelchair. He is barefoot, dressed in a bright yellow soccer T-shirt -- BRAZIL -- and a pair of beige shorts that expose his limp, crippled legs. His mother and sister are sitting nearby, talking to one another as he flips, page by page, through a pile of old photo albums. Every so often, he interrupts their conversation to point and smile at a specific snapshot from the past. His father. His brothers. Afghanistan.
Years ago, long before 9/11, the Khadr family lived briefly with Osama bin Laden. Today, home is the second floor of a low-rise apartment complex in east end Toronto. Inside the main room, a light brown couch, second-hand, sits near the balcony window, right beside a matching chair and small flat screen television. Most of the walls are lined with colour posters, each of a different mosque.
Near the front door, on the opposite side of the kitchenette, a narrow hallway leads to three tiny bedrooms and a bathroom. Depending on the day, up to six people sleep here. "We look like sardines," says Zaynab, Kareem's 26-year-old sister.
At 17, Kareem is the youngest of the four Khadr boys, the obedient son who -- at age 14 -- was famously caught in the crossfire when Pakistani troops killed his terrorist dad, Ahmed Said Khadr. Paralyzed from the waist down, Kareem said goodbye to jihad and headed home to Canada, flashing the peace sign to photographers when he landed at Toronto's Pearson Airport on April 9, 2004.
And that was the last anyone saw of him. His notorious family was never far from the headlines: his sister under RCMP investigation. A brother in a Toronto jail cell. Another brother locked up at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba. But for two years, Kareem managed to avoid the spotlight -- until a few weeks ago, when he showed up at a court hearing for the so-called "Toronto 17," Canada's alleged homegrown terror cell rounded up by police in June.
His black hair long and curly, Kareem sat in the front row, waving at some of his shackled friends while brushing aside reporters. He was dressed like a typical 17-year-old: brown sandals, blue pants and a T-shirt emblazoned with a gun-toting Stewie, the cartoon baby from The Family Guy. "VICTORY WILL BE MINE!" the shirt proclaimed.
Two weeks later, Kareem is kneeling on his apartment floor, finished with the photo albums. Until now, he has never spoken publicly about that morning in October 2003, when Pakistani soldiers and Cobra helicopters demolished the rural compound where he and his father were living. One bullet hit his arm; another pierced his lower back and came out the other side. When he tried to stand up and run, his legs wouldn't listen. "There were no muscles anymore," he tells Maclean's.
At an age when most teenagers are learning to drive, Kareem cannot venture too far from home without a catheter. He tries to walk, using leg braces and a pair of crutches, but progress has been slow at best. Yet he insists he holds no grudge against his beloved father, a man who could have raised his kids in Canada but chose holy war instead. "I never blamed him," Kareem says. "I'm proud of him. I know I had to be in that spot because there is a reason for it. Almost everything happens for a reason. And I'm still pretty happy that I didn't get paralyzed from a car accident or a gang shooting or something. You know, at least I was there helping my father. I had a cause to be there."
A senior RCMP investigator once wrote, in a sworn affidavit, that Ahmed Khadr "created his own 'terrorist cell' and indoctrinated his children from an early age in the values and beliefs of criminal extremists, specifically al-Qaeda." Three years after his death, those children (most of them, at least) remain the apple of his radical eye, railing against the evils of the same Western world that signs their welfare cheques.
Despite all the public backlash and all the police investigations, the family is as outspoken and unapologetic as ever -- proclaiming their innocence in one breath and warning of an attack on the innocent in the next. Few Canadians were shocked to learn that some of the Toronto 17 counted the Khadrs among their closest friends.
Still, not everything in the Khadr household revolves around jihad. When they aren't blaming the infidels or influencing the next batch of aspiring extremists, the family struggles with the same day-to-day battles as most Canadians. Car payments. Exams. Disobedient children. Sibling rivalry. Their hypocrisy is almost humorous. Zaynab -- divorced with a six-year-old daughter -- muses about martyrdom, then discusses her plans to go to university.
Her mother, Maha, complains almost as much about U.S. foreign policy as the fact that Kareem was cut from a wheelchair basketball team. And then there is Abdurahman, the self-proclaimed "cancer" of the clan, the black sheep brother who turned on his father and worked as a spy for the United States. The others can barely stand him, yet, in a typical Khadr twist, he continues to live in the family's crowded apartment. He smokes. He gambles. And he sleeps until noon. Next year, his life story is scheduled to hit movie theatres.
Zaynab Khadr answers the door. It is just after 10:30 a.m., a scorching summer morning in Toronto. She is dressed in black, in a head-to-toe burka that reveals only her hands and her dark brown eyes. Her mother, Maha, smiles from the kitchen. She is wearing white, with a matching hijab that, unlike her daughter, reveals her face. The Khadr women don't shake hands with men. But they are courteous and welcoming, as is Kareem, waiting on the carpet in his World Cup shirt.
Canadians first met the Khadr family more than a decade ago, when Ahmed Khadr, an Egyptian-born Ottawa engineer, was arrested by Pakistani police in connection with the 1995 bombing of the Egyptian embassy in Islamabad. Authorities accused him of financing the operation, funnelling the cash through a Canadian charity. He denied the allegations, embarking on a high-profile hunger strike that made such ripples back home that Jean Chrétien, then the prime minister, lobbied on his behalf during a state visit to Pakistan. He was released three months later.
Next stop for the family was Afghanistan, where all four of his Canadian sons underwent weapons and explosives training. After Sept. 11, authorities froze Khadr's assets, declaring him an al-Qaeda money man and a wanted fugitive. According to the FBI, bin Laden himself personally tasked his Canadian associate with organizing local militia south of Kabul in anticipation of the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan.
Of course, his family denies all this. He was a charity worker, they say, a man so dedicated to the orphans and widows of war that he stayed in Afghanistan to help, bombs be damned. "If you run away, what's the point of being an NGO?" Zaynab asks.
Seven years ago, bin Laden was a guest at her wedding. Today, back in Toronto, she and her six-year-old daughter live with the rest of her family. During the week, she attends high school classes, hoping to one day go to university. "If we are different, it does not mean we have to be enemies," she says. "You don't have to fear me."
Eighteen months ago, the Mounties searched Zaynab's belongings, seizing thousands of computer files, CDs and audio cassettes, some containing "graphic images of an extreme nature." Ironically enough, the RCMP had used Zaynab's own words -- broadcast in a CBC documentary -- to convince a judge to sign the search warrant. On suicide bombers: "I don't have the guts to do that yet." On accusations that her brother, Omar, killed a U.S. army medic before being shipped to Gitmo: "Big deal."
On martyrdom: "I'd love to die like that." She remains under investigation "for participation and facilitation of terrorist activities," yet she is fearless, taunting detectives, ever so subtly, from the comfort of her home. "If carrying my father's beliefs -- and I believe that my father had great beliefs and he did not do anything wrong -- is supposed to be poison, then maybe all of us need to have poisoned heads," she says now, sitting cross-legged on the floor. "I am proud of who I am. I don't regret anything that my family or anybody that I knew did. And I am proud that I will stand up for my belief regardless of what anybody else thinks."
There was a time, Zaynab says, when her family had nothing against Canada. The Americans were the enemy, the aggressors "muddling in everybody's business." It was the United States who built bases in Saudi Arabia, who invaded Afghanistan and Iraq. Who bomb Muslim children and torture Muslim prisoners. Who unequivocally support Israel.
"If anybody ever said something about Canada, we'd all say: 'You know what, we've lived there. People are very nice and the government stays out of things it is not included in and it does not interfere in people's business,'" Zaynab says. "But then all of a sudden, when they started acting the same, what are you supposed to say? They are not the same? But they are killing us."
Zaynab is certainly not the only Canadian who disagrees with the country's mission in Kandahar, where hundreds of troops are hunting and killing Taliban insurgents. But she takes the debate to an uncomfortable level, suggesting that Canada, like its U.S. ally, is now deserving of a terror attack.
"Everybody reaps what they plant," she says. "If you follow in the steps of the Americans, you will reap what they did." Not that she would ever do something herself. Of course not. But someone might, she says, and Canadians should consider themselves warned. "Violence is not justified, but it should be expected, is what I am trying to say," she explains. "No one likes it, but it happens.
And should the Canadians expect it with the strategy that's being taken? They should expect it. Would it be justified or would it be good or would it be nice?
No. Would I justify the person doing it? I wouldn't justify the means, but I could justify his reasons."
"Get the troops of out of Afghanistan," her mother adds. "Don't declare war in Afghanistan."
"Just go back to who you were 10 years ago," Zaynab says. "Withdraw the troops. Stop being America's shadow. Start being yourself."
Kareem, now lying on his stomach, joins the conversation. Killing civilians, he says, is not the answer. "They didn't do nothing to us. They didn't harm us."
"But they are harming people that are our families and are our friends," Zaynab says. "I might be able to hold more pressure than someone else, but someone else might snap."
When asked how she would react tomorrow if someone planted a bomb at, say, a large public building, her answer is hardly encouraging. "I would need to know why first," she says. "Even if I told them it was not the right thing to do, I would understand why they did it."
Zaynab is not naive. She knows that most Canadians cringe at her every word. How, after all, can someone so thoroughly enjoy the spoils of life in this country -- free money, free health care, free schools -- while implying that the very same country is a prime target for terrorism? "All I want from the Canadians is to get me out of here," she answers. (The RCMP seized her passport in the raid, so she is technically stuck here.) "Hopefully, I see myself out of here as soon as I can, because I don't fit here. I don't fit here, not even with the Muslims. I walk around and I don't feel that anybody understands me or that I can blend with anybody or fit with anybody."
A McDonald's restaurant sits across the street from the Khadrs' building, the golden arches visible from the front lobby. Seven months ago -- Saturday, Dec. 17 -- an RCMP detective phoned the apartment and asked if Abdullah, the eldest of the family's four sons, would mind meeting him at the fast food joint for a few minutes. By then, the 25-year-old had been in Canada for all of two weeks, a free man after spending more than a year in a Pakistani prison and many years before that on the run. He was thrilled to be back, telling reporters that fellow citizens have nothing to fear. "I just want everybody to know that I have nothing to do with anything," he said, sitting in his lawyer's office, wearing a green shirt he borrowed from his cousin. "I am not an al-Qaeda suspect. I was never in al-Qaeda, and I do not support some of their doings."
A week later, Abdullah crossed the road and walked into McDonald's, accompanied by his mother and his younger brother, Abdurahman. He had no idea that a judge in Boston had already signed a warrant for his arrest. According to the FBI, Abdullah admitted during his imprisonment that he was an al-Qaeda weapons broker who supplied front-line fighters with thousands of dollars worth of guns, grenades, rockets and explosive material. Authorities say he also confessed to his role in a plot to assassinate Pakistan's prime minister. Mounties arrested him on the spot; when his mother tried to intervene, officers pinned her to the floor.
"After they arrested Abdullah, I felt so deceived," Maha says now. "How do you expect me to love or respect or care or even feel anything toward a government that is deceiving me? Why should I care?"
"It becomes very difficult for us to deal with," Zaynab adds. "You would say: 'Would that give you the right to do anything?' Eventually, I'm not going to care anymore. Eventually, you are so hurt that you just don't care."
As she speaks, Abdurahman wakes up and walks into the living room, unprepared for what he sees: his brother, sister and mother sitting on the carpet, talking to a reporter. He says hello, but then berates the others for being so blind. He is not your friend, he says. He is a journalist. Then he walks outside for a cigarette, slamming the door behind him.
"It's okay," Zaynab says. "It's regular."
"We can't get him out," her mother adds. "I have to go to court to get him out, and I don't want to do that because I don't like the courts. I don't like the officers."
Abdurahman was always the outsider. In 2004, when the CBC aired its explosive documentary about the Khadrs, he was the one who admitted that his was "an al-Qaeda family." To the outrage of the others, he told the world about his father's close relationship with bin Laden, and how his dad repeatedly urged him to become a suicide bomber. He also confessed to working as a mole for the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency -- a claim that caught the attention of a Hollywood production company. In January 2005, he sold the film rights for a reported US$500,000.
Unlike the rest of his family, Abdurahman is media savvy, a 23-year-old who knows full well how to exploit the press for his own benefit. Last year, when the federal government denied him a passport, he took Ottawa to court -- and invited reporters to come. The day the judge ruled in his favour, he held his umpteenth news conference. "I'll prove that [I'm] the perfect citizen," he said. One journalist asked where he planned to travel with his new passport. Barbados, he answered.
Maclean's had other questions for him. Questions about his family. About his future. About rumours that he gambled away a huge chunk of his money. But Abdurahman declined to be interviewed. Not yet, at least. Not until his movie -- Son of Al Qaeda -- reaches the big screen.
After reading the script, you can't blame him for keeping his mouth shut. Written by Keir Pearson, the man behind Hotel Rwanda, the screenplay portrays Abdurahman as nothing less than a Hollywood hero, an intelligent, compassionate young man who rejects radical Islam and happily helps the Americans track down the bad guys. He drives fast, drinks vodka and takes his new colleagues on a "five-star tour" of al-Qaeda safe houses across Afghanistan. His CIA handlers nickname him Ricky, rewarding each fresh tip with cigarettes and other perks. "My father believed one thing," his character says in one scene. "I believe another."
The film begins in the days after 9/11, with the Khadrs fleeing their Afghan home just before American troops arrive. Defiant as ever, Abdurahman refuses to jump in the pickup truck with the rest of his family.
"Leave him!" his father yells to the others (the script is still being revised, but Maclean's has obtained a draft version). As the movie unfolds, Abdurahman is captured in Kabul, transported to a prison in Bagram, and interrogated by a CIA agent named Michael Gray. After days of sleep deprivation, he finally admits who he really is: the son of Ahmed Khadr, al-Qaeda's "Secretary of State."
Abdurahman eventually joins forces with his father's "sworn enemy," working undercover in Afghanistan, Guantánamo Bay and Bosnia. "We caught one of bin Laden's personal guards," Gray, the CIA agent, tells him at one point. "We're going to put you in a cell with him. After a while, chat him up. Get him to tell you where Osama's hiding."
"What makes you think he'll tell me?" Abdurahman asks.
"You're Ahmed Khadr's son," the agent answers. "It has its benefits."
The script includes more than one flashback to Abdurahman's younger days, including a pivotal memory of his father pleading with him to become a martyr. "So what's it going to be?" his dad asks in one dramatic scene.
"Don't ask me this," Abdurahman answers. "I'd never betray you."
"That's not the question," dad barks back.
"It's the only way to redeem your family name," says another al-Qaeda elder, sitting in the room.
"I don't care," Abdurahman pleads. "I'm not going to strap a bomb to myself and blow up a bunch of innocent people."
"Shaheeds bring honour to all," his father says. "It's sacrificing the one for the many.
It's Allah's will."
"I'm your father, damn it! And I command you to do it!"
What is most compelling about the script is Abdurahman's attempts to have it both ways. He is the disloyal son, more than willing to tattle on his father's old friends to save his own skin. Yet all the while, he repeatedly -- and conveniently -- insists that he never sold out his old man. In fact, when his character first agrees to help the CIA, he demands a concession: "My family is off limits," he says. Later, after his father is killed and his brother is paralyzed, the agents assure him it was not his fault. "Nothing you told us resulted in your father's death, Abdurahman," Gray says. "We had multiple tips."
Back in the real world, Abdurahman returns to the apartment, finished his morning cigarette. Moments later, his cellphone rings. He takes the call on the balcony.
"He has very different views," Zaynab says.
"Very different," Kareem adds.
"It's human nature," his mother says. "He always had different beliefs since he was very young."
Abdurahman was at McDonald's the night police handcuffed Abdullah and held their mother on the floor. He watched, snapping photos with his camera phone. "He's a coward," Zaynab says.
"Why couldn't he tell them: 'Don't touch my mother. You can't do this to her,' " Maha says. "I mean, she's your mother!"
The Khadrs have saved all of Omar's handwritten letters from prison, each one asking for their prayers and their love. Some are signed with hearts. Earlier this month, he wrote home to tell his family that he fired his American lawyers. "Please dear mom don't be mad," he wrote. "Allah is our defender and helper."
At age 15, Omar Khadr allegedly tossed a grenade that killed a U.S. army medic in Afghanistan. Now 19, he has spent the past four years locked in a cell at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, charged with murder and aiding the enemy. Omar "is a thoroughly 'screwed up' young man," wrote one Foreign Affairs official, who visited him at the seaside prison in 2003. "All those persons who have been in positions of authority over him have abused him and his trust, for their own purposes."
Omar's lawyers, including the ones he just fired, claim he has endured bouts of systematic torture: beaten. Drugged. Short-shackled to the floor for hours at a time. Used as a "human mop" to clean up his own urine. The abuse allegations have -- despite his actions and his infamous kin -- transformed Omar into a cause célèbre, Exhibit A of all that is wrong with the war on terror. Not even daddy could have imagined such a public relations coup.
But then the Khadrs showed up at the Brampton courthouse, proclaiming their support for the Toronto 17. "Everybody was angry with us again," Maha says. Zaynab has been to every hearing so far, sitting with the wives and children of some of the accused. New to the public spotlight, the others seem to look to her for advice. "These people are Muslims," Zaynab says. "They are my friends. I believe in their innocence, and just like I would love to have someone stand with me when I was in a time of need, I will stand with those people when they are in a time of need. And I will support them. Until they prove them guilty, they are innocent -- by law and by religion."
The Khadrs first met some of the accused two years ago, when Kareem returned home. Cheryfa MacAulay Jamal saw the news reports on television and looked up Maha's number in the telephone book, offering any help she could. Her husband, Qayyum Abdul Jamal, is now among the accused, one of the six suspects who allegedly planned to use truck bombs to destroy buildings in downtown Toronto. Two of the group's alleged ringleaders -- Fahim Ahmad, 21, and Zakaria Amara, 20 -- were also friends of the family. Before the arrests, their wives had helped organize fundraisers for the Khadrs.
The Globe and Mail has also reported that some of the women were regular contributors to a virulently anti-Western online chat room, where they spoke of holy war and their hatred for Canada. "If he ever refuses a clear opportunity to leave for jihad, then I want the chance of divorce," wrote Amara's wife, Nada Farooq. Earlier this month, Farooq posted a jailhouse letter from her husband. "I beg you," Amara wrote. "DO NOT FEEL SORRY FOR ME. I'm Allah's slave and he does whatever he wishes with me."
"They were very nice, friendly people," Zaynab says. "Very, very nice people." She insists she had no indication that her friends were planning an attack. If anything, they only spoke of how difficult it is to be a committed Muslim in Canada, where the distractions of modern life often clash with Islam. "In school, they have to go through a lot of peer pressure just to be a Muslim and be proud of who they are," she says. "They wished that one day they would be able to go through life with their families somewhere where it would be easier for them to practice their religion."
As for the charges, Zaynab says the whole thing is "ridiculous." Paintball guns. Ammonium nitrate. Beheading the Prime Minister. "It is just unbelievable," she says.
"I don't believe it," Kareem adds.
"They are making a fool out of RCMP, CSIS and all the intelligence," Maha says. "If there is somebody planning something, he is out there doing something, and they are capturing all these very naive, young boys."
"Yeah," Kareem says. "And whoever is actually doing something is going to do it."
"With these guys, now that they're arrested, I'm pretty sure it goes through their mind that they wish they'd done something," Zaynab says, a few minutes later.
"To justify all the suffering," her mother adds.
"In their minds," Zaynab continues, "maybe it would have been worthwhile that we'd done something, so at least then we'd be punished for something we did, instead of being punished for something we didn't do."
Like his three older brothers, Kareem spent time in Afghanistan's training camps, washing clothes and firing Kalashnikovs. "A lot of our friends used to go there, so we were like: 'Dad, I want to go there because of my friends,'" he says. "There is nothing else to do there, right, and those camps were the best way to get out of trouble." Today, Kareem attends a Toronto high school, two years away from his diploma.
He spends hours on the computer, follows the NBA (he's a Miami Heat fan) and plays competitive wheelchair basketball. "I'm good," he says, smiling. Recently, he tried out for an all-star rep team, but the coach cut him. He has no proof, though he is pretty sure his last name had a lot to do with it. "They didn't say that," he says, "but there were players that I played better than."
"I have been to many games, and he is good," Zaynab adds. "But he's never picked."
The West has certainly rubbed off on Kareem. His clothes. His cellphone. Shaquille O'Neal. Like all mothers, Maha worries about her teenage boy, about how much time he spends on the Internet and what he watches on TV. She wishes, too, that he would practise his walking exercises a little more often.
But her worries go beyond the typical angst of most Canadian mothers. She dreads, every day, that the Mounties will kick down her door. That Omar will never leave Guantánamo. That Abdullah will be extradited to the U.S. That Zaynab will be arrested. "Every time I'm late, she's calling me, making sure I'm okay," Zaynab says.
A few months ago, Maha accompanied her granddaughter on a school field trip to the Ontario Science Centre. At the end of the day, the class went to the closet to retrieve their coats. "Only my jacket was gone!" Maha says. "There were 30 kids with their teachers, and only my jacket was gone!" Must have been the infidels.
"We can't even talk at home without knowing that everything we say or do is being watched and monitored," Zaynab says.
"The phone is bugged," Maha adds. "You feel so helpless."
"Can you imagine," Zaynab continues, "that if you ever wanted to say something that you think they don't need to know, that you would have to go outside to say it? It's ridiculous. And we're supposed to be living in a free country."
"Sometimes," Maha says, "when I am very, very angry, I say: 'May God punish them severe. Whoever caused Omar and Abdullah this pain, may God punish them so severe.' I'm a mother -- I don't care, you can write this or say it -- I'm really hurt in my heart for my children. And when I see Abdul-Kareem crawling at this age, or having to catheterize and all this mess, I really pray really hard that God punishes them. And when they captured Abdullah that day, I prayed really hard, really loud: 'May God burn your heart!' I prayed so hard, so loud, that I wanted to make sure they hear that. I know many of them don't believe in God or anything. But I do."
It is, for the most part, a lonely life for the Khadrs. Years ago, when the kids returned home for a visit, fellow Muslims were envious, impressed that they were willing to leave Canada to help the poor. "All of a sudden now, everybody stays away from the places you go, doesn't want to talk to you, doesn't want to know you," Zaynab says. "Even people who know you pretend they don't." Old friends from Ottawa stopped calling. At the mosque, some worshippers look the other way when they see the Khadrs coming. "I go to school, he goes to school," Zaynab says, pointing at her brother. "We talk to people at the school. But do we have friends? No."
"We had friends," Kareem says.
"We had," Zaynab agrees. "Now they put them in jail. Whatever friends we had are gone."
The Khadrs like to portray themselves as the victims of an Islamophobic conspiracy, one that stretches from the courts of law to the basketball court. They honestly cannot fathom why the RCMP watches them so closely. "I'm one of those persons that if you don't cross my line, I don't cross yours," Zaynab says. "But if people hurt me, if you really cross my line, I probably would." When asked if fellow Canadians should consider her a threat, she laughs. "I wish," she says, quickly correcting herself. "No, I'm not."
August 14, 2005
The Observer, London
The Muslim Council of Britain is officially the moderate face of Islam. Its pronouncements condemning the London bombings have been welcomed by the government as a model response for mainstream Muslims. The MCB's secretary general, Iqbal Sacranie, has recently been knighted and senior figures within the organisation have the ear of ministers.
But an Observer investigation can reveal that, far from being moderate, the Muslim Council of Britain has its origins in the extreme orthodox politics in Pakistan. And as its influence increases through Whitehall, many within the Muslim community are growing concerned that this self-appointed organisation is crowding out other, genuinely moderate, voices of Muslim Britain.
Far from representing the more progressive or spiritual traditions within Islam, the leadership of the Muslim Council of Britain and some of its affiliates sympathise with and have links to conservative Islamist movements in the Muslim world and in particular Pakistan's Jamaat-i-Islami, a radical party committed to the establishment of an Islamic state in Pakistan ruled by sharia law.
One of the MCB's affiliate organisations, Leicester's Islamic Foundation, was founded by Khurshid Ahmad, a senior figure in Jamaat-i-Islami.
Another is Birmingham-based Jamiat Ahl-e-Hadith, an extremist sect whose website says: 'The disbelievers are misguided and their ways based on sick or deviant views concerning their societies, their universe and their very existence.' It urges its adherents not to wear Western hats, walk dogs, watch sport or soap operas and forbids 'mingling and shaking hands between men and women'.
Jamaat-i-Islami activists in Pakistan have been involved in protests against images of women on adverts in public places. The organisation's founder, Maulana Maududi, was a fierce opponent of feminism who believed that women should be kept in purdah - seclusion from male company. Although the MCB's leadership distances itself from some of these teachings, it has been criticised for having no women prominently involved in the organisation.
Last week, Salman Rushdie warned in an article in the Times that Sacranie had been a prominent critic during the Satanic Verses affair and advised that the MCB leader should not be viewed as a moderate. In 1989, Sacranie said 'death was perhaps too easy' for the writer. Rushdie also criticised Sacranie for boycotting January's Holocaust Memorial Day ceremony. 'If Sir Iqbal Sacranie is the best Mr Blair can offer in the way of a good Muslim, we have a problem,' said Rushdie. A Panorama documentary to be screened next Sunday will also be highly critical.
The MCB has now written to the BBC's director general, Mark Thompson, to complain about the programme in which reporter John Ware will challenge Sacranie to justify his boycott of Holocaust Memorial Day and clarify the MCB's position on Palestinian suicide bombers. In the letter, Inayat Bunglawala, the MCB's media spokesman says: 'It appears that the Panorama team is more interested in furthering a pro-Israeli agenda than assessing the work of Muslim organisations in the UK.'
The origins of the Muslim Council of Britain can be traced to the storm around the publication of the Satanic Verses in 1988. India was the first country to ban the book and many Muslim countries followed suit. Opposition to the book in Britain united people committed to a traditionalist view of Islam, of which the founders of the Muslim Council of Britain was a part.
The MCB was officially founded in November 1997, shortly after Tony Blair came to power, and has had a close relationship with the Labour government ever since. Its detractors claim it was the creature of Jack Straw, but his predecessor as Home Secretary, Michael Howard, also played a role in its establishment as a semi-official channel of communication with British Muslims. It remains particularly influential within the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, which has a little-known outreach department which works with Britain's Muslims. The FCO pamphlet Muslims in Britain is essentially an MCB publication and the official ministerial celebration of the Muslim festival of Eid is organised jointly with the MCB.
The Observer has learnt that the MCB used its influence in Whitehall to gain a place on the board of trustees of the Festival of Muslim Cultures, planned for next year. This extravaganza is designed to demonstrate the diversity and vibrancy of Muslim culture. The festival is funded by the British Council and has Prince Charles as its patron, but it has been told that it will need to be compliant with Islamic 'sharia law' in order to gain the MCB's full support.
The organisers are now concerned that the festival will lose political backing if they invite performers who are seen to be 'un-Islamic'.
Festival organisers already hope to invite the Uzbek singer, Sevara Nezarkhan, who does not wear the headscarf or 'hijab' and has worked with Jewish 'klezmer' musicians. It also intends to exhibit the 14th-century world history of Rashid al-Din, which represents the human form and the prophet Mohammed himself, thought by some strict Muslims to be forbidden. Other performers could include the Senegalese musician Youssou N'Dour and the Bangladeshi-British dancer Akram Khan.
The Observer understands that the Foreign Office insisted that the festival organisers involved the MCB before they would give them their full backing. As a result, an MCB nominee has been taken on to the festival's board of trustees. One source close to the festival organisers said: 'We constantly found our efforts were being blocked and it kept coming back to the MCB and its sympathisers within Whitehall.'
The chairman of the festival's trustees, Raficq Abdulla, said: 'We will welcome the MCB's trustee and hope his contribution will prove valuable. But we insist that the festival is not dominated by any ideology. The aim is to capture the values of Muslim cultures and bring them into the British mainstream. We are not here to be the mouthpiece of any Muslim organisation.'
The strain of Islamic ideology favoured by the MCB leadership and many of its affiliate organisations is inspired by Maulana Maududi, a 20th-century Islamic scholar little known in the West but hugely significant as a thinker across the Muslim world. His writings, which call for a global Islamic revival, influenced Sayyid Qutb, usually credited as the founding father of modern Islamic radicalism and one of the inspirations for al-Qaeda.
In Maududi's worldview all humanity was split into believers (practising Muslims) and non-believers, whom he describes as 'barbarians'. He was deeply critical of notions such as nationalism and feminism and called on Muslims to purge themselves of Western influence.
In 1941 he formed Jamaat-i-Islami and remained its leader until 1972. His writings do not advocate terrorism. But the language of Jihad in Islam, written in 1930, may seem violent to a Western reader: 'The objective of Islamic "jihad" is to eliminate the rule of an un-Islamic system and establish in its stead an Islamic system of state rule. Islam does not intend to confine this revolution to a single state or a few countries; the aim of Islam is to bring about a universal revolution.'
Abdul-Rehman Malik, contributing editor of Muslim magazine Q-News, said: 'Maududi saw the world in the same way that Sayyid Qutb saw the world: they both divided humanity into true believers or those in a state of ignorance. Many of the affiliates of The Muslim Council of Britain are inspired by Maududi's ideology.'
Malik said that its leaders needed to be clearer about its position on suicide bombers. 'You cannot be equivocal about innocent people. An innocent person in Tel Aviv is the same as an innocent person in Baghdad or London. The MCB has never clarified any of the critical issues and now the chickens are coming home to roost.'
The MCB's Inayat Bunglawala said he had a deep respect for Maududi and defended the MCB's affiliation to Khurshid Ahmad's Islamic Foundation. He said: 'Maududi is a very important Muslim thinker. The book that brought me to practise Islam was Now Let Us Be Muslims by Maududi. As for Jamaat-i-Islami, it is a perfectly legal body in Pakistan. There is no suggestion that the Islamic Foundation has done anything wrong. They have done fantastic work in publishing literature on Islam, including works for children.'
A spokesman for the Islamic Foundation confirmed that Khurshid Ahmad was chairman of its board of trustees. 'The Islamic Foundation does not have links with the Jamaat-i-Islami. We promote assimilation, integration and encourage community cohesion. We do publish books by Maududi, but we feel these are books of merit to British Muslims.'
Sacranie said he believed that recent attacks on the Muslim Council of Britain were inspired by a pro-Israeli lobby in the British media. 'The MCB carries out its activities through its affiliates. There are more than 400 organisations involved, representing 56 nationalities. Yes there is a following for Maududi in the UK. I am not a scholar, but in many areas I am inspired by what he has to say and in others I am not.'
There is no suggestion that Sacranie and other prominent figures in the Muslim Council of Britain are anything but genuine in their condemnation of the terrorist bombings of the 7 July. But their claims to represent a moderate or progressive tendency in Islam are becoming increasingly difficult to sustain.
The biggest test for the MCB will be its reaction to the more challenging aspects of the Festival of Muslim cultures. On this Sacranie was clear: 'If any activities are seen to contradict the teachings of Islam, then we will oppose them. If you organise a festival in the name of Islam then it must be Islamic. We will advise them accordingly.'
There are those in Britain struggling to transform the austere image Islam has in this country, including the organisers of the Festival of Muslim Cultures, who will not find his words reassuring.
Monday, October 02, 2006
A bully in military uniform
By TAREK FATAH
The Globe and Mail
Many Canadians are rightfully upset at the derisive manner with which Pakistan's ruler, General Pervez Musharraf, mocked our soldiers serving in Afghanistan. Others are simply scratching their heads, not knowing what to make of the machismo of the general as he locked horns with Carole Off of CBC Radio.
When asked to comment on growing doubts about Pakistan's commitment to seal its borders and restrict the movement of the Taliban, who have inflicted many casualties on Canadian troops, Gen. Musharraf bristled at his host and mocked Canadians as cry babies weeping over the deaths of "four or five" dead soldiers.
The undiplomatic language and blunt posturing of Gen. Musharraf needs to be understood in the context of the country he rules and the armed forces he commands.
Unlike most countries that have an army, in the case of Pakistan, the army has a country. Whereas the armed forces of most countries are created to defend the national interests of its people, in Pakistan, the army uses the country to protect its own interests, often at variance with those of its citizens.
From its inception in 1947, Pakistan has been held hostage by its military with a series of wars, both internal and external, that have left the nation in ruins, not in an economic sense, but in terms of its natural socio-political development.
Merely months after independence, Pakistan's army went into action to annex the independent State of Kalat in Baluchistan (an on-again, off-again insurrection continues there to this day). This was followed by the first India-Pakistan War in 1948, then the Afghan-Pakistan border skirmish over Pakhtunistan in 1955-1957, which again erupted in 1961 and 1963.
However, the defining role of Pakistan's military came in 1958 when, fearing the elections of a left-wing government in the January, 1959, elections, the military staged a coup and imposed martial law.
Then, in 1965, facing widespread protest against a rigged election, the late field marshal, Ayub Khan, tried to wrap himself in the flag by invading Indian-held Kashmir in August, 1965, which led to the 17-day second war with India.
By 1970, the Pakistani armed forces had got the country involved in civil war that led to the third Indo-Pakistan war in 1971, leading to the tragic breakup of the nation into two parts with a million dead.
With every war, with every internal insurrection, the Pakistan military gained more power and increasing control, not just of the politics of Pakistan, but also its economy and its narrative.
From cereals to nuclear bombs, from housing construction to cement manufacture, transportation to taxation, Pakistan's army rules the country with an iron grip.
However, the one factor Gen. Musharraf could not understand in Ms. Off's question was her concern for the ordinary Canadian soldier. This was a concept foreign to most elites in Pakistan, including military officers who count among them the world's richest men.
For Canadians, the ordinary private's life is worth the same as that of General Rick Hillier. We count the names of each dead soldier and grieve with their families. For Gen. Musharraf, this is a foreign concept.
Pakistanis are never told the names of the 500 soldiers who died fighting al-Qaeda. The only names that appear are those of the officers.
In the nearly dozen wars Pakistan has fought against external and internal foes, the dead infantryman is mere gun fodder, unseen, unheard, and with no memorial to his name.
When Gen. Musharraf ordered his troops to invade Indian-held Kashmir in the 1999 Kargil war, he had no strategic objectives, he had no authority, he only had to prove his machismo to his fellow generals.
For that bravado, thousands died on both sides. Indians report than many of the dead Pakistani soldiers had been eating grass before they died of hunger and thirst.
My message to Gen. Musharraf is this: Don't lecture us Canadians on bravery and courage. Courage is not to lead men into battle and treat them as gun fodder while one sips Murree Beer.
Tarek Fatah, a former student activist in his native Pakistan, is host of The Muslim Chronicle on CTS-TV and founder of the Muslim Canadian Congress.
Monday, August 28, 2006
This article tells you a lot of how the Islamist network operates in Canada. In the report, the ISNA spokesperson reveals what most Islamists feel about Canada.
Kathy Bullock tells the Globe and Mail:
"There is no definable Canadian culture, merely competing versions; one from 'white, middle-class Canada,' another from orthodox Islam."
Read and reflect.
November 8, 2005
Values at heart of Islamic tensions
Canadian Muslims are divided over sharia, funding from overseas, and religion's role in a secular society
By MARINA JIMÃNEZ
and OMAR EL AKKAD
The Globe and Mail, Toronto
MISSISSAUGA -- Several ornate chandeliers glitter in the sunlight of this well-appointed mosque, where congregants gather for Friday prayers. Women in shalwar kameez and hijabs enter through the same door as men and sit behind them on a mint-green carpet, divided by a two-foot-high, frosted glass partition. In tidy washrooms at the entrance, latecomers bathe at state-of-the-art ablution taps.
Located off a highway in Mississauga, the mosque is an impressive building, with a traditional minaret, a travel agency specializing in trips to Mecca for the hajj, a bookstore and a brand-new high school.
This is the Canadian headquarters for the Islamic Society of North America -- an umbrella group of Muslim and Islamic organizations that, according to its mission statement, focuses on building an Islamic way of life in North America.
ISNA is also one of a few facilities in Canada that is funded by the Islamic Development Bank, which is based in Saudi Arabia.
In 2002, the Saudi Ministry of Culture and Information announced that King Fahd gave $5-million (U.S.) and an annual grant of $1.5-million to the Islamic Centre in Toronto. (The Islamic Centre of Canada is also housed at ISNA.) This year, the IDB announced a $275,000 grant to ISNA's high school, as well as a scholarship program.
The IDB funding -- touted on ISNA's website, although officially denied by a society spokeswoman -- is of concern to some Canadian Muslims who advocate for a secular government. They worry about the potential ideological parity between the society and its funder.
"We are opposed to funding from foreign governments because theoretically it could change the narrative and culture of Muslims in Canada. Our fear is they will proselytize the Wahhabist message," said Munir Pervaiz, a director of the Muslim Canadian Congress, a grassroots organization based in Toronto.
Critics contend that, in the past, Saudi Arabia has funded mosques overseas in an effort to export Wahhabism, which developed in the late 18th century and emphasizes a return to the literal text of the Koran and the establishment of Islamic law.
The debate about ISNA and its funding reflects the divisions inherent in Canada's 650,000-strong Muslim community, as competing organizations struggle to control the discourse and public face of Islam. The groups are becoming increasingly sophisticated, embarking on outreach initiatives and sharpening their media message, as they refuse to allow extremists and terrorists to hijack their faith.
Yet tensions remain. They came to the fore most recently in Ontario during the furor over sharia, with the MCC advocating against religious tribunals to resolve family disputes, and ISNA and other organizations lobbying in favour them.
In the end, Premier Dalton McGuinty reversed course and decided in September that religious tribunals would no longer be permitted under the 1991 Arbitration Act. In declaring "there will be one law for all Ontarians," he said that faith-based tribunals "threaten our common ground."
In Toronto, ISNA recently organized a protest in favour of religious arbitration, with the rallying cry: "No Islamophobia, racism or Islam bashing." Proponents of sharia say the problem isn't with Islamic law, but with the way some imams apply it.
Mohamed Elmasry, president of the Canadian Islamic Congress, calls sharia critics un-Islamic. In a recent open letter, he likened opposing sharia to "smearing Islam, ridiculing the Koran, badmouthing Mohammad . . ."
In this battle for the very soul of Islam, it is hard to say which side has more to lose. No wonder ISNA is loath to disclose details of its IDB funding.
Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Saudi-financed mosques and schools in the United States and Canada have been under greater scrutiny. Saudi Arabia is the world's biggest financier of fundamentalist Islam, as well as the nationality of Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 Sept. 11 hijackers.
A 2003 report by the U.S. Council on Foreign Relations found Saudi Arabia had spent hundreds of millions of dollars to fund 210 Islamic centres and 1,359 mosques around the world, including at least three in Canada. The report found that U.S. interests were threatened by Saudi efforts to export Wahhabism, which could foster intolerance toward the United States, Christians, Jews and other Muslims.
In 2004, the U.S. Senate finance committee, in an investigation of possible ties to terrorism, sought the tax records of ISNA in the United States.
ISNA co-operated fully, saying it had nothing to hide. The society has worked hard on outreach, inviting U.S. President George W. Bush to its annual convention, held last month in Chicago.
In Canada, ISNA has been much more low-profile, achieving prominence only during the recent sharia debate. The society, while not known for its advocacy work, enjoys a relatively mainstream image, according to one Muslim organization.
On its website, ISNA talks about advocating Islamic solutions to societal problems and becoming involved in "righteous change," guided by sharia.
Kathy Bullock, a native Australian who converted to Islam, is ISNA's articulate spokeswoman. In an interview with The Globe and Mail, she said the society does not follow Wahhabism, but practises a mainstream version of the faith, and notes that it has been active in speaking out against extremism. ISNA in the United States was one of the first organizations to issue a fatwa against terrorism after the terrorist attacks in London in July.
"ISNA is very mainstream, moderate philosophy, teaching people to be good citizens in the countries in which they live and to engage as Canadians with the non-Muslim mainstream," Ms. Bullock said. "It eschews violence as a political strategy . . . and tries to promote integration without losing your Islamic identity."
Ms. Bullock is less clear about ISNA's funding from the IDB, which was set up in 1973 by Islamic countries to foster economic development and social progress of member countries and Muslim communities, according to the principles of sharia.
In the interview, she compared ISNA's IDB funding to the Canadian International Development Agency, which supports sustainable development projects in developing countries. She said there was no pressure to follow Wahhabism as a result of the IDB money. "It is like a grant," she said.
In a follow-up e-mail, Ms. Bullock denied ISNA receives IDB funds, although ISNA's website says the opposite. An official with Saudi Arabia's embassy in Washington also said he believed King Fahd's $5-million grant went to ISNA.
Tarek Fatah, an MCC spokesman, says ISNA should be transparent about its funding. "What are they scared of? There is double-talk going on here."
A member of another Muslim organization calls the debate around sharia, and the question of ISNA's funding, "mudslinging" and corrosive to the community. "I think it is a healthy debate to have different perspectives [in the Muslim community], but unhealthy when you have pejoratives thrown around," he says. "Calling someone a Wahhabist these days is tantamount to calling someone an extremist. The term has taken on a life of its own."
Ms. Bullock says she also feels the debate over sharia has been shaped through the lens of "Islamophobia" and "us versus them." She sees Islamic law as inherently equitable, although concedes there is room for reform. (For example, in the notion that women are only entitled to three months of alimony.) Ms. Bullock calls herself a feminist who wants to work for change from within.
ISNA's understanding of the faith, however, is rooted in orthodoxy. Ms. Bullock recently told a panel on the Michael Coren Show that she has no problem with polygamy.
Muslim women must cover their bodies and hair and accept that their primary responsibility is to care for children and the home, Ms. Bullock explains. Once these obligations are fulfilled, there is nothing to stop women from pursuing a career outside the home as she does, lecturing at the University of Toronto.
Muslims should not take loans from banks that charge them interest, should not go to restaurants that sell alcohol, eat chocolates with rum-filled centres and women should not swim in pools unless they are wearing long bathing shorts and there are no men present, Ms. Bullock says. She adds that these issues are also individual and may depend on the circumstances.
ISNA's high school enforces a strict Islamic dress code and gender segregation in the classrooms, with girls on one side and boys on the other. Girls must wear a head scarf properly pinned under the chin, but may remove it for the all-girls gym class. Islamic studies is part of the curriculum, with an emphasis on Sunni Islam.
With about 75 students, the school stresses the importance of Islamic values, while exposing students to non-Islamic Canadian culture, including ski trips and excursions to Paramount Canada's Wonderland.
Critics contend that some aspects of ISNA's understanding of Islam, especially the gender segregation, are out of step not only with mainstream Canadian culture, but also with the way smaller minority sects such as Ismailis, Ahmadiyas and Sufis see their faith.
Stephen Suleyman Schwartz, a Sufi convert and executive director of the Washington-based Center for Islamic Pluralism, supported the introduction of sharia in Ontario, calling Mr. McGuinty's decision to ban religious arbitration in the province "unspeakably ridiculous."
However, he said the sharia interpretations presented by ISNA during the debate didn't include those outside the Saudi tradition. "All the stuff I could get in Kosovo, Indonesia and other Muslim communities was nowhere to be found," Mr. Schwartz said.
Adds Mr. Pervaiz of the Muslim Canadian Congress: "ISNA's version of Islam is not my vision of a moderate, mainstream Islam. As a practising, yet secular, Muslim, my fear is when you bring the principle of sharia into the public domain [instead of leaving it in religious centres] it works against separation of church and state and against integration."
Atique Azad, a Bangladeshi immigrant and regular at the ISNA mosque, attended on Aug. 12 and did not like what he described as the "anti-woman" sermon delivered by a visiting imam. Mr. Azad said the imam referred to all females as a source of temptation and seduction.
Ms. Bullock said ISNA later informed the imam his choice of words was "offensive and inappropriate." The speaker apologized and pledged not to repeat such language, she said.
She does not see ISNA's overall philosophy as contradictory with the "Canadian way" because she says there is no definable Canadian culture, merely competing versions, one from "white, middle-class Canada," another from orthodox Islam.
"The Canadian way to me is a way that accepts my religion, and makes the greatest attempt legally to accommodate religious practices including the right to pray, wear a hijab and all the rights that flow from religious accommodation," Ms. Bullock says.
She hopes that one positive effect of the sharia debate and the spotlight on Muslim organizations will be to foster a greater understanding of Islam, and a breaking down of negative stereotypes about the religion.
"I'm committed to a more orthodox, conservative faith, but it is not contrary to Canadian values. I see them as very much in sync," she said. "There are no monolithic Canadian values and no monolithic Muslim values."
After causing the death of a thousand people and giving Israel the excuse of reducing parts of Lebanon to rubble, Hezbollah's Nasrallah, says, Oops...I am sorry.
He told a Lebanese TV:
"Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it...We did not think that there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war of this scale and magnitude...Now you ask me if this was 11 July and there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war like the one that has taken place, would you go ahead with the kidnapping? I would say no, definitely not, for humanitarian, moral, social, security, military and political reasons."
How many more latter day Saladins will appear as mirages, before the Arab people, realize that hero worship and the blind following of charismatic pied pipers, will not deliver the dignity and freedom that has been denied to them for so long.
Only the creation of democratic and secular Palestinian state will trigger that renaissance. Unfortunately, the only person who can deliver such a promise, Abu Mazen, has now been marginalized by the Islamists and Iran as a US agent and a Zionist stooge. The fact that Mahmood Abbas is the only Arab in human history to be elected President by the people of the country, is tragically lost on many.
Palestine will be won on the merits of the case, not through the barrel of a gun or the sloganeering of the Islamists.
Here is Nasrallah saying "Oops".
Read and reflect.
Sunday, 27 August 2006
Nasrallah sorry for scale of war
Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has said he would not have ordered the capture of two Israeli soldiers if he had known it would lead to such a war.
"Had we known that the kidnapping of the soldiers would have led to this, we would definitely not have done it," he said in an interview on Lebanese TV.
He added that neither side was "heading towards a second round" of fighting. More than 1,000 Lebanese died in the 34-day conflict which left much of southern Lebanon in ruins.
The Israeli offensive began after two Israeli soldiers were seized during a cross border raid by Hezbollah militants on 12 July.
"We did not think that there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war of this scale and magnitude," Sheikh Nasrallah said.
"Now you ask me if this was 11 July and there was a 1% chance that the kidnapping would lead to a war like the one that has taken place, would you go ahead with the kidnapping?
"I would say no, definitely not, for humanitarian, moral, social, security, military and political reasons. Many thousands have been left homeless by the offensive"Neither I, Hezbollah, prisoners in Israeli jails and nor the families of the prisoners would accept it."
Sheikh Nasrallah was speaking on the eve of a visit to Beirut by United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan to discuss the expanded UN peacekeeping force to be deployed in southern Lebanon.
A force of 15,000 soldiers, 7,000 of them from European Union states, will be deployed to maintain the fragile ceasefire between Israel and Hezbollah.
The UN hopes to have some of the troops on the ground within a week, although the foreign minister of Finland - which currently holds the EU presidency - has said it will be two to three months before the whole force is deployed.
The force will be led by France until February, at which time Italy will take command.
Speaking in Brussels on Friday, Mr Annan said the plan would only work if the enlarged UN force, called Unifil 2, was "strong, credible and robust".
Mr Annan said the force offered the possibility of a "durable ceasefire and long-term solution" to the Middle East crisis.
Sunday, August 20, 2006
The name Sayyid Qutb is synonymous with the agenda of the Political Islamist movement. This Egyptian from the 50s and 60s, along with his Indian-Pakistani counterpart, Abul Ala Maudoodi, are to the Islamists today what Marx and Lenin were to communists, when they mattered.
Yesterday, the London Independent carried a piece extracted from a book on Qutb by journalist Lawrence Wright.
In my opinion, two things stand out as the defining characteristics of all Islamists; their obsession and fear of sexuality and their contempt for modernity as represented by the West.
Qutb, says the author, "had been unable to find a suitable bride from the "dishonourable" women who allowed themselves to be seen in public." This, from 1948 when, unlike today, the niqaab and the burqa were a rarity in Egypt.
According to Wright:
"Qutb divides the world into two camps, Islam and jahiliyya, the period of ignorance and barbarity that existed before the divine message of the Prophet Mohamed. Qutb uses the term to encompass all of modern life: manners, morals, art, literature, law, even much of what passed as Islamic culture. He was opposed not to modern technology but to the worship of science, which he believed had alienated humanity from natural harmony with creation. Only a complete rejection of ationalism and Western values offered the slim hope of the redemption of Islam. This was the choice: pure, primitive Islam or the doom of mankind."
In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. "Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?" he wondered.
Read and reflect.
August 18, 2006
The father of Al-Qaida, extracted
from The Looming Tower
They're the shadowy foe at the centre of the War on Terror. But how did al-Qa'ida come into being? Award-winning journalist Lawrence Wright explains that the group which almost destroyed New York owes its existence to an Egyptian writer who, in 1948, set sail for the flourishing metropolis in search of sanctuary. There Sayyid Qutb found godlessness, not freedom. And his rage inspired others to rise up against the West...
In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. "Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?" he wondered.
"Should I hold on to my Islamic beliefs, facing the many sinful temptations, or should I indulge those temptations all around me?" It was November 1948. The new world loomed over the horizon, victorious, rich, and free. Behind him was Egypt, in rags and tears. The traveller had never been out of his native country. Nor had he willingly left now.
In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. "Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?" he wondered.
In a first-class stateroom on a cruise ship bound for New York from Alexandria, Egypt, a frail, middle-aged writer and educator named Sayyid Qutb experienced a crisis of faith. "Should I go to America as any normal student on a scholarship, who only eats and sleeps, or should I be special?" he wondered.
The stern bachelor was slight and dark, with a high, sloping forehead and a paintbrush moustache somewhat narrower than the width of his nose. His eyes betrayed an imperious and easily slighted nature. He always evoked an air of formality, favouring dark three-piece suits despite the searing Egyptian sun. For a man who held his dignity so close, the prospect of returning to the classroom at the age of 42 may have seemed demeaning.
And yet, as a child from a mud-walled village in Upper Egypt, he had already surpassed the modest goal he had set for himself of becoming a respectable member of the civil service. His literary and social criticism had made him one of his country's most popular writers. It had also earned the fury of King Farouk, Egypt's dissolute monarch, who had signed an order for his arrest. Powerful and sympathetic friends hastily arranged his departure.
At the time, Qutb (pronounced kuh-tub) held a comfortable post as a supervisor in the Ministry of Education. Politically, he was a fervent Egyptian nationalist and anti-Communist, a stance that placed him in the mainstream of the vast bureaucratic middle class.
The ideas that would give birth to what would be called Islamic fundamentalism were not yet completely formed in his mind; indeed, he would later say that he was not even a very religious man before he began this journey, although he had memorised the Koran by the age of 10, and his writing had recently taken a turn toward more conservative themes.
Like many of his compatriots, he was radicalised by the British occupation and contemptuous of the jaded King Farouk's complicity. Egypt was racked by anti-British protests and seditious political factions bent on running the foreign troops out of the country - and perhaps the king as well. What made this unimposing, mid-level government clerk particularly dangerous was his blunt and potent commentary.
He had never got to the front rank of the contemporary Arab literary scene, a fact that galled him throughout his career; and yet from the government's point of view, he was becoming an annoyingly important enemy.
He was Western in so many ways - his dress, his love of classical music and Hollywood movies. He had read, in translation, the works of Darwin and Einstein, Byron and Shelley, and had immersed himself in French literature, especially Victor Hugo. Even before his journey, however, he worried about the advance of an all-engulfing Western civilisation.
Despite his erudition, he saw the West as a single cultural entity. The distinctions between capitalism and Marxism, Christianity and Judaism, fascism and democracy were insignificant by comparison with the single great divide in Qutb's mind: Islam and the East on the one side, and the Christian West on the other.
America, however, stood apart from the colonialist adventures that had characterised Europe's relations with the Arab world. At the end of the Second World War, America straddled the political chasm between the colonisers and the colonised. Indeed, it was tempting to imagine America as the anti-colonial paragon: a subjugated nation that had broken free and triumphantly outstripped its former masters. The country's power seemed to lie in its values, not in European notions of cultural superiority or privileged races and classes.
And because America advertised itself as an immigrant nation, it had a permeable relationship with the rest of the world. Arabs, like most other peoples, had established their own colonies inside America, and the ropes of kinship drew them closer to the ideals that the country claimed to stand for.
And so, Qutb, like many Arabs, felt shocked and betrayed by the support that the US government had given to the Zionist cause after the war. Even as Qutb was sailing out of Alexandria's harbour, Egypt, along with five other Arab armies, was in the final stages of losing the war that established Israel as a Jewish state within the Arab world. The Arabs were stunned, not only by the determination and skill of the Israeli fighters but by the incompetence of their own troops and the disastrous decisions of their leaders.
The shame of that experience would shape the Arab intellectual universe more profoundly than any other event in modern history. "I hate those Westerners and despise them!" Qutb wrote after President Harry Truman endorsed the transfer of 100,000 Jewish refugees into Palestine. "All of them, without any exception: the English, the French, the Dutch, and finally the Americans, who have been trusted by many."
The man in the stateroom had known romantic love, but mainly the pain of it. He had written a thinly disguised account of a failed relationship in a novel; after that, he turned his back on marriage. He said that he had been unable to find a suitable bride from the "dishonourable" women who allowed themselves to be seen in public, a stance that left him alone and unconsoled in middle age. He still enjoyed women - he was close to his three sisters - but sexuality threatened him, and he had withdrawn into a shell of disapproval, seeing sex as the main enemy of salvation.
As he prayed in his stateroom, Sayyid Qutb was still uncertain of his own identity. Should he be "normal" or "special"? Should he resist temptations or indulge them? Should he hang on tightly to his Islamic beliefs or cast them aside for the materialism and sinfulness of the West? Like all pilgrims, he was making two journeys: one outward, into the larger world, and another inward, into his own soul. "I have decided to be a true Muslim!" he resolved. But almost immediately he second-guessed himself.
"Am I being truthful or was that just a whim?"
His deliberations were interrupted by a knock on the door. Standing outside his stateroom was a young girl, whom he described as thin and tall and "half-naked". She asked him in English, "Is it OK for me to be your guest tonight?"
Qutb responded that his room was equipped with only one bed.
"A single bed can hold two people," she said.
Appalled, he closed the door in her face. "I heard her fall on the wooden floor outside and realised that she was drunk," he recalled. "I instantly thanked God for defeating my temptation and allowing me to stick to my morals."
This is the man, then - decent, proud, tormented, self-righteous - whose lonely genius would unsettle Islam, threaten regimes across the Muslim world, and beckon to a generation of rootless young Arabs who were looking for meaning and purpose in their lives and would find it in jihad.
Qutb arrived in New York Harbour in the middle of the most prosperous holiday season the country had ever known. In the postwar boom, everybody was making money - Idaho potato farmers, Detroit auto-makers, Wall Street bankers - and all this wealth spurred confidence in the capitalist model, which had been so brutally tested during the recent Depression. Unemployment seemed practically un-American; officially, the rate of joblessness was under 4 per cent, and practically speaking, anyone who wanted a job could get one. Half of the world's total wealth was now in American hands.
The contrast with Cairo must have been especially bitter as Qutb wandered through the New York streets, festively lit with holiday lights, the luxurious shop windows laden with appliances that he had only heard about - television sets, washing machines - technological miracles spilling out of every department store in stupefying abundance. Downtown and in the outer boroughs, vast projects were under way to house the immigrant masses.
It was fitting, in such a buoyant and confident environment, unprecedented in its mix of cultures, that the visible symbol of a changed world order was arising: the new United Nations complex overlooking the East river. The United Nations was the most powerful expression of the determined internationalism that was the legacy of the war, and yet the city itself already embodied the dreams of universal harmony far more powerfully than did any single idea or institution.
The world was pouring into New York because that was where the power was, and the money, and the transforming cultural energy. Nearly a million Russians were in the city, half a million Irish, and an equal number of Germans - not to mention the Puerto Ricans, the Dominicans, the Poles, and the largely uncounted and often illegal Chinese labourers. The black population of the city had grown by 50 per cent in only eight years, to 700,000, and they were refugees as well, from the racism of the American South.
Fully a quarter of the 8 million New Yorkers were Jewish, many of whom had fled the latest European catastrophe. Hebrew letters covered the signs for the shops and factories on the Lower East Side, and Yiddish was commonly heard on the streets. That would have been a challenge for the middle-aged Egyptian who hated the Jews but, until he left his country, had never met one. For many New Yorkers political and economic oppression was a part of their heritage, and the city had given them sanctuary, a place to earn a living, to raise a family, to begin again. Because of that, the great emotion that fuelled the exuberant city was hopefulness, whereas Cairo was one of the capitals of despair.
At the same time, New York was miserable - overfull, grouchy, competitive, frivolous, picketed with No Vacancy signs. Snoring alcoholics blocked the doorways. Pimps and pickpockets prowled the mid-town squares in the ghoulish neon glow of burlesque houses. For a man whose English was rudimentary, the city posed unfamiliar hazards, and Qutb's natural reticence made communication all the more difficult.
He was desperately homesick. "Here in this strange place, this huge workshop they call 'the new world', I feel as though my spirit, thoughts, and body live in loneliness," he wrote to a friend in Cairo. "What I need most here is someone to talk to," he wrote to another friend, "to talk about topics other than dollars, movie stars, brands of cars - a real conversation on the issues of man, philosophy, and soul."
Two days after Qutb arrived in America, he and an Egyptian acquaintance checked into a hotel. "The black elevator operator liked us because we were closer to his colour," Qutb reported. The operator offered to help the travellers find "entertainment". "He mentioned examples of this 'entertainment', which included perversions. He also told us what happens in some of these rooms, which may have pairs of boys or girls. They asked him to bring them some bottles of Coca-Cola, and didn't even change their positions when he entered! 'Don't they feel ashamed?' we asked.
He was surprised. 'Why? They are just enjoying themselves, satisfying their particular desires.'" This experience, among many others, confirmed Qutb's view that sexual mixing led inevitably to perversion.
The end of the World War had brought America victory but not security. Many Americans felt that they had defeated one totalitarian enemy only to encounter another far stronger and more insidious than European fascism. The fight against Communism was being waged inside America as well. J Edgar Hoover, the Machiavellian head of the FBI, claimed that one of every 1,814 people in America was a Communist. Under his supervision, the bureau began to devote itself almost entirely to uncovering evidence of subversion.
Qutb took note of the obsession that was beginning to dominate American politics. He was himself a resolute anti-Communist for similar reasons; indeed, the Communists were far more active and influential in Egypt than in America. "Either we shall walk the path of Islam or we shall walk the path of Communism," Qutb wrote the year before he came to America.
In Qutb's passionate analysis, there was little difference between the Communist and capitalist systems; both, he believed, attended only the material needs of humanity, leaving the spirit unsatisfied. He predicted that once the average worker lost his dreamy expectations of becoming rich, America would inevitably turn toward Communism. Christianity would be powerless to block this trend because it exists only in the realm of the spirit - "like a vision in a pure ideal world". Islam, on the other hand, is "a complete system" with laws, social codes, economic rules, and its own method of government. Only Islam offered a formula for creating a just and godly society. Thus the real struggle would eventually show itself: It was not a battle between capitalism and Communism; it was between Islam and materialism. And inevitably Islam would prevail.
No doubt the clash between Islam and the West was remote in the minds of most New Yorkers during the holiday season of 1948. But, despite the new wealth that was flooding into the city, and the self-confidence that victory naturally brought, there was a generalised sense of anxiety about the future.
"The city, for the first time in its long history, is destructible," the essayist EB White had observed that summer. "A single flight of planes no bigger than a wedge of geese can quickly end this island fantasy, burn the towers, crumble the bridges, turn the underground passages into lethal chambers, cremate the millions."
White was writing at the dawn of the nuclear age, and the feeling of vulnerability was quite new. "In the mind of whatever perverted dreamer might loose the lightning," he observed, "New York must hold a steady, irresistible charm."
Soon after the new year began, Qutb moved to Washington, where he studied English. "Life in Washington is good," he admitted in one letter, "especially as I live in close proximity to the library and my friends."
He enjoyed a generous stipend from the Egyptian government. "A regular student can live very well on $180 a month," he wrote. "I, however, spend between $250 and $280 monthly."
Although Qutb came from a village in Upper Egypt, it was in America that he found "a primitiveness that reminds us of the ages of jungles and caves". Social gatherings were full of superficial chatter. Though people filled the museums and symphonies, they were there not to see or hear but rather out of a frantic, narcissistic need to be seen and heard. The Americans were altogether too informal, Qutb concluded. "I'm here at a restaurant," he wrote to a friend in Cairo, "and in front of me is this young American. On his shirt, instead of a necktie, there is a picture of an orange hyena, and on his back, instead of a vest, there is a charcoal picture of an elephant. This is the American taste in colours. And music! Let's leave that till later."
On 12 February 1949, while Qutb was in hospital having his tonsils removed, news came of the assassination of Hasan al-Banna, the Supreme Guide of the Society of the Muslim Brothers in Cairo. Qutb relates that there was a hubbub in the street outside his hospital window. He inquired about the reason for the festivities.
"Today the enemy of Christianity in the East was killed," he says the doctors told him. "Today, Hasan al-Banna was murdered." It is difficult to credit that Americans, in 1949, were sufficiently invested in Egyptian politics to rejoice at the news of Banna's death. But for Qutb, lying in his hospital bed in a strange and distant country, the news came as a profound shock. Like Qutb, Banna was precocious and charismatic, but he was also a man of action. He founded the Muslim Brothers in 1928, with the goal of turning Egypt into an Islamic state. Within a few years, the Brothers had spread across the country, and then throughout the Arab world, planting the seeds of the coming Islamic insurgence.
Banna's voice was stilled just as Qutb's book Social Justice in Islam was being published - the book that would make his reputation as an important Islamic thinker. Qutb had held himself pointedly apart from the organisation that Banna created, even though he inclined to similar views about the political uses of Islam; the death of his contemporary and intellectual rival, however, cleared the way for his conversion to the Muslim Brothers. This was a turning point, both in Qutb's life and in the destiny of the organisation. But at this pregnant moment, the heir apparent to the leadership of the Islamic revival was alone, ill, unrecognised, and very far from home.
Qutb returned to Cairo on 20 August 1950. Like him, the country had become more openly radical. Racked by corruption and assassination, humiliated in the 1948 war against Israel, the Egyptian government ruled without popular authority, at the whim of the occupying power. Although the British had nominally withdrawn from Cairo, concentrating their forces in the Suez Canal Zone, the hand of Empire still weighed heavy on the restive capital. The British were present in the clubs and hotels, the bars and cinemas, the European restaurants and department stores of this sophisticated, decadent city.
As his people hissed, the obese Turkish king, Farouk, raced around Cairo in one of his 200 red automobiles (his were the only cars in the country allowed to be red), seducing - if one can call it that - young girls, or else sailing his fleet of yachts to the gambling ports of the Riviera, where his debauchery tested historic standards. Meanwhile, the usual measures of despair - poverty, unemployment, illiteracy, and disease -grew recklessly out of control.
In this rotten political environment, one organisation steadily acted in the interests of the people. The Muslim Brothers created their own hospitals, schools, factories, and welfare societies; they even formed their own army and fought alongside other Arab troops in Palestine. They acted less as a countergovernment than as a countersociety, which was indeed their goal.
Their founder, Hasan al-Banna, completely rejected the Western model of secular, democratic government, which contradicted his notion of universal Islamic rule. "It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations, and to extend its power to the entire planet," he wrote.
The fact that the Brothers provided the only organised, effective resistance to the British occupation ensured their legitimacy in the eyes of the members of Egypt's lower-middle class, who formed the core of Brothers membership. The government officially dissolved the Muslim Brothers in 1948 but by that time the Brothers had more than a million members and supporters - out of a total Egyptian population of 18 million. Although the Brotherhood was a mass movement, it was also intimately organised into cooperative "families" - cells that contained no more than five members each, giving it a spongy, clandestine quality that proved difficult to detect and impossible to eradicate.
There was also a violent underside to the Society of the Muslim Brothers, which would become deeply rooted in the Islamist movement. Although most of the Brothers' activity was directed at the British and at Egypt's quickly dwindling Jewish population, they were also behind the bombings of two Cairo cinemas, the murder of a prominent judge, and the actual assassinations - as well as many attempts - of several members of government.
In retaliation for raids against their bases, British forces assaulted a police barracks in Ismailia in January 1952, firing at point-blank range for 12 hours and killing 50 police conscripts. Upon hearing the news, agitated mobs formed on the streets of Cairo. They burned the old British haunts of the Turf Club and the famous Shepheard's Hotel. The arsonists, led by members of the Muslim Brothers' secret apparatus, slashed the hoses of the fire engines that arrived to put out the flames, then moved on to the European quarter, burning every cinema, casino, bar, and restaurant in the centre of the city. By morning, a thick black cloud of smoke lingered over the ruins. At least 30 people had been killed, 750 buildings destroyed, 15,000 people put out of work, and 12,000 made homeless. Cosmopolitan Cairo was dead.
Something new was about to be born, however. In July of that year, a military junta, dominated by a charismatic young army colonel, Gamal Abdul Nasser, seized control of the government, which fell without resistance. For the first time in 2,500 years, Egypt was ruled by Egyptians.
Qutb published an open letter to the leaders of the revolution, advising them that the only way to purge the moral corruption of the old regime was to impose a "just dictatorship" that would grant political standing to "the virtuous alone". Nasser then invited Qutb to become an advisor to the Revolutionary Command Council.
Qutb hoped for a cabinet position in the new government, but when he was offered a choice between being the minister of education or general manager of Cairo radio, he turned both posts down. Nasser eventually appointed him head of the editorial board of the revolution, but Qutb quit the post after a few months. The prickly negotiation between the two men reflected the initial close cooperation of the Brothers and the Free Officers in a social revolution that both organisations thought was theirs to control. In fact, neither faction had the popular authority to rule.
In a story that would be repeated again and again in the Middle East, the contest quickly narrowed to a choice between a military society and a religious one. Nasser had the army and the Brothers had the mosques. Nasser's political dream was of pan-Arab socialism, modern, egalitarian, secular, and industrialised, in which individual lives were dominated by the overwhelming presence of the welfare state. His dream had little to do with the theocratic Islamic government that Qutb and the Brothers espoused.
The Islamists wanted to completely reshape society, from the top down, imposing Islamic values on all aspects of life, so that every Muslim could achieve his purest spiritual expression. That could be accomplished only through a strict imposition of the Sharia, the legal code drawn from the Koran and the sayings of the Prophet Mohamed, which governs all parts of life. Anything less than that, the Islamists argued, was not Islam. In retrospect, it is difficult to see how Qutb and Nasser could have misunderstood each other so profoundly. The only thing they had in common was the grandeur of their respective visions and their hostility to democratic rule.
Nasser threw Qutb in prison for the first time in 1954, but after three months he let him out and allowed him to become the editor of the Muslim Brothers magazine. Presumably Nasser hoped his display of mercy would enhance his standing with the Islamists and keep them from turning against the increasingly secular aims of the new government.
Qutb wrote a number of sharply critical editorials calling for jihad against the British at the very time Nasser was negotiating a treaty that would nominally end the occupation. In August 1954 the government shut the magazine down. By that time, ill will between the Brothers and the military leaders had hardened into cold opposition. It was clear that Nasser had no intention of instituting an Islamic revolution, despite his highly publicised pilgrimage to Mecca that same month. Qutb was so infuriated that he formed a secret alliance with the Egyptian Communists in an abortive effort to bring Nasser down.
The ideological war over Egypt's future reached a climax on the night of 26 October 1954. Nasser was addressing an immense crowd in a public square in Alexandria. The entire country was listening to the radio as a member of the Muslim Brothers stepped forward and fired eight shots, wounding a guard but missing Nasser. It was the turning point in Nasser's presidency. Over the chaos of the panicked crowd, Nasser continued speaking even as the gunshots rang out. "Let them kill Nasser! What is Nasser but one among many?" he cried. "I am alive, and even if I die, all of you are Gamal Abdul Nasser!"
Had the gunman succeeded, he might have been hailed as a hero, but the failure gave Nasser a popularity he had never enjoyed until then. He immediately put that to use by having six conspirators hanged and placing thousands of others in concentration camps. Qutb was charged with being a member of the Muslim Brothers' secret apparatus that was responsible for the assassination attempt. Nasser thought he had crushed the Brothers once and for all.
Through confessions of other members of the Brotherhood, the prosecution presented a sensational scenario of a planned takeover of the government, involving the destruction of Alexandria and Cairo, blowing up all the bridges over the Nile, and numerous assassinations --an unprecedented campaign of terror, all in the service of turning Egypt into a primitive theocracy. The testimony also demonstrated, however, that the Brothers were too disorganised to accomplish any of these dreadful tasks. Three highly partisan judges, one of them Anwar al-Sadat, oversaw these proceedings. They sentenced Qutb to life in prison, but when his health deteriorated, the sentence was reduced to 15 years.
Qutb was always frail and experienced two heart attacks in prison, and bleeding in his lung. He moved to the prison hospital in May 1955, where he stayed for the next 10 years, spending much of his time writing a lucid, highly personal, eight-volume commentary called In the Shade of the Koran, which by itself would have assured his place as one of the most significant modern Islamic thinkers. But his political views were darkening.
Through family and friends, he managed to smuggle out, bit by bit, a manifesto called Milestones. It circulated underground for years in the form of letters to his brother and sisters, who were also Islamic activists. The voice of the letters was urgent, passionate, intimate, and despairing. When finally published in 1964, the book was banned, but not before five printings had been run off. Anyone caught with a copy could be charged with sedition. Its ringing apocalyptic tone may be compared with Rousseau's Social Contract and Lenin's What Is to Be Done? - with similar bloody consequences.
"Mankind today is on the brink of a precipice," Qutb posits at the beginning. Humanity is threatened not only by nuclear annihilation but also by the absence of values. The West has lost its vitality, and Marxism has failed. "At this crucial and bewildering juncture, the turn of Islam and the Muslim community has arrived." But before Islam can lead, it must regenerate itself.
Qutb divides the world into two camps, Islam and jahiliyya, the period of ignorance and barbarity that existed before the divine message of the Prophet Mohamed. Qutb uses the term to encompass all of modern life: manners, morals, art, literature, law, even much of what passed as Islamic culture. He was opposed not to modern technology but to the worship of science, which he believed had alienated humanity from natural harmony with creation. Only a complete rejection of rationalism and Western values offered the slim hope of the redemption of Islam. This was the choice: pure, primitive Islam or the doom of mankind.
"We need to initiate the movement of Islamic revival in some Muslim country," he writes, in order to fashion an example that will eventually lead Islam to its destiny of world dominion. "There should be a vanguard which sets out with this determination and then keeps walking the path," Qutb declared. "I have written Milestones for this vanguard, which I consider to be a waiting reality about to be materialised." Those words would echo in the ears of generations of young Muslims who were looking for a role to play in history.
Extracted from The Looming Tower by Lawrence Wright, published by Allen Lane (www.penguin.co.uk) on 31 August, priced £20. ©Lawrence Wright 2006. To order the book for £18 including p&p, call Independent Books Direct on 08700 798 897 or visit www.independentbooksdirect.co.uk