Saturday, October 18, 2008

According to various eyewitness reports, CDs containing the viciously anti-Islamic propaganda film, "Obsession," were recently being distributed in Harvard Square. This fact has apparently not gone unnoticed by Harvard College students: the distribution of the CDs outside the gates of the University has been mentioned unfavorably by members of one of the Quad Houses on the House's e-mail list. While much could be said about the links between one of the major presidential candiates and the shadowy organization that is massively financing the distribution of "Obsession" CDs by mail, in newspapers and on the streets of the so-called "swing" states, I restrict myself to here to calling attention to an insightful essay that points out just some of the fallacies that the film seeks to promote.

In a recent entry on his blog, New Islamic Direction, the inimitable Imam Zaid Shakir reveals some of historical and political inanities to be found in this Islamophobic piece of propaganda. I reproduce the entire essay here in recognition of its relevance and importance:

Recently, 28 million copies of the anti-Islamic propaganda documentary, Obsession, were distributed free of charge in what are being considered the “swing” states in the current election campaign. This effort is clearly designed to leverage the idea in the minds of many Americans that Senator Barack Obama is a Muslim (he is not), and therefore, he is to be identified with the images and statements of Muslims portrayed in the video. These portrayals give the impression that Islam is a fanatical, bloodthirsty religion, whose adherents are hell-bent on destroying America. In essence, the video represents a diabolical attempt by dark forces to sway an American election.

The film is black propaganda that relies in some instances on distorting the truth and in others on blatant lies or vile innuendos. One of the allegations advanced by the film that is particularly insidious is that Islam is the new fascism, a deadly force that constitutes an existentialist threat to the United States. To support this allegation, the film’s producers juxtapose scenes of Nazi marches and other forms of political imagery with corresponding Muslim images. I have briefly discussed the issue of the Islamo-Fascist threat in my article, Vote for Me and I’ll Set You Free. There I mentioned:

In recent days, surrogates of one of my opponents have been distributing, free of charge, a disturbing DVD entitled “Obsession.” This film attempts to portray the maniacal rants of a minuscule fringe of deluded Muslim fanatics as an existentialist threat to the United States that must be combated by the full might of the United States’ military and society. It tries to deceive you into believing that “Radical Islam” and “Islamo-Fascism” is the 21st Century equivalent of Hitler’s Germany. Both history and contemporary reality belie that claim. Nazi Germany was an industrialized state that had military means that rivaled or surpassed those of America. Had circumstances proved more favorable for the Germans, they could have well developed an atomic bomb before America. Similarly, under more fortuitous circumstances, Germany’s ballistic missile program, which produced the deadly V2 Rocket, and its fighter aircraft program, which introduced the Messerschmitt 262, the world’s first tactic jet fighter, could have given Germany a tactical advantage that could have turned the tide of the war in Hitler’s favor.

As a result of their combined military strength, combating the fascist threat of Hitler’s Germany, Mussolini’s Italy, and Hirohito’s Japan would require the military service of 16.1 million American troops and cost 406,000 American lives. What has been the cost of containing the so-called “Islamo-Fascist” threat? First of all, there is only one real front in the so-called “War on Terror,” Afghanistan. There, the remnants of Al-Qaeda and the Taliban, the latter of which has not been implicated in a single terrorist act against the United States, have been held in check by 34,000 American troops currently on the ground, at a cost of 519 American lives, even though the conflict there has endured longer than World War Two. The number of troops committed, and the number of lives sacrificed gives you a clear indication of the true extent of the nature of the threat posed by Radical Islam.

The shameless allegation that Islam is the new fascism would be bad enough were it presented in isolation. However, it is coupled with the false claim that Muslims supported Hitler and the Nazis during World War Two. This claim is a foul misrepresentation of the historical record and it serves to dishonor the memory of all of the courageous Muslims who selflessly fought and died in defense of the European democracies, even though many of their own lands were still suffering under the yoke of European colonization.

At the heart of this baseless and base allegation is the fact that the Palestinian Mufti of Jerusalem, Al-Hajj Amin al-Husseini, had close ties to the German leader Adolf Hitler, and even spent part of the war in Berlin. While this much is true, al-Husseini’s sentiments were not those of the overwhelming majority of the Palestinians, to say nothing of the rest of the world’s Muslims. To use al-Husseini’s ties to Hitler as a means to defame and discredit Islam and Muslims as fascists is misleading and has to be challenged.

In fact, there were several Palestinian brigades in the British Army who actively fought the spread of fascism. The existence of these Palestinian brigades was more indicative of the mood of the Arab and Muslim masses, than al-Husseini’s misguided actions. Therefore, when al-Husseini issued his call for a Muslim “Jihad” against the allied forces his plea was largely ignored. The fascist “Jihad” never materialized. The reason for that is simple. It had no significant support from the masses of Muslims.

The Palestinian Muslims were not alone in terms of their participation in the anti-fascist effort. Hundreds of thousands of North and West African Muslims assisted in the liberation of France from the German occupation and the French Vichy government. Upwards to half of the free French forces that landed in southern France in 1944 were Africans, the overwhelming majority of them Muslims. Among their ranks is a group referred to as Senegal’s Secret Soldiers, a group of Senegalese Muslims who played a major role in the liberation of Paris from Nazi occupation.

One of this country’s staunchest Muslim allies in the struggle against the fascist menace was the Moroccan king, Muhammad V. He not only worked strenuously to insure that Moroccans supported neither the French Vichy government nor the Nazi effort in North Africa, but he also courageously supported Moroccan Jews during the war years.

Farther east, hundreds of thousands of Muslims enrolled in the British Indian Army. On January 1, 1945, there were 447,580 Punjabi Muslims in the British Indian Army. This number constituted 32% of the army’s troop strength, a percentage tremendously greater than the percentage of Muslims in the overall population. These Muslim soldiers were deployed in all of the major theaters of battle in the fight against the Axis powers and performed admirably. They were firmly supported by the political leader of the Muslims in India, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, a fervent critic of Hitler.

The claim of widespread Muslim support for Hitler is further belied by the fact that Turkey, at that time the strongest independent Muslim nation, maintained strict neutrality for most of the war. When the Turks did enter the war they did so on the side of the Alliance. The Turks broke all diplomatic and economic relations with the Germans in August of 1944, and declared war against Germany, February 25, 1945. These moves were instrumental in the defeat of fascism. Besides the political importance of Turkey’s declaration of war against the Axis forces, her entrance into the war on the side of the Alliance deprived Germany of one of its major supplies of chromite, an essential element in her steel production.

Perhaps the greatest testimony to the Muslims who actively opposed fascism is the work of the Paris Mosque in protecting Jewish children from the Nazis, who were sending French Jews: men, women, and children to perish in the death camps of Eastern Europe. The mosque itself was built by the French government in appreciation of the 500,000 Muslims who had fought for France during World War One, with 100,000 losing their lives in the trenches. It is estimated that the mosque helped to save over 1,700 Jewish children, by providing them with shelter, transit, and Muslim names. Below is a copy of a pamphlet that circulated among Algerian Muslims in Paris at the onset of the Nazis’ campaign against the Jews in France:

Yesterday at dawn, the Jews of Paris were arrested. The old, the women, and the children. In exile like ourselves, workers like ourselves. They are our brothers. Their children are like our own children. The one who encounters one of his children must give that child shelter and protection for as long as misfortune - or sorrow - lasts. Oh, man of my country, your heart is generous.

It is a great shame that sinister propaganda like Obsession is allowed to be disseminated in this country. Similarly vile hatemongering would never be allowed were it directed at Jews, African Americans, gays or other segments of the American population. It is a greater shame that supposedly reputable newspapers such as The New York Times have participated openly and actively in that campaign. However, the greatest shame is for us Muslims to sit back and do nothing. We have to fight back with the truth. We have to organize to disseminate the truth, and to inform the citizens of this land of who we are as Muslims, the truth about our religion, and our history. Most importantly, we cannot allow the honor and dignity of our innocent coreligionists, whose sacrifices have enriched humanity, to be trampled on and violated by individuals who have placed themselves in the service of a sinister and nefarious agenda

Monday, October 06, 2008

Q. What is the relationship between belief in tawhid [editor: i.e. the recognition of the Oneness of God] and morality? I am asking with the intention of [asking a] follow-up: For those individuals who were born into a polytheistic faith but who are morally and ethically very upright, what does the Qu'ran say of their judgment? I know that associating partners with Allah (SWT) is one of the biggest sins, but I am having trouble grasping why someone who lives honestly, sincerely, generously, etc. should be so severely punished. Are we not judged on the basis of our actions?

A: Recognizing and affirming the Oneness of Allah, i.e. tawhid, is the epistemoloical and ontological basis of morality in our religion (din). Professing that there is no god but God (la ilaha illa llah) implies that one affirms that no one decides that an act is right or wrong but Allah and that none decides the relative degree of rightness or wrongness of an act but Allah.

So, if a person is raised as a polytheist (mushrik) and dies as such, we affirm that they will not be treated unjustly by Allah in the afterlife. Qur'an: "Nor is Allah unjust to His slaves".

Note: One should strive to achieve certainty (yaqin) on this point, since it is a basic element of our belief (iman) and doubt about this matter is akin to thinking badly of Allah which is an enormity (i.e. a major sin), at the very least.

Specifically, there are several possibilities:

Case 1: If a polytheist (mushrik) is presented with Islam during his life and accepts it, he becomes Muslim, thereby and, assuming that he dies on Islam, will enter the Garden.

Case 2: If he refuses Islam after it is offered to him, he is a disbeliever (kafir). If he dies in that state, he is promised an eternity in the Fire and forbidden entry into the Garden, as indicated by numerous univocal, clear passages (ayat) of the Qur'an and mass-transmitted prophetic traditions (ahadith). Again, Allah will not have wronged them or treated them unjustly in the least.

Case 3: If the prophetic invitation to worship the One God never reached him (e.g. he lived during the period between two prophets or he was never informed that there was a Prophet named Muhammad that invited people to surrender to God by recognizing that there is no god but Him) and he dies in this state, then some of the religious scholars (`ulama) affirm that he is not punished in the afterlife because Allah does not punish without sending a Messenger. Qur'an: "We do not punish until we send Messenger". Others of the `ulama hold that he may be punished as a disbeliever polytheist because the natural inclination towards recognition of the One God (fitra) that Allah has created in human beings is evidence enough against him. Allah knows best. Whatever the case, we affirm that Allah will not have treated them unjustly in the least.

N.B.: As Muslims, we should avoid giving preference to our own ethical intuitions (i.e. suppositions and whims as to what should be right and wrong or how relatively right or wrong some acts should be compared to others) over Allah's statements. It is simply not for a reasonable person--not to mention a Muslim--to say to himself, "Well, a person who behaves in a manner that seems good or moral to me, but just happens to do what the Creator of the Heavens and Earth has said is the worse act that can be done (i.e. associating partners with God), should be judged acceptable by God and not punished." Islam, i.e. Surrendering to God means, among other things, recognizing him as the Judge (al-Hakam). We are judged on the basis of (more precisely, the intention behind) our actions. In our ethical system, the basis of actions that is associated with salvation in the afterlife is belief (iman) in God and the Last Day.

N.B.: As for describing a person who does not recognize God as God as living honestly or sincerely, clearly people who are not yet believers can have good personality traits and do acts that are apparently good. Not only do we not deny this but we affirm it since Allah affirms it in the Qur'an. But going the next step and suggesting that apparently good deeds, without belief (iman), must be acceptable to God (whereas Allah stresses good deeds and belief in the Qur'an), because these criteria are consistent with our own ethical intuition, is logical inconsistent with tawhid and runs contrary to revelation.

May Allah guide us to the best in this world and the next.

The Needy Slave of Allah,
Taha bin Hasan Abdul-Basser