lunes, 24 de diciembre de 2012

Feliz Navidad!


Feliz Navidad - Bon Nadal - Merry Christmas - Joyeux Noël - Geseënde Kersfees - Gëzuar Krishtlindjet - Frohe Weihnachten - عيد ميلاد مجيد - Շնորհավոր Սուրբ Ծնունդ: - Eguberri - Калядамі - Весела Коледа - 圣诞节快乐 - 聖誕節快樂 - 메리 크리스마스 - jwayeu Nwèl - Sretan Božić - Glædelig jul - Feliĉa Kristnasko - Häid jõule - hyvää joulua - Nadolig Llawen - შობა - Καλά Χριστούγεννα - חג המולד שמח - मेरी क्रिसमस - Boldog Karácsonyt - Selamat Hari Natal - Nollaig Shona - Gleðileg jól- Buon Natal - Verbum Caro - Priecīgus Ziemassvētkus - Linksmų Kalėdų - Среќен Божиќ - Merry Krismas - Gelukkig kerstfeest - God jul - کریسمس مبارک - Wesołych Świąt - Feliz Natal - Crăciun fericit - С Рождеством - Срећан Божић - veselé Vianoce - Vesel božič - Krismasi Njema - Maligayang Pasko - Veselé Vánoce - మెర్రీ క్రిస్మస్ - เมอร์รี่คริสต์มาส - Mutlu Noeller - میری کرسمس - Mừng Giáng Sinh

domingo, 23 de diciembre de 2012

The Red Tent

Esta novela de Anita Diamant es el segundo de los libros que compré en mi viaje a Londres el pasado mayo. Lo tenía completamente olvidado hasta que se me estropeó mi nueva tablet (arrrghh!) y no tuve más remedio que cogerlo para aliviar un viaje en autobús. Y ahí estoy, empezando con él una de mis propuestas para estas Navidades, leer, ver películas descargadas hace siglos,.. y Master stuff, como no! 
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The Red Tent is a beautifully written novel about Dinah, the daughter of the Biblical Patriarch Jacob. There is only a brief mention of Dinah in the Bible, a traumatic story of rape and vengeance but Anita Diamant has taken this and filled in the gaps. She has carefully woven silk into the rough wool that is the biblical story and created a rich luxurious tapestry of the life of the women.
In the prologue Dinah addresses us - the women of today: "And now you come to me - women with hand and feet as soft as a queen's, with more cooking pots than you need, so safe in childbed and so free with your tongues. You come hungry for the story that was lost. You crave words to fill the great silence that swallowed me, and my mothers, and my grandmothers before them."
The Red Tent is the place that Jacob's women retreat to once a month at the time of the dark moon. Apparently if living a natural life by the light of the heavens it is natural for women to bleed at the time of the dark moon and ovulate at the full moon. There, in the protective confines of the red tent, sitting on straw the women share their secrets, their stories, their joy and pain and take respite from the hardships of their everyday life.
As the only daughter of Jacob, Dinah is privileged to share the tent before her proper time and here she learns the stories of her mothers which she in turn tells to us. (Jacob had four wives and Dinah considers them all to be her mothers in some sense).
The first part of the book is My Mothers' stories, stories told to Dinah by and about Jacob's wives. These follow but beautifully embellish the biblical stories and take us up to the traumatic birth of Joseph who becomes Dinah's closest companion as a child.
The second part 'My Story' again loosely follows the biblical stories but because it is her story the rape of Dinah has a different perspective. In Diamant's version Dinah was not raped but was deeply and passionately in love with the Egyptian Prince of Shechem whom her brothers brutally slaughtered while she lay in his arms.
In the third part , simply entitled 'Egypt', Dinah, now estranged from her family after cursing them in hatred, goes to Egypt with her mother in law. This part of the story has no link with the biblical stories at all apart from a few loose references. There she discovers she is pregnant. As if she hasn't had enough pain already Dinah suffers even more when her child is taken from her to be raised as a prince. But her story continues and she strives to rebuild her life in a strange land with strange customs. The end of the story is poignant but even in her death Dinah continues to live.
The biblical stories and in fact most of history has been written and transmitted by men. This book is a testament from the other side. This is a herstory. The focus is almost entirely on the women the men are almost incidental in a way. 
In the red tent the women share womanly secrets of childbirth and contraception, herbal lore, despair and death. Birth scenes abound and some are thigh clenchingly graphic. Dinah's first menstruation is celebrated by a strange moving ritual. In Dinah's world, but not in all her contemporaries menstruation is not a curse but something to celebrate, childbirth also takes on a collective joy. Skills are passed from mothers to daughter and Dinah becomes an accomplished midwife.
No woman could read this book without being moved, Dinah expresses intimate emotions of a woman through all her ages. From the innocence of childhood, through stirrings of puberty, womanhood, and old age, passionate love, grief and hatred, compassion - nothing is omitted. It is more than a novel it is a celebration of every woman who lived and loved in a patriarchal society.


viernes, 21 de diciembre de 2012

Morocco and Jordan Constitutional Reforms against Revolution


How did the Moroccan and Jordanian monarchies survive the Arab revolutions? Was it something to do with the constitutional amendments made by their monarchs? Whilst protesters have defeated their governments in republics like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the Arab monarchies such as Morocco and Jordan have remained intact. But, are these reforms being released unconditionally or are they just mere pledges? And would they be enough to quiet the population? Or will the protesters, perhaps, ask for more which has been taking place in Jordan for the past couple of weeks?

Since the start of the Arab Spring in 2011, two young monarchs Mohammed VI of Morocco and Abdullah II of Jordan, announced the beginning of a political opening process and THEY promised reforms to contain tensions and avoid any "revolutionary contagion" within the two kingdoms. However, the actions which would supposedly quiet their population seemed to not satisfy some of the new social movements.

So in order to counteract the mobilization of these social movements, King Abdullah set up a Committee for National Dialogue. In addition, he also remodeled his former government and promised a group of political and socio-economic measures. The Dialogue Committee has raised some issues that were considered as priorities in the past years. For instance, adopting a new electoral law that would allow proportional representation, implementing a law which recognizes the rights of the teachers, and fighting corruption in the country were some of the priorities mentioned. Meanwhile, groups of young people, teachers, human rights activists and members of various left-wing political formations, have created more than fifty movements – and between them, the two most active being "March 24 Movement" and "Student Rights Movement”-. These movements are asking for a real transition into a constitutional and parliamentary monarchy. They believe that the King still has excessive privileges – he normally dominates the legislature choice and in addition to that he is able to dissolve Parliament and to make the Government resign-.Moreover, they also require a real campaign against corruption and they ask for a real commitment in terms of economic reforms that would curb unemployment –which it is estimated by authorities a percentage of 13.4% from the population whereas by independent experts the estimated percentage is more than 20%-.

On the other hand, the shocking wave coming from Tunisia and Egypt led King Mohammed VI to re launch a political and constitutional process of reforms that has been delayed since February 2011. However, the king did not make any reference to the protests during the speech he addressed to the population, where he announced these reforms. Otherwise he limited to enact as quickly as possible and in order to present his project he commissioned a draft in which the Committee talked about the administrative decentralization, and this in order to review the Constitution and propose amendments to it. The proposals of this Committee were approved by referendum on July 2011 "by more than 98%" of the votes -with a participation rate estimated by the authorities of 70%-. The most important amendments were: the nomination of a Prime Minister elected from the parliamentary majority, the enlargement of the Prime Minister prerogatives, the adoption of Amazigh as the second official language in the kingdom, strengthening the independence of the judiciary power, and lastly, the importance given to the Human Rights international agreements. Nevertheless, the king is still the Commander of the Faithful – Amir al-Mu’minin – and may promulgate dahirs –decrees- although only in the religious sphere. Then, most political parties and movements in Morocco -both left-wing and right-wing, secular or Islamist- have supported these amendments. However, the movement of young Moroccans who called for demonstrations in late January 2011 and managed to mobilize thousands of students and civil society activists around Morocco on February 20th -and later on numerous occasions- , has condemned the meanwhile tinged demagogic political maneuvering and estimated that the referendum has represented the return of electoral fraud. This movement, which has taken the name of “The February 20 Movement”, has been also joined by two leftwing parties and the large Islamist movement “Justice and Charity” -officially banned but tolerated by the Moroccan authorities-, and as many observers and journalists, believes that the new constitution does not change much in the prerogatives of the King. And the movement believes this for many reasons: firstly, because it was the king himself who formed the Committee to amend the Constitution, so it has already limited it independence. Secondly, the King still retains the right to dissolve the Parliament and make his Ministers resign. He chairs the meetings of Government and remains, then, as the head of the executive power at the same time that he has authority over the legislative power. Also chairs the High Council of Ulemas –the highest religious body in the country- as the "Commander of the Faithful", which actually maintains an ambiguous relationship between religion and politics, leaving the Monarch an important margin for maneuver.

To conclude, these amendments suggested by both kings represent a small step in the large path towards democracy, which is something really positive to both countries. However, there are still a myriad of questions with no answer, for instance, how will the monarchs improve the human rights within their countries? , how will they restrain discrimination of gender, race and religion? , is the population ready to trust the state institutions? , how will the current protests end in Jordan? And most importantly, to what extent is religious legitimacy of Jordan and Moroccan monarchs linked with the lack of revolutions in both countries? It is a matter of time, though, to proof that effectively these reforms are carried out within the daily life of Moroccans and Jordans. The two monarchies need time, distance and loyalty towards their pledges and reforms in order to keep the population quiet.

- Christina Barragán
Universitat Rovira i Virgili

jueves, 20 de diciembre de 2012

Hollande asume ante los argelinos la brutalidad de la colonización francesa


Gran paso histórico..
El presidente francés, François Hollande, ha reconocido en su segundo día de visita a Argelia el "sufrimiento" infligido al pueblo argelino por la colonización francesa. "Durante 132 años", ha manifestado Hollande ante el Parlamento del país magrebí, "Argelia fue sometida a un sistema profundamente injusto y brutal"Los diputados argelinos han recibido entre aplausos las palabras del político socialista, quien además se ha comprometido a mejorar los procesos de acogida de inmigrantes argelinos.
"Este sistema tiene un nombre", ha proseguido Hollande, "es la colonización y reconozco aquí los sufrimientos que la colonización infligió al pueblo argelino". El presidente francés visita por primera vez Argelia desde que accedió a la presidencia. Entre esos sufrimientos que el presidente francés ha citado ante el Parlamento argelino están "las masacres de Sétif, Guelma y Kherrata", que "permanecen anclados en la conciencia de los argelinos, pero también de los franceses".
"El 8 de mayo de 1945", ha continuado Hollande en su relato sobre la matanza en Sétif, "el mismo día en el que el mundo triunfaba sobre la barbarie, Francia olvidaba sus valores universales". El jefe de Estado francés ha asumido de igual modo la necesidad de recordar las "condiciones" en las que se llevó a cabo la descolonización, en el marco de una "guerra que durante mucho tiempo no se ha querido nombrar en Francia".
Hollande, interrumpido en varias ocasiones por los aplausos de los diputados, ha asumido el "deber" de respetar la memoria sobre la "violencia, injusticias, masacres y torturas" cometidas durante la colonización, por lo que ha señalado la necesidad de que los historiadores puedan acceder a los archivos y así posibilitar que todo el mundo "pueda conocer la verdad". "La paz de la memoria a la que aspiro reside en el conocimiento y divulgación de la historia".
El presidente francés se ha comprometido además ante la Cámara argelina a "acoger mejor" a los demandantes de visa y "controlar los flujos migratorios" para evitar obstáculos o humillaciones.

domingo, 16 de diciembre de 2012

Darfur Now

Sin palabras me he quedado al ver la película "Darfur Now".. Aunque en ella sólo se representa una pequeña parte del gran genocidio cometido en esta parte tan olvidada del mundo, ya es suficiente para poder llegar a entender el horror vivido durante tan largo tiempo por esta gente. Investigando un poco he llegado a vídeos de la gran campaña que se intentó hacer en USA para parar la masacre donde participaron actores de la talla de George Clooney y demás, pero como siempre en estos casos, aunque este tipo de acciones mediáticas nunca están de más para dar a conocer al gran público el conflicto, me pregunto si no hubiera sido más fácil si desde el principio las "grandes" potencias no hubieran metido el dedo en la llaga y sí, unas vez más hablamos de petróleo. 
En 2011 Sudan del Sur consiguió su independencia del Norte y con ello dio fin la guerra que gracias a esas lineas post-coloniales tan "bien" trazadas había enfrentado durante años a los musulmanes del norte con los cristianos del sur. Pero parece ser que Darfur queda como siempre en medio de la nada, su población negra y musulmana pertenece aún al estado de Sudan del Norte, de mayoría musulmana también pero de origen étnico árabe. Este racismo contra los que se suponía tenían que ser sus hermanos en la fe hizo que las milicias de los Yanyauid, con la colaboración del gobierno de el-Bashir, acabara con la vida de más de 300.000 personas y otras 200.000 tuvieron que buscar refugio en otros países como Chad. 
Aunque ya conocía el conflicto, me he sentido mal conmigo misma después de ver la película, ya que a veces parece que centramos todos nuestros esfuerzos y nuestra rabia en algunos conflictos como Palestina, el Sahara Occidental,.. donde obviamente también se están violando los derechos humanos, pero ya el hecho de una "limpieza" étnica de estas dimensiones me parece de lo más condenable que pueda existir y no se debería de ningún modo acallar. Occidente defiende tanto la democracia y la libertad en depende de que casos, pero que MÁS puede pasar ya que esto, que gobiernos de este tipo sigan en pie y nadie haga algo no sólo para pararlo, sino para exigir que un tribunal internacional los haga pagar por sus crímenes. 





viernes, 7 de diciembre de 2012

Tariq Ramadan interviewed post-Arab Spring

Como siempre, Tariq Ramadan no deja de sorprenderme con su elocuencia. A pesar de ser hijo de Hassan al-Banna, fundador de los Hermanos Musulmanes en Egipto, consigue ir más allá y poner cada cosa en su sitio. En esta entrevista para OpenDemocracy.net deja bien claro que la Primavera Árabe no dará ningún resultado si sólo se basan en la religión y más religión y dejan de lado aspectos tan importantes como el económico. Realmente me ha hecho pensar, ya que en mi última visita a Túnez este pasado verano fue eso precisamente lo que me preocupó, vi demasiadas barbas y niqabs pero muy poca actividad económica que pueda hacer salir a flote el país y demostrar que la lucha de la sociedad civil haya servido para algo. La entrevista es un poco larga, pero vale la pena leerla. 
Heather McRobie:  I’d like to begin with the concept of Islamic democratic secularism and the statement in your bookArab Awakening, that, “at this precise moment Muslims will only have proven the singularity of Islam when they demonstrate its universality.” Could you explain what you mean by this, and the concept of Islamic democratic secularism?
Tariq Ramadan: It’s part of a whole discussion about ethics in my work. I focus on Islamic applied ethics in many fields, and here I am saying that coming back to the Qu’ran and the sunnah as our reference point does not mean that we depend for our ethics on  ‘Islam as opposed to the others’. I look to Islamic ethics to find something that can provide the basis for shared values with other traditions, and ultimately universal values. This ties into the point I made in another book, The Quest for Meaning, that the only way for values to be universal is if they are shared universal values.  My main point is, in this quest for value the aim is not to express your distinctness from others, but about being able to contribute to the discussion of universal value.  What I’m advocating is an intellectual revolution – it’s a different mindset concerning the ethical benchmarks by which we live.
Rosemary Bechler: In Arab Awakening those Islamic values are deployed both as a critique of western values and Arab worlds in their present state. Together they amount to a comprehensive critique of capitalism as a system, a critique which you also find reflected in the Arab Awakening which is the subject of the book. Do you think these seismic processes will take that path and build on that critique?
TR: Unfortunately, some of the theses I put forward in those pages have now been proved all too correct. For example, in the concerns I voiced at the beginning of the book, when I said that I was cautiously optimistic, but that there could be a polarisation with secularism, and that in that polarisation, Islam was avoiding the main questions. The nature of the state is one thing, but there are other major challenges - what it will take to tackle the issues of social corruption, for example, social justice, and the economic system – and what are the future challenges when it comes to equality between the citizens, in particular in the field of the job market and equal opportunity for men and for women? This is at the centre of the question that is the Arab Awakening.
What I see now is that even with the Islamists, who have been portraying themselves as the alternative to corruption and dictatorship and in defence of more transparency, there is one respect in which they have now changed completely. Since the beginning of the 1920’s, Islamism was very close in positioning in some respects to ‘liberation theology’. But that is no longer the case. Now the most important example of the last fifteen years is the move from Erbakan to Erdoğan, creating the Turkish model that has been highly successful in economic terms, but only in fact by buying into and succeeding in being integrated into the global economic system. 
I don’t see anyone today, whether you look at the Muslim Brotherhood or Ennahda in Tunisia or people working in Libya, or even the Salafi, who have a different position on the economy. The Salafis are now very much involved in politics, having changed their strategies over the last five years. As we know, though they have their own very particular take on the whole political discussion - they are obsessed with the political structure -  they don’t talk about economic dynamics either.  So this is why in Saudi Arabia and Qatar they can be very very powerful at the grassroots level, by being very strict about what is lawful and unlawful in ethical and political and cultural terms. But they are not talking about the economy either.
RB:  Don’t they talk about the need for redistribution? One gets the impressions that the Salafi argument is often more concerned about looking after the poor?
TR: Yes, but within the system.  You can be a very charitable capitalist.  Like Sarkozy was saying, we have to ‘moralise capitalism’, which for me is a contradiction in terms. 
But this is my position and my position is that these questions are not answered or addressed by the movement now.  I think we are making a mistake, a very big mistake if we look at what we call the Arab Awakening only by looking at the whole dynamics in political and not in economic terms.  This brings me back to what George W Bush said in 2003, when they were talking about democratisation. He said that it might be the major challenge for them, not to deal with democracies per se but the challenge of a new economic balance in the region.  I think that this is very important, when you look at the influence of China and India in the region. These are new players here, and they are very efficient. They can compete with the US.
RB: Do you see anyone who is talking about this in the Arab world?
TR: They are talking, in a way they are trying to find a way to get new partners in the region.  For example, one of the first visits of President Morsi after he was elected was to China.  They are looking at the new relationship between Turkey and Egypt which is also important.  So does this just amount to being integrated into the economic order, to stabilise the Egyptian economy. It could be. Or might it be about something deeper than that? I think we have to consider that it is about a deeper challenge.  When I wrote the book I said that for some young Islamists in Tunisia and Morocco and Egypt - the model is Turkey much more than Iran.  When I visited Turkey people were so happy: they were so pleased that I had chosen them as the model. So I had to say, ‘No, you are not my model: what I was saying was that you are the model for some young Islamists’. 
'The Turkish road is not my model because I am critical of the way you are dealing with freedom of expression, of how you are dealing with the treatment of minorities, and your economic vision.’  But at the same time, I say, I’m watching what you are trying to do and I think there are things that are interesting in the Turkish approach, which for the first time in the last decade has started to shift towards the south and the east, opening almost fifty embassies in Africa, and having a new relationship with China.  That is just huge.
So it might be that they are accepting the rules, and understanding that there is a shift towards the east.  There’s a change in Turkey’s positioning vis-a-vis the EU – and now we understand that this was very smart - they used the EU against their own army.  But that doesn’t mean that they were obsessed with the west.  They were trying to find a way to confront the Turkish army with their own contradictions – “you are talking about a secular state but then you want a secular military state, and we want a secular state which is in tune with the requirements of the EU.”  So they simultaneously use the EU against the army and meanwhile, they shift towards the south and the east. That’s interesting.
I don’t like this vision that Turkey is successful because it is as successful as the western powers in economic terms. But I do think they are trying to find a new space in the multi-polar world, and this is what I am advocating.  I don’t think that Muslims have an alternative model. An ‘Islamic economy’ or ‘Islamic finance’ doesn’t mean anything to me. But I do think that in the multi-polar world, it is time to find new partners, to find a new balance in the economic order.  And this could help you to find an alternative way forward. The way that Turkey, for example, is now very close to Egypt, and they are dealing with Malaysia and Indonesia on new terms.  We don’t talk a lot about Indonesia but they are a very important power in the region.  So I think we still have to assess and analyse these dynamics.
H.McR: Many of the developments this summer in the countries of the Arab Awakening spoke to the concerns raised in your book.  Take developments in Tunisia, such as the set-backs and delays in constitution-drafting.  Do you see this as a reversal, the sign that the revolutions are derailing?  Who will the constitutions of Tunisia, Egypt and Libya speak to and who will they speak for?
TR: Yes, the drafting of the constitutions is interesting and the discussions around them revealing in many ways.  I take it as a discussion of very important symbols revealing many different problems.  My take at the beginning was to warn that Tunisia might be the only successful country, the only one to justify us in talking about the spring, while all the other countries were less successful, if not failing. Now the point is that even in Tunisia it is not going to be easy, and this is where we have a problem.  The problem is that the constitution should have been and was an opportunity, exactly as Moncef Marzouki tried to do, to bring together the secularists and Islamists with so many of the same views. What was clear was that they would have been able to find agreement, because Rachid Ghannouchi and Ennahda went so far as to say that they were not going to insist on putting sharia into the constitution. They accepted that this wouldn’t happen, but that instead it would have been couched in terms which had an Islamic point of reference. 
Now the problem is that you have two trends that are in fact objective allies in destablising the whole process of this discussion: on the one side the very secularist elite that is doing everything to paint a picture that they are in danger from ‘the other side’ and on the other hand, the Salafis, who are constantly putting Ennahda on the spot by questioning their religious credentials – ‘who are you? What are you doing? You are just compromising everything.’  And the secularists are saying about Ennahda, ‘they are not clear because they want to please us and they want to please them.’
The secularists are playing a dirty game.  You can be tough on Ennahda’s policy and critical of some unclear statements which have been made, but they are playing games with this and pushing in such a direction is not helping the country to stabilise in such an important year. The constitution is after all talking about the vision for the future of the country. It is the opportunity to create a democracy. And in fact all the Islamists, that is the reformists not the Salafis, now they all say that they want a civil state, a civil state with Islamic reference points. They are not talking about an Islamic state, or sharia in the way this was once understood in the fight against the colonisers, or just afterwards in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s. They have changed on this. Now, this meant that there was room for agreement between the different trends. 
But not any more. It’s very difficult now because we have this new integration of the Salafis into the political landscape.  We have to ask questions – who is pushing them and who are these people, who in eight months in Egypt can say ‘democracy is against Islam’, and get 24% in the election.  If you read the Rand Corporation on who supported the Salafis in Egypt, what you learn is that up to 80 million dollars’ worth of support was poured into Egypt before the elections by organisations that are not state, they are very precise on this, but Qatari and Saudi organisations.  So it’s very worrying to see that they are getting the money and they are playing on all the symbols now – religious symbols pitted against your credentials for power, and the Islamists are being put into a situation where they can lose everything.  I wrote a piece in the New York Times which said, Winning might be the beginning of losing, because you might win but you are losing your credibility by being put in this situation of being constantly challenged on religious terms, where you are not improving anything, and of course it takes time to reform a society. 
So the question about the Salafi is an important question as I say in Arab Awakening, and have often  repeated since. Now I am really underlining the importance of this, because we really don’t have very good memories. Remember – the Taliban in Afghanistan were not at all politicised in the beginning. They were just on about education. And then they were pushed by the Saudi and the Americans to be against the Russian colonisation, and as a result they came to be politicised. (They are not exactly like the Salafi because the Salafi think that they need to be re-educated, Islamically-speaking, convinced that they have to follow the prophet in a very literalist way.) But they too were pushed, so that it’s very strange now to see the Salafis being very vocal, sometimes violent, and developing this element now of Salafi jihadists. In fact these jihadists are acting against the interests of every single country – in Tunisia, in Egypt, now all of a sudden in north Mali.
So I would say that it is strange to see the allies of the west pushing such trends that are against the interests of the country, and at the same time, here we all are, celebrating democracy. The problem with Salafis is that they are religiously sincere and politically naïve.  And they allow themselves to be supported by people who have no religious sincerity but who are politically very smart, especially when it comes to their economic interests.
RB: Can we return to our opening question about ‘Islamic democratic secularism’ – a concept that I  first heard about from Egyptian thinker and activist, Heba Raouf Ezzat, who you cite in your book. What she was promoting was very much an anticipation of the combination of non-violence and pluralism and its unforgettable impact on the movement in Tahrir Square.  Is there any chance of that impulse of unity across divisions surviving and being strengthened in this crisis?
TR: The way it was expressed in terms of solidarity in the first phase of the massive demonstrations is not going to survive for long: the people who were thinking this way got perhaps 2, 3, 5% of the votes.  They were marginalised. But still, I think many thinkers and activists, even in the Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood, and the people who left the Muslim Brotherhood to follow Abou el-Fatouh, these people do have an understanding that the relationship between religion and the state must be re-thought and re-assessed.  They’re not going to use the concept of secularism in any straightforward way, because the concept of secularism is still far too loaded in that part of the world.  When Erdogan went there and said ‘don’t be scared of secularists’ the Muslim Brotherhood rejected that outright. 
But in fact without using the term, this is exactly what they are doing.  They are moving towards the very essence of talking about the ‘civil state’ and that is exactly what we are talking about here.  For years they have been talking about civil society, now they have progressed as far as thinking about the civil state.  The ‘civil state’ is what I speak about in the book when I speak about ‘ethics in politics’, which is acknowledging the fact there are two authorities, two powers, two ways of influencing power, and that ethics should inspire the political vision of what is good governance, but that you cannot have an imposition of religion.  I think politics is evolving in that direction, even within segments of Islamism.
RB: Is the dialogue across national borders also important, between Muslims in Europe and in the Middle East, for example?
TR: Yes, there are ongoing discussions about this too.  The problem with what we call the ‘Arab spring’ is that these are very nationalistic experiences.  Tunisians are concerned with Tunisia, Egyptians concerned with Egypt and so on. 
But still I have been invited I don’t know how many times to Turkey, where Turkey has been following very quickly in the footsteps of what is sometimes referred to as the movement of cyber-dissidents. They have been training young people and also encouraging them to come into contact with western Muslims.  What they ask me to talk about is precisely secular democracy and Muslim democracy – this, of course, is what the Turkish government also needs to be selling to the young Islamists in the Arab countries. It is this kind of understanding that they also share with someone like Anwar Ibrahim in Malaysia.  So you can see the connections beginning to form. If in the very near future Anwar Ibrahim succeeds in Malaysia, he is positioned as very close to the Turkish experience, and many in the Muslim Brotherhood and Ennahda have a similar perspective. So there are important relationships across national boundaries.
Remember, after all, that the name of the AKP in Turkey came from Morocco: after a meeting with the people in Morocco they started using the same name. So there are deep connections, and also a great interest in our experience in the west. This is something that they are listening to – very much so – you cannot imagine how much the books that I am writing are sought after by people in Turkey, who are eager to hear what I am saying about our experience of authority, power and the secular system. So this is very important, and it works especially well because I am coming from this background – that is also important. 

viernes, 23 de noviembre de 2012

Why I as a Muslim Woman Don't Wear a Headscarf

Me ha parecido interesante este articulo de la alemana de origen sirio Lamya Kadoor publicado en Qantara.de sobre el uso del velo. 
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Does the Koran really demand that women wear headscarves? Or is it mainly older men who claim they can decide how women should dress – with no theological foundation whatsoever? For the Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor, there is no question about it: the headscarf is obsolete.

Lamya Kaddor (photo: picture alliance/ZB)

German Islam scholar Lamya Kaddor: "If God had required a special head covering, would He not have said so explicitly?"
If I as a Muslim woman living in Germany ask myself whether I should wear a headscarf or not, that gives rise to the question of whether the additional head-covering called for in the Koran (33:59) still fulfils its original purpose of protecting women from male desire. My answer is: no. In contemporary Germany such covering-up no longer serves that purpose. 

It is even more likely to bring about the opposite of what God intended by exposing wearers of headscarves to discrimination. Today the intended protection against 'annoyances' is provided by a well-functioning legal system rather than by adherence to social rules from the past. A free state based on the rule of law protects a woman, for example by punishing attacks on her person.

This protection may be primarily concerned with bodily integrity, but people in a modern state are more than ever responsible for themselves with regard to the freedoms accorded – including in the realm of moral integrity. Covering my head cannot relieve me of that responsibility. I cannot hide myself behind a little piece of cloth. A free and democratic state grants rights and also imposes responsibilities. In such circumstances I can behave honourably with and without a veil or head-scarf – or not, as the case may be. 

A 'fashion accessory' from Koranic times?

If this argument is accepted, one can also abandon the Koranic demand for additional covering, directed towards women in Early Arabic tribal society. What would still initially remain is the khimâr, the head covering that was part of women's clothing at that time. The Koran neither speaks against nor in any way emphasises that form of covering. God uses the word only once in the Koran (24:31). That occurs in passing in connection with a call for moral behaviour. So there is no Koranic emphasis on such head covering.

However, if God had required a special head covering, would He not have said so explicitly? Thekhimâr thus merely constitutes a 'fashion accessory' according to the spirit of that age. Viewed rationally, functions consciously or unconsciously associated with head coverings across the course of history – such as protection against sand or evil influences – are all superannuated today and have lost their validity. People's powers of imagination have changed.

Female students with and without headscarf (photo: picture-alliance/dpa)

"Sura 24:30-31 calls on both men and women to behave chastely, but exegesis of the Koran up to the present day only puts the emphasis on chaste behaviour for women," Kaddor writes
In the Germany of the twenty-first century – at the very latest – women's hairstyles are no longer per se an erotic stimulus. The sight of head-hair no longer provokes sexual fantasies and thus immoral behaviour – except perhaps among fetishists. When you walk along a city's pedestrian precincts no one turns to look at you because of your hair. Only if you dress provocatively or in a particularly original way, and behave accordingly, do you attract some attention. 

In addition, this isn't a male world that still thinks as it did a thousand or more years ago. Thanks to the achievements of a free and democratic state, and thanks to the prevalent understanding of relations between the sexes, you no longer necessarily need a head covering in order to live morally. The headscarf has become obsolete.

Misogyny by Islamic scholars

Today's orthodox comprehension of the obligation to wear a head covering is primarily based on the interpretations of scholars who lived several generations after the Prophet Mohammed. One can follow their judgements but they are not sacrosanct. As human beings all scholars are fallible. Conservative and fundamentalist circles constantly emphasise that our behaviour should follow the Koran and the Prophet. Their spokesmen maintain that this directly accords with what was laid down during the Prophet's lifetime and the initial period of Islam.

Koran (photo: fotolia/lapas 77)

The depiction of the headscarf as a unifying element within the Muslim community is not well founded, Kaddor argues
However in reality this view is mainly based on the ideas of scholars who lived some 600 (!) years later – such people as Ibn Qudâma (d. 1223), Ibn Taymîya (d. 1328), or the latter's pupil Ibn Qayyim al-Jawzîya (d. 1350). Bearing in mind the patriarchal social structures of that time, it is unsurprising that interpretations of sources concerning relations between the sexes were usually unfavourable for women – even though that contradicts a striving (to be found throughout the Koran) towards improving women's situation. 

That tendency is even less surprising if one recalls the misogyny demonstrated by many scholars throughout the history of Islam. Linking shame and a head covering is by no means as self-evident as it seems. Sura 24:30-31 calls on both men and women to behave chastely, but exegesis of the Koran up to the present day only puts the emphasis on chaste behaviour for women.

No political symbol

Nevertheless, the Koranic injunction to dress in a way that is generally demure remains a religious demand, to be fulfilled by wearing 'appropriate' clothing. A woman believer sees this as signifying that all those parts of the female body which nowadays excite the idea of possible sexual contact should continue to be 'properly' concealed beneath the kind of clothing usual today. What is entailed in 'proper', 'appropriate', or 'decent' is left to the reasonableness of every mature woman citizen, since at present there are no specific directives based on Islamic sources.

In prevalent practice, it is mostly older men – learned or unlearned – who assume the right to determine how a woman should appear, but there is no theological or sociological foundation for this. A similar situation prevails regarding evaluation of the headscarf as a token of Islamic faith. Such a function cannot be demonstrated in the history of Islam. 

The depiction of the headscarf as a unifying element within the Muslim community is not well founded either. In addition, its function as a political symbol, so frequently evoked in public discussions today, also constitutes a historically unfounded inflation of the significance of this item of clothing. This has occurred only in recent decades, as an element in the opposition to Western influences within the Islamic world.


martes, 20 de noviembre de 2012

Gaza


Al introducir la palabra "Gaza" en Google lo único que aparece son imágenes y más imágenes de muerte, destrucción y desesperación. No me queda nada más que decir sobre este tema, las imágenes hablan por si solas.. No quiero ni puedo ver más esos rostros de niños e inocentes llenos de dolor ni entender a que está esperando el mundo para darse cuenta de la masacre que está ocurriendo y quien es el verdadero culpable de todo ello. 
 

domingo, 11 de noviembre de 2012

El Dictador

El Dictador es la ultima, hasta ahora, colaboración entre el director Larry Charles y el guionista y actor Sacha Baron Cohen, tras haber perpetrado primero Borat, y posteriormente Brüno. En esta ocasión acudimos a la presentación de un nuevo personaje creado por Sacha, el dictador de la República de Wadiya, Aladeen, una especie de mezcla entre diversos dictadores de esta época, desde Kim Jong-il, a Gaddafi y Fidel Castro, pero de la forma más parodica posible.
Y es que desde el inicio de la película vemos que esta pretende reírse de todo lo que le pille por medio, aparte de provocar sin parar, como ya pudimos ver en toda la campaña de marketing que Sacha Baron Cohen puso en marcha desde hace meses para promocionar la película, alcanzando su punto álgido sin duda en la ceremonia de los Oscar, cuando se presentó disfrazado de Aladeen en la alfombra roja, portando una urna donde supuestamente se encontraban los restos mortales del dictador norcoreano Kim Jong-il.
El personaje de Aladeen es realmente genial. Logra mostrar de forma satírica todas las barbaridades y excentricidades de este tipo de tiranos, y con las cuales en otro contexto seguramente nos escandalizaríamos, pero no aquí, donde no puedes parar de reír a lo largo de toda la película. Crear unos Juegos Olímpicos a medida, donde o gana o mata al rival, unos Globos de Oro de Wadiya, el que sea considerado el cirujano jefe de Wadiya, etc… no son más que exageraciones obvias de lo que son este tipo de personajes, pero que en el fondo esconden más verdad de la que puede aparentar.
Porque a pesar de que en un principio podemos pensar que El Dictador pretende reírse, parodiar y criticar a los diversos dictadores repartidos por el mundo, no es del todo así. Lo hace, si, pero al mismo tiempo nos hace ver una verdad muy incomoda, y es que a veces no hay tanta diferencia entre algunos dictadores a los que el mundo occidental califica de tiranos, y los gobernantes de estos países occidentales, que por mucho que maquillen las situaciones, cometen las mismas barbaridades.
A pesar de que viendo el inicio de la película, pudiésemos pensar que durante todo el metraje íbamos a ver a Aladeen ejerciendo de dictador, no es así, y los momentos más interesantes de la película son quizás en los que tenemos que ver como se desenvuelve en una cultura radicalmente distinta, y sobretodo, sin tener ninguno de los privilegios que tenia desde que nació.
Un aspecto curioso a destacar sin duda de la película, es que todas las escenas desarrolladas en el Palacio de Aladeen fueron rodadas en la sevillana Plaza de España, añadiendo solo algunos detalles para que pareciera un palacio de estilo oriental. Destacar también sin duda su banda sonora, repleta de temas bastante famosos, versionados al árabe (o un intento de ello), destacando especialmente el ‘Everybody Hurts’ de R.E.M.
En definitiva, no estamos ante la mejor comedia de la historia, para nada, y de hecho es una comedia que a mucha gente quizás pueda no gustarle, ya que la provocación en algunos momentos se torna, quizás excesiva, por ejemplo en sus comentarios misóginos. En mi caso he sabido situarlo en su contexto, pero puedo entender que para alguna gente no sea así y algunos comentarios pueden llegar a herir sensibilidades. Por lo demás, hay situaciones en las que es prácticamente imposible no reírse, y todo ello a pesar de un doblaje que seguro que esta (como es lógico) muy por debajo de la versión original.
En definitiva, se trata de una película para pasar un buen rato, y poco más. No os molestéis en buscar mucho más de eso porque no vale la pena. Aunque sí que hay que mencionar su genial final, donde además de hacer una áspera critica a los sistemas de gobierno occidentales, por no decir que está criticando abiertamentea a la "democracia" americana, Aladeen descubre que la mujer con la que se acaba de casar es.. judía!!! Mazal tov!!



domingo, 28 de octubre de 2012

Oh, Jerusalén!


!!Jerusalén, Jerusalén, que matas a los profetas, y apedreas a los que te son enviados!! !Cuántas veces quise juntar a tus hijos, como la gallina junta sus polluelos debajo de las alas, y no quisiste!
He aquí vuestra casa os es dejada desierta.
Porque os digo que desde ahora no me veréis, hasta que digáis: Bendito el que viene en el nombre del Señor.
(Mateo 23:37-39)
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Como resulta que ahora me propongo ser "experta" en Relaciones Euromediterránia, aquí empieza la primera de las lecturas de la bibliografia del máster. "Oh, Jerusalén" de Dominique Lapierre y Larry Collins, que seguramente debía haber leído antes, cosa que no hice. Pero nunca es tarde, y espero que la sensación que me ha producido al leer este libro sobre un conflicto del que me considero una verdadera apasionada sea un buen presagio para esta nueva etapa que va a comenzar.
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"Aquella tarde de mayo de 1948, el lamento de las gaitas se extendió por última vez en el laberinto de viejas callejuelas. Anunciaba la salida de los soldados británicos que habían ocupado la vieja ciudad de Jerusalén. Impasibles, marchaban silenciosos en grupos de ocho o diez, y el martilleo de sus borceguíes punteaba la melodía. Encuadrando a cada grupo, dos hombres, metralleta en mano, vigilaban atentamente las fachadas y terrazas del universo hostil que atravesaban. En las ventanas o en los umbrales de las sinagogas y escuelas religiosas de la calle de los judíos, los viejos de luengas barbas contemplaban el desfile. Durante tres mil años, sus antepasados habían visto partir a muchos otros ocupantes: asirios, babilonios, persas, romanos, cruzados, árabes y turcos. Hoy les tocaba el turno, a los militares británicos, de abandonar aquellas murallas tras un triste reinado de treinta años. Pálidos y encorvados por una existencia dedicada por completo al estudio, aquellos ancianos encarnaban la perennidad de la presencia judía en Jerusalén. Rabinos, talmudistas o doctores de la ley, parcela casi olvidada de la comunidad dispersa, habían sobrevivido de siglo en siglo. Habían santificado el día del sábado y regulado cada acto de sus pobres vidas según los preceptos sagrados. Se habían aprendido de memoria los versículos de la Torá y copiado de nuevo cuidadosamente los textos del Talmud, que se transmitían de generación en generación. Cada día acudían a postrarse ante el Muro de las Lamentaciones, implorando al dios de Abraham que hiciera regresar a su pueblo a esta tierra de la que había sido expulsado. Nunca este día pareció más próximo. "


martes, 23 de octubre de 2012

Escribió Khalil Gibrán sobre el amor..

" Dijo Almitra: - Háblanos del Amor.
Y él levantó la cabeza, miró a la gente y una quietud descendió sobre todos. Entonces, dijo con gran voz:
- Cuando el amor os llame, seguidlo. Y cuando su camino sea duro y difícil. Y cuando sus alas os envuelvan, entregaos. Aunque la espada entre ellas escondida os hiriera. Y cuando os hable, creed en él. Aunque su voz destroce vuestros sueños, tal cómo el viento norte devasta los jardines. Porque, así como el amor os corona, así os crucifica. Así como os acrece, así os poda. Así como asciende a lo más alto y acaricia vuestras más tiernas ramas, que se estremecen bajo el sol, así descenderá hasta vuestras raíces y las sacudirá en un abrazo con la tierra.
Como trigo en gavillas él os une a vosotros mismos. Os desgarra para desnudaros. Os cierne, para libraros de vuestras coberturas. Os pulveriza hasta volveros blancos.. Os amasa, hasta que estéis flexibles y dóciles. Y os asigna luego a su fuego sagrado, para que podáis convertiros en sagrado pan para la fiesta sagrada de Dios. Todo esto hará el amor en vosotros para que podáis conocer los secretos de vuestro corazón y convertiros, por ese conocimiento, en un fragmento del corazón de la Vida.
Pero si, en vuestro miedo, buscareis solamente la paz y el placer del amor, entonces, es mejor que cubráis vuestra desnudez y os alejéis de sus umbrales. Hacia un mundo sin primaveras donde reiréis, pero no con toda vuestra risa, y lloraréis, pero no con todas vuestras lágrimas. El amor no da nada más a sí mismo y no toma nada más que de sí mismo. El amor no posee ni es poseído. Porque el amor es suficiente para el amor.
Cuando améis no debéis decir: «Dios está en mi corazón», sino más bien: «Yo estoy en el corazón de Dios.»
Y pensad que no podéis dirigir el curso del amor porque él si os encuentra dignos, dirigirá vuestro curso. El amor no tiene otro deseo que el de realizarse. Pero, si amáis y debe la necesidad tener deseos, que vuestros deseos sean éstos:
Fundirse y ser como un arroyo que canta su melodía a la noche. Saber del dolor de la demasiada ternura. Ser herido por nuestro propio conocimiento del amor. Y sangrar voluntaria y alegremente. Despertarse al amanecer con un alado corazón y dar gracias por otro día de amor. Descansar al mediodía y meditar el éxtasis de amar. Volver al hogar con gratitud en el atardecer.. Y dormir con una plegaria por el amado en el corazón y una canción de alabanza en los labios.. "
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Y sobre el matrimonio..
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" Entonces, Almitra habló otra vez: - ¿Qué nos diréis sobre el Matrimonio, Maestro?
Y él respondió, diciendo:
- Nacisteis juntos y juntos para siempre. Estaréis juntos cuando las alas blancas de la muerte esparzan vuestros días. Sí; estaréis juntos aun en la memoria silenciosa de Dios.
Pero dejad que haya espacios en vuestra cercanía.
Y dejad que los vientos del cielo dancen entre vosotros.
Amaos el uno al otro, pero no hagáis del amor una atadura.
Que sea, más bien, un mar movible entre las costas de vuestras almas.
Llenaos uno al otro vuestras copas, pero no bebáis de una sola copa.
Daos el uno al otro de vuestro pan, pero no comáis del mismo trozo.
Cantad y bailad juntos y estad alegres, pero que cada uno de vosotros sea independiente..
Las cuerdas de un laúd están solas, aunque tiemblen con la misma música.
Dad vuestro corazón, pero no para que vuestro compañero lo tenga.
Porque sólo la mano de la Vida puede contener los corazones.
Y estad juntos, pero no demasiado juntos. Porque los pilares del templo están aparte. Y, ni el roble crece bajo la sombra del ciprés ni el ciprés bajo la del roble. "
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KHALIL GIBRÁN, "El profeta"



lunes, 22 de octubre de 2012

La Caída de los Gigantes

Como comentaba ayer mismo, mi "empacho" de Ken Follett tambien se debe a que estos días he estado leyendo "La caída de los gigantes", la primera parte de su nueva trilogía. No se si de momento tendré tiempo de leer la segunda, "El invierno del mundo", pero de lo que estoy segura es que tendrá un rinconcito en mi wishlist.
Ken Follet regresa con la trilogía The Century, donde combina la ambientación épica y el drama humano, sello distintivo en sus obras, a una escala nunca antes concebida, ni siquiera por él.
Con la misma habilidad que en sus best sellers ambientados en la Edad Media, en The Century, sigue los destinos entrelazados de tres generaciones de cinco familias: una galesa, una inglesa, una rusa, una alemana y otra estadounidense.
La primera novela, La caída de los gigantes, está enmarcada en los cruciales acontecimientos de la Primera Guerra Mundial y la Revolución Rusa. La siguiente se centra en la Segunda Guerra Mundial y la tercera, en la Guerra Fría.
The Century narra en esencia el siglo XX y permite contemplar en primera persona una de las épocas más convulsas, violentas y determinantes de la historia.
Una trama épica y apasionante, desde Washington hasta San Petersburgo, del peligro y oscuridad de las minas de carbón a los destellos de las lámparas de las mansiones de la aristocracia. La escala inicial de este viaje a lo largo del siglo XX, donde conocemos a la primera generación de los protagonistas:
- Los Williams. Mineros de carbón en Gales. David es un hombre religioso, miembro activo del sindicato minero, estricto y amante de su familia. Billy y Ethel, sus hijos, lucharán con éxito por sus derechos y por la emancipación de la clase obrera y de las mujeres.
- Los Fitzherbert. Aristócratas ingleses. El conde Fitzherbert, dueño de las minas y heredero de la gran mansión Ty Gwyn, está casado con una princesa rusa, Elizaveta, elitista y cruel. Lady Maud Fitzherbert es la hermana del conde y muy distinta de él. De ideas avanzadas, cree en la democracia y el sufragio universal.
- Los Kostin. Los hermanos rusos Grigori y Leonid no pueden ser más opuestos. Grigori es serio y trabajador; Leonid, por el contrario, un libertino. Pero a ambos les une una infancia cruel.
- Los Ulrich. Aristócratas alemanes muy bien relacionados. Robert trabaja en el servicio de inteligencia del Estado Mayor austríaco.
- Los Dewar. Miembros de la alta sociedad estadounidense. Gus Dewar, hijo del senador Cameron Dewar, es asesor del presidente Wilson. 
Todos ellos se entremezclan de una manera dinámica y apasionante en esta historia que nos ayuda  a conocer un poco más sobre una de las épocas más convulsas que ha vivido nuestro planeta, y de la que desgraciadamente las siguientes generaciones no aprendieron y tuvieron que volver a repetir.

 

domingo, 21 de octubre de 2012

Empacho de Follett


Sorprendentemente en estas últimas semanas me he inmerso por completo en la vida y obra del novelista galés Ken Follett. Primero engullendo de una sentada la mini-serie de 8 capítulos sobre "Los Pilares de la Tierra" que emitió Cuatro hace algun tiempo y que aún no había tenido tiempo de ver. Aunque recuerdo que la novela se me hizo tremendamente larga y pesada en su momento (1000 páginas que tardé todo un verano en leer!), la serie es sin duda una super producción muy bien lograda que engancha des del primer momento y te deja con ganas de más. Por eso ya me estoy mordiendo las uñas esperando que la misma cadena emita la segunda parte, "Un mundo sin fin", recientemente estrenada en USA pero sin fecha todavía en España a pesar de que la cadena ya está anunciando su estreno a bombo y platillo. 


 
 Trailer "Los Pilares de la Tierra"


Trailer "Un Mundo Sin Fin"
 

domingo, 14 de octubre de 2012

Who's Afraid of Shariah?

-by Sumbul Ali-Karamali
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Hasn't the whole notion of shariah in America gotten a bit out of control? No, it hasn't -- it's gotten hugely, obscenely, ignorantly out of control. How many of those anti-Islam protesters holding "NO SHARIA LAW" signs (as if anyone were advocating shariah law in the U.S.) actually know what the word means? I'd say, oh, none. Roughly.
Shariah (also spelled shari'ah or sharia or shari'a) is the Arabic word for "the road to the watering place." In a religious context, it means "the righteous path." Loosely, it can mean simply, "Islam."
There are six principles of shariah. They are derived from the Qur'an, which Muslims believe is the word of God. All Islamic religious rules must be in line with these six principles of shariah.
Aha! The six principles must be about killing infidels, veiling women, stoning people for adultery, honor killings and female genital cutting, right? Nope.
Here they are, the six principles of shariah:
1. The right to the protection of life.
2. The right to the protection of family.
3. The right to the protection of education.
4. The right to the protection of religion.
5. The right to the protection of property (access to resources).
6. The right to the protection of human dignity.
Well, bless me, as a pledge-of-allegiance-reciting, California-raised Muslim girl, these six principles sound a lot like those espoused in my very own Constitution of the United States. Except that these were developed over a thousand years ago.
This is the core of shariah -- these six principles. The term "shariah law" is a misnomer, because shariah is not law, but a set of principles. To Muslims, it's the general term for "the way of God."
But how do we know what the way of God is? Early Muslims looked to the Qur'an and the words of the Prophet Muhammad to figure this out. They filled books of interpretive writings (called fiqh) about how to act in accordance with the way of God. They rarely agreed -- the fiqh is not just one rule, but many differing opinions and contradictory rules and scholarly debates.
Sometimes, shariah also refers to the whole body of Islamic texts, which includes the Qur'an, the sayings of the Prophet, and the books of interpretive literature written by medieval Muslim scholars. The first two are considered divine. The interpretive literature, the fiqh, is not.
The fiqh was meant to develop and change according to the time and place -- it has internal methodologies for that to happen. It is not static, but flexible. No religion gets to be 1400 years old and the second largest in the world unless it's flexible and adaptable.
The Qur'an is old. The fiqh books of jurisprudence are old. To modern eyes, they can look just as outdated as other ancient texts, including the Bible and Torah. That's why, just like the Bible and the Torah, the Islamic texts must be read in their historical context.
Assuming all Muslims follow medieval Islamic rules today is like assuming that all Catholics follow 9th century canon law. Islam, like Christianity, has changed many times over the centuries, and it continues to change. Focusing only on the nutcases who advocate a return to medieval times is ignoring the vast majority of modern Muslims.
For example, stoning for adultery is a punishment that appears in fiqh, as well as early Judaic law. But it does not appear in the Qur'an. In Islam, therefore, stoning was a result of cultural norms imposed on the religious texts. Moreover, in the fiqh, though the punishment for adultery was stoning, adultery was made such a fantastically difficult crime to prove that the punishment was impossible to apply. Historically, stoning was very rarely implemented in the Islamic world, which is ironic, since today the Saudi and Iranian governments apply it as though they'd never heard of the strict Islamic constraints on it.
The vast majority of Muslims today do not believe in stoning people for adultery, and many are working hard to eradicate it. Stoning is horrific and has no place in our world. The miniscule percentage of Muslims who advocate it are imposing the medieval penalty while ignoring all the myriad limitations meant to make it inapplicable.
As for other scary stories attributed to shari'a, like honor killings, veiling of women, and female genital cutting, these are cultural practices and not Islamic. They are practiced by non-Muslims of certain cultures as well as Muslims.
Shari'a is a set of religious principles and is not the law of the land anywhere in the world. The 50-some Muslim-majority countries are all constitutional states and nearly all of them have civil codes (many of these based on the French system). Being Muslim does not require a governmental imposition of something called "shari'a law," any more than being a Christian requires the implementation of "Biblical law" (though there are, of course, a tiny minority of both Christians and Muslims who do advocate such things, including Sarah Palin).
As for Islam being a political system, there is nothing in the Qur'an about an "Islamic state," and the Prophet himself never tried to implement an "Islamic state," despite hysterical accusations to the contrary. Those under his leadership practiced a variety of religions.
Traditionally, in the Islamic world, the institutions that governed were always separate from the institutions that developed religion. In fact, they often checked and balanced one another. Although no civilization has been free from all conflict, every Islamic empire was a multi-religious, multicultural empire, in which religious minorities were governed by their own laws.
The term "Islam as a religion and a state" really only became popular in the 1920s, as a reaction to Western colonization of the Muslim world. In fact, Islam contains plenty of concepts consistent with modern democracy -- for example, shura (consultation) and aqd (a contract between the governed and the governing). In other words, Muslims can be perfectly comfortable in America, following state and federal laws.
The Qur'an contains many verses advocating religious tolerance, too, though the anti-Islam protesters won't believe it. The Qur'an says that: God could have made everyone into one people, but elected not to (11:118); God made us into different nations and tribes so that we can learn from one another (49:13); there is no compulsion in religion (2:256); and that we should say, "to you your religion, to me mine" (109:6).
The only verses about fighting in the Qur'an refer specifically to the polytheistic Arab tribes who were trying to kill the Prophet in the 7th century. So the Islamophobes who look in the Qur'an for the fighting verses and assume that these verses refer to them personally are simply being narcissistic. Contrary to counting Jews and Christians as "infidels," the Qur'an repeatedly commands particular respect of Jews and Christians. It is established in Islam that you don't need to be Muslim to go to heaven.
Repeating a lie over and over again doesn't make it true; but it certainly results in people believing the lie. That's what the Islam-haters are counting on. That, and the ignorance about Islamic tenets.
So the best thing to do is find out what Islam really is about. Talk to a Muslim in person. Read an introduction to Islam (try a fun one like mine). Read Loonwatch to read about the holes in the anti-Islamic rhetoric. Or take a look at the University of Georgia's informational website on Islam, for some quick answers and further reading. If you read the anti-Islam fear-mongering websites, all you'll learn will be tall tales.
Bigotry may be a human tendency, but America has never stood for bigotry. I believe in an America that stands for pluralism and multicultural understanding. The hysteria and hate toward Muslims - resulting in several acts of violence against Muslims just this week, such as a stabbing and arson - is un-American. We must stop it, and the first step is understanding and education.
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Sumbul Ali-Karamali is an attorney with an additional degree in Islamic law, as well as the author of "The Muslim Next Door: the Qur'an, the Media, and that Veil Thing."