The following comment was submitted online for Thomas L. Friedman's "Up With Egypt":
Tom gets it right this time apart from the fact that he undermines Arab/Muslim solidarity. When BouAzizi set himself on fire in despair, his legacy eventually ignited the 'Jasmine Revolution' of Tunisia which has then toppled their President Ben Ali. Arabs everywhere followed the revolution (then, in the making) with much enthusiasm and aspiration to follow suit. After all, Arabs have been suffering for decades under quiet similar dictatorships and oppressive regimes and therefore demand, more or less, the same kind of freedom, dignity and liberty.
The 'dominoes effect' takes place and further spreads the 'Jasmine scent' to other Arab countries, we saw protests in Jordan, Yemen, Lebanon, Sudan, and even Saudi Arabia (50 protested in Jeddah angered by repeated catastrophe from rain and floods) - were quickly contained by governments. The Tunisian heros fueled bravery and abolished fear, Arabs became fearless for the first time and their governments became fearful. People demanded their long-lost rights with roaring voices that have always been suppressed. Egypt's uprising took us all by surprise, have quickly developed and was embraced wholeheartedly by all Arabs with the same kind of enthuse and thrill. "We were Tunisians last week, we are all Egyptians now" defined the revolutionary mode of Arabs.
Arabs have a sense of belonging and a fiery passion for solidarity that has long been silenced and immobilized by the forceful nature of power dynamics in the Middle East: namely, the US vested interests to ensure stability and security for Israel and oil, and the Arab-ally "puppet leaders" backed by the US.
More specifically, Tom gets this bit wrong: "Egyptians are not asking for Palestine or for Allah. They are asking for the keys to their own future, which this regime took away from them." --Arabs/Muslims will always ask for Allah (albeit not as a tool for exploitation but for pursuing God-given rights of liberal democracy values and beyond), they will always fight for Palestine and they will always say "down down" to the US for as long as its unconditional support for brutal Israel is sustained.
The Following comment was published online for Thomas L. Friedman’s "Bibi and Barack":
Just a reminder and to put things into perspective, Palestine was a full-fledged state up to 1948, shortly after the world wars, the Balfour declaration has instigated a UN-lead partition of Palestine to include Israel as a state, and since the UN emerged as an international institution that dictates the recognition (and therefore existence) of states, Palestine was not listed as a state. The dynamics of the Mideast at the time has orchestrated a Britain-led 'mapping' of the region to fit its colonial aspirations and to ensure the creation of the state of Israel and the advancement of its interests. Therefore, loss of Palestinian lands has boldly continued through 2005. Such forceful 'eating-up' of lands by Israeli forces has been backed (militarily, financially and perhaps ideologically) by its US ally, and British ally. During those six decades, the US-ally Mideast countries' leaders were forced through vested interest with the US (and sometimes Israel) to maintain a status quo, this however was not the Arab streets' view. Tom explains that things have changed since these streets of Arab states have finally sparked an Arab Spring, which he seems to suggest has costed Israel the loss of its ME allies: Egypt, Turkey and Iran. Today, Israel and the US no longer have a bargaining power to expand their interests solely, in stead, they must finally come to terms to recognize their opponents in the ME and consider vested interests. Mr. Obama will create another rhetorical speech like the one he inaugurated in Egypt a few months before it celebrated its "Tahrir" moment. With Mahmoud Abbas and Tom writing about it in NYT, he will most likely call on the UN to recognize a state of Palestine, to its 1967 borders. Although this will not be embraced by Israeli-Jewish hard-liners, it will equally not be embraced by Arab-Muslim hard-liners. This will not appease the general public of the Arab world who aspire to achieve at least UN partition borders or even before. The state Palestine of 1948 has completely been demolished, economically and socially. For six decades, Israeli forces have exercised apartheid, use of force and (silenced) genocide which breaches the universal declaration of human rights, to which the international community has given a blind eye. In real life, this means 2-3 generations of Palestine have suffered greatly and created a generation that is not well-enough to rise. The plea for international assistance together with the resistance of the Palestinians were met by further injustice and violence that has not been legitimate. Therefore, the trust in progressing the peace process has greatly been undermined, if not irreversibly damaged. The creation of the state of Palestine is a good step for both Palestine and Israel. However, this will not guarantee peace nor the alleviation of injustice done to Palestinian nor will it mean that stability will be stroked. It will eventually help economic development, civil engagement, and therefore empowerment of political parties and state-building--without which a peace process is bound to failure. That is the last thing the US and Israel want, especially with the Arab Spring continuing to spread across the region, and it will not stop until it reaches the streets of Palestine. For the first time, the US receives a good wake-up call and Israel is forced to take the peace process most seriously.
The following comment (NYT Picks) was published online for Thomas L. Friedman's "Out of Touch, Out of Time":
What heart-warming and reviving stories from Tahrir Square! One could only imagine how proud these millions of Egyptians are these days, and as the world awaits to celebrate their victory, it is important to remind of the many martyrs and sacrifices that the Egyptian heros have given for the pursuit of freedom. Therefore, no one should seize that away from them! No intervention is acceptable in the name of support, peaceful transition, or stability -- Not from Israel, not from Saudi Arabia and certainly not from the US.
Let us be straightforward, no one is 'out of touch or time' here, Mubarak is in fact very in-touch and he is merely standing his ground, illustrating how a Pharaoh legacy lives on. Not to mention the many parties with interest in him remaining in power and ensuring to pass it on to Suleiman, namely: the US and its allies: Saudi Arabia, Israel, Jordan, UAE, to name a few.
Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Obama has managed to refrain from taking sides meticulously since the inception of the Egyptian revolution. His language has been misty and mysterious --On the one hand, he cannot (boldly) support Mubarak and loose (more) credibility in the eyes of the world for not supporting democracy, a tool exploited in the last US intervention in the ME (Iraq). On the other hand, he could also not (boldly) support the Egyptian people and risk loosing the other dictator allies in the region, because the control of the region is too valuable to squander.
One cannot miss the perfect symmetry which characterizes both sets of speeches: always an hour apart and always in harmony, where Obama has mildly set the scene for Mubarak; for example: Mubarak not running in the next term in the second speech, and the importance of a 'peaceful transition' in the third speech. It is unclear as to what both Obama and Mubarak mean by a "peaceful transition" and how long such a transition would last, it seems that it may, after all, be five months.
Obama's use of the word "support" for a peaceful transition signaled a possible inevitable intervention, and his misleading phrase of "witnessing history" does not necessarily signal any possible stepping-down. In fact, a revolution in-the-making is in reality a history in-the-making.
By his vigorous statement that no Western intervention has ever been agreed to in the past, nor will it be acceptable today, Mubarak attempts to announce a 'rally around the flag,' which has clearly gone astray. In short, Mubarak has indeed 'rented' Egypt to the West over the past three decades, will he not do the same in this defining moment?
Attending such a large-scale conference in Oxford immediately puts one at an intellectual mode, especially in Oxford University’s prestigious Sheldonian Theatre. The Conference, organized by the Islamic Society (ISOC) of Oxford University, welcomed the audience with great speeches, including two by its current and former presidents, they instilled a sense of nostalgia from the Golden Era of Islam. I was particularly intrigued by an extraordinary mentioning that the black graduation attire, the formal dress code of Oxford University, is in fact rooted in the Islamic tradition, it imitates the jobba, and the square-shaped graduation hat symbolises the Qur’an, placed upon the heads of students whom as graduates are now worthy of such an act. It is perhaps also interesting to mention here, from a great Muslim Heritage work, that the word Bachelor degree comes from the Arabic word "بحق الرواية" that is granted to graduates. An astounding reminder of the richness and greatness of our Islamic tradition.
It was heart-warming to see a 'full house' in the beautiful huge hall all eagerly awaiting its inception; the conference was set to address: "What type of reform is needed, and how should this reform come into effect?" The two guest speakers were Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson and Professor Tarik Ramadan, although different in their approaches, both tackled the subject from somewhat different angles yet on unified stance which calls for ‘reform,’ or rather ‘renovation’ or ‘transformation,’ as better terms selected by the speakers as we shall see next.
Sheikh Hamza Yusuf started by describing the context of a timely and much-needed topic 'Islamic Reform', "in a post-industrialisation, post-modernism, post-western liberalism world that does not comprehend how physical activities of human behaviour havemetaphysical impacts". He called for contextualisation and internationalism when attempting to comprehend the Qur'an and also to perceive it as a 'living' text. "Sharia gets corrupted by being misunderstood," he states, and therefore shows the importance torectify, a better word than the Christian-term reform which implies restructuring when Islam does not need that. To rectify and to renovate "تجديد" is a constant need, he explains. He focused on how such an approach to rectify is in fact rooted in the Islamic tradition, if one is to look deeply into the literature, for example, ibn Taymiyyah has allowed a female to lead a prayer when she is the most qualified for it. In addition, he gave an example of jurisprudence and how it is not 'absolute', in fact, and also that very few are the verses in the Qur'an that shows an absolute meaning, there are many open spaces and flexibility in Islam. These are all people's effort to understand the rulings of God, most of the time these efforts are constrained by time and place, he added.
Elaborating on the entrenchment of reform in the Islamic tradition, Yusuf gave the example of Wahhabism as an attempt of reform, the statement "a reformed Islam is not Islam" could be true and also untrue depending on the situation, he stated that Islam by itself is a reform movement to the Abrahamic tradition. He emphasized though that people go through soul-searching and pursue reform but do not necessarily reach it, he gave an example of reformist, Irshad Munji, a lesbian Muslim, however, it is important to have a Sheikh and a teacher, he noted, without which one may be bound to go astray. He explains that there is a loss of authority today, many Muslims beseech fatwas from 'Google Sheikhs'! They do not have intellectual tools and often times go wrong. "Governments never do that out of their gracious well" said Hamza Yusuf, discouraging scholars to associate themselves with governments. He concluded with a recent example of reform at the Mardin Conference, which has revealed findings by Sheikh Abdullah bin Bayyah for the first time attributing the killings of non-believers to a misprint in textual sources that read "يعامل" as "يقاتل". It has been covered in the press and discussed inprogrammes. A misprint that costs hundreds of lives.
Professor Tarik Ramadan approached the topic from a somewhat different perspective in that he touched upon its philosophical and ontological underpinnings, and called fortransformational reform through institutional structures. He started by explaining the difference between jurisprudence (فقه) and the origins of jurisprudence (أصول الفقه), where the former changes with time, space and context, and the latter enables reform keeping the intention intact and faithful to its very essence; His new book, Radical Reform, questions the methodology by which we derive our rulings of Islamic law and jurisprudence.
Ramadan continues to emphasize the need for reform, not of Islam but of ourunderstanding of Islam and therefore reforming the Muslim minds. He makes it clear that by simply sticking to rigid text we can only achieve adaptive reform when what we need istransformative reform without touching the essence of the religion. There is what is changeable and what is not (ثوابت ومتغيرات), he invites Muslims to rethink the understanding (تجديد الفهم) of the text whilst keeping a faithful intention, not only in the heart but also the mind, actions and society as a whole. He explains that one must understand oneself and reform it (إصلاح النفس) to come to a sound mind to then reform, or rather revive, the society (إحياء وتجديد وإصلاح). There is no other way to be faithful towards humanity.
On the importance of spiritual learning and Sufism, Ramadan explains the meaning of Islamic law (الشريعة) and the framework as a way towards the source. He focuses on the heart-mind-society triangle, and how that is being faithful to the essence of Islamic law. He elaborates that Jihad is in fact the struggle and the strife to resist in order to reform, to resist what is inside to reform (تطبيق الشريعة في قلبك), then be able to deal with the outside world. Knowing the people and how they think and live, he explains, is an essential requirement for an Islamic ruler (مفتي), because it is important to consider the psychological side of a ruling (فتوة).
No body is happy with the state of the world today, Ramadan states, he calls upon Muslims to reform it towards more justice and dignity to humankind. There is a need (حاجة) and there is a necessity (ضرورة); Islam offers flexibility to adapt, and Muslims could contribute in reform via two tools (1) Knowing the principles and objectives of God and (2) Knowing oneself (ظلمنا أنفسنا). Radical reform has been entrenched in the history of Islam, examples include, Al-Jawzi, Al-Ghazali, Al-Shatri, and the school of thought about sought objectives (مدرسة المقاصد).
In a world with authority for the textual scholars (علماء النصوص), as opposed to contextual scholars (علماء الواقع), any attempts of reform are merely adaptation, for example, the economic crisis - embedded in a global system of non-Sharia compliance, cannot be reformed with a small window for Sharia compliance, he explains, this is but one step to reform though should not be considered an 'end' by itself or a reform. Alternatively, there is a need for a transformation of the entire system; Accordingly, there is a need to reduce the gap between science and text (العلماء والخبراء). He adds, a vision for the future must be coupled with applied ethics where both the text and the environment are brought together, and a shift in the 'centre of gravity' from the authority on text to that on context. For a contribution in reform, he explains, Muslims must take part in civic engagement and should not remain isolated in ghettos.
The floor was open for Q&A with more emphasis on the role of citizens and the methodology of participating via votes and rights in the shaping of governance. In addressing the question which this conference was set for, "What type of reform is needed, and how should this reform come into effect?," both guests brought important insights and provided intellectual challenges especially to the realm of mainstream textualauthority, this is especially true in countries that pose a threat to Islam, as was mentioned by Sheikh Hamza Yusuf in the beginning of his speech, these are: Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen.
I walked away with many jewels and buoyant hopes for a world with better engagement on the part of Muslims. However, I was left puzzled as to how to define my role and identify means by which I could, as a Muslim citizen in a Muslims-majority country, participate in shaping and making reform, when there is absolutely no participating mechanism established, especially not for women.