Thursday, August 30, 2007

Features from Common Ground News Service

Title: Syria first
Author: Alon Liel
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 30 August 2007
Word Count: 1007

Title: Assuage Assad
Author: Moshe Ma'oz
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 30 August 2007
Word Count: 861

Title: Families speak up
Author: Robi Damelin
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 30 August 2007
Word Count: 696

Each article is available in Arabic, English and Hebrew; I'd be happy to send you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and let me know by sending an email to:


Syria first

Alon Liel

TEL AVIV - Once again, the US peacemaking efforts in the Middle East are focused on an international convention -- which is to include, this time, only the region's moderate forces. Could such a convention lead to a breakthrough, or are the Middle East's "nice guys" going to grumble yet again in President Bush's parlour? None of the hostile forces that Israel will have to come to terms with in the future, including the Syrian President Bashar Assad, were invited. Will this prove to be a wise move?Saudi Arabia is no key to changeMuch has been said about President Bush's great fondness for those Middle East players who fervently comply with American authority, and his intense loathing for those elements who dare defy him. Lately, one of President Bush's favourite regional players has been Saudi Arabia.Though it is part of Washington's Middle East policy to commend and praise the Saudis for their positive involvement, Saudi Arabia is not an important player as far as the Arab-Israeli conflict is concerned. The "Saudi Initiative," mainly entailing Israeli withdrawal to the 1967 borders in return for general Arab recognition of Israel, primarily relies on three parties to the conflict -- Syria, Israel and the Palestinians. Saudi Arabia may be an important player in the Gulf area and in the global oil market, but in the Arab-Israeli conflict it is only a guest. Bashar Assad and even Abu-Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas) will not let the Saudis interfere in their negotiations with Israel about the implementation of the withdrawal to the 1967 borders. Only the parties to the borders conflict will be directly involved in these deliberations. Saudi Arabia may be able to exercise significant influence over the atmosphere in the area, but only by posting an ambassador in Tel-Aviv, and doing so fairly soon. And I am quite sure they will take no such step without Palestinian-Syrian approval.The Republican leadership of the United States, desperate to show some positive progress in its Middle-East track record, may be able to score some points with the American public if indeed the Saudis attend the convention planned for this fall. But the parties directly involved in the conflict will derive very little benefit from the Saudi presence.Disbanding the Palestinian peopleThe "convention of the docile" in the fall of 2007 might do away with the last chances of creating a sustainable Palestinian state in the Middle East. A diplomatic settlement which only Abu-Mazen agrees to, without Hamas's support, would be like the peace treaty Israel signed with Amin Jumayil's government in Lebanon in 1984. If American money and arms will be able to divide the Palestinian people, then perhaps the dictum of our childhood, directly quoting Prime Minister Golda Meir, might indeed be true: "There is no Palestinian people." Inviting the "nice Palestinians" to a party in Washington, where they will be showered with plenty, while trying to isolate, boycott and humiliate the "bad Palestinians" will lead, in the best of cases, to the creation of two Palestinian states: A pro-American one in the West Bank and a pro-Iranian state in the Gaza strip. In the worst of cases (if these talks fail), the convention will further entrench the diplomatic stalemate and diminish the chances for the creation of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.It is in Israel's interest to revive the dialogue between Fatah and Hamas, as Russia and Egypt suggest, and not to contribute to a further and wider rift between both Palestinian organizations, as Washington proposes.Syria firstThough the Palestinian situation has become tremendously complicated, the window of opportunity is wide open as far as the Syrians are concerned. For the past four years Bashar Assad has been hinting that he desires negotiations with Israel. In the past year he has even done so overtly, and more than once. At the outset of his eighth year in power, Assad's behaviour is more confident and unequivocal. There are many signs that he wishes to negotiate with Israel about the future of the Golan Heights and peace, while also negotiating with the US about his country's future policy in the Middle East. A nuclearly armed, fundamentalist Iran is no natural ally for Syria. The Syrians are currently interested in an "Egyptian deal" with the US as well as with Israel. After all, the treaty with Egypt generously compensated Cairo for turning away from the USSR.This Syrian message must have been understood in Washington; it was indeed distinctly perceived, but rejected. President Bush wished to punish Bashar Assad for his support of anti-American elements in the area. This vindictiveness has prevented the White House from understanding this opportunity. Creating a split between Syria and Iran will be of much greater strategic value than an international conference, already defined by Hamas as a mere photo opportunity.As anyone living in the troubled Middle East knows, windows of opportunity are quickly shut. The Syrian window may also be closed soon. This will happen the next time Iran's President Ahmedinijad visits Damascus. The last time the Iranian President visited Syria he handed out checks, and in his next visit he will come to harvest his crop. And once Damascus cashes on Teheran's checks, Syria will not be strong enough to extricate itself from its alliance with the Iranians. Only an immediate American-Syrian high-level meeting can prevent the closure of the present opening. But President Bush has not authorized such a meeting. "Prime Minister Olmert does not need me in order to make peace with Syria," said President Bush in his joint press conference with Olmert, proving yet again that he has little insight of the political processes in our area.With the international conference coming up, Israel should be aware of the contradiction between its own interests and those of the US. Should Israel blindly follow Washington's present policy, it may expect prolonged conflicts along its borders with the triple front of Hamas-Hizbullah-Syria. Washington will be content with consolidating and strengthening peace solely within the "docile coalition", Israel, on the other hand, needs much more done to ensure an inclusive outcome.


* Dr. Alon Liel was Director-General of the Israeli Foreign Office during Ehud Barak's term. He currently teaches at the Tel-Aviv University, the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 30 August 2007, Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.**********

Assuage Assad

Moshe Ma'oz

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts - The ideal way to achieve peace between Israel and its Arab neighbours is through a Madrid-like regional peace process based on the Arab League initiative (2002). The logic of such a comprehensive approach is that some of Israel's disputes with Syria, Lebanon and the Palestinians are interrelated, and a regional peace can serve the interests of all parties and sustain productive coexistence. For example, the crucial issue of Palestinian refugees must be settled with Syrian and Lebanese participation, since some 300,000 refugees reside in each of these countries. Regional designs to settle this issue, as well as to develop water resources, tourism and the like, can provide fruits of peace and a solid basis for Arab-Israeli partnership. Unfortunately, Israeli leaders lack the courage and vision to embark upon a comprehensive peace process, particularly with Syrian participation - a notion that is strongly rejected by most Israeli Jews (some 65%) and the Bush administration. On the face of it, there is a fairly good chance to revive the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, owing to Bush's encouragement, the support of many Israelis and the insistence of Abu Mazen. But in reality such a process is likely to encounter enormous obstacles, notably the issues of Jerusalem, Palestinian refugees, Jewish settlements and the role of Hamas in the Gaza strip. Israeli and Palestinian leaders are incapable of settling these critical problems, at least for the foreseeable future.By contrast, an Israeli-Syrian peace process, which will also include Lebanon, has a better chance to succeed, considering mutual interests and past experience. Indeed, an Israeli-Syrian peace agreement was almost reached in 1999/2000 under active mediation by former President Clinton. It provided for the return of the Golan to Syria along the pre-1967 border, as well as its demilitarisation and effective supervision. It also provided for diplomatic and economic relations between Syria and Israel. The main obstacle that prevented the signing of a peace agreement was a dispute over a short and narrow strip of land - 12 km long and a few hundred meters wide - along the northeastern tip of Lake Tiberias. With mutual goodwill, this dispute can be settled by turning that strip of land into a Syrian-Israeli park under joint sovereignty for instance.Despite the changing strategic and political circumstances in the region, it is still in the vested interest of Israel, Syria and Lebanon to reach peaceful coexistence; however, there are significant obstacles that can prevent or delay a peace process among them. All three governments wish to avoid another war that is likely to be devastating, particularly to Syria and Lebanon. Bashar Assad and his Alawi-Sunni elite may also lose their power if Syria is defeated. Both Syria and Israel worry that, in the case of war, Lebanon may pose a threat to their national security and other vital interests; Israel is deeply concerned about the potential menace by Hizbullah, whereas Syria worries about a possible Israeli invasion through Lebanon's Beqaa valley into the Damascus region. In addition, Damascus is interested in re-establishing its strategic control over Lebanon as well as a pro-Syrian government in Beirut that would put off the Hariri investigation and provide channels for Syrian exports, banking and labour. Within a regional peace agreement, Israel may acknowledge Syrian interests in Lebanon, provided Damascus stops arming, and even helps disarm Hizbullah. Another important and related Israeli condition would be that Syria disengages from Iran, Israel's avowed enemy. If Assad agrees to meet these conditions and directly appeals to the Israeli public to reach a peace agreement, it is possible that more Israeli Jews will be ready to give back the Golan in return for peace with Syria. Nevertheless, it can be argued that Assad will not disengage from his strategic allies and the rising forces in the region - Iran and Hizbullah - unless he obtains American and Arab guarantees to uphold his vital interests and needs. He will thus expect from the United States and the major Arab states to acknowledge Syrian interests in Lebanon - defusing the Hariri investigation being one of them - as well as to increase financial assistance to Syria, particularly from Saudi Arabia and other Arab Gulf states. From Washington, Damascus will possibly require a commitment not to attack Syria, to erase its name from the list of countries supporting terror, and abolish the recently imposed sanctions on Syria. The major Sunni Arab states may be inclined to accept Assad's requests, provided he abandons the Shia alliance with Iran and Hizbullah. However, President Bush will continue to insist that Damascus first submit to his demands, namely to disengage from Iran, Hizbullah and Hamas (the previous request to democratise the Syrian regime has been practically dropped). It is almost certain that Israeli leaders will not breach Bush's practical veto on peace negotiations with Assad, even though it is in Israel's interest to seek peace with Syria. However, among the Israeli political and military elite, there has recently developed a significant inclination to sound out Assad's peace overtures. It is now a challenge for Israel and other US allies to induce Bush to negotiate with Assad with no pre-conditions, as the Baker-Hamilton report suggests, or at least to withdraw his objection to Israeli-Syrian-Lebanese peace talks.


* Moshe Ma'oz is Professor Emeritus of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies at Hebrew University in Jerusalem and is currently a visiting scholar at Harvard University.

This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 30 August 2007, Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Families speak up
Robi Damelin

TEL AVIV - The Parents Circle - Families Forum, consisting of bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families, is a non-profit organization supporting reconciliation and tolerance in both Israeli and Palestinian societies. The organisation acts as a people-to-people advocacy group, with family members sharing painful narratives that greatly impact those exposed to their message of hope. There is an implicit trust present in the work as each group member has lost an immediate family member in the conflict and has therefore paid the highest price for what they are saying and for the work they are doing. In many cases, Palestinian members have spent years in jail for their political beliefs, giving a greater dimension to their loyalty to the cause, and establishing a standing in their community.The Parents Circle is geared towards creating a framework for a reconciliation process when peace agreements are signed -- feeling strongly that this is the only way to create peace and not simply a cease-fire.The main thrust of the work is to foster understanding of both the Israeli and the Palestinian narrative, believing it is impossible to have empathy for a future partner when one does not understand the culture or personal story of the 'other'. To this end, the Parents Circle spends many hours in classroom dialogues. In 2006 more than 1,000 of these meetings were held with 16 and 17 year old Israeli and Palestinian students.In addition to classroom activities, art is used as a vehicle of communication. In 2006, 135 top Israeli and Palestinian artists created the "Offering Reconciliation Exhibit", a travelling gallery of ceramic bowls illustrating messages of reconciliation and peace. The exhibition, having opened in Tel-Aviv, is now travelling throughout the US, including: Massachusetts, the World Bank in Washington DC, and most recently, the United Nations in New York City. In November, the ceramic works will be auctioned at SOFA (Sculpture Objects and Functional Art Expositions) in Chicago, with the funds going towards education projects. Members of the Parents Circle have accompanied the tour and are using each stop as an opportunity to give lectures and run educational programmes. Tracing histories"Knowing is the Beginning" is the name of a very special project created by the Forum. It is a way for group members to understand the historical family tree and the personal narrative of the 'other'. It started with 140 Israeli and Palestinian members visiting the Holocaust Museum in Jerusalem -- a first -- as never before had such a large group of Palestinians and Israelis visited together. The visit was not intended to compare suffering, but for the Palestinian members to understand what makes the Jewish narrative so painful. Likewise, a group also visited a Palestinian village, now near Bet Shemesh in Israel, which existed before 1948. Two Palestinian members, whose families hailed from this village, were deeply moved when revisiting and finding nothing but an old well. This project will continue until the end of the 2007, with each side getting to know the other in the most intimate of ways. Another fascinating journey in this project happened recently. Boaz, an Israeli member, traced his family history to the city of Hevron. During a group visit there, Boaz discovered that his grandfather, a doctor during the riots of 1929, was saved by a Palestinian family, and that he in turn, tended to the Palestinian wounded. The group then visited the home of Ossama, a Palestinian member who had lost family members when a kibbutz -- of which Boaz's mother was a founding member -- was attacked. These incredible stories go to illustrate just how intertwined our lives are and how we must understand each other with empathy even if we do not agree.In addition to the projects already mentioned, the Parents Circle also runs: "Kol Hashalom", a bilingual program produced and broadcast for the "All for Peace" radio station; a summer camp for children of bereaved Israeli and Palestinian families; and the "Hello Shalom - Hello Salaam" chat line, where Israelis and Palestinians can talk to one another on a toll-free line. Since October of 2002, more than a million calls have been made. All of this work will surely go a long way for preparing both sides for a long-term reconciliation framework.

###* Robi Damelin is a member of the Parents Circle-Families Forum, This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service, 30 August 2007, Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.**********

Arab Museaum Fashion Show




Dearborn, MI, (August 30, 2007) – La Maison Saouli, a European fashion house devoted to producing stylish garments for Muslim women seeking a modest appearance, is celebrating its entrance into the U.S. market by staging a fashion show and sale at the Arab American National Museum. The show, which is free and open to the public, is set for 2-5 p.m. on Sunday, September 9.

Based in Brussels, Belgium, La Maison Saouli was founded in 2000 by Karima Saouli, who comes from a family of tailors. Saouli could not find clothing in stores that she felt properly expressed her identity as a Western Muslim woman. Her designs are manufactured in Paris, France, the world’s fashion capital, and sold in European boutiques. The house has staged numerous lavish runway shows in fashionable cities including Paris, London and Milan.

“As Muslim women have become more visible in society – at universities, in the workplace and in the community – there has been an increasing need for elegant yet modest apparel,” says Saouli.

“There is a need to dress how we truly are, to show through the outside how the inside is animated and given life. Women look for garments that speak to them, that look like them, that distinguish them without putting them in the margin,” Saouli says.

Saouli suits, jackets, dresses, skirts and trousers and related pieces range in price from $30-$150. Ensembles with and without head coverings are included in the collection, to accommodate the range of styles preferred by Muslim women worldwide. The apparel will be for sale at the AANM show. The pieces can also be viewed and purchased online at Saouli is considering opening a signature boutique in Dearborn or offering her apparel through existing local boutiques.

The house produces three lines. Saouli Trend is aimed at women ages 15-25 seeking a modern, urban look. Saouli Classic is for women over 25 who desire a classic look in muted tones, appropriate for professionals. Saouli Haute Couture features hand-sewn evening dresses that blend Western and Oriental styling. Special collections are issued for each Muslim holiday as well.

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates, and educates the public on the history, life, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans. It serve as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country. The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at and

Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313-582-2266 for further information.


Kim Silarski

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

US Policy Makers Conference with National Council on US-Arab Relations Oct. 25-26

National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations'16th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers ConferenceRevisiting Arab-U.S. Strategic Relations:Geopolitical, Energy, Defense Cooperation, and Developmental Dynamics Thursday-Friday, October 25 & 26, 2007Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade CenterWashington, D.C.

The National Council on U.S. Arab Relations invites you to attend the 16th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference at the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center in Washington D.C. October 25-26, 2007.

Conference Registration and Sponsorship Information is Available By Clicking Here

Admiral William J. Fallon assumed duties as the Commander of U.S. Central Command on March 16, 2007. His Area of Responsibility covers 25 nations that stretch from the Horn of Africa through the Arabian Gulf region, and into Central Asia.

Adm. Fallon is a graduate of the Naval War College, Newport,
R.I., the National War College in Washington, D.C., and has a Master of Arts degree in International Studies from Old Dominion University. His awards include the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, Distinguished Service Medal, Defense Superior Service Medal, Legion of Merit, Bronze Star, Meritorious Service Medal, Air Medal, Navy Commendation Medal, and various unit and campaign decorations.

In addition to Adm. Fallon, America's global oil and gas leaders have once again agreed to address a featured session on the energy component of U.S.-Arab relations. Come experience this one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact with the most senior representatives of the world's largest energy companies.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Common News Services Opinion Columns

Please find below the following timely, original article(s) for submission to your news outlet:
Title: A look back at the Turkish electionsAuthor: Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Mensur AkgunSource: The Common Ground News Service, 28 August 2007Word Count: 789
Title: The Pakistan paradoxAuthor: Nasim ZehraSource: The Common Ground News Service, 28 August 2007Word Count: 773
Title: ~Youth Views~ Learning about America from abroadAuthor: Bill GlucroftSource: The Common Ground News Service, 28 August 2007Word Count: 871
Title: The headscarf in Turkey: from religious symbol to political toolAuthor: Jonas SlaatsSource: The Common Ground News Service, 28 August 2007Word Count: 720
Each article is available in Arabic, French, English and Indonesian; I'd be happy to send you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and let me know by sending an email to: Ground News Service**********
A look back at the Turkish elections
Saad Eddin Ibrahim and Mensur Akgun
Cairo/Istanbul - We were both in Turkey before and after Sunday, 22 July, the day of the intensely debated parliamentary elections. Given the large-scale, contentious demonstrations and the post-modernist military intervention - via the internet - over the issue of secularism, there were hundreds of eager international observers expecting something spectacular to happen. But to their dismay, and to the dismay of many others, balloting was calm and orderly.
No violence or irregularities were reported. It was one of the highest voter turnouts in the history of Turkey's democratic elections (84.4 percent). The highly debated role of the religiously-affiliated Islamic Justice and Development Party (AKP) was put to the test for the second time in five years; it passed with flying colours.
The Turkish political community had anticipated the outcome. The few surprises had to do only with margins of performance of the various actors. Though the AKP was poised to win a majority, it did far better than even it expected with 46.7 percent of votes, 12.4 points higher than its 2002 victory.
Among the losers was the Turkish military, which has never hidden its deep misgivings vis-à-vis the ascendance of the AKP in the country's socio-political space. It is widely believed that the military blessed the pro-secular demonstration earlier in the spring as well as the unification of centre-right and centre-left parties. Though clearly rebuffed by the voters, the military seems to be learning to manage such public adversities, at least for the time being.
AKP leader Recep Tayyib Erdogan went out of his way in his victory speech later on the night of 22 July to allay the fears of AKP detractors. He assured all concerned of his solemn commitment to the secular principle of the Turkish Republic. He equally reiterated his drive to join the European Union; and proudly pledged to maintain the high rate of Turkey's economic growth.
The whole world was watching Turkey that day: some admiringly, some cynically, looking for any mishaps to justify keeping Turkey out of the European Club; and yet others watched nervously, for fear of a success that would put pressure on them to follow its model. Among the latter were Arab autocrats, to whose reactions we now turn.
While Arab opposition parties, civil society and democracy activists cheered the news from Turkey, there was official silence from Arab governments, as if the elections had occurred on another planet. Unlike the front-page headlines in independent media, the state-controlled media in many Arab countries either ignored, delayed or relegated the Turkish elections' story to internal pages or the tail-end of their regular news.
By the third or fourth day, these media pundits went out of their way to tell their respective audiences how different the situation in Turkey was from that of Arab countries. Some played up the chronic Kurdish, Armenian and Cypriot problems as if to dampen any Arab joy for their northern neighbour.
In some ways, this was reminiscent of cool or even hostile reactions by the same Arab autocratic regimes to Mauritania's giant step in transitioning to democracy. Libya's Qaddafi, already well into his 38th year of dictatorial rule, had dismissed Mauritania's experience as an exercise "in backward tribalism". None of the Arab heads of state cared to attend the April 2006 inaugural celebration of the democratically elected Mauritanian President.
It is abundantly clear that when such developments occur in Arab or Muslim-majority countries, it proves doubly embarrassing. This may also explain - at least in part - why many of these regimes are reported to be undermining efforts to democratise Iraq.
The triumphant AKP is again victorious today in the election of the mostly ceremonial President of the Republic, an event which became controversial a few months earlier over the headscarf of the would-be First Lady. Yet a challenge for the AKP in the short-run is the army's request to use military means to crush the Kurdish rebels in the southeast. Erdogan has resisted so far in search of non-violent alternatives and support from regional and domestic players.
In the medium and the longer term, the AKP has managed not only to become solidly mainstream in Turkish politics but also, through its own example, paved the way for other Muslim Democrats, in a manner akin to Christian Democrats in the West. As a matter of fact, a Moroccan Islamic party bearing the same name in Arabic (French PJD) is already a major contender in the parliamentary elections being held the beginning of September.
Beyond the Middle East, the latest democratic election in Turkey, coupled with the success of other religiously-affiliated parties in recent years in other countries, from Indonesia to Mauritania, may be putting to rest the suspect proposition of "Muslim Exceptionalism". If countries like Turkey can survive as democratic regimes with Muslim-majority populations, why can't others?
*Saad Eddin Ibrahim is a human rights activist and founder of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies in Cairo, Egypt. Mensur Akgun is the program director for the foreign policy department at TESEV, an independent think-tank in Istanbul, Turkey. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 August 2007,
Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.**********
The Pakistan paradox
Nasim Zehra
Islamabad - As Pakistan celebrates its 60th anniversary of independence this year, political turbulence and chronic problems such as low literacy and inadequate health services persist. But there is another untold story: Pakistan is experiencing a cultural and political reinvigoration.
A genuine media revolution -- with over 30 independent television channels -- is projecting Pakistan's many colours, divergent views and rich and dynamic culture. A new widespread cultural spirit is also discernible in Pakistan's music, drama and art, deep in colour and texture, displaying a great feeling of joy and engagement with the senses.
Alongside inflation, corruption, insecurity, the continuing tussles in Baluchistan, and the warring zones of the tribal areas exists a sense of renewal, of grudging joy. The joy, however, belongs to restricted zones. This renewal in Pakistan therefore remains largely unseen by the outside world.
Yet this new rhythm is emerging parallel to Pakistan's chronic problems of military-guided democracy, intolerance and violent armed militias.
Television talk shows have become as popular as entertainment programs. At dizzying speed, the average Pakistani is becoming more educated on national issues. Across the ideological, class and ethnic divides, Pakistanis unify, participating in media debates.
Bridging these divides is the struggle for fair play. For example, the desire for justice connects two seemingly ideologically opposed groups: those who have relentlessly fought for rule of law with those in Lal Masjid who repeatedly broke the law.
The lawyers' movement, whose demonstrations resulted in Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry 's reinstatement, and the Taliban who took over Darra Adam Khel, a small town in Pakistan's Northwest Frontier Province, also share a common goal.
Despite their divide on an ideological axis, both want justice through an enforced rule of law. The armed Taliban demands that the government and the national Jirga, or council of elders, assure them that there will be "no more kidnappings, carjackings, issuance of fake degrees and other educational documents, sale or purchase of wine, narcotics and other un-Islamic activities in the area."
The Taliban, whose predecessors had fought in the heavily armed anti-Soviet jihad, have opted for armed resistance against injustice and have therefore been excluded by the state, while the professional urban-trained law community instead opted for peaceful, determined resistance. Led by the lawyers, they have stood up peacefully for the rule of law, not for individual political leaders. They want a system with a functioning structure in which the powerful are finally held accountable.
While clashes between the security forces and militias and killings from suicide bombings worry Pakistanis, there is a newly emerging reality that can potentially dominate this turbulent period of contesting ideologies and armed men. This is the reality of divergent groups uniting around the call for justice. In a context of increasing divides, this new convergence is a much-needed uniting ideology in the making.
The Pakistani people are proudly adopting a new model for substantive change.
Pakistanis have tasted civil action's success. Institutions are becoming more professional. The Supreme Court is a prime example: it has issued three rulings in the last five weeks which have signalled its independence. The 20 July restoration of the Chief Justice was a crucial first step. Its 23 August decision to allow the former Prime Minister to return "unobstructed" after a seven-year exile has vastly strengthened the civilian political forces too. The Supreme Court is vetting the moves made by the presidency, the ruling party and the intelligence agencies against the Constitution. Even opposition leader Benazir Bhutto's hesitation in supporting a military president and the 8 August decision to refrain from imposing emergency law are all positive first steps that testify to a new adherence to democratic values.
All this new, unifying energy makes for a great backdrop for democracy in Pakistan. Contemporary tools of communication and interaction -- such as the media, greater mobility and a growing global collective of status quo critics -- have helped this context develop.
Ironically, a general and president with democratic proclivities, Pervez Musharraf is responsible for the paradox of Pakistan: a flourishing framework on the wobbly footing of democracy. Lawyers and the media have begun administering accountability, but only fair and free elections can ensure institutionalised accountability.
Pakistanis are already beginning to create an environment within which a credible democracy can function. Civil society is leading the movement to restore Pakistan to a constitutional democracy. There is emerging consensus that a credible, functioning constitutional democracy alone can help resolve issues of contesting ideologies, of marginalisation and of exclusion, thereby minimising conflict, intolerance and rage.
The gradual but determined advance of the Pakistani state and society towards the rule of law heralds a new dawn in Pakistan. Not without its difficulties, Pakistan has begun its journey to adulthood.
*Nasim Zehra is a writer and a fellow at the Harvard University Asia Center. She was previously an adjunct Professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies in Washington, DC. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
Source Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.orgCopyright permission has been obtained for publication.**********
~Youth Views~ Learning about America from abroad
Bill Glucroft
Boston - This summer I travelled through Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore and Australia, a part of the world that most Americans rarely see in the news or visit in person.
The distance provided me with a new perspective from which to look upon my country, helping me realise that, despite a overextended sense of importance and myopic foreign policy, there are many American attributes to be proud of: our thirst for innovation and improvement, our philosophical comfort with being American, economic freedom and upward mobility, a land of vast and natural beauty, a robust judiciary and a Constitution that remains relevant more than 200 years after it was written.
Of course, defining a country's characteristics as either good or bad is simplistic; there are very legitimate counterarguments to every item in the above list. Innovation does not benefit everyone, nor can everyone fully enjoy dual identities or work freely. And most glaringly, our Constitution remains under attack from post-9/11 fear mongering.
But more than any physical feature -- economic and military might, for example -- America's real power stems from being a symbol of possibility for people around the world. Amazingly, as I discovered through my travels, not even the immoral misadventure in Iraq can destroy this intangible source of strength.
My time in Alor Star highlighted this point. Alor Star is a city in northern Malaysia that doesn't give visitors much of a reason to stay. It's a comfortably conservative place, with most men and women wearing traditional Muslim attire, many shops selling Islamic goods and nearly all the restaurants serving halal meat (permissible according to Islamic law). Five times a day, the call to prayer would echo throughout the city.
Here, like anywhere else, I made no effort to hide my American citizenship -- if people asked, I told them. Eyes lit up when I said I was from New York (the closest identifiable place to my hometown in Connecticut), and not once did I feel uncomfortable or unwanted. Quite the opposite, in fact. The first question women my age would ask was, "Do you have a girlfriend?"
Even when visiting the Masjid Zahir, Alor Star's beautiful central mosque, during Friday afternoon prayers, the worshipping men either left me alone or bid me a safe journey. Those I met were more eager to share their culture than to scorn mine.
This wasn't surprising. I have never had a problem travelling internationally as an American or, for that matter, as a Jew. The fears many in the mainstream media strike into us are grossly exaggerated. Unfortunately, with only 27 percent of Americans holding passports, according to a 2006 New York Times article, most citizens of the sole superpower understand the world only through that narrow lens.
The trouble with not travelling is not just that we fail to understand others, but we also fail to understand ourselves. The American psyche, embodied by the president, disdains weakness -- it could damage our self-perpetuating myth that we can do anything. But in denying our limitations, we miss some of our strengths, too.
It was also in Malaysia, this time in a small village in a 130 million-year-old rain forest, that I realised that of all the Western powers, America is most capable of bridging the "us versus them" divide. This may seem incongruous with a reality in which America, through both rhetoric and action, has widened that gap.
But in this village, I stayed at a guesthouse with three Europeans. The accommodation was next door to a mosque, so the 5 a.m. call to prayer carried easily through the humid air.
My fellow guests didn't get it. They weren't angry or disrespectful, they just could not understand why anyone would wake up to pray before dawn (or ever, for that matter). I came across the same sentiment many times when I travelled through Europe two years ago.
For sure, Islam remains foreign and frightening to many Americans. But, as a country, we understand what it means for faith to play a central role in our lives. And in this regard, our so-called secular society is not all that different from the so-called religious-centric societies of the Muslim world.
We should take advantage of this invaluable American trait. Instead of trying to circumvent and quarantine religion -- whether Judeo-Christian values or Islam -- we should use religion as a means to understand each other.
Sadly, talking about Muhammad risks the speaker being labelled an anti-modern, anti-democratic extremist, just as someone talking about Jesus risks being seen as pandering to right-wing interests. The moderate majority instead tends to use religion as a catalyst for personal growth and guidance, rather than to promote political interests.
Religion should neither be ignored nor treated as a competitive contact sport. We cannot keep quiet about something that is so important to so many people around the world. Political and religious leaders need to embrace interfaith dialogue that strengthens similarities and respects differences, while discouraging the idea that anyone has a "monopoly" over God -- the goal of many who boast about their religious fervour.
Travelling outside of the US made it clear to me that though specifics differ among religions, devotion to family, tradition and belief in a supreme being is largely universal. America is serious about God and so is the Muslim world, and that should be our starting point.###
*Bill Glucroft is a senior journalism student at Emerson College in Boston. He maintains a web site of his work at This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 28 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.orgCopyright permission has been obtained for publication.**********
The headscarf in Turkey: from religious symbol to political tool
Jonas Slaats
Istanbul - With Abdullah Gül just elected as President of Turkey, the headscarf debate has yet again been brought to the forefront. Although the ban on wearing headscarves in public places took effect in 1998, the discussion has never stopped and has even gained new momentum with the possibility of a First Lady who covers her head. However, renewed attention does not necessarily bring new insights. The headscarf debate in Turkey is therefore not only alive but also deadlocked.
Turkey is not the only country where the headscarf issue is going in circles. A few weeks ago, newspapers reported that a German Muslim teacher wanted to wear her headscarf while teaching in 'the style of Grace Kelly'. This meant wearing a headscarf while showing hair in the front. The court decided that a Grace Kelly scene from a movie had nothing to do with her religious reasons to wear the scarf, and thus did not allow her to wear the veil.
Both legally and religiously, her proposal was questionable. The purpose of the veil is that it should cover the hair in an effort to hide those parts of the female body that carry sexual significance, or that show their 'ornaments' as the Qur'an states (Surah 24:31). The Qur'an does not explicitly mention that the hair should be fully covered. But through scholarly interpretation of Qur'an, hadith (oral traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) and fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence) that developed in Muslim societies over the years, the verse was interpreted as such.
Secular-minded people tend to argue that the headscarf should be banned because it is a symbol of women's oppression. They believe that women wearing a hijab, niqab or burqa are forced to do so by their husbands or societal norms to prevent them from displaying too much of their feminine sensuality.
According to secularists, women should be allowed to wear what they want and express themselves freely. But what about those women who freely choose to wear a headscarf? And what about the ones who combine individual expression and religious tradition by wearing a headscarf?
The wife of Turkey's new president, for example, shows it can all go together perfectly. After a heated debate about whether the wife of the symbolic leader of a secular country should wear a headscarf in public, a compromise was proposed: Gül's wife is to have a trendy and 'new' type of headscarf designed by a good personal friend and fashion designer from New York.
It isn't such a novel idea though. On the streets of Istanbul, one sees fashionable headscarves everywhere. Many veiled women wear their bright scarves in a way that certainly would not upset any Versace. Like many women they simply try to look as good as they can, and their veil is certainly not ruining those efforts.
But of course, many say that wearing the headscarf in such a manner is hypocritical. An item traditionally used to make a woman less of a sexual object has now become an extension of their attractiveness. Once again then, people have found something objectionable to their attire.
Unfortunately, women just cannot seem to win. In whatever way they wear – or don't wear – the headscarf, the whole discussion leads to a dead end.
In fact, it is not a discussion. It is a trap, set by men to trap other men. And the bait is women.
Secular men say: "The way you force your women to look is oppressive and intolerable." Religious men say: "The way you do not allow our women to look is undemocratic and intolerable." Yet the only thing that is truly intolerable is that the debate is using women as a ping-pong ball between the two sides.
Both sides use a symbol with variable meanings for personal and political purposes. The headscarf, which can be worn for many different reasons, is not a problem in itself. But acting as if the headscarf has a singular meaning is a problem. Only then does it become a debate between forcing women to wear it and protesting against it.
Yet the gravest problem is not reducing the headscarf to a political tool. Doing the same to the women who wear them is worse. It doesn't matter whether one makes them into "sexual objects", "religious objects" or "political objects", human beings should not be seen as objects in any discussion.###
Jonas Slaats is a Belgian theologian living in Turkey and editor of Yunus News, a website dedicated to collecting, filtering and analyzing religious news. This article was a joint piece by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and Yunus News and can be accessed at and
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews)/Yunus News, 28 August 2007, / permission has been obtained for publication.******

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Academics to protest bigotry and discrimination at DePaul University

DePaul University has just violated its contract with eminent MiddleEast scholar Dr. Norman G. Finkelstein this Friday, refusing to lethim come back and teach his classes during his final, terminal year,and further undermining academic freedom at the university.

Internationally renowned scholars Noam Chomsky, John Mearsheimer, TonyJudt, Akeel Bilgrami, and Neve Gordon are all scheduled to speak at theUniversity of Chicago in October on this matter of academic freedom, inlight of the controversial tenure denial of the prominent Middle Eastscholar at Chicago's DePaul University.

The event is to be hosted by Tariq Ali and is presented by DePaul'sAcademic Freedom Committee, Diskord Journal (University of Chicago)and Verso Books.Two Press Releases with more information on each matter are attachedto this email.

Daniel Klimek
Press Secretary
Academic Freedom Committee
DePaul University(773)

Search for the Funniest NEW Palestinian Comedian Contest

Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour launches

During our next Israel-Palestine Tour (Nov. 27-Dec. 9, 2007) we are going to conduct the Search for the Funniest NEW Palestinian Comedian.

We are looking for new Palestinian comedians who have not performed on TV or on a professional stage before. (We'll host another Search for the Funniest New Israeli Comedian later.) Entrants can produce a short video, post it online and submit it through the Web Page for consideration. Submissions will be posted. Judging will be by public voting AND by the four founders of the Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour Aaron Freeman, Charley Warady, Yisrael Campbell and Ray Hanania.

In the meantime, you can get information or encourage someone you know to submit their comedy video to compete, or pass the word around to any Palestinians you know who would like to participate.

The winner of the contest will win Cash (I'm working on the Prize Sponsorship Now) ... and the Crown of being the Funniest New Palestinian Comedian in the World ...

go to to get more information

Humor is a powerful way to overcome animosities and no place needs it more than the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Israeli-Palestinian Comedy Tour has performed to enthusiastic audiences of Palestinians and Israelis in January in Israel-Palestine, in May in Toronton, Canada, and again in June in Israel-Palestine. The response has been tremendous. Nothing is more moving than being among hundreds of Palestinians and Israelis after a show and watching them talk, laugh and get to know each other.

Ray Hanania

Saturday, August 25, 2007

CENTCOM: 3 Iraqi Insurgents Killed/17 suspects detained




Aug 25, 2007

Release A070825b

Three terrorists killed, 17 suspects detained in Coalition raids

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Coalition Forces killed three terrorists and detained 17suspected terrorists during operations targeting al-Qaeda in Iraqactivities in the Tigris River ValleyCoalition Forces raided several buildings north of Muqdadiyah seekingthe area's al-Qaeda in Iraq media emir.

As the assault force moved tosecure the five buildings, they encountered three armed men, each in adifferent room, who drew their weapons on the assault force. In eachcase, Coalition Forces defended against the hostile threat and engagedthe armed men, killing them. The ground forces also discoveredbomb-making materials, which an explosives team destroyed on site. Onesuspected terrorist was detained.Coalition Forces used information from operations Jul. 14 and Aug. 2 to capture a suspected terrorist financier northeast of Samarra. The individual is believed to provide money for weapons and other support toforeign terrorists in the Tigris River Valley.

Coalition Forces also captured a suspected associate of al-Qaeda in Iraq senior leaders in Salah ad Din province. Intelligence reports indicate the individual moved to Bayji to help al-Qaeda in Iraq set up operationsthere. Coalition Forces detained six more suspected terrorists duringthe raid.Coalition Forces continued their assault against the bombing networks inBaghdad with two operations around the city. The ground forces captured an alleged terrorist cell leader in the Arab Jabour area, believed to oversee 20 explosives experts, and five of his suspected associates. Based on information from operations on Aug. 15 and Aug. 24, CoalitionForces targeted a bomb maker during a pre-dawn operation in western Baghdad. When the ground forces requested for occupants to come out ofthe target building, two men exited and were taken into Coalition Forcescustody. To secure the area, the ground forces entered the building,which was a Red Crescent facility. Inside, Coalition Forces took greatcare to protect the facility's resources before determining the buildingwas secure and leaving.

"Terrorists, especially Al Qaeda in Iraq and members of the bombingnetworks, continue to misuse protected sites and hide among the Iraqipopulation," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, MNF-I spokesperson."

Coalition Forces respect the special status of Red Crescent facilities and workers and take their commitment to the Geneva Conventions very seriously."



Coalition forces discover execution site in Iraq



Aug 25, 2007
Release A070825a

Execution site discovered, eight suspects detained

BAGHDAD, Iraq - Coalition Forces uncovered a terrorist execution siteand a building suspected of being a car bomb factory during an operationAug. 21-23 south of Baghdad.

As Coalition Forces entered the Arab Jabour area, they immediatelyreceived small arms fire. The assault force returned fire, killing oneterrorist.During the 24-hour operation, Coalition Forces discovered an area usedby terrorists as an execution and dumping site. The ground forces foundhuman skulls, decomposing bodies and bones wrapped in bloody clothes.

Wild dogs were rampant around the area, which was characterized by acrater where most of the human remains were dumped. Inside a nearbybuilding, the ground forces found blood spatter and other signsindicating executions had taken place there. In another building,Coalition Forces found several improvised explosive devices in the areaand a weapons cache that included trigger wires.

Intelligence reports indicate that al-Qaeda in Iraq operates in the area, and weapons caches in the area contain materials used in theBaghdad car-bombing network. Local Iraqis helped Coalition Forces find a stash of homemade explosives and a building that was suspected of being a car bomb factory. Inside the compound, the ground forces foundnumerous items used to make and mix homemade explosives for use in carbombs. An air strike destroyed the explosives cache. Eight suspectedterrorists were detained during the operation for their association withal-Qaeda in Iraq and conducting terrorist activities in the Arab Jabour region.

"Al-Qaeda in Iraq members are ruthless terrorists who brutalize,torture, and murder innocent Iraqis in their campaign of senselessterror," said Lt. Col. Christopher Garver, MNF-I spokesperson. "We willcontinue to hunt down and kill or capture these brutal terrorists whoseek to deny Iraqis a future of their choice."




Patrol: Coalition Force Soldiers move to the next targeted al-Qaeda inIraq operating location with two detained suspected terrorists during operations in the Arab Jabour region. (Photo by: USAF Staff Sgt. JorgeA. Rodriguez)
IED materials: Coalition Force Soldiers uncover homemade explosivemaking equipment in a warehouse known to be used by al-Qaeda in Iraqterrorists operating in the Arab Jabour region of Iraq.
(Photo by: USAFStaff Sgt. Jorge A. Rodriguez)Cache destroyed: Coalition Forces destroy three buildings that had beenused by al-Qaeda in Iraq terrorists to make homemade explosives in theArab Jabour region of Iraq. (USAF photo by: Staff Sgt. Jorge A.Rodriguez)

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Common Ground News Wire features

Title: Regional peace with Palestine at the coreAuthor: Marc GopinSource: The Common Ground News Service, 23 August 2007Word Count: 745

Title: Making peace workAuthor: Erin PinedaSource: The Common Ground News Service, 23 August 2007Word Count: 914

Each article is available in Arabic, English and Hebrew

Regional peace with Palestine at the core
By Marc Gopin
WASHINGTON - We are at a critical juncture in the Palestinian-Israeli struggle. It is this struggle that takes precedence over the regional Arab-Israeli conflict because its acuteness and its constant festering since 1948 underlies the intractability of all the other conflicts. It becomes essential then for the new openings between Syria and Israel, for example, to be a spur to a comprehensive peace with the Palestinians as well, not a hindrance. My work in Syria for peace during the last three years has yielded the following insights into what may work:* Most influential Syrians, including many high-ranking officials, want normalization of relations with Israel based on a return of the Golan. There are obstacles from deeply entrenched Old Guard interests in the status quo, but a positive showing of peace by Israel and the US will significantly strengthen and even transform the power of moderate forces in the Syrian leadership.* The Syrian public, however, is moved and always has been by the injustice done to the Palestinians, their fellow Arabs and Muslims. They will not support President Assad in peace talks--support he truly needs--unless they see some genuine signals from the Israelis that they are serious about justice for Palestinian refugees, and a renewed respect for and reconciliation with Muslims.* Most influential Syrians are ready for a less proprietary relationship with Lebanon even though they resent the "ingratitude" of the Lebanese. What this all means is that there is room for President Assad, who has already reached out to Israel quietly for three years, to reach out publicly to the people of Israel and the Jewish community as further pressure. But he must receive something substantial in return in order to not lose domestic support, which is solidly behind the Palestinian cause. It also means that if strong diplomacy prevails there is room for a non-military transformation of the Syrian-Lebanese relationship. The entire Israeli security establishment wants a serious dialogue with Syria, especially given the regional increase in rocket investments and the resulting blow to Israel's defences last year. Most Israeli security analysts are satisfied that Assad is serious about negotiations, but it is the White House that, due to its anti-diplomatic policy of threats only, is preventing Prime Minister Olmert from taking action. Olmert, and any aspiring leader of Israel, is afraid of the political ability of the White House to shift their support toward Netanyahu and bring down the current Israeli government. In order to set in motion a chain reaction of peace moves, we need a US administration that is serious about comprehensive peace in the Middle East. This may only come after the next American elections. But it is also possible that the sitting president may simply give Olmert the green light to talk to Syria without any acknowledgement of having done so. What the region needs is a thaw in Syrian-Israeli encounters, some significant measures designed to change the living conditions of the Palestinians, and serious final status talks with Fatah on the major outstanding issues: the 1948 refugees and Jerusalem. There is every reason to believe that movement in these realms will put major pressure on the military wing of Hamas to desist from resistance because the people, even inside Hamas, will demand it once they see the benefits accruing.Iran, Qatar, and private Gulf funds continue to massively support Hamas' resistance, and this can undo peace progress. This is where constant, forceful diplomacy in the region will have to accompany bilateral negotiations. This is not something that the current US administration may be capable of, but the major players in the region should be planning for a different American posture before long. The current approach to the Middle East is an abysmal defeat for America, and this assessment has bipartisan consensus. When the White House is to the right of the Israeli security establishment something is out of balance in American politics. An American shift to pragmatism will not satisfy those who want an even-handed American approach to the Palestinians, however. But we can expect more pragmatism and a deeper understanding of the consequences of the brutal passivity of the Bush years in the face of the situation in Gaza and the West Bank. Meanwhile, the stars may soon be aligned for Syria to be the next Arab rejectionist state to transform its relationship with Israel. This will be good news only if it is not at the expense of the Palestinians and their rights to equality and final justice.


* Marc Gopin is the James Laue Professor at George Mason University's Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.comCopyright permission has been granted for republication.


Making peace work
By Erin Pineda
NEW YORK - Simply stated, the "peace dividend" theory holds that in times of peace, budgets and resources normally allocated for defence can be used to invest internally in housing, education, and other initiatives which improve a society and bolster an economy. In other words: in the long term, peace is more profitable than war.But in the post-Cold War world, regional conflicts and international terrorism have proliferated, and peace has proven an elusive concept. Having thus far failed to make peace in our time, the economic gains of the "peace dividend" have largely remained in the realm of the theoretical. Perhaps we need to utilize new tools and look at peace-making through new lenses in order to build the vibrant, viable, stable, and prosperous societies we envision for the future. Suppose for a moment that business cannot wait for peace; suppose that selling a product and turning a healthy profit could actually play a significant role in encouraging peace. In business, it is commonly acknowledged that two parties profiting from a joint venture develop a mutual, vested interest in developing and maintaining the relationship between them. What if the same could be said for "enemy" populations?That is the theory behind the PeaceWorks LLC, a 13-year old company that has pioneered the field of the socially conscious, "not-only-for-profit" business model, and proven that peace and profit can work hand in hand. The company has a unique mission: to foster economic cooperation and peaceful business interactions in conflict regions through the manufacturing, packaging, and distributing of natural food products, all the while sustaining a growing, profitable company. PeaceWorks was founded by Daniel Lubetzky in 1994, when, fresh from Stanford Law School, he travelled to Israel to research ways to encourage economic ventures between Israelis and Arabs. After tasting a sun dried tomato pesto made in Israel, he came up with an idea.So what does pesto have to do with peace? PeaceWorks turned the process of manufacturing this local product into a process for conflict resolution. The line of products which includes sun dried tomato, basil, and olive pestos runs as a cooperative venture that ties Israelis and Arabs together - Meditalia, a name meant to evoke the diverse and culturally-rich region shared by both Arabs and Jews, uses olives from Palestinian farmers, tomatoes from Turkey, and glass jars manufactured in Egypt. By providing people who are separated from one another by geography, the politics of antagonistic governments, past wars, and religio-ethnic rifts a project of mutual interest, the people involved in the production of these projects have come to see themselves as tied to one another. They benefit in a very tangible way -- profit -- from their interactions with one another, and so learn that it is in their best interest to cement these relationships. Once profitable and mutually-beneficial business relationships have been developed, the process of breaking down stereotypes and divisions becomes much easier. People begin to see themselves as interconnected. With its distribution network now at 10,000 stores worldwide, PeaceWorks has grown significantly, and proven that business has a part to play in making the world a better place. The company now offers a number of different products made as joint ventures between "enemy" populations - in addition to the Meditalia products, Buddhists, Christians, and Muslims in Indonesia collaborate on PeaceWorks' Bali Spice line. Furthermore, PeaceWorks' other products, the Be Natural and KIND healthy snack bars, though not made in a conflict region, donate 5% of their profits to Lubetzky's non-profit foundation, The PeaceWorks Foundation, whose OneVoice Movement works toward a non-violent end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from the ground up.After the failure of Oslo and the rise of the second Intifada, Lubetzky applied the same entrepreneurial sense and hands-on approach that started PeaceWorks to launch OneVoice, a grassroots movement which empowers the moderate majority of Israelis and Palestinians to take a more assertive role in resolving the conflict. The globalisation of products and markets has radically changed business in the last century. Likewise, the globalisation and internationalisation of regional conflicts has dynamically shifted the framework for conflict resolution. In many ways OneVoice represents the non-profit mirror for the PeaceWorks LLC: its efforts are focused on the tangible, day-to-day processes of getting people involved in changing the political situation for the better. With field offices in Tel-Aviv, Ramallah, and Gaza, OneVoice has worked to create an alternative paradigm of politics in the region, transcending the "left vs. right" and "Israeli vs. Palestinian" divides to reveal that the moderate majority can prevail over the absolutist vision of an extremist minority, which so often succeeds in derailing the peace process. In just five years, OneVoice has signed up over 430,000 members on both sides of the Green Line, and actively engaged the Israeli, Palestinian, and international leadership in heeding the call of their people to sit down and negotiate a resolution. In January of 2007, the World Economic Forum hosted a special plenary session featuring OneVoice activists, giving them a platform to pledge their support for a two state solution in front of Tzipi Livni, Shimon Peres, Mahmoud Abbas, and WEF Founder Klaus Schwab. Progress towards peace, specifically in regions plagued by complex and internationalised conflicts, is slow at best, and the steps that must be taken do not point us down the path of least resistance. The PeaceWorks Group has gone a long way in working to prove that there is a necessary role for ordinary people -- for businesses, for citizens -- to play in the process of making peace work.###

* Erin Pineda is the Communications Coordinator for the New York office of the OneVoice international headquarters, This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 23 August 2007, www.commongroundnews.comCopyright permission has been granted for republication.


Il. Senator Dick Durbin returns from 2nd Middle East trip

Dear Friend,

[Click this link to watch Durbin talk about Iraq Trip)

Twelve days ago, I returned from my third trip to the Middle East, visiting Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan over the course of one, eye-opening week. I had the opportunity to meet with Illinois soldiers who put their lives in harm's way every day and see for myself the effects of the "surge" in Iraq.

Like my previous visits, I felt as though I was witnessing first-hand the worst foreign policy mistake in our nation's history.

Flying into Baghdad, our helicopter lands in a cloud of brown dirt and we walk our way toward Patrol Base Murray through a foot of deep, fine baby powder dust. The heat is furnace-like: over 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Stacks of plastic water bottles can be found at every turn. The minute you sit or stop, someone hands you a water bottle. In Iraq, water can mean the difference between life and death. Recently, a member of the Patrol Base tank crew sat for 10 hours in the heat and died of heat stroke.

Colonel Ferrell is in charge of the Patrol Base. He laughs about calling his soldiers "kids" and "sweethearts," but quickly adds they are the best fighting men and women he has ever been privileged to lead. For 20 minutes, he walks us across an aerial photograph showing the progress he has made. He tells us Al Qaeda operatives intimidate the local people by turning off the irrigation pumps needed for their crops and shutting down the electric power station to show their strength. Finally, the locals have gotten fed up and are telling his soldiers where to find Al Qaeda safe houses.

Col. Ferrell's unit is scheduled to be deployed for 15 months. Next September they will move out. I ask him whether the Iraqi Army or Police will take over. From his answer it is clear there is no post-surge follow-up plan.

As we begin to make our way back toward our transportation to our next destination, one of the senior officers waits until we are alone. He tells me 15-month deployments are just too long. By the end of twelve months my soldiers have "lost their edge, they're just going through the motions." And the 12 months between deployments is only half what they really need to reconstitute their units, rest them, train them and give them a chance to keep their families together.

"When I left, my daughter was in the sixth grade. When I get back she'll be in the eighth. It's a long time to be gone," he tells me.

As we depart in the helicopter that will carry us back to the relative safety of the Green Zone, the dust swirls around us. The only thing that remains clear is that we are no closer to a resolution to this grave error than we were almost five years ago.

When the Senate reconvenes this September, I will make sure that bringing the war in Iraq to a close remains our top priority. When the White House reports on the surge and General Petraeus testifies before the Senate next month, we must measure progress not just by our military's performance, which has been tremendous -- but by the more important yardstick of whether or not the Iraqi Government and the Bush Administration have done the hard political and diplomatic work needed to bring that country together.

As I saw first-hand during my trip to the Middle East this month, our men and women serving abroad have fought courageously. Now it's up to the politicians to bring about an end to the Iraq War -- and that will be my top priority when I return to Washington in September.Sincerely,
Dick DurbinU.S. Senator

P.S. After reading this message and watching the video, please forward this email to everyone you know. Help me get the word out about my recent trip to Iraq. Thanks for your help.

Arab American National Museum announces book awards




Dearborn, MI (August 21, 2007) – Three winning books and two honorable mentions have been selected to receive the inaugural Arab American National Museum Book Award. The winners, all published in 2006, are:

Adult Non-Fiction Winner—The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood by Rashid Khalidi (Beacon Press)

Adult Fiction Winner—In the Country of Men by Hisham Matar (The Dial Press)

Children or Young Adult Winner—One Green Apple by Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin (Clarion Books)

Adult Non-Fiction Honorable Mention—The Arab Americans by Randa A. Kayyali (Greenwood Press)

Adult Non-Fiction Honorable Mention—“Evil” Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear by Tim Jon Semmerling (University of Texas Press)

Brief descriptions of the winning books appear below.

The Arab American National Museum (AANM) Book Award encourages the publication and excellence of books that preserve and advance the understanding, knowledge, and resources of the Arab American community by celebrating the thoughts and lives of Arab Americans. The purpose of the Award is to inspire authors, educate readers and foster a respect and understanding of Arab American culture.

The winning titles were chosen by a committee of readers comprised of respected authors, university professors and artists, and from the AANM, Library & Resource Center Manager Angelita Espino and Manager of Education and Public Programming Celine Taminian.

“This award program is the first of its kind for Arab Americans. It’s important because this ethnic group has had particularly pronounced difficulties in getting published by mainstream literary presses,” says Gregory Orfalea, the Washington, D.C.-based academic and author of the seminal 2005 book The Arab Americans: A History, published by Olive Branch Press.

“And it’s a fortuitous time for such an award, because there is an amazing amount of material being produced now. This award highlights the renaissance of a branch of American literature that’s really been coming into flower in the last ten years,” Orfalea says.

The winning authors will be honored at an invitation-only award gala to be held at the AANM on Thursday, September 6, with musical entertainment by violinist Riad Abdel-Gawad.

Nominations are now being accepted for the 2007 Arab American Book Award. For criteria and nomination information, visit and click on Library & Resource Center, or contact Angelita Espino at 313.624.0224 or The nomination deadline is February 1, 2008.

“We hope that, as we give these awards each year, publishers will look a bit more closely at manuscripts by Arab Americans that cross their desks,” says Espino. “Five years from now, we hope the Arab American National Museum Book Award is as recognized and respected as the Coretta Scott King Book Award given by the American Library Association.”

The Arab American National Museum documents, preserves, celebrates, and educates the public on the history, life, culture, and contributions of Arab Americans. We serve as a resource to enhance knowledge and understanding about Arab Americans and their presence in this country. The Arab American National Museum is a project of ACCESS, a Dearborn, Michigan-based nonprofit human services and cultural organization. Learn more at and

Museum hours: 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday, Friday and Saturday; 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Thursday; noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Closed Monday, Tuesday; Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. Admission is $6 for adults; $3 for students, seniors and children 6-12; ages 5 and under, free. Call 313-582-2266 for further information.

Arab American National Museum Book Award
2006 Winners

Adult Non-Fiction
The Iron Cage: The Story of the Palestinian Struggle for Statehood
By Rashid Khalidi (Beacon Press)

In his earlier book, Resurrecting Empire, Rashid Khalidi dissected the failures of colonial policy over the entire span of the modern history of the Middle East, predicted the meltdown in Iraq that we are now witnessing with increasing horror, and offered viable alternatives for achieving peace in the region. His newest book, The Iron Cage, hones in on Palestinian politics and history. Once again Khalidi draws on a wealth of experience and scholarship to elucidate the current conflict, using history to provide a clear-eyed view of the situation today.The story of the Palestinian search to establish a state begins in the era of British control over Palestine and stretches between the two world wars, when colonial control of the region became increasingly unpopular and power began to shift toward the United States. In this crucial period, and in the years immediately following World War II, Palestinian leaders were unable to achieve the long-cherished goal of establishing an independent state-a critical failure that throws a bright light on the efforts of the Palestinians to create a state in the many decades since 1948. By frankly discussing the reasons behind this failure, Khalidi offers a much-needed perspective for anyone concerned about peace in the Middle East.

Dr. Rashid Khalidi holds the Edward Said Chair in Arab Studies at Columbia University, where he heads the Middle East Institute. He has written more than 80 articles on Middle Eastern history and politics, as well as op-ed pieces in the New York Times, the Boston Globe, the Los Angeles Times, the Chicago Tribune, and The Nation. He lives in New York.

Adult Fiction
In the Country of Men
By Hisham Matar (The Dial Press)

This breathtaking novel is set in the rarely glimpsed world of Qaddafi’s Libya. The only debut novel short-listed for The Man Booker Prize and The Guardian First Book Prize, with rights already sold in 15 countries, In the Country of Men has received extraordinary reviews in England. Called “Outstanding…A tender evocation of universal human conflicts” by The Observer and “Glowing with emotional truth…One of the most brilliant literary debuts of recent years,” by The Times of London, this novel provides an extraordinary window into Libya and hails the arrival of a remarkable young storyteller.

In the Country of Men is the story of a young boy growing up in a terrifying and bewildering world where his best friend's father disappears and is next seen on state television at a public execution; where a mysterious man sits outside the house all day and asks strange questions; where his mother burns all their books when it seems his father has finally disappeared for good. A stunning depiction of a child confronted with the private fallout of a public nightmare, this is the only novel of its kind on contemporary Libya.

Hisham Matar was born in 1970 in New York City to Libyan parents and spent his childhood in Tripoli and Cairo. He lives in London and is currently at work on his second novel.

Children or Young Adult
One Green Apple
By Eve Bunting, illustrated by Ted Lewin (Clarion Books)

Farah feels alone, even when surrounded by her classmates. She listens and nods but doesn’t speak. It’s hard being the new kid in school, especially when you’re from another country and don’t know the language. Then, on a field trip to an apple orchard, Farah discovers there are lots of things that sound the same as they did at home, from dogs crunching their food to the ripple of friendly laughter. As she helps the class make apple cider, Farah connects with the other students and begins to feel that she belongs.
Ted Lewin’s gorgeous sun-drenched paintings and Eve Bunting’s sensitive text immediately put the reader into another child’s shoes in this timely story of a young Muslim immigrant.
Eve Bunting grew up in Northern Ireland, where storytelling is a tradition, and came to America as a young mother. She has the unique ability to address contemporary social issues, from homelessness to illiteracy, in a sensitive manner, and at the same time to explore the dynamics of family relationships. Bunting is the author of more than 200 beloved books for young people, from preschoolers to teenagers. She lives in Pasadena, California.

Ted Lewin grew up in Buffalo, New York, with two brothers, one sister, two parents, a lion, an iguana, and a chimpanzee. He became interested in art as a young boy when he would draw his brothers' world of wrestling. Lewin later worked as a professional wrestler to finance his studies at the Pratt Institute of Fine Arts, where he met his wife, Betsy, also a children's book writer and illustrator. They reside in Brooklyn, New York.

Adult Non-Fiction
Honorable Mention
The Arab Americans
By Randa A. Kayyali (Greenwood Press)

Americans of Arab heritage have made major contributions to U.S. society, and this is a timely and unique overview of their immigration patterns, settlement, adaptation, and assimilation for a general audience.

The book begins by giving a broad political and social history of the Arab world since the advent of Islam in 632 C.E. Kayyali also takes care to be inclusive of the different groups who can be classified as "Arab," and the discussion of who these people are, with their different religions and beliefs, is an enlightening base to understand their experiences as Arab Americans. Their assimilation and adaptations are discussed, and readers learn about family issues, women's issues, food, media, and religious practices in the Arab American communities.

Within the larger Arab American community, the main issues of pan-Arab identification, Christian and Muslim identities, and generational differences are covered, along with their social networks and celebrations. A final chapter focuses on the impact of Arab Americans on U.S. society, from the arts to politics, with insight into intergroup relations and the impact of 9/11. A sampling of noted Arab Americans, such as Ralph Nader, a glossary, statistical tables, and photos are included as well.

Randa A. Kayyali is a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University and has written on Arab American issues.

Adult Non-Fiction
Honorable Mention
“Evil” Arabs in American Popular Film: Orientalist Fear
By Tim Jon Semmerling (University of Texas Press)
The "evil" Arab has become a stock character in American popular films, playing the villain opposite American "good guys" who fight for "the American way." It's not surprising that this stereotype has entered American popular culture, given the real-world conflicts between the United States and Middle Eastern countries, particularly since the oil embargo of the 1970s and continuing through the Iranian hostage crisis, the first and second Gulf Wars, and the ongoing struggle against al-Qaeda. But when one compares the "evil" Arab of popular culture to real Arab people, the stereotype falls apart. This thought-provoking book further dismantles the "evil" Arab stereotype by showing how American cultural fears, which stem from challenges to our national ideologies and myths, have driven us to create the "evil" Arab Other.
Semmerling bases his argument on close readings of six films (The Exorcist, Rollover, Black Sunday, Three Kings, Rules of Engagement, and South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut), as well as CNN's 9/11 documentary America Remembers. He analyzes how the films portray Arabs as threatening to subvert American "truths" and mythic tales—and how the insecurity this engenders causes Americans to project evil character and intentions on Arab peoples, landscapes, and cultures. Overall, Semmerling's probing analysis of America's Orientalist fears exposes how the "evil" Arab of American popular film is actually an illusion that reveals more about Americans than Arabs.

Tim Jon Semmerling is an independent scholar in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who holds a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from Indiana University. Presently, he is studying for his J.D. degree at DePaul University College of Law in Chicago.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Original features from Common Ground News Service

Title: Lesson for Iraq in the Asian Soccer CupAuthor: César ChelalaSource: The Common Ground News Service, 21 August 2007Word Count: 567

Title: Pakistan's 60 year struggle for democracyAuthor: Rehan Rafay JamilSource: The Common Ground News Service, 21 August 2007Word Count: 857

Title: The strengthening of faith through religious diversityAuthor: Ali Noer ZamanSource: The Common Ground News Service, 21 August 2007Word Count: 787

Title: ~Youth Views ~ Empowering youth for the common goodAuthor: Nathan RenderSource: The Common Ground News Service, 21 August 2007Word Count: 780

Each article is available in Arabic, French, English and Indonesian; I'd be happy to send you any translation. Please feel free to republish the article(s) and let me know by sending an email to:


Lesson for Iraq in the Asian Soccer Cup

By César Chelala

NEW YORK, New York - Two very dissimilar events with contradictory results took place recently in Iraq, practically simultaneously: the withdrawal of five Sunni ministers from the so-called unity government of Nouri al-Maliki and the victory of the Iraqi national soccer team over Saudi Arabia for the Asian Soccer Cup.

The first is indicative of the battle for power being waged among the factions present in that troubled country, while the second succeeded precisely because those factions were able to overcome their deep-seated differences and work towards a common goal. The politicians could learn a valuable lesson from the latter.

The Iraqi national soccer team's victory was all the more remarkable in that its adversary in the final match for the Asian soccer cup was Saudi Arabia, the three-time winner and holder of the Cup, also the team favoured to win the competition by all observers.

And this happened to a team from a country torn asunder by war and violence since the US-led invasion of March 2003.Jorvan Vieira, the Brazilian coach signed on by the Iraqi team shortly before the final game, has spoken openly — in an interview published by Clarin, an Argentine newspaper — of his amazement on observing the level of animosity among the players, especially between Sunni and Shiite Iraqis.

The team was in total disarray on his arrival. Many players didn't even talk to each other, and for the first two weeks, things were extremely difficult for him.

When asked how he managed to create a climate of civility among the Sunni, Shiite, Kurdish and Christian players, sufficient for the team to pull together, Vieira replied: "What I did was talk with them every day and tell them that unless they decided to work together they wouldn't get anywhere and that they would leave the Iraqi people without any happiness. Every time two players had a problem, I took them into a room and didn't leave that room until the problem was overcome."

After winning the semi-final match against South Korea, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis took to the streets to celebrate. The demonstrations were interrupted by two suicide car bombings resulting in the death of 50 people and 135 wounded.

A cause for celebration had become a cause for mourning.

"The day afterwards was very difficult for us," remarked Vieira. "We all cried on watching the TV images of the tragedy and we thought if it really was worthwhile to win, since if we won people died and if we lost people also died."

According to Vieira, it was despair that gave the team the strength needed to play and win the final game. The players had learned that a mother who had lost her son during the celebrations had spoken of the happiness of her boy's final moments thanks to their team's victory. It made them think "we have to win this final at any price and offer this triumph to that mother."

For a few moments, the Iraqi people were able to forget that they were living in a country ravaged by war and senseless killing.

Their team's victory gave them a sense of hope, an example of the possibilities ahead if only they worked together, just as the team had done in order to triumph.It can be argued that this was only a temporary situation. May the Iraqi leaders, however, make it a lasting one, one that will restore a sense of humanity to their ravaged country.


* César Chelala is a writer on human rights issues. He is also a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 August 2007, permission has been obtained for publication.


Pakistan's 60 year struggle for democracy

By Rehan Rafay Jamil

KARACHI - As Pakistanis celebrate sixty years of independence, the country finds itself embroiled in yet another seemingly intractable political crisis. The state, founded by one of the Indian subcontinent's most brilliant lawyers, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, has spent more than half of its life under military rule. Jinnah envisioned Pakistan as a secular and democratic state.

Today Pakistan is ruled by the military, and President Pervez Musharraf seems determined to stay in power despite his inability to prevent the growing militancy and political unrest brewing in the country.Musharraf has travelled down a well-trodden path. Starting with the first military coup in 1958, the country has experienced a continuous power struggle between elected and military rulers. The plot is quite predictable by now.

A general overthrows a civilian government in a military coup, making lofty but inevitably elusive promises to hold elections and return the country to democratic rule. Democracy may not be the panacea for all Pakistan's problems but it is a discourse deeply rooted in the Pakistani polity since the country's inception. Unlike many other Muslim countries, Pakistan has enjoyed brief periods of democratic rule. But elections are just one component of democracy and must be supported by strong institutions such as an independent judiciary, a free press and a robust civil society, elements that have – until recently – been absent in Pakistan.

In March, Musharraf made the mistake of suspending the most senior judge of the Supreme Court of Pakistan, Ifitkhar Chaudhury. Few could have contemplated the overwhelming public support that followed.

The demand for the restoration of the Chief Justice and the independence of the judiciary captured the imagination of the nation. In a historic verdict by the Supreme Court this month, the Chief Justice was reinstated. This lawyers' movement was a rare and unprecedented display of people's power in Pakistan. The protests were brought to the homes of millions of people by Pakistan's electronic media. Musharraf's seven-year rule has seen the strengthening of Pakistani civil society and a free press; it is these two institutions that could play an important role in his downfall.

There is a well-known saying in Pakistan that there are three A's that keep the country intact: Allah, the Army and America. This saying may be indicative of some deeper truths about the powers that shape Pakistani political life. Pakistan was a crucial American ally in the final days of the Cold War, which saw the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan. Today Pakistan once again finds itself as an indispensable ally in the Bush administration's so-called "War on Terror".

But the two countries have always had a difficult relationship with mutual suspicion entrenched on both sides. A stable and friendly Pakistani government is essential for American efforts to maintain the fledgling peace in Afghanistan and curb the militancy along the Pak-Afghan border.

The fear that Pakistan, a state armed with nuclear weapons, could be taken over by hostile religious extremists has been a source of concern for American policy makers. The recent standoff between the government and fundamentalist students in the Red Mosque in the heart of the capital Islamabad ostensibly strengthens that perception.

However, the Pakistani military establishment has a dubious and well-documented history of covertly supporting religious political parties and militant groups to marginalize mainstream political parties and further its foreign policy objectives. While religious parties may enjoy strong social support in Pakistan, they have had limited electoral success, as has been proven time and again at the ballot box.

Today Musharraf finds himself at an important crossroads. His political opponents argue that it is unconstitutional for him to simultaneously remain President and Chief of Army.

With parliamentary elections scheduled for October, the President is faced with a difficult dilemma: he can either attempt to stay in power in the hopes of continued support from his two principle allies – the Pakistan Army and America – or he can step down from his position as Chief of Army and allow a peaceful transition of power to a civilian government by holding transparent elections. Such a move could secure him a place in history and ensure that his considerable economic and social reforms in Pakistan are not overshadowed by a desperate attempt to stay in power at all costs.

There is evidence of recent clandestine talks of cooperation between Musharraf and Benazir Bhutto, the exiled leader of Pakistan's largest political party. If these talks bear fruit, there could be a return to civilian rule in the country. Unfortunately, this in itself will not guarantee a quick fix to Pakistan's myriad problems.

The track records of the leaders of Pakistan's two major political parties, Benazir Bhutto and Nawaz Sharif, hardly inspire confidence in democratic leadership of the country. In order for a democratic political culture to take root in Pakistan, civilian governments must be allowed to complete their tenures in office. The people, along with democratic institutions, such as an independent judiciary and free press, should hold political leadership accountable.

In the long-term, perhaps the Turkish political model of an institutionalized role for the military in politics may be the only solution to maintain a balance of power between Pakistan's powerful military establishment and popularly elected governments.


*Rehan Rafay Jamil is a freelance journalist based in Pakistan. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 August 2007, permission has been obtained for publication.


The strengthening of faith through religious diversity

By Ali Noer Zaman

JAKARTA - One of the much-debated religious issues in Indonesia as of today is that of pluralism. Its opponents, such as the Indonesian Ulama Council (MUI), believe that pluralist theology is harmful for Islamic theological foundations, as it would reject the idea that one particular religion reigns supreme and that other religions' beliefs are apocryphal.

The Council's fatwa (religious legal opinion) of 2005, which called for the abolishment of pluralistic theology, alarmed the Muslim community of the danger of pluralist theology. The fatwa did nothing to appease the controversy; it only made the debate fiercer.Adian Husaini, from the Indonesian Council for Islamic Propagation (Dewan Dakwah Islamiyah Indonesia, or DDII), represents another view also calling for the abandonment of pluralistic theology.

The Council highlights the fear that such theology tends to make Muslims regard Islam as relative, making some fear that Muslims will convert to other religions easily or at least accept and even adopt other religions' practices, such as attending common prayer sessions or celebrating other religions' holy days.The plurality of religion is an inevitable fact of humankind. Multiple religions have existed alongside one another throughout history.

While recognising the existence of other faiths, founders of religion and their adherents generally provided guidance on interfaith relations based on their own experiences. Stories of these interactions were usually documented only after years of oral tradition and subject to change.

In most holy books, stories of contentious interactions with people of other faiths can be easily misinterpreted or seen as instructive of anti-pluralism.At present, all such paradigms need to change. High rates of human mobility have brought adherents of various religions into sociable relations within different contexts, such as in the educational or business realms.

Multicultural communities are found in the world's big cities. Now with the help of user-friendly information and communication technologies, people have opportunities to get to know others of different faiths through empathy-driven correspondence and dialogue among religions.

For Paul F. Knitter, a Catholic theologian from the United States, different religious teachings and forms of worship can be resources for a dialogue to enrich one's religious experience.

Every religion can maintain or deepen its own integrity through encounters with other faiths. Making this materialise, however, requires a shift from the old religious mindset. For example, in Christianity Jesus is divine and the saviour of the world.

However, in a global context, he is not the only God and saviour, because God has also inspired other communities.Muslims need to apply a similar approach. Muslims should not consider the Qur'an as the only revelation to hold the absolute religious truth.

A human being is merely a limited interpreter, while God is an infinite entity with far more wisdom to impart than the human mind can process. What a human being receives from God is only the reduction of God's Word in the frame of an individual's socio-cultural language, which might be incongruent with that of others'.

There are revelations other than the Qur'an, and indeed the Qur'an itself confirms this. The messages of the Qur'an, the Bible and the Vedas, among others, are directed in each case to all humankind and are aimed at creating spiritual prosperity and peace for all.

In other words, the aim is not the conversion of other believers, as has been the attempt for centuries. Let conversion become a personal issue, influenced by a person's own social, cultural and individual considerations. Rather than forbidding someone from leaving his or her faith, conversion should be the result of his or her own decision.

According to John Hick, a British theologian and religious philosopher, pluralist theology tries to understand that different faiths are different responses and perceptions of various communities towards the materialisation of God.

Pluralist theology wants to change the religious view from focusing on one's own tradition to seeing God as the source of all faiths. Based on this perspective, one would not judge another faith from one's own religious perspective, but from a universal standpoint.

This does not require individual believers to abandon the teachings of their respective traditions. What does need to change, however, is the individual's standpoint towards other traditions. Pluralist theology has no intention of undermining the faith of religious adherents; in fact, it seeks to strengthen it.

Through religious diversity, God has shown us that He gives blessings without any preference. Pluralist theology is a gift with which to eliminate discrimination against fellow humans for their religious beliefs. In such a context, every religious believer has the same opportunity to gain salvation.

Pluralist theology, therefore, has no relation to the conspiracy theories upheld by certain groups, such as the DDII, which believe that there are concerted efforts trying to conquer adherents of their faith.Pluralist theology should be fostered and protected, not abolished.


* Ali Noer Zaman is a writer on socio-religious issues. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 August 2007, permission has been obtained for publication.


~Youth Views ~

Empowering youth for the common good

By Nathan Render

CHICAGO, Illinois - What do religious extremists and interfaith youth organisers have in common? A lot more than one might think. College students begin their search for summer internships with enthusiasm and excitement at the opportunity to make an impact. Unfortunately, many end up doing busywork, unable to share their skills and talents. Still, these overworked, underpaid students are motivated to find meaning in their jobs. Most are trying to find purpose in their lives as they transition from childhood to adolescence, and ultimately adulthood.

I have witnessed the demoralising effect this constant searching has on youth in contrast with the frequent declaration by adults that my generation is comprised of the leaders and visionaries of the future. How can youth be "leaders of tomorrow" until they are treated with respect and validity and provided with the resources and support to do so today?

Even in youth-centric institutions such as schools and community centres, young adults are often treated as an afterthought. It often seems as though society is too busy to stop and foster the growth of young people, leaving a growing gap between the meaning youth are trying to find in their lives, and the reality in which they are living. This dissonance is the reason why organisations such as Al Qaeda may appeal to struggling young adults. These organisations give youth the impression that they have a meaningful role to fulfil, empowering them to give meaning to their life.

Eboo Patel, a practicing Muslim and Executive Director of the Interfaith Youth Core (IFYC), a non-profit organisation committed to promoting religious pluralism in the world through the empowerment of young people, recognises this phenomenon.

In his new book Acts of Faith, Patel writes, "Even people with the small interfaith movement generally treated young people's involvement as a sideshow. Religious extremists didn't view young people as an afterthought. Religious extremists saw a fire in young people that others were missing. They were stoking that fire and turning it into targeted assassination and mass murder."

Religious extremists clearly understand and utilise the malleability of young people's formative years to their advantage. A point often overlooked is that one of Osama Bin Laden's keys to success is his effective youth organising ability.

He employs these valuable skills to impassion vast numbers of struggling young people, connecting them to extensive social networks, teaching them the significance and relevance of their contribution, and imbuing in them an overall semblance of personal identity and purpose.

I am fortunate in that I have been able to pursue constructive opportunities where I felt valued and have formed a strong identity. Members of my communities, particularly the ones directly related to my faith, have taken the time and effort to invest in my future.

In return, I have been empowered to support pluralism and contribute positively to the world I have envisioned. My experiences in high school – and now in college – have provided me with a strong foundation upon which to live my life as a pluralist and be an effective contributor to my community, my country, and the world.

This summer I was blessed with the opportunity to work as an intern at the organisation Patel founded, the IFYC. The experience has provided me with yet another positively empowering community in which I can thrive, where my potential is repeatedly affirmed. Particularly influential was my work in the InterACTION youth exchange program, which encouraged interfaith and cross-cultural dialogue amongst Jordanian and American youth.

In my first week as an intern, I was given the daunting task of planning all the dialogue sessions for the exchange. I then had the opportunity to participate in the program, practicing the core values of tolerance and hospitality that IFYC embodies.

Most importantly, I have been given the opportunity to learn from my dynamic, intelligent and thoughtful colleagues, particularly my fellow interns. But I know this experience is not the norm for all youth.

While I have always found outlets that allow me to voice my opinions and be a vehicle for positive change, I recognise young people around the world constantly encounter resistance in their efforts to do the same. IFYC and religious extremist organisations possess more similarities than one would first imagine, yet with one major difference: the IFYC strives to build and promote pluralism among youth through cooperative service and religious understanding. We need organisations which embody the youth-centred culture of religious extremist groups, but provide constructive, rather than destructive, opportunities for youth.

Out of my experience comes what I feel is our biggest challenge – we need to explore, create and implement more opportunities like the IFYC internships to promote positive youth development and empower youth for the common good.


* Nathan Render is a junior at Tufts University majoring in anthropology and child development. He is a leader of Pathways, a new interfaith initiative on his campus. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 21 August 2007,

Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.