Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Common Ground News Service Feature stories

Title: The caliphate: a threat to democracy?
Author: Fachrizal Halim
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 763

Title: Democracy can make democrats
Author: Sri Murniati
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 873

Title: No world security without "neighbourliness"
Author: Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 901

Title: Music is a messenger for peace
Author: Cesar Chelala
Source: The Common Ground News Service, 04 September 2007
Word Count: 646

Each article is available in Arabic, French, English and Indonesian

The caliphate: a threat to democracy?
Fachrizal Halim
Montreal, Quebec - The Hizbut Tahrir Indonesia (HTI) hosted the International Khilafah Conference last month. Since this event, Indonesian mass media has been discussing the pros and cons of implementing a caliphate system in Indonesia which involves the formal application of shari'a (Islamic law) as the legal code for the ummah (Muslim community), under a head of state, or a caliph, who traditionally had both political and spiritual authority.Those who are for the implementation of such a system, especially the HTI itself, cite that the obligation to enforce a caliphate system is based on the religious order to establish God's law for the believers. This political transcendence seems to have a special appeal, one that drove thousands of Muslims to crowd in Gelora Bung Karno Stadium in Jakarta in support of HTI's vision. Given the huge number of people attending the event, one begins to wonder if the idea of establishing caliphate system would become a threat to the current democratic political system in Indonesia.However, others view the idea of enforcing a caliphate system more as historical romanticism or idealisation than a mature political proposal. The desire to build a single Muslim polity under a caliph is considered a utopian dream. Moreover, those against the idea emphasised that the political reality of a nation-state, with a modern democratic political system as its foundation is not compatible with the caliphate system as suggested by HTI. The most significant issue about the debate is the implication of HTI's campaign of the establishment of a caliphate system for the future of democratic rule in Indonesia. HTI's concept of a caliphate system is often categorised as a very radical resistance toward the existing global system. Like most Islamic political movements, however, it should be understood as a desperate attempt by Muslims to deal with the turmoil that resulted from the abrupt modernisation that occurred very quickly in most Muslim-majority states. In this case, HTI argues that a caliphate system is only an alternative to the current system. It proposes that equal rights, justice, accountability, and good governance can exist outside of a Western constructed definition of democracy and has the potential to be upheld in other political systems.Following this argument, Islam, with a particular reading of the Qur'an and hadith, has a mechanism that reinforces the social frameworks that are currently adopted by modern communities, such as democratic practice of politics, civil society, multiculturalism, and rational bureaucratic structures. In the Qur'an, the righteous are described as those people who, among other things, manage their affairs through "mutual consultation" or shura. In addition, the constitution of Medina during the time of the Prophet Muhammad established the importance of consent and cooperation for governance. According to this compact, Muslims and non-Muslims were equal citizens of the Islamic state, with identical rights and duties.On the other hand, the extensive interpretation of Islamic norms will immediately show that a caliphate system proposed by HTI is not an absolute Islamic political system. A political system of the past, the caliphate system is no more than one possible political structure. It means this system has the potential to be partly accepted or completely refused by Muslims. As a concept, the caliphate system as proposed by the HTI should be appreciated as an alternative political system and not as a threat toward democracy. One must remember that in the beginning of the 20th century, the world had witnessed the emergence of fascism and communism as neutral alternatives to democracy. Fascism and communism became threats to democracy only after Hitler and Lenin marshalled their troops to conquer Europe. It is when different political systems are portrayed as a polarised dichotomy, with room for either one or the other in our international system, that one system becomes a threat. As long as it is campaigned in a peaceful way and is as compatible or at least complementary to democracy, the same analogy should be applied to the caliphate system proposed by HTI. Ultimately, history will determine which system, or systems, will survive. Our common future is hopefully one in which all religious communities will live side by side in peace. The different political aspirations of religious communities should not be defined as a clash. On the contrary, it should be understood as an opportunity given by God to appreciate differences in the various faiths and to love others. At the end, this will give all sides an opportunity to show a collective commitment to the value of equality and justice. Only in this way, we hope that Indonesia will become a natural home where democracy can prosper. ###* Fachrizal Halim is a PhD candidate in the history of Islamic law at McGill University, Montreal, Canada. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Democracy can make democrats
Sri Murniati
Athens - The main question that lies in the debate about Islamic parties and democracy in Indonesia is whether Islamic parties, with their seemingly minimal commitment to democracy, can contribute to the ongoing process of democratisation. The written commitment of some Islamic parties to implement shari'a might appear to support the idea that Islamic parties will not be able to contribute to the democratic process. However, to rely only on the ideological convictions of the party to evaluate its ability to contribute to democracy might prove inadequate. Some studies of religious parties, such as the one conducted in 2003 by Stathis N. Kalyvas of the University of Chicago show that religion-inspired political actors are not only bound and restricted by their ideological convictions, but also by the cost-benefit calculation of securing or obtaining power. In order to gain popular support while still maintaining their distinguished character as religious parties, they begin to moderate their political stances. And once a religious party becomes moderate, it has the possibility of contributing to democracy. One example of this is the experience of Christian Democrat parties in Europe. To use their cases for comparison might at first glance seem preposterous. Today's European Christian democratic parties, like the Christlich Demokratische Union Deutschlands – ChristlichSoziale Union in Germany (which won the chancellor seat in 2005) or the Christen-Democratisch en Vlaams in Belgium (which won the greatest number of votes in 2007) are not so different from their socialist or liberal counterparts. They seem to be an integral part of the liberal democratic system in their respective countries. However, if we trace the roots of these parties, it is clear that they emerged from Catholic movements with the intention to make Catholicism more visible in public life. They are part of the Church's reaction to the wave of liberalism that coloured the process of democratic consolidation in Europe. These parties still explicitly maintain their commitment toward Christian values in their principle documents, and their stances on issues like abortion are still somehow considered to represent Church opinion. Despite this, European Christian democrats are not perceived as a threat to democracy; indeed, they are even considered important contributors to democratisation in their respective countries. The question that needs to be answered, therefore, is how these religious parties can be incorporated into their countries' democratic systems. Kalyvas shows that the answer lies in the willingness and ability of these parties to become more moderate. Such willingness is demonstrated, for example, in their eagerness to build coalitions with secular parties, which requires that they redefine their political identity and moderate their religious agendas. In Indonesia, the participation of the Prosperous Justice Party (PKS) in elections has raised concerns and apprehension. It is true that the PKS seeks to implement shari'a in Indonesian society. However, during the period of its participation in Indonesian politics, it has shown a willingness to comply with democratic procedures and to moderate its religious aspirations. For example, the PKS, which was the Justice Party (PK) at the time, did not campaign for the reinstatement of the seven words of the Jakarta Charter – "with the obligation to observe shari'a by its followers" – during the process of the 1945 Constitutional amendment in 2000. These words were removed on the second day of Indonesian independence, yet many other Islamic groups in Indonesia continue to struggle for the reinstatement these words. Additionally, the PK also chose Abdurrahman Wahid (Gus Dur), former President of Indonesia, as their presidential candidate in the 1998 election, although they did not share the same point of view on the relationship between the state and Islam. And as Jusuf Wanandi, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies, points out, the PKS did not immediately implement shari'a upon winning the local election in Depok and Bekasi, two cities in West Java. The delay should be seen as a positive sign that the PKS does not aim to implement an established narrow understanding of shari'a, but sees shari'a as a system that is open for continuous interpretation. However, Kalyvas notes that the religious party's willingness to moderate is not adequate to ensure their incorporation into a democratic system; there must also be an "ability" for them to do so. Interestingly, "the ability to moderate" lies in the willingness of their competitors to allow them to be part of the system. Kalyvas believes that one factor that has led to the failure of the Front Islamique du Salut (FIS) to contribute to democratisation in Algeria has been the absence of cooperative attitudes from its secular counterparts, which control the military. It is very unlikely that Indonesian secular groups will resort to exclusionary means. And, as the example of the FIS shows, the hospitability of secular groups – including their willingness to trust that the process of democratisation – can gradually lead Islamic parties to become increasingly moderate, making the contribution of Islamic parties to democracy possible. As a result, our chief concern should not be to question the democratic commitment of those involved in the political process, but rather to develop and protect democratic institutions and systems that can foster moderation even on the part of "undemocratic" actors. Democracy is not always consolidated by the presence of democrats; however, democracy itself can make democrats.###* Sri Murniati is a student of political science at Ohio University, Athens. She can be reached at chat_unie@yahoo.com. This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/ Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


No world security without "neighbourliness"
Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
New York, New York - There are 1.3 billion followers of the Prophet Muhammad; every fifth person prays facing Mecca; every fifth country celebrates Ramadan. In the near future Muslim populations will only continue to increase, as will the importance of Muslim-Western relations and economic exchanges.Rapid population growth among the poorer classes in some Muslim-majority countries and among blue-collar immigrants to the Western world makes it difficult for these Muslims to prosper economically. In the past, it was possible for the rich to overlook poverty. Not anymore. The internet, media and new modes of transportation have converted the world to a "village". As such, there is no more world security without "neighbourliness".Poverty today is even harsher than in the past. It does not only mean a lack of resources; it is also an experience of relative scarcity. Many Muslims live in communities of harsh economic and political survival, often in the shadow of elites that squander wealth. According to the latest report from the Human Development Foundation, the majority of the Islamic world falls in the middle and low ranks of human development: Only five Islamic countries had good scores in a combined index that measures life expectancy, literacy, education and income; 27 Islamic countries had medium scores and 25 had low scores. When deprivation is felt as hunger, sickness and miserable shelter that is one type of experience – a physical one. But when want is felt as a condition of sharp contrast with one's neighbours, in one's home country or across borders, it turns into a malignant political condition. If the poor organise openly they may improve their conditions. But too often the destitute are unable to organise politically in open society in countries where political organisation is often punished severely. Muslims often live in states of autocratic injustice. For example, in the Freedom in the World 2007 report, 11 of the 18 Middle Eastern countries are ranked "Not Free" and 6 are ranked "Partly Free"; it is in these countries that underground politics emerge and thrive. Under autocratic regimes, covert religious politics operate with immunity: the ruler is too insecure to punish the pious, and therefore these groups of society's disenfranchised adopt Islam as a cover for other grievances. Although sometimes these other grievances are legit, fundamentalism also thrives underground. Their funding and human resources are generated in the informal milieu, without any government or social restrictions. Members of these groups often live sequestered. And the rest of society goes about its business, unable or unwilling to counter those underground groups that lean towards extremism and violence, as they struggle with their own very real concerns. The general public is not able to exercise social pressure to reduce the existence and influence of these groups. Therefore, the best way to limit radical underground Islam is by working with Muslim countries to create freedom and the space needed for the evolution of a traditional political system, the lack of which has forced vigilantes and other activists underground, to evolve. Muslims need not be taught democracy; they already have the necessary political values to build a democracy that suits their relative social contexts. Muslim communities, however, would benefit from industrial empowerment, cultural cooperation, and a climate of regional coordination. For example, some countries in the Middle East sell oil and buy consumer products and endless weapons for the defence of immensely insecure regimes. In those countries, this economy currently serves as the background for violence; yet with some adjustments in international investment, it would open the door to political improvements.This region in particular lacks industrial infrastructure to produce its basic commodities. Why doesn't the Middle East organise a common market the European way or strengthen its already existing regional trade blocs such as GAFTA or the GCC? Of course, relevant education and training are prerequisites for such advanced regional planning. Education and training in the region are not geared towards the jobs required to conduct this planning and to produce appropriate infrastructure. It is here where the West can help the Middle East restructure massive human investment. Only an economy that balances investments in agriculture and other basic commodities with investment in industry and services can generate good employment, social security and political stability. Consider what the American University of Beirut (AUB) has done to generate a wealth of good will between the Arabs and the West. I am a graduate of this institution of cultural exchange. It is on this campus where I learned to appreciate my Christianity, love Islam and defend America. AUB has trained several hundred thousand leaders for the Arab and Muslim world since its inception in 1866. The cost of supporting AUB over the past 140 years is equivalent to what the US spends in Iraq in two to three months. Diaspora Muslims are natural agents of intercultural exchange with the West. The open political environment is likely to give the overseas Muslim community opportunities to contribute political innovations to their home countries. Since industrialised nations will continue to need the labour and talent of overseas immigrants, Islamic communities in Europe and the US will expand. The diaspora can accelerate dialogue with host societies if they are properly approached. Immigrants will moderate if embraced with friendly public policies. Islam in the West is an "experiment", and with support from Muslim societies abroad, we can help diffuse the negative energy of radical Islam at home and in the West.###* Dr. Ghassan Rubeiz is a Lebanese-American Middle East analyst. He was previously the Secretary of the Geneva-based World Council of Churches for the Middle East. His blog is aldikkani.blogspot.com.This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.


Music is a messenger for peace
Cesar Chelala
New York - Political and religious leaders are finding help for their peacemaking efforts from an unlikely source: contemporary musicians. An inter-religious orchestra of Jewish, Muslim and Catholic musicians was recently formed in Argentina, the first of its kind in the country. It materialised as the result of the joint efforts of a Catholic priest, Fernando Giannetti, Rabbi Sergio Bergman and the president of the Argentine Islamic Center, Sumir Noufouri. Their main idea is to work together while respecting the diversity of their opinions.The conductor of the inter-religious Argentine orchestra is Luis Gorelik, an Argentine musician with a distinguished international career. Through their work, both director and musicians want to show that collaboration can work among people of different religious persuasions. The orchestra is called Armonías (Harmonies), and is made up of 34 musicians from several Argentine provinces. In the future, Gorelik intends to incorporate musicians from other Latin American countries.The Armonías orchestra follows the path of two other musicians working for peace in the Middle East: Daniel Barenboim and Miguel Angel Estrella. Together with the former Palestinian scholar Edward Said, Barenboim created the West-Eastern Divan (named after an anthology of poems by Goethe), an orchestra made up of young Israeli and Palestinian musicians. The orchestra has performed throughout the world and Barenboim has given piano recitals and music classes in Palestine.Miguel Angel Estrella, an Argentine pianist and present Argentine Ambassador to UNESCO, is the founder of Musique Esperance, a group that promotes peace and justice through music. Estrella has formed Orchestra for Peace, made of young Israeli and Arab musicians from Israel, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Syria and Palestine. He states, "If we are able to create a new humanism, we will be more credible to our children and the youth of today."I asked Estrella, a friend since my youth, what prompted him to create such an orchestra. He told me that it followed a visit to a refugee camp in Gaza where, he said, "I saw the saddest things in my life." He also visited a village where Druze, Muslims and Christians lived together in perfect harmony. He asked a villager how this was possible, and the villager told him, "Of course it is possible; after all, we are all children of Abraham."When he came back to Paris, where he lives, Estrella had already formed the idea to create an orchestra with people from different religious backgrounds. However, when he mentioned his idea to Jewish Rabbis, Catholics or Muslims they all tried to discourage him, telling him that it was an impossible dream. France's president at the time, Francois Mitterrand, went as far as telling Estrella that he thought that his life could be in danger if he pursued this idea."The more they told me that it wasn't possible to do it," Estrella told me, "the more determined I became to do it." Finally, he was able to create the orchestra with the help of people from different backgrounds and beliefs. "Now we play whenever we are able to gather money to pay for the expenses since it costs us a lot to bring together people from different countries," said Estrella, "but I do my best to help them, since they are very eager to play together."Can a musical group be a model for cooperation among people of different religions? I believe it can. While politicians' actions often seem to increase the divide among different religious groups, the work of these musicians is contributing to close that gap. Their work effectively joins peoples' longing for peace with the audiences' love of music.Perhaps through civilian efforts, particularly music, we can reach a level of understanding and cooperation that can eventually lead to a less violent world. By multiplying peace-promoting orchestras, by galvanising into action people's thirst for peace, common citizens can show the merchants of war that music and cooperation can triumph over destruction and death.###* César Chelala, a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award, writes extensively on foreign affairs and human rights issues. He is the foreign correspondent for Middle East Times International (Australia.) This article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and can be accessed at http://www.commongroundnews.org/.Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 4 September 2007, http://www.commongroundnews.org/Copyright permission has been obtained for publication.