Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Why hate the ‘People of the Book’?

By Dr. Khaled Batarfi/ Al-Madinah

When I told a friend that there was no precedent for cursing Jews and Christians (the People of the Book) in Friday sermons, he replied that if I counted them as friends, I was one of them. I said that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) had not cursed the People of the Book nor had he prayed for troubles to fall upon them. On the contrary, he asked God to guide them and lead them to Islam.
The Holy Qur’an says: "O People of the Book! Come to common terms between us and you, that we worship none but God, that we associate no partners with Him." God also orders us to deal kindly and justly with those who do not fight us or drive us from our homes.
Some may argue that the present-day People of the Book are different from the ones living during the time of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). The present-day ones are idolaters who associate partners with God, refuse to believe the Prophet, have introduced unauthorized changes to their religion and, above all, have waged war against Muslims and expelled them from their homes.
The answer is that the People of the Book who lived during the time of the Prophet behaved in the same way. The Qur’an says: "They do blaspheme who say God is the son of Mary." Yet the Prophet called on them to meet him in a dialogue.
The People of the Book who live among us, and whose safety we guarantee, as well as non-combatant civilians in other countries do not fall within the category of enemies, even if they pay taxes and support their government’s anti-Muslim policies. All living in the West, whether citizens or not, are required by law to pay taxes but not all who do so automatically support their government’s policies.
People should not be judged solely by their intentions but rather by their deeds. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) did not punish the unbelievers for the hatred they felt for him and for Islam. The Qur’an also says: "And if ye do catch them (the disbelievers) out, catch them out no worse than they catch you out. But if ye show patience, that is indeed the best (course) for those who are patient."
There were Jews living in Madinah during the days of Prophet Muhammad and he never expelled them from Arabia. He did, however, have to fight them because of their treacherous behavior. They then moved to Khaibar, not far from Madinah and when it became clear they posed a serious threat there, they were removed to a place near Tabuk, far to the north. The Muslims did not expel the Jews of Najran and Yemen. It should be borne in mind that the Prophet died leaving behind a shield that was mortgaged to a Jew. He answered invitations extended to him by the Jews and visited their sick.
A preacher whose heart is filled with hatred toward the followers of other religions cannot expect to convince them of his religion’s merciful and compassionate nature. I pray that God will not punish all of us for the deeds of the foolish among us.
Arab News From the Local Press 11 December 2002

Thursday, September 12, 2002

Where in the world is Bin Laden?

By Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi, Special to Arab News

Ask an Arab — or any Muslim for that matter — about Osama Bin Laden and you will be bewildered by the apparent contradiction in the answer. While most do not agree with his terrorist orientation, many do understand his motive. It is as if a group of red Indians were sitting around a fire, exchanging grievances and stories about white men’s atrocities. Suddenly an overwhelmed, overburdened member shouts. "Let’s kill them all!" The wiser ones will not agree to his mad proposal, but they will certainly understand where it came from — and won’t hate him for it.
You may ask why the Arabs sympathize with Osama’s cause. Well, read the last 50 years of their bloody history and you will understand. In brief, the Americans have supported the Arabs’ worst enemy, Israel, against every UN resolution which would give them back the occupied land and so stop the flow of blood between the Semite cousins — Jews and Arabs. The Americans were still at it on Sept. 11 when, on their watch, Sharon was finishing what he started in Lebanon 20 years ago, when he was found — by an Israeli commission — partly responsible for the massacre of thousands of Palestinians in refugee camps near Beirut.
Moreover, the US reaction to the terror of Sept.11 was out of proportion. Thousands of innocent Afghans paid with their lives for a crime they had not committed while the accused escaped untouched. A country that lived in the misery of the Middle Ages was bombed back into the Stone Age. A regime, chosen and protected by America, was led by corrupt, weak and inept leaders who put a fragmented Afghanistan back at the top of the chart of drug-exporting countries. Now it is another war against a Muslim nation. This time it is Iraq, and God knows who will be next. It seems the war against terrorism is becoming terror against the Muslim world. Why do Muslims hate America? Does anyone still ask that question?
Ask Arabs and Muslims again whether they believe Osama did it and you are in for another surprise. Most think he is innocent! Al-Jazeera, the Pan-Arab satellite TV network, broadcast a program last Thursday about the kind of conspiracy theories many Arabs and Muslims still believe in. The CIA, Israeli Mossad, and the right-wing US militias could have carried out the attacks to start a new Christian crusade against the Muslim Ummah (nation), they say. But what about Bin Laden confessing on tape? It has been doctored in Hollywood. Watch the movie "Wag the Dog" and you will see for yourself what that group is capable of and for less compelling reasons. How was America able to announce so soon after the event the names of the terrorists even though most of them were dead?
Later, they remind you, many of those named were found to be alive and innocent in Saudi Arabia. The haste, they will tell you, shows either the US intelligence agencies knew in advance or did it themselves. Osama, they say, is innocent. The worst they will agree to is that he condones such terrorist attacks. Reaction? They would pray to Allah to give him guidance away from these criminal thoughts, to enlighten his mind and methods — but to protect him in the meantime.
You may well ask what is wrong with these people who believe such things. After all, the evidence is abundant and the conviction is on tape! The answer is in psychology. Parents won’t believe their darling son is involved in a horrible crime until they are overwhelmed by absolutely conclusive proof. Regardless of all the evidence against him, black America didn’t believe in O.J. Simpson’s guilt. It is human nature that you stand by your loved ones, hoping against all odds that they are innocent. This means that the accusers need to work harder and smarter in order to come up with 100 percent proof.
Finally, the inevitable question: Where in the world is Osama Bin Laden? People are of many minds about this. The prevailing view is that he is in a cave somewhere in, or almost in, Afghanistan, probably moving at night from one place to another under the protection of various tribal chiefs. Muslims brag that they will not betray him for the $25 million dollars the US put on his head — certainly not while they believe in his innocence and a US conspiracy against Islam and the Muslims.
His organization and finances are evidently in a mess but not total bankruptcy. Internal communication may have gone down but it is not dead silent. The organization and its communication network is still functioning, they assure you. The Al-Jazeera program shows that.
Other theories prevail. Some will have Osama already in American custody and being interrogated. The US, they will explain, is not announcing this for fear of a backlash from his followers and supporters. Others believe he is dead, either of wounds from bombs or because of kidney problems. They disagree, however, whether America knows about his demise. If it knows, then it won’t announce it for fear of a backlash.
His mother, family and friends, at the same time, are hoping against all odds that he is still alive. He must be, they reason, because they would have been told if he wasn’t. The families of any member of his organization are usually informed of their sons’ fates by mysterious callers and their names are regularly listed on sympathetic websites and distributed on e-mail lists. If the big boss himself, who is surrounded by a huge entourage, is killed, then it stands to reason that his family would certainly have been informed.
What is true and what is not? Only God knows. And, maybe, America.

Friday, August 23, 2002

Many Saudis feel betrayed by AmericaBy Donna Abu-Nasr

RIYADH, 23 August — On a blistering 120-degree morning in August, a Saudi Arabian Airlines pilot named Sultan Al-Duweihi took his place in line for a visa outside the US Embassy.
Being made to stand outside and wait was a new experience for many of the two dozen Saudis in line. Since Sept. 11 the rules are stricter. No longer can Saudis leave the paperwork to their travel agent; everyone between ages 12 and 70 has to be interviewed by a consular officer, and approval can take more than five weeks.
"This is too much — over and beyond disgusting," said Al-Duweihi. "Saudis are being collectively punished for the actions of a few." He was referring to Sept. 11.
Americans would argue that new precautions are only natural. But Saudis feel betrayed by a country where many studied, vacationed and did business, and which they looked to as a bastion of the freedoms and human rights.
"People see the visa line as a sign that says, ‘Hey we hate you, we regard you with suspicion, we don’t want you,’" said Khaled M. Batarfi, a managing editor of the Saudi newspaper Al-Madinah and a journalism graduate of the University of Oregon. Saudi and US officials insist that government-to-government ties remain solid, that the basis of the relationship has not changed.
"The relations are there. They have existed for 70 years," Prince Saud, the foreign minister, told The Associated Press recently, and added that he saw nothing to indicate a change.
But at the non-governmental level the new frostiness has been evident in one incident after another: Rudy Giuliani, as New York mayor, spurning a donation to the city from Prince Alwaleed ibn Talal; relatives of Sept. 11 victims suing Saudi officials, banks and charities, claiming they helped finance Osama Bin Laden’s network and the terror attacks; a US defense think-tank analyst suggests the United States target Saudi oil fields and financial assets unless the kingdom does more to fight terrorism.
Without offering any specifics, US officials say the Saudis are giving exceptional help in law enforcement and intelligence since Sept. 11, and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld said this month he was happy with the relationship.
Saud has said his country is sharing with US officials information obtained from 16 alleged members of Bin Laden’s network, Al-Qaeda, who had fled Afghanistan into Iran and were recently turned over to Saudi Arabia. But another division looms, over how to deal with the Iraq question.
Saud told the AP the Kingdom will not allow the United States to use Saudi soil for an attack on Iraq.
The United States would most likely use the Al-Udeid Air Base in Qatar, which it quietly has been setting up, for an attack on Iraq.
Then there’s the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Senior Saudis, accuse the United States of tilting further toward Israel, and ordinary Saudis have expressed their anger by raising tens of thousands of dollars for the Palestinians.
Dawood Al-Shirian, regional director of the daily Al Hayat newspaper, said the crisis has had an impact on Saudi-US relations. Saudi nerves are also jangled by stories in the Saudi press as well as unsubstantiated hearsay about Saudis being held in US jails, US landlords not renting to Saudis and Saudis being singled out for humiliating searches at US airports.
Nowadays Al-Riyadh daily has been carrying ads for universities in Romania, the Czech Republic, Malaysia, China and Arab countries as alternatives to US colleges.
Outside the embassy, 42-year-old Ali Hassan was full of understanding when he arrived to apply for a visa to travel to Orlando, Fla.
"I don’t mind waiting. I don’t like it, but you have to understand the global situation," said Hassan as he settled into line.
But after waiting more than eight hours for a two-minute interview with a consular officer, he said he had changed his mind.
"I thought the whole thing would take maximum three hours," he said. "But nine hours? That’s not only humiliating. It also doesn’t make any sense." (AP)

Monday, August 19, 2002

A one-sided dialogue

Dr. Khaled M. Batarfi

I sent an e-mail message to an American senator who is the head of an important Senate committee. I requested that he clarify his views on the recent Rand Corporation report which contained a clear threat to Saudi Arabia’s security. I wanted to know if the report was a test trial of some new US policy being considered or a way of intimidating the Kingdom into cooperating with US plans to invade Iraq. Or was it the unveiling of a secret agenda chalked out by an influential section within the US leadership?
He replied promptly that he would meet me and answer all my questions during his upcoming visit to the Kingdom. Shortly afterward we met in Jeddah. It was a half-hour meeting in which I listened to his views on the significance of Saudi-American relations. He defended the credibility and impartiality of the US media. He also downplayed the influence of the Zionist lobby on US policy-making circles while justifying the US media campaign against the Kingdom. Then I was finally allowed to put my questions to him.
I told him that most Muslims thought that the US had an overt — or secret — and direct — or indirect — role in all the wars of the last decade: in the Balkans, Sudan, southern Philippines, Chechnya, Afghanistan, Palestine, the Gulf, North Africa, Somalia, Ethiopia and Eritrea. All these wars were fought against Muslim countries and most of the victims were Muslims. Muslims believe that the anti-Muslim stand by the US is part of a larger US scheme to enforce a new world order in which the West leads the world and East surrenders to West.
As the US failed to implement this design with the assistance of the World Trade Organization, the country found an excuse in the Sept. 11 attacks for implementing it by force. My precise question to him was how much of this charge against the US is true or false in his view. He began refuting my argument by citing how the US had intervened, though recently, in a positive manner in the Balkans. Before he could complete the discussion, one of his aides intervened to say that he was late for his next appointment.
He promised that he would complete his answers to me the next afternoon. The next day, however, I got a message from him that his meeting with a minister had taken longer than expected and that he would consequently be unable to meet me that day. Again the meeting was postponed and so it went until he finally apologized for not having time to meet me during his visit. My questions are still unanswered.
19 August 2002

Tuesday, July 30, 2002

An Islamic, and not Bush, choiceDr. Khaled Batarfi/Al-Madinah

Today the world is left with two options both of which come from US President George Bush. We should either side with America and risk compromising our sovereignty or stand against it and become one of its targeted enemies.
Islamic solidarity thus becomes the pressing but difficult choice left. It is the only choice outside the painful one offered by America. We have to maintain our sovereignty and decide by ourselves where our interests lie. It is a difficult choice since the Crusader West would not allow the Muslim nation to present to the world its cultural project anew. It was a project which led to the building of a powerful empire that ruled the world and influenced the course of human history.
To start with I suggest adopting the policy of small complementary steps. Let us adopt the Islamic dinar as our currency as suggested by Malaysian Prime Minister Dr. Mahathir Muhammad. Let us have a permanent exhibition of Islamic products to be based in Makkah as suggested by Sheikh Abdul Rahman Faqeeh. These and other small steps would lead us to the same results reached by Europe. Fifty years ago the continent launched its common market and finally ended up with economic integration.
Such a policy would help produce a unified Muslim vision resulting in closer coordination in different areas and ultimately leading to development and prosperity. This means being independent in economic, political and military affairs and enhancing our negotiating position as well as our cooperation with both the East and West. It will earn us the dignity and pride that befits us as the best of peoples ever raised for mankind.
30 July 2002