Monday, September 17, 2012

Incitement in the name of Freedom, Violence in the name of Islam

When his messenger to the king of Fars was mistreated, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was very upset. Messengers cannot be mistreated, let alone killed. This is a holy law which has been respected by nations and tribes since the dawn of civilization.

Diplomats today are representatives and messengers of other nations. 

International law protects them to the extent that their embassies and consulates are to be treated as part of their own countries. They are guests of honor under the protection of the entire nation in which they reside, not just its government. Islam and all religions approve of this sanctuary. No messenger was ever mistreated in Muslim lands during the era of the Prophet (pbuh) and his Caliphates. There is no excuse whatsoever for abusing foreigners to make a point or to protest an action or a policy of their government. 

In 1979, soon after the Islamic revolution in Iran, hundreds of students invaded the US embassy in Tehran. They held US diplomats hostage for 444 days. The revolutionary government encouraged this action, and, until today, no one has been found guilty or has paid for this crime. Some of those who were involved are in power now and are proud of what they did. 

The anniversary of the storming of the embassy is celebrated every year, as if it was an achievement, not a savage crime.

Again and again, we have seen militants taking advantage of the lack of security during turmoil and revolutions to attack embassies and diplomats in the name of noble causes or religions. This is an insult to both, and to the civility of the nation. Those who called for, encouraged, helped or committed such horrendous acts are to be treated as enemies of Allah and the Ummah, and mercilessly hunted and executed.

As for the movie that caused all this anger and resulted in attacks on US and European diplomatic missions in Libya, Tunis, Egypt, Sudan and Yemen, there are legal ways of protesting its insults. It does not help humanity to tolerate hate speech in any form or with any excuse. Enough blood has been shed in the history of the world as a result of such intolerance. 

Incitement leads to hate, and hate leads to conflict and war. Religious wars in Europe and the Middle East have cost millions of lives and much destruction and pain. Laws prohibiting hate speech were made to prevent the repetition of such human catastrophes.

The world should unite today to issue universal, thorough and strict laws against disrespect for religious beliefs and symbols, ethnic minorities, and sexual orientation, and incitement against others. We, Muslims, should lead the way by criminalizing hate speech. Sectarian hatred and violence have reached new highs in our world. Incendiary projects, like this movie, have agitated a world that is already on edge. Christian-Muslim relations in Egypt have been under attack by extremists of both sides. That fire could reach Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq, where sizable Christian minorities reside.

Extremists are searching hard for an opening, an excuse, a reason to go back to their audience and say: “See? Haven’t I told you so?” This time it was the turn of Coptic Egyptians in the US with the help of an Israeli and the approval of an anti-Islam fanatical cleric, Terry Jones.

They decided to produce a blasphemous movie about Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) and since they live safely in the US, they care little about the fate of their fellow Copts in Egypt. This shows how ugly these bloodthirsty people can be.

I can only hope and pray that wisdom will prevail. Except for the opportunistic US presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the US has shown its leadership credentials by acting in a responsible way. It condemned those involved in producing the film and refrained from taking any action which was aimed at winning votes in the upcoming elections.

The governments in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Lebanon and the rest of the region did the same, and provided more security for US missions while finding and prosecuting the attackers. They should not hesitate to allow more US marines to be stationed in US embassies in their countries.

Public opinion leaders are calling for calm and Muslim clerics are issuing fatwas prohibiting barbaric attacks on peaceful diplomats. Muslim and Christian organizations are calling for laws prohibiting religious hate speech. Google withdrew the offending movie from some servers, and hopefully will do so from all. If this positive trend continues, it may end up to be a blessing in disguise.

Egypt: Back to strong leadership

ON October 6, 1981, I was vacationing with my family in Egypt. On my way to our rented apartment, the news hit the radio airwaves: Anwar Sadat, the president of war and peace, was shot during a military parade. The Qura’n was soon read on all state radios, which means he was dead.

I decided to feel people’s reaction so I asked the driver to take me to the nearby Alzamalek Club. No one was crying, for sure, and life went on, as usual. A group of young men were even making jokes about him. When I returned home, I found Um Said, the maid, preparing our lunch in the kitchen. I told her, dramatically, “‘Alraes’ (the president) is dead’”. Her reaction shocked me. Without hesitation she announced: A monster Pharaoh died, and a monster Pharaoh will take his place!

Mubarak certainly proved Um Said — the simple, uneducated lady — right. Why not? She has been mostly right about the country’s leaders within 7,000 years. The leaders were almost the nation’s owners, helped by the sweetest people on earth.

You can’t have an easier job than that of an Egyptian leader. Until Jan. 25, 2011, the Egyptians only means of protest, if not revolt, were sarcastic jokes. Their demands were always simple. An Egyptian summed these up to me in a typical joke: Foul (beans) for breakfast, Falfel for lunch, and an Um Kalthoum song for dinner!

Not anymore! The Egyptians that Dr. Mohamed Morsi have to deal with seem to come from another universe: vocal, angry and bossy. Food is not the only concern now. They want to be in the driver’s seat — or with him. They don’t just listen to Um Kalthoum, they came up with their own songs and discovered their own voices.

The French icon, the late president General Charles De Gaulle, once said: How can you run a country that produced 246 kinds of cheese? Egyptians today favored all kinds of political cheese, but one kind proved the most popular. They chose an Islamic leadership, like the Turks did before them, because they had tried alternatives for sixty years, and saw their resource-rich country fell to the bottom list of heavily indebted Third World countries. Political, administrative and financial corruption ruled. Islamic principles are supposed to be the anti-biotic for all these ills. They proved effective in Turkey, but failed in neighboring Sudan.

Dr. Morsi knows what is at stake. With his enemies, in and out of the country, up in arms, looking for the slightest mistake to attack, his challenges are daunting. While his foreign policies are popular, he still has long way to go at the home front.

His apparently successful visits to Saudi Arabia, Iran and China, his strong positions toward Syria and Israel and cooperative approach with Turkey, US and Europe, showed his political prowess, energy and wisdom long missed during Mubarak’s regime. Finally, Egypt is taking the driver’s seat in Arab and Muslim politics. Together with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the Muslim ship seems in good and safe hands.

At home, Dr. Morsi is more popular and in control than ever. With his man-of-the-street approach, he is the most populist president of Egypt since the late Gamal Abdul Naser.

The army seems to be finally under his wings and the new government is in control. The young, energetic ministers are going around the country: restructuring, listening, counselling and solving problems. They followed their president’s lead. He has been meeting with opinion leaders and representatives of all sectors of society.

Those who have met him were impressed. Even his critics and doubters, like Adel Imam, the popular comedian who was sued for producing anti-Islamic movies, see him as an open-minded leader who calmed their fears and apprehensions about their future under an Islamic government. The president has assured them of his commitment to civic and secular principles.

Most important, in my opinion, is how Dr. Morsi deals with security and economy. Security is in good shape.

The new army and interior leadership have shown their teeth to keep terrorists and criminals on the run. In the economic front, stability has come. With better security, tourists are coming back, factories and businesses are humming again. The slide into desperation has stopped.

Development, however, needs time. Fixing ages of mismanagement and corruption, and restarting a stalled engine cannot happen overnight. Qatar has announced $18 billion in investments, Saudi Arabia’s package of $3.7 billion is on track, the World Bank agreed to provide $4.8 billion in loans, and the US is considering turning its billion-dollars debts into development projects.

Egypt today is stabilizing. It has a wise, calm and calming leadership, a government in control, security and business as usual. Its foreign policies are popular — at home, in the region and beyond. The future looks brighter.

Let’s hope and pray that soon the new Egypt will follow in the footsteps of Turkey, turn around its fortunes and take its rightful place at the top of the region’s leadership.

Hate speech and the Makkah Summit

Much of the negative comments leveled on the Islamic Summit in Makkah earlier this month was born before its convention. The cynics declared it “dead on arrival”.

We may excuse their expectations if we review the results of previous summits, like the one also held in Makkah in 2005. The summit, then, laid down the blueprint called the Ten-Year Program of Action which “envisages joint action of member states, promotion of tolerance and moderation, modernization, extensive reforms in all spheres of activities including science and technology, education, trade enhancement, and emphasizes good governance and promotion of human rights in the Muslim world, especially with regard to rights of children, women and elderly and the family values enshrined by Islam.” Little progress has been achieved since in all of the above issues. 

I beg to disagree, however, with those who thought the results have not justified the effort, this time. 

The fact that many leaders convened around the holiest Muslim place on earth, on the holiest night of the year, cannot but be good for the Muslim nation “Ummah”. With the prayers of 1,500 million Muslims, Allah may join our hands and hearts around His word and cause. 

The final statement puts its finger on the most important injuries of the Muslim body. 

The Syrian government’s legitimacy has been annulled by 56 Muslim nations. This opens the doors for support — directly and indirectly, overtly and covertly, military and civic — to the Syrian people and the Free Syrian Army. This also means that the whole Ummah is now taking the side of the Syrian people, loud and clear. 

The statement also focused attention and shed light on the genocide in Myanmar against the Muslim minority. Light is criminals’ worst enemy — the more we know the less space and free movement are available to them. Beside, more help is expected, with Islamic charities and institutions getting Myanmar’s permission to help and observe. 

The summit coincided with the 43rd anniversary of the arson attempt on the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which triggered the convention of the first Islamic summit in Morocco in 1969, and the creation of the Organization of Islamic Conference (renamed Organization of Islamic Cooperation in 2005). 

The most important achievement, in my opinion, is the condemnation of hate speeches and religious and ethnic agitation, which led to infighting and disunity among Muslims and threats to non-Muslim minorities. The initiative of King Abdullah, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, to establish a center in Riyadh for inter-sectarian dialogue will help much in facilitating understanding among various Islamic schools of thought. It will confirm what has already been recognized: Muslim sects are eight, not just four. And Shiites are as Muslim as Sunnis. The conference also calls of the member states’ support for and emphasis on inter-religious, inter-cultural dialogue, initiated by King Abdullah in 2008 and adopted by the United Nations.

I was happy to see King Abdullah seating Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad next to him in the grand reception and the two of them standing side by side to greet arriving delegates. The image showed unity between the two Gulf powerhouses.

The majority in both countries may subscribe to two different sects, but they are both Muslims, worshipping the same God, following the same Prophet (pbuh), reading the same Qur’an, and praying towards the same “Qibla” — Makkah. What unite them in geography, culture and history — not to mention economic and development interests — are far more important and beneficial than what separate them.

Such cooperation and understanding could only benefit the Ummah and the region. Burning issues, like Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, need more good faith and better lines of communication among major regional players, including Egypt and Turkey.

Actions should follow the declaration of intents. All of those issues are important and urgent. Let’s hope that the establishment of the dialogue center would start before the Haj season, so that Muslim scholars could begin their first mission in such holy event and place which Allah meant for such cooperation and collaboration. And laws criminalizing hate speeches would follow. 

Supportive calls and statements from religious leaders in Makkah, Qatif, Najaf, Qum, Cairo, Ankara, Tunis and Beirut should be echoed by solid work on the ground. Intellectuals and opinion leaders must support governmental work with initiatives of their own. 

I am working now with a Mideastern group representing different faiths and ethnicities, Muslims and non-Muslims, to establish a think-tank in Beirut, advocating the spirit of peaceful coexistence, tolerance and dialogue. Join us. Pray for us.

Net Porno and Microsoft: Saving World Children!

Nine years ago, the Canadian police unit fighting child prostitution on the net was in despair. The task before them was Mission Impossible. Abusers and users all over the globe, were using servers and personal computers to distribute millions of porno pictures depicting 5-14 years old children in comprising positions. Many offer sales of videos involving adults and kids performing sex. Too often, children, themselves, were on offer. 

The problems facing the police uni include weak laws, unfocused law agencies, non-existent cooperation between them, and no way to control and co-ordinate efforts globally. 
In a moment of desperation, Paul Gillespie, the head of the unit, fired an email to Microsoft Chairman, Bill Gates, briefing him on the situation and asking for help. He never imagined the response. It was quick, strong and effective. Mr. Gates sent him an email the next day telling him that Microsoft will take care of the whole project, free of charge. The company's Canadian Manager called the same day to set up a meeting. His orders were simple: Whatever they need .. and more!

Nine years later, Mr Gillespie tells me, the project is global. Microsoft has connected participating police departments around the world with one network, one database. Investigators anywhere can tap into the system to find offenders, and co-ordinate with each other, and world police, the Interpool, to catch and perscute child abusers. 

Intelligent software store investigation results, emails addresses, chat histories, pictures and data of suspects and victims. It allows police officers to coordinate their efforts to find and exchange offenders' personal info, movements, tactics, and whereabouts. The case could be investigated at the same time in canada, UK, Australia and South Africa by universally trained officers following unified standards and working  on the same online file. 

To imagine the massive amount of stress on investigators, some facts and numbers may help. In the US alone, 24 million pictures and 78 000 videos of sex abuse of children of an average age of 5 years old were found. Each picture and video needed to be analysed and connected to similar ones, in order to identify the source, explains Paul Gillespie, now CEO of Kid Internet Safety Alliance. ( is a Non Governmental Organization that trains police officers world-wide at FBI standards of investigation).

More investigation work is needed to reach the offender and prove his guilt. For example, it was found that millions of pictures came originally from the same server of a Houston collector/seller. He traded images around the globe, using a cophisticated network.  

Investigators look first for the abused children. To find the abusers, they analyse pic by pic, and look for marks, such as unique backgrounds, tattoos or watches. Since most cases involves a male in kids' lives, detectives look for relatives, neighbours and friends who carry these identifications.  

To their shock, they found that many of these children, boys and girls, were abused by their own father, for fun and/or for trade. Too often, children themselves were offered for rent, exchange or sale. 

To find the offenders is one thing, to take care of the vicitims is another. The problem is that laws and medical services are weak in most countries. After few months or years in prison, offenders are out looking for more fun. Children are poorly protected and taken care of. Many return voluntarily to the same trade. 

So far, it is believed, there are from 3 to 5 millions original picutres involving 100,000 to 150,000 children. However only 3000 kids were identified.

"After we find out who and where, we contact the police in offenders' country of residence or visiting.  We, then, go and arrest offenders, remove the abused from their custody, then treat and provide shelter and help for them. Some cases defy normal treatment. In poor countries, this could be quite a challenge. Even in rich countries like Canada, providing enough care and followup is not a priority for government agencies," says Mr. Gillespie. 

"The same can be said about offenders. While some may need psychological help, most have genetical problems. No government is ready to continue treatment of offenders and observe them after they leave jail. We have to check on them ourselves. only this time it is more difficult, because they get smarter and harder to catch!," he explains.

The fight continues, and Mr. Gillespie and company with the help and support of good guys-law agencies, companies and donors-are doing their best to achieve the possible in the impossible mission. They need our support and prayers. Only of we have more of Bill Gates among us, the world would be much better place. 

A call to the Islamic Summit: Criminalize hate speech!

Concerned and confused, she said: Since my return from US in my school vacation, my classmate at King Faisal University, Fatima, is acting cautiously every time we communicate. On my visit to Dammam, I met her with the rest of our group, but noticed she was not as talkative and excited as usual. Many of our group members were absent. I wasn’t impressed with their excuses, after all I told them weeks in advance I was coming. 

Finally, the party host told me, privately, things have changed in the last year or so. Some Sunni girls are not welcoming the Shia, and the latter felt it without being told, and decided to withdraw from all but the most important events. So now only Fatima is attending, but she is not her same self.  
I appreciated Fatima’s courage and insistence on fighting the sectarian divide and understood her cautious attitude. 

My visit to Bahrain was even more troubling. Feelings were not hidden, and no Shia were attending the reception my Sunni friend were holding on my honor.  I was warned against visiting Shia, and told they moved anyway from the neighbourhood. Sunni and Shia now live and work separately! I called and met with some of them in a restaurant. While they were happy to see me, there were some tension in the air.

Before I left to Kuwait, I heard the Amir warning against sectarian hate speech. He promised to punish those who blaspheme the Imams Alhasan and Alhusein, the sons of Imam Ali and his wife, Fatima Alzahra, the daughter of Prophet Mohammed, Peace Be Upon him.

Finally, I returned to Jeddah, were all my friends belong to the Sunni sect. But, alas, the discussion was focused on the same issues. I tried explaining that most ideas about the Shia were myths and propaganda by their haters. "You need to read their literature and talk to them, before making such damning judgement," I'd say. Few listen. Fewer agree! 
I felt like it was ages since I left home-not just sixteen months!

I told her: Unfortunately, that's exactly what happened. But the fire were under the Gulf sands much longer than your absence time. This region were under attack in many ways. The Israeli axis tried indirect control, and wasn't enough. They tried invasion and occupation and failed. But what they always succeed at, is what worked for them during the colonialism era-Divide and Rule. So here we are, quarrelling over issues dead 1400 years ago, while the neo-colonists enjoy the show, waiting for the right moment to take us by surprise. 

Before the Arab Summit in Baghdad, last march, I published a call to Arab leaders asking them to issue a law that criminalises hate speech. The world, after losing over 50 million of its inhapitants during WW2, decided to ban and punish hate merchants. Democratic USA and Europe, proud as they are of free speech laws, would not tolerate inciting people against each other on bases of color, faith, sex orientation or ethnicity. Shaira laws prohibit such incitements on principle. So we are more obliged to make it crystal clear to those dividers and hate speakers that now its against the law to do “fetnah”-driving Muslims against each others. 

Today, it is not an ideological debate on sectarian magazines and satellite TVs, religious schools and mosques. The issues have refilled people with so much anger, distrust and aversion that marriages are broken, family members are estranged from each other, neighbours are fighting among themselves, and whole tribes, villages and towns, who were peaceful and coherent, are now divided along religious lines. Voluntary or forcefully, districts are being cleansed from followers of opposite faiths. 

The resulting civil wars in India, Pakistan, Burma, Thailand, the Philippines, Iran, Iraq, Bahrain, Syria, Egypt, Yemen and Lebanon are only recent examples of what to expect. Shall we wait until the rest of us go down that hellish road? 

I am calling on Muslim leaders convening today in the holiest place on Earth to put a stop to this madness and outrageous defiance of Allah’s laws. In the name of Prophet Mohammed umma, I call for a strict law that criminalise any act or speech that lead or call for hate of or discrimination against any persons or groups, wether it led or not to actual attack on such people. 

Mechanism and punishment should be clear and stipulated into widely announced laws.  Tolerant and wise heads of opinion leaders from different sects and faiths should act together to voice their concerns, explain away the misunderstanding and call for unity and peaceful coexistence. The inter-sect dialogue that started in Mecca four years ago, under the auspice of the Custodian of the two Holy mosques, King Abdullah, should continue between the religious leaders of the eight Muslim sects. 

Our future in your hands, our leaders, please make it secured and brighter with unity, love and peace.