October 2009




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By Sam Dolnick, for the New York Times:

The storefronts on a stretch of Webster Avenue in the South Bronx tell the story of local shifts as well as any census: a Senegalese-run 99-cent store, an African video store, an African-run fast-food spot, a mosque, several African restaurants.

The owner of Café de C.E.D.E.A.O., named for the coalition of West African nations, envisioned it as a community hub in the Bronx neighborhood of Claremont, where Americans would try his wife’s cassava soup and realize it’s not so foreign after all. But a year in, the owner, Mohammed M. Barrie, said he could count the number of American patrons on one hand.

Meanwhile, he and his customers have been taunted, he said, and his restaurant’s window urinated on. Someone tried to break into a diner’s car. Then there is the bullet hole in the front window, a mark from a gunshot through the window late one night last summer.

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Review essay by Charles Trip,  for Foreign Affairs Magazine:

The maxim Islam din wa-dawla (Islam is religion and state) is often said to describe a distinguishing mark of Islam — the suggestion being that Islam is a religion with a political mission at its core. Both those who repeat the mantra with approving fervor and those who worry about it assert its essential truth and suggest that all Muslims must make it a part of their worldview. Some go so far as to claim that this axiom calls for a particular form of state structure or political behavior.

And yet, of course, the statement is nothing more than a political slogan — an artifact of its time, its meaning contingent on the setting in which it is used, like any other rallying cry. This quality does not make the slogan any less meaningful for the Muslims who subscribe to it; what it does is highlight the fact that this saying reflects a preoccupation with state power in the modern world. The Muslims who adhere to it, no less than those who do not and no less than non-Muslims, are both the products and the makers of that world. This point is worth stating since much of the present debate about the role of Islam in world politics tends to downplay the political or, at least, display a one-dimensional understanding of what drives political ambition. The political behavior of Islamists, and sometimes that of all Muslims, is often treated as an exotic peculiarity that defies normal analysis and can only be explained as an extension of their faith.

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By Josef Federman, for the Associated Press:

JERUSALEM – Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday vowed never to allow Israeli leaders or soldiers to stand trial on war crimes charges over their actions during last winter’s military offensive in the Gaza Strip, furiously denouncing a U.N. report in a keynote address to parliament.

Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric — and his decision to open the high-profile speech with remarks on the report — reflected the deep distress felt among Israeli leaders after a U.N. commission accused Israel of intentionally harming civilians when it launched a massive attack in Gaza to stop years of rocket fire.

“This distorted report, written by this distorted committee, undermines Israel’s right to defend itself. This report encourages terrorism and threatens peace,” Netanyahu said in his address at the opening of parliament’s winter session. “Israel will not take risks for peace if it can’t defend itself.”

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By Sheik Ali Goma, Grand Mufti of Egypt, for the Wall Street Journal:

America and the West have been victims of violent extremists acting in the name of Islam, the tragic events of 9/11 being only the most egregious of their attacks. Western officials and commentators are consumed by the question, “Where are the moderates?” Many, seeing only the extremism perpetuated by a radical few, despair of finding progressive and peaceful partners of standing in the Muslim world.

However, reconciling Islam with modernity has been an imperative for Muslims before it became a preoccupation for the West. In particular, the process dates back to the 19th century, when what became known as the Islamic reform movement was born in Al Azhar University in Cairo, Islam’s premiere institution of learning.

At the Dar al Iftaa, Egypt’s supreme body for Islamic legal edicts over which I preside, we wrestle constantly with the issue of applying Islam to the modern world. We issue thousands of fatwas or authoritative legal edicts—for example affirming the right of women to dignity, education and employment, and to hold political office, and condemning violence against them. We have upheld the right of freedom of conscience, and of freedom of expression within the bounds of common decency. We have promoted the common ground that exists between Islam, Christianity and Judaism. We have underscored that governance must be based on justice and popular sovereignty. We are committed to human liberty within the bounds of Islamic law. Nonetheless, we must make more tangible progress on these and other issues.

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By Talip Kucukcan, for Today’s Zaman:

There is no doubt that the presence of Muslims in many European countries has changed the demographic and religious landscape of the West.

The arrival of Muslims in large numbers to Europe since the 1950s and 1960s and their permanent settlement through citizenship thereafter call for a reconsideration of the dominant view on the relationship between religion and society that is held in Europe. Since the Enlightenment, modernity has steadily secularized European societies, where church and state are separated, which has created different models depending on the political and cultural legacies of the countries concerned. As a consequence of social, political and legal developments after the Enlightenment, many people came to believe that modernism necessarily leads to secularism and the withdrawal of religion from the public sphere, which has largely been the European experience. However, when we look beyond Europe there is a different picture, including in the United States, which demonstrates that religion is a vitally important social phenomenon. Many social scientists today believe that Europe is an exception rather than a universal model as far as the public presence of religion and its relationship with society and the state are concerned.

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