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the Message Continues ... 3/98



Newsletter for October 2009


Article 1 - Article 2 - Article 3 - Article 4 - Article 5 - Article 6 - Article 7 - Article 8 - Article 9 - Article 10 - Article 11 - Article 12


[By Tariq Ramadan -- Muslim Presence -- April 6, 2009]

    In the predominantly Muslim countries of the Arab world and Asia, we are now witnessing a wave of "Obama-mania" in which the new U.S. leader is seen as a messiah who can act rapidly to solve their problems. Beyond the naivety of such expectations, however, it is imperative to re-examine our prospects, to distinguish our responsibilities from our hopes.

During a recent symposium on relations between the United States and the Muslim World held in Qatar, some one hundred delegates debated the complexities, the advantages and the ambiguous nature of these relations.
Madeleine Albright, Barham Salih (Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister), General David Petraeus (former commander of U.S. forces in Iraq) and Anwar Ibrahim (former Deputy Prime Minister and Leader of the Opposition in Malaysia), participated in one of the meetingís key panel discussions.

Mr. Ibrahim was adamant that the glorification of Barack Obama must end and that predominantly Muslim societies must first put their own houses in order. Ibrahimís declaration was welcomed by many: Muslim societies - embroiled in domestic policy and local conflicts from Palestine, to Iraq, Iran and Afghanistan -- bear primary responsibility for their fate. For
governments as well as peoples, the time has come to stop hiding behind a cloak of victimhood. Palestinians, Afghanis and Iraqis are victims of their aggressors, of course. But they are also the direct or "collateral" victims of the cowardice and hypocrisy of those who govern Muslim societies.

Looking beyond the current economic crisis, these societies appear politically, intellectually and culturally paralyzed. Dictatorships, an absence of open debate, a creative deficit in the artistic and cultural fields (with a handful of notable exceptions) are unfortunately the rule.

A powerful movement of genuine, far-reaching democratization must be set in motion if we truly seek to change the existing order and bring about a reawakening in Muslim nations. Such a movement must rigorously combat the corruption that infects virtually all Muslim societies worldwide. Nothing can be attained without basic transparency, without bringing an end to the
privileges of a powerful elite, to cronyism, to bribery, to influence peddling, to the non-respect of institutions. Moreover, todayís Muslim world is fraught with the most stubborn and damaging corruption of all -- the invocation of Islam and of Islamic ethics alongside the most hypocritical practices.

Civil society in the Muslim world must be shaken from its slumber. People can no longer remain passive; they can no longer continue to abdicate their responsibilities to dictatorial regimes. That such regimes exist, and that they victimize their own people, is an established fact. But this fact can no longer justify perpetuating an attitude of victimhood in order to justify inaction.

The establishment of grassroots study circles, alongside concerted action by citizens and their organizations, is one way of exerting positive pressure. In many instances, non-violent resistance movements can, by virtue of their mass strength, weaken even the most firmly established dictatorships. Yet we see none of this happening today. Across the globe, from Latin America to Africa and Asia, the yoke of dictatorship is being cast off -- with the exception of predominantly Muslim countries, where leaders have, for decades now, been "democratically" elected for life.

Demand for the rule of law, along with free and fair elections, are also essential ingredients for the renewal of these societies. Regardless of the political systems they ultimately select, the underlying principles must be inalienable. Only through universal suffrage and the rule of law can these states extract themselves from their political impasse. Governance based on principles of freedom and equality is in no way opposed to the principles of Islam: those who make such claims manipulate religion to justify their monopoly on power.

When we speak of the rule of law, of universal suffrage and civil society, two other conditions must follow -- the equality of all citizens, irrespective of their beliefs, and full and complete participation of women in the process of democratization. Muslim societies, politicians and
intellectuals of both genders must make it clear where they stand on these issues; they must clearly define "minority" rights and promote the emancipation of women as keys to the liberation of Muslim societies.

Contrary to what the opponents of this process claim, the problem is not one of "Westernization," but of the imperative reconciliation of Muslim thought with its own principles, with the equality and inalienable rights of women to full participation in society. While this concept may be in opposition to the most conservative and dogmatic elements in Muslim
society, it is entirely in harmony with the true principles of Islam itself.

Finally, we must call to account the elected representatives of the people, from members of parliament to prime ministers, to presidents and kings. Their administrations must be moved to undergo the kind of independent, transparent evaluation that alone can guarantee the smooth functioning of institutions and good governance. How far we are from that goal today!

Whether or not Barack Obama is president of the United States will, in the big picture, change nothing. The Muslim world will undoubtedly soon accuse him of being "too American," at which point it will be impossible not to accuse predominantly Muslim countries (and above all, the Arab countries), of being nothing but caricatures of themselves - a sorry spectacle of dictatorship, corruption and resignation.

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