Mennonite theologians meet with Iranian Muslim clerics

SCHOLARS2They visited Winnipeg to talk about their about their theological understanding of human nature, but seven Iranian Muslim clerics also came away with some practical examples of how Christians live and express their faith.

“People were very friendly and it was a warm environment,” Mohammed Fanaei Eshkevari said after attending a Sunday morning worship service at Bethel Mennonite Church. “We never felt we were among strangers.” Continue reading “Mennonite theologians meet with Iranian Muslim clerics”

Free Speech, Islamophobia, Blasphemy

 Under growing pressure from the Muslim world, the Obama administration has been forced to deplore the content of a provocative film that denigrates Islam. But Washington has also said, “America’s free-speech rights allow such films to air!”

White House Press Secretary Jay Carney says the Obama administration condemns the violence in the Muslim world the anti-Islam film, called “Innocence of Muslims,” has triggered. He also says the attacks on US facilities and embassies in Egypt, Libya and Yemen were unjustified. The attack in Libya killed four US diplomats, including the ambassador.

Islamophobia As always, Western mainstream media are trying to deceive public opinion and interpret the making of the film in the light of freedom of speech. However, the whole world has already witnessed that hurting the sentiments of over one billion Muslims does not fit in the definition of freedom of speech. It is an affront not only to all Muslims but also to the believers of all faiths and religions.

It is a point well taken by many western pundits as well. In their words, “The US-made film is a perfect candidate as an exception to free speech rights since its creators deliberately focused on fermenting violence.”

Of course, we all know that one of the cornerstones of any free democratic society is the protection of freedom of speech and thought (The Good). Such a society cannot thrive if its citizens are not able to freely express their views and opinions. But sometimes, so much liberty under the guise of “free speech” could lead to racism against ethnic minorities. A case in point could be the current wave of Islamophobia (The Bad) in the West. islamophobia2

Nevertheless, there could be several explanations for the sheer intensity of Muslim anger over this enmity. An important one is that Muslims know the powers in the West today want to degenerate their Islamic societies into a godless society by encouraging and normalizing sacrilegious practices such as slandering and trivializing Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) with the help of mainstream media and secular currents. To this end, the powers in the West want to make sure that the mosque, although highly visible and active, also remains powerless to redirect the rushing secular currents in a society mired in a moral and spiritual crisis.

With the removal of God and the sanctity of His Prophet Mohammad (PBUH), the powers in the West can then force or encourage Muslims to choose the path of rejecting God and His ways, and systematically remove the Holy Quran, prayer and religious discussions from classrooms, cultural centers and places of public gatherings. Once these secular societies become morally bankrupt and openly hostile to Islamic values, the powers in the West can then trivialize and ridicule Islam and Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) in the name of freedom of speech or humanistic and pluralistic concerns, and reap the dire consequences of rejecting God.

Another explanation is the perceived hypocrisy of Islam being associated with terrorism by Western countries, which have participated in the slaughter of tens of thousands of Muslims in the Middle East and North Africa in the name of the so-called “war on terror.” The other explanation is that many Muslims believe the anti-Islam film has nothing to do with iconoclasm and everything to do with the wave of Islamophobia sweeping Western societies.

Europe’s millions of Muslims are an increasingly embattled minority. The far right no longer directs its hatred against Jews or blacks – their targets of choice are now Muslims. So the release of the anti-Islam film cannot be divorced from the context of rampant Islamophobia in American society either, where racists and extremists claim that “Western civilization is threatened with destruction at the hands of a Muslim plan for global conquest!”

The rising tide of European Islamophobia has spilled far beyond the confines of the far right, though. Just like America, in Europe violence against Muslims continues to mount as the media stirs hatred – under the guise of freedom of speech and expression. For instance in Britain, Muslims find themselves increasingly on the receiving end of police intimidation and stop-and-search routines.

But Muslims are not just the victims of racist persecution. They also represent one of the most oppressed and impoverished sections of the working class. According to a recent EU study, over two thirds of British Muslims live in poverty and suffer from the lowest employment rate of any ethnic group. This situation is repeated across Europe.

Without examining these broad contexts, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the intensity of the anger and anguish among Muslims that the recent blasphemy (The Ugly), i.e., the release of the anti-Islam film, has provoked. There is no denying that secularism, Islamophobia, and the perceived hypocrisy of Islam being associated with terrorism appropriate the Western language of blasphemy. Perhaps, it is also a convenient ideology at a time when Western armies occupy Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, and when the US government and Israeli lobby menace Iran.

It is fair to say that this about sums up the general opinion of the international community that unless the Islamophobic tide, the secular currents and the illegal wars waged against Muslims in the name of “war on terror” are condemned and contained, there is a clear risk that the events surrounding the sacrilegious movie might be a precursor for a far greater disaster in the near future. We have all been warned!



Egypt’s ‘counter revolution’: A people’s coup or Mubarak déjà vu?

“Revolutions in sovereignty result from prior revolutions in ideas about justice and political authority. What revolutions in ideas bring are crises in pluralism. Iconoclastic propositions challenge the legitimacy of an existing international order, a contradiction that erupts in the volcano — the wars, the riots, the protests, the politics — that then brings in the new order.”
– Professor of International Relations Daniel Philpott.
We seem to have come full circle in Egypt: from the first hopes for revolutionary change in the direction of democracy and challenges to the existing international order that blossomed in Tahrir Square in the spring of 2011, followed by the national elections in June of 2012 that resulted in a victory for the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, to the dashed hopes and despair induced by an Egyptian Army officer’s coup in July of 2013, which nipped the flowering democratic organism in the bud.
Others disagree, claiming the Morsi administration “substituted Muslim Brotherhood billionaire Khairat al-Shater for the old regime’s business leader Ahmed Ezz and [were] seeking reconciliation with those who have pillaged Egypt for 30 years.”
Certainly as the next State of Egypt emerges, we are witnessing a sanguinary proof from the US-backed, Saudi-supported Egyptian military of Professor Fred Halliday’s somber thesis, “All states, whether endogenously generated, forged through inter-state competition, as in the case of western Europe, or created from the outside, owe their origin and central reproduction to force.”
This latest iteration of an Egyptian attempt to cope with post-modernity certainly appears to be an endogenous revolution, or perhaps counter-revolution, which was warmly embraced by a plurality of Egyptians.
Dubbed the June 30 Revolution, there are even those within Egypt who are resentful of media portrayals of this latest “course correction” as an army coup, going so far as to call it a “people’s coup” and portraying the U.S.-connected ringleader General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi as a “military savior,” with robust chants of “the people, the military and the police are one hand.”
The Egyptian State Information Service (SIS) accused Western media of “coverage that is biased to the Muslim Brotherhood and ignores shedding light on violent and terror acts that are perpetrated by this group in the form of intimidation operations and terrorizing citizens.”
One source, Hossam Nasser, a former adviser at the Ministry of Planning and International Cooperation, even went so far as to claim that a Euro-American plot against Egypt had been foiled, declaring, “Europeans and Americans have spent a lot on the Brotherhood regime to carry out their plot, before the people and the army intervened in time.”
There are those, however, who disagree with the above rosy populist picture of the so-called June 30 Revolution painted by the Egyptian military and its supporters.
Rather than the masses revolting against an incompetent administration, Hudson Institute scholar Samuel Tadros suggests that it was the traditional Egyptian power brokers, which controlled the patron client networks, who felt most threatened by the Brotherhood’s democratic success and hence collaborated with the army in the coup while the unsuspecting public cheered them on.
In a rather gloomy but nonetheless insightful assessment, with which I fully agree, Tadros predicts:
“In a couple of years’ time, when non-Islamists prove to be as incompetent as the Brotherhood in solving Egypt’s structural problems, the Brotherhood’s failures will not look as bad as they do today. But more importantly, while the Brotherhood’s understanding of democracy was flawed, its commitment to the ballot box as a means of political change and renunciation of violence was genuine.”
A closer examination of monetary maneuvering and manipulation reveals several striking points:
First, it seems that since the time of the George W. Bush administration, the U.S. has been funding the Muslim Brotherhood, now being disbanded by the Egyptian Ministry of Social Solidarity, as a kind of hedge against the influence of other extremist groups, while at the same time funding many Egyptian activists who opposed the Brotherhood.
The Bush administration may have been initially attracted to the Muslim Brotherhood because of the latter’s extreme neoliberal economic views, which coincided with their own.
Second, Egypt under Morsi has made a number of economic overtures to Russia, China and other nations no doubt reigniting U.S. fears given its chronic Cold War mentality.
Third, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states have already pledged billions, mostly after the July 3 coup, to bolster Egypt’s economy in an effort to avoid subjecting Egyptians to a European-style austerity campaign.
Fourth, Tel Aviv has quietly supported the Egyptian generals’ coup and their campaign to neutralize the Muslim Brotherhood. And last, the U.S., while acting in a manner consistent with the wishes of its Zionist partner (or is that master?), appears to be financially impotent and floundering politically, unable to shore up its shrinking regional influence.
Since the January 25, 2011 revolution, Egypt has received over $26 billion from its good Arab neighbors in the Persian Gulf, with $12 billion coming from Saudi Arabia since the July 3 regime change.
Not only did the Saudis pledge to replace any funds that the U.S. or its Western allies may withhold from Egypt due to legal concerns, but also, according to a UPI report, they gave General al-Sisi $1 billion just for carrying out the coup.
These amounts stand in stark contrast to the paltry $2.5-billion combined U.S. and European aid over the same period, delivering a sharp economic slight to these Western powers, who are unable to put their money where their mouths are, so to speak.
Unfortunately, the European Union is in the midst of a financial crisis and the United States is not doing so well economically, either, so both lack the ability to quickly come up with an aid package similar to the Saudis’ virtual blank check.
As a result, U.S. and EU threats of withholding financial assistance were greeted with a ho-hum response in Egypt since the money involved is too small to cause concern, as Hossam Nasser explained, “Arab aid represents an open credit line for the local economy, and a message to Europeans and Americans that Egypt will not yield to their pressures.”
With Saudi pressure on the one side from their massive monetary assistance to Egypt and Zionist political pressure to maintain the sham 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, the U.S. has found itself in the middle with no room to maneuver, short of a brief show of rhetoric on cutting military aid led by U.S. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky.
After pointing out that the U.S. law is very clear on the matter of aid to a country following a coup d’etat, Senator Paul made an impassioned plea to Obama stating, “With more than 500 dead and thousands more injured this week alone, chaos only continues to grow in Egypt. So Mr. President, stop skirting the issue, follow the law, and cancel all foreign aid to Egypt.”
Despite the senator’s heart-rending performance, the U.S. caved in to hypocrisy, ate some humble pie and decided to continue the military aid payments.
Fakhry al-Fiqqi, a professor of economics at Cairo University, explaining the U.S. predicament said, “American aid is linked to the peace treaty with Israel, and cancelling it requires a Congressional bill. If that happens, Egypt may withdraw from the peace treaty.”
So while the U.S. appears legally bound to cut off aid to Egypt, to do so would jeopardize the security interests of Tel Aviv, which is an AIPAC red line it cannot, or will not be allowed to cross. Additionally, the West simply cannot compete with the financial assistance coming from Saudi Arabia and the other Arab states since, as Egyptian banker Bassant Fahmy points out, such aid is bestowed abundantly in a timely fashion and without the humbling, and oft-times humiliating, not to mention economically devastating strings attached to U.S. and European aid packages.
In fairness, it should be mentioned that pecuniary problems in Egypt date back to the Mubarak era, which saw 10 percent overall and 25 percent youth unemployment as well as a shrinking GDP; however now, after over two years of political turmoil, Egypt is clearly in dire need of financial help.
The Egyptian economy is in complete disarray with foreign exchange reserves depleted and a threat of food shortages looming, as was noted in a recent report by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization.
In order to get its financial house in order and avoid European-like austerity measures, which would further aggravate the economy and alienate Egypt’s oppressed population, the military junta is “bringing in funds from outside the country,” according to Egypt’s Finance Minister Ahmed Galal.
“This will help economic growth in the future while helping the relatively poor,” he said. Also, this approach should allow Egypt to avoid the economic entanglements of a Western-backed International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan, which was Dr. Morsi’s lender of last resort, and perhaps that he even pursued such an option was a significant factor in his downfall.
The structural problems in the Egyptian economy arise from its dependence on tourism and associated services, which amount to nearly half the country’s GDP.
The unrest in the region following the Islamic Awakening uprisings discouraged tourism and foreign investment, which cut heavily into Egypt’s service sector, forcing the government to draw down foreign exchange reserves to cover expenditures.
The resulting devaluation of the Egyptian Pound translated into food price hikes, fuel shortages and unemployment, which impacted heavily and disproportionately the poor, making any cuts to social spending potential political suicide.
And of course the IMF, as a condition for the $4.8-billion loan requested by Dr. Morsi, insisted on “structural adjustments,” otherwise known as budget cuts and tax increases; targeting the state sector, which consumes some 40 percent of the Egyptian GDP; and, massively reducing much-needed subsidy programs at the worst possible time. The United States also insisted that Egypt comply with IMF demands as a condition for receiving its paltry $190-million economic infusion installment.
Among the countries President Morsi solicited aid from was Russia, and this, of course represented a potential threat to U.S. hegemony in the region. One political consultant, Maurice Bonamigo, who also conceded that an IMF loan would not be in the best interests of Egypt, warned that if Moscow were to become an ally of Cairo, Russia would once again be a superpower.
And Russia appears to be ready and willing to provide arms and financial help as needed. “The economy (of Egypt) is, of course, in a grave condition,” acknowledged Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister and Special Presidential Envoy for the Middle East Mikhail Bogdanov, who indicated that a Russian aid package would be funded by a combination of government agencies and private sector firms.
“Private companies are studying the conditions of granting such assistance so that it is used effectively and is in line with the development of our bilateral ties,” Bogdanov added.
Unfortunately, no Russian aid package was forthcoming in time to save the Morsi administration.
China was also courted by President Morsi as a means to get out from under the sphere of U.S. domination. China was one of the first non-Arab countries visited by the ousted leader, who managed to entice it into increasing investments by some 60 percent, which has paid off with increases of around 30 percent in Sino-Egyptian trade.
Much of China’s investments in Egypt have been in the Rawash industrial and investment zone in Giza, which is close to the strategically important Suez Canal.
That China would want to have some economic say in the region is not surprising given its rising geopolitical position in the world, which is a direct threat to the U.S. hegemony. While China has issued a statement on the coup, it has not overtly condemned it, and given its record of diplomacy, will probably work with the new ruling military regime.
The U.S., on the other hand, views China as a primary threat and has realigned its global strategy in 2011 to “help ensure that China’s rise to power is as peaceful as possible,” which no doubt played some small part in Washington’s decision to withdraw its support from the Morsi administration. In any event, China did not come to the rescue, either.
In addition to seeking foreign investment from Russia and China, President Morsi also visited the other BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) countries in an attempt, as one Egyptian diplomat put it, to send “a message to all concerned, not excluding Washington, that Cairo is keeping its options wide open and that it is no longer willing to succumb to the traditional framework of its foreign policy from pre-25 January revolution days.”
Referring to U.S. support of dictatorial regimes and the Zionist entity, the Egyptian president sent a clear signal that must have reverberated in Washington, when, prior to his September 2012 UN General Assembly visit, he stated, “Successive American administrations essentially purchased with American taxpayer money the dislike, if not the hatred, of the peoples of the region.”
Not surprisingly, Morsi’s efforts to lure investments proved futile, and loans from Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkey and Libya, amounting to some $9 billion, were not sufficient to turn the economy around. However, investors chimed in approvingly of the coup on July 4, 2013, the day after his ouster, giving stocks on the Cairo Exchange a one-day gain of over 7 percent.
Underscoring Washington’s shrinking influence, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, in a remark aimed at the United States, warned, “Whoever interferes in Egypt’s internal affairs is lighting the fire of sedition and promoting the terrorism they are fighting.”
The Obama administration’s actions, reactions and inactions during the Egyptian upheaval have cast the United States in the role of the guilty party regardless of the viewpoint of the observer involved.
The Muslim Brotherhood justifiably blames the U.S. for supporting the coup while for his part General al-Sisi accuses the Washington regime of being on the side of the Muslim Brotherhood and turning its back on the Egyptian people.
Not helping is the non-sequitur made by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to the effect that the Egyptian military is dedicated to birthing Jeffersonian democracy. If the United States had any credibility in the international community before this Cairene catastrophe, it certainly has none now.
Following the post June 30 “people’s coup” euphoria, during which all of Egypt’s ills were attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood, we have seen the violent face of this “military savior” and his generalissimos exposed by the slaughter of nearly 1,000 protestors in the streets.
For their part, the Saudis, experienced as they are in the brutal suppression of peaceful protests both inside and outside their kingdom, have graciously sent three fully-equipped military field hospitals to Cairo to help the Egyptian military deal with the carnage it is creating.
The massacres being perpetrated by the military junta are so bloody, horrific and abhorrent that 79 percent of Egyptians surveyed consider them to be a crime against humanity and 73 percent hold General al-Sisi personally responsible, while only a mere 19 percent deemed the military’s actions necessary to reestablish security. Nevertheless, all this appears to be part of the regional master plan, as the spokesman for the Tagammu Party, Nabil Zaki, stated, “The U.S. aims to divide the Middle East into small, bickering entities in order to guarantee Israeli hegemony in the region.”
No amount of economic aid can fully repair the damage from this devastating blow to Egyptian democracy inflicted by the U.S.-backed, Saudi-supported military coup. And I am fearful that very soon, it will be clear to all those concerned that what took place in July 2013 in Egypt was not a “people’s coup,” rather it was a Mubarak déjà vu: a recycling of the U.S.-financed, Zionist-approved military cadre that has ruled over the oppressed Egyptian people for the last 30 years.

Tehran Times

Iran, Korea

A group of Iranian and South Korean religious scholars discussed the role of religion in promoting ethical and human values during a seminar held at Iran’s Islamic Culture and Relations Organization (ICRO) yesterday.

ICRO Director Mohammad-Baqer Khorramshad, Center for Dialogue between Civilizations and Religions Director Ali-Mohammad Helmi, and the University of Religions and Denominations Director Hojjatolesalm Abolhasan Navvab were among the Iranian scholars who attended the seminar.
A delegation from the Seoul-based Korea Conference of Religion for Peace (KCRP) including the Christian leader and the deputy secretary of KCRP Tae Sung Kim also attended the seminar.
Speaking at the seminar, Khorramshad pointed to the moral values in different societies and said that these values can lead to a better life in a society through religion.
Tae Sung Kim also stated that morality has a great impact on the stability of a society, and that religion can create peace in a society.
In addition, several other S. Korean scholars delivered their short speeches at the seminar and held talks with Iranian experts.
Tehran Times

Islamic Mysticism

erfan11Is it possible for us to know God immediately or directly? Our ordinary knowledge of God is knowledge by representation/correspondence (al ‘ilm al husuli). We have a concept of God; we don’t feel the real God. We know God through some concepts. These concepts provide us with abstract knowledge, mental knowledge. This is not immediate feeling of God. The mystic is looking to know God, not through these abstract concepts. In other words, a mystic is looking for knowing God directly or immediately. Continue reading “Islamic Mysticism”

Islamic Government, Meaningless without Islamizationing Humanities

islamIslamic government signifies a system in which all the educational, economic, managing, legal and political institutions work based on Islamic doctrines; therefore, speaking about such a government without having a new critical outlook towards the humanities is pointless.

This is according to Mohammad Fanaei Eshkevari, academic board member of Imam Khomeini (RA) Educational and Research Institute, who, talking to IQNA, referred to the existing concerns in some academic communities toward Islamizationing the humanities, adding: “The concerns are partly caused by a number of extremist thinkers who do not approve of Islamic human sciences at all.” Continue reading “Islamic Government, Meaningless without Islamizationing Humanities”

Interview with Italian Journal “Vademecum” َAbout Iran

iran_italy_flagsDear prof. Mohammad Fanaei Eshkevari, I want to talk with you about religion and faith, but first of all I have to ask you something about the situation in Iran. We get many information, but we really don’t have the perception of what it is happening in Iran. I see a contradictory situation: on one hand you had political elections, but on the other hand we see in TV demonstrations. On the contrary, in other middle-east countries, there is no political participation and nonetheless nobody demonstrates. How can you explain this situation? What do you think about USA position? … Continue reading “Interview with Italian Journal “Vademecum” َAbout Iran”

Mysticism and Dialogue among Cultures

ssdsThere is no one single agreed-upon defini­tion of mysticism. Each tradition and school of thought defines mysticism in a spe­cific way. However, we can find important common elements in the thought of all those who speak of mysticism. Sometimes mysti­cism in its wider sense is used as a synonym for spirituality. Mysticism in its all forms goes beyond the ordinary sensory appear­ance of the world. It assumes an inner and hidden realm of reality that is larger, wider and more real than the apparent world. The same thing is true for human beings. Mystics try to surpass human appearances, going beyond them to the depth of human reality and seeing dimensions, needs, activities and ideals beyond their counterparts in material everyday life.
Continue reading “Mysticism and Dialogue among Cultures”