Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Doubts about the "Open Letter to Pope Benedict XVI"

A dark image of Islam?
(Image from Wikipedia)

Two days ago, I posted a report on what appeared to be a positive development among peaceful, moderate Muslims responding in an open letter to the Pope's Regensburg lecture and emphasizing Islam as a peaceful religion.

Alas, there are problems with some of the signatories. I had noted in the comments to the blog that:

It would be interesting to check the writings of the signatories to this list to see what their position is on various issues related to Islam.
Erdal, the person who had alerted me to the existence of the open letter, did some checking and quickly found some disturbing information on two of the signatories. First, Erdal cites an article by the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Ali Jumuah, who was signatory number 15:

In an article in the Egyptian government daily Al-Ahram, Egyptian Mufti Sheikh Dr. 'Ali Gum'a (=Ali Jumu'ah of the open letter, only a different transscription) expressed his support of the "jihad" of Lebanon's resistance and stated that the lies of the "Hebrew entity" expose "the true and hideous face of the blood-suckers... who prepare [Passover] matzos from human blood."
Second, Erdal cites a German article about Muhammad Ali Taskhiri, whom the open letter identifies as an Ayatollah whose office is Secretary-General of the World Assembly for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thoughts, Iran, and who was signatory number 32:

Mullah Mohammed-Ali Taskhiri (another of the open letter group), head of the "Global Association of Affinity of Islamic Denominations" ..., is currently attending a conference in Egypt (February 2006) and called on all forces loyal to Teheran to organize attacks on foreign embassies and consulates in multiple countries.
Here's the specific paragraph that Erdal cites:

Mullah Mohammed-Ali Taskhiri, Kopf der "Global Association of Affinity of Islamic Denominations" und einer der Verantwortlichen für den Export von Terrorismus und Fundamentalismus Teheraner Regimes, hält zur Zeit eine Konferenz in Ägypten ab und rief alle Kräfte, die loyal zur Teheraner Diktatur stehen, auf, in mehreren Ländern Angriffe auf ausländische Botschaften und Vertretungen zu organisieren.
Translated, it states:

Mullah Mohammed-Ali Taskhiri, head of the "Global Association of Affinity of Islamic Denominations" and one of those responsible for the export of the Teheran regime's terrorism and fundamentalism, is currently attending a conference in Egypt (February 2006) and has called on all forces loyal to the Teheran dictator to organize attacks on foreign embassies and consulates in multiple countries.
This certainly sounds violent. Two caveats, however. First, this report comes to us from the Foreign Affairs Committee of the National Council of Resistance of Iran, an organization hostile to the Iranian government. Second, the date of this report suggests that the issue exercising Taskhiri was that of the Muhammad caricatures, and the call for "attacks on foreign embassies and consulates in multiple countries" might have been nothing more than a call for protests. I'd need to see his actual words to know for certain.

I haven't yet uncovered those, but here is an interesting passage from an article by Taskhiri, "Towards a Definition of Terrorism," Al-Tawhid, Vol V No. 1 (Muharram 1408 AH/1987 CE):

It is indeed comical that the United States of America, which is the mother of international terrorism, and the author of all the circumstances of oppression and subjection of peoples, by strengthening dictatorial regimes and supporting occupation of territories and savage attacks on civilian areas, etc. should seek to convene symposia on combating "terrorism", i.e. any act that conflicts with its imperialist interests.
So ... Taskhiri doesn't much care for the U.S. or the Muhammad caricatures. That doesn't make him a hypocrite for signing the peaceful, open letter to the Pope, but these plus his position in the Iranian government raise some questions, at least for me.

A collaborative, online effort might uncover disturbing information about other signatories to the open letter, but Erdal and I have already done our part.

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At 10:54 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Iranian NCR is, as you say, some sort of exile-government and hence usually guilty of propaganda. That's why I toned down their report, and omitted their usual embellishments. But there is, as a rule of thumb, a huge kernel of truth. They don't have to make up things to sound alarming. It's still a pity about the embelleshing, though: They could get rid of that (but don't) and it would still be like shooting fish in a barrel...

The Grand Mufti of country X title is usually granted, or bestowed, by governments to convenient people. It's nothing like a Catholic Archbishop, for example. They don't represent orthodoxy, which is unfortunately totally powerless these days, they reflect (in most places) the outcome of a complex power-play of governments' interests, the 'masses' and the ascendant, Saudi-backed fundamentalists.

On the blog you linked to, there was some talk about that symposium by a US-right-wing conservative magazine between Mustafa Akyol and two or three foremost representatives of the pseudo-DIY 'anti-Islam' political magazine popular front, Spencer and Bostom among them. Commentators there judged it 'unfair'. Sorry to rain into their parade, but this was a staged event. Akyol (with whom I dealt personally in the past) is on the same payroll as Spencer and Bostom are. He, and his US-based Turkish boss Fethullah Gülen (both protegees of the influential Pipes/Esposito faction) are the newest adopted breed of "Islam that the US foreign office can live with". This 'symposium' is just another of their opinion-making events, and Turkey (and maybe Iraq, I'm unsure here, that happend past my active time) is to be their laboratory about the feasibility of a US-friendly 'moderate' Islamist govenment. They still belive in in, apparently. The US foreign office should of course be given due credit for accepting radical Islam as a threat when their European (or at least German) counterparts were still sound asleep. As I see this (from a distance), the US is still under the impression that there are good and bad Islamists. The Europeans foreign offices were never taught any such distinction; We watched Gülen's 'moderate' boys do their thing on German soil, but we were ignored by our F.O. As usual, they were late listening to intelligence at all, but when they finally do (and the pope certainly gave them a shove), they will listen comprehensively, and not indulge in political make-believe like ther US counterparts. As a rule of thumb, US intelligence in matters Middle Eastern sucks, and is tainted by political jockeying, but their foreign office listens to them, while the European intelligence is pretty good, but our foreign offices don't listen. Just my personal bias showing, of course. Still: Remember Gülen (and his followers Erdogan and Erbakan), watch Turkey (and its Army), and witness how US interests will be becoming pegged against European ones over it. And watch ordinary folks in Turkey, and ordinary immigrants in W. Europe suffer the consequences

At 11:39 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Erdal, thanks for the interesting analysis.

I have a somewhat different perspective on Esposito and Pipes. They appear to me to be at odds, i.e., differing specifically in this way: Esposito thinks that many,perhaps most Islamists are moderates, whereas Pipes thinks that all Islamists are radicals.

Bostom and Spencer are both to the 'right' of Pipes, for where Pipes sees a moderate mainstream Islam (or tries to), Bostom and Spencer see none at all.

All of them are willing to acknowledge the existence of moderate Muslims (in contradistinction to a moderate Islam), differing only in their estimate of the radical 'minority.'

I don't know much about Akyol, though he seemed to be saying nice, moderate things in his journalism articles.

As for Fethullah Gülen, I'd never even heard of him -- not that this should surprise anyone since I'm hardly an expert. But I see that Wikipedia, that paragon of scholarly encyclopedias, has an entry. I'll read it with a grain of salt.

I'll also keep your suggestions in mind:

"Remember Gülen (and his followers Erdogan and Erbakan), watch Turkey (and its Army), and witness how US interests will be becoming pegged against European ones over it."

Thanks for the tips.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 12:21 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Wikipedia entries on Gülen and Akyol are quite alright, as far as I can see. Incomplete, but what is there, is fine.

Akyol was even a key witness in this much-publicised US schoolboard trial about teaching intelligent design: The ID-Republicans sent him there to witness that ID is not a Christian thing, but that Muslims subscribe to it too. He is useful on many fronts...
Btw., the teaching of evolution at Turkish schools was officially stopped 3 (or 4) years ago: Gülen's hand. He always was obsessed by the topic. Akyol did the blackmailing of opponents.

Maybe you're right about Esposito/Pipes/Bostom/Spencer, but I think they just cater to different audiences. But then, the Esposito-Gülen connection may be a weird coincidence. (Esposito wrote a fawning book about him, was even talking about nominating Gülen for the Nobel price for peace...).

At 12:30 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Another trivia snippet: Pope John-Paul II was a big fan of Gülen, audiences, letter exchanges, etc. I doubt Benedict shares his enthusiasm.

At 4:10 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Esposito gets criticized by some for his optimistic view of Islamism. He seems to think of it as a quasi liberation theology for Islam that will lead to a more democracy in the Muslim world.

He's always looking for Islamists who are reformers, so perhaps that explains his fawning book about Gülen.

Thanks, also, for the trivia on Gülen and the popes.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:29 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

Is you site feed enabled?

At 3:54 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, probably not, because I've never been sure what that means.

Is it something that I should figure out and set up?

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:56 AM, Blogger Hathor said...

It would allow me to see when you have a new post. Since you are on the other side of the world, its hard for me to keep track of your time.
You can turn it on in template settings, site feed. If you don't see SITE FEED in your sidebar, then you will have to get code from Blogger help, then cut and paste, preferably below the Blogger logo.
This syndicates your blog using Atom, most feed readers should be able to access. Blogger explains this better than I.

At 3:59 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I'll try to look into this soon. My blogger account has been acting oddly of late. Posting has been difficult because several functions have been lost, so I've had to type in codes for links, images, etc. that I ought to be able to click for.

Jeffery Hodges

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