By Cigdem Akti, World Bulletin
This week, we publish the second and last part of our conversation with North America's two leading Muslim thinkers, Contemporary Islamic Thought Institute President Mohammed al-Asi and Crescent magazine Editor in Chief Zafar Bangash, who visited World Bulletin during Ramadan.
On the first part, Bangash and Al Asi talked about the understanding of the Islamic movement and the need for creating a new language without using western concepts, as well as Al Asi's 10-volume first English commentary of the Koran.
In the second part we publish today, two North American intellectuals share their ideas and proposals for the globalized world, presentation of Islam in the media and the pollution created by the media.
Al Asi and Bangash also talk about the present status of muslims in the US, which they describe as "an empire is about to collapse," and in Canada that "has governed by people who are more right wing than Bush", as well as their thoughts on future.
World Bulletin: Let me ask you two, kind of connected, questions. It is a global world and in this global world is not easy to do things that we believe right or necessary. There are to many things that are happening that not depend on people most of the time. So, what would you offer to Islamic movements or grassroots movements or people to change this? Maybe not a revolution but something for themselves.
And secondly, you publish Crescent Magazine and it was very influental, especially in North America and we are doing media work here. There are these big new agencies that deliver certain messages all over the world. How do you break this and what is the importance of it?
BANGASH: First of all, let us look at this aspect of globalisation. Essentially it means western domination of the world, that essentially what it is. And western explotation of the rest of the world, nothing else. What it requires for the Islamic movement, an Islamic movement to succeed of course you need, a fundemental requirement is 'Muttaki' (a devoted Muslim) leadership. That is absolutely essential! If you have, good, charismatic, muttaki leadership, not only charismatic but muttaki, that they have no class or personal interest, they have genuinely interested in solving the problems of the people, then I think they can inspire and motivate the people. And I do not want to underestimate the power of people. People have enormous power.
We see this in our age, with the people of Iran. A leader like Imam Homeyni, you do not have to necessarily agree with their 'fıkh'(Islamic law) position, but I think as an example, it is a very good example for us to have a leader who was charismatic, who was muttaki, who had no personal interest. He did not say "I'm going to come to power and after me, my son Ahmad will be the leader." No, he told his son he will have nothing to do with the government, that is for people to decide. And so, they have in their own ways challange the western system. Of course, they are facing a lot of problems, but at least they defended themselves for 30 years successfully and at the same time made enormous progress. They face a lot of problems economically, but in other areas they had enormous progress. Their potential has been unleashed.
I know that in Turkey for instance, there is another experiment has been worked out, and I think there is nothing wrong with that. I think that's perfectly valid. (It) provided those who are stirring the ship of the state understand that they face a lot of challenges and they have to dismantle these reactionary forces one by one, so they can achieve their ultimate objective.
True, we are living in a globalized world, but I think we should be living in globalized world on the terms dictated to us by others, but our own terms. If they believe in freedom, if they believe in democracy, then we have a right to implement our values and our ideas in society. Why is America keep on dictating to us as to what kind of policy for instance to follow Turkey vis-a-vis to Israel? Or why should America dictate to Pakistan what kind of policy to follow vis-a-vis to Taliban or Afghanistan, or India? I mean, what is America got to do with Pakistan? They even dictate who is going to be the prime minister, who is going to be the army chief. What kind of freedom is that? There is no freedom.
So, it is possible to deal with the globalized world with charismatic leadership, and number two, when we are clear about the goal we pursue. Then you will find, people turn around, come and follow you. It is always being the case, people always looking for sincere leadership. If they find it, they follow it. İf they don't, they will of course will go where their interest are.
WB: How about the media?
BANGASH: Of course the media is a part of the global world, they control that. I think it is possible to create an ultimate media now, in today's world, with the Internet and so on and you can bypass their system. Of course it is not easy, it requires a lot of resources, but I think we are beginning to see that we can break their stranglehold they have. Through the Internet, a lot of point of view are coming out. Again, you see, the tragedy is that very often the west is able to subvert that process. In the media there is something called news and there is something called noise. If you can suppress the news, then you can make a lot of noise all around. You can't figure out what is the truth.
There is one story, 100 hundred interpretations to it. So, an average person is totally confused. They allow everybody to speak, confusing people, disinformation spread all the time. But I think over a period of time, if accurate information is giving to the people, then people begin to rely on it. And I'll give you to example of Crescent. Any time a major story breaks out in the world, we immediately getting messages from our brothers and sister around the world "what is your take on this? We want your direction, we want your explanation." So we send out immediately our analysis to say this is our take on the story. And I'd say Elhamdulillah, Allah has helped us tremendously that we are seldomly wrong in our analysis of a situation. So people begin to develop a trust in us. We do not have any personal interest in the analysis we provide. That's multiplied many times over. You can do the same, other people can provide those kinds of analysis, so you provide information instantly to people.
Because, if we are quick off to mark in providing the correct analysis, then we can neutrealize some of the negative disinformation that has been spread out there and people fall so easily for it. But it is not an easy challenge. But it is not just the Internet. If the imams of the masjids are free, they were able to deliver the correct message from the 'mimber' (pulpit), just imagine, even in Istanbul I was told there are three thousand masjids, if every imam talks about a particular issue and has a clear understanding, imagine the impact of that. We have to liberate our mesajid, we have to have imams who have clear understanding. If we have a million imams like Imam Al-Asi, not even a million, a thousand would be enogh to change the world very quickly!
WB: What do you think about the globalisation and the media issues? You talked about the Internet as being an alternative media, but there is also so many garbage in it. It is sometimes impossible to find something reliable on. You have to go so many places to get the truth...
BANGASH: Let me quickly add: If you monitor the Internet, you will fairly soon realized that there are certain reliable news sources. And you just concantrate on that. Because, as I said forget about the noise, there are too much noise around. As long as you know that there are 3 or 4 sources that you can depend on, you know they are honest, they are not trying to mislead you, then you accept their analysis. That is what we do.
AL- ASI: This question about globalization.. You know, there is another way of looking at this. Because, we are led to believe by the MSN, that is main stream media, we are led to believe that the globe is such a structured manner that there is almost no hope of a radical, a substantial and a sustainable change that can happen. We are being programmed. Now, beyond this programme, there is another programme that goes on, and that is the human condition in the real world. I'm not talking about TV and Hollywood and Bollywood. In the real world out there, there are people who are just waiting for the time to change the globe, globalization as it were. Globalization is just a new phase after colonialism, imperialism, refer to Bush by 'New World Order.' It is a bunch of B.S.
The real world out there wants a change. You can tell a committed muslim is by a simple barometer of asking "can you change the world outside?" If they tell you 'no', you know that they are disconnected. They are disconnected from Allah, they are disconnected from human condition. If out of 6.5 billion people of this world, 6 billions wants a change, then why cannot we have a change? The simple answer to that is, because those who have the solution, we do not have the freedoms that are supposed to come by expressing this change in ourselves.
Have you ever wondered that we muslims, we don't even have one satellite station in the world. We are one third of humanity, or one forth, depending on the numbers you want to take. Why don't we have a satellite station, why can't we have a satellite station in the world? İs there some unwritten law somewhere that says muslims are not permitted to speak to the world audience? How long is going to take for us to wake up and smell the coffee? People have so much sources of information out there, an average person becomes confused. Well, it is confusing to a certain extend. But people will listen to reality more than listen to voices. Show them what works. Give them results. And this what is happening.
You can see it in front of your eyes. There is an Islamic republic, or an Islamic revolution or an Islamic model in Iran. I'm not saying this an angelic state, and they reached the heavens with their government, no. The point is here, this is a sincere human effort to demonstrate to tehir own people and to the world that Islam functions, Islam works. Problem with us, muslims is, it takes us a very long time to discover what is going on, where by the enemies of the muslims, they already figured out what's going on. And they are afraid of the contagionof a workable Islam. Therefore, they have like in United States, they have 30 plus satellite station in Persian beaming into Iran. 30! They don't have that for China, what other threat, Russia, North Korea, European Union, Cuba whatever. For Cuba, they have one, Radio Liberty, that's it. Why do we see that the enemies of the Islamic solution in the world know what is going on, we who were supposed to be the defendants, inheritors, promoters of Islam, we still don't understand? This is a dilemma we are living.
You want to set up an Islamic voice somewhere in the world, even in muslim countries, they say it is against the law. What law? You cannot have an Islamic voice in the world. Legal structure of the world as such that is not permissable to have an Islamic, public, social, communicative voice anywhere in planet Earth. Even here in Turkey, you'll se whenever they smell, whenever they sense there is an independent Islamic voice that stands for genuine Islamic self determination, they are going to begin to mobilise all of their potentials to, all of their resources to stem that voice.
WB: I can sit here and listen to you all day but I know you're tired. I just want to ask you one last question about North America in general, and Canada in particular. What is happening in North America for Muslims?
BANGASH: I want to concantrate on Canada. In Canada, unfortunately we have a government even more right wing than the Bush government. And they are Christian fundamentalist to the core, dominated by the Zionists, infested by Zionists. So, in the government level practically it is a very bleak and oppressive situation. But I'm an optimist. And I find within the Canadian people, I find a lot of potential. Majority of them are not racist. Majority of them do understand that muslims are being targeted, treated unfairly and being oppressed. There was a survey very recently, which I think 66 percent of the Canadians are said muslims are being treated unfairly. So I think there is hope there. At least within the general public in Canada.
But of course these oppressive laws, there are cases, especially Omar Khadr case has become a test case: A child soldier, who was badly wounded in Afghanistan, and put through this terrible illegal process called military commission, has no precedent in history. And Canadian government doing nothing for him. In that case, the situation is quite bad. But, as I said, I don't give up, I don't allow myself or those I'm in touch with to become depressed, become demoralized. I always say to them it is our Islamic obligation to we must always stand up and speak for the truth and speak for justice and struggle for justice. No matter what is the cost. That is what the Prophet say, and what is we supposed to do. I know in the US there is a much more bleak situation.
AL-ASI: I think everyone knows that the United States has external policies that are very aggressive and very hostile toward Muslims. The biggest demonstration of that is their occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan. And they are setting their eyes other areas of the world, Yemen is about to become another targeted area. Somalia and in the regions of Africa the US established military bases, as in Cibuti. And there is Pakistan of course, the military bases are basically concantrated in the Muslim world. That speaks for itself. The other thing, the United States internally I think there is no less than 8 million muslims.
(That's another point that should be made: No one counts us, the Muslims anywhere. With all the liberalism in the world, with all the democracy in the world, there is no count of the muslims. It says, you know, we are of limits, black sheep of the world. No one wants to count us. But, an educated guess and with experience, I think it is quiet comfortable to say the Muslims in the United States are around 8 million plus.)
And our civil rights, our civil status has been eroding since 9/11. There have been laws, draconian procedures that have been set in motion after 9/11, admitting secret evidence in courts, the Patriot Act. Even the most recently, coming out by Senator Lieberman who is the most pro-Zionist senator in the house, he is thinking about a break-through, so to speak, and that is he wants to pass a law that would give the authority to the government of the United States to strip American Muslims of their citizenship if the government suspects them of being terorists, or affiliated of or promoter of terorism. Can you go beyond that, can anyone imagine anything else? What do yo want to do, crucify the muslims? Is that the next step? This is the United States, this what they are doing.
Right now, I'm outside the US, I was born in the US, served in the United States armed forces, I pay my taxes, I vote; I do everything in conscious manner just like every law abiding citicen of US does, when I go back just because they have a question mark about me... We cannot deal ideas anymore, this is America people, they can't deal with ideas. I'm just a person who carries ideas. But I'm a red flag, I go there and immigration, customs people come near, I have to go through secondary screening process. They go through everything in my luggage. What is wrong with them? And this has been going on, I mean I travel frequently. So, a dozens times a year or so, I'm subjected to this kind of harassment.
But we have seen the bankruptcy of liberalism, bankruptcy of the United States and the West. It is all going to come down. These policies are not going to work, their military aggression overseas, their social assault of the muslims... 9/11 is declared by a pastor in Florida "burn the Quran day", this is a statement in and of itself, they have been so irritated by Islam. We do not have our military bases in Europe and America, they have their military bases in the Islamic hemisphere of the world. Last count, it was around 800 military bases that US has around the world. It has a budget of 700 billion dollars, that is much as the next 18 countries in the world who spend for their defences. To do what? To shed muslim blood. Can they live with their own values?
What I'm referring to is the expiring days of the American Empire. This is what empires do when they begin to lose it. The United States is thinking with its muscles. And when nation states think with their muscles, that's when they go down. I regret to say that, because that's my country. At the end of the day, I do not carry a passport from any Muslim country, I carry an American passport. But what do you do with a country, with a system, with a government that doesn't want to listen to reason? That is where we are...I'm sorry to say that the United States is drowning in its own sins and its own aggression. It is sinking and it is sinking in an alarming rate. I mean within our lifetime, and we are relatively young, the United States is going to become third tier power in the world.
WB: So yo think the US is declining?
AL-ASI: Of course, everything indicates that it is in decline. Rigth now, the debt of the United States is 14 trillion dolars and it's rising in an alarming rate. It can't pay its debts.
BANGASH: And that is the external debt, internal debt is another 30 or something.
AL-ASI: All the indicators that measure a society's ascension or its decline.., If you are looking at the moral factors of society, the United States is a morally corrupt country. If you're looking at the economic indicators, it is in the red, it can't pay its debts and it's increasing. If you look at the infrastructure of the US, United States, let's say a highway system, that system now needs renovation. It cannot renovate its own interstate highway system. It is crumbling, everything is coming down, it can't fix it. A simple neighborhood example, the library hours. The libraries in United States in 1973 used to be open between 8 in the morning, give or take half an hour, to 11.30 at night. Because they had the budget. Now, because there is no money, the libraries are opening around 10 in the morning, and in the evening they are closing around 6 o'clock. What is it tell tou? You don't have to be a philosopher, or a PHD in economics or social sciences or anything else.
The educational system... United States is ranked 40 something among the world countries for its educational standarts. The public school system is failing. It is a failing society.
When the internal political structure in the United States puts a black person in the White House, and if you know the US is a racist society, you know something is drastically wrong with that society. They have black person in the State Department, a black person in the justice, a black person in the United Nations, minorities took over the Supreme Court. Nine individuals of the bench for life, these are the Supreme judges in the US, none of them is white, Anglo-saxon, Protestan, none. The first time is US history. A black person in the White House, Obama, that rhymes with Osama; who has a middle name Husain, supposed to be a muslim, they bring him in. Why do you think they bring him in, because of his brain? No, because the US policy is so weak, they need someone like that to gain the political leverage that they lost over these years.
BANGASH: Let me share something from the life of Malcolm X. He was asked, because he was very critical of US policy, "Malcolm what do you think if maybe become the President of the US?" He said "are you kidding? If I'm on a slave ship, and the slave master come to me and say I want to make you the captain of the ship, dou you think I'm crazy to accept that. I know that ship is sinking!"
AL ASİ: That is insightful.
BANGASH: I think, all the indicators in US show that it is rapidly declining. Despite the fact that, it has a huge military budget, the largest military in the world, nuclear weapons and whatever, ask yourself which war that US fought and won on its own?
In Vietnam it had allies, and it still lost. In Afghanistan, it has 43 allies, in Iraq it has 43... And which one did it win? The only war that US won was in October of 1983, when it's Navy invaded Granada, a total population of 110 thousand people, no army, no police force, that is what the US conquered. Is that what you call a super power?
WB: OK. Last question then, who is rising up?
AL ASI: There are at least a couple of areas in the world that show signs they are moving in the fill the void. If you look at the economic structure of the world, currently China is an up and coming power, economic power in the world. Everyone will tell you that, whether you agree with China or not. They are going up right now and about the reach peak. There is few other states that moving in that direction, they are called BRIC, I'm sure you heard it, Brazil, Russia, India and China. These are the states that moving in to occupy the territory that's been occupied by the US since World War 2.
If you want to look even more into the future, and go beyond the ten year bracket, I think Islamic countries are going to occupy the heights of the political and economic world in a generation or two. I think there is a consolidation of the Islamic will, no one wants to agree with it. The US sees it very well, or it wouldn't have all these forces in Afghanistan and Iraq. They see it coming, they know it. The problem is we don't know it! In our own way, we are going about trying to do what we have to do, many of us are dying, many of us becoming crippled because of all these societies -I'm not talking about individuals here, but societies- but this is the prices it is paid before we reached the summit. We are in an ascending order.
They don't want to project that, CNN and BBC does not going to tell you 'Muslims are coming.' They are not going to say that, even if they do, it is in a negative sense as 'they are coming, we have to shoot them!' That is the way they behave.
BANGASH: I personally see is not a single power that is going to emerge, and think in this situation Muslims will take the lead. There are member of Muslim countries that they have potential to come together. I think they could definitely be a strong position.