Monthly Archives: September 2012

Ambassador Sherry Rehman For the Majority

Ambassador Sherry Rehman at the 2012 Smithsonian Sufi FestivalLast week’s protests in response to the amateur internet video intended to defame the Prophet Muhammad dominated headlines about Pakistan and served as an unfortunate and misleading introduction to Islam for too many in the West. While outrage against the offensive video clip was real – just as films like The Last Temptation of Christ and works of art like “Piss Christ” inspired outrage in the US – the violence that broke out represented not the majority of devout Muslims, but the craven opportunism of radical political groups who seized on the film as a convenient tool for manufacturing rage and amplifying their political message far beyond their actual support among the people. As noted by Trudy Rubin in Sunday’s Philadelphia Inquirer,

Violent protests against critiques of Islam have no roots in the Muslim religion. As the grand mufti of Saudi Arabia said last week, the Web video “would never harm the noble Prophet in any way, nor the religion of Islam.” He denounced the destruction of embassies and public buildings as un-Islamic.

While cynical political leaders were exploiting religion to hijack media headlines, however, a little noticed event in Washington, DC presented a much different representation of Islam – one that would be far more familiar to the billions of Muslims across the world who registered their offense through reasoned outreach and quiet prayer, and serves as a much more informative introduction to the Islamic tradition prevalent in countries like Pakistan. Over the weekend, the Smithsonian Institution hosted Sufism at the Smithsonian: Searching fro the Divine through the Arts, a two-day symposium on Sufism and Sufi-inspired arts.

Pakistan’s Ambassador to the US, Sherry Rehman, spoke at the event on Saturday, explaining that,

Over the past decade, the emergence of ideological terrorism and its narrative of hate has cast a long and dark shadow on the picture of Islam as it has been practiced for centuries, as it is still practiced today. This tiny percentage has virtually hijacked the religion of Islam and distorted it as a religion of exclusivity and violence. In fact, allow me to say, that those who dominate international media discourse have strayed far from the teachings of Sufi masters who were the votaries of love, from the “maktab i ishq” or school of love; aligning themselves with an increasingly apocalyptic creed that promotes exclusion of all those who disagree with their narrow interpretation of faith.

Let there be no mistake that the essence of Islam advocates peace above all else.

Pakistani analyst Najam Sethi contends that last week’s violent protests were not a spontaneous and popular uprising, but a media event carefully orchestrated by radical political groups who seek to overshadow “the point of view of an overwhelming majority of Pakistanis who are tolerant and moderate and want to reflect such values to the global village with which they wish to trade and integrate, for whom jobs, education and upward mobility are worthy ambitions.” That point of view was eloquently stated by Ambassador Rehman on Saturday night. It’s too bad more media wasn’t there to cover it.

Video of Ambassador Rehman’s full remarks is below:

 

Sec. Clinton Celebrates Eid-ul-Fitr

Sec. Clinton welcomed diplomats and esteemed guests for a belated celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr at the State Department on Thursday night. While Eid is a joyous occasion, this year’s State Department event was held under the shadow of grief resulting from attacks on embassies across the world, including an attack on the US Embassy in Libya which took the lives of several diplomats there including the American Ambassador Chris Stevens.

Libya’s Ambassador to the US, Ali Aujali, gave a moving speech at the event:

Thank you very much, Secretary Clinton. Standing beside you here in the Department of State, it shows the world how much the Americans are standing by the Libyans and the Libya revolution. You do support us during the war, but you have to support us during the peace. We are going through a very difficult time, and we need the help of friends.

It is a very sad day for me, since I learned of the death of my dear friend and colleague, Ambassador Chris Stevens. I knew Chris for the last six years. We play tennis together, we drive in one car, and we had some traditional Libyan food in my house. I must tell you, Madam Secretary, and tell the American people, that Chris is a hero. He is a real hero. He’s the man who believes in the Libyans and the Libyan ability that they will achieve democracy after 42 years of the dictatorship.

Now we are facing a serious problem, and we have to maintain and we have to – we need security and stability in our country. The government, unfortunately, faces a serious problem, personnel and equipment. And the support of you and the friends who support us during the war is very important.

I want to show you and to show the American people how much it was – we were shocked by the death of four American diplomats. It is a very sad story to tell. But I am sure that it is our responsibility, and the responsibility of the Libyan people, that we have to protect our people, we have to protect the Americans in the first place and have to protect all the diplomatic missions who are serving in our country. I am sure that without the help, we will not be able to do it.

I hope that this sad incident which happened, this terrorist attack which took place against the American consulate in Libya, it will tell us how much we have to work closely. Our religion, our culture, never tells us that this is the way to express your view. It is – in fact (inaudible) a terrorist act. This is condemned by all the world and by all the Libyans at the top level of the Libyan authority.

Please, Madam Secretary, accept our apology and accept our condolence for the loss of the four Americans, innocent people. They lost their lives in the Libyan territory. Chris, he loves Benghazi, he loves the people, he talks to them, he eats with them, and he committed — and unfortunately lost his life because of this commitment.

Madam Secretary, thank you very much indeed. (Applause.)

Secretary Clinton followed Ambassador Aujali’s remarks by reiterating that the United States unquestioningly rejects the content of the inflammatory film that sparked this week’s attacks, and called on people of all faiths to spread tolerance and speak out against attempts to denigrate any religion, and to demonstrate the strength of their faith by restraining from violence.

Pakistani Journalist’s Perspective On America Changes After Visit

Pakistani journalist Javaid Ur Rahman, who writes for The Nation in Islamabad, spent three weeks in Minnesota as part of the U.S.-Pakistan Professional Partnership in Journalism Program with the International Center for Journalists. Fox affiliate KMSP in Minneapolis-St. Paul interviewed him about his first experience in the United States, which defied many of the assumptions and stereotypes that he brought from home.

Javaid Ur Rahman’s experience exemplifies the importance of engagement and interaction in overcoming the suspicion and distrust born of assumptions and stereotypes. The more we get to know each other as people, the more we will see how much we actually have in common.

Nadeem’s Story

When Janice and William Mazur’s children moved away to college, they felt like something was missing from their home. Muhammad Nadeem wanted to learn more about America. Together with the YES Program, they introduced an American community to Pakistan, and a young Pakistani to America. What came out of the experience are life-long friendships and a greater understanding – and respect – between people both nations.

US Senators write to President Zardari about minority rights

A bipartisan group of US Senators comprising Robert Menendez (D–NJ), Roy Blunt (R–MO), Benjamin Cardin (D–MD), Mark Kirk (R–IL), Robert P. Casey, Jr. (D–PA), and Mike Johanns (R–NE) wrote to Pakistan’s President Asif Ali Zardari last Friday expressing serious concerns about discrimination and violence against religious minorities in Pakistan and the application of Pakistan’s blasphemy laws.

In their letter, the Senators quoted Pakistan’s founding father, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, from his opening address to the Constitutional Assembly on August 11, 1947:

Discrimination, violence, and persecution on the basis of religion are a direct affront to the fundamental values of freedom and personal choice our nations subscribed to as signatories to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights…These violations run counter to the Pakistani constitution and the vision of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan, when he stated “you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place or worship in this State of Pakistan.”

A copy of the signed letter is available below:

 

 

Pakistan’s blasphemy laws: Can they be enforced in a just manner?

As the story of an 11-year-old girl in Pakistan charged with the capital crime of blasphemy continues to make headlines around the world, Al Jazeera’s Folly Bah Thibault spoke with Ayesha Tammy Haq, a barrister-at-law and civil rights activist; Khalid Rahman, the director general of the Institute for Policy Studies, specialising in domestic and regional politics; and Aasim Sajjad, a professor of political economy at Quaid-i-Azam University, and a member of the central committee of the Worker’s Party, about the history of the laws and whether they can be enforced in a just manner, or whether they should be repealed.