Archive for May, 2006

State of the Muslim world Since 911, the Western …

State of the Muslim world

Since 911, the Western media and the western society at large seem to be at odds with the Muslim world. Every now and then there is an article in western media citing the causes of malice in the Muslim society. The West wants to correct the Muslim world, just like it has wanted to correct every other civilization before ours, by imposing its homespun remedies. America considers democracy to be the solution to all that ails the Muslim world while Europe feels freedom of speech is the answer to all problems. Muslim leaders, aligned with the West, are also recommending their solutions on somewhat the same lines; General Musharraf harps enlightened moderation, Saudi monarchs support wahabi conservatism. But no one seems to have the perfect answer to this dilemma of bridging the gap between the West and the Islamic world.

Before we present our commentary on this situation let us have a brief review of the Muslim world. The Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC) has 57 member countries, which can largely be termed as the Muslim World. Out of these 57 only a handful has functioning democracy. The three largest countries, by population, Indonesia, Bangladesh, and Pakistan have struggled with democracies. Almost half of world’s oil reserves are controlled by the Muslim world; it is still one of the poorest segments of the world population. None of the Muslim countries can be termed as fully industrialized except for Malaysia and Turkey.

As we have witnessed during the recent cartoon debacle, the Muslim world is quick to blame the West for all its problems. Even though West as a political unit does maneuver the situation to its advantage whether it is colonization of Africa & Asia or slave trade. West also maintain its control on many parts of the world through proxy rulers and dictators. But the real virus among the Muslim world is its own misunderstanding of the spiritual meaning of the religion and the life style proposed by it.

Islam is the youngest religion among all the other prominent religions of the world like Christians, Hinduism and Budhists. All these religions have struggled with their own problems of mixing politics with religion. For many centuries Christian Clergy maintained political control of the Christian world until the French revolution, which became the benchmark for separating church and government. Once this was achieved it was much easier for people to become less emotional about rejecting religious taboos that made their societies conservative and orthodox. Once church lost its political power it had to struggle to maintain its importance. This irrelevance in the society forced the clergy to gain deeper understanding of the spiritual meaning of their religion.

Al-Qaeda and other terrorist organizations, with which Western media is so fascinated, are not a religious but political movement that gains its appeal from largely impoverished Muslim youth by dictating West as an enemy and a source of their misery. They have used religion as global phenomena to cut across boundaries to gain recruits. Al-Qaeda has single handedly damaged the spirituality of a peaceful religion that has never happened before in its history. Their political movement has brought more misery to the world of Islam than the damage it has inflicted on the west.

In spiritual terms, it is imperative for each individual to seek the absolute truth about life, creation, unity of God and purpose of existence. But this is a quest that should be left to an individual to decide which path he/she wants to choose to find these answers. As Greek philosophers believed that after earning subsistence level earnings each individual should spend the rest of his time with family and quest for knowledge. Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism have all transformed over centuries. Followers of most of these religions look towards their preachers to find answers for them while they are busy running their daily lives, which is government by secular laws.

On the other hand clergy in the Muslim also define the spiritual meaning of the religion but also taint it with tradition and politics, which has nothing, got to do with the spiritual content. This amalgamation of religion with politics has been a deadly combination when it is in the hands of clergy that is trained in narrow science of theology. Only a handful of these clergy truly understand the depth of the religion and its comparison with other religions. These clergy also pressure governments to adopt religiously motivated constitutions. Since most of the Muslim countries are either dictatorships or kingdoms it is in the benefit of these rulers to control the minds of the people through these clergy like in medieval Europe few centuries ago. It is imperative for the Muslim world to resolve this conflict of religion and politics and come up with a form of government that is more in tune with the advancement in science, technology, and economics. Islam does provide means to achieve this through Ijma or conference of Muslim scholars to debate, argue and formation of consensus. But Ijma is difficult as infighting between various scholars has resulted in almost 72 different sects of Islam with each prophesying they are the true bearer of the religion and rigid about accepting the views of the other sects. Although Sunni and Shitte are the two majority sects but even in those two sects there are various shades that don’t agree much with each other.

The worst thing that has happened in the muslim world is appointment of mosque imams that have limited knowledge of the spiritual side of the religion. In order to keep their jobs these imam’s prefer to keep their audiences engaged in following a strict code of tradition through symbolism of dress and appearance rather than providing them the source of getting closer to the creator. These Imams also like to instill fear of religious infidelity among their disciples so that they continue providing funds for their mosques and their religious schools. In its true sense a mosque is a community center where people gather to pray, network, share and comfort each other. At the appointed time of the prayer a person from among those present can come forward and lead the prayer. In order to maintain mosques administrators should be hired who can take care of the place, its cleanliness and safeguard its assets.

Parents prefer their children to be taught about the religion from early childhood for which a board should be established that certify Muslim scholars. These Muslim scholars should be well versed in all other religions, as well, so that they have clear understanding of the spiritual side of religion in general and Islamic spirituality in particular. I recently sent a translation of Qoran to an atheist European friend and asked her to comment on the book once she finishes it. Her first remark was that it is such a simple book like a story while Bible is complicated. This should sum up the message of Islam for everyone. It is a simple religion made complicated by the Imams of the mosque.
One positive outcome of 911 is the initiation of a debate in the Muslim world to take a second look at their societies and find solution to their problems. Next generation of youth that are going through this debate will be better equipped to manage their societies and bring positive change.

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The impact of immigrants In 1519, a small number …

The impact of immigrants

In 1519, a small number of Spanish invaders, around 176, landed on the shores of Mexico with an objective of plundering the riches of the land and the people. They faced an army of close to 10,000 too drunk in their superior numbers but finally succumbing to the superior weaponry of the Spanish with help from local dissident tribal leaders. Since that day the cultural mix of North America changed forever. European powers ruled Mexico until early 1800 when it was finally liberated from the clutches of colonial power. But the plundering of almost three centuries took its toll on the culture and people and forever changed their psyche. It is now slowly emerging back and reclaiming its cultural heritage from the world. The recent release of a Spanish language US anthem is a sign of that emerging trend. This has become a controversial issue even prompting the US President to disapprove it. But this is a natural progression of a dynamic country. Since US is a global power we feel that its anthem should be represented in all world languages the same way its currency is a default unit of trade.

Spanish-speaking immigrants from North and South America have also changed the cultural mix of USA. Only recently, the Spanish overtook African-Americans as the largest minority group in the USA. The issue will get further complicated if 11 million illegal immigrants, most of them Spanish, gets the right to citizenship under the immigration reform bill. This will give them enough electoral power to influence politicians in policy issues.

Due to language barriers and lack of education Hispanics have traditionally participated in farming, construction, janitorial and landscaping services. But this is going to change as these immigrants educate their next generation and rise in the economic stature of the society. Proliferation of Hispanic television and radio channels and newspapers suggest this rise in economic power.

If the US wants to prevent increasing migration from its Western neighbor, Mexico, it has to develop a multi-pronged strategy. First of all, US should encourage its industries to increase their direct investment in Mexico to improve the employment situation in the country as well as to compete with labor-intensive China. It should provide incentive to US farming industry to hire people on temporary work permits with the condition that these immigrants return to their homelands after the expiration of these permits. For Mexico remittances from US is one of the largest foreign exchange earners, around US$ 25 billion last year, even more than their oil production. As long as Mexico relies on these remittances it would not have an incentive to prevent border crossings. US should devise ways to help Mexico diversify its industries to earn foreign exchange through export of its products. The insecurity of the Hispanic people might also contribute to tightening immigration policy for immigrants from other parts of the world. Although it would isolate USA from the rest of the world but would increasingly align it with Mexico and other South American countries.

As far as the Pakistani immigrant community is concerned, it has thrived in the US starting from low-level jobs at gas stations, grocery stores, cab driving and limousine services. Pakistanis exercised their English language advantage over their Hispanic counterparts to accept these jobs. Gradually, they started moving upwards by owning those same stores and employing the next wave of immigrants from their homelands. This scenario is changing by three emerging trends. First, as Hispanics overcome the language barrier and gain more confidence in their abilities, they would like to come out front from the back. Secondly, the Patriotic Act will put Pakistanis at a disadvantage with the scrutiny of Muslim license applicants. And lastly, the next generation of Pakistani-Americans, born and raised in USA, are not interested in inheriting the gas station or 99 cents stores from their parents.

If Pakistanis want to maintain their economic profile, they must start thinking about the future in USA. They should form a nationwide chamber of commerce to lobby with policy makers. Pakistanis should also form investment groups to help young entrepreneurs to enter new industries like Technology. Indians have successfully created the Indus Entrepreneur (TIE) group to provide a platform for Indian entrepreneurs. Few years ago Pakistanis created The Organization of Pakistani Enterpreneurs of North America (OPEN) to help technology start-ups but the bursting of technology bubble badly hurt its efforts. It is now time to reconstitute OPEN or create some new organization to help young Pakistanis in realizing their dreams. American-Pakistanis can also form joint ventures with companies in Pakistan, not only diversify their risks but also to improve the competitive edge for Pakistani products.
Times are changing fast around the world. Pakistani immigrants in USA have to unite behind a common cause and prepare long term strategies to ensure a safe future for their coming generations.

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