Norway’s Muslims form human shield around synagogue

OSLO – More than 1,000 Muslims formed a human shield around Oslo’s synagogue on February 21, offering symbolic protection for the city’s Jewish community and condemning an attack on a synagogue in neighboring Denmark the previous weekend.

Chanting “No to anti-Semitism, no to Islamophobia,” Norway’s Muslims formed what they called a “ring of peace” a week after Omar Abdel Hamid El-Hussein, a Danish-born son of Palestinian immigrants, killed two people at a synagogue and an event promoting free speech in Copenhagen.

“Humanity is one and we are here to demonstrate that,” Zeeshan Abdullah, one of the demonstration’s organizers told a crowd of Muslim immigrants and ethnic Norwegians who filled the small street around Oslo’s only functioning synagogue.

 “There are many more peace mongers than warmongers,” Abdullah said as organizers and Jewish community leaders stood side by side. “There’s still hope for humanity, for peace and love, across religious differences and backgrounds.”

Norway’s Jewish community is one of Europe’s smallest, numbering around 1,000, and the Muslim population, which has been growing steadily through immigration, is 150,000 to 200,000. Norway has a population of about 5.2 million.

The debate over immigration in the country came to the forefront in 2011 when right-wing terrorist Anders Behring Breivik killed 77 people and accused the government and the then-ruling Labor party of facilitating Muslim immigration and adulterating pure Norwegian blood.

Support for immigration has been rising steadily since those attacks, however, and an opinion poll late last year found that 77 percent of people thought immigrants made an important contribution to Norwegian society.

– edited from Reuters, February 21, 2015
PeaceMeal, March/April 2015

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Western secularism clashes with Islamic fundamentalism

To enter fully into the secular modern world, the world of individual freedom, material abundance, personal choice and personal fulfillment, religion must confine itself to the private sphere and exclude God from politics. In the present-day United States, easily the most "religious" nation in the developed world, religious symbols and rhetorical flourishes may persist in the public sphere, especially on the campaign trail. Yet even with a very considerable number of "fundamentalists" among our fellow citizens, the separation of church and state is well-established.But in the Islamic world, God remains central to politics. In traditional Islam, consigning God to the private sphere is literally unimaginable. But modernity requires that God get out of the way. And modernity has unleashed a full-fledged assault on the Islamic world, employing every means available to subvert and seduce -- the same means it employs to train our own children to obey the imperatives of the marketplace and become conspicuous consumers.

A great many Muslims resent having modernity shoved down their throat by outsiders, who are themselves not necessarily paragons of virtue and seem oblivious to the shortcomings of their own way of life. A few Muslims express that resentment through violence directed, above all, at the premiere representative of the West and modernity, the United States.

Since 9/11, the West, led by the United States, has responded to that violence by redoubling its efforts to shove modernity down Muslim throats. Hence, the global war on terror, centered on campaigns intended to coerce Iraq and Afghanistan into accepting the prerequisites of modernity.

We proclaim ourselves liberators -- Operation Enduring Freedom! -- and by our own lights we are. Some among the beneficiaries of our kindness see it differently, however. They see us as infidels bearing corruption and unbelief. Not surprisingly, the result is to inflame even greater antagonism and further resistance.

This article by Andrew J. Bacevich, Boston University professor of international relations, is edited from In These Times, April 2010, and was reprinted in PeaceMeal, May/June 2010.

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)

Harsh criticism of U.S. message to Muslim world

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Adm. Mike Mullen, has written a searing critique of U.S. government efforts at “strategic communication” (or “strat comm”) with the Muslim world, saying that no amount of public relations will establish credibility if American behavior overseas is perceived as arrogant, uncaring or insulting. “To put it simply, we need to worry a lot less about how to communicate our actions and much more about what our actions communicate,” Admiral Mullen wrote in an essay published by Joint Force Quarterly, an official military journal.

The critique by comes as the United States is widely believed to be losing ground in the war of ideas against extremist Islamist ideology. The issue is particularly relevant as the Obama administration orders fresh efforts to counter militant propaganda, part of its broader strategy to defeat the Taliban and Al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

“I would argue that most strategic communication problems are not communication problems at all,” Admiral Mullen wrote. “They are policy and execution problems. Each time we fail to live up to our values or don’t follow up on a promise, we look more and more like the arrogant Americans the enemy claims we are.”

While President Obama has sought to differentiate himself from his predecessor, George W. Bush, in the eyes of the Muslim world — including through a widely praised speech in Egypt on June 4 — the perception of America as an arrogant oppressor has not changed noticeably, particularly in Iraq and Afghanistan, where United States forces remain engaged in war, and in Pakistan, where American-launched missiles aimed at militants from the Taliban and Al Qaeda have killed numerous civilians. During a recent visit to Pakistan by Mr. Obama’s special envoy, Richard C. Holbrooke, Pakistanis told his entourage that America was widely despised in their country because, they said, it was obsessed with finding and killing Osama bin Laden to avenge the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Admiral Mullen expressed concern over a trend to create new government and military organizations to manage a public relations effort to counter anti-Americanism, which he said had allowed strategic communication to become a series of bureaucracies rather than a way to combat extremist ideology. American messages to counter extremist information campaigns “lack credibility, because we haven’t invested enough in building trust and relationships, and we haven’t always delivered on promises,” he wrote.

Admiral Mullen cited American efforts at rebuilding Europe after World War II and then containing communism as examples of successes that did not depend on opinion polls or strategic communication plans. He also cited more recent military relief missions after natural disasters as continuing that style of successful American efforts overseas. “That’s the essence of good communication: having the right intent up front and letting our actions speak for themselves,” he wrote. “We shouldn’t care if people don’t like us. That isn’t the goal. The goal is credibility. And we earn that over time.”

Admiral Mullen did not single out specific government communications programs for criticism, but wrote that “there has been a certain arrogance to our ‘strat comm’ efforts.” “It’s not about telling our story,” he stated. “We must also be better listeners.”

The Muslim community “is a subtle world we don’t fully — and don’t always attempt to — understand,” he wrote. “Only through a shared appreciation of the people’s culture, needs and hopes for the future can we hope ourselves to supplant the extremist narrative.”

Coinciding with the publication of his essay, Admiral Mullen released a YouTube video inviting questions from members of the armed services and the public on a range of national security and military personnel issues for an online discussion. “The chairman intends to use social media to expand the two-way conversation with service members and the public,” said a statement announcing the interactive video question-and-answer session.

– edited from The New York Times, August 28, 2009
PeaceMeal, Sept/October 2009

(In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.)