Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Obama's Reverse-Pivot to the Middle East Offers Yet Another Opportunity for "Change"
by Younus Abdullah Muhammad

President Obama's well organized speech in front of the UN General Assembly on September 24, 2013 was marked by an apparent recognition that the ensuing battle for the future of the Middle East, as opposed to Asia, will determine the near-term geopolitical future and balance of power in the world for at least a generation to come. Up unto that point, Obama's Mideast policy had been, by design, mostly rhetorical, meant to salvage the Muslim world's public opinion as much as possible while pivoting the loci of US concern to the projected high-growth economies of East Asia. Mideastern interest was mostly confined to preserving the US's unspoken military dominance in the Gulf and increasingly East Africa.

President Obama's election once spurred some early "hope" that US-Mideast relations would alter but as scholar Fawaz Gerges has described it, "contrary to the public perceptions, Obama's lofty rhetoric about a new start in relations between the United States and Muslim countries did not signify that the region ranked high on his foreign policy agenda. When Israeli-Palestinian peace talks proved much costlier than Obama and his advisers had foreseen, the president first allowed his vice president to be humiliated by the Israeli prime minister and then awkwardly disengaged from the peace process, thereby undermining his own credibility and doing consequent damage to America's prestige and influence. So while Obama has invested some political effort on Mideast diplomacy, he has shown himself unwilling to do more to achieve a breakthrough. The decision speaks volumes about the administration's foreign policy priorities, as well as the decline of American power and influence in the region." (Obama and the Middle East, 2012, p.11)

Nevertheless, Obama's latest UN address seemed to offer a 'reverse-pivot' and path to serious reconcentration. In the speech Obama explained that the US "will be engaged in the region for the long-haul" and he suggested that reengagement will center around reinitiating the Israel-Palestine peace process and resolving the Iranian nuclear issue. Now, after five years of reduced focus, and in turn influence, from all but the region's major oil producers, the Obama administration has recognized that its withdrawal has created conditions under which foreign powers have emerged and through which regional discord, civil conflict and divide have exasperated. Today stark division subsists not only between Sunnis and Shiites, secularists and Islamists, but also increasingly between a politicized and militant social underbelly and their elite and traditionally Western-allied counterparts.

Obama's speech offered one very promising principle that could slowly mediate such clash. While addressing the unfolding conflict in Egypt, Obama expanded the definition of American interests beyond oil, Israel and neoliberal economics to include support for the development of government that "legitimately reflects the collective will of the people." If realized in practice and policy, that would prove a major alteration that might initiate a new era and style of American diplomacy. In the end, long-term lessons might be learned that document concern with the promotion of pluralism and representative governance leads to mutually beneficial engagement while real politick masked in rhetoric more often than not results only in entanglement and eventual catastrophe. If the past five years are any indication Obama's words will prove merely a rhetorical tool, an attempt to deflect the enhanced awareness that Obama really has not had a Mideast policy. Whether because of that reality or in spite of it, the center of gravity in international affairs has clearly shifted back to the Middle East. Any actual connection between the U.S. hegemon's vital interests and support and aid for authentic representative government, with all the plurality and risk that necessarily accompanies it, would not only represent a major change in course but may usher in an era led by America in the Middle East.

The Obama presidency began with an order to close Guantanamo Bay. In June of 2009 he went to Cairo and called for a "new beginning between the United States and Muslims." But, like his promise to close the Guantanamo Prison, his efforts to improve relations have proven overblown. It is important to recognize that Obama did not, at this time, link democracy promotion to the national interests of either the US or the people of the Middle East. In his Cairo address he stated, "I know there has been controversy about the promotion of democracy in recent years, and much of this controversy is connected to the war in Iraq. So let me be clear: no system of government can or should be imposed upon one nation by another." As opposed to his democratic primary opponent Hillary Clinton, now-President Obama actually rejected a policy of democratization and reform initiated by President Bill Clinton in the 1990's after it became apparent that political Islam was on the rise and the days of Arab authoritarianism were numbered. Instead, Obama called Mubarak a "stalwart ally" and when the Arab Spring protests rent asunder in Tunisia and Egypt his Vice President Joe Biden refused to label Mubarak a dictator. In actuality, US reaction sought to subvert Egyptian protests and first to replace Mubarak with his vice president, Omar Suleiman. They maintained support for Ben Ali in Tunisia until his departure and continue to support oil-rich autocrats in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. They increased military support and cooperation in Yemen even after the regime started firing on protestors and then were pressured by Britain and France to intervene in Libya before remaining totally lethargic so far with regard to Syria. Contrary to the popular American narrative, the number one obstacle in the way of Obama's actual foreign policy strategy has been the surging demand for democratically-minded transformation across the Middle East.

Despite the recent reversion to authoritarianism and other complications, any lasting US influence in the Muslim world "for the long haul" will necessitate both policy and practice that tracks closer to the democratic oratory espoused by Obama's teleprompter. Egypt, home of a quarter of the Arab world's population and arguably its cultural center, represents the best opportunity for such alterations. At the same time it is a case study in American hypocrisy. In Obama's UN speech he argued that in Egypt Mohammed Morsi was elected but "proved unwilling or unable to govern in a way that was mutually exclusive." The President said nothing however of the reempowered military junta presently running the country with its long experice in autocracy. And Obama emphasized that the US "purposefully avoided choosing sides" while failing to mention that by refusing to classify the intervention as a coup the US has clearly made its decision. "We have determined that it is not in the best interests of the United States to make that determination," as he put it before. He then went on to connect US interests to the support and aid of government reflecting the "collective will" of the Egyptian people. However, "collective will" is a vague term that can easily be manipulated in definition, away from one that supports government for the people by the people and into one that serves as a cover for a return to elite dictatorship protected by sustained US assistance.

So far US policy has show no sign of promoting actual pluralism. In August, Secretary of State John Kerry described the coup in Egypt as "restoring democracy." That was right before the regime gunned down hundreds of nonviolent, pro-Morsi protestors, classifying the women and children killed as terrorists, rounded up the leaders of the nonviolent Muslim Brotherhood and imprisoned them on trumped up charges, shut off free expression, closed down television stations, imposed curfews and reset emergency laws from the Mubarak era. As the late Christopher Hitchens succinctly described it, most nations are states that have militaries but Egypt is a military that has a state. The root obstacle now to pluralism and government representative of the collective will in Egypt is in fact the 'deep state' that revolves around the military. In reaction to the clear coup, the Obama administration merely canceled a joint military exercise, temporarily reviewed the $1.3 billion in military aid before sustaining the bulk of it and has sat idly since as all genuine political plurality has been subverted. For their part, the EU conducted an "urgent review of Egyptian relations" partially suspended the export of military equipment and continued most of a $5 billion package in loans and aid to support "democratic transitions." Such assistance will further entrench the return of Egyptian totalitarianism.

These efforts at 'democracy restoration' do not represent the plurality of either Arab or Egyptian thought. Neither the Egyptian military or US government has ever supported Mideast publics. In reality, such manipulation is part and parcel of a sustained suppression of political Islam that has hallmarked the West's creation of the modern Middle East through the secretive Sykes-Picot accords of the first world war era. The preference for Arab authoritarianism has only heightened since it became clear in the 1990's that any free and fair elections would bring Islamists to power. The interim Egyptian government has issued a "road map" to restore elections. However, that road map was drawn up absent consultation, even with members of the anti-Morsi coalition busy slogging that the people and the military are "one hand." The interim government announced a 50-member panel that will draft a new constitution, but that panel will include only two, pro-regime Islamists and so could not be realistically representative of Egyptian aspirations. The people of Egypt overwhelmingly elected Islamists in initial parliamentary and presidential elections. And while the  so-called Islamist constitution of Morsi passed through national referendum, the new constitution will be put to no test other than the scrutiny of a judiciary that recently added insult to injury by releasing Hosni Mubarak from his prison chains.

The interim government is led by former finance minister Hazem el-Bablawi, a proponent of the neoliberal reforms induced under Mubarak who argues for an outright ban of the Muslim Brotherhood. Actual Egyptian political plurality, not unlike the rest of the Middle East, is extremely diverse. True liberals performed horribly in early elections but represent a growing segment of society especially amongst the youth. The National Salvation Front is a coalition of parties that range from strict secularists, to Nasserites, communists, and people of all political persuasions. The ultraorthodox salafi al-Nour party won more than a quarter of the seats in Egypt's first parliament. The nationalist al-Wafd party, present in Egypt since the days of British colonialism, has a heavy constituency and many other parties and platforms formulated in the early days after the Arab Spring. The coup and return of control to the military backed by the judiciary and its remnants of the Mubarak-age will only subvert the collective will of the Egyptian mass through a return to one-party dominance.

Much has been made about the Obama administration's embracement of the Muslim Brotherhood. Truth be told, such embracement had more to do with pragmatism than any actual support for change. The US wields tremendous global economic influence and with the Egyptian economy on the brink of collapse it wasn't hard to imagine that the Islamists early election victories would be short gained. President Morsi was no radical. He appointed General Sissi to please the US and his constitution did nothing to take away the military's powers. He shut out his salafist counterparts almost altogether. He embraced IMF loans and hosted a trade delegation for major US multinationals. US communication was always paternalistic. For example, John Kerry attached its meager financial support to Morsi's backing of IMF reform. "In light of Egypt's extreme needs and President Morsi's assurance that he plans to complete the IMF process, today I have advised him that the US will now provide the first $190 million of our pledged $450 million in budget support funds," he said. At the onset of Egyptian protests against a controversial Youtube video last September, Obama called Morsi's government a "work in progress." The Obama administration clearly recognized that the Muslim Brotherhood led government would be constrained by an obstructionist judiciary that had already dismissed a democratically elected Islamist parliament and was blocking the new constitution.

However, when Morsi issued decrees granting himself temporary autocratic powers, the Obama administration advocated for reforms that would have entrenched the pre-Arab Spring network of privilege that helps to effectively make Egypt a US client state. The administration advised that Morsi make cabinet changes and that "the art of politics is to give your adversaries something," a lesson the Obama administration will soon learn as the US government shuts down. The US maintained contact with General  Abdel Fattah al-Sissi. Pentagon chief Chuck Hagel was "impressed" with the former US resident. The White House distanced itself from the coup and continued to advise Morsi to appoint a new Prime Minister. Still, their passive reaction since documents a sustained indifference to authoritarianism in the name of stability and an aversion to any type of actual Arab-world reform representative of its populace's diversity.

Obama's reverse pivot has much to do with perceptions of America's waning influence and the prospect that other powers will step in to fill the void. Any true Middle Eastern alteration, especially if achieved by Islamists moderate or extreme, would threaten an international order increasingly controlled by a global ,as opposed to a western, elite. That elite includes the Middle East's own aristocracy. Saudi Arabia, for example, a country infuriated by Obama's apparent embracement of the Arab Spring and Brotherhood, pledged $12 billion in aid to Egypt along with Dubai to support the Morsi coup. Then on August 8, as pressure for the suspension of US, EU aid intensified, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, head of Saudi intelligence and close confidante of the Bush family, appeared in Russia for direct talks with Vladimir Putin. He was no doubt there to discuss Putin's support for Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad, the Gulf Cooperation Council's push for a New Middle East modeled on preserving authoritarianism and potential future inroads for Russian military sales in the event the West pursued a course consistent with human rights. On August 9, Saudi King Abdullah donated $100 million for a US counterterrorism center as Egyptian rhetoric portraying all Islamists as terrorists paved the way for coming massacres. Such emboldened diplomacy led Egypt's military to state on August 18 that its relationship with the US and other western governments was "under review." In a sense, these gestures held the West hostage and forced them to consider the prospects for a returning power struggle along Cold War lines.

Russia would gladly replace Western arms sales in the region and any discussion of a New Middle East, along with the aid, infrastructure investment and loans that would accompany it, represents a potential threat to American dominance.  Any offloading of the more than one trillion in petrodollar reserves held by Arab sovereign wealth funds could collapse America's economic imperium. If supported by Russia, in allegiance with Brazil, China, India or South Africa, an alternative international monetary order could form. OPEC nations could dismember that present order tomorrow by simply removing oil's pricing in US dollar terms. No doubt the realists that hold the actual reign of US power were properly alarmed. Consequently, it is little wonder America accepted the Saudi-induced coup and little wonder Obama no longer wants to "lead from behind" in the Middle East. The ultimate reverberations have already induced alternative solutions in Syria (Assad 'must not go now') and in negotiations with Iran, both allies of Russia.

These international connections highlight the reality that the Egyptian military's putsch represents a neo-fascist trend in international relations, marked by a merger between state and corporate power that relegates government so it serves the needs of an interconnected global elite. That growing movement, typically clothed in the rhetoric of democracy, represents the most serious challenge to the balance democratic nation states inherently offer against transnational powers. Today, from the US in the West to China in the East, national policies are increasingly dictated by globally-minded influences, from multinational corporations, a military, industrial complex, international financial institutions and other institutions that serve the primary interests (namely immediate profit) of upper-tiered income earners around the world. Under these conditions, the politics of democracy becomes a mere shadow cast on populations by the "interest" of elites. If viewed from this radical perspective, these influences become evident in the Egyptian coup.

The Egyptian Army, with an annual budget of $4 billion represents the fourteenth largest army in the world. Because the military's influence, in conjunction with the state bureaucracy, extends to every sector of society it is home to some of the most lucrative international contracts. Whether by way of interest rates paid on Egyptian bonds, the sale of weaponry, foreign direct investment or the import of subsidized American food, Egypt serves as a major stimulus for transnational capitalists. Saudi Arabia, a country General Sissi also served in thoroughly, is exemplative of the same. Saudis not only send all their petrodollars back to Wall Street and the City of London for investment, but they have signed record-breaking arms contracts over recent years.

The late Chalmers Johnson described the Saudi military nexus in his book The Sorrows of Empire (2004), "Vinnell Corp. a Northern Grumman firm in Fairfax, Virginia has had primary responsibility for training the Saudi National Guard and has, 'constructed, run, written doctrine for, and staffed five Saudi military academies, seven shooting ranges, and a health care system, while training and equipping four Saudi mechanized brigades and five infantry brigades. Saudi Arabia has, in turn, funneled hundreds of millions of dollars into major defense corporations to equip those forces." As in Dubai, Saudi's partner in the Egyptian coup, where the former CEO of Blackwater, the US's foremost private mercenary firm, resides and provides security for the regime, military equipment and training focuses on protecting the dictatorship from domestic uprising, particularly pertinent in lieu of the Arab Spring. The $12 billion in aid to Egypt will help temporarily quell an impending economic crisis but their concern with the prospects of an altered US government have nothing to do with private western power. In the weeks following the Egyptian counterrevolution, Saudi Arabia awarded $22.5 billion in infrastructure contracts to three Western-led consortiums for a metro-system in Riyadh.

Obama didn't mention any intention of promoting governments reflecting the collective will of Saudi, Bahraini, or Emirati societies. Today's US-led international military-industrial complex has outgrown what Dwight Eisenhower once referred to as its, "total influence - economic, political, even spiritual." The global elite's influence often trumps sovereign political decisions around the world and runs contrary to public opinion. Factions of that network no doubt gave the go-ahead for the Egyptian coup. Egypt's stock market rose 7% in its initial days. So when Egypt's interim ministry reestablished the national security state by gunning down peaceful protesters with live ammunition, the US president remained effectively silent and the secretary of state issued a vague and implicit message to the Muslim Brotherhood to "step back from the brink." When the military rigs future elections and reestablishes Mubarak-like rule, Egyptian liberals may realize that they effectively backed a counterrevolution and Islamists will learn again that America's rhetoric about democratization cannot be believed.

Another factor of realism weighing on Obama's repivot had to be an awareness that the Muslims Brotherhood's failure in democratic participation will prove a boon to militant, revolutionary Islam of the Al-Qaeda type. The alterations and divisions now percolating in Egypt are similar to a previous era. In the late 1980's political Islamists were gaining ground in Egypt, Tunisia and Jordan, while in Sudan a military coup installed Omar al-Basheer. Then, when the Algerian Salvation Front (FIS) won a surprising victory in first round parliamentary elections in December, 1991, it sent ripples of caution throughout the international community. Political Islam was on the rise. In realy January, 1992 the Algerian military cancelled the elections, banned the FIS and arrested and tortured hundreds of its supporters. The French backed the coup and the first Bush administration followed suit with tacit approval. Algeria subsequently descended into more than a decade of civil war that took over 100,000 lives. Today, Egypt also rests on the brink of civil discord.
Attacks on Egyptian security forces and police officers are rising. Low-level insurgent violence has increased in the Sinai and has reemerged along the Nile Valley for the first time since the 1990's.

Weapons from Libya and Syria are readily available. A 2008 cable from the US embassy in Cairo released by Wikileaks cited US analysts as claiming the Egyptian armed forces were unable to engage in combat and cited their inability to quell Islamist insurgency in the Sinai as an example. A front for militants  in Egypt would only add to the appeal of groups like Al-Qaeda. In Algeria it was six months after the military cancelled elections before jihadists assassinated the interim prime minister and nine months before the first bombing.  As Secretary of State Clinton put it before leaving her post, the US "has got to have a better strategy... the Arab Spring has ushered in a time when Al-Qaeda is on the rise."
Indeed that is the case. In early August the Obama administration ordered 19 embassies closed and issued a worldwide travel alert. In Afghanistan, where Al-Qaeda and the Taliban are set to declare victory at the end of 2014, casualties amongst Afghan troops are at all-time highs. The Pakistani Taliban have surged in influence and just killed more than 70 Christians in church allegedly in retaliation for US drone attacks. Three US citizens apparently took part in the recent mall attack in Nairobi. The Shabab claims to have more attacks planned. Meanwhile, jihadists flock to Northern Syria from all over the world in ways typical of Afghanistan in the 1980's. To coincide with the September 11th anniversary Al-Qaeda head Ayman al-Zawahiri directed offshoots to continue focusing on attacks inside America. Intercepted communication between he and Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Nasr al-Wuhaishi triggered the embassy closure. Militant Islam will only increase under the reimposition of Mideast authoritarianism. So groups like Al-Qaeda have also proved primary beneficiaries exerting pressure on President Obama to reengage.

Despite these nondemocratic pulls, Obama should utilize his last three years in office to initiate both policy and practice that promotes true reform. Initial efforts could pave the way for sustained engagement under a likely Hillary Clinton presidency. Principled policy that pushes for actual pluralism  and political contestation poses an alternative paradigm, something sorely needed to break the tragic status quo. Linking US interests to government reflective of the collective will could create conditions that actuate a crosspollination in political ideology. This typically embeds secular notions of the separation between religion and state, no matter the oratory of religious parties. Defending free expression and association helps to promote political contestation over violence. These axioms make the democratic experiment attractive to people across the globe and Arabs are no exception.  However, in practice US policy has consistently undermined these principles. It is time to temper America's engagement with realpolitik.

It is also important to recognize that plurality in the Middle East necessitates a role for political Islam. As Olivier Roy described it when Islamists surged in multiple elections in 2012, "Liberalism does not precede democracy; America's founding fathers were not liberal. But once democracy is rooted in institutions and political culture, then the debate on freedom, censorship, social norms and individual rights can be managed through freedom of expression and changes of majorities in parliament. However, there will be no institutionalization of democracy without the Muslim Brothers." That analysis remains true and the US must do its best to promote a return of Islamists to political participation in Egypt in ways that allow them to learn from their mistakes and hold sway.

Since its ascension after the Suez Canal Crisis in 1956, US policy in the Middle East has been marked by a dissonance and anger created by the contradiction between an espousal of Wilsonian idealism and behavior derived solely from self-interests.  Under realpolitik, concrete reality not ideology shapes the world. As Dr. Henry Kissinger described it in his Diplomacy (1994), "One of the principle tasks of statesmanship is to understand which subjects are truly related and can be used to reinforce each other. For the most part, the policymaker has little choice in the matter. Ultimately, it is reality, not policy, that links events. The statesman's role is to recognize the relationship when it does exist - in other words, to create a network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favorable outcome." 50 years of failed diplomacy in the Middle East should document that it is time to realize idealistic notions of promoting government for the people by the people with more than rhetoric and absent the footprint of occupation are truly linked to US peace and prosperity. Therefore it can be argued that crafting networks of incentives and penalties to attain democratic objectives would in fact pave the way for mutually beneficial and realistic outcomes beneficial to all.

The contradiction between US behavior and its expressed belief has helped to cement a cognitive dissonance amongst the primary drivers of US policy that blocks the realization that realism has mostly failed wherever it contradicts so-called American values. Blindness of this actuality explains how a Wall Street Journal editorial, and others likely it, are able to advise a continuation of US support for the Egyptian military because it "buys access with the generals." And why it can then explain with a straight face that, "Egyptians would be lucky if their new ruling generals turn out to be in the mold of Chile's Augusto Pinochet, who took power amid chaos but hired free market reformers and midwifed a transition to democracy." In reality, Pinochet was put in charge with the assistance of none other than Henry Kissinger and the CIA. He overthrew Chilean democracy and was ultimately charged with international war crimes. In September, 2000 the CIA was forced to finally reveal that in Chile it, "sought to instigate a coup to prevent Allende from taking office after he won a plurality." Pinochet was assassinating protestors and executing political opponents while the US sustained sales of "controversial military equipment." It took 17 years for Chile to restore democracy and today a rapacious elite continues to rein despite reestablished elections. Chile remains a country with an incredible gap between rich and poor. However, because Chile is now a part of the neoliberal order for the Wall Street Journal it is a success story. It is unacknowledged contradictions like these that allow John Kerry to describe the similar situation unfolding in Egypt today as 'democratic restoration.

The gist of Obama's rhetoric is actually not that new. His initial National Security Strategy outlined that the U.S. would, "reject the notions that lasting security and prosperity can be formed by turning away from universal rights" and that democracy "does not merely represent our better angels; it stands in opposition to aggression and injustice. And our support for human rights is fundamental to American leadership and source of our strength in the world." Additionally, in accepting his Nobel Prize, President Obama rejected "a tension between those who describe themselves as realists or idealists" and explained, "no matter how callously defined, neither American interests nor the world's are served by the denial of human aspirations." While not even the hallmark of his UN address however, Obama's connection between the collective will of Arab publics and the national interest of the United States represents a principle of foreign policy that can be measured. It is only by surveying that record and realizing that it has consistently been opposed that one can see the prospect for positive change if Obama chooses to practice what is preached.

Such a proposition has recently been documented by American political scientist Amaney Jamal. In her important and courageous new book Of Empires and Citizens (2013) she confirms that the US has always insisted on "pro-American democracy or no democracy at all" in the Middle East. Dr. Jamal's thesis that Arab societies are "divided between the people who benefited from their leader's relationship with the United States and therefore sought to preserve the dictatorship and those that did not, and therefore sought democracy" has generated expected but unfair criticism. Nevertheless, such an empirical recognition documents that the 'collective will' of Mideast peoples has always been defined, at least in the minds of US planners, as equivocal to the perspectives of those interested in preserving the regime. Grasping these relationships leads to an understanding of how the American Empire has expanded on colonialist tools for indirect rule. As Mark Lynch, the Obama administration's chief academic advisor during the Arab Spring, put it in Foreign Affairs (May, June 2013), "If Jamal is right then much of the received wisdom of the last decade needs to be reconsidered."

No academic that wants to stay in favor can take that position however. In turn he dismisses her claims as farfetched and instead defers to neo-Orientalism, explaining that Mideast publics, and by discrete extension Dr. Jamal, suffer from 'cognitive bias' - "the misplaced belief that Washington's power to shape their lives is actually much more interesting than the prosaic truth." In reality, Lynch's dismissiveness is typical of the hubris and cognitive dissonance that helps Americans justify its role in making the Muslim world the democratic exception. Conjuring up pejorative labels like 'the Arab Street' helps the wielders of power blame the victims themselves. As Fawaz Gerges explains it, the Arab Street "is a derisive term so often used by the foreign policy community and even by the best Western journalists [that] is in great part a myth that has prevented US policymakers from examining or even acknowledging the existence of civil society politics." Realistically attending to the collective will of the people and connecting that attention to US interests would require such altered realizations. Effecting alterations in defense of the actual collective will of Mideast peoples would require a refusal to participate in authoritarianism. The use of carrots and sticks, or what Kissinger described as a "network of incentives and penalties to produce the most favorable outcomes" has always sought to preserve the status quo and in opposition to publics. That explains Obama's general failure in Mideast policy, the indifference to the Egyptian coup, and his initial disinterest in engaging at all with the faultiness his predecessor's efforts to impose pro-American democracy by force had exposed.

Promoting government that "legitimately reflects the collective will of the people" would serve US interests, especially in the long-term. Apart from seeking to reignite the Israeli, Palestinian peace process and to negotiate with Iran, Obama should make some clear, principled alterations that would have wide appeal. First, the US should immediately halt its military aid to Egypt, making it contingent on the removal of repressions and the reimposition of multiparty civilian rule open to all sectors of society. Gulf sheikhdoms may provide cash but they cannot provide actual weapons or development and while majorities in Egypt have sided with the coup, that support will twiddle away when it becomes apparent Egypt will only return to the age of Mubarak. The military and whoever might be elected to head the new regime will not be able to reimplement authoritarian rule without sustained US assistance. The immediate reaction may be nationalist and anti-American, at least from some sectors of society, but it will subsequently craft a 'collective will' that ultimately proves supportive.

At the same time, the US should arm Syria's rebels and counter Russia and Iran's massive support for the Assad regime. No matter ongoing diplomatic efforts to remove chemical weapon stockpiles, the 'collective will' of the Syrian people also needs supported. For over two years they've suffered most from Obama's disengagement. It is time to usher in an era of foreign policy distinct from Kissinger's realism. On Syria, Obama has followed his advice completely. In a Washington Post editorial from 2012 entitled, 'The Perils of Intervention', Dr. Kissinger argued against humanitarian intervention in Syria and democracy promotion on the grounds it would endanger the world order and induce lawlessness. He asked whether humanitarianism as a principle of foreign policy implied that a vital but nondemocratic nation like Saudi Arabia should be opposed simply because "public demonstrations develop on its territory." One year later, Syria indeed lay in lawless shambles with over 100,000 dead and the world order remains subject to disintegration. Kissinger's point on Saudi Arabia however leads to another necessary adjustment.

Were the promotion of 'collective will' as a principle of foreign policy actually adopted, the Saudi regime would not be opposed once public demonstrations formulated. Instead, it would be subject to immediate cessation in aid and support simply on the grounds it quells all internal dissent and serves as the primary obstacle to development. Prince Alwaleed bin Talal recently warned in an open letter to oil minister Ali Naima, "the world is increasingly less dependent on oil from OPEC countries including the kingdom." The US shale revolution implies the strategic partnership with the House of Saud is no longer appropriate or necessary; now that is true from both realist and idealist positions.

Additionally, discussions with Iran, no matter the displeasure of Benjamin Netanyahu, must continue. The last thing the Mideast or America needs is conflict in Iran that could pull the US into another quagmire or even lead to the breakout of World War III. Iran's new president Hassan Rouhani is no doubt sincere and the potential for peace far exceeds the associated risks, regardless of whether the Ayatollahs will accept the outcome of negotiations. Iran is nowhere close to developing actual nuclear weapons and rational discourse between US and Iranian officials would certainly generate valuable political and human capital, especially amongst the next generation of Mideast leaders. To that end, the US must understand that meaningful negotiations about the Israel-Palestine peace process cannot occur until the US makes sustained assistance for Israel contingent on its cessation of settlement construction. It is absolutely insane to expect the Palestinians to enter negotiations while Israeli occupation is expanding.

Finally, the effects of such an actual expansion in the definition of US interests would entail a "long haul" commitment to development. In the immediate aftermath of the Arab Spring, the US and Europe discussed a New Marshall Plan for the Middle East with Egypt as its pillar. However, to this date US, EU assistance is below the one trillion dollar mark. Yet, in his national security speech in May of this year, Obama claimed foreign assistance is "fundamental to our national security and it is fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism." In cooperation with the rest of the international community and especially its local NGO's, a long-term plan for Mideast development should be prepared and funded and a few major initial projects should be initiated immediately.

All of this may seem idealist and the odds are that the traditional principles that have driven US policy will maintain. However, we should contemplate the long-term consequence of a sustained mismatch between our speech and action. At the same time we might also pause to question why, no matter the degree of corporate propaganda, US domestic policy also seems unrepresentative of the 'collective will' and instead caters to an elite. Absent such alterations democracy on American shores will continue to trend much closer to Egyptian totalitarianism.    
 
Younus Abdullah Muhammad is a master of international affairs and American Muslim presently incarcerated in the US federal prison syst

Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Calling to Islam in America - A Ramadan Reflection
By Younus Abdullah Muhammad

Introduction:
Verily all praise is due to Allah. May the peace and blessings be upon the last Prophet Muhammad, his family, his companions and whoever follows him until the Day of Judgment.
Today the message of Islam has entered the homes and hearts of people across the world. Despite centuries of decline and backwardation, an age of reason and secularism, negative perceptions birthed by Islamic terrorism and other barriers to the religion's appeal, high rates of conversion and a rising Islamic identity amongst Muslims growing up in the West are part and parcel of a global  Islamic awakening. One of the most successful centers of the call, somewhat surprisingly, is America, a country that holds several million Muslims from all cultural and ethnic backgrounds and where American Muslims are playing an increasingly important political role and, on average, overachieve in relation to almost every other religious or ethnic grouping. The United States represents the most powerful nation in history, is considered the originator of the contemporary liberal, democratic era and has levied war in the Muslim world for over a decade. However, while these seeming contradictions are a root source of some tension, a proper call to Islam in America today can go a long way toward generating prospects for peace with global ramifications.
Every Muslim is an ambassador for Islam. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) ordered his adherents to, "convey for me even it is only one verse (ayah)." The call to Islam includes not just calling non-Muslims to Islam but reviving the Muslims and advocating for justice through commanding good and forbidding evil. Dawa includes conveying the truth, guiding to the straight path and warning from whatever opposes it. Allah (SWT) says,

“Say, this is my way: I call to Allah upon Baseerah (insight, certain knowledge), I and those who follow me. Glory be to Allah and I am not from amongst the people of shirk (12:108)”
Baseerah, or insight, entails that any call to Islam is based solely on what one knows with certainty and that it considers the circumstances of the society and the conditions of the people being called to. Dawa upon baseerah is the noble job of all the Messengers (as) and their followers until the Day of Judgment. As Allah (SWT) says,

“And verily, we have sent among every Ummah a Messenger proclaiming, 'Worship Allah and avoid the Taghout (false gods)”
The objective of the one calling to Islam in America therefore must be to emulate the Messengers, not only in affirming Allah alone as Creator and One worthy of worship but also in rejecting the falsehood in all its manifestations. All of the Messengers connected their calls of monotheism to the particular social ills and injustices of their respective societies. Thus Allah (SWT) says,
Who is better in speech than he who says 'My Lord is Allah' and then stands firm, invites to Allah, does righteous deeds and says, 'I am one of the Muslims “(41:33)
The scholars divide dawa into 4 levels:

1) Hikma (Wisdom)
2) Maw’eda Hasna (Fair Preaching)
3) Mujadala (Arguing) in a way that is better and
4) Action that deters transgression

These levels are derived from two Quranic verses. Allah (swt) says,
“Call to the way of your Lord with Wisdom (hikmah), fair preaching (Muadhateen Hasna) and debate with them with what is better (jadalamum bi lati hiya ahsanu)(16:125)> as well as, (29:46)

This article attempts to briefly outline a basic platform for each of these four levels by analyzing the call to Islam in its current American context and advocating that those calling to Islam consider these principles in making sure their dawa incorporates the balance that marked the actual call of the Messengers (as).

I. Hikma (Wisdom)
 Indeed any call based on these four levels in America, a land that is home to the best universities, the world's largest and most innovative economy and trend-setting society, will encounter some criticism and difficulty from both Muslim and non-Muslim communities. This opposition tends to fall along polar extremes that can only be countered with knowledge, balance and patience.
The right-wing, non-Muslim extreme utilizes every myth and misconception to suggest that all Muslims are actually subversive and seek to establish Shariah law, in place of the constitution. The opposite, left-wing seeks to eradicate all sentiment of religion as revelation and to utilize false notions of moderation to liberalize Islam to such a degree that it coincides with the contemporary concentration on social liberalism, a focus that comes at the expense of any actual social, political or economic progressivism.
As for the Muslims, then on one hand there are those that brand any call based on tradition as ultraconservative or extremist and in need of modern alterations. Despite having little detailed knowledge, this movement represents an intellectual charlatanism that is more about the branding of Islam as a commodity, expanding popularity and profits at the expense of objectivity, actual progress and academic integrity. On the other hand there are the 'holier-than-thou' literalist, so-called 'salafis.' They reduce the Quran and hadith to their external implications (dhaheer) like the beard, hijab, clothing and etcetera but do so at the expense of substance, proclaiming purity for themselves and hell for everyone else while effectively representing an apolitical and antisocial interpretation, void of depth and absent actual spirituality.
The primary ability Muslims calling to Islam in America must have is the ability to reconcile between these extremes. This can only come with honest reflection and deep commitment to the principles that make up the actual Islamic tradition. No rational individual would deny the well-being made possible by modernity, the beneficial wonders of contemporary civilization, the value of the political, social and technological progresses of the last few centuries, many of which have their origin in America. A call of wisdom (hikma) therefore requires a deep reliance and understanding of the texts, alongside an ability to relate those texts to the contemporary reality. This requires an awareness that we are living in an age the Prophet (saws) foretold when, "religious knowledge will decrease and ignorance will prevail." The balance of Islam is best explained through a lens that considers the context of its progressive platform with roots in 7th century Arabia while preserving the timeless principles that remain incredibly relevant  during an age when humankind is attempting to consolidate the mechanization of modernity with a simultaneous search for a spiritual essence derived more so from the struggle of social justice and human rights, the evolution of civil societies and personal, self-actualization than from self-righteous religious intellectualization and excessive dogma. Under that paradigm, hikma establishes a call dedicated at once to preserving the Quran and Sunnah while resisting the lure of both liberal and conservative extremes.
The scholars have gone to great lengths preventing an interpretation of the word 'Hikma' that calls to rationalization and logic at the expense of revelation (wahy). For example, Imam Shafi, in his fundamental work on Usool al-Fiqh - Al-Risala - quoted the many Quranic verses that refer to 'the book and the wisdom (hikma)' and said, "I have heard that those who are learned in the Quran - whom I approve - hold that wisdom is the sunnah of the Messenger of Allah. This is like what Allah said - and He knows best! For the Quran is mentioned first followed by wisdom; then Allah mentioned His favor to mankind by teaching them the Quran and Wisdom. So it is not permissible for Wisdom to be called here anything save the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah. For it is closely linked to the Book of Allah, and Allah has imposed the duty of obedience to His apostle, and imposed on men the obligation to obey his orders."
Allah (SWT) says, “He grants Hikma to whom He pleases, and he to whom Hikma is granted, is indeed granted abundant good. But none remember except men of understanding”
Ibn Kathir (RAA) in his tafsir on this verse said, "Hikma means knowledge of the Quran, its abrogating and abrogated verses, its Muhkamat (clear) and its Mutashabihat (allegorical), its first and its last, its ordinances, prohibitions, and parables. It was narrated by Juwaybir from al-Dhahak that Ibn Abbas narrated in a hadith marfu, 'Hikma is the Quran.' He means by the Quran, the understanding of the Quran. Ibn Abbas said, 'Verily, both the pious and the wicked already recite it.' This hadith was narrated by Ibn Mardawayh. Moreover, it was said by Ibn Abu Najeeh that Mujahid said, 'Hikma means soundness in everything said.' It is narrated by Layth Ibn Abu Sulaym that Mujahid said concerning the verse which reads, 'He grants hikma to whom He pleases;' hikma does not mean prophet hood, it means knowledge, Fiqh, and Quran.' Abu al-Aliyah said, 'Hikma means to fear Allah, for fearing Allah is the peak of every form of wisdom.' It is narrated by Ibn Mardawayh from Baqiyyah from Uthman bin Zufar al-Juhany from Abu-Ammar from Ibn Masoud in the form of hadith marfu that ' fearing Allah is the pinnacle of proper understanding.' Ibrahim al-Nakh'i stated, 'hikma means understanding.' Abu Malik said, 'hikma is the sunnah’.  Wahb reported from Malik that Zayd bin Aslam said, 'Hikma means reason.' Malik said, 'I am deeply inclined to think that hikma is the understanding of the religion of Allah. It is something that Allah casts into the hearts out of His Mercy and Blessing. An example that clarifies what I said is that sometimes we meet some people who are very reasonable regarding worldly affairs while we meet others who are not, but they are knowledgeable of their deen and have deep insight about it. Allah grants some people such insight and deprives others of it. Thus, I can say that hikma is the proper understanding of the religion of Allah." [End quote Ibn Kathir]
So, the dua’at (callers) to Islam do well when they consider that any call based upon baseerah (insight) necessitates an appreciation that wisdom (hikma) implies reference to the Quran and Sunnah, but also that this reference must be accompanied by a balanced and comprehensive reading of the current reality. A call of wisdom does not rush and expect immediate alteration for it accounts and analyzes each situation and acts upon the proper means and method, while paying close attention to the specific variables of the particular environment.
This understanding is beautifully expressed by what Ibn Qayyim (RAA) recorded as the response from his shaikh, Ibn Taymia, when he was informed that his enemies had plotted to kill or imprison him, he said, "If they kill me, it will be martyrdom, if they expel me to Cyprus, I will call its people to Allah so that they answer me and if they imprison me, it will be a place of worship." Thus, every environment or condition has its proper ruling. Similarly, the Prophet (saws) always considered the understanding of the individual and location in determining his action and mannerism. Today, Islam is rising in the United States; at the same time an age of extremisms poses several barriers. Hikma is the ability to refer to the sunnah and Quran in proceeding on a path that preserves the religion's principles while acknowledging the freedom, tolerance, rule of law, social advancement and other benefits that underlie the American landscape and have propelled the country to stability and prominence. It also requires a rejection of the coincident policies, practices and advancing stereotypes from Muslim and non-Muslim communities that threaten to jeopardize these positive aspects.

In that sense, Muslims can put forth a call in America that highlights mankind's need for Allah and the guidance of His final Messenger. That call must also realize that change and reform do not come overnight and that a key part of Islam is patience. That's the legacy of the Prophet Muhammad (saws), who so loved his own society that he endured criticism, abuse and persecution until his call to tawheed and justice became 'self-evident'; the early Muslims implementation of shariah law, the 5 prayers, the zakat, economic restrictions, hijab and other prescriptions was in fact completely voluntary and came about only after the essence and foundation of the Quran and Sunnah were tested as a source of legitimacy and the authority of the state was established. Realizing hikma gives a call to Islam in America global ramifications, especially in the age of globalization.

Thus, any caller to Islam must retain a deep awareness of the Messenger of Allah's character. The Maliki scholar Qadi Iyyad described this nature in his work al-Shifa explaining,
"As for his ample intellect, intelligence, the acuteness of his senses, his eloquence, the grace of his movements and the excellence of his faculties, there is no doubt that he was the most intelligent and astute of the people. Anyone who reflects on how he managed the inward and outward affairs of people and the politics of the common people and the elite and his amazing qualities and wonderful life, not to mention the knowledge which flowed from him and the way he confirmed the shariah without any previous instruction, experience or reading any books, will have no doubt about the superiority of his intellect and the firmness of his understanding. None of this requires confirmation because it has already been amply verified. Wahb ibn Munabbih said, 'I have read 71 books, and in all of them I found that the Prophet had the most superior intellect and best opinion.' In another version, 'I found from all these books that all of the intelligence which Allah had given to people, from the beginning of this world to its end, is like a grain of sand in comparison with his intellect, may Allah bless him and grant him peace."
Closely adhering to the way of Prophet Muhammad, as retained in the preserved Quran and Sunnah, is wisdom (hikma). 

II. Beautiful Preaching (Maw’eda  Hasana)
While the first level of dawa (hikma) requires Islamic knowledge, an ability to analyze context and circumstances and insight about the nature and state of the people and society being called to, the next level, fair preaching (maw’eda hasana) represents a manifestation of that knowledge as action, and specifically through public speaking.  
In today's world of globalization and multimedia, fair preaching includes public speeches, written articles and books, classes, videos, artistic expression and all sorts of other mechanisms for communication. American Muslims possess a unique opportunity, for Arabic is the language of a universal religion and English is the language of the interconnected world of global communication: its commerce, culture and entertainment. The second level of dawa requires a foundation of wisdom (hikma) and is a product of the balance and justice birthed by an intimate dependence on the Quran and sunnah. It stands upon 2 pillars, between gentleness and mercy and the courage to speak the truth fairly and publically.
Indeed knowledge (ilm) and wisdom (hikma) are hardly worthwhile except when connected with action. That is why the scholars of Ahlu Sunnah wal Jamaah split faith into belief, statement and actions. As Umar bin Abdul Aziz (RAA) explained it, "Action and knowledge are closely related, so be one who is knowledgeable of Allah and who acts on His behalf. There have been people who were knowledgeable but did not act, and there knowledge was detrimental to them. “Beautiful preaching is a confirmation of Iman upon the tongue and a manifestation of certain knowledge and sincerity. Thus Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (RAA) started his Thalathatul-Usool (Three Fundamental Principles) by saying,
"Know, may Allah have mercy on you, that it is obligatory upon us to learn four issues:
The first: knowledge and it is knowing Allah, knowing His prophet, and knowing the religion of Islam - with the evidences. The second: acting according to that. The third: calling to it. The fourth: patience with the harm that comes from that. And the evidence is His, ta Ala, statement, “By the time. Verily, man is in loss. Except those who believe and do righteous deeds and recommend one another to the truth and recommend one another to patience” (103:1-3) Al-Shafi (RAA) said, 'Had Allah not revealed any proof other than this surah to His creation, it would have been sufficient for them.' And Al-Bukhari (RAA) said, Chapter: Knowledge precedes statement and action. And the evidence is His, ta ‘Ala, statement, “So, Know that there is no God except Allah and ask forgiveness for your sins “(42:19). “Thus he began with knowledge before statement and action."
This is the way that Muhammad Ibn Abdul Wahhab (RAA) began his most influential work, a text that has come to be studied and used to call people to Islam across the globe, despite his many detractors. His calling attention to the 4 obligatory matters mentioned above coincides to the 4 levels of dawa: Hikma (wisdom) is knowledge, actions is implementation, dawa (calling to it) necessitates fair and beautiful preaching, and Sabr (patience) will be required because callers will be tested by trials and tribulations. The effective practice of fair preaching therefore stands on a cornerstone of making the call appealing, intelligent and good. The topics and focus of such preaching are connected to hikma in that they are based on knowledge and an understanding of the audience and context. When the Prophet (saws) sent Muadh ibn Jabal to Yemen, he informed him that he was going to the 'people of the book', so he told him to call first to tawheed, then to prayer, then to zakat.
Dawa is an all-encompassing activity. Tamim al-Dari (RAA) narrated that the Prophet (saws) said, "The religion is sincere advice (naseeha). So Tamim said, "We said, to who O' Messenger of Allah?" He said, "To Allah, to His Book, to His Messenger, to the Imams of the Muslims and to the common people." Again, sincerity (naseeha) to Allah is referral to the Quran while sincerity to the Messenger is referral to the sunnah. Together they represent the foundation of wisdom (hikma). Sincerity to the leaders and the common people requires fair preaching. The fair and just Imams call to the truth and sincerity to them is assisting them in spreading their message. Sincerity to corrupt and oppressive imams is in preventing and countering them. The Messenger of Allah (saws) said, "Help your brother whether he is oppressed or the oppressor." So the companions (RAA) said, "O messenger of Allah, we understand helping the oppressed but how do we help the oppressor?" So, he (saws) said, 'By preventing him from his oppression." Sincerity to the common people is in compassion, promotion of the general welfare, teaching and guiding them to the balanced path and etcetera. Thus the prophet (saws) defined the religion as naseeha (sincere advice), an action that necessitates engagement in fair and balanced preaching.
Many hadith highlight the rewards that can come about from fair preaching. When the prophet (saws) sent Ali to the Jews in Khyber, he commanded him to call them to Islam and inform them of their duties. The Prophet (saws) told him, "By Allah, if Allah guides anyone to right, even one man through you, then it is better for you than possessing the most valuable camels." He (saws) also said, "One who guides to something good has a reward similar to its doer," and "If anyone calls others to follow right guidance, his reward will be equivalent to those that follow him without their reward being diminished in any respect, and if anyone invites others to follow error, the sin will be equivalent to that of other people who followed him without their sins being diminished in any respect." He (Saws) also commanded to, "Struggle against the mushrikeen with your wealth, self and tongues." There are many other statements that highlight the importance of calling by way of preaching. 
All of this dawa must be based on justice. Allah (SWT) says,
“Help you one another (ta-awanu) in al-birr (piety) and taqwa (righteousness) but do not help one another in ithm (oppression) or adwan (transgression)”.
Ibn al-Qayyim, in his book on manhaj - Risalat al-Tabukkiyya - begins with this verse and says that the religion revolves around it for fiqh-al-ibada (knowledge of worship) is a connection between man and Allah but that this verse embodies the foundation of fiqh-al-muamalaat (knowledge of interaction) and distinguishes those that call to good properly. For Muslims in America, the call to Islam must promote cooperation and unity (ta’awanu), piety (birr), righteousness (taqwa), fairness (hasana), and must not assist those that call to oppression (ithm) or transgression (adwan).
A foundation of fairness is in establishing the call on mercy and compassion. Many Muslim leaders frequently pinpoint the soft-hearted nature of the Prophet Muhammad's call in Mecca as evidence for the near complete passivity that has come to mark the American Muslim community. Indeed, the people of knowledge stress the gentle nature of dawa quoting, for example, where Allah (SWT) says,
“And by the Mercy of Allah you dealt with them gently. And had you been severe and hardhearted, they would have broken away from you”.
They also reference the initial phase of the dawa of Musa (as) and Harun (as) in front of Pharaoh, as Allah (SWT) says,

“Go (both of you) to Pharaoh, surely he is a tyrant and speak to him mildly, perhaps he may accept admonition or fear Allah”
It is necessary to be gentle. In our time, it is all too frequent to see anger and animosity become more powerful and overtakes the positive aspect of zealousness in calling to the religion (see, for example, some of this author's previous "engagements"). However, the need for gentleness and mercy must not be utilized as a justification for silence in the face of oppression. There are many examples of the Prophet (saws), even in Mecca, that show he was not weak and passive but rather patient, fair and balanced. And Allah (SWT) commanded this balance as well, revealing while the Muslims were facing persecution in Mecca the uplifting story of Musa (as).Telling them in Surah Yunus, for example, that Allah would make the truth apparent however much its enemies despised it, that only Musa's tribe believed because most feared Pharaoh's tyranny but that they should establish regular prayers in their homes and give the believers good tidings of impending relief from hardship (10:83-87). After being gentle initially, Musa (as) ultimately turned to call fiercely against Pharaoh and his aversion. Allah says that Musa prayed,
“Our Lord, surely You have given Pharaoh and his chiefs finery and luxury in this world, our Lord, that they may lead astray from Your way. Our Lord, destroy their riches and harden their hearts, so that they believe not until they see the chastisement” (10:88)
Beautiful and fair preaching must be gentle but it must also be firm and grounded in principle. The call to Islam in America would do best to balance between the two: calling non-Muslims to the beautiful principles that make up the religion and their compatibility with core principles honored and respected by many Americans and calling the Muslims to appreciate and revere the depth and grace of their religion, to be unified upon the truth, to revive the hearts with zeal and compassion and to promote peace and justice in relations between American and Islamic civilization.
American Muslims represent a growing portion of the American population. In 2000 and 2004, Muslims, especially in Florida and Michigan, were a key constituency of the presidential elections. Both parties spent much time vying for their votes. In 2008, Barack Obama had to distance himself from claims he was a covert Muslim and despite the scrutiny and skepticism, Muslims represent one of the most overachieving groups in American society, while their pluralism and diversity represents the embodiment of American multiculturalism.
However, American Muslims should be more active and influential in shaping the U.S.'s relations with the Muslim world. One of the primary ways American Muslims can advocate for peace while building a call upon hikma is through fair and just preaching and community engagement that calls against war and civilizational conflict and that promotes dialogue and cooperation alongside mutually beneficial development. The present tension between Muslims and the West does not need to continue. Through fair and beautiful preaching, Muslims can do a great deal to advance an American foreign policy that improves relations.
Few realize it, but the U.S. was once viewed favorable in the Islamic world. As World War I wound down, Arabs were ecstatic when Woodrow Wilson called against colonialism and promoted 'self-determination.' In 1918 Wilson sent an academic, Dr. Henry King and Chicago businessman Charles Crane to assess Arab sentiment. They found the Arabs desired an American mandate, viewed the American system as distinct from European colonialism and were concerned that support for a Jewish state in Palestine was another manifestation of imperial control. That assessment was ignored however and Britain and France carved up the modern Middle East through the secretive Sykes-Pichot Accords. Still, Muslims continued to hold America in a quite positive light and as America ascended the global stage at the end of World War II, Muslims embraced American values. The Truman administration sent a delegation to study Middle East perceptions as well and found support for cooperation in social and economic development. Unfortunately, Cold War politics began in the Middle East over the issues of oil and Palestine. The U.S. acknowledged the Israeli state, backed authoritarianism, overthrew the Mossadeq regime in Iran in 1953 and bred animosity. The ideologue Syed Qutb, for example, turned anti-American after Truman's expressed support for a Zionist Israel. In 1946 he wrote,
"We finally discovered the U.S. conscience that had captured the hearts of many people in the East who considered it to be different from the British and French conscience and those of Europe. Many had been deceived by the American conscience because they had less contact with America than with the British, French and Holland. But America's role in Palestine exposed the deceptiveness of the American conscience that gambles away they future of other people and their human rights to purchase tokens of votes in a presidential election. This is America exposed for all to see. This is Truman revealing the truth about American conscience - unscrupulous and only fools trust it."
That anger has sustained and escalated throughout America's special relationship with Israel, an era of Arab authoritarianism and increasingly lopsided and questionable U.S. policy towards the region. No doubt there are ample grievances, but fair preaching necessitates an analysis of the world the way it really is, not how one wants it to be. American Muslims could go a long way toward articulating a much more balanced view that could, over-time, greatly alleviate tensions. Callers in America must also acknowledge that there have been aspects and prospects for positive engagement that can mark a call of hikma in the United States.
In 1956, President Eisenhower rejected British, French and Israeli aggression in Egypt, for example. No one knows what could have become of the Middle East during an era when Arab dictators could have easily been replaced by Communist satellites of the U.S.S.R.. U.S. support for Arab authoritarianism actually came about as a direct result of Gamel Abdul Nasser's turn to the Soviets and anti-American rhetoric. From the mid 1950's to mid-1960’s, a pan-Arabism rooted in anti-Americanism induced a sort of euphoria. But there would be no political liberty or economic prosperity from petroleum reserves and Arab nationalism. Defeat in the 1967- Six Day War with Israel was self-induced. In the more than half a century since, Muslims have been opposed to U.S. foreign policy but many, many Muslims escaped away from the Muslim world and to the United States where they prospered greatly and viewed America as a land of opportunity. It is important to recognize that Islamic political parties did little to promote an alternative vision that might fail to appear hostile to American interests and have hardly concocted any alternative unto this day that might appear to promote cooperation.

The escalation of Arab authoritarianism through the 70's and 80's was also mostly internal. The rise of Islamism from the 90's unto today represents, in the U.S.'s eyes, an only slightly different twist on the rhetoric of pan-Arabism, a failed racist and ultimately autocratic ideology that is much more responsible for the make-up of current Middle Eastern culture than any western intervention. Today, after senseless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, western intervention in Libya and Syria, and support for the Arab Spring, fair and beautiful preaching dedicated to achieving peaceful relations, and especially for American Muslims, might help to establish an alteration of tenuous relations. When Arab experts issued the United Nation's first Arab Development report in 2002, they stated the region was 'richer than it is developed' and plagued by a poverty of political, economic and social opportunity, a deficit in freedom, knowledge and women’s empowerment. Today conspiracy theories about Western control and cultural intrusion dominate and few will admit that the region suffers largely due to its own decadence - a fact actually confirmed by those that rely on religious texts, for Allah (SWT) says in the Quran that - He does not change the condition of a people until they change what is in themselves.
Fair preaching in a call to Islam in America must view the world and the role of religion in it as it truly is. A call to tawheed must not remain separate from reality, a solely intellectual endeavor that induces pride in past glory and an unwarranted superiority complex. This births an adulterated ideology where fundamentalism merges with a severe ignorance about the real world and passivity and cowardice that means one adhering to Islam stands for almost nothing. Instead, the beautiful morals, character, and principle tenets of Islam should be expressed through community engagement with Muslim and non-Muslims alike. Through fairness and gentleness, American Muslims can do much to promote peace. The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said, "kindness is not to be found in anything but that it adds to its beauty and it is not withdrawn from anything but that it makes it defective," and also that, "He who is deprived of forbearance and gentleness is, in fact, deprived of all good." Fair and beautiful preaching necessitates that kindness and gentleness are coupled with a zeal for objective truth and justice that prevents one from remaining idle, passive and weak. That is the call of the Prophets (as).

III. Debate by that which is Better (jadeluhum bi lati hiya ahsan)
The third level of dawa is debate. Allah (SWT) has attached the phrase 'by that which is better' to this level in order to show that effective debate can only occur where its content, mannerisms, and nature is superior to mere argumentation. Allah uses the phrase 'by that which is better (bi lati hiya ahsanu)' in many quranic verses. For example, He, ta’ ala, says, "And not alike are the good and the evil. repel evil by that which is better and lo! Between whom you and him is enmity, it would be as if he were an intimate friend (41:34)."
Another way of looking at the four levels of dawa is progressively. So, a call of hikma (wisdom) is for the one who was previously unaware and is not averse to the message. Fair preaching is used to convince those who hesitate to accept the truth and to encourage and entice those that remain universe. The third level of debate is for the one that rejects the truth and attempts to refute it or counter it. Calling to a way that is better requires being equipped with the skills and evidences that can counter aversion and that might be able to shatter false and pretentious arguments
In the current situation, many individuals attempt to refute the Islamic message. An entire anti-Islamic industry is doing quite well in the West and has millions of adherents in America. Efforts to counter the claims are limited. Despite a reliance on fabrication, myth, and deliberate manipulation, there has been little established effort to debate this movement by with that which is better. Consequentially, it is growing. Similarly, in circles fundamentally opposed to the right-wing message, a liberal, anti-religious strand is critical of many of Islam's tenets. However, these arguments so too suffer from a dearth of actual knowledge and are mere alternative versions of propaganda. These arguments are too often used to promote acceptance of military intervention or to justify unrelated transgression in the name of humanitarianism. The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq for example had very little to do with liberating woman's attire. The third level of debate by that which is better represents the need to counter misinformation. However, the objective can only be achieved where there is comprehensive understanding and engagement. American Muslims would do well to develop more dawa institutions and activist organizations.
All Muslims should support such endeavors. Contrary to popular belief, an ability to defend the Islamic message intellectually is as valid and applicable now as it was in the time of the Prophet (saws).
Today, mankind everywhere is seeking out spirituality and worship. Because Islam taps into mankind's natural disposition (Fitrah) and remains remarkably compatible with modern science, the call to Islam in the West has reaped enormous gains. Despite desires that science, technology, and secularism would push religion into the abyss, religious identity, especially in American and Islamic societies, is on the rise. As a result, the time to call to Islam has never been better.
Allah revives the religion every 100 years, and as we approach the 100th anniversary of the fall of the Ottoman caliphate, the end of authoritarian dictatorship seems to be drawing to a close and those calling to merge the undeniable political, economic, and social benefits of the modern age to the traditional principles of the shariah are advancing an Islamic revival, recognized the world over.
Science itself seems to be advancing to a level that threatens religion generally. At the same time, for the Muslim, science and religion must be completely compatible. Recent controversies about cloning, stem cells and other scientific findings highlight today's tension between science and religion but are hardly difficult for Muslims. Studies like the coding of the genome, the discovery of mitochondrial eve, the restructuring of theories about human evolution, like the fact DNA tests refute the previous theory that homosapiens and Cro-Magnon are at all related or new fossil discoveries that uprooted previous claims of humans as the product of a single and simple lineage (see Ancestry Shattered in Scientific American Feb. 2003), only support the Quranic account that proclaims,

O mankind revere your Lord who created you from a single being and created its mate of the same kind and spread from these two many men and women. And keep your duty to Allah by whom you demand of one another your mutual rights and maintain the ties of kinship. Surely Allah is ever a watcher over you”. (4:1)

Similarly, we used to conjecture that the development of agriculture transformed our hunter-hethere ancestors into city dwellers. But the recent excavation of the 11,600 year old site of Gobleki Tepe in Turkey has overturned that theory and shown that the urge to worship birthed civilization and then agriculture arose as a result of it.  Allah says,
And I have not created the jinn and mankind except to worship Me” (51:56)
Today, Muslims can point to innumerable scientific principles in the Quran including, but not limited to, the Big Bang, a clear description of the development of the fetus in the womb, the fact that every living thing is created from water, the formation of the earth, cloud formation, mountains above and below the Earth as pegs, an expanding universe and countless other miraculous claims, none of which contradict modern knowledge. Muslims discovered the circumference of the Earth hundreds of years before the Europeans. Ibn Qayyim and other scholars proved the Earth was round solely through reference to Quranic verses, so by the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 on the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, those ships, the navigation equipment, Arabic maps and even Arab dockhands were booty of the Christian conquest over Muslim-controlled Spain in the same year. When Queen Isabella initiated the Inquisition, Jews fled to the Muslim Ottoman Empire, where they lived in peace and prosperity as Jews, Christians and Muslims typically did throughout the Islamic era. These facts and others like them can do a great deal to refute the claims of those that suggest the Muslims are intolerant and irrational. 

Recent archaeological finds also confirm Quranic historical accounts. Take for example the 1993 discovery of a Stella inscribed with the term 'House of David' and the 2005 excavation in Jerusalem's Kido Valley that have refuted rejectionists that classify biblical accounts as pure myth, and literalists who believe in the biblical account of a vast kingdom for David and Solomon. Instead finds show that the Kingdom of David and Solomon was technologically proficient, including in the manufacture of armor, as explained in the Quran, but that the idea of a vast empire as proffered by the Old Testament and used to justify Jewish fundamentalist claims for a 'greater Israel' are farfetched. Instead the Kingdom of David was smaller than once imagined. The Quran makes no claims of this nature but instead discusses that the gift to David and Solomon was one of enlightenment under monotheism. In the Quran when Solomon invites the Queen of Sheba to Islam her dignitaries inform her of their great wealth and extravagance so she sends a gift in response. Allah says,
“So when the envoy came to Solomon he said, "Will you help me with wealth? But what Allah has given me is better than that which he has given you. Nay you are exultant because of your present”. (27:36)

Similarly, Jesus would inform the Jews he was preaching to hundreds of years later that his kingdom was not of this world but rested in the truth of his religion and life of the Hereafter. Today, historical accounts of Jesus's message, like the recent work by Dr. James's Tabor - The Jesus Dynasty (2011) - document a distinction between the monotheist messianic message of Jesus and the later interpretations of Pauline Christianity. The Quran, like Dr. Tabor, refers to Christians as 'Nasara' - from the Hebrew word - Netzer' meaning branch or root in reference to the lineage of David. Archaeological evidence documents a distinction between Paul's Christianity and the Disciples, like his brother James that actually met Jesus. Dr. Tabor concludes his work by mentioning the compatibility between contemporary accounts of Jesus and the doctrine of the Quran, suggesting that in that account lie the basis for peace between Jew, Christian and Muslim. Of course, this is a brief report and there is much more, but the point is that American Muslims, by merging objective science with the wonders of their religion, can do a great deal to refute the myths and misconceptions that drive the opposing side.
While there is much science in the Sunnah, Quran and Islamic history, Muslims cannot deny that much of the Muslim world has fallen into decay, depravity and authoritarianism. American Muslims can help the global Muslim community to better compete in the marketplace of ideas by discussing the compatibility between modern knowledge and their religion. In America, where Muslims are incredibly affluent and make enormous contributions to scientific, technological, medicine and other fields, this approach would have global ramifications.
The myths that perpetuate about Islam, its Prophet and its civilization should be challenged. The widespread notions of the barbaric nature of Islamic history and culture should be countered. In the United States there is a great body of academic and dissident literature that has given a just account of Islamic societies. A diverse array of mainstream scholars specializing in the Muslim world has already contributed to refuting the Orientalist perspectives that once helped justify colonialism. So, there is a great foundation, already existent, in almost every realm. The growing American Muslim presence has also increased the capacity for original religious scholarship here. The goal of all American Muslims should be to contribute in multitudinous ways to this level of conveying the message. In a time when Muslims the world over are asking what exactly it means to adhere to Islam and when the religion is under intellectual attack, such debate by that which is better is a necessary means of the call.

IV. Action that Deters the Transgressor
There is no ability to debate with an oppressor who is already dedicated to opposing Islam and the Muslims. Allah (SWT) explains in the Quran:
“Thus we have made for every Prophet an enemy amongst the mujrimoon (criminals) “(25:31)>
Similarly, there will always be those vehemently opposed to Islam and willing to transgress beyond bounds. However, as long as there is no physical harm, then it is not permissible to retaliate with violence. Action to deter transgression in America today implies a push forward by developing autonomous organizations, schools and dawa institutions while indirectly countering those falsely proclaiming such efforts are subversive, those protesting the development of mosques, passing legislation to outlaw 'shariah' in America, seeking to sabotage American engagement with Muslims and other injustices.
An understanding of 'action that deters transgression' necessitates an appreciation of the difference between debate and argumentation. At some point, dispute only drives people away. Debate must be done solely for the sake of establishing the truth, but the verse, "Debate with the people of the book by that which is better, except those oppressors from among them (29:46)," suggests there are instances when fair preaching or direct debate will yield nothing positive. In that case, the message is still to be made accessible so that more objective individuals have access to it. All efforts to intimidate or silence the message can only be countered by action. The fourth level of dawa is all about mounting action that prevents against hostile external threats.
Whenever one is confronted with an external threat, two areas of psychological reaction, either flight or fight, dictate response. In areas of organizational behavior, those primal instincts are classified as reflexive or reflective. So, when America was attacked on 9-11, a reflexive reaction led to the occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq. A reflective reaction would have been based more on contemplation about the attack's cause. Muslims today remain reflexive in much of their response to external aggression as well. This makes for a great amount of conflict and killing. American Muslims can promote reflective responses on both sides by engaging in all four levels of dawa. However, the fourth level is of utmost import for it is here that a nonviolent social movement to deter transgression by posing alternative pathways to collaboration and cooperation could ensue.
That would require not only efforts to induce a more regionalist approach to U.S. foreign policy but a critique of Muslim dependence on literalism, interpretations that promote global conquest and killing and that blame Islam's current problems on the Western world. Take, for example, the notion that Islam is destined to dominate the world. This Hitlerian conception underscores the rhetoric of many so-called moderate and jihadi organizations. It is important to consider, however, that even textual literalism fails to coincide with this totalitarian and apocalyptic interpretation. While that is a research project in itself, take a few examples.
Thauban related that the Messenger of Allah (saws) said, "Indeed Allah gathered and folded the earth for me, and I saw the East of it and the West of it. And the Dominion of my nation will reach that which was folded from it. And I have been given the two treasures - the red and the white. And I asked my Lord to not have my nation destroyed by a pervasive drought and to not give an enemy, other than from their own selves, reign over them by uprooting their rule. And indeed my Lord said,'O Muhammad, indeed if I decree a matter, then it is not prevented. And I have granted for your nation that I will not destroy them by a pervasive drought and I will not give reign to an enemy, from other than their own selves, over them and I will not uproot their rule, even if those from all areas gather around them so that some of them destroy one another and imprison one another.' Indeed all that I fear over my nation are the misguiding imams. If the sword is placed in my nation. it will not be raised from them until the Day of Judgment." Classical scholars never interpreted dominion from the East and West to imply global conquest. Imam Nawawee said that it indicates the expansion of Islam would not go far to its North or South. The conquering of the red and white is interpreted to refer to the dominion over the Roman (red) and Persian (white) empires which occurred directly after the Prophet's death under Umar ibn al-Khattab and the hadith clearly indicates that while foreign nations may gather around the Muslims, internal civil war and oppression, alongside the backward interpretations of Muslim imams, will be the source of the Muslim world's destruction.
How about those that suggest only violence can bring about change? That contradicts the Prophet as well (saws). He said, "Indeed there will be a tribulation - the one who is lying down during it is better than the one who is seated; the one who is seated is better that the one who is standing; the one who is standing is better than the one who is walking; and the one who is walking is better than the one who is riding; the one who is riding is better than the one who is going forth quickly. All of those killed during it are in the Hellfire." Abdullah ibn Masood (RAA) asked, "O messenger of Allah, when is that?" He (SAWS) said, "The days of much killing when a man isn't safe from the companion he sits with." Abdullah (RAA) asked, "And what do you order me to do if I reach that time?" So he (saws) said, "Restrain yourself and your hand and enter your home.”O Messenger of Allah, suppose a man enters upon me in my home?" The Prophet (SAWS) said, "Then lock your house." Abdullah (RAA) then asked, "Suppose he enters forcefully?" So the Prophet (SAWS) said, "Then enter your masjid and do like this," and he closed his right hand on his wrist and say, 'My Lord is Allah until you die upon that."

There are many narrations like this one. It is apparent today that we live in times when violence takes the lives mostly of innocents and hardly ever those actually responsible for transgressions. Callers to Islam do well when they point out the senseless nature of violence in an age of extremism. Allah (SWT) says, "O people of the book, don't go to extremes in your religion and don't say about Allah but the truth" and the Prophet (saws) said, "Extremists are destroyed" and repeat it three times. He also said, "Beware of extremism, because those before you were destroyed due to their extremism." Therefore, action that deters transgression requires engagement with non-Muslims and Muslims as well.
This level of dawa includes addressing intrusions and violations of civil liberties in Muslim communities, educating local community members on the actuality of Islam, developing mechanisms for identifying early indicators of extremism and effective interventions that counter propaganda. It includes cooperating with human rights groups that call for an end to war, countering the military-industrial complex, covert intervention and counterterrorism policies that rely on drones and kill civilians, activism that can help efforts at engagement and development in the Muslim world and that shares accounts of the prosperity, freedom and wellbeing Muslims in America enjoy. There is so much American Muslims can do with regard to involvement in action that deters transgression.

Conclusion:
American Muslims have a huge role to play in promoting peace and dialogue over a clash of civilizations. That will necessitate close adherence to a proper understanding and engagement in the 4 levels of dawa as outlined here. The reputation of America, in the eyes of many Muslims has been severely damaged, but the perception of Muslims in the U.S. has been damaged as well. A 2010 Pew poll found 40% of Americans hold an unfavorable view of Islam.
However, in many ways, the American narrative resembles that of Islam. America was birthed by efforts to gain independence from colonialism. The founding fathers of the U.S. play a similar role to that of the Prophet Muhammad's companions in shaping society. The founding and expansion of early states, Islamic in the 7th century and America in the 18th, merged profound ideas with practice and induced revolutionary political, economic and social alterations that reverberated across the planet. Tapping into those principles and promoting cooperation and coexistence will require concentrated activity at all 4 levels of dawa.
There have been some interesting developments of late. As the wind-down of war ends America's experiment with direct colonialism, the U.S. is looking for alternatives and seems to have realized the limitations of military dominance. Relations would best be described as evolving, but it should be evident that American Muslims could play a major role in preserving American freedoms and civil liberties. Another Pew poll from late-2011 found that 50% of American Muslims report that government antiterrorism policies single out U.S. Muslims with increased surveillance and monitoring.

There are efforts to improve relations. During his national security speech in May of this year, President Obama mentioned important policy alterations. Firstly, he referenced the White House's Strategic Partnership Plan for countering violent extremism. He said, "The best way to prevent violent extremism inspired by violent jihadists is to work with the Muslim American community which has consistently rejected terrorism, to identify signs of radicalization and partner with law enforcement when an individual is drifting towards violence. And these partnerships can only work when we recognize that Muslims are a fundamental part of the American family. In fact, the success of American Muslims and our determination to guard against any encroachments on their civil liberties is the ultimate rebuke to those who say we are at war with Islam."
However, American Muslims must expand the scope of conversation with the U.S. government so that it includes much more than mere anti-terrorism measures. The recent NSA leaks highlight intrusion that is a threat to us all, controversy over the use of drones, the debate about immigration, efforts to broker peace in Afghanistan, engagement with the new-post-Arab Spring regimes and continuous efforts to reignite the Palestine-Israel peace process are all areas in which American Muslims must have say. They are also areas directly related to terrorism. Absent direct, deliberate and more vocal engagement, these efforts will continue to be sources of tension.

As each Muslim is an ambassador of Islam, it is important these steps toward alternatives are viewed as a significant opportunity. In that same speech, President Obama outlined another key cornerstone that could greatly improve American-Islamic relations. He stated, "Success on all these fronts requires sustained engagement, but it will also require resources. I know that foreign aid is one of the least popular expenditures there is. That's true for Democrats and Republicans. I've seen polling; even though it amounts to less than 1% of the federal budget. In fact, a lot of folks think it is 25%, if you ask people on the streets. Less that 1% , still wildly unpopular. But foreign assistance cannot be viewed as charity. It is fundamental to our national security. And its fundamental to any sensible long-term strategy to battle extremism."
Such a framework sets the stage for what might become an alternative paradigm. The call to Islam must continue to expand knowledge about Islam in America and help to promote a progressive Islam in the Muslim world. But, by simultaneously tying that call to efforts at countering violent extremism and development as an alternative to war, Muslims can do a great deal to alter the root causes of affliction. While Muslims have reason to express concern that enhanced engagement will turn into yet more false promises and rhetoric unmatched by action, one must contemplate the potential benefits of enhanced engagement and consider the harms of isolation.
The Obama administration has sought to improve domestic relations but has failed to connect these relations to its foreign policy. Still, American Muslims must recognize that President Obama has taken the position that movements in the Arab world are independent and cannot be controlled externally. Mark Lynch, an academic and advisor to the Obama administration during the Arab Spring, commented in his book The Arab Uprising (2012) that, "The U.S. government now understands Islamic movements far better than before and appreciates their variety, internal rivalries and doctrinal differences... the Obama administration has admirably laid out a position that accepts their democratic participation while also advocating for core liberal values." Professor Lynch also shuns the rise of "violent anti-Islamic populism" at home saying, "America cannot engage effectively with a region struggling to peacefully incorporate Islam through democracy if it is dominated by ideologues that demonize and attack them at every turn. Nor can it continue its effective campaign to marginalize and defeat Al-Qaeda if its own public feeds a narrative about a clash of civilizations that does not exist."
Many Muslims remain critical of American rhetoric, both right and left-wing, but the Quran states emphatically,

“So, if they withdraw from you and fight not against you and offer you peace then Allah has opened no way for you against them” and,
If they incline to peace, incline you also to it and trust in Allah. Surely, He is the Hearer, the Knower” (8:61)

The fact of the matter is that without the assistance of America's Muslims the U.S. government will be unable to repair its relations with the Muslim world. That means any call to Islam in America must adhere to these 4 levels of dawa. Combining the 4 levels offers a means not only of spreading Islam's actual message but also to reject all kinds of extremism, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.  American Muslims must take a more active role in promoting communication, cooperation and dialogue over civilizational clash.

Younus Abdullah Muhammad is an American Muslim and Master of International Affairs. He is presently incarcerated in the U.S. federal prison system. He can be contacted at islampolicy@gmail.com