Pakistan: between betrayed dream and desire to rebuild

PETER JACOB

Pakistan’s polity today does not reflect the ideals set by her founder, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, outlining a pluralistic democracy and religious freedom. But the undying spirit of the Pakistani people and their enduring commitment to true democracy—which braved executions, imprisonments, flogging and torture to oppose and defeat four despotic military regimes in 60 years—demonstrate that a new Pakistan can be built.

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Contending modernities in France: Muslim expression vs. secular integrity

TIMOTHY SHAH

Last month, on April 11, 2011, France became the second country in Europe, following Belgium, to ban the wearing of the full Islamic veil or burqa. Under the new law, women who wear face-covering Muslim veils in “public places” in France face a fine of about $200, compulsory “special classes” on citizenship, or both. This direct clash between the religious practice of some Muslims and a law that many French leaders and citizens believe is a logical extension of France’s secularism could not be of more direct interest to Contending Modernities. We therefore asked two of our regular commentators—M. Christian Green and Mahan Mirza—to offer their reflections on France’s burqa ban.

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Burqas, blobs, and bans in “la belle France”

M. CHRISTIAN GREEN

A recent search of the term “burqa” on CartoonStock.com turned up a plethora of images of women in black and blue veils. In one image a black-clad woman in a delivery room gives birth to a tiny, similarly garbed miniature, as a nurse proclaims, “It’s a girl!” In another, a woman in a black niqab, with only her eyes exposed, sits in front of a computer featuring the webpage “Hidden Facebook.” Read the full article »

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Religious expression or female oppression?

In the wake of France’s total ban on the burqa or full-length veil, which took effect last month, on April 11th, it is an appropriate time to address the Islamic interpretation of the headscarf and its significance for Muslims. Scholars of religion inevitably get nervous when they are asked to speak about “the” interpretation of anything. So I propose to draw on my personal experience as a Muslim and as an observer of Western politics and society to establish some context that may lead us to be more aware of certain uncritical areas in our framing of the question at hand.

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Human dignity: the foundation of human rights

A. RASHIED OMAR

March 21st is annually commemorated as Human Rights Day in post-Apartheid South Africa, in remembrance of the 1960 Sharpeville massacre in which the apartheid police force opened fire on a crowd of anti-pass law protesters, killing 69 and maiming 189. On Human Rights Day, we pay tribute to the Sharpeville martyrs. But Human Rights Day is also a useful time to become familiar with the latest thinking on the longstanding and robust debate about the compatibility between “Islam and Human Rights.”

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Another error in the “war on terror”

From the outset, the so-called “war on terror” has proceeded erroneously. The first error was an incorrect diagnosis of the root causes of 9/11. The second error was the response. The third error has been the faulty narrative that has sustained the conflict. Instead of engaging in some real introspection and changing course where necessary, Congressman Peter King’s hearings on the radicalization of Muslims are a doubling-down on a path of errors.

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Civility 101: do unto otters

JENNIFER S. BRYSON

Review of Do Unto Otters by Laurie Keller (New York: Henry Holt and Company LLC, 2007).

Shrillness, vitriol, and a distinct lack of civility characterize much of our public discussion in America these days. America is torn and tense. One example is that the topic of Islam in public discussion has become almost radioactive. A jolting, disturbing reminder spread across the internet last week in video footage of loud, rude, and at times vicious anti-Muslim protesters who held a rally in February at a mosque in California. And Rep. Peter King’s hearings on Islamic radicalization in America have been the focus of intensely polarized—and not particularly civil—national debate.

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A new Egypt

SHAYKH ALI GOMAA

In the aftermath of Mubarak’s resignation, Egypt stands at the dawn of a new era. It is an era borne of the ingenuity, sacrifices and dedication of an entire nation. We remember and recognize all those brave men and women who lost their lives but have ignited and galvanized the movement of change. The past month has been a testament to the spirit and integrity of the Egyptian people.

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Beyond state idolatry in Egypt

A. RASHIED OMAR

What we are currently witnessing in Egypt is a transformative moment that has been described by the pro-democracy demonstrators in the streets of Cairo as a “Tunisami”—a tsunami of social activism that first swept a despot in Tunisia from power and now in Egypt. The question on many people’s minds is: What comes next? I hope Egyptians will embrace a lesson citizens in my own South Africa have learned the hard way: beware the idolatry of the state.

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Let fundamental reforms bring a new, peaceful Egypt

SHAYKH ALI GOMAA

It is with a heavy heart that I have watched the events of the past few days unfold. Violence is always regrettable, but to watch my own country deteriorate into virtual chaos is a cause of unimaginable grief and sadness, and the recent attacks against demonstrators are worthy of the strongest condemnation. To see Egypt in such a state of chaos is truly heart-wrenching. There is, however, reason for hope and optimism.

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