American Muslim group confronts religious extremists

Updated 17 December 2012
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American Muslim group confronts religious extremists

The Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Christian church that provided the council with a venue for its conference devoted part of the event on Saturday to confront critics who alleged the church is unwittingly furthering an Islamic agenda against American values.
An invitation to MPAC by senior pastor Edwin Bacon, rector All Saints Episcopal Church, to host the conference sparked a flurry of hate mail and national attention in the United States from conservative Christian and anti-Muslim hate groups. Bacon said he saw an opportunity to confront religious bigotry. Although Bacon said, “Christians can be hateful,” the All Saints congregation was “unconditional and enthusiastic” in its support to host the MPAC event.
The conference focused on MPAC’s efforts to join Christians in developing interfaith dialogue to promote better understanding between all religions. The conference was not directly tied to King Abdullah’s interfaith dialogue programs and the interreligious center that recently opened in Vienna. However, Haris Tarin, MPAC’s Washington DC office director, said his organization shares the same goals.
“We want the world to see an example of how all faiths can come together,” Tarin told Arab News. “What we wanted to do in the church will show a good sign for what we are doing in the community.” Bacon said, “We have always been open and hospitable to Jews and Muslims, so what we are doing is not really notable for us. All Saints is deeply committed to interfaith. This is an opportunity to teach American Christians about Islam.”
As Bacon spoke to Arab News in front of the church, a handful of protesters shouted anti-Muslim epithets.
“We pray for them and hope they will be transformed from their violent rhetoric,” he said.
While the conference covered a wide range of topics that address American Muslim issues, the backlash from conservative Christian groups over MPAC’s presence at All Saints set the tone for most of the discussions throughout the day.
Salam Al-Marayati, president of MPAC, said “political extremists” see Muslims through the lens of the Middle East, specifically the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, as a litmus test on how all Muslims are viewed. Often ignored, MPAC members say, is that American Muslim issues do not necessarily reflect what is occurring in the Middle East. American Muslims’ concerns generally coincide with non-Muslims, such as employment and health care.
Persistent criticism of MPAC from the Christian religious right focuses on the Muslim group’s alleged connection to the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood is attempting to push through a constitution opposed by secularists and liberals in Egypt’s fledgling democratic government.
Critics of the new constitution fear that women and non-Muslims will not gain full rights and that it will dilute efforts to attain full democracy.
Dr. Maher Hathout, a senior adviser to MPAC and often a target by American religious conservatives for his connection to the Muslim Brotherhood, told the conference of about 200 people that he was a member of the Ikhwan when he was 17 years old as part of an effort to rid Egypt of British colonialism. He said he has not been involved with the Muslim Brotherhood for 60 years and has not been part of any foreign organizations during the last 40 years.
Tarin said in an interview that he is optimistic that American political extremism is waning. He pointed to the defeats of Florida Republican Congressman Allen West and Illinois Republican representative Joe Walsh, who are both Tea Party firebrands. West once said that, “Islam is a totalitarian theocratic political ideology, it is not a religion” while Walsh advocated the deporting Muslims from the US.
“I’m optimistic that the negative perceptions will decline,” Tarin said. “(The voters said) we don’t want that kind of extreme rhetoric.” Yet the lion’s share of the work to change the perception of American Muslims will rest on the shoulders of Muslim teens and young adults, Tarin said.
Tarin pointed to himself as a young Muslim 20 years ago unburdened by an Islamic identity because few non-Muslims knew of Islam nor did they have the negative perceptions of Islam before 9/11. Today, any young person with an Islamic name carries the burden of explaining himself to non-Muslims.
“Younger (non-Muslim) people get it,” Tarin said. “Those who have personal relationships with Muslims are less likely to have negative feelings. The challenge is how to get to those people not touched by Muslims.”
He said second and third generation American Muslims are joining the political process, noting that many young adults are engaged in voter registration drives and activism on a local level. He noted that that voters in Teaneck, New Jersey, elected their first Muslim mayor, Mohammed Hameeduddin, through grassroots campaigning.
“We are slowly progressing toward tolerance,” Tarin said.


Bosnians welcome UN verdict against Karadzic

Updated 21 March 2019
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Bosnians welcome UN verdict against Karadzic

  • ‘He should never be allowed to go free,’ Bosnian diplomat tells Arab News
  • Families of victims who traveled to The Hague hailed the verdict

JEDDAH: Former Bosnian-Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, widely known as the “Butcher of Bosnia,” has had his sentence for genocide and war crimes increased to life in prison.

He was appealing a 2016 verdict in which he was given a 40-year sentence for the Srebrenica massacre in the 1992-95 Bosnian war.

More than 8,000 Muslim men and boys were killed in the town of Srebrenica by Bosnian-Serb forces in July 1995. Karadzic, 73, was also found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The UN court said the 40-year sentence did not reflect the trial chamber’s analysis on the “gravity and responsibility for the largest and greatest set of crimes ever attributed to a single person at the ICTY (the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia).”

The ruling by the judges on Wednesday cannot be appealed, and will end one of the highest-profile legal battles stemming from the Balkan wars.

Karadzic showed almost no reaction as presiding Judge Vagn Joensen of Denmark read out the damning judgment.

The former leader is one of the most senior figures tried by The Hague’s war crimes court. His case is considered as key in delivering justice for the victims of the Bosnian conflict, which left more than 100,000 people dead and millions homeless.

Joensen said the trial chamber was wrong to impose a sentence of just 40 years, given what he called the “sheer scale and systematic cruelty” of Karadzic’s crimes. Applause broke out in the public gallery as Joensen passed the new sentence.

Families of victims who traveled to The Hague hailed the verdict. Mothers, some elderly and walking with canes, wept with apparent relief after watching the ruling read on a screen in Srebrenica.

Halim Grabus, a Bosnian-Muslim diplomat based in Geneva, told Arab News that the verdict “will act as a deterrent against the criminals responsible for the genocide of Muslims during the 1992-1995 war. He (Karadzic) should never be allowed to go free. He deserves maximum punishment.”

Grabus was in Bosnia during the war, and witnessed the scorched-earth policy of Karadzic and his fellow generals.

Grabus said it was not possible in today’s world to expect total justice, “but the verdict is important for the victims and survivors of Karadzic’s genocidal politics and ideology of hate.” 

A large majority of Serbs “continue to justify what he did, and continue to carry forward his hateful campaign against Bosnian Muslims,” Grabus added.

“Many of the killers of Muslims during the Bosnian war are still roaming free. They need to be arrested and brought to justice.”

Ratko Mladic, a Bosnian-Serb wartime military commander, is awaiting an appeal judgment of his genocide and war crimes conviction, which earned him a life sentence. Both he and Karadzic were convicted of genocide for their roles in the Srebrenica massacre.