Resources for Understanding Islam and Middle East Conflicts

religion politics street signThese resources weigh heavily toward politics rather than theology to explain Islam and the Middle East. I have discovered that trying to understand Middle East conflicts and radical Islam from a purely theological perspective leads one to many wrong and destructive conclusions. History, politics and struggles for social justice explain things far better than the simplistic view that radical Muslims do what they do because they are the ones actually following their religion.

I hope and pray you find as much understanding as I have from these people and organizations who actually know what has been going on in the Islamic world and how our country has been a part of the problem rather than being a part of the solution.

Though history and politics help explain the dangerous world in which we find ourselves, I do believe the teachings of Jesus provide the solutions we need and should inform our country’s foreign policy, as I hope you can gather from my blog posts.

Open Letter to ISIS from Muslim Scholars

letter-to-baghadi coverYou don’t have to buy this one, it’s online. To think ISIS fighters are Muslims who actually obey their Qurans and the moderates don’t is a view of Islam similar to that of ISIS, and just as perverted. The Executive Summary of this letter to the leader of ISIS is a short and concise treatise which reveals how polar opposite radical Islam is to the faith. It provides a few of the many reasons radicals should not be considered Muslim.

Each point in the summary is explained in more detail in the body of the letter and will serve as a good introduction to why the many sweeping generalizations made about Islam just don’t do it justice.

Many people on social media will post a list of Quranic verses that seem to support the idea that Islam is an evil religion hell bent on taking over the world by force and forcing everyone to convert. Though this letter doesn’t dive into Quranic interpretation it should be evident that these scholars, and the vast majority of Muslims, come to a different conclusion because quoting ancient text out of context doesn’t work any better in Islam than it does in Christianity.

This letter was written by over 120 Muslim scholars from around the world who hold esteemed positions within the Muslim community. This is a part of the great body of Islamic scholars that your Muslim neighbors and imams look to for how to understand their faith.

Mark Siljander

When imperial religions clash like they did during the Crusades about 500 years after Mohammad it’s no surprise that the members of those religions find theological reasons to consider the others to be from the pit of Hell. Objectivity gets tossed in favor of creating intellectual discord. We still operate with those historic biases today. Mark Siljander, in his book A Deadly Misunderstanding – A Congressman’s Quest to Bridge the Muslim-Christian Divide, explores the areas of greatest theological tensions between Islam and Christianity, and based on linguistic analysis of the texts offers a way to reconcile those differences. This isn’t hippy-dippy peace-no-matter-what-the-texts-say ecumenism, this is real theological work that the former congressman has run past experts in both Christianity and Islam. I wished more of the Christians we send to Washington could engage scriptures to this level. The issues Mark dives into include our ideas about conversion, the crucifixion, Jesus being the Son of God, the Five Pillars of Islam, what it means to be “Muslim”, the doctrine of the Trinity, and others. But this is much more than theology, this book is filled with amazing and heartwarming true stories of reconciliation between world leaders which serves as a pattern for how we can make peace with each other. Like with PLO chairman Yasser Araffat who had put out a contract for his life, and others.

Michael Scheuer

Imperial HubrisMichael Scheuer was the former head of the CIA’s Bin Laden Unit, who resigned in 2004 after nearly two decades of experience in national security issues related to Afghanistan and South Asia. He is the author of Imperial Hubris: Why the West is Losing the War on Terror. As “Anonymous,” he is also the author of Through Our Enemies Eyes: Osama Bin Laden, Radical Islam, and the Future of America. Scheuer has been featured on many national and international television news programs, has been interviewed for broadcast media and documentaries, and has been the focus of print media worldwide. He is no doubt the West’s foremost expert on al-Qaeda who spent most of a decade gathering and analyzing the intelligence that, had it been used fully and honestly, would have allowed all U.S. leaders to know what sort of storm was approaching before 9/11. Today that intelligence should be used to inform us of why matters have gotten worse and what we need to stop doing to make it so, but sadly it is not. Michael Scheuer’s Imperial Hubris presents overwhelmingly persuasive evidence to buttress a host of significant and controversial arguments. It pulls few punches and gives us a fascinating window on America’s war with al-Qaeda and its offshoots like ISIS and Boka Haram. No serious observer of the war on terrorism can ignore this scathing critique of the Bush administration’s policies, many of which are being repeated by the Obama administration. As Richard Clarke, former national coordinator for security and counterterrorism said, it’s “a powerful, persuasive analysis of the terrorist threat and the Bush administration’s failed efforts to fight it.”

Eric Margolis

american rajEric is a journalist and foreign policy expert with more on-the-ground experience in the Middle East than anybody I’m aware of. He even fought the Russian occupation of Afghanistan alongside the mujaheddin. He answers the most pressing questions we in the West confront: Why does the Muslim world distrust us? Is the idea of a secular Muslim world – especially one based on the Western model – realistic? Has ideology blinded Western powers to both political and historical reality? Is accommodation between these two ideological adversaries possible? What can be done to prevent a clash of civilizations?

In his book American Raj: Liberation or Domination? Resolving the Conflict Between the West and the Muslim World, he takes you behind the conventional headlines and into the thinking and world view of anti-Western Islamic radicals throughout the Muslim world, and identifies the historical, political and religious factors that have played such a huge role in generating Islamic hostility towards the West.

As a war correspondent Eric has covered conflicts in Angola, Namibia, South Africa, Mozambique, Sinai, Afghanistan, Kashmir, India, Pakistan, El Salvador and Nicaragua. As an award-winning, internationally syndicated columnist his articles appear in major publications and appears as an expert on foreign affairs on major news networks.

His internet column ericmargolis.com reaches 100,000 readers a day.

Dr. Karen Armstrong

karen armstrong islam a short history

Karen Armstrong’s Islam: A Short History demonstrates that the world’s fastest-growing faith is a much more complex phenomenon than its modern fundamentalist strain might suggest. The picture of Islam as a violent, backward, and insular tradition should be laid to rest, says Karen Armstrong, bestselling author of Muhammad and A History of God. Delving deep into Islamic history, Armstrong sketches the arc of a story that begins with the stirring of revelation in an Arab businessman named Muhammad. His concern with the poor who were being left behind in the blush of his society’s new prosperity sets the tone for the tale of a culture that values community as a manifestation of God. Muhammad’s ideas catch fire, quickly blossoming into a political empire. As the empire expands and the once fractured Arabs subdue and overtake the vast Persian domain, the story of a community becomes a panoramic drama. With great dexterity, Armstrong narrates the Sunni-Shi’ite schism, the rise of Persian influence, the clashes with Western crusaders and Mongolian conquerors, and the spiritual explorations that traced the route to God. Armstrong brings us through the debacle of European colonialism right up to the present day, putting Islamic fundamentalism into context as part of a worldwide phenomenon.

Dr. Jonathan A.C. Brown

misquoting muhammad

Jonathan A.C. Brown teaches a simple, if vital, lesson: “Authenticity is elusive in religion, and those who claim it tend not to be searching for the truth but grasping for power.” Brown possesses formidable knowledge of pre-modern Muslim scholars who sought to preserve accounts of Muhammad’s teachings and practices. Misquoting Muhammad: The Challenge and Choices of Interpreting the Prophet’s Legacy sheds light on the considerable dynamism and sophistication within the Sunni tradition as he identifies and contextualizes the larger interpretive issues at stake in the global competition between diverse traditional and Salafi Sunni voices. He ably navigates the cutting edge of Hadith studies while offering his able insight, encyclopedic knowledge of Muslim textual traditions, and awareness of the political contentiousness of scholarship in Islamic studies. Brown is among the most talented and productive scholars in the field of Islamic Studies today. He is also a practicing Muslim who has the rare ability to sit at the feet of traditional scholars from Egypt to Malaysia for hours on end and translate that knowledge into something beneficial for his American audiences. Misquoting Muhammad makes the important point that what many Muslims believe to be essential tenets of their faith are often nothing of the sort.

Mustafa Akyol

islam without extremesOne of the biggest questions in the minds of Westerners is whether extremist Muslims do what they do because they are the most dedicated to their religion, while the peaceful Muslims are the half-hearted ones. Or is there another way to look at it? In Islam Without Extremes: A Muslim Case for Liberty Turkish journalist Mustafa Akyol makes a case for an interpretation of the Quran put forth by dedicated Muslims since its inception that supports Western values of personal liberty. He chronicles movements within Islam from the beginning that have reflected a more liberal interpretation, and why those movements have either fizzled out, or have been snuffed out by political and illiberal social forces from within and interference from without. There are three extremes that have haunted the Muslim world, secular authoritarianism, Islamic authoritarianism, and Western interventionism, which often leads to the first two. There is a fourth, and promising, way: Islamic liberalism.

For those curious about where extremism took its ugly roots in Islam, this book provides a detailed explanation. Further, it dares to provide a solution to the problem of extremism.

The Centre for Research on Globalization

yemen conflict

Click for a larger picture.

Sometimes it takes a Canadian to tell is straight regarding the actions of the US government. The Centre for Research on Globalization (CRG) is an independent research and media organization based in Montreal. Their website www.globalresearch.ca publishes news articles, commentary, background research and analysis on a broad range of issues, focusing on social, economic, strategic and environmental issues.

The CRG website was established on the 9th of September 2001, two days before the tragic events of September 11. Barely a few days later, CRG had become a major news source on the New World Order and Washington’s “war on terrorism”. Since then they have established an extensive archive of news articles, in-depth reports and analysis on issues which are barely covered by the mainstream media.

In an era of media disinformation, their focus has essentially been to center on the “unspoken truth”.

During the invasion of Iraq (March-April 2003), CRG published, on a daily basis, independent reports from the Middle East, which provided an alternative to the news emanating from the “embedded” journalists reporting from the war theater. Since 2004, CRG has provided detailed analysis and coverage of US-NATO-Israel preparations to wage a pre-emptive nuclear attack on Iran. Starting in 2011, CRG has developed dossiers on the US-NATO led wars on Libya and Syria, the Arab Protest movement, the environmental impacts of the Fukushima disaster, the ongoing crisis in Ukraine, the militarization of the African continent, and the development of the police state in North America and Western Europe, among other important topics.

The Ron Paul Institute for Peace and Prosperity

Ron PaulRon Paul is someone most of us have actually heard of. He has been a member of Congress and has run for president on both the Libertarian and Republican tickets.

Only two years old, the Ron Paul Institute mobilizes colleagues and collaborators of Dr. Paul’s to participate in a broad coalition to educate and advocate for fundamental changes in our foreign and domestic policy.

A prosperous America is profoundly linked to a foreign policy rooted in peaceful relations and trade with all. With peace, comes real prosperity.

One of my blog posts is titled We Should Have Listened to the Libertarians About the Middle East. Sometimes Libertarians are like a voice crying in the wilderness but when they prove themselves to be right while the rest dismissed their opinions as being naive you tend to want to listen to them more.

Among the institutes board members include former Congressman Dennis Kucinich who introduced a bill to create a Department of Peace, as well a Michael Scheuer and Eric Margolis who I list on this page as resources.

Chalmers Johnson

Chalmers Johnson bookMr. Johnson was a consultant to the CIA from 1967 to 1973. He wrote a book about “blowback”, the cause for 9/11, appropriately called Blowback: The Costs and Consequences of American Empire as well as Dismantling the Empire: America’s Last Best Hope and others. He was in a very informative interview called The BLOWBACK SYNDROME: Oil Wars and Overreach where he states we “didn’t ask the most obvious of all forensic questions: what were the motives of the suicidal attackers of 9/11?” So far the unified voice from the agency that is supposed to know this stuff is that it’s a response to foreign occupation, regime changes, and support for corrupt governments and injustice done by the United States, not because Muslims hate our freedoms and values.

Ron Paul tossed this term “blowback” into our vocabulary during one of the presidential election debates but unfortunately it hasn’t gotten the attention that it should. I see it as another way of saying what Jesus said when he said, “If you live by the sword you will die by the sword.”

Rev. Ben Daniel

Ben Daniel bookAre Muslims infiltrating American society? What does Islam really teach about women’s roles? Does the Qur’an condone violence? In his book The Search for Truth About Islam: A Christian Pastor Separates Fact From Fiction Presbyterian pastor Ben Daniel tackles common stereotypes and misconceptions that tend to define Islam in the popular imagination. Daniel also looks at Christianity’s own history of violence and explores what he calls “the American cult of fear,” particularly as it relates to the rise of Islamophobia in the United States. Blending travel narrative, interviews, and well-crafted storytelling, Daniel helps debunk the myths and put a human face on Islam in America.

Those looking for a basic introduction and a refutation of common stereotypes will welcome Daniel’s straightforward prose and friendly, approachable style.

Alison Weir

Against Our Better JudgementHere’s a list of just about every organization having something to do with Palestine from a journalist who realized everybody in the world understands Palestine, except Americans: If Americans Knew. Alison left her job as as editor of a small town newspaper to see for herself what was going on in Palestine.

Soon after WWII, US statesman Dean Acheson warned that creating Israel on land already inhabited by Palestinians would “imperil” both American and all Western interests in the region. Despite warnings such as this one, President Truman supported establishing a Jewish state on land primarily inhabited by Muslims and Christians.

Few Americans today are aware that US support enabled the creation of modern Israel. Even fewer know that US politicians pushed this policy over the forceful objections of top diplomatic and military experts.

As this work demonstrates, these politicians were bombarded by a massive pro-Israel lobbying effort that ranged from well-funded and very public Zionist organizations to an “elitist secret society” whose members included Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis.

Against Our Better Judgement: The Hidden History of How the U.S. Was Used to Create Israel brings together meticulously sourced evidence to illuminate a reality that differs starkly from the prevailing narrative. It provides a clear view of the history that is key to understanding one of the most critically important political issues of our day.

Dr. Hanan Ashrawi

this side of peace hanan ashrawiThe Israel/Palestinian conflict in a nutshell (after doing my due diligence) and why it is still unresolved after 68 years of negotiations: Israel has been unwilling to give up real estate it has taken, and continues to take more – the Palestinians have been unwilling to give up their legitimacy and dignity as a people. The Palestinians have been systematically demonized as a fly in the ointment of Middle East peace talks who reject every “good faith” offer ever made to them, yet here have been no good faith offers that have been rejected, because none have been made. None recognize the rights the Palestinians have to dwell on the land they have occupied for hundreds of generations. Every so-called offer legitimizes the injustice of their land being taken by force.

This book gets past the propoganda and dives into specifics of how Israel has manipulated and controlled any talks, including who gets to speak on behalf of the Palestinians. Hanan Ashrawi, a fearless American educated Christian Palestinian got the job of being the official face and negotiator for her people, and presents a side of Yasar Arafat you never got in the press, and the end-game of Israel to get to a point of no return by establishing Jewish settlements in the Occupied Territories, as admitted by one of her Prime Ministers.

Her narrative is incredibly eloquent and her touching style brings a human element to the sufferings and tragedies of the Palestinian people during the occupation. Her fact-based accounts of the peace negotiations with the Israeli and American governments are presented with a straight-forward attitude that defies contradiction.

David Farber

taken hostage

The Iran Hostage Crisis was America’s introduction to Radical Islam, and for most, our introduction to Islam itself, which shaped the popular narrative about Islam before 9/11. Taken Hostage: The Iran Hostage Crisis and America’s First Encounter With Radical Islam isn’t as much about how our embassy in Tehran was taken over but is rather more about why it was taken over.

“For 444 days in 1979–1981, Americans watched, with a mix of frustration and helplessness, the unfolding of the Iran hostage crisis and the withering of the Carter presidency. While Farber, a professor at Temple University, presents a detailed picture of the coming of the Iranian revolution, the rise of Islamic fundamentalism and the United States’ inability to see and deal effectively with either, at the heart of his tale is America. Farber satisfyingly contextualizes the moment, vividly redrawing stagflation, the energy crisis and national malaise. Neither the Shah nor his American supporters saw how powerful Islamic forces had become, viewing the threat as “Soviet Red and not Islamic Green”; Carter failed first to grasp the nature of the threat and later to act effectively. Khomeini comes off as a shrewd strategist, using the hostages to both consolidate his growing power and unite his nation. While the commentary on contemporary politics is rather speculative, Farber gives a needed history lesson on the depth of political anger in the Islamic world and on the United States’ incapacity to communicate its message.” – Publishers Weekly

Dr. Noam Chomsky

Noam ChomskyWhat can we say about MIT Professor Noam Chomsky? I liken him to a walking encyclopedia of history. If you want to get a fresh perspective on most any event related to the United States and the Middle East you can probably find it on his blog at chomsky.info. What I find fascinating is how a Jew such as himself can be so critical of Israel and its actions in the Middle East, though once you begin to learn about how Prime Minister Netanyahu and his predecessors conduct themselves, especially with regard to the Palestinians whom they have oppressed for decades, it’s not hard to see why he and many other Jews like historian Ilan Pappe would rather see an end to the state of Israel.

Professor Chomsky has spent more than five decades warning of the danger that US imperialism poses to the peace and security of the world.

In the 1970s and 1980s, Chomsky was one of the few to speak out on the “hidden” genocide in East Timor, where, over a 20-year period, Indonesian forces armed and supported by the US were responsible for the deaths of more than 200,000 people.

He understood the dangers that would be created by the new power vacuum. His fear that with the demise of the Soviet Union, the US military-industrial complex would seek out new enemies to justify its existence has been borne out by subsequent events. That it has done so successfully owes much to what Chomsky calls an “unholy alliance” between the US state and the corporate media.

Chomsky’s understanding of the mechanics of US imperialism and his ability at all times to see the “big picture” have led him to oppose recent US military interventions in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as President Bush’s war on terrorism. For anyone wanting to find out more about the world we live in, for anyone who does not understand why the US ignored the genocide in East Timor but intervened so aggressively in a low-scale civil war in Kosovo, there is one simple answer: read Noam Chomsky.

The Council For The National Interest

the-council-for-the-national-interest-banner

CNI seeks to encourage and promote a U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East that is consistent with American values, protects our national interests, and contributes to a just solution of the Arab-Israeli conflict. It is CNI’s goal to restore a political environment in America in which voters and their elected officials are free from the undue influence and pressure of foreign countries and their partisans.

The Council for the National Interest Foundation (CNIF) that provides information and analysis on the Middle East, its relationship to the United States, and about policy formation regarding this region. Its primary focus is on Israel-Palestine.

The Bridge Initiative

Bridge InitiativeThe Bridge Initiative is Housed in Georgetown University’s Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding (ACMCU), The Bridge Initiative is a research project that connects the academic study of Islamophobia with the public square. It’s mission is to highlight the problem of Islamophobia, challenge the discourses that contribute to it, and offer an alternative narrative based on research accessible to public.

In recent decades, anti-Islam and anti-Muslim bigotry and discrimination has increased exponentially in the United States and Europe, with national and global consequences. Pseudo-scholars and polemicists peddle their writing online, are viewed by many as credible and reliable voices, and therefore strongly impact popular culture.

The emergence of a well-funded organized Islamophobic network (OIN) has spawned websites and false narratives on the Internet that seep from the web into media and popular culture. As a result, Americans — the majority of whom look to the Internet for information and answers on pressing questions — miss credible empirical information and are bombarded with pseudo-scholarship that fosters prejudice and fear.

This pioneering “crossover” initiative brings faculty, subject-matter experts, and researchers together to examine attitudes and behaviors towards Muslims: to dissect public discourses on Islam; to uncover the operational mechanisms of engineered Islamophobia; to develop and disseminate alternative narratives that raise public awareness and enrich public discourse on this dangerous form of prejudice.

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