Thursday, June 27, 2013

Madiba: through my lens

The great moment in history outside Victor Verster prison,
February 1990.

The actual annoucnement took everybody by surprise.

Shaikh Nazeem Mohamed reads a letter
 Madiba sent to the Muslim Judicial Council in 1989

                                                        The prison is near to the harbour.
                                                              Madiba's famous cell, home for over 20 years.

                                                             The morning after the release at
                                                                                   Bishop Tutu's house.

                                          The car that took Madiba from the prison. A Toyota Cressida.
                                                               No blue light convoys in the early days.

                                                    Masjid ul-Awwal, Cape Town, April 1994.

                                                        Former Justice Minister Dullah Omar (left)
                                                           and Shaikh Nazeem Mohamed in Awwal mosque,
                                                               first mosque established in South Africa 1794.
                                                        Sayyid Shaikh Muhammd al-'Alawi visits Robben Island.

                                                        Talking to local leaders, Bo Kaap.

                                                     Imam Amien Ahmed welcomes Madiba.

                                                           Greeting locals in Cape Town.

                                              Madiba is garlanded after talking to Muslim community
                                                                             in the Bo-Kaap, Cape Town.

                                                          Madiba leaves Awwal Mosque, April, 1994.

                                                              © Shafiq Morton  

Monday, June 24, 2013

The Obama question: his South African visit in focus

When President George W Bush II shuffled off centre stage, dragging his dangling participles and poor grammar behind him, he was a pathetic, crumpled figure. Even his customary Texas bravado was muted, and the contrived spring in his step was tired.

Historically the US’s worst president, he departed the Oval office in a trail of destruction. His legacy is indeed painful: the sinister but still unresolved conspiracy of 9/11, one of the greatest wars in modern times against an abstract noun called “terror” and the marginalisation of international law.

Then there was the matter of global financial meltdown due to his questionable financial policies. This led to market greed and speculation on a scale never witnessed before in human history. His administration’s massive tax breaks for the wealthy, which did not see a trickle down of wealth as he naively expected, created the US’s worst debt deficit in living memory.

But not only that; for under the watchful eye of his vice-president and string-puller Dick Cheney – a corporate vulture – he’d plundered Iraq, refused to sign the Kyoto protocol, devastated Afghanistan, destabilised Pakistan, ignored the Palestinians, hounded Iran, peddled Islamophobia and presented the discredited idea of a “clash of civilisations” as a fait accompli.

So it was no wonder that when Barack Hussein Obama was sworn in as a Democratic president in 2008 after nearly a decade of neo-con ignorance, imperious arrogance and darkness, there was hope in the air.

Here was a man who had a command of the English language and who appeared to understand the urgent issues at play. The US, via the Bush regime, had become one of the world’s most hated nations, particularly in the developing world and the Middle East.

The worst affected by global warming, the militarisation of international relations, neo-liberal economics and the plundering of natural resources by the major powers, it has always been their awareness that since 1967 US foreign policy has been dominated by Israeli interests.

Obama had two challenges facing him: firstly, the domestic situation and the economy, which was on the brink of a melt-down, and secondly, US foreign policy with regards to the “war on terror”, Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Israel.

To be sure, Obama had an inbox from hell. But he did start out bravely, his address in Cairo giving the Muslim world hope. His undertakings to shut down Guantanamo Bay and to gradually withdraw from Afghanistan and Iraq (where millions of civilians have died) were also widely welcomed.

Unfortunately, the adage that the road to hell is paved with good intentions applies to Obama. He not only had to immediately make concessions to Zionists and conservatives in appointing his administration, but he had to deal with a legislature that was Republican, and destructively antagonistic towards him.

This is not to excuse Obama, but to portray more the reality of his office, compromised from the start, and hog-tied by reactionary Republicans – and a right-wing Tea Party constituency that tried to make the case that he was a closet Muslim.

However, his daunting presidential challenges aside, the reality on the ground for most of the communities affected by US policy, the direct delivery of Obama’s pre-office promises have been inadequate. These were people who needed relief and they are bitterly disappointed.

Guantanamo – that great moral wart – still remains open, drones still terrorise Pakistan, Israel still builds settlements with impunity, Israel still receives more US aid than Africa and Asia combined, the US still has to acknowledge the ICC, the US still has to lift the anachronistic Cuban embargo, carbon reduction is minimal and covert militarisation, particularly in Africa, continues.

This is what clouds President Obama’s scheduled visit to South Africa, certainly not helped by the DA-dominated Cape Town City Council slavishly awarding the US president – the only person to have been awarded a Nobel Peace prize for doing nothing – the freedom of the city.

These are just some of the issues that have galvanised a very broad spectrum of local civic society organisations from COSATU to the SACP to oppose Obama’s visit, the Muslim Lawyer’s Association going so far as to seek a criminal investigation against him based on the Stanford Report, the Rome Statutes and the Geneva convention.

For the South African government, Obama’s visit is a matter of development, economics and continental security. According to President Zuma, who addressed the media, the US is a major investor with 600 companies operating in the country. Zuma also added that 90% of SA products entered the US market duty-free.

According to economic commentators Obama’s second African visit – also to Senegal and Tanzania – is a belated effort to engage the continent against the background of Chinese dominance. Africa is a rising giant, and as one of the world’s most powerful industrial economies in spite of debt and recession, the US can’t afford to miss the boat.


Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Accused of wanting to combat “anti-Israel activity”: Ebrahim Rasool slams the Jerusalem Post

There is a huge difference between "anti-Israel"
and anti-Semitism.
© Shafiq Morton
Did Sam Sokol, Jewish world affairs and Diaspora reporter for the Jerusalem Post “SA ambassador, Ebrahim Rasool, assures action on anti-Israel activity” get his lines crossed? Or, was it calculated Zionist hasbara?

This is a question, to which only Sokol has the answer, and at the time of writing – a week after filing his story – he had not publicly clarified his position, and nor had his employers, the Jerusalem Post.

In his story (6 June, 2013) he had quoted the SA ambassador to Washington as saying that on completion of his diplomatic tour of duty in the US … “he (Rasool) would commit himself to… combating anti-Israel and anti-Semitic activity (as) a priority”.

These remarks were allegedly made at a breakfast hosted by the ambassador with the Islamic Society for North America (ISNA) and the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding (FFEU), a Jewish-Muslim interfaith group of 10-years standing.

The FFEU is headed by Rabbi Marc Schneier, the charismatic rabbi of the Manhattan synagogue in New York, and vice-president of the World Jewish Congress, an organisation that represents the interests of over 100 Jewish communities world-wide.

The FFEU, in conjunction with ISNA, had been hosting a dialogue on Capitol Hill between Jewish and Muslim representatives from southern hemisphere countries South Africa, New Zealand and Australia. Previous dialogues had been held with European and Latin American communities in 2009 and 2012.

The long-term goal of the FFEU, which has embarked upon a programme of “twinning” mosques and synagogues, is to facilitate a global movement of Jews and Muslims committed to communication, reconciliation and co-operation.

At the breakfast Rasool had re-iterated a theme of the FFEU – endorsed by ISNA president, Imam Mohamed Magid – of Jews and Muslims standing up for each other on matters of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.

The ambassador had also observed that engagement between Muslims and Jews should be based on a rediscovery of the finest values of the Abrahamic tradition. The question was how those who valued peace, justice and mercy carried it over into this doctrinal space, one he said harked back to 1492 in Spain – a time when there had been productive Judeo-Islamic co-existence.

Using the term “human agency”, Rasool said contact should be based on this principle; a principle (of universal empathy) that could solve intractable problems unfettered by base instincts such as security, or who committed the first wrong.

An investigation by Al-Qalam has shown that nowhere in Rasool’s breakfast address did he speak about committing himself to combating “anti-Israel activities” as alleged by Sokol in the Jerusalem Post.

The mischief starts when Sokol’s second paragraph in his article suggestively switches focus by bracketing “anti-Zionist” with “anti-Semitic”, thus neatly associating anti-Semitism with “anti-Israel”.

The ink had hardly dried on the pages before the Jerusalem Post story started to circulate in South Africa. It was picked up in an e-mail by Muhammed Desai of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign.

Accusing Rasool of being a sell-out, and of being out of sync with Muslim and local political sentiment, Desai asserted that the central issue (in Palestine) was not about religion, but human rights.

He insinuated that Rasool did not sufficiently understand this, and cast aspersions upon the credibility of the participants. According to Desai, it was political struggle that brought people together, not faith alone.

Desai, in turn, was criticised by Rasool’s World for All Foundation for blithely accepting the Zionist-friendly, if not reactionary Jerusalem Post, as being a trustworthy source.

When asked by Al-Qalam if Desai had contacted him to verify his statements in the Jerusalem Post, Rasool said he had received no calls.

In an angry letter to Rabbi Schneier (of which Al-Qalam has seen a copy) Rasool vehemently denied the contents of the Jerusalem Post report, complaining that he’d been falsely accused of saying something that was not even discussed.

“…the report is a travesty. I cannot believe it is the intention of the FFEU to destroy the reputation of those Muslims who enter into dialogue with Jews by distorting a complex discussion on inter-faith dialogue into just another sound-byte support of Israel,” he said.

Rasool also objected to the politically-loaded term “moderate”being applied to Muslims, a quote attributed to Rabbi Schneier in Sokol’s report. He said he’d stressed at the breakfast that those choosing the path of non-violence and peace could be “militant”, and not “moderate”.

He’d also observed that no-one in South Africa who’d survived apartheid could ever be immune to the plight of the Palestinians. South Africans, he said, had too “keen a sense” of what it meant for a people to be dispossessed of their land, and rendered strange in a place they called home.

Rasool emphasised that the biggest South African lesson was that you could not fight racism with racism. In the same breath, the anti-dote to the suffering of Palestinians could not be anti-Semitism.

He said he did not warn against extremism in the Muslim community to support Israel, but to prevent the distortion of the Muslim soul – and also what was being done in his name as a Muslim.

In response to Rasool’s letter, Rabbi Schneier apologised for what he also called a “travesty”.

"We were as shocked and as angry as you are and we have made it clear that this news brief was totally false and inaccurate,” he said in a texted message.

Reports in publications such as the Washington Jewish Week and the Forward corroborate that Sokol's interpretation of Rasool’s remarks differ markedly from those portrayed in the other Jewish media.

The Forward, the US’s biggest Jewish media mouthpiece, quoted Rasool as saying that during the anti-apartheid struggle, South African Muslims and Jews had worked together motivated by a common humanity, but that since 1994, the Palestinian situation had dominated the discourse and divided the communities.

This point was observed too by South African Jewish representatives and Rabbi Schneier, who said that South African Muslims were very passionate about Israel, and that rapprochement in post-apartheid South Africa was one of their biggest challenges.