Common Ground Newsbulletin: 18-24 August 2009

Dear HumanDHS network friends

Please find below the Common Ground Newsbulletin 18-24 August 2009.

Kind regards
Brian Ward

Common Ground Newsbulletin

Inside this edition 18 – 24 August 2009

Why a Taliban code of conduct now
by Lawrence Korb
Why did the Taliban recently publish a code of conduct? Former Assistant Secretary of Defense Lawrence Korb considers the answer to this question in light of US President Barack Obama’s new approach to the war in Afghanistan.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009)

Avoiding another Gojra in Pakistan
by Mian Ijaz ul Hassan
Mian Ijaz ul Hassan, chairman of the prime minister’s Task Force for Culture and Heritage in Pakistan, examines the role of religious political parties in Pakistan after the recent rioting that left several Christians dead in Gojra.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009)

Arabs must compel states into action
by Dalila Mahdawi
Dalila Mahdawi, a journalist at the Daily Star in Lebanon, outlines steps that Arab governments and citizens can take to address the social, political and economic problems highlighted in this year’s Arab Human Development Report.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009)

Why the AKP holds the centre in Turkey
by Raymond J. Mas
Freelance writer and editor Raymond J. Mas examines the rise of Turkey’s Justice and Development Party against the backdrop of the country’s turbulent history of coups and divisive politics.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009)

A Muslim American tale in Louisiana: an interview with Dave Eggers
by Wajahat Ali
In this interview with author and editor Dave Eggers, playwright Wajahat Ali explores the circumstances surrounding Eggers’s new book, Zeitoun, featuring a Syrian-American Muslim who risks much to save his neighbours from Hurricane Katrina.
(Source: Goatmilk, 7 August 2009)

Why a Taliban code of conduct now
Lawrence Korb

Washington, DC – On 27 July 2009, about three months after the Obama administration unveiled its new comprehensive strategy for Afghanistan and three weeks before the Afghan presidential election scheduled for 20 August, the Taliban published a book outlining a code of conduct for its members. The book—containing 13 chapters and 67 articles—contains a list of do’s and don’ts, including strict conditions for killing civilians.

While US military officials derided this code of conduct as a propaganda tool and not something the Taliban would actually implement, they missed the key point: the fact that the Taliban felt it necessary to publish such a book at all indicates that they fear that the Obama approach may be working.

As the Taliban’s code correctly notes, the struggle in Afghanistan between the American-led NATO International Security Assistance Force and the Taliban is ultimately a battle for the hearts and minds of the Afghan people. While Afghans initially welcomed the US-led 2001 operation to remove the Taliban from power, they became dismayed as the Bush administration gave overwhelming priority to the war in Iraq and failed to follow through on its promises to provide security, development and reconstruction assistance in Afghanistan.

As Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, remarked in 2007: “In Iraq we do what we must, in Afghanistan we do what we can.” At the time of Mullen’s statement, the United States had 170,000 troops in Iraq, only 30,000 in Afghanistan; was spending $12 billion a month in Iraq and only $2 billion in Afghanistan; and had trained 600,000 Iraqi security forces, but less than 100,000 in Afghanistan.

This lack of attention and resources allowed the Taliban to regroup and retake significant parts of the country, particularly in the south and east, beginning in 2006, while NATO did not have enough troops to remain in the areas it had cleared or had not trained enough Afghan Security Forces to do so. It also made the Afghan people wonder if the United States would abandon them as it did in the 1980s after the Soviets left.

Moreover, when the Taliban retook areas like Musaqila in Helmand province in 2006, they executed and jailed tribal elders for collaborating with the Americans and their allies, thus reinforcing the message that while NATO and the United States might be around for a while, the Taliban are there for the long-term. The US military only compounded the problem by relying increasingly on air power to make up for its lack of troops, which often resulted in significant civilian casualties, further alienating the Afghan people.

President Obama’s decision to implement his campaign promise of giving Afghanistan priority and sending in 20,000 more troops and hundreds more civilian workers, providing significantly more development and reconstruction assistance, and increasing the size of the Afghan Army and police forces, could dramatically change the situation on the ground. This infusion of resources sends the message that the US administration is committed to the Afghans’ welfare for the long haul. It is these changes, not just the defeat of the Taliban, that will win back the hearts and minds of the Afghan people.

To combat these changes the Taliban felt it necessary to transform its image. Rather than relying on violence to intimidate the Afghan population, its leadership issued a code of conduct that urges militants to win the hearts and minds of the local population by limiting suicide attacks, avoiding civilian casualties, not carrying out kidnappings for ransom, and not practicing “discrimination based on tribal roots, language or geographic background.”

We must wait to see whether this code will be fully implemented. In the meantime, US and NATO forces should take comfort in the fact that the Taliban are worried that this new American approach just might work.


* Lawrence Korb is senior fellow at American Progress and a senior adviser to the Center for Defense Information. Dr. Korb served as Assistant Secretary of Defense from 1981 through 1985. This article has appeared in the Sacramento Bee and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Avoiding another Gojra in Pakistan
Mian Ijaz ul Hassan

Lahore – Riots erupted in a village near Gojra in Pakistan’s Punjab province on 31 July when it was alleged that three Christians desecrated pages of the Holy Qur’an at a wedding, claims that the Pakistani police later reported as unfounded. As a result, dozens of houses in an enclave called Christian Town were torched and over a hundred looted and ransacked. Seven men, women and children were burnt alive, and many more wounded.

The Gojra incident is one of the most tragic, shameful and condemnable incidents in Pakistan’s recent history.

According to authorities, extremists from the Swat and Malakand regions of Pakistan masterminded the attacks on the Christian community alongside members of a banned sectarian group, Sipah i Sahaba (Army of the Prophet’s Companions), that had come to Gojra from the organisation’s nearby headquarters.

Shahbaz Bhatti, the Federal Minister for Minorities Affairs, mentioned in a news conference a few days after the riots that the government would compensate the victims and rebuild the burnt houses through the establishment of a special Rs. 200 million ($2.5 million) fund. In addition, over 200 people have been arrested and charged, including the now-dismissed local officials who ignored obvious evidence that the attacks were underway.

One of the problems that has come to light following these attacks is the state’s treatment of religious political parties within Pakistani society. The state provides these religious parties—which have insignificant electoral strength—with more political space than major political parties. The most glaring example of this was during the 2002 elections, when former president General Pervez Musharraf let two religious parties, Jamaat e Islami (Party of Islam) and Jamiat Ulema e Islam (Assembly of Islamic Clergy), form provincial governments in the North-West Frontier Province and Baluchistan, respectively.

The state has traditionally depended on these religious parties to reinforce its hold over the country. For example, these parties’ religious alliance in parliament was instrumental in supporting the 17th Amendment to Pakistan’s constitution in December 2003, paving the way for Musharraf to continue his rule as president.

Religious parties have often played a divisive role in the society and politics of Pakistan by highlighting religious differences between communities and—in the worst cases—inciting violence. Their continuous support of discriminatory laws such as the Blasphemy Law, which is frequently used to try non-Muslims accused of disrespecting the Qur’an, is one such example.

This time the victims were Christian. In the past, Ahmadis, Shia and members of other Muslim sects have been attacked and terrorised in their homes and places of worship. Today, Pakistani citizens must decide whether they stand for rule of law or religious dogmatism.

Non-governmental organisations, such as the Muslim-Christian Federation International and the Interfaith Council of Peace, should strengthen their efforts to enhance tolerance and respect for other faiths. But it is also important for the state to adopt a broad-based strategic policy, including changes to the school syllabi to inculcate tolerance in students and a better understanding of the cultural and religious diversity within Pakistan.

We also need the willing and active support of political parties to educate their supporters on how to rise above prejudice and to be wary of the elements that attempt to create religious tension. Political leaders in the region surely could have mustered sufficient strength to quell the raging mob. After all, an elected leader is supposed to have persuasive skills and handle unruly crowds. If they had done this, the tragedy in Gojra may have been avoided.

The diversity of our nation’s cultures, languages and faiths is not a sign of weakness, but of strength. Without a strong democratic culture that maintains respect for this diversity, a stable and legitimate democracy cannot be ushered into any country.


* Mian Ijaz ul Hassan is a writer, painter and the chairman of the prime minister’s Task Force for Culture and Heritage in Pakistan. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Arabs must compel states into action
Dalila Mahdawi

Beirut – A new report released on 29 July 2009 sponsored by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) has blamed environmental, political, economic and social problems, together with the Middle East’s vulnerability to external occupation or military intervention, for hindering development in the Arab world.

While its conclusion is admittedly nothing novel, the “Arab Human Development Report 2009: Challenges to Human Security in the Arab Countries” has reinvigorated an important debate on who shoulders responsibility for the Arab world’s development and security, or rather, lack of it. The report, written by more than 100 independent and respected Arab intellectuals, suggests Arab governments have failed in their duty to provide their citizens with the security needed to foster strong economies and states.

Lebanon is a key example of an Arab country where the state is virtually ineffectual. Burgeoning civil society and politicised religious groups, as well as the private sector, have emerged from this vacuum to offer services that would normally be provided by the government.

Lebanon’s Hizbullah is one such example, which explains its enormous popularity. It was, after all, Hizbullah—not the ill-equipped Lebanese Armed Forces—that drove Israel to end its occupation of the South in 2000, and it is Hizbullah, not the Lebanese state, that today provides healthcare, political representation, housing and other social services to its marginalised Shia constituency.

If Arab nations want to curtail the popular support currently afforded the region’s numerous political-Islam and sub-state organisations, they must show that their governments can be relied upon to provide basic services, that state institutions can represent and that the army can protect.

Employment is one especially critical area where Arab governments must act to ensure the security of their people. According to the report, a staggering 60 per cent of the Arab world is under 25 years of age. In the year 2005/6 some 30 per cent of young Arabs were unemployed, compared to a world rate of 14 per cent. Unemployment and economic hardship drives the Arab world’s best brains abroad, and pushes others into informal, insecure jobs or into the clutches of radicalisation. Young Arabs must often settle for jobs for which they are overqualified and badly paid.

One reason for the region’s embarrassing unemployment rate is the stagnation of the Arab economy. According to statistics given in the report, there has been hardly any economic growth in the region since 1980: “World Bank data show that real GDP per capita … grew by a mere 6.4 percent over the entire 24 year period from 1980 to 2004”, a woeful figure that doesn’t even correspond to 0.5 per cent annually.

Arab states must engage with such growing sectors as information technology, Islamic banking and responsible tourism to identify job creation opportunities if they wish to secure sustainable growth and provide economic opportunities to their citizens. The richer oil-producing Arab nations could further support the regional economy by investing in Arab stock markets, cultural projects or other long-term endeavours closer to home. With the UN estimating Arab countries will “need about 51 million new jobs by 2020”, no time can be lost in implementing such measures.

While the contributions of Arab non-governmental groups toward reform must be commended and even strengthened, reform is a responsibility that must be taken up primarily by the state. Non-governmental organisations have laid the groundwork for the region’s fight against gender discrimination, climate change, and political and judicial impunity. Arab states must now build upon that foundation.

Not only must the governments of the Arab world assume their responsibilities, Arab citizens must hold their leaders to account. In Lebanon, a minute country with a population of around 4.5 million, people are not even ensured reliable supplies of electricity or running water 24 hours a day. Hopefully, the dire facts presented in this UNDP report will spark the necessary outrage of Arab citizens to compel their governments into action. Continuing silence over the region’s shortcomings is tantamount to an endorsement of the status quo.

Ultimately, however, the security of Arabs depends on lasting Middle East peace. So long as the livelihoods of millions of Palestinians, Iraqis, Sudanese, Somalis, Yemenis and others are threatened by occupation or conflict, political, economic and social reform will be of little immediate significance to Arabs.


* Dalila Mahdawi is a journalist at The Daily Star, Lebanon’s only English-language daily newspaper. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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Why the AKP holds the centre in Turkey
Raymond J. Mas

Washington, DC – Turkey has been plagued with multiple unwieldy coalition governments whose divisiveness has sparked regular military intervention. To understand the dynamics at the heart of Turkey’s current political landscape, and how the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has established itself at the political centre, one has to go back to the roots of republican Turkey and the vision of its founder, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.

The Turkish nation owes its existence to the powerful personality of Ataturk (whose name means “Father of the Turks”), the military hero who rescued a broken and dispirited people from the abyss of the Ottoman Empire’s calamitous dissolution at the end of World War I.

While Ataturk devised a state that had a liberal constitution, he viewed party politics with suspicion and distrust, feeling that any real opposition would endanger his sweeping reforms.

Moreover, Ataturk plainly viewed religion as antithetical to progress. Marginalising religion has thus been among the guiding principles of Turkish secularists, including the military, which views itself as the guardian of the secularist civic ethic “Kemalism”, even though constitutionally it is meant to be non-partisan.

But the military was all but compelled to enter politics in the post-World War II era, when Turkey descended into political chaos and economic misery as a result of the political vacuum created by its quarrelling leaders, and never completely withdrew. Today it sits on the National Security Council that in effect makes it a permanent partner in any government.

This long period of unstable politics ended when the late Turgut Ozal became the prime minister in 1983. He is considered by many to be Turkey’s most influential leader since Ataturk, and is still a popular figure in Turkey.

Ozal, who had Kurdish roots, saw no contradiction between religion and modernity and sought to integrate religion into civic culture in a way similar to the United States. In January 1991, as President, his cabinet approved the deletion of three articles from the penal code that had banned politics on the basis of class or religion.

In this new climate, religion found a way to make its mark in a new, openly democratic political system and as a direct result, religious parties were formed.

In 1997 Turkey’s first female prime minister, Tansu Ciller, cut a power-sharing deal with an Islamic political party, the predecessor to the current AKP. But in yet another of Turkey’s coups, the military brought down that government. Thus, the chance for a religion-based party to prove itself was destroyed.

But a succession of weak governments plagued by scandals, spiralling inflation and political squabbles, coupled with the arrival of a younger generation of political Islamic leaders in the style of the European Christian Democrats, set the stage for the astonishing comeback of the AKP.

Today the secular parties, fractured by personality-driven cliques, are unable to field a unity candidate who can effectively challenge the AKP’s leadership. Large numbers of secular parties’ voters feel they have been denied an effective political voice. The danger is that they will turn to the military to do what their politicians cannot do and wrest control from the AKP through force, as suggested by recent revelations concerning the so-called Ergenekon secular group, accused of conspiring to overthrow the government.

In view of this, does Turkey have a future in stable centrist politics?

Currently, the AKP seems to be playing the closest role to a centrist party. The decline of the left-of-centre Republican People’s Party, and of right-of-centre parties such as True Path Party and Motherland Party, means that there are no serious rivals to the AKP for the time being. Ultimately, the chief threat to AKP’s dominance—if left unchecked—may be the AKP itself, and the temptation to overreach its political bounds as a result of its increasing popularity.

The AKP has gained support from a broad spectrum of voters who have been won over by its economic and social reforms, in addition to the personal charisma of its leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Its strong EU accession policy has helped to counter claims that it would tilt its policies away from the West. What is essential for the AKP—and the country as a whole—is to continue in this centrist direction and move beyond the divisiveness of the past.


* Raymond J. Mas is a freelance writer and editor. He lived in Turkey for four years and continues to make regular visits to the country. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 August 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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A Muslim American tale in Louisiana: an interview with Dave Eggers
Wajahat Ali

Fremont, California – The Arab name “Zeitoun” does not immediately conjure up the image of a quintessential American hero. However, in celebrated author and editor Dave Eggers’s new non-fiction book Zeitoun, the protagonist, Syrian-American Muslim Abdulrahman Zeitoun, proudly exhibits the best of America’s virtues. Zeitoun emerges as a fearless Good Samaritan who stays behind in his hometown of New Orleans, Louisiana during the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina in August 2005 to selflessly help his neighbours.

Despite his heroic efforts, his own government falsely suspects Zeitoun and his friends of robbery after noticing them on one of Zeitoun’s rental properties. The Federal Emergency and Management Agency (FEMA) subsequently arrests the men with force, accuses them of being part of the Taliban and Al Qaeda, and brutally detains them for weeks. In this interview, Dave Eggers discusses the amazing journey of Zeitoun and his family.

How and why did you become involved in this fantastic story about a Muslim American family that endures tragedy and discrimination with hope and resilience?

Dave Eggers: I am an editor for a non-profit book series called Voice of Witness, in which oral history is used to explore human rights crises. The second book in the series was about Katrina and the people neglected before and after the storm.

One of the stories in the book was about the Zeitoun family. Those of us responsible for Voice of Witness approached the idea of turning his story, and the story of the Zeitoun family as a whole, into a book. In late 2006, we decided to undertake this project.

Do you believe stories like this create a bridge of understanding so that people like Abdulrahman’s arresting officers slowly realise that even the Muslim Zeitouns are citizens of America?

I think stories are the way to do it. In the first 70 or so pages of the book—before the storm, before we first feel the winds of Katrina—I was seeking to just tell a story about an all-American family that happens to be Muslim.

I think it’s kind of startling that even though since 9/11 there has been a constant examination of Islam in the American media, asking questions like, “Who are Muslims?” and “What do they want?”, there is still an incredible amount of ignorance and misunderstanding about this community.

Reading the Qur’an was so illuminating. I was able to find a wonderful translation by Laleh Bakhtiar, and it opened me up to the beauty of the faith in a way that no interpretation of the text had before. And, of course, in the book you find, very clearly, Islam’s dedication to social justice, to peace and to the less fortunate.

Abdulrahman has so many motivations to help others in need: his faith, his sense of duty as a neighbour and an American, and his desire to honour his brother Mohammed’s memory. When he’s unjustly incarcerated, he questions himself and wonders if it was his hubris and ego that forced him to stay behind when others were evacuating the area. Why do you think he did it?

First of all, you can’t shake this guy or scare him. He’s seen a lot, having travelled the world on merchant ships. He’s seen many storms and he remembers being on Arwad Island off the Syrian Coast where his grandmother lived when it flooded.

He is a guy who believes in destiny and that there exists a master plan. He thought, “This is God’s will and I’ve been put here for a reason.” When the story gets to the hubris part, well, once you’re locked up, you have a lot of time to contemplate. That’s when Zeitoun thought back, “Did I misunderstand my place?”

That’s where the story of his brother Mohammed intersects, who was one of the most famous Syrian swimmers in history. So Abdulrahman has a lot to live up to, and a lot of his siblings felt the same way, too. I think that was in his mind when I wrote about him paddling around, thinking, “This is my chance to live up to the Zeitoun name.”

Despite the Hurricane Katrina tragedy and the injustice of it all, his family ultimately emerges from this ordeal very hopeful. You and the Zeitoun family have started the Zeitoun Foundation, a non-profit organisation created to help the victims of Katrina and citizens of Louisiana.

From the beginning, I told them I wouldn’t be paid and I would not benefit from their story in any material way. I just felt that the money should go directly to non-profits and families that need it. The Zeitoun Foundation will be a lean organisation, one that simply acts as a conduit to donate proceeds from the book to specific charities, including the Muslim American Society, Islamic Relief and Rebuilding Together, which helps return evacuees to their homes in New Orleans. Tangible and beneficial results can be achieved, which allows the Zeitouns to feel that something good came from their suffering.


* Wajahat Ali ( ) is an attorney and a playwright whose work, The Domestic Crusaders, was the first major play about Muslim Americans living in post-9/11 America. This abridged article is distributed by the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) with permission from the author. The full text can be found at

Source: Goatmilk, 7 August 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.

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