What should we do with Confederate Heroes?

If you are a Yankee, the recent steps in New Orleans to remove public statues of Robert E. Lee and other Confederate heroes seem appropriate and obvious. The defeat of Lee and the Southern secessionists fighting the Northern states to preserve slavery represented an important victory for American values. But if we repudiate Lee and his confederate friends how should we approach the slave owning first President, George Washington, or the third President, Thomas Jefferson, who owned slaves as well, or the racist 28th President, Woodrow Wilson, who was quoted defending the KKK. It is a serious and important, but not simple, issue.

You could say that I was the equivalent of a Yankee when I was working in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan in 1992-3. In fact, I was indeed a Yankee (“a person who lives in, or is from, the US”). I visited both newly independent, former Soviet Republics six times during those two years with my IMF team of central banking experts. The excited and somewhat bewildered people of these countries were debating what they should do with the many, and sometimes gigantic, statues of Joseph Stalin and Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov). They knew that they would have to live with the Socialist Realist statues and art of the USSR, not to mention the architecture of public buildings, for a longer time, just as we continue to endure the horrible architecture of the 1960s. But could they, should they, have to continue looking at Stalin, the second most deadly ruler in human history. Stalin was responsible for the deaths of 40 million people (mostly Russians), ahead of the 30 million deaths under Hitler’s leadership of Germany, but behind the 60 million (mostly Chinese) who died from torture or starvation under the rule of Mao Zedong.

Between my first visit to Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan (we visited them back to back and were flown in and out in private jets) in April 1992 and my second visit in July-August any remaining portraits of Stalin in public buildings had been removed, as were the smaller public statues. And plans were underway to remove the large ones. The removal of Stalin was a relatively easy call. Lenin was a more difficult issue, rather like George Washington if Washington had gone out of favor. Lenin was the founding leader of the Soviet Union (the Chairman of the Council of Ministers) and of the Russian Soviet Federative Socialist Republic that preceded it. He was the political theorist who transformed Marxism into the government structures and policies that we knew as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan were two of those republics. Lenin continued to be respected if not revered in 1992. My personal interpreter, Steve Lang, photographed as many Lenin statues as he could, suspecting that they would not be around long. Virtually every village had at least one.

As you can see in the picture below a huge portrait of Lenin (about 20 feet tall) still hung in the background of the main auditorium in the National Bank of Kyrgyzstan during our first visit there in April 1992. In the picture we were meeting with the staff of the NBK to report on our recommendations and work plan. I am presenting the Governor of the NBK, Kemelbek Nanayev, with my Adam Smith tie (the image of Smith’s head appears throughout the tie) and Governor Nanayev was reciprocating by giving me his own tie. Our Russian interpreter from Moscow was looking on and so was Lenin. When we returned three and a half months later, the Lenin portrait had been removed.

TieExchange

But Lenin did not disappear as quickly in some other places. He remained on the wall of the Chief Accountant of the National Bank of Kazakhstan, Ms. Abdulina, for some time. Ms. Abdulina was, I would guess, in her early 60s and was very bright and forward looking. After explaining to her the new accounting needs as the NBK issued its own currency and undertook its own monetary policy, she moved quickly to set up a team of young accountants (they were all women) to receive her training in producing a daily balance sheet to reflect bank deposits with the NBK and more broadly what we call reserve money (the monetary liabilities of the central bank). She said that it would be a waste of time trying to retrain the older more senior ones. I liked and respected her very much, but she would not remove Lenin from her office wall. In fact, she never did. On my final visit with the IMF in March 1994 (I have been back many times since under other auspices), Ms. Abdulina had been moved into a new, larger office. Lenin was not displayed on her new office wall. She never had to deliberately remove him from her office wall but now her office was free of him—a very clever finesse.

Lenin was not as directly responsible for the death of millions as was Stalin, but is hardly a lovable character to those of us who grew up in the west. According to George Orwell, Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol… was read to Lenin on his deathbed and according to his wife, he found its ‘bourgeois sentimentality’ completely intolerable.” Why Socialists Don’t Believe In Fun Dec. 1943. Nonetheless Soviet citizens had grown up seeing him as the great founder of their country and many could not let go of that easily.

The United States and especially, but not exclusively, its Southern States are now facing the same issue. Should earlier heroes, whose actions or values are now condemned, be removed from the public square?

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu defended his plan to remove Confederate monuments across the city in a speech earlier this month:

“These statues are not just stone and metal. They’re not just innocent remembrances of a benign history. These monuments celebrate a fictional, sanitized Confederacy — ignoring the death, ignoring the enslavement, ignoring the terror that it actually stood for….

“There is a difference between remembrance of history and reverence of it.  For America and New Orleans, it has been a long, winding road, marked by great tragedy and great triumph. But we cannot be afraid of our truth….

“Last year, President Barack Obama echoed these sentiments about the need to contextualize and remember all of our history…. Remember President Bush’s words, “A great nation does not hide its history. It faces its flaws and corrects them….”

We are removing these statues, “Because we are one nation, not two; indivisible with liberty and justice for all, not some.”

I was blown away by the Mayor’s wonderful speech and urge you to read all of it: New Orleans mayor Landrieu’s address on confederate monuments

Among the statues removed were those of Robert E. Lee and Jefferson Davis about which Mayor Landrieu said: “It is self-evident that these men did not fight for the United States of America, They fought against it. They may have been warriors, but in this cause they were not patriots.”

What should we and other countries do when past heroes cease to deserve or have our respect? They are, after all, part of our history. The first principle, as articulated by Obama, Bush W, and Mayor Landrieu, is that that history should be told and understood honestly. The second principle is that historical actors should be understood and judged in the context in which they acted.

George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were slave owners in a time in which that was accepted and common as horrible and unacceptable as we see it and know it today. They were otherwise men of great wisdom and courage who deserve our respect. Robert E. Lee inherited slaves but freed them before the Civil War was over. However, he led a war against his country and fought to preserve the institution of slavery. Many former Soviet Republics moved their statues of Lenin and Stalin to historical parks outside of the towns they had occupied where their history could be told honestly and in the context of their time. The statues of Robert E Lee, Jefferson Davis, and P.G.T. Beauregard will also be relocated away from the heart of New Orleans. I find this to be an appropriate resolution to the pain their presence brought to many of today’s residence of this fascinating city.

 

Cayman Financial Review, Q3 2015

Dear Friends,

The Third Quarter issue of the Cayman Financial Review is now available on the web: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/. I am on the Editorial Board and have two articles in this issue that might interest you. The first discusses the continued decline of U.S. world leadership exemplified in the case of the new Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank located in China: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/08/19/US-leadership-and-the-Asian-Infrastructure-Investment-Bank/

The second is the final installment of my series on the Kabul Bank scandal. The failure of Kabul Bank in Afghanistan was probably the biggest bank failure and fraud in history on a per capital basis.  As this final article looks at some of the legal issues and developments in recovering stolen assets held abroad and Afghanistan’s uneven struggle to strengthen its criminal justice system, Gary Gegenheimer, a lawyer who also worked in Afghanistan, joined me to write this third installment: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/08/19/The-Kabulbank-scandal–Part-III/

I hope that you enjoy them.

Best wishes,

Warren

The Cayman Financial Review

I have three articles in the latest issue of the quarterly Cayman Financial Review, on whose editorial board I serve. The first is the Letter from the Editorial Board, which explores my thoughts on restoring more market discipline of bank risk taking rather than piling on more government regulations: http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/04/22/Changing-direction-on-bank-regulation/ The second is the second installment of The Kabul Bank Scandal series, http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/04/22/The-Kabulbank-Scandal–Part-II/   And the third is my review of Martin Wolf’s new book, “Shifts and Shocks.”   http://www.compasscayman.com/cfr/2015/04/22/%E2%80%9CThe-Shifts-and-the-Shocks%E2%80%9D-by-Martin-Wolf/ If any of these topics interest you please click on its link.

Afghan President Ghani’s attack on corruption?

The Comptroller General of Da Afghanistan Bank, Afghanistan’s central bank, has been sitting in jail since October 8 along with 3 DAB colleagues as part of President Ghani’s attack on corruption. What has he done, asked the two young children of this young 32-year-old rising Afghan star? Muhammad Qaseem Rahimi was one of 21 Afghans convicted on March 6, 2013 by a Special Tribunal appointed by President Karzai for crimes associated with the Kabul Bank fraud, by which Afghanistan’s largest bank channeled virtually all of its almost one billion U.S dollars worth of depositor money to a handful of its owners and their friends.

Kabul Bank’s founder Sher Khan Farnod and his former bodyguard and later Kabul Bank CEO Khalil Ferozi received light sentences of five years in prison and were asked to repay 279 million, 531 million respectively. Mahmood Karzai, one of the President’s brothers and the third largest shareholder got off scot free having repaid part of what he had “borrowed” and claiming that he did not need to repay the loan he received to buy his shares (illegal in itself) because the shares were now worthless!!! These two primary perpetrators of this crime, as well as the other 19 appealed their convictions. Farnod and Ferozi have repaid nothing and have been seen dinning around Kabul ever since. In one of his first acts as President, Ashraf Ghani, a former World Bank employee, ordered: the Supreme Court to get on with the case, the confiscation of stolen assets, the prosecution of accomplices, and the immediate incarceration of those convicted pending the resolution of their appeals. Justice finally on the move? Perhaps.

At the time of Kabul bank’s collapse four years ago, young Qaseem had just recently been appointed Deputy Director General of the central bank’s Supervision Department. As one of a group of young Afghan university graduates recruited to the central bank for special mentoring under a highly successful USAID capacity building program, Qaseem, a natural leader, rose rapidly within DAB. I frequently saw him standing in the middle of an admiring circle of his peers. As a Tajik of about 5’10’’ he towered over his much shorter Pashtun colleagues making him seem taller than he really is. After his two year mentoring appointment he left DAB and Kabul for graduate studies in Kuala Lumpur. Upon his return he pondered his options for a clearly bright future and with some hesitation (and some urging from me) returned to the central bank. He had hoped for a directorship but instead was offered the position of Deputy Director General of the Supervision Department. So what crime had he committed for which he now sits in jail?

The Special Tribunal found Qaseem as well as the Governor of the central bank, Abdul Fitrat, and its First Deputy Governor, Mohibullah Safi, both of whom have now fled the country, and five other DAB employees guilty of dereliction of duty. They had failed to detect and report the cleaver fraud perpetrated by Farnod and Ferozi. Though hard working and intelligent, at 28 years old Qaseem naturally lacked the experience of seasoned banking supervisors, who would have had great difficulty detecting this fraud as well. The central bank law like those in most every other country protects its employees from prosecution for acts committed in the good faith exercise of their duties.

At least two questions leap out immediately. How could the central bank staff have been charged and convicted in the first place and why haven’t their appeals been heard until now?

It is widely believed in the international community that the charges and convictions against the central bank governor and his staff were President Karzai’s retaliation for the embarrassment caused when Governor Fitrat disclosed the names of Kabulbank shareholders and borrowers in public testimony in Parliament on April 21, 2011. The names included one of Karzai’s brothers and one of Vice President Fahim’s brothers. Governor Fitrat resigned and fled the country for the United States soon thereafter for his safety. In a normal country these vengeful convictions would have been thrown out promptly but sadly Afghanistan and especially its judiciary is one of the most corrupt in the world.

But why Qaseem and his colleagues are still sitting in jail is harder to answer. If President Ghani wishes to move away from rule by Presidential fiat, as seems the case, he is right to adhere to established procedures as painful as they are. But jailing those convicted pending the consideration of their appeal is almost unheard of in other countries, though it is satisfying to see Farnod and Ferozi finally behind bars. An honest judiciary would have thrown out the convictions of the central bank employees long ago. Let’s hope they finally do so quickly now.

My Prayers for Afghanistan

As of today (Monday September 29, 2014) Afghanistan has a new government headed by two very capable men, Ashraf Ghani, President, and Abdullah Abdullah, Chief Executive, of a new unity government. It is the first democratic change of government in Afghanistan’s history. It was not easy for Afghanistan to get to this place, and it is not clear whether the compromise, unity government, will hold together and work constructively together. The election, though bravely participated in by a large majority of Afghan people, was messy. And Afghanistan has a long way to go to achieve the norms of a peaceful, just, and prosperous 21st century country.

The best organization of the governance of Afghanistan’s ethnic and tribal groups (Pashtun, Tajik, Hazara, Uzbek, Aimak, Turkmen, Baloch, Pashai, Nuristani, Sadat, Gujjar, Arab, Brahui, Pamiri, etc.), if there is a “best,” is still evolving. The traditional ways of tribal life need to adjust to the standards of liberal democracies, which provide more space for individual expression and diversity and govern interactions under the rule of law. It is not easy today for the single breadwinner of an extended family to explain why he is not able to provide a job for his nephew, for which the nephew is not qualified. Merit based employment and promotion are among the concepts upon which the well-being of modern economies depend.

But Afghanistan faces more difficult challenges. The deadly insurgency of a relatively small band of terrorists (Taliban), who wrap their vicious immorality in the name of Islam (to the shame of real Muslims), continues and must be contained to the more manageable level of criminality that every society sadly must deal with. Afghanistan also suffers from the serious cancer of corruption, which has been feed and nurtured by the billions of dollars of foreign financial aid given with the aim of fighting the Taliban and establishing modern, liberal institutions. This is a paradox, not unlike over medicating a human cancer patient. The flow of foreign money is a magnet that attracts and feeds corruption, but without it the patient is likely to die. The over medication must be reduced, but finding the right balance will not be easy.

Afghanistan’s new President promises to give the fight against corruption, which will be long and hard at best, his highest priority. Referring to Sherkhan Farnood and Khalilullah Ferozi, the founders of Kabulbank, which had quickly grown to be Afghanistan’s largest bank when it collapsed in 2010 when the public and the authorities discovered that they had lent virtually all of its almost one billion U.S. dollars worth of deposits to themselves, Ghani stated that: “I will prosecute the two culprits. This will be the first sign that I am not going to tolerate impunity,” he said. “The Afghan public is sick and tired of corruption, we are not going to revive the economy without tackling corruption root, stock and branch.” I pray that he succeeds. Few things are as important for Afghanistan’s future than dramatically reducing corruption.

The hope for a better future for Afghanistan, however, rests, as always, with its young. I have worked in many struggling countries and have always met a few dedicated and intelligent people there. However, Afghanistan is blessed with a large number of unusually talented young men and women determined to make their country a better place. The extensive corruption over their heads will make that difficult. For some, the pressures and temptations of such ill-gotten wealth will overcome their nobler ideals. But I am praying that enough of these fine young people will be strong enough to persevere in their commitment to the rule of law and a better society. Their battle has not been and will not be easy. But I have been impressed by their determination and commitment to what is right. It has been a great pleasure to work with them. While Afghanistan’s new leaders will be able to send Afghanistan in a better direction if they choose to, my hope for this beautiful country rests with the new generation now moving up through its institutions.

An Afghan view

Burhanuddin Rabbani was the President of Afghanistan from 1992 – 96.  After the fall of the Taliban regime, he served temporarily as President from Nov to Dec 20, 2011, until the International Conference on Afghanistan in Bonn chose Hamid Karzai for that position. He was assassinated in his home in Kabul on September 20, 2011 by a suicide bomber. One of his sons, Shuja, a former Deputy Director General of the Financial Supervision Department of Da Afghanistan Bank (the central bank of Afghanistan), was in his father’s house at the time of the assassination. He posted the following on his FACEBOOK page today (September 29):

Afghan elections buzz is on full swing. Twitter wars have begun, social media propaganda is on full scale, ethnic cards are being thrown at your face, and I couldn’t be bothered to get involved. I never voted, I don’t intend to vote, but if you believe in democracy, then go ahead and rock your vote and I wish you all the very best!

All I can say to the youth is that if you’re not happy with the choice of the future President of #Afghanistan, remember that not enough of you voted. If the votes are rigged like last time, maybe you should join Anonymous and start a revolution. Or maybe not. Maybe you should just leave the country for dreams of a better life and never return. Some say the next President has to be someone who is given the “stamp of approval” by President Karzai. Remember that President Karzai is not some Godfather. Power was given to him and power can be just as easily taken back from him. Pashtun or Tajik, it doesn’t matter because as a nation, we’ve never really had respect for any of the Presidents or Heads of State so why play the ethnic game?

At times, I really do think we’re in denial about living in two-countries-in-one like the Iraqi Kurdistan and the rest of Iraq. But dare I mention anything on officially separating Afghanistan’s North from the South and drawing official borders and pay whatever price it takes to get ourselves the peace we’re looking for, I’m bound to be labelled a racist, a fascist, a slave of Pakistan, a slave of Iran, a slave of USA, this, that, and everything in-between.

If you want to call me names, go for it. Go ahead and label me. It’s just another label. I’ve lived my whole life hearing all kinds of criticisms thrown at us. From freedom-fighting Mujahidin heroes to warlords and war criminals, I’ve heard it all before. In the end, when you’re done wasting your time and energy, I’ll still be here – just like all the others before me. Afghanistan is a strange country: from the weakest to the strongest of leaders, we’ve never given our leaders the respect they deserve.

If the youth of Afghanistan is waiting for an Afghani Nelson Mandela, guess what? It will never happen. Learn from what you’ve had before, make best use of what you have today, and create your own tomorrow. And when Afghanistan becomes a civilized country, that’s when I’ll decide to return. If not, I’m pretty sure I’m not missing anything and I make no apologies for it.

The weekend in Kabul

Friday is the “weekend” in Muslim countries. Thursday afternoons people (who have jobs) tend to leave early. This Thursday our IMF team scheduled no outside meetings in order to work in the Guesthouse on drafting our report. Around 2:00 pm I decided to stop fighting my drowsiness and take a short nap. As I was about to stretch out on my bed, I heard a loudspeaker announce: “Duck and cover, duck and cover. Stay away from windows” which was repeated several times. I was too sleeping not to nap but decided to lie down on the floor next to the bed so as to be out of sight of the window, which in any event has shatter proof glass.

I had invited Scott Brown, now with USAID here in Kabul, for dinner at the Guesthouse for Thursday evening. Scott and I had first met in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1996. We had both worked in Kosovo and Iraq as IMF staff as well. When the Canal Hotel (UN headquarters) in Baghdad was bombed in 2003, which started the deterioration of security in Iraq, Scott was seriously injured and largely lost the use of one of his arms. During dinner I mentioned the Duck and Cover announcement during the afternoon and he explained that it was the weekly practice drill at the U.S. Embassy (a few blocks away).

Today, Friday, is a beautiful sunny day. I was able to take an afternoon break from our work to sit out in the yard and smoke one of the Cuban cigars given to me by the Swiss National Bank (SNB) the previous week following a twenty year anniversary of the Swiss membership in the IMF and participation in its technical assistance program. The SNB’s first undertaking with IMF technical assistance was my mission to Kyrgyzstan and the National Bank of the Kyrgyz Republic in 1992. I was join for cigars by three other members of our team before we returned to the drafting of our report, suspending our work at midnight until tomorrow morning (good night).

Some Afghan views on restrictions on women in the name of Islam

Most non-Muslim American’s, myself included, know relatively little about Islam. Unfortunately, what we do hear often comes from Muslim radicals, or anti Muslim hate mongers. I find it very interesting and enlightening to listen to discussions of Islamic teachings among Muslims. I belong to the Afghan Intellectuals Network on Facebook, which gives me a very good opportunity to listen in to such discussions among young Afghans (I snuck in with an age waver). You will get a very different picture of Islam in a very traditional society than you are likely to find in the American media. The following discussion was provoked by the announcement reported in the following newspaper article. I find the sharply conflicting views absolutely fascinating and hope that you do too. You might also be interested in my earlier blog on “Shariah and America” and comments on that blog:   “Comments on Shariah and America” 

President defends scholars’ guideline regarding women

by Mir Agha Samimi  Mar 6, 2012 – 16:18

KABUL (PAN): President Hamid Karzai on Tuesday said a guideline concerning women issued by the Afghanistan Ulema Council, involving the country’s top religious scholars, was in accordance with the Sharia.

Issued on Feb. 2, the guideline prohibits women from meeting men in public places like bazaars, offices and educational institutes. It said women, while travelling, must always be accompanied by male guardians.

But western media reports quoted some people as saying that the guideline was in conflict with the Constitution and amounted to curbing women’s right.

At a news conference in Kabul, Karzai said: “The Ulema Council, which issues a guideline every month, has in fact supported women in line with Islamic laws.”

Last Friday, the president added, the scholars handed out a statement that supported women’s stance in keeping with Islamic values. “It represents the country’s Islamic viewpoint and all Muslims of Afghanistan are bound to respect it.”

Wazhma Sadat  I am working on ways to stop the Ulema from making it illegal for women to travel. Inbox me if you want to work with me! You don’t have to be a woman, an Afghan, or a Muslim to disagree with this. This law is taking the most basic rights from women: the right to education. In a country with such limited resources, we travel thousands of miles away to gain education, so our kids won’t see the violence we’re used to today. And this law, if passed, will limit every sliver of hope we’ve built so far. If we’re talking about Islamic law, then the most respected Mullahs of Afghanistan need to learn the Sunnah of the prophet first, which includes respecting women, including women in the high-level decision-making process, and more importantly, the Fard (obligatory duty for every Muslim) of education for both men and women.

This post received 64 comments. Here are a few of the more interesting ones

M. Ishaq Ahmadzai So, Wazhma jan..what do you want to get from this? Are you interested in challenging the law/religion. Islam does allow in certain cases when there are no options available. A woman can give birth to a child in the presence of male doctor but only if there is no gynecologist.

Wazhma Sadat I guess I am just hoping that our so-called Ulama learn about the real facts of Islam before imposing their own racial, gender, ethnic based agendas in the name of Islam. Islam, Alhamdulellah, is much more fair that what we practice in the name of it in Afghanistan. I am Muslim. I live Islam. I wouldn’t challenge it. But I do challenge thoughtless, and baseless rules on vulnerable people of our country. If the government wants me to stop studying in another country because I am not traveling with a mahram, then they should pay for my father to come live with me. AND they should guarantee for my father to get a US visa, as well. These rulings are pathetic: totally political to suppress women, and minorities in many cases. We live in a society where we call each other Kafir! In Islam Takfeer is haram. But look at how we address different sects of Islam within the country. The Ulema should talk about eradicating opium production, corruption, ethnic based discrimination. They should educate us men and women of Afghanistan to have mutual respect to each other. But look at what they choose to talk about. A woman’s traveling alone has not created the mess we are in now. The Ulema’s baseless rulings have!

Please don’t think that I am pro seeing women in tight shirts and jeans in Kabul. I respect my culture and religion as much as anybody else. But I want the Ulema to understand the importance of education. AND the importance of women’s education, which would be hurt really badly by this rule.

Ali Sher Learn the importance of education at what cost ? I’m sure they have good reasons. We have to give them the benefit of doubt. We really do not know or do not have enough information as to what’s really going on in Afghanistan. All we see is what’s on Afghan TV and what I see is that things are getting worse and worse as the years are getting closer to DOJ.

Wazhma Sadat We do have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt, including the women in Afghanistan. Not every woman who meets someone outside is dating. Innamal A’mal bennyyat. And ONLY Allah subhanahu ta’alla knows our intentions. Many women have had to work outside to support their dying family members. I don’t think every woman who talks to a man is wanting to attract the man. Remember the times that women came to the prophet and asked him questions, very openly.

Plus, we have lived the worst days in Afghanistan, not those who are in authority right now, including our president. He did not suffer poverty like all average Afghans did and still do. He did not see his wife get beaten in front of men on the streets by the Taliban for wearing white tumbaan. His female relatives did/do not have to choose prostitution to bring food to their family. Nor did any of these Ulema go through what an average Afghan goes through everyday. Do they think of the widows of our country? Do they think of the daughters who want to make their fathers proud… who want to help their ill mother gain better health? What about this is un-islamic?

True, we are getting close to yawm ul Qiyyama [The Day Of Resurrection – Day of Judgement], and I see the signs too. The signs include the hypocrisy of these people who discriminate everyone who is not like them. I see the signs when these ulama don’t talk about the hadith/Quran verses that talk about MEN lowering their gaze, but only impose laws on women. A society is never made sustainable if you have rules only imposed on a particular part of it. We know better what is going on in Afghanistan than those people who spend their weekends in Dubai.

Why don’t these Ulama remember Bibi Ayesha, Bibi Fatima, Bibi Rabia (who was the first person to introduce God’s love in Islam to the rest of the world). Did prophet Muhammad ever tell any woman not to go to school? Did he EVER force his wives to do anything? Anything?

In fact, what we call “dating” today, is allowed in Islam in certain circumstances like if we have the intention to marry the person and if we are meeting in a public place and if there is at least a third person present. What is not allowed is to force girls to get married before seeing the man (usually the old guy who is ‘buying’ a bride). This happens in Afghanistan and it IS un-Islamic. Think about it. For once, put yourself in an Afghan girl’s position, please.
Gaining education is fard in Islam. The Ulama and the gov. should be MORE islamic and build schools and make it MANDATORY for EVERY Afghan man and WOMAN to go to school BECAUSE it is Fard (like praying). They should make it illegal for people to stay illiterate, because amokhtan ilm ba hard wa zan musulman farz ast. The reason why we travel is not because we love leaving our families, and we love being at mercy of other people and countries. The reason why we travel is because our parents are not ministers to pay the bribe it requires to get into to Kabul University.

These are the signs I see and fear. I am saddened that Islam is not practiced the way it should be in Afghanistan, where women are respected, where corruption is non-existent, where education is at its peak, where hypocrisy has no room to live. This is the Islam I know of and I live for, Inshallah. The life in Afghanistan seems so far away from what I believe Islam is.

Wazhma Sadat

1: what the Taliban did was crimes against humanity. Not Islam AT ALL. I wouldn’t use the word “impose” here, since it has a diplomatic connotation. The Taliban were very far from anything close to that. And they still are.
2: Yes women get raped in the west, but who is comparing US with Afghanistan? The problems in other countries should not be the reason why we could justify our society’s flaws.
3: “We need to bring our women back to Islam so they can raise children that grow up to respect women and give them their rights. Our women are more and more involved each day in music, drama, movies, etc., etc.”?? — I am speechless. I think we need to bring our MEN back to Islam. Make them stop going to prostitutes and increasing the demand for such a terrible and un-Islamic practice. Make them stop harassing women.

Music, drama and movies have not been the problem in our history. I wish there were more movies if that kept us away from fighting with each other based on ethnicity, or if it kept us away from suicide bombing and other forms of crimes. Plus, if we watched movies like The Message, we would learn more about Islam than what our so-called, mostly illiterate Ulama have to offer.
4: dating in the west could mean whatever. Meeting with a non-mahram can be permissible according to Islam under certain circumstances.

Last: I don’t think it is the Ulama’s duty to “bring women back to Islam.” They are the reason why so many of people run away from Islam, sadly.

I am not going to fill everyone’s notification with more comments. I pray that we are all guided towards the right path. I pray that we all start thinking about major things like children dying in our country, women getting raped, small boys used for bachabazi, politicians using the people as their disposable promotional tool for fame. And most of all, I pray that we all strive to learn more about Islam and the beautiful path is has to offer through EDUCATION for ALL.

Abdul Waheed St  I just read your second comment…I totally disagree with You dear. Do You know what our Afghan Muslim females who have been studying on a scholarship in US or other countries do??? I guess You are one of the scholarship holders in US. Do You think that is the way a Muslim girl should live and study. They wear tight jeans and shirts with no scarf on their head, actually not studying there, but enjoying a few years of their life away from their parents.

[name withheld by request] It is not so my dear Waheed jan. Whenever we judge West we judge them from their clothes and Hollywood movies. But that is not the true reflector of US culture. Don’t look at their clothes, look at their mindset and the way of thinking.

Abdul Waheed St  Americans have a mindset of and thinking of occupying the world, killing innocent people, destroying peoples life, culture and basis. I think sending Afghan females abroad whether it is US or any other country is just destroying our culture and mixing our culture.

[name withheld by request]  Waheed jan the idea that Americas want to occupy the world and kill innocent people is what comes from Halwa Khoor Mullahs who don’t have the real knowledge of how the world works. If so then why is US spending billions of dollars a year in the world?

Abdul Waheed St  Well Walid Jan minds are different and everyone see the facts from different angels but I guess clever is someone who observes and sees the facts from every angel. US is spending Billions for their interest not for mine or yours…

[name withheld by request]  And if you look from the other angle, which you have never ever looked from, it is in our mutual interest. You need to widen your perspective rather than being strongly influenced by a Mullah who is less educated than you.

Wazhma Sadat  Salaam again! I am not going to go into details about what people wear or whether they continue to hold onto their values as Muslims and Afghans while abroad, because that is their personal choice and Allah is a better judge, inshallah. But if you are specifically talking about me, then you should learn more about me, brother 🙂

Additionally, who said we were talking about the US? How about women going to Jordan to study Islamic studies? One of the sad things about my education experience in Afghanistan was always lack of understanding of Islam! My teachers in many institutions in Afghanistan did not know much about Islam. I think by limiting people’s freedom to go abroad to get an education, we are limiting their opportunity to learn about many things that are not offered in Afghanistan, including a thorough understanding of Islam. Islam is not about judging people based on what they wear… the tightness of jeans does not determine people’s imaan. Who are we to judge.

I am sorry if you’ve had a bad impression of girls who’ve been abroad. I am sure I don’t have to tell you that no one represents one another. And that we are not to judge who wears what with what intention (Islamically). Plus, not everyone is away from home to “enjoy”… many study day and night with the hope to return. Let’s not generalize, inshallah.

Inam Ul Haq Humdard  Dear Brothers and Sisters please don’t give fetwas from your stomach while you have not studied Islamic Scriptures….. don’t read those books which are written by so called Muslims/Wahabis and for exact detail read those books which are written 200 years ago by ulemas of that time…….thanks

Abubakr Asadulla There is absolutely no limitation to women traveling in the Quran. There are a few contradictory Hadiths—5 to be exact— that point to limiting women’s travel distance.
1) Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) reported Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) as saying

‘It is not permitted for a Muslim woman to make a journey of a night unless accompanied by a Mahram.’

2)Hadhrat Abu Hurairah (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) reported that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said,

‘It is not permitted for a woman who has faith in Allah and the last day to make a journey of a day and night.’

3) Abu Saeed (Radhiyallaahu Anhu) reported Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) saying, ‘It is not permitted for a woman who brings faith in Allah and the Last Day to make a journey of more than three days unless she is accompanied by either her father, brother, husband, son or a relative who is her Mahram.’

4) Hadhrat ibn Umar (Radhiyallaahu Anhuma) reported Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) saying, ‘A woman must not make a journey of three days unless accompanied by a relative who is her Mahram.’

5) Hadhrath ibn Abbas (Radhiyallaahu Anhuma) reported that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) said, ‘A woman must not make a journey unless accompanied by a Mahram or her husband.’

Based on Islamic principles, men and women have equal rights and Surah an-Nisa’ 4:1 states that men and women are created from a single soul (nafs wahidah). One person does not come before the other, one is not superior to the other, and one is not the derivative of the other. Thus, if they are equal in God’s eyes why are they being treated under TWO laws. If a woman can’t travel without a Maharam, why can’t it be expected from men to travel without a Maharam? Both men and women are vulnerable to Satan; why pick on women? The simple truth is that many of these attributed Hadiths to the prophet were written at a time of tribal warfare, when neither men nor women were safe to leave home. Those same rules can not be taken literally to pertain to the 21th century. Fortunately, women can travel safely and there is no apprehension about them being harmed any more than men, as long as appropriate judgment is used to their destination.

We have to remember that the earliest documents attributed to prophet (PBUH) are at least 100 years after he passed away. Moreover, it should be mentioned that many of today’s restrictions on women originate from after the prophet (PBUH) had passed away and they are a reflection of Arab customs and traditions rather than Islamic law. For example, Saudi Arabia doesn’t allow women to drive. Does that make it Islamic for women in Islam to stop driving?

Abubakr Asadulla Any philosophy left to the hands of semi-literate is a dangerous phenomenon. The interpretation and application of Islam isn’t a privilege of a few, on the contrary it is a collective endeavor. Islam was complete with the death of Prophet (PBUH) and any philosophy thereafter is left for interpretation and modification, as someone pointed out, in Islam we are gifted with the right to Ijma and ijtihad. Ijtihad representing my right to utilize my intelligence to conform with what my goal is to worship God, and Ijma to have a consensus amongst people for collective good, in situations that are unique to our time and era.

In opinion of many scholars, this restriction on women, assuming this Hadith is really from the prophet, had limited application and duration. Times have changed and so have dangers to men and women. Above all we have been given the Ilm of Aqalia (knowledge of common sense) which in my mind and I am sure others dictates equal rights for both men and women.

If there is fitna in society, it is the failure of societies to have appropriately educated its population. One cannot restrict women for men’s evils. There are millions of women that travel freely without a consequence, why are we picking on Muslim women? Limiting women’s travel is insulting to women and our creator, which calls men and women equals (Quran 3:195).

Unfortunately, the truth is that men and women are prone to haram regardless of travel or not. We shouldn’t pass a blank law categorically limiting women’s movements out of fear of a few that may transgress. If such is the case no man should be allowed outside of their rooms, let alone their homes. At the end of the day, instill the right tools in your family, give them the right tools to judge right from wrong and trust Allah that He will guide to the straight path.

Afghanistan: Koran burning

Updated February 26, 2012

Associated Press: “More than 30 people have been killed in clashes since it emerged Tuesday that copies of the Muslim holy book and other religious materials had been thrown into a fire pit used to burn garbage at Bagram Air Field, a large U.S. base north of Kabul.

The death toll from days of unrest includes four U.S. soldiers – two killed last week by an Afghan soldier, and two military advisers shot Saturday at the Interior Ministry.”

By AMIR SHAH, Associated Press, February 23, 2012

“The unrest started Tuesday, when Afghan workers at the sprawling American base noticed that Qurans and other Islamic texts were in the trash that coalition troops dumped into a pit where garbage is burned. Some Afghan workers burned their fingers as they tried to salvage some of the books. Afghan government officials said initial reports indicated four Qurans were burned.

“The materials had been taken from a library at Parwan Detention Facility, which adjoins the base, because they contained extremist messages or inscriptions. Writing inside a Quran is forbidden in the Islamic faith, although it was unclear whether the handwritten messages were found in the holy book or other reading materials.

“A military official said it appeared that detainees at the prison were exchanging messages by making notations in the texts.

“A delegation of Afghan religious leaders, lawmakers and government representatives visited Bagram as part of the investigation. They issued a statement late Thursday calling for an end to protests and accused insurgents of infiltrating the gatherings to foment violence. They said they expected those responsible for the Quran burning to be prosecuted through the U.S. military court system.”

In response to these events I addressed the following question to a group of young Afghan intellectuals in Kabul:

“I am very interested in your comments on the Koran burning event in Afghanistan.

“The U.S. military made a regrettable mistake in burning some Korans at Bagram airbase. It was the result of ignorance of Afghan and Muslim attitudes toward the destruction of their holly book.  It was not the results of malice. President Obama personally apologized for the act to President Karzai, an extremely rare thing for American Presidents.

“In the West, idolatry is not respected. What is holly in the Bible, Koran, or Torah are their words, not whatever pieces of paper they might be printed on. Thus the reaction of some Afghans to burning some Korans is incomprehensible to us. Over a dozen lives have been lost because of this reaction.

“The Washington Post reported the following yesterday: “Those behind the act should be asked about their deed and must be punished,” said an officer near a U.S. military base in Kabul. “If I find the opportunity, I would shoot them in the head.” For us it is truly barbaric to put the burning of a book on the same level as taking a human life. I assume such views do not represent modern Afghan thinking and seriously doubt that Islam teaches such things, but I would be grateful for your views on these questions.”

Here is the resulting exchange followed by some non-Afghan comments first:

Diba Hareer

Warren Coats, you are right. For us, the educated Afghans, it does not make any sense at all. The incidents and the killings, which happened, cannot be justified. How on earth you could say, “We are killing each other, destroying buildings because our holy book was burned”. It’s unfortunate that we have very few educated people in our country. Our elites are getting out of the country and living in the west, as they cannot tolerate the chaos in Afghanistan. Their security is also at risk at times. We have only 34% literate men and 13% literate women. In our schools students are not taught the right values. If we teach our kids love, respect and patience, we can prevent these incidents to a high extent. The illiterate isolated masses can easily be manipulated. The manipulators took advantage of this opportunity and further encouraged the public to get crazy. I still believe the educated youths even few can bring a change since its proved that you can make a difference with as few as two persons. I hope those of us who are studying right now, get together and find a way to get Afghanistan out of this situation.

Masoud Dost

Miss Diba,
With respect to those elites that realize value of our holy Books.
It seems you are in big misunderstanding that our elites are out of country, it might be your own perception.
Any how, I really condemn those who do not respect holy books whether it’s mistakenly or with full understanding.
I accept that the illiterate isolated masses can easily be manipulated. The manipulators took advantage of this opportunity and further encouraged the public to get crazy.
The questions arises who pave such illiteracy, low level or high level, educated or uneducated, elite or …?

Diba Hareer

Masoud, by elites who are out of country I was pointing to those whose knowledge can contribute to reconstruction of our country but they do not want to work with the corrupt government. The majority (if not all, while I think so) are working with the government only to serve their pockets by taking the advantage of the corrupt system. Azizullah Lodin the chairman of high office of oversight and anti- corruption was complaining from corruption at his own office. I and you know that many of the current and ex-ministers’ files are with the office of Attorney General who are accused of corruption.. I wish I was able to tell u who the elites are. I am sure neither you nor I want to argue over those figures. The point here is to confirm that, killing and injuring one another and destroying the buildings are not sensible ways of showing that you are angry over burning Quran. What can u achieve by killing your country folk? I doubt if even a few number of these protestors know what is written in Quran and what does that mean. Besides that, they are destroying the image of Islam. They once again represented us as barbaric to the world.

Shoaib Rahim

Warren Coats i’ll try and share an observation on why this reaction took place then. The Jihad against the soviets created a new identity for the majority of Afghan population; i believe this identity to be obsessively revolved around a very specific and rigid interpretation of Islam. We were occupied, slaughtered and kicked out of our country during the Soviet war for being Muslims..and on the flip side, we were funded, armed and supported by all for strengthening the same identity. After the soviets left, although we failed to form a nation and keep the peace, Islam was the only alleged uniter among our people and more or less still is since notions of nationalism are still in its infancy. Secondly, life is not valued in our society and a life lost in the path of ‘defending islam’ is a virtue…it was enshrined in our value system during the Jihad against the soviets and this value lives on strong. This essentially means that you can’t compare Afghan society with other non-war afflicted societies because the values differ greatly. Third is a very strong notion of victimization by the ‘imperialist west’ and its anti-islamic agenda. Neo-conservative policies during Bush, Guantanamo Bay, constant targetting of muslims by western media..all play its role in demonizing the masses with anything “western”…and the US forces have had many instances of killings and quran burnings which have made the image worse. so we have Rigid Religious Interpretations + Cheap value of life in our society/celebration of life lost for religious cause + anti-western sentiments. Add in foreign hands and opportunists and you get the reality behind Afghan riots. At least I would see it like this.

Alessandro Califano

Warren Coats, I’d like you to focus on a different setting on regard of your question. Let’s imagine a Western country (why not the US?) being occupied by armed forces of a different religion and culture. Let us now imagine someone among these “alien” forces throwing a New Testament copy in the garbage can, along with used kleenex tissues and potato peels – are you really sure that locals would say: “Oh, please, we are strongly against idolatry, keep going in your doing…”? In my humble opinion, malice or not, people have been mowing down reciprocally for much less in some un-barbaric Western countries… Ever heard anything about Northern Ireland, yourself?

Two non Afghan comments. The first comment, from a Saudi friend, sheds light on the seeming anomaly of the routine practice of the Saudi government burning Christian Bibles confiscated in the Kingdom with no public outcry from anyone.

Yousef (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)

I think the main cause of outrage in Afghanistan is because of “who” did it. As of my knowledge, the only way to dispose Quran in Islam is to actually burn it. It is not to be thrown with other waste since it contains the words of god. Basically because it’s holy.

I think if they let Muslims do the burning and clarified the reasons behind it before actually doing it it wouldn’t have had the same public response.

Tom Lutton (Washington DC)

Warren, thank you for sending this; it is good to hear from you.  Your simple act of asking a question, listening to the response, and sharing the response with others is a welcomed start to bridging a cultural divide that has been so wide for so long.  The lack of education on both sides certainly does contribute to the deplorable violence.  Honest communication and consistent efforts to understand differences ironically seem to be the weapons of choice to eliminate the cycles of violence.