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Outrageous behaviour hurts all Muslims

This week’s news of organized Muslim mobs on the rampage in Afghanistan, Pakistan and various other parts of the Muslim world—in the wake of the erroneous Newsweek report that copies of the Koran were desecrated by American interrogators at Guantanamo Bay—is as stale and tiresome as another round of suicide bombing in Iraq.

There would be news of much interest if we learned of demonstrations in those countries against the regular desecration of Islam by leaders of fundamentalist Muslim organizations who preach the politics of intimidation and violence in the name of religion to their fanatical followers.

The Newsweek story, since retracted, was irresponsible and mischievous. It had as much merit—and was about as well investigated before going to print—as was Dan Rather’s discredited reporting on U.S. President George Bush’s service with the Texas National Air Guard.

But it was seized upon by political opportunists such as Imran Khan—a former Pakistani cricket star and opponent of General Musharraf, Pakistan’s military dictator—for a show of force by unleashing a mob in quest of their own ambitions.

These mob rampages—some 16 dead and many more injured, with considerable property damages in Afghanistan and elsewhere as well—only confirm mob psychology as being readily inflammable and destructive.

The more revealing aspect of such events is the role of those igniting mob passion in the name of Islam. The damages that result are always disproportionately higher than excuses which trigger them.

In November 2002, for instance, Nigeria was convulsed by a violent protest led by Muslim fundamentalists causing death and destruction over a newspaper story mischievously speculating on what Prophet Mohammed’s response might be to a Miss World pageant being staged in the country. Some 200 people were killed.

It is no mystery that in societies where widely prevalent illiteracy and poverty leave people’s minds and bodies vulnerable, political opportunists can readily find a rent-a-mob for their purposes.

Yet there has been little or no effort by Muslim leaders within the Arab-Muslim world, or in the West, to protest the widely witnessed mounting horrors perpetrated by some Muslims who have done irreparable harm to Islam’s reputation.

The shameful silence of most Muslims in respect to regular kidnappings and murders—e.g., Margaret Hassan, an aid worker in Iraq; Danny Pearl, a reporter for The Wall Street Journal in Pakistan—or over the destruction of the Bamiyan statues of Buddha in Afghanistan, reveals their twisted thinking and selectively hollow sense of outrage concerning the desecration of Islam.

It is violence done by Muslims under whatever pretext, politics or religion, that continues to cause greater harm to Islam than any real or imagined insult hurled by non-Muslims towards Muslim faith or culture.

As a Muslim, I find exceedingly abhorrent the continuing silence of the Muslim world in respect to the genocide unfolding in the Darfur region of a Muslim-majority Sudan.

This thundering silence is not an exception. It has, rather, become the rule of Muslim sensibility—turning a blind eye to horrors perpetrated by Muslims with justifications offered by references to the Koran or the traditions of the prophet.

It is only if, and when, Muslims take responsibility for their own reprehensible conduct—the record is too long to list—that others might genuinely consider any merit in Muslim grievances arising from any alleged insult against Islam by non-Muslims.

In the meantime, Muslims should remind themselves that those who greatly defame Islam’s message of belief in a merciful God of all creation come from within their midst and, as the Koran instructs, upon them rests a mighty burden of repentance and warnings of eternal damnation.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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‘Democratic deficit’ cripples our government

For some years now, observers of Canadian politics have noted the centralization of power in the Prime Minister’s Office.

This occurred at the expense of other institutions of the state, the most important being the Parliament where sits the elected representatives of the people.

Consequently, our government—run by the PMO and unelected bureaucracy—has been increasingly at odds with Parliament. The sponsorship scandal presently under investigation by Justice John Gomery is an effect of this phenomenon.

In our system of parliamentary democracy, inherited from Britain, the secret for successful government comes from the union of legislative and executive powers within the elected Parliament.

The public face of this union is the cabinet, with the prime minister—the leader of the largest political party in Parliament and having the support of a majority of its members—as its chief executive.

The cabinet’s efficacy rests on the support of a legislative majority. This depends first on the makeup of Parliament (i.e., the will of the voters) and second, when the largest party still lacks a majority, the skills of its leadership to secure support.

The increased eminence of the PM has coincided with new techniques in politics arising from developments in communication and information technology, and the rise of the welfare state. The PMO now has an expanded role in directing governmental affairs, setting priorities and making appointments to all branches of government.

This has distorted the delicate balance between legislative and executive powers, and the necessary check on executive power by elected representatives of the people has been eroded.

Pierre Trudeau’s flippant remark that elected members, especially those of the opposition parties, were “nobodies” illustrated how successive Liberal governments had, even decades ago, diminished parliament’s role.

But the parliamentary opposition is integral to the making of good government. Herein lies the genius of the English tradition, of providing for the protection of people’s freedom through the effective presence of a loyal and vigorous opposition inside government’s most powerful institution.

We might remind ourselves here of Lord Acton’s famous observation, “Power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Paul Martin was perhaps mindful of this quote when he spoke about the “democratic deficit” during his campaign for the Liberal leadership. In other words, he was acknowledging how centralization of power in the PMO had hollowed Parliament’s role.

Lord Acton, in the same letter containing his quip on power, also wrote, “There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it.”

Martin, like his predecessor, has allowed himself to be corrupted by the absolute power of his office. We have seen the effect this week in his party’s disregard for Parliament’s expressed opinion that the government lacks the democratic mandate to remain in power.

The appropriate response of the Liberal minority government to the vote last Tuesday calling on it to resign would have been to arrange—without delay—a vote on a substantive motion of confidence, and abide by the result.

Instead, the Liberals have spent the week trying to explain away the vote on technicalities, and by clinging to power have displayed their arrogant belief they may suspend the traditions and conventions that sustain our system of government.

The only remedy for this unprecedented situation, if the people are not to be abused, is an election of a new Parliament, with restoration of the balance between legislative and executive power.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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It’s opposition’s duty to target Grits

Of late, Canadians have learned much about how rotten is the state of their government and the ruling Liberal party.

The country eventually will know from Justice John Gomery, after he has connected all the dots in revelations pouring out at the sponsorship inquiry, the extent to which Jean Chretien’s government contemptuously treated hardworking Canadian taxpayers.

In a recent cover story on the scandal in Maclean’s magazine, Paul Wells began, “Finally, there came a moment when it was raining tax dollars so hard in Quebec that even a resourceful man started running out of buckets to catch them.”

Canadians are being advised, however, by interested and disinterested parties, to wait until the full details of the Gomery commission are available before passing judgment on a minority Liberal government they elected a year ago.

But the putrid smell of corruption and sleaze emanating from Ottawa has become so foul the political health of the country demands Parliament be immediately fumigated less the rottenness of those who were architects of this scandal, and those who sat as silent accomplices, seep into our collective thinking, rendering us ethically incapacitated—as are so many of our elected representatives in the nation’s capital.

The odd aspect of this matter, though, is how some editorials and opinion columns are painting the opposition in Ottawa, particularly the Conservatives, as being irresponsible or worse for the rapid descent of the country’s politics into disrepute.

It is only natural that Liberal MPs, thrashing about as quarry harpooned by the Gomery hearings, would strive to stain their opponents with the slime they carry upon themselves.

It is not natural, nor informed, when editorial writers view opposition efforts to bring down a scandal-ridden government as being merely a grab for power and, hence, no better than the government’s effort to cling to power.

When such opinions are offered during the week marking the 60th anniversary of democracy’s victory over fascism, then it is time to ponder how well those who comment on politics understand our political system.

Our democracy and its institutions belong to the English tradition. The primary role of the main opposition party in this system of government—some would say the only role—is to expose defects of the ruling party in as many ways as it can, and as often as required, to keep the voting public informed.

It was this system of government that Canadians went forth to defend twice in a generation in the last century.

Of such a system, Sir Winston Churchill, the British wartime leader, famously said, “No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise.

Indeed, it has been said that “democracy is the worst form of government, except all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”

Churchill understood this system, respected it greatly and suffered its consequences. He brought his nation victory in the Second World War, yet was defeated at the polls in the spring of 1945, within weeks after the guns fell silent in Europe.

If the opposition is unable or unwilling to drive a stake through the heart of a government as rotten as the one that now sits in Ottawa, it will have failed in the primary function the system demands of it.

Moreover, the only effective weapon the opposition possesses within this system are procedural rules with which to stop Parliament from functioning, thereby preventing further harm to the country, when those claiming the right to govern are shown to be corrupt, inept, or both, and lacking numbers to defeat a confidence vote brought forward by the opposition.

When the opposition has performed as is required by the system, then it is time for the people to decide once again by whom they should be governed.

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Don’t break faith with veterans’ legacy

The memorable lines of the most famous war poem penned by a Canadian, Lt. Col. John McCrae serving in France during World War I, read, “If ye break faith with us who die/We shall not sleep, though poppies grow/In Flanders fields.”

On the 60th anniversary of the end of the last most bloody war in human history, as Canadians find themselves in grave distemper and politics in the country risks becoming an endless winter of discontent, McCrae’s poem rings with irony, poignancy and rebuke.

Those Canadians who responded to the bugle call of arms in defence of democracy and freedom twice within a generation are mostly gone.

The few remaining heroes from our greatest generation of brave soldiers, sailors and airmen are rarely seen or heard from, and only briefly remembered in the bustle of our lives.

But without their courage and sacrifice, few among us can imagine what sort of world we would be living in—a world arranged in the ranking of master race and slaves, where those who are weak, deemed inferior, or unwanted, get regularly pruned from life as weeds from gardens.

Canada itself was relatively young when those men and boys, barely showing whiskers, left for battles across oceans and their women, with similar courage, filled their spaces at home.

It was a different world then, where people did more, and gave more.

They came from farms and factories—ordinary people with mundane hopes and fears who opened this country of lakes and mountains across a continent out of their own enterprise—and then when called upon to take arms, defeated professional warriors claiming superiority of race and culture.

It was due to them this country emerged into the first rank of nations in the world, a people respected for the leadership shown in battles fought and won.

Canada punched far above its weight class, and displayed a nobility in action and vision that secured it a place of distinction among its allies, particularly those in the English-speaking world.

Since then, Canada’s population has tripled and its economy has grown richer. Canadians live longer and are wealthier than the generations who shed their blood at Flanders and Vimy Ridge, at Dieppe and Normandy.

Yet the country seems less sanguine about its future, its politics driven more by rancour and stained by scandals than when McCrae’s generation left for distant shores for reasons they could have denied had anything to do with them.

We now quibble about the meaning of freedom and the wisdom of spreading democracy when called upon to support, merely by words, the liberation of a people from tyranny, or in doing something forceful in ending a genocide when and where we might make a difference.

We have allowed our patriotism to be cheapened in the same measure as we have seen our dominion reduced to a never-ending quarrel over the equalization cost negotiated between the richer and poorer members of the federation.

We find comfort in praises offered by an inept and corrupt United Nations even as our politicians have gutted the country’s armed forces, and taken scheming dictators for friends while dismaying our long-standing allies.

Hence, it is a fair question to ask if Canadians in becoming more prosperous have also become more feckless, or is it the men and women lacking in ideas and integrity who represent them in public life that have brought ill-repute to the country.

We may not deny, however, should McCrae and comrades mock us from where they lie—“Between the crosses, row on row,/That mark our place”—for nearly breaking faith with them as Canada edges so perilously close to sundering apart because of our selfishness.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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We shouldn’t be a nation of ‘minorities’

In opening the debate on same-sex marriage legislation, Paul Martin declared: “This bill protects minority rights.”

He then went on to define Canada as “a nation of minorities,” stating that “when we as a nation protect minority rights, we are protecting our multicultural heritage.”

This formulation about Canada illuminates the thinking of the Liberal party, and those outside who make multiculturalism into a doctrinal issue in Canadian politics.

This pleasing phrase—“a nation of minorities”—on examination is insulting. It suggests there is an incoherence arising from the collision of competing minority interests at the heart of multicultural Canada.

But then, such a view has served the interests of the Liberal party, since it offers itself as being most competent in negotiating differences among minorities and providing the multicultural mosaic of the country.

Canada is not alone in being a country of immigrants. Not unlike Australia or the United States, the earlier settlers on Canadian soil, irrespective of their ethnic differences, laid the foundation of a country based on certain shared cultural values pertaining to matters of faith (Christianity) and politics (representative democracy) that distinguish western civilization from others.

This history of Canada as a western liberal-democratic society is not demeaning to the values of immigrants who have come from all four corners of the world. On the contrary, it is only because of such a history that Canada has been able to absorb in relative peace and generosity immigrants from diverse backgrounds.

The core values of faith, family, defence of freedom and democracy are not limited to a particular minority group. They belong to the country and are shared by a majority of Canadians despite their ethnic differences.

Diminution of the core values that built Canada, however—values that were shared, enriched and defended with blood and sweat through wars, economic recessions and social unrest—puts the country adrift and heightens concerns about its future.

Multiculturalism as a Liberal doctrine has served the party well in electoral politics. But the unintended consequences have been to diminish the foundational values of the country—slowly stripping them of their meaning and place in the nation’s life.

In this context, describing Canada as “a nation of minorities” advances the process of fragmenting the country and diluting its core values. A “nation of minorities” cannot have any core value, since any value would be limited to a minority group and not necessarily shared by others.

Moreover, in a “nation of minorities” it follows that any or all values need to be acknowledged and respected equally as they belong to some minority group. These values must also be protected, despite any unease they produce among an assembled majority of minorities, on the basis of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

A country thus conceived will be predictably less of a home while increasingly representing a hotel, where the noisiest guests can squeeze from management staff the most of whatever is readily available on the service menu, at the expense of others.

As a rule, ideas in the realm of public policy should be weighed not only in terms of what benefit or good they point to, but also in terms of what unintended consequences might follow in adopting them in practice.

The inherent paradox of multiculturalism is its fragmenting effect when there is a weakening, or a lack of binding force, of commonly shared core values among a people constituting a nation.

The latest Liberal formulation of Canada being a “nation of minorities” may only imperil the sense of our country being greater than the sum of its parts.

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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Liberals’ ethnic exploitation to be tested

An unstated proposition of recent Canadian politics is that ethnic voters help the Liberals hold onto power as the country’s natural governing party.

In other words, as Canadian politics became increasingly regional, or fragmented, without any one political party being able to reach across the country and provide a common vision shared by most Canadians, ethnic voters in Ontario came to represent the difference between the Liberal party being in office or in opposition.

Most political observers recognize this unspoken reality, but will not address it directly for fear of being branded bigots. The situation is rapidly reaching a point where the country’s interests might be subverted because of the suffocating hold of political correctness.

Canada is a country of immigrants and, just as in Australia or the United States, a political party failing to reach out to new immigrants is bound to eventually become unrepresentative of the country’s changing political face.

Indeed, the continued vitality of any political party has been its capacity and willingness to reach out to new immigrants and, by drawing upon their optimism and energy, reinvigorate its own platform for the benefit of the country.

At the start of the Trudeau era, a shift began in the pattern of immigration into Canada. Earlier immigrants were predominantly, if not entirely, of European stock. Since the late ‘60s, immigrants from Asia, Africa, Central and South America gradually exceeded those coming from Europe.

The effect of this shift is visible in Canada’s urban centres. In this context, ethnic voters are primarily of non-European ancestry.

It was coincident with this shift that the Liberal party introduced multiculturalism policies as a means, among other policy requirements of the time, to foster a new sense of Canadian belonging in a country visualized as a mosaic of cultures.

However noble the idea of multiculturalism was, and remains, its politics was invariably bent to suit the electoral requirements of the Liberal party, which was losing ground in Western Canada and Quebec.

Moreover, the inherent paradox of multiculturalism is its loosening effect on national identity, of assisting the forces of fragmentation rather than binding a country already weakened by the politics of regionalism and separatism.

The politics of immigration and the psychology of immigrants are immensely complex and delicate.

What drives people to leave their native lands, the pull and push factors behind emigration, are often beyond the control of immigrants.

Most immigrants instinctively seek to embrace the values of their adopted homes. But when they learn there is minimal time and demand placed upon them to acquire knowledge of Canada’s history and traditions, the unintended effect of multiculturalism becomes an invitation for immigrants to make Canada a home of convenience.

For European immigrants, traditional Canadian values as an inherent part of western civilization are not entirely alien.

But this does not hold for many non-European immigrants, and when political parties readily encourage them to advance or secure their interests—as in appeasing Arab and Muslim immigrants on matters related to the Middle East, or ignoring security concerns such as Tamil activism on behalf of Sri Lankan Tamils fighting for statehood—then multiculturalism becomes a cover for politically pandering to demands placed by immigrant communities at the expense of the country’s larger interests and traditional relations.

Ethnic voters are now cultivated assiduously by giving undue weight to their concerns pertaining to politics in their native lands, or their ethnically-based demands here in Canada.

The recent federal announcement—timed to a looming election campaign—about relaxing immigration requirements for family unification, irrespective of merit, is an example of blatantly courting ethnic voters.

The anticipated election, when it comes, will test as never before this unstated rule of ethnic voters supporting predominantly that party most opportunistically exploitative of ethnic voters.

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New pontiff’s views good for the world

The secular world is convinced there is nothing more beyond this brief existence of ours than a planet spinning in a meaningless void.

But this, too, is a matter of faith—secular faith.

The guardians of this faith are in general arrogantly skeptical and cynical toward those who believe in an eternal and unchanging truth beyond this ephemeral existence of life on Earth.

But for the vast majority of Catholics as believers in the truth of Jesus Christ, the election of Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger last week as Pope Benedict XVI was nothing less than a providential act. They believe the Holy Spirit guided the College of Cardinals to choose from among themselves a successor to the seat of St. Peter who would remain faithful to the legacy of John Paul II.

We may only guess how the papacy of Benedict XVI will unfold and influence the world beyond the Catholic Church. We know he brings to the job, as a theologian, an unbending conviction with which he defended the faith as the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith under his predecessor.

This stern conviction is already being mocked by the secular media, who describe him as an arch-conservative in conflict with the ethos of the liberal-progressive times we live in.

Labels such as conservative and liberal, progressive and reactionary, may be apt description for those engaged in secular politics. But such labels are redundant when applied to describe those who serve an institution that is 2,000 years old, and who nurture life from a perspective shaped by eternity.

In his pre-conclave homily, Cardinal Ratzinger reminded his peers what they are called upon to do by their faith. He said: “We should not remain infants in faith.” According to St. Paul, this means being “tossed by waves and swept along by every wind of teaching arising from human trickery.”

Then he spoke about Christians—and for that matter, non-Christians—who are “thrown from one extreme to the other: From Marxism to liberalism, even libertinism; from collectivism to radical individualism … towards a dictatorship of relativism which does not recognize anything as for certain and which has as its highest goal one’s own ego and one’s own desires.”

Relativism is the creed that denies the objectivity of truth independent and autonomous of the limitations of human faculties. It declares there is no permanent truth outside of transient human experience.

Karl Marx wrote that “man’s ideas, views and conceptions—in one word, man’s consciousness—changes with every change in the conditions of his material existence.”

It was also Marx’s view that religion is the opium of the people. Friedrich Nietzsche, Marx’s younger compatriot, announced “God is dead” and viewed moralities as “nothing more than a sign language of the emotions.”

Marx and Nietzsche were the forerunners of what now passes for post-modern relativist thinking. They laid the dragon seeds of Communist and Nazi totalitarian politics that soaked the 20th century in blood as never before.

But relativism as a creed still weighs upon our minds. It makes all human transactions into a utilitarian calculus of gains and losses, and reduces human life to being a tale told by an idiot, signifying nothing.

It is against the meaninglessness of relativism that Cardinal Ratzinger, now Pope Benedict XVI, stands as defender of truth in God, our Creator, while reminding us the “only thing which remains forever is the human soul, the human person created by God for eternity.”

We are fortunate to have such a man in our midst when the fakes and the hypocrites surround us with their rubbish, denigrating life as post-modern philosophy.

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Remember when honour was important?

There was once an unspoken rule in public life that when trust is broken and a reputation sullied, the person in question should depart and save others from embarrassment.

We no longer live in such a world or, more properly, we now imagine that to demand honour in public life is romantic fiction.

It has become unreal to expect from public officials what Shakespeare made Mark Antony declare: “If I lose mine honour, I lose myself.”

Instead, the unruffled contemporary norm is pass the buck, deny evidence and brazenly defy those whose trust has been broken due to poor judgment, ineptness or malfeasance.

We’ve seen ample evidence of this in the AdScam debacle in Ottawa. So, too, we recently heard the pithy response of Kofi Annan, secretary general of the United Nations, when asked if he would resign following the release of the second interim report of the Volcker committee on the Oil-for-Food scandal: “Hell, no.”

The secretary general’s role requires someone able to persuade member states to conduct themselves according to the UN Charter. It involves drawing upon one’s personal integrity.

The Oil-for-Food scandal has not only stained the reputation of the UN—which had never recovered from its failure to prevent the genocide in Rwanda—but exposed great ineptness and possible corruption at its highest levels.

Though the program began under Annan’s predecessor, Boutros Boutros-Ghali of Egypt, it was under Annan’s watch this humanitarian relief project for Iraqis became corrupted to the benefit of Saddam Hussein and his despotic regime.

Annan’s former chief of staff, Iqbal Riza, was retired by the secretary general on the day he admitted to the Volcker committee that he had authorized the destruction of three years of documents in his office that might have been incriminating. Dilip Nair, head of the UN’s office of internal oversight, was found to have misappropriated oil funds to hire an assistant that did not work for the program. Nair’s retirement is expected in April.

Then there is the former chief of Oil-for Food, Benon Sevan, who retired in disgrace and is now under investigation on suspicion of illicit gains. Similarly, Joseph Stephanides, former chief of the UN’s sanctions branch, was suspended for violating procurement regulations.

The case of Kofi’s son, Kojo Annan, hired by the Swiss-based company that was awarded the UN contract for Oil-for-Food, brought the whiff of the scandal into the secretary-general’s household.

Annan has repeatedly dismissed any responsibility for inadequate supervision of his office. Meanwhile, other scandals, some unproven, are emerging—such as the resignation of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Ruud Lubbers, over allegations of sexual harassment, and stories out of Congo accusing UN peacekeepers of inappropriate sex with war refugees—suggesting something is rotten within the UN system.

All of this is sadly consistent with the organization’s record of failures from Rwanda and the Balkans to Oil-for-Food and Darfur. The UN security system can only work when the five great powers wielding veto in the Security Council are persuaded to go beyond their national interests and act on behalf of the world community. The failed legacy of the League of Nations hangs over the UN. Singing the virtues of multilateralism has never helped victims of tyrannies.

For UN reform to be credible, the secretary general needs a reputation as great as his task—persuading the world body’s members that national interest must not trump collective interest.

Annan has shown instead the job he holds is much too big for him, and the best he might do is resign and save the world from further embarrassment.

?2005 – Salim Mansur is a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media.  His column appears at here with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.

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Pope taught vital inner truths

The meaning of man, or what a human being represents in nature’s kingdom, was provided best by Shakespeare in his inimitable style.

The Bard made Hamlet, the prince of Denmark, meditate on man in the following words: “What a piece of work is a man, how noble in reason, how infinite in faculties, in form and moving how express and admirable, in action how like an angel, in apprehension how like a god: the beauty of the world, the paragon of animals.”

In the opening book of the Bible, we read, “And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness . . . So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.”

The metaphysical truth shared by all transcendent faith traditions is that humankind by nature approximates divinity, since this is an attribute carried within as God’s gift. It is when this intrinsic nature in people gets obscured, distorted or denied that the same person—“the paragon of animals”—behaves as less than the beasts of the Earth.

There is mystery within people, because God is mysterious even as He makes Himself known. The Koran, Islam’s sacred text, reminds man that “God is closer to him than his jugular vein.”

And the mystical teaching hidden at the core of the shared Abrahamic faith tradition among Jews, Christians and Muslims is about God’s search for humankind and its journey to God.

Human history is, however, a trajectory of betrayal of the divine gift in the heart of people. Never in recorded history did such betrayal and abuse reach their nadir as they did in the last century.

But before humankind can out-perform the beast in this fallen nature, it has to construct an alternative metaphysics to that of the Bible by reducing man to mere matter.

The metaphysics of materialism is the death-knell of man as angel.

It is in the context of 20th century history that the life, teaching and mission of Pope John Paul II, now departed from us, stand as an incomparably incandescent example of Hamlet’s meditation.

To the taunting question Stalin once asked about how many army divisions the Pope had, John Paul’s life came as a triumphant response. He stood at the head of indomitable souls and helped dissolve an empire of soulless materialism.

The paradox is the disintegration of the Soviet Union was far less demanding a task for John Paul than his efforts directed in surmounting the corroding effects of cultural relativism in a secular West.

He understood better than all his liberal critics, from a life experienced in his native Poland made into Nazi hell and Communist inferno, that any shading of eternal truth about the dignity of humankind was a bargain with the devil.

As a student of modern philosophy, he understood better than most the void in the heart of contemporary people was loss of faith. Reason in itself, unhinged from moral laws, John Paul vigorously taught, could not fill this void.

But reason joined by faith in a higher authority has been the timeless teaching of the church to shield humankind from its own depravity. In John Paul’s words, people “must be able to distinguish good from evil. And this takes place above all thanks to the light of natural reason, the reflection in man of the splendour of God’s countenance.”

Despite age and affliction, he taught, until the very last moment of his temporal life, how reason and faith in harmony have the power to transform a person from being a poor, naked beast into an angel.

It is this angel John Paul tried to awaken inside all of us, and to remind us of the eternity we carry within the shell of our mortal frame.

And people around the world responded, as we have witnessed, in being reminded by a man resplendent with the virtue of faith that heaven is humankind’s destination as angels.

?2005 – Salim Mansur is a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media.  His column appears at here with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.

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Stick around

This past weekend marked the second anniversary of the American presence in Baghdad.  If the fragile democratic bloom of an Arab spring is to blossom, many more such anniversaries must come and go before U.S. President George W. Bush leaves Iraqis to their own devices.

Baghdad’s fall to U.S. soldiers in 2003 was hardly the first instance in modern history of an Arab capital being captured by a Western army.  More than 500 years after the last crusader knights abandoned the Levant, Napoleon Bonaparte, commander of France’s revolutionary army, took Cairo in 1798.  Like just about all of the Arab population centres between Algiers and Basra, Egypt was then part of the Ottoman empire ruled from Istanbul.

Napoleon’s army faced little opposition.  The Ottoman lands had by then drifted into a decadent civilizational coma, a process that began around the time the Renaissance took hold in Europe, heralding the beginning of a new scientific age.

Beholding the grand pyramids, the future emperor of France dreamed of storming further east, through Syria and across the Persian Gulf into India, where Britain had long ago planted its imperial flag.  But England’s navy, under Admiral Nelson, ended Napoleon’s fantasy and sent him back to Paris, leaving Egypt and the other Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire to slumber fitfully for another 15 decades.

Britain’s rivalry with France was part of the larger drama of Europe’s balance-of-power politics.  Through the 19th century, intra-European rivalries saved the Ottoman empire several times.  But everyone realized the status quo could not last.  European statesmen of the post-Napoleonic period often agonized over the “Great Eastern Question” of how to manage the fate of Turkey – the “sick man of Europe” – and its Ottoman lands.

In Egypt, meanwhile, the brief French sojourn did leave behind some lasting effects.  Philip K. Hitti, dean of modern Arab historians, has written that “the people of the Arab world” had been previously “unmindful of the progress of the world outside,” and that this “abrupt contact with the West gave them the first knock that helped to awaken them from their medieval slumber.”

Another Arab historian, Edward Attiyah, observed that prior to Napoleon’s arrival, “the Arabs were still living in the Middle Ages.  Socially and intellectually, their life had become ossified.”

The indigenous effort to bring the Levant into the modern world during the decades between Napoleon’s departure from Egypt in 1801 and the First World War came in fits and starts.  This deceptively named “Arab awakening” was constrained by Ottoman rulers, whose interests were best served by a backward and authoritarian political system justified in the name of Islam.  Little progress was made.  It was not until the Ottoman Empire was destroyed utterly in the Great War that progress could be made.

A comparison with India under Britain’s imperial rule is instructive. By the time of the French revolution in 1789, Britain had consolidated its hold on the strategic coastlines of the Indian subcontinent, and firmly established its commercial and military presence in Bengal.

In the next 70 years, all of India passed into the control of the British crown, and a land mass ruled by Muslim kings and emperors from Delhi for more than six centuries was opened to the West.  Like all colonial powers, Britain committed its share of atrocities.  But its ultimate legacy was to plant the ideals of progress and democracy, and let India emerge as the world’s largest functioning parliamentary system, an astonishing accomplishment given the religious and caste divisions running through the nation.

The Arab Middle East, by contrast, was never colonized for an extended period.  British and French armies entered Arab cities, such as Damascus, after the defeat of the Ottoman empire in 1918. But the interregnum between the two world wars were twilight years for Britain and France’s imperial grandeur.  They divided the Arab provinces of the Ottoman empire according to their interests, promised them independence and then, weakened by the war to defeat Nazi Germany, were forced to relinquish power in the region before they could put a definitive stamp on its political culture.

The rivalry between Western powers that we call the Cold War put the Arab Middle East in much the same position as during the Ottoman years.  Caught between two powerful ideological blocs, the region was fully dominated by neither, and its indigenous dynasties and monarchies were permitted to survive – propped up, in fact, when one side or another found this or that dictator served its interests.

The effect of the Cold War on the Middle East in general, and the Arab countries in particular, was to harden the shell of authoritarian politics.  By a parallel process, the quest for Islamic reform during this period mutated into a vulgar expression of quasi-fascistic religious fundamentalism and terrorist violence.

The disintegration of the Soviet Union meant the Arab world could no longer play one Western bloc off another – and made reform inevitable.  But it was not until September 11, 2001, that things truly began changing.  Taliban Afghanistan, to the east, fell to U.S. troops.  Then came Iraq.  Yasser Arafat died, leading to a wave of liberalization in the Palestinian Authority.  Lebanon is on the way to shedding its Syrian occupiers.  And Bashar Assad’s regime in Syria may itself collapse, if some analysts are to be believed.

The fate of Iraq, at the heart of both the Middle East and America’s involvement in it, will do much to guide the fate of the whole region.  Despite January’s successful election, it remains an open question whether the nation will become a true democracy.  But Bush can draw on history to improve Iraq’s odds:  The success of democracy in India, and its contrasting failure till now in the Middle East, suggest the seed of freedom cannot be planted except through sustained Western engagement.  For America to declare victory and leave Iraq might simply encourage a reversion to the cynical dynamic of the Cold War era.

Over a period that might extend as long as a decade, America can assist Iraqis in rejecting the authoritarian culture bequeathed to them by Saddam Hussein.  That, in turn, may prod similar developments in the rest of the Middle East.  In time, the Arab spring of 2005 could bring freedom to a quarter of a billion Arabs.

?2005 – Salim Mansur is a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media.  His column appears at with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.  Link to

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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A fearless man of light

Among all the extraordinarily remarkable qualities Karol Joseph Wojtyla possessed and displayed to the world as Pope John Paul II, the one that was most striking was his role as a fearless, and yet humble, teacher of the eternal truth as he understood and witnessed it.

As a Muslim, I was one among the millions who watched him from a distance, grew to respect and then adore him for teaching us in countless ways by his words and gestures, and through his writings, what he came to represent in himself by reflecting the splendour of eternal truth.

The abundance of obituaries, commentaries and television coverage of John Paul’s demise over this past week has reminded the world once again of how great and history-making was his papacy.

From the moment he ascended the throne of St. Peter as the first Polish Pope, John Paul’s role as the head of the Catholic Church became inextricably bound with the destiny of Soviet communism. Historians writing about the final two decades of the 20th century will continue to be amazed at how a religious leader armed with the Gospel of Christ confronted a military superpower, urged his fellow believers to “Be not afraid,” and by renewing faith in the hearts of people ruled by godless power, unleashed such a political storm that it dissolved communism across the Soviet empire.

In helping bring about this one momentous event—the liberation of Poland and eastern Europe from Moscow’s control, followed by the disintegration of the Soviet Union—John Paul became a world historical figure. He could then have slipped quietly into the night, his papacy assured a place in history at the end of the most blood-soaked century since Christ walked on Earth.

But then he did so much more. In reaching out to Jews, in a way no other successor of St. Peter had, he turned his church around to open an entirely new Christian-Jewish relationship of healing and respect as the living memory of Holocaust recedes.

He also opened his arms to Muslims and people of other faith traditions. He showed through his ecumenical pilgrimages the meaning of empathy with others, and its immeasurable value in our global village if we are going to make any progress in dealing with the inequities and injustice in our world.

This was his role as a teacher, and John Paul excelled in it. In 1993, two years after the fall of the Soviet Union, he presented his encyclical letter Veritatis Splendor (The Splendour of Truth).

In it he dealt with the troubling phenomenon of the modern world, the unhinging of the meaning of freedom from natural moral law whose author is God. He wrote: “God’s law does not reduce, much less do away with human freedom; rather, it protects and promotes that freedom.”

He taught again, lest the world had forgotten the madness of a century that produced Nazism and Communism, that any diminution of the life and dignity of an individual by deliberate choice imperils human freedom and becomes an assault on God, in whose image we are all created.

Each faith tradition might be likened to a window opening—each lets its followers behold the universal truth beyond themselves, to the extent it is wide enough to let light enter their rooms.

The Koran, Islam’s sacred text, declares: “God is the Light of the heavens and the Earth,” and this “Light upon Light” is incomparable in its majesty.

This light’s universal glory, in the mystical language of the Koran, invariably finds particular expressions in human history.

In John Paul, the world witnessed a remarkable instance of the universal truth become incandescent in one special human being.

?2005 – Salim Mansur is a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media.  His column appears at with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.  Link to

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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Terri Schiavo case is about all of us

The story of Easter is about dying, then death and the resurrection of Jesus.

In its theological rendition, this is an annual story of hope, reminding Christians that though death is certain, mortality does not vanquish life, which comes with a promise of returning to God.

But there is the other, more compelling story about Jesus, not confined only to Christians, of His human condition, deserted and betrayed, frail and broken, alone against all the forces of a mighty empire, judged and then condemned to death.

In this story Jesus is every man, woman and child whose life is wrenched away from his wounded grasp against his wishes, and for no crime other than for having become an inconvenience to those with power to run other people’s lives.

The story of Terri Schiavo—and what a coincidence this is—happens to frame this year’s Easter celebration as a reminder that life is most frail, vulnerable and disposable when it is deemed an inconvenience to the living.

We have come to learn over the past week some aspects of the sad story of Schiavo’s condition. However this condition is described, Schiavo is a living person, not on life support. She has been in this state, unable to communicate and fed by a tube for the past 15 years.

Her case has been widely discussed, and perhaps a point was reasonably reached in the court deliberations that nothing new would be discovered medically to indicate any possibility for reversing her condition.

We might also assume that, legally, all possible arguments from every angle concerning those involved in taking care of Schiavo were cogently made, weighed and exhausted.

Then we arrived at the present situation where her feeding tube was removed, the courts upheld that decision, and she was left to die of starvation and dehydration.

If this judicial decision to let Schiavo die is right now, would it not have been right if it had been reached 15 years ago? And if it had been wrong then to let her die, why is it not wrong now?

In the emotional storm surrounding this case, what has become obscured is her right to live, irrespective of how strained and diminished her life became, and despite how inconvenient her being alive was to some people.

In condemning Schiavo to die before her time, the powerful have spoken and the message is unmistakable. Life for them is a measurable quantity on a scale of convenience, not an immeasurable quality as a gift from a higher source, to be respected and cherished for what it symbolizes, not based on its maintenance costs.

It is true that in our world of finite resources and infinite demands, society is compelled to make difficult choices. This is the paradox of living, of sometimes having to choose between two outcomes when neither is positive.

In Terri Schiavo’s case, the choice was between her husband’s wish to terminate her life (withholding any judgment on his intent) and her parents’ wish to care for her. Here, respect for life should have trumped the argument favouring death.

It is quite possible that if Schiavo had the ability to communicate, she might well have indicated an unwillingness to endure her condition any further. Such an indication, however, would not have released the courts from the ethical dilemma of assisted suicide.

But in the absence of any such communication—even a living will would not entirely exempt the courts from the dilemma of interpreting the will under the changing conditions of medical science, or the uncertainty that an individual could revise his or her decision—terminating life, as in the case of Terri Schiavo, amounts to a court-approved homicide.

We are then left to reflect upon the world of our making. The Easter story of Jesus’ death was ultimately about us, and now Schiavo’s story is one more confirmation of this discomforting reality.

?2005 – Salim Mansur is a columnist at Canada’s Sun Media.  His column appears at with Salim Mansur’s express permission by special arrangement with him.  Link to

Contact the Editor: Joel Johannesen
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It's a question.