May 14/2007

Bible Reading of the day
Holy Gospel of Jesus Christ according to Saint John 14,23-29. Jesus answered and said to him, "Whoever loves me will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our dwelling with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; yet the word you hear is not mine but that of the Father who sent me. I have told you this while I am with you. The Advocate, the holy Spirit that the Father will send in my name--he will teach you everything and remind you of all that (I) told you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid. You heard me tell you, 'I am going away and I will come back to you.' If you loved me, you would rejoice that I am going to the Father; for the Father is greater than I. And now I have told you this before it happens, so that when it happens you may believe.

Free Opinions
The Economic Consequences of the Continuing Political Crisis in. By: Khalil Zahr. May 14/07

Olmert the critic. By:Ronny Sofer.
Ynetnews. May 14/07
Asharq Al-Awsat interview's Syria's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badr ...Asharq Alawsat. May 14/07

Latest News Reports From Miscellaneous Sources for May 14/07
Egypt Arrests 59 Muslims After Clash with Copts.Reuters
Assad Threatens to Set the Region on Fire.Naharnet
Hizbullah Warns Against not Agreeing on President Beforehand.Naharnet
Two Syrian Activists Jailed Over Normalization with Lebanon.Naharnet
Lahoud, Siniora discord continues.PRESS TV
LEBANON: Environmentalists urge quicker clean-up as oil-spill ...

Family of missing Vancouver woman starts search in Syria.680 News
Asharq Al-Awsat interview's Syria's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badr ...Asharq Alawsat
Lebanon's illegitimate president refuses to let go.Ya Libnan
Aoun vows to confront government.PRESS TV
Will Lebanon's leaders put their country before their power lust?Ya Libnan
Hezbollah to boycott parliament unless they pick Lebanon's next ...Ya Libnan
Assad's dictatorship over Syria on cruise control.Ya Libnan
Syria: Sentencing of Kamal Labwani.NewsBlaze

UNDOF commander: Syria repairing military positions along the ... (IMRA)
Balkanize Islamia.WEBCommentary
.Middle East Newsline
Syria jails two more dissidents in crackdown.Middle East Times

Iran, S. Arabia, Syria seeking to resolve Lebanon crisis: daily.Tehran Times
Hezbollah to boycott upcoming polls.PRESS TV
Syrian president hopes for improving relations with France.European Jewish Press

Lahoud, Siniora discord continues
Sun, 13 May 2007 06:36:09
Lebanese President Emile Lahoud says he will not cede power to Prime Minister Fouad Siniora if Parliament fails to elect a successor.
Lahoud warned Saturday he will not hand off power to Prime Minister Fouad Seniora if Parliament, fails to elect a succssor by September; DPA reported on Sunday. Lahoud said he will only give relinquish power to a new "national unity" cabinet that would choose a successor who will be acceptable to all of Lebanon, said Lahoud spokesman Rafik Shalala. Lahoud was responding to a statement made by Siniora, who has vowed to take over if the presidency becomes vacant.
"If there is no election for some reason ... the government will assume responsibility, and its main preoccupation will be to ensure election a president," Siniora said in an interview last week with Al-Arabiya television. Parliament has not met for three months because of divisions between supporters of the government and the opposition. Under the Lebanese constitution, Parliament must choose a new president before Lahoud's term expires on November 23. AM/HAR

Assad Threatens to Set the Region on Fire
Syrian President Bashar Assad has threatened to set the region on fire, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean, over differences with the United Nations regarding Lebanon's stability. The independent daily newspaper an-Nahar quoted well informed diplomatic circles as saying Assad made the threat last Wednesday in a telephone discussion with U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon. The sources, according to the paper spoke of a "heated dialogue" between Assad and Ban, during which the Syrian President "threatened to set the region on fire, from the Caspian to the Mediterranean."
The focus of the telephone discussion was creation of the international tribunal that will try suspects in the 2005 assassination of Lebanese ex-Premier Rafik Hariri and related crimes, the report explained. It stressed that the tribunal issue will be a topic of discussion within the U.N. Security Council as of Monday.
Following the tense discussion with Ban, Assad on Thursday announced that his country is not concerned with the international tribunal, stating that the court is "a special topic concerning Lebanon and the United Nations."Lebanese MP Saad Hariri son of the slain premier, had announced that the tribunal will be created under chapter seven of the U.N. Charter. Hariri and factions of the March 14 majority alliance blame the ex-premier's killing and related crimes on Syria. Damascus denies the charge. Beirut, 13 May 07, 09:55

Two Syrian Activists Jailed Over Normalization with Lebanon
Prominent Syrian opposition activists Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa were sentenced to three years in prison Sunday for demanding normalization of relations with Lebanon, according to a Syrian human rights group. They are the latest dissidents to be jailed in recent weeks in a crackdown by the regime that has been condemned by the United States. "Michel Kilo and Mahmoud Issa were sentenced to three years for weakening national sentiment," Ammar Qorabi, head of the National Organization for Human Rights in Syria, told Agence France Presse. The two were arrested in May 2006 along with eight other democracy campaigners after they signed a declaration calling for radical reform of relations between Syria and neighboring Lebanon, which have been strained since the murder of former Lebanese premier Rafik Hariri in 2005. Two other dissidents, Sleiman Shummar and Khalil Hussein, were sentenced in absentia to 10 years in jail for weakening national sentiment and inciting a foreign country to attack Syria, Qorabi added. Last Thursday, Kamal Labwani was sentenced to 12 years in jail by a Damascus court in the harshest sentence against an opposition activist since President Bashar Assad came to power in 2000. Labwani was convicted of having "contacts with a foreign country aimed at encouraging it to attack Syria." Last month fellow political prisoner Anwar Bunni, a human rights lawyer, was jailed for five years after signing the petition on an appeal for radical reform in relations between Syria and neighboring Lebanon. Six leading opposition figures being detained in Syria -- including Bunni and Labwani -- warned earlier this month that the "repressive climate" in the country was worsening and called for the release of all political prisoners.(AFP-Naharnet) Beirut, 13 May 07, 11:55

Will Lebanon's leaders put their country before their power lust?

Saturday, 12 May, 2007 @ 8:49 PM
By Sam Ghattas
Beirut - The head of Lebanon's influential Maronite Catholic Church stepped in on Friday to try to head off what could be the next crisis to strike this conflict-torn country the increasing likelihood that divided lawmakers will be unable to elect a president.
Lebanon's parliament has not met for three months because of the divisions between supporters of the Western-backed government and the opposition, led by Syria and Iran ally Hezbollah.
It is parliament's role to choose a new president before the term of Syrian ally Emile Lahoud runs out Nov. 23. But the deadlock and bitterness between the two camps makes it doubtful a compromise candidate can be found.
Failure to pick a head of state could leave the post empty and could even lead to the creation of two competing governments. In 1988, when Lebanon was in similar straits, the army and administration split in a dispute that ended in one of the last battles of the 1975-1990 civil war.
The current political crisis has taken a sectarian tone and erupted into street battles earlier this year which killed 11 people.
Alarmed by the possibility of a presidential crisis, Maronite Cardinal Nasrallah Sfeir ended a boycott of Lahoud, and the two discussed choosing a successor.
It was the first encounter in over a year between the spiritual leader of the church and the president. The church has a special interest in the presidency, a post traditionally held by a Maronite under Lebanon's sectarian-based division of political power making Lebanon the only state in the overwhelmingly Muslim Arab world with a Christian head of state.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Sfeir said he hoped the presidential election will be held "on time and that there will be the person who can take charge."
He refused to suggest a candidate but said the choice should be "an experienced person, be of the same distance from all people" and serve the national interest.
The anti-Syrian coalition swept into power in 2005 has been trying to oust Lahoud, seen as one of the anchors of Syria's continuing influence in the country.
The anti-Syrian bloc, Sfeir and Western countries have refused to meet Lahoud, whose term was extended under Syrian pressure in 2004, months before the Syrian army was forced to withdraw from Lebanon after the assassination of former Premier Rafik Hariri.
Now with Lahoud unable to run for another term, the anti-Syrians who hold a slim majority in parliament see their chance to elect one of their own to the post. But the Hezbollah-led opposition has vowed to reject any candidate they don't approve of. The anti-Syrian bloc has threatened to use its simple majority to pass a candidate, but the opposition insists a two-thirds quorum as has been the practice in previous presidential elections, even during civil war is necessary and threatens to boycott any vote.
Already, the opposition is trying to oust the government of Prime Minister Fuad Saniora, which Lahoud does not recognize. Saniora has resisted, but has been unable to govern effectively because the speaker of parliament an ally of Syria and Lahoud has refused to convene the legislature.
The dispute has split Lebanon along sectarian lines, with Sunni Muslims backing Saniora, who is Sunni, and Shiites backing the opposition. Christians are divided.
If there is no president, the constitution calls on the prime minister and his Cabinet to assume his duties. But some in the opposition are calling on Lahoud if it appears no successor is agreed on by the time he leaves office to appoint a Christian to head a new government to ensure that the presidential powers remain in Christian hands. With Saniora refusing to quit, that would precipitate two administrations.
A similar crisis erupted in 1988, when two governments were formed. Fighting erupted between the divided factions of the army, and eventually a Syrian assault removed one of the governments. "My message to the people is to remain calm ... I hope things will occur on time, in accordance with the constitution," Sfeir said after the 90-minute meeting with Lahoud. Other religious leaders also hoped to avert a further meltdown. The spiritual leader of Lebanon's Sunni Muslims, Grand Mufti Sheik Mohammed Rashid Kabbani said Friday he will work with the "wise leaders ... to prevent falling into the trap of a second government." He reminded the Lebanese of "the dark stage of conflicts and destruction of Lebanon when there were two governments."Source: AP

Aoun vows to confront government
Sat, 12 May 2007 20:25:57
The Leader of Lebanon's Free Patriotic Movement, General Michel Aoun has vowed to outface the government's political corruption.
In an address to a gathering of the young members of the movement, Aoun said "We won't let the government to be a center for political corruption, lie, larceny, and the violation of law any longer," Iranian IRNA news agency reported on Saturday.
Aoun, who is also the leader of March 8 alliance in Lebanon, slammed the March 14 alliance for "collecting tax from people and wasting public possessions over the past years which resulted in the country being $45 billions in debt," he noted. The government and its March 14 advocates hold their opponents in Beirut responsible for the country's economic crisis, he exclaimed. A variety of opposition groups in Lebanon, ranging from Hezbollah to Aoun's group have camped in downtown Beirut for several months, insisting that the western-backed government either resign or call for early elections. Aoun allied his party with Hezbollah in the national political split that followed the summer 2006 war with Israel. In a statement published in An Nahar newspaper earlier, Aoun said the new head of state to replace President Emile Lahoud should be "directly" elected by the people "through a referendum or early parliamentary elections." He accused those who reject the upcoming presidential elections scheduled to be held in September of being "conspirators" and warned that they would slide Lebanon into a civil war.

Hizbullah Warns Against not Agreeing on President Beforehand
Hizbullah has threatened to boycott a parliamentary session scheduled for Sept. 25 to elect a new president if the rival camps failed to agree on a compromise head of state in advance."It is our democratic right not to attend if they don't agree with us on the candidate," Hizbullah legislator Hussein Hajj Hassan said in remarks published Saturday. Hajj Hassan also denied that Hizbullah had declared Free Patriotic Movement leader General Michel Aoun as its candidate.
"Hizbullah has its own candidate," he insisted. He said, however, that the Shiite group views Aoun as a "strong candidate."Aoun, who signed an agreement of understanding with Hizbullah chief Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, has aligned himself with the opposition. Beirut, 12 May 07, 19:41

The Economic Consequences of the Continuing Political Crisis in Lebanon
Khalil Zahr Al-Hayat - 13/05/07//
It seems that every prospect has been blocked in the face of the Lebanese, except for the political crisis that stretches whenever they think they have approached a settlement, even progressively, for their cause. The radical solutions to the regime's structure crisis, whose roots date decades back to the pre-independence eras, are intractable. What distinguishes and worsens the current crisis over its predecessors is the blatant disregard for constitutional provisions, whose core task and objectives are to provide peaceful ways out of political crises and organize the work and management of institutions. Constitutional provisions and other laws have become just the viewpoints of each politician or media person or a guest in a television show. Even Parliament, the highest legitimate authority in the country, is paralyzed in face of different and contradictory constitutional interpretations. It has become a scene of media debates, which always insist on inflexible situations.
Lebanon-loving brothers and loyal friends have tired of their persistent attempts to help us get out of this irrational path that leads to the abyss. Due to the irrational behavior of some Lebanese leaders, the disregard for human values by some others, and giving priority to self- or sectarian interest over the national interest, the Lebanese are about to use up their remaining positive points with those brothers and friends. No one can help the Lebanese when they are unwilling to help themselves. It is supposed that Lebanon should be free after the end of the direct trusteeship era; otherwise, it will be true that the Lebanese have not yet come of age and, therefore, there must be a mandatory force or a guardian over them.
It is not wise to bet on the time factor by continually disrupting the government as being the best available alternative to avoid escalation which could lead, God forbid, to civil strife (the Lebanese have not recovered from the devastating effects of last time), especially in light of the economic and social conditions, which are getting worse day after day. Time is the most precious and scarcest resource left for these conditions.
The economic downturn resulting from the disruption of institutions will exacerbate poverty and unemployment. Freezing the crisis will not stop this recession, but rather speed up the public debts up to the ceiling where the sources of borrowing will not be available, thus leading to inevitable bankruptcy and the accompanying collapse of the national currency.
The high level of debt service will lead to higher taxes and other burdens on citizens, as a result of an objective equation between them. Moreover, the high interest rates above the current levels, which are already high, will contribute to expelling investment and undermining the business environment.
The continuing governance crisis will impede most of the Paris-3 Conference resolutions, particularly those related to the structural reforms of the economy and administration, except for some humanitarian aid aimed at alleviating the burdens and damages of the summer war. In light of this, public services are expected to continue declining, coupled with a decline in production and services. Remittances of expatriates may increase, not only due to the poor living conditions that stimulate the expatriate to increase his remittances to his family and relatives out of care for them, but also as a result of the accelerated emigration of skilled and semi-skilled manpower from Lebanon due to the worsening economic and security conditions.
However, this exteriorly positive phenomenon is the most negative and harmful factors to Lebanon. It is not the miracle of Lebanon, of which some boast, but rather the reliable indicator of the failure of political and economic governance since the dawn of emigration, because emptying Lebanon of its dearest resources deprives it of any opportunity for economic and social development progress.
Even the immigration gate, now relatively open thanks to the economic recovery witnessed in most countries in the Arab region, and which is fueled by the third oil boon, is not guaranteed to continue.
This is due to a number of reasons, including the fact that the international oil markets are ruled by world economic and oil price cycles, where each wave of higher prices sets the scene for a stage marked by relatively lowers prices, so long as oil production levels do not reach their natural maxima.
Furthermore, economic, social, and demographic developments taking place in oil producing Arab countries are expected to reduce the demand by these countries for the expatriate work force.
At the same time, there is a marked drop in the number of opportunities for migration outside the Arab region, which is a trend unlikely to change in the foreseeable future.The deteriorating economy and the social backwardness affect all the citizens of Lebanon, consequently compromising the national immunity needed to prevent the descent toward civil unrest and violence.
Such state of affairs is by no means in line with the declared stances touting keenness on building a viable State or an independent, sovereign homeland, for there could be no sovereignty with poverty, and no strength with backwardness.
Added to the wasted opportunity of an economic prosperity fueled by the Third Oil Boon, in the same manner two pervious opportunities were wasted during the 1970's due to the embroilment of the people of Lebanon with their civil war; is the erosion of public confidence in assurances promised by political leadership that the ongoing political crisis would not disintegrate into civil and political unrest.
For whoever fails to derive benefits from past experiences is doomed to relive these experiences again.
***A Lebanese Developmental Affairs Advisor

Asharq Al-Awsat interview's Syria's Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun

12/05/2007.By Huda al Saleh
Riyadh, Asharq Al-Awsat- Sheikh Ahmad Badr al-Din Hassoun, Syria's Grand Mufti is not an ordinary man. Regardless of the importance of his religious position, he has strong and courageous opinions concerning the relationship between politics and religion.
Sheikh Hassoun recently commented on the problem of Islamic political parties and their understanding of the concept of secularism. He called for the need to spare the Muslims and Islam the consequences of these political conflicts. Hassoun stressed that the Islamists were fighting secularism without distinguishing between the French secularism, and the secularism based on science [The word secularism in Arabic "Ilmaniyah" is derived from the Arabic word "Ilm" meaning science].
In this interview with Asharq Al-Awsat we focus on the Syrian mufti's concept of secularism, his vision of the nature of the state in Islam, his understanding of the role of the clerics in this state, and his opinion of the conflict between the Islamists and the Arab governments, and between the Islamists and the rest of the intellectual and political tendencies in the Arab world.
The following is the full text of the interview:
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Recently there was controversy over the meaning of secularism from an Islamic viewpoint. What is your own definition of secularism?
(Sheikh Hassoun) One of the fundamental issues about definitions is that they do not become acceptable terms until the experts agree on them. This agreement takes place after extensive studies and deliberations, and then come those who read the concept and not the literal words of the definition to give their opinion. There is no such thing as a personal or non-personal definition of anything, including secularism. It is more correct and more proper to talk about a personal understanding. This personal understanding is based on the personal experience of any individual and his reading, in addition to the surroundings and environment in which he lives. From this starting point, I arrive at the personal understanding of secularism. The same as all humanitarian and philosophical concepts, secularism is neither entirely true nor entirely rejected. Therefore, we ought to discuss the issues before they become either rejected or a fait accompli. This is in order to make them suitable for us by choosing what suits us and rejecting what does not suit us. Here, we have to point out that the prevailing direct and improvised understanding [of secularism] has been masked in an inaccurate way. With its arrival as a contemporary political and intellectual term, secularism was placed through the media and ideologies in conflict with belief in the various religions and sects. Secularism was rejected equally by Christians and Muslims, because it was linked in their minds to the concept of fighting religion. This is what we find in the writings of the Ulema, such as Sheikh Muhammad Mahdi Shams-al-Din, God have mercy on his soul, who dedicated a complete book to secularism in which he refuted, analyzed, and criticized the concept, and which contained correct scientific views. Also Dr Yusuf al-Qaradawi wrote and lectured about secularism.
What I say about the lack of contradiction and conflict is based on the linguistic meaning, and not the terminological meaning agreed by the people. I think that the difference between the viewpoints results from the difference between those who call for separating religion from the state, and those who call for the need to incorporate religion in the state. I see Islam as an international religion that does not need getting into such details. Against Single Reading
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you support redrafting society's concepts according to a secular view of life that preserves the Islamic constants?
(Sheikh Hassoun) Let us keep away momentarily from the text of the question, which I will answer. I ask: what is the meaning of redrafting? What is the meaning of preserving the constants? These are puzzling rhetorical expressions. Redrafting is for something that needs redrafting, and Islam does not fall in this category. However, we also need a perceptive and accurate understanding of the religious text. Understanding comes with having many readers; hence the rule, "The presence of differences within my nation is a mercy." You can imagine the effect of having a single reading of the text; what will happen then? We do not ask for freezing the religion within a clerical organization and isolating it from the political arena, but we are not in favor of politicizing anything that does not bear any political view. If what is meant by secularization is to neutralize religion, then this is a misconception because the Muslim, the Christian, and the others constitute the political, social, and economic fabric of the society, and no one whatsoever can find people who are absolutely neutral. We have clear examples of the individuals who established secular parties in the conventional sense, and who returned during the times of crisis to their religious roots. Therefore, I say that there is no absolute contradiction, because I am facing societies with many sectors, and I do not accept that they should impose their way of life upon me, and in exchange I do not accept to impose my way of life upon them. God Almighty said in Islam, "Let there be no compulsion in religion [Surah Al-Baqarah, from Verse 256];" and He said, "To you be your Way, and to me mine [Surah al-Kafirun, Verse 6]." Therefore, the Almighty has given the other the freedom to believe and to choose. Islam and the Roots of Secularism.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) There are intellectuals and historians who believe that secularism has roots in Islam, and that Islam is "in essence a secular" religion that includes facts related to Divine inspiration only. Do you support these pronouncements? What are the aspects of secularism in Islamic history?
(Sheikh Hassoun) This question is linked directly to the previous question. I say: Is there any opinion after the Divine text in the Koran? What is the value of the opinions of the intellectuals and muftis against the Divine Koran text? I object to the question in this form. Islam is great in itself and in its message, and it does not need research to indicate that it encompasses other things in order to increase its greatness. If they say that Islam includes the roots of secularism, this will not increase or decrease the value of Islam. This reminds me of the research papers that talk about the scientific miracles in the Koran, and that try to attribute everything to the Koran; this is clear overstretching. I do not care about anything other than the correct understanding of the contemporary terminology, and the correct understanding of the religious text from which I derive the rules that organize my relationships with both the creator and the creatures. Do I want to acquire a certificate of appreciation of Islam from the seculars who do not believe in Islam? Do I want to exonerate the secular's attitude toward religion? This is the real question, and the answer is with those who present opinions and readings with clear impartiality and true transparency.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Where does secularism meet Islam, and where does it diverge from it?
(Sheikh Hassoun) What is the importance of secularism meeting Islam, or of Islam meeting it? Islam is an eternal religion that is valid for every time and every place. Validity is directly linked to correct understanding. As a Muslim, I am interested in my understanding of Islam, whether or not this understanding meets with secularism. Do I want to twist the neck of Islam in order to be able to say: Here I meet with secularism? This issue needs research and seminars not to identify the meeting points, but to identify the correct understanding of each of Islam and secularism.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some people ask: How can we transform a closed intellectual system into an open and effective one? Do you consider secularism a condition for development on a national level?
(Sheikh Hassoun) Does the question mean that Islam is a closed intellectual system?! If this is the case, then the question as a whole is rejected because Islam is not like this. Here, I refer the honorable reader to the book by the Arab Muslim intellectual, Dr Umar Farrukh, God have mercy on his soul, which was entitled "Renewal in Muslims Not in Islam." This valuable research came after a preceding book entitled "Evangelism and Colonialism." If anyone accuses Islam of being closed on itself, this accusation applies to a group of Muslims, which we cannot identify, because every group considers itself correct, moreover it considers the others wrong. This reminds us of the reading of the Ulema, and their identification of the misguided group; perhaps an impartial observer considers all of them as misguided, while we ought to consider the others as correct from their viewpoint. I have not said, and I will not say that secularism is a condition for national rising in any country in the world; all I say is: Correct understanding and recognizing the other and his rights are the way to national rising. Islam has never at any time called for anything other than correct understanding and the recognition of the other and of his rights.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some people also think that leaving the leadership to secular thinking is a road that ultimately leads to atheism. What do you think of this?
(Sheikh Hassoun) Who said that we want to leave the leadership to the secular thinking? We consider that the time of leaving the leadership in any society to any [single] tendency has gone. There are ideas that enrich people's lives, and there is a leadership that leads the society in a way that serves the interests of the people; this leadership might combine atheists and religious people; there is nothing to prevent this! Arkoun was not correct, but I respect him.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you agree with French Algerian intellectual Mohammed Arkoun in his definition of secularism as "The unanimity of the people - apart from the clerics - i.e. away from their intervention in people's lives?"
(Sheikh Hassoun) The intellectual Professor Arkoun has widespread opinions circulated by the media. Anyone who says something, whatever he says is up to him and expresses his views. However, if we look into this pronouncement, we will find that it needs scientific accuracy. If we, as he says, exempt the clerics, we will find that the society loses a large sector of its constituents; it is a very big sector, because there is no clerical class (priesthood) in Islam. Every Muslim adheres to the faith. Through Islam's opinion of the religious scholars we will find that all Muslims adhere to religion. The question now is where is the unanimity of the people if we exempt the religious scholars? It is certain that this opinion [of Arkoun] cannot pass a precise test according to the criteria of mind and logic. However, it is an opinion of a specific person, and it only concerns those who subscribe to this opinion; I respect this opinion, but I do not agree with it. Are There Clerics in Islam?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you think of the belief of some Arab intellectuals that what hinders the understanding and application of secularism is the influence of religion?
(Sheikh Hassoun) First of all, I do not agree with the expression: influence of religion. This is an expression that makes a dig at religion one way or another. Religion is belief, creed, and spirit, and is not a movement, a party, or a power so that we can say "the influence of religion." However, if what is meant is the influence of the "religious scholars," then the expression "clerics" does not exist in Islam, because, as I said earlier, every Muslim is a cleric. If such a class exists in our life, then it is a mistaken confusion of the concepts of the well-versed scholar, the Islamic caller, and the imam. The emergence of such a class that monopolizes religion is linked to ignorance and illiteracy among both the people and some callers equally. However, if we say the status of religion, then this is a more accurate expression, and we answer by saying that nothing can harm the status of religion, because God Almighty says, "We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and we will assuredly guard it [Surah Al-Hijr, Verse 9]." Along history, religion has been exposed to confrontations, and we witnessed and lived through some of them; however this has not affected the foundations and essence of religion. I say that adopting a specific method does not necessarily mean abolishing the other ways; however, if one of the two paths is narrow-minded in reality, this will lead to conflict. There are the so-called extremist movements; the extremist movements are not all of the same direction, because they might be religious, they might be of different ideologies, they might be ethnic, or even secular.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Some Islamic thinkers consider that in order to achieve secularism in Islam there ought to be a separation of the religion and the priesthood from the state in all societies; in other words they consider that the Islamic model is based on secularism, i.e. on the absence of priesthood and its influence from the rest of the civilian institutions. What is your comment?
(Sheikh Hassoun) The vision of those you mentioned in your question stemmed from two issues: the first is the inevitability of atheism among the seculars, and the second is the inevitability of the conflict between religion and secularism. When they expressed these opinions they were influenced by the translation of the European renaissance when the church was neutralized. There are many differences between the two reality situations which are being compared. Islam is inseparable from the public life of the Muslims. We know that Islam has not been only a way of worship as much as it was a way of worshiping God and of living with the surrounding environment in its diversity; however, Islam has never at any time interfered in the structure of the political life in the countries that believe in it. If we noticed otherwise, this would be due to a group of individuals who cloaked their political ambitions in religious dress in an attempt to include the Shariaa into a collection of systems that act according to an agenda that serves their personal interests, or the interests of those behind this. Within these two groups we will find a mass of true Muslims who have been carried away by their sentiments. Therefore, Islam is a way of life, and has nothing to do with the civilian institutions except through its contribution to some charity aspects, and to moral and spiritual guidance; anything else is an illusion in the mind of the deluded. Once again, there are many religious people allover the world and of all religious denominations; have they been neutralized? Do we not see the world leaders practice their religious rites without anyone asking them to distance themselves from religion, while they are the ones who call for secularism!
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Do you think it is possible to unite the two religious and political institutions in any society?
(Sheikh Hassoun) Any society is based on pluralism. Pluralism is a form of wealth. Has not the United States and its progress been established on pluralism? Does not Europe live a state of pluralism and unity (gathering in a union)? The question as I understand it means that the religious authority could have political power. This could happen, and would be acceptable if those in power had awareness and impartiality; this situation also could be rejected. As I mentioned, there are a number of rulers in the world who have religious beliefs, and who perform the religious rites, but this has not made them impose their religious or sectarian opinion upon others; if this happened, as in some totalitarian tendencies, there would be a fire that is ready to erupt at any moment under such practice. Do you not think that the experience of most religious parties has been bitter? Do you not see that the Islamic religious parties on the arena adopt a pragmatic form, which changes according to the surrounding incidents and conditions? This is a new awareness.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Where are the areas of conflict between the group supporting partial secularism, the "Islamic left-wing," and those who reject and fight any concept of secularism?
(Sheikh Hassoun) The conflict areas are represented by misunderstanding each other, and by not coming together to discuss and search for the points of agreement. This is where our greatest problem lies.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) In one of his books, "Islam and Secularism Face to Face," Dr Al-Qaradawi rejected the presence of secularism in any Arab or Islamic country under any pretext or criterion, be they the criteria of religion, interests, democracy, or origin. What do you say about this?
(Sheikh Hassoun) The opinion of His Eminence Sheikh Al-Qaradawi represents a large section of Muslims. It is an opinion that is worthy of respect and appreciation. However, there is no human opinion that does not change or alter, and there is no human opinion over which people would not disagree. The problem would arise if the rejection were absolute. Let me put it in a different way: Are not there among the fanatical Muslims those who are more degenerate and more hostile than the seculars?
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How do you assess the current secular parties in the Arab and Gulf societies? Do you consider them as fanatics? What do they lack?
(Sheikh Hassoun) I am not a supporter of any party. However, experience has proved that the Arab partisan life, whatever the tendency of the party might be, needs continuous revision in order to benefit from their experiences, but this does not happen. As for being fanatics, this is natural, because as soon as the party is formed - any party - there will be an ideology. As for what they lack, this is a question that should be addressed to the leaders and followers of the parties; we are mere observers who consider the Arab partisan life not to be at the required level; I even fear that the masses will abandon them if they do not revise and develop themselves.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) How can we build bridges between heritage and modernism? Do you support the philosophical criticism of the Islamic history? What do you say about the old saying: Whoever adopts logic adopts atheism?
(Sheikh Hassoun) These are theoretical sayings that have no value in reality. In the past the Ulema used to have a stance against logic. As for the bridges of knowledge, they are built through communication, and through man's realization of the importance of his past and present. At the same time, no one has the right to support or reject anything without evidence. However, what has been proved by the passage of time is that the Muslim philosophers in the early ages were builders of humanity, and were international intellectual and cultural leading examples. Do Not Wrong the Religious Institution.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Is it true that the individuals in the Muslim societies, particularly the intellectuals, have suffered in the past and continue to suffer because of the hegemony of the religious institution? Is it true that the history and present of the religious institution are arbitrary and packed with stories ranging between burning books, takfir, and killing? What do you think of all this?
(Sheikh Hassoun) Who said that the sectarian conflicts, or the conflicts hidden under a sectarian cloak, which take place today, are not carried out by seculars? If we agree with those who say that secularism is atheism, then it is assumed that no secular will participate in a sectarian war. In reality we also find that many of those who studied in the west and claimed to be seculars hastened to wear the sectarian dress. This makes us have a deeper understanding of the two issues of sectarianism and secularism; neither of them is the solution for the other, because man can change colors between these two sides. The way to get out of the sectarian crises lies in understanding the other, making him understand, and really believing in the right to disagree. The jurisprudence creeds have been established in order to serve the faith through the various understandings of the text, and not through exploiting religion to support the sect or sectarianism. Once again I stress that there is no religious institution in Islam; if there were an institution, its role would be to enlighten and not to increase ignorance. In the face of the practices of some individuals who act in the name of religion, I say that these individuals cannot under any circumstances be fit to rule according to Shariaa and Islam in particular. In order not to deviate from the general framework, I say: The incidents of takfir, killing, and similar deeds that fill the books of history have proved to the Muslim and Arab researchers, before any others, that these were incidents of political or sectarian killing, and it is unfair to attach these deeds to the faith or to the religious institution as you called it in the question.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) Thus, do we need a state of religious neutrality?
(Sheikh Hassoun) I do not understand the meaning of religious neutrality. Religion is of the soul and of the spirit, and we cannot ask about the possibility of abandoning the soul or being neutral with it. I am one of those who consider that there is a tendency toward religion within any human being, even if he were an atheist. However, the dormant period of this tendency varies from one person to another. Environment and upbringing is what directs people toward the middle and toward moderation, as in real Islam, or toward fanaticism and the rejection of the other, as in the extremist movements in any religion.
(Asharq Al-Awsat) What do you think of the following pronouncement by one of the intellectuals, "Recent history has settled the issue of the relationship between the state and religion, or the issue of the secularism of politics; however, the irony lies in the piety of the society and the secularism of the state?"
(Sheikh Hassoun) This question comes within the framework of "whoever adopts logic adopts atheism." I think that the issues are simpler than this sentence, because there are authorities and there are opposition groups, whether religious or non-religious. The religious person has the right to be a citizen who accepts or rejects, and no one has the right to tell him to isolate himself from the domain of the other; on the contrary, he has the right to play his complete role without guardianship, marginalization, or exclusion. As long as man is balanced in his values, free in his decision, and disciplined in his behavior, he will build and will not destroy, and he will unite and not divide; this is the true believer and true Muslim

Olmert the critic
Prime minister's defense tactic: Condemning anyone who criticizes him
Ronny Sofer Published: 05.13.07, 13:29 / Israel Opinion
After the publication of Halutz's, Peretz's, and Olmert's testimonies failed to bring about the desired effect, that is, the public acquittal of the prime minister of any wrongdoing, Olmert now seeks to undermine the commission of inquiry's authority.
Olmert argues that the publication of his testimony while censoring the praise lavished at him, reflected in the questions he was asked by the five committee members, proves that the commission was biased against him.
"This deletion raises the suspicion that the commission followed the public sentiment," Olmert believes.
"The committee erased from protocol the praise lavished by its members during his (Olmert's) testimony," a senior figure in Olmert's office claimed.
"It is unimaginable that during his testimony the prime minister received praise for his conduct, his consultations, and the accomplishments achieved by Israel, while this praise was deleted when the testimony was published," the source said. "Moreover, it's unclear how the commission decided that the prime minister failed, after praising him like that."
This is suspiciously reminiscent of the night the Winograd report was published, on April 30th, where another close Olmert associate found a footnote in the report regarding the lesson-drawing culture required by the Israeli government.
According to the footnote, what is needed is a culture that is not about rolling heads, in order to enable a process of repairing the flaws. The close associate brought up this footnote, of course, in order to justify the prime minister's decision not to quit.
That is, while mentions of failure are associated with the prime minister more than 100 times in the report, the associate found one footnote that would back him. According to him, this in fact meant the commission actually wants the prime minister to remain in his post.
This is also reminiscent of the prime minister's mudslinging campaign against the state comptroller, in light of the harsh reports issued by the latter.
"The state comptroller is motivated by considerations of rating," one of Olmert's close associates said at the time. "The comptroller decided to make the prime minister a target for elimination," was another argument. "The comptroller invests endless resources in order to topple the prime minister," a third associate said.
Now that the commission he appointed issued scathing criticism over the prime minister's part in the failures of the Second Lebanon War, all that is left for us is to serve as his defense attorneys. We must praise, laud, and glorify the prime minister for his consistency. For Olmert, this has become a method: Criticizing the critics. As a soccer fan, he apparently knows that the best defense is to go on the attack.
So did we win?
"There is a huge gap, believe me, between what you convey regarding the question of victory or the lack of failure, and this gap must be bridged," Winograd Commission member Menachem Einan told Olmert the day the prime minister testified before the committee.
"I'll start from the end," Olmert replied. "I don't think the war's achievements are presented by me with any degree of exaggeration. I never argued more than that. I merely argued that we used these grapes to make better-than-expected wine." That's what the prime minister said. We have nothing to add here.
The Olmert testimony on February 1 gives rise to an image of a fortuneteller (On March 5, May 10, and June 25 he warned against an abduction and asked the army for an action plan in response). According to the testimony, Olmert was thwarted by the circumstances (the abduction of IDF soldiers Goldwasser and Regev on July 12,) the level of readiness ("the army disappointed itself") and Nasrallah ("the axis of evil between Iran, Hizbullah, and Hamas.)
Yes despite all of this, in his seven-hour testimony the prime minister argued that Israel won the Second Lebanon War. Despite the failures, he said he believes Israel created a new reality in southern Lebanon.
Yet in the part of his testimony cleared for publication, there isn't even one mention of the war's casualty toll of 163 soldiers and civilians who lost their lives. There is no mention of the more than 4,000 rockets and missiles sustained by the home front, at a rate of 100 to 250 a day.
There was no mention of more than one million civilians who were staying in ill-equipped bomb shelters for more than a month. There was no mention of the refugee camps, and particularly the one kindly established by millionaire Gaydamak for the benefit of those fleeing the north. There was also no mention of Hizbullah's acquisition of new arms that are even more advanced than what it possessed on the eve of the war.
"The testimony shows a prime minister who is flesh and blood, hesitating, consulting, suffering, asking questions, and taking decisions following careful consideration," one of Olmert's subordinated said. Indeed, a human being, flesh and blood, who seeks to defend his damaged honor in every way possible. Indeed, flesh and blood, who prefers to be on the victorious side. Indeed, a human being, who because of his pain fails to read the writing plastered all over the wall by the Winograd Commission: You failed.
So Olmert believes we won. That's natural, of course. The Winograd commission believes he failed. And if he failed, it means this war also failed.

Egypt Arrests 59 Muslims After Clash with Copts
CAIRO (Reuters) -Egyptian security forces arrested 59 Muslims on Saturday accused of setting fire to Christian homes and shops in clashes over church construction that underlined lingering sectarian tensions, security sources said.
They said prosecutors ordered the arrests after taking the testimony of 10 Coptic Christians who were hurt in the clashes on Friday in the village of Behma, about 60 km (40 miles) south of Cairo, in which hundreds of people from both faiths fought with sticks and hurled bricks and firebombs at one another.
The 59 Muslims were charged with arson and with spreading sectarian strife. Security sources said an unspecified additional number of Muslim villagers were being held without charges pending an investigation. No Christians were being held.
Relations between Muslims and minority Coptic Christians in Egypt are generally peaceful despite sporadic violence, but restrictions on building churches have been one of the main grievances of Egypt's Copts.
Christians comprise up to 10 percent of Egypt's roughly 75 million people, with the remainder being primarily Sunni Muslim.
Security sources said rumors that village Christians did not have a permit to build a church had sparked anger among Muslims that turned to violence after Friday prayers when about 300 Muslims clashed with about 200 Christians.
Police intervened to stop the clashes and sealed off the village. At least 27 Christian-owned houses and shops were damaged by fire, including 10 homes that were completely gutted.
They said Christians had complained to authorities that the Friday sermon at a village mosque had discussed ongoing church construction, sparking anger among worshippers who emerged from the mosque in a large group and then moved to the church site, where clashes erupted.
The sources said some Muslim villagers had also distributed pamphlets complaining about church construction.
A spokesman for Egypt's interior ministry confirmed that around 500 Muslims had gathered after Friday prayers, and that the entrances to three homes had been set on fire. He said three people were hurt in the commotion, but declined to characterize it as a clash.
One security source said Christians in Behma were expanding a house that was used informally for prayer, although others said the Christians were constructing a new church from scratch. The sources could not immediately say whether the Christians had obtained proper building permits.
Egypt suffered its worst Christian-Muslim clashes in decades in 1999, when 20 Christians were killed, 22 people wounded and scores of shops destroyed in sectarian strife in the southern village of Kosheh.
In February, Muslims set fire to Christian-owned shops in southern Egypt after hearing rumors of a love affair between a Muslim woman and a Coptic Christian man.
Last year, a 45-year-old Muslim man stabbed a Coptic Christian man to death and wounded five others in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria, sparking three days of sectarian clashes in which one Muslim was killed. Egypt says the attacker was mentally ill.