Monday, June 20, 2005

UNDP Help for Imams Stirs Controversy

The UN and Syrian government recently signed a deal to help Syrian Imams with training courses and booklets. This rather innocuous program has stirred considerable controversy in Syria. Jordan already subscribes to the program. UNICEF provides Imams with short booklets that deal with topics such as water conservation, the environment and AIDs. The pamphlets provide Quranic suras that relate to these issues.

One friend explained to me that Syrian Imams are paid badly. Until recently they received $60 a month from the state. Muhammad Habash, the liberal Imam and parliamentarian recently helped pass a bill that raised their salary to $80. Because Syrian Imams are not paid higher salaries if they have advanced degrees, many Imams merely get a certificate from Islamic institutes, which qualify them to become an Imam. They have no incentive to pursue higher education.

This means that assistance from the UN can be helpful in broadening the education and awareness of Imams. Of course, it also brings with it the fear of Western "brain-washing," which the following article by Islam on Line raises.

Syria Enlists UNDP Help to Fight Extremism
By Salwa Al-Astawani, IOL Correspondent

DAMASCUS, June 15, 2005 ( – The Syrian government’s religious training program deal with the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) aims to fight rising extremism and fanaticism in the country, sources close to the government said Wednesday, June 15.

“The expanding Salafist, Jihadist and extremist currents are now ringing the alarm bells in the government,” the sources told on condition of anonymity.

The government is also concerned that the chaos and sectarian tension in neighboring Iraq could spill over to its territories, they added.

The agreement was signed Monday, June 13, following a meeting between President Bashar Al-Assad and UNDP Regional Director Rima Khalaf Hunaidi.

“It is aimed at qualifying scholars and religious institutions, and polishing up their skills,” UND Regional Coordinator Ali Al-Zatari, who inked the deal on behalf of the UNDP, told IOL Wednesday.

He said the training will be based on media, up-to-date technologies and seminars.

The sources also told IOL that the government was "determined to stand up firmly to extremists and violence before spreading like wildfire in the country as it is the case in some Arab and Muslim countries".

They cited last week’s Damascus raid by Syrian troops on a cell calling itself the Levant Soldiers for Jihad, which led to the killing of two cell members and the seizure of weapons, hand grenades, violence-inciting leaflets and walky-talkies.


But Islamist MP Mohammad Habash said the UNDP religious training program is predestined to fail because “developing religious discourse is a purely Islamic affair.”

He suggested setting up a “National Religious Guidance Council” to rein in fanaticism.

“The idea, however, was roundly rejected by the ruling party,” he told IOL.

Other Islamists, who requested anonymity, said Muslims are in no need of foreigners to teach them their religion

They charged that the program was designed to implicitly change curricula under the war on fanaticism and UN cloak.

Analysts believe that poverty and ignorance are breeding ground for rising fanaticism and violence in Arab and Muslim countries.

They also blamed the phenomenon on the government's heavy-handed approach, the absence of freedom of expression and democracy, the crackdown on political parties and movements and the strict secular agenda of the state.

They further said that the governments should lift its hands off religious institutions and stop exploiting them as tool to serve its political interests.

The ruling Baath Party, which concluded on June 9 four days of brainstorming sessions on its future, has ruled out the possibility of forming religious parties, closing the door to key groups like the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood.

The Baath congress, which analysts said only came up with modest reforms, was preceded by a series of arrests of political opponents and Muslim Brotherhood activists., 16 June 2005.
Ibrahim Hamidi recently published this article in al-Hayat on the UNDP-Syrian agreement.

سورية تستعين بخبراء دوليين للحد من التعصب وتحويل دور المؤسسة الدينية الى تنموي
دمشق- ابراهيم حميدي ,الحياة - 14/06/05
كشفت مصادر دولية لـ«الحياة» امس ان الحكومة السورية وقعت اتفاقا مع «البرنامج الانمائي للامم المتحدة» يهدف الى تحويل دور «رجال الدين والمؤسسات الدينية الى اتجاه تنموي يحد من التعصب»، بالاعتماد على وسائل اعلام حديثة والمناهج المدرسية وتوفير كتب ومنشورات وعقد ندوات.

تزامن هذا مع اعلان السلطات السورية عن تفكيك «خلية ارهابية» تابعة لـ«تنظيم جند الشام للجهاد والتوحيد» بعد اكتشاف عمليات تعصب مشابهة في مناطق اخرى في سورية.

وكان المنسق المقيم لـ«البرنامج الانمائي» علي الزعتري وقع الاتفاق مع وزير الاوقاف السوري انس الايوبي. وجاء في مسودة اولية للاتفاق ان «البرنامج سيقدم لرجال الدين والمؤسسات الدينية برنامجا للتأهيل ولتطوير وتعزيز قدرات المؤسسة الدينية ومهارات العاملين فيها».

وكانت الحكومة السورية رفضت توقيع هذا الاتفاق، لكن الموافقة السورية جاءت بعد لقاء جرى بين الرئيس بشار الاسد ومدير المكتب الإقليمي للدول العربية في «البرنامج الإنمائي» ريما خلف هنيدي، بسبب توفر قناعة سورية بـ«ضرورة التركيز على الدور التنموي للدين».

وبحسب مسودة البرنامج التي تخضع حاليا لمراجعة من قبل خبراء الامم المتحدة، فان الخطة تتضمن «منهجا متكاملا يستعين بوسائل الاعلام والاعلان والكتب والمناهج المدرسية ودورات التأهيل والتطوير وتكنولوجيا المعلومات واللقاءات والندوات العلمية والشعبية، التي تستهدف رجال الدين والمؤسسات الدينية».

وفي سورية نحو ثمانية الاف جامع و120 معهدا لتحفيظ القرآن الكريم واكثر من 22 معهدا لتدريس علوم الدين ودراسات عليا في الشريعة الاسلامية.

ولاحظ خبراء الامم المتحدة ان الاحصاءات الرسمية «تكشف وجود مشكلات وسلوكيات تعاني منها المجتمعات العربية عامة (والمجتمع السوري) وتزداد هذه المشكلات حدة يوما بعد يوم ما يشكل عائقا حقيقيا في وجه التنمية والتطوير الاجتماعي والاداري والاقتصادي ويعيق كثيرا برامج التطوير الرسمية وغير الرسمية».

وكان النائب الاسلامي محمد حبش قال لـ«الحياة» انه اقترح على الحكومة السورية تأسيس «مجلس وطني للتوجيه الديني» بما يساهم من «الحد من ظاهرة التعصب الديني التي بدأت تظهر في البلاد»، قبل ان يشير الى ان القيادة القطرية السابقة لحزب «البعث» رفضت هذا الاقتراح.
The following article, denying that madrassas, or Islamic schools, are a source of 9-11 terrorism, is interesting.

The Madrassa Myth
Published: June 14, 2005

IT is one of the widespread assumptions of the war on terrorism that the Muslim religious schools known as madrassas, catering to families that are often poor, are graduating students who become terrorists. Last year, Secretary of State Colin L. Powell denounced madrassas in Pakistan and several other countries as breeding grounds for "fundamentalists and terrorists." A year earlier, Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld had queried in a leaked memorandum, "Are we capturing, killing or deterring and dissuading more terrorists every day than the madrassas and the radical clerics are recruiting, training and deploying against us?"

While madrassas may breed fundamentalists who have learned to recite the Koran in Arabic by rote, such schools do not teach the technical or linguistic skills necessary to be an effective terrorist. Indeed, there is little or no evidence that madrassas produce terrorists capable of attacking the West. And as a matter of national security, the United States doesn't need to worry about Muslim fundamentalists with whom we may disagree, but about terrorists who want to attack us.

We examined the educational backgrounds of 75 terrorists behind some of the most significant recent terrorist attacks against Westerners. We found that a majority of them are college-educated, often in technical subjects like engineering. In the four attacks for which the most complete information about the perpetrators' educational levels is available - the World Trade Center bombing in 1993, the attacks on the American embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the 9/11 attacks, and the Bali bombings in 2002 - 53 percent of the terrorists had either attended college or had received a college degree. As a point of reference, only 52 percent of Americans have been to college. The terrorists in our study thus appear, on average, to be as well educated as many Americans.

The 1993 World Trade Center attack involved 12 men, all of whom had a college education. The 9/11 pilots, as well as the secondary planners identified by the 9/11 commission, all attended Western universities, a prestigious and elite endeavor for anyone from the Middle East. Indeed, the lead 9/11 pilot, Mohamed Atta, had a degree from a German university in, of all things, urban preservation, while the operational planner of 9/11, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, studied engineering in North Carolina. We also found that two-thirds of the 25 hijackers and planners involved in 9/11 had attended college.

Of the 75 terrorists we investigated, only nine had attended madrassas, and all of those played a role in one attack - the Bali bombing. Even in this instance, however, five college-educated "masterminds" - including two university lecturers - helped to shape the Bali plot.

Like the view that poverty drives terrorism - a notion that countless studies have debunked - the idea that madrassas are incubating the next generation of terrorists offers the soothing illusion that desperate, ignorant automatons are attacking us rather than college graduates, as is often the case. In fact, two of the terrorists in our study had doctorates from Western universities, and two others were working toward their Ph.D.

A World Bank-financed study that was published in April raises further doubts about the influence of madrassas in Pakistan, the country where the schools were thought to be the most influential and the most virulently anti-American. Contrary to the numbers cited in the report of the 9/11 commission, and to a blizzard of newspaper reports that 10 percent of Pakistani students study in madrassas, the study's authors found that fewer than 1 percent do so. If correct, this estimate would suggest that there are far more American children being home-schooled than Pakistani boys attending madrassas.

While madrassas are an important issue in education and development in the Muslim world, they are not and should not be considered a threat to the United States. The tens of millions of dollars spent every year by the United States through the State Department, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, and the Agency for International Development to improve education and literacy in the Middle East and South Asia should be applauded as the development aid it is and not as the counterterrorism effort it cannot be.

Peter Bergen, the author of "Holy War Inc.," is a fellow at the New America Foundation. Swati Pandey is a research associate there.


At 6/20/2005 10:42:00 PM, Anonymous Syrian Republican Party said...

The U.N. should be concerned with the rights of the People of Syria. The United Nation will be held moraly and l;egally liable for the damages incurred by the people of Syria for negligence in protecting their rights that are enshrined in the United nation Charter and the Human Right Declerations. The Syrian Republican Party shall demand immediate withdrawal of Syria from thi criminal organization and all it's affiliates.

At 6/22/2005 10:27:00 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear Joshua,
Only in Hama the state tells the imams what to say. in the rest of the country they have no such instructions and the imams say what they want. They have to know where are the red lines so they do not over step them. the Ministry of Islamic trusts pay Imams their salaries and therefore it is another mean to control the imams.


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