Friday, January 25, 2008

January 25, 2008 at 12:36 AM EST

January 25, 2008 at 12:36 AM EST
Banks are helping sharia make a back-door entrance
The Globe and

It seems only yesterday that Premier Dalton McGuinty declared: "There will be no sharia law in Ontario." Many of us, who witnessed the medieval nature of manmade sharia laws in our countries of birth, heaved a sigh of relief back in September of 2005. We thought this was the end of the attempt by Islamists to sneak sharia into a Western jurisdiction. We were wrong.

The campaign to introduce sharia is back. Last time, the campaign took a populist approach, invoking multiculturalism. This time, the pro-sharia lobby is dangling the carrot of new niche markets and has the backing of Canada's major banks. Such icons of the corporate world as Citibank NA, HSBC Holdings PLC, and Barclays PLC have endorsed sharia banking and have started offering Islamic financing products to a vulnerable Muslim population.

In May, 2007, The Globe reported that "Several Canadian financial institutions are preparing sharia-compliant mortgages, insurance, taxi licensing and investment funds to help serve the country's fastest-growing part of the population." Recently, the Toronto Star's business section reported that an unnamed bank may offer sharia loans as early as this summer; Le Journal de Montreal disclosed that Canada Mortgage and Housing Corporation(CMHC) was also getting in on the act. Stephanie Rubec, spokesperson for the CMHC, said the Crown corporation had launched a tender worth $100,000 to study Islamic mortgages for Muslim Canadians. Could she be oblivious to the fact that almost all Muslim Canadians currently have home mortgages through banks and don't feel they are living in sin? In fact, CMHC has gone a step further: It has quietly entered into a partnership with a Saudi company, AaYaan Holdings, to develop sharia-compliant mortgage-lending systems.

The origin of Islamic banking has its roots in the 1920s, but did not start until the late 1970s and owes much of its foundation to the Islamist doctrine of two people — Abul Ala Maudoodi of the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan and Hassan al-Banna of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The theory was put into practice by Pakistani dictator General Zia-ul-Haq who established sharia banking law in Pakistan.

Proponents of sharia banking rest their case on many verses of the Holy Koran that outlaw usury, not interest.

Verses that address the question of loans and debts include:

Al Baqarah (2:275): God hath permitted trade and forbidden usury;
Al Baqarah (2:276): Allah does not bless usury, and He causes charitable deeds to prosper, and Allah does not love any ungrateful sinner.

Every English-language translation of the Koran has translated the Arabic word riba as usury, not interest. Yet, Islamists have deliberately portrayed bank interest as usury and labelled the current banking system as un-Islamic. Instead, these Islamists have created exotic products with names that are foreign to much of the world's Muslim population. This is where they mask interest under the niqab of Mudraba, Musharaka, Murabaha, and Ijara.

Two authors, both senior Muslim bankers, have written scathing critiques of sharia banking, one labelling the practice as nothing more than "deception," with the other suggesting the entire exercise was "a convenient pretext for advancing broad Islamic objectives and for lining the pockets of religious officials." Why Canadian banks would contribute to this masquerade is a question for ordinary Canadians to ask.

Muhammad Saleem is a former president and CEO of Park Avenue Bank in New York. Prior to that, he was a senior banker with Bankers Trust where, among other responsibilities, he headed the Middle East division and served as adviser to a prominent Islamic bank based in Bahrain. In his book, Islamic Banking — A $300 Billion Deception, Mr. Saleem not only dismisses the founding premise of sharia and Islamic banking, he says, "Islamic banks do not practise what they preach: they all charge interest, but disguised in Islamic garb. Thus they engage in deceptive and dishonest banking practises."

Another expert, Timur Kuran, who taught Islamic Thought at the University of Southern California, mocks the very idea. In his book, Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism, Prof. Kuran writes that the effort to introduce sharia banking "has promoted the spread of anti-modern currents of thought all across the Islamic world. It has also fostered an environment conducive to Islamist militancy."

Dozens of Islamic scholars and imams now serve on sharia boards of the banking industry. Moreover, a new industry of Islamic banking conferences and forums has emerged, permitting hundreds of sharia scholars to mix and mingle with bankers and economists at financial centres around the globe. In the words of Mr. Saleem, who attended many such meetings, they gather "to hear each other praise each other for all the innovations they are making." He gives examples of how sharia scholars only care for the money they get from banks, willing to rubberstamp any deal where interest is masked.

No sooner had CMHC announced its plans to study sharia-compliant mortgages, than an imam from Montreal's Noor Al Islam mosque offered his services to Canada's banks, claiming Muslims are averse to conventional mortgages because "it goes against their beliefs," a claim that would not withstand the slightest scrutiny.

Other academics who have studied the phenomenon have reached similar conclusions. Two New Zealand business professors, Beng Soon Chong and Ming-Hua Liu of Auckland University, in an October, 2007, study on the growth of Islamic banking in Malaysia, wrote: "Only a negligible portion of Islamic bank financing is strictly 'profit-and-loss sharing' based. … Our study, however, provides new evidence, which shows that, in practice, Islamic deposits are not interest-free." They concluded that the rapid growth in Islamic banking was "largely driven by the Islamic resurgence worldwide."

In the name of Islam, deception and dishonesty is being practised while ordinary Muslims are being made to feel that their interaction with mainstream banks is un-Islamic and sinful. As Mr. Saleem asks, "If Islamic banks label their hamburger a Mecca Burger, as long as it still has the same ingredients as a McDonald's burger, is it really any different in substance?"
Tarek Fatah is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, to be published in March.
Stop Saudi inspired Sharia Banking in Canda

Monday, January 21, 2008

Radical Left, Iran’s Last Legal Dissidents, Until Now

Radical Left, Iran’s Last Legal Dissidents, Until Now
The New York Times

TEHRAN — In early December, a surprising scene unfolded at Tehran University: 500 Marxist students held aloft portraits of
Che Guevara to protest President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s policies. Smaller groups of Marxist students held similar protests in several other cities.

Political protest has been harshly suppressed under the current Iranian government, especially dissent linked to the West. But the radical left, despite its antireligious and antigovernment message, has been permitted relative freedom. This may be, analysts say, because, like the government, it rejects the liberal reform movement and attacks the West.
“The government practically permitted the left to operate starting five years ago so that they would confront religious liberals,” said Saeed Leylaz, a political analyst in Tehran. “But that led to the spread of a new virus.”

In recent weeks, the leaders of the Marxist student movement have been arrested, suggesting that the government is worrying about the size of the demonstrations and the growing attraction of an ideology that is deeply antithetical to its own.

Morad Saghafi, a political analyst and the editor in chief of Goftegoo magazine, said that it was not so strange that there were leftists but that it was significant that they were radical leftists. “They are showing a kind of radicalism to reform, religion and the current situation,” he said. Even some of those who object to President Ahmadinejad say permitting the growth of Marxist student movements is dangerous.

For example, former President
Mohammad Khatami, a moderate by Iranian standards, recently raised concern over the growth of leftists at universities. He drew a comparison with the struggles before the 1979 revolution and said after the shah’s government had banned religious groups, leftist groups encouraged armed struggle against him, according to the news agency ISNA.

Leftist students use an anti-imperialist discourse toward the United States and say they have no plans to overthrow the Iranian government. But they refer to the government as a capitalist regime and condemn pro-democracy politicians who support change as “bourgeois.”

In a leftist publication called Khak, meaning earth, a member who was jailed wrote in an editorial in May, “In this leftist movement we need to move based on the ideas of Marx, Engels and Lenin.” Marxists need “grass-roots and radical social movements,” he emphasized.

Another member, a woman who has an anonymous blog at (faaryaad means shout), writes “Reform died, long live revolution.” One leader, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of government reprisal, said, “We think the regime is a capitalist regime and Mr. Ahmadinejad is a true fascist.”

Members are atheists and attack poverty in
Iran as well as other countries, including the West. They consider no socialist country their role model, oppose pro-democracy students and accuse them of trying to reform a system that cannot be reformed.

Yet they have no specific agenda for change and seem almost nihilistic at times.

“We don’t think we can change anything in the near future,” said a 22-year-old student at Tehran University and member of a group called the Radical Marxists, who asked not to be identified. “But as students we think we can transfer our knowledge about class, capitalism and equality to society, especially the workers.”

Another member, Shahin, 21, who said his father was also a Marxist and was executed by the government in 1988, said the students ultimately want “free education, free health care and higher salaries for workers.”

Analysts familiar with them said leftist student groups began to emerge in the early 2000s when the democracy movement was suffering setbacks and many of their supporters were becoming disillusioned. The government ignored the leftist students until December when the government began cracking down on their leaders.

As in many countries, a majority of intellectuals in Iran has been influenced by Marxist ideas since the 19th century. Much of the literature written since then is closely interwoven with leftist notions. However, Marxists never gained power here. They played an important role in the success of the 1979 revolution but they were soon marginalized by the Islamists and their members were forced into exile. Many were executed in 1988.

Authorities allowed all of Marx’s books to be published after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Leftist books sell very well these days, one bookstore said. The store said the most popular books were those about the Confederation of Iranian Students, the most active organized opposition during the two decades before the 1979 revolution. Many of its members were influenced by leftist ideas.

Now, once again, it appears the government has decided to suppress the left. The number of arrests has reached 40 and those detained remain in the notorious Evin prison.
At least three Marxist groups operate at the universities around Iran. The Radical Marxists have the most supporters, according to students. The other two organizations are workers groups.

The 22-year-old Radical Marxists member said that she had rejected Iran’s laws against women when she was 7 and had to wear the Islamic hood known as a maghnaeh to cover her hair for the first time. “In religion class, we always got angry as women when we read in the books that the head of the family is the man,” she said.

Reza Sharifi, 34, the leader of the youth branch of Mosharekat, a party that seeks change, said it was hard for the government to suppress Marxist students at the same time it was seeking better relations with leftist leaders worldwide.

“The government paved the way for leftist movements in the country when its best friends became Castro and Chávez,” he said, referring to
Fidel Castro of Cuba and Hugo Chávez of Venezuela.

“The whole idea was that any country that was against America was on our side,” he said. “As a result, all communist leaders became the Islamic Republic’s best friends.”