Category Archives: Recent Posts

Legalize Bribe Giving

Written by Abid Amiri | 06 June 2012
Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine

Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Index (CPI) ranks Afghanistan the third most corrupt country after North Korea and Somalia. Last week when President Hamid Karzai was in the United State for the NATO Summit in Chicago, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked him about this rampant corruption issue in Afghanistan. As usual, President Karzai’s answer was “it is the contractual mechanism that the US applies in Afghanistan” that encourages bribery, fraud, and corruption. He has always blamed the west for the loss of billions of aid dollars and the rise of corruption in Afghanistan. However, on a daily basis, ordinary Afghans are less concerned about the kinds of bribery that are believed to occur when the US development agencies give out big development contracts. They are more infuriated by the kinds of bribes that they often have to give to get what they are legally entitled to. It is called “harassment bribes.”

Harassment bribes are when a retired Afghan has to pay some cash to the pension officer to receive his retirement check. Or, suppose a young girl who just graduated from college has to get her paperwork done in order to become a teacher. She is asked to pay a hefty bribe. Suppose your national ID card (Tazkira) is held back till you pay some cash to the officer in charge.  These are all illustration of harassment bribes. Harassment bribery is widespread in Afghanistan, and it plays a large role in breeding inefficiency and has a destructive effect on civil society.

While President Karzai constantly points fingers at the West for widespread corruption in Afghanistan, it is his administration’s duty to take responsibility for banishing bribery on the lower level. The West has nothing to do with this. It is a scourge that deserves to be banished. What can the Afghan government do to discourage bribe givers and takers from engaging in such acts?

Although it is impossible for a single person or even a single ministry to cure this malaise, small steps taken together can add up to something substantial. Kaushik Basu –  the Chief Economic Adviser to the Government of India – puts forward a radical idea of how corrupt countries like Afghanistan can take one step towards cutting down the incidence of bribery. He suggests that the act of giving a bribe should be a legitimate activity in order to reduce the incidence of harassment bribery. Yes, he wants bribe giving legalized.

Game theory suggests that under the current laws of Afghanistan Article 255 (2) of Afghanistan’s penal code (See the footnote) (bribe taker and bribe giver are both consider criminals) once a bribe is given, they both become partners in crime. It is in their joint interest to keep this fact hidden from the authorities and to be fugitives from the law, because if caught, both expect to be punished. Under Basu’s proposal, the giver of a harassment bribe should have full immunity from any punitive action by the authorities, while the bribe taker should be punished twice as much. In that case, it is in bribe giver’s interest to report the bribe taker to authorities, because he will go free, and also collect his bribe money back, while the bribe taker will lose the booty and also faces a hefty punishment.

Should bribe givers in cases of government contracts be fully immune too? The simple answer to this questions is NO. In such instances, both bribe giver and bribe taker commit illegal acts. Bribe giver is paying bribe taker to have got something that he does not deserve to get. For example, a rich real-estate developer bribes the Kabul Municipality to build an apartment in a location designated for a community park or a mosque.

All in all, the Afghan government needs to deal with rampant corruption in Afghanistan. Let’s not blame the West and start taking actions against bribe on the lower level. Small steps such as changing the law to protect the bribe giver from any sorts of punishment would help reduce harassment bribery in the country. In that case, the bribe givers will continue to cooperate with the law. The chances are much higher for the bribe takers to get caught. Since the bribe takers know this, they will be much less inclined to take the bribe in the first place.  Therefore, this establishes that there will be a drop in the incidence of bribery.

Footnote: Afghanistan’s Penal Code Article 255 states:

(1) The bribe-taker shall be sentenced to an imprison of not less than two years and not more than ten years and cash fine of equivalent of what he has requested as bribe or has been given to him or he has been promised to receive.

(2) The briber and the intermediary in bribery shall be sentenced to the same punishment mentioned in the above paragraph. 

Thoughts on the Strategic Partnership Agreement between U.S. and Afghanistan

Published in KHAAMA PRESS

I had a chance to read through the full text of the Strategic Agreement between Afghanistan and the United States attached below. Here are some of the points that stood out to me the most. I am less concerned about the political features and more interested in the economic and development components of the Pact. However, it is important to mention a couple of political pieces of the treaty.

First, the Agreement states that “[t]he Parties [Afghanistan and the US] … pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the people of the United States in this struggle.” While I do commend Americans, and their government for their sacrifices – both human and monetary sacrifices -, it is important to note that the Agreement should have acknowledged the sacrifices made by Afghans, too. We – Afghans and Americans – are equally harmed by this fight against terrorism. We both have lost lives, and treasure. The Pact should have instead indicated that the Parties should pay tribute to the sacrifices made by the people of Afghanistan and the United States in this struggle.

Second, the agreement calls Afghanistan a “Major Non-NATO Ally.” This is significant for two main reasons. This designation confers a variety of military and financial advantages that otherwise are not obtainable. It allows Afghanistan to use American financing for the purchase of certain defense equipment, and permits entry into research and development projects with the Pentagon on a shared-cost basis. Also, Afghanistan is the first nation to receive this title from President Barak Obama, while George W. Bush designated 6 countries as non-NATO allies.

On the economic and development front, there are a few major points in this agreement that I would like to highlight. First, it encourages Afghanistan to pursue consolidation and growth of a market economy, taking into consideration its historical and social realities. In other words, the US is hopeful that Afghanistan can have an open market economy, not similar to the US, but an economy that severs the culture, religion and the people well. To achieve this goal, according to the Agreement, the US will help strengthen and develop Afghanistan in the areas of agriculture, transportation, trade, and energy infrastructure. These are all critical sectors of the Afghan economy. Also, the US will encourage private investment in Afghanistan.

Most importantly, the Pact shows a strong desire that the Afghan people should be the primary beneficiaries of Afghanistan’s mineral wealth. The US will support Afghanistan to govern its natural resources through a framework that is accountable, efficient, effective and transparent. As I argued in my article Mineral: The Blood Diamond of Afghanistan, the Afghan government doesn’t have the capacity to develop its minerals now. Let’s get the tools first, and then exploit the natural resources.  That way the earnings will be greater, and the primary beneficiaries will be the Afghan people.

Finally, one more point that I found significant in this Agreement is the United States’ commitment to promote exchange programs such as Fulbright and other similar programs. As a Youth Exchange and Study program (YES) alum, I can attest to the benefit of such exchange programs. It definitely helps develop Afghanistan’s human resources in the long run.

Fixing Development Aid in Afghanistan

Written by Abid Amiri | 13 APRIL 2012
Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine

Recently in Washington there is a lot of talk about what has gone wrong in Afghanistan. It is now considered the longest war in U.S. history. The American public is growing wary about the war, and their support for the military presence in Afghanistan has dropped sharply. According to the latest New York Times/CBS News poll, 69 percent of Americans think that the U.S. should not be at war in Afghanistan. Also, the recent Quran burning incident and the Kandahar massacre by staff sergeant Robert Bales have angered the Afghan population. Anti-U.S. sentiment in Afghanistan is at an all-time high.

There are several arguments as to what’s gone wrong in Afghanistan. Some believe the war in Iraq shifted the focus from Afghanistan, which allowed the Taliban to re-group and come back stronger. Others blame President Obama’s counterinsurgency (COIN) strategy for the lack of success in Afghanistan. Critics argue that in the absence of a reliable partner in Kabul, the COIN strategy is too costly and potentially self-defeating. While the U.S. military strategy is at the core of every argument, failure of the U.S. foreign assistance strategy in Afghanistan is completely ignored. What has gone wrong in Afghanistan is not that the U.S. has failed militarily, but it has failed to develop a sustainable local economy for Afghans – a reliable economy that could have convinced the Taliban to lay down arms and make a better living by contributing to the overall economy.

When the U.S. went into Afghanistan in 2001, the country did not have an economy. There were no roads, no airports, no electricity, and no water. Basically, there was no infrastructure – thanks in large part to the four decades of constant war. There were no institutions to support the Afghan economy. The government barely had money to fund its activities, and most importantly, everyone lacked access to basic needs in schooling, health care, sanitation, and nutrition. There were lots crucial development projects that the aid money could have been used for and it would have helped the Afghan economy.

Instead, the United States came in and spent billions of aid dollars on projects without having a clear strategy for the country’s economy. Aid money was spent inefficiently on projects without strong oversight or any involvement from the Afghan government. Portion of the fund ended up in hands of the Taliban, in exchange for protection in remote areas controlled by the insurgents. The effectiveness of aid was seriously impaired by a lack of active oversight. The aid money went into pockets of corrupt leaders, warlords, and the Taliban, while the majority of the people did not see any benefit. It undermined the central government, empowered the enemy of the state, and gave rise to corruption. Therefore, the aid money has not produced tangible results on the ground in Afghanistan. The Afghan economy is heavily dependent on foreign aid, according to the World Bank report. The decrease in foreign assistance post-2014 is likely to cause the economic bubble to burst, plunging the country into an economic recession.

Afghans are hardworking people and ready to act, both individually and collectively. They are prepared to struggle to stay float and to get ahead. They have a very realistic idea about their conditions and how to improve them. But they are too poor to solve their problems on their own. So, too, is the Afghan government. Had the U.S. come up with a Marshall Plan based on the country’s needs, Afghanistan would have had a reviving market economy today. The Taliban would have laid down arms and made a prosperous living by contributing to the overall economy. The country would have played a crucial role in connecting regional markets through the Silk Road, which would have contributed to the stability of the region.

In short, what has gone wrong in Afghanistan is not the failure of U.S. military strategy, but the lack of an effective foreign assistance strategy – a blueprint for spending aid money on projects that are relevant to the Afghan economy. It is not too late to design such a strategy and finance projects important to the country’s economy, so that the future is more sustainable, and the already achieved success is durable.

Muslim Americans and the Media after September 11

Published in a social science journal – Islam & Muslim Societies (Vol. 5 No. 2 – 2012)

Mohammad Abid Amiri

St. Lawrence University – Global Studies Department

May 2011

Abstract

This paper argues that media is to blame for the recent rise in public anger and anti-Islamic riots against Muslim Americans. The study focuses on Muslims’ representation in the media after 9/11. The analysis has two parts. First, the author focuses on Muslims portrayal in the media during the first six months after 9/11, and finds that Muslim Americans were extensively covered, and presented without any biases both in print and cable news media. As a result, Americans’ perception of Muslims was positive, and there was less public anger towards Muslim Americans. However, then comes the first anniversary of 9/11. Thereafter, the media portrayal of Muslims became very negative, and less contextual. The study shows that the rise in negative and stereotypical presentations of Muslims in the news affected public perception about Muslims. More and more people had unfavorable opinions about Muslims. The author concludes that the recent public protests in NYC over the Ground Zero mosque and other hatred acts against Muslims have been as a result of this negative media campaign against Muslim Americans.

1.     Introduction

For the first time in 10 years since the attacks of September 11, several incidents happened in the United States that were indicative of rise in public anger towards Muslim Americans.  Americans seemed intolerant towards Islam and their fellow Muslim Americans when the controversy over the Islamic Center in lower Manhattan erupted in the summer of 2010. Hundreds and thousands of people came out on the streets of New York and other major cities around country to protest the construction of a mosque that was located a few blocks away from Ground Zero. The media conglomerate took this story and ran with it like never before. They started asking questions like “Should Muslims be allowed to build a mosque at Ground Zero?”  Or “Are Muslims anti-American?”  While it is the right of every American to build a house of worship anywhere in this country, Muslim Americans were considered an exception. It came as a surprise to see how many people were out on the streets chanting against the very right of their fellow Muslim Americans.

In addition, on the ninth anniversary of the September 11, a nondenominational church in Florida decided to host an “International Burn a Quran Day.” The event was hosted to remember the 9/11 victims and to take a stand against Islam. Once again the US media gave so much attention to this event that it became a national news headline. CNN hosted the organizer of the event, Pastor Terry Jones on their show. The Facebook page that was created to promote the event had more than 1,600 fans who “liked” the page and supported this action.

Also, in March of 2011, Peter King – Republican Congressman from New York – hosted a hearing of Muslim Americans. This was an unprecedented act by a member of congress.  The US Congress had never targeted a specific group of Americans for a certain cause or a problem before, except Joseph McCarthy’s anti-Communist hearing in the 1940s. Peter King argued that Muslim Americans do not cooperate with law enforcement agencies in arresting potential terrorists, although the Obama administration denied his claims. This was also headline news around the country. While Peter King’s hearing was covered extensively, Muslim Americans were not given a fair share of air time to counter act King’s claim that all Muslim Americans are a threat to this country.

The question remains why the public anger towards Muslim Americans grew substantially after almost 10 years since the 9/11 incidents. Americans lived peacefully alongside their Muslim neighbors right after 9/11. There were no protests, burning of the Quran or public hearing of Muslims in congress. Why has the American public grown more intolerant towards Islam and their fellow Muslims now? The answer to this question lies in representation of Muslim Americans in the media. This paper extensively studies Muslims illustration in the media and its effects on the general population.

Literature Review

Extensive scholarly work has been done on Muslims’ representation in the media. The most central literature is by Edward Said when he writes about the Iranian Hostage Crisis in his book Covering Islam (1981). He points out that the American media and its experts have failed to understand and explain the Arab and Muslim world to the American public. More specifically, he argues that:

“Muslims and Arabs are essentially covered, discussed, apprehended either as suppliers of oil or as potential terrorists. Very little of the detail, the human density, the passion of Arab-Muslim life has entered the awareness of event those people whose profession it is to report the Islamic world (Said, 26).” 

 In another study, Nurrullah (2010) – a sociology professor at University of Alberta – uses Edward Said’s understanding of Orientalism to analyze the Hollywood television serial “24”. The show portrays stereotypical images of Arabs and Muslims which exacerbates the ‘Othering process’ of Muslim Americans. The paper claims that cultural clash between the West and the Muslim world is not a new phenomenon. Islam and Muslims are historically looked down upon by the West. The negative portrayal of Muslims in the media began after the World War II with the development of sophisticated media technology.

Severin and Tankar (1997) argue that repeated coverage of Muslims as terrorists in the media leads to the belief that they are actually terrorists. Thus, hatred and discrimination derives from that source against all Muslims. They call the phenomenon the Agenda-setting theory where mass media agenda-setting causes an issue to be considered of highly value and importance to the public. Van Dijk (1991) supports the argument and adds that the more people have exposure to news media, the more likely they are concerned about issues that are covered in news regularly. Therefore, media has a great influence in changing public perception.

This paper contributes to the current literature in two ways: First, it studies Muslim Americans’ news coverage to see whether the news after 9/11 had similar limitations and weaknesses as Said argues. Second, it would examine how the representation of Islam/Muslims in the media has affected the American public sentiment towards their Muslim neighbors.

Methodological Considerations

In this world of internet the term media does not only refer to cable news channels, newspapers and magazines, but also websites, blogs, and online sources. Material used for this research project includes highly visited news sites, YouTube videos, news clips, and other online materials.  Given the wide range of media sources, focusing on the internet media seems a far more appropriate way to approach this topic. However, the focus remains on four mainstream media sources. Data from two major cable news channels, CNN and FOX News, and two national print media, the New York Times and the Washington Post, are used to analyze Muslims’ representation in the media. In order to hear Muslim voices, the study also includes information from a focus group conducted by Columbia University in 2002.

2.     Media Representation of Muslim Americans

The problem is not lack of Muslims’ coverage in the news, but the way the news about them is framed that conveys stereotypes and affects public perception of Muslims. The nature of news is to report certain events and exclude others from airing. To be fair to mass media conglomerates, they cannot cover all aspects of Muslim Americans. As Lippmann said, one must distinguish between news, and truth. Not all reporting is necessarily poor or biased. However, sometimes media tends to report news with explanatory frames that give clues and ideas to readers, listeners and viewers, and puts events, problems, and people into contextual frameworks of reference. This framing does affect the news in many ways, for instance, in choice of language, topic and photographs. By framing the news along the lines of traditional prejudices of society’s predominant groups, the news coverage conveys stereotypes that affect public perceptions of how they think about race, ethnicity and religion.

In order to study Muslim Americans’ framing in the news media after 9/11, it is important to focus on two specific periods; the first six-month period after the attacks and the period after the first anniversary of September 11. The two periods are very important because the news framework completely changed during these two episodes. In the first immediate six months after 9/11, the media representation was very positive, comprehensive, frequent and contextual. However, after the first anniversary of 9/11, the media coverage changed. It became very negative, stereotypical and exclusive. To understand the difference in news coverage during these two periods, it is important to know the two most important media frameworks: Episodic and Thematic news frames.

Episodic and Thematic News Frames

Shanto Iyengar, professor of political science at Stanford University, coined the terms Episodic and Thematic. He believes there are different ways of framing news stories, and they have different effects on viewers. Episodic news frame focuses on individual case studies and discrete events. It reduces life to a series of disconnected episodes, or random events. The more episodically social issues are framed, the less likely it is that citizens will hold their government and other civic organizations accountable for solving the problem.

In contrast, thematic news frame focuses not only on isolated cases but on trends over time. It highlights the context and the environment in which the incident occurred. Also, it identifies shortcomings that have contributed to the problem. The more thematic the coverage of an issue, the more likely it is that citizens will hold their government and other organization accountable for the problem.

Media Coverage of Muslims in the first Six Months after 9/11

According to Nacos and Torres-Reyna (2007), “following the terrorist attacks of September 11, the news about Muslim Americans and Arabs … changed from overwhelmingly episodic to mostly thematic.”[vii] Muslim Americans were more frequently covered in the news and more often interviewed or citied as sources than before the events of 9/11. They were given a chance to speak for themselves rather than the commentators talking on their behalf offering their views on certain issues relating to Muslim Americans. The thematic news coverage of the four mainstream conglomerates (CNN, FOX, NY Times and Washington Post) about Muslim Americans increased by 19 percent during the first six months after 9/11. In contrast, the percentage of episodic news stories declined by 21 percent during the same period.

In addition, the coverage of Muslims increased in both cable and print media. CNN aired 203 segments about Muslims Americans during the first six months after 9/11, compared to 23 segments during six months before 9/11. The coverage in Fox news increased by about 99 percent in the first 6 months after September 11 attacks (Figure 1). Similarly, in print media the New York Times increased reporting from 345 articles in pre-9/11 to 1,468 articles in 6 months after the attacks. In addition, many opinion leaders and President George W. Bush came out in the immediate aftermath of September 11 to asked the public not to blame the Muslim community in the United States collectively for the terrorist deeds of a few. On several occasions the President asked for a collective unity against the common problem.

Strikingly, most of the coverage was more positive than negative in the immediate six-month period after 9/11. The tone of anti-Islam and anti-Muslim rhetoric had lowered compared to previous years. While 42 percent of the total segments/articles in CNN, Fox News, New York Times and Washington Post were categorized as positive/supportive in the first six months after 9/11, only 25 percent of the news was supportive of Muslim Americans in the six months before 9/11. Meanwhile, the percentage of negative or critical segments/articles about Muslims in the four news sources declined from 31 percent to 22 percent in the six months post-9/11 (Table 1).

With such a drastic change in coverage habit, there was a shift from stereotypical portrayal to more comprehensive and inclusive news presentation of Muslim Americans. The New York Times published the following letter from a Muslim American on October 26, 2001 in their opinion section. This letter to the editor denies all terrorist acts committed by the Taliban and Al-Qaida and asks Muslim to stand up and resist the cruel act done in the name of Islam. In fact, the publication of this article indicates that not only moderate Muslims were given a chance to share their opinion in the aftermath of 9/11, but articles with positive messages were printed and aired by news conglomerates. It shows a shift from episodic to more thematic news coverage during the first six months after September 11, 2001.

__________________________________________________________

To American Muslims

Published: October 26, 2001

To the Editor:

 Re ”New York Cleric’s Departure From Mosque Leaves Mystery” (news article, Oct. 23):

As a secular American Muslim, I feel compelled to advise fellow American Muslims that we must recognize that the World Trade Center attack was an act of mass murder, pure and simple.

Suicide is prohibited by the Koran, as is the killing of innocent civilians. Many Muslims seem to be in deep denial about the tragic events of Sept. 11, and some are even coming up with conspiracy theories about who was responsible.

We should stand up and resist the Taliban-like forces in the American mosques that mandate a draconian Muslim system that bars women from work, prohibits television, music and dancing and punishes men who trim their beards. We should discourage importing scholars from abroad who are unaware of the social context and dynamics of this society.

SYED N. ASAD

Lattingtown, N.Y., Oct. 23, 2001

_____________________________________________________

It is important to know how the American public received the positive and less negative media depiction of Muslim Americans. According to a content analysis conducted by Columbia University in 2002, American public in general viewed Muslim Americans more favorably after September 11 than before. Fewer people responded to the survey saying that they had never heard of Muslim Americans or could not judge their attitude towards their Muslim fellows. Everyone had something to say about Islam and the people who belonged to this religion in the first six months after 9/11. As a result, the public attitude towards Muslims shifted positively in the immediate period after 9/11. Pew Research Center survey shows that there was an increase of 5 percent in Americans favorable attitude and a decline of 3 percent in unfavorable attitude towards Muslims in November of 2011 (Table 2).

To sum up, these trends tell us that media coverage of certain group of people or issues has an impact on public’s perception about these people and problems. The period right after September 11, 2001 was a period of understanding this unknown religion and people who perpetrated the attacks which, in effect, forced the media to cover Muslims more frequently. The press started to paint a comprehensive picture of Muslims by giving them more access on air. The limited news about Muslims and the more episodic framing patterns before 9/11 that added to negative stereotypes suddenly changed to more thematic news framing patterns in the six-month period post- 9/11. This thematic and regular coverage of Muslims improved Americans perception of their Muslim neighbors. However, this positive sequence was not long lasting. The pattern quickly changed by the first anniversary of 9/11, which is discussed in the following segment.

Media Coverage of Muslims  after the First Anniversary of 9/11 and onwards

By the first anniversary of September 11, the portrayal of Muslim Americans in both print and cable news had completely shifted from the more frequent, positive, contextual, thematic, descriptive and comprehensive coverage to a more frequent, negative, stereotypical, episodic and exclusive coverage. The share of reporting on Muslim Americans declined, hate crimes skyrocketed and the positive public perception of Muslims that was created in the immediate period after 9/11 diminished. Eventually, this negative perception of Muslims manifested itself through anti-Islamic riots and hatred of Muslim Americans in following years.

After the first anniversary of the terror attacks on the World Trade Center, thematic news was replaced by episodic coverage. “One of the old and valid journalistic tools used in thematic reporting is to provide answers to the five Ws – who, what, when, where and why.” Thematic news demands an answer to the five Ws and pays particular attention to explaining the “why” of whatever triggers the news. For example, a news report about a certain number of Muslim Americans that are held in detention facilities around the country based on tougher antiterrorism measures constitutes episodic reporting. Thematic coverage would report on every single case, ask why these people were detained and dig in for more background information about the detainees. While in the weeks and months after the first anniversary of 9/11 episodic news reporting increased by 27 percent, thematic coverage of the four national news conglomerates declined from 50 percent in the immediate six-month period after 9/11 to 20 percent in the first six months after the first anniversary of 9/11. In other words, Muslim Americans were not covered with depth and description as they were in the first six months after 9/11. Instead, reports were mainly opinionated by people and commentators who did not know enough about the religion or Muslim American way of life.

Moreover, the coverage of Muslim Americans declined by 67 percent in the six month period after the first anniversary of 9/11. Figure 2 illustrates that CNN news segments dropped from 203 to 67 news pieces after the first anniversary of 9/11. Similarly, articles about Muslim Americans in the Washington Post declined from 568 to 187 during the same period.

Oddly enough, most of the coverage was negative after 2002. According to a content analysis conducted by Columbia University, positive news articles and news clips in CNN, FOXNew York Times and Washington Post declined from 42 percent in the 6 months after 9/11 to 21 percent after the first anniversary of 9/11 (Table 3). Meanwhile, negative coverage of Muslim Americans increased by 21 percent during this same period. In addition, unlike the first six months after the 9/11 incidents, many leaders and politicians did not come out to ask the public for unity with the Muslim communities. “This negative coverage was not simply the result of different choices on the part of the news media, but also a reflection of the behavior of political leaders and other influential figures in the United States.”

Here is an example of negative coverage by the US media. The following excerpt is from an article titled Homegrown Osamas written by Nicholas D. Kristof, an op-ed columnist for the New York Times. He wrote this article on March 9, 2005 in response to a terrorist plot in America by a Muslim American. It is important to point out that at the end of the article he writes “So we don’t have to go to Saudi Arabia to find violent religious extremists steeped in hatred for all America stands for. Wake up – they’re here.” The article is problematic in a sense that while Kristof is making his point about homegrown terrorists, he is also adding to the conscious minds of the public about the danger of Muslim terrorists in their backyard.

_____________________________________________________________

Homegrown Osamas

By Nicholas D. Kristof
Published: March 9, 2005

 Threats to federal judges and prosecutors have increased sharply since they began to be tabulated 25 years ago, but the attack on Judge Lefkow’s family, if it was related to her work, would take such threats to a new level. Who would want to be a judge if that risked the lives of loved ones?

Whatever the circumstances of those murders, Mr. Hale provides a scary window into a niche of America that few of us know much about. Since 9/11, we’ve focused almost exclusively on the risk of terrorism from Muslim foreigners, but we have plenty of potential homegrown Osamas.

We were too complacent about Al Qaeda and foreign terrorists before 9/11. And now we’re too complacent about homegrown threats.

So we don’t have to go to Saudi Arabia to find violent religious extremists steeped in hatred for all America stands for. Wake up – they’re here.

______________________________________________________________

As a result of negative portrayal of Muslim Americans in the media, public perception of Americans about Muslims changed dramatically. According to a Pew Research Center survey, public’s negative perception about Muslims continued to increase as shown in Figure 3. They asked the survey participants this same question in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2010 “Do you have a general favorable or unfavorable opinion of Islam and Muslim Americans?” Each year more and more people said they had unfavorable opinion about Muslims. In 2002, only 33 percent of the participants had negative perception. In 2003, the negative opinion increased to 34 percent and eventually in 2010 to 38 percent. Also, according to the survey, more and more Americans felt they knew less and less about Islam as each year passed since 9/11. It indicates that media’s negative portrayal not only changed American public perception but also gave the public less and less information or misinformed them about the religion and the people. According to a Pew poll, in 2002 only 29 percent of Americans did not know enough about Islam to form their opinion about Islam and Muslim Americans. That number started to grow to 26 percent in 2003 and to 32 percent in 2010.

Therefore, hate crime and assault rates against Muslim Americans grew after the first six-month period of 9/11. The numbers of hate crime incidents were 481 in late 2001.[xiii]  Religious intolerance was at its peak during this time. In the following years the number of anti-Islamic hate crime incidents dropped to 155 in 2002 and 149 incidents in 2003. However, public anger did not come out until 2009 and 2010 when Americans walked down the streets shouting anti-Islamic slogans and revolting against the basic rights of Muslims, such as building a Mosque. Their religious book was threatened to be burned, and they were subjected to a hearing in congress.

 3.      Conclusion

To sum up, it is right to say that based on the trends shown above, the US media has played a major role in shaping public perception about Muslim Americans. In the immediate six months after 9/11, the positive, contextual, and thematic portrayal of Muslims in the news helped improve public perception of Muslim. However, after the first anniversary of 9/11, the stereotypical representation of Muslims in the media, as Edward Said would say, expedited the “Other Process” of Muslim Americans. The four mass media corporations, CNN, FOX, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, clearly had an agenda to pursue. It would need another research project to find out about their agendas, but one thing is clear that they created a platform for the Iraq War in 2003. Right after the first anniversary of 9/11 in 2002, cable news coverage and newspaper articles pursued a different framing style – a negative propaganda style that injected misleading information into public sphere about Muslims. Maxwell McCombs and Donald Shaw’s Agenda Setting Theory clearly fits the characteristics of American mass media representation of Muslim Americans in the post-9/11 era. American public was constantly fed with impartial, incorrect, and biased news coverage to raise the importance of fear from Muslims in public minds. As Cultivation Theory suggests, exposing public to recurrent negative images about Muslims resulted in convincing Americans the threat from Muslims is real. Thus, this agenda driven anti-Islamic/Muslim rhetoric in the media added to public hatred and anger towards Muslim Americans, which eventually led to public uprising against Muslims in recent years over the Ground Zero Mosque in Manhattan and other incidents mentioned above.


 

Table 1: Depiction of Muslim Americans in the news

6 Months BEFORE 9/11 6 Months AFTER 9/11
Positive/Supportive

25%

42%

Neutral/Ambiguous

44%

36%

Probably Negative/Critical

31%

22%

Table 2: Public’s attitudes toward Muslim Americans

Very Favorable Mostly Favorable Mostly Unfavorable Very Unfavorable Never Heard of Cannot rate
Sept. 2000

11%

39%

13%

8%

2%

27%

Mar. 2001

7%

38%

16%

8%

4%

27%

Nov. 2001

15%

44%

12%

5%

1%

23%

Mar. 2002

8%

46%

14%

8%

2%

22%

Table 3: Depiction of Muslim Americans in the news

  6 Months After 9/11 After the First 9/11 Anniversary
Positive/Supportive

42%

21%

Neutral

36%

37%

Negative

22%

43%



Is the Quran only for Afghans to defend?

WRITTEN BY ABID AMIRI | 27 February 2012

Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine

The major news out of Afghanistan this week has been the Quran burning violent protests around the country. On Tuesday the news broke that the U.S. – led military coalition forces had sent the holy books by mistake or intentionally, that remains to be investigated, to a garbage burn pit in Bagram Air Filed.  Afghans were outraged by this appalling act, and thousands of them came out on the streets to protest.  At first the demonstrations were peaceful. As the protests continued around the country in different provinces, they turned violent. Thus, at least 28 people have been killed and hundreds wounded since Tuesday.  In addition, four American soldiers have been shot dead.  However, it is important to know why only Afghans are protecting the Quran, and protesting against burning the Islamic holy book. Remember it is not the Afghan holy book, but the Islamic holy book. Why don’t people in Iran, Saudi Arabia or other Islamic countries also come out to protest? Not suggesting that they should, but isn’t the Quran their holy book too?

Certainly, Afghanistan is different than almost all other Islamic countries. First, it has the lowest literacy rate among Muslim nations – thanks to the four-decade long war. Three out of four Afghans age 15 and over cannot read and write. If they cannot read the Quran, they definitely do not understand it. Therefore, the majority of the population receives its basic Islamic knowledge from the tribal elders, the local Imams, and other religious leaders in the community. These individuals have strong political incentives to take advantage of incidents such as these protests. They mobilize people, appeal to their anger, and emotions in order to promote their political agendas. On the other hand, Muslims in Iran or Saudi Arabia are well educated. They do not take their religious leaders’ call for protest for granted. Almost 80% of Iranians are literate. They can read and understand the Quran. That is a major difference in literacy rate between Iran and Afghanistan – two neighboring countries, and it makes a huge difference in peoples’ approach to problems like the Quran burning.

Second, the unemployment rate in Afghanistan has been fluctuating between 30-40% since 2001, unlike any other Muslim country. That means almost 7 to 8 million people are unemployed in the country.  A man from Parwan province was quoted in the 2010 Oxfam survey saying, “If the people are jobless, they are capable of doing anything.” Many of these young unemployed men are frustrated. They develop a sense of negative attitude towards the central government. Some leave the country, those who can afford to do so, and others get involved in widespread antisocial and criminal behaviors like the Quran burning violent protests. The bottom line is that while young Muslims around the world are employed, and enjoy a good life, the Afghan youth are struggling with unemployment and uncertainty that fuels anger, and violent activities, as a result.

Third, according to some estimates, almost 36% of the Afghan population is living under the poverty line. It is an unprecedented figure compared to any other Muslim country. In other words, one out of every three Afghans has a total income of less than $1 a day. They can at best barely meet their minimal needs for survival. Remember Afghanistan has had the harshest winter this year, and reportedly 40 people, most of them children, have frozen to death. These are the people living under the poverty line, in tents. Their children do not have warm clothes, and they walk around in the snow with bare feet, or torn apart sandals. People are sick and tired of living a subsistence life. They are frustrated and annoyed by the fact that so much foreign aid money has been poured into the country and their lives haven’t changed a bit, in some cases have gotten worse. These people are easily motivated by those who have political agendas to join violent protests.

In sum, it is not only Afghans responsibility to defend the Quran; however, the current social and economic problems have created the platform for Afghans to engage in such violent activities. Other Muslim nations are not amenable to such threats; therefore, we haven’t seen the Quran burning related incidents elsewhere.

Written by: Abid Amiri
Washington, DC – Saturday, February 25, 2012

Why are Afghans leaving Afghanistan?

WRITTEN BY ABID AMIRI | 31 JANUARY 2012

Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine at http://www.diplomaticourier.com/news/central-asia/732

More than 30,000 Afghan citizens filed for political asylum abroad in the first eleven months of 2011, according to UN statistics. The figure indicates a 25 percent increase over the same period in 2010. The number of people fleeing Afghanistan has trebled since four years ago despite the international community pouring billions of dollars into Afghanistan to try and boost the economy, rebuild infrastructure, and defeat a Taliban-led insurgency. Experts believe the actual number leaving is likely to be far higher than those only seeking asylum because of a large smuggling market that has developed. However, this rising trend begs a question of why so many people are leaving Afghanistan. In other words, what are the major incentives abroad that are encouraging Afghans to flee their country?

First, most of these people are economic migrants. Marco Boasso, the director of IOM in Kabul, said: “The majority of people arriving in Europe are not refugees or people under threat. They are economic migrants.” The outlook of many young Afghans have grown more pessimistic in the past five years. In 2002, after the Taliban were ousted from power, if you would ask an Afghan man what his future plans were, the answer would definitely not be to leave Afghanistan and go abroad. Instead, at the time more and more immigrants were returning from Iran and Pakistan. They wanted to settle in their home country and build a prosperous life. However, in the last five year most of them have been disappointed. The unemployment rate in the country has remained at more than 40 percent since the fall of the Taliban government. Most young men are escaping redundancy and poverty, and taking shelter abroad. They are turning to an increasingly sophisticated human smuggling industry, paying anywhere from a few hundred dollars to more than $30,000 for fake papers and flights to countries in Europe and Australia.

The second reason why so many Afghans are seeking asylum abroad is the thirst for education. Nearly 200,000 students graduated from high school in 2008, and only 34,460 of them were enrolled in public tertiary education system, according to the Afghan Ministry of Education. About 500 students went on a scholarship to Indian colleges and universities. A few hundred others were fortunate enough to earn Fulbright or similar grants to America, Europe, and Turkey. The Afghan Ministry of Higher Education has not had the capacity to absorb a large chunk of these graduates to higher education institutions. Thus, the remaining 82 percent or so who want to pursue higher education cannot attend college or university in Afghanistan. Each year more and more students are joining the ranks of those deprived from higher education. After three decades of war, Afghans have realized the importance of knowledge. They are in thirst of getting their college degrees, but unfortunately cannot. Therefore, there is no better alternative for them but to leave Afghanistan and go to Britain, the Netherlands, Sweden, etc. to get educated.

Above all, the security situation in the country has been deteriorating as the coalition forces are planning to withdraw by the end of 2014. There are growing concerns and uncertainty among Afghans as to what will happen when the troops leave the country. The memories of the Soviet withdrawal in 1989 and the civil war that followed are fresh in minds of many. Afghans fear that once most foreign troops leave, the Taliban will take over more territory and civil war could erupt along ethnic lines. They are leaving Afghanistan to secure a safe future for themselves and their children abroad.

Three Transit Routes for Landlocked Afghanistan

Published in the Diplomatic Courier Magazine 

Last November when the U.S. unmanned drone killed 24 Pakistani soldiers, in retaliation, the government of Pakistan decided to block the supply routes to Afghanistan. Since then, not only NATO supply trucks have been stopped, but also thousands of Afghan-bound containers loaded with commercial goods have been stranded in the port city of Karachi. Each and every time commercial goods are grounded in Pakistan, Afghan businessmen are losing money and Afghan consumers are paying higher prices for goods that are imported through Pakistan. It seems like landlocked Afghanistan is highly dependent on trade roads from Pakistan. However, there are three alternative transit routes that the Afghan government can exploit to facilitate exports and imports.

 First, the Afghan government can maintain the status quo. Pakistan will remain the major transit route into and out of Afghanistan. Business as usual, hundreds of trucks will camp out in Pakistan, when and if there is tension between Washington and Islamabad. As a result, the Afghan businessmen and household will ultimately bear the burden. In addition, there are major security concerns in this supply route from the Pakistan, which enters Afghanistan through the Khyber Pass. Militants always target cargo trucks near Torkham. In the last several years, we have seen an uprise in these attacks. This means Afghan businessmen will suffer huge losses, if similar attacks continue. This will also create unpredictable market behavior, which will result in inflation. If the status quo is retained, the Afghan economy will remain dependent on Pakistan, which could be used as leverage over Afghanistan.

The second option is the Northern Distribution Network (NDN) through Russia, the Caucuses, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The NDN is a network of road, rail, and air routes. In Afghanistan, Balkh province has a strategic position in the north as it has completed a rail link from Mazar-i-Sharif to Termez on the Uzbekistan border. These routes are far less dangerous than the supply routes that go through Pakistan. While the shorter Pakistani transit routes are less costly, the Northern Distribution Network is much more reliable. There are fewer custom issues, roads are paved, the rail system is steady, and freight delivery is guaranteed and on time. However, in order for Afghan businessmen to fully utilize this network, the Afghan government needs to sign a pact with several countries. The most important country in this network is Russia. The Afghan-Russian relationship has not been very good in the past few decades. Moscow wants to destabilize Afghanistan because this serves as a justification for Russian security and military engagement with Central Asian neighbors. Russia’s mixed interests and motivations in Afghanistan are a point of concern, as these two countries have bitter memories from the past Soviet invasion of 1979. The Northern Distribution Network is a feasible, but not an optimal option for the Afghan economy.

The third viable alternative trade route for Afghanistan is through Iran. Recent rounds of sanctions by the U.S. have pushed Iran’s economy into a nose-dive. As the European Union is adopting its sanctions on Iranian oil, Tehran is very vulnerable. It is turning eastward for doing business. The Afghan government could exploit Iran’s desperation, and sign a deal for access to the Iranian port of Chabahar. It is a port outside the Persian Gulf, and about 1,700 Kilometers away from the major western Afghan city of Herat. Unlike Pakistan, Iran in recent years has encouraged Afghan businesses to relocate their international offices from the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan to Iran. While ports of Karachi in Pakistan are overburdened with severe congestion, and lack infrastructure, Chabahar is less crowded, and strategically well positioned for Afghan imports and exports. Iran and India are building a highway and a railroad system that leads from the port into Afghanistan. The Iranian trade route is very cost effective and short distanced, as compared to that of Pakistan. In addition, this route is less dangerous and very reliable. However, with one caveat, Iran’s foreign policy has proven to be focused on thwarting U.S. interests in Afghanistan. Tehran might use the economic ties with Afghanistan as a tool to hurt U.S. interests in the region, which might upset the U.S.-Afghan relationship. By and large, this is the most viable and optimal option for the Afghan economy as a whole.

All in all, because of Afghanistan’s landlocked location, its economy hugely depends on neighboring countries for transiting goods into and out of Afghanistan. The choice is between Pakistan, Northern Distribution Network, and Iran. However, in order to alleviate Afghan dependence on the Pakistani port of Karachi, Iran’s Chabahar port is the most cost effective, secure, and reliable trade route for the Afghan economy.