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Colorado’s Muslim community watching unrest in Africa, Middle East intently

Members of Colorado’s relatively small Muslim community are intently watching the rising tide of unrest in North Africa and the Middle East, according to the head of the Colorado Muslim Society, and are very supportive of changes that lead to greater freedom throughout the Arab world.

“We are for human dignity and justice and freedom from oppression for all of mankind,” CMS President Talib Syed told The Colorado Independent. “It doesn’t matter whether it’s here in the United States or in Africa or in Europe or the Middle East. Anything that happens that restores human dignity and gives rights to every human being throughout the world, we embrace it.”

Syed, who is of Indian descent, points out that only 20 percent of the world’s 1.2 billion Muslims worldwide live in the Middle East. He said no single country of origin dominates Colorado’s estimated 10,000 to 15,000-strong Muslim community, although in recent years a growing number of refugees from war-torn nations such as Somalia, Sudan, Afghanistan and Iraq have come to comprise the congregation of 2,000 to 2,500 at the society’s mosque on Parker Road in Denver.

Syed said the United States must support the spread of freedom and human dignity around the globe, even if it sometimes runs counter to the nation’s strategic interests.

“Sometimes we embrace this if it suits us and sometimes we just shut up and try to pretend that no, it doesn’t apply to us, because it may have some negative consequences for us,” Syed said. “What it means is democracy is good if it suits me and it’s bad if it doesn’t suit me. I’m free and I’m not free.”

In the wake of popular uprisings starting last month that toppled autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt and threatened hard-line rulers backed by the United States in Yemen and Bahrain, the unprecedented wave of democratic protest sparked bloody confrontation in Libya over the weekend, where strongman Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi reportedly ordered the slaughter of demonstrators.

The unrest and crackdown sent oil prices sharply higher Tuesday and also touched off ripples of nervousness throughout the region, where Israel reacted coolly to Iranian warships passing through the Suez Canal and Saudi leaders took measures to appease people in the world’s largest oil-exporting nation.

Syed said he and the Colorado Muslim Society’s membership, made up of Muslims from all around the world, appreciate the tricky position the Obama administration is in. It is difficult to only selectively support democracy when it is in the national interest, he said.

“I think that’s what our administration is also faced with because we are realizing now that if we want to push democracy throughout the world and then suddenly we find out that certain decisions that are made might not suit us, then we look bad,” Syed said.

In the small gulf nation of Bahrain, home to the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, U.S. policy on human rights and a lack of support for the nation’s repressed Shiite majority is being called into question. But some on the American right, including Tea Party stalwarts like Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck, have expressed fear that Islamic fundamentalists will fill the leadership void in the Middle East and stop the flow of oil to the United States.

Members of Colorado’s congressional delegation have remained relatively quiet on developments in the Middle East, with Democratic Sen. Mark Udall expressing support for democracy in Egypt after 30 years of oppression under President Hosni Mubarak. Republican U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn last month posted a statement calling for greater domestic energy production.

“With the recent turmoil in Egypt, speculation has ensued over the possible shutdown of the Suez Canal, which ferries through about 1.8 million barrels of oil every day,” Lamborn said. “Events of recent days underscore our need to reduce our dependence on foreign oil so our economy is not dependent on volatile foreign issues. America needs American-made energy.”

Muhammad Ali Hasan, a former Colorado Republican political figure who helped found Muslims for America, told TCI that fears of a fundamentalist takeover are overblown.

“It is wrong for anyone to state that the protests in the Middle East are a bad thing, because ultimately the Muslim world should be given a chance,” Hasan said from California, where he is joining the Democratic Party in Orange County. Hasan said that in 2008, 53 of the 56 Muslim nations worldwide were working with the United States to combat terrorist groups like al-Qaeda.

“During these changing times, we should naturally expect the political climate in the Muslim world to change, and based on data by Terror Free Tomorrow, we should expect that change to be charged by pro-liberty agents who are sympathetic to America, not al-Qaeda,” Hasan said.

However, Hasan agrees with Lamborn that there could be interruptions of the flow of oil to the United States and therefore impacts to the global economy.

“I do think that Congressman Lamborn brings up a good point about finding alternatives to oil or pushing domestic production, because in the short term oil sales could be disrupted,” Hasan said. “However, even the harshest dictator, including [Venezuela’s] Hugo Chavez and [Iran’s] Mahmoud Ahmadinejad loves to sell oil. If anything, over the long term, this will bode well for oil prices because there’s less unity now in OPEC price fixing, so the natural course should be more competition and lower prices.

“However, oil prices aside, our motivations should not be dictated by oil,” Hasan added. “The Muslim world needs an injection of liberty, and these protests give this world that chance. It is an encouraging sign.”

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