Mohsen al Attar

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Mohsen al Attar

Mohsen al Attar is a Marxist and a Muslim, lecturing in the Faculty of Law at the University of Auckland in New Zealand. His family emigrated from Egypt to Canada shortly before he was born. Stating that he was not overly concerned with labels, Attar commented,

"There will likely always be spas and slums but there’s no reason why we can’t tone down the spas a little and upgrade the slums. If this makes me a Marxist, anarchist, lefty, Muslim, wolf, goat, sheep, or elk then so be it."[1]

Marxist Sympathies

Attar holds in high esteem the teachings of marxist Paulo Freire. He states that his outlook on teaching, education and liberation can be best summed up with a quote from Freire,

"Liberating education consists in acts of cognition, not transferals of information."[2]

He has stated that he is captivated by the writings of Antonio Gramsci, a highly influential Marxist who was at one time, leader of the Communist Party of Italy, and Malcolm X, a black nationalist activist who was a leader and the public face of Nation of Islam.[2] In a 2008 interview he stated that Malcolm X was his personal hero, esteeming him as "one of the foremost intellectuals of the 20th century".[1]

Attar's View of Islam

In an April 1, 2008 interview with 95b FM,[3] Attar spoke about the Koran, stating that such things as stoning and polygamy found in the Koran are not obligatory:

"You have a number of say, myths, or stereotypes, beliefs concerning Islamic law, so they all talk about multple wives, etcetera etcetera, or stoning or beards, hjabs, etcetera etcetera, all of these different things. But if you look at it within the Koran, if you actually read the Koran for yourself, you'll see that none of these things are actually rules, none of these are requirements, none of this is obligatory."

Attar also spoke about the Bible and the Koran:

Attar: "They do mention class though, and they do mention struggle, and they do mention something about equality."
Interviewer: "And that's what we base our law on essentially isn't it?"
Attar: "Right."

Pro-Palestine views

Attar has expressed respect for the writings of pro-Palestine activist, Edward Said.[1]

Opposition to Death Penalty

While studying for his Master of Laws at the University of Texas in 2001, Attar worked with a team of lawyers in representing criminals sentenced to death.[1]

Support for Kenneth Foster

One of the criminals Attar worked with named Kenneth Foster was sentenced to death under the Texas Law of Parties in 1997.[1] Under this law, people are held criminally responsible for the actions of another if they aid and abet, or conspire with the principal offender. The victim, Michael LaHood was killed while defending a woman from four armed robbers of whom Foster was one. Attar and his team appealed the decision and sought to have his death sentence commuted on August 30, 2007. Attar said that he was very happy when he heard that Foster's sentence had been commuted a mere three hours before it was due to be carried out. Foster will be eligible for parole no sooner than 2037.

University of Auckland

Attar was the first lecturer in Islamic Law at the University of Auckland.[3] Here he is appreciative of his freedom to develop and teach courses of his choosing. He stated, "Not many law faculties are as supportive as Auckland in allowing me to teach the courses I want to teach."[1]

Vision for New Zealand & Society

In a March 12 2008 interview, Attar stated, "Cultural homogeneity is a thing of the past. Diversity is the key to the future." In an article published in the NZ Herald on March 5, 2008 he also stated, "Within New Zealand, a new Muslim community is emerging. This community is strong; this community is vibrant; this community is diverse; and this community is committed to forging a new ‘We’ in New Zealand."[1]

In an April 1, 2008 interview with 95b FM,[3] Attar spoke about globalization:

"You have people coming in from all parts of the World and joining new societies, so right now in New Zealand you have some 50,000 Muslims living here. So the issue ends up being one of integration, the issue ends up being one of understanding. And not just tolerance and respect and things of the sort, but actually understanding these people and trying to integrate them into the community, and they're coming here with their religion. So on the one hand it has to do with that. On the other hand it also has to do with sort of, homogeneity. And if you look at globalization, globalization is pushing one world view. So it's this one euro-centric model, free trade, liberalism, you know, etcetera etcetera, and along with that comes Christianity... Not everyone buys into this vampire-capitalism dogma, and not everyone buys into the Christian dogma as well."

Further on in the interview he spoke about equality:

"Fairness is one thing, equality is another. Do you treat people the same way, do you treat people fairly. On some people we like to treat them both, but it's difficult, so in this society we push say, formal equality so everybody is the same. We don't necessarily, that doesn't necessarily mean that people are going to be treated fairly, it just means they're going to be treated equally."

United Nations Youth Association of New Zealand Event

Attar spoke alongside Labour Party MP David Shearer and Caroline Forsyth of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade in a seminar at the The New Zealand Model Security Council event sponsored by the United Nations Youth Association of New Zealand. The event ran from 4-6 September, 2009.[4]

Education as a "political intervention"

Emory douglas.jpg

According to Mohsen al Attar, education is a "political intervention", which has "revolutionary potential".

Mohsen al Attar made these remarks in September 2009 at a public event in Auckland.

The occasion was "Emory Douglas and Mohsen al Attar: Education for Emancipation", a lecture/exhibition at the Gus Fisher Gallery, 74 Shortland Street.

Exhibitor Emory Douglas was former Minister of Culture for the Marxist-Leninist/ Maoist leaning Black Panther Party in the USA.

Emory's illustrations graced the Black Panther newspaper and countless posters for more than a decade.

According to the event blurb[5];

Emory Douglas discusses his exhibition and experiences in the Black Panther Party with Mohsen al Attar, Faculty of Law, who will address links between education, oppression, revolution and liberation.

According to al Attar;

“Education is much more than the technical practice of learning but, in fact, a type of political intervention in which the student acquires greater understanding of the world they inhabit and the possibilities of transforming it via established and novel ways.
Emory’s work has been inspirational to many including myself precisely because of the novelty of the images and the powerful message underpinning it.
Every sketch was a political intervention of the highest degree. Education has this same revolutionary potential, a truism that is often lost in the commodity climate of tertiary institutions today.

Supporter of the Cuban "single party" system

Mohsen al Attar is a defender of the "Single Party" state-in particular Fidel Castro's Cuba.

From radical Canadian website The Warehouse[6];

Cubans won their independence in 1959. Without wasting a breath, they began the arduous task of rebuilding their society under the banners of social equality and human solidarity. One of their first acts was to launch a national literacy campaign. Over 100,000 Cubans, mostly high school students, volunteered to relocate to the countryside to teach peasants and labourers to read and write. In just one year, illiteracy was reduced from 42% to 4% as over a million people were taught to read.
The literacy campaign quickly morphed into a public education campaign. The state has fully subsidised all levels of education since the Revolution – a policy maintained even today.
Next, Cubans tackled the corrupt political institutions established during the colonial era to disenfranchise the masses. To avoid the divisive power of party politics, they developed a single-party system. Slammed as a sham of democracy by Western officials, this framework focuses not on party power but on Poder Popular or People’s Power.
Poder Popular transformed the system of representative government by giving each citizen the right to select, elect, and be elected to the municipal, provincial, and national assemblies. By vesting authority to nominate and elect representatives with the people, the reformed political system empowered all citizens to identify and support candidates of their choosing.

This system means that most Cuban officials are not career politicians but genuine representatives of the people. In fact, almost half of the representatives in Cuba's national assembly are not even members of the Communist Party (the only party) but independents, a proportion that appears to mimic the national climate. This staggering number of independents is possible for Cuban candidates, unlike in Western democracies, need neither party support nor donor largesse to run for office.
The single-party system had the immediate effect of stamping out petty and fictitious party rivalries. In Canada for instance, the Liberal party has been instrumental in keeping its rival, the Conservative party, in power, repeatedly voting in favour of Conservative sponsored bills. Stephane Dion may wax poetically about the repugnancy of Stephen Harper’s policies but his party’s support of its opponent’s agenda speaks volumes about the affinity between the supposed rivals. Similar politics exist in the U.S. and the UK where the illusion of rivalry may boil our blood but, ultimately, disempowers us through manufactured division and diversion.
Another benefit of the single-party system was the curtailment of the power of oligopolies and corporations in the political process. No longer could the corporate class lavish wealth upon candidates for electoral campaigns, effectively undermining their ability to shape public policy in their favour. Indeed, being members of either the same party or no party at all means that officials are not bound by party diktat – drafted by corporate lobbies – and can thus vote for their constituents and with their consciences.
Though Westerners casually describe the Cuban system as dictatorial, Cubans have created a democracy with more popular participation, wider social representation, and greater institutional accountability than what many Westerners experience...
Following political reform, Cubans implemented land reform to break up the oligopolistic power of wealthy landlords. A limit was placed on the amount of land any one person could own and compensation provided to the few affected (including the Castro family!). Land recovered was distributed to landless peasants or parcelled into a series of community-controlled cooperatives...
By distributing land and nurturing feelings of ownership and belonging, Cubans were able to increase food production to unprecedented levels and strengthen communal solidarity. Until today, these measures ensure that every citizen has adequate shelter, nourishment, and healthcare. We may criticise Cuba for its civil rights record – sometimes justifiably – but we must applaud the nation's commitment to social equity.
Cuba’s commitment to social and economic justice extends far beyond its borders. During the American war against Vietnam, Cuba sent food and blood supplies and trained workers to assist the suffering Vietnamese. In 1988, Cuban troops in Angola helped to defeat the colonial forces of the U.S. and South Africa. This was a catalyst for the collapse of apartheid, a fact recognised by Nelson Mandela who thankedd Cubans declaring “you made this possible.” Finally, with more doctors per capita than any other country (in the world), Cuba sends tens of thousands of doctors every year to the poorest barrios in Latin America, Africa, and Asia to provide free medical care.
The airtight safety net Cubans enjoy and their solidarity with the world’s poorest is evidence of the strength of a collaborationist culture. Though Western political discourse surrounding Cuba ignores these advantages, a different picture exists outside the West as Third World nations – Venezuela, Bolivia, Paraguay, Angola, and Tanzania – see this equitable model as a goal to strive for.
First World countries, too, have much to learn from Cuba. Despite scarce resources, principles of social equality and human solidarity have helped propel the tiny island to the front of the Human Development Index where the compassion of community trumps the self-interest of the market. Such are the benefits of single-party democracy when practiced by a highly educated and politically active populace.
Regrettably, in the West, these values only elicit condemnation and this despite the catastrophes – human and financial – that advanced capitalism has produced globally (lest we disregard the banking, insurance, and financial meltdowns of 2008).
Neoliberalism has failed. Best we accept this and look for alternatives. Cuba is a good place to start.

Dialogues with Islam Event

On October 10 2009, Attar spoke alongside Zain Ali, Ghazala Anwar, Tim Behrend and Shahlaa al Tiay at The University of Auckland in a seminar entitled Dialogues with Islam. The six-hour seminar,

"explored and discussed many aspects of Islamic religion and culture and the challenges to be faced. The diverse topics will include Islam’s relationship to the West, post Suharto Indonesia, Muslim feminist issues, human rights and the role of "moderate" Muslims.[7]

Middle East freedom forum

Middle East freedom forum, 11 March 2011

Venue: Lecture Theatre B28, Library Building, Alfred Street

The recent uprisings calling for regime change in the Middle East and North Africa are discussed by a group of panelists knowledgeable about the pertinent issues. Each panelist will address a specific issue relating to the uprisings currently occuring in the Middle East and North Africa, and then we will open the floor for questions and comments.

Students for Justice in Palestine will be holding a public forum about the Uprisings that have spread across the region in demand of freedom and democracy. Each panelist will address a specific issue relating to the uprisings and then we will open the floor for questions and comments.

  • Mohsen Al Attar “What Arabs can learn from Malcolm X”
  • Mohamed Hassan “The role of youth and new media in the Egyptian Revolution”
  • Rana Ghumkhor “The importance of women during the uprisings and what the revolutions could mean for occupied lands”
  • Bilel Ragued “North African Revolutions – a personal perspective”
  • Zaeem Baksh “Its time, its time, its Palestime”[8]

At 8.30pm following the Middle East Freedom Forum, there will be a student-led vigil in the quad, held in honour of the thousands of students and citizens who have died protesting for freedom and democracy across North Africa and the Middle East in the last few weeks. Keith Locke, MP, will be in attendance, along with MPs in other political parties. University of Auckland students from countries in the Middle East and North Africa where there are currently protests will describe their hopes for their countries.[9]

Views on Israel

Mohsen al Attar has strongly negative views of Israel. He believes that Israeli snipers deliberately target Palestinian children.

From a 2003 letter to the U.S. online newspaper, the Albion Monitor[10];

A recent attack on Israel, dubbed the "Passover massacre" is a grim reminder of the partiality that subsists in the American media with regards to the Israeli occupation.
When did we last hear a sincere discussion about the thirty-five years of brutal military occupation imposed on the Palestinians by our staunchest ally? What about the systematic targeting of Palestinian children by Israeli snipers, the calculated seizures of Arab land and resources, the 3.7 million refugees agonizingly waiting to go home, and the 15,000 political prisoners rotting in Israeli jails without so much as a charge being filed?
Instead, we are methodically bombarded and utterly swindled by the media's signature sound bytes: "Terrorism must be stopped," "Arafat is responsible," "They seek the destruction of Israel," and so on.
The Passover massacre harks back to an incident three weeks ago. The Israeli military marched into occupied territories and slaughtered 55 Palestinians. If this wasn't enough, they wounded 300 others, and detained 800 youths -- all in less than 24 hours. It was not labeled "Bloody Friday," nor was it glorified on every news channel. Sharon was not ordered to curtail terror, nor was it even suggested that he be held responsible for the acts of every malevolent soldier. In customary fashion, it was brushed aside as retaliation to Palestinian terror, and justified because Arafat and his minions are hell-bent on destroying Israel.
We will not forget the past, nor will we allow them to taint the present with the vile fairy tales they have created. We will read, we will write, we will speak, and we will educate. And in the end, no matter how many promiscuous definitions of "terror" they conjure up, they will not succeed in absolving the Israeli government of the horrendous crimes it commits.

Defence of Hamas

Mohsen al Attar defended the terrorist group Hamas in the Irish Times of December 31 2008[11];

Notably, the Israeli human rights organisation B'tselem has calculated that despite its much-publicised withdrawal from Gaza, Israel has mounted an impressive record of engagement, with nearly 1,000 Palestinians killed in 2008 alone.

These acts of restraint are intended to punish the Palestinian people for their electoral choice and to force them to do what Israel has been incapable of achieving on its own: dislodge Hamas.

But what is Hamas and does it, as Israel's public relations campaign affirms, bear responsibility for the killings? Hamas is branded, ad nauseam, as a terrorist organisation. This label is warranted. Not unlike the IRA once did, Hamas maintains a military wing that has carried out reprehensible attacks against Israeli civilians. Each such attack is justifiably met with a wave of international condemnation and has increased global ire against the party.
Hostility towards Hamas, however, does not end there. A much-ballyhooed fact is Hamas's self-professed Islamic roots. For starters, its name represents an acronym for Islamic resistance movement and its communiqués are peppered with references, often misquoted and misunderstood but present nevertheless, to the Koran.
Israel has capitalised on popular apprehension of Islam by constantly drawing links to the sectarian nature of the party (a perplexing irony when one considers that Israel prides itself on being a Jewish state). In fact, numerous unsuccessful - and often quite comical - attempts have been made by Israel to link Hamas to al-Qaeda in the hopes of generating further sympathy for its cause.
There is of course more to the story - and to Hamas - than this. Not unlike the IRA once again, Hamas is a grassroots resistance movement. It has a strong political wing, so strong in fact that it unseated Fatah in the last round of elections. It also has an even stronger social wing which provides food, schooling and medical services in an environment where official services have collapsed.

All of this begs the question: what is Hamas resisting? Israel prefers to decontextualise the struggle. Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor has suggested that in assessing the latest events "we could start in 1948 but if we want to limit ourselves to the current situation, I would begin with the pull-out of 2005". Palmor is essentially seeking to erase 41 years of occupation from the debate.
By so doing, emphasis can be placed on the immediate actions of Hamas - such as the firing of rockets - and not on the historic actions of Israel - that is, the occupation.
This is, as many will recognise, a doomed strategy. Try in vain - and they all have - but invading forces will never be regarded as victims. The British were not the victims in India, nor were the Soviets in Afghanistan, nor are the Americans in Iraq, and neither are the Israelis in Palestine. Each one of these nations chose to breach the sovereignty of another and, in so doing, acquired the much-detested title of invader.

Areas of Speciality

Attar specializes in and teaches on the following areas,[2]

  • International Trade Law
  • Law and Development
  • Islamic Law
  • Globalisation
  • Intellectual Property Law

He teaches a course entitled "From Colonialism to Globalization: How International Law made the Third World".

In 2008 Attar completed his PhD which was an examination of the relationship between Transnational Law and class struggle. In the PhD he focused in particular on laws created by institutions and non-state entities. "How do these new laws impact people? Peasants? Farmers? Workers? Does it improve their lifestyles or harm them? Does it promote greater equity or continue to polarise the world between spas and slums?"[1]

Course description

Mohsen al Attar's "LAW 495 Colonialism to Globalisation " is described thus[12];

In the late 15th century, imperialist Europe emerged intent on exploring and possessing the New World. Fast forward through five hundred years of colonialism, capitalism, slavery, industrialisation, genocide, and international law and greet the 21st century in all its paradoxical glory. We now live in a world characterised by political binaries: developed & underdeveloped; civilised & primitive; wealthy & poor; lawful & unlawful. Did international law play a part in introducing the new world to the old one and, more insidiously, in dispossessing the new one for the benefit of the old one?

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