Archive for the ‘Dr. Ahmad’s blog’ Category

El Mercurio Interview on the Failed Coup in Turkey

Thursday, July 21st, 2016

[I was recently interviewed by Javier Méndez about the failed coup in Turkey for an article in Santiago’s  El Mercurio newspaper. Here are my answers to his questions.]

Q. After the military coup attemp, Erdogan government has launched an intense repression in Turkey. Has Erdogan the political power to do that?

A. In the aftermath of the failed coup Erdogan’s regime has detained or suspended over 50,000 soldiers, police officers, teachers, civil servants and judges whom he considers to be political enemies. The victims of the purge appear to be people he considers to be influenced by the preacher and former Erdogan ally Fethullah Gulen, now in self-imposed exile in the United States. Erdogan is trying to paint Gulen’s highly secretive but to date peaceful “Hizmet (service)” movement a terrorist organization. It is unclear whether Erdogan has the political capital to pull off this purge. On the one hand he has many supporters who will stand by hm against any opponents, but Gulen also has many followers and the seemingly absurd accusation of terrorism against Gulen’s followers regardless of whether or not they were involved in the coup (an accusation that has yet to be proven) may cause Erdogan’s support among Turkish liberals to erode.

Q.  According to your opinion, Is Turkey a real democracy?

A. Turkey is a democracy, albeit a flawed one. However, it is a fragile democracy increasingly threatened by Erdogan’s growing authoritarianism and paranoia.

Q. Do you think that Erdogan strengthens his power?

A. Erdogan has been gradually increasing his power, but this current move may backfire.

Q. In the present situation in Asia and Europe, how important is the role of Turkey respect the war against Islamic terrorism in Syria, Iraq and the refugees problem and relationship with Europe and United States?

A. I reject the framing of the question. There is nothing Islamic about terrorism. Having said that, Turkey has an important role to play in defeating Muslim terrorists in Iraq and Syria not only because it is geographically closer to the problem than America or the rest of Europe but because as a Muslim country (and one with an important role in Muslim history) it is well-placed to demonstrate how terrorism is a violation of Islamic teachings and practice. Unfortunately, Erdogan’s recent actions detract from his credibility in any such enterprise.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

The Orlando Nightclub Attacks

Monday, June 13th, 2016

[I have been interviewed by two journalists on Sunday’s murderous attack on a gay nightclub in Orlando. Here are my responses to the questions posed.]

Questions from free-lance journalist Abdel – Rahman Youssef for Al-Jazeera

Q. What do you think the impact of of this incident on the US elections, either when it comes to voting for the Republicans in Florida or in the elections in general given that Florida is a swing state?

A. Until this event, the extremely high negative ratings for both Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump (57% for each in the Post-ABC poll of May 16-19) meant that there was a strong possibility in this election that the Libertarian Party Presidential candidate Gary Johnson would carry the balance of power between them, or even win enough states to throw the election to the House of Representatives. It is conceivable that this event will alter that that possibility, but whether and how it does depends upon too many variables (for example, precisely how the Trump, Clinton, and, for that matter, Johnson, campaigns react, and how the different segments of the electorate receive those reactions) for me to venture a prediction

Q. Some Americans on Twitter deemed the incident as another September 11. What is your take on that? And how do you think the attack is similar to/different from 9/11? Will the ramifications be the same?

A. The 9/11 attacks were inspired, if not planned, by al-Qaeda. As we do not yet know whether this was a homophobic hate crime or an attempt to copy-cat ISIL’s Paris nightclub attacks, it is premature to draw parallels to 9/11. However, the differences are stark: difference in scale (9/11 had an order of magnitude more victims), difference in mode (9/11 was a coordinated pre-planned attack while this appears to have been a lone wolf action), difference in target (9/11 was aimed at the U.S. military establishment and employees in an economic power center while this is aimed at civilians belonging to an oppressed social minority group at a recreational site).

Q. How can Muslims respond to the consequences of this attack  especially we are in Ramadan and Islamic centers are hustling with Muslims who are actively observing the ritual of fasting?

A. As is appropriate for people engaged in a ritual meant to increase their God-consciousness and spirituality, Muslims are responding with expressions of sympathy for and solidarity with the victims and calls for Muslims in the vicinity of the crime to donate blood for the victims and to provide any knowledge they may have of the perpetrator to the proper authorities.

Questions from Javier Mendez of EL-Mercurio

Q. It is possible that Islamic State could attack into the USA?

A. Although the investigation is ongoing and any conclusions are premature, an anonymous US counter-terrorism official was quoted in Vice News as saying that there is “no evidence yet that this was directed” by ISIS. As of now, the following facts are especially relevant:  Mateen’s father reported that his son was infuriated by the sight of two men kissing in public, Mateen’s fomer wife has described him as a violently unstable individual, the authorities say he bought the weapons only days before the shooting, he had been investigated previously by the FBI, and at no time was he in a position to be trained by ISIS. These facts suggest that this was an act of violence perpetrated by a homophobic individual who subsequently sought to associate his deed with a larger movement, not an operation instigated by ISIS.

Q. What could be the political and security effects in USA for this serious incident?

A. As this was the worst mass shooting incident in American history, it pushes multiple socio-political hot buttons, especially Islamophobia, gay rights, and calls for gun control.

Q. In your opinion, what will happen with the war against the Islamic State?

A. Eventually the Islamic State will be crushed by the people immediately oppressed or threatened by it. Foreign military intervention to date has only delayed that by allowing the terrorists to force themselves on the locals as the alternative to Bashar Assad’s brutality in Syria and to the Iraqi regime’s hostility to the Sunnis of Western Iraq.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

No State Institution (Including the Citadel) Has the Right to Deny the Religious Freedom of an American

Thursday, May 19th, 2016

The Citadel is The Military College of South Carolina, a state institution. The reaction to the school’s decision to refuse to allow a Muslim student to cover her hair with a headscarf has unveiled a woeful ignorance of the nature of America’s strong Constitutional commitment to freedom of religion. I was especially disturbed by Asra Nomani’s statement, quoted in the Washington Post, “Women and girls, of course, should have a right to wear — or not wear — the headscarf in society, if they wish, but it is truly an insult to the struggle for secularism and civil rights in this country to conflate the headscarf with the struggle for religious and civil liberties in the United States.” We fully support Asra Nomani’s right to dissent from the majority opinion on Islamic law, but her presumption that religious freedom in America applies only to religiously mandated rather than religiously motivated action is flat wrong.

The South Carolina Religious Freedom Act was designed to “restore the compelling interest test as set forth in Wisconsin v. Yoder, 406 U.S. 205 (1972), and Sherbert v. Verner, 374 U.S. 398 (1963), and to guarantee that a test of compelling state interest will be imposed on all state and local laws and ordinances in all cases in which the free exercise of religion is substantially burdened.” Those who have argued that the hijab is not mandatory for Muslim women raise a point irrelevant to the question.  The Citadel is an institution of the state and as such must respect religiously motivated acts as well as religiously mandated acts. Beards are not mandatory for men in Islam, but those who wear beards because it is encouraged by the Islamic jurisprudence (fiqh) have their rights respected under the standard that this law was intended to restore.  The woman who chooses to wear or not wear a headscarf, like the man who chooses to wear or not wear a beard, is alone responsible to God, the Exalted, for her actions, but no state institution (including the Citadel) has the right to deny the religious freedom of an American citizen without meeting that compelling state interest tests.

The purpose of the religious freedom act is to restore the constitutional standard of strict scrutiny, that the practice of religion may not be infringed unless the purpose of the law is shown to serve a compelling government interest and that it serves that interest in the least restrictive manner possible. Whether a religious act is religiously mandated (as, say, prayer) or religiously motivated (as, say, the skullcap for Jewish men) is irrelevant. The questions the Citadel must answer are: what is the compelling government interest here and is this the least restrictive means of meeting it. If the Citadel’s answer is that the compelling state interest is crushing any semblance of individuality, that “interest” strikes this writer as neither compelling nor desirable. Any truly compelling interest they may have would no doubt apply to the armed services themselves, and they have found less restrictive means of meeting them, with no need to force women to display their hair.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women That Are Transforming the Arab World

Monday, February 29th, 2016

[This is my perception of Katherine Zoepf’s presentation at the New America Foundation on January 21. 2016 regarding her examination of the complex lives of young women living in the Arab Muslim world. She is the author of Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women That Are Transforming the Arab World. This is not a verbatim transcript and any errors are mine alone.]

In the quest for the big event that aligns the region with American interests Katherine Zoepf felt many things were being missed. It’s difficult to get hard data in much of the Arab world. Talk about “the Arab street” is very problematic. When she asked in Lebanon whether there was any recent census data on the sizes of the different demographic groups she was “laughed out of the room” with the question “In whose interests would that be?”

In the absence of hard data we must make anecdote serve by asking many people as you can about their own opinions and those of their cousins. She asked Saudi friends about how accurate the film Wajda was about Saudi life. People would say it was not common for a ten year old to marry, yet most knew of at least one such case. Yet the Saudi National Dialog Center claimed it had virtually disappeared.

Lawyers who want to reform the system are satisfied to do so working within the system. Things that to an outsider seem explosive or transformative are barely noticed by people there. Consider Anthony Shadid’s reporting on the events in Egypt: there were people nearby who were barely aware of them. Resistance to the proposal that Saudi lingerie shops institute all female staffing of such shops was surprising as it was intended to get more women into the workplace not as a human  rights issue but as an upholding of Saudi values. The change of the laws to allow women to ride bicycles under limited conditions seems dramatic but she met no women who rode bicycles or would consider riding a bicycle.

There was outcry about a fire on which many girls died because security guards would not unlock the doors until they could be assured all the girls were properly covered that lead to a breaking of the power of the religious police. This was misread as King Abdullah at last listening to the demands of his oppressed people, but it was his desire for reform that made him unpopular and the reversal of policy is the source of his successors popularity.

Now there is a focus on entrepreneurship about which the activists are very skeptical, seeing it as a diversion of protest away from other issues. They would joke that as they were unable to get jobs, they now should start cupcake bakeries. The social media is deep yet Zoepf would not call it vibrant because the public debate that briefly flared during the Arab Spring is no longer there. It is used mainly to sell things. A shop may have website but somehow will sell things on Instagram. State Department personnel concede that technology and entrepreneurship ends the conversation over reform.

Islamic reformers recruit women who are wives of leaders or who were outstanding students in schools. Many women said that if you knew the Qur’an better than your husband or father you would never be bullied in the name of Islam. It was very important for women to know their rights in Islam and be able to defend them. The Qubaisi Sisterhood in Syria (Qubaisiat) are a development of which it is hard to get information. In 2011 Zoepf heard that they were in support of the early demonstrations by praying indoors for the revolution. They were not persecuted. The title came from the way girls would compete as to which better exemplified values prized by their families in a way you do not see in the West. They deserve attention but one must avoid thinking they are more representative than they are.

The tendency to write about women in the Arab world as if they are monolithically oppressed or not invested in their societies is also a mistake. In Saudi Arabia she found herself baffled by the prevalent notion that women were not bothered by the notion that a woman is one half of a man.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph. D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

State of Religious Freedom in the US and Europe

Sunday, December 6th, 2015

[On December 3, 2015, I  attended a KARAMAH-sponsored event focusing on the current state of international religious freedom in the United States and Europe The following summary is a report only of my subjective impressions of the panel and is not intended as an exact transcript. Any errors are mine alone.]

State of Religious Freedom in the US and Europe

Aisha Rahman, Esq. (KARAMAH). the US constitution guarantees free exercise of religion use and prohibits both religious establishment  by government and religious tests for public office, but outside the law Americans are subjecting Muslims to collective blame. Now many are calling for internment of Muslims like the internment of Japanese during WWII. In the most recent year the percentage of Religious Use and Incarcerated Persons Act actions regarding mosques has skyrocketed compared to the nine years previous. Most of the increase is due to hostility to Muslims. Objectors to most instances of religious land use back down once they understand the law. Only in cases of mosques must land use cases resort to lawsuits to make objectors back down.

Engy Abdelkader, Esq. To say that the violence and discrimination against Muslims is a consequence of backlash against Muslims is to excuse it as the consequence of aggression or discrimination by their coreligionists. But before the Paris attacks a study on hate crimes against Muslims in Britain focused especially on hate crimes against women and found a reluctance by the public to intervene or defend these Muslims. For example, a threatened woman appealed to a bus driver who said he could do nothing. This lead to a $10,000 lawsuit that has changed the behavior of bus drivers. Tell Momma (a British support group for Muslim victims of hate violence) says over 60% of attacks on Muslims whether online or physical are aimed at women. A pre-Charlie Hebdo study in France came to a similar conclusion. An online posting of a woman in a burka identified as a “slut” highlights the specifically gender-slanted nature of the attacks. A schoolteacher in France called for grilling all Muslims on hot coals to fight terrorism. Patriotic Europeans Against Islamization of the West began “as a Facebook page managed by a chef and convicted cocaine dealer“. In France several mayors have ended the practice of substitute meals for pork in schools with large Muslim populations, schools on which packed lunches from home are prohibited. Muslims vary widely in their degree of religious observance, except on the issue of pork consumption. In one French town the mayor said he would prohibit the opening of any more kabob restaurants because they go against Judeo-Christian values. Over a hundred Muslim female students who had already been forced to remove their headscarves were now commanded to stop wearing long skirts, demonstrating that any limitations on religious garb is s slippery slope. This is effectively an attack on access to education. The discrimination is not limited to women, and in France Muslim men are four times less likely to receive a job offer than Catholic men.

David Saperstein (Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom). It is not enough for a country to say it defends religious freedom, more important is what happens to people in those countries. It is not only a question of freedom of worship but the entire gamut of religious practice. There are 2,000 religious denominations and faith groups in the US. The three elements of religious freedom identified before guarantee that your legal rights will never be tied to your religious beliefs practices or identity. In Tajikistan people under 18 may not participate in public religious ceremonies. In China beards and headscarves are banned and Ramadan fasting restricted. It is women and girls who are disproportionately affected. Jews as well as Muslims were affected by the French ban on head coverings. When such bigotry comes from political leaders it gives an aura of immunity to such discrimination and a green light to extralegal discrimination.

Aisha Rahman. The teaching of Islam needs to include the time of religious freedom in Islam.

Engy Abdelkader. I would not use “jihadi” to refer to people engaged in criminal activity. In the observant Muslim’s mindset Jihad has a positive connotation.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad (Minaret of Freedom Institute). The press has a double standard. Muslim terrorists call themselves  “Islamists” and “jihadis”  because they are trying to put a positive spin on their unIslamic actions in the same way that “Ku Klux Klan” members call themselves “Christians” and “patriots” to put a positive spin on their unChristian actions. It is important to note that studies show that backlash against violence committed by Muslims spikes when there is political demagoguery. When George W. Bush went to a mosque to declare that Islam was not responsible for the attacks of 9/11 the violent spike against Muslims in the wake of 9/11 was largely quashed. Political demagogues today are fanning the flames in way they do not do with the white terrorists like the Planned Parenthood shooter.

David Saperstein.  There must be pressure both inside and outside the system. There are good people within the system who can’t act until pressure outside makes them do it.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

MENA Capital Markets as a “Smart” Investment Opportunity

Friday, November 27th, 2015

[On October 19, 2015, I  attended the 2015 C3 US-Arab Business Summit in New York City. The following is summary of a panel on finance. The affiliations of the speakers are for identification only and they were not speaking on behalf of their respective institutions. In any case, this is a report only of my subjective impressions of the panel and is not intended as an exact transcript. Any errors are mine alone. ]

MENA Capital Markets as a “Smart” Investment Opportunity

Robert Michael (New York City Bar Association). I wrote the first Islamic loan notes by substituting the word “commission” for “interest.” Yusuf de Lorenzo calls me the godfather of Islamic finance. Three principles of Islamic investment are no interest, no unquantified risk, and no financing of prohibited activities. Seeking profit as long as it does not involve harming others (socially responsible investing) is permitted.  Sukūk are incorrectly called Islamic corporate bonds, but unlike corporate bonds they are secured.

Ken Dorph (Sag Harbor Consulting). What we think of as modern finance came from trade between Egypt and Venice. In the 1940s the Egyptian stock market was one of the largest in the world. The birth of modern Israel, the rise of socialism in the Arab world, and the US refusal to finance the Aswan dam led to the rise of nationalization of finance in the Arab world and one of the worst records of finance in the world. Islamic finance should lead to a move away from bad debt, but it hasn’t. There is reform, but it is slower than in Asia or Europe. The emergence of Islamic finance has complicated matters. Its frequency is badly underestimated. The Arab Spring has caused disasters as well as opportunities. Reform of state banks has gone nowhere. Iraq could be an opportunity especially if the IS were to be pushed back. Syrians are natural business people but now all we can do is pray for peace. Much of the business community is Palestinian. Palestine has a stock exchange but it is hard to have an independent financial sector without an independent country. The UAE has a dynamic financial sector. Things are down now because of oil prices, but I remain bullish long term. Saudi is the sector I know the best. In the 70s when the bans were nationalized in the Arab world the Saudis wisely allowed foreign banks to continue operations, and they have  benefited from it. Foreign indirect ownership is now allowed. With the emergence of ETFs etc there is hope that Saudi’s non-royal economy will continue to grow. Libya after the revolution is not as vicious as Iraq as the violence there is of the “Hatfield-McCoy” variety, but I will be optimistic once they put down their guns. In Tunisia they have mandated the state banks operate like private banks. Rather than privatize state banks we ought to commercialize them. I think Tunisia is undervalued.

Paul S. Homsy (Eaton & Van Winkle). Saudi Arabia has changed its investment rules allow direct foreign investment in their stock market which is the largest exchange in the Middle East. Most of the market is banks, construction companies, and insurance companies. They have been open to foreign investors in privately owned companies for fifteen years with only a few exceptions (mineral mining and insurance), They hope Saud Arabia will be part of the MSCI index. CMA is the Saudi’s SEC. A local Saudi company (AAP) licensed by the CMA must file the application of any foreign company which puts them on a fast track, and if you have not heard within thirty days you are approved. Foreigners can’t own more than 49% of a local company. Any single QFI (Qualified Foreign Investor) is limited to 20% ownership of a particular company or 10% of market value (this is ambiguous).

John P. Desrocher  (US Dept. of State). This administration developed a new model of bilateral investment treaties in 2012. Issues that obstruct investment include local content requirements, limits on taking funds out of country, etc.  Such treaties help to level the playing field. A positive list treaty applies only to specified sectors of the economy while a negative list applies to everything except a negative list (e.g., media).

Karim Babay (Intrinsic value Investment Partners). We were founded to invest primarily in North America but after the Arab Spring we are making significant investments in the MENA region.  It’s an economy comparable in size to Italy’s but while Italy’s is declining MENA is growing. The population is growing at 2.2%. The other factor is productivity, which is very low and we anticipate a growth rate of 5%. It is a (un?)leveraged market. Debt to GDO is less that 12%. Libya is at 4%. Tunisia at close to 50% is still better than the US or Japan.  The markets are illiquid, which is bad, but an opportunity. Hedging capacity is limited at present. We have generated a return above 12% since formation. Undervalued companies tend to remain undervalued because of investment barriers. We anticipate institutionalization of the markets in the future which will increase value. We anticipate positive structural changes. Oil prices are likely to rise. Governments are likely to withstand changes in dollar value. The region is systematically sound, notwithstanding the headlines.

Robert Michael. Outside the US it is very difficult to buy on consumer credit. To the extent that laws are reformed in this region that will change.

Paul Homsey. The Saudis know they have to get people out of the public sector and into the private sector and they know small business is the way to do that.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

Muslim Condemnations of Today’s Paris Attacks

Friday, November 13th, 2015

A Jewish college classmate of mine asked me if there are any Muslim voices willing to condemn today’s barbarous attacks in Paris. I told him that almost all Muslims condemn it. Here  are links to a couple of major Muslim organizations that have already published their condemnations:

Over the coming days virtually every Muslim organization will have condemned the attacks, but don’t expect to see that fact mentioned in the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal.

For the record, everyone here at the Minaret of Freedom Institute condemns these attacks regardless of what the religious or political affiliations of the perpetrators proves to be.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.

Minaret of Freedom Institute

El Mercurio Interview on the Russian Airliner Crash in the Sinai

Sunday, November 1st, 2015

[Here are our answers to questions by El Mercurio’s reporter Javier Méndez about the crash of a Russian civilian airliner in the Sinai]:

Q. It is possible that a Russian airplane passengers could be shot down by ISIS?

A. The plane could not have been shot down at that altitude. An on-board attack cannot be ruled out, but seems very unlikely in the light of the reports during ascent by the pilot of some sort of “technical problem” and his intention to land the plane as soon as possible. Further, reports that this particular plane had experienced problems with an engine days before the flight suggest a more likely explanation.

Q. What could be the political effects in the Middle East for this serious incident?

A. The fear expressed by a number of airlines to fly over Sinai in the wake of this tragedy puts pressure on Egypt, whose government has already lost legitimacy as demonstrated by the poor turnout in the recent elections. Alleged claims that ISIS is responsible, far-fetched as those claims may be, nonetheless portend more violence against the group in Syria and its affiliate in the Sinai.

Q. In your opinion, what will happen with the Islamic State the next year? Could ISIS be defeated by the international coalition?

A. I cannot predict what will happen to ISIS, but if it is defeated without popular support of the indigenous populations, it shall only be replaced by another undesirable, and perhaps even more vicious party.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

“The Concept of Ridâ (Approval) in the Qur’an and the Misunderstanding of Coexistence”

Sunday, September 20th, 2015

[This is the twelfth in a series of my notes on the International Institute of Islamic Thought conference on Islamic Law and Ethics held in Herndon, VA in June  2014. These notes are NOT a transcript, but a lightly edited presentation of  my perception of the discussion. The proceedings will be published by IIIT at a later time. Responsibility for any errors in the notes is mine alone. Names of participants (other than mine) in the general discussion have been omitted by request of the conference director.]

“The Concept of Ridâ (Approval) in the Qur’an and the Misunderstanding of Coexistence”

Asaad al-Saleh, University of Utah

The motivation of people to dismiss my experiences in the West is the identification of “The West” with “Jews and Christians” and to identify what is happening not by actualities but by the verse in the Qur’an “Neither Jews nor Christians will approve of you until you follow their religion.” Being in cultural studies I tried to related this to history and its historical context. One Facebook post said the crusades against Islam haven’t stopped at all and the US is responsible for Afghanistan, Palestine, Syria, Libya. Why did they give Iraq to the Shia? Why did they turn Sudan into two states? Another wrote, “We don’t see it as a crusade but they have explicit said it is so,” referring to Bush’s notorious speech. “They occupy the Muslim countries they no longer find obedient to them.” Finally, “the dirty face will remain dirty no matter how much you try to polish it. The US spilled the blood of Muslims and drank it to the full. The glaring example of Palestine can never be ignored.” I was aware of such attitudes but I never expected a casual positive comment about a positive experience in the West to trigger such a firestorm. Even educated Arabs think that a president who made a reckless remark was speaking for all the American people. Politics can explain but not justify such aggressive attitudes. My concern is with those who only referred to the verse as if the text is sufficient to prove the point. Growing up in the Middle East, I remember it being used a lot out of context as a timeless description of the eternal attitude of Jews and Christians. Since then I have found disturbingly numerous examples of the verse quoted in unsettling circumstances.

When soccer star Samir Nassri was left out of the French World Cup team for 2014, his girlfriend from England made news headlines by using Twitter to insult the French coach. One commentator in the popular Algerian newspaper, Echorouk, followed the Qur’anic verse about ridâ with a message directed to Nassri that that what happened to him is “the penalty for everyone who forgets his homeland.” Similarly, Hafiz Mirazi is a popular TV broadcaster at Arabiyya who quoted this verse to attribute his dismissal to the Jews and Christians. A newspaper in Turkey printed the headline, “Neither the Jews or the Christians will ever be satisfied with you Mr. Erdogan.” They believe that the US is either Jewish or Christian rather than a secular country. In Finland 70% and in Sweden 60% do not identify themselves with Christianity. Some recent scholars give the vision that by 2050 most Christians will be outside of the West.

We have no established meaning of this verse from the Prophet, the Companions, or the followers, only from later interpreters like Tabari, etc. Almost all of the classical exegetes took it to address the Prophet himself, not Muslims in general.  Jews and Christians are spoken of in various ways in the Qur’an many of which have general import, but not this verse, which advises the Prophet not to be distracted from making the call to the truth even if not everyone accepts it.

Why do the people in the Arab world have this attitude? Umar agreed with Christians from Syria to take precautions against future exigencies. The Crusades and colonialism played a role, as did he US invasion of Iraq and the history of Orientalism. You cannot try to deconstruct this interpretation without being accused of questioning the legitimacy of the Qur’an. Ridâ only means agreement. There is no connotation of war against Islam. The word appears in the hadith that a woman’s silence in response to a proposal of marriage constitutes consent. There is no charge of hatred in the absence of agreement or consent.


Shahirah Mahmood, University of Wisconsin – Madison. Asaad’s paper is based on social media (Facebook). I think what Asad is trying to show is that people are using the verse as a legitimizing force for their feeling of “otherness.” American military action is seen not as motivated by nation interest but by civilizational struggle. Are they angry about US involvement in the Middle East or at their own leaders?

Jacquelene Brinton, University of Kansas. Asaad’s paper focuses on the problems of application of ancient texts in the present. This paper could have been an opportunity to speak of the conflation of politics and religion. I would be careful about essentializing the Arab community based on anonymous Facebook posts. In dealing with media you must deal with the issue of what it is that is responding. There are resources out there. More nuance is needed when you give the example of the response regarding the footballer talking about all Christians and Jews or one specific country or team: There are lots of different opinions about America and the West in the Muslim world.

Asaad al-Saleh. The methodology of studying Facebook is kind of challenging. I don’t use the phrase Arab mind, I say Arab consciousness.

General Discussion.

[Name withheld]. The reference to Muslims and the Jews as one community apart from other people is a reference to their common monotheism. Even when they quarrel it is in the name of monotheism. Most often when the Quran says yahûd it means the Jews of Medina, and when it says Bani Isra’îl it usually means the historical Jews.

Al-Saleh. I am trying to see how the verse is being circulated without any context.

[Name withheld]. I think the methodology of analyzing Facebook is problematic.  Muslims make the same responses when a referee makes a decision they don’t like in soccer.

[Name withheld]. We also assume politics is part and parcel of Islam. Does Prophetic ministry require a political component?

Al-Saleh. It is not a metaphor, but it is taken out of context.

Brinton. People who argue religion should be part of civil society say it should be a voice not the voice.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad. How sophisticated do you expect a Facebook post to be? Shall we next agonize over the lack of depth and nuance in a Tweet?

Al-Saleh. I think we need to respond.

[Name withheld]. There is a long scholarly context of quoting verses out of context. This verse is a statement of historical fact being used as general statement.

[Name withheld]. Ridâ means more than agreement in Quran and Sufi literature. It can mean being content, pleased.

Asad al-Saleh. This is not the first time people have misused a text. I discuss the shades of meaning of rida. That’s what we need.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute

After the Iran Deal: Regional Repercussions and Dynamics

Friday, August 28th, 2015
[These are my notes from a forum of the Middle East Institute held on August 10, 2015 in Washington, DC. It is not a transcript of the event and only represents my impressions of the contributions put forward there.]
After the Iran Deal: Regional Repercussions and Dynamics
Alex Vatanka (MEI). Moderates, intellectuals, and most of the Iranian media favor the deal. Before the deal was signed one could not even talk about the issue and now there is something that looks like a serious debate.  The position of Ayatollah Khamenei had been vague and Westerners have interpreted as tacit opposition, but Khamenei is always vague. His closest associates are defending the deal, in some cases vigorously. Calls for some strategic retreats should not be mistaken for opposition. There is a team in the Rouhani administration mainly trained in the West who have an economic master plan similar to China’s in opening to the West  as a step in becoming an economic power. The Iranian foreign minister was very open about bringing in investors from the West who would then return to Western capitals and speak well of Iran. Khamenei has not opposed any of these ideas so far. The key question is how to reconcile these plans with Rouhanis notion of a “resistance economy.” Rouhani, unlike Ahmadinejad, had been careful to make sure Khamenei remains, at least in his own mind, in the drivers seat.
The Iranians can have the Majlis approve the deal and then if congress rejects it they come off as the good guys, but the Majlis doesn’t really control things. They are a tool for the Supreme Leader to demonstrate popular support. The Supreme National Security Council is the real power and the majlis is just political theater.
Thomas W Lippman (MEI). Islamic law allows for a tax called jizyah [which non-Muslims pay in lieu of military service). One of Saud’s first acts was to level the jizyah on Shias. The U.S. had made clear its commitment to our allies in the Gulf using language that could make one think we are talking about Israel. The Arabs  have not believed it. Beginning with the camp David meeting in May, they have decided they have to believe it because of new realities in the oil markets. I think they have decided that the Iranian negotiation issue is behind them and they will work with us as best they can. I think they are feeling better about the situation in Yemen and there is a least a possibility of a return to the negotiating table. I don’t think it is a coincidence that the FM of Syria showed up in Oman. I don’t know if they can get their act together but I do think they will have the military equipment they need to get the job done. It’s true they have plans for nuclear power, and they need it for they are burning too much of their own oil. The Saudi state’s first priority is preservation of the Saudi state and full integration with the global economy is part of their strategy. They can’t afford to be, and don’t want to be, the North Korea of the gulf. They will not become nuclear outlaws.
Gonul Tol (Center for Turkish Studies). Turkey is happy about the deal for two reasons. Iran is a huge market for Turkey with close energy ties. Also Turkey has traditionally objected to a nuclear Iran as it would turn the balance of power. But turkey has three strategic concerns. First the rising influence of Iran in Syria and Iraq. Second, closer ties between Iran and Washington may come at the expense of Turkey’s Syria policy, especially as Washington sees the [so-called] Islamic State as a greater threat than the Assad regime. Third is Iran’s support for the PKK and the PKYD. Turkish media reported an Iranian offer of support to the Kurds in their fight against the IS. Turkey and Iran have had peaceful relations since 1639 and could have a working relationship. 
Robert S Ford (MEI). The pressures on the Iraqi state are growing exponentially. They cannot make payments due to the Kurds. The Iranians are close to potent militias, some of which are on the U.S. Terrorist list. Iranian backed Shia militia leaders are calling for people to join in political demonstrations. Iraq is caught between Shia militias in one side and the IS on the other because were the U.S. to get closer to Iranian backed militias it would only help IS recruitment. In Syria the war is no longer a stalemate, but the Assad regime is clearly losing, but there is no sign the Iranians are backing off of their support for Assad. There are reports the Iranians are about to put forward a peace proposal for Syria that would include a national unity government, protection for minorities, and eventual internationally supervised elections. I don’t think this will go far, primarily because of the Turkish veto, the rebel distrust of Iran, and the rebels red line against including Assad in any unity government. Last week there were anti-Assad demonstrations in his home province. Iranians would have to accept that Assad has to be transitioned out. 
Lippman. I see the GCC as cohesive in rhetoric but not on policy. The words “defense” and “military” do not occur in GCC charter. Only last year there was an announcement that they would form a unified military command, but I have seen no sign of it coming about. They are not united on Iran and were only barely united on the Muslim Brotherhood. They hold their noses to deal with one another, but that is not the same as being kindred spirits. 
Tol. Syria has a unique place in Turkish domestic policy because of the PKK. I think Erdogan is playing a risky game. He is finally on board with fighting the IS, but he still considers the PKK a greater threat. 
Ford. Geneva ended abruptly because the Syrians were not willing to make any concessions. Since then the Syrian opposition was unwilling to negotiate without a precondition of Assad stepping down. The only negotiations possible now are those that sidestep the political issues. There’s no harm in talking to the Russians, and they have now agreed to letting the U.N. investigate who has been using chemical weapons. 
Ford. It is difficult for me to imagine that the Iranians will not use some portion of he resources they shall get to supply Hezbollah and other Shia fighters they may recruit to fight in Syria. I think sanctions relief will likely increase the fighting in Syria. 
Tol. Bombing was a face-saving way to join the anti-IS fight. I think Turkey understands IS is a greater threat to them than to the U.S., yet they still fear the PKK more than the IS. They decided that if they could convince the Americans to establish a safe zone between two Kurdish enclaves they could prevent the linking of those enclaves.  This cat had a long tail. The Saudis supported Alawi against Maliki. The Saudis for the first time in years appointed an ambassador to Baghdad: a long-time intelligence officer. The Saudis had an ambassador in Tehran before they had one in Iraq. On the border with Iraq they are building a fence that Donald Trump would be proud of. 
Vatanka. If Congress defeats the lifting of American sanctions that not so bad for Khamenei as international sanctions will fall. It will be much harder on the Rouhani camp.
Lippman. The real question is what will Israel do.
Tol. I think the hand of the IS in Turkey is stronger. Last week they said they could easy destabilize turkey by one bomb in a Turkish resort.
Ford. I see no way to manage the ISIS challenge without unity governments in both Syria and Iraq.
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Ph.D.
Minaret of Freedom Institute