Archive for August, 2015

News and Analysis (8/31/15)

Monday, August 31st, 2015

Egypt’s plans for a new election can scarcely be called a return to democracy as long as its war on civil society continues at full tilt …

… but is the US about to follow in Egypt’s footsteps? “An assistant professor in the law department of the US Military Academy at West Point has argued that legal scholars critical of the war on terrorism represent a ‘treasonous ‘ fifth column that should be attacked as enemy combatants”:

“[M]y family received death threats for my public stand against the so-called Islamic State … [but] I knew as a matter of fact I wasn’t putting their lives at risk; I was protecting them so they will not be seen in any shape or form as condoning such a brutal ideology”:

Contradicting previous Western media reports, the “head of the Syrian Department of Antiquities and Museums, said ‘our information is provisional, but it indicates that any damage done was partial, and the basic structure is still standing'”:
“A garbage-pickup crisis has sparked protests aimed at fixing a government stalemated for too long by the attempt to balance religious rivalry. Lebanon may set an example in the Mideast for government based on individual equality regardless of faith”:
A “list of a few places every member of Congress — and every American — should consider visiting on a trip to the Holy Land” starting with Dinoma, the hotbed of Middle Eastern nuclear weapons and ending with Gaza “where Israel killed over 2200 people in 51 days … including 550 children”:

Ebrahim Moosa was shocked when his former classmate Rashid Moosagie “surrendered the orthodox commitment about which he had exhorted [Ebrahim] and adopted the very idea he had mocked: a toxic version of political Islam on steroids”

“The admission of a coverup on Monday was buried in a lengthy biography of the new Taliban chief, Mullah Akhtar Mansour, apparently published to improve his image and quell the growing internal rancour over his appointment”:

News and Analysis (8/29/15)

Saturday, August 29th, 2015

“Amnesty International has condemned the three-year prison sentences given to three Al-Jazeera English journalists, calling them the ‘death knell for freedom of expression in Egypt’:

“[T]he permit, filed in June, was suddenly revoked Tuesday — less than a week from the scheduled event — after the group released a promotional flier reading: ‘Come share your talent with your Muslim family. Interested in performing, contact Sister Pilani at Masjid Ibaadillah'”:

“[N]ot only had the government known all along that Hamas was not in control of these charity organizations, it itself continued to provide financial aid (USAID) through these same entities for years after the HLF had been shut down and up to the early months leading to the first trial in 2007”:

“The manual allows for the stripping of due process and reporters who are deemed “belligerent” could be carted off to Gitmo and never heard from again. The manual states that they are not ruling out torturing journalists either”:

Treating Arabic as a terrorist language is only the tip of a Texas sized iceberg:

“The ruling was a setback for privacy advocates but did not reach the bigger question of whether the NSA’s actions were lawful. It means the massive program to collect and store phone records, disclosed … by … Edward Snowden, can continue unaffected until it expires at the end of November”:

“Majidi’s understanding of the pagan chasm out of which Islam emerged is in direct contravention of the Isis blockheads trying to dump it into a void outside of history. His film is intellectually honest, committed and poetic, but let’s hope we never need to call it ‘brave'”:

The government “arrested a 14-year-old boy who said he had been instructed to spy on the airport’s security procedures, including passenger screening and boarding processes, and report what he had learned. It said the man who directed the boy had not been located”:


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

News and Analysis (8/27/15)

Thursday, August 27th, 2015

“Lord Justice Clarke of the appeal court upheld an earlier ruling to stay the deportation of people originating from all but three Afghan provinces…. However, at least one person from another province was returned despite the court order”:

“The general guideline was set by Prophet Muhammad when he ordered that women be allowed to freely attend the masjid…. Thus we call on all our masjids to be welcoming to women — such that their experience at the masjid be uplifting and not demeaning”:

Is Muslim hip hop haram? “We have good intentions and in our religion intention is everything,” say the team that remixed “I think I found myself a cheerleader” to “I think I found myself a Believer” and “I be in the kitchen cooking pies with my baby” to “I make dua [supplication] for that lady”:

“[S]ixteen Iranians [are] jailed in the United States for bypassing sanctions, and around 60 prisoners … for other crimes. California-born [Jason] Rezaian faces charges of collecting confidential information and handing it to hostile governments … and acting against national security” in Iran:

How to counter ISIS recruitment? Both ordinary young Muslims and ex-hirabis are providing ideas:

“As part of Isis ‘Cyber Caliphate,’ Hussain is also believed to have aided Isis in obtaining the passwords of the US Central Command’s Twitter and YouTube accounts in January and briefly using them to send pro-Isis messages”:

“When it comes to data that is being combed by GhostSec adhering to a plot or a threat including criminal activity, the FBI evaluates it with a degree of skepticism; they prefer to work directly with sources rather than anonymous groups” — Michael S. Smith II, a former FBI agent:

News and Analysis (8/24/15)

Monday, August 24th, 2015

“The man who boarded a high-speed Amsterdam-to-Paris train with a Kalashnikov rifle before being tackled by passengers was on the radar of authorities in three countries, had ties to radical Islam and may have traveled to Syria”:

“Days after the army uprooted Palestinian-owned olive trees to pave the route of the separation barrier in Beit Jala, … [h]undreds of Muslim and Christian Palestinians protested … against the future establishment of the separation wall that would cut them off from Jerusalem”:

“[A]  pair of devastating terrorist attacks that killed nearly 60 foreign tourists has triggered a state of emergency, and police have been arresting hundreds in sweeps. It is prompting many activists to fear a return to the days of repression under late dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali” …

… while inBahrain, the “Shiite opposition group al-Wefaq identified Isa as the suspect. It said he was innocent and was being targeted under laws that criminalize peaceful political activism. Al-Wefaq earlier said that Isa’s lawyers have not been allowed to see him”:

“[T]he deceased are believed to have been of Rohingya, the ethnic group from Myanmar who currently face persecution, and Bangladeshi origin. They are suspected to have died of abuse and malnourishment”:

“The [Assad] regime’s withdrawal left the city entirely in the militants’ control, though Isis pledged to destroy only what it deemed idolatrous. Isis considers grave markers and statues symbols of paganism that ought to be destroyed, according to their puritanical version of Islam” …

… “What matters is not just how many people live, but how we live. Throughout history, people have made the choice to prefer death over survival at too high a price. As the Mexican revolutionary Emiliano Zapata said, “It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees”:

“In Aden, al-Qaida militants and other Islamic extremists continue to patrol the streets. Hundreds of al-Qaida militants hold some key areas in the port city, exploiting a vacuum left by pro-government forces pushing north”:

“Despite their size, the protests seem unlikely to force broader change in Lebanon, which continues to be buffeted by a tussle for regional influence” with Iran backing “Shia Muslims and roughly half of [its] Christians and Druze” and Saudis backing the Sunnis “the other half of the Christians and Druze”:

News and Analysis (8/21/15)

Friday, August 21st, 2015

“This deal isn’t perfect and no one trusts Iran, but it has become clear to me that the world is united behind this agreement with the exception of the government of Israel” – Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo …

… Although most Israelis oppose the nuclear agreement, many are concerned that “the full-throated lobbying efforts by their government to be undermining ties with the country’s most important ally.” Says one, “We exist here because of the US”:

A bigot’s attempt to ban a Muslim woman from an Uber drivers’ Facebook group backfires when the she herself is banned and her principal employer is notified of her “insensitivity”:

Hoping Syrians will overlook Assad’s tyranny because of IS’s atrocities constitutes a revival of the failed cold war policy abandoned in the 1980s “to look the other way when a dictator was brutal in the struggle against communist rebels”:

A common Muslim traditional way of matchmaking is for families to send pictures and biographical sketches to one another “and if two people say they like each other then they go meet each other. It’s the same model without the middleman”:

Israeli authorities worried that the death of the man held without charge “could lead to unrest, but also insisted that his release would only encourage other prisoners to begin hunger strikes to demand their freedom as well”:

“Western governments were unhappy with … [the] Libyan request to lift the embargo, arguing that the supply of heavy weapons would simply enable the Tobruk authorities to launch a new offensive against its Tripoli-based Islamist rival”:

“Current opinion polls suggest that new elections are unlikely to produce a different outcome…. The AKP could even be penalized if voters believe that AKP’s strategy, driven by ErdoÄŸan’s personal ambition, is forcing early elections.”:

News and Analysis (4/19/15)

Wednesday, August 19th, 2015

By supporting the Israeli lobby’s effort to sabotage the best hope for insuring Iran will not obtain a nuclear weapon, Senator Robert Menendez does nothing to lend credibility to his denial of corruption charges for which he was indicted last April:

“Even Senator Lindsey Graham candidly warned back in 2012 that the GOP is losing the demographic battle because “We’re not generating enough angry white guys to stay in business for the long term“:

“An armed member of a volunteer group guarding an Oklahoma gun store that recently declared itself ‘Muslim-free’ has accidentally shot himself, according to local media” …

… while “George Zimmerman is raising money for himself and the owner of [the] ‘Muslim-free’ gun shop by raffling off an original painting of the Confederate flag”:

“The decision did little to resolve a debate over Israel’s controversial practice of holding suspects without charge, or a new law permitting force feeding of hunger strikers.” This was “to be the first test of the law before he fell unconscious” …

… “Israel is currently holding 340 Palestinians in administrative detention. Last month, it took the rare step of placing three young Israeli ultranationalists in administrative detention” after an arson killed a Palestinian toddler and his father:

“Mehr must be paid immediately after the nikaah [marriage contract], and is in fact one of the seven conditions for a nikaah to be valid; and yet a large number of men (44 per cent according to the BMMA poll) get away without paying it”:

“I fast, I pray, I believe in one god, I give to charity, I’ve been on pilgrimage. All I do know is I exist. I’m gay, I’m Muslim, I’m a drag queen, I’m British, I’m a Pakistani. People say that all these things shouldn’t fit right together but hey, here I am”:

“He refused to reveal the location of treasures in the site. The extremist group held the 81-year old scholar for about a month before murdering him in front of dozens in a square outside the town’s museums” …

… yet, rather than “a terrorist organisation, pure and simple …  Isis is a hybrid of insurgency, separatism, terrorism and criminality, with deep roots in its immediate local environment, in broader regional conflicts and in geopolitical battles”:

“The parliamentary report alleged that Maliki had an inaccurate picture of the threat to Mosul because he chose corrupt commanders and failed to hold them accountable. Maliki … blamed … a conspiracy planned in Ankara” and then Erbil:

“Anti-rebel fighters have failed to push the rebels and their allies out of the Aqaba Tharaa area, which they took control of a day earlier in a similar attack”:

News and Analysis (8/17/15)

Monday, August 17th, 2015

On top of lying about how and why the government killed over a thousand people at Rabaa Square a new report shows Egypt even lied about whom they were shooting and why they were there …

… and new laws have such an extremely broad definition of “terrorism” that “Critics and human rights groups say the laws are a throwback to those under prior President Hosni Mubarak, and will be used to ‘crush all forms of dissent'”:

Bin Ladin’s primary enemy was “not the United States, as we often think, or the West. It’s other Muslims” and even his “declaration of war” on the U.S. mainly targeted Saudi corruption; 9/11 is almost never mentioned:

European Muslim youth seek to “discursively and practically move toward ways of living and being in Islam that are European” having found that “living in Europe has given them the freedom to critically engage with their faith”:

Their “faith in democracy and political activism has been crushed as Turkey, simultaneously with joining the US-led anti-IS alliance, recently launched a vigorous campaign of arrests and airstrikes against the PKK”:

“If we can show our youth how to engage communities and engage the world around them in a healthy productive, positive way, we can counter the effects of ISIS and their ability to steal our youth away” — Entrepreneur Chris Blauvelt:

“The play set out to explore some of the factors that might cause someone to be attracted to Muslim extremists. The cancellation has infuriated some of Britain’s leading figures in the world of arts and human rights”:

“Cultural and language barriers keep us from fully integrating into the Muslim community; bigotry keeps pushing us further from the conservative Christian nation around us. But we … have each other and we have our faith”:

News and Analysis (8/14/15)

Friday, August 14th, 2015

The agreement is “the most effective means currently available to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons,” and a precondition for any conceivable “international support for military action against Iran”:

Ignoring the vast majority of Muslim women to celebrate a few who fit our stereotypes of what a woman should be by Western secular standards “makes us part of … [an]  oppressive [system] … responsible for the ‘othering” of others”:

Contradicting Kayla Mueller’s letter to her family that her only suffering “throughout this whole experience … is only in knowing how much suffering I have put you all through“, the US claims Baghdadi himself raped the American …

… based on reports from Yazidi girls claiming to have been enslaved and similarly abused:

A Moroccan official says, “Criminality can be remedied through the legal system, but then there’s ideology, and it can only be fought with ideology.” Beny Avni opines that in Casablanca, “they’ve fended off extremists for 12 centuries”:

“[I]n recent years, al-Azhar has grown increasingly politicized…. [O]fficials have grown entangled with controversial policies. And … respect for the institution’s long-honored religious authority has plummeted”:

“10 years [after 9/11] we … have two Muslim members of Congress, visible representation of Muslims on mainstream TV … a president with ‘Hussein’ as his middle name, and increasingly nuanced and complex journalism covering Islam”:

Attorney Steven Wax “remains troubled that the government might still possess classified evidence that could have helped Mohamud’s case. ‘The way our system should work, the government is obligated by law to provide notice,’ he said”:

“U.S. intelligence agencies have said in the past they believed Islamic State has used chlorine gas in attacks in Iraq…. Chlorine is not a banned chemical agent”:

“Last month, Israel’s parliament passed a law allowing the force-feeding of inmates…. The Israel Medical Association (IMA) is challenging the law in Israel’s Supreme Court. They urged physicians to stick by the body’s ethical code”:

News and Analysis (8/12/15)

Wednesday, August 12th, 2015

Dr. Salaita’s tweets implicate every “central concern” of the First Amendment … (regulation of political speech, regulation of speech in a public forum, and regulation based on the content of the speech)”:

Support of liberal Islam “ought to be kept separate from counter-terrorism, … [or] you are unlikely to bring the likes of Luton’s Salafists … against Isis … if their peaceful extremism is treated as indistinguishable from violent forms”:

A unanimous ruling “that non-Muslims were eligible to practise as Shariah lawyers” means a religious council “refusal to process an application of a non-Muslim lawyer to practise as a Shariah lawyer … [exceeds] its legal powers”:

Many “say these attacks were entirely preventable, if only authorities had heeded the warnings of parents whose radicalized sons had traveled to Syria, presumably for explosives training”:

The truce “adds to recent signs of new efforts in the region to end diplomatic deadlock over a conflict that has killed a quarter of a million people, made 10 million homeless, left swathes of Syria in the hands of Islamic State militants”:

“Prime Minister Abdullah al-Thinni’s outburst early Wednesday on Libya TV, and the confusion surrounding it, shows the chaos still gripping Libya years after the ouster and killing of dictator Moammar Gadhafi“:

Although collective punishment is harâm, IS had “threatened to kill Salopek …unless Egypt’s government freed ‘Muslim women’ from prison” and “accused Croatia of participating in ‘the war against the Islamic State'”: