Archive for February, 2016

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

News and Analysis (2/29/16)

Monday, February 29th, 2016

“Based on experience, they cannot take big steps because of the greater influence of hard-liners in the government, however I feel happy” – Aida Ghorbani, advertising and PR firm employee:

He quickly expressed sympathy for students who died in a car crash, victims of the San Bernadino shootings, victims of the Roanoke shootings, an Indiana aid worker beheaded by ISIS, and victims of the November Paris attacks, but this time his silence speaks volumes:

“There is no credible evidence that MB affiliates are engaged in violence…. Designating the MB as an FTO breaks ranks with all democratic allies and aligns the United States with Russia, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Syria…. Daesh emerged … after the crushing of the Arab Spring”:

He wouldn’t repent for challenging Saudi’s peculiar version of Islam” which is held by only 3% of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims. “The Saudi government typically represses worship from non-Muslims, as well as Muslims” following other schools of Islamic thought:

“Hesham Gaafar says he and the others are being mistreated and denied basic needs and visitation rights in the maximum security ward of Cairo’s Tora prison”:

Only months after a ruling that Pakistan’s “blasphemy laws should not be considered beyond criticism,” the murderer of the liberal governor who denounced blasphemy the conviction of a poor Christian woman has himself been killed in a secret execution of questionable legality:

“Although most Libyans were moderate Sunni Muslims … [i]n order to overthrow Qaddafi in 2011, the U.S. and NATO states worked hand-in-glove with Libyan and imported foreign Muslim fundamentalists including elements of Al Qaeda and Salafists”:

The school district does not want allegations released of “discipline of students on the basis of race, religion and national origin.” Although “a charge of having a hoax bomb was dropped against 14-year-old Ahmed Mohamed, … the teen was suspended after the September incident”:

“[S]even or eight people who held her down and repeatedly hit her at a Minnesota party caucus in 2014, … [but] she is returning to that same district caucus as a candidate on Tuesday … [seeking to become] the first Muslim, east African woman to hold elected office in the US”:

News and Analysis (2/27/16)

Saturday, February 27th, 2016

“[T]he House Judiciary Committee passed a Republican-authored bill approvingly citing Hafez al-Assad’s 1980 crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood — which culminated in the 1982 Hama massacre, a mass killing of civilians that indirectly presaged the current civil war”:

A “Palestinian journalist who has being held for more than six months in administrative detention without charge or trial in an Israeli prison, ended a 94 day hunger strike … after Israel agreed not to renew his administrative detention order, which ends on May 21”:

What they feared Morsi would do, the Sisi regime does with impunity. And last week “an Egyptian military court ‘mistakenly’ sentenced a three-year-old boy to life in prison for murdering three people“: …

… yet “despite years of upheaval, a struggling economy, and increasing repression under … al-Sisi, Egypt’s start-up sector is thriving” as the movement to do business without “bribes and being close to government, and kickbacks” that started after Mubarak’s removal persists:

“The businessman was on a list published last month by the official Islamic Republic News Agency and the Tabnak website of four prisoners to be freed in a prisoner exchange with the United States. His name was later withdrawn from the list with no explanation”:

Friday’s polls for the parliament and the assembly of experts – its role is to choose the Islamic Republic’s clerical supreme leader – were extended for nearly six hours due to a turnout that was estimated to have been around 70% … likely [to] favour the reformist-moderate camp”:

“[T]he number of supporters from the interfaith community who lined up to shield them from taunts far outnumbered those who accused them of violence and terrorism”:

Researchers  find evidence that “[f]or centuries, Muslims and Christians co-existed in parts of Europe, lived side-by-side, worked together, and died together” and that Muslim rulers in southern France practiced “a kind of protection for the main religious faiths”:

“Israel’s law ‘creates three tracks of naturalisation‘: the highest track for Jews … and the lowest track for ‘Palestinian/Arab/Muslim spouses of Palestinian citizens of Israel who are prohibited from entry for the purpose of family unification”:

News and Analysis (2/24/16)

Wednesday, February 24th, 2016

“Syria’s main opposition group said it has yet to commit to a U.S.-Russian plan to stop fighting in Syria on Saturday, underlining rebel doubts over a deal they fear will not prevent Russian air strikes against them”:

“The order, which Wood’s lawyers posted online, says that Wood ‘made verbal threats against the school’ .. [but] Wood says he never threatened physical harm against the school or its staff”:

“The Academy … has filed a lawsuit against … the company distributing a luxury gift bag to Oscar nominees which includes an all-expenses paid trip to Israel sponsored by the Israeli government“ that director Ken Loach calls “crude propaganda”:

“Wednesday on News 18 at Six at 11, Samantha Thieke will take a look at how Muslim women in the community feel about the representation of Islam in America; and how they say their religion empowers them to be better women and Americans”:

“In a separate development, authorities at Cairo’s international airport banned investigative journalist and human rights advocate Hossam Bahgat from leaving the country Tuesday” …

… “Egypt’s president said Wednesday that unfair criticism of the government is contributing to attempts to bring down the state, telling Egyptians not to listen to anyone but him”:

“Days after the anti-Hezbollah act became law, Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah denied that his organization held bank accounts or used banks to transfer money,” saying, ‘there is no need for either the Lebanese central bank or any Lebanese banks to feel fear”:

“It’s just one person that gives us a bad name in the community, but this community is bigger than that. They came together, they are supportive of their neighbors — and that’s what really matters at the end of the day” – Somali-American Muslim Haji Yusuf:

“Of Muslim-American women surveyed in 2008, 59 percent were employed, a greater percentage than women of other faiths, the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies reported”:

News and Analysis (2/21/16)

Sunday, February 21st, 2016

Waters once “visited the security barrier separating Israel from the Occupied Territories spraying a signed message from his seminal work ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, which read: ‘We don’t need no thought control’ … [and] soon joined the BDS movement”:

“The spike in such cases has taken place under the rule of President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi….” Says human rights lawyer Gamal Eid, “What is worse than an extremist is a state employee when he one-ups the extremist” …

… causing one Egyptian columnist to protest, “This is a state that witnesses more legal prosecution of writers than what we have seen during the Brotherhood’s one-year rule”:

“Police said some of the crowd tried to prevent firefighters from extinguishing the blaze, which destroyed the roof”:

Reports are that the Iraqi PM wants “to distance himself from Tehran and the militias that came to Baghdad’s rescue in 2014 and early 2015. Abadi has begun to push for reconciliation between Iraq’s Shi’ites and Sunnis, and for better relations with Sunni Arab neighbors like”:

“The Muslim world’s repeated attempts to reject and rebuke ISIL are neither insincere nor half-hearted. They simply reflect the belief that condemning the person, instead of the practice, places you on a slippery slope”:

News and Analysis (2/18/16)

Thursday, February 18th, 2016

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that “at least 15 people who were killed when strikes hit a bakery … near the border with Iraq on Tuesday,” and that 15 others including 3 children were killed in air  raids on Thursday:

Islamophobic extremists smear Catholics in a blatantly false billboard; the advertising company takes down the billboard but ironically refuses to identify the libelers on “free speech” grounds:

“[T]he former general who unseated the Islamists … prosecuted or investigated at least 20 contempt of religion cases, says … a researcher on religious freedom at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights. That’s more than at any time under Mr. Mubarak or since”:

“[W]hy is the hijab ‘acceptable’ only when it’s appropriated and managed by major corporations— Western regimes that, in other words, have the power to permit and regulate what is deemed tolerable, capitalisable and not?”:

The story “reads like it’s been ripped from the headlines”; its “second-generation Canadian Muslim [hero], shaped by Western values and his religious tradition — never entirely trusted by either the police or the Muslim community”:

Local “customs and understandings [of Muhammad’s message] gave rise to distinct legal schools. Although there were originally many such schools, they gradually reduced to four in Sunni Islam…. There are also a number of such schools in Shi`i Islam”:

“Iranians will shape the future of the Islamic republic for at least a decade when hardline and moderate candidates battle next week in elections for parliament and the body which will choose the country’s next supreme leader”:

News and Analysis (2/15/16)

Monday, February 15th, 2016

Don’t want your teenager exposed to violence? This judge’s solution is to make her watch more television. Wait! What?

After learning of the emergency shortfall, the devout Muslim farming couple donated “800 pounds of high-end organic carrots to Masbia, a network of kosher soup kitchens that provides meals to hundreds of hungry New Yorkers”:

Israeli vandals burn books. “This is the second time the tomb … has been vandalized. The perpetrators of the previous incident, which took place two years ago, were never caught”:

Driven out by a “Christian” parent’s complaint about his “teaching children respect for people of different sexual orientation” he found refuge in a 99% Muslim school where he and the parents respect each other’s right to disagree:

“[I]t takes a lot more courage to be … a Muslim-American woman surrounded by a bunch of infantrymen in Afghanistan, than to storm up a hill in combat”:

“In his exhibition titled ‘Voyage Sacre’, Struzik … does not want to tell people what to think; he just hopes to incite a curiosity with his images. He wants people to ‘think more’ and ‘think again’”:

Noting the wide variety of interpretations of the nature of the divinity among Christians, the author of Radical says Muslims worship the same God and rejects “‘tabloid’ representations of Islam were permeating the Church”:

“Witnesses and members of her party later said police ignored pleas to allow an ambulance through their lines to take al-Sabbagh away after she was shot with birdshot. Officers also prevented anyone from helping her, they said”:

Egypt’s whitewash is absurd; “33,877 arrests can be easily confirmed purely on the basis of a small handful of Egyptian government press statements, which, importantly, do not even cover the entirety of the post-coup period”:

News and Analysis (2/13/16)

Saturday, February 13th, 2016

True jihad. How do young American Muslims “mark the one-year anniversary of the slaying of three Muslims in Chapel Hill”? With demonstrations? Retaliation? Guess again. The answer is with love, by feeding  their neighbors …

… while the victims’ families declare, “We know that we must not fight hate with hate. Instead, we will carry their legacy of love against hate. We hope our neighbors and our leaders will join us”:

“It might strike you as surprising that one of the most famous buildings in the Muslim tradition is a monument to love… God is beautiful, as Muhammad said, and loves beauty”:

Some “attracted to the faith, in part, because of its … offering men and women of all races and classes the chance to address God directly with no priestly hierarchy in the middle” instead found “sectarian and ethnic rivalry”:

The founder says that “the reaction from the local Muslim community has been mostly positive … [and that] there was a tradition within Islam of women being imams and most of the criticism was based on ignorance”:

Muqtada al-Sadr has joined Sistani in calling for “economic and political reforms” and also “for Iraq’s powerful Shiite militias [including his own] to be formally incorporated into Iraq’s existing security forces”:

Held without charge, the journalist has “lost most of his sight and hearing abilities and could barely speak”, yet “Israeli officials have denied his request, despite the Israeli high court ruling to ‘freeze’ his administrative detention”:

The delegation of lawmakers … arrived in Jerusalem on Monday and was due to visit Gaza to assess … reconstruction efforts funded by the European Union…. [N]o justification was given to explain the refusal”:

“[T]he bombing of a commercial passenger jet earlier this month that blew a hole in the fuselage, sucking out the suspected bomber and forcing … an emergency landing … targeted Western and Turkish intelligence agents”:

News and Analysis (2/10/16)

Wednesday, February 10th, 2016

“More than 4,600 academics from across the globe have signed an open letter protesting against the death of Giulio Regeni, a Cambridge PhD student from Italy whose body was found on the outskirts of Cairo bearing signs of torture”:

A kindly shop owner graciously offers four Muslim visitors a place to pray and an Islamophobic troll spreads vicious lies turning the act of kindness into a horror story of oppression:

Tunisia’s “constitution that stipulates freedom of conscience and guarantees the rights of women and minorities … is the fruit of peaceful cooperation between moderate secularists and moderate Islamists”:

Generally, converts to Islam, are “incensed above all else by the fact that a tiny, extreme minority of backward-thinking Islamists has tainted the view of the world on their faith and made their lives harder” …

… but says one, “Key in all of this, though, is that I questioned absolutely everything – as is absolutely necessary in a religious conversion. You question yourself. You question what you hear, and what you read”:

Because his duties as chief would require him, among other things, to pray to tribal ancestors instead of the God of Abraham, the Congress of Traditional Leaders say that the grandson of Nelson Mandela must step down:

“The way Barbie dresses is very skimpy and different and there’s nothing wrong with it. I just wanted to give another option for Muslim girls like me”:

“Two men repeatedly punched, kicked and stamped on the head of an 81-year-old Muslim man, killing him as he walked to his mosque in Rotherham for morning prayers, a court heard”:

“Yousef, had never felt any disconnect between being a Muslim and being an American until his sisters were killed. He was like everyone else… But seeing how the media covered the story of the murders made him feel different”:

News and Analysis (2/8/16)

Monday, February 8th, 2016

The provost’s apology to Hawkins elicited rejoicing, but after the president’s  later letter announcing announcing Hawkins’ departure, one professor wrote on Facebook that he “will be wearing black in class the rest of the semester”:

Examples of successful Musli entrepreneurs are “software mogul Azim Premji” and, long before him, the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). Program topics include “improving networking, inclusion of women, and education”:

“What is Salafism?Why don’t Muslims sing during worship? What is the difference between Sunni and Shia traditions? Why do women cover their heads? Do Muslims believe in the Bible? Why do Muslims wash before praying?”

“Rather than a traditional romantic speed date, it’s a forum for non-Muslim men and women to ask Muslim women about their faith and their culture. With free coffee, tea and sweets”:

Right wing extremist rallies against Islam brought out  only a couple of hundred in Birmingham and Amsterdam but thousands in Germany:

“Although Riyadh states about the intention to fight against the Islamic State terrorist organization, there are big doubts about that. It is more likely that the Saudis intend to provide support … against the Syrian government forces“:

“The army first began demolishing structures and forcibly evicting Palestinian residents in 1999. Residents returned to their land they mounted a legal challenge in court. The matter was never resolved”:

“[T]he music of Al Firdaus [weaves] the sounds of East and West, just when the seams look in danger of being torn apart”: