Archive for November, 2017

News and Analysis (11/30/17)

Thursday, November 30th, 2017

“A politician would have to be blind not to understand that this is a particularly nasty far-right organization that is in trouble with the law, electoral authorities, and reviled by 99 percent of the population”:

After an anti-Muslim krystallnacht, “Warsaw police say they are searching for attackers who have smashed windows in the city’s Muslim cultural center“:

Many women said “Islam is ‘very’ important to them … and also felt that young women should have more freedoms than they now do, and also a stronger voice in their communities and in local and national government”:

MbS’s concept of a tolerant Islam is very counter-intuitive:

Turkey’s rubber-stamp religious authority declares anything “not under the state’s audit and surveillance” against the Islam, even though the Qur’an says Allah hears and knows all things:

The founder of the Hip Hop dance trio “We’re Muslim, Don’t Panic” says, “I can still practice my faith and be a powerful woman because inherently we’re given that in our faith tradition. We are given that power”:

To be seen as normal Israel must either abandon racism or convince the rest of the world racism is normal. Its opposition to the BDS movement demonstrates its preference for the latter option:

“Even if all migration into Europe were to immediately and permanently stop … the Muslim population of Europe still would be expected to rise from the current level of 4.9% to 7.4% by the year 2050”:

News and Analysis (11/27/17)

Monday, November 27th, 2017

“Sufism has shaped literature and art for centuries…. In modern times, the predominant view of Sufi Islam is one of ‘love, peace, tolerance,'” but some “fundamentalists see the reverence for saints … as a form of idolatry”:

“A global network of anti-Muslim activists is using Twitter bots, fake news and the manipulation of images to influence political discourse, new analysis reveals”:

“Marwan … worries that some mosque members, with no imam to guide them, could soon turn elsewhere for direction, with possibly radical consequences”:

“Critics say the coalition could become a means for Saudi Arabia to implement an even more assertive foreign policy by winning the backing of poorer African and Asian nations with offers of financial and military aid”:

“[D]elayed response is not considered best practice in dealing with bullying”:

“The pressure campaign has shown some signs of success. After an earlier delay, Zeid’s office said the release of the ‘report’ has been pushed back again, from December to early next year”:

“Muslim scholars agreed on five main objectives to be considered the Sharia’s high objectives…: the preservation of the self; … of reason; .. of the religion; … of property; and … of lineage”:

“Earlier, Muslims were stereotyped… [N]ow, with Hindutva rising, there is pressure for Muslims to remove markers that are visually distinct”:

Muslim feminists protest treating violence against women “if we were only legitimate to denounce the violence by Muslims. As if the violence we suffer only comes from Muslims…. News flash: this is not the case!”:

Putting Sectarianism in Perspective

Sunday, November 26th, 2017

[The following are my notes from a panel discussion with Nader Hashemi (Director of the Center for Middle East Studies and Associate Professor of Middle East and Islamic Politics at the University of Denver’s Josef Korbel School of International Studies) and Danny Postel (Assistant Director of the Middle East and North African Studies Program at Northwestern University), editors of the new book Sectarianization: Mapping the New Politics of the Middle East. presented at the Middle East Institute on Tuesday, November 21, 2017. The program was moderated by Paul Salem, senior vice president for policy research and programs at MEI.]

Nader Hashemi  argued that ancient sectarian hatred is a lazy orientalist explanation. He offered “sectarianization” as a better term than that static trans-historical term “sectarianism.” You cannot understand the current crises unless you understand authoritarianism rather theology as the root of the current conflicts in the Middle East. It is the perpetuation of political rule by the employment of sectarian identity.

There are three ways of approaching the issue: Primordialism,  constructivism, and instrumentalism. Constructivism occupies the middle ground recognizing (as does primordialism) some immutable features of religious identity but recognizing also (as does instrumentalism) the roles of elites in mobilizing religious identity. The questions that must be addressed are: Why are these conflicts intensifying now and why in some places more than others? Why have Sunni-Shia conflicts erupted recently?

Vali Nasr notes that in the past the state was viewed as a passive actor responding to struggles between subgroups. Drawing on research from South Asia, Nasr argues that state actors see political gain in the conflict between sectarian groups. The key claim of the book is that sectarianism in itself fails to explain the complex realities of the conflicts in the region that are rooted in development issues explained by political actors in pursuit of political gain. The refusal of political elites to share power below is a better explanation. Ruling elites are not necessarily committed to defending a theological view or the interests of a particular religious group. Sectarianism is not an inherent quality of Middle Eastern history. Rather, political entrepreneurs capitalize on sectarian divides. Recent conflicts in the US have been more racial than sectarian, but demonstrate a similar point. Trump played the white nationalist card to mobilize people around his political agenda. Politics in the Middle East and U.S. are not the same but they have this in common.

Danny Postel noted that in 2006 the most popular political figure in the Sunni Arab world was HassanNasrallah. This seems inconceivable today. 1979, 2003, and 2011 are critical turning points. There is nothing intrinsically religious in the Saudi-Iranian rivalry. The Yemeni conflicts of the 1970’s had nothing to do with sects but with ideology, with Iran and Saudi Arabia siding with monarchs and Egypt with the leftist rebels.

Saddam Hussein invaded Iran in the 1980’s and the U.S. encouraged transnational Jihad in Afghanistan. To say that the bombing of the Imam Hassan shrine in 2003 started the current sectarian strife is an exaggeration, but it has a point. After Saudi execution of Imam Nimr Baqir al-Nimr in 2016, Iran vowed holy revenge on the Saudis.

Scholars say there was a Sunni uprising in Syria in 2011, but the demands were bread and freedom and had nothing to do with sects. Alawis, Kurds, Atheists, etc., all joined the rebellion. The crisis was precipitated by live ammunition fired at peaceful demonstrators. The same thing is happening in Bahrain. In Syria the regime blames Sunnis and in Bahrain the regime blames Shias. The Saudis engage in a classic scapegoating move, it is not us but the other sect that is the source of your problems. Within three days of the Trump-Saudi “Orb fest” in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain and Egypt read the love fest as a declaration that “America has our back.”

Paul Salem noted that 1979 was the final stage of Egypt’s departure from leadership of the Arab world as well as the rise of Iran. Until then socialism and Arab nationalism were the central issues. As people turned away from economic and ideological markets did religion replace them? Iran turned a religion perspective into a political project. The same can be said of ISIS which claims that its religious interpretation is profound. For the Shi’a in Iraq and Syria, sect was a means of advancement. He conceded that authoritarianism is the pattern of the region, but asked how to distinguish those regimes for which it is not a tool, such as Sisi or Algeria?

Hashemi responded that in Egypt the Sunni-Shia divide doesn’t exist because there is no mix of populations there. 1967 is the main turning point at which the promises of secularism started to fail, and you see the turn to politicized religion. Socialism and nationalism had cross-sectarian support. The sectarianism card is the regimes’ favorite card to play against the demands for democracy. The narrative they offer the international community is that the problem in their country is not authoritarianism but external intervention and in some cases extremism.

Postel noted that now there is a kind of nostalgia for Arab nationalism, but it failed for a number of reasons including that it never ran deep. The masses never really embraced it. If they were really salient could they have been defeated by a single military defeat (the ’67 War)? Hezbollah redefined itself by its involvement in the Syrian crisis. There was no ISIS when Iran and Hezbollah sided with the Syrian regime.

Hashemi says the first step is for the killing to stop. There must a vision for how to exit the authoritarian status quo, some constitutional vision. The international community must play a more constructive role. We must realize that the Faustian bargain we struck with these regimes is the source of, not the solution to, the problem.

Postel observed that the U.S. had signed off wholesale on the Saudi narratives that all the problems are due to Iran. The Iran nuclear deal is related indirectly to the sectarianism because both the Saudis and Israelis flipped out over the deal.

In the Q&A I remarked that the it is interesting that the one group relatively most committed to Arab nationalism had been the Palestinians who lost most directly from the ’67 War. I also mentioned the role of the West in encouraging the Syrians to resort to armed rebellion against the Assad regime by predicting that he would fall within months. (The Israelis said “within weeks.”)

Postrel took strong exception to my observation insisting that comments about Assad falling from power were “aspirational” rather than predictive. In a conversation with Postrel after the event ended, I informed him of my personal knowledge of how the Syrian opposition took such predictions seriously and that they posed an obstacle to those of us who thought that the best strategy against Assad was to keep the opposition peaceful until he lost the support of the Syrian Army. Such was the pattern of the fall of a number of Middle Eastern dictators from the Shah of Iran to Mubarak in Egypt and Ben Ali in Tunisia. Postrel insisted that the pattern could not have worked in Syria because Assad’s family is too closely intertwined with the military establishment. On that he and I shall have to agree to disagree and it is my position that brutal as Assad’s attacks on peaceful demonstrators were, the use of violence (albeit in self-defense) by demonstrators and the subsequent civil war that opened the door not only for Assad’s continued military slaughter of his civilian population but for the air and ground forces of a variety of foreign actors as well as the terrorist activities of ISIS and other such groups has been a more tragic consequence for the Syrian people. I do not believe that Assad by himself could have killed so many people in the absence of a civil war without losing the support of the people he would have had to in order to do the killing. I also do not believe the “sectarianization” problem would be as bad as it is at this moment.

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

News and Analysis (11/24/17)

Friday, November 24th, 2017

“[M]edical units have now been installed in the Ritz-Carlton hotel where the beatings have taken place … to prevent torture victims from being taken to hospital” …

… while in an act of stupefying supreme act of hypocrisy the man who invaded Yemen declares that appeasement doesn’t work as an argument why the world and the region should appease him:

… and “a former senior Israeli military figure speaking in London … report that … senior Saudi princes … said to him words to the effect that, ‘you are not our enemy any more'”:

The suspension of his resignation “lends weight to the theory that Hariri was forced to resign,” but the Lebanese know that “they lack the military and political might to hold foreign powers at bay”:

“The climate for this type of attack is made possible by the pernicious influence of Sri Lankan hard-line Buddhist groups such as Bodu Bala Sena”:

“The idea that Burma will now welcome them back to their smoldering villages with open arms is laughable” — Bill Frelick, refugee rights director at Human Rights Watch:

A focus on “employment, career and material advancement” yields a “deficit of criticality in education … [and an] inability to cope creatively with ambiguity, the predisposition to seek black and white answers”:

The 1753 Marriage Act “limited ceremonies to registered buildings, … [with notable exceptions “for Quakers and Jewish people, … but today renders hundreds of thousands of women outside the protection of our courts”:

The group seeks to address “polygamy, nikah halala, minimum age for marriage etc.” with “new legislation which is comprehensive and is as per the Quran as well as the Constitution”:

“Abdul-Jabbar recounts the tremulous time surrounding his decision to change his name from Lew Alcindor to Kareem-Abdul Jabbar, which means ‘noble servant of [the Most Compelling],’ after” converting to Islam:

“Rabita had closely analyzed Islamic State videos and found they sometimes used quite unreligious bait to entice youths to join their jihad”:

News and Analysis (11/21/17)

Tuesday, November 21st, 2017

“For a man whose role involves assessing security threats, Wuco has been quick to conclude—sometimes falsely—that attacks were perpetrated by Muslims”:

“Once a ceasefire is seen to be working, … talks … should find a workable solution for the return of refugees, and the final phase should be to work toward a long-term solution based on poverty alleviation”:

“While Tariq Ramadan’s accusers deserve justice and the scholar must be allowed to defend himself, … Muslim women … have every right… in this moment of opportunity to expose patriarchy’s crimes”:

“Kamala is neither completely devoted to her faith nor rebelling against it. She, like a lot of Muslims, is somewhere in the middle. Her race and religion are subtle facets of a rich and confusing life”:

They’re identical twins, except that one is a liberal transgender practicing Muslim and the other an agnostic conservative sympathizer:

“[Whether they] are indeed Turkish nationals as they claim or Chinese nationals as China claims, the fact that they are ethnic Uyghur is enough for them to face persecution and harsh punishment”:

News and Analysis (11/18/17)

Saturday, November 18th, 2017

“Our adaptability starts with an understanding of Islam that is open and flexible…. We also changed our stances regarding women’s rights…. The future is freedom…. Islam stands for freedom and justice”:

A professed anti-corruption crackdown turns out to be a shakedown:

“As strange as this sounds, the cable shows how Israel is becoming the unlikely leader of the Sunni world” — Jeff Halper, Israeli analyst:

For years “sexual violence has been a routine part of the methods Israeli intelligence agencies have used against Palestinians,” so it is appropriate that Harvey Weinstein used Israeli agents to intimidate his victims:

Christians unite to oppose Israeli attempt to quash freedom of speech:

The director “agreed to delete offending scenes from the film following” an attack” by Hindu extremists whose spokesman now threatens to “cut the nose” of the film’s star for saying “protests would not stop the … release”:

“[T]he ‘Muslim who acts like us’ continues to be a lazy, one-dimensional response to islamophobia in all kinds of media that attempts to be ‘progressive’”:

KSM has found a twofer, telling believers he is supporting hadith studies while telling Western governments he is fighting terrorism:

“Canadians seem to be souring on the idea of freedom of religion as only 55% of those responding said they believe it makes the country better—14% said it made it worse and the rest said no impact”:

News and Analysis (11/16/17)

Thursday, November 16th, 2017

As foreseen by German intelligence, Saudi Arabia has adopted a reckless interventionist foreign policy …

… and the Saudi-led coalition “faced widespread international criticism over the closure, with the UN and over 20 aid groups saying it could bring millions of people closer to ‘starvation and death'”:

Muslims are less “than 0.02 percent of the total population,” yet the  SPD became the third most powerful party in parliament with no “discernable policy other than to drive Islam completely out of the Czech Republic”:

“A Greek court has sentenced two Muslim clerics to seven months in prison after they led prayers at a funeral service” on the charge of “usurping authority” for not using a state-appointed preacher:

In less than 30 years, the “fertility rate across all 49 Muslim-majority countries fell from 4.3 [to 2.9] children per woman” while some Western European countries nearly a century to transition from” 6 per woman to 3:

This year “the largest annual religious pilgrimage on earth, …  ​held special resonance, as ISIS in Iraq has been all but defeated in recent months by Iraqi security forces – supported by Iran-backed Shiite militias”:

As “a Muslim girl involved in the sport of fencing, there were people who made me feel like I didn’t belong. For all those people who didn’t believe in me, this Barbie doll is for you“:

“Dressed as a priest, a member of the extremist group Pegida planted a wooden cross on the site of a new mosque in the Dutch municipality Enschede … and then proceeded to rub the cross with pig’s blood”:

Ballooning participation in the “annual far-right marches to celebrate Polish independence … [coincides with the] stripping away [of] Polish democratic institutions … since the most recent [2015] general election”:

“I await the return of PM Hariri to Beirut so we can decide on the situation of the government – if he wants to resign or rescind his resignation” — Lebanese President Michel Aoun:

News and Analysis (11/13/17)

Monday, November 13th, 2017

“Some senior figures detained in last [week]’s purge in Saudi Arabia were beaten and tortured so badly during their arrest or subsequent interrogations that they required hospital treatment”:

“[A]l-Hariri warned on Sunday Lebanon was at risk of Gulf Arab sanctions … and said he would return to Lebanon within days to affirm he had resigned as the country’s prime minister”:

Teary-eyed after the father’s gesture, [the judge] called for a break.” Later, members of the perpetrator’s and victim’s “families, sobbing, joined the pair for a group hug. The courtroom audience watched, transfixed”:

A New Jersey minister is impressed by young Muslim students at al-Ghazaly High School who respond to hateful comments with education:

“Following their release to freedom though, many hostages like McGowan or Coleman and Boyle retain the religious views they developed while in captivity”:

“The stories of the 2.5 million Muslims who traveled to Europe to fight for the allies during the first world war are finally being told”:

“People would say ‘Oh, it must be hard for you to live in Indonesia [as a Muslim woman],’ and I would reply ‘we may not have Disneyland but we’re fine.’ Indonesia is not that bad, it looks bad only on Twitter”:

The dairy farmer  allegedly “was thrashed and shot dead by a crowd of cow vigilantes when he was transporting four cows to his native village”:

News and Analysis (11/9/17)

Friday, November 10th, 2017

A ten year sentence for violating general orders, drunk and disorderly conduct, making false statements and abuse that led to a suicide:

“France became the first Western country to indicate that Saudi Arabia was holding Mr. Hariri against his will, saying it wished for him to have “all his freedom of movement and be fully able to play the essential role that is his in Lebanon”:

After the 9/11 terror attacks, “Grammy-winning songwriter and Muslim activist Ani Zonneveld … came to the conclusion that … [much] of what were taught to us completely contradict what the Koran says”:

The “dispute … reflects nationwide problems with mosque shortages”:

“Christians and Muslims believe that freedom of conscience and religion are the most important human rights and, ‘therefore, our collective duty demands that we respect, preserve and promote such rights'”:

She converted to Islam while serving in the U.S. military and then returned to a country to be denied the rights for which she fought — but she continues to fight for them:

“Muhammad bin Salman is he resembles President Trump” — David Ottoway; “Saudi defense and security in the hands of one individual” – Gerald Feierstein;”One-man rule is always bad” – Jamal Khashoggi:

“[M]any human rights activists and liberal journalists were recently arrested. It is not yet clear what model of governance the crown prince really seeks”:

News and Analysis (11/7/17)

Tuesday, November 7th, 2017

Does Hariri’s resignation signal that the Trump administration has pressured the Saudis to spoil Lebanon’s “compromise with Hezbollah … which over the past 12 months has brought some rare stability to Lebanon?

The Revolutionary Guard “often benefited financially from the sanctions regime” and since the nuclear agreement have made arrests perceived to undermine both Rouhani and any improvement in relations with the West:

“In Russia’s prisons one Muslim prisoner of conscience has recently been tortured, and Muslims and Jehovah’s Witnesses have both been denied literature”:

Dialogue is like “dating … on the first date, you dress up and are on your best behavior. [You initially] … focus on commonalities…. But … as trust develops, [you] can begin to speak more authentically to one another”:

“When a bearded man with a foreign-sounding name allegedly says ‘Allahu Akbar‘ before killing 8 people, … [it’s called] terrorism. But [not] when a white man shoots over 500 people”:

A “new court ruling is opening the door for legal practice of previously illegal faiths”:

“I got clear indications that the intention is to keep the United States compliant with the agreement” — EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini: