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Ed Webb

Muslim Sicily and the First Reconquista - Byzantine Emporia - 0 views

  • the island grew in some ways more cosmopolitan. Sicily had been something of a backwater under Byzantium, lying at the furthest reaches of the empire. Muslim Sicily was much more central to the Islamic world: it enjoyed easy communication with the friendly ports of Syria, Egypt, Spain, and North Africa.
  • The island’s governor transferred the capital to Palermo and undertook a major building program there. Palaces, mosques, baths, and public buildings were erected to make the city worthy of a great kingdom. The population swelled as Palermo drew people from all over, soon making it one of the largest cities in the Mediterranean.
  • Palermo soon began to rival Baghdad, Damascus, Cairo, and Cordoba.
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  • The Arabs introduced new crops and irrigation techniques, turning the island into a major producer of pistachios, citrus, sugarcane, and cotton. These cash crops were exported to all the major ports of the Mediterranean.
  • Pirates were expelled from their nest in southern France. Genoa, recovering from complete destruction by Arab pirates in 934, and Pisa, which also suffered devastating raids, began undertaking retaliatory expeditions. They started by clearing out bases on Corsica and Sardinia, and eventually went on to raid Ifriqiya itself.
  • as with the Spanish Reconquista and the Crusades, the reconquest of Sicily was spearheaded by warriors from northern Europe
  • Muslims, Jews, and Byzantine Christians were all allowed a dignity and freedom of worship unheard of elsewhere in either Christian or Islamic lands. Indeed, they were treated with more than just haughty indifference; men of merit were held in high esteem, whatever their religion. Talented Greeks and Arabs were given high positions as administrators, and craftsmen of all faiths were employed by the court.
  • A large army was sent from the empire’s eastern provinces to Italy, where the commanders set about raising auxiliaries. The Normans were always eager for battle and loot, and so a corps of several hundred knights joined the army. Among its leaders was one William de Hauteville, accompanied by two of his younger brothers. The force crossed the Straits of Messina, and met with initial success. But after two years, the expedition fell apart from factional squabbles. First, the Normans abandoned the enterprise. They punched far above their weight and were crucial to several victories, but felt they received an inferior share of the spoils. Then a conflict between the Byzantine general and admiral caused the former to be recalled to Constantinople, dooming any chance of victory.
  • From the papacy’s perspective, the conquest of Muslim Sicily would serve several purposes. First and foremost, it would eliminate a dangerous enemy of Rome. Sicily was the nearest base for the Muslim sea-raiders that had long plagued Christian lands in the western Mediterranean. Arab corsairs had sacked St. Peter’s in 846, and even occupied part of Apulia for several decades. Second, it expanded the influence of Rome within Christendom itself. A long-brewing conflict between eastern and western divisions of the Church was reaching a head around this time. The Greek Patriarch in Constantinople resented papal claims to primacy over all Christendom, and had theological quibbles of his own with the Latin rite. By investing Robert Guiscard as duke of Sicily, the pope was asserting his power in what had long been Constaninople’s purview.
  • The year was 1038, and the Byzantine Empire was at its height. Over the past century it had systematically broken the strength of several powerful enemies, and expanded their borders by hundreds of miles to recover lost territory. The treasury was full, the frontiers were secure, and the army was strong.
  • The new kingdom was the richest and most advanced state of western Europe. In part, this was because it took full advantage of the talents of its Muslim population, which skilled tradesmen, merchants, and scholars. Whatever the pope’s religious motives behind granting the Normans the right to conquer Muslim Sicily, they cared most of all about power. As such, they happily patronized Arabs, Greeks, and Jews alike.
  • Up until the Norman conquest, the Byzantines had been de facto protectors of all Christians in Sicily. They were the last Christian power to rule the island, and had maintained close contacts with the its Christian population throughout the Muslim occupation, launching several expeditions to liberate their coreligionists. The success of the Normans put an end to this, and allowed the Church of Rome to assume authority over Greek Christians in southern Italy. With Latin Christendom directly abutting Muslim Sicily, the papacy took a new concern for Christians living under Islamic rule. The new holy struggle envisaged not just taking back land from Muslims, but winning over the faithful from the Byzantine rite. This dynamic would play out during the Crusades, as western Europeans conquered once-Byzantine lands from the Muslims.
  • Norman governance concerned itself with taxation, military affairs, and justice, but various peoples were free to maintain separate customs and govern themselves at the communal level.
  • an astonishing amalgamation of wildly different styles: architects ornamented northern Gothic buildings with Arab designs, while Greek artists decorated the interiors with Byzantine mosaics. Nor was this fusion a strictly monumental phenomenon: the Tabula Rogeriana, a world atlas composed by an Arab geographer for Roger II, was produced as a bilingual Arabic-Latin text. The Sicilian court attracted scholars from as far afield as England and Baghdad, who then brought bits of its unique culture back to their homelands. This cultural exchange was much more than an accident of circumstance—the Norman kings took an active interest in the culture of the island, and several learned Arabic, Greek, and Sicilian. As late as 1250, the king of Sicily was fluent in all three languages.
  • One side-effect of the Norman reconquista was the gradual disappearance of Greek culture on the island. Southern Italy and Sicily had long maintained a Greek character, as far back as the first Euboean colonies of the 8th century BC. This had persisted under Roman rule, and was revitalized by later Byzantine reconquests.
  • the Normans expelled the last Byzantine garrison from Apulia in 1071, the same year as the siege of Palermo, and never again would a Greek power rule any part of Italy.
  • Over time, the Roman Church replaced Greek clergymen with Latins, and the Sicilian-speaking majority asserted its cultural power.
  • When the First Crusade was preached in 1095, the duke of Normandy and many other nobles took the cross, inspired by their cousins’ example. Within forty years of the Normans gaining a toehold in Muslim Sicily, Toledo and Jerusalem were back in Christian hands. Christian princes on both sides of the Mediterranean were aggressively expanding their domains, and everywhere Islam was in retreat. The Sicilian Reconquista was a precursor to these titanic clashes—itself not a holy war, but the opening act to the great crusading era.
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    Despite its pro-Byzantine biases, even this account has to concede the reality of cultural synthesis and mutual toleration in Muslim and Norman Sicily
Ed Webb

Liberman spawns 'alliance of the underprivileged' - 0 views

  • Israel’s political system is currently ensnared in a dizzying spiral the likes of which it has never known. The unprecedented decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to indict an incumbent prime minister on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust has rattled Israeli politics, which was already suffering from deep polarization, and this is just the beginning. In a nationally televised response to Mandelblit’s announcement of the indictments on Nov. 21, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared that he is being subjected to an “attempted coup.”
  • Netanyahu, heavily influenced by his legal woes, will push Israel into a third election in less than a year to gin up public support at the ballot box in the hope that his supporters will at least acquit him in the court of public opinion.
  • Yisrael Beitenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose party holds the deciding votes in the current political deadlock, has not only put him in a bind, but has also created an “alliance of the underprivileged”
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  • Liberman, who under the current constellation has the power to decide who will be Israel’s next prime minister, is seeking to exclude the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs from power. Thus, these two groups, which would seem to have nothing in common save a possible desire to join forces against Liberman’s onslaught of incitement against them, are striking up a surprising “friendship.”
  • Israel’s Arab and ultra-Orthodox citizens — together constituting at least 30% of the population — are the country’s poorest demographic and the largest beneficiaries of its social welfare services. While Netanyahu and his right-wing allies shower generous budgets on the Jewish West Bank settlements and provide their residents with an array of benefits, members of the Arab Joint List and of the two ultra-Orthodox parties have to work hard to advance legislation that benefits their voters.
  • The first sign of their alliance appeared in the Knesset following Netanyahu’s harsh Nov. 13 speech accusing the 13 lawmakers for the Joint List of supporting and encouraging terrorism. At the start of the Nov. 19 session of the Knesset Finance Committee, Chair Moshe Gafni of the ultra-Orthodox Yahadut HaTorah, thanked his committee colleague Tibi for his ongoing cooperation. “You know how to leverage [this cooperation] for the benefit of the public you represent. You do so with great skill. We see it in the Arab communities too. There is development, and you have played a large role in this, and I thank you for it,” Gafni said. Gafni’s ultra-Orthodox colleague Yinon Azoulai of Shas seconded his assessment, asserting, “With the [Joint] List and Ahmad there always was cooperation, and it is always possible to do more.”
  • “The clear and present danger is the anti-Zionist coalition of the Arab and ultra-Orthodox Knesset members,” Liberman said. “This is truly an anti-Zionist coalition active in both blocs [left and right]. The Joint List is a real fifth column; there is no need to whitewash and hide it. Unfortunately, the ultra-Orthodox community and its political parties, too, are becoming increasingly anti-Zionist, and it’s time to stop this nonsense that only their fringes [are opposed to the State of Israel].”
  • Such cooperation could crush the protective right-wing and ultra-Orthodox bloc of 55 seats that Netanyahu has built and undermine his mantra that the formation of a center-left minority government supported by the Arab parties would be nothing short of a mass national terror attack.
  • Members of the Joint List are all too familiar with being targets of incitement and delegitimization by Netanyahu and others, but for Shas and Yahadut HaTorah, which have tied their fate to that of Netanyahu, this is a new experience. Thanks to Liberman, they too are now illegitimate, just like their Arab Knesset colleagues.
  • The last time Liberman tried to “bury” the Arab parties, he sponsored legislation raising the electoral threshold in 2014 so that only parties winning 3.25% of the vote could send representatives to the Knesset. The move, designed to exclude the small Arab parties, backfired, uniting the ideologically disparate parties into a single list. This forced union then overtook Liberman’s faction. As of the September elections, they are the third biggest Knesset faction, with 13 seats, while Liberman’s party has eight.
  • For the sake of the sacred goal of survival, there is no need for an ideological glue other than shared destiny, as the four Arab parties – Ta’al, Ra’am, Balad and Hadash — realized in uniting against Liberman and forming the Joint List.
Ed Webb

"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.“When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”
  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
Ed Webb

"Arabian Street Artists" Bomb Homeland: Why We Hacked an Award-Winning Series | Heba Amin - 0 views

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    Love this so much
Ed Webb

In memory of Salahuddin and Al-Quds' liberation | ArabNews - 0 views

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    History directed toward nationalist identity-building.
Ed Webb

Backlash to the Backlash - NYTimes.com - 0 views

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    Friedman and MEMRI are both sources to be handled with care, but can occasionally provide value. What students of the region will quickly recognize is that the debates described here closely echo arguments that happened in the late Ottoman Empire, and in the Mandate period. What does it mean that the same debates are going on yet again?
Ed Webb

Arab world survey shows different attitudes to religion and public life - english.ahram... - 0 views

  • The surveys were conducted in 2010 and 2011, and the results were published and distributed during the conference. On the first day of the two-day scholarly gathering, the Arab Democracy Barometer tackled issues related to clerical interference in government decisions in nine states (Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, Yemen, Kuwait, Algeria, Tunisia and Sudan.) The survey conducted in Yemen and Sudan showed a significant increase in support for such interference, while it was opposed in Algeria and Tunisia, which reiterated the study's findings that in those two countries, a high importance is attached to separating religion from political life. Samples from Egypt and Iraq also agreed with this perspective.
  • two out of every eight citizens support the intervention of Islam in politics and society. This percentage increases in conservative communities with lower rates of education
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