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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

God and the Ivory Tower- By Scott Atran | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • On a global scale, Protestant evangelical churches (together with Pentacostalists) continue to proliferate, especially in Latin America, but also keep pace with the expansion of fundamentalist Islam in southern Africa and eastern and southern Asia. In Russia, a clear majority of the population remains religious despite decades of forcibly imposed atheism. Even in China, where the government's commission on atheism has the Sisyphean job of making that country religion-free, religious agitation is on the rise. And in the United States, a majority says it wants less religion in politics, but an equal majority still will not vote for an atheist as president.
  • for nearly a century after Harvard University psychologist William James's 1902 masterwork, The Varieties of Religious Experience, there was little serious investigation of the psychological structure or neurological and biological underpinnings of religious belief that determine how religion actually causes behavior
  • the greater the investment in outlandishness, the better. This is because adherence to apparently absurd beliefs means incurring costs -- surviving without electricity, for example, if you are Amish -- which help identify members who are committed to the survival of a group and cannot be lured away. The ease of identifying true believers, in turn, builds trust and galvanizes group solidarity for common defense
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  • recent research echoes the findings of 14th-century historian Ibn Khaldun, who argued that long-term differences among North African Muslim dynasties with comparable military might "have their origin in religion … [and] group feeling [wherein] mutual cooperation and support flourish." The more religious societies, he argued, endured the longest
  • the same logic that makes religious and sacred beliefs more likely to endure can make them impervious to compromise. Based on interviews, experiments, and surveys with Palestinians, Israelis, Indonesians, Indians, Afghans, and Iranians, my research with psychologists Jeremy Ginges, Douglas Medin, and others demonstrates that offering people material incentives (large amounts of money, guarantees for a life free of political violence) to compromise sacred values can backfire, increasing stated willingness to use violence. Such backfire effects occur both for convictions with clear religious investment (Jerusalem, sharia law) and for those that are at least initially nonreligious (Iran's right to a nuclear capability, Palestinian refugees' right of return).
  • Although this sacralization of initially secular issues confounds standard "business-like" negotiation tactics, my work with political scientist Robert Axelrod interviewing political leaders in the Middle East and elsewhere indicates that strong symbolic gestures (sincere apologies, demonstrating respect for the other's values) generate surprising flexibility, even among militants, and may enable subsequent material negotiations. Thus, we find that Palestinian leaders and their supporting populations are generally willing to accept Israeli offers of economic improvement only after issues of recognition are addressed. Even purely symbolic statements accompanied by no material action, such as "we recognize your suffering" or "we respect your rights in Jerusalem," diminish support for violence, including suicide terrorism. This is particularly promising because symbolic gestures tied to religious notions that are open to interpretation might potentially be reframed without compromising their absolute "truth."
  • seemingly contrary evidence rarely undermines religious belief, especially among groups welded by ritualized sacrifice in the face of outside threats
  • Religious issues motivate only a small minority of recorded wars. The Encyclopedia of Wars surveyed 1,763 violent conflicts across history; only 123 (7 percent) were religious. A BBC-sponsored "God and War" audit, which evaluated major conflicts over 3,500 years and rated them on a 0-to-5 scale for religious motivation (Punic Wars = 0, Crusades = 5), found that more than 60 percent had no religious motivation. Less than 7 percent earned a rating greater than 3. There was little religious motivation for the internecine Russian and Chinese conflicts or the world wars responsible for history's most lethal century of international bloodshed.
  • studies by behavioral economist Joseph Henrich and colleagues on contemporary foragers, farmers, and herders show that professing a world religion is correlated with greater fairness toward passing strangers. This research helps explain what's going on in sub-Saharan Africa, where Islam is spreading rapidly. In Rwanda, for example, people began converting to Islam in droves after Muslims systematically risked their lives to protect Christians and animists from genocide when few others cared.
  • When competing interests are framed in terms of religious and sacred values, conflict may persist for decades, even centuries. Disputes over otherwise mundane phenomena then become existential struggles, as when land becomes "Holy Land." Secular issues become sacralized and nonnegotiable, regardless of material rewards or punishments. In a multiyear study, our research group found that Palestinian adolescents who perceived strong threats to their communities and were highly involved in religious ritual were most likely to see political issues, like the right of refugees to return to homes in Israel, as absolute moral imperatives. These individuals were thus opposed to compromise, regardless of the costs. It turns out there may be a neurological component to such behavior: Our work with Gregory Berns and his neuroeconomics team suggests that such values are processed in the brain as duties rather than utilitarian calculations; neuroimaging reveals that violations of sacred values trigger emotional responses consistent with sentiments of moral outrage.
  • research in India, Mexico, Britain, Russia, and Indonesia indicates that greater participation in religious ritual in large-scale societies is associated with greater parochial altruism -- that is, willingness to sacrifice for one's own group, such as Muslims or Christians, but not for outsiders -- and, in relevant contexts, support for suicide attacks. This dynamic is behind the paradoxical reality that the world finds itself in today: Modern global multiculturalism is increasingly challenged by fundamentalist movements aimed at reviving group loyalty through greater ritual commitments to ideological purity
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and Turkey Falter Over Egypt - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • After a lengthy historical impasse, common strategic, regional and economic interests brought about an unusual partnership between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Relations were strengthening under the pressure of the Arab uprisings, in which both countries were destined to coordinate their support for the Syrian rebels and counterbalance Iran’s expansion in the region. Yet, in the wake of the Egyptian coup, this partnership appears to be strained as the two countries’ visions collided over the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
  • it is not clear whether this current impasse will have long-lasting negative consequences for cooperation between the two countries. Saudi Arabia needs Turkey in Syria, while Turkey remains eager to attract more Saudi investment, estimated at more than $1.9 billion
  • The Turkish press' criticism of the Saudi position in Egypt — this time originating with pro-Turkish government sources — replicated what had already been noticeable in the secular or independent press. Turkey is one country in the region where Islamists, secularists, leftists and liberals all concur on a negative image of Saudi Arabia, with each doubting its policies. Perhaps this is only replicated in post-revolution Tunisia.
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  • On the Saudi side, while the Turkish-Saudi partnership is officially celebrated as a great new strategic alliance, the Saudi press occasionally launches attacks that undermine this veneer of cooperation. Accusations that “Sultan Erdogan” longs for the return of the Ottoman caliphate regularly appeared in the Saudi sponsored pan-Arab press. Such attacks are often backed by appeals to Arabism and the historical animosity between Turkey and the Arab people.
  • More ferocious attacks are clothed in religion, with Turkey’s Islamism mocked as an aberration that remains tolerant of alcohol consumption and debauchery in the red light districts of Istanbul. Turkey’s Sufi tradition stands at the opposite end of the dominant Saudi Salafist religious outlook. Its half-hearted appeal to Sharia is contrasted with Saudi commitment to Islamic law. Such attacks echo similar ones that flourished more than a hundred years ago when Wahhabi expansion in Arabia and constant harassment of pilgrimages prompted the Ottoman sultan to reassert his authority over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Ironically, in 1818 he relied on the Egyptian army under the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha to rid him of this menace and deliver the Saudi rulers and their religious aides to Istanbul where they were executed. While this is history, the memory seems to linger in the minds of religiously-inclined Saudis when they denounce Turkey's version of Islam for its laxity.
  • When you take oil out of the equation, it is unlikely to find a sensible country that would aspire to a Saudi model of governance.
Ed Webb

Netanyahu camp adds Arab 'extortion' to right-wing playbook - 0 views

  • The document that Netanyahu’s “natural partners” — Shas, Yahadut HaTorah and HaBayit HaYehudi–National Union — were coaxed to sign Oct. 16 is disturbing. The agreement reads, “If, God forbid, a minority government is sworn in with the support of the Joint List, either from outside the coalition or as a part of it, we will not join the government at any stage, we will vote against it in every vote, and we will do everything we can to topple it.” Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked of the New Right declined to sign the agreement. It is especially worth noting the formula used to appeal to the ultra-Orthodox parties. The expression “God forbid” in this context is reserved for natural disasters or other cataclysmic events, which man alone cannot prevent.
  • Zohar asserts that anyone who cooperates with Arab Knesset members is prone to extortion by them, thereby becoming security threats to the State of Israel. In short, a person cooperating could essentially be considered a traitor. Netanyahu and his Likud associates have a long history of inciting against Israeli Arabs in general and Arab Knesset members in particular. This time, however, it looks like his breaking point is a lot more brittle. Unable to form a government, he is prepared to cross every red line imaginable.
  • “Netanyahu will do everything he can to obtain immunity and avoid prison,” Tibi remarked. “At this point, he is unable to form a government, so he is turning to incitement and the delegitimization of the Arab society.”
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  • Since utterances like “Arabs are heading to the polls in droves,” made on election day in 2015, and “election theft,” alleged during the April 2019 elections, are tired clichés by now, it looks like Netanyahu's new approach will be to try to scare Jewish voters with tales of “extortion” by the Arab parties on security matters
Ed Webb

The Islamic Monthly - Religion and the Arab Spring: Between opposition, equivocation an... - 0 views

  • 18 tumultuous days of nonstop media coverage
  • Reflecting on Bouazizi's death on his popular TV show, al-Shari'a wa-l-Hayat, Qaradawi affirmed that suicide was generally a major sin (kabira), but blamed the Tunisian state for Bouazizi's sin and prayed that God would absolve him of any blame for that sin. Qaradawi's sympathy for Bouazizi's otherwise sinful act was a reflection of Qaradawi's more general approach to the problem of religion and politics: that justice is a central demand of the Shari'a and that interpretations of the Shari'a that strengthen oppressors and tyrants cannot be deemed to be legitimate parts of the Shari'a.
  • Qaradawi's reputation for moral courage in the face of Arab dictators, however, suffered a significant blow as a result of his refusal to condemn the actions of the Bahraini and Saudi governments in violently suppressing the peaceful protests in Manama's Pearl Square. His attempts to distinguish the Bahraini protests on the ground that they were sectarian in character rather than national hardly seemed at the time plausible; in light of subsequent events, they are even less so.
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  • Gomaa's fatwas were consistent with historical Sunni views that regard revolution with scepticism, if not outright terror, at the prospect of public disorder. The mufti's stance of neutrality, meanwhile, alienated significant segments of the Egyptian population who expected him to take a much stronger stance against the unlawful conduct of the regime and its security forces
  • The various responses by religious leaders to the events of the Arab Spring suggest three distinct issues facing the role of religion and politics (particularly, the possibility of a more democratic politics) in the Arab World. First, the lack of institutional independence from strong regimes continues to undermine scholars' legitimacy. It is hard to believe, for example, that Qaradawi's stance regarding Bahrain was not influenced by the Gulf Cooperation Council's anti-Iran policies. This failure to be consistent, meanwhile, undermines his status as a moral voice in these times of uncertainty. Second, among traditional scholars, there remains a profound failure to understand the nature of the modern state and how it differs from the personal rule that characterized pre-modern states. Third, traditionalist scholars continue to view politics as something exogenous to the religious life, as if it were something that can safely be ignored without doing any damage to one's life as a Muslim.
  • the desire by virtually all political parties to use the religious establishment to further their political programs contradicts the desire to have an independent religious establishment that could be faithful to its own mission
  • To the extent that traditional scholars still cling to a conception of political rule that identifies legitimacy in the personal attributes of the ruler, they anachronistically promote the idea that good politics is the function of the virtuous ruler, rather than the modern notion that virtuous rule is the product of the right institutions.
  • the Arab Spring rejected the notion that one can live a virtuous private life untouched by an unjust and corrupt political sphere
  • If one accepts the proposition that the character of a regime profoundly affects everything produced within its domain, then it is no surprise that the authoritarianism of the last 50 years in the Arab World produced sterile and decadent religious as well as secular thought
Ed Webb

Blasphemy and the Law - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • while the pain caused to believers by the defilement of cherished religious symbols and teachings is real and traumatic, laws that criminalize “defamation” of religion or inciting religious hatred are doctrinally unsound and legally dangerous.
  • Increasingly, Muslim leaders are arguing that blasphemy laws as currently applied are un-Islamic as well. In a foreword to a recently released book, “Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide,” Abdurrahman Wahid, the late president of Indonesia and a strong advocate for interfaith dialogue, wrote, “Nothing could possibly threaten God who is Omnipotent and existing as absolute and eternal truth. ... Those who claim to defend God, Islam, or the Prophet are thus either deluding themselves or manipulating religion for their own mundane and political purposes.”
  • A 2012 report by Human Rights First — “Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing ‘Defamation of Religions”’ [pdf] — outlines several types of problems with the application of blasphemy laws worldwide. In addition to stifling dissent and discussion in the public sphere, such laws can actually spark assaults, murders and mob outbreaks.
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  • Far from protecting religious sensibilities, blasphemy laws are a major source of prejudice and violence against religious minorities, as well as of violations of their religious freedoms.
  • The antidote to blasphemy is not blunt and counterproductive law but efforts by civil society — specifically political and religious leaders cooperating across religious and ideological lines — to condemn any curtailing of religious rights or speech that incites violence. We saw this working in New York City when Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders stood with the mayor in August 2010 in support of Muslim leaders who wanted to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. We are seeing it now as the All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, joins with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and members of other religions, to support Rimsha Masih and to call for an end to the “climate of fear” created by “spurious allegations.”
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia Pleased With Morsi's Fall - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia hosted Arab Muslim Brotherhood exiles during the repression of the 1950 and 1960s. They came not only from Egypt but also from Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries where they had been prosecuted. Brotherhood cadres played a pivotal role in Saudi educational institutions and later the transnational organizations set up by King Faisal to counter the spread of Arab nationalism and leftist movements. Saudis used the exiled Islamists as tools to weaken such movements and undermine their credibility, while emphasizing their un-Islamic character. During the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s, Saudis used the worldwide networks established by the Brotherhood to inflame the imagination of its youth and channel aid and weapons. Yet Saudi Arabia never allowed the Brotherhood to establish branches there as they did in other Arab countries and in the West.
  • Educated urban Saudis were attracted to the Brotherhood discourse and impressed by its ability to form civil society organizations, posing as charitable and welfare services. Individuals frustrated with the Wahhabi-Salafist tradition that forbids political action and unconditionally obeys rulers, found in the Brotherhood an authentic discourse capable of mobilizing society. The ideological vacuum that resulted from the death of Arab nationalism and socialism after 1967 was quickly filled by political Islam. To counter the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi religious establishment condemned it as a divisive force and accused it of undermining people’s creeds. Saudi Arabia began to curb the activities of the Brotherhood after the latter condemned the Saudis for inviting foreign troops to expel then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990.
  • After 9/11, suspicion of the Brotherhood evolved into outright hostility. Prince Nayif accused the Brotherhood of radicalizing Saudi youth and held it responsible for the terrorism wave that swept the country from 2003 to 2008. Such accusations were unfounded, as most jihadis operating in Saudi Arabia grounded their actions in the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century preacher whose tradition has been dominant in Saudi Arabia up to the present.
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  • unlike official Saudi Salafists, who still believe that democracy is a Western import that promises to bring atheists, secularists and leftists to power, the Brotherhood engaged in elections, won seats in parliaments and even came to power in Tunisia and Egypt. Surely, then, Islam and democracy are not so incompatible. This in itself threatens the foundations of Saudi rule, which is still based on absolute kingship, difficult to justify from an Islamic point of view. The Brotherhood therefore exposes Saudi claims to legitimacy and undermines their credibility as lawful Muslim rulers.
  • The competition over the hearts and minds of Muslims in the growing global Muslim society worries Saudi Arabia, which seeks to monopolize these platforms.
  • Saudi Arabia feared that Morsi would make Egypt drift toward Iran, with whom Saudi Arabia competes for hegemony at the regional level.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood had already drifted toward Qatar rather than Iran, thus allowing this small but wealthy Gulf country to undermine Saudi designs for the region and split the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries over the desired outcome of the Arab uprisings.
Ed Webb

With more Islamic schooling, Erdogan aims to reshape Turkey - 0 views

  • Erdogan has said one of his goals is to forge a “pious generation” in predominantly Muslim Turkey “that will work for the construction of a new civilisation.” His recent speeches have emphasised Turkey’s Ottoman history and domestic achievements over Western ideas and influences. Reviving Imam Hatip, or Imam and Preacher, schools is part of Erdogan’s drive to put religion at the heart of national life after decades of secular dominance, and his old school is just one beneficiary of a government programme to pump billions of dollars into religious education.
  • spending on Imam Hatip upper schools for boys and girls aged 14 to 18 will double to 6.57 billion lira ($1.68 billion) in 2018
  • the 645,000 Imam Hatip students make up only 11 percent of the total upper school population, they receive 23 percent of funding
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  • Turkey has also increased religious education teaching at regular state schools, some of which have been converted into Imam Hatip schools. The government declined to say how many
  • Islamic schools are underperforming the regular ones
  • Education Minister Ismet Yilmaz has said previously that the government is responding to popular demand by opening new Imam Hatip schools
  • “Islam is not being forced on people. It is not a matter of saying everyone should go to Imam Hatips. We are just providing an opportunity to those families who want to send their children to Imam Hatips.”
  • Some secularist parents say the Islamist school movement is robbing their children of resources and opportunity. Those differences are part of a wider disagreement between liberal and secular sections of society and Erdogan’s support base of conservative, pious Turks
  • critics have accused Erdogan of rolling back the secular state founded by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 and weakening its pillars - the army, judiciary and media. Relations between NATO-member Turkey and its U.S. and European partners have become strained. Ankara’s bid to join the European Union has stalled and Western countries have criticised Turkey over mass arrests that followed a failed military coup in July 2016
  • The school’s website vaunts its success in pursuits including karate, biology, chemistry, Arabic, music and Koran recitation. Religious education lessons account for around a quarter to a third of the curriculum in Imam Hatip schools
  • anathema to secularists, people on the political left and members of the minority Alevi faith, which draws upon Shi’ite, Sufi and Anatolian folk traditions and rituals that differ sharply from those of the country’s Sunni majority
  • Sarigazi is a non-religious school, in an area with a strong Alevi and secular community, but a large part of the premises has been converted into an Imam Hatip school.A group of parents has petitioned education authorities to stop the conversion, collecting hundreds of signatures. Those parents say the change began several years ago with a few Imam Hatip “guest” classes but has since expanded to 1,300 pupils, encroaching on the building where some 3,000 students study in a regular middle school. The mother of a 10-year-old girl at the regular school said she and other parents would continue their fight against the school’s conversion. She said it was wrong to force Islam on people. Like several other secularist parents interviewed, the woman declined to give her name
  • Successive AK Party governments have given a high priority to education, ramping up the education ministry’s spending to some 12.3 percent of the entire budget this year from 6.9 percent in 2003, the AK Party’s first full year in power.Despite all the money allocated to the schools, figures on 2017 university placements show graduates of religious schools lag their peers in regular schools. Only 18 percent of applicants from religious schools earned places on full degree courses at university last year, compared with 35 percent from regular state upper schools and 45 percent from private upper schools.
  • survey of academic performance published in December 2016 for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development showed the success of Imam Hatip upper school students was below the national average
  • Turkey slipped an average of eight places in the survey’s rankings for science, mathematics and reading, compared with the previous study three years earlier, to 50th among 72 countries
  • Reuters could not determine whether socioeconomic factors were contributing to the performance gap between Imam Hatip and regular schools because there is no data available on pupils’ family backgrounds, their income and education. However, religious schools are found in towns and cities across Turkey, in poor and affluent districts.
  • the number of students in Imam Hatip upper schools dipped slightly last year. Opposition lawmaker Engin Altay said the slide was “directly correlated with the low success rate of Imam Hatip upper schools in an academic sense.”
  • Halit Bekiroglu, chairman of an association of Imam Hatip members and graduates, said secularist fears about the schools were exaggerated. Their revival, he said, reflected the conservative religious character of most of Turkish society and a desire for a change in an education system that previously imported Western ideas
  • Parents who send their children to Imam Hatip schools speak of their desire for them to have a strong moral education
  • Batuhan Aydagul, director of Education Reform Initiative, an independent think tank in Istanbul, said: “What we see now is a ‘national and native’ identity being constructed in education.”
  • mathematical engineer Ozlem Koc, 42, who lives on the Asian side of Istanbul. She won a court case in June after a year-long battle with education authorities to exempt her 10-year-old son from religious education, arguing that it was contrary to human rights to force it on children.“This is not just my personal case,” she said. “I want my child to be exempt from religious lessons, but I am also fighting for compulsory religious education to be removed from the curriculum.”
Ed Webb

Stopping COVID-19 in Its Tracks: Science Gets the Upper Hand - 0 views

  • Men like Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, and Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman have finally joined much of the world in imposing science-driven degrees of lockdowns, social distancing, and the search for medical cures and protections after initially opting for political expediency or advocacy of traditional healing methods and/or religious precepts.
  • The consequences of science-based approaches for civilizationalists who advocate policies inspired by religion or the supremacy of one religious group over another could go far beyond what should shape public health policies.They could threaten the foundations of their religious support base as well as their discriminatory policies towards religious or ethnic minorities. Israel is a case in point in terms of both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s religious support base as well as his policies towards Israeli nationals of Palestinian descent.With ultra-orthodox Jewish neighborhoods and cities emerging as the communities most affected by the coronavirus, some Israeli commentators argue that the pandemic could undermine rabbinical authority on a scale not seen since the Holocaust when large numbers left ultra-orthodoxy after rabbinical advice to remain in Europe proved devastating.
  • “Torah no longer saves from death. The coronavirus has dealt an unimaginable blow to the rabbinical authority – and worldview – that ultra-Orthodox Jews previously regarded as infallible and eternal,”
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  • the return home of some 45,000 Palestinian workers to the West Bank for this week’s Passover holiday is likely to create bottlenecks in both Israel and the Palestinian territory after the Israeli government decided that they would not be allowed to return because of health concerns.The decision threatens to create a labor shortage in Israel, increase economic pressure on an already weakened Palestine Authority, and facilitate the spread of the virus on the West Bank given the administration’s inability to test all returnees
  • “Because the two populations are so intertwined, curbing the virus only in one society is impossible,” said Ofer Zalzberg of the International Crisis Group.It’s a lesson that applies universally, not just to Israelis and Palestinians. That is no truer than in Syrian and Palestinian refugee camps that dot the eastern Mediterranean
  • whether anti-globalists and civilizationalists like it or not, the coronavirus is global and universal. So is the science that will ultimately help get control of the pandemic and eventually stop it in its tracks
Ed Webb

Muslim in America - Reason.com - 0 views

  • The Muslims of Dearborn and Hamtramck are indeed increasing their participation in political life, but that isn't a plot to turn the towns into little Shariahvilles—it's an effort to assimilate into American life.
  • only 30 percent of Detroit's Arab Muslims go to mosque every month, compared to 66 percent of Arab Christians who attend church that often. Just 18 percent of the area's Muslims were active in their mosques, far less than the 47 percent of Arab Christians who were active in their churches. This is not what an incubator of zealotry looks like
  • Hamtramck's 15,000-strong Muslim population dates back only about two decades, and it consists of everyone from blue-eyed, light-skinned Bosnians to swarthy Bangladeshis. By contrast, Dearborn's community has 100-year-old roots and hails predominantly from the Middle East. Its Muslim population is almost three times bigger than Hamtramck's—more if you count Dearborn Heights, its companion city. Because the Hamtramck community is newer, it has an air of innocence, as if it hasn't fully comprehended how much post-9/11 hostility there is toward Muslims in America. Its politics are primarily driven by economic security and ties to the old world. Dearborn's community is more settled, savvy, and middle-class, and it is acutely aware of the harsh national Klieg lights pointed at it. Its political participation is a complicated coping dance motivated not just by its economic interests but also the need to cooperate with anti-terrorism efforts without ceding civil or religious rights.
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  • There are about 35 bars in Hamtramck. That may sound like a lot, but there were 200 before Muslims started displacing Poles. Some of the former bars have been converted into mosques such as the Masjid Al-Iman Al-Ghazalli on Joseph Campau Street.They look like the poor cousins of Hamtramck's grand churches, especially the tall and majestic St. Florian that looms over the town
  • Fox & Friends' Pete Hegseth performed a typical hit job, finding an obligatory Polish American to say on camera that Muslims aren't "ready for Western culture yet."
  • most of the people protesting the muezzin's call weren't locals but Christian fundamentalists sent from neighboring towns, some in Ohio. Greg Kowalski, a retired editor of the local Observer & Eccentric newspaper chain, confirms the same. Indeed, he says he was contacted by Christian attorneys in Chicago offering their services pro bono to stop the call. But Majewski insists the protesters didn't understand that the call was constitutionally protected speech; the council couldn't ban it any more than it could cut off the church bells that ring every hour. The council meeting that became the focus of protests was in fact never about banning the call; the aim was just to regulate its volume and timing.
  • If anything, says Kowalski, a lifelong Hamtramck resident, Muslims have been far less aggressive in remaking the city compared to earlier European immigrants. The retiree, who volunteers at the Hamtramck Historical Museum, believes the current transition is far less contentious than the early-20th century conflict between the new Polish arrivals and the previously dominant Germans. The two groups already had some bad blood between them from the old country. Germans, who outnumbered Poles 10–1 in 1900, pulled every trick in the book to prevent the Polish from gaining power, including stopping voting at 4 p.m., one hour before the Polish factory workers got off. They also held citywide elections for City Council rather than electing representatives by district—a system that still persists—to prevent Pole-heavy neighborhoods from getting a foothold in the local government.
  • The animosities within the Islamic community are probably fiercer than the divisions between Muslims and everyone else. East-Asian Bangladeshi Muslims (20 percent of Hamtramck's population) don't have much in common with Middle Eastern Yemeni Muslims (also 20 percent), who don't have much in common with European Bosnian Muslims (7 percent) and so on. Over the past two decades, strong disagreements between these groups, but also within them, have broken out. For example, various Bangladeshi factions, who tend to be the most politically active group, fought so hard over whose favorite icon from back home should be used when picking honorary names for streets that the whole project had to be dropped. If Hamtramck's politics show anything, it is the crudeness of viewing Muslims as a monolith whose religious identity trumps its linguistic, cultural, political, and economic interests.
  • The diverse political motivations and interests of the Muslim council members make it difficult for them to come together as a block, notes Kowalski. It also makes them similar to local politicians everywhere. One of the few times they did unite was over a barnyard animal ordinance two years ago. A burgeoning urban farm movement pushed the council to allow small barnyard animals in backyards. But this threatened local Muslim merchants, who control the live chicken business in town. They successfully lobbied some of the Muslim council members to make an exception in the final bill. The upshot is that people can now keep rabbits, ducks, and pigeons—but chickens are a no-no. "You can tie [that debate] to religion if you want," mused Majewski when queried about the incident. "But it's really got more to do with internal Hamtramck politics." In other words, the grandest Muslim conspiracy in Hamtramck aimed to advance not Shariah law but old-fashioned low-stakes crony capitalism.
  • Hamtramck is poor—at least 50 percent of its population consists of recent immigrants who work in trucking, cabbing, or house cleaning or run small mom-and-pop stores—but it couldn't be more different from Jindal's imaginary European no-go ghettos. In the last few years it has become a trendy spot for hipsters priced out of Detroit's reviving downtown but who want good ethnic eateries, a cool bar scene, and cheap housing. (The average home here costs $50,000; an Albanian house painter told me that's a third of what a home costs in his country.)
  • Al-Haramain represents the live-and-let-live version of Islam that has established itself in America. "I don't see much radicalization among Muslims in Hamtramck," observes Andriy Zazulya, a Ukrainian student in his mid-20s who came to America with his family nine years ago. "They have the same aspirations as every other immigrant group here. And the immigrant bond that we all share is much stronger than any religious differences."
  • American Muslims were turning solidly Republican before 9/11 interrupted the process. That makes sense because Muslims are naturally conservative, argues Osama Siblani, a Lebanese-American engineer who founded the Dearborn-based Arab American News in 1984. George W. Bush was the community's clear favorite in the 2000 election, because he combined his conservatism with calls for a "humble" foreign policy and opposition to racial profiling. Siblani's paper gave Bush a ringing endorsement, and the Republican went on to win 71 percent of the national Muslim vote, prompting Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, no dove, to identify Siblani among the people Bush should thank for his victory.
  • even before Donald Trump called for banning Muslims from the U.S. and Newt Gingrich laid out a proposal to require loyalty oaths, the GOP started to lose the Islamic vote. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, hawkish Republicans began to demonize Shariah and questioned Islam's compatibility with American values. And as some in the GOP rejected Muslims, they returned the favor. In the 2016 presidential primaries, 59 percent of Dearborn's Muslims voted for Bernie Sanders, a Jewish socialist. In Michigan, they helped fuel his upset victory over Hillary Clinton.
  • One issue that spurred action was a desire for more resources to help absorb refugees of the Iraq War, many of whom were clustering in East Dearborn and straining public services, especially schools. Dearborn authorities wanted to simply bus the kids to West Dearborn schools, but Siblani used his newspaper and his clout to campaign successfully for a $150 million millage to build three new schools in East Dearborn. Arabs also sought and won spots on school boards, campaigning to address the special needs of Muslim kids, such as halal lunches and bilingual education.
  • It is notable that all of Dearborn's Muslim City Council members, in contrast to their Hamtramck counterparts, have assumed American names such as Susan Dabaja, Mike Sareini, Robert Alex Abraham, and David Bazzy. They aren't the only ones. I met one second-generation Lebanese Christian businessman who assumed a milquetoast American name after 9/11, switching because he was afraid for his children and grandchildren. "I've read American history, and I know what happened to Japanese Americans in World War II," he shudders. The fear of internment camps haunts many Dearborn Arabs, Siblani affirms.
  • After 9/11, the feds illegally detained 1,400 Arab-American Muslims, many from Dearborn, sending shockwaves through the community. Despite that, about 4,000 of them voluntarily signed up as translators and agents for the CIA and FBI. Meanwhile, many Michigan Muslims used their familiarity with the Middle East to obtain lucrative defense contracts during the Iraq War, making veritable fortunes. But the biggest boon for Dearborn was, paradoxically, the PATRIOT Act. The feds used that law to crack down on Muslim charities sending money overseas for relief efforts out of suspicion that they were using philanthropy as a cover to fund militant outfits such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This spooked Dearborn Muslims into keeping their almsgiving closer to home.
  • An influx of wealth within the community combined with rising Islamophobia outside, he argues, retarded the normal process of outward mobility. Dearborn has become a safe haven for Arab Muslims, so that even as they become more affluent, they don't necessarily move to tonier suburbs—or at least not ones too far from Dearborn. As a result, the town has become an enclave, observes Matthew Stiffler, a Lebanese Christian researcher at Dearborn's Arab American National Museum. Muslims can visit mosques, patronize Arabic-speaking doctors, send their kids to predominantly Arab public schools, and eat at halal restaurants without having to venture outside city limits. Many conservatives see this and scream "Dearbornistan." But the city's Muslims say they have built parallel institutions as an act of self-protection, largely to avoid uncomfortable encounters with people who scream things like "Dearbornistan."
  • Shiites see Al Qaeda and ISIS—the worst 21st century terrorist groups—as Sunni terrorists, not "Islamic" terrorists. They don't think 9/11 or the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks have any more to do with them than the Catholic pedophilic priest scandal has to do with Protestants.
  • younger, college-educated, American-born Muslims are more likely to want to stand up to the authorities and defend their civil rights. Many of them condemn their elders as collaborators
  • the hijab is experiencing something of a revival among Michigan's Muslims—but not because the community is coming under the grip of some retrograde form of patriarchal Islam. Rather, women are donning it as a symbol of resistance to demands for mainstream conformity. Several Muslim men told me that they'd feel better if their wives ditched their headscarves to avoid harassment. But the wives themselves were digging in their heels, because they wanted to fight for the space to practice their faith on their own terms.
  • The central paradox that American Muslims confront is that they are being challenged to assimilate in mainstream America, even as mainstream American has turned suddenly hostile to them.
  • there are two potential tension points between the Muslims and other Americans, one involving sexual politics and the other involving religious speech. In both cases, the conflict doesn't involve American conservatives who oppose the Muslim presence but American progressives who support it
  • Like Christian puritanism, Muslim puritanism is a lifestyle choice. The crucial thing is that the moral high ground in the American Islamic community is on the side of educating and empowering women.
  • Elturk, who has a son in the Marines, says that there is growing sentiment among Muslims that anti-apostasy laws don't represent the true teachings of the Koran. But he acknowledges that most Muslims, including him, believe in setting outside limits to free speech when it comes to religion. A 2012 Wenzel Strategies poll found that 58 percent of Muslim Americans believe criticism of Muhammad should not be protected under the First Amendment. If he were president, Elturk imagines, he would hold a multi-faith conclave to draw up red lines for every religion beyond which free speech rights would not be protected. "If non-Muslim Americans understood that Muslims love the prophet even more than their children and parents, they'd see why insulting him is unacceptable," he says. This betrays a fundamental inability to comprehend that such restrictions would eviscerate both free speech and the separation of church and state.
  • How threatening are these Muslim attitudes to bedrock liberal values? Given how small the Muslim presence in America is, not very. If this presence grows substantially, it will certainly affect the national conversation on religious speech and gay rights, just as the Catholic presence has affected the debate over abortion and reproductive rights—and the Jewish presence has affected the debate over Middle Eastern policy. But Muslims will not just influence the culture; they will be influenced by it. Islam in the West loses about a fourth of each Muslim-born generation. If Muslim numbers increase, interaction with the rest of America will splinter the community's already fraught cohesiveness. "There will be Democratic Muslims and Republican Muslims and civil libertarian Muslims and socialist Muslims and progressives and conservatives," Siblani predicts.
Ed Webb

America is Running Out of Muslim Clerics. That's Dangerous. - POLITICO Magazine - 0 views

  • A shortage of imams is not a new challenge for America’s mushrooming Muslim population: More than half of the country’s estimated 2,500 mosques lack a full time imam. But the people trying to fill those slots say that Trump’s efforts to impose an immigration ban on Muslim-majority nations together with rising incidents of Islamophobia have worsened the deficit. It’s the kind of problem that members of the Muslim community as well as terrorism experts warn could contribute to a rise in extremism. “A strong leader who provides a sense of structure and what is right and wrong offers certainty,” says Sarah Lyons-Padilla, a researcher at Stanford University who studies terrorists’ motivations. “So when you remove leaders, like an imam, then you’re basically introducing more uncertainty into an already troubled domain.”
  • Many American mosques traditionally invite a classically trained imam from overseas to assist U.S. mosque leaders with prayers during the holy month; in the past around 200 foreign imams have traveled to the United States for the holiday. But in 2017, the number was down to just 15
  • As second generation Muslims in the U.S. seek to adapt their faith to American culture, many in the Muslim community say it’s more important than ever to have leaders who can not just each the faith—but who can teach it correctly. “If people don’t have knowledge about Islam from the right source they wind up going to an extreme, whether it is to the right or the left,” says Shahin. “That is a dangerous thing for everybody.” That’s pretty much what one Florida imam told the New York Times after Uzbeki trucker Sayfullo Saipov drove into a Manhattan bike path last month, killing eight people. Saipov, said the imam, “did not learn the religion properly. That’s the main disease in the Muslim community.”
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  • Increasingly, America’s Muslims, many of whom were born in the United States, want imams trained in U.S. ways and culture, rather than those versed in the more formal ways practiced overseas and who sometimes do not speak English. But there are very few schools in the U.S. that can provide the necessary training. While efforts are under way in a dozen U.S. cities to develop seminaries to prepare homegrown American imams and chaplains, Bagby thinks the Trump era is likely to slow progress. “The big challenge on everyone’s mind now,” he says, “is that the imam’s position is just not a particularly desirable one.”
  • Without a robust U.S. training operation, the vast majority of full time imams in American mosques are either trained or born overseas. (The percentage was more than 90 percent in 2013, according to the ISNA study, and Bagby and others estimate that it hasn’t changed much in the past four years.) Most of these visiting imams enter the U.S. with a R1 visa for temporary religious workers; the visas are often good for up to five years, but most imams remain only for a few months. In an effort to stem fraudulent applications for such visas, the number of R1s issued during the Obama era declined significantly from 10,061 in 2008 to 2,771 in 2009. In the following years, though, the number rose steadily and in 2016 the government issued a total of 4,764 R1s. It is unclear whether or by how much those numbers have dropped during the Trump administration, as statistics for fiscal year 2017 will not be available until next year, says a U.S. State Department spokesman. But judging by the experience of several U.S. mosques this past Ramadan, foreign imams are finding it harder to enter the country in the Trump era.
  • “Now, imams overseas are saying they don’t want to come,” Musri adds. “They don’t want to be humiliated at the airport, or to be turned around. Even if they have a visa, they don’t want to bother. So a lot of mosques aren’t even asking anymore.”
  • Lorenzo Vidino, director of George Washington University’s Program on Extremism, questions whether the imam shortage would lead to violence. He says that extremists rarely spring from a mosque community, but are more often lone wolves or Muslim converts with little understanding of the Islamic faith. While some imams may have dissuaded a few potential terrorists, Vidino adds, it is difficult to prove. “I think it’s a bit of a simplistic narrative to say that imams serve as a bulwark against radicalization,” says Vidino. “No one denies that an imam might do that, but it’s very hard to prove. It’s like proving a negative. How would anyone know if an incident hadn’t occurred?”
  • “Simply put, Islamophobia is a reminder that you don’t belong,” says Lyons-Padilla, author of a Behavioral Science & Policy article called, “Belonging Nowhere: Marginalization and Radicalization Risk among Muslim Immigrants.” “To the extent that the imam shortage is perceived as an act of discrimination through the visa approval process, or another consequence of Islamophobia, that could lead to support for extremism down the road,”
  • The nation’s Muslim community has been highly cooperative with law enforcement; nearly half the tips on potential extremists come from other Muslims, according to one former State Department official. Some feel that fewer imams—as well as the general perception within the Muslim community that its leaders are being discriminated against—could mean a decline in communications with law enforcement and interfaith groups including other religious institutions like churches and synagogues
Ed Webb

As Discontent Grows in Syria, Assad Struggles to Retain Support of Alawites - 0 views

  • Though the choreographed optics are intended to placate the community, pictures of Assad meeting with the distressed and offering shallow assurances are unlikely to offset the sight of cataclysmic flames devouring their homes. In a video shared on Twitter, an Alawite man films a fire surrounding his home. He sarcastically thanks the state for enabling its spread “because it’s irrelevant if we live or die.” In another video, a group of Alawites is seen criticizing government officials for their indifference, including a minister, whom they claim arrived for a photo op then subsequently drove off to avoid answering questions. The demographic’s small size and geographic concentration guarantees that word of such transgressions spreads quickly. The author’s Alawite sources on the coast echo these frustrations and claim they are widespread. They angrily questioned why neither the state nor its Iranian and Russian allies had assisted, especially given the proximity of the latter’s airbase at Khmeimim to the coastal mountains. 
  • On Oct. 9, state media’s Alikhbaria broadcast a video depicting a handful of Syrian soldiers struggling to put out small fires. Owing to severe water shortages, the troops were forced to use tree branches in lieu of hoses or buckets of water. The video was later shared on Twitter, where it elicited a mixture of mockery and condemnation from opponents of the regime. However, Alawite overrepresentation in the military means that these visuals denote a sense of loss and despair to the community.
  • The armed forces make up a key pillar of Alawite identity and have for nearly a century constituted their main institutional vehicle for attaining upward social mobility and prestige. The community’s loss of more than one third of their men of military age fighting for the regime against an overwhelmingly Sunni armed opposition has further entrenched this interdependence
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  • Conversations within the community center on the divide between the elites and the impoverished Alawites who are commonly linked to the discourse of sacrifice. Economic implosion and the decimation of the Syrian pound have effectively thrust a formerly comfortable middle class into poverty. Whereas Alawites are disproportionately represented in the public sector, the average state salary – a meager 50,000 SYP ($21) per month – means that the vast majority live well below the poverty line, as the average family, according to a Syrian newspaper, requires 700,000 SYP ($304) per month in order to live comfortably. 
  • In October alone, the price of gasoline increased twice, while the cost of diesel – used for residential heat and cooking, in addition to operating bakeries and fueling Syria’s cheapest mode of transportation, microbuses – more than doubled. Basic necessities have become virtually unaffordable.
  • Many of the communities impacted by the fires are subsistence farmers that depend on the profits accrued from harvesting crops such as olives, citrus, and tobacco. They commonly require a mixture of short- and long-term loans from the state’s Agricultural Cooperative Bank. Yet systemic corruption, mismanagement, and a collapsed economy have depleted state coffers, making it unlikely that the regime will compensate those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.
  • in an interview with pro-regime radio station Sham FM, a resident of Alawite al-Fakhoura asserts the funds are being distributed by local officials in a nepotistic fashion. This example illustrates that, in the improbable case that Assad secures the necessary finances, his regime cannot prevent its clientelist networks from capturing them
  • diffusion of power since 2011 has led to unprecedented corruption amid the rise of relatively autonomous war profiteers, from militias to businessmen
  • Outside of individual members hailing from a class of intellectuals, artists, and political dissidents, few Alawites actively joined the uprising in 2011. Those who did generally partook in cross-confessional protests that stressed national unity.
  • In August 2015, the president’s cousin, Suleiman al-Assad, shot and killed a decorated Syrian Air Force colonel in Latakia City in a bout of road rage. According to the colonel’s brother, Suleiman had disparaged the Syrian military before killing the officer. Protests calling for Suleiman’s execution ensued in the Alawite neighborhood of Al-Zira’a. The debasing of the army – viewed as the only buffer between Alawites and a vengeful, sectarian opposition – by a privileged member of the ruling class struck a political nerve.
  • The spread of parasitic pro-regime militias operating with impunity and their disregard for breadlines, gas queues, and ration restrictions, in addition to their harassment of people desperately awaiting their turn, has contributed to an atmosphere in which fights break out. In Latakia and Hama, these fights have reportedly resulted in a few deaths.
  • time-tested tactic of externalizing blame and deflecting responsibility is currently being sustained by several exogenous factors. These include the presence of Turkish and American troops on Syrian soil and their support for rival armed actors, the sporadic persistence of Israeli strikes, and the implementation of U.S. sanctions through the Caesar Act, which collectively breathe life into the regime’s otherwise exhausted rhetoric
  • People considering organizing widespread civil disobedience are deterred by the specter of pre-emptive detention by the dreaded mukhabarat. The regime’s periodic security reshuffling further blurs the ability to identify potentially dangerous agents within their own community, magnifying the perceived threat posed by the omnipresence of informants.
  • the regime’s inability to check its repressive impulses could lead to a situation in which Alawites related to members of the officer corps are arrested and tortured – or worse, disappeared – for public critiques of the government, causing backlash from its own coercive forces
  • the deterioration of living standards could ultimately lead to a breaking point. 
  • Any organized dissent would require the support of its rank-and-file soldiers, most of whom share similar, if not identical, grievances with the wider community, and could thus be sympathetic. This could potentially cause a schism within the Alawite community as familial allegiances are weighed against loyalty to the Assad dynasty and its regime, particularly if ordered to repress protests in Alawite areas.
  • The only conceivable scenario in which Assad’s departure can occur at the hands of the Alawites while salvaging the state and avoiding further regional instability would be through a palace coup led by disgruntled officers and backed by Russia. However, the likelihood that Russia could simply replace or abandon Assad, its growing frustrations notwithstanding, is low, not least due to lack of an alternative.
  • Iranian entrenchment, both within the formal institutions of the regime and the state’s security landscape more broadly, continues to exploit Assad’s tenuous authority in order to obstruct Russian attempts to monopolize patronage.
  • Iran is a force for regime continuity. By creating a parallel network of control that bypasses the state, Iran has thus far been able to reproduce its influence, particularly through its ongoing relations with a patchwork of non-state militias, while resisting Russian efforts at vertically integrating these actors into the formal structures of a centralized Syrian state
  • the regime played the leading role in engineering facts on the ground critical to corroborating the false binary at the heart of its survival: Either accept the stability and security of the state – however perilous – or test the genocidal dispositions of the “jihadist” opposition.
  • This idea – that the president is innocent despite being surrounded by villains – is not uncommon among the Alawites.
  • Apart from the Turkish-backed factions in the north, the threat of Sunni reprisals occupies less of an immediate concern to most Alawites than their ability to secure food, shelter, and transportation amid a shattered economy and unstable currency
Ed Webb

The Perils of the Past | The Point Magazine - 0 views

  • hough the Centre des Archives Nationales possesses the administrative prerogative to house and archive all state documents, it lacks the power to enforce its interests. It’s not just cultural institutions that are jousting over Lebanon’s archival legacy, however. The country is riddled with small bookshops run by collectors, each of which has a basement or closet where the owner hides a personal stash of archival documents, collected over decades, to be sold on the private market. Bookshops in small alleys of Ashrafiyeh and Basta dominate this trade, where everything is priced by the dollar. At a time when the national currency has lost 95 percent of its pre-crisis value, private markets have become a lucrative source of profit.
  • According to Shehab, future sectarian violence could be avoided if socioeconomic parity could be established between sects and regions. Development planning in Lebanon—directed both by outsider experts and Shehab himself—began as a response to the deep divisions in Lebanese society and politics laid bare by the civil war. To this day, political power and resources continue to be allocated along confessional lines.
  • During the 1960s, the state intervened on behalf of many: establishing a social security system modeled after America’s own Social Security Act of 1935, building hundreds of miles of roads connecting rural villages with the country’s main highway system, and rehabilitating thousands of acres of farmland while also undertaking massive affordable public housing projects. Many Lebanese people, from various confessions, still characterize the Sixties as the country’s golden period.
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  • this was not a uniquely Lebanese story, but one that rippled out across the postcolonial world. The head of the French think tank that Shehab hired to draw up Lebanese development plans was a Dominican priest and former naval officer named Louis-Joseph Lebret, who had earned his developmentalist pedigree designing similar schemes in Senegal and Brazil. The United Nation’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) sent a statistician to help reorganize the Lebanese Ministry of Agriculture’s statistics department in 1959, who not long after left for a similar mission in Peru. The FAO then chose Lebanon as their Near East headquarters, where agricultural experts from around the region would gather for training. For a brief period in the mid-twentieth century, Beirut had become a crucible and testing ground of global development.
  • I became politically active during the early days of the Arab Spring, radicalized by fellow—predominantly leftist—anti-sectarian activists and organizers. These people, many of whom I call my colleagues today, strongly believed that the system of political sectarianism in Lebanon could be dismantled if we could only somehow reach the levers of power and enforce some form of social democracy—a vision of political life where state resources and services would be allocated equitably across the country, regardless of any confessional affiliation
  • the rationale of many vocal opponents of sectarianism eerily mimics the basic idea that took hold within Shehab’s administration—that fixing the country’s problems was a matter of having the right competent people manning rehabilitated state institutions.
  • for the year I’ve spent back home, I’ve been witnessing things cease to exist, fully aware that the worst is still to come. I find myself mourning something that isn’t quite dead yet, but that was never actually alive either.
  • The reality is that we—the anti-sectarian, broadly progressive political activists—have been consistently losing battles for more than a decade. In 2013 and 2014 we failed to prevent parliament from unconstitutionally extending its mandate. In 2015, when Beirut sank in trash, our protests shook the government’s resolve but ultimately stopped short of achieving any concrete long-term solutions. The Syrian revolution next door, which many of us saw as our own, escalated into a bloody civil conflict where Lebanese, Iranian and Russian forces killed thousands of Syrians to help keep Bashar al-Assad in power. The defeat of the Arab Spring nearby reverberated negatively in Beirut as spaces of protest, contention and civil liberties shrank, particularly as political elites and the Lebanese police state went after journalists and activists. In 2018, despite a somewhat more organized presence, opposition groups failed to break through in the parliamentary elections. And finally, our own uprising, which erupted in October of 2019, hastily hailed by many as the “end of the civil war,” was crushed only a few months later under the weight of state repression and sectarian militia violence. These disappointments were then followed by a global pandemic that crippled any form of organizing, the Beirut port explosion of August 2020 and an economic collapse that wiped out most people’s savings.
  • Many of the state’s institutions and agencies remain barely staffed today, which has driven governmental function—already crippled by negligence and rampant corruption—to a halt.
  • Everyday urban life has turned into a struggle to provide for basic needs. Informal strategies have proliferated to meet those needs, and all across the country regional markets for goods and services—not just gas but also food, medicine and other essentials—have sprouted and disseminated through word of mouth, social media websites, texting services and local gatekeepers. In the vacuum left by a state no longer capable of guaranteeing security for its citizens or regulating the distribution of necessities, a space has opened up for reconfiguring social and political ties, particularly among city-dwellers, away from the established sectarian status quo
  • I was living in a place and a moment where everything seemed ad hoc, where a travesty lurked at every corner and the existing social contract was lit aflame. A country? More like a set of elements somehow still stitched together, decaying into oblivion.
  • A network of decentralized activist groups and NGOs provided food, medicine and care for the victims of the blast. These were the same people who provided mutual aid during the pandemic and economic collapse and formed the nucleus for various legal and advocacy cooperatives that challenged the state’s austerity measures and defended protesters in court. A nascent, decentralized movement of self-governance quietly emerged from the cracks of the decaying sectarian state. Yet even this failed to mature into an ambitious political project. When it came to national politics, many activists retreated into the Shehabist default position of expecting the state to serve as guarantor of national unity, the only viable safeguard against sectarian disintegration. 
  • On May 15, 2022, Lebanon held its most recent round of parliamentary elections. Just 49 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot, according to the Ministry of Interior. Buoyed by diaspora voters seeking to punish Lebanon’s rulers, low voter turnout and a political class reviled for causing the worst economic crisis since the country’s founding, thirteen anti-sectarian candidates won, unseating established sectarian politicians and household names. Though their success was a bright spot in a dark time, it remains to be seen what this heterogeneous opposition bloc can achieve in a deadlocked parliament.
  • Any oppositional political incursion in Lebanon will have to be resoundingly inclusive, democratic and respectful of the agency of everyone involved, not solely because this is the most morally correct approach but, more importantly, because this might be the only way for us to start imagining a political movement robust enough to challenge sectarianism.
Ed Webb

Iran strengthens political, economic hold over Iraq - Al-Monitor: Independent, trusted ... - 0 views

  • Sanctions-hit Iran is consolidating its hold over neighbouring Iraq, an economic lifeline where pro-Tehran parties dominate politics
  • During a visit to Tehran late last month, Prime Minister Mohammed Shia al-Sudani and Iranian officials urged greater bilateral cooperation in all fields.He thanked Iran which provides gas and electricity -- around one-third of Iraq's needs -- and added this would continue until Iraq was self-sufficient.His country is already the number one importer of Iranian goods.
  • "Iraq is contested by the United States and Iran, with Turkey in third place in the north,"
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  • Iran's influence can also be seen through its links with Iraq's Hashed al-Shaabi, a former paramilitary force made up mainly of pro-Iran militias that have since been integrated into the regular forces.
  • Last month, Iraq's government handed the Hashed control of a new public company, endowed with around $68 million in capital.The Al-Muhandis firm's mission in oil-rich but war-ravaged Iraq is "provincial rehabilitation and development: infrastructure, housing, hospitals, factories",
  • In November, Iraqi Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein said it was "not fair" to consider his coalition government "an attachment" to Iran's.The Iraqi Kurdish diplomat pointed to its multi-party and multi-confessional make-up as showing "balance" between the different forces.But pro-Iran parties appear to now have free rein, after rival Shiite leader Moqtada Sadr tried for months to name a prime minister and prevent Sudani's appointment.
  • the United States still remains present, with around 2,500 US troops stationed in Iraq as part of ongoing efforts to combat the Islamic State group.
  • Washington monitors Iraq's banking system to ensure Iran is not using it to evade existing restrictions, and US influence is present via "the threat of financial sanctions"."The United States is staying in Iraq so as not to totally abandon the country to Iran,"
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