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Ed Webb

The Tangled Politics of America's Woke Liberals and Muslim Millennials | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • Across the Western world, it is liberal politicians and activists who back Muslim groups and support Muslim community issues.Indeed, Islamophobia, surveillance, and the securitization of Muslim communities has firmly become an issue of the political left, which sees parallels between the experience of ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Muslim communities. There’s an international aspect to it, of course, as evidenced by the “Muslim ban,” which is why liberals have taken a leading role opposing the Iraq War and supporting the Palestinian cause.
  • The left has historically been opposed to organized religion, believing its conservatism entrenches and justifies inequality and its communalism is a threat to individual liberty.On that basis, one could expect that liberals would oppose religious identity. And indeed, they seem to do so when the groups espousing faith are part of the dominant power structure, or, to say it starkly, when those talking about religion are white men. The faith of brown men and Black women is less of an issue.
  • a hierarchy of liberal values, which sees undoing structural inequality and injustice today as a more vital political task than creating a liberal society tomorrow
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  • For reformers, an ideal society would not necessarily be liberal in the sense Western liberals understand it — such as holding liberal social values, being accepting of abortion and homosexuality, for example — but would instead be politically liberal, meaning it would allow minority faiths to both practice and — and this is the crucial bit — express their religious faith in public. That’s a critical distinction that liberals have yet to grapple with.
  • Western European liberals have forgotten how to grapple with faith, so religion has been comprehensively pushed to the margins of public life
  • the idea of groups coming together, which may have differing views about how a future society should be organized, is the basis of politics itself
  • The broad coalition of ideologies that make up the left today have different conceptions of what an idealized society would look like. Yet they agree on the political task of removing structural inequality and injustice today.
  • While there are certainly questions about this alliance between liberals and faithful Muslims, and some on each side eye each other warily, I don’t share the belief that there is anything unusual or uniquely challenging about this political alliance. For one thing, the rising progressive wing of the liberal movement — the one so often derided as “woke,” as if that were a bad thing — has more in common with Muslim millennials than the previous political generation
  • A rising generation of liberals now looks at social institutions as the problem. They look at the way hierarchies are constructed — in society, at work, even in relationships — and believe the structures themselves are the problem. The same with schools, banks, the police, and so on. The value systems within these structures are the problem, not the people within them who are incentivized to uphold these values.That analysis chimes with a changing Muslim political community, too. For Muslim millennials, integration is not the overarching political ambition that it was for a previous political generation. The current political generation of Muslims in the West applies a structural analysis of what is wrong with the world. This is where the overlap occurs. The two groups look at the structures of power and see clear links between the historical crimes of slavery and colonialism, as well as the hierarchies of race, gender, and faith, and the situations in the West and the Muslim world today.
  • Progressive liberals are upending some of the distinctions long thought to be immovable. As that movement shifts from analyzing hierarchies in society, work, and relationships to hierarchies in politics, some of the questions that were taken for granted will be upended.One of those questions will be about the role of faith in public life, or, to say it more specifically, what exactly counts as the display of faith in public life. As religion shifts from being something about the afterlife to being something about culture in this earthly life, there will be a shift in what counts as the display of faith in public life.
Ed Webb

Coexistence, Sectarianism and Racism - An Interview with Ussama Makdisi - MERIP - 0 views

  • What is the ecumenical frame and how does it revise Orientalist understandings of sectarianism?
  • My book seeks to offer a critical and empathetic story of coexistence without defensiveness—that is, to write a history that neither glorifies the Arab past nor denigrates the present and that explores the grim significance of sectarian tensions in the modern Middle East without being seduced by their sensationalism
  • I wanted to understand how they sought to imagine and build a world greater than the sum of their religious or ethnic parts—commitments that remain evident, if one is prepared to recognize them, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and beyond. I call this modern iteration of coexistence the “ecumenical frame” to underscore the modern active attempt on the part of individuals and communities in the region to both recognize the salience of religious pluralism and yet also to try and transcend sectarian difference into a secular, unifying political community
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  • a project of modern coexistence that not only had to be imagined and designed, but also built
  • to trace how an extraordinary idea of Muslim and Christian and Jewish civic and political community rooted in secular equality went from unimaginability to ubiquity in the course of a single century, and nowhere more so than in the Arab East after 1860
  • subject to conflicting interpretations that valorized “real” religion and demonized sectarianism, often in contradictory and conservative modes, but also in more liberal and even radical ways
  • The Orientalist view of sectarianism frequently analogizes sect as “like race” and, furthermore, it assumes that sectarian differences are inherent cultural and political differences similar to race. What do you think is the relationship of sect to race?  How should race figure in the story of coexistence you relate?
  • the Orientalists idealize the West in order to Orientalize the East. Second, as you suggest, this view transforms religious pluralism in the Middle East into a structure of age-old monolithic antagonistic communities so that one can speak of medieval and modern Maronites, Jews, Muslims and so on as if these have been unchanging communities and as if all ideological diversity in the Middle East ultimately is reducible to religion and religious community
  • The religious sect is conflated with the political sect; the secular is understood to be a thin veneer that conceals the allegedly “real” and unchanging religious essence of the Middle East. This view is dangerous, misleading and tendentious.
  • both race and sect urgently need to be historicized and contextualized—race belongs to US (and Western) political vocabulary; sect to Arab political vocabulary. Both the notion of age-old sects and that of immutable races are ideological fictions that have been manipulated to serve power
  • US scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields have suggested we think of “racecraft” rather than “race relations” to underscore the ideological fundament of racist thinking that appears totally natural to its proponents. As I allude to in my book, so too might we think of “sectcraft” rather than sectarian or communal relations, both to underscore the ideological aspect of sectarianism and to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making sectarianism appear to be inherent, inevitable and unchangeable
  • many scholars gravitate toward using categories and experiences that emerge in the US context and apply them, sometimes indiscriminately and often very problematically, to other parts of the world. I think it is important at some level to respect the fact that in the modern Middle East, progressive scholars and laypeople, men and women belonging to different religious communities, have throughout the twentieth century typically described and conceptualized their struggles against injustice and tyranny as struggles against sectarianism and colonialism, but not necessarily as a struggle against racism.
  • Tribalism, communalism and sectarianism all refer to parallel formations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East respectively that assume an unchanging essence that separates members of a single sovereignty or putative sovereignty. They are all static ideological interpretations of pluralism, and have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been massively influenced and even in many ways formally classified and invented by Western colonial powers
  • the national polities of the post-Ottoman period in the Arab East were established by European colonial powers. These European powers massively distorted the ecumenical trajectory evident in the late Ottoman Arab East. First, they broke up the region into dependent and weak states, and second, they divided the region along explicitly sectarian lines
  • the colonial dimension is crucial, and it clearly separates the US and the European period of nationalization from that of the colonized Middle East
  • why the investment in and privileging of certain epistemic categories of domination as opposed to others? The question of migrant labor illustrates how race and class and geography and history are intertwined in very specific ways—the Middle Eastern cases (whether the Gulf or in Lebanon) are indeed different from that of the history of migrant labor in the United States, which has always been implicated in settler colonialism.
  • One key difference, of course, between modern Western colonialism and early modern Islamic empires is that the latter, like their early modern Christian counterparts, did not pretend to uphold liberal representation, political equality or self-determination. So, temporality is one essential difference: ethnic, racist or sectarian discrimination in the Islamic empires was not justified or imagined as a benevolent burden to uplift others into an ostensibly equal level of civilization. There was no pretense of a colonial tutelage to help natives achieve independence in the fullness of time
  • In the Ottoman Islamic empire, there were indeed professions of Islamic superiority, notions of ethnic, tribal and religious discrimination, forms of bondage and slavery, and myriad chauvinisms and prejudices tied to kinship, geography, language, culture and ethnicity and so on, but not a notion of biological racism or the obsession with racial segregation and miscegenation that has been the hallmark of modern Western colonialism
  • a new and distinctive defensiveness among leading Muslim Arab intellectuals—that is, their need to defend Islam and Islamic society from missionary and colonial assault whilst also embracing or reconciling themselves to compatriotship with Arab Christians and Jews. This defensiveness persists
  • the great problem of scholars and governments in the West who have long instrumentalized and Orientalized discrimination against non-Muslims to suggest that there is some peculiar problem with Islam and Muslims
  • I think that scholars of gender and women’s history have a lot to teach us in this regard: that is Arab, Turkish, Iranian and other scholars who have explored the long history of gender discrimination—who have defied the fundamentalists—without succumbing to racist Orientalism or self-loathing
  • really historicize! It really is an effective antidote in the face of those who peddle in chauvinism, racism, sectarianism, tribalism and communalism
Ed Webb

Unveil Them to Save Them: France and the Ongoing Colonization of Muslim Women's Bodies - 0 views

  • French authorities’ attempts to police Muslim women’s bodies have their roots in the history of colonization, especially in the Maghreb
  • During the colonial period, French colonizers wanted Algerian women to remove their veils and embrace the French lifestyle. Today, French political culture wants Muslim women to do the same thing.
  • Frantz Fanon’s classic essay “Algeria Unveiled” shows us the centrality of Algerian women to the colonial project. In the colonialist fantasy, to possess Algeria’s women is to possess Algeria. For French colonizers, the veil signified Muslim culture and tradition. So, colonial administrators insisted that it had to be abandoned. This significance was due to the role colonized women could play in assimilating colonized families and societies. The same scenario is seen today, as assimilating veiled women into the non-veiled population is considered a way to prevent their “radicalization” and that of their families.
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  • Under French colonization, Muslim Maghrebi women were persuaded, paid, or forced to remove their veils and to adopt the slogan, “Let’s be like the French woman.” Today, Muslim French women are told they are not French enough if they cover their hair. Today, they too are asked to shed their veils in order to be “like the French woman,” even though France is their home and place of birth.
  • Similar to the French colonizers who forgot that forced unveiling was the real incarnation of sexist inferiority, the masculine French state of today ignores that policing women’s bodies is undeniable proof of misogyny and oppression.
Ed Webb

Rinse and Repeat: French Secularism as Political Theater - 0 views

  • Decentralization in certain areas of political, economic, and civic life is part of a broader neoliberal restructuring of France that has accompanied its incorporation into the European Union, beginning in the mid-1970s and accelerating in the 2000s. This neoliberal restructuring combines market-friendly policies with the retraction of the welfare state, eroding French national values of equality, unity, and social solidarity. 
  • the political-economic transformations of the neoliberal era in France have come with a tacit acceptance that the government could, and would, do very little about unemployment
  • Macron, like so many other politicians before him, has responded by scapegoating Islam. Making the threat of Islamist separatism front and center, Macron’s government has committed to a law-and-order paradigm that seeks to re-establish national identity, republican values, and the authority of the Republic.
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  • Republican authority is “reasserted” on Muslim lives and Muslim bodies, all in the name of French secularism
  • Muslim appeals for religious accommodation are claims to civic equality within the existing parameters of laïcité. Yet those appeals have paradoxically become the basis for questioning Muslims’ fitness as proper French citizens. For instance, Macron and other politicians have consistently identified requests for halal meals in school cafeterias as a sign of Muslim separatism
  • in 2021, history repeats itself: Macron wants to create “an Islam of the Enlightenment” and to make sure that imams are trained in France. Politicians on the left and the right are obsessed with Muslims’ sartorial choices, taking headscarves and beards as signs of poor integration at best and of separatism at worst. This is unsurprising; it is how French secularism works
  • When it comes to religious minorities, then, inclusion and exclusion have always gone hand in hand, as have integration and intervention. France is at a particularly punitive moment in this interventionist project, the political theater of both neoliberalism and secularism playing out on the civil liberties of Muslim French and their allies. This has happened before. And, no doubt, it will happen again
Ed Webb

Reinforcing Laïcité? Loi Confortant le Respect des Principes de la République - 0 views

  • The 1905 debates, rich in passion and reasoning, are replaced today by pragmatism and politicians substituting for public intellectuals. Jean Baubérot points out the factual errors and serious misinterpretations made by Minister Delegate for Citizenship Marlène Schiappa in her book, Laïcité, point! Shortened deliberation, substituting intellectuals with politicians, factual errors: it looks nothing short of the neoliberal age of France.
  • Ghettoization was undermining vivre ensemble, the expression that has become the key to laïcité and integration. The president explained, “we can have communities in the French Republic...these belongings should never be considered as subtractions from the Republic.” With separatism, he was referring to the abuse of religion for “building a project of separation from the Republic.” 
  • A focus on “public neutrality” as the principle of laïcité under challenge overshadows the fact that it is a process of privatization of state enterprises, which changes the boundaries of the public and gives rise to a “problem of neutrality.”
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  • Privatization is a bigger challenge to the French republican and laic traditions, since both are built upon a strong state. When Macron not only shrinks state infrastructure but also invests in the police forces, the neoliberal background to this particular reemergence of the question of laïcité becomes even more visible.
  • A republic of values and “civility” is empowered over a republic of rights, procedures, and socializations as the state shrinks its infrastructure, and expands with values and security into associational life
  • The Republic has every right to control international influence in religion in terms of finance and personnel; however, when it plays the age-old game of state-encouraged soft religion as a solution to hard religion, it relinquishes the thesis that religions are “the rocks of ages” and sticky
  • Macron carefully refused the option of concordat with Islam after having pronounced the term in 2018, but he insisted on “the structuration of French Islam.” Instead of only investing in the laic socialization mechanisms of the Republic and guarding their boundaries, he inserts the state into the process of community-building, which risks opening the paths to communitarianism by the very hands of the state
  • Another development casting unfavorable light on the Macron line is the discontinuation of the Observatory of Laïcité. The observatory was performing a slow pace strengthening, repairing, and reproducing laïcité at the public and social levels. The government’s intolerance in the face of its disagreements with the observatory over the law and its single-handed reaction to close the observatory sadly mark an anti-intellectualism, a disinclination for deliberation and a particular approach to institutions as governmental mouthpieces
  • Adding law to law for reinforcing values marks a use of law beyond its democratic capacity
Ed Webb

Publicly French, Privately Muslim: The Aim of Modern Laïcité - 0 views

  • since the 1990s and accelerating into the mid-2000s, the interpretation of laïcité has shifted to a stricter and more illiberal interpretation that has been used by both left-wing neo-republicans and right-wing conservatives to justify policies targeting Muslim visibility. These groups collectively adopted a combative attitude toward Muslims by telling them to erase public expressions of faith and relegate them to the private sphere in the name of assimilation and national identity. This modern interpretation of laïcité stigmatizes some French citizens because of their religion—it is no longer the neutrality of the state that is centered but the neutrality of some of its citizens
  • French identity and particularly its Christian and/or Judeo-Christian heritage has gradually become a rallying cry for the right and the far-right, who use it to make the case that Muslims do not belong in France
  • successive governments have attempted to design a “French Islam” that could mollify its critics, and have implemented regulation in pursuit of this
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  • Because of the shift from a human rights-compatible laïcité in which all individuals are equal regardless of their religion to a regime in which laïcité became the weapon of choice to defend a particular cultural and political identity, laïcité as we have come to see it today is fundamentally incompatible with international human rights
  • First-generation immigrants were discreet about their religious expression and kept to themselves, while the new generation is more comfortable in manifesting their French-Muslim identity publicly. The public square is the place where people should feel free to express both differences and similarities, exchange points of view, and appreciate each other’s unique contributions. A truly laïque state should be guaranteed based on its neutrality and not on the neutrality—and invisibility—of its citizens.
Ed Webb

Islamophobic Hegemony in France: Toward a Point of No Return? - 0 views

  • The Law of March 15, 2004, which prohibits the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, marks a philosophical and legal turning point, with the advent of a neo-secularism that challenges the equality of religions by targeting Muslims, in particular, and freedom by extending the duty of neutrality to citizens. Prohibitionists were active but in the minority in the 1990s. This reversal stems from repeated campaigns to demonize women wearing headscarves, targeting their presence in all spheres of social life: work, leisure, university, public space, and media. Their construction as a “problem” relies on the permanent association between religious signs and “Islamism” to sometimes make the link with terrorism. 
  • n 2021, senators pushed for more prohibitions as they amended the bill strengthening the “Republican principles” of France. These senators have also voted to ban the wearing of religious symbols by minors in public; to ban the “burkini,” a bathing suit covering the entire body, from public swimming areas; and to ban prayers in universities, except in chaplaincies. The Senate has also made it possible to ban private schools in the name of the “interests of France,” to refuse a residence permit to foreigners who reject the “principles of the Republic,” and even to prevent candidates deemed “communitarian” from running for office or receiving reimbursement for their campaign expenses.
  • The restriction of freedoms and the marginalization of Muslim women wearing a headscarf is only one aspect of this radicalization of Islamophobia in France. This fundamental movement is supported by a majority of the French media, and it finds many extensions in the functioning of cultural spaces. This hegemony of Islamophobic ideas and practices, to take up the Gramscian dichotomy, is supported as much by political society as by civil society. There are still spaces of resistance—actors, media, or institutions that oppose this groundswell. However, they are systematically attacked by the conservative press and by the government. 
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  • This is the case of critical studies in universities, which are the target of virulent campaigns of denigration and defamation, accused of Islamo-gauchisme and sometimes of complicity with terrorism. Similarly, autonomous anti-racist movements, often led by victims of racism, are demonized or even wiped out, as was the case with the administrative dissolution of the Collective against Islamophobia in France.
  • The anti-racist progressivism of the left used to constitute a structuring norm of public debate until the end of the twentieth century. It is now cornered and on the defensive, as the reversal of the balance of power; the inversion of facts, like when anti-racists are accused of racism by the extreme right; and Islamophobic hegemony are now remarkable. 
  • We must be concerned about the Islamophobic consensus that has taken hold and the campaigns of intimidation that target those who study and denounce it. No other Western country goes so far in demonizing and criminalizing Muslim visibility in society through a disciplinary transformation of the principle of secularism
Ed Webb

What Does Islamo-Gauchisme Mean for the Future of France and Democracy? - 0 views

  • From within the government, however, those who speak the most of Islamo-gauchisme are seldom academics. The real fear is that universities—the prime institutions that give a platform and even legitimacy for new ideas, if not critical thinking—end up legitimizing criticism of the status quo. To publicly speak of the realities of racism, to expose France’s colonial legacy and role in slavery, to question the roman national or official history of France for its white male-centered narrative is way out of line for some.
  • The emergence of academics from the descendants of slaves and post-colonial immigration is seen as a threat, not as a chance to strengthen French academia in an ever-more globalized world. 
  • if the French Republic does not recognize race, it does treat people according to their race.
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  • race is a reality that segregates, discriminates, humiliates, and even kills with complete impunity: Muslims face discrimination in the job market, having to apply for employment at five times the rate of non-Muslims in order to secure a single interview; the state of emergency in France targeted Muslims in 99% of the cases, and being Black or Arab in France makes people 20 to 30 times more likely to be racially profiled by the police; colonized people helped to free France during WWII, while white leaders collaborated with the Nazis; French police killed between 200 and 300 Algerians and threw their bodies into the Seine River during the 1961 Paris Massacre; and Charles de Gaulle declared that “We are, above all, a European people of the white race, of Greek and Latin culture, and of the Christian religion.”
  • The controversy around Islamo-leftism and the subsequent witch hunt express another not so admissible opinion: that universities are there to legitimize the status quo, not to question it. To reinforce white supremacy, not to abolish it. To welcome people of color only if they stay in their place, not to speak up. Critical thinking is allowed only when it reinforces established social norms.
  • In a truly colorblind republic, universities would be praised for allowing such a “diversification” of ideas and for widening their intellectual horizons. But what we are witnessing today is that universities are being disqualified for making that possible. It is further no coincidence that only the humanities are under attack. As Emmanuel Macron is accelerating his neoliberal reforms and becoming the last to still promote trickle-down economics, the French president needs an authoritarian state and the means to discredit any criticism or dissent. This, of course, is accomplished by continuously manufacturing an “enemy within” to bring the nation “together” and by instilling fear in the “legitimate” opposition. 
  • Islamo-gauchisme does not reflect any reality in French intellectual or political life, but it nevertheless speaks volumes on the normalization of racism and the total victory of the far-right. The label “Islamo-leftist” is sufficient to disqualify a person, organization, or intellectual current and even to tie them to terrorism.
  • The remaining question is whether these violent controversies are the convulsions of a dying order or symptoms of white supremacy’s stiffening grip over French society. But when 20 former generals, 100 senior officers, and a more than 1,000 soldiers sign an open letter warning of a “looming civil war” with “thousands of casualties” unless the government cracks down on the “suburban hordes,” anti-racists, and Islamists, we are left with a troubling answer.
Ed Webb

A Disorienting Sense of Déjà-Vu? Islamophobia and Secularism in French Public... - 0 views

  • in February, Higher Education Minister Frédérique Vidal publicly called for an investigation into “Islamo-leftism” or Islamo-gauchisme in French universities. Vidal described “Islamo-leftism” as responsible for eroding academic freedoms and scholarly rigor on French university campuses where postcolonial, critical race, and intersectionality research is carried out
  • the political personality of Emmanuel Macron and the brand of liberal authoritarianism which he has been developing
  • It is likely that the RN will once again make it to the second round of the presidential elections in a political landscape that has seen the implosion of left-wing parties in the midst of their inability to offer a credible and alternative narrative about religious and cultural pluralism to the one being developed by the right and extreme right.
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  • Vidal’s attack on academic researchers who, as part of an international community of scholars, work within postcolonial, decolonial, and intersectional studies needs also to be put into context as just the latest iteration of a deep suspicion of North American (and particularly, U.S.) intellectual and political cultures. This suspicion goes back to the 1990s, when certain French academics, politicians, and media firmly rejected “Anglo-Saxon” multiculturalism or communautarisme in favor of the oxymoronic “French universalism” (for how can a nationally inflected universalism ever be universal?). 
  • The “French Muslims Abroad” project at the University of Lille is precisely looking at a growing diaspora of highly educated French Muslims who are choosing to leave France, a trend which could in part be due broader patterns of stigmatization affecting professional opportunities
  • the anti-religious pluralism and anti-Islam stance that we see unfolding in France risks turning laïcité into a civil religion itself
  • perhaps what is needed is an alternative approach to the concept of secularism which deconstructs the idea that it is a stable, equality-bearing framework on the one hand and that religious minorities are the “problem” on the other
Ed Webb

French Muslims and the Subversive Call of Intersectionality - 0 views

  • Islamophobia occupies a central place in France’s “culture wars.” Among these battles is the attack by President Macron and his top ministers on the dubious phenomenon of Islamo-gauchisme, as well as certain academic areas of study including postcolonialism and theories of race, deemed as unwelcome and divisive imports from American universities.
  • intersectionality is precisely one of the intellectual traditions that French politicians and journalists criticize as a dangerous import, owing to its emphasis on identity categories. Yet intersectionality, according to Patricia Hill Collins, was never meant to be about identities per se. Rather, it is about the complex intersections of different forms of power.
  • In my research, I met women who quit university, avoided medical treatment, lost their jobs, were expelled from neighborhood childcare networks, and confronted threats and insults on public transit, all for the simple, personal act of wearing a headscarf. Now, Muslim mothers face the added humiliation of being barred from accompanying their children on public school field trips. 
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  • Perhaps the greatest irony of France’s policy debates on Islam involves the role of gender, in particular the ways politicians and public figures have manipulated gender for the purpose of excluding and targeting Muslims. In the name of protecting women and gender equality, they have increasingly regulated Muslim women’s veiling practices, claiming that they violate the so-called neutrality of the public sphere and promote sexism. They have long claimed that women are forced into wearing the hijab yet deliberately excluded Muslim women’s voices from Assembly hearings. As Muslim women activists increasingly organize and speak out against the state’s policies, the argument that anti-veiling legislation protects them from coercion becomes clearly implausible. In my own research, almost all the women I encountered chose to wear the hijab or jilbab, at times even against the wishes of their husbands or parents. 
  • its own historical complicity with colonialism and racism has allowed feminism to be mobilized toward anti-Muslim policies that ultimately oppress minority women
  • In a national context where the extreme cultural assimilation of minorities remains the expectation and the government refuses to enumerate racial and ethnic categories, the attacks on academic schools of thought that analyze structural racism are not surprising. The denial of racism allows for rampant discrimination against those with Muslim backgrounds, as well as everyday slights, like when my interlocutor Amal was reprimanded this winter by her son’s schoolteacher for teaching him Arabic
  • the oppressive conditions of many French Muslims are explained in part by the intersections of gender and race as axes of power. The state’s attempts to undermine even the intellectual tools and language that facilitate discussion of such power and domination only reinforces this reality.
Ed Webb

French Populism and Secularism: The Emerging Crisis Mindset in Political Life - 0 views

  • Even if the pandemic has been dominating the news during the last year, it has been coupled with somber headlines. The gruesome murders by radical Islamists of the teacher Samuel Paty, the police employee Stéphanie Monfermé, and many other similar attacks have added fuel to the fire. Public debate was already infected, focusing on the legitimacy of the state in terms of living up to the hard-liner discourses on republican values, notably French secularism, while fighting radical Islamism and separatism, the current buzzword (before it was communitarianism). Navigating these issues, the legislators are faced with the problem of protecting liberal democracy without turning France into an illiberal state. It is safe to say that the perpetual social and political crisis at the nexus of secularism, nationhood, security, migration, and Islam endures. 
  • While the proposal would surely make life harder for a caricature of a Salafi-jihadi-violence-preaching imam, the measures are far-reaching for the average citizen in terms of civil liberties and freedom of association. As Philippe Portier explains, this project might turn the idea of French civil society on its head. Up until now, according to the Waldeck-Rousseau Law from 1901, “associations were seen as vectors of plurality of life aspirations in civil society.” With this project, however, “the state will turn them into relays of the values it promotes.” Since the state withholds the power to define the values and principles these associations are supposed to withhold, the state can thusly be seen to take a tighter grip on the contours of French civil society. 
  • One year ahead of the next presidential election, Le Pen has momentum. The hypothesis that crises serve radical political voices was difficult to affirm during the initial phases of the pandemic for Le Pen and her party. She was struggling to find a legitimate oppositional line. However, the government’s difficulty in fighting the spread of the virus and its imposed infringements on public liberties have been politicized by her to argue for the incompetence of the government and for the government’s non-respect for the fundamental values of French citizens while letting Islamic radicals run loose. In a typically populist logic, she creates political divides between the native people, the elites, and the enemies of the people.
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  • Without doubt, the nexus of secularism, nationhood, security, migration, and Islam will be at the center stage in the upcoming election. The debates on Islamo-gauchisme, the dystopic letter from French generals about an impending civil war, the will of the government to appear resolute in times crisis are but some examples of this
Ed Webb

The 'Judeo-Christian Tradition' Is Over - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • The “Judeo-Christian tradition” was one of 20th-century America’s greatest political inventions. An ecumenical marketing meme for combatting godless communism, the catchphrase long did the work of animating American conservatives in the Cold War battle. For a brief time, canny liberals also embraced the phrase as a rhetorical pathway of inclusion into postwar American democracy for Jews, Catholics, and Black Americans. In a world divided by totalitarianism abroad and racial segregation at home, the notion of a shared American religious heritage promised racial healing and national unity.
  • the “Judeo-Christian tradition” excluded not only Muslims, Native Americans, and other non-Western religious communities, but also atheists and secularists of all persuasions. American Jews themselves were reluctant adopters.
  • Although the Jewish and Christian traditions stretch back side by side to antiquity, the phrase Judeo-Christian is a remarkably recent creation. In Imagining Judeo-Christian America: Religion, Secularism, and the Redefinition of Democracy, the historian K. Healan Gaston marshals an impressive array of sources to provide us with an account of the modern genesis of Judeo-Christian and its growing status as a “linguistic battlefield” on which conservatives and liberals proffered competing notions of America and its place in the world from the 1930s to the present.
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  • Even as legal barriers for non-Christians slowly fell state by state in the 19th century, Christian Americans hardly viewed their country, much less Western civilization, as embodying a tradition shared equally by Jews and Christians. During the Civil War and early Reconstruction years, Congress repeatedly considered a constitutional amendment to declare the United States a “Christian nation” under the ultimate sovereignty of the “Lord Jesus Christ.”
  • much of the American Christian response to Nazism, which focused less on the concrete anti-Semitic threat to Europe’s Jews than the spiritual and political danger Nazism posed to Western religion as a whole.
  • King’s lofty invocation of “our Judeo-Christian tradition” in the name of civil rights marked the high point of the phrase for American liberals. Even at that time, King’s 1960s Jewish civil-rights allies pushed hard to separate Church and state through a series of landmark Supreme Court cases. Privileging religion would not end well for American Jews and other religious minorities, they argued. True religious freedom required separation of government from faith
  • Yet it was not quite true that America didn’t particularly care which religion its people chose. Conservatives interpreted the same idiom in narrower, exceptionalist terms to argue that only Protestantism, Catholicism, and Judaism could inoculate American society from the dangerous viruses of Marxist secularism and excessive pluralism
  • In 1954, for instance, the Protestant pastor George Docherty persuaded President Dwight Eisenhower to officially add the words under God to the Pledge of Allegiance and “In God we trust” to American currency as part of a “theological war”
  • Remarkably, Eisenhower was one of the first to flag the problematic nature of Judeo-Christian. Despite Eisenhower’s promotion of God language in American governance, including the inauguration of the National Prayer Breakfast, Gaston observes, he seldom used the specific phrase Judeo-Christian. Eisenhower seems to have been less concerned with its repercussions for America’s Jews or others than with the way it would be received by a global audience. In a fascinating letter written in 1954, Ike cautions his brother on his use of the phrase: You speak of the ‘Judaic-Christian heritage.’ I would suggest that you use a term on the order of ‘religious heritage’—this is for the reason that we should find some way of including the vast numbers of people who hold to the Islamic and Buddhist religions when we compare the religious world against the Communist world. I think you could still point out the debt we all owe to the ancients of Judea and Greece for the introduction of new ideas.
  • What mattered most in the Cold War, and in a rapidly changing America, was making a common commitment to faith. “America prescribes religion: but it does not care which one,” wrote the sociologist Nathan Glazer in 1955. Postwar America had developed its own “religion of religion,” marked by a striking ecumenical spirit.
  • As liberals retired the term, conservatives doubled down on it. The phrase appears with regularity in rhetorical attacks on Islam and the progressive left, in attempts to restrict immigration and LGBTQ rights, and in arguments in favor of religious freedom that would collapse the wall of separation between Church and state.
  • the catchphrase has failed to shed its Christian religious residue
  • An authentically American human-rights vision cannot rest upon a flawed historical reading of how our country first came to imagine rights
Ed Webb

More than 500 evangelicals, other faith leaders condemn religion at insurrection as 'he... - 0 views

  • More than 500 evangelical pastors and other faith leaders have signed an open letter decrying “radicalized Christian nationalism,” arguing that the religious expressions by insurrectionists during the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol are “heretical” and a “perversion of the Christian faith.”
  • The letter says its signers feel compelled to condemn such expressions, “just as many Muslim leaders have felt the need to denounce distorted, violent versions of their faith” in previous years.
  • Signers include pastors from a variety of theologically conservative traditions, such as Church of the Nazarene, Evangelical Covenant Church and the Christian Reformed Church
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  • The letter comes on the heels of a new report by the conservative American Enterprise Institute revealing that more than a quarter of white evangelicals — more than any other religious group polled — believe the debunked QAnon conspiracy theory, an ideology that was well represented among insurrectionists on Jan. 6.
Ed Webb

Three Decades After his Death, Kahane's Message of Hate is More Popular Than Ever - MERIP - 0 views

  • on November 5, 1990, Rabbi Meir Kahane was assassinated in New York City, a seminal event in the annals of American and Israeli history. Years after his death, Kahane’s killing is considered the first terror attack of the group that would later coalesce into al-Qaeda.
  • Kahane had spent the previous 22 years calling for Israel’s parliament to be dissolved and replaced with rabbinic rule over a Jewish theocracy, based on the strictest interpretations of the Torah and Talmud. He openly incited the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians—and all other non-Jews who refused to accept unvarnished apartheid—from Israel and the territories it occupied. He outdid all other Israeli eliminationists with his insistence that killing those he identified as Israel’s enemies was not only a strategic necessity, but an act of worship.[1] His ideology continues to resonate: In the September 2019 elections to Israel’s parliament the explicitly Kahanist Jewish Power Party (Otzma Yehudit) got 83,609 votes, putting it in tenth place in a crowded field of over 30 parties.
  • The victims of JDL-linked terrorist attacks in the United States were usually innocent bystanders: the drummer in a rock band who lost a leg when a bomb blew up the Long Island home of an alleged Nazi war criminal; the Boston cop who was seriously injured during his attempt to dispose of another bomb intended for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee; the elderly lady who died of smoke inhalation in her Brooklyn flat above a Lebanese restaurant torched after its owners were accused of sympathies with the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO); the young Jewish secretary who was asphyxiated when another fire burned through the Manhattan office of a talent agency that promoted performances of Soviet ballet troupes.
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  • Kahanists are the FBI’s prime suspects in the 1985 assassination of popular Palestinian-American activist Alex Odeh who died in a bombing outside Los Angeles because he called for a two-state solution (which became the official policy of the US government less than a decade later).[2] Odeh’s murder had far-reaching implications, scaring off a generation of Arab-American activists from advocating on behalf of Palestinians.
  • even many sectors of the Israeli right were embarrassed by Kahane’s shameless racism, and by the end of his first term in 1988 he was banned from running again.
  • Six years later, in 1994, the Israeli government, then led by the Labor Party, declared his Kach party a terrorist organization. But by that point, the Kahane movement had already been active for over a quarter of a century, leaving a wake of destruction. To date it has produced more than 20 killers and taken the lives of over 60 people, most of them Palestinians.[3] Credible allegations put the death toll at well over double that number, but even the lower confirmed figure yields a higher body count than any other Jewish faction in the modern era.
  • For decades, Kahanists—as followers of Kahane are called in Israel—have repeatedly attempted to leverage their violence to trigger a wider war and bog Israel down in perpetual armed conflict with its neighbors. And once Israel’s military might is truly unassailable, Kahanists say, Jewish armies must march across the Middle East and beyond, destroying churches and mosques and forcing their Christian and Muslim worshippers to abandon their beliefs or die at the sword.
  • Many of Kahane’s American acolytes followed him to Israel, including top JDL fundraiser and Yeshiva University provost Emanuel Rackman, who took over as rector, and then chancellor, of Israel’s Bar Ilan University. Under Rackman’s tutelage, Bar Ilan’s Law School became an incubator for the Israeli far-right. The most infamous of these students was Yigal Amir. Inspired by the Goldstein massacre, Amir assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, dealing a death blow to Israel’s liberal Zionist camp. Amir carried out the murder on the five-year anniversary of Kahane’s killing.
  • In Hebron in 1983, on the Jewish holiday of Purim, Kahanist Israel Fuchs sprayed a passing Palestinian car with bullets. In response, Israel’s defense minister ordered Fuchs’s Kahanist settlement razed to the ground. A decade later in 1994, when Goldstein carried out his massacre, also on Purim, Israel’s defense minister put Hebron’s Palestinian residents under curfew and ordered the local Palestinian commercial district locked and bolted. The market has been shuttered ever since. Last year, Israel’s defense minister announced that the market would be refurbished and repopulated—by Jewish residents. On the same day, the state renovated nearby Kahane Park, where Goldstein is entombed, and where Kahanists gather every year to celebrate Purim and the carnage Goldstein wrought.
  • Just months after the Oslo Accords were signed in Washington, DC on the White House lawn, a former candidate for Knesset in Kahane’s Kach party, Baruch Goldstein, committed the largest mass murder by a single person in Israeli history, shooting dead 29 Palestinians and wounding over 100 more at a mosque in Hebron. During the protests that followed, the Israeli Defense Forces killed perhaps two dozen more Palestinians. Exactly 40 days later, at the end of the traditional Muslim mourning period, Hamas began its retaliatory campaign of suicide bombings. Over the next three years this campaign would claim over 100 Israeli lives and harden many Jewish hearts against the prospect of peace with Palestinians. Today, Kahanists can convincingly claim credit for crippling the fragile peace process while it was still in its infancy.
  • Both American-born followers of Kahane, Leitner and Ben Yosef went from armed attacks against Palestinians to court room advocates for their fellow religious extremists. Both enlisted at Bar Ilan Law School after serving short prison sentences. Together with his wife Nitzana Darshan, who he met there, Leitner established the highly profitable Israel-based lawfare group Shurat HaDin or Israel Law Center (ILC). After Ben Yosef earned his law degree at Bar Ilan, his American allies founded the Association Center for Civil Justice (ACCJ), a US-based lawfare group that has earned millions of dollars and has for years funneled significant sums to Fuchs, Ben Yosef and other Kahanists.
  • After Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995, his Labor-led government was replaced by the secular right-wing Likud party, led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who promptly appointed ex-Kahanists Tzahi HaNegbi and Avigdor Liberman to cabinet positions. But that did not satisfy the appetite of the Kahanists, who resolved to coax the Likud even further to the right. Founded by longtime Kahane supporter Shmuel Sackett, the Likud’s Jewish Leadership faction succeeded in catapulting its candidate Moshe Feiglin into the role of deputy speaker of the Knesset where he called on the government to “concentrate” the civilian population of Gaza into “tent camps” until they could be forcefully relocated.
  • Today, prior membership in the Kahanist camp no longer carries any stigma within the Likud.
  • the original Kach core group has rebranded itself to sidestep Israeli law, now calling itself Jewish Power, and are consistently courted by the rest of the Israeli right
  • Kahanists have had even greater success penetrating the halls of power at the local level where their representatives on Jerusalem city council have been included in the governing coalition since 2013. In 2014, Kahanist Councillor Aryeh King—now deputy mayor—used widely-understood religious references to incite an assembly of religious Jews to kill Palestinians. Later that very night, a group of religious Jews did exactly that, kidnapping and beating Palestinian teen Mohammad Abu Khdeir, forcing gasoline down his throat and torching him to death from the inside out.
  • After Kahane’s death, top Chabad rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh, also an American immigrant to Israel, inherited Kahane’s position as the most unapologetically racist rabbi in the country. In 2010 Ginsburgh helped publish an influential and vicious religious tract authored by one of his leading disciples called The King’s Torah, which sanctions organ harvesting from non-Jews and infanticide (if a Jew suspects that the child will one day constitute a threat).[9] Ginsburgh’s frequent tributes to Kahane’s memory, including repeated proclamations that “Kahane was right” have cemented the loyalty of third-generation Kahanists, including the latter’s namesake grandson, settler youth leader Meir Ettinger.
  • Thirty years ago, even if Israeli rabbis thought like Kahane and Ginsburgh they would not dare to speak these sentiments out loud, much less publish and promote them. Under Netanyahu’s rule, however, such sentiments are routinely supported financially and politically by the institutions of the Israeli state. In 2019, Israel’s education minister presented Ginsburgh with the Torah Creativity award at an annual event sponsored by his ministry.
  • The principles that Rabbi Meir Kahane popularized—that liberal democracy is an undesirable alien idea and that non-Jews must be driven down, and preferably out of Greater Israel altogether—have seeped deep into mainstream Israeli society.
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
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