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Ed Webb

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

  • A friend of Mohamed’s, an unemployed telecommunications engineer named Nabil Selliti, left Douar Hicher to fight in Syria. Oussama Romdhani, who edits the Arab Weekly in Tunis, told me that in the Arab world the most likely radicals are people in technical or scientific fields who lack the kind of humanities education that fosters critical thought. Before Selliti left, Mohamed asked him why he was going off to fight. Selliti replied, “I can’t build anything in this country. But the Islamic State gives us the chance to create, to build bombs, to use technology.” In July, 2013, Selliti blew himself up in a suicide bombing in Iraq.
  • Tourism, one of Tunisia’s major industries, dropped by nearly fifty per cent after June 26th last year, when, on a beach near the resort town of Sousse, a twenty-three-year-old student and break-dancing enthusiast pulled an automatic weapon out of his umbrella and began shooting foreigners; he spared Tunisian workers, who tried to stop him. The terrorist, who had trained at an Islamic State camp in Libya, killed thirty-eight people, thirty of them British tourists, before being shot dead by police.
  • he condemned the Sousse massacre and a terrorist attack in March, 2015, at Tunisia’s national museum, the Bardo, where three gunmen killed two dozen people. The victims were innocents, he said. Kamal still entertained a fantasy of joining a reformed police force. His knowledge of Islam was crude, and his allegiance to isis seemed confused and provisional—an expression of rage, not of ideology. But in Douar Hicher anger was often enough to send young people off to fight
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  • “The youth are lost,” Kamal told me. “There’s no justice.” Douar Hicher, he said, “is the key to Tunisia.” He continued, “If you want to stop terrorism, then bring good schools, bring transportation—because the roads are terrible—and bring jobs for young people, so that Douar Hicher becomes like the parts of Tunisia where you Westerners come to have fun.”
  • revolution opened up a space that Salafis rushed to fill. There were a lot more of them than anyone had realized—eventually, tens of thousands. In February, 2011, Tunisia’s interim government declared an amnesty and freed thousands of prisoners, including many jihadis. Among them was Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, the co-founder of the Tunisian Combat Group. Within two months, he had started Ansar al-Sharia.
  • “The radical narrative tells you that whatever you’ve learned about Islam is wrong, you have to discard it—we have the new stuff. The old, traditional, moderate Islam doesn’t offer you the adventure of the isis narrative. It doesn’t offer you the temptation to enjoy, maybe, your inner savagery. isis offers a false heaven for sick minds.”
  • Democracy didn’t turn Tunisian youths into jihadis, but it gave them the freedom to act on their unhappiness. By raising and then frustrating expectations, the revolution created conditions for radicalization to thrive. New liberties clashed with the old habits of a police state—young Tunisians were suddenly permitted to join civic and political groups, but the cops harassed them for expressing dissent. Educated Tunisians are twice as likely to be unemployed as uneducated ones, because the economy creates so few professional jobs. A third of recent college graduates can’t find work. Frustration led young people to take to the streets in 2011; a similar desperate impulse is now driving other young people toward jihad.
  • the factors that drive young men and women to adopt Salafi jihadism are diverse and hard to parse: militants reach an overwhelmingly reductive idea by complex and twisted paths. A son of Riyadh grows up hearing Salafi preaching in a state-sanctioned mosque and goes to Syria with the financial aid of a Saudi businessman. A young Sunni in Falluja joins his neighbors in fighting American occupation and “Persian”—Shiite—domination. A Muslim teen-ager in a Paris banlieue finds an antidote to her sense of exclusion and spiritual emptiness in a jihadi online community. Part of the success of isis consists in its ability to attract a wide array of people and make them all look, sound, and think alike.
  • Souli wasn’t sure what should be done with returned jihadis, but, like nearly everyone I met, he spoke of the need for a program of rehabilitation for those who come back. No such program exists
  • In its eagerness to modernize, the Ben Ali regime encouraged widespread access to satellite television and the Internet. The sermons of Islamist firebrands from the Gulf, such as the Egyptian-born cleric Yusuf al-Qaradawi, entered the homes of Tunisians who felt smothered by official secularism. Oussama Romdhani, who was a senior official under Ben Ali—he was referred to as the “propaganda minister”—told me, “Radicals were able to use these tools of communication to recruit and disseminate the narrative, and they did it quite efficiently.”
  • Around 2000, the Tunisian Combat Group, an Al Qaeda affiliate, emerged in Afghanistan, dedicating itself to the overthrow of the Tunisian government. One of its founders, Tarek Maaroufi, provided false passports to two Tunisians who, allegedly on instructions from Osama bin Laden, travelled to northern Afghanistan posing as television journalists and assassinated Ahmed Shah Massoud, the Afghan mujahideen commander, on September 9, 2001. The Combat Group’s other leader, known as Abu Iyadh al-Tunisi, was an Al Qaeda commander; when the Americans overthrew the Taliban, in late 2001, he escaped from Tora Bora with bin Laden, only to be arrested in Turkey, in 2003, and extradited to Tunisia. (Sentenced to forty-three years in prison, he seized the chance to radicalize his fellow-prisoners.)
  • Why can’t the police do their job and stop the terrorists but let the smugglers go with a bribe?
  • “Maybe it’s the Tunisian nature—we like risk,” a former jihadi told me. A million Tunisians live and work in Europe. “A lot of drug dealers are Tunisian; many smugglers of goods between Turkey and Greece are Tunisian; a lot of human traffickers in Belgrade are Tunisian. Online hackers—be careful of the Tunisians, there’s a whole network of them.”
  • Walid was vague about his reasons for returning to Tunisia. He mentioned a traumatic incident in which he had seen scores of comrades mowed down by regime soldiers outside Aleppo. He also pointed to the creation of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, in April, 2013, which soon engaged in bitter infighting with the Nusra Front. Walid spoke of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the caliph of the Islamic State, with the personal hatred that Trotskyists once expressed for Stalin. He accused isis of destroying the Syrian resistance and helping the Assad regime. He believed that isis was created by Western powers to undermine Al Qaeda and other true jihadi groups.
  • these aged men from the two Tunisias—Essebsi a haughty remnant of the Francophile élite, Ghannouchi the son of a devout farmer from the provinces—began a series of largely secret conversations, and set Tunisia on a new path. In January, 2014, Ennahdha voluntarily handed over the government to a regime of technocrats. Ghannouchi had put his party’s long-term interests ahead of immediate power. A peaceful compromise like this had never happened in the region. Both old men had to talk their followers back from the brink of confrontation, and some Ennahdha activists regarded Ghannouchi’s strategy as a betrayal.
  • To many Tunisians, Nidaa Tounes feels like the return of the old regime: some of the same politicians, the same business cronies, the same police practices. The Interior Ministry is a hideous seven-story concrete structure that squats in the middle of downtown Tunis, its roof bristling with antennas and satellite dishes, coils of barbed wire barring access from the street. The ministry employs eighty thousand people. There is much talk of reforming Tunisia’s security sector, with the help of Western money and training. (The U.S., seeing a glimmer of hope in a dark region, recently doubled its aid to Tunisia.) But the old habits of a police state persist—during my time in Tunis, I was watched at my hotel, and my interpreter was interrogated on the street.
  • The inhabitants of Kasserine, however neglected by the state, were passionate advocates for their own rights. They had played a central role in the overthrow of the dictatorship, staging some of the earliest protests after Bouazizi’s self-immolation. In every coffee shop, I was told, half the conversations were about politics. Although Kasserine is a recruiting area for jihadis, Tunisia’s wealthy areas are so remote that the town felt less alienated than Douar Hicher and Ben Gardane.
  • “You feel no interest from the post-revolutionary governments in us here. People feel that the coastal areas, with twenty per cent of the people, are still getting eighty per cent of the wealth. That brings a lot of psychological pressure, to feel that you’re left alone, that there’s no horizon, no hope.”
  • The old methods of surveillance are returning. In the center of Kasserine, I met an imam named Mahfoud Ben Deraa behind the counter of the hardware store he owns. He had just come back from afternoon prayers, but he was dressed like a man who sold paint. “I might get kicked out of the mosque, because last Friday’s sermon was something the government might not like,” the imam told me. He had preached that, since the government had closed mosques after terror attacks, “why, after an alcoholic killed two people, didn’t they close all the bars?” To some, this sounded like a call for Sharia, and after informers reported him to the police the governor’s office sent him a warning: “In the course of monitoring the religious activities and the religious institutions of the region, I hereby inform you that several violations have been reported.” The imam was ordered to open the mosque only during hours of prayer and to change the locks on the main doors to prevent unsupervised use. The warning seemed like overreach on the part of the state—the twitching of an old impulse from the Ben Ali years.
  • “I never thought I would repeat the same demands as five years ago. The old regime has robbed our dreams.”
  • According to the Tunisian Interior Ministry, a hundred thousand Tunisians—one per cent of the population—were arrested in the first half of 2015. Jihadi groups intend their atrocities to provoke an overreaction, and very few governments can resist falling into the trap.
  • New democracies in Latin America and Eastern Europe and Asia have had to struggle with fragile institutions, corruption, and social inequity. Tunisia has all this, plus terrorism and a failed state next door.
  • Ahmed told himself, “If I pray and ask for divine intervention, maybe things will get better.” Praying did not lead him to the moderate democratic Islam of Ennahdha. His thoughts turned more and more extreme, and he became a Salafi. He quit smoking marijuana and grew his beard long and adopted the ankle-length robe called a qamis. He un-friended all his female friends on Facebook, stopped listening to music, and thought about jihad. On Internet forums, he met jihadis who had been in Iraq and gave him suggestions for reading. Ahmed downloaded a book with instructions for making bombs. In the period of lax security under Ennahdha, he fell in with a radical mosque in Tunis. He was corresponding with so many friends who’d gone to Syria that Facebook deactivated his account. Some of them became leaders in the Islamic State, and they wrote of making thirty-five thousand dollars a year and having a gorgeous European wife or two. Ahmed couldn’t get a girlfriend or buy a pack of cigarettes.
  • “Dude, don’t go!” Walid said when they met on the street. “It’s just a trap for young people to die.” To Walid, Ahmed was exactly the type of young person isis exploited—naïve, lost, looking for the shortest path to Heaven. Al Qaeda had comparatively higher standards: some of its recruits had to fill out lengthy application forms in which they were asked to name their favorite Islamic scholars. Walid could answer such questions, but they would stump Ahmed and most other Tunisian jihadis.
  • “We need to reform our country and learn how to make it civilized,” he said. “In Tunisia, when you finish your pack of cigarettes, you’ll throw it on the ground. What we need is an intellectual revolution, a revolution of minds, and that will take not one, not two, but three generations.”
Ed Webb

Bringing the Economy Back Into Tunisian Politics - Carnegie Endowment for International... - 0 views

  • Observers have often summarized the situation in Tunisia, and the Arab world in general, as a conflict between Islamists and secularists. While the framework of an Islamist–secularist divide is not completely inaccurate, it frequently ignores more nuanced analysis and perpetuates the orientalist premise that Middle East politics should be explained by historical religious norms. In Tunisia, political Islam was marginal until the fall of dictatorship in January 2011.
  • The main demands of the sporadic protest movements before 2011 were not ideological, but called for more political liberties or an improved socioeconomic situation, as in the 2008 Gafsa uprising
  • a growing sense among disenchanted voters, youth in particular, that their standards of living would not improve no matter which party they voted for.
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  • As a structured political party with large parliamentary representation but little influence inside state institutions, Ennahda in particular has aimed to change the status quo, as its new elite within the Tunisian interior remains largely excluded from the established economic circles in the coastal cities.
  • seek the political backing of the IMF and G7 countries, who are demanding that Tunisia speed up ongoing structural reforms to the economy. However, these measures are very unpopular, reawakening old grievances and notably sparking widespread anti-austerity protests in January 2018
  • The discourse of the union’s leadership—which calls for nationalization of major sectors and includes elements of pan-Arabism and anti-imperialist nationalism—is finding appeal among a population disenchanted with the leading parties’ ability to improve their economic situation. The union has also found natural partners in the Popular Front, a political coalition of leftists and pan-Arabists, and in remnants of the old regime, whose hybrid ideology incorporates nationalism, socialism, and pan-Arabism
  • as UGTT leaders accuse Chahed and Ennahda of being manipulated by the IMF and foreign countries, the camp in power is going on the defensive. They have alternately called for negotiations, stalemate, and compromise with the UGTT, ultimately capitulating to the UGTT’s primary demand on February 7 to increase wages in order to avert the planned February 20 strike
  • The more Tunisia’s foreign partners demand substantial structural reforms, the more the current coalition will confront popular anger that puts these reforms on hold, lest the coalition provoke a larger upheaval that could topple it. This will in turn make it harder for the government to abide by Tunisia’s commitments to its international donors, at a time when it needs their support to keep a grip on power
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

Government and Religious Leaders Struggle for Control of Zitouna : Tunisia Live - News,... - 0 views

  • In a press conference held Friday, August 8, the Scientific Board of Zitouna Mosque announced they would not allow any government-appointed Imam to ascend the pulpit of Zitouna.
  • ”Some people are not happy about reopening the University of Zitouna. We only aim to educate the younger generation on Islam, especially given recent decades that witnessed attempts to erase our religious identity. Our goal is to guide young people to a moderate version of religion, one that rejects extremism, marginalization, and exclusion,”
  • since they do not know much about their religion, people have been seeking religious knowledge  in TV channels. Yet this has been problematic, as these Islamist channels sometimes advocate conflicting opinions and versions of Islam. Here, they say, lies the importance of Zitouna in providing religious stability and unity.
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  • “The current education offered by Zitouna does not aspire to our expectations. We demand a quality of education that surpasses the one offered by public schools. Yet, the current committee lacks the vision and the means to do so. It does not represent the real original Islamic teaching that Zitouna was known for,” stated Adel Almi, head of the Moderate Organization for Guidance and Reform. ”Zitouna University can be a way to restore unity to Tunisian society amidst growing friction. Yet, the current committee excludes everyone. They only want blind followers. We should not let this affect the history of the place. We want the mosque to be the way it used to be,’’ stated Mohamed Bel Haj Omar, head of the organization of the Alumni of Zitouna and Supporters.
  • government will organize a national scientific congress by the end of 2012 to discuss new strategies for Zitouna. The Ministry of Religious Affairs, along with the ministries of Higher Education and Scientific Research, and the Ministry of Education  have the task of organizing the conference.
Ed Webb

The real story of Bahrain's divided society | Tahiyya Lulu | Comment is free | guardian... - 0 views

  • the facts of the matter speak for themselves. Corruption, crony capitalism and a lack of transparency add up to uneven development and a vast disparity in wealth. By and large, Bahrain's Shia are losing out in the country's economic boom.What this reflects, to a large extent, is the success of the Bahraini regime's strategy to deal with challenges to its legitimacy by promoting and reinforcing identity politics within a system of privileges where certain groups and individuals are favoured over others. In a word: discrimination.
  • Continuing a discriminatory tradition set by imperial Britain during Bahrain's time as a British protectorate (when police were recruited from British-colonised India), the regime today relies on defence from imported mercenaries, while Bahraini Shia are denied the right to serve in their own armed forces.
  • Bahrain's sectarian divide therefore stems from economic disparity and the denial of civil rights.
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  • A better way to understand the current uprising is as a movement for civil rights and liberties. The demands are for transition from a system of privileges for a few at the expense of the many towards a system of greater rights for all. That is presumably why the Shia-dominated "cannot-haves" of the anti-government, pro-reform crowds appear to have crossed the sectarian rift and drawn in Bahrainis from a range of political platforms including liberals, secularists and human rights activists.
  • it is not the demands of the pro-reform protesters at Pearl Roundabout but the Bahrain government's rule by repression and discrimination that is pushing this country towards a "sectarian abyss".
Ed Webb

Fears grow of rift between Saudi king and crown prince | World news | The Guardian - 0 views

  • in late February when the king, 83, visited Egypt and was warned by his advisers he was at risk of a potential move against him, according to a detailed account from a source. His entourage was so alarmed at the possible threat to his authority that a new security team, comprised of more than 30 hand-picked loyalists from the interior ministry, was flown to Egypt to replace the existing team.
  • The friction in the father-son relationship was underlined, the source said, when the prince was not among those sent to welcome the king home.
  • The crown prince, who was designated “deputy king” during the Egypt trip, as is customary, signed off two major personnel changes while the king was away. They included the appointment of a female ambassador to the US, Princess Reema bint Bandar bin Sultan, and that of his full brother, Khalid bin Salman, to the ministry of defence. The latter appointment has further centralised power in one branch of the ruling family.
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  • Royal appointments are almost always announced in the name of the king, but the 23 February decrees were signed by the “deputy king”. One expert said the title of deputy king had not been used in this way for decades.
  • the king and his team learned about the reshuffle via television
  • Supporters of the king have been pushing him to get more involved in decision-making, to prevent the crown prince from taking more power.
  • Prince Mohammed angered people last month when he walked on top of the Kaaba in Mecca, the holiest site in Islam, provoking complaints to the king by some religious scholars that the move had been inappropriate
  • The prince and king have also been at odds on significant foreign policy matters, the source said, including the handling of prisoners of war in Yemen, and the Saudi response to protests in Sudan and Algeria.
  • While the king is not a reformer, he is said to have supported freer coverage of the protests in Algeria in the Saudi press.
Ed Webb

The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer: Turning Qatar into an Island: Saudi cuts off... - 0 views

  • There’s a cutting-off-the-nose-to-spite-the face aspect to a Saudi plan to turn Qatar into an island by digging a 60-kilometre ocean channel through the two countries’ land border that would accommodate a nuclear waste heap as well as a military base. If implemented, the channel would signal the kingdom’s belief that relations between the world’s only two Wahhabi states will not any time soon return to the projection of Gulf brotherhood that was the dominant theme prior to the United Arab Emirates-Saudi-led imposition in June of last year of a diplomatic and economic boycott of Qatar.
  • The message that notions of Gulf brotherhood are shallow at best is one that will be heard not only in Doha, but also in other capitals in the region
  • the nuclear waste dump and military base would be on the side of the channel that touches the Qatari border and would effectively constitute a Saudi outpost on the newly created island.
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  • The plan, to be funded by private Saudi and Emirati investors and executed by Egyptian firms that helped broaden the Suez Canal, also envisions the construction of five hotels, two ports and a free trade zone.
  • The $750 million project would have the dump ready for when Saudi Arabia inaugurates the first two of its 16 planned nuclear reactors in 2027. Saudi Arabia is reviewing proposals to build the reactors from US, Chinese, French, South Korean contractors and expects to award the projects in December.
  • Qatar’s more liberal Wahhabism of the sea contrasts starkly with the Wahhabism of the land that Prince Mohammed is seeking to reform. The crown prince made waves last year by lifting a ban on women’s driving, granting women the right to attend male sporting events in stadiums, and introducing modern forms of entertainment like, music, cinema and theatre – all long-standing fixtures of Qatari social life and of the ability to reform while maintaining autocratic rule.
  • A traditional Gulf state and a Wahhabi state to boot, Qatari conservatism was everything but a mirror image of Saudi Arabia’s long-standing puritan way of life. Qatar did not have a powerful religious establishment like the one in Saudi Arabia that Prince Mohammed has recently whipped into subservience, nor did it implement absolute gender segregation. Non-Muslims can practice their faith in their own houses of worship and were exempted from bans on alcohol and pork. Qatar became a sponsor of the arts and hosted the controversial state-owned Al Jazeera television network that revolutionized the region’s controlled media landscape and became one of the world’s foremost global English-language broadcasters.
  • Qatari conservatism is likely what Prince Mohammed would like to achieve even if that is something he is unlikely to acknowledge
  • “I consider myself a good Wahhabi and can still be modern, understanding Islam in an open way. We take into account the changes in the world,” Abdelhameed Al Ansari, the then dean of Qatar University’s College of Sharia, a leader of the paradigm shift, told The Wall Street Journal in 2002.
  • if built, the channel would suggest that geopolitical supremacy has replaced ultra-conservative, supremacist religious doctrine as a driver of the king-in-waiting’s policy
Ed Webb

How much does scripture influence the political behavior of Islamists? - 0 views

  • How much does scripture—in other words the Quran and hadith—influence the political behavior of Islamists? Participants were asked to answer on a scale from 0-100—a score of zero meant that scripture held no influence at all on behavior; 100 meant that scripture was the sole determinant of Islamist behavior. Overall, our experts arrived at an average of 25, meaning they believe scripture to be a significant factor, but one factor competing among others, and by no means predictive on its own of Islamist political behavior.
  • “My sense is that scripture is deployed contextually and pragmatically, with social, economic, and political objectives guiding interpretations of scripture more than the other way around.”
  • Brotherhood groups in Jordan and Kuwait have increasingly allied alongside secular political groupings that call for similar democratic reforms. During a period where democratic space is, generally speaking, shrinking throughout the region, it is increasingly likely that Brotherhood groups will prioritize demands for structural government reform over the implementation of traditionally Islamist social policies
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  • scripture was not determinative—but rather more often justificatory—of political positioning… Nonetheless, it was highly relevant and influential, because many Ennahda members and leaders weigh questions of political maneuvering through the lexicon of scripture. Finding justification in scripture is therefore very important for Ennahda members; even if those justifications are themselves often context-dependent and subject to choices made by key leaders
  • This does not mean that religion does not matter—it does play a role at the level of the base and even amongst leadership circles, especially when it comes to carrying out da’wa (proselytization), implementing projects to ‘Islamize’ society from below, creating the political conditions which will nurture the kind of stability in which campaigns for more ‘religiosity’ can be initiated.
  • scripture provides the resources and rhetoric with which Islamists construct their high-level worldview and distinguish themselves from other political competitors
  • I view Islamist parties, especially, as responsive to the kinds of institutional structures and broader culture frames they encounter (and seek to shape). If I take the question as extending beyond parties to broader Islamist movements [i.e. the haraka, it becomes a little harder to say. It seems possible that scripture plays a larger role for other Islamist organizations, in terms of attention to charitable practices, public morality, and personal piety
Ed Webb

Muslim men need to understand that the Quran says they should observe hijab first, not ... - 0 views

  • Muslim men need to understand that the Quran says they should observe hijab first, not women
  • People often conflate “hijab” and “headscarf”. Wearing the headscarf is one form of hijab, but men often forget that hijab is much more. And at the genesis of the hijab discussion, the Quran commands men to not stare at women and to not be promiscuous. The Quran 24:31 obliges men to observe modesty: “Say to the believing men that they restrain their eyes and guard their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely, Allah is well aware of what they do.” This verse rebukes forced laws on women that claim “women must cover otherwise men are distracted”. It destroys rape culture because it commands men to reform themselves first and exclusively. It demolishes complaints that what a woman is wearing is “too provocative”, whatever that means, because it flat out forbids men from gawking at women.
  • Hijab is a critically important Islamic teaching. No one denies this. But it seems to me that too many men forget it applies to us first. Let’s stop obsessing over women, and worry about reforming ourselves first. That apparently novel idea is indeed the true jihad and true meaning of hijab.
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  • here’s another novel idea for those seeking to understand how hijab applies to Muslim women. Ask them.
Ed Webb

How Lebanon is setting the standard for a new social contract in the Middle East - 0 views

  • What sets the protest apart is its cross-sectarian nature. Lebanon is turning away from the past and toward a new social contract. There is much risk and uncertainty — but there is also excitement — revealed by brave protesters who have put country above sect, and who have made the region, and the world, take notice.
  • Lebanon has a population of nearly 6.8 million, with an estimated 42% under 24 years of age. The official unemployment rate of about 6% is not high, by regional standards, but with almost no economic growth (a projected 0.2% rate in 2019, following just 0.3% last year), the good jobs are fewer and fewer for young graduates. Lebanon’s deficit and debt are approaching 155% of the gross domestic product, among the worst ratios in the world.
  • orruption and side deals inhibit the government from delivering even reliable trash collection — in contrast to the protesters, who have made a point of keeping the streets clean after the demonstrations
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  • Lebanon did its time with its own bloody 15-year sectarian regional war, and still was able to recover and re-establish its cosmopolitan flair. There is a lot to build on. The failures and dashed expectations of the uprisings in Egypt and Syria, which quickly fell prey to regional and ideological agendas and violence, and Lebanon’s own tragic past, could make it an incubator for a new approach to governance that would allow Lebanon to realize its potential, rather than fall victim to the rhetoric and false promise of what was once known as the Arab Spring
  • The catch for Lebanon, as it has been for Egypt, is that most International Monetary Fund-based recommendations to address bloated and corrupt public ministries require downsizing and reductions in subsidies — such as electricity and gasoline — and an expanded tax base — the very things that trigger the protests of those already on the economic margins.
  • the short-term urgency of meeting the demands of the street need to be combined with a long-term plan for structural reform. This could be accomplished via a new government, quickly formed, or by getting the buy-in of those demanding change by adding new faces and technocrats to those vital ministries that manage economy and infrastructure and are widely associated with corruption and inefficiency
Ed Webb

Welcome to the Syrian Jihad - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • in today's Arab world, there is nothing particularly distinctive about his comments at all. For many months, Arab and Muslim figures of all stripes have been loudly calling for support to the predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels, as have many Arab governments (and the United States and its allies, of course). The Muslim Brotherhood's branches have strongly supported the Syrian opposition -- acquiring too much power along the way, in the minds of some. Egyptian Salafis have described providing arms and funds to the Syrian rebels as "a form of worship" and killing Assad as a religious obligation. As the killing and destruction has escalated, such support for Syria's rebels has rapidly morphed into extreme anti-Shiite and anti-Alawi rhetoric
  • In January 2007, for example, he tried to use his influence to rein in spiraling sectarian rage following the execution of Saddam Hussein. At that time, Qaradawi was only weeks past a controversial appearance at a Doha conference on Sunni-Shiite relations, in which he had made a number of controversial remarks viewed by many as overly provocative toward the Shiite. But at that crucial moment, Qaradawi invited former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani on al-Jazeera to push back against the rabid sectarianism then roiling the Middle East.
  • Qaradawi has long been described as among the most influential clerics in the Sunni world. A savvy political opportunist, he has long been one of the best barometers for the mood of a major swathe of the Arab mainstream, uncannily attuned to shifts in the political mood. He cleverly triangulated Arab politics, adopting populist positions on foreign policy while pushing for democratic reforms across the region and advancing a "centrist" Islamist ideology. In recent years, the Egyptian-born cleric has strongly supported most of the Arab uprisings, including a controversial late February 2011 appeal to Libya's army to kill Muammar al-Qaddafi.  In Egypt, he was welcomed the Friday following Mubarak's fall to lead prayer and deliver a pro-revolutionary speech in Tahrir. But he disappointed many observers by describing Bahrain's uprising as "sectarian," in line with the Arab Gulf country's collective stance intended to delegitimize it.
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  • His core doctrine of wasatiyya was always better understood as "centrism" than as "moderation" (whatever that might mean)
  • Qaradawi's alignment with the Saudi position has less to do with his theology or his personal views on the Shiites than with his calculation of regional political trends
  • Team Saudi is now celebrating Qaradawi's capitulation to their own anti-Hezbollah, anti-Shiite prejudices. No words could have been sweeter to Qaradawi's Saudi critics than his recent reversal on Hezbollah: "I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny... in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia. It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me."
  • like it or not, his broad themes -- such as support for "resistance" from Palestine to Iraq, criticism of al Qaeda, calls for democracy, denunciations of most Arab regimes, and conservative social values -- generally seemed to reflect mainstream Arab political views.
  • Like al-Jazeera, Qaradawi's stances now seem to more closely follow Qatari foreign policy, and his influence has waned along with his host station and Qatar itself, which has experienced a regional backlash
  • Qaradawi now finds himself speaking to a narrower, more partisan audience. What does it say about his influence that his preferred candidate in Egypt's presidential election, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Islamist reformist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, won less than 20 percent of the vote?
  • Qaradawi can no longer claim to speak to a broadly unified Arab public because such a creature no longer exists
  • The proliferation of media outlets and assertive new voices that define the new Arab public sphere tend to undermine any efforts to claim the center ground
  • Qaradawi has opted to join the bandwagon rather than try to pull Sunni-Shiite relations back toward coexistence. He clearly calculates that anti-Shiite sectarianism in support of the Syrian insurgency is both strategically useful and a political winner.  And those in the Gulf and in the West eager for any opportunity to hurt Iran seem happy to go along
Ed Webb

Egyptian Elections « The Immanent Frame - 1 views

  • For most here it is not a simple zero-sum game of secular or Islamic, win or loose—that kind of thinking that Mubarak had fostered and exploited and that found new life in the runoff. It is instead a slog with eyes wide open to gain a better life in a better Egypt.
  • A Muslim Brother faced a felool, or “remnant” of the old regime, in the presidential runoff primarily because the Brotherhood and the old ruling party are the only parties with money, cadres, and national organizations that can run campaigns and distribute patronage
  • some commentators continue to insist that in fact nothing has really changed in Egypt and that despite five free elections in the eighteenth months since the January 25th Revolution, Egypt remains, essentially, a military dictatorship, albeit with the Muslim Brotherhood playing the role of junior partner. This analysis, however, is remarkably short-sighted. Egypt now has a dynamic and competitive public sphere with at least three major political groupings: Islamist revolutionaries; non-Islamist revolutionaries; and an old guard whose power is increasingly disappearing
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  • steps toward coalition building suggest a very different political terrain than the one that existed prior to the revolution, and hence of political possibilities whose outcome cannot be foreseen with any certainty. Yes, the entrenched power of the military remains an ongoing threat to any transformation. But the only other stable element in Egypt’s political life today is the knee-jerk refusal of some of the old leftist and liberal political movements to see beyond the politics of the “Islamist threat.”
  • the army will continue to find a way to work with the MB, but at the same time, keeps the military and the security apparatus away from the MB. The Muslim Brotherhood has lost lots of its popularity before the presidential election when it distanced itself from the street. And it seems to be back to flirt with the street to gain political legitimacy battling with SCAF over power
  • The revolution failed to overthrow the state of the Free Officers (Morsi’s victory marks only an adjustment or reform of it), but it has been successful in establishing a large and vocal democratic opposition that has become a powerful political voice in large cities of northern Egypt; less so in southern Egypt and in rural areas. Although too weak and heterogeneous (and, perhaps, too principled) to gain power at the moment, they are the third power block to reckon with, and the only one committed to changing the system towards social justice and freedom.
  • The idea of the revolution was to open up the political field and allow new voices to be heard, including but not limited to the MB. The idea was to restore politics to Egypt.
  • Politics in Egypt is alive, if not entirely well
  • Egyptians are well aware of U.S. support for the old regime, understand American ties to the SCAF, and remain wary of official American influence in Egypt. And rightly so.
  • Like Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood at the current moment, both post-Communist Poland and post-fascist Spain witnessed the transformation of anti-establishment, counter-hegemonic political movements into legitimate, newly hegemonic, democratic actors. Unfortunately, such comparisons between the Muslim Brotherhood and non-Muslim political actors and contexts are both rare and difficult to put forward. I suspect that the reason for this difficulty has to do with the immense power of the adjectives “Muslim” and “Islamic” in Euro-American political discourse. Within this discourse, “Muslim” as a political adjective connotes a single, problematic relationship to both the systems of democratic governance and a democratic ethos. As long as such an essentialist political connotation of the term “Muslim” perseveres, a multifaceted analysis of the relationship between Islam and any political context, Egyptian or otherwise, remains immensely difficult to achieve.
  • Although many self-described secularists and Islamists in Egypt join US media pundits in presenting a binary view of Egypt’s political choices, the situation on the ground is much more complex and constantly changing. In the first round, the majority of voters (taken as a collective) chose candidates other than the army man Ahmed Shafik and the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate Mohamed Morsi. Divisions within the MB (and within Islamist groups in general) that are marked by geography, gender, and generation belie any attempt to generalize; divisions within the army are also revealing themselves in the process. Furthermore, perhaps the most serious issue obscured by the binary is that the MB and the army are arguably not that different in terms of their approach to economic policy and in their urban, often upper middle class biases towards social betterment.
Ed Webb

Are Europe's Muslims America's problem? - Opinion - Al Jazeera English - 0 views

  • Scapegoating and race-baiting during a US electoral season are not new; as the campaign heats up, so will the rhetoric. The irony is that the negative rhetoric surrounding race, Islam and Europe is rising - just as the State Department is trying to counter the "nativist surge" in Europe by showcasing the US model of racial integration, and dispatching African-American and Muslim-American goodwill ambassadors to Europe to extol the civil rights movement.
  • it is, perhaps not surprisingly, in France that the State Department's assessments and outreach to Muslim communities have triggered the most outrage. The dispatches from the US embassy in Paris are blunt in their appraisal - "the French have a well-known problem with discrimination against minorities". Some cables read like descriptions of a pre-civil rights United States: "The French media remains overwhelmingly white... Among French elite educational institutions, we are only aware that Science Po has taken serious steps to integrate."  
  • numerous outreach projects (exchange programmes, conferences, media appearance) to raise awareness among state and societal actors about the US civil rights movement.
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  • Young French Muslims note that the US embassy's outreach is different from the French government's security-centred approach and shrill rhetoric about Islam and immigration (Sarkozy a few years ago threatened to clean up a cité with a Kärcher, a high-pressure hose). Widad Ketfi, a young blogger, who participated in an embassy-sponsored programme says she knows she was targeted by the US embassy because of her Algerian-Muslim background, but adds: "What bothers me is being the target of the French state." These youths claim that French politicians will visit their enclaves only during election time, surrounded by security guards
  • given France's official discourse and self-image, "such an effort will continue to require considerable discretion, sensitivity and tact on our part".
  •  The cable that drew the most indignant responses from French state officials was written by then US Ambassador Craig Stephenson, at the height of the civil unrest in November 2005: "The real problem is the failure of white Christian France to view its dark-skinned and Muslim compatriots as citizens in their own rights." Speaking on a television show, former Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin scoffed [FR], "This [cable] shows the limits of American diplomacy," adding that US diplomats were wrongly reading the banlieues crisis through their own history, and viewing France's urban crisis through a religious prism. 
  • As in Britain, segments of French society were displeased by revelations that the US had, since 2003, been deeply involved in the integration process - trying to shift the media discourse, to get French leaders to rethink their "terminology" and "intellectual frameworks" regarding minority inclusion; trying to generate public debates about "affirmative action", "multiculturalism", and hyphenated identity; pushing to reform history curricula taught in French schools, and working with French museums to exhibit the contributions of minorities. Left-leaning analysts opposed to US policies in the Islamic world saw this "Marshall Plan" for the banlieues as a diversionary tactic [FR]. One cable notes that, by improving the lot of French Muslims, the US embassy can alter French-Muslim perceptions of the US, to show that the US respects Islam and "is engaged for good in the Arab-Muslim worlds". Other critics just don't think US conceptions of race and integration can travel across the Atlantic.
  • Western states have a long history of intervening in the Muslim world to protect and empower religious minorities. This practice continues, in different forms to this day, but it is unprecedented for Western states - allies - to court or protect each other's minorities. And yet the US is spending millions of dollars to win the hearts and minds of Europe's disaffected Muslim communities, often vying with European states' own local efforts.
  • the efforts to exhibit US racial harmony and forestall ethnic conflict in Europe are taking place as political hopefuls whip up resentment of Muslims and African-Americans in the US.
  • Perhaps the greatest irony of the State Department's efforts to showcase the model integration of US Muslims, and to deploy the images and ideas of the civil rights movement in Europe, is that these efforts have been occurring against a backdrop of unfavourable media images of Quran burnings, anti-mosque rallies and accusatory Congressional hearings. The anti-mosque movement has now morphed into a broader "anti-Sharia" movement. Thirteen states from South Carolina to Arizona to Alaska have introduced bills banning Islamic law. The Texas Board of Education passed a resolution rejecting high-school textbooks that are "pro-Islam [and] anti-Christian", and a similar campaign is underway in Florida. American Muslims are facing a rising tide of discrimination that will no doubt worsen as the 2012 presidential campaign progresses. As for the Democrats, maybe it is politically easier to be photographed with Muslims in Paris singing "We Shall Overcome" than to challenge the organised bigotry brewing at home.
Ed Webb

Islamists bring religion down to earth: the end of religious idealism | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • the first decisions of the government have shown the speed with which religious idealism has given way to practical realism. 
  • On February 4, Moucef Ben Salim, minister of higher education and member of Ennahda, accused an unnamed foreign country of “pumping large sums of money in to destabilize the country."
  • For Saudi companies or individuals to invest in Tunisia, the Saudi rulers must authorize those investments. For that to happen, the Tunisian leadership must realign itself with the political agenda of the Saudi rulers in order to secure this economic support. Hosting an anti-Assad meeting on Syria, as is scheduled for this Friday, is a step in that direction.
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  • In an interview with journalists before leaving the Kingdom, Jebali assured the Saudis that Tunisians are not interested in exporting their revolution or interfering in the affairs of other countries. He made this claim just three days before his country was scheduled to host an international conference to “exert more pressure on the Syrian regime.” More accurately, Jebali should have said that his country is not interested in interfering in the affairs of rich States of Gulf.
  • the most significant achievement of the ruling Islamist parties is relativizing religious discourse.
  • The Tunisian and Egyptian elections, however, have unveiled the profuse diversity within Islamism. The Muslim Brethren now face formidable competition from at least three other Islamist groups including the al-Nur Party which won over 24% of the votes. In Tunisia, Ennahda is under constant pressure by Salafis and al-Tahrir Party Islamists who did not field their own candidates in the October 23 elections. In Morocco, the Islamist party (Justice and Development) won decisive number of seats in the recent parliamentarian elections but remains challenged by the more popular Islamist movement, al-Adl wa-‘l-Ihsan, that shunned elections under the watch of a monarch.
  • Despite the short-term instability that will accompany the Arab revolutions, the future of the Arab world is promising. Excluding Islamists deprived the peoples of the region of the extraordinary opportunities to develop their societies, preserve human dignity, and take pride in belonging. Their rise to power is moderating their views and teaching them a lesson in humility and realism. The emergence of different Islamist parties is a path towards innovation and reform in modern Islamic thought and practice. The new spread of elections endorses the universal idea that people are the only true sovereign, and should have the opportunity to choose their public servants through fair and transparent elections. 
Ed Webb

Robert Fisk: Secular and devout. Rich and poor. They marched together with one goal - R... - 0 views

  • There were several elements about this unprecedented political event that stood out. First was the secularism of the whole affair. Women in chadors and niqabs and scarves walked happily beside girls with long hair flowing over their shoulders, students next to imams and men with beards that would have made Bin Laden jealous. The poor in torn sandals and the rich in business suits, squeezed into this shouting mass, an amalgam of the real Egypt hitherto divided by class and regime-encouraged envy. They had done the impossible – or so they thought – and, in a way, they had already won their social revolution.
  • There I was, back on the intersection behind the Egyptian Museum where only five days ago – it feels like five months – I choked on tear gas as Mubarak's police thugs, the baltigi, the drug addict ex-prisoner cops, were slipped through the lines of state security policemen to beat, bludgeon and smash the heads and faces of the unarmed demonstrators, who eventually threw them all out of Tahrir Square and made it the Egyptian uprising. Back then, we heard no Western support for these brave men and women. Nor did we hear it yesterday.
  • They supported democracy. We supported "stability", "moderation", "restraint", "firm" leadership (Saddam Hussein-lite) soft "reform" and obedient Muslims.
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  • what were the Americans doing? Rumour: US diplomats were on their way to Egypt to negotiate between a future President Suleiman and opposition groups. Rumour: extra Marines were being drafted into Egypt to defend the US embassy from attack. Fact: Obama finally told Mubarak to go. Fact: a further evacuation of US families from the Marriott Hotel in Cairo, escorted by Egyptian troops and cops, heading for the airport, fleeing from a people who could so easily be their friends.
Ed Webb

Salam Al Marayati: Blasphemy Laws Are Against Islam - 0 views

  • Blasphemy laws were first introduced to Muslim countries during the days of colonialism and are now a major obstacle to Islamic reform. Often used to restrict freedom of expression and to settle personal scores, these laws have led to devastating consequences for religious minorities and others whose views differ from the majority.
  • the Quran documents the criticism of Islam by poets and political leaders at the time of its revelation. Though the Prophet was accused of sorcery and mania, in each and every case, God did not order him to punish the blasphemers. Instead, His order to the Prophet was to respond to their hate speech with good speech and good work. In other words, Islam calls for freedom of speech and for competing freely in the marketplace of ideas.
  • The Quran provides a response to defamation in general: "Good and evil are not equal; so repel evil with something good and better so that the one with whom there is enmity will become a close friend."
Ed Webb

GOP litmus test: Sharia opposition - POLITICO.com - 0 views

  • Invoking Sharia and casting it as a growing danger at odds with American principles has become a rallying cry for conservatives. It’s also quickly becoming an unlikely pet issue among 2012 presidential contenders: Potential candidates have almost unilaterally assailed the Islamic code, making it as much a staple of the campaign stump speech as economic reform, job creation and rising gas prices.
  • “Even immediately after Sept. 11, we didn’t see this kind of hatred mainstream in our society,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There seems to be a coordinated effort to both marginalize American Muslims and demonize Islam.”
  • Bill sponsors interviewed by POLITICO could offer no examples of cases from their home states, instead pointing to a 2010 New Jersey case that used Sharia as a defense, though that decision was reversed by a higher court.
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  • Herman Cain was labeled a bigot by CAIR after he pledged not to appoint any Muslims to government posts if he is elected president
  • The exception has been Texas Rep. Ron Paul, who dismissed the idea that Sharia is threatening the United States. “That’s not coming here. What we have to do is defend our principles,” Paul told Fox News host Sean Hannity late last month. “You have radicals in all religions; if there is some way to incite them, their numbers will grow.”
  • we’re going to have American laws for American courts because we are America
  • Missouri state Reps. Paul Curtman and Don Wells both introduced bills aimed at stopping the use of Islamic law in the state’s courts, though neither could provide evidence that it’s actually happening. That measure passed the Missouri House over opposition from Democrats who said it could make it more difficult for the state’s businesses to enter into contracts with companies from other countries. Wells has likened Sharia to polio, saying it could have a diseaselike influence on secular judicial proceedings
  • model legislation, called American Laws for American Courts, put forward by Arizona-based attorney David Yerushalmi
  • Yerushalmi himself has ties to a stridently anti-Muslim group
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