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Ed Webb

Crusaders No More: What Arab Christians and Muslims Think ...... | News & Reporting | C... - 0 views

  • One month before Evangel, Valparaiso University, a Lutheran institution in Indiana, announced in February it was dropping its own Crusaders nickname. Last month, the school rechristened its sports teams the Beacons.
  • “As a Muslim, I was embarrassed to come to Valpo because the school’s mascot was a Crusader, even though my mom and older siblings went here before me,”
  • about a dozen colleges still use it, including the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts
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  • It is somewhat of a trend among Christian institutions, however. Wheaton College dropped its Crusaders nickname in 2000, followed by the University of the Incarnate Word in 2004, Northwest Christian (now Bushnell) University in 2008, Eastern Nazarene College in 2009, and Alvernia University and Northwest Nazarene University in 2017.
  • contemporaneous Muslims, Christians, and Jews all referred to the Middle Ages conflict as “the Wars of the Franks.” It was not until about the 18th century, Mikhail said, that Muslim polemicists began translating the conflict as “the Wars of the Cross-bearers.” But today, this is the term that has universal usage in Arabic.
  • most Middle Eastern Christians stood with the Muslims against the Crusaders.
  • “Christians and Muslims both have a lot of work to do in terms of revising elements of their religious language that poison everyday relations,” Accad said. “We have to create new symbols.”
  • I would never call myself a Crusader
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

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 White Christian West Isn't What It Thinks It Is - 0 views

  • Throughout what is commonly known as the West, there has been a slew of books, articles, and public interventions calling attention to the notion of a cultural crisis within. Such a phenomenon ought to be followed by self-reflection, self-interrogation, and retrospection. By and large, however, the past decade has seen far more of the opposite: The alarm surrounding crisis has been more of a call for “us” to attack and problematize “them,” which invariably leads to propositions such as “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board,” as Douglas Murray, a hardcore right-wing pundit, once argued—not to mention conspiracy theories that blame all the ills of the modern world on those who look different than “us,” meaning white Europeans, or, worse, pray differently than “we” do.
  • Ryan identifies the West as an intellectual space, rather than solely a geographical one. His model of what the West entails has three pillars: “the belief in a moral endpoint; the trio of republican values (liberty, equality, solidarity); and universalism.” Ryan correctly points out that all of these pillars are in crisis—and yet, the situation is, he argues, “not entirely hopeless.”
  • When it comes to conceptualizing themselves as a Western “us,” European Christendom has historically done so by positioning itself against the Muslims of the Mediterranean, be they Ottomans or Arabs
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  • a project that institutions such as the British Council have tried to bring to fruition, through enterprises like “Our Shared Europe” and “Our Shared Future,” which sought to uncover the huge amount of historical evidence that showed that Muslims and Islam played much wider historical roles internally in the West than was hitherto understood.
  • a form of Christianity that focuses on solidarity with the oppressed, rather than promoting tribalistic hate against the “other,” is precisely what Europe needs more of
  • If the West is to look for a better future, intellectuals ought to be transcending untenable readings of their history and looking for better ideas.
  • one could write an encyclopedia that focused only on the history of Muslim European communities and figures, be they in premodern Spain and Portugal or the Emirate of Sicily or indeed the many Northern and Western Europeans who became Muslims. Framing Islam as a newcomer immediately restricts the scope of discussion that is needed. And such framing leads to a focus on salvaging broken models rather than seeking a new model for the West.
  • Righting that wrong means not simply reimagining a new national myth to gather around, but Westerners forging a new narrative that dispenses with the historical marginalization of “them” in favor of creating what has always been a mythical “us.” What is needed is a new notion of “us” that emerges strongly and true, based on values and principles that the peoples of the West will be able to rally around in a cohesive manner for generations to come.
Ed Webb

Rethinking secularism : Can Europe integrate its Muslims? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In Western Europe, right into the 1990s, and in contrast to India and some Muslim-majority countries for instance, there was a sense across the political spectrum that political secularism was a done deal.
  • By multiculturalism I mean not just the fact of the post-immigration ethno-religious diversity but the presence of a multiculturalist approach to this diversity: the idea that equality must be extended from uniformity of treatment to include respect for difference. This means understanding that the public and the private are interdependent rather than dichotomized as in classical liberalism. This provides the intellectual basis for the public recognition and institutional accommodation of minorities, the reversal of marginalisation and a remaking of national citizenship so that all can have a sense of belonging to it.
  • Liberal political theorists define political secularism as ‘state neutrality’, meaning that the state must not privilege some religions over others but must instead treat them equally and must not identify with any one of them. Multiculturalists contend that a strict policy of non-identification with a particular language, history and culture, however, is impossible for a state to achieve. It is therefore better to interpret state neutrality to mean that connections between state and religion must be inclusive, rather than push religious groups away.
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  • Western Europe may respond, indeed is responding, to Muslim political assertiveness in two opposing ways, based on its response to two controversies that erupted in 1989: the Salman Rushdie affair in the United Kingdom and the headscarf affair in France.
  • too many European governments discourage Muslim self-representation in politics and civil society and prefer to initiate debates about Islam’s relationship to national identity in which Muslims are the objects of discussion rather than participants in it
  • Western Europe will not be able to integrate its growing population of Muslims into its national polities without rethinking political secularism. This will be much easier where moderate secularism and multiculturalism prevail, as opposed to a more radical form of secularism. European nations must oppose radical secularism, antipathy to public religion, and the trampling and alienating effects this tendency is having on religious freedoms and a growing European Muslim population.
  • Just as European citizens and governments must oppose the extreme nationalism that is asserting itself across the continent, they must also turn away from extreme secularism which, apart from in France, is not the Western European way. Affirming its historically moderate secularism, and adapting it to accommodate a multifaith national citizenry, represents Europe’s best chance for finding a way forward.
Ed Webb

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

  • Iran has a complicated, and at times paranoid, government. Elected parliamentarians give a veneer of democracy but power ultimately resides with the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the regime’s most powerful security force, answers directly to him. Rival arms of the state, including the security forces, jostle for influence. And the rules are unclear.
  • I had gone to report on the impact of American-imposed sanctions. Some news stories were claiming that Tehran was on the brink of collapse, but I saw few signs of it. There was no panic buying. The city looked cleaner and more modern than on my visit three years before. It has the best underground in the Middle East, with locally made trains. Parks and museums were abundant and well-tended, pavements were scrubbed and the city’s many flower-beds immaculately maintained.
  • America’s sanctions had hurt people, of course. Average monthly salaries were worth less than a pair of imported shoes. I saw people sleeping rough or hawking junk on the streets. One former university lecturer I met had been reduced to busking. But few people went hungry and there seemed to be a joie de vivre among many of those I talked to. Cafés, theatres and music halls were packed. An earlier bout of sanctions had forced Tehran’s Symphony Orchestra to disband but I wangled a ticket for the opening night of the reconstituted Philharmonic.
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  • My captors wore no identifying uniforms, but on the second day the doctor told me that he was an officer in the intelligence arm of the Revolutionary Guards. Iran’s security agencies are many tentacled. In 1979 the new Islamic Republic retained much of the existing state apparatus, including the army and a good part of the bureaucracy, but it added another tier to keep existing institutions in check, and the parallel systems have competed ever since. The government’s own intelligence ministry would be unlikely to detain a Western journalist whose entry it had approved. My accusers were from its more powerful rival.
  • Over the course of four days the men spent most of their time glued to phone-screens, watching Bollywood films, or American or Chinese schlock full of street fights, which they accessed through virtual private networks to evade the censorship they were supposed to enforce.
  • Self-censorship ranks as one of an authoritarian regime’s strongest tools, and I was complicit.
  • Despite Iran’s pious reputation, Tehran may well be the least religious capital in the Middle East. Clerics dominate the news headlines and play the communal elders in soap operas, but I never saw them on the street, except on billboards. Unlike most Muslim countries, the call to prayer is almost inaudible. There has been a rampant campaign to build new mosques, yet more people flock to art galleries on Fridays than religious services. With the exception, perhaps, of Tel Aviv, I had visited nowhere in the Middle East where people read as voraciously as Tehran. “The Handmaid’s Tale”, Margaret Atwood’s dystopian fable of women enslaved to a theocratic caste, is a particular favourite, the owner of one bookstore told me.
  • Life in Iran has always swung both ways. Nothing goes and everything goes. Alcohol is banned but home delivery is faster for wine than for pizza.
  • The space for veil-free living had grown since I last visited. In the safety of their homes, women often removed their head coverings when chatting over the internet. Darkened cinema halls offered respite from the morality police who enforce discipline. In cafés women let their scarves fall languorously. The more brazen simply walked uncovered in the streets, risking imprisonment. And, in an unusual inversion of rebellion, ties have made a reappearance some 40 years after Ayatollah Khomeini denounced them as a symbol of British imperialism.
  • The listing of plays in Tehran was almost as long as London’s West End and I devoured them. Directors are adept at finding ways to evade the censors. A striking number of plays and films I saw were set in prisons – a commentary on the Iranian condition – but under bygone regimes. Opera was taboo, but a performance one evening in the red-cushioned opera house of the former shah, which was billed as Kurdish folk music, included Verdi. Beneath a vast glittering chandelier the audience threw bouquets of flowers at the Iranian singer, who is acclaimed in both Rome and Berlin; for an encore, she finally dared to sing a solo.
  • Of course not everyone got away with pushing at the strictures. In my first week in Tehran the authorities pulled a production of Ibsen’s “Hedda Gabler” – the play is about suicide, which is forbidden in Islam – and another about poor women reduced to hawking to feed their families. Cafés that hosted live bands risked closure until they had paid off fines. Women without head-coverings who were spotted on one of Tehran’s many surveillance cameras received police summons by text. But the morality police, who drove around town in new green-and-white vans, seemed too stretched to suppress every challenge.
  • as well as being an intelligence officer, he was an academic and wrote a newspaper column
  • It was liberating to have the run of Tehran, without minders, deadlines or chores. But of course, I wasn’t truly free. I policed myself on behalf of the regime, becoming my own jailer and censor, aware that any lapse could have consequences. Sometimes I tried to speak over colleagues or relatives who were saying things that I feared might enrage my captors. I felt the presence of hundreds of electronic eyes. The friendliest faces who greeted me might be informers. And I could not leave Iran. It is an odd experience to know that you can be caught out at any time. But this was the way of Tehran. Some avenues open up, others close. Everyone feels like a captive. There are those who say that it is all a grand plan of the ayatollahs to keep people on edge.
  • I was caught in a political game involving high-seas tankers and international diplomacy that far exceeded my ability to influence it.
  • I feared either that the Revolutionary Guards thought they could use my presence to negotiate some kind of deal, or that I was becoming a pawn in the internal rivalry within the Iranian government. I was beginning to see at first hand the glaring tensions between the two arms of the state. My hotel seemed increasingly nervous about hosting an over-stayer without a passport. In an attempt to evict me one evening, they cut the lights and blamed an unfixable electrical fault. The following morning the Guards arrived to transfer me to another location. En route we were chased by two motorbikes and careened up and down the alleyways of northern Tehran. Only when we pulled into a cul-de-sac did the Guards succeed in shaking them off.
  • A new interrogator – toad-like and clad in leather – told me that the Guards had found incriminating material on my laptop that touched on matters of national security: he had found a note from a conversation I’d had with a government flunkie about smuggling rings connected to the offspring of senior Iranian officials. This proved, he said, that I had crossed the line from journalism to espionage. They were reopening the case.
  • Notes he had discovered on Iran’s spiralling brain drain confirmed, to his mind, that I was seeking to undermine national morale.
  • I wasn’t even sure how genuinely religious many of those I had met were. When we drove about town, Ali talked of his student days, his young family and his passion for British football. Ideology rarely came up. Within the parameters set by the vice squads, Tehran’s dominant culture was defiantly secular. Iran called itself a theocracy, yet religion felt frustratingly hard to locate and the truly religious seemed sidelined, like a minority.
  • For ten nights in Muharram these passion plays were performed with growing fervour. Even an irreverent man who taught me Farsi, who devoted much of his spare time to picking up waitresses in cafés, said Muharram was the one religious occasion he observed. The streets were lined with mokebs, stalls offering tea and dates and decorated with tragic representations of the battlefield using decapitated toy soldiers. At one mokeb, I came across a camel being readied for sacrifice. Many of these rites drew on ancient folklore rather than Muslim practice, akin to the celebration of Easter in the West. Since its inception the clerical regime had sought – and failed – to purify Iran of its non-Islamic elements.
  • “You feel a direct connection between people and God here,” a 40-year-old programme manager told me. He had stopped going to government mosques altogether, he said. Like some other pious Iranians I met, he feared that politics had sullied their religion rather than elevating it.
  • Panahian preached from a cushioned, teak throne beneath a vast chandelier while his acolytes crowded around him on the floor. He projected so much power, I got the feeling that if he’d read from a phone directory his disciples would still have sobbed. “Are you a servant of God or of man?” he said, scanning the crowd for suspects. “Choose between the tyranny of westernisation and God.” After he’d left a woman in a black chador took me aside. I steeled myself for an ideological harangue. Instead, she held up a plastic bag of bread and a plastic container of beans that the Husseiniya distributed after the sermon. “That’s why we came,” she said. “If you ask about the contents of the sermon, no one can tell you. If you ask about the contents of breakfast, they’ll all remember.”
  • the largest and most vibrant Jewish community in the Muslim world. Since the ayatollahs toppled the shah, Iran’s Jewish population has shrunk from 80,000 to around a tenth of that number. The ayatollahs have largely kept the remaining Jews safe, but they have also confiscated some of their property, particularly that of those who have left the country. Tensions between Iran’s Jews and the regime ebb and rise depending on the country’s relationship with Israel. But over time the Islamic Republic seems to have grown more at ease with the community
  • Iran has 22 mikva’ot – pools for ritual immersion. Many of Tehran’s dozen active synagogues are vast and packed with worshippers
  • There was a Jewish café, two kosher restaurants and a maternity hospital funded by the Jewish community in the south of Tehran, where less than 5% of those born were Jewish. A Jewish sports centre was also under construction
  • By rare coincidence the first service of selichot, the penitential prayers recited for a month in the run up to the High Holidays, began on the first day of the solemn month of Muharram. The synagogues were packed. At 1am Iran’s largest synagogue still teemed with families. At 2am the congregation swayed in prayer for Israel and its people. The communal chest-beating was gentler than in the Husseiniya, but more ardent than in Western congregations. Women walked up to the ark and kissed the smooth Isfahani tiles painted with menorahs and stars of David, acting like Shia pilgrims at their shrines. People milled around on the street outside chatting. I must have recited my prayers for forgiveness with conviction.
  • two men in black entered and introduced themselves as officers from another branch of intelligence. They apologised profusely for the difficulties I had faced and blamed the Guards for the inconvenience. They hoped that I had been well treated and expressed outrage that the Guards had made me pay my own hotel bill. They assured me that they’d been working strenuously for weeks to fix matters. My ordeal was over, they said. But could they just ask a few questions first?After 40 minutes of interrogation, they disappeared. Ten minutes later they were back with embarrassed smiles. One awkward matter needed resolving. Because I had overstayed my visa, I needed to pay a fine of 4m toman, about  $200.“Of course, the Guards should be paying since the delay was of their making,” they said.I called Ali and asked him to clear the fine.“No way,” he replied. “Can’t they waive it?”The intelligence officers apologised again but remained insistent. There were regulations. They couldn’t foot the bill for a mistake of the Guards.
  • Only when the flight map on my seat-back screen showed the plane nosing out of Iranian airspace did I begin to breathe normally.
Ed Webb

Israel's Religiously Divided Society | Pew Research Center - 0 views

  • a major new survey by Pew Research Center also finds deep divisions in Israeli society – not only between Israeli Jews and the country’s Arab minority, but also among the religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.
  • Nearly all Israeli Jews identify with one of four categories: Haredi (commonly translated as “ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) or Hiloni (“secular”)
  • secular Jews in Israel are more uncomfortable with the notion that a child of theirs might someday marry an ultra-Orthodox Jew than they are with the prospect of their child marrying a Christian
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  • The vast majority of secular Jews say democratic principles should take precedence over religious law, while a similarly large share of ultra-Orthodox Jews say religious law should take priority.
  • When asked, “What is your present religion, if any?” virtually all Israeli Jews say they are Jewish – and almost none say they have no religion – even though roughly half describe themselves as secular and one-in-five do not believe in God.
  • Sephardim/Mizrahim are generally more religiously observant than Ashkenazim, and men are somewhat more likely than women to say halakha should take precedence over democratic principles. But in many respects, these demographic differences are dwarfed by the major gulfs seen among the four religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.
  • Most non-Jewish residents of Israel are ethnically Arab and identify, religiously, as Muslims, Christians or Druze
  • Israeli Arabs generally do not think Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy at the same time. This view is expressed by majorities of Muslims, Christians and Druze. And overwhelmingly, all three of these groups say that if there is a conflict between Jewish law and democracy, democracy should take precedence
  • Fully 58% of Muslims favor enshrining sharia as official law for Muslims in Israel, and 55% of Christians favor making the Bible the law of the land for Christians
  • Roughly eight-in-ten Israeli Arabs (79%) say there is a lot of discrimination in Israeli society against Muslims, who are by far the biggest of the religious minorities. On this issue, Jews take the opposite view; the vast majority (74%) say they do not see much discrimination against Muslims in Israel
  • Nearly half of Israeli Jews say Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, including roughly one-in-five Jewish adults who strongly agree with this position
  • About one-in-six Muslims say they have been questioned by security officials (17%), prevented from traveling (15%) or physically threatened or attacked (15%) because of their religion in the past 12 months, while 13% say they have suffered property damage. All told, 37% of Muslims say they have suffered at least one of these forms of discrimination because of their religious identity in the past year
  • The vast majority of Jews (98%), Muslims (85%), Christians (86%) and Druze (83%) say all or most of their close friends belong to their own religious community
  • Israeli Jews overall are more religiously observant than U.S. Jews. Politically, American Jews are more optimistic about the possibility of a peaceful two-state solution and more negative about Jewish settlements in the West Bank than are Israeli Jews
  • Israel is no longer a predominantly immigrant society; at present, roughly three-quarters of Israeli adults are natives, and just one-quarter were born abroad. Yet with virtual unanimity, Israeli Jews of every kind – native-born and immigrant, young and old, secular and highly religious – agree that all Jews everywhere should have the right to make “aliyah,” or move to Israel and receive immediate citizenship.2 This overwhelming support for Jewish immigration may be linked, in part, to perceptions about anti-Semitism. Fully three-quarters of Israeli Jews (76%) think that anti-Semitism is both common and increasing around the world, and roughly nine-in-ten (91%) say that a Jewish state is necessary for the long-term survival of the Jewish people.
  • A solid majority of Haredim (62%) favor gender segregation on public transportation, such as buses and trains, used by members of the Haredi community. Among Hilonim, meanwhile, just 5% favor this policy. The vast majority of Hilonim (93%) are opposed to enforcing gender segregation on any public transport, even when it is used by Haredim
  • The survey asked Jews whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Roughly half of Israeli Jews strongly agree (21%) or agree (27%), while a similar share disagree (29%) or strongly disagree (17%).3 Datiim are especially likely to favor the expulsion of Arabs. Roughly seven-in-ten (71%) say Arabs should be transferred. Hilonim lean in the other direction: Most (58%) disagree and say Arabs should not be expelled from Israel, including 25% who strongly disagree. But even among these self-described secular Israeli Jews, about one-third (36%) favor the expulsion of Arabs from the country
  • Seven-in-ten Haredim (70%) and roughly half of Datiim (52%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, while 3% of Haredim and 16% of Datiim say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture. Among Hilonim, by contrast, only 4% see being Jewish as primarily a matter of religion, while 83% say Jewish identity is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture. However, at least some members of all of these groups see their Jewish identity as bound up with both religion and ancestry/culture.
  • Arabs in Israel – especially Muslims – are more religiously observant than Jews as a whole. Fully two-thirds of Israeli Arabs say religion is very important in their lives, compared with just 30% of Jews. Israeli Muslims (68%), Christians (57%) and Druze (49%) all are more likely than Jews to say religion is very important to them, personally. In addition, more Arabs than Jews report that they pray daily and participate in weekly worship services.
  • Religious intermarriages cannot be performed in Israel (although civil marriages that take place in other countries are legally recognized in Israel).7 This is reflected in the rarity of marriages between members of different religious communities in the country. Nearly all Israelis in the survey who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner shares their religion. Relatively few married Muslim, Christian and Druze residents (1%) say their spouse has a different religion, and only 2% of married Jews say they have a spouse who belongs to a non-Jewish religion or is religiously unaffiliated.
  • Israeli Arabs are highly skeptical about the sincerity of the Israeli government in seeking a peace agreement, while Israeli Jews are equally skeptical about the sincerity of Palestinian leaders. But there is plenty of distrust to go around: Fully 40% of Israeli Jews say their own government is not making a sincere effort toward peace, and an equal share of Israeli Arabs say the same about Palestinian leaders.
  • While Muslims living in Israel, overall, are more religious than Israeli Jews, they are less religious than Muslims living in many other countries in the region. For example, about two-thirds of Muslims in Israel (68%) say religion is very important in their lives – higher than the comparable share of Lebanese Muslims (59%), but lower than the share of Muslims in Jordan (85%), the Palestinian territories (85%) and Iraq (82%) who say this.
Ed Webb

Morocco's little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence - A moment of religious harmony - 0 views

  • ONCE a year the little seaside town of Essaouira, in Morocco, reclaims its lost Jewish community. Sephardic trills echo from its whitewashed synagogues. The medieval souks fill with Jewish skullcaps. Rabbis and cantors wish Muslims “Shabbat Shalom” and regale them with Hebrew incantations
  • the initiative of André Azoulay, a 76-year-old Jew from Essaouira (one of just three) and a former counsellor to Morocco’s kings. Each autumn he stages a colourful festival of Andalusian music aimed at bringing hundreds of Jews and Muslims together for a weekend of concerts and dialogue. Locals pack the small stadium to watch Hebrew cantors and Koran-reciters sing arm-in-arm. Israelis and Palestinians flock there, too. “Essaouira is what the Middle East once was and might yet be again,” says Mr Azoulay.
  • When Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, many fled to Morocco. The Jewish population in the kingdom rose to over 250,000 by 1948, when the state of Israel was born. In the ensuing decades, as Arab-Jewish tensions increased, many left. Fewer than 2,500 remain—still more than anywhere else in the Arab world.
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  • The kingdom also boasts the Arab world’s only Jewish museum. “We used to have a six-pointed star on our flag and coins, like Israel,” says Zhor Rehihil, the curator (who is Muslim). “It was changed under French rule to five.”
  • One visiting Israeli official puts it thus: “Morocco’s Arabs are different to ours.”
Ed Webb

The Myth of the Muslim Country | Boston Review - 0 views

  • challenge the deep-seated and widely held assumption, held across the political spectrum, that Muslims are naturally, even preternaturally, violent. While seemingly easy to oppose, this notion draws sustenance from a much broader and deeper well of support than is often acknowledged by North American critics of far-right anti-Muslim politics. It enjoys the tacit support of a range of constituencies, including many liberal internationalists. It is not uncommon for critics of the Trump administration’s toxic religious politics, including from the progressive left, to repeat and reinforce the basic presumption that religion, particularly Islam, can be either good or bad, with the former lending itself to peaceful existence and the latter to oppression and violence
  • religious affiliation does not predict political behavior
  • It apparently no longer seems at all strange that the government—not just the present administration but any government, anywhere—would be vested with the legal and religious authority to determine who counts as Christian or Muslim
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  • Today’s focus on Muslim perpetrators as the problem—and the rescue of non-Muslim victims as the solution—draws on a toxic cocktail of nationalism, racism, and anti-Muslim politics that has been gathering strength for decades in North America, Europe, and beyond
  • Many liberals also speak of Islam and Muslim political actors as if they were singular agentive forces that can be analyzed, quantified, engaged, celebrated, condemned, or divided between good and bad. Yet there is no such thing as Muslim or Christian political behavior
  • To posit extremism as an organic expression of Islam renders us incapable of apprehending the broader political and social contexts in which discrimination and violence occur and empowers those who benefit from the notion that Islam is at war with the West
  • To identify Middle Eastern Muslims as the cause of these problems, and to propose “saving” their Christian “victims” as the solution, replaces serious discussion about politics and U.S. foreign policy with moral panic
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