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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

What is the 'proper' place of religion? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • In its more insistently assertive form, the line drawn in the name of secularism is sharp and one which squeezes out religion from the public sphere, reducing and limiting it to a matter of private, individual conscience. An example of this is the assertive sense of laïcité found in France, where there are bans on religious clothing in public schools (especially focussed on the Islamic headscarf) and face covering in public spaces (targeting burqas and niqabs); ‘burkinis’ have also been banned in some areas, and a recent controversy has erupted in relation to Muslim women wearing headscarves when accompanying children on school trips.
  • Other secularisms, such as the forms of moderate secularism of most of the rest of Western Europe, draw a softer line and are more tolerant of religion’s public presence. In many ways religion is not only permitted but also encouraged in the public sphere. This is often through state-religion connections where religious organisations play a significant role in welfare provision in partnership with the state
  • We might say that the secular state in this sense is interested in religion as far as it can serve the state’s purposes, providing services for its citizens that it is unable or unwilling to provide itself. It is not, however, interested in the religious reasons and motivations orienting these groups, and a deeper engagement at this level is either not sought or perhaps deliberately avoided.
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  • at a time when multiculturalism has brought issues of religion and politics back to the foreground, religious literacy is lacking
  • such arrangements may serve to contain the critical voice and positive role religious faiths can play in the public sphere precisely because of their religious orientation, in challenging such things as the misuse of power or excesses of capitalism, for instance, and how this role might contribute towards developing a more equal society
  • a religiously literate secularity is a benefit to everyone
  • such literacy improves rather than detracts from the ability to engage with religion when its societal impact might be negative. A will to understand is surely more powerful here than a will to ignorance. The presence of religious reasons, language and motivations in the public sphere provides a deeper engagement with them, which both enables better understanding between co-citizens of different faiths, denominations and none, as well as a more literate way of challenging them where that is necessary and where it is part of a healthy democratic engagement.
Ed Webb

How French Secularism Became Fundamentalist | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • In the end, Charlie Hebdo warns, the only defense against terrorism, the only defense against ending up in a France of veiled women and daily prayer, is a form of militant secularism: one that doesn’t flinch at making the leap from pious baker to radical bomb-maker
  • Laïcité, the French term for secularism, today has acquired so much mystique as to be practically an ideology, a timeless norm that defines Frenchness.
  • There was essentially no substantive difference between the style of secularism envisioned by the founders of laïcité and the framers of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As in the United States, French secularism initially sought to ensure religious pluralism in the public and private spheres — nothing more, nothing less.
    • Ed Webb
       
      This claim is at odds with the historical record
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  • n 1989, a few Muslim girls were expelled from school when they refused to take off their hijabs, or headscarves, which the principal believed was an assault on the secular character of public schools. Shortly after, the French administrative court, the Conseil d’État, ordered them to be reinstated. But two years after 9/11, when similar incidents were repeated at other schools, the court reversed its original finding. While all “ostentatious” signs of religious faith — be they Jewish yarmulkes or Sikh turbans — were declared verboten in public schools, everyone knew that the principal target of the law was the hijab.
    • Ed Webb
       
      The process of removing religious signs began in the Fourth Republic
  • From the Parti de Gauche on the extreme left to the National Front on the extreme right, there is the same fundamentalist vision of laïcité. The world, according to these defenders of the term, is one without headscarves in schools, without burkinis in stores, and without the faithful praying in the streets. It is also a world with pork served in school lunches and holidays based on the Christian (not Muslim or Jewish) calendars. It is, taken to extremes, a world where Muslims eat, drink, and dress like proper Frenchmen and women.
Ed Webb

A Tale of Two Moralities, Part One: Regional Inequality and Moral Polarization - Niskan... - 0 views

  • Conservatives fifty years ago opposed interracial marriage, but now they mostly don’t. Why not? Haidt and his colleagues find that conservatives have a stronger sense of moral purity, contamination, and disgust than liberals. That was as true in 1967 as it is in 2017. But conservatives in 1967 were likely to find interracial marriage a disgusting contamination of racial purity in a way that most conservatives in 2017 just don’t. What changed? There’s little reason to believe that the psychological attributes that incline an individual to conservative or liberal attitudes have much changed. It’s much more likely that the cultural triggers of the conservative purity and disgust response changed. And why did that change? Because our entire culture has become more broadly liberal—more egalitarian, tolerant, and individualistic—in its attitudes, shifting the whole range of opinion in a broadly liberal direction.
  • As countries become wealthier, their people generally become less and less concerned with mere physical survival and the values associated with survival, and more and more concerned with self-expression and autonomy. People animated by survival values prefer security over liberty, are suspicious of outsiders, dislike homosexuality, don’t put much stock in politics, and tend not to be very happy. In contrast, those fueled by self-expressive values prefer liberty over security, are welcoming to outsiders, tolerant of homosexuality (or most any expression of the real, authentic, inner self), are more positive about politics and political participation, and tend to be fairly satisfied with life.
  • Cultures also tend to transition from “traditional” to “secular-rational” attitudes about the grounds of moral, cultural, and political authority as they modernize and gain distance from mass poverty and material insecurity. Traditionalists about authority are generally religious; prize traditional notions of marriage and family; esteem obedience; and wave the flag with zesty, patriotic pride. In contrast, people with secular-rational values are less religious; aren’t so troubled by Heather having two Dads; are more likely to question and defy authority; and take less pride from national membership.
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  • This strong connection between a society’s value system and its per capita GDP suggests that economic development tends to produce roughly predictable changes in a society’s beliefs and values, and time-series evidence supports this hypothesis. When one compares the positions of given countries in successive waves of the values surveys, one finds that almost all the countries that experienced rising per capita GDPs also experienced predictable shifts in their values.
  • countries with moral cultures that emphasize self-expressive, secular-rational values demand and enjoy the most freedom
  • Secular-rational and self-expressive values tend to move in the same direction over time, but they don’t always, and in the United States they haven’t. If you watch the below animation of the cultural map through time, you’ll see that since the World Values Survey began, the United States has become significantly more secular-rational, while losing ground on self-expressive values.
  • World Values Survey results for countries as populous, diverse, and geographically large as the United States can be misleading. Small aggregate shifts can hide large swings in particular regions and sub-populations
  • If the United States has shifted slightly toward survival values and away from self-expressive values in the aggregate, it seems likely that there has been a large shift toward survival values in large swathes of the country that swamped the forward march of college towns and big cities toward self-expressive values. Likewise, a small aggregate shift toward secular-rational values can conceal a much larger shift in the places liberals live, offset by a somewhat smaller shift toward traditional values elsewhere.  
  • United States may be dividing into two increasingly polarized cultures: an increasingly secular-rational and self-expression oriented “post-materialist” culture concentrated in big cities and the academic archipelago, and a largely rural and exurban culture that has been tilting in the opposite direction, toward zero-sum survival values, while trying to hold the line on traditional values
  • If we were to plot urban “blue” America on the WVS map, my guess is that it would fall in the “Protestant Europe” zone, perhaps somewhere between the Netherlands and Norway. If we were to plot low-density “red” America on the WVS map, I’d guess it would, like Northern Ireland, fall on the border of the “Latin America” zone, near Uruguay and Argentina
  • the United States recently went through a big recession, but so did the rest of the world. That, and the wave of foreclosures that precipitated it, might account for some of the shift toward survival values. But then there’s the U.S.’s unusual sharp increase in income inequality, which is symptomatic of a deeper trend in diverging material conditions
  • If you’re searching for ideas about why the United States’ has been sliding away from liberalizing self-expression values, and becoming less and less free, it makes sense to look at the things that differentiate the U.S. from its English speaking cousins. Significantly higher economic inequality is one of those things.
  • “Skill-biased technical change” is the economist’s term for the fact that advances in technology increase the productivity, and thus the pay, of highly-educated workers more than less-educated workers. Because the U.S. system of primary education is incredibly variable in quality, and garbage on average, we’ve been unable to meet market demand for skilled workers, further driving up the wage premium for education, while leaving people in areas with ineffective schools struggling to get by without the sort of skills the labor market wants. Meanwhile, the minority of highly-educated Americans are becoming more and more heavily concentrated in cities, and have been enjoying steadily increasing incomes.
  • The geographic concentration of economic production has increased over the past fifteen years, due to the feedback between human capital concentration and the choices of high-productivity firms to locate in those places. As the Economist noted last March: In 2001 the richest 50 cities and their surroundings produced 27% more per head than America as a whole. Today’s richest cities make 34% more. Measured by total GDP, the decoupling is greater still, because prosperous cities are sucking in disproportionate numbers of urbanising Americans. Between 2010 and 2014 America’s population grew by 3.1%; its cities, by 3.7%. But the 50 richest cities swelled by 9.2%.
  • the Trump vs. Clinton population density divide really amounts to a high-output/low-output economic divide. With few exceptions, the counties responsible for a more than a trivial portion of American GDP preferred Clinton over Trump.
  • According to Muro and Lui, in the 2000 election, which also featured a split in the popular and electoral votes, Bush won 2397 counties, accounting for 46% of GDP, while Gore won 659 counties accounting for 54% of GDP. In the 2016 election, the general pattern repeats: the Republican candidate wins many many more counties responsible for a smaller share of American economic output, but the asymmetry has become even crazier. Clinton took just 472 counties, which account for 64% of GDP, while Trump took 2584, which account for just 36% of GDP.  That’s amazing.
  • I suspect cultural and moral polarization is being driven by the Great Divergence—by inequality between densely and sparsely populated regions—rather than by inequality within cities, where the gap between rich and poor is the widest
  • While the urban poor and working classes have benefited in a number ways from the concentration of human capital and wealth in their cities, very little has trickled down to the rest of America. Much of the problem is that, as Moretti emphasizes, the “good jobs” are increasingly concentrated in big cities. This means that wage growth generally has been very low for the (mainly white) middle and lower income classes outside big urban centers. But there’s more to material security than income. There’s also wealth. Americans tend to store their wealth in their houses. Much of the country still has not recovered from the housing crises. As Michela Zonta, Sarah Edelman, and Colin McArthur of the Center for American Progress observe, counties that shifted from Obama in 2012 to Trump in 2016 had unusually high rates of negative equity.  
  • the labor force participation rate for prime-age men decreased from 98% in 1954 to 88% last year. This is the second largest decrease among any of the OECD countries
  • the huge increase in women’s labor force participation and economic independence over this period, which has shifted power relations between men and women in a way that working-class men have found especially hard to adjust to. It’s not just about decline in manufacturing employment and the lack of “good jobs” men happen to find suitably dignified, through it is partly about that.
  •  The higher the death rate from overdose and suicide in Rust Belt areas, the more Trump tended to outperform Romney. When it came to predicting Trump’s gains over Romney, The Economist found that the only factor that could did better than an area’s percentage of whites without college education was an index of public health metrics
  • the specific subset of Mr Trump’s voters that won him the election—those in counties where he outperformed Mr Romney by large margins—live in communities that are literally dying.
  • The idea that an increasing sense of material precariousness can lead to cultural retreat from liberalizing “self-expression” values can help us understand why low-density white America turned out to support a populist leader with disturbingly illiberal tendencies. But this idea can also help us understand why our larger national culture seems to be growing apart in a way that has made it seem harder and harder to communicate constructively across the gap.
  • Given the specific counter-majoritarian mechanisms in the U.S. constitution, this is a recipe for political dominance of the less economically productive conservative white minority, who control most of the country’s territory, over the liberal multicultural majority who live in increasingly concentrated urban centers of wealth. To the extent that increasing economic security is liberalizing and stagnation and decline tend toward an illiberal, zero-sum survival mindset, this amounts to a recipe for the political imposition of relatively illiberal policy on increasingly liberal and increasingly economically powerful cities. This is not a stable situation, and bodes ill for the future of American freedom.
  • I think the cultural antagonisms generated by the polarizing material consequences of the Great Divergence have their own internal logic, which has led to a sense of winner-take-all culture war hostility that exacerbates the instability of America’s basic economic and political situation
Ed Webb

Why Muslim-majority countries need secular citizenship and law-making | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • once a political system is based on a religion, it is almost impossible to define the citizens who do not follow that religion as “first class.” In Iran and Iraq, rising legal and political influence of Shiism has led the discrimination against Sunni citizens, and in Pakistan and Egypt the opposite has happened, to a certain extent. Moreover, several Christian and non-Muslim minorities have faced discrimination by various means, including apostasy and blasphemy laws, in Sudan and Malaysia, among other cases.
  • Truly maintaining equal citizenship to all regardless of their religious identities is crucial for Muslim-majority countries to achieve democratization, consolidate the rule of law, and end sectarian and religious tensions.
  • equal citizenship in Muslim-majority countries will empower those who defend rights of Muslim minorities facing persecution and even ethnic cleansing in such cases as China, India, and Myanmar, and experiencing Islamophobia in western countries. By maintaining the rights of their own minorities, Muslim-majority countries may gain stronger moral and legal grounds to defend rights of Muslim minorities at the global level.
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  • Islamic jurisprudence inherently contradicts democratic politics
  • In the twentieth century, secularist rulers adopted secular legal systems in Turkey, Iraq, Tunisia, and several other Muslim-majority cases. These assertive secularist regimes were mostly authoritarian. Therefore, they did not allow the law-making processes to be truly participatory. Secularism appears to be necessary but not sufficient for participatory legislation, too.
  • As my new book Islam, Authoritarianism, and Underdevelopment: A Global and Historical Comparison explains, there existed a certain level of separation between religious and political authorities in the first four centuries of Islamic history.That is why the first systematic book about “Islamic” politics was written as late as the mid-eleventh century. It was Mawardi’s The Ordinances of Government. The book argues that an Islamic government is based on a caliph (an Arab man from the Quraish tribe) to rule all Muslims. The caliph holds the entire political and legal authority and stays in power for life. The caliph delegates his legitimate authority to sultans, governors, and judges.The second book, which systematically defines an Islamic political system, was written in the early fourteenth century. It is Ibn Taymiyya’s Sharia-based Governance in Reforming Both the Ruler and His Flock. Instead of the one-man rule of a caliph, this book emphasizes the alliance between the ulema and the state authorities. Ibn Taymiyya interprets the only phrase in the Quran about authority, “uli’l-amr” (4:59), as referring to the ulema and the rulers (though other scholars have interpreted it differently).
  • To implement Mawardi’s idea of caliphate today would imply to establish an extreme autocracy. Ibn Taymiyya’s ideas are not helpful to solve modern political problems either. In fact, the ulema-state alliance is the source of various problems in many Muslim-majority countries.
  • To maintain a certain level of separation between Islam and legal systems may limit the exploitation of Islam for political purposes.
  • recent Islamization (at the political, legal and ideological levels) has weakened secular fundamentals of citizenship and law-making in many Muslim-majority countries.
Ed Webb

Updated with Audio: Secular Good, Muslim Bad: Unveiling Tunisia's Revolution | Religion... - 0 views

  • Nobody expected Tunisia—“modern,” “secular,” and among the most “Westernized” of Arab nations—to throw off its nauseating government; in 2008’s Press Freedom Index, Tunisia ranked 164th out of 178 countries. Culturally, Tunisia appeared to have gone in all the right directions, so why had it politically failed? And why didn’t we expect it? It’s because of this mind-map: If an Arab/Muslim is culturally Western, he is naturally in favor of democracy; if culturally other, he is some kind of authoritarian.
  • We still can’t seem to get past this confusion of personal belief with political order, especially since Islam is such a visible religion, and our idea of religiosity assumes that what is visible cannot be uncoerced (and uncoercive)
  • How do we even determine religious reasons?
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  • the simple need to define Arabs as either secular (like us) or religious (unlike us)
  • Tunisia’s oppressive regime also oppressed religion
  • the secular brand is badly tarnished, because it’s often associated with either the colonizer or indigenous elites who forced local cultures to change
Ed Webb

Egypt: Lessons from Iran | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • There is no doubt that Egypt cannot go back to what it was under Mubarak, but the shape of the future system is very much dependent upon the presence of the youth, women, and the working people in articulating and pushing for their democratic demands in the public sphere. A crucial lesson from Iran for the progressive secular forces - the left, liberals, feminists, artists and intellectuals - is to not sacrifice their secular democratic demands, and not to trust the army, the Islamists or the traditional elite. 
  • another lesson from Iran is that in the post-revolutionary anarchy there is always the danger that the reactionary forces use the religious beliefs of the masses to get the upper hand
  • The clerical/military oligarchy in Iran, with its intricate network of religious, repressive and economic institutions and multiple military and intelligence systems, is highly complex and also independent from any foreign power. It is a fascist-type system that still has millions on the payroll of the state and para-statal organizations, including religious foundations. It has also shown on numerous occasions that it does not hesitate to use extreme brutality against its opposition. In the long run, its fate will not be different from those of other dictatorships and authoritarian regimes in the Middle East or elsewhere, but the Iranian people unfortunately have a much more difficult fight ahead of them.
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  • The US and Israel can no longer rely on dependable and friendly Arab dictators, and will finally have to take the aspirations for genuine peace with the Palestinians seriously. The Middle East may seem to be caught between a rock and a hard place – that is, between secular dictatorships and Islamic fundamentalisms. But indeed a third alternative, a secular democratic one, does exist. We must hope that the democratic forces in all these countries will eventually be able to harness both the Islamists and the militarists.
Ed Webb

The perils of mixing religion and politics: the case of Turkey | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • Turkey was touted as a model of secularism in Muslim society, which could only be achieved, it was argued, top-down through state imposition. By the end of the century, however, when postmodern multiculturalism prevailed, Turkey began to be seen as an example of authoritarian secularism, intolerant of religious expression.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Not wrong, but the passives here hide who held these opinions.
  • Erdoğan’s rejection of the designation and his unconcealed intention to institute an Islamic regime throw in doubt the existence of a difference between the goals of the so-called “moderate” and “radical” Islamisms, except perhaps in terms of political method. On 28 November 2019, during the closing session of a meeting of the Religious Council of Turkey, Erdoğan clearly stated his priorities as President:“According to our faith, religion is not restricted to certain spaces and times. Islam is a set of rules and prohibitions that embrace all aspects of our lives. … We have been commanded to live as Muslims … No one can deny these tenets, because a Muslim is obligated to adapt his life to the essence of his religion and not the religion to his conditions of existence. … Even if it may be hard for us, we will place the rules of our religion at the center of our lives and not the requirements of our time.”
  • I want to question the wisdom of mixing religion and politics, as pursued by the AKP government.
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  • in foreign affairs, the government pursues a “neo-Ottomanist” policy, building on Muslim Brotherhood networks, losing allies and tending to resort to military hard power in the region instead of diplomatic soft power
  • Domestically, intervention in people’s life-styles, primarily in the form of restricting the consumption of alcohol through exorbitant taxation and a policy of limiting times and zones of alcohol sale and consumption, does not only violate citizens’ freedom of choice, but has also indirectly caused loss of lives owing to the illegal production and sale of fake drinks to evade the restrictions
  • discrimination on the basis of religious identity or degree of religiosity, including in public employment, has been rampant
  • Erdoğan’s repeated calls since 2012 to “raise pious generations” led to a radical overhaul of the entire educational infrastructure. Religious instruction began to occupy a greater part of the curriculum at all levels. More specifically, Imam-Hatip Schools, originally created in the early republican period to train preachers and prayer leaders employed by the Directorate of Religious Affairs (DRA), began to turn into a mainstream venue for secondary education for both boys and girls.
  • The total number of Imam-Hatip middle and high schools (the former had been previously closed but then reopened by the AKP government in 2012) went from 2215 (in 2013-2014) to 5017 (in 2018-2019), housing over one million pupils.
  • the success rate of Imam-Hatip graduates in university entrance exams is the lowest among all types of high schools
  • Nearly half of the 200+ (public and private) universities in Turkey have faculties of theology, the majority of which opened since 2010, and currently enroll more than 100,000 students, 60 percent of which are women. Moreover, the recent trend in the appointment of university rectors by President Erdoğan has been in favor of those with Islamic theology backgrounds.
  • A pamphlet prepared by the DRA and distributed free of charge in early 2019 expounds the inverse relationship between secular education and religiosity, and suggests that higher levels of education encourage “individualism and freedom” and discourage “belief and worship.”
  • The threat that “secular education” poses to the government is not illusory. There is indeed an inverse relationship between the level of education and the level of religiosity, and, likewise, the electoral support for the AKP is in an inverse relationship with the level of education, but in direct correlation with the level of religiosity.
  • Those youths from the secularist upper and middle classes, whose families could afford to send them abroad for better education, have begun to leave the country. Those youths from the conservative lower classes, whose families have been the power base of the AKP, may be unable to leave but they have begun to turn away from religion. Reports indicate a decline in religiosity and rise in deism and atheism, alarming the AKP government and its religious establishment. It appears that mixing religion with politics does not even serve religious purposes. Politics needs to be kept free of religion.
  • After 9/11, Turkey was flaunted again, this time as a model of “moderate Islam,” an alternative to the presumably dangerous “radical” version
Ed Webb

Opinion | France cynically targets Muslim women - again - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • France, more than any other European country, has struggled with a wave of Islamist violence that has led to the death of more than 230 people. One response to these attacks from the political right and the center-left has been a rhetorical hardening on Islam and its place in French society. But many French Muslims and other minority voices say this hardening has often stifled good-faith criticism of government policies
  • I was called a terrorist and repeatedly harassed by social media trolls, only to find out they’d been funded by the French government
  • several organizations were given money without having to demonstrate their previous work on radicalization or, for some of them, to demonstrate any work at all. And some of those organizations and their representatives had personal relationships with Schiappa. Then it appeared that some of the money doled out by the government was ultimately used in the 2022 presidential campaign to criticize opponents of Emmanuel Macron, which is not legal. The government’s money cannot be used in favor of a candidate during a campaign — it has to be neutral.
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  • some of those organizations used that money to harass people online, including me. A number of other anti-racist and feminist advocates were targeted. The worst was when they depicted a number of us together in an illustration that also showed the face of Salah Abdeslam, the convicted terrorist who was mastermind of the 2015 attacks on Paris. Even some of the government’s allies had to ask: Should tax dollars be used to harass and defame public figures who are seen as criticizing the government?
  • announced the ban of abayas and qamis — traditional garments — in public schools, interpreting them as “religious outfits.” This is in keeping with France’s principle of laïcité, or secularism, which enshrines the neutrality of the state toward religious observance and the freedom of belief. Since 2004, laïcité has become a political football, especially in schools.
  • There’s no question that all of this constitutes a legitimate national trauma, but this very real fear is used by the government to depict the way some Muslim teenagers dress not only as a “violation of secularism” but also as “an attack” and “an attempt to destabilize” the French republic.
  • This is warlike rhetoric, and it treats teenage female Muslims as a monolithic entity — and a threat.
  • recent years show that it is impossible for any Muslim woman who wears a religious sign to be visible in the public sphere. And I connect this to my own experience as a Black and Muslim woman. Being in the public eye and outspoken on Islamophobia, I have faced many attempts to silence me.
  • France has been tremendously ingenious and imaginative to make sure to enable its narrow conception of national identity. France pursues an ideal of assimilation and uses laïcité as an instrument to standardize the display of cultures
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

Let's Talk About Sex - 0 views

  • To begin with, it is purportedly about how sex shapes the world’s politics. But with the exception of one article that urges US foreign policy makers to understand women as a foreign policy issue and a target of their “smart-power arsenal,” its focus is almost exclusively on Iran, the Arab world, and China. Thus “the world” is reduced for the most part to Arabs, Iranians, and Chinese—not a coincidental conglomeration of the “enemy.” The current war on women in the United States is erased.
  • A naked and beautiful woman’s flawless body unfolds a niqab of black paint. She stares at us afraid and alluring. We are invited to sexualize and rescue her at once. The images reproduce what Gayatri Spivak critiqued as the masculine and imperial urge to save sexualized (and racialized) others. The photo spread is reminiscent of Theo van Gogh's film Submission, based on Ayyan Hirsli Ali’s writings, in which a woman with verses of the Quran painted on her naked body and wearing a transparent chador writhes around a dimly lit room. Foreign Policy’s “Sex Issue” montage is inspired by the same logic that fuels Submission: we selectively highlight the plight of women in Islam using the naked female body as currency. The female body is to be consumed, not covered!
  • We would suggest, as many have, that oppression is about men and women. The fate of women in the Arab world cannot be extracted from the fate of men in the Arab world, and vice versa. El Tahawy's article conjures an elaborate battle of the sexes where men and women are on opposing teams, rather than understanding that together men and women must fight patriarchal systems in addition to exploitative practices of capitalism, authoritarianism, colonialism, liberalism, religion, and/or secularism.
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  • Indeed, the hatred of the people, women and men, has been a, if not the, unifying characteristic of col
  • Hatred is irrational. It is a state or emotion. As Wendy Brown reminds us, such emotional or affective states are understood to be outside of, or unwelcome in, liberalism.
  • critical thinkers have long argued that this practice has more to do with the lack of economic opportunity for women, the imperative to marry, and the hardening and modernization of tradition in response to colonial and neocolonial interventions (including rights frameworks) than some irrational and razor crazed “hatred.” The same insight could be extended to the question of ages of consent. A reductive framework of hatred makes these topics even more difficult to critically think about and work on.
  • to reflect on why the liberalism that Sha‘rawi and her cohorts fought for—men and women—drastically and resoundingly failed. One reason, and there are many, was that liberalism resonated with only a small elite. As Hanan Kholoussy points out, women under domestic confinement who like Sha‘rawi were expected to don the face veil made up only two percent of Egypt’s five million females at the end of the nineteenth century
  • moderate Islam has often been produced on the wings of women's and minority rights
  • in the Palestinian context, the women’s movement lacked a coherent strategy linking gender equality to democracy. The women’s movement thus appeared to be sponsored by the Palestinian Authority; its fate became dependent on that of the political system
  • Turkey, Algeria, Egypt are situations where you have small women’s movements whose popular legitimacy is lost because over time they have been seen as linked to or sponsored by authoritarian secular regimes.1
  • We respectfully invite El Tahawy to join the conversation among women and men in Tahrir and outside of it. After all, the shameful and state-sanctioned sexual violence of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ “virginity tests” did not take place in silence. They happened a day after International Women’s Day when women claimed Tahrir as a space of gender equality and liberation. The “virginity tests” did not meet silence either, as El Tahawy herself points out. Samira Ibrahim continues her fight; her following and her courage are formidable.
  • There is no one answer because there is no single culprit, no single “culture” or “hatred” that we can root out and replace with “tolerance” or “love.” Similarly, the absence of a sustained and critical attention to sex and gender cannot be solved, syllabus style, by a separate glossy special “Sex Issue,” the content and form of which reproduce what it purports to critique.
Ed Webb

Donor-driven Islam ? | openDemocracy - 0 views

  • Three examples of the policy direction of Anglo-American international development agencies, particularly DFID and USAID, highlight the new directions of ‘donor-driven Islam’ -  development assistance that introduces a creeping theocratization of formerly rights-based approaches to gender.
  • Ulama is a vague umbrella term for an imagined clergy which has no constitutional nor democratic legitimacy.
  • If anything, the widespread practice of contracting the assistance of local religious leaders for distributing contraception and for other gender-related projects has resulted in the empowerment of a traditionally discredited local clergy. In Baluchistan, in an interview with the author, development activists agreed that these amounted to “Rent-A-Maulvi” projects.
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  • There is no internal consensus within Muslim majority countries regarding a singular or even dominant religious or political identity. Muslim women, including feminists, face very different identity issues in the West  when compared to Pakistan. Therefore, the strategies that may work for them within a pluralist, secular state such as the UK have very different implications when transposed to Islamic republics such as Pakistan. Thus when Pakistani feminist researchers become implicated in projects that foreground religion in their home contexts, the secular indigenous possibilities and spaces become more vulnerable, and the results become self-defeating. 
  • The complex realities of the ways in which religious identities play out in Muslim majority countries often bear little resemblance to the findings of the academic exercises mentioned above. Such research needs more rigorous scrutiny not just in terms of its methodology but also of its politics, before it starts informing policy and, more worryingly, starts to shape development interventions.
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

How the Muslim World Lost the Freedom to Choose - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Beyond skirts and beaches, the 1960s and 1970s were also a time of vigorous intellectual debate about the role of religion in society. Debates between leftists, secularists, capitalists, Marxists, and Islamists raged across the region, from Egypt to Pakistan. Militant Islamists will dismiss those decades of more progressive, diverse thought and culture as decadent Western imports — the lingering after-effects of colonial influence. But if some of it was certainly emulation, much of it was also indigenous.
  • “Purifying the Land of the Pure.” The book, published last year, charts the slow death of minority rights and pluralism in Pakistan, and what it means for the future of democracy. The result is a sweeping but concise chronicle of how things unraveled. A minority herself, as a Shiite, Ispahani was careful to avoid polemic and opinion by delivering a thorough, methodically researched work. She and her husband, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, have both faced death threats for their work and live in self-imposed exile in Washington. In her book, Ispahani tracks the unraveling to within a few years of the independence of Pakistan. The country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah — a secular Shiite — envisioned a country where “you are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” But Ispahani writes that “his hopeful declaration of religious pluralism” remains unfulfilled.
  • The trend toward making Islam a central tenet of life in Pakistan started soon after independence in 1947, a result of Muslim feelings of being victimized by both Hindus and British colonialism in India. By 1973, Islam was declared as the state religion of Pakistan. In 1974, under the ostensibly progressive Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. A Muslim movement that started in the late 19th century, Ahmadis follow the teachings of the Quran and consider their founder to be a prophet, upsetting orthodox Muslims who believe Muhammad is the final prophet.
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  • Shiites and their mosques are still regular targets of deadly attacks: Since 2003, an estimated 2,558 Shiites have been killed in sectarian violence.
  • While there was no sudden, overnight transformation, Ispahani nevertheless identifies Zia’s rule as the point of no return. The military ruler Islamized the laws of the country, introducing sharia courts and new Islamic laws known as hudood ordinances, which apply strict Sharia punishments for specific offenses. It was during his time that the blasphemy laws were strengthened, adding life sentences and the death penalty as punishment.
  • Zia’s legacy remains, entrenched in the system and people’s daily lives. Pakistanis under the age of 40 have never experienced any other lifestyle, while the older generations reminisce about a more diverse past — even as they also gloss over some of that past’s shortcomings. But however it came about, Pakistan’s growing intolerance has taken its toll on diversity: Between 1947 and today, minorities went from 25 percent of the population to 3 percent.
  • Ispahani’s book serves as a reminder that something far more profound than miniskirts has been lost in these countries. Washington’s counterterrorism policies, which help curb groups like the Taliban, are a good start, but they often fail to go any further toward restoring basic norms like respect for diversity. That will ultimately depend on the efforts of the local population themselves. Those efforts may be able to draw on the power of nostalgia. When people in Pakistan, Egypt, or Afghanistan rifle through the photo albums of their parents and grandparents and wonder what happened to their country, they see skirts or cleavage — but they desire diversity and freedom of choice
Ed Webb

Imperialist feminism redux - Saadia Toor - 0 views

  • In the 19th and early 20th century, the civilising mission through which colonialism was justified was supported by western feminists who spoke in the name of a ‘global sisterhood of women’ and aimed to ‘save’ their brown sisters from the shackles of tradition and barbarity. Today, this imperialist feminism has re-emerged in a new form, but its function remains much the same – to justify war and occupation in the name of ‘women’s rights’ . Unlike before, this imperialist feminist project includes feminists from the ‘Global South’. Take, for example, the case of American feminists, Afghan women and the global war on terror (GWoT).
  • there was one claim that proved instrumental in securing the consent of the liberals (and, to some extent, of the Left) in the US – the need to rescue Afghan women from the Taliban. This justification for the attack on Afghanistan seemed to have been relegated to the dustbin of history in the years of occupation that followed, reviled for what it was, a shameless attempt to use Afghan women as pawns in a new Great Game.  As the United States draws down its troops in Afghanistan, however, we have begun to see this ‘imperialist feminism’ emerge once again from a variety of constituencies both within the United States and internationally
  • how easily liberal (and left-liberal) guilt can be used to authorise terrible deeds
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  • The fact that the meme of the Muslim woman who must be saved from Islam and Muslim men – through the intervention of a benevolent western state – 11 years after the very real plight of Afghan women was cynically deployed to legitimise a global war, and long after the opportunism of this imperialist feminism was decisively exposed, points to a serious and deep investment in the assumptions that animate these claims. These assumptions come out of a palpable dis-ease with Islam within the liberal mainstream and portions of the Left, a result of the long exposure to Orientalist and Islamophobic discourses.
  • secularism is posited as the necessary prerequisite for achieving equal rights for women
  • The less-than-enthusiastic support for the Arab Spring by liberals on the basis of a fear that the Muslim Brotherhood would come to power (thereby implying that the human rights/women’s rights record of the regimes they were replacing was somehow better) illustrates the liberal anxiety regarding democracy when it comes to the Arab/Muslim ‘world’ and hints at the historical relationship between women’s movements and authoritarian regimes in the postcolonial period
  • Even as the United States officially begins to wind down its war in Afghanistan, the GWoT – recently rebranded as the Overseas Contingency Operation by President Obama – is spreading and intensifying across the ‘Muslim world’, and we can expect to hear further calls for the United States and its allies to save Muslim women. At the same time, we are seeing the mainstreaming and institutionalisation of a gendered anti-Muslim racism within the west, which means that we can also expect to see more of the discourse which pits the rights of Muslim men against those of Muslim women.
  • caution against seeing Muslim women as exceptional victims (of their culture/religion/men), and to point out both that there are family resemblances between the violence suffered by women across the world and that there is no singular ‘Muslim woman’s experience’
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