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Ed Webb

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

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

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

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

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

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

"Whither a Muslim world?" - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • What is the “Muslim world?” Is it solely a descriptive term employed in the social sciences and humanities to name a shifting geographical boundary of Muslim-majority countries? Or, as its critics argue, is it a term that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a strategy to imagine a new transnational, religious unity at the end of empire?
  • precolonial forms of communal difference and interaction did not directly correspond to the kinds of intra- and inter-imperial claims concerning citizenship and belonging that were at stake in the formulation of the idea of the Muslim world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Citizenship under British, French, or Dutch rule often came with the promise of integration into the “civilized” political order, yet with varying degrees of fulfillment and often dependent on whether the colonial subject had been sufficiently “educated” into Europe’s civilizational order
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  • As Aydın shows, the most prominent strategy in the making of imperial subjects, as well as citizens, was the notion of civilization and its twin, race—that is, racialization. In this way, Aydın echoes Partha Chatterjee, who forcefully argues that colonial power operates through a “rule of colonial difference,” where the colonized are embedded in social and political relations of inferiority vis-à-vis their colonial counterparts. For Chatterjee, this is done through emergent notions of race and practices of racial difference.
  • Aydın’s argument resonates with Chatterjee’s insistence on racial difference as a key component of imperial power and Scott’s critical revision that the creation of racialized subjects takes place through practices that change over time, adapting to new circumstances thus enabling the production of new kinds statements, arguments, and practices in turn.
  • While the idea of bounded entities, which are, supposedly, culturally and religiously distinct, has been subject to numerous revisions and criticisms, it has maintained a constant presence in news media and policy circles. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” narrative has reappeared in the likes of Donald Trump’s recent speech in Poland, where he questions, in racially and religiously coded terms, whether the “West has the will to survive,” or if its “civilization” can be “preserved”; these are strong indications of the lasting hold of imperial concepts on the imagination of policymakers and politicians even as we acknowledge a transformation in the historical conditions of their articulation.
  • assuming the adjective “Muslim” tells us something about the kinds of political actions one undertakes is not only delusional, but also dangerous for democratic politics.
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