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Ed Webb

Russia Promotes Politically Pacifist Islam - The Atlantic - 0 views

  • Moscow’s focus on promoting politically pacifist Islam, which has coincided with an aggressive push by certain Arab countries to combat Islamism
  • Russian emissary for this effort is Ramzan Kadyrov, the head of the Chechen Republic
  • An early example of the Russian-Arab religious alliance was an international conference of Islamic scholars held in the Chechen capital, Grozny, by Kadyrov in September 2016
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  • co-organized by religious leaders with close ties to the governments in Egypt and the United Arab Emirates—two countries widely perceived to be particularly hostile to political Islam
  • In October 2017, during a meeting with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz reportedly discussed Islamic proselytization in Russia. Saudi and Russian officials told Theodore Karasik, a Russia expert in Washington, that the king agreed to pull the plug on mosque funding and proselytization. (Last February, Riyadh made a similar move when it gave up control of Belgium’s largest mosque, notorious as a breeding ground for extremism.)
  • Russia’s Islamic outreach became more visible, at least in the Middle East, in 2016, precisely when anti-Muslim sentiments in Western countries appeared on the rise, and Russian trolls and bots were spewing anti-Muslim rhetoric on American political forums
  • while theological schisms remain vast between the views of Kadyrov and his Saudi hosts, the Russian-Saudi relationship is strong
  • Russia may also be attempting to counter the widespread perception that Moscow is hostile to Islam (because of the lingering legacy of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan) or to Sunni Islam in particular (because the country is associated with Iran and its proxies)
  • Moscow’s desire to distinguish itself from the United States
  • Over the summer, Kadyrov was welcomed like royalty in Saudi Arabia. Saudi authorities let him inside Prophet Mohammed’s room, which is closed to all but special guests
  • “Ramzan Kadyrov has made it one of his top priorities in recent years to build friendships throughout the Middle East, in particular the Gulf. Kadyrov portrays Chechnya as essentially an independent Islamic state,” says Neil Hauer, a Georgia-based political analyst on Syria, Russia, and the Caucasus. “Kadyrov also offers Arab and Gulf leaders … his experience in crushing a domestic Islamist insurgency.”
  • Several countries in the Middle East and North Africa are working together more closely than ever to suppress extremism and steer local populations to a new understanding of street protests as a tool of jihadists and an obstacle to social peace
  • The U.S. and other Western countries may not accept the principle that Islamists and Salafis are as dangerous as militant jihadis. Russia, by promoting a particular brand of Islamic moderation in unison with Arab powers, could cement its position in the region more deeply than through economic and military means alone
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

Arab Regimes Are the World's Most Powerful Islamophobes - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • an often-overlooked trend: the culpability of Arab and Muslim governments in fueling anti-Muslim hate as part of their campaigns to fight dissent at home and abroad. By trying to justify repression and appease Western audiences, some of these regimes and their supporters have forged an informal alliance with conservative and right-wing groups and figures in the West dedicated to advancing anti-Islamic bigotry
  • Arab regimes spend millions of dollars on think tanks, academic institutions, and lobbying firms in part to shape the thinking in Western capitals about domestic political activists opposed to their rule, many of whom happen to be religious. The field of counterextremism has been the ideal front for the regional governments’ preferred narrative: They elicit sympathy from the West by claiming to also suffer from the perfidies of radical jihadis and offer to work together to stem the ideological roots of the Islamist threat.
  • scare tactics to play up the threat and create an atmosphere in which an alternative to these regimes becomes unthinkable from a Western policy standpoint
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  • Such an environment also enables these regimes to clamp down on dissent at home with impunity. Terrorism becomes a catchall term to justify repression. In Saudi Arabia, even atheists are defined as terrorists under existing anti-terrorism laws
  • David Duke, the former Ku Klux Klan leader who visited Damascus in 2005 to show solidarity with the Syrian regime against Zionism and imperialism, frequently expressed support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad despite the dictator’s vicious campaign against his own people. In a 2017 tweet, he wrote, “Assad is a modern day hero standing up to demonic forces seeking to destroy his people and nation – GOD BLESS ASSAD!” Similar Assad-friendly sentiments have been expressed by far-right figures in Europe
  • as European countries increasingly became critical of Saudi Arabia last year after the growing casualties in the Yemen war, the imprisonment of women activists, and the murder of the Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi, Riyadh turned to the right wing for support. Among other efforts, a delegation of Saudi women was dispatched to meet with the far-right bloc of the European Parliament. According to Eldar Mamedov, an advisor to the European Parliament’s social democrats, Saudi Arabia subsequently became a divisive issue in Brussels, as left-of-center forces pushed for resolutions against the kingdom while right-wing forces opposed them
  • These regimes intentionally push propaganda about political and religious activists from their countries now living in the West to marginalize and silence them in their new homes. Many of these individuals fled repression and sought protection in democracies; labeling them as religious or stealth jihadis makes it easier to discredit their anti-regime activism. The rise of powerful Western Muslim activists and politicians adds to these regimes’ anxiety about their own domestic stability.
Ed Webb

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

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

Saudi Arabia Pleased With Morsi's Fall - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • Saudi Arabia hosted Arab Muslim Brotherhood exiles during the repression of the 1950 and 1960s. They came not only from Egypt but also from Syria, Iraq and other Arab countries where they had been prosecuted. Brotherhood cadres played a pivotal role in Saudi educational institutions and later the transnational organizations set up by King Faisal to counter the spread of Arab nationalism and leftist movements. Saudis used the exiled Islamists as tools to weaken such movements and undermine their credibility, while emphasizing their un-Islamic character. During the anti-Soviet jihad in the 1980s, Saudis used the worldwide networks established by the Brotherhood to inflame the imagination of its youth and channel aid and weapons. Yet Saudi Arabia never allowed the Brotherhood to establish branches there as they did in other Arab countries and in the West.
  • Educated urban Saudis were attracted to the Brotherhood discourse and impressed by its ability to form civil society organizations, posing as charitable and welfare services. Individuals frustrated with the Wahhabi-Salafist tradition that forbids political action and unconditionally obeys rulers, found in the Brotherhood an authentic discourse capable of mobilizing society. The ideological vacuum that resulted from the death of Arab nationalism and socialism after 1967 was quickly filled by political Islam. To counter the appeal of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Saudi religious establishment condemned it as a divisive force and accused it of undermining people’s creeds. Saudi Arabia began to curb the activities of the Brotherhood after the latter condemned the Saudis for inviting foreign troops to expel then-Iraqi president Saddam Hussein from Kuwait in 1990.
  • After 9/11, suspicion of the Brotherhood evolved into outright hostility. Prince Nayif accused the Brotherhood of radicalizing Saudi youth and held it responsible for the terrorism wave that swept the country from 2003 to 2008. Such accusations were unfounded, as most jihadis operating in Saudi Arabia grounded their actions in the teachings of Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab, the 18th-century preacher whose tradition has been dominant in Saudi Arabia up to the present.
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  • unlike official Saudi Salafists, who still believe that democracy is a Western import that promises to bring atheists, secularists and leftists to power, the Brotherhood engaged in elections, won seats in parliaments and even came to power in Tunisia and Egypt. Surely, then, Islam and democracy are not so incompatible. This in itself threatens the foundations of Saudi rule, which is still based on absolute kingship, difficult to justify from an Islamic point of view. The Brotherhood therefore exposes Saudi claims to legitimacy and undermines their credibility as lawful Muslim rulers.
  • The competition over the hearts and minds of Muslims in the growing global Muslim society worries Saudi Arabia, which seeks to monopolize these platforms.
  • Saudi Arabia feared that Morsi would make Egypt drift toward Iran, with whom Saudi Arabia competes for hegemony at the regional level.
  • The Muslim Brotherhood had already drifted toward Qatar rather than Iran, thus allowing this small but wealthy Gulf country to undermine Saudi designs for the region and split the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries over the desired outcome of the Arab uprisings.
Ed Webb

Saudi Arabia and Turkey Falter Over Egypt - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • After a lengthy historical impasse, common strategic, regional and economic interests brought about an unusual partnership between Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Relations were strengthening under the pressure of the Arab uprisings, in which both countries were destined to coordinate their support for the Syrian rebels and counterbalance Iran’s expansion in the region. Yet, in the wake of the Egyptian coup, this partnership appears to be strained as the two countries’ visions collided over the overthrow of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.
  • it is not clear whether this current impasse will have long-lasting negative consequences for cooperation between the two countries. Saudi Arabia needs Turkey in Syria, while Turkey remains eager to attract more Saudi investment, estimated at more than $1.9 billion
  • The Turkish press' criticism of the Saudi position in Egypt — this time originating with pro-Turkish government sources — replicated what had already been noticeable in the secular or independent press. Turkey is one country in the region where Islamists, secularists, leftists and liberals all concur on a negative image of Saudi Arabia, with each doubting its policies. Perhaps this is only replicated in post-revolution Tunisia.
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  • On the Saudi side, while the Turkish-Saudi partnership is officially celebrated as a great new strategic alliance, the Saudi press occasionally launches attacks that undermine this veneer of cooperation. Accusations that “Sultan Erdogan” longs for the return of the Ottoman caliphate regularly appeared in the Saudi sponsored pan-Arab press. Such attacks are often backed by appeals to Arabism and the historical animosity between Turkey and the Arab people.
  • More ferocious attacks are clothed in religion, with Turkey’s Islamism mocked as an aberration that remains tolerant of alcohol consumption and debauchery in the red light districts of Istanbul. Turkey’s Sufi tradition stands at the opposite end of the dominant Saudi Salafist religious outlook. Its half-hearted appeal to Sharia is contrasted with Saudi commitment to Islamic law. Such attacks echo similar ones that flourished more than a hundred years ago when Wahhabi expansion in Arabia and constant harassment of pilgrimages prompted the Ottoman sultan to reassert his authority over the holy cities of Mecca and Medina. Ironically, in 1818 he relied on the Egyptian army under the leadership of Ibrahim Pasha to rid him of this menace and deliver the Saudi rulers and their religious aides to Istanbul where they were executed. While this is history, the memory seems to linger in the minds of religiously-inclined Saudis when they denounce Turkey's version of Islam for its laxity.
  • When you take oil out of the equation, it is unlikely to find a sensible country that would aspire to a Saudi model of governance.
Ed Webb

King Abdullah calls for emergency Muslim summit - The National - 2 views

  • "Saudi Arabia is facing a moment when everybody in Arab world is getting more Islamist. Saudi Arabia is thinking, 'We shouldn't lose this chance. It is coming to our door and our house, so we should open the door. Otherwise, we will give Turkey or Iran a chance.'"
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