Skip to main content

Home/ Ed Webb Religion & Politics Seminars/ Group items matching "authoritarianism" in title, tags, annotations or url

Group items matching
in title, tags, annotations or url

Sort By: Relevance | Date Filter: All | Bookmarks | Topics Simple Middle
Ed Webb

The 'Conscious Uncoupling' of Wahhabism and Saudi Arabia - New Lines Magazine - 0 views

  • unprecedented statements and moves made by the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, or MBS, involving the role of Wahhabism in the country, from restraining the clerics to announcing initiatives to revise and update religious texts
  • Wahhabism’s decline as a movement has been many years in the making, and this has something to do with the political shift pushed by Bin Salman — but only to a certain degree. The decline preceded him and would have happened without these political changes, if not at the same speed or so quietly. This distinction matters, because it means that other factors contributed to the waning power of Wahhabism both in the kingdom and in the wider region, and it is this internal decay and the surrounding environment that make Wahhabism’s current troubles deep and permanent.
  • the decline of Wahhabism was primarily an unintended (and ironic) consequence of the Saudi leadership’s fight against hostile Islamist and jihadist forces in the country
  • ...11 more annotations...
  • With Wahhabism, the only undeniably native Islamist ideology, he followed a different and incremental approach of pacifying and neutralizing the doctrine. His campaign started with hints and intensified over time until the unequivocal proclamation in 2021 that the kingdom should not be wedded to one person or ideology.
  • Juhayman al-Otaybi’s seizure of the mosque in 1979 was ended, but it was not without a lasting effect on politics. The new rebellion alarmed then-King Khalid bin Abdulaziz and led him to appease the clerical establishment and establish conservative practices, often at the expense of decades-old attempts at modernization with the advent of oil revenue. (Other geopolitical events, such as the Iranian revolution and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, equally contributed to the new policy.) It also meant that the kingdom had largely tolerated both Wahhabi and Islamist activists, especially throughout the 1980s.
  • Wahhabism started to face internal and external challenges with the increased involvement of jihadist ideologies in regional wars, the rise of satellite channels as well as technology and the youth bulge in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Before that, Wahhabis benefited from the simplicity, purity and unity of their message: return to the early generations of Islam and tawhid (monotheism). Wahhabism thrived when it was able to channel all its energy — with near-limitless resources — against the trinity of what it labeled polytheistic or heretical practices: the mystical current of Sufism, heretical ideas of progressive or moderate clerics, and “deviant” teachings of Shiite Islam and other non-Sunni sects. The puritanical and categorical nature of its message had an appeal in villages and cities across the Muslim world. Its preachers had immeasurable wherewithal to conduct lavish proselytization trips to Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and even Europe and the United States. Muslim expatriates working in Arab states of the Persian Gulf found it easy to obtain funds to build mosques in their home countries. Saudi embassies monitored Shiite proselytization and countered it with all the financial might they had, supplied by the Saudi state or charities.
  • Alamer argues that the biggest effect of the post-9/11 campaigns was that they did away with what he dubs “the Faisal Formula,” by which he means the Saudi balancing act of allowing Islamists to dominate the public space — whether in the educational, religious or social domains — without interfering in political decisions such as the relationship with the U.S. This balancing act was established by King Faisal, who wanted to use Islamists to safeguard the home front, including against sweeping ideologies like communism, liberalism and pan-Arabism, and to rely on the U.S. for security externally. The formula, which became the basis for dealing with the post-1979 threats, was challenged after the 1991 Gulf War, and the state response primarily involved security and authoritarian measures without doing away with the formula.
  • There are no fixed schools of thought and there is no infallible person. We should engage in continuous interpretation of Quranic texts, and the same goes for the traditions of the prophet.
  • Salafi-jihadists benefited from the ideological infrastructure or groundwork laid out by Wahhabism and Islamism but carved out their own distinct space, particularly in the aftermath of 9/11 and the regional wars that followed. The appeal of Wahhabism shrank even further with the Arab uprisings, as their liberal and radical rivals joined the conflicts against their regimes, while an already fragmented and hollowed-out Wahhabi establishment stood firmly by the status quo.
  • Bin Salman said the emphasis on the teachings of Wahhabism’s founder amounts to idolizing a human, which would go against the very teachings of the founding sheikh. The full response to the interviewer’s question is stark and damning to the core tenets of the Wahhabi establishment:When we commit ourselves to following a certain school or scholar, this means we are deifying human beings.
  • The progressive movement, opposed to both Islamists and the state, has likely not died. Rather, it is both latent and cautious. Understandably, any such voices will tread carefully under the current political atmosphere of crackdowns and lack of clarity, but the roots of this movement already exist and don’t need to form from scratch. The anti-Islamist movement will likely shape the ideological landscape in the kingdom in the coming years, as the forces of Islamism continue to wane.
  • Our role is to make sure all the laws passed in Saudi Arabia reflect the following: … that they do not violate the Quran and the traditions of the prophet, the Quran being our constitution; that they do not contradict our interests; that they preserve the security and interests of citizens, and that they help in the development and prosperity of the country. So, laws are passed based on this procedure according to international conventions.
  • multiple reasons, from the effects of the Arab uprisings and the rise of the Islamic State to the growing influence of geopolitical rivals in Iran and Turkey, coalesced to make Saudi Arabia focus more on fortifying the home front and move away from its global backing of the Wahhabi movement. The country has moved to close mosques and charities across the world, including in Russia and Europe
  • In Saudi Arabia and beyond, Wahhabism has been losing ground for too many years. The factors that once helped it grow no longer exist. Politically, the state no longer needs the ideology, which would not have flourished without the state. Even if the Saudi state decided to change its view about the utility of Wahhabism, it would not be able to reverse the trend. Wahhabism ran out of gas ideologically before it did politically. The ideology, sometimes seen as a distinct sect even from the Sunni tradition it emerged from, had long projected power disproportionate to its actual appeal and strength because it had the backing of a powerful and wealthy kingdom and a vast network of rich and generous donors. That bubble has now burst, and Wahhabism is reduced to its right size of being a minor player in the Muslim landscape, progressively including in Saudi Arabia.
Ed Webb

The Death of Syria's Mystery Woman - New Lines Magazine - 0 views

  • since the early 2000s, when Bashar al-Assad came to power and loosened the country’s restrictions on private schools and colleges, educational institutions run or influenced by the Qubaysiyat have become ubiquitous in Syria
  • franchises across the Middle East and even as far afield as Europe and the Americas
  • family members who have watched wives, mothers, sisters or daughters burrow deeper into the organization do occasionally complain openly about the group’s peculiar ideas and practices
  • ...8 more annotations...
  • hybrid hierarchical structure
  • By the early 1980s, just before members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other anti-government Islamist groups went into exile following a failed uprising against then-President Hafez al-Assad, it was commonly said that almost every conservative woman in Damascus was either a disciple of the Qubaysiyat, attended their classes occasionally or at the very least admired them. The group had sunk deeper roots into Syrian society than many who had chosen to challenge the regime directly. Today, the knotted veil and loose dress of the Qubaysiyat have become symbolic of urban Damascene culture as a whole.“When my 20-something-year-old daughter comes home one day wearing the hijab, and slowly grows more religious, how can I, her mother, not wear a hijab also?” recalled one Damascene whose entire family converted from secularists to observant Muslims after their daughter joined the Qubaysiyat.
  • For many supporters of the Syrian revolution, the group was tarnished by the decision in the early years of the uprising by leaders of the Qubaysiyat to be photographed meeting with Assad. The organization itself has exhibited fractures amid the pressure of a conflict that has impacted every sector of Syrian society, with divisions emerging among rank-and-file members over how to respond to the cataclysm of the war and their own leaders’ pragmatic relationship with the Syrian regime.
  • Al-Qubaysi never made public appearances or spoke directly to the press
  • unusually for women in a deeply conservative society, al-Qubaysi (like many of her group’s leadership) never married — devoting her entire life instead to the cause of women’s education.
  • its abandonment of politics led the movement toward other avenues of influence over Syrian society. The organization would come to influence the social scene in Damascus through a network of affordable private schools that offered high-quality education to young women, many of whom were drawn from the city’s conservative upper class. The growth of the movement reflected al-Qubaysi’s own organizational genius, employing tools like strategic marriages with elite figures, well-placed gifts and the acquisition and refurbishment of old properties to serve as schools. At its peak, nearly 40% of private girls’ schools and tutoring services in Damascus are believed to have been run by the organization.
  • the group was divided between leaders who sought to accommodate the regime and rank-and-file members who often sympathized with the opposition. In December 2012, leaders from the group were forced to break their public silence on the uprising to attend a meeting with Assad, where, implicitly, they projected support for the regime by appearing with its leader. A few days later, a protest video by ostensible Qubaysiyat disciples was uploaded to YouTube titled, “Free Women of Damascus Defect from the Qubaysiyat” — a complaint against what many saw as collaboration with an increasingly murderous dictatorship.
  • In 2014, Salma Ayyash, a leader in the group, was appointed as assistant to Mohammed Abdul Sattar al-Sayed, the Syrian government’s minister of endowments. There was no public protest against this appointment from within the movement. More changes would soon follow. In 2018, the same ministry announced the nationalization of the Qubaysiyat and its activities, a development that signaled to many the end of the movement as an independent entity. Since then, the Qubaysiyat has come under the umbrella of a government that has, in the wake of the conflict, sought to extend its influence into every remaining corner of Syrian society.
Ed Webb

Egyptian activist walks free after nearly 2 years in jail | AP News - 0 views

  • Zaki’s arrest and trial became front page news in Italy and sparked a wave of student protests there. For many Italians, his detention was reminiscent of the death of Italian doctoral student Giulio Regeni, who was kidnapped in Cairo, tortured and killed in 2016. Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi has vowed to continue following Zaki’s case.
Ed Webb

What Does Islamo-Gauchisme Mean for the Future of France and Democracy? - 0 views

  • From within the government, however, those who speak the most of Islamo-gauchisme are seldom academics. The real fear is that universities—the prime institutions that give a platform and even legitimacy for new ideas, if not critical thinking—end up legitimizing criticism of the status quo. To publicly speak of the realities of racism, to expose France’s colonial legacy and role in slavery, to question the roman national or official history of France for its white male-centered narrative is way out of line for some.
  • The emergence of academics from the descendants of slaves and post-colonial immigration is seen as a threat, not as a chance to strengthen French academia in an ever-more globalized world. 
  • if the French Republic does not recognize race, it does treat people according to their race.
  • ...5 more annotations...
  • race is a reality that segregates, discriminates, humiliates, and even kills with complete impunity: Muslims face discrimination in the job market, having to apply for employment at five times the rate of non-Muslims in order to secure a single interview; the state of emergency in France targeted Muslims in 99% of the cases, and being Black or Arab in France makes people 20 to 30 times more likely to be racially profiled by the police; colonized people helped to free France during WWII, while white leaders collaborated with the Nazis; French police killed between 200 and 300 Algerians and threw their bodies into the Seine River during the 1961 Paris Massacre; and Charles de Gaulle declared that “We are, above all, a European people of the white race, of Greek and Latin culture, and of the Christian religion.”
  • The controversy around Islamo-leftism and the subsequent witch hunt express another not so admissible opinion: that universities are there to legitimize the status quo, not to question it. To reinforce white supremacy, not to abolish it. To welcome people of color only if they stay in their place, not to speak up. Critical thinking is allowed only when it reinforces established social norms.
  • In a truly colorblind republic, universities would be praised for allowing such a “diversification” of ideas and for widening their intellectual horizons. But what we are witnessing today is that universities are being disqualified for making that possible. It is further no coincidence that only the humanities are under attack. As Emmanuel Macron is accelerating his neoliberal reforms and becoming the last to still promote trickle-down economics, the French president needs an authoritarian state and the means to discredit any criticism or dissent. This, of course, is accomplished by continuously manufacturing an “enemy within” to bring the nation “together” and by instilling fear in the “legitimate” opposition. 
  • Islamo-gauchisme does not reflect any reality in French intellectual or political life, but it nevertheless speaks volumes on the normalization of racism and the total victory of the far-right. The label “Islamo-leftist” is sufficient to disqualify a person, organization, or intellectual current and even to tie them to terrorism.
  • The remaining question is whether these violent controversies are the convulsions of a dying order or symptoms of white supremacy’s stiffening grip over French society. But when 20 former generals, 100 senior officers, and a more than 1,000 soldiers sign an open letter warning of a “looming civil war” with “thousands of casualties” unless the government cracks down on the “suburban hordes,” anti-racists, and Islamists, we are left with a troubling answer.
Ed Webb

A Disorienting Sense of Déjà-Vu? Islamophobia and Secularism in French Public Life - 0 views

  • in February, Higher Education Minister Frédérique Vidal publicly called for an investigation into “Islamo-leftism” or Islamo-gauchisme in French universities. Vidal described “Islamo-leftism” as responsible for eroding academic freedoms and scholarly rigor on French university campuses where postcolonial, critical race, and intersectionality research is carried out
  • the political personality of Emmanuel Macron and the brand of liberal authoritarianism which he has been developing
  • It is likely that the RN will once again make it to the second round of the presidential elections in a political landscape that has seen the implosion of left-wing parties in the midst of their inability to offer a credible and alternative narrative about religious and cultural pluralism to the one being developed by the right and extreme right.
  • ...4 more annotations...
  • Vidal’s attack on academic researchers who, as part of an international community of scholars, work within postcolonial, decolonial, and intersectional studies needs also to be put into context as just the latest iteration of a deep suspicion of North American (and particularly, U.S.) intellectual and political cultures. This suspicion goes back to the 1990s, when certain French academics, politicians, and media firmly rejected “Anglo-Saxon” multiculturalism or communautarisme in favor of the oxymoronic “French universalism” (for how can a nationally inflected universalism ever be universal?). 
  • The “French Muslims Abroad” project at the University of Lille is precisely looking at a growing diaspora of highly educated French Muslims who are choosing to leave France, a trend which could in part be due broader patterns of stigmatization affecting professional opportunities
  • the anti-religious pluralism and anti-Islam stance that we see unfolding in France risks turning laïcité into a civil religion itself
  • perhaps what is needed is an alternative approach to the concept of secularism which deconstructs the idea that it is a stable, equality-bearing framework on the one hand and that religious minorities are the “problem” on the other
Ed Webb

As Discontent Grows in Syria, Assad Struggles to Retain Support of Alawites - 0 views

  • Though the choreographed optics are intended to placate the community, pictures of Assad meeting with the distressed and offering shallow assurances are unlikely to offset the sight of cataclysmic flames devouring their homes. In a video shared on Twitter, an Alawite man films a fire surrounding his home. He sarcastically thanks the state for enabling its spread “because it’s irrelevant if we live or die.” In another video, a group of Alawites is seen criticizing government officials for their indifference, including a minister, whom they claim arrived for a photo op then subsequently drove off to avoid answering questions. The demographic’s small size and geographic concentration guarantees that word of such transgressions spreads quickly. The author’s Alawite sources on the coast echo these frustrations and claim they are widespread. They angrily questioned why neither the state nor its Iranian and Russian allies had assisted, especially given the proximity of the latter’s airbase at Khmeimim to the coastal mountains. 
  • On Oct. 9, state media’s Alikhbaria broadcast a video depicting a handful of Syrian soldiers struggling to put out small fires. Owing to severe water shortages, the troops were forced to use tree branches in lieu of hoses or buckets of water. The video was later shared on Twitter, where it elicited a mixture of mockery and condemnation from opponents of the regime. However, Alawite overrepresentation in the military means that these visuals denote a sense of loss and despair to the community.
  • The armed forces make up a key pillar of Alawite identity and have for nearly a century constituted their main institutional vehicle for attaining upward social mobility and prestige. The community’s loss of more than one third of their men of military age fighting for the regime against an overwhelmingly Sunni armed opposition has further entrenched this interdependence
  • ...19 more annotations...
  • Conversations within the community center on the divide between the elites and the impoverished Alawites who are commonly linked to the discourse of sacrifice. Economic implosion and the decimation of the Syrian pound have effectively thrust a formerly comfortable middle class into poverty. Whereas Alawites are disproportionately represented in the public sector, the average state salary – a meager 50,000 SYP ($21) per month – means that the vast majority live well below the poverty line, as the average family, according to a Syrian newspaper, requires 700,000 SYP ($304) per month in order to live comfortably. 
  • In October alone, the price of gasoline increased twice, while the cost of diesel – used for residential heat and cooking, in addition to operating bakeries and fueling Syria’s cheapest mode of transportation, microbuses – more than doubled. Basic necessities have become virtually unaffordable.
  • Many of the communities impacted by the fires are subsistence farmers that depend on the profits accrued from harvesting crops such as olives, citrus, and tobacco. They commonly require a mixture of short- and long-term loans from the state’s Agricultural Cooperative Bank. Yet systemic corruption, mismanagement, and a collapsed economy have depleted state coffers, making it unlikely that the regime will compensate those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.
  • in an interview with pro-regime radio station Sham FM, a resident of Alawite al-Fakhoura asserts the funds are being distributed by local officials in a nepotistic fashion. This example illustrates that, in the improbable case that Assad secures the necessary finances, his regime cannot prevent its clientelist networks from capturing them
  • diffusion of power since 2011 has led to unprecedented corruption amid the rise of relatively autonomous war profiteers, from militias to businessmen
  • In August 2015, the president’s cousin, Suleiman al-Assad, shot and killed a decorated Syrian Air Force colonel in Latakia City in a bout of road rage. According to the colonel’s brother, Suleiman had disparaged the Syrian military before killing the officer. Protests calling for Suleiman’s execution ensued in the Alawite neighborhood of Al-Zira’a. The debasing of the army – viewed as the only buffer between Alawites and a vengeful, sectarian opposition – by a privileged member of the ruling class struck a political nerve.
  • Outside of individual members hailing from a class of intellectuals, artists, and political dissidents, few Alawites actively joined the uprising in 2011. Those who did generally partook in cross-confessional protests that stressed national unity.
  • The spread of parasitic pro-regime militias operating with impunity and their disregard for breadlines, gas queues, and ration restrictions, in addition to their harassment of people desperately awaiting their turn, has contributed to an atmosphere in which fights break out. In Latakia and Hama, these fights have reportedly resulted in a few deaths.
  • time-tested tactic of externalizing blame and deflecting responsibility is currently being sustained by several exogenous factors. These include the presence of Turkish and American troops on Syrian soil and their support for rival armed actors, the sporadic persistence of Israeli strikes, and the implementation of U.S. sanctions through the Caesar Act, which collectively breathe life into the regime’s otherwise exhausted rhetoric
  • People considering organizing widespread civil disobedience are deterred by the specter of pre-emptive detention by the dreaded mukhabarat. The regime’s periodic security reshuffling further blurs the ability to identify potentially dangerous agents within their own community, magnifying the perceived threat posed by the omnipresence of informants.
  • the regime’s inability to check its repressive impulses could lead to a situation in which Alawites related to members of the officer corps are arrested and tortured – or worse, disappeared – for public critiques of the government, causing backlash from its own coercive forces
  • the deterioration of living standards could ultimately lead to a breaking point. 
  • Any organized dissent would require the support of its rank-and-file soldiers, most of whom share similar, if not identical, grievances with the wider community, and could thus be sympathetic. This could potentially cause a schism within the Alawite community as familial allegiances are weighed against loyalty to the Assad dynasty and its regime, particularly if ordered to repress protests in Alawite areas.
  • The only conceivable scenario in which Assad’s departure can occur at the hands of the Alawites while salvaging the state and avoiding further regional instability would be through a palace coup led by disgruntled officers and backed by Russia. However, the likelihood that Russia could simply replace or abandon Assad, its growing frustrations notwithstanding, is low, not least due to lack of an alternative.
  • Iranian entrenchment, both within the formal institutions of the regime and the state’s security landscape more broadly, continues to exploit Assad’s tenuous authority in order to obstruct Russian attempts to monopolize patronage.
  • Iran is a force for regime continuity. By creating a parallel network of control that bypasses the state, Iran has thus far been able to reproduce its influence, particularly through its ongoing relations with a patchwork of non-state militias, while resisting Russian efforts at vertically integrating these actors into the formal structures of a centralized Syrian state
  • the regime played the leading role in engineering facts on the ground critical to corroborating the false binary at the heart of its survival: Either accept the stability and security of the state – however perilous – or test the genocidal dispositions of the “jihadist” opposition.
  • This idea – that the president is innocent despite being surrounded by villains – is not uncommon among the Alawites.
  • Apart from the Turkish-backed factions in the north, the threat of Sunni reprisals occupies less of an immediate concern to most Alawites than their ability to secure food, shelter, and transportation amid a shattered economy and unstable currency
Ed Webb

So Why Did I Defend Paul Bowles? | by Hisham Aidi | The New York Review of Books - 0 views

  • Long a sanctuary for Spanish and French writers, American writers began visiting Tangier in the late nineteenth century: Mark Twain on his way to Jerusalem in 1867, the painters Louis Comfort Tiffany in 1870 and Henry Ossawa Tanner in 1912, and Edith Wharton in 1917. In 1931, when Bowles first visited, the American artists living in Tangier were primarily black: Claude McKay, Anita Reynolds, Juice Wilson, Josephine Baker. These African-Americans came to Morocco from Paris, where they had formed a community after World War I, and as the Harlem Rennaissance spread to France. Upon arrival, Bowles began to socialize with both McKay and Anita Reynolds. Like the other Americans, he had also discovered North Africa through France. In high school, he had read Marcel Proust, Comte de Lautréamont, and André Gide—the latter’s accounts, in particular, of his travels and sexual trysts in Algeria and Tunisia had conjured North Africa in Bowles’s teenage imagination.
  • in December 1923, France, Spain, and the United Kingdom signed the Tangier Protocol in Paris, setting up a new administration and placing the city at the center of a 150-square mile International Zone overseen by a committee of nine Western powers. The city was henceforth governed by a court that included French, Spanish, and British judges, along with the mendoub, the Moroccan sultan’s representative. It is this international period, from 1923 to 1956, especially postwar, that has shaped the image of Tangier as a free port, a tax haven, and a place of international intrigue and excess.
  • His first novel, The Sheltering Sky, told the story of an American who flees the numbing modernity of New York and meanders through the Algerian desert, only to disintegrate psychologically. Published in the fall of 1949, it became a bestseller and made Bowles a household name. Three more novels and a handful of short stories set in Tangier followed.
  • ...39 more annotations...
  • Bowles did not create the “myth of Tangier,” but he gave it a literary respectability and an American cast.
  • In the early 1950s, Burroughs, Ginsberg, Kerouac, Bryon Gysin, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, and Susan Sontag all gravitated to this “portal to the unknown,” as one author christened Tangier. So did European writers like Genet, Juan Goytisolo, and Joe Orton, but Bowles’s influence was not limited to the literary community. In later decades, his recordings and promotion of Moroccan music would draw producers and recording artists from Patti Smith to the Rolling Stones.
  • Bowles’s defense of the Amazigh, or Berber, population was daringly transgressive. Morocco’s culture “is not predominantly Arabic, but Berber,” he insisted—in the face of Arab nationalists who acted as though they believed “Berbers have no culture at all,” as they tried to drag the country into the Arab League. “The general opinion is that the autochthonous population must at all costs be Arabized if it is to share in the benefits of independence,” he observed acidly. “No one seems to have conceived of the possibility of an independent Berber Morocco. In fact, to mention the Berbers at all qualifies one as a pro-French reactionary. At present, to become modern means to become Egyptian.”
  • I gave him a copy of my thesis. He looked up from the title page: “‘Orientalism’?—that’s a bad word, isn’t it?” Faux-naïveté, I would learn, was part of his manner. He told me to come back the following day.
  • I was, he said, the first Moroccan researcher—a Tangier native, to boot—to defend him. He added his signature beneath my printed name. (A few weeks ago, I got goosebumps when I found the same copy that I gave him, albeit coffee-stained, in the archives at the University of Delaware’s Paul Bowles Collection.) Later, the thesis was included in a collection titled Writing Tangier (2004). I still see citations occasionally in student dissertations on Bowles noting that one Tanjawi, at least, did not regard him as an Orientalist.
  • Tangier’s collective memory is steeped in nostalgia and centered around the medina, the old city. The medina, the elders told us, was once the epicenter of the Islamic world: it was from the port where the medina meets the sea that Tariq ibn Ziyad had set sail and conquered Spain in 711. After the fall of Granada in 1492, it was to Tangier’s medina that the Jews and Moriscos fled, settling in its alleyways, preserving the mosaic of Islamic Spain
  • The economic misery and political repression of the 1980s and 1990s made it hard to believe that the medina was ever a free space. Most locals had never heard of these famous writers. I only heard of Bowles when, in 1988, a film crew began working in front of our family restaurant at the entrance to the Kasbah as Bernardo Bertolucci began filming The Sheltering Sky. As teenagers, we came to wonder what truths the books from the Interzone contained, and if Tangier had indeed been better-off under Western rule, as the nostalgists, local and foreign, seemed to imply
  • The narrative we learned at school was that the monarchy had liberated the north from colonial oppression. But what liberation did the regime (makhzen) bring? After independence, as a local intelligentsia began forming in Tangier, many came to see the American corpus of writings about 1950s Tangier as an invaluable record of a lost golden age.
  • I made a point of reading the American authors who had written about Tangier’s Interzone. Besides Bowles, I was intrigued by the Beats, especially the Columbia University alums—Kerouac, Ginsberg, Lucien Carr—students of Lionel Trilling and fans of Arthur Rimbaud who had somehow mapped Greenwich Village onto Tangier, turning the Boulevard Pasteur into a “North African Bleecker Street.” But even as a college sophomore, I realized that their writings were more about the straitjacket of McCarthyite America that they were running from, rather than about Morocco as such.
  • It was even gratifying to see that Tangier, like Berlin, had played a significant role in launching a gay literary movement—in some ways ahead of the West, in having its finger on the “prognostic pulse of the world,” as Burroughs called it. But what was startling was that, while these writers basked in the city’s pleasures, they—with the exception of the Bowleses—didn’t really like Tangier. The Beats had a casual disdain for the natives, invariably describing Moroccans as “rakish” or “raffish.” Capote found Tangier too alien, describing the men as “noisy heathens” and the women as “anonymous bundles of laundry.” He warned friends in New York about the “smell of the arabe.” Burroughs referred to the locals as a “bunch of Ay-rabs,” and in 1958 he pronounced: “Tanger [sic] is finished. The Arab dogs are among us.”
  • Paul Bowles traced the history of the medina from the early 1930s to independence. He chronicled how the sultan’s crackdown on Sufi practices (“the great puritanical purging”) in central Morocco inched northward.
  • In 1972, Tahar Ben Jelloun publicly accused Bowles (and the Beats) of exploiting illiterate, vulnerable youths in Tangier not just artistically but sexually. Choukri in 1997 would echo this charge, claiming Bowles suffered from a sexual illness. These allegations became more commonly heard once Farrar, Straus and Giroux published Bowles’s correspondence in 1994, although he expressed some reluctance about its release. The volume included letters in which he described the boys he slept with, in one letter even bragging about how cheap sex was in Algeria. “Where in this country [America] can I have thirty-five or forty people, and never risk seeing any of them again? Yet, in Algeria, it actually was the mean rate.” (In the correspondence, he reminisced about how he “never had sexual relationships without paying,” and viewed paying for sex as a form of “ownership.”)
  • Reading these words in my dorm room in wintry Pennsylvania in 1992 was both thrilling and frightening. We as Moroccans—especially those of us from the northern Berber region—grew up in a climate of fear, and I had never heard or read anyone publicly criticize Arab nationalism, or speak so openly of the Moroccan hinterland’s animus toward Fez, the city of the interior regarded as the seat of the regime. To hear this American writer openly excoriate the Moroccan ruling elite for its cruelty and skullduggery was exhilarating
  • Bowles prompted me to think beyond the binary of “Western” versus “Arab.”
  • The Moroccan reaction against Bowles began to take form in the early 1970s. His earliest critics were the philosopher Abdallah Laroui and Ben Jelloun, who both chided the American writer for promoting an image of the country as a land of primitivism, drugs, and unlimited sex. Laroui also lambasted the Moroccan bourgeoisie for buying into and reproducing Bowles’s “folkloric” portrayal of their country. Ben Jelloun, writing in 1972, accused the American of belittling the nation’s literary patrimony.
  • Bowles, in the mid-1960s, had begun translating the memoirs and stories of down-and-out illiterate youth in Tangier. (While he could not read Arabic, Bowles did understand darija, the spoken dialect.) The most prominent of these were Larbi Layachi’s A Life Full of Holes (1966), about a petty thief and male prostitute and his experiences dodging police and servicing tourists (the book was made into a BBC film); Look and Move On (1967), the tales of Mohammed Mrabet, a hustler and golf caddie who worked for an American couple; and the best-known, Mohammed Choukri’s For Bread Alone (1972), an account of his migration from the Rif to Tangier, his life as a street kid in the International Zone, and his becoming a schoolteacher, which he recounted to Bowles in Spanish. These books were marketed in the West as “Moroccan literature,” and for many in the Anglophone world, this was their introduction to it.
  • in effect erased an earlier literary tradition that had seen Moroccan writers published in French and Spanish since the 1930s, let alone the preceding centuries of poetry and other writing in Arabic
  • Laroui acted as an adviser to the king and was a strong proponent of Arabization. Tangierians saw his attack on Bowles as another attempt by the Arab nationalist elite to subdue the “sin city.” Ben Jelloun also had a complicated relationship to Tangier. The son of a merchant, a Fassi (a person from Fez) who settled in Tangier in the early 1960s, he had attended the French lycée and was seen as part of the new Francophone Fassi upper class—comprising the Alaoui, Alami, Ben Jelloun, Berrada, Omrani, and Tazi families—that had fanned out across the country as the French departed, assuming top government positions. Like Laroui, Ben Jelloun spoke neither of the two common local tongues of the north, Spanish and Tarifit (the Berber language). A paradox of Ben Jelloun’s work, in particular, was that it often featured the very tropes of mysticism, violence, and sexual deviancy he denounced in Bowles’s work. For his part, the American writer dismissed his Moroccan critics as “confirmed Marxists.”
  • Through the 1960s and 1970s, he focused instead on recording and translating from darija (Moroccan Arabic dialect) the oral histories of men he met in Tangier’s cafés. By the time of his death, in 1999, the idea of Tangier as a place for self-discovery had become received wisdom in the West and the Arab world, and Bowles was established as a giant of American letters despite decades of silence.
  • I myself was part of this trend—defending Bowles against the Arab nationalists who were trying to tear him down and impose their political preferences on us. In his final interviews, when asked if he was an “Orientalist,” Bowles would often cite me, noting that a Tangier-born scholar now in America had judged him not to be.
  • “Paul Bowles loves Morocco, but does not really like Moroccans.” Choukri had some powerful evidence on his side. Over the decades, Bowles had made countless derogatory remarks, speaking of Moroccans as “childlike,” “purely predatory,” and “essentially barbarous.” He claimed also that Muslims aimed for world domination through “the sword and the bomb.”
  • He was sympathetic to the Amazigh, whom he saw as the original inhabitants of North Africa, a fiercely independent people only “partially Islamicized.” This affection nevertheless rested on some unsettling ideas about racial hierarchy. Bowles was profoundly influenced by the “Hamitic hypothesis,” a late nineteenth-century anthropological theory that saw almost everything of value in Africa as imported by the Hamites, a branch of the Caucasian race, who were held as superior to the Negroid peoples. Berbers, whatever their actual skin tone—even the typically dark-skinned Tuareg—were for Bowles essentially a white “Mediterranean race.”
  • In Bowles’s idiosyncratic hierarchy, it was Berber music that encapsulated Morocco’s true African identity—and this cultural essence was threatened by the Arabs and their music. The recently released Music of Morocco collection reflects this bias, giving credence to Choukri’s claim that Bowles deliberately misrepresented local culture to reflect his personal vision of Morocco.
  • I began to realize that Bowles’s fondness for the Berbers and his animus toward Arabs was, in many ways, a reflection of French colonial policy. Although he was well aware of the violence of French imperialism, he enjoyed its amenities—“the old, easygoing, openly colonial life of Morocco”—and as early as the 1950s, Bowles began to lament the loss of “colonial Tangier.” Above all, he believed in the International Zone, seeing its “anarchy” and “freedom from bureaucratic intervention” as an extraordinary political experiment. But these liberties, which is what drew many of the Beats, were the privileges of Europeans and Americans—ones generally not enjoyed by the city’s Muslim and Jewish natives.
  • as long as America was seen as a political friend, Bowles was viewed favorably. Not surprisingly, after the Gulf war of 1990 and the release of Bertolucci’s film of The Sheltering Sky that same year, more articles started to appear across the Middle East critiquing Bowles’s representations of Morocco, accusing him of racism and Orientalism
  • Although the letters simply lent credence to rumors long circulating in Tangier, Choukri and other Tanjawi writers were still shocked by them. The literary reaction in Morocco fed into a larger effort there by human rights activists campaigning against sex tourism and child prostitution. Whereas Bowles had always seemed more judicious and reputable than the Beats—in contrast, say, to Burroughs’s open bragging about buying “pre-pubescent gooks” and Ginsberg’s boasting about “paying young boys” for sex—it became increasingly difficult to defend him. For a man who had called Moroccans “purely predatory,” his own behavior now appeared in rather grotesque relief.
  • The more time I spent at the Schomburg Library uptown, the more I discovered an alternative American literature about Tangier. I stumbled upon Claude McKay’s memoir A Long Way from Home about his time in Tangier in the late 1920s, where he completed his novel Banjo; the actress Anita Reynold’s diary about life in the Interzone in the 1930s; Josephine Baker’s papers, where she talks about filming Princess Tam Tam (1935) in the International Zone, and jazz recordings produced by African-American musicians living in Tangier. Although they had their own dreams about a “Mother Africa,” the African-American writers did not see Tangier as a brothel, or its residents as primitives who needed to be contained or civilized. Most wrote and produced art in solidarity with the disenfranchised local population, connecting the civil rights struggle to North Africa’s anticolonial movements.
  • In 1998, armed with this newfound knowledge, and as a conscious revision of my earlier guiding, I began giving walking tours of “Black Tangier.” We would would meet at Cinema Mauritania, the theater where Josephine Baker had performed many times, up until her last show there in 1970. She had lived in the International Zone, then joined the French Liberation forces during the war, and later had an affair with the vice-caliph of Spanish Morocco. On the first floor of the Mauritania, pianist Randy Weston had once operated African Rhythms, a music spot that drew the likes of Max Roach and Ahmed Jamal. Then we’d walk down to the Fat Black Pussycat café where the poet Ted Joans, one of few black writers in the Beat movement, played trumpet and “blew” jazz poems.
  • Next, we’d hit Galerie Delacroix, where Joans once hosted a four-hour tribute to his mentor Langston Hughes, and had the late poet’s verse read in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. (In 1927, Hughes had visited Tangier and written a lovely poem about travel and unrequited longing, “I Thought It was Tangiers I Wanted.”) Then we’d walk to the majestic Teatro Cervantes built in 1913, where Weston had organized the first pan-African jazz festival in Morocco in June 1972 (revived in 2002), which brought Dexter Gordon, Odetta, Billy Harper, and Pucho and the Latin Soul Brothers to the city. Our last stop was the Hotel Chellah, where, as local legend had it, the Martinican anticolonial thinker Frantz Fanon stayed overnight on July 3, 1959, following a car crash on the Morocco–Algeria border rumored to be the handiwork of La Main Rouge, the paramilitary group run by French intelligence to assassinate leading supporters of Algerian independence. Fanon was flown to Rome the following day on a Moroccan passport.
  • Paul Bowles and King Hassan II died in 1999, a few months apart. The novelist and the tyrant who had towered over Tangier for generations had more in common than either would have admitted—and that in part explains the reverence Bowles still enjoys in official Morocco
  • both shared a disdain for leftist, Third-Worldist politics. Both hated pan-Arabism, and loved Berber culture as long as it was “folkloric” and apolitical. They each thought Moroccans were congenitally ill-suited for democracy.
  • both Bowles and the monarch celebrated a “primitive,” mystical, unlettered, unfree Morocco, sharing a special appetite for the intoxicating rhythms of the Berbers. No wonder King Hassan II, who expelled numerous critics—from Arab intellectuals to French journalists and American professors—never bothered Bowles.
  • The Ministry of Culture, which almost blocked his recording project in 1959, published a remarkable essay in 2009 on the tenth anniversary of his death defending Bowles against criticism from Moroccan nationalist intellectuals, underscoring how he presciently warned of the threats that modernization posed to Morocco’s cultural and physical landscape. Government mouthpieces such as Hespress run flattering pieces about “the American who loved Morocco.”
  • The Morocco that Bowles dubbed a “land of magic” is one the Ministry of Tourism sells to the West
  • his emphasis on Morocco’s “African” essence suits the country’s recent geopolitical turn and reentry into the Africa Union
  • for all his misgivings about Western modernity, he thought Morocco as an African country would be better off attaching itself to the West. This is now the position of a significant segment of Morocco’s ruling elite.
  • That the regime celebrates Berber folklore and the oeuvre of a novelist who wanted an “independent Berber republic” even as it imprisons Berber activists across the country is evidence for many of the regime’s fraudulence and bad faith. In this respect, Bowles’s continuing eminence suggests how little has changed in the kingdom since the colonial era, with an authoritarian regime and repressive social order remaining largely intact.
  • As for Bowles’s work, I had come to realize that it reflected poorly on Morocco and America. Yes, he had brought attention to the suppression of Berber history and made invaluable musical recordings, but decolonization was supposed to dismantle colonial representations, and instead, the Moroccan regime was validating and institutionalizing Bowles’s depictions of Morocco
  • today, a new generation of Moroccan writers—among them secularists, Berber activists, music critics, and pan-Africanists—are claiming Bowles as an ally. And that is why I found myself writing about Bowles once more.
Ed Webb

Calls in Egypt for censored social media after arrests of TikTok star, belly dancer - Reuters - 0 views

  • Egyptian lawmakers have called for stricter surveillance of women on video sharing apps after the arrests of a popular social media influencer and a well-known belly dancer on charges of debauchery and inciting immorality.
  • Instagram and TikTok influencer Haneen Hossam, 20, is under 15 days detention for a post encouraging women to broadcast videos in exchange for money, while dancer Sama el-Masry faces 15 days detention for posting “indecent” photos and videos.
  • “Because of a lack of surveillance some people are exploiting these apps in a manner that violates public morals and Egypt’s customs and traditions,”
  • ...4 more annotations...
  • In 2018 Egypt adopted a cyber crime law that grants the government full authority to censor the internet and exercise communication surveillance. A media regulation law also allows authorities to block individual social media accounts.
  • Several women in Egypt have previously been accused of “inciting debauchery” by challenging the country’s conservative social norms, including actress Rania Youssef after critics took against her choice of dress for the Cairo Film Festival in 2018.
  • Hossam denied any wrongdoing but Cairo University - where she is studying archaeology - said it would enforce maximum penalties against her which could include expulsion.
  • Egyptian women’s rights campaigner Ghadeer Ahmed blamed the arrests on rising social pressures on women and “corrupt laws”. “[These laws] condemn people for their behaviour that may not conform to imagined social standards for how to be a ‘good citizen’ and a respectful woman,” she wrote in a Tweet.
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.
  • ...6 more annotations...
  • 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

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

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

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.
  • ...11 more annotations...
  • 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

Jadaliyya - 0 views

  • This is the first program to be hit with a gag order by the US government, but it likely will not be the last. Instead, this gag order hopes to stimulate a programmatic shift in the way all Middle East studies programs who utilize Title VI funds teach about the Middle East and Islam.
  • As graduate students involved in the Duke-UNC Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies, we will not kowtow to the state—this state or any other. Our first preoccupation is critical thinking and academic freedom, which is integrally linked to the pursuit of justice. We reject the premise of this gag order and its underlying intentions. We stand against all forms of discrimination—racial, religious, gender, sexuality, class, age, ability, and otherwise—in particular as a result of state vision and rhetoric. We will not support imperialism, jingoism, and military hegemony, and we do not support the idea that these are necessary for maintaining peace in any nation, including the US.
Ed Webb

If you mention the evangelical delegation to Saudi Arabia, I'd have to ask which one - Duck of Minerva - 0 views

  • it’s worth emphasizing how surprising it is that US evangelical elites are so positive about Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia has an extremely conservative form of Islam as its official religion, with minimal rights for non-Muslims (including Christians). One of evangelicals’ major foreign policy priorities has been international religious freedom (IRF), so it seems strange to praise one of the most repressive states in the world. So what’s going on?
  • for some evangelicals, the emphasis of IRF efforts may be shifting. It used to be a broad-based campaign, opposing all government infringements on religious belief and practice, no matter the community affected. Since Trump came to power I’ve noticed a shift to emphasize the plight of persecuted Christians and the threat of radical movements in Muslim societies. At times it almost seems as it some IRF advocates would accept progress in those areas at the expense of others. For example, another evangelical visit to Egypt praised Sisi, its authoritarian leader, for his defense of Christians, even though he’s presided over a broad crackdown on Egyptian society
  • I’m never sure if it’s worth writing on international religious freedom, since progressives have mostly written it off and conservatives aren’t interested in my critiques. But this matters beyond this community. Again, evangelicals are a crucial interest group in Trump’s coalition. If their conception of human rights is shifting, this could have major implications for US foreign policy.
Ed Webb

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

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

Iran's Next Supreme Leader Is Dead - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Outside the years 1999 to 2009, when he headed the judiciary, Shahroudi served from 1995 until his death as member of the Guardian Council, the powerful conservative watchdog that ensures the Islamic consistency and compatibility of parliamentary legislation and electoral candidates alike. He was likewise in the Assembly of Experts, a clerical body that selects the supreme leader’s successor, and a member of the Expediency Council, created toward the end of the Iran-Iraq War to adjudicate disagreements between parliament and the Guardian Council; this council subsequently also began advising the supreme leader on the broad contours of policy and strategy. After the 2017 death of its chairman—Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani, a highly influential former president—Khamenei tapped Shahroudi as his replacement. Shahroudi was therefore clearly a figure Khamenei could rely on, a figure the supreme leader recently eulogized as a “faithful executor in the Islamic Republic’s most important institutions.”
  • Shahroudi presided over a witch hunt against reformist parliamentarians and newspapers, students and intellectuals, human rights activists and, at the end of his tenure, the pro-reformist Green Movement protesting against the fraudulent elections that handed Ahmadinejad a second term
  • Shahroudi is reported to have overseen, directly or indirectly, some 2,000 executions, including of minors
  • ...9 more annotations...
  • also credited with introducing some reforms, including reinstituting the separation between judges and prosecutors abolished by his predecessor Mohammad Yazdi, suspending stoning as capital punishment, and proposing a bill granting more legal protection to minors
  • his unique selling point as potential supreme leader lay as much in his cross-factional appeal among the Iranian establishment as in the continuity he represented—two assets critical to Iran’s future political stability
  • Shahroudi maintained reasonably good ties with all four of Iran’s existing factions: conservatives, neoconservatives, moderate conservatives, and reformists
  • Shahroudi was also the only Shiite cleric in the rarefied pantheon of possible successors, or even anywhere, doubly rumored to have been angling for leadership of Iraq’s Shiites. Back in 2012, reports surfaced of Shahroudi building up a patronage network inside Iran’s western neighbor and specifically Najaf, greased by the levy of religious taxes and Iranian state funds. As things appeared, Shahroudi sought to undermine or even replace the aging Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s and therefore Twelver Shiites’ premier spiritual authority. Tehran had a good reason, too: the Iranian-born Sistani—a mirror image of Shahroudi—quietly opposed Iran’s political system based on the supreme leader’s rule, velayat-e faqih.
  • If Shahroudi was seen as an outsider with his Iraqi provenance and Semitic-laced Persian, neither quite Iranian nor fully Iraqi, his background at least held out some possibility of appealing to Twelver Shiite communities beyond Iran’s borders, and most critically in Iraq, where Shiites have tended to give velayat-e faqih short shrift. Ever since Saddam’s toppling in 2003, Iraq’s Shiite-majority government has gravitated closer toward Iran, but it continues to maintain a political autonomy at times grating to Tehran.
  • Iran’s internal stability and regime longevity—increasingly challenged by spontaneous protests countrywide over the past year—depend on the political class collectively accepting a supreme leader capable of forging consensus and balancing competing interests. Shahroudi’s unique ability to span the divides of the Iranian political and clerical establishment was one reason his name was repeatedly floated as Khamenei’s eventual successor. He was also both theologically and managerially qualified and among the few relatively nonelderly clerics viewed as politically reliable by Iran’s ruling establishment.
  • the hard-liners’ longtime stranglehold on the key levers of military, judicial, media, and clerical power will now leave little room for Iran’s reformists and moderates, among them current President Hassan Rouhani, to weigh in on the succession process
  • With the first generation of Iran’s revolutionary clerics fast fading out, Shahroudi’s relatively early death at 70 eliminates what is perhaps the most serious and qualified succession candidate so far floated in Tehran’s corridors of power
  • Iran’s acrimonious elite infighting may be normal and not necessarily a sign of regime weakness, but this requires a supreme leader generally accepted by all to adjudicate differences
Ed Webb

There is Nothing Inevitable About Dictatorships in Muslim States | Opinion - 0 views

  • former Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, who ruled Egypt as an autocrat for three decades, appeared as a witness against imprisoned former Egyptian president, Mohammed Morsi, who was Egypt’s first freely elected leader. Besides being former Egyptian presidents, they had something else in common: their religious supporters both considered revolting against them to be a forbidden form of "khuruj ‘ala al-hakim" – "withdrawing from the ruler." This wasn’t just an idle sentiment; it was expressed by Ali Gomaa’, the-then Mufti of Egypt whose words I heard when in Cairo during the revolutionary uprising of 2011. “Khuruj ‘ala al-shar’iyya haram, haram, haram” – ‘exiting’ from [political] legitimacy is religiously forbidden, forbidden, forbidden.”
  • Supporters of Arab autocratic regimes of Mubarak and others that faced the Arab uprisings were not the only ones to use this tool
  • it is undeniable that the world has changed a great deal since the concept had widespread currency among Muslims and was applied to pre-modern modes of government. Whether Muslim religious establishments have collectively realised this or not, the modern autocratic ‘president’ holds far more power—if only due to technology alone—than the medieval sultan. And far more destructive than that is that civil society in today’s world is far weaker—especially in the modern Arab world—than it was in pre-modern Muslim societies
  • ...6 more annotations...
  • Pre-modern Muslim communities were governed by far more libertarian systems—systems that were underpinned by social institutions, rather than the crippling and coercive powers of the modern state
  • much—if not all—of the region has since been shaped by a new trauma in post-colonial states. That trauma is what results in much of the autocracy that we now take for granted
  • The modern autocrat or dictator in Syria owes far more to the system of colonialism that immediately preceded it, than it does to intrinsic Arab or Muslim systems of governance from past centuries
  • the system of autocracy and dictatorship faces a deep contradiction with the internal logic of the Islamic tradition of scholasticism. Islamic religious authoritativeness depends in large part on the equivalent of academic peer review among scholars, and then upon the popularity of scholars among the wider population. How can such ‘peer review’ take place without a corresponding atmosphere of intellectual freedom and accountability?
  •  If Muslim religious scholars today seek to revive and rejuvenate religious discourse, they urgently need environments of creative and open enquiry. The ethics of the Islamic tradition cannot exist otherwise.
  • autocrats are loathe to imagine any such environments – and that is the underpinning of the counter-revolutionary waves endemic throughout much of the wider region today.
1 - 20 of 39 Next ›
Showing 20 items per page