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Ed Webb

Muslim in America - Reason.com - 0 views

  • The Muslims of Dearborn and Hamtramck are indeed increasing their participation in political life, but that isn't a plot to turn the towns into little Shariahvilles—it's an effort to assimilate into American life.
  • only 30 percent of Detroit's Arab Muslims go to mosque every month, compared to 66 percent of Arab Christians who attend church that often. Just 18 percent of the area's Muslims were active in their mosques, far less than the 47 percent of Arab Christians who were active in their churches. This is not what an incubator of zealotry looks like
  • Hamtramck's 15,000-strong Muslim population dates back only about two decades, and it consists of everyone from blue-eyed, light-skinned Bosnians to swarthy Bangladeshis. By contrast, Dearborn's community has 100-year-old roots and hails predominantly from the Middle East. Its Muslim population is almost three times bigger than Hamtramck's—more if you count Dearborn Heights, its companion city. Because the Hamtramck community is newer, it has an air of innocence, as if it hasn't fully comprehended how much post-9/11 hostility there is toward Muslims in America. Its politics are primarily driven by economic security and ties to the old world. Dearborn's community is more settled, savvy, and middle-class, and it is acutely aware of the harsh national Klieg lights pointed at it. Its political participation is a complicated coping dance motivated not just by its economic interests but also the need to cooperate with anti-terrorism efforts without ceding civil or religious rights.
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  • There are about 35 bars in Hamtramck. That may sound like a lot, but there were 200 before Muslims started displacing Poles. Some of the former bars have been converted into mosques such as the Masjid Al-Iman Al-Ghazalli on Joseph Campau Street.They look like the poor cousins of Hamtramck's grand churches, especially the tall and majestic St. Florian that looms over the town
  • Fox & Friends' Pete Hegseth performed a typical hit job, finding an obligatory Polish American to say on camera that Muslims aren't "ready for Western culture yet."
  • most of the people protesting the muezzin's call weren't locals but Christian fundamentalists sent from neighboring towns, some in Ohio. Greg Kowalski, a retired editor of the local Observer & Eccentric newspaper chain, confirms the same. Indeed, he says he was contacted by Christian attorneys in Chicago offering their services pro bono to stop the call. But Majewski insists the protesters didn't understand that the call was constitutionally protected speech; the council couldn't ban it any more than it could cut off the church bells that ring every hour. The council meeting that became the focus of protests was in fact never about banning the call; the aim was just to regulate its volume and timing.
  • If anything, says Kowalski, a lifelong Hamtramck resident, Muslims have been far less aggressive in remaking the city compared to earlier European immigrants. The retiree, who volunteers at the Hamtramck Historical Museum, believes the current transition is far less contentious than the early-20th century conflict between the new Polish arrivals and the previously dominant Germans. The two groups already had some bad blood between them from the old country. Germans, who outnumbered Poles 10–1 in 1900, pulled every trick in the book to prevent the Polish from gaining power, including stopping voting at 4 p.m., one hour before the Polish factory workers got off. They also held citywide elections for City Council rather than electing representatives by district—a system that still persists—to prevent Pole-heavy neighborhoods from getting a foothold in the local government.
  • The animosities within the Islamic community are probably fiercer than the divisions between Muslims and everyone else. East-Asian Bangladeshi Muslims (20 percent of Hamtramck's population) don't have much in common with Middle Eastern Yemeni Muslims (also 20 percent), who don't have much in common with European Bosnian Muslims (7 percent) and so on. Over the past two decades, strong disagreements between these groups, but also within them, have broken out. For example, various Bangladeshi factions, who tend to be the most politically active group, fought so hard over whose favorite icon from back home should be used when picking honorary names for streets that the whole project had to be dropped. If Hamtramck's politics show anything, it is the crudeness of viewing Muslims as a monolith whose religious identity trumps its linguistic, cultural, political, and economic interests.
  • The diverse political motivations and interests of the Muslim council members make it difficult for them to come together as a block, notes Kowalski. It also makes them similar to local politicians everywhere. One of the few times they did unite was over a barnyard animal ordinance two years ago. A burgeoning urban farm movement pushed the council to allow small barnyard animals in backyards. But this threatened local Muslim merchants, who control the live chicken business in town. They successfully lobbied some of the Muslim council members to make an exception in the final bill. The upshot is that people can now keep rabbits, ducks, and pigeons—but chickens are a no-no. "You can tie [that debate] to religion if you want," mused Majewski when queried about the incident. "But it's really got more to do with internal Hamtramck politics." In other words, the grandest Muslim conspiracy in Hamtramck aimed to advance not Shariah law but old-fashioned low-stakes crony capitalism.
  • Hamtramck is poor—at least 50 percent of its population consists of recent immigrants who work in trucking, cabbing, or house cleaning or run small mom-and-pop stores—but it couldn't be more different from Jindal's imaginary European no-go ghettos. In the last few years it has become a trendy spot for hipsters priced out of Detroit's reviving downtown but who want good ethnic eateries, a cool bar scene, and cheap housing. (The average home here costs $50,000; an Albanian house painter told me that's a third of what a home costs in his country.)
  • Al-Haramain represents the live-and-let-live version of Islam that has established itself in America. "I don't see much radicalization among Muslims in Hamtramck," observes Andriy Zazulya, a Ukrainian student in his mid-20s who came to America with his family nine years ago. "They have the same aspirations as every other immigrant group here. And the immigrant bond that we all share is much stronger than any religious differences."
  • American Muslims were turning solidly Republican before 9/11 interrupted the process. That makes sense because Muslims are naturally conservative, argues Osama Siblani, a Lebanese-American engineer who founded the Dearborn-based Arab American News in 1984. George W. Bush was the community's clear favorite in the 2000 election, because he combined his conservatism with calls for a "humble" foreign policy and opposition to racial profiling. Siblani's paper gave Bush a ringing endorsement, and the Republican went on to win 71 percent of the national Muslim vote, prompting Weekly Standard editor Bill Kristol, no dove, to identify Siblani among the people Bush should thank for his victory.
  • even before Donald Trump called for banning Muslims from the U.S. and Newt Gingrich laid out a proposal to require loyalty oaths, the GOP started to lose the Islamic vote. In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, hawkish Republicans began to demonize Shariah and questioned Islam's compatibility with American values. And as some in the GOP rejected Muslims, they returned the favor. In the 2016 presidential primaries, 59 percent of Dearborn's Muslims voted for Bernie Sanders, a Jewish socialist. In Michigan, they helped fuel his upset victory over Hillary Clinton.
  • One issue that spurred action was a desire for more resources to help absorb refugees of the Iraq War, many of whom were clustering in East Dearborn and straining public services, especially schools. Dearborn authorities wanted to simply bus the kids to West Dearborn schools, but Siblani used his newspaper and his clout to campaign successfully for a $150 million millage to build three new schools in East Dearborn. Arabs also sought and won spots on school boards, campaigning to address the special needs of Muslim kids, such as halal lunches and bilingual education.
  • It is notable that all of Dearborn's Muslim City Council members, in contrast to their Hamtramck counterparts, have assumed American names such as Susan Dabaja, Mike Sareini, Robert Alex Abraham, and David Bazzy. They aren't the only ones. I met one second-generation Lebanese Christian businessman who assumed a milquetoast American name after 9/11, switching because he was afraid for his children and grandchildren. "I've read American history, and I know what happened to Japanese Americans in World War II," he shudders. The fear of internment camps haunts many Dearborn Arabs, Siblani affirms.
  • After 9/11, the feds illegally detained 1,400 Arab-American Muslims, many from Dearborn, sending shockwaves through the community. Despite that, about 4,000 of them voluntarily signed up as translators and agents for the CIA and FBI. Meanwhile, many Michigan Muslims used their familiarity with the Middle East to obtain lucrative defense contracts during the Iraq War, making veritable fortunes. But the biggest boon for Dearborn was, paradoxically, the PATRIOT Act. The feds used that law to crack down on Muslim charities sending money overseas for relief efforts out of suspicion that they were using philanthropy as a cover to fund militant outfits such as Hamas and Hezbollah. This spooked Dearborn Muslims into keeping their almsgiving closer to home.
  • An influx of wealth within the community combined with rising Islamophobia outside, he argues, retarded the normal process of outward mobility. Dearborn has become a safe haven for Arab Muslims, so that even as they become more affluent, they don't necessarily move to tonier suburbs—or at least not ones too far from Dearborn. As a result, the town has become an enclave, observes Matthew Stiffler, a Lebanese Christian researcher at Dearborn's Arab American National Museum. Muslims can visit mosques, patronize Arabic-speaking doctors, send their kids to predominantly Arab public schools, and eat at halal restaurants without having to venture outside city limits. Many conservatives see this and scream "Dearbornistan." But the city's Muslims say they have built parallel institutions as an act of self-protection, largely to avoid uncomfortable encounters with people who scream things like "Dearbornistan."
  • Shiites see Al Qaeda and ISIS—the worst 21st century terrorist groups—as Sunni terrorists, not "Islamic" terrorists. They don't think 9/11 or the San Bernardino and Orlando attacks have any more to do with them than the Catholic pedophilic priest scandal has to do with Protestants.
  • younger, college-educated, American-born Muslims are more likely to want to stand up to the authorities and defend their civil rights. Many of them condemn their elders as collaborators
  • the hijab is experiencing something of a revival among Michigan's Muslims—but not because the community is coming under the grip of some retrograde form of patriarchal Islam. Rather, women are donning it as a symbol of resistance to demands for mainstream conformity. Several Muslim men told me that they'd feel better if their wives ditched their headscarves to avoid harassment. But the wives themselves were digging in their heels, because they wanted to fight for the space to practice their faith on their own terms.
  • The central paradox that American Muslims confront is that they are being challenged to assimilate in mainstream America, even as mainstream American has turned suddenly hostile to them.
  • there are two potential tension points between the Muslims and other Americans, one involving sexual politics and the other involving religious speech. In both cases, the conflict doesn't involve American conservatives who oppose the Muslim presence but American progressives who support it
  • Like Christian puritanism, Muslim puritanism is a lifestyle choice. The crucial thing is that the moral high ground in the American Islamic community is on the side of educating and empowering women.
  • Elturk, who has a son in the Marines, says that there is growing sentiment among Muslims that anti-apostasy laws don't represent the true teachings of the Koran. But he acknowledges that most Muslims, including him, believe in setting outside limits to free speech when it comes to religion. A 2012 Wenzel Strategies poll found that 58 percent of Muslim Americans believe criticism of Muhammad should not be protected under the First Amendment. If he were president, Elturk imagines, he would hold a multi-faith conclave to draw up red lines for every religion beyond which free speech rights would not be protected. "If non-Muslim Americans understood that Muslims love the prophet even more than their children and parents, they'd see why insulting him is unacceptable," he says. This betrays a fundamental inability to comprehend that such restrictions would eviscerate both free speech and the separation of church and state.
  • How threatening are these Muslim attitudes to bedrock liberal values? Given how small the Muslim presence in America is, not very. If this presence grows substantially, it will certainly affect the national conversation on religious speech and gay rights, just as the Catholic presence has affected the debate over abortion and reproductive rights—and the Jewish presence has affected the debate over Middle Eastern policy. But Muslims will not just influence the culture; they will be influenced by it. Islam in the West loses about a fourth of each Muslim-born generation. If Muslim numbers increase, interaction with the rest of America will splinter the community's already fraught cohesiveness. "There will be Democratic Muslims and Republican Muslims and civil libertarian Muslims and socialist Muslims and progressives and conservatives," Siblani predicts.
Ed Webb

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

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

The Middle East's New Divide: Muslim Versus Muslim - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • For much of the last decade, most have digested the narrative of a Muslim-West divide. It was so pervasive that newly elected US President Barack Obama, portrayed as a symbolic messiah bridging two worlds, was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize before even completing a year of his term. Twelve years after the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks, much of the discussion about the "Muslim world" has internalized this language, and why not? The conflict between the Palestinians and US-supported Israel remains unresolved, US drone strikes continue unabated in Pakistan and Yemen and terrorist attacks like the Boston Marathon bombing are still occurring in deadly fashion.
  • in recent years approximately 90% of terrorism-related fatalities have been Muslim
  • The battle lines have shifted from Islam versus the West to Muslim versus Muslim, and it is time for politicians and pundits in the United States and the Middle East alike to catch up
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  • With the end of the Soviet war in Afghanistan — in which the Americans and Muslim jihadists were allies — and the fall of the Soviet Union, a new dynamic began to set in. The 1991 Gulf War raised the specter of an American hegemon and also led inadvertently to the development of al-Qaeda as an anti-Western force. Over the next two decades, underlined by the 9/11 attacks, the notion of Samuel Huntington’s clash of civilizations appeared to be coming to fruition. With the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in full throttle, alongside the second Palestinian intifada, this divide sharpened in the early 2000s.
  • Al-Qaeda’s own ideology was based heavily on the writings of Sayyid Qutb, the Muslim Brotherhood leader executed in 1960s Egypt. Qutb had, in turn, borrowed heavily from the 14th-century theologian Ibn Taymiyyah, both of whom promoted intra-Muslim violence. The basis of the call to jihad was not against the West, but rather against "un-Islamic" regimes, even if they were helmed by Muslims. Embedded in al-Qaeda’s fight was a rejection (takfir) of regimes within the Muslim world. The United States and its Western allies were targeted for being the guarantors of these governments in the eyes of al-Qaeda
  • In 2008, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad were regarded as the most admired leaders in the Arab world. Subsequent events and sectarian strife have made such a result today inconceivable
  • The ripping open of the political space in Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Tunisia has brought contestation for power into play, and in the spotlight stands the debate over the role of Islam
  • three concurrent battle lines pitting Muslim against Muslim across the region: militants versus the state, Shiites versus Sunnis (and Salafists versus Sufis) and secularists versus Islamists
Ed Webb

The Idea of the Muslim World and the global politics of religion - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • The stabilization and reification of Islam and other so-called world religions that I have remarked on in the theory and practice of international relations make The Idea of the Muslim World not only academically prescient but politically necessary. It allows us to reevaluate, and perhaps unlearn, some of the powerful yet nearly imperceptible assumptions about religion and politics that inhabit us as moderns.
  • The idea of the Muslim world enables narratives in which Islam “causes” people to do things. It allows for the depiction of Islam as the religion that is most recalcitrant and resistant to Western-style modernity, an agent that defines all aspects of life. Like other religions, only more so, the “Muslim world” requires management with white gloves, and sometimes the use of force, to prevent it from igniting into violence.
  • This narrative requires certain preconditions to take root and flourish. It needs stable entities called “religions” that are taken for granted as drivers of (peaceful or violent) forms of politics, (amenable or hostile) social relations, and (oppressive or emancipatory) legal and social systems. It is in this environment that something called “Islam” can be successfully portrayed as a “cause” of violence. It is in this environment that Ted Cruz’s preposterous assertion during the presidential campaign that “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror” could be a plausible statement to more than a few supporters
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  • political gestures whose cumulative effect is to create social and political worlds that are saturated with naturalized distinctions and suspicions between Muslims (and other religions/races) and others
  • The idea of the Muslim world enables the specific forms of politics and religion that structure contemporary international relations, many of which are premised on the protection of individuals and groups on the basis of religion. This is why his book is so important. If we were to take Aydın’s thesis to heart, programs to cultivate tolerant Muslims and suppress Islamic extremism that are premised on the notion of a stable “moderate” Muslim identity would be unimaginable. Instead policymakers would have to contemplate a much broader and more complex set of factors and forces
  • “Muslim” as a politically salient ethnic, religious, and/or racial identity is the product of political and religious discourse and history
  • n the 1990s, Bosnians who saw themselves as atheists before the war woke up to find themselves identified—and divided—by a newly salient religious identity
  • pan-Islamism—the idea that there is such a thing as a “Muslim world”—is a new and historically strange invention, a legacy of imperial racism
  • “the racialization of Islam was bound up with its transformation into a universal and uniform religious tradition, a force in international politics, and a distinct object in a discourse of civilizations. Political strategy and intellectual labor made this new reality, and both Muslims and European Christians took part.”
  • “Racialized Muslim subjects,” Aydın concludes in a key passage, “remained the real heart and animating force of pan-Islamism.” It is this perception of solidarity—a particular and historically contingent species of racialized colonial and postcolonial solidarity—that mattered, and that still does
Ed Webb

The Muslim world: Political fiction and sociological fact? - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • In his important new book, Cemil Aydın asserts “the ‘Muslim world,’ as a catchall description of people recognizing themselves as Muslims, has never been more than an illusion.” The idea of the Muslim world, Aydın argues, emerged through an exchange between European imperialists and Muslim intellectuals during the late-nineteenth century, and has enjoyed a cyclical revival post-WWII. What Aydın identifies as “the legacy of imperial racialization of Muslim-ness” was met with “Muslim resistance to this racialized identity,” thereby producing a notion of Muslim civilizational and geopolitical difference distinct from the West.
  • Aydın suggests that pan-Islamist ideology today “relies on an ahistorical caricature of the caliphate, one that seems derived more from Islamophobic stereotypes than from Abbasid or Ottoman practices.” What Aydın refers to as historical amnesia also afflicts American and European proponents of anti-Muslim policies, which compel Muslim solidarity and thereby foment pan-Islamist responses.
  • Is it possible to refute a claim as expansive as global Muslim unity without proposing a similarly totalizing theory?
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  • Edward Blyden, a black Protestant in West Africa whose article “Mohammedanism and the Negro Race” interpreted the fate of Muslims and blacks distinctly from white Christians; the British historian Arnold Toynbee best known for his anti-Turkish propaganda; and Ernest Renan, the leading French historian and philosopher who claimed that Islam was incompatible with modern science
  • The continued popularity of the idea of the Muslim world cannot be attributed to the elite alone. Today’s public spheres are saturated with political novices and seasoned politicians, academics, curious observers, and a vast range of nominally interested pundits, all of whom, it seems, have something to say about Muslims and Islam. Comment has never been freer and more pernicious. Any and all opinions find expression through more diffuse communication technologies than ever before. There are no guarantees that the provenance of a concept confines its use within the social networks that may have once given the concept meaning. If Aydın has written the history of an idea’s emergence, to what extent must its endurance account for a wider social field?
Ed Webb

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

  • The West does, of course, face challenges in an age when movements of people happen far more quickly across vast distances than ever before; an age in which the notions of meaning and virtue are more contested; an age where technological advancements and their corresponding impacts on society develop more rapidly. All of that has understandable impacts on how communities and societies think of themselves and conceptualize their common bonds. The question is, how do societies address these challenges and find answers that are likely to heal the rifts that exist rather than exacerbate them on the altar of “saving ourselves,” when the notion of “ourselves” is a wholly mythical construct?
  • When it comes to conceptualizing themselves as a Western “us,” European Christendom has historically done so by positioning itself against the Muslims of the Mediterranean, be they Ottomans or Arabs
  • a form of Christianity that focuses on solidarity with the oppressed, rather than promoting tribalistic hate against the “other,” is precisely what Europe needs more of
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  • is “liberty, equality, solidarity” really what the West stood for in terms of its engagements with minorities at home, and colonized peoples abroad?
  • Islam isn’t a newcomer. A decade ago, I wrote a book titled Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans that included an examination of Islam’s long European history. But one could write an encyclopedia that focused only on the history of Muslim European communities and figures, be they in premodern Spain and Portugal or the Emirate of Sicily or indeed the many Northern and Western Europeans who became Muslims. Framing Islam as a newcomer immediately restricts the scope of discussion that is needed. And such framing leads to a focus on salvaging broken models rather than seeking a new model for the West
  • The fear of Islam is where all of these insecurities come together—a world religion being caricatured to represent all the trials of the world coming upon “us.”
  • the subject of religion always arises when pundits and intellectuals discuss the ostensible faltering of the West
  • As Ryan notes, the sociologist Rogers Brubaker has characterized this stance as “a secularized Christianity as culture. … It’s a matter of belonging rather than believing.” He further describes the attitude as being one in which, “We are Christians precisely because they are Muslims. Otherwise, we are not Christian in any substantive sense.”
Ed Webb

Ancient Black Muslim manuscripts discovered, but no-one seems to care - 0 views

  • The story of Haidara and the librarians who saved the manuscripts seems to have captivated the non Muslim Western world, again. Timbuktu, known as the “African El Dorado” by European explorers in the 1600s looking for gold and other treasures, was a place of mystery for them. Tales of Mansa Musa’s splendid Hajj journey where he gave gold away wherever he went found their way to Europe. The image of Mansa Musa sitting with his legs crossed holding a golden nugget by a Florence mapmaker was a product of the European imagination, not reality. Although Mansa Musa is the wealthiest person in history, where his wealth was, was uncertain. Europeans believed that Timbuktu was the source of gold, but in reality it was a trading city where gold was sent, not mined.
  • Today, books, articles, and even documentaries have been produced on the work that Malian archivist, historians, and librarians are doing with the manuscripts. It seems though that on the other hand, the manuscripts have not captured the attention of mainstream Muslim academics. One would imagine unearthing thousands of works on Islam would cause a twitter storm by the likes of Imam Suhaib Webb or Yasir Qadhi. The rush to support Black Muslim history from two major Muslim scholars has not come. Maybe a retweet of a Malcom X quote during Black History Month, but other than that, nothing.
  • The Mali Empire was established in 1230 and the Ottoman Empire established in 1299. Arabic flourished in both empires and both left a profound amount of history. The Ottoman Empire holds more prestige and authority in Muslim academic circles. There is work that Malian jurists, poets, and leaders left for us, the issue is it is not being shared by the gatekeepers of Muslim academia. Adding the thousands of Black Muslim intellectuals to the catalog of creditable historical sources of sharia law would be a task. It would also shift the power balance of academic hierarchy, but it must be done.
Ed Webb

Coexistence, Sectarianism and Racism - An Interview with Ussama Makdisi - MERIP - 0 views

  • What is the ecumenical frame and how does it revise Orientalist understandings of sectarianism?
  • My book seeks to offer a critical and empathetic story of coexistence without defensiveness—that is, to write a history that neither glorifies the Arab past nor denigrates the present and that explores the grim significance of sectarian tensions in the modern Middle East without being seduced by their sensationalism
  • I wanted to understand how they sought to imagine and build a world greater than the sum of their religious or ethnic parts—commitments that remain evident, if one is prepared to recognize them, in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Jordan, Egypt and beyond. I call this modern iteration of coexistence the “ecumenical frame” to underscore the modern active attempt on the part of individuals and communities in the region to both recognize the salience of religious pluralism and yet also to try and transcend sectarian difference into a secular, unifying political community
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  • a project of modern coexistence that not only had to be imagined and designed, but also built
  • to trace how an extraordinary idea of Muslim and Christian and Jewish civic and political community rooted in secular equality went from unimaginability to ubiquity in the course of a single century, and nowhere more so than in the Arab East after 1860
  • subject to conflicting interpretations that valorized “real” religion and demonized sectarianism, often in contradictory and conservative modes, but also in more liberal and even radical ways
  • The Orientalist view of sectarianism frequently analogizes sect as “like race” and, furthermore, it assumes that sectarian differences are inherent cultural and political differences similar to race. What do you think is the relationship of sect to race?  How should race figure in the story of coexistence you relate?
  • the Orientalists idealize the West in order to Orientalize the East. Second, as you suggest, this view transforms religious pluralism in the Middle East into a structure of age-old monolithic antagonistic communities so that one can speak of medieval and modern Maronites, Jews, Muslims and so on as if these have been unchanging communities and as if all ideological diversity in the Middle East ultimately is reducible to religion and religious community
  • The religious sect is conflated with the political sect; the secular is understood to be a thin veneer that conceals the allegedly “real” and unchanging religious essence of the Middle East. This view is dangerous, misleading and tendentious.
  • both race and sect urgently need to be historicized and contextualized—race belongs to US (and Western) political vocabulary; sect to Arab political vocabulary. Both the notion of age-old sects and that of immutable races are ideological fictions that have been manipulated to serve power
  • US scholars Barbara J. Fields and Karen E. Fields have suggested we think of “racecraft” rather than “race relations” to underscore the ideological fundament of racist thinking that appears totally natural to its proponents. As I allude to in my book, so too might we think of “sectcraft” rather than sectarian or communal relations, both to underscore the ideological aspect of sectarianism and to emphasize the amount of work that goes into making sectarianism appear to be inherent, inevitable and unchangeable
  • many scholars gravitate toward using categories and experiences that emerge in the US context and apply them, sometimes indiscriminately and often very problematically, to other parts of the world. I think it is important at some level to respect the fact that in the modern Middle East, progressive scholars and laypeople, men and women belonging to different religious communities, have throughout the twentieth century typically described and conceptualized their struggles against injustice and tyranny as struggles against sectarianism and colonialism, but not necessarily as a struggle against racism.
  • Tribalism, communalism and sectarianism all refer to parallel formations in Africa, South Asia and the Middle East respectively that assume an unchanging essence that separates members of a single sovereignty or putative sovereignty. They are all static ideological interpretations of pluralism, and have all, to a greater or lesser degree, been massively influenced and even in many ways formally classified and invented by Western colonial powers
  • the national polities of the post-Ottoman period in the Arab East were established by European colonial powers. These European powers massively distorted the ecumenical trajectory evident in the late Ottoman Arab East. First, they broke up the region into dependent and weak states, and second, they divided the region along explicitly sectarian lines
  • the colonial dimension is crucial, and it clearly separates the US and the European period of nationalization from that of the colonized Middle East
  • why the investment in and privileging of certain epistemic categories of domination as opposed to others? The question of migrant labor illustrates how race and class and geography and history are intertwined in very specific ways—the Middle Eastern cases (whether the Gulf or in Lebanon) are indeed different from that of the history of migrant labor in the United States, which has always been implicated in settler colonialism.
  • One key difference, of course, between modern Western colonialism and early modern Islamic empires is that the latter, like their early modern Christian counterparts, did not pretend to uphold liberal representation, political equality or self-determination. So, temporality is one essential difference: ethnic, racist or sectarian discrimination in the Islamic empires was not justified or imagined as a benevolent burden to uplift others into an ostensibly equal level of civilization. There was no pretense of a colonial tutelage to help natives achieve independence in the fullness of time
  • In the Ottoman Islamic empire, there were indeed professions of Islamic superiority, notions of ethnic, tribal and religious discrimination, forms of bondage and slavery, and myriad chauvinisms and prejudices tied to kinship, geography, language, culture and ethnicity and so on, but not a notion of biological racism or the obsession with racial segregation and miscegenation that has been the hallmark of modern Western colonialism
  • a new and distinctive defensiveness among leading Muslim Arab intellectuals—that is, their need to defend Islam and Islamic society from missionary and colonial assault whilst also embracing or reconciling themselves to compatriotship with Arab Christians and Jews. This defensiveness persists
  • the great problem of scholars and governments in the West who have long instrumentalized and Orientalized discrimination against non-Muslims to suggest that there is some peculiar problem with Islam and Muslims
  • I think that scholars of gender and women’s history have a lot to teach us in this regard: that is Arab, Turkish, Iranian and other scholars who have explored the long history of gender discrimination—who have defied the fundamentalists—without succumbing to racist Orientalism or self-loathing
  • really historicize! It really is an effective antidote in the face of those who peddle in chauvinism, racism, sectarianism, tribalism and communalism
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

Debating the War on Women - An FP Roundtable | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • There is misogyny in the Arab world. But if we want progress for Arab women, we must hack at the roots of evil, not at its branches.
  • what we need are sustained, nationwide campaigns to raise awareness and dissociate religion from repression of women
  • Economic security for women is as essential as political and cultural change
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  • The fact of the matter is that Arab women, throughout the region, are exercising their moral and political agency, but not necessarily in the ways we might expect.
  • The reality is that democracy and liberalism do not necessarily go hand-in-hand, at least not in the Arab world. If anything, the opposite is true. Democracy means that governments need to be responsive to the will of the people. But the will of Arab men, and even Arab women, does not seem to be particularly supportive of the Western conception of gender equality.
  • What if Arabs decide they want to be illiberal?
  • "One of the most problematic assumptions behind quotas is that having more women in parliament somehow represents a de facto gain for women's causes."
  • To grasp our strength, we must accept that freedom involves freedom of expression, which is not about right or wrong but rather the right of choice, including the right to choose and use our sexuality.
  • Here is where American Muslims become so important. As it has in other countries, Islam as practiced in the United States is taking on many of the cultural norms of American society. American Muslim women drive cars. No one advocates genital mutilation here. Muslim women enjoy the rights and privileges of all American women. These new practices are transforming Islam here and, as with so many other immigrant groups, American Muslims are positively influencing events back in their native countries.
  • they also fear us, as much as our dictators feared us
  • Quotas, like any top-down solution, fail to address the root of the problem -- that the prevailing culture in the Arab world, for now at least, does not view women the same way that Western cultures do. In other words, getting to gender equality is probably going to take a very long time. The other possibility, and the more likely one, is that Arab societies will decide to go their own way -- a different way -- on women's rights. And they may do so both democratically and with the support and active encouragement of Arab women themselves.
  • The image of Nekkid Burqa Woman is lazy and insulting. Let's talk lazy first. And by lazy I mean editorially. Illustrations for print stories are meant to illuminate the text, to present a further dimension to the written word. They are not incidental to the item. The image of a naked woman with a painted-on burqa does nothing to illuminate the essay it accompanies. It's trite and boring -- been there, done that. Nekkid Burqa Woman is, in fact, so common that she doesn't even shock or provoke anymore. Her image simply elicits, in the language of the Internet, a "Really, Foreign Policy? Really?" The covered-yet-naked-yet-covered Unknown Brown Woman is all over the place. You can find her on book covers and in movie trailers. You'll see her used in making the case for war and you'll see her used in making the case for jihad.
  • Muslim women are typically presented in two ways in the West: traditional/veiled/subservient or modern/unveiled/autonomous. In the Muslim world, it's the reverse. The best, most free woman is the most covered. Uncovering is for a woman without morals, one who is oppressed by her own desires. In both views, Muslim women are defined by how they (un)dress.
  • The further insult stems from the fact the woman in the picture is inactive. She is simply presented for consumption.
  • And it's not just about Muslim women. The illustration is insulting to women in general. It takes the profound problem of gender-based violence and reduces it to sexual imagery: "Hey, we might be talking about the endemic hatred of one gender for the other but here's a naked painted lady to keep you company!"
Ed Webb

Tunisian women's rights plan rattles Muslim traditionalists | Religion News Service - 0 views

  • An initiative by Tunisia’s president to make inheritance and marriage rules fairer to women is reverberating around the Muslim world, and risks dividing his country
  • He’s gambling that he could shepherd through such changes because his secular party is in a coalition with an Islamist one, and because his overwhelmingly Muslim country has a history of relatively progressive views toward women.
  • the Tunisian parliament has overturned the law that banned women from marrying non-Muslims
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  • Mainstream Muslim clerics almost universally see the inheritance rules as enshrined in the Quran, Islam’s holy book, and consider the rules on marriage to be equally unquestionable in Shariah. Most Muslim-majority countries in the Mideast and Asia enforce the rules since they use Shariah as the basis for personal status and family law
  • The first president of independent Tunisia, Habib Bourguiba, championed a landmark social code in 1956 that set a standard for the region by banning polygamy and granting new rights to women unheard of in the Arab world at the time. But even he didn’t dare push for equal inheritance.
  • the proposals sparked a heated debate on social media networks among Egyptians. Supporters of Essebsi’s initiative said Al-Azhar was showing its true colors as a bastion of religious militancy
  • Muslim parents who see the inheritance laws as unjust often resort to putting assets in their daughters’ names during their lifetimes. In Lebanon, some Sunni men convert to Shiism to take advantage of what they see as the minority sect’s more equal treatment of women when it comes to inheritance. Tunisia is overwhelmingly Sunni.
  • There are some Muslim theologians who argue that the one-half inheritance for women is not absolute in the Quran and that it is open for reinterpretation to fit the Quran’s requirements for justice and equality. Still, the mainstream view is deeply entrenched. In Tunisia, the country’s leading imams and theologians issued a statement denouncing the president’s proposals as a “flagrant violation of the precepts” of Islam.
  • Several analysts suggest the president is trying to win back support from women who supported him widely in 2014 elections for his modernizing program, but then grew disillusioned after he allied with the Islamist party.
Ed Webb

Sonic controversy: "Hinduistic music" in Pakistan - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • hostility toward Sufi music is increasingly visible across denominational lines in Pakistan’s religious discourse
  • Spiritual music has long been a vital element of Islam in the region comprising areas of Pakistan and North India. What explains the growing antagonism toward mystical sound art in a country that has inherited a rich legacy of devotional music?
  • shifting assumptions about “authentic Islam” have catalyzed the scandalization of mystical music in Pakistan. The emergence of Arabization, with its emphasis on rediscovering true Islam in Arab culture, has vilified local sonic genres in the Islamic republic.
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  • liturgical music has been a site of audacious spiritual experimentation in prominent Persian and South Asian Sufi traditions since the medieval era
  • For al-Ghazali, music was a divine blessing because it could elicit preconscious and automatic emotional reactions. Sound was felt before it was thought. Thus, melody was a secret potion for mystics because it facilitated intense intimacy with God in a manner that minimized ritualistic mediation. Al-Ghazali was one among many crucial figures whose groundbreaking mystical theorization of sound reverberated and precipitated liturgical creativity in transcultural Sufi orders
  • a growing faction of scholars who insist on banning qawwali
  • Casual observers might assume that the polemic against qawwali is a symptom of rising “Talibanization,” when in fact, even pro-Sufi scholars participate in this discourse.
  • Zia believed that divesting Pakistan’s Islam from Persian, Indian and all non-Arab layers would usher a new golden era in Muslim history
  • determining a musical instrument’s moral status requires deciphering its cultural identity
  • Although these instruments have a complicated cross-cultural history, most ulema associate them with different musical streams: they consider the daff a part of an “Arabian musical system,” while the tabla, they explain, comes from the Hindustani (North Indian classical music) tradition
  • the Hindustani system is a product of Hindu-Muslim musical syncretism. It is a blend of Persian, Arab, and Indian musical elements, and has been prevalent in the northern parts of the subcontinent since the thirteenth century CE. So why does this legacy of religious and musical synthesis pose a pressing problem for ulema today?
  • During the 1980s, the state framed an ideological narrative by partly disassociating Pakistan from some of its inherited traditions, including Hindustani music
  • President Zia ul-Haq emphasized that Pakistan must emulate “authentic (Arab) Islamic culture” and cast “Hindu influences” aside
  • I listened to some of these mystically inclined scholars dwell on qawwali’s feminizing effects. Muscular manhood, they pointed out, consists of physical robustness, extraordinary bravery, and superior tactical acumen. Far from nurturing these traits, however, qawwali promotes soft emotions. The sound of the tabla, a pair of hand drums used in qawwali, was said to “breed soft men” who are “gentle, submissive, and vulnerable.” The pervasive use of the tabla, they concluded, poses a grave threat to Muslim masculinity
  • To paraphrase one Pakistani Television (PTV) executive, President Zia-ul-Haq did not wish to merely police Pakistan’s music; he wished to recreate it. To that end, his regime patronized Arab vocal and instrumental arts in the country
  • the authorities regulated the music market and selectively censored sonic material on state-owned radio and television
  • Zia’s regime incited widespread religious hatred against such “Hinduistic” sonic art.
  • popular preachers laud the “great deeds of the pious men of the 1980s” who raised their voice (and sometimes their hands) against “paganistic musical ceremonies” in the “land of the pure.”
  • This story of “Hinduistic” melodies reveals unexpected connections that challenge us to broaden our analysis of religion’s sonic dimensions. It exposes how complex debates about bodies, emotions, masculinity, and national religious identity have shaped notions of cultural purity in Pakistan.
  • the state has not banned music but done something more consequential: it has sought to transform Pakistan’s soundscape
Ed Webb

Turkish academic offers an intriguing but controversial view of the Muslim world | Ahval - 0 views

  • Kuru postulates that domestic political relations between rulers and the intellectual, economic, and religious classes, and the rearrangement thereof, explains the ascendance of Muslim-ruled areas in the eighth to twelfth centuries, their subsequent decline and the simultaneous dominance of Western Europe beginning in the early modern period. According to Kuru, “In early Islamic history, Islamic scholars’ independence from the state and the economic influence of merchants” created a space for philosophical and intellectual freedom outside of state control. Later political authorities, most notably the Seljuks, would bring the Islamic religious establishment, the ulema, under state control. The Seljuks would also introduce land and tax reforms that curtailed the economic and political influence of the merchant class. Western Europe, in contrast, underwent the opposite political and economic process in the early modern period: political and religious authorities fought and gradually disentangled from one another, universities fostered intellectual growth, and a merchant class emerged and wielded increasing political and economic power.
  • the religion-state entanglement that Kuru sees as the primary force hampering intellectual progress and innovation
  • his major claims – that Islam can be interpreted to support many different political, social, and economic projects, that neither colonial rule nor Islam fully explains the political and social conditions of Muslim-majority countries, and, most crucially, that the ulema’s conservatism and political co-option has made it difficult to counter extreme interpretations of Islamic theology and social organisation.
Ed Webb

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

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

Exporting Jihad - The New Yorker - 0 views

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

"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.“When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”
  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
Ed Webb

Azza al Garf: Is she Egypt's answer to Michele Bachmann? - Slate Magazine - 0 views

  • The rise of the strong female politician with regressive ideas about women’s rights seems to be a global phenomenon. In Egypt, the sisters of the Muslim Brotherhood share similarities with the extreme right wing of the Republican Party including relying on the supernatural advice of a “higher power” for their political involvement and an unabashed commitment to policies that limit or reverse women’s rights. Though these women have benefitted from the notion that women are equal, they work hard to differentiate themselves from feminists and attack them whenever possible
  • Funded by infusions of hundreds of millions of dollars over the years from conservative donors in the Gulf countries, al Garf and thousands of women like her have a powerful political ground game the Tea Partiers can only look upon with awe.
  • She understands that the majority of Egypt’s poor women already work outside the home and must at least travel alongside men, often supporting deadbeat husbands and children
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  • there is no correlation between the Muslim Brotherhood's rise to power and sexual harassment. Sexual harassment has existed long before they came along
  • This article reeks of prejudice and confirmation bias with the author conveying her pre-conceived notions of what she expects an islamic party or muslims to behave and act like regardless of what she saw in actuality. 
  • The fact is that women in Egypt and other countries in the region are already legally second class citizens, and one would hope that their revolution, to which the women gave so much, would begin to change that, rather than have a regressive effect.
  • Although I am no fan of the Brotherhood (or the Tea Party), I am dismayed by crude generalizations and stereotypes employed by this author. I would hope that Slate could choose something a little more insightful to present to Western readers wanting to understand the Islamist movement (and what this means for the shape of politics in the Middle East) instead of perpetuating crude stereotypes.  
  • Nina, you are not fit to write about the "fate" of women after any Arab revolution. As an Arab, Muslim FEMINIST who "swaddles" herself in a headscarf, I can tell you that you just don't know enough. Plain and simple. I know Egyptian womyn who "swaddle" themselves in headscarves and identify as anarchists. I know Egyptian womyn who "swaddle" themselves in headscarves and go tagging in downtown Cairo. I know Egyptian womyn who "swaddle" themselves in headscarves and are members of the Revolutionary Socialist movement. I wonder if these womyn will be featured in your book. Probably not because it seems to me you have a very specific portrait you'd like to portray about the Arab, Muslim womyn donning the headscarf.
  • the orientalising nature of this piece
  • are you sure those are 'conservative' foreign donors? are they even the majority of donors? Are you implying the most popular political party in egypt for the last century cannot afford to pay its own bills? Actually 'conservative' donors would donate to the salafis, not to the Muslim Brotherhood. 
  • There are massive social and economic problems in Egypt and in the Arab world at large. And yeah, women are largely treated as second-class citizen and face cultural and legal hurdles. But this is not something that outsiders can fix. Every society and every culture changes on their own terms. The fact that Azza al-Garf is even in that position is progress. Whether or not one likes it, religious women are seen to have more "legitimacy" when it comes to challenging and changing the cultural mores in many Islamic societies than outsiders or people deemed to be too "Western."  And really, swaddled? I'm an American Muslim woman who has worn all sorts of garb. Sorry, but her abaya is likely far more comfortable than whatever business suit the author was wearing.
  •  
    Heh. Not great journalism, some good comments.
Ed Webb

Turkey: An Ambivalent Religious Soft Power - 0 views

  • Albania is not the first country to realize that the mosques built with Turkey’s money and other services were also used for political purposes to promote Erdoğan's sociopolitical and religious desires. For instance, in June 2018, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz ordered the closing of seven mosques run by the Diyanet and deported more than 40 Turkish imams and their families in consequence of their political activities under the cover of religion
  • Germany launched an investigation into the Diyanet to explore the possibility that some Turkish imams have spied on members of the Gülen Movement among the diaspora
  • surveillance activities conducted by imams within the territory of foreign states cannot be defined within the concept of religious soft power, which fundamentally means the promotion of religion for a country’s foreign policy purposes. However, these investigations underline that the Diyanet imams are not alone; on the contrary, they have been working with Turkey’s other transnational apparatuses, which have been seen as soft power tools of Turkey in host countries
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  • Since coining the term in the late 1980s, Joseph S. Nye Jr. has modified the concept of soft power multiple times, but he has not explicitly theorized religion as a form of soft power
  • Jeffrey Haynes, as one of the first scholars to talk about the relation between religion and soft power, noted that religious soft power involves encouraging actors to change their political behaviors
  • Starting from the late 1940s, within the multi-party system, political parties have realized that religious rhetoric could be transformed into votes; therefore, both right-wing and centrist political parties tried to enlarge the real authority of the Diyanet to reach religiously sensitive masses of people. After the re-establishment of the democratic order annihilated by the 1960 coup d’état, the Diyanet gained prominence because the state employed it in its struggle against communism. 
  • After the 1980 coup d’état, the Diyanet’s mission included the promotion of Turkish Islam abroad, and it began to play a sociopolitical role in the international arena with the aim of promoting Turkey. Thus, Turkey’s Diyanet and Turkish moderate Islam have been actively instrumentalized in Turkish foreign policy as a soft power tool, providing an advantage over other potential actors since they have been seen as a preventive force against some of the radical Islamist movements and ideologies.
  • With its ascendant economy, domestic reforms aimed at the EU accession process, and a global climate proposing the compatibility of Islam and democracy, Turkey rose as a soft power with religious tools at its disposal. In this, Turkey has become publicly almost more visible than the other Islamic soft power actors in continental Europe, in the Balkans, and in some particular countries like Somalia.
  • opened branches in more than 40 countries, publishing and distributing Qur'ans and religious books in more than 25 languages. It also provides financial support to official Muslim representative institutions in the Balkans, continental Europe, and Africa. Furthermore, the state-run construction companies TOKİ and TİKA have been constructing mosques around the world
  • process of democratic backsliding has manifested through both domestic politics and significant changes in foreign policy, and the increasingly acrimonious rivalry between the Gülen Movement and the AKP has negatively affected Turkey’s capacity to wield effective soft power. In this transformation the AKP has started to instrumentalize Islam quite differently compared to the previous periods of Turkish attempts to exert influence in the Middle East and North Africa, the Balkans, and beyond. Notably, the Diyanet’s policies have been synchronized with the policies of the AKP, and its budget, administrative capacity, and activities have been gradually expanding throughout these years despite the shrinking economic environment within which the AKP operates. Over time, the Diyanet of the now increasingly repressive and less moderate AKP has started to be perceived differently by various countries and groups around the world
  • these religious soft power apparatuses have started to involve themselves in the host countries’ domestic politics, as in the case of Bulgaria, due to Erdoğan’s new foreign policy mentality
  • Turkey’s religious soft power is best characterized in terms of ambivalence—particularly given the increasingly competitive market of Islamic soft power
Ed Webb

Blasphemy and the Law - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • while the pain caused to believers by the defilement of cherished religious symbols and teachings is real and traumatic, laws that criminalize “defamation” of religion or inciting religious hatred are doctrinally unsound and legally dangerous.
  • Increasingly, Muslim leaders are arguing that blasphemy laws as currently applied are un-Islamic as well. In a foreword to a recently released book, “Silenced: How Apostasy and Blasphemy Codes are Choking Freedom Worldwide,” Abdurrahman Wahid, the late president of Indonesia and a strong advocate for interfaith dialogue, wrote, “Nothing could possibly threaten God who is Omnipotent and existing as absolute and eternal truth. ... Those who claim to defend God, Islam, or the Prophet are thus either deluding themselves or manipulating religion for their own mundane and political purposes.”
  • A 2012 report by Human Rights First — “Blasphemy Laws Exposed: The Consequences of Criminalizing ‘Defamation of Religions”’ [pdf] — outlines several types of problems with the application of blasphemy laws worldwide. In addition to stifling dissent and discussion in the public sphere, such laws can actually spark assaults, murders and mob outbreaks.
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  • Far from protecting religious sensibilities, blasphemy laws are a major source of prejudice and violence against religious minorities, as well as of violations of their religious freedoms.
  • The antidote to blasphemy is not blunt and counterproductive law but efforts by civil society — specifically political and religious leaders cooperating across religious and ideological lines — to condemn any curtailing of religious rights or speech that incites violence. We saw this working in New York City when Jewish, Christian, Muslim and other religious leaders stood with the mayor in August 2010 in support of Muslim leaders who wanted to build an Islamic center near the World Trade Center site. We are seeing it now as the All Pakistan Ulema Council, an umbrella group of Muslim clerics and scholars, joins with the Pakistan Interfaith League, which includes Christians, Sikhs and members of other religions, to support Rimsha Masih and to call for an end to the “climate of fear” created by “spurious allegations.”
Ed Webb

Hollywood blockbuster "Noah" faces ban in Arab World - News - Aswat Masriya - 0 views

  • Three Arab countries have banned the Hollywood film "Noah" on religious grounds even before its worldwide premiere and several others are expected to follow suit
  • Islam frowns upon representing holy figures in art and depictions of the Prophet Mohammad in European and North American media have repeatedly sparked deadly protests in Islamic countries over the last decade, fanning cultural tensions with the West. "Censors for Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE (United Arab Emirates) officially confirmed this week that the film will not release in their countries," a representative of Paramount Pictures, which produced the $125 million film starring Oscar-winners Russell Crowe and Anthony Hopkins, told Reuters
  • the studio expected a similar ban in Egypt, Jordan and Kuwait
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  • Noah, who in the Bible's Book of Genesis built the ark that saved his family and many pairs of animals from a great flood, is revered by Judaism, Christianity and Islam. An entire chapter in the Koran is devoted to him.
  • Cairo's Al-Azhar, the highest authority of Sunni Islam and a main centre of Islamic teaching for over a millennium, issued a fatwa, or religious injunction, against the film on Thursday. "Al-Azhar ... renews its objection to any act depicting the messengers and prophets of God and the companions of the Prophet (Mohammad), peace be upon him,"
  • Mel Gibson's 2004 film "The Passion of the Christ" on Jesus's crucifixion was widely screened in the Arab World, despite a flurry of objections by Muslim clerics. A 2012 Arab miniseries "Omar" on the exploits of a seventh century Muslim ruler and companion of the Prophet Mohammad also managed to defy clerics' objections and air on a Gulf-based satellite television channel.
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