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Ed Webb

Unenlightened thinking: Steven Pinker's embarrassing new book is a feeble sermon for rattled liberals - 0 views

  • Steven Pinker is fond of definitions. Early on in this monumental apologia for a currently fashionable version of Enlightenment thinking, he writes: “To take something on faith means to believe it without good reason, so by definition a faith in the existence of supernatural entities clashes with reason.” Well, it’s good to have that settled once and for all. There is no need to trouble yourself with the arguments of historians, anthropologists and evolutionary biologists, who treat religion as a highly complex phenomenon, serving a variety of human needs. All you need do is consult a dictionary, and you will find that religion is – by definition – irrational.
  • in A Treatise of Human Nature (1738), Hume wrote: “Reason is, and ought only to be, the slave of the passions and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them.” Hume believed being reasonable meant accepting the limits of reason, and so too, in quite different ways, did later Enlightenment rationalists such as Keynes and Freud.
  • He is an evangelist for science – or, to be more exact, an ideology of scientism. Along with reason, humanism and progress, science features as one of the core Enlightenment values that Pinker lists at the start of the book. But for him science is more than a bunch of methods that are useful in conjecturing how the world works: it provides the basis of ethics and politics.
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  • There is nothing novel in scientism. The Victorian prophet of social evolution, Herbert Spencer, believed that the universe, life and society were moving from undifferentiated simplicity to a higher state of complex order. In politics, this meant a movement towards laissez-faire capitalism. In social contexts, “survival of the fittest” – an expression Spencer invented after reading Darwin’s On the Origin of Species – meant that anyone unable to stay afloat in such a society would struggle, sink and then disappear. Spencer welcomed this process, since for him it was evolution in action – the movement from lower to higher forms of life.
  • Many early-20th-century Enlightenment thinkers supported eugenic policies because they believed “improving the quality of the population” – weeding out human beings they deemed unproductive or undesirable – would accelerate the course of human evolution. When Pinker touches on eugenics in a couple of paragraphs towards the end of the book, he blames it on socialism: “The most decisive repudiation of eugenics invokes classical liberal and libertarian principles: government is not an omnipotent ruler over human existence but an institution with circumscribed powers, and perfecting the genetic make-up of the human species is not among them.” But a theory of entropy provides no reason for limiting the powers of government any more than for helping the weak. Science cannot underwrite any political project, classical liberal or otherwise, because science cannot dictate human values.
  • Exponents of scientism in the past have used it to promote Fabian socialism, Marxism-Leninism, Nazism and more interventionist varieties of liberalism. In doing so, they were invoking the authority of science to legitimise the values of their time and place. Deploying his cod-scientific formula to bolster market liberalism, Pinker does the same. Scientism is one of the Enlightenment’s bad ideas. But bad ideas do not evolve into better ones. They keep on recurring, often in cruder and sillier forms than in the past. Pinker’s formula for human progress is a contemporary example.
  • Like the faithful who tell you Christianity is “a religion of love” that had nothing to do with the Inquisition, Pinker stipulates that the Enlightenment, by definition, is intrinsically liberal. Modern tyrannies must therefore be products of counter-Enlightenment ideologies – Romanticism, nationalism and the like. Enabling liberals to avoid asking difficult questions about why their values are in retreat, this is a popular view. Assessed in terms of historical evidence, it is also a myth.
  • the 19th-century French positivist Auguste Comte – not discussed by Pinker – promoted a brand of scientism that was overtly anti-liberal. Human progress meant following the path of reason and moving from magical thinking to scientific inquiry. In a society based on science there will be no need for liberal values, since moral and political questions will be answered by experts
  • Comte’s core ideas – reason, science, progress and humanism – are precisely those that Pinker lists at the start of this book as the central values of the Enlightenment. Interestingly, neither of them mentions freedom or toleration.
  • Instead of acknowledging that the Enlightenment itself has often been illiberal, Pinker presents a Manichean vision in which “Enlightenment liberal values” are besieged on every side by dark forces.
  • The message of Pinker’s book is that the Enlightenment produced all of the progress of the modern era and none of its crimes.
  • Enlightenment Now is a rationalist sermon delivered to a congregation of wavering souls. To think of the book as any kind of scholarly exercise is a category mistake. Much of its more than 500 pages consists of figures aiming to show the progress that has been made under the aegis of Enlightenment ideals. Of course, these figures settle nothing. Like Pinker’s celebrated assertion that the world is becoming ever more peaceful – the statistical basis of which has been demolished by Nassim Nicholas Taleb – everything depends on what is included in them and how they are interpreted.
  • If an Enlightenment project survives, what reason is there for thinking it will be embodied in liberal democracy? What if the Enlightenment’s future is not in the liberal West, now almost ungovernable as a result of the culture wars in which it is mired, but Xi Jinping’s China, where an altogether tougher breed of rationalist is in charge? It is a prospect that Voltaire, Jeremy Bentham and other exponents of enlightened despotism would have heartily welcomed.
  • even if Pinker was capable of providing it, intellectual inquiry is not what his anxious flock demands. Only an anodyne, mythical Enlightenment can give them what they crave, which is relief from painful doubt
  • Judged as a therapeutic manual for rattled rationalists, Enlightenment Now is a highly topical and much-needed book. In the end, after all, reason is only the slave of the passions.
Ed Webb

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

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

Imperialist feminism redux - Saadia Toor - 0 views

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

Let's Talk About Sex - 0 views

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

Islamophobia: A Bipartisan Project - www.thenation.com - Readability - 0 views

  • The “Muslim enemy” is inextricably tied to a long history of US imperialism.
  • Following the infamous incident at the 1972 Munich Olympics in which a group of Palestinians took Israeli athletes hostage and murdered them, the Nixon administration launched “Operation Boulder,” giving law enforcement agencies carte blanche to investigate Arab immigrants and Arab American citizens in search of connections to “terrorist” activities related to the Arab-Israeli conflict. Thus, a violent act committed in Munich by a handful of Palestinians became the basis on which all Arabs were designated as “suspicious”; the process of racial profiling had begun in earnest.
  • The confrontationists argued that Islamism was the new post–cold war “Other” and that the United States needed to confront and challenge this adversary in the “clash of civilizations” that was to follow. The key ideologue leading this charge was Bernard Lewis (a close associate of the neocons), who penned his views in 1990 in a now-famous essay3 titled “The Roots of Muslim Rage,” in which he raised the alarm about an impending “clash of civilizations.” Samuel Huntington then popularized this concept in an essay titled “The Clash of Civilizations?” in Foreign Affairs
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  • The “clash” thesis was not a partisan position; confrontationists belong to both political parties. The difference between the accommodationists and confrontationists was not over the goal of US hegemony; it was about strategy and rhetoric. During the 1990s, the accommodationist line dominated in Washington. The Bush père and Clinton administrations sought to win over Muslim-majority countries by appealing to universal values and, under Clinton, free market policies. Domestically, however, the hysteria against Muslims mounted during this period. The fear generated by the attempted bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 ensured that in 1995, when white right-wing Christian terrorist Timothy McVeigh bombed a federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people, Arabs and Muslims were immediately blamed
  • Domestically, Obama has continued Bush’s policies of torture, extraordinary rendition and pre-emptive prosecution. American Muslims continue to be harassed and persecuted by the state. Obama has even gone further than Bush in several ways, not only by securing the power to execute US citizens suspected of ties to terrorism without so much as a trial but also by signing the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which, among other things, allows the military to detain indefinitely without charge “terror suspects” who are US citizens. His 2011 “counter-radicalization” strategy document7 elicits the help of Muslim American teachers, coaches and community members, who are to be turned into a McCarthy-type informant system
  • a shift to the language of liberal imperialism and liberal Islamophobia.
  • In January 2007, a leadership group on US-Muslim relations headed by Madeleine Albright, Richard Armitage (former deputy secretary of state under George W. Bush) and a number of academics produced a document5 titled “Changing Course: A New Direction for US Relations with the Muslim World.” The document, which received high praise, argued that distrust of the United States in Muslim-majority countries was the product of “policies and actions—not a clash of civilizations.” It went on to argue that to defeat “violent extremists,” military force was necessary but not sufficient, and that the United States needed to forge “diplomatic, political, economic, and cultural initiatives.” The report urged the US leadership to improve “mutual respect and understanding between Americans and Muslims,” and promote better “governance and improve civic participation” in Muslim majority countries. The report’s call to action stated that it would be vital for the next president to reflect these ideas in his/her inaugural speech and to reaffirm the United States’ “commitment to prohibit all forms of torture.”
  • key characteristics of liberal Islamophobia are the rejection of the “clash of civilizations” thesis, the recognition that there are “good Muslims” with whom diplomatic relations can be forged and a concomitant willingness to work with moderate Islamists
  • This is the modus operandi of liberal Islamophobia: to roundly reject Islam-bashing—and then proceed to institute proposals that target Muslims
  • the fear of “Islamic terrorism” is manufactured to grease the wheels of empire
  • In the ten years since 9/11, a comprehensive study9 shows that of the 150,000 murders in the United States, eleven Muslim Americans were responsible for the deaths of thirty-three people (besides themselves).
  • The mistake that progressives make is to focus on the most rabid Islamophobes, while giving liberal Islamophobia a pass. Whatever form it takes, racism should be called out for it is.
Ed Webb

Trump has vowed to eradicate 'radical Islamic terrorism.' But what about 'Islamism'? - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • The very notion of Islamism often elicits fear and confusion in the West. Used to describe political action where Islam and Islamic law plays a prominent public role, it includes everyone from the European-educated “progressives” of Tunisia’s Ennahda Party to the fanatics of the Islamic State. Not surprisingly, then, “Islamism” can confuse more than it reveals.
  • The “twin shocks” of the Arab Spring and the rise of the Islamic State have forced mainstream Islamists — Muslim Brotherhood-inspired groups that accept parliamentary politics and seek to work within existing political systems — to better articulate their worldview and where it converges and diverges with the post-World War II liberal order.
  • While the Islamists we talked to unanimously opposed the Islamic State and were disgusted by its brutality, some couldn’t help but look with envy at the group’s ability to shatter “colonial impositions” — the Islamic State’s symbolic razing of the Iraq-Syria border, drawn up by Europeans, is perhaps the most infamous example. It’s not so much the arbitrariness of state borders as much as the fact that they exist.
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  • A general dislike of modern borders has been a feature of Islamist politics for some time now, and not just among the young and zealous. Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, for example, has been candid on how Turkey’s “emotional borders” extend far beyond those drawn on the map.
  • After the Arab Spring, a growing number of Islamists have begun to challenge what they see as uncreative approaches to the state — an overly centralized state, and one which, in its very constitution, is unable to tolerate dissent or alternative approaches to organizing society. There is a sense, as one participant put it to us, that the state actively interferes with everything, including religion.
  • a sort of libertarian streak
  • The Islamic State’s model is actually quite modern, with government control taking precedence over social and religious institutions rising organically from the grass roots.
  • As the scholar Ovamir Anjum has argued, pre-modern Muslim thought was not concerned with “politics” in the traditional sense, but with the welfare of the ummah — what he cleverly calls “ummatics.”
  • What’s discomforting is that many Muslims — and not just the Islamic State or card-carrying Islamists — might prefer, in an ideal world, to be free to pledge their ultimate loyalty to the ummah in the abstract, rather than to a nicely bounded nation-state. And while survey data shows the overwhelming majority of Muslims strongly oppose the group, the Islamic State nonetheless draws strength from ideas that have broader resonance among Muslim-majority populations
  • Maybe the reason Islam hasn’t fallen in line isn’t just the poverty, the lack of education, colonialism or wars. These all play a role, of course. But maybe the ideas Islamism brings to the fore also have a resilience and appeal that we have been reluctant to admit. And maybe the liberal order is not as desired, inevitable or universal as we thought.
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    Islamists pose intellectual challenge to liberal world order
Ed Webb

Is Israel a 'Jewish and Democratic' State? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • The description of Israel as “Jewish and democratic” appears initially not in the Declaration of Independence — as is often thought — but in two 1992 constitutional laws pertaining to freedom of professions and dignity of all humans. Since that time, this has become the most common phrase describing the essence of Israel. But this formulation, originally intended to help resolve various tensions, has in itself become a source of problems. By its very phrasing as Jewish and democratic — joined together by the article “and” — the immediate assumption is that the two aspects are inherently contradictory and that Israel could hope for nothing more than a problematic compromise between the two. 
  • In seeking to understand Israel, the question then is not whether there is an inherent tension between Jewish and democratic, but whether there is an inherent tension between Jewish values and liberal values. The answer of course is, it depends.
  • Both left and right perceive Jewish and democratic as conflicting adjectives. They are wrong.
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  • many of those both on the left and right of Israel have forgotten how to argue for liberal values from within Jewish traditions and texts
  • It is in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, in which the word “democratic” does not appear, that the new state’s aspirational values were best presented stating that “it will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel; it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” These were the values chosen for the state, considered not only desirable but grounded in Jewish tradition.
Ed Webb

Turkey, AKP Can Correct Mistakes - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • On Sep. 19, the HEC issued a statement saying that the institution’s decision dated Aug. 15, 2013 — the one which curbed theology lessons along with other social sciences in the theology curriculum — was “suspended.” One reason, the HEC statement explained, was “the views and suggestions coming from the public.” In other words, criticisms from society had been effective in forcing a state institution to take a step back.
  • the AKP still has a reformist edge, and can see its mistakes and correct them
  • the AKP is on the one hand a democratic and liberalizing force, and on the other hand an increasingly illiberal and intolerant actor. (My explanation to this seemingly contradictory picture is that the AKP is very liberal when it comes to solving the problems created by the old regime — that of the Kemalists — but it can be very illiberal regarding the problems it creates with its own hands.)
Ed Webb

UK PM: Multiculturalism has failed - Europe - Al Jazeera English - 0 views

  • Cameron said it was time to replace Britain's "passive tolerance" with an "active, muscular liberalism" to send a message that life in Britain revolves around certain key values such as freedom of speech, equal rights and the rule of law. "A passively tolerant society ... stands neutral between different values," he said. "A genuinely liberal country does much more. It believes in certain values and actively promotes them."
Ed Webb

Tunisia democratic activists fear a tilt toward militant Islam - latimes.com - 0 views

  • The fervor echoes the passion of Salafis emerging in Egypt and other nations. But it appears more volatile in Tunisia, even though the population of ultraconservatives is significantly smaller.
    • Ed Webb
       
      Evidence? Given that this article is riddled with sensationalist & Orientalist observations, I think we need to be cautious about the judgment being expressed here.
  • The unresolved struggle between fundamentalist and moderate Islamists is the center of a larger debate with liberals and secularists over religion's influence on public life. It has been agitated by newly free societies that feel both the tug of the traditional and the allure of the contemporary.
  • "Modern Islamists aren't in a hurry to change society, but the Salafis want to do it as quickly as possible. They're focused on Tunisia because of our advanced civil and women's rights. They want to win here to show the rest of the region."
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  • Despite their disarray and infighting, liberals and secularists are strong in Tunis;
  • "We are Muslims. We trust only God," said Abdel Omri, a husky man with a full beard and skullcap shopping for sandals on the sidewalk. "We only use the government to get our ID cards. It has no bearing on our lives. We don't believe in man's democracy. God gave us democracy in the Koran. God accepts and God forbids. That is all."
  • "It will be very dangerous if we try to deny the Salafis a political say," said Abdel Cherif, a ranking Nahda member. "Our goal is to make them forget about weapons and conflict. We want them to participate in political life."
Ed Webb

Egyptian Judge Speaks Against Islamist Victory Before Presidential Runoff - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • The president of the association of Egyptian judges said Thursday that they were abandoning their neutrality toward the coming presidential runoff in an effort to guard against an Islamist monopoly of power.
  • if the group’s members had known Islamists would win most of the seats in Parliament after elections that ended in January, they would not have supervised the voting
  • now Egypt is falling. We won’t leave matters for those who can’t manage them, with the excuse that we’re not people of politics. No, we are people of politics.
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  • the effect of Judge Zend’s appearance was a public pitch for the presidential campaign of Ahmed Shafik, the last prime minister under Mr. Mubarak, who is now squaring off against the Brotherhood’s nominee, Mohamed Morsi
  • Judge Zend appears to be giving voice to a panic that has seized much of Egypt’s old elite about the prospect of a president from the Brotherhood, demonized under Mr. Mubarak despite its 25-year record of moderation as a minority bloc in Parliament
  • “I think it is a message more or less justifying a crackdown,” said Omar Ashour, an Egyptian professor of political science at the University of Exeter, in England, who is now in Cairo. “At minimum it is a smear attempt days before the election, to try to scare voters who might be leaning toward the Muslim Brotherhood.”
  • Mr. Shafik, for his part, praised Judge Zend for his “important news conference.” But he also urged the judges not to sit out the runoff in order to avoid confusion that might lead to an Islamist victory, “for the sake of protecting Egypt from the disintegration, disorder and chaos the rogues want for the country.”
  • the chorus of alarms rising from the political establishment, including both officials of the Mubarak government and the liberals it tolerated. Many say they are still more afraid of the Brotherhood than Mr. Shafik, the former prime minister, despite his deep ties to Mr. Mubarak and reputation as a strongman
  • Osama el-Ghazali-Harb, the leader of the Democratic Front Party and one of the most credible liberal voices tolerated under Mr. Mubarak, published a column in the flagship state newspaper, Al Ahram, endorsing Mr. Shafik
  • on Thursday, Al Ahram published a column by a retired general, Hussam Seilam, arguing that if the Brotherhood came to power, Egypt would resemble Iran. “God forbid, the world will treat Egypt as a terrorist state,” he wrote
Ed Webb

The myth of the Islamist winter - www.newstatesman.com - Readability - 0 views

  • In Tunisia, as in Egypt, the Islamists who came to power through the ballot box are seeing their popularity erode and are tempted to hold on to power by recourse to authoritarian measures. But they have to deal with the legacy of the Arab spring. They face a new political culture: now, one where people who disagree with the government take to the streets; where there is no reverence for established power and the army and the police no longer inspire fear.
  • consider the precise nature of this authoritarian turn because it bears little resemblance to the “Islamic revolution” often associated with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Nahda, the Renaissance Party, in Tunisia. It is, on the contrary, a conservative and paradoxically pro-western “counter-revolution”
  • The electoral and social base of the Egyptian regime is not revolutionary. Instead of trying to reach a compromise with the principal actors of the Arab spring, Morsi is attempting to get all the supporters of the new order on his side. The coalition he is building is based on business, the army, the Salafists and those elements of the “people” that are supposedly tired of anarchy
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  • economic model is neoliberal
  • State control of religion would in fact go beyond institutions and extend to religious orthodoxy, leading to limitations being placed on Sufi practices and theological discussions. Even if the Muslim Brothers succeed in the first part of the operation – nationalising faith institutions – the price they will have to pay for it will be high, because the imams won’t appreciate being turned into civil servants. They also run the risk of destroying the religious dynamic of their movement: if the state controls religion, what use is a religious “brotherhood”? And if religion is identified with the state, there is a grave risk that the unpopularity of the government will affect faith institutions in turn, as has happened in Iran
  • Time is against Morsi, because the economic measures that he wants to introduce will make the government increasingly unpopular. And, on the other hand, continued popular protest will require him to call on the army, which will support him, but at a price – the political and economic autonomy that the military is asking for runs counter to the Brotherhood’s programme of economic liberalisation
  • the other battleground for the Muslim Brotherhood is control of the religious sphere. Like al- Nahda in Tunisia, it has discovered that this is considerably more diverse than it had thought. Moreover, figures who had previously been relatively docile where the state was concerned, such as Ahmed el-Tayeb, the Grand Imam of al-Azhar, have reasserted the autonomy that they were granted by the Arab spring. This means that the only way for the government to wrest back control of the religious sphere is to place it under the authority of the state (specifically, to submit the mosques to the diktat of the ministry of religious affairs)
  • Morsi has accepted the outlook of the IMF, not because he has been forced to do so, but because it is an approach he shares. This will bring further privatisation and competition. And because the price paid by swaths of the population will be severe, the government will need a functioning apparatus of repression and to break the trade unions. It will also have to gain the acquiescence of the army, in exchange for immunity and the right to regulate its own affairs, particularly in the economic sphere
  • a politics more redolent of Pinochet in Chile than of Khomeini in Iran
  • Religion is becoming just one instrument of control among others – rather than a social, economic and ideological alternative. This is, in short, the failure of political Islam
  • Al- Nahda is neither as strong nor as deeply rooted as the Muslim Brotherhood. The movement is more diverse, with a branch that is, if not more liberal, then at least more realistic. And because of their commitment to violence, the Tunisian Salafists are not credible allies
  • Al-Nahda is coming into conflict with the unions, either for the same reasons as in Egypt (a fascination with the free market) or for reasons more specific to Tunisia (it wants allies on its left but cannot bear to compete with a truly popular movement of grass-roots activists)
  • As in Egypt, al-Nahda proposes to use its own ministry of religious affairs to control the religious sphere, although this statism could rebound against the movement
  • if there were a credible and unified opposition, it could beat al-Nahda in the elections. Consequently, Tunisia’s chances of staying democratic are better than Egypt’s
  • The Islamists are succeeding neither in delivering the goods in economic and social terms nor in giving the impression that they are architects of an authentic social project that goes beyond the stamping of “Islamic markers” on a society over which they have increasingly little control
  • To get through the period of austerity and the economic difficulties that go with it, they should have done more to secure a “historic compromise” with the liberals. The alternative to such an alliance is not “Islamic revolution”, however. What is taking shape instead is a coalition that is con - servative in politics and morals but neoliberal in economics, and thus open to the west
Ed Webb

In memory of Salahuddin and Al-Quds' liberation | ArabNews - 0 views

  •  
    History directed toward nationalist identity-building.
Ed Webb

Liberal Islamophobia: Anti-Muslim hostility is not just a conservative phenomenon | Middle East Eye - 0 views

  • it would be wrong to view Islamophobia as a strictly conservative phenomenon. Polling data indicate that 49 percent of Democrats hold unfavourable views of Islam. Also, Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid has argued that US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, holds views that amount to “Islamic exceptionalism”. Hamid argues that Obama’s statements about Muslims suggest that he is “frustrated by Islam” and that he has bought into Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis
  • American news media, including liberal outlets, have done a poor job contextualising stories about Muslims and Islam. A growing body of empirical research into American news media coverage of Islam reveals deeply problematic patterns - negative, stereotypical portrayals, almost no Muslim sources, and few mention of Muslims or Islam in the context of positive news. That American news outlets apply the “terrorism” description almost exclusively to Muslim-perpetrated violence cannot be lost on anyone paying attention
  • while denunciations of terrorism by Muslim groups generally go unreported, Islamophobic statements drive news narratives
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  • the CIA estimates that there are around 30,000 Muslim jihadists in the entire world. A Kurdish leader has suggested that the CIA underestimates the jihadist threat, and claims that the total number is closer to 200,000. Even assuming the larger figure, jihadists represent a grand total of 0.01 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims
  • A 2011 Gallup poll found that American Muslims were the least likely of all polled American religious groups to accept vigilante violence against civilians. In all, 26 percent of American Protestants, 27 percent of Catholics, 22 percent of Jews, 19 percent of Mormons, 23 percent of atheists, but just 11 percent percent of Muslims said that it is “sometimes justified” for an “individual person or a small group of persons to target and kill civilians”.
  • Glaringly absent from American news media are opinion polls showing that Muslims are no more likely to accept violence than other groups. For instance, a 2011 Gallup World Violence poll showed that Muslims were just as likely as non-Muslims to reject vigilante acts of violence against civilians
  • Media scholar Jack Shaheen carried out a content analysis of more than 900 Hollywood movies featuring Arab or Muslim characters. Shaheen found Muslim characters are almost never cast in positive or neutral roles. The overwhelming majority of films that feature Arab or Muslim characters cast them as enemies, terrorists, violent, savage or backwards
  • compared to other threats of violence, Muslim terrorism garners exaggerated attention in American news and politics.
  • In the 14 years since 1 January, 2002, Muslim terrorists have killed 45 Americans in the United States, a smaller number than right-wing conservative terrorists have killed during the same time period. Also, since the start of 2002, there have been more than 200,000 firearm-related homicides in the United States
  • More realistic, proportionate presentations would greatly improve American political life. However, given the extent to which the Islamophobia industry is funded, people shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for fairer, less sensational presentations.
Ed Webb

Marxism and Islam in Africa - Africa is a Country - 0 views

  • reconstitution of the history of philosophy as a[n] exclusively European affair was really a fabrication of 19th century philosophy
  • There was quite a significant tradition of Maoists in Senegal. The events of 1968 were very important in Senegal, so my generation came after that. We were not veterans of 1968, we were too young to participate; but we sort of lived the consequences of 1968. So my heroes were the students who led the strikes, the movement
  • it is true that the Marxist left was not very keen on even African philosophy. The critique of ethno-philosophy was coming from the left and their idea was that this was not true philosophy, looking at African conceptions, religious conception, and so on; because the idea of philosophy was really about philosophy being class struggle in theory. Paulin Hountondji, who is a main philosopher against ethno-philosophy, says as much: “ok, what Tempels did and followers of Tempels wrote was not truly philosophy.” He was very Althusserian saying that. So, my interest in Senghor’s thought was already a break from that that position coming from orthodox Marxism about what philosophy is and what philosophy should be. The weapons of criticism would be what philosophy is about, and not this exploration of African philosophy let alone Islamic philosophy because that was idealism, was religion, spirituality and not philosophy at all. You can find that kind of very strong position in Cameroonian philosopher Marcien Towa, who is the ultimate orthodox Marxist; who thinks that anything having to do with religion cannot be philosophy. You had this very narrow understanding of philosophy as following Marx’s Eleventh Thesis on Feuerbach. Philosophers have until now interpreted the world, the point is to transform it. So everything in philosophy that leads to that transformation is real, “true philosophy.” So, we all had that conception at one point and I, having started working in the field in which I was working, had departed from that. And when it comes to religion, even when I considered myself a Maoist, a Marxist, I have never actually been materialist in the sense of being atheist. Islam has always been somehow my interiority, coming from the background that I did. I’ve never departed from religion at all.
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  • Senghor thought that the early Marx was really a Marx that spoke to a Catholic like him, being a Socialist; and alienation having this precise meaning, about estrangement – where human feeling is estranged from his own humanity, from his fellow humans and from his own work. “Work” is sucking his blood instead of being the fullest expression of his humanity. That way of thinking in Marx was something that spoke to a spiritual man such as Senghor and it explains, why in the French tradition – and, I believe, in the European tradition in general of Christians, for leftist Christians – that Marx also was important. It is interesting to see how many priests on the left in France had written on Marxist humanism, following the rediscovery of those early writings of Marx that spoke to them more than Capital would speak to them. Senghor belonged to that tradition. He wrote a very important essay entitled “Marxism and Humanism” in 1948 after World War Two
  • he considered that this was a criticism that should be made against a kind of petrified religion that had forgotten the social message of religion. So that Marx could be used by people who felt that they were fighting for social justice, and at the same time were deeply religious. Something akin to Liberation Theology; Senghor might not have really used the expression, but he was very much in that movement of Liberation Theology.
Ed Webb

The Myth of the Muslim Country | Boston Review - 0 views

  • challenge the deep-seated and widely held assumption, held across the political spectrum, that Muslims are naturally, even preternaturally, violent. While seemingly easy to oppose, this notion draws sustenance from a much broader and deeper well of support than is often acknowledged by North American critics of far-right anti-Muslim politics. It enjoys the tacit support of a range of constituencies, including many liberal internationalists. It is not uncommon for critics of the Trump administration’s toxic religious politics, including from the progressive left, to repeat and reinforce the basic presumption that religion, particularly Islam, can be either good or bad, with the former lending itself to peaceful existence and the latter to oppression and violence
  • religious affiliation does not predict political behavior
  • It apparently no longer seems at all strange that the government—not just the present administration but any government, anywhere—would be vested with the legal and religious authority to determine who counts as Christian or Muslim
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  • Today’s focus on Muslim perpetrators as the problem—and the rescue of non-Muslim victims as the solution—draws on a toxic cocktail of nationalism, racism, and anti-Muslim politics that has been gathering strength for decades in North America, Europe, and beyond
  • Many liberals also speak of Islam and Muslim political actors as if they were singular agentive forces that can be analyzed, quantified, engaged, celebrated, condemned, or divided between good and bad. Yet there is no such thing as Muslim or Christian political behavior
  • To posit extremism as an organic expression of Islam renders us incapable of apprehending the broader political and social contexts in which discrimination and violence occur and empowers those who benefit from the notion that Islam is at war with the West
  • To identify Middle Eastern Muslims as the cause of these problems, and to propose “saving” their Christian “victims” as the solution, replaces serious discussion about politics and U.S. foreign policy with moral panic
Ed Webb

Brian Whitaker's blog, October 2010 - 0 views

  • The Associated Press has been looking in some detail at the likely effects of the royal decree. While some Saudis view it as pointing the way to a modernisation of religious teaching, others see it merely as an attempt to assert state control. The AP report points out that the officially-approved clerics – Council of Senior Religious Scholars – are far from progressive and many of them can be considered hardliners. "Beyond strict edicts on morality, they reinforce a worldview whereby non-Muslims and even liberal or Shiite Muslims are considered infidels, and their stances on jihad, or holy war, at times differ only in nuances from al-Qaeda's," it says.
Ed Webb

Egypt: Lessons from Iran | openDemocracy - 0 views

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

The real story of Bahrain's divided society | Tahiyya Lulu | Comment is free | guardian.co.uk - 0 views

  • the facts of the matter speak for themselves. Corruption, crony capitalism and a lack of transparency add up to uneven development and a vast disparity in wealth. By and large, Bahrain's Shia are losing out in the country's economic boom.What this reflects, to a large extent, is the success of the Bahraini regime's strategy to deal with challenges to its legitimacy by promoting and reinforcing identity politics within a system of privileges where certain groups and individuals are favoured over others. In a word: discrimination.
  • Continuing a discriminatory tradition set by imperial Britain during Bahrain's time as a British protectorate (when police were recruited from British-colonised India), the regime today relies on defence from imported mercenaries, while Bahraini Shia are denied the right to serve in their own armed forces.
  • Bahrain's sectarian divide therefore stems from economic disparity and the denial of civil rights.
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  • A better way to understand the current uprising is as a movement for civil rights and liberties. The demands are for transition from a system of privileges for a few at the expense of the many towards a system of greater rights for all. That is presumably why the Shia-dominated "cannot-haves" of the anti-government, pro-reform crowds appear to have crossed the sectarian rift and drawn in Bahrainis from a range of political platforms including liberals, secularists and human rights activists.
  • it is not the demands of the pro-reform protesters at Pearl Roundabout but the Bahrain government's rule by repression and discrimination that is pushing this country towards a "sectarian abyss".
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