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Ed Webb

The Tangled Politics of America's Woke Liberals and Muslim Millennials | Newlines Magazine - 0 views

  • Across the Western world, it is liberal politicians and activists who back Muslim groups and support Muslim community issues.Indeed, Islamophobia, surveillance, and the securitization of Muslim communities has firmly become an issue of the political left, which sees parallels between the experience of ethnic minorities such as African Americans and Muslim communities. There’s an international aspect to it, of course, as evidenced by the “Muslim ban,” which is why liberals have taken a leading role opposing the Iraq War and supporting the Palestinian cause.
  • The left has historically been opposed to organized religion, believing its conservatism entrenches and justifies inequality and its communalism is a threat to individual liberty.On that basis, one could expect that liberals would oppose religious identity. And indeed, they seem to do so when the groups espousing faith are part of the dominant power structure, or, to say it starkly, when those talking about religion are white men. The faith of brown men and Black women is less of an issue.
  • a hierarchy of liberal values, which sees undoing structural inequality and injustice today as a more vital political task than creating a liberal society tomorrow
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  • For reformers, an ideal society would not necessarily be liberal in the sense Western liberals understand it — such as holding liberal social values, being accepting of abortion and homosexuality, for example — but would instead be politically liberal, meaning it would allow minority faiths to both practice and — and this is the crucial bit — express their religious faith in public. That’s a critical distinction that liberals have yet to grapple with.
  • Western European liberals have forgotten how to grapple with faith, so religion has been comprehensively pushed to the margins of public life
  • the idea of groups coming together, which may have differing views about how a future society should be organized, is the basis of politics itself
  • The broad coalition of ideologies that make up the left today have different conceptions of what an idealized society would look like. Yet they agree on the political task of removing structural inequality and injustice today.
  • While there are certainly questions about this alliance between liberals and faithful Muslims, and some on each side eye each other warily, I don’t share the belief that there is anything unusual or uniquely challenging about this political alliance. For one thing, the rising progressive wing of the liberal movement — the one so often derided as “woke,” as if that were a bad thing — has more in common with Muslim millennials than the previous political generation
  • A rising generation of liberals now looks at social institutions as the problem. They look at the way hierarchies are constructed — in society, at work, even in relationships — and believe the structures themselves are the problem. The same with schools, banks, the police, and so on. The value systems within these structures are the problem, not the people within them who are incentivized to uphold these values.That analysis chimes with a changing Muslim political community, too. For Muslim millennials, integration is not the overarching political ambition that it was for a previous political generation. The current political generation of Muslims in the West applies a structural analysis of what is wrong with the world. This is where the overlap occurs. The two groups look at the structures of power and see clear links between the historical crimes of slavery and colonialism, as well as the hierarchies of race, gender, and faith, and the situations in the West and the Muslim world today.
  • Progressive liberals are upending some of the distinctions long thought to be immovable. As that movement shifts from analyzing hierarchies in society, work, and relationships to hierarchies in politics, some of the questions that were taken for granted will be upended.One of those questions will be about the role of faith in public life, or, to say it more specifically, what exactly counts as the display of faith in public life. As religion shifts from being something about the afterlife to being something about culture in this earthly life, there will be a shift in what counts as the display of faith in public life.
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

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

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

How a series of fringe anti-Muslim conspiracy theories went mainstream - via Donald Trump - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • The party’s standard-bearer has borrowed heavily both in message and in membership from far-right conservative activists whose pronouncements on Islam have long been denounced as dangerous zealotry by mainstream conservative and liberal policymakers alike.
  • The migration of anti-Islam extremist views to major-party acceptance is, like much in American politics, a fusion of opportunism and ideology. It often has been highly profitable for its practitioners as well.
  • Pamela Geller used her increasingly popular libertarian blog AtlasShrugs.com to spread the falsehood during the 2008 presidential campaign that President Obama was born in Kenya and was a secret Muslim. So did former Reagan administration aide Frank Gaffney Jr., whose neoconservative think tank argued that the country was at risk of falling victim to “civilization jihad” at the hands of the Muslim Brotherhood.
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  • they spread their ideas through a network of small conferences, tea party groups, conservative churches and Jewish groups, and right-wing news outlets such as Breitbart
  • Most important of all, they said, was to stop the advance of what they labeled “creeping sharia,” an alleged Muslim plot to impose Islamic law across American institutions.
  • not everyone in the movement rallied immediately around Trump. Some, including Gaffney, initially joined the campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), and Ben Carson also won support with references to “civilization jihad.”
  • Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) offered a darker vision. In a speech at the American Enterprise Institute, he said sharia is “a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and the world as we know it.”
  • it makes sense that sharia has worked as a focal point for the anti-Muslim movement. For many Americans, the definition offered by the activists was also their first introduction to the concept.
  • The business of speaking out against Muslims also has been lucrative. Seven charitable groups provided $42.6 million to “Islamophobia think tanks” such as those run by Gaffney and Gabriel between 2001 and 2009, researchers at the Center for American Progress found.
  • drafted a law to ban sharia, and with the help of Act! for America began shopping the draft to lawmakers in Southern states
  • In previous presidential campaigns, the Republican candidates “beat back” the movement’s conspiracy theories, said Ken Gude, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, who co-authored an updated report on the movement last year. “Now we have a campaign that not only isn’t pushing back against them, but is also pushing and advocating those kinds of views.”
  • When Trump in December first called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States,” he cited a widely debunked poll , conducted by Conway for Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy, that claims that 25 percent of Muslims surveyed supported violence against Americans and that 51 percent think Muslims should have the choice of being governed by sharia in America.
  • A large number of Americans have long recognized “the jihad threat,” and Trump is giving voice to those sentiments, Geller said. It’s only the mainstream media, “a Soros-funded propaganda arm for the far-Left and its Islamic supremacist allies,” she said, that has stood in the way of broader acceptance.
Ed Webb

Rinse and Repeat: French Secularism as Political Theater - 0 views

  • Decentralization in certain areas of political, economic, and civic life is part of a broader neoliberal restructuring of France that has accompanied its incorporation into the European Union, beginning in the mid-1970s and accelerating in the 2000s. This neoliberal restructuring combines market-friendly policies with the retraction of the welfare state, eroding French national values of equality, unity, and social solidarity. 
  • the political-economic transformations of the neoliberal era in France have come with a tacit acceptance that the government could, and would, do very little about unemployment
  • Macron, like so many other politicians before him, has responded by scapegoating Islam. Making the threat of Islamist separatism front and center, Macron’s government has committed to a law-and-order paradigm that seeks to re-establish national identity, republican values, and the authority of the Republic.
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  • Republican authority is “reasserted” on Muslim lives and Muslim bodies, all in the name of French secularism
  • Muslim appeals for religious accommodation are claims to civic equality within the existing parameters of laïcité. Yet those appeals have paradoxically become the basis for questioning Muslims’ fitness as proper French citizens. For instance, Macron and other politicians have consistently identified requests for halal meals in school cafeterias as a sign of Muslim separatism
  • in 2021, history repeats itself: Macron wants to create “an Islam of the Enlightenment” and to make sure that imams are trained in France. Politicians on the left and the right are obsessed with Muslims’ sartorial choices, taking headscarves and beards as signs of poor integration at best and of separatism at worst. This is unsurprising; it is how French secularism works
  • When it comes to religious minorities, then, inclusion and exclusion have always gone hand in hand, as have integration and intervention. France is at a particularly punitive moment in this interventionist project, the political theater of both neoliberalism and secularism playing out on the civil liberties of Muslim French and their allies. This has happened before. And, no doubt, it will happen again
Ed Webb

Opinion | France cynically targets Muslim women - again - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • France, more than any other European country, has struggled with a wave of Islamist violence that has led to the death of more than 230 people. One response to these attacks from the political right and the center-left has been a rhetorical hardening on Islam and its place in French society. But many French Muslims and other minority voices say this hardening has often stifled good-faith criticism of government policies
  • I was called a terrorist and repeatedly harassed by social media trolls, only to find out they’d been funded by the French government
  • several organizations were given money without having to demonstrate their previous work on radicalization or, for some of them, to demonstrate any work at all. And some of those organizations and their representatives had personal relationships with Schiappa. Then it appeared that some of the money doled out by the government was ultimately used in the 2022 presidential campaign to criticize opponents of Emmanuel Macron, which is not legal. The government’s money cannot be used in favor of a candidate during a campaign — it has to be neutral.
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  • some of those organizations used that money to harass people online, including me. A number of other anti-racist and feminist advocates were targeted. The worst was when they depicted a number of us together in an illustration that also showed the face of Salah Abdeslam, the convicted terrorist who was mastermind of the 2015 attacks on Paris. Even some of the government’s allies had to ask: Should tax dollars be used to harass and defame public figures who are seen as criticizing the government?
  • announced the ban of abayas and qamis — traditional garments — in public schools, interpreting them as “religious outfits.” This is in keeping with France’s principle of laïcité, or secularism, which enshrines the neutrality of the state toward religious observance and the freedom of belief. Since 2004, laïcité has become a political football, especially in schools.
  • There’s no question that all of this constitutes a legitimate national trauma, but this very real fear is used by the government to depict the way some Muslim teenagers dress not only as a “violation of secularism” but also as “an attack” and “an attempt to destabilize” the French republic.
  • This is warlike rhetoric, and it treats teenage female Muslims as a monolithic entity — and a threat.
  • recent years show that it is impossible for any Muslim woman who wears a religious sign to be visible in the public sphere. And I connect this to my own experience as a Black and Muslim woman. Being in the public eye and outspoken on Islamophobia, I have faced many attempts to silence me.
  • France has been tremendously ingenious and imaginative to make sure to enable its narrow conception of national identity. France pursues an ideal of assimilation and uses laïcité as an instrument to standardize the display of cultures
Ed Webb

Publicly French, Privately Muslim: The Aim of Modern Laïcité - 0 views

  • since the 1990s and accelerating into the mid-2000s, the interpretation of laïcité has shifted to a stricter and more illiberal interpretation that has been used by both left-wing neo-republicans and right-wing conservatives to justify policies targeting Muslim visibility. These groups collectively adopted a combative attitude toward Muslims by telling them to erase public expressions of faith and relegate them to the private sphere in the name of assimilation and national identity. This modern interpretation of laïcité stigmatizes some French citizens because of their religion—it is no longer the neutrality of the state that is centered but the neutrality of some of its citizens
  • French identity and particularly its Christian and/or Judeo-Christian heritage has gradually become a rallying cry for the right and the far-right, who use it to make the case that Muslims do not belong in France
  • successive governments have attempted to design a “French Islam” that could mollify its critics, and have implemented regulation in pursuit of this
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  • Because of the shift from a human rights-compatible laïcité in which all individuals are equal regardless of their religion to a regime in which laïcité became the weapon of choice to defend a particular cultural and political identity, laïcité as we have come to see it today is fundamentally incompatible with international human rights
  • First-generation immigrants were discreet about their religious expression and kept to themselves, while the new generation is more comfortable in manifesting their French-Muslim identity publicly. The public square is the place where people should feel free to express both differences and similarities, exchange points of view, and appreciate each other’s unique contributions. A truly laïque state should be guaranteed based on its neutrality and not on the neutrality—and invisibility—of its citizens.
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

How Andrew Tate and the Far Right Made Common Cause with Islamists - New Lines Magazine - 0 views

  • culture wars are even having an effect on the left. The Muslim Democrats Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have both openly supported LGBTQ causes, yet Omar and Tlaib’s most steadfast backer, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (arguably the largest and most influential Muslim organization in America), has recently shifted to the right on these causes. Previously supportive of LGBTQ rights, CAIR has expressed concern over proposed legislation strengthening these rights, stating that new amendments to the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act could “jeopardize religious freedom.” In the state of Michigan, CAIR is working with Catholic and Protestant groups challenging the amendments.
  • The alliances may seem improbable, but the foundations of these anti-LGBTQ and pro-traditional family movements are firm and likely not only to endure but also reshape the political landscape. In the West, the social conservatism of the traditional Muslim way of life offers a prototype for what a “woke-free” society might look like. For a sizable reactionary contingent, conservative Islam’s patriarchal structures and gender and family norms seem vastly preferable to the direction the West is heading, thanks to feminism, “cultural Marxism” and liberalism. In turn, conservative Muslims have been embracing expressions like “red pill” and “the matrix” to describe the rejection of liberalism and feminism, while expressing solidarity with the West’s manosphere. The misogyny, transphobia, antisemitism and anti-liberal sentiments of both cultures are thus being bolstered and are in turn supporting and influencing the political expression of the new radical right, represented by Trump, DeSantis and other populists. The new right may only be a splinter group, but with allies among extreme conservatives of all stripes, its power to potentially change societies and geopolitics is undeniable.
Ed Webb

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

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

Islamophobic Hegemony in France: Toward a Point of No Return? - 0 views

  • The Law of March 15, 2004, which prohibits the wearing of conspicuous religious symbols in public schools, marks a philosophical and legal turning point, with the advent of a neo-secularism that challenges the equality of religions by targeting Muslims, in particular, and freedom by extending the duty of neutrality to citizens. Prohibitionists were active but in the minority in the 1990s. This reversal stems from repeated campaigns to demonize women wearing headscarves, targeting their presence in all spheres of social life: work, leisure, university, public space, and media. Their construction as a “problem” relies on the permanent association between religious signs and “Islamism” to sometimes make the link with terrorism. 
  • n 2021, senators pushed for more prohibitions as they amended the bill strengthening the “Republican principles” of France. These senators have also voted to ban the wearing of religious symbols by minors in public; to ban the “burkini,” a bathing suit covering the entire body, from public swimming areas; and to ban prayers in universities, except in chaplaincies. The Senate has also made it possible to ban private schools in the name of the “interests of France,” to refuse a residence permit to foreigners who reject the “principles of the Republic,” and even to prevent candidates deemed “communitarian” from running for office or receiving reimbursement for their campaign expenses.
  • The restriction of freedoms and the marginalization of Muslim women wearing a headscarf is only one aspect of this radicalization of Islamophobia in France. This fundamental movement is supported by a majority of the French media, and it finds many extensions in the functioning of cultural spaces. This hegemony of Islamophobic ideas and practices, to take up the Gramscian dichotomy, is supported as much by political society as by civil society. There are still spaces of resistance—actors, media, or institutions that oppose this groundswell. However, they are systematically attacked by the conservative press and by the government. 
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  • This is the case of critical studies in universities, which are the target of virulent campaigns of denigration and defamation, accused of Islamo-gauchisme and sometimes of complicity with terrorism. Similarly, autonomous anti-racist movements, often led by victims of racism, are demonized or even wiped out, as was the case with the administrative dissolution of the Collective against Islamophobia in France.
  • The anti-racist progressivism of the left used to constitute a structuring norm of public debate until the end of the twentieth century. It is now cornered and on the defensive, as the reversal of the balance of power; the inversion of facts, like when anti-racists are accused of racism by the extreme right; and Islamophobic hegemony are now remarkable. 
  • We must be concerned about the Islamophobic consensus that has taken hold and the campaigns of intimidation that target those who study and denounce it. No other Western country goes so far in demonizing and criminalizing Muslim visibility in society through a disciplinary transformation of the principle of secularism
Ed Webb

Trapped in Iran | 1843 - 0 views

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How French Secularism Became Fundamentalist | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • In the end, Charlie Hebdo warns, the only defense against terrorism, the only defense against ending up in a France of veiled women and daily prayer, is a form of militant secularism: one that doesn’t flinch at making the leap from pious baker to radical bomb-maker
  • Laïcité, the French term for secularism, today has acquired so much mystique as to be practically an ideology, a timeless norm that defines Frenchness.
  • There was essentially no substantive difference between the style of secularism envisioned by the founders of laïcité and the framers of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. As in the United States, French secularism initially sought to ensure religious pluralism in the public and private spheres — nothing more, nothing less.
    • Ed Webb
       
      This claim is at odds with the historical record
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  • n 1989, a few Muslim girls were expelled from school when they refused to take off their hijabs, or headscarves, which the principal believed was an assault on the secular character of public schools. Shortly after, the French administrative court, the Conseil d’État, ordered them to be reinstated. But two years after 9/11, when similar incidents were repeated at other schools, the court reversed its original finding. While all “ostentatious” signs of religious faith — be they Jewish yarmulkes or Sikh turbans — were declared verboten in public schools, everyone knew that the principal target of the law was the hijab.
    • Ed Webb
       
      The process of removing religious signs began in the Fourth Republic
  • From the Parti de Gauche on the extreme left to the National Front on the extreme right, there is the same fundamentalist vision of laïcité. The world, according to these defenders of the term, is one without headscarves in schools, without burkinis in stores, and without the faithful praying in the streets. It is also a world with pork served in school lunches and holidays based on the Christian (not Muslim or Jewish) calendars. It is, taken to extremes, a world where Muslims eat, drink, and dress like proper Frenchmen and women.
Ed Webb

Secret British 'black propaganda' campaign targeted cold war enemies | Cold war | The Guardian - 0 views

  • The British government ran a secret “black propaganda” campaign for decades, targeting Africa, the Middle East and parts of Asia with leaflets and reports from fake sources aimed at destabilising cold war enemies by encouraging racial tensions, sowing chaos, inciting violence and reinforcing anti-communist ideas, newly declassified documents have revealed.
  • The campaign also sought to mobilise Muslims against Moscow, promoting greater religious conservatism and radical ideas. To appear authentic, documents encouraged hatred of Israel.
  • The Information Research Department (IRD) was set up by the post-second world war Labour government to counter Soviet propaganda attacks on Britain. Its activities mirrored the CIA’s cold war propaganda operations and the extensive efforts of the USSR and its satellites.
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  • The Observer last year revealed the IRD’s major campaign in Indonesia in 1965 that helped encourage anti-communist massacres which left hundreds of thousands dead. There, the IRD prepared pamphlets purporting to be written by Indonesian patriots, but in fact were created by British propagandists, calling on Indonesians to eliminate the PKI, then the biggest communist party in the non-communist world.
  • “The UK did not simply invent material, as the Soviets systematically did, but they definitely intended to deceive audiences in order to get the message across.”
  • “reports” sent to warn other governments, selected journalists and thinktanks about “Soviet subversion” or similar threats.The reports comprised carefully selected facts and analysis often gleaned from intelligence provided by Britain’s security services, but appeared to come from ostensibly independent analysts and institutions that were in reality set up and run by the IRD. One of the first of these, set up in 1964, was the International Committee for the Investigation of Communist Front Organisations.
  • Between 1965 and 1972, the IRD forged at least 11 statements from Novosti, the Soviet state-run news agency. One followed Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 six-day war against Israel and underlined Soviet anger at Egypt’s “waste” of so much of the arms and materiel Moscow had supplied to the country.
  • The IRD also forged literature purporting to come from the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass Islamist organisation that had a significant following across the Middle East. One pamphlet accused Moscow of encouraging the 1967 war, criticised the quality of Soviet military equipment, and called the Soviets “filthy-tongued atheists” who saw the Egyptians as little more than “peasants who lived all their lives nursing reactionary Islamic superstitions”.AdvertisementThe IRD also created an entirely fictive radical Islamist organisation called the League of Believers, which attacked the Russians as non-believers and blamed Arab defeats on a lack of religious faith, a standard trope among religious conservatives at the time.
  • The IRD’s leaflets echoed other claims made by radical Islamists, arguing that military misdeeds should not be blamed on “the atheists or the imperialists or the Zionist Jews” but on “Egyptians who are supposed to be believers”.
  • Other material highlighted the poor view that Moscow took of the Palestine Liberation Organisation and the limited aid offered by the Soviets to Palestinian armed nationalist groups. This was contrasted with the more supportive stance of the Chinese, in a bid to widen the split between the two communist powers.
  • One major initiative focused on undermining Ian Smith’s regime in Rhodesia, the former colony that unilaterally declared its independence from the UK in 1965 in an attempt to maintain white minority rule.The IRD set up a fake group of white Rhodesians who opposed Smith. Its leaflets attacked him for lying, creating “chaos” and crippling the economy. “The whole world is against us … We must call a halt while we can still save our country,”
  • In early 1963, the IRD forged a statement from the World Federation of Democratic Youth, a Soviet front organisation, which denounced Africans as uncivilised, “primitive” and morally weak. The forgery received press coverage across the continent, with many newspapers reacting intemperately.
  • A similar forgery in 1966 underlined the “backwardness” and “political immaturity” of Africa. Another, a statement purportedly from Novosti, blamed poor academic results at an international university in Moscow on the quality of the black African students enrolled there. The IRD sent more than 1,000 copies to addresses across the developing world.
  • As with most such efforts, the impact of the IRD’s campaigns was often difficult to judge. On one occasion, IRD officials were able to report that a newspaper in Zanzibar printed one of their forgeries about Soviet racism, and that the publication prompted an angry response. This was seen as a major achievement. Officials were also pleased when Kenyan press used fake material about the 1967 six-day war, and when newspapers across much of the Islamic world printed a fake Novosti bulletin on the conflict. Occasionally, western newspapers unwittingly used IRD materials, too.
  • Though the IRD was shut down in 1977, researchers are now finding evidence that similar efforts continued for almost another decade.“The [new documents] are particularly significant as a precursor to more modern efforts of putting intelligence into the public domain.“Liz Truss has a ’government information cell’, and defence intelligence sends out daily tweets to ‘pre-but’ Russian plots and gain the upper hand in the information war, but for much of the cold war the UK used far more devious means,” Cormac said.
Ed Webb

National Identity Becoming More Inclusive in U.S., UK, France and Germany | Pew Research Center - 0 views

  • a new Pew Research Center survey finds that views about national identity in the U.S., France, Germany and the UK have become less restrictive and more inclusive in recent years. Compared with 2016 – when a wave of immigration to Europe and Donald Trump’s presidential campaign in the U.S. made immigration and diversity a major issue on both sides of the Atlantic – fewer now believe that to truly be American, French, German or British, a person must be born in the country, must be a Christian, has to embrace national customs, or has to speak the dominant language
  • Outside of France, more people say it’s a bigger problem for their country today to not see discrimination where it really does exist than for people to see discrimination where it really is not present.
  • a large majority think Muslims face discrimination.
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  • In every country surveyed, those on the right are more likely than those on the left to prioritize sticking to traditions, to say people today are too easily offended by what others say, and to say the bigger societal problem is seeing discrimination where it does not exist.
  • while those on the left and right are equally likely to say they are proud most of the time in both France and Germany, in the U.S. and UK, those on the right are more than three times as likely to say they are proud most of the time than those on the left
  • issues of pride for some were often sources of shame for others. In the UK, one such issue was the concept of empire. Those on the ideological right praised the historic empire for its role in spreading English and Western culture overseas, while those on the ideological left discussed how the UK had disrupted local cultures and often left chaos in its wake in its former colonies.
  • whereas groups composed of Republicans discussed American history through the lens of opportunity, groups composed of Democrats stressed the inadequacy of how American history is taught – and how it often glosses over racism and inequitable treatment of minority groups. Republican participants, for their part, even brought up how political correctness itself makes them embarrassed to be American – while Democratic participants cited increased diversity as a point of pride
  • While Britons are as ideologically divided as Americans on issues of pride, when it comes to every other cultural issue asked about in this report, Americans stand out for being more ideologically divided than those in the Western European countries surveyed.
  • Younger people – those under 30 – are less likely to place requirements on Christianity, language, birth or adopting the country’s traditions to be part of their country than older age groups. They are also more likely to say their country will be better off if it is open to changes. The notable exception to this pattern is Germany, where opinion differs little by age.
Ed Webb

How to Think About Empire | Boston Review - 0 views

  • In your book, An Ordinary Person’s Guide to Empire (2004), you identify a few different pillars of empire: globalization and neoliberalism, militarism, and the corporate media. You write, “The project of corporate globalization has cracked the code of democracy. Free elections, a free press and an independent judiciary mean little when the free market has reduced them to commodities on sale to the highest bidder.”
  • updates now would include the ways in which big capital uses racism, caste-ism (the Hindu version of racism, more elaborate, and sanctioned by the holy books), and sexism and gender bigotry (sanctioned in almost every holy book) in intricate and extremely imaginative ways to reinforce itself, protect itself, to undermine democracy, and to splinter resistance
  • In India, caste—that most brutal system of social hierarchy—and capitalism have fused into a dangerous new alloy. It is the engine that runs modern India
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  • You once wrote that George W. Bush “achieved what writers, scholars, and activists have striven to achieve for decades. He has exposed the ducts. He has placed on full public view the working parts, the nuts and bolts of the apocalyptic apparatus of the American empire.” What did you mean by this, and ten years and two presidents later, is the American empire’s apocalyptic nature still so transparent?
  • The assertion of ethnicity, race, caste, nationalism, sub-nationalism, patriarchy, and all kinds of identity, by exploiters as well as the exploited, has a lot—but of course not everything—to do with laying collective claim to resources (water, land, jobs, money) that are fast disappearing
  • The freer global capital becomes, the harder national borders become. Colonialism needed to move large populations of people—slaves and indentured labor—to work in mines and on plantations. Now the new dispensation needs to keep people in place and move the money—so the new formula is free capital, caged labor. How else are you going to drive down wages and increase profit margins? Profit is the only constant.
  • In the Obama years, you had to ferret out information and piece it together to figure out how many bombs were being dropped and how many people were being killed, even as the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize was being eloquently delivered. However differently their domestic politics plays out on home turf, it is a truism that the Democrats’ foreign policy has tended to be as aggressive as that of the Republicans. But since 9/11, between Bush and Obama, how many countries have been virtually laid to waste?
  • I don’t think in some of the categories in which your question is posed to me. For example, I don’t understand what a “global” novel is. I think of both my novels as so very, very local. I am surprised by how easily they have traveled across cultures and languages. Both have been translated into more than forty languages—but does that make them “global” or just universal?
  • I wonder about the term postcolonial. I have often used it, too, but is colonialism really post-?
  • So many kinds of entrenched and unrecognized colonialisms still exist. Aren’t we letting them off the hook? Even “Indian English fiction” is, on the face of it, a pretty obvious category. But what does it really mean? The boundaries of the country we call India were arbitrarily drawn by the British. What is “Indian English”? Is it different from Pakistani English or Bangladeshi English? Kashmiri English? There are 780 languages in India, 22 of them formally “recognized.” Most of our Englishes are informed by our familiarity with one or more of those languages. Hindi, Telugu, and Malayalam speakers, for example, speak English differently.
  • In India today, storytelling is being policed not only by the state, but also by religious fanatics, caste groups, vigilantes, and mobs that enjoy political protection, who burn cinema halls, who force writers to withdraw their novels, who assassinate journalists. This violent form of censorship is becoming an accepted mode of political mobilization and constituency building. Literature, cinema, and art are being treated as though they are policy statements or bills waiting to be passed in Parliament that must live up to every self-appointed stakeholders’ idea of how they, their community, their history, or their country must be represented.
  • I recently saw a Malayalam film in the progressive state of Kerala called Abrahaminde Santhathikal (The Sons of Abraham). The vicious, idiot-criminal villains were all black Africans. Given that there is no community of Africans in Kerala, they had to be imported into a piece of fiction in order for this racism to be played out! We can’t pin the blame for this kind of thing on the state. This is society. This is people. Artists, filmmakers, actors, writers—South Indians who are mocked by North Indians for their dark skins in turn humiliating Africans for the very same reason. Mind-bending.
  • we are buying more weapons from Europe and the United States than almost anyone else. So, India, which has the largest population of malnutritioned children in the world, where hundreds of thousands of debt-ridden farmers and farm laborers have committed suicide, where it is safer to be a cow than it is to be a woman, is still being celebrated as one of the fastest growing economies in the world.
  • The word “empire” has often been invoked as a uniquely European and U.S. problem. Do you see India and other postcolonial nations as adapting older forms of empire in new geopolitical clothing?
  • How can we think of empire now in the Global South, especially at a time when postcolonial nations are emulating the moral calculus of their old colonial masters?
  • India transformed from colony to imperial power virtually overnight. There has not been a day since the British left India in August 1947 that the Indian army and paramilitary have not been deployed within the country’s borders against its “own people”: Mizoram, Manipur, Nagaland, Assam, Kashmir, Jammu, Hyderabad, Goa, Punjab, Bengal, and now Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Jharkhand. The dead number in the tens or perhaps hundreds of thousands. Who are these dangerous citizens who need to be held down with military might? They are indigenous people, Christians, Muslims, Sikhs, communists. The pattern that emerges is telling. What it shows quite clearly is an “upper”-caste Hindu state that views everyone else as an enemy. There are many who see Hinduism itself as a form of colonialism—the rule of Aryans over Dravidians and other indigenous peoples whose histories have been erased and whose deposed rulers have been turned into the vanquished demons and asuras of Hindu mythology. The stories of these battles continue to live on in hundreds of folktales and local village festivals in which Hinduism’s “demons” are other peoples’ deities. That is why I am uncomfortable with the word postcolonialism.
  • When you think about the grandeur of the civil rights movement in the United States, the anti–Vietnam War protests, it makes you wonder whether real protest is even possible any more. It is. It surely is. I was in Gothenburg, Sweden, recently, when the largest Nazi march since World War II took place. The Nazis were outnumbered by anti-Nazi demonstrators, including the ferocious Antifa, by more than ten to one. In Kashmir, unarmed villagers face down army bullets. In Bastar, in Central India, the armed struggle by the poorest people in the world has stopped some of the richest corporations in their tracks. It is important to salute people’s victories, even if they don’t always get reported on TV. At least the ones we know about. Making people feel helpless, powerless, and hopeless is part of the propaganda.
  • I think we all need to become seriously mutinous
  • We fool ourselves into believing that the change we want will come with fresh elections and a new president or prime minister at the helm of the same old system. Of course, it is important to bounce the old bastards out of office and bounce new ones in, but that can’t be the only bucket into which we pour our passion
  • as long as we continue to view the planet as an endless “resource,” as long as we uphold the rights of individuals and corporations to amass infinite wealth while others go hungry, as long as we continue to believe that governments do not have the responsibility to feed, clothe, house, and educate everyone—all our talk is mere posturing.
  • In certain situations, preaching nonviolence can be a kind of violence. Also, it is the kind of terminology that dovetails beautifully with the “human rights” discourse in which, from an exalted position of faux neutrality, politics, morality, and justice can be airbrushed out of the picture, all parties can be declared human rights offenders, and the status quo can be maintained.
  • How might we challenge dominant voices, such as Niall Ferguson, who put so much faith in thinking with the grain of empire? On the flipside, how might we speak to liberals who put their faith in American empire’s militarism in a post–9/11 era? Do you see any way out of the current grip of imperial thinking?
  • The “managed populations” don’t necessarily think from Ferguson’s managerial perspective. What the managers see as stability, the managed see as violence upon themselves. It is not stability that underpins empire. It is violence. And I don’t just mean wars in which humans fight humans. I also mean the psychotic violence against our dying planet.
  • I don’t believe that the current supporters of empire are supporters of empire in general. They support the American empire. In truth, captalism is the new empire. Capitalism run by white capitalists. Perhaps a Chinese empire or an Iranian empire or an African empire would not inspire the same warm feelings? “Imperial thinking,” as you call it, arises in the hearts of those who are happy to benefit from it. It is resisted by those who are not. And those who do not wish to be.
  • Empire is not just an idea. It is a kind of momentum. An impetus to dominate that contains within its circuitry the inevitability of overreach and self-destruction. When the tide changes, and a new empire rises, the managers will change, too. As will the rhetoric of the old managers. And then we will have new managers, with new rhetoric. And there will be new populations who rise up and refuse to be managed.
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    "It is not stability that underpins empire. It is violence."
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