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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

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

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.”
  • drafted a law to ban sharia, and with the help of Act! for America began shopping the draft to lawmakers in Southern states
  • 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.
  • 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.”
  • 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

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

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

Muslim in America - Reason.com - 0 views

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

How the Muslim World Lost the Freedom to Choose - Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Beyond skirts and beaches, the 1960s and 1970s were also a time of vigorous intellectual debate about the role of religion in society. Debates between leftists, secularists, capitalists, Marxists, and Islamists raged across the region, from Egypt to Pakistan. Militant Islamists will dismiss those decades of more progressive, diverse thought and culture as decadent Western imports — the lingering after-effects of colonial influence. But if some of it was certainly emulation, much of it was also indigenous.
  • “Purifying the Land of the Pure.” The book, published last year, charts the slow death of minority rights and pluralism in Pakistan, and what it means for the future of democracy. The result is a sweeping but concise chronicle of how things unraveled. A minority herself, as a Shiite, Ispahani was careful to avoid polemic and opinion by delivering a thorough, methodically researched work. She and her husband, former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States Husain Haqqani, have both faced death threats for their work and live in self-imposed exile in Washington. In her book, Ispahani tracks the unraveling to within a few years of the independence of Pakistan. The country’s founder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah — a secular Shiite — envisioned a country where “you are free, you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship.” But Ispahani writes that “his hopeful declaration of religious pluralism” remains unfulfilled.
  • The trend toward making Islam a central tenet of life in Pakistan started soon after independence in 1947, a result of Muslim feelings of being victimized by both Hindus and British colonialism in India. By 1973, Islam was declared as the state religion of Pakistan. In 1974, under the ostensibly progressive Prime Minister Zulfiqar Bhutto, parliament declared Ahmadis as non-Muslims. A Muslim movement that started in the late 19th century, Ahmadis follow the teachings of the Quran and consider their founder to be a prophet, upsetting orthodox Muslims who believe Muhammad is the final prophet.
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  • Shiites and their mosques are still regular targets of deadly attacks: Since 2003, an estimated 2,558 Shiites have been killed in sectarian violence.
  • While there was no sudden, overnight transformation, Ispahani nevertheless identifies Zia’s rule as the point of no return. The military ruler Islamized the laws of the country, introducing sharia courts and new Islamic laws known as hudood ordinances, which apply strict Sharia punishments for specific offenses. It was during his time that the blasphemy laws were strengthened, adding life sentences and the death penalty as punishment.
  • Zia’s legacy remains, entrenched in the system and people’s daily lives. Pakistanis under the age of 40 have never experienced any other lifestyle, while the older generations reminisce about a more diverse past — even as they also gloss over some of that past’s shortcomings. But however it came about, Pakistan’s growing intolerance has taken its toll on diversity: Between 1947 and today, minorities went from 25 percent of the population to 3 percent.
  • Ispahani’s book serves as a reminder that something far more profound than miniskirts has been lost in these countries. Washington’s counterterrorism policies, which help curb groups like the Taliban, are a good start, but they often fail to go any further toward restoring basic norms like respect for diversity. That will ultimately depend on the efforts of the local population themselves. Those efforts may be able to draw on the power of nostalgia. When people in Pakistan, Egypt, or Afghanistan rifle through the photo albums of their parents and grandparents and wonder what happened to their country, they see skirts or cleavage — but they desire diversity and freedom of choice
Ed Webb

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

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

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

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

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

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

Iran's Rosh Hashana Twitter diplomacy stirs amazement, disbelief | The Back Channel - 0 views

  • Iran’s new Foreign Minister Javad Zarif joined President Hassan Rouhani in tweeting “Happy Rosh Hashanah” greetings Thursday, on the occasion of the Jewish new year’s holiday, setting off a new wave of amazement, and some disbelief, in both the social media and policy universes.
  • The rare and unusually direct Twitter diplomacy between Iranian leaders and western policy observers “will go down in history,” one Hill staffer, speaking not for attribution, said Thursday, expressing the wider sense of amazement heard from many veteran Iran watchers at the display of tolerance and public diplomacy initiative coming from Tehran. The welcome change in atmospherics has added to hopes for a diplomatic opening created by Rouhani’s election. But it must be accompanied by substantive progress in nuclear negotiations to lead to a broader easing of ties, western analysts and officials said.
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

Insurgents Again: The Islamic State's Calculated Reversion to Attrition in the Syria-Iraq Border Region and Beyond | Combating Terrorism Center at West Point - 0 views

  • since losing Mosul, its most sizeable and symbolic territorial possession, the Islamic State has not fought to the last man to maintain control of any other population center.
  • While a loss of morale after the fall of Mosul, the desire by less ideologically driven fighters to save themselves, and the degradation of command and control structures all contributed to some Islamic State fighters fleeing on certain fronts,7 the available evidence suggests the withdrawals were part of calculated strategy by the group to conserve its forces and pivot away from holding territory to pursuing an all-out insurgency
  • despite its supposed significance, Mayedin fell almost abruptly and with little fighting in October 2017. Local sources speaking to Deirezzor24,37 a grassroots organization specializing in documenting violations by both the regime and jihadis, denied the city was retaken by forces loyal to Assad. The regime, uncharacteristically, produced little footage to prove it recaptured a key city. The local skepticism was an indication that the sudden withdrawal from the city was surprising to locals,38 who, along with U.S. officials, had reported that the city had become a center for the group after it came under attack in Raqqa
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  • Al-Naba, the weekly newsletter issued by the Islamic State’s Central Media Department, hinted at a major change of strategy in a series of articles published between September and October 2017 on the topic of dealing with the U.S. air campaign. In a series of two reports in September 2017,42 the newsletter explained that Islamic State militants, having suffered heavy losses, especially in Kobane, were debating how to evade the “precision” of U.S. air forces in the face of ground assaults on multiple fronts. These fronts included the disguising of weaponry and engaging in military deception. The article concluded that it would be a mistake for the Islamic State to continue engaging forces that enjoy air support from the United States or Russia because the function of these forces was not to serve as conventional fighting forces, but mainly to provoke the militants and expose their whereabouts and capabilities for drones and aircraft to strike them. In order to prevent the depletion of its forces by air power, the article pushed for the Islamic State to adopt a counter-strategy in which it would refrain from sustained clashes in urban centers with its enemies as it did formerly
  • In another report, issued in Al-Naba on October 12, 2017,45 the Islamic State suggested that it had again been forced to switch to insurgency tactics like in the spring of 2008 under the leadership of Abu Omar al-Baghdadi and his war minister Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. The article related how the group’s predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq, had been forced to dismantle its fighting units in March 2008 and pursue a different strategy to preserve what was left of its manpower. Providing details never before disclosed, it described how the Islamic State of Iraq had become exhausted and depleted after two years of fierce fighting against U.S. and Iraqi troops to the point that it was no longer able to stand and fight for long. “In early 2008, it became clear that it was impossible to continue to engage in conventional fighting. That was when Abu Omar Al Baghdadi said: ‘We now have no place where we could stand for a quarter of an hour.’”46 The article argued the situation was now comparable and that this justified a switch of approach.
  • Reverting back to the old insurgency and terror tactics enabled the Islamic State to penetrate otherwise well-secured areas. Previous attempts to attack them through conventional fighting units had failed, even while the group was at the height of its power
  • The Islamic State’s reversion to insurgency tactics increased as it lost more territory. Hit-and-run attacks and notable assassinations returned to newly liberated areas, such as in Salah ad-Din, Diyala, Anbar, and Raqqa,53 although such attacks were rarely accounted for in official and public statements related to progress against the group.
  • The Islamic State’s apparent decision to conserve forces for insurgency in the region stretching from Deir ez-Zor Governorate in Syria to Anbar Province in Iraq makes strategic sense given it has frequently highlighted the area as key to its survival and best suited for the base of a guerrilla war. For the Islamic State, rural- and desert-based insurgency is no less important than urban warfare to deplete its enemies, recruit members, and lay the groundwork for a comeback. The geographic and human terrain of the region provides the jihadis with an area in which they can regroup, run sleeper cells, rebuild finances through extortion, and plot attacks.
  • Territorial demise, he made clear, was merely the beginning of a new chapter in which the process of depleting the enemy does not get disrupted but persists in different forms. If and when a new opportunity for another rise presented itself, his logic went, the process of depletion will have laid the groundwork for a deeper influence than the previous round.
  • defeat is the loss of willpower and desire to fight
  • the Islamic State began to talk about the desert as a viable place to launch its post-caliphate insurgency. Its propaganda has since prominently featured desert combat. Through such messages, the group hopes to show it can still inflict damage on government forces in remote areas and on critical highways linking Syria and Jordan to Iraq and to draw parallels to the fact that the last time the organization was deemed defeated in Iraq, in the late 2000s, it came back stronger than ever
  • It appears that a key target for the Islamic State as it reembraces insurgency are Sunnis opposing its worldview. In its recent propaganda, the Islamic State has focused on the role of fellow Sunni collaborators in its demise in the late 2000s and has vowed to keep up the pressure against emerging ones. It is interesting that “Sahwat” was originally restricted to the tribal Awakening Councils68 established in Iraq to fight al-Qa`ida during the 2007 troop surge,69 but the group has since broadened the reference to mean opponents and collaborators from within Sunni communities writ large
  • Headquartered in the desert or hidden in populated areas, the Islamic State aims to run a far-reaching and ceaseless insurgency in rural areas and urban centers to deter and stretch thin its opponents and to abrade any emerging governance and security structures in areas it previously controlled
  • This contiguous terrain in Iraq and Syria is akin to the region along the Afghan-Pakistani border that previous U.S. administrations dubbed “AfPak” and treated as a single theater requiring an integrated approach. The “Syraq” space, which stretches from the areas near the Euphrates and Tigris river valleys in northern and western Iraq to Raqqa and Palmyra, looks set to be to the Islamic State what AfPak has been to the al-Qa`ida and Taliban factions, providing a hospitable environment and strategic sanctuaries. And by conserving fighters rather than fighting to the death in the battles that followed Mosul, the Islamic State still has significant manpower to sustain a campaign of terrorism and insurgency in the area
Ed Webb

Here's what happens when diplomats get involved in religious rhetoric - The Washington Post - 0 views

  • in new research, we show how classifying who constitute “real” Muslims – even when it is used to assert progressive values – can be unpredictable and contingent on the authority of the speaker and perceptions of the audience.
  • While distinguishing a radical few from a peaceful majority seems like it would bolster relationships with Muslim-majority countries and reduce religious tensions at home, statements like these often leave politicians in a minefield as they appear to define the boundaries of legitimate belief for Muslims
  • Such statements constitute a kind of discourse that is hard to neatly distinguish from the practice it rejects
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  • Many leaders in the region, including King Abdullah of Jordan, have worked to reduce accusations of apostasy in public discourse and the violence that often follows. Egypt’s Al-Azhar University, a center of Islamic learning for more than 1,000 years, refused to declare ISIS and other violent actors apostates, arguing that doing so reinforced the cycle of mutual “excommunication.” By contrast, others, including King Mohammed VI of Morocco have actively called terrorists such as ISIS “non-Muslim.”
  • charges of apostasy are a powerful tool for delineating group membership and assigning rights. These accusations become particularly potent — if unpredictable — during moments of institutional change, when uncertainty is high and rivals are jockeying for position in a new constitutional order. Recently, these charges have assumed sectarian overtones, with Sunni groups questioning the legitimacy of Shiite Muslims and Iranian press using the term “takfiri” (apostate or unbeliever) to attack Sunni groups in the region
  • in his denunciation of ISIS as apostate, Kerry joined the group in declaring who is and who is not a Muslim, drawing derision and mockery from Muslims.
  • State-led efforts to articulate an explicitly “moderate Islam,” can spur precisely the kind of extremist competition it seeks to avoid
  • Constant and cyclical accusations and counter-accusations of who is or is not a “real” believer rarely meet their intended goal, especially for those far removed from religious communities themselves. The United States and its allies have primarily focused on how this rhetoric can bolster their legitimacy and win new allies. But evidence from the region suggests that even when mobilized by those deeply versed in Islam, the strategy can backfire. The line between criticizing takfir and engaging in takfir is difficult to spot until one has crossed it.
Ed Webb

The Muslim World's Nightmare Decade - 0 views

  • Throughout the Arab world, and in the Muslim world beyond it, the 21st century — and particularly its second decade — will be remembered for the litany of catastrophes that devastated entire nations and struck at the very idea of the moral arc of the universe.
  • The emergence of ISIS and the horrors it wrought will likely spell the end of ideologically driven political Islamist movements in the Middle East, much like the crushing defeats of the 1967 war undermined pan-Arab nationalism.
  • A nine-year civil war in Syria with half a million dead undermined every international norm in warfare, from the targeted bombing of hospitals to the use of chemical weapons. It fueled the largest mass migration since World War II, and the rising tide of right-wing populism across the globe, whose uniting force is anti-Muslim hatred.
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  • the world’s two most populous countries launched sweeping projects to question the legitimacy of hundreds of millions of Muslim citizens and break their spirits
  • while western powers and foreign influences played an important role in setting the stage for conflict, the worst excesses of our tyrants, be they presidents and kings or preachers and evangelists, are products of our own societies. The invasion of Iraq created an environment where ISIS could flourish, but its chieftains and ideologues are very much our own. So there is hope for change from within.
  • The desire to resurrect a past of fundamental purity may have reached its most violent and deranged form in places around the globe where this Saudi influence was strongest, but it’s not unique to the Muslim world. Across the West, right-wing xenophobes preach anti-immigrant nationalism centered on reclaiming a mythical original social purity. Salafism is a similar reaction to an increasingly complex, depressing modern reality filled with defeat, oppression, lack of agency and disruptive, imported social trends. It harkens to a simpler, mythological time, one in which heroism is possible and dignity is a straightforward choice, where the right thing to do is as clear as a white thread against the night sky.
  • like every imagined utopia, this one wasn’t real and never will be
  • A new era for the Muslim world would deemphasize the purist obsession with minutiae and rituals, and emphasize the overarching moral codes of egalitarianism and compassion that are at the core of Islamic teaching. It would embrace the critical thinking that was key to the Islamic Golden Age, which kept the flame of progress alive in the Medieval era.
Ed Webb

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

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

Cleared of Landmines for Easter, Jesus' Baptism Site Now C...... | News & Reporting | Christianity Today - 1 views

  • For the past nine years, HALO has cleared other sites in the West Bank, coordinating between Palestinians and Israelis. But there are still approximately 35 square miles of landmines in the West Bank
  • As demining progressed at Qasr al-Yahud, Israeli officials expressed optimism that pilgrims to the baptismal site would triple, as each church gained full access to its facilities.
  • COVID-19 is devastating the industry. Closing the borders to tourism may cost $1.7 billion
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  • This may be particularly painful to Palestinians in Bethlehem, where 70 percent of the economy is derived from tourism and 9 out of 10 industry workers are Christians.
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
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