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Ed Webb

The Transnational Politics of Iraq's Shia Diaspora - Carnegie Middle East Center - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace - 0 views

  • With each political transition—from the Iraqi Governing Council (IGC) to the Transitional Administrative Law—the first wave of Shia diasporic elites (as well as the Kurdish parties) supported and often encouraged the U.S.-UK coalition’s calamitous political decisions. These included “de-Baathification” and the disbanding of the army—two policies that would forever change the course of Iraqi politics. Both policies effectively dismantled existing state institutions and human resources instead of strengthening and building on them. And with the removal of the police force came the loss of law and order that could have prevented the wide-scale looting and violence that began in 2003. More destructive still was the exclusion of thousands of Sunnis from state and society and the resulting unleashing of a resentful public, whose vengeance would later manifest in violent reprisals throughout Iraq’s 2006 civil war and the formation of the self-proclaimed Islamic State.
  • By the time Iraq’s first democratic elections took place in December 2005, Shia political leaders who came to power through the IGC and were supported by the U.S.-UK coalition had already gained a significant advantage, so it was unsurprising that the United Iraqi Alliance, an alliance of Shia political parties, dominated the elections. Iraq’s first democratically elected prime minister was Jaafari, a British Iraqi Dawa Party member. Many more Shia returnees would later assume ministerial and parliamentary positions, including Maliki, whose rule would epitomize the sectarian-diasporic dynamic. This legacy of Shia diasporic transnational networks used for recruiting political staff throughout Iraq’s political system continues to this day
  • there is no such thing as a homogeneous Shia diaspora; as with any community, there are multiple layers of categorical difference and division. While in the pre-2003 era the Shia diaspora may have been united in their political stance against Saddam Hussein’s tyranny, in the post-2003 era, Iraqi Shia politics has been divided along clerical and political lines, echoing the situation in Iraq and the new power brokers ruling the country
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  • The Shia political identity of the diaspora has thus emerged from an expression of Shia pride, the combating of misconceptions about the Shia faith, and the insistence that Islam is not represented by the Islamic State—thereby distancing the Shia faith from terrorism.
  • The role of Shia diasporic elites in shaping the Iraqi state in 2003, in collaboration with the U.S.-UK coalition, is hard to overstate. Shia diaspora returnees agreed to, along with the Kurdish parties, an ethno-sectarian power-sharing system that has provoked deep schisms in Iraqi politics and society. While diasporic interventions can play a significant role in supporting livelihoods, transferring knowledge, and providing human resources in times of brain drain, during political transitions, they should be approached with caution. Western governments should heed the lessons of Iraq, as they demonstrate the perils of parachuting long-exiled elites, who lack legitimacy, to positions of power without understanding their histories, motivations, agendas, and the populations they purportedly represent
  • A professional, educated, and westernized Shia Iraqi diaspora is emerging, maintaining links with Iraq through social media platforms, pilgrimages, and the creation of new Shia practices and rituals.
Ed Webb

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

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

How Muslims Really Think About Islam - By Marc Lynch | Marc Lynch - 1 views

  • a really disturbing and widespread belief in most Arab countries that Shias are not real Muslims. Interestingly, in Iraq (82 percent) and Lebanon (77 percent), countries with Shia majorities but notably torn by sectarian strife, Sunnis are significantly more likely to say that Shias are Muslims than are Muslims in Arab countries with small Shia populations
  • This generational divide was the widest in the Middle East compared to any other region of the world.
  • Asked whether there was a single interpretation of Islam or multiple interpretations, more than 50 percent answered "single" in every African country surveyed, as did more than 69 percent of every Asian country. Seventy-eight percent of Egyptians and 76 percent of Jordanians said "single," but no other Arab country had more than 50 percent.
Ed Webb

Why did Vikings have 'Allah' embroidered into funeral clothes? - BBC News - 0 views

  • "The possibility that some of those in the graves were Muslim cannot be completely ruled out," she says."We know from other Viking tomb excavations that DNA analysis has shown some of the people buried in them originated from places like Persia, where Islam was very dominant."However, it is more likely these findings show that Viking age burial customs were influenced by Islamic ideas such as eternal life in paradise after death."
  • Contact between the Viking and Muslim worlds has long been established by historic accounts and the discovery of Islamic coins across the northern hemisphere.Two years ago, researchers re-examined a silver ring from a female tomb at Birka and found the phrase "for Allah" inscribed on the stone.Again the text was Kufic, developed in the Iraqi town of Kufah in the 7th Century - one of the first Arabic scripts used to write down the Koran.What makes Larsson's discovery so interesting is that it is the first time historic items mentioning Ali have ever been unearthed in Scandinavia.
  • Although both Sunnis and Shia revere Ali as an important companion of Muhammad, he has elevated status amongst the Shia, who see him as the Prophet's spiritual heir."The use of Ali does suggest a Shia connection,"
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  • The names Allah and Ali are often represented in enigmatic patterns inside the tombs and books of mystical Shia sects such as the Alevis and Bektashis to this day, but always they are accompanied by the name Muhammad. These can sometimes include mirrored script.But unlike Larsson's find, these examples usually include both the name depicted the correct way around and the reflection.
Ed Webb

Egypt's new leader going to Iran; first presidential visit in decades - Chicago Sun-Times - 0 views

  • “This really signals the first response to a popular demand and a way to increase the margin of maneuver for Egyptian foreign policy in the region,” said political scientist Mustafa Kamel el-Sayyed. “Morsi’s visits ... show that Egypt’s foreign policy is active again in the region.” “This is a way also to tell Gulf countries that Egypt is not going to simply abide by their wishes and accept an inferior position,”
  • Morsi will visit Tehran on Aug. 30 on his way back from China to attend the Non-Aligned Movement Summit, where Egypt will transfer the movement’s rotating leadership to Iran
  • In 2006, Mubarak angered Shiite leaders by saying Shiites across the Middle East were more loyal to Iran than to their own countries. His view was shared by other Arab leaders and officials, including Jordan’s King Abdullah II who warned of a Shiite crescent forming in the region.
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  • While nearly three decades of Mubarak rule left Egyptians inundated with state-spun scenarios of Iranian plots aiming to destabilize the country, many sympathize with Iran’s Islamic revolution and consider Tehran’s defiance of the United States a model to follow. Others seek a foreign policy at the very least more independent of Washington.
  • Aware of the Gulf states’ anxieties over the rise of political Islam in post-Mubarak Egypt, Morsi has focused on courting Saudi Arabia. He visited it twice, once just after he won the presidency, and a second time during the Islamic summit. In an attempt to assuage fears of the Arab uprisings by oil monarchs, he vowed that Egypt does not want to “export its revolution”. He has also asserted commitment to the security of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf Arab allies, a thinly veiled reference to the tension between them and Iran.
Ed Webb

BBC News - Syria: Proxy war heats up as endgame inches closer - 0 views

  • Knowing that the west is nervous about providing the Free Syrian Army and other "mainstream" rebel groups with serious, balance-tilting weaponry for fear that it may fall into the hands of the radicals, al-Qaeda may have decided deliberately to contaminate the entire opposition by association, and deter western arms to the moderates, in order to preserve the jihadis' ascendancy on the ground.
  • The dilemma the Americans face - and which they will be trying to resolve in a series of meetings between President Barack Obama and Middle East allies in the coming weeks - is how to back the rebels enough to induce the stubborn regime to negotiate a controlled transition, but not enough to trigger an abrupt regime collapse which might allow the radicals to take over. It may be impossible to get that balance right. The inner core of the regime might not opt out until collapse is already there.
  • Well-placed diplomats believe Hezbollah is also providing part of the regime's inner praetorian guard, as some of the big Alawite clans have become so alienated by the level of casualties they have suffered that their members are no longer regarded as fully reliable.
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  • both in Iraq and in Lebanon, Sunni and Shia activists and militants are displacing their internal struggle onto Syrian soil - with the clear risk that it could blow back into aggravated conflict at home
  • Palestinian fighters are also reported to be involved on both sides, although their divisions are more to do with politics and patronage than sectarianism.
Ed Webb

BBC News - Neighbours at war in Lebanon's divided city of Tripoli - 0 views

  • The Alawites once ruled the roost here, back in the 1980s, when Lebanon was occupied by Syrian forces, whose then President, Hafez al-Assad, was a member of the heterodox Shia sect. But now their 50,000-strong population is crammed onto a hilltop called Jabal Muhsin. Surrounded by hostile Sunni areas, it is effectively under siege.
  • Every few weeks, armed clashes erupt and the neighbours go at each other with sniper rifles, machine-guns, rocket launchers and mortars
  • Charismatic and politically ambitious, Sheikh Bilal's every waking hour seems dominated by his hatred of the Syrian regime in Damascus - and its Alawite allies up on the hill. With long hair and wild eyes, he reminds me of a young Rasputin. Sheikh Bilal is today where Abu Rami was 30 years ago: young, trigger-happy and eager for the fight. When he is not preaching jihad or selling phones, he leads a small militia of local toughs. And when the clashes break out, he is a dab-hand with a sniper rifle, shunning modern assault weapons for his beloved bolt-action Lee Enfield.
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  • He thinks that the slaughter in neighbouring Syria will lead to the overthrow of the Assad regime that back in the 1980s murdered his father, his friends and so many of his neighbours.
  • Muawiya is barely out of nappies and he would probably rather watch cartoons than Free Syrian Army propaganda. But his head is being filled daily with sectarian chauvinism and thoughts of war. As we interview his father, Muawiya starts firing an imaginary rifle made from a stick. He is very specific in his actions - it is an imaginary bolt-action sniper rifle
  • Out on the streets of Bab al-Tabbana we film other young boys playing war games. They take aim and shoot their toy rifles uphill towards Jabal Muhsin
  • Up on the Jabal, it is a mirror image. The kids point their plastic Kalashnikovs down the slope, as their fathers do in real life.
  • The young men who make up the militia on both sides look identical in their skinny jeans, knock-off Adidas weightlifter vests, baseball caps and Maori-style tattoos.
Ed Webb

The hegemony of religious freedom - The Globe and Mail - 0 views

  • Is the world created by religious freedom a place in which we want to live? Are other options for living peacefully with social and religious differences being pushed aside by this laser-like focus on religious freedom? Is there an alternative?
  • state promotion of religious freedom may add fuel to the fire of the very sectarian conflict that religious freedom claims to be so uniquely equipped to transcend
  • When news media, government officials and public figures reinforce the regime’s framing of this revolt as a sectarian conflict pitting Sunnis against Alawites and their Shia allies, rather than as a popular uprising against a secular autocracy, it makes sectarian violence more likely. It energizes divides between Christians, Alawites and Sunnis. It brings these identities to the surface, accentuates and aggravates them. When religious difference is the primary lens through which social and political conflicts are framed, sectarian conflict is exacerbated.
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  • Religious freedom advocacy politicizes religious difference.
  • top-down promotion of religious freedom creates a world in which religious difference becomes more real and more politicized
  • It presses dissenters, doubters and families with multiple religious affiliations to choose a side
  • the religion defended by American bishops, the U.S. State Department and now, perhaps, the Canadian government, regulates, and may even eliminate, spaces in which unconventional and non-established religion has a chance to flourish
  • Religious freedom needs to be reimagined as a site of resistance against powerful authorities, rather than a form of discipline imposed by them, funneling people into predefined religious boxes and politicizing their differences
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
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