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Ed Webb

Is Turkey's Foreign Policy Really Sunni? - Al-Monitor: the Pulse of the Middle East - 0 views

  • it would be wrong to believe that bigoted Sunnis in Ankara embarked on an anti-Shiite mission in the Middle East that has left Turkey at odds with central governments in Syria, Iraq, and ultimately in Iran. To the contrary, Ankara has gone to great lengths to avoid the region's sectarianism, but its efforts have not been very fruitful.
  • it would be also wrong to assume that the reality of sectarianism in the Middle East isn't influencing feelings in Ankara and in Turkish society more broadly. The Alawite-Sunni conflict in Syria is creating bitterness between Turkey's Alevis and Sunnis, although violence seems highly improbable. On the other hand, Turkey is indeed beginning to be perceived as a Sunni power in the region.
Ed Webb

Drowning in Sectarianism - 0 views

  • the problem has become so acute that the Associated Press last week published a kind of "beginner's guide" for Westerners to the explosion of Sunni-Shiite hatred throughout the region. It drew on the work of no less than 10 of its regional correspondents, and yet it barely scratched the surface. And, of course, beneath Sunni-Shiite tensions bubble dozens of other fault lines in the shuddering Middle Eastern landscape
  • Obviously we’re not really seeing the revival of religious and political arguments more than 1,000 years old. If the hatreds were really this deep, endemic and theological, no amount of dictatorship could have suppressed them in the past.   No. This is power-politics pure and simple, in its most savage and bestial form.
  • It's about authority, and the battle for social and political dominance in the context and opportunity of a sudden and yawning vacuum.   The formula is simple enough. People are most powerfully motivated by fear and hatred, which relentlessly feed off of each other. So, political legitimacy and the development of a constituency for power is most quickly and easily acquired and consolidated by promoting fear and hatred of the other. And it doesn't matter whom.
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  • It's easy to point to the Salafists, because they are often the most obnoxious and vicious in their rhetoric and well-funded by their official and private Gulf backers.   But there are no clean hands.   The Muslim Brothers agree with them on many matters of intolerance, especially against Shiites.   Some Iranian and other Shiite leaders in the region return the affection in full, with catalogues of anti-Sunni calumnies. Many backers of Bashar al-Assad, often themselves sectarians, paint all Syrian rebels as flesh-eating al-Qaeda Sunni monsters.   Disaffected Christian communities, particularly in exile, seethe with undisguised and irrational rage. Israel is seeing a rapid rise to prominence of racist, annexationist Jewish chauvinists, unabashed backers of a separate and distinctly unequal “Greater Israel,” and practitioners of "price tag" violence.   In the absence of local, national and regional order, hate-mongers deliberately set in motion the process of demonization in their own narrow, parochial interests.
Ed Webb

Syrian Children Speak of Revenge Against Alawites - NYTimes.com - 0 views

  • The roots of the animosity toward the Alawites from members of Syria’s Sunni Muslim majority, who make up about 75 percent of the population, run deep into history. During the 19th-century Ottoman Empire, the two groups lived in separate communities, and the Sunni majority so thoroughly marginalized Alawites that they were not even allowed to testify in court until after World War I. Then, in a pattern repeated across the region, said Joshua Landis, a Syria scholar at the University of Oklahoma, French colonialists collaborated with the Alawite minority to control the conquered Syrian population — as colonialists did with Christians in Lebanon, Jews in Palestine and Sunni Muslims in Iraq. The French brought Alawites into the colony’s military to help control the Sunnis. And after Syria’s independence from France, the military eventually took control of the country, putting Alawites in top government positions, much to the resentment of the Sunni majority.
  • “The Alawites feel justified in brutality because they fear what may be in store for them if they lay down their guns.”
Ed Webb

Welcome to the Syrian Jihad - By Marc Lynch | Foreign Policy - 1 views

  • in today's Arab world, there is nothing particularly distinctive about his comments at all. For many months, Arab and Muslim figures of all stripes have been loudly calling for support to the predominantly Sunni Syrian rebels, as have many Arab governments (and the United States and its allies, of course). The Muslim Brotherhood's branches have strongly supported the Syrian opposition -- acquiring too much power along the way, in the minds of some. Egyptian Salafis have described providing arms and funds to the Syrian rebels as "a form of worship" and killing Assad as a religious obligation. As the killing and destruction has escalated, such support for Syria's rebels has rapidly morphed into extreme anti-Shiite and anti-Alawi rhetoric
  • In January 2007, for example, he tried to use his influence to rein in spiraling sectarian rage following the execution of Saddam Hussein. At that time, Qaradawi was only weeks past a controversial appearance at a Doha conference on Sunni-Shiite relations, in which he had made a number of controversial remarks viewed by many as overly provocative toward the Shiite. But at that crucial moment, Qaradawi invited former Iranian President Hashemi Rafsanjani on al-Jazeera to push back against the rabid sectarianism then roiling the Middle East.
  • Qaradawi has long been described as among the most influential clerics in the Sunni world. A savvy political opportunist, he has long been one of the best barometers for the mood of a major swathe of the Arab mainstream, uncannily attuned to shifts in the political mood. He cleverly triangulated Arab politics, adopting populist positions on foreign policy while pushing for democratic reforms across the region and advancing a "centrist" Islamist ideology. In recent years, the Egyptian-born cleric has strongly supported most of the Arab uprisings, including a controversial late February 2011 appeal to Libya's army to kill Muammar al-Qaddafi.  In Egypt, he was welcomed the Friday following Mubarak's fall to lead prayer and deliver a pro-revolutionary speech in Tahrir. But he disappointed many observers by describing Bahrain's uprising as "sectarian," in line with the Arab Gulf country's collective stance intended to delegitimize it.
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  • His core doctrine of wasatiyya was always better understood as "centrism" than as "moderation" (whatever that might mean)
  • Qaradawi's alignment with the Saudi position has less to do with his theology or his personal views on the Shiites than with his calculation of regional political trends
  • Team Saudi is now celebrating Qaradawi's capitulation to their own anti-Hezbollah, anti-Shiite prejudices. No words could have been sweeter to Qaradawi's Saudi critics than his recent reversal on Hezbollah: "I defended the so-called Nasrallah and his party, the party of tyranny... in front of clerics in Saudi Arabia. It seems that the clerics of Saudi Arabia were more mature than me."
  • like it or not, his broad themes -- such as support for "resistance" from Palestine to Iraq, criticism of al Qaeda, calls for democracy, denunciations of most Arab regimes, and conservative social values -- generally seemed to reflect mainstream Arab political views.
  • Like al-Jazeera, Qaradawi's stances now seem to more closely follow Qatari foreign policy, and his influence has waned along with his host station and Qatar itself, which has experienced a regional backlash
  • Qaradawi now finds himself speaking to a narrower, more partisan audience. What does it say about his influence that his preferred candidate in Egypt's presidential election, the former Muslim Brotherhood leader and Islamist reformist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, won less than 20 percent of the vote?
  • Qaradawi can no longer claim to speak to a broadly unified Arab public because such a creature no longer exists
  • The proliferation of media outlets and assertive new voices that define the new Arab public sphere tend to undermine any efforts to claim the center ground
  • Qaradawi has opted to join the bandwagon rather than try to pull Sunni-Shiite relations back toward coexistence. He clearly calculates that anti-Shiite sectarianism in support of the Syrian insurgency is both strategically useful and a political winner.  And those in the Gulf and in the West eager for any opportunity to hurt Iran seem happy to go along
Ed Webb

What's behind calls to close Shiite media outlets in Egypt? - 0 views

  • In October 2016, lawyer Samir Sabri filed a lawsuit before the Second Circuit of the Administrative Judiciary Court, demanding that Shiite media outlets and websites be shut down in Egypt
  • “It is unacceptable and unreasonable to have a media platform in Egypt promoting Shiite ideology. Egypt is an Islamic state and the main source of legislation is Sharia under the constitution, which recognizes Christianity and Judaism to be monotheistic. El-Nafis is one of the news websites inciting against Saudi Arabia, Al-Azhar and the Ministry of Awqaf, where Ahmad Rasem al-Nafis attacks in his articles the Sunnis and Saudi Arabia and calls for professing the Shiite faith.”
  • “The Salafist leaders’ Wahhabism was behind the dissemination of extremism in Syria and Yemen. Shiite channels and websites in Egypt do not advocate extremism or renounce any ideology or doctrine. They call for dealing with the Shiites as Muslims at a time when Salafist movements claim that Shiites are non-Muslims.”
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  • “Shiite channels have been operating for years and have not caused strife or crises that Salafist channels ignite. This is because Shiite channels do not incite to violence and bloodshed and do not declare others to be infidels.”
  • “What is happening is a part of the chaotic media and religious discourse. There are 121 religious channels broadcasting via Nilesat, including more than 60 Shiite channels, some of which explain Shiite ideas in a moderate way," he said. "Others are extremist and incite against the Sunni sect. Sunni channels respond also to such incitement with counterincitement. Thus, all extremist channels — be they Shiite or Sunni — need to be taken down.”
  • “The legal criteria in shutting down any station would be based on its content and on whether or not it is viewed as blasphemy or incitement against any religion or belief."
  • “some Salafist channels, such as al-Hafez and al-Nas, were shut down in 2013.”
  • Human rights activist and lawyer at the Association for Freedom of Thought and Expression, Ahmed Ezzat, told Deutsche Welle in 2012 that the law does not criminalize embracing or promoting the Shiite faith. Shutting down any Shiite channel or prosecuting any promoter of the Shiite ideology would be based on a broad application of the law against blasphemy of religions, he said.
  • many Shiite channels are not at loggerheads with the state institutions, but rather with some Salafist parties.
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

Protests in Lebanon and Iraq Show That Iran Is Losing the Middle East Through Bad Governance - 0 views

  • For the Shiite communities in Iraq and Lebanon, Tehran and its proxies have failed to translate military and political victories into a socioeconomic vision; simply put, Iran’s resistance narrative did not put food on the table.
  • Today, Iran seems to be winning the long game. Its proxy in Lebanon prevailed in last year’s parliamentary elections. In Syria, Iran managed to save its ally, President Bashar al-Assad. In the past several years, Iran has also gained a lot more power in Baghdad through its proxies, including the Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), the Shiite militias created to fight the Islamic State.
  • Hezbollah’s costly involvement in the Syrian war and pressure from U.S. sanctions on Iran have forced the party to cut salaries and services, widening the gap between the rich and the poor within its own community. Meanwhile, the party also drafted mostly Shiites from poor neighborhoods to go fight in Syria, while its officials benefited from the war riches, causing much resentment.
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  • all these victories failed to translate into public well-being. Iran might have benefited, but Shiites in Lebanon got more isolated than ever. That is why it is so meaningful that the Shiite community, by joining the protests, is now attempting to claim its Lebanese identity rather than the religious one that has, so far, failed it
  • tens of thousands of Iraqis in Baghdad and other Shiite-majority parts of southern Iraq came out in protest over the failures of the Iraqi political class to provide basic services and reduce unemployment and corruption. The crackdown was swift and aggressive, resulting in the deaths of more than 100 protesters. Reuters published a story more than a week into the protests confirming that Iran-backed militias had deployed snipers on Baghdad rooftops to deliberately kill protesters
  • Some Sunnis and Kurds in Iraq have expressed support for the Shiite protesters but have hesitated to get involved in order to avoid having the protesters labeled as members of the Islamic State, an excuse that Iran has used in both Iraq and Syria to attack uprisings.
  • Hezbollah will try not repeat the Iraqi PMF’s mistake of responding with violence. That’s why its military units have been training a number of non-Hezbollah members to join what it calls the Lebanese Resistance Brigades. The role of these brigades is precisely to deal with domestic challenges and allow Hezbollah to deny responsibility. Already, in an attempt to create a counter-revolution, hundreds of young men carrying the flags of Amal and Hezbollah attacked the protesters in a number of cities. So far, the Lebanese Army has stopped them from getting too close to the protests, but they have managed to physically hurt and terrorize people outside Beirut, mainly in Shiite towns and cities
  • Shiism does not belong to Iran
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 Ankara plans to manage Kurds' religious affairs - 0 views

  • News had broken in late October that the Religious Affairs Directorate (Diyanet) would be firing hundreds more imams, particularly in eastern and southeastern towns where the majority of residents are Kurds, for their alleged support of the PKK. This follows the directorate’s previous wave of firing more than 2,500 personnel accused of being Gulenists.
  • there is no local demand for Diyanet to provide either male or female preachers
  • One former mufti who is an Islamic scholar and jurist told Al-Monitor, “For decades, the Turkish state struggled to 'Turkify' the Kurds. Finally, the Kurdish identity became more acceptable in Turkey with the peace process initiated by [President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan." Since the process collapsed, however, "Erdogan and supporters in the ever-expanding Diyanet have found a new solution: 'Sunnifying' the Kurds. They claim that due to lack of development, Kurdish towns have been neglected and they forgot real Islam. They have nominated male imams and preachers, but it has not been effective,” the scholar said. Instead, thousands of people in the southeast joined civilian resistance movements, which included local, unofficial Friday prayers. Civilian Friday prayers meant boycotting the government mosques and holding the prayers in the street, with an unofficial imam, in Kurdish.
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  • Diyanet insists that it represents all Muslims. Different groups in Turkey resist this, such as Alevis, Shiites and Kurds
  • locals — due to years of unsuccessful assimilation policies — approach Diyanet-nominated personnel with suspicion, asking them where they are from and why they are not trying to teach Islam to their own town’s people instead of preaching here
  • aside from Alevi Kurds, most Kurds belong to the Sunni school of Shafi, whereas most Turks are Sunni Hanefi. The Diyanet is a Hanefi institution as well
  • people here want to listen to sermons in Kurdish. This is a basic right
  • “The goal [of Diyanet] is not just to teach religion to the Kurds, but rather to have access through the female preachers into the homes of Kurds, as well as to help Syrian refugees settle and assimilate into the area.
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

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.”
  • 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.
  • 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
  • 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

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

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

Lebanon and Iraq Want to Overthrow Sectarianism - 0 views

  • In Iraq, the protesters mostly consisted of angry young working-class men, and they were quickly confronted with violence. In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests have been marked by that country’s unmistakable sense of style and festive spirit, and the initiators have mostly been from the upper social classes. In downtown Beirut this past weekend, the sea of protesters included a woman in white-rimmed retro sunglasses with her dog named Pucci and a young man waving a Lebanese flag while lying in an inflatable kiddie pool. Yet despite the stark contrast between the protests, the rebels in both countries are in fact very similar. They are confronting many of the same political problems and are making essentially the same demand. They want the downfall of their countries’ existing self-serving elites, and big changes to the sectarian constitutional systems that enabled them
  • if austerity measures were a trigger, the protesters now have much bigger complaints on their minds
  • Iraqi protesters share the Lebanese view of their ruling elite as corrupt and inefficient (although they have also learned their government is quicker to resort to violence to restore order)
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  • Politicians give whatever work there is to their henchmen, not to us
  • Many of the politicians in Lebanon and Iraq are the direct material beneficiaries of sectarian systems instituted after conflicts in both countries.
  • Wealth and national resources were carved up along sectarian lines, with no party having an interest in upsetting the status quo.
  • After the 2003 U.S. invasion, Iraq borrowed from Lebanon to build its own muhasasa taifa, or balanced sectarianism. Power is likewise shared between the ruling elite of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds. As a result, while elections can shift the balance of power, they do little to change the faces of those who wield it, from whichever sect or faction
  • such division of power has reduced sectarian conflict but failed at making government efficient or transparent
  • one side of the protests is that they are against any political parties that are religious or ideologically charged
  • At least two generations of Iraqis have been scarred by sectarianism, beginning with Saddam Hussein’s killings of Shiites in Iraq, the subsequent revenge by the Shiite militias on Sunnis, and then the formation of the Islamic State. They are not just exhausted from the chaos unleashed by sectarian rivalries, but also disdainful of them. The most recent Iraqi protests were held mainly in Shiite cities and against a Shiite-dominated government.
  • In Lebanon, meanwhile, the protests comprise different sects, ages, sexes, and ideologies. However, perhaps most notable were the protests by Shiites in the south of the country against the Amal Movement, historically the dominant Shiite political party. The streets of Tyre resonated with curses aimed at Nabih Berri—Amal’s leader, the Shiite speaker of the parliament, and a Hezbollah ally.
  • In both countries, Shiite militias backed by Iran have come to play a dominant role in government in recent years: Hezbollah in Lebanon, and groups that belong to the Popular Mobilization Forces, the irregular army raised to fight the Islamic State, in Iraq
  • many Lebanese feel that Hezbollah can no longer claim the moral ground it once claimed for itself as a political outsider, now that it’s clearly a part of the faulty system
  • In last year’s elections, a new movement of independent, nonsectarian “civil society” candidates stepped up, and though only one succeeded in winning a seat, amid claims they are too disparate and divided to succeed, they are still determined to try again
  • For now, however, the very act of protest offers a sense of possibility. “It’s very beautiful,” said Azab, “when you feel that you managed to defeat all your fears and say what you want out loud.”
Ed Webb

As Discontent Grows in Syria, Assad Struggles to Retain Support of Alawites - 0 views

  • Though the choreographed optics are intended to placate the community, pictures of Assad meeting with the distressed and offering shallow assurances are unlikely to offset the sight of cataclysmic flames devouring their homes. In a video shared on Twitter, an Alawite man films a fire surrounding his home. He sarcastically thanks the state for enabling its spread “because it’s irrelevant if we live or die.” In another video, a group of Alawites is seen criticizing government officials for their indifference, including a minister, whom they claim arrived for a photo op then subsequently drove off to avoid answering questions. The demographic’s small size and geographic concentration guarantees that word of such transgressions spreads quickly. The author’s Alawite sources on the coast echo these frustrations and claim they are widespread. They angrily questioned why neither the state nor its Iranian and Russian allies had assisted, especially given the proximity of the latter’s airbase at Khmeimim to the coastal mountains. 
  • On Oct. 9, state media’s Alikhbaria broadcast a video depicting a handful of Syrian soldiers struggling to put out small fires. Owing to severe water shortages, the troops were forced to use tree branches in lieu of hoses or buckets of water. The video was later shared on Twitter, where it elicited a mixture of mockery and condemnation from opponents of the regime. However, Alawite overrepresentation in the military means that these visuals denote a sense of loss and despair to the community.
  • The armed forces make up a key pillar of Alawite identity and have for nearly a century constituted their main institutional vehicle for attaining upward social mobility and prestige. The community’s loss of more than one third of their men of military age fighting for the regime against an overwhelmingly Sunni armed opposition has further entrenched this interdependence
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  • Conversations within the community center on the divide between the elites and the impoverished Alawites who are commonly linked to the discourse of sacrifice. Economic implosion and the decimation of the Syrian pound have effectively thrust a formerly comfortable middle class into poverty. Whereas Alawites are disproportionately represented in the public sector, the average state salary – a meager 50,000 SYP ($21) per month – means that the vast majority live well below the poverty line, as the average family, according to a Syrian newspaper, requires 700,000 SYP ($304) per month in order to live comfortably. 
  • In October alone, the price of gasoline increased twice, while the cost of diesel – used for residential heat and cooking, in addition to operating bakeries and fueling Syria’s cheapest mode of transportation, microbuses – more than doubled. Basic necessities have become virtually unaffordable.
  • Many of the communities impacted by the fires are subsistence farmers that depend on the profits accrued from harvesting crops such as olives, citrus, and tobacco. They commonly require a mixture of short- and long-term loans from the state’s Agricultural Cooperative Bank. Yet systemic corruption, mismanagement, and a collapsed economy have depleted state coffers, making it unlikely that the regime will compensate those whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed.
  • in an interview with pro-regime radio station Sham FM, a resident of Alawite al-Fakhoura asserts the funds are being distributed by local officials in a nepotistic fashion. This example illustrates that, in the improbable case that Assad secures the necessary finances, his regime cannot prevent its clientelist networks from capturing them
  • diffusion of power since 2011 has led to unprecedented corruption amid the rise of relatively autonomous war profiteers, from militias to businessmen
  • Outside of individual members hailing from a class of intellectuals, artists, and political dissidents, few Alawites actively joined the uprising in 2011. Those who did generally partook in cross-confessional protests that stressed national unity.
  • In August 2015, the president’s cousin, Suleiman al-Assad, shot and killed a decorated Syrian Air Force colonel in Latakia City in a bout of road rage. According to the colonel’s brother, Suleiman had disparaged the Syrian military before killing the officer. Protests calling for Suleiman’s execution ensued in the Alawite neighborhood of Al-Zira’a. The debasing of the army – viewed as the only buffer between Alawites and a vengeful, sectarian opposition – by a privileged member of the ruling class struck a political nerve.
  • The spread of parasitic pro-regime militias operating with impunity and their disregard for breadlines, gas queues, and ration restrictions, in addition to their harassment of people desperately awaiting their turn, has contributed to an atmosphere in which fights break out. In Latakia and Hama, these fights have reportedly resulted in a few deaths.
  • time-tested tactic of externalizing blame and deflecting responsibility is currently being sustained by several exogenous factors. These include the presence of Turkish and American troops on Syrian soil and their support for rival armed actors, the sporadic persistence of Israeli strikes, and the implementation of U.S. sanctions through the Caesar Act, which collectively breathe life into the regime’s otherwise exhausted rhetoric
  • People considering organizing widespread civil disobedience are deterred by the specter of pre-emptive detention by the dreaded mukhabarat. The regime’s periodic security reshuffling further blurs the ability to identify potentially dangerous agents within their own community, magnifying the perceived threat posed by the omnipresence of informants.
  • the regime’s inability to check its repressive impulses could lead to a situation in which Alawites related to members of the officer corps are arrested and tortured – or worse, disappeared – for public critiques of the government, causing backlash from its own coercive forces
  • the deterioration of living standards could ultimately lead to a breaking point. 
  • Any organized dissent would require the support of its rank-and-file soldiers, most of whom share similar, if not identical, grievances with the wider community, and could thus be sympathetic. This could potentially cause a schism within the Alawite community as familial allegiances are weighed against loyalty to the Assad dynasty and its regime, particularly if ordered to repress protests in Alawite areas.
  • The only conceivable scenario in which Assad’s departure can occur at the hands of the Alawites while salvaging the state and avoiding further regional instability would be through a palace coup led by disgruntled officers and backed by Russia. However, the likelihood that Russia could simply replace or abandon Assad, its growing frustrations notwithstanding, is low, not least due to lack of an alternative.
  • Iranian entrenchment, both within the formal institutions of the regime and the state’s security landscape more broadly, continues to exploit Assad’s tenuous authority in order to obstruct Russian attempts to monopolize patronage.
  • Iran is a force for regime continuity. By creating a parallel network of control that bypasses the state, Iran has thus far been able to reproduce its influence, particularly through its ongoing relations with a patchwork of non-state militias, while resisting Russian efforts at vertically integrating these actors into the formal structures of a centralized Syrian state
  • the regime played the leading role in engineering facts on the ground critical to corroborating the false binary at the heart of its survival: Either accept the stability and security of the state – however perilous – or test the genocidal dispositions of the “jihadist” opposition.
  • This idea – that the president is innocent despite being surrounded by villains – is not uncommon among the Alawites.
  • Apart from the Turkish-backed factions in the north, the threat of Sunni reprisals occupies less of an immediate concern to most Alawites than their ability to secure food, shelter, and transportation amid a shattered economy and unstable currency
Ed Webb

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

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

Lebanon news - NOW Lebanon -Blasphemy: an indispensable human right - 0 views

  • the Organization of Islamic Conference has seized on the controversies regarding an anti-Islam video clip on YouTube and satirical cartoons about Mohammed in a French magazine to renew its call for a global ban on "blasphemy." The OIC is, in effect, not only announcing that Muslim states in general have no intention of allowing real freedom of conscience and speech, but they want to bully the West into eliminating those freedoms as well.
  • Who, after all, will be authorized to define "blasphemy"? Does anything that offends any religious sensibilities qualify as "blasphemy"? Will a critical mass of objections be seen as legitimate grounds for silencing critics of religious doctrine, scholarly inquiry into their origins, skeptical analysis of superstition and faith, iconoclasm, or mockery of religious claims, symbols, assertions, and shibboleths?
  • Several Arab states, including Egypt and Kuwait, have recently been toying with new criminal definitions of "blasphemy" that specifically ban insulting the wives and companions of the Prophet Mohammed, which is barely concealed code for the suppression of Shiite doctrinal criticism of Sunni Islam. The OIC is based in Saudi Arabia, a country that does not allow freedom of worship for any non-Muslims. The examples of the hypocrisy behind these calls are simply endless.
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  • These calls reflect a paranoid worldview that is widespread among Muslims that their religion is under some kind of global assault. If so—because Islam is spreading faster than almost any other religion, with the possible exception of Mormonism—it's an odd kind of siege. In reality, Islam is thriving in its countries of origin and spreading quickly into the West.
  • Embracing modernity requires tolerating such fears without demanding the enforcement of religious orthodoxy, even of an ecumenical variety, through the power of the state.
  • Reason and skepticism, for good or ill, are not poised to overthrow faith
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.
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