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Ed Webb

The Uncounted - The New York Times - 0 views

  • In the effort to expel ISIS from Iraq and Syria, the coalition has conducted more than 27,500 strikes to date, deploying everything from Vietnam-era B-52 bombers to modern Predator drones. That overwhelming air power has made it possible for local ground troops to overcome heavy resistance and retake cities throughout the region. “U.S. and coalition forces work very hard to be precise in airstrikes,” Maj. Shane Huff, a spokesman for the Central Command, told us, and as a result “are conducting one of the most precise air campaigns in military history.”
  • The coalition usually announces an airstrike within a few days of its completion. It also publishes a monthly report assessing allegations of civilian casualties. Those it deems credible are generally explained as unavoidable accidents — a civilian vehicle drives into the target area moments after a bomb is dropped, for example. The coalition reports that since August 2014, it has killed tens of thousands of ISIS fighters and, according to our tally of its monthly summaries, 466 civilians in Iraq.
  • Our own reporting, conducted over 18 months, shows that the air war has been significantly less precise than the coalition claims. Between April 2016 and June 2017, we visited the sites of nearly 150 airstrikes across northern Iraq, not long after ISIS was evicted from them. We toured the wreckage; we interviewed hundreds of witnesses, survivors, family members, intelligence informants and local officials; we photographed bomb fragments, scoured local news sources, identified ISIS targets in the vicinity and mapped the destruction through satellite imagery. We also visited the American air base in Qatar where the coalition directs the air campaign. There, we were given access to the main operations floor and interviewed senior commanders, intelligence officials, legal advisers and civilian-casualty assessment experts. We provided their analysts with the coordinates and date ranges of every airstrike — 103 in all — in three ISIS-controlled areas and examined their responses. The result is the first systematic, ground-based sample of airstrikes in Iraq since this latest military action began in 2014.
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  • one in five of the coalition strikes we identified resulted in civilian death, a rate more than 31 times that acknowledged by the coalition
  • a consistent failure by the coalition to investigate claims properly or to keep records that make it possible to investigate the claims at all
  • the result simply of flawed or outdated intelligence that conflated civilians with combatants
  • “In the middle of the night,” he wrote, “coalition airplanes targeted two houses occupied by innocent civilians. Is this technology? This barbarian attack cost me the lives of my wife, daughter, brother and nephew.”
  • two direct hits. “O.K., this is my house, and this is Mohannad’s house,” he recalled. “One rocket here, and one rocket there. It was not a mistake.”
  • in 2003, the United States invaded. One night just a few months afterward, the Americans showed up at the Woods and took over a huge abandoned military barracks across the street from Basim’s property. The next morning, they started cutting down trees. “They said, ‘This is for our security,’ ” Basim recalled. “I said, ‘Your security doesn’t mean destruction of the forest.’ ” Walls of concrete and concertina wire started to appear amid the pine and chinar stands.
  • While assisting civilian victims is no longer a military priority, some authorities appear to remain concerned about retaliation. About a year after the strike on Basim’s house, his cousin Hussain Al-Rizzo, a systems-engineering professor at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, received a visit from an F.B.I. agent. The agent, he said, asked if the deaths of his relatives in an American airstrike made him in his “heart of hearts sympathize with the bad guys.” Hussain, who has lived in the United States since 1987, was stunned by the question. He said no.
  • “Radical Islamists grew as a result of this war, and many ideas grew out of this war which we have never seen or heard before,”
  • During the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts, war planners began to focus more seriously on condolence payments, seeing them as a way to improve relations with locals and forestall revenge attacks. Soon, American forces were disbursing thousands of dollars yearly to civilians who suffered losses because of combat operations, for everything from property damage to the death of a family member.
  • In 2003, an activist from Northern California named Marla Ruzicka showed up in Baghdad determined to overhaul the system. She founded Civic, now known as the Center for Civilians in Conflict, and collected evidence of civilians killed in American military operations. She discovered not only that there were many more than expected but also that the assistance efforts for survivors were remarkably haphazard and arbitrary. Civic championed the cause in Washington and found an ally in Senator Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont. In 2005, Ruzicka was killed by a suicide blast in Baghdad, but her efforts culminated in legislation that established a fund to provide Iraqi victims of American combat operations with nonmonetary assistance — medical care, home reconstruction — that served, in practice, as compensation.
  • not a single person in Iraq or Syria has received a condolence payment for a civilian death since the war began in 2014. “There really isn’t a process,” a senior Central Command official told us. “It’s not that anyone is against it; it just hasn’t been done, so it’s almost an aspirational requirement.”
  • When the Americans withdrew in 2011, Basim felt as if almost everyone he knew harbored grievances toward the occupation.
  • Because there was no established mechanism for Iraqi victims to meet American officials, his appointment was at the American Citizen Services section. He pressed against the window and showed the consular officer his dossier. One page contained satellite imagery of the Razzo houses, and others contained before-and-after photos of the destruction. Between them were photos of each victim: Mayada sipping tea, Tuqa in the back yard, Najib in a black-and-white self-portrait and a head shot of Mohannad, an engineering professor, his academic credentials filling the rest of the page. The most important issue, Basim had written, was that his family was now “looked at as members of ISIS” by the Iraqi authorities. This threatened to be a problem, especially after the city’s liberation.

    The consular officer, who spoke to us on the condition of anonymity, was moved. “I have people coming in every day that lie to me, that come with these sob stories,” the officer remembered telling him, “but I believe you.”

  • when Basim’s case was referred to a military attorney, the attorney replied, “There’s no way to prove that the U.S. was involved.”
  • By the time the information made its way to the coalition and it decided to act, the mortar had been moved.

    Such intelligence failures suggest that not all civilian casualties are unavoidable tragedies; some deaths could be prevented if the coalition recognizes its past failures and changes its operating assumptions accordingly. But in the course of our investigation, we found that it seldom did either.

  • Over the coming weeks, one by one, the coalition began removing all the airstrike videos from YouTube.
  • An alarm blares occasional high-temperature alerts, but the buildings themselves are kept so frigid that aviators sometimes wear extra socks as mittens
  • Most of the civilian deaths acknowledged by the coalition emerge from this internal reporting process. Often, though, watchdogs or journalists bring allegations to the coalition, or officials learn about potential civilian deaths through social media. The coalition ultimately rejects a vast majority of such external reports. It will try to match the incident to a strike in its logs to determine whether it was indeed its aircraft that struck the location in question (the Iraqi Air Force also carries out strikes). If so, it then scours its drone footage, pilot videos, internal records and, when they believe it is warranted, social media and other open-source information for corroborating evidence. Each month, the coalition releases a report listing those allegations deemed credible, dismissing most of them on the grounds that coalition aircraft did not strike in the vicinity or that the reporter failed to provide sufficiently precise information about the time and place of the episode.
  • They speak of every one of the acknowledged deaths as tragic but utterly unavoidable. “We’re not happy with it, and we’re never going to be happy with it,” said Thomas, the Central Command spokesman. “But we’re pretty confident we do the best we can to try to limit these things.”
  • Airwars, a nonprofit based in London that monitors news reports, accounts by nongovernmental organizations, social-media posts and the coalition’s own public statements. Airwars tries to triangulate these sources and grade each allegation from “fair” to “disputed.” As of October, it estimates that up to 3,000 Iraqi civilians have been killed in coalition airstrikes — six times as many as the coalition has stated in its public summaries. But Chris Woods, the organization’s director, told us that Airwars itself “may be significantly underreporting deaths in Iraq,” because the local reporting there is weaker than in other countries that Airwars monitors.
  • the coalition, the institution best placed to investigate civilian death claims, does not itself routinely dispatch investigators on the ground, citing access and security concerns, meaning there has not been such a rigorous ground investigation of this air war — or any American-led air campaign — since Human Rights Watch analyzed the civilian toll of the NATO bombing in Kosovo, a conflict that ended in 1999
  • we selected three areas in Nineveh Province, traveling to the location of every airstrike that took place during ISIS control in each — 103 sites in all. These areas encompassed the range of ISIS-controlled settlements in size and population makeup: downtown Shura, a small provincial town that was largely abandoned during periods of heavy fighting; downtown Qaiyara, a suburban municipality; and Aden, a densely packed city neighborhood in eastern Mosul. The sample would arguably provide a conservative estimate of the civilian toll: It did not include western Mosul, which may have suffered the highest number of civilian deaths in the entire war. Nor did it include any strikes conducted after December 2016, when a rule change allowed more ground commanders to call in strikes, possibly contributing to a sharp increase in the death toll.
  • In addition to interviewing hundreds of witnesses, we dug through the debris for bomb fragments, tracked down videos of airstrikes in the area and studied before-and-after satellite imagery. We also obtained and analyzed more than 100 coordinate sets for suspected ISIS sites passed on by intelligence informants. We then mapped each neighborhood door to door, identifying houses where ISIS members were known to have lived and locating ISIS facilities that could be considered legitimate targets. We scoured the wreckage of each strike for materials suggesting an ISIS presence, like weapons, literature and decomposed remains of fighters. We verified every allegation with local administrators, security forces or health officials
  • During the two years that ISIS ruled downtown Qaiyara, an area of about one square mile, there were 40 airstrikes, 13 of which killed 43 civilians — 19 men, eight women and 16 children, ages 14 or younger. In the same period, according to the Iraqi federal police, ISIS executed 18 civilians in downtown Qaiyara
  • in about half of the strikes that killed civilians, we could find no discernible ISIS target nearby
  • we wrote to the coalition ourselves, explaining that we were reporters working on an article about Basim. We provided details about his family and his efforts to reach someone in authority and included a link to the YouTube video the coalition posted immediately after the strike. A public-affairs officer responded, “There is nothing in the historical log for 20 SEP 2015,” the date the coalition had assigned to the strike video. Not long after, the video disappeared from the coalition’s YouTube channel. We responded by providing the GPS coordinates of Basim’s home, his emails to the State Department and an archived link to the YouTube video, which unlike the videos on the Pentagon’s website allow for comments underneath — including those that Basim’s family members left nearly a year before.
  • On the evening of April 20, 2015, aircraft bombed the station, causing a tremendous explosion that engulfed the street. Muthana Ahmed Tuaama, a university student, told us his brother rushed into the blaze to rescue the wounded, when a second blast shook the facility. “I found my brother at the end of the street,” he said. “I carried him.” Body parts littered the alleyway. “You see those puddles of water,” he said. “It was just like that, but full of blood.” We determined that at least 18 civilians died in this one attack and that many more were grievously wounded. News of the strike was picked up by local bloggers, national Iraqi outlets and ISIS propaganda channels and was submitted as an allegation to the coalition by Airwars. Months later, the coalition announced the results of its investigation, stating that there was “insufficient evidence to find that civilians were harmed in this strike.” Yet even a cursory internet search offers significant evidence that civilians were harmed: We found disturbingly graphic videos of the strike’s aftermath on YouTube, showing blood-soaked toddlers and children with their legs ripped off.
  • Human rights organizations have repeatedly found discrepancies between the dates or locations of strikes and those recorded in the logs. In one instance, the coalition deemed an allegation regarding a strike in the Al-Thani neighborhood of Tabqa, Syria, on Dec. 20, 2016, as “not credible,” explaining that the nearest airstrike was more than a kilometer away. After Human Rights Watch dispatched researchers to the ground and discovered evidence to the contrary, the coalition acknowledged the strike as its own
  • The most common justification the coalition gives when denying civilian casualty allegations is that it has no record of carrying out a strike at the time or area in question. If incomplete accounts like these are standard practice, it calls into question the coalition’s ability to determine whether any strike is its own. Still, even using the most conservative rubric and selecting only those 30 airstrikes the Air Force analysts classified as “probable” coalition airstrikes, we found at least 21 civilians had been killed in six strikes. Expanding to the 65 strikes that fell within 600 meters — for example, the strikes on the home of Inas Hamadi in Qaiyara and the electrical substation in Aden — pushed that figure to at least 54 killed in 15 strikes. No matter which threshold we used, though, the results from our sample were consistent: One of every five airstrikes killed a civilian
  • “We deeply regret this unintentional loss of life in an attempt to defeat Da’esh,” Scrocca wrote, using another term for ISIS. “We are prepared to offer you a monetary expression of our sympathy and regret for this unfortunate incident.” He invited Basim to come to Erbil to discuss the matter. Basim was the first person to receive such an offer, in Iraq or Syria, during the entire anti-ISIS war.
  • “This situation of war,” he continued, “big corporations are behind it.” This is where the real power lay, not with individual Americans. He’d come to believe that his family, along with all Iraqis, had been caught in the grinder of grand forces like oil and empire, and that the only refuge lay in something even grander: faith. He had rediscovered his religion. “There was some bond that grew between me and my God. I thanked him for keeping my son alive. I thanked him that my operation was successful. Now I can walk.”
Ed Webb

"It Started With Conversations - And Then They Started Hitting Each Other" - 0 views

  • Inside the prisons of Egypt and other Arab and Muslim countries, a ferocious competition has erupted between radical militants and more established political Islamists over fresh recruits. ISIS is often muscling out more peaceful groups for influence and loyalists among the mostly young men tossed into cramped cells for months or years.
  • Some inmates are subjected to torture and deprivation, despite having committed no or minimal crimes, fueling anger that researchers have long feared breeds extremism in Arab jails.
  • The political dynamics inside Arab detention centers have ramifications far beyond the prison walls. Jails in the Middle East have long forged radical extremists, including the Egyptian intellectual godfather of Islamic extremism, Sayyid Qutb, and the founder of al-Qaeda, Ayman al-Zawahiri, as well as Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the Jordanian ex-convict whose al-Qaeda in Iraq later morphed into ISIS. Alleged ISIS supporters find prisons to be fertile soil, especially in brutal Arab regimes like Egypt. There are numerous signs ISIS has begun using prisons that are intended to confine them and limit their activities to expand their influence and even plan operations. Egyptian authorities and activists believe former prisoners recruited by ISIS in jail were behind suicide bombings of churches in Cairo in December and on Palm Sunday this year in Alexandria and Tanta.
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  • “Many of the prisoners were already very angry after the coup and eager to fight,” said Yasser Khalil, an Egyptian journalist who has extensively covered prisons. “Telling them them they will go to heaven and get virgins just makes it that much more attractive. They say, ‘Yes, you have a Christian neighbor and he is lovely. But the Coptic Church supports the state, and thus they should be killed.’”
  • Reports have emerged of ISIS recruiters being locked up in prisons all the way from Algeria to Russia’s Caucasus region, Tajikistan, and Indonesia.
  • many warn that ISIS’s nihilism is overpowering the Brotherhood’s appeals. “This is the year of disappointment and disillusion when there’s no hope for the Islamist factions to get out of prison any time soon,”
  • Refusing legal counsel is one trait that distinguishes ISIS prisoners from other inmates, including alleged al-Qaeda supporters. “He used to love life. He used to be keen on getting out of jail. But not anymore.”
  • “ISIS says, ‘We tried democracy and we ended up in jail,’” Abdullah recalled. “‘It was the army that introduced the gun. Why is Sisi in power? He has guns.’”
  • “Imagine you are in prison — the great challenge is killing time,” said Ghadi, whose father and brother have been jailed. “Before you could read books. When they closed that door the only way to kill time is sharing your thoughts and experiences. The Islamist groups and factions are the great majority of prisoners. Imagine there’s a constant flow of radical ideas into your mind. They talk and listen and talk and listen. You start to give in. You get weak. You lose all rational argument. You are finally ready to absorb radical thoughts and arguments.”
  • Ahmed Abdullah, the liberal activist, had had enough. He approached some wealthy businessmen inside the prison and arranged for them to bribe guards to allow in some books. He launched a reading group using Arabic translations of world literature and philosophy. They read Franz Kafka to understand the nightmarish nature of Egypt’s bureaucracy, George Orwell as an illustration of brutal authoritarianism, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau as an introduction to democratic governance and the social contract. To his delight the other prisoners were receptive; even some of the Islamists would attend the talks.

    Suddenly, security forces stormed in and seized the books, loudly accusing Abdullah, who is a professor of engineering at a university in Cairo, of poisoning the minds of the inmates. He was transferred to a dank solitary confinement cell, without a towel or blanket. After three days he was released from jail. He said authorities must have calculated he was more trouble inside prison than outside.

    “When we have a chance to compete we win,” said Abdullah, smoking flavored shisha at a cafe in central Cairo. “The inmates were really excited with what we had to say. But it turns out our government considers secular activists more dangerous than the Muslim Brotherhood, or ISIS.”

  • Many of Egypt’s estimated 40,000 prisoners are being held in makeshift jailhouses, interior ministry compounds and military camps that don’t have the capacity for separating inmates. One former prisoner described watching as another inmate was recruited by an ISIS supporter while sitting for hours in the van on the way from jail to court. One researcher described a brawl involving Brotherhood and ISIS prisoners during a similar transfer of inmates earlier this year.
  • “ISIS looks down on the Muslim Brotherhood, they consider them infidels, and they point this out to the younger Muslim Brotherhood members,”
  • ISIS targets recruits who have special skills. Gamal Ziada recalled intense competition between the Muslim Brotherhood and ISIS over a prisoner who was a student at Cairo’s elite Zewail City of Science and Technology, considered Egypt’s MIT. “ISIS told him, ‘You’re not going to carry a weapon,’” Gamal Ziada said. “‘You’re not going to fight. You will use your brain.’”
  • “He tried to convince me that I was an apostate and that my parents were apostates too, and I have to convince my family to give up the pleasures of the world and return to Allah,” the smuggler said of his 2015 imprisonment. “He used to ask me to share lunch and dinner with him. He was ordering the best Turkish food in town. He was very rich. He told me that I could continue my work in smuggling for the Islamic State and make much more profit than I did with working with refugees.”
  • “His mission was to get closer to the poor and the simple people and convince them that if they joined the Islamic State they would have power, money, and women,” he said, “and heaven in the afterlife.”
  • Some experts fear ISIS has recruited potential sleeper agents in prison who might later become emboldened to act. Abdou, the researcher, said he interviewed one former inmate who joined ISIS in prison but dropped any Islamist pretenses the moment he walked out of jail, shaving his beard and going back to smoking shisha and lazing about with old friends.
  • ISIS recruitment and violence inside prisons jumped in 2015 when Egyptian authorities began clamping down on allowing books inside jails
Ed Webb

Morocco's little idyll of Jewish-Muslim coexistence - A moment of religious harmony - 0 views

  • ONCE a year the little seaside town of Essaouira, in Morocco, reclaims its lost Jewish community. Sephardic trills echo from its whitewashed synagogues. The medieval souks fill with Jewish skullcaps. Rabbis and cantors wish Muslims “Shabbat Shalom” and regale them with Hebrew incantations
  • the initiative of André Azoulay, a 76-year-old Jew from Essaouira (one of just three) and a former counsellor to Morocco’s kings. Each autumn he stages a colourful festival of Andalusian music aimed at bringing hundreds of Jews and Muslims together for a weekend of concerts and dialogue. Locals pack the small stadium to watch Hebrew cantors and Koran-reciters sing arm-in-arm. Israelis and Palestinians flock there, too. “Essaouira is what the Middle East once was and might yet be again,” says Mr Azoulay.
  • When Jews were expelled from Spain and Portugal in the 15th century, many fled to Morocco. The Jewish population in the kingdom rose to over 250,000 by 1948, when the state of Israel was born. In the ensuing decades, as Arab-Jewish tensions increased, many left. Fewer than 2,500 remain—still more than anywhere else in the Arab world.
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  • The kingdom also boasts the Arab world’s only Jewish museum. “We used to have a six-pointed star on our flag and coins, like Israel,” says Zhor Rehihil, the curator (who is Muslim). “It was changed under French rule to five.”
  • One visiting Israeli official puts it thus: “Morocco’s Arabs are different to ours.”
Ed Webb

Ancient Black Muslim manuscripts discovered, but no-one seems to care - 0 views

  • The story of Haidara and the librarians who saved the manuscripts seems to have captivated the non Muslim Western world, again. Timbuktu, known as the “African El Dorado” by European explorers in the 1600s looking for gold and other treasures, was a place of mystery for them. Tales of Mansa Musa’s splendid Hajj journey where he gave gold away wherever he went found their way to Europe. The image of Mansa Musa sitting with his legs crossed holding a golden nugget by a Florence mapmaker was a product of the European imagination, not reality. Although Mansa Musa is the wealthiest person in history, where his wealth was, was uncertain. Europeans believed that Timbuktu was the source of gold, but in reality it was a trading city where gold was sent, not mined.
  • Today, books, articles, and even documentaries have been produced on the work that Malian archivist, historians, and librarians are doing with the manuscripts. It seems though that on the other hand, the manuscripts have not captured the attention of mainstream Muslim academics. One would imagine unearthing thousands of works on Islam would cause a twitter storm by the likes of Imam Suhaib Webb or Yasir Qadhi. The rush to support Black Muslim history from two major Muslim scholars has not come. Maybe a retweet of a Malcom X quote during Black History Month, but other than that, nothing.
  • The Mali Empire was established in 1230 and the Ottoman Empire established in 1299. Arabic flourished in both empires and both left a profound amount of history. The Ottoman Empire holds more prestige and authority in Muslim academic circles. There is work that Malian jurists, poets, and leaders left for us, the issue is it is not being shared by the gatekeepers of Muslim academia. Adding the thousands of Black Muslim intellectuals to the catalog of creditable historical sources of sharia law would be a task. It would also shift the power balance of academic hierarchy, but it must be done.
Ed Webb

The Idea of the Muslim World and the global politics of religion - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • The stabilization and reification of Islam and other so-called world religions that I have remarked on in the theory and practice of international relations make The Idea of the Muslim World not only academically prescient but politically necessary. It allows us to reevaluate, and perhaps unlearn, some of the powerful yet nearly imperceptible assumptions about religion and politics that inhabit us as moderns.
  • The idea of the Muslim world enables narratives in which Islam “causes” people to do things. It allows for the depiction of Islam as the religion that is most recalcitrant and resistant to Western-style modernity, an agent that defines all aspects of life. Like other religions, only more so, the “Muslim world” requires management with white gloves, and sometimes the use of force, to prevent it from igniting into violence.
  • This narrative requires certain preconditions to take root and flourish. It needs stable entities called “religions” that are taken for granted as drivers of (peaceful or violent) forms of politics, (amenable or hostile) social relations, and (oppressive or emancipatory) legal and social systems. It is in this environment that something called “Islam” can be successfully portrayed as a “cause” of violence. It is in this environment that Ted Cruz’s preposterous assertion during the presidential campaign that “there is no meaningful risk of Christians committing acts of terror” could be a plausible statement to more than a few supporters
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  • political gestures whose cumulative effect is to create social and political worlds that are saturated with naturalized distinctions and suspicions between Muslims (and other religions/races) and others
  • The idea of the Muslim world enables the specific forms of politics and religion that structure contemporary international relations, many of which are premised on the protection of individuals and groups on the basis of religion. This is why his book is so important. If we were to take Aydın’s thesis to heart, programs to cultivate tolerant Muslims and suppress Islamic extremism that are premised on the notion of a stable “moderate” Muslim identity would be unimaginable. Instead policymakers would have to contemplate a much broader and more complex set of factors and forces
  • “Muslim” as a politically salient ethnic, religious, and/or racial identity is the product of political and religious discourse and history
  • n the 1990s, Bosnians who saw themselves as atheists before the war woke up to find themselves identified—and divided—by a newly salient religious identity
  • pan-Islamism—the idea that there is such a thing as a “Muslim world”—is a new and historically strange invention, a legacy of imperial racism
  • “the racialization of Islam was bound up with its transformation into a universal and uniform religious tradition, a force in international politics, and a distinct object in a discourse of civilizations. Political strategy and intellectual labor made this new reality, and both Muslims and European Christians took part.”
  • “Racialized Muslim subjects,” Aydın concludes in a key passage, “remained the real heart and animating force of pan-Islamism.” It is this perception of solidarity—a particular and historically contingent species of racialized colonial and postcolonial solidarity—that mattered, and that still does
Ed Webb

Money-flat, broad, and deep - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • Is money transcendent or immanent?
  • Money has supposedly become the be-all and end-all of our age, as the horizon of the good, and, as such, forges a closed, self-contained system. The modern era, the age of immanence, is also the age of money and capital, as economy has come to ground and delimit much of how we understand ourselves. Money and its preponderance appear correlated to the immanent
  • Money signifies value, itself an ethereal category not fully exhausted by materialist definitions. Money “stands above” the plane of objects of labor, commodities, and use-values. Some might press further to claim that money has usurped the place of God in societal imagination, trading on theological residues to become the index for ultimate concern and even sovereign decision
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  • Years after Francis Fukuyama hailed with melancholic resignation the end of history, the supposed triumph and totalization of global capital remains tied to concerns about a loss of transcendence. Without the agonism of economic alternatives and manifest visions of different modes of production, can we still posit an “outside” to our moment? Is this all that there is?
  • the global story of money and capital in the West. It is a polycentric tale that cannot forget the colonial encounter, as well as attempts to both manage and bypass the Near East. Even as European bankers and traders appropriated the calculus of double-entry bookkeeping from the Arabs, and in so doing generated conceptual changes that enabled capitalism, they sought trade routes that superseded—or transcended—the Silk Road. Explorers circumnavigated the globe to avoid that ancient enemy, the Islamic empires at Europe’s gates. Vasco da Gama and Christopher Columbus wanted to reach India and the Far East without dealing with the turbaned Moors who stood in the way, obscuring the view.
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

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

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

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

The Muslim world: Political fiction and sociological fact? - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • In his important new book, Cemil Aydın asserts “the ‘Muslim world,’ as a catchall description of people recognizing themselves as Muslims, has never been more than an illusion.” The idea of the Muslim world, Aydın argues, emerged through an exchange between European imperialists and Muslim intellectuals during the late-nineteenth century, and has enjoyed a cyclical revival post-WWII. What Aydın identifies as “the legacy of imperial racialization of Muslim-ness” was met with “Muslim resistance to this racialized identity,” thereby producing a notion of Muslim civilizational and geopolitical difference distinct from the West.
  • Aydın suggests that pan-Islamist ideology today “relies on an ahistorical caricature of the caliphate, one that seems derived more from Islamophobic stereotypes than from Abbasid or Ottoman practices.” What Aydın refers to as historical amnesia also afflicts American and European proponents of anti-Muslim policies, which compel Muslim solidarity and thereby foment pan-Islamist responses.
  • Is it possible to refute a claim as expansive as global Muslim unity without proposing a similarly totalizing theory?
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  • Edward Blyden, a black Protestant in West Africa whose article “Mohammedanism and the Negro Race” interpreted the fate of Muslims and blacks distinctly from white Christians; the British historian Arnold Toynbee best known for his anti-Turkish propaganda; and Ernest Renan, the leading French historian and philosopher who claimed that Islam was incompatible with modern science
  • The continued popularity of the idea of the Muslim world cannot be attributed to the elite alone. Today’s public spheres are saturated with political novices and seasoned politicians, academics, curious observers, and a vast range of nominally interested pundits, all of whom, it seems, have something to say about Muslims and Islam. Comment has never been freer and more pernicious. Any and all opinions find expression through more diffuse communication technologies than ever before. There are no guarantees that the provenance of a concept confines its use within the social networks that may have once given the concept meaning. If Aydın has written the history of an idea’s emergence, to what extent must its endurance account for a wider social field?
Ed Webb

Tunisia's War on Islam | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Ayari had no ties to terrorist groups. But it soon became clear that his appearance had turned him into a suspect in his own right. He was charged with terrorism, detained for several days, and savagely beaten. “The police officer spat in my face and beat me,” the 29-year-old Ayari told me later. “My face was bruised, my mouth was bleeding. A beard and traditional clothing mean ‘terrorism’ for security forces in Tunisia. That’s the bitter reality.”
  • “Today there’s a sort of trivialization of torture, especially in terrorism cases,” said Amna Guellali, the Tunisia director of Human Rights Watch. “When we speak up about the torture of terror suspects, we risk being considered traitors in the holy war against terrorism — and if we denounce torture, we’re considered pro-terrorist.”

  • Inclusion in the terrorism list also prevents people from obtaining copies of their criminal records. Since these have to be included with job applications, this amounts to an employment blacklist as well. This procedure means that hundreds, if not thousands, of Tunisians, most of whom are already from the most vulnerable segments of society, are subject to economic discrimination.
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  • a sort of social persecution of men and women who look religious — something that could further exacerbate Tunisia’s terrorism problem. Alienation pushes these people to the margins of society, making them psychologically fragile and more receptive to radical discourse targeted against the state. “How do you expect people to feel when they’ve been subjected to this sort of treatment?” said Ghaki. “They’ll feel hatred and a desire for vengeance.”
  • experiences frequent harassment by police and security personnel because she wears a face veil, the niqab. She said she once had to wait 45 minutes before she was allowed into a hospital. Though she offered to show her face and allow the security personnel to check her identity, she said they made sure to humiliate her before letting her go inside to visit her ailing relative.
  • While people have gotten used to seeing women wearing the hijab in Tunisia’s streets, niqabi women and bearded men are the country’s new scapegoats. Chaima said that she was once called a terrorist by a group of people in a passing car. “It’s not easy to be who we are in Tunisia,” she said. “Some people want to let us know that we have no place here.”
  • a group of lawmakers tried to exploit the rising fear of terrorism by proposing a law that would make it illegal for women to cover their faces in public. The draft law drew comparisons to a controversial 2010 law passed in France under president Nicolas Sarkozy. This is no coincidence. France is Tunisia’s former colonial power, and French law, culture, and values have had a profound impact on modern Tunisian society, particularly among the upper classes.
  • Decades of forced secularization under the Bourguiba and Ben Ali regimes made people less accustomed to the sight of traditional clothing and long beards. Displays of conservative religiosity are less common than in other countries in the region, and thus tend to draw scrutiny.
  • This kind of treatment inevitably contributes to the alienation and sense of exclusion felt by many of Tunisia’s most vulnerable people. It should be no surprise if some of them actually end up joining the terrorists who society has already classed them with. Sometimes it seems that the security forces aren’t even trying.

    Ahmed Sellimi, another of Mona and Tarek’s brothers, went to a police station one day to try to convince them to stop the harassment. “Why are you here?” asked the agent he addressed. “Why don’t you just go the mountains with the rest of the terrorists?”

Ed Webb

The Mainstreaming of Tunisia's Islamists | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Ennahda’s decision to jettison “political Islam” has far less to do with Islam than it does with politics. Judging by its program, its actions, and the people who run it, Ghannouchi’s party remains a conservative Islamic party. That hasn’t really changed. What Ennahda’s carefully orchestrated rebranding demonstrates, however, is just how skillfully its leaders continue to adapt to the changing landscape of Tunisian electoral politics.
  • Ennahda’s leaders had to take into account the fact that a large part of Tunisian society remained devoted to the secularist values aired by the old regime’s leading politicians and that they regarded the new ruling party and its aims with suspicion
  • opponents of political Islam continue to dominate the political scene
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  • The rise of the Islamic State, which continues to boast a startling number of Tunisians in its ranks, compounded the perception that Ennahda had been too lax about security and further undermined the public reputation of political Islam. These developments confronted party leaders with the realization that, no matter how “moderate” Ennahda appeared, entire swathes of the Tunisian electorate would reject its participation in politics point-blank.
  • A large segment of Tunisia’s population, especially outside the relatively cosmopolitan capital, still yearns to see a government infused with Islamic values. Ennahda’s followers in the poorer and more conservative interior continue to view it as a political force that represents them, regardless of its careful ideological recalibrations. When Ghannouchi announced the move away from traditional Islamism, he also proclaimed a separation of the party’s political and religious activities
  • By some accounts, Ennahda is already far more engaged in preparations for the municipal elections set for next spring than any other political party — raising the possibility that it could end up dominating grassroots politics while its competitors remain focused on maneuverings in the capital
  • Ennahda has kept up with the turbulence of Tunisia’s post-revolutionary era by showing a remarkable capacity for pragmatism
Ed Webb

Tunisia's Dying Jazz | Foreign Policy - 0 views

  • Bidali is one of the last living practitioners of stambeli, a uniquely Tunisian hybrid of musical genre, healing practice, and religious ceremony. It’s deeply rooted in the history of a specific community: the descendants of slaves brought to the region from sub-Saharan Africa during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. It also has close links to Sufism, an ancient form of Islamic mysticism that uses music, dance, and rhythm to induce trance-like states that are supposed to bring listeners closer to the essence of the divine
  • President Habib Bourguiba, Tunisia’s first postcolonial leader, gave state support to many forms of art, but stambeli wasn’t among them; it didn’t fit the modern image of the country he was trying to shape
  • while subsequent police crackdowns have landed Salafists of all stripes in jail, some of the trends they promoted, such as moral self-policing and austere interpretations of Islamic cultural heritage, have taken root in society. With its unorthodox religious associations, stambeli has found itself in the firing line
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  • because of the rising influence of orthodox interpretations of the faith, stambeli artists are careful to stress the monotheistic, Islamic essence of their practice
  • The origins of stambeli music resemble those of American jazz (even though the two genres don’t sound alike). In both cases, the musical traditions of former slaves combined with the diverse cultural influences of their new environments to create something radically new. Whereas slaves arriving in Louisiana mixed their music and practices with European, Caribbean, and American ingredients, slaves arriving in Tunis during the same period fused their animist practices with North African versions of mystical Sufism and orthodox Islam. Mounir Argui, a theater director and music producer who works with Bidali, says that the metal castanets that play such a prominent role in stambeli performances evoke “the sounds of chains and shackles” that the slaves once wore, while the chanting recalls the “moaning.”
  • the Tunisian state never prioritized the preservation of stambeli, focusing instead on the art and culture it considered highbrow
  • Many Tunisians see stambeli as an alien phenomenon associated with blacks, who are already widely viewed as not quite Tunisian. In post-revolutionary Tunisia, where asserting the Islamic character of the country has become an important political symbol for some, the pagan origins of stambeli also cause suspicion
  • As long as some Tunisians continue to see freedom of religion and freedom of art as mutually exclusive, the rare traditions like stambeli that manage to straddle both will find little space
Ed Webb

Sierra Leone arrests pastor who blamed Islam for 'every terrorist act in history' | Glo... - 0 views

  • A Nigerian pastor has been arrested in Sierra Leone after recordings of a sermon targeting Muslims went viral on social media, sparking widespread outrage.

    In an address to his congregation on Saturday, Victor Ajisafe, founder and leader of one of the country’s largest churches, called Islam a “violent religion of lies and deceit” and said Muslims have been responsible for “every terrorist act in the history of the world”. Sierra Leone’s population is roughly 78% Muslim, according to a 2015 Pew Research Center estimate.

  • met with immediate and near-universal condemnation by both Muslim and Christian Sierra Leoneans
  • An initial press release from the social welfare ministry said Ajisafe was being held for his own protection. Kamara said Ajisafe would be held until a charge against him could be determined.
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  • All six branches of Ajisafe’s Sanctuary Praise Church, one of Sierra Leone’s largest Evangelical communities, have been indefinitely shut down by the social welfare ministry pending further investigations.

    Police have been dispatched to each location to prevent anyone from entering after CID officials claimed that “credible information” indicated the existence of a plot to burn down the church’s Freetown headquarters.

  • who says just because some hateful comments were said that suddenly every Muslim in the country is going to jump for an opportunity to destroy the man? By assuming so, the government is just reinforcing that stupid narrative about Muslims the pastor put out in the first place
  • Members of the Inter-Religious Council of Sierra Leone have condemned Ajisafe’s statements. The council’s secretary general, Reverend Dr Usman Jesse Fornah, said Sierra Leone’s Christians have lived “a peaceful coexistence with Muslims and want it to continue”. The organisation’s president, Sheikh Abu Bakarr Conteh, emphasised Islam’s peaceful nature and urged his followers to forgive Ajisafe and refrain from passing judgement on their Christian neighbours.
Ed Webb

"Whither a Muslim world?" - The Immanent Frame - 0 views

  • What is the “Muslim world?” Is it solely a descriptive term employed in the social sciences and humanities to name a shifting geographical boundary of Muslim-majority countries? Or, as its critics argue, is it a term that emerged in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries as a strategy to imagine a new transnational, religious unity at the end of empire?
  • precolonial forms of communal difference and interaction did not directly correspond to the kinds of intra- and inter-imperial claims concerning citizenship and belonging that were at stake in the formulation of the idea of the Muslim world in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries
  • Citizenship under British, French, or Dutch rule often came with the promise of integration into the “civilized” political order, yet with varying degrees of fulfillment and often dependent on whether the colonial subject had been sufficiently “educated” into Europe’s civilizational order
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  • As Aydın shows, the most prominent strategy in the making of imperial subjects, as well as citizens, was the notion of civilization and its twin, race—that is, racialization. In this way, Aydın echoes Partha Chatterjee, who forcefully argues that colonial power operates through a “rule of colonial difference,” where the colonized are embedded in social and political relations of inferiority vis-à-vis their colonial counterparts. For Chatterjee, this is done through emergent notions of race and practices of racial difference.
  • Aydın’s argument resonates with Chatterjee’s insistence on racial difference as a key component of imperial power and Scott’s critical revision that the creation of racialized subjects takes place through practices that change over time, adapting to new circumstances thus enabling the production of new kinds statements, arguments, and practices in turn.
  • While the idea of bounded entities, which are, supposedly, culturally and religiously distinct, has been subject to numerous revisions and criticisms, it has maintained a constant presence in news media and policy circles. Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” narrative has reappeared in the likes of Donald Trump’s recent speech in Poland, where he questions, in racially and religiously coded terms, whether the “West has the will to survive,” or if its “civilization” can be “preserved”; these are strong indications of the lasting hold of imperial concepts on the imagination of policymakers and politicians even as we acknowledge a transformation in the historical conditions of their articulation.
  • assuming the adjective “Muslim” tells us something about the kinds of political actions one undertakes is not only delusional, but also dangerous for democratic politics.
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.
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