New Age Islam Edit Bureau
28 August 2015
What BPJS Can Do To Comply With Sharia
By Putri Swastika
Saudi Women: Candidates and Voters
By Abdulrahman Al-Rashed
From Yemen to Syria, Counter-Terrorism Alone Not the Answer
By Manuel Almeida
The Ghost Of Conflicts Past, Present And Future
By Khaled Diab
27 August 2015
That al-Qaeda, and especially now ISIS, represent a threat to regional and global security is an elementary fact around which the governments of the Arab world, Iran, U.S., Russia, UK or France are in agreement. Yet beyond this basic understanding, they hold very different views on how to deal with the problem of militant jihadism and the various Middle Eastern crises that allow the jihadist propaganda to thrive. This continues to hinder the efforts to tackle the jihadist menace.
Take Yemen. The presence of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has been generally overshadowed by the ongoing conflict, which opposes pro-government and anti-Houthi forces supported by the Saudi-led coalition to the alliance between the Houthi rebels and military units still loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh.
However, whenever militants of AQAP or Ansar al-Sharia (a name that emerged as a local rebranding attempt by AQAP) take advantage of the chaos and lawlessness to make a threatening move, widespread demands magnified by regional and especially international press call for a change of priorities toward the fight against militant jihadism.
This is what happened a few days ago when AQAP militants attempted to take control of the presidential palace located in Aden’s Tawahi neighbourhood and a military base in the city. A similar case took place in April in the coastal city of al-Mukalla, the capital of Hadhramaut province, when AQAP fighters seized government buildings, robbed the central bank and allegedly backed the formation of a local civilian council that AQAP backs financially.
Ignoring the threat
On both occasions, the Saudi-led coalition and Yemen’s government in exile were blamed for ignoring the threat posed by AQAP and, in the case of more conspiratorial or propagandistic regional media outlets, of actively supporting AQAP in the fight against the Zaydi Houthi rebels. The propaganda of the Houthi rebels themselves equates every mild Sunni Islamist within Yemen’s al-Islah party, which the Houthis turned into a primary target when they took over the capital Sanaa in September last year with AQAP.
What is widely missed in the views that call for the prioritization of counter-terrorism strategies is that the AQAP-first approach that drove U.S. policy toward Yemen during much of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s ruinous era has had limited effects in preventing the spread of AQAP’s tentacles in Yemen. In fact, this U.S. approach to Yemen seems not to have changed much even after Saleh agreed to step aside in 2011 in the context of the Gulf Initiative.
The former president of Yemen often honoured a pact of non-aggression with AQAP’s leadership to capitalize on the financial and logistical support for counter-terrorism it received from the U.S., which was then channelled for other purposes. In the meanwhile, the U.S. overreliance on drone strikes to eliminate AQAP’s leaders and militants generated and continues to generate great resentment among local populations.
A comprehensive approach
Only a far more comprehensive approach would be able to eradicate or at least much diminish the presence of AQAP. This can only be achieved by a government with the willingness and capacity to actually rule Yemen, reform the military and security sectors, and manage a much strained economy with regional and international backing.
The same stands for Syria. As the Syrian conflict dragged on and radical groups such as Jabaat al-Nusra and then ISIS begun to make their presence felt, the focus in Western capitals started to shift away from the brutalities committed by the pro-Assad camp and support for the moderate opposition to the pressing need to fight the ISIS. For too long, Western governments as well as Russia seem to have been influenced to a certain extent by the narrative, used by the Assad cohort and its main sponsor Iran, that the regime in Damascus was the last bulwark and only hope in Syria against ISIS.
Assad himself greatly contributed to the radicalization of the armed opposition, not only via extremely brutality that included and continues to include the use of chemical weapons against civilians, but by releasing hundreds of militant jihadists from the regime’s jails and avoiding to strike jihadist groups for a long period in the conflict.
Nevertheless, the terrorism card that Assad desperately used to play with Western and Russian fears of militant jihadism may well be shifting against him. As it becomes clearer that ISIS cannot be defeated without a political solution in Syria and a renegotiated social contract, a basic understanding among the various regional and global powers about the need to negotiate Assad’s way out might not be that far away.
Manuel Almeida is a writer, researcher and consultant on the Middle East. He holds a PhD in International Relations from the London of Economics and Political Science and was an editor at Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper. He can be reached on @_ManuelAlmeida on Twitter.
What Bpjs Can Do To Comply With Sharia
August 27 2015
The recent edict announced by the Indonesian Ulema Council (MUI) has invoked disputes amongst policy makers and the public. The MUI announced the plans and structures of the BPJS pension and healthcare insurance programs have elements that are incompatible with sharia and thus their permissibility for Muslim customers is in doubt. Was it a correct edict by the ulema? If yes, what can the BPJS do to comply with sharia?
More than 80 percent of 240 million Indonesians are Muslims. This data alone is enough to illustrate the demand for sharia-compliant insurance and general financial products. But the latent problem of Muslims in Indonesia still exists today. We are short of adequate knowledge and information regarding Islamic finance and its principles.
Many Muslims are confused with the differences between conventional financial products with those claiming to be sharia-based.
Thus, they are used interchangeably. Consequently, such a situation lowers the demand for Islamic financial products and takaful (Islamic protection) as customers do not really bother to differentiate their advantages.
Did the MUI issue a correct edict? The answer is perhaps relative. Nevertheless, not many seemed to be surprised. It is the MUI’s domain to comment and give edicts for public matters that touch Muslim affairs directly. It is part and parcel of their service to the Indonesian Muslim community, as they also issue the halal logo and certification for food, beverages and financial products. The MUI has made suggestions for policy makers to rectify the plan and structure of the BPJS to be more “rule compliant”. There is thus nothing unethical about the edict and the recommendation.
For some groups, such as government, regulators and the circle of policy makers, the edict seems to depreciate the net benefit of the BPJS to the public. Some questioned and may regret the edict of the MUI as being too royal in giving fatwa, like the statement from Said Aqil Siradj, the chairman of the biggest Islamic organization in Indonesia, Nahdlatul Ulama.
The government, as represented by the Vice President, however, accepted the verdict and is “to re-assess” the elements that raised concerns with the MUI.
Some groups, in fact, criticize the MUI for exaggerating the matter and consider the effect of such a verdict to be detrimental to public confidence toward the government service, as stated by a member of the legislature, Fadli Zon.
The MUI suggests the government should launch a BPJS Syariah that offers health coverage that complies with Islamic finance principles. Whether it is feasible or not, it is the government’s task to study and decide. But it is not the only thinkable solution from the point of view of Islamic finance enthusiasts. The other possible alternative is to instill the principle of risk-sharing into the current structure. The elements of gharar (problems arising from an information asymmetry situation), maysir (speculation) and riba (risk transfer) can be omitted by providing a social healthcare net in which members of the BPJS contribute to a health plan and that contribution may be channeled to assist other less fortunate members, by agreement.
Unlike conventional insurance, the contribution paid is not a premium of a policy. It contributes to the health protection and by agreement can be directed for investment, the yield of which is returned to the pool of contributions. Therefore, instead of selling health policies through retail markets, the BPJS can focus on providing the best coverage for the health-care service.
Islamic finance promotes financial systems that distribute risks to economic agents according to ability, but condemns and prohibits a risk-transfer system that shifts and concentrates the risks to a certain segment in society.
The vision for such a risk-sharing-based system is to create a healthy market and sustainable economic growth that improves the prosperity of every member of society. It does not prohibit profits, nor does it concentrate only on social activity. It offers a complete economic organization of distribution and re-distribution of financial resources and income. This kind of moment helps to increase public awareness of Islamic finance principles and, thus, is free propaganda for Islamic financial institutions.
The government, the House of Representatives and the MUI are indeed partners. They are public institutions meant to protect people’s interests. The MUI represents the interest of a particular Muslim group and thus legitimately announces such a verdict. On the other side, the government and the legislature are the safeguards of Indonesian citizens, including the public affairs of Indonesia’s Muslim citizens.
Thus policy makers should not perceive the edict as counter-productive and jeopardize the people’s interest. Instead, this edict and recommendation of the MUI shall be taken as an evaluation, a reminder and a prescription to provide a better and sustainable service to all Indonesians.
Putri Swastika is studying Islamic finance at the International Center for Education in Islamic Finance (INCEIF) Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and an alumni of the School of Economics and Business, Gadjah Mada University, Yogyakarta.
Saudi Women: Candidates And Voters
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
One-third of the polling stations in Saudi Arabia’s upcoming municipal elections are now dedicated for women. The polls also mark the first time that women can run as candidates.
The move to allow women to participate in the polls has been controversial in the kingdom. Those who believe in its importance have even thought that it was far-fetched, until King Salman showed his support.
Electoral districts have started to register women as voters and candidates are competing with men. There is no doubt that this is a historic decision at a difficult time.
Yet women’s participation in local elections may not be effective for the next three sessions. It might not be effective before 12 years and perhaps more than that.
However, the importance of this move is that women have now crossed the starting line in the their empowerment, which would eventually lead them to have an active role in a community of which they make up half. This is why news about their weak participation in the elections must not distort the perception of this real and historic development.
Having women candidates is an important message to the community. It shows that the state cares about women’s participation and the empowerment of their rights. The path is rough and complex due to social conditions in the kingdom. It has not been easy at all - and it is still very difficult.
Ever since the sixties, every official decision has raised some difficult dilemmas, but in the end, conservative society approved the decisions: from girls’ education, gender-segregated universities, women’s employment, women entering the medicine and nursing field, national identity cards for women, to their scholarship programs to study in the West, the allocation of 20 percent of Shura Council seats just for them, and then allowing them to participate in the municipal polls.
Now they went a step further by allowing women to run as candidates and vote at the upcoming municipality elections.
The problem arousing from such important decisions is that it needs to be imposed on the ground, which is not an easy task. They should convince women to be candidates and persuade men to work with women in the councils.
Before all that, women should be encouraged to go to the polling stations. It maybe won’t work at first, as was the case in a number of neighboring Gulf countries. Nevertheless, the success of women’s integration and participation should not be measured by how many participate at this stage. Rather, it should be distinguished by their rights, and then after a decade or two, we would be able to see the difference.
The political messages behind this step are much more important than how many women take part. This step shows without any doubt that women were granted confidence and this underlines their support. However, at the end, women will decide if they participate or not.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Aug. 27, 2015.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today.
The ghost of conflicts past, present and future
27 Aug 2015
It is well-known that traumatic experiences leave lifelong emotional and psychological scars in their wake. Some scientists even suggest that trauma causes genetic changes in the victim.
A contentious new study goes so far as to imply that these genetic mutations can be passed down from one generation to the next, making trauma hereditary.
The researchers focused on 32 Holocaust survivors and their offspring, finding evidence of the "epigenetic inheritance" of stress.
"The gene changes in the children could only be attributed to Holocaust exposure in the parents," says Rachel Yehuda, who led the study.
While some scientists have applauded the research, others have greeted it with scepticism.
"The very idea of transmitting trauma makes little sense," writes Frank Furedi, a sociologist and author. "People either directly experience trauma or they don't."
Even if gene change is hereditary, this is largely irrelevant, Furedi argues, because people are far more than their genes.
"Identity formation is a cultural accomplishment," he observes.
Whether or not severe trauma is genetically transmitted is a fascinating scientific question. However, what seems clear is that collective trauma is transmitted culturally, and it profoundly affects a society's cultural and social DNA.
Nearly seven decades on, the Holocaust still casts a long shadow over the Jewish and Israeli collective psyche, and its trauma is scorched deep into Israel's national identity - even if its memory is abused by one side for political gain and downplayed by the other due to political pain.
In the early years, the Holocaust was a cause of direct and profound trauma and grief for the survivors of the death camps and those who came into contact with them, but it was also a taboo subject enveloped in silence.
As the survivors gradually die out, their place is being taken by the ghost of traumas past - in other words: memory.
This historical trauma is behind what you might call Israel's power dysmorphia: Despite possessing the most powerful army in the region, many Israelis do genuinely believe they are the weaker party and the victims.
Magnified with the years
Meanwhile, Israel's victims, the Palestinians, have their own historical trauma to contend with: that of the Nakba ("Catastrophe"), the Arab defeat in 1948, and the creation of the new state of Israel, not to mention the British and Ottoman imperialism which preceded it.
As most Palestinians at the time were farmers, the land assumed romantic proportions.
"As the women walked back with the oranges, the sound of their sobs reached us," wrote the celebrated Palestinian writer and activist Ghassan Kanafani in his classic 1958 collection of short stories, Land of the Sad Oranges. "Only then did oranges seem to me something dear."
And as that land has shrunk, and defeat has pursued defeat, and exile begot further exile, the collective trauma has only been magnified with the years, especially in Gaza, where constant and repeated war and isolation have left most of the population shell-shocked and teetering on the edge of psychological collapse.
nd like a phantom in the dark recesses, these historical and contemporary traumas are a significant psychological factor in the failure of efforts to resolve the conflict - as they are and have been elsewhere.
For instance, a century after the systematic Ottoman mass killings of up to 1.5 million civilians brought the Armenian people close to extinction, the collective trauma is a defining feature of the modern Armenian identity. Moreover, Turko-Armenian relations are still poisoned by Turkey's refusal to acknowledge, let alone apologise for, what the majority of non-Turkish historians regard as a genocide.
Sadly, in the Middle East, collective trauma is not just historical. The upheavals, wars and conflicts that have spread like wildfire over the past few years do not bode well for the future.
In Syria, like Iraq before it, the civil war has distressed the entire population and created a lost generation of children whose trauma is likely to shape their entire lives.
Long-term effects include the potential for violent behaviour, hooliganism, drug abuse, depression and health problems. Severe trauma is also fertile ground for extremism because it answers the basic human need to "make sense of a very nonsensical situation".
Dormant traumas and grievances
This nonsensical situation has even awakened dormant traumas and grievances and let the genie of Syria's "hidden sectarianism" out of the bottle. Islamists have the trauma of Hafez al-Assad's purge of the Muslim Brotherhood and the 1982 Hama massacre to fuel their rage.
Alawites, though the bulk of them are poor and are not great fans of the regime, have been manipulated by Bashar al-Assad, who exploits their memories of persecution in Ottoman times and the fact that Islamists consider them "infidels" to lay down the lives of up to a third of their young men.
Trauma is also haunting Arab countries that are not experiencing civil war but have gone through revolutions and counter-revolutions and anti-revolutions. This is the case in Egypt.
"The shock and awareness of the pervasiveness of death and the cheapness of life … raises massive existential questions that not only throws the personal, but also the previously existing social order, upside down," explains the University of Amsterdam's Vivienne Matthies-Boon, who is studying the effects of trauma on 18 to 35-year-old Egyptian activists of all political stripes.
"Revenge was a big issue for all sides," she adds ominously. "But trauma-induced revenge also leads to more trauma."
Matthies-Boon has found that those who were best able to avoid (self-) destructive behaviour were the ones with an artistic outlet or a strong faith system.
But, worryingly, Egyptians who have been through such traumatic experiences receive little support, and many are, Matthies-Boon discovered, reluctant to talk about the trauma, which is an essential part of coming to terms with it.
What the long-term consequences of millions of traumatised people will be for the region is impossible to gauge. But handled inadequately, it could take generations to overcome and could also create untold intractable situations and conflicts.
We desperately need to find ways not only to treat the millions of individual cases, but also to formulate effective approaches to tackle collective trauma, with its memory - and emotion-distorting outcomes.
The future Middle East should remember, but it must build a memory based on fact and reality to ensure this sorry state doesn't occur again - not on national, sectarian, and factional myths.
While forgetting is not a wise game, forgiving past pain for future gain is essential if a fruitful coexistence and a modicum of trust between the region's diverse peoples is ever to be restored.
Khaled Diab is an award-winning Egyptian-Belgian journalist, writer and blogger. He is the author of Intimate Enemies: Living with Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land. He blogs at www.chronikler.com.