Compiled by New Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 December 2015
• Saudi Arabia's anti-terror alliance is collective self-defense
By Andrew Bowen
• Middle East: A breeding place for war
By David Lepeska
• Far-right feasts on France's unchecked Islamophobia
By Richard Seymour
• Delawareans Reject Islamophobia and Affirm Muslims
By Muqtedar Khan
• Fifty Shades of Muslim
By Hannah Khan
Saudi Arabia's anti-terror alliance is collective self-defense
17 December 2015
Prince Mohammed Bin Salman’s announcement that Saudi Arabia will lead a global coalition of 34 nations to combat extremism is a significant step in international counter-terrorism efforts to roll back terrorism's cancerous spread. This Coalition is critically a military grouping and was founded on the principle of collective self-defense, along the lines of organizations such as NATO which have guaranteed European security since the end of the Second World War.
This Coalition’s scope appears to be truly global- not limiting itself to challenges in the Middle East and North Africa. Instead, this Coalition will address terrorist threats ranging from Afghanistan to security in Africa and in South Asia. For example, Gabon is a member of the Coalition. It’s not only ISIS on the radar of Prince Mohammed bin Salman, but Boko Haram and al-Qaeda and its worldwide affiliates.
A first in history
Riyadh’s focus underscores an important difference from Washington’s focus, which is predominantly on building a coalition against ISIS. Without confronting the broader challenges of Islamic extremism worldwide, ISIS and any successor organization will continue to gain recruits and Riyadh recognizes this.
Importantly, a military coalition of this size (the first in its history), led by Saudi Arabia, carries more legitimacy than purely another U.S. and Western lead counter-terrorism intervention in the Muslim world. In the long-term, this Coalition, has a better chance at winning the hearts of minds of those who have turned towards terrorism.
New leadership for common challenges
Prince Mohammed has taken substantial steps to put Saudi Arabia and its partners on stronger footing to confront growing security challenges both from Iran and its growing regional proxies and extremist groups. Importantly, the Yemen campaign highlights the new emerging defense architecture that King Salman has been building since he took office. This Coalition, which took months of careful diplomacy, is a further step.
With Washington’s perceived re-balancing to Asia and pull back (most notably, the President’s own retreat on his “red lines” regarding Syria), Riyadh couldn’t wait anymore for Obama to deliver on the rhetorical promises he has made and broken at times, including most recently at Camp David. Prince Mohammed recognizes that the Muslim world is in the best position to confront these challenges.
At the same time, the Deputy Crown Prince believes in the importance of working with global powers and international organizations. In his final months in office, President Obama has an opportunity to follow through on his commitments. He should move quickly to bolster his support for the Coalition including deepening military assistance and broadening intelligence sharing.
A number of challenges on the horizon
The challenges the Coalition faces are great. It will have to robustly address the civil war in Syria, ISIS, Libya, Yemen, to name a few regional challenges. More broadly, groups such as Boko Haram continue to plague the stability and security of West Africa.
While this is first and foremost a military coalition, the Coalition will need to pair a military strategy with a sustainable political and economic strategy to both rebuild societies torn apart by war and conflict and to support states struggling with their own socio-economic, political, and security challenges. Riyadh can play a unique role in marshaling international economic investment to ensure that these gains are sustained.
While Iran has been a source of deepening sectarianism in the region and beyond, it would be a mistake to allow Iran to cast this new coalition as purely a Sunni sectarian military coalition. Extremist groups profit the most on decisive sectarian rhetoric.
It’s critical then that this Coalition remains diplomatically engaged in bringing an end to Syria’s civil war, but more broadly, addressing challenges such as Lebanon, which require sustained diplomatic engagement with opponents. Ideally, Tehran can move from posture of confrontation and antagonism to one of engagement and cooperation.
Nearing the anniversary of King Salman’s rule, this global coalition of nations represents both Riyadh’s new leadership and the recognition that these challenges require new, innovative, and robust solutions. Importantly, for this Coalition to succeed, all members will need to contribute.
Andrew Bowen, Ph.D., is a Senior Fellow and the Director of Middle Eat Studies at the Center for the National Interest.
Middle East: A breeding place for war
16 Dec 2015
A century ago today, a 36-year-old author and purported Arabist named Mark Sykes made his way to 10 Downing Street in London to meet the leaders of Britain and discuss the tricky issue of dividing the spoils of the collapsing Ottoman Empire.
The only son of the quirky Sir Tatton Sykes, a landed Yorkshire gentleman, Mark Sykes first travelled to the Middle East as a wealthy, 11-year-old tourist. His early adult travels through the Arab world coincided with the final years of Ottoman decline. Thus, in books such as The Caliphs' Last Heritage, he portrayed the empire as moribund and Arabs as shiftless (one index entry reads "Arab Character: see also 'Treachery'").
In his works, Sykes made it appear as if he were fluent in Turkish and Arabic, but he could speak neither, according to James Barr's sharp 2011 history, A Line in the Sand. He found Mosul "a foul nest of corruption, vice, disorder, and disease", and failed to note the effect of arriving modernity, which by this time had begun to stir a political consciousness known as the Arab Awakening, as detailed in George Antonius' illustrative book.
Yet, Britain's brains trust - comprising, at this meeting, Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, War Minister Herbert Kitchener, Munitions Minister David Lloyd George, who would soon become prime minister, and First Lord of the Admiralty Arthur Balfour, who would soon become foreign secretary - turned to him as a leading expert.
"I should like to draw a line from the 'e' in Acre to the last 'k' in Kirkuk," Sykes told the assembled, detailing his plan to hand Syria, Mount Lebanon and the northern tip of Iraq to the French, and Palestine, Transjordan, and the rest of Iraq to the British.
Sykes met to discuss details of the plan with the French negotiator Francois Georges-Picot five days later, but his initial vision was roughly how Sykes-Picot was ultimately drawn up the next month. The deal was secretly finalised in May 1916, which is when the United States got wind of it.
"It is all bad and I told Balfour so," Edward House, a foreign policy adviser to US President Woodrow Wilson, explained to colleagues at the time. "They are making it a breeding place for future war."
Few political predictions have proved more prophetic. Over the intervening century, barely a handful of peaceful years have passed in these lands. And so it is today, as locals and world powers alike play desperate, shifting roles in a complex, seemingly endless conflict.
House also complained that the British and French remained unclear on whether they intended permanent occupation of these territories, or merely exclusive rights to their resources. There was, of course, a very good reason for this. "As a hypothetical division of country that neither of its signatories yet controlled, it was extremely vulnerable to events," Barr wrote.
Perhaps never have European imperial powers been more shameful than they were in implementing Sykes-Picot, in 1919. As a sentient human being, I generally have great difficulty agreeing with the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) on anything. But the group's dismissal of these lines drawn by far-off, profit-seeking foreign officials, cutting across ethnic, linguistic, and religious divisions and all but ensuring long-term mayhem, is hard to dispute.
In implementing Sykes-Picot, Entente powers reneged on promises of freedom and independence for Arabs and instead snatched control of local populations and their resources. They also left enough border ambiguity as to allow for the future denial of Arab control of Palestine - a nexus of Muslim resentment to this day.
Conquer and control
Sykes-Picot is ideal shorthand for ISIL's grievances against the West - its interventionism, its condescension, its grab for power and resources, its creation of make-believe states with hollow democratic institutions, its dismissal of Arab and Muslim will, leading to the fragmentation of the region. It provides enemies of the West with the perfect example of "kuffar" (a derogatory word meaning non-believer) efforts to conquer and control.
In a 2014 video called "The End of the Sykes-Picot Agreement", an ISIL jihadi from Chile crosses the former Iraq-Syria border, now rendered meaningless in this barren stretch of desert controlled by the so-called Islamic State.
This is not the first time Arab groups have rejected Sykes-Picot. Several times in the post-war period Arab nationalist groups such as the Federation of Arab Republics, have attempted to offer a pan-Arabist alternative.
But the current situation, with ISIL at the fore, highlights a reality Western leaders may be starting to appreciate: These lines are becoming increasingly imaginary. The Arab Spring was not merely a throwing off of dictatorships. It was also a bucking of these barely there states and institutions foisted on Arabs by the West a century ago.
In addition to the collapse in Syria and Iraq, we've seen the creation of spheres of influence in Libya and Yemen. Israel has long been vague about its eastern border. And the great wave of migrants and refugees from the region attests to the failure of Sykes-Picot - and Western interventionists more broadly - to create legitimate, lasting states.
In recent weeks, two prominent Western voices have publicly expressed similar sentiments. William Hague, Britain's former foreign secretary, wrote that the Sykes-Picot borders "should not be considered immutable". He praised the Kurds for their ability to manage their own region, and called for partition.
John Bolton, the former US ambassador to the United Nations, announced that "Iraq and Syria as we have known them are gone". He urged Washington to help create a new, independent Sunni state to replace the so-called Islamic State.
These prescriptions may have some merit. But these two politicians are probably even less knowledgeable about the Arab world than Mark Sykes was a century ago, and their plans sound suspiciously like self-interested foreign powers "drawing lines in the Middle Eastern sand".
Will we ever learn?
David Lepeska is a freelance journalist based in Istanbul. His work focuses on Turkey and the Middle East.
Far-right feasts on France's unchecked Islamophobia
16 Dec 2015
France's far-right is on the rise. While the National Front (FN) did not gain control of any of the regions in the regional elections runoff, it led in the first round with 30 percent of the vote and gained 6.7 million votes, their highest yet.
Marine Le Pen naturally crowed at the results, highlighting what she said was the breakdown of the "old political class". The main casualty was the centre-left with the combined vote for the right in the first round was 55 percent.
Several factors explain this surge. The financial crisis and its fallout, serial crises in the eurozone, and President Francois Hollande's failure to implement his promised reforms, have been an ongoing propaganda coup for a party purporting to be "anti-system".
But just as fascists in a previous era relied on anti-Semitism, so the FN's message is packaged in Islamophobia. And here, the political and media establishment bears primary responsibility for legitimising the FN's obsessions.
It was in the early 1980s that the French government began to blame Islam for the nation's social distress.
Amid a global recession and with a left-wing government implementing austerity, a strike movement took off in the car industry, in which approximately half of the employees were migrant workers from former French colonies. The Socialist prime minister blamed the religion of the strikers. Soon, popular media such as Le Figaro were asking about French Muslims: "Will we still be French in 30 years?"
In 1989 and 1990, a series of schools began to target Muslim girls for wearing the hijab, supposedly a sign of their refusal to integrate - a controversy that gained momentum with the French state's intervention in Algeria's civil war against the Islamists.
Later, with the "war on terror" in full swing, President Jacques Chirac proposed a "veil law" banning the wearing of all religious symbols in French schools. In 2011, the state passed a further law banning the right of Muslim women to wear any face-covering in public. The result was to effectively place those Muslim women who prefer the niqab or the burqa under house arrest.
Today, most French people consider Islam to be "incompatible" with French values. Leading journalists such as Claude Imbert of the respected conservative magazine Le Point, proudly claim to be Islamophobes. A recent cover of the magazine featuring an image of a Muslim women wearing a niqab, bore the headline: "Brazen Islam ... in school cafeterias, hospitals, and swimming pools".
A war with teeth
The culture war against Muslims is a war with teeth. France is a country where around 70 percent of the prison population is Muslim. It is a country in which there is systematic racist brutality on the part of police.
Now, with the emergency laws in place, police are empowered to carry out arrests, raids, house arrests, usually directed against Muslim citizens or businesses, without any judicial oversight or justification.
The French government has made it extremely difficult for Muslims to protest. In 2012, when the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo published a series of Islamophobic cartoons, the government banned planned protests against the publication.
Last year, when activists sought to protest against Israeli attacks on Gaza, the government used exaggerated reports of anti-Semitism among Muslim protesters to impose bans.
Since the Charlie Hebdo massacre, the scope of state repression has drastically increased. There were widespread calls for the policing of those "who are not Charlie", including from Nathalie Saint-Cricq, chief political editor of France 2, who argued for surveillance of possible malcontents in the schools. A series of arrests were handed down for purported "glorification" of terrorism, including that of an eight-year-old schoolboy.
The left's failure
The current three-month "state of emergency" introduced by Hollande extends past practices, and builds on an increasingly racist and authoritarian culture on which the far-right thrives.
The left has performed poorly in the face of this offensive. Delegates of the Left Front, aligned with the French Communist Party, even voted in favour of the government's emergency law. This was self-defeating since, aside from French Muslims, the first targets of such repression were the forces of the left. As environmentalists prepared their protests in time for the COP 21 summit, the French police put a number of activists under house arrest, with no justification.
However, this is the culmination of the French left's long-standing difficulties in confronting the growing problem of Islamophobia. Wedded to the French state religion of "republicanism", it has failed to even acknowledge anti-Muslim racism.
Even Jean-Luc Melenchon, founder of the Left Party, though he has in recent years acknowledged the problem of Islamophobia, supported the veil ban in 2011, and condemned the 2012 candidacy of a hijab-wearing women for the New Anticapitalist Party.
This silence left a space in which fools such as Dieudonne M'bala M'bala, the comedian and political activist, could gain some support among French Muslims, but it also empowered the far-right while doing nothing to reverse the balkanisation of French society on racist lines.
The Martinican poet and anticolonial activist Aime Cesaire wrote, when fascism last swept the continent, of the colonial roots of this barbarism: Europeans had "tolerated that Nazism before it was inflicted on them […] because, until then, it had been applied only to non-European peoples".
For, "before engulfing the whole edifice of Western, Christian civilization in its reddened waters, it oozes, seeps and trickles from every crack."
Richard Seymour is an author and broadcaster based in London. He has written for the Guardian, the London Review of Books and many other publications.
Delawareans Reject Islamophobia and Affirm Muslims
By Muqtedar Khan
Profoundly hateful comments by Donald Trump, reminiscent of Nazi Fascism, and a number of incidences of violence, vandalism and arson against Muslims and Islamic centers has focused global attention on the outbreak of Islamophobia in America. No doubt, Republican presidential candidates have unleashed a mini tsunami of hate against Mexicans, immigrants, refugees and Muslims. But let us not allow this high pitched rhetoric to obscure the fact that not only have Trump and his cohort's statements been condemned widely, many Americans from all walks of life have gone out of their way to express support for and solidarity with Muslims.
One of the most outstanding expressions of American solidarity with Muslims waswitnessed last week in the state of Delaware, where interfaith, community, law enforcement and political leaders rejected intolerance and bigotry and committed themselves to work against racism and Islamophobia.
The event was a regional convention hosted by the Delaware Council on Global and Muslim Affairs on the issue of Social Justice and Political Activism on December 5th. The Delaware Council is a community-based think-tank that seeks to mainstream American Muslims, combat intolerance, prejudice, hatred, and work for social justice in Delaware. It has become the most influential and most mainstream Muslim organization in Delaware. Hundreds of Muslims and non-Muslims from Delaware, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland came together to discuss how they could engage the political system in order to work for social justice.
The conference focused on three key issues -- 3 Ps -- under the rubric of social justice: prejudice, poverty and police. Scores of political activists shared their experience in political activism. How to organize and mobilize to defend your rights, to engage political leaders to bring about policy changes and how to develop grass roots institutions was on the agenda.
The plenary session with Governor Markell's keynote address.
The conference was held under the shadow of the San Bernardino shooting and there was palpable tension in the air. But the most remarkable element of the conference was the way the leadership in Delaware reached out to Muslims and assured them that at least in Delaware they were welcome, valued and their contribution to society was recognized.
Speaking on the interfaith panel, Rabbi Douglas Krantz, a co-founder of J-Street, set the tone by declaring that a Sabbath can be broken only to save lives, and he had broken his Sabbath that day to "stand up with Muslims against Islamophobia" for he believed that "it was indeed a matter of lives." This statement of interfaith solidarity resonated very powerfully with all participants at the convention.
Tom Gordon the County Executive for Delaware's biggest county, New Castle, and Police Chief Col. Elmer Setting assured the crowd that they will not only provide security to places of worship but will also prosecute hate crimes to the fullest extent of the law. They specially encouraged hijab wearing Muslim women to come forward if they feel that they have been targeted by anyone. Harpreet Singh Mokha the director of community relations for the area representing the Department of Justice explained the legal issues involved in interpreting and reporting hate crimes and Islamophobia. This panel has had a very positive impact on Muslims in the area. They feel safer and are convinced that the rhetoric of people like Donald Trump is an aberration rather than the norm in America.
The final plenary session began with a keynote address by Governor Jack Markell.Governor Markell delivered a passionate and eloquent condemnation of prejudice and intolerance. He argued for acceptance of Syrian refugees, and celebration of Muslim contributions in America. He even quoted from the Quran to underscore that most Muslims were peaceful and hardworking Americans and most importantly he reminded us "We are not a country that turns people away". Many Muslims in the audience were deeply moved by this sentiment and many of them told me, that he had made them feel proud to be an American.
An intense leadership workshop in progress.
Senator Thomas Carper made a very emotional address reminding the audience of the tragedy of Japanese internment and insisting that we have learned our lessons and we will not repeat that mistake again. He explained, invoking the Bible, to how it was our "moral obligation to help strangers in our land". He also made the point that we need to eschew the false dichotomy of security and openness. He insisted that we can do both.
Congressman John Carney touched upon the issue of crime and policing in the most vulnerable communities in Wilmington. Crimes, drugs and violence and how the police deal with it is an area of great concern for us in Delaware, he argued. Clearly he feels that there has to be a fundamental change in the philosophy of policing. He speculated on the possibility of more community involvement and more predictive policing. It was evident that he was touching upon a theme that might be a cornerstone of his gubernatorial campaign. Delaware Council has an important constituency in Wilmington and is eager to further engage with him on this important challenge.
There were many more inspirational presentations, including a moving video message from Senator Chris Coons, but they cannot all be summarized here. Nevertheless they made the convention a historical landmark that showed how Delawarean Muslims care about their country and are making important contributions to make it a better place. It also helped Muslims understand that while there are mean Islamophobes like Donald Trump and Ted Cruz in America, there are also generous statesmen like Jack Markell, Thomas Carper, Chris Coons, John Carney, Tom Gordon and Bryan Townsend in America. And guess what, the good guys far outnumber the hatemongers.
Dr. Muqtedar Khan with his Delaware Council Colleagues: Naveed Baqir, Jamil Tourk and Mustafa Tuncer. Thanks to all the volunteers from Tarbiyah School and University of Delaware who made the convention work smoothly.
Fifty Shades of Muslim
By Hannah Khan
I have decided to write an open letter to you because due to the unfortunate series of events, it has gotten bad. It has come to the point where laughter is no longer the answer to Trump's stupidity. The rhetoric about Muslims has gotten disgusting, and this filth continues to linger on every social media network, every news channel, every newsfeed, every tweet, and every wall post on Facebook. These acts are fueling the fire of pugnacious discrimination, targeted violence, vulgar vandalism, and cruel harassment. I want you all to know that it has gotten bad, bad to the point I hear my parents timidly discussing how my siblings and I should stand up for ourselves and if things continue to dwindle a backup plan should be made if we need to flee. Don't get me wrong, Johannesburg and Auckland are beautiful cities, but to think of these destinations as permanent residencies in case turmoil takes a bad turn baffles me because I am American, I was born and raised here and this place called America is what I call home. A place where cops don't carry guns and hate speech isn't allowed on network television seems like a distant paradise in times like today. I have spent my adult part of life serving meals to the homeless with my Muslim student association at my University, and on other days I enjoy participating in Cancer Awareness walks because giving back is what I love most, not for just Muslims, but for all human beings. Islam is the religion that taught me that killing one innocent life is equivalent to killing humanity. I want you all to know that I am sincerely and proudly Muslim, and yes with a capital "M."
I am writing this open letter to non-Muslims in particular not to seek for pity, but for sincere empathy. For starters, asalam'alaykum means peace to you. Peace is the key word here. Put aside the mispronunciations and say that to a woman wearing a hijab shopping at the mall just like any other person. Not only will she smile, but you will smile, because happiness is contagious. You hear terror attacks on the news? Well listen to me, acts of terror occur all around the world. Every country has their shades of grey, but what's important to remember is that those imperfections don't represent a practicing religion as a whole. Bad people do bad things, drop the labels, and identify humanity.
Call out hate speech when it is heard. If hatred or violence is preached in a group, hate speech is hate, put down the verbal weapons and kill each other with kindness.
Islamophobia is on the rise, but I have come to the table with a sincere message. These terror threats and how can we forget ISIS, they don't scare me because I adore where I am and the life I was given to live. I'm a woman, and according to the inexplicable customs of ISIS, correction monsters, represents inferiority, reduces me to a piece of trash, a nobody. I'm not afraid of you, I am here to tell you I am somebody and somebody who is going to continue breathing on my American soil, travel by plane as I have been for the past twenty years, dance and sing to Drake's "Hotline Bling," because this is what I love and your arbitrary acts don't define me. So while you carry military weapons and kill innocent lives where is your heart, or brain, or shall I say both. I don't don a hijab, I wear dresses and leave my hair to dance with the wind hand in hand with my sisters who wear the hijab because that doesn't label one as wrong and the other right. Freedom frightens you, but that is one thing you can never steal from me.
I just want you all to know I am a Muslim but before that I want you to know I am human. I loathe ISIS and all these barbaric terrorist groups just as much as you, probably even more than you. Oh and ISIS since you climbed your way up to the top of the mainstream media ladder, do me and all of us a favor by reading the Quran properly. And while we are at it, stop associating yourself with my practicing faith and my god because not only have you disgraced me, you have painted a terrible lie of a beautiful religion. If Picasso saw the mess you made, even he would agree, you're a terrible artist.