New Age Islam Edit Bureau
24 November 2015
Muslims unfairly under suspicion
By LINDA S. HEARD
What the Paris attacks should now teach us
By H.A. Hellyer
ISIS’s arrogance will accelerate its demise
By Raghida Dergham
Iran and Gulf states: Between blindness and hallucination
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Are We Still Blaming Muslims?
By Margaret Placentra Johnston
ISIS vs. Islam
By Jessica Marglin
For Those Who Fly While Muslim, Air Travel Has An Extra Indignity: Bigotry
By Ali Gharib
Dark clouds over Jeddah
By Mahmoud Ahmad
Banning women from stadia: Excuses to justify deficiency
By Qenan Al-Ghamdi
Muslims unfairly under suspicion
LINDA S. HEARD
24 November 2015
There is a post doing the rounds of social media that reads “There are about 1.7 billion Muslims in the world. If Islam really promoted terrorism you’d all probably be dead by now.”
Unfortunately, following the attacks on Paris, Muslims in the US and Europe are shaking their heads, saying, “Here we go again!” Anti-Muslim sentiment is on the rise just as it was post 9-11.
Two American citizens of Palestinian origin were prevented from boarding on a Southwest flight from Chicago to Philadelphia all because a fellow passenger had overheard them speaking in Arabic.
Four passengers of Middle East descent were removed from a Spirit Airlines flight from Washington to Chicago after a terrified woman ran with her child to the rear of the plane. Attacks on mosques, individuals and even homes in the US are increasing.
French Muslims say they are beginning to feel alienated and while walking around they are often met with hostile stares and the same for the UK where Scotland Yard has registered a 22 percent spike in religiously-motivated hate crimes.
Such paranoia is being whipped up by US Republican presidential candidates who should be ashamed of themselves — and God save not only America but also our world if any of those concerned make it to the White House!
Donald Trump swears he’ll close all mosques and force American-Muslims to carry special ID cards. Marco Rubio wants mosques as well as places where Muslims gather such as cafes, diners shut down. Ben Carson has referred to Syrian refugees as “rabid dogs.” Ted Cruz wants refugees to be subjected to a religious litmus test to cherry pick Christian asylum seekers.
The Rhode Island Sen. Elaine Morgan wrote in an e-mail forwarded to her colleagues, to the effect refugees should be segregated in camps because “the Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape and decapitate anyone who is non-Muslim.” How can a senator be so terminally ignorant and disgracefully bigoted!
Let us get something straight. In the first place, at least six of the Paris attackers were either born in France or Belgium and could hardly be called adherents to their faith when several were known criminals, at least three, including the alleged mastermind believed to be close to “Caliph” Baghdadi were heavy drinkers; several were high on cocaine and heroin and one owned a bar.
The woman killed during the police raid on two apartments has since been described as “a party girl” who drank, smoked and posted dubious photographs of herself on the Internet, including one taken while she was in the bath. Her friends assert she never attended a mosque and didn’t pray.
The Syrian passports found at the scene where suicide bombers had detonated their belts, are known to be fakes. Nevertheless those refugees fleeing pure horror are being made to pay the price with stringent border controls that leave many literally trapped with their children in no man’s lands outside the borders of Croatia, Serbia and Macedonia.
While it’s understandable that Europe is hyper-nervous it should be remembered that Daesh has slaughtered more Muslims that non-Muslims. Those, its affiliate, recently bombed in Kabul were Muslims. Daesh-claimed suicide bombings in Beirut killed 40 Muslims. The United Nations reports that over 24,015 Iraqi civilians — the vast majority Muslim — were killed by Daesh during the first eight months of 2014 alone. How many of their victims were Syrian is unknown.
Casting aspersions on 1.7 billion co-religionists is akin to blaming all Christians for the brutality of the Spanish Inquisition or the genocides perpetrated by Nazi Germany. Muslims are just as much the victim of a group that is primarily politically motivated to grab territory, natural resources and power over populations.
The bigoted attitudes on display now are a gift for Daesh because if Muslim communities begin to see themselves as targets, discriminated against, their places of worship closed and vulnerable to their front doors being knocked down by police in the early hours of the morning, they will no longer feel American or French or Belgian or British. Exclusion will lead to more disaffected youth heading for Syria or Iraq.
Governments and people of all religions are in the same boat. They must work together to combat this terrorist scourge and its hateful ideology in every way possible. Muslims everywhere are speaking out against Daesh like everyone else. Why wouldn’t they when this evil entity threatens them too? The Sheikh of Al-Azhar has called for all of them to be hanged or crucified.
Muslims have taken to the streets of Europe to make their feelings known, including a young man holding up a poster that reads, “My wife is a Muslim. She’s not a terrorist but I’m scared of her anyway” and another who covered his face asking passersby in Paris to hug a Muslim. The good news is that many good people did just that.
What the Paris attacks should now teach us
23 November 2015
The attacks in Paris remind us all again of the specter of terrorism and vigilante violence on a massive scale – but whether or not we will take heed of the lessons in that regard is another question. The signs are not altogether encouraging in that regard - not in Europe, not in the region, and not in the broader international community.
The day of the Paris attacks, I was in Tunisia – a country that had seen its own terrorist atrocities a few months ago in the attack on the Bardo Museum in March this year, and near Sousse in June. It’s a country that almost precisely five years ago saw the beginning of the Arab revolutionary uprisings – and out of all of them, the Tunisian uprising delivered the greatest prize thus far. A consensus-based, progressive constitution, and a political arena where no-one thinks that zero-sum games work. As a result, one hopes, Tunisia will be resilient against militant threats by groups like ISIS – and thus far, Tunisians have shown their mettle. Libya is in the midst of a great conflict; Syria far worse; and Egypt, while having been spared the sort of internecine warfare of Syria or Libya, is facing a dire set of security problems that far too many in the international community worry Cairo is handling badly.
But if Paris teaches us anything, it is the repetition of the reminder that vigilante violence can strike anywhere. It was true in London in 2005, when July 7 happened; it was true in Madrid, in March of 2004; and there were other incidents, and will likely be many more.
Much of the world in 2015 – be it the Western world, or Muslim majority states – cannot be under any illusion. Vigilante action by radical groups is not a threat that can be avoided – that is the reality. The task now is to ensure that societies remain resilient when such actions do take place – and take steps to minimize their occurrences.
There is no single headquarters that the international community can remove or demolish that will result in the end of violent extremism. That is not to say that engaging the problem of ISIS has no military component – on the contrary, there will have to be a hard security solution aspect in order to address the phenomenon of ISIS. But even if Raqqa were conquered by anti-ISIS forces tomorrow, and the entire territory currently held by ISIS in Iraq and Syria were released by ISIS forces, the threat of violence from their supporters would continue. The world needs to recognize that the campaign is a long one indeed.
As that campaign is waged, however, we have to consider our response to incidents as they occur. That is true for us in the West, as well as within the heartlands of the Muslim world.
Within fairly short order, we’ve seen the rise of anti-Muslim sentiment intensify. That was expressed in actual physical attacks, which a noted watch-dog in the UK reported in the aftermath of the French tragedy – it was also made clearly evident by the calls in the U.S. Republican camp, where it seemed presidential candidates were competing in their race to the bottom. Jeb Bush, one of the leading candidates, declared that Syrian refugees ought to be subjected to a religious test – and that Christians Syrians should be the ones allowed in. Donald Trump, the front-runner for the Republican nomination, calling for some kind of ‘register’ for Muslim Americans. These are not terribly isolated political statements – and the sentiment is mainstreaming on a regular basis. In the aftermath of Paris, two CNN anchors almost doggedly accused an anti-Islamophobia campaigner in Paris of denying collective French Muslim responsibility for the attacks – to his credit, he stood his ground, pointing out that French Muslims en masse rejected these attacked. But it was deeply concerning to see such a discourse being promulgated on a respectable television channel of that nature.
Within Muslim majority states, many of them do not need to be taught the lessons of Paris, but merely reminded of them. Before Paris, there was Beirut, and there was Baghdad – to name but two examples. Resilience in those countries is paramount – but resilience in other countries is being called into question. What will happen if what took place in Paris, God forbid, takes place in Cairo, or Bahrain, or Kuwait, or elsewhere in the region? What will the response be, beyond the predictable security retort?
Is there a recognition of the legitimate social and political grievances that exist – not simply in Syria, but far beyond it, across the Arab world? That these grievances are key elements in any recruitment strategy for ISIS? Is there a realization that the ideological underpinnings of ISIS-style ideology continues to find inspiration in a reading of an interpretation of Salafi thought? Or are we to continue thinking that ISIS essentially came out of a vacuum?
Politicians and political actors have, unfortunately, the malaise of reacting to crises as they happen, and seldom looking a year or two down the road. But the road ahead is of deep concern to any who examine the region closely –and we ought to try to pre-empt if we can, and minimize damage if we cannot, from any problems that are on the way. Make no mistake: they are on the way.
Dr H.A. Hellyer is Senior nonresident Fellow at the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council in DC, and Associate Fellow in International Security Studies at the Royal United Services Institute in London. Before joining the Council, he was appointed nonresident Fellow at the Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution in DC, and Research Associate at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. During his tenure at the University of Warwick (UK) as Fellow & then Senior Research Fellow, Dr Hellyer was appointed as Deputy Convenor of the UK Government's Taskforce for the 2005 London bombings, and served as the Foreign & Commonwealth Office's (FCO) first ESRC Fellow as part of the "Islam & Counter-Terrorism" teams with FCO security clearance, as a non-civil servant.
ISIS’s arrogance will accelerate its demise
23 November 2015
A shift in the attitudes of the major powers and powerful regional actors is inevitable after the Islamic State group (ISIS) showed the whole world that the scope of its international activities has expanded well beyond Iraq, Syria, and the Arab countries. ISIS targeted Russian citizens and interests, downing a Russian passenger jet over Sinai. ISIS then terrorized Paris, with a crime that appeared to be jointly planned and executed between Belgium and Syria. ISIS threatened to stage attacks in New York and Washington next, and it is possibly in the process of staging attacks in other European, Asian, or Gulf capitals.
U.S. President Barack Obama has clung on to his strategy in Syria, stressing that there would be no U.S. troops deployed to fight ISIS. However, he provided intelligence to France to conduct intensive air raids on ISIS in Syria, in retaliation for the Paris attacks, which may have also targeted French President Francois Hollande present at the time in the stadium that was attacked.
The French president was determined to tell his U.S. and Russian counterparts that the attacks were a declaration of war on France, therefore requiring coordination with both NATO and Russia to stage an effective political and military response, also in cooperation with Middle Eastern nations.
ISIS and its affiliates have expanded the scope of their plans, in a way that suggests its ambitions and ideology do not stop at establishing a caliphate in Iraq and Syria, but has global plans as well. This destructive arrogance is likely to engender new counter-strategies and a serious global war on the terror industry. The proliferation of terrorism to the European heartland, with such intensity and infiltration, could also accelerate urgent military and political efforts to resolve the Syrian crisis, especially with regard to the regional powers.
Yet the new strategies will not be limited to Syria and its Turkish, Kurdish, Saudi, and Iranian dimensions. To be sure, Egypt too is at the forefront of these events, along with Libya, Yemen, Iraq, and Lebanon.
Last week, Turkey hosted the G20 summit. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan seemed reassured by the clear enhancement of the crucial relationship between Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar during the Vienna talks on Syria’s future, the latest round of which were held a few days before the G20 summit in Antalya.
Turkey may ultimately get an international green light to establish safe zones in northern Syria, as this could help stem the flow of refugees to Europe. But there is a big difference between safe zones and no-fly zones. The latter requires military deployment by the countries imposing it, while the former has fewer requirements.
Ankara could also gain the departure of Bashar al-Assad, as this issue has practically become a subject of consensus, Assad being both a catalyst and a magnet for terrorism. As the international community is resolved to defeat terrorism as a priority, the United States, France, and even Russia will not accept for Assad to be the stick in the wheel.
Turkey’s lost bet
However, Turkey seems to have lost its bet on its ability to turn the United States against the Kurds. Washington is determined to continue and step up its direct support of the Kurds, including in Syria, as they have fought fiercely against ISIS and are indispensable. In addition, there are some in U.S. circles who are encouraging the U.S. administration to foster financial ties with Kurds by purchasing Kurdish Iraqi oil directly not through the Iraqi central government.
What course of action will Ankara pursue vis-à-vis U.S.-Kurdish relations? Some in Washington believe the U.S. administration can give Turkey guarantees that its support of the Kurds will not reach the point of blessing the establishment of a Kurdish state between Syria, Iraq, Iran, and Turkey. Some believe Turkey cannot continue to be both part of the problem and part of the solution in the context of the growth of terrorist groups in Syria, and hence will be forced to make concessions.
Turkey will continue to have influence over the Syrian opposition. However, this influence is weakening in tandem with the growing overt Saudi role in bringing together the Syrian opposition, in coordination with both Turkey and Russia. The Syrian opposition, which was absent from the Vienna meetings, won from the negotiations a timetable and a place in an international political process with a ceasefire as its starting point. The Syrian opposition won a direct Saudi engagement, along with a Saudi-Turkish-Qatari insistence on Assad’s departure and an implicit Russian agreement to eventually abandon Assad.
Russian-Saudi relations are developing steadily. Moscow hopes to launch a political process to resolve the Syrian crisis early next year. The 18-month time table proposed by Russia for change in Syria could be affected by the military timetable imposed by this week’s developments, but sources say it should not span more than 4 months because of intense international mobilization and because Russia wants a strategy to exit Syria within this period.
The Russian-Iranian relationship, according to other sources, is tense, because some in Moscow believe Iran has implicated Russia in Syria. Qassem Soleimani, the key figure in the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps, is said to have persuaded the Russians during a visit to Moscow a few months ago that the regime in Syria was on the verge of collapse. Therefore, Russian intervention was needed to restore balance and secure interests, Soleimani is said to have argued, and told the Russian leadership that Iran-backed forces such as Hezbollah would be able to turn the tide on the ground with Russian air cover. However, the sources continued, Russia has found itself bombarding from the sky while the promises on the ground fizzled out because of Iran’s limited capability. Now, Russia is determined to extricate itself from the military quagmire in Syria, which would leave Iran alone implicated with its soldiers and proxies.
Iran appears reassured. It is touting an alliance with Russia and Western powers to defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq. It sits at the table of drafting Syria’s future in Syria. And it gears up for having the sanctions on it lifted pursuant to the nuclear deal. However, Tehran is implicitly upset because it has no seat the G20 table, while its rival Saudi Arabia has a key place in the summit, which undermines Iran’s position. Iran is isolated in its insistence on Bashar al-Assad in Vienna, against consensus over isolating Assad. And even if Iran is playing the Assad card for its domestic audience, it must realize that it will remain excluded from making decisions on Syria’s future as long as it clings to Assad.
Tehran must also be aware that the Vienna process places it under the microscope on at least two levels: First, by defining who are the terrorists, foreign fighters, and oppositionists in Syria. Indeed, demanding non-Syrian forces to withdraw will affect Iran and its proxies, and Tehran will not be able to demand that its militias or advisers remain in Syria. Second, Tehran is aware that it is violating Security Council resolutions 1737 and 1747 that prohibit Iran from deploying forces and arms directly or indirectly outside its borders. Iran must know that if the United States or Britain choose to expose these violations, this could delay the lifting of the sanctions. Washington and London are currently turning a blind eye along with Russia, China, France, and Germany, to preserve the nuclear agreement.
However, any state in or outside the U.N. Security Council can raise Iran’s violation of the resolution adopted by the council under Chapter Vii with the Sanctions Panel. If the countries opposed to Iran’s support for Bashar al-Assad in power develop a cohesive strategy, they can seriously challenge Iran’s violations at the U.N. At least, Washington has the ability to threaten Tehran with obstructing the lifting of the sanctions if it wishes, and this is the course of action it should pursue to influence Iran’s obstructionist attitudes.
The Security Council will handle important tasks to accompany the Vienna process. It will be responsible for issuing a resolution on a ceasefire and establishing international monitoring thereof. It will also be in charge of authorizing military action in Syria, possibly under Article 51 of the Charter which gives states the right to act unilaterally in self-defense. The council is also supporting the mission of U.N. Envoy Staffan de Mistura, who is tasked by the Vienna process to prepare political committees and oversee the drafting of the constitution and the elections.
The United Nations has a candidate for the post of prime minister, who will have expanded executive powers during the transitional period, while the presidency is set to become a ceremonial post. Its candidate will be someone well suited to undertake the crucial burdens of that phase, and one who is acceptable to the major powers and regional states as well as senior figures in the Syrian regime. There are two other candidates being discussed, one who is based outside of Syria, but it is not clear how acceptable they will be. There is also a list of names of who is acceptable and who is vetoed by the senior figures in the regime. But overall, the political process seems to be in an advanced stage.
An absent party
The party that remains absent from the process is Egypt. According to sources, Cairo has attempted to exploit contradictions at a time when no one can afford this, which is why relations with Saudi are currently tense. Cairo’s discomfort stems from Turkish-Saudi-Qatari solidarity, which Egypt believes runs contrary to its interests in fighting the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, Riyadh is upset by Cairo’s attitudes on Syria.
Nevertheless, all sides including Washington realize that it is crucial to restore Egypt’s role as a strategic ally, whether in the war on ISIS inside Egypt or on ISIS in neighboring Libya. However, to achieve this, President Sisi must rectify his regional policy mistakes and scale back some of his domestic measures.
Libya, meanwhile, is an international mistake that must be repaired as part of the strategy on fighting terror, before it fall completely hostage to growing terrorist groups there.
In turn, Yemen is an ideal candidate for attracting al-Qaeda and similar groups. It is therefore extremely important to create a favorable climate for the Saudi-led Arab coalition to end its military operations there. This is both an international and a Saudi responsibility.
The time now is right to think of Yemen from the angle of crushing terrorism before it becomes a fertile ground for its resurgence. This requires helping the Arab alliance exit Yemen, to refocus resources on fighting ISIS instead of being caught in a spiral of attrition.
There is an international shift precipitated by ISIS’s arrogance, as it boasts of its ability to infiltrate various countries. ISIS was never a local terrorist group, and was always a global organization that has cost Syria dearly. Perhaps ISIS now has overplayed its hand and has invited is own doom, even if after a while.
However, the concern here is that the international players would commit additional mistakes aside from the costly one they made, namely: That they decided to fight terror “there” so that they do not have to fight it in U.S., Russia, and European cities.
This was an unforgivable sin that destroyed Iraq and Syria, and is now backfiring against innocents.
Raghida Dergham is Columnist and Senior Diplomatic Correspondent for the London-based Al Hayat, the leading independent Arabic daily, since 1989. She writes a regular weekly strategic column on International Political Affairs. Dergham is also a Political Analyst for NBC, MSNBC and the Arab satellite LBC. She is a Contributing Editor for LA Times Syndicate Global Viewpoint and has contributed to: The New York Times, The Washington Post, The International Herald Tribune and Newsweek Magazine. She serves on the Board of the International Women's Media Foundation, and has served on the Advisory Council of Princeton University's Institute for Transregional Studies of the contemporary Middle East, North Africa and Central Asia. She was also a member of the Women's Foreign Policy.
Iran and Gulf states: Between blindness and hallucination
23 November 2015
In a recent interview with The Atlantic magazine, U.S. Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter blamed Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries for not confronting Iran regionally. “If you look at where the Iranians are able to wield influence, they are in the game, on the ground. There is a sense that some of the Gulf states are up there at 30,000 feet,” said Carter.
However, others’ statements in the U.S. press oppose his opinion. In a recent article in the New York Times, Carol Giacomo - a member of the newspaper’s editorial board - said: “It doesn’t take long in Saudi Arabia to see evidence of an obsession with Iran.” So are Gulf countries blind to Tehran’s threats, or do they suffer from hallucinations of an Iran syndrome? The answer is somewhere in between.
Gulf countries are in a state of multi-front confrontation with Iran. They have been funding the Syrian opposition for four years now. They are fighting their biggest war in Yemen against Iran’s followers, who seized power by force and took the government hostage. There are other tense zones, including Libya. As Carter casts blame, he can see that Iran is clearly present in every disturbed area via its proxies.
The huge Shiite Lebanese organization Hezbollah completely lives off Iran’s funds and arms. There are also the Sunni Islamic Jihad and Hamas in Gaza, the extremist Shiite opposition in Bahrain, and Ansar Allah, which Tehran established in northern Yemen right on the Saudi border. Many Iraqi organizations work for Iran, such as the League of the Righteous and the Iraqi Hezbollah. Tehran has also sent its militias to fight in Syria under the command of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani.
Tehran has always stirred problems in the region. Its appetite for trouble increased ever since it launched negotiations with the West regarding its nuclear program. Iran now thinks the West no longer wants to confront it. However, unlike what Carter’s statements imply, tension does not call for raising the degree of confrontation with Tehran. Managing the crisis with Iran today is certainly not easy, and requires strictness and wisdom.
Riyadh would not have let Iran take over Yemen via its Houthi proxy. Otherwise, Saudi Arabia would end up besieged to the north (Iraq) and south (Yemen). Riyadh has also not given up supporting the Syrian people and opposition against the Syrian regime, which is a major ally of Iran.
Despite the difficult circumstances and crises, Tehran will lose in Syria and Yemen. It will lose in Syria due to the extent of hostility against it and the regime. It will lose in Yemen because the Gulf states are the givers and not the thieves, unlike Iran in Iraq, for example. Meanwhile, Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites are rejecting Iranian domination. The Shiite city of Najaf is leading an administrative rebellion against Iranian influence in Baghdad.
We cannot imagine Iranian control of a number of tense zones in the Middle East - this would be costly for everyone. Tehran will continue to be a source of tension and clashes, especially since it thinks Washington will decrease its regional presence after the nuclear deal.
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
Are We Still Blaming Muslims?
By Margaret Placentra Johnston
Just after last week's attacks in Paris, I entered into a chance conversation with an educated and otherwise fairly aware person who should have known better. He described a feeling of fear toward a certain group of people about whom he knew nothing more than that they are known to pray five times a day.
This is not the first time any of us has been faced with this error in logic. One method of reasoning is when we take a small set of examples and draw general conclusions about all members of the set. This is called inductive reasoning, and in some situations is a valid way to develop information. However, inductive reasoning requires caution on our part as it can easily lead to faulty conclusions: John and Jimmy both have brown hair. John and Jimmy are boys. Conclusion: All boys have brown hair. This is called a hasty or faulty or illicit generalization, an inductive fallacy.
This faulty reasoning was in high gear after the events of September 11, 2001. Suddenly people were afraid of all Muslims, tried to blame Muslims in general for the actions of a very small minority. While this was, to some degree, an understandable reaction to a relatively new and formerly unsuspected category of threat, many years have passed since 2001. By now terrorists have wrought havoc in other places. Non-Muslims have engaged in rampant killing sprees in our colleges, elementary schools and movie theaters. News of long-hidden instances of sex abuse on the part of a small minority of Catholic priests has broken wide open.
Do we now fear all Catholic priests because a few have been known to abuse children sexually? Do we suspect all college students because one crazy one opened fire on at Virginia Tech in 2007? Do we fear all Germans because Hitler was a German citizen? Certainly not!
Returning to the the majority of Muslims, versus the minority of Muslim terrorists, we non-Muslims have had a lot of time for critical reflection since September 11, 2001. While reverberations from that day will always abide in the hearts of many, by now the skilled and effective reasoners among us will want to resist falling prey to the inductive fallacy that began on that day. Those of us who are reasonable and aware will resist efforts by some in our society to fan the fires of fear from more recent tragedies. We will recognize how such fear mongers commit deliberate logical fallacies for the sake of promoting their own political ends. Conscientious Americans will not tolerate having our reality misrepresented to us.
The threat posed by Muslim terrorists is both dire and real. The risks posed by the majority of Muslims who have found their way onto our shores are imaginary. Thoughtful Americans will want to recognize the difference.
ISIS vs. Islam
By Jessica Marglin
It is hard to know what to say in the wake of the terrible violence that recently engulfed Paris and Beirut. What follows is by no means an attempt to explain the attacks -- nor to justify them -- but rather to tease out some questions about the relationship between ISIS and Islam that seem particularly pressing now.
Ever since September 11, 2001, Americans (and many others) have been asking themselves whether Islam is a violent religion. In some ways, this is an easy question to answer. As Reza Aslan said forcefully on CNN over a year ago, religions are not violent -- people are violent. I often invoke my colleague Rongdao Lai's lecture on militant Buddhist monks in places like Myanmar. Lai explained that even certain interpretations of Buddhism -- a religion associated in the United States with meditation, mindfulness, and the Dalai Lama's embrace of non-violence -- can, in fact, produce violent manifestations. Like Aslan, Lai emphasized that a religion such as Buddhism cannot itself be classified as non-violent; indeed, anything as vast and complicated as a religious tradition cannot be so definitively defined.
But even if we can say with some confidence that Islam is not a violent religion, a thornier question remains: to what extent is ISIS an authentic expression of Islam? There are, essentially, two poles on this issue. Many Muslim groups in America and Europe have vociferously denounced ISIS as un-Islamic (such as in the press conference given by Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations). Some Muslims have called for avoiding the term "Islamic State" to describe ISIS, since doing so gives it the legitimacy of Islam. (The response of politicians like François Hollande and John Kerry to call it Daesh -- the Arabic acronym for al-dawla al-islamiyya bil-'iraq wal-sham -- is, however, hardly less Islamic in the original.) To these Muslims, ISIS is an aberration -- claiming to be Islamic but perverting the religion's core principles.
On the other end of the spectrum are those who see ISIS -- and other forms of militant Islamism -- as fundamentalist, but nonetheless authentic expressions of Islam. Perhaps the most articulate version of this position can be found in The Atlantic article "What ISIS Really Wants" by Graeme Wood. In this view, "the Islamic State is Islamic. Very Islamic," and "the religion preached by its most ardent followers derives from coherent and even learned interpretations of Islam." As Bernard Haykel, professor of Near Eastern Studies at Princeton University, explains, Islam is "what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts." In other words, there is no single Islam, especially since Muslims recognize no central religious authority as do Catholics, but rather a shared Islamic textual tradition that is interpreted in myriad ways. In some sense, Haykel echoes an anthropological approach to Islam that sees multiple "islams" in the plural, rather than a single, unified tradition with a mainstream or orthodox core and various heterodox branches.
Ultimately, the distinction comes down to how one decides who is in and who is out of a religious tradition. In other words, Muslims like those involved in CAIR simply do not want to include a barbaric, violent organization like ISIS under the umbrella of Islam, for understandable reasons. The scholars quoted in Wood's article, on the other hand, feel that people who engage deeply with the Islamic textual tradition in recognizable ways and think of themselves as Muslims should unquestionably be considered Islamic.
Islam is not the only religion in which some of the faithful are deeply ashamed of their coreligionists. As an observant Jew, I am horrified by the barbaric and violent acts that have been committed in the name of Judaism. I could not disagree more with the interpretations of Judaism held by individuals such as Baruch Goldstein. But here in the US, I rarely have to defend myself as a Jew against accusations of belonging to a "violent religion," just as few Buddhists are asked whether Buddhism is violent when Buddhist monks attack Muslims in Myanmar. In other words, in the United States and in Europe, not all religions are considered equally guiltless.
In some ways, the distinction between ISIS as Islamic or not comes down to what you mean by "Islamic": is it what Muslims do, or are there things Muslims do that put them outside the boundaries of the Islamic tradition? Either way, there is no justification for labeling an entire religion as violent merely because some of its adherents embrace violence, as do those who see Islam as the problem. This is particularly crucial now, when the New York Times publishes a headline stating that"After Paris Attacks, a Darker Mood towards Islam Emerges in France" and when the United States congress passes a bill to drastically tighten the screening procedures for Syrian refugees in what has been widely labeled the worst refugee crisis since WWII. Even if you consider ISIS Islamic, we must resist any temptation to conflate ISIS and Islam.
For Those Who Fly While Muslim, Air Travel Has An Extra Indignity: Bigotry
By Ali Gharib
23 November 2015
There are already more than enough indignities associated with flying for all Americans, from ever-lessening leg room to creeping fees. But apparently, those indignities aren’t enough for American Muslims to bear. Maybe Southwest Airlines ought to add another letter to their seat-assignment-free group alphabetical boarding scheme: M, for boarding while Muslim.
One might think that after the attacks in Paris, some suspicions could be justified. But singling out people for their obvious Middle Eastern traits and Muslim faith should be called what it is: bigotry. Still, over the past week, in the wake of the Paris attacks, Muslims in the US have faced a handful of incidents that, though the circumstances of all the incidents are not clear, have led to allegations of bias among not only other passengers, but airlines as well.
On one of the flights, from Indianapolis to Los Angeles early Sunday, Southwest flyers got a scare when, about a third of the way into the trip, the plane was diverted and landed in Kansas City. The unplanned stop was precipitated by “suspicious behavior” by a group of passengers at the back of the plane. Southwest later said the men were behaving in an “unruly” manner.
One of the men, who bore a dark complexion, could be seen in a cellphone video being escorted from the plane by law enforcement. What was his sin? One witnesstold a local news channel in San Francisco that the men’s apparent bad behavior began during the safety briefings we’ve all learned by heart and pretend to pay attention to. These men dropped the charade of interest: “That part of the debrief at the beginning, they had gotten out of their seats and had swapped seats in the middle of that particular section and that was something that created an issue,” the witness said.
Unless the seating arrangements were a proxy for what order to blow themselves up in, I’m not sure that ignoring the safety briefing merited such alarm. During the unscheduled stopover, passengers were deplaned and bomb-sniffing dogs were brought aboard. The flight was then re-boarded and continued on without the three men, who were forced to take a later flight – an indication, one hopes, that they no longer raised security suspicions.
In another incident last week, sixreportedly Muslim travelers were told they had to get off a plane preparing to take off from Chicago to Houston. That flight was delayed but, in this case too, the passengers were allowed to take a later flight.
Perhaps the most striking incident also came last Wednesday, when Maher Khalil and Anas Ayyad, two Americans of Palestinian extraction attempting to board a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia, could be overheard by another passenger speaking Arabic. Khalil and Ayyad were stopped from boarding and told of the complaints: someone was afraid to fly with them.
“If that person doesn’t feel safe, let them take the bus,” Khalil, a pizza shop owner in Philly, told his local NBC station. After a delay, Khalil and Ayyad were ultimately allowed on board, but their fellow passengers’ suspicions still ran high. “People kept asking me, ‘What’s in that box?!’ I was carrying a small white box. And the passengers made me open the box!” Khalil said. “So I shared my baklava with them.” Now that’s generosity: Khalil’s bias-tinged would-be interrogators got sweets.
The difficulty of Flying While Muslim is something I’ve encountered, too – despite being a staunch atheist, albeit one with a very Muslim name. I used to be on the government watch list, several airlines employees told me along the way, as I encountered hurdles to checking in and boarding. I couldn’t use the electronic check-in kiosks – though airline personnel always made me try, instead of a boarding pass I got a note to see a ticket agent. I haven’t even, so far as I can remember, jawed loudly in Farsi with family members on board or in line.
Once a delayed flight caused me to miss a connection in Newark Liberty international airport and, in order to book a new flight, an airline manager had to call over a New Jersey state cop to oversee the process. (In the late 2000s, the government purged many of the names on the list and I’ve been flying hassle free for about five years.)
It’s not always clear that the incidents discussed here and elsewhere spring from anti-Muslim bigotry, but enough of the tales point that way, and my own experiences suggest there’s something to it. The petty inconveniences I suffered, after all, weren’t even due to fellow passengers’ or airlines’ suspicions, but the government’s.
Both our American values and security would be better served if we – Americans who are simply flying on planes or working for the airlines – treated all people, no matter what language they were speaking, equally, saving our suspicions for people actually acting suspiciously.
Dark clouds over Jeddah
Nov 23, 2015
It looks like a cloud is really hanging over the city of Jeddah. For every time it rains chaos reigns in the whole city with excessive water logging in various major nodal points such that the city’s arteries get choked and it comes to a veritable standstill. It has come to such a pass that when people see dark clouds out of their windows, they know a storm is coming — not only rainstorm — and many people fear the worst each time they see clouds in the sky.
Rain is a blessing and especially in a dry country like Saudi Arabia, where it is badly needed. However, it is thanks to the negligence of municipal officials and other related government departments that people look at the blessings of rain with a fearful eye while some even going to the extent of praying that it does not rain again.
I remember — while rewinding to my teen days — that the days when we got rain were for celebration. Not only was it a fun occasion of getting wet and playing in the rain, but it was time to smell the freshness that the rain brought with it. We used to pray it rains more, as the downpour would bring with it, its own share of bounties.
Heavy rain lashed Jeddah last Tuesday and the metropolis was again flooded for the third time. The memory of the first and second Jeddah floods is still fresh in many people’s minds, and this factor is what makes people fearful that a fresh deluge could create chaos again.
Although this recent downpour that caused the city to stutter and stop briefly cannot be considered a disaster like the first and second floods, but negligence by officials put more than a question mark on their performance and the level of their preparedness to face such emergencies.
I have to say that I was the only one of the few that were optimistic that this rain would not spark confusion and commotion by turning out to be a disaster, especially since there was warning of heavy rains, and the cautionary advices were relayed well in advance. During the week before the rains, when the PMEs warned of inclement weather, me and my friends would discuss what would be the state of Jeddah streets this time round. And every time, most of my friends would be pessimistic by arguing that the Jeddah streets would be flooded and cut off.
Sadly I did not believe them, and as was evident by the recent cloudburst, they were proven right and the optimistic camp, me included, were wrong by a mile.
After the rain, Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Salman directed Makkah Gov. Prince Khaled Al-Faisal to prepare a detailed report about the rain and its aftermath. Many people gave credit to the Civil Defense and the Education Ministry, who were prepared for the rain, by planning ahead for all the possible eventualities by issuing an early alert and in case of the ministry for providing school holidays on Tuesday and Wednesday.
During the first Jeddah floods, our students were at school and there was chaos as parents panicked and jammed the streets and drove in opposite direction just to get to their children. This time there was less chaos because of the holidays declared. I do not want to imagine what the scene would have been if our students were at school on that day?
Amid all this, when the rain let up, the blame game began. I enjoyed reading the exchanges between municipality and the Saudi Electricity Company (SEC). In my opinion, both of them have performed poorly in the past. The municipality was quick to put the blame on SEC for the flooding of roads and underpasses because electricity was cut from the pumps. SEC, however, responded saying that the pump damage came from the subscriber and not from the main company. In either case, I hope that both of them would be taken to task because people suffered due to their negligence. I know friends of mine who were stranded for eight hours on the street, seeking ways to just get home. Why should they suffer for the municipality’s neglect?
What I really want to ask is that haven’t the municipality learned from past mistakes? They know when the rain season starts and they also have a rough idea when the rain is expected and how many millimeters of rain will fall. But did they even bother to check on their equipment in the underpasses and whether they are working or not? Do they ever prepare an emergency plan for such natural events? Did they even bother to check if the drainage pipes were blocked, if so, did they clear it? Did they check if it was working on the first place. I do think if they had bothered to do these checks in time, than there would have been no need to take cover under excuses.
Jeddah, the bride of the Red Sea, is a bride no more all thanks to neglectful officials. They were trusted with billions of riyals in projects to make sure that flooding of streets never repeated. We were very lucky that floods from other areas did not wash into Jeddah because of the dams built. God forbid if the waters from outside had aggravated the flooding then it would have been a disaster of major proportions.
Thanks to Jeddah youth, who again rose to the occasion, and proved to be real Jeddawis when they took to the streets and offered helping hands to those who were stranded in the flood, pulling their cars out and distributing food. They are the ones who really learned how to react in such situations from previous experiences.
Jeddah is the gate of the two holy mosques and deserves better. We want to see a city that is competing with top cities in the world. A city with a reputation of drowning in light rain needs to be changed. For that the municipality should get its act together and they should remember that people’s patience is wearing thin and all their excuses are not acceptable anymore.
Mahmoud Ahmad can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Banning women from stadia: Excuses to justify deficiency
Nov 24, 2015
What’s the difference between horse racing and other audience-based tournaments and most importantly soccer? They’re all sports anyway and horses have many fans, followers and audiences. In the West, horse racing has its big market for gambling that could reach millions of dollars. Horse prices here and around the world could hit numbers that are higher than those paid for professional players. These, of course, are undeniable facts.
The other truth, which is publicly well known, is that horse racing started in the Kingdom since it was established by the founder (may Allah bless his soul). Men and women were present at racing stadiums. In fact until recently, before the modern stadiums were built, families used to bring their picnic needs like blankets, tea, coffee and water and sit on the sides of the racing tracks to watch the events on the field.
After constructing new arenas special sections were designated for females. Entering and exiting is done in accordance with very precise arrangements. We haven’t heard or read about any problems at all. On the other hand, the General Presidency of Youth Welfare works hard to abide by an old dictat to sports managers affirming that women, even young girls, are prohibited from entering any stadium. I don’t know a religious, logical or even social reason for this ban.
And before anyone pulls up the sign of “privacy” in my face, I say that all soccer fields and other sports stadiums are prepared and ready to designate a gate or multiple gates for women. They could have their own seats and areas just like what happens in equestrian clubs in the Kingdom. These areas could be further separated with partitions from the sides.
So what seems to be the problem when a woman enters from a special gate and sits in the women’s area? Does not that fulfill our “privacy” needs? In addition, all stadiums are equipped with surveillance cameras that don’t miss anything at all. So whoever wants to wear the niqab or cover their face can do so without worrying about “cameras”. And whoever wants to uncover their face are okay too because they do so on the road, at the shopping mall and during the book fair. In fact, all these women already mix with men at book fairs, in shopping malls, at parks and at the Two Holy Mosques and everywhere. Did you ever hear or read about someone violating another? Except for very rare cases that won’t be combated without a strict harassment law and surveillance cameras that observe and security forces that implement.
Banning women from sports stadiums does not have a justification — as I said — not religiously nor logically or socially. Above all, it is actually women’s rights to have access to these spaces. Even in the face of our “privacy” that most of the time we cannot justify, no contradiction exists.
Based on all of this, we should not blame the world that criticizes us through human rights organizations or ridicules us about women’s rights. We can’t really respond to their criticism or blaming or sarcasm. We only have the word cliché to describe our “privacy” that is unconvincing. But if we wanted solutions to translate this “privacy” into action they are very much so available and easy. But we don’t want to and we always find excuses to justify our inability to use our brains or understand the reality of our religion!