New Age Islam Edit Bureau
Is Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorist alliance real?
By Oliver Miles
The Saudi anti-terror coalition could be a game changer
By Dr. John C. Hulsman
ISIS is also a Saudi problem
By Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Pakistani war criminals of 1971 still free
By Brig R P Singh, VSM (retired)
Canada: A bright hope for liberalism
By Mustafa Akyol
What Can We Learn From the Trump and ISIS Eras?
By Rami G. Khouri
Muslim Americans in the shadow of ISIS
By Taha Hassane
‘Al-ISIL’ and ‘al-Russia’
By Akif Beki
This is a big moment for Saudi Arabia
By Michael Stephens
Libya: Reconciliation at last?
By OSAMA AL SHARIF
Breaking Bread In Kabul
By Kathy Kelly
Liberal Extremism Disguised As Defense Of Muslims
By Matt Peppe
Is Saudi Arabia’s anti-terrorist alliance real?
15 December 2015
In a move that seems to have taken everyone by surprise, the young Saudi deputy crown prince Mohammed bin Salman, son of the king, announced this morning at a brief press conference – itself an unusual event – the formation of an Islamic military alliance to fight terrorism. In reply to a question, he said that the new alliance was directed not only against Islamic State but also against any other terrorist organisation.
The Saudi Press Agency published what was described as a joint statement giving a little more information: 34 states have decided to form a military alliance led by Saudi Arabia to fight terrorism, with a joint operations centre in Riyadh. The 34 include most Arab League states, a number of mainly Muslim states mostly in Africa, and Asian countries including Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia. More than 10 other Islamic countries, including Indonesia, are said to have expressed support. One notable inclusion in the list is Qatar, whose relations with Saudi Arabia have been strained. Notable omissions are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan, Algeria, Oman and Eritrea.
So far there has been no reaction from most other capitals and little comment in the media. Turkey and Bangladesh have confirmed their participation. The reaction in Jordan seems to be typical: a junior minister responsible for information has told the official Petra news agency that Jordan is always ready to take an active part in any action against terrorism; the report adds almost as an afterthought a reference to the Saudi announcement. Similarly in Egypt, where the Saudi crown prince and deputy crown prince were expected to visit today, the foreign ministry spokesman said merely that Egypt supported all efforts to combat terrorism, making a distinction between the Saudi announcement and the earlier call by the Egyptian president, Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, for a joint Arab military force.
First to comment was the anonymous blogger on Saudi affairs, Mujtahidd, always ready to shoot from the hip and always critical of the Saudi regime and of Bin Salman in particular. Inevitably he is sharply negative: citing no practical arrangements, no joint forces, no military co-ordination, no defined objectives or methods; calling it merely a verbal understanding which adds nothing to the intelligence and political co-ordination led by America.
Mujtahidd argues that Bin Salman is responding to the western perception that his uncle, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Nayef, is the leading scourge of terrorism, and to criticism of himself, for example by the Germans and some US newspapers. This move is simply to show that his role is No 1 in the fight against terrorism, as much as to say: Bin Nayef may have dealt with terrorism inside the kingdom, but I will deal with it throughout the Islamic world.
The ceasefire in Yemen is due to begin today as the warring parties meet for talks in Switzerland. If it holds, Saudi Arabia and its allies will have the opportunity to refocus their military efforts against Isis. If it does not, as is more likely, Saudi military resources will remain trapped in the Yemen war and it would not be realistic to expect much change.
Mujtahidd is not an unbiased observer, but his comments are to the point. As one experienced in international conference organisation and communique drafting I can scarcely believe that this bare Saudi announcement, lacking any detail of how the participating states were represented, will prove to be more than a piece of paper. It is good news if Saudi Arabia is focusing on the terrorist issue and can rally the support of so many others, but there is a long way to go before practical results can be expected.
Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the move is the omission from the list not only of Iran, which was to be expected given the Saudi propensity to see the Muslim world as split between Sunnis and Shia, but also of Iraq, inevitably on the Iranian side of the line because of its Shia majority. If the new alliance becomes a real force, it virtually drives Iran towards the formation of a rival Shia alliance. That would have destructive consequences, as we are already seeing in Yemen.
The Saudi anti-terror coalition could be a game changer
Dr. John C. Hulsman
15 December 2015“The proof is in the pudding.”
--14th century proverb
Part of the problem with modern political risk analysis is the difficulty in separating the portentous from the pretentious, the significant from the marketing dross that so often masquerades as foreign policy initiatives. On any given day, there a literally hundreds of press releases as to new, revolutionary, foreign policy strategies being unfurled that are bound (so their authors insist) to change the course of history.
Most, of course, amount to less than nothing; but the analytical ‘noise’ in the modern world is truly deafening. It takes an especially skilled analyst to ignore the din, focusing on what really matters. And while the jury is surely still out, yesterday’s announcement by Saudi Defense Minister and Deputy Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, of a new Saudi-inspired 34 country Islamic coalition designed to fight terrorism, could truly amount to that rarest of things: a foreign policy initiative that fundamentally matters.
Calling the American bluff
As the war in Syria drearily continues, with U.S. air strikes increasing against ISIS to a new high in November, Washington has grown increasingly and publicly exasperated at the lack of support from its allies in the anti-ISIS coalition. Specifically, the U.S. has made frequent and urgent calls for the Gulf Arab states to do more against ISIS.
This is due to issues relating to technical military sophistication, as well as to the crucial matter of local political legitimacy. Both the Saudi and Emirati air forces are modern, powerful and capable of truly helping to carry the military load of increased air strikes directed against Raqqa. Perhaps even more importantly, the UAE and Saudi Arabia’s overt, and strong opposition to ISIS decisively makes a lie of the group’s false (but powerful) claim to be the champion of the Sunni worldview.
American frustration has centred on the fact that while almost every major state in the Middle East is genuinely against ISIS, getting rid of it in its Syrian-Iraqi heartland has not been the priority of many. While the U.S.-backed Kurds, and Iran-backed Shiite militias in Iraq have taken the fight to ISIS, there had been a crucial lack of effective Sunni boots on the ground.
Instead, the Egyptians have been fretting about the failed state that Libya has become, and the rise of the local ISIS chapter there, as well as another manifestation of the group in the Sinai. Turkey has been more intent on facing down the Kurds than taking the war to ISIS. Saudi Arabia, in American eyes, has been seen as worrying about the Iranian-inspired Houthi rebellion on its southern doorstep, rather than in aiding America in Syria and Iraq. But with a ceasefire set to take hold in Yemen, as U.N.-sponsored peace talks commence, there has been increasing hope in Washington that the pivotal Saudis are set to re-focus their efforts.
Raqqa may well not have helped matters from their point of view in their strategically baffling desire to take on all their many enemies at once; while the Arab world may have been ambiguous in its efforts to fight ISIS, the group has been crystal clear in its desire to attack Gulf states, initiating a series of attacks on Shiite mosques in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, in an effort to foment Sunni-Shiite tensions, as well as attacking security forces in both states as well. Given this sub-text, the U.S. should be increasingly hopeful that the just-announced Islamic coalition against terrorism marks the crowning of this new strategic shift it has so hoped for.
Certainly, King Salman could not have been rhetorically clearer about ISIS, urging further, significant efforts in November to “eradicate this dangerous scourge and rid of the world of its evils.” The new 34-state Islamic coalition against terrorism puts operational heft behind these stirring words. Including pivotal predominantly Sunni states Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, Turkey, Malaysia, and Pakistan, the new coalition has both the diplomatic and strategic heft to potentially matter a great deal.
Crucially, this vast alliance possesses the vital elixir of political credibility for Sunnis in eastern Syria and central and western Iraq, as it cannot be accused — as the U.S. so easily can — of being a malign, outside influence impervious to local political goals and aspirations. Mohammed bin Salman put his finger on this vital point, saying that the new group had political ‘legitimacy’, without which ISIS cannot be ultimately defeated.
If the group has the heft to tip the strategic scales against ISIS, it also seems poised to serve a vital operational function. The Saudi Defense Minister says the new alliance will “coordinate efforts to fight terrorism in Iraq, Syria, Libya, Egypt, and Afghanistan,| exactly what is necessary to maximise its impact.
The proof is in the pudding
While it is understandable that there have been few specific operational details as to how the new alliance will proceed, without them we are all left guessing as to how much political capital the individual member states of the alliance are prepared to put behind this new coalition to defeat ISIS.
The key, overriding point is whether the Islamic coalition will attack ISIS targets in Syria and Iraq, how often, and to what effect. This is the proof in the pudding as to whether the just-announced Islamic coalition is the best news to hit the region in a long time; it shouldn’t be allowed to be merely another press release.
Dr. John C. Hulsman is the President and Co-Founder of John C. Hulsman Enterprises (www.john-hulsman.com), a successful global political risk consulting firm. An eminent foreign policy expert, John is the senior columnist for City AM, the newspaper of the city of London. Hulsman is a Life Member of the Council on Foreign Relations. The author of all or part of 11 books, Hulsman has also given 1490 interviews, written over 410 articles, prepared over 1270 briefings, and delivered more than 460 speeches on foreign policy around the world.
ISIS is also a Saudi problem
Tuesday, 15 December 2015
Those who do not read what leaders of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) write, and those who do not watch the group’s videos, may not realize that it has many enemies, foremost among them Saudi Arabia. ISIS has a long list of rivals worldwide, such as the United States and most recently Russia, as well as European governments, Egypt, Iraq and Jordan. ISIS is also fighting both the Syrian regime and the opposition.
For two years now, the organization has actively spread fierce propaganda against Saudi Arabia and its monarchy, urging people to rebel against it. There are many Saudi fighters in ISIS’s ranks, and the government worries that they may one day sneak back into the country from Iraq and Syria to implement ISIS’s project.
Similarities with Al-Nusra Front
The same applies to the terrorist Al-Nusra Front, which presents itself as an opposition group that is only hostile to the Syrian regime. It is an extension of Al-Qaeda, and has previously professed loyalty to it. Although it fights ISIS, their aims are similar.
Al-Nusra Front fighters have previously threatened Saudi Arabia. This is why we doubt the aims of regional governments that support it, because its biggest project is to attack Saudi Arabia, which for terrorists represents the promised land and the path toward legitimacy.
Terrorists consider Syria a base to gather, train and launch operations, as they did previously with Afghanistan. Initially, Al-Nusra Front and ISIS deceived people with the idea that they were formed to fight unjust sectarian regimes in Iraq and Syria, thus exploiting people’s grievances. Al-Qaeda did the same in Afghanistan and Iraq.
However, crimes committed in Syria and Iraq by Al-Nusra Front and ISIS have quickly turned Arab and Muslim public opinion against them, unlike Al-Qaeda, which enjoyed media and religious propaganda in its defense.
Those who sympathize with Al-Nusra Front or ISIS do not dare express that sympathy in Saudi Arabia. In some cases, worshippers have driven out preachers who dared commend ISIS. People can now distinguish between nationalist groups that rebel against injustice, and terrorist groups that facilitate chaos.
ISIS in Iraq has worn several masks. It claimed to be formed from tribal groups, then it portrayed itself as aligned with Baathists, and later claimed it was a mixed army under an-Naqshbandiyyah leadership. ISIS is the biggest, most dangerous power in Iraq - many people became aware of this after it occupied Mosul and a number of cities in Anbar province. Today, it not only threatens Baghdad, but Saudi Arabia’s borders.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Dec. 15, 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.
Pakistani war criminals of 1971 still free
Brig R P Singh, VSM (retired)
December 16, 2015
On December 16, 2012, a brave heart 'Nirbhaya' was raped and mutilated by four men in a moving bus in Delhi. This incident shook the conscience of the citizens. On the same date in 1971, Bangladesh was liberated from the Pakistan army's occupation after a struggle of nine months, in which 30 lakh innocent Bangalees were killed, 4 lakh women were raped and one crore refugees took shelter in India. More than 70 thousand war babies were born. Unfortunately, unlike Nirbhaya's case, the 1971 rape victims did not receive much global sympathy or compassion. Instead, they were seen by the society as a symbol of 'social pollution' and shame. Most of the families of rape victims refused to accept them and only a few were able to return to their families or old homes. Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Mujibur Rahman gave the rape survivors the title of birangona (heroine). But this titled served as a reminder that these women were now deemed socially unacceptable as they were 'dishonoured.' The term birangona became associated with barangona (prostitute). The official strategy of marrying the women off and encouraging them to be seen as war heroines failed, as few men came forward to accept them as brides. And those who volunteered to marry them expected the government to provide them large sums of money as a kind of dowry. Those women who did marry were usually mistreated, and majority of men, abandoned them after taking their money.
On February 18, 1972, the government formed the Bangladesh Women's Rehabilitation Board to help the rape victims. Many of them were pregnant. Many women felt a sense of relief for the abortion programme, as they did not have to bear a child conceived from rape. However, others had to go the full term. Many of them, understandably, felt a surge of animosity towards the child they were forced to carry. Several international agencies, such as Mother Teresa's 'Sisters of Charity' helped the victims through an adoption programme. However, not all women wanted their child taken away. In such cases, babies were forcibly removed and sent for adoption. Such was the emotional trauma of the rape victims. Most of them are looked down upon even till this date by others in Bangladesh. After 44 years of the liberation of Bangladesh, they still carry the stigma and reel under emotional agony.
In April 1971, I was detailed to assist the civilian authorities in administering the refugee camps set for Bangladeshis in West Bengal, Assam and Tripura where I met a large number of such victims. I also met many victims of the 1971 genocide during this time. The stories of their trauma haunt me to this day. During the war, on December 7, 1971 I visited a hospital in Thakurgaon after we liberated it from the occupying forces. I met two girls who were apparently kept as sex slaves in a bunker by a Pakistani Major. When he saw the Indian Army preparing for assault on his sub-unit, he forced these girls to walk through the mine field laid in front of his defended locality. They begged for mercy but he threatened to shoot them if they didn't act as per his orders. Out of fear of being shot, they walked through the mine field. One of them blew her leg and the other injured her backbone in an anti-personnel mine blast. They were writhing in pain and crying as they narrated their tale.
There is very little information available about the children born out of rape; we have little knowledge about those who were adopted by people from other countries. In recent years, the humanitarian community has shown interest in integrating children born out of sexual violence during conflict through post-conflict humanitarian efforts, migration policies and refugee-settlement programmes. A well-known human rights activist, Bina D'costa, sent an appeal to several adoption agencies, Bangla websites and newspapers to talk about the war babies. The following e-mail was sent by one website owner: “I had a lousy dad, who just insulted me … I tried to commit suicide four years ago … I often wonder why I am here in Canada, adopted by parents who divorced three months after I was adopted … I hated being a kid, and I am angry at Bangladesh for not taking care of me when I needed it most. I don't have any roots and that makes me cry. So that is why I am trying to learn more about where I was born.”
After the liberation of Bangladesh, a list of war criminals was prepared and 200 of them were identified for trial as per the UN General Assembly resolutions on war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But following the recognition of Bangladesh by Pakistan, then president of Pakistan, Zulfikar Ali Bhutto, visited Dhaka and appealed to the people of Bangladesh to forgive and forget the mistakes of the past in order to promote reconciliation. In turn, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman declared that he wanted his people to forget the past and make a fresh start and agreed for repatriation of 200 war criminals who were in Indian POW camps.
It was one of the biggest travesties of justice. The agonies and atrocities suffered by millions of innocent people, particularly rape victims and war babies who continue to suffer, were compromised to bring in peace and tranquillity in the sub-continent. Ironically, neither the peace nor tranquillity has prevailed nor has reconciliation taken place. Pakistan continues with its old policies with a new strategy of terrorism. It is an irony that in the modern world such heinous crimes have gone unpunished. While the Nazis were punished for WWII crimes, till as late as 2010, the Pakistani war criminals were allowed to enjoy their retired life in luxury, financed from their loot from Bangladesh in 1971. The Chinese and Korean sex slaves kept by the Japanese during World War II have been adequately compensated but Pakistan has not even fulfilled this basic humanitarian obligation. Even after 44 years of the Liberation War, I feel repulsed. I appeal to the world to start the process of bringing the perpetrators of carnage, arson and rapes of 1971 to justice under international laws, and put pressure on the Pakistani administration to recognise and provide adequate compensation to rehabilitate rape victims who are in their 60s and 70s.
Brig R P Singh is a retired Brigadier General of the Indian Army. He participated in the Liberation War of Bangladesh.
Canada: A bright hope for liberalism
By Mustafa Akyol
When I heard the children’s choir in Canada that welcomed the Syrian refugees, I was really moved. They were singing Tala al-Badru Alayna (The Full Moon Rose Over Us), the very tune that was sung to welcome the Prophet Mohammad upon his arrival in Medina from Mecca in the year 620. The Muslim Prophet was then a refugee who barely survived slaughter in his home town. Similarly, the Syrian refuges survived slaughter in their country, and have found peace and comfort thanks to the good people of Canada.
This initial group of refuges to Canada was a small group, but a total of 10,000 Syrian refugees will be accepted this month, and at least 25,000 by the end of March, as the Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau refreshingly declared.
We should all be very thankful to Canada for this warm welcome to the Syrian refuges, who are, unfortunately, refused and even demonized by some bigoted politicians in other Western nations. Moreover, we should be very thankful to Canada for the bright hope it is now offering in a bleak world that is growingly defined by populist politicians and their illiberal constituencies.
I call today’s world bleak because it has become a far cry from the liberal heaven famously prophesized by the academic Francis Fukumaya in the early 90s. Seeing the end of communism, Fukuyama had then predicted an “end of history,” in which all societies would gradually move to the liberal democracy the West had invented and proved to work well. What we had, however, was the rise of new challenges to liberalism, such as religious fundamentalism in the Muslim world, the far-right in the West and nativist authoritarianism almost all around the globe.
Hate and fear mongering politicians such as Donald Trump indicate how many inroads this alarming wave has made into key liberal societies such as the U.S. Or in Holland, as seen with Geert Wilders or in France, as seen with Marine Le Pen.
Of course, this far-right wave in the West is not taking place in a vacuum; it is, at least in part, a reaction to terrorism stemming from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or al-Qaeda, and the threats to the “Western way of life” in general. However, this reaction is doomed to make everything only worse, eroding the very values the West claims to believe in and only feeding reaction on the other side of the civilizational divide.
That is why we need outliers to take the world out of this vicious cycle. And that is why Canada’s political line of today, under the leadership of the Liberal Party of Justin Trudeau, is a hope not only for its own society but for the whole world.
Trudeau defines Canada as “the first post-national state” that has “no core identity, no mainstream.” He shows he means this by his very cabinet, which includes 15 women, three Sikhs, a Muslim, and two disabled people. As he underlined in his welcome speech to the Syrian refugees:
“This is something that we are able to do in this country because we define a Canadian not by a skin color or a language or a religion or a background, but by a shared set of values, aspirations, hopes and dreams that not just Canadians but people around the world share.”
Those values, aspirations, hopes and dreams are indeed universal. And as someone who shares them from a faraway society, let me thank Canada, once again, for showing that they are alive. They might not bring the “end of history.” But they may at least stand firmly in the face of history’s dark forces.
What Can We Learn From the Trump and ISIS Eras?
By Rami G. Khouri
BEIRUT — It is a cliché but one worth remembering, nevertheless, that most people around the world seek similar things in life, and consequently they behave in similar and predictable ways. This applies to both good and bad behavior, as we witness rather dramatically today in the parallels between the sentiments and actions of people living in very different conditions across continents, but who respectively support Donald Trump or the “Islamic State” (ISIS).
A fascinating but predictable combination of three F’s — fanaticism, fear and fantasy — explains why otherwise ordinary men and women react in extreme and often inhumane ways to their predicament of navigating the stresses of their rattled modernity. I was struck by this during recent research into the increased support for Trump after his call to temporarily halt the entry of Muslims into the United States, and the string of terror attacks across the world that are linked to ISIS.
Then I read this wonderful passage by columnist Gary Younge in the Guardian newspaper on why Trump’s outrageous statements only increase his popular support: “This is a large part of his appeal. He articulates the frustration and bewilderment of that section of uneducated, unskilled, low-paid white America, whose wages have stagnated and social mobility has stalled that is nostalgic for its local privileges and global status. In recent times, they have lost wars, jobs, houses and confidence.”
This captures the multiple political, emotional, national, economic, cultural, and identity drivers that shape the sentiments of Trump supporters. The really noteworthy aspects of this, in my view, are the diversity, volatility, and universality of these many elements. ISIS supporters show the same combination of fanaticism, fear, and fantasy that drives Trump’s base. This is a function of our biological and psychological humanity, rather than a reflection of any national, religious, or cultural ideology. Fanaticism, fear, and fantasy also come and go, because collectively they are a politically seasonal phenomenon that reacts to specific conditions, rather than any fixed national traits among Americans, Arabs or anyone else (i.e., rightwing super-nationalist Europeans who make their mark less flamboyantly than Trump or ISIS).
The critical element here is the sudden uncertainty among individual men and women about their status in their own society and in the wider world. Citizens, families, and entire demographic groups that once could count on a continuously rising standard of living and greater privileged opportunities for their children — WASPS in the United States, Sunni Arabs in our region, to use easy generalizations — suddenly have to cope with the reality of no such certainty for them and their families. Complacency and predictability are replaced by a novel and uncomfortable sense of real vulnerability. The respected and powerful lose those attributes, and they do not know why this has happened or whom to blame.
This fear triggers fanaticism and fantasy responses, as people seek in extreme leaders and movements both solace today and the promise of a future return to a world of their unique empowerment. Fantasy kicks in as a driver of their political behavior. They start imagining a reconfigured world where their vulnerability disappears, their political dominance is reaffirmed, their cultural hegemony is protected, and the humiliations and indignities of their lives are forever banished.
Donald Trump and Abu Bakr el-Baghdadi peddle similar fantasies to ordinary people living in diminished and stressed conditions. The fantasy of being born again into a perfect, orderly and triumphant world is hard to resist for ordinary men and women whose ordinary lives have suddenly taken a turn to vulnerability, uncertainty, weakness, humiliation, and even military and terror attacks by hostile foreigners they can neither understand nor neutralize. They are promised, and expect to enjoy, instant personal wellbeing, communal power, and national re-assertion, in Nevada and New Jersey as in Raqqa and Casablanca.
But because such magical transformation is also a fantasy world that never actually materializes, the dream usually dissipates and disappears after a short period of time. Other, more traditional, political and cultural forces step in and steer citizen discontent into different channels, including consumerism, sports, restrictive national laws, sectarianism, some inching into middle class comforts, or a new set of dreams of rebirth through migration, personal piety, or neighborhood solidarity.
The immediate crisis eventually passes, and with it the fears and frenzy that cause once normal Arabs and Americans to do abnormal things, like decapitate, launch wars against, or refuse entry to people they dislike or fear. For a brief period of time, crimes against humanity become both the security and salvation strategies of individuals and entire societies.
The most fascinating thing about these realms today is the universality of fanaticism, fear, and fantasy. Whether or not there exists a universal antidote to them, such as good governance, cultural and religious solidarity, or sustained and equitable economic growth, will become clear in the imminent post-ISIS and post-Trump eras — but only if we learn the lessons of these days, and courageously diagnose why and how millions of people in Arab and American societies reached this point simultaneously because of criminal actions we took, and lousy policies we pursued.
Rami G. Khouri is published twice weekly in the Daily Star. He was founding director and now senior policy fellow of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut. Follow him on Twitter @ramikhouri.
Muslim Americans in the shadow of ISIS
By Taha Hassane
Dec. 12, 2015
Since the horror of the atrocity in San Bernardino unfolded, the Islamic Center of San Diego where I am the imam, has been inundated by media queries and questions from the public. The pain and anger that I, and my community, share with the rest of the nation, is exacerbated by the “otherness” of how some of the questions are framed. That I am devastated and angry at the killings, as a citizen, as a Muslim and as a father of four daughters is secondary to the fact that I am the religious leader of an Islamic center, and the perpetrators are reported to have been influenced, albeit indirectly, by a group that has self-declared itself as the “Islamic State.”
Judging by the hateful and incendiary rhetoric coming from some powerful and influential people, the very humanity of Muslims is now suspect, as a direct outcome of the insanity that unfolded at the Inland Regional Center. Thankfully, our Islamic Center has also received letters and expressions of support, from faith leaders and fellow citizens.
For the vast majority of Muslims across the world, the question of whether ISIS and those of their ilk speak for Islam and Muslims was settled long ago. They don’t, and this is evidenced by the fact that Muslims have “boots on the ground” in the fight against ISIS, in the form of the brave Syrian people who are leading the war against this murderous ideology, as well as the tyrannical regime of Bashar al-Assad. These people correctly refer to ISIS as “Daesh,” a derogatory Arabic moniker that is more appropriate. It denies these monsters the dignity of a connection with the faith that is loved and cherished by 7 million Muslim Americans and 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide.
This is not to deny the fact that the Daesh have twisted Islamic concepts like jihad into a justification for wanton bloodletting. From the time al-Qaeda came into existence, Muslim Americans have been taking this challenge to their faith head-on, as 40 percent of cases related to terrorism were reported by Muslim Americans themselves to law enforcement.
I urge my congregation to study Islam from authentic sources and to be vigilant about the kind of company their children keep, in school, in their neighborhoods and online. However, I also worry about the effects of alienation and resentment caused by a presidential candidate referring to Syrian refugees as “rabid dogs” or by another presidential candidate declaring that Islam is not fully protected by the Constitution. I am alarmed by the fact that Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik were, outwardly, an average Muslim couple whose path to radicalization is far from clear. I also worry about the fact that the assault weapons and ammunition they had amassed were legally purchased.
I am determined, along with many of my co-religionists, to do everything possible to prevent any terrorist from ever harming any of my fellow citizens. I am also dismayed by the lack of recognition of the fact that the vast majority of victims of Daesh are Muslim. In such a context, the “us” vs. “them” narrative (with Muslims as “them”) is not only unhelpful but also dangerous.
To effectively combat terrorism, we must look closely, not only at the roots of extremist ideologies, and what gives them legitimacy in the eyes of some, but also at our own vocabulary in describing the issue.
The day after the San Bernardino killings, the president as well as media pundits were weighing the “possibility “ that it could be an act of terror.
Could a couple charging into a workplace party, slaughtering 14 people and wounding many others, and then engaging the police in a gun battle before finally getting killed themselves, be described in any other terms? Does a mass shooting have to be connected with Islam and Muslims before we classify it as terrorism?
For me and many other Muslim American leaders, combating extremism from the mosque pulpit goes hand in hand with working on issues that affect our cities and neighborhoods with people of other faiths. Such cooperation fosters greater understanding, a shared sense of belonging for all who dwell in this land and a dialogue on how we can work together to find solutions to our challenges.
Several Islamic centers in San Diego and across the country have dedicated directors of youth affairs to focus on the emotional and spiritual well-being of our youth. My wife runs a Girls’ Scouts group that many Muslim families want their daughters to be part of, to teach them the values of community and citizenship. These efforts are being pursued with renewed vigor across the U.S.
This is the reason I believe the correct response to terror is to work on the basis of defining a “we” that elevates our discourse in the search for solutions on the basis of a shared communal responsibility, that recognizes the humanity of all victims and that resists the temptation to hate and demonize.
Hassane is imam and director of Interfaith/Public Relations & Youth Program, Islamic Center of San Diego.
‘Al-ISIL’ and ‘al-Russia’
By Akif Beki
Finally, somebody has told the plain truth as it is. That person was Professor Beril Dedeoglu, an international relations professor and the EU minister in Turkey’s pre-election government.
“Russia will be the captain of restructuring Syria, with or without Bashar al-Assad,” Dedeoglu recently told Al Jazeera. This means the mighty NATO is leaving the organizing role to Russia.
“The dominant player will be Russia. If only the U.S. had not changed its policies four times, if only it had decided on whom to support and how. Russia has surpassed this indecisiveness with a clear policy. This is quite a risky development,” she added.
How was it possible for Russia to overtake the U.S., to rule out NATO, and to neutralize Turkey, seizing the business of organizing Syria? Dedeoglu believes that what opened the sealed doors for Russia was a picklock named the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).
Using its Arabic name Daesh, she described it as “an assembled organization, not a spontaneous formation.”
The aim of the power that constructed this mechanism, according to her, was “to invite both NATO and Russia to Syria and Iraq. This was achieved through Daesh. Everyone accepted the invitation and is now there with their weapons.”
So will Russia become the commander of the solution table for Syria? On the homestretch of the civil war, was Turkey tripped up by Moscow? Were we disqualified from the power game as a consequence of the plane crisis?
When Russian President Vladimir Putin expressed his hope that nuclear warheads would not be needed to deal with terrorists, was he actually threatening ISIL or was the message for NATO?
When Putin ordered his commanders to “immediately destroy” any threat to Russianforces in Syria, was he showing his own public how hurt he was and how sensitive he has become over the downed plane? Or is this an example of how he has blatantly abused the downing of the plane to establish his military supremacy in Syria? Has he used the incident as a fait accompli?
Other actors are discussing whatever Putin wants them to discuss. A Russian warship made a show as it passed through the Bosphorus with a soldier carrying a missile on his shoulder on the deck; our fishing vessels have had adventures with Russian frigates…
What is locking the U.S. and the Europeans is the newly invented ISIL is a better creation than a Matryoshka doll. It has become a tool for populism in U.S. politics, an instrument to attract right-wing voters in election campaigns.
U.S. Senator Lindsey Graham recently said that “everything that starts with ‘al’ in the Middle East is bad news.” He was focused on the “al” of al-Qaeda and the “al” of al-Nusra, but because the Russian plot is not prefixed with “al,” he is absolutely not interested. Only if it is called “al-Russia” will it draw attention.
Donald Trump is another one of the contestants who use ISIL as material for domestic consumption. Without Trump or ISIL, nobody would have kept the agenda busy by pledging to ban Muslims from entering the U.S. Meanwhile, since the Paris massacre, the eyes of France, Germany and the U.K. have not been able to see anything other than fighting ISIL terrorism…
Let’s go back to Professor Dedeoglu. She said superiority in the combat zone has passed to Russia. It seems that Russia’s most distinctive advantage is that its name is not prefixed with “al.” But if one side was called “al-ISIL” and the other was called “al-Russia,” would it still be meaningful to ask which one you would choose if you were forced to do so?
This is a big moment for Saudi Arabia
15 Dec 2015
The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's recent municipal elections is not usually a story most international observers would spend an awful lot of time on. But the election of 19 women from some 2,100 candidates has focused attention for the first time on the role of women in a country which has over the years received much criticism for its perceived imbalance of gender.
While fewer than one percent of the successful candidates were female, make no mistake, this is a big moment for Saudi. Thirty women already sit in Saudi Arabia's 150-member parliament, known as the Shura Council, but they are appointed directly by the king. So the election of women by the public is a welcome step which in the eyes of many commentators - indeed many Saudis - is long overdue.
There is much more to be done, the next most likely step being the normalisation of driving for men and women. But as with all things in the kingdom, change happens slowly and at its own pace.
Managing the pace of reform, which speeded up markedly under King Abdullah and seems to have maintained its rate under King Salman, is one of the most difficult jobs for a Saudi king to manage.
People commenting on Saudi Arabia often forget how big the country is, how varied is the history of its constituent regions, and how diverse are the many citizens who comprise it. The kingdom is a plethora of different communities, ethnicities and value structures all fused in one large, family-run social experiment.
When it comes to reform, the kingdom's rulers need to balance a varying mixture of push and pull factors. Some constituents seek to push social reforms on apace, while others chafe at the notion and, indeed, even vehemently oppose it. And unlike the popular perception, not all of those opponents to reform are men.
Beginning in the 1960s and largely driven by the need for technical expertise as the country sought to maximise its oil revenues, many thousands of Saudis - almost all male - were sent abroad to study, particularly to the United States and Britain.
Naturally, many of them absorbed some of the ways of life of their host country during their formative period of young adulthood, and infused some of these values into their life back home. The result was the formation of a cosmopolitan, well-educated business class of Saudis whose views often contradicted the more conservative status quo in the country that existed at the time, and which began a gentle push for economic and social reform.
In many ways this is different from the other Gulf states which largely lack a middle class. In Saudi, societal change is driven not only from the top down, but by a large sector of the population whose technocratic experience and financial clout gives them power in a system that is still outwardly an absolute monarchy.
Contrast this with more conservative areas of the country such as al-Qassim and parts of Hail province, which are also seeing the growth of a technocratic class but are still largely places where the religious police are more often seen as defenders of culture and morality than they are some sort of clerical despotism.
Traditional values and hierarchies are still highly respected and expected to be honoured, including by the royals. When placing these very different constituencies side by side you begin to see how difficult the conundrum is. The gaps in aspiration and social values between Saudi citizens are far wider than the vast majority of states existing in the world today.
So reform in Saudi is a constant work in progress, a product of negotiation, compromise and attempts to keep multiple sectors of the population happy all at the same time. Despite a noted absence of polling data, Saudis by and large trust their rulers to do the right thing, and look for stability and consistency from the ruling house.
Large leaps in policy-making and violent upheavals in the social order are simply not the Saudi way, and at a moment of deep regional unrest after the removal of several regional strongmen, these desires have only been enforced.
It is important to note that each step women take that increases their visibility in public life, or sports, or culture, represents another cultural norm being reset. Young Saudis, who make up the vast majority of the kingdom's population, will grow up in a country in which women being involved in sport, the workplace, and in writing legislation will be seen as the norm.
From this there is no going back, and for a country that has tried to maintain its traditions as the world around it has changed dramatically, this is a big step into the unknown that makes conservatives nervous.
Tide of change
But conservatives cannot hold back the tide of change forever. Indeed, it is often socioeconomic pressures that come with modernising the Saudi economy that are forcing the king's hand.
To compete with the world, Saudi needs its entire native workforce to chip in. To build a modern economy without 50 percent of the population, many of whom score far higher than their male counterparts in school and university exams, simply makes no sense.
Alongside this comes the added conundrum of getting women to and from work. Saudis are not Qataris, and plenty of husbands simply cannot afford to pay for a driver for their wife to get to and from work every day, which means negotiating an extra hour or two in Riyadh's infamous traffic jams. Sooner or later those taboos will also be broken.
Change is happening, and not because of the pressure of Amnesty International or the European Union. It is from the everyday pressures within Saudi society itself. Saudis are plugged into the world. One need only see the penchant for young Saudis to be constantly messaging across their three telephones on different social outlets to know that they are engaging with the outside in ways their grandparents, and even their parents, never did.
Reform might seem desperately overdue, but it is speeding up as the country changes demographically and young people require society to be managed in a different way. The push and pull factors are still there, and make no mistake about it, Saudi still has a long road ahead. But it will ultimately be for the Saudis to decide what that reform looks like, and how it comes about.
Michael Stephens is a research fellow for Middle East studies and head of the Royal United Services Institute in Qatar.
Libya: Reconciliation at last?
OSAMA AL SHARIF
16 December 2015
Most likely some Libyan factions will sign a peace deal today, Wednesday, in Morocco. Representatives from the General National Congress in Tripoli and the Council of Deputies in Tubruk — the latter enjoys international recognition — have declared that they will sign the deal even though there are still dissenting voices on both sides.
On Sunday, representatives of 18 countries and agencies, including the EU, the United States, Russia and the UN, met in Rome to convince the two sides to embrace the agreement, which was brokered by the UN after months of grueling negotiations.
The immediate goal of the agreement is to form a national unity government, which will take it upon itself to bring Libyans together and end years of divisions and chaos that have made Libya a failed state. But what is important for the West is that this government will legitimize international intervention to fight and defeat Daesh, which has made spectacular territorial gains recently in Libya recently. The French now believe Daesh is moving to control oil fields in Libya’s heartland.
Neither the Islamist-led General National Congress nor the Council of Deputies — the latter was elected last year — has been able to deal with the fast expansion of Daesh. The militant group has been solidifying its presence since it first appeared in Derna last year and later took over Sirte this year. Last week, it was reported that Daesh had taken control of the ancient Roman city of Sabratha, which is wedged between Tripoli and Libya’s borders with Tunisia, putting the militant group less than 50 km from the capital, Tripoli.
Adding to the growing threat of Daesh in Libya, which seems to have been underestimated by Europe and the US, is the fact that the militant group has been attracting foreign fighters as well as local ones. Reports put the number of Daesh fighters in Libya at 3,000 to 5,000 with more joining from Ansar Al- Sharia, a Salafist movement, in Benghazi. The rest of the Libya is controlled by local militias, most following an Islamist agenda.
Libya descended into chaos following the murder of strongman Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. It was abandoned by the Europeans and the US, especially after the killing of the US ambassador in Benghazi in 2012. Since then little attention was given to that country as it slowly fell apart and is now claimed by two rival governments. The UN mediation was viewed with suspicion by both sides, and when a final agreement was reached in October neither side was ready to sign it.
But now the threat of Daesh in Libya has pushed Europe and the US to intervene. Following the Paris terror attacks in November, the French became concerned of the danger that Daesh represents in North Africa. Italy has been on the receiving end of thousands of illegal migrants who crossed the sea from Libyan shores, only few hundred miles away. The air campaign against Daesh in Syria and Iraq has reportedly pushed key leaders to flee to Libya. Unconfirmed reports say that Abu Baker Al-Baghdadi has taken refuge in Sirte recently. UN experts believe that of all other affiliates the Libyan branch of Daesh is the only one that is linked directly and organizationally to the main group in Iraq and Syria.
The possibility of Daesh linking up with affiliates in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco and Somalia is raising the alarm in these countries and beyond. Certainly Egypt cannot afford to fight the extremists on two fronts — Sinai in the east and along its borders with Libya in the west. Once the new Libyan government is formed the international community will lift its arms embargo, as well as free over $150 billion in foreign banks, enabling the Libyan national army to receive much-needed weapons and ammunitions.
France has said that it will not hesitate to wage war against militants in Libya. The US, which is reviewing its strategy against Daesh, is likely to join an extensive air campaign in Libya. But without a united government that is able to function and carry out its program destroying Daesh will not be easy. The failure of the political process is a likely possibility. The Tripoli body is recognized by Qatar and Turkey while the Tubruk government is backed by the UAE and Egypt, among others. These countries will have to back down and allow the Libyan factions to work together to achieve reconciliation.
For years the various Libyan factions and militias have proved that they are their own worst enemy. The country is almost bankrupt and many territories are under the control of local militias with tribal affiliations. Uniting the Libyan people through a workable political process that will lead to the dismantling of the militias and the strengthening of the national army remains an almost impossible task. But failing to do this will give Daesh the opportunity to expand and build a base that will be larger than the territory it now controls in Syria and Iraq. Even more dangerous this oil-rich state will be only few hundred miles from European shores.
Breaking Bread In Kabul
By Kathy Kelly
15 December, 2015
Here in Kabul, over breakfast with Afghan Peace Volunteers, (APVs), we easily recalled key elements of the conflict resolution and peer mediation “train the trainers” workshops that Ellis Brooks, with Voices for Creative Nonviolence-UK, had facilitated a week ago.
Peer mediators make “promises” before beginning a session: We won’t tell you what to do, we won’t take sides, and we won’t talk about this session with anyone outside of our room. While pouring tea and breaking bread, we recalled the hand signals Ellis gave us to help remember each promise.
Children at the Borderfree Street Kids School were also taught the peer mediation skills. I’m guessing that the street kids who work to supplement their family income can easily recall what Ellis taught them. They played games to show the importance of listening, and they learned to avoid blaming, exaggerating and “mind-reading” when mediating a dispute.
I watched the little children work in small groups to assemble cartoonized images of two donkeys, tied together, pulling against each other while heading for two heaps of food located in opposite directions. Each group succeeded, working together, in arranging the images so that the classic yet timely story ended with the two donkeys having figured out that they could both approach each pile, both be satisfied and both feed themselves, first at one pile and then the other. To reinforce the story, Ellis called on Ali and Abdulhai, two of the APV teachers, to role play being the donkeys, using Ellis’s scarf as the tie to bind them. Hilarity filled the room as the children advised their beloved “donkeys” about how to achieve a win-win solution.
We laughed this morning, recalling the scene. But I can’t help but worry that most of our younger friends are not very likely to be chatting about the workshop while enjoying fresh, warm bread and a second round of tea in a relatively secure setting. Many of them live in refugee camps. Their families don’t have money to buy wood for fuel, and they often share meals of stale bread and tea without sugar.
It’s troubling to see how easily the children identified with a scenario the APVs helped Ellis develop, which would become the grist for analyzing conflict resolution and mediation. The story, as told by one of the child disputants in the role play, presents a grievance: Every morning, Nargis, a little girl, begs for bread at a certain set of homes, and when she is done she usually has acquired about 10 pieces of bread. She accuses of Abdullah of going to those houses to get bread before her. She says that Abdullah stole her bread, that he is a thief and not to be trusted. Abdullah says that he had no idea that he couldn’t approach the same houses, and that he only got one piece of bread for his family. He says that Nargis is greedy and selfish, and that he would even have shared the bread if she didn’t shame him before others and for some reason call him a thief.
Ellis guided the children through efforts to tell the story without including any exaggeration, blaming or “mind-reading,” as a skilled mediator would do. Using the image of peeling layers of an onion, he helped everyone identify what happened, what the disputants thought, how they felt, and, so importantly, what they needed. The stark reality in the role-play was that both Nargis and Abdullah fear hunger and need bread.
They want to bring some measure of security to their families, and the idea of returning empty-handed can inspire anxiety, rage and even panic.
I felt a bit of relief in knowing that the 100 child laborers participating in The Borderfree Street Kids School are each given a donation of beans, flour, cooking oil and rice, once a month, to compensate for what they would have earned working on the streets of Kabul while they now attend school. It’s very good to know that each child has been given warm clothing to help them through the coming winter.
Yet it is estimated that there could be up to 60,000 child laborers in Kabul alone. What shall we conclude about the others? What about their experiences of hunger, cold and insecurity?
Ironically, while Ellis was in Kabul, the U.S. Embassy had issued high level alerts warning westerners in Kabul to stay home because of an anticipated imminent attack. Ellis, tall and fair, could easily be spotted as a westerner, while walking the short distance between the APV live-in community and their Borderfree Center where APV gatherings are held. He acknowledged that some of his family and friends were highly fearful about his visit to Kabul. “Have you gone mad?” some asked.
But, during the workshops, the lively, engaging activities quickly displaced concerns about security and possible attacks. Ellis was paired with Dr. Hakim, whose translation and interpretation were superb. The two of them deftly gained respect and full cooperation.
Later in the week, as I began to learn about rising fear and insecurity following the attack in San Bernardino, California that killed 14 people, I wondered how Ellis’s guidelines could affect people in the United States. Suppose that media, educators, faith-based and civil society leaders cooperated to educate people about the dangerous harm caused by language that labels all Muslims as suspect, exaggerates the threat to people’s daily lives in the United States, and reads the minds of Muslims claiming that all of them harbor hatred toward the United States. Suppose that it was commonplace for people in the United States to ask what fears and needs inspire antagonism toward their country. Suppose the media gave daily coverage to the sobering reports of U.S. attacks against civilians in other countries, most recently in war zones where the civilians have been routinely bombed and maimed, destroying their homes and causing millions to flee the consequent breakdown of civil society.
Before leaving, Ellis thanked the APVs for welcoming him, even though interventions by his country and others have made Afghanistan less safe and less free. He said he had learned, while here, about a strong capacity not to give up on basic rights, especially the right not to kill, the right to care about the planet, and the right to seek equality between people. “Thank you,” he told all of the students, “for being my teachers.”
Kathy Kelly (Kathy@vcnv.org) co-coordinates Voices for Creative Nonviolence (vcnv.org). While in Kabul, she is a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (ourjourneytosmile.com)
Liberal Extremism Disguised As Defense Of Muslims
By Matt Peppe
15 December, 2015
After 14 people were killed and 22 more injured in the San Bernardino massacre by a couple whom authorities claim were "radicalized" by Islamist ideology, Islamophobia among the American public has seemingly reached a fever pitch. But while many people are fighting back against hateful discrimination against Muslims, many are doing so with a liberal narrative of American values that rationalizes and perpetuates American state violence, while failing to recognize this violence as its own form of extremism.
Since San Bernardino, hate crimes against Muslims have been widely reported across the country. In one week alone, a hijab-wearing woman was shot at and several mosques firebombed. Additionally, there have been attacks against storeowners, community centers, and civic organizations. Muslims have been intimidated outside their places of worship by armed, right-wing vigilantes.
Donald Trump, the current Republican front-runner for the Presidential nomination, whose racist demagoguery has prompted debate over whether he is a fascist, reacted with the most extreme policy proposal of any politician. Trump called for "a total and complete shutdown" of Muslims entering the United States because of the "dangerous threat" they pose.
One popular way people have been denouncing bigotry against Muslims is through seemingly-progressive stories of American and British soldiers who fought in Iraq or Afghanistan vocally embracing Muslims, despite their experiences on the battlefield and the loss of their friends and fellow servicemen.
In a post on Medium, former US Army soldier David Swan writes an open letter to Muslims in which he states, "I don't hate you. I don't fear you. I don't want you to leave this country." Swan goes on to say he would like to have Muslims over for a barbecue, to talk about fantasy football, and for their children to play together.
Swan differentiates Muslims that are willing to accept this type of assimilation from"the radical Islamist." The moderates, he claims, share the American value of being "peace loving." On the other hand, the Islamists who have been radicalized are "wolves" - irrational, barbaric and inherently violent - who "will not stop killing sheep until they are put down... Please do not blame us for using our staff to protect the flock."
Radicalism is seen as a virus that can turn normal people into the equivalent of bloodthirsty zombies. The notion that someone's beliefs - if taken too literally or too seriously - can turn them from a normal person deserving rights into a subhuman is problematic, to say the least. Though it is unsaid, this virus is implicitly understood as unique to Muslims. There is no such popular imagery of radical Christian, Jewish or Mormon death cults.
The United States and its imagined values are seen as impartial and neutral. Swan sees his own actions as purely reactive. The Army was forced to invade and occupy Iraq because the radical Islamists gave them no choice. "We take no joy in killing you, but we will do it because you have forced our hand," he writes.
Rather than being an innocent bystander simply seeking a peaceful coexistence among nations, the United States has a long, sordid history of bloody interventions and human rights violations across Muslim countries in the Middle East and beyond.
For the last 70 years, the US government has been an active participant in dispossessing Palestinians from their lands, erasing their culture and endangering their very survival as a people. They have enabled the illegal occupation by giving Israel more than $100 billion in military aid, and vetoed 42 UN Security Council resolutions and countless more General Assembly resolutions seeking to hold Israel accountable for its violations of international law.
Starting in the early 1950s, the US government meddled in Syrian, Lebanese, Iraqi and Iranian politics to prevent moderate nationalist forces who sought to utilize their countries' natural resources (primarily oil) for the social and economic benefit of their populations.
The US government recruited, armed and trained foreigners and sent them on a mission in the 1980s to go to Afghanistan and fight a Holy War against the "infidels." Under the Carter Doctrine, the US government declared that the Persian Gulf region was of "vital interest" to the United States, thereby justifying a proliferation of bases in Saudi Arabia and across the Middle East to protect access to petroleum reserves.
The US government invaded Iraq twice, killing hundreds of thousands of people and reducing what was a modern nation with advanced highways, infrastructure, hospitals and cultural sites to crumbling ruins. In the 12 years between illegal invasions of sovereign Iraqi territory, the US enforced horrifyingly deadly sanctions that caused the deaths of 576,000 children. Two UN officials overseeing the sanctions regime resigned when their protests against the inhumanity of the program were ignored. Confronted with the shocking toll of lives lost, a Clinton administration official said "it was worth it."
Groups like Al Qaeda and ISIS did not form in a vacuum but as a reaction to this historical context . They are not a manifestation of Islamic theology found in texts like the Quran, but of specific social, political and cultural conditions - conditions the United States played no small role in creating. Some people who feel powerless and desperate will inevitably resort to violence against those they see as responsible. While indiscriminate violence is not morally justifiable, it is also not irrational.
Swan's metaphor of radical Islamists as wolves mercilessly attacking a flock of sheep, detached from any social or political objectives, evokes Edward Said's description of Islam symbolizing among Westerners "terror, devastation, the demonic, hordes of hated barbarians."
"The argument, when reduced to its simplest form, was clear, it was precise, it was easy to grasp," Said writes in Orientalism. "There are Westerners, and there are Orientals. The former dominate; the latter must be dominated, which usually means having their land occupied, their internal affairs rigidly controlled, their blood and treasure put at the disposal of one or another Western power."
While America is imagined as being free of the toxic ideology infecting radical Islamists, the narratives driving the US's many violent interventions across the Middle East can be seen as a manifestation of Said's description of Orientalism. The assumption that Muslims acting without reason must be brought under control by more civilized nations is itself a highly ideological position.
As Arun Kundnani explains in The Muslims Are Coming!, the dominant discourse about Muslims has changed since the days after 9/11 when blanket fear of all Muslims was prevalent:
But now, liberals say, we have moved beyond that, and we understand that Muslims in America are just like the rest of us. However, just as in The Russians Are Coming!, the liberal caveat is that Muslims are acceptable when depoliticized: they should be silent about politics, particularly US foreign policy and the domestic national security system, and not embrace an alien ideology that removes them from the liberal norm.
In other words, Muslims should feel free to barbecue and talk about fantasy football. But speaking out against American imperial wars in Muslim countries like Iraq and Afghanistan, questioning whether they are really a battle of good versus evil, would indicate extremist ideology - which, in turn, would suggest a disposition for terrorism.
"Those defined as moderate Muslims can have their religious traditions valued within the parameters of Western tolerance," writes Kundnani, "while the state focuses its powers on surveillance, coercion, and violence on those categorized as extremist."
A former British soldier who lost his leg in the Iraq war writes that despite people expecting him to hate Muslims because of what happened to him he refuses to hold an entire religion responsible for groups and individuals who sought him harm.
This is an admirable sentiment. But it presupposes that the violence against the soldier was more reprehensible than the violence he was himself responsible for. The soldier was a combatant taking part in an illegal war of aggression. The people who took up arms in resistance against him have a legal and moral right to do so, just as he would have a right to defend his own country from a foreign invasion. If people selectively condemn individual Muslims for violence, it should be no surprise that many people will use this to fuel racist stereotypes.
Murderous assaults on hospitals, sadistic torture, "shock and awe" aerial bombardment, and assassinations against unknown targets are terrorism just as much as indiscriminate shooting sprees, suicide bombings or summary executions of hostages. Those seeking to defend Muslims would be well served to question whether their own their own nationalist doctrines help rationalize the plague of state terrorism that the War on Terror has normalized, and which is falsely portrayed as moderate and noble.
Matt Peppe writes about politics, U.S. foreign policy and Latin America on his blog. You can follow him on twitter.
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