weapons

For an animated video of the weapons used by all sides in Syria, click here.

by Ben Watson, Defense One, July 19, 2016

From chlorine gas to Kalashnikovs, barrel bombs to cruise missiles, the Syrian conflict shows what 21st-century militaries and armed groups can bring to bear.

The Assad regime’s bloody reaction to the 2011 Arab Spring ignited one of the most lethal rebellions in modern history, placing it in the crosshairs of more than 1,000 armed groups: rebels, Kurds, defectors, extremists and countless others, including foreign military experts. Taken together, the opposition is better equipped than any the world has seen in generations, according to Charles Lister, Middle East analyst and resident fellow at the Middle East Institute.

“Syria represents the Afghanistan of the 21st century, but on steroids. The scale of jihadist militancy in Syria is one thing; the capability that they have acquired,” Lister said, “is at least in my opinion unprecedented in modern history.”

The weapons on display in the Syrian war include some of the world’s most advanced and deadly, thanks to the U.S.-led campaign against the Islamic State and Russia’s own arrival in 2015.

Hundreds of thousands of people have died in the war; the UN stopped counting at 191,000 three years ago, but estimates range from a quarter million to at least 470,000. The conflict has uprooted half of Syria’s pre-war population, scattering five million people beyond its borders.

logoon

Onomasticon Arabicum (OA) is a long-living database project. This new online-version informs on more than 15000 scholars and celebrities from the first Muslim millenary. Its entries in Arabic are compiled from ancient biographical dictionaries, a veritable treasure of Islamic culture. Crossed search allows separate interrogation on any of the different elements of the Arabo-Muslim names, dates and places, reconstructing the identity of a person, trace ways of knowledge transmission and frame historical contexts.

heres

The Atlantic (June 16) has a powerful piece by Uri Friedman on Donald Trump’s rampant Muslim bashing with responses by six Muslim commentators and scholars. It is well worth reading.

jallad

In most world history survey courses, Arabia is introduced for the first time only as backstory to the rise of Islam. We’re told that there was a tradition of oral poetry in Arabic, a language native to central Arabia, and that the Qur’an was the zenith of this oral tradition. New evidence, however, suggests that Arabia was linguistically diverse, that the language we’ve come to know as Arabic originated in modern day Jordan, and that the looping cursive writing system that’s become the language’s hallmark wasn’t the original system used to write it. What to make of all this?

Guest Ahmad al-Jallad co-directs archaeological/epigraphic projects in Jordan and Saudi Arabia, uncovering new inscriptions thousands of years old, and shares his research that’s shedding new light on the writings of a complex civilization that lived in the Arabian peninsula for centuries before Islam arose.

Click here to hear the broadcast.

cambridge

Scholars, Scribes, and Readers: An Advanced Course in Arabic Manuscript Studies6-10 June 2016, Cambridge University Library, Cambridge, UK

The Islamic Manuscript Association, in cooperation with Cambridge University Library and the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation, is pleased to announce an advanced short course in manuscript studies, entitled Scholars, Scribes, and Readers: An Advanced Course in Arabic Manuscript Studies, which will be held at Cambridge University Library from 6 to 10 June 2016.

This intensive five-day course is intended for researchers, librarians, curators, and anyone else working with Islamic manuscripts. As an advanced course, it is particularly aimed at those who already have some experience in Islamic codicology and palaeography and all participants must have a good reading knowledge of Arabic. The course will focus on Arabic-language manuscripts from various regions, including historical Turkey, Iran, and India. It is hoped that this advanced course will allow participants to gain greater exposure to and familiarity with the vast array of practices encountered in Arabic manuscripts.

The workshop will consist of three days of illustrated, interactive lectures on selected manuscripts and two days of hands-on sessions focusing on a selection of manuscripts from the Cambridge University Library collection. The manuscripts selected for presentation by the instructor cover the whole range of scribal practices encountered in a variety of subjects/genres, geographical regions, and historical periods (see the programme for details).

(more…)

postwar

Mystique of Monarchy

Post-War Watch – April 19, 2016
https://postwarwatch.com/2016/04/19/mystique-of-monarchy/

MADAWI AL-RASHEED — Limited social and political reforms in Saudi Arabia only prolong the life of authoritarianism.

Although Saudi Arabia’s government relies on the religious establishment for its legitimacy, there are multiple groups and factions that fall under the Islamist category. How does the monarchy understand the relationship between Saudi’s religious establishment and political governance?

The dynamic at the heart of this question is better understood as one between religion and politics within the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The relationship between these two spheres has evolved through the twentieth century. There is not one way of describing the interaction between religious and political entities, simply because it is subject to the political will of the regime — and the government’s evolving connection to official Islam and Islamists’ discourses and practices. Ultimately, this relationship has gone through three distinct phases since the consolidation of the modern state

The first phase (1960s-1990s) can be described as one of cooperation and instrumentalization. Since the establishment of the modern Saudi kingdom in 1932, the al-Saud political leadership tried to cooperate with the religious establishment in their country. The royal family institutionalized their discourse by creating specific religious bodies and honoring key figures for their support of the regime. Saudi Arabia’s government claimed legitimacy as the leadership that applies Islamic law and protects the Holy Cities — as well as directs outreach to Muslim communities around the globe. The regime’s efforts to incentivize religious bodies to support the monarchy derived potency from the fact that Saudi’s religious groups operated according to a populist ethos: religious figures can reach people in mosques, schools, universities, as well as exercise control over the judiciary.

The second phase began in the early-1990s, following the 1990-1991 Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. During this period the Saudi regime alternately repressed and accommodated opinions from the multiple voices within the religious establishment and the splinter groups around it. Saddam Hussein’s military operations posed a serious threat to Saudi Arabia’s security and economy. The royal family understood that it needed to bring foreign, non-Muslim soldiers onto Saudi soil to defend the Kingdom — an action that angered conservative religious elements. Immediately after the Iraqi invasion, the Saudi regime began repressing Islamist voices that dissented against cooperation with United States and other foreign militaries.

(more…)

confessions

Al-Jazeera has recently published an article on an American serviceman who helped design the drone program in Afghanistan. The article is online here.

I published my critique of the drone policy in Yemen for the Gulf Studies Center of Qatar University. This is available in pdf here.

<em

“WICHITA, KS – MARCH 5: A group of Muslim students take selfies before Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a speech at a campaign rally on March 5, 2016 in Wichita, Kansas. During the speech, after they voiced some protests, they were removed from the convention center. J Pat Carter/Getty Images/AFP”

Middle East Eye, March 22, 2016

Glaringly absent from American news media are opinion polls showing that Muslims are no more likely to accept violence than other groups

No sooner had the Belgian attacks happened, commentators on social media began linking the terror acts to the Islamic faith, with the hashtag #StopIslam trending on Twitter.

Empirical data show that Islamophobia, defined by Professor Todd Green as “an irrational fear, hostility or hatred of Muslims or Islam” is on the rise in American society.

Many Americans are increasingly scared of Muslims, and, given rising anti-Muslim hate crimes – the FBI says anti-Muslim hate crimes have increased fivefold since the September 11 terror attacks – many American Muslims are also growing more scared for their personal safety.

Given attacks by Muslim extremists – including the 11 September 2011 attacks – some fear of Muslim terrorists is obviously warranted. But much of Islamophobia borders on the absurd. Islamophobic statements, sentiments and policies tend toward exaggeration and overgeneralisation, and are divorced from empirical realities.

Recent statements made by Republican presidential frontrunner Donald Trump offer useful cases-in-point. In a recent CNN interview, Trump stated that “Islam hates us.” Trump also claimed last week that 27 percent of Muslims are radicals who are “very militant”.

No one knows where or how Trump’s campaign team came up with the 27 percent figure. He may have consulted with noted Islamophobe Brigitte Gabriel, who famously claimed that Muslim radicals represent “between 15 to 25 percent” of the global Muslim population. “You’re looking at 180 million to 300 million people dedicated to the destruction of Western civilisation,” Gabriel asserted. Prominent media personality Glenn Beck, meanwhile, has claimed that 10 percent of the world’s Muslims are terrorists.

So-called Islam experts Robert Spencer, Sam Harris, Pamela Geller and Ayan Hirsi Ali have been even more direct. All have claimed that Islam is a religion bent on violence. Spencer argued that “Traditional Islam is not moderate or peaceful” and that late al-Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden was acting in ways that were “consistent with traditional understanding of the Qur’an.” Harris has said that “we are at war with Islam…we are absolutely at war with the vision of life that is prescribed to all Muslims in the Koran.” Geller argued that “the Quran is war propaganda” and Ali said that the West’s war on terror should not only be directed at radical Islam, but, rather, “Islam, period”.

Statements like these are reckless, and may help explain why more and more Americans believe that Islam itself is the problem, not just the extreme, minority interpretations offered up by the so-called Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. A 2011 survey by the Public Religion Research Institute showed that 55 percent of Republicans and 40 percent of Democrats believed that Muslim extremists who commit violence against civilians are acting consistently with their faith. A 2015 Brookings survey, meanwhile, found that 61 percent of Americans hold unfavourable opinions of Islam.

Given all of this, it is perhaps unsurprising that many Americans support Trump’s November proposal for “a complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States”. A strong majority of Republicans support Trump’s “temporary” Muslim ban proposal, including 78 percent of Republicans in Alabama, 76 percent in Arkansas, 76 percent in Mississippi and 74 percent in South Carolina.
Liberal Islamophobia

But it would be wrong to view Islamophobia as a strictly conservative phenomenon. Polling data indicate that 49 percent of Democrats hold unfavourable views of Islam. Also, Brookings Institution scholar Shadi Hamid has argued that US President Barack Obama, a Democrat, holds views that amount to “Islamic exceptionalism”. Hamid argues that Obama’s statements about Muslims suggest that he is “frustrated by Islam” and that he has bought into Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” thesis.

Moreover, American news media, including liberal outlets, have done a poor job contextualising stories about Muslims and Islam. A growing body of empirical research into American news media coverage of Islam reveals deeply problematic patterns – negative, stereotypical portrayals, almost no Muslim sources, and few mention of Muslims or Islam in the context of positive news. That American news outlets apply the “terrorism” description almost exclusively to Muslim-perpetrated violence cannot be lost on anyone paying attention.

Of all the recent research on Islamophobia, Professor Chris Bail’s work might be the most instructive – and also the most damning for American news outlets. Bail uses computerized content analysis to show that Islamophobic statements – released by a small group of anti-Muslim fringe groups – are much more likely to make their way into the American news cycle than statements made by Muslim advocacy groups denouncing terrorism. Bail’s research shows that while denunciations of terrorism by Muslim groups generally go unreported, Islamophobic statements drive news narratives.

Glaringly absent from American news media are opinion polls showing that Muslims are no more likely to accept violence than other groups. For instance, a 2011 Gallup World Violence poll showed that Muslims were just as likely as non-Muslims to reject vigilante acts of violence against civilians.

In America, polling data point even more sharply in this direction. A 2011 Gallup poll found that American Muslims were the least likely of all polled American religious groups to accept vigilante violence against civilians. In all, 26 percent of American Protestants, 27 percent of Catholics, 22 percent of Jews, 19 percent of Mormons, 23 percent of atheists, but just 11 percent percent of Muslims said that it is “sometimes justified” for an “individual person or a small group of persons to target and kill civilians”.

As for actual terrorists, the CIA estimates that there are around 30,000 Muslim jihadists in the entire world. A Kurdish leader has suggested that the CIA underestimates the jihadist threat, and claims that the total number is closer to 200,000. Even assuming the larger figure, jihadists represent a grand total of 0.01 percent of the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims.

American entertainment media have been part of the problem. Media scholar Jack Shaheen carried out a content analysis of more than 900 Hollywood movies featuring Arab or Muslim characters. Shaheen found Muslim characters are almost never cast in positive or neutral roles. The overwhelming majority of films that feature Arab or Muslim characters cast them as enemies, terrorists, violent, savage or backwards.

No one would suggest that American media and political discourse should completely eliminate mentions of Muslim-perpetrated terrorism. Al-Qaeda and ISIS are real threats and some attention, concern and fear are warranted. But, compared to other threats of violence, Muslim terrorism garners exaggerated attention in American news and politics.

In the 14 years since 1 January 2002, Muslim terrorists have killed 45 Americans in the United States, a smaller number than right-wing conservative terrorists have killed during the same time period. Also, since the start of 2002, there have been more than 200,000 firearm-related homicides in the United States, and hundreds of mass shooting.

More realistic, proportionate presentations would greatly improve American political life. However, given the extent to which the Islamophobia industry is funded, people shouldn’t hold their breath waiting for fairer, less sensational presentations.

– Dr Mohamad Elmasry is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communications at the University of North Alabama.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

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