Graphic images of Shaimaa al-Sabbagh, an Egyptian activist who was shot and killed at a peaceful rally in Cairo on Saturday, sowed outrage on social networks;
Al Youm Al Saabi /Reuters

There is a phrase that sometimes says it all: “All hell has broken loose.” For anyone who knows the history of humanity, this is a sentiment that could be offered in any age. There is still “hell to pay” for some people on every corner of the globe. And it is not necessary to wait until “hell freezes over” to see or experience “hell on earth.” You can take your pick of hellish acts just in the last few days: a beheading here, an assassination there, a drone bomb here, a cluster bomb there, a suicide bomber here, a rape there, and the list goes on. The world’s attention was focused for the media minutes of a top story just a couple days ago when Yemen’s President Hadi and his entire government resigned, followed by the death of the aging Saudi monarch and leaving the Paris bombings in the dust (to be dusted off as needed ad infinitum by the Islamophobic surge sweeping Europe and shariahphobic America). Now there is the photo above: a woman protesting the abuse of an abusive dictatorial takeover in Cairo, a woman bringing flowers to the victims of a previous killing spree.

Look at this picture and you realize that talk of hell in the hereafter is not a comfort for those of us who find hell in the here and now. If an evil person will “get his” (I don’t know of that many women who create the kind of hell going on hourly and daily in the Middle East today) one day, it does not breathe life back into those whose lives have been taken away. Look at this picture and tell yourself this could be your mother, your sister, your wife or your best friend. Look at this picture and realize that this could be you. You may be far from this violence, this unleashed hellfire, this madness, this perversion of every positive value religions teach. You can look away, of course. You can see it as just another picture of which there are now millions, blood-soaked body parts unrecognizable. You can walk away, shaking your head, saying it can’t happen where you are. It may not, but it will continue whether you care or not. It is true that your tears will not raise the dead and protect the innocent. But shedding tears is the best way to respond to such terrible spilling of blood and still live with yourself as a human connected to other humans.

If I believed the hype of a literal hell and lake of fire, I would hope that those who commit acts of hell on earth would be greeted with automatic entry into the imagined hell of the hereafter. But those who do such despicable acts to fellow human beings are already chained to the hell they create for others. And the hell on earth is the only one that matters on earth. Hell is not in the hereafter; it is too powerful here and now to need a future.

One political cartoon sums up the problem with both ISIS and the current crisis in Yemen…

President Hadi of Yemen, left; King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, right

In the space of 24 hours two countries on the Arabian Peninsula have seen a change, or at least anticipated change, in leadership. Yesterday President Hadi of Yemen, his Prime Minister Khaled Baha and the entire cabinet resigned after bowing to demands made by the Huthi leadership. The complicated political system ensures or at least suggests that he must remain in power for at least three months, although what power he actually has is severely limited. Not long after midnight King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia passed away at the estimated age of 90. The new Saudi monarch is Crown Prince Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, who is 79, with Muqrin Bin Abdulaziz as the new crown prince. Given the fact that Sultan Qabus of Oman is in his mid 70s further change is possible as the years roll by. Qatar and the Emirates have relatively young rulers, so their stability does not appear to be in question.

Yemen is in free fall politically. The Huthis have taken control of most of the northern highlands and the capital city Sanaa, while they continue to battle local tribes in Marib and the Jawf. Hirak has, at least in spirit, seceded from the once-touted wahda. Al-Qaeda continues its attacks on Yemen’s military and the Huthis, while there are now reports that ISIS/ISIL is trying to muscle into Yemen as well. Hadramawt has also removed itself from any central authority. Only Socotra remains isolated from the potential for violence. This political quagmire is even murkier due to the behind-the-scenes (and at times quite overt) maneuvering of former President Ali Abdullah Salih, who remains a potent force and appears to have ambitions of regaining power. Yemen has no functioning government, the economy has ground to a halt, foreign aid from the Saudis has all but ceased and there are daily clashes that take the lives of ordinary Yemeni citizens. Yemen has not become another Iraq or Syria, but it is teetering on the brink. (more…)

By Amir Hussain, UCObserver

So, what do you think about ISIS?” The question was posed at the end of September by an agnostic colleague at the Jesuit university in Los Angeles. The query was directed at me, no doubt, because I’m the lone Muslim theology professor on staff. And I’m not sure how to respond or what else I can say except that members of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria are horrific. I also can’t imagine my colleague asking me a comparable question — “What do you think about the Nazis?” or “What do you think of clergy who sexually abuse children?” — and expecting any kind of nuanced answer. I put his question aside.

A couple of weeks later, I was driving home from visiting friends in Santa Barbara when I heard that Warrant Officer Patrice Vincent had been deliberately run over and killed in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que. Two days after that, while I was in an airline lounge in Chicago, word flashed across the TV monitors that Cpl. Nathan Cirillo had been shot dead while he guarded the National War Memorial in Ottawa and that the assailant was killed in a hail of gunfire in the corridors of the Parliament Buildings. It turned out that both murderers were self-radicalized converts to Islam. I was horrified.

The October attacks brought back to mind my colleague’s question about ISIS. Perhaps, when he asked, he wasn’t looking for nuance but context. Perhaps he wanted to better understand what motivates and inspires their evil, where the movement came from, how they are able to export their ideologies to troubled young men and women around the world, and how worried we North Americans should be about their threat to us.

My response is the same now as it was before. As shocking and frightening as incidents of “homegrown terrorism” may be, we must keep one fact in mind: the primary targets of Muslim fanatics are much more likely to be other Muslims than non-Muslims. Their main purpose is to force their own skewed version of Islam onto other Muslims. In the same way that Ebola is a serious threat to West Africans, not to North Americans, ISIS is a serious threat in Iraq and Syria, not here in North America. Personally, I’m much more concerned about Islamic fundamentalism in general than I am about ISIS specifically. (more…)

The Middle East-Asia Project (MAP) is an initiative undertaken by the Middle East Institute which is designed to serve two broad objectives:

1. To promote awareness and understanding of the multidimensional relations between the Middle East and Asia by providing information and analysis on cross-regional economic, political, security, and social/cultural interactions and their implications; and

2. To foster collaborative research and other activities regarding Middle East-Asia relations through establishing an online community of experts and forging institutional partnerships.

The Cyber Library contains publication details, abstracts and live links to full text versions of previously published works on Middle East-Asian affairs organized by country and by topic/issue.

The Experts Directory contains the profiles and contact details of a worldwide network of academics, business leaders, diplomats, journalists, researchers and other practitioners affiliated with the MAP.

The Infographics project element consists of periodically updated charts, tables and timelines depicting key trends and developments in trade, investment, migration, and other spheres of cross-regional activity.

The Publications element is organized as follows: (more…)

by David Miller and Tom Mills, Open Democracy, January 15, 2015

Terrorism “expert” Steve Emerson is more than a comic buffoon. His claims about no-go zones for non-Muslims in European cities are just part of a wealthy network spreading Islamophobia across the west.

On Sunday, the veteran terrorism expert Steven Emerson appeared on Fox News to discuss Europe’s Muslim population and claimed that Birmingham was an example of a ‘totally Muslim [city] where non-Muslims just simply don’t go in’. The claim led to him being ridiculed online, and after the news media picked up on the story he issued an apology to ‘the beautiful city of Birmingham’ for his ‘terrible error’. So high profile was the story, that the Prime Minister David Cameron felt moved to comment, reportedly describing Emerson as ‘a complete idiot’.

The claims were idiotic. But Emerson is not simply an ‘idiot’, or a hopelessly misinformed ‘expert’. An examination of his background, the sources of his ideas, and the funding for his think tank the Investigative Project on Terrorism, show that he is part of what the Center for American Progress in a widely cited 2011 report Fear Inc. described as ‘a small, tightly networked group of misinformation experts’ that ‘peddle hate and fear of Muslims and Islam’. (more…)

Check out the artwork of twenty-five year old Iranian artist, Maryam Sabbaghpour on Mouftah.

This is Ali Issa’s face. It deserves to become imprinted in our collective memory as a nation.

State of Mind, January 12, 2015

Two days ago, Tripoli got hit with death yet again as a terrorist attack took place in its Jabal Mohsen neighborhood.

The politics and intricacies of the attack are many, but there is one story of heroism springing out of the horror that took place on Saturday that no one is talking about. I figured I will, because this particular story about these kinds of people are the ones that make you see that faint silver lining in all the mayhem.

Many have wondered how come a café as crowded as the one attacked in Jabal Mohsen only amounted to less than 10 casualties. That’s because the suicide bombing attack didn’t go according to the two terrorists’ plans.

Among those was a brave, courageous, heroic man called Abou Ali Issa. He was a father of seven. When the first suicide bomber detonated himself, people started gathering at the site. Abou Ali Issa who wasn’t even at the café at the time rushed to the site to see what was happening. It was then that he saw the second suicide bomber approaching the premises to detonate himself and kill much more people than the first one did. The bomber shouted “Allahou Akbar.” Abou Ali Issa rushed at him and tackled him, preventing the bomber from reaching the café, killing the people inside. The bomber then detonated himself, killing them both.

He didn’t care about the sects of those in the cafe. He didn’t care if he was saving the lives of Sunnis, Shia, Alawites or Christians. Abou Ali Issa did not care about his own life as he was faced with a choice most of us would never face: save others or save yourself. He chose the former.

This man who saved hundreds of life will never become a viral sensation. His funeral was broadcast yesterday, along with that of the 7 other people that died with him, on a split-screen on Lebanese TVs, not even worthy of full screen treatment.

In a few days from now, no one will remember that there were two suicide bombers in Tripoli who targeted innocents, let alone the existence of a man who prevented those terrorists from doing so much more harm hadn’t he sacrificed his own life to save everyone else.

Today, there are hundreds of families in Tripoli and Jabal Mohsen who owe their wholeness to Abou Ali Issa. They owe him the presence of their fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters. They owe him the sheer relief they felt when their loved ones came back home that day.

Abou Ali Issa’s family, his wife and seven children, did not get that same sense of relief and happiness. Their family will never be whole again, and justice for their father and husband will probably never come.

This is my attempt to make the memory of their father and husband that of a national hero, as it should be, as he is the kind of people who deserve to be paraded around as national symbols, as household names who should never be forgotten, because people like him are rare to come by and they should always be cherished and honored and respected.

May he rest in peace. There are fewer people deserving of such peace.

Update: The Daily Star has covered the story here and here.

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