Journalism and Media


This stupidity needs to end: Why the Atlantic & NY Post are clueless about Islam

Pundits claiming that ISIS is emblematic of Islam ignore the intellectual traditions at the heart of the religion
by H.A. Hellyer, Salon, Februrary 20, 2015

This week, President Obama hosted a summit on countering “violent extremism,” where he received criticism from some on the rightwing over his refusal to call such violence “Islamic.” American media outlets, particularly the Atlantic and the New York Post, have struck a similar chord of late. All of this happens against a rather poignant backdrop: Only a few days ago, ISIS released a video showing the killing of 21 Coptic Egyptians in Libya. The group expressed what it considered to be Islamic justification for its actions. Long after the summit, specialists in the field of counter-extremism will continue to ask the question: Is ISIS actually representative in some way of Islam? And what, really, is the relationship between the group that calls itself the “Islamic State” and the world’s second largest religion?

There will be those that will insist that ISIS has nothing to do with Islam or religion in general — that ISIS is primarily a social and political phenomenon, bereft of ideology entirely, or simply using Islam as a superficial justification. Counterterrorism studies indicate that for very many people in the broader radical Islamist universe, non-ideological factors certainly play magnificently important roles. At the same time, it is also the case that for radical Islamists, an ideological component not only exists, but is crucial in understanding their world views. In some shape or form, for ISIS supporters, religion certainly plays a role. But what religion, precisely?

The easy answer is to say “Islam” – but it is also a rather lazy answer. There are around 1.5 billion Muslims around the world. The vast, overwhelming majority of them, needless to say, are not members of ISIS — and, in fact, Muslims actually make up the majority of ISIS’s victims, its most active enemies on the battlefield, and its most prominent detractors. (more…)

by Samaa Al Hamdani, Fikra Forum, February 20

[For this article in Arabic, click here.)

Last September, a rebel militia known as the Houthis successfully captured large portions of Yemen’s north and its capital, Sana. A few months later, in January 2015, President Abdu Rabu Mansour Hadi and his government resigned following clashes with the Houthis. By February 10, diplomatic missions in Sana’a had evacuated the country to protest the “illegitimate Houthi takeover.” Overnight, the Houthis became Yemen’s new rulers, but very little was known about them.

The enigmatic Houthi movement transformed from a Zaydi revivalist group in the early 1990s, to a rebel movement in the mid-1990s, to an enemy warring against the Yemeni state in the early 2000s. Following the revolution in 2011, the Houthis secured 33 seats in the National Dialogue Conference (NDC), because they had significant local influence and were considered victims of the former regime. The Houthis were granted a specialized committee in the NDC solidifying them as an influential political player. However, as soon as the dialogue concluded, the Houthis lost faith in the internationally backed political transition. Since then, the Houthis – led by Abdul-Malik al-Houthi – have employed Machiavellian tactics to gain influence in Yemen, taking advantage of the dismal performance of Hadi’s National Unity Government to seize territory and power.

In September 2014 Hadi lifted fuel subsidies, which angered much of the Yemeni population and provided an opening for the Houthis. Cleverly, the Houthis sided with the people against the government; thereafter, within six days, they seized the capital. Months later, on February 11, they mobilized mass protests to overshadow any activities by the opposition. It is likely that a Houthi-led protest will take place on March 18, the anniversary of the “Friday of Dignity,” during which 56 protestors were killed in 2011. By hijacking public rallies, the Houthis aim to silence the opposition and, in this specific case, avoid criticism by the Gulf Cooperation Council and the United Nations Security Council.
(more…)

Faux News expanded its crusade against President Obama (who is reduced to POTUS in their pseudo-news hocus pocus) and Islam (which is only newsworthy when it is called extreme) with a line right out of Monty Python. At the White House Prayer Breakfast (which Fox seems to think only included “evangelicals”) the president made a simple moral point that we should get off our “high horse” and remember that atrocious acts have been committed in the past by Christians in the Crusades and Inquisition. He might have added that “witches” were routinely burned at the stake in Christian Europe. The response from the right was that the president must hate Christianity if he compares the horrific acts of ISIS to marauding Crusaders and Torquemada. Some have such vitriol for Obama that they claimed the Crusaders were acting in self-defense.

I do not have the stomach to watch Faux News (and mercifully I choose not to have a cable connection in Qatar), but the tidbits that float through Facebook and Youtube cannot be easily avoided. (more…)

The media news network CNN sent reporter Nic Robertson to the border of Saudi Arabia and Yemen, where he was given a tour and saw several of the Yemenis caught smuggling over the border. One of the items being smuggled was qat. A young boy was given $50 to smuggle it into Saudi territory. The authorities tell him that in the past three months they captured close to half a million tons of qat worth 100 million dollars on the street. Here is one way the Huthis are getting cash. The report indicates that the Saudis are spending a lot of money to build fences and guard towers, although much of the border is so rugged it is impossible to stop everyone. Robertson is a bit overactive in his role at one point telling the Saudi interior spokesman with him that the Iranians are behind the Huthis and then saying this is what the Saudis say. I suspect it is what the Saudis say, but it was presented as a statement in the excerpt provided.

You can watch the video here in English, here in Arabic and read about it in Arabic here.

Here is an excellent piece by Bilal Ahmed taking the major media outlets to task for their profound ignorance of Yemen.

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…)

By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment)

The horrific murder of the editor, cartoonists and other staff of the irreverent satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, along with two policemen, by terrorists in Paris was in my view a strategic strike, aiming at polarizing the French and European public.

The problem for a terrorist group like al-Qaeda is that its recruitment pool is Muslims, but most Muslims are not interested in terrorism. Most Muslims are not even interested in politics, much less political Islam. France is a country of 66 million, of which about 5 million is of Muslim heritage. But in polling, only a third, less than 2 million, say that they are interested in religion. French Muslims may be the most secular Muslim-heritage population in the world (ex-Soviet ethnic Muslims often also have low rates of belief and observance). Many Muslim immigrants in the post-war period to France came as laborers and were not literate people, and their grandchildren are rather distant from Middle Eastern fundamentalism, pursuing urban cosmopolitan culture such as rap and rai. In Paris, where Muslims tend to be better educated and more religious, the vast majority reject violence and say they are loyal to France.

Al-Qaeda wants to mentally colonize French Muslims, but faces a wall of disinterest. But if it can get non-Muslim French to be beastly to ethnic Muslims on the grounds that they are Muslims, it can start creating a common political identity around grievance against discrimination. (more…)


Risk goes Mideast

The more the media spreads news about ISIS or ISIL or IS or Da’ish, the crazier it gets. The current Wikipedia entry is one of the longest I have ever seen. But let’s take a reality check here. ISIS is a digital creation as much as a successful terrorist operation that feeds the current media frenzy with Islam and terrorism. If social media precipitated, or at least facilitated, the Jasmine Revolution that blossomed into a wider Arab Spring, then cyberspace is the spontaneous generator of ISIS. This is no homegrown group, despite the caliphal self appointment of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (remember “whose your daddy?”) It has been hugely successful in recruiting, with estimates as high as 31,500 fighters according to the CIA over a month ago.


Wikipedia’s red scare

I am not sure who took the census, nor if anyone was counting the disaffected white guys who crossed the Turkish border over the past several months, but this is a rather large number for a ragtag wannabe caliphate. It is a bit of a mystery how this number, incredible as it is, has been so successful against the Iraqi army, said to have 271,500 active personnel and 528,500 reserve, or Syria with 250,000 active personnel in its army. If this were a RISK game, I would say that both Iraq and Syria are not into gambling as much as ISIS is. Remember those games when your nerdy friend put all his troops in Kamchatka and conquered all of Asia only to lose everything before his next turn when everyone else ganged up on him. If only this was a Risk game.


ISIS has a glossy side

I am fully aware of the horror of ISIS. If you read Revelation and like Armageddon scenarios, these guys are the Beast, the Antichrist and even the Whore of Babylon rolled into one. And why not throw in that stealth Mohammedan Barack Hussein Obama. (more…)

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