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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.

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omidshia

by Omid Safi (@ostadjaan), On Being columnist, January 7, 2016

In the last few days, virtually every news outlet has featured a series of stories on the rising tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia. The conflict by now is well-known: Saudi Arabia executed 47 people, including Shi‘i cleric Nimr al-Nimr. While both Iran and Saudi Arabia are among the worst global executioners of dissidents, the sheer size of these executions was rare even by their gruesome standards. Iran retaliated through bombastic rhetoric, stating, “God’s hand of retaliation will grip the neck of Saudi politicians.” The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations, a tension that has rippled across the region.

The New York Times, arguably the most respected newspaper in America, featured a primer on the conflict that was devoted mostly to discussing succession disputes to the Prophet Muhammad that in due time led to the rise of the Sunni and Shi‘a sects. The Guardian has devoted a long section to this conflict. So has The Economist.

There are many political scientists and public policy pundits that you can turn to for grasping the geopolitics of the situation. You can listen to Vali Nasr, dean of Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, with NPR’s Renee Montaigne, and on PRI’s The World. But as a scholar of religion, let me share a few points that I think might be useful to keep in mind to think intelligently — and I trust, compassionately — through this latest conflict.

One. In order to understand this conflict, do not start with Sunni/Shi‘a seventh century succession disputes to Prophet. This is a modern dispute, not one whose answers you are going to find in pre-modern books of religious history and theology. Think about how absurd it would be if we were discussing a political conflict between the U.S. and Russia, and instead of having political scientists we brought on people to talk about the historical genesis of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Probably the most succinct elaboration of this point came from Marc Lynch:

“The idea of an unending, primordial conflict between Sunnis and Shiites explains little about the ebbs and flows of regional politics. This is not a resurgence of a 1,400-year-old conflict.”

The attempt to explain the Iranian/Saudi conflict, or for that matter every Middle Eastern conflict, in purely religious terms is part of an ongoing Orientalist imagination that depicts these societies as ancient, unchanging, un-modern societies where religion is the sole determining factor (allegedly unlike an imagined “us,” who have managed to become modern and secular.) Watch this four-part series by the late, great Edward Said on how Orientalism operates (skip the introduction):

There is no disputing that religion is a factor in understanding the Middle East. In some conflicts, it might even be a primary factor. But it is never, ever the only factor. Most often it is the other factors (history, economics, ideology, demographics) that are much more important.

Religion, religious traditions, and human societies never stay static and unchanging. There is no such thing as an eternal, unchanging human tradition.

For the rest of this commentary, click here.


Saudi Arabia has announced
that their Decisive Storm bombing campaign is over and they have accomplished their apparent goal of destroying any military capacity of Yemen. There is an old proverb in Arabic that states “ba’d kharab Basra” (after the destruction of Basra) and it is quite apt as a follow up to this news. The weapons destroyed can be replaced, and no doubt at some future date will be, but the lives lost and the mortal wounds to Yemen’s pride can never be restored even by a so-called “Restoration of Hope.” The Saudi offer to pay millions to rebuild Yemen pales in terms of what I assume must be measured by at least a billion or more in terms of the bombs dropped and resupplied. If instead of attacking Yemen from the air, the same amount of money had been given to build health clinics and schools, what a different outcome there would be. Instead, the stench of war is not about to be overcome by any monetary perfuming from abroad.

The damage inflicted by this ill-conceived war campaign is obvious. Forget the nonsense about an Iranian threat, which there never was. The Huthis never controlled anything; it was Salih’s former military supporters who were behind the takeover of Sanaa and the push to Aden. Try to remember the real threat inside Yemen, the one that energized the U.S. drone campaign: al-Qaida, known as Ansar Sharia, has more power and more sympathy now that at any other time. The south is basically in their control. There is little chance that they would welcome Hadi back. So the result of this bombing is a totally destabilized Yemen, a security nightmare, a humanitarian crisis that is not likely to be alleviated soon. (more…)

Since the start of the Saudi-led Decisive Storm campaign in Yemen, I have published two commentaries on the blog of the Center for Middle East Studies at Lund University and three interviews on The Real News. While the situation is changing daily, seemingly for the worse each day, I note these commentaries here:

Lund Blog:
Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (http://www.menatidningen.se/english/proxy-morons-the-demolition-of-yemen) March 27

Sliding Towards a Virtual Genocide in Yemen (http://www.menatidningen.se/english/sliding-towards-a-virtual-genocide-in-yemen) April 13

The Real News:
Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/1)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13565 April 4

Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/2)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13636 April 12

Proxy Morons: The Demolition of Yemen (3/3)
http://therealnews.com/t2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=31&Itemid=74&jumival=13639 April 13

The first part of my interview about the current situation in Yemen on The Real News…

By Stacey Philbrick Yadav, The Monkey Cage, Washington Post, February 2

This post is part of the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the Islamic State” symposium.

A Houthi, an Islahi and an independent Islamist walked into a bar. Okay, actually, it was a conference room. It was 2012, and these three youth leaders from rival movements stood together across from a group of similarly diverse secular youth, debating the possibility of a madani (civil) state in Yemen built on an Islamic foundation. In that moment, they were what I call Islamist republicans, more than they were Shafai or Zaydi Muslims (let alone Sunni or Shiite), or members of any particular political organization. By this I mean that they shared an ideological convergence made possible by the upheavals of 2011. That solidarity has been largely (but not entirely) eroded by events over the past two years. But in that moment, those commitments were real and sensible in the context of Yemeni politics. The erosion of the concept of Islamist republicanism in Yemen over the past two years of “transition” has troubling implications for the ability to sustain many Yemenis’ dream of a civil state.

Yemen’s current spiraling crises can be read in light of the proxies and flows of interests outside of Yemen as much as within it. This is not to say that domestic politics aren’t primary – they establish the basic terrain of conflict, without a doubt. But since 2011, Yemen’s politics have been continually negotiated by a complex (often opaque) web of actors stretching from Riyadh in Saudi Arabia and Tehran to Washington and London. This has entailed both qualitative and quantitative shifts in the nature of foreign interest and action in Yemen, much of it driven by anxieties over or misunderstandings of Islamic republicanism. In the face of the transitional government’s resignation on Jan. 22, it became less clear than ever who is actually in charge of what in Yemen. (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…)

[This story of incredible bravery needs to be widely distributed. As we try to make sense of such a senseless cowardly act, it is well to remember such bravery by these incredible women]

Pakistanis for Gender Equality, December 18, 2014

As the nation mourns the Peshawar school attack, let us also commend the exemplary bravery shown by these women (amongst others) who gave their lives in the hopes of protecting Pakistan’s tomorrow. Who says women are weak? Can our leaders show this kind of resolve to save this country from the TTP barbarians? Let us not let their sacrifices be in vain.

1) Tahira Qazi. Her personal assistant says she had the opportunity to escape the school but instead chose to stay with the students. As the militants fired shots, she rushed from classroom to classroom, shouting at those inside to lock themselves in. She consoled, protected, and ushered many students to safety. She even phoned parents to come and collect their children. One source says, “the honourable principal was asked by the terrorists ‘where are the students and why are you hiding them?’ She replied: ‘Talk to me, I am their mother.’ The terrorists replied ‘Ok, you die first, in a miserable way.’ She was burnt and bullets were fired in her head directly.” (more…)

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