Ethics


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The loss of a true intellectual. May he rest in peace as the world he loved continues to spiral in conflict.

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A post about the famous 14th century Mamluk text of al-Nuwayri, with a new English translation of excerpts from this classic compendium now available.

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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.

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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.

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“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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rules

8 Rules of Engagement Taught by the Prophet Muhammad

Extremism ‘experts’ are everywhere these days. Assertions thrive about what Shariah law allows, especially when it comes to warfare and ‘Jihad’. Two very unlikely bedfellows, Islamophobes and extremists, have taken up one allegation, that Islam is violent, and run with it. They both misquote Islamic sources to prove their shared fantasies, and to good effect, with media outlets falling over themselves to give them a platform. This convenient lie has become the Blood Libel of the Muslims, which is spread by various groups to achieve their own agendas.

So here is a list of actual rules of engagement taken from Islamic law, together with their original sources. This is what forms the basis of what Muslims believe and follow. These 8 laws expose the ‘Islam is violent’ line as lazy and shamefully dishonest.

N.B. War is unfortunately an inevitable part of civilization and at times countries need to respond to aggression. Islam allows the use of force to stop evil and bring security to a country’s citizens therefore a set of laws pertaining to war has been laid out by the Prophet Muhammad himself.

What follows are mainstream laws of Islam as taught by the orthodoxy of the religion. This is what the vast majority of Muslims around the world observe as their religion. It does not mean however, that all those who claim to be Muslim actually follow orthodox Shariah laws. Such groups and individuals would rightly be labelled as heretics for inventing new beliefs that run counter to explicit statements found in original sources of Islamic law. (more…)

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.

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Faisal party at Versailles Conference. Left to right: Rustum Haidar, Nuri as-Said, Prince Faisal (front), Captain Pisani (rear), T. E. Lawrence, Faisal’s attendant (name unknown), Captain Hassan Khadri.

by Jeffrey D. Sachs, al-Qantara, December 21, 2015

There is no doubt that the crisis-riven Middle East is beset by some unique challenges. As Jeffrey Sachs argues, however, these are not the Sunni-Shia political divide, the future of Assad or other doctrinal disputes, but rather the unmet need for quality education, job skills, advanced technologies and sustainable development

The United States, the European Union, and Western-led institutions such as the World Bank repeatedly ask why the Middle East can′t govern itself. The question is asked honestly, but without much self-awareness.

After all, the single most important impediment to good governance in the region has been its lack of self-governance: the region′s political institutions have been crippled as a result of repeated US and European intervention dating back to the First World War – and in some places even earlier.

One century is enough. The year 2016 should mark the start of a new century of home-grown Middle Eastern politics focused urgently on the challenges of sustainable development.

The Middle East′s fate during the last 100 years was cast in November 1914, when the Ottoman Empire chose the losing side during the First World War. The result was the empire′s dismantling, with the victorious powers, Britain and France, grabbing hegemonic control over its remnants. (more…)

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