Ethics


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.

faisalgroup

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…)

larycia

by Daniel Martin Varisco, MENA Tidningen

As an undergraduate I attended Wheaton College in Illinois, an interdenominational evangelical Protestant enclave, from which I obtained a quality education. Although not a “Bible School”, there was a pledge which promoted the conservative values and rules that evangelicals are known for. Wheaton is in the news now for censuring a tenured professor of Political Science, who chose to wear a hijab as a sign of solidarity with Muslims, whose faith is under attack in the Islamophobic rhetoric of the Republican presidential circus.

Her name is Larycia Hawkins, one of the very few African-American professors at this conservative college. The college administration claims that she has not been placed on administrative leave because she wore a hijab, but rather because of the “significant questions regarding the theological implications” of her reason for doing so. Her reason was one of solidarity with Muslims who are being targeted because of their faith, noting that Muslims are “People of the Book.” It is obviously that it was her use of an Islamic phrase that upset the rule mongers in the administration. But then does this mean that Jews do not worship the same God? What about Catholics or Orthodox or Mormons? The problem that the extreme edges of evangelical theology needs to overcome is the idea that only the “Bible Believers” are true Christians. Wheaton used to be better than that.
(more…)

hell

My latest post in Lund…

Clamping down with law and order will not be enough

by Thomas Piketty, Le blog de Thomas Piketty, Le Monde online, November 24, 2015

Confronted with terrorism, the response must involve security measures. We must hit Daech and arrest those who are members. But we must also consider the political conditions of this violence, the humiliation and the injustices which result in this movement receiving considerable support in the Middle East and today gives rise to murderous vocations in Europe. In the long run, the real issue is the establishment of an equitable model for social development both there and here.

One thing is obvious: terrorism thrives on the inequality in the Middle-East which is a powder keg we have largely contributed to creating. Daech – the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) –is a direct consequence of the break-up of the Iraqi regime and more generally, of the collapse of the system of frontiers set up in the region in 1920. After the annexation of Kuwait by Iraq in 1990-1991, the coalition powers sent their troops to restore the oil to the emirs – and to the Western companies.

In passing, we started a new cycle of technological and assymetrical wars (a few hundred dead in the coalition forces in the ‘liberation’ of Kuwait, as against several thousand on the Iraqi side). This approach was pursued to the limit during the second war with Iraq, from 2003 to 2010: roughly 500,000 Iraqi dead as compared with 4,000 American soldiers killed; all this as revenge for the 3,000 who died on 11 September despite the fact that they had nothing to do with Iraq. This reality, compounded by the extreme asymmetry of loss of lives and the absence of any political way out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, is used today to justify all the abuses perpetrated by the Jihadists. Let us hope that France and Russia, who have taken over after the American fiasco, will do less damage and generate fewer vocations. (more…)

hm

H&M: Where Pseudo-Sustainability Meets Diversity Porn
by Melody Moezzi, MS Blog, September 30, 2015

The world’s second largest fashion retailer recently made a deliberate move to attract members of the world’s second largest religion, and people have taken notice.

More specifically, H&M featured a Muslim hijabi woman for a split second in this video advertising spot that deftly disguises a sly cost-saving measure as an eco-friendly call for “sustainable fashion.” The spot concludes, “Leave your unwanted garments in any of our 3,300 stores. We reuse them or recycle them into new clothes. Recycling one single T-shirt saves 2,100 liters of water.” Makes you wonder how much money it saves H&M—though unsurprisingly, the ad doesn’t say.

More notably, the ad includes a sort of festival of other “others,” resulting in an awkward spectacle of diversity porn that begs to be shared and tweeted by all those progressive and free-thinking folks who have no problem letting multinational companies into their hearts, minds and closets.
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refugee

My latest post on the refugee crisis in Europe.

refugees

by Remi Piet, al Jazeera, September 10, 2015

Instead of joining Europe in its quest for liberalism, the new EU members are putting up obstacles.

For over a week, networks around the world have covered the fate of refugees striving to reach safe havens in Europe. The narrative has been one of wild contrasts.

In Austria and Germany, Syrian populations have been welcomed with flowers and applause as opposed to refugees in Budapest facing harassment from Hungarian soldiers. The underlying theme has been the same with nation states throughout Europe paralysed by inaction inaction and sputtering an adequate answer. Yet the reality is more complex.

With a very low unemployment rate and an ageing population, Germany has a need for immigrants and the generosity of Germans, however laudable, should not overlook existing economic interests and racial tensions.

Earlier this year, the streets of Germany were taken over by anti-immigration rallies from the extreme right movement, Pegida, who vented racial slurs and propaganda.
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