September 2012

by Kevin Fogg

In the last week, as protests have flared around the Muslim world about the film Innocence of Muslims, Indonesia has not been left out. Protests in Jakarta and Surabaya (the capital and second largest city, respectively) on Friday and Saturday were led by the group Hizbut Tahrir. Today more violent protests flared at the US Consulate in Medan and again at the US Embassy in Jakarta, where police arrested four instigators from the frequently-unruly group Front Pembela Islam (Islamic Defenders’ Front).

Since democratization in 1998, Indonesians (especially those in Jakarta, but also in other cities) have not been shy about protesting. Protests in front of the American Embassy (which also faces the central square in Jakarta and the site of most major protests) are not uncommon, but other countries are also frequently the target of protests, including majority-Muslim countries like Malaysia. Most of these protests about overseas issues have no impact on government policy, or on the issues that they are protesting about, but one case this summer shows the flip side of the coin: protests that became productive in international relations

Indonesians were outraged at news in June and July about sectarian clashes involving the Muslim Rohingya minority in Burma. These deaths were not the worst in the ongoing struggles of the Rohingya–involving denied refugee status, limitations on international aid, years of discrimination, and other woes–but the opening of the press in Myanmar allowed news on the conflict, which fed into Indonesian Muslim outrage. Not sparing anyone in their anger, Indonesians even loudly criticized Nobel Prize Winner Aung San Suu Kyi for not paying enough attention to this issue. This led in August to several demonstrations across the country, even including the leader of the national Indonesian Ulama Council. Indonesian attention has kept up since the initial news, too, with the largest Islamically-minded paper in the country hosting a special page for news on the “Rohingya Tragedy,” with new articles almost every day. (more…)

By Anouar Majid

The violence that erupted in the wake of the YouTube on the Prophet Mohammed is a wake-up call to all who care about the future of human civilization and, particularly, that of Arabs and Muslims living in Muslim-majority nations. (Muslims living in the United States are having the time of their lives—the land of what Iranian mullahs call Great Satan is the best place on earth for them.) Still, Muslims everywhere have been unable to unbind their ties to religious orthodoxy, clinging tenaciously to the decrees of religious scholars in mosques, as well as to the fatwas pronounced on the tube and the net alike.

I arrived in Morocco, arguably the most liberal country in the Arab world and a reliable partner of the West for decades, on the eve of the YouTube trailer controversy. As soon as I heard about the murders in Libya and the violent protests in Egypt and elsewhere, I chose not to be silent in the face of Islamist fury. I spent time explaining to cab drivers, unemployed youths, poorly educated workers, and highly educated professionals that the US government can’t control what people post on the Internet. I tried to get my interlocutors to understand that Muslims are laughably easy to manipulate—all one only has to do is draw a caricature of the Prophet or make a film about him to turn them into the world’s laughingstock. (more…)

Edward Said wrote a poignant critique of media coverage of the Iranian hostage crisis just over three decades ago. He called it “Covering Islam.” The subtitle was “How the Media and the Experts Determine How We See the Rest of the World.” Once again Islam is being covered, the latest being the “cover” on Newsweek Magazine. Said’s [Covering Islam (1997 edition), p. lv.] assessment is as relevant as ever today:

For the right, Islam represents barbarism; for the left, medieval theocracy; for the center, a kind of distasteful exoticism. In all camps there is agreement that even though little enough is known about the Islamic world there is not much to be approved of there.

The latest Newsweek cover demonstrates just how weak its sense of responsible news reporting is. The trope of “Muslim Rage” conflates the cultural dimensions of politics with a religious faith. When Israeli planes bomb Hamas in Gaza, no major newspaper calls this “Jewish Rage.” When Terry Jones burns a Quran or when Anders Behring Breivik shoots fellow Norwegians, I have yet to see a headline of this act as one of “Christian Rage.” Rage is almost always political at base and the events subsumed under a blanket umbrella of “Muslim Rage” are local politics to the core. The fact that we see these images on CNN and the Internet tells us more about the audience than it does about those engaged in the activities.

The photograph captures “rage” to be sure, but the choice of turbaned and bearded protesters (when the majority in Cairo at least are young clean-shaven men in Western clothing lobbing rocks at the police) identifies rage with a style of dress and a style of dress with a violent religion. Ironically, the voices of those who are enraged are not to be heard anywhere inside the story. Instead, the cover boasts an article inside by Aayan Hirsi Ali, a controversial Somali whose claim to fame was posing naked with Quranic verses on her body and then becoming a darling of the Islamophobic mob. Her knowledge of Islam is so immature and biased that the very idea she might have something to contribute to the issue staggers my imagination.

I see little difference between this cover photo and that on the French tabloid Closer, which brandished the privately bared royal breasts of British princess Kate Middleton. (more…)

In a previous post I continued a thread on a 19th century Bible Lands text by Rev. Frank S. DeHaas. His account covers Egypt and Palestine. He entered Palestine at the port of Jaffa and discusses his disembarking, which he compares to the turmoil surrounding Jonah on the same sea, in the following passage. But it seems the crowded streets of Jaffa did not inspire the kind of reverence he wanted from traversing on holy ground. So he was quite glad to be out and out where the patriarchs trekked…


A division of labor: ultras wage parallel battles to shape Egypt’s future

By James M. Dorsey, The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer, September 16, 2012

Militant soccer fans of arch rival Cairo soccer clubs Al Zamalek SC and Al Ahly SC represent two sides of the same coin in the forefront of a struggle for the future of Egypt.

Militants of the Ultras White Knights (UWK), the Zamalek support group, are locked near the US embassy in Cairo into vicious street battles with police and security forces, one of a string of confrontations since last year’s toppling of president Hosni Mubarak. In the ultimate analysis, their struggle aims to force reform of Egyptian law enforcement, the country’s most despised institution, which is widely seen as the brutal enforcers of Mr. Mubarak’s repressive regime, even if those on the battlefield often express their goal in simpler terms of revenge and settling scores.

On the other hand, Al Ahly militants, who together with UWK played a key role in ousting Mr. Mubarak as well as in subsequent street battles that have left scores dead and thousands wounded, have turned their ire on the management of their club in an effort to combat corruption in Egyptian soccer.

Neither battle is easy but achieving victory in the struggle in which UWK has taken the lead is likely to prove far more difficult than turning soccer into a model for the fight against corruption in Egypt and removing the remnants of the Mubarak era. (more…)

The past week has seen a dramatic punctuation in the political present. This present is one in which several countries in North Africa and the Middle East are emerging from years of “stable” dictatorial rule in which human rights were ignored by the Western countries who philosophize how important human rights (or at least the right kind of rights) are. There is also a presidential election looming in the most powerful nation on earth, a nation divided in a partisan way with few realistic ideas on how to frame a way out of the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. It is raining politics and that is fire and brimstone in the current climate.

The drama starts with the anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy, which like the abduction of Helen of Troy, prodded the United States to engage in two decade-long wars that have resulted in the deaths of former figure-head foes (Saddam and Bin Laden) but which are unwinnable in the old-fashioned “sign a peace treaty and let trade make us friends” sense after World War II. The spark, a most surreal one at that, is a pathetic trailer for the kind of film no one would ever pay money to see. Before Youtube, before the Internet, this would have been yet another throw-away on the huge cinematic rubbish pile already brimming with porn. But in a scenario that a producer would probably laugh away, an Islamophobic individual dubs intentionally hateful dialogue denigrating the Prophet Muhammad. For non-Muslims the main thing offended is taste; for Muslims this is hateful and hurtful, akin to throwing something sacred into a toilet.

The politics has exploded all over the media, not in spits but a massive vomit. (more…)

US Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney listens to questions on the attack on the US consulate in Libya, in Jacksonville, Florida, September 12, 2012. [Reuters]

Romney poses, as militants burn a US consulate over Islamophobic film

By Juan Cole, Al Jazeera, September 14, 2012

As Mitt Romney misfires on the campaign trail; scholar argues that the events in Benghazi are atypical of the new Libya.

Predictably, Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney tried to make political hay of the tiny demonstrations in Cairo and Benghazi by Muslim militants. The Benghazi mob turned violent in clashes with police and the consulate ended up being burned and an embassy staffers being killed.

Romney seized on the frantic tweets of the Cairo embassy, which condemned the sleazy Youtube videos by American Islamophobes that had provoked the ire of the crowds, as evidence that the Obama administration was sidingwith the attacking mobs. First of all, really? Romney is trying to get elected on the back of a dead US diplomat? Second of all, really? He thinks the State Department thought the attack on themselves was justified? Third of all, really? Romney is selective. When it comes to Christianity, Romney decries a ‘war on religion.’ But apparently he thinks there *should* be a war on Islamic religion. Romney’s intervention (he is just a civilian at the moment) in American foreign policy is unwise and risky, not to mention distasteful. (more…)

An Egyptian protester tries to raise an Islamic flag at the U.S. embassy during a protest, in Cairo, Egypt on September 11, 2012. (Khaled Elfiqi / EPA / September 13, 2012)

Violence in Egypt and Libya is more about local politics than Islam.

By Mimi Hanaoka, LA Times, September 13, 20121

The chaotic violence that killed U.S. Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens and three American staffers in Libya, and that resulted in a mob storming the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, has been garbed in religious language and references. However, the religious rhetoric from all corners distracts from the real issues: serious domestic political fragmentation in Libya and Egypt in the aftermath of the Arab Spring, and America’s place in the region.

Media attention has focused on a polemic 14-minute movie trailer for “Innocence of Muslims” posted on YouTube, which prompted protests in Benghazi and Cairo. The film was allegedly produced by Sam Bacile, who has identified himself as an Israeli Jew. In the Wall Street Journal, Bacile called Islam a “cancer” and claimed he raised $5 million from about 100 Jewish donors to fund the film, details that only intensify the film’s polemic power.

The trailer, translated into Arabic and viewed thousands of times in the Middle East, portrays the prophet Muhammad as, among other things, a child abuser. Florida pastor and provocateur Terry Jones, who burned the Koran in 2011, claims to have screened the film; a self-described Christian militant in California claims to have consulted on it. (more…)

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