February 2015


The lunatic fringe is no longer a fringe on Youtube. Every wild idea you could possibly think of is out there somewhere. For example, not only is Egypt the mother of all civilizations, an idea that has been around for awhile, but today we see ancient Egyptians being cloned. There is Obama, who must be relieved to know he is an ancient Egyptian and not a Muslim. And there is Michael Jackson, who probably would make a great MTV video if he had only known his true roots. If you want more proof of the clones, just check out this Youtube video.

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…)


Grover’s Theater, Washington D.C.


[Today is Lincoln’s Birthday, but perhaps it is useful to remember his death as well…]

April 14, 1865. For Americans, at least above the Mason Dixon line, this is one of those dates that live in infamy. John Wilkes Booth, a rather bad actor on the stage, shot President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. According to an account by Mrs. Helen Palmes Moss in The Century Illustrated Monthly Magazine for 1909, Lincoln had the option of going to a rival theatre, the National or Grover’s, that night where a private box had been prepared for him by Mr. C. D. Hess, the co-manager. Apparently Booth had planned to attempt the assassination at whichever theater Lincoln attended. He much preferred Ford’s, since he had no inside help at the National and would have to shoot Lincoln as he stepped out of the carriage. What does this fateful event have to do with the Middle East? If Lincoln had attended the National Theatre and J. Wilkes Booth had missed, the President would have seen a dramatization of the Arabian Nights tale “Aladdin.” Would that Lincoln had been more of an Orientalist… (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…)


Joan of Arc—Miniature from the 15th century (detail)

By Anouar Majid, Tingis, February 2, 2015

Many people are asking what, exactly, is causing Muslims to be behind so many acts of terror and whether something could be done to change the situation for the better. The alienation of immigrant youth in Europe, the failure of Arab autocrats to provide a sense of hope to new ambitious generations, the growing disenchantment with the uneven promises of the global economy, and the perceived wrongful occupation of countries in the Middle East are some of the main explanations for the eruption of Islamic extremism in recent decades. Although these reasons play a role, they are byproducts of a disposition that is rarely discussed: the failure of nation-states to inculcate a strong sentiment of patriotism in its citizens.

While Western elites around the world are more interested in the concerns of their exclusive club of privilege, Muslims have weaker attachments to their nations than they do to the idea of an Islamic community, or umma. Whether one is a Muslim in Morocco, France, or China, the lure of Islam is more powerful than loyalty to nation. This is, in a nutshell, one of the major causes of Islamic terrorism today, but it is an issue that has yet to get the attention it deserves. (more…)


Large crowd looking at the burned body of Jesse Washington, 18 year-old African-American, lynched in Waco, Texas, May 15, 1916. (Library of Congress)

Growing up on the King James Bible, there are certain passages that are forever embedded in my mind. One of these came vividly to mind after reading a powerful essay by Bill Moyers on the recent horrific burning of a Jordanian pilot by ISIS. The verse is from Matthew 7:5:

Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother’s eye.

Like the jot and the tittel (Matthew 5:18), this is a phrase that not only resonates in the rhetoric of this classic text but serves as a reminder of our all-too-human capacity to selectively forget disagreeable parts of our own past. The issue is not about the barbaric and savage public display of a young Jordanian man burnt alive. This is a despicable act, like the beheadings, perpetrated in order to get a reaction. It is no more a unique “religious” act than the post auto de fe burnings of the Inquisition in Spain, unless you believe that it is only religion that motivates one human being to torture and cause pain on another. I think it does not do injustice to the verse to say that casting a beam out of one’s own eye is important even for casting out the beam in another’s eye.

The beam in the other is the burning of the pilot. The beam in our own eye is microcosmed in the testicle cutting, lynching and burning alive of a young black man named Jesse Washington in 1916 in Waco Texas. (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.

My friend Amir Hussain is featured in this Mike Epps episode. Check it out.

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