Tag: Islam

Peace picks February 20-27

“The Battle for Syria: International Rivalry in the New Middle East,” a Conversation with Dr. Christopher Phillips | Tuesday, February 21 | 10-11:30 AM | GW’s Elliot School | Register Here |

Join GW’s Elliot School and Christopher Phillips, senior lecturer at Queen Mary University of London, for a conversation on international rivalry in the New Middle East. He was previously the deputy editor for Syria and Jordan at the Economist Intelligence Unit. While living in Syria for two years, he consulted government agencies and NGOs. He has appearances on BBC Newsnight, Radio 4’s Today Programme, BBC News, Al-Jazeera, Sky News and Channel 4 News.

Re-Centering the Bazaar: Notes towards a History of Islamic Capitalism in the Islamic World | Wednesday, February 22 | 3:30-5:00 PM | Register Here|

The Elliott School of International Affairs is hosting a talk explores the possibilities of a history of capitalism in the Islamic world through the prism of one of its most visible expressions: the bazaar. As the locus of a range of different commercial practices, the bazaar offers a useful platform for thinking about economic life in the Islamic world — production, consumption, exchange, and finance. It is also the site through which the inhabitants of the Islamic world came to experience the changing tides of global commerce and politics: the wares of India and Africa, the textiles of Northern Europe, and most recently, the manufactures of China. And yet, as an object of scholarly analysis, the bazaar has largely been reduced to a set of interpersonal or patron-client relations, flattening what was in fact a vibrant site of exchange and transformation.

Rather than speak of the bazaar in the abstract, Professor Bishara will focus on a specific network of bazaars around the Indian Ocean — in Bahrain, Muscat, and Zanzibar — during the nineteenth century, so as to more accurately map out the interlinked markets for commodities (land, produce, etc.), labor, and capital, the paper instruments that linked them all together, and the circulating discourses that animated them. The discussion of bazaar capitalism in the 19th-century Indian Ocean will serve as the platform for thinking about how we might write a history of capitalism in the Islamic world more broadly.

United States in the Middle East: Assessing the Emerging Trump Doctrine | Wednesday, February 22 | 4:30-6:00 PM | George Mason University | Register Here|

The Middle East Policy Group at Schar School of Policy & Government is hosting their first session of Reflections on Middle East Policy. Peter Mandaville is a Professor of International Affairs at GMU’s Schar School of Policy & Government and served as a Senior Advisor at the U.S. Department of State under Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. Justin Gest is Assistant Professor of Public Policy at GMU’s Schar School of Policy & Government.

Militias in the Fight Against ISIS: Spoilers or Stabilizers? | Thursday, February 23 | 9:00-10:00 AM | Wilson Center | Register Here |

The panel will examine militias that have played a major role in the campaign against ISIS, particularly Lebanese Hezbollah, the Kurdish Peshmerga and the PYD (Democratic Union Party), and Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Units. Are these groups spoilers that will disrupt regional politics and lead to anarchy? Are they stabilizing forces that can help assure peace in areas marred by war? Panelists will assess their impact and discuss how U.S. policy can better engage them to promote regional order.

Global threats and American national security priorities | Thursday, February 23 | 10:00-11:00 AM | Brookings | Register Here

On February 23, the Center for 21st Century Security and Intelligence at Brookings is honored to host an event featuring General Dunford. He will be joined by Senior Fellow Michael O’Hanlon for a discussion on American national security priorities and Department of Defense requirements.

The United States has the best military in the world, but it must continue to innovate to stay ahead. Today, the United States faces a particularly complex and dangerous security environment. In his job as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff since 2015, General Joseph Dunford has articulated a framework for understanding the threats America and its allies must address, benchmarking the military’s planning, capability development, and assessment of risk against the challenges posed by Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and violent extremism.

The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony | Thursday, February 23 | 12:00-1:00 PM | The Middle East Institute | Register Here|

The Middle East Institute is pleased to host Roby Barrett, MEI scholar and senior fellow with the Joint Special Operations University-U.S. Special Operations Command, for the release of his new book The Gulf and the Struggle for Hegemony. Barrett will argue that the long-standing ties between the West and the Gulf Arab states have contributed to regional stability and progress.

Barrett draws on a sophisticated understanding of Gulf Arab culture and history to explain present-day policies and rivalries. The book delves into how the Gulf States, in particular the UAE and Saudi Arabia, interpret and respond to regional dynamics such as the conflicts in Syria and Iraq and the West’s rapprochement with Iran. Barrett argues that a failure to understand the contemporary Gulf from the perspective of its complex historical, political, and socio-cultural context guarantees failed policies in the future.

The State of Iraq- and the Republic of Kurdistan?- After ISIS | Thursday, February 23 | 12:00-1:00 PM | The Hudson Institute | Register Here

On February 23, an expert panel will examine the challenges and opportunities ahead for Iraq, Kurdistan, and the new U.S. administration. Should the Trump administration continue to invest in the Iraqi State? Are federalism, institution-building, and good governance initiatives in Iraq a lost cause? How should the new administration deal with Iraq’s powerful, Iranian-backed Shiite militias? Would an independent Kurdish state bring solutions or additional problems for Kurds and the other peoples of Iraq? Similarly, what would the Republic of Kurdistan mean for the United States? The Kurdistan Regional Government’s Representative Bayan Sami Abdul Rahman will join Brookings Institution’s Kenneth Pollack and Ranj Alaaldin, along with Hudson’s Michael Pregent and Eric Brown, to discuss the implications for Iraq and the region as well as their importance to America’s geopolitical interests. This event will be live streamed on Hudson’s homepage.

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Peace picks July 25 – 29

  1. Ten days after Quelling the Coup: Where is Turkey Headed? |  Tuesday, July 26th  | 11:30 AM |  The Atlantic Council  |  Click HERE to RSVP  |  Last week’s failed coup attempt in Turkey has raised serious questions about Turkey’s domestic political and security situation. The immediate aftermath of last weekend’s events will have significant implications for a range of Western interests, from the fight against ISIS to EU membership to Turkey’s role in the Middle East. To what extent did the attempted coup indicate an irreparable rift in the Turkish armed forces? How will the United States manage the fragile Turkish relationship in light of accusations of an American role in the plot and demands for extraditing Fethullah Gulen? How far will President Erdogan go to purge government institutions and how will this impact the country’s political and economic future? A conversation with: Elmira Bayrasli, Visiting Fellow at the New America Foundation, and Steven A. Cook, Eni Enrico Mattei Senior Fellow for Middle East and Africa Studies at the Council on Foreign Relations. The discussion will be moderated by Aaron Stein, Senior Resident Fellow, Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council, and an introduction by Ambassador Frederic C. Hof, Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council.
  2. Israel and Hezbollah: The Prospect of Renewed Hostilities Ten Years after War | Tuesday, July 26th  | 11:45 AM – 1:30 PM |Hudson Institute |  Click HERE to RSVP |  On July 12, 2006, the Iranian-backed Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah ambushed an Israel Defense Force patrol near the Lebanese border. Three IDF soldiers were killed on the spot and another two were taken hostage. Israel retaliated by bombing the Beirut airport and other key targets. Thus began what Israel refers to as the Second Lebanon War, a conflict that lasted 34 days and set the stage for much of what has happened in the Levant over the last ten years. Israel quietly secured the Israel-Lebanon border, and Hezbollah pivoted to fight in Syria. Ten years later, both sides face circumstances similar to those that led to war a decade ago. In recent years, Iran has dramatically increased Hezbollah’s weaponry capabilities by supplying Russian-made “Kornet” missiles, surface-to-air missile defense systems, and surface-to-ship cruise missiles. Israel’s concerns are compounded by Tehran’s increasingly assertive regional posture and ballistic missile tests conducted since signing the nuclear agreement. Hezbollah is still Iran’s most impressive export, but it is hemorrhaging fighters in Syria to a sectarian war in which it is outnumbered eight to one. Many throughout the Middle East and in the West believe that regional tensions and hot spots will necessarily drive Israel and Hezbollah to resume hostilities. On July 26, Hudson Institute will host a timely panel on the 2006 Israel-Hezbollah War and the prospect of resumed conflict. Panelists include Deputy Head of Mission at the Embassy of Israel Reuven Azar, Hudson Senior Fellow Michael Doran, and Foundation for Defense of Democracies Research Fellow Tony Badran. Hudson Senior Fellow Lee Smith will moderate the conversation.
  3. Will North America become the next Saudi Arabia?  |  Tuesday, July 26th  |  12:00 PM – 1:15 PM  |  New America Foundation  | Click HERE to RSVP  |  Not long ago Washington policymakers spent a great deal of time bemoaning our ever increasing dependence on foreign (especially, alas, Middle Eastern) oil. Rarely has such pessimistic groupthink proven so misguided. North America is blessed with a number of comparative advantages when it comes to producing energy at a low cost, and Canada’s increased oil production, innovation in alternative energy research, Mexico’s historic energy reforms, and the shale revolution across the region have only accentuated North America’s potential to become the world’s dominant energy superpower. On the heels of the North American Leaders Summit, Future Tense and the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute invite you to join them for a conversation on what it will take for North America to fulfill its energy potential. People tend to obsess over the monthly gyrations of oil prices and the latest regulatory battle over shale or pipeline-building, but we want to look forward to 2050. With the new North American Climate, Energy, and Environment Partnership what concerted steps should Canada, Mexico, and the United States be taking to ensure that North America will become the world’s leading energy power for generations? And how can this region lead the world not only in output and economic growth, but also in setting new standards of environmental responsibility and sustainability? Panelists include: Hector Moreira, Director of Energy Model for Mexico Initiative at Arizona State University and Commissioner, Mexican National Commission of Hydrocarbons, and Former Under Secretary of Energy of Mexico; Laura Dawson, Director of the Canada Institute at the Wilson Center and Former Senior Advisor on economic affairs at the United States Embassy in Ottawa; and Sharon Burke, Senior Advisor for International Security and Resource Security at New America and Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Operational Energy.
  4. Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World  |  Wednesday, July 27th  | 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM | Middle East Institute at the Carnegie Endowment’s Choate Room |  Click HERE to RSVP   |  The Middle East Institute (MEI) is pleased to hosShadi Hamid (Brookings Inst.), Nathan Brown (George Washington Univ.) and Hassan Mneimneh (MEI) for a discussion about how Islam shapes public life, law, and the state. The conversation will explore and challenge the thesis behind Hamid’s new book,Islamic Exceptionalism: How the Struggle Over Islam is Reshaping the World. In Islamic Exceptionalism, Hamid argues that Islam is distinctive among the world’s cultural systems in how it conceives religion and politics as intertwined. In this exceptionalism he sees an intrinsic resistance to secularization, with profound implications for how the West can interact with the Middle East. The panelists will address Hamid’s provocative thesis and offer their own analyses of Islam’s relationship with politics. Sumaiya Hamdani (George Mason Univ.) will moderate the discussion. Copies of the book will be available for purchase and signing.
  5. French Leadership in a Post-Brexit Europe | Thursday, July 28th  | 10:00 AM  | Atlantic Council  | Click HERE to RSVP |  Europe faces historic challenges from the east and the south, at the same time as internal forces of fragmentation call into question the unity and direction of the European Union (EU).  In the wake of the Brexit referendum, horrific terrorist attacks, an unprecedented migration crisis, and a continually sluggish economy, the future of Europe is in play.  As a nation that combines strategic outlook, political will, military capabilities, and economic wherewithal, France is poised to shape Europe’s future. Since the end of World War II, Paris has played a leading role in advancing the European project.  Franco-German political cooperation set the terms for integration.  Franco-British military cooperation ensured Europe remained a serious security actor.  Today, France is the bridge between the EU’s northern and southern members.  France has the history, geography, and demography to help Europe navigate the confluence of challenges buffeting the continent. However, next year’s elections in France will likely determine whether France helps Europe hold together or succumbs to the challenges of economic stagnation, political fragmentation, and populism. Panelists include: H.E. Gérard Araud, Ambassador of France to the United States; Ambassador John Herbst, Director of the Dinu Patriciu Eurasia Center at the Atlantic Council; Ambassador Frederic Hof, Director of the Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East at the Atlantic Council; Ms. Laure Mandeville, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Future Europe Initiative, Atlantic Council. With an introduction by Mr. Damon Wilson, Executive Vice President of Programs and Strategy at the Atlantic Council.
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Americans sorted

ISIS and the challenge of radical Islam have emerged as a major theme on the presidential campaign trail, particularly in the wake of the Orlando shooting, the deadliest terrorist attack to occur on US soil since 9/11. Last Monday, Brookings hosted an event launching the results of two new public opinion surveys that gauge the effect of the Orlando terror attack on American public attitudes about Islam and Muslims.

The first survey was conducted two weeks before the June 12 shooting at Orlando’s Pulse gay club, and the other two weeks after. Both were conducted by Shibley Telhami, Nonresident Senior Fellow at Brookings. After presenting the results, he was joined in discussion by William Galston, the Ezra K. Zilkha Chair in Governance Studies at Brookings, and Tamara Cofman Wittes, Senior Fellow and Director of the Brookings Center for Middle East Policy, who served as a moderator.

Contrary to what one might expect, American attitudes toward Muslims and Islam have not worsened, but have become more positive after the Orlando shooting. The two charts below — presented by Telhami —  show the change in public perception pre- and post-Orlando.

In May 2015, 53 percent of Americans viewed Muslims favorably, a sentiment expressed by 58 percent of Americans in May 2016 and 62 percent in June, two weeks after the terror attack in Orlando. Americans distinguish between “Muslim people” and the “Muslim religion,” viewing Muslims more favorably than they view Islam. While 62 percent of the people surveyed expressed favorable attitudes toward Muslims, only 44 percent thought the same of Islam.

The point that Telhami and Galston emphasized is that attitudes about both Muslim people and Islam are largely divided along party lines. 79 percent of Democrats have favorable views of Muslims, compared to 42 percent of Republicans (37 percentage points difference). Similarly, 82 percent of Democrats deemed Islamic and Western religious and social traditions as compatible, compared to only 42 percent of Republicans (40 percentage points difference).

Attitudes about the Arab-Israeli conflict and the Iraq War are also split down party lines. When asked “Which one of the two factors do you believe is most important in the emergence and growth of ISIS?” 71 percent of Democrats answered “Going to war with Iraq in 2003,” in contrast to 61 percent of Republicans who think it was “Withdrawing most US troops from Iraq.” The panelists maintained that Americans are deeply polarized. According to Wittes, “if one had to come up with a single headline [to capture the survey results], it would be polarization.”

Someone who has read Morris Fiorina’s Culture War? The Myth of a Polarized America would know that what Wittes is talking about is rather party sorting, not polarization. In other words, what the Brookings survey depicts is the process of party purification, where party affiliation now reflects ideology to a greater extent than a generation ago. The opinion distributions in the survey show no evidence of increase in conservatives and liberals, or a decrease in those having more moderate views. Additionally, when presented with dichotomous choices like in the Iraq War question above, or in other questions related to the Arab-Israeli conflict, subjects are only able to choose between two extremes. Given a choice between two extremes, they can only choose an extreme, but polarization of people’s choices is not the same as polarization of their positions.

The fact remains that Republicans and Democrats are largely divided on questions concerning Islam and the Middle East. This divisiveness is even more pronounced in the 2016 presidential election. The election represents ideological sorting of an even greater level than the parties the candidates represent.  Only 16 percent of Trump supporters view Islam favorably, compared to 66 percent of Clinton supporters (50 percentage points difference). The  “clash of civilization” question, asking whether Islamic and Western religious and social traditions are compatible, tells a similar story. 64 percent of Trump supporters say they are incompatible, while 13 percent of Clinton supporters perceive such incompatibility (50 percentage points difference). With respect to the  the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, 43 percent of Trump supporters believe the US should support either annexation without equal citizenship or maintaining the occupation; 13 percent of Clinton supporters take that view.

As Galston observed, “in the past political differences ended at the water’s edge. Now, those days are gone.” The surveys reveal that these cleavages are larger than those found in domestic politics on issues like abortion or same-sex marriage. In fact, gaps don’t get much bigger. Islam and the Middle East have sorted out America. Americans need to sort this out.

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Is Islam exceptional?

At last Thursday’s Brookings event celebrating the launch of his new book on Islamic Exceptionalism, Shadi Hamid laid out the historical and religious reasons for Islam’s resistance to liberal secularization. He argued that the differing contexts of Christianity and Islam’s founding moments shaped the histories of interactions between the state and religion in European and Islamic civilizations.

Jesus and Mohammed, Hamid argues, had different historical roles. Jesus was a radical dissident in the Roman Empire. He avoided politics. The New Testament has little to say about governance, making it easy to divorce Christianity from political life. Mohammed was the author of a constitution and for part of his life a head of state. The Qur’an guided governance in the Middle East and North Africa for well over a thousand years, with the reign of the Prophet serving as an example to live and rule by. Liberal ideas like the inevitability of progress and secularism have no analogues in traditional Islam.

The end of the Ottoman Caliphate left the Middle East struggling to create a new, legitimate form of government. Mainstream Islamism is the latest successor to generations of Muslim thinkers attempting to parse the legacy of Islamic governance beyond its eighth century origin. The current Islamist project of reconciling pre-modern Islamic law with the modern nation-state has never been attempted before. Islamism is inherently modern in a way few conservative religious movements can claim to be.

Brooking’s Isaiah Berlin Senior Fellow in Culture and Policy, Leon Wieseltier, joined Hamid in discussing one of the most controversial arguments in Islamic Exceptionalism. Islam does not fit with Western concepts like secularism. This exceptionalism challenges the liberal tendency to explain away difference and argue that all peoples and civilizations are fundamentally the same—or are at least similar in fundamental ways. Hamid contended that the differences between the Islamic world and ‘our’ largely Christian world tangibly affect what forms of government and policies are feasible or practical.

Wieseltier and Hamid then dove into the questions of Islam’s compatibility with liberal democracy and the values essential to it, namely equality. Hamid argued that Islam is compatible with democracy, but it runs into some problems with liberal democracy. Islamic concepts such as Shura can be adapted into democratic structures, but equality doesn’t fit neatly into Islamic law or many Islamic societies. Wieseltier challenged this point; he claimed that certain concepts like equality are as universal as algebra, and therefore can be compatible with a ‘modernist’ vision of Islam.

In Hamid‘s view, the ‘metaphysical’ nature of this discussion reflected the political debate happening all over the Middle East. Rather than contesting budget reports, Islamists and their opponents are dealing with big questions about the role of religion in public life. The conversation about that will not be over soon.

Here is the video of the event:

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Anti-Semitism in present-day Europe

CSIS hosted a panel Wednesday on “Understanding and Combating Anti-Semitism in Present-Day Europe” featuring Gilles Clavreul, the French inter-ministerial delegate for the Fight Against Racism and Anti-Semitism; Rabbi Andrew Baker, personal representative of the OSCE (Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe) Chairperson-in-Office for Combating Anti-Semitism; and Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent with The Atlantic. The panel was moderated by CSIS Vice President Europe Program, Heather Conley.

Clavreul and Baker highlighted the increase of anti-Semitism in recent years in public discourse, in political parties, and in minority groups. They are eager to push back and ensure Europe remains a safe and healthy environment for Jews. Goldberg had a more pessimistic outlook, believing that “there’s not much hope for the future of European Jewry.” Not only has it seen demographic decline, but Europe is now an inhospitable environment for Jews.

Clavreul highlighted that hate speech and hate-based acts have become more common in France since 2000. Jews are not the only target. The rest of Europe has also witnessed this increasing hate and xenophobia, which divide the national body politic and are antithetical to Republican values shared by a broader Atlantic community. Clavreul hopes to be able to mobilise all sectors of French society to combat hate.

Baker agreed, noting that people were slow to recognize resurgent anti-Semitism for what it was. Jewish anxieties have been growing, and recent anti-Semitic attacks across Europe have driven the point home for the public. One reason for slow identification of the problem is that in recent years many perpetrators behind hate speech and acts have been Muslim Europeans. There remains a lingering political correctness wary of highlighting crimes committed by a minority community. The panelists agreed there are two primary strains of anti-Semitism in Europe today: the old guard of right-wing Europeans, and the more recent phenomenon occurring among Muslim communities.

Goldberg has written on this issue before. Hitler accomplished the destruction of European Jewry as a vibrant and feasible community. There was no real post-war recovery, and the nature of the community has changed: three quarters of French Jews, for instance, are of North African descent. Today’s anti-Semitism, in his view, should make Jews leave Europe behind; today, North America and Israel are the centers of Jewish culture. Goldberg, together with Baker, pointed out the European tendency towards anti-Zionism, or anti-Israel sentiments that often bleed into outright anti-Semitism, especially given Europe’s historical relationship with it. Goldberg believes such an environment encourages those – mainly within Muslim extremism – who have violent impulses to act, and validates certain trends within the Muslim community.

Conley highlighted the potential implications of the migration crisis, given that the majority of refugees are Muslim: will it lead to an increase in anti-Semitism in Europe, exacerbating intercommunal tensions? The panelists and moderators agreed that the refugees needed to be assimilated, in order to provide for the security of Europe in general and Jews in particular. Baker emphasized that it is inevitable that Jews feel a degree of empathy for the plight of the thousands who find themselves forced to leave their homes, and are often confronted with closed doors. The panelists agreed that this major demographic movement will present cultural and security challenges to the Europe.

There are positive voices in Europe against anti-Semitism today. Clavreul works directly with French PM Manuel Valls, who insists that Jews are an integral part of the French community. France aspires to be an environment hospitable to Jews (and other minorities). German Chancellor Angela Merkel is another important voice. Baker highlighted the diversity of contexts and experiences within Europe. One should not paint a broadly negative picture. Clavreul believes that with increased education about the Jewish experience at the childhood level, paired with increased regulation of hate speech and especially the internet, France (and Europe overall) can begin to roll back the tide of hate.

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Countering Islamic extremism

Screen Shot 2015-07-21 at 11.24.16 PMOn Tuesday, the American Enterprise Institute hosted a conference on Islamic extremism, reformism, and the war on terror, which included a panel entitled Options for the Islamic World and the United States. Panelists included: Zainab Al-Suwaij, American Islamic Congress,
Husain Haqqani, Hudson Institute and former Pakistani Ambassador to the United States and Mohamed Younis, Gallup.  Danielle Pletka, AEI, moderated.

Pletka spoke of the need to be more frank about Islamic extremism.  Political correctness has dominated our national conversation. Both parties say Islamic extremism is not Islam.

The Great Mosque in Bahrain
The Great Mosque in Bahrain

But ISIS is a form of Islam, just not a positive form.  There is also bigotry.  There needs to be an intelligent debate.

Al-Suwaij noted that President Obama states that the US is not at war with Islam, but doesn’t distinguish between Islam as a religion and Islamism driven by ideologues and extremists.  We need to address these issues wisely, but firmly.  The majority of the problems in the Muslim world come from the lack of human rights.  Authoritarian rulers are the basis of extremism and support extremism.  The Muslim public realizes that radicalism is the biggest threat to them. If they see the US doing nothing about it, they assume that the US works with these groups.

The 9th-11th Century Khoja Mashad Mosque and Mausoleum in Shahrituz, Tajikistan, 20 miles from the Afghan border.
The 9th-11th Century Khoja Mashad Mosque and Mausoleum in Shahrituz, Tajikistan, 20 miles from the Afghan border

Haqqani explained that Islam is not monolithic.  We are dealing with a problem of those Muslims who are engaged in a war.  Muslims in the West are sensitive to criticism of their religion, but Western publics are not criticizing Muslim piety; they are criticizing beheadings.  The US made a critical error in the Cold War by using Islamic fundamentalism to counter Communism.  It worked in the short-term but backfired.

On Monday, David Cameron outlined a strategy for countering extremism, in which he stated: “We’ve got to show that if you say ‘yes I condemn terror – but the Kuffar are inferior’, or ‘violence in London isn’t justified, but suicide bombs in Israel are a different matter’ – then you too are part of the problem.”  Haqqani wants a similar statement from President Obama. Islamic extremism has to do with Islam because the extremists self-identify as Muslims.  An ideological counter-narrative is needed. US policy must include military, intelligence, ideological and law-enforcement components, but the ideological component is missing.  Haqqani argued that Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Muslim community of India don’t produce extremists because these countries allow more freedom for Muslim scholarly debate.  The West needs to give a voice to unheard Muslim voices and protect pluralism.

The ceiling of the mosque in Abu Ghosh, Israel.
The ceiling of the mosque in Abu Ghosh, Israel

Younis said there is not a war on Islam, but a war within Islam.  The US needs to support diversity of opinion in the Islamic world. There is a need to increase jurisprudential literacy among Muslim masses; there are plenty of Muslim scholars who counter extremism.  People have been convinced that joining the Muslim Brotherhood will get them into heaven, but this is not in the Quran.  There is a conflation of sharia (the ideals of Islamic law) and fiqh (the worldly implementation of sharia).  The premise of Islamic schools of thought has been debate; ISIS is antithetical to this and takfirism (excommunicating fellow Muslims) is not a traditional approach.

When Gallup polled Muslims about 9/11, the the minority who felt it was justified gave political reasons, not religious ones.  Younis has observed three main grievances:

  1. The perception of US political hegemony–the US doesn’t support self-governance for Muslims.
  2. Conflicts in the Middle East, including Iraq and Israel-Palestine.
  3. The perception that Islam is not respected in the West.
The 13th Century Sheikh Maslihaddin Mausoleum, Khojand, Tajikistan
The 13th Century Sheikh Maslihaddin Mausoleum, Khojand, Tajikistan

Younis asserted, however, that increased jurisprudential literacy cannot come from the the US government because it is not expert at reforming religion.  If we openly support pluralist voices, they will be accused of working for the West.  We need to  address the ecosystem that breeds extremism.  The Brotherhood appealed to Egyptians because it was the only group addressing the needs of much of the population.  We should focus on job creation, human capital, and youth engagement.

Al-Suwaij claimed that the US can help since we spend millions annually on promoting civil society, helping to catalyze the Arab Spring.  That did not turn out well, but we could use a similar mechanism to bring religious reform.

9th Century Minaret in Ayni, Tajikistan
9th Century Minaret in Ayni, Tajikistan

Haqqani thought extremism comes partly from grievances and partly from conspiracy theories.  The works of Sayyid Qutb argue that the West is corrupt and controlled by Jews.  The narratives that the Islamic world declined because of colonialism or that Islam is under threat are false.  The Islamic world was colonized because it was already weak.  The West must fight conspiracy theories, anti-Semitism, and sectarianism; American academia, NGOs, and think tanks, can play a role.  The US government can facilitate.

Al-Suwaij asserted that a few years ago, the American Islamic Congress discovered that curricula at many Islamic schools taught hatred, anti-Semitism and violence.  Many Islamic groups on college campuses encourage Muslims to be more extreme or join radical groups abroad and encourage non-Muslims to convert.  Younis asserted that on one side, there are those who ask Muslims to condemn radicalism, despite the fact that Muslim groups have been doing so for years.  On the other side, there is the “Islam is peace” argument, which ignores the fact that some commit violence in the name of Islam.  This “food fight” is unhelpful.  Al-Suwaij noted that many of the condemnations that Islamic groups make in public don’t apply in small groups behind closed doors.  Even though Muslims have equal rights in the US, there is still anti-Western rhetoric.

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