Tag Archives: Religion in the Middle East

The Return of the Dhimma?

First Things has run my essay on the return of the dhimma in Syria and its potential meaning for Mideast Christians:

Recently, an Islamist group in the Syrian opposition, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), captured the town of Raqqa and imposed on its Christian inhabitants the dhimma, the notional contract that governs relations with Christians in classical Islamic law. The dhimma allows Christian communities to reside in Muslim society in exchange for payment of a poll tax called the jizya and submission to social and legal restrictions. In Raqqa, for example, Christians have “agreed,” among other things, to pay ISIL a tax of $500 per person twice a year—poorer Christians can pay less—and to forgo public religious displays.

The dhimma has not been in operation in the Mideast for about 150 years. Even Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood did not reinstate it during the party’s brief period in power. Indeed, some progressive Islamic scholars argue that the dhimma is an anachronism that should no longer be part of Islamic law. So ISIL’s decision to impose it now has shocked Christians and many Muslims. The formal reestablishment of the dhimma in Raqqa reveals that some Islamists are prepared to cross a line many had thought inviolable.

You can read the whole thing here.

Hamid, “Temptations of Power”

9780199314058_450Next month, Oxford University Press will publish Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East by Shadi Hamid (Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Rubin, “Islam in the Balance”

Next month, Stanford University Press will publish Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics by Lawrence Rubin (Georgia Institute of Islam in the BalanceTechnology).  The publisher’s description follows.

Islam in the Balance: Ideational Threats in Arab Politics is an analysis of how ideas, or political ideology, can threaten states and how states react to ideational threats. It examines the threat perception and policies of two Arab, Muslim majority states, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, in response to the rise and activities of two revolutionary “Islamic states,” established in Iran (1979) and Sudan (1989).

Using these comparative case studies the book provides important insight about the role of religious ideology for the international and domestic politics of the Middle East and, in doing so, advances our understanding of how, why, and when ideology affects threat perception and state policy.

Rubin makes clear that transnational ideologies may present a greater and more immediate national security threat than shifts in the military balance of power: first because ideology, or ideational power, triggers threat perception and affects state policy; second because states engage in ideational balancing in response to an ideological threat.

The book has significant implications for international relations theory and engages important debates in comparative politics about authoritarianism and Islamic activism. Its findings about how an Islamist regime or state behaves will provide vital insight for policy creation by the US and its Middle East allies should another such regime or state emerge.

Qasmi, “The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan”

Next month, Anthem Press will publish The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan by Ali Usman Qasmi (Lahore University of Management Sciences). The publisher’s description follows.The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan

‘The Ahmadis and the Politics of Religious Exclusion in Pakistan’ traces the history of the political exclusion of the Ahmadiyya religious minority in Pakistan by drawing on revealing new sources. The Ahmadis believe Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadiyan (1835–1908) was a prophet (in a nuanced understanding of this term) and promised messiah. This led to the group’s condemnation as infidels during the colonial period, setting in course a painful history of religious exclusion.

Part I of this volume traces the development of the anti-Ahmadi movement from its origin in Punjab province, where an agitation movement was launched calling upon the central government to declare the Ahmadis officially non-Muslim. After the movement intensified, leading to proclamation of martial law in Lahore in 1953, the Punjab government held a court of inquiry, which released its report in 1954. The proceedings of the Munir-Kiyani inquiry commission has now become available to scholars, and is a key focus of analysis. Part II focuses on the developments in Pakistan’s politics that created a discursive space where legislative measures against the Ahmadis could be deliberated and adopted by the national assembly, and argues Pakistan’s first general elections in 1970 reflected the entrenchment of religious leaders in Pakistan’s power politics. The national assembly’s 1974 session saw Ahmadis unanimously declared as non-Muslims; the records of this session’s debates are extensively reviewed in this book.

A truly path-breaking study, this work goes beyond merely chronicling the details of anti-Ahmadi violence and the legal and administrative measures adopted against them, to address wider issues of the politics of Islam in postcolonial Muslim nation-states and their disputative engagements with the ideas of modernity and citizenship.

Report: Obama Administration to Increase Aid to Syrian Rebels

 

Kessab19

Holy Mother of God Armenian Apostolic Church in Kessab

The Wall Street Journal reports today that President Obama’s national security advisers have agreed on a proposal to increase US aid to “moderate” Syrian rebels. Although the advisers disagree on the advisability of more aggressive military intervention, they have apparently coalesced around a plan for US Special Forces to train and equip the moderates. This is in line with a report on Walter Russell Mead’s blog that Obama agreed during a recent visit to Saudi Arabia to supply the rebels with shoulder-launched anti-aircraft missiles, or “manpads.”

One can understand the Administration’s frustration. Two-and-a-half years after Obama said that Assad would have to go, and several months after the President’s about-face on chemical weapons, the Assad regime seems more secure than it has for a long time. But two factors counsel strongly against more aggressive assistance to the rebels. First, as Patrick Brennan writes, “for months and months now, it’s been obvious that the effective parts of the Syrian opposition are militant Islamists” like the Nusra Front and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Pro-Western moderate rebels, the sort the Administration likes to promote, are more or less “powerless.” If the opposition were to succeed in overthrowing Assad, it’s quite possible that the Islamists would overwhelm their secular allies–perhaps through a democratic election, as in Egypt in 2012–and transform Syria into an Islamist state. How would that advance America’s interests? 

Second, assistance to the rebels would almost certainly worsen the already dire situation of Syria’s Christians. Just in the last two weeks, the Nusra Front attacked the Armenian town of Kessab, displacing thousands of Christians. Fortunately, first reports of a massacre seem to have been unfounded. Indeed, the rebels are conducting a PR offensive to assure Kessab–and the world community–that they mean no harm. Christians are skeptical, and with good reason. ISIL recently imposed the centuries-old dhimma in a different Christian town, Raqqa, and, as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon observed this morning, “gross human rights violations undeniably continue.” Islamists have kidnapped nuns and bishops and murdered clergy. Only today, masked gunmen, presumably Islamist rebels, murdered a Catholic priest in a rebel-controlled district in the city of Homs. For these reasons, Syria’s Christians mostly support the Assad regime, usually quietly, sometimes vocally.

At this writing, it’s not clear whether the plan to equip and train the Syrian rebels will be adopted. In the words of the Journal report, “It isn’t clear where Mr. Obama stands.”

Through the Jaffa Gate: A Photo Essay

Last month, CLR Student Fellow Jessica Wright ’14 traveled to Israel, where she considered the religious, legal, and political issues that continue to divide the country and region. The following is her photo essay from Jerusalem. To see the slide show, please click on the first image.

All photos by Jessica Wright, Canon EOS 700D and Leica M3 (please do not use photos without permission).

Glick, “The Israeli Solution”

Last month, Random House published The Israeli Solution: A One State Plan forThe Israeli Solution Peace in the Middle East by Caroline Glick.  The publisher’s description follows.

The reigning consensus in elite and academic circles is that the United States must seek to resolve the Palestinians’ conflict with Israel by implementing the so-called two-state solution. Establishing a Palestinian state, so the thinking goes, would be a panacea for all the region’s ills. It would end the Arab world’s conflict with Israel, because the reason the Arab world is anti-Israel is that there is no Palestinian state. It would also nearly erase the principal cause of the violent extremism in the rest of the Middle East.

In a time when American politics are marked by partisan gridlock, the two-state solution stands out for its ability to attract supporters from both sides of the ideological divide. But the great irony is that it is one of the most irrational and failed policies the United States has ever adopted.

Between 1970 and 2013, the United States presented nine different peace plans for Israel and the Palestinians, and for the past twenty years, the two state solution has been the centerpiece of U.S. Middle East policy. But despite this laser focus, American efforts to implement a two-state peace deal have failed—and with each new attempt, the Middle East has become less stable, more violent, more radicalized, and more inimical to democratic values and interests.

In The Israeli Solution, Caroline Glick, senior contributing editor to the Jerusalem Post, examines the history and misconceptions behind the two-state policy, most notably:

- The huge errors made in counting the actual numbers of Jews and Arabs in the region. The 1997 Palestinian Census, upon which most two-state policy is based, wildly exaggerated the numbers of Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza.

- Neglect of the long history of Palestinian anti-Semitism, refusal to negotiate in good faith, terrorism, and denial of Israel’s right to exist.

- Disregard for Israel’s stronger claims to territorial sovereignty under international law, as well as the long history of Jewish presence in the region.

- Indifference to polling data that shows the Palestinian people admire Israeli society and governance. Despite a half-century of domestic and international terrorism, anti-semitism, and military attacks from regional neighbors who reject its right to exist, Israel has thrived as the Middle East’s lone democracy.

After a century spent chasing a two-state policy that hasn’t brought the Israelis and Palestinians any closer to peace, The Israeli Solution offers an alternative path to stability in the Middle East based on Israeli sovereignty over Judea and Samaria.

Hamid, “Temptations of Power: Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East”

Next month, Oxford will publish Temptations of Power:9780199314058_140 Islamists and Illiberal Democracy in a New Middle East, by Shadi Hamid (Director of Research and Fellow, Brookings Doha Center). The publisher’s description follows.

In 1989, Francis Fukuyama famously declared that we had reached “the end of history,” and that liberal democracy would be the reigning ideology from now on. But Fukuyama failed to reckon with the idea of illiberal democracy. What if majorities, working through the democratic process, decide they would rather not accept gender equality and other human rights norms that Western democracies take for granted? Nowhere have such considerations become more relevant than in the Middle East, where the Arab uprisings of 2011 swept the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties into power. Since then, one question has been on everyone’s mind: what do Islamists really want?

In Temptations of Power, noted Brookings scholar Shadi Hamid draws on hundreds of interviews with Islamist leaders and rank-and-file activists to offer an in-depth look at the past, present, and future of Islamist parties across the Arab world. The oldest and most influential of these groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, initially dismissed democracy as a foreign import, but eventually chose to participate in Egyptian and Jordanian party politics in the 1980s. These political openings proved short-lived. As repression intensified, though, Islamist parties did not — as one may have expected — turn to radicalism. Rather, they embraced the tenets of democratic life, putting aside their dreams of an Islamic state, striking alliances with secular parties, and reaching out to Western audiences for the first time.

When the 2011 revolutions took place, Islamists found themselves in an enviable position, but one they were unprepared for. Up until then, the prospect of power had seemed too remote. But, now, freed from repression and with the political arena wide open, they found themselves with an unprecedented opportunity to put their ideas into practice across the region. Groups like the Brotherhood combine the features of political parties and religious movements. However pragmatic they may be, their ultimate goal remains the Islamization of society and the state. When the electorate they represent is conservative as well, they can push their own form of illiberal democracy while insisting they are carrying out the popular will. This can lead to overreach and, at times, significant backlash, as the tragic events in Egypt following the military takeover demonstrated.

While the coup and the subsequent crackdown were a devastating blow for the Islamist “project,” premature obituaries of political Islam, a running feature of commentary since the 1950s, usually turn out to be just that – premature. In countries as diverse as Tunisia, Libya, Syria, Egypt, and Yemen, Islamist groups will remain an important force whether in the ranks of opposition or the halls of power.

Drawing from interviews with figures like ousted Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi, Hamid’s account will serve as an essential compass for those trying to understand where the region’s varied Islamist groups have come from, and where they might be headed.

Panel: The Coptic Question (April 10)

Fordham’s Institute on Religion, Law & Lawyer’s Work will host a panel discussion, “The Coptic Question: Protecting Minorities During Periods of Upheaval,” in New York on April 10:

Coptic Christians, who make up more than 10% of the Egyptian population, were partners with their Muslim fellow citizens in Tahrir Square and Arab Spring. However, since 2011, scores of Coptic churches, monasteries, shops, schools, clubs and orphanages had been plundered and burned, and over the past year more than 100,000 Christians have fled Egypt with their families, leaving everything they know behind.

This program will explore the experience of the Coptic Christians as religious minority in Egypt and consider the potential for protecting Christian minorities in majority Muslim countries.

Details are here.

President Obama and Pope Francis on Mideast Christians

In the Boston Globe, the always worthwhile John Allen analyzes today’s meeting between President Obama and Pope Francis. Although the two men will agree on issues like economic inequality, Allen says, they will likely differ on others, including, notably, Mideast policy.

Pope Francis often highlights the crisis Mideast Christians face; President Obama, not so much. “Few on the Catholic side are inclined to see the Obama administration as a great defender of those Christians at risk,” Allen writes, “while standing up against violent anti-Christian persecution is emerging as a cornerstone of Francis’ social and political agenda”:

On Egypt, Obama took a “pox on both your houses” stance last summer with regard to the Muslim Brotherhood and the army after a military council declared controversial President Mohamed Morsi deposed. The Vatican was more favorable to the military intervention, inclined to see it less as a coup and more as a reflection of popular will.

In Syria, the Obama administration has made the removal of President Bashar al-Assad a precondition for any negotiated end to that country’s civil war, while the Vatican is more skeptical about regime change, in part out of concern that whatever follows Assad might actually be worse.

Underlying these contrasts is that the Vatican’s reading of the Middle East is heavily conditioned by the perceptions of the Christian minorities in these countries, who generally see either a powerful military or strong-arm rulers as a buffer between themselves and Islamic radicalism. They often point to Iraq, where a once-thriving Christian community has been gutted in the chaos that followed the collapse of Saddam Hussein.

You can read the full article here.