Toronto Sun May 5, 2012
The Great Mosque, 13th c. CE, Aleppo, Syria — Photograph 2005 Via Wikimedia Commons.
The bloodletting in Syria should end any further romanticizing of the so-called “Arab Spring.” There is more ugly reality yet to see as Egypt’s experiment with the Islamist version of democracy unfolds.
I do not speak lightly of the Arab-Muslim world’s heart of darkness.
I have seen it in the all-male crowded streets of Peshawar, in the bustling squares of the Shiite holy city of Qom in Iran, in Ramallah and other towns of the West Bank, in the squalor of overpopulated North African cities.
There are the mosques and the calls to prayer. And as one steps inside them to join men at prayer, especially Friday’s communal prayer, it is hard not to notice the combustible fusion of piety and anger taking hold of the young and old gathered together in solidarity against an unjust world outside.
I have felt the blast of this anger poured forth from pulpits in Peshawar and in Algiers, as I have heard its echo right here in Canada.
This is the Arab-Muslim heart of darkness — a repressed and roiling cauldron of anger seething to erupt at any moment with a mighty destructive force.
The Syrian bloodletting is not only about a cruel despot and an oppressed people. It has all the elements of a replay of sectarian conflicts from the earliest decades of Arab-Muslim history.
Continue reading Avoiding Arab-Muslim heart of darkness by Salim Mansur
Minaret of the Bride, the Umayyad Mosque, 7th-8th c. CE, Damascus — Photograph 2010 Via Wikimedia Commons.
Toronto Sun April 28, 2012
In a recent Wall Street Journal column, Fouad Ajami laments America’s abdication of Syria as the country slides ever deeper into the morass of a bloody civil war.
Ajami is the pre-eminent Arab-American academic and public intellectual writing about the contemporary Middle East. His realism, honesty, insight of the Arab world and elegant style, make him one of the most widely read scholars on the twists and turns of Levantine politics.
But Ajami is at a loss to explain America’s abandonment of a Syria traumatized by the sheer ruthlessness of Bashar al-Assad. Ajami knows better than just about anyone how well the current butcher of Damascus absorbed the lessons taught by Hafez al-Assad — Bashar’s father and the man responsible for ordering the massacre of the population in Hama in February 1982.
It is also undeniable that the current situation in Syria is not an anomaly by Arab standards. It is only the latest act in an old drama, of wily despots maintaining their hold on power by breaking heads until their luck runs out and the cycle is repeated.
Ajami is, however, appalled by the inaction of the Obama administration as are others in the Middle East — the Syrian opposition, the Turks, leaders of the Gulf states, Arabs on the street, and just about everyone witnessing the daily carnage inside Syria.
Continue reading Lesson from Iraq for Syria by Salim Mansur
CIP February 2, 2012
Title: "Women Volunteers in the Army of Bosnia-Hercegovina."
As an American Muslim, I am proud of the frontline role the organization I direct, the Center for Islamic Pluralism, has taken regarding women’s issues in our faith community. The Center has produced numerous documents on the crime of female genital mutilation and other atrocious practices inflicted on Muslim women.
These include so-called “honor” murders, forced marriage, forced divorce, marriage contracted with minor females, and other abusive habits found in Arab countries, Iran, Iraqi Kurdistan, Pakistan, Southeast Asia, and the immigrant Muslim communities in the West.
In 2009 our Center produced a major study of shariah agitation in Western Europe that addressed these problems forthrightly.
I note with great dismay that such social pathologies affect especially our Turkish and Kurdish coreligionists.
I oppose imposition of hijab (the headscarf), which should be worn by Muslim women exclusively by their own choice. I believe that hijab should not be adopted to suggest that a Muslim woman with her head wrapped by an ostentatious covering is a better Muslim or “more Islamic” than a Muslim woman who rejects hijab. Almighty Allah (s.w.t.) knows the modesty and virtue of Muslim women, and alone possesses the capacity for judgment of their belief, conduct, and repentance. Allah is not anthropomorphic in Islam. Allah possesses neither a physical body, nor a specific place in the universe, nor, above all, a gender.
Continue reading Muslim Women I Love Most by Stephen Schwartz
Folksmagazine [India] January 15, 2012
The Selimiye mosque, 16th c. CE, Edirne, Turkey – Photograph 2006 Via Wikimedia Commons.
Turkey’s so-called Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish initials as AKP) first won a national election in 2002 – a victory repeated in 2007 and 2011. Since its second triumph at the polls, it and its principal figure, current prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have undertaken a campaign of persecution against leaders of the country’s army, political institutions, judiciary, media, and academia.
The motive of the AKP offensive is obvious. Erdoğan’s party supports an allegedly “soft” form of Islamist ideology, and its targets mainly represent Turkey’s secularist political tradition.
AKP is linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkish involvement was prominent in the Tunisian turmoil last year, when Ennahda (Renaissance), the local Brotherhood party, rose to power. In the October 2011 Tunisian elections, Ennahda gained nearly 40 percent of votes, allowing it to name Hamadi Jebali as the country’s prime minister. Ennahda’s behind-the-scenes political leader, Rashid Ghannoushi, has published books in Turkey and proclaimed that AKP provides Ennahda with its model for Tunisia’s future.
The alleged moderation of AKP and Ennahda has persuaded a considerable number of gullible foreigners that the Turkish variety of Islamist politics is unthreatening to democracy, and may serve as a foundation for the attainment of full civil rights in the countries swept by the “Arab Spring.” But AKP has supported Hamas in Gaza no less than Ennahda in Tunisia. Erdoğan and AKP have projected a “neo-Ottoman” foreign policy intended to reestablish Turkey as the dominant regional power in the Middle East, the Balkans, and Central Asia.
Continue reading Turkey Leaps Toward Islamist Dictatorship by Stephen Schwartz
Folksmagazine [India] January 4, 2012
It is customary for columnists to conclude the common year with reflections on that which has just finished and predictions for that which is to come.
I make no pretensions to prophecy, aside from occasional analysis based on news reports. I am, however, a Muslim believer, and will therefore reverse the usual order of such discourses, beginning with what I and those with whom I cooperate in the Center for Islamic Pluralism (CIP) hope will come about, and dedicating the rest of this contribution to a look back at 2011.
First, let those of us who are Muslims pray and work for an end to violence, whether between Muslims, or inflicted by Muslims on non-Muslims and by non-Muslims on Muslims.
Let us pray and work for a positive victory over the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad in Syria.
Let us pray and work against the so-called “Boko Haram” cult that, claiming to act in the interest of Sunni Islam, has carried out brutal attacks on Christians in Nigeria.
Let us pray and work for social reform to prevail over Wahhabi reaction in Saudi Arabia.
Let us pray and work for global leaders to avoid the lure of a “new” Islamist ideology reigning over Turkey, Tunisia, Egypt, and other countries – of which, more below.
Continue reading Prayers for 2012 and Reflections on 2011
by Stephen Schwartz
Folksmagazine [India] December 26, 2011
Shrine of Hojja Ahmet Yesevi, 14th c. CE, Turkestan City, Kazakhstan — Photograph 2005 By Stephen Schwartz.
December 2011 marked two momentous anniversaries. The suicide by burning of Mohamed Bouazizi, a Tunisian street vendor, occurred on December 17, 2010, one year ago. The dissolution of the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics took place on December 26, 1991, two decades past.
Bouazizi’s act began the series of political upheavals known as the “Arab Spring” – leading to the fall of Tunisian dictator Zine Al Abedine Ben Ali, then Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, and Libya’s brutal buffoon, Mu’ammar Al-Qhadhdhafi. These convulsions were greeted by Western democratizers and Muslim moderates as the herald of a thorough transformation of political and social structures in the Islamic countries.
But the first indication that the “Arab Spring” would not produce the flowers of summer came with the emergence of Syria, ruled by Bashar Al-Assad, as a bulwark of tyranny and repression. Since political conflict began in that martyred country, in March 2011, as many as 5,000 people have been killed.
Egypt has joined Syria as a second pillar of violence and oppression in the Arab East. Although atrocities seen there cannot be compared in number, extent, or intensity with those in Syria, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took power away from Mubarak, has engaged recently in running street fights with young Cairene demonstrators. Such was the background for the unrestrained beating on December 17 of Aada Kamal Abd Al-Halek, known as “the blue bra woman” after her Islamic headscarf and cloak were ripped open and her underwear and denim trousers exposed while soldiers and apparent irregulars attacked her with sticks. A video of the incident was uploaded to YouTube with understandable results: renewed outrage at the Egyptian military’s retention of authority.
Continue reading Kazakhstan: Global Tumult Enters Critical Central Asia
by Stephen Schwartz
Revolutions are known to devour their children, and popular uprisings driven by the promise of change for the better have been notorious for turning into nightmares.
The so-called Arab Spring is another dark night unfolding across the Middle East.
This was predictable, and inevitable.
The Tunisian fruit-seller who sparked this Arab Spring by self-immolating was a man driven to despair by the very culture into which he was born, and from which he knew there was no escape.
The act of self-immolation was a terrible display of despair of a desperate man.
And so is the political drama in Arab streets — from Tripoli to Cairo to Damascus — an uncoiling of desperation among people trapped in a tribal culture stamped by authoritarianism.
But the culture is unforgiving, for it has been made by hard men and handed down from fathers to sons.
The history of this region, from the earliest years of Islam to the present time, is one relatively unbroken record of authoritarian rulers.
This is the closed circle where politics move from bad to worse, not good to better.
Continue reading Ruthless men hide behind veil of religion by Salim Mansur
Main mihrab of the Umayyad Mosque, Damascus, 2010 — Photograph (c) Jan Smith, Via Wikimedia Commons.
Toronto Sun November 19, 2011
As the regime of the Syrian strongman falters and Bashar al-Assad is probably haunted by images of the terrifying end of Libya’s tyrant, Moammar Gadhafi, the Arab Spring is turning into an inter-Arab and sectarian Sunni-Shiite regional conflict.
The recent decision of the 22-member Arab League to suspend Syria for the violent repression of the opposition has come on the heels of its earlier decision in March to vote for a no-fly zone over Libya.
It was the March decision that turned fatal for the long-standing tyranny of the Gadhafi regime.
The league’s demands that the Syrian regime immediately halt the use of force against civilian demonstrators or face sanctions, coupled with King Abdullah II of Jordan publicly calling for Bashar al-Assad to step down, signal the deep sectarian and political divisions among Arab and Middle Eastern states.
But the situation with Syria — regardless of if, or how, the internal strife escalates into a likely civil war — is much different than Libya, and the stakes for regional security much greater.
The Arab world has been divided politically between republican-type tyrannies and traditionalist monarchies, and religiously between majority Sunni and minority Shiite sects within Islam.
Syria sits on this fault line of the Arab world, as does Iraq.
Continue reading Sectarian tensions reveal Arab fault line by Salim Mansur
Folksmagazine [India] October 30, 2011
The Tunisian Republic, where the “Arab Spring” began at the end of last year, has now passed the first test of democracy in the region undergoing upheaval since then. On Sunday, October 23, the country held free elections for its new constituent assembly.
But there was an ambiguous aspect to the success of the balloting process. A plurality of 41 percent was received by Ennahda (Renaissance), the local branch of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), delivering 90 of 217 assembly seats to the Islamist party. Ennahda has proposed its secretary general, Hamadi Jebali, as the country’s new prime minister, and has commenced negotiations for a coalition with the secularist Congress for the Republic (CPR) and the leftist Ettakatol party, according to BBC News.
Ennahda and its top leader, Sheikh Rachid Ghannouchi, have presented a version of MB ideology mentored by Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Justice and Development Party (known by its Turkish initials as the AKP). Among other links with the AKP environment, several books by Ghannouchi have been published in Turkish. In addition, Ghannouchi’s views have, for some years, been promoted by the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), a U.S.-based think tank known for its outreach to radical Islamist regimes and groups in Iran, Sudan, and in the West.
Continue reading Tunisia Tests Arab Democratic Gains by Stephen Schwartz
Folksmagazine [India] September 26, 2011
Pakistan Parliament House, Islamabad, 2006 — Via Wikimedia Commons.
Two weeks after the 10th anniversary of the terrorist assault on America in 2001, an objective observer – if such a person exists today – looking at relations between the Muslim lands in crisis and the developed Western and East Asian countries, might easily agree with those who describe the situation as a clash of civilizations.
At the United Nations in New York, Palestinian Arab demands for recognition of a sovereign territory alongside Israel – the “two-state solution” that majorities among both Israelis and West Bank Arabs agree they want – were “self-sabotaged” by Palestinian rhetorical excess. An end to the Israel-Palestine controversy seemed further away than ever, with diplomacy serving as a masquerade for impotence. France, as a member of the UN Security Council, wriggled, supporting a Palestinian “non-member observer” seat at the UN. Israel remained calm, notwithstanding talk of a new mass political mobilization by the Palestinians and, in such a case, a tax blockade by the Jewish state, which collects revenues for the Palestinians. Meanwhile, as has become habitual at the UN, Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad disgraced his country, with the absurd allegation that the September 11, 2001 atrocities were falsified by the U.S. for the benefit of Israel.
Continue reading Pakistan Vs. America – Still No Accountability
by Stephen Schwartz