The Huffington Post June 28, 2012
The 20th c. CE tomb of Hafez, Shiraz, Iran — Photograph 2009 Via Wikimedia Commons.
The world’s leading states — the U.S., Britain, Germany, France, Russia, and China — stand at an impasse in dealing with Iran and its nuclear potential. Iran has been a major contributor to the survival of the regime of Bashar Al-Assad and Al-Assad’s unrestrained bloodshed in Syria. A full European Union embargo on Iranian oil was scheduled to begin enforcement on July 1. An Israeli military strike at Iran’s nuclear facilities has been widely discussed.
Meanwhile, two dissenting Iranian religious figures — an imprisoned cleric and an exiled spiritual Sufi — have issued messages to the world condemning the Iranian theocratic authorities and calling on all religious believers to assist Iranians against the governing hierarchy.
Ayatollah Kazemeini Boroujerdi in his prison cell.
Both men — Ayatollah Seyyed Hossein Kazemeini Boroujerdi, who is held in the notorious Evin Prison, and Dr. Seyed Azmayesh, who lives outside Iran — have denied that the current dictatorship in their country represents Islamic principles. The cleric and the Sufi became victims of state repression in 2006, the year after the first election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to the country’s presidency.
Neither Ayatollah Boroujerdi nor Dr. Azmayesh has appealed for a violent effort to repudiate the Islamic state. They are advocates of peace on the path of peace.
n 1994, Ayatollah Boroujerdi criticized the political system that was established by the Iranian Islamic Revolution of 1979 and founded on the concept of “governance by the religious jurists.” He then said that Iranians are loyal to Islam and the mission of Muhammad, but are “tired of the religion of politics and political slogans.”
Continue reading Dissident Warnings From Iran by Stephen Schwartz
Folksmagazine [India] June 18, 2012
At mid-June, the wave of democratic revolutions in “pre-emerging” countries – those that have not yet reached the status of “emerging economies” – had seemingly come to a halt. In economic and political commentary, the “emerging” states include, most often, the “BRICs” – Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, and Turkey are considered close aspirants to the title. Yet the success of democracy is uneven in the “emerging” societies.
India has been democratic – with a short interruption by the Indira Gandhi “emergency” of the 1970s – since its independence in 1947. Brazil, South Korea, and Indonesia have completed rationally-organized transitions away from military rule. Mexico has established effective multi-party voting since 2000, after three quarters of a century under a barely disguised single-party ascendancy. Still, Russia’s political hierarchy continues to manifest an authoritarian character, and China labours under the changing, but tenacious hold of its peculiar form of “Confucian Communism.” Turkey wavers between its legacy of 20th century secularism and the “soft” (but politically aggressive) Islamist ideology of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party (known as the AKP).
Continue reading How the New Revolutions May Have Failed by Stephen Schwartz
The Weekly Standard Blog May 11, 2012
Haxhi Et'hem Beu Mosque, 18th-19th c. CE, Tirana – A most precious jewel of Albanian sacred architecture, subsidized by a Bektashi Sufi shahid. Photograph 2007 Via Wikimedia Commons.
While most of the informed Western public is aghast at the economic and political chaos that appears to be overtaking the government in Athens, southeast Europe has seen aggravated Islamist turmoil in the Balkan Muslim-majority lands and minority communities on and near Greece’s borders.
Immediately after the fall of communism in Albania in 1991, Arab Islamic fundamentalists infiltrated the mosques in the country, which is 70 percent Muslim. The interlopers represented the Saudi Wahhabis and the Egyptian disciples of today’s al Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. In spring 1999, a dozen of Al-Zawahiri’s acolytes, known as the “Albanian Returnees,” were deported from the eastern Adriatic republic to Egypt, tried, and sentenced to death or extended prison terms for terrorism. The “Returnees” had been told by their “sheikhs” to stay in Albania and avoid going to Kosovo, where NATO military forces were, by that time, thick on the ground. But Albania booted them out with alacrity. Evidence in the case of the “Albanian Returnees” proved extremely important in tracing the evolution of al Qaeda’s Egyptian predecessors.
Arab Islamists gained greater room for maneuver in Macedonia, which left Yugoslavia in 1991, and where Muslims form a large minority, consisting mainly of ethnic Albanians. There, the Islamic clerical structure was soon under tight Arab control. The story of that extremist exploit is complicated, but it is a visible reality.
Continue reading Arabs, Iranians, and Turks vs. Balkan Muslims by Stephen Schwartz
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