In an op-ed for Asharq Alawsat, Sherif Ayoub wonders why people call for an “Islamic state” in preference to a Western-style government when that Western-style more closely approaches what an idealized Islamic state should be. He offers some observations…
Opinion: What is “Islamic” statehood?
The resurgence of Islamic thought in the 20th century has served as a call to action by some Muslim leaders, demanding the adherents of the religion, such as myself, work together to supplant the Western-dominated models of statehood in Muslim countries. In fact, it could be argued that the root of the most organized opposition movements in the last century in these countries has been the aspiration for social transformation corresponding to Islamic jurisprudence, rather than the liberal ideals promoted in the West.
However, beyond the euphoria of latest successes of political Islam in bringing Islamic movements to power in the wake of the Arab Spring, this transformation poses challenges for Muslims seeking the truth about the claims that Islamic statehood promises bliss and salvation to the populace. The conundrum, of course, becomes apparent in the contrast between the stature of Islamic Empire in the seventh and eighth centuries, and the less-than-stellar performance of attempts to establish Islamic states in the modern era.
Essentially, two questions present themselves here: first, given that God is omnipotent and will undoubtedly not keep his benevolence from his true followers, how is it that the countries that seek to impose a model of Islamic statehood in the modern era are consistently ranked lower in development indicators than their Western counterparts?
And, second, when one thinks of the achievements of the Islamic Empire, did that success rest more on being Islamic, or on having an effective and functional state that was the most advanced in its time?
Writing at Al Arabiya TV, Badria al-Bishr laments the rise of sectarianism that goes to the root of Arab unity. Too many, she says, are extrapolating from regional events to the personal level. Where there had been amity among the sects on a local level in the past, there is now hatred fueled by what is seen in the news.
The arguments she is opposing are rife with logical fallacies. Fallacious appeals to belief, consequences of belief, emotion, fear, popularity, and tradition are all being made. Errors of composition — assuming what is done by some members of a group must apply to all members of the group — are common. Muddled thinking and an apparent inability to put oneself in another’s shoes can only create new problems and exacerbate old ones. It’s bad enough when individuals behave this way; it’s infinitely worse when states adopt these views as policy.
Stirring hatred in the Muslim world
A Kuwaiti actor’s grandson passed away whilst the former was shooting a series. The actor stopped shooting and his Saudi colleague went to offer him his condolences in Kuwait in a “hosseiniyeh” (a Shiite mosque) built in 1905, as the deceased hails from the Shiite sect. A picture of the Saudi actor was published on Twitter along with a long hashtagged comment slandering him and accusing him of treason. He was accused of far worse as one of the critics said “a sectarian regime kills Qusayr’s children, how can you offer condolences to the sons of this sect whom the killers hail from?”
One can say that people with such a demagogic approach don’t represent a big percentage of the public. But they are not small in their numbers either. They have exposed a malicious racist spirit that places its pains above all others’ pain. They are moved by the desire of blind vengeance. They know no mercy, tolerance or justice. They consider that the ones responsible for all these pains are everyone who belongs to the sect of the tyrant. This is how crimes were attributed to people who have nothing to do with the fighting in the Syria. They were only attributed to them because they happen to belong to the same sect. They have thus given up on our unity and national and Gulf security, dividing society into categories of those who are our within our group, even if they reside overseas, and of those who are not of our group even if they share land and interests with us.
In his opinion piece for Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV (where he is General Manager) Abdulrahman Al-Rashed takes a look at laws in the Middle East that proscribe lèse-majesté, insulting the monarch or head of state. The cause is the 11-year jail sentence handed out to a Kuwaiti woman for a Tweet she sent that a court deemed offensive to the Emir.
Kuwait is hardly the only country that has laws prohibiting offending a monarch. As the linked Wikipedia article notes, similar laws are found in Europe and, notoriously, in Thailand. In other countries, it may not be a smart move to insult the head of state, there can certainly be consequences, but they do not entail serving time in jail.
Laws against lèse-majesté are an insult themselves to the concept of free speech, free expression, and free thought. No one and no thing should be immune to criticism, even harsh criticism. The problem with them is that people tend to like these laws so long as they’re ‘protecting’ things and people they like. When power shifts, though, completely other things now find protection. Arbitrariness does not make for good law. History — such as in China where it was illegal to insult Chairman Mao, until it was illegal to do anything but insult him — should provide examples of why protecting only certain targets from insult is wrong. The examples never do, though. Every country with such laws sees itself as somehow being special, operating outside the realm of human behavior and basic human rights, all for a good reason.
Kuwait’s tough Twitter sentence
The difference between Arab monarchies and republics is not linked to the variance between regimes, politics or freedom, rather, the gap is due to the dissimilar way in which these governments treat their citizens. Whilst presidents like Assad, Saddam and Bashir were cutting off the tongues, ears and heads of their rivals, countries like Kuwait, Saudi and others were trying to contain their political rivalries tribally or via material means. Late Jordanian King Hussein visited prison himself to release Laith Shubeilat, a man who incited against him. Despite coup and assassination attempts against the leader, over a period of forty years, King Hussein never executed any of his rivals. The same goes for Kuwait which also did not execute any of those who attempted to assassinate late Emir Sheikh Jaber in a subversive operation in which some of his guards were killed.
A Kuwaiti court sentenced a twitter user to 11 years in prison for writing one sentence that was considered an insult against the emir. Although I don’t think the verdict will stand in the court of appeal, it remains out of the ordinary and represents an act of exaggerated cruelty.
If a person who wrote one single sentence deserves this long prison sentence, how long do those who conspire against Kuwait everyday deserve to be jailed? A hundred years? Or worse, do they deserve execution?
One of the results of a visit by imams from various Islamic countries to Auschwitz is a joint declaration, here reported by Al Arabiya TV. The declaration condemns anti-Semitism in general and Holocaust denial in particular. The group, representing religious authorities from across the Muslim world are clear in stating that no useful purpose is served in trying to deny historic fact.
That the story is being reported by Saudi media is also significant. There is just a bit too much anti-Semitism in Saudi textbooks, though the government has been taking action over the past ten years to remove offensive materials from the books. Yet Saudi preachers are loathe to give up what seem to be hot talking points in their sermons when they rely on other, earlier historic events — including Quranic tales of Jewish perfidy — to add emotion to their sermons. And while most of the blatant anti-Semitic material may have been removed from texts, it does not necessarily follow that it has been removed from the classroom. Saudi teachers, who themselves learned from tainted materials, are fully capable of continuing to teach what they think to be true.
Anti-Semitism is far from being removed from Arab culture. It’s still intertwined with anti-Zionism and every negative action by Israel is seen as a statement about “Jews”. This isn’t going to go away soon, but at least some steps are being taken in the right direction.
Muslim religious leaders condemn holocaust deniers
Al Arabiya with AFP
Muslim religious leaders and scholars from around the globe issued a joint statement Monday condemning any attempts to deny or justify the Holocaust in which six million European Jews perished under Nazi Germany.
“We bear witness to the absolute horror and tragedy of the Holocaust where millions upon millions of human souls perished, more than half of whom were people of the Jewish faith,” said a statement signed by 10 leading Islamic figures including President of the Islamic Society of North America, Imam Mohamed Magid and India’s Chief Imam, Umer Ahmed Ilyasi.
“We acknowledge, as witnesses, that it is unacceptable to deny this historical reality and declare such denials or any justification of this tragedy as against the Islamic code of ethics,” they said, adding they “stand shoulder to shoulder with our Jewish brothers and sisters in condemning anti-Semitism in any form.”
Imams and Muslim intellectuals from Bosnia, India, Indonesia, Jordan, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United States knelt in solemn prayer for Holocaust dead at Auschwitz on May 22, their foreheads touching the ground before the notorious Wall of Death at the former Nazi German death camp in southern Poland.
In a column for Al Arabiya TV, Abdullah Hamidaddin offers up six ways in which we should not look at the Sunni-Shi’a bifurcation. In fact, he suggests, we probably shouldn’t even be using those two words because their meaning has changed considerably over the past 1,400 years.
History certainly has its uses. It does help us see how people in the past — very similar to us in terms of motivations — have dealt with issues both wisely and unwisely. But there’s only so much a snapshot of an historical period can inform us. The world changes along with language. Perhaps “Sunni” and “Shi’a” continue to have important meaning when it comes to religious doctrine or ritual, but neither of them has been exactly static since they first dawned upon the Earth. Even more, the politics around them has changed. Those changes started about 1,400 years ago, too, and they now cover a lot of ground. Hamidaddin also points to the fact that neither “Sunni” or “Shi’a” really has a unitary meaning across the globe. Each group has its subgroups and both practices and philosophies can differ greatly.
I recommend reading the entire article.
Six rules of thumb for writing on Sunni/ Shiite concepts
In the beginning of the 9th century Charles I King of the Francs was crowned Emperor by Pope Leo III. This challenged Empress Irene who ruled the Byzantium Empire from its capital Constantinople (modern Istanbul). This had a long lasting consequence on the relationships between Asia Minor and Europe which were already bad. Today we can see the effect of that event on the relations between modern Turkey and Europe and on the European hesitation to allow Turkey in the EU. It is because of that conflict between Charles and Irene in the 9th century.
I need not say that this is nonsense. But it is such nonsensical analysis which more than often guides the view towards the Middle East and Muslim communities at large. Whenever a writer explains contemporary politics by reference to the civil wars between Muslims in the 8th century he/she is doing exactly the same thing. The tectonic shift from those times to now makes absolutely no sense whatsoever to even contemplate on those events 1400 years ago as a prelude to understanding today. A shift that is not less in any way than that which happened from the time of Charles I, Pope Leo III, and Irene. But while everyone can see the shift in this latter case it seems much harder in the former one.
Why is that? Maybe we got used to the former. We grew up talking about Sunnis and Shiites fighting each other. We read all the time that Sunnis did this to Shiites and Shiites did that to Sunnis. Of course this does not excuse the critical mind, even the noncritical mind. If we spent thirty or forty years talking about conflict between Europeans and Asian Minors does that justify seeing that nonsense in a different light?
In continuing coverage over the dispute about what procedures female nurses should or should not conduct for patients, Arab News offers another voice.
It’s clear that Saudi Arabia’s culture draws bold lines when it comes to interactions between men and women. Medical practice, however, does not see “men” and “women” as entirely separate beings. Instead, it sees “patients who need medical care”. With the obvious exception of procedures that pertain solely to men or solely to women — men don’t get pregnant; women don’t get prostate cancer, for example — medicine is largely similar no matter the sex of the patient. The Saudi government recognized this long ago when it made its medical schools co-educational, mixing both male and female students in the same classes.
Appeals to custom and tradition, Khadija Habib writes, don’t really clarify the situation as during classical times it was women who did the nursing. That there are now male nurses or female nurses from different cultures does not mean that female Saudi nurses can withdraw from providing needed services. That’s simply not what the profession is about.
Saudi women find steep learning curve in nursing
JEDDAH: KHADIJA HABIB
As taboos fall away in the nursing profession and more Saudi women are hired to give care to patients in hospitals and clinics, medical personnel are beginning to realize there is a learning curve in how to approach the job.
Many new Saudi nurses have expressed dislike and frustration over the type of work they are required to perform in hospitals. Many complained about the demands of the job at a recent Jeddah conference to commemorate the International Nurses Day.
“Our job duties require that we have sometimes to deal with difficult situations, which is understandable and part of the job,” said Manish Archie, an Indian nurse who came to Saudi Arabia nine years ago. “However, what I can’t understand is that some people use us to do things that another female nurse would refrain from doing for religious reasons. And we are asked frequently to do night shifts.”
Archie told Arab News that some female nurses refuse to perform catheterization on a male patient, saying either that it is not allowed in Islam or because she feels embarrassed in performing the task.
“Now I understand the local culture, but some people go too far,” she said.
An interesting discussion of why it’s unlikely that Saudi Arabia will acquire nuclear weapons appears on the Al Arabiya TV website. Middle East analyst Naser al-Tamimi notes the many reasons why, under current and near-future circumstances, it would be unwise for the Saudi government to go down the path of nuclear arms. While everyone understands that developing its own nuclear weaponry would be difficult, expensive, and time-consuming, the idea that the Saudis could simply buy such weapons from Pakistan or China are also flawed. The Saudis have better options available, including relying on a US security umbrella or — definitely not a first-choice option — a security promise from Pakistan.
The Saudis will go nuclear insofar as electricity generation through nuclear power plants. That is a program that is already underway. But it is a vastly longer path to even try to divert or augment power generation to the development of atomic bombs. Saudi Arabia — not the most transparent country on Earth — is still too transparent to hide that sort of adventure.
Clear or nuclear: Will Saudi Arabia get the bomb?
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
As the impasse over Tehran’s nuclear program worsens, those most likely to be directly affected by an Iranian bomb are showing greater alarm. While the media fixates on Israel and its possible reaction, other regional players have no less at stake.
Despite Riyadh’s long-held advocacy of making the Middle East a zone free of weapons of mass destruction, there has been much speculation in the past few years about the possibility of its acquiring, or developing, nuclear weapons should Tehran obtain the bomb.
In the words of Saudi King Abdullah: “If Iran developed nuclear weapons (…) everyone in the region would do the same,” a sentiment echoed by Prince Turki al-Faisal, former head of Saudi Arabia’s General Intelligence Directorate.
Just Do It isn’t only a Nike advertising slogan. According to this opinion piece in Saudi Gazette, it’s what the government of Saudi Arabia needs to do when it comes to the issue of women’s driving.
As with many things in Saudi Arabia, Mahmoud Ahmed reminds us, Saudi society takes a long time to come to conclusions about change. And the funny thing is that they never actually reach conclusions until the government says, “do this.” Once the mandate has been issued, and after a bit of fussing, the new becomes accepted. There are actually few things in which Saudi society has been the driver of change — satellite TV is one that comes to mind. In most cases, it’s the government that says girls will be educated or that English will be taught in primary schools. Even the most mundane issues like girls’ sports programs in schools take a government boot to get people moving.
It’s time, Ahmed suggests, for the government to act. All the arguments pro and con have been hashed out over the years. Everyone understands them. But until the government authorizes the activity, it’s not going to happen. So, just do it for crying out loud!
Will society allow women to drive?
There’s a decided single-mindedness in Saudi society when it comes to making decisions on social issues— especially issues that concern women. Just procrastinate and the issue will fade away. Is it me, or is it really the case that when issues require a firm decision, we either take a long time deliberating or just don’t bother to consider them, allowing them to simmer. In either case, the manner in which we tackle issues is poor at best. In the first case, we are just delaying the inevitable and the second — pushing the decision off with the attitude that out of sight means out of mind — is just wishful thinking.
Among the many issues demanding a decision from society is that of women driving. It has been said that only society can decide whether women should drive, but the question is: How long will this take?
Saudi society is divided on many mundane issues, including teaching English at the elementary level (a necessity of the times), changing the weekend to Friday and Saturday instead of Thursday and Friday ( in line with global necessity), girls’ sports in school (a healthy option for society) and many others. So why should the issue of women driving be any different? The irony is that not that long ago, society was divided on the issue of women going to school. But once the decision was taken society accepted it with the naysayers realizing the necessity of education for both boys and girls. Now those who were once against the idea are used to it and the result is that there are many schools and universities for women in the Kingdom.
Agence France Presse reports that Saudi filmmaker Haifaa Al-Mansour has won a “Newcomers” award at the Cannes Film Festival for her film “Wadjda”. In the interview — here republished by Yahoo.com’s news portal “Maktoob” — Al-Mansour says she sees culture changing in Saudi Arabia. While there’s still a long way to go, changes are taking place.
Saudi Arabia more tolerant, says woman film maker
Saudi Arabia’s first woman film maker, Haifaa Al-Mansour, said her country was becoming “more tolerant and more accepting” as she picked up an award in Cannes on Saturday for her acclaimed film “Wadjda”.
The 2012 tale of an impish young Saudi girl who plots to own a bicycle in defiance of a ban has won the hearts of critics and public alike in France, Germany and Switzerland, where it is being distributed.
Filming “Wadjda” was an odyssey in itself.
In conservative neighbourhoods, local residents would block shooting, or Mansour would have to direct from a van with a walkie-talkie, as she could not be seen in public together with male crew and actors.
The film itself will only be seen in the kingdom on DVD or on television, as cinemas there are banned.
Translated by Saudi Gazette, an article appearing in the Arabic daily Al-Riyadh raises an interesting proposition. It suggests changing Saudi society from one of night owls to denizens of the daylight. The goal of this proposal is to increase job opportunities for Saudis.
The writer notes that Saudis do a lot of shopping after dark, even after midnight. It’s not just running out for an emergency supply of coffee or bread, he says. You can buy real estate, hardware, or your fruits and vegetables. The people staffing these jobs are all expats, because Saudis don’t want or — for family reasons — aren’t able to work late into the night. By closing the shops earlier, more Saudis could be eased into the jobs.
It’s certainly true that in the past, climate argued for doing things after the sun went down and the heat of the day was past. But now, homes, cars, and shops are mostly air-conditioned. Does that really change things enough to shift an entire lifestyle? And, as commenters to the Saudi Gazette article note, what about all the times when the shops are forced closed for prayer time? That alone knocks several hours of potential shopping time off the calendar. So just when during the day are people supposed to do their necessary shopping?
Along with the renewed debate about shifting the days of the weekend, this piece shows that Saudis are willing to think outside the box for solutions to social issues, at least those that deal with jobs and money.
Close shops early for Saudization to succeed
Abdulrahman Al-Alsheikh | Al-Riyadh
If the ministries of labor and commerce are serious about Saudizing jobs at stores in malls and shopping centers, then they should consider changing the work hours.
A Saudi man or woman cannot work until midnight or even 11 p.m. as is the case with the majority of store employees, most of whom are expatriates. If we are serious about Saudization, we must change the phenomenon of stores remaining open well into the evening. In advanced countries, only select stores remain open into the late hours but in our cities, we find real estate offices, barber shops, and mobile phone, hardware and even produce stores that remain open well past midnight. Where are we going to find Saudi men or women who have the physical and mental strength as well as family support to work until these late hours daily?
Shopping in the Kingdom is very strange and is almost chaotic. This nocturnal chaos is an “evicting factor” for male and female Saudis from the market and for Saudization as a whole. These are working hours that a Saudi national cannot bear and continue working for, whatever the attractions and incentives may be. The few hours after 9 p.m. are to enjoy with family, relatives and friends. We can say without doubt that the late work schedules are forcing young Saudis away from the private sector, especially stores.
An interesting column from Al Arabiya TV on ‘honor killings‘ by Lebanese writer Sophie Ghaziri. In it, she notes that so-called ‘honor killings’ continue to take place across the Middle East and national laws do little to stop them. She points to two cases in Jordan that happened just last month.
I think the article is a good one, but has a serious flaw. It focuses solely on female victims and suggests that this is a problem for women. Sadly, honor killings also claim male victims. Whether it is a male alleged to have impugned the honor of a woman, or a gay male, men, too are victims.
The causes are the same no matter the sex of the victim: an exaggerated sense of ‘honor’ for which any blemish must be cured through the shedding of blood. The cure is also the same: strict enforcement of law, not tribal custom.
In the name of honor
Killing to defend or protect one’s honor is both traditional and archaic, but it still exists across the globe and, unsurprisingly, the main victims happen to be women and girls.
True statistics on this matter are hard to come by; however, the United Nations has previously estimated that up to 5,000 people around the world are victims of honor crimes yearly.
This month, in Jordan alone, international media reported a minimum of two cases. Just this week, a Jordanian man reportedly confessed to slitting his sister’s throat and stabbing her 20 times in the face and chest. According to police reports, the reason this man took such forceful action was because his sister was rarely at home and he apparently had “to cleanse the family honor.”
In Jordan on April 15, police said they found a burned body of a pregnant woman whose throat had been slit and belly cut open, which inevitably bared her four-month-old fetus. This too was an apparent “honor killing.”
In his Asharq Alawsat column, Hussein Shobokshi writes about the new dedication of King Abdullah to rid Saudi Arabia of extremism. While the country has conducted a commendable battle against terrorism, the battle to remove extremist thought now remains. Shobokshi correctly identifies a strain of clerics that preach extremism. He might have noted the non-clerics who teach extremist interpretations of Islam in Saudi elementary and secondary schools. This is a by-product of placing so much emphasis on religion in school curricula: there are too many teachers offering their own views with little oversight of the actual messages they are transmitting.
The article does not go into what steps are to be taken to rein in the extremists. While censoring them is not at all an ideal solution, stripping them of their government salaries would certainly be appropriate. Quick responses to their dangerous utterances would also help to clear the air.
A Campaign against Extremism
Saudi Arabia has made the significant decision to ramp up its efforts to eradicate terrorism and deceptive strains of thought. Saudi Arabia intends to wage a “war” against the extremists who poison the minds of Saudi youth; before, it had primarily concentrated on arresting and prosecuting members of terrorist groups.
These intelligently-waged security campaigns against terrorist cells have produced commendable results, which have since become hallmarks of the security forces’ effectiveness. But despite these successes, more young people continue to fall prey to divergent strains of thought. Some of these victims relapse after having completed a rehabilitation program aimed at deconstructing the insidious concepts of militant extremism that are perverting their minds and replacing them with healthier worldviews. It has become clear that the seeds of these misleading, destructive and fatal philosophies still find fertile ground in the minds of Saudi youth.
The gravity and urgency of this threat makes King Abdullah’s statements during a meeting with Saudi clerics and scholars all the more significant. He said, “Whosoever deludes our youth and our children must answer to God; for them, imprisonment alone is much too lenient a penalty.” In that sentence, the king revealed a significant shift in Saudi counter-terrorism policy. His statements are a clear indication of the seriousness with which the Saudi political establishment intends to pursue the extremists who use television, public venues, publishing houses and social networking sites to disseminate the malicious fatwas that have claimed the lives of many. Many of these extremists who delude our youth are mistakenly perceived as clerics and intellectuals, and some have risen to near-celebrity status and enjoy all of the prestige and financial benefits that come with it.