Unsupported Screen Size: The viewport size is too small for the theme to render properly.

Human Rights

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

Jamal Khashoggi: Casualty of the Trump administration’s disregard for democracy and civil rights in the Middle East?

by David Mednicoff*

The international crisis over whether top Saudi Arabian leadership murdered U.S.-based Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi is a striking example of the consequences of Donald Trump’s blanket disregard for democratic politics and human rights in other countries. This departure from decades of American foreign policy rhetoric remains comparatively undiscussed.

However, in the Middle East, my area of expertise, I believe this Trump policy shift opens the door to exactly the sort of flagrant attacks on individual freedom and safety that likely recently claimed Khashoggi.

Most criticism of Trump’s foreign policy has focused on two other major departures from decades of past American practice.

First, Trump has rejected the cornerstones of the post-WWII international order largely built by the U.S.: deep alliances among Western democracies and global free trade. Second, Trump has shown an affinity for authoritarian rulers, including Russia’s Vladimir Putin, which has undermined American interests.

Yet, the Trump administration’s abandonment of support for democracy and civil rights hurts the interests of both Middle Easterners and Americans.

Did the US walk the walk?
In the past, U.S. leaders and officials within the government have shown interest in political rights and government accountability in other countries. Such talk has nonetheless often taken a back seat to considerations of geopolitical power or resources. Continue reading

The disintegration of the GCC could create a True PGC

The disintegration of the GCC could create a True PGC

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

During the last of week of November, the Emir of Kuwait sent out formal invitations to all leaders of member states of the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf, originally and still commonly known as the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), to attend the 38th summit (December 5, 2017). The rulers of Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and United Arab Emirates, declined, sending instead political appointees of the 3rd order to represent them, which must have been seen as a personal insult to the elder Emir of Kuwait, Jaber al-Ahmad al-Sabah. I believe that this event will mark the unofficial end of this regional intergovernmental organization and perhaps the creation of a better intergovernmental organization in that region. This conclusion is not based just on the snub described above. Rather, it is based on the very reasons that led to the creation of the GCC in the first place and the motives that sustain it.

The GCC was born out of fear and bigotry among undemocratic authoritarian rulers who felt threatened by any event that introduces a political process that would diminish the legitimacy of their own form of government. Throughout its history, the creation of the GCC was motivated by fear, rooted in ethnicism, steeped in bigotry, and driven by elitism.

The GCC was founded in 1981, two years after the fall of the Shah and a year after the Iraqi invasion of Iran (1980), a war that lasted until August 20, 1988. Membership was limited to Arab states bordering the Persian Gulf including Qatar, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Oman, and Bahrain but excluding Iraq. While one could presume that Iran might have been excluded from this organization on account that it is not an Arab country, the founders provided no logical explanation for the exclusion of Iraq, which borders the Persian Gulf as well. However, it is the original exclusion of Iraq and its exclusion from a 2011 proposals to transform the GCC into a Union that signal the sectarian bias.

The GCC was formed with the aim of protecting the clan or family rule. Iraq was not ruled by a clan or family. Jordan and Morocco are.

The GCC was formed to protect the interests of Sunni Muslims. Iraq was and still is a Shia-majority country.

The GCC was created to preserve the supremacy of ethnic Arabs. Iran is a majority-Persian country. In their pursuit for promoting Arab supremacy, the founders of the GCC intentionally removed the word Persian from the name of the Persian Gulf–the name recognized by the UN and all other international organizations. The adjective “Arab” is used to name the Arabian Sea, on which the Persian Gulf opens and Iran has the longest shores along the Gulf than any other country bordering it, justifying the naming of the body of water, the Persian Gulf.

The idea that the GCC was created out of fear and to preserve an outdated political order can be further supported by its rulers’ attempt to expand its membership when they were also threatened by the 2011 uprisings popularly known as the Arab Spring. Then, Saudi Arabia and Bahrain pushed a proposal to transform the organization from a cooperative into a union and invited Jordan and Morocco to join. Justifying the need for these changes, the prime minister of Bahrain explicitly stated that “current events in the region underscored the importance of the proposal. Oman and Kuwait resisted the proposal, causing it to fail.

Most recently, the failure of the Saudi interventions in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen forced its rulers, again, to seek tighter control over decision making within regional organizations–like the GCC and the Arab League–to protect the clan rule from challenges spurred from neighboring countries. The drive for tighter control ruptured the artificial bond that connected the GCC member states, when Qatar refused to surrender all decision making to Saudi Arabia.

While the GCC summit was under way in Kuwait city, the rulers of UAE announced that they created a “committee for military, economic, political, media, and cultural cooperation between UAE and Saudi Arabia.” This announcement is essentially a step towards the creation of an alternative, but much weaker, GCC, which would be limited to Saudi Arabia, UAE, and Bahrain. This alternative is unlikely to bring peace and stability to the region for it is still based on the same irrational fears and self-serving goals of the rulers. However, its creation may nudge the other members of the GCC to create an alternative–one that is based on inclusion and mutual interest and respect.

Given the importance of the Persian Gulf to the world, not just to the region, nations bordering it should establish a new intergovernmental organization that will work to improve the quality of life of all the peoples in those countries and to safeguard the region against armed conflict and man-caused disasters. Kuwait, Qatar, and Oman should take the lead and work with the governments of Iraq and Iran to found the Persian Gulf Cooperative (PGC). Such an organization will be built on mutual respect and mutual interests, immediately bringing peace and prosperity to an estimated 100 million people living in Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, Iran, and Iraq. And when the rulers of Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and UAE reconsider their bigoted beliefs and policies, they should be able to join in as full members along with Pakistan and Afghanistan as Observers. Together, these ten nations, would combine their abundant natural resources and vibrant, youthful societies to create better opportunities for their collective population of more than 320 million people.

Because many ethnic, racial, religious, and sectarian communities live in these countries, such an organization would reduce sectarian and ethnic tension, utilize natural resources and water ways responsibly, strengthen civil society and respect for human rights norms, and enshrine cooperative leadership in a region that has been struggling for too long under unstable governments and authoritarian regimes. It will be an organization that is good for member states, good for the region, and good for the world as it inspire cooperation, mutual respect, and shared future.

___________________________

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

The Trump Administration does not recognize Muslim Americans

The Trump Administration does not recognize Muslim Americans

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

On May 26, President Trump released a statement on Ramadan, the lunar month that Muslims spend fasting from sun-up to sun-down every day. Unlike statements by other U.S. presidents who used the occasion to recognize the presence and contributions of Muslim Americans, Trump used it to denigrate them and stigmatize their religion and deny the fact that they exist.

As a statement of best wishes on the occasion of a religious event, the intended receiver is supposed to feel good about who they are and what they do. Instead, Trump’s statement made Muslim Americans feel demeaned and defamed. Trump’s statement connected all of Islam to terrorism and portrayed Muslims as people who are prone to violence. Not once did the president use the phrase Muslim Americans. Instead, he talked down to Muslims as foreigners who live in far way places everywhere else in the world, though he acknowledged that some of them–Muslims–live in the United States, but not as Muslim Americans.

If that offensive message was not enough, Trump’s choice for the post of the nation’s top diplomat emphasized the same attitude. On May 29, Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, declined a request to host an event to mark Ramadan, breaking with a bipartisan tradition in place for nearly 20 years. Taken together, it is clear that this administration does not recognize Muslim Americans as full citizens of this country. This statement is not based on speculations, it is based in facts—the kind of facts that withstand legal scrutiny. Four courts and judges found Trump to hold anti-Muslim views and for that reason they ruled against his Executive Orders–widely known as the Muslim Ban–in the original and revised editions.

Muslim Americans will resist these odious speech and acts because their right to be recognized as full citizens enjoying all the due protections of the law and shouldering all the responsibilities are not bestowed by one person or by one administration. Muslim Americans exist as a matter of fact: they are 1% of the population, they are represented in all ethnic and racial communities, and they contribute to all aspects of life in the United States. They lead productive lives and they speak against the violent ideology and practices espoused by violent Wahhabi-Salafists. American Muslims are well aware of the double-edged sword of extremism and fanaticism: the absolute majority of victims of terrorism (82-97% of all fatal terrorist attacks) are Muslims and Muslim Americans are victims of domestic terrorism and hate speech disguised as acts of patriotism reacting to “radical Islamic terrorism,” a phrase made popular by Trump and many of his leading supporters and associates.

Trump does not seem to recognize that, upon taking the oath of the presidency, his primary responsibility becomes to uphold the Constitution—not pursue personal ideological goals. With his words, when he denigrates a specific group of citizens, he incites hate and violence. Muslim Americans don’t expect him to change his belief or convictions about Islam and Muslims, but he is expected to uphold his oath of office and stand for the Constitution and for the rights of all citizens, including Muslim Americans.

As a presidential candidate, he insisted on using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” arguing that terrorism must be accurately defined for it to be defeated. He knows the power of words and he has used words as weapons against anyone or any group of people who stand in his way. Muslim Americans now insist that he acknowledges them as citizens by calling them by their proper name: Muslim Americans.

___________________________

* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
_______________

Trump’s Statement on Ramadan:

Only a bigot would think that the Saudi rulers stand for Islam and Muslims

Only a bigot would think that the Saudi rulers stand for Islam and Muslims

Trump, whose first executive order as president imposed a Muslim Ban, which was blocked by U.S. courts and opposed by civil society institutions, was declared a “true friend of Muslims.” That declaration was made by the Saudi Deputy Crown Prince, Mohammed Ibn Salman, who recently mocked an entire religious community, Shia Muslims who believe in Mahdi as a messiah (btw, Many Sunnis also believe in an Awaited Mahdi), for the tenets of their faith as a cause for his regime’s hostility towards Iran. It is extraordinary that a member of a ruling clan that espouses Wahhabism, which holds that the earth is flat, playing chess as haram (proscribed) and a number of other absurdities, declares that he will only normalize relations with a neighboring nation when it abandoned its religion.

The Saudi kingdom is built on three pillars of supremacy: The supremacy of the Saud Clan, the supremacy of being Arab, and the supremacy of Wahhabi Salafism, all of which are canonized in the official name of the kingdom and the titles of its rulers: The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), ruled by the Custodian of the Two Noble Sanctuaries, Salman, and his select princes, God’s Commanding Guardians [Awliya’ al-amr]. This arrangement allows the Saudi rulers to subjugate its people treating them as a flock [ra`iyya]–not citizens. 

The Saudi rulers further segment Saudi society into classes with varying rights and privileges: women are subordinate to men, non-Arabs are subordinate to Arabs (except European white men), non-Muslims are subordinate to Muslims, and non-Sunni Muslims are subordinate to Sunni Muslims, and poor persons are subordinate to rich persons. These values, principles, and practices guide their domestic and foreign policies. Ibn Salman’s characterization of Trump as a “true friend of Muslims” makes sense in such a context. In the mind of the Saudi rulers, Trump is the Commanding Guardian [Wali al-amr] over Muslim-Americans. As a rich white man, he is on the same level as members of the Saudi ruling family. He is, then, a true friend of Muslims—rich, Wahhabi Salafi Muslims that is. 

The Saudi rulers have subjugated the people of the Arabian Peninsula for more than seventy years. They used all resources, connections, and their control over religious sites to attempt to subjugate the rest of the Muslim people around the world. However, Muslim-Americans, especially Sunnis, should not tolerate the offensive paternalism of a misogynistic, supremacist, callous rulers. For Muslim-Americans, Trump is a public servant, not a Commanding Guardian over them. They don’t need rulers from thousands of miles away, to tell them who is a “true friend of Muslims and who is not. A regime that bombs children in Yemen and treats non-Saudi Muslims as inferior to Saudis lacks the moral standing to represent anyone but itself. In fact, the Saudi rulers stand guilty of fomenting sectarianism, hatred, and bigotry.

Only an ignorant person would believe the Saudi rulers’ claim of leading the Muslim world and only a bigot will share their worldview.

Why is Trump making his first trip abroad, as president, to Saudi Arabia?

Why is Trump making his first trip abroad, as president, to Saudi Arabia?


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

According to the White House, Trump will travel to Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican “in an effort to unite Islam, Judaism and Christianity in the common cause of fighting “intolerance” and radical extremism.” As reported by the Washington Post, Trump said that he “will begin with a truly historic gathering in Saudi Arabia with leaders from all across the Muslim world… We will begin to construct a new foundation of cooperation and support with our Muslim allies to combat extremism, terrorism and violence.”
Considering his insistence, as a candidate for the presidency, that terrorism is further qualified as “Islamic radical extremism”, and his two attempts, as president, to impose a Muslim Ban, one must ask the question, what gives? Has the White House actually changed the man as some claim?
If power that comes with the executive branch of government changes a man, it is unlikely that it changes him for the better. Power often corrupts. It hardly reforms or redeems. If it does anything, it teaches people about the tools that allow them to disguise their true motives: using coded language and diplomatic speak. But for one to truly change from a misogynist, xenophobic, overprivileged bigot to an interfaith messiah of tolerance, one must go through a crisis of the soul. There is no sign that Trump had gone through such an experience. In fact, the choice of Saudi Arabia, the least tolerant country in the world, as his first stop abroad as president, proves that he is the same man he told us he is throughout the campaign.
Saudi Arabia, too, is ruled by a clan of misogynist, overprivileged bigots with the ability to turn crude oil extracted from the depths of the desert into trillions of US dollars that’d allow them to write history as they see fit. These despotic rulers, disguising themselves as Custodians of the Two Sanctuaries, ban women from driving cars or traveling unaccompanied by a male relative, deprive Saudi religious minorities, like the Shias, their right to identify themselves as anything except as Saudis, treat foreign labors with forbidding cruelty and extreme prejudice, and mercilessly bomb children and mourners in schools and public halls in Yemen. They warmly welcome the rich and powerful and disdainfully abjure the poor and vulnerable. They befriend elitists and shirk commoners. Their behavior, policy, alliances, and temperament are those of a radical supremacist. Their only contributions to the modern world is a supremacist creed—Wahhabism—and a genocidal band of fanatics–al-Qaeda (and its derivatives such as ISIS and al-Nusra). While the rest of the world has been investing in innovations that save life and the environment, the rulers of Saudi Arabia have been investing in destructive ideologies and military hardware. Such rulers cannot and do not represent Muslims. They represent themselves and the sectarian creed they invented and imposed on any Muslims disguised as Sunni Islam, which is far from it.
The similarities between Trump and his entourage and Salman-and-Son  define the adage, birds of the same feather flock together. However, the similarities alone do not explain the reasons that make Trump and the Saudi rulers gravitate towards one another. There are important political and economic reasons that drive this affair between the filthy rich rulers of the world.
Saudi Arabia needs America’s military protection and diplomatic support. Some American politicians need a special kind of Islam and special types of Muslims who serve two purposes: punching bag when on the campaign trail and a cash machine when in the White House. Trump played the first card on the campaign trail when he made the phrase “radical Islamic extremism” a mandatory refrain of every speech and every interview. He even used that phrase to beat down his political rivals to submission if they refused to include the word “Islamic” in conjunction with any reference to terrorism. Now he needs the cash from the Saudi rulers for protection and for paying for his ambitions. In return he dropped the word “Islamic” from “radical Islamic extremism” and honored them by visiting their country on his first scheduled presidential trip abroad. The cycle will continue nonetheless. In four years, he will resurrect the word “Islamic” to brag about degrading “radical Islamic extremism” in Syria and Iraq and about the hundreds of billions of dollars American companies had made selling weapons to Saudi Arabia to fight its phantom mortal enemies.
Four years from now, however, al-Qaeda or some new version of it will be alive still terrorizing and murdering apostate Muslims and deviant Shias in some other Muslim land. Trump and other politicians will continue to preach doom and destruction from this apocalyptic danger called “radical Islamic extremism” and the Muslim countries who did nothing about it. These politicians will continue to use this self-perpetuating myth for as long as people continue to rely on their short memory to construct narratives for themselves and for the “other”. The reason politicians are able to use fear of “radical Islamic extremism” now is because most Americans forgot that it was US administrations—aided by the Saudi rulers—that produced “radical Islamic extremism” in Afghanistan in the 1980’s.
The existence of a perverted interpretation of Islam like Wahhabism, which is followed in Saudi Arabia and espoused by al-Qaeda and its derivatives allows many Western politicians, especially the ultra-conservatives among them, to scare the public and then use that fear to get votes to win elections. Trump masterfully played the threat of “radical Islamic extremism” and he rode that wave of hateful enthusiasm to the White House. He promised that he will defeat this threat. But to defeat such a threat, he must know that he needs to crush it militarily and uproot it ideologically. The latter part would require him to confront the Saudi rulers, not elevate them politically. We are, then, left with only one conclusion: The presence of Saudi “Islam” and al-Qaeda is a political and economic profitable convenience. The two must be contained and controlled, but never fully eradicated because they play a critical geopolitical purpose. With this being the case, Trump’s first visit abroad, as president, makes complete sense.
___________________________
* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His most recent book, Anatomy of Dissent in Islamic Societies, provides a historical and theoretical treatment of rebellious movements and ideas since the rise of Islam. Opinions are the author’s, speaking on matters of public interest; not speaking for the university or any other organization with which he is affiliated.
Password Reset
Please enter your e-mail address. You will receive a new password via e-mail.