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Human Rights

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

Canada’s labour movement must take a stand against the Saudi arms deal

by Simon Black and Anthony Fenton*

As Canada’s largest labour organization and the political arm of the labour movement, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC) has long been a voice for peace, human rights and social justice.

But on one of the most controversial issues in Canadian politics, Canada’s arms deal with Saudi Arabia, it has failed to take a meaningful stand.

Saudi Arabia and its coalition partners are waging war in Yemen. The war has plunged the country into what the United Nations calls “the world’s worst humanitarian crisis.”

According to a recent UN report, approximately 70,000 Yemenis have died since the beginning of 2016. Hospitals, schools, markets and mosques are common targets for Saudi coalition airstrikes.
Two thirds of the Yemeni population require humanitarian support or protection, 17 million are food insecure, three million have fled their homes and 14.5 million require access to safe drinking water. And as UN Women has found, women and girls bear the brunt of this devastating situation. A 2018 report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights concluded that violations and crimes under international law have occurred and continue to be perpetrated in Yemen.
Canada’s complicity

Canada is complicit in the war in Yemen. The export of made-in-Canada light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, an approximately $15-billion contract originally signed by the Conservative government of Stephen Harper, is now proceeding under export permits approved by the Liberal government of Justin Trudeau.

New export permits for arms shipments to Saudi Arabia have reportedly been suspended pending an indefinite review by the Trudeau government following the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. But according to recent data from Statistics Canada over half a billion dollars worth of armoured fighting vehicles have been exported through the port of Saint John, N.B., to Saudi Arabia in 2019 alone.

There is credible evidence that Canadian weapons sold to Saudi Arabia are being used in the devastating war in Yemen. The Saudi-led coalition continues to commit serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law in Yemen, and Saudi Arabia also has a persistent record of serious violations of the human rights of its own citizens.
Where’s the Canadian labour movement? Continue reading

Separate and Unequal: Is State’s Support to Elite Universities a Human Rights Violation

Separate and Unequal: Is State’s Support to Elite Universities a Human Rights Violation

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

Abstract: On May 11, 2019, the US federal government indicted 50 individuals, charging them with bribery and fraud in a widespread college admission scandal involving wealthy parents, coaches, administrators, and business executives, paying bribes to buy their children’s way into the nation’s elite schools. For weeks thereafter, the public discourse had become engaged primarily with the action of the individuals, secondarily with some schools’ administrators, but not with the role played by the State. I argue that the evidence unearthed for these cases point to a human rights violation because the State has actively participated in perpetuating inequality and economic disparity.

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First, for clarity purposes, I shall define key terms and concepts. I use the word “State” to refer to the modern nation-state governing power, as a legal person that is in social contract with society, which authorizes (through a public mandate, electoral or otherwise) it to assume legal monopoly on the use of violence and taxation and the judicious use thereof. I also define human rights as claims by members of society against the State when the State abuses its powers or fails to treat citizens equitably and fairly. As such, human rights claims are above and beyond criminal and civil claims. With these definitions in mind, let’s consider the facts related to the so-called elite schools’ admissions and to the scandal that ensued and draw appropriate conclusions. Continue reading

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

On Migration and the Hoarding of Resources

By Ahmed E Souaiaia*

David Frum’s cover story, callously titled, How Much Immigration Is Too Much, is an illustrative example of crude opinions rooted in alternative facts

David Frum’s basic argument is this: The Global South is a shithole, from where all people, especially the “strivers” want to escape to the developed world. The developed world cannot accommodate them and for this reason mainstream politicians should act, or else fascists will rise. The author willfully ignores two basic facts that are the root causes of migration, the uncertain journey to the unknown some people undertake, leaving behind their homeland and their relatives. First, people, like most animals, seek places with concentration of resources. Concentration of resources often result from hoarding and monopolies. Second, mass migration is directly proportional to severity of violent conflicts, corruption, and instability. In other words, people migrate to escape war, genocide, ethnic cleansing, crime, instability, insecurity, and absence of rule of law.

Hoarding is achieved through legal, political, and military instruments. For instance, many poor countries can develop medicine, technologies, and products domestically and with a fraction of the cost of US counterparts. However, patent and intellectual laws prevent indigenous scientists for producing them domestically. People in Bangladesh, for instance, have died because they could not afford to buy US made malaria medicine and because Bangladeshi scientists were prohibited from producing it, though they can do so affordably. There should be a fair arrangement that protects innovation rights while accommodating underdeveloped countries through creative licensing schemes. The side benefit of such accommodation will be few Bangladeshis needing to move to the Global North to escape malaria-caused deaths for example. If Global South countries are not forced into unfair trade deals, their people would not be forced to seek resources and stability elsewhere.

Considering the role played by United States governments since the world wars of the first half of the 20th century, it is easy to see that the largest waves of migrants to the US came from countries that were destabilized through US (and/or allies) military interventions or clandestine operations. Mass migration from Vietnam, for example, was caused by US war in that country. The same applies to people from Nicaragua, Honduras, Panama, Iraq (after the early 1990’s war), Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq (after the 2003 invasion), Syria, and Libya. And expect the same if the politicization of humanitarian aid in Venezuela persists.

Frum claims that the Global North is disproportionately burdened by the migration waves. That claim, too, is false. According to the most recent data, the least developed countries provided refuge to one-third of the global total of these displaced people–6.7 million. Consider Lebanon, for example: It is hosting as many Syrians as nearly a quarter of its population. Wealthy Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or UAE are hosting none.

Here are some facts, to put the above points in context.

According to reports by the UNHCR, in 2017, 68.5 million people around the world have been forced to flee their homes due to violent conflicts; the top five countries are places destabilized directly or indirectly by the Global North:

  • Syria — 6.3 million refugees
  • Iraq — 3.1 million refugees
  • Afghanistan — 2.7 million refugees
  • Yemen — 2.5 million refugees
  • Libya – 1.2 million refugees
  • Somalia — 986,400 refugees

Frum’s argument, is similar to the popular rhetorical narrative that says, people come to America because America is the greatest country on earth and people want to benefit from all the social and economic welfare programs in America. In other words, people migrate because they want free stuff. That is far from the truth. If social and economic welfare is the primary motive behind migration, people, including some Americans, would be lining up to migrate to Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Sweden, Finland, Germany, France, and/or Netherlands because all these countries have standard of living, healthcare, and entitlements programs that are better than those in the United States. But migrants, if they must migrate and if given the choice, will come to America to escape the uncertainty and instability (tariffs, sanctions, sabotage, military action) that America can unleash around the world, including on those European countries with better social programs. Logically, if one must leave their home to escape instability, would it not make sense to move into the home of the source of that instability and the place least likely to be made unstable by other countries. US administrations’ propensity to shut down the economy and normal life in any other country is the main reason it is desired by the peoples whose countries are destabilized by US administrations’ actions. No one wants to leave a home where the fruits of their labor can be safe and secure for them and for their children. However, if there is a bully who can and does turn the controls of normal life on and off at will, it is only reasonable for one to seek refuge where that bully is unlikely to tinker with people’s life and livelihood: in the bully’s home. This truth is self-evident and that is why some anti-immigrant extremists, like Stephen Miller and Jeff Sessions, embraced broad new policies that included making life for immigrants hellishly undesired to not only shutdown immigration but also to force recent migrants out of the United States of America.

Here are a couple of ideas to limit and or even stop migration. First, the wealthy Global North should stop hoarding resources and exploiting other peoples. Share. Second, the Global North should stop waging wars on, interfering in, and destabilizing the Global South countries.

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* 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.

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.

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* 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.

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* 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.
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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.
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* 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.

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

Academic Integrity and the Problem of Profiting from Slavery and Racism

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
Abstract: Teaching future generations is indeed a costly endeavor, especially when governments allocate little or no money to higher education. Universities’ administrators are always under extreme pressure to keep their institutions afloat. However, as learning and training institutions, universities instill values and norms that guide future citizens and professionals towards a better future. Therefore, the source of money is just as important as the amounts of money for universities and for the people they serve. It has been revealed that Georgetown University would not have survived if it did not profit from selling hundreds of human beings and participate in the cruel slave trade. Ostensibly, Georgetown is unable to totally break from its legacy of profiting from slavery and racism. Its dependence on money provided by Muslim individuals and/or Islamic regimes with a history of human rights abuses, sectarian, and racist practices raises questions about its ability to overcome and dispose of both Catholic and Islamic legacies of depravity and decadence.
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About 200 years ago, to save Georgetown College, priests sold human beings thus fully endorsing and profiting from the brutal, dehumanizing institution of slavery. To date, we’ve learned of the existence of records documenting at least 272 human beings, like Mr. Frank Campbell, who were sold so that that college would survive to become the institution we now call Georgetown University.  Evidently, for these priests, the survival of an educational institution outweighed the abuse of the dignity of hundreds of human beings. Today, to gain prominence as an elite university, Georgetown has established financial ties to individuals and governments with social and ideological affinity to racism, sectarianism, and absolutism. Georgetown’s connections to Wahhabism and individuals who are interested in whitewashing that sect adds to the University’s legacy of exploitation in pursuit of elitism and financial advantages. Recently, Georgetown’s dark history with slavery was brought to the forefront once again when one of its faculty members used dubious logic and absolutist interpretation of ancient texts to argue that slavery is morally justified in Islam, a position that conforms to that held by groups like ISIL and al-Qaeda.

In an audio recording, the director of Georgetown’s Alwaleed Ibn Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, Jonathan Brown, is heard equivocating: “The Prophet of God had slaves… There’s no denying that. Are you more morally mature than the Prophet of God? No you’re not.”  The implication is that, since, reportedly, Prophet Muhammad had slaves 1400 years ago, it is morally right to own slaves and it is morally right to continue to own slaves today. While Georgetown sanctified the university and relativized slavery in the 1830’s, today, one of its faculty sanctifies Muhammad and relativized slavery the same way ISIL sanctifies the “Islamic State” and relativized slavery, rape, and religious and sectarian cleansing.

Parents sending their children to learn from faculty members who use this kind of logic and embrace a morality rooted in absolutist reading of contested texts should be concerned. Muslims who seek guidance from a scholar associated with an endowed chair funded by the ruling family of Saudi Arabia, demonstrably known for its abuse of human dignity, should be wary about the recasting of Wahhabism as Sunni Islam. Besides the conflict of interest and the methodological absurdity, Brown’s assertions are flawed for many factual and logical reasons.
 
First, there is no absolute evidence that Prophet Muhammad owned slaves. Those who contend that Muhammad had slaves rely on oral reports (written down three centuries removed from the time of Prophet Muhammad) invoked, preserved, and transmitted by figures who owned and even abused slaves themselves. Therefore, to emphatically assert that there is no “denying that Prophet Muhammad had slaves” amounts to suggesting the existence of a fact beyond any reasonable doubt. There is doubt beyond reasonable levels about events that took place more than 1400 years ago, especially when all the textual evidence is derived from only one school of thought: Salafism.  Indeed, leaders and wealthy individuals gave Prophet Muhammad slaves as “gifts” but he emancipated them: the women became his wives and the men became his mawāli (i.e. mu`taq [freed], as was the case with Zaid (given to him by the wealthy Khadijah, who married him later). However, many of the aristocracy of Arabia, who were absorbed into the newly established Islamic state, continued to own slaves. Considering that it was this aristocracy that monopolized most leadership positions after the death of Prophet Muhammad, it is easy to figure out why the institution was kept alive and by whom.
 

Second, while the Quran did not explicitly abolish slavery as a matter of law, the text and tone of the Quran left no doubt that enslaving human beings was morally wrong and that emancipating slaves was morally right. Moreover, the Quranic text consistently avoided the use of the word “slaves” [`abīd]. It referred to persons already in servitude as “what your right hands previously possessed” [mā malakat aymānukum] instead. Importantly, this wording, with the verb “possess” or “own” conjugated in the past tense, indicate that such a state of being lacks permanence. In other words, those who were enslaved before the start of Islam will continue to be so, but no new ownership of slaves shall be initiated moving forward. With that being the case, whether Prophet Muhammad had slaves or whether he was “more morally mature” becomes immaterial. The text of the Quran explicitly determined that slavery is immoral and it established a path (atonement and substitute for religious obligations with valid reason) to making it illegal. In fact, most proscribed acts were first judged morally contemptuous before they were explicitly prohibited in the Quran. The gradual prohibition of wine [khamr] is a good illustrative case in point.

Third, perhaps members of Brown’s audience were not “more morally mature than the Prophet of God.” However, inspired by the Quranic teachings, the same Prophet of God whom he is using to justify slavery made it abundantly clear that,

a. All human beings are equal in dignity,
b. Freeing slaves is moral,
c. Enslaving humans is immoral,
d. True belief in God is possible only when a person is free,
e.  The natural state of being for humans is to be free, and
e. Freeing slaves allowed a person to atone for unintentional homicide, breaking the oath, breaking the fast during Ramadan, and other “sins” and criminal offenses.

To override these established norms that became part and parcel of the Quranic and jurisprudential norms in favor of an analogy based on the chance that Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves is absurd. Because even if we were to assume that Prophet Muhammad had slaves, Prophet Muhammad had also determined that slavery is abhorrent. It follows, then, that it is immoral independent of him having had slaves or not. 

Fourth, the Quranic discourse is known for its graduate proscription of entrenched practices and social behavior not through abrupt prohibition. Subsequently, even if Prophet Muhammad may have had slaves in the early days of his life and the life of his disciples, it is likely that that practice would have been proscribed with time given the repugnancy of the institution and dehumanizing implications.

Fifth, considering the entirety of Quranic sanctions, it is certain that the dignity and sanctity of human beings cannot be overruled by the mere practice or temperament of the Prophet. After all, the Quran is dotted with passages admonishing Prophet Muhammad for some of his practices. In a plethora of passages in the Quran, Prophet Muhammad was reproached for his poor judgement concerning his actions relevant to certain war booty [fay’], forms of taxes, treatment of persons with disability, and other matters. Most Sunni Muslim scholars hold that Muhammad, like all other Prophets, is fallible in matters not related to purely religious matters. Therefore, he might have erred in economic, military, social, and administrative matters—including owning slaves if it were to be proven that he did own salves after being characterized in the Quran as immoral.

Sixth, most Sunni Muslim scholars believe in the principle of abrogation, which essentially contextualizes legal edicts and justifies temporary or permanent revocation of social and legal practices. Per Sunni exegeses, passages of the Quran were abrogated by later passages of the Quran and so were units of Hadith. Subsequently, the existence of a passage in the Quran or a tradition from the Sunna does not necessarily mean that laws that might be derived from it are still in effect.

Seventh, like many other Traditionist Muslims, Brown privileges reports found in Sunni collections of Hadith and Tafsīr. He ignores, or is unaware of the rich body of religious, legal, and political texts produced and preserved by Ibadi and Shia Muslims, which provided fuller narratives and contexts especially regarding the most divisive and controversial events and ideas. The logic Brown employs is common among many Traditionist Muslims (ahl al-ḥadīth), too. For them, it would suffice to point to an event or an act purported to be from the formative period of Islam where lived the Predecessors (salaf) for such an act to be applicable to all human beings and in all times. Their reasoning is simple: If something was practiced or said by the Prophet, his Disciples [ṣaḥāba), or the Predecessors in general, then it is binding—part of the canon. Traditionism, the method of deriving ethical and legal judgments, was foreign to Muslim scholars of the first three centuries of Islam, who were primarily Reasonists (ahl al-ra’y].

The methodological and logical flaws in Brown’s reasoning are further weakened by historical and substantive facts. With the rise of Islam and before the death of Prophet Muhammad, and because of the restrictions and measures that encouraged the emancipation of slaves, a person can end up in servitude only through two paths:
1. During war: members of the defeated armies who were not part of a prisoners’ exchange deal or whose ransom is not paid will be “owned” by the victorious army as spoils of war. Since there were no facilities at that time to house them, captives were distributed among fighters who took part in the campaign.

2. By birth: children of two slave parents continued to be considered slaves and remained under the ownership and responsibility of the person who had owned their parents until they are freed or sold. Once a slave is freed, even in jest, they are permanently freed and the pronouncement of their freedom cannot be withdrawn or revoked.

The legal rule that prohibits re-enslaving persons who were freed, the religious edict commanding believers to free slaves to atone for a variety of sins and offenses, the restrictions of entry paths into slavery, and the ruling that determined emancipation of slaves being praiseworthy, with time, all such factors would have necessarily led to slave-free Islamic societies. That point was in fact anticipated in Islamic law, when an alternative (feeding the poor) to emancipating slaves for atonement or substitute for obligations purposes was made available. Indeed, Islamic regimes that continued to rely on slaves for their economic prosperity resorted to raiding distant communities and kidnapping peoples who would be forced into servitude, as did a number of rulers from the Umayyad,  Abbasid and Ottoman dynasties.

Brown spent most of the ninety-minute-long talk highlighting the cruelty associated with the treatment of slaves in other civilizations. However, given the cruelty practiced by ISIS in the name of Islam and the abuses unleashed by the Saudi ruling family, also in the name of Islam, and given that he holds academic chair established by members of the Saudi ruling family, most of the time should have been spent speaking against the atrocities committed by some Muslims against other Muslims and non-Muslims. Instead, Brown glossed over the practices committed by many Muslim rulers throughout Islamic history, giving credence to the racist narrative championed supremacists (non-Muslims and Muslims), like Turkey’s Erdogan, who refused to take responsibility for Ottoman crimes by arguing that “Muslims do not commit crimes of genocide.” The same argument was made by an Australian legislator when his country debated the ratification of the convention proscribing the crime of genocide: “It [genocide convention] deals with a crime of which no Anglo-Saxon nation could be guilty… None of the crimes that are enumerated in it could ever be committed by the Anglo-Saxon race.” Indeed, as is the case with any dominating empire, Muslims who headed some of these powerful governments have committed crimes and many Muslims remained silent, when heads of governments, in their name and on their behalf, committed genocides, crimes against humanity, and failed to abolish slavery. Enslaving human beings was wrong then despite its rootedness in society and it is abhorrent now that there is no socioeconomic argument to justify it. There should be no equivocation, no qualification of who treated slaves better, and no hesitation in characterizing it as a crime against humanity. 

The crucial step for achieving Islamic societies free of slavery is for the holders of chairs of Islamic studies to speak forcefully about the nature of the struggles that defined Islam as a social movement before it was hijacked by theologians who were interested in sanctifying institutions, concepts, and persons while abusing the dignity of human beings. To that end, Muslim scholars must emphasize the place of critical and truth-centered interpretation of key events in Islamic societies during the formative period. Many of Islam’s ethical and legal norms were authored or transmitted by the generation of leaders who came after Prophet Muhammad. But that generation is also responsible for much bloodshed and abuses. The Umayyad rulers, who the Saudi rulers emulate today and from whom they draw legitimacy, carried out some of the most genocidal wars against Muslims who opposed their rule and challenged their practices. The Ottoman Sultans, too, committed genocides and oppressed indigenous communities. That, and many other important facts, ought to be revisited so that a credible leadership can stop the bloodshed, end the carnage, and break the cycle of abuse in modern Islamic societies.
___________________________
* 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.

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Which Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban?

Neither the announcement of a nominee for the supreme court vacancy nor any other event were able to push down the Muslim Ban from the national and global news headlines. Even the man sitting in the White House could not avoid it. Three of his tweets on Saturday will create more problems for his administration than solve existing ones.
First, in support of the Muslim Ban, he claimed that “certain Middle-Eastern countries agree with the ban.” We did the research: Only two countries, out of all Middle Eastern countries, made statements that could be construed as an endorsement of the Muslim Ban, United Arab Emirate and Saudi Arabia. 
 

Saudi Energy Minster defending Muslim Ban

These countries are neither model democracies nor can their rulers speak in the name of the majority of the peoples of the Middle Eastern countries, let alone Muslims. 
It is ironic that this administration, given its emphasis on the need to fight terrorism, would rely on a country that is implicated in the 9/11 attacks and that is the subject of a legislation from Congress about its possible connection to terrorist acts that killed American citizens.

  

The POTUS’ tweet could explain why Saudi Arabia was left out of countries whose citizens are barred from entering the United States. Given the fact that Saudi Arabia falsely presents itself as the defender of Sunni Muslims and its rulers as the “servants of the two holy places,” the POTUS may have thought that he can call on the rulers of the kingdom to issue a fatwa decreeing that the Muslim Ban is not  anti-Muslim. Apparently, even the Saudi rulers could not burn whatever “Islamic capital” they may have left among naive Muslims on supporting an order that American judges reject. Which takes us to the other tweet.
 

This administration has accused those who protest its actions and platform as sore losers who are attempting to delegitimize a legitimate president. Reasonable position, indeed. However, when the POTUS uses language that is intended to delegitimize a judge appointed by a president from his own political party, all credibility is lost. 

 Calling a judge who was appointed by a Republican president and who was approved without a single dissenting vote “so-called judge,” gives others reasons and license to call him, the so-called president.
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http://www.amazon.com/Contesting-Justice-Women-Islam-Society/dp/0791473988?tag=a0645739-20

 

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