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Souaiaia

What is the difference between “Muslim” and “Islamic”?

What is the difference between “Muslim” and “Islamic”?

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia *
Abstract: Social labels and categories are exercise in control. They describe opponents, create boundaries, exclude social groups, justify discrimination, and promote persecution. They are imbued with sociopolitical power. Muslims used labels, internally for the first time, during the formative period of the community to privilege the elite and marginalize dissenters. They called those who challenged the established order, Khawarij [Outsiders]. Today, Muslims living in Western societies are often labeled radical Islamic extremists. But aside from this politically charged phrase, even common adjectives, such as Islamic and Muslim, are misused. So in what contexts should these adjectives be appropriately used and why is it important to use social labels judicially?___________
Though even advanced students and scholars of Islamic studies use the words Muslimand Islamic interchangeably, it is a mistake to do so in all contexts. The two words are both adjectives, but they have fundamentally different meanings and are properly used in very different contexts.
The word Muslim [مسلم] is Arabic in form and function. It is a descriptive active participle [ism fā`il] derived from the verb, aslama. This Arabic form connotes agency being embedded within the description. Therefore, it describes a person or a group of persons who consciously follow or adhere to the religion called Islam [الإسلام]. Since it is an Arabic term in origin, form, and meaning, the word should be used in the context appropriate in that language. The word Muslim is never used in Arabic to describe a thing, and idea, or an event. Rather, it is used to describe human beings who believe in and practice Islamic teachings. It is therefore incorrect to say Muslim architecture, Muslim music, Muslim art, Muslim thought, etc.
The word Islamic is an adjective that takes its meaning from the fact that it reflects some characteristics of Islam, in varying degrees. It can be used in two contexts. First, the adjective Islamic describes things, ideas, and events whose origins are in Islam. In this sense, it complements the adjective, Muslim, which describes persons. Second, the word Islamiccan be used to describe things that are present in Islamic societies and cultures, even if their origins are not rooted in Islam or produced by Muslim peoples. The Islamic civilization came to existence because Muslims’ ideas and ideals were dominant, but they were not the sole engines that produced its rich legacy. Therefore, the adjective Islamic was broadly used to account for all the productions of this civilization, authored by all–Muslims and non-Muslims.
It must be noted that it is possible to apply the adjective Islamic to a person or group of persons, but such use must be deliberate. For example, some people often ask the question, “are you Islamic?”, Instead of, “are you Muslim?”. This is a common mistake. However, it is possible that the questioner used Islamic as it is used in Arabic, islamiyy [إسلاميّ], in which case it would mean Islamist (discussed below). Such use would be appropriate, though unlikely to be the intended meaning.
To illustrate the different usages, let’s consider the phrases Islamic architecture and Muslim architecture. The phrase Islamic architecture refers to architecture that is broadly influenced, limited, inspired, informed by Islamic values, even if it is produced by non-Muslim persons. Islamic architecture might consist of purely Islam-inspired elements, but it might also consist of elements that are not inspired and influenced by Islam or Muslim architects. By contrast, the term Muslim architecture is attributive, not descriptive. It refers to architecture created by Muslim persons. Where Islamic architecture is a broad descriptive term, accurate use of the term Muslim architecture requires a specific context.
With this distinction in mind, it becomes clear that the adjective Muslim is exclusive whereas the adjective Islamic is inclusive. Not all Islamic things are produced by Muslims, but Muslim-produced things must be things produced by individuals who are Muslim. A musician who is not Muslim may produce an Islamic song. A Muslim band, meaning a band whose members are all Muslim, may produce and play songs that have no roots in Islam or in Muslim communities of any era of any background. Though in both examples Islam is present through the expressions, experiences, and backgrounds of the persons involved, that link is insufficient to merge the two terminologies.
This distinction is not merely technical. Rather, the misuse of these terms reflects and perpetuates power structures that elevate Western colonial thought and diminish the rich cultural, political, and social legacy of Islamic thought and the many peoples who have contributed to it. Conflating the meaning of the words Islamic and Muslim forces some to invent new words to communicate aspects that are already embedded within the meaning of these words. I will cite three examples of unnecessary descriptors whose use creates other conceptual and practical problems. First I discuss the use and utility of the words Muhammadan, Islamicate, and Islamicist. Second, I explore the conceptual, practical, and theoretical implications of conflating the meaning of the words Islamic and Muslim and the ensuing general problems.
When colonial Europe moved into Asia and Africa picking up the pieces of the collapsing Islamic civilization, which by then has morphed into an empire, its thinkers and intellectuals made up new labels like, Muhammadan religion and Muhammadan people, instead of Islam and Muslims, as if these communities were obscurely unknown, being defined and introduced by the enlightened, sophisticated Western discoverers. To my knowledge, besides its use mostly in modern Islamic thought as a rhetorical tool, the adjective Muhammadan was never used in classical Islamic religious and non-religious texts as a name for Islam. It is therefore bizarre that Orientalist scholars coined it to introduce a religion that has been organized, established, and defined for nearly 1400 years.
In the period when the use of the word Muhammadan was in decline, another Western scholar came up with the word, Islamicate, ostensibly, to meet the need for a descriptor that account for the productions of non-Muslims in Muslim majority communities. Marshall Hodgson invented the word, Islamicate, and many scholars and students of Islamic studies have used it ever since to describe things, ideas, or events that are influenced by Islam but whose origins or ownership cannot be fully attributed to Muslim individuals or Islamic values and teachings. I believe that the adjective Islamic accommodates this need when used consistently and appropriately.
The last example of made-up labels is the designation of academic specialization focusing on the study of Islamic societies and Islamic thought from the formative period until modern times: Islamicist. Some scholars and commentators have coined this term, perhaps for specificity purposes. However, in doing so, they reduced the academic study of the rich and complex legacy of all Islamic societies to a single approach that explores the Islamic civilization through the religious lens only, and often from within the discipline of religious studies. In doing so, they denied the fact that scholars from other academic disciplines like anthropologists, sociologists, psychologists, historians, political scientists, jurists, economists, philologists, philosophers, and others do in fact engage in the study of the legacy of the Islamic civilization from the perspective of the relevant theoretical and scientific lens.
Regardless of the context and justification of coining labels and categories to catalog and discuss the legacy of Islamic societies, such actions end up producing serious methodological, conceptual, and political problems.
First, conflating Muslim and Islamic obscures the meaning of and difference between phrases like, Muslim cultures versus Islamic cultures and Muslim civilization versus Islamic civilization. However, by keeping in mind the origins of the words Muslim and Islamic, in the English language, the phrase Muslim cultures can be used in the attributive context: cultures of the Muslim people, which is different from Islamic cultures, which would be partially influenced, limited, inspired, or informed by Islam but Muslims did not necessarily produce or live them. Islamic cultures are not necessarily filtered through Islam’s value and judgement systems. However, Muslim cultures, generally, are filtered and approved by some of Islam’s value and judgment systems since Muslims must reconcile them with their lived faith. The distinction becomes even more compelling when considering the often used phrases, Islamic civilization and Muslim civilization.
Some scholars of Islamic studies have applied the descriptor Arabcivilization instead of Islamic civilization, effectively denying the contributions of non-Arabs, like African Berber and Touereg peoples, Asian Kurdish peoples, Turkic peoples, Persian peoples, Indian peoples, and thousands of other ethnic and racial communities. Similarly, some use the label Muslimcivilization, instead of Islamic civilization, willfully ignoring the role and contributions of non-Muslim communities including Jews, Christians, Zoroastrians, Copts, and hundreds of other religious communities who lived as full productive members of Islamic societies.
Second, with proper definition and understanding of civilization, it becomes evident that there could be no Muslim civilization. A civilization consists of the collective achievements and contributions (negative and positive) of all ethnic, racial, religious, ideological, economic, and national communities. One religious community might be dominant and contribute significantly more than the other communities, making its culture ever present and influential. However, a single culture can never become a civilization without borrowing from, incorporating, assimilating, and appropriating other communities’ legacies.
Since the adjective Muslim and the noun Islam are Arabic words, the rules governing how they are used in that language might shed some light on their use by Muslim scholars and grammarians of Arabic language as well. Since the rise of religiously inspired political parties in Arab and Islamic societies, the adjective Islamic [islamiyy] has been coined to refer to a personaffiliated with Islamist movements, but the adjective Muslim kept its original meaning, referring to followers of or adherents to the religion, Islam. In a sense, this conventional naming confirms at least two things about the word Islamic: (a) The adjective Islamic is a broader descriptor than Muslim, and (b) it signals that the thing or idea may not necessarily have roots in Islamic traditions, but it is part thereof.
In fact, its application in Arabic by some governments to describe Islamists suggests that Islamists’ ideas may not be rooted in Islam. These governments’ actions are reflected in their use of labels: Islamist groups are referred to as being Islamic[Islamiyyun], distinguishing them from being Muslim [muslimun]. These groups are often accused of corrupting Islam, making it possible for governments to ban their activities and imprison or kill their leaders. In other words, Muslims themselves have been keenly aware of the existence of a plurality of Islamic expressions (in politics, literature, arts, etc.) produced both by Muslims and non-Muslims, that may or may not conform to Islamic teachings. However, they also recognize cultural or artistic productions that are directly derived from Islamic traditions and filtered through Islamic value and judgement systems that can be said to be Muslim arts and Muslim cultures. Such things, however, are very specific and limited and are often produced and undertaken exclusively by Muslims.
Third, the richness and specificity of the words Islamic and Muslim make it unnecessary to invent new words to describe the legacy of the Islamic civilization. The adoption of these adjectives and their proper application relieves scholars of Islamic studies, especially those working within the confines of religious departments in state universities where they have to be mindful of the exigencies of Establishment Clause, from the burden of having to define who is Muslim and who is not. Importantly, when Western scholars manufacture adjectives or use adjectives carelessly, they perpetuate the diminutive, reductionist myth that other communities lack the necessary vocabulary to describe themselves, account for their rich legacy and acknowledge, and give credit to the diverse peoples within.
Indeed, misuse of adjectives and labels could be unintentional errors. But some made-up labels are deliberate and are often motivated by politics and prejudice. Labels and categories are consequential tools often used by those in power to keep certain social groups in check and to impose a specific narrative about them. Adjectives are qualifiers, and as such, they are instruments that are used to divide society into social classes, impose legal limitations on certain social groups, and draw boundaries between those with power and those who lack it. The capacity of labels to be used as tools of discrimination make it even more compelling that those who use such descriptors and those being described are aware and mindful of the potential social and psychological harm they could inflict and the legacy of inequality they help preserve. 

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* Prof. SOUAIAIA teaches at the University of Iowa. His teaching and research interests cover both classical and modern legal and political thought in Islamic societies. He is currently documenting and writing about the social movements and armed conflicts triggered by the events popularly known as the Arab Spring. 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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The Genealogy, Ideology, and Future of ISIL and its Derivatives

The Genealogy, Ideology, and Future of ISIL and its Derivatives

Abstract: The organization known today simply as the “Islamic State,” or by its Arabic acronym, Daesh (English, ISIL), has historical and ideological roots that go beyond the territories it now controls. These deep roots give Daesh confidence that it will succeed in dominating the world, but give others reasons to believe that it will fail in controlling even a single nation. Mixing puritan religious and political discourses, ISIL managed to dominate all other armed opposition groups in conflict zones (Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Libya) and has inspired individuals in many other countries (Egypt, Pakistan, France, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Tunisia) to carry out brutal attacks in its name.

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Dogmatic Origins: Traditionism
In Islamic societies throughout history, Islam has been defined by one fundamental question: are religious foundational principles, as expressed in the Qur’an, created or eternal? For more than two centuries, Muslim religious scholars’ opinion, which informed political authorities, held that religious principles were created. Individuals seeking government jobs were required to answer a simple yes/no question: is the Qur’an created? The correct answer during the first two centuries was yes. This era, on balance, could be called the Age of Reason I, during which a school of thought led by a group of thinkers known as al-Mu`tazilah—generally categorized as Reasonists (Ahl al-ra’y)—dominated public life. 
With time, this elite theological and legal position, which was backed by the office of the caliph, grew stronger and became a tool for suppressing dissent. Resistance was inevitable. Some religious scholars refused to go along and produce the expected answer, choosing instead to say, “it was God’s words.” These figures were known as Traditionists (Ahl al-hadith), as opposed to Reasonists. While Reasonists held that reason and circumstance must play a role in interpreting and applying religious principles and imperatives, Traditionists believed that tradition cannot be superseded by reason or circumstance.
There are many other points of contention that divided Muslim communities during the formative period (first three centuries) of Islam along at least three sects (Ibadism, Sunnism, and Shi`ism) and eight legal denominations (Malikism, Ja`farism, Hanafism, Hanbalism, Shafi`ism, Zaydism, Isma`ilism, and Ibadism). However, the point of contention that truly explains current crises in Islamic societies is whether religious principles are tools to promote social justice and address social problems, or whether they are sacred principles that must be applied regardless of their effect on humans. Division over the primacy of religious principles cuts across sectarian and legal currents, most pronouncedly among the so-called Sunni communities.
Traditionism in the context of Islamic societies is best expressed in Hanbalism, founded by Ahmad Ibn Hanbal in the first half of the third Islamic Century. Traditionism, called Salafism by its adherents, holds that the purity and authenticity of Islam is ascertained through an organic chain of authorities and institutions that connect today’s Muslim community to the original teachings and practices of Islam through the opinions and practices of the ancestors (salaf). The Salaf, thus understood, consists of the Companions of the Prophet Muhammad (Sahabah), the Followers of (or those who came after) the Companions (Tabi`in), the Followers of the Followers (Tabi`i al-tabi`in), and the masters of the schools of jurisprudence (Ayimmah, Mujtahidun). Although, in principle, Salafists contend that opinions of any of masters of the four Sunni schools of jurisprudence (Malikism, Hanafism, Hanbalism, Shafi`ism) are equally authoritative, in reality, Salafist scholars privilege Hanbalism over all other schools of thought. To some extent, according to Salafism, the authentic sayings and practices of ancestors are as authoritative as the texts of the Qur’an itself. A true Salafist cannot rely on reason to override the opinion and practice of a Companion of the Prophet or a Follower of a Companion of the Prophet.
Ultimately, Salafism is a specific stream of Traditionist interpretation of Islam that relies on a selective chain of scholars that inform the broader base of adherents. The chain of Salafi scholars is not continuous. It is bridged by textual traditions that inform modern figures about opinions of their predecessors who might have lived a century or two apart. For example, modern Salafi figures like Usama Bin Laden, Ayman al-Zawahiri, Umar Mahmoud Uthman (Abu Qutada al-Filistini), Isam al-Barqawi (Abu Mohammed al-Maqdisi), Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi, Abdullah al-Muhaisini, Mustafa al-Jakiri al-Rifa`i (Abu Mus`ab al-Suri), Ibrahim Awwad al-Samura’i (Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi), cite works of individuals whom they never met like Mohammed Ibn Abd al-Wahhab, Ibn Taymiyya, Ibn Qayyim, and Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. In the end, modern Salafism is ancient Traditionism reconstructed from text-based historical events and sayings.
Today, the struggle that is fueling civil wars and sectarian tension is about the function and status of shari`a, one of the generic terms that refers to religious legal principles and imperatives, which are believed to be derived from the primary sources of Islamic traditions and practices. As it has been the case throughout the history of Islamic societies, what distinguishes Reasonist Muslims from Salafists is the answer to one general question: Is the shari`a a tool for realizing social justice on earth or are humans mere agents that must be sacrificed to impose the shari`a?
Political Origins: Umayyad Caliphate System
Salafism is about religious tradition and the preservation of that tradition in its literalist form. According to Salafi dogma, any deviation from established understanding of religious norms and practices is an innovation, and any innovation is strictly prohibited. The preservation of established tradition goes beyond religious texts. It is also about accepting the political order as is. For Traditionists, the caliphs were guardians of religious traditions. To raise doubt about any given caliph’s ethical and legal standing would amount to raising doubt about the authenticity and transcendence of religious truths. Therefore, Salafism does not dwell on the causes of the civil wars during the reign of the third and fourth caliphs, does not dwell on the transgressions and crimes of the Umayyads, and does not challenge the reign of the Saud clan over Arabia as long as the Saudi rulers act as protectors of pure Sunni Islam and guardians of holy places.
It is worth noting that Traditionism was most successful when it was allied with political rulers. Traditionists were strong when al-Mutawakkil adopted their teachings as Sunni orthodoxy. Salafists are strong now because of their alliance with the wealthy rulers of Saudi Arabia. State-enabled theology was their best path to project influence. Their disdain for reason limited their ability to influence public opinion through the deliberative processes, and because of that they have preferred a top-down process of imposing what they see as religious principles.
The most advantageous path to power and influence for Salafism is through the brute force of the sword or gun and strong alliances with powerful governments. By declaring the re-establishment of the caliphate, ISIL essentially declared Salafi independence from the Saudi patronage that sustained Salafism for nearly a century. Salafism is now enabled by the “Islamic State,” formerly known as the ISIL, which was formerly a branch of al-Qaeda.
ISIL’s Connections: U.S.-Saudi-Wahhabi Tripartite
In modern times, and in order to keep Salafists in check, the sponsors of the Traditionist creed created two streams of Salafism, each built on a distinct strategy: 
1. Religious purity/authenticity is ascertained through separation of religion from politics. This path created a form of secularism that recognized two parallel authorities—one religious and one political. These Traditionists formed al-Da`wa wa-‘l-tabligh, who went on proselytizing without engaging political issues. In return they were allowed to preach publicly and enjoy some governmental and private support. These groups, generally, belonged to what became known as Learned Traditionism (al-Salafiyya al-`ilmiyya). 
2. To meet some international challenges and to help project influence globally, the sponsors and sustainers of Traditionists also encouraged some Salafists to combat ungodly ideologies, like communism and atheism. They were taught that stopping the spread of communism and atheism, ideologies strictly prohibited in Islam because they deny the existence of God—according to Saudi religious scholars, was a religious obligation. These adherents subscribed to Combatant Traditionism (al-Salafiyya al-jihadiyyah). 
Eventually, the two groups complemented one another. Learned Traditionists provided religious context for ideological wars. They helped produced the body of literature, institutions, and networks that sustained Traditionism in general. When necessary, these ideologically trained adherents joined Militant Traditionists in defense of the community (ummah) from ungodly ideologies such as communism in Afghanistan—justifying the war against the Soviet Union, and secularism (`ilmaniyyah) in Algeria, Tunisia, and almost all other Muslim majority countries. They worked to impose religious order on corrupted Muslim societies from Morocco to Malaysia.
What we ought to remember, however, is that the US-Saudi alliance that empowered Militant Traditionists in Afghanistan produced Bin Laden and al-Qaeda. The invasion of Iraq and the US-Saudi alliance against Assad in Syria produced ISIL. These are not abstract speculations. Even the architects of the Iraq war admit as much.  Tony Blair, Bush’s ally and strong supporter of the illegal invasion of Iraq recently declared:
Of course you can’t say that those of us who removed Saddam in 2003 bear no responsibility for the situation [in Iraq] in 2015… There are elements of truth in the fact that the invasion is responsible for the rise of ISIS. –Tony Blair, CNN, October 25, 2015). 
The Future of ISIL and its Derivatives:
ISIL is the expression of a Traditionist position that is present in all Semitic traditions, if not all religions. As the data shows, Traditionists who do not believe in broad, free public participation in defining and applying religious traditions are strongest when enabled by the state or when relying on brute force to impose their will from the top down. This model cannot survive the test of time.
ISIL’s teachings and practices might be enough to sustain a culture. But it is not capable of sustaining a worldview or civilization. Combatant Traditionism in Islamic societies is a backward-looking ideology with no place for diversity, plurality, reason, art, or any other human invention that has no roots in the formative period of Islam. An ideology that aspires to establishing a monolithic community is in conflict with its own sources of authority and with human nature. Even the literal interpretation of some Islamic texts suggest that God does not wish to coarse all humans into accepting one faith: “Had your Lord wished it, He could have made all of the earth’s inhabitants, all of them, believers. Is it up to you, then, to force people to believe?” [Qur’an: Yunis, 99]; see also [Qur’an: Hud, 118-9]. 
To aim for an earth inhabited by people who follow a single creed and live by one law is to be delusional in aspiration and genocidal in practice. Neither religious tradition nor historical records support the Traditionists’ position and aims. 
The world in which we live has always been full of people with diverse ideas, diverse racial backgrounds, and diverse social orders. Throughout the history of Islamic societies, there has never been a caliphate that imposed one law and one orthodoxy and lasted beyond the reign of one caliph or one dynasty. Even the most idealized caliphal period, known as the Righteously Guided Caliphate, was full of dissent, tension, rebellion, revolution, and bloodshed.
During the righteously guided caliphate, the most prominent leaders of that era held that the principles derived from religious texts were intended to establish social justice, not to be blindly imposed. In other words, they understood that the shari`a is supposed to be in service of human beings, not that human beings can be sacrificed to impose the shari`a. The second caliph, Umar Ibn al-Khattab, nicknamed al-Faruq for his commitment to fairness, invented an inheritance law principle that contradicted the explicit Qur’anic dictates. The principle of proportional distribution of legacy, `awl, diminished all the Qur’anic share otherwise due to Qur’anic heirs to accommodate grandparents in the presence of first and second generation heirs. Moreover, Umar reportedly suspended hudud rules during harsh economic times. 
Today, the conflict between theory and practice is evident even in Traditionism formulated and implemented by the same generation of adherents. In theory, Salafism united scholars and adherents from all over the world. Salafist ideologues prophesized that once a pure “Islamic state” is established, it will self-sustain (Baqiyah) and it will self-perpetuate (Mutamaddidah) until the end of time. Such self-assuredness enticed Traditionists from all over the world to make the journey to the lands under the control of ISIL in Syria and Iraq. However, months later, that influx of supporters decreased, the number of Syrian and Iraqi citizens who lived in or near the towns and cities under ISIL’s control left it all behind and sought refuge in European countries, far away from ISIL’s control and influence, prompting the latter to issue a religious edict prohibiting relocation to the land of unbelievers (Kuffar).
In 2014, ISIL and other Salafi affiliated armed groups in Syria went to war against one another prompting Salafi religious figures to call for a truce. A document entitled, Mubadarat al-ummah, drafter and signed by a number of Salafi figures instructed all parties to stop the infighting and put the matter in the hands of a shari`a court. When ISIL rejected the plan, even the most committed authorities of Combatant Traditionism issued opinions invalidating the procedure and substance of ISIL’s project to re-establish the Islamic caliphate. 
Ayman al-Zawahiri, the most militant Salafi combatant and successor of Usama Bin Laden rebuked ISIL’s leaders and declared their state null and void. The Jordanian Salafist, Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi (Isam al-Barqawi), who spent many years in prison for his support of Combatant Traditionism, also rebuked ISIL leaders and their state, arguing that they have poor understanding of Islamic tradition and he argued that “ISIL does not have a single scholar who trusted and supported them.” Many other Salafist scholars who previously supported al-Qaeda and its derivatives rejected ISIL’s caliphate, including, Abu Qatada al Filistini, Sami al-Uraydi, Sadiq al-Hashimi, Muslih al-Alyani, Abu Sulayman al-Ustrali, Abu Azzam al-Jazrawi, al-Mu`tasim Billah al-Madani, and Abdullah al-Muhaysini.
The Mufti of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Saudi establishment’s authority of Salafism, also determined that ISIL, like al-Qaeda, is a deviant trend (fi’ah baghiyah) and that it must be fought and defeated. Many other scholars of Salafism held similar opinions on ISIL’s ideology and practices. If ISIL cannot enjoy any degree of consensus about its interpretation of Islam and its political theory, how could it secure the support and consent of other Sunni Muslims, especially those who are Reasonists, let alone adherents to other sects, religions, and seculars?
Another problem with the ideology espoused by ISIL and its derivatives is that it is an elitist, top-down vision of Islam because it is derived from textual evidence. Writing is not an activity that preserves the values and practices of ordinary people or the consensus of the community. Writing has been, for most of history, a mode of communication dominated by the elite, the wealthy, and the powerful. Writing and publishing is an expensive and complex mode of producing narratives and recording historical events. Historical written texts are not inclusive or diverse. To reconstruct Islam through the interpretation of a select group of ancient texts is to presume that those texts represented a broad consensus or authoritative preservation of Islam. They do not. Islam was once said to be the religion of an illiterate for the illiterate. Then it was co-opted by the elite aristocrats, like the Umayyads, in the second half of 7thcentury, and the Saud Clan, in the 20th century.
Salafism exists today because it aligned itself, directly and indirectly, with two of the most powerful political orders in the world: a regional power, Saudi Arabia, and a global power, the United States. Salafism’s reach and influence are deep because they are enabled by state agencies and the generosity of wealthy individuals from Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Kuwait, and Qatar. 
Today, the Saudi rulers’ belligerent arrogance is stunning. While their air force bombarded the impoverished Yemeni people for months killing scores of civilians and destroying schools and hospitals, they continue to argue their bizarre logic of equating the brutality of Assad’s government to the horror Daesh and its derivatives inflict on civilians around the world.
The Arab Spring put in motion a movement whose effects cannot be fully contained, reversed, or redirected. The Arab countries must adapt to a new reality where the people no longer fear the rulers. This problem is more complex for the rulers of Saudi Arabia. For nearly a century, they presided over a society with no civil institutions like opposition political parties, a free press, or non-governmental organizations—a society dominated by the corrupt clan government or by exclusionary Salafi religious institutions. Should the Saudi government fall, the only group that would be prepared to take power is the Salafist, a religious order that aspire to dominate all others who do not share its views and beliefs. 
The Saudi rulers’ refusal to eradicate Combatant Traditionism is, in many ways, another form of preserving and prolonging their own hold on power. The existence of Combatant Traditionism makes the Saudi regime appear “moderate,” the same way the rise of Daesh made other al-Qaeda derivatives, like al-Nusra and Ahrar al-Sham, seem “moderate.” However, Muslims, and the world community at large, must realize that they do not have to choose between Combatant Traditionism and the Saudi regime. Given the evident historical and ideological connections between the Saud clan and Combatant Traditionism, confronting both, the Saudi regime and Combatant Traditionism, at the same time, might be the only path to ending this petrodollar-empowered genocidal alliance.
The Saudi rulers could save themselves and their country from total destruction. They could stop blaming their neighbors, abandon their sectarian rhetoric, and allow scholars from other Sunni schools of thought to engage Salafism, which has enjoyed a virtual monopoly over educational and religious institutions since the Kingdom was founded.
The rise of Combatant Traditionism might also be an opportunity for Muslim thinkers, scholars, and educators to revive Reasonism, the discourse that guided the development of Islamic thought and practices during the formative period (first two centuries of Islam). While Combatant Traditionism is attempting to transcend geographical border to impose a particular narrow understanding of Islam with blind zeal, those who believe in the universality of human dignity need to articulate their commitment to social justice in a way that transcends sectarian, ethnic, religious, national, and ideological fault lines. The Saudi rulers’ sponsored culture puts religious dogma above human dignity. Confronting that culture will launch a social justice driven movement within Islamic societies and lay a strong foundation for dignity-centered movement that transcends all other boundaries.
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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.

Saudi and Qatari dilemma: Can they support al-Sisi in his war on ISIL and support ISIL in its war on Assad?

Saudi and Qatari dilemma: Can they support al-Sisi in his war on ISIL and support ISIL in its war on Assad?

 

GCC

When Prince Salman became King Salman, world leaders wanted to know about the man now controlling the country that exports more oil than any other, Saudi Arabia. Several leading publications claimed that the 79 year old king suffers from serious chronic illnesses. The Economistproposed that his predecessor, King Abdullah, had concerns about handing the crown to Salman because Salman may be suffering from Alzheimer’s disease.  The Atlantic, too, reported in 2010 that Salman suffered from dementia. The official reaction of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), the intergovernmental organization that is supposed to represent the wealthy Gulf States but actually serves to promote Saudi interests and point of view, to Egypt’s claim that Qatar supports terrorism, suggests that the King might be indeed suffering from dementia. The background for this story is as follows:


Last week, ISIL’s branch in Libya killed, in its trademark revolting ways, 21 Egyptian workers. The next day, Egypt, ostensibly, in coordination with the Libyan government—or at least one of the Libyan governments, attacked ISIL in Libya. The government of al-Sisi sought political cover from Arab countries. The Arab League issued a statement of “understanding,” to which Qatar objected. The Egyptian representative in the Arab League, Tariq Adil, responded by accusing Qatar of supporting terrorism. Qatar recalled its top diplomat from Cairo and the GCC secretary, Abd al-Latif al-Zayyani, issued a harsh response saying that “the accusations against Qatar are untrue” and that “Qatar, along with its sister countries in the GCC, has made sincere efforts to fight terrorism and extremism.” 

Hours later, the GCC issued a second statement, this time saying that the GCC “reaffirms its full support to Egypt and its president Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi to fight terrorism inside and outside Egypt… and that the security of Egypt is important for the security of the GCC.” In a sense, this statement is a retraction of the first one. Since the GCC generally represent the Saudi point of view, these conflicting statements in the span of 24 hours suggest that the King of Saudi Arabia is either suffering from dementia or is trying to have his cake and eat it. He wants to be a friend of both Egypt and Qatar, despite that Qatar and Egypt have serious differences.

In the end, it would seem that the GCC chose not to escalate their conflict with Egypt. But this is clearly a temporary fix. Around the world, the frequency of statements and publications critical of the GCC, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, is increasing. The public too see Saudi and Qatari roles unfavorably. The first GCC statement of support to Qatar generated nearly 46 million reactions on social media, most of which critical to Qatar. Leaders of Qatar and Saudi Arabia are spending more time denying their support to terrorist groups. In the long run, these two countries must confront the fact that they are indeed enablers of terrorism by virtue of their privileging of Salafism over all other interpretations of Islam. Regionally, Qatar and Saudi Arabia must abandon their foolish distinction between ISIL in Iraq and Syria and other ISIL’s in Egypt, Libya, and Lebanon. They are all natural growth of violent Salafism, which branched out of the kind of conservatism these two countries espoused and promoted around the world for more than 70 years.
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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.

Where is the Outrage?

Where is the Outrage?

Europe’s hypocrisy and latent racism displayed after the Paris attacks

On January 11, 2015, an estimated 1.6 million people walked the streets of Paris as part of a “unity march” in reaction to the recent attack in the French capital. Some 40 world leaders joined the march. Other high-profile individuals also recognized the attack and the march—for instance, George Clooney and other actors referred to the events as they received awards on January 11. “Paris is the capital of the world today,” declared Francois Hollande. 


Those who are informed of current events know that every day people are killed by the violence that was unleashed by the opportunistic manipulators of the Arab Spring and the invasion of Iraq before that. It is perplexing to see world leaders converging on Paris, the media saturated with news about the attack, and the large unity march in response to the attack. Why are we expected to respond to these events with unity when indiscriminate violence, illegal wars, and genocidal massacres have taken the lives of people in Muslim countries every day for the past four years?

Where is the outrage when—just one day before the march in Paris—al-Nusra genocidal bombers, financed and armed by Qatar and Turkey and their Western allies, killed at least 7 people and wounded more than 30 in a cafe in Tripoli, Lebanon?

Where is the anger when a suicide bomb blast killed at least 20 people and injured 18 others at a poultry market in Maiduguri, Somalia, on January 10?

Where is the indignation when bombers killed and wounded 29 civilians in a market in Yobe, Nigeria, on the same day the Paris march took place?

Where is the wrath when attackers killed 31 and maimed 90 in a market in China’s Xinjiang last May?

Where is the exasperation when ISIL genocidal murders killed 40 in a series of attacks targeting mosques in Iraq last October?

Where is the ire when genocidal fighters killed 134 childrenand 9 school staff members, and injured 121 others, at a school in Peshawar, Pakistan, last December?

Where is the fury when genocidal murderers have carried out more than 400 suicide attacks, killing 6,272 and wounding 12,909 in Pakistan alone since 2001?

Where is the disgust when, on average, six civilians died in Iraq every day, for a total of 21,600 deaths, between 2003 and January 2013, by car bombs and suicide attacks alone?

Where is the call for unity when 12,878 civilians were murdered by terror attacks in 2013 in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Syria? Do the lives of 12 French citizens matter more than the lives of 12,878 Muslims killed over the course of just one year?

The simple fact is this: Far too many Muslims have been killed by the political tool created by Saudi Arabia and its allies. Too many victims to capture with a slick slogan like “Je Suis Charlie”, too many to keep track of all their names.

I could go on listing attack after attack by these genocidal murderers, who were nurtured and sponsored by allies of the West, targeting Muslims in Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon, and Nigeria. I could list facts and figures about children, women, elders, journalists, doctors, teachers, engineers, laborers, mothers, father, sister, brothers, aunts, uncles, and uninvolved civilians, who provoked no one, killed every day in these countries. But I can’t find a single instance of world leaders marching in the streets of Peshawar, Kabul, Baghdad, Damascus, Tunis, Beirut, or Abuja to mourn these innocent lives and to show unity against genocidal groups and ideologies.

The unity march in Paris enables killers to claim that Muslims’ lives do not matter as much as the lives of Western citizens. The media’s over-coverage of victims of terrorism in the West and under-coverage of victims of terrorism elsewhere communicates a latent racism: European lives matter, the lives of people of color do not. Mass murder in Paris demands an international show of outrage and unity, whereas mass murder in Islamabad deserves only a dismissive statement of condemnation.

Ironically, the disparate reaction to the same act of violence—one taking the lives of West citizens and one taking the lives of non-Western citizens, which is unconscionable, further radicalizes some ordinary Muslims and some of them join genocidal groups like ISIL who deceivably claim that they are the true defenders of Sunni Muslims. That is how genocidal fighters are able to find sanctuary among some ordinary Sunni Muslims, and can then use that sanctuary to launch deadly attacks that kill anyone who does not embrace their genocidal supremacist ideology and practices.

The unity march was a shameful display by opportunists to capitalize on the blood of innocent people. Instead of that hypocritical exercise, world leaders should have reached out to the primary victims of terrorism and showed true unity by displaying equal outrage for offenses committed against them. They should have shown some sincere sympathy towards the victims of genocidal killing in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. If Western leaders wanted to fight extremism and supremacism, they would not distinguish between a life lost to terrorism in Paris and a life lost to terrorism in Baghdad and Damascus, even when they disagree with the political leaders in those capitals.

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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.

“This is What the Arab Spring Looks Like”

“This is What the Arab Spring Looks Like”


Tunisia’s transition to representative governance brings hope to Arab Societies


Four days after the fourth anniversary of the spark that ignited the fury of protests widely known as the Arab Spring, Tunisian voters reminded the world about what the Arab Spring is supposed to look like. The election of a new president this week capped four years of hard work that involved politicians and leaders of civil society institutions. In four years, Tunisians elected a constituency assembly primarily tasked with forming a transitional government and writing a new constitution. Those goals, despite many setbacks, were finally achieved. In the past three months, Tunisian voters elected a parliament, narrowed the field of presidential candidates (of more than 24 candidates) during a first round of presidential elections, and finally chose Beji Caid Essebsi, giving him 55% of their vote over the interim president, Mohamed Mouncef Marzouki.


Without doubt, attempts to explain the outcome and meaning of the results of these elections are numerous. Some commentators described the outcome as “buyer’s remorse,” suggesting that the Arab peoples are having second thoughts about the uprisings that overthrew many of the most authoritarian, yet effective, rulers in the region. Other observers contended that the vote in Tunisia, like the one in Egypt, which brought al-Sisi to power, is repudiation to Islamists. Other analysts charged that outside money and influence is behind the counter-revolutionary movements that are repackaging old regimes in order to slow down or undo the radical changes the Arab Spring had set in motion. Indeed, there is some truth in all of these and other theories. However, the constitution that the Tunisian people approved and the process by which they transitioned towards representative governance are remarkably impressive and Tunisians, from all spectrum of social and political life, should celebrate with pride and relief.

Generally, Tunisians have succeeded in keeping outside influence to a minimum. They trusted civil society institutions with mediating political dissent. They supported the interim government in its efforts to isolate violent elements who want to impose their genocidal agenda. In the end, thanks to the people’s sacrifices and commitment to non-violence, Tunisia emerged victorious in many areas. It stands proudly free from the Gulf States’ money-driven half-solutions that stalled progress in Yemen. Tunisians avoided the power grab and political opportunism like the ones that took place in Egypt. And above all, Tunisians succeeded in deliberately silencing the genocidal groups who use knives and guns to slaughter their way to power as is the case in Libya and Syria. 
Tunisians reaffirmed their commitment to the initial cry for dignity.

Importantly, Tunisians have reminded those who claim sole ownership of the revolution for themselves that the uprising was not about replacing one authoritarian regime with another or rewarding a political party over another. By voting for Nida Tunis (and its leader), which has roots in the old bureaucracy, and offering Ennahdha a significant number of seats in the new parliament, Tunisian voters seem to declare that they hold no indiscriminate prejudice against all and anyone who worked or might have worked with or for the old regime. They simply have a problem with incompetence, corruption, cronyism, and abuse of human dignity.

Today, Nida Tunis, the coalition of political parties and civil society entities’ representative that was created as a counterweight to the post-revolution ruling collation, is celebrating; just as did Ennahdha and its allies three years ago. Nida Tunis and its allies should remember that the people, now, have a say in who governs and for how long. More importantly, they should remain mindful not only of the interest of the 55% of the people who voted for them, but also of the concerns of the 45% of Tunisians who voted for Marzouki and the 66% (3.5 million people) of all registered voters who did not vote at all or voted for Marzouki—not for their candidate, Essabsi. Regardless, the 36% of the all registered voters who actually voted for him did not nostalgically vote to bring back the neo-Bourguibists, they voted out those who failed, in their judgment, to govern… again.

The world community should do more than congratulate the Tunisian people and their newly elected officials. They should support them economically, politically, and morally without any strings attached. Indeed, the Tunisian model for transitioning towards representative governance is the most convincing rebuttal to genocidal groups who believe in nothing but their own narrow worldview and tolerate none but themselves.
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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.

Iran’s emerging institutional power and its effect on negotiations with the United States

Iran’s emerging institutional power and its effect on negotiations with the United States


On the eve of the Republicans’ takeover of the U.S. Senate and increased control of the House, the Wall Street Journal revealed, on the authority of anonymous sources, that President Obama had sent “secret letter” to the leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran. Iran took its time confirming it had received such a letter. The official confirmation ultimately came from the secretary general of the Iranian Supreme National Security Council (SNSC), Ali Shamkhani.


Shamkhani, a former navy admiral now heading the powerful body that oversees defense policy and consists of thirteen members representing various branches and agencies of governance, said that Iran responded to President Obama’s letter, which was not the first of its kind. He also indicated that the “wording of the letter seemed to be constructive as it did not attempt to interfere in the internal affairs of the country.” The confirmation also came after a crucial round of negotiation between top diplomats from the EU, Iran, and the U.S. that took place in Muscat, Oman. Especially given that this is not the first letter, it should not be a significant event. But it is, for several key reasons.

1. Although President Obama’s letter was addressed to the Supreme Leader of the Islamic Revolution (his official title is rahbar-e inqilab), Seyyed Ali Khamenei, on the occasion of being discharged from the hospital after a medical procedure, the reply came from the SNSC. The fact that the SNSC responded to the letter instead of the office of the leader or the president signals at least two things: the significance of the content of the letter (relating to national security) and Iran’s emerging institutional power. Indeed, the leader, as he is addressed in Iran, wields considerable power and influence. However, given that the letter came shortly after he had been treated for cancer, Iran chose to send a strong signal that its national security and foreign policy matters are not decided by one individual, high and revered as he may be, but are handled through proper institutions. The implication of Iran’s emerging institutional power cuts both ways. It can provide reassurance that a deal, if reached and confirmed by the various governing branches, will enjoy the backing of a stable regime. On the other hand, Iran’s emerging institutional power means that the West cannot wait out the process until a new, “moderate” leader succeeds Khamenei. In other words, Iran’s current foreign and defense policies are likely to last for generations.

2. President Obama’s letter, however, sends the opposite signal—especially in that it was sent just days before the election of a new Congress. Even if President Obama expressed openness to starting a new chapter with Iran, Iranian leadership seemed interested in American institutional commitment to making progress on the nuclear issue, sanctions, and combating terrorism. This distinction revealed itself in Oman when Iranian negotiators insisted that any final agreement on the nuclear issue must include the lifting of all sanctions, including those imposed by Congress.

3. In the past, the U.S. administration has argued that hardline figures in the Iranian government are the cause of failed attempts to reach a negotiated agreement. With both Iran’s new “moderate” president and the same “hardline” supreme leader committed to negotiations, it is now the U.S.’s shift in institutional power that is threatening the process and undermining the President’s efforts. In other words, the new Congress may render what used to be reassuring American institutional power a thing of the past if President Obama fails to reach a deal within the allotted time—before November 23, which is fast approaching.

4. Since Iran and the P5+1 inked the interim agreement nearly a year ago, Iran has received some of its frozen assets, continued nuclear research and development without expanding uranium enrichment, and struck a number of trade and economic agreements with a many foreign companies, including European ones. Most of these agreements were structured in a way that would mitigate current or future Western sanctions. In other words, with or without agreement, Iran is in a better position than before it signed the interim agreement. If the U.S. administration keeps its current sanctions or imposes new ones, it would be like someone cutting the branch of a tree they are sitting on. In other words, it would deprive American companies and individuals of opportunities made available to everyone else thanks to the interim agreement.

U.S. policy makers have been accustomed to dealing with Middle Eastern countries that lack established institutional power. It was often the case that when a U.S. administration wanted a particular Middle Eastern country to do something, it simply asked the king, emir, or shaikh of that country to issue a decree. Iran’s emerging institutional power requires a new strategy in the Middle East for U.S. foreign policy to be relevant.

In addition to a strategic policy shift, both the U.S. and Iran ought to put their grievances on the table and deal with them openly and respectfully. Indeed, Iran has a long list, ranging from the U.S.’s meddling in Iran’s internal affairs and overthrowing elected governments, to siding with the Shah, to aiding Saddam during his eight-year devastating war, to shooting down passenger airliners. On the other hand, the U.S. could ask Iran to stop glorifying attacks on diplomatic missions and hostage-taking. Perhaps the airing of grievances in a mutually respectful manner could move the conversation forward to the point where both parties can work together on very difficult issues that are now increasingly threatening the region and the world.

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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.

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ought to be tried for crimes against humanity

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan ought to be tried for crimes against humanity



by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
 

ISIL attacks Kobane

Earlier this month, Vice President Joe Bidenangered some Middle Eastern leaders by making a true statement. Speaking at Harvard, Biden said that the U.S. allies were determined to overthrow Bashar al-Assad from power so they “poured hundreds of millions dollars, and tens thousands of tons of weapons into anyone who would fight against al-Assad, accepted the people who would be in supply for al-Nusra and al-Qaeda and extremist elements of jihadists coming from other parts of the world.” Known for his blunt statements, Biden flatly admitted that U.S. “biggest problem is our allies. Our allies in the region were our largest problem in Syria. The Turks… the Saudis, the Emiratis, etc…”

The White House, under pressure to keep the fragile anti-ISIL alliance together, tried to limit the damage of these extraordinary admissions, first published the transcript of the Vice President’s lecture without these statements (they were said during the Q&A session). When the video clip of the Vice President’s remarks made its way to the Internet, Biden spent the next couple of days calling Turkish and Emirati leaders to clarify his comments and offer qualified apologies. Biden should not have apologized; he should have warned them of the dire consequences of their reckless and criminal actions.

Despite his efforts, Turkey is still refusing to help stop the genocide that is happening near its border by refusing to allow volunteers to cross to Syria to help defend Kobane and by denying residents who are still inside the city resisting ISIL attacks weapons and food. Before he would do any of that, Erdogan wants the West to establish a buffer zone within Syria allegedly to house refugees. In reality, he wants to establish a no-fly zone in northern Syria to help Syrian armed groups, including ISIL and al-Nusra, overthrow the Syrian government. In other words, he does not want to weaken ISIL unless the Syrian government is even weaker or better yet, overthrown. He does not seem to care who would take over as long as Assad is out. Erdogan repeatedly stated that his priority is to overthrow Assad, not fight ISIL and similar extremist groups.
  

When Turkish citizens protested his callousness, he ordered his security forces to do whatever it takes to impose order, killing 32 civilians as of October 11. Erdogan, who allowed foreign fighters and weapons to cross into Syria to fight the Syrian government, is now refusing to allow Syrians to cross the border to protect civilians against the genocidal ISIL fighters. He claimed that the protesters are PKK terrorists. He uses brute force to kill Kurds who are fighting for cultural, political, and economic rights but he condemns the Syrian and Iraqi governments for fighting genocidal groups determined to purge their countries from Alawites, Christians, Kurds, Shia, Yazidis, and anyone who does not believe in they believe and submit to the self-declared caliph.

Erdogan, Turkey’s most polarizing politician, alienated 45% of the Turkish people and is attempting to export his brand of politics outside Turkey. He is following a policy that punishes dissent, stokes sectarianism, and fuels civil strife. He is a destabilizing force who aided in the murder of nearly 100,000 Syrians who were killed on the hands of armed groups and offered the Syrian government cause to kill the other 100,000 people. He ought to be held responsible for killing Turkish protesters and aiding genocidal killers in Iraq and Syria.
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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.

ISIL cannot be defeated militarily without addressing the roots of its genocidal creed and confronting its sectarian backers

ISIL cannot be defeated militarily without addressing the roots of its genocidal creed and confronting its sectarian backers

Less than a year after the start of the crisis in Syria, I warned that militarizing the Syrian uprising is a dangerous step. Picking sides and arming them would amount to  launching a new proxy-war similar to the one that took place in Afghanistan in the 1970’s and 1980’s. The danger, I reasoned, comes from the necessary outcome of using non-state actors as tools to destabilize other nations and adopting violence to escalate the confrontation with international political adversaries. Such escalation, generally, produces groups that cannot be kept under control as happened with al-Qaeda. Today, it has become evident that Syria is indeed a proxy-war zone that produced ISIL, an upgraded version of al-Qaeda, which was the byproduct of the proxy-war in Afghanistan. Such a new proxy-war will not be limited to Syria’s border. Indeed, all countries involved in such a war, especially the ones sharing borders with Syria like Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, will face serious political and security challenges.


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Combating ISIL should not be America’s business, it is Saudi Arabia’s

Combating ISIL should not be America’s business, it is Saudi Arabia’s

ISIL is a global threat but it is a bigger threat to the Middle East than to U.S. homeland. It is a bigger threat to Muslims than to Americans because, until now, the absolute majority of victims are Muslims. The U.S. could be part of a coalition that should combat ISIL but it should not take the lead. Saudi Arabia should take the lead in fighting ISIL because Saudi Arabia helped create it in the first place. The ideology and practices of ISIL are derived from the brand of a religious tradition called Salafi Wahhabism that was founded in Saudi Arabia and promoted by Saudi preachers under the patronage of the Saudi ruling family. Therefore, the fight against ISIL is Saudi Arabia’s and the rulers of Saudi Arabia must be forced to take the lead in this war.

The link: Like ISIL, Saudi Arabia sanctions public beheading

The war on ISIL as outlined by President Obama is ill-conceived and will be poorly executed. A war on ISIL led by U.S. and Western countries will create sympathy to ISIL, weaken legitimate governments and international institutions, and create more chaos in an unstable region. 

If the U.S. military bombs ISIL in Syria without the consent of the government there and provide more political and military support to armed opposition groups in that country, it will foster the idea that the U.S. is taking side in a sectarian, ethnic, and regional war. Bypassing the Syrian government to fight ISIL will create more ISILs. 

This war cannot be just a war on ISIL, it must be a war on all ISILs, in Syria, Iraq, Libya, and wherever they exist. In other words, this war ought to be a war on genocidal ideologies like ISIL’s, Nusra’s, and many other armed groups in Syria. ISIL, like al-Qaeda before it, is a Saudi freaky invention and the Saudi rulers must be held responsible for combating it now. The Saudis should form an alliance with Qatar, Turkey, and takfiri preachers whom the rulers of the kingdom allowed to proselytize on satellite televisions to uproot it militarily and ideologically. The rest of the world should only offer assistance—not lead.
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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 paradoxical nature of religious and ethnic states and the genocidal impulses

The paradoxical nature of religious and ethnic states and the genocidal impulses


by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*
 

The Arab Spring that freed some of the peoples of the Middle East from state imposed fear produced an existential challenge for increasingly heterogeneous communities, forcing people to define the nature of the state and the character of the country where they live. It is true that self-rule and self-determination require a sense of self. However, building stable countries in the new Middle East is tied to the peoples’ level of awareness of the genocidal impulse espoused by certain social groups amongst them. 

The old Middle East was built on an artificial foundation imposed by Western colonial and protective powers in the form of superficial liberal thought, imported Marxist ideas, petty ethnic identities, niggling tribal structures, and a variety of downwardly managed and imposed ideas. The regimes and political forces of the pre- and post-colonial periods exerted virtual monopoly on governing institutions in most Arab countries. During the second half of the twentieth century, Islamists, like the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, began to challenge nationalist, monarchical, and clannish regimes arguing that Islamism provides a more inclusive political ideology for the peoples of the Middle East than alien ideas or narrow Arabism.

Consequently, Islamists clashed with secularists (consisting of Arab nationalists, liberals, Marxists, leftists, etc.) and monarchs and sheikhs. Secularists opposed Islamists on the basis that only a “neutral” secular state could guarantee equality among all citizens. Monarchs, on the other hand, either created their own versions of Islamism or co-opted existing ones to offset the rising popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood. The Arab Spring amplified the tension between these competing trends. The future of the Middle East in particular and Islamic societies in general will depend on the outcome of these contestations. Specifically, political actors must address the place of religion and ethnicity, as defining identity markers, in the post-Arab Spring countries.

In Tunisia, for instance, all political debates were reduced to two competing propositions: the civil state versus the shari`ah-compliant state. It would seem that the consensus, as expressed in the new constitution, was in favor of a civil state where respect for religion, not any particular interpretation of Islam, is honored by all and imposed on none.

In Egypt, however, and immediately after the fall of Mubarak’s regime, the Muslim Brotherhood and their Salafi allies used their dominant organizational advantage to privilege a particular interpretation of Islam over all other interpretations and religions. That project failed and Egypt reverted to a Mubarak-like regime, for now. Importantly, the opportunity given to all Islamists to participate in representative governance and the subsequent failure of the Muslim Brotherhood to foster pluralism relativized the religious political discourse to the extent that even Salafis embraced realpolitik and sided with the military against the Muslim Brotherhood.

In Syria, all armed groups were united in their goal to overthrow the Ba`ath regime but they did not have a unifying vision for the future. Indeed, the Ba`ath government, as a post-colonial regime, is outdated. However, based on their own statements, the ideology of the most powerful opposition groups, the Islamic State (formerly, ISIL), al-Nusra Front, the Islamic Front, and many Islamist groups is beyond outdated. Their ideology is genocidal. These groups call for an Islamic state that is deviants-free, where non-Muslim citizens are reduced to a subordinate class, where non-Arabs are perpetually treated as inferior, and where secular Muslims are designated blasphemous enemies of God. A state built on these ideas is irresoluble, impracticable, and paradoxical for it violates the very basic understanding of the universal prohibition on genocide let alone the universal commitment to honor human dignity everywhere and under all circumstances.

The implicit support and tolerance of groups like the Islamic State are utterly disturbing. The lack of outrage towards ISIL’s actions against vulnerable sectarian and ethnic minorities is shocking. Not only did ISIL express its intend to kill all those who do not submit to its will, but it broke new grounds by committing retroactive genocide when it destroyed mosques, graveyards, churches, and iconic religious and cultural structures that echo the presence of diverse communities from thousands of years past. In a sense, ISIL and its supporters are committing two-way genocide when they kill or displace minorities and destroy their ancient historical sites. Considering the atrocities ISIL and al-Nusra inflict even on each other when they disagree, it becomes clear that these groups embody unmatched brutality and stunning lack of respect to human dignity enshrined in universal declarations and treaties prohibiting cruelty and genocide.

The commonly agreed upon definition of genocide is clear. It is “the deliberate and systematic extermination of a national, racial, political, or cultural group.” International law provides specific examples of acts that are genocidal like killing members of the group, causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group, and forcibly transferring children of the group to another group. Moreover, international law punishes those who commit genocide, conspire to commit genocide, directly and publicly incite committing genocide, attempt to commit genocide, and being complicit in genocide.

With these definitions and examples in mind, the perpetrators of genocide in places like Iraq, Syria, and Libya become numerous. Responsibility falls on the shoulders of the actual actors who commit these crimes as well as on the shoulders of those who are complicit—those who are supporting ideologies that promote and sustain genocidal thought and inspire genocidal acts.

Post-Arab Spring countries could overcome the genocidal impulse and combat state imposed fear at the same time when they reject ideological purity in favor of absolute respect to human dignity. The Arab Spring, after all, may have signaled the beginning of the end of the precursors to ideological purity namely exclusionary models of nationalism such as Arabism, Turkism, Kurdism, Zionism, Berberism, Persianism, Islamism, and all other forms of ethnicity- and religion-inspired isms. A stable and peaceful future can be achieved through national identities that are more inclusive and more egalitarian in terms of respect to rights and dignity.

It is difficult to predict the specific future of the new Middle East. But it is not difficult to predict that the new Middle East will be better than the old one. Too much blood and agony have been spent to revert to the old Middle East or build a mediocre one. In this interconnected global community, no country can exist in isolation from its neighbors. With that being the case, the religious and ethnic state models become ethically, legally, and politically unsustainable. The peoples of the Middle East, therefore, must reject the proposition that only an Arab state can protect Arabs, only a Kurdish state can protect Kurds, only a Persian state can protect Persians, only a Shi`ite state can protect Shi`as, only a Sunni state can protect Sunnis, only a Christian state can protect Christians, only a Jewish state can protect Jews, and so-on. Because these ideas eventually lead to genocidal attitudes and acts. Peoples in that region must learn to confront their fear of each other and work together to build alliances on the basis of mutual respect and mutual commitment to dignity. They must commit to the principle that surviving or fearing a genocide does not give any community a legal or moral license to preemptively commit one.

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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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