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Apologists for terror or defenders of human rights? The Cage controversy in context

The attack on Cage is part of the more general assault on politically active Muslims and an attempt to push Muslim organisations to the margins of public life.

Taking racism seriously: Islamophobia, civil liberties and the state

Racism and Islamophobia are driven by the practices of the powerful. Self-proclaimed 'liberals' need to know this.

Contest and cohesion

Eric Randolph specialises in insurgency and is an editor at a defence analysis firm and London Editor at Complex Terrain Lab.The government released its updated counter-terrorism strategy, Contest Two, on 24 March. Last week, its continued relevance was demonstrated by the arrests of 12 people in Manchester, Liverpool and Lancashire, apparently on suspicion of involvement in a terrorist plot against major civilian targets. The news that 11 were Pakistani nationals who entered the UK on student visas has led the media to argue that the terrorist profile has changed once again – that the age of homegrown terrorism is being replaced by foreign cells entering the UK to carry out attacks orchestrated from abroad. The government no doubt enjoys the argument that the effectiveness of its counter-terrorism policy has forced a change of tactics on the part of global jihadists. However, the UK remains at such high risk precisely because of its involvement in overseas counter-terrorism operations, and because of the continued existence of jihadist sympathisers in the UK who provide an environment in which foreign terrorist cells are able to blend.

Islam and the media

Tom Griffin (London, OK): Under Siege: Islam and the Media was the theme on Saturday for a half-day conference at the LSE organised by Media Workers Against the War. Among the speakers was Daily Mail columnist Peter Oborne who talked about his own experience of disillusionment.

I found it very profoundly shocking in the lead-up to the Iraq War, to be lied to systemically by the British state. I thought it was something which was foreign to our traditions and our experience. Oddly enough, it radicalised me. I went through the opposite journey to what Nick Cohen went through.

Generation Faithless?

For some time now, the New York Times has been running a series of articles entitled "Generation Faithful" which examine the changing dynamics of youth culture in the Middle East.

With economic stagnation on the rise and with few credible political identities to which to turn, the articles conclude that many Middle Eastern youths are drawn to Islam as a means of coping with their individual and collective frustrations.

One article in particular highlights the Islamicization of young Egyptians, who are often forced by economic constraints to postpone marriage. In a society where marriage represents "the gateway to independence, sexual activity and societal respect", these kinds of delays are often unbearable for young men and women who are thirsting for autonomy, personhood - and each other. Enter religion.

Like Egypt, marriage is an exceedingly important marker of prestige and social stature in Iran. Yet as Iranian youth undergo the same economic and social frustrations as their Egyptian counterparts, they seem to be becoming less rather than more pious.

Undoubtedly, Iran's Islamic tradition and spirituality has deep roots. Ironically however, it appears to have been in the post-revolutionary era that young Iranians have begun to question the deeply entrenched institution of marriage and embrace new conceptualizations of sexuality and gender relations.

This may partly due to necessity. As in Egypt, the troubled Iranian economy cannot provide enough work for its young people, who represent around two thirds of Iran's total population. The age of marriage in contemporary Iran has soared from the pre-revolutionary era, when 18 was the average age of marriage for women; it is now 27. In one survey, 97 percent of Iranian youth stated economic constraints as their primary reason for postponing marriage.

But challenging traditional norms with regards to sex and gender may also be a means of venting political frustration. Since they are expected to follow a strict code of Islamic conduct in public places, Iranian youth seem increasingly determined to express defiance through their individual, private lives - including sexual activity.

Of course, there is no reliable data to confirm that sexual activity is on the rise (few would dare ask and even fewer would dare answer). But many observers agree that the shift in attitude towards sex and gender is palpable. Moreover, it does not seem to have escaped attention of the Iranian government. Last year, the Iranian government started actively promoting temporary marriage, or sigheh, as a way to solve Iran's "social problems".

Temporary marriage is a Shi'a custom endorsed in the Quran under Surah 4:24 and intended for sexual enjoyment (rather than pro-creation, like permanent marriage). The practiced died out in the Sunni community when it was outlawed by the Second Calif Umar in the 7th century, but the ruling was considered illegitimate by Shi'a Muslims. Thus, the practice has continued, though it has traditionally been looked down upon by members of the Iranian middle and upper classes.

When a man and a woman enter into a temporary marriage contract, they specify the length of the relationship - which may range from one minute to ninety nine years - and the amount of financial compensation the woman receives. When the contract expires, the marriage automatically dissolves without divorce process. Children born of a temporary marriage are legally legitimate.

For the Islamic Republic, promoting temporary marriage is likely an effort to re-assert control over changing Iranian values. But will the policy stem the tide of change, or merely accelerate it?

Strong cultural taboos continue to militate against the use of temporary marriage, and some Iranian feminists condemn it for being little more than "thinly disguised prostitution". Even some religious scholars question the policy, which they believe will allow wealthy men to take advantage of economically disadvantaged girls.

But some women such as Shahla Sherkat, a prominent Iranian feminist, believe that temporary marriage could be a useful institution. Sherkat believes that as a result of temporary marriage "sexual relations will become freer, youth can satisfy sexual needs, sex will become depoliticized, our society's obsession with virginity will disappear."

If Sherkat is correct, temporary marriage will indeed be an interesting variable in the rapidly changing youth culture in Iran - especially for women. Indeed, it may allow youth with a legal way to bring their private lives in to the open, in a more direct affront to the Islamic Republic's rigid control of the public sphere.

A better way to fight terrorism?

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): The cost of Britain's surveillance society has reached £20 billion according to a report by the TaxPayers Alliance released today. The bill includes £19 billion for ID cards, £500 million for CCTV and £300 million for the DNA database.

It shouldn't happen to a Muslim

Tom Griffin (London, The Green Ribbon): Channel 4's Dispatches strand marks the third anniversary of the 7/7 London bombings at 8 PM tonight with a documentary by Peter Oborne which asks whether the attacks have fuelled the rise of intolerance against British Muslims.  

Policing Islam for its own good

David Hayes (London, oD): This post on CiF by Ziauddin Sardar about the Quilliam Foundation after its recent launch is a classic cultural police operation, characteristic of a figure indulged by many as a source of authority and moderation. The barely concealed subtext is a desperate campaign - of which this is only the latest instalment - for political control of the dominant British Muslim narrative (and of territorial rights of access to the British liberal establishment).

Sharia Subjects V: What ABC actually said (in part)

Anthony Barnett (London, OK): I'm guilty! As David of Britology Watch gently points out in a comment on my last post Sharia IV, Rowan Williams henceforth know by his website's rubric as ABC, did address what he calls the "neuralgic" issue of apostasy which I banged on about without having read the lecture. Sorry about that.

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