Secularism https://www.opendemocracy.net/taxonomy/term/11674/all cached version 14/02/2019 10:17:21 en The battle between Syrian secular activists and feminists: we all lose https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/zaina-erhaim/battle-between-syrian-secular-activists-and-feminists-we-all-los <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Yet another pushback for Syrian women to leave the public spaces for the powerful men who behave as if these spaces are their ownership.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="western"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/IMG_1021 copy.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/IMG_1021 copy.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="342" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>‘revolution is female; Syria is our mother; we want freedom except for my wife; freedom for everyone except the women in my family ; yes to the one protecting the land and the honour.” Cartoon by Amani Alali for Liberated T. With permission of the artist.</span></span></span>It is 1:00 pm on a hot summer day in my hometown of Idlib. I was speeding my steps to my mathematics class, holding my books and looking down at the street as good girls do, when I was suddenly hugged. Yes hugged, not grabbed nor harassed as usual. It happened as I was standing in the middle of the street, in sight of my teacher who was standing in front of his office along with the girls who arrived earlier.</p> <p class="western">I don’t remember exactly how I forced him to let me go, but I do know that I did all the kicks and punches I learned in my 5 years of Karate classes.</p> <p class="western">I was 15 years old, and this is the story I tell when asked about the first “flirting” I have ever had.</p> <p class="western">It was my first “hug”, an awful one that still makes my body shake when I remember it. However it surely wasn’t the first time I was harassed. It would not be an exaggeration if I said that I don’t remember a day in my teenage years when I walked freely without at least being harassed verbally, unless I was walking with a man.</p> <p class="western">For my bad luck I didn’t have many men in my family, as I was raised by a single mother and a bunch of aunts, and my only brother was studying abroad. However, the absence of controlling men in my life was an opportunity to take decisions on my own. It gave me the space to study journalism and travel to Damascus to do my degree, unlike many of my female friends whose fathers forced them to choose specific majors, “feminine ones” like English literature and to study in the nearby Aleppo university.</p> <p class="mag-quote-right">Public spaces are not mine</p><p class="western">Not having men to walk me around the streets of my city, I usually had to take my 5 year old cousin with me. Although a kid, he is male so for my mother this is safer and would minimize the amount of harassment I might get. And frankly, it did which makes me even more sick when thinking about it now.</p> <p class="western">Public spaces are not mine; I am a weak dependent passer by who needs a male guardian. I learned this as a fact when I was as young as 8.</p> <p class="western">How do I feel about those who felt powerful enough to touch my body against my will for the last 30 years? Angry? What about those who were much younger, shorter, physically weaker than me, still I couldn’t respond because harassment is my problem and my shame?</p> <p class="western">My rage, however, is bigger towards those who watched me harassed and did nothing, those who laughed at my embarrassment while seeing me running away from the incident covering my face with my palms to hide. I just wish I could hit them with every pair of shoes that I have, and I have plenty!</p> <p class="western">This is just one episode of a long series of painful experiences that shaped my personality. Having said that, I have zero tolerance for those harassing women and girls just because they can and were raised thinking they are allowed to do it.</p> <p class="western">My tolerance for those laughing at their “funny” aggressive violations or those who keep silent about them is also zero. There is no difference for me between those doing these actions online or offline.</p> <p class="mag-quote-left">This was yet another pushback for Syrian women to leave the public spaces for the powerful men</p><p class="western">Recently, there were discussions raised on social media after a public dispute that broke between two figures from the Syrian civil society about this particular topic. These discussions eventually turned into an aggressive campaign against Syrian feminists and the feminist movement – which is more than a hundred years old - this time by secular activists mostly representing what we call now the Syrian civil society.</p> <p class="western">I believe this was yet another pushback for Syrian women to leave the public spaces for the powerful men who behave as if these spaces are their ownership and they can occasionally invite women into it as long as they do not challenge their position.</p> <p class="western">The head of a Syrian think tank wrote publicly on his facebook page “the Syrian feminist movement is disgusting, how could someone be a feminist defending other women’s rights if she hasn’t been raped or beaten by her husband? And at the end all Syrian feminists are fighting for the sake of fighting only”.</p> <p class="western">Neither his think tank nor its funder, a study center in Dubai, condemned the manager’s public declarations.</p> <p class="western">On the next day he changed his mind and withdrew what he said, however, checking the interactions on that post one can clearly see that 20 likes/love reactions came from senior persons working for Syrian NGOs in Turkey, at least five of them are implementing “women empowerment programs”.</p> <p class="western">15 laughed and wrote sarcastic comments such as “you are going to be dead now, or good bye, picture with black strap on the side”, there were also 4 “amusing” comments from men working for international organizations.</p> <p class="western">A woman activist who didn’t mind being a second wife commented, “I feel I am a man too”.</p> <p class="western">This was just one sample of the awful aggressive discussions that filled my social media feeds last week, it brought back all the incidents of street harassment back to me again.</p> <p class="western">I felt as if I needed to CC that manager on all those attacks I have been going though for the last 30 years to “get his blessing to defend other women’s rights”.</p> <p class="western">If these are the secular leaders of our Syrian civil society, it’s not surprising to read the findings of the Citizens For Syria research <span><a href="https://citizensforsyria.org/OrgLiterature/Syrian_CSOs_Reality_and_challenges_2017-CfS_EN.pdf">“Syrian Civil Society Organizations</a>:&nbsp;</span><span><a href="https://citizensforsyria.org/OrgLiterature/Syrian_CSOs_Reality_and_challenges_2017-CfS_EN.pdf">Reality and Challenges”</a></span> which indicated that “25% of CSOs have no women representation among their board members, as the high-stake positions were all occupied by men, while women’s presence in these organizations, severely low as it is, is merely restricted to selective or non-essential roles”</p> <p class="western"> But these are not the only examples. Some of the most common arguments and positions we hear are that women’s rights are not a priority amid the ongoing crisis we are living. This often transforms into criticism against anyone who speaks about women’s rights or abuses against women being accused of ignoring the “more urgent” and “more important” problems. </p> <p class="western">Furthermore, for many groups the most common terminology to advocate for women who they consider are paying the highest price, is that they are “the mothers, sisters, and daughters of the brave Syrian men fighting for freedom”. This is another logic that feeds into the dismissal of women as equal agents in the struggle and instead sees them as attached to men. </p> <h3><strong>The Syrian Feminist movement is older than social media</strong></h3> <p class="western">The history of the Syrian feminist movement goes back to the end of the 19th century. Women in our Levant started writing in the journals and when the Ottomans pressured them, they immigrated to Egypt and kept writing in Egyptian media about women’s issues.</p> <p class="western">Dr. Maya Al Rahbi, the Director of Musawah Women's Studies Center since 2012, and the manager of Al Rahbi Publishing House for feminist books says</p> <p class="western">“We had a clear feminism movement in the 1910s, many women were running cultural salons such as poet Mariana Marrash, and Mari Ajamai who then established the first women magazine in the same year under the title Al Arous”.</p> <p class="western">In the 1930s-40s many women NGOs were formed, such as the Syria Arab Women union founded and headed by Adela Baiham Aljazairy, the union was an umbrella for 14 other women NGOs. Adela headed it until 1967.</p> <p class="western">Dr .Al Rahbi thinks that “the Syrian feminist movement then as many feminist movements in the world, didn’t have a clear vision, and they focused on charity kind of work besides education for women”.</p> <p class="western">When the Baath party took over the county in 1963, it formed the Women Union and all the active women and feminist organizations were pushed to work under its umbrella.</p> <p class="western">The only organization that could keep working outside of it was the Syrian Women's League that was established in 1948, because at that time it was part of the communist party, and the regime allowed them to because their party was part of the “Syrian National Progressive Front”.</p> <p class="western">Eventually the SWL detached themselves from the communist party and became an independent feminist movement.</p> <p class="western">Dr. Al Rahbi believes that the SWL is the first Syrian feminist movement.</p><p class="western"><span class="mag-quote-right">Are we against the violations only when the regime or extremists are committing it but it’s all fine when our people are?</span></p> <p class="western">The secretary of the SWL Sabah Hallak says “since the 90s we have been focusing on changing the Syrian laws to be more equal, and we were able to stop a bad discriminating draft of a personal status law suggested in 2009 from reaching the parliament with a big campaign that we launched that many groups and organizations took part in”.</p> <p class="western">In 2000 when Bashar Al Assad came to power promising some space for freedom, some feminist groups and organizations were formed such as “feminism initiative, together to support the women cause” that was established by Dr. Al Rahbi.</p> <p class="western">The Syrian Women League along with other feminist organizations then formed the Syrian Women for Democracy body that was submitting NGO shadow reports to The Committee on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).</p> <p class="western">For more detailed information about the history of the Syrian feminist movement, there is a very recent research published by the <span><a href="http://www.arab-reform.net/ar/node/1113">Arab Reform center</a></span>.</p> <h3><strong>The circle’s beginning and end?</strong></h3> <p class="western">All the vertical battle started with a young anti-regime activist writing publicly on his Facebook page “who can rape this girl with his feet” in a post with her picture, because she was holding the regime’s flag.</p> <p class="western">He apologized out of pressure but with a justification that this is “common in our verbal traditions and it’s not a demand for action”.</p> <p class="western">Then many intellectuals, seculars and activists defended the young man along with his friends who seconded his aggressive attack on the girl.</p> <p class="western">Such a defense (or even not a clear and loud condemnation) coming from intellectuals and opinion leaders represents what we wanted the revolution and our civil society to change. It is surely encouraging violations against women trying to exist in the masculine public spaces.</p> <p class="western">The worst argument was those using “these are our social traditions” in their defense. Well, running behind and mocking mentally ill people in the streets, killing women for having an affair or being in love without marriage (known as honor killing), is part of our long lasting traditions too, beating children with wooden sticks and water pipes, burning their tongues with chili so they don’t say bad words, are also parts of our traditions. Is that enough reason for them to go on? Should we really keep using this justification to defend human rights violations while claiming to be human rights activists? Or are we against the violations only when the regime or extremists are committing it but it’s all fine when our people are?</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/maria-al-abdeh/lessons-from-syria-on-womens-empowerment-during-conflict">Lessons from Syria on women&#039;s empowerment during conflict</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/opensecurity/hayet-zeghiche/violence-against-women-in-syria-hidden-truth">Violence against women in Syria: a hidden truth</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/5050/rahila-gupta/women-on-front-at-raqqa">Women on the front at Raqqa: an interview with Kimmie Taylor</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/towards-inclusive-and-pluralistic-citizenship-in-syria">Towards an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/shilpa-jindia/syria-US-war-left-revolution">To stand up for the powerless in Syria, the Left must embrace complexity</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Equality </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Civil society Equality violence Secularism activism Women feminism gender Zaina Erhaim Tue, 12 Dec 2017 10:42:07 +0000 Zaina Erhaim 115243 at https://www.opendemocracy.net التقارب الإسلامي العلماني في العالم العربي : من أجل السلم المدني في المنطقة https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/abdellatif-hamamouchi/political-islam-secularism <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p class="direction-rtl">من الصعب الوصول إلى تحوّل أو انتقال ديمقراطي سلمي سلس بدون إشراك مختلف الفعاليات المناهضة للاستبداد، بمختلف مرجعياتها الأيديولوجية من اجل اسقاط الاستبداد و بناء الديمقراطية.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p class="direction-rtl"><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/5357256340_c38c02ea0c_o.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/5357256340_c38c02ea0c_o.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="267" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>تظاهرة في تونس خلال الثورة التي أطاحت ببن علي. Picture by khaled abdelmoumen / Flickr.com. Some rights reserved (CC BY 2.0).</span></span></span>شهد العالم العربي في مرحلة ما بعد الاستقلال، صراعا فكريا قويا بين التيار الإسلامي المتمثل في حركة الإخوان المسلمين و تفرعاتها في المنطقة آنذاك، و بين تيار علماني يتكون أساسا من اليسار: (ماركسي، اشتراكي، قومي). هذا الصراع أدّى إلى تبلور قطيعة جذرية بين الجهتين لازالت بعض تمظهراتها حاضرة في النقاش الفكري و السياسي العربي-المغاربي إلى حد الساعة.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">في مطلع هذا القرن، ظهرت بوادر الانفراج و التقارب، من خلال مراجعات جوهرية قامت بها مختلف الاتجاهات الفكرية والايدولوجية السائدة حينها، إضافة إلى بروز أصوات و هيئات مدنية تنادي بكبح هذا الصدام الطويل الأمد بين الاتجاهين الأكثر تجذرا في المجتمع. و لعل من الأسباب الرئيسية التي دفعت بعجلة الحوار إلى الأمام، هو الاتفاق على أن هذا الانقسام لا يخدم سوى قوى الاستبداد المهيمن. فهذا الأخير يستفيد من هذا التطاحن ويوظفه بما يخدم مصالحه المتمثلة أساسا في الاستمرار في السلطة والسيطرة والتحكم في النخبة السياسية وإلهائها عن معركة الديمقراطية الحقيقية، مع اعتماده على سياسة "فرق تسد" كما يقول المؤرخ والمفكر المعطي منجب في كتابه "مواجهات بين الإسلاميين والعلمانيين بالمغرب"، مما يبقي مسألة الديمقراطية مجرد حلم مؤجل بعيد الأمد. و جلي التذكير بأن الصراع الذي قام بين التيارين قد تمّ في بيئة يسودها الحكم المطلق و غياب الديمقراطية في الحياة السياسية العربية-المغاربية، مما مكن السلطة القائمة من استغلال الصراع للقفز على الواجهة و تقديم نفسها كبديل وحيد لكل الأطراف (١).</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>السياق</strong></p> <p class="direction-rtl">عرفت المنطقة العربية-المغاربية تحولات جوهرية على إثر سلسلة من الثورات اجتاحت منطقة شمال إفريقيا و الشرق الأوسط ضد السلطويات الحاكمة في ما بات يعرف بالربيع العربي، الذي انطلق أواخر سنة 2010 في شكل احتجاجات واسعة انطلقت شرارتها الأولى من تونس، تزعمها أساسا الشباب من مختلف الاتجاهات رافعين بذلك الشعار الأبرز "حرية كرامة عدالة اجتماعية".</p><p class="direction-rtl"><span class="mag-quote-left">أضحت مسألة التقارب الإسلامي- العلماني ضرورة ملحّة</span></p> <p class="direction-rtl"> و بعد "النكسة" التي اجتاحت المنطقة مؤخرا و المتمثلة في: انقلاب ٣٠ يوليو العسكري في مصر بقيادة الجنرال عبد الفتاح السيسي و ما أسفر عنه من أحداث دموية كالقتل الجماعي الذي تعرض له المتظاهرين في ميدان رابعة العدوية و القمع الشرس المستمر إلى حدود الساعة على مختلف التيارات المناهضة للحكم العسكري ( حركة الاشتراكيين الثوريين، حركة 6 أبريل، جماعة الإخوان المسلمين، حزب الوسط...)، الحرب الدموية المدمرة في سوريا و العراق وبروز تنظيم الدولة الإسلامية "داعش" كقوة همجية و كتهديد حقيقي بات يهدد العالم، استمرار الأزمة الليبية، وتغوّل الأنظمة ذات النزعة الاستبدادية في مختلف ربوع المنطقة ( المغرب، الجزائر، البحرين...) وتراجعها عن الوعود الإصلاحية التي أطلقتها عقب الربيع العربي، إضافة إلى التراجعات الغير المسبوقة في مجال الحريات و حقوق الإنسان. </p> <p class="direction-rtl">أضحت بذلك مسألة التقارب الإسلامي- العلماني كضرورة ملحّة آنية ذات أهمية قصوى في هذه المرحلة العصيبة التي تمر بها المنطقة، لتجنب مختلف السيناريوهات الكارثية التي تحيل إما على استمرار الاستبداد الحاكم في السلطة أو فرضية العنف و متاهة اللاستقرار كالتي باتت تتخبط فيها بعض دول المنطقة.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>مراجعات الطرفين تساعد على التقارب</strong></p> <p class="direction-rtl">مثلت المراجعات التي قامت بها بعض المجموعات من الطرفين (العلمانيين والاسلاميين) ابتداء من العقد الأول من هذا القرن، تحولا بارزا في العلاقة. فحزب الأمة المغربي (حزب محظور) ذو التوجه الإسلامي مثلا، يطالب بحرية العقيدة والمعتقد بالنسبة لجميع المغاربة، كما أنه يتبنى قراءات تنويرية للتراث الإسلامي، مع تأكيده على إعادة الاعتبار للعقل، كما يُعَرّف نفسه في وثائقه المرجعية على أنه حزب اجتماعي نهضوي تجديدي وديمقراطي. ومن غير المستغرب أنه (حزب الأمة) عقد مؤتمره التأسيسي سنة 2007 بمقر الحزب الاشتراكي الموحّد ذو التوجّه اليساري العلماني فيما كان هذا الأمر غير ممكن خلال سبعينيات وثمانينيات القرن الماضي.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">كما أن شخصا كعبد المنعم عبد الفتوح وهو العضو السابق بمكتب الإرشاد لجماعة الإخوان المسلمين، ومؤسّس حزب مصر القوية، لا يتردد في الدفاع عن الحوار العلماني-الإسلامي، والدولة المدنية وأهمية الحريات والحقوق في مصر بعد الثورة، مما يعتبره الكثير من المهتمين والمراقبين، على أنه من الشخصيات "الإخوانية" التي ساهمت في بلورة نظرة جديدة وفهم حديث داخل نسق الإسلام السياسي، فهو يعتبر أن من المستحيل أن تَتَشكل دولة الحق والقانون في ظل دولة دينية، تهيمن عليها جماعة أو حزب أو مذهب معيّن، يتم خلالها اضطهاد أقلية معيّنة على اساس انتمائها سواء كان ديني أو ايديولوجي مخالف. </p> <p class="mag-quote-right">التقارب العلماني-الإسلامي لا يلغي الاختلافات والتباينات الفكرية بين الطرفين</p><p class="direction-rtl">لا يختلف الأمر بالنسبة للعلمانيين، فقد أصبحنا نرى مؤخرا أن الكثير من الأحزاب الشيوعية العربية، تضم داخلها مناضلين متديّنين ومؤمنين، بل تنصّ وثائقها المرجعية على احترام الشعور الديني للمجتمع وعدم الوقوف ضده.</p> <p class="direction-rtl"> كما أن عدد لابأس به من المثقفين العلمانيين، كالرئيس السابق للجمهورية التونسية منصف المرزوقي، دحضوا ما يُروّج له البعض عن العلمانية، فعملوا على توضيح المفهوم الحقيقي لهذه الأخيرة، أي هو إحكام العقل والمنطق واحترام حقوق الإنسان في شموليّتها وغيرها من الأفكار المرتبطة بحرية الفرد والجماعة، من دون القطع أو مناهضة كل ما هو ديني، فتم القطع بذلك مع الاتجاه الاستئصالي الدوغمائي الذي ينضوي تحت ما يسميه عزمي بشارة في كتابه "الدين و العلمانية في سياق تاريخي" بالاتجاه العلماني الصلب (علمانية أتاتورك كنموذج). </p> <p class="direction-rtl">فاقتناع كل طرف بعدم امتلاكه للحقيقة و حصرها، مهد إلى التقارب و التوافق في طريق بناء الثقة المفقودة في وقت كان قريب. و إذا كان البعض ضمن التيار الإسلامي قد قام بمراجعات مهمة بخصوص إشكالية الدولة و القبول بالبرلمان والدستور كمؤسسات رئيسة في الحكم و التسيير، فيقدموا انفسهم كتيار مدني ذو مرجعية دينية، فبعض العلمانيين كذلك أكّدوا على احترامهم للدين و التديّن، بل في أكثر من مرة أثبتوا على أن العلمانية لا تعني معادات الدين وأن فصل الدين عن مؤسّسات الدولة لا يعكس فصل الدين عن المجتمع أو عن الفضاء العام.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">إلا أن ذلك لا يعكس النسق السياسي العربي بأكمله، فلا زالت أحزاب وتيارات وجماعات إسلامية متشدّدة، تتغذّى من الوهابية و السلفية المتطرّفة، تعتبر أن الديمقراطية بدعة، وأن حقوق الإنسان في شموليتها كفر، وأن كل يساري أو ليبرالي زنديق، كما أن العديد من هذه الحركات تختصر الديمقراطية في المسألة العددية، وتعتبرها ماهي إلا وسيلة للوصول إلى السلطة لا غير.</p> <p class="direction-rtl"> نفس ذلك ولكن بوتيرة مختلفة، نجده عند التيّار الاستئصالي (الغير ديمقراطي) من العلمانيين، الذي يعتبر أن كل الإسلاميين بمن فيهم المعتدلين، إرهابيين وظلاميين ويخدمون أجندات أجنبية معينة. لذلك فليس كل العلمانيين ديمقراطيين وليس كل الإسلاميين كذلك. </p> <p class="direction-rtl">وجدير بالذكر أن التقارب العلماني-الإسلامي لا يلغي الاختلافات والتباينات الفكرية بين الطرفين، بل العكس، فهو ينمي النقاشات حول مختلف المواضيع الإشكالية، مادام ذلك يتم في إطار ديمقراطي وسلمي.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>التقارب وإشكالية الانتقال الديمقراطي</strong></p> <p class="direction-rtl">لعل الكل يجمع بأن من الصعب الوصول إلى تحوّل أو انتقال ديمقراطي سلمي سلس بدون إشراك مختلف الفعاليات المناهضة للاستبداد، بمختلف مرجعياتها الأيديولوجية في جبهة ضاغطة ذات قوة تأخذ على عاتقها خوض غمار النضال من اجل اسقاط الاستبداد و بناء الديمقراطية. كما أن تدبير مرحلة ما بعد الاستبداد تحتاج إلى توافقات وطنية فوق حزبية تصب في المصلحة العامة ( تنازلات حركة النهضة في مرحلة ما بعد الثورة التونسية كمثال ). و دون شك أن التوافق ما بين الأطراف في ظل المرحلة الانتقالية، يشكّل شرطا مهما لإنجاح التحوّل و تكريس اللبنة الأولى في الطريق نحو الديمقراطية المنشود.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>الكتلة التاريخية كنموذج</strong></p> <p class="mag-quote-left">تستغل السلطويات العربية الانقسام القائم بين العلمانيين والاسلاميين لتعزيز حضورها واستمراريتها في الحكم</p><p class="direction-rtl">تبلور مفهوم "الكتلة التاريخية" الذي صاغه المفكر الماركسي الايطالي أنطونيو جرامشي في سياق طبعه مواجهة الفاشية و معالجة اشكالية التفاوت الحاصل بين الشمال و الجنوب الإيطالي.<span><a href="http://www.alkhaleej.ae/studiesandopinions/page/57246064-7f0a-4bcc-92fc-3c909ec8fb6e"> أراد جرامشي</a></span> من خلال الكتلة خلق وحدة وطنية تصبّ في ابتكار ثقافة تغيير موجهة إلى طبقات و شرائح اجتماعية لا تستفيد من بقاء الوضع الراهن، والعمل على تكوين تحالف/كتلة تاريخية بينها. وباعتبارها (الكتلة) شبكة من العوامل والاطراف المشكلة للمجتمع المدني، التي تتفاعل فيما بينها بشكل يجعل كل واحد يؤثر في الاخر(...) فهي تعتبر استراتيجية عمل يجيب عن الأزمة (٢). واعتبر المفكر المغربي البارز عابد الجابري الذي أصل لهذا المفهوم في أدبياته أن الكتلة التاريخية في تكوينها يجب أن تتجاوز الحدود الايديولوجية الضيقة لجلب أكبر عدد من الفاعليين بغاية قيادة معركة الديمقراطية و التنمية. وكما قال في حوار لمجلة المستقبل العربي، عدد نوفمبر 1982: " إن الكتلة التاريخية كما ناديت و أنادي بها هي كتلة تجمع فئات عريضة من المجتمع حول اهداف واضحة". و بذلك فإن فكرة الكتلة التاريخية أو الكتلة الديمقراطية تشكل في نظر البعض المخرج الوحيد من أزمة الاستبداد كالتي تطبع العالم العربي-المغاربي.</p> <p class="direction-rtl">ومن الواضح أن جل البلدان التي أنجز فيها تحول ديمقراطي ناجح، عرفت تَشكل كتلة جامعة لأغلب التيارات المتنافرة ايديولوجيا، عبر توافقات تقدم فيها الهدف العام و المصلحة العليا على المبدأ الايديولوجي/الفكري الذاتي، مما أدى في النهاية إلى استعجال في وتيرة مسار الانتقال إلى النظام الديمقراطي بأقل كلفة و بأسرع وقت.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>تجربة هيئة ١٨ اكتوبر</strong></p> <p class="direction-rtl"> هيئة 18 أكتوبر للحقوق والحريات التونسية هي أوّل أرضية مشتركة تجمع بين الاسلاميين و العلمانيين التونسيين على أساس برنامج سياسي قائم على قاعدة دنيا للبناء الديمقراطي، أعلن عن تأسيسها سنة 2005 في كانون الأول/ دجنبر بهدف خلق جبهة قوية ممانعة لسلطوية زين العابدين بنعلي . </p> <p class="direction-rtl">وقد تشكلت هذه الهيئة من تنظيمات علمانية وإسلامية ومدنية كحزب المؤتمر من أجل الجمهورية ذو التوجه اليساري المعتدل وحركة النهضة ذات الخلفية الإسلامية وحزب العمال الشيوعي التونسي ذو ايديولوجية ماركسية لينينية والوحدويون الناصريون...، إضافة إلى شخصيات مستقلة وجمعيات مدنية مناهضة للقمع والتسلط. وقد عملت اللجنة كما جاء في <span><a href="http://nachaz.org/ar/%D9%88%D8%AB%D8%A7%D8%A6%D9%82-%D9%87%D9%8A%D8%A6%D8%A9-18-%D8%A3%D9%83%D8%AA%D9%88%D8%A8%D8%B1-%D9%84%D9%84%D8%AD%D9%82%D9%88%D9%82-%D9%88%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%AD%D8%B1%D9%8A%D8%A7%D8%AA-%D8%A8%D8%AA%D9%88/">بيانها التأسيسي</a></span> على تكريس وحدة العمل حول الأدنى من الحريات و فتح حوار حول مقتضيات الوفاق الديمقراطي التي تبقى في نظر اللجنة مفتوحة على كافة القوى المعنية بمعركة الحريات والتغيير، كما أكّدت اللجنة على احترامها لاستقلالية كل الأطراف المشاركة وقبولها للاختلاف وعدم إلزامها إلا بالاتفاقات والمواثيق المشتركة.</p><p class="direction-rtl"><strong>من يتخوّف من التقارب؟</strong></p> <p class="direction-rtl">تستغل السلطويات العربية الانقسام القائم بين العلمانيين والاسلاميين لتعزيز حضورها واستمراريتها في الحكم، وبذلك فهي تسعى إلى محاربة كل جهة تدعو للحوار أو التقارب بين الطرفين، خوفا من أن تشكّل جبهة واسعة من مختلف الاتجاهات ذات إجماع وطني مناهضة لحكمها أو منازعة لشرعيتها، تغيّر موازين القوى لصالح التغيير وتحوّل الصراع من عراك أيديولوجي إلى صراع من أجل الديمقراطية. </p> <p class="direction-rtl"> و لطالما استعملت هذه الأنظمة جلّ الوسائل للدفع إلى الصراع و التطاحن بين الطرفين من خلال الترويج بأن كل الاسلاميين مناهضين للديمقراطية والحريات، وأن حال صعودهم إلى كرسي الحكم سيتّخذون العنف أداة لمواجهة العلمانيين، كما تحاول (الأنظمة) أن تظهر للإسلاميين على أن كل العلمانيين ما هم إلا عملاء للغرب و أداة له لنشر الفحشاء و الرذيلة...، ليتم بذلك خلق فزّاعة ترعب الطرفين و تعمّق العداء بينهما لتظل السلطويات الحاكمة وحدها المستفيدة من الوضع.</p><p class="direction-rtl">&nbsp;</p> <p class="direction-rtl">(١) أحمد عصيد، الحوار العلماني الإسلامي بالمغرب الموانع و الحوافز، في : المعطي منجب (محرر) مواجهات بين الإسلاميين و العلمانيين بالمغرب، دفاتر وجهة نظر 2008، ص:10.</p><p class="direction-rtl">(٢) عبد العزيز الخال، مفهوم الكتلة التاريخية عند جرامشي. أوراق مركز نماء للبحوث و الدراسات رقم 118.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/riad-darrar/from-salafist-to-secular-syria-political-islam">من السلفية إلى العلمانية</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/political-islam-syria-war-islamist">عقدة الإسلام السياسي السوري وعقدة مستقبله</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/omar-kaddour/on-secularism-syria"> هوامش فيما حول العلمانية</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammed-amir/secularism-prophet-islam-syria">تأويل النبي علمانياً</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Civil society </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Civil society Democracy and government Secularism Political Islam عبد اللطيف الحماموشي You tell us Arabic language Sat, 02 Dec 2017 18:31:28 +0000 عبد اللطيف الحماموشي 115016 at https://www.opendemocracy.net For a secular interpretation of prophethood https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/muhammad-amir-nasher-naam/for-secular-interpretation-of-prophethood <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The conception of secularism has developed in a prolonged and convoluted historical path and has been so diversified that it often implies multidimensional, ambiguous and contradictory notions. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/mohammed-amir/secularism-prophet-islam-syria"><strong>[عربي]</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/Drawing-of-tomb-mosque-of-Prophet-Muhammad-in-Medina-Saudi-Arabia.-874x492.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/Drawing-of-tomb-mosque-of-Prophet-Muhammad-in-Medina-Saudi-Arabia.-874x492.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Drawing of tomb mosque of Prophet Muhammad in Medina, Saudi Arabia. Text in Arabic. Serves as souvenir of pilgrimage to mosque of Muhammad in Medina, includes spaces for names of witnesses attesting to completion of pilgrimage – 3-6-2011 (Hoover Institution Archives Poster Collection/Fair use. All rights reserved to the author].</span></span></span>This series of opinion articles on the relationship between secularism and authoritarianism is the outcome of a collaboration between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en">SyriaUntold</a> and&nbsp;<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/omar-kaddour/lebanese-model-improvable-precondition-to-prevent-authoritariani">openDemocracy’s NAWA</a>].</strong></p> <p>When we speak today about a secular interpretation of the Prophet, the issue at hand isn’t Islam in its destined eventuality, but rather Islam in its genesis, at the moment of its inception and emergence on the historical scene. Interpretation is therefore not a search for novel meanings to be devised and attached to the old faith as a cosmetic accessory. It is rather an attempt to discover its original meanings, and to trace their transformations and destinies. That is, to discern what has come “first,” and to handle it as malleable and susceptible to interpretation.</p> <p>The conception of secularism has developed in a prolonged and convoluted historical path, like a sprawling tree with far-reaching twigs. This conception has been so diversified that it often implies multidimensional, ambiguous and contradictory notions.</p> <p>However, as we trace the branches and twigs, we would arrive at the tree trunk, political secularization (regardless of its gradations), and the root, intellectual secularization (regardless of how radical it may be). Accordingly, the question arises of whether the secular interpretation of the Prophet is going to be politically or intellectually secular? The answer is both, politically and intellectually.</p> <p><strong>Intellectual secularization</strong></p> <p>The earliest symptoms of intellectual secularization were manifested through the Prophet’s position on the sources of truth, which he didn’t limit to revelation. In addition to the Divine source, he referred to the soul trails and spiritual experience within the realms of intuition and feeling, rendering man himself the witness and the judge: “Man shall bear witness against himself” [Qur’an 75:15]. Other sources of truth include roaming the world and contemplating past experiences of mankind — what we call history — as well as looking upon nature: the land, the sky, and the cosmos. Followers of the Prophet would soon venture with this spirit of intellectual secularism to transform astrology into <a href="http://islamsci.mcgill.ca/RASI/BEA/Farabi_BEA.htm">astronomy</a>.</p> <p>The position of Prophet Muhammad was similar to that of western scholars who were subject to nefarious inquisitions. We know that the concept of intellectual secularism in Europe has only crystallized through questioning the sources of truth, the path to it, and the means with which to verify it. The attempted answers would soon generate a bitter struggle between the Church, whose source of truth was confined to what’s in the Bible, and scientists, who considered the “<a href="https://harpers.org/blog/2009/07/galileo-reading-the-book-of-nature/">Book of Nature</a>” as equally authoritative.</p> <p>As noted by José Casanova, the conflict between the church and the new science, symbolized by the trial of Galileo Galilei, “was not about the substantive truth or falsity of the new Copernican theories of the universe as much as it was about the validity of the claims of the new science to have discovered a new autonomous method of obtaining and verifying truth. […] Thus, the attempts of all the pioneers — Galileo, Kepler, and Newton — to enthrone the ‘Book of Nature’ was a legitimate, separate but equal, epistemological way to God, along with the ‘Book of Revelation’[i].” The position assumed by the scientists of the renaissance was very similar, if not identical, to that of Prophet Muhammad.</p> <p><strong>Political secularization</strong></p> <p>As for political secularization, its symptoms were manifested through the Prophet’s insistence on the principle of separation of powers. Returning to the first, unmistakable meaning in the Prophet’s persona, we would notice the diversity of the Prophet’s worldly decisions, in accordance to the multiple manifestations of his prophethood. We would also notice that the <a href="http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0550#Medinanperiod">Medina era</a> was more appropriate for these manifestations to be demonstrated. <a href="http://www.oxfordislamicstudies.com/article/opr/t236/e0550#PeriodoftheMeccanrevelations">In Mecca</a>, he mostly played the role of the Prophet, whereas in Medina he went on to play three major roles: Muhammad the Prophet, Muhammad the Judge, and Muhammad the Leader. That these three roles were distinguishable is at the very core and heart of secularism.</p> <p>It is perhaps in this point that Prophet Muhammad is different from Jesus Christ. Jesus didn’t achieve a standing as high as to put into practice a separation of powers, although he did call for it – his message could be likened to Muhammad’s Meccan era.</p> <p>Although most Islamic scholars have noted this separation of powers, they didn’t go as far as to render it a fundamental basis of Islamic governance, where it would be doctrinally rooted, culturally promoted and ultimately considered a binding principle with clear legal foundation and implementable laws for rulers and sultans.</p> <p>As he acted in a judicial capacity, the Prophet made clear to his companions that he separated his religious authority from his judicial power, judging by the clues, evidence and proof available to him. Moreover, to further emphasize the principle of separation of powers, he went to the extent of telling them that he may even misjudge, but only according to the evidence at hand, which ought to be duly assessed and respected. In a <em><a href="https://www.quora.com/Which-hadith-books-are-most-authentic-in-Islam">sahih hadith</a></em> [a correctly verified report on the Prophet’s words and deeds], he said: “I am but a man, and those with a dispute come to me. Perhaps some of you are more eloquent in arguing their case than others, and I rule for that person based on what I hear from him. Therefore, if I rule in the favor of anyone at the expense of his brother’s right in anything, then they should not take from that, because it is a piece of hellfire.”</p> <p>He also made clear that, as he led the army, he separated his religious authority from his military command, and that he followed the rules of warfare and schemed plans and stratagems. During <a href="https://www.britannica.com/event/Battle-of-Badr">the Battle of Badr</a> [624 AD], according to Ibn Hisham’s <em>sira</em> [one of the Prophet’s biographies], “Al-Habbab Ibn Al-Mundhir Ibn Al-Jamouh said: ‘O Messenger of God, this place where now we are, has God revealed it unto you, that we should neither advance nor retreat from it, or is it a matter of opinion and strategy?’ He said ‘No, it was a matter of opinion and strategy’, whereupon Al-Habban said: ‘This is not the place to camp, O Messenger of God, but take us on, until we come unto that one of the large wells which is nearest the enemy. Let us camp there and destroy the wells that lie beyond it, then make for ourselves a cistern. We will thus fight the enemy, and all the water will be ours to drink and they will have none.’ The Prophet said: ‘Excellent opinion.’ He and his soldiers went on until they reached the nearest well to the enemy and camped there.”</p> <p>Additionally, in the famous <em>sahih hadith</em> about the pollination of palm-trees, he affirmed: “If a question relates to your worldly matters, you would know better about it, but if it relates to your religion, then to me it belongs.”</p> <p>In sum, the Prophet has always delineated when he acted as a mufti, when as a leader, and when as a prophet, without any of these manifestations interfering with, prevailing over or exploiting the other. He upheld and exhibited the principle of separation of powers, especially the separation of his religious authority from other authorities.</p> <p><strong>Prophethood As a prelude to secularization</strong></p> <p>Seeking to explain to the west <a href="https://www.theguardian.com/books/2012/sep/14/looking-at-salman-rushdies-satanic-verses">the overwhelming reaction</a> that swept the Muslim world following the publication of Salman Rushdie’s ‘The Satanic Verses’ (1988), German orientalist Annemarie Schimmel (1922-2003) wrote her book ‘<a href="http://www.guernicus.com/academics/pdf/brmuhammed.pdf">And Muhammad Is His Messenger</a>’, in which she explores some aspects of the love and reverence Muslims have for their Prophet.</p> <p>Based on rigorous examination of books written in Arabic, Persian and Turkish, Schimmel details the works of many scholars and poets who have demonstrated tremendous love and infatuation with Muhammad. She dedicates an entire chapter for <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Muhammad-Iqbal">poet Muhammad Iqbal</a> (1877-1938), whose poetry exudes an exceptionally overwhelming and most profoundly rooted love for the Prophet.</p> <p>Given his deep understanding and familiarity with Prophet Muhammad’s truly unique personality, Iqbal was the Muslim who revealed some of the least addressed dimensions of his life. Notably, he suggested that the finality of prophethood was a prelude to secularism. In 1928, he wrote that “the Prophet of Islam seems to stand between the ancient and the modern world. In so far as the source of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the ancient world; in so far as the spirit of his revelation is concerned he belongs to the modern world. In him life discovers other sources of knowledge suitable to its new direction. The birth of Islam, as I hope to be able presently to prove to your satisfaction, is the birth of inductive intellect. In Islam prophecy reaches its perfection in discovering the need of its own abolition. This involves the keen perception that life cannot for ever be kept in leading strings; that, in order to achieve full self-consciousness, man must finally be thrown back on his own resources[ii].”</p> <p>With its ambitious Nietzschean spirit, as well as its impressive understanding for its time, this analysis of the finality of prophethood paved the way for a new understanding of the Prophet’s character, and of his unparalleled role and status not at the local level, but on the universal level at large. In ‘<a href="https://luckybooks.online/book/B61E21E6420F9C3AEB03?a_aid=dude&amp;chan=newdesign_v2_redir_d3004_3&amp;search=Patterns+in+Comparative+Religion">Patterns in Comparative Religion</a>’, Mircea Eliade (1907-1968), one of the most prominent scholars of religion, reiterates Iqbal’s argument as if he were quoting it. “He places Muhammad at the transition point between the second and third (last) period in mankind’s spiritual development. The history of the human mind […] is a process of general secularization. In this vision, Muhammad stands on the threshold of the triumph of religion (Christianity) and the new secular age[iii].”</p> <p>It is remarkable that Christian priests in the Middle Ages discerned this secular aspect of Islam, which is why Christian literature has always portrayed Prophet Muhammad as a materialistic prophet. The prompt and immediate justification of this allegation was ostensibly grounded in <a href="https://www.thespiritofislam.com/islam-christianity/5-muslim-paradise-and-christian-heaven.html">Islam’s exaggerated picturing of a sensual paradise</a>. This criticism is in fact leveled at the whole Islamic tradition, which is more reconciled and familiarized with the earthly world. This tradition has been based on a prophetic character who is famously <a href="https://thecorner.wordpress.com/2008/06/19/women-perfume-and-the-coolness-of-my-eyes-exploring-a-profound-hadith/">quoted</a> as saying “Made beloved to me from your world are women and perfume, and the coolness of my eyes is in prayer.”</p> <p>Indeed, the philosophical roots of secularization in Christendom could be traced to Muslim thinkers, most notably <a href="https://www.britannica.com/biography/Averroes">Andalusian philosopher Averroes</a>. The dispute over his legacy in the 13th century, or what was called <a href="http://www.muslimphilosophy.com/ip/rep/B012.htm">the suppression of Averroism</a>, sparked the beginnings of an intellectual secularization movement, centuries before political secularization.</p> <p>Turning to Muhammad Iqbal, do we find a work or position by him encapsulating a practical application of his aforementioned understanding and analysis? Yes, we do, and astoundingly so. This Muslim thinker, who was brimming with religious zeal and pride, and who referred to Islam as the greatest means of rationality and balance for humanity, has been among the few Muslim figures to show understanding of the <a href="https://www.foreignaffairs.com/articles/middle-east/2014-11-19/myth-caliphate">abolition of the caliphate by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk</a>.</p> <p>Unlike most Muslim poets and scholars who were astonished and dumbfounded on that day, Iqbal stood alone against the current, praised the first secular movement in the Muslim world, and commended the diligence with which the post-Ottoman republic was founded. “Let us see how the Grand National Assembly has exercised this power of <em><a href="https://www.britannica.com/topic/ijtihad">Ijtihad</a> </em>[“original interpretation” in Islamic jurisprudence] in regard to the institution of <em>Khilafat</em> [Arabic for “caliphate”],” he wrote, asking, “Should the Caliphate be vested in a single person?” His answer was “Turkey’s <em>Ijtihad</em> is that, according to the spirit of Islam, the Caliphate or Imamate can be vested in a body of persons, or an elected Assembly.”</p> <p>Iqbal then says: “Personally, I believe the Turkish view is perfectly sound. It is hardly necessary to argue this point. The republican form of government is not only thoroughly consistent with the spirit of Islam, but has also become a necessity in view of the new forces that were set free in the world of Islam[iv].”</p> <p>Moroccan PM <a href="http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2017/03/saad-eddine-el-othmani-morocco-deadlock-170320053214750.html">Dr. Saadeddine Al-Othmani</a>, one of the country’s most prominent Islamists, has authored a few years ago a book entitled ‘The Prophet’s Behavior With Regards to the Imamate’ [‘<em><a href="http://ia902605.us.archive.org/8/items/tsrfat/tasarofat.pdf">Tasarrufat Ar-Rasul Bil-Imamah</a></em>’ (2002), available in Arabic only]. Al-Othmani’s text is actually an Islamist case for secularism. Regardless of the author’s secularist intentions or lack thereof, the diversity of the Prophet’s actions, between being a prophet, a judge and a leader, leads only to this conclusion.</p> <p>However, the long historical experience of rulers and politicians, and the immense intellectual efforts made by their cohorts against secularism, have produced but one understanding of the Prophet. Regrettably, he has been rendered exemplary of the integration rather than separation of powers, and his misinterpreted actions have become the justification for an opportunistic and demagogic conflation of them. A Muslim ruler’s first and foremost concern is entrenching his grip over all authorities without defined boundaries. Even those who claim to be secular rulers maintain all powers as intertwined, muddled and deformed, where one could hardly find a distinction between the executive, judicial, legislative, political or religious authorities. They are all rendered theatrical puppets, lulling us at times and terrorizing us at others.</p> <p>Since the French Revolution, Christianity has managed to rationalize secularism, initiate a secular interpretation of its faith, thus resolving the secular-religious debate once and for all. It only required one biblical phrase that doesn’t exceed half a line: “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s.” Meanwhile in the Islamic world, secularism is still approached haphazardly, and so is the principle of separation of powers. Instead of exploring the vast potential available to us to interpret Islam and its prophethood secularly, with much less artificiality and arbitrariness, we have preferred to remain woefully steadfast and unyielding.</p> <p>[i] José Casanova, <em>Public Religions in the Modern World</em> (Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 2011), 25. </p><p>[ii]&nbsp;Muhammad Iqbal, <em>The Reconstruction of Religious Thought in Islam</em> (Stanford, Stanford University Press, 2012), 100-101.</p> <p>[iii] Alija Izetbegović, <em>Islam Between East and West</em> (Calicut, Islamic Book Trust &amp; Other Books, 2013), 193.</p> <p>[iv] Iqbal, 124-125.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/omar-kaddour/lebanese-model-improvable-precondition-to-prevent-authoritariani"> Lebanese model an improvable precondition to prevent authoritarianism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/on-duality-of-laicism-and-dictatorship-and-rise-of-political-">On the duality of laicism and dictatorship and the rise of political Islam</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammed-amir/secularism-prophet-islam-syria">تأويل النبي علمانياً</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Secularism islam Political Islam Muhammad Amir Nasher An-Naam Through Syrian eyes Mon, 14 Aug 2017 12:23:30 +0000 Muhammad Amir Nasher An-Naam 112849 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Lebanese model an improvable precondition to prevent authoritarianism https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/omar-kaddour/lebanese-model-improvable-precondition-to-prevent-authoritariani <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The model of Lebanon is indicative of the importance of state weakness, which is possibly a necessary stage for other countries in the region after decades of absolutist domination in the name of the state. <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/omar-kaddour/on-secularism-syria"><strong>عربي</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/love-hate-relationship copy_2.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/love-hate-relationship copy_2.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="259" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>(Comics4Syria/SyriaUntold)</span></span></span>[This series of opinion articles on the relationship between secularism and authoritarianism is the outcome of a collaboration between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2017/07/lebanese-model-an-improvable-precondition-against-tyranny/">SyriaUntold</a> and&nbsp;</strong><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/on-duality-of-laicism-and-dictatorship-and-rise-of-political-"><strong>openDemocracy’s NAWA</strong></a><strong>].</strong></p> <p>It may sound preposterous to argue that the <a href="http://www.merip.org/mer/mer200/modernity-sectarianism-lebanon">Lebanese political model</a> remains, among Arab states, the most suited to achieving secularism. On one hand, sectarian quotas characterize Lebanese politics, and the weakness, dysfunction or absence of state institutions are subject to recurrent criticism. On the other hand, it is commonplace to reference a sphere of public liberties in Lebanon, which some perceive as verging on chaos, and others as lacking a corresponding legal framework.</p> <p>What I am arguing here is that, the realization of these liberties correlates to the very weak state at which criticism is conventionally leveled; that is, they are not an achievement of a modern state as typically claimed by secularists.</p> <p>Despite all its pitfalls, the <a href="https://newspaper.annahar.com/article/235683-%25D8%25AA%25D8%25B9%25D9%2585%25D9%258A%25D9%2585-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D9%2586%25D9%2585%25D9%2588%25D8%25B0%25D8%25AC-%25D8%25A7%25D9%2584%25D9%2584%25D8%25A8%25D9%2586%25D8%25A7%25D9%2586%25D9%258A-%25D8%25B9%25D8%25B1%25D8%25A8%25D9%258A%25D8%25A7"><span>Lebanese model</span></a> serves to elucidate a simple concept relevant to our region. The absence of the state in Lebanon is tantamount<strong> </strong>to the absence of concentration of power. </p> <p>As is widely known, the <a href="http://www.country-studies.com/lebanon/the-national-pact.html">Lebanese National Pact</a> (1943) dissipates political power by distributing it across Lebanese communities. In doing so, it has practically resulted in dispelling the notions of the state and power altogether. This is contrary to the prevalent model throughout the region, wherein the concepts of state and power conflate, with the latter overly encroaching upon the former. The dissipation of the state appears here proportional to the concentration of power.</p> <p>That said, the concentration of power inevitably comes at the expense of society, whether through stifling its political potential or dominating its social symbolic space -- which is often occupied by religion. In this sense, the nationalization of religion lies in its uprooting from the symbolic social space under the guise of legal codification. It also results in dispossessing the public of religion as common property, just like “nationalized” natural resources placed at the disposal of the ruling class.</p> <p>Arab regimes claim to safeguard religion by controlling it; they may even claim to protect society from some dangerous interpretations of religion. They are “secular,” unlike the society which ought to be ‘disarmed’ of religion. These claims are typically revived once the regime is endangered.</p> <p>Almost automatically, on the other hand, part of resistance to tyranny is to reclaim religion from that hegemony. Regrettably, this reclamation does not stem from an aspiration to return religion into public domain, but it is often an Islamist attempt to compete with said tyranny in nationalizing religion in their favor.</p> <p>In the context to of an Islamist-secularist debate, whenever <a href="http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=196529"><span>secularists</span></a> fail to represent society at large and demand that the symbolic space of religion be returned to the public domain, they appear as mouthpieces of the state -- be it an existing state or an envisioned one.</p> <p>Additionally, in such debates, secularists get it wrong when they waiver their share of the public symbolic space, allowing it to become exclusively the arena of Islamist contestation. It is necessary to clarify here that being partners in the symbolic space of religion is different from being religious. Such a partnership is not ritual and congregational; it is rather social and cultural practice that is already realized, and that has only been partly undermined over the last few decades due to the relentless efforts of competing rivals -- the regimes and contending Islamist groups.</p> <p>Accordingly, there are two levels on which we can no longer conceptually differentiate between Arab tyrannies and Islamist groups: the level of power, which to both parties is defined as absolute centrality; and the level of the unsecular nationalization of religion. In the case of the regimes, this nationalization may take the form of <a href="http://www.hespress.com/writers/84188.html"><span>secular tyranny</span></a> that also involves social engineering, in addition to monopoly over religion and its proper interpretations.</p> <p>A third level of comparison, as noted earlier, is the absence of the state. Indeed, eclipsing the nation-state in its contemporary conception is at the heart of <a href="http://www.alquds.co.uk/?p=708788"><span>tyranny</span></a>; and it has always been replaced by the concept of “the [Islamic] Nation” (<em>Ummah</em>), which is not defined in reality but rather in fantasy and utopia.</p> <p>Such a dire deficit in the state culture explains many facets of the ongoing conflict. It is in large part a struggle for power, with the latter not being defined as state but rather as a prior negation thereof. Many debates are undergone on two contrasting conceptual grounds, with one party proceeding from the notion of an envisaged state and another from that of an existing or anticipated regime. Religion is thus by definition a means to power, just as the state is a <a href="http://carnegieendowment.org/sada/21948"><span>rentier state</span></a> in which the oligarchy controls all natural resources and dominates the means of production -- as meagre as they may be.</p> <p>It is hardly an accident that tyrannical regimes had displayed hostile attitudes towards economic modernization, before they were forced to accept its bare minimum under the banners of market-oriented economy or state capitalism. The experiences of both models have led to absolute state monopoly.</p> <p>The proliferation of capitalism in the liberal sense necessitates the demise of rentier state power. Modern production is inherently a departure from the traditional struggle over resources, including struggle over public symbolic spaces such as religion, towards competition over the production market and wealth creation, and consequently towards a new culture of conflict.</p> <p>This shift implies new social questions pertaining to the equitable distribution of the produced wealth. In its contemporary conception, therefore, the state is a valve for the management of modern struggles, so as to ensure social balance and minimum social protection.</p> <p>Additionally, capitalization at the macro level is the ability to produce and commercialize culture and art as an essential component of public symbolic space.</p> <p>We often maintain a simplistic view of religious reform in the West and its association with secularism, without taking into account other considerations that were parallel to it. The shift in the status of religion, for example, both as a personal spiritual need and as a public symbolic space, takes place against a background of accumulation and capitalization of public cultural space; that is, the more culture and arts make progress toward satisfying spiritual needs, the more religion becomes part of a whole, and the more its faith aspect gets promoted at the expense of its monopoly and nationalization projects. In other words, the more communal religion becomes, the more personal it is rendered.</p> <p>These preliminary observations should not be disregarded from propositions on secularism today, which continue to indulge in the current conflicts between absolutist monopolistic regimes and equally absolutist monopolistic Islamist groups. Lest this description of Islamists seem like a preconception, one is bound to point out the infighting between them over the variety of their interpretations of Islam. Obviously, their disputes are not grounded in any doctrinal disagreement, so much as they rather draw on the latter to conceal the monopolistic political project of each group.</p> <p>Current inter-Islamist conflicts serve as a suitable gateway to further clarification of what nationalization and monopolization of religion entails, given that tyrannical regimes have so far perfectly played their role in illustrating absolutist monopoly.</p> <p>However, post-Islamist ‘divestment’ requires careful attention to avoid the return of monopoly, as historical experiences have always shown bloody backlash. The legal modernization approach will not suffice, unless it is consolidated by a more comprehensive view of the very notion of the modern state, including its evolution and development.</p> <p>A more comprehensive concept of secularism should explore a deeper understanding of secularism and democracy, because the correlation between the two can be traced back to a long process of juxtaposed developments at the level of capitalization and public societal competition; as well as the level of the state as an arbitrator that prevents monopoly from threatening social balances, not as yet another monopolistic power in rivalry with society and its often instinctive balances.</p> <p>The model of Lebanon, as described above, is indicative of the importance of state weakness, which is possibly a necessary stage for other countries in the region after decades of absolutist domination in the name of the state.</p> <p>This is not a pat on the back of the Lebanese experience, which remains threatened by <a href="http://yalibnan.com/2016/03/18/hezbollahs-weapons-threaten-lebanese-sovereignty-and-stability-un-report/">Hezbollah’s militancy</a> and has always been burdened by the political strife of sectarian leaders. It merely serves as a reflection on the distribution of power itself, and on the need to overcome all the manifestations of the culture of authoritarianism as a culture of monopoly par excellence. </p> <p>Time has come to dispel delusions about the transcendent role of the state in society, which practically justifies for any power its confiscation of state and society. The dissipation of the central state and power may be an essential and necessary condition to prevent monopoly, and to prevent emerging democracies from regressing back into it.</p> <p>When statehood goes hand in hand with economic and symbolic capitalization, secularism appears as a society-oriented project, not a state-centered one. It inherently implies the release of societal energy to be expressed as production and struggle. Without this, the state will remain a false metaphor for a monopolistic rentier project.</p> <p>Claims about the state will never hold validity after all the atrocities and horrors perpetrated in its name. Rather, when the public hears the word “state,” their minds would immediately conceive of a forthcoming tyrannical regime.</p> <p><em>The writer’s opinions do not necessarily reflect SyriaUntold’s or openDemocracy's views.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/omar-kaddour/on-secularism-syria"> هوامش فيما حول العلمانية</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/on-duality-of-laicism-and-dictatorship-and-rise-of-political-">On the duality of laicism and dictatorship and the rise of political Islam</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/shilpa-jindia/syria-US-war-left-revolution">To stand up for the powerless in Syria, the Left must embrace complexity</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/towards-inclusive-and-pluralistic-citizenship-in-syria">Towards an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Secularism Omar Kaddour Through Syrian eyes Fri, 21 Jul 2017 07:11:38 +0000 Omar Kaddour 112422 at https://www.opendemocracy.net On the duality of laicism and dictatorship and the rise of political Islam https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/on-duality-of-laicism-and-dictatorship-and-rise-of-political- <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Is there another outlet or framework in the Arab world outside the dichotomy of Islamism or nationalism? <a href="https://opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/syria-secularism-politcal-islam-islamism"><strong>[عربي]</strong></a></p> </div> </div> </div> <p><strong><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/ copy_0.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/562712/ copy_0.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="251" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>A banner from the Salahuddin Revolutionaries’ Council in Aleppo’s Salahuddin neighborhood. It reads ‘Secularism became the accusation against those who disagree with our ideas’ – 8-11-2013 (Shahba Press Agency’s official Facebook page/Fair use. All rights reserved to the author)].</span></span></span></strong></p><p><strong>[This series of opinion articles on the relationship between secularism and authoritarianism is the outcome of a collaboration between <a href="http://www.syriauntold.com/en/2017/06/on-the-duality-of-secularism-and-dictatorship-and-the-rise-of-political-islam/">SyriaUntold</a>, <a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia">openDemocracy’s NAWA</a> and the <a href="http://samirkassirfoundation.org/en/Home-Page">Samir Kassir Foundation</a>].</strong></p> <p>Throughout the 20th century, the Arab world has always found itself operating either within an Islamist or nationalist framework. Questions about whether there may be a third outlet or source of knowledge which <a href="https://ar.qantara.de/content/sdwr-wl-ml-mhmd-bd-ljbry-bllmny-nqd-lfkr-lrby-ksyr-lbd-wfd-lthrr">Arab intellectuals</a> have tapped into have risen, but rarely has the answer been positive. In general, all Arab ideologies have usually operated within the two aforementioned spheres.</p> <p>Despite political conflict between the two – sometimes even bloody – the existence of one is inevitably linked to the other. In fact, the current state of Arab ruin, <a href="http://www.ahewar.org/debat/show.art.asp?aid=106588">especially that in the Levant</a>, is an extension of that dynamic.&nbsp;It can’t be denied that the fall of the nationalist ideology meant that Arabs reverted to the Islamist one. In fact, Islamists themselves have said so.</p> <p>In any case, my comments aren’t related to that, but to the intentional false claims of Islamists that Arab nationalist dictatorship is linked to modern politics and, therefore, to secularism. Islamists continue to present themselves as the sole alternative to replace Arab political regimes that are complicit in spreading these false claims. (It is often concluded that Islamist ideology is a “biological alternative.” Why? Because we are Arabs, it is believed that we are instinctively born into an Islamic space!)</p> <p>This Islamist false claim says that with the fall of Ben Ali’s regime, his adopted ideology of Jacobin laicism – which was the basis of his dictatorship – fell, with the understanding that it was based on modernity.&nbsp;Soon after, the regimes of other Arab states followed suit, apparently proving this claim right. In fact, it gave credibility to the “Islamist alternative” with <a href="https://www.brookings.edu/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/islamism-after-the-arab-spring_english_web_final.pdf">the rise of political Islam</a> in Tunisia and Egypt, as well as <a href="http://studies.aljazeera.net/en/reports/2012/06/2012610962880192.html">the growth of Islamist movements in Syria</a> that took over the struggle against the tyranny of the Asad regime. All these were taken as indicators that Arab secular ideology has fallen after having been the cornerstone of dictatorships.</p> <p>For the most part, these false claims were based on two axes: Firstly, a political one, that equates the tyranny of Arab political systems to western modernity; secondly, the axis that takes advantage of what the religious sphere offers, which meant accusing tyrannical Arab political systems of being based on atheist agendas and therefore against Islam, the assumed natural state of Arabs.</p> <p>Undoubtedly, both axes are a product of a larger foundational cultural context, especially in terms of trying to delegitimize secularism by undermining its modern content and turning it into “just another ideology,” and regressing back to Islamic heritage as the cultural and historical path that establishes present and future Arab aspirations. This heritage is recreated a thousand times to serve the tyrant and the Islamists.</p> <p>Furthermore, there is the equation of secularism with the west, which has a history of hostility against Islam. Unfortunately, Arab nationalist dictatorships have not gone against Islamists in this intellectual nonsense. On the contrary, they have always tried to prove they were more Islamic than the Islamists themselves.</p> <p>Gamal Abdel Nasser was a good example (so are his ‘successors’) with his firm nationalistic legacy and the cartoonish aspect of its modernity and secularism. To many, Abdel Nasser was a charismatic legend who bought into a socialist ideology that was hostile to Imperialism and Zionism. But the Egyptian leader was in fact born into a religious sphere and was later influenced by the Muslim Brotherhood. The fact that he remained chained to this socialist ideology until his death did not sway him from the religious intellectual frameworks within which he was raised.</p> <p>Furthermore, <a href="http://www.islamopediaonline.org/country-profile/egypt/islam-and-nation-building/islam-and-state-under-nasser">the Islamic cultural paradigm of his nationalistic ideology</a> was not very different from that of his Islamist opponents, such as Sayyid Qutb. His rather fierce opposition to some Islamists, was nothing more than a temporary and military tyrannical ploy which he used to protect his dictatorship; the same was for his socialist ideology and his religious mentality.</p> <p>The war between Abdel Nasser and the Muslim Brotherhood was in fact more of a cat-and-mouse game. Moroccan historian <a href="http://www.arabphilosophers.com/English/philosophers/contemporary/contemporary-names/Abdallah%20Laroui/English_Article_Laroui/Abdallah_Laroui.htm">Abdallah Laroui </a>once alluded to this, saying: “The regime of Abdel Nasser fought the Islamists as individuals, as political enemies and opponents. Perhaps with the exception of the last year of being in power, he never fought against the Islamist theory he was brought up to intellectually and politically.”</p> <p>Even when the Nasserist movement afterwards tried to establish a coherent narrative, it was unable to escape — on many occasions — from the use of Islamic symbols to legitimize its ideology.</p> <p>Libya’s Muammar al-Gaddhafi, the major proponent of dictatorship, was <a href="http://www.reuters.com/article/us-religion-gaddafi-idUSL3059334720070330">bolder</a> than most Arab rulers when it came to presenting new “Islamic examples” that even the Ummayads didn’t dare to come up with. The goal of these wasn’t to twist the sacred religious heritage, but to give legitimacy to his dictatorship.</p> <p>Other Arab dictators exceeded Abdel Nasser in his ‘supply’ of religiously connotated ‘services.’ For example, Hafez al-Assad worked on the “sunnification” of Syrian society to exonerate himself in front of Syrians and to cover up for the crimes of his ruling elite after the Hama massacre (1980). These efforts included throwing religious celebrations that aren’t necessarily called for in Islamic heritage, setting up <a href="http://mow.gov.sy/edarat/%D8%AC%D9%88%D9%84%D8%A9-%D9%85%D8%AF%D9%8A%D8%B1-%D9%85%D8%B9%D8%A7%D9%87%D8%AF-%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%A3%D8%B3%D8%AF-%D9%84%D8%AA%D8%AD%D9%81%D9%8A%D8%B8-%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%82%D8%B1%D8%A2%D9%86-%D8%A7%D9%84-3/">al-Asad Qur’an recitation centers</a>, building mosques, and re-cultivating a group of pro-regime religious leaders who could step in instead of the Muslim Brotherhood.</p> <p>All this was to legitimize Asad’s rule, which Hafez insisted was not hostile to Islam in Syrian society, but it also consolidated a sectarianism that was already present. Undoubtedly, the result was the creation of a new generation of fundamentalists, or in other words, ‘a new Brotherhood’. As such, Asad’s attempts to regenerate religious fundamentalism after talk of “<a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/assad%27s-secular-sectarianism">Asadist secularism</a>” and “Asadist modernity” is not only comical but also painful, because it is the cornerstone of the false claims presented by the “Islamists of the Arab Spring.”</p> <p>This mental mechanism of tying secularism to Arab dictators is like trying to tie Islam to French Christians under the pretext of “<a href="http://aub.edu.lb.libguides.com/c.php?g=276542">the Arab Renaissance [<em>Al-Nahda</em>]</a>.” For example, the claims by some that Arab dictators are seculars or that they have adopted a version of secularism (such as French laicism as is the case of Ben Ali’s regime in Tunisia) is not far from what Egyptian jurist <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Muhammad_Abduh">Muhammad Abduh</a> said in his famous quote that he “went to the west and saw Islam [i.e., independent thinking], but no Muslims; I got back to the east and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”&nbsp;In either case, we are facing totalitarianism: In the same vein to France’s origins becoming Islamic, secularism now equates dictatorship. The aim of tying secularism to Arab dictators is simply to bring it down.</p> <p>Consequently, to rid oneself of tyranny, it becomes important to fight secularist culture that brought about dictatorship. Following this logic, France is no longer the old city of “light” and renaissance whose people were originally non-Christian — France’s origins will become “Islamic,” but its people are unfortunately non-Muslims. Such Arab intellectual exercises are akin to current Islamist intellectual endeavors, which are more systematic in order to make the best of today’s deadlock in the Arab world.</p> <p>Sadly, secularism in the Arab world hasn’t had its fair share of study or criticism to be seen as a necessary and modern issue as opposed to a political decision that is forced by a dictator or passed via a number of legislations.</p> <p>It’s frankly absurd to argue that the fall of a few Arab regimes and the taking over of Islamists and fundamentalists is akin to the fall of Jacobin laicism in its <a href="http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/historic_figures/ataturk_kemal.shtml">Kemalist version</a>. Such a reasoning wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for what was brought about previously by nationalistic ideology and its contribution to the longstanding Arab ruin.</p> <p>Lastly, we can’t forget that the current Islamist ideologies are the product of this ruin and they will only bring about more decay.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/hammoud-hammoud/syria-secularism-politcal-islam-islamism"> عن ثنائية &quot;اللائيكية والاستبداد&quot; وصعود &quot;الإسلام السياسي&quot;</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/shilpa-jindia/syria-US-war-left-revolution">To stand up for the powerless in Syria, the Left must embrace complexity</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/joseph-daher/towards-inclusive-and-pluralistic-citizenship-in-syria">Towards an inclusive and pluralistic citizenship in Syria</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Syria </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Syria Conflict Democracy and government Political Islam Secularism Hammud Hammud Through Syrian eyes Wed, 21 Jun 2017 17:00:32 +0000 Hammud Hammud 111812 at https://www.opendemocracy.net French secularism as failed social engineering https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/syreen-forest/french-secularism-as-failed-social-engineering <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The principle of <em>laïcité</em> has become a demagogic tool to reinforce narrow judgements about French identity and discriminate against minorities.&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/SyreenForest.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Credit: <a href="http://en.akademikperspektif.com/">http://en.akademikperspektif.com</a>. All rights reserved. </p> <p>Following the Charlie Hebdo <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/charlie_hebdo#2015_attack">shootings</a> in which twelve members of the satirical magazine’s staff were murdered by Islamist gunmen on 11 January 2015, a range of controversies shook France that revived the national debate on “<em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/La%C3%AFcit%C3%A9">laïcité</a></em>” (the French term for “secularism”) and its increasing entanglement with <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Islamophobia">Islamophobia</a>. </p> <p>The case of <a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/apr/28/french-muslim-student-banned-from-school-for-wearing-long-skirt">a Muslim secondary school student who was denied entry to school</a> in Charleville-Mézières in northeastern France on 16 and 25 April 2015 because her skirt was ‘too long’—and therefore in violation of France’s <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_law_on_secularity_and_conspicuous_religious_symbols_in_schools">ban</a> on ‘conspicuous &nbsp;religious symbols’—is symptomatic of these controversies. In order to denounce what he saw as ideological excesses in the name of <em>laïcité</em>, the French historian and sociologist <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emmanuel_Todd">Emmanuel Todd</a> released a new book called <em><a href="http://www.seuil.com/livre-9782021279092.htm">Qui est Charlie ? Sociologie d’une crise religieuse</a></em>, which sparked outrage in a number of news outlets. An <a href="http://www.lefigaro.fr/vox/societe/2015/05/11/31003-20150511ARTFIG00140-emmanuel-todd-le-faux-prophete.php">article in <em>Le Figaro</em></a>, for example, called him a “false prophet.” </p> <p>Todd’s argument is that the mass protests in support of Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 didn’t constitute a call for tolerance, but rather highlighted asymmetric structures of power that target ethnic and religious minorities. The magazine’s right to freedom of expression, and public support following the shootings, were <em>not</em> the targets of his criticism. Instead, Todd focused on the atmosphere of forced consensus which surrounded the “<em><a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Je_suis_Charlie">Je suis Charlie</a></em>” movement in the aftermath of the killings, calling it a “totalitarian flash” in which dissenting voices were eliminated from the public sphere. </p> <p>As a stark example of this process, <a href="http://www.france24.com/en/20150129-french-police-question-8-year-old-over-terror-comment-jihadism-charlie-hebdo">an eight-year-old boy was interrogated by French police on 28 January 2015</a> as a result of his refusal to take part in a minute’s silence honouring the victims of the shootings, because of his opposition to cartoons published by Charlie Hebdo that depicted the Prophet Muhammad. In his book, Todd describes the cumulative effect of this form of <em>laïcité</em> in terms of mounting Islamophobia.</p> <p>The legal framework that has shaped French secularism has evolved throughout the twentieth century. In 1905, a <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1905_French_law_on_the_Separation_of_the_Churches_and_the_State">new law was passed</a> to enshrine the separation of church and state, freedom of religious beliefs, and the neutrality of the state on religious matters. Religious freedom was reasserted in the <a href="http://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/langues/welcome-to-the-english-website-of-the-french-national-assembly#node_9440">1958 Constitution</a>, so long as its practice did not ‘disrupt the public order.’ In 1989, the French State Council ruled that <a href="http://www.senat.fr/rap/l03-219/l03-2193.html">the wearing of religious symbols in schools was not incompatible with the principle of <em>laïcité</em></a> and was therefore tolerated, on condition that it did not contravene existing prohibitions on proselytising.</p> <p>Crucially, these interpretations were <em>inclusive </em>of religious individuals and their freedom to display their faith publicly. But under the recent ban on religious symbols, French secularism has come to signify the <em>exclusion</em> of some groups from the nation and from French identity as a result of their religious beliefs and customs.</p> <p>From a conceptual viewpoint, contemporary debates surrounding <em>laïcité</em> argue that public and private spaces are separate and stand in opposition to one another. Religion should be a solely private matter because individuality lies within the private sphere. By contrast, the public sphere is reserved for the collective body of the nation, and provides a mechanism for generating a collective sense of citizenship that reinforces social and cultural ties. </p> <p>This privatised understanding of religious beliefs and practices is what political scientist <a href="https://muse.jhu.edu/login?auth=0&amp;type=summary&amp;url=/journals/world_politics/v059/59.4kuru.html">Ahmet Kuru calls “assertive secularism</a>” (or <em>laïcité de combat </em>as it is practiced in France), as opposed to a “passive secularism” (or <em>laïcité plurielle</em>) which allows for the public expression of one’s religion—as in the USA. But the binary distinction between ‘individuals’ and ‘citizens’ is too rigid, since people do not and should not cease to be citizens within the space of their own homes, or cease to be individuals in all respects when they are citizens. By opting for assertive secularism, the French state intends to shape the minds and behaviour of its citizens according to an ideology of its own making.</p> <p>In this context, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_law_on_secularity_and_conspicuous_religious_symbols_in_schools">the 2004 law</a> “concerning…the wearing of symbols or clothing which display a religious affiliation in public schools”—or what is widely known as the ‘headscarf ban’—is a natural offshoot of such a restrictive ideology. Established following a report by the <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi_Commission">Stasi Commission</a> that was appointed by <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jacques_Chirac">President Jacques Chirac</a> in 2003, the law aimed to ban all ‘conspicuous religious symbols’ in public schools, and supposedly encompasses all religions. But the main issue to be resolved was the wearing of headscarves, thereby directly targeting France’s Muslim communities and women within them. </p> <p>Remarkably, <a href="https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stasi_Commission">only six of the twenty members of the Commission were women</a>, and most of the people interviewed were school headmasters who unanimously supported a total ban on headscarves. The Commission didn’t seek out dissenting voices such as parents or Muslim interlocutors, and didn’t proceed to an extended qualitative analysis of the interviewees’ accounts. This is partly explained by the political climate in France at the time which pressured the Commission into adopting an assertive secularist approach—as Jean Baubérot (the only member who abstained from voting for the controversial proposal) confirmed in <a href="http://jeanbauberotlaicite.blogspirit.com/archive/2005/01/08/commission_stasi.html">an article written for the journal <em>French Politics, Culture and Society</em></a>. Moreover, the Commission also proposed to ban conspicuous <em>political </em>symbols, but <a href="http://blog.mondediplo.net/2013-04-05-La-commission-Stasi-et-la-loi-contre-le-foulard">this was dismissed by the French Parliament</a>. </p> <p>The new law officially purported to reinforce social cohesion by protecting society from being contaminated by ‘anti-French values’ i.e. anything that deviated from the principle of <em>laïcité</em>. Following this rationale, religious symbols are markers that set certain citizens apart from the rest of society, and therefore need to be erased from the public sphere, including schools. But in practice it marks a distinction between the different faiths of French citizens and the public visibility of specific religious symbols. It is not accidental that the law came to be known as the ‘headscarf ban:’ the primary targets have been ethnic and religious minorities rather than students belonging to the majority population whose identity is overwhelmingly represented in the policies of the French state. </p> <p>French secularism therefore serves as a seemingly legitimate instrument for the state to enact policies and value judgements that are discriminatory towards a targeted population under the pretence of neutrality. At the macro level, these policies contradict the right to religious freedom that is enshrined in law, and consequently the self-definition of France as a liberal state that protects human rights and is bound to “respect all beliefs” <a href="http://www2.assemblee-nationale.fr/langues/welcome-to-the-english-website-of-the-french-national-assembly#Preamble">as stated in the first article of the 1958 Constitution</a>. </p> <p>At the micro level, these discriminatory policies target Muslim communities that are constantly <a href="http://www.english.rfi.fr/culture/20141219-right-wing-media-pundit-zemmour-muslim-deportation-row-france">accused of proselytisation, violence and favouring minority interests by French politicians and in the media</a>. The principle of <em>laïcité</em>, which purports to enhance social cohesion, has become a demagogic tool to reinforce certain normative judgements about French identity. Paradoxically, secularism is now equated with discrimination and state neutrality with being partial. </p> <p>In his analysis of <em>laïcité</em>, Todd argues that “zombie Catholicism” is responsible for the discriminatory application of secularism in a country that is becoming less and less Catholic over time. But he overlooks the history of France’s social, political and cultural domination over its Muslim population, starting from the colonisation of Morocco, Tunisia and Algeria and ending up in urban policies that ghettoise these communities inside French cities. This ongoing culture of domination results in asymmetric power dynamics that perpetuate the marginalisation of ethnic and religious minorities, especially as regards the normative identity that the French state wants to shape.</p> <p>This is evidenced by the failure of <em>laïcité</em> to reinforce social cohesion and a sense of shared citizenship in French society. Instead, the public sphere has become a battleground for the assertion of divergent identities, precisely <em>because</em> the policies enacted in the name of secularism have polarised the population. </p> <p>Accusations of proselytisation by Muslim communities portray the problem as cultural and religious, when in fact it is rooted in social and economic disenfranchisement. So long as the French authorities turn a blind eye to the real issues at stake, they will continue to use a highly-ideological interpretation of secularism to gain the support of the majority of the population and to justify discriminatory policies against minorities.&nbsp;</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/william-eichler/is-it-ok-to-criticise-islam">Is it ok to criticise Islam?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/zaheer-kazmi/dealing-with-muslim-dissent">Dealing with Muslim dissent</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/can-europe-make-it/philippe-marli%C3%A8re/charlie-hebdo-and-dawn-of-french-mccarthyism">Charlie Hebdo and the dawn of French McCarthyism</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> Transformation Can Europe make it? North-Africa West-Asia Transformation #CharlieHebdo freedom of expression Muslim Communities Secularism Syreen Forest Culture Love and Spirituality Mon, 07 Sep 2015 23:30:00 +0000 Syreen Forest 95745 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Religion, class, and Turkey’s new left https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/justus-links/religion-class-and-turkey%E2%80%99s-new-left <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>A response to Kenan Malik, arguing that though he is right to worry about identity politics, in the case of Turkey he is worried about the wrong people.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/7727411 (1).jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/7727411 (1).jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="339" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Avni Kantan/Demotix. All right reserved.</span></p> <p><span>In his 14&nbsp;</span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2015/jun/14/turkey-election-nationalsim-secularism-sectarianism">June editorial</a><span>&nbsp;in the&nbsp;</span><em>Guardian</em><span>, Kenan Malik rightly warns against oversimplifying Middle Eastern politics along the binary opposition of religion and secularism. Yet in the case of Turkey, Malik himself oversimplifies.</span></p> <p>His article leaves one with the mistaken impression that Kemalist ideology ruled Turkey uninterrupted until overthrown by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. His view seems to be that Turkish secularism lacks a popular basis, yet managed to hold onto power until relatively recently due to military and elite connections.</p> <p>Malik’s arguments underestimate both the extent to which the secularist project has taken root in Turkish society, and the presence of Islamism on the political landscape long before its recent incarnation. </p> <p>Already in the 1960’s the center-right Justice Party (AP) <a href="http://www.birgun.net/haber-detay/sol-un-panzehiri-islamcilar-134.html">employed</a>&nbsp;Islamic rhetoric fused with anti-communism&nbsp;to combat the Republican People’s Party (CHP), which in those days enjoyed widespread support among the urban proletariat.&nbsp;<em>Pace&nbsp;</em>Malik, the secular social democrats had a popular base broad enough to make Bülent Ecevit prime minister in the 1970’s—though even he was willing to form a coalition with Necmettin Erbakan’s avowedly Islamist Party of National Salvation (MSP), the forerunners of today’s AKP.</p> <p>Conservative Islamist politics did not start with the AKP, nor has its ascendency been a mere backlash against authoritarian secularism. Rather, the rising star of Sunni conservatism was intimately bound up with the Cold War, helped along by the very military so often enlisted as the bogeyman of the secularist diktat.</p> <p>The coups that have done the most to shape the subsequent political landscape were those of 1971 and 1980, neither of which had much to do with restraining Islamist urges. The military regime that reigned in the early eighties did its part to weaken official secularism, instituting mandatory Sunni religion classes in public schools in a concerted effort to depoliticise a fractious youth and tame the left. </p> <p>Turgut Özal, who came to power in the wake of the coup after having served as the generals’ economic advisor, greatly expanded the number of religious public schools (<em>İmam-Hatip okulları</em>) tasked formally with training members of the clergy, but increasingly seen as a publically funded alternative to the secular education envisioned by Atatürk.</p> <p>Still more crucial to an understanding of Turkey’s current cultural conflicts is Özal’s other legacy: the long transition to neoliberalism that began on the eve of the coup and has come to completion under the AKP. From a heavily unionised country with import-substitution policies and a strong agricultural sector, Turkey became a free-trading exporter of low-value-added industrial products made by workers in increasingly precarious conditions.</p> <p>Turkey’s neoliberal turn created an informal proletariat ill served by the traditional labour movement—hampered as it was by restrictive legislation and coup-era repression—and inclined to look instead to ethnic and religious bonds as sources of solidarity. As labour sociologist&nbsp;Erdem Yörük <a href="http://pas.sagepub.com/context/40/4/517.short">has shown</a>, the AKP and its Islamist predecessor parties have excelled at addressing this demographic, offering not only religious community but also an expanding network of informal welfare programs that kept the poorest from complete ruination.</p> <p>Nowhere is the deep contradiction of Turkey’s political economy more apparent than in the mine explosion that killed over three hundred workers in Soma last spring. Having been turned over by the AKP to a company that&nbsp;<a href="http://www.hurriyetdailynews.com/soma-mine-operator-praised-lucrative-cost-reductions-in-previous-interview.aspx?pageID=238&amp;nID=66448&amp;NewsCatID=345">boasted</a> of cutting operating costs&nbsp;by over 80 percent (implicitly, by skimping on safety measures), the recently privatised mine provided coal to the government at below market price: which coal the party then distributed to poor urban families at election time. </p> <p>In response to this and other such accidents, Erdoğan’s rhetoric&nbsp;<a href="http://www.sismec.org/2014/05/16/kadere-karsi-gainst-fate/">naturalised</a> the event&nbsp;through heavy use of the terms&nbsp;<em>kader</em>&nbsp;(“fate”) and&nbsp;<em>fıtrat&nbsp;</em>(“nature, appointed role”), both explicitly Islamic concepts invoking submission to the way things are. Soma laid bare the contradictory triangle of AKP political practice: exploitation—welfare—religion.</p> <p>The second of these terms is not to be underestimated, for material concerns motivate AKP voters at least as much as do religious identity politics. On both fronts the left has to convince the working class that it has something better to offer. Here the HDP’s electoral advances are a step in the right direction. The HDP did not achieve this step by embracing identity politics, but by working to transcend it.</p> <p>While Kurdish politics have long featured strident demands for such ‘cultural’ rights as the free use of the Kurdish language in politics and education, in this election the party chairman was careful to articulate such demands in the language of local autonomy, in principle applicable everywhere. Municipalities, he <a href="http://www.posta.com.tr/siyaset/YazarHaberDetay/-8-Haziran-da-ayni-seyleri-soylerim-kimse-meraklanmasin-.htm?ArticleID=284784">said</a>, should have control&nbsp;over their own schools and police forces. He has argued that such decentralisation is not “separatism” but rather a project to make Turkey more democratic.</p> <p>That the HDP’s cultural heritage is more visible to western journalists than its social-democratic program may have something to do with the eye of the beholder. When workers in the automotive sector responded to their union’s failure to represent them with wildcat strikes and walkouts, Demirtaş sent messages of support that were largely ignored by international media keen on presenting him as the “<a href="http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/08/turkey-election-2015-kurdish-obama-is-the-countrys-bright-new-star">Kurdish Obama</a>.”</p> <p>The HDP campaign made alliances with women’s and LGBT groups, at the risk of offending conservative Kurds. On questions of secularism, the party staked out a position respectful to religion but hostile to its instrumentalisation by the state. </p> <p>On these grounds Demirtaş <a href="http://www.todayszaman.com/national_diyanet-faces-row-over-its-existence-on-89th-anniversary_308601.html">called</a> for the&nbsp;abolition of the state Directory of Religious Affairs, and continued to do so in the face of poll numbers indicating that his stance was&nbsp;<a href="http://www.aksam.com.tr/siyaset/kabe-dusmanligi-hdpyi-vurdu/haber-403764">losing him votes</a>. A 2012 education reform law that effectively facilitated the removal of many high school-aged girls from school met with&nbsp;<a href="http://www.radikal.com.tr/politika/secimin_egitim_formulu_444184-1342006">steadfast opposition</a>&nbsp;not only from the traditionally Kemalist CHP, but from the HDP as well. There is nothing self-evidently Kurdish in these choices.</p> <p>The HDP’s origins in the Kurdish national movement do not preclude its potential to help revive universalist left-wing politics in Turkey, especially if it gets the chance to work together with a CHP moving in similarly progressive directions. </p> <p>That party’s support for Kobanê last fall, its populist&nbsp;<a href="http://chpbrussels.org/2015/05/20/chpelectionmanifesto.2015/">calls</a> for a higher minimum wage and the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.todayszaman.com/anasayfa_minority-groups-take-the-reins-in-opposition-candidate-lists_377448.html">greater inclusivity</a>&nbsp;of its candidate list this year, which included more women and members of ethnic minorities, are causes for hope. Such measures are not concessions to identity politics so much as departures from the Turkish nationalism historically central to the identity of the party founded by Mustafa Kemal.</p> <p>While it will be no small feat for Atatürk’s admirers and those of Abdullah Öcalan to work together, a mutual enemy as strong as the AKP has taught the more thoughtful in both camps what they have in common. Kenan Malik is right to worry about the potential of identity politics to undermine the emancipatory and universalist agenda traditionally expected of the left. In the case of Turkey, however, he is worried about the wrong people. </p> <p>As the HDP transforms itself from the Kurdish party to a partner in the reconstruction of the Turkish left, identity politics may soon become a preserve of the right: which is where, for the most part, it belongs.</p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/buket-t%C3%BCrkmen/from-gezi-park-to-turkey%E2%80%99s-transformed-political-landscape"> From Gezi Park to Turkey’s transformed political landscape</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/halil-gurhanli/turkey%E2%80%99s-election-failings-may-lead-to-yet-another-legitimacy-crisis-f">Turkey’s election failings may lead to yet another legitimacy crisis for Erdoğan</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/arnaud-castaignet/will-turkey%E2%80%99s-centreleft-dare-to-reform-itself">Will Turkey’s centre-left dare to reform itself?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/5050/safak-pavey/rise-of-political-islam-in-turkey-how-west-got-it-wrong">The rise of political Islam in Turkey: how the west got it wrong </a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Turkey </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-rights"> <div class="field-label">Rights:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> CC by NC 4.0 </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Turkey Democracy and government middle east Turkish Dawn identity politics elections Secularism Islamism Justus Links The future: Islam and democracy Geopolitics Mon, 13 Jul 2015 17:40:19 +0000 Justus Links 94243 at https://www.opendemocracy.net It’s not all about Islam: misreading secular politics in the Middle East https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/stacey-gutkowski/it%E2%80%99s-not-all-about-islam-misreading-secular-politics-in-middle-east <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Western policymakers once understood the dynamics of secular politics in the Middle East, but this knowledge has been subsumed under a fixation on Islam’s supposed threat to western security interests.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/232377.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/232377.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="289" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Erika Szostak/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></p><p><span>Much western, particularly French, media coverage of the January attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the kosher supermarket in Paris fell prey to an old orientalist trope of the ‘War on Terror’: that Western secular culture is innately peaceful, rational and tolerant, while Islam is distinctly ambiguous on these matters.</span></p> <p>In some of this coverage, the incident was reduced to an attack on secular freedom. This not only failed to capture the complexity of the events. It also failed to reflect accurately the tangled histories of secular ideas, political settlements, and ways of living in the west and the Arab Middle East, shaped by centuries of interaction, including empire and migration.</p> <p>The so-called ‘War on Terror’ was an important chapter in these tangled histories. War is always a social and cultural encounter between sides. One of the by-products of this terrible chapter was the re-assertion of orientalist binaries. Another, less appreciated by-product was increased western policy and media attention to the terms of western secularism. </p> <p>This is not to say in any way that the US and Europe have a monopoly on all things secular. It is merely to point out that the salience of Islam to the ‘War on Terror’ had the knock-on effect of drawing western attention to its own secular political ‘truths’, and the Christian cultural provenance of these. This spawned in the west both reaffirmation of the terms of western secularism(s) and some self-critique.</p> <p>This process of self-reflection did not quite translate into better understanding of the dynamics of secularism as a political project in the Middle East, and the complexities and contradictions of lived secularity there. Western policymakers have improved their understanding of political Islamism since 2001. But their understanding of other dynamics in the region—including secularisation and de-secularisation processes and their political impact—has not received much attention. </p> <p>Instead, a rather uncritical presumption that seemingly ‘secular’, westernised actors are somehow more pragmatic and trustworthy partners for the west has prevailed. This is too simple. To ignore this complexity is to misread the idioms through which many aspects of Arab political and social life are animated and contested, as well as the ways in which political authority is organised.</p> <p>More recently, with the rise of Islamic State, mainstream western media outlets have begun to report on Arab critics of religious authority over politics and social life. Most famously, the case of Raif Badawi—sentenced to ten years in prison, 600 lashes and a fine for his critique of the marriage of Wahhabism and Saudi authoritarianism—drew popular western condemnation. </p> <p>Not all of these Arab critiques come in an overtly secular political idiom, but some do, calling for separation of religion and state, increased rights for women and LGBT individuals, and a ban on apostasy laws. Like many Islamist groups, these secular critics also frame their calls within the language of political reform and democratisation.</p> <p>Still, where once western policymakers better understood the dynamics of secular politics in the Middle East, this knowledge has been lost, subsumed under a fixation on Islam’s supposed threat to western security interests. In what follows, I call for renewed attention to these dynamics.</p> <h2><strong>Secular politics in the Arab Middle East: a historical snapshot</strong></h2> <p>The label ‘secular’ is highly problematic, in theory and practice. Actors in the Arab Middle East are more inclined to use terms such as leftist, liberal, Ba’athist, communist, socialist and Marxist to describe their orientation, with a critique of Islam’s influence implied in the term. </p> <p>In the west, the designation ‘agnostic’, ‘atheist’ or ‘indifferent’ tends to mean someone’s personal belief rather than their politics. In the Arab world there is a public, political and performative aspect to these labels. Also, a person may simultaneously declare a religious affiliation (Sunni, Christian, etc.) to mark out their political identity in a national context.</p> <p>As in the west, religious practice and discourse run along a spectrum in the Arab world. Individuals situate themselves somewhere along the spectrum but engage in practices and language that are a mix of ‘religious’ and ‘secular’. There is no binary between the two. Western ways of living secularly and secular political settlements are heavily conditioned by their continuities with Christianity. The same is true of the Arab Muslim context.</p> <p>In the second half of the 19th century, intellectuals in Lebanon and Egypt began to articulate secular political and social ideas. These were inspired by, but not reducible to, contemporary European currents of thought. Intellectuals came into contact with these ideas through imperial occupation but also through their own study and travels to the west. The growth of Arab secular outlooks received a <a href="http://www.thefreelibrary.com/The+rise+and+fall+of+secularism+in+the+Arab+world.-a018334431">boost</a> after World War I, with the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, abolition of the caliphate, and extension of the British and French mandates in the Levant.</p> <p>The originators of both Arab nationalism and Ba’athism during this period saw important continuities between Islam as heritage and the new, modernising direction in which they hoped to move the region. They recognised that Islamic practice would likely continue to be important to Arab populations. To a certain extent, secular political and social ideas were, and continue to be, held by the elite and middle class that emerged later in the twentieth century.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/606178.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/606178.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Peter Marshall/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></p> <p>The secular forces of Arab nationalism, communism and Ba’athism vied with more traditional, monarchical forces after the end of the Second World War. During this period of the Cold War, US policymakers saw secular political parties and regimes in Egypt, Iraq and Syria as well as Iran as reinforcing their susceptibility to Soviet influence. In short, secular actors were seen as a threat.</p> <p>However, with the rise of political Islamism—in response to the failure of Arab nationalism, the Arab defeat in the 1967 war, the Iranian revolution, and the end of communist parties as a credible political force in the region—the content of secular political idioms no longer interested western policymakers. The PLO and Hafez al-Assad’s Syria continued to pose a threat to Israel, but the region was unlikely to fall under Soviet influence.</p> <p>By the end of the Cold war, the two remaining Ba’athist regimes in Syria and Iraq were seen as dangerous solely because of threats they posed to Israel, Kuwait and regional stability. By 1993, secular Fatah (though not the PFLP) set aside violent resistance and began to engage with the Israeli government under the auspices of the Palestinian Authority and the Oslo Accords. Indeed, the ascendance of Bashar al-Assad in 2000 inspired some western optimism that he might steer that secular Ba’athist regime in a more reformist, less antagonistic direction, which would lead to further stability in the region.</p> <h2><strong>The post-9/11 paradox</strong></h2> <p>A new chapter in this tangled history began in 2001. As has been widely discussed, the salience of Islam within Al Qaeda’s political idiom prompted western policymakers to crudely associate the followers of a world religion with security threats. In the middle of the twentieth century, secular Arab actors were sometimes perceived as ideologically suspect and a threat to western and Israeli interests. Now, it was Arab Islamist actors who were viewed with a suspicion previously reserved for the post-revolutionary Iranian regime.</p> <p>I argued in my 2013 book,&nbsp;<em>Secular War: Myths of Religion, Politics and Violence</em>, that&nbsp;a secular security habitus<em>&nbsp;</em>led the British—and potentially other western militaries and policy-makers—to misread Islamic idioms, symbols and social structures as both more and less dangerous than they actually were.&nbsp;Sociologist Pierre Bourdieu <a href="http://www.sup.org/books/title/?id=2478">defines</a>&nbsp;habitus<em> </em>as&nbsp;‘a set of dispositions which incline agents to act and react in certain ways’, not all of which are fully conscious.&nbsp;</p> <p>The contemporary British secular&nbsp;habitus&nbsp;is a mixture of liberal democratic political tradition, Christian heritage, post-imperial multiculturalism, and casual indifference towards religion.&nbsp;This social and political context shaped British policy, which then had a knock-on effect on the populations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as Muslims in the UK.</p> <p>Secular habits of understanding the world made it difficult for western security services to come to grips with nuances within Muslim populations, to understand what was truly threatening and what was just unfamiliar. Despite ruling Muslim majority areas during centuries of empire, European governments had limited recent, in-depth experience. The US government was even more in the dark. </p> <p>As Islamist groups turned their attention towards the Middle East during the 1990s, their salience to western security priorities trailed behind the so-called ‘new wars’ in the Balkans and Africa and containing Saddam Hussein.&nbsp;Despite Al Qaeda attacks during the 1990s, western security experts were caught off guard in 2001. Bourdieu has suggested that hysteresis—or lag in the&nbsp;habitus—occurs when “the environment [it] actually encounter[s] is too different from the one to which [it is] objectively adjusted”. It took western policymakers the better part of the decade to catch up.</p> <p>While by no means the main driver, these habits helped to facilitate the imposition of security services into the lives of Muslims around the world, including during the devastating occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. Still, global politics is full of contradictions, and the picture is not entirely negative. Western habits of secular state neutrality made possible political support for the participation of Islamists in Afghan- and Iraqi-led democratisation processes. They also made possible financial support for further development of Muslim civil society in Europe.</p><p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/43964.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/43964.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="341" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Walter Gaya/Demotix. All rights reserved.</span></p> <p>The secular security&nbsp;habitus&nbsp;produced paradoxical effects.&nbsp;<a href="http://www.ibtauris.com/Books/Society%20%20social%20sciences/Politics%20%20government/International%20relations/Secular%20War%20Myths%20of%20Religion%20Politics%20and%20Violence.aspx?menuitem=%7BB820566C-5F26-49EA-8DAB-4B36B4470570%7D">For example</a>, while on the one hand secular hysteresis contributed to British misreading of the threat posed by Muqtada al-Sadr’s Jaish al-Mehdi militia in 2003-4 (key instigators of the 2006-7 civil war), British habits of political liberalism also led them to work with Islamist politicians to facilitate representative democracy in Iraq.&nbsp;While the intention may have been to secure western interests, actors were able to capitalise on these opportunities and achieve some autonomy.&nbsp;Still, this somewhat ambiguous openness to Islamism should not be over-interpreted. Hamas and Hezbollah remained proscribed terrorist organisations in western eyes.</p> <h2><strong>The myth of ‘Islamic moderation’</strong></h2> <p>This brings us back to the point about tangled histories. One of the many ironies of the post-9/11 decade is that the western secular security&nbsp;habitus&nbsp;led policymakers to focus on Islam. Paradoxically, western policymakers did not pay very much attention to Arab secular critiques of Islamist politics or ways of living with less Islamic influence during the decade after 9/11. And with the occupation of Iraq, Arab secular critics saw Western governments as the enemy, not an ally.</p> <p>In the middle of the post-9/11 decade, western policymakers focused on the potential of Arab politics articulated in a western-friendly Islamic idiom to bring the containment of security threats against the West. Western policymakers, influenced by a secular security&nbsp;habitus, created a range of policies, programmes and campaigns&nbsp;which have depend on the notion that ‘moderate’ religion can be harnessed to promote alignment with western policy objectives and contain threats against western targets. <a href="http://faculty.wcas.northwestern.edu/~esh291/Elizabeth_Shakman_Hurd/research_files/hurdris2012.pdf">This</a> is the logic that has influenced western aid democratisation programmes and counter-terrorism policies, among others.&nbsp;While it figures more prominently in US foreign policy, the EU has started to follow suit.</p> <p>In reality, moderation is always a social construct, contextually dependent, with no real content. There are no inherent features—even non-violence—to which one can look and say ‘this is moderate’. But western policymakers and security experts continue to be wedded to the myth that there are features of moderation in the Middle East that are consistent, identifiable, uncontested, and that this will help them identify allies. One need only look to attempts to arm Syrian ‘moderates’.</p> <p>At the same time, Arab actors also seek to capitalise on the political and economic opportunities that have opened up by portraying themselves as ‘moderate’.&nbsp;Certainly the picture is far from straightforward. Civil society actors in the west and the Middle East capitalised on opportunities to manoeuvre themselves into positions of international and domestic influence <em>vis-á-vis</em> other groups, or to genuinely develop their community’s political and social capacity, often from a position of structural disadvantage. </p> <p>This has allowed smaller, quieter voices in civil society to exercise normative persuasion over more powerful states. However, regimes in Muslim-majority states in the Gulf and the Levant have also portrayed themselves as ‘moderate’ to successfully deflect western pressure to institute political reform or recognise human rights.</p> <p>The rise of the Islamic State and the re-emergence of jihadism at the top of western security agendas have provided, and will likely only continue to provide, more structural opportunities for self-styled Arab and ‘Muslim moderates’. </p> <p>It is unclear that western states can avoid relying on these alliances when Arab states hold the key to containing what the west sees as multiple overlapping security threats: state breakdown in Yemen, Syria and Iraq, the return of Islamic State fighters to the west, and the maintenance of a potential nuclear deal with Iran. The ability of the Islamic State to seduce supporters suggests that western and Arab efforts to counter its narratives with ‘moderate Islam’ will likely only receive a boost from these regional developments.</p> <h2><strong>Post-Arab Spring: secular security&nbsp;habitus&nbsp;2.0?</strong></h2> <p>By contrast, the Arab Spring forced western policymakers to pay more attention to Arab secular politics when secular political parties began to assert themselves. A less appreciated and understood knock-on effect of the western secular security&nbsp;habitus&nbsp;was the impulse among western policymakers to trust revolutionary actors they saw as ‘secular’. </p> <p>Some of these actors, such as Nidaa Tounes in Tunisia and SCAF in Egypt, articulate their politics in a secular idiom, pitting their social and legal agendas directly against the Islamist positions of their competitors. Others, such as Stronger Jordan which calls for equality between men and women, do not frame their calls for less conservative religious influence on the state so explicitly. </p> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/1031382.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/1031382.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="306" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Haysam Elmasry/Dmotix. All rights reserved.</span></p><p>But it has become accepted wisdom among western governments and security think tanks that actors that look ‘secular’ are likely to be trustworthy western allies, that a certain rationality, pragmatism and consistency guides their actions and that they are immune to ideology. They can be trusted to curb jihadist threats against the west. The March museum attack in Tunis under the eyes of the ruling secular party suggests that these two things are not related.</p> <p>These two western security myths—of ‘religious moderation’ and ‘secular moderation’—have inhibited the west from condemning authoritarian brutality. The US and Europe tentatively supported the Muslim Brotherhood government which ruled in Egypt between 2012 and 2013. However, their condemnation of the coup that brought General Sisi to power, and of subsequent violence against the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition forces, was muted. </p> <p>While western states were loathe to repeat the occupation of Iraq on Syrian soil, in 2011-2013 they also feared that unseating Bashar al-Assad would bring Islamist forces to power—either the Muslim Brotherhood or more radical groups—which would threaten regional stability. While recognising Assad as an egregious violator of human rights, western states figured a (more) secular regime was the lesser of two evils. </p> <p>This preference extends beyond the Arab states. Erdogan has escaped too much western condemnation for his increasing authoritarianism, and not only because Turkey is a key NATO ally on the Syrian and Iraqi borders. Lingering western enthusiasm for Turkish&nbsp;<em>laiklik</em>&nbsp;(secularism) as an antidote to Islamist extremism, so heavily touted by Erdogan in 2011-12, also plays a role.</p> <p>Western states have long upheld anti-democratic regimes in the region because it suits their interests. This is nothing new. However the secular security&nbsp;habitus, which emerged in western security policymaking after 9/11 and continues to animate it, has provided an additional, underpinning logic to these alliances. </p> <p>These alliances may be pragmatic, but that is not their only feature. In some ways, they are a continuation of past trends. Since the emergence of political Islamism as a credible force in the 1970s, western policymakers have trusted some (not all) secular dictators to stem threats to western interests—Sadat, Mubarak, Bourguiba, Ben Ali, Bouteflika, and in the 1980s Saddam Hussein—even while they cooperated with traditional monarchs. Obviously alliances with authoritarian regimes are built on more than a loose sense of secular affinity, but global politics is irrational and ‘seeming like me’ makes political trust that little bit easier.</p> <p>With the emergence in some states of secular, pro-democratic political actors on the left, the west has had a variety of potential allies to choose since 2011. However, particularly in North Africa, it has chosen to support regimes it knows rather than destabilise them through support for the opposition.</p> <p>The one notable exception is in Syria, where the training of so-called ‘moderates’, secular and Islamist, has come too little too late. Hope for these leftist forces looks likely to come from the Tunisian model of self-assertion, rather than through direct western sponsorship. While real political power for these groups is seemingly still far off, a lack of western interference in their political development is to be warmly welcomed.</p> <h2><strong>Islamic State and the western secular security&nbsp;habitus</strong></h2> <p>For nearly three and a half years, from late 2010, to mid-2014, jihadism was temporarily eclipsed as the primary western security animus. With the exception of the Amenas gas plant attack in Algeria in January 2013—in which western hostages were taken and killed—jihadist militancy, spearheaded by Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and Al Shabab, has been confined predominantly to non-western targets. </p> <p>Even the 2012 emergence of Al Nusra front as a key player in the Syrian civil war was overshadowed in western security thinking by a reluctance to take on the Syrian air force and get involved in yet another regional civil war. Western governments resisted military action against Islamic State for nearly a year, finally compelled not by the horrors suffered by people in the region but by the spectacle of the beheading of western hostages, the flow of young western Muslims to Syria, and plots against European targets.</p> <p>Western policy and media discourse on Islamic State echoes many of the tropes levelled at Al Qaeda after 9/11. Some echoes can also be seen among western analysts who over-interpret the role of sectarianism in Iranian-GCC regional proxy conflicts in Syria and Yemen. However, whether a Western secular security habitus&nbsp;will have any appreciable impact on a response to Islamic State remains to be seen.</p> <h2><strong>Policy recommendations</strong></h2> <p>In light of ongoing security instability in the Middle East posed by both Islamic State and authoritarian regimes, I have three policy recommendations for the governments of NATO states:</p> <p>1. Develop new analytical tools to better understand the evolution of secular politics in the Middle East, beyond the old categories of leftist politics, liberalism or nationalism.</p> <p>2. Approach the performance of moderation, Islamic and otherwise, with a critical eye, interrogating how Middle Eastern states’ and non-state actors’ use labels to forge alliances, undermine competitors, and engage in power politics as usual. Do not presume that actors who articulate their politics in a more secular or western-friendly idiom are inherently progressive or democratically inclined.</p> <p>3. Mainstream a check for distortive secular assumptions within the policy process.</p><p><em><span>This paper follows on from a November 2014 workshop at Chatham House on Islam, Secularism and Security.</span></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/deepa-kumar/imperialist-feminism-and-liberalism">Imperialist feminism and liberalism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/od-russia/john-heathershaw-david-w-montgomery/%E2%80%98muslim-radicalisation-of-central-asia%E2%80%99-is-dangerous-1">The ‘Muslim radicalisation of Central Asia’ is a dangerous myth</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mohammad-dibo/assad%27s-secular-sectarianism">Assad&#039;s secular sectarianism</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ahmed-e-souaiaia/tunisia%E2%80%99s-ennahda-movement-maybe-learning-from-egypt-and-turkey-comp">Tunisia’s Ennahda movement, maybe learning from Egypt and Turkey, compromises to remain relevant</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/lailufar-yasmin/crisis-of-modernity-and-secularism-cases-of-egypt-turkey-and-bangladesh"> Crisis of modernity and secularism: the cases of Egypt, Turkey and Bangladesh </a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/bulent-gokay/race-and-racism-in-modern-turkey">Race and racism in modern Turkey</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Conflict </div> <div class="field-item even"> Culture </div> <div class="field-item odd"> International politics </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Conflict Culture International politics middle east Secularism Stacey Gutkowski The future: Islam and democracy Sat, 25 Apr 2015 09:49:16 +0000 Stacey Gutkowski 92253 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Is secularism bad for women? https://www.opendemocracy.net/transformation/kristin-aune/is-secularism-bad-for-women <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Gender equality should not be pitted against religious freedom, so what kind of political arrangements could guarantee religious women’s rights and full social inclusion?&nbsp;</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/KristinAune.jpg" alt="" width="460" /></p><p class="image-caption">Protests against the French veil ban. Credit: <a href="http://www.barenakedislam.com/">http://www.barenakedislam.com</a>. All rights reserved. </p> <p>The 1970s feminist movement asked ‘Is religion bad for women?’ In the 1990s, political theorist <a href="https://www.amherst.edu/media/view/88038/original/susan+moller+okin.pdf">Susan Moller Okin asked ‘Is multiculturalism bad for women?’</a> To both questions, many people answered ‘yes.’ </p> <p><span>Feminist activists argued that religion was irrevocably oppressive to women by divinely sanctioning male dominance, imposing a ‘stained-glass ceiling’ on women’s leadership, restricting women to motherhood and domesticity, and denigrating their bodies as impure or purely sexual.</span></p> <p><span>Many also concurred that </span><a href="http://www.palgrave-journals.com/cep/journal/v11/n5/full/cep201312a.html">multiculturalism was at fault</a><span>—a political approach adopted from the 1970s in countries including Canada, Britain, Germany, Australia and Sweden to celebrate ethnic and religious diversity. Multiculturalism encouraged the celebration of ethnic and religious differences and turned a blind eye to cases where these ‘cultural practices’ disadvantaged women by, for example, banning abortion and allowing polygamy or female genital mutilation.&nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>These arguments were welcome, and in many ways correct. But they don’t tell the whole story. For one thing, they don’t appreciate the diversity of religion, nor the complex ways in which women—feminists included—have gained power through religion or spirituality, including positions of spiritual authority and leadership. Feminists and critics of multiculturalism have also found it hard to accept that women sometimes choose to participate in groups that see human agency or freedom not as rational, autonomous individualism, but as ‘relational’—located in the collective and often expressed through religious practices and communities.</span></p> <p><span>It’s true that religion has not historically been on the side of women’s rights and equality, but neither has secularism. The historian </span><a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joan_Wallach_Scott">Joan Scott</a><span> argues that the history of secular democracy was profoundly gender-unequal, in which both women and religion were pushed to the private sphere in order to make way for masculine rationality. It was only in the 20</span>th<span> century that women’s challenge to patriarchal secularism succeeded in winning for them suffrage and eventual entry into political institutions.</span></p> <p><span>So it’s useful to reverse the order of the question </span><a href="https://womenreligionandsecularism.wordpress.com/">by asking whether ‘secularism is bad for women?’</a><span> &nbsp;This question allows us to think afresh about how societies can best secure the freedom and flourishing of all women, whether religious or not, at a time when migration and displacement are making many countries increasingly diverse in terms of religion.</span></p> <p><span>This entails asking what secularism means. ‘Secularism’ has three main connotations. First, </span><em>political secularism</em><span> refers to the political project of separation between religion and the state, which has taken many different forms. In French </span><em>laïcité</em><span>, the state can intervene in religion but not vice versa. In American secularism, neither the state nor religion can intervene in each other’s domains. In India, the state keeps a ‘principled distance’ from religious institutions but </span><a href="https://www.opendemocracy.net/rajeev-bhargava/states-religious-diversity-and-crisis-of-secularism-0">supports and respects religious diversity</a><span>, at least in theory.</span></p> <p><span>Second, secularism refers to social phenomena, particularly the purported declining influence of religious groups on the public sphere. Third, secularism can focus on the transformation of religious practices and beliefs, as when people are less influenced by religion and religion becomes increasingly individualized.</span></p> <p><span>Because secularism means different things and looks different in different places, &nbsp;the question is not whether secularism is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ for women in the abstract, but which </span><em>forms</em><span> of secularism, in which places, and in which ways? Take the contrasting cases of France and England.</span></p> <p><span>As </span><a href="http://www.diplomatie.gouv.fr/fr/IMG/pdf/0205-Barbier-GB.pdf">Maurice Barbier observes</a><span>, there’s no consistent understanding of secularism in France, but the different strands are all ‘defined by the negation of religion within the state and its exclusion from the public sphere.’ French </span><em>laïcité</em><span> means that the state does not support or fund any religious organisations, though there are some religious associations to whom it grants legal recognition and limited tax exemption. From 2015 a ‘</span><a href="http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2015/01/frances-secular-values-are-beginning-to-feel-the-strain/">National Secularity Day’</a><span> will be instituted on which schools will lead pupils in affirming support for France’s ‘secular values.’ For France, secularism bonds its citizens together, and encourages migrants to assimilate. &nbsp;</span></p> <p><span>But this also means that French secularism is ill-equipped to deal with the rise of Islam or other religious configurations domestically. France doesn’t even collect statistics on religious affiliation, so it’s hard to know exactly how many Muslims there are in the country.</span></p> <p><span>However, it’s clear that France’s 2004 ‘visible religious symbol’ ban in public schools and its 2011 ‘face veil’ ban in public have imposed significant restrictions on Muslim girls and women. </span><a href="http://www.hrw.org/news/2014/07/03/france-face-veil-ruling-undermines-rights">Six hundred women have already been fined</a><span> for flouting the ruling. The bans have made it difficult for Muslim women who wear the veil to participate in paid employment, since veils are illegal in public sector workplaces and frowned on in private ones. Those who are persuaded by religious teachings that wearing such coverings constitutes a religious duty feel they cannot compromise their religion for the secular state.</span></p> <p><span>Legal cases brought to the European Court of Human Rights have met with a range of responses, but a 2014 judgement in the </span><em><a href="http://www.ejiltalk.org/sas-v-france-does-anything-remain-of-the-right-to-manifest-religion/">SAS vs France case</a></em><span>&nbsp; upheld the face veil ban, saying that it did not violate the European Convention on Human Rights. The court concluded that “respect for the minimum requirements of life in society” legitimized the ban.</span></p> <p><span>However, from the viewpoint of human rights, the idea that ‘living together’ requires assimilation is concerning, because it prioritises the presumed needs of French society over the individual rights of women. “What little remained of the right to manifest religion may just have been eroded” </span><a href="http://www.ejiltalk.org/sas-v-france-does-anything-remain-of-the-right-to-manifest-religion/">wrote legal scholar Stephanie Berry</a><span> at the time.</span></p> <p><span>These bans demonstrate that at least in this respect, French secularism is bad for women who wear the veil. Moreover, in France, </span><a href="http://www.newsweek.com/80-anti-muslim-attacks-france-against-women-says-report-307389">80 per cent of Islamophobic attacks</a><span> are against Muslim women. These attacks </span><a href="http://www.newsweek.com/80-anti-muslim-attacks-france-against-women-says-report-307389">rose sharply</a><span> in the wake of the Charlie Hebdo murders. French secularism may also bear some responsibility for the comparatively high numbers of Syrian-bound extremists who have left its borders.</span></p> <p><span>The harassment of women over religious dress is also an issue elsewhere in Europe. According to the </span><a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/">Pew Research Center</a><span>, women were harassed for wearing religious dress or for violations of religious dress codes </span><a href="http://www.pewforum.org/files/2015/02/Restrictions2015_fullReport.pdf">in 19 out of 45 countries in Europe</a><span>—roughly the same proportion of countries as in the Middle East and North Africa but double the global rate.</span></p> <p><span>In contrast to France, England is not an officially secular society. Instead it espouses what the sociologist </span><a href="http://www.sagepub.com/healeystudy5/articles/Ch1/Religiousdiversityanddemocracy.pdf">Veit Bader calls “weak establishment”,</a><span> involving “constitutional or legal establishment of one state-church”—the Church of England—“that has to be compatible with de jure and de facto religious freedoms and religious pluralism.” England has had legislation prohibiting discrimination at work or in the provision of goods and services on grounds of religion since 2003. Since 2001 it has also collected statistics on religion in order to monitor whether this legislation is working.</span></p> <p><span>Under successive Labour and Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition governments, England has sought to accommodate the demands of religious groups as much as possible. Schools and welfare providers run by faith groups have been embraced and generously funded to provide services previously delivered by the state. For women who prefer to use faith-based services this is welcome. But not all do.</span></p> <p><span>This faith-friendly approach has been criticised for obstructing gender equality, and there have been </span><a href="http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/belief/2011/apr/19/secularism-minorities-faith-big-society">high profile debates</a><span> about enforced gender segregation in some faith schools and the transfer of funding from secular women’s organisations that provide domestic violence services to faith-based groups. </span><a href="http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201415/cmselect/cmhaff/201/20106.htm">Concerns have also been raised</a><span> that public officials at times fail to intervene when girls and women are subject to sexual violence or female genital mutilation because they fear being accused of racial or religious discrimination. </span></p><p><span></span><span>These concerns have led to attempts to curtail the power of religious groups to determine women’s fortunes. In 2011, life peer Baroness Caroline Cox, supported by a coalition of women’s groups (including some representing Muslim women) and the National Secular Society, introduced the </span><a href="http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2014-15/arbitrationandmediationservicesequality.html">Arbitration and Mediation Services (Equality) Bill</a><span>, a private members bill to make it a punishable offence for religious arbitration panels to falsely claim that religious rulings are legally binding.</span></p> <p><span>This bill, which is now languishing due to lack of support from the House of Lords, is important because it would limit the powers of UK-based </span><a href="http://www.secularism.org.uk/uploads/equal-and-free-16.pdf">‘sharia’ (Islamic) and ‘Beth Din’ (Jewish) courts</a><span> to rule on family law in a gender-discriminatory way—for example by permitting multiple religious marriages for men and restricting women’s rights to divorce.</span></p> <p><span>As these examples from France and England illustrate, the key question is how to promote </span><em>both</em><span> gender equality </span><em>and </em><span>religious freedom. What kind of political arrangements can guarantee religious women’s rights and full social inclusion? If both secular and faith-friendly approaches fail to deliver this goal for religious women, how can a better, democratically-negotiated balance be achieved?</span></p> <p><span>Gender equality should not be pitted against religious freedom. Societies should not have to choose whether to grant the wishes of </span><em>either </em><span>religious groups </span><em>or</em><span> of women, especially since </span><a href="http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/lsereviewofbooks/2012/11/10/book-review-why-are-women-more-religious-than-men/">at least half of those who are religious are women</a><span>, and </span><a href="http://www.worldvaluessurvey.org/WVSOnline.jsp">more than half of all women across the world are also religious</a><span>.</span></p> <p><span>If asking whether secularism is bad for women helps to ensure the freedom and equality of women who are religious, then it will be another step forward in the global women’s movement. &nbsp;</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/laura-payne/can-religious-groups-help-to-prevent-violent-conflict">Can religious groups help to prevent violent conflict?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/jacob-z-hess/christianity-was-liberation-for-you%E2%80%94for-me-it-was-slavery-tale-of-two-ki">Christianity was liberation for you—for me it was slavery: a tale of two kingdoms</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/zaheer-kazmi/is-liberal-islam-answer">Is liberal Islam the answer?</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/transformation/susan-rakoczy/best-kept-secret-of-catholic-church%E2%80%94its-social-teachings">The best kept secret of the Catholic Church—its social teachings</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/transformation/chitra-nagarajan/put-away-scriptures-and-follow-justice">Put away the scriptures and follow justice</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> Transformation Transformation Religion religion and social transformation Secularism Kristin Aune Religion and human rights Love and Spirituality Mon, 30 Mar 2015 00:00:00 +0000 Kristin Aune 91625 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Understanding calls for reinstating the Islamic State https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/azzam-alkassir/understanding-calls-for-reinstating-islamic-state <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Maududi’s writings on implementing Sharia and Qutb’s radical approach contributed to Jihadist movements that have been multiplying like mushrooms since the mid-seventies of the last century.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p> <span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/-قطب.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/-قطب.jpg" alt="Sayyid Qutb on trial in Nasser's Egypt. Wikimedia commons." title="" width="460" height="345" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>Sayyid Qutb on trial in Nasser's Egypt. Wikimedia commons.</span></span></span>Creating an Islamic state ruled by the principles of Shari'a law is the cornerstone which a growing Islamic ideology depends on. But this general aim serves as an ideological façade concealing behind it a heterogeneous mixture of groups and organizations that differ in their strategies, priorities and interpretation of reality. Looking first at the shared elements among the upholders of political Islam, and the movements that arose from the political activism in the Arab world at the present time, we see how this placed numerous individuals and groups in a post-<a href="http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2011/02/11/AR2011021106019.html">Sayyid Qutb</a> context. This study gives special attention to the subjective factors that have enabled extremist religious ideas to influence public affairs, at the same time that objective factors - social, economic and political - paved the way for the spread of Jihadist thought. Finally, we ask how Islamic thought could be revived to overcome the negative impact of some of these extremist Islamic organizations on public affairs.</span></p><p><span>The concept of an </span><span><em>Islamic state</em></span><span>, as first elaborated by Sayyid <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abul_A&#039;la_Maududi">Abul A’la Maududi </a>(1903 -1979), is a product of modernity. Despite this, great efforts were exuded to find ideological roots for an Islamic state grounded in historical evidence, while portraying the concept as theologically Islamic. In the introduction to his book </span><span><em>Islamic theory and its contribution to politics, law and constitution</em></span><span>, Maududi wrote: ‘It is urgent that we lift the veil upon the face of political Islamic theory, in the hopes that this intellectual darkness which has gripped society is revealed, and to restrain those mouths which foolishly claim that (Islam has not provided human society with a sociological or political structure). We will shed light upon those wandering in the dark ages; confused and misguided.’&nbsp;As such, Maududi offered the term </span><span><em>hakimiyya</em></span><span> which was subsequently adopted and fully exploited by Sayyid Qutb (1906-1966). With Qutb, </span><span><em>hakimiyya</em></span><span> grew and branched out into </span><span><em>jahiliyya</em></span><span> (ignorance), </span><span><em>takfeer</em></span><span> (excommunication), and blind jihad. Some Islamists today refer to the ‘</span><span><em>hakimiyya</em></span><span> verses of the Quran’. </span> </p><p><span>The term </span><span><em>hakimiyya</em></span><span> which resides in the rhetoric of contemporary political Islamist movements, similar to the term ‘Islamic state’, is not mentioned in the Quran or Hadith. Nor does it exist in Arabic lexicography. Maududi links </span><span><em>hakimiyya</em></span><span> to its linguistic root </span><span><em>hukm</em></span><span> whose derivations are mentioned in the Quran more than two hundred times. Yet not one of these verses points towards the assumption or practice of political power. Instead, the term suggests the need for insight and distinguishing between right and wrong, or education and jurisprudence. Lexicographically, </span><span><em>hakim</em></span><span> is also a judge, and the terms </span><span><em>hukm</em></span><span> and </span><span><em>qada’</em></span><span> (judicature) are often used as synonyms in sayings by the Prophet Muhammad. The Arabic and Quranic term used in reference to political affairs is </span><span><em>‘amr</em></span><span> (command), and continued to be used to refer to either state or government until the Ottoman era. Subsequently, the term </span><span><em>‘amiri</em></span><span>, soon deviated into </span><span><em>miri</em></span><span>, was utilised to signify anyone tied to political power and the public sector.The linguistic dissection of terms when attempting to understand Quranic verses justifying calls for the implementation of Sharia can be important. </span> </p><p><span>According to Maududi, an individual converting to Islam must declare in testimony that, ‘There is no God but Allah’. The state, for its part, enters Islam when its constitution states that, ‘There is no </span><span><em>hakimiyya</em></span><span> [governance] but God’s’.&nbsp;For governance belongs to God, and the believer must obey the divine will and work in its order, for to do otherwise would, without fail, lead one to the pre-Islamic Arabian stage of </span><span><em>Jahiliyya</em></span><span>. </span> </p><p><span>Maududi is joined by others that have followed him in reaching the former conclusion, which practically apostatizes Islamic governments and societies that follow man-made laws. However, differences in opinion have emerged as methods were laid down for Islamic societies to emerge from the state of apostasy and ignorance. Maududi’s method is based on an effort to take power via available political tools with the aim of implementing Sharia and converting a society to Islam, whereas Sayyid Qutb builds upon Maududi’s thought adding radical touches leading him to dwell on </span><span><em>practically</em></span><span> apostatizing societies and elites alike. </span> </p><p><span>The use of the word ‘practical’ in this context is deliberate, the intention of which is to signify that apostasy is not simply an accusation, but a ruling and compulsory consequence which must be addressed by Jihad. Maududi’s writings on implementing Sharia and Qutb’s radical approach contributed to Jihadist movements that have been multiplying like mushrooms since the mid-seventies of the last century. As a result, the synthesis of Qutb and Maududi’s work turned the page of reformist Salafism and the cognitive curriculum for Quranic interpretation, previously employed by Mohammad Abdo and Jamal Al-Din Al-Afghani. This is how the endorsement of Jihadist Salafism took place, raising doubts about the sufficiency of reason, and excessive in its use of violence.</span></p><p><span><strong>Stagnant vs. fluid islam</strong></span></p><p><span>As an ideology, the transformation of political Islamic thought seems to offer some parallels with radical Marxism when analysed in terms of the factors that contributed to its transformation. A clear reading of Maududi’s Islamic state cannot be made in isolation from the socio-economic conditions of his home country of Pakistan, a mistake made by Sayyid Qutb when he saw Maududi’s theories as the cornerstone of Islam. For example, prior to Pakistan’s independence in 1947, Maududi fought democracy in fear of a non-Muslim majority in India, yet subsequent to the birth of Pakistan with a Muslim majority he endorsed Islamic democracy and withdrew his opposition towards representative systems.&nbsp;Similarly, it is prejudiced to analyse Qutb’s radicalism without assessing the savagely repressive conditions he was subjected to by the state security apparatus under Al-Nasser’s regime. Using the same analysis, the growing inclination in Qutb’s approach towards violence does not necessarily stem from the spirit of Islam, so much as the prevalent social injustice coupled with an imbalanced infrastructure, expressed mainly through high rates of unemployment and the lack of channels for political participation. All this paved the way for radical Islamist thought to sneak into the deprived countryside and the poverty belts surrounding the cities. </span> </p><p><span>The legacies of Maududi and Qutb have affirmed the special significance of cleansing the state and society of diseases emergent from the west and returning them to the purity of the first generation by enforcing Sharia upon all aspects of life and opening the door to the ‘Islamic state’. The claim that Maududi and Qutb’s successors have revealed a complete theory of Islam as it should be manifest in politics and state rule, is one of many angles that attempt to give illusory weight to texts, so that they may be “worshipped” while ignoring their meaning. This is part of a broader attempt to endow those texts with retrospective scientific proofs and humanitarian discoveries. The shock of modernity has truly pushed some into isolation, and taking defensive stances, while embarking on the journey to search for one’s self by confronting an Other that is armed with all means of power.</span></p><p><span>History and sacred text have become useful havens for Islamist movements that seek to find local alternatives to the modern nation-state in its foundations and power structures. On the other hand, voices that call for embracing Islamic values and contributing to human civilization in congruence with other nations have noticeably faded. As a result, avoiding and negating reality became a general trait of new Islamist thinking. </span> </p><p><span><span>Dust has been allowed to gather on the books of reconcilers and their words no longer have any impact.</span></span><span> Some have been labelled ‘sultans jurists’ or the ‘jurists of postpartum and menstruation’. Islamic scholars and traditional jurists hold primary responsibility for these ideological realities and their propagation of a superficial version of Islamic thought. Sheikh Muhammad Al-Ghazali (1917-1996) commenting on a different issue says: ‘If the first generation of believers was concerned with theological philosophy then Islam would have never left the Arabian Peninsula... unemployment produced a generation of those reaching towards this absurd school of thought and straying in vision…there has been lots of empty talk that has had a negative impact on our history.’&nbsp;As such, those hesitant of discussing this thought allow space for the reinforcement of a binary that lays claim to the truth. Essential questions must be publically discussed, for the dissection of religious mythologies is no longer sophistry. The stagnation of Islamist thought and its defensive position is at the crux of this issue. Heaven, hell, predestination, jihad, and so on and so forth are issues that have directed a generation of youth that is pessimistic, disenfranchised from their surroundings, a generation that has become fuel to the illusion of an ‘Islamic state’. In conclusion, Islamist thought will recover and restore its vitality only when debate will blow some depth into it.</span></p><p><span><strong>Violence and the state</strong></span></p><p><span>According to Max Weber, the use of violence is what makes the modern state unique. Certainly, the experience of dictatorship in the post-independence Arab world lays witness to the success of regimes in exploiting violence to bind the religious, military and economic elites to political regimes seeking to prevent society from taking any social or civil action. The Ba’athist regime in Syria is a good example. For when Syrians raised banners for the fall of their political regime, they were soon made all too aware that this would necessitate a change of religious, economic and military elites. The Syrian regime’s pervasive penetration of the Syrian state had become so intertwined that it becomes impossible to differentiate between them. </span> </p><p><span>For the majority of the Arab world, the instumentalization of the state for more than half a century has resulted in a warped understanding of the modern state. For the state is no longer a neutral institution that all can benefit from, but rather a private property for corrupt rulers. Furthermore, claims that political dictatorships have adopted and will apply secularism have resulted in conflating the latter with tyranny and lack of freedom in the minds of many. In the shadow of this reality, many increasingly presented Islamic Sharia as a key to solving all the political, economic and social ills inherited from Arab dictators. Indeed, recent Islamist movements have gone too far in their exaggeration and extremism, to the extent that they exceeded the source of their references, mostly to be found in the writings and methodology of Sayyid Qutb. At this stage, the modern state is no longer the framework of these movements’ activism. We have reached a stage based on calls for ‘the Islamic state’, with the Quran as its constitution, governance belonging solely to God, and the law of God practiced on the </span><span><em>ummah</em></span><span>. Here it was said was a simple exit strategy to the dilemmas that gnawed the Arab and Muslim world. </span> </p><p><span>To a great extent, this current reductive Islamist rhetoric is similar to the ideological discourse applied in Arab republics during the second half of the twentieth century, calling for the reunification of Arab nations. In the same way that Arab nationalists previously failed in drawing up clear strategies for uprising and achieving unity in a realistic Arab context, Islamists today repeat the same mistakes in addressing the generalities and ignoring the details. In this respect, Professor Aziz al-Azmeh argues that the Arab nationalists’ insistence on treating the concept of homogeneity and unity as an obvious issue, combined with their reluctance to acknowledge the reality of diversity and differences, made them unable to comprehend their reality. The same discussion applies to prevalent Islamist ideology. For in calls for the instatement of Sharia, the symbolic overtakes the historical in the sense that a fixed illusory identity wins over the necessary multiplicity and diversity in that identity.</span></p><p><span><strong>Conclusion</strong></span></p><p><span>Neither the Islamisation of everything nor ridding society of Islam is the long-awaited panacea. The situation is complex and needs a comprehensive programme for radical change. One of the major obstacles facing development in the Arab world is what the Moroccan writer Abdelilah Belkeziz calls ‘the hurried approach’&nbsp;which refers to the aversion of conceiving sophisticated solutions, resorting to reckless strategies, or adopting ideological approaches that perceive reality through only one of its aspects; whether this is religion, politics, economy or culture. </span> </p><p><span>However, any plan for uprising will not see daylight if Islamists cannot accept the workings of history. Claims for Islam’s timelessness and holding on come what may to the principle of detaching thoughts from their historical contexts will have catastrophic repercussions on the </span><span><em>ummah</em></span><span>, since in reality it is a community of individuals who are affected by their environment and whose tendencies are shaped by their respective needs. They are united by one or many ideas, yet each has taken a unique historical trajectory in the development of their persuasion and lifestyles. </span> </p><p><span>The project of returning to the future is not viable; either we take the gamble of returning to an imagined past or we embark on a calculated project for building a future that celebrates our diversity and accommodates us all.</span></p><p><span><em>Translated by: Yomn Al-Kaisi</em></span></p><p><span><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/CTPA DeltaN - Header - Layers.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553176/CTPA DeltaN - Header - Layers.jpg" alt="" title="" width="460" height="91" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span></span></p><p><em>This article is part of a collaboration between the&nbsp;<a href="http://www.c-tpa.org/AR/Home">Centre for Thought and Public Affairs</a>&nbsp;(CTPA) and openDemocracy, in which pieces from the CTPA's journal,<a href="http://delta-n.c-tpa.org/">Delta-N</a>, are translated and published on the openDemocracy website. Note: Delta-N is published every two months by the Centre for Thought and Public Affairs - a non-governmental and non-profit organization that is based in London. Read the latest issue&nbsp;<a href="http://delta-n.c-tpa.org/?node=Summery">here</a>.</em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/tahir-zaman/right-to-neighbourhood-way-out-of-sectarian-quagmire">The right to neighbourhood: way out of a sectarian quagmire</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/salameh-kaileh-victorios-shams/what-is-sectarianism-in-middle-east">What is sectarianism in the Middle East? </a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/ellis-j-goldberg/islam-and-politics">Islam and politics</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/sami-zubaida/islam-in-arab-transformations">Islam in the Arab transformations</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Secularism sectarianism Islamic State Meteoric rise of the Islamic State Azzam Al-Kassir Violent transitions Through Syrian eyes The future: Islam and democracy Tue, 14 Oct 2014 17:11:45 +0000 Azzam Al-Kassir 86802 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Sisi’s religious conquest https://www.opendemocracy.net/north-africa-west-asia/nehal-elsherif/sisi%E2%80%99s-religious-conquest <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>The purging of the Muslim Brotherhood from Egyptian politics will not necessarily put the country on the path to secularism, as Sisi finds his own ways to use religion for political ends.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/4876595.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title="Egypt&#039;s new President, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Demotix/Emad Abdelrahman. All rights reserved."><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_xlarge/wysiwyg_imageupload/553378/4876595.jpg" alt="" title="Egypt&#039;s new President, Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. Demotix/Emad Abdelrahman. All rights reserved." width="460" height="307" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_xlarge" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'></span></span><span class="image-caption">Egypt's new President, Abdel Fattah El Sisi. Demotix/Emad Abdelrahman. All rights reserved.</span></p><p><span>News that Egypt’s Ministry of Youth and Sports is preparing to launch a campaign against atheism was met with </span><a href="https://twitter.com/Nader_G_Attar/status/479594410091753472">sarcasm</a><span> and </span><a href="https://twitter.com/RashaAbdulla/status/479645723378470914">criticism</a><span> on social media.&nbsp;</span><span>Neamat Saty, the Youth Ministry’s director of civic education, and Ahmed Turk, the head of the Endowment Ministry’s mosques management unit, will work with a group of psychiatrists as a part of a </span><a href="http://gate.ahram.org.eg/UI/Front/Inner.aspx?NewsContentID=506013">national strategy</a><span> to eradicate atheism.</span></p> <p><span>The move is not entirely surprising. In his speeches over recent months, President Abdel Fattah El Sisi has clearly adopted a religious discourse.&nbsp;</span><span>Quoting the Quran and talking about the Day of Judgment in his interviews, Sisi wanted to make it clear that his image as a pious person is genuine and also show the people that he can provide an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood.</span></p> <p><span>He also wanted to establish that religion would play a part in shaping the country’s ethics, and that state bodies will have a role in this.&nbsp;</span><span>In one of his interviews, Sisi said that the president of the state is supposed to be responsible for everything in it – even its religion.</span></p> <p><span>Sisi’s discourse aimed to show that his knowledge of Islam surpasses Egyptians’ familiarity with religious rules; a tactic that has previously proved successful when used by politicians or media professionals.&nbsp;</span><span>Public religious tendencies are reflected in the famous saying, “Egyptians are religious by nature.” Though many have criticised the statement, it is at least reflected in how people use religious statements in their everyday life.</span></p> <p><span>As posters reading </span><a href="http://thecairopost.com/news/115557/inside_egypt/did-you-pray-upon-prophet-muhammad-today-posters-cause-controversy-in-egypt">“Did you praise the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) today?”</a><span> went viral on cars and in shops, the interior ministry said it plans to eliminate these posters immediately. The posters are believed to be circulated by the </span><em>Al</em><span> </span><em>daawa al salafiya</em><span>, affiliated with the Salafist al-Nour party.</span></p> <p><span>The interior ministry’s measures reflects how the government will not allow political forces to use religious slogans to win votes in the upcoming parliamentary elections. On the other hand, the ministry of youth campaign is not so much aimed at fighting atheism, as it is to giving the conservative public an example of how the country is not ‘fighting Islam’, as the Muslim Brotherhood </span><a href="http://www.almasryalyoum.com/news/details/465244">puts it.</a></p> <p><span>The campaign against atheism shows how Sisi and his government believe that the threat of Islamists – whether allies like al-Nour party or opponents like the Muslim Brotherhood – is rather more imminent than other problems facing the country, such as increasing unemployment and discontent among the revolutionary youth, among other things.</span></p> <p><span>The current government hopes to end the deep polarisation in the country through giving “moderate religion” a bigger role in its policies, in order to win over the masses that had been drawn by the Brotherhood’s widespread social ventures.</span></p> <p><span>In his inauguration speech, Sisi urged Egyptians to work in order to protect and develop their rights and freedoms.&nbsp;</span><span>Yet, in the first days for the new government, it became clear Sisi was not referring to political freedoms, as was made clear by jail sentences for activists like Alaa Abdel Fattah.</span></p> <p><span>For Sisi’s loyalists, political freedom is the last item on their agenda. Instead, they seek the social freedoms they feared to lose under the rule of the Brotherhood.&nbsp;</span><span>Sisi is trying to send a message to his followers that their social freedoms will be guarded, such as when he said in an interview that there is no such thing as a “religious state.”</span></p> <p><span>While he used his cycling tour last week to talk about rebuilding the country and to urge Egyptians to save fuel, the image projected of the modern leader in sportswear was aimed at his not-so-conservative followers.</span></p> <p><span>It is also highly unlikely that Sisi’s government will allow religious freedoms. The fight will not only target atheists, but could expand to restricting the freedoms of other minorities like Shi’ites and Baha’is.</span></p> <p><span>Problems will arise if Sisi cannot balance his quest to eliminate the Brotherhood’s influence and win the masses on the one hand, and his attempts to please his loyalists on the other.&nbsp;</span><span>If he fails, the struggle between the feuding sides in Egypt will be the main obstacle facing affecting his other endeavours to rebuild the country.</span></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/amr-osman/religion-and-politics-in-post-coup-egypt">Religion and politics in post-coup Egypt</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/north-africa-west-asia/mina-fayek/copts-in-el-sisis-egypt">Copts in El Sisi&#039;s Egypt</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Egypt </div> </div> </div> <div class="field field-topics"> <div class="field-label">Topics:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> Democracy and government </div> </div> </div> North Africa, West Asia North-Africa West-Asia Egypt Democracy and government middle east religious freedom Religion Secularism Nehal El-Sherif The future: Islam and democracy Egypt in the balance Arab Awakening Fri, 20 Jun 2014 13:45:52 +0000 Nehal El-Sherif 83887 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Immigration and the British dream https://www.opendemocracy.net/ourkingdom/rumy-hasan/immigration-and-british-dream <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Does solidarity break down with multiculturalism? And if so, how can we respond? Rumy Hasan reviews <em>The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration</em> by David Goodhart.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p><span class='wysiwyg_imageupload image imgupl_floating_none 0'><a href="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/wysiwyg_imageupload_lightbox_preset/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/multiculturalism.jpg" rel="lightbox[wysiwyg_imageupload_inline]" title=""><img src="//cdn.opendemocracy.net/files/imagecache/article_large/wysiwyg_imageupload/550254/multiculturalism.jpg" alt="" title="" width="275" height="183" class="imagecache wysiwyg_imageupload 0 imagecache imagecache-article_large" style="" /></a> <span class='image_meta'><span class='image_title'>How can we build solidarity in multicultural Britain?/wikimedia</span></span></span></p><p>The issue of immigration has become of supreme importance throughout the world. There appears to be a universal desire on the parts of governments, on the one hand, to curb levels of legal immigration whilst, on the other, to show zero tolerance for illegal (‘undocumented’) immigration. The recent election victory of Tony Abbot in Australia was in good measure due to his Liberal Party’s very hard stance on controlling the borders, specifically to keep out boatloads of asylum seekers. </p> <p>Similarly, in the US, Republicans have raised the issue of millions of illegal Latino (mainly Mexican) migrants to the highest priority and, by so doing, cemented their popularity in the southern states. In crisis-ridden Greece, the rapid influx of large numbers of illegal migrants has been put down as a core reason for the rise of the violent, neo-Nazi, Golden Dawn Party. Countries as disparate as Malaysia and Tanzania have been forcibly removing illegal immigrants. </p> <p>In Britain too, immigration has become a defining issue for all political parties: in a 2007 Ipsos-MORI poll, for example, 64% said that immigration should be much tougher and a further 12% said it should be stopped altogether, while 68% agreed that there were already too many immigrants in Britain. A recent opinion poll showed that 64 per cent of Britons said immigration was more of a “problem” than an opportunity for the country and this is reflected in the rise of the anti-immigration, anti-EU, United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP). David Goodhart’s new book provides a robust analysis of post-war immigration to Britain to seek out the factors which have contributed to this deep unease. He provides his key theses at the outset: </p> <p>“[P]ublic opinion is broadly right about the immigration story. Britain has had too much of it, too quickly, especially in recent years, and much of it, especially for the least well off, has not produced self-evident economic benefit. What is clearer still is that it has not been well managed. Britain has never had a culture of integrating newcomers, though most have done it for themselves: in the early post-war decades this laissez-faire approach was overlaid first with racial prejudice and then later by a liberalism that was reluctant to intervene in individual choices. Moreover multiculturalism, particularly in the more separatist form that emerged in the 1980s, has allowed ‘parallel lives’ to grow up in some places and made it harder for ordinary Britons to think of some minorities, and especially Muslims, as part of the same ‘imagined community’ with common experiences and interests.”</p> <p>Goodhart proceeds to take issue with two sets of theorists of immigration: those espousing economic laissez faire and those who advocate, or are silent about, cultural laissez faire. Curiously, the laissez faire approach to immigration was championed by economic advisers to the Labour government post-1997 (such as Jonathan Portes of the NIESR) as immigration rose by 4 million in the next 15 years (less than a quarter were from the EU) – more than the combined total since World War 2. </p> <p>Such economic ‘immigrationists’ focus has been on the purported benefits: labour is a factor of production that must be permitted to move freely to wherever there is demand for it, thereby improving global efficiencies and resource allocation. It naturally follows that immigration will help raise economic growth and, conversely, immigration controls can be a barrier to growth. Goodhart provides evidence to show that the overall impact of recent mass immigration to Britain is, in fact, <em>neutral</em>. Migrants certainly gain – the history of migration from developing to developed countries shows that very few return, so that despite all the problems of adjustment, their lives have improved for the better. And naturally, employers who employ migrants also gain (and public services in particular have benefited enormously from migrant workers). </p> <p>Crucially, however, for the low skilled and unskilled workers, the impact of rapid large scale immigration has been<em> negative</em> from the increased competition in the labour market and attendant downward pressure on wages, so much so that some employers have preferred to recruit foreign workers. This has contributed not only to a persistently high rate of unemployment, but also to increased competition for public services. So it is not too surprising to find widespread hostility to immigration from this section of the working class.</p> <p>But what has been little examined – and stressed by Goodhart – is the impact of emigration on poorer countries: the argument has invariably been confined to the gains from remittances. There has, however, been little analysis of the <em>damaging </em>effect from the loss of young, hardworking, often skilled workers. The ‘brain drain’ often leads to social pain back home. Thus, for example, emigrating nurses and doctors – the benefits of whose education and training have been lost to their home counties and passed over free of charge to richer countries – inevitably weaken the health service of their home countries, which is not compensated by remittances. This issue was famously raised by Nelson Mandela in his visit to the UK in 1997 when he asked the British government to halt recruitment of nurses from AIDS-afflicted South Africa. All credit to Goodhart for highlighting this important, neglected, issue; which is also the focus of Paul Collier’s new book <em>Exodus: Immigration and Multiculturalism in the 21st Century.</em></p> <p>The social, political and cultural impact of mass immigration has been of no concern to the economists for whom labour is simply labour. Historically, the focus of those in favour of immigration has understandably been on immigrants themselves, that is, on the difficulties and struggles of settlers – often from the former colonies – in new lands and societies far from home. </p> <p>Ipso facto, little, if any, attention has been paid to the non-economic impact of mass immigration on the established white population. It transpires that this neglect of the views of the latter – importantly, this is a democratic deficit – is a prime cause for the increasing angst around the subject which has somewhat belatedly been addressed by all the major political parties.</p> <p>Goodhart gives an example of the London suburb of Merton which has, in recent years, become ‘super diverse’, that is, attracted an array of sizeable migrant communities from around the world, including that of Ahmadi Muslims. The latter group, after a long battle over planning permission, has built a giant mosque (though the opposition was nowhere near as hostile to that of the ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ in New York in 2010); in similar vein, a large traditional pub has been replaced by a Sunni Islamic centre. </p> <p>Goodhart points out that ‘the Ahmadis are model immigrants in many ways. They preach an ecumenical form of Islam and are grateful to be given refuge in this country. But to many locals that’s not the point. As one man described as White Heritage Elder Male in the jargon of race relations said: “We’ve lost this place to other cultures ... it’s not English anymore”’. Such sentiments – or indeed the concerns of the long-established majority white population in general – have certainly not been given an airing especially by those of a <em>soi disant </em>liberal/progressive bent.</p> <p>The reason why little interest has been taken of the social and cultural impact of minorities is because of Britain, by default, evolving into a ‘multicultural society’. Goodhart deems the progressive anti-racist stance of those supporting immigrants in the 1970s as constituting ‘liberal multiculturalism’. This is mistaken as the struggles by the first generation of migrants were for <em>equality</em> in all aspects of society (just as in America, the clarion call of the civil rights movement was for equality and against racism). </p> <p>In fact, what multiculturalism is really about – its apotheosis has been in Canada, enshrined by its 1988 Multiculturalism Act – and which, as Goodhart proceeds to elaborate upon, is cultural and religious laissez faire underpinned by cultural relativism, whereby immigrants are allowed to lead lives pretty much akin to those obtaining in their places of origin. That being so, some groups have demanded separate rights, resources, institutions, and exemptions to the law. Moreover, there appears to have been an increase in ‘choice’ on the part of some minorities to live in separate enclaves (de facto ghettos) – hence the phenomenon of ‘parallel lives’.</p> <p>Not just Merton but London itself has become ‘super diverse’ as the established white population has fallen from 60% in 2001 to just 45% in 2011 (a stark statistic that has doubtless made the political establishment sit up and take note). So London is now truly a ‘global’ city with people from all corners of the globe residing in it and its multi-ethnic nature as a result of immigration was warmly highlighted in Danny Boyle’s widely acclaimed opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games. </p> <p>The ceremony was indeed marvellous, not least in its positive portrayal of ethnic minorities. That said, its minority focus was almost entirely on the Caribbean component; it could, for example, have been more truthful by making specific reference to the input of Asians in the section on the glittering tribute to the NHS. Indeed, British Asians (the largest ethnic minority) were pretty much absent from not only the opening and closing ceremonies (being no more than extras in the various sets) but also from the sporting contests – pretty much the entire Team GB compromised of whites, blacks, and those of a black-white parentage – hardly a resounding success of multicultural, multi-ethnic Britain.</p> <p>Goodhart suggests that London’s ‘success’ as a multi-ethnic city needs to be tempered by the fact that 600,000 white Londoners left the city between 2001 and 2011 – the phenomenon of ‘white flight – but does not delve deeply into the reasons for this. Part of the difficulty is lack of hard data which requires rigorous research. But, one can legitimately surmise, the often rapid changes in many neighbourhoods caused by mass immigration is an important, perhaps decisive, factor. Such a reason might seem inexplicable or even deemed to be racist by those afflicted by what can be termed ‘white liberal post-colonial guilt’ – whereby any criticism of the <em>modus vivendi</em> of ethnic minorities is a taboo, which is in itself racist thinking. But this simply fails to grasp the reality. </p> <p>In fact, there is some evidence to suggest that broad swathes of the white population are not, putting it somewhat euphemistically, enamoured by an array of peculiar and undesirable cultural and religious characteristics – with their stress on ‘difference’ – of some migrants that have transformed their towns and cities; and so have voted with their feet. Moreover, this has little to do with ‘race’ or ethnicity given that sections of ethnic minorities who wish to integrate and live in a neighbourhood reflecting society at large also vote with their feet.</p> <p>Goodhart demolishes the oft-held belief that ethnic minorities are an undifferentiated mass forever suffering from discrimination and racism. In fact, there is now a significant variation between Hindus, Sikhs, East African Asians, and Chinese – whose educational and income per capita levels are now, on average, above whites – and Pakistanis, Bangladeshis, Caribbeans, and Somalis who languish at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder. The well-established segregated mono-cultural, mono-faith neighbourhoods particularly of Pakistanis and Bangladeshis in towns and cities across the country provide ample evidence of their low levels of integration, and what I have analysed as high levels of ‘psychic detachment’ from mainstream society.</p> <p>But the relative prosperity of Hindus, Sikhs, and East African Asians does not necessarily indicate high levels of integration. Indeed, well-to-do ethnic minority professionals and business people residing in mixed neighbourhoods can – and often do – lead highly segregated lives with few points of contact with those not from their own religious-ethnic community and so also display high levels of psychic detachment. Goodhart cites the example of ‘Punjabi Wolves’, Sikh supporters of Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club, as an instance of integration. This is odd; in fact it is a mark of separation – just as if Kashmiri fans of Bradford Football Club formed a ‘Kashmiri Lions’ supporters group. The genuine integrationist route would be for Sikh fans to join the Wolverhampton FC supporters club as a mark of unity.</p> <p>Goodhart retraces a controversial argument he put forward in 2004 about the impact of high levels of immigration on society – the ‘progressive dilemma’, that is, the conflict between diversity and solidarity. Basically, the more diverse (by ethnicity or religion) a society is, the less the likelihood of solidarity, and this is a contributory factor for the erosion of support for higher levels of general taxation which underpin the welfare state. </p> <p>The US is an example of a highly diverse society which, as a result, has low levels of solidarity – Robert Putnam’s uncomfortable research suggests that the higher the percentage of immigrants in an area in the US, the lower is the level of trust. This is thought to provide the explanation for the minimal welfare services in America (it remains the one developed country without universal health care): put bluntly, white Americans are reluctant to see their taxes going to welfare programmes to support blacks and Latinos. By the same token, increased diversity from recent mass immigration in Europe is likely to lead to a diminution in solidarity and, accordingly, in support for strong welfare services. There is not yet enough compelling evidence in support of this hypothesis – but even the situation in the US can be open to a different interpretation.</p> <p>The strong welfare provisions in Western Europe are often associated with the formation of political parties with strong links with trade unions which garnered sufficient support to form governments that pushed through fundamental welfare reforms after the destruction and sacrifice of World War 2. In stark contrast, America has never had such a party let alone a social democratic consensus that became the norm in post-War Western Europe – which is to say that even if America had an entirely white population, there is no guarantee it would have obtained Europe’s level of welfare services; on the contrary, it may still have had rather weaker welfare services akin to those obtaining in ethnically homogenous Japan.</p> <p>What can boost solidarity in ethnically diverse societies are core commonalities among the established population and migrant settlers. Here Goodhart does offer some suggestions: the stress on English language proficiency for all immigrants is indeed important. Beyond this, however, what is recommended is largely symbolic – citizenship ceremonies in town halls are perhaps an improvement to the purely bureaucratic form-filling of the past but, nonetheless, this is weak in forging commonalities, and of the need to robustly tackling the separatist dynamic now so prevalent. </p> <p>The lengthy discussion of the various ‘sub-nationalisms’ that have arisen in the devolved nations within the UK is not really germane. The suggestion that Asians are enthusiastically identifying with Scottish nationalism is of limited import. The fact remains that Glaswegian Asian Muslims are far closer to Asian Muslims in Lancashire, Yorkshire, or Birmingham – and indeed with Muslims in Pakistan – than with non-Muslim Scots. Their espousal of Scottish nationalism is in line with being identified as ‘British’ in the rest of the UK. The problems of separateness and high levels of psychic detachment that emanate from their strong religious identity remains – and this has been allowed to nurture throughout Britain. Therefore, the discussion on the implications of Scotland becoming independent is largely irrelevant.</p> <p>The great lacuna of the book, in how to truly forge a meaningful common citizenship, is the failure to address the core factors for segregation, poor levels of integration and social cohesion, which have led to parallel lives and high levels of psychic detachment. The answer is blindingly obvious (indeed Goodhart singles out Muslims in his key theses given above): the vast bulk of immigrants from outside Europe, be it from former colonies or not, have very strong <em>religious identities.</em> Certainly governments have been all-too-willing to accept these settlers in their own terms – the laissez faire approach. More than that, both the present Coalition government and the previous Labour government have fuelled this by stressing ‘our multi-faith society’. Goodhart acknowledges this by asserting that ‘[r]ather than appealing to Muslims and Sikhs or other minorities as British citizens and trying to draw them into the mainstream political process, local and national politicians came to see them as people whose primary loyalty was to their faith and culture and who could be politically engaged only by their own leaders’.</p> <p>History, however, shows that faith identities are divisive and militate against integration and social cohesion. The lesson of Northern Ireland is a sobering reminder: for most people in mainland Britain – for whom religion is of little and rapidly vanishing importance – it comprises sectarian identities. The Dutch writer Ian Buruma provided an insightful explanation for the sudden rise of the populist politician Pim Fortuyn in the early 2000s which is highly relevant here: ‘Fortuyn’s venom is drawn more from the fact that he, and millions of others, not just in the Netherlands, but all over Europe, had painfully wrested themselves free from the strictures of their own religions. And here were these newcomers injecting society with religion once again’.</p> <p>It naturally follows that a <em>sine qua non </em>for engendering a common citizenship is for the reversal of the ‘injection of society with religion’. This means lessening – and ultimately removing – the mark of religious identity and, accordingly, necessitates, in Paul Cliteur’s words, a ‘secular outlook’ and the thoroughgoing secularisation of society. Of paramount importance in this regard is the phasing out of faith schools: there is now mounting evidence to show that minority faith schools in particular are deeply problematic and constitute a transmission belt for the inculcation of sectarian identities infused with obscurantism and dogma that is quite unsuitable for children in a modern 21st century multi-ethnic society.</p> <p>To sum up, Goodhart’s analysis of the problems is far better than the solutions proffered. As someone espousing liberal, social democratic beliefs, another lacuna is the absence of the ideas of some of the foremost liberal thinkers: no Voltaire and John Stuart Mill on the defence of freedom of criticism and expression; no recourse to John Rawls as to how a liberal society should deal with the illiberal; and no mention of Brian Barry whose <em>Culture and Equality </em>was the first major – and devastating – critique of multiculturalism from a liberal perspective. Setting aside these shortcomings, David Goodhart has written a seminal, courageous, book that is likely to prove enormously influential on key debates on the nature of British society for years to come.</p><p><span><span><em>The British Dream: Successes and Failures of Post-war Immigration</em></span></span><span><span> by David Goodhart <a href="http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-British-Dream-Successes-Immigration/dp/1843548054">is available now</a>.</span></span></p><p><em><strong><br /><span>If you liked this piece, you can sign up for OurKingdom's weekly update</span><a href="http://opendemocracy.us1.list-manage.com/subscribe?u=9c663f765f28cdb71116aa9ac&amp;id=cb5cf7dd0a"><span> </span><span>here</span></a><span>, join our Facebook</span><a href="https://www.facebook.com/pages/OurKingdom/128979610469567"><span> </span><span>here</span></a><span> </span><span>or follow us on Twitter</span><a href="https://twitter.com/ourkingdomUK"><span> </span><span>here</span></a><span>.</span></strong></em></p><fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/ger-mennens/multiculturalism-and-postmodernity-challenge-to-our-political-structures">Multiculturalism and postmodernity: a challenge to our political structures</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/ger-mennens/multiculturalism-and-social-cohesion">Multiculturalism and social cohesion</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> UK </div> </div> </div> uk uk UK multiculturalism immigration Secularism Rumy Hasan Tue, 08 Oct 2013 17:05:18 +0000 Rumy Hasan 75889 at https://www.opendemocracy.net Manchurian mormon? https://www.opendemocracy.net/seth-redniss/manchurian-mormon <div class="field field-summary"> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <p>Mitt Romney needs to answers basic questions about potential conflicts between his&nbsp;religious vows and his prospective presidential vows.</p> </div> </div> </div> <p>We would never elect a rabbi, priest or ayatollah President. It would be a&nbsp;violation of the separation between church and state, and it would be&nbsp;un-American. Yet, Romney, who has served in leadership positions in his&nbsp;church as a bishop, priest and deacon, may be sworn to uphold church&nbsp;doctrine.</p> <p class="p1">There is, of course, nothing wrong with being religious; the problem is that&nbsp;religious perfectionists cannot simultaneously function as secular&nbsp;perfectionists.</p> <p class="p1">Facts seem to support Romney's consistent elevation of church needs over&nbsp;national or mainstream ones. Here are some of the matchups:&nbsp;</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Wartime Matchup: Church vs. U.S. Army (1965 - 1969) </strong>In 1965, Romney sought&nbsp;to avoid going to Vietnam and applied for an exemption from military service&nbsp;on the basis that he was a "Minister of Religion". He received this and&nbsp;multiple additional deferments. Instead of fighting for his country, he&nbsp;chose to evangelize for his church in France. Why? If his church denounces a&nbsp;future war, will Romney act against his church's position?</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Racial Matchup: Church vs. African Americans (1947 - 1978)</strong> From his birth&nbsp;until 1978 (when Romney was 31 and had lived through the civil rights&nbsp;movement), blacks were ranked lower than whites in his church (and, related&nbsp;to the above issue, were more likely to be drafted). They had to give a&nbsp;chunk of annual income to the church but were not allowed to be priests. Did&nbsp;Romney ever protest this apartheid?&nbsp;</p> <p align="center"><img src="http://farm4.staticflickr.com/3052/2946901307_efbcb55f3c.jpg" width="400" alt="Jordan River Utah Temple" /></p><p align="center"><small><em>Mormon Temple in Utah. <a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/31543164@N08/2946901307/">Flickr/Altus Photo Design</a>. Some rights reserved.</em></small></p> <p class="p1"><strong>Family Matchup: Church vs. Ann Romney's Father (1993) </strong>Edward Davies, Ann&nbsp;Romney's father, shunned organized religion and refused to join Romney's&nbsp;church. Just a year after Mr. Davies' death in 1992, the Romney family&nbsp;posthumously converted Mr. Davies through a proxy baptism. Besides being a&nbsp;highly inventive way to get back at your in-laws, what message does this&nbsp;send about respect for the dead and for other religions?</p> <p class="p1"><strong>Religious Matchup: Church vs. Judaism (1947 - Present)</strong> Romney's church has&nbsp;baptized millions of dead people into their faith, including Holocaust&nbsp;victims such as <a href="http://www.haaretz.com/jewish-world/mormons-baptize-holocaust-victim-anne-frank-posthumously-says-report-1.414269">Anne Frank</a>.&nbsp;Romney has admitted to participating&nbsp;in these ceremonies and won't disown the practice. Does the economic benefit&nbsp;of swelling the church's vast genealogical database, a Facebook to the Dead,&nbsp;outweigh the negative associations of manipulating the personal information&nbsp;of millions of families?</p> <p class="p1"><strong>2012 Election Matchup: Church vs. Tax Returns (2012 - Present) </strong>In Parade&nbsp;magazine's August 26th issue, Romney based his refusal to disclose tax&nbsp;returns on his church's policy of not disclosing its finances. Again,&nbsp;loyalty to church trumps precedent of full disclosure set by three decades&nbsp;of candidates (including his own father) to fully disclose. His church is&nbsp;very <a href="http://www.businessweek.com/articles/2012-07-10/how-the-mormons-make-money">economically ambitious</a>.&nbsp;Shouldn't a President go out of his way to assure voters that Oval Office&nbsp;decisions are appropriately delinked from his church's finances?</p> <p class="p1">Given Romney's lifelong religious and financial twinning with his church,&nbsp;it's fair for voters to expect some transparency as to the potential&nbsp;conflicts between a President's obligations to his country and church.</p> <fieldset class="fieldgroup group-sideboxs"><legend>Sideboxes</legend><div class="field field-related-stories"> <div class="field-label">Related stories:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/david-alpher/with-friends-like-these-on-romneys-comments-about-israeli-and-palestinian-culture">&quot;With friends like these...&quot; on Romney&#039;s comments about Israeli and Palestinian culture</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/seth-redniss/bain-co-solves-middle-east-crisis">Bain &amp; Co. solves Middle East crisis</a> </div> <div class="field-item odd"> <a href="/seth-redniss/nra-proves-that-guns-actually-save-lives">NRA proves that guns actually save lives</a> </div> <div class="field-item even"> <a href="/magnus-nome/sports-for-people-who-dont-like-sports">Sports for people who don&#039;t like sports</a> </div> </div> </div> </fieldset> <div class="field field-country"> <div class="field-label"> Country or region:&nbsp;</div> <div class="field-items"> <div class="field-item odd"> United States </div> </div> </div> United States faith & ideas north america presidential elections Mitt Romney Religion Secularism constitution Seth Redniss Tue, 11 Sep 2012 18:57:57 +0000 Seth Redniss 68014 at https://www.opendemocracy.net