(This post is in response to a recent comment)
One of the failures of the Arab republican regimes has been their inability to create stable societies. The fear in Syria of the outbreak of sectarian hostilities is a possibility that cannot be discounted.
But I think that to say the regime is the guarantor of civil peace in the country is incorrect. I believe that the threat of sectarian strife is actually an indictment of these so-called strong, secure and stable regimes. Saddam's Iraq, Mubarak's Egypt and Assad's Syria are all examples of regimes that have been in place for decades yet at the first sign of trouble the foundations quake and the social fabric begins to bust at the seams.
I do not envy the Christians in the Arab world today. They predate the Muslims, and the Jews predate both. But to pose a question to the question: what if Syria were somehow to be threatened with Western intervention, would the minority regime in power continue to see the Syrian Christians as an ally or would they be viewed with suspicion, a fifth column?
There is no doubt in my mind that we are witnessing the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in the Arab world. Indeed, the calls for revisionism or modernism in Islam cannot be effected by outsiders, or prompted by liberal Muslims or secular Arabs.
If such a transformation were to take place it must be brought about by those with Islamic credentials. I believe that today in the Arab world we are on the cusp of a resurgence of the MB and eclipse of the jihadist current that shook the world with its extremism. However, having said that, I do not believe that the future belongs to the MB or Islamist groups. They are part of the transition. Rather, it is the youth of today who will determine the future of this region. And even within the Brotherhood there have been dissenting voices from within the ranks, emanating from its youth who perceive it as out of touch with modern times.
Along to shepherd this process is Turkey, led by an Islamist government that adheres, so far, to the tenets of democracy and benefits of modernity and global association, cooperation and exposure.
The Americans' tracking Usama bin Laden down to a residential area in Pakistan and not a cave in Afghanistan – indicative in itself of his not being the guerrilla leader he was widely perceived to be by his followers a la Che Guevara – seals the bin Laden chapter. So who is there to address the problem of Islamic extremism of which he was the predominant phenomenon over the past 2 decades? Answer? See above.
Bin Laden was portrayed by his supporters, and there are millions of them, make no mistake, as the standard bearer of a resurgent and defiant Islamic nation. To them he was the courageous fighter, in the face of overwhelming odds, against an unjust world filled with domineering powers where the poor got poorer and the oppressed where crushed even more. He was a prophet of victory in an era of adversity.
But Usama bin Laden was a false prophet. The Arabs are a defeated nation desperately seeking a victory. They have been tremendously let down by their leaders in the age of independence. They have suffered defeat upon defeat in military showdowns, their standards of education have plummeted. The people therefore flocked to the fake, and sometimes extremist, leadership that presented itself as an alternative to the corrupt, failed regimes.
I find it interesting that one of the most prominent Egyptian MB leaders, Abdul Munim abu al-Fotouh, has recently said that he does not oppose the candidacy of Christians or women for the post of president. Abu al-Fotouh has declared that he's running for president and that he will appoint a Coptic Christian or a women as his vice-president, so whether his declaration is out of conviction or merely a campaign statement is open to question. But, nevertheless, it is a very important position.
Which is why I was critical of the Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya lamenting the passing of bin Laden: "We condemn any killing of a holy warrior or of a Muslim and Arab person, and we ask God to bestow his mercy upon him." Several days later Hamas announced that Haniya's statement did not reflect the position of the Palestinian movement, but the damage had been done.
Back to Syria. I cannot declare with any certainty that the Syrian leadership's choice to employ brute force against the protesters will lead to bloody sectarianism in the country. But it is certainly creating the conditions for it. Occupying mosques on Fridays and denying access to them is very short-sighted. Coming from a minority-led regime it doesn't take a genius to figure out what the protesters, who are mainly from the ruled majority sect, think about it.
I do not necessarily want to see the regime toppled in Syria, nor do I not want to see it ejected from power. That is a matter for the Syrian people to decide. But the fact of the matter is that Syria lags far behind in terms of development and progress.
I both recognize and appreciate the importance of Syria's position at the heart of the Arab world. Many times I played the devil's advocate and defended Bashar al-Assad in heated arguments, hoping against hope that the promise would be fulfilled.
Unfortunately he let me down. And I believe he let down his people and country.
I think the regime in Damascus has lost legitimacy and has been grievously wounded. It is one thing to want it to survive, especially if the survival is deemed to be crucial to the survival of other minorities, but completely another thing to recognize it as the leading force for a better society. Will it continue to be regarded as a guarantor of regional stability, the way it was before the outbreak of dissent on March 15? That is the question being asked and issue being considered by regional and international powers. And when the President's cousin comes out and states that Syria's stability leads to Israel's stability (and vice versa) I view it as pretty desperate.
To deploy tanks and armor in one's restive cities will not gain you the sympathy of the population there. I am waiting for the stories to come out from Deraa once the siege is lifted. I promise you they won't be pretty. For a city to be cut off for so long tells me that something is not right at all.
It is only secure and prosperous states that can guarantee the well-being and voluntary acquiescence of their people. Tito was Yugoslavia's strongman for 27 years. The breakup of the country and the vicious war that tore apart its ethnic and religious fabric began 11 years after his passing. And Tito was viewed as far more benevolent than Hafez al-Assad.
In the Arab world I see dictatorships of ignorance. What they will be replaced with will come from within, the natural by-product of societies that have been repressed and oppressed for decades. But change there will be.
We are now on the cusp of a new era. Muslims will always be the majority in this region. They have ample examples of glorious Muslim empires of ages past. That grandeur was partly the result of the Muslims embracing other cultures and nurturing ethnic and religious minorities. In other words, open minds. According to today's standards it would be called human rights and Muslims need to fight for and defend those rights, not just when it comes to them but also to make sure they employ them for the well-being for all who come under their care.
In Syria, the regime may be able to hang on... for a while. The tanks do help. You may call for a dialogue and maybe some political activists cannot resist the diesel fumes of heavy armor? But what has erupted cannot be extinguished. Not by force. Not anymore. Protesters still demonstrating, week in , week out, attest to that. The longer the use of force continues the greater the animosity, even hatred. And hate is a very difficult emotion to shed.
The ban in France of the niqab, the full face covering worn by some Muslim women, has raised much debate over the past week.
Opponents of France's move say it transgresses on personal and religious freedoms. There is no shortage of commentary in media condemning the French move. Perhaps an alien creature arriving from space and witnessing the current debate would think that France has banned the hijab, the code of dress most Islamic religious scholars concur is compulsory for Muslim women. I say most because not all do. For example, Gamal al-Banna, brother of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hasan al-Banna, contends that the hijab requirement for women has been misinterpreted and has been unjustly imposed upon Muslim women. That is a debate I leave to the men of religion.
And yet, I think it's only fair to view the issue of France's ban of the niqab from another perspective, from the opposite angle. But before that it should be important to note that the niqab predates Islam and is not an exclusively Islamic practice. Indeed, the four main (Sunni) Islamic schools; Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi'i and Maliki, all concur that a woman's face and hands need not be covered.
The question I wish like to pose is: would the Islamic world be willing to preserve and enforce the right to personal and cultural freedoms at home? And since the interpretation of religious edicts is in itself open to interpretation, why can sovereign states like Saudi Arabia and Iran, that enforce a dress code on women, resort to religion to force the veil upon women who do not wish to be veiled while another sovereign state, France, cannot enforce its own dress code? I'll tell you why. Because what has been left unsaid is that France as a democratic country is seen as acting in contravention to the principles of the state. So are Muslims, in this case, willing to concede that Iran and Saudi Arabia are undemocratic?
Ultimately, it is important to note that France's niqab-banning law is the result of a democratic process which was passed in parliament and not an edict announced by the President or stipulated by a religious authority.
Does the niqab ban signal an assault on religious freedoms and a gradual erosion of liberties? It is for today's French society to determine the safeguards of its revolutionary origins; liberty, equality, fraternity.
The niqab is only worn by a very small minority of Muslim women who choose to be, or are expected to be, veiled. It is highly debatable whether the niqab is even an Islamic requirement or not, hence the very small number of women who wear it.
While some Muslims find the ban distasteful and impinging on their religious freedoms, it should in no way be interpreted as an affront to Islam or impinging upon it. Islam is too grand of a religion to be hurt by something like that. Just like Christianity is too grand of a religion to be affected by the ban on churches or crucifixes in Gulf states.
To twist the debate and turn into an anti-Islamic issue will be playing into the hands of extremists like bin Laden, misguided hardliners of the ilk of Terry Jones and despots such as the erratic Muammar al-Gaddafi.
It would be prudent to recall the Swiss referendum that led to the ban on building any new minarets in the country. The ban's critics included the Swiss Bishops Conference which expressed the opinion that it should be rejected “based on our Christian values and the democratic principles of our country”.
Contrast this with the dishonest and intentionally misleading pronouncement of Gaddafi who claimed that Switzerland was an “infidel, obscene country that is destroying mosques”.
The reason behind Gaddafi's rage was not his worry about the well-being of Islam in Switzerland. Rather, it was his unforgiving fury at the Swiss for arresting in 2008 his errant son Hannibal. It transpires that Hannibal beat up two of his staff at a hotel in Geneva. The elder Gaddafi promptly withdrew over $5 billion from Swiss bank accounts, cut oil supplies to Switzerland and detained on trumped up charges two Swiss businessmen working in Libya. That Hannibal had a history of run-ins with law enforcement in Europe did not seem to bother the Brother Leader. Beating up helpless, even pregnant, women didn't worry Muammar al-Gaddafi nor did it seem un-Islamic to him. The Swiss finally succumbed and pathetically apologized for arresting Gaddafi's law-breaking son. Unfortunately there was not a single critical voice from the Islamic world voicing displeasure over Gaddafi's duplicity. I point this out because inevitably the guise of a religious issue is used to divert attention from the matter at hand.
Muslims continue to thrive in France and the West. They are among the fastest growing minorities. Their religious rights are respected and enshrined in laws and constitutions, constitutions drawn up not through religious processes but the efforts and intellect of wise men who intentionally separated Church from state and sought to create more just societies.
Contrast that with the fatwas in Saudi Arabia banning demonstrations as against Islam and its teachings, that same religions that extolls honesty. And then consider the case of Mr Arifinto of Indonesia's Islamic Prosperous Justice Party. His party spearheaded Indonesia's anti-pornography legislation, only for Arifinto to be photographed watching porn, in parliament!
It is a real shame when women's issues in Islamic societies and beyond are judged according to a dress code; when a woman's worth is based on her perceived modesty or lack of instead of the value of her contribution to society.
So as various commentaries continue to scream abuse at the niqab ban in France, I hope people in the Arab and Islamic worlds remember, and remind the West while they're at it, that Islam's great empires, at their apex, in general embraced minorities and were a refuge for the oppressed and persecuted, at a time when Western cultures had scant regard or respect for their own minorities. This should be a model for today's Muslims who must include minorities (ethnic and religious) and non-immigrants (laborers and housemaids in the midst of Islamic societies - , - in their quest for justice.
Western legacies left a host of problems in this region and among its peoples. But playing the victim, engendering sympathy and hurling accusations of conspiracy, persecution and discrimination will only get a cause so far. Adopting a positive, constructive approach with a benevolent face and heart, on the other hand, is much more advisable.
Horrific news from Gaza that Vittorio Arrigoni has been brutally murdered by his captors, a radical Islamist group with a bone to pick with Hamas. This cowardly act was perpetrated under the banner of and in the name of Islam.
Take a look at his Facebook profile picture, above. It's not just about him, is it? His last post on Facebook was on Wednesday and it was about 4 Palestinians killed in a Gaza tunnel.
His murderers are supposed salafis, people who espouse taking Muslim societies to what they were during the days of Muhammad, going back in time almost 15 centuries.
I wonder how many condemnations of his murder there were today at the Friday prayer sermons all over the Islamic world.
Not many, I hazard to guess. And in that lies a portion of this part of the world's problems.
I don't know what happens after death but Vittorio deserves peace. He sailed across the sea to show solidarity and lend a hand. The gratitude I am certain he was met with by the long-suffering civilian population of Gaza will now forever be shamefully overshadowed by this despicable murder committed by homicidal fanatics.
The Saudi Committee to Promote Virtue and Prevent Vice, aka religious police, has sent a "stern" letter to the General Presidency for the Welfare of Youth (GPWY), the country's sports authority, complaining against Al Hilal club's Romanian player Mirel Radoi kissing a cross "on his arm" while celebrating his team's goals.
I'm assuming the cross is tattooed on his arm. According to news reports, the letter stated, "Media have reported the Romanian player kissing the cross on his arm in front of fans, which is in contravention of [Islamic] Sharia and regulations... These things have a negative effect on the thoughts of youth. Therefore, we urge [the Presidency] to warn non-Muslim players and the technical apparatus [coaches] to follow regulations in the stadiums and not to commit these acts that are in contravention of Sharia, and advise us what you deem fit to stop such actions."
This irked Al Hilal's media spokesman Abdul Karim al-Jasser who demanded that the Saudi GPWY to put an end to such interference in sports and called it a "tough test" for Saudi Arabia's premier sports body. He went on to say that targeting different religions is a serious matter because Islam is a religion of tolerance that recognizes and accepts other religions, and Muslims are permitted to marry Christians, for example.
That's the end of story as carried by the Saudi and Arab press.
Why is it permissible to have live broadcasts of international and European competitions with players crossing themselves all the time, including the sublime Lionel Messi, and deny it to a professional recruited to play football in Saudi Arabia? Does it mean if Argentina or Barcelona are invited to play in Saudi Arabia Messi will be instructed not to cross himself? Incidentally, the Saudi telecommunications giant Mobily is an official partner of Barcelona football club whose crest prominently features a cross. So how does that work? Mobily also happens to be Al Hilal's shirt sponsor.
There is a pervasive influence of hard-line interpretations of Islam in all facets of life in the Arab world. But that is a subject for another post.
In the meantime, I wonder if FIFA care about this or have anything to say about the matter.
Were they not so ignorant and bigoted, I would find the multitude of anti-Islamic views spewed out by certain blocks of US and European media and politicians stupidly funny. It's like a runaway train on board which is a who's who of fear mongers, bigots and isolationists jockeying for airtime and votes.
Thankfully we can still count on sane heads to counter these dark-age views.
There are people like Dean Obeidallah who has given us his very astute and witty "The Muslim Double Standard" which can be found here.
Meanwhile Glenn Greenwald does a rundown of the latest and greatest media double standards here.
There is much to do in the Arab and Islamic world, a great deal of improvement and progress yet to be made. But we are not crazed and bloodthirsty madmen and women who are on a mission to subjugate the West.
Every society has its extremists.
Me, I went to a school whose motto was "Ex Oriente Lux", Light from the East. I and millions of others like me have this light deep within our hearts and souls. It is genuine, it is warm and it is sincere.
A man on a long journey through a perpetual desert.
The opinions expressed in this blog are mine and mine alone. They do not represent the views of any of my employers, past, present or future.