Around the Web

Here are some important law-and-religion news stories from around the web:

Milton-Edwards, “The Muslim Brotherhood”

In December, Routledge will release “The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its Future Face,” by Beverley Milton-Edwards (Queen’s University Belfast).  The publisher’s description follows:

The Muslim Brotherhood is the most significant and enduring Sunni Islamist organization of the contemporary era. Its roots lie in the 9780415660013Middle East but it has grown into both a local and global movement, with its well-placed branches reacting effectively to take the opportunities for power and electoral competition offered by the Arab Spring.

Regarded by some as a force of moderation among Islamists, and by others as a façade hiding a terrorist fundamentalist threat, the potential influence of the Muslim Brotherhood on Middle Eastern politics remains ambiguous. The Muslim Brotherhood: The Arab Spring and its Future Face provides an essential insight into the organisation, with chapters devoted to specific cases where the Brotherhood has important impacts on society, the state and politics. Key themes associated with the Brotherhood, such as democracy, equality, pan-Islamism, radicalism, reform, the Palestine issue and gender, are assessed to reveal an evolutionary trend within the movement since its founding in Egypt in 1928 to its manifestation as the largest Sunni Islamist movement in the Middle East in the 21st century. The book addresses the possible future of the Muslim Brotherhood; whether it can surprise sceptics and effectively accommodate democracy and secular trends, and how its ascension to power through the ballot box might influence Western policy debates on their engagement with this manifestation of political Islam.

Drawing on a wide range of sources, this book presents a comprehensive study of a newly resurgent movement and is a valuable resource for students, scholars and policy makers focused on Middle Eastern Politics.

Hamid, “Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism”

In December, I.B.Tauris Publishers will release “Sufis, Salafis and Islamists: The Contested Ground of British Islamic Activism” by Sadek Hamid (Liverpool Hope University, U.K.). The publisher’s description follows:

British Muslim activism has evolved constantly in recent decades. What have been its main groups and how do their leaders compete to attract followers? Which social and religious ideas from abroad are most influential? In this groundbreaking study, Sadek Hamid traces the evolution of Sufi, Salafi and Islamist activist groups in Britain, including The Young Muslims UK, Hizb ut-Tahrir, the Salafi JIMAS organisation and Traditional Islam Network. With reference to second-generation British Muslims especially, he explains how these groups gain and lose support, embrace and reject foreign ideologies, and succeed and fail to provide youth with compelling models of British Muslim identity. Analyzing historical and firsthand community research, Hamid gives a compelling account of the complexity that underlies reductionist media narratives of Islamic activism in Britain.


Choose Your Victims Well

More sad news from Nigeria today. A pair of car bombs in the city of Jos has killed more than 100 people. The bombings took place in a predominantly Christian neighborhood. Authorities believe Boko Haram is responsible.

As everybody now knows, Boko Haram is an Islamist terrorist group, linked with al Qaeda, which seeks to establish an Islamist state in Nigeria. About a month ago, the group kidnapped hundreds of girls from a public school in the city of Chibok. The girls’ whereabouts remain unknown. Boko Haram’s leader has threatened to sell them into slavery.

The kidnapping has become a cause célèbre–as Terry Mattingly writes, an Official News Story. Major papers and cable news outlets have given it extended coverage. A worldwide hashtag campaign, #BringBackOurGirls, features the likes of Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Angelina Jolie. John McCain thinks the US should send in special forces to rescue the girls, whether or not Nigeria approves. Well, he wants to intervene everywhere. But otherwise sensible commentators, like Peggy Noonan, agree with him.

What Boko Haram has done to the schoolgirls is an atrocity. It’s appropriate to condemn the kidnapping and do what we can to bring the perpetrators to justice, and, most of all, get the girls home. But here’s the thing. Boko Haram has been carrying out atrocities for years. The group has murdered thousands and caused thousands more to flee. It has burned churches with people inside them; it has massacred people in the streets. But until now, the Western media has paid little attention. Why the change?

Here’s a possible explanation: the majority of Boko Haram’s targets and victims have been Christians–according to one estimate, something like 60%. In fact, 60% may understate things. Boko Haram considers schools and places of entertainment “Christian” institutions, so one should see attacks on those places as part of an anti-Christian campaign as well. In fact, although it hasn’t been widely reported, Chibok is a predominantly Christian city, and most of the kidnapped schoolgirls are Christians. That was the point.

It’s sadly very difficult to get the Western media and human-rights activists to focus on the worldwide persecution of Christians. Kidnap schoolgirls, though, and people sit up and pay attention. The War on Women interests us; the War on Christians, not so much. I suppose the moral is, if you’re a terrorist and you want to get the West to notice you, choose victims we care about.

Two Updates on Syria’s Christians

Holy Mother of God Armenian Apostolic Church in Kessab, Syria

Two updates on last week’s post about the persecution of Christians in Syria, one hopeful, one much less so.

First the hopeful one. As I wrote last week, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, an al-Qaeda affiliate fighting with Syrian opposition, has succeeded in capturing the town of Raqqa and imposing the classical dhimma on the town’s Christian inhabitants. The dhimma is a notional contract that Christians make with the Islamic community; it offers Christians protection and some autonomy in exchange for their agreement to pay a poll tax called the jizya and to accept restrictions on their dress, movement, construction of churches, etc. Although the historical origins are obscure, the dhimma was a standard concept in classical Islamic law. The Ottomans abandoned the concept only in the 19th century. Its revival now, even in this limited way, is a very worrying sign.

In a response to my post, a post at Andrew Sullivan’s blog points to comments condemning ISIL by a scholar at Egypt’s al-Azhar University, the leading center of Sunni Islamic learning. The scholar, Sheikh Abdul Zahir Shehata, maintains that Islamic law makes imposition of the dhimma illegal in these circumstances. ISIL’s collection of the jizya , he says, is “a form of theft that uses religion as a cover.”

It’s gratifying to see someone from al-Azhar making the point. But there is a certain ambiguity in Shehata’s remarks. If you read them closely, you see that he is not necessarily condemning the jizya as such, only its collection by a renegade group:

“ISIL contradicts itself,” Shehata said. “On the one hand they say they are implementing the provisions of Islamic sharia, including the ‘jizya’, however the Islamic state must be a full-fledged state and recognised by its citizens and subjects, which is not the case in the areas where ISIL is imposing its control by force and bloodshed.”

Maybe it’s a problem with the translation, or perhaps one has to read the whole interview to understand Shehata’s point. But it’s important to focus on the nuances. Perhaps Shehata’s real point is that only a true Islamic law state, not a band of rebels acting outside government authority, may impose the jizya–in which case, Syria’s Christians may find his rejection of ISIL’s actions less reassuring than first appears.

The less hopeful update: over the weekend, fighters with a different al-Qaeda offshoot in the opposition, a rival of ISIL known as the Nusra Front, captured the Armenian Christian town of Kessab. The fighters crossed the border from Turkey, where their bases are located, and attacked the town on Friday. By Sunday, it had fallen. Thousands of Kessab’s Christians–some of whom had sought refuge from Raqqa–have fled to the nearby city of Latakia, where they receiving assistance from the local community, the Red Cross, and Red Crescent. Eyewitnesses report that the Nusra Front has looted Christian homes and stores and desecrated churches in Kessab.

Many Armenian Christians in Kessab descend from refugees who fled the last great persecution of Christians in the region, the Armenian Genocide of 1915–itself a byproduct, in part, of a jihad the Ottoman Empire declared against Christians during World War I. The sad ironies will not escape any of the Christians in Syria today.

Alizadeh & Hakimian (eds.), “Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions”

Last month, Routledge published Iran and the Global Economy: Petro Populism, Islam and Economic Sanctions edited by Parvin Alizadeh (Boston Iran and the Global EconomyUniversity) and Hassan Hakimian (University of London).  The publisher’s description follows.

The relationship between religion and the state has entered a new phase ever since the Iranian Revolution more than three decades ago. The recent mass uprisings against autocratic rulers in the Arab world have highlighted the potency of Islamist forces in post-revolutionary societies in the region, a force arguably unlocked first by Iran’s version of the ‘spring’ three decades ago. The economic ramifications of these uprisings are of special interest at a time when the possibility of the creation of Islamic states can have implications for their economic policy and performance again. A study of the Iranian experience in itself can offer rare insights whether for its own features and characteristics or for its possible lessons and implications for recent events in the region. This book is concerned with the economic aspects and consequences of the Iranian Revolution in general and its interaction with the international economy in particular. Many studies have to date dealt with Iran’s economic challenges, policies and performance in the post-revolutionary period but its interaction with the international economy – although of growing importance – has not received sufficient attention. The contributions in this volume by experts in the field address ways in which in the span of three decades, Iran’s economy has evolved from a strong aspiration to develop an ‘independent economy’ to grappling with debilitating international economic sanctions.

Rubin & Schwanitz, “Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern Middle East”

Next month, Yale will publish Nazis, Islamists, and the Making of the Modern 9780300140903Middle East, by Barry Rubin (Interdisciplinary Center, Israel) and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz (Interdisciplinary Center, Israel). The publisher’s description follows.

During the 1930s and 1940s, a unique and lasting political alliance was forged among Third Reich leaders, Arab nationalists, and Muslim religious authorities. From this relationship sprang a series of dramatic events that, despite their profound impact on the course of World War II, remained  secret until now. In this groundbreaking book, esteemed Middle East scholars Barry Rubin and Wolfgang G. Schwanitz uncover for the first time the complete story of this dangerous alliance and explore its continuing impact on Arab politics in the twenty-first century.   Rubin and Schwanitz reveal, for example, the full scope of Palestinian leader Amin al-Husaini’s support of Hitler’s genocidal plans against European and Middle Eastern Jews. In addition, they expose the extent of Germany’s long-term promotion of Islamism and jihad. Drawing on unprecedented research in European, American, and Middle East archives, many recently opened and never before written about, the authors offer new insight on the intertwined development of Nazism and Islamism and its impact on the modern Middle East.

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