Pakistan: Ancient statue of Buddha destroyed as un-Islamic

Sigh:

Last Friday, an ancient statue of Buddha was vandalised in Takht Bahi, Mardan district (Khyber Pakhtunkhwa).

The statue was destroyed as “un-Islamic” by the workers who found it (pictured) whilst digging to lay the foundations of a house.

The ancient artefact belongs to the historic Gandhara civilisation which encompassed the region of modern-day north-western Pakistan, more or less Peshawar valley and the lower valleys of the Kabul and Swat rivers.

Gandhara is the old name for the Pakistani province of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. It is highly revered by Buddhists and is deemed an important regional site of Buddhist civilisation.

On Saturday, videos of the destruction went viral on social media. They show a man breaking the statue with a big hammer, with other men expressing their approval and some taping the whole thing.

Pakistani media have reported that four people involved in the incident were arrested.

In 2017, two rare and ancient Buddha statues were found in Bhamala, an archaeological site in Hariput district. The largest statue ever found on the site depicts Buddha’s death whilst the second statue was a Buddha with a double halo.

According to Abdus Samad Khan, head of the province’s archaeology department, the vandalised Buddha statue was 1,700 years old; the broken pieces were recovered to assess their archaeological value.

Following the incident, various news channels and social media discussed the protection of others’ beliefs in the country.

Whilst the Pakistani constitution respects all religions and all faiths are sacred for their followers, many activists and leaders have come out against the destruction of the statue of Buddha. For Samad Khan, it was a “crime” and showed “disrespect for religion”.

Later, police arrested a local contractor and five other people suspected of breaking antiquity regulations.

Two rare and ancient Buddha statues were unearthed in Hariput district in 2017, noted Mansha Noor, executive secretary of Caritas Pakistan in Karachi,

“Breaking this ancient statue of lord Buddha shows ignorance of history and a lack of education,” Mansha said. “Our country is filled with minerals and hidden history. We need to educate our nation about other owners of this land.”

In ancient times, Gandhara was a trading and cultural crossroads linking India, Central Asia and the Middle East.

Source: PAKISTAN Ancient statue of Buddha destroyed as un-Islamic

Khan: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end

Another interesting piece by Khan to change narratives:

On Feb. 24, Katherine Johnson – the esteemed mathematician who was part of an exclusive group of scientists at NASA’s Flight Research Division, where she used her mind, a slide rule and pencil to calculate flight paths for the Apollo 11 moon mission in 1969 – passed away at the age of 101. And if you know her story – as well as that of her NASA cohort of brilliant African-American female mathematicians – it may be because of the 2016 film Hidden Figures, based on the book by Margot Lee Shetterly.

That film was a revelation to much of the American public. It shattered many stereotypes and showcased the intellectual talents and resilience of women who wouldn’t let institutionalized racism and segregation get in the way of achieving excellence.

Those themes are universal, though. Groundbreaking accomplishments by women have always occurred. We just need to dig deep enough in history to find these gems. And Muslim women are just starting to get their similar due.

Thanks to the painstaking research of Islamic scholar Mohammad Akram Nadwi, the dean of Cambridge Islamic College, the stories of accomplished Muslim female scholars, jurists and judges have been unearthed. Over the past 20 years, Mr. Nadwi’s research of biographical dictionaries, classical texts, madrasa chronicles and letters has led to a listing of about 10,000 Muslim women who have contributed toward various fields of Islamic knowledge over a period of 10 centuries.

Not only is the sheer number impressive, but so is the manner in which these women operated: Many were encouraged by their fathers at an early age to acquire knowledge, and many travelled to seek deeper understanding of Islamic sciences. They sat in study circles – with men – at the renowned centres of learning, debating and questioning alongside their male counterparts. And they taught their own study circles to men and women alike. Some were so revered that students came from near and far to absorb their wisdom. They approved certifications of learning and provided fatwas (non-binding religious opinions); as judges, they delivered important rulings.

A few notable examples include Aisha, the youngest wife of Prophet Mohammed, who was known for her expertise in the Koran, Arabic literature, history, general medicine and juridical matters in Islam. She was a primary source of authentic hadith, or traditions of the Prophet, which form part of the foundation of Sunni Islam. Umm al-Darda was a 7th-century scholar who taught students in the mosques of Damascus and Jerusalem, including the caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan. She was considered among the best traditionalists of her time. “I’ve tried to worship Allah in every way,” she wrote, “but I’ve never found a better one than sitting around debating with other scholars.” And one of the greatest was the 8th-century scholar Fatima al-Batayahiyyah, who taught in Damascus. During the Hajj, leading male scholars flocked to her lectures. She later moved to Medina, where she taught students in the revered mosque of the Prophet. When she tired, she rested her head on the grave of Mohammed. Fatimah bint Mohammed al Samarqandi, a 12th-century jurist, advised her more famous husband, ‘Ala’ al-Din al-Kasani, on how to issue his fatwas; she was also a mentor to Salahuddin.

These are but a few of the thousand luminaries found by Mr. Nadwi, a classically trained Islamic scholar. Initially, he thought he would find 20 or 30 women; his compilation now fills 40 volumes. While a 400-page preface (Al-Muhaddithat: The Women Scholars in Islam) has been published, the remainder sits on a hard drive, waiting for a publisher. Given the far-reaching importance of Mr. Nadwi’s work, surely a Muslim country or UNESCO can help disseminate it.

This research provides a stark contrast to contemporary practice in parts of the Muslim world. Some mosques, including ones here in Canada, forbid women. Rarely do Muslim women give lectures to their own communities. And the idea of women being intellectually on par with (or superior to) men is laughable in many quarters. Muslim women have a long way to go to reclaim their rightful place. Even his groundbreaking research will not change much, laments Mr. Nadwi, until Muslim men have respect for women – respect that starts in the home. He’s seen too much family violence in Britain, India and Pakistan. He’s highly critical of those who discourage or deny women from pursuing education, comparing it to the pre-Islamic practice of burying baby girls alive.

Muslims have just begun to discover our own “hidden figures” and there are many more yet to find. If we fail to deal with the present-day sexism that has eroded the egalitarian nature of our own historical communities, this excavation becomes all the more difficult.

Source: To unearth the ‘hidden figures’ of Islam, sexism against Muslim women must end: Sheema Khan

‘Religious operations’: How British propagandists used Islam to wage cultural Cold War

And one wonders why conspiracy theories take hold:

British government propaganda unit ran covert campaigns across the Middle East for several years at the height of the Cold War, distributing Islamic messages in a bid to counter the appeal of communism.

Recently declassified official papers show that the Information Research Department (IRD), a then-secret division of the UK Foreign Office, commissioned a series of sermons that were reproduced and distributed throughout the Arabic-speaking world.

The papers show that the unit also arranged for articles to be inserted in magazines published by Al-Azhar University in Cairo, “to ensure that every student leaves the University a resolute opponent of Communism”.

In an attempt to reach as wide an audience as possible, the IRD also published and distributed across the region a series of Arabic-language romantic and detective novels, within which anti-communist messages were embedded.

These stressed that Soviet communism was essentially atheistic in philosophy and practice, and claimed that Moscow aimed to sow political disorder and economic chaos in the Middle East.

Information Research Department

The papers also shed new light on the way in which the British government covertly controlled or influenced many of the radio stations and news agencies in the Middle East from the 1940s to the late 1960s. Some details of these operations became public after the IRD was shut down in 1977.

However, the latest tranche of declassified papers appear to show the IRD to have been particularly sensitive about what its officials termed “religious operations”, in which they attempted to utilise Islam as a bulwark against communism.

Marked Secret or Top Secret, many of the papers are being declassified after 50 or 60 years; nevertheless, some passages were blacked out by government censors before they were made public at the UK National Archives.


Subterfuge, bribery and sermons

The IRD was set up in 1948 in order to continue the work of a wartime body called the Political Warfare Executive. For the next 29 years it ran a number of newspapers, magazines, news agencies, radio stations and publishing houses, in order to spread unattributed anti-communist propaganda across much of the world.

Its favoured method, however, was to place stories in established newspapers and to covertly brief opinion formers. This was achieved on occasion by subterfuge or bribery, although early on, a senior IRD official, John Peck, warned that bribery might not always work.

“I have serious doubts about the value of bribery as a means of getting anti-communist articles in the press,” he wrote.

“I am told that except in Jordan and possibly in Syria the circulation of those Middle East newspapers which are open to bribery is small and their individual influence negligible.”

In the same memorandum, he summed up the reason for IRD material being distributed without attribution: “However valid our arguments may be, the fact that they are our arguments makes them suspect to the Arabs. We can only overcome this difficulty by presenting the same arguments through an Arab intermediary.”

Despite Peck’s wariness, bribery continued to be used as a means of distributing propaganda material across the region.

Although financed through the same unpublished budget as Britain’s intelligence services, the newly-released papers show that the IRD also received funding from the oil industry.

“It is true that in the last year we have been receiving clandestine financial assistance from oil companies,” a memo to IRD director Ralph Murray, marked Top Secret, noted in 1954.

But the Middle East was seeing “the emergence of a state of total ideological warfare”, the author claimed. “And while such help is appreciated, the amount is completely inadequate to our vital needs.”

Information Research Department

The newly declassified papers contain a number of references to “religious operations”. Frequently these references are concerned with the financing of such propaganda campaigns, rather than the means of delivery. “You will note that we are including new budgetary provision for £1,000 to cover ‘Religious Operations’” is one typical entry.

Some details of the campaigns do emerge, however. In February 1950, for example, two years after the IRD was set up, its representative at the British embassy in Cairo informed London: “The Friday sermon has always been recognised as one of the most important way [sic] of spreading propaganda in the Moslem world.

“We have now devised a scheme for ensuring that anti-Communist themes are adequately dealt with. A series of sermons has been written here.”

This was still happening 10 years later, as a top-secret memo from Beirut from August 1960 makes clear: “We hope to produce two short pamphlets or sermons a month on religious subjects. They will be written by Sheikh Saad al Din Trabulsi, formerly of the Beirut Moslem Tribunal (sharia) and now of Zahle Moslem Tribunal, who is well-known as a pious Moslem.

“Two thousand copies of each would be distributed unattributably … throughout the Arabic-speaking world (less Iraq). Recipients will be Sheikhs, other leading Moslem personalities, Mosques and Muslim education establishments.”

The intermediary between the IRD and Trabulsi is named in the files as a man called Rivera, although this is possibly a codename.

Another intermediary between the IRD and individuals described as “religious operators” is named in the files as Talaat Dajani, a Palestinian refugee living in Beirut. Dajani later moved to London, where he received a medal of honour from the Queen in 1979, and died in 1992.

The whole Trabulsi operation, the IRD representative explained to London, would cost around 8,800 Lebanese pounds, or around £1,000 sterling, a year.

Information Research Department

Although Iraq was excluded from that campaign, the country was on occasion the subject of IRD religious operations. In 1953, for example, IRD headquarters wrote to its man in Baghdad, saying: “We would like to know more about your ‘pilot’ scheme for the covert dissemination of propaganda in the Shia holy places since it may suggest ideas which could be used outside Iraq.

“Is the scheme connected with the working party’s proposal to make Friday sermons prepared in Beirut available to certain Shia divines?”

IRD officials saw another chance to make use of “religious operations” in Iraq following the attempted assassination of the country’s prime minister, Abd al-Karim Qasim, as he was being driven through Baghdad in October 1959.

There had been a “remarkable religious revival” following the attempt, the unit noted. “Workmen engaged in demolition work near the site of the attempted assassination had discovered the tomb of a Moslem holy man; this story had been widely publicized and had given substance to the popular belief that the Premier had been miraculously preserved. It was agreed that there would be an advantage in giving wider circulation to the story.

“Religious stickers have been appearing in Baghdad and the possibility of augmenting them is to be considered.”


Disruption and influence operations

The following April, a conference of Middle East-based IRD officers was held in Beirut. The minutes of what was described as a “restricted session on covert propaganda” show that Ralph Murray “listed the targets at which we should aim to disrupt or influence”.

Those to be disrupted included communist parties and hostile propaganda agencies. This was at a time when printing presses inside Soviet embassies were thought to be producing 10,000 copies of a newspaper entitled Akhbar every day.

Those to be influenced, on the other hand, included young people, women, trades unions, teachers’ organisations, the armed forces and religious leaders.

The representative from the British embassy in Baghdad explained that Iraq “was now an important target for religious material”, at which point, the minutes say, IRD officers based in Amman and Khartoum “also pressed strongly for supplies of sermons and religious articles, which they said they could easily place”.

The files make clear that several governments in the region connived with the IRD and would assist in the distribution of sermons and the placement of newspaper and magazine articles.

The IRD’s man in Baghdad also “emphasised that the Iraqi army was an important target” and suggested that arrangements might be made for selected officers to visit the UK, with the trip appearing to be arranged by bodies with no clear connection to the British government.

He also noted that in Basra, the same press was being used to print both communist and non-communist newspapers, and said that “the judicious use of some financial inducement would probably make it possible to put the Communist paper out of business if that were thought to be desirable”.

Information Research Department

Delegates were briefed on the propaganda efforts of other members of the Baghdad Pact: the Cold War alliance of Iran, Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan and the UK that was dissolved in 1979. The IRD enjoyed extensive contacts with Baghdad Pact governments, offering both propaganda materials and technical support.

“In practice,” the delegates were told, “only the Turks are really active, having achieved the publication in the Turkish press of 25-30 articles a month prepared by a writers’ panel.”

Finally, the secret conference was informed that HMG [Her Majesty’s Government] was running two newspapers published in Bahrain: al Khalij and its English-language sister paper, the Gulf Times.

One paragraph in the minutes of the session notes that delegates were told that these newspapers were “exceptional”, in that IRD “preferred to work through staff of established newspapers”.

These minutes are among the papers that have been declassified and handed to the UK National Archives. But, 60 years after the conference, the subsequent paragraph remains blacked out.


Nasser and the Suez crisis

From the end of the Second World War to the late 1960s, successive British governments appear to have used intelligence and propaganda in an attempt to preserve strategic and economic interests in the Middle East at a time when they were struggling to retain influence.

Earlier disclosures about the IRD’s activities have shown that while some senior British diplomats in the region were highly enthusiastic, others were sceptical, fearing that exposure would exacerbate anti-British sentiment.

This is exactly what did happen, at a time and place where the British were about to take their last fling of the imperial dice: in 1956, in Egypt.

The IRD had been highly active in Egypt from the organisation’s inception. As an IRD paper written in Cairo in 1950 noted: “Conditions in Egypt are such as to make it eminently suitable breeding ground for Communism.”

The author went on to highlight “acute maldistribution between rich and poor” and the concentration of land in the hands of a small proportion of the population.

Information Research Department

Nevertheless, he wrote: “This paper deals with the use of British-inspired propaganda. It does not deal with the more important problem of positive action to remedy the social and economic conditions likely to assist the spread of Communism.”

Instead, the author explained, the IRD was targeting the students at Al-Azhar University on the grounds that “from among them come the Imams who preach the Friday sermon in every Egyptian Mosque; the teachers of Arabic in the secondary schools and all teachers in the village schools; and the lawyers specializing in Moslem law”.

The organisation was also arranging for “the production in drafts in English of short love or detective novels, or thrillers, embodying anti-Communist propaganda but following their local counterparts as closely as possible in presentation etc.

“The Information Department, Cairo, would arrange for the drafts to be rewritten in Arabic by local hacks, and for them to be published locally.”

The unit would also “investigate the feasibility of producing short love or thriller magazine stories (of about 2,000 words) with an anti-Communist twist”.

The jewel in the IRD’s crown in Cairo was the Arab News Agency (ANA), one of several media organisations that British intelligence had set up during the Second World War.

Like other news agencies and radio stations that had been established in Beirut, Tripoli, Sharjah, Bahrain and Aden, ANA came under the control of the IRD after that organisation was founded in 1948.

To those on the outside, ANA appeared to be part of Hulton Press, a large company owned by Edward Hulton, a Fleet Street media baron. In fact, Hulton had allowed his company to give cover to the IRD and Britain’s overseas intelligence agency, MI6.

As well as distributing genuine news stories, gathered by Egyptian and British journalists, the agency disseminated propaganda produced by IRD, and became a base for MI6 officers masquerading as journalists.

In March 1956, with relations between the UK and Egypt deteriorating sharply, the UK Foreign Office instructed the IRD to switch its focus away from communism and towards the government led by Gamal Abdel Nasser – who had been engaged in propaganda operations against the British for some years.

The following July, after Nasser nationalised the Suez Canal Company – taking control of the waterway that the British considered to be the jugular vein of their empire – the UK’s propaganda and espionage efforts under the cover of ANA rapidly picked up pace.

Anthony Eden, the British prime minister, had long been convinced that Nasser was under the influence of the Kremlin – although the British ambassador in Cairo, Humphrey Trevelyan, disagreed – and MI6 began considering whether the Egyptian president could be assassinated.

Poison gas was one favoured option; an exploding electric razor was another.

Instead, as the Suez Crisis began to unfold, Eden vetoed the murder plot and the British decided to engage in several months of psychological warfare in Cairo, followed by military intervention.

A powerful new radio transmitter was erected in Iraq, broadcasting programmes from Arabic stations around the region that were covertly under British control, an operation that was for a while given the codename Transmission X.

As the British, French and Israelis plotted to invade Egypt and occupy the area around the canal, a steady stream of IRD and MI6 propaganda specialists began to appear at the ANA’s offices in Cairo.

This had not gone unnoticed by the Egyptian government, however, and in August, just weeks before the invasions, all of the agency’s operations – news reporting, spreading propaganda and gathering intelligence – were brought to an abrupt halt.

Egyptian secret police raided its offices and the homes of several of its staff. Eleven Egyptians were accused of being spies working for MI6 officers based at the agency; one, Sayed Amin Mahmoud, a teacher, was executed, and his son, a naval officer, was jailed for life.

Two MI6 agents who helped to manage the agency were subjected to lengthy interrogation and jailed. Others were tried in their absence, and two British diplomats and four journalists were expelled.

However, the British head of the agency – who was also a correspondent for the Economist and the London-based Times newspapers, escaped arrest: it appears that the Egyptian government may have been feeding him disinformation, and wished to continue.

Information Research Department

In the event, IRD simply set up a new Arab News Agency, from offices in Beirut, with staff in London, Cairo, Amman and Damascus.

By 1960, according to one of the recently-declassified files, few people working at the agency’s Beirut headquarters were aware that it was controlled by the British government; IRD staff were warned “therefore to be cautious in their dealings” with them.

In March that year the senior IRD officer at the British embassy in Beirut wrote to London to say: “Of our secret information operations, I … attach the greatest importance to the Arab News Agency. There is no doubt they are doing the most useful work throughout the area and they run a good office here.”


Reuters and the BBC

The recently declassified documents also shed new light on the way in which in the 1960s the British government persuaded Reuters, the international news agency, to take over the operations run by two IRD fronts, Regional News Service (Middle East) and Regional News Service (Latin America). The relationship between Reuters and the IRD was first exposed in the 1980s.

The government funded these Reuters operations through the BBC. It began paying the BBC enhanced fees for its World Service operations, and the BBC in turn paid Reuters extra sums for receiving its news feed.

While the IRD accepted that it could not exercise editorial control over Reuters, the declassified papers show it did believe that it would gain “a measure of political influence”.

Some of the IRD’s Cold War activities in the Middle East and North Africa remain secret, however, with many of its old files remaining classified on national security grounds.

Not all of the papers on Reuters and the Arab News Agency have been transferred to the UK National Archive, for example. One dating from 1960, with the catalogue description “renegotiation of contract between Reuters and the Arab News Agency”, is among the IRD files that remain classified.

Another that has been withheld by the UK Foreign Office is known to contain papers from 1960 and is entitled “Information Research Department: Jordanian television”.

Other withheld files concern efforts to distribute IRD material through the Maghreb Arab Press news agency after it was set up in 1959, or have titles like “Information Research Department: Arab trade unions”.

Many of the titles of the classified IRD files are themselves classified: the UK National Archives catalogue simply lists them as “Title withheld”.


Reputational damage?

The United States was also an enthusiastic purveyor of propaganda in the Middle East throughout the Cold War. Material created and distributed by the US Information Service tended to promote the idea of common western and Islamic values rather than attack Communism.

The recently declassified files are all concerned with British campaigns, however.

With the IRD being shut down in 1977 – in part, because too many people had become aware of its existence and activities – two questions remain.

The first is: did their campaigns have an impact on people’s attitudes and behaviour?

Throughout the Cold War, many British diplomats in the Middle East were sceptical about the IRD’s efforts. Some argued repeatedly that communism had only limited appeal in the region, and that Arab nationalism posed a greater threat to the UK’s interests than Moscow.

‘In our experience, it is barely possible to interest the politically conscious Iraqi in the Communist system at all’

– British diplomat, Baghdad, 1955

Even in Iraq – which the IRD appears to have believed to be more susceptible to communist influence than Egypt – some of Britain’s envoys had their doubts.

One diplomat wrote from Baghdad to the IRD in 1955 to explain: “The Arabs have no means of checking the accuracy of our allegations about the iniquities of the Communist system … but they have the means, as they believe, of checking Russian propaganda about French and British wickedness in the Persian Gulf and North Africa.

“In our experience, it is barely possible to interest the politically conscious Iraqi in the Communist system at all.”

Looking back, a number of historians remain equally sceptical.

Vyvyan Kinross, author of Information Warriors, a forthcoming book about the battles for hearts and minds in the Middle East, believes that Eden’s attempts to demonise Nasser in 1956 left him looking hopelessly out of touch, and propelled Britain into disastrous military action.

The failed propaganda war contributed to “a general collapse of Britain’s reputation for honesty and fair dealing in the region”, Kinross says.

James Vaughan, lecturer in international history at Aberystwyth University in Wales, who has extensively studied western Cold War propaganda in the Middle East, concludes: “The history of British propaganda in Egypt demonstrates how the decline of British influence was a well-advanced phenomenon, several years before Nasser’s decision to nationalise the Suez Canal Company.”

The second question is: what happened after the IRD was closed in 1977?

An intriguing answer to this question was provided by Adnan Abu-Odeh, who served as information minister in the government of King Hussein of Jordan.

Abu-Odeh would have been on MI6’s radar at the time. He was Palestinian who had risen through the ranks of the Jordanian secret police and been handpicked for the job by the king.

At the time the kingdom was going through a major crisis, which became known as Black September, when the Jordanian Armed Forces attacked and expelled the PLO under the leadership of Yasser Arafat from the refugee camps in Jordan.

The crisis was resolved when Palestinian fighters known as the fedayeen were escorted to Syria.

In an interview with Middle East Eye in 2018, Abu-Odeh explained how he was sent to England in the early 1970s, to be trained by the IRD.

‘The king was preparing me to become minister of information, on the advice of MI6. The IRD taught me their tactics and methods’

– Adnan Abu-Odeh

While working as an intelligence officer, Abu-Odeh said, he was approached by the country’s newly-appointed director of intelligence. “He said to me: ‘His Majesty wants you to go on a course in London at the IRD.’

“I said to him: ‘What is the IRD? I didn’t know.”

Later, he was sent back to England to study psychological warfare at a military academy.

“The king was preparing me to become minister of information, on the advice of MI6. The IRD taught me their tactics and methods.

“When I became minister of information, I trained one or two people how to do it.”

Although there is no confirmation in the recently declassified IRD files, it seems entirely possible that before it was disbanded, the organisation trained other government officials across the region.

Source: ‘Religious operations’: How British propagandists used Islam to wage cultural Cold War

Abbotsford mosque gets online hate for exhibit on Jesus

Sigh….

One Abbotsford mosque is being harassed online for an upcoming exhibit on the Islamic understanding of Jesus Christ – at an event meant to strengthen the community in the name of diversity.

The Abbotsford Islamic Centre is hosting its fourth annual Open Mosque Day on Feb. 22. But something new was added this year, a commemorative showcase of the life and teachings of Jesus from an Islamic perspective, where he is considered an important prophet.

The amount of hateful backlash surprised many of the organizers, who have put on similar exhibitions in other churches before, according to Adnan Akiel, founder and president of Bridging Gaps Foundation.

“It’s been more than in the previous years, and it’s unusual in terms of the comments that we’ve received,” Akiel said. “There were some threatening ones.

“Most were just derogatory.”

A large portion of the online attacks appear to come from Christians taking offence to the belief in Jesus as a prophet in another religion, others are just xenophobic, some are a mix of both.

“Even though the Islamic belief in Jesus is not the same as that in Christianity, there are many similarities that provide a platform of unity,” Akiel said. “The Mosque only intends to share information and clear misconceptions while completely respecting the diversity of different belief systems within the community.

“We just wanted to… bridge the gap between Muslims and non-Muslims.”

He says Muslims treat all their prophets equally, there is no ranking by order of importance.

“As Muslims, we don’t differentiate between different prophets. You don’t say Mohammad is better, or Jesus is better or Moses is better. We treat them all with equally with respect… we have no intention to disrespect people of any other belief.”

The organizers have been also been criticized for having a section where guests can try on a hijab. Akiel said the section shouldn’t be taken so seriously.

“Whoever is interested can try on the hijab, take pictures, have a good time. And there’s a bit of backlash on that as well, but that’s not unusual.

“Most of the backlash we’ve received has been on [the Jesus] aspect of Open Mosque Day.”

Akiel does say the mosque has also received a lot of support alongside the negative reactions.

“I really want to make that point, that we genuinely appreciate and love the positive support.”

Source: Abbotsford mosque gets online hate for exhibit on Jesus

Islamic finance making strides in Canada

Relatively less coverage in Canadian media although there are a number of players.

One of the more recent stories I have seen in “mainstream” media is www.cbc.ca › news › canada › toronto › 2-men-acquitted-of-all-fraud…2 men acquitted of all fraud, theft charges in Shariah … – CBC.ca:

Although currently not quite in the very centre of attention of the global Islamic finance industry, the Canadian Islamic finance scene in the recent past has experienced growing interest from domestic and international investors, as it developed a rising number of Shariah-compliant investment and financing offerings. The reason is that more Muslims are seeking halal banking and finance products and – in general – an open-minded and progressive society is looking for alternative and socially conscious ways of investing.

Canada is home to an estimated 1.5mn people following the Islamic faith, or around 4% of the population, which makes Muslims the second largest religion in the country, while it is also the fastest-growing. Most of them are immigrants, but there is also a growing percentage of Muslims born in Canada and a smaller, but increasing number converting from other religions to Islam. Most of them live in the Greater Toronto and Greater Montreal area and are generally middle-class and well educated with considerable grades of financial literacy. Overall, it is estimated that the number of Canadian Muslims will double in the coming decade. Besides, the Muslim community in Canada is quite young, so there is definitely a large potential for mortgage, car, house and personal insurance, credit cards and consumer loans. Multiple-language offerings, personalised services and modern technology-based banking and investment products further create demand in Islamic banking.

These facts, paired with Canada’s global competitiveness and ease of doing business, its AAA credit rating, its well-supervised financial market with strong risk management mechanisms, a sound banking system and a financial regulatory regime which has shown to be compatible with many Islamic finance instruments make a solid background for a thriving Islamic banking and finance landscape.

This situation, together with open-minded non-Muslims on the outlook for ethical and sustainable investment, has raised particular demand for halal mortgages and sukuk and Islamic mutual funds, Islamic insurance, or takaful, as well as commodity- and infrastructure-backed investment. Notably, Canada’s wealth in natural resources, which ranges from mining to hydrocarbons, combined with its ambitious infrastructure development agenda provide countless investment opportunities for investors looking for Shariah compliance in accordance with the asset-backed product requirements of Islamic finance.

There are already a number of Islamic finance players, with the most established being United Muslim Financial, Habib Canadian Bank, Al-Ittihad Investment, Al Yusr, Manzil Bank, Ijara Community Development Corp, Islamic Co-Operative Housing Corp, Ansar Co-operative Housing Corp, Qurtuba Housing Co-op, An-Nur Housing Cooperative, Amana Auto Finance Canada, Assiniboine Credit Union, newer players such as Iana Financial, Wealthsimple Halal, ShariaPortfolio Canada, Global Iman Fund, as well as a number of other medium-sized and smaller player and mortgage cooperatives. Besides, there are a growing number conventional banks and financial institutions opening Islamic windows or planning to do so, among them Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce or the Canada Mortgage and Housing Corp.

According to the Toronto Financial Services Alliance, a public-private entity seeking to turn Toronto into a global financial center, the Canadian banking sector currently has around $18bn worth of Shariah-compliant mortgages, while international sukuk could generate $130bn in domestic infrastructure investment managed using a combination of both Islamic and environmentally and socially responsible investing methodologies.

Another area where Canada is likely to expand its Islamic finance sector is takaful. Large insurance companies such as Manulife Financial and Sun Life Financial are currently gaining experience from their takaful-based insurance subsidiaries they have opened in Malaysia and Indonesia and are also developing ethical mutual insurance products bearing in mind that mutual insurances policies are very similar to takaful as they provide a fair and transparent relationship between policyholders and insurer.

In a nutshell, three are plenty of opportunities for Islamic banking in Canada with a Muslim population that will increase substantially in the future and with a growing interest of foreign investors noticing that Canada is developing into an Western hub for Islamic investment and finance, following the footsteps of the UK.

Source: Islamic finance making strides in Canada

Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Of note:

Malaysia’s Islamic family laws suffered two rounds of regression in the 1990s and early 2000s following amendments to the law, according to a rights activist.

Zainah Anwar, executive director of international rights group Musawah, said the law reforms took away many progressive reforms made previously, adding that Malaysia’s Islamic family laws went from one of the best in the Muslim world to one of the worst.

“In 1984, the Islamic family law was amended and new laws were provided, which was amazing. It gave us so many rights and expanded the rights for women to get divorced,” she said with divorce and polygamy decided by the courts.

“With the 1994 amendments, you can divorce outside the court. Without going to court, you can just pronounce talak.

“Your wife doesn’t even know she’s being divorced because the husband has disappeared. She gets a letter from the religious authorities sometime later to say that she has been divorced.”

Another regression, she said, saw the responsibility of children born out of wedlock being wholly given to the mothers, which meant they could not make any claims for maintenance or inheritance from the father.

In 2003, another round of reforms meant that husbands in polygamous marriages could make a claim for a share of their wife’s matrimonial assets despite taking a second wife.

“We’re not even asking to ban polygamy. We just want them to ensure that the rights of the first wife and existing children are protected, especially their financial wellbeing.

“What is galling is the fact that for non-Muslim women, law reforms have moved forward to recognise equality. But for Muslim women, in the name of Islam, you can be discriminated against.”

Zainah, who led the rights group Sisters in Islam (SIS) previously, blamed these regressions on the rise of “political Islam”, adding that these issues remain due to the current patriarchal state of society.

She said groups such as SIS and Musawah would not have to exist if Islam was practised the way it should be.

“I go to Geneva for the women’s convention sessions and it’s shameful and disgraceful that Muslim governments stand before the Cedaw (Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women) committee and say they cannot reform the laws to recognise equality because it will be against Islam.

“So you’re standing there telling the whole world that Islam is an unjust religion, that Islam is a religion that discriminates against women and shamelessly say that.”

However, she signalled that the “reality on the ground” was beginning to shift.

Source: Malaysia’s Islamic family laws have gone from best to worst, says activist

Sheema Khan: Misbehaving imams must be held to account

Another strong commentary by Khan. In addition, the Canadian Council of Muslim Women (CCMW) issued the fallowing call: We ask Imams to speak out against gender-based violence (GBV):

The Arabic word “imam” literally means “leader,” or the one who precedes. In North America, the role of an imam is best summed up by Ottawa’s Imam Sikander Hashmi: “Imams, who are usually hired by mosque boards, are often overworked and underpaid. They are expected to preach, lead daily prayers, teach children, conduct outreach, do interfaith work, handle media requests, engage youth and offer religious guidance. In short, it’s a tough job.”

There are local, regional and national councils of imams – designed to bridge cultural, linguistic and juridical divides among imams of diverse Muslim communities. The vast majority of imams fulfill their roles with integrity, humility and a sincere commitment to serve their communities. They fully deserve the respect accorded to them.

However, there have been disturbing exceptions. Given the lack of accountability mechanisms in place and the reverential attitude toward religious authority by congregants, it is not surprising that abuses can occur.

Take, for example, the solemnization of marriage. An Islamic marriage, sanctioned by an imam, must also be registered with civil authorities, thereby providing both spouses with basic legal rights. Yet, a number of imams knowingly decline civil registration – to the detriment of women.

In May, 2018, a Quebec imam signed off on an Islamic marriage contract of a 15-year-old girl. His actions were sharply criticized by Justice Bruno Langelier, who granted the teen’s request to be removed from her home.

In January, 2019, The Fifth Estate investigated the prevalence of polygamy in Toronto’s Muslim community. Imam Aly Hindy, of Salaheddin Islamic Centre, was caught on a hidden camera, offering to solemnize a second marriage of an undercover reporter – without the knowledge of the first wife. When confronted, he brazenly declared: “sue me” – confident that his actions were legal. However, the performance of any type of second marriage clearly contravenes the Criminal Code. Why is he still registered, by the Ontario government, as a religious official authorized to perform marriages? In fact, common knowledge is that every major Canadian city has a “go-to” imam who will solemnize a second, third or fourth marriage – no questions asked.

The same Fifth Estate investigation unearthed court records that revealed a prominent Toronto imam who physically assaulted his wife, sending her to hospital, after she confronted him on his secret, second marriage.

Within the past five years, there have been three Canadian imams charged with sexual assault. In British Columbia, Imam Saadeldin Bahr was sentencedto 3½ years for sexually assaulting a female congregant who sought spiritual advice. He was also placed on the Sex Offender Registry for 20 years. In Ontario, Imam Mohammad Masroor was charged with multiple sexual offences that occurred between 2008 and 2011. He was acquitted on all counts after standing trial in 2013. A day after his acquittal, he was extradited to the United States where he was sentenced between 35 to 50 years for sexually abusing his nieces between 2000 and 2003. In June, Toronto Imam Syed Zaidi was charged with sexually assaulting two female congregants. He is awaiting trial.

Muslim communities face an unenviable challenge of holding their religious leadership to account, without having guidance on how to proceed. However, a number of efforts are under way to address spiritual abuse.

Two Muslim lawyers have devised a “Code Of Conduct For Islamic Leadership” for individuals and Muslim organizations, based on nine years of working with victims of spiritual abuse, consultation with lawyers, cult experts, religious scholars and mental-health professionals.

Facing Abuse in Community Environments (FACE) has created a framework to address the leadership accountability gap. They provide tools and resources to report abusive leaders and help protect the community from their continued abuse.

Finally, the Hurma Project – a Canadian initiative – seeks to examine the personal and communal effects of abusive practices, along with practical solutions.

Muslims are painfully realizing that among their leaders, clergy, teachers and religious scholars are individuals who abuse their positions of power and violate their ethical responsibilities.

Too often, justice for victims is sacrificed in the name of keeping the reputation of an institution or an individual intact. Too often, imams have been quietly dismissed, without any meaningful accountability or reporting to authorities. Why is the onus placed on victims? They are either blamed or told to be patient, to pray, to forgive. Let us accord them a modicum of dignity by standing up for justice on their behalf.

Source: Misbehaving imams must be held to account: Sheema Khan

Navigating The Fallout Of Alleged Abuse And Betrayal In A Sacred Muslim Space

All religions appear to have comparable problems:

Nearly two years ago NPR profiled Usama Canon, a celebrated Muslim preacher facing his own mortality. He’d been public about his diagnosis of Lou Gherig’s disease or ALS, a degenerative neurologic condition that robs people of their ability to move, to speak. Eventually it takes your life. The reaction to the news, an outpouring of grief from thousands of American Muslims that looked to Canon as a spiritual guide and to his non-traditional Muslim space, Ta’leef, as a place that felt welcoming without judgement. It’s in the motto: “come as you are, to Islam as it is.”

At that time Canon reflected on his legacy.

“It’s only as lasting as the women and men that have hopefully benefited and learned,” he said.

Today that legacy is in jeopardy. The organization he founded with spiritual gathering spaces in Northern California and Chicago, publicly severed ties with him last month in a statement. It announced “he has deeply betrayed the sanctity of the position of spiritual teacher.” It went on to describe allegations that included “verbal abuse and abuse of authority” and accusations of a “more serious nature.” Allegations, the statement said Canon “remorsefully admitted to.”

People inside and outside of the organization say those more serious accusations are him allegedly using his position to engage in secret and “pleasure” marriages. Pleasure or temporary marriages are a controversial practice among some Muslims that have no U.S. legal standing, the religious justification for the marriages is fiercely debated and the practice is sometimes used to exploit women.

The reaction to the statement from Ta’leef was swift, public and messy in a long thread on the organization’s Facebook page that has since been taken down. The comments, a window into the way these scandals divide, confuse and bereave communities as they grapple with a beloved figure being accused of abuse.

One Canon supporter wrote, “Burden of proof lies on the accusers.” Another wrote, “You as a Muslim should be ashamed of yourself that you are willing to jump the gun and automatically believe an accusation without ample proof.”

Other comments were filled with questions about what the nature of the abuse was, still others asking why Ta’leef went public when Canon was so sick. And then there were the expressions of grief, pain and disbelief. Through the hundreds of online posts someone wrote, “I hope the survivors aren’t reading these comments. I am very ashamed and saddened of the ummah [Muslim community] thinking more of the abuser than the abused.”

It’s the latest public scandal involving a respected figure to roil Muslims in the west over the past few years. In 2017, it was a sexting scandal from a rigidly conservative American Muslim celebrity preacher, Nouman Ali Khan, accused of using his position to lure women into sexual relationships under the guise of a secret marriage. In another, a prominent Swiss scholar of Islam, Tariq Ramadan, is facing charges in France for the alleged rape of at least two women. Accusations he denies. It’s reignited a conversation around how to deal with abuse by Muslim community and faith leaders.

While Muslim victim advocates commended Ta’leef for the rare public stance it took, they also worried the statement was too vague and left people to fill in the blanks themselves.

“You have this lack of clarity that doesn’t do justice to what these victims experienced,” said Alia Salem, the founder and executive director of a Muslim organization called FACE. It provides resources for victims and investigates abuse allegations against spiritual and community leaders. “But you also have a really difficult position that the administration found them self in because of his health condition.”

In the weeks since the statement, Canon’s organization has tried to figure out how to navigate the fallout of alleged abuse and betrayal in a sacred space. In a post on their Facebook page asking for donations on Giving Tuesday, they expressed “uncertainty around the future of Ta’leef.” Meanwhile the man in question is in the late stages of ALS, unable to speak or text, according to his wife. She answered a message requesting comment on Canon’s behalf. No further comment was given. Canon is communicating though, with a computer that reads eye movements. Some say they’ve received texted apologies from him.

In the wake of the accusations, at least three people have gone to Salem’s organization, FACE, which stands for Facing Abuse in Community Environments, for help. She also observed a healing circle at Ta’leef’s northern California campus.

“They fell short once again, because in that healing circle, which is for the community that’s left to deal with what has just happened. They went to extreme lengths to talk about how much they loved this person, even though he was a violator, and how their actions were only to protect the institution,” she said.

It took over an hour before a mention of any possible victims came up and only in response to Salem’s question.

“[They were] extolling all of these praises for this individual who had violations that were so severe they had to completely cut ties with him. All I’m thinking about in that moment is, ‘oh my God I know that there are victims in this room,'” she said. “What are they going through in this moment? This is the furthest thing from healing.”

And that focus Salem said, is how abusers get away with financial, sexual, physical or spiritual abuse. There’s also the issue of people conflating the Islamic practice of not gossiping about people’s sins with the real need to root out and warn of abuse.

These manifests themselves almost identically in other religious groups. But minorities, like American Muslims, have the added burden of being scrutinized and demonized.

“We are already such a targeted and marginalized community. We don’t want to air dirty laundry in the public sector because we don’t want to bring more negative attention. We’re already so inundated. We’re already so targeted. Why are you going to make our lives harder?” she said. “That’s the other reason they keep it quiet.”

In order to create a cultural shift, she said, Muslim organizations need to focus on victims rather than accused leaders like Canon and other popular figures.

And in the era of #TimesUp and #MeToo there are some breaking the silence. More Muslims, specifically women, are speaking up. An American Muslim rapper, Mona Haydar, released a song a couple years ago, Dogs, calling out lascivious religious leaders.

Muslim groups such as Salem’s aimed at preventing abuse by powerful leaders, are popping up across the United States. There’s the northern California-based In Shaykh’s Clothing, it focuses on spiritual abuse. There’s also the Chicago-based Heart Women and Girls focused on sexual health and sexual violence. Salem started her Dallas-based organization, FACE, because she didn’t know where to turn when a mother came to her for help. The woman’s daughter was allegedly manipulated into sex with a married Texas-based cleric, three times her age. She says the cleric met the woman at 13. He was the imam at her mosque. He then allegedly groomed her for years before luring her to a Motel 6 to have sex with her at 18.

“I was trying to figure out how to help and realized we had no mechanism in the community to authoritatively deal with this,” she said.

So she created the mechanism. In some cases, her organization releases public misconduct reports to warn Muslim communities, like in the Texas case. The victim sued the accused cleric Zia Ul-Haq Sheikh and won. The judge ordered him to pay his accuser more than two and half million dollars for mental anguish and other damages. Haq denied any wrong doing in an email to NPR and has begun the appeals process. This month, FACE released it’s second report. This time documenting the alleged abuse of a Phoenix-based imam.

Salem’s work, she says, is driven by her Muslim faith.

“I take the work that I do as a commandment. When we talk about leadership and accountability and trying to purify our communities from abuse and corruption. That is a is a huge responsibility,” she said. “And if we don’t do it, somebody else will. So we might as well clean house ourselves because we’re obligated to, from a religious perspective anyways.”

She references a passage from the Q’uran that translates “O you who believe. Stand out firmly for justice, as witnesses to God, even as against yourselves, or your parents, or your kin.”

Some of the abuse is a result of absolute negligence by institutions, said Ingrid Mattson, the London and Windsor Community Chair in Islamic Studies at Huron University College at the University of Western Ontario in London, Canada. She’s a leading Muslim figure and her work focuses on how to solve societal problems.

But, she said, it also often stems from a lack of oversight and understanding about how to handle allegations of abuse when they’re brought forward. Most mosques and other American Muslim institutions are small, operate independently and don’t have procedures in place to institute background checks or investigate complaints.

“Up to now, most communities are doing that in-house, if at all, if they even understand the need to have something, a grievance committee,” she said. “So that’s really where research into best practices, protocols and investigative functions need to be gathered together collectively by the community, in order to really meet the requirements of due diligence and accountability. And allowing these spaces to be known to operate as they are supposed to operate, which is a space for learning and community.”

Right now she’s heading a research project to put together best practices aimed at addressing predatory behavior, abuse of religious authority and neglect in Muslim organizations.

Her work is based on her area of scholarship, Islamic ethics.

“This is very much an ethical problem and it’s a pressing one,” Mattson said. “Spiritual abuse is something that is harmful at the deepest level of the person. It can end up creating a barrier to the very things that person might find healing: prayer and community, their own sense of dignity in the relationship with God.”

Source: Navigating The Fallout Of Alleged Abuse And Betrayal In A Sacred Muslim Space

Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Of note:

Male, September 5 (Maldives Independent): In a historic vote on Tuesday, parliament confirmed the president’s nominationsof former judges Dr Azmiralda Zahir and Aisha Shujune Mohamed as the first female justices of the Supreme Court.

Both nominees were approved with 62 votes in favour. Independent MP Mohamed Nasheed Abdulla cast the sole dissenting vote while Jumhooree Party leader Gasim Ibrahim abstained.

President Ibrahim Mohamed Solih’s Maldivian Democratic Party controls 65 seats in the 87-member People’s Majlis.

Shujune, whoresignedfrom the civil court in 2014, was among the first two female judges appointed to the bench in 2007. Dr Azmiralda was the most senior female judge in the country until herresignationfrom the High Court in May 2016.

President Solih’s nomination of the pair last month sparked a backlash from religious scholars who contended that Islamprohibitswomen from serving as judges.

Clerics condemned the move on Twitter and some shared an opinion issued by the fatwa council, in which the advisory body backed the view that women cannot pass judgment on criminal matters or property disputes. There was a consensus among scholars of all sects of Islam that judges must be male, they said. Some scholars from the Hanafi sect say women can adjudicate civil matters and family disputes but most scholars do not agree with any exceptions, the council noted.

The religious conservative Adhaalath Party, which is part of the MDP-led ruling coalition,backedthe council’s opinion but acknowledged the lack of consensus on the question. The party called for respect of differing opinions on disputed matters and appealed against branding people as disbelievers or apostates. A person who endorses an incorrect opinion should not be considered a sinner, it added.

Tuesday’s confirmation vote came after parliament’s judiciary committee evaluated the nominees, both of whom were sent for approval after endorsement from the Judicial Service Commission.

During the final debate, MDP MPs reiterated the ruling party’s stance that the appointments would be an important step towards empowering women and achieving gender equality. Opposition lawmakers also backed the appointment of women to the bench and Independent MP Ahmed Usham commended the nominees as qualified and capable individuals.

The former judges were nominated after parliamentamendedthe Judicature Act to increase the size of the Supreme Court bench from five to seven justices.

Source: Maldives overcomes Islamic opposition and appoints two women as Supreme Court judges

Identity politics in the West: Islam – no longer the bogeyman

Not sure that this is the case but interesting read:

When the head of the economic wing of Germanyʹs CDU party, Carsten Linnemann, publishes a book titled “Political Islam does not belong in Germany”, SPD party member Thilo Sarrazin interprets the Koran under the title “Hostile takeover”, and Germany’s new defence minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, chairwoman of the CDU party, explains on her first trip to the Orient how the Bundeswehr’s Tornado reconnaissance planes are stopping the caliphate of the “Islamic State” from rearing its ugly head again, we may get the feeling that we’ve hit rock bottom.

We are scraping at the last vestiges of some already quite solidified dregs. All that talk about the Islamic menace, the Islamic challenge, the Islamic threat so keenly cultivated in the West over the past thirty or forty years has now run dry.

Not long ago German policymakers were still busy planning hundreds of new positions in the police forces and intelligence services to observe and track down political Islam. But in the meantime it seems to be dawning on the more alert minds among us that Islam is not (or no longer) an appropriate spectre to be combatting.

This trend is somewhat linked to the situation on the ground. Political Islam has lost its inner credibility, across all the forms in which it appears.

The failure of political Islam

The authoritarian regime of the Islamist Erdogan is wobbling: Turkey is weaker now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was “only” a democratically elected prime minister and could present Islam as a source of inspiration for modern governance. The radiance of his early days has faded.

The AKPʹs political swan song: “the authoritarian regime of the Islamist Erdogan is wobbling: Turkey is weaker now than it was ten or fifteen years ago, when Recep Tayyip Erdogan was ʹonlyʹ a democratically elected prime minister and could present Islam as a source of inspiration for modern governance. The radiance of his early days has faded,” writes Buchen

The Sunni Muslim Brotherhood was not able to rise to power anywhere, with the exception of its brief interlude with Mohammed Morsi in Egypt. The fact that the latter collapsed and died while acting as a defendant in court resonates with its own symbolic power.

The heir to the throne of the “Keeper of the Holy Places” of Islam, Mohammad bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, has been exposed to the whole world as a cowardly murderer.

The caliphate of the “Islamic State” has foundered, vanished from the map. Who would have thought that possible? Talk shows aired in 2015 made mention of the name “Islamic State” a dozen times at least. Coming from the mouths of academic and non-academic experts, it had a ring of permanence, of a lasting challenge.

That talk has turned to ashes. Even criminal organisations have to abide by certain rules in their internal relations and forms of provocation against the general social norm if they are to survive for long. This is ancient knowledge, recorded for posterity by the Jewish-Arab philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda, who lived in Zaragoza in the 11th century.

Fragile existence

Al-Qaida and its competitor, the “Islamic State”, continue to exist in the supra-national underground; this cannot be denied. But they are fragmented, and the rivalry between the two groups vying for leadership in the violent spectrum of Islamism is now leading to some curious phenomena.

In Yemen, Al-Qaida got its hands on an unreleased propaganda video made by its rival and used it to expose the “Islamic State” to public ridicule. And here we are in the midst of a satire, which the British film “Four Lions” presented as early as 2010 as a suitable form for portraying the Islamic menace, long before the current CDU leadership took up the subject in all seriousness and without any black humour.

It is of course intellectually risky to name Erdogan, the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohammad bin Salman and al-Qaida in one breath. But it’s a risk that those warning of the threat of political Islam are only too glad to take. It is after all part of their raison d’etre. If we want to be realistic, though, we have to look this construct or – to put it in ultramodern terms – “frame” squarely in the eye.

The French scholar Olivier Roy was perhaps the first to recognise the pitfalls of this way of looking at the world and to discern the real weaknesses of “political Islam”. His book – “L’echec de l’Islam politique” (The failure of political Islam) – was published way back in 1992.

Roy warned against trying to explain modern Islamism, particularly its most radical manifestations, based on Islam alone. Trying to derive the current phenomena mainly from the nature, history and culture of Islam runs the risk of constructing something that does not stand up to a realistic and enlightened diagnosis of the present.

Roy pointed out that contemporary Islamism is instead a by-product of the globalised world, of its unshakeable belief in progress and its forms of communication. These forms and thought patterns are so pervasive that Islamism must be understood more as a reflection of modernism (or post-modernism) than as a new edition of classical, original Islam. Simply believing everything the Islamists claim about themselves makes things too easy.

Olivier Roy met with a great deal of resistance to his insights. 11 September 2001 then seemed to furnish incontrovertible proof of the Islamic threat and its overwhelming importance.

But what has happened since then? Wars have been waged to eradicate this threat. Military interventions in Islamic countries have come one after the other. Thanks to the immense resources thrown at the project, several advances in military technology have been made in the process, the perfecting of remote-controlled drone war, for example.

But wiser minds agree today that no progress has been made in resolving any problems. While a partial problem like Osama bin Laden was “solved”, many new ones have been created. What is the situation like today in Afghanistan, in Gaza, in Yemen, in Libya, in Mali, in Syria and in Iraq? An error seems to have been made in the analysis of the underlying issue. Olivier Roy was right from the start.

Islamic states in dissolution

The dire new problems do not consist of ever-new Islamist movements that throw themselves in the paths of the invaders and their helpers and strike with steadily growing brutality in the countries of the West. They consist of the disintegration of entire societies, the dissolution of regional structures and the collapse of what were once quite sovereign states.

Successfully allied against the USA and its partners in the Middle East: it would be a mistake to attribute the regional successes of the Islamic Republic to the power of Shia fundamentalism, i.e. to a further manifestation of “political Islam”. In the chaos that prevails, Iran appears to some – despite or because of its anti-American rulers – to be a force for order whose claim to regional leadership is accepted as being the lesser evil

In the resulting chaos, those who have somehow survived to this point can appear to be strong. They include – besides Israel – the Islamic Republic of Iran.

Although the mullahs are skating on thin ice in their domestic policies, they are succeeding in their foreign and regional efforts in exploiting the weaknesses of their main opponent, the USA, and its alliances. Iran has mobilised Shia allies on a large scale. The conflict between Shias and Sunnis is indeed a major factor in the Middle East today.

But here as well it would be a mistake to attribute the regional successes of the Islamic Republic to the power of Shia fundamentalism, i.e. to a further manifestation of “political Islam”. In the chaos that prevails, Iran appears to some – despite or because of its anti-American rulers – to be a force for order whose claim to regional leadership is accepted as being the lesser evil.

Islam is breaking up on its own and no longer fits the image of a major enemy. Donald Trump has been quicker to grasp this than the leaders of the CDU and those who oppose the “Islamisation of the West”. At the beginning of his presidency, his identity policy still focussed on imposing entry restrictions on citizens of certain Islamic countries. In the meantime, however, he has begun directing his rage more at blacks who live in cities he describes as “rat and rodent infested messes” and “Hispanics” who want to cross the border from Mexico or live “illegally” in the USA and who should be deported.

Giving way to old-fashioned racism

Islamophobia is segueing into old-fashioned racism. The new enemy in Western identity politics are people of colour, those who speak a different language and those who are judged to be somehow or other inferior. Racism has the advantage of being more comprehensive. Of course, Muslims are also included.

The trend has long since washed up on Europe’s shores. Arab clan criminality, the frightening reproductive power of Africans, uninhibited by civilisation, or their genetic predisposition to pushing children in front of ICE trains: it is impossible to overlook the shift in the discourse on the question of identity.

The hairdresser Alaa S. from Chemnitz was not sentenced to nine and a half years in prison for an alleged but unproven knife attack because he is a Muslim, but because he is an asylum seeker and refugee. Without thorough indoctrination in racist dehumanisation, it would not be possible to let refugees drown in the Mediterranean, or to turn away those who are rescued from Europe’s coasts for days and weeks on end. The duplicity of events taking place at America’s and Europe’s southern borders has already been noted, and rightly so.

Demonstrators in front of Berlinʹs Brandenburg Gate, “#indivisible” against racism and right-wing populism: of course this new racism is provoking resistance. Those affected are raising their voices. Many citizens reject such identity politics, partly on the basis of the historical experiences in America and Europe. They are aware of the fact that the prosperity of our middle classes is bought on the backs of people in other parts of the world. Climate change threatens to make this truth even more evident

Of course this new racism is provoking resistance. Those affected are raising their voices. Many citizens reject such identity politics, partly on the basis of the historical experiences in America and Europe. They are aware of the fact that the prosperity of our middle classes is bought on the backs of people in other parts of the world. Climate change threatens to make this truth even more evident.

In time, one could cynically say, there will come a further intensification of the discourse. The American journalist James Kirchick tells the tale of a “race war of the left”. He sees “white men” as victims of a new racism practiced by progressive forces. Kirchick turns perpetrator into victim and victim into perpetrator. This follows exactly the same line as Donald Trump, who set out at the beginning of his term to put an end to the “carnage” his white followers were allegedly suffering from and to restore their rights.

Kirchick’s essay on “the leftʹs race war” was published on 15 August under exactly that title on the website of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung. That’s not a good sign. “Race war” was a key term in Adolf Hitler’s vocabulary. He already used it early on to describe the political programme of the Nazis. What do Kirchick and the F.A.Z. insinuate as being the intentions of “the left”?

When asked, the F.A.Z. responded that the author had addressed the “political debate in the United States, which is being carried out partly with racist arguments”. The newspaper deemed the text to be “an important contribution to the debate.”

The victory of global capitalism and liberal democracy are apparently the end of the story. To some, it would appear, any means are justified to enable this culmination – something of an eternal coronation – to continue as undisturbed as possible under “white supremacy”.

Source: Identity politics in the West: Islam – no longer the bogeyman