How to understand Salafism in America: The Economist

Expect similar differences in Canada:

THE word “Salafism” is often used loosely, especially in continental Europe. When the relationship between Islam and jihadist violence is discussed in, say, France or Germany, the assumption is often made that the problem begins and ends with the Salafis—who put overwhelming emphasis on the first three generations of Muslims and who are thought to have professed the faith at its purest. This Franco-German sloppiness can be bewildering to Islam-watchers in Britain where Salafis have at times been encouraged to play a part in countering terrorism.

In fact, as anyone who studies the Salafi phenomenon quickly realises, things are far from simple. Scholars generally distinguish three strands of Salafism. First, there is the apolitical, quietist sort which favours intense conservatism in dress and personal life and eschews most kinds of involvement with the modern world. Then there are more activist Salafis who share the impatience of the Muslim Brotherhood to see the replacement of relatively secular governments in Islam’s heartland by religiously inspired regimes. They are not quite as energetic, or as pragmatic, as the Brotherhood’s members but they are influenced by Brotherhood thinking. And thirdly, there are jihadist Salafis who think the only appropriate response to the decadence of the modern era, and to a lack of zeal in the historically Muslim world, is violence. All three strains share a suspicion of democratic institutions that confer on fallible human beings an authority that, as they see things, should belong only to God.

In a new report, published under the Programme on Extremism at America’s George Washington University, Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens shows that all three forms of Salafism have flourished, albeit with considerable ebbs and flows in their fortunes, on American soil in recent decades. He agrees that the distinction between the three forms of Salafism should be maintained, but also stresses they are not hermetically sealed categories, and that important individuals have moved between them.

Confusingly, the author notes, Salafist thinking (whose hallmarks include deep suspicion of the modern, secular world) has been disseminated by some people who do not themselves accept the label of Salafi. One such person is Muhammad Syed Adly, an influential imam based in South Carolina who urges Muslims to focus on Islamic education and avoid secular education and worldly politics. He has encouraged American Muslims to consider alternatives to regular public schools where their children might pick up liberal ideas about gender and sexuality.

As an example of quietist Salafism, Mr Meleagrou-Hitchens cites the Quran and Sunnah Society (QSS) which flourished across the United States both before and immediately after its formal incorporation in Ohio in 1995. Its back-to-basics message, driven home with tapes from Saudi clerics, appealed both to Arab students in America and to African-Americans who had embraced Islam in a spirit of black power and wanted to hew close to the faith’s fundamentals. As the author points out, Salafism’s utter rejection of secular institutions appealed to some African-Americans who felt the American system had nothing to offer them. Although the QSS eventually went into terminal decline, its legacies apparently include a contingent of American Muslims who are fiercely protective of Saudi Arabia and its clerics.

To show how jihadist Salafism can be generated on American soil, the report looks at some notorious individuals such as Ali al-Timimi (pictured), who was born in Washington, DC, spent part of his teens in Saudi Arabia and later returned to the United States where he gained a doctorate in computational biology. In 2005 he was jailed on ten charges including enlisting people to wage war against America and helping the Taliban. His case, according to the new report, “is a fascinating case study due to his steady progression across the wider American Salafi milieu: from student of the traditional quietist Saudi sheikhs…to an open promoter of Salafi jihadism.”

But of course, quietist Salafism doesn’t always lead in an extremist direction, as the author also stresses. As an example of that point, he cites a school of “post-Salafis” who “have contributed to the development of Americanised version of Salafism” that combines conservative theology with a constructive engagement with national and international issues.

In other words, American Salafism (for all its professed emphasis on simplicity) is irreducibly prolix. Given how many lives could depend on getting things right, it is worthwhile engaging with that complexity.

Source: How to understand Salafism in America

The many meanings of freedom: A new set of essays offers a sobering look at Islam and human-rights discourse

Interesting discussion piece on the interface and compatibility of Muslims with liberal democracy and human rights. Some of the same concerns he raises, of course, can be applied to more traditional or fundamentalist strains of all religions.

Try substituting the names of other religions for Islam and Muslims to see some common threads:

MOHAMMAD FADEL, an associate law professor at the University of Toronto, is one of North America’s most thoughtful commentators on the interface between Islam, liberal democracy and Western understandings of the rule of law. He has made an elaborate case for the possibility of Muslims, including theologically conservative ones, finding a comfortable place in a diverse, noisy liberal democracy where many value systems co-exist. He draws on the ideas of John Rawls, perhaps the greatest American political philosopher of the late 20th century, to show that “public reason” can serve as a kind of common denominator between citizens with utterly different world views.

So it is sobering to find that in a newly published set of essays on Islam and the Western understanding of human rights, Mr Fadel puts more emphasis on difference than compatibility. His contribution is the sharpest of the essays, published by the Atlantic Council, an influential think-tank based in Washington, DC, under the title “The Islamic Tradition and the Human Rights Discourse”.

Mr Fadel artfully uses a Western source to show that basic concepts like freedom and happiness have one meaning for a liberal humanist and another for a theist idealist who sees the purpose of human life as devotion to God. For somebody in the latter camp, an addicted gambler is anything but free; but to the secular liberal, that way of life could simply be one way of exercising formal freedom.

Islamic thought about the family, as Mr Fadel adds, is oriented not only to the short-term happiness of individuals, and also to other perceived desirables such as “a reasonably stable household that produces a new generation of Muslims.” So Muslim thinkers could not be expected to see religiously mixed marriages in the same light as a secular libertarian would. He concludes that:

It is impossible to expect a complete convergence between human rights norms and Islamic norms: human rights norms are almost entirely concerned with securing the autonomy of individuals to make choices for themselves, while Islam is about influencing individuals’ choices about how to live their lives.

Asked if he had become more downbeat about Muslim communities finding a place in Western societies, Mr Fadel told Erasmus that he believed more passionately than ever in the need for such co-existence. But it was an observable fact that in Western societies, that effort was growing harder. Arguments, for example over female attire and the raising of children, suggest that in many Western countries, “liberals don’t trust Muslims, and therefore want to regulate their lives more closely, and Muslims don’t trust liberal society, which means they are less likely to have confidence in a neutral, rules-based political system and more likely to focus on their own communal life,” he says.

All the contributors to the new volume are themselves Muslim, and they bring to the subject of human rights concepts and assumptions that would be unfamiliar to most non-Muslims. Perhaps the most upbeat note is struck by the volume’s editor, H.A. Hellyer, who argues that Islam must rediscover the virtue of “rejuvenation”—new thinking about old texts and concepts—which, contrary to what many people say, is “deeply held within the Islamic tradition”. The oft-repeated proposition that in Islam, the gates of ijtihad (theological reasoning) were slammed shut a millennium ago is simply false, in Mr Hellyer’s view.

Another contributor is Mustafa Ceric, the grand mufti emeritus of Sarajevo, who  makes a pointed rejoinder to Western critics of Islam. It takes the form of a riff on the word “dhimmitude”. Among contemporary Islamo-sceptics, that term has been used in two senses. It refers to the second-class but still protected status which traditional Muslim empires offered to non-Muslim, especially Christian and Jewish, subjects. Today’s sceptics also use the word to denounce Westerners who seem excessively deferential to Islam.

As Mr Ceric notes, the “dhimmi” status in Ottoman times did at least allow religious minorities to remain alive, as long as they were loyal and law-abiding. His co-religionists who suffered genocide in Bosnia did not benefit from any such concession. That is a fair point. But if we are to judge any religion (Islam, Christianity, even Buddhism) or secular creed (Marxism, nationalism, fascism) by the respect shown by its adherents for the right to life over the last couple of centuries, then none fares too well.

Source: The many meanings of freedomA new set of essays offers a sobering look at Islam and human-rights discourse

The New Yorker, The Economist and Steve Bannon’s squad of useful idiots: Balkissoon

Find it hard to disagree with her fundamental points (although I have respect for David Frum):

Steve Bannon is going on tour, and venerable institutions are lining up to host him.

This week, the 93-year-old New Yorker and the 175-year-old Economist announced plans to have their editors-in-chief interview Mr. Bannon at separate live events this month. Organizers of the Munk Debates revealed that their first decade will be celebrated by having him debate “the rise of populism” with David Frum at Toronto’s Roy Thomson Hall in November.

Mr. Bannon is on the “pro” side: He’s a flashpoint figure in the populist wave washing over the globe. His past occupations include investment banker, vice-president of Cambridge Analytica, Donald Trump’s chief strategist and co-founder of Breitbart News, a web publication that he personally called “the platform for the alt-right” in 2016.

His White House appointment brought criticisms of anti-Semitism from the Southern Poverty Law Center. His time there included constructing the “travel ban” restricting movement into the United States from seven countries, most of them with majority Muslim populations. Just before his departure, the NAACP labelled him a “well-known white supremacist.”

To observers both inside and outside of the two publications, giving Mr. Bannon a platform was a bad idea.

Notable figures dropped off of both magazine agendas: At press time, The New Yorker had rescinded its invite, The Economist hadn’t and the backlash against Munk was just beginning. Tech entrepreneur Anil Dash said on Twitter that he’d still talk at the Economist event but would ditch his original topic to focus on “the consistent, immoral attacks Bannon has directed against the South Asian American community.”

Mr. Dash also said The Economist’s executives “are either foolishly getting exploited by providing a platform without any accountability, or are complicit in an awful agenda.” Let’s stick with the first idea today: that despite the big brains inside these institutions, they’ve become, in this instance, useful idiots.

The term refers to someone whose hubris prevents them from seeing they’re being used to spread the message of a nefarious actor. That’s always been Mr. Bannon’s goal – in February, he told Bloomberg News that he was never fighting the Democrats in the 2016 election. “The real opposition is the media,” he’s quoted as saying. “And the way to deal with them is to flood the zone with shit.”

It’s a dark plan, and it’s worked. Supposedly savvy outlets across the globe have been beaten at their own game by far-right propagandists time and again.

Richard Spencer got the left-leaning publication Mother Jones to call him “dapper.” Swedish YouTuber PewDiePie started out with gaming videos, got a Disney contract and evolved into a virulent racist: Although Disney dropped him, he hasn’t lost his popularity. Multipronged attacks by multiple extremists have made it so that journalists – including me – often seem to have no choice between ignoring them until something terrible happens, or helping to introduce their message to a new audience.

I’m not the first to say that the far-right onslaught is shaking the very foundations of journalism. This past May, the New York-based Data Society, which studies how new technologies affect culture, released “The Oxygen of Amplification: Better Practices for Reporting on Extremists, Antagonists and Manipulators.” It’s a detailed, 125-page outline of how pillars including open debate, free speech and balance have been twisted to sneak hate into the mainstream.

Take the belief that a debate of reasonable ideas helps get us out of our echo chambers. No insular bubbles are being popped at these events: Mr. Bannon, Mr. Frum, New Yorker editor-in-chief David Remnick and his Economist counterpart Zanny Minton Beddoes are all Ivy League graduates. New Yorker tickets start at US$17, but The Economist is charging US$49, and Munk seats go up to $100. If populism is about the working class, it would be good to have them in attendance.

More to the point, racism and xenophobia are not reasonable. They aren’t ideas, but harmful actions, happening now. Ask the Latin American migrants still separated from their children, or the people in Puerto Rico mourning their 3,000 dead while living without basic services almost a year after Hurricane Maria.

A woman was killed at last year’s white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Va., and it was after repeated consultations with Mr. Bannon that Mr. Trump responded. The President eventually blamed “both sides” for the violence – a false equivalency that equates resisting violence with starting it, and manipulates the journalistic tenet of balance.

The world has “debated” hateful ideologies time and again – choose your genocide, and the “never again” declaration that came afterward – and letting them be revisited is, quite frankly, stupid. It’s not an opportunity for intellectual discourse. It’s allowing violence to go unchecked, to sweep up vulnerable people, and to grow.

Mr. Bannon knows it, so why don’t experienced journalists? The answer is ego: the desire to go head-to-head with infamy, the belief that their personal smarts can’t be outsmarted and the inability to admit when one is being used. Pride comes before a fall, and it’s revealing supposedly intelligent people as idiots.

ICYMI: How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law – Islam, marriage and the law

Good overview (and good that Ontario rejected Sharia family law courts and along with the family tribunals of other religions:

AS IS reported by The Economist in this week’s print edition, almost everybody can agree that there are acute difficulties at the interface between Islamic family law and the liberal West. Especially for married Muslim women, living in a kind of limbo between the Islamic world and the secular world can be exceptionally tough. So far, so much consensus. What people don’t agree on, however, is how to improve this situation.

Start with England, which presents an extreme case of the pathologies facing Muslim minorities in the West. In no other country have so many “sharia councils” sprung up to adjudicate the affairs of Muslim people, especially women who are trapped in unhappy marriages and want a religious divorce. (Some say these councils should be regulated, others want them abolished.) And in no other country is it so common for young Muslim couples to have religious-only marriages or nikahs which are never registered with the state, so that in the event of a breakdown the financially vulnerable partner, usually female, has few entitlements.

Aina Khan, a London-based lawyer who specialises in family law, is prime mover of a campaign called “Register Our Marriage”, which aspires both to change the law and to make Muslims, especially women, more conscious of the dire consequences of a religious-only rite.

The campaign wants to close the gap between faith-based and civil wedding ceremonies by making it easy, virtually automatic and indeed compulsory for religious nuptials to be registered in the eyes of the state. In other words, all faiths would acquire the status (and the corresponding obligations) long enjoyed by the Anglicans, Jews and Quakers.

As the website puts it:

This Petition is to reform outdated English marriage law, which is no longer “fit for purpose.” We need to reform the Marriage Act 1949 as it is 70 years out of date. Make it compulsory for every faith to register marriages, not just three faiths….100,000s have no legal rights in an unregistered religious marriage and this figure is rising yearly.

A different view is taken by Sadikur Rahman, a London solicitor who is also a supporter of the National Secular Society. He agrees that there is an anomaly in treating Anglicans, Jews and Quakers differently from other faiths. But he wrote in a recent article that according civil status to all Muslim marriages would be “highly problematic” for several reasons. As he argues:

The question of “what is a Muslim marriage” is a vexed one. Muslim marriage encompasses a range of unions which would not be acceptable on the basis that they may be discriminatory or open to abuse. For example polygamous marriages, temporary marriages amongst Shia Muslims and nowadays young Muslims of all sects…[and] marriages between adults and children.

On the other hand, Mr Rahman adds:

If we start debating what is and is not a Muslim marriage and go down the route of…siding with Islamic reformers in not accepting the above types as Muslim marriages at all, then the state would be entering into a religious theological debate which is no position for a secular state to be in. It is not for the state to start defining what is and is not a Muslim marriage.

The best approach, in Mr Rahman’s view, is for the state to be blind to all forms of marriage except the civil sort. That would involve stripping the Anglican, Jewish and Quaker faiths of their current privileged status and insisting that adherents of those faiths must register their nuptials with the state as a separate act if they want any legal status for their union.

Mr Rahman’s view highlights one of the paradoxes of rigorous secularism. If secularism is understood to mean that the state does not interfere in theological matters, then this can leave a large social space in which religions and sub-cultures can act according to their own traditions, which may be pretty conservative.

The Netherlands has, on the face of the things, an approach that is quite secularist but also addresses the problems identified by Ms Khan that occur when civil and religious nuptials drift apart. Dutch law says that a religious wedding cannot take place unless a civil union has also been contracted. But the country still has the problem of “marital captivity”—in other words, the dire situation of women whose husbands will not give them a religious divorce.

Kathalijna Buitenweg, a prominent Green member of the Dutch parliament, is lobbying the government for a change in civil law that would make it easier and more routine for judges to compel reluctant husbands to release their wives from the religious bonds of a dead marriage.

Thanks to the efforts of Shirin Musa, a campaigner, keeping a woman in such “marital captivity” is notionally a criminal offence under Dutch law. But that provision is so draconian that it will hardly be used in practice. A few civil-law cases, including Ms Musa’s own personal case, have been pursued successfully against reluctant husbands. But if Ms Buitenweg gets her way, civil-law cases will become much easier.

But here is a paradox. By the lights of strict secularism, using civil law to bring about religious divorce is problematic. Since religious marriages do not exist in the eyes of a rigorously secular state, it makes no difference to the state whether or not they are terminated. But by the lights of common decency, some would say, a woman caught inside a traditionalist sub-culture who wants to restart her life does needs help and should get it.

via How best to help women caught between different kinds of family law – Islam, marriage and the law

Which passport offers the best perks? [#citizenship] | The Economist

Which passport offers the best perks?

The Economist’s buyers guide – note Quebec on list:

Matthew Valencia exploreshow globalisation has turned citizenship into a commodity. Here, he weighs up the pros and cons of different passports.

SAINT KITTS AND NEVIS
OPTION 1: Invest $400,000 in real estate, which must be held for five years.
OPTION 2: Pay $250,000 into the Sugar Industry Diversification Foundation.
FEES: $57,500 for main applicant, $25,000 for each dependant.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to 132 countries; no residency requirement.
DISADVANTAGE: Seen as shady by some countries; bad publicity led Canada to withdraw visa-free access.

DOMINICA
OPTION 1: Invest $100,000 in Economic Diversification Fund, plus additional $75,000 for spouse, $25,000 for up to two children.
OPTION 2: Invest $200,000 in real estate. Property can be sold after three years if the intended buyer is a citizenship-by-investment applicant. Applicant must turn up for interview. Fees: $50,000 for main applicant, $25,000 for spouse.
BENEFITS: Citizenship; visa-free access to 91 countries; quick processing (3-6 months); no residency requirement; no mandatory interview; no physical residence requirement.
DISADVANTAGES: Poor reputation, though it claims to have tightened up vetting process; applicant must swear oath of allegiance.

ANTIGUA AND BARBUDA
OPTION 1: $400,000 invested in an approved real-estate project.
OPTION 2: $250,000 in National Development Fund.
OPTION 3: $1.5m invested in a business.
FEES: $50,000 each for main applicant, spouse and any dependant over 18; $25,000 for dependants under 18.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to 132 countries.
DISADVANTAGE: Weather risks for property buyers.

SAINT LUCIA
OPTION 1: Invest $200,000 in the Saint Lucia National Economic Fund.
OPTION 2: $500,000 in government bonds. Investment must be held for at least five years.
OPTION 3: $300,000 in an approved real estate. Must be held for at least five years.
OPTION 4: $3.5m in a new business that creates at least three jobs. Applicants must have a net worth of $300,000.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to more than 100 countries
DISADVANTAGE: As above.

UNITED STATES
EB-5 VISA: $1m investment in a business, or $500,000 in a high-unemployment or rural area. Company must create or preserve at least ten full-time jobs.
BENEFITS: Residency; access to US citizenship after five years.
DISADVANTAGES: Residency in the US required, especially during first two years; citizenship brings tax headaches, risk of being targeted by terrorists.

QUEBEC
OPTION 1: C$2m in a risky investment for 15 years. Applicants must be worth C$10m.
OPTION 2: C$800,000 in a passive investment for five years. Applicants must be worth C$1.6m.
BENEFIT: Access to citizenship after four years.
DISADVANTAGE: Must speak English or French.

AUSTRALIA
OPTION 1: Invest A$1.5m in a designated investment.
OPTION 2: For retirees aged 55-plus with A$750,000 of assets, an income of A$65,000 a year and no dependants (other than a partner). Must make a designated investment of A$750,000.
BENEFIT: Access to citizenship after four years
DISADVANTAGE: Other Australians will expect you to understand the rules of cricket.

MALTA 
CITIZENSHIP: Invest €350,000 in property, €150,000 in government-approved financial instruments and donate €650,000 to the National Development and Social Fund.
RESIDENCE OPTION 1: Invest €320,000 in property and €250,000 in government bonds. Fee of €30,000.
RESIDENCE OPTION 2: Invest €275,000 in property and pay €15,000 annually. Annual income of €100,000 or possession of capital of €500,000 required.
BENEFIT: Citizenship; visa-free access to 168 countries.
DISADVANTAGE: Successful applicants must show maintain a “genuine connection” to the country (though policing of this is not stringent).

CYPRUS
CITIZENSHIP: Investment of €2m during the three years preceding the date of the application; must retain the said investments for at least three years from date of the naturalisation.
RESIDENCE: Purchase property of at least €300,000 with evidence of a secured annual income of at least €30,000 deriving from abroad.
BENEFITS: Citizenship; visa-free access to 159 countries; dual citizenship allowed.
DISADVANTAGES: Must visit Cyprus at least once every two years.

BRITAIN
OPTION 1: Invest £2m to live in Britain for a maximum of three years. £5m gets you citizenship after three years, £10m after two years.
BENEFITS: Access to citizenship
DISADVANTAGES: Must spend at least 50% of their time in the country.

PORTUGAL
OPTION 1: Invest €500,000 in property, or €350,000 in research, or €250,000 in the arts, or €500,000 in venture capital, or create a minimum of ten jobs.
BENEFITS: Residency with a stay of only seven days in the first year; access to citizenship after five years; the right to free entry to the 26 Schengen countries; includes immediate family members
DISADVANTAGES: The cuisine

RUSSIA
OPTION 1: Start a business in Russia and once profits exceed 10m roubles.
OPTION 2: Invest 10m roubles in a business worth 100m roubles, and pay taxes of at least 6m roubles a year for three years.
BENEFITS: Citizenship
DISADVANTAGES: Two-to-four-week stay in Russia during processing required.

Sources: Investment Migration Council, The Economist

Source: Which passport offers the best perks? | 1843

ICYMI- No room for complacency: The Economist on #Antisemitism

Good overall assessment, picking up on the Institute for Jewish Policy Research covered in an earlier post (Over a quarter of British people ‘hold anti-Semitic attitudes’, study finds – BBC News):

ALL over Europe, there is concern about an increase in anti-Semitism, and deliberation over how to respond. Earlier this month the Parisian home of a 78-year-old Jewish community leader was attacked by intruders who shouted: “You are Jews, where is the money?” Along with his wife and son, the man was taken hostage, beaten and robbed, in what the government acknowledged was “an act …directly related to their religion”. Around the same time, the former head of a school in Marseille made waves by saying that when he was in charge he would advise Jews against enrolling, for fear of harassment.

Meanwhile the Vatican recently co-organised a symposiumin Rome on anti-Semitism and minority rights in the Middle East, at which Tony Blair was the main speaker. The former British prime minister declared:  “There is anti-Semitism in the East, but also in the West. There are manifestations in European countries, and also in the United Kingdom.”

So how bad are things in Mr Blair’s homeland? On the face of things, Britain is a relatively good place to be Jewish. When anti-Semitic feelings across Europe are compared, the UK tends to do well. But a new study by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research gives an unusually nuanced picture of opinion in Britain.

It found that hard-core anti-Semites, who “express multiple anti-Semitic attitudes readily and confidently”, amounted to 2.4% of the population, while a further 3% could be described as “softer” anti-Semites, expressing somewhat fewer negative views. To probe their opinions, respondents were invited to react to propositions like “Jews think they are better than other people” or “The interests of Jews in Britain are different from….the rest” or “Jews have too much power in Britain…”

The study said that there was a “much larger number of people who believe a small number of negative ideas about Jews but…may not be consciously hostile or prejudiced towards them”. It found that 15% of Britons agreed at least in part to two or more anti-Semitic propositions, with a further 15% agreeing at least in part to one of them. The researchers’ interpretation was cautious:

“This emphatically does not mean that 30% of the population of Great Britain is anti-Semitic…Rather the 30% figure captures the current level of the diffusion of anti-Semitic ideas in British society, and offers an indication of the likelihood of British Jews encountering such ideas.”

The report also tackled the sensitive question of how far hostility towards Jews is linked with negative feelings towards Israel. It found the two mind-sets to be correlated, but not co-extensive. Thus 86% of those British people who hold no anti-Israel attitudes hold no anti-Semitic views either; but among those who hold a large number of anti-Israel attitudes, only 26% are completely free of anti-Semitic feelings.

Still, there clearly are people who are strongly critical of Israel, but not anti-Jewish, and a somewhat smaller contingent who harbour anti-Semitic sentiments but have no particular gripe with the Jewish state. As the report puts it, “anti-Semitism and anti-Israel attitudes exist both separately and together.”

Meanwhile Germany this week joined Britain, Austria and Romania in adopting a working definition of anti-Semitism drafted last year by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, a Berlin-based body. It says:

“Anti-Semitism is a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews. Rhetorical and physical manifestations of anti-Semitism are directed toward Jewish or non-Jewish individuals and/or their property, toward Jewish community institutions and religious facilities.”

The definition is controversial. It has been criticised by some British Jews on the political left who argued that it could muzzle legitimate criticism of Israel, and by a leading British barrister who concluded after studying the text, and the accompanying guidelines, that it was both too narrow (it might fail to capture some anti-Jewish conduct) and too broad, in the sense that free speech over the Middle East, for example in universities, might be curtailed.

In its recommendation on how to apply the definition, the IHRA tries to give an idea of how far, in its view, disapproval of Israel can reasonably go. It says that “manifestations [of anti-Semitism] might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity. However, criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

The European Jewish Congress, which styles itself as the “sole political organisational representative of European Jewry”, hailed the German move as “vitally important”. It would help to change a state of affairs where “astonishingly, anti-Semitism used to be defined by the perpetrator not the victim”.

Source: No room for complacency

ICYMI – Attitudes to Islam in Europe are hardening: The Economist

Good summary of recent European polling and worrisome (and correct) fear of further polarization:

IF integration means doing a bit better in education and the job market, then there are grounds to be optimistic about the status of Muslim communities across western Europe. But when you ask Europeans how they feel about Islam and its adherents, then the picture is much harsher and in some ways getting worse.

Those are the broad impressions left by a raft of recently published surveys on the subject. The authors of a study by Germany’s Bertelsmann Foundation, focusing mainly on Britain, France, Germany, Switzerland and Austria, found some encouraging indicators on schooling and employment but still reported a big income disparity between Muslims and non-Muslims.

Professional progress was “not accompanied by an equal level of…social acceptance,” noted the report, which looked not at refugees but longer-standing Muslim residents. The authors were troubled by the finding that 20% of respondents did not want Muslim neighbours. That number would almost certainly have been higher if the study had looked at countries further south and east. A poll by Pew Research, an American think-tank, found that a majority of people in Hungary, Italy, Poland, Greece and Spain harboured hostile attitudes to Islam while only a minority of northwestern Europeans held similar views.

The Bertelsmann report welcomed the fact that in France, only one in ten Muslims leaves school before turning 17, compared with about a third of Muslim youngsters in Germany. But learning doesn’t seem to guarantee earning. In neither Germany nor Switzerland was there much difference between the employment rate of Muslims and non-Muslims. In France, by contrast, the jobless rate was 14% for Muslims compared with 8% for non-Muslims.

Moreover, there are some clear signs of hardening attitudes. In England, around four people in ten acknowledged that they have become more suspicious of Muslims following terrorist attacks in London and Manchester. That was one of the findings of the latest study published by Hope Not Hate, an anti-extremism lobby group.

Looking at a series of recent data, it concluded that in many ways sentiment in England was gradually becoming more liberal and tolerant of diversity, but Islam and the reactions it inspired were a clear exception. About half the population apparently thought Islam posed a “threat to Western civilisation” while a quarter regarded it as a “dangerous” religion because of its perceived capacity to incite violence. The picture changes depending on how the question is framed. The pool of respondents who opined (50% versus 22%) that the Muslim faith was a civilisational threat also agreed by a clear majority that it was wrong to blame an entire religion for a few extremists.

In Germany, a widely-quoted poll last year found that more than half the population believed that Islam did not belong in their country. But attitudes to Muslim people, as opposed to their religion, can sometimes be much more emollient, albeit varying a lot with the respondent’s political ideology.

Pew found that half the Germans who hewed to the political left thought Muslims were making a good effort to adapt to the country’s way of life, compared with one in five of those who leaned rightwards. The numbers for Britons of right and left were almost exactly the same. Given the many different ways in which progress (or regress) can be measured, the state of Islam in Europe may always be a vessel that some see as half-empty and others see as half-full.

What’s worrying is that almost every terrorist movement aims to polarise feelings in a way that drives people into opposing camps. The terrorist who claims to represent a certain community often hopes that the authorities, and perhaps society as whole, will stigmatise that community and provoke in it a defensive mood, so that violence starts to seem like a reasonable option. Historically, such polarising tactics have often worked.

Although things have not yet reached that point, these poll results suggest something sinister: it’s perfectly conceivable that the murderous van-drivers and knife-wielders who claim to speak for Muslims in Europe could enjoy a similar “success” in polarising sentiment across the continent.

Source: Attitudes to Islam in Europe are hardening

The cost of unbelief – The Economist

Interesting:

ACROSS the world, people who reject all religious belief or profess secular humanism are facing ever worse discrimination and persecution, but the existence and legitimacy of such ideas is becoming more widely known and accepted. That is the rather subtle conclusion of the latest report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union, an umbrella body for secularist groups in 40 countries, which in 2012 began making annual surveys of how freedom of thought and conscience are faring worldwide.

In common with lots of other reports on the subject, it noted that many countries still prescribe draconian penalties for religious dissent, through laws that bar blasphemy against the prevailing religions or “apostasy” from Islam. Some 19 countries punish their citizens for apostasy, and in 12 of those countries it is punishable by death. In Pakistan, the death sentence can be imposed for blasphemy, for which the threshold is very low. In all, 55 countries (including several Western ones) had laws against blasphemy; the perceived offence could lead to prison terms in 39 countries and execution in six.

Aside from all that ghastliness, the report detected a new trend, a “marked increase” in the specific targeting of atheists and humanists, which was a kind of back-handed acknowledgement of the reality that such beliefs existed and were spreading. Saudi Arabia had enacted a new law equating atheism with terrorism. In Malaysia, Prime Minister Najib Razak had branded “humanism and secularism as well as liberalism” as deviant. And in Egypt, the youth ministry had launched an organised campaign against non-belief among the young, designed to spread awareness of the “dangers of atheism” and the “threat to society” that it posed. Dreadful as it was, this trend could be a negative side-effect of a “different, positive, parallel trend”—the fact that atheism and humanism were being recognised as cohesive world-views.

I asked one of the best-known professed atheists to have emerged from the Muslim world, the exiled Egyptian blogger Mikael Nabil Sanad, what he thought of the report’s conclusions. And Mr Nabil, who was not involved in the report, offered a very similar point about his native country. On the one hand, despite the overthrow last year of an Islamist regime, repression of all minorities, including atheists, is as bad as ever. But, he says, acceptance by society of atheism as a tenable position is growing. Mr Nabil, who recently moved to Washington, DC, told me that in 2008, when he renounced his Coptic Christian background and declared himself an atheist, “it was completely shocking to society”. Now, he says, “society accepts it” as a possibility. For example, there have been television debates between Christians, Muslims and atheists. Last year, a group of Egyptian atheists made some proposals to a committee that was reviewing the constitution; the very fact that such proposals could be aired and reported marked progress in a country where officialdom generally assumed that everybody was Muslim, Christian or Jewish.

Having spent much of 2011 in prison, where he was tortured and went on hunger strike, and then studied for two years in Germany, Mr Nabil says it is unsafe for him to return to Egypt because blasphemy charges have been laid against him. He now hoped to write a book about his experiences and campaign for change in his homeland, where despite the authorities’ best efforts, social media and private communications were still buzzing with discordant and dissident opinions, including atheist ones. There is a broader point there. The fact that dissident religious and anti-religious ideas are being persecuted ever more severely does not mean that the persecutors will prevail.

The never-ending argument over what is “real Islam”

Good piece and advice from The Economist:

IN THE commentariat, the world of higher learning (religious and otherwise) and the corridors of political power, the long-running, hot-tempered debate about the real nature of Islam shows no sign of reaching a conclusion. The temperature rises every time some ghastly act of violence is perpetrated by people who say they are inspired by their Muslim beliefs. Broadly it pits those who think that killers who practise violence in Islam’s name are traducing the faith and perhaps mis-stating their own motives, up against those who insist that Islam’s core beliefs (and not just some idosyncratic version of them) can easily prompt people to take up the sword.

Sam Harris, an atheist public intellectual, is among the best-known advocates of the second view. Despite the change of guard at the White House, and the apparent conversion of Donald Trump to a slightly more emollient view of Islam, Mr Harris is still pouring scorn on Barack Obama for insisting that Islam was at heart a religion of peace. Another person whose views Mr Harris excoriates is Tariq Ramadan, a Muslim thinker who combines leftist political ideas with fairly traditional religious ones. Mr Ramadan incurs the American writer’s contempt when he argues that political, economic or geopolitical grievance, rather than any Muslim beliefs, motivate the terrorist group known as Islamic State (IS).

In a new twist of the argument, Mr Harris has published a podcast, lasting nearly two hours, in which he discusses these matters with Graeme Wood, an author and reporter who has travelled the world interviewing prominent members or supporters of IS and probing their motives and intentions. Both broadly agree that some widely held Muslim beliefs, especially those connected with the world’s end times and the battles portending that era, are important drivers of violent behaviour. But this emphasis has been dismissed as “deeply wrong” by Phil Torres, author of a book entitled “The End: What Science and Religion Tell Us About the Apocalypse”. His book argues that apocalyptic ideas could easily become self-fulfilling. But he also observes that bloodshed (and other dramatic events) in the here-and-now are the real reasons why people suddenly start to think about the final acts in history.

All participants in this discussion merit a hearing. Mr Harris and Mr Wood do a decent job of demolishing some of the more simplistic arguments used to support the views they dislike. For example, the point is often made that many of the people who become jihadis, whether they are converts or Muslim by birth, lack theological sophistication. Indeed, at least one was found to be studying a book with the self-explanatory title, “Islam for dummies”. So, the argument goes, being extremely Muslim and being extremely violent do not seem to go together.

The point about non-sophistication may be true as far it goes, but as both Mr Harris and Mr Wood agree, a person can be very passionate about a belief system without fully understanding its details. And there is no guarantee that even if those details were fully mastered, they would prompt the learner to behave in more peaceful ways. To put it bluntly, jihadis may indeed be theologically ignorant, but that does not prove that a sound theological education would make them more peaceful. (That said, there may be plenty of other reasons for encouraging nuanced theological awareness.)

Mr Wood’s research has reinforced his view that IS is much more apocalyptic in its mentality than earlier jihadi movements such as al-Qaeda. IS propagandists take seriously the notion that Dabiq, a location in northern Syria, will witness a titanic battle between Islamic forces and those of “Rome”—which might mean anything from NATO to the Christian world to the constitutionally secular republic of Turkey. Also widespread is the expectation that an Antichrist figure known as Dajjal will emerge (possibly from an island in the Red Sea) and kill Muslim fighters until Jesus returns to earth and leads the faithful to victory. (Jesus is the second-most-revered prophet in Islam after Muhammad.)

Mr Torres agrees that these beliefs are widely held and significant, but also asks why this is now the case. It was the 2003 assault by America and Britain on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq which turned many Sunni Muslims to end-time thinking, he notes: “prior to the US invasion, Sunni Muslims were uninterested in apocalypticism.” He points out that apocalyptic thinking is most widespread in the two countries where American-led armies have entered in force, Iraq and Afghanistan. As Mr Torres sees things, apocalyptic obsessions can be both a result and a cause of real-world violence.

So how can the “true nature” of Islam, or any other religion, be determined? It might be helpful to divide statements about this into two categories. First, there are value judgments, usually made from inside the boundaries of one’s belief system. This includes statements from religious authority figures such as: “Having studied and reflected on the matter, I believe the real message of our religion’s founder(s) is…” Such messages can have moral force even if they run completely counter to the way in which most followers of a religion have, in practice, acted.

In the second basket are historical or sociological statements, which can be made by any fair-minded observer. These are on the long lines of: “Whatever the prophets and scriptures of this religion may teach, it’s an observable fact that hundreds of millions of followers of this faith behave in certain ways, and that they root this stance in their religious world view.” You might call it a behaviourist approach. In the case of modern Islam, one would have to concede that a not-insignificant number of Muslims are, in some cases, prepared to condone religious violence. But they are far outnumbered by the hundreds of millions of Muslims who live peaceful, law-abiding lives and hope that others will do the same. These are statements which can be debated, investigated, affirmed or falsified in a way that religious statements cannot.

For figures of secular authority, be they American presidents, counter-terrorism officials or even opinion-makers, it is often best to stick to the second kind of statement. The “real” nature of a religion, if such a concept has any meaning at all, is hard for an outsider to determine, and certainly well beyond the remit of a more-or-less secular state.

Source: The never-ending argument over what is “real Islam”

What is the difference between nationality and citizenship? The Economist

Useful clarification of the nuance although less applicable in the Canadian context compared to the UK and USA (where we do not have distinct categories of citizenship – with the major difference being voting rights for non-residents):

IN OCTOBER, when Theresa May’s political future still looked bright, the British prime minister chastised her opponents: “If you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere. You don’t understand what the very word ‘citizenship’ means.” In their defence, the concept of citizenship is complex, especially when compared with the similarly complicated idea of nationality. What is the difference between the two?

In general, to be a national is to be a member of a state. Nationality is acquired by birth or adoption, marriage, or descent (the specifics vary from country to country). Having a nationality is crucial for receiving full recognition under international law. Indeed, Article 15 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights declares that “Everyone has the right to a nationality” and “No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his nationality nor denied the right to change his nationality” but is silent on citizenship. Citizenship is a narrower concept: it is a specific legal relationship between a state and a person. It gives that person certain rights and responsibilities. It does not have to accompany nationality. In some Latin American countries, for example, such as Mexico, a person acquires nationality at birth but receives citizenship only upon turning 18: Mexican children, therefore, are nationals but not citizens.

Similarly, not all American nationals are also American citizens. People born in the “outlying possessions of the United States” can get an American passport and live and work in the United States, but cannot vote or hold elected office. In the past, these “outlying possessions” included Guam, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, but in the 20th century Congress gradually extended citizenship to their inhabitants. Today, only American Samoa and Swains Island stand apart: the latter is a tiny atoll in the Pacific ocean, barely more than five meters above sea level, which, in 2010, had a population of just 17.

In Britain, thanks to the legacy of colonialism, the situation is even more complicated. There are six types of British nationality: British citizens, British subjects, British overseas citizens, British overseas territories citizens, British overseas nationals, or British protected persons. Sometimes it is possible to switch categories: for instance, before the British handed Hong Kong over to the Chinese on 1st July 1997, some British overseas territories citizens registered as British overseas nationals. These overseas nationals hold British passports and can receive protection from British diplomats, but they do not have the automatic right to live or work in Britain. So in Britain, there are several types of citizenship and some nationals who are not citizens at all. The targets of Mrs May’s ire are likely to have good company in not fully grasping the meaning of the word “citizenship”.

Source: What is the difference between nationality and citizenship?