Showing posts with label Religion and Culture. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Religion and Culture. Show all posts

September 17, 2014

ISIL cannot be defeated militarily without addressing the roots of its genocidal creed and confronting its sectarian backers

    Wednesday, September 17, 2014   No comments

Less than a year after the start of the crisis in Syria, I warned that militarizing the Syrian uprising is a dangerous step. Picking sides and arming them would amount to  launching a new proxy-war similar to the one that took place in Afghanistan in the 1970's and 1980's. The danger, I reasoned, comes from the necessary outcome of using non-state actors as tools to destabilize other nations and adopting violence to escalate the confrontation with international political adversaries. Such escalation, generally, produces groups that cannot be kept under control as happened with al-Qaeda. Today, it has become evident that Syria is indeed a proxy-war zone that produced ISIL, an upgraded version of al-Qaeda, which was the byproduct of the proxy-war in Afghanistan. Such a new proxy-war will not be limited to Syria's border. Indeed, all countries involved in such a war, especially the ones sharing borders with Syria like Turkey, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan, will face serious political and security challenges.

August 3, 2011

The Foundation of Supremacy: Racializing Human Acts

    Wednesday, August 03, 2011   No comments

by Ahmed E. Souaiaia*

I vividly remember the day of the Oklahoma bombing. Not because of the news reports—I was too busy working and with school to watch the news. Consequently, I was not aware of what had happened that day until late in the afternoon. But as I walked into my workplace after a long day of school, I felt the stares and tension from almost all my co-workers. Many ignored me when I greeted them. While waiting for my shift to start, I entered the break room where a friend sat reading the newspaper. It took him a moment before awkwardly asking me what I thought of the “terror attack on the Murrah Building in Oklahoma.” I thought, “Terror? Murrah? Oklahoma?

July 12, 2011

The Politics of Religion

    Tuesday, July 12, 2011   No comments
by Ahmed E. Souaiaia
The so-called Arab Spring is a watershed for learning for those interested in religion and politics. In no other modern uprisings has the relationship between religion and politics been put to the test as it has been during the Arab revolutions.
In Western countries, generally, uprisings rebelled against religion. It has rarely been a platform for launching revolutions, let alone the foundation for establishing a state. Secularism became the acceptable platform that governed the place of religion and politics.

January 26, 2011

Clinton’s lack of diplomatic acumen diminishes US foreign policy

    Wednesday, January 26, 2011   No comments

It is true that Obama, as president, is the person responsible for foreign policy initiatives. However, it is the secretary of state who implements the vision of the administration and communicates it to foreign leaders in nuanced language that, at times, would seem as if it were a code. Hillary Clinton, the top diplomat in charge of the state department, is either lacking proficiency in that language or is ignoring it. Since taking over from Secretary Rice, Clinton traveled the world lecturing almost everyone using the language of a blunt activist, stubborn ideologue, and idealist advocate putting her past and beyond the limits of diplomatic role. Two years have passed and I am not sure that she can point out a single success story that could be used in a campaign ad or to justify her paycheck and the hefty per diem and travel expenses. In fact, just in the last six months, US foreign policy suffered serious setbacks that rendered the Obama administration’s role seem second to other countries’. The examples are numerous and it should suffice to cite just several to make the case that US foreign policy is indeed in decline.
First, it should be recalled that over summer the administration called on the Palestinians, the Israelis, the Jordanians, and the Egyptians to work for a framework that would result in resolving key issues between the Palestinians and the Israelis within one year. With the Israelis refusing to freeze settlements in the occupied territories and the Palestinians refusing to negotiate unless the Israelis do so, the Obama administration decided to abandon its efforts. Consequently, the Palestinian Authority asked individual nations to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. Brazil was among the first countries to heed the call and the rest of South American countries followed. The US sudden disengagement depicts it as a nation that is no longer capable of working for peace or allow others to do so. The draft resolution just tabled in the UN Security Council on behalf of the Palestinians and co-sponsored by 122 nations may end up being supported by all Security Council current member states—except the US; and that is just one example of bypassing US previously dominant role in the Middle East.
In early January of this year, president Obama met with the Lebanese prime minister, Saad Hariri. By the time the meeting was over, Hariri’s government collapsed. That dramatic event further exposed the weakness of US diplomacy. It is further evidence that the administration is uninformed and out of touch with the realities of the Middle East. To make things worse, the outgoing Lebanese government filed a protest when US ambassador there violated protocols and met with a swing parliamentarian to convince him to vote with Hariri’s block when deciding on the formation of the new government. The interference in internal affairs may have backfired revealing the US has favorites and as supporting one Lebanese faction against the other. Hardly an achievement for which any reasonable diplomat should take credit.
Even if we were to entertain the idea that the US administration needed to take side to protect its interests in the Middle East, we cannot escape the fact that it is taking the wrong side. The Egyptian leaders and the Jordanian leaders, just like the Tunisian leader, govern without a public mandate, they are corrupt, they are authoritarian, and they lead regimes that are doomed to collapse. The Tunisian revolution that brought down Ben Ali should be a cause for re-evaluation of US relations with Arab regimes. All indications show that the US foreign policy makers are slow adapting.
For more than three weeks, the State Department (and national media) ignored the violent treatment of protesters by a Tunisian regime that is repressive, cruel, and utterly corrupt. The riots spread across the country and with dozens of people dead, fear as a tool with which Ben Ali has ruled was permanently broken. On January 14, 2011, Ben Ali fled the country and the leaders of his repressive party were left struggling to keep things under control and preserve their rule. It is very likely that a pluralistic, democratic Tunisia would emerge after this uprising, but it is unlikely that the US administration (and other Western countries) will be seen as a friend of the people for its support of a brutal authoritarian who oppressed them for 23 years.
For twenty-three years, one US administration after another ignored the oppressive measures taken by the Tunisian regime. Even when the regime exceeded all bounds of civility and tortured political prisoners and crushed peaceful demonstrators, US administrations were satisfied by gentle rebukes calling on the regime to “act with restraint.” When Ben Ali fled, Obama referred to him in his state of the union address as a “dictator” when he said, “we saw that same desire to be free in Tunisia, where the will of the people proved more powerful than the writ of a dictator.” The administration should have used that label before January 14, not after.
On January 25, 2011, thousands of Egyptian protesters filled the streets of Cairo and other major cities. They chanted, “Mubarak, Saudi Arabia is waiting for you,” in reference to the destination of the fleeing Tunisian dictator. Jordanian opposition figures are urging the King and his regime to learn from the Tunisian revolution. Algerians, Moroccans, Mauritanians, and Yemenis are all inspired by the Tunisian revolt and in time they will all bring their authoritarian regimes down. In other words, the Arab masses were moved and motivated by the Tunisian people to overcome their fear and change the regimes under which they have lived since independence. In this fast changing environment, the US administration cannot afford to be slow-acting or reactionary. It must be proactive, not by interfering in internal affairs of these countries, but by choosing to eschew authoritarian regimes--not after but--before they fall. Doing so will put America on the right side, the only right side, the side of the people.
* Professor Souaiaia, teaches classes in the department of Religious Studies, International Programs, and College of Law at the University of Iowa. Opinions expressed herein are the author’s, speaking as a citizen on matters of public interest; not speaking for the University or any other organization with which he is affiliated.

January 24, 2011

The Tunisian revolution matters, even in the USA

    Monday, January 24, 2011   No comments
BY A. E. SOUAIAIA | GUEST OPINION | The Daily Iowan | JANUARY 24, 2011 7:10 AM

During the first day of class, I asked students enrolled in my survey course on the Islamic civilization to think of an important event from around the world. The first student to speak pointed out the return of a dictator to Haiti. The second student said that China flying its first Stealth airplane was a very significant event. Three other students spoke, pointing out various events, before a student mentioned the ongoing Tunisian revolution.

I asked how many students had even a vague idea about what has happened in Tunisia since Dec. 18, 2010; around 10 percent of them raised their hands.

Sure, there is no shortage of significant events that have taken place in the last month or so.

However, a revolution taking place in Tunisia ought to be compelling even for those with benign interest in international affairs. So why is it, then, that only 10 percent of students taking a course on the Islamic world were aware of this revolution?

The answer is simple: lack of media coverage — or, should I say, selective coverage — and therein lie serious ethical, political, and security problems for the United States.

I am sure that more than 10 percent of students and the public remember that, a year and half ago, elections were held in Iran, and supporters of the losing candidates protested violently against results that gave the current president a second term in office. Then, cable-news channels, major television networks, and the print and online press provided around-the-clock coverage. The Obama administration, too, came out in support of the Iranian people. It was all done in the name of supporting democracy and human rights in the Islamic world.

In Tunisia, thousands of people revolted against one of the most brutal dictators of the Arab world, Zine el-Abdine Ben Ali, and his corrupt regime.

For 54 years, two despots ruled the country with iron fist. They banned credible political parties, tortured political prisoners, exiled opposition figures, curtailed the freedom of the press, limited access to the Internet, embezzled state funds, and increased poverty to subhuman levels. An unemployed youth was so unbearably desperate that he set himself on fire in protest, an act that triggered the revolution that forced Ben Ali out and put the country on a path to the unknown.

So, why should students and the American public care?

Ethically, they should care because the killing of 78 innocent people, wounding of hundreds, and imprisonment of many more by a dictator’s security forces is a big deal. The shared humanity, the common aspiration to pursue life and happiness, and the universal capacity to mourn the loss of innocent life should move anyone to sympathize with the Tunisian people.

Politically, if the suppression of protest in Iran was deplored by the U.S. administration and reported as a lead story by the US media, the killing of people who rise up against oppressive rulers in Tunisia should receive the same attention. Short of that, it becomes a double standard, exposing the West to allegations of selectively highlighting human-rights issues to achieve political goals.

Tunisians feel that the West’s affinity with Ben Ali’s regime made it ignore the plight of people fighting corruption, brutality, and usurpation of national wealth.

When Western media and governments stand by regimes at the expense of the freedom-seeking peoples, global security is compromised. Supporting dictators and ignoring the people’s right to self-rule puts the lives of Americans abroad at risk and builds walls between nations. Countries of the West ought to recall their ill-advised support of the shah of Iran or the apartheid regime in South Africa to grasp the long-term implications of misplaced support.

In today’s interconnected world, what happens on the other side of the planet can and will affect the way we live at home. When civilian lives are lost at the hands of dictators, the least we can do is to follow their news and sympathize, instead of ignoring the shameful brutality of rulers who happen to be serving our short-term interests.

Ahmed E. Souaiaia is a UI associate professor who teaches courses in the College of Law, International Programs, and the Religious Studies Department.

January 20, 2011

What shall we call it?

    Thursday, January 20, 2011   No comments


By now, anyone who has followed the news coming out of Tunisia knows the timeline of events that culminated in Ben Ali fleeing the country and leaving his party struggling to regain control. But the end of Ben Ali’s era did not create a definite alternative. There is no consensus among those opposed to the old regime, and the discord is evident in the struggle to give the revolution a name. The only point of agreement is that Mohamed elBouazizi’s act ignited the protest that evolved into a revolution, which could be very useful in understanding the impetus of this revolt.

Immediately after the departure of Ben Ali, those with access to media and tools that shape public opinion rushed to romanticize the uprising by calling it “the jasmine revolution.” While jasmine is Tunisia’s national flower, that name hardly represents the context and aspiration of the uprising and certainly could not have been on the mind of the person who sparked it, Mohamed elBouazizi.

elBouazizi represented the class of people who needed an immediate and urgent change in the country. Educated young men and women living in the systematically deprived region and economically marginalized communities of the inner provinces. These people struggle to keep up with the pace of development that has split the country into many Tunisias: the filthy rich, the middle class, the poor, the very poor, and the destitute. 

elBouazizi faced two forces: an oppressive, out of touch, oblivious ruling elite and ambitious cultured soul dreaming of a dignified future. The elite stripped him of his dreams and his dignity and above all, reminded him of his utter weakness before the brutality of a paternalistic regime. His livelihood was confiscated, his dignity was destroyed, and his manhood was erased by Ben Ali’s security forces. Is it possible to say that, during the very same moment this was happening to him, he thought of a jasmine revolution? I doubt it.

What could have been on his mind then and in other times is how to live with dignity and without fear. During the confrontation with the police officers, he would have been thinking of ways to conquer his fear, a fear that paralyzed the Tunisian society since independence from the French colonizers. The stories of individuals who followed his footsteps in Tunisia, Algeria, Mauritania, and Egypt speak to the same issues: the brutality of poverty, the inhumanity of oppression, the value of human dignity, and the determination to defeat fear. These events point to the fact that what happened in Tunisia was a revolution to preserve that which is more important than life itself: dignity. elBouazizi’s act, the mechanism igniting the revolution, cannot and should not be interpreted as a suicidal impulse seeking escape into the unknown from a frightening reality. Rather, it is about overcoming fear and telling the world about it. After all, if the aim of suicide is to die, then there are many other less painful ways of dying than to burn oneself alive.

The act undertaken by Mohamed elBouazizi defies logic, transcends religious teachings, and exceeds all expectation. It acquired the uniqueness and the significance of singular events that give meaning, that communicate a particular state of mind, that become paradigmatic by and in itself. With that said, the act in itself cannot (and should not) be replicated to produce the same results, for it was meant to ignite, kindle, awaken, and provoke—and it has done so beyond anyone could have imagined; but it was not meant to solve. It was a spark, not a solution.
*Photo: Mohamed el-Bouazizi visited by Ben Ali after demonstration intensified.
**SOUAIAIA is an associate professor teaching for International Programs, Religious Studies, and College of Law at the University of Iowa.

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