Posts Tagged Islam

Ivory tower watch: collective responsibility and saying ‘yes’ to racism

A lot of people were very upset when evidence emerged of American war crimes in Iraq. The particular images that will always stand out are the photos taken of torture at Abu Ghraib, but there were several other incidents of massacres and, generally, soldiers not behaving as they are supposed to.

But what if these crimes were not only the fault of the people who committed them, or even the commanders who may have been negligent in not preventing them? What if every single competent adult American was in some way responsible for the massacre in Fallujah?

If that sounds familiar, or kind of like something you may have heard from violent Islamists, you would be right. Al-Qaeda, Hamas and other terrorist groups often talk about the ‘Zio-Crusader alliance’ that they are fighting — which essentially means that every single Western person is attacking Islam and therefore they are all legitimate targets for retaliation. It is that attitude which led to the recent riots in Sydney — the idea that any Australian authority figure can be held responsible for acts committed by the American army overseas, because they are part of the same ‘people’ — or something.

Well, it is not only al-Qaeda that prescribes to this kind of thinking — apparently it is shared by the odd Ivy League professor. In ‘Citizen Responsibility and the Reactive Attitudes‘, Amy J Sepinwall from the University of Pennsylvania sets out to show that all Americans share some blame for war crimes in Iraq (although she does distinguish herself from Islamists by saying that it’s a matter of degree. I’m convinced…).

Her basic argument relies on the idea of citizen’s responsibility. She illustrates this through the following analogies (my bold):

Consider the marital union, for example. Individuals in a marriage must act with a certain regard for their union. While exit is a real option, each nonetheless bears an obligation to the other to put the possibility of exit out of his or her mind, at least while less disruptive options exist. And, each is obligated to the other to present a united front to the world, for maligning one’s spouse to others would degrade the union and violate marital trust.

Similarly, individuals in a joint business partnership must each also operate with a certain regard for the joint venture, and commit themselves to working out the kinks of the operation before contemplating dissolution. And, where one partner is empowered to, say, manage the partnership’s business, the other partner may not publicly disparage the result, and disavow responsibility for it. To do so would be to make a fool of the producing partner, and to exhibit a reproachable lack of loyalty.

… some amount of fidelity follows from membership in the nation-state, as well. Thus, with appropriate adjustments for strength of commitment to the nationstate, we may transpose the foregoing observations to the context of the   citizen’s responsibility for American atrocities committed in the course of the war in Iraq. The citizen harbors a commitment to the nation-state and that commitment obligates him in special ways to his fellow citizens. Most relevant here, his commitment entails that he may not step outside the nation-state to point a finger in righteous indignation at his state’s transgressions; instead, he must stand in judgment with his fellow citizens, in recognition that the nation-state is his as well as theirs. To do otherwise is to denigrate the shared venture; it is to demonstrate a solipsism incompatible with citizenship.

Do you see the problem there?

To me, the most obvious one is that, in a liberal democracy, a citizen canin fact, ‘step outside the nation-state to point a finger in righteous indignation at his state’s transgressions’. I do it all the time.

That is not the only flaw in her logic. There is also the fact that business partners, spouses and citizens are not necessarily responsible for everything that their fellow partners, spouses, or citizens, do; and this applies especially when we are talking abut breaking the law.

If one partner embezzles money without the other knowing, the other is not responsible. If a wife is dealing drugs without her husband’s knowledge, he is not responsible. If a soldier breaks the law while on a tour of duty, the citizens of that country are not responsible. Responsibility can only come with some form of acquiescence — it only applies to people on whose behalf the person who committed the act was acting.

For a nation-state, that means that the state had to have been acting — ie the soldiers who committed war crimes must have done so on behalf of the state and, by proxy, its people. That was not the case at all in Iraq. The soldiers that committed war CRIMES were breaking the law — and that is American law, not just international law. Where it could be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, they were tried and punished. Certainly the public officials involved were sanctioned — they lost their jobs, had their names disgraced and faced public scorn and derision. How exactly can we then hold all Americans responsible?

Well, there’s the fact that Americans have no right to decide their own guilt when there’s another ‘rational’ explanation. Using the example of a person who was opposed to the war (‘the dissident’), Sepinwall explains that, really, it’s all a matter of perspective (my bold):

The dissident believes that her resistance cancels out whatever responsibility she should come to bear in virtue of her commitment to the United States as a whole. She has  arrived at this self-judgment because she has synthesized the dimension of her identity that flows from her citizenship and the dimension of her identity that flows from her dissidence and arrived at a coherent conception of herself in which her dissidence is much more definitive of who she is. But though each of us is empowered to perform this synthesis and arrive at a self-understanding that makes sense of the disparate and sometimes conflicting strands of our identity, none of us is entitled to have others conceive of us as we conceive of ourselves. In particular, the dissident cannot legitimately expect that her self-understanding will govern the Iraqi’s conception of her; he is entitled to believe that citizenship looms larger as a constituent element of an American’s (or anyone’s) identity than do acts opposing the policies or practices of one’s government. And, so long as he does hold this belief, he will harbor resentment toward the American citizen, no matter how valiant her efforts at resistance.

To inhabit the dissident’s perspective on America and herself, the Iraqi must abandon a stance of righteous anger through which he might seek to vindicate the worth of his lost loved one, or the Iraqi people as a whole. He must instead contend with the notion that he cannot find an outlet in blame for his loss and injury that corresponds sufficiently to their (perceived) magnitude. He would then incur not just the pain of his tragedy but the profound burden of self-restraint in stifling his own sense of the injury and deferring to that of one of his (apparent) injurers. Should we really reproach him for spurning this path? Given the additional pain of forbearance, is he not entitled to presume the legitimacy of his own perspective, and proceed with resentment?

No, he is not entitled to do that. Know why? Well, let’s apply the same theory, just to a slightly different scenario.

Say, for instance, a group of Lebanese Muslims were to viscously gang-rape a white Australian woman while making remarks like ‘how does it feel to do it Leb-style?’ and otherwise making it clear that they are identifying with the community of Lebanese Muslims in Australia and claim to be acting on behalf of that community. Would a relative of the victim not be entitled to feel a little resentment against Lebanese Muslims and not just the individual perpetrators? Isn’t there some degree of shared responsibility by the Lebanese Muslim community?

Say that a little while later, a group of Lebanese Muslims then attacked some lifeguards — the embodiment of Aussie pride. Are white Australians not entitled to a little resentment?

Well, you see, that happened. The ‘white’ community did feel resentment towards Lebanese Muslims as a result, and then that lead to the whole Cronulla Riots incident in 2005. I would be willing to bet that Ms Sepinwall would not see that as justified, but perhaps it is just a matter of degree. Perhaps indignation and resentment would have been justified, without going on a race-riot.

Like, say, the indignation and resentment that many victims of crime committed by Aboriginal Australians feel towards Aboriginals as a whole. The kind of indignation and resentment that results in this disadvantaged group being shut-out from jobs, routinely harassed by police, and far more likely than any other group to be imprisoned. Sounds justifiable, no?

Or perhaps Ms Sepinwall did not really think through the consequences of allowing a victim to hold not only the perpetrator responsible, but the entire nation to which the perpetrator belongs. That kind of collectivism is what leads to racism and terrorism. It is not OK.

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Why do they hate Mona Eltahawy for speaking about Arab women?

Egyptian journalist Mona Eltahawy has a piece in this month’s Foreign Policy on the problems faced by women in the Arab world. This is a very important article and I would encourage you all to read it, but I want to highlight the central point in her thesis — which has been proven overwhelmingly by the response that has exploded literally hours since her article went online (the print edition is not even out yet).

Eltahawy begins her essay with the point that when anyone normally brings up the issue of Arab women, they are shouted-down with problems women face in the West. As if this is a reason not to speak about something far, far worse.

This is the third-worldist cultural relativism that I have highlighted a few times. It is the insipid prejudice of low expectations — using “cultural differences” to justify holding others to a lower standard. It’s hard to even imagine the outcry that would follow a white, American pastor coming out in support of female genital mutilation — yet one of the leading clerical celebrities in the Arab world does so unashamedly and no one blinks. He even gets invited to hang out with London Mayoral candidate and career antisemite Ken Livingstone.

If no one says anything, nothing will ever get done about this. Good on Eltahawy for standing up to the cultural pressures trying to crush her into silence. Elections in Egypt will not bring democracy so long as female candidates cannot even have their faces on electoral material.

Why Do They Hate Us? – By Mona Eltahawy | Foreign Policy.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either. …

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women.

Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

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Roxon right on Sharia

I have to confess to being a little underwhelmed when I heard that Nicola Roxon had been appointed Attorney-General instead of Robert McClelland – a solid if unremarkable A-G. This, of course, is the same Nicola Roxon who, as then health minister, once referred to herself as “Nanny Nicola”. From what I could tell, she was definitely cast from my least favourite political mould – the “I know what’s best for you and I’m going to make sure you do that whether you want to or not” kind of politician. I am a big boy now, thanks, and I very much resent this attitude.

That said, it seems I may have underestimated Ms Roxon to a degree. I was very happy to read this headline over the weekend:

Roxon baulks at role for sharia by Australian Muslims | The Australian.

“There is no place for sharia law in Australian society and the government strongly rejects any proposal for its introduction, including in relation to wills and succession,” Ms Roxon said.

“The Australian government is committed to protecting the right of all people to practise their religion without intimidation or harassment, but always within the framework of Australian law.”

Note: I will forgive Roxon this, but “sharia” means “Islamic law” – calling it “sharia law” is a tautology.

Roxon was speaking in the context of a woman who wanted to obey the “sharia” with regards to inheritance for her children, which means that her sons inherit double the share inherited by their sister. It is very important to be aware of these kinds of rules within sharia, because many people from Roxon’s side of politics will defend the right of Muslims to their own sharia courts on the basis of moral relativity in various guises, such as “ethnic diversity” or “cultural sensitivity”.

The inheritance law is not the only aspect of family sharia that is inimical to Australia’s (and the West’s) values. For instance, as anyone who has seen Academy Award-winning Iranian film A Separation will know, sharia also mandates that in a divorce, the husband has the right to decide: a) if his wife is even permitted to divorce him and b) who keeps the children. Note that this is not dissimilar form the Orthodox Jewish concept of a “Get” – one that I strongly oppose and one that most Orthodox communities try desperately to find loopholes around (such as effectively excommunicating husbands who refuse to divorce their wives).

I will pause at this point to note that, Read the rest of this entry »

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How to really help Africa/International Women’s Day-after

Our friend Joseph Kony totally overshadowed International Women’s Day yesterday — which is a horrible thing to do, add that one to the list. Also, a lot of people criticised me for being too negative about Kony because I was “trying to stop people to take action”. But more on that later. Anyway, I thought I would post a few items that would have been relevant yesterday while also making a few positive suggestions of campaigns that would help Africans more than wearing a Kony armband.

1. The “Girl Affect”

The crux of this is described in the following moving infographic:

Or much more eloquently by Nicholas Kristof in a recent New York Times Magazine article:

The Women’s Crusade – NYTimes.com.

if the injustices that women in poor countries suffer are of paramount importance, in an economic and geopolitical sense the opportunity they represent is even greater. “Women hold up half the sky,” in the words of a Chinese saying, yet that’s mostly an aspiration: in a large slice of the world, girls are uneducated and women marginalized, and it’s not an accident that those same countries are disproportionately mired in poverty and riven by fundamentalism and chaos. There’s a growing recognition among everyone from the World Bank to the U.S. military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to aid organizations like CARE that focusing on women and girls is the most effective way to fight global poverty and extremism. That’s why foreign aid is increasingly directed to women. The world is awakening to a powerful truth: Women and girls aren’t the problem; they’re the solution.

And it can be found on Facebook.

2. Holding Islamists to account

The downside to that Kristof piece was this:

Yet another reason to educate and empower women is that greater female involvement in society and the economy appears to undermine extremism and terrorism. It has long been known that a risk factor for turbulence and violence is the share of a country’s population made up of young people. Now it is emerging that male domination of society is also a risk factor; the reasons aren’t fully understood, but it may be that when women are marginalized the nation takes on the testosterone-laden culture of a military camp or a high-school boys’ locker room. That’s in part why the Joint Chiefs of Staff and international security specialists are puzzling over how to increase girls’ education in countries like Afghanistan — and why generals have gotten briefings from Greg Mortenson, who wrote about building girls’ schools in his best seller, “Three Cups of Tea.” Indeed, some scholars say they believe the reason Muslim countries have been disproportionately afflicted by terrorism is not Islamic teachings about infidels or violence but rather the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force.

This almost certainly confuses cause and effect. The “Islamic teachings about infidels or violence” are, by and large, the reason behind the low levels of female education and participation in the labor force. I particularly dislike calling these teachings “Islamic”; they are not Islamic, they are Islamist. I have spoken to plenty of Muslims who have explained to me in detail why there is nothing Islamic whatsoever about not educating women and slaying the infidels.

Moreover, the denial of Islamist discrimination is an example of a third-worldist well-meaning condescension. This leads to the kind of situation described yesterday by Isobel Coleman, Director of the Women and Foreign Policy Program at Council on Foreign Relations:

Why the Arab Spring Hasn’t Been Better for Women – Isobel Coleman – International – The Atlantic.

One theme is that women played an essential role in the Arab world’s uprisings, only to be marginalized once transitions began. Moushira Khattab, a former Egyptian ambassador to South Africa and minister of family and population, writes that women joined men in calling for freedom in Tahrir Square. Since then, though, “the train of change has not only left them behind, but has in fact turned against them…

Dormant conservative value systems are being manipulated by a religious discourse that denies women their rights.” Shirin Ebadi, an Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, says flatly that “the ‘Arab Spring’ is not an accurate description” of what has occurred. She notes that after Iran’s revolution, “a dictator fell from power, but a religious tyranny took the place of democracy.” The uprisings will only be fulfilled, she argues, “when women achieve their rights.” For many, the rise of traditional and religious-based politics is deeply harmful to women. Rola Dashti, a former member of the Kuwaiti parliament who lost her seat in the election last month (in which Islamists surged and no women were elected), says that “women’s presence and participation in public life–specifically in politics, decision-making positions, and state affairs–moved from marginalization during repressive regimes to rejection with Islamist regimes.” She pulls no punches when it comes to moderate Islamists: “the promotion of moderate Islamism by Islamists in power is nothing more than a hidden agenda of radical and extremist ideologies when it comes to social issues and citizens’ rights, especially as it concerns women.” Rend Al-Rahim, who served as the first ambassador to the United States in Iraq’s post-Saddam government and now runs the Iraq Foundation, says that “the retreat in women’s rights has more to do with the resurgence of patriarchal, narrowly conservative social mores embedded in ancient tribal customs than with religion. Sharia is only a convenient peg for the deeper instinct of male dominance.”

I’ll also throw these two videos in while we’re at it:

3. Mentorship

A little less international relations focussed for a second (well not really, but anyway), some interesting ideas came to light in this post on the Council on Foreign Relations site:

Politics, Power, and Preventive Action » Ask the Experts: Where Are the Women in Foreign Policy?.

There’s a gap in the types of tasks women and men are assigned early in their careers. Intentionally or not, women tend to given more administrative or support work rather than policy or research work; path dependence takes over from there. I recall a prominent scholar regularly asking his female research assistant (RA) to pick up his dry cleaning and take his car to the shop—things he didn’t ask of male RAs.

There’s also a mentorship gap. Young women have trouble finding men willing to act in that capacity because there are few mechanisms to develop the rapport that underlies a good, productive mentoring relationship.  Conversely, men may be concerned about how a mentoring relationship will be perceived and shy away as a result. But mentors are vital for opening doors and offering suggestions and feedback about career choices—efforts that are particularly valuable in the foreign policy world.

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Crazy video of religion in Jerusalem

Created by a student at the Bezalel School of Art, Hebrew University

(Forgive the pun)

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Driving the men crazy

Saudi women are slowly starting to fight back. This is great to see!

Women who have driving licences obtained abroad are urged to get behind the wheel and use their cars themselves, without relying on male drivers as required by Saudi fatwa.

The campaign’s Facebook page, Women2Drive, said the action was due to start yesterday and would keep going “until a royal decree allowing women to drive is issued”.

There is no secular law banning women from driving in the oil-rich kingdom, but the Interior Ministry imposes regulations based on fatwa, or religious edict, that women should not be permitted to drive.

Note the last sentence there. That is why there needs to be a separation of mosque and state…

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Women just aren’t supposed to drive

Arab News gave us some Saudi women’s perspectives on driving.

I don’t even know where to start…

Not all Saudi women seeking to drive cars – Arab News

“When we want to go to a shopping center or to the hospital, the driver drops us at the main entrance and drives away. We don’t have to care about remembering where we parked our car or parking far away from the door,” said Zaina Al-Salem, a 29-year-old banker. When I travel to a country where I can drive, I’m usually burdened about the part when I get to park my car and walk all the way to the store.”

“We always complain about Saudi men’s driving. What makes women better than them? At least men have been practicing this for a while, and if it happened for women then they would have zero experience,” she said. Even the streets are not built well for driving. The streets are damaged and bumpy and most women will not be able to handle them.”

At least it ends on a kind of high note:

“I know for sure that day will come when Saudi women can drive, and when that happens people will not accept it and fathers will forbid their daughters from driving. In fact they might get recruit a female driver instead of a male.”

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More reasons why we should ban the burqa

 

Ok, so really it’s a chair covered in fabric. But don’t pretend you didn’t make the same mistake.

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Little Red Riding Hijab?

 

Just a little one (more serious post later today): Is it just me, or does the poster for the new Little Red Riding Hood movie make her look a little…Islamic?

As one colleague pointed out to me, Wolf is a Jewish surname. Maybe there’s more to this fairytale than we think…

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Iranian leader: Zionists behind the protests. Also, Egypt and the fried chicken conspiracy

Why am I not surprised? It had to be those damn Zionists, always plotting to bring down the Muslims!

But that’s ok, because Khatami knows how to deal with them – “harshly and in a legal manner”. I wonder what they could possibly mean by that.

Note: doesn’t this kind of undermine all these claims of Israel propping-up dictators? Those Iranians need to think about the implications of what they’re saying.

MEMRI Transcript

Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami Accuses America and the Zionists of Being the “Real Instigators” of the Riots and Calls to Deal with Oppositionists “Harshly and in a Legal Manner”

Following are excerpts from a speech delivered by Iranian Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami, which aired on IRINN, the Iranian news channel, on February 15, 2011.

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami: The Association of Researchers and Teachers of Qom,1 which exists only on the Internet, appears only in order to publish communiqués denouncing [the regime]. They caused this battle by initiating this fitna.

[…]

We say to the Americans and to the Zionists that we consider them to be the real instigators of the fitna. We will never forget who the main enemy is. We continue to shout passionately: Death to America, death to Israel.

Crowds: Death to America, death to Israel!

Death to America, death to Israel!

Death to America, death to Israel!

[…]

Ayatollah Ahmad Khatami: We, the clergy, explicitly say that we demand that all the rioters be dealt with harshly and in a legal manner – especially Mousavi and Karroubi.

And this is not the first time! Apparently, the protestors were caught eating KFC – proof that they were in league with not only Hizballah and Hamas, but also the CIA and Mossad. Pretty nefarious, right?

Tens of phone calls have been received by the television channel, whereby callers made the smart point that they had seen the protesters eating from KFC, and that this was proof that they have foreign agendas. They seem to believe that no one can eat from the American chain without being an agent of foreign forces.

It has filled people’s minds with thoughts of hidden agendas – the agents of Mossad, Hezbollah, and CIA allied for the first time in history to take the Egyptian regime down. I do not know how Mossad has allied with Hezbollah and Hamas, but the media insists that this has happened.

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