In the Chinese region of Xinjiang, home to a large population of the country's Muslim Uighur minority, government workers are encouraging women to cast off their headscarves in the name of good looks. Called "Project Beauty," the government-backed campaign has reportedly taken over the streets of Kashgar, one of the few cities in China where a significant number of women don the veil for religious reasons. De facto beauty police staff street-side stalls and single out veiled women, recording their images with a surveillance camera and even making them watch a re-education film "about the joys of exposing their faces."
The effort is an underhanded campaign to put beauty ideals to work in the name of national security. States have long tried to restrict the veil among Muslim women, often through formal decree. But China is taking something of a soft-power approach and telling China's Muslim women to unveil and show their pretty faces.
What isn't said is that the true aim of that campaign is to make it easier to track members of a restive minority group.
In the annals of jihadi groups, the story is an old one: A disaffected Muslim youth returns to Islam, reconnects with his faith, finds himself outraged at the injustices done to his brothers abroad, and travels to a conflict zone to wage jihad. Think Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 2000s, Iraq under American occupation, and Syria today.
But when it comes to the propaganda campaigns that have drawn Muslim youths to these conflicts, here's something we haven't seen before: a graphic novel encouraging young Muslims in the West to take up jihad.
A video released by the online jihadi "Mustafa Hamdi" depicting one young man's journey to Syria does just that, serving up a mix of aspirational thinking and sense of belonging to entice Muslims to join with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria against the Syrian regime.
Ramadan, the Islamic holy month marked by fasting from sunrise to sunset, begins Monday evening in many parts of the world (just when continues to be the subject of debate). And in a intentionally provocative move, the British broadcaster Channel 4 has announced that it will be airing the call to prayer, or adhan, live every morning throughout Ramadan (an autoplay version will also be available on its website five times daily). The first call to prayer will air at 3:00 a.m. on Tuesday and "[p]rogrammes in the schedule will be cut to accommodate the adhan."
Writing for Britain's Radio Times magazine, Channel 4's head of factual programming, Ralph Lee, called the decision "a deliberate 'provocation' to all our viewers in the very real sense of the word," noting that the broadcaster expected to be "criticized for focusing attention on a 'minority' religion." Lee went on to point out that nearly five percent of the country will be participating in Ramadan. "[C]an we say the same of other national events that have received blanket coverage on television such as the Queen's coronation anniversary?" he asked.
When Justin Bieber performed in Istanbul on Thursday night, did he halt his concert out of respect for Muslim fans -- or because he was getting pelted with toys?
This is the stark question before us today amid reports from U.S. entertainment outlets that the teen pop sensation observed the Muslim tradition of silence during the call to prayer by interrupting his performance. E! Online reports:
Fans were shocked and delighted... when the "Boyfriend" singer paused his show for the first time thanking the singer for being "respectful" and a "great man."
As E! reported, fans rushed to Twitter to praise the artist's cultural sensitivity:
Justin showed tonight in Istanbul/Turkey how much he respects the muslim beliebers. BEST IDOL EVER— Belieber (@BiebsHeaven) May 2, 2013
Some were even more enthusiastic:
And even those indifferent to the Biebs were swayed by the gesture:
I'm not a Justin Bieber fan but as a Muslim, he totally earns my respect twitter.com/justamalaykid/...—luqieman(@justamalaykid) May 3, 2013
But Beliebers and newly converted Beliebers might want to hold their enthusiasm in check. Hurriyet, a leading Turkish daily, is reporting that toys -- not the call to prayer -- were behind the show's suspension:
Fans were throwing toys and scarves at the beloved singer as a show of appreciation, but the teen magnet decided he wanted no more of it, and abandoned the stage.
He stayed backstage and refused to come out until an announcement was made in Turkish, informing fans that the show would not go on until the toys stopped coming in.
Bieber then continued on with his show.
The news comes after Bieber caused a stir at an airport in Istanbul by refusing to go through passport control.
So, which is it? A hotheaded diva moment or a gracious act of cultural sensitivity? We may never know what really happened Thursday night -- unless, that is, any Turkish Beliebers out there care to step forward as eyewitnesses.
MIKKO STIG/AFP/Getty Images
When Amina Tyler, a 19-year-old Tunisian activist, posted topless photographs of herself on Facebook in March, she caused a global uproar. The tremendous backlash within Tunisia to the images -- which included one of Amina topless, hair short and black, with the words, "Fuck your morals" splashed across her chest -- quickly spilled beyond the country's borders as the feminist protest movement Femen, declared a "topless jihad" in her defense.
But while Amina's name exploded onto the international scene, she herself largely disappeared from the public eye. In April, Amina told Femen's leader, Inna Shevchenko, over Skype that she had been kidnapped by her family, beaten, drugged, and subjected to a virginity test. She also admitted that she had been coerced into doing an interview with the French station Itele in which she declared she didn't want to be associated with Femen. "I will continue the struggle that started in Tunisia," Amina declared during the Skype conversation. I will do a topless protest and then I will leave."
But as recently as May 1, there was still confusion over the whereabouts of the activist. In the Atlantic, Jeffrey Taylor described her as "in hiding" somewhere in the North African country.
On Wednesday, however, the young dissident finally reappeared with another topless photo posted to the Femen Facebook page. So far, the image has generated a number of headlines in the Arabic press but virtual silence in the U.S. media. This time she was blonde, and the words scrawled on her chest were in bright red instead of black. But the message was essentially the same: "No More Moral Lessons."
JONATHAN NACKSTRAND/AFP/Getty Images
As far as holidays go, Valentine's Day seems innocuous enough. But for some Muslim groups, it's a lot more sinister than hearts and flowers.
In Pakistan, for example, the Electronic Media Regulatory Authority wrote a letter this week requiring television and radio stations to censor content related to the holiday, deeming it "not in conformity to our religious and cultural ethos."
Tanzeem-e-Islami, an Islamist organization in the country, took censorship efforts one step further, urging the government to block cell phone service in order to prevent "moral terrorism"-- otherwise known as the swapping of sappy V-Day sentiments. The same group also plastered Karachi with anti-Valentine's billboards (that look suspiciously Valentine's-y) with warnings to citizens like, "Say No to Valentine's Day" (another billboard posted on Twitter declared, "Sorry Valentine's Day, I am 'Muslim'").
It's no surprise, of course, that conservative,
Islamic clerics aren't enamored with this unapologetically consumerist, Western holiday named for a saint and and centered around romance. For many, the holiday
seamlessly intertwines anti-Western sentiment with the threat of loosening
moral values. The spokesman for the Pakistani Islamist organization
Jamaat-e-Islami said as much this week:
This is imposing Western values and cultures on an Islamic society.... Look at the West -- people love their dogs but throw their parents out when they get old. We don't want to be like that.
Pakistan isn't the first Muslim country to wage a war against Valentine's Day. In Indonesia this year, protesters took to the streets with signs reading, "Valentine, Infidel Culture" and, "Are you Muslim? Don't follow Valentine Day." As we noted last year, countries like Saudi Arabia, Iran, Malaysia, and Uzbekistan don't feel the love this time of year either. And hey, at least Pakistan didn't mark the holiday by banning the color red.
RIZWAN TABASSUM/AFP/Getty Images
The New York Times reported today that New York City's Metropolitan Transit Authority voted 8-0 to change its rules on what advertising it will accept after the furor created by Pamela Geller's anti-Islam ads. Geller, executive director of the American Freedom Defense Initiative, won a court case last month, compelling the MTA to post her ads, which read, "In the war between civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man. Support Israel. Defeat Jihad."
A wave of public outrage over the ads, which were posted in New York City subway stations, has lead to incidents of vandalism, with activists and angry citizens defacing the posters. On Tuesday, Egyptian-American activist and journalist Mona Eltahawy was arrested for defacing one of the ads with pink spray paint.
Ostensibly in response to the vandalism, the MTA stated that they would, from now on, prohibit advertising which "would incite or provoke violence or other immediate breach of the peace, and so harm, disrupt, or interfere with safe, efficient, and orderly transit operations." Geller's ads won't be taken down just yet, since the rule change doesn't apply ads that are currently posted; however, the new guidelines might prevent her from renewing them once they have expired. The new rules will also require that all ads featuring political, religious, or moral expressions prominently feature a disclaimer stating that the MTA does not endorse the views expressed.
Protestors at the committee meeting held signs reading "The subway belongs to the 99 percent. Take the racist ads down." According to the New York Times, Geller attended the meeting and urged MTA officials to "have the courage of your convictions." She was "repeatedly shouted down."
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
Prominent Egyptian-American journalist and activist Mona Eltahawy, author of FP's May/June cover story, was arrested on Tuesday in New York City and jailed overnight following a scuffle over American Freedom Defense Initiative leader Pamela Geller's anti-Islam subway ads. In a video shot by the New York Post, Eltahawy is seen defacing one of the ads with a can of pink spray paint, until Pamela Hall, a supporter of Geller's initiative, throws herself into the line of fire.
"Mona, do you have the right to do this?" Hall yells.
"I think this is freedom of expression," Eltahawy counters before letting loose with her brightly colored weapon of choice.
Things continue in this vein until NYPD officers intervene and promptly handcuff an indignant Eltahawy, who is clad in a coat almost the same shade as her paint.
"This is what happens when you nonviolently protest in America!" she shouts to the gathering crowd.
Eltahawy was later charged with criminal mischief, making graffiti, and possession of a graffiti instrument, all misdemeanors.
Geller's ads, which read "In any war between the civilized man and the savage, support the civilized man" and conclude with "Support Israel. Defeat Jihad," have been the cause of a legal and political firestorm in recent weeks. In late August, a federal court ruled that the Metropolitan Transit Authority couldn't prevent the ads from being posted. This order was unaffected by the spate of violent anti-American protests over the anti-Islam film "The Innocence of Muslims" currently taking place across the globe.
"Our hands are tied," Aaron Donovan, a spokesman for the authority, told the New York Times. New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg defended the decision on Sept. 21, saying that Americans often have to tolerate things they find offensive because of the First Amendment.
Geller later blogged her version of the pink spray paint spat, calling Eltahawy a "thug" and correctly predicting that "This criminal behavior and fascism will be lauded in Leftist circles." The flurry of celebratory tweets from Eltahawy's many Twitter followers following her arrest would seem to confirm Geller's fears.
Today, only the squat silhouette of a woman outlined in pink serves as a reminder of the confrontation, but Eltahawy's arrest has become something of a social media legend, inspiring the hashtags #freemona and #proudsavage as well as an online parody.
"As an US citizen I know that non-violent civil disobedience is one of many ways to fight racism," Eltahawy later tweeted.
If only Gandhi had thought of acquiring a can of pink spray paint.
The United States doesn't get a lot of love from the Muslim world. Only eight percent of Pakistanis, for instance, view the U.S. as a partner, according to a Pew opinion poll conducted in June. Fully 74 percent consider the U.S. an enemy -- $30 billion in direct aid pledged since 1948 notwithstanding. Equally discouraging is the recent outpouring of anti-American sentiment in Yemen, where President Barack Obama promised more than $175 million in non-military development and humanitarian aid for this year alone.
It's unfortunate, but there's an easy explanation, right? American values, perceived as antithetical to Islam, coupled with U.S. foreign policy -- think drones and American support for Israel -- have made the U.S. so unpopular in the Muslim world that no amount of aid can rehabilitate its image.
Not so fast. Political scientists Lisa Blaydes and Drew Linzer have a provocative article in the latest issue of the American Political Science Review that challenges the notion that "individuals form their opinions about the United States primarily as a direct reaction to what the United States is or does."
Obviously, grievances of this type are not irrelevant, but Blaydes and Linzer argue that anti-American sentiment is primarily concocted by political elites who try to ideologically "outbid" each other in their quest for votes. They call it "instrumental" anti-Americanism, and their model predicts when it's most likely to occur.
We trace the source of Muslim ant-Americanism to the intensity of domestic political competition between a country's Islamist and secular-national factions...Where the struggle for political control between these two groups escalates, elites of both types have incentives to ramp up anti-American appeals to boost mass support.
This theory helps to explain why anti-American attitudes among Muslims are remarkably stable over time. (You would expect them to shift with major events like the Iraq war if they were formed in response to policy decisions.) It also explains why the most devout Muslim countries -- like Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states -- have more favorable attitudes toward the U.S. than countries that are split between religious and secular constituencies.
Anti-Americanism is much more widespread in countries with higher perceived levels of struggle between secular and Islamist elites, as well as in countries with lower overall levels of religiosity among the Muslim population.
In Turkey, for example, only 36 percent of Muslims consider themselves highly religious, but fully 90 percent reported unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S. In Senegal, by contrast, 83 percent of Muslims consider themselves highly religious, but only 30 percent had negative feelings about the U.S. In Morocco, which splits the difference between Turkey and Senegal on religiosity, 79 percent of respondents reported unfavorable attitudes toward the U.S.
So if you think Islam goes hand in hand with anti-Americanism, think again. And considering that in Pakistan, Egypt, and Jordan -- all among the top ten recipients of U.S. aid -- at least 75 percent of respondents felt negatively about the United States, policy doesn't fully explain anti-Americanism, either.
A cleric has issued a fatwa calling for the death of the editor of Morocco's Al-Ahdath Al-Maghribia daily newspaper, Moktar el-Ghzioui, after he went on television proclaiming his opposition to article 490 of the Moroccan penal code, which criminalizes premarital sex. The BBC reported last Thursday that Ghzioui is in fear for his life following his controversial public statements in defense of sex before marriage, which is still taboo in many countries and religions.
A Moroccan imam told the BBC that if the code prohibiting premarital sex was removed, "we will become wild savages. Our society will become a disaster."
Last year, also in Morocco, a judge ordered a 16-year-old girl named Amina Filali to marry the man who raped her. She committed suicide in March, prompting widespread outrage and condemnation of article 475, which allows a rapist to marry his victim in order to escape jail.
Morocco isn't the only country where the prohibition on premarital sex is sometimes violently enforced. Islamists linked to al Qaeda in Mali stoned a couple to death in July for engaging in sex before marriage. The couple reportedly had been living together for some time and had children together.
Majid Saeedi/Getty Images
A fight between hardline Salafists at a Tunisian mosque on Tuesday was hardly big news. A brief story by AFP on the incident was buried by reports from Aleppo and coverage of the attack in Sinai. However, the clash between rival Islamists serves as a reflection of the current state of affairs in the country that sparked the Arab Spring.
Apparently, followers of a Salafist scholar angered a group of "jihadists" by beginning iftar, the meal that breaks Ramadan fasting, shortly before the call to prayer. The argument quickly degenerated into a knife fight, and tear gas was even used at one point.
This ugly little brawl would be unremarkable, except that radical Salafists are reportedly becoming quite bold in Tunisia these days. On Sunday, Abdelfattah Mourou, a member of Tunisia's more moderate ruling Ennahada party, was violently attacked during a conference on tolerance and Islam by another Salafist.
In June, Salafists actually rioted over an art exhibition that spelled out the name of God in insects, attacking police stations and the offices of secular parties with rocks and homemade bombs. Reuters reported in May that alcohol venders in the town of Sidi Bouzid, where Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire and the Arab Spring in motion, had repeatedly been attacked by radical Islamists.
Manouba University, a Tunisian college, was also the focus of much controversy in July over a rule forbidding female students to wear a face veil during exams.
Although it's frequently at odds with the ultraconservative Salafists, even the supposedly moderate Ennahada party is considering a bill that would criminalize blasphemy. It defines this as "insults, profanity, derision and representation of Allah and Mohammed."
On Saturday, as Ramadan began, a new Egyptian satellite television channel was launched, catering to and run by women. Maria TV is an all-woman Islamic channel -- the first of its kind -- in which women work the cameras, determine content, and appear as presenters and actresses, providing programming directed at a female audience. No men will be featured in any of Maria's programming.
Shows on Maria TV will include daily news, talk-show-style programs on topics such as the first year of marriage and make up tips, as well as investigative reports on subjects like women who cheat on their husbands. There will also be a satirical news show starring a female puppet.
Female preacher El-Sheikha Safaa Refai will head the programming. The channel is the newest creation of Ahmed Abdallah, a Cario-based producer of Islamic television, who is also the founder of Ummah TV, a religious satellite station targeting Muslim audiences throughout the Middle East.
Hosni Mubarak's regime had targeted several security raids against Ummah TV , but since Mubarak's fall, Egyptian media has seen some relaxation of restrictions. Earlier in the summer, Egyptian broadcasting also began featuring its first political humorist and satirist, Bassem Yousef, on the air.
Maria TV, which will for now consist of six hours of programming on Ummah TV, will show only fully veiled women. Guests who choose not to wear the Niqab will have their features blurred out.
AMR NABIL/AFP/Getty Images
Polygamy has become passé -- at least for young people in Indonesia and Malaysia.
86.5 percent of Indonesians between the ages of 15 and 25, and 72.7 percent of young Malaysians, disagree with the practice, according to a new survey. Of course, in and of itself that isn't earth-shattering news, but given that the countries are overwhelmingly Muslim and generally quite conservative, the number is interesting.
The same survey also found that 90.1 percent of young people in Indonesia wouldn't marry outside their religion (the survey only included young Muslims, a religion that makes up 88 percent of the population) and 98.2 percent said premarital sex was not okay.
So why the negative attitudes toward polygamy -- which is after all permitted under Islamic law?
It may be a generational shift based on years of vocal opposition from women's groups -- especially in Indonesia.
In both countries, polygamy is legal and has strong backers. Supporters have set up clubs that preach the virtues of polygamy and encourage women to be obedient to their husbands, according to the AP. Young people clearly aren't buying the message.
Only about 5 percent of recent marriages in Malaysia are estimated to be polygamous, according to activists there the AP talked to. In Indonesia, it's more widespread and often performed without official state recognition in mosques.
Polygamy remains a hot button issue throughout the globe -- and certainly crosses religious boundaries. Sects of Christians and Jews back the practice.
Among majority-Muslim countries, besides Indonesia and Malaysia, polygamy is recognized and practiced widely in Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and Sudan. Egypt and Jordan permit it but tightly regulate the practice (written permission needs to be granted from the wife beforehand). Turkey, Tunisia, and Morocco ban the practice.
The Dutch far-right politician Geert Wilders has called the Quran a "fascist book" that ought to be banned. He has referred to the Prophet Mohammed as "the devil," and said all Muslim immigration to the Netherlands should be stopped and immigrants currently there should be paid to leave. He's said women who wear the hijab should have to pay a tax and if Muslims continue immigrating, it would mean the end "European and Dutch civilization as we know it."
"Take a walk down the street and see where this is going," he once said. "You no longer feel like you are living in your own country. There is a battle going on and we have to defend ourselves. Before you know it there will be more mosques than churches."
Today, Wilders scored a PR victory when he was acquitted on charges of inciting racial hatred. "The good news is it's legal to be critical about Islam. And this is something we need, because the Islamization of our societies is a major problem and a threat to our freedom," he told reporters in the courthouse lobby following the verdict.
Wilders's acquittal may have attracted headlines, but the truth is that the social and political ground have been shifting in the supposedly tolerant society for years. Last year, Wilders's Party for Freedom won 15 percent of the vote in national elections, making it the third largest in parliament. And his ideas are slowly creeping into mainstream politics: The Netherlands has some of the strictest immigration laws in Europe, and has banned face-covering attire like the niqab.
The current government depends on Wilders and his party to remain in power. Though not formally part of government, they are at the very least a silent partner. Without their votes, the minority-government wouldn't be able to pass its legislation.
There's a tolerance for nudity and sex," said Holli Semetko, vice provost for international affairs at Emory University, who lived in Amsterdam and studied public opinion there from 1995 until 2003. But tolerance, she said, does not extend to religious communities who might be offended by some of the fleshier aspects of society, and certainly not to immigrants.
"There is a general tendency I observed there to create a fear on immigration issues -- using ‘what-if' scenarios," she said.
Wilders's judge today said that while some of his statements were "crude and denigrating," they were nevertheless protected speech. But the decision might widen the scope of the debate on multiculturalism in Dutch society, and embolden Wilders to take his anti-Islam and anti-immigration crusade further.
"I'm concerned that today's news will be seen as public intolerance being given a pat on the back from a judge, which will only encourage more stereotyping," Semetko said.
Intelligence Squared hosted some intellectual heavyweights on Oct. 6 to debate the motion: "Is Islam a religion of peace." Those who took part included Maajid Nawaz, the founder of the counter-extremism Quilliam Foundation, who argued in favor of the resolution, and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch MP and critic of Islam, who argued against it.
The result? Hirsi Ali won in a landslide. Intelligence Squared polled the audience before and after the debate, and she prevailed over almost all of the undecided audience members and even a segment of those who had previously disagreed with her. Here's the hard data:
Before the debate:
After the debate:
This will be painted as a chilling sign of the rise of Western anti-Islam bigotry, but I'm not so sure that's clear. Obviously, Islam isn't a "peaceful" religion any more than, say, Christianity, Judaism, or Hinduism. If the audience was only convinced that the violent tendencies in Islam are on par with those religions, that does not necessarily mean that they're all about to become fans of Geert Wilders. If anyone had asked my vote, I would have told them that it's a stupid question.
Ian Waldie/Getty Images
In a new low for Muslim-baiting, a Swedish political attack ad features a burqa-clad mob robbing money from an old lady with a walker.
Obviously, this ad is a testament to growing European fears of Muslim immigration -- but it's also a product of the global recession. As a counter shows the rapidly declining state budget, the elderly Swedish lady is overtaken by a throng of Muslim women, who are wielding baby carriages. The commercial ends ominously with one outstretched hand reaching for a lever that says "Pensioner," and another reaching for a lever that says (what Google Translate tells me is the Swedish word for) "Immigration." The clear implication is that there won't be enough money for both.
There shouldn't be any doubt that a dismal economic climate has exacerbated anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden. Sweden's far-right party secured 20 seats in the country's parliament in general elections over the weekend, the first time ever that it had won even a single seat.
Sept. 11 protests over an Islamic community center a few blocks away from the World Trade Center site drew an unlikely ally: British soccer hooligans.
This isn't particularly shocking, given that many hooligans have long been tied into European right-wing political organizations. The most infamous among them were militant followers of Red Star Belgrade in the early 1990s. Headed by future-Serbian war criminal Arkan, the Delije were notoriously violent fanatics, and later became a backbone of Serbian paramilitary units in the Balkan Wars.
The small protest contingent were members of the English Defense League, an anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim organization. (They style themselves as a "Counter Jihad" movement.) The make-up of the group itself is actually quite amazing. The New York Times quotes a piece on the EDL's website referring to a London Al-Quds Day rally:
More and more lads started to arrive at the pub, Pompey, Southampton, West Ham, Arsenal, Tottenham, Millwall, Chelsea, Brentford, QPR all drinking together, a bit of banter, but no hassle whatsoever. Top lads all there for their country.
For the record, these are some of English football's fiercest rivalries: (Pompey) Portsmouth-Southampton, West Ham-Millwall, Arsenal-Tottenham, Queens Park Rangers (QPR)/Brentford (and to a lesser extent, Chelsea.)
The Times piece also provides a number of videos of EDL rallies, which are well worth a look to get a taste of what the group is like. Matthew Taylor of the Guardian secretly investigated the group for months, and produced this video in May. A choice bit as quoted by the Times:
As we moved outside for the E.D.L. protest -- during which supporters became involved in violent clashes with the police -- a woman asked me for a donation to support the "heroes coming back injured from Afghanistan." I put a pound in the bucket.
"Thanks love," she said."They go over there and fight for this country and then come back to be faced with these Pakis everywhere." The woman also used another racial slur, using language we cannot repeat here.
Some right-wing U.S. protesters have gone to great lengths to prove they aren't bigots; I wonder if they'll denounce this British group showing up at their rallies …
Shaun Botterill/Getty Images
Is Nicolas Sarkozy's so-called burqa ban, as my FP colleague David Rothkopf writes, an expression of rising intolerance in France? Perhaps. Coupled with his expulsion of more than 1,000 Roma, it sure looks like le président is trying to use a cultural wedge to shore up his flagging popularity.
Still, I think the "burqa" issue (or, alternatively, the jilbab + niqab, or abaya issue) is more complicated than David allows. For one thing, France has a long and well-known convention of laïcité -- a far stricter notion of secularism, enforced by the state, than the American variety. Banning burqas falls well within that tradition.
Second, one has to admit that critics of full veiling have a point. From 2005 to 2006, I spent about a year and a half in Cairo, Egypt, where full veiling is relatively rare but hijabs -- headscarves -- are increasingly common. That was one thing, but I've just moved to Doha, Qatar, which is more culturally conservative and currently filled with women cloaked in black and covering their faces (many of them likely Saudis visiting for the summer or the holidays).
Although many women here personalize their abayas with elegant embroidery (and it seems that most Qatari women do not wear the full face veil), I find it disconcerting and dehumanizing not to be able to read people's emotions, to tell if they are frowning or smiling, or even know what they look like. Some Muslim women may find the anonymity liberating or believe that their religion commands it, but full veiling is one cultural practice that I would be more than happy to see killed by globalization.
(I find it particularly absurd when I see a man dressed in, say, an Armani Exchange T-shirt and Diesel jeans walking along with a fully veiled woman and several kids in tow. If you're going to make your wife wear a shroud, at least man up and throw on a thobe and ghutra.)
Having said all that, I don't like the notion of French gendarmes arresting or fining people on the street for what they wear. If the French government wants to prohibit state employees from veiling, or require people to uncover their faces when they drive or enter government buildings, fine. Private businesses, like banks, should be allowed to do the same. But we shouldn't pretend there are easy answers.
ALAIN JOCARD/AFP/Getty Images
No, not a multicultural spin-off of the beloved 1990s animated series, just the latest Islamaphobic backlash scandal.
Following medieval tradition, the stonemasons working on the renovation of St. Jean cathedral in Lyon, France decided to pay tribute to one of their own by styling a gargoyle after a Muslim mason named Ahmed Benzizine:
Stonemason Emmanuel Fourchet decided to carve "Ahmed" as a gargoyle -- a demonic medieval statue that hangs from a cathedral as both a form of rain gutter and an admonishment to the faithful -- in tribute to his friend.
The "God is Great" inscription underneath, in both French and Arabic, is a tribute to his colleague's faith, and was not meant as a slight to Christian worshippers who still use St Jean eight centures after it was built.
"I'm a Frenchman and a practising Muslim and I've always worked on historic monuments. I could work on mosques or synagogues as well," Benzizine told AFP after a hardline website attempted to stir controversy....
While Ahmed has adorned the Gothic masterpiece since summer without raising eyebrows, it was attacked by "Jeunesse Identitaire Lyonnais", a right-wing group which defends the region's traditional "ethnic and cultural identity".
"While in many Muslim countries Christianity is forbidden and Christians persecuted, in Lyon Muslims take over our churches at their leisure with the complicity of Catholic authorities," the group complained on its website.
Unless Ahmed the Gargoyle is coming to life at night and eating all the communion wafers or something, this seems pretty harmless to me.
PHILIPPE DESMAZES/AFP/Getty Images
Feisal Abdul Rauf, the Kuwait-born imam at the center of the Burlington Coat Factory Community Center controversy, landed in Bahrain Thursday to begin a short tour of Persian Gulf countries.
He's on a trip funded by the State Department, whose ostensible purpose is to educate Muslims abroad about how great it is to be a Muslim in the United States of America. He's even written a book about the subject, titled What's Right With Islam, which the State Department has distributed in the past (one edition is called What's Right With Islam Is What's Right With America).
In other words ... the cleric's mission is to tell Middle Easterners how the United States is a bastion of tolerance, even as he's subject to an increasingly vicious campaign back home -- when he's not being compared to Nazis, he's being called a terrorist sympathizer, or worse. This is a guy who stood before a synagogue audience in 2003 and declared, "I am a Jew." Gotta love the irony.
UPDATE: I got a call earlier this afternoon from a representative of the Burlington Coat Factory, who politely asked me to change the title of this post and the reference to the company, since it no longer owned the site where the Cordoba Initiative is planning to build its community center. I declined, explaining that I was making a joke (one that has been widely shared on the Internets). She then told me that the Associated Press had issued guidelines to its reporters telling them to refer to it as an "NYC mosque." I told her I don't work for the AP.
Anyway, Jon Stewart, as usual, says it best:
FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP/Getty Images
The American media has refrained all day from echoing Haaretz's report that the leaders of the Cordoba Initiative, which is planning to construct an Islamic community center in downtown Manhattan, "will soon back down, agreeing to move to a new site." And for good reason: The Haaretz story only said that its report had been confirmed by "sources in New York," which really only narrows it down to approximately 8 million people.
The official Twitter account of Park51, the developer constructing the center, has now stepped in to deny the story. "Reports by Haaretz are completely false," tweeted @Park51. "We are committed to plans of building Park 51 to serve the community of Lower Manhattan.
Score one for American media. And cross Haaretz off your list of sources for news on this story.
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Forget the clash of civilizations -- the next grand battle between East and West will be over Time itself. The world's largest clock is currently under construction in the Islamic holy city of Mecca, with the goal of moving Greenwich Mean Time to the Saudi Arabian city. The clock will tick off its first seconds tomorrow, one day after the beginning of Ramadan.
The clock itself bears a resemblance to Big Ben -- if Ben was on steroids. Its four faces, each 151 feet in diameter, will be lit with two million LED lights. It will sit on top of a tower that stretches 1,983 feet in the air. By comparison, Big Ben's faces are merely 23 feet in diameter, and its tower is only 316 feet tall. The tower also has some Islamic touches that are all its own: Arabic script reading "In the Name of Allah" runs below the clock faces, and white and green lights will flash during at the top of the clock will flash to signal the five daily times for prayer in Islam.
Greenwich has performed its job as international timekeeper admirably since 1884, so many people are going to be hard-pressed to think of a reason to change the Prime Meridian now. But at least one nation is starting to think that it's time for a change.
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Manhattan's proposed Cordoba House -- described on its website as a project that "is about promoting integration, tolerance of difference and community cohesion through arts and culture" -- has been the target of heated right-wing attacks lately, ostensibly because a Muslim center near Ground Zero is "offensive" to the victims of the attacks.
But opponents have apparently noticed perhaps an even more insidious threat: Muslims praying inside the Pentagon. As Justin Elliott noted recently in Salon, the holy month of Ramadan has been observed, right in the heart of the U.S. defense establishment. Elliott points to a 2007 article from the Washington Times that exposes the reasons behind this nefarious plot:
"We live in a great nation," said master of ceremonies Air Force Lt. Col. Timothy Oldenburg, a Muslim. "Yes, it is our First Amendment right do that — to practice our religion the way we feel, to worship God and to come to the Pentagon and celebrate Ramadan."
This shocking lack of security begs the question: has the Pentagon itself secretly been shrouded in Sharia fairy dust powder? God only knows the horrors that could result from the free exercise of First Amendment rights!
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Think of Cairo's al-Azhar University as the Harvard of Sunni Islam: Founded in the 10th century, it has played a foundational role in the religious and cultural development of modern Egypt and the entire Muslim world. In the first half of the 20th century, some of the era's most important political and intellectual figures -- including secularist Taha Hussein, Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, and Hamas leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin -- passed through its gates. In recent years, however, al-Azhar has lost some of its prestige to upstart Wahhabi preachers in Saudi Arabia and unaffiliated firebrands throughout the Arab world, including radicals sympathetic to al Qaeda. Now, a new television station is trying to help al-Azhar reclaim the initiative in the 21st century.
Azhari TV was founded on the heels of President Obama's June 2009 Cairo speech, with a mandate to promote a "moderate" interpretation of Islam. This week, the station expanded to offer programming in English, French, Urdu, and Pashto. In its first year of existence, Azhari TV's owners have funneled around $18 million into the station, and expect to spend between $8 and $10 million a year to keep it operational. They claim that they currently attract an audience of approximately 7 to 8 million viewers.
I spoke with Hassan Tatanaki, a Libyan businessman who is one of the financiers of the station, to get a better understanding of the version of Islam he's trying to promote. "Our main principle is living together -- Copts, Muslims, Jews, it does not make a difference," he said. When asked for an example of the extremism that Azhari TV sets out to combat, he criticized Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the Egyptian preacher who hosts a popular religious program on al-Jazeera, for issuing a fatwa against Iraqi immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship while the United States continues to occupy Iraq. "All Qaradawi has done is made those people believe that they are excommunicated, and therefore could be killed," he said.
Tatanaki hopes that Azhari TV's expansion will now reach Muslims living in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Europe's immigrant communities. Because non-Arabic speakers aren't versed in the original language of the Koran, he argued, it is easier for them to be misled by a preacher that distorts its meaning. "They're living in their own domain, forgetting their own language, and feeling lost -- you know, neither here nor there. That's the danger that's coming to the West."
Still, it's a tall order to expect Azhari TV to restore al-Azhar's lost luster. The primary cause for the university's decline isn't its dated communications technology, but its inability to respond effectively to its audience's political concerns. On whether Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is one of the extremist organizations Azhari TV was designed to oppose, for example, Tatanaki said that it was "sensitive to reply," but criticized the organization for extending its religious agenda into the political realm. He also had little to say about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, beyond the religiously-charged issue of Jerusalem. Other issues affecting Palestinian politics, he said, are "of no interest to us." By neglecting to tackle these issues head-on, Azhari TV runs the risk of surrendering vital political turf to those who it is attempting to supplant.
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Belgium's government is barely functional right now, hampered by a decades long power struggle between Flemish and Wallonian politicians. But the two sides do seem to be able to agree on one thing:
The lower house of parliament voted on Thursday to ban clothes or veils that did not allow the wearer to be fully identified, including the full-body veil, known as the burqa, and the face veil which leaves slits for the eyes, known as the niqab.
A cross-party consensus of 136 deputies voted for the measure, with just two abstentions and no opposing votes.
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The State Department's 2010 Human Rights Report examines abuse and discrimination the world over, featuring China, Iran, and... Western Europe?
Europe is not exactly at the forefront of one's mind when thinking of places with poor human rights records. But creeping into European society are widespread and insidious anti-Muslim sentiments, says the report. These prejudices are increasingly visible across the Continent, with numerous cases last year highlighting the issue. The document puts it rather bluntly: "Discrimination against Muslims in Europe has been an increasing concern."
The biggest headline grabber was the Swiss ban of minaret construction, passed by a significant majority (57.5 percent in favor) in a popular referendum. (Notably, the ban was opposed by majorities in parliament and the Federal Council, but still won handily.) Compared to its bigger neighbors, Switzerland has a relatively tiny Muslim community, and there are only four minarets in the entire country -- making the ban mostly symbolic. But the message, another contribution to the growing trend of Swiss hostility towards Muslims, resonated. The report further stated,
Islamic organizations have complained that authorities in many cantons and municipalities discriminated against Muslims by refusing zoning approval to build mosques, minarets, or Islamic cemeteries.
Switzerland was hardly the only country the Report criticized. France's anti-headscarf laws were criticized, as was French President Nicolas Sarkozy's claim that burqas are "not welcome" in France. In the Netherlands, right-wing politician Geert Wilders is cited for frequently stoking anti-Muslimsentiments
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, in a speech at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy this morning, gave a tour d'horizon of Israel's current strategic position in the Middle East -- and also managed in the process to draw on some of the best traditions of Jewish comedy.
It all began when Barak took issue with Iranian ambitions in the Middle East, and specifically Iranian President Ahmadinejad's remark in Damascus that Arab nations will transform the region into an area "without Zionists and without colonialists." Barak riffed that Ahmadinejad was "looking for a 'New Middle East' -- it reminds me of [Israeli President] Shimon Peres," playing on the title of his former Labor Party ally's book.
This wasn't the only point where Barak drew a few laughs on issues that are rarely mined for their comedic potential. When tackling the subject of Iranian nuclear ambitions, Barak poured cold water on the idea that Iran would drop a nuke on Israel shortly after constructing its first weapon. "They're radical, but they're not total meshugenahs," he said of the Iranian leadership, proving that the mixture of yiddish and Persian military expansionism, while explosive, is also sort of amusing.
But Barak did not limit his comedic debut to remarks about Iran -- he also took aim at the domestic political opposition in Israel. When asked about the prospects for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinian Authority or Syria, he criticized elements on the Israeli left who were attempting to delay talks because they did not have a role in the current Netanyahu government. He recounted the apocryphal story of an Israeli airman who was cut from the air force; after delivering this bad news, his superiors asked him what service he would like to join, and he stated that he wanted to be a member of the anti-aircraft artillery corps. When asked why, he stated, "'If I can't fly, then nobody can fly." The peace process, Barak was saying, needs supporters -- not more people manning the anti-aircraft guns trying to shoot it down.
These remarks, of course, were all in good fun -- but there's more to it than that. Barak's central message was that Israel will only find peace with its neighbors when it is a strong, self-confident state. It should be capable of possessing a clear-eyed view of the threats it faces, and able to take risks for peace, Barak argued. His point was that, though Israel will no doubt confront a number of difficult challenges in the year ahead, the situation was by no means dire -- it was even possible to make a few jokes about it. By taking this approach, Barak was the latest in a long line of public figures who discovered the serious implications of a little comedic timing. Lenny Bruce would be proud.
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Late last year, my colleague Blake Hounshell and I sat down with Anwar Ibrahim here in Washington, where he was attending a conference on inter-religious understanding. The Malaysian opposition leader (who is #32 one of our Top Global Thinkers of 2009) is today in a very different setting: the beginning of his trial for charges of sodomy that he says are politically motivated. Here are a few excerpts from that interview, including his thoughts on democracy, religion, and being an opposition figure.
FP: One criticism in the United States of the Muslim world is, people will say: the Muslim world is not addressing its own problems; The Muslim world is more likely to blame America for what is going on then to do soul searching about the state of discourse in Islam today. What is your response to that?
Anwar Ibrahim: I just answer, be equally responsible. You can't just erase a period of imperialism and colonialism. You have to deal, you can't erase, for example, the fault lines, the bad policies, the failed policies, the war in Iraq for example, and ambivalence you support dictators inside the top democracy. ...This night [in Malaysia], [there are] emails [circulating within] the national media, the government television network. They will start a 5 to 7 minute campaign: Anwar is in the United States, he is a lackey of the Americans, he is pro-Jew. Period. And they go on with impunity, [as they have done] for the last 11 years. Because they want to deflect from the issue of repression, endemic corruption, destruction of the institutions of governance.
There is a difference. You [the United States] have Abu Ghraib and it is exposed -- and the media went to town. The atrocities in the Muslim world, in our prisons, [and I am] not talking about my personal experience, [are] all knitted up.
What we need is credible voice in the Muslim world, independent. Some liberal Muslims become so American in their views, so Western. I don't think you should do that. Americans need to appreciate the fact that I am a Muslim, there don't need to be apologies for that. But at the same time we must have the courage to address the inherent weaknesses within Muslim societies.
FP: When was it that you first decided this debate between religion was something you wanted to be a part of?
AI: In Malaysia, [this] is so critical. [It's] a multi racial country, a religious country. [There is a] Muslim majority of 55 percent, then Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians of various domination. I grew up being involved in the Muslim youth work, even when I was a student, engaging in this. The Vatican supported the East Asian Christian Conference at the time and we started having these discussions. My initial work in the youth work when I was leading the Malaysia youth counsel which is an umbrella of all the Hindu youth and the Buddhist youth and the Christian youth. I benefited immensely ... we started engaging them. ... Then of course there was tolerance when we hosted a conference; they were mindful of the Hindus were strictly vegetarian or if the Christian organized, they were aware we did not eat pork or drink.
When I was I government the Muslim Christian dialogue was promoted, in fact I supported the program. There was a Muslim Christian center in Georgetown and we went to New Manila University. The majority of the Malaysians non-Muslims are not Christians but Confucianists, so we brought in Professor Tu Wei-ming one of the Chinese scholars of Confucianism from Harvard to come and tell us about Confucianism and we tell him about Islam. There is so much in common between Confucianism and Islam.
FP: How do you balance your life as a thinker and a politician?
AI: People do suggest that, but I quite disagree. Of course you simplify the arguments but the same arguments, the central thesis remains constant but the way you articulate it may differ. People say, Anwar you are opportunistic, how can you talk about Islam and the Quran here and then you talk about Shakespeare there and then quote Jefferson or Edmond Burke. I say it depends on the audience. [If] I go to a remote village, of course I talk about the Quran. In Kuala Lumpur ,and you quote T.S Eliot. If I quote the Quran all the time, to a group of lawyers, I am a mullah from somewhere.
[Some] think because I do court [Islamic votes] these days they think I am a Islamist. [But] you ask the question -- is it true, Anwar, that you are sound and consistent in your views and you are not actually a closet Islamist? I say, Why do you say that? [The] six years [I spent in] prison is not enough? And they say no, but you engage with the Islamists, and I said yes.
Mark Steyn and Christopher Caldwell have already explained this to the rest of the world—Europe as we have known it is about to disappear—but it was still a shock to see how rapid the change has been in just the last half-dozen years.
By relying chiefly on anecdotes rather than data, these books misrepresent the complex evolving picture of Islam in Europe. They also eliminate social and economic conditions, including discrimination, from the picture. [...]
The most likely scenario for the next few decades -- increasing integration of Muslims accompanied by continued cultural tensions, occasional terrorist bombings, and differentiated outcomes in various countries -- is a conceptual impossibility for most Eurabia authors because for them Muslims can't really become Europeans. It is, however, already the reality. Maybe it is time they take notice.
UPDATE: Here's one of Clive Davis's commenters on what's really wrong with Murray's post:
On a side note, how seriously should we take the comments of someone who uses the word “marooned” to describe three free days in Paris?
In yesterday's New York Times, Ross Douthat argued that the populist backlash that led to Switzerland's minaret ban is the result of the European Union's increasingly undemocratic style of governance, notwithstanding the fact, as he acknowledges, that Switzerland is not an EU member:
The European Union probably wouldn’t exist in its current form if the Continent’s elites hadn’t been willing to ignore popular sentiment. (The Lisbon Treaty, for instance, was deliberately designed to bypass most European voters, after a proposed E.U. Constitution was torpedoed by referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005.) But this political style — forge a consensus among the establishment, and assume you can contain any backlash that develops — is also how the Continent came to accept millions of Muslim immigrants, despite the absence of a popular consensus on the issue, or a plan for how to integrate them.
The immigrants came first as guest workers, recruited after World War II to relieve labor shortages, and then as beneficiaries of generous asylum and family reunification laws, designed to salve Europe’s post-colonial conscience. The European elites assumed that the divide between Islam and the West was as antiquated as scimitars and broadswords, and that a liberal, multicultural, post-Christian federation would have no difficulty absorbing new arrivals from more traditional societies. And they decided, too — as Christopher Caldwell writes in “Reflections on the Revolution in Europe,” his wonderfully mordant chronicle of Europe’s Islamic dilemma — that liberal immigration policies “involve the sort of nonnegotiable moral duties that you don’t vote on.”
Better if they had let their voters choose. The rate of immigration might have been slower, and the efforts to integrate the new arrivals more strenuous. Instead, Europe’s leaders ended up creating a clash of civilizations inside their own frontiers.
I'm not exactly sure how European politics can be both dominated by non-democratic liberal technocrats and in the grips of a xenophobic populist backlash. I'm not quite sure how Douthat can bring up France's proposed restrictions on the burka, which are supported by President Nicolas Sarkozy -- hardly a fringe figure -- and argue that European governments are dominated by multiculturalist elites who ignore popular sentiment.
I haven't read the data in Caldwell's book, but from what I understand, the widespread public opposition to Muslim immigration developed after the population was already in place. Attitudes toward immigration are rarely static and respond to economic conditions and the relative size of the immigrant population, as well as unpredictable events like the 9/11 attacks.
It seems to me that if the Swiss can get enough votes together to ban minarets in 2009, they should have been just as able to get the votes together to oppose liberal immigration policies decades ago.
Douthat doesn't seem to support bans on minarets or burkas or that the European populist attitudes toward Muslims are correct (though he lends credence to some of their fears). Instead, he seems to want to blame the "elites" -- rather than Europeans or Muslims themselves -- for the existence of these attitudes and conflicts.
Update: Sarkozy defends the minaret ban.
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