Sunday, June 7, 2015

33: Recruitment for ISIS via Social Media

In this episode of Diwaniyya, MDC research assistant and Steinhardt Israel intern Linda Dayan speaks with us about recruitment for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Linda tells us how ISIS makes extensive use of social media in order to reach young Muslims from across the world to join their cause, often using surprising tactics.

33: Recruitment for ISIS via Social Media

Jordan Sokolic - Producer, Host
Samantha Sementelli - Interviewer 

Read more about the use of social network sites in Beehive, brought to you by the MDC Middle East Network Analysis Desk (MENAD).

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Let’s Just Be Friends…The End of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Special Relationship with the Jordanian Monarchy, by Ryan Peisner

Jordan’s Muslim Brotherhood has long enjoyed special status in the country’s autocratic political system. In 1945, when the movement opened its offices in the country, King Abdullah was present to mark the occasion. And in 1957, when all other political parties were banned, the government classified the Brotherhood as a charitable/social organization, allowing it to continue to operate. This sympathetic treatment left the MB uniquely well-placed to take advantage of the restoration of parliamentary elections in 1989—no other party was able to develop a comparable political infrastructure in time. In exchange, though the MB and its de facto political wing, the Islamic Action Front, have not been shy about criticizing the monarchy, they have for the most part been careful to keep their criticism within relatively established boundaries. More importantly, the MB has stood by the Kingdom in times of crisis, and is credited with preventing Jordanian Islamists from being attracted to more radical and potentially violent movements. Though the government has grown increasingly unfriendly to the Brotherhood over the past two decades, it has always been wary of a full break with its former ally.[1] Until now.

Although some commentators have given the split a more recent provenance, the MB has been divided between two factions, often referred to as hawks and doves, since at least 1989.  In that year, their division was over whether participation in the forthcoming parliamentary elections could be justified on Islamic grounds, or whether a Muslim movement such as the Brotherhood should stay out of electoral politics. That debate was eventually resolved in favor of participation, but the split has remained. The doves generally favor greater participation in state institutions and cooperation with the monarchy, and are seen as drawn from Jordanians of East Bank origin, while the hawks are less reverential towards the Hashemite King, are relatively more concerned with foreign than domestic policy, and are supported more often by Jordanians of Palestinian origin. After over 20 years of more or less successfully managing these internal disagreements, the movement split into two, perhaps irrevocably, last month.

The immediate cause was the formation of the Zamzam Initiative (named after the Amman hotel where the movement was founded) by certain dovish Brotherhood officials in 2012, and the expulsion of those members from the Brotherhood in February of this year. Zamzam was created largely as a response to the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt and the subsequent banning of the movement in that country as well as in Saudi Arabia and the UAE. In the wake of those regional setbacks, the Zamzam founders sought to break the Jordanian entity’s tie with the increasingly controversial international movement and refocus it on what it saw as domestic, Jordanian issues.[2] The initiative’s leaders also called for the Brotherhood to participate in government institutions—the MB’s political wing had boycotted the past several elections in protest of the government’s repressive practices and unjust electoral law—and emphasized the need to respect the “prestige of the state.”[3] Eventually, this became too much for the hawkish MB leadership, and the Zamzam leaders were expelled by the Brotherhood’s Shura Council in February.[4]

Events then took a turn that the hawks did not expect. The expelled doves formed a new organization, and applied for and received recognition from the state as the “true” Muslim Brotherhood—putting the hawkish leadership of the old Brotherhood on the back foot, to say the least.[5]

Although it is perhaps understandable that the government should favor the friendly doves over the oppositional hawks, to some extent it is a violation of the rules of the game established over the past 20-plus years. In this formulation, the government largely tolerated the Brotherhood and its criticism of state policies, and in return the MB would keep that criticism within more or less well-defined boundaries, and help prevent Islamists from joining other, more radical, organizations. Thus, although Brotherhood criticism of the monarchy can certainly be pointed, it has never verged into violent opposition, even in times of national crisis such as during Black September in 1970, or more recently, the protests following the Arab Spring.

Though some of the MB’s criticism of the kingdom’s authoritarian policies undoubtedly made the government uncomfortable from time to time, that was part of the occasionally awkward deal between the parties. A Brotherhood which is pliant and subservient where the former organization was strident and critical may be more pleasant for the monarchy and its retainers, but is unlikely to have the same appeal to those searching for a true political alternative. It would seem improbable, to say the least, that the Jordanian state is not aware of this. The fact that it nevertheless chose to withdraw recognition of the old hawkish Brotherhood in favor of the dovish breakaway group indicates that the palace’s calculus has changed somehow—perhaps due to changing regional circumstances it views the hawks’ critique of government policies as more dangerous than it previously did, or perhaps it simply could not resist the opportunity to strike at a long-time rival. Whatever the case, the Hashemites seem to have taken the first step into a brave new world without an opposition that, for all its disagreements with the state, was ultimately a loyal one. If it finds that disgruntled Jordanians are driven to more radical groups in its stead, it may come to be a choice they regret.

[1] Emile Sahliyeh, “The State and the Islamic Movement in Jordan,” J. of Church and State, 47 (2005): 113-14 explains the privileges formerly granted to the Brotherhood by the Jordanian monarch; Janine Clark, “The Conditions of Islamic Moderation: Unpacking Cross-Ideological Cooperation in Jordan,” Int. J. of Middle East Studies, 38 (2006): 545-6 details the more recent deterioration in their relations.


Thursday, April 2, 2015

32: The Fate of Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program: Deal or No Deal?

MDC Researcher Dr. Brandon Friedman speaks to Diwaniyya about the EU3+3 Iranian nuclear negotiations. He describes Iran's ambitions, the status of the current round of negotiations, and what's at stake in the absence of a deal.

32: The Fate of Iran's Nuclear Weapons Program

Natan Pakman-Producer, Editor, Host
Samantha Sementilli-Executive Producer

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Identities of Conflict: The Jews of Lebanon, by Zach Battat

Imagine the United States was at war with Israel. As an American Jew, this would no doubt be a paradoxical matter. An improbable scenario, but this is what Lebanese Jews had to contend with when Israel gained independence in 1948. Life for Jews in the capital city of Beirut was tranquil compared to the precarious life of Jews in other Arab countries. There was a sense that there was nothing to fear and, given that the economy was improving, there was more to gain by remaining in Lebanon. They lived with no conflicting feelings between their Jewish identity and their sense of pride in being Lebanese; in fact, Lebanon is the only Middle Eastern country where the Jewish population increased following the creation of Israel. This all changed with the outbreak of Lebanon’s 1958 civil war. Lebanese Jewish emigration began towards the end of the 1958 civil war and reached its peak following the Arab-Israeli War of 1967, which pitted Israel against Egypt, Jordan, and Syria. Many Jews in Lebanon felt conflicted, as they had a strong sense of a Lebanese identity and nationalism. In their hearts, they were (and still are) Lebanese – nothing was going to change that. At the same time, they felt attached to the new Jewish state. In fact, some did leave for Israel immediately when independence was achieved while others left much later.

The history of Lebanese Jews dates back to ancient times. For instance, Jewish communities existed as far back as the Biblical times; for example Jewish communities existed in the first century after the Bar Kokhba Revolt, in the seventh century under Caliph Muawiya in Tripoli, in the tenth century in Sidon, and the 11th century in Tyre.  Nonetheless, the modern Jewish community of Beirut evolved in three distinct phases. Until 1908, the Jewish population in Beirut grew by migration from the Syrian interior and from other Ottoman cities like Izmir, Salonica, Istanbul, and Baghdad. Commercial growth in the thriving port-city and relative safety and stability in Beirut all accounted for the Jewish migration. Thus, from a few hundred at the beginning of the 19th century, the Jewish community grew to 2,500 by the end of the century, and to 3,500 by the First World War. While the number of Jews grew considerably, the community remained largely unorganized. During this first phase, the community lacked fundamental institutions, such as communal statutes, elected council, welfare and taxation mechanisms. The 1908 Young Turk Revolution sparked the organizational process. Within six years, the Beirut community created a general assembly, an elected twelve-member council, drafted communal statutes, appointed a chief rabbi, and appointed committees to administer taxation and education. The process created tension and even conflicts within the community, but eventually, the council established its rule and authority in the community. With the establishment of Greater Lebanon in 1920, the Jewish community of Beirut became part of a new political entity. The French mandate rulers adopted local political traditions of power sharing and recognized the autonomy of the various religious communities. Thus, the Jewish community was one of Lebanon's sixteen communities and enjoyed a large measure of autonomy, more or less along the lines of the Ottoman millet system. During this third phase of its development, the community founded two major institutions: the Magen Abraham Synagogue, and the renewed Talmud Torah Selim Tarrab community school.

The Lebanese Jews were very well-respected merchants who were held in high regard by the different confessions in Lebanon. The Jews of Lebanon were not the classic ahl al-dhimma, or protected minorities of the Muslim community but rather they were one of twenty-three constituent minorities of the Lebanese polity. The constitutionally recognized division of power amongst the leading confessional communities which privileged the Western-oriented Maronite Christians provided for several decades of a non-ideological, non-militantly nationalist, laissez-faire atmosphere in which the apolitical, commercially-oriented Jews could conduct business and lead their easygoing Mediterranean lifestyle in relative tranquility.

Being officially apolitical did not mean that Jews took no interest in Lebanese political life. They simply did not choose to play an actively visible role, which, of course, was the norm for Jews everywhere throughout history in much of Diaspora. The overwhelming majority of Jews supported the Maronite Kata’ib (Phalanges) Party in elections, formed a tacit alliance with it, and looked to its militia to protect them in times of violent unrest on the Muslim Arab street. In keeping with their publicly apolitical profile, few Jews were actually party members. As the smallest of all the minorities in the country and with no militia of its own, the Jews saw continued Christian political predominance as the best insurance that Lebanon would remain an exception within the Arab world and a refuge for non-Muslim minorities. At the same time, however, they cultivated cordial relations with the other groups wherever and whenever possible

The joint Jewish-Lebanese identities do not need to compete. For instance, Gabriel Politis, who currently resides in Montreal, Quebec (Canada), does not see a conflict between the two affiliations. Politis, who is now in his mid-60s, was quite politically active and sees himself as a Lebanese who happens to be of a Jewish background. The youngest of nine children from a very religious family, he feels no connection to Israel. He understands that Israel is a fait accompli and a refuge for Jews around the world, but, for him, the concept of Israel goes against the principles he believes in first and foremost as an atheist.

However, Gabrielle Elia – a daughter of Albert Elia, who was kidnapped by the Syrians for aiding the emigration of Syrian Jews to Lebanon – looks at her sense of Lebanese identity from a cultural perspective that is intertwined with the typically Lebanese element of strong family bonds. She feels that her parents “provided several assets… but, most importantly [they provided two key life tools]: a good education and common sense.” Elia, a teacher in Montreal, further believes that these two life skills that her parents instilled in her were centered around the synagogue in Lebanon. “Jewish life had invariably been directly connected to the synagogue, focus of religious and social meetings…. Unfortunately its (Magen Abraham Synagogue) destruction in 1975 also coincided with the departures of the last Jewish families from Lebanon.”

On the other hand, Edgar Attié, who now resides in Monaco, left Lebanon quite late for Jewish Lebanese standards, in 1976 – a year after the civil war began. Attié’s story shows a different facet of the Lebanese Jewish experience. His father – Dr. Joseph Attié – was a doctor, the President of the Lebanese Jewish community (le conseil communal), and one of three (alongside Gabrielle Elia’s father) who assisted Jews of Syria in their migration to Lebanon. As a result, Mr. Attié had access to many of the high-profile leaders of the day and, as such, has his own personal views. When asked about which country he sided with while living in Lebanon, he felt, intellectually and emotionally, “220% behind Israel” because it never dawned on him to support Lebanon as a Jew. He equated it to when Israel would invade the Gaza Strip and “you were a Jew living in America or Canada (for argument sake), most Jews would side with Israel.” It never dawned on him to leave in the 1950s and 60s because he was living well and studying. The only time he experienced violence was that of the Syrians, when he returned to Lebanon in 1980 in order to sort out his parents’ property because militias had looted it.

At the outbreak of the 1975 Lebanese civil war, many Lebanese Jews living in Lebanon at the time could identify with at least one of these three stories. However, Dr. Kirsten Schulze sums it best when she talks about the political and cultural identification of the Lebanese Jews, “Zionism as an additional political entity was able to co-exist, because Zionism in the Lebanese context had few practical implications…. Thus, Lebanon’s Jews considered themselves to be Lebanese by nationality and Jewish by religion.” What made the Lebanese Jews unique was their pragmatism towards Zionism while maintaining their affiliation to Lebanon.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Between a Mountain and a Hard Place by Ryan Peisner

The Druze communities of hilly southern Lebanon and southeast Syria have, until recently, succeeded in remaining relatively uninvolved in the civil war which has devastated the latter country and now threatens to engulf the former as well. On both sides of the border, Druze communities have generally been able to maintain internal unity and focus on the defense of their own localities. But that unity, as well as the Druze community’s neutrality in the Syrian conflict, are increasingly menaced by events outside of their control— advances by radical Islamists and the weakening of loyalist positions in southern Syria. If both — or either — of these trends continue, the Druze policy of nonintervention in the Syrian war is likely to become untenable.

Walid Jumblatt photo by Reuters
The Lebanese Druze, like most other ethno-religious communities in that country, are split politically between supporters of what could broadly be termed a pro-Syria/Hezbollah alignment (the “March 8” coalition) and an anti-Syria/Hezbollah, pro-Western grouping (confusingly called the “March 14” coalition.) Among the Druze, the dominant political force is Walid Jumblatt’s Progressive Socialist Party (PSP), which currently opposes Bashar Assad’s continued rule in Syria, though it has taken a somewhat tortured path to arrive at that position. From his rise to political prominence after his father’s death in 1976 until late 2000, Jumblatt was a supporter of Syria’s military presence in Lebanon; since that time, he has shifted his allegiance three times—and may be doing so again today.[1] For now, at least, the PSP is not formally a part of the March 14 alliance, but has nevertheless called for Assad to step down, condemned Hezbollah’s involvement in the Syrian war, and welcomed Syrian refugees even as fear of infiltration by Islamist radicals has increased The PSP’s (less popular) counterparts supporting the Assad regime are the Lebanese Democratic Party (LDP), a component of the March 8 coalition.[2] The LDP is led by Talal Arslan, who last year hailed Assad’s “reelection” in the Syrian presidential campaign as a model of democracy,  and has called “defending Syria” — meaning, of course, defending the regime — a duty of the Druze people. [3]
Lebanon's Progressive Socialist Party (PSP)

Despite their differences, there is in fact much that unites these two factions. Although PSP leader Jumblatt has repeatedly called for Assad to step down, he has also warned his supporters against entering Syria and joining those attempting to force him to do so. And though their preferred outcomes may differ, both Jumblatt and the LDP’s Arslan have called for a negotiated solution to the Syrian conflict.  More importantly, both groups agree that the greatest threat facing  Lebanese Druze today is that posed by incursions from radical groups such as the Islamic State and the Nusra Front from Syria into Lebanese Druze communities near the border. The best illustration, however, of the ability of the Druze community to overcome its political differences comes from 2008, when open fighting erupted between Hezbollah and PSP supporters. In those clashes, the LDP sided against its March 8 ally, instead fighting alongside its coreligionists and erstwhile political opponents, the PSP. [4]
If a similar conflict were to erupt today, that past cooperation is powerful evidence that the Lebanese Druze would maintain a united front.

Lebanese Democratic Party

Relations with their Syrian counterparts might prove to be a bit hairier, however. Since the civil war began, the Druze community has combined a generally pro-Assad stance with a desire to stay out of any fighting not directly affecting their home governorate of As-Suwayda. Reasons given for the Druze community’s support for Assad range from viewing him as the protector of Syria’s minorities—posited by Talal Arslan—to the belief that they are simply siding with the strongest actor in the conflict to guarantee their own safety.[5] Accordingly, while most Druze who have taken a side have fought on behalf of the regime, they typically do not wish to be sent to fight in another part of the country, instead preferring to join separate Druze militias dedicated to protecting their own communities.[6] Though the Islamic State(IS) and the Nusra Front advances in the area have increased fears of possible attacks among the Druze, this has led not to enthusiasm for joining the Syrian Army but rather to demands that the government arm Druze militias, a request that has largely gone unmet.[7] 

Additionally complicating matters for the Syrian Druze is the increasing weakness of loyalist positions in the south. Daraa governorate, directly west of As-Suwayda, featured probably the most spectacular rebel successes over the past year, leading to speculation that Assad’s forces might at some point be forced out of the area altogether. In that case, there is a fear that the moderate rebels would not be strong enough to consolidate control over the evacuated territory, leaving an opening for IS and/or the Nusra Front, and multiplying the threat to Syria’s Druze.[8] Whether a hypothetical loyalist withdrawal opened the door to these radicals or not, in either case it would clearly reduce Assad’s value to the Druze as an ally against IS and the Nusra Front. The Druze would then have a choice largely between attempting to go it alone against potential attacks from the radical Islamists—not likely to look favorably upon the Druze’s unique theology and roots in Shia Islam—and allying with the moderate rebels. Those same rebels, have of course, been engaged for the past few years in a desperate struggle with Hezbollah, an ally of the Lebanese Democratic Party.

In the meanwhile, the Nusra Front and IS incursions into Lebanon in recent months have prompted renewed cooperation between Hezbollah and Jumblatt’s PSP.[9] Not only has Jumblatt seen fit to tone down his criticism of Hezbollah’s intervention in Syria, but PSP and Hezbollah forces are also reported to have begun staging joint patrols south of Beirut in order to combat rising radical Islamist forces there, and the parties are additionally said to have established a joint operations room for the same purpose.[10]

Given that Jumblatt has been a bit indecisive (to say the least) in the past, and that he is still forecasting—and presumably hoping for—the fall of former Hezbollah patron Assad, it’s difficult to foresee where these new Hezbollah-PSP ties may lead.[11] But Jumblatt seems clearly to have concluded, at least for the time being, that IS and the Nusra Front are a bigger threat to his community than Hezbollah. At the same time, even if few concrete moves have been made as of yet, the Syrian Druze appear closer than they have ever been to moving out of the orbit of Hezbollah’s ally Assad. If that happens, the prospects for Druze unity look to be about as rough as the land they live on.

[2] See, p. 82 for most recent election results for the PSP and LDP.
[6] Id.ˆ
[11] On Jumblatt’s past, for example, see;

Monday, January 5, 2015

European Mujahid by Nina Zivy

Aside from the news that the Islamic State (IS) is selling women as slaves and establishing women brigades imposing the group’s ideology on the local population, the proclamation of the “caliphate” has brought with it a new phenomenon: Western women, attracted by the idea of creating a whole new society, are joining IS from all over the world.

Aqsa Mahmood, 20.  Photo Credit: Enterprise News
Aqsa Mahmood was a 20-year-old radiology student from Glasgow who until July had been tweeting about ice cream and #examseason. Then, the topic of her tweets suddenly changed: “Do your best and to Allah leave the rest” and “Be conscious not to oppress others or yourself. Depriving oneself of the favours of Allah is oppression against them self [sic]” were her next tweets. What happened over the summer?

In 2013, the Saudi religious leader Muhammad al-Arifi wrote a Fatwa on Jihad al Nikah[1], calling for women from the age of 14 to sacrifice their bodies to the holy war. The remuneration for their services was Paradise. The internet Fatwa was instantly repudiated by al-Arifi’s entourage, but the damage was already done. After the appearance of the Fatwa, hundreds of young women of the age of 14 or even younger volunteered. They came from Tunisia, Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries, sometimes leaving behind their husbands and children. As Sharia forbids extramarital intercourse, IS introduced time-marriages for them; the women are married to a fighter and divorced just hours later. As polygamy is not a problem in IS’s interpretation of Islam, their fighters can marry up to four women at a time. The Jihad al Nikah, sexual Jihad in a Nikab, is an euphemism for civil war prostitution. The women are promised paradise, but what they face is sexual exploitation and social ostracism at home.
In July 2014, IS called upon Muslim families to hand over their single daughters in order to support the jihadis – by sacrificing their bodies to the holy war. The women are mainly needed at the front – serving in time marriages, doing the household work for the fighters, working as nurses and teachers and eventually bearing children for the caliphate. According to experts there is explicit recruitment going on by IS on behalf of their leader Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Young women from the West also seem to respond to IS propaganda. Many have traveled from Europe and other parts of the world to join the Islamic State in Syria. It is estimated that about 200 Western women joined IS, with an increase since the declaring of the caliphate this summer[2].
Security agencies state[3] that the new wave of extremists is very young – often minors– and radicalized in a very short period of time. One of the first German women leaving for Syria was Sarah, a 15-year-old girl still in High school. Social media was the main instrument of communication between Sarah and her future husband, a jihadi who courted her to follow him to Syria. In order to buy a ticket to Turkey she faked her father’s signature; her parents were completely unsuspecting of what was about to happen.
Experts give a range of explanations for the motivation behind these incomprehensible actions[4]. For one, IS draws clear lines between good and bad and offers orientation through a higher morality. For teenage girls that often come from families who barely practice religion, the conversion to extremism incorporates a very radical way of rebelling against the parents. From all the cases of European emigrants to Syria mentioned in Western media, not one single girl had her parents’ approval. According to Smith from King’s College International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, “there is a feeling that the more hardline your interpretation, the more authentic it is, and that’s not the case at all – it’s just not true of Islamic law”[5].
In addition, the fact that many European countries passed laws forbidding the wearing of a Nikab completely (Italy, Spain, France, Belgium, Netherlands) or for public officials and pupils (Switzerland, Germany) contributes to the feeling of rejection many Muslims have in their home countries. These women see an opportunity to live according to their religious beliefs among people who share the same habits. They do not believe in the notion of gender equality but prefer the idea of the “complementarity of the two genders.”
The ones leaving for idealist motives, labeled “mother Theresa”-type by experts, wish to help the people and dream of working as a doctor or nurse in the field. They are often quickly disappointed when they realize that the “good” jihadis don’t protect people from the regime, but also kill innocents. Besides that, women who travel to Syria wanting to join a combat brigade are most often disappointed, as the only women who get to carry a weapon are those enforcing Sharia laws in the local population – a sort of vice squad or morality police.
After reaching Syria, the social media-savvy women usually get married and start their own blog, doting upon their brave jihadi husbands and giving detailed advice to other girls on how to organize the departure from Europe. Aqsa let her parents, who had held a press conference urging her daughter under tears to come home, know via her blog that IS was her true family and that she finally felt free. While Aqsa’s tweets mainly revolve around her new life, other girls post statements such as “so the US want to bombarded us with airstrikes in Iraq and not give a damn who killed, but want cry when a dusty journalist is killed? [sic]”[6].
Contact with women like Aqsa facilitate the departure, making the girls feel like they are a part of a community standing up to the West. It even seems to be possible to get married to a jihadi over Facebook. Aqsa Mahmood posted an entire recruitment handbook on how to find jihadi love, telling the girls to get vaccinations, bring decent clothes, winter boots, and make up. She also urges them to find a husband as soon as possible: "To stay without a man is really difficult"[7]. It seems that there is a high possibility for single girls to be exposed to sexual abuse and/or time marriages.  Married women, on the other hand, get to live in a house with their husbands, spending most of their time indoors and only leaving it to go grocery shopping, in the presence of their husbands.
For female Arab emigrants, the situation seems to be more difficult. The Tunisian Ministry of Internal affairs confirmed that “some” women (< 10) returned from Syria after “disappointing experiences.” According to the Ministry, the women stated to have had sexual contacts with different jihadis over several months. They are now back with their families, refusing to accept any support from the state. One of them is pregnant; others are carrying sexually transmitted diseases. According to the magazine “Jeune Afrique”, two were infected with HIV while giving sexual support.[8] As to the European women, Smith believes none of them want to come home. Smith states that “they see it as emigrating to a better life. They say they feel free”[9].  A few weeks ago, however, the media reported for the first time on a Dutch girl fleeing IS and coming home[10].
As for now, this phenomenon only concerns a narrow group of women, who experience deep disillusion once in the war zone. They hope their fate will open the eyes of other young women being recruitment. While the Western fear of European women returning home remains.

Additional Reading
The Clarion Project
Spiegel Focus
Spiegel Focus
Spiegel – Europäerinnen und der “Islamische Staat”: Was Frauen in den Dschihad zieht
Sunday Express
TIME – How ISIS is recruiting women from around the world
Die Welt

This article is written by one of Diwaniyya's interns, Nina Zivy.  Nina is a Masters Candidate in the Middle Eastern Studies program at Tel Aviv University.  

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Islamic, Islamist, Islamized, Muslim or ‘just’ Antisemitism? by Stefan E. Hoessl

A German interviewee for my PhD,[1] Kadir, told me that “Hitler did something good in killing Jews, because otherwise they would cause more pain among the Palestinians.”  The 18 year old man, who identifies himself as a Muslim Turk, was born in Germany as a son of Turkish, Sunni immigrants. Analyzing his words, the antisemitic substance is clear: Jews are evil and it's ‘in their biology’ to do bad things like causing pain. The Shoah, the Nazi´s institutionalized murder of 6 million European Jews, is legitimized as something good. These are concrete antisemitic topics, but how can one describe Kadir's Antisemitism?

Is it ‘just’ Antisemitism – a modern hostility against Jews, grounded in racial beliefs? The analysis of the whole interview shows that Kadir feels solidarity with the Palestinians; he identifies himself as a Muslim and thus feels a solidarity with Muslim Palestinians. This is the basis for his hatred of Jews. Does this make it a specifically Muslim Antisemitism? Or is it Islamized because the Antisemitism is embedded in a kind of thinking that is connected to the religious self-positioning of Kadir?

We also could ask if this kind of hostility is perhaps Kadir's reproduction of Islamic hostility towards Jews, grounded in aspects of Islamic history – for example, in the early battles between Muhammad and the three Jewish tribes in the region near Medina; the tribes are described in negative terms in the Qu´rān. Islamist thinkers, like Sayyid Qutb, took parts of this ancient history of the founding and proliferation of Islam and developed a specific ideology. By disregarding the centuries of Jews in Islamic communities as dhimmīs (second-class but protected non-muslim people in Islamic right), they constructed the idea of an ongoing war between Jews and Muslims from the first days of Islam to the present. Most of the existing Islamist groups, organisations, and movements would agree to what Kadir says. So, is Kadir`s Antisemitism an Islamist Antisemitism?

Islamic Antisemitism?
The Qu´rān contains anti-judaistic passages. Jews (addressed in part together with Christians) are shown as traitors and murderers of prophets, as people who broke their promise with god and accept lies. In other passages, Jews are considered to be respected receivers of a religion by god. How did these different perspectives on Jews have an impact on the coexistence of Jews and Muslims? In Islamic history, there was no persecution as a result of the Qu`rānic Anti-Judaism that is comparable to that of Europe, which is grounded in Christendom and its religiously impregnated Anti-Judaism.[2] Jews under Islamic rule were mostly seen and tolerated as dhimmīs, people who were protected for their acknowledgment of the primacy of Islam. This did not mean that Jews where treated as equals; the idea that this was a golden age of Jewish-Muslim coexistence and equality is a myth. As Bernard Lewis (1993: 148) points out:

If tolerance means the absence of persecution, then classical Islamic society was indeed tolerant to both its Jewish and its Christian subjects […], […] incomparably more tolerant than was medieval Christendom. But if tolerance means the absence of discrimination, then Islam never was or claimed to be tolerant but on the contrary insisted on the privileged superiority of the true believer in the world as well as in the next“

In effect, regarding Islamic history, Antisemitism didn´t exist in classical Islam (s. Tibi 2010: 2). Speaking of an Islamic Antisemitism implies a genuine connection between the religion of Islam and antisemitic resentments that – as outlined – does not exist. In so far, it is completely wrong to speak of an Islamic Antisemitism.

Antisemitism in the Muslim world
In countries with a Muslim majority, Antisemitism is widespread and often linked to religious semantics. A closer look at the appearance, spread, and transformations of Antisemitism in Muslim countries is necessary to understand this. According to Michael Kiefer’s (2006) analysis, which is partly built on Lewis` reflections, it was mainly the impact of Christians – priests and missionaries – and western diplomats, journalists and others, that spread the myths and stereotypes of European Antisemitism in Muslim countries. Kiefer speaks of an Import of Antisemitism from Europe to the Muslim world beginning in the second half of the 19th century. Antisemitic texts from Europe and America, including, for example, the antisemitic pamphlet ‘The Protocols of the Elders of Zion’, were translated into Arabic and spread as well. Violent anti-Jewish acts followed shortly after.

With the process leading to the foundation of the state of Israel (beginning in the 20th century), there was a caesura: Antisemitism and antisemitic violence increased significantly. This is due to the adoption of the Balfour Declaration in 1917, declaring British support for Jews building a national home in Palestine and its implementation in the context of the establishment of the British mandate in Palestine. From the 1920s on, there were several attacks and massacres of Jews (s. Kraemer 2006: 265). For example, in August 1929 in Hebron, a pogrom broke out with dozens of fatalities. In the 1930s, the influence of Nazi Germany on the Palestinian national movement and the religious and political leaders of this time, like Hajj Amin al-Husayni culminated in a hardening of resentments (s. Gensicke 2007). In other Arab-Muslim countries,  such as Egypt, there were comparable developments in the spread of Antisemitism.

The founding of the state of Israel in 1948, its victory in its war for independence, and other military successes after the attack of Arab countries, humiliated Palestinians, Egyptians and others. There was a need for an explanation. How could all the Arab armies not defeat a small state in its founding process? Antisemitism and conspiracy theories associated with it seemed to give a logical explanation. Thus, since the 1950s, there has been an enormous wave of antisemitic propaganda that flooded the Arab and the Muslim world, and led to a wide spreading of antisemitic ideas, stereotypes, resentments and conspiracy theories.

Antisemitism embedded in a religious frame
The Islamization of Antisemitism primarily began with the expansion of Islamism in the 20th century. Islamist thinkers, like Sayyid Qutb and the Iranian leader Khomeini, created this specific ideology of Antisemitism. This kind of Antisemitism is relatively new, but its core did not differ from the myths and conspiracy theories from Europe. However, this Antisemitism was merged with anti-judaistic Qu´rānic image of the Jews and the early history of Islam, and framed with religious references – disregarding centuries of Islamic history with Jews and Muslims side by side. The result was an antisemitic construct that implies the idea of a Jewish hostility against Islam from the beginning of Islam until the present. According to this ideology, Jews are supposed to be enemies of Islam and Muslims. They are seen as conspirators against the religion of Mohammed and his people. Today, Antisemitism, especially this Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism, can be found in nearly every Islamist context. In the 20th century, Antisemitism became an elementary component of the ideology of totalitarian movements – the same is to be stated regarding Islamism. Like 20th century fascism, Islamism presumes a negative Jewish influence in the workings of the world; Jews and Judaism are thought of as being evil and the destruction of Judaism and world Jewry is equated with the liberation of the world from all evil. This Antisemitism is often expressed as hatred of the State of Israel, which is blamed for various problems in the Islamic world – its destruction is the goal of many Islamist movements (s. Biskamp/Hoessl 2013: 17f.).

Today, the Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism is not exclusively part of Islamist thinking and imagination. Over the last century there was a gradual spread of this Antisemitism among other Muslim contexts. Through modern media and migration processes, there was a re-import of this Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism to Europe and other western countries.

Kadir’s Antisemitism
Taking all of this into account, it is obvious that the terms Kadir uses are not embedded in religious semantics. The themes Kadir uses – Jews as generally evil; approval of the Shoah – are not specifically connected to an Islamized or Islamist Antisemitism. They are classic antisemitic themes. But as mentioned in the introduction, the Antisemitism expressed by Kadir can´t be understood completely without regarding the religious dimension of his self-perception as a Muslim in the world. The importance of this aspect shows that it is necessary to qualify this Antisemitism as one that is connected to a religious self-definition – and therefore as a specific Muslim Antisemitism.

Arendt, Hannah (1962): Origins of Totalitarism. New York.
Biskamp, Floris/Hoessl, Stefan E. (2013): Politische Bildung im Kontext von Islam und Islamismus. In: Biskamp, Floris/Hoessl, Stefan E. (Hrsg.): Islam und Islamismus. Perspektiven für die Politische Bildung. Giessen, S. 13-40.
Gensicke, Klaus (2007): Der Mufti von Jerusalem und die Nationalsozialisten: Eine politische Biographie Amin el-Husseinis. Darmstadt.
Lewis, Bernard (1993): Islam in History: Ideas, Men and Events in the Middle East. Chicago/La Salle, Illinois.
Kiefer, Michael (2006): Islamischer, islamistischer oder islamisierter Antisemitismus? In: Die Welt des Islams (46/3), S. 277-306.
Kraemer, Gudrun (2006): Antisemitism in the Muslim World. A critical review. In: Die Welt des Islam 46, 4, S. 243-276.
Tibi, Bassam (2010): From Sayyid Qutb To Hamas: The Middle East Conflict and the Islamization of Antisemitism. (02.10.2014)

[1] In my PhD-project, I work at the University of Cologne (Germany) to the topic ‚Antisemitism and religious Habitus‘ and focus on interdependencies between Antisemitism and the religiosity of 17- to 20-year-olds that define themselves as Muslims.
[2] In Anti-Judaism, the core of hostility against Jews focusses on their religion and their belonging to Judaism. The reference point of Antisemitism is the racist understood being-Jewish. Hannah Arendt (1962: 87) points out, that the main difference between Anti-Judaism and Antisemitism is, that Jews under Christendom could (theoretically) escape Anti-Judaism by converting. Being Jewish in contrast was thought in a biologically way as indelible.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

A Photographer's Positive Perspective featuring Dilan Bozyel

It can be used to generate curiosity, conversation, and debate, and one picture can challenge the social norms and stereotypes of an entire people, country, and region.  The Middle East is no exception, and women are using their cameras to express themselves and break down the misguided perceptions of others, both within their own male-dominated societies and among their international audiences.  This is by no means a new phenomenon, but its popularity is constantly growing.  In recent years, major museums throughout the world
have hosted exhibits of Middle Eastern women’s photography.

Yemen and Iran, being two of the Middle East’s most conservative societies, have also produced some of the most well-known Middle Eastern female photographers. Shadi Ghadirian[1] and Newsha Tavakolian[2] of Iran and Boushra Almutawakel[3] of Yemen have had their art featured in the world’s most prestigious magazines,newspapers, and museums on nearly every continent.  Shadi Ghadirian’s famous Qajar series, photographed throughout the 1990’s, shows women in traditional Iranian settings and clothing, captured in traditional black and white.  In each photograph, the woman is holding a piece of ‘modernity’ not often associated by the Western viewer with Iranian women, such as mountain bikes, a Pepsi can, a newspaper, and a boombox. [4]  While Newsha Tavakolian’s work explores similar themes, Boushra Almutawakel tries to dispel preconceived notions of the appearance of veiled Yemeni females with her famous exhibit, ‘The Hijab Series.’[5]

After the events in 2011, the world was saturated with images of what was to be known as the Arab Spring; photos depicting these social movements turned revolutions.  Though these images showed the revolutions from all angles, they also acted as a catalyst for women in the Middle East, bringing women to the forefront once again.  There was a new dialogue in these countries surrounding women's rights, opening a new platform to women photographers.  

Dilan Bozyel
Dilan Bozyel[6] is a Turkish photographer with Kurdish roots.  She is a female photographer in a Middle Eastern country from a historically oppressed group, the Kurds.  In the interview below, Dilan affirms some of the same ideas mentioned above.   

1. Could you please explain your work?  What are the themes you use or the message you are trying to embody in your work?
Sometimes, I am cruelly criticized (especially by men) for being a dreamer and melancholic Eastern woman.  Given the harsh climate, history full of wars, and the geographical condition of the land I was born in (Diyarbakır).  But I believe mankind will not try to find the description of sweet until it tastes the bitter. I feel these sad truths in such a pain that it overflows the blood pumping to my heart. For this reason, I believe that I have to do something through art. We, who are created from the dust of art, have the mission of eternalizing the last beauties of the world, offering descriptions of life to the next generations. I believe in healing force of art.  I feel like I’ve come to this world with this purpose and I know that is the reason I was born in these lands; I came to this world to scatter stories filled with peace and happiness through my photographs.

2.  Do you believe photography has a prominent role in the recent social developments in Turkey, i.e. Gezi Park?

There is a common saying, ‘I won’t believe it until I see it.’ Photography is the only concrete record of the every moment that has been lived. Every detail of the Gezi events was recorded in every frame taken, whether amateur or professional. Every moment from the cruel and lopsided violence of the Police to the how we lived happily when park was left to us, the youth. Half of woke up with the Gezi spirit.  Visual sources had the most important role in this progress.  The Turkish society came this far with stories and legends but the visual power of the photograph has finally found its deserved place. A society who has been awakened will not accept to fall sleep again.

After all the wars and pain suffered in the east of the country, we are beginning to breathe comfortably, almost for the first time. With the start of these good days, there is an emphasis on the importance of women.  This is a good improvement. For the first time, the social and political right to speak was given to the Kurdish women in this country. They can take charge and become a mayor.

No, I can’t call myself a feminist. I believe the world needs men as much as women. What I want to indicate is that for all this time, women were married as children, pushed away, left in the back seat, silenced and humiliated. Women are finally taking their deserved and right place in nature. In Turkey, with this reduction of race and sex separation I am witnessing the sound of the wings of a once injured, but now recovered, white bird flying off in the sky.  It is a good feeling.

For further reading on female photographers in the Middle East, please see the links below.


[6] m