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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

A Long Shot, A Sure Miss, by Larissa Shulman

Football is a kind of contemporary nationalism, a symbol of a nation’s cultural and spiritual health. For the devout, those for whom football matters most, a match can produce a catharsis so profound and moving as to shake an individual to his core. It can also break a nation’s heart, as we recently saw during Brazil’s shattering home-defeat against Germany. This is all to say that football is much more than just football (except, that is, for soccer-playing Americans.)

Photo credit: Karim Jaafar | AFP | Getty Images, taken from CNBC
That is why Qatar’s bid to host the FIFA 2022 World Cup is loaded with a significance that is greater than the rights to host the world’s most watched game. Qatar’s winning bid means that it will be the first Middle Eastern country to host the World Cup. While this comes as a boon for the Arab world, it is accompanied by a host of problems, some of which are unique to Qatar and the Qatari bid, and others which are endemic to the Cup itself.

Lacking a vibrant football culture, Qatar seemed an unlikely choice to host the Cup from the outset.  The Arab World, moreover, is far from being the global heart of the game. This is not to diminish the importance of how the Arab World connects to its football teams. It is only to say that FIFA fans and players alike might be more at home in a locale that is more accustomed to, and invested in, football culture. 

Qatar also faces internal hurdles for hosting the game; temperatures reaching 49 degrees celsius during the summer raise concern for how teams will be able to play in such oppressive heat. Costly air-conditioned stadiums were proposed initially, but with mounting costs and infrastructural shortcomings, it does not seem that the proper cooling mechanisms will be feasible for summer games. To obviate this problem, FIFA proposed moving the games to Winter time, commencing in November and finishing in January. This move, however, puts a wrinkle in the football calendar of leagues around the globe.

Added to this are allegations concerning the legitimacy of the bid itself, casting a dark shadow on the already dubious choice of Qatar as the 2022 host.  Top FIFA officials are suspected to have accepted millions in bribes from Qatari billionaire Mohamed bin Hammam, accusations nefarious enough to warrant an investigation whose verdict is yet to be determined. Should these allegations be proven true, the bid for the 2022 game will once again be up for grabs.

Compounding this are the scandalous human rights violations of the foreign workers who were brought in to build the extravagant cityscape of stadiums. These stadiums, costing Qatar and its sponsors some $4 billion, seem exorbitant for a country of a mere 1.7 million people whose football culture is incipient at best and minuscule at worst.

Taken together or separately, the issues Qatar and FIFA face by maintaining the 2022 bid are severe, and this post does not lay out the comprehensive gamut of them.  Even if Qatar and FIFA withstand the investigation, and Qatar keeps the bid, the fervor, pride, and spirit surrounding the Qatari bid choice feel snuffed out.

Should the bid be determined null, and it seems that this will be the case, the Arab World will be deprived a cultural milestone. Following this, a breeding ground of contention and rage will be left wide open. With an increasingly isolated, messy Arab World, whose borders are currently in the process of being redrawn, it is a step in the wrong direction to take a point of pride and make it a point of contention. By doing this, FIFA risks representing further alienation of the Arab World from the West. 

Of course, this alienation is the clear lesser of the two evils.  Yet, it is impossible to ignore, especially with a century already marred by contentious and bloody Middle Eastern relations with the West. Though far from the wars of the Levant, the Qatari bid was a dangerous gamble and will now be an ugly mess to clean up.  The lesson learned is not a new one. It is one that tells us that our Western imports, the things we consider “global”, cannot be transposed onto the Middle East with an alacrity we take for granted.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Interest, Ignorance and Irresponsibility, by Valerie Strassman

Interest, Ignorance and Irresponsibility

“The World Cup is not just a great global sporting event; it is also inscribed with much deeper cultural and political importance.” — Martin Jacques

Photo credit: DPA (German Press Agency)
The FIFA World Cup is the international soccer competition contested by the senior men’s national teams of the Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA), the sport's global governing body. The first official World Cup game took place in 1930 in Uruguay. Since then, every four years, 32 teams are competing for the title at venues, except in the years of 1942 and 1946 in the wake of the Second World War.
The decision of who is going to host the World Cup has mostly been accompanied by criticism and contention. For example, when Argentina and Uruguay boycotted the tournament in 1938 to criticize the decision of holding the World Cup in Europe twice in a row, or the fact that until 2002, Asian and African countries have not hosted a single World Cup which nourished claims about a Eurocentric bias on FIFA's behalf. However, all this is not very surprising since what is at stake are large sums of money for the international sport federations and their corporate partners, real-estate speculations, prestige for the hosts and the power of the World Cup to create a sense of national unity and shared pride. It should be noted though, that hosting a World Cup does not necessarily pay off for the host nation. Professor Dr. Andrew Zimbalist, an authority in the field of sports economics, argues that above all countries which have not planned properly beforehand and want to accommodate these events “at any cost”, end up “spending billions of dollars that are completely wasted”.
In the case of Qatar “money is not an object”, muses Franz Beckenbauer, one of the grand figures of German soccer, who was a member of the FIFA executive committee from 2007 to June 2011. Shortly after Qatar won the bid to host the 2022 World Cup, first concerns about the extremely hot temperature with an average of 40° degrees and higher were raised. Beckenbauer was one of the first to suggest holding the World Cup in the winter despite major implications for the national leagues' game schedules. Yet, Beckenbauer also proudly admits, that “the Emir of Qatar proposed to cool down the entire country in case it is necessary”.
A completely different kind of criticism erupted when the British newspaper “the Guardian” revealed in September 2013 that thousands of Nepalese workers, forming the single largest group of laborers in Qatar, were held under conditions that are defined by the International Labor Organization as “modern-day slavery”. Following the prospect of work and high salaries, they often found themselves trapped in the country as their passports were confiscated and that they were condemned to live in labor camps with unsanitary and dilapidated conditions. Reportedly at least 44 workers died of heart attacks, heart failure or workplace accidents between June 4, and August 8 2013. These accusations triggered some interesting responses within the world of German soccer, which also allowed a glimpse on its ramifications and connections with the Emirate of Qatar.
Theo Zwanziger, former president of the German Soccer Association (DFB – Deutscher Fussball-Bund) criticized FIFA for awarding the World Cup to Qatar and especially condemned the first league clubs FC Bayern Munich and Schalke 04 for ignoring the issue of human rights violation in the Emirate. In the German newspaper “Welt” (the World) from February 13, 2014, Zwanziger was quoted with the words: “These clubs cannot simply put a blind eye on such incidents. Those who look away, are complicit”.
Indeed, neither club commented on the situation, although both of them are training in Qatar’s ASPIRE Academy for Sports Excellence during the winter. Quite on the contrary, Karl Heinz-Rumenigge, another authority in German soccer and currently the chief executive officer of the FC Bayern Munich AG as well as the acting chairman of the European Club Association, praises the “fantastic training conditions” and the “supportive hosts” in Qatar. Only Bayern Munich player, Anthony Ujah (22), has openly expressed his opinion by supporting a petition against the World Cup in Qatar on Facebook. “I come from a country [Nigeria], where people have to leave in order to find work and earn money to survive. That’s why I received the reports from Qatar with dismay and sadness. [...] we all thought slavery was abolished but that’s not the case. [...] It is unacceptable.”
            The most controversial statement about the labour slavery however, could be heard from Franz Beckenbauer, who also holds the position of an honorary president of Bayern Munich. Asked about the situation of labourers in the light of the Guardian's revelations, Beckenbauer reportedly answered, “I have never seen one single slave in Qatar. They all walk around freely – not tied to chains, or in a state of atonement. I have never seen such a thing [as a slave]“. Recently, Beckenbauer was banned by FIFA for 90 days from any football-related activity, because of his refusal to cooperate with an inquiry into allegations of corruption in allocating the 2018 and 2022 World Cups to Russia and Qatar. While the ban was eventually lifted, FIFA is still investigating the matter.
What was interesting to see, is that the notion of Qatar being an Arabic country and in fact, the first Middle Eastern country as well as Muslim country to host the World Cup did not play any role in the statements of German soccer officials or in the major German newspapers. Even the center-right, populist tabloid “Bild” (The Picture) is omitting any reference. Despite its tradition of sensational journalism that was on display for example, in one report about the German-Algeria match during the recent World Cup in Brazil which titled “Ramadan-Alarm: How hungry for goals are the Algerians during the month of fasting?”.
However, on the official FIFA homepage itself, Qatar is praising its commitment to ecology-friendly technologies, and architectural advancement, while emphasizing its Middle Eastern and Arabic background. “A World Cup in Qatar would be the first global sporting event ever to be hosted in the Middle East […] fans from around the world would experience the magic of traditional Arab hospitality and leave Qatar with a new understanding of the Middle East.”
            So what about Muslims in Germany? Are there any reactions to the scandals in Qatar? Only one article from June 20, 2014 could be found on the homepage of the “Islamic Newspaper” (Islamische Zeitung). The author, Benjamin Idriz, the Imam of the Sunni Muslim Islamic Community in Penzberg (Bavaria) and chairman of the multi-ethnic, Sunni Muslim association “Munich Forum of Islam” (MFI - Muenchner Forum fuer Islam e.V.) decries the international criticism of Qatar as pure “envy” of the “rapid and successful advance” of the Emirate. “It seems like that this small country, an Arabic country, is deliberately challenged for hosting the soccer World Cup…” While Imam Idriz admits that the status of laborers in Qatar is indeed intriguing, he doubts whether European states can voice any justified criticism towards Qatar in regard to the many refugees that die at the coasts of Europe. However, one of the main sponsors of the planned construction of the 'Munich Forum of Islam' is.... Qatar.

            So does Qatar being a Muslim country play a role in the German criticism in its role as future host of the World Cup? While German newspapers have widely reported on the international criticism regarding Qatar hosting the World Cup, relevant parties have largely dismissed such criticism under the guise of proclaiming envy of Qatar, or an interest in protecting already established ties to Qatar. The criticism seems generally focused on Qatar’s abuse of human rights as well as the still investigated corruption scandal. Comments referring more explicitly to Qatar as an Arab and/or Muslim country could only be found among the right-wing populist spectrum. 

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Boko Haram: #BringBackOurRules, by Charlotte Payen

Photo of the abducted Nigerian school girls
Photo from International Business Times
Though active for more than 10 years, Boko Haram has significantly stepped up its terrorist activities since the early 2010s and is now an international threat. Mid-April 2014, the abduction of 300 Nigerian girls on their way back from school in Chibok, located in Northeast Nigeria, and of 20 other women early June, triggered an unprecedented online mobilization in political, humanitarian and even Hollywood circles. Besides becoming an international Islamist threat, Boko Haram faces another opposition, from Al-Qaeda. Indeed, the Nigerian movement and its actions are far from endorsed by Al-Qaeda’s current leadership and offshoots such as AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) despite what has been claimed.

Founded in 2002 by Muhammad Yusuf, Boko Haram, which means “Western education is sin”, was initially an ultra-conservative movement of well-educated Muslim students standing against the tyrannical authority of a small, non-Islamic elite in the impoverished North of Nigeria. Becoming overtly political over time, its members exploited the anger generated by poverty in the region. They recruited unemployed, idle youths and by late 2003 launched their first offensives against governmental forces, which were regularly blamed for humiliation and abuse. At the time, by avoiding civilian casualties, the movement generated significant local support.

The violent turning point in Boko Haram’s actions and intentions occurred in July 2009 when its activists attacked a mosque and a police station in the city of Bauchi. The following clashes with the Nigerian security forces lasted five days, resulting in the death of 700 people, which included 300 from Boko Haram and it's leader Muhammad Yusuf. After this bloodshed, most of the remaining members fled to other African countries where they reportedly developed ties and received support and training from Al-Qaeda’s local affiliates, mainly al Shabaab in Somalia or AQIM in Algeria.
Boko Haram's leader, Abubakar Shekau
Photo from the BBC

Yet, this did not quite trigger the attention of the West, who was focused on Iraq and Afghanistan.  Their inattention actually helped to facilitate the development of Boko Haram. In July 2010, members who fled the previous year returned to the country. Abubakar Shekau claimed leadership and immediately expressed his admiration for Al-Qaeda, specifically Osama bin Laden. Better equipped and sophisticated, Boko Haram ignited in an escalation of violence, from gas bombs and grenades to assassinations. At the time, their modus operandi was gunfire from motorcycles or pick-ups mounted with artillery. It rapidly evolved to more indiscriminate violence, with the purpose of demonstrating the incapacity of the Nigerian state apparatus, and targeting the international establishment, by attacking the UN headquarters in Abuja in August 2011.

Nigerians Protesting in the #BringBackOurGirls Campaign
Photo taken from the New York Times
Since 2013, the situation has deteriorated. Nigerian authorities declared a state of emergency in the Northern provinces and the army repeatedly bombed villages suspected of hiding Boko Haram members, who in turn assaulted entire neighborhoods accused of connivance with the army. In addition, the group frequently bombed public places, such as a soccer stadium in Jos or a mall in Abuja, which respectively killed 40 and 21 people in May and June 2014. Since April, the faction began kidnapping Nigerian citizens- it was already involved in the abduction of foreigners in Cameroun. If it wasn't for the appeal launched on Twitter by Oby Ezekwesili, the Nigerian vice-president of the World Bank in Africa, the first wave of abductions would not have captured significant attention. The now famous #BringBackOurGirls made the mobilization global, resulting in widespread concern and daily rallies.

Interestingly, another campaign has emerged. Sustained by “traditional” Al-Qaeda members, it castigates the extent of the #BringBackOurGirls, a campaign that “taint[s] the image of the mujahideens” by emphasizing Boko Haram’s violence[1]. How Al-Qaeda’s central leadership has handled these extremist elements illustrates the disparity in actual networks of Islamic militancy. Boko Haram is a perfect example of an offshoot that Al-Qaeda could have done without.

Indeed, Boko Haram's actions do not correspond to the standards established by Al-Qaeda. The kidnapping and killing of Muslims does not correlate with strategies.  In the same vein, Al-Qaeda has in fact broke its ties with ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) in Iraq due to the excessive brutality of its members against Sunni populations out of fear of alienating potential supporters. Yet, the code of conduct remains fragile, as they keep on supporting the Somalian al Shabaab, which does not refrain from killing Muslims.

Furthermore, Boko Haram’s aims remain quite local. The faction calls for the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate in Nigeria, and is mainly driven by domestic factors. Its leader rarely mentions global jihad and when he refers to Al-Qaeda, it seems to be in line with his admiration. This “wannabe” stance is growing among extreme and brutal groups and is today one of Al-Qaeda’s main challenge, as it is unable to control the phenomenon. Another difference is the messianic element in Boko Haram’s rhetoric. Its leader claims, on released videos, to speak with God and demands its adherents to surrender all their possessions to the group.[2]

In spite of blatant existing ties and an assumed inclination to violence, Islamism and hostility against the West, Boko Haram is not an Al-Qaeda affiliate. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, Bin Laden’s successor, never publicly mentioned Boko Haram. His concerns about targeting civilians confirm his unease regarding kidnappings and Boko Haram’s reputation for carrying out mass murders of civilians. Boko Haram is not an AQIM offshoot. Though the latter provided some training and funds to the Nigerian faction in the past, the French operation in Mali, Operation Serval, broke many of these ties. Furthermore, AQIM wishes to remain more focused on strategies sanctioned by Al-Qaeda, namely the taking of Western hostages or attacks against sites such as the gas plant in Algeria in January 2013. If rival groups occasionally labeled themselves “Al-Qaeda”, it rather falls under communication tactics or an alliance of convenience.

Currently, the solution is to improve the domestic government’s capacities, in an effort to make security forces more effective and improve intelligence gathering. Yet, it does not weigh against corruption, military abuses or the long running ethnic and religious cleavages. Regional cooperation must be fostered as it can eventually prevent the deepening of rivalries. The Nigerian national army would be among the first to benefit from coordination with its neighbors, who are both accountable and collateral victims of the recent regional development. This issue was addressed in late May during the Nigeria +4 (Cameroun, Chad, Niger, Benin) mini-summit held in Paris, under the auspices of the French President François Hollande. The United States and the international community provided some help but, regionally, it does not seem to have gone further than an official declaration. 

The emergence of new Islamist militant groups attests to the recent atomization of Al-Qaeda into small and largely autonomous entities. Though inspired by Al-Qaeda’s ideology, it appears that many are in fact even more radicalized than their iconic model. Yet, each movement maintains a proper identity; the consequent lack of generalization makes tracking their movements more complex. As a result, states are powerless to curb their activities. Whether these terrorist groups act locally or internationally may no longer be an indicator of a limited threat. Porous borders, transnational ties and external events can at any moment tip the balance of their action in favor of more global ambitions.