Posts Tagged ‘Istanbul’

Vox Political on Muted Tory Criticism of Saudi Arabia

January 7, 2016

Mike over at Vox Political posted up this piece yesterday, reporting David Cameron’s failure to express only muted criticism about Saudi Arabia’s disgusting human rights record, after the beheading of 47 people earlier this week: http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/01/06/minister-defends-uks-approach-to-saudi-human-rights-record/

When pressed on the reasons the Tories hadn’t made stronger criticisms, the Tory foreign minister, Tobias Ellwood, said: “Founded just under 100 years ago, Saudi Arabia is a relatively young country and we recognise change cannot happen overnight. The human rights situation in Saudi Arabia reflects widely held conservative social values and as such needs to move at a pace that is acceptable to its society.”

This is risible nonsense. Nearly all of the countries in the Middle East, including modern Turkey, are young countries less than 100 or so years old. Turkey as it is now is the creation of Kemal Ataturk and The Young Turks, who strove to modernise the country following the break-up of the Ottoman Empire. Yet Turkey, until Erdogan took power, strove to be a secular democracy. The country also has severe problems. It’s been under military rule several times, and political prisoners, especially Kurdish separatists, have been imprisoned. And there is a concerted campaign to stamp out Kurdish culture. Nevertheless, the country’s relative religious tolerance was show on Sunday, when ITV screened a new series in which Adrian Chiles, the former presenter of the One Show, travels round the Mediterranean looking for what Jews, Christians and Muslims have in common and what unites, rather than divides them. Chiles is a Roman Catholic. He’s a convert to Christianity, whose turn to the Church of Rome surprised his atheist parents. On Sunday’s programme, he talked to his Croatian mother, who told him why she became an atheist, before travelling to Turkey. There he had perfectly amicable discussions about religion with two very modern young women, a fisherman, and a Jewish bloke with a shop in Istanbul’s bazaar. Among the man’s wares was a chess set, where the two sides, white and black, had been made instead into Crusaders and Turkish warriors. I’ve no doubt that in some parts of the Middle East, this would provoke a riot, if not anything worse. But in Istanbul, no-one seemed remotely concerned or even much interested.

Syria also is a new country. It, Iraq and many of the countries Middle Eastern nations were previously Ottoman provinces. They were formed into independent states by the European imperial powers, Britain and France. Syria, while not remotely a democracy, was a secular regime, which included Christians as well as Muslims amongst its founders. Lebanon suffered a terrible civil war in the 1970s and 80s, driven by religious rivalry between Christians and Muslims. But it has a kind of democratic constitution, in which various governmental posts are held by members of particular sects and faiths, in order to secure a fair balance of power that will cancel out or at least partially counteract ethnic or religious tensions. It was also one of the leading centres of the modern Arabic rival, and many of the founders of modern Arabic letters were Christians.
As for Iraq, this was also a secular country, though Islam was still the dominant religion under the law. It was able to maintain a relatively secular constitution even though it contains several of the holiest sites in Shi’a Islam. A country’s youth or age is no excuse for it having an appalling human rights’ record.

And in fact, in terms of practices now seen as barbaric, the West and Islam weren’t so very different even as late as the 19th century. I can remember reading a history of the Balkans by an American historian over a decade ago, which pointed out that the taking of heads by soldiers in Ottoman Turkey was almost exactly the same as the practice of taking the heads of criminals by lawmen and bounty hunters on the American frontier. Until the invention of photography, and its adoption by the forces of law and order, the only way to prove a violent criminal had been killed was to bring his head into the local sheriff’s office, and display it to the authorities. And so they did. Now the American dispossession and genocide of the Indians was a great evil, but this didn’t stop America striving to become more liberal, more just and humane towards its citizens.

Saudi Arabia, by contrast, is still extraordinarily conservative. It was founded in the 1920s when the founders of the current ruling Ibn Sa’ud dynasty took power with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood. After the revolution, the new king had his opponents beheaded and their heads displayed on his palace walls. And change has been extremely slow. Ismail Pasha, the Sultan of Egypt, was genuinely trying to stamp out slavery in his country in the 19th century. The Saudis only got round to banning it in 1965. Some of this conservatism might be due to Saudi Arabia’s possession of two of the very holiest cities in Islam, Mecca and Medina, the cities in which Mohammed lived and taught. But even this probably wouldn’t be an insurmountable obstacle to the growth of human rights in that country.

The real cause of the lack of human rights in Saudi Arabia is the extreme intolerance of Wahhabi Islam, and the Saudis dominance of the oil industry. They showed just how powerful they were economically with the oil crisis in the 1970s. And as they are still a major market for British goods, like guns and armaments, Cameron and co are very reluctant to risk offending them. And so the Conservatives don’t dare to voice anything but the mildest criticism, even when the Saudis are killing political prisoners and funding terrorism. Far from it. They’re even held up as our most valued allies.

Prof Paul Rogers on ISIS’ Blowback War

December 29, 2015

This month’s (December 2015) issue of Justpeace, the newsletter of the Roman Catholic peace movement, Pax Christi, carries an article ‘The Paris Atrocity, and After’, by prof Paul Rogers. Rogers is professor of Peace Studies at the University of Bradford. In his article he analyses the Paris attacks, and their intended consequences. He makes the point that the massacres had three purposes, and were ultimately intended to provoke the West into retaliating so the Islamists could gain further recruits in Syria and Iraq as the true defenders of Muslims. Identifying the three aims of the attack, he writes

The first is to demonstrate that in the wake of the destruction of Russia’s Metrojet over Sinai and the bombing in Beirut on November 12, ISIS has now gone truly international. Thus its modus operandi has reached the level of the loose al-Qaida affiliates in the post-9/11 years: Islamabad, Bali, Madrid, London, Jakarta, Istanbul, Mombasa, Amman, Sinai, Casablanca, Djerba in Tunisia – and many more. This is potentially a very major change since ISIS has so far concentrated primarily on its territorial base, in contrast to the old al-Qaida movement.

The second is to further damage intercommunal relations, not just in Paris but across western Europe and further afield. An accelerating Islamophobia suits ISIS in its quest to attract more recruits from recent diasporas and more established migrant communities, many members of whom now feel thoroughly insecure and greatly worried and even fearful of the hardening of attitudes towards them.

The third is to provoke and incite France and other states to intensify the war against ISIS – in Syria, Iraq, and anywhere else that it, or its affiliates, make progress.

ISIS wants war. It presents itself as the true guardian of Islam under attack from the ‘Crusader west’. This message, though pernicious and dangerous, is currently being encouraged by the progressive withdrawal of all Middle Eastern states from active involvement in the airstrikes against ISIS in Syria.

The air war in Syria was in early 2015 led by the United States with the participation of France, Australia, Canada, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Jordan. In recent months, however, the four Arab states have ceased bombing. In addition, Justin Trudeau’s new government in Canada is withdrawing all CF-18 strike-aircraft from Syria and Iraq, and Australia is reported to have paused its operations in Syria since the Russians started separate air attacks (almost all against non-ISIS anti-Assad rebels). That leaves just the US and France. So in Syria at least, ISIS can easily claim that a ‘crusader onslaught’ is taking place.

Furthermore, the sustained air assault of the last 15 months, with close to 10,000 targets hit, has not pushed ISIS into retreat. In the first 11 months of the air war, to July 2015, the US-led coalition killed 15,000 ISIS supporters. By October, that had risen to 20,000, yet a Pentagon source said that the total number of ISIS fighters was unchanged at 20,000-30,000. (USA Today, 12 October 2015).

In an extraordinary admission, US intelligence sources say there has been a surge in recruits to ISIS in spite of the air war and the losses. In September 2014, 15,000 recruits were reported to have joined from 80 countries; a year later the figure had risen to 30,000 from 100 countries.

In blunt terms, ISIS is actually being strengthened by the air war, and it can be assumed that it wants more. The movement vigorously and insistently peddles the message of ‘Islam under attack’; and though it is disliked and hated by the great majority of Muslims worldwide, the message strikes enough of a chord with a small minority to serve ISIS’s aim of creating this purist if brutal caliphate.

Prof Rogers writes a weekly article on security at the Open Democracy website. The full article originally appeared there on 14 November. The website’s address is http://www.opendemocracy.net.

ISIS Executes Its Executioner For Smoking

April 7, 2015

This is yet another video from The Young Turks internet news show. In it, the anchors John Iadarola and Cenk Uyghur discuss the bizarre killing by the terrorists of one of their chief executioners. The man was found beheaded, with a cigarette stuffed into its mouth, and the words ‘This is evil, you sheikh’, scrawled on the body.

They link the death to an edict promulgated by the organisation denouncing smoking as a ‘slow way of committing suicide’, and warning that smoking and getting into a trance state is ‘disobedience against God’. The Turks make the point that if ISIS are serious about enforcing the death penalty, then they’re going to have to kill 70 per cent of the Middle Eastern population as ‘everyone smokes out there’. They also make the point that ISIS’ standards are so high, they’re completely unrealisable. If the regime continues on its path of executing everyone for even the most trivial of crimes, then eventually it’ll just implode as they murder and butcher their way through their own members.

Now the Turks are right in that it is highly ironic that ISIS should have executed their executioner. It probably couldn’t have happened to a nicer guy. But he committed far worse crimes than merely enjoying a ciggie. This actually looks to me like part of a sectarian campaign against Sufism.

The word ‘sheikh’ has a number of meanings. Apart from that of tribal chief, it’s also used in Pakistan to describe the bonded labourers working in the brickyards. They’re the lowest caste of Pakistani society. It clearly doesn’t mean that here, though there might be a similar meaning in Arab society, of which I’m unaware. However, it also means the leader of a Sufi order.

Sufism is Islamic mysticism. Its organised in a series of orders roughly similar to the monastic orders in Roman Catholicism and their confraternities for the laity. They are under the spiritual directions of sheikhs, or saints, who may be believed to have supernatural or mystical powers themselves. These orders aim at achieving ecstatic union of the individual with God, using methods like chanting, music, dancing and sometimes other, more extreme methods. The whirling dervishes of Istanbul are probably the best known example of a Sufi order in the West. Other orders may juggle hot coals, or slash themselves with swords in the belief that the sheikh presiding over the ceremony has the power to heal.

When I studied Islam at College, I was taught that most Muslims today belong to a Sufi order. When it emerged in the 7th century or so, Sufism was intensely controversial within Islam, and its followers often viciously persecuted as heretic. The ecstasies experienced by the Sufis in the dhikr, or ‘circle’, the term given to their mystical worship, was seen as violating the commandment in the Qu’ran against becoming intoxicated. It’s the passage that bans Muslims from drinking alcohol. In past centuries the passage was also cited in debates over whether it was permissible to use coffee, because of its effect as a stimulant.

I’ve blogged before about the possible influence of Wahhabi Islam in the destruction of tombs by ISIS. Sufi rituals are frequently conducted at the graves of the orders’ founders, a practice which is condemned by the Wahhabis. The Islamic reformers Rashid Rida and Sayyid Qutb also hated Sufism, because they believed it was the source of the fatalism that prevented Islam from once again becoming a great power.

The judicial murder of ISIS’ judicial murderer thus strikes me not so much as a punishment for smoking, but as part of a crackdown on Sufi mystics. In several of the videos I put up yesterday, the point was made in that ISIS does not only persecute and kill non-Muslims, but also other Muslims, simply because their beliefs don’t match those of ISIS. One of the videos was a news report from RT reporting on the murder of opposition ulema – Muslim clergy – in Syria. So far 20 of them have been murdered, and 800 mosques closed by the terrorists.

This is further proof that ISIS are intent on killing everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim, in their quest for power. The westerners, who join them, won’t just be complicit in murdering and butchering Christians and Yezidis, but also for the mass killing of their co-religionists.