Informed Comment http://www.juancole.com Thoughts on the Middle East, History and Religion Mon, 27 Feb 2017 06:05:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.4.7 Turkey’s Coup aftermath and Human Rights: A Feminist Perspective http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/aftermath-feminist-perspective.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/aftermath-feminist-perspective.html#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 05:22:37 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166804 By Banu Gökarıksel | ( Duke University Blog ) | – –

Feminist critiques of political power reveal the central function of gender, sexuality, and difference in maintaining that power. Yet, in current events, a feminist geopolitics is rarely considered and has been absent from analysis of the 2016 coup attempt and its aftermath in Turkey. Much more than tallying the number of women who participated in protesting against the coup, a feminist approach reveals the ways in which the coup attempt (and responses to it) in Turkey relied on the exercise of masculine discursive and material power. Violence was both engineered by a powerful institution, the Turkish military, as well as opposed by the political power of the AKP backed by other state institutions such as the police and gendarme. Both coup plotters and their opponents played a significant role in constructing and symbolizing normative masculinity and heterosexuality. The eruption of violence reinforced the hegemonic relationship between the military, the state, and the nation.

Feminist critique reveals that under President Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership, the AKP government has taken increasingly repressive and alarmingly authoritarian measures against minorities, women, and girls, and has galvanized a populist nationalist masculinity that Erdoğan himself embodies. The crowds of civilian men, police officers, and anti-coup soldiers who fought against the putschists, sometimes without any weapons, also legitimate and embolden a nationalist masculinity built on religious and social conservatism and populism.

The stepping up of its war against the Kurds is part of the government’s attempt to reestablish its nationalist and patriarchal power. Despite the magnitude of horror and human cost of this war, it could be thought in connection to a regulation for the chemical castration of sex offenders and the ‘rape’ bill proposal introduced in November 2016 (that would have absolved rapists who marry their victims under 18 years of age from any criminal punishment but met with huge demonstrations and did not secure enough votes to pass). Without attending to the bolstering of this masculinist power in the streets and in government, analysts miss a crucial dimension of how a political environment of fear and intimidation has been legitimated and how violence and militarization have recast Turkish subjects.

The coup attempt on 15 July 2016 was unexpected but not entirely surprising given Turkey’s history. What was surprising was what happened afterwards. Following Erdoğan’s call to defend democracy over a FaceTime call broadcast live on television and constant prayer calls from minarets, people in huge numbers poured out to the streets, breaking the curfew. Although some women were present, the overwhelming majority were men. The civilian men joined the police and anti-coup soldiers to fight against the putchists. Waving Turkish flags and shouting “Ya Allah, Bismillah, Allahuekber”, they attacked soldiers and tanks.

By the following morning it was clear that the coup attempt had failed. 241 people were killed and more than two thousand were injured during the coup. Crowds came out to occupy public squares to celebrate the defeat of the putschists in ‘democracy vigil’s that continued for weeks. The people who attended these democracy vigils did not seem to fully support democratic ideals and norms, asking for the immediate hanging of all the putschists and declaring unconditional loyalty to Erdoğan’s leadership.

The Turkish government’s reaction to the coup attempt has also been to the detriment of an already deteriorating democratic environment in which freedoms and rights of most citizens, mostly importantly of women and minorities have been increasingly restricted. Initiating a familiar re-militarization of society, the AKP government quickly and violently acted to restore its masculinist power, repressing any expression of difference from its normative Turkish citizenship. It declared a state of emergency which persists and strengthened its grip on power through arrests, purges, travel bans, and property seizures. The initial targets expanded from coup plotters, supporters, and anyone associated with Fethullah Gülen’s hizmet movement, which the government alleges masterminded the coup, to all critics of government policies, especially its war against the Kurds. Hundreds have been detained or arrested; thousands have been fired from their jobs or forced to resign; over one hundred media outlets have been closed down since July. Academics who signed a peace petition, journalists who wrote anything critical of the government continue to become targets as late as February 2017.

The coup attempt and the AKP’s response to it are manifestations of masculinist political power. The aggressive, violent masculinities that the coup attempt and its aftermath bolstered constitute the architecture of a security state. Political power is never gender-neutral but works through gendered and sexual production of bodies that belong and that do not, that need protection and that are threats, and through the gendered and sexual construction of borders and territory. A feminist critique provides insights into the production of an environment of increasing consolidation of masculinist power, rhetoric of national unity, violence, and militarism. But it also shows the possibilities for building solidarities and working towards a different future built on pluralism, non-violence, and peace.

Read the Special Forum: Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Coup Attempt and its Aftermath in Turkey here.

Banu Gökarıksel is co-editor of the Journal of Middle East Women’s Studies. The most recent issue of the journal, volume 13 and issue 1, features a special forum on Feminist Perspectives on the 2016 Coup Attempt and its Aftermath in Turkey.

Via Duke University Blog

Reprinted with the permission of the author.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Ruptly TV: “Turkey: Arrests at Ankara University as thousands of state employees dismissed”

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Trumpocalypse: How the U.S. Invaded, Occupied, and Remade Itself http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/trumpocalypse-invaded-occupied.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/trumpocalypse-invaded-occupied.html#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 05:16:23 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166807 By Tom Engelhardt | (Tomdispatch.com) | – –

It’s been epic! A cast of thousands! (Hundreds? Tens?) A spectacular production that, five weeks after opening on every screen of any sort in America (and possibly the world), shows no sign of ending. What a hit it’s been! It’s driving people back to newspapers (online, if not in print) and ensuring that our everyday companions, the 24/7 cable news shows, never lack for “breaking news” or audiences. It’s a smash in both the Hollywood and car accident sense of the term, a phenomenon the likes of which we’ve simply never experienced. Think of Nero fiddling while Rome burned and the cameras rolled. It’s proved, in every way, to be a giant leak. A faucet. A spigot. An absolute flood of non-news, quarter-news, half-news, crazed news, fake news, and over-the-top actual news.

And you know exactly what — and whom — I’m talking about.  No need to explain.  I mean, you tell me: What doesn’t it have?  Its lead actor is the closest we’ve come in our nation’s capital to an action figure.  Think of him as the Mar-a-Lego version of Batman and the Joker rolled into one, a president who, as he told us at a news conference recently, is “the least anti-Semitic person that you’ve ever seen in your entire life” and the “least racist person” as well.  As report after report indicates, he attacks, lashes out, mocks, tweets, pummels, charges, and complains, showering calumny on others even as he praises his achievements without surcease.  Think of him as the towering inferno of twenty-first-century American politics or a modern Godzilla eternally emerging from New York harbor.

As for his supporting cast? Islamophobes, Iranophobes, white nationalists; bevies of billionaires and multimillionaires; a resurgent stock market gone wild; the complete fossil fuel industry and every crackpot climate change “skeptic” in town; a press spokesman immortalized by Saturday Night Live whose afternoon briefings are already beating the soap opera General Hospital in the ratings; a White House counselor whose expertise is in “alternative facts”; a national security adviser who (with a tenure of 24 days) seemed to sum up the concept of “insecurity”; a White House chief of staff and liaison with the Republicans in Congress who’s already being sized up for extinction, as well as a couple of appointees who were “dismissed” or even frog-marched out of their offices and jobs for having criticized The Donald and not fessed up… honestly, you couldn’t make this stuff up, or rather only Trump himself can do so.  And by the way, just so you know, based on the last weeks of “news” I could keep this paragraph going more or less forever without even breaking into a sweat.

Among so many subjects I haven’t even mentioned, including Melania and former wife Ivana — is it even possible that she could become the U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic? — there are, of course, the Trump kids and their businesses and the instantly broken promises on (such an old-fashioned phrase) their conflicts of interest and the conflicts about those conflicts and the presidential tweets, threats, and bluster that have gone with them, not to speak of the issue of for-pay access to the new president.  And how about Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner (another walking conflict of you-know-what), who reputedly had a role in the appointment of the new ambassador to Israel, a New York bankruptcy lawyer known for raising millions of dollars to fund a West Bank Jewish settlement and for calling supporters of the liberal Jewish group J Street “far worse than kapos” (Jews who aided the Nazis in their concentration camps). Kushner has now been ordained America’s ultimate peacemaker in the Middle East.  And don’t forget that sons Donald and Eric are already saving memorabilia for the future Trump presidential library, a concept that should take your breath away.  (Just imagine a library with those giant golden letters over its entrance to honor a man who proudly doesn’t read books and, as with presidential executive orders and possibly even volumes he’s “written,” signs off on things he’s barely bothered to check out.)

And speaking of Rome (remember Nero fiddling?), have you noticed that these days all news roads lead back to… well, Donald Trump?  Take my word for it: nothing happens in our world any longer that doesn’t relate to him and his people (or, by definition, it simply didn’t happen).  Since he rode that Trump Tower escalator into the presidential race in June 2015, his greatest skill has, without any doubt, been his ability to suck up all the media air in any room, whether that “room” is the Oval Office, Washington, or the world at large.  He speaks at a news conference with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and, amid angry outbursts on leaks from the intelligence community and attacks on “the dishonest media” for essentially firing his national security adviser, he suddenly turns his attention to the Israeli-Palestinian issue and says, “So, I’m looking at two-state and one-state and I like the one that both parties like. I’m very happy with the one that both parties like. I can live with either one. I thought for a while the two-state looked like it may be the easier of the two but honestly, if Bibi and if the Palestinians — if Israel and the Palestinians are happy, I’m happy with the one they like the best.”  And the world as we’ve known it in the Middle East is suddenly turned upside down and inside out.

Generalizing

In its way, even 20 months after it began, it’s all still so remarkable and new, and if it isn’t like being in the path of a tornado, you tell me what it’s like.  So no one should be surprised at just how difficult it is to step outside the storm of this never-ending moment, to find some — any — vantage point offering the slightest perspective on the Trumpaclysm that’s hit our world.

Still, odd as it may seem under the circumstances, Trump’s presidency came from somewhere, developed out of something.  To think of it (as many of those resisting Trump now seem inclined to do) as uniquely new, the presidential version of a virgin birth, is to defy both history and reality.

Donald Trump, whatever else he may be, is most distinctly a creature of history.  He’s unimaginable without it.  This, in turn, means that the radical nature of his new presidency should serve as a reminder of just how radical the 15 years after 9/11 actually were in shaping American life, politics, and governance.  In that sense, to generalize (if you’ll excuse the pun), his presidency already offers a strikingly vivid and accurate portrait of the America we’ve been living in for some years now, even if we’d prefer to pretend otherwise.

After all, it’s clearly a government of, by, and evidently for the billionaires and the generals, which pretty much sums up where we’ve been heading for the last decade and a half anyway.  Let’s start with those generals.  In the 15 years before Trump entered the Oval Office, Washington became a permanent war capital; war, a permanent feature of our American world; and the military, the most admired institution of American life, the one in which we have the most confidence among an otherwise fading crew, including the presidency, the Supreme Court, public schools, banks, television news, newspapers, big business, and Congress (in that descending order).

Support for that military in the form of staggering sums of taxpayer dollars (which are about to soar yet again) is one of the few things congressional Democrats and Republicans can still agree on.  The military-industrial complex rides ever higher (despite Trumpian tweets about the price of F-35s); police across the country have been armed like so many military forces, while the technology of war on America’s distant battlefields — from Stingrays to MRAPs to military surveillance drones — has come home big time, and we’ve been SWATified.

This country has, in other words, been militarized in all sorts of ways, both obvious and less so, in a fashion that Americans once might not have imagined possible.  In the process, declaring and making war has increasingly become — the Constitution be damned — the sole preoccupation of the White House without significant reference to Congress.  Meanwhile, thanks to the drone assassination program run directly out of the Oval Office, the president, in these years, has become an assassin-in-chief as well as commander-in-chief.

Under the circumstances, no one should have been surprised when Donald Trump turned to the very generals he criticized in the election campaign, men who fought 15 years of losing wars that they bitterly feel should have been won.  In his government, they have, of course, now taken over — a historic first — what had largely been the civilian posts of secretary of defense, secretary of homeland security, national security adviser, and National Security Council chief of staff.  Think of it as a junta light and little more than the next logical step in the further militarization of this country.

It’s striking, for instance, that when the president finally fired his national security adviser, 24 days into his presidency, all but one of the other figures that he reportedly considered for a post often occupied by a civilian were retired generals (and an admiral), or in the case of the person he actually tapped to be his second national security adviser, a still-active Army general.  This reflects a distinct American reality of the twenty-first century that The Donald has simply absorbed like the human sponge he is.  As a result, America’s permanent wars, all relative disasters of one sort or another, will now be overseen by men who were, for the last decade and a half, deeply implicated in them.  It’s a formula for further disaster, of course, but no matter.

Other future Trumpian steps — like the possible mobilization of the National Guard, more than half a century after guardsmen helped desegregate the University of Alabama, to carry out the mass deportation of illegal immigrants — will undoubtedly be in the same mold (though the administration has denied that such a mobilization is under serious consideration yet).  In short, we now live in an America of the generals and that would be the case even if Donald Trump had never been elected president.

Add in one more factor of our moment: we have the first signs that members of the military high command may no longer feel completely bound by the classic American prohibition from taking any part in politics.  General Raymond “Tony” Thomas, head of the elite U.S. Special Operations Command, speaking recently at a conference, essentially warned the president that we are “at war” and that chaos in the White House is not good for the warriors.  That’s as close as we’ve come in our time to direct public military criticism of the White House.

The Ascendancy of the Billionaires

As for those billionaires, let’s start this way: a billionaire is now president of the United States, something that, until this country was transformed into a 1% society with 1% politics, would have been inconceivable.  (The closest we came in modern times was Nelson Rockefeller as vice president, and he was appointed by President Gerald Ford in 1974, not elected.)  In addition, never have there been so many billionaires and multimillionaires in a cabinet — and that, in turn, was only possible because there are now so staggeringly many billionaires and multimillionaires in this country to choose from.  In 1987, there were 41 billionaires in the United States; in 2015, 536.  What else do you need to know about the intervening years, which featured growing inequality and the worst economic meltdown since 1929 that only helped strengthen the new version of the American system?

In swift order in these years, we moved from billionaires funding the political system (after the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision opened the financial floodgates) to actually heading and running the government.  As a result, count on a country even friendlier to the already fantastically wealthy — thanks in part to whatever Trump-style “tax cuts” are put in place — and so the possible establishment of a new “era of dynastic wealth.”  From the crew of rich dismantlers and destroyers Donald Trump has appointed to his cabinet, expect, among other things, that the privatization of the U.S. government — a process until now largely focused on melding warrior corporations with various parts of the national security state — will proceed apace in the rest of the governing apparatus.

We were, in other words, already living in a different America before November 8, 2016.  Donald Trump has merely shoved that reality directly in all our faces.  And keep in mind that if it weren’t for the one-percentification of this country and the surge of automation (as well as globalization) that destroyed so many jobs and only helped inequality flourish, white working class Americans in particular would not have felt so left behind in the heartland of their own country or so ready to send such an explosive figure into the White House as a visible form of screw-you-style protest.

Finally, consider one other hallmark of the first month of the Trump presidency: the “feud” between the new president and the intelligence sector of the national security state.  In these post-9/11 years, that state within a state — sometimes referred to by its critics as the “deep state,” though given the secrecy that envelops it, “dark state” might be a more accurate term — grew by leaps and bounds.  In that period, for instance, the U.S. gained a second Defense Department, the Department of Homeland Security with its own security-industrial complex, while the intelligence agencies, all 17 of them, expanded in just about every way imaginable.  In those years, they gained a previously inconceivable kind of clout, as well as the ability to essentially listen in on and monitor the communications of just about anyone on the planet (including Americans).  Fed copiously by taxpayer dollars, swollen by hundreds of thousands of private contractors from warrior corporations, largely free of the controlling hand of either Congress or the courts, and operating under the kind of blanket secrecy that left most Americans in the dark about its activities (except when whistle-blowers revealed its workings), the national security state gained an ascendancy in Washington as the de facto fourth branch of government.

Now, key people within its shadowy precincts find Donald Trump, the president who is in so many ways a product of the same processes that elevated them, not to their liking — even less so once he compared their activities to those of the Nazi era — and they seem to have gone to war with him and his administration via a remarkable stream of leaks of damaging information, especially about now-departed National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.  As Amanda Taub and Max Fisher of the New York Times wrote, “For concerned government officials, leaks may have become one of the few remaining means by which to influence not just Mr. Flynn’s policy initiatives but the threat he seemed to pose to their place in democracy.”

This, of course, represented a version of whistle-blowing that, when directed at them in the pre-Trump era, they found appalling.  Like General Thomas’s comments, that flood of leaks, while discomfiting Donald Trump, also represented a potential challenge to the American political system as it once was known.  When the fiercest defenders of that system begin to be seen as being inside the intelligence community and the military you know that you’re in a different and far more perilous world.

So much of what’s now happening may seem startlingly new and overwhelming. In truth, however, it’s been in development for years, even if the specifics of a Trump presidency were not so long ago unimaginable.  In March of 2015, for instance, two months before The Donald tossed his hair into the presidential ring, in a post at TomDispatch I asked if “a new political system” was emerging in America and summed the situation up this way:

“Still, don’t for a second think that the American political system isn’t being rewritten on the run by interested parties in Congress, our present crop of billionaires, corporate interests, lobbyists, the Pentagon, and the officials of the national security state. Out of the chaos of this prolonged moment and inside the shell of the old system, a new culture, a new kind of politics, a new kind of governance is being born right before our eyes. Call it what you want. But call it something. Stop pretending it’s not happening.”

We’re now living in Donald Trump’s America (which I certainly didn’t either predict or imagine in March 2015); we’re living, that is, in an ever more chaotic and aberrant land run (to the extent it’s run at all) by billionaires and retired generals, and overseen by a distinctly aberrant president at war with aberrant parts of the national security state.  That, in a nutshell, is the America created in the post-9/11 years.  Put another way, the U.S. may have failed dismally in its efforts to invade, occupy, and remake Iraq in its own image, but it seems to have invaded, occupied, and remade itself with remarkable success.  And don’t blame this one on the Russians.  

No one said it better than French King Louis XV: Après moi, le Trump.

Tom Engelhardt is a co-founder of the American Empire Project and the author of The United States of Fear as well as a history of the Cold War, The End of Victory Culture. He is a fellow of the Nation Institute and runs TomDispatch.com. His latest book is Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, John Feffer’s dystopian novel Splinterlands, as well as Nick Turse’s Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead, and Tom Engelhardt’s latest book, Shadow Government: Surveillance, Secret Wars, and a Global Security State in a Single-Superpower World.

Copyright 2017 Tom Engelhardt

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Reviews of our latest Dispatch book, John Feffer’s superb dystopian novel, Splinterlands, are just beginning to come in and they’re uniformly superb.  The Washington City Paper, citing its “brilliance,” writes, “If you’re having a hard time deciding whether to read 1984 or The Origins of Totalitarianism — or if you’ve already read them both and want something in-between — consider local author John Feffer’s Splinterlands.”  The Midwest Book Review adds, “Readers who enjoy dystopian stories that hold more than a light look at political structures and their downfall will more than appreciate the in-depth approach John Feffer takes in his novel.”  I urge you to support TomDispatch (and get a riveting late night read) by picking up a copy, or for a $100 donation ($125 if you live outside the U.S.), get your own signed, personalized copy from the author via our donation page (where numerous other books of our moment are also available) and give this site a real helping hand.  Tom]

Via Tomdispatch.com

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Iran’s Oscar-Winning Director Hopes Anti-Fascist Movement Grows http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/winning-director-movement.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/winning-director-movement.html#respond Mon, 27 Feb 2017 05:08:35 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166809 TeleSur | – –

“We believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color,” the directors of the five Oscar foreign films nominees wrote in a joint statement.

Thousands of people braved London’s winter drizzle on Sunday for a screening of the Oscar-nominated movie that has become a rallying point for opponents of U.S. President Donald Trump’s immigration policy.

Hours ahead of what looked set to be the most politicized Academy Awards for years, London Mayor Sadiq Khan made clear his political motivation in hosting the British premiere of the “The Salesman,” whose Iranian director is boycotting the Hollywood ceremony.

“President Trump cannot silence me,” Khan said to cheers from the crowd gathered in Trafalgar Square. “We stand in solidarity with Asghar Farhadi, one of the world’s greatest directors.”

Farhadi, who won an Oscar in 2012 for “A Separation”, won another Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards Sunday but is stayed away in protest of Trump’s attempt to ban people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States.

In a video message from Tehran, Farhadi thanked the “dear people of London who are gathered on this cold afternoon,” saying he was heartened by the reaction of filmmakers and artists to “the oppressive travel ban of immigrants.”

“I hope this movement will continue and spread for it has within itself the power to stand up to fascism, be victorious in the face of extremism and saying no to oppressive political powers everywhere,” Farhadi said.

Farhadi and the film’s lead actress, Taraneh Alidoosti, both said over a month ago they would not travel to Los Angeles to represent “The Salesman” because of Trump’s ban, even if that meant they would be exempt from winning.

The ban was later overturned by U.S. courts but the administration is working on a new executive travel order.

In a statement to Hollywood trade publication Variety Friday, Farhadi’s publicist said that engineer Anousheh Ansari, who was the first female space traveler, and Firouz Naderi, a former director of NASA’s Solar System Exploration program, would take Farhadi’s place at the Oscars and represent him on stage should the film win.

Ansari moved to the United States from Iran in 1984 as a teenager and made headlines as the first Iranian and first Muslim woman in space in 2006. Naderi left Iran for the United States in 1964 and worked for some 30 years in positions with the U.S. space agency.

On Friday, Farhadi and the five other directors in the running for this year’s foreign-language Oscar issued a joint statement blaming “leading politicians” for creating “divisive walls.”

The directors included Martin Zandvliet, director of Denmark’s “Land of Mine,” Hannes Holm, director of Sweden’s “A Man Called Ove,” Maren Ade, director of Germany’s “Toni Erdmann,” and Martin Butler and Bentley Dean, joint directors of Australia’s “Tanna.”

Without explicitly referring to any politician, they said, “On behalf of all nominees, we would like to express our unanimous and emphatic disapproval of the climate of fanaticism and nationalism we see today in the US and in so many other countries, in parts of the population and, mostly and unfortunately of all, among leading politicians.”

Regardless of who wins the Oscar, “we believe there is no best country, best gender, best religion or best color,” the directors added. “We want this award to stand as a symbol of unity between nations and the freedom of the arts.”

Via TeleSur

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

Variety: “Asghar Farhadi’s “The Salesman” Best Foreign Language – Oscars 2017 – Full Backstage Interview”

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Spurned Reporters should dump Trump Briefings, turn to Investigative Journalism http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/reporters-investigative-journalism.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/reporters-investigative-journalism.html#comments Sun, 26 Feb 2017 08:25:32 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166799 By Juan Cole | (Informed Comment) | – –

Donald Trump was unhappy Saturday that the major media had neglected to report a point made by Herman Cain in an interview on Fox. Cain alleged that in Barack Obama’s first month, the Federal budget deficit rose $200 bn., but in Trump’s first month it fell to only $12 bn. Obviously, Obama had nothing to do with the deficit in his first month– that was a result of the 2008 collapse, which had something to do with Republican policies of deregulating the banks and other mortgage lenders and declining to exercise any oversight over sketchy practices. And Trump had nothing to do with the deficit during his first month in office. That was a result of Obama’s 8 years of pulling the economy back out of the toilet to which the Republican Party had consigned it.

Trump’s petty attacks on journalists as enemies of America, as the worst people, and as irrationally denying him the credit for his 4 weeks of economic turnaround, are deeply worrisome to many Americans sensitive to the danger of a spiral down into authoritarian rule. William H. McRaven, the retired four-star admiral and former Navy Seal who led the raid against Usama Bin Laden, called Trump’s remark on the press as an enemy of the people “the greatest threat to democracy” he has ever seen.

Trump’s immature sidelining of reporters on his enemy’s list kept rolling on this weekend. White House spokesman Sean Spicer was set to do an on-camera press briefing on Friday, and then Donald Trump spoke at the conservative gathering CPAC. It is a custom that the spokesman doesn’t do an on-camera event the same day the president gives a substantial address. So Spicer switched to doing what is called a “gaggle,” a smaller briefing in his office attended only be a few reporters in a pool who then would convey his remarks to others.

Spicer pared down the invitee list to the bare bones. He excluded the BBC, CNN, the New York Times, the Guardian, the Los Angeles Times, Buzzfeed, the Daily Mail and Politico, among others. He allowed ABC, Fox News, Breitbart News, Reuters and the Washington Times. Breitbart is not a news outlet, but a propaganda arm of elements of the Ku Klux Klan who wear suits rather than white robes.

The exclusions were so egregious and petty that the Associated Press, USA Today and Time magazine declined to be present. The Washington Post and McClatchy did not know about the disinvitees, and said that if they had been aware of what was going on, they would not have attended, either.

Since Spicer often conveys fake news (the Atlanta Attack) or pro-Trump propaganda at his briefings, it isn’t clear that the excluded media were exactly missing anything.

Then Trump announced that he would be the first president since Tricky Dick Nixon voluntarily to skip the annual dinner of the White House correspondents, where in recent decades the president and the press engaged in some good-natured ribbing. Trump appears to have felt humiliated at one of these events by remarks of then President Barack Obama, pushing back against Trump’s outrageous lies about Obama’s birthplace.

But Spicer’s and Trump’s attempts to exclude so many journalists from a briefing may be all to the good.

Something is broken in American journalism. Maybe it is the “inverted pyramid” whereby US reporters put the “most important thing” first in the article. It has been pointed out that this way of organizing the article gives an unfair advantage to a duplicitous administration, since anything the president says goes first in the article. Bush and his people used this principle to game the press all the time. (When the scandal about US personnel torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib in Iraq broke on a Thursday evening, Bush quickly came out and condemned the practice. The Friday headlines were “President condemns torture at Abu Ghraib.”)

Or maybe it is access journalism, whereby an administration adopts a few favored writers and feeds them scoops that it suits the administration to go on the front page.

Or maybe it is the news conference. Why privilege an administration’s narrative about itself by doing articles based on nothing more than hot air coming from the general direction of the West Wing?

Most major newspapers in the US, when there were major print newspapers, used to have an investigative journalism team. With the decline of ad revenue and the hard times on which journalism has fallen, investigative journalism has often been abandoned. Administrations and the Washington bureaucracy don’t like a young journalist nosing around. ProPublica, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, and some other independent organizations (often with limited resources) have been left to try to fill the gap left when big media cut back on investigative reporting.

But we need that back, big time, in this administration. Everywhere you dig in Trump’s cabinet, you find bodies. So instead of sitting in a room being fed falsehoods by Spicer or Trump, best for the journalists to be working contacts in the White House or at NSC or the Pentagon to get the real story. Enough people in Washington are appalled by the Trump-Bannon attempt to fascize America that they seem willing to leak damaging information all on their own. How much better if a trained journalist got those stories through initiative.

So here’s to Trump excluding virtually all the newspapers and cable channels. Let him. Go get the scoops he doesn’t want you to have.

Someone (probably not George Orwell) once said, ““News is something somebody doesn’t want printed; all else is advertising.” Whoever said it, truer words were never spoken.

We need less advertising (or “public relations” in some versions), and a helluva lot more journalism these days.

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Related video:

CBS Evening News: “Trump won’t attend White House correspondents’ dinner”

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As Trump Goes In: Foxing the public over Yemen and Iran http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/trump-foxing-public.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/trump-foxing-public.html#comments Sun, 26 Feb 2017 05:20:48 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166780 By Brian Whitaker | ( Al-Bab.com )

When it comes to reporting the conflict in Yemen, Fox News is exceptionally bad. Fox has been fooling its viewers for years but now, with Donald Trump installed in the White House, the problem is becoming a more serious. Trump is a devotee of Fox News: it tells him what he wants to hear – about Iranian influence in Yemen, among other things – and he seems to trust it more than he trusts America’s intelligence agencies.

To make matters worse, though, Trump appears to be watching Fox News without giving it his full attention, presumably because he also has his Twitter feed and presidential business to attend to. As we saw from his reference to an “incident” in Sweden last week – an imaginary event which he claimed to have heard about on Fox News – he has a tendency to pick up garbled versions of what Fox actually broadcasts.

There was a similar Fox-inspired “incident” earlier this month involving Iran or, to be more accurate, not involving Iran. On 2 February, White House spokesman Sean Spicer wrongly asserted that Iran had attacked an American warship. Spicer told reporters “Iran’s additional hostile action that it took against our Navy vessel” (along with a recent Iranian missile test) was one of the reasons why the US was putting Iran “on notice”.

The “American” warship in question was actually Saudi. It had been attacked in the Red Sea at the end of January by Houthi fighters from Yemen who – as Fox constantly reminds its viewers – are “Iranian-backed”. The mistaken idea that the ship was American appears to have come from a Fox News report claiming the attack might have been “meant for an American warship”.

There was no credible evidence to support this claim but Fox was happy to report it on the basis of quotes from anonymous Pentagon officials even though the Houthis had been claiming all along that the ship was Saudi and identified it – correctly – as a frigate named al-Madinah which had been taking part in a naval blockade along the Houthi-controlled portion of Yemen’s coastline. Nevertheless, suggesting that the intended target was American helped to raise fears about Iran and allowed Fox’s presenter to tell viewers it “could have ominous implications for the US military”.

Fox is always ready to sound alarm bells about Iran on the slenderest of pretexts. Last October, for instance, it got excited about the supposed threat to the US Navy posed by a single 48-year-old Iranian frigate and its supply ship which sailed harmlessly past Yemen to southern Africa, as Iran had said it would do.

While Obama was president propaganda of this kind didn’t have much influence on American policy but it now has a receptive audience in the White House. The danger is that if Trump becomes mired in domestic political conflicts, as seems very likely, he may view confrontation with Iran as a way of rallying Americans around him.

Fox, of course, isn’t the only source of the scaremongering but it is one of the more extreme examples. In large sections of the media Iran’s deep involvement in Yemen is taken for granted: it is assumed to be so obvious that there is no need to consider or even provide any evidence. This is reminiscent of the run-up to the 2003 war in Iraq when it became almost heretical to question whether Saddam Hussein really had weapons of mass destruction.

This isn’t to suggest that Iran has no role in Yemen at all but it’s important not to exaggerate. The Houthis certainly have some religious affinity with Iran and nobody – least of all, the Iranians – would deny that Iran has given them encouragement. But while describing the Houthis as “Iranian-backed” is factually correct it’s liable to be be misleading unless qualified with further explanation. And while it suits Saudi Arabia’s purposes to characterise the Yemen conflict as a proxy war with Iran, local factors inside Yemen are actually far more relevant.

There is a very noticeable contrast between the sort of Yemen coverage provided by Fox News and discussions among people who follow Yemen closely for professional or academic reasons and have no particular axe to grind. I have attended plenty of discussions of the latter kind since the conflict began and the Iranian angle is rarely given much significance. On one occasion it was 40 minutes before anyone even uttered the word “Iran”.

One possible explanation for this is that the country with the longest, most extensive and most negative history of interference in Yemeni affairs is not Iran but Saudi Arabia. Its meddling over the years far outstrips anything done by Iran.

As for what Iran is actually doing to support the Houthis, available evidence suggests it’s not very much – though this may be due more to the practical difficulties involved than a lack of inclination. A key question here is whether, or to what extent, Iran might be arming the Houthis (and supporters of ex-President Saleh who are allied with them).

A recent UN report by a panel of experts looked at this in detail and concluded that if Iran is providing weapons it is unlikely to be doing so on a large scale. The report said:

“The panel has not seen sufficient evidence to confirm any direct large-scale supply of arms from the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran, although there are indicators that anti-tank guided weapons being supplied to the Houthi or Saleh forces are of Iranian manufacture.”

One factor here is that the Houthi-Saleh forces may not have had much need (so far) to import weapons from abroad because they already have access to a large part of Yemen’s national stockpile. The report noted:

“The data indicate that the legitimate [Saudi-backed] government has potentially lost control of more than 68 per cent of the national stockpile during the conflict. The panel has been unable to determine the size of the national stockpile before the current hostilities, and thus it is not yet possible to realistically estimate for how long the weapons and ammunition will sustain Houthi or Saleh forces in combat until they need major external resupply.”

On the question of external supplies, the report considered various ways arms might be smuggled into Yemen from Iran. It discounted the possibility of delivery by air (since the Saudi coalition controls the skies) and identified three possible maritime supply routes. However, these are fraught with difficulties and are probably only suitable for small-scale arms trafficking, as the report explained:

1. Coastal dhows to Houthi-Saleh-controlled ports on the west coast of Yemen

UN report: “Coastal dhows, if en route to Houthi-Saleh-controlled ports on the west coast of Yemen, even if routed via a transit point in Djibouti or Somalia, must pass from the Gulf of Aden into the Red Sea through the busy Bab al-Mandab strait, which is 28 km wide. This is well patrolled by the Combined Maritime Forces, the United States Navy Fifth Fleet and the Royal Saudi Navy. If sent in very small consignments on coastal dhows, it is probable that some shipments would arrive, but many would inevitably be interdicted by naval patrols. The panel has seen no evidence of any maritime seizures to date on this route, which strongly suggests that it is not being actively exploited.”

Possible overland smuggling routes from Oman and Yemen's southern coast. Map from UN report. <a href="http://al-bab.com/sites/default/files/map-yemen-land-routes.jpg">Click to enlarge</a>.

2. Coastal dhows to Omani transit ports

UN report: “There are only two small Omani ports to the west of Salalah, Dhofar governorate, with road access to the border with Yemen that would be suitable for the offloading of arms. Ship-to-shore transfers across Omani beaches in Dhofar are also possible. The subsequent requirement for vehicles to then transit through the most likely border crossing point at Sarfayt/Hawf carries a higher risk of interdiction by border guards than if ship-to-shore transfers were made directly across a Yemeni beach. Recent land seizures indicate that this route may be in use for small-scale shipments.”

3. Coastal dhows to south-eastern ports or beaches in Yemen

UN report: “The only suitable port for the direct offloading of weapons in south-eastern Yemen would be Nishtun, but this is under the control of government forces, meaning that its use would imply a level of corruption on the part of officials. The alternative to offloading weapons at Yemeni ports is, however, to operate a covert ship-to-shore transfer from coastal dhows or small boats across the known smugglers’ beaches at Ghaydah, Haswayn and Qishn. Recent land seizures indicate that this route is also probably in use for small-scale shipments.”

Whether weapons are smuggled across the border from Oman or landed on Yemen’s southern coast, the hazards of transporting them overland to the Houthis through hostile territory are considerable. The UN report commented:

“The land routes from the border crossing points with Dhofar, Oman, to the nearest Houthi-controlled territory, or from south-eastern Yemeni ports, pass through more than 600 km of government-controlled territory. The probability of large-scale shipments being able to successively use this route without detection is low, but it is possible. The route is being exploited, as indicated by recent seizures by the government. These were all from large trucks and either hidden under other cargo, for example chicken boxes, or were in false compartments of the trailer units …

“Although anti-tank guided weapons are now being smuggled on the land routes, the panel assesses it as unlikely that the network using these routes could covertly transfer any significant quantities of larger-calibre weapon systems, such as short-range ballistic missiles, into Yemen at the current time. An anti-tank guided weapon is less than 1 m in length and easily hidden in a large truck, while a short-range ballistic missile of 7m in length is much more difficult to conceal.”

Weapons seizures in the Gulf of Aden and Arabian Sea during 2015 and 2016. Map from UN report. <a href="http://al-bab.com/sites/default/files/map-yemen-sea-routes.jpg">Click to enlarge</a..

Seizures at sea: a question of destination

During 2015 and 2016 there were only four confirmed seizures of weapons in the Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden. All four vessels had sailed from Iran but there’s no real evidence that Yemen was their destination. The UN report suggests they are more likely to have been heading for Somalia:

24 September 2015: Fishing vessel Nasir intercepted by Australian frigate HMAS Melbourne.

UN report: “The FV Nasir, which departed from Chabahar in the Islamic Republic of Iran, was seized at a position on the most direct and economical track to Hurdiyo, Somalia. This was the destination plotted [and] recovered as evidence by HMAS Melbourne. Mobile and satellite phones were also inspected during the seizure operation and subsequent traffic analysis from data provided by a [UN] member state provided further evidence that the originator was based in the Islamic Republic of Iran and that Somalia was the destination for the shipment … The master of the FV Nasir was also in contact with known arms dealers with links to a former pirate, Isse Mohamoud Yusuf (“Yullux”), and the leader of the ISIL faction in Somalia, Abdulqadir Mumin.”

27 February 2016: Fishing vessel Samer intercepted by Australian frigate HMAS Darwin.

UN report: “The FV Samer was seized at a position 130 nautical miles south-east of the most direct and economical track from Chabahar, Islamic Republic of Iran, to Boosaaso, Somalia, this being the destination port assessed as likely by HMAS Darwin. This position is further away from the Yemeni coast than the most direct and economical track and suggests that a more likely direct destination was the eastern smuggling ports of Somalia than Boosaaso.”

20 March 2016: Unknown fishing vessel intercepted by French destroyer FS Provence.

UN report: “The unknown fishing vessel was seized by the FS Provence at a point on the most direct and economical track from Chabahar, Islamic Republic of Iran, to its declared destination of Qandala, Somalia.”

28 March 2016: Fishing vessel Adris intercepted by American patrol ship USS Sirocco.

The interception by USS Sirocco was announced in a press release by the American Fifth Fleet and reported in the media but despite two requests from the UN experts, the US has still not disclosed the location of the seizure or provided evidence to support its claim that the shipment “was likely bound for Houthi insurgents in Yemen”.

This is not the only instance where countries engaged in the struggle against arms smuggling have been less than forthcoming with information for the UN panel. Regarding seizures on the overland routes, for example, the report notes:

“The panel has requested detailed information on seizures from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen [i.e. the Hadi government]. Only the United Arab Emirates has responded to date.”

Nor have the Saudis been eager to elaborate on reports of a possible fifth seizure of weapons at sea in 2016:

“Media reports claimed that two small dhows had been captured by the coalition led by Saudi Arabia off the coast of Salif, with conflicting reports stating that they had been destroyed by air strikes. Saudi Arabia has not responded to the panel’s requests for more details on the reported incident or incidents.”

It does seem a bit odd that governments which readily accuse Iran of arming the Houthis are not more enthusiastic about providing credible evidence. But perhaps they assume the public is already persuaded and needs no more convincing – and they could be right about that.

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Photo of the Day: Gaza (the Old Town), 1862 http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/photo-gaza-town.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/photo-gaza-town.html#comments Sun, 26 Feb 2017 05:20:38 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166787 The New York Public Library | Francis Frith | – –

The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Division of Art, Prints and Photographs: Photography Collection, The New York Public Library. “Gaza (the Old Town)” New York Public Library Digital Collections. Accessed February 26, 2017. http://digitalcollections.nypl.org/items/510d47d9-5c4b-a3d9-e040-e00a18064a99

gazaold

Title: Gaza (the Old Town)
Names: Frith, Francis (Photographer)
Collection: Sinai and Palestine.

Date Issued: 1862 (Questionable)
Place: London
Publisher: W. Mackenzie

At this time the population of Palestine was around 411,000, almost all of them Palestinian Arabs of Muslim heritage. Perhaps ten percent of them were Christian. The Palestinian Arab families had lived on this land since time immemorial. In-migration was minor. There were only a few thousand Jews, mostly pilgrims from the Russian Empire who retired to Jerusalem where they lived on pious charities.

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Did White House interfere with FBI Probe of Russia Ties? http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/white-interfere-russia.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/white-interfere-russia.html#comments Sun, 26 Feb 2017 05:16:21 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166782 By Nika Knight, staff writer | ( Commondreams.org ) | – –

Brazen attempt at political interference provokes comparisons to Watergate

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus attempted to interfere with an FBI investigation into the White House, CNN reported Thursday. (Photo: Getty)

White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus contacted the FBI and asked them to deny reports that the Trump campaign was in contact with Russian intelligence agents before the November election, CNN reported Thursday, citing multiple U.S. officials who asked to remain anonymous.

Such a request would mark a stark breach of protocol put in place to ensure that FBI investigations remain free of political interference.

As Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Guardian: “The White House is simply not permitted to pressure the FBI to make public statements about a pending investigation of the president and his advisers.”

The Guardian explained the protocol reportedly violated by Trump’s White House:

A 2009 memo from the then attorney general Eric Holder says the Justice Department should advise the White House on pending criminal or civil investigations “only when it is important for the performance of the president’s duties and appropriate from a law enforcement perspective.” …

The New York Timesstory on communications between Trump campaign aides and Russian officials was published on February 14. Soon thereafter, “White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said,” CNN reported.

The brazen attempt to interfere with an active investigation reminded some of President Richard Nixon’s Watergate scandal, during which Nixon tried to use the CIA to quash the FBI investigation of the Watergate burglary.

The outrageous breach of protocol has fueled calls for Priebus’ resignation.

“This is plainly a White House that has no compunction about asking the federal law enforcement apparatus to run its errands, and to operate as barroom bouncers on call whenever the jefe feels inconvenienced,” wrote Esquire‘s Charles P. Pierce. “At least Nixon hired his own investigators when he got pissed at newspaper leaks. These clowns tried to turn the FBI into the Plumbers. It’s going to get really crowded in D.C. parking garages pretty soon.”

“Where will transgressions end?” tweeted Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) co-founder Norm Eisen:

Meanwhile, the only public response President Donald Trump has had to the story thus far is to take to Twitter and attack the FBI: “The FBI is totally unable to stop the national security ‘leakers’ that have permeated our government for a long time,” Trump tweeted.

In fact, it seems that instead of an independent investigation into the reports of ties between Trump aides and Russian officials, the American public may only see an investigation into “low-life leakers” conducted by a billionaire Trump ally, as Common Dreams reported.

Via Commondreams.org

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 License

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Related video added by Juan Cole:

The Young Turks: “Trump Administration Told FBI To Back Off Russia?”

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Dear Trump officials: Stop confusing Muslim Conservatism with Terrorism! http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/confusing-conservatism-terrorism.html http://www.juancole.com/2017/02/confusing-conservatism-terrorism.html#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 05:01:37 +0000 http://www.juancole.com/?p=166777 By Z. Fareen Parvez | (The Conversation) | – –

The Trump administration has been using the phrase “radical Islam” when discussing the “war on terror.” From his inauguration address to remarks to military leaders, President Trump has been warning against “Islamic terrorists.”

Many different kinds of individuals and movements get collapsed into this category of radical Islam. A common one that is increasingly being used by politicians and journalists both in Europe and the U.S. to equate with “radical Islam” is the Salafist tradition.

For example, Michael Flynn, who recently resigned as national security advisor, was clear that what unites terrorists is their belief in the “ideology” of Salafism. Sebastian Gorka, deputy assistant to the president, also describes Salafism as a “fundamental understanding of Islam” that justifies terrorism.

France and Germany are targeting this movement, vowing to “clean up” or shut down Salafist mosques, since several arrested and suspected terrorists had spent time in these communities.

As a scholar of religion and politics, I have done research in Salafi communities, specifically in France and India, two countries where Muslims are the largest religious minorities.

Salafists constitute a minority of the Muslim population. For example, in France, estimates range from 5,000 to 20,000 – out of a Muslim population of over 4 million. Security experts estimate a worldwide number of 50 million out of 1.6 billion Muslims.

But there’s not much understanding of Salafism, its history and its diversity. In fact, Muslims themselves often have different definitions of what it means to be a Salafist.

So, who are Salafists?

Origins of Salafism

The Arabic term salaf means “ancestors.” It refers technically to the first three generations of Muslims who surrounded the Prophet Muhammad. Because they had direct experience with the original Islamic teachings and practices, they are generally respected across the Muslim world.

Reaching Kaaba, a building at the center of Islam’s most sacred mosque, Al-Masjid al-Haram, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Farid Iqbal Ibrahim, CC BY-NC

Self-identified Salafists tend to believe they are simply trying to emulate the path of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. This might include an array of practices from dress to culinary habits as well as ethical teachings and commitment to faith.

Salafism as a movement is believed to have originated in the 19th and 20th centuries. Some historians claim it started as a theological reform movement within Sunni Islam. The impetus was to return to the original teachings and practices of the Prophet Muhammad and the Quran – a consequence, in part, of social changes and Western colonialism.

They specifically cite the works of Egyptian, Persian and Syrian intellectuals from the 19th century as shaping Salafist movements. One recent study, however, argues that these intellectuals from the past never even used the term Salafism. In other words, there is no authoritative account of how or when exactly this movement originated.

Finally, it is also open to debate as to which Islamic groups, schools of thought and practices may be considered Salafist. This is because groups and individuals who are labeled Salafist do not always view themselves this way. And they disagree amongst each other over what defines authentic Salafist practice.

Here’s what my research shows

The vast majority of people who loosely affiliate with Salafism, however, are either simply nonpolitical or actively reject politics as morally corrupt. From 2005-2014, I spent a total of two years as an ethnographic researcher in the cities of Lyon, in southeastern France, and in Hyderabad, in south India. I clearly observed this among these two communities.

Every week I participated in mosque lessons and Islamic study circles among dozens of Salafist women. These communities maintain strict separation between men and women, but I was able to interact with and interview a few men as well.

Who are Salafist women?
Patrick Denker, CC BY

Based on conversations and observation, I learned that they actually avoided politics. They did not attend protests or do advocacy, and in Lyon many did not vote in elections.

It is the case that there are Muslim women, including many converts, who actively embrace Salafism. They take up strict forms of veiling and work hard to practice their religion every day.

Let’s take Amal, a 22-year-old woman who grew up in a working-class neighborhood in southeastern France. I met her during my time as an ethnographic researcher on Muslim minorities in France. Amal identifies with the Salafist tradition in Islam. And if we go by the definitions being floated around, she would be considered a “radical Muslim”: She prayed five times daily, fasted all 30 days of Ramadan, and wore the “jilbab,” a loose, full-body garment that covers everything but the face. Steadfast in her religiosity, she also studied the Quran regularly and attended local mosques in the area.

She worked hard to live her life in accordance with the ethical teachings of Islam. This included spending part of her week tutoring Muslim girls in the neighborhood who homeschooled. Amal worried a great deal about their futures in France, since anti-veiling legislation had constrained their opportunities. She also quietly worried about the future of Islam, believing it is under siege both by governments and by the ungodly and destructive work of the Islamic State.

Religious does not mean radical

As anthropologists of religion have shown, Salafi women are not passive adherents. Nor are they forced into strict practices by their husbands. Still, this doesn’t mean they’re all the same.

Among the French Salafist women I knew, most were the daughters and granddaughters of immigrants from the former French North African colonies. Almost a third were converts to Islam that chose specifically the Salafist tradition as opposed to mainstream currents of Islam. They were drawn to the clear expectations, rigorous routines and teachings about trusting God.

While some of the women were raised in religious families, many broke away from their Muslim families or earned the wrath of their parents for turning to Salafism. Because the parents practiced a cultural form of Islam, or did not practice at all, they did not want their daughters to wear the jilbab. Despite this disapproval, the women focused a great deal on what it meant to have faith in God, and they emphasized that they had to continually struggle to strengthen that faith.

These struggles included various ethical behaviors including not talking too much, suppressing one’s ego and respecting people’s privacy. Along the way, some committed “sins,” like smoking or lying, and deviated from the teachings by not praying or fasting. Some even doubted their faith, which they considered normal and acceptable.

In my research, non-Muslims as well as other Muslims claimed Salafists were judgmental of those who did not believe or practice like them. In my observation, the contrary was the case: Salafis emphasized that one’s faith and piety were deeply private matters that no one but God had the right to judge.

Diverse views

However, like any movement or tradition, Salafism is profoundly diverse and encompasses a number of debates and struggles for legitimacy.

So, there are those self-identified Salafists around the world who join political organizations or participate in political debates. These include, for example, several political parties in Egypt and the Ahl-i-Hadees in India.

A small minority, estimated to be 250,000 in number by security experts, rejects nation-states and embraces political violence. They span continents but are centered in Iraq and Syria.

Different from Wahhabism

In today’s climate, however, it has become a political term. This is partly because of its connection to Saudi Arabia.

Salafism is sometimes referred to as Wahhabism, the Saudi Arabian variant of the movement that is intimately tied to the Saudi regime. They share some intellectual roots and theological emphases, but they also differ, especially in how they approach Islamic jurisprudence. While Wahhabis follow one of the main Sunni orthodox schools of law, Salafis tend to think through legal questions independently. So equating the two is a mistake.

For some Salafists, labeling them as Wahhabi is a way to dismiss their faith or even insult them. Identifying with Salafism does not mean one supports the politics of the Saudi state. In my research, in both India and France, people sometimes noted concerns about the Saudi government’s political corruption or human rights record.

Yet outwardly, practices might overlap. For example, many Salafist women wear the niqab (that covers the face). Saudi intellectual centers and sheikhs provide literature and training in numerous countries. They circulate lectures as well as money for building mosques and schools.

Mecca, Saudi Arabia.
Camera Eye, CC BY

And of course, Mecca and Medina are the spiritual centers for Muslims more broadly. In this way there is a transfer of intellectual and spiritual resources from Saudi Arabia that supports Salafist communities around the globe.

Avoiding stereotypes, assumptions

Why is it important to recognize the complexity and diversity of the Salafist movement?

It is true that as one part of the global Islamic revival, it appears to be growing. And it likely will remain part of the social landscape in a number of cities for the foreseeable future.

But, it is important not to assume that people’s religious faith and practices are the same as terrorist violence. It fuels fear and hatred – like the kind that inspired the recent shootings at the mosque in Quebec or the arson attack that burned down a mosque in Texas.

So, from my perspective, when we hear politicians warn us of the “global Salafi threat,” or if we see a woman like Amal walking down the street in her jilbab, it’s vital to remember the dangers of simplistic (and mistaken) stereotypes of “radical Muslims.”

The Conversation

Z. Fareen Parvez, Assistant Professor of Sociology, University of Massachusetts Amherst

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Related video added by Juan Cole:


Dr. Jonathan AC Brown – Political Quietism and Non-Violence in Contemporary Salafism

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