Category Archives: Islam

Onwrikbaarheden in een wrikbaar heden

Beste Meneer De Wever,
Ik las deze ochtend met veel aandacht uw opiniebijdrage in De Morgen. Op enkele details na ben ik het met u eens. Het is tijd om een tandje bij te steken voor onze Europese beschaving.

Opinie van Bart de Wever in de Morgen

Opinie van Bart de Wever in de Morgen

De Westerling is niet meer trots. De wereldoorlogen die zoals u stelde Europa haar zelfzekerheid ontnamen waren geen ongeluk. Zij kwamen voort uit het onlosmakelijk met de Verlichting verbonden staatsnationalisme. De Joods-christelijke traditie, tweeduizend jaar pogroms met als apotheose de gaskamers, deed hetzelfde met religie. Natie en God hebben sindsdien plaats geruimd voor… ja, voor wat eigenlijk? De rente een puntje laten zakken om de consumptie aan te zwengelen? Angstvallig wachten op de nieuwe iPhone?

Onwrikbaarheden in een wrikbaar heden
Verlichte ideeën zoals individuele vrijheid, gelijke opportuniteiten en inspraak betekenen in een economisch eengemaakte wereld niets als ze niet op iedereen van toepassing zijn. Mensenrechten zijn universeel. Zij zijn niet Belgisch of Vlaams, Joods of Christelijk of Moslim. Iedereen heeft er altijd en overal recht op. Habeas corpus en zo. Maar de Westerse verlichte ideeën, net zoals de democratie zelf, zijn niet af. De gelijkheid van man en vrouw is, en hier verraad ik mezelf nogmaals als product van een Katholieke school, een werkwoord. Daar moeten vrouwen nog elke dag om vechten. Als we er de statistieken op naslaan lijken het evenwel vooral de mannen die de klappen uitdelen. We mogen ons met andere woorden niet op de borst kloppen voor iets dat nog niet gerealiseerd is.

Lead by example.
We moeten vaker praten over Westerse waarden. Maar the proof of the pudding is in the eating. Zijn wij bereid Belgische wapenfabrikanten uitvoer te ontzeggen naar landen die het niet nauw nemen met de Mensenrechten? Zijn wij bereid moedige beslissingen te nemen wat betreft de energiebevoorrading van Europa? Blijven we met andere woorden gas kopen van Rusland en de Centraal-Aziatische stan-staten? Blijven we met elke tankbeurt, via onze Saoedische partner, ISIS subsidiëren? En als we die beslissingen niet nemen, kunnen of mogen we dan verwachten dat in een immer krimpende wereld, ons handelen ginder, geen weerslag heeft op het leven hier?

Niets komt voort uit niets.
Over die oorlog dus… Als Islamoloog heb ik geen angst om gewapend islamfundamentalisme te benoemen en te analyseren. Politieke islam begon, geloof het of niet, als hervormings- moderniseringsbeweging, in reactie tegen de door u vermeldde koloniale bezetting. Repressie, door westerse, daarna door nationale regimes, verhardde de verschillende bewegingen. Sommige landen, Saoedi-Arabië op kop, steunden en steunen gewapende moslimmilitanten, om geopolitieke doeleinden te verwezenlijken. Dit gebeurt vaak met medeweten en steun van Westerse partners -zie Afghanistan in de jaren tachtig. Wat het Saoedische regime zelf betreft, aldus een Arabische volkswijsheid: waar koning of prinsen neerstrijken zijn er Bugatti’s, hoeren, en sloten cocaïne. M.a.w. de strijd, althans niet wat de spin in het web zelf aangaat, is er geen van beschavingen, maar een van geld, macht, en -we benadrukken- hoeren en cocaïne.

Democratie is onmogelijk zonder aansprakelijkheid. Zelfkritiek dus. Zeggen dat de Amerikaanse invasie van 2003 -ik ben trots dat mijn land zich daar destijds tegen verzette!- een belangrijke voedingsbodem creëerde voor de Islamitische Staat en uiteindelijk deze bloedige zomer van 2016 is geen defaitisme. Een soeverein volk werd -laten we wel wezen- vernietigd. De rule of law stelt dat de verantwoordelijken op de beklaagdenbank thuishoren. Wat voor Salah Abdesalam geldt, geldt ook voor Tony Blair en George Bush. Die confrontatie met onszelf moeten we durven aangaan.

Zo’n systeemanalyse gaat niet voorbij aan de individuele verantwoordelijkheid van de aanslagpleger. Waarom zovele jonge mannen ervoor kiezen ons land van melk en honing te verlaten voor een verre, bloederige woestijn, of de samenleving waarin ze geboren zijn aan te vallen, is een vraag die gesteld moet worden. Tenminste, als we ze niet, ieder naar eigen goeddunken, al zelf beantwoorden voor ze gesteld is.

Bloedbad.
Intussen moet het moorden stoppen. Een passief en onzelfzeker Europa brengt haar eigen toekomst in gevaar. Het erbarmelijke talmen tijdens de Bosnische burgeroorlog bijvoorbeeld, op amper vier uurtjes rijden van Wenen, was onvergeeflijk. Twintig jaar later laten we opnieuw een burgeroorlog verder etteren, buiten een luchtbombardement hier en daar met geleende bommen. Toegegeven, we kunnen Turkije, Saoedi-Arabië, Rusland, Iran, en anderen niet dwingen om de wapenleveringen te stoppen. Maar hoe vallen universele westerse waarden te rijmen met de gevoerde niets, maar dan ook niets realiserende realpolitik? Moeten we Turkije vrij spel geven tegen de Koerden in ruil voor minder vluchtelingen? Staan we toe dat Assad de (niet-ISIS) rebellen van Aleppo in de pan blijft hakken, alsook burgers met duizenden, in ruil voor de belofte dat het zonder hem erger wordt? En voor de rest duimen maar dat het kalifaat op een goeie dag zichzelf opheft om in Genk een kebab zaak te beginnen.

De oorlog tegen ISIS, waarvoor u met zoveel klassiek aplomb onze bereidheid petitioneert, het terugrollen van dat bangelijke bolwerk in de woestijn, zijn we daartoe echt bereid? Blijven we hier in Europa zandzakjes vullen, voor elke badgast een soldaat, en hier en daar een boude uitspraak, dat Moslims de homo’s met rust moeten laten en dat Zwarte Piet van ons is?
Of gaan we echt op missie? Leggen we een wapenembargo op aan Saoedi-Arabië? Laat Frankrijk haar fregatten-deal met SISI varen? Zijn we bereid blauwhelmen te sturen om de Syrische staat veilig te maken voor democratie, samen met andere landen in VN-verband? Is de Belgische diplomatie bereid haar nek uit te steken voor een vredesconferentie? En als die mislukt, opnieuw, en opnieuw, stick and carrot, tot het wel lukt? Of blijft het inderdaad bij kaarsjes en knuffels (en stoere taal)?

Heruitvinden.
Het einde van de tweede wereldoorlog bracht vrede. De jongste generaties, toch die van Europa, namen ze misschien voor vanzelfsprekend. Wat ons ook ontgaat is dat onze niet-Westerse evenknieën ze schier gekend hebben. Dat een echte herverdeling van opportuniteit, vrijheid, ontplooiing en alle rechten en plichten en idealen van de Verlichting, voor meerdere miljarden inwoners van deze aardkloot uitbleven. Om het met Ghandi te stellen, Westerse beschaving is een geweldig idee, maar alles kan beter. De teksten van die oude Grieken en Romeinen werden geschreven door mensen. Net zoals de Koran en de Bijbel. Voor je het weet vergeet je dat het klassieke Griekenland een oligarchie was met beperkt censuskiesrecht en potscherven-justitie, en dat die befaamde Hoplieten in feite slaven waren.

Opiniebijdrage Mo*, 31 juli 2016

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Filed under boeken, Books, Brussels, culture, Duitsland, economie, Education, Europe, extreem-rechts, fiscaliteit, Globalisering, History, International Affairs, Internet, Islam, Judaism, Mensenrechten, Middle East, Multiculturalism, oil, overbevolking, politiek, Social, United Nations, Verenigde Naties, Vluchtelingen

Saudi-Arabië, het (verre van) Islamitische Koninkrijk.

SaudiHet land Saudi-Arabië komt recent vaak in beeld als sponsor van de Islamitische Staat, rechtstreeks of onrechtstreeks, via leden van het omvangrijke koningshuis, zakenmannen, en rijke families. Ze zouden dit doen omwille van het Wahhabisme, de puriteinse strekking binnen de Islam waarop het land zijn wetten en cultuur baseert. Maar hoe Islamietisch is het land echt?

De Saoedische staat is gebaseerd op een verstandhouding tussen de Saud familie, en de nazaten van een Wahhabistische preker die rond het einde van de 18de eeuw een soort van Calvijnse revival beweging aanvoerde. Die verzette zich o.a. tegen een wijdverspreide heiligencultus en de vernieuwende interpretaties en Korancommentaren van de afgelopen eeuwen. Dat verbond houdt met ups en downs tot vandaag stand. De Saud familie bestiert de economie, de olie zeg maar, en het buitenlandse beleid, terwijl het religieuze establishment het openbare leven op streng Islamietische leest vorm geeft. Dieven worden de handen afgehakt, overspeligen gestenigd, you name it.

Die vroomheid vond ook zijn weg naar het buitenlands beleid. Met de enorme olie inkomsten werd vanaf de jaren vijftig en zestig imams uit alle hoeken van de wereld opgeleid, strenge moskeeën gebouwd en gesteund, waaronder de Grote Moskee van Brussel. De invloed op het openbare leven was voelbaar. Terwijl gedurende de jaren vijftig en zestig minirokken geen rariteit waren in de straten van Cairo tot Kabul, ging het vanaf de jaren zeventig langzaam maar zeker richting hoofddoek, niqab, en boerka.

Vandaag de dag presenteert Saoedi-Arabië zichzelf als een Islamitisch land, met strenge maar rechtvaardige wetten die voor iedereen gelden. Wie niks mispeutert, heeft niks te vrezen. Eenduidige, zij het draconische, wetten zijn één ding, maar zoals men in het Engels zegt: the proof of the pudding, is in the eating. Op wie worden die wetten eigenlijk toegepast, en in welke mate?

Royals ontspringen de dans.

De overeenkomst tussen de Sauds en het Wahhabistische religieuze establishment, geeft die eersten niet alleen een vrijgeleide wat betreft de praktische zaken van de staat, maar de circa 15.000 individuele leden van de koninklijke familie groot en klein ontspringen grotendeels ook de strenge wetten opgelegd aan de rest van de bevolking. Wilde feestjes, drugs, alcohol, en prostitutie tieren welig, niet enkel in de afgehuurde hotelsuites, van Cairo, New York, London en Parijs, maar ook in Saoedi-Arabië zelf. Met geld kan je veel kopen. Met veel geld, en dat is er, is de sky de limit.

Discriminatie.

Ongeveer 8 miljoen op een totaal van 27 miljoen inwoners van Saoedi-Arabië is afkomstig uit landen zoals Indonesië, Bangladesh, Yemen, Indië en Pakistan. Hoewel het merendeel moslim is, blijft uitbuiting, zowel seksueel als economisch, schering en inslag. Het probleem was in 2002 zo prangend dat de groot-mufti zich ertoe genoopt voelde erop te wijzen dat contractbreuk, intimidatie, verkrachting en chantage van werkers tegen de Islam ingaat. In de praktijk wordt de strenge Wahhabistische leest veelal toegepast als drukmiddel tegen arbeiders met een andere etnische achtergrond. Mishandelde hulpjes worden beschuldigd van diefstal. Verkrachte dienstmeiden die eraan denken naar de politie te stappen, hangt een aanklacht van overspel boven het hoofd. De overheid publiceert geen concreet aantal van ter dood veroordelingen, maar buitenlandse mensenrechtenorganisaties schatten dat meer dan de helft van de mensen die wachten op hun terechtstelling, Indonesisch is. Een echte puriteinse Islam, met zijn nadruk op gelijkheid binnen de Islamietische gemeenschap of ‘Umma’, kan je dit bezwaarlijk noemen. De vraag stelt zich of het überhaupt te rijmen valt met Islam als dusdanig.

Politieke repressie.

De Islamitische jurisprudentie, of toch een zeer selectieve lezing ervan, wordt ook ingezet tegen Saoedische burgers. Vooral tegen zij die zich politiek engageren. Terwijl de Saoedische ambassadeur in Libanon een solidariteitsmars bijwoonde na de Charlie Hebdo aanvallen, werd de blogger Raif Badawi veroordeeld voor het beledigen van de Islam. In de realiteit had hij een lans gebroken voor een seculiere staat –wat in de praktijk neerkomt op het beëindigen van de meer dan tweehonderd jaar oude overeenkomst tussen het koningshuis en het Wahhabitische sheikhs. In 2014 stelde het land atheïsme of “het in vraag stellen van de basisprincipes van de Islamietsche religie waarop dit land gebaseerd is” gelijk aan terrorisme.

Buitenlands beleid.

Ondanks de verspreiding van het strenge Wahhabisme, o.a. via de destijds door de V.S. gesteunde Osama Bin Laden die tegen het goddeloze Soviet-rijk vocht in Afghanistan, keren de zeloten zich telkenmale tegen het in hun ogen corrupte regime in Riyad. In 1979 bezetten jihadi’s de Grote Moskee in Mekka. Hun doel was het omverwerpen van zowel de regerende Saudische familie, als de Wahhabistische religieuze elite, en de terugkeer naar een pure vorm van Islam. Steenrijke donoren, samen met hooggeplaatste Saoedische militairen gaven geld, wapens en logistieke steun. In 2001 wilde Al-Qaeda de in hun ogen imperialistische V.S., aanwezig op verschillende militaire basissen in Saoedi-Arabië, treffen, alsmede hun bondgenoot in Riyad.

Net als toen, sluizen vandaag rijke, vaak religieus-overtuigde individuen, geld door naar buitenlandse jihadi’s. De Saoedische staat knijpt een oogje toe omdat het haar goed uitkomt in de bredere strijd tegen de grote strategische concurrent Iran. Die wedloop om regionale overmacht heeft een religieuze component in het respectievelijk Soenitische en Shi’itische karakter van beide landen. Met zieltjeswinnerij wordt het voetvolk gemotiveerd, maar de vruchten; invloed, markten, geld –veel geld- zijn voor het grote koningshuis; een kleine elite die Islam niet ziet als doel, maar als middel.

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Filed under economie, extreem-rechts, Islam, Mensenrechten, Middle East

Def Leppard.

In all your travels, have you ever encountered the good lord Jesus Christ?”

One stammers. Different ways to find goodness. Different names for it too. God. Allah. Jehovah.

That’s not… I won’t even pronounce the name. That pagan idol. False idol. Devil worshippers. Muslims.”

I thought he was quoting a line from my next book about a Dutch rabble-rouser’s descent into lunacy.

Equating that with the good lord Jesus Christ is like calling an arm a leg.”

The hitchhiker puts him or herself at the mercy of whatever comes out of mouths of hands holding the wheel. Other body parts analogies may apply.

See, there are eleven commandments.”

One forgets what was said next. Bits and pieces and: “I wouldn’t have picked you up. That’s the goodness of the lord working in me. My son here, can attest to that. Ain’t that right?”

The teen in the back of the double-cab pick up has fallen asleep after handing me a can of 7-up. I hate that shit but needed some sugar after a day on the road. My feet were busted, so listen to John the Baptist here a little more.

I love my children. All eleven of’em. And I want them to love me back, and respect me.”

How old are you, if I may ask?”

Fourty-three. Been married twenty-two years now. My parents have been married fifty-four years. I’m not a quitter. My wife’s broken my heart a few times and I hers, but I promised her I’d stay with her and never leave her, and I’ve stayed with her and never left her.”

Good, good.

This here’s Wolf Creek Pass,” he says. “Brings you right over the top.”

Thank you.

CD’s scattered over the dash. Best of Def Leppard. Some Neil Diamond.

Israel’s never been defeated. From the Babylonians to… you know. Everyone’s tried to kill them. Chosen by God. No one could. That’s gotta tell you something. Right? A couple of years back. 2012. Everyone’s talking about the Mayan calendar. They’re gone. Disappeared. Who cares about a calendar? Decadent, devil worshipping. Sacrificing their kids. Israel’s still around.”

Almost in Durango now. I hear there’s a great train ride up the mountain. Let’s see.

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Filed under Books, Colorado, Durango, Islam, Israel, Judaism, United States

The problem with multiculturalism.

Multiculturalism is under pressure. That’s an understatement. A very vague one to boot. Everybody ‘knows’ what multiculturalism is, and that it’s somehow under pressure. But it all depends on what you mean by ‘is’. Right-wing ideologues and self-proclaimed yet increasingly abashed progressives differ on many things, including but not limited to the meaning of the most common of verbs. We, the common people, who care about the price of tomatoes and grudgingly hum along to the latest Lady Gaga, are left to our devices.To understand what multiculturalism is we must first understand what culture is. According to anthropologists culture is the evolved human capacity to classify and represent experience with symbols, and to act imaginatively and creatively. Or something along the lines. Without delving into a million alternative definitions and nuances, to a layman culture more or less determines the way people eat, talk, sing, dress, and worship. In short, everything aside putting food on the table.

So, multiculturalism means there is more than one way of going about those things. People are endlessly inventive, bound only by the laws of physics. Most of the time anyway. Take clothing for instance. Within the entire scope of human experience the motto seems to be, if you can weave it, you can wear it. Tastes can change, evolve and, judging Paris catwalks, escape gravity altogether. Yet for groups of regular folks living within a certain geographic or social frame, conformity is the norm. Hence, for instance, headscarves. Give or take the religious or, according to some, patriarchal connotation.

The twenty-first century is a scary place. Many who previously would never encounter other tastes and opinions have been thrown in the maelstrom of a shrinking planet and upheavals, economic and political, scattering folks hither and tither. Suddenly your neighbor doesn’t eat pork, sports a moustache, and thinks America’s global policing efforts seriously fraught, its most wanted enemy a cool dude. These newcomers consider women mere lust objects. In stead of stripping females every which way marketing dictates, like progressive locals, they opt to cloak their desires and sexual insecurities by means of burkas, veils and sundry trappings of desert etiquette.

Should newcomers adapt? A moot question, probably. How much should they adapt though? Obey the law, pay taxes and mind your own business. It’s probably a good idea to speak the local language as well. Job-wise, that is. How about apparel? Whom should a Somali refugee look to as an example? The H&M monolithic crowd? Goth kids? Skinheads? Rich bitches in fur coats? Moroccan teens with the hats uneasily perched atop crew-cropped heads, mp3 buds dangling from ears like old ladies’ earrings? The orthodox Jewess with the shaven head and wig?

For a long time Westerners, whatever the term entails, seemed quite relaxed about these ‘others’, circumcising livestock and butchering boys without anesthesia. Or the other way around. The natives never quite understood nor cared what the newbies got up to. But those days are gone now. ‘They’ get the magnifying glass, debates in parliament, garment bans, scrutiny, to use the parlance of our time. Multiculturalism has gone too far, according to populist politicians and, increasingly, the populace and actual politicians, ever fickle. “The concept that we are now living side by side and are happy about it does not work. Immigrants should integrate and adopt Germany’s culture and values,” said Angela Merkel.

To demand immigrants assimilate to European culture is to change European culture itself beyond all recognition, to give up an aspiration that’s lasted all but 60 years: European integration and pluralism, a.k.a. the pinch of humility instilled after the foreplay of nineteenth century nationalism that climaxed in the necrophiliac orgy called WWII. In a way the current debate is tantamount to unlearning the lessons of history’s worst century. Are we confident the age of enlightenment has seeped deep enough into the cracks of our behavioral patterns to avoid another cataclysm? After all, assimiliation did not save the German Jews from annihilation. Fifty years of crowbar homogenisation couldn’t rescue the Muslims of Screbrenica.

Multiculturalism is under pressure indeed. Very recent history teaches us we have not moved quite beyond group think. Multiculturalism has never really taken root beyond the odd ethnic nibble enjoyed by middle class festival goers. The first sign of trouble has us scampering back to a mode of thinking that built, and spectacularly destroyed Europe’s nation states. Twice. Today, those are labeled wishy-washy who as much as dare hint at a symmetrical relationship between lack of integration and discrimination. The woolen-socked somehow fail to relegate the latter to footnote status. We have to be realistic, they are told.

Ask yourself, realistically: have we really “molly-coddled” our immigrants? The answer is likely to differ from the response of a certain Muhammad, who’s CV is scarcely glanced at, and who’s jaywalking, drugdealing, antisemitism, gaybashing, sexual harassment is group-categorized, not to mention punished more severely. A Frenchman man who beats his wife is called a wife beater: a word ironically humorized, rendered less-ominous through a like-named article of clothing. A man of Moroccan descent who does the same is part of an inferior culture whose basic tenets are incompatible with the progressive Leitkultur, with the Gaga-like matriarchal nirvana of love, cooperation, and secular self-realization that ought never change or be exposed to external influences good or bad to challenge and improve. Our society is perfect. Our burden is to make everyone else comprehend and adapt to it.

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Filed under Islam, Multiculturalism

Mladic versus Bin Laden

The US operation in May 2011 that killed 9/11 mastermind Osama Bin Laden couldn’t have contrasted more with the low-key arrest a few weeks later of Ratko Mladic, a man held responsible by the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia for the siege of Sarajevo, and the Srebrenica massacre, the largest mass-murder in Europe since World War II, during the Bosnian civil war from 1992-1995.

Ratko Mladic © Surian Soosay

With a 25 million dollar bounty on his head Osama Bin Laden for nearly ten years lived under constant fear, one presumes, of getting blown to bits by American drone aircraft or, as it would pan out, shot in the head by a crack team of U.S. navy SEALs rappelling down helicopters in the dead of night.

Ratko Mladic, and others wanted by the The Hague, a mere 5 million dollars offered for his arrest, became the object of endless rounds of diplomatic wrangling, economics sanctions and postponed EU aspirations for Serbia, widely suspected of harboring him. Pakistan in turn continued to receive American military aid –some 18 billion between 2001 and 2011- throughout Bin Laden’s semi-comfortable residency there, four blocks away from a large military academy and a mere two hours drive from Islamabad.

A comparison between the way both men were brought to justice / crudely dispatched should of course be qualified by an appreciation of the differences or similarities between their respective crimes. The backdrop of Ratko Mladic’s campaign of atrocities in the Bosnian hills was a civil war raging in the European Union’s backyard, as opposed to Bin Laden’s brazen attack against U.S sovereign soil. It is doubtful the EU’s methods would have been equally measured in case of a spectacular attack on a EU capital.

While U.S. interest in preventing a repetition of 9/11 was clear and direct, international and more specifically E.U. attempts at stopping, and afterwards, preventing bloodshed in the former Yugoslavia were steeped in the desire for a stable hinterland, possible expansion as well as a delicate sense of shame, of not being able to prevent crimes reminiscent of those committed by Nazi Germany and its allies.

Europe’s softly-softly approach to catch Mladic runs eerily parallel to its ineffectual actions to stop the massacres as they were taking place. Dutch UN soldiers, poorly armed and without a clear mandate, more or less stood by, watching; or rather, fishtailing away from the scene in order not to see. While it’s worth remembering American muscle finally put a stop to the Bosnian civil war, initial foot-dragging in the arrest and prosecution of war criminals was in part due to American and other NATO partners’ reluctance to upset a brittle post-war peace process.

The lackluster pursuit of Bosnian war criminals becomes even more striking when one compares, uncouthly, the scope of the crimes and, more perversely, the number of victims. While Bin Laden’s attacks claimed about 3.000 lives, the siege of Sarajevo and massacre of Screbrenica alone took 18.000. Figures for the entire civil war range up to 40.000 civilians (not to mention about 57000 soldiers) on all sides.

Perhaps then, the cases are probably too different to speak of a European versus a typically American approach. It arguably makes more sense to speak of a Mladic versus Bin Laden method. Both cases offer lessons to be learned in the nebulous realm of persecuting war crimes, terror attacks, or more generally: anything ill-suited for national courts to deal with. Might Bin Laden have been apprehended in Pakistan using a mix of sit-and-wait, sticks-and-carrots? Might a couple of years worth of sanctions on the Afghan Taliban regime have done the trick? Would Europe be safer practicing extra-judicial killings, filling an un-closable detention camp on, say, Malta, with all kinds of baddies ranging from Irish splinter groups to Red Brigade terrorists to wayward Muslim pulpit bullies?

A realistic inclination lowers one’s expectations that a swift change can take place from international cowboy justice to a more regulated approach. Or worse still, whether Europe is able to hold on to common sense under pressure of its own brand of anti-jihadist firebrands. However, with Mladic and other’s transfer to The Hague an important precedent has been set. Impunity is on the way out. More importantly, it’s now been abundantly demonstrated that in order to implement justice, it isn’t necessary to place oneself outside the bounds of the law.

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Filed under Islam, Judaism

Judaism, Christianity, Islam: birds of a feather

Self-criticism is the mother of all dialogue

These days, Judaism and Christianity are often presented as kindred souls who stand for democracy and human rights, while Islam is cut from a wholly different cloth. This essay, translated from an article that appeared in MO * Magazine, March 30, 2011 argues that the books and practice of the three religions barely support this contention.

© illustration by Klaas Verplancke (www.klaas.be)

The Arab revolutions appear to make a mess of the stereotype that Islam and democracy cannot be reconciled, or that Arab countries are populated by sheer medieval zealots. What we’re seeing on our screens are pluralist revolutions: young and old, women en men, bearded, shaven, veiled and otherwise, seeking more control over the societies in which they live.

The revolts are a problem for the Geert Wilders of this world who still see a fundamental incompatibility between Islam and democracy, and the Judeo-Christian tradition, seen as a beacon of liberty and enlightenment. The anti-authoritarian revolutions indicate a rather more blurry picture: Israel and the West were all too happy with the dictatorships of Mubarak and co because it served their interests. Those who study the three holy books and how they’re practiced, find an ever-murkier picture.

Common roots in the square

Abraham rocked, as a collective spiritual ancestor, the cradle of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The three traditions originated from a kind of fusion between the philosophies of ancient Greece and the monotheistic innovations among the Late Bronze Age Canaanite tribes. The three have made God an eternal, supernatural creator, the source of moral and legal standards, omniscient, omnipotent, and at times a tad condescending or even bizarre -witness God’s wish to see Abraham only son sacrificed, psyche! This is obviously a God who demands total submission. Despite the large overlap, the faiths found themselves more often than not on a ramming course. Both between and among each other: Judaism, Christianity and Islam soon split into countless flavors of theology, philosophy and law. Nevertheless, some trends can be discerned.

Jewish learning

The halacha or Jewish law, handed down through Noah and Moses, plus interpretations and interpretations of interpretations, are applicable to all aspects of human life: marriage, divorce, sacrificial rites, dietary laws, as well as humdrum criminal law. According to these writings you may be stoned for, among other things, swearing, rebelling against your parents, or even witchcraft. Incest is punishable by death through molten lead poured down the gullet of the damned. Halachic laws are regarded traditionally as more or less hand-delivered by God and immutable. As such the Jewish scriptures are heavily reminiscent of the Islamic idea of justice, with its hard core of immutable, divinely inspired decrees.

Jewish practice

During the Diaspora, halakha ruled the various scattered Jewish communities as enforceable religious and civil law. However its sharpest edges, like the death penalty, fell into disuse in the early centuries of the Common Era. Since the European Enlightenment most Jews, at home everywhere and nowhere at once, appropriated a lot of the secularizing trends of their adoptive countries.

In modern Israel orthodox rabbinical courts still dominate the laws on family and personal status in a way that would be unpalatable to, say, secularist France. Marriage as a civil institution for example, does not exist. This results in a number of highly complex issues surrounding illegitimate children, marriages among secular Jews and between different religious communities. Hence a Canadian, recently converted to Judaism, was not entitled to Israeli citizenship because the Orthodox rabbinate did not accept his conversion at the hands of an unauthorized Canadian rabbi. The same Orthodox rabbinate hinders marriages between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews. Non-orthodox and secular Israeli Jews often end up marrying in Cyprus or elsewhere.

On another plain, discrimination against non-Jews, in the form of systematic underfunding of predominantly non-Jewish towns, is jarring. The Book of Susan Nathan, who chose to live in an Arab village in Israel, indicates that a strict separation between state and synagogue is far off still, despite the secular inclinations of a majority of the population. “We have to take the heritage of our ancestors back to the Israeli nation,” said the Israeli minister of Justice Yaakov Ne’eman in 2009. “The Torah offers a complete solution for all questions that concern us.”

New Testament: render unto Caesar

Despite the famous quote from Jesus, widely interpreted as a plea not to mix religion and politics, Christian churches throughout history rarely tended exclusively to the spiritual needs of believers. One thinks of the power struggle between papacy and kings in medieval Europe, countless religious wars, one more gruesome than the next, and churches’ frantic clinging to relevancy and control over rapidly secularizing societies of the nineteenth and twentieth century. Although the New Testament, unlike the Old one, does not lay any literal claim to worldly power, it hasn’t stopped Christian religious institutions from pretending over the centuries that it does.

Christian practice

The separation of church and state in countries with Christian majorities began only in the course of the nineteenth century. It is far from completed today. The program of the Dutch Christian theocratic party SGP, present in the national and European parliament, states among other things that states’ legislation and administration shouldn’t hinder the preaching of the gospel, but in stead promote it. “Man [is] the head of woman, and for women to serve in political bodies is perpendicular to their vocation.”

Western secularism, individualism and women’s rights are relatively recent phenomena. In the U.S. there seems even to exist a certain return of religion in worldly affairs. Secularism is generally understood as protecting the state against religious interference. The Biblically oriented Founding Fathers aimed more or less for the opposite, namely the protection of a religious community against the secularizing, almost malevolent state. Today ideological heirs such as Sarah Palin are engaged in a culture war for Protestant piety and against “big government”. In the fight against moral decay and godlessness they see a greater role for religious symbolism and practice in schools, courts and legislative bodies. More religion at home is paradoxically paired with an almost belligerent stance against a religion perceived as laying too big a claim to worldly power elsewhere.

Islamic jurisprudence

Islam makes no distinction between moral and legal precepts. A frequently cited example is Sura 4, verse 59: ” Believers, obey God and obey the Prophet, and those in command among you.” Yet sharia; the rules contained in the Koran, plus Muhammad’s utterances as relayed by others, and interpretations, rarely served as the exclusive source of worldly rule. Soon after the establishment of the caliphate the first caliphs, governors and sultans began to promulgate laws on matters not dealt with by sharia such as financial transactions, taxation and trade.

In addition, compliance with supposedly universal religious law differs greatly from century to century and even Caliph to Caliph. For instance, twelfth-century Spain, with its enlightened science and religious tolerance bears little resemblance to the seventh-century Bedouin encampments where Muhammad was born. And what to think of the secular Tanzimat? This nineteenth century reform movement shook the Islamic Ottoman Empire to the core, from which later a hyper-secular Turkish constitution would arise.

Islamic enlightenment

Economic decline often goes hand in hand with religious and social stagnation. From the fifteenth century, and later with the advent of Western colonial domination in countries like Egypt and Tunisia, a deep crisis emanates. Local potentates brusquely import Western codified law, inspired or coerced by European powers. In an initial response Hassan Al-Banna, founder of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, rails against European colonialism but for certain Western ideas in tandem with far-reaching religious reforms. Islam, as he saw, had to adapt to the independent modern nation states to be. The Islamic enlightenment of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, with its strong nationalist dimension, is suppressed and radicalized by colonial governments and their indigenous authoritarian successors. Instead of reforming what Islam is, a plea ensued for a return to the kind of pure Sharia that never existed.

Towards a free market of ideas

Contemporary Muslim reformers are often caught between secular or nominally Muslim dictators and conservative clerics on whose silence the status quo is based. Until recently in any case.

It is still early to assess the impact of the current upheaval in the Arab world on Islam and politics. Perhaps paradoxically, political liberalization will initially bring more Islam into the public sphere. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Only there, far from the torture chambers of Mubarak, Ben Ali, and others, can new ideas and interpretations develop. The coming debates will touch upon the place of Islam in modern society, but more broadly, the nature of Islam itself. A genuine free market of ideas, if you will. It would be naive to expect that this process will necessarily produce a “western” outcome. Nor the inverse for that matter. Egyptian and Tunisian Muslim Brothers refer ad nauseam to the Islam-democratic model that turned Turkey into a regional steam train over the past decade.

Holocaust

Judaism, Christianity and Islam have rarely been the best of chums. No single religion carries all or none of the blame. Jews and Christians never had it easy under Islamic rule. The odd Caliph enforced distinctive garments, imposed conversions and slavery, even the occasional pogrom. Researchers however, tend to agree that this was the exception rather than the rule. Christian violence against Jews, culminating in genocide at the hands of Nazi Germany and its accomplices, are a different matter altogether.

Jewish-Christian Alliance

The link between Judaism and Christianity, asserted by some, is a relatively recent phenomenon, not drawn in an obvious way from religious texts or history. It cropped up in the seventeenth century and has since adopted many different guises: Jews converted to Christianity, liberal efforts against anti-Semitism in the nineteen thirties, as battle cry against communism in the fifties…

Since the attacks of 9 /11, by terrorists claiming Islamic inspiration, the Jewish-Christian alliance alludes to a radical rejection of Islam in all its social and political aspects. Although this vision is rooted in American, Protestant and Puritan soil, its tenets are increasingly adopted by European politicians and pundits. They see Muslim minorities as a threat or contemplate electoral gain by such claims. The Judeo-Christian paradigm is reinforced by an understandable sense of contrition among Christians for past anti-Semitic excess – specifically the Holocaust. Finally, the alliance offers the perfect backdrop for the realpolitik engaged up by resource-poor, yet resourceful countries to the detriment of an oil-rich Islamic Middle East. Even though that approach faced major internal contradictions: the defenders of democracy and human rights were all too happy supporting military dictators that represented their interests. Today the people of the Middle East clamor for democracy and human rights, the Western values that the West itself had so far refused to defend.

Unholy trinity

Interaction between three religions, each laying claim to universal truth, is inherently problematic. Nonetheless one shouldn’t eschew mutual criticism. An exchange of ideas between representatives of different religions based on knowledge of one’s own heritage, a healthy dose of humility, and devoid of demagoguery, benefits all. But most of all, self-criticism should be the norm.

Religions collide: from Catholics to Protestants, Sunnis and Shiites, from anti-Semitism to Islamophobia. The recently, carefully spun politically correct “against Islam, not against Muslims,” ignores the often rather unsophisticated audience of populists. A politics of division based on a selective reading of history and religion is a dangerous game. It’s new, moral nor democratic. There is no alternative to the laborious, complex path of dialogue, or rather trialogue. A clash of cultures is not forthcoming. It has been going on for centuries. The challenge is to stop it.

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Intervention in Libya: a state of play on military action

On March 21st, 44 people, mainly civilians, died in the 18th “suspected” American drone strike this year on the tribal areas of West Pakistan. Most news articles add the term “suspected” because US officials rarely acknowledge these attacks that are directed, not by the morally unimpeachable US military, but by the evil Central Intelligence Agency in Langley, West Virginia. In 2010, 111 of such strikes have taken place, targeting suspected militants in jeeps, homes, weddings, and funeral processions. Thousands of bystanders, wives, children, neighbors and drivers of these suspected militants have died.

To call these actions “counterproductive” is a gross understatement, if not a cynical denial of such democratic principles as the right to a fair trial and representation, or simply the privilege to attend public gatherings without having your entrails violently spread out over a large geographical area. To say Americans are creating terrorists rather than combatting them would be too technical, misanthropical an appraisal of the individual lives, the women and children whose lives are lost on a daily basis. The short news blurbs featured in western outlets even more so. To opine that Pakistan is rendered less, not more stable doesn’t come close to capturing the loss of humanity a scornful observer might label “a couple of nine-elevens”.

Meanwhile the United States of America, guarantor of global freedom and democracy, keeps schtum as Bahrain, host to its 5th fleet, deploys snipers to snuff out ongoing pro-democracy protests. Yemen, whose tribal areas are also regularly targeted by CIA drone aircraft, killed over 50 democracy protestors yesterday (CNN lavishly peppers the term “Shi’ite” over its coverage as in Iran/dangerous as opposed to freedom-loving) . Somehow, none of the above prevented Hilary Clinton from prancing up and down Tahrir square in Cairo, hailing the magical events there that led to the demise of a personal pal of hers. To call America’s friend request vis-a-vis the Arab spring as merely contemptuous would be to deny the decades of propped up dictators, supplying an Iraqi madman with poison gas, wars fought directly or by regional proxy, etc..

Libyans are as deserving of freedom and dignity as anyone using their petrol. Short of actually fucking his mom, Kadhafi is “our” creation.

At least his French fighter planes and Belgian riffles are. Perhaps it’s a tad cynical to view the looming intervention as a ploy to quickly liberate the oil installations. Perhaps the armed opposition might have been snuffed out otherwise, leaving Libya an autocratic outlier for an untold number of years in an increasingly democratic region. Perhaps, like the Iranians, Libyans simply need to bide their time, dust off, and try again later. The Arab spring, however messy, incomplete, staggered, and bloody should remain just that. Arab, that is.

This revolution isn’t about oil, or at least it shouldn’t be. It’s about Arab populations exercising popular sovereignty, which is a difficult, complex, painful, necessary, and cathartic process that involves taking steps forward, and some back again. Foreign intervention is, by its very nature, antithetical to this revolution. Helping beleaguered Benghazi might, from an emotional stance, be a chance to right historical wrongs, or just another opportunity to miss an opportunity to but out. Who knows? Historical precedent however strongly suggests the latter.

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