#BentBritain: #UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications!

UK admits unlawfully monitoring legally privileged communications ~ and , The Guardian, Wednesday 18 February 2015.

Intelligence agencies have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for past five years, government admits

Abdul Hakim Belhaj and Sami al Saadi
The admission comes ahead of a legal challenge brought on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, over allegations that security services unlawfully intercepted their communications with lawyers.  Photograph: PA & AFP

The regime under which UK intelligence agencies, including MI5 and MI6, have been monitoring conversations between lawyers and their clients for the past five years is unlawful, the British government has admitted.

The admission that the activities of the security services have failed to comply fully with human rights laws in a second major area – this time highly sensitive legally privileged communications – is a severe embarrassment for the government.

It follows hard on the heels of the British court ruling on 6 February declaring that the regime surrounding the sharing of mass personal intelligence data between America’s national security agency and Britain’s GCHQ was unlawful for seven years.

The admission that the regime surrounding state snooping on legally privileged communications has also failed to comply with the European convention on human rights comes in advance of a legal challenge, to be heard early next month, in which the security services are alleged to have unlawfully intercepted conversations between lawyers and their clients to provide the government with an advantage in court.

The case is due to be heard before the Investigatory Powers Tribunal (IPT). It is being brought by lawyers on behalf of two Libyans, Abdel-Hakim Belhaj and Sami al-Saadi, who, along with their families, were abducted in a joint MI6-CIA operation and sent back to Tripoli to be tortured by Muammar Gaddafi’s regime in 2004.

A government spokesman said: “The concession the government has made today relates to the agencies’ policies and procedures governing the handling of legally privileged communications and whether they are compatible with the European convention on human rights.

“In view of recent IPT judgments, we acknowledge that the policies adopted since [January] 2010 have not fully met the requirements of the ECHR, specifically article 8 (right to privacy). This includes a requirement that safeguards are made sufficiently public.

“It does not mean that there was any deliberate wrongdoing on their part of the security and intelligence agencies, which have always taken their obligations to protect legally privileged material extremely seriously. Nor does it mean that any of the agencies’ activities have prejudiced or in any way resulted in an abuse of process in any civil or criminal proceedings.”

He said that the intelligence agencies would now work with the interception of communications commissioner to ensure their policies satisfy all of the UK’s human rights obligations.

Cori Crider, a director at Reprieve and one of the Belhaj family’s lawyers said: “By allowing the intelligence agencies free reign to spy on communications between lawyers and their clients, the government has endangered the fundamental British right to a fair trial.

“Reprieve has been warning for months that the security services’ policies on lawyer-client snooping have been shot through with loopholes big enough to drive a bus through.

“For too long, the security services have been allowed to snoop on those bringing cases against them when they speak to their lawyers. In doing so, they have violated a right that is centuries old in British common law. Today they have finally admitted they have been acting unlawfully for years.

“Worryingly, it looks very much like they have collected the private lawyer-client communications of two victims of rendition and torture, and possibly misused them. While the government says there was no ‘deliberate’ collection of material, it’s abundantly clear that private material was collected and may well have been passed on to lawyers or ministers involved in the civil case brought by Abdel hakim Belhaj and Fatima Boudchar, who were ‘rendered’ to Libya in 2004 by British intelligence.

“Only time will tell how badly their case was tainted. But right now, the government needs urgently to investigate how things went wrong and come clean about what it is doing to repair the damage.”

Government sources, in line with all such cases, refuse to confirm or deny whether the two Libyans were the subject of an interception operation. They insist the concession does not concern the allegation that actual interception took place and say it will be for the investigatory powers tribunal hearing to determine the issue.

An updated draft interception code of practice spelling out the the rules for the first time was quietly published at the same time as the Investigatory Powers Tribunal ruling against GCHQ earlier this month in the case brought by Privacy International and Liberty.

The government spokesman said the draft code set out enhanced safeguards and provided more detail than previously on the protections that had to be applied in the security agencies handling of legally privileged communications.

The draft code makes clear that warrants for snooping on legally privileged conversations, emails and other communications between suspects and their lawyers can be granted if there are exceptional and compelling circumstances. They have to however ensure that they are not available to lawyers or policy officials who are conducting legal cases against those suspects.

Exchanges between lawyers and their clients enjoy a special protected status under UK law. Following exposure of widespread monitoring by the US whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013, Belhaj’s lawyers feared that their exchanges with their clients could have been compromised by GCHQ’s interception of phone conversations and emails.

To demonstrate that its policies satisfy legal safeguards, MI6 were required in advance of Wednesday’s concession to disclose internal guidance on how intelligence staff should deal with material protected by legal professional privilege.

The MI6 papers noted: “Undertaking interception in such circumstances would be extremely rare and would require strong justification and robust safeguards. It is essential that such intercepted material is not acquired or used for the purpose of conferring an unfair or improper advantage on SIS or HMG [Her Majesty’s government] in any such litigation, legal proceedings or criminal investigation.”

The internal documents also refer to a visit by the interception commissioner, Sir Anthony May, last summer to examine interception warrants, where it was discovered that regulations were not being observed. “In relation to one of the warrants,” the document explained, “the commissioner identified a number of concerns with regard to the handling of [legal professional privilege] material”.

Amnesty UK’s legal programme director, Rachel Logan, said: “We are talking about nothing less than the violation of a fundamental principle of the rule of law – that communications between a lawyer and their client must be confidential.

“The government has been caught red-handed. The security agencies have been illegally intercepting privileged material and are continuing to do so – this could mean they’ve been spying on the very people challenging them in court.

“This is the second time in as many weeks that government spies have been rumbled breaking the law.”

#Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the #West’s modern crimes!

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes ~ Ben White, The Nation, February 14, 2015.

Like many children, 13-year-old Mohammed Tuaiman suffered from nightmares. In his dreams, he would see flying “death machines” that turned family and friends into burning charcoal. No one could stop them, and they struck any place, at any time.

Unlike most children, Mohammed’s nightmares killed him.

Three weeks ago, a CIA drone operating over Yemen fired a missile at a car carrying the teenager, and two others. They were all incinerated. Nor was Mohammed the first in his family to be targeted: drones had already killed his father and brother.

Since president Barack Obama took office in 2009, the US has killed at least 2,464 people through drone strikes outside the country’s declared war zones. The figure is courtesy of The Bureau of Investigative Journalism, which says that at least 314 of the dead, one in seven, were civilians.

Recall that for Obama, as The New York Times reported in May 2012, “all military-age males in a strike zone” are counted “as combatants” – unless “there is explicit intelligence posthumously proving them innocent”.

It sounds like the stuff of nightmares.

The week after Mohammed’s death, on February 5, Mr Obama addressed the National Prayer Breakfast, and discussed the violence of ISIL.

“Lest we get on our high horses”, said the commander-in-chief, “remember that during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ.”

These comments prompted a (brief) media storm, with Mr Obama accused of insulting Christians, pandering to the terrorist enemy, or just bad history.

In fact, the president was simply repeating a point often made by liberals since September 11, namely, that all religions have blots on their copy book through the deeds of their followers.

One of the consequences, however, of this invocation of the Crusades – unintended, and all the more significant for it – is to seal away the West’s “sins”, particularly vis-à-vis its relationship to the Middle East, in events that took place a thousand years ago.

The Crusades were, in one sense, a demonstration of raw military power, and a collective trauma for the peoples of the regions they marched through and invaded.

In the siege of Jerusalem in 1099, a witness described how the Europeans ordered “all the Saracen dead to be cast outside because of the great stench, since the whole city was filled with their corpses”.

He added: “No one ever saw or heard of such slaughter of pagan people, for funeral pyres were formed from them like pyramids.”

Or take the Third Crusade, when, on August 20, 1191, England’s King Richard I oversaw the beheading of 3,000 Muslim prisoners at Acre in full view of Saladin’s army.

Just “ancient history”? In 1920, when the French had besieged and captured Damascus, their commander Henri Gourard reportedly went to the grave of Saladin, kicked it, and uttered: “Awake Saladin, we have returned! My presence here consecrates the victory of the Cross over the Crescent.”

But the US president need not cite the Crusades or even the colonial rule of the early 20th century: more relevant reference points would be Bagram and Fallujah.

Bagram base in Afghanistan is where US soldiers tortured prisoners to death – like 22-year-old taxi driver and farmer Dilawar. Before he was killed in custody, Dilawar was beaten by soldiers just to make him scream “Allah!”

Five months after September 11, The Guardian reported that US missiles had killed anywhere between 1,300 and 8,000 in Afghanistan. Months later, the paper suggested that “as many as 20,000 Afghans may have lost their lives as an indirect consequence of the US intervention”.

When it was Iraq’s turn, the people of Fallujah discovered that US forces gave them funerals, not democracy. On April 28, 2003, US soldiers massacred civilian protesters, shooting to death 17 during a demonstration.

When that city revolted against the occupation, the residents paid a price. As Marines tried to quell resistance in the city, wrote The New York Times on April 14, 2004, they had “orders to shoot any male of military age on the streets after dark, armed or not”.Months later, as the Marines launched their November assault on the city, CNN reported that “the sky…seems to explode”.

In their bombardment and invasion of Iraq in 2003, the US and UK armed forces rained fiery death down on men, women and children. Prisoners were tortured and sexually abused. Hundreds of thousands of Iraqis died. No one was held to account.

It is one thing to apologise for the brutality of western Crusaders a thousand years ago. It is quite another to look at the corpses of the victims of the imperialist present, or hear the screams of the bereaved.

In his excellent book The Muslims Are Coming, Arun Kundnani analysed the “politics of anti-extremism”, and describes the two approaches developed by policymakers and analysts during the “war on terror”.

The first approach, which he refers to as “culturalism”, emphasises “what adherents regard as inherent features of Islamic culture”. The second approach, “reformism”, is when “extremism is viewed as a perversion of Islam’s message”, rather than “a clash of civilisations between the West’s modern values and Islam’s fanaticism”.

Thus the American Right was angry with Mr Obama, because for them, it is about religion – or specifically, Islam. Liberals, meanwhile, want to locate the problem in terms of culture.

Both want to avoid a discussion about imperialism, massacres, coups, brutalities, disappearances, dictatorships – in other words, politics.

As Kundnani writes: when “the concept of ideology” is made central, whether understood as “Islam itself or as Islamist extremism”, then “the role of western states in co-producing the terror war is obscured”.

The problem with Mr Obama’s comments on the Crusades was not, as hysterical conservatives claimed, that he was making offensive and inaccurate analogies with ISIL; rather, that in the comfort of condemning the past, he could mask the violence of his own government in the present.

The echoes of collective trauma remain for a long time, and especially when new wounds are still being inflicted. Think it is farfetched that Muslims would still care about a 1,000-year-old European invasion? Then try asking them about Guantanamo and Camp Bucca instead.

Ben White is a journalist and author of Israeli Apartheid

Obama’s ‘Crusaders’ analogy veils the West’s modern crimes
Pep Montserrat for The National

| How the West Created the Islamic State … With a Little Help From Our Friends!

How the West Created the Islamic State … With a Little Help From Our Friends  ~ Nafeez Ahmed,  bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar.


“This is an organisation that has an apocalyptic, end-of-days strategic vision which will eventually have to be defeated,” Gen Martin Dempsey, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told a Pentagon press conference in August.

Military action is necessary to halt the spread of the ISIS/IS “cancer,” said President Obama. Yesterday, in his much anticipated address, he called for expanded airstrikes across Iraq and Syria, and new measures to arm and train Iraqi and Kurdish ground forces.

“The only way to defeat [IS] is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message,” declared Prime Minister Cameron. “A country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers.”

Missing from the chorus of outrage, however, has been any acknowledgement of the integral role of covert US and British regional military intelligence strategy in empowering and even directly sponsoring the very same virulent Islamist militants in Iraq, Syria and beyond, that went on to break away from al-Qaeda and form ‘ISIS’, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or now simply, the Islamic State (IS).

Since 2003, Anglo-American power has secretly and openly coordinated direct and indirect support for Islamist terrorist groups linked to al-Qaeda across the Middle East and North Africa. This ill-conceived patchwork geostrategy is a legacy of the persistent influence of neoconservative ideology, motivated by longstanding but often contradictory ambitions to dominate regional oil resources, defend an expansionist Israel, and in pursuit of these, re-draw the map of the Middle East.

Now despite Pentagon denials that there will be boots on the ground – and Obama’s insistence that this would not be another “Iraq war” – local Kurdish military and intelligence sources confirm that US and German special operations forces are already “on the ground here. They are helping to support us in the attack.” US airstrikes on ISIS positions and arms supplies to the Kurds have also been accompanied by British RAF reconnaissance flights over the region andUK weapons shipments to Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Divide and rule in Iraq

“It’s not that we don’t want the Salafis to throw bombs,” said one US government defense consultant in 2007. “It’s who they throw them at – Hezbollah, Moqtada al-Sadr, Iran, and at the Syrians, if they continue to work with Hezbollah and Iran.”

Early during the 2003 invasion and occupation of Iraq, the US covertly supplied arms to al-Qaeda affiliated insurgents even while ostensibly supporting an emerging Shi’a-dominated administration.

Pakistani defense sources interviewed by Asia Times in February 2005 confirmed that insurgents described as “former Ba’ath party” loyalists – who were being recruited and trainedby “al-Qaeda in Iraq” under the leadership of the late Abu Musab Zarqawi – were being supplied Pakistan-manufactured weapons by the US. The arms shipments included rifles, rocket-propelled grenade launchers, ammunition, rockets and other light weaponry. These arms “could not be destined for the Iraqi security forces because US arms would be given to them”, a source told Syed Saleem Shahzad – the Times’ Pakistan bureau chief who, “known for his exposes of the Pakistani military” according to the New Yorker, was murdered in 2011. Rather, the US is playing a double-game to “head off” the threat of a “Shi’ite clergy-driven religious movement,” said the Pakistani defense source.

This was not the only way US strategy aided the rise of Zarqawi, a bin Laden mentee and brainchild of the extremist ideology that would later spawn ‘ISIS.’

The JSOC insignia

According to a little-known November report for the US Joint Special Operations University(JSOU) and Strategic Studies Department, Dividing Our Enemies, post-invasion Iraq was “an interesting case study of fanning discontent among enemies, leading to ‘red-against-red’ [enemy-against-enemy] firefights.”

While counterinsurgency on the one hand requires US forces to “ameliorate harsh or deprived living conditions of the indigenous populations” to publicly win local hearts and minds:

“… the reverse side of this coin is one less discussed. It involves no effort to win over those caught in the crossfire of insurgent and counterinsurgent warfare, whether by bullet or broadcast. On the contrary, this underside of the counterinsurgency coin is calculated to exploit or create divisions among adversaries for the purpose of fomenting enemy-on-enemy deadly encounters.”

In other words, US forces will pursue public legitimacy through conventional social welfare while simultaneously delegitimising local enemies by escalating intra-insurgent violence, knowing full-well that doing so will in turn escalate the number of innocent civilians “caught in the crossfire.” The idea is that violence covertly calibrated by US special operations will not only weaken enemies through in-fighting but turn the population against them.

In this case, the ‘enemy’ consisted of jihadists, Ba’athists, and peaceful Sufis, who were in a majority but, like the militants, also opposed the US military presence and therefore needed to be influenced. The JSOU report referred to events in late 2004 in Fallujah where “US psychological warfare (PSYOP) specialists” undertook to “set insurgents battling insurgents.” This involved actually promoting Zarqawi’s ideology, ironically, to defeat it: “The PSYOP warriors crafted programs to exploit Zarqawi’s murderous activities – and to disseminate them through meetings, radio and television broadcasts, handouts, newspaper stories, political cartoons, and posters – thereby diminishing his folk-hero image,” and encouraging the different factions to pick each other off. “By tapping into the Fallujans’ revulsion and antagonism to the Zarqawi jihadis the Joint PSYOP Task Force did its ‘best to foster a rift between Sunni groups.’”

Yet as noted by Dahr Jamail, one of the few unembedded investigative reporters in Iraq after the war, the proliferation of propaganda linking the acceleration of suicide bombings to the persona of Zarqawi was not matched by meaningful evidence. His own search to substantiate the myriad claims attributing the insurgency to Zarqawi beyond anonymous US intelligence sources encountered only an “eerie blankness”.

US soldiers in Fallujah

The US military operation in Fallujah, largely justified on the claim that Zarqawi’s militant forces had occupied the city, used white phosphorous, cluster bombs, and indiscriminate air strikes to pulverise 36,000 of Fallujah’s 50,000 homes, killing nearly a thousand civilians, terrorising 300,000 inhabitants to flee, and culminating in a disproportionate increase in birth defects, cancer and infant mortality due to the devastating environmental consequences of the war.

To this day, Fallujah has suffered from being largely cut-off from wider Iraq, its infrastructure largely unworkable with water and sewage systems still in disrepair, and its citizens subject to sectarian discrimination and persecution by Iraqi government backed Shi’a militia and police. “Thousands of bereaved and homeless Falluja families have a new reason to hate the US and its allies,” observed The Guardian in 2005. Thus, did the US occupation plant the seeds from which Zarqawi’s legacy would coalesce into the Frankenstein monster that calls itself “the Islamic State.”

Bankrolling al-Qaeda in Syria

According to former French foreign minister Roland Dumas, Britain had planned covert action in Syria as early as 2009: “I was in England two years before the violence in Syria on other business,” he told French television: “I met with top British officials, who confessed to me that they were preparing something in Syria. This was in Britain not in America. Britain was preparing gunmen to invade Syria.”

Leaked emails from the private intelligence firm Stratfor, including notes from a meeting with Pentagon officials, confirmed that as of 2011, US and UK special forces training of Syrian opposition forces was well underway. The goal was to elicit the “collapse” of Assad’s regime “from within.”

Since then, the role of the Gulf states – namely Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, and Jordan (as well as NATO member Turkey) – in officially and unofficiallyfinancing and coordinating the most virulent elements amongst Syria’s rebels under the tutelage of US military intelligence is no secret. Yet the conventional wisdom is that the funneling of support to Islamist extremists in the rebel movement affiliated to al-Qaeda has been a colossal and regrettable error.

The reality is very different. The empowerment of the Islamist factions within the ‘Free Syrian Army’ (FSA) was a foregone conclusion of the strategy.

United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton (R) greets Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (L), United Arab Emirates’ Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan (2nd L) and British Foreign Minister William Hague, in Tunis

In its drive to depose Col. Qaddafi in Libya, NATO had previously allied itself with rebels affiliated to the al-Qaeda faction, the Islamic Fighting Group. The resulting Libyan regime backed by the US was in turn liaising with FSA leaders in Istanbul to provide money and heavy weapons for the anti-Assad insurgency. The State Department even hired an al-Qaeda affiliated Libyan militia group to provide security for the US embassy in Benghazi – although they had links with the very people that attacked the embassy.

Last year, CNN confirmed that CIA officials operating secretly out of the Benghazi embassy were being forced to take extra polygraph tests to keep under wraps what US Congressman suspect was a covert operation “to move surface-to-air missiles out of Libya, through Turkey, and into the hands of Syrian rebels.”

With their command and control centre based in Istanbul, Turkey, military supplies from Saudi Arabia and Qatar in particular were transported by Turkish intelligence to the border for rebel acquisition. CIA operatives along with Israeli and Jordanian commandos were also training FSA rebels on the Jordanian-Syrian border with anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons. In addition, otherreports show that British and French military were also involved in these secret training programmes. It appears that the same FSA rebels receiving this elite training went straight into ISIS – last month one ISIS commander, Abu Yusaf, said, “Many of the FSA people who the west has trained are actually joining us.”

The National thus confirmed the existence of another command and control centre in Amman, Jordan, “staffed by western and Arab military officials,” which “channels vehicles, sniper rifles, mortars, heavy machine guns, small arms and ammunition to Free Syrian Army units.” Rebel and opposition sources described the weapons bridge as “a well-run operation staffed by high-ranking military officials from 14 countries, including the US, European nations and Arabian Gulf states, the latter providing the bulk of materiel and financial support to rebel factions.”

The FSA sources interviewed by The National went to pains to deny that any al-Qaeda affiliated factions were involved in the control centre, or would receive any weapons support. But this is difficult to believe given that “Saudi and Qatari-supplied weapons” were being funneled through to the rebels via Amman, to their favoured factions.

Classified assessments of the military assistance supplied by US allies Saudi Arabia and Qatar obtained by the New York Times showed that “most of the arms shipped at the behest of Saudi Arabia and Qatar to supply Syrian rebel groups… are going to hardline Islamic jihadists, and not the more secular opposition groups that the West wants to bolster.”

Lest there be any doubt as to the extent to which all this covert military assistance coordinated by the US has gone to support al-Qaeda affiliated factions in the FSA, it is worth noting that earlier this year, the Israeli military intelligence website Debkafile – run by two veteran correspondents who covered the Middle East for 23 years for The Economist – reported that: “Turkey is giving Syrian rebel forces, including the al-Qaeda-affiliated Nusra Front, passage through its territory to attack the northwestern Syrian coastal area around Latakia.”

In August, Debkafile reported that “The US, Jordan and Israel are quietly backing the mixed bag of some 30 Syrian rebel factions”, some of which had just “seized control of the Syrian side of the Quneitra crossing, the only transit point between Israeli and Syrian Golan.” However, Debkafile noted, “al-Qaeda elements have permeated all those factions.” Israel has provided limited support to these rebels in the form of “medical care,” as well as “arms, intelligence and food…

“Israel acted as a member, along with the US and Jordan, of a support system for rebel groups fighting in southern Syria. Their efforts are coordinated through a war-room which the Pentagon established last year near Amman. The US, Jordanian and Israeli officers manning the facility determine in consultation which rebel factions are provided with reinforcements from the special training camps run for Syrian rebels in Jordan, and which will receive arms. All three governments understand perfectly that, notwithstanding all their precautions, some of their military assistance is bound to percolate to al-Qaeda’s Syrian arm, Jabhat Al-Nusra, which is fighting in rebel ranks. Neither Washington or Jerusalem or Amman would be comfortable in admitting they are arming al-Qaeda’s Nusra Front in southern Syria.”

This support also went to ISIS. Although the latter was originally founded in Iraq in October 2006, by 2013 the group had significantly expanded its operations in Syria working alongside al-Qaeda’s al-Nusra until February 2014, when ISIS was formally denounced by al-Qaeda. Even so, experts on the region’s Islamist groups point out that the alleged rift between al-Nusra and ISIS, while real, is not as fraught as one might hope, constituting a mere difference in tactics rather than fundamental ideology.

ISIS fighters pose for the camera

Officially, the US government’s financial support for the FSA goes through the Washington DC entity, the Syrian Support Group (SSG), Syrian Support Group (SSG) which was incorporated in April 2012. The SSG is licensed via the US Treasury Department to “export, re-export, sell, or supply to the Free Syrian Army (‘FSA’) financial, communications, logistical, and other services otherwise prohibited by Executive Order 13582 in order to support the FSA.”

In mid-2013, the Obama administration intensified its support to the rebels with a new classified executive order reversing its previous policy limiting US direct support to only nonlethal equipment. As before, the order would aim to supply weapons strictly to “moderate” forces in the FSA.

Except the government’s vetting procedures to block Islamist extremists from receiving US weapons have never worked.

A year later, Mother Jones found that the US government has “little oversight over whether US supplies are falling prey to corruption – or into the hands of extremists,” and relies “on too much good faith.” The US government keeps track of rebels receiving assistance purely through “handwritten receipts provided by rebel commanders in the field,” and the judgement of its allies. Countries supporting the rebels – the very same which have empowered al-Qaeda affiliated Islamists – “are doing audits of the delivery of lethal and nonlethal supplies.”

Thus, with the Gulf states still calling the shots on the ground, it is no surprise that by September last year, eleven prominent rebel groups distanced themselves from the ‘moderate’ opposition leadership and allied themselves with al-Qaeda.

By the SSG’s own conservative estimate, as much as 15% of rebel fighters are Islamists affiliated to al-Qaeda, either through the Jabhut al-Nusra faction, or its breakaway group ISIS. But privately, Pentagon officials estimate that “more than 50%” of the FSA is comprised of Islamist extremists, and according to rebel sources neither FSA chief Gen Salim Idris nor his senior aides engage in much vetting, decisions about which are made typically by local commanders.


Follow the money

Media reports following ISIS’ conquest of much of northern and central Iraq this summer have painted the group as the world’s most super-efficient, self-financed, terrorist organisation that has been able to consolidate itself exclusively through extensive looting of Iraq’s banks and funds from black market oil sales. Much of this narrative, however, has derived from dubious sources, and overlooked disturbing details.

One senior anonymous intelligence source told Guardian correspondent Martin Chulov, for instance, that over 160 computer flash sticks obtained from an ISIS hideout revealed information on ISIS’ finances that was completely new to the intelligence community.

“Before Mosul, their total cash and assets were $875m [£515m],” said the official on the funds obtained largely via “massive cashflows from the oilfields of eastern Syria, which it had commandeered in late 2012.” Afterwards, “with the money they robbed from banks and the value of the military supplies they looted, they could add another $1.5bn to that.” The thrust of the narrative coming from intelligence sources was simple: “They had done this all themselves. There was no state actor at all behind them, which we had long known. They don’t need one.”

“ISIS’ half-a-billion-dollar bank heist makes it world’s richest terror group,” claimed the Telegraph, adding that the figure did not include additional stolen gold bullion, and millions more grabbed from banks “across the region.”

This story of ISIS’ stupendous bank looting spree across Iraq made global headlines but turned out to be disinformation. Senior Iraqi officials and bankers confirmed that banks in Iraq, including Mosul where ISIS supposedly stole $430 million, had faced no assault, remain open, and are guarded by their own private security forces.

How did the story come about? One of its prime sources was Iraqi parliamentarian Ahmed Chalabi – the same man who under the wing of his ‘Iraqi National Congress’ peddled false intelligence about Saddam’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda.

In June, Chalabi met with the US ambassador to Iraq, Robert Beecroft, and Brett McGurk, the State Department’s deputy assistant secretary of state for Iraq and Iran. According to sources cited by Buzzfeed in June, Beecroft “has been meeting Chalabi for months and has dined at his mansion in Baghdad.”

Follow the oil

But while ISIS has clearly obtained funding from donors in the Gulf states, many of its fighters having broken away from the more traditional al-Qaeda affiliated groups like Jabhut al-Nusra, it has also successfully leveraged its control over Syrian and Iraqi oil fields.

In January, the New York Times reported that “Islamist rebels and extremist groups have seized control of most of Syria’s oil and gas resources”, bolstering “the fortunes of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or ISIS, and the Nusra Front, both of which are offshoots of al-Qaeda.” Al-Qaeda affiliated rebels had “seized control of the oil and gas fields scattered across the country’s north and east,” while more moderate “Western-backed rebel groups do not appear to be involved in the oil trade, in large part because they have not taken over any oil fields.”

Yet the west had directly aided these Islamist groups in their efforts to operationalise Syria’s oil fields. In April 2013, for instance, the Times noted that al-Qaeda rebels had taken over key regions of Syria: “Nusra’s hand is felt most strongly in Aleppo”, where the al-Qaeda affiliate had established in coordination with other rebel groups including ISIS “a Shariah Commission” running “a police force and an Islamic court that hands down sentences that have included lashings.” Al-Qaeda fighters also “control the power plant and distribute flour to keep the city’s bakeries running.” Additionally, they “have seized government oil fields” in provinces of Deir al-Zour and Hasaka, and now make a “profit from the crude they produce.”

Lost in the fog of media hype was the disconcerting fact that these al-Qaeda rebel bread and oil operations in Aleppo, Deir al-Zour and Hasaka were directly and indirectly supported by the US and the European Union (EU). One account by the Washington Post for instance refers to a stealth mission in Aleppo “to deliver food and other aid to needy Syrians – all of it paid for by the US government,” including the supply of flour. “The bakery is fully supplied with flour paid for by the United States,” the Post continues, noting that local consumers, however, “credited Jabhat al-Nusra – a rebel group the United States has designated a terrorist organisation because of its ties to al-Qaeda – with providing flour to the region, though he admitted he wasn’t sure where it comes from.”

And in the same month that al-Qaeda’s control of Syria’s main oil regions in Deir al-Zour and Hasaka was confirmed, the EU voted to ease an oil embargo on Syria to allow oil to be sold on international markets from these very al-Qaeda controlled oil fields. European companies would be permitted to buy crude oil and petroleum products from these areas, although transactions would be approved by the Syrian National Coalition. Due to damaged infrastructure, oil would be trucked by road to Turkey where the nearest refineries are located.

“The logical conclusion from this craziness is that Europe will be funding al-Qaeda,”said Joshua Landis , a Syria expert at the University of Oklahoma.

Just two months later, a former senior staffer at the Syria Support Group in DC, David Falt, leaked internal SSG emails confirming that the group was “obsessed” with brokering “jackpot” oil deals on behalf of the FSA for Syria’s rebel-run oil regions.

“The idea they could raise hundreds of millions from the sale of the oil came to dominate the work of the SSG to the point no real attention was paid to the nature of the conflict,” said Falt, referring in particular to SSG’s director Brian Neill Sayers, who before his SSG role worked with NATO’s Operations Division. Their aim was to raise money for the rebels by selling the rights to Syrian oil.

Tacit complicity in IS oil smuggling

Even as al-Qaeda fighters increasingly decide to join up with IS, the ad hoc black market oil production and export infrastructure established by the Islamist groups in Syria has continued to function with, it seems, the tacit support of regional and western powers.

According to Ali Ediboglu, a Turkish MP for the border province of Hatay, IS is selling the bulk of its oil from regions in Syria and Mosul in Iraq through Turkey, with the tacit consent of Turkish authorities: “They have laid pipes from villages near the Turkish border at Hatay. Similar pipes exist also at [the Turkish border regions of] Kilis, Urfa and Gaziantep. They transfer the oil to Turkey and parlay it into cash. They take the oil from the refineries at zero cost. Using primitive means, they refine the oil in areas close to the Turkish border and then sell it via Turkey. This is worth $800 million.” He also noted that the extent of this and related operations indicates official Turkish complicity. “Fighters from Europe, Russia, Asian countries and Chechnya are going in large numbers both to Syria and Iraq, crossing from Turkish territory. There is information that at least 1,000 Turkish nationals are helping those foreign fighters sneak into Syria and Iraq to join ISIS. The National Intelligence Organization (MIT) is allegedly involved. None of this can be happening without MIT’s knowledge.”

Similarly, there is evidence that authorities in the Kurdish region of Iraq are also turning a blind eye to IS oil smuggling. In July, Iraqi officials said that IS had begun selling oil extracted from in the northern province of Salahuddin. One official pointed out that “the Kurdish peshmerga forces stopped the sale of oil at first, but later allowed tankers to transfer and sell oil.”

State of Law coalition MP Alia Nasseef also accused the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) of secretly trading oil with IS: “What is happening shows the extent of the massive conspiracy against Iraq by Kurdish politicians… The [illegal] sale of Iraqi oil to ISIS or anyone else is something that would not surprise us.” Although Kurdish officials have roundly rejected these accusations, informed sources told the Arabic daily Asharq Al-Awsat that Iraqi crude captured by ISIS was “being sold to Kurdish traders in the border regions straddling Iraq, Iran and Syria, and was being shipped to Pakistan where it was being sold ‘for less than half its original price.’”

An official statement in August from Iraq’s Oil Ministry warned that any oil not sanctioned by Baghdad could include crude smuggled illegally from IS:

“International purchasers [of crude oil] and other market participants should be aware that any oil exports made without the authorisation of the Ministry of Oil may contain crude oil originating from fields under the control of [ISIS].”

“Countries like Turkey have turned a blind eye to the practice” of IS oil smuggling, said Luay al-Khateeb, a fellow at the Brookings Doha Center, “and international pressure should be mounted to close down black markets in its southern region.” So far there has been no such pressure. Meanwhile, IS oil smuggling continues, with observers inside and outside Turkeynoting that the Turkish government is tacitly allowing IS to flourish as it prefers the rebels to the Assad regime.

According to former Iraqi oil minister Isam al-Jalabi, “Turkey is the biggest winner from the Islamic State’s oil smuggling trade.” Both traders and oil firms are involved, he said, with the low prices allowing for “massive” profits for the countries facilitating the smuggling.

Buying ISIS oil?

Early last month, a tanker carrying over a million barrels in crude oil from northern Iraq’s Kurdish region arrived at the Texas Gulf of Mexico. The oil had been refined in the Iraqi Kurdish region before being pumped through a new pipeline from the KRG area ending up at Ceyhan, Turkey, where it was then loaded onto the tanker for shipping to the US. Baghdad’s efforts to stop the oil sale on the basis of its having national jurisdiction were rebuffed by American courts.

In early September, the European Union’s ambassador to Iraq, Jana Hybášková, told the EU Foreign Affairs Committee that “several EU member states have bought oil from the Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS) terrorist organisation that has been brutally conquering large portions of Iraq and Syria,” according to Israel National News. She however “refused to divulge the names of the countries despite being asked numerous times.”

A third end-point for the KRG’s crude this summer, once again shipped via Turkey’s port of Ceyhan, was Israel’s southwestern port of Ashkelon. This is hardly news though. In May,Reuters revealed that Israeli and US oil refineries had been regularly purchasing and importing KRG’s disputed oil.

Meanwhile, as this triangle of covert oil shipments in which ISIS crude appears to be hopelessly entangled becomes more established, Turkey has increasingly demanded that the US pursue formal measures to lift obstacles to Kurdish oil sales to global markets. The KRG plans to export as much as 1 million barrels of oil a day by next year through its pipeline to Turkey.

The Kirkuk-Ceyhan pipeline: Iraqi Kurdistan alone could hold up to 45 billion barrels of oil, allowing exports of up to 4 million barrels a day in the next decade if successfully brought to production

Among the many oil and gas firms active in the KRG capital, Erbil, are ExxonMobil and Chevron. They are drilling in the region for oil under KRG contracts, though operations have been halted due to the crisis. No wonder Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker that Obama’s air strikes and arms supplies to the Kurds – notably not to Baghdad – effectively amount to “the defense of an undeclared Kurdish oil state whose sources of geopolitical appeal – as a long-term, non-Russian supplier of oil and gas to Europe, for example – are best not spoken of in polite or naïve company.” The Kurds are now busy working to “quadruple” their export capacity, while US policy has increasingly shifted toward permitting Kurdish exports – a development that would have major ramifications for Iraq’s national territorial integrity.

To be sure, as the offensive against IS ramps up, the Kurds are now selectively cracking down on IS smuggling efforts – but the measures are too little, too late.

A new map

The Third Iraq War has begun. With it, longstanding neocon dreams to partition Iraq into three along ethnic and religious lines have been resurrected.

White House officials now estimate that the fight against the region’s ‘Islamic State’ will lastyears, and may outlive the Obama administration. But this ‘long war’ vision goes back to nebulous ideas formally presented by late RAND Corp analyst Laurent Muraweic before the Pentagon’s Defense Policy Board at the invitation of then chairman Richard Perle. That presentation described Iraq as a “tactical pivot” by which to transform the wider Middle East.

Brian Whitaker, former Guardian Middle East editor, rightly noted that the Perle-RAND strategy drew inspiration from a 1996 paper published by the Israeli Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, co-authored by Perle and other neocons who held top positions in the post-9/11 Bush administration.

The policy paper advocated a strategy that bears startling resemblance to the chaos unfolding in the wake of the expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ – Israel would “shape its strategic environment” by first securing the removal of Saddam Hussein. “Jordan and Turkey would form an axis along with Israel to weaken and ‘roll back’ Syria.” This axis would attempt to weaken the influence of Lebanon, Syria and Iran by “weaning” off their Shi’ite populations. To succeed, Israel would need to engender US support, which would be obtained by Benjamin Netanyahu formulating the strategy “in language familiar to the Americans by tapping into themes of American administrations during the cold war.”

The 2002 Perle-RAND plan was active in the Bush administration’s strategic thinking on Iraq shortly before the 2003 war. According to US private intelligence firm Stratfor, in late 2002, then vice-president Dick Cheney and deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz had co-authored a scheme under which central Sunni-majority Iraq would join with Jordan; the northern Kurdish regions would become an autonomous state; all becoming separate from the southern Shi’ite region.

The strategic advantages of an Iraq partition, Stratfor argued, focused on US control of oil:

“After eliminating Iraq as a sovereign state, there would be no fear that one day an anti-American government would come to power in Baghdad, as the capital would be in Amman [Jordan]. Current and potential US geopolitical foes Iran, Saudi Arabia and Syria would be isolated from each other, with big chunks of land between them under control of the pro-US forces.Equally important, Washington would be able to justify its long-term and heavy military presence in the region as necessary for the defense of a young new state asking for US protection – and to secure the stability of oil markets and supplies. That in turn would help the United States gain direct control of Iraqi oil and replace Saudi oil in case of conflict with Riyadh.”

The expansion of the ‘Islamic State’ has provided a pretext for the fundamental contours of this scenario to unfold, with the US and British looking to re-establish a long-term military presence in Iraq in the name of the “defense of a young new state.”

In 2006, Cheney’s successor, Joe Biden, also indicated his support for the ‘soft partition’ of Iraq along ethno-religious lines – a position which the co-author of the Biden-Iraq plan, Leslie Gelb of the Council on Foreign Relations, now argues is “the only solution” to the current crisis.

Also in 2006, the Armed Forces Journal published a map of the Middle East with its borders thoroughly re-drawn, courtesy of Lt. Col. (ret.) Ralph Peters, who had previously been assigned to the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence where he was responsible for future warfare. As for the goals of this plan, apart from “security from terrorism” and “the prospect of democracy”, Peters also mentioned “access to oil supplies in a region that is destined to fight itself.”

In 2008, the strategy re-surfaced – once again via RAND Corp – through a report funded by the US Army Training and Doctrine Command on how to prosecute the ‘long war.’ Among its strategies, one scenario advocated by the report was ‘Divide and Rule’ which would involve:

“… exploiting fault lines between the various Salafi-jihadist groups to turn them against each other and dissipate their energy on internal conflicts.”

Simultaneously, the report suggested that the US could foster conflict between Salafi-jihadists and Shi’ite militants by:

“… shoring up the traditional Sunni regimes… as a way of containing Iranian power and influence in the Middle East and Persian Gulf.”

One way or another, some semblance of this plan is in motion. Last week, Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman told US secretary of state John Kerry:

“Iraq is breaking up before our eyes and it would appear that the creation of an independent Kurdish state is a foregone conclusion.”

Nafeez Ahmed is a bestselling author, investigative journalist and international security scholar. He has contributed to two major terrorism investigations in the US and UK, the 9/11 Commission and the 7/7 Coroner’s Inquest, and has advised the Royal Military Academy Sandhust, British Foreign Office and US State Department, among government agencies.

Nafeez is a regular contributor to The Guardian where he writes about the geopolitics of interconnected environmental, energy and economic crises. He has also written for The Independent, Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, The Scotsman, Foreign Policy, Prospect, New Statesman, Le Monde diplomatique, among many others.

Nafeez’s just released new novel, ZERO POINT, predicted a new war in Iraq to put down an al-Qaeda insurgency.

| America as a Jihad State: Middle Eastern perceptions of modern American theopolitics!

America as a Jihad State: Middle Eastern perceptions of modern American theopolitics ~ Dr. Timothy Winter, Abdal-Hakim Murad, www.masud.co.uk 2013.

‘I love America, such a wonderful country – such a shame to see it taken over by religious fundamentalists.’
                                                   (Iranian diplomat, cited in 2011)[1]

The tenth anniversary of the 9/11 atrocities provides a helpful opportunity to consider recent evolutions in Muslim perceptions of Western religious intention. The rhetoric and dichotomies of the immediate aftermath have receded, and the more recent years have seemed to initiate some possible resolutions of the polarity which look beyond the faltering and controversial ‘security agenda’. The publication in 2007 of the Common Word marked perhaps the clearest and most remarkable sign of this, a genuine shift in the Muslim-Christian equation: David Burrell, one of the most seasoned Catholic scholars of Islam, wrote of a dramatic turn-about unparalleled in the recent history of the relationship.[2] More recently, the fall of the Bush administration seemed to permit a more measured and less histrionic assessment of America’s travails with political Islam and political Christianity over the years since 2001. The Obama victory was followed within days by the death of Samuel Huntington, most notorious of advocates of the thesis of the mutual allergy of Islam and Christendom. It is a good time to take stock.

In this essay I propose to examine one of the less frequently-noted of post-9/11 developments by attempting a survey of changing Middle Eastern perceptions of America following the increased visibility of so-called ‘theocon’ tendencies in Washington under George Bush Jr. I will then move on to some more general reflections on the issue of scripturally-based political xenophobia as a strand in the mutual regard – or disregard – of what remains of Christian and Muslim civilisation, and its implications for the wider atmosphere in which the Muslim-Christian engagement is conducted.

The approach is necessarily imprecise. Determining a generic Muslim view of this (or of most things) is hardly possible: regional, sectarian and educational variables see to that. Muslim elites which conform to the emerging global monoculture have often been resistant to the idea that religion might be a factor in the politics of a country which is such a leading icon of modernity, while Islamists, by contrast, may exaggerate US official religiosity in order to appeal to audiences who think in religious terms, or, on occasion, to bolster a polemic against the secular discourse of the regimes. A further difficulty is that Muslim elites attracted to the monoculture may not have access to the books and media reports written in local languages which should form the basis of our survey. Increasingly such elites read only in English and French, and a survey of regional newspapers and vernacular TV channels is unlikely to provide sure clues to their perceptions of the world. As a final complication, their subject populations are typically consumers of mass media over which they exert only a very limited influence, and which are shaped by the censorship which is still normal in most Muslim states. Hence the Middle Eastern media coverage of American fundamentalism has been extremely erratic, and our conclusions can be no more than tentative.

But for all the measurement problems, the transformation of Muslim perceptions of America has been considerable. In 2009, at the edge of the Tanezrouft desert near Timbuktu, the present writer listened to a traditional Sufi shaykh expounding the view that America’s ‘violence towards Muslims’ (i‘tida’ ‘ala’l-muslimin) is the consequence of a sahwa masihiyya, a Christian revival. He seemed well-aware of the role of the Christian Coalition in the run-up to the Iraq war, despite living in a region where I saw no newspapers, and where internet access is almost impossible. Yet he was familiar with the names of Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, and other icons of the Christian Right. For him, Alan Greenspan’s explanation of the Iraq invasion in terms of America’s need for oil was entirely unpersuasive:[3] Bush and his team were crusaders (salibiyyin), servants of Israel (a‘wan Isra’il), and madcap harbingers of the violent Second Coming of Christ.

Here is another anecdotal sign, this time from the opposite end of the cultural spectrum. In November of 2005, a very different group of Muslims gathered in Casablanca for the second symposium of an ‘Arab-American Dialogue’. The sponsor was a neoliberal American trust, and the subject was the familiar one of the relationship between religion and state in the Arab and American contexts. The American team presented a critique of Arab society based on an apparent assumption that its political processes were rooted either in medieval Islamic thought (essentially Mawardi’s model), or in modern radical Islamism, with its Salafite doctrine of tawhid al-hakimiyya (the monopolising of sovereignty by God). The Arab team, mainly composed of secular intellectuals, attempted to explain that most modern Arab regimes, as nationalist autocracies, do not see themselves as standing in continuity with either tradition. They added that for Muslims, political thought lies largely in the ijtihadi category of rulings, and is hence one of those branches of the Shari‘a which are more readily susceptible to change.

At this point the discussion grew more stimulating. Some of the Arab thinkers present raised the issue of American theopolitics, citing Tocqueville’s well-known observations about the coexistence of American official laicism with popular religiosity, and pointing out that many modern Muslim jurisdictions preside over a broadly similar separation. But as in the world of Islam, where popular religious convictions can still influence the decision-making of the officially secular elites, American politicians cannot and do not ignore the hundred million or so voters who grade politicians for their correctness on faith-specific issues. The report in al-Sharq al-Awsat continued: ‘our American colleagues (some of whom play an influential role in the American decision-making process) failed to respond objectively and precisely to the fears of their Arab partners concerning the role of Christian fundamentalism in American political decision-making.’[4]

In the early years of the decade, a major concern of Muslim commentators seemed to be Christian Zionism. The Egyptian newspaper al-Ahram and the Lebanese-rooted al-H{ayat ran a number of op-ed pieces interpreting the apparent indulgence shown towards Israel by the Bush presidency in terms of the influence of pro-Israel evangelicals. On occasion, the Iraq invasion was glossed in the context of end-time persuasions attributed to some members of the White House staff and the Pentagon. For instance, a 2003 article by Ja‘far Hadi Hasan in al-Hayat urged readers to broaden their understanding of US objectives in the region to include the chiliastic. For Hasan, Bush’s core electorate are expecting the parousia in their lifetime, and as he writes: ‘they believe that occupying Iraq confirms the predictions of the Bible; it is one incident in a series of events before the return of the awaited Christ.’ Hasan offers an outline of the history of Christian dispensationalism, summarising its schema of ‘seven ages of the world’, and explains how many Bush voters believe themselves to stand at the threshold of the seventh age: Christ’s millennial reign. Hasan then goes on to identify dispensationalist decision-makers in the Bush team, including Commerce Secretary Donald Evans, a disciple of Billy Graham, and discusses Graham’s son Franklin in his role as the President’s personal religious mentor.

Hasan then summarises the core passages of the Book of Revelation which are central to the world-view of many so-called ‘theocons’. Much of Revelation, he writes, is ambiguous, but the role of Iraq in the end-time scenario is clear: Iraq, or ‘Babylon’, will fill the nations with impurity; and an angel of God’s wrath will bring it to destruction, and it will be divided into three parts: exactly what America has achieved.

When that takes place, Jerusalem, the city of true belief and the polar opposite of Babylon, will hear the four angels liberated by the fall of the false city. They will proclaim the imminence of a great battle, and then the reappearance of Jesus. Thus the next stage in the theocon plan will be the destruction of the Dome of the Rock and the rebuilding of Solomon’s Temple, where Christ himself will preside over the sacrificial rituals in order to symbolise the restoration of God’s order on earth.

Hasan concludes with some reflections on right-wing American policies, attempting to fit them all into his interpretation. Pat Robertson, he reports, preaches to the Christian world on the inexorable disappearance of virtue, the spread of abortion and sodomy, and the forgetting of God. The environmental crisis is a positive sign that the present world is coming to an end.[5] Peacemaking is an illusion, even a demonic subversion, since conflict can only come to an end with Christ’s millennial reign. [6]

Hasan’s article may be fairly typical of the growing Muslim concern over the influence of America’s religious right. Baffled by what appears to regional commentators to be the foolhardiness of the Iraq invasion, and by the administration’s perceived maximalist support for Israel, such Arab journalists have sought a master explanation in the Bible-time beliefs of key Bush decisionmakers.[7] ‘Instead of a clash of civilizations,’ one journalist concludes, ‘we are witnessing a clash of religions’.[8]

As Hasan indicates, this interpretation of American actions is new. And it will be helpful to trace the conduits by which, in a highly-censored media environment not particularly open to innovation, such a sea-change in understanding has taken place.

One key channel has been provided by Christian Arab journalists, whose greater cultural familiarity with the Bible and with Christian eschatology has allowed them to unravel the so-called ‘double-coding’ in presidential speeches, in which apparently innocuous phrases turn out to trigger specific Biblical resonances important to the religious electorate. Particularly impressive was al-Hayat’s coverage from Washington during the 2008 elections. Its correspondent, Joyce Karam, showed a close awareness of the evangelical hesitations over John McCain. Conservative evangelicals will almost invariably vote Republican, she observes, despite McCain’s uneven record on abortion, but some moderate evangelicals, less convinced that religion requires a state of endless Middle Eastern war, had been seduced by the Obama camp, which had adroitly revived the memory of the Carter years. Karam then accounts for the last-minute appointment of Sarah Palin as McCain’s running-mate. Altogether, she presents a persuasive account to her Arab readers of the issues surrounding Barack Obama’s rise to power: religious politics, as well as the economy or a general post-conflict tristesse, are a significant hermeneutic key.[9]

If there is an interpretation, or an explaining-away, of the embarrassing – to Christian Arab nationalists – notion of a religious driver to American policy in the Near East, then it seems to have been articulated most typically by the Israeli Arab writer and former Knesset member, ‘Azmi Bishara. In a characteristically outspoken article in al-Ahram, this left-wing secular Christian explains the theocon phenomenon by outlining its historic roots in America’s Puritan heritage. For Bishara, the New Testament does not provide guidance, other than ‘a universal message of love and understanding.’ The Puritans, however, ‘stressed the moral code expressed in the Old Testament.’ Apparently revisiting perhaps the oldest trope of Christian anti-Judaism, the law-versus-spirit dichotomy, Bishara concludes that this is a Judaizing Christianity, which turns the Gospels into a simple extension of what is, by implication, the unpleasant, lawbound violence of the Hebrew Bible.[10]

Bishara’s view is one that may also be heard from Orthodox church leaders in the Middle East. The theocons are a reversion to an older, ‘Jewish’ type of political religion, and have failed to notice that St Paul proclaims the radical inferiority of Judaism and its law. As for the theocon preoccupation with the seer of Patmos, this is also, by implication, a sort of Judaizing. However the true meaning of Revelation is the eschatological disclosure of transformed life which is the Church. This was Augustine’s conviction; but not every Protestant has been so happy to explain away the evident violence and retributive quality of the text. Fifty-nine percent of Americans, according to a recent poll, affirm its literal truth.[11]

Another view was offered by the Lebanese-American writer Ghassan Rubeiz, who as the former secretary for the Middle East of the World Council of Churches is also active in the Arab media. Rubeiz, evidently more aware of modern sensitivities, chooses not to adopt the old theme of a ‘Judaizing Christianity’, but offers a more sociological account. He asks why the religious right now appears to be the prevalent form of religion in America, with conservative megachurches experiencing boom times while older,soi-disant ‘mainline’ denominations face economic and numerical decline. His interpretation is sociological and somewhat moralising: America’s ever-increasing social mobility and rootlessness, set against the background of an unstable job market and the rise in divorce and remarriage, allow fundamentalist preachers to offer a simple explanation of an otherwise confusing world. On the basis of this interpretation the map divides into Christendom and the lands of darkness, while history is interpreted as a series of Biblically-foretold signs which culminate in the imminent and longed-for end of ambiguity and doubt at the Rapture and the Second Coming.[12]

Another Christian writer has been the Egyptian Samir Murqus. A sociologist of religion who founded a Coptic Centre for Social Studies and has been active in Muslim-Christian dialogue, Murqus published, in 2001, a popular but careful book on the role of Protestant fundamentalism in American foreign policy.[13] In the wake of the 9/11 attacks he went on to publish American Imperialism: The Triad of Wealth, Faith and Power,[14] in which he seeks to challenge the widespread Arab perception that current American policies reflect the pragmatic post-Soviet world of sole-superpower status, rather than a much older configuration of faith, money and power. On his view, the processes whereby ‘missionary, soldier and trader’ worked together in conquering the New World reasserted themselves in the twentieth century, until they finally became the prevalent paradigm during the Bush administration, their relationship ‘taking a contemporary shape relevant to globalisation’ but still recognisably rooted in the original pattern of American religious conquest.[15] The book is based on a wide range of Western academic studies, enriched by the author’s own daily scrutiny of President Bush’s faith-oriented pronouncements. On the basis of these and other books on American political religion[16] Murqus has also contributed a number of articles to the Arab press.

Turning now to Islamic and Islamist mass media – a small part of the whole in the Middle East – we encounter a slowly increasing sophistication and level of awareness. While takfiri Salafi formations such as those which self-identify as al-Qa‘ida are content to use generic terms such as ‘crusading’ to account for American interventions in the Muslim world, and offer simple accounts of the power of the ‘Jewish lobby’ over Christians paralyzed with guilt over the Holocaust, moderate Islamism appears able to adopt a slightly more informed view. One example would be the coverage by the Turkish religious newspaper Zaman (associated with the movement of Fethullah Gülen) of President Bush’s apparently enthusiastic reading of the memoirs of Oswald Chambers, a Baptist missionary who accompanied the British invasion of Ottoman Palestine in 1917, and whose crusading manual is apparently still popular as inspirational reading for advocates of ‘faith-based war’.[17]

A further case of this was Islamist coverage of the role of Blackwater, the security firm engaged by the Pentagon in conflict zones such as Iraq. Exempted by Paul Bremer’s Immunity Order No.17 from prosecution by Iraqi authorities, Blackwater operatives were accused of a range of abuses against Iraqi civilians, including the Nisour Square incident late in 2007.

At least two major sources of Islamist knowledge about the alleged religious agenda of Blackwater can be identified. Firstly, there is a European Parliament report written by Giovanni Claudio Fava, which details the connections between Blackwater and the Knights of Malta, a sovereign fraternity of Catholic military elites answerable directly to the Pope. The occasion for the European Parliament’s inquiry was the claim that two Blackwater subsidiaries were involved in US special rendition flights. Fava confirmed the connection with the Knights of Malta, and indicated that Malta was one of Blackwater’s primary operational bases. Its vice-president, Cofer Black, had been the CIA officer responsible for special renditions of detainees to pro-Western regimes which employed torture as an interrogation technique.

The second source is a popular book on Blackwater by the American journalist Jeremy Scahill. Meticulously referenced, this book convinced many in the West that the leadership of Blackwater was driven by a hardline Christian agenda championed by, as Scahill puts it, ‘extreme religious zealots’.[18] Scahill records that its head, former Department of Defence Inspector General Joseph Schmitz, is himself a Knight of Malta. He is portrayed as an energetic preacher on behalf of a crusading ideology for our time, his recurrent theme being ‘the rule of law under God.’ America’s role in the world is to bring God’s law to all humanity, in what Scahill terms a vision of ‘Christian supremacy’.

Scahill’s book appeared in March 2007, and became a world bestseller, following already intense speculation about private armies and their role in the Pentagon’s new wars in the Islamic world. A month later, even before the Arabic translation was published,[19] a review appeared on a website connected to the Muslim Brotherhood leader Shaykh Yusuf al-Qardawi.[20] The review homed in on the religious ideology of the Blackwater leadership, and particularly on Erik Prince, the founder-chairman, a figure already known to the Arab press. Prince, the review believes, is a ‘secretive, neo-crusader mega-millionaire […] a major bankroller of President George Bush.’ On Scahill’s account, with his connections to right-wing Catholic groups Prince believes that Blackwater is an important vehicle for ensuring the central role of Christianity in US foreign policy. As Prince says: ‘Everybody carries guns, just like the Prophet Jeremiah rebuilding the temple in Israel – a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other.’

Media reports on Blackwater’s apparent right-wing Catholic affiliations had several consequences, most notably an instruction purporting to be from al-Qa‘ida summoning Muslims to attack the Cairo embassy of the Knights of Malta. (In the event, nobody bothered.)

From a different ideological base, Jordanian MP Jamal Muhammad ‘A<bida<t wrote in the Abu Dhabi newspaper al-Bayan that the revelations about the religious motivations of the Blackwater management shed new and disturbing light on American intentions:

The painful saga of modern Arab-Muslim history evokes the battles fought in the Crusades of the eleventh century, when the Knights of Malta began their operations as a Christian militia whose mission it was to defend the land conquered by the Crusaders. These memories return violently to mind with the discovery of links between the so-called security firms in Iraq such as Blackwater which have historic links with the Knights of Malta. You cannot exaggerate it. The Order of Malta is a hidden government, or the most mysterious government in the world.[21]

In 2009, a book on the Knights of Malta appeared from the prolific pen of Mansur ‘Abd al-H{akim. Entitled The State of the Knights of Malta and the Iraq Invasion, its more lurid subtitle ran The Military Wing of the Antichrist, Masonic Knights Templars, Soldiers of Darkness.[22] ‘Abd al-Hakim, an Egyptian lawyer and journalist, is one of the region’s most popular religious writers on current affairs. Many of his hundred-odd books reveal a strong predilection for conspiracy theories. Sources for his long account of the Knights of Malta include, as well as Scahill’s book, an eclectic mixture of Ibn Kathir, Robert Fisk, Dan Brown, and David Icke, indicating the success of a new genre of apocalypticism which mingles Islamic with popular Western lore (another of his best-selling works offers an Islamic reading of the predictions of Nostradamus). In their fondness for doom-laden prophecies, particularly in the post-9/11 age, some modern Middle Eastern readers have tastes intriguingly similar to their American counterparts.

Through investigative journalism popularised by mass-circulation screeds, the notion of the world’s largest mercenary army, accused of arbitrary and excessive violence in Iraq, being led by soldiers who take a direct oath of obedience to a Pope who had already caused controversy with his comments on Islam, seems to have entered a wide circulation. It was reinforced by the American journalist Seymour Hirsh, who in a speech in Doha on 17 January 2011 alleged that Knights of Malta and other Christian militants exercised increasing influence in the US military. ‘We’re going to change mosques into cathedrals […] that’s an attitude that pervades, I’m here to say, a large percentage of the Special Operations Command.’[23]

The practice of rendition also triggered Arab media concern with the interrogation style and cultural policies applied to Muslim suspects in American custody. While it has not been possible for the media, including Arab media, to know precisely what procedures have been used at the various ‘black sites’ around the globe, there has been extensive public-domain documentation of American practices at the Guantánamo Bay facility. The various methods of detainee control were deployed by interrogators schooled in what they took to be the cultural vulnerabilities of Arabs and Muslims. The use of methods such as the playing of loud rock music, insults to female family members, nudity, comparing prisoners to rats and dogs, and requiring detainees to wear female clothing, has been familiar in the Muslim world since, in June 2005, Timemagazine published classified logs recording the interrogation of the Saudi prisoner Muhammad al-Qahtani.[24]

Culturally-specific interrogation techniques designed to cause maximum distress to Muslim detainees were, of course, likely to cause maximum outrage to Muslim public opinion.[25] Best-known were the instances of ‘Qur’an abuse’ by camp guards; but the use of Christian imagery to humiliate prisoners is also documented, such as the use of crosses to which prisoners pointed or reached to indicate that they were ready to talk. An example is the poem by Mohammed El-Gharani, a fourteen year-old Chadian taken to Guantánamo (since released):

We saw such insults from them,
Not even the book of God was protected.
Along with their malice, they were foolish.
Tribulations, then hitting and imbecility.
For they are a people without reasonable minds,
Due to their supply of alcoholic drinks.
The ‘Greasy’ arrived, in our state of need,
On the condition that we raise the card with a cross.
‘If you want dignity and protection,
Then raise the cross for protection.’
All of us threw the card away,
Intent that our spirits be redeemed in sacrifice.[26]

Also popular among Muslim readers is the memoir of the former Muslim chaplain at Guantánamo, James Yee, who was arrested in 2003 on charges which were subsequently dropped.[27] He describes the curiously religious atmosphere on the base, with camp commander Major-General Geoffrey Miller appearing at the forefront of morning prayers with his guards and interrogators before they dispersed to their tasks.[28] To his recollection, religiously-specific forms of abuse, such as desecration, appeared to be woven into the system;[29] ‘Gitmo’s secret weapon,’ he writes, ‘was the use of religion against the prisoners.’[30] The evangelical Miller, shortly afterwards, departed for Iraq with a brief to ‘Gitmoize’ the prison facility at Abu Ghraib. He was sent there by General William Boykin, deputy undersecretary of defence for intelligence, himself a committed evangelical known for regularly preaching in uniform, claiming to his congregations that ‘Satan wants to destroy us as a nation, and he wants to destroy us as a Christian army;’ however ‘they will only be defeated if we come against them in the name of Jesus.’[31] Through reports by Yee and others, perceived evangelical control of the major detention facilities in the War on Terror again appears to have had a significant impact on Muslim public opinion.

A further conduit through which information on US theopolitics has reached the Middle East has been the translation of Kimberly Blaker’s collection of essays by academics, first published as The Fundamentals of Extremism in 2003. In 2006, an Arabic translation, Usul al-Tatarruf, appeared with the Cairo-based publishing house al-Shuruq, whose managing director ‘A<dil al-Mu‘allim has taken a close interest in the rise of American theopolitics. This is a careful and responsible translation of an important text, perhaps, along with Chris Hedges’ book American Fascists and Kevin Phillips’ American Theocracy, the most serious study of American religious radicalism yet to appear.[32]

Through all of these channels, then, the perception of the leading Western nation as profoundly driven by Christian evangelicalism and dispensationalism has taken root in the Middle East. The consequence has been far-reaching: whereas ten years ago Muslims tended to view America as a secular republic containing many religious Christians, the perception is now gaining ground that America is a specifically Christian entity, whose policies on Israel, and whose otherwise mystifying violence against Muslims, whether in occupied countries or in detention, can usefully be explained with reference to the Bible.

Reflecting on this transformation, it may be appropriate to begin with some remarks on the irony of this mutual regard. Superficially, the dispensationalist and dominionist ethos regularly noted during the Bush years appears as a mirror image of takfiri Salafism; the parallel has been drawn by, amongst others, the Turkish theology graduate Sule Albayrak in her 2007 work on Christian extremism,[33] and by the Egyptian Majdi Kamil in a book equating Christian and Islamic radicalism which appeared in the same year. [34] In the vision of some Pentagon generals prosecuting the hunt for Bin Laden, the world seemed to divide into an abode of peace, freedom and love, presided over by America’s believing army; and an abode of war, a Muslim Babylon, the necessary object of invasion and subsequent economic and cultural control. For Albayrak, this is premised on a kind of ‘moral Manicheanism’.[35] Evangelical leaders are the equivalent of rogue mullahs, issuing fatwas which sanctify wars which devastate whole nations. The enemy is Satan himself, opposed by self-appointed Hegelian heroes: Boykin, Ashcroft, Miller. Scripture supplies values and law; secularity is Godless hubris and the reign of darkness, which allows and is assisted by the growth of false religions. Each side figures itself primarily as the virtuous opposite of the Other: Boykin was raised by God to challenge Bin Laden, rather as Charles Martel existed because of al-Ghafiqi. Rights are easily suspended: Islamists kill noncombatants by opportunistically invoking maslaha (public interest) and the principle of takfir; while Washington is seen as rendering and killing suspects in the spirit of Tocqueville himself, who had supported the total abolition of human rights in order to suppress the 1848 Paris revolution. Both seem to call for a utopia established through drastic constraint. Both, finally, are erastian in their constitutional thinking: the established religious leaders (the derided ‘moderates’) are to be bypassed as false mediators, in favour of a divine sovereignty exercised by a righteous prince alone. Such warriors are clear that they take their orders directly from God.[36] (President Bush himself said: ‘I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldn’t do my job.’[37] )

Such a mirroring is easily claimed; but historians of religion will be suspicious of so neat a schema. In a simple way members of each culture seem to believe that they can lessen their own burden of guilt by pointing to reciprocities on the other side; and at times Albayrak and Kamil seem to do this, as do other Muslims keen to echo William Arkin’s denunciation of the Pentagon’s ‘Christian jihad’.[38] More taxingly, the discourse of a clear mirroring implies that the internal differentia of Christianity and Islam have only insignificant entailments today, which, again, is hardly likely.

What is ‘odd-handed’ (Kenneth Cragg’s phrase) about this ‘clash of fundamentalisms’? There are asymmetries which demand to be listed prominently. One of these, noted by Muhammad ‘Arif, is that they have distinct sociologies and histories. For ‘Arif, the Islamic world has spent the past century moving from a religious towards a secular frame of reference, but while Ataturk was secularising Turkey, fundamentalists were laying the foundations for a theocratic order in America.[39]

‘Arif also points out the connection between wealth and evangelicalism, something normally absent in the Islamic case.[40]   In fact, one needs no Marxian baggage to observe that Islamic civilisation, with minor Gulf exceptions, is presently a Lazarus at the gate of Dives. Christianity, which emerged – pace the prosperity-gospellers – as a discourse of the poor, has become the favoured sacred space of the wealthiest and most competitive economic culture that has ever evolved. For many theocons this is not a paradox but a sign of God’s grace.

Takfiri Islamism, however, exists in part in order to refute this discourse. Despite its abhorrence of Sufi asceticism, and its hyperconservative social ethos, it often takes itself to be a site of resistance to wealth and privilege. It is not Babylon – that was the self-serving laicity of Saddam and the Ba‘thist nomenklatura – but Ishmael. Like the dispensationalist, the Islamist seems unnerved by the strange inactivity of God – the deus absconditus who because of the sins of the faithful has allowed the rise of liberal secularity, the growth of vice and the atrophy of faith. Yet the usual Islamist response has been precisely the ancient trope of God’s preference for the underdog, themustad‘af. For Boykin, God is with America, and this is shown by America’s economic and martial prowess; for the Islamist, God is with Ishmael, as is shown, again, by America’s economic and martial prowess. Attorney-General John Ashcroft had himself anointed with holy oil,[41] denounced church-state separation as ‘a wall of religious oppression’, [42] and strove to implement God’s law. Islamists behave in a roughly analogous way. Yet theirs is taken to be a site of resistance, on behalf of Ishmael’s ‘black house in Mecca’, against the evangelical White House in the city of Masonic symbolism, seen as the nerve-centre of wealth and Pharaonic evil. This is not the pacifism and political indifferentism of the Gospels, nor a Baptist joy in God’s empowerment of His covenant people; it is more akin to Amos’s prophecy of the uprising of the poor. Much of its appeal derives from this sense of moral drama.

Hence instead of a simple symmetry we might prefer to diagnose a resuscitation of the ancient theme of ‘Rome and Jerusalem’, beloved of Tacitus, and present in its most iconic form in Josephus. On this view, Hamas are the sicarii, the assassins of occupied Judea, who gave their lives in suicidal missions against their Herodian and Roman overlords. So Hamas’s struggle has included assassinations of local collaborators and quislings, who have failed to observe that God’s law alone applies, and that the civic space of Rome, now the global empire of the monoculture, has its foundations in anthropolatry: public sports, the shameless cult of the body, the greed of the forum. Rome, in contempt at the rebels, deploys its Herod, whose name may not only be Mahmud ‘Abbas, but is also Asif Zardari and H{usni Mubarak, and many others besides, as the loyal tribune of a world empire in which exotic local deities may be tolerated only in the private space. The public square is ruled only by the emperor and his deputies.

Such a historical analogy might help us to parse the optimism of the apocalyptic Islamist. Even utter defeat at Masada is reckoned a victory for the Zealot martyr, who, therefore, is invincible. Guantánamo turned into the zealot’s triumph: during six excruciating years, several camp guards converted to Islam, but not a single inmate reached for the Cross.[43] Under the unblinking eye of the evangelical in Ray-Bans and crew-cut, the detainee may lose his sanity, or attempt suicide, but he is not defeated. Rome, he knows, will fall in the end; God is with the tormented.

So the cage, the great panopticon in the sun, inverts its creator’s purpose. It was built, it now seems, not to extract confessions – since the more significant suspects mostly remained out of view in the ‘black sites’ – but as a therapeutic exhibition akin to the victory parades of Caesar, who had Vercingetorix placed in a cage and displayed to the citizens of Rome. The American soul was wounded on 9/11, and the parade of humiliated men in beards at Camp X-Ray was an icon which it could contemplate, and in which it could find healing. Jesus himself will stare, with eyes of fire, at the sinners, before consigning them to the lake of torment; and the Cuban cages seemed to serve as a proleptic anticipation of the vengeance of Christ promised in the Book of Revelation. Yet still the icon failed. In the world of Islam it was experienced not as a healing but as a kind of auto-da-fé, in which internees whose crimes seemed always doubtful, but whose Muslimness was certain, were tormented by Christian inquisitors. For many in the world of Islam it also seemed to represent, in the most public way, the private habits of the local Herods, whose cages were also well-stocked with the same kind of zealots.

Rome may torment the body, and Herod is even keener to do so. But as the cage suggests, her main instrument of pain is psychological. In the mid-19th century, American penal reformers invented a ‘Philadelphia System’, following the ‘scientific’ British innovations at Pentonville. For the most enlightened reasons, physical abuse was reduced or abolished as a relic of the medieval past, to be replaced by modern and hygienic methods of intangible pressure. Prisoners were to be referred to only by numbers. They would be permitted no visitors and no letters, and would wear black hoods whenever taken from their cells. Silence was universally imposed. ‘In the penitentiary, the sense of criminal community was voided: all other prisoners were silent, invisible abstractions to the man in his solitary cell. The republic of crime was vaporized, and all social sense along with it, leaving only a disoriented, passive obedience.’[44]

Charles Dickens, visiting Philadelphia’s new Eastern Penitentiary, was terrified by this enlightened Benthamite machine:

I believe that very few men are capable of estimating the immense amount of torture and agony which this dreadful punishment, prolonged for years, inflicts […] There is a depth of terrible endurance in it which none but the sufferers can fathom. I hold this slow and daily tampering with the mysteries of the brain to be immeasurably worse than any torture of the body; and because its ghastly signs and tokens are not so palpable to the eye and sense of touch as scars upon the flesh; because its wounds are not upon the surface […] therefore the more I denounce it, as a secret punishment which slumbering humanity is not roused up to stay.[45]

No less Benthamite was the new willingness to abandon ancient precedent and to convict on the basis of alleged intention. The Kafaesque trial of Jose Padilla, driven to the brink of insanity by his experience in custody, has been only the most notorious case of this.[46] The panopticon will not allow even the mind to be a private space.

Here we might learn from Slavoj Zizek’s division of violence into three kinds: subjective, symbolic, and systemic. This violence against the subject, recently curtailed in President Obama’s directives, was more than replicated not only by Herod, in the prisons of Egypt or Tunisia, but by the zealots themselves: whatever their liberative cast of mind, the zealots have not hesitated to use forms of physical pain immeasurably greater than those documented at Guantánamo. This has been the pattern of much Islamist revolt since the time when the enragés of the Iranian revolution, moralising about the Shah’s secret police, quickly brought in Ayat Allah Khalkhali as their own Robespierre.

But more substantial, Zizek claims, is symbolic violence ‘embodied in language and its forms, what Heidegger would call our “house of being”.’ [47] By this he means the monoculture’s imposition of ‘a certain universe of meaning’:

In our secular, choice-based societies, people who maintain a substantial religious belonging are in a subordinate position. Even if they are allowed to maintain their belief, this belief is ‘tolerated’ as their idiosyncratic personal choice or opinion. The moment they present it publicly as what it is for them, say a matter of substantial belonging, they are accused of ‘fundamentalism’. What this means is that the subject of ‘free choice’ in the Western ‘tolerant’ multicultural sense can emerge only as the result of an extremely violent process of being torn out of a particular lifeworld, of being cut off from one’s roots.[48]

For Zizek, then, religion is always oppressed by the monoculture. An example would be the latter’s insistence that freedom of expression, although in practice favouring those with access to media and money, is always a precondition for human dignity. If remnants of non-monocultural worlds complain, as they do, that they prefer to suffer physical over symbolic violence, the monoculture appears to have no reply. The Muslim who says she would rather be physically tortured than hear her Prophet insulted or see the Qur’an ‘abused’ is, from the perspective of the monoculture, simply living in the wrong world. The post-9/11 world, of a passionate susurration of anti-Muslim sentiment, is the only world that exists. Those who experience it as violent must learn to experience it differently.

Zizek’s third category, systemic violence, takes us back to Ishmael and his casting-out into the desert by the privileged forms of modern Biblicism. Zizek, of course, prefers to think in terms of Marx. For him, turbo-capitalism, on trial since 2008, is straightforwardly at fault for the infant mortality rate in Mali. It is also the dynamo of terrorism. He writes of ‘the hypocrisy of those who, while combating subjective violence, commit systemic violence that generates the very phenomena they abhor;’[49] a view likely to resonate with much Muslim criticism.

What was notable, for Islamist observers, in the experiment with radical Christianity during the Bush years, was not so much the presence of an adjustment in Christendom’s systemic violence towards the East, which they regard as a historic constant. What they seem to find refreshing is that the core religious differentials, once politely or even sincerely buried away, are now in the foreground. Both Islam and Christianity claim to be reverting to themselves (for Islamists, this is the rhetoric of asala). Yet historians are likely to demur: the processes of identity-retrieval in fact tend to yield a growing distance from historic mainstreams.[50] In the former world, kalam, Sufism, and classical legal and political thought are giving way to an insistence on building a scriptural commonwealth which champions the rights of the righteous, and in which the classical Islamic denial of legislative powers to the state is replaced by a totalitarian etatism. In Christendom, some forty percent of Americans now believe that the Antichrist is already on the earth;[51] and nine percent would like to see the Bible become the ‘only’ source of legislation.[52] Europeans may shrug, but even in the UK, the number of worshippers at one Pentecostal church in Walthamstow one Easter Sunday was more than double the congregations at St Paul’s and Westminster Abbey combined,[53] and the presiding pastor, an advocate of the prosperity gospel, is very clear that Israel is Isaac, while the Arabs are ‘Ishmael’, the outcast.[54] In both worlds there has been a steady growth in ideological, dichotomising religion, whose provocative conspicuousness tends to feed the growth of its rivals, producing a vicious circle.

No doubt this tendency will be seen in simple terms as a decadence. As Cardinal Newman put it, ‘the nation drags down its Church to its own level.’ But it is a protest against decadence as well. If the modern world is experienced as a kind of Mardi Gras, all differences levelled in the pursuit of pleasure and the right to pleasure, and if mainline denominations have substantively acceded to monocultural values and ideologies of progress, then the fundamentalist fight for difference, including a difference that can only exist by discriminating against increasingly ideologized Others, can to some extent claim to be a site of real resistance and a genuine ‘awakening’ (sahwa). Milan Kundera said that ‘the struggle of men against power is the struggle of memory against forgetting.’[55] The end of history at the hands of liberal consumerism finds it hard not to comprise an amnesia, an end of memory and therefore of the authentic self: Foucault’s ‘end of man’. However an age of drowsy comforts craves a stimulant. Fifty years ago, during another era of polarities, Arthur Schlesinger wrote that self-satisfied Western man was in crisis; casting around for a catharsis he decided that the Cold War ought to be used as an opportunity to wake him up. [56] Tocqueville thought that France’s invasion of Algeria would resuscitate it from post-Napoleonic torpor. Hannah Arendt, reflecting on both Nazism and Communism, concluded that the content of ideology tends to be less attractive than the invigorating fact of belonging to it, of being steered in a rudderless world.[57] Even further back, militant Puritans believed that ‘the world’s peace is the keenest war against God,’[58] because it led to complacency and the stagnation of the spirit. As at Guantánamo, morality is not the core issue, what matters is the symbolism of belonging, animated by a sense of destiny.

These examples, drawn from Corey Robin’s recent study of political fear, are linked by the idea that it is lack of direction which drives people into the arms of apparently absurd conflictual certainties, so that their selfhood is reborn in the refiner’s fire of a perpetual state of alarm. Today, the Saudification of Islam, or the Southernization of American Christianity, are both strengthened by their claim to resolve our modern anomie. Earlier ages suffered such temptations, but it is possible that we are endangered by them far more, since we are that much further from tradition, identity, and consensual truths. What is after post-modernity? When it arrives, whatever it is, can it possibly allow the puer aeternus (Jung’s contemptuous diagnosis of our post-sacred condition, now exacerbated by media ‘dumbing-down’) once more to achieve anything resembling adulthood? If scientists are now writing books like Daniel Wegner’s The Illusion of Conscious Will,[59] if we are told that what we do simply happens to us, then how likely are we to find any true humanism outside the imaginative world of theism? Put in Ash‘arite terms, can we look for any values in a secular world which denies our own acquisition, kasb, of our actions? Zizek should not assume so quickly that the believer’s cynicism about secular ethics cannot be accompanied by an ethical alternative.

For Zizek, the two mutually parasitic fundamentalisms will only be neutralised when the world appreciates the value of a public neutrality, thus resurrecting the central energies of the Enlightenment and supplying an alternative and more tolerant awakening. His prescription and prediction, then, are startlingly conservative, converging with the polemics of Roger Scruton: one recalls the way in which al-Qa‘ida has reconciled the Hitchens brothers. As in the time of Charlemagne, the West will be united by Islam, but whereas for American believers this will happen beneath the banner of political Christianity, Zizek still yearns for a secular revival.

Where mainline belief continues to be full of passionate conviction, it will probably prefer enlightenment in the form of better education. In an era of connectivity, few seem to sufficiently informed: Muslims shopping for books in Cairo may learn the names of Pat Robertson and John Hagee, but are likely to ignore the existence of the archbishop of Chicago. Reciprocally, it appears that few in Christendom can yet name a single mainstream Muslim thinker. This was brought home in an absolute way in 2008, when two magazines, Foreign Affairs and Prospect, sponsored a global survey to identify the world’s hundred most influential public intellectuals. The overall winner was Fethullah Gülen, a fact that surprised few in the Muslim world, but which baffled Westerners familiar only with the names of radicals.[60]

This aporia has had practical consequences for the mutual regard of Christianity and Islam. America seems increasingly to figure itself as what-is-not-Muslim, or even, for some, as ‘the world’s leading Bible-reading crusader state’;[60] while the Islamists, no better informed, consider themselves to be under a generic military and cultural attack from Christians (and from their allies ‘the Jews’).[62] Everywhere this polarity is strengthened by the sense that the moderates have not done enough to denounce the extremists; as Jan Linn says: ‘The virtual silence within the Christian community about the rise of the Christian Right is partly responsible for its gaining mainstream status.’[63]

I began by suggesting that we are now in what feels like an aftermath, following the closure of the Bush parenthesis. Obama feels like Charles the Second: after a decade of Puritan discourses on sin and redemption, divine immanentism, providence, and the special destiny of the people, [64] the population has grown tired, and the flags have begun to disappear from the churches. The mutedness of religious slogans during the recent ‘Arab Spring’ suggests that the Islamists, too, are losing the initiative.

Perhaps one sign of this is the prospering of the Common Word, a document which in many ways may be seen as a product of the later post-9/11 environment (several of its authors and signatories had clearly been concerned by the ‘biblicising’ of American discourse towards the Islamic world). Where the fundamentalists take scripture to be the site of the most irreducible Christian-Muslim differences, and the symbol and engine of the Other’s revanchism, the Common Word’s use of Qur’an and Bible seeks to indicate the possibility of a new and more conciliatory discursive relationship. In 2008 the Common Word process reached Yale Divinity School, which had already coordinated an endorsement of the document by three hundred evangelical leaders; the ensuing conference saw evangelicals and Muslims adopting language about a common ‘Judeo-Christian-Islamic monotheistic heritage’.[65] The decade closed with several substantial publications by Muslim and Christian theologians seeking ways in which the two scriptures, even on very classical readings, could facilitate positive theological, political and social engagement between monotheists.[66] While less conspicuous than the growth of the ‘theocon’ agenda or its Muslim epigones, this too has increasingly formed part of the evolution of the Muslim-Christian regard in the last decade.

A generation or two ago, writers on international affairs would have ridiculed the idea that ancient eschatologies could become factors in 21st-century politics. This is, however, our situation. Holy books, and the mood of their interpreters, are bound up with the world’s current polarities. It is likely that exegetes, of whatever stamp, will do much to shape the future of countries like Egypt and Turkey as they move towards full democracy, and decide whether to maintain their recent secular patterns, or to learn from the American model of a complex symbiosis of faith and power. Conversely, some Americans may find the experience of Islamism a helpful reminder of the dangers attendant upon reading God’s word as the manifesto of a utopian political ideology.


  •  Prospect (January 2011), 35-6.
  •  David Burrell, ‘Christians and Muslims Breathe a New Spirit’, in Lejla Demiri (ed.), A Common Word: Text and Reflections(Cambridge: Muslim Academic Trust, 2011), 51-64.
  •  Alan Greenspan, The Age of Turbulence: Adventures in a New World (London: Penguin, 2008), p.463: ‘the Iraq war is largely about oil.’
  •  al-Sharq al-Awsat, 20.11.05; cf. al-Bayan, 13.11.05.
  •  For the theocons and the environment see Kevin Phillips, American Theocracy: the peril and politics of radical religion, oil, and borrowed money in the 21st century (London and New York: Penguin, 2006), 237-9.
  •  al-Hayat, 24.10.03. That peacemakers, particular those who seek to reconcile Arabs and Israelis, are unwitting agents of Antichrist, is implicit in much evangelical rhetoric; as in the Left Behind novels of Tim LaHaye and Jerry Jenkins, and the film The Omega Code(1999). For an Arab commentary on the role of the Left Behind novels in the Christian Zionist movement see Jihad al-Khazin in al-Hayat, 05.01.05.
  •  See also the review by David Tresilian, a lecturer at the American University in Cairo, of Kenneth Brown’s L’Irak de la crise au chaos (Paris: Ibis, 2004) in the English version of al-Ahram (Al-Ahram Weekly, 30 March – 5 April 2006); citing William Polk, Brown outlines ‘the hidden agenda determining American relations with Iraq: the new strategic conception of American world domination; the messianic faith in Christian fundamentalism; and the connection between Christian fundamentalism and Zionism.’
  •  See an article making this claim by Wafa’ al-Rashid, al-Hayat, 28.4.09.
  •  al-Hayat, 28.10.08.
  •  al-Ahram (English edition), 24-30.11.02.
  •  The Independent, 17.12.06.
  •  Daily News (Egypt), 6.4.07.
  •  Samir Murqus, al-Usuliyya al-Brutistantiyya wa’l-siyasa al-kharijiyya al-amrikiyya (Cairo: Maktabat al-Shuruq al-Dawliyya, 2001).
  •  Samir Murqus, al-Imbaraturiyya al-Amrikiyya: thulathiyyat al-tharwa, al-din, al-quwwa, min al-harb al-ahliyya ila ma ba‘da 11 Sabtambar (Cairo: Maktabat al-Shuruq al-Dawliyya, 2003).
  •  Murqus, al-Imbaraturiyya, 96.
  •  Notably al-Himaya wa’l-‘iqab: al-Gharb wa’l-mas’alat al-diniyya fi’l-sharq al-awsat (Cairo: Mirit, 2000), in which he details the role of the Christian Right in promoting the (Clinton-era) International Religious Freedom Act (1998), which he sees as a key statutory legitimiser of ‘faith-based’ interventionist politics in the Arab world.
  •  Zaman, 4.3.03. See also the coverage in another Turkish daily, Sabah (7.3.2004).
  •  Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army (London: Serpent’s Tail, 2007), 443.
  •  Entitled Blakwatar: akhtar munaz}zama sirriyya fi’l-‘alam (Beirut, 2008).
  •  Cited by Pamela Hansen, Malta Today, 13.01.08; see, for a more lurid treatment, aftermathnews.wordpress.com/2007/10/01/blackwater-knights-of-malta-in-iraq (accessed 29.12.10).
  •  Mansur ‘Abd al-Hakim, Dawlat fursan Malta wa-ghazw al-‘Iraq: al-janah al-‘askari li’l-masih al-dajjal, junud al-haykal al-masuni al-muqaddas, juyush al-zalam (Damascus and Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 2009).
  •  Time, 12.06.05.
  •  For a good example see ‘Abd al-Wahhab Badarkhan, writing in al-Hayat, 28.4.09.
  •  Mohammed El Gharani, ‘First Poem of my Life’, in Marc Falkoff, Poems from Guantanamo: the detainees speak (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2007), 39.
  •  See for instance Yee’s 2007 interview on Syrian television, in which he discusses the practice of ‘Qur’an abuse’:www.memritv.org/clip/en/1610.htm (accessed 2.2.11).
  •  James Yee, For God and Country: faith and patriotism under fire (New York: Public Affairs, 2005), 84, 124-5.
  •  Yee, 111.
  •  humanrights.ucdavis.edu/events/the-davis-enterprise-may-7-2006 (accessed 2.2.11).
  •  The Guardian, 20.05.04; for more on Boykin as Christian warrior see Jan G. Linn, What’s Wrong with the Christian Right (Boca Raton: BrownWalker Press, 2004), 61-3.
  •  Kimberly Blaker (ed.), tr. Hiba Ra’uf and Tamir ‘Abd al-Wahhab, Us}ul al-tatarruf (Cairo: Maktabat al-Shuruq al-Dawliyya, 2006).
  •  Sule Akbulut Albayrak, Hıristiyan Fundamentalizmi (Istanbul: Etkilesim, 2007), 49-62.
  •  Majdi Kamil, al-Misihiyyat al-Sihyuniyya, al-tatarruf al-Islami, wa’s-sinariyu al-karithi (Damascus and Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 2007).
  •  Albayrak, 35. The same description of US policy as ‘Manichean’ may be found elsewhere; e.g. Murqus, Imbaraturiyya, 113.
  •  Scahill, 377.
  •  Cited in Phillips, 208; cf. Kamil, 174-5.
  •  Scahill, 377.
  •  Muhammad ‘Arif, tr. Raniya Khallaf, S{u‘ud al-brutistantiyya al-ifanjilikiyya fi Amrika wa-ta’thiruhu ‘ala al-‘alam al-Islami (Cairo: Maktabat al-Shuruq al-Dawliyya, 2006/1427, 217.>
  •  ‘Arif, 218.
  •  Phillips, 118.
  •  Phillips, 233.
  •  Moazzem Begg, Enemy Combatant  (London: Pocket Books, 2007), 220; Newsweek, 21.03.09.
  •  Robert Hughes, The Fatal Shore: a history of the transportation of convicts to Australia1787-1868 (London: Vintage, 2003), 520.
  •  Charles Dickens, cited in Hughes, 520.
  •  Slavoj Zizek, Violence (London: Profile Books, 2009), 1.
  •  Zizek, 123-4.
  •  Zizek, 174.
  •  Humeira Iqtidar, Secularizing Islamists? Jama’at-e-Islami and Jama‘at-ud-Da’wa in Urban Pakistan (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2011); John Gray, Al-Qaeda and What it Means to be Modern (London: Faber and Faber, 2003).
  •  Phillips, 260.
  •  The Guardian, 11.04.09.
  •  Nigeria World, 02.06.02.
  •  Milan Kundera, The Book of Laughter and Forgetting (London: Faber, 1982), 3.
  •  Corey Robin, Fear: the history of a political idea (New York: Oxford University Press, 2006), 13.
  •  Robin, 103.
  •  Cited in Robin, 37.
  •  Daniel M. Wegner, The Illusion of Conscious Will (Boston: MIT Press, 2002).
  •  Zaman, 26.6.2008.
  •  Phillips, 103.
  •  For a representative example of the genre of a monomaniac Western assault on Islam stretching down the centuries see al-Husayni al-Husayni Ma‘di, Hurub al-Gharb al-Muqaddasa ‘ala’l-Islam: watha’iq al-mu’amara wa’l-idana (Damascus and Cairo: Dar al-Kitab al-‘Arabi, 2007).
  •  Linn, 2, cf. p.50.
  •  Cf. John Morrill, ‘The Puritan Revolution’, pp. 67-88 of John Coffey and Paul C.H. Lim (eds.), The Cambridge Companion to Puritanism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008), see pp.84-5.
  •  Paragraph One of the joint final declaration of the Yale Common Word Conference.
  •  Waleed El-Ansary and David K. Linnan (eds.), Muslim and Christian Understanding: Theory and Application of ‘A Common Word’(New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010); Miroslav Volf and G. Talal (eds.), A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2010).



| Spain’s Forgotten Muslims – The Expulsion of the Moriscos!

Spain’s Forgotten Muslims – The Expulsion of the Moriscos ~ Lost Islamic History.

One of the truly tragic events in Islamic history is the loss of al-Andalus, or Muslim Spain. For centuries, the Iberian Peninsula was a Muslim land with Muslim rulers and a Muslim population. At its height, Iberia had over 5 million Muslims, a majority of the land’s people.

Muslim rulers built an advanced civilization based on faith and knowledge. In the 900s, the capital of Muslim Spain, Cordoba, had paved roads, hospitals, and street lights throughout the city. At the time, Christian Europe’s largest library had only 600 books, while Cordoba’s calligraphers were producing 6000 books per year.  The society was a peaceful mixture of European and African cultures, represented by Muslims, Jews, and Christians living in harmony side by side.

This almost utopian society did not last forever. As the so-called Reconquista, or Reconquest, of Spain by Catholic monarchs progressed through the 11th to the 15th centuries, Spain’s Muslims became a marginalized group. In 1492, when the last Muslim state of Iberia, Granada, fell, Spain’s Muslims faced a new reality: genocide.


After the fall of Granada in 1492, most Muslims expected it to be a small setback. They thought Muslim armies from Africa would soon come to redeem the loss of Granada and re-establish a Muslim state. The new Spanish monarchs, Ferdinand and Isabella, had other plans, however.

They made their religious intentions clear early on. In March 1492, Spain’s monarchs signed an edict that effectively forced every last Jew out of the country. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were forced out, with the Ottoman Empire accepting many of them. Sultan Bayezid II of the Ottoman Empire sent his entire navy to Spain to pick them up and bring them to Istanbul, in order to avoid the mass killing that awaited them in Spain.

The Spanish policy towards the Muslims was not much different. In 1492, there were about 500,000 Muslims throughout Spain. The Catholic Church made it a priority to convert them all to Christianity now that they did not have the protection of a Muslim state.

The first attempts to convert Muslims to Christianity was through bribery. Converts were showered with gifts, money, and land. This approach proved to be unsuccessful, as most of these “converts” quickly returned to Islam after getting such gifts.


When it became clear in the closing years of the 1400s, that the Muslims of Spain were more attached to their beliefs than to wealth, Spain’s rulers took a new approach. In 1499, Francisco Jimenez de Cisernos, a cardinal in the Catholic Church was sent to southern Spain to “speed up” the conversion process. His approach was to harass the Muslims until they converted. All manuscripts written in Arabic were burned (except for medical ones). Muslims who refused to convert were arbitrarily sent to prison. They were tortured and had their property confiscated in an attempt to convince them to convert. This was all part of Cisernos’ policy that “if the infidels [Muslims] couldn’t be attracted to the road of salvation, they had to be dragged to it.”

His oppression and harassment soon had unintended consequences for Spain’s Christian kings. Spain’s Muslims, in order to resist the oppression began an open rebellion. Granada’s Muslims especially openly protested in the streets and threatened to overthrow the oppressive Catholic rule and replace it with a new Muslim state. Spain’s king and queen quickly intervened along with Cisernos. They gave Granada’s rebels a choice – conversion or death. Almost all of Granada’s citizens chose to convert on the outside, but secretly kept Islam as their true religion.

In 1502, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella officially made Islam illegal throughout Spain

In the countryside, the Muslim towns throughout Granada rose in revolt. They took refuge in the rocky Alpujarras Mountains in Southern Spain, making it difficult for the Christian authorities to root them out. The rebels had no clear plan nor one central leader. They were united in their belief in Islam and resistance to Christian rule.

Since almost all of the population of Granada was Muslim, the rebellion took a defensive form. Christian soldiers regularly attacked Muslim towns in an attempt to force its residents into conversion. The Muslim rebels, not as well equipped or trained as the Christian soldiers, were not always able to rebel the attacks. Massacres and forced conversions of villages were common.

By 1502, the rebellion had petered out and Queen Isabella officially declared an end to toleration for any and all Muslims in Spain. Thus, all Muslims had to officially convert to Christianity, leave Spain, or die. Many did in fact flee to North Africa or fight to the death. However, most officially converted to Christianity, while still keeping their true beliefs hidden.

In Hiding

Spain’s Muslim population went underground in 1502. They had to hide their faith and actions from the Spanish authorities to avoid being killed. These “converted” Muslims were known as Moriscos by the Spanish, and they were intently watched.

Spanish government officials placed strict restrictions on the Moriscos to try to make sure they were not still secretly practicing Islam, which many were of course doing. Moriscos had to leave the doors to their homes open on Thursday nights and Friday mornings, so soldiers can pass by and look in to make sure they were not bathing, as Muslims are supposed to do before the congregational prayer of Friday. Any Muslim caught reading the Quran, or making wudu (ablution) could be immediately killed. For this reason, they were forced to find ways to practice their religion in secret, constantly in fear of being found.

Even under such difficult circumstances, the Moriscos retained their beliefs for decades. While the community activities of Islam such as congregational prayer, alms giving, and pilgrimage to Makkah were restricted, they were able to continue to practice in secret.

Final Expulsion

Despite the best efforts of the Moriscos to conceal their practice of Islam, the Christian kings suspected them of continued adherence to Islam. In 1609, over 100 years after the Muslims went into hiding, King Phillip of Spain signed an edict expelling all Moriscos from Spain. They were given only 3 days to completely pack up and board ships destined for North Africa or the Ottoman Empire.

During this time, they were constantly harassed by Christians, who would loot their belongings and kidnap Muslim children to raise as Christians. Some Moriscos were even killed for sport on their way to the coast by soldiers and regular people. Even when they got to the ships that would take them to their new lands, they were harassed. They were insultingly expected to pay their own fare in their exile. Also, many of the sailors raped, killed, and stole from the Moriscos they were carrying on their ships. This example religious intolerance can effectively be classified as a genocide and terrorism. The Spanish government made very clear their desire to harass and make life miserable for Spain’s Muslims as they were on their way out.

In this environment, however, the Moriscos were finally able to be open about their practice of Islam again. For the first time in over 100 years, Muslims prayed openly in Spain. The adhan (call to prayer) rang in the mountains and plains of Spain once again, as its Muslims were on their way out of their homeland.

Spain’s Muslims were given 3 days to leave their homes and board ships destined for foreign lands in 1609.

Most of the Moriscos wished they could stay in Spain. It had been their homeland for centuries and they did not know how to live in any other land. Even after their exile, many tried to sneak back into Spain and come back to their former homes. These efforts were almost always failures.

By 1614 every last Morisco was gone, and Islam disappeared from the Iberian Peninsula. Going from over 500,000 people to zero in 100 years can only be described as a genocide. Indeed, the Portuguese Dominican monk, Damian Fonseca, referred to the expulsion as an “agreeable Holocaust”. The effects on Spain were grave. Its economy suffered greatly, as a large part of the labor force was gone, and tax revenues dropped. In North Africa, Muslim rulers attempted to provide for the hundreds of thousands of refugees, but in many cases, were unable to do much to help them.  The Moriscos of North Africa spent centuries trying to assimilate into society, but still kept their unique Andalusian identity.

To this day, neighborhoods in major North African cities boast of their Morisco identities and keep alive the memory of Muslim Spain’s glorious past. They remind us of the illustrious history of the Iberian Peninsula, as well the tragic story of their expulsion from their homes in the one of the greatest genocides Europe has ever seen.


Carr, Matthew. Blood and Faith: The Purging of Muslim Spain. New York: The New Press, 2009. Print.

Ochsenwald, W., & Fisher, S. (2003). The Middle East: A History. (6th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

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| Reflection: Why I Think Islamists Are Anti-Islam ~ Dr. David Liepert.

Why I Think Islamists Are Anti-IslamHuffPost.

The first Muslims, following after Muhammad, fought for a world where Islam was allowed, not imposed. The world they won was a world with religious liberty, not a world with one faith was forced on everyone else.

The religion of Islam, the Faith of Abraham as proclaimed by Muhammad — peace be upon them both — is all about relationships: our relationship with our Creator who made everything informing the way we relate to everything. Muslims are God’s servants, tasked to live our lives for the sake of you all.

So how does the so-called Islamist world-view, one that puts promoting Islam (and generally, one specific sort of Islamic ideology alone) ahead of egalitarian justice, or freedom, or sometimes human life itself — one that’s shared by those misguided criminals behind the killing of innocent Christians in Pakistan, innocent Muslims in the Middle East, innocent believers of every faith anywhere, innocent shoppers in Kenya, for God’s sake! — make any sense, from an Islamic perspective?

It doesn’t.

I’ve read a vast array of definitions for what “Islamist” really means, just as I’ve read a vast array of ideological descriptions for every group of Muslims currently killing each other (and others too, compounding the tragedy) over who should be in charge of our beliefs and real estate. And while each group believes they’re fundamentally different, I think they’re really the same, and fundamentally opposed to the Islam proclaimed by Muhammad.

Islamists — no matter whether they belong to al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Iran’s Ulema and Republican Guard, Egypt’s Army, or the Muslim Brotherhood or any other Muslim group with aggressive political aspirations — want to be in charge, and they think that when they are then their own version of Islam must be imposed. Muhammad — on the other hand — didn’t think he was in charge (because he knew God was) and he lived his life as a leader of equals.

And once he began following the path of Islam he didn’t impose it on anyone.

Now, I know there are some who will take immediate issue with that statement, because of the actions he was forced to take in Medina, after Medina’s diverse communities (defined by tribe, blood and religion) joined together in a sovereign constitutional state with Muhammad at their head.

In a nutshell, what happened is that some — not all — of Medina’s Jewish tribes betrayed that state to outside forces, and were punished for it.

However, like it or not, the punishment inflicted upon the Banu Qurayza wasn’t decreed by Muhammad, or Islamic law.

Instead, it was decreed by Sa’d, an arbitrator requested by the Banu Qurayza themselves. And as he’d already warned them ahead of time, when asked, Sa’d declared that because they were Jewish, they should be punished according to the Torah.

At Hudabiyyah when Muhammad first returned to Mecca, he could have conquered it then and there. Instead, he accepted the terms the Meccans offered and humbly left, because he knew God had a plan. And for the rest of his life he promised to protect the rights and freedoms of non-Muslims too, and declared that Muslims who followed after him should do the same. He created a place where Islam was allowed — not imposed — and he allowed and protected other faiths besides: Christianity for Christians and Judaism for Jews. He politely discussed religion with anyone, even those who disagreed with him, and he followed a faith that honored the faithful observances of others. In fact, Medina’s Constitution even made provisions for the inclusion of polytheists and unbelievers!

When Muslims took over Jerusalem, they left the Christians in charge and only forced them to let the Jews they’d evicted back in. In Egypt, they made sure Christians received the same rights, freedom and justice as Muslims. In Persia, faced with a tribe that followed sexual practices condemned by the Quran as sinful, Muslim judges declared that since they weren’t Muslim, Muslim laws couldn’t be applied to them. And in the Middle East, when villages that had pretended they’d joined Islam — thinking they’d gain an advantage, which they didn’t — wanted to change back without consequence, they did.

For decades now, as a convert Muslim –who joined because I know it’s right, and because I truly love and honor Muhammad, his example, and the example of those who knew and followed him– I’ve watched Muslims here, there and everywhere struggling with freedom, and the fact that freedom sometimes means choosing to do things you know are wrong. I’ve always asked them a simple question: If God didn’t intend us to have the right to make even bad choices, why did He give us free will at all?

I’ve listened patiently to others who struggle with what they perceive to be their responsibility to impose their choices upon others, things like the Hijab: and while no-one has ever been able to explain to me when Hijab became a head-scarf (in Islam’s earliest history it wasn’t an article of clothing at all. Instead, it was an attitude of modesty, or a curtain) I’ve always pointed out that even regarding the Islamic principle of modesty, the Qur’an‘s not telling us to make other people do good things, it’s telling us to do good things ourselves.

Perhaps the reason why the Qur’an condemns coercion in matters of religion so explicitly is because anytime you try to impose something — even something good — you make sure that it’s opposed. Human nature being what it is, imposing “good” actually promotes the opposite.

However, as I watch our world devolving, my questions have become more urgent:

  • How is God served by condemning, opposing or killing people who aren’t actively trying to condemn, oppose or kill you? Especially when the Qur’an so clearly specifically condemns violence, murder and killing? It even condemns unkind words, feeling too much suspicion of others, and mean-spirited argumentativeness!

  • If God wants someone dead, don’t you think He’s more than capable of looking after that Himself?

  • When the Qur’an so specifically commends the protection of Mosques, Churches, Synagogues and each individual person’s religious freedom, don’t you think that means Muslims should do the same?

I think that the reason why Islam’s so unpopular today when it was so popular back when it began is simple: If Muslims are supposed to be the defenders of life, liberty, freedom and justice as we tell ourselves, then looking at our impact on the world today, I think it’s pretty obvious we’re just doing it wrong.


Medina under Muhammad was a marketplace for more than goods and services, it was also a marketplace for ideas. Muhammad’s Islam flourished there because people thought it was better, not because they were afraid to do anything else. Under him, the rules were simple, and the same justice, freedom and rights linked to responsibilities applied for everyone.

Back then, if Muslims knew they had to do something they knew was wrong — like killing, oppressing or coercing other people, or lying, cheating or stealing — in order to achieve a worthy goal they just didn’t.

Muhammad and the first and best Muslims who followed after him lived their lives to serve the common good, and left things they couldn’t control — things like the lives of others, and the future — up to God, because in their Islam power, ultimate authority, ultimate responsibility, and glory belonged to God alone. Perhaps the greatest Islamist tragedy is just how many Islamists today honestly believe that those things should belong to them because they think God gave it to them.

My Islamist brothers, if you really believe that’s true, then I think you need to know more about a wonderful man I know, named Muhammad.


| Message to Richard Dawkins: ‘Islam is not a race’ is a cop out!

Message to Richard Dawkins: ‘Islam is not a race’ is a cop out ~

A focus on the academic distinction between religion and race is often used as a fig leaf for prejudice and outright bigotry.

Richard Dawkins

‘[Richard] Dawkins himself dedicated a large part of his riposte to a dissection of whether race is a biological or social construct.’ Photograph: Murdo Macleod

Of late, a new variation of the old chestnut “I’m not racist but …” has emerged. It goes: “I’ve got nothing against Muslims, it’s Islam I hate”. Otherwise known as the “Islam is not a race” argument.

After I wrote about Richard Dawkins’s snide attack on the supposed dearth of Muslim scientific and cultural achievement, some critics hit back along these lines. It is acceptable to criticise and belittle Islam because it is a religion, not an ethnic grouping – and therefore fair game.

Technically, they are right – Islam is not a race. But too often, those who deploy the argument, are borrowing from the Bill Clinton school of sophistry: “I did not have racist relations with that religion”.

Dawkins himself dedicated a large part of his riposte to a dissection of whether race is a biological or social construct. The argument over Islam and race was a “simple semantic disagreement”, he said, before proceeding to define race according to the dictionary.

So what does the dictionary say? Racism, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is “prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior”. But what does this mean in practice?

Under British law, Jewish people are classified as belonging to a race (something that Dawkins, incidentally, disagrees with) since they are deemed to have a shared culture and history that goes beyond the religious sphere. Do I share history, culture and other reference points with Muslims around the world that go beyond the practice of Islam? Definitely. But it is a loose, secular feeling.

Does this make me immune to discrimination that Muslims face? Certainly not, given the long hours I have spent in immigration queues, undergoing extended background checks and visa processing times. So clearly, in that sense, Islam is not a race, but Muslims are. It’s entirely legitimate to question and interrogate Islam as a religion. It is not fair to do so against Muslims based on their religious or cultural identity.

Equally, it is disingenuous to claim that Islam has no colour. There is actually quite a strong racial dimension to Islamophobia. Muslims in the UK are predominantly brown, Asian or Arab, and there have been instances where non-Muslims from Asian communities have been lumped together with Muslims and discriminated against.

After the 9/11 attacks, some bearded and turbaned Sikh men found themselves coming under hostile scrutiny. Following the more recent Boston bombings, some media outlets described suspects as being of “Muslim appearance” – whatever that is. In the wake of Theo Van Gogh murder, racist targeting of Muslim immigrants increased.

When discrimination against some eastern Europeans in the UK is called racism, you don’t hear cries of “Polish is not a race” to justify plain prejudice. The fixation on terminology and not the reality suggests a society that does not want to come to terms with the creeping ugliness of hatred. The likes of the BNP and EDL lack even a basic grasp of the rudiments of Islam, let alone an ability to parse religion and race.

Racism is behaviour, not an informed academic position. I doubt that anyone abusing Muslims in the street, or defacing a mosque, or snatching a veil off a woman’s face, has paused to examine their premise beforehand. The argument that Islam is not a race is a cop out. It’s time that we dispensed with it once and for all, because it prevents us from identifying acts motivated by hatred for what they really are. Islam might not be a race, but using that as a fig leaf for your unthinking prejudice is almost certainly racist.




| Have you ever met a woman in a niqab? Has one ever harmed you?

Have you ever met a woman in a niqab? Has one ever harmed you? ~ AISHA GANINew Statesman.

As politicians call for a “national debate” on the niqab, Aisha Gani speaks to women who choose to wear a full-face veil to discover why they do so.

A veiled woman in Cairo. Photo: Getty
A veiled woman in Cairo. Photo: Getty

Struggling politically? Want to fill columns? Start a debate about the niqab. It’s another opportunity to roll out the veil puns and plaster that stock image of a Muslim woman in a black niqab, her heavy eye make-up emphasised.

Sometimes I think that we are obsessed. Why do we insist on telling woman what they should and shouldn’t wear? As a British Muslim woman who wears the hijab (headscarf), I don’t think covering my face in public would be safe, appropriate or is necessary for me. But I have close friends who wear niqab, and I don’t want to judge them. I am no scholar. What other women believe and wear is up to them, they don’t have to justify themselves to me. There is so much hostility based on what we think the niqab represents. One of the first things that came to mind when Jeremy Browne made his comments was this: has anyone actually spoken to any of the women who choose to wear niqab? So I decided that I would talk to as many as possible.

It’s been argued that women who wear a full-face veil are excluding themselves from society. Psychology graduate Nadia, who started wearing niqab a few months ago, tells me that opportunities are not taken away by a piece of cloth, but by how other people react to it. “From my understanding of feminism, women should be able to do want they want to do. The niqab isn’t imposed by men. I do it for God.” Tayabbah, 20, is an English student at King’s College London and tells me that no one should take her right of wearing a niqab away. “I’m not harming anyone. It is a choice I made and a choice I have to deal with.”

These are determined young women. And they are hardly conforming – they are a minority within British Muslims, and no one forced them to wear a niqab. Several say they are the first ones to wear the niqab among their family and friends.

“I found niqab liberating,” Muslim convert and mother-of-two Khadija Sallon-Bradley tells me. “When I turned 12, I started wearing make-up. There’s this notion that is if you’ve got it, you flaunt it – and it’s driven into you that if you don’t look good, you won’t be spoken to by boys. So much has to do with appearance and you are bombarded with images of perfect and skinny girls and it makes you very self-conscious. I had so many insecurities.”

She started to question her role in society, what was expected of her, and went through a feminist phase as a teenager. Khadija adds that although she converted at 18 and started wearing hijab at university, she couldn’t “ditch the concealer”. By wearing the niqab, she felt right and that people wouldn’t judge her just by her face any more, and that there are many ways to communicate.

LSE Sociology student Rumana, 24, has dreams of being a social worker. “I want to work with vulnerable women, deal with victims and inspire other niqabis. I don’t want to cut off my career choices. I don’t want to accept that.” Although Rumana concedes that physically she has put up a barrier, her intention is not to be cut off from society. She does not deserve to have “letterbox” shouted at her, she says. “You can’t see me, but I make sure you hear me. I make sure my character and personality comes through. I’m not just a walking Qur’an.” She tells me that she makes an extra effort to contribute to seminars, to say hello and so on. She does compromise when she has to and has given evidence in court. I can’t help thinking, is this chatty young Muslim someone who should be excluded and shunned for what she chooses to wear?

If these women didn’t want to be a part of society, you wouldn’t see them in the street in the first place, would you? In the past, I didn’t understand why some Muslim women would wear extra covering, but that’s because I never asked. These women have done their research, and feel compelled to wear the niqab. In most cases, they deal with the situations they are in pragmatically and with courage. When it comes to security and identification, whether they are sitting exams, going to the bank or travelling abroad, women who wear niqab have either worked out an accommodation or have compromised.

When I go out to eat with a friend who wears niqab, we’ll choose a restaurant where she feels comfortable. It’s not an issue. The first thing I associate with my friend with is her love of baking, her football obsession and the way she laughs, not what she wears. She has never imposed her way of doing things on me.

Women who wear the niqab shouldn’t be dehumanised or othered. I am sure that my friends who wear it don’t appreciate how (largely) white middle-class MPs and commentators – who have little interaction with those who wear niqab – feel as though they have to act as a knight in shining armour to liberate Muslim women from their oppression. The women I spoke to don’t need a saviour, nor do they want anyone to view them with a patriarchal eye, as though Muslim women are meek creatures without agency. The fetishisation of a covered woman and the language of de-veiling is not only orientalist, but it can be creepy. I am reminded of the recent leak of Lady Gaga’s Burqa lyrics. It’s so wrong.

This is Britain, and pluralism is something to be celebrated. I have come to appreciate the diversity in Islam, and Muslim women are not homogenous. We have different inspirations and different styles. There has been a huge fuss about the niqab, and I think it would be more helpful to understand and appreciate the contributions of these women instead of marginalising and scapegoating them. Will it make us feel better to ostracise them?

Perhaps we should question ourselves and what makes us feel so insecure about difference. Have you ever met a woman in niqab? Has a woman in niqab ever harmed you?



| Hypocrite Egyptian authorities close 55,000 mosques!

Egyptian authorities close 55,000 mosques ~ MEMO.

Fateh Mosque

The Scene outside Fateh Mosque in Cairo

In the latest measure against pro-democracy supporters in Egypt, the coup authorities have banned 55,000 Imams from delivering the important Friday sermons.


The interim Minister of Religious Affairs, Mohamed Mokhtar Jomaa, said that the Imams do not have licences to deliver the sermons and that they are regarded as “terrorists who pose a threat to Egyptian security”.


The move will, in effect, close 55,000 mosques as they have no alternative Imams available.

Commenting on this measure, Egyptian historian Mohamed al-Jawwadi said that this is the first time in Egyptian history that this number of mosques is being closed. “This man surpasses what Ataturk, who ended the Islamic Caliphate and founded secular Turkey, did when he fought against Islam at the beginning of the 20th century,” he said.

As most Egyptian Muslims, either religious or secular, attend the Friday sermons, the coup government believes that Imams have the opportunity to affect the congregation’s emotions. Most, the minister claimed, will then attend anti-government demonstrations.

Since the coup which ousted President Mohammed Morsi in July, Egyptian security forces have attacked several mosques and attempted to prevent the Friday prayers completely in order to undermine the efforts to begin anti-coup protests. Thousands of protesters have been killed by security forces and the thugs which support them.


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| Illegal Occupation: Muslims Barred from Al-Aqsa!

Muslims Barred from Al-Aqsa ~ Friends of Al-Aqsa.

In an unprecedented move today, Israeli occupation forces in Jerusalem have today surrounded the holy Al-Aqsa Mosque and barred Palestinians from accessing the site. The area has been stormed by Jewish groups and some Palestinian worshippers inside the mosque were arrested and others attacked with tear gas.

Israeli police were also attacked by the extreme right wing Jews who trespassed onto the site. Palestinian access to Al-Aqsa has been restricted in recent months due to a rise in trespasses from extremist Israeli settlers and others. Today, gates were reportedly chained shut and Palestinians attacked with pepper spray.

These events unfolded following the arrest of Shaykh Raed Salah who warned that Palestinians would lose control of the holy site. “His arrest was said to be on suspicion of incitement, and yet a day later, his words ring true,” said Ismail Patel, Chair of Friends of Al-Aqsa. Shaykh Raed was travelling to Jerusalem to mark a national ‘Mobilisation Day’ intended to raise awareness about the dangers faced by Palestinians and the threat to the Al-Aqsa.

Friends of Al-Aqsa


 Zio Mafia


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