Archive for the ‘Islam/Moslem/Islamic world’ Category
Iran Presidential election: Any difference among moderate, reformist, conservative…?
Taking aim at Hassan Rohani: The reformist president of Iran faces a tough re-election
Face-off: Politician versus religious legal personalities
Hardliners are cracking down on social media
APPLICATIONS for the ticklish job of president of Iran opened this week, with more than 100 hopefuls vying to replace the incumbent, Hassan Rohani, a relative moderate, at the election on May 19th. (They were 1,300 candidates a couple days ago, including former President Najad)
The religious conservatives who loom so large in Iran are hoping they can unite around a single candidate, overcoming the divisions that doomed their prospects in 2013 and allowed Mr Rohani to win.
Their preferred man is Ebrahim Raeisi, the newly appointed head of one of Iran’s most important and best-endowed shrines, Imam Reza in Mashhad. In addition to income from the shrine’s holdings, which include car factories, he is a protégé of the Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
But to Mr Raeisi’s probable consternation, on April 12th a divisive ultra-conservative former president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, also entered the race, despite orders from Mr Khamenei not to stand. This makes it more likely that the hardliners will again see their vote split.
Still, the anti-Iranian rhetoric of Donald Trump, America’s president, is a big bonus for the anti-reformists, should they come together.
After a nuclear deal between Iran and six major powers was concluded in 2015, Mr Rohani’s re-election had seemed assured. But the promised fruits from the lifting of UN sanctions (in return for Iran curbing its nuclear programme) have been slow to arrive. Far from encouraging investment in Iran, America has tightened some sanctions, and continues to prevent Iran from trading in dollars.
With the army, Revolutionary Guards, judiciary and state television in their hands, as well as the power to approve candidates (which the Guardians Council they dominate has yet to do for the coming election), Mr Khamenei’s hardliners already wield huge power. They are now targeting social media, where pro-Rohani reformists have until now mostly operated freely.
Last month masked goons arrested 12 administrators of popular social-media news channels.
But the hardliners’ task is proving daunting.
First in their sights is a phone app, Telegram, that enables encrypted messaging between users, and also offers uncensored news channels. It claims 20m Iranian users and thousands of Persian-language channels, some claiming over a million subscribers.
Last year it helped the reformists get out the vote in parliamentary elections. Confounding the hardliners’ efforts to disqualify well-known reformist candidates, voters went to the polls armed with “lists of hope” of the lesser-knowns on their phones, and unseated the staunchest conservatives, some of Mr Khamenei’s relatives among them.
No sooner had Mr Raeisi’s candidacy been announced than they began tarnishing his squeaky-clean image with claims that, as a 28-year-old prosecutor, he had sentenced hundreds of leftist political prisoners to death.
Under a more reactionary government, censors might have banned Telegram.
Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, the hardline former president, simply switched off the mobile network when protesters contested his 2009 re-election, and restricted internet bandwidth to such an extent that it took hours to access a page. Facebook and Twitter were banned.
But Mr Rohani’s government has made censorship harder. It has boosted bandwidth a hundredfold, compared with 2009. And it has expanded mobile coverage from 39% to 99% of Iran, including to 27,000 villages which the hardliners hitherto considered strongholds.
So Mr Rohani continues to get his message out. Recent signs of mild economic improvement may have given his continued support for Western engagement a boost, too. The hardliners will not have the campaign all their own way.
Yemen, Beyond the Headlines
Yemen is a country in the southern part of the Arabian Peninsula rich in culture, heritage, and history, with an extremely friendly and hospitable people.
But that doesn’t make the news.
The country is often misrepresented in Western media coverage, magnifying the country’s negative aspects.
A country of 24 million people of many different backgrounds “has been reduced to Al-Qaeda…wars, poverty, Qat, tribalism, or the ancestral home of Osama Bin Laden,” writes blogger Atiaf Alwazir (@womanfromyemen) in her post “The Flawed Media Narrative on Yemen“:
Today’s journalism on Yemen is no longer about getting the facts right, or inspiring people to think independently, it is about who can write the most sensationalized story on the country – no matter how many times it has already been told – because that is what sells.
But some Yemenis are trying to change that. Using film, photography, blogging, and social media, they want the world to see Yemen for its rich art, unique architecture, and the breath-taking landscapes and scenery that the country has to offer.
A panoramic view capturing Yemen’s unique architecture by photographer Mohammed Alnahdi.
Getting to know Yemen
Yemen is the one of the oldest civilizations in the world, with its history dating back to the first millennium B.C.
It was commonly known as Arabia Felix, meaning Fortunate Arabia or Happy Arabia.
In fact, four of the world’s heritage sites are in Yemen.
First, is the old capital itself, Sanaa. One of the oldest inhabited cities in the world, it boasts more than 103 mosques, 14 hammams (baths) and more than 6,000 multi-story mud houses with unique architecture, featuring spectacular decorated facades adorned with stained glass windows.
A video uploaded by UNESCO offers a glimpse of old Sanaa:
Second is Shibam, also known as the “Manhattan of the desert”, which is home to the oldest skyscrapers in the world — 500 mud-brick houses which are eleven stories high.
Shibam, the Manhattan of the desert, by photographer Michail Vorobyev.
Third is the island of Socotra, the largest member of an archipelago site, important for its biodiversity and distinct flora and fauna. According to UNESCO, “37% of Socotra’s 825 plant species, 90% of its reptile species, and 95% of its land snail species do not occur anywhere else in the world.”
Take a look at the island in this YouTube video uploaded by ToYemen:
The last is the picturesque coastal town of Zabid, with its narrow alleyways and burnt brick buildings.
Beyond the media’s portrayal
Various online efforts are being made to combat the media’s narrow view of Yemen.
This short 20-minute video film, made for the British Council’s Zoom Short Film Competition 2010 and uploaded to YouTube by ZoomCompetition, tries to correct misunderstandings about Yemenis conveyed through the distorted media coverage by showing their simple life:
One of my most popular blog posts entitled “Yemen… unraveled facts about my beautiful homeland” highlights many hidden facts about Yemen, such as it being the source of one of the finest and most expensive honey in the world – the “Doani honey” – and one of the first countries to introduce coffee to Europe by exporting its own coffee brand out of the port of Mocha.
Fahd Aqlan, a 35-year-old Yemeni man residing in Cairo, Egypt, started a Facebook page called So you think you’ve seen Yemen? to counter misconceptions and show the world another aspect of Yemen beyond what is portrayed in news headlines.
Summer Nasser, a Yemeni activist and blogger based in New York, started another Facebook page entitled The People of Yemen, which as she describes is a “photo project which brings the life of Yemen, one picture at a time to it’s audience across the world.”
Others have spoken out in support of the country. Yemen-based journalist Adam Baron said in his Drones-Ad-Hoc hearing testimony:
Yemenis, as a rule, are nearly unfathomably friendly and welcoming.
On Twitter, Word Press Award winner and Spanish photojournalist Samuel Aranda (@Samuel_Aranda_) put in a good word for country as a foreigner:
@Samuel_Aranda_: For who thinks that in Yemen are only extremist. Visit Yemen!!! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yNMsm1Fl_X8&feature=related…
Sampling Yemen’s cuisine
Yemeni food is often accompanied by homemade bread and cooked in stoneware. This photo show’s a typical breakfast or dinner made of bread, fava beans, and liver accompanied by tea with milk and cardamon:
A typical Yemeni breakfast or dinner. Photo courtesy “So you think you’ve seen Yemen?” Facebook page.
Bint El Sahn is a very popular and traditional Yemeni dish. Literally translated to English, it means “daughter of the plate.” It is made of many layers of dough, baked and served with a drizzle of honey on top. It is consumed during the meal as a main dish, not a desert.
The famous Bint El Sahn. Photograph by Hend Abdullah
Yemeni Kitchen is a great blog for an introduction to the country’s cuisine. The blog, as described by the authors, “focuses on Yemeni Food with a historical twist.” Not only does it provide a step-by-step recipe of the dishes it introduces, but it also describes the history behind them as well.
Yemeni music and dance
A traditional northern Yemeni dance is called Bara’a and is performed with swift movements carrying a Janbiya, the Yemeni dagger, while dancing to the tunes of the Yemeni drum and muzmar, a type of Yemeni flute. Watch how young people perform this art in this video up loaded to YouTube by GTB313:
To listen to various Yemeni songs and rhythms, check out the following links: Ayoub Tarish is a famous Yemeni singer and composer; Yemen Reform provide YouTube videos of different Yemeni singers performing such as Alharethi, Alanessi, Alkebsi and also various Yemeni Nasheed Asswat Yemenia (Yemeni voices), and in addition to that it has songs for Abu Bakr Salem Balfaqih, Ali Thahban and Mohammed Morsehd Naji among others;
Art, photography, and landscapes This video, uploaded by TourYemen, shows the art, culture, and breathtaking landscape and beautiful scenery in Yemen:
Another panoramic tour of Yemen is available in this video uploaded to YouTube by tomeriko:
A beautiful shot of the old city of Sanaa through the lens of Ameen Alghabri.
A selection of photos of the portal city of Aden by Ameen Alghabri.
A breath taking view of the city of Ibb seen from a cliff. Photo by Abu Malik.
Oil painting by Fouad Al Foutaih, from the private collection of the author of this post, Noon Arabia.
Note: Since 2015, Saudi Kingdom, backed by USA, Britain and Israel have been bombing, and destroying all kinds of infrastructures in Yemen. Hospitals and schools have been air stroked. Sanctions and blockading seas and airlifts has set famine for 8 million kids. And for What? So that USA can have a naval base on the Red Sea.
Who is dangerously wrong about ISIS and Islam?
Note: In all religions, there are factions that seek interpretations and those that want to adhere literally to the words. What if initially the language had no punctuation in the first place?
On Monday, The Atlantic unveiled a new feature piece by Graeme Wood entitled “What ISIS Really Wants,” which claims to expose the foundational theology of the terror group ISIS, also called the Islamic State, which has waged a horrific campaign of violence across Iraq, Syria, and Libya over the past year.
The article is researched, and makes observations about the core religious ideas driving ISIS — namely, a dark, bloodthirsty theology that revolves around an apocalyptic narrative in which ISIS’s black-clad soldiers believe they are playing a pivotal role.
Indeed, CNN’s Peter Bergen published a similar article the next day detailing ISIS’s obsession with the end times, and cited Wood as an “excellent” source, quoting a passage from his article with the kicker “Amen to that.”
by Jack Jenkins Posted on February 18, 2015
Despite this, Wood’s article has encountered staunch criticism and derision from many Muslims and academics who study Islam.
After the article was posted online, Islamic studies Facebook pages and listserves were reportedly awash with comments from intellectuals blasting the article as, among other things, “quite shocking.”
The core issue, they say, is that Wood appears to have fallen prey to an inaccurate trope all too common in many Western circles: that ISIS is an inevitable product of Islam, mainly because the Qur’an and other Islamic texts contain passages that support its horrific acts.
In his article, Wood acknowledged that most Muslims don’t support ISIS, as the sheer number of Muslim groups who have disavowed the terrorist organization or declared it unIslamic is overwhelming.
Yet he repeatedly hints that non-literal Islamic arguments against the terrorist group are useless because justifications for violence are present in texts Muslims hold sacred.
“…simply denouncing the Islamic State as un-Islamic can be counterproductive, especially if those who hear the message have read the holy texts and seen the endorsement of many of the caliphate’s practices written plainly within them.”
Wood writes. “Muslims can say that slavery is not legitimate now, and that crucifixion is wrong at this historical juncture. Many say precisely this. But they cannot condemn slavery or crucifixion outright without contradicting the Koran and the example of the Prophet.”
Although Wood qualifies his claim by pointing briefly to the theological diversity within Islam, Islam scholars argue that he glosses over one of the most important components of any faith tradition: interpretation.
Jerusha Tanner Lamptey, Professor of Islam and Ministry at Union Theological Seminary in New York, told ThinkProgress that Wood’s argument perpetuates the false idea that Islam is a literalistic tradition where violent texts are taken at face value.
“That’s very problematic to anyone who spends any of their time dealing with the diversity of interpretations around texts,” Lamptey said.
“Texts have never been only interpreted literally. They have always been interpreted in multiple ways — and that’s not a chronological thing, that’s been the case from the get-go … [Wood’s comments] create the [impression] that Islam is literalistic, backward-minded, and kind of arcane or archaic, and we’ve moved past that narrative.”
Lamptey also said that Wood’s argument overlooks other Quranic verses that, if taken literally, would contradict ISIS’s actions because “they promote equality, tolerance.”
She pointed to surah 22:39-40 in the Qur’an, which connects the permission for war with the need to protect the houses of worship of other religions — something ISIS, which has destroyed several Christian churches, clearly ignores.
“ISIS exegetes these verses away I am sure, but that’s the point,” she said. “It’s not really about one perspective being literal, one being legitimate, one ignoring things…it’s about diverse interpretations.
But alternative ones tend to not gain any footing with this kind of black-and-white rhetoric. It completely delegitimizes them.”
Wood, of course, didn’t accidentally invent the idea that violent passages in Islamic texts make the religion especially prone to violence, or that ISIS’s supposedly Islamic nature is evidence of deeper issues within the tradition.
These concepts have been around for some time, but are becoming increasingly popular among two groups that usually find themselves ideologically opposed — namely, right-wing conservatives and the so-called “New Atheists,” a subset of atheism in the West.
Leaders from both camps have pointed to violent passages in the Qur’an as evidence that Islam is a ticking time bomb. Rev. Franklin Graham, son of famous evangelist Billy Graham, has regularly attacked Islam using this logic, and recently responded to questions about the Qur’an on Fox News by saying that Islam “is not a religion of peace” but a “violent form of faith.”
Similarly, talk show host and outspoken atheist Bill Maher sparred with Charlie Rose last September over ISIS, saying that people who disavow the group as unIslamic ignore the supposed “connecting tissue” between ISIS and the rest of Islam, noting “The Qur’an absolutely has on every page stuff that’s horrible about how the infidels should be treated.”
But while these positions are widespread, Lamptey noted that they are also potentially dangerous because they play directly into ISIS’s plans. By suggesting that Islam is ultimately beholden to specific literal readings of texts, Lamptey said Wood and other pundits inadvertently validate ISIS’s voice.
“[Wood’s position] confirms exactly what people like ISIS want people to think about them, which is that they are the only legitimate voice,” she said. “It echoes that rhetoric 100%. Yes, that is what ISIS says about themselves, but it is a different step to say ‘Yes, that is true about the Islamic tradition and all Muslims.’”
Nihad Awad, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, expressed a similar sentiment in an interview with Raw Story on Tuesday. He argued that in addition to Wood’s piece being “full of factual mistakes,” its de facto endorsement of literalistic Quranic interpretations amounts to an advertisement for ISIS’s horrific theology.
“Scholars who study Islam, authorities of Islamic jurisprudence, are telling ISIS that they are wrong, and Mr. Wood knows more than what they do, and he’s saying that ISIS is Islamic?” Awad said.
“I don’t think Mr. Wood has the background or the scholarship to make that dangerous statement, that historically inaccurate statement. In a way, I think, he is unintentionally promoting ISIS and doing public relations for ISIS.”
Awad also noted that Wood used “jihad” and “terrorism” interchangeably, which implicitly endorses ISIS’s argument that their savage practices (terrorism) are a spiritually justified religious duty (jihad).
In addition, there is a major issue with Wood’s offhand reference to ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as “the first caliph in generations”: although a caliphate can be established by force, a caliph, by definition, implies the majority support of Muslims (which ISIS does not have) and caliphates are historically respectful of other religious traditions (which ISIS certainly is not).
Lamptey also noted that Wood’s position is demeaning, because it renders invisible the overwhelming majority of Muslims whose theologies rebuke violent atrocities.
Among other things, Wood’s piece extensively quotes Bernard Haykel, a Princeton scholar the journalist relies on heavily throughout the article, who says Muslim leaders who condemn ISIS as unIslamic are typically “embarrassed and politically correct, with a cotton-candy view of their own religion.”
This stands in stark contrast to the bold statements from respected Muslim scholars all over the globe challenging ISIS’s Islamic claims, and Lamptey says such comments can be read by many Muslims as having their peaceful devotion to their own religion second-guessed by people who believe they’re simply “overlooking things.”
“[Wood and others think moderate Muslims] they’re not ‘real’ Muslims, but ‘partial’ Muslims, or even apostate,” she said. “The majority of [Muslims] do not subscribe to [ISIS’s] view of their religion. But they do subscribe to the idea of emulating the Prophet Muhammad, upholding the text, and upholding the tradition, but come up with very different end points about what that looks like.”
“It’s not like these Muslims are ‘kind-of Muslims.’ They’re Muslims who are committed to the prophetic example in the texts and the Qur’an,” she added.
Other Islam scholars say this narrative breeds suspicion of Muslims as a whole. Mohammad Fadel, Associate Professor & Toronto Research Chair for the Law and Economics of Islamic Law at the University of Toronto, told ThinkProgress that these arguments entertain the notion that all Muslims are just one literal reading away from becoming terrorists.
“There already is the background … that stresses the idea that Muslims lie about what they believe,” Fadel told ThinkProgress. “That they really have these dark ambitions, but they just suppress them because of their own strategic purposes of conquest. They pretend to be nice. They pretend to be sympathetic to liberal values, but as soon as they get the chance, they’re going to enslave us all. The idea here is that they’re all potential followers of ISIS.”
“On first reading [Wood’s article] seemed to suggest that a committed Muslim should be sympathetic to ISIS, and protestations to the contrary either are the result of ignorance or the result of deception.” he said. “That’s not helpful, and potentially very dangerous.”
Granted, Fadel and Lamptey agreed that a discussion of ISIS’s apocalyptic theology is important, and were hesitant to single out Haykel. But they remained deeply concerned about the popularity of Wood’s framing, and challenged his assertion that ISIS is a “very Islamic” institution that is somehow representative of the global Muslim community.
“Yes, [ISIS is] Islamic in that they use Islamic sources to justify all their actions,” Fadel said. “But I think the question that bothers most Muslims is the idea that just because someone says they are Muslim or that their actions are representative of Islam doesn’t make it so. Just because a group can appropriate Islamic sources and Islamic symbols, and then go around doing all sorts of awful things, doesn’t mean that they get to be the ones who define for the world what Islam means.”
“Muslims who reject ISIS aren’t doing it because they’re bad Muslims. They just have a compelling version of Islam that they think is much better.”
Note 1: A thousand years before the schism between Catholics and Protestants, Islam had undergone extensive scholarly dialogue between interpretation and literal comprehension of the Koran, and this confrontation lasted for centuries and dozens of voluminous books were written and studied for centuries
Note 2: All these violent factions rely on the biased Hadith (what people said about what Mohammad said or did after his death) and Not in the Koran
Note 3: A few comments on FB:
Yuval Orr I didn’t read Wood’s article as suggesting that ISIS is “right.” I read it instead as an attempt to place the group within a framework of apocalyptic beliefs found in the particular strain of Islam to which it adheres.Andrew Bossone What does “strain of Islam” even mean? Do they follow a particular school of interpretation that developed over the last 1200 years? I can’t help but lump this guy into a group of people who aren’t scholars of a field doing some research and acting like one. Kareem Abdul Jabbar put it pretty well when he compared ISIS as a representative of Islam to the KKK is of Christianity.Here’s another article that explains what’s wrong with Wood’s writing: http://www.middleeasteye.net/…/isis-and-academic-veil
The Land of Stones
When the Wahhabi army, headed by Ibn Saud, entered and occupied cities in the Arabic Peninsula, and Mecca (around 1924), they killed without any discrimination for days: the people praying in mosques, people reading the Coran, the baby breast feeding… And they trampled all the books and manuscripts that came handy to them.
And the jury selected a memorial for 9/11:
Winner is an American Moslem…
Ten years after 9/11, a dazzling, kaleidoscopic novel re-imagines its aftermath
A quick review on Goodreads of Amy Waldman‘s book: The Submission
A jury gathers in Manhattan to select a memorial for the victims of a devastating terrorist attack. Their fraught deliberations complete, the jurors open the envelope containing the anonymous winner’s name—and discover he is an American Muslim.
Instantly they are cast into roiling debate about the claims of grief, the ambiguities of art, and the meaning of Islam. Their conflicted response is only a preamble to the country’s.
The memorial’s designer is an enigmatic, ambitious architect named Mohammad Khan. His fiercest defender on the jury is its sole widow, the self-possessed and mediagenic Claire Burwell.
As the news of his selection leaks to the press, Claire finds herself under pressure from outraged family members and in collision with hungry journalists, wary activists, opportunistic politicians, fellow jurors, and Khan himself—as unknowable as he is gifted.
In the fight for both advantage and their ideals, all will bring the emotional weight of their own histories to bear on the urgent question of how to remember, and understand, a national tragedy.
In this deeply humane novel, the breadth of Amy Waldman’s cast of characters is matched by her startling ability to conjure their perspectives. A striking portrait of a fractured city striving to make itself whole, The Submission is a piercing and resonant novel by an important new talent.
Doubt essential to faith. And mainly to sciences?
Writing biography is a strange thing to do. It’s a journey into the foreign territory of somebody else’s life, a journey, an exploration that can take you places you never dreamed of going and still can’t quite believe you’ve been, especially if, like me, you’re an agnostic Jew and the life you’ve been exploring is that of Muhammad.
0:40 Five years ago, for instance, I found myself waking each morning in misty Seattle to what I knew was an impossible question: What actually happened one desert night, half the world and almost half of history away?
What happened, that is, on the night in the year 610 when Muhammad received the first revelation of the Koran on a mountain just outside Mecca?
This is the core mystical moment of Islam, and as such, of course, it defies empirical analysis. Yet the question wouldn’t let go of me. I was fully aware that for someone as secular as I am, just asking it could be seen as pure chutzpah. (Laughter)
And I plead guilty as charged, because all exploration, physical or intellectual, is inevitably in some sense an act of transgression, of crossing boundaries.
Still, some boundaries are larger than others. So a human encountering the divine, as Muslims believe Muhammad did, to the rationalist, this is a matter not of fact but of wishful fiction, and like all of us, I like to think of myself as rational.
Which might be why when I looked at the earliest accounts we have of that night, what struck me even more than what happened was what did not happen. Muhammad did not come floating off the mountain as though walking on air.
He did not run down shouting, “Hallelujah!” and “Bless the Lord!” He did not radiate light and joy. There were no choirs of angels, no music of the spheres, no elation, no ecstasy, no golden aura surrounding him, no sense of an absolute, fore-ordained role as the messenger of God. That is, he did none of the things that might make it easy to cry foul, to put down the whole story as a pious fable.
Quite the contrary. In his own reported words, he was convinced at first that what had happened couldn’t have been real. At best, he thought, it had to have been a hallucination — a trick of the eye or the ear, perhaps, or his own mind working against him.
At worst, possession — that he’d been seized by an evil jinn, a spirit out to deceive him, even to crush the life out of him. In fact, he was so sure that he could only be majnun, possessed by a jinn, that when he found himself still alive, his first impulse was to finish the job himself, to leap off the highest cliff and escape the terror of what he’d experienced by putting an end to all experience.
The man who fled down the mountain that night trembled not with joy but with a stark, primordial fear. He was overwhelmed not with conviction, but by doubt. And that panicked disorientation, that sundering of everything familiar, that daunting awareness of something beyond human comprehension, can only be called a terrible awe.
4:33 This might be somewhat difficult to grasp now that we use the word “awesome” to describe a new app or a viral video. With the exception perhaps of a massive earthquake, we’re protected from real awe. We close the doors and hunker down, convinced that we’re in control, or, at least, hoping for control.
We do our best to ignore the fact that we don’t always have it, and that not everything can be explained. Yet whether you’re a rationalist or a mystic, whether you think the words Muhammad heard that night came from inside himself or from outside, what’s clear is that he did experience them, and that he did so with a force that would shatter his sense of himself and his world and transform this otherwise modest man into a radical advocate for social and economic justice.
Fear was the only sane response, the only human response.
Too human for some, like conservative Muslim theologians who maintain that the account of his wanting to kill himself shouldn’t even be mentioned, despite the fact that it’s in the earliest Islamic biographies. They insist that he never doubted for even a single moment, let alone despaired.
Demanding perfection, they refuse to tolerate human imperfection. Yet what, exactly, is imperfect about doubt? As I read those early accounts, I realized it was precisely Muhammad’s doubt that brought him alive for me, that allowed me to begin to see him in full, to accord him the integrity of reality.
And the more I thought about it, the more it made sense that he doubted, because doubt is essential to faith.
If this seems a startling idea at first, consider that doubt, as Graham Greene once put it, is the heart of the matter. Abolish all doubt, and what’s left is not faith, but absolute, heartless conviction.
You’re certain that you possess the Truth — inevitably offered with an implied uppercase T — and this certainty quickly devolves into dogmatism and righteousness, by which I mean a demonstrative, overweening pride in being so very right, in short, the arrogance of fundamentalism.
It has to be one of the multiple ironies of history that a favorite expletive of Muslim fundamentalists is the same one once used by the Christian fundamentalists known as Crusaders: “infidel,” from the Latin for “faithless.”
Doubly ironic, in this case, because their absolutism is in fact the opposite of faith. In effect, they are the infidels. Like fundamentalists of all religious stripes, they have no questions, only answers. They found the perfect antidote to thought and the ideal refuge of the hard demands of real faith.
They don’t have to struggle for it like Jacob wrestling through the night with the angel, or like Jesus in his 40 days and nights in the wilderness, or like Muhammad, not only that night on the mountain, but throughout his years as a prophet, with the Koran constantly urging him not to despair, and condemning those who most loudly proclaim that they know everything there is to know and that they and they alone are right.
Yet we, the vast and still far too silent majority, have ceded the public arena to this extremist minority. We’ve allowed Judaism to be claimed by violently messianic West Bank settlers, Christianity by homophobic hypocrites and misogynistic bigots, Islam by suicide bombers. And we’ve allowed ourselves to be blinded to the fact that no matter whether they claim to be Christians, Jews or Muslims, militant extremists are none of the above.
They’re a cult all their own, blood brothers steeped in other people’s blood.
This isn’t faith. It’s fanaticism, and we have to stop confusing the two. We have to recognize that real faith has no easy answers. It’s difficult and stubborn. It involves an ongoing struggle, a continual questioning of what we think we know, a wrestling with issues and ideas. It goes hand in hand with doubt, in a never-ending conversation with it, and sometimes in conscious defiance of it.
This conscious defiance is why I, as an agnostic, can still have faith. I have faith, for instance, that peace in the Middle East is possible despite the ever-accumulating mass of evidence to the contrary. I’m not convinced of this. I can hardly say I believe it. I can only have faith in it, commit myself, that is, to the idea of it, and I do this precisely because of the temptation to throw up my hands in resignation and retreat into silence.
Because despair is self-fulfilling.
If we call something impossible, we act in such a way that we make it so. And I, for one, refuse to live that way. In fact, most of us do, whether we’re atheist or theist or anywhere in between or beyond, for that matter, what drives us is that, despite our doubts and even because of our doubts, we reject the nihilism of despair.
We insist on faith in the future and in each other. Call this naive if you like. Call it impossibly idealistic if you must. But one thing is sure: Call it human.
Could Muhammad have so radically changed his world without such faith, without the refusal to cede to the arrogance of closed-minded certainty? I think not.
After keeping company with him as a writer for the past five years, I can’t see that he’d be anything but utterly outraged at the militant fundamentalists who claim to speak and act in his name in the Middle East and elsewhere today.
He’d be appalled at the repression of half the population because of their gender. He’d be torn apart by the bitter divisiveness of sectarianism.
He’d call out terrorism for what it is, not only criminal but an obscene travesty of everything he believed in and struggled for. He’d say what the Koran says: Anyone who takes a life takes the life of all humanity. Anyone who saves a life, saves the life of all humanity. And he’d commit himself fully to the hard and thorny process of making peace
WHY NBC had to Alters Account of Correspondent’s Kidnapping in Syria?
NBC News on Wednesday revised its account of the 2012 kidnapping of its chief foreign correspondent, Richard Engel, saying it was likely that Mr. Engel and his reporting team had been abducted by a Sunni militant group, not forces affiliated with the government of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria.
In a statement posted on the NBC News website Wednesday evening, Mr. Engel said that a review of the episode — prompted by reporting from The New York Times — had led him to conclude that “the group that kidnapped us was Sunni, not Shia.” He also wrote that the abductors had “put on an elaborate ruse to convince us they were Shiite shabiha militiamen.”
Mr. Engel and his team were kidnapped in December 2012 while reporting in Syria. They were held for five days. Just hours after emerging, they appeared on the “Today” show.
“This was a group known as the shabiha, this was the government militia, these are people who are loyal to President Bashar al-Assad,” Mr. Engel said on “Today,” citing information he had gathered from the group.
In that and other appearances on NBC, and in a Vanity Fair magazine article, he said that he had been rescued by Sunni rebels. At least two people died during the course of the captivity, he said in some versions of the account.
Interviews by The Times with several dozen people — including many of those involved in the search for NBC’s team, rebel fighters and activists in Syria and current and former NBC News employees — suggested that Mr. Engel’s team was almost certainly taken by a Sunni criminal element affiliated with the Free Syrian Army, the loose alliance of rebels opposed to Mr. Assad.
The group, known as the North Idlib Falcons Brigade, was led by two men, Azzo Qassab and Shukri Ajouj, who had a history of smuggling and other crimes.
The kidnapping ended, the people involved in the search said, when the team was freed by another rebel group, Ahrar al-Sham, which had a relationship with Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj.
Mr. Engel and his team underwent a harrowing ordeal, and it is a common tactic for kidnappers in war zones to intentionally mislead hostages as to their identity.
NBC executives were informed of Mr. Ajouj and Mr. Qassab’s possible involvement during and after Mr. Engels’s captivity, according to current and former NBC employees and others who helped search for Mr. Engel, including political activists and security professionals. Still, the network moved quickly to put Mr. Engel on the air with an account blaming Shiite captors and did not present the other possible version of events.
An NBC News spokesman said the network would have no comment beyond the statement posted on its site. Vanity Fair said it had no immediate comment.
Just two months ago, NBC News suspended Brian Williams, its nightly news anchor, after he exaggerated an account of a helicopter episode in Iraq in 2003. The furor that surrounded Mr. Williams’s suspension led to a management shake-up in the news division, and the installation of Andrew Lack, a former NBC News president, as head of the operation.
NBC’s own assessment during the kidnapping had focused on Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj, according to a half-dozen people involved in the recovery effort. NBC had received GPS data from the team’s emergency beacon that showed it had been held early in the abduction at a chicken farm widely known by local residents and other rebels to be controlled by the Sunni criminal group.
NBC had sent an Arab envoy into Syria to drive past the farm, according to three people involved in the efforts to locate Mr. Engel, and engaged in outreach to local commanders for help in obtaining the team’s release. These three people declined to be identified, citing safety considerations.
Ali Bakran, a rebel commander who assisted in the search, said in an interview that when he confronted Mr. Qassab and Mr. Ajouj with the GPS map, “Azzo and Shukri both acknowledged having the NBC reporters.”
Several rebels and others with detailed knowledge of the episode said that the safe release of NBC’s team was staged after consultation with rebel leaders when it became clear that holding them might imperil the rebel efforts to court Western support.
Abu Hassan, a local medic who is close to the rebel movement, and who was involved in seeking the team’s release, said that when the kidnappers realized that all the other rebels in the area were working to get the captives out, they decided to create a ruse to free them and blame the kidnapping on the Assad regime. “It was there that the play was completed,” he said, speaking of the section of road Mr. Engel and the team were freed on.
Thaer al-Sheib, another local man connected with the rebel movement who sought the NBC team, said that on the day of the release “we heard some random shots for less than a minute coming from the direction of the farm.” He said that Abu Ayman, the rebel commander credited with freeing the team, is related by marriage to Mr. Ajouj, and that he staged the rescue.
Mr. Engel, in his statement, said he did not have a “definitive account of what happened that night.” He acknowledged the group that freed him had ties to his captors, but said he had received conflicting information.
“We managed to reach a man, who, according to both Syrian and U.S. intelligence sources, was one of Abu Ayman’s main fund-raisers,” he wrote. “He insists that Abu Ayman’s men shot and killed two of our kidnappers.”
Mr. Engel said the kidnapping “became a sensitive issue” for Mr. Ayman. “Abu Ayman and his superiors were hoping to persuade the U.S. to provide arms to them,” he wrote. “Having American journalists taken on what was known to be his turf could block that possibility.”
In his Vanity Fair article, Mr. Engel described one of his captors lying dead. In his statement Wednesday, he acknowledged that he did not see bodies during the rescue.
He said that one of his producers, Aziz Akyavas, climbed out of the van through the driver-side door, stepping over a body. “I climbed out of the passenger-side door,” he wrote.
“A bearded gunman approached and said that we were safe now. That was our introduction to Abu Ayman. He said that he and his men had killed the two kidnappers. Under the circumstances, and especially since Aziz said that he had seen and stepped over a body, I didn’t doubt it and later reported it as fact.”