Black Wednesday in Egypt

There is plenty of blame to go around for the horrific violence in Egypt. But I agree with Juan Cole that the majority of that blame falls on the shoulders of the military, whose actions since the coup have made it clear that they have no interest in conciliation or national unity but only in crushing the Muslim Brotherhood once and for all. Check in out for a refresher on all the events and a little insight into how to make heads or tails of it.

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A Historian’s Take on Turkey

Best thing I have yet read on the protests in Turkey. I also like his annoyance at the use, and misuse, of history and historical memory.

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Why I stand with Taksim

Today I went to an LA demonstration in solidarity with the Turkish protestors in Istanbul and across the country. What started out as a protest against the destruction of a city park has spiraled into a larger movement against authoritarianism, a problem which is certainly not new to Turkey. There is a perception that the government, under the leadership of Tayyip Erdogan and the AKP, is becoming increasingly bullheaded and indifferent to building consensus across the wide political spectrum. The decision to raze the park was controversial for many reasons (the removal of trees, the destruction of a space for public gathering, and the influence of big corporations and developers in wanting to replace the park with shops and condominiums), and the government’s decision to move ahead “no matter what” was viewed as tyrannical.


The rough handling of the Occupy Gezi protestors seemed to confirm these suspicions. The indiscriminate use of tear gas and water cannons against peaceful protestors immediately sparked an outcry against police brutality, and the protest movement swelled and spread to other cities. This movement has also been supported by an increasing antagonism among many Turks against the ruling party. While Erdogan and his party were popular enough to continue to win elections, one could say that there is a large contingent of the population that is highly suspicious of the party’s Islamist tilt. In the last few years there has been a steady increase in government legislation against alcohol (huge increases in tax and a recent prohibition of selling alcohol during late night hours), which has fueled many Turks suspicions that the AKP is working to slowly chip away at the country’s staunchly protected secularism. This sentiment is certainly playing a role in the protest movement, although I think the demonstrations reflect much more than just this aspect. 

For me, it isn’t about Islamization or secularism. It isn’t even about the AKP or Erdogan in particular. It is about authoritarianism and the struggle for a more inclusive government. Anyone who knows anything about Turkey’s history should find it amusing that protestors call Erdogan a dictator while holding up a sign praising Ataturk, the “father” of the modern Turkish state. While there are undoubtedly many things for which one could praise Mustafa Kemal for, inclusive and democratic governance is not among them. For most of its history, the biggest enemy of Turkish democracy has not been the Islamists, but rather the secular nationalists and the coup-prone military. The election of the AKP (and the absence of military interference) was actually viewed as a step forward for Turkish democracy, as it signaled an opening of the political space and a bridling of the military under civilian control. However, the recent events in Taksim have made it clear that the nascent democracy is once again under attack. Erdogan’s ridiculous statement that “all attempts apart from the ballot box are not democratic” is not only patently false but also frightening in its implications for how he and his party view governance. Peaceful protest is absolutely an important part of the democratic process. Citizens have a right to communicate their views with the government that is supposed to represent them. Governments should initiate a dialogue with protestors, not attempt to bully them into silence with tear gas and water cannons. I stand with Taksim because free speech is truly the foundation of any open and democratic society. And that is something that both Islamist and secular Turkish governments need to respect.


For more on the protests and government response, see this Jadiliyya article

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Hijab Fashion

I enjoyed this article that highlights a number of the Hijabi fashionistas who share their tips and spunk on the web. Check it out for your daily dose of stereotype-busting inspiration.


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Back in the News

This past Tuesday, my colleagues and I were discussing the absence of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the news. I found the absence of media attention to be disheartening–a sign not of an improved situation but of a growing public indifference to the persistence of the problem. I also thought it might have to do with a reluctance on the part of the international community to press Israel on the question of the occupation, given the current uncertainties of the Syrian civil war. Needless to say, our conversation felt like a moot point after the Israeli assassination of Hamas official Ahmed Jabari (along with his son) and the subsequent escalation of violence between Hamas and the Israeli state.

So why did Israeli decide to kill Jabari? It is too easy to write-off the assassination as the obvious choice, to say that all Hamas officials are somehow subject to execution at any time. Israel can use the term “terrorist” as a way to justify this killing, but this simplistic language belies the more nuanced forces at work. As this article points out, Jabari was a known entity to Israel, and was even instrumental in ensuring the recent calm between the Strip and Israel. As this article points out, Jabari was considering the terms of a long-term truce when he was killed. Gershon Bashkin, an Israeli activist interviewed in that article, is explicit in his suspicions that the Netanyahu government, on the eve of an election, was eager to appear tough on Gaza.

I can only imagine that the assassination of Jaabari has bought us the entry card to Cast Lead II. This time, the experts say, “Let’s finish them off. Let’s do the job that we didn’t do last time. Let’s do a regime change.” Well, I ask: what then? Do we really want to reoccupy Gaza, because that will be the consequence of a regime change. I don’t believe that Netanyahu wants re-occupation. So if that is not what he wants, he must be aware that, on the morning after, we will still be living next to Gaza, which still be run by Hamas. They are not going away and the people of Gaza are not going away.

The assassination of Jaabari was a pre-emptive strike against the possibility of a long term ceasefire. Netanyahu has acted with extreme irresponsibility. He has endangered the people of Israel and struck a real blow against the few important more pragmatic elements within Hamas. He has given another victory to those who seek our destruction, rather than strengthen those who are seeking to find a possibility to live side-by-side, not in peace, but in quiet.

As always, be skeptical of what you read about this conflict. Be skeptical of U.S. government statements which urge countries like Egypt and Turkey to urge Hamas to exercise restraint on firing rockets but say that it is “up to the Israeli Government” whether or not they launch a ground assault into the Strip. If the United States truly wants to avoid indiscriminate killing of civilians (which, if it were real, would be an admirable goal) then it would recognize that Israeli assaults on Gaza are anything but surgical or targeted. I sincerely believe that there is not going to be a military solution to this conflict. This revival of violence will only postpone any eventual solution, and once again, it will be ordinary individuals who pay the heaviest price.

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Critical Thinking

Sometimes my greatest wish is for everyone in the world to think critically. I know that such a wish is inhibited by the real forces of poverty, illiteracy, violence, and ideology, but it would just be so nice if everyone paused and said, “does this make sense?” Would the hate-mongering bigots behind the film be so convinced that every Muslim in America and the world is a secret member of al-Qaeda? Would Rush Limbaugh still spread the absolutely insane theory that Al Qaeda gave up Osama Bin Laden because they wanted Obama to be re-elected because he would be softer on them and their mission to destroy Israel? (Yes, the logic makes my head hurt too). Would an Egyptian still protest against an obscure film that was clearly made just to push his buttons? And, would Joe Scarborough really think that all Muslims (about 1/6 of the world’s population) mindlessly hate the United States just because a tiny portion of that population is currently protesting?

Well, I am happy to say that I am not the only one who seems annoyed by the lack of critical thinking. Last week I saw this awesome photo on the Facebook wall of an Egyptian group that I follow. It seems to be taken in Syria, where someone is poignantly contrasting the current outcry over the American film with the staggering, global silence over the continued slaughter of Muslims in Syria. “Every day there are films from Syria that are insulting to God and the Prophet. Where are you, Muslims?” As of Monday morning this, 12,000 people liked this post–way more people than were at the protests at any of the embassies. Now that is some critical thinking for you.

“Every day there are films from Syria that are insulting to God and the Prophet. Where are you, Muslims?”

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Anger and Ignorance

Yesterday there were protests in Cairo and Benghazi over an American film that was described in Arabic media as “attacking Islam” and depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a womanizer and a pedophile. Despite the obscure status of the film (There are cat videos on youtube which deserve more news coverage) it was sensationalized by Arabic media, which has clearly taken a page from the Fox News handbook. In Benghazi, the protests turned violent, and resulted in the tragic deaths of 4 Americans, including the U.S. Ambassador. I have a lot of anger to sort out. Anger at the killers who senselessly stole lives. I am angry at the Sam Becile, Terry Jones, and all of the other idiotic filmmakers who produced a piece of offensive garbage. I am angry at the translators who made it available to millions of viewers around the world, and the media that covered it and made it seem like something more than the rantings of a madman. I am angry at the protesters who unleashed their unprocessed, unanalyzed frustrations and anger onto the U.S. government. Finally, I am pissed off at the dictators–and the imperialists before them–who created a closed-political culture, where open debate and freedom of speech are not sacred principles.

There is also a lot of ignorance to go around. Ignorance about Islam, Ignorance about Americans, and Ignorance about why “they” are “so angry.” It is never easy to explain the roots of anyone’s rage (Sorry, Dinesh D’Souza), but you don’t have to know that much Middle Eastern history before you realize that there is a lot to be pissed off about. Whether it’s the British imperialists or the U.S. backed dictators, it would be easy for an Egyptian to feel a little disrespected and disenfranchised. And while it looks like a show of strength, Muslim anger over offensive cartoons or videos is actually a reaction to a perceived attack against Islam. In much of the Muslim world, there is a profound feeling of Islam being under siege. The millions of casualties (mostly Muslim) from the U.S. War on Terror, European intolerance of Muslim practices, and continued global tolerance of Israeli colonization of Palestine–these all contribute to the perception that Islam is being attacked. Add a little nationalist propaganda and sensational news reporting, and you have a tinderbox. So when there are offensive videos or cartoons that depict the Prophet as a pedophile, womanizer, or terrorist, it shouldn’t be all that surprising that there is anger. Any resulting violence is not justifiable, but neither is ignorance about why some people are so damn pissed off.

For more reading, see my previous post on Terry Jones and the role of the media in inciting hatred, and latest report on possibility that incident in Benghazi was not spontaneous mob violence but a planned attack

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