My Blog Article in Today’s Zaman

28 10 2013

What’s Wrong With This Picture?  Saudi Arabia

http://www.todayszaman.com/blog/hayat-alvi-329853-whats-wrong-with-this-picture.html

 

Saudi Activist





Neo-Interventionism in Syria and Casting Blind Eyes

22 07 2012

“’As we watched the efficient attack on Assad’s National Security council on Wednesday, Assad found himself one minister of defense and brother-in-law short.  Interventions have been taking place in the 17 month old conflict since its inception, and the only issue now is for those who have picked their horse – in this case, the unpredictable, unknown creature called the Syrian opposition – to bide their time.

What we are watching now is the increasingly rapid entropy of the Assad regime and not without the considerable aid from several intelligence agencies which are many and varied – Jordanians, the Central Intelligence Agency, British, French and Turkish agents’.”

This is a quote from an online blog called “Above Top Secret,” which includes analysis from Stratfor Intelligence (a private open-source intelligence firm).  I was also recently quoted for a Reuters piece on Syria speculating the same thing:  that the sophisticated bombing successfully taking out key senior officials in Assad’s inner circle could not have happened without outside help, as well as an insider turncoat.  It was indeed a spectacular attack that has shaken but not collapsed the regime.

The alleged outside support, which I am coining “Neo-Interventionism,” is not new or unique to the Middle East, especially in terms of supposed covert assistance being given to Syrian rebels.  However, this neo-interventionism is unique in the sense that the outside supporters of the opposition see Syria as a means to undermine the Iranians.  And, as much as some are profusely denying that a sectarian component exists in this scenario, it is clear as day that the backing of the opposition by conservative Sunni / Wahhabi Saudi Arabia, and Qatar, is imbued with the Sunni-Shiite rivalry and geopolitical, regional, and ideological competition.  No one would be happier to poke the Iranian regime in the eye, and pull the rug out from underneath them, more than the Saudis and their allies, which includes Western powers.

Yet, many scholars, analysts, media, and regional and Western powers are conveniently turning a blind eye to this and a few other uncomfortable truths.  Among these is the fact that the Saudis and Qataris are not involving themselves out of the goodness of their hearts.  They see a golden opportunity here, but with gross disregard to the regional risks and perils that such neo-interventionism harbors.  Part of my neo-interventionist theory is that old lessons from history are never learned, and the parties involved are bound to repeat history, like the civil war in Syria that is very similar to the civil war in Lebanon (or will ultimately morph into such).  The only difference is that now there are some new actors involved in new contexts.  The configurations and in some cases even the grudges remain unchanged.

Another uncomfortable truth is that atrocities and crimes are being committed by both the Asad regime and the opposition rebels.  Robert Fisk of the Independent reports at least 200 women outside of Homs have been raped by both sides, and the actual numbers of victims could be much higher throughout Syria.  Extrajudicial killings and kidnappings are also taking place.

Yet another uncomfortable truth is that no one actually knows the composition of the rebels, and that among them are some unsavory characters, including hard-line Salafists, criminals, and drug addicts.

Quoting Robert Fisk again in his piece dated July 22, entitled “Sectarianism Bites into Syria’s Rebels,” he cites a young man who works for the Syrian opposition, upon his arrival to an office in Beirut.  He bears a message for the opposition in Beirut just before the Damascus operation:

“His story was as revealing as it was frightening. Damascus was about to be attacked. But the fighters were out of control. There were drug addicts among them. ‘Some of our people are on drugs,’ the visitor said. ‘They will take anyone out. We can’t guarantee what some of these men will do. If they went into Malki [a mixed, middle-class area of central Damascus], we couldn’t protect any of the people who live there. We are against the Salafists who are fighting – there are good Syrians, Druze and Ishmaeilis [Alawites] who are with us. But if we capture Damascus, we don’t know how to run a small town, let alone a country’.”

If there is a lesson to learn from it’s the case of Libya, which is still a mess and where violence and kidnappings continue to plague society.  But, Libya is nothing compared to Syria, especially with the potential for spillover of the civil war into Lebanon.  If we think the case of Libya is turning into a transitional nightmare, then we must brace ourselves further for Syria’s civil war, as well as for the uncertainties pertaining to the post-Asad era.  There is much speculation about what a post-Asad Syria would look like, but another uncomfortable truth is that the likelihood for power struggles, sectarian cleansing, ideological spats, and chaotic violence is very high.

There is no doubt that the Syrian civilians are suffering, including refugees fleeing to neighboring countries.  They deserve security and protection, and a long-term solution for the future health of their country.  In my opinion, the Asad regime and the rebels are disregarding the plight of the civilians caught in the middle of the conflict zones.  And, the rest of the world is impotent, except for the neo-interventionism, which is myopically pursuing respective national interests, rather than genuinely concerned about the innocent non-combatants.

Says Robert Fisk:

“Now, of course, Saudi Arabia and Qatar, where al-Jazeera is based, make no secret of the funds and weapons they are running into Turkey and Lebanon for the resistance – without apparently caring very much who the ‘resisters’ are. The Lebanese army managed to stop one out of five shiploads of guns, but the others, carried on Sierra Leone-registered vessels, were able to unload.”

If either side – whether the Asad regime, the opposition groups, Free Syrian Army / rebels, and the foreign supporters – really cared about the Syrian civilian population, they all would stop what they are doing right now, lay down their arms, and sit at the negotiating table.  Obviously, they each have their own agendas for Syria and possibly the region, and their actions show that the civilians are pawns and dispensable entities.  Syria can end up becoming the Middle East’s Afghanistan.

Fisk’s last paragraph says:

“One of the two organizations that claimed responsibility for last week’s Damascus bombing, Liwa Islam – the Islam Brigade – raises again the Salafist element in Syria’s armed opposition. One newly arrived refugee from Syria told me last week that they have forbidden alcohol and openly say they intend to die fighting in Damascus. Given the savage response of the Syrian regime, they may get their last wish.”

It doesn’t seem to matter to them who gets in the way.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views





Holocaust Denial versus “Insulting” the Prophet Muhammad

11 02 2012

I am terribly annoyed by something I am seeing in online comments about the issue of and punishments for “blasphemy” in Islam, as compared to “censorship” against Holocaust denial.  The debate is in reference to the 23-year-old Saudi journalist, Hamza Kashgari, who is about to be extradited from Malaysia back to Saudi Arabia to face punishment (possible death) for tweeting comments that have been perceived by many as “insulting to the Prophet” and blasphemous.

I’m annoyed by the comparison because the analogy is completely illogical and offensive.  Let’s analyze this:  denying the well documented slaughter of 6 million Jews, non-Jews, gypsies, the disabled, nonconformists, and homosexuals by the Nazis, as compared to the words of a young man that are subjectively perceived as “insulting” to a mortal man (Muslims are quick to remind everyone that the Prophet was a mortal man), who died in the year 632 A.D. – Really, does that make any sense?

The Nazis killed millions, plunging Europe into a horrific set of wars and atrocities, and occupied free lands in their neighborhood while imposing a rabid, terrifying fascist ideology on everyone, and anyone who did not embrace it faced death; the Nazis also conveniently created scapegoats for their sinister agendas.

Hamza Kashgari has harmed absolutely no one.  He has committed no crime.  He is only 23, and has his whole life ahead of him.  And, he apologized for and retracted the comments he tweeted.

There is NO balance in the argument that intolerance of Holocaust denial equals the perceived gravity of the subjective comments (words, no less) of one individual towards another (deceased) individual.  That is a ridiculous argument.  I am not discounting what the person of the Prophet means to Muslims, but the analogy still defies logic.

And, as much as Nazi ideology is considered repulsive, the right of Neo-Nazis to demonstrate in public is still upheld as a First Amendment right in the US.

I counted at least 12 reports of Neo-Nazi public marches in the US in the year 2011 alone, and I didn’t even get through the entire list.  In my search I also saw numerous references to “Nazi terrorist groups” and how law enforcement in the US and Europe is trying to crack down on them.  This is not because of Holocaust denial, but because some of them are truly violent, targeting minority groups, attacking and in some cases killing them.

And as much as censorship is repulsive to First Amendment loyalists like me, I can still understand, as a political scientist, why Germany has to uphold a law that prohibits Holocaust denial.  Look at the context, that’s where Nazism was born.  Not only does Germany feel guilt for that, but also bears a responsibility never to allow such violent hate-mongers to rise again.  It’s too bad that it infringes on the rights of average citizens, but nonetheless, German sensitivities are understandable in this context.

So, back to Holocaust denial, which seems to be the default argument that many grab onto, how would you like it if the Spanish Inquisition and the Crusades were denied?  How about the genocides in Bosnia, Darfur, Cambodia, Rwanda, and let’s throw Libya in the list, since the entire R2P mandate was invoked to prevent a “genocide” at the hands of Qaddafi – what if all of these well documented cases were denied?  Not only do such denials fail to disprove that these atrocities actually occurred, but such denials are also offensive.  But yet, we don’t hear about anyone lobbing death threats at someone who has denied the Holocaust, even though it’s terribly offensive.

Hamza Kashgari, on the other hand, has received thousands of death threats (see my earlier posting “Saudi Specter in Syria” for more details about Kashgari’s tweets).  According to the Christian Science Monitor (Feb. 10) –

Kashgari’s harassment is not out of the blue, nor, apparently, based on these tweets alone. He has been the target of religious Twitter users for months. ‘Public shaming through hashtags is now a common Saudi pressure tactic, especially against public officials and government scandals,’ said his friend.

Saudi Arabia‘s information minister has commanded that no one publish any of Kashgari’s writings. Prior to this incident, he was a columnist with al-Bilad, a newspaper based in the eastern city of Jeddah.

‘I have instructed all newspapers and magazines in the kingdom not to allow him to write anything and we will take legal measures against him.’

Gee, that sounds a lot like religious fascism to me!  In case you’re wondering, this is how the dictionary defines fascism:  “A governmental system led by a dictator having complete power, forcibly suppressing opposition and criticism, regimenting all industry, commerce, etc., and emphasizing aggressive nationalism and often racism.”  We can certainly throw “religious intolerance” into that description, especially when it comes to the Saudi regime (and we can’t ignore the Iranian regime – e.g., Rushdie death sentence in the 1980s).

If you want to deny the Holocaust, knock yourself out.  I can practically guarantee that you will not receive any death threats for it.  But, just don’t presume that Holocaust denial and blasphemy in Islam are issues of equal measure, because they definitely are not.

Muslims who espouse death for “blasphemy” and “apostasy” – all highly subjective notions – need to transcend the Medieval Europe mindset.  Otherwise, the world will see them as having no value for human life, and will only reinforce the terrible negative stereotypes that already exist about Islam and Muslims.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





The Saudi Specter in Syria and the World

10 02 2012

My recent post about Syria, the Russian bear, and Iran passionately describes the plight of innocent civilians being killed in Syria.  While my supportive sentiments for the human rights of Syrians remain steadfast, there are some developments and stories within the stories that are not reaching the mainstream press, and are alarming signs that Syria may be spiraling into another Lebanon (i.e., the civil war in Lebanon, 1975-1990).

One of these signs is the sectarian strife, where reports about Sunnis and Alawites targeting each other, as well as kidnapping for ransom and release of detainees, are surfacing.  Of course, the Assad regime itself has most likely intensified such sectarianism, but nonetheless, the fierce sectarian violence witnessed in the Lebanese civil war is a potential scenario in today’s Syria.  I have already seen at least one anti-Shiite posting on Facebook in reference to Syria.

This brings me to the other specter pertaining to Syria:  the Saudis, with their Wahhabi and very anti-Shiite (read “anti-Iran”) agenda for the region.  No one should be surprised with Saudi propositions for the need to end the slaughter in Syria.  But, we should read between the lines very carefully, considering the source.  Al Arabiya quotes Saudi King Abdullah as calling for “‘critical measures’ to be taken on Syria, warning of an impending ‘humanitarian disaster’.”

Uh-huh.  This is the same Saudi monarch who sent tanks and troops into Bahrain and viciously cracked down on and killed and abused countless civilians to quell the uprising there.  But you see, the Bahraini protesters were mostly Shiites, and once the dust settled in Pearl Square, Shiite shrines were systematically bulldozed.  Starting to see the picture folks?

In my book, the Saudi “government” is never sincere about humanitarian issues.  Look at their own track record inside the kingdom; it’s the epitome of intolerance.  The Saudis are one of the creators of the Taliban, and the supporters and exporters of the most intolerant, ultra-orthodox / literalist, violent, misogynist, and militancy-inspiring ideology in the world, that is, Wahhabism.

If you have any doubts about the Saudis’ human rights track record, go to the Human Rights Watch website and read the country report on Saudi Arabia (http://www.hrw.org/middle-eastn-africa/saudi-arabia).  And, here is another example of Saudi intolerance, reported in David Keyes’ article in the Washington Post (Feb. 9):

“Saudi journalist Hamza Kashgari was detained in Malaysia on Wednesday night and is likely to be extradited soon to Saudi Arabia, where he will be tried for blaspheming religion. Kashgari, 23, had fled the kingdom Monday after he received thousands of death threats. His crime? He posted on Twitter a series of mock conversations between himself and the Islamic prophet Muhammad.

‘On your birthday I find you in front of me wherever I go,’ he wrote in one tweet. ‘I love many things about you and hate others, and there are many things about you I don’t understand.’

Another reads: ‘No Saudi women will go to hell, because it’s impossible to go there twice.’

The tweets came to light last week around a celebration of Muhammad’s birthday, and Kashgari’s ordeal began. Hours before he was detained, Kashgari spoke to me by phone from the house in which he was hiding. ‘I was with sitting with my friends and one of them checked Twitter on his mobile phone,’ he said. ‘Suddenly there were thousands of tweets of people calling to kill me because they said I’m against religion.’

… Kashgari noted with sadness that many young Saudis are leaving their country in hopes of escaping the government’s repressive policies. ‘It’s not logical that, if someone disagrees with the Saudi government, that he should be forced to leave the country. Many of those who have been arrested are fighting for simple rights that everyone should have — freedom of thought, expression, speech and religion.’

The young writer surmised that the threats against him were, in part, a result of the tens of millions of dollars the Saudi king allotted to the religious police last spring. Many Saudi dissidents have noted increased repression in the past few months and are terrified of the ascent of Crown Prince Naif, who has served as interior minister for decades.”

Reports are indicating that Saudi King Abdullah has personally demanded Kashgari’s arrest.  If Kashgari is extradited, he faces the possibility of execution for blasphemy.  This is coming from a strong US ally.

All of this does not in any way exonerate the crimes of the Assad regime.  But, we must remain vigilant about scrutinizing sources of information and news, and read between the lines when heads of state in the region so vociferously call for action to help the Syrian civilians.  Clearly, they have their own agendas, and that couldn’t be more the case when it comes to the Saudi king.  Hypocrisy, intolerance, and systematic anti-Shiite agendas constitute the Saudi specter concerning Syria.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.





Danger Ahead: Tipping the Ideological Balance in the Persian Gulf

10 01 2012

Attacking Iran would be an ideological victory for hard-line Salafists / Wahhabis, tipping the regional balance-of-power in favor of the ultra-orthodox.  This is not a minor consequence.  Like it or not, Iran’s Twelver Shiite national ideology is somewhat of a counterbalance to the ultra-orthodox Salafists in the region.

The Egyptian parliamentary election results show that the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom & Justice party gained 193 seats (45.2%), and more worrying are the gains of Al-Nour, the Salafist party, which has 108 seats (25.3%), according to Jadaliyya.  And the Saudis are arming themselves to the teeth.

Now that tensions are rising with Iran, and supposed progress in its nuclear program may trigger further confrontations, what policy-makers are potentially failing to see is that Iran’s demise might translate into the ideological hegemony of hard-line Islamists, namely Saudi-oriented Salafists / Wahhabists, throughout the region.  That is not a good thing for Western national interests, nor is it good for the Middle East region, as it is the antithesis to liberal democracy, and I will even go as far as to say that it potentially will arrest the region’s development prospects.  That is a controversial statement to make, I know, but nonetheless, that is my opinion.  Theocracies by definition restrict people’s rights and freedoms, which in turn arrest comprehensive socioeconomic development; and Saudi Arabia, which exports its hard-line ideology globally, is the epitome of a totalitarian religious-police state.  If the region is tilting in that direction, then that’s very bad news for secularists, liberals, and in my view, women and minority groups.

Western powers need to be very careful about which regional horse they want to back in the showdown against Iran.  There’s no denying that the Iranian regime must be contained, but the danger is a scenario wherein we might inadvertently end up backing and empowering hard-line Salafi-types in the effort to keep Iran in check.  The longer-term ramifications, even ideological ones, must be thought out carefully, or else we’re doomed to repeat history.  Can we say “Afghanistan”?

In a January 9th opinion piece in the Tehran Times, former Iranian Ambassador to Syria, Hossein Sheikholeslam, placed the blame for the current turmoil in Syria squarely on Western powers allegedly backing the opposition Salafists.  He says:

The Arab governments that have dispatched representatives to monitor the situation in Syria actually have terrible records in terms of human rights and political liberty in their own countries. This hypocrisy shows that instigating a civil war in Syria is the real goal of these countries. The recent wave of suicide bombings in Damascus is a clear illustration of this policy, which is directly sponsored by the United States and is being implemented by the Salafis.”

Yes, we must be mindful of the source of that quote.  However, if there’s an element of truth to this, then we risk backing a horse that could potentially emerge as a Frankenstein’s monster down the road, not unlike what happened with the Cold War zeal to fight the Soviets in Afghanistan by supporting the most diehard militants in the Af-Pak region (i.e., the Reagan Doctrine).

And, this quote is in no way cited in support of the Assad or Iranian regimes on my part, so please do not misconstrue my comments.  My posting is only meant to serve as an analytical caveat.

As I remind my students, the Middle East is a 3-D chess game, with a lot of moving parts.  We must tread very carefully.  Expediency can lead to mistakes, some far too costly.

NOTE:  Everything I write in this blog constitutes my personal opinions and views.