Is Syria Cracking Down on Religious Groups? Why?

Kareem Fahim of the New York Times writes (article copied below) that the Syrian government is cracking down on religious groups. To a large extent this move is a return to business as usual. When George Bush was making his big push into the region in 2003-2004, Syria cracked down on the secular opposition that responded to Bush’s pressure on the Syrian regime by organizing the Damascus Declaration in the spring of 2005. In order to shore up support on the right as it attacked the left, Damascus gave greater latitude to religious leaders and groups.

Today, the secular opposition is weak, and Washington has largely stopped pressuring the Syrian regime. The instability and radicalism left behind by the Bush years has manifested itself in largely religious forms. The Syrian government has reassessed the threat that it faces and is leaning on religious groups even as most secular opponents are getting out of jail.

Change in Syria’s alcohol laws: Syria’s law states that you cannot serve alcohol if you are 100 meter away from a religious place of worship. Last night they changed the law to 75 meters.

One SC member writes:

“Syrian Law prohibits any Muslim from acquiring a liquor license for his/her restaurant. In fact, the last government liquor license issued to anyone was in the early 60’s. Any new place serving liquor today is operating without a license – no matter how close or far from a mosque. Ever since the Ba’ath came to power, being as secular as it is, they did not issue a single liquor license, even to Christians. If they did, it would be anti-secular! No Christian, Muslim, Armenian, or whatever had ever received a liquor license since 1963.

New-York Times sept 3 2010

Syria Moves to Curb Influence of Muslim Conservatives
By KAREEM FAHIM

DAMASCUS, Syria — This country, which had sought to show solidarity with Islamist groups and allow religious figures a greater role in public life, has recently reversed course, moving forcefully to curb the influence of Muslim conservatives in its mosques, public universities and charities.

The government has asked imams for recordings of their Friday sermons and started to strictly monitor religious schools. Members of an influential Muslim women’s group have now been told to scale back activities like preaching or teaching Islamic law. And this summer, more than 1,000 teachers who wear the niqab, or the face veil, were transferred to administrative duties.

The crackdown, which began in 2008 but has gathered steam this summer, is an effort by President Bashar al-Assad to reassert Syria’s traditional secularism in the face of rising threats from radical groups in the region, Syrian officials say.

The policy amounts to a sharp reversal for Syria, which for years tolerated the rise of the conservatives. And it sets the government on the seemingly contradictory path of moving against political Islamists at home, while supporting movements like Hamas and Hezbollah abroad.

Syrian officials are adamant that the shifts stem from alarming domestic trends, and do not affect support for those groups, allies in their struggle against Israel. At the same time, they have spoken proudly about their secularizing campaign. Some Syrian analysts view that as an overture to the United States and European nations, which have been courting Syria as part of a strategy to isolate Iran and curb the influence of Hamas and Hezbollah.

Human rights advocates say the policy exacerbates pressing concerns: the arbitrary imprisonment of Islamists, as well as the continued failure to allow them any political space.

Pressure on Islamic conservatives in Syria began in earnest after a powerful car bomb exploded in the Syrian capital in September 2008, killing 17 people. The government blamed the radical group Fatah al-Islam.

“The bombing was the trigger, but the pressure had been building,” said Peter Harling, a senior analyst with the International Crisis Group. “After a period of accommodation with the Islamic groups, the regime entered this far more proactive and repressive mode. It realizes the challenge that the Islamization of Syrian society poses.”

The government’s campaign drew wider notice this summer, when a decision to bar students wearing the niqab from registering for university classes was compared to a similar ban in France. That move seemed to underscore a reduced tolerance for strict observance by Muslims in public life. Syrian officials have put it differently, saying the niqab is “alien” to Syrian society.

The campaign carries risks for a secular government that has fought repeated, violent battles with Islamists in the past, most notably in 1982, when Mr. Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, razed the city of Hama while confronting the Muslim Brotherhood, killing tens of thousands of people. For the moment there has been no visible domestic backlash, but one cleric, who said he was dismissed without being given a reason two years ago, suggested that could change.

“The Islamists now have a strong argument that the regime is antagonizing the Muslims,” he said.

The government courted religious conservatives as Western powers moved to isolate Syria amid accusations that it was behind the assassination of a former Lebanese prime minister, Rafik Hariri, in 2005. The government appointed a sheik instead of a member of the ruling Baathist party to head the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and allowed, for the first time, religious activities in the stadium at Damascus University.

As the country emerged from that isolation, it focused on domestic challenges, including the fear that sectarian tensions in the region could spread — a recurring fear in Syria, a country with a Sunni majority ruled by Alawites, a religious minority.

The government also focused on conservatives. “What they had nourished and empowered, they felt the need to break,” said Hassan Abbas, a Syrian researcher.

The details of the campaign have remained murky, though Syrian officials have not been afraid to publicize its aims, including in foreign media outlets. In an interview with the American talk show host Charlie Rose in May, Mr. Assad was asked to name his biggest challenge.

“How we can keep our society as secular as it is today,” he said. “The challenge is the extremism in this region.”

Mr. Assad has in the past singled out northern Lebanon as a source of that extremism.

“We didn’t forget Nahr al-Bared,” said Mohammed al-Habash, a Syrian lawmaker, referring to battles in that region three years ago between Lebanese forces and Fatah al-Islam. “We have to take this seriously.”

Beginning in 2008, the government embarked on its new course when it fired administrators at several Islamic charities, according to the former cleric, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he feared reprisal by the government.

The clampdown has intensified in recent months. Last spring, the Qubaisiate, an underground women’s prayer group that was growing in prominence, was barred from meeting at mosques, according to members. Earlier this summer, top officials in Damascus Governorate were fired for their religious leanings, according to Syrian analysts.

Other moves underscore the delicacy of Mr. Assad’s campaign — or perhaps send mixed signals. A planned conference on secularism earlier this year, initially approved by the government, was abruptly canceled for no reason, according to Mr. Abbas.

“Secularism is their version of being secular,” Mr. Abbas said.

Another episode can be seen as a concession to Islamists, or a sign of just how comfortable the conservatives have become. A proposed rewrite of Syria’s personal status law, which governs civil matters, leaked last year, retained provisions that made it legal for men to marry girls as young as 13 years old. Under pressure, including from women’s groups, lawmakers abandoned the draft law.

“There are limits to what they can do,” Mr. Harling, the analyst, said of the Syrian government. “They will try things out and pedal back if things go too far. It says a lot about how difficult it is — even for a regime that is deeply secular itself and whose survival is tied to the secular nature of Syrian society.”

Nawara Mahfoud contributed reporting.

Comments from some Syrian readers about the NYTimes article:

A formidable balancing act for the government. I was personally very struck by how much more religious Syria has become. Aleppo has developed the area around the imposing and spectacular castle in order to attract tourists. Cars were banned from the area. Restaurants and cafes now dominate the scene. Having said that, you cannot have a single beer in the entire area. Not a single cafe or restaurant is allowed to do so. Why i asked? Because the area’s residents are too religious and hence would not allow any establishment to offer alcohol. Which tourist would choose to sit here and drink Pepsi I asked particularly when the Saudis and other Gulf Arabs are not exactly in Syria for the history and museums that it offers. Blank stares is what i got back. I offer this as an example. This is by far Aleppo’s most important tourist attraction. How the government allows residents to intimidate restaurant owners is very telling. It is almost like don’t ask don’t tell kind of arrangement. These restaurants and cafes will close down soon. You cannot survive the rent on selling Pepsi and tea. What a shame to see what this area can be and what it is today. It can put Lebanon to shame. It can take all the business that is going to that country. Instead, we want to bring our religion to the streets, cafes and restaurants. I hope that I am not offending my Muslim brothers on this list. I feel very strongly about this and I expressed my feelings to everyone in Aleppo that would listen including raees al baladiye

A reply from another reader:

Wait until the amazing Carlton Citadel hotel opens near the citadel. The ancient restored building was once a religious school. You’ll soon be able to sit in one of the hotel rooms overlooking the Citadel drinking beer (in a room where once student were being taught religious preaching). When Damascus’ Layla’s restaurant started serving alcohol on the terrace overlooking the grand mosque many eyebrows were raised. now the area next to the mosque has several restaurants serving alcohol.

It is only a matter of time.

Another response

It’s about time there was a crack down, but it’s not going to work, and I’m hoping it won’t backfire and produce the exact opposite results.  It’s is a day late and a dollar short, I’m afraid.

What has been proven time and again is that a hapless incompetent government cannot suppress religious movements that are a manifestation of uncertainty, ignorance, and hopelessness in an illiberal society like Syria. Someone from the Syrian leadership should have studied Egypt before embarking on such a stupid move.

You want to move people away from religious extremism that is coupled with ignorance and hopelessness?  Study the reasons first and address the underlying causes.  Don’t fight the symptoms, offer enlightenment and hope instead.

When Syrian women renounced the hijab, uncovered their heads and went “sufur” in the street back in the 20s and 30s, it was a sign of what Syrian thought a future free of the Ottomans and a dream of liberty. It didn’t take us long to screw that dream up, big time.

Another Commentator:

There are a number of measures the government ought to take that would quickly have a favorable impact; such as, narrowing the huge disparities of wealth (tax top earners) created through corruption (investigate a few big cases) and violation of the law with impunity (throw in jail a few convicted major violators regardless how big they might be), raise the salaries of government’s lower earners and pensioners (fund through cutting military spending and/or white elephant projects), take really serious steps to alleviate water and electricity shortages (fund through cutting military spending and/or white elephant projects) relax the state of emergency law, allow a bit of freedom of expression to opponents, reduce the degree of the cult of personality surrounding the Asad family.

Such actions could neutralize many who are candidates for religious orthodoxy or are ripe for radicalization. Such gain would, in my view, be achieved without causing serious threat to the stability of the regime. Then, sooner than later, genuine secularization can be introduced. Two areas are critical. The first is enacting a modern family law that would apply to every religion and sect. The second is reforming religious education in schools. Joshua’s research paper (Islamic Education in Syria) on the subject shows the dangers, in my opinion, of the existing curriculum. Modifying today’s material and adding to it material on ethics and comparative religious thought would translate to graduating students with a more balanced and mature view of life and the world.

I believe that the strength of the opposition to such reforms by Syria’s loud minority is exaggerated. It is the silent majority that counts here. The silent majority would hail these reforms. I’d love to see the results of a professional poll on the matter. The government should conduct such research. I suspect that the great majority of Syria’s women would support a new family law. Also, Syria’s educated and enlightened men would support such a law as well. I would guess that this category of men in Syria represent a majority of the country’s men. It must be made clear that religion in Syria shall be respected and that anyone can practice their chosen religion freely. What’s being advocated here is merely separating religion from the law and future law making. The manner through which such reforms is introduced is important to not inflame feelings and cut short the expected attempts of the loud active minority to spoil the effort. Turkey’s and Tunisia’s experience could have a calming effect.

FT [Reg]: Hizbollah leader denies rift with Syria
2010-09-03

Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of the radical Lebanese Shia group Hizbollah, denied that a rift was opening up between the Iranian-backed organisation and its Syrian allies during a speech given to mark a day of international solidarity with the …

Here is an email conversation with a few friends:

First response:

“I fail to see why Syria and HA would divorce. Lebanon’s Shiites are 40%+ of the population (and growing). HA is Lebanon’s best armed force. HA is Syria’s safety valve against Wahhabi infiltration into Lebanon via the Hariri Trojan Horse. I venture to say.”

Second response:

It is wishful thinking among the M14 and Saudis. I was dining yesterday with 10 or so Lebanese (Sunnis and Christians). They all had the same view (and were happy about it) that Syria sold HA for Saudi money. I told then that this is all wishful thinking and that HA is way too precious for Syria. They’ll be disappointed soon. Also

1-HA’s popularity among Syrians is legendary. No sane political leader in Syria would waste political capital by going against the popular hero who continue to give Israel a bloody nose on every occasion. Regardless if this political leader is a dictator or democratically elected, popular or not.

2-A key part of Asad’s soaring popularity in Syria and the region is his alliance with HA specifically. No reason to jeopardize this for mere useless brownie points with Obama or anyone else.

Third respondent:

I had a similar conversation with a Maronite group yesterday. They are all excited by the prospect that Syria will throw HA under the bus. I tried to tell me it ain’t happening.

Jerusalem Post: Arab World: Syria’s comeback game
2010-09-04

President Bashar Assad of Syria this week reiterated his country’s firm strategic alliance with Hizbullah. The occasion for the dictator’s remarks was the latest visit by Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to the Syrian capital. Assad’s …

Israeli-Palestinian Peace: Lowering the Bar on ‘Progress’
By Tony Karon in Time, Friday, Sep. 03, 2010

[The money quote] Abbas, may be hoping simply to demonstrate, with Americans in the room, that Netanyahu won’t willingly implement a viable two-state solution, and that if Washington believes, as Secretary of State Clinton emphasized, that a two-state peace is important to U.S. national security, it had better be prepared to pressure the Israelis. Obama’s retreat on the settlement freeze standoff suggests that may be wishful thinking.(See why Israel doesn’t care about peace.)

Asma al-Assad: Ceremony honoring Father Elias Zahlawi and Choir of Joy at the People Palace in Damascus

The Listening Post – The media and the ‘Ground Zero mosque’ story

Syrian Studies Association Newsletter, with a special focus on Syria studies in Scotland and Scandinavia, is now available online. The table of contents appears below; a link to the newspaper can be found at the end of this message.

* Letter from the President

* Syrian Studies Association News

Syria-Related MESA 2010 Panels

* Feature Articles

“The St Andrews University Centre for Syrian Studies” by Raymond Hinnebusch

“Syria Studies in Sweden” by Annika Rabo

“The Finnish Institute in Damascus” by Hannu Juusola

“Profile of a Swedish Arabist” by Steve Tamari

“New Private Library in Sha’alan” by Beverly A Levine

“Teaching with Middle Eastern Constitutions: Exploring Ideals, Assessing Realities” by Andrea L Stanton

To read this issue, click here:  or the
Syrian Studies Association homepage: www.ou.edu/ssa

Comments (53)


JIhad said:

It is really pathetic and telling that seemingly educated people (all men I suppose) are sadened by the absence of alcohol because the majority of the people in the city of Aleppo don’t want “mounkar” to be sold amongst them. Another one is happy that “mounkar” is being sold beside the Umayyad Mosque. It is telling because their priorites are skewed. Didn’t those lamentable men think that the majority of people oppose that their great religion’s principles being trampled and don’t like it one bit in order to please foreign tourists be it Arabs or not. And they keep coming up with the sleaze happening in Lebanon. I bet this comes from the same hilarious Syrian who went for a few hours to Beyrouth a few weeks ago and lived to wrote about it on this site as if he went to paradise. One of the most important factors of radicalization among Muslims nowadays is such pathetic arguments and behaviour strange to a majority of Muslims that a fringe want to ouysh down their throats. If you don’t like it pack up and go live elsewhere or stay where you are in the West.

September 5th, 2010, 3:07 am

 

idit said:

The link of Syrian Studies Association Newsletter isn’t working.

September 5th, 2010, 7:31 am

 

Majhool said:

Wiki defines Secularism as “the concept that government or other entities should exist separately from religion and/or religious believer

Mixing Beer with secularism is utterly stupid. Its as if some Syrian invented their own definition and want to force it on the rest of us.

September 5th, 2010, 12:31 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Jihad,

Since “the majority of the people in the city of Aleppo don’t want mounkar to be sold amongst them”, Would it be correct for us to assume that you would support banning alcohol altogether in Syria?

September 5th, 2010, 12:39 pm

 

Shami said:

What the regime is trying to export in the western medias can not be the reality on the ground ,the regime would never dare to antagonize the conservative forces who are the most influent in the system of the regime itself.
On the contrary mixing the culture of debauchery with secularism is giving good pretext for the people that in Syria secularism means debauchery .

September 5th, 2010, 12:53 pm

 

Majhool said:

Shami brings a good point. Although i am a die hard believer in secularism, it troubles me that some Syrians through their glorification of alcohol ( which most western countries are trying to limit its consumption) and their socially liberal lifestyle are calling themselves seculars, confusing many and giving secularism a bad name in conservative circles.

Religiousness does pose a threat to secular governing, but you don’t fight it promoting alcohol. If anything, this is an indication of the cultural bankruptcy of this country.

September 5th, 2010, 1:59 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Majhool,

Do you support banning alcohol consumption in Syria?

September 5th, 2010, 2:50 pm

 

EHSANI2 said:

Jihad,

You claim that our society is being radicalized because the “majority of the people in the city of Aleppo don’t want “mounkar” to be sold amongst them. You seem to imply that Syria’s government is therefore at fault for allowing the consumption of alcohol in the first place. Those that don’t agree with you and the majority should therefore pack and leave. Since the government does indeed allow the consumption of alcohol, have you considered packing and leaving yourself to places where your beliefs are the laws of the land?

You don’t have to drink. I don’t. But, why do we want to impose our values on others? Why does it matter to you if another person orders a beer at the restaurant down the street? The government can use tax policy to discourage drinking rather than banning it altogether, no?

September 5th, 2010, 3:09 pm

 

Majhool said:

Ehsani2,

I am definitely NOT for banning alcohol. In fact, I am not for banning anything that a sizable minority engage in, including prostitution.

Prohibition is a bad policy, it opens the window for far more dangerous criminal activities.

No secular society is complete unless freedom of way-of-life is guaranteed.

September 5th, 2010, 3:56 pm

 
 

Elie Elhadj said:

The Quran: 47:15

مَثَلُ الْجَنَّةِ الَّتِي وُعِدَ الْمُتَّقُونَ فِيهَا أَنْهَارٌ مِّن مَّاء غَيْرِ آسِنٍ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِن لَّبَنٍ لَّمْ يَتَغَيَّرْ طَعْمُهُ وَأَنْهَارٌ مِّنْ خَمْرٍ لَّذَّةٍ لِّلشَّارِبِينَ

“The parable of the paradise which the God-conscious are promised [a paradise] wherein there are rivers of water which time does not corrupt, and rivers of milk the taste whereof never alters, and rivers of wine delightful to those who drink it”

Wine is promised in paradise. Just wondering why it is banned on the earth! Might someone explain?

Elie

September 5th, 2010, 4:30 pm

 

Majhool said:

Elie is back to discussing theology, a futile exercise that adds no value. Would it make since for Muslims to engages in a futile public debate about the nature of redemption and trinity in Christianity? It would be a stupid thing to do.

what Syrians need is an increased sense in citizenship, freedom, and rule of law.

September 5th, 2010, 4:38 pm

 

Elie Elhadj said:

MAJHOOL,

“Elie is back to discussing theology.”

This is not theology. This is a way of life that Islamists want to impose on others. This is the law in many Muslim countries.

Why are you afraid of calling a spade a spade? Why avoid discussing theology when theology’s enforcers engage in a crusade to brutalize others into submission to seventh century laws of the desert?

“a futile exercise that adds no value.”

That you describe discussing a closely relevant issue to the discussion as a “futile exercise” does not make it a futile exercise. 47:15 is an Ayat in Surat Muhammad and it is a way of life that Islamists in Syria want to impose on others.

When Shari’a ceases to be the law, then discussing Shari’a issues become a futile exercise. Until then, however, discussing Shari’a issues is a duty upon every thinking man and woman.

I pose a legitimate question for you to answer. Please explain why rivers of wine are promised by God in paradise, yet wine is denied the faithful on the earth?

“Would it make since for Muslims to engages in a futile public debate about the nature of redemption and trinity in Christianity?”

Please do go ahead and tear Christianity to shreds. I’ll join you all the way. But, then you should know that discussing Christianity would, indeed, be a futile exercise. Why? Because Christianity is not the law nor has it had any law making powers for centuries anymore. 47:15, on the other hand, is a part of the way of life that Islamists want to subjugate others to, including Muslims who hold different ideas from those of the extremists.

So, please do not avoid discussing issues that affect peoples lives. It is Elie’s duty and the duty of every concerned person to show that inconsistencies and contradiction, even in what you or I hold sacred, which affect peoples’ lives cannot be swept under the carpet due to political correctness or fear of Islamists intimidation.

Elie

September 5th, 2010, 5:35 pm

 

Majhool said:

Elie,

The minute you reference a verse and debate its meaning, then you are talking theology. I have no problem in theologians debating matters of religion; this is up to Muslim scholars, Muslims, and Islamic institutions.

However, the issue of imposing Shria Law is a public policy issue and must be addressed by all. The freedom of everyone’s way-of-life is the key stone to a functional and secular society. Safeguarding the society from potential islamist hegemony and intolerance starts with building a civil society, where freedom of ideas could thrive and parallel political and cultural currents could compete. Also, combating corruption is essential in regaining faith in secular institutions which could alleviate this problem.

What’s happening in Syria is concerning. There is a vacuum of intellect promoted by the successive authoritarian regimes which make political Islam and religiousness as the only appealing cultural and political entities in the society.

Preserving your and my way-of-life has come at a great cost to the society furthermore it has become a way through which power is cultivated in Syria.

What’s sad is that most secular Syrians don’t see in secularism beyond Arak and Dabkeh. Which has little to do with the core value of secularism. True secularist should go promote a civil society and credible governing institutions.

September 5th, 2010, 6:41 pm

 

Husam said:

Joshua:

In reference to my open letter to you, thank you for your prompt reply. I appreciate your effort and for understanding some of my points, however, I believe you missed the big picture “don’t get insulted – counter” remark.

1. When your smart friend Elie, is anti-islam, and when he gets carte blanche to repeat the same message and tries very hard to derail the conversation always into Islam the evil, 1000 wives, breast suckling…(which is clearly against your policy) akin to AP and supposedly Ghat for repeating the same thing over an over again, it means you support this 100%. Joshua you asked me to counter, but in reality, what you are asking me to do is to get tired and leave. I don’t want to engage in the same arguments repeatedly (i.e. misyar = prostitution, etc..like 10 times or the forcing, indoctrinnation, they are coming to get us b.s)

2. When the Blog owner, its major contributors and SC’s audience are securalist anti-islamic (don’t tell me differently, islamic doctrine and skewed interpretation is repeatedly and craftfully linked to secularism) asking me to write an article about Imams is like asking me to play the voilin for an audience that wants to hear heavy metal. The only ‘interesting’ as you stated is when the old gang start rapping with distortions.

Despite this, I tried to counter aand you know it. My experince was outlined to you in my open letter to you.

3. From the gist of your answer I see that you have diplomatic qualities and you have adapted some Syrian ways of beating around the bush like “really, I did not know…” or “a’sh men shafak…”

I would like to see a suspension of Elie clearly justified as per your own Blog rules, but I bet 100 to 1, it won’t happen because friends of Josh don’t get banned.

BTW, I love the niqabi women picture you posted, SC is displaying the same fearmongering islamaphobia we are used to with western media… two thumbs up!

Take care,

September 5th, 2010, 7:18 pm

 

Majhool said:

Husam,

Welcome to the club.

Islam 10.0 is needed.It will happen; Islamic civilization is sopisticated enough to adjust to the changing world. Its just a matter of time.

There is no escape of the Turkish model. No fear-mongering will stop history.

September 5th, 2010, 9:01 pm

 

LeoLeoni said:

Husam,

You demand the suspension of an author, doctor, and specialist in the domain that this forum is created for. This person has never uttered an insult against anyone but yet you ask for his ban because you disagree with him. How ironic that you come here and demand a change in the politics within Syria partly because you are dissatisfied with the lack of freedoms, mainly freedoms of speech and thought, yet you continuously adhere to ad hominem attacks and then conclude it with a demand of suspension against the person you attack.

“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” (misattributed to Voltaire) Only when the Islamists adhere to such noble causes, will they regain the trust of the Syrian people. Until then, the majority will still view them as being conniving, who will destroy the last fabric of our society.

Majhoul,
I hardly see how you can discuss Political Islam, Islamists, Sharia rules, prohibition of alcohol, WITHOUT discussing the Qur’aan or Sunna. Please be realistic here.

September 5th, 2010, 9:52 pm

 

Majhool said:

LeoLeoni,

I don’t believe Husam is after the suspension of Elie, Instead I think he is questioning the way this forum is handled and how certain subjects are favored over others . I have been suspended few times, you know.

You said:

Only when the Islamists adhere to such noble causes, will they regain the trust of the Syrian people. Until then, the majority will still view them as being conniving, who will destroy the last fabric of our society.

I support your notion, but few things here,

* How do you know that the Majority think this way? Do you have some statistics?
* Who are the Islamists? Only Those who believe in imposing Sharia Law?
* Why don’t you apply the same notion to Authoritarian regimes? They too don’t believe in such noble causes? or do they?

I appose divine rule as much as you do. But I am firm believer that conservatives should have their share in power as long as they abide by the rules.

This is why, I think the focus should be in creating the infrastructure were all could have a piece of the pie.

What are you going to do, change the Quran and Sunna? I believe that one can’t, Instead you can emphasize on common grounds across all citizens and come to an arrangement.

I am a muslim, but you cant reduce me and judge me through Quoran and Sunna, I am much more than that. I am a father, a professional, a brother, a Human…

Humanity prevails always.

I am not going to be against the banning of alcohol because Elie has shown us a verse in the quoran, instead I do that because its the right thing to do, you know what I mean?

Elie is waiting for a good dictator to furnish justice. We don’t want to wait.

September 5th, 2010, 10:27 pm

 

why-discuss said:

Western countries are struggling to reverse the curse of the generalized excessive usage of alcohol . Remember that most violence in western countries is associated with use of alcohol and drugs. Remember the proliferation of AA in most western countries. Do we want to see this happening in Syria and other moslem countries?
Moslem religion has played the role of discouraging the use of alcohol but if young syrians would be exposed to easy access to alcohol, they MUST be educated to know about the danger of its excessive usage.
Unless there is a campaign about it, I believe the selling of alcohol should be restricted.

September 5th, 2010, 10:46 pm

 

Roland said:

I just remember that when I was in Damascus, I was rather favourably impressed with the sobriety of the people. There were none of the belligerent drunks or howling junkies that are unfortunately now so common in my own city of Vancouver.

I think that’s the sort of difference that makes international travel worth doing in the first place. Those who argue Syria needs to liberalize its alcohol laws to make it a more appealing tourist destination don’t really know what they’re talking about.

The global tourism market is saturated–I mean absolutely saturated–with watering holes, bordels, beach resorts, and casinos of every size and kind. Why shouldn’t Syria look for a more distinctive brand?

There’s a big difference between banning and regulation. Syria doesn’t have to be like Saudi Arabia. Nor does it have to be like Thailand.

Even in such a loose city as Vancouver, we have lively debates over every liquor license, and it has nothing to do with Islam! Regulation of “vices” is not a cause for deep theological discussion. Popular sentiment and plain common sense are perfectly suited for the job.

I have begun to wonder whether it isn’t “secular” Occidentals who are now obsessed with notions of “purity” and orthodoxy, and express glee with every new “convert” we find in the world.

September 6th, 2010, 12:21 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

Elie
go you support homosexuality, and prostitution,and heavy drinking?

September 6th, 2010, 12:49 am

 

Shai said:

Husam,

Although I’m certainly the last to speak here about Islam (though I’m learning tons on SC), I do want to say that I agree with Leoleoni – that you should do everything you can to protect Elie’s right to voice his opinion – even if in your mind it is nothing short of Blasphemy.

Besides the fact that he deserves that right (and we should fight for this freedom of speech), he is also obviously a very learned man, who’s done “a thing or two” in his lifetime. His challenging arguments, especially the ones that make you angry, should serve as a fuel for keeping us thinking, and questioning ourselves. If it weren’t for people who think the opposite, or very differently, how could we ever keep ourselves or our societies at check?

Husam my friend, we must learn not only to accept, but indeed to embrace, opposing and revolutionary thinkers. Please stay in this great forum, and help defend the rights of the few to be heard. Sometimes, perhaps more often than we think, WE are the few…

Very much hoping you’ll change your mind! For my benefit, and for SC’s.

September 6th, 2010, 1:23 am

 

Innocent Criminal said:

I barely participate in the comment section anymore but I feel there is a need to come in and defend Elie again. There should be no harm in allowing non-Muslims to criticize Islam and vice versa. besides Islam’s lack of self critique is the main reason why it’s in the terrible state that it’s in for the last century or so (that and heavy funding by Wahabi nut jobs). Muslims get all worked up when someone utters a bad word about their religion or prophet but barely make a noise when Muslims trash talk other religions including their fellow ‘people of the book’. Where the hell were the burning of the embassies and riots when terror attacks were done in Islam’s name? The biggest insult to islam that has ever occurred. Or do we reserve those for pity arguments over silly cartoons?

majedkhaldoun – I lived in The Netherlands for a big part of my life and since then have worked in the fashion industry which is full of homosexuals including the company i work in at the moment in Dubai. And i am proud to be a supporter of equal rights for gays, because i have come to the firm belief that being gay is no different than being born with blue eyes, a birthmark or a learning disability. As for prostitution only a fool believes that the oldest career in the world can be eradicated, so while i am not in favor of it as career choice, i would certainly be in favor of legalizing it for control reasons. to avoid abusing the poor women who are often bought and sold in it when there is no regulations. In The Netherlands prostitutes pay taxes and some even do it just to get themselves through college. As for the heavy drinking, I mean seriously what kind of a question is this? why would do you use the word heavy? drinking is a personal choice and as long as you’re not hurting anyone else while doing it should continue to be a personal choice. By the way heavy drinking is bad for your health but according to a new study it’s better than not drinking at all 😉 http://news.nationalpost.com/2010/08/30/heavy-drinkers-live-longer-than-non-drinkers-study-finds/

September 6th, 2010, 1:58 am

 

Badr said:

Majhool said:

I am not going to be against the banning of alcohol

Majhool,

Two negatives cancel out (not against = for), so this means you’re for banning of alcohol. 🙂

September 6th, 2010, 3:06 am

 

Elie Elhadj said:

Majhool,

“I have no problem in theologians debating matters of religion; this is up to Muslim scholars, Muslims, and Islamic institutions.”

I’ll quote INNOCENT CRIMINAL (23) in response:

“There should be no harm in allowing non-Muslims to criticize Islam and vice versa. besides Islam’s lack of self critique is the main reason why it’s in the terrible state that it’s in for the last century or so (that and heavy funding by Wahabi nut jobs).”

As I mentioned in 88 to LEOLEONI today:
http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=7037&cp=2#comment-239458

The first step, I believe, in the process of freeing the mind from the control of the holy scripture, any holy scripture, is to start asking serious questions about the sensibilities (or lack of), the contradictions, and the inconsistencies in the scripture and mustering the courage to allow one’s own brain to deal with such issues logically and philosophically without the fear of falling into heresy or blasphemy.

This kind of intellectual exploration and debate applies to all men and women regardless of religious affiliation.

You said: “combating corruption is essential in regaining faith in secular institutions which could alleviate this problem.”

There are actions that could neutralize many who are candidates for religious orthodoxy or are ripe for radicalization. Such actions include, as Dr. Landis quoted in the body of the article:

“There are a number of measures the government ought to take that would quickly have a favorable impact; such as, narrowing the huge disparities of wealth (tax top earners) created through corruption (investigate a few big cases) and violation of the law with impunity (throw in jail a few convicted major violators regardless how big they might be), raise the salaries of government’s lower earners and pensioners (fund through cutting military spending and/or white elephant projects), take really serious steps to alleviate water and electricity shortages (fund through cutting military spending and/or white elephant projects) relax the state of emergency law, allow a bit of freedom of expression to opponents, reduce the degree of the cult of personality surrounding the Asad family.”

I might add that the white elephant projects include, in my view, Syria’s grand irrigation projects. A semi arid country like Syria should rely on rain fed agriculture, not irrigated agriculture. The billions poured into irrigation projects should have been spent on low water using manufacturing industries that would generate forex from exporting manufactured goods in order to import high water using foodstuffs.

Professor Landis quotation continues: “sooner than later, genuine secularization can be introduced. Two areas are critical. The first is enacting a modern family law that would apply to every religion and sect. The second is reforming religious education in schools. Joshua’s research paper (Islamic Education in Syria) on the subject shows the dangers, in my opinion, of the existing curriculum. Modifying today’s material and adding to it material on ethics and comparative religious thought would translate to graduating students with a more balanced and mature view of life and the world.”

You said: “What’s sad is that most secular Syrians don’t see in secularism beyond Arak and Dabkeh.”

That’s an unfair statement. Arak and dabkeh, just like the niqab, etc… are manifestations of a bigger problem; namely, the rapidly growing trend towards extremism, Islamist radicalism, Wahhabism… This trend is at best retrogressive and divisive.

At issue is not arak and dabkeh. The issue is this: Does Syria want a seventh century way of life? What makes the question is even more serious is this: All we know about seventh century life is a bunch of false constructions created over the centuries by politicians and palace ulama with no evidence or proof other than claiming that God said so!

Back to wine drinking: Wine is promised in paradise. Why it is banned on the earth! May I invite Husam to enlighten us. Husam still owes me answers to the questions I posed to Imam Faisal of the Grand Zero Mosque, which by the way are generic questions that every Islamist needs to deal with. To rant and rave will get us no where. Let’s have specific answers to those specific questions.

Elie

September 6th, 2010, 4:54 am

 

Majhool said:

Elie,

Its not about causing harm, you can discuss theology all you want, you are not getting anywhere with it.

What you are suggesting is as fascist of an approach as it gets. You are denying a billion people their political rights until they pass some litmus test, and defining passing through the acknowledgment of the contradictions of the scriptures and denying of all things divine? good luck

I mean even western democracies don’t interfere with faith the way you suggest. In fact this sound like what Rifaat Assad would do.

Also, your talk of a 7th century way of life, is such an exaggeration , The average Muslim wakes up in the morning, takes up his/her coffee, commutes, and go to work. Just like everyone in this world. What’s lacking mostly is accountable government and system for resolving conflict.

About wine, so what if there is a a contradiction? Do we wait until we solve it theologically before we implement public policy? You better be kidding.

September 6th, 2010, 5:34 am

 

Elie Elhadj said:

21. majedkhaldoun said:

Elie
“go you support homosexuality, and prostitution,and heavy drinking?”

INNOCENT CRIMINAL spoke rationally:

“i am proud to be a supporter of equal rights for gays, because i have come to the firm belief that being gay is no different than being born with blue eyes, a birthmark or a learning disability. As for prostitution only a fool believes that the oldest career in the world can be eradicated, so while i am not in favor of it as career choice, i would certainly be in favor of legalizing it for control reasons. to avoid abusing the poor women who are often bought and sold in it when there is no regulations. In The Netherlands prostitutes pay taxes and some even do it just to get themselves through college. As for the heavy drinking, I mean seriously what kind of a question is this? why would do you use the word heavy? drinking is a personal choice and as long as you’re not hurting anyone else while doing it should continue to be a personal choice.”

If you care so much to know about my own attitudes to drinking alcohol, I do not drink alcohol nor do I smoke. As for homosexuality, I used to be adamantly against those who practice it. Today, my attitude has become similar to that of INNOCENT CRIMINAL: “a supporter of equal rights for gays”. Re. prostitution, I am against the hypocrites who say in one breath that they are against prostitution yet in the other breath support misyar and mut’a marriage contracts and their recent innovative derivatives.

Can you tell us about your own preferences in these regards?

Elie

September 6th, 2010, 5:38 am

 

Ghat Al Bird said:

Must admit that all this business of stating how democratic and westernized an individual is by declaring that he/she supports “gay” rights is rather quite obscene to say the least.

When one seriously and concisely proclaims their support of gay rights what basically are they saying? That gays have the right to close their eyes while kissing each other on the mouth? One does not need to delve into the specifics of “sexual intercourse” between two individuals of the same sex to conclude that such acts are somewhat personal and are bestial and comparable to what was reported in the press recently that a man in South Carolina maintained a sexual relation with a horse.

Its hypocritical to condemn an individual in having four wives and proudly proclaim their support of gay rights. If one is forced to prove their “open minded and westernized/human rights” beliefs by proclaiming their support for gay rights and keeping silent when one nation admits to the killing of millions of humans as justification for its acts then something must be seriously wrong on planet earth.

September 6th, 2010, 8:14 am

 

majedkhaldoun said:

Elie
You Support Homosexuality.
You support prostitution.
you support heavy drinking ,but you do not drink,why dont you drink?
About Muta’a and Misyar marriage, I told you several times that they are forbidden in Islam you are doing two things wrong, first you are mixing sunni and Shiite just like mixing Islam and christianity, or mixing apples and oranges, the other thing is that you are inventing Islam the way you want claiming things for Islam that are not part of Islam then you go around and criticise the new Islam that you invented.

Innocent criminal;
heavy drinking causes disruption of family,I am sure you know many famillies who suffer a lot when one person drinks heavily.

September 6th, 2010, 8:41 am

 

SimoHurtta said:

Please do go ahead and tear Christianity to shreds. I’ll join you all the way. But, then you should know that discussing Christianity would, indeed, be a futile exercise. Why? Because Christianity is not the law nor has it had any law making powers for centuries anymore. 47:15, on the other hand, is a part of the way of life that Islamists want to subjugate others to, including Muslims who hold different ideas from those of the extremists.

Come-on, Christianity, its moral and “commands” are woven in thousand ways in the western countries laws and social systems. Let us take my country Finland as an example. Still in the 60’s one was in some regions in troubles if they worked on Sunday (not obeying Sabbath rules). Until recently it was not possible to go to movies or restaurants on some church holidays, because the law demanded that they are closed. Until 80’s the Church took care population register affairs. Still the Finnish main churches are entitled to collect taxes (the state takes care of that work). There a thousand of forms and ways how the Christian ethic and moral are inbuilt in our legal system and society. And these “systems” include us all also Atheists, Jews, Muslims etc. The minorities must obey the rules made by the majority. The situation in other Nordic countries is much equal. They are far from secular. Very few western countries can claim that they are in reality secular. I can’t name a single one.

The great “innovation” when protestant religious faction was introduced, was that it transformed the previous religious order (Catholic), which was lead form outside and was mostly independent from earthly rulers (and owned much gold), to an administrative system where the earthly rulers had full control of the religious apparatus and priests were forced to function like other civil servants. Partly that “civil servant” status combined with general social development has distanced the population from the church and the church has lost much of its moral and social influence when the social welfare society became a reality.

During the last decade or two “the system” here has become more secular but is still far from being really secular. Partly because of the growing immigration of non-protestants (Greek-orthodox from Russia and Muslims from Somalia, Kurd areas, Iraq etc) and partly because international trends inside EU and “the West”.

There is now an attempt in Finland to make marriage institution and laws related to that institution (heritage, adoption etc laws) gender neutral. Religious people from different religions seem to rather united in opposing that move. 😀

Also in Finland, like all other Christian countries, there are influential rather big Christian extreme movements. One for example did not allow until recent years its members to watch television. It is natural that such life limiting messages in our pleasure seeking society have not a very good marketing effect. But the reality is that if times get harder our religion will be dig out of its present storage and again be used for aims that have very little if nothing to do with the moral core of religion.

September 6th, 2010, 10:01 am

 

Ghat Al Bird said:

SPECIAL FOR AP.

6 September 2010 Last updated at 10:20 ET

Tony Blair has canceled a planned book signing in London on Wednesday to prevent causing the public and the police “a lot of hassle”.

Afraid of shoes, rotten eggs, fish etc. but anxious to invade Iran on behalf of Israel.

September 6th, 2010, 11:01 am

 

ZIAD said:

Elie 11 said

Wine is promised in paradise. Just wondering why it is banned on the earth! Might someone explain?

the answer is in the Quran:

They ask you (O Muhammad ) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: “In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit.” And they ask you what they ought to spend. Say: “That which is beyond your needs.” Thus Allâh makes clear to you His Laws in order that you may give thought. (al-Baqarah 2:219)

– I believe that alcohol is offensive to at least 85% o0f Syrians (assuming 10% of Syrians are Christians). We keep expressing our desire to bring democracy to the country why do we not accept the will of the majority?

– I believe alcohol should be served in locales owned by Christians and by muslem owned places if the locales that do not object.

– Regulating the consumption of alcohol is in the national interest not just a religious issue. We should discourage the youths from picking up the habit of drinking just because it is kool to drink

– I believe that all issues should be discussed, but there is a difference in style. Elie your style is confrontational implying that you look down on Islam as a religion, not just the literalist extremist flavor.

– Delegalizing certain religious behaviors (like the niqab) not only does not work, but have the exact opposite effect. It did not work in the former Soviet Union, and neither in France of Turkey. A much more effective way would be (bil’lati hya ahssan) I e. in education and persuasion. Men of religion should have been invited to talk on TV and radio about the niqab and is un-islamic and harmful.

– The coexistence mode with moderate islamist that the Syrian government has established in the past 20 years, and its firm stand towards Israel and the hegemonial West contributed significantly the popular acceptance of the system in spite of its excesses in repression and corruption. The new moves will certainly alienate a large section of the population. I fail to see the rational.

September 6th, 2010, 11:18 am

 

Elie Elhadj said:

MAJIDKHALDOUN,

I am not going to get involved in value judgment discussion.

I am going, however, to respond for the umpteen time on misyar and mut’a and show that you are wrong in saying that these marriage contracts are “forbidden in Islam”.

You said: “About Muta’a and Misyar marriage, I told you several times that they are forbidden in Islam you are doing two things wrong, first you are mixing sunni and Shiite just like mixing Islam and christianity, or mixing apples and oranges”

In answer, misyar and mut’a are NOT forbidden in Islam. They are sanctioned in Islam. And, I never mix Sunnis with Shi’ites. I happen to know better.

I have explained several times during the past few months on SC why, contrary to your assertion, misyar and mut’a are NOT forbidden in Islam. Here I go again:

Shi’ite religious scholars interpret Verses 4:4 and 4:24 of the Quran as allowing men to enter into a temporary marriage contract (when traveling, for example), for which a payment to the woman is made by the man in return for her companionship for a specific period of time with no consequent obligations.

The Shi’ite ulama believe that the Prophet allowed the mut’a contracts, but Omar, the second caliph prohibited it. Traditions show that the Prophet Muhammad permitted mut’a to his followers, particularly on the longer campaigns. On the other hand, the Caliph Omar strictly prohibited mut’a and considered it as fornication. Sahih Muslim reported the controversy over mut’a marriage under the title “The Chapter on the Mut’a Nikah”, demonstrating that it was sanctioned then abrogated, then sanctioned and abrogated several times.

Mut’a has the effect of legitimizing extra-marital sex for the man, and prostitution for the woman.

Then there is the misyar marriage. Misyar reduces marriage to a purely sexual relationship. The man is not responsible financially for the woman. Under misyar, the man and the woman live apart; the man visits the woman at her parents’ home whenever he wishes.

Misyar has been sanctioned by a fatwa from Sheikh Abdel Aziz Bin Baz, Saudi Arabia’s grand mufti and the chairman of the committee of senior ulama, and by the Egyptian Sheikh Mohammed Sayyed Tantawi, the grand mufti of the Al-Azhar mosque in Cairo.

On April 12, 2006, the Mecca-based Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly permitted misyar marriage by declaring that “a marriage contract in which the woman relinquishes [her right to] housing and support money . . . and accepts that the man visits her in her [family] house whenever he likes, day or night . . . is valid.”

Misyar marriages have been on the rise in recent years in Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States, and Egypt. Even university students have joined the ranks of misyar marriage contracts.

Misyar and mut’a allow the couple to avoid falling into adultery. Under Shari’a law, as sourced in the Hadith, adultery is severely punished by stoning to death. However, the Quran specifies 100 lashes to each adulterer.

Now, are you more correct than Shiite ulama on the one hand who sanction mut’a and, on the other hand, more authoritative on misyar than their eminences Bin Baz and Tantawi as well as the Islamic Jurisprudence Assembly? I do not think so, the readers should not think so, above all you yourself must not think so. So please stop appointing yourself an authority on this matter.

You said: “the other thing is that you are inventing Islam the way you want claiming things for Islam that are not part of Islam then you go around and criticise the new Islam that you invented.”

I believe the discussion on misyar and mut’a here should be sufficient to dispel your unsubstantiated accusation of me mixing apples with oranges and inventing Islam. I am certain with my fact. I do not event things. Evidence, I repeat evidence, is every thing.

Elie

September 6th, 2010, 1:39 pm

 

majedkhaldoun said:

Elie
you keep inventing Islam the way you want then you condemn it
Can you show me where in Quran or words of the prophet that muta’a or mysiar marriage is mentioned,you are distorting Islam then you criticise what you invent and distort.
A lot of fatwas may not be right it is like you making fatwa,you who support homosexual activities and prostitutions and heavy drinking, you refuse to accept seven century law which
I and millions support too.but you want to go back to 4000 year law when man was like animal,and women has no right,Islam came to protect women,your law allow men to burry their newborn daughters and to allow orgies.you refuse to acknowledge that religion is the best thing mankind invented, you refuse the good ethic and morality that religion told us.
What good is education if your education did not improve you and made you better person, and I assure you that we achieved much higher education than you, your education did not make you know right from wrong,it is worthless education,it is to the detriment of mankind and has to be cobdemned.

September 6th, 2010, 2:15 pm

 

OFF THE WALL said:

This is the first respite I get in the last three weeks. And to my pleasant surprise I find Innocent Criminal voicing opinions that I do share on almost all fronts.

I was a strong opponent of proposition 8 in California, which attempted to mandate discrimination against gay couples. Again, those inspired by dogma would call me advocate of homosexuality, but the reality is that I care less what people do, their sexual orientation, their color, or their taste in cigars or wine. All I care about is the principle of non discrimination and equality. The majority voted for this bigotry, but the court struck that down with one of the most eloquent court decision I read in a while (and I do read plenty of them as this is one of my many eccentricities). In Arizona, the Majority voted for another hateful law, but the court will soon discredit this stupidity. Majorities can be wrong, and for this reason, democracies have something called supreme constitutional courts (who can challenge even martial laws,…….sigh)

I also agree with Innocent Criminal on the assessment of the reflexive hypocrisy practiced by a large number of Muslims. There is no denial that Muslims find it easy to criticize Christianity and Judaism as being changed, to dismiss, rather arrogantly fundamental tenets of Christianity such as the trinity, but find it easy at the same time to call for the blood of any Christian or Jewish person who dares ask some serious questions.

I have been the first on this site to criticize many of the secularist community in Syria for their confusion of secularism and liberal lifestyle (e.g., drinking, dress code, and other issues) but to pin the blame on them alone is dead wrong. It is the fundamentalists who framed the discussion around women’s attire, alcohol prohibition, and around the most superficial parts of being a Muslim. They are the ones who deformed Islam from the religion of DO (good) to a set of arcane and rigid (Dont) rules and thus framed the discussion around Sharia into dress code, beer, and polygamy, and oppression of women. The misguided advocates of liberal lifestyle, who are subjected to violence for seeking innocent pleasures find in a secular society the only option for them to exercise their choices, and in that, they are also exercising a form of political expression reflecting the most basic aspect of politics, which is the drive for freedom to do what you want unmolested, as long as you do not hurt others. And no, hurting the deceptive made-up sensibility of passersby who stare at a woman in short dress is not hurting anyone.

I totally reject the monopoly on critical review of Islam and the inherent violence of bounding the discussion of religious issues to the confine of so called scholars. The irony is that in many (not all) cases, advocates of such strategy are those who also claim that Islam is the religions of masses, and that it is spreading like wildfire primarily because it does not need clerics as the relationship with god is most personal in Islam. They fail to see the contradiction of the two arguments. You can’t have it both ways, Islam is either accessible to the masses, thus there is no need for scholars to interpret it, or Islam is so complex that no earthly being can be a true muslim without the help of the learned ones. There is no doubt that Islamic Jurisprudence was a living, rich, and dynamic legal practice, but it died long time ago, and those who killed it are the intellectual grandfathers of those who want to freez Islam by prohibiting self criticism, which is the main culprit in the stagnation of modern Islamic thoughts. The violence, be it verbal, legal, or physical, levied against anyone daring to ask questions prevented many (real) scholars such as philosophers, ethicists, linguists, and historians from contributing to the enrichment of Islamic traditions. While I do respect Majhool, quite a lot, I find the argument that religions should only be discussed by scholars a lazy escape.

As for the need to discuss authoritarian regimes every-time we criticize violent fundamentalism, i think it is uncalled for. There is a time for everything, and one does not need to be accredited by cussing at authoritarian regimes before discussing religion.

I know the above writing may sound arrogant, but truth is a bitter pill.

September 6th, 2010, 2:59 pm

 

Off the Wall said:

Simo
Many thanks for confirming my suspicion. I never felt that Christianity has left the west. It is still a driving force, and I would say it is gaining ground as political Christianity. Take for example proposition 8 in California, it was led by the Mormon church, which to a muslim is but a Christian sect, but it was supported by evangelicals, who are inheritors of the protestant tradition, and who are now becoming more fundamentalist than Catholics. Same thing can be said about the rising number of school boards in the south who now want to teach creationism, as a valid alternative scientific theory, along with evolution (only as a first step towards banning teaching of evolution).

Your analysis of the protestant “innovation” is brilliant in its provocative unorthodoxy. Loved it, although I am not rally knowledgeable enough to judge its validity.

September 6th, 2010, 3:29 pm

 

Majhool said:

OTW,

Its always a pleasure to read what you have to say. Let me shed some light on the issue of debating theology. I am by no means against discussing Islamic theology by non-Muslims, What I was trying to say is that (Muslims) are the only ones that could make a constructive change in the way Islam in interpreted and practiced.

What I am objecting to is to make theology make-over a “first step” and prerequisite to giving Muslims their political rights. or Judge muslim through a 1400 year old versus. We don’t have to wait for theologians to agree on everything before we go ahead and implement public policy.

I welcome everyone to study and debate theology, However I know how difficult its to have a understanding of religion without a deep understanding of history, geopolitics, etc.. It takes a life time of scholarship to achieve a level that will allow someone to engage in such a debate.

Therefore, i am not for making theologian reform a “first step” into the discussion of political life in Syria. With the exclusion of Sharia Law implementation since it contradicts with secular governing.

Focusing on common grounds, secular institutions and education, and minority rights should do the trick. Promoting fear and the negative does not do anyone any good and will not work.

I am happy with this thread as it exposes the underpinning of Syrians politics ( or lack of)

September 6th, 2010, 4:28 pm

 

Majhool said:

OWT,

Please take a moment to watch these videos made by CAIR

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bPgBadKBZOI&feature=related

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5kYZKlf6iE&NR=1

CAIR is focusing on common grounds, its by far a more powerful technique that fear mongering. They did not opt for Quoranic verses to back up their Humanity, and rights.

September 6th, 2010, 5:02 pm

 

SimoHurtta said:

Your analysis of the protestant “innovation” is brilliant in its provocative unorthodoxy. Loved it, although I am not rally knowledgeable enough to judge its validity.

The protestant churches in Nordic countries and Britain are state religion churches lead (in theory) by the head of the state. Originally they were “born” when the earthly rulers wanted/needed to limit the Catholic Churches and Rome’s influence and to socialize the wealth of the churches. In Britain the trigger was, partly at least, Henry VIII’s wife problems. Thirty Years’ War was one result of this religious “revolution”.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thirty_Years%27_War

The US protestant and evangelic churches have very little in common with our main churches. The protestant main churches in Nordic countries are careful, moderate and conservative, keeping a relative low profile. The US religious protestant movements seem to be anything else but that. As said here the finances of the protestant church are basically “arranged” through their taxation rights, they have no reason to be radical and aggressive. In USA the churches must earn their “earthly” living by making themselves “interesting”.

Now in Nordic countries there are going on processes to end the long unity and bindings between the state and church. Undoubtedly when that is done the religious groups will be activated and transform more in direction of the US movements.

My opinion is that when we estimate or analyse how religion is used in politics it is not very relevant to discuss endlessly of some theological details/differences between sects, details/differences which in the end are less relevant. The protestant movements were not born from the public’s need to hear the holy texts in their own language (and not in Latin) and end the corruption of Vatican. The movements were shaped mostly by the earthly ruling elites (or rival elite groups) for their own earthly political motives and to win more earthly wealth and power. Religion has been and is one of the primary “forces” in all societies. Sadly the religions are still used (increasingly) to advance goals which nothing to do with that core religious messages and teachings.

September 6th, 2010, 5:02 pm

 

OFF THE WALL said:

Simo
Thanks again for the educational reply. I enjoyed reading it. One can hardly think of a movement taking hold as protestant reform without major backing from big powers. It does make all the sense in the world.

You also raise an interesting point when describing how churches are financed in northern Europe and how does that make the church part of the state services. Does that allow for building new churches?

Majhool

Thanks for the kind words. As usual, you raise several important points. But first let me state that CAIR is an american phenomena. I have been following them and have been involved in a couple of their educational outreach efforts on campus ( encouraging Muslim students to get involved in science and math). CAIR has been the subject of constant hate campaign mainly because it has been very effective organization and the first video, simple as it is, clearly demonstrates why.

I welcome everyone to study and debate theology, However I know how difficult its to have a understanding of religion without a deep understanding of history, geopolitics, etc.. It takes a life time of scholarship to achieve a level that will allow someone to engage in such a debate.

I fully agree with that. The problem however, is that the Salafi movement freezes history and geopolitics to the first 32 or so years after the Prophet, even though its key theologians did not exist until few hundred years later and had the benefit of the accumulated wealth of jurisprudence and rich history of intellectual islamic traditions. In fact, i accuse them of trying to deny us the benefits of our own rich history which goes much more than 32 idealized years. Furthermore, your argument in fact reinforces mine in the sense that it may take much more than someone to focus on the text of Quran and hadith only and on the first 32 years of the Islamic history to truly understand the religion.

Your own, well said statement to LEOLEONI, whom I tend to agree with rather frequently, and in which you say

I am a muslim, but you cant reduce me and judge me through Quoran and Sunna, I am much more than that. I am a father, a professional, a brother, a Human

describes in one way or another the manner I feel when a fundamentalist tries to reduce my own affiliation with Islam to Quran and Sunnah. While i may be an avid secularist, my ethics, values, and much of my outlook (even in dealing with animals) has been shaped by a rather moderate and pleasant Islamic-informed upbringing in a truly secular home.

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What I am objecting to is to make theology make-over a “first step” and prerequisite to giving Muslims their political rights. or Judge muslim through a 1400 year old versus. We don’t have to wait for theologians to agree on everything before we go ahead and implement public policy.

Again i have no reason to argue against this good and rather valid point. I would venture to add that we should never wait for theologians, we should move on with political freedom and reforms, initiate public policy based on the rule of law, on respect for human beings, and on valuing contributions to society that respect and protects all of its citizen, from their government, before anybody else. If theologians catch up, then good for them, if not, so be it.

That would be fantastic, but again, the problem is those theologians who insist on forcing down our throats made-up artificial struggles that bare only superficial relationship to Islam as they invent battles where non should exist. When they should focus on poverty, which is a direct result of unequal opportunities, they see women hair, arms and legs. When they should focus on family planning, they see women as half humans who should abay a series of males, who could by all means be their inferiors intellectually. When they should rile about corruption in the public domain, they throw a tantrum about school sports for girls becuase it may cause them the think like men. Where they should fight to liberate their sisters in Islam from poverty and injustice, they try to impose draconian, tribal personal status laws on them that makes them subservient to the males of the family, no matter how far removed in blood relationship. These are arguably some of the most respected scholars of our modern days, and they utter verses of the Quran, and use countless hadiths to justify their sick obsession of the purity of women’s bodies. Their vision of governance is that of idealized forms that never existed in reality. Take for example the Shabab movement in Somalia, Banning TVs, beating people in their homes, forcing a separation between genders that never existed in the early days of Islam. Taliban is another example,Pakistan, which is beautiful country with talents and capacities beyond anyones imagination, is now a country, whose economy, security, psyche, and progress is being taken hostage by armed gangs of thugs doing the most horrific crimes in the name of Quran and Sunna. They are the ones who make theological reforms essential and sometimes son-qua-non for progress, not the secularists. If their theology goes unchallanged, then kiss any efforts to gain freedom and democracy good by. They will find their way into power and will halt amy progress made with their tribal deformed version of Islam.

In jordan, one of the early acts of MB members of the parlaiment was to invent a battle about mixed education in universities (which are now a major source of income to Jordan). The second one was trying to ban alcohol. In Gaza, Hamas members burned UN built summer camps for children becuase kids were goimg to have too much fun and be exposed to foreign ideas. I know they do not represent the majority of muslims, but unless their version of Islam is rejected wholesale, they would be as dangerous to the freedom you love as the authoritarian regimes they pretend to fight against.

I doubt that you, Shami, Husam, or Majedkhaldoun have any common ground with these fanatics. If the authoratarian regimes have hijacked our past, and would like to hijack our future, the fanatics have worked with them lock and step, and they are as guilty in stifling progress, in preventing the slient majority, its itellectual potential, and its progress from being realized.

September 6th, 2010, 7:55 pm

 

Majhool said:

OTW,

There is nothing in what you said that I disagree with. None.

Salfi Islam is just awful, its needs to be challenged by all forces of the society, and with full force.

I am thrilled that you agree with the center piece of my argument

“What I am objecting to is to make theology make-over a “first step” and prerequisite to giving Muslims their political rights. or Judge muslim through a 1400 year old versus. We don’t have to wait for theologians to agree on everything before we go ahead and implement public policy”

Its time seculars in Syria grow up and start building secular institutions instead of supporting authoritarianism. Its also time for Muslims to defend their heritage and religions from Whabism.

September 6th, 2010, 8:27 pm

 

Ghat Al Bird said:

Appreciate SC’s review of Syrian and Middle East news as carried on September 7,2010.

Hopefully SC will continue this refreshing and factual feature regularly.

September 7th, 2010, 8:33 am

 

Ghat Al Bird said:

Israel spying on the whole world.

http://mondediplo.com/2010/09/04israelbase

September 7th, 2010, 11:13 am

 

5 dancing shlomos said:

i am for the banning of holocaust: museums, memorials, flagpoles, numbers, except in israel.

in israel there should be memorials to the atrocities committed by the jews against: palestinians, iraqis,lebanese, mankind.

each memorial should have many days when jews can slime over and kill themselves. this would be there one and only gift to mankind, mother earth and the universe.

September 7th, 2010, 1:45 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Syria Comment: The Weblog of “Higher Learning”

Ghat Al Bird said:

Israel spying on the whole world.

Ghat,

Make sure you pull down your window blinds!;)

http://www.gchq.gov.uk/history/index.html

http://www.nsa.gov/about/mission/index.shtml

https://www.cia.gov/

September 7th, 2010, 7:21 pm

 

Ghat Al Bird said:

AP this is right up your intellectual level.

Israeli spies wooing U.S. Muslims, sources say

The CIA took an internal poll not long ago about friendly foreign intelligence agencies.

The question, mostly directed to employees of the clandestine service branch, was: Which are the best allies among friendly spy services, in terms of liaison with the CIA, and which are the worst? In other words, who acts like, well, friends?

“Israel came in dead last,” a recently retired CIA official told me the other day.

Not only that, he added, throwing up his hands and rising from his chair, “the Israelis are number three, with China number one and Russia number two,” in terms of how aggressive they are in their operations on U.S. soil.

Israel’s undercover operations here, including missions to steal U.S. secrets, are hardly a secret at the FBI, CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies. From time to time, in fact, the FBI has called Israeli officials on the carpet to complain about a particularly brazen effort to collect classified or other sensitive information, in particular U.S. technical and industrial secrets.

The most notorious operation employed Jonathan Pollard, the naval intelligence analyst convicted in 1987 and sentenced to life in prison for stealing tens of thousands of classified documents for Israel.

One of Israel’s major interests, of course, is keeping track of Muslims who might be allied with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, or Iran-backed Hezbollah, based in Lebanon.

As tensions with Iran escalate, according to former CIA officer Philip Giraldi, “Israeli agents have become more aggressive in targeting Muslims living in the United States as well as in operating against critics.”

“There have been a number of cases reported to the FBI about Mossad officers who have approached leaders in Arab-American communities and have falsely represented themselves as ‘U.S. intelligence,’ ” Giraldi wrote recently in American Conservative magazine.

“Because few Muslims would assist an Israeli, this is done to increase the likelihood that the target will cooperate. It’s referred to as a ‘false flag’ operation.”

Giraldi’s piece continued, “Mossad officers sought to recruit Arab-Americans as sources willing to inform on their associates and neighbors. The approaches, which took place in New York and New Jersey, were reportedly handled clumsily, making the targets of the operation suspicious.”

“These Arab-Americans turned down the requests for cooperation,” Giraldi added,”and some of the contacts were eventually reported to the FBI, which has determined that at least two of the Mossad officers are, ironically, Israeli Arabs operating out of Israel’s mission to the United Nations in New York under cover as consular assistants.”

“Oh, sure, they do that,” the other former CIA official said, waving a dismissing hand, when I asked about Giraldi’s story. “They’re all over the place.”

The FBI did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

But a retired senior FBI counterintelligence official told SpyTalk, “They have always been extremely aggressive, and seem to feel they can operate whenever and wherever they want, in spite of being called on the carpet more than any other country by probably a factor of three times as often.”

A spokesman for the Israeli Embassy, which routinely denies accounts of Mossad operations on U.S. soil, could not be immediately reached for comment.

The former CIA official, who discussed such sensitive matters only on the condition of anonymity, echoed the views of other U.S. intelligence sources I’ve talked to over the years about Israeli operations in the United States.

They don’t begrudge the Jewish state’s interest in keeping track of its potential or real enemies, including here — indeed, they often say Israel is America’s best friend in the Middle East.

Which, they say, makes Mossad’s impersonation of U.S. intelligence agents all the more galling.

By Jeff Stein | September 2, 2010; 1:58 PM ET

September 7th, 2010, 7:52 pm

 

Akbar Palace said:

Ghat,

Who is “Jeff Stein”? A quick search shows he’s a member of the left-leaning, US media (Washington Post). No surprise there.

I guess I’ll let the warm relationship between the US and Israel intelligence services speak for themselves.

http://stanfordreview.org/article/former-cia-director-james-woolsey-intelligence-ame

http://homelandsecuritynewswire.com/india-israel-discuss-counter-terrorism-intelligence-sharing-arms-delivery

http://www.strategypage.com/htmw/htintel/20100807.aspx

http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2010/feb/25/dubai-hit-did-not-upset-israeli-counterterror-ties/

September 7th, 2010, 10:33 pm

 

James said:

Thanks OTW. If the Syrian Government are serious about moderating the influence of extremist religious groups, they will need to start taking more actions that address the root causes of attraction to these groups, not merely the symptoms.

As long as there is large-scale injustice, corruption and lack of economic opportunity, the message of these groups- the promise of a purer, more equitable society (regardless of whether that’s how it might end up) will be attractive to the bulk of the Syrian population, and support for such groups will grow. Cracking down on religious groups is therefore addressing the symptoms of disaffection with the Government, not the causes. The Government can take measures to discourage these groups, but its efforts will not be effective unless it is prepared to offer something positive as well. That is why the Government must be seen to be active in basic reform- and achieving results that people experience in their everyday lives, such as no longer having to pay extra to get documents authorised etc

Simohurrta- regarding church financing. I understand that in USA and many other western countries, all organised religious activity is considered to be of a charitable nature, and therefore not taxed. Long-established ‘mainstream’ religious groups, whether Christian, Muslim, or Hindu usually have large established congregations and other activities- property, schools etc that generate income. The smaller, newer religious groups have to compete for devotees and income in this market place, so need to offer something ‘more’ than the mainstream- usually a more intense religious involvement. Hence the incentive to come up with increasingly extreme positions- like the idiot congregation in Florida who are planning to burn Qurans on 11 September.

September 8th, 2010, 12:43 am

 

LeoLeoni said:

Dear Majhool,

@ 18, you asked me:

“* How do you know that the Majority think this way? Do you have some statistics?
* Who are the Islamists? Only Those who believe in imposing Sharia Law?
* Why don’t you apply the same notion to Authoritarian regimes? They too don’t believe in such noble causes? or do they?”

On your first question, my claim stems from the fact that historically, the Islam practiced in Syria is more liberal and tolerant from say the Islam practiced in Arabia. Take for example the Hanafi school of fiqh, considered to be the most liberal out of 4 schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Historically majority of Syrians applied the Hanafi fiqh. Until very lately, due to many factors that many of the great contributors of this blog have elaborated on, we have seen the tolerant side of the Islam practiced in Syria being replaced with a more conservative and radical one, being exported from Egypt (Qutbis/Brotherhood) and Saudi Arabia (Salafis/Wahhabis). If no genuine political reform is going to take place, and with the continuance of repression of democracy and basic freedoms of thought, speech, assembly, media, etc. and the continuous arrests of human rights activists, seculars, liberals, socialists, leftists, academics, etc, will only give more room for the radicals to sweep our country. I still think the majority refuses extremism, but not for long, as many who are silent can become indifferent to radicalism with time. But I do think in the long term that Political Islam is a project that is bound to fail. There are too much pressures outside and contradictions within for it to succeed. “Political Islam in Syria” is a great book by Radwan Ziadeh that discusses the future of Political Islam in Syria. There is also this article that I read but unfortunately I can’t find at the moment (when I find I will post it) where the author analyses how in reality Islamists in Syria are a minority and how most Sunnis, even the conservatives ones, in fact do not support such movements politically. It also goes into deep analysis on how some parties within Syria benefit from exaggerating the threat of Political Islam and using the Brotherhood as a scapegoat to slowdown political reform. Don’t forget that the brotherhood also boasts that many Syrians support them and if not sympathize with them. In the end, we have to separate truth from political fantasy.

As for your 2nd question, Islamists are those who see Islam as both a religion and political ideology. They refuse to see Islam as only a religion but consider it to be “Shaamil, deen wa dawla”), the literal definition of the term totalitarian. Every Islamists wants to impose the Sharia. But I wouldn’t commit to saying that everyone who wants believe (I said believe and not impose it on others) in the Sharia is an Islamists, because there are some that also call for a renewal of Sharia and to modernize it to the 21st century. These people, although uncertain on how realistic and practical their goals are, would be at total odds with Islamists.

As for your last statement, I do apply that same notion on authoritarian regimes as well. Please refer to post 87 on the following discussion between Elie ElHadj and I.
http://www.joshualandis.com/blog/?p=7037

This is what I stated regarding our lack of political freedom and inefficient legislatures:

“Many other Arab countries have emergency laws that basically cripple of the proper function of the legislature. Also real opposition in the legislative assemblies is hardly to be found. The political majority refuses to share power with the opposition, even the secular opposition. I know for a fact that it was not the Islamists or political Islam as an ideology that destroyed our legislative process, as they barely had any influence back in the 50s and 60s. We would have to go into a deep analysis of the nationalist policies of the 50s and 60s in order to understand what led us to our dire situation today. Unfortunately, this discussion is considered by many, including our government, a red line. I am afraid that we can not move anywhere if we do not review the past, admit our mistakes, turn the page, and step forward.”

Cheers

September 9th, 2010, 1:27 am

 

Majhool said:

LEOLEONI,

If We accept your definition of Islamists, the majority of Syrians are indeed Islamists albeit in a passive or romantic way

Other points noted

cheers

September 9th, 2010, 3:04 am

 

LeoLeoni said:

Majhool,

You said: “If We accept your definition of Islamists, the majority of Syrians are indeed Islamists albeit in a passive or romantic way”

I’m not sure about that. I do distinguish between one being conservative and one being Islamists. But in the end, we would need to do a statistics with clear questions being asked on different issues and would like to gather the responses and do an analysis. Issues and questions could be pointed out in different areas, an example

POLITICS:
Secular political/Non-Islamic political parties
Freedoms, elections, democracy, seperation of powers, khalifa, non-muslims/women as judges or prime ministers/presidents…

LAW:
Sharia, Replacing the criminal code with Hudood law, Prisons, Punishments including but not limited to whipping, stoning, cutting of hands/feet/head.

SOCIAL:
Sectarianism, woman’s status, segregation, dress code, alcohol/rest/cafes/hotels, tourism, arts including cinema/books/theatre/music/ concerts, festivals, media

Economics:
interest, banks, finance, international trade

Int. Relations:
Dar salam/harb, the west, non-muslim states

This is a small example of issues that a comprehensive study needs to include to see current trends and where the people are positioned on such important matters. It is very difficult to produce an accurate social study in any Arabic country from within. What most of us can best do is predict such trends. But I have a hard time believing that the majority of Syrians would support any party that resembles MB, Hamas, Hizbollah, Islamic Jihad, Hizb-al-Tahrir, various Salafi Jihadi, WITHIN Syria. Now keep in the mind that the above list are all considered Islamists, but they vary to the degree of intensity and radicalism on different issues. Another thing you need to keep in mind, that many Syrians would support groups like Hamas and Hezbollah working in their respective territories, but would not welcome such group to operate within Syria, and this deals more with int. relations.

One last note, during the 40s, 1954, and 1961, Syria relatively witnessed free elections. The majority who were elected to parliament came from non-ideological parties, both the People party (winning majority in 1961) and National Party (winning majority in the 40s). The ideological and religious parties (Communists, Arab Nationalsits/Baath/Socialists, SSNP, MB) received minority votes. You can refer to Sami Moubayad and other historians on this matter.

Cheers

September 9th, 2010, 4:07 am

 

Majhool said:

LEOLEONI,

I fully agree with your approach. I have confidence that if you conduct such a survey the majority would be non “islamists”. However If you ask the same majority whether or not they would support Sharia Law they will most likely say Yes. Of course the first approach one is more credible.

There is a disconnect between faith and reality. This disconnect is a fertile ground for secular institutions to build upon.

September 9th, 2010, 4:29 pm

 

Elie Elhadj said:

Ziad

Sorry I did not see your comment 32.

You quoted me saying:

“Wine is promised in paradise. Just wondering why it is banned on the earth! Might someone explain?”

Your reply: “the answer is in the Quran:

They ask you (O Muhammad ) concerning alcoholic drink and gambling. Say: “In them is a great sin, and (some) benefit for men, but the sin of them is greater than their benefit.” And they ask you what they ought to spend. Say: “That which is beyond your needs.” Thus Allâh makes clear to you His Laws in order that you may give thought. (al-Baqarah 2:219)”.

I am aware that alcohol is prohibited on the earth and that its prohibition is Quranic.

However, my question is not concerned with the reasons behind the prohibition of wine in life. Rather, it relates to a comparison between its use as one of the attractions to entice the faithful to seek paradise vs it being a bad thing on the earth. If wine is bad for earthy living, why is it good in paradise! If rivers of wine are promised in paradise why is it that wine, alcohol in general, is prohibited on the earth.

Alcoholism is a dreadful affliction. Where a freely elected and democratic parliament exists, the legislature should decide on allowing, regulating, or banning its use.

You said: “Elie your style is confrontational implying that you look down on Islam as a religion”.

First, I regret that you judge my style as confrontational. I do not mean to be confrontational. It might just be the sensitivity surrounding religion issues, which stirs one’s protective instincts towards deeply held taboo subjects. Such a reaction is emotional and discolors one’s vision. Further, style ought not be confused with substance. The child should not be thrown out with the bath water. Why don’t SC’s Islamists examine critically the evidence, the facts, the impeccable sources I present instead of lashing out in emotional outbursts?

Second, I see no justification for your conclusion that I “look down on Islam”. Far from it. I grew up among Muslims like one family and some of my closest and best friends have always been Muslims. I know, it is discomforting to debate Islam critically. It took me years to muster the courage to do so. After all, I am a product of Syrian culture and sensibilities! In time, however, discussing Islam will not raise any one’s blood pressure and today’s emotional accusations will largely disappear.

OTW,

Enjoyed reading your well argued comments. Thanks for taking the time.

LEOLEONI,

Your 51 is most relevant. Thanks.

Elie

September 10th, 2010, 3:28 am

 

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