Women and the Rise of The Religious Conservatives

Women and the Rise of The Religious Conservatives
By Anonymous
For Syria Comment
Sept 28, 2010

The following essay examines religious and cultural practices in Syria and the impact of religious conservatism on women. The essay is presented without authorship so as to not prejudice the reader by the author’s sex, religion, or nationality. The essay is intended to stand on it own ideas, to provoke thoughtful reflections.

Women and the Rise of The Religious Conservatives

In Damascus women are increasingly falling under the conservative trend that is sweeping the region. Today, the percentage of women wearing the hijab on the streets of Damascus is on the rise.

Many reasons have been proposed for the increasing number of women wearing the hijab: assertion of self-identify in the face of a perceived Western attack on Islam, a direct response to the Bush administration’s perceived “evangelical” invasion and occupation of Iraq (this is analogous to Americans wearing the yellow ribbon in the aftermath of the September 11 attack on New York City). Piety is another reason; some women in Syria make a vow to wear the hijab in response to their family’s misfortune, as a promise to God to heal a loved one or lift a misfortune. And failure of the secular governments to close the gap with the developed countries is yet another reason given by some analysts.

In Syria the particular influence of the Qubaysiyat cannot be overlooked as a substantial driving force behind the rise toward religious conservatism. The Qubaysiyat is a conservative religious order run by women. Similar to the evangelical Christian conservatives in the U.S., this group aims to gain as many converts as possible, demanding conformity, and wishing to impose their conservative values on society at large. The Qubaysiyat are active and relentless in attracting women, using peer pressure and often offering economic incentives as well.

This rise in conservatism in the Middle East has its parallel rise of the Christian right in the U.S. Many of these conservatives both in the US and the Middle East are targeting the gains achieved by women for equality and independence within society.

All religious conservative movements are patriarchal in nature. Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. is accused of being an anti-feminist, regressive movement. I was recently struck to hear from an American nun from the conservative Dominican order of St. Cecelia that women cannot lead a congregation in prayer since “it is God’s will that man shall do so”. She also contended that in a marriage the man is the head of the household but should love his wife and care for her. This view is contrary to the modern view of marriage as a partnership of equals. In Syria, a conservative woman by the name of Mayssa Hammamy recently published an op-ed on the popular Syria-News website shaming the men of Syria for, among other things, allowing a woman to conduct business negotiation in their presence. And for the first time in Syria’s history, conservatives are planning to segregate women in public by proposing to build women-only shopping centers. This is a painful attack on women’s freedom after the many strides made over the past century in their struggle to earn their place in society as equal to men.

Today, Women have broken many barriers and are leading in fields that not too long ago were men-centric. Women like Lisa Randall is a leading theoretical physicist searching for extra dimensions other than the three spatial and one time dimensions we already know; Danica Patrick raced her Indy car at an average speed of 246 km/h to win the Indy Japan car race against the best male drivers in the world; and Paula Radcliff ran a marathon at a blistering pace of 5 minute and 10 seconds per mile for a mind-numbing 26.2 miles.

This patriarchal revival is particularly odd for a country like Syria where women are known for their intelligence and accomplishment. In 1910 a pioneering women journalist by the name of Mary Ajamy started the first women’s organization in Syria, and in 1930, Lorice Maher was the first women to graduate from medical school paving the way for countless other female medical students who followed through to become some of the best physicians Syria has ever known. Syria today has three women government ministers and the only woman vice president in the Arab world,

Syria is home to traditionally strong and independent women. A Syrian woman who resisted the pressure of the Qubaysiyat recently told me that she would rather see her husband wearing the hijab before she does. Yet these accomplished Syrian women are increasingly finding themselves on the defensive against a growing conservative movement that claims to speak for God.

Not too far from Syria in Gaza, women have been banned from smoking the narghila in public by the conservative government of Hamas. This ban, which has nothing to do with public health, since it does not include men nor does it ban women from smoking in private. This ban is another strike at women’s independence and is anti-feminism in action.

To understand this ban by Hamas it is helpful to review the history of women and smoking. In most of the western world, it was extremely rare to see women smoking in public before the 1940s and 1950s. But as women fought for their rights and gained more independence, smoking in public became a common sight and a signal from women to assert their newfound emancipation. Capitalizing on this sentiment the Tobacco company Philip Morris launched the highly successful slogan “You’ve come a long way, baby” to advertise its Virginia Slims brand of tobacco. A brand manager for Virginia Slims described the success of the campaign as a as liberationist, in the sense that slogan really meant, “You’ve got a lot of options now.” Later as the danger of tobacco became apparent, Western governments banned smoking in most public spaces, equally, for both men and women.

Smoking in public is no longer a form of expression for women, but on the streets of Paris, New York, London, and Milan women are strong, stylish, and assertive. These women are dressed in the latest casual, athletic and business attire, reflecting the status they have achieved in their societies.

While women should be free to express their religious piety in any form they chose, the rise of the hijab can be a slippery slope, it begins with what women can and cannot wear, to whether they can drive; go to school, or work.

Tradition versus religion

Religious fundamentalist Jews, Christians and Muslims alike have a tendency to view the religious text in its literal origin. Unfortunately, women are often the victims of such interpretations.

Contrary to the fundamentalists, the prophet Muhammad encouraged critical thinking and according to the hadith said “To question is half of learning.”  It is thought that through questions a believer can explore his or her faith and the meaning of religion.

One question is: Whether God intended for religion to be codified into a written law?

Examining the history of the Bible and the Quran, offer some clues: To start, neither Jesus nor the Prophet Muhammad ever wrote any religious texts. There are no records of that, nor are there accounts of either one ever having done so. In fact even Abu Baker, the man who succeeded Muhammad as the leader of the Muslim community, is said to have been ambivalent about collecting all of Muhammad’s revelations in writing, in one book. The most credible Islamic tradition states that it was the third Muslim Khalifa, Uthman (644-655), who commissioned Zayed bin Thabit to undertake the task of compiling a standard text. Likewise, Jesus did not write the New Testament of the Christian bible nor was it complied into a single text by his direct disciples. The New Testament was written over a span of many years. Three of its authors, Paul, Luke and Mark, were not of the original 12 disciple of Jesus; the other two authors, John and Mathew allegedly were, but even the portion attributed to John is now believed to have been written by some of John’s students around 95 AD. The Church’s fathers later collected all this work into a standard text that we know today as the Bible.

None of the above argues against the authenticity or truth of either religious text. In both the case of the Quran and the Bible, people made a faithful effort to record the words of Jesus and Muhammad and create a singular religious text, but in neither case were these people commanded by Jesus or Muhammad to do so.

Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet Muhammad could not read or write, and Muslim scholars consider the revelation of the majestic words of the Quran though Muhammad as a miracle, and liken it to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. This again could be interpreted as an indication of God’s intention. God chose Muhammad as his prophet, a man who could not write and appeared to him though the angel Gabriel; he told him to recite not to write: “Recite: in the name of thy lord who created, created the human being of a blood clot”. Had God intended for the prophet Muhammad to write, it certainly was within God’s mean to bestow this ability on the prophet, but God chose not to.

Also God’s choice of language is another indication of this aversion to the literal religious text. Jesus spoke Aramaic, a language that was to become practically extinct. Today Aramaic is only spoken by the inhabitants of one village in Syria and in the liturgy of a couple of Christian churches in Syria and Lebanon.

Arabic on the other hand was primarily an oral language and did not develop into a written language until much later than its Aramaic predecessor. The earliest written form of Arabic appeared in 512 AD, a few years before the birth of the prophet Muhammad and at the time had only 22 letters, the use of the dots was latter added to the Arabic alphabet to make up today’s Arabic 28 letters. The earliest surviving document that definitely uses these dots dates back to 643 (11 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad) and did not become obligatory until much later. According to the traditionalist Muslim historical account, the original Quran was written using the earlier version of the Arabic alphabet, the text was later given vowel pointing and punctuation in the seventh and eighth centuries. So While God chose for Jesus a language destined to become extinct, in the case of Muhammad, God chose a fluid language that was not yet fixed in its final written form.

If a lawyer today were to write a legally binding document, a law, he or she would refer to the dictionary several times to examine the spelling and exact meaning of the word used, whether it is being used in the right way and the proper place. A legal document often includes defined term in it as an addendum to the text. One can only imagine how contentious a legal battle can be over any vagueness or double meaning of words.

Before dictionaries codify a language, it is written and spoken but it is not really defined, not fixed. Language, by its very nature, evolves. Words evolve and their meanings change depending on the context in which they are used, and also with time. The first Arabic Language dictionaries were compiled between the 8th and 14th century, that is when the meaning of the Arabic word was beginning to get fixed and well defined. So it is humans many years after the death of the prophet Muhammad that fixed the meaning of the words God chose for Quran. Again this does not argue against the authenticity of the text, rather that it was not the intention of god to codify religion into text, otherwise God would have chosen in the case of Christianity an enduring language and in the case of Islam a well established one.

The Religious Law

God’s aversion to the written religious law seems to date to the days of Moses. According to the Jewish Torah, the Ten Commandments were spoken by God and written by Moses on two stone tablets during his 40 days atop mount Sinai. The Stone however later broke, as the aging Moses came down from the mountain and threw these tablets to the ground, angry at the site of the Israelite worshiping idols. All three monotheistic religions report a similar version of the event, and all three religions hold that God is supreme, creator of everything seen and unseen, God they hold is all-knowing. So one has to wonder: if God wanted a religious law written in his name and in stone, why would God not have made available to Moses a more durable stone?

Inspired by the Quran and the Hadith, Muslim jurists later developed the Shariaa, or Islamic law that conservatives use to enforce their values on Arab society. This law however was also deeply rooted in the traditions of Arabia and the ancient Near Eastern legal culture. These cultures are traditional and strongly patriarchal and link the image of women and the virginity of unmarried women to family honor.  Despite the prophet Muhammad’s groundbreaking efforts, at that time, to grant women new rights in matters of marriage, divorce, and inheritance, the law today continues to be patriarchal, influenced by the traditional culture in which it developed. By and large the Arab societies today are still deeply patriarchal.

One outrageous example of this patriarchal hold on these societies in Syria today is the so-called honor killings of women who have an affair or who have premarital relationships. This heinous killing is still reported regularly predominantly in rural Christian as well as Muslim communities. Although honor killings are prohibited by religion, it is primarily the religious conservatives who oppose to strengthening of the law and punishments against it.

In another telling example of how religious law is intertwined with the conservative values of traditional societies, the Syrian government recently allowed for each religious community to develop its own civil law in accordance to its rules. This gesture by the Syrian government is in the tradition of early Islam. When Abu Bakr deployed his army to conquer Syria, he commanded his generals to establish a covenant with the conquered people and “to let them live according to their own law.” Prior to this ruling by the Syrian government, the Shariaa law governed all civil matters of all Syrians. And since the Shariaa law is an Islamic religious law, one would have expected the Christians in Syria to take advantage of this new ruling. What happened instead was surprising and telling at the same time. The Melkite Catholics of Syria, who are predominantly city dwellers, quickly seized this opportunity and established their own civil law that gave women equal rights to men in among other things matters of inheritance. The Melkite Orthodox on the other hand resisted, preferring to remain under the Syrian civil law that adopted the Shariaa law in matters of inheritance. The Melkite Orthodox are the majority of the Christians in Syria and have large congregations living in rural and more traditional parts of Syria. These traditional communities are still deeply patriarchal and did not want their family wealth to pass with the married daughters to their new families.

It was very interesting to recently read in the archives of the NY Times that at the turn of the 20th century in what was little Syria in lower Manhattan, men and women were separated during service at the Maronite church according to traditional custom, with men occupying the front of the church and women the back. While Christians in Syria no longer segregate worshipers according to their sex, Muslims still do. All of this is a strong indication that today religion and tradition are intertwined and that religious conservatives are holding on to old cultural traditions that are outdated and that discriminate against women.

Knowing what we know today about law and language, one has to wonder why God did not clearly define a religious text and law. Why did none of his chosen disciples, Jesus or Muhammad oversee the creation of a singular religious text, in a well-defined, well-established language? Perhaps because there are two ways human typically deal with laws: one group fetishizes the law and the other tries to find loophole. Perhaps also because the religious text divides us, taken away, we are left with one God and the notion that we are all created equal. The only consistent message in all the religions is to do good and to help those less fortunate, the poor and the sick. Without the law we are free to grow, free to develop, and free to try to find the divine in our everyday and the beauty that surrounds us.

Today it has been reported that the Syrian government is asserting its secular principles in response to the rising religious orthodoxy. One good place for both the government and the civil society in Syria to start is strengthening women’s rights. As a starting point it should be emphasized without any qualification or exception that women are equal to men; That they are human beings, with all the rights, responsibilities and privileges of men

Comments (37)


1. idit said:

Wonderful post. It touches one of the most important issues in the middle east with deep knowledge and Eloquence. Well done.

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September 29th, 2010, 4:15 pm

 

2. Badr said:

How would the author reconcile his/her saying that “it was not the intention of god to codify religion into text” with the following verse [15:9] from the Quran:

إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”

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September 29th, 2010, 4:51 pm

 

3. majedkhaldoon said:

It is good article
One comment, It was Hasan ibn Thapet who wrote verses of Quraan,on request of the prophet,and Othman ibn Affan only collected Quraan,
Some of Ahadiths were written by Abdullah ibn Amr ibn AlAss

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September 29th, 2010, 5:58 pm

 

4. Anonymous said:

to Brad

Examining the history of the Bible and the Quran, offer some clues: To start, neither Jesus nor the Prophet Muhammad ever wrote any religious texts. There are no records of that, nor are there accounts of either one ever having done so. In fact even Abu Baker, the man who succeeded Muhammad as the leader of the Muslim community, is said to have been ambivalent about collecting all of Muhammad’s revelations in writing, in one book. The most credible Islamic tradition states that it was the third Muslim Khalifa, Uthman (644-655), who commissioned Zayed bin Thabit to undertake the task of compiling a standard text. Likewise, Jesus did not write the New Testament of the Christian bible nor was it complied into a single text by his direct disciples. The New Testament was written over a span of many years. Three of its authors, Paul, Luke and Mark, were not of the original 12 disciple of Jesus; the other two authors, John and Mathew allegedly were, but even the portion attributed to John is now believed to have been written by some of John’s students around 95 AD. The Church’s fathers later collected all this work into a standard text that we know today as the Bible.

None of the above argues against the authenticity or truth of either religious text. In both the case of the Quran and the Bible, people made a faithful effort to record the words of Jesus and Muhammad and create a singular religious text, but in neither case were these people commanded by Jesus or Muhammad to do so.

Islamic tradition holds that the Prophet Muhammad could not read or write, and Muslim scholars consider the revelation of the majestic words of the Quran though Muhammad as a miracle, and liken it to the virgin birth of Jesus Christ. This again could be interpreted as an indication of God’s intention. God chose Muhammad as his prophet, a man who could not write and appeared to him though the angel Gabriel; he told him to recite not to write: “Recite: in the name of thy lord who created, created the human being of a blood clot”. Had God intended for the prophet Muhammad to write, it certainly was within God’s mean to bestow this ability on the prophet, but God chose not to.

Also God’s choice of language is another indication of this aversion to the literal religious text. Jesus spoke Aramaic, a language that was to become practically extinct. Today Aramaic is only spoken by the inhabitants of one village in Syria and in the liturgy of a couple of Christian churches in Syria and Lebanon.

Arabic on the other hand was primarily an oral language and did not develop into a written language until much later than its Aramaic predecessor. The earliest written form of Arabic appeared in 512 AD, a few years before the birth of the prophet Muhammad and at the time had only 22 letters, the use of the dots was latter added to the Arabic alphabet to make up today’s Arabic 28 letters. The earliest surviving document that definitely uses these dots dates back to 643 (11 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad) and did not become obligatory until much later. According to the traditionalist Muslim historical account, the original Quran was written using the earlier version of the Arabic alphabet, the text was later given vowel pointing and punctuation in the seventh and eighth centuries. So While God chose for Jesus a language destined to become extinct, in the case of Muhammad, God chose a fluid language that was not yet fixed in its final written form.

If a lawyer today were to write a legally binding document, a law, he or she would refer to the dictionary several times to examine the spelling and exact meaning of the word used, whether it is being used in the right way and the proper place. A legal document often includes defined term in it as an addendum to the text. One can only imagine how contentious a legal battle can be over any vagueness or double meaning of words.

Before dictionaries codify a language, it is written and spoken but it is not really defined, not fixed. Language, by its very nature, evolves. Words evolve and their meanings change depending on the context in which they are used, and also with time. The first Arabic Language dictionaries were compiled between the 8th and 14th century, that is when the meaning of the Arabic word was beginning to get fixed and well defined. So it is humans many years after the death of the prophet Muhammad that fixed the meaning of the words God chose for Quran. Again this does not argue against the authenticity of the text, rather that it was not the intention of god to codify religion into text, otherwise God would have chosen in the case of Christianity an enduring language and in the case of Islam a well established one.

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September 29th, 2010, 6:15 pm

 

5. ANONYMOUS said:

to MAJEDKHALDOON:

Uthman (644-655), who commissioned Zayed bin Thabit to undertake the task of compiling a standard text. Thabit had to travel all over arabia to collect these suras, some has been written on shoulder blades and parchment and many were just memorized. and the final version was approved by the khalife

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September 29th, 2010, 6:22 pm

 

6. majedkhaldoon said:

Thank you anonymous
In the wikipedia I quot
Zayd was among those chosen by Muhammad to write down the verses of the Qur’an.

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September 29th, 2010, 9:58 pm

 

7. Badr said:

Anonymous,

My name is Badr not Brad. This could be a clue that Arabic is not your first language. :-)
Your reply to my question was a repeat of what you had already stated in your essay. I don’t find an explanation of how God could guard His Message (verse [15:9]) without a written text.

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September 30th, 2010, 4:32 am

 

8. Majhool said:

Keeping in mind that all things are relative, aren’t modesty and other conservative traits considered human values before being associated with religion?

For me, as long as women are free to work,learn,think, love, and prosper, the issue of hijab becomes obsolete.

Tal el mallohi, the 17 year old poet blogger in jail, wears a hijab. she seem to have had all her freedoms except those denied by the “secular” government.

Another thing, could some one please define the term “secular government” as per Syrian law and constitution?

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September 30th, 2010, 5:33 am

 

9. Salimi said:

An interesting post…

Yet, it makes me wonder, regardless of the author’s disciplinary affiliations, how they adopt and reproduce unquestionably the generalising, simplistic and dangerous dichotomies: ‘men’ and ‘women’, ‘patriarchy’, ‘tradition’… What these classifications do, on both theoretical and practical levels, is to reproduce stereotypes – orientalising, exoticised, and disempowering stereotypes.

Although the author attempts not to ‘exoticise’ Syrian or Arab women by providing the ‘Western’ equivalent, this actually crystallises ‘western-eastern’ stereotypes rather than challenging them: “… on the streets of Paris, New York, London, and Milan women are strong, stylish, and assertive.”

Is the author sure that these women are indeed strong, stylish and assertive? And does the author have evidence or examples of how might the women in the streets of Damascus, Aleppo or Raqqa are any less strong, stylish and assertive? Or could it be that the criteria by which the author evaluates ‘strength’ and ‘assertiveness’ are biased? For example, veiling can be interpreted as much as hiding as revealing.. And, inasmuch as it has religious connotations, its practice reveals as much about religion as it does about contemporary politics. In such a way that, rather than being ‘traditional’ it becomes a modern practice, even a modern tactic.

Within the social sciences and anthropology, debates regarding similar issues have come a long way since the first publication of Said’s ‘Orientalism’… Yet, the unquestionable assumption of terms and dichotomies makes me wonder whether we are really voices crying out in the wilderness…?

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September 30th, 2010, 8:14 am

 

10. Ghat Al Bird said:

While the link coverage is strictly limited to Canada. It does represent what is termed “western democracies views’ on women and governmental jurisdictions.

Is not a little conservatism a positive factor in all societies?

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/article/867332–canada-s-prostitution-laws-unconstitutional-court-rules

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September 30th, 2010, 9:49 am

 

11. ahmad said:

Ghat Al Bird: a l”ittle conservatism” is that hijab, niqab, segregation of sexes or honor killing?

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September 30th, 2010, 9:58 am

 

12. secular said:

Mr. Badr, إِنَّا نَحْنُ نَزَّلْنَا الذِّكْرَ وَإِنَّا لَهُ لَحَافِظُونَ

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption).”

I do not read “without doubt” in the Arabic Verse, or “from corruption” which you seem to add in the English translation . what is الذِّكْرَ

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September 30th, 2010, 10:05 am

 

13. Ghat Al Bird said:

AHMAD said:

Ghat Al Bird: a l”ittle conservatism” is that hijab, niqab, segregation of sexes or honor killing?

Why limit yourself Ahmad? Go for what gives you pleasure.

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September 30th, 2010, 11:33 am

 

14. LeoLeoni said:

Ghat,

Criminalizing prostitution was not able to curb down the rates in most of the world. Instead, it increased the risk of harm to the women while most of these women are actually victims and not criminals. Criminalizing prostitution increases the price which makes it lucrative for mobs and organized gangs to engage in human trafficking and prostitution. When it’s underground there is an increase in the risk of sexually transmitted diseases because those women fear getting checkups in order not to be caught or exposed. They also avoid paying taxes and would not seek the authorities if they get robbed or raped.

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September 30th, 2010, 12:10 pm

 

15. jad said:

Anonymous,
Thank you very much for the article, the name choice is smart! :)
Your article touches a very important issue of how women rights can be easily hijacked and how the society blindly agrees when GOD speaks to them through his almighty chosen people without any question asked or permitted to be asked without the sword being ready.
I guess GOD doesn’t have any other ways to communicate to us but by his ‘men’, right Brad?

It’s been proven many times that when religions rise in an ignorant and political ways it takes the whole society centuries back as we are seeing in our Arab/Islamic societies. And as long as we don’t see almost all our women in these ‘special’ society educated, working, producing, being protected and being treated equally to all our ‘superior’ men by laws and by society’s standards, we will never ever advance, our women are our hidden treasures, we have no choice but to empower them in every way possible if we want a better future, this is why Mr. Salimi, you need to leave your ‘manly’ questionable persona and see that our LAW doesn’t give the women equal rights and protections as the LAW give them in any western society, stop questioning and open your eyes to see our women sad reality, it’ll be hurtful but necessary.

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September 30th, 2010, 12:21 pm

 

16. 5 dancing shlomos said:

an important woman in syria. delete her:

September 28, 2010

From Scheuer to Blair
You Only Get the Truth From Former Officials
By BOUTHAINA SHAABAN

Warning us about the Obama administration’s submission to Israeli pressure, in an interview with Lebanon’s OTV, Michael Scheuer, a former senior CIA officer, said: “Three hundred million Americans could wake up tomorrow to discover that a foreign leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, led them to war with Iran, which might lead to war with the rest of the Muslim world”. He added, “Israel has no value whatsoever when it comes to American interests. It does not produce or give us anything we need. The only thing we get from it is that it is leading us to a religious war it seeks with Islam”.

Documents released by the National Security Archives Center, after having been declassified, show that hours after the 9/11 attacks, former US Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld talked about attacking Iraq – according to minutes of a meeting held that day – and asked for “evidence which shows an alleged relationship between the former head of the Iraqi regime and al-Qaeda leader”. The United States acknowledged later that no relation existed between the former Iraqi regime and the 9/11 attacks. Nevertheless, it went ahead with invading Iraq.

In his memoirs, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair admitted that “there was no evidence to prove Iraqi ties to al-Qaeda”, or that it possessed mass destruction weapons”. The decision to invade Iraq was taken on the first day that George W. Bush and his team took office.

Shall we wait, every time, for a certain official responsible for waging a war to retire, to know the real objective of that war? The more important question is: why do not Western officials, who play leading roles in their countries with impact on the lives of millions of people in other countries, dare say the truth and behave accordingly? Why do they, in moments such as the attack on Iraq, toe the line of other forces and reduce themselves to mere instruments? The answer might be that these forces are capable of putting an end to their political existence altogether under one pretext or another.

If we examine what is happening today, in light of what happened in the past, we find that the six countries involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program state repeatedly that they “prefer a diplomatic solution with Iran”. President Obama, during his election campaign, said he “does not want or intend to strike Iran”. Who then is drumming up war against Iran? And who is drumming up war against it or against Lebanon every time the prospects of a peaceful settlement looms in the horizon?

There are two main factors here: the first is that most mainstream Western media are sympathetic to Israel. That is why most Western officials do not dare say the truth when it comes to Israel’s crimes. They might whisper in private, or write in their memoirs after they leave office and become ‘former’ officials about the racist reality of Israel. But it is rare to find a Western official prepared to sacrifice his position to reveal the truth. That is why private memoirs of ‘former’ officials shed light on past events. But we should learn the lesson from past decisions which brought destruction and disasters to millions of people in order to avoid similar ones which could bring the world similar disasters.

The second factor is that Arabs in general still deal with the United States, which gives billions of dollars worth of weapons to Israel, in addition to the money given to expand settlements and support settlers, as if it were neutral and an honest broker between Arabs and Israelis. Not an honst broker? They only need to recall footage of American Secretary of State Hilary Clinton arriving in occupied Palestine and received by Shimon Peres, holding his hands and massaging them with warmth and affection. She did so, as if she had not heard the racist statements of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who said about the Arabs, on the Jewish New Year celebrations, “God should strike them with a plague, them and these Palestinians”; and as if she did not hear of Israeli soldier Eden Aberjil, after she posted photos of her blindfolded Palestinian prisoners on Facebook, “I would enjoy killing Arabs”. All this racism did not merit a word of condemnation from any Western official.

Bouthaina Shaaban is Political and Media Advisor at the Syrian Presidency, and former Minister of Expatriates. She is also a writer and professor at Damascus University since 1985. She has been the spokesperson for Syria.

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September 30th, 2010, 1:20 pm

 

17. kinzi said:

There are several aspects to this article I find difficult to swallow.

“Many of these conservatives both in the US and the Middle East are targeting the gains achieved by women for equality and independence within society.”

This is not a realistic comparison at all. The conservative movement in the Middle East is not just targeting, but succeeding in removing gains. Conversely, the conservative movement in America is putting more women in political office than ever. Pay scales have recently shown to be equal. This comparison isn’t even apples and oranges, it is apples and seeds of oranges.

“Christian fundamentalism in the U.S. is accused of being an anti-feminist, regressive movement. I was recently struck to hear from an American nun from the conservative Dominican order of St. Cecelia that women cannot lead a congregation in prayer since “it is God’s will that man shall do so”. She also contended that in a marriage the man is the head of the household but should love his wife and care for her. This view is contrary to the modern view of marriage as a partnership of equals.”

Accused of being anti-feminist, indeed. Most women I know consider having a full-time job and leaving kids in day-care a regression in personal freedom. St. Paul forbids a woman to teach, but prayer is just fine. The Bible does teach that a man is the head of the home, but the concept is based on mutual submission. He submits to her strengths, she to his, which is what makes a marriage partnership of equals work. The concept of loving his wife is in terms that he must be willing to die for her, as Christ did for the church.

Modern marriage? How is this defined? By a 50% divorce rate? Christian spouses who pray together daily have a 3% divorce rate. That does not sound like repression.

Women are not dying, girls schools are not being burned, acid is not being thrown in the faces of women in the Christian fundamentalist movement.

The Muslim world is making great strides for women. But where they came from, except for inheritance issues, is centuries behind what American women have achieved in the last 100 years. Independence for women? Ya lateef. The growing conservative movement will not help.

I’ll have to leave it at that.

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September 30th, 2010, 2:22 pm

 

18. Elie Elhadj said:

Prof. Landis,

Thank you for presenting a significant article that would help encourage the asking of serious questions concerning God, the prophets, and man’s constructed dogma and religious dictum.

The article states: “The most credible Islamic tradition states that it was the third Muslim Khalifa, Uthman (644-655), who commissioned Zayed bin Thabit to undertake the task of compiling a standard text”.

The belief that Uthman collected the standard text of the Quran requires a great deal of faith.

The historicity of the Quran is far from clear. According to The Encyclopaedia of Islam, the development of the Quran took place in three main stages: The collection and ordering of the text from both oral and written sources, the determination of the final consonantal text, and the process by which several readings, (various ways of vocalizing the text), were accepted as canonical or ‘revealed.’ Each stage is challenging to reconstruct and date scientifically because evaluating Muslim sources is difficult (The Encyclopaedia of Islam, New Edition, Volume V, pages 400-432).

There is not a copy of the Quran that dates back to the time of Uthman. The earliest copy of the Quran goes back to about two centuries after the death of the Prophet.

Studying the historicity of the Quran scientifically is a touchy subject. Outside the traditionists’ religiously driven reading of history, scientifically articulated theories are condemned by the ulama as kufr.

Approaching the Quran in a manner that sees the Muslim tradition surrounding the text as grounded in the dogmas of later centuries, Prof. John Wansbrough concluded that the Quran was written down in the third-century Hijri, not during the reign of Uthman. In reaching his conclusion, Prof. Wansbrough subjected to scholarly analysis an entire body of literature attributed to the first four centuries of Islam that stands as a witness to the rise of the Quran to the position of absolute authority in the Muslim community (John Wansbrough, Quranic Studies, Sources and Methods of Scriptural Interpretation, Prometheus Books, New york, P. xii).

Elie

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September 30th, 2010, 4:52 pm

 

19. Ghat Al Bird said:

A significant article on the public policies of israel in regards the Palestinians.

Avigdor Lieberman’s UN Speech Shows the True Face of Israel
By Alex Kane September 29, 2010 | Posted in Alex Kane , IndyBlog .
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Yisrael Beiteinu’s strong third-place showing in Israel’s February 2009 elections for the Knesset was met with dread and disgust from many different quarters. Avigdor Lieberman, the founder and leader of the far-right party and the current Foreign Minister, ran a campaign filled with fascist overtones as he called for “loyalty oaths” to be signed by Palestinian citizens of Israel.

But perhaps we should take a look at Lieberman again in light of his much-condemned United Nations General Assembly speech yesterday and instead feel glad that the true face of Israel is shining to the world because of his position of power.

At the UN, Lieberman called for a “long-term intermediate agreement” instead of a solution dealing with all the final-status issues, dismissed the notion that the occupation and colonization of Palestine is at the core of the conflict and proposed a deal with the Palestinians that would be “about moving borders to better reflect demographic realities.” Although Lieberman claimed that he was not talking about “moving populations,” it’s apparent that Lieberman’s plan would result in the expulsion of Palestinian citizens of Israel to a Palestinian state, all in the service of making Israel an “ethnically pure” Jewish state.

Reactions from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. Jewish leaders were swift, and the media narrative laid out is that Lieberman’s speech revealed “differences” within Israeli politics about the “peace process.” The New York Times reports today that “sharp differences within the Israeli government over peace negotiations played out in the unusual setting of the United Nations General Assembly on Tuesday.”

Netanyahu’s office distanced the prime minister from the speech and said that Lieberman’s speech was “not coordinated” with Netanyahu and that Netanyahu wants “direct talks” with the Palestinian Authority to go forward.

The reaction from Netanyahu was about promoting the image of Israel as willing to sit down and negotiate for peace with the Palestinians, which Lieberman’s speech did damage to. But that’s all it was about–Netanyahu and the State of Israel’s policies are completely in line with Lieberman’s plan of ethnically cleansing the non-Jewish citizens of Israel and of continuing to colonize the West Bank.

Under Netanyahu, the Bedouin village of Al Araqib has been destroyed multiple times to make way for a Jewish National Fund “ambassador forest.” Netanyahu has presided over the continued colonization of the West Bank, despite talk of a “settlement freeze,” and that’s likely to accelerate in the coming weeks. An recent Israeli Supreme Court ruling has Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah worried about further dispossession at the hands of Jewish settlers, and Silwan in East Jerusalem is still under the threat of home demolitions to make way for Israeli settlements and a theme park.

The list can go on and on. Actions speak much louder than words, and the State of Israel under Netanyahu has continued routine Israeli policies of land theft, colonization and slow ethnic cleansing. That’s not much different than the Israel Lieberman showed at the UN yesterday in words. Maybe that’s a good thing; the true, ugly face of Israeli policy, which the Palestinians know all-too-well, was shown to the world, further confirming that the “peace talks” are useless, and that Netanyahu is playing a public relations game for the international community while the status quo is sustained.

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September 30th, 2010, 5:10 pm

 

20. maysoun said:

Dear Salimi:

If you walk the streets of most business centers in the west you see women dressed in a variety of colors and fashion expressing their individuality and indicating as well the status they have achieved. This is no different than a man dressed in a power suit. Fashion is an art that individual use to project power, status, sensuality, independence, or conformity. Rebellious teenagers often distinguish themselves with what they wear. The statement that is expressed by women in capitals from New York to Tokyo today is that “we are here and we will not be denied”.

When a woman wears the niqab she is erasing her identity when she is in public. When women wear a uniform weather nuns or qubiesiyat they are emphasizing the groups they belong to rather than their individuality. No one can say that the dull colored overcoat and hijab or the nun habits are stylish.
There is nothing orientlist about this

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September 30th, 2010, 8:34 pm

 

21. Maysoun said:

Dear Salimi:

If you walk the streets of most business centers in the west you see women dressed in a variety of colors and fashion expressing their individuality and indicating as well the status they have achieved. This is no different than a man dressed in a power suit. Fashion is an art that individual use to project power, status, sensuality, independence, or conformity. Rebellious teenagers often distinguish themselves with what they wear. The statement that is expressed by women in capitals from New York to Tokyo today is that “we are here and we will not be denied”.

When a woman wears the niqab she is erasing her identity when she is in public. When women wear a uniform weather nuns or qubiesiyat they are emphasizing the groups they belong to rather than their individuality. No one can say that the dull colored overcoat and hijab or the nun habits are stylish.
There is nothing orientlist about this.

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September 30th, 2010, 9:58 pm

 

22. why-discuss said:

Allawi Tells Iran to Stay Out of Iraqi Politics

Source: VOA

Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi has called on Middle East leaders to stop Iran from interfering in Iraqi politics. He made the call in Syria Wednesday, following a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. Mr. Allawi said he had asked Iran’s allies, which include Syria, to send the message to Tehran.

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October 1st, 2010, 12:05 am

 

23. Jihad said:

Another piece filled with over-repeated cliches and stereotypes. There is no need to hide behind anonymous nicknames and resort to dubious comparative claims. The message is clear: let’s cast Islam aside and follow Anonymous and his “argili” or “shisha.” I always wonder why people who believe in such things don’t come out and say it clearly without trying hard to appear wise or sophisticated.

Maybe you can benefit a bit on the sophistication side by reading what Ali Mazrui wrote in Foreign Affairs back in 1997 under the title: Islamic and Western Values. Here’s a link to the full article:

http://www.alhewar.com/AliMazrui.htm

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October 1st, 2010, 12:15 am

 

24. Anonymous said:

Jihad: The article was filled with reverence to God and his prophets. It is actually inviting you to follow the prophet Muhammad and ask questions.

All the facts that were presented in this essay were pulled from islamic, Jewish, and christian traditional sources.

You have to reconcile your faith to these facts. It will only be strengthened.

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October 1st, 2010, 12:41 am

 

25. Salimi said:

Dear Jad, I am not questioning the differences in law or that indeed there is exploitation of women (as there is exploitation of men, of different classes, etc.). What I am questioning are the frames of analysis that seem at least a bit dated… Furthermore, there is a slight theoretical contradiction in saying that ‘we need to empower our women’: doesn’t this imply that they have no agency by which to ‘empower’ themselves? Do they need to be empowered by someone else? Like a protector of sorts? Isn’t that a bit sexist? (a good general article on this Sahlins 1999)

Dear Maysoon, both ‘individuality’ and ‘identity’ are highly problematic terms, entangled along with ‘enlightenment’ and capitalist ideals and historical development. Fashion, in addition, is debatably an art but surely is a status symbol: the fashion of working women and wen in England is very different from that of the aristocracy! ‘Stylish’ regardless of the fact that it is an opinion thus not really verifiable, has more connotation about class and social capital than anything else… Regarding veiling, etc. I would recommend reading anything from Abu-Lughod…

Salamat

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October 1st, 2010, 4:19 am

 

26. ford prefect said:

What a wonderful article! I appreciate that the author has decided to withhold his/her name because many readers will judge the article by the name of the author – thus distracting from its substance. Great piece of work, anonymous!

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October 1st, 2010, 10:06 am

 

27. norman said:

Shai, Amir

How does Israel reconcile the religious orientation of their groups with the secular nature of the laws , which laws follow the Talmud and which do not and how they get away with it ,

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October 1st, 2010, 10:29 am

 

28. jad said:

Dear Salimi,
I want to thank you for pointing me out to Marshal Sahlins, I never read his books before and you got me very interested in reading his views of the indigenous cultures, but before getting into that, I have to reply to your smart questions that might lead to an interesting discussion.

You wrote:
“There is a slight theoretical contradiction in saying that ‘we need to empower our women’”
In many western society they have many free and powerful organizations found by women and men who believes in the gender equality and pushes their agendas to become part of the national law and constitution and on top of that there are other organizations that monitor closely if the system itself is following those specific rules regardless of any clergy opinions, in that case and if my ‘we need to empower our women’ was about western society, I would’ve agree with your friendly reminding, however, my comment about the need of empowering our women was meant toward our own culture, society and justice system that are still behind and they are the ‘sexist’ unbalanced powers that is taking from the rights of our women, not me.
But you are right, I might be ‘sexist’ against some men when it comes to support women rights in general and specifically our Syrian women, because I see the men in power are not fully free of their ‘religious’ + ’business’ obligations toward other organizations that doesn’t see anything in women but a house wife and her position is in the house as a slave, yes I might be sexist, when our court of law doesn’t see in any Syrian woman as a full member of the society and doesn’t give her the same treatment as men.

“Doesn’t this imply that they have no agency by which to ‘empower’ themselves?”
When those agencies supposed to help our Syrian woman get their rights and fight for them doesn’t do their jobs and become a tool in the hands of the government to reflect one view, I’ll refuse to recognize them or support them, they are working against what they were found for, so No, my ‘empower our women’ doesn’t imply that we have no agency, it implies that those agencies are not doing a good job.

“Do they need to be empowered by someone else? Like a protector of sorts? Isn’t that a bit sexist?”
When you as a somehow powerless entity in the land of traditions, religions and non rational rules can’t empower yourself because of many other powers are set against you, especially by almighty god, and when the whole society has this stereotypical idea that you are not worth to open your mouth and shout against the unjust you are facing in all sort of your daily life, then you defiantly need some help, you need help from the same circle that is set against you, be it a man or a woman from that same circle and no, that doesn’t mean that you are not equal for those who are defending you, the opposite, they are with you and they want to work with you to get you in a place where you can be heard and lead, it has nothing to do with male or female chauvinism, it’s about right and wrong and what side you decide to choose.

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October 1st, 2010, 1:18 pm

 

29. Maysoon said:

Dear Salimi: did you just write these word “both ‘individuality’ and ‘identity’ are highly problematic terms”???

I am in individual with an identity; If you do not havean identity then this is your problem.

And yes Fashion is art, and a craft too.

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October 1st, 2010, 2:05 pm

 

30. Maysoon said:

Dear Salimi: did you just write these word “both ‘individuality’ and ‘identity’ are highly problematic terms”???

I am in individual with an identity; If you do not havean identity then this is your problem.

And yes Fashion is art, and a craft too

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October 1st, 2010, 2:56 pm

 

31. Shai said:

Norman,

In Israel, like in some “western” nations, there is no full separation between church and state. And our church – the Rabbinate – still has say in certain fields, including marriage, conversion, citizenship, education, and a few others. More importantly, when the religious parties enter coalitions, they get very real power in determining budgets (especially for their sectors), and in whatever ministries they end up holding. In the past, they’ve held very high posts, such as the Ministry of Interior, Ministry of National Infrastructures, and Ministry of Industry and Trade.

The religious have their own school system, and their own courts. But secular Israelis (which is still the majority of Israelis) do not have to participate or stand before either of these. In the past, the religious also controlled, for instance, business activity on the Sabbath. No stores were allowed to be open, no buses, etc. But today things are different. In a secular person’s life, for the most part, religious interference is quite negligible. In my own case, for instance, the most “bothersome” aspect came about when I wanted to get married, “official marriage” that is recognized by the State, and had to do so with an Orthodox Rabbi (rather than, say, a more reformed one). And those couples who wouldn’t stand for this, just hop on a plane and get married in Cyprus or Greece. Marriage abroad is recognized. This is one of those laws that will surely change with time, as many others have.

Despite religious parties presence and certain-control in Parliament (and often government), I still do not consider Israel as a whole to be a religious society. It is still far from KSA, or even Iran. The country is still run mostly by secular Israelis.

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October 2nd, 2010, 3:42 pm

 

32. why-discuss said:

Shai

In countries like Germany and some northern countries, citizens automatically pay a specific tax to the Church. In Germany the Church is an important employer. Charities and salaries of the religious community are therefore paid by german citizens. If they don’t want to pay that tax , they must ask from exemption but then, they can’t marry at the church and can’t baptize their children. Is it the same in Israel?
By the way all arab countries do not offer civil marriage, only religious. Fo example, non-religious marriages for Lebanese christians and moslems are done in Cyprus ans Turkey too!

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October 2nd, 2010, 6:02 pm

 

33. Norman said:

Shai,
So it looks like there are two court systems and you can chose one what will happen if the opponent disagree on what court to seek ,
and what about the non Jews . Christians and Muslims , Druz too , what court system they are facing and how do they get married and what about inheritance for Jews and for non Jews , are the women equal in Jewish religious courts and what happen to the other group,

in Syria i think there is anew law that allows Christians to have wells so parents can decide distributions,

WD ,
In the US paying to charity is not mandated but tax deductible and you pay as you go the services ,

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October 2nd, 2010, 8:59 pm

 

34. why-discuss said:

I wonder if Syria is not somehow happy about the failure of the Palestinians-Israelis negotiations as the issue of the Golan was sidelined.
A collapse of the negotiations with Palestinians may bring Israel back to a negotiation table withe Syria.
While Palestinians are divided and keep referring to the inept Arab League for approval, Bashar al Assad is strong, coherent and independant and he has much more cards to play that Abbas. The key would be to find an intermediate as Turkey seems to be out of the question. If the US pops in , that would be a great step forward and Obama may get something to show for his re-election.

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October 2nd, 2010, 11:31 pm

 

35. Ghat Al Bird said:

A proposal to “free” the USA from AIPAC!

http://www.redress.cc:80/americas/ldavidson20101002

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October 3rd, 2010, 9:14 am

 

36. Salimi said:

Dear Jad, thank you for your reply and thought-provoking comments. Let me firstly try to clarify a misunderstanding: what I meant by ‘agency’ was not an organisation or NGO, but that of ‘personal agency’ or human action that is opposed to a deterministic ‘structure’. I think this misunderstanding may also hinder the levels of analysis: when I talk about women, men or agency I begin from the bottom-up rather than top-down scales of analysis.. I think that in order to understand Syrian society and women within the social matrix, we need to look at everyday practices and then relate those to government and the judicial system. A socio-political system is not only imposed from top-down, but reproduced and reinforced and also challenged from the basic units of society, i.e. the family, as well. Similarly, ‘social change’ or ‘reform’ if imposed or ‘imported’ seizes to be change and becomes authoritarianism, and however benovelent also brings along the danger of being called ‘western’, ‘imperialist’, etc. The question that I am asking (myself, others, in research) is whether there are (always already in a way) subversions and resistance strategies within everyday life? Could it be that, for example, that local ‘jamayat’ are challenging the power of banking as well as ‘traditional’ authority? Could it be that ‘traditional’ rituals such as a wedding ceremony, contain ‘gender exchange’ instances in which gender becomes fluid, performative, and therefore not ‘given’ or ‘natural’ but socially constructed?

Of course, these are introductory questions… And, I guess, that you are right on the level of judicial analysis… For example, the thorny issue of interfaith marriages in Syria (most of which, similarly to Shai’s post, take place in Cyprus or Greece). (Unfortunately?) theories or explanations are always some distance away from actual practices. So, I guess, the large question regarding change remains unanswered. An idea is to closely look at everyday practices and at the everyday changes that always go on.. But this is just a way to explore, not to provide definite answers… Would love to hear your thoughts!

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October 4th, 2010, 4:43 am

 

37. Menafeeds [Deluxe Edition] « Melone said:

[...] Anonymous (Syria Comment) | Women and the Rise of The Religious Conservatives | In Damascus women are increasingly falling under the conservative trend that is sweeping the [...]

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October 6th, 2010, 8:24 am

 

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