Politics Daily #17 – Sam Brownback Signs Bill Banning Islamic Law in Kansas

Actually, technically, no he didn’t.

But such was the title of the Huffpost article.  In reality, governor Brownback is signing into law a measure that prohibits courts and government agencies from basing their decisions on foreign legal codes, namely the Islamic Shariah law.  The intention of this bill was to ensure that legal cases in Kansas are only decided by American laws and constitutions.

Sounds kind of patriotic, doesn’t it? It was probably Brownback’s intention to make it appear so, as well.

When I saw the headline, I somewhat interpreted, my previous impression of Brownback as a staunch conservative, especially on social issues, the headline as ‘Sam Brownback hates Islam.’  While that might be entirely possible at a personal level, the signing of this bill, or even the contents of the bill, do not really support the notion that Brownback is targeting Islam specifically with this bill.  Hence I found the article title somewhat misleading.

Politics Daily #14 – The Two Things some Europeans are ‘Anti-ing’

A substantial number of Europeans, all over Europe, fervently dissatisfied with the political status quo, are electing politicians with radical beliefs and agendas to lead their country.

And it turns out, a portion of these folks are mixing another ‘anti’ with the ‘anti-austerity’ storm that has swept the continent.

For a detailed report on which peoples are voting for whom where, check out CNN’s report here.  The article highlights the notion that the number of people who voted for political parties with rather extreme views in recent elections in Greece, Austria, Belgium, the Scandinavian countries, Hungary, and others, is large enough to take note, the majority of them enraged at the failed austerity economic measures.

However, the article aptly points out that, although many are turning to extremist political parties for change, the main force that is driving the incumbent governments out of power has more to do with their failure to revive the economy and their seeming disregard for the lower and middle classes rather than support for the extremist parties’ policies.  As the recent election in France demonstrates, the Socialist Party, led by Francois Hollande, does not hold extreme radical views.  He won partly because of the public’s discontent with the austerity measures implemented by Nicholas Sarkozy.

That was the first ‘anti’, anti-austerity as a significant number of Europeans have deemed fiscal conservatism a failure. The second ‘anti’ has somewhat caught on with the first one, for vaguely linked reasons.

As the far-right gained more support in recent elections, so did their ongoing anti-Muslim sentiments.  Many Europeans, such as those who voted for the ultra-nationalist, anti-immigration Golden Dawn party in Greece, are merging their anger at austerity measures together with their distrust towards foreigners.  It’s a strange mix, and these parties face the difficulty of being convoluted in their messages between nationalism and anti-austerity while channeling the public’s anger into supporting them.

The supporting of far-right groups for either anti-Muslim or anti-Austerity reasons might result in more chaos for Europe.  But once the economy recovers, albeit which might take many years, support for these groups is likely to wane.  As Dr. Matthew Feldman said in the article, “it’s clear that a large minority across Europe isn’t comfortable with these things — demographic change and multiculturalism… But what the far right offers is not something that many can accept.”

Americans And ‘Islamophobia’

This post is inspired by an article written by MJ Rosenberg.  It was posted on the opinion section of the Al-jazeera news website, and on Foreign Policy Matters before that. You can read it here.

It discusses the gross generalizations that many Americans are making nowadays, mainly likening extremist terrorist Islamic groups with the broader Muslim community, the former of which barely makes up an iota of the Muslim population.

It’s a great column, not because of the brisk and to-the-point writing (that’s a given), but because of the dark humor it carries.

Consider this section where Rosenberg points out the hypocrisy behind Americans’ discrimination against Muslims:

Then there is David Harris, president of the American Jewish Committee. Under his leadership, the American Jewish Committee issued a study “proving” that, contrary to the commonly used estimate of six million American Muslims, the correct number is 2.8 million.

And why is Harris worried about Muslim population estimates?

“Six million has a special resonance,” Harris wrote in a May 21 article in Jerusalem Report magazine. ”It would mean that Muslims outnumber Jews in the US and it would buttress calls for a redefinition of America’s heritage as ‘Judeo-Christian-Muslim,’ a stated goal of some Muslim leaders.”

That is some scary “stated goal”.

Even more, Harris is worried that the perception that there are as many Muslims as Jews would give Muslims additional political clout, leading Congress to occasionally actually pay attention to them (but unfortunately, that is not how it works).

This quote exemplifies the level of stupidity and ignorance many Americans possess when it comes to understanding Islam. What is scary is that even major elected officials and media pundits are also in on this misleading notion of Islamophobia.

I took numerous courses on the history of Islam and of Muslims (distinctly different) when I was at University and I believe it’s safe to claim that the religion is every bit as complex as Christianity and Judaism, and its history every bit as rich and fascinating.

The history of a religion differs greatly from the history of the people who follows that religion. This is quite clear within the context of Islam, a religion that was born in the 7th century and spread like wildfire. Within a few hundred years, the religion of Muhammad had grown to becoming the main competing religion against Christianity, culminating into a crusades that lasted over two hundred years.

From a demographic perspective, Islam spread throughout the Middle East, a region that was ethnically immensely diverse. Muslims lived on land that stretched from India to central Europe. For quite a long period of time (14th to early 20th century), the epicenter of the Muslim community arguably resided in the Ottoman Empire, the capital city of which was Constantinople (today’s Istanbul), while the center of the Islamic faith remained in Mecca.

At the same time, the two main denominations within Islam, Shii and Sunni, began to take hold of different parts of the region. Note that the antagonistic nature (note that the two sects were often not in conflict at all) between Shiite and Sunni Muslims that has been discussed by the mainstream media within the context of the Iraq war has been ongoing for hundreds of years.

Fast forwarding to the 20th century, we see the internal conflict between Muslims visibly expand from the religious into the ethnic realm. In the 1950s, Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian President, envisaged and adopted the concept of Pan-Arabism, the notion of unifying the entire Arab world. A few decades later, Shiites in Iran overthrew the pro-Western Shah and established an Islamic Republic. Interestingly, though, many Iranians today prefer to refer to themselves as Persian rather than Muslim of any kind.

Of course, cramming over a thousand years’ worth of history into a few paragraphs doesn’t do it justice, but what I am arguing is that the histories of Islam and of Muslims are so dynamic that generalizing any topic concerning them can seriously mislead the reader into jumping onto the wrong conclusions.

On this note, I would assume that many Christians, even those who are devout and study the history of Christianity, would humbly say that they know very little about the history of their centuries-old religion. So what makes the politicians and media pundits think that they have the knowledge or credibility to make the utterly unreasonable assumption that radical Islam is Islam?

An ignorant population doesn’t just materialize out of thin air, and it certainly won’t suddenly disappear, either. Ignorance can only be tackled through education; and only by studying history, that is, history of religion and of people, will people cease to make damning generalizations and assumptions.

Nick Kristof apologizes to Muslims, and I’m with him.

Read the article here

“Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.”

Americans have discriminated against Muslims in similar ways as they had against Native Americans, Blacks, Jews, and other ethnic groups. But the scale, or perhaps the ‘macro-political’ implications of discriminating against people who belong to one of the biggest and fast-growing religions in the world makes it unique from the others.

Kristof says Americans are discriminating a minority in Muslim Americans, which is true. But Islam as a religion has grown to be one of the most powerful political and ethnic entities we have ever seen. Muslims control (or live on) most of the world’s current oil reserves, and with the Israeli-Palestinian talks revamping, Middle Eastern politics have once again taken center stage in international affairs. When some Americans speak polemically against Muslims, they are basically offending one of the most powerful religious / ethnic groups in the world. Sadly, almost none of the people doing the offending are aware of this fact.

Only the ignorant deal in absolutes and extremes. The more power the ignorant gets to wield, the more dangerous the world becomes. We need to educate people on arguably the most important character trait known to man, tolerance.

Tony Blair is Wrong


Why is Tony Blair saying nice things of any kind about Dick Cheney? Even if you stand by your claim that the Iraqi invasion was absolutely necessary, you don’t have to agree with Cheney about his ideological worldview.

Dick Cheney believes in a hard-line approach because he is out of touch with the reality that hard-line approaches always results in lots of casualties, military and civilian alike. Look no further than what the hard-line Israelis have done over the past few years.

With regards to Iran, perhaps I am in no position to harshly criticize Blair’s views, because I am unfamiliar with the circumstances that he was under that has prompted him to possess those views. But speaking from my education and what I’ve learned (my History BA Degree is a concentration in Middle Eastern history), the Middle East is an immensely complex region that cannot, and must not, be simplified into ‘who’s good’, ‘who’s evil’, ‘who ought to be contained’, etc. Countries such as Syria, Jordan, Egypt, and Turkey, while somewhat volatile in their own right, act as a natural barrier in containing the more ‘dangerous’ countries such as Iran, and to lesser degrees, Yemen and Afghanistan.

Why is Iran a threat? Not because of its people, but because the government is currently headed up a selected group of unique nut jobs (radicals with extreme views, being the better term). President Ahmedinejad has the backing of Ayatollah Khamenei. The country itself, in terms of political / social progress and human rights, is miles ahead of its neighbors in the Persian Gulf, particularly Saudi Arabia, infamous for its suppression of human rights.

So why has Tony Blair, and the rest of the Western World, been doing next to nothing to help rid the dictatorships of these countries? The obvious reason is of course business interests. The oil-addicted Western World dare not mess with its main source of supply.

I, along with a lot of political commentators in Canada and the US, have been under the impression that Tony Blair is a very smart and savvy politician. And I’m trying to make sense of Blair’s believe to leave military action against Iran on the table. I can’t, because it doesn’t make sense.

Maybe David Cameron will bring something new for Britain’s foreign policy agenda. Then again, maybe not.