The use and abuse of the ‘Islamic State’

While the beheading of US photo journalist James Foley has rightly drawn global attention to the violence of Salafi jihadi groups, the successes of the Islamic State (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIS) are being exploited by various actors to score political points.   Continue reading The use and abuse of the ‘Islamic State’

The “moderates” on Gaza: sowing seeds of hate

First published on Al Jazeeara.net aje.me/1sgTl1V

In 2006 Saudi Arabia’s leadership broke with convention in Arab politics by publicly blaming a self-proclaimed “resistance” force for provoking Israel to unleash a war. Rather than hold Israel to account for targeting civilians, ground invasion, air and sea blockade, Saudi Arabia took aim at Hizbullah for what it called “irresponsible adventurism” in kidnapping two Israeli soldiers. This set the tone for a number of Arab governments during a month of war during which it became clear they hoped Israel would “finish off” Hizbullah, a nuisance that inflamed popular passions, leading to impossible demands on regimes who relied on Western support to survive. Hosni Mubarak couldn’t even bring himself to call Hizbullah by its name, referring to it famously during the Lebanon war as “thingy”. Add to that, especially for Saudi Arabia, the fact that Hizbullah was an extension of Iranian power. Continue reading The “moderates” on Gaza: sowing seeds of hate

Key shifts in the “Arab moderate” position on Hamas and Israel

The Egyptian, Saudi and other Arab “moderates” position on the Gaza war over the past three weeks has been presented in most media discussion and political analysis as a striking departure from previous policy and indication of a new shift towards Israel and its view of Hamas, “resistance” and other regional challenges to the global order. The fact is, however, that their Gaza policies are the consequence of over a decade of restructuring of Arab positions to accommodate the United States. Continue reading Key shifts in the “Arab moderate” position on Hamas and Israel

The Islamic State and Saudi Arabia: Further Thoughts

The Islamic State movement is a crude caricature of what its leaders think an Islamic state was and should be. Its latest violent spectacular – throwing Christians out of Mosul – is as contrary to the general tenor of inter-faith relations in the classical period of Islam, the Umayyad and Abbasid caliphates, as destroying non-orthodox Sunni places of worship. Those Islamic states made huge use of their large Christian populations, for one as translators of Greek thought and medicine. Periods of enforced orthodoxy were rare – the Abbasid caliph al-Ma’mun’s “inquisition” (al-mihna) of the religious scholars to oblige their adoption of Mutazila school’s theory of the Quran is the most obvious. In earlier periods there is even evidence that the Islamic states did not favour conversion of the largely Christian and Zoroastrian populations they had conquered, because the religion was for a period conceived of as an Arab patrimony and because the state wanted its jizya tax from non-Muslims. If we look at enforced covering of women and mass head-chopping there is similarly no indication of it as a defining feature of the caliphate. Continue reading The Islamic State and Saudi Arabia: Further Thoughts