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  • Author: Scott M. Thomas, Anthony O'Mahony
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Georgetown Journal of International Affairs
  • Abstract: In February 2019, Pope Francis became the first pope to visit the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Like John-Paul II before him, he has also visited Egypt, and he went to Morocco in March 2019. The pope participated in a colloquium on “human fraternity” and interreligious dialogue sponsored by the UAE-based Muslim Council of Elders—the brain-child of Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, the grand imam of Egypt’s Al-Azhar, the most important Sunni Muslim university in the world. The Council of Elders sponsors initiatives to engage young Muslims on Islamist ideology by promoting a more “authentic” interpretation of Islam. Islamist violence—with its beheadings and mass executions—has provoked disgust across the Muslim world and is causing young Muslims to become more distant from their imams and mosques. It is becoming clear to many Muslim intellectuals in Egypt, Iraq, and Lebanon that, in order to defeat Islamism, there needs to be greater dialogue and coexistence with Christians. Pope Francis is attempting to lead the way, extending his “culture of encounter.”
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Culture, Violence, Catholic Church
  • Political Geography: Europe, Middle East, United Arab Emirates, Vatican city
  • Author: Aaron Y. Zelin
  • Publication Date: 03-2020
  • Content Type: Policy Brief
  • Institution: The Washington Institute for Near East Policy
  • Abstract: By the time IS came to the fore in Iraq and Syria, many of its themes and activities were already second nature to Tunisian jihadis who had heard similar messaging at home. There are a number of reasons why Tunisians joined the Islamic State in Iraq, Syria, and Libya. One underappreciated aspect of this is the way Ansar al-Sharia in Tunisia’s (AST) messaging primed members of the group and others in society that were exposed to, attended, or followed online AST activities and events. In my new book, Your Sons Are at Your Service: Tunisia’s Missionaries of Jihad, I describe this process, which I will examine in brief here. In particular, I will explore AST’s motivational framing, which “functions as prods to action.” The major themes AST crafted in its narrative were related to brotherhood, the defense of Islam, the creation of an Islamic state, and “remaining” as an entity.
  • Topic: Islam, Non State Actors, Violent Extremism, Islamic State, Jihad
  • Political Geography: Middle East, North Africa, Tunisia
  • Author: Aisha Ahmad
  • Publication Date: 07-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: International Security
  • Institution: Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard University
  • Abstract: In recent years, jihadists across the world have transformed their gendered violence, shocking the world by breaking from prior taboos and even celebrating abuses that they had previously prohibited. This behavior is surprising because jihadists represent a class of insurgents that are deeply bound by rules and norms. For jihadists, deviating from established Islamist doctrines is no easy feat. What then explains these sudden transformations in the rules and norms governing jihadist violence? An inductive investigation of contemporary jihadist violence in Pakistan and Nigeria reveals a new theory of jihadist normative evolution. Data from these cases show that dramatic changes in jihadist violence occur when an external trigger creates an expanded political space for jihadist entrepreneurs to do away with normative constraints on socially prohibited types of violence. As these jihadist leaders capitalize on the triggers, they are able to encourage a re-socialization process within their ranks, resulting in the erosion of previously held taboos, the adoption of proscribed behaviors, and the emergence of toxic new norms.
  • Topic: Political Violence, Gender Issues, Islam, Terrorism, Women, Gender Based Violence
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, Afghanistan, Middle East, West Asia
  • Author: Roie Yellinek
  • Publication Date: 03-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: China Brief
  • Institution: The Jamestown Foundation
  • Abstract: State-directed repression and harassment directed against Muslims in China has drawn broad international condemnation throughout the Western world. However, what has been the reaction from the Islamic world itself? Although reactions among major states have varied (as discussed below), the reaction throughout the Islamic world has largely been one of deafening silence—and when voices are raised, they have been faint.
  • Topic: International Relations, Islam, Prisons/Penal Systems, State Violence, Surveillance
  • Political Geography: China, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Xinjiang
  • Author: Benjamin Tua
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: Efforts to portray Muslims and their faith as threatening diminish our society by stigmatizing a significant American minority. They also can facilitate costly foreign policy blunders such as the 2017 Executive Order banning entry into the US of visitors from several Middle Eastern majority-Muslim countries, an order purportedly based on terrorist activity, technical hurdles to properly document these countries’ travelers, and poor coordination with US officials. Two recent books, “Mohammad: Prophet of Peace Amid the Clash of Empires” and “What the Qur’an Meant: And Why it Matters,” take on the task of broadening Americans’ still unacceptably low understanding of Islam. The authors – Juan Cole, a professor of history at the University of Michigan, and Garry Wills, a Pulitzer Prize winning lay scholar of American Catholicism – approach their subject in distinctly different manners. Yet, their message and conclusions are remarkably similar – namely, that ignorance of and distortions of Islam and what the Quran says both alienate vast numbers of Muslims and have led to foreign policy missteps. The books complement each other nicely.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Islam, Peace Studies, Religion, Judaism, Islamophobia, Xenophobia
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Ukraine, Middle East, Eastern Europe, Soviet Union, North America, United States of America
  • Author: Haviland Smith
  • Publication Date: 09-2019
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: American Diplomacy
  • Institution: American Diplomacy
  • Abstract: It is clear that there are powerful people both in the United States and in Iran who would like to force a real confrontation between our two countries. What is completely unclear is whether or not those hawks on both sides want a modified Cold War type confrontation, built perhaps on cyber warfare, or an all-out military confrontation. What this situation, with all its incredibly profound dangers and possible disastrous outcomes, has done is once again prompt the question, “what is the United States doing in the Middle East and what precisely are our goals there?”
  • Topic: Cold War, Islam, Religion, Terrorism, Minorities, Ethnicity
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Turkey, Middle East, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: James M Dorsey
  • Publication Date: 10-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Centre for Non-Traditional Security Studies (NTS)
  • Abstract: Pakistani militants of various stripes collectively won just under ten per cent of the vote in the July 2018 parliamentary elections. Some represented long-standing legal Islamist parties, others newly established groups or fronts for organisations that have been banned as terrorists by Pakistan and/or the United Nations and the United States. The militants failed to secure a single seat in the national assembly but have maintained, if not increased, their ability to shape national debate and mainstream politics and societal attitudes. Their ability to field candidates in almost all constituencies, and, in many cases, their performance as debutants enhanced their legitimacy. The militants’ performance has fueled debate about the Pakistani military’s effort to expand its long- standing support for militants that serve its regional and domestic goals to nudge them into mainstream politics. It also raises the question of who benefits most, mainstream politics or the militants. Political parties help mainstream militants, but militants with deep societal roots and significant following are frequently key to a mainstream candidate’s electoral success. Perceptions that the militants may stand to gain the most are enhanced by the fact that decades of successive military and civilian governments, abetted and aided by Saudi Arabia, have deeply embedded ultra-conservative, intolerant, anti-pluralist, and supremacist strands of Sunni Islam in significant segments of Pakistani society. Former international cricket player Imran Khan’s electoral victory may constitute a break with the country’s corrupt dynastic policies that ensured that civilian power alternated between two clans, the Bhuttos and the Sharifs. However, his alignment with ultra-conservatism’s social and religious views, as well as with militant groups, offers little hope for Pakistan becoming a more tolerant, pluralistic society, and moving away from a social environment that breeds extremism and militancy. On the contrary, policies enacted by Khan and his ministers since taking office suggest that ultra- conservatism and intolerance are the name of the game. If anything, Khan’s political history, his 2018 election campaign, and his actions since coming to office reflect the degree to which aspects of militancy, intolerance, anti-pluralism, and supremacist ultra- conservative Sunni Muslim Islam have, over decades, been woven into the fabric of segments of society and elements of the state. The roots of Pakistan’s extremism problem date to the immediate wake of the 1947 partition of British India when using militants as proxies was a way to compensate for Pakistan’s economic and military weakness. They were entrenched by Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto in the 1970s and General Zia ul-Haq’s Islamization of Pakistani society in the 1980s. The rise of Islamist militants in the US-Saudi supported war against Soviet occupation troops in Afghanistan and opportunistic policies by politicians and rulers since then have shaped contemporary Pakistan.
  • Topic: Islam, Religion, Terrorism, United Nations, Violent Extremism, Secularism, Domestic Policy
  • Political Geography: Pakistan, United States, Middle East
  • Author: Isam al Khafaji
  • Publication Date: 07-2018
  • Content Type: Working Paper
  • Institution: Arab Reform Initiative (ARI)
  • Abstract: The 12 May Iraqi elections – the fourth since the 2003 fall of Saddam Hussein – provided several surprises and contradictions for Iraq’s political landscape. Primary among them was the unprecedented objections to and questioning of the results as announced by the Independent High Electoral Commission – a central focus of this paper. Previous election cycles witnessed objections and complaints, yet none reached an extent that would damaging the clean bill issued by national and international organizations or the Federal Court’s validation of the results. Criticism of electoral transparency reached a point where the Council of Ministers was obliged to create a “higher security committee” to investigate accusations sent to the Independent High Electoral Commission (IHEC), and the United Nations representative in Iraq to send a letter calling on the IHEC to do a manual ballot counting of an arbitrary number of ballot boxes to ensure conformity with electronic ballot counting adopted for the first time this year. This multi-stage drama has reached the point where the Parliament decided, in an extraordinary session, to freeze the IHEC and assign a committee of nine judges to replace it, as well as to cancel the votes of internally displaced persons (approximately 3 million) and of Iraqis abroad (around 1.5 million). Therefore, any interpretation of the current election results must be cautioned with the knowledge that they are subject to change. The results most in question are from several predominantly Sunni governorates (such as Anbar and Salaheddin), Kurdish governorates (such as Sulaymaniyah, Erbil, and Dohuk), or ethnically mixed regions (such as Kirkuk) – where Arabs, Turks, and Kurds are in multiple ongoing disputes. However, the final decisions taken with regards to these appeals will not change the overall results as there is no serious questioning of the accuracy of the results in predominantly Shia governorates, which constitute the majority of Iraq’s population. That most of Iraq’s post-2003 prominent political movements resorted to unprecedented election rigging in 2018 is a tacit acknowledgement of the loss of trust they incurred before massive sectors of their electorates, a trend that has been observed by many for quite some time. Similarly, the public’s loss of confidence in the political class is also manifest in the alarming decline in voting rates, despite the high stakes of this year’s elections. Out of 24.5 million Iraqis eligible to vote, less than 11 million (44.5%) voted. Participation rates in all previous elections – except for governorate council elections – exceeded 60%. This low turnout translates the frustration of many voters at the possibility of changing the political establishment, despite changes in the political parties’ formation and election lists. Contrary to previous elections, where forces of Shia political Islam led by the Islamic Dawa Party were guaranteed to win, the 2018 elections involved bitter conflict among different political visions, each with serious consequences regarding Iraq’s future, and the form of the state to be rebuilt after the destruction wrought by the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) and the policies of previous governments. However, most voters saw the fierce electoral competition as merely a repetition of the same faces, stances, and policies.
  • Topic: Islam, Elections, Geopolitics, Kurds
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Baghdad, Kurdistan
  • Author: Lama Abu-Odeh
  • Publication Date: 06-2018
  • Content Type: Video
  • Institution: Middle East Institute (MEI)
  • Abstract: The Middle East Institute's Arts and Culture program is proud to present a documentary series highlighting the voices of Palestinian women in collaboration with Filmlab: Palestine and the Foundation for Middle East Peace, Directed by Erika Cohn, The Judge chronicles the struggle of Kholoud Al-Faqih, who became the first woman judge to be appointed to the Middle East's Shari'a (Islamic law) courts.The film was followed by a conversation with Lama Abu-Odeh.
  • Topic: Islam, Women, Film, Courts
  • Political Geography: Middle East, Palestine
  • Author: Ches Thurber, Austin Bowman
  • Publication Date: 07-2017
  • Content Type: Journal Article
  • Journal: Fletcher Security Review
  • Institution: The Fletcher School, Tufts University
  • Abstract: Ches Thurber is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at Northern Illinois University. He was previously a research fellow at the Chicago Project on Security and Terrorism at the University of Chicago and at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. His current book project, Strategies of Violence and Nonviolence in Revolutionary Movements, examines why political movements seeking to overthrow the state embrace strategies of either armed insurgency or civil resistance.
  • Topic: Security, Islam, Non State Actors, Sectarianism, Social Movement, Conflict, Interview
  • Political Geography: Iraq, Middle East, Syria, North America, United States of America