Over the weekend I spent some time thinking and talking over the schedule for posting and think I have it worked out. Rather than spell it out here, I’ll put it into practice and let you figure it out!
To start of the week here are some links to interesting or otherwise notable articles. (In time maybe I’ll come up with a catchy or corny title for it like “Monday Mentions” or “Lead-off Links” or something like that)
So here you go…
A Brother’s Reflection on His Brother’s death – This is now a few weeks old but I read it this morning and found it quite gripping. It is the response of Peter Hitchens on the death of his brother Christopher Hitchens. The way he describes his brother is: Courageous.
“Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to. […] I’ve mentioned here before C.S.Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember.”
A Top Military Man Arrested – For those who have followed Turkish politics at all this is a fairly significant development. There is a positive development of more transparency and civilian oversight of the military but also a negative trend of arbitrary arrests and an abuse of the judicial system. It’s a story to watch.
Goodbye Google, Facebook, and Twitter – Can you imagine if all three of those services shut down? Just gone? What would it do to you? I know much of my communication with friends and family around the world is run through those services. It could happen. Why? It is being discussed as a protest to SOPA (Stop Online Piracy Act) that will fundamentally change the way the internet works. It is an interesting – and perhaps sobering idea.
Iran Sentences an American to Death – American Amir Mirzaei Hekmati has been sentenced to death for allegedly spying on Iran for the CIA. Iran again seems to be occupying a lot of headline space in American media. It is definitely a country to keep your eye on. Although Fareed Zakaria offers his opinion that Iran is in fact growing weaker.
BRONCOS WIN – It just seems appropriate! Last night was a GREAT football game. The Broncos won an overtime. There are a lot of story lines from this season (most involve Tim Tebow in one way or another). Now on to face the New England Patriots (again).
Meral, Ziya. “The Politics of Religious Minorities in Muslim-Majority States: Old Challenges and New Trends.” The Review of Faith and International Affairs (Vol. 9 Summer 2011): 25-30.
This was the shortest of the articles thus far. It is also much more historically-orientated and does not provide as much analysis as laying out the historical record. It concludes with a few challenges and applications for the present, but on the whole is basically a historical framework of the treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-Majority states.
In this article Ziya divides the history into four different eras. (1) The Early Era (2) The Powerful Era (3) The Modern Era (4) The Contemporary Era.
The Early Era 610-660 AD
At the very beginning of its founding Islam itself was the minority religion. One of the Prophet Muhammad’s burdens was the polytheism of his people. So when he begins teaching a monotheism that will undercut the idol-worship it was not well received. This led the early Muslims to go from Mecca to Medina. There the message was more openly received and the community was able to consolidate.
During Muhammad’s time in Medina and triumphal return to Mecca, the Prophet emerged as a skillful political leader uniting tribes and demonstrating increasing political and ultimately military power. Thereafter, more domineering and harsher attitudes began to emerge. – Meral, 26.
While not a comprehensive Islamic history this statement provides some oversight to the importance that Muhammad had in the community. He was the religious leader, but was also the political and military leader as well. All the facets of the community were wrapped up in this one man. This helps to understand the vacuum that was created after his death in 632.
The state of non-Muslims during this period is described mostly as ambiguous. Some were friends= and some were foes. There are some instances of forced conversions and others where this was not the case. For really the first 50 years of Islam there was no real coherent framework.
The Powerful Era 661-1924
This second era is by far the longest and in many ways spans too much of a time period to be fully consistent. It stretches from the Ummayyad Dynasty in 661 all the way to the fall of the Ottoman and Qajar dynasties in 1923 and 1924 respectively. Over this extensive period a number of different schools emerged.
The principles of sharia as preached by the Prophet, recorded in the Qur’an, and demonstrated in the Hadith developed into various schools of thought and produced the texts which formulated Islamic jurisprudence. – Meral, 26.
As Islam and Islamic empires spread the desire for non-Muslims was for them to convert. This however was not the case in every instance. So the relations can eventually be summarized in this way:
Hence, generally speaking non-Muslims could dwell in Muslim lands and in theory could be exempted from sharia laws and any coercion to convert to Islam. In return, non-Muslims had to accept a heavy burden of taxation and accept that they had not political rights and were not citizens but merely denizens. The most sophisticated and well regulated version of this was seen in the millet system in the Ottoman Empire. – Meral, 26.
This, in the general sense, was the state of affairs for most minorities under the various Islamic empires. Certainly there were instances of more freedoms and rights. There were also times of harsher treatments as well. Meral indicates that there is a battle of “revisionist history” taking place. Some camps try to portray a “golden era” from pre-colonialism when non-Muslim minorities and Muslim governments were on good terms. On the other hand some have advocated abuses on the other extreme to buttress arguments of incompatibility between Islam and modern ideas of human rights. Both sides are prone to overstating the reality.
Yet, the actual historical reality shows neither a golden era nor the dark age. Non-Muslims enjoyed relative freedoms but also serious restrictions and persecution at the hands of their Muslim rulers, depending on where and when and with whom they lived. – Meral, 26.
This is the summary of roughly 1300 years of history. A far from simple task.
The Modern Era 1900-1989
This is again a rather ambitious project to tackle without broad-brushing so much so as to really be unhelpful. Meral divides the modern era into two parts 1900-1967 and 1967-1989. During the first section most of the Muslim world was seeking independence and attempting to create some sort of unified state. In some instances Islam was viewed as a defining factor and non-Muslims were forced to assimilate or else faced persecution or elimination. In other instances ethnicity was the common bond and so an Arab could be either Christian or Muslim but by nature of being an Arab was a viable part of the community. Most of the nation-states at this time were built on a secular notion of the state and many flirted with ideas of socialism. However, Meral points to the Six Day War – and the defeat of multiple states and seizure of land by Israel – as a defining moment that signaled the failure of the secular state. This shifted the balance of power away from the secular and toward the Islamists.
At this point many of the Islamist leaders claimed that the Muslim world was the way it was because these nations had forgotten Islam. In this new world the biggest losers were the non-Muslims. While unlike Muslims of the Powerful era the minorities had equal rights on paper they still faced harsh exclusion in day to day living, with only a few exceptions.
In the end this era is “summarized by assimilation, exodus, marginalization, and fatal persecution of religious minorities across Muslim-majority countries.”
The Contemporary Era
In this era, as a result of the previous conditions, the number of non-Muslims has drastically diminished in the Middle East and North Africa. However, at the same time there has been a small but increasing community of non-Muslims emerging in the region. Some of the examples given include more than 35,000 Christians in Algeria. Even Iran has a growing number of conversions. What does this mean?
First, it challenges the homogenized narratives of the nation-states and now these groups have found themselves at odds with the state. In some instances this is viewed as a rejection of national identity.
Second, these conversions challenge the Islamist groups and have created an anomaly in the “us” versus “them” battle they use to explain the world. For Muslim background believers to become followers of another faith it raises a whole series of questions. These converts – apostates – share all of the moral, cultural, and political opinions yet they differ only in religion. Some have imagined this as a subtle advancement of a “unified Christian West” to corrupt and destroy the social order. While modern conceptions of human rights have helped to limit violent persecution, subtler forms still exist in daily life. In some cases, as is being demonstrated presently in Iran, conversion may be cause for execution. The present case for religious minorities is bleak in most cases.
This historical survey has attempted to show both the good and the bad for religious minorities. There is the potential for minority religious views to co-exist alongside of a Muslim majority. The democratic uprisings of the Middle East have re-introduced the question of what is the place of minorities in these societies. Perhaps the future will offer a more meaningful level of freedoms for those of any faith.
Let us hope and pray that we have all learned our lesson in allowing xenophobia, racism and religious demonization to run free in the 20th century and do not repeat the same mistakes in the 21st century. – Meral, 29.
Part 4 of my review of the Summer 2011 edition of The Review of Faith and International Affairs. Read the introduction to the series here.
Today is a cool date: 9/10/11 (for those who use the American order of dating…I supposed for many in other parts of the world today is 10/9/11 and thus not quite as cool…well, next month you will have your 9/10/11)
Have not posted much about Iran recently. This latest post is a good reminder that the ones who are really suffering from Iran’s abrasive foreign policy and nuclear program – that has isolated itself from many countries in its own region as well as around the world – are the Iranian people themselves. They are under a restrictive government that has forced the country to be subjected to sanctions that have farther restricted the economic development of the people. There are signs of life (the protests following the 2009 elections) but substantive change has not appeared on the horizon. Read the whole story here.
I found this piece very well written. It comes from a Saudi prince and offers some insightful commentary on the mindset of many in the Middle East. Yes, young people in the Middle East look at situations and have much to critique about the United States. Especially when it comes to Palestine they feel their brothers and cousins are being wronged. Yet at the same time they look longingly at some elements of Western culture. Ideas like freedom and individuality. The ability to make your own decisions. The idea of a meritocracy. These concepts resonate with the massive youth population. His concluding thoughts are very interesting. It does not mean there must be a minimizing or denial of differences.
It is the acceptance of difference, which implies a freedom from fear, that any terrorist must surely fear most. Instead of fighting against “terror”, we should be fighting for optimism and hope.
As I’ve posted about a few times in the last few weeks, the Turkish military has once again begun air raids into Northern Iraq. This piece from Mustafa Akyol sets these latest actions in their historical context. If you are not aware of the broad narrative of this conflict this is a good starting point. Read the whole story here.
A summary piece on how religion has become one of the early points of distinction among 2012 presidential candidates. One of the interesting trends that seems to be emerging is that faith is becoming more and more related to actions. It is not enough to merely say something but voters want to know in what way that will affect your policy decisions. Yet in another article (via @Slate)the argument is raised that thus far economic issues have completely overshadowed social issues. Read the whole story here.
A headline that sounds more significant than it may actually be. Iran reported that they have connected their first nuclear power plant in a test run to begin contributing to the countries energy needs. As to what this will mean to the fears about a weapons program will unfold in the coming weeks and months. Read the whole story here.
To begin with, I really enjoyed this book. That’s not always the case in a political/current events type book. Kinzer I felt did a really good job of crafting the history into an engaging storyline. This book spends a significant amount of time painting the background of the modern countries of Turkey and Iran. It also brings to light some interesting players in the story. Some of them are well-known and others are not. For example the opening narrative centers on Howard Baskerville. A young American who was teaching in Iran in the early 1900s. Britain and Russia divided Persia into “spheres of influence” that outraged the Iranians who have a celebrated long and rich cultural heritage.
Howard Baskerville supported the Iranians in their effort. At one point, as he was joining in the defense of the city of Tabriz, Kinzer gives this anecdote.
“I hate war,” he told them, “but war can be justified in pursuit of a greater good—in this case, the protection of a city and the defense of constitutional liberty. I am ready to die for these causes!” The audience broke into applause and cries of “Long live Baskerville!” He responded by singing a chorus from his favorite song, “My Country ’Tis of Thee.”
A twenty-something year old boy from Nebraska, singing “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” in honor of Iran. A peculiar moment in history to be sure!
In the end Howard Baskerville left a legacy in Iran.
Baskerville is more than just an Iranian hero. He embodied the shared values that bind Iranians to Americans. Long before many other Middle Eastern nations had come into existence, the Constitutional Revolution brought modern ideas to Iran. These ideas have produced a nation that has more in common with the United States than almost any of its neighbors in the world’s most troubled region.
This certainly seems a far cry from the current state of affairs, but that is part of the story to come too.
Around relatively the same time period, Turkey, Iran’s neighbor to the northwest, cultivated some of those same attitudes and craving for democratic freedoms and life apart from absolutism.
Two of the primary figures in the story are Mustafa Kemal Ataturk and Reza Shah. Both were strong personalities who felt that they were the one to bring reform to their nations at this point in time. Though at times this came across in arrogance and abrasiveness they both accomplished things that many believed impossible.
One biographer described Ataturk in this way
In letters large enough to cover the book’s entire back cover, Armstrong described his subject in one long and only slightly hyperbolic sentence: “The study of a MAN, cruel, bitter, iron-willed, who overthrew the Sultan in 1908; battered the British Empire off Gallipoli in 1915; chased the Greeks into the sea at Smyrna in 1922; harried the victorious Allies out of Constantinople in 1923; destroyed the power of the Caliph in 1924; hanged the entire opposition in 1926; and by 1932 had made out of a crumbling empire A NATION.”
Reza in Iran also accomplished a number of astonishing reforms. One of the most interesting was this:
Soon afterward, as if to show his redoubled determination, Reza decreed a reform so radical that no leader of a Muslim country, not even Atatürk, had dared to propose it: a total ban on the veil for women. The day it took effect, January 7, 1936, marked a social earthquake of rare intensity. Police officers tore veils off women who appeared in public wearing them. Men on streets were thunderstruck. Some women felt liberated and eagerly adopted Western dress, but others, having never shown their faces to strangers, cloistered themselves at home. The most desperate committed suicide.
Imagine: a total ban on headscarves. Forcibly removed by police officers. This is not France of 2012, this was Iran of 1936.
While not all of the reforms and efforts attempted were with the utmost wisdom these leaders both sought to bring freedoms and prosperity to their people and gave themselves wholeheartedly to that cause.
Turkey and Iran became America’s partners. Here lie the roots of this “power triangle.” Simply embracing the United States as a strategic partner was not enough for the Turks and Iranians. They also admired American democracy and wanted some version of it for themselves. Atatürk and Reza Shah had given them social and cultural freedoms that few Muslims in history had enjoyed. Now they wanted political freedom as well.
However, at this point in the story America makes what seems to be a major mistake. Operation Ajax was the coup instigated by the CIA and SIS to remove democratically elected Prime Minister Mosaddegh. Kinzer states it rather frankly:
President Eisenhower and Secretary of State Dulles made their decision to overthrow Iran’s democratic government without debate, without reflection, without analysis, without weighing costs and benefits.
Why was this the case?
During Mossadegh’s twenty-seven months in office, the promise of the Constitutional Revolution finally became real. Power was held by elected officials. Parliament addressed people’s needs. The grasping shah had been pushed into the background. Iranians enjoyed more freedom than ever in their history. American leaders should have cheered this, but because of the cold war they could not. They might have looked at Iran’s democracy and recognized a partner, a nation whose people were passionately engaged in political life and determined to rule themselves. Instead they looked at its nationalization of an oil company and saw an enemy.
Stuck in the Cold War mindset the political leaders of the era were unable to see the long-term consequences of their actions. One of those unforeseen consequences was the Islamic Revolution of 1979 – and the resulting hostage crisis – that was largely caused due to rage over the increasingly wasteful spending of the Western-backed Shah. The current shape of Iranian politics was in large part created by the 1950s operations of the US and Britain that were beneficial for the short-term but long-term were harmful for their interests.
The same can be said for the other relationships described in the book. Kinzer also delves into why the United States has a close relationship with Saudi Arabia and Israel. These too he feels are largely shaped by outdated realities.
In the end, Kinzer provides an interesting historical sketch of America’s diplomatic relations in the Middle East. He then argues that the United States needs to reconsider its core relationships in light of the current era, rather than through the lens of the Cold War. He feels that if this is done the United States will revalue the relationships with Saudi Arabia and Israel, as important but in a different way, and recognize that Iran and Turkey are countries that ought to be engaged with new methods.
Turkey has set itself on a path to be a major player in the region.
On the new world map, Turkey is no longer on the edge of anything. Instead it is once again what this piece of geography has been since time immemorial: the epicenter of the immense Eurasian landmass.
Foreign Minister Davutoglu’s “Strategic Depth” doctrine has put Turkey on a trajectory that would make it foolish for the United States to fail to cultivate strong ties with Turkey, not as a junior partner but as a vital ally.
Iran is the more difficult case – largely because of it’s current political structure – but Kinzer feels like the current policy of isolation misses a chance for improving relations with what could be a strong nation and one whose people have a historical craving for democratic freedoms.
The Arab Revolutions of the past year have challenged some basic assumptions about politics in the Middle East. Yet at this point all that has really occurred is a removal of old regimes the real test will be in what can replace them. This has certainly altered the landscape since Kinzer wrote his book, but nonetheless his central thesis remains intact that shared values and interests, in the United States, Turkey, and Iran should be the basis for pursuing a stronger relationship among them.
Iran, despite the persistence of its theocracy, is a potential long-term partner for the United States for the same reasons Turkey is. The two countries share strategic goals, and their societies share democratic values.