Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field

An article by Farid Hafez, University of Salzburg, published in ISLAMOPHOBIA STUDIES JOURNAL VOLUME 3, NO. 2, Spring 2016, PP. 16-34.

ABSTRACT
In the European public discourse on Islamophobia, comparisons of antiSemitism and Islamophobia have provoked heated debates. The academic discourse has also touched on this issue, an example being the works of Edward Said, where he alludes to connections between anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Following the 2003 publication of the Islamophobia report produced by the EU Fundamental Rights Agency (FRA), which discusses the similarities between Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, scholars in various fields began a debate that compares and contrasts anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. Participants in this debate include Matti Bunzl, Brian Klug, Sabine Schiffer, Nasar Meer, Wolfgang Benz, and many others. To some degree, the academias of the German- and English-speaking worlds have conducted this discourse separately. This paper surveys, to a degree, the state of the field of the comparative approach to studying Islamophobia and anti-Semitism as a pair, and also presents some central topoi and associated questions. It aims to highlight primary insights that have been gained from such a comparison, including how this comparison has been discussed and criticized, and what similarities and differences have been identified on which levels. It questions which epistemological assumptions were made in taking such a comparative approach, and which political discourses—especially regarding the Holocaust and the conflict in Israel/Palestine (which are not part of this discussion)—have shaped this debate in many forums, including academia. Furthermore, this paper discusses which possible aspects of comparative research on anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have not yet been explored, and where there could perhaps lay more possibilities for further investigation.

Read more
Hafez, Farid. “Comparing Anti-Semitism and Islamophobia: The State of the Field.” Islamophobia Studies Journal, Volume 3, No. 2 (Spring 2016): 16-34.

 

Journey through an Islamic Germany: A book seeks to give diverse Muslims a voice

Providing a counterpoint to the black-and-white narrative

Karen Krüger, journalist at culture desk of the conservative weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, has released a new book in which she embarks on a journey through what she terms an ‘Islamic Germany’, portraying diverse Muslim Germans in their daily lives.

Krüger’s self-professed goal is to show the diversity of the country’s Muslim population and the multifaceted nature of their religion, against the backdrop of a public perception of Islam as a monolithic unit: “My aim was to enable those Muslims to speak up whom you otherwise don’t hear because their religion simply is not bellicose.”((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

Pre-empting potential criticism claiming that she hand-picked ‘liberal’ Muslims to portray in her book, Krüger states that “I only show liberal Muslims because the large majority of Muslims living in Germany is liberal. One just doesn’t notice them that often because they don’t appear as talk show guests, because they don’t attract attention through spectacular demonstrations.”((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

Krüger thus seeks to work against a news cycle focused on terrorism and security concerns: “I wanted to confront this [focus] by showing that Muslims are not this homogeneous mass they’re often presented as in the media. It is really worth to look in people’s faces, to find contacts and to start a conversation with people – and then you will see that many [allegations] are not justified.”((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

Deficits in incorporating Islam into society

The author also notes the toll that the ongoing barrage of media scrutiny and public suspicion is taking on German Muslims: “With most Muslims you can feel a great deal of hurt because due to the worldwide political situation many Muslims often experience rejection, even though they feel as a part of German society.” Krüger notes that among many Muslims this rejection leads to a latent yet perceptible state of grief.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

For Krüger, this state of affairs is a powerful driver of radicalisation: for young German Muslims, the starting point on the slippery slope towards jihadism is a situation in which “religion is transformed into an identitarian place of refuge” – a place particularly appealing to the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants who are neither deemed to be ‘properly German’ nor can simply claim to belong to their parents’ country of origin. Islam in general, and jihadist Islam with its transnational ideological and organisational structures in particular, appears to offer a way out of this dilemma.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

What is required, Krüger argues, are better educational efforts, in order to offer relevant and theologically sound instruction to young Muslims. This would pre-empt the need for an auto-didactic and haphazard engagement with Islam on shady online fora. More importantly, however, Krüger calls upon mainstream society to allow and enable a Muslim German identity to grow: “Surely not for everyone but at least for wide sections [of the population] it is not yet imaginable that ‘being German’ and ‘being Muslim’ do not have to exclude each other but can come together.”((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/islam-in-deutschland-syrische-muslime-koennten-eine-chance.886.de.html?dram:article_id=361756))

Krüger’s call comes at a particularly sensitive moment, as a number of conservative interior ministers of Germany’s federal states are putting forward drastic national security proposals. Among other measures on their list, they demand the prohibition of dual citizenship, a burqa ban, and tighter supervision of mosque finances.((http://www.n-tv.de/politik/Union-will-Anti-Terror-Gesetze-verschaerfen-article18381011.html))

Criticism of the Turkish-dominated Islamic federations

Yet in Krüger’s view, the emergence of a Muslim German identity has not just been hampered by fears and prejudices on the part of mainstream society. She is acutely critical of the existing Islamic associations and federations in the country whom she deems unable to develop a way of thinking about Islam that resonates with the experience of ordinary German Muslims. Whatever progress has been accomplished in this regard has not been attained because of the work of the federations but rather in spite of them.

Krüger reserves her particular ire for DITIB, still the most powerful Islamic association in Germany. A subsidiary of the a Turkish government agency – the Presidency for Religious Affairs – she accuses DITIB of importing a kind of Turkish state Islam that is backward and ill-equipped to develop a constructive vision for Muslim life in Germany. Against this backdrop, the author conceives of the arrival of Syrian and other refugees as an opportunity to break the dominance of Turkish governmental Islam.((http://www.br.de/radio/bayern2/kultur/diwan/karen-krueger-reise-durch-das-islamische-deutschland-100.html))

This last point is of great salience in current German political debates. Diplomatic rows with the Erdogan administration have undermined the trust in the previously convenient arrangement that had outsourced Islamic religious services to Turkish government agencies. Unfortunately, however, virtually none of the voices present in these discussions offer constructive proposals as to how the gridlocked Islamic institutional landscape ought to be reformed. Krüger’s book appears valuable not as such an institutional blueprint but as a document of the diversity of Muslim life in Germany.

Karen Krüger, “Eine Reise durch das islamische Deutschland”, 352 pages, Rowohlt Berlin, 19,95 Euro

‘Cut beard or leave’: French high school student told his beard is ‘sign of radicalization’

A student of a French high school was threatened with expulsion after he refused to comply with the headmaster’s demand to shave his beard, which the headmaster considered a “sign of radicalization.”

“You cut it or you leave,” the headmaster reportedly told the student. The head teacher also reportedly claimed that the student’s beard is an apparent “sign of radicalization.”

When the headmaster first asked the student to shave or shorten his facial hair, the young man, 21, explained that he had been cultivating his beard for two years for religious reasons.

“The Prophet [Muhammed] was wearing one. It is something important to me,” the student, who wanted to remain unidentified out of fear of “being stigmatized even more.”

He also added that the head teacher’s “threats put pressure” on him and he “ended up” writing a letter to inform him that he was leaving the school. According to Le Parisien, the student has not attended school since October 13.

“He [the headmaster] gave me a few days for reflection to see if I change my mind and shave [the beard]… but I will not!” the student said. The student, who is a son of an atheist and a non-practicing Muslim, also admitted that he used to miss classes to go to Friday prayers, and said that he avoided shaking hands with his schoolmates for reasons of “decency.”

He also said that he used to wear harem pants – a sort of clothing common among Muslims – but stopped wearing them at headmaster’s request, as he agreed that it could be a religious sign. However, he still defends his right to sport a beard.

“I am not the only one with a beard, both among students and teachers,” he said. In the meantime, the young man received support from his classmates. “It looks like it was the parents who complained to the headmaster. Everything is mixed up!” one girl said.

The incident took place in the Parisian northern suburb of Seine-Saint-Denis, where some of the terrorists, who were involved in the Paris attacks in November 2015, were living.

 

 

Dutch anti-Islam party presents political program

The Party for Freedom (PVV), under the political leadership of Geert Wilders, the Netherlands’ most well-known anti-Islam politician, has presented a one-page political program for the upcoming elections. It is highly unusual for Dutch parties to present their particular programs in such a short and limited format. It seems the program has established somewhat of a record in this regard.

The PVV program contains controversial, but not new, political goals, including the closing of all mosques and Islamic schools, forbidding the Quran and headscarves, closing all refugees centers and canceling all the residence permits given to refugees. It also re-states the wish of the PVV for the Netherlands to become “independent again”, meaning to “get out if the EU”.

The program rejects the government policies of the Rutte II cabinet on all fronts and aims to undo some of the large retrenchments as well as to lower several taxes. The finances to take these measures the PVV want to cover by completely eliminating public broadcasting services and the funding for developmental aid, wind mills, art, innovation, and the like, stating that “in stead of financing the whole world and the people we don’t want to have here, will spend the money on the common Dutch people”.

Finland: Islam in schools should contribute to anti-radicalization

Finnish pupils in elementary education have started their school year of 2016 with a new national curriculum. In Finland, every school is obliged to offer subject education in Islam for Muslim children, when at least three students would select it instead of the majority Evangelic Lutheran religious education or alternatively Ethics. Whereas until now the contents of teaching and learning for minority religion subjects (i.e. not Evangelic Lutheran) such as Islam, Baha’i, Mormonism etc. were determined in a separate document, the curriculum for Islam has been revised so that it is now for the first time included in the new national curriculum.

The change means that Islam as a school subject is now treated with the same degree of attention as all the other subjects are. As for each religious subject the curriculum is categorized into three different content areas; “Relationship to one’s own religion”, “Religious diversity in the world” and lastly “Good life principles”, the contents of Islam are hence comparable also with other religious subjects such as Catholicism and Judaism, ensuring equal literacy in their respective religions for students of these subjects.

The new curriculum aims at empowering the pupils of today to be able to deal with issues concerning the Finnish society in the early 21st century. The content areas outlined for the subject of Islam throughout the class levels 1-9 include for example reflections on religion as part of one’s cultural identity, the historical influence of Islam in the European culture, political Islam, inter-religious dialogue and religion in media and popular culture. Moreover, alongside with the traditional content-based learning the new curriculum emphasizes phenomenon-based learning in all subjects. Hence, for example in Islamic education children are encouraged to research and learn about current trends and phenomena in the society and analyze and critically think about them from the standpoint of their religion. The curriculum gives as well more space to co-operation across subjects, while for example visits to local worship places (e.g. churches or mosques) can be done together with Muslim and Christian student groups.

The importance of religious school education has been lately discussed in the Finnish media in terms of how it prevents radicalization and enhances social cohesion. The sociologist Karin Creutz commented in an interview that when Islam is taught in the schools, it will give tools and skills for the Muslim children and youth to understand and know their religion and hence avoid being drawn into radicalism and the dark-side of the violent Islamism, like the Islamic State. Also the Islam school teacher Suaad Onniselkä confirmed on a radio program what Creutz was as well had argued for, that Islam as a school subject will contribute positively to the construction of the Self-identity among Muslim children in Finland. Hence, according to Onniselkä, religion functions as an empowering element.

When Islam is now taught in schools on a comparable level with other religious subjects, it will support holistically the understanding of differences in religious structures and culture as such. Such a school education shall help to raise generations who will be enabled to build world peace. Yet, education in religious literacy should not merely be restricted to school children but should be expanded to the communal level, Creutz again argues. Thus, the general knowledge on religions and the discourse at the societal level should be more inclusive of aspects of religion as part of people’s lives in a world in which religions are falsely stigmatized in a pseudo-secularized society.

Tensions between supporters of Erdoğan and partisans of Gülen on the rise in Germany

Strong support for Erdoğan among German Turks

In the aftermath of the attempted putsch in Turkey, Erdoğan’s critics are increasingly feeling the heat. While Erdoğan has proceeded to purge the military, the judiciary, and the educational sector under the state of emergency provisions, those presumed to be opponents of the ruling AKP government have been faced with the ire of Erdoğan’s supporters not just within Turkey but also within the large Turkish community in Germany.

There are more than 2.7 million people with at least one Turkish parent in the country; more than 1.5 million of them hold Turkish citizenship.((https://ergebnisse.zensus2011.de/#dynTable:statUnit=PERSON;absRel=ANZAHL;ags=00,02,01,13,03,05,09,14,16,08,15,12,11,10,07,06,04;agsAxis=X;yAxis=MHGLAND_HLND)) Among this community, Erdoğan’s base is strong: in the November 2015 Turkish elections, 59.7 per cent of German Turks who went to the ballot box gave their vote to the party of current Turkish president – compared to the 49.5 per cent the AKP received in Turkey itself.((http://www.spiegel.de/politik/ausland/tuerken-in-deutschland-waehlten-erdogan-partei-akp-a-1060661.html))

Hatred on social media and beyond

Since the failed coup attempt, those affiliated with the Gülen movement and its associated institutions, as well as Kurdish and Alevi individuals, have complained about growing animosities. The Federal Criminal Police Office has observed a massive increase in hostilities towards members of the Gülen movement online and in social networks.((http://www.sueddeutsche.de/politik/deutschland-hetzen-drohen-denunzieren-1.3088817))

Apparently, many German Turks received notifications on social media encouraging them to name and denounce members of the Gülen movement by calling a newly created Turkish government hotline. The originator of these notifications is supposed to have been the AKP-linked Union of European-Turkish Democrats (UETD).((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2)) Other sources dispute the existence of such a hotline.

Similarly, in a mosque run by DITIB, a subsidiary of the Turkish Presidency of Religious Affairs and still the largest and most financially strong Muslim association in Germany, flyers reading “Out with the traitors of the fatherland” have reportedly been put up.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2)) Pictures of this flyer, as well as of signs posted in Turkish shops asking Gülenists to stay out have been published by the yellow press.((http://www.bild.de/politik/inland/militaer-putsch-tuerkei/boese-hetze-gegen-tuerken-in-deutschland-46878454.bild.html))

Attacks on Gülenist schools and institutions

However, assaults have not remained confined to the online or the purely verbal realm. In several German cities, buildings of educational institutions that are part of the Gülen movement have been defaced or damaged. In Stuttgart, a school that organises its curriculum in accordance with Gülenist thought is receiving increased police protection after numerous threats were made.((http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/ausland/europa/ankaras-rachefeldzug-gegen-guelen-anhaenger-erreicht-deutschland-14347999.html?printPagedArticle=true#pageIndex_2))

Video material has appeared online showing an attack by an angry crowd on a youth club in the city of Gelsenkirchen in North-Rhine Westphalia. Windows were smashed and significant damage was caused in the incident. The youth club is part of Gülen’s hizmet movement.((http://www.spiegel.de/video/gelsenkirchen-erdogan-anhaenger-greifen-jugendclub-an-video-1690598.html))

The Gülenist online journal ‘Deutsch-Türkisches Journal’ has consequently complained of a “pogrom mood also in Germany”.((http://dtj-online.de/tuerkische-pogromstimmung-auch-in-deutschland-wir-werden-in-eurem-blut-baden-77556)) The chairman of the Gülen-linked ‘Foundation Dialogue and Education’, Ercan Karakoyun, has reiterated these accusations in interviews.((http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/guelen-bewegung-in-deutschland-erdogan-hat-einen.694.de.html?dram:article_id=360824, http://www.stuttgarter-nachrichten.de/inhalt.angriffe-auf-guelen-bewegung-der-kampf-ist-in-deutschland-angekommen.1f291dbf-9e09-43e4-ab28-f135cc1af219.html))

DITIB’s reaction

DITIB spokesperson Ayse Aydin denied the allegation that DITIB was participating in a government-orchestrated witch hunt on Gülen sympathisers: “We are are Muslim religious community and we do not reject anyone who wishes to pray in a mosque”, Aydin asserted.  Similarly, the UETD ostentatiously sought to dissociate itself from violence and hatred against Gülenists, implying that the UETD name and logo had been misused on social media.((http://www.dw.com/de/erdogan-gegen-g%C3%BClen-auch-in-deutschland/a-19415216))

Going further, however, a DITIB press release noted that “our mosques are not places of provocation or agitation. If necessary, mosque leaders may, in accordance with the statutes, limit but also prohibit activities in the mosques that go beyond prayer – right up until a ban to enter. This serves the protection of the spiritual atmosphere, of the sacred space and of community peace.” Needless to say, the vagueness of this statement also allows for the banning of (suspected) Gülenists from DITIB mosques, if they are deemed to disturb sacred space and community peace.

Just like the Gülen movement, DITIB went on to criticise the media for its allegedly “widely spread and enduringly tendentious reporting that does not even spare kids’ programmes”.((http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=530&lang=de)) Irrespective of the question of tendentiousness, it is indeed true that many German media outlets and public voices have grown critical enough of Erdoğan so as to hold a certain degree of sympathy towards the hizmet movement – a movement that not long ago they would have regarded with a much greater degree of suspicion.

Enduring political faultlines between German Muslim associations

Events in Turkey have also revealed anew the faultlines between German Muslim associations. The three largest predominantly Turkish associations -DITIB((http://www.ditib.de/detail1.php?id=528&lang=de)), as well as the Sufi-tinged VIKZ((http://www.vikz.de/index.php/pressemitteilungen/items/putschversuch-in-der-tuerkei-gescheitert.html)) and the Islamist-leaning IGMG((https://www.igmg.org/uneingeschraenkte-solidaritaet-mit-dem-tuerkischen-volk-und-der-tuerkei/)) – all lauded the Turkish people for helping defeat the coup by defying the military’s orders. These associations’ press releases present the failure of the putsch as a victory for democracy.

Conversely, the Turkish Alevi community in Germany (AABF) criticised DITIB, VIKZ, and IGMG for simply siding with Erdoğan against the putschists. The Alevi association’s press release demanded genuine democratisation in Turkey and deemed neither Erdoğan nor military rule to be desirable. ((http://alevi.com/de/?p=8555))

The only peak association that is not dominated by Turkish Muslims and Turkish questions, the ZMD, strove to take a pointedly neutral stance and to sharpen its profile by doing so: ZMD chairman Aiman Mazyek announced that “from the position of German Muslims we will continue to advocate for democracy in Turkey […] and not let us get entangled in turf battles.”((http://www.zentralrat.de/27788.php))

To a certain extent such ostentatious neutrality is an easier choice for the ZMD, since it is less embroiled in the Turkish political scene. Yet it is also part and parcel of the ZMD’s and especially Mazyek’s quest to present his persona and organisation as the politically preferable and most reliable voice in the Muslim spectrum.

Anti-Muslim views rise across Europe

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/worldviews/wp/2016/07/11/anti-muslim-views-rise-across-europe/

 

http://www.pewglobal.org/2016/07/11/europeans-fear-wave-of-refugees-will-mean-more-terrorism-fewer-jobs/

 

Europe’s relationship with its Muslim minority has long been fraught. Over the past year, it seems to have become worse.

 

A wave of migrants and refugees from Muslim-majority nations have inflamed the debate about immigration on the continent, fueling the rise of far-right parties and probably contributing to Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. At the same time, groups claiming to be inspired by an extremist version of Islam have carried out devastating attacks in France and Belgium.

 

Now a poll released Monday by the Pew Research Center shows that in several European nations, unfavorable views of Muslims seem to have surged in 2016.

 

In Britain, the figure jumped nine percentage points to 28 percent. In Spain and Italy, unfavorable views jumped eight percentage points each, to 50 percent and 69 percent, respectively. In Greece, unfavorable views were found in 65 percent of the country — a jump of 12 percentage points from 2014, the last time the question was asked.

 

Across the 10 European countries surveyed, a median of 59 percent felt that an increase in refugees would increase the likelihood of terrorism in a country — a figure higher than it is for concerns about the economic effect or crime in most countries.

 

In Britain, 80 percent of those with an unfavorable view of Muslims felt that refugees presented a terror threat. Only 40 percent of those with a favorable view of Muslims made the same link. A similar gap of 24 to 40 percentage points could be seen in all other countries surveyed.

 

Pew’s research also found notable splits in views on Muslims and refugees. Generally, those on the right had more negative views of both, with supporters of far-right or populist parties such as the U.K. Independence Party and France’s National Front having the most negative views. Old people and those with lower levels of education also tended to have more negative views across most countries, while young people and the highly educated were more positive about Muslims. Those with high levels of education were also more likely to believe that diversity of races, ethnic groups and nationalities in their country was a positive, as contrasted with less-educated peers, who were more likely to see it as a negative.

 

H.A. Hellyer, a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council and the Royal United Services Institute in London and author of “Muslims of Europe: The ‘Other’ Europeans,” says the broad results of the poll aren’t surprising. “You’ve seen a mainstreaming of anti-Muslim sentiment into the political arena over the past few years, if not the past decade,” he said Monday.

 

Hellyer said that while much of that discourse comes from the right, Europe’s left has struggled to counter it. “The left will need to think creatively about how they address the issue of immigration, without falling into populism but addressing the emotional concerns” of much of the public, he said.

 

Sara Silvestri, a specialist on religion and politics with a focus on Islam and the European Union based between City University London and Cambridge University, says that while she hasn’t noticed a change in anti-Muslim rhetoric in political discourse over the past year, she says the “behavior seems to have worsened,” with organizations such as Britain’s Faith Matters collecting data that appears to show an increase in hate crimes and discrimination.

‘RIP the Republic’: debate over postponing French Muslim students’ exams for religious holiday

Ile-de-France region’s decision to allow those celebrating the Muslim holiday of Eid al-Fitr to postpone graduation exams has sparked controversy. Critics of the move say France is ignoring the principles of secularism.


The measure was proposed by Maison des Examens, which manages the bac in the Ile-de-France region.

This year one of Islam’s most important holidays, Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan, is celebrated on July 6. This coincides with the bac exams in France.

On June 30, a directive was sent to head teachers of high schools in Paris, Versailles and Créteil to change the exam schedule for Muslim students if they request it.

Muslim students who opt to celebrate the holiday may skip the exam on Wednesday and request to take it on Thursday or Friday instead, Vincent Goudet, director of the House of Examinations in Ile-de-France, confirmed to AFP on Monday.

The move was immediately slammed by many French officials who say non-Muslim students are being discriminated against. They added that such a precedent would create problems in the French education system.

According to Philippe Tournier, the general secretary of the National Union of management staff of Education (SNPDEN), the idea is “inconceivable.”

“This kind of decision can create a … mess, especially since it contains a lot unsaid things,” he said. “And if all the students say ‘yes’ [to postponing the bac exams because of the holiday], because they prefer to have one more day to review, what will we do?”

Nicolas Cadène, general rapporteur of the Observatory of secularism, told BFMTV that “there is no need for the House of Examination to propose any adaptation, which distinguishes students according to their religious practices.”

A member of the National Assembly of France, Eric Ciotti, wrote an open letter to the national Assembly, calling on Education Minister Najat Belkacem and Prime Minister Manuel Valls to explain the decision. He said it was “unacceptable.”
Social media also blasted the move, saying that postponing exams for Muslims because of religious holidays was the end of the French republic as a secular entity.

“Of course, all France knows whether or not they have their bac and then you have Ile-de-France who has to wait,” one Twitter user wrote, while another user sarcastically added: “It’s a great secular Republic.”

“So Muslim pupils got their bac tests postponed until the end of Ramadan. RIP the Republic,” another user wrote.

Eid al-Fitr, or ‘festival of breaking of the fast’, is celebrated on the first day of the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins when a new moon is sighted in the sky. After morning celebrations, worshipers return home and continue the festivities with their families, neighbors and friends.

New Poll Finds Young Arab are Less Swayed by the Islamic State

Two years after proclaiming a new “caliphate” for Muslims in the Middle East, the Islamic State is seeing a steep slide in support among the young Arab men and women it most wants to attract, a new poll shows.

Overwhelming majorities of Arab teens and young adults now strongly oppose the terrorist group, the survey suggests, with nearly 80 percent ruling out any possibility of supporting the Islamic State, even if it were to renounce its brutal tactics.

A year ago, about 60 percent expressed that view, according to the 16-country survey released Tuesday.

“Tacit support for the militant group is declining,” concludes a summary report by the poll’s sponsor, ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller, a public relations firm that has tracked young Arabs’ views in annual surveys for the past eight years. Other recent surveys have found similarly high disapproval rates for the Islamic State among general populations in Muslim-majority countries.

The new poll, based on face-to-face interviews with 3,500 respondents ages 18 to 24, suggests that young Arabs are both increasingly fearful of the terrorist group and less swayed by its propaganda, compared with previous years. More than half the participants ranked the Islamic State as the No. 1 problem facing the Middle East, and 3 out of 4 said they believed that the group would ultimately fail in its quest to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria.

The survey suggests that religious fervor plays a secondary role, at best, when young Arabs do decide to sign up with the Islamic State. When asked why Middle Easterners join the group, the participants listed joblessness or poor economic prospects as the top reason. Only 18 percent cited religious views — a “belief that their interpretation of Islam is superior to others” — and nearly as many picked sectarian tensions between Sunnis and Shiites as the chief motivating factor.

Young Arabs from countries with high unemployment rates were more likely to list economic hardship as a top reason for wanting to join the Islamic State, the survey found. The results align with the findings of other researchers who have noted that many recruits use religion mostly as a rationalization.

“Members do not say they join for economic reasons, but other factors they identify — including ones related to religious reasons — could be a proxy of economic or social factors,” Hassan Hassan, an Islamic State expert at the Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy, said in an analysis of the survey’s findings. “In other words, members may consciously or unconsciously conceal true motives.”

The survey, taken in January and February of this year, also shows growing disillusionment with the Arab Spring uprisings that began in 2011. Of the 16 countries in the poll, only in Egypt did a majority describe their homeland as better off now than it was five years ago. Overall, the share of survey participants who said they have seen improving conditions since the uprisings dropped from 72 percent in 2012 to 36 percent this year.

Accordingly, respondents tended to rank stability over democracy as a coveted virtue for an Arab state. For the fifth straight year, young Arabs picked the United Arab Emirates as the top country to live in, with a 22 percent ranking, followed by the United States, with 15 percent.

The margin of error for the survey was 1.65 percent.

 

From the Lone Wolf to the Management of Savagery Amidst violence worldwide, it is time to take religion seriously

In the early phases of the war in Syria, ISIS did not appear as a major threat to the West. Jihadists made their way to Syria to fight the regime of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad with little interest to carry out attacks in their respective countries. The November 13 attacks in Paris reveal a shift of strategy, but also, a change in actors of the global jihad.

Until this point, global attacks were the defining feature of Al Qaeda, especially in the West. Ironically, a few days before the Paris attacks, Al Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri sent a message to the Muslim youth to intensify their fight in the West.

Many observers have noted that the November 13 coordinated attacks endorsed by ISIS illustrate not only a change of players but also of the rules of the game. Yet they fail see that this strategy is not driven only by the material, institutional, and geopolitical features of the Islamic State. It expresses a binary vision where the merciless and relentless “fighters of God” aim to destroy the “forces of Evil.” We should not underestimate the influence of such a vision, which provides an ideology of resistance to the disenchanted youth, and therefore will require mobilization of religious and cultural narratives that could offer credible alternatives to this “cosmologic” vision.

The November attacks in Paris and Beirut follow a war strategy inspired by Abu Bakr Naji (a pen name), author of the tract called the Management of Savagery, which was released online in 2004 and used by the Iraq branch of Al Qaeda in 2005-07. In this pamphlet, he advocates for restless violence and massacre in order to scare and exhaust the enemy. In his own words:

“The tyrants plan and plot together for the continued humiliation and pillage of the Ummah, the suppression of the jihad, and the buying off of the youth and the (Islamic) movements. Therefore, we must drag everyone into the battle in order to give life to those who deserve to live and destroy those who deserve to be destroyed … Thus, we must burn the earth under the feet of the tyrants so that it will not be suitable for them to live in …” (p.176)

The means to achieve this goal are not only military, but also psychological. It entails attacking everywhere and at anytime in order to destabilize populations across countries. It is what Naji calls “waves operations”–which never end and maintain high levels of fear among masses. The fight is also about capturing the hearts and minds of youth in the lands of savagery by raising their belief and turning their energy and enthusiasm into lethal weapons against the “armies of Evil.” The November massacres in Paris and Beirut, and the downing of the Russian jetliner in the Sinai, are signals that the whole world will be the target of successive waves, which will be more intense and restless than those of Al Qaeda ones.

A military response to destroy ISIS’s infrastructure in Iraq–and to dismantle its material resources beyond oil–is with no doubt an important component of any attempt to defeat them. But will it diminish their global appeal? Probably not.

First, because only a military response cannot defeat such an apocalyptic vision. Beyond the combat zones in Syria and Iraq, ISIS provides a narrative–or “ideology of resistance”–not only against the pitfalls of domestic and international politics, but also against the personal disenchantment and anxiety of the youth. What is needed is an alternative global narrative that is appealing across nations and cultures. Attempts of counter-narratives are doomed to fail from the start if initiated by western political actors.

Second, such a narrative has to include some religious references, because interventions based only on secular motivations run the risk of actually increasing the solidarity and empathy of Muslims with ISIS, especially if those interventions are pitching the West against Islam, as some American politicians have already done.

Like an efficient military strategy, the search for an alternative narrative is actually a global issue and requires involvement of all Muslim countries, and most importantly, non-state Muslim actors.

In these conditions, it is imperative that political leaders take religions seriously both domestically and internationally and include it in any response to ISIS. However, it is easier said than done because of the secular culture that prevents or inhibits governmental and international agencies to take into account the religious dimension of peace building, conflict resolution, and any form of positive development.

The main reason for this inhibition is related to the dominant but false perception that religious groups and actors are not as rational, nor inclined to compromise, as non- religious ones. It also neglects the crucial influence of political and cultural contexts that fashion and shape the readings and interpretations of religious texts.

In other words, the understanding of the context in which religious actors are operating is key to identifying the ones that could support international initiatives in favor of peace or rapprochement.

It also means that such international policies inclusive of religion will require specific information and understanding that cannot be gathered in the high peak of crisis or conflict, but rather through a prior understanding of religion across nations and regions.

It is also important for Muslims and non Muslims alike to stop repeating that Islam needs a reform. ISIS are the heirs of the eighteenth-century reform in the Arabic peninsula, known as Salafism, which is based on the imitation of the Prophet Mohammad at Medina. This interpretation undermines the principles of plurality and flexibility of opinions that are central to the Islamic tradition.

The exportation of this “reform” from Saudi Arabia to the whole world since the 1970s, benefited also of the discredit of traditional clerics seen as tools of the authoritarian nation-states. It has therefore gained influence across Muslim countries while presenting itself as “the true” Islam. The challenge is for Muslims to regain ownership of their tradition in all its diversity. For this purpose, centers for education and transmission of Islam outside authoritarian Muslim countries are deeply needed.

To avoid isolating Islam as the “problem,” it would also be critical to create a global network of religious groups and actors of all denominations and traditions who work locally in favor of peace, economic development, and social justice. The key word here is “local.”

Too often, the action of religion at the international level consists of high profile religious figures signing a document enunciating the broad principles of peace and tolerance. In most of the cases, these documents do not have any impact on the ground.

For example, the “Amman Message,” initiated by the King of Jordan in 2004, is a remarkable document bringing prominent Muslim figures to assert–or re-assert–the tolerance of the Islamic message. Regretfully, this document is not known or referenced by religious actors in different localities. In contrast, a more positive action would provide greater visibility to groups and actors who are not automatically religious scholars and authorities, but who act positively in the name of religion.

Introducing religious actors and organizations into policymaking is not angelic or naïve; it is sorely needed to overcome the one-sided perception of religion that is dominant, not only within political agencies, but also among religious radical actors as well.