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Israel living standards protest gives way to settlement expansion argument

 

The Israeli protests about high living standards have opened the chasm between secular and ultra-orthodox Israeli Jews once again. West Bank settlers argue that expanding housing in the West Bank would reduce prices — a typical lesson in supply and demand that probably carries some value. The Israelis who started the protests, however, oppose that logic.

Most Israeli Jews are secular and hold an unfavorable view of the settlers who believe the West Bank is a necessary part of the Jewish state. I was reporting in Jerusalem in 2009 and witnessed this dynamic firsthand — that summer, ultra-orthodox Jews began demonstrating outside a Jerusalem parking lot that was open on Shabbat. Those protests continue today.

I am not advocating for settlement expansion. Still, while unpopular, the ultra-orthodox Jew’s comments in the video above make sense at a surface level — expand housing to meet demand. It’s a politically toxic argument to focus that expansion in the West Bank, but Jerusalem already is stretched pretty thin when it comes to finding land to develop new high-rises. The areas surrounding Tel Aviv — a mere 45 minutes from Jerusalem — are too arid for sustainable development.

But I do think the last person interviewed in the video above makes a prescient observation — ultra-orthodox Jews will try to co-opt this living standards protest and make it about settlement expansion. The argument ultra-orthodox Jews have pushed is easy to understand. Ultimately, there are few people on the fence in Israel when it comes to settlements. Even former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin called settlers crazy, although in more colorful terms. Therefore, the simple answer posited by ultra-orthodox Jews is not likely to convert anyone disinclined to settlement expansion.

Interesting essay on the Qur’an and beating women

August 1, 2011 2 comments

I don’t pretend to know the Qur’an, so I’ll refer you all to an informative analysis of Qur’anic verse and hadiths that discuss whether Muslim men may beat their wives. As I’ve argued before, some Muslim groups and nations oppress women more out of customary rather than textual Qur’anic interpretation. This essay at altmuslimah.com addresses that issue, but in much better detail than I ever could. It also discusses Qur’anic text juxtaposed with historical events and analysis that could justify Muslims beating their wives. Here’s an excerpt, but I encourage you to read the whole thing:

There are very mixed messages about “beating” in the hadith literature. Several reports seem to forbid it entirely; Abu Dawud quotes the Prophet as saying,: “Do not beat [women].” [9] In other narrations, the Prophet commands,: “Do not beat Muslims,” and warns that “anyone who gives a beating” will answer for it on the Day of Judgment. [10] Still other hadiths assume that a moderate level of beating is permissible in some situations, and admonish against beating a slave “more than he deserves.” [11]

Although the traditional view of 4:34 does affirm “beating,” Muslim scholars have narrowed its scope to the point where the term is almost meaningless. Based on a variety of hadiths, and the broader principles of Islam, they have ruled that any “beating” must avoid the face and must not cause injury. The Prophet allegedly used the Arabic words ghayr mubarrih to describe how it should be carried out. [12]When asked to explain this phrase, which can be rendered as “not violently,” a respected companion of the Prophet named Ibn Abbas suggested that the husband should strike his wife with a twig. [13] Classical scholars certainly agree that verse 4:34 does not condone domestic violence as we define it today, but they insist that the text does say “beat them.”

Ramadan could put Syria sectarian struggle in motion as attacks, protests increase (w/ video)

Ramadan began Monday, which could spark a fresh spate of protests and ensuing violence in Syria — some of which may lend itself to sectarian undertones. During Islam’s holy month, Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset. Muslims congregate at mosques following sunset. The majority-Sunni Syrian population will therefore have a means to meet up and discuss the atrocities being committed by its government, which is largely controlled by the minority (about 12 percent of the population) Alawite sect of Islam.

The attacks also will do nothing to silence the murmurs of sectarian strife in Syria. The Muslim Brotherhood accused Bashar al-Assad’s government Sunday of igniting sectarian conflict:

“Syria is witnessing a war of sectarian cleansing. The regime has linked its open annihilation with the crescent of Ramadan. It is a war on the identity and beliefs of the Syrian nation … on Arab Muslim Syria.”

The Brotherhood’s timing is significant. Many people have suggested Syria would devolve into sectarian crisis, and Ramadan could best amplify that sentiment. Alawites view fasting during Ramadan as merely symbolic, whereas it is one of the five pillars of Islam that Sunni Muslims observe without question.

Hama, a central Syrian Sunni stronghold, suffered 80 deaths at the hands of government-backed security forces Monday. Such violence will only magnify the growing divide between ruling forces and people at large.

What is getting less attention than the actual violence itself is the opportunity Ramadan will give Sunnis to organize. Under the cover of the mosque, Syrians can organize face-to-face and discuss strategy with less fear of backlash. Meeting in a mosque is inherently safer than a coffee shop, and physical communication removes the risks of internet and telecommunications contact. It could also help bring protest outsiders into the revolution as they see the passion with which protesters carry themselves.

But at the same time, various Muslim sects meeting daily for prayer during Islam’s holiest month as violence continues may foment discriminatory, sectarian views. To this point, many Syrians believe President Bashar al-Assad has manipulated violence to make it appear more sectarian. By doing so, al-Assad can claim his rule is important for restoring order so the nation does not devolve into sectarian war. However, as violence and protests ramp up this month, it will be increasingly plausible to Syrians that a sectarian struggle is on the horizon.

Hafez al-Assad, Bashar’s father, established a sophisticated patronage network by installing the formerly disregarded Alawite minority into top business, police and military positions. That network has provided Bashar al-Assad unflagging loyalty, as if the regime falls, so do those top Alawites who benefited from al-Assad corruption and thuggery.

As attacks continue during Ramadan, Sunnis will grow more enraged with the regime. Alawites do not share the same view as Sunnis when it comes to the holy month. The differences between sects will never be more pronounced than during the next 40 days.

 

Saudi women earn inheritance rights

The Saudi Justice Ministry says people who deprive women of inheritance may face imprisonment, an important shift that conflicts with the religiously rigid, patriarchal majority Salafi society.

According to ArabNews.com, denying women inheritance was more common among tribes. But in the Wahhabi-influence nation, the more fundamentalist customary rather than textual implementation of Islam prevails. Therefore, there is reason to believe this dynamic is more widespread than what ArabNews is letting on, even if it occurs discreetly.

The measure in part addresses a 2008 United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women report, which suggested codifying into law equal gender rights for inheritance and a host of other issues.

From the report:

concept of male guardianship over women (mehrem), although it may not be legally prescribed, seems to be widely accepted; it severely limits women’s exercise of their rights under the Convention, in particular with regard to their legal capacity and in relation to issues of personal status, including marriage, divorce, child custody, inheritance, property ownership and decision-making in the family, and the choice of residency, education and employment.

In the section of the Qur’an that discusses mahram, there is no mention of male supremacy over women. This is the crux of the fundamentalist interpretation of Islam — much of it is founded on customs that existed during the time of Mohammed. For comparison, and as I have said before, the United States would be considered a backwards place if this majority Christian nation based civil society on the customs at the time Jesus walked the earth.

In fact, the Qur’an precedes a section on mahram for women with equally moralistic instruction for men in their dealings with the opposite sex.

Say to the believing men that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty: that will make for greater purity for them: And Allah is well acquainted with all that they do. (24:30)

And say to the believing women that they should lower their gaze and guard their modesty; that they should not display their beauty and ornaments except what (must ordinarily) appear thereof; that they should draw their veils over their bosoms and not display their beauty except to their husbands, their fathers, their husband’s fathers, their sons, their husbands’ sons, their brothers or their brothers’ sons, or their sisters’ sons, or their women, or the slaves whom their right hands possess, or male servants free of physical needs, or small children who have no sense of the shame of sex; and that they should not strike their feet in order to draw attention to their hidden ornaments. And O ye Believers! turn ye all together towards Allah, that ye may attain Bliss. (24:31)

Clearly, the verse regarding women is more restrictive — such was society at the time. But nowhere does it mention that men have supremacy over women. So where does this interpretation come from? Fundamentalism, whether it’s Christian or Islamic, is rooted not in text but in an idea that the people interpreting that text today know what the prophets wanted better than anyone else does. And because of their immovable devotion to the faith, they are willing to be loud and use whatever force or tactics necessary to impress their views.

There is a sense of male supremacy in the Qur’an, that is for sure. But that’s only because it was written during a time when women were largely considered temptresses and second-class citizens. Those times need to change — 1,400 years is too long.

A Syria city rallies in support of Assad as ‘fresh’ violence breaks out

This rally in Sweida, a city south of Damascus, at first seems vaguely reminiscent of North Korea allegedly paying Chinese actors to pose as fans during last summer’s World Cup. It seems counterintuitive to have such massive support for Bashar al Assad considering all the government-led violence against civilians.

Sweida is not representative of  a majority of Syria. It is heavily populated by Druze, a minority population that had been violently persecuted in the middle of the 20th century by the Syrian military when the country was under French control. When Hafez al Assad took power in the 1960s, he elevated Druze and Alawites to prominent military positions, seeking to institutionalize loyalty for the minority Alawite leader in a predominantly Sunni nation. Sunnis comprise 74 percent of Syria’s population and have been relegated to the political sidelines because of the patronage system Hafez al Assad started. Alawites represent 12 percent of Syria, while Druze is at 3 percent.

Syrian rights group estimated more than 1,400 civilians have died since protests began. Assad said Monday he would announce reforms, which are largely expected to have little substance or effect. Some of the largest anti-government protests (the first video below) occurred today in response to the Assad-declared “National Unity Day” in support of the government.

The Sweida rally video is below this video from an anti-Assad protest today, which is a more accurate representation of Syria:

 

Here’s the Sweida video:

 

Social media and Saudi women driving

Rushdi Siddiqui wrote an excellent opinion this week about Saudi women drivers, the contradictions of the Qur’an that Saudis have used to legitimate unequal gender rights and social media.

Siddiqui argues that social media has given women a voice. That alone is a marked change in Saudi Arabia, he contends. So if that can change, why not the laws governing who gets to drive?

It’s plausible that social media alone allowed Saudi women to put themselves in the literal and proverbial driver’s seat in their fight for driving rights. Social media has given them a way to organize and protest like they never could before, as Twitter and Facebook exist in the physical world only if someone is looking for it. What I mean by that is passersby can see picketers on the street, but you have to really be looking for something on Twitter or Facebook. That has allowed Saudi women to operate in the shadows, more or less.

I encourage you to read the entire thing. From altmuslim.com:

The womens’ driving movement in Saudi Arabia has been articulated as violating the defined traditional roles of women, a slippery slope in the adoption of western cultural values that will result in increased road accidents, public mixing of the sexes with adverse consequences, and so on. There have even been comments by local religious conservative scholars or imams that a woman driving is a violation of Shariah rules.

The stated argument of sexual context could be applicable to anything, from instant messaging to mobile phones. One wonders what is on the mind of person making such statements. In the eyes of some people, global connectivity, via social media, is the beginning of the end of segregation of the sexes. In their eyes, the ability to legislate, regulate and enforce morality has been forever undermined to the detriment of society by social media.
…..

Women have been driving in many Muslim countries, from Turkey to Pakistan to Egypt to Malaysia, and, interestingly, women have been driving in the rural areas in Saudi Arabia without incident. Is the real issue, if women are officially allowed to drive in the Kingdom, a slippery slope of women gaining more rights and, conversely, men losing their dominance over women?

Is that a bad thing? Will it encourage qualified women to join the work force and contribute to the economy? Won’t allowing women with licenses to drive actually encourage more white collar executives to bring their entire families to the country?

Thoughts on Bahraini life sentences

Martin Chulov of the Guardian reported eight Bahraini civil rights activists were sentenced to life imprisonment for “plotting a coup against the government.” And while I can certainly sympathize and no doubt agree with those activists’ aims, the court’s decision could be considered legitimate — although certainly operating in an illegitimate and rather ineffective code of law.

It’s worth noting that peaceful demonstration and free speech are not exactly protected in Bahrain. That much should be obvious. And given that societal and institutional framework, the court’s decision cannot be unexpected. Any attempt to overthrow a government will usually be met with police force and judicial response, whether you’re in Bahrain or the United States.

The freedoms offered in Bahrain are certainly more limited than the U.S. And while it’s easy to criticize the Bahraini courts for their decisions to punish dissenting voices, we are only doing so based on our understanding of society. That understanding is tainted, however, by living in a free society.

That’s not to say what Bahrain is doing is right or morally justified — it is not. The governance there is similar to what is happening in Syria, with a minority religious sect occupying power positions while the opposing majority religious sect is subordinated. But it’s all about cultural relativism.

The only way suppression of activists will end is by government overthrow. But if the government views itself as legitimate — and it does — it will try to maintain any semblance of rule of law it still possesses. That would include punishing “subversives,” which is a broader term in a country with fewer personal liberties.

Again, I am not defending the Bahraini court’s decisions — everyone deserves the right to protest. But that is simply not the case in Bahrain. A complete change in government and institutions is the only way to provide that, and the current government — especially since it is run by the minority Sunni population — is not likely to allow that.

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