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Posts Tagged ‘human rights’

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.”

New IMF chief good news for Arab world

New International Monetary Fund chief Christine Lagarde has promised to give emerging markets a greater role in the macroeconomic monitoring and emergency lending organization, a move that should be a positive for Arab countries.

The IMF lends money to ailing nations — mostly poor — based on a “Washington Consensus” of structural adjustment policies. The idea is that these SAPs will integrate nations into the global economy, which will boost employment, make goods cheaper and provide stability for those nations.

For nations with a poor regard for human rights, IMF’s conditions could possibly increase the income gap between the wealthy and poor. IMF conditions such as spending cuts in social services, massive public sector layoffs, wage freezes to attract foreign investment, weaken public sector rights, devaluing local currencies, abolish price controls on basic foodstuffs and promotion of export-oriented production all put pressure on nations’ poor.

In nations where human rights and democracy are not respected — like many in the Arab world — IMF loans have been widely abused. For example, since dictators ran many borrowing countries between 1972 and 1981, IMF loans were used to boost military spending from $2.5 billion to $29 billion. Developing nations turned to rapid industrialization, building airports and dams, rather than small-scale development projects to assist local economies.

The IMF, headquartered in Washington, D.C., has a “Western” economic philosophy of open trade, but open trade does not suit every nation. And given the recent financial troubles of interconnected, open economies in Europe and the United States, the timing could not be better for emerging market input.

The IMF applies its Washington Consensus because it believes that cocktail of macroeconomic reform will allow debtor nations to repay IMF loans faster. But I would argue this is a quick fix that provides a cosmetic spurt to GDP without actually creating a sustainable improvement of quality of life.

Many Arab nations — even a majority of those still engaged in the Arab Spring revolutions — are largely run by authoritarian figures that spend little on social services because there’s no political pressure, such as elections, to do so; rely on public sector employment because those figures build loyalty through those jobs; rely on military employment for loyalty; have undiversified economies; and institutionally-created income gaps through shoddy welfare systems and lack of homegrown business.

At the root of this problem is the lack of accountability for Arab leaders as a result of weak or nonexistent human rights. Without the threat of being voted out of office and with the military, business elite and public sector dependent on those rulers staying in power, there are few ways to force leaders to cycle the money they earn and keep for themselves back into the economy. As a result, most people remain poor, education becomes less attainable, those nations become less attractive for foreign investment to mine the talent living there and people do not have enough money to do things like become an entrepreneur.

India and China still have rampant income inequality and the latter has a suspect human rights record, but their economies are growing faster than anyone. They will undoubtedly have an increased influence in the Lagarde-led IMF. India built its economy through harnessing the loads of young talent it had at home, making it an attractive place for investment. China closed its economy, has manipulated currency and relied on its 2 billion residents to be its market.

Neither India or China should be a model for macroeconomic policies. Their input, however, could help craft a better model than what we have today.

 

 

 

“Middle East Marshall Plan” should include human rights promotion

U.S. Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and John McCain (R-Ariz.) are planning a sort of Middle East Marshall Plan by tying U.S. intervention with business and economic interests. IF (and I say IF) this is what the U.S. decides to do to break its relative isolation during the Arab Spring, the senators should work to promote human rights at the same time.

This extremely nauseating puff piece about the war veterans/politicians/BFFLs seemed to care less about the news and  more about their on-again, off-again Beltway lovefest. I hope WaPo plans on a follow with some analysis, but in case they don’t, I’ll go ahead and do it anyway.

From The Washington Post:

The elder statesmen are also hoping to forge something resembling a Marshall Plan for the Middle East, aiming to spur massive private-sector investment across a region remade by revolution. The pair traveled to Egypt last weekend with eight Fortune 500 executives in an attempt to ignite investment in a country that has struggled since the February fall of longtime leader Hosni Mubarak.

Human and basic democratic rights such as freedom of speech and free and open elections, ideally, would come before economic development. Without human rights, society is at greater risk of corruption and abuse.

The U.S. has had its rear end pinned to the pine when it comes to supporting revolutionary forces in the Arab Spring. So the first proactive approach the U.S. makes is to support investment and U.S. economic interests, which is not going to set off a ticker tape parade in most Arab countries.

By promoting human rights in tandem with economic interests, the U.S. will appear more benevolent and also secure more stable investments. Fortifying institutions such as free and open elections will make politicians more accountable and curb corruption, which will mean a more honest and even approach to things from government contracts to welfare. Human rights reform will reduce workplace abuses, alleviate gender wage and employment differentials and therefore lead to a more productive and stable economy.

There’s also the dangers posed by opening up economies to the global market when those nations do not have sound human rights protections. “Race to the bottom” scenarios could develop in which nations depress wages to earn a competitive advantage for foreign investment. It also makes exports cheaper and therefore more attractive in the international market, but at the expense of a nation’s own people because it decreases purchasing power. That, in turn, diminishes the opportunity to innovate and be entrepreneurial because citizens have less disposable income and have to provide for families on sub-standard wages.

This is obviously asking for a lot. Promoting business will address youth unemployment, one of the largest causes of the Arab Spring. That alone would go a long way. But the U.S. should aim to have equal involvement in helping craft institutions and human rights reform as it does in boosting the Middle East economy.

Ultimately, the U.S. is currying favor with future Arab leaders, and one way to do that is by bolstering those nations’ economies. The U.S. doesn’t negotiate trade or peace agreements with the Arab street, so I understand the tactic.

But the U.S. has often worried about its image in the Arab world, and its hesitance to support revolutionary forces has not been viewed positively by most Arabs. The perceived inconsistency of the State Department — intervening in Libya but not Syria, for example — only amplifies that negative image.

I truly believe a more active approach to human rights promotion is possible. There is a power vacuum in the Arab world, unlike China, where the U.S. has also used rhetoric rather than might to encourage human rights reforms. The Arab street genuinely wants the freedoms U.S. and other nations have, so I believe it would be more receptive to U.S. help.

Diplomatically, America’s hands are tied. Intervening on the side of revolutionary forces will send a signal to allies that the U.S. is fickle. But the Arab street sees a contradiction between U.S. actions and its purported values of freedom and liberty. Arabs see that as hypocrisy, which amounts to an image problem of the worst kind.

 

Kuwaitis jailed for tweets

It took me quite a while to warm up to Twitter, albeit a little quicker than Arab regimes overthrown in part by the micro-blogging site. But Kuwait seems to get the social network’s power, as it plans to try two citizens for criticizing Gulf Arab ruling families.

Twitter was the last frontier of free speech in many of these oppressive regimes, and the United States understood this. But typical to any form of innovation, the second movers on a technology can easily copy the guys who make it to market first. In this sense, Arab governments now know what Twitter is and how to use it — and now they know how to use it against their own citizens. Arab rulers seeking to hold onto power will now watch Twitter for “subversive” activity and attempt to cut dissent movements off at the head. Kuwait’s preferred method appears to be legal intimidation.

From the Lebanon Daily Star:

Nasser Abul, a Kuwaiti Shi’ite Muslim, was arrested for posting criticisms of the Sunni Muslim ruling families in Bahrain and Saudi Arabia, and Lawrence al-Rashidi posted defamatory comments of Kuwait’s emir, he said.

He said both would remain in detention for two more weeks before a hearing is scheduled, where they will likely face charges of harming the Gulf Arab state’s interests and defaming the country’s ruler after being arrested earlier in June.

I’m afraid this may become more of the norm in Arab countries. Iran is already building a state-run internet to monitor social networking (and they were kind of late on that one, too, about two years after the 2009 Green Revolution). Arab nations that could suppress freedom of speech in the physical arena and closed social networks like Facebook were slow to respond to the instantaneous and more open Twitter.

The U.S. realized the benefits of social networking long ago. The U.S. government secretly was on the ground in Egypt teaching protest organizers how to use Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. In April, the U.S. State Department also announced $28 million in grants for such activities.

I trust the U.S. has trained protest organizers better than the two disgruntled Kuwaitis in custody. The Arab Spring’s figureheads have been sophisticated, not merely using Twitter for banal opining or complaining about oppressive governments. But now that Arab governments are watching, it will be interesting to see how protesters adjust.

 

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.

Syria’s tyranny of the minority

Syria’s current governance problem can be explained from the ground-up argument that its civil society is much to blame for Bashar al Assad’s gross abuse of power.

First, let’s get some facts out of the way: Syria “continued to broadly violate the civil and political rights of citizens, arresting political and human rights activists, censoring websites, detaining bloggers, and imposing travel ban,” has repeatedly tortured civilians, is ranked 173 of 178 countries for freedom of the press, has systematically discriminated against certain ethnic groups and has been ruled by one family under martial law since 1963.

Syria’s government right now, however, can be classified by a simple analogy — Assad’s party and confidants are like the scrawny kid who got picked on all throughout middle school. But sometime over summer vacation their voices dropped a few octaves, they got taller, lifted some weights and now have a bloodthirst for vengeance.

Assad is an Alawite, which make up less than 10 percent of the Syrian population. Sunni Muslims, which comprise a majority of Syria, consider Alawites heretical, as their highly secretive beliefs incorporate forms of Christianity and other religions. Alawis, for example, celebrate Christmas and Easter.

Before the Assad-led Baath Party came to power in 1963, Alawis were relegated to a lower rung of Syrian society, stripped of most legal rights and often taking menial labor jobs. But then Hafez al Assad came to power, consolidated the military under his control and placed Alawites in top military positions to secure loyalty.

Bashar al Assad is reportedly stirring the sectarian pot — many believe Assad is trying to frame the violence in Syria as a sectarian outbreak, which would keep his minority Alawite group in Assad’s control for fear of persecution should the Assad regime fall. Assad has spun this scenario and forged allegiance from top military officials as a result.

Alawites are no longer persecuted as they were in the pre-Assad days, but that doesn’t mean Alawites have distanced themselves from that memory. It is unlikely Assad would give up power anyway, and clinging to that time long ago when Alawites were mere housemaids will help him maintain some semblance of support.

At the core of this paranoid power struggle is a civil society and national history that have both failed to protect minorities. During the United States’ nascent years, the founding fathers wrote about “tyranny of the majority” because the colonists were oppressed by an entrenched group of people with longstanding institutions and history.

But in a nation like Syria that has a history of systematic discrimination against minorities and no stable institutions for checks and balances against abuse of power, the minority is more likely to abuse the seat of the throne.

Assad’s regime will fall eventually, there is no question. The only way to prevent something like that from happening again, however, is to ensure no long history of abuse, discrimination or prejudice ever exists again. Preventing rising resentment among ethnic or religious groups will allow Syria’s citizens to come together and draft a system of checks and balances against power. There is certainly incentive to do that now that Syrians can see what can happen when the wrong people have too much power.

Trust is part one. There must be a mutual desire between all ethnic groups in Syria to come to the negotiating table. Given the decades of sectarian framing from the Assad family, that will be quite difficult. But in doing so, coming together will drastically reduce the chances of a tyrannical minority from coming to power.

 

More on Bahrain’s Formula 1 decision

I know Formula 1 is hardly NASCAR — where event attendees makes you wonder why things like human rights even exist — but the racing league’s decision to reschedule the Bahrain Grand Prix for October sends a strong signal to the protesters that profits reigns over all.

As I noted yesterday, Bahrain gets a lot of money from its tourism industry. And when your economy is in a standstill because your army is in a standoff with civilian protesters, well, I guess you’ll do just about anything to get a kickstart.

Formula 1’s former president put it best:

Max Mosley, the former president of the FIA, who was involved in a major sex scandal after videos of him were released on a British newspaper web site in 2008, was quoted on ESPN F1 as saying: “If I was president today, F1 would go to Bahrain over my dead body (…)They will be attempting to use the grand prix to support what they are doing, almost using F1 as an instrument of repression (…) To go will be a public relations disaster, and sponsors will want their liveries removed.”

Oh, but wait! The World Council of the International Automobile Federation did its homework in regard to human rights abuses because it called Tariq Al Saffar at the National Institute of Human Rights in Bahrain. Of course, this is the same Tariq Al Saffar who was appointed to that position by the current king, who, maybe you’re aware, is the guy authorizing all those tanks to kill all those unarmed protesters. Al Saffar is also the owner of Bahrain Financial Harbour, a 380,000 square meter real estate development that is a linchpin in the country’s highly important banking and financial industry. Oh, and the company has some pretty close and lucrative ties to the government.

Let’s keep in mind here that despite lifting its state of emergency, Bahrain is still cracking down on protesters and continues prohibiting human rights organizations from operating. F1 racing is kowtowing to a government that desperately needs to sell its loyalists on something — which is of course cars that can go really, really fast. Because, you know, Bahrainis need to be able to forget their troubles for a day, too, and this revolution thing must be getting a little tiring.

 

 

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