The United States Cannot Afford to Pick a Side in the Shia-Sunni Fight

June 25, 2018

While many Shia movements may have differences of opinion with Iran, as long as the Trump presidency uncritically supports Saudi Arabia and the threat of military conflict with Iran remains on the horizon, it is unlikely that any popular Shia group will side with the United States. The administration’s narrow focus on Iran will provoke precisely what the Trump White House aims to prevent—a more cohesive online casinoregional Shia movement under Iran’s protection and aggrieved Shia supportive of countering U.S. influence in the region. In other words, the current U.S. course is narrowing policy discussions both within individual Shia organizations as well as across transnational Shia alliances by closing the door to pro-U.S. policy alternatives. This further consolidates Iran’s position as the center of the Shia world and its long-standing partnership with various Shia transnational movements throughout the Middle East such as the Lebanese Hezbollah, many of Iraq’s Popular Mobilization Forces (PMF), and Yemen’s Ansarallah (the Houthis) all of whom are engaged in critical regional hotspots. Read more…

Geopolitical Fight Club: Why Iraq Must Square off with Saudi Arabia

Mar. 26, 2018

High mistrust of Saudi Arabia by Iraqi Shi’as is hampering any meaningful outreach Saudi is undertaking toward Iraq and any policy of balancing Iraq and Iran will not succeed unless serious steps toward sectarian de-escalation is taken in the region. In order to bridge the gap, there needs to be broad religious dialogue to discuss the role of Shia’s and Sunnis in the region and forge a common space for the inclusion of both denominations. Major Grand Ayatollahs—the highest authorities in the Shi’a world—have taken positive steps of forbidding the ritual cursing of certain companions of the Prophet Muhammad and the early caliphs considered reverential to the Sunni community. In this endeavor, the role of Ayatollah Sistani in Najaf will be crucial as he has a track record of promoting better relations between Shi’as and Sunnis and is an authoritative moderating figure who can reign in hardline elements in Iraq who might be opposed to a détente. Read more…

Terrorism, Political Violence, and Extremism: New Psychology to Understand, Face, and Defuse the Threat

May 24, 2017

Terrorism is now a regular topic in the news rather than a rare or an unusual occurrence. The possibility of violent terrorist acts constitutes a legitimate safety concern, regardless of one’s country of residence: no longer can anyone assume that their location is beyond the reach or outside the targeted areas of any number of terrorist groups. Terrorism, Political Violence, and Extremism: New Psychology to Understand, Face, and Defuse the Threat examines why the number of terrorist attacks has greatly increased since the attacks on September 11, 2001 occurred, including well-known events such as the Madrid train bombings (2004), the London Underground bombings of 2005, the San Bernardino and Paris attacks (2015), and countless others, particularly in the Middle East and Africa.

Beyond providing a careful and up-to-date assessment of the state of terrorism worldwide, which includes coverage of the religious and political origins of terrorist activities, the book pinpoints less-recognized and rarely studied aspects of terrorism, such as terrorism hysteria, sexuality, shame, and rape. The diverse perspectives within this unified volume are relevant to a breadth of subject areas, such as international psychology, military psychology, political science, political theory, religious studies, military theory, peace studies, military sciences, law enforcement, public health, sociology, anthropology, social work, law, and feminist theory. Read more…

Islam: Liberté – Egalité – Fraternité

18336710L’ouvrage du Docteur Sayed Ammar Nakshawani est un ouvrage d’une importance particulière : voici l’œuvre d’un jeune intellectuel et savant musulman chiite qui vit en Angleterre et a étudié les sciences religieuses au moyen-orient : son approche des problèmes de notre temps à travers un retour aux sources et un regard nouveau sur les principes fondamentaux de l’islam est donc très intéressante. Il est d’ailleurs étonnant qu’un jeune homme ayant fait toute sa formation à l’étranger consacre un ouvrage sur l’islam en france : c’est une preuve, s’il en était besoin, qu’un ‘étranger’ peut finalement aussi dire les réalités de l’islam en france, qui doit être une réalité et l’est d’ailleurs déjà aujourd’hui.

La vraie révélation de l’ouvrage, et son intuition, est que ce qui permet aux Occidentaux de confession musulmane d’être complètement partie prenante, totalement citoyens, et véritables agents de changement et de contribution de leur société, n’est pas simplement leur connaissance du contexte, mais aussi celle des fondamentaux de leur religion qui – lorsqu’ils sont approchés dans leur essence et compris dans leur finalité – mettent en évidence le fait qu’une femme ou un homme de confession musulmane, chiite ou sunnite, doit – partant de ces fondamentaux – trouver les moyens de vivre bien, de se sentir bien là où il est, et de nourrir simplement le respect des lois du pays, le sentiment d’appartenance, c’est-à-dire cette psychologie, cette loyauté au pays où elle ou il se trouve.

Saudi Clerics and Shi’a Islam

The Saudi “ulama” are known for their strong opposition to Shi’a theology, Shi’a communities in Saudi Arabia, and external Shi’a influences such as Iran and Hezbollah. Their potent hostility, combined with the influence of the ‘ulama’ within the Saudi state and the Muslim world, has led some commentators to blame the Saudi ‘ulama’ for what they see as growing sectarian conflict in the Middle East. However, there is very little understanding of what reasoning lies behind the positions of the ‘ulama’ and there is a significant gap in the literature dealing with the polemics directed at the Shi’a by the Saudi religious establishment. In Saudi Clerics and Shi’a Islam, Raihan Ismail looks at the discourse of the Saudi “ulama” regarding Shiism and Shi’a communities, analysing their sermons, lectures, publications and religious rulings. The book finds that the attitudes of the “ulama” are not only governed by their theological convictions regarding Shiism, but are motivated by political events involving the Shi’a within the Saudi state and abroad. It also discovers that political events affect the intensity and frequency of the rhetoric of the ulama at any given time. Read more…

Trump’s Middle East Policy

Donald Trump’s Middle East policy represents a significant change from that of Barack Obama. The president is seeking to bolster Israel and Saudi Arabia, in particular, and to isolate Iran. This agenda has emerged in piecemeal fashion rather than as part of a coherent strategy – and there are few indications that administration officials have considered the long-term implications of their approach.

Barack Obama formulated a Middle East strategy designed to repair the damage done during George W. Bush’s presidency. The United States needed to rest an exhausted military, replenish its soft power, and create political space for addressing long-standing challenges. To this end, he reduced troop levels in Iraq, avoided new large-scale military interventions, asked allies to take more responsibility for regional security, and mostly sought to address problems through diplomacy. He used a combination of engagement and sanctions to induce Iran to halt its nuclear weapons program, and sought to broker peace between the Israelis and Palestinians along lines endorsed by the international community – including a two-state solution, flexibility on the status of East Jerusalem, and pausing the expansion of Israeli settlements on Palestinian territory. To the dismay of allies such as Saudi Arabia, Obama also encouraged democratic reforms in the region, though inconsistently and with little success, and avoided overtly favoring either side of the Sunni-Shia divide. Just as he promised during the 2016… Read more…

Ethnographies of Islam: Ritual Performances and Everyday Practices

This volume explores the ways in which ethnography can create a greater understanding of Islam in particular social contexts. It does so by advancing a pluralistic use of ethnography in research about Islam in anthropology and the other social science disciplines. The contributors have used ethnography to engage with and relate to specific empirical realities in regions around the world. They argue that this approach allows for a more precise and complex understanding of the practices and discourses that constitute social realities constructed and perceived as ‘Islamic’ by those who live them. Furthermore, the book encourages ethnography in the study of Muslim practices that have seldom been approached in this way. Read more…

Countering New(est) Terrorism: Hostage-Taking, Kidnapping, and Active Violence — Assessing, Negotiating, and Assaulting

How should we analyze and assess new terrorist behaviors? What are the particular risks and challenges from new terrorism? Should we negotiate with terrorists, and, if so, how? When should we use force against terrorists? Countering New(est) Terrorism: Hostage-Taking, Kidnapping, and Active Violence—Assessing, Negotiating, and Assaulting improves our knowledge of new terrorist behaviors, and our skills in responding to such attacks.

The term “new terrorism” has been in circulation since the late 90’s. This book analyzes the “newest terrorism” that has emerged in recent years—characterized by increased hostage-taking, kidnapping, and active violence—and develops best practices for countering these emerging threats. Along the way, it challenges fashionable wishful thinking that all terrorists are open to rational negotiation or de-radicalization, that military responses always reflect badly on the official side, and that terrorists are not constrained by their own doctrines. Read more…