FaithWorld

from The Great Debate:

We all know about jihadists, but what about those waging an ‘anti-jihad’?

Human rights activist holds a placard during an anti-Talibanisation protest in LahoreAs the UN Security Council tackles the entity claiming to be “Islamic State,” and President Barack Obama invokes global Muslim responsibility, many ask whether people of Muslim heritage do enough to counter extremism.

The fact is, away from the media spotlight, thousands wage daily battles in their own countries against what President Obama called a “network of death.”

Unfortunately, jihadists make headlines while those who wage the anti-jihad rarely do. After all, everyone has heard of Osama bin Laden, but few know of those standing up to would-be bin Ladens across the globe.

There is a long, untold history of brave individuals of Muslim heritage who have challenged extremists.

In the 1990s, the women’s group known as the Algerian Rally of Democratic Women or RAFD (Refuse) dared to do just that during a “dark decade” of jihadist atrocities committed by the Armed Islamic Group battling the Algerian state. That violence claimed as many as 200,000 lives.

from Photographers' Blog:

Fleeing Islamic State

Suruc, Turkey
By Murad Sezer

Tens of thousands of Kurdish Syrians have fled Islamic State and flocked to the Turkish border. Most of them are from the Syrian border town Kobani and its surrounding villages, where the group’s fighters have launched attacks, but other refugees have travelled from further away.

A Kurdish Syrian refugee waits for transport during a sand storm on the Turkish-Syrian border near the southeastern town of Suruc

They arrive at the border, tired, miserable and desperate for water, but many have to wait days before they are allowed to cross into Turkey.

There is an increasing accommodation problem in the small Turkish border towns, which have very little space for so many refugees, but if they can be accommodated, border officials will allow them to enter in groups. Some lucky refugees have relatives in Turkey with whom they can stay.

from The Great Debate:

Air strikes won’t disrupt Islamic State’s real safe haven: social media

jihad tweet President Barack Obama has pledged to destroy Islamic State and ensure fighters “find no safe haven.” But even as U.S.-led airstrikes are underway in Iraq and Syria, it is clear that bombs alone will not do the job. For Islamic State hides out in the most perfect haven: the World Wide Web.

In June 2014, the militant group that Obama refers to as Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL, grabbed the world’s attention after it took over much of northern Iraq in roughly four days. Islamic State accomplished this by building a massive, sophisticated virtual network of fighters in addition to those on the ground. Indeed, its expansion online has been as swift as its territorial gains. It is this virtual power grab that will be most difficult to combat.

The Internet has largely sustained the jihadist movement since 9/11. With this powerful tool, jihadists coordinate actions, share information, recruit new members and propagate their ideology.

Until the rise of Islamic State, extremist activity and exchanges online usually took place inside restricted, password-protected jihadist forums. But Islamic State brought online jihadism out of the shadows and into the mainstream, using social media -- especially Twitter – to issue rapid updates on its successes to a theoretically unlimited audience.

from The Great Debate:

Avoid a classic blunder: Stay out of religious wars in the Middle East

hoffman top

Muslims in the Middle East are fighting wars of religion. Like the carnage between Protestants and Catholics that haunted Northern Ireland during the last third of the 20th century, there is little anyone can do until local peoples crave peace so intensely they are willing to cultivate it.

History shows that outside meddling only intensifies sectarian fury. Stopping internecine war begins at home. President Barack Obama imperils Americans by trying to excise an abscess that can be cured only from the inside out. The decision to re-engage in Iraq, and the wider Middle East, also contradicts the president’s other, bigger objective: to exit the nanny business.

Shi'ite Muslims attend Friday prayers at the Imam Hussein shrine in the holy city of KerbalaThe last time religious aggression swept an entire subcontinent was during the Reformation four centuries ago, when Christians hashed out their hatreds much as Muslims of the Middle East are doing today.

from Photographers' Blog:

Prayers during wartime

Midyat, Turkey

By Umit Bektas

Sunday mass has just begun in Mort Shmuni Syriac Orthodox Church. It is seven o’clock in the morning and the streets of Midyat, where the majority of the population is Muslim Kurdish, are empty.

But despite the calm outside, the historical church is overcrowded with a community of three hundred people, mostly children. Candles are lit, hymns are sung and prayers are made.

The reason that the mass is so crowded today is not because it is the festival of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple. It is because for over two years now, Syriac Christian families escaping the bloody war in Syria just across the border have been joining the congregation, adding to the Turkish Christian citizens of Midyat.

Mideast Christians struggle to hope in Arab Spring, some see no spring at all

(A Muslim holding the Koran (top L) and a Coptic Christian holding a cross in Cairo's Tahrir Square during the period of interfaith unity on February 6, 2011/Dylan Martinez)

Middle East Christians are struggling to keep hope alive with Arab Spring democracy movements promising more political freedom but threatening religious strife that could decimate their dwindling ranks. Scenes of Egyptian Muslims and Christians protesting side by side in Cairo’s Tahrir Square five months ago marked the high point of the euphoric phase when a new era seemed possible for religious minorities chafing under Islamic majority rule.

Since then, violent attacks on churches by Salafists — a radical Islamist movement once held in check by the region’s now weakened or toppled authoritarian regimes — have convinced Christians their lot has not really improved and could get worse.

Syria’s Christians fear for their religious freedom

(A Christian woman lights a candle during a mass to celebrate the Orthodox Christmas at Saint Serkis church in Damascus January 6, 2011/Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria’s minority Christians are watching the protests sweeping their country with trepidation, fearing their religious freedom could be threatened if President Bashar al-Assad’s autocratic but secular rule is overthrown. Sunni Muslims form a majority in Syria, but under four decades of rule by Assad’s minority Alawites the country’s varied religious groups have enjoyed the right to practice their faith.

Calls for Muslim prayers ring out alongside church bells in Damascus, where the apostle Paul started his ministry and Christians have worshipped for two millennia. But for many Syrian Christians, the flight of their brethren from sectarian conflict in neighbouring Iraq and recent attacks on Christians in Egypt have highlighted the dangers they fear they will face if Assad succumbs to the wave of uprisings sweeping the Arab world.

Syria’s Assad retrenches into power base of his Alawite Shi’ite sect

(A supporter of Syria's President Bashar al-Assad holds aloft a photograph of the president at Hamidiya market in Damascus April 30, 2011/Khaled al-Hariri)

President Bashar al-Assad is increasingly relying on his Alawite power base to crush pro-democracy protests that have posed the boldest challenge to the Assad family’s 41 years of rule over Syria. Assad, an Alawite, sent army and secret police units dominated by officers from the same minority sect, an offshoot of Shi’ite Islam, into mainly Sunni urban centers to crush demonstrations calling for his removal for the last six weeks.

Their use of tanks to shell the city of Deraa last week, storming of mosques and attacks on unarmed civilians — as reported by residents and activists — have raised the stakes.  Reports say that Sunni conscripts, Syria’s majority sect, refused to fire at their co-religionists.

Syria lifts niqab ban, shuts casino, in nod to protesting Sunnis

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(A visitor browses through books at the 26th International Book Fair near Damascus July 31, 2010/Khaled al-Hariri)

Syria has lifted a ban on teachers wearing the full face veil and ordered the closure of a casino, moves aimed at placating conservative Muslims in the tightly-controlled country that has seen weeks of unrest. Last month pro-democracy protests erupted in the majority Sunni Muslim city of Deraa and later spread to other cities, including the religiously-mixed port city of Latakia, posing the greatest challenge to Assad’s 11-year rule.

Thousands of people protested in the Damascus suburb of Douma on Friday, dissatisfied by gestures President Bashar al-Assad has made towards reform.