The Great Debate UK
from The Great Debate:
Two days after the death of U.S. ambassador Christopher Stevens in Benghazi, Libya, protesters continue to mass outside of U.S. embassies in Egypt and Yemen. The protesters are apparently reacting to a low budget, anti-Muslim video made by Americans that was distributed in a trailer-like segment on YouTube. The murder of Stevens and three of his aides in Libya seems to be the work of a paramilitary group using the protests for cover. That group may or may not be affiliated with al Qaeda.
In the West, this all sadly reads as another example of Islam proving unable to deal with the consequences of free speech. It recalls the threats surrounding the publication of Mohammad in a political cartoon in a Danish newspaper, the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theodoor van Gogh and the late 1980s fatwa (death sentence) decreed by Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini against the novelist Salman Rushdie. The strictest adherents to Islam will tolerate no heresy, even from outsiders. Meanwhile, in the U.S. and Europe, prevailing law largely gives individuals the right to be as offensive as they want.
This is a particular problem as the pace of liberalization in the Middle East quickens. New democracies are forming. Minority voices that had been oppressed by dictators in Egypt and Libya are now being heard. More tolerant governments are replacing regimes that once tightly censored media and the Internet. More than ever before, the Muslim world is on a collision course with ideas that many of its people will find offensive, if not blasphemous.
In the U.S. and Europe, the religious faithful are exposed to such ideas all of the time, and yet we have not seen the pronouncements of death sentences, the tearing down of embassies or the murder of filmmakers. We’re all human, so it seems unlikely that a citizen of Sana, Yemen would be more prone to violent outbursts than a citizen of Cupertino, California. Islam also doesn’t seem to condone violence much more or less than any ancient religion, where the founding texts were born in violent times.
Where is the Arab Spring leading the Middle East? What will be the longer-term outcome of the popular protests that have shaken the region since the beginning of this year? Of course, it’s still too early to say with any certainty, even in countries such as Tunisia and Egypt that succeeded in toppling their authoritarian regimes. Some trends have emerged, however, and they’re on the agenda at a conference in Venice I’m attending entitled “Medio Oriente verso dove?” (Where is the Middle East heading?). The host is the Oasis Foundation, a group chaired by Cardinal Angelo Scola, the Roman Catholic patriarch of this historic city, and guests include Christian and Muslim religious leaders and academics from the Middle East and Europe.
Varda is an accountancy student who dreams of working abroad. Dainty and soft-spoken, the 22-year-old aspires to broaden her horizons, but when it comes to Islam, she refuses to question the fundamentalist interpretations offered by clerics and lecturers nationwide.
The gaggles of giggling schoolgirls in their black uniforms and flowing white hijabs seen across Afghanistan's cities have become symbolic of how far women's rights have come since the austere rule of the Taliban was toppled a decade ago. While women have gained back basic rights in education, voting and work, considered un-Islamic by the Taliban, their plight remains severe and future uncertain as Afghan leaders seek to negotiate with the Taliban as part of their peace talks.
An Islamic revival is taking hold in rebel-held eastern Libya after decades of tough curbs on worship by Muammar Gaddafi, but clerics say this will not be a new source of religious extremism as the West may fear. Restrictions on Islamic piety have become history in the east of the Arab North African state since its takeover by anti-Gaddafi insurgents, and clerics see a much bigger role for Islam in the country if Gaddafi is ultimately driven from power.
from The Great Debate:
Philip N. Howard, an associate professor at the University of Washington, is the author of "The Digital Origins of Dictatorship and Democracy: Information Technology and Political Islam". The opinions expressed are his own.
The Day of Rage in Saudi Arabia was a tepid affair, and Libyan rebels have suffered strategic losses. Only two months ago, popular uprisings in Tunisia inspired Egyptians and others to take to the streets to demand political reform. Will the tough responses from Gadaffi and the Saudi government now discourage Arab conversations about democratic possibilities? It may seem like the dictators are ahead, but it’s only a temporary lead.
from Pakistan: Now or Never?:
The Egyptian uprising contains much that is familiar to Pakistan - the dark warnings of a coup, in Egypt's case delivered by Vice President Omar Suleiman, the role of political Islam, and a relationship with the United States distorted by U.S. aid and American strategic interests which do not match those of the people.
President Hosni Mubarak cited Pakistan as an example of what happened when a ruler like President Pervez Musharraf - like himself from the military - was forced to make way for democracy. "He fears that Pakistan is on the brink of falling into the hands of the Taliban, and he puts some of the blame on U.S. insistence on steps that ultimately weakened Musharraf," a 2009 U.S. embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said.
If President Hosni Mubarak bows to the clamor of the street and goes, Egyptians and other Arabs seeking to turn a page on autocratic government may look at Turkey for some clues on marrying Islam and democracy.