I can still remember that Saturday, October 12th 2013. We were preparing to open our workshop on “Civil Society’s Role in the Success of National Dialogue” when, all of a sudden, a group of police officers came into the room and searched it thoroughly. We learned later that they had been warned about the presence of a suspicious object. Having started later than scheduled, the workshop was still in the middle of its opening session when a militia group invaded the conference hall to disrupt our work, incessantly chanting slogans against dialogue. We had invited the representatives of all the most important political parties, but the Nida Tounes (Call for Tunisia) representative had been prevented from entering.
Abu Zayd, Al Jabri, Arkoun
In Memory of Islam’s Heroes of Toleration
In Memory of Islam’s Heroes of Toleration
Three great Arab intellectuals - Nasr Hamid Abu Zayd, Mohammed Abed Al-Jabri and Mohammed Arkoun - died in 2010, shortly before the outburst of the Arab Springs and in the midst of an identity crisis that is tearing apart the Muslim world, in a region beset with complex questions related to identity, religion's place in society and politics, modernity, the democratization process, the status of minorities in Islamic societies and the concretization of a borderless Maghreb and Mashrek. Five years later, many of the important open questions that have for so long plagued this part of the world, have not yet been resolved. However, the intellectual and moral legacy that arises from the life-long work and commitment of these three thinkers can still help us understand and imagine a way out of the darkness.
The announcement that the Nobel Peace Prize for 2015 had been awarded to Tunisia and the Tunisians came as a surprise. The prestigious award was attributed to the National Dialogue Quartet for its “decisive contribution to the building of a pluralistic democracy in Tunisia in the wake of the Jasmine Revolution of 2011.”
The official motto of the Unites States of America, now engraved on all its coins, states “In God we trust”. Many have added the words “all others pay cash” to cash registers in many shops in the suburbs and in many large American cities. That God, in His three variations and identities, is dominant in a forever quarrelled-over Jerusalem. There are few, however, who trust in Him or think He might be helpful in resolving a territorial conflict that has become increasingly being dragged out or linked to religious motivations. The September 13th clashes (on the eve of the Jewish new year, Rosh Hashanah) at the Al Aqsa mosque complex, and those in the days that followed, are a sign of rising disquiet and opposing strategies that in truth contain little that is truly religious.
Two years after the military coup that ousted President Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood is at a crossroad in its history. This has already happened in the past, but should the Brotherhood not resolve the impasse it is currently experiencing, this time it risks political annihilation, or, to say the least, a radical transformation.
The crisis in Europe today is felt most dramatically and most painfully by tens of thousands of refugees. They are indeed in critical need of help, and many of them will die if their needs are not recognized and met. But this is also a crisis for the people of Europe, for they are the ones, right now, who must recognize and meet those needs, and if they fail to do that, the idea of Europe will die. The dream of a new kind of commonwealth, a commonwealth of mutual responsibility and liberal values, will be over; we will wake up to a grim day.
Last week in Turkey will be remembered for a long time in the country’s recent history. Late on Sunday, September 6th, news of clashes came from the border, obliging Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to leave immediately for Ankara to chair a special national security summit. That same evening, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appearing on CNN, commented on the news arriving from the south-east, saying, “If one party had obtained 400 MPs and reformed the constitution, we would not be in this situation.” As president of the republic, and thus an impartial figure, Erdogan did not mention which party, but he certainly was not referring to the pro-Kurdish HDP, which he considers the political wing of the PKK, which “with the HDP now represented in parliament, has become stronger and is now attacking.” Turkey would only hear about the 16 soldiers killed in Daglica, on the Iraqi border, following an attack by the PKK, the next afternoon.
From the New York Times to the Washington Post, from Der Spiegel to Le NouvelObs, the most prestigious international magazines have begun to call it “the U-turn”: we are talking about Angela Merkel’s approval of a new hospitality policy towards thousands of Syrian migrants. Maintaining financial rigor and economic conservatism on the one hand, and making each country responsible for safeguarding human life, on the other, seem nevertheless two sides of the same coin in Germany.
A toll booth on the ill-famed Salerno-Reggio Calabria motorway. It is not just any old toll booth, but the one that most keeps alive the memories of the wounds Fascism inflicted on our history. Tarsia, the exit leading to Campi Ferramonti, the largest concentration camp built in Italy following the proclamation of racial laws. It is on this strip of land extending all the way to the River Crati, where on September 8th, 1943, 2,200 people were crowded, that the cemetery for migrants will be built. An international burial ground created to provide a dignified resting place for the thousands who have perished chasing the dream of coming to Europe, the continent in which they placed all hope of redemption from hunger and destitution.
Europe will welcome 160,000 refugees in 2015. Each member state will be called upon to receive a quota in proportion to their economic and demographic size. This is the proposal put forward by the EU Commission’s President Jean-Claude Junker in his ‘State of the Union’ speech on Wednesday. Germany has been promoting this plan and has been putting it into action for some time, giving the the states, the Länder, responsibility for sharing the burden of managing asylum seekers. They are allocated on the basis of the so-called “Königsteiner key”, a system created in the ‘50s and originally aimed at spreading over what was then West Germany the funds destined for research.
While Bahrain’s government concentrated last weekend exclusively on organizing the Formula 1 GP, those who for over a year have been the victims of a repression shrouded in silence, took advantage of this event to attract the world’s attention to their cause. The winds of the Arab Spring had reached Manama on February 4th 2011, when protesters decided to take to the streets demanding political reform and the departure of the Al-Khalifas, the Sunni royal family that rules the country where there is a Shiite majority. The harshest repression began on March 14th when the government allowed troops into the country sent by the Cooperation Council for the Arab States in the Gulf. One thousand soldiers sent by Saudi King Abdallah arrived in Bahrain with a specific mandate; stop the protests and save King Hamad.
From 2004 onwards, with the EU moving eastward, anti-foreigner attitudes reappeared. The beliefs in Polish plumbers invading western regions, Bulgarian workers “stealing” jobs, and Rumanians (allegedly) promoting illegal activities became widespread in some European societies. This mirrors what happened in the past century, including in 1903 when a royal commission report on the so-called “alien immigration” to the UK discussed Central and Eastern European immigration (at the time mostly of Jews), and, to try to ban it, used words which sound very familiar to us: overcrowding, lack of jobs, and shortage of housing. These nationalist anti-immigrant tendencies resurface quite frequently in European history. The difference is how we approach them and how one frames public debates.
The centenary of the Armenian genocide will go down in history, if for no other reason that Pope Francis’ words will still echo powerfully over the days and years to come. Many things have been said and written about Jorge Bergoglio’s speech and there is no need to add anything. Here the issue of the genocide’s centenary starts from a different perspective, to be more specific from a location; Gallipoli.
“Prime Minister Erdoğan’s statement of condolence to the Armenians was a milestone in Turkey’s history.” This was the first sentence of my column in daily Hürriyet on April 26 last year. The then Prime Minister Erdoğan had made an unprecedented move in Turkish history by issuing an official statement offering condolences to Armenians on April 24, the 99th anniversary of the Armenian massacres. This year, however, April 24 arrives in Turkey in a totally different atmosphere. The declaration of Pope Francis last Sunday that “the Armenian Genocide is the first genocide of the 20th century” and the resolution adopted by the European Parliament last week urging Turkey to recognize the genocide have rekindled the longstanding genocide debate in the country.
The Iranian monthly magazine Zanan-e Emruz (“Today’s Women”) had barely reached its tenth issue when it was forced to stop publication following a ruling by the Tehran courts’ Office of Press Control. The announcement was made in April and the news itself is nothing new; over the past fifteen years dozens of newspapers have had authorisations issued and then revoked on the basis of changing internal political events. In the past two years, following the election of President Hasan Rouhani, the social and political atmosphere has certainly changed drastically. Books once censored are now given an imprimatur, banned films have returned to theatres and new newspapers are published. Censorship, however, has not disappeared although the ‘red lines’, the boundaries of what is permissible, have been moved.
The migratory flow from the south towards Europe was “scientifically” announced at least 25 years ago. Faced with problems concerning immigrants between Great Britain and France, between France and Italy, faced with walls and railway stations under siege in Hungary, Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel has reproposed the European Union as an “community based on law” with the laws of individual states subordinated to the common interest and principles of openness and immigration policies.