Age Islam Edit Bureau
18 May 2017
Shakespeare’s Muslims Are Challenging Britain’s Great Divide
By Remona Aly
Slippery Slope of Revolutionary Politics: Will Hamas Be another Fatah?
By Ramzy Baroud
Sports and the Shoura
By Dr. Fowziya Al-Bakr
— One Way of Uniting Muslims and Changing Perceptions
By Maha Akeel
Macron Bring A New Dawn For Liberal Democracy?
By Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
Hackers Are Controlling The World
By Mashari Althaydi
By New Age Islam Edit Bureau
17 May 2017
What it that makes you most hopeful is, I
was asked recently. I hesitated. And I didn't want to hesitate. But I was
recovering from a ghastly drum roll of media headlines comprising terror
attacks, war, fear, hate crimes, and division.
As the world has become more polarized, it
often feels like the cycle is getting more vicious.
Yet this painful, reductionist wheel of the
human experience is a limitation that I choose not to accept. Without
The moments when I feel most alive, when I
feel most human, is through the universal and limitless prism of artistic and
cultural expression. Most of all when it speaks to my own beliefs and heritage
as a British Muslim who draws on multiple identities, whether that is
ethnically Indian, symbolically Arab, spiritually Persian, or culturally
This notion is analogous to the figure of
Saint George, who held Palestinian, Turkish, and Greek heritage - yet he has
been embraced as the patron saint of England since the 14th century. One could
argue he is the perfect symbol for 21st century Britain, but I wonder how Saint
George would fare if he came to these shores today. Some might fly the English
flag of welcome; others might use it to cast him out.
Things are never simple, yet this
complexity is also integral to our stories. Muslim communities have undergone
profound upheavals, particularly in the past 15 years.
Unending questions around integration,
belonging, identity, and loyalty, have circled Muslims like a ring of fire.
They have struggled with the challenges of puritanical interpretations of
Islamic scriptures, they’ve been beset by socio-economic deprivation - nearly
half of UK Muslims live in deprived areas in the country, and they can often
face hostile public attitudes that see them as the eternal outsiders - 62% of
Britons think rising numbers of Muslims in the UK ‘weaken’ the national
The answer is not to retreat into the shadows,
but to stride through the fire – to boldly challenge, explore, and broaden that
very identity through a creative channel.
This week, Othello, the popular play by the
national poet-playwright Shakespeare, is being revisited in a new production by
the English Touring Theatre, this time with a strong nod to Othello’s Muslim
Using the play as an entry point of
vigorous debate and discussion, the Othello Project explores the question of
‘the Other’ in light of the current climate of right wing populism through a
series of surrounding events. Podcasts, photography, and spoken word
performances inspired by the 17th century play are designed to navigate modern
Muslim perspectives on assimilation, prejudice, and identity.
The Othello Project, which takes place this
Saturday, thus uses a traditional English play to confront our modern
challenges around growing faith and ethnic divides – and in the process brings
together a powerful, eclectic fusion of the diversity inherent to British
The project is being supported by a newly
launched programming fund called Amal, which supports Muslim cultures and arts,
including storytelling, visual arts, theatre, poetry, music, dance and film.
Amal’s vision is one that enables, celebrates and champions the rich mosaic of
Muslim cultures in Britain – with a view to explore how art and culture bring
us together and highlight the values that unite us all, no matter what our
religious beliefs or ethnic backgrounds.
Is Our Oxygen
A rising young Muslim filmmaker from London
tells me how thrilled he is that Amal exists. “Finally”, he says, “it’s what
we’ve been waiting for”.
He, like so many artists, struggles with
financial setbacks and the lack of opportunities, leaving a heavy lid on
artistic imagination. But initiatives like Amal can lift it, and open the way
for these artists to enrich, redefine and evolve the British cultural
Cultures and arts are the key to changing
the stifling rhetoric that exists around Muslims – because the Muslim experience
isn’t limited to Niqab bans, Muslim bans, extremism, immigration or Sharia
Art is our oxygen. It enables us to wander
the inner chambers of the human condition – for each hallway, window, and
staircase reveals a different dimension, a new insight into arguably the most
fascinating and most misunderstood faith group in the world.
If, as Shakespeare says, all the world’s a
stage, then I believe there are many storytellers waiting for their stage
entrance. They no longer need to wait in the sidelines. The light can finally
fall on their exceptional stories, ones that challenge the status quo, that
fire up the imagination, and celebrate the complex beauty of humanity.
In our diversity, there is so much to
explore, so much promise – because it is only in accepting and celebrating our
differences, that we can discover our common ground.
This is what fills me with hope.
Hamas has recently released a new Charter.
Despite obvious contradictions and attempts at finding balances within the
region’s increasingly tight political margin, the new document is far savvier
than its old Charter of 1988.
Following the announcement of the new
Charter, the soon-to-depart Hamas’ leader, Khaled Meshaal, conducted several
high profile media interviews, explaining the evolution in Hamas’ political
In a televised interview with CNN, Meshaal
called on US President, Donald Trump, to seize a “historic opportunity” for
peace. He said that Trump has a “greater threshold for boldness”, thus is able
to pressure Israel and “find an equitable solution for the Palestinian people.”
It is not the first time that Hamas has
called upon a US president to change his country’s divisive political approach
to Palestine and to pressure Israel. But unlike previous calls to former
President Barack Obama, for example, Hamas’ ‘plea’ this time is far less
“This is a plea from me to the Trump
administration - the new American administration,” Meshaal told CNN. “Break out
from the wrong approaches of the past and which did not arrive at a result. And
perhaps to grab the opportunity presented by Hamas’ document.”
Trump is due to visit Israel on May 22, and
is expected, aside from declaring his unconditional support for the Jewish
state, to propose an ‘ultimate deal.’
While many Palestinians are not impressed,
the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah is still counting on American political
validation and financial support to survive.
However, seeing Hamas joining the official
Palestinian chorus, pleading and imploring Trump to be fairer than his
predecessors is quite an interesting shift in both attitude and style.
The Hamas leadership is keen to assure its
supporters that the shift is in language only, and that its old values are
still strongly guarded. But this might not be the case.
Old and the New
Undoubtedly, Hamas’ first Charter, which
was released to the public in August 1988, a few months after the formation of
Hamas - itself a creation from the outcome of the Palestinian Uprising of
December 1987, which saw the killing of thousands of Palestinians, mostly stone
throwing children - reflected a degree of intellectual dearth and political
It called on Palestinians to confront the
Israeli occupation army, seeking “martyrdom, or victory”, and derided Arab
rulers and armies for their apathy in the face of ‘grave crimes by the Jews’
against the Palestinians.
At the time, the Hamas leadership was a
grassroots composition, made up almost entirely of Palestinian refugees.
While Hamas founders attributed their
ideology to the Muslim Brotherhood Movement, their politics was formulated
inside Palestinian refugee camps and Israeli prisons.
Although Hamas desired to be part of a
larger regional dynamic, it was mostly the outcome of a unique Palestinian
The language of Hamas’ first Charter
reflected serious political immaturity, lack of true vision and an
underestimation of their future appeal.
However, it also reflected a degree of
sincerity, accurately depicting a rising popular tide that was discontented
with Fatah’s domination of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO).
Fatah, and other PLO factions, became
increasingly disengaged from Palestinian reality after the Israeli invasion of
Lebanon in 1982.
The 1987 Intifada reflected popular
frustration, both with the Israeli military occupation and the failure,
corruption and irrelevance of the PLO.
Thus, the formation of Hamas during that
specific period of Palestinian history cannot be understood independently from
the Intifada, which introduced a new generation of Palestinian movements,
leaders and grassroots organizations.
Due to its emphasis on Islamic (vs.
national) identity, Hamas developed in parallel, rarely converging with other
national groups in the West Bank and Gaza.
Towards the end of the Intifada, the
factions clashed, inflicting violence towards fellow Palestinians. Internal
strife exhausted the Intifada from within, as much as it was mercilessly beaten
by Israeli occupation soldiers from without.
The signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993,
but especially the failure of the accords and the so-called ‘peace process’ to
meet the minimum expectations of the Palestinian people, gave Hamas another impetus.
Since the period of ‘peace’ saw the
expansion of illegal Jewish settlements, the number of illegal settlers
doubling and the loss of more Palestinian land, Hamas’ popularity continued to
Meanwhile, the PLO was sidelined to make
room for the Palestinian Authority. Established in 1994, the PA was a direct
outcome of Oslo. Its leaders were not leaders of the Intifada, but mostly
wealthy Fatah returnees from Arab capitals abroad.
The late Palestinian leader, Yasser Arafat,
understood the need to maintain a semblance of balance in his treatment of
Palestinian opposition forces. Despite tremendous Israel-US pressure to crack
down on the ‘infrastructure of terrorism’, he understood that suppressing Hamas
and others could hasten his party’s eroding popularity.
Soon after his passing, local Palestinian
elections - in which Hamas participated for the first time - changed the
political power dynamics in Palestine. Hamas won the majority of seats in the
Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC).
Hamas’ election victory in 2006 prompted a
western boycott, massive Israeli crackdown on the movement and clashes between
Hamas and Fatah. Ultimately, Gaza was placed under siege, and several Israeli
wars killed thousands of Palestinians.
During the last ten years, Hamas has been
forced to seek alternatives. It was forced out of the trenches to govern and
economically manage one of the most impoverished regions on earth.
The siege became the status quo. Attempts
by some European powers to talk to Hamas were always met by strong
Hamas’ old Charter was often used to
silence voices that called for ending Hamas’ isolation, along with the Gaza
siege. Taken out of its historical context, Hamas’ Charter read like an archaic
treatise, devoid of any political wisdom.
On May 1, Hamas introduced the new Charter,
entitled: “A Document of General Principles and Policies.”
The new Charter makes no reference to the
Muslim Brotherhood. Instead, it realigns Hamas’ political outlook to fit
somewhere between national and Islamic sentiments.
It consents to the idea of establishing a
Palestinian state per the June 1967 border, although insists on the Palestinian
people’s legal and moral claim to all of historic Palestine.
It rejects the Oslo agreements, but speaks
of the PA as a fact of life; it supports all forms of resistance, but insists
on armed resistance as a right of any occupied nation.
It Does Not Recognize Israel.
Hamas’ new Charter seems like a
scrupulously cautious attempt at finding political balances. The outcome is a
document that is - although it can be understood in the region’s new political
context - a frenzied departure from the past.
Hamas of 1988 may have seemed unrefined and
lacking savvy, but its creation was a direct expression of a real, existing
sentiment of many Palestinians. Hamas of 2017 is much more stately and careful
in both words and actions, yet it is adrift in new space that is governed by
Arab money, regional and international politics and the pressure of ten years
under siege and war.
The current conventional wisdom among Hamas
leaders is that a balance is still possible, where political pragmatism and
armed struggle can go hand in hand. In fact, the future of the movement, and
its brand of politics and resistance will be determined by the outcome of this
However, it behoves Hamas to carefully
study the political journey of its rivals in Fatah. The latter’s ideology was a
blend of nationalism and religion. At times, it too tried to strike the right
balance, but failed.
Nearly 47 years ago, Fatah leaders modelled
their revolutionary movement after the guerrilla war and resistance in Algeria,
which eventually dislodged bloody French colonialism.
Before the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993,
Fatah still argued that armed struggle could go hand in hand with the so-called
Even today, Fatah’s popular rallies still
utilize the language of yesteryear although, in reality, neither the ‘peace
process’ delivered the coveted peace, nor is armed struggle – or any form of
centralized resistance – part of the official Fatah strategy.
One can find clear similarities by
comparing the experiences of Fatah and Hamas. Perhaps unwittingly, Hamas seems
to slowly adopt Fatah’s past legacy.
What ordinary Palestinians found appealing
about Hamas in the past was its ability to articulate a Palestinian position,
however amateurish it was, independent from American pressures and Arab
In fact, this is what many Palestinians
also found appealing about Fatah in the 1960s.
Hamas is slowly, but decidedly losing that
quality, as Fatah already did. If the movement continues on this path it could
soon find itself reliving Fatah’s past, which sent Palestinians into years of
political disarray and self-defeating internal conflict.
Dr. Fowziya Al-Bakr
May 18, 2017
SAUDI women started taking part in sports
as early as the 1960s when they played football, basketball and volleyball. The
year 2006 witnessed the opening of the first private sports academy for women
in Jeddah. There are 26 women’s sports clubs across the Kingdom, which promote
various sporting activities, including horse riding and football.
Women’s sports clubs have sprung up in the
length and breadth of Saudi Arabia in recent years. Most of them are not
licensed and charge exorbitant fees. It will be difficult for women having
limited income to pay the annual subscriptions, which has reached as high as
SR14,000, for joining these clubs.
While working in Boston, which is believed
to be an expensive city to live in the US, the annual fee I paid to a sports club
was just $60 while the fee for joining a yoga club did not exceed $20 a month.
We need sports like water and air because
taking part in sports will strengthen our physical and psychological health.
The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “ The most beloved of people
according to Allah is he who brings most benefit to people, and the most
beloved of deeds according to Allah the Mighty, the Magnificent, is that you
bring happiness to a fellow Muslim….”
Is there anything better than sports in
inducing happiness to people. Scientific researches without exception have
stressed the high impact of doing exercise on mental health apart from its
physical benefits. The website of Healthline says: “Regular exercise can boost
your confidence and improve your self-esteem. As your strength, skills and
stamina increase through playing sports your self-image would improve as well.”
Team sports such as football, baseball and
basketball are training grounds for leadership traits. Regular physical
activity helps keep your key mental skills sharp as you age. This includes
critical thinking, learning and good judgment. Exercise reduces the level of
stress hormones and stimulates production of endorphins, which are natural mood
It also enhances self-confidence as a
result of a balanced lifestyle and preservation of physical health and will
reduce health problems such as obesity and exhaustion, which is widespread in
It goes without saying that sports
activities are the cornerstone of the Kingdom’s Vision 2030, which envisions
four out of 10 Saudi men and women as active athletes.
A study conducted by the obesity chair at
King Saud University shows that one-third of Saudi society (70 percent of men
and 75 percent of women) suffers from obesity.
More than 80 percent of type-2 diabetic
patients in the Kingdom are obese. Saudi Arabia has been ranked third globally
by World Health Organization in obesity prevalence. A study conducted by the
executive bureau of the GCC Health Council showed that obesity-related deaths
in the Kingdom reached 20,000 annually. It has been reported that more than 3.5
million Saudi children suffer from obesity.
Obesity has hit about 36 percent of Saudi
population. Moreover, cases of heart diseases, hypertension and diabetes and heart
blockage are growing among children due to excessive weight gain.
Moreover, the sports sector is a big
industry, which is expected to offer limitless job opportunities for women if
they are given proper education and training.
We don’t have accurate figures of women’s
sports clubs in the Kingdom and many of them do not possess any license. The
Sports Authority has allowed opening of sports clubs for women. Our
universities and educational institutions should organize physical exercise
programs for female students.
There is no intellectual and cultural
justification for rejecting a proposal made by some women Shoura Council
members to establish physical education colleges for girls. I believe that we
have to convert some chairs in the consultative council that obstruct progress
into a museum.
We hope that the young Saudi men and women
would take up important social issues to expedite reforms and make greater
achievements, like the successes achieved by the country’s young leadership.
I had the pleasure of attending the opening
ceremony of the 4th Islamic Solidarity Games, or the Olympics of the Muslim
world, held in Baku, the capital of the Republic of Azerbaijan, on May 12. It
was a spectacular and awesome show that mixed the past and present in a
wonderful display of music, dance, fireworks and a laser show.
The show followed a theme of togetherness
in the Islamic world, which was reiterated in the speeches by the Azerbaijani
First Lady, Vice President and Chairperson of the Organizing Committee of the
Games Mehriban Aliyeva, and by Secretary-General of the Organization of Islamic
Cooperation Dr. Yousef Al-Othaimeen. “Our Games will send a message beyond the
borders of Azerbaijan, that solidarity is our strength,” said Mehriban Aliyeva.
The secretary-general stated that the
magnificent Games will contribute to the promotion of sports in the OIC
countries and support youth in the Islamic world, as well as inter-cultural and
inter-civilisational dialogue, and propagate knowledge of Islamic values
globally through sports. Indeed, the feeling of excitement reverberating
through the stadium, especially as the athletes from 54 OIC countries
participating in the Games were parading to the cheers of spectators, was
It was an uplifting feeling mixed with
pride and joy. I was particularly happy to see a female Saudi athlete as part
of the Saudi team. Yes, the Islamic games included female athletes competing in
different sports. Unlike the usual depressing, frightening news we hear and
read about coming from the Muslim world, these Games were a breath of fresh
air. It was nice to see athletes from Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Palestine and
Yemen participating. Not that they did not participate in the Olympics or other
international sports competitions, but it was reassuring to see them in a
world-class event in a Muslim country.
Our youth need such messages of hope and
togetherness. They represent around 60 percent of the Muslim population; their
energy, creativity and enthusiasm should be harnessed for building nations,
developing societies and leading toward peace, prosperity and creativity.
Leaving them to be manipulated by destructive ideologies, devoured by
emptiness, and frustrated by corruption and mismanagement is a sure way to more
anger, emigration and terrorism.
Today, unfortunately, simply saying the
word Islam or Muslim conjures up negative images of conflicts, terrorism,
extremism, oppression, poverty, backwardness, illiteracy, disease, famine and
corruption. Only few glimpses of positive achievements and successes are ever
in the spotlight. As much as we would like to blame the media for focusing on
the negative and ignoring the positive, because bad news makes news, we still
have to shoulder our own responsibility in changing these images into positive.
The Muslim world has an image problem and
it needs to organize more events like the Islamic Solidarity Games. The
potential for cultural events are enormous with the rich heritage, arts and
literature of the Muslim world, not to mention science, innovation and
medicine. People-to-people contact and communication is the best way to change
perceptions and win hearts and minds. In other words, the Muslim world needs to
use its soft power.
However, the Muslim world covers wide and
extremely diverse parts of the world, and the perception and knowledge gap
about each individual country or region is huge, from the overall positive to
the mostly negative and everything in between on each issue, whether
development, women, education, religion, democracy, human rights, science and
research. So a one approach fits all would not work. Nevertheless, this diversity
itself is a bonus because it negates the stereotypical image or perception of
Islam and Muslims. This rich diversity is what the Muslim world needs to
project, and it was in full display in Baku at the Islamic Solidarity Games.
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
When Emmanuel Macron won an emphatic
victory in the French presidential election the other week, the entire liberal
establishment of Europe breathed a sigh of relief. If the Austrian presidential
and the Dutch parliamentary elections hinted that we may have hit peak
nationalist populism in the West, Macron’s victory seems like a decisive
turnaround. We still have the German election coming up in the autumn, but the
risks there seem minimal. The most likely scenario there is that Merkel wins
the Chancellorship again – not a bad outcome. An unlikely victory for the SPD’s
Martin Schultz, the main contender, would make Macron’s proposed European
renewal and resurgence even more probable.
At least, this is the optimistic scenario
for the future of liberal democracy in the West. And there are reasons to be
optimistic. Perversely, the main reason to be optimistic is, in fact, Macron’s
popularity – or to be more specific, lack thereof.
There is no doubt that his movement, France
en Marche, was driven by a large cadre of true believers. Among the educated
urban classes, Macron’s mix of social liberalism and economic centrism is
wildly popular, just as it was for Tony Blair in Britain two decades ago. But
in France, just as in Britain today, that demographic is decidedly a minority.
It continues to be disproportionally influential, but there as here, its
influence is waning. Many, if not the majority, of people who voted for Macron
did not do so out of enthusiasm for his policy positions. They did so holding
And that is extremely good news. In
Britain, some would argue that brand of liberalism, bolstered by the man’s
personal popularity, was tarnished by Blair’s failures over Iraq. The backlash
from some in the Labour party against it has been overly aggressive. But in
France, people largely did not vote for Macron, or for his brand of liberalism.
They voted for the moral soul of the French Republic. The decision before them
was whether they stood for the liberal, democratic Republic they grew up in, or
whether they preferred a populist system with a leader in the mould of Putin,
Trump or Erdogan. And they have voted emphatically in favour of the Republic.
Get Too Comfortable
But we must also be cautious. A 66% vote in
favour of the old liberal order seems like a comfortable margin, but it is
significantly smaller than the 82% from 2002, when Jacques Chirac defeated
Marine Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie. The direction of travel is still worrying.
And while in France the old Republic still has a comfortable margin, it does
not have unlimited time to deliver the goods. And in other European countries,
that margin is much smaller.
What is heartening is that Macron seems to
understand this. His calls for the renewal of the French Republic and the
‘historic reconstruction’ of Europe are exactly what is needed. Unless these
institutions start delivering for their people, and are seen to be delivering
for their people, they are living on borrowed time. France needs a more
flexible, dynamic and inclusive economy. Europe needs substantially better
economic governance: governance that is accountable at the level of the entire
Union, and not beholden to the electoral calculus of leaders in the Capitals,
notably Berlin. Both of these issues require significant institutional
The question now is whether Macron can
deliver. He has the political will, but he will need to bring the French
Assembly and the governments of the other European countries along with him.
And that is no small task for a man of relatively little experience. Merkel has
an open ear, at least for now. But whether she will move with him remains to be
seen. Whether Poland and Hungary can also be brought along for the ride will be
even more interesting to see.
All in all, with Macron, European liberal
democracy at least has a credible analysis of what has gone wrong over the past
decade and an injection of energy towards creating solid solutions. But now the
hard work begins. And it will be years before we can say for sure whether
liberal democracy in Europe is back on sure footing, or whether Emmanuel Macron
was but a false dawn.
Hackers Are Controlling the World
The ransomware virus which targeted the
accounts and services of global companies and governmental institutions in
several countries was a horrible attack that’s extremely dangerous and that has
According to some estimates, the victims of
this cyber attack are more than 200,000 in 150 countries in Asia and Europe.
The European Interpol said it was an unprecedented attack.
Banks, airliner companies, internet service
providers, commercial companies and governmental institutions were all in a
state of alert following the attack.
According to some experts, the cyber attack
may even target smart home technologies in addition to targeting smart phones
The aim of these cyber attacks is clear. The
virus seizes your data, and if you pay the required ransom, you will be given a
password to retrieve your data.
A British young man foiled the ransomware
virus but what’s funny is that few years ago, when he was still a teenager, he
was suspended from school after being accused of hacking.
Dutch spy chief Rob Bertholee recently
warned during a cyber security conference in The Hague that today no one can
completely protect anyone from cyber threats, and he warned of another digital
Bertholee highlighted how cyber attacks
targeted Saudi Arabia’s Aramco in 2012 and how three years later Ukrainian
electricity companies were hacked leading to a massive blackout for several
One of the interesting points he noted is
that although the internet provided the world with comprehensive infrastructure
that had major benefits, such as facilitating communication and the transfer of
information, it also had disastrous disadvantages.
Technological development has made things
easier but it’s a weapon that you can use and that can also be used against
you. It helped facilitate general services and put an end to paperwork and
bureaucratic stamps as everything has now become digital. This is very easy and
simple but it can also be very dangerous and serious.
Imagine if the entire world is under the
control of a mysterious gang. Some said that angry North Korea is behind the
recent ransomware attack. Before that, it was said the Russians were behind
hacking the French and American elections.
The world’s submission to the internet is
terrifying. Internet is indispensable when it comes to public services,
airliners’ bookings, hospitalization, banking and many other sectors. Therefore
spending and investing in electronic security has become part of national or
rather global security.
The Internet has a window overlooking
heaven and another overlooking hell. God bless the days of simplicity.