The Blue Eyes of Saudi Arabia

September 14, 2013

Try to imagine for a second how you would react, how you would feel, and how every day would be for you and your family, if you were born with blue eyes, in a Country that not only viciously stigmatised those with blue eyes as an unforgivable perversion against nature, but that nation also tortured, and sometimes executed those caught with blue eyes.

Try to imagine, if the basis for the hate directed at you for having blue eyes, was a 7th Century book of myths. That, because that 7th century book of myths told a story of a city that God burnt to the ground for being full of people with blue eyes, even though that story has no basis in historical fact, you would forever be linked with the inhabitants of that city, and considered the enemy of God, regardless of the content of your character.

The Saudi Arabia UN Delegation made this plea to the UN earlier this year:

“Moreover, the Human Rights Council in last June condemned the Syrian regime on the violations of the Syrian people human rights. Any delay from the international community to take action means more suffering for the helpless Syrian people helpless.”

– It would seem from the rhetoric that Saudi Arabia cares deeply for applying international pressure for the sake of human rights. But it is quite simple to turn this Saudi call for action in Syria for human rights abuses, right back around to face Saudi Arabia itself. And the Delegation would be correct; any delay from the international community to take action in Saudi Arabia over its horrific record on human rights, means more suffering for the victims of the crime family that currently rules that country.

One simple paragraph from the Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks for Islamic Studies: 2007-2008 offers a prime example of just why politically religious folk should never be allowed power over the apparatus of a State, nor over the lives of its inhabitants especially its children, in an enlightened World. The barbaric nature of their law:

“Homosexuality is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes…. It is a vile perversion that goes against sound nature, and is one of the most corrupting and hideous sins…. The punishment for homosexuality is death. Both the active and passive participants are to be killed whether or not they have previously had sexual intercourse in the context of a legal marriage…. Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that [the perpetrator] is to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.”

– It seems almost as if this is an attempt at an ironic art work. Because for a faith that believes their Prophet flew on a very fast magic flying horse to heaven and met Jesus, to claim to be able to speak confidently on anything pertaining to ‘sound nature’ is either an ironic art work, or the start of the most hypocritical speech in religious history. When it comes to the “unnatural”… religions have that one covered almost exclusively.

Either way, that one nasty paragraph – that completely misunderstands ‘sound nature’ – should be enough for those who profess to believe in the cause of social justice and human rights, to focus the majority of their time and efforts on freedom for Saudi Arabia. Currently, students are banned from school and university, if they are suspected of being gay. It isn’t just intense and violent homophobia today in Saudi Arabia that is the problem, it is the systematic attempts to instill into the vulnerable minds of children, that hate is acceptable. It is an attempt to poison those vulnerable minds with violent witchcraft and the acceptability of oppression rather than universal rights and biological fact.

For some odd reason, we do not treat this blatant abuse of the most fundamental rights, in the same way we would if we were to exchange the word “homosexuality” in the above, to “having blue eyes“. Both are part of a natural spectrum that we have no control over, and yet they are treated completely differently, despite being very similar. I would suggest that if the above paragraph from the Saudi Ministry of Education Textbooks were to specify punishment for those with blue eyes, instead of homosexuality, there would be far more outrage both for the country in question, and the faith that spawned it. Here:

“Having blue eyes is one of the most disgusting sins and greatest crimes…. It is a vile perversion that goes against sound nature, and is one of the most corrupting and hideous sins…. The punishment for persons with blue eyes, is death. Some of the companions of the Prophet stated that those with blue eyes are to be burned with fire. It has also been said that he should be stoned, or thrown from a high place.”

– This paragraph, if enshrined into a Nation’s law, should not shock us anymore than when it said Homosexuality, and yet I am certain that it would. The ‘companions of the Prophet’ would be ignored as a product of their time not to be taken seriously today. I am certain that the World would act to ensure that a scientifically as well as historically untrue basis for such a law, were thoroughly discredited and pressure exerted to ensure the law never made it to any statute book, as a grave abuse of basic human rights.

But, when it is applied to homosexuality, it is often dismissed as a “cultural” difference by cultural relativists whose respect for the dignity of life and individual rights, are not universally applied and must come second when considered alongside violent Theocratic considerations. Tradition seems more important than rights. As if tradition and ‘cultural differences’ are an acceptable excuse for the fact that in the year 2000, Saudi Arabia executed three Yemen men for what it deemed the:

“…obscenity of homosexuality and imitating women.”

– By ‘imitating women’, I’m guessing they don’t mean having to cover everything with the exception of hands and eyes, and another male having ‘guardianship’ rights over her, like a piece of property, nor married off to dirty old men at the age of 9.
In 2005 over 100 men were arrested and sentenced to flogging for:

“behaving like women.”

In 2002, three men were beheaded for being gay.
In 2007, two gay men were sentenced to 7000 lashes, for being gay.
– However we dress it up; this is torture and murder and it is a flagrant disregard for even the most basic of rights; to life itself. We cannot imagine the fear that gay men and women must face every day in Saudi Arabia. Religion does not prevent homosexuality, just like religion would not prevent blue eyes. Because religion has no explanation for nature. It has unsubstantiated, tribal myths, and nothing more. And when nature outgrows religious explanation, religion resorts to violently repressing nature, instead of looking inward and accepting it might be the faith that is flawed.

Gay Palestinian men often risk their lives fleeing into Israel, where they feel far safer and respected, than in the deeply illiberal, Theocratic Palestinian territories. According to a BBC World Service Outlook report, one man fled Gaza to Israel after his family found out that he was gay. The man said that police in Palestine had beat and tortured him.

In 2011, police in Afghanistan publicly humiliated a man dressed in women’s clothes. The victim is seen on film with eyes tearing up as the officers humiliate him. The man says:

“Please have mercy, don’t make fun of me.”

In 1998 in the southern town of Kandahar, the Taliban ordered three gay men buried, with their heads sticking out of the ground, and a wall pushed on top of them by a tank… for the crime of being gay.

The Iranian Constitution states:

“Sodomy is a crime, for which both partners are punished. The punishment is death if the participants are adults, of sound mind and consenting; the method of execution is for the Shari’a judge to decide.”

– Imagine the international backlash, if that Constitution noted that “having blue eyes is a crime“. This constitutional addition has lead to 4000 gay men and women stoned, hanged, beheaded, thrown alive from tall buildings, and set on fire, as legally sanctioned punishments for being gay in Iran. But, because the precedent is set in certain Hadith, for some odd reason it takes on a form of respectability and credibility that those who aren’t Muslim, seem to feel must be respected to a degree. Why? It isn’t acceptable, and the words and deeds of religious figures that give these punishments the life they have, are also completely unacceptable.
One Hadith in question is particularly grotesque and must be condemned as such:

“Narated By Abdullah ibn Abbas : The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done.”

– If God creates people who happen to be gay, or who have blue eyes, and then demands stigmatising and punishment for those people, it is extremely problematic to label this God anything but a being that enjoys playing violent games with human lives, like rearing ants so that eventually you can point a ray of burning light through magnifying glass at them, and still demand that those tortured ants worship you for such ‘mercy’. This is a cruel Being with no redeeming features.

Secondly, there is no Qur’anic law or rule demanding the murder or torture of gay people (A similar thing cannot be said for the Bible). We could of course point to Sodom – in both the Bible & Qur’an – but, given that no evidence has ever surfaced to suggest this story is based in fact; it’d be like using Narnia for evidence that kids and lions make excellent rulers. And so if any law comes from the (completely unsubstantiated; as all Hadith are) words or deeds of the Prophet, I’m afraid those Muslims who endorse such man made laws, that in no way relate to the Qur’an, are guilty of a sort of idol worship, which of course is a grave sin for that particular faith. It is only through completely unreliable Hadith – reflecting the prejudices and scientific, and social ignorance of the time and place, along with the imperial structure of that particular time and place in history – that gay men and women in Saudi Arabia and other Islamic nations are persecuted so horrifically.

Whilst every move Israel makes is remarked upon, condemned, and watched with an unmovable eye from both Western Muslims, and a vast portion of those on the Galloway-Left whose ‘cultural relativist’ position is strangely less active when it involves Israel; the most vile regime in Saudi Arabia quietly carries out public lashings, torture and executions of anyone who doesn’t fit its very narrow vision of what it’s 7th Century book demands, with very little real anger from the rest of the World.

My position is quite simple. If your religious text claims universal and timeless truth, upon which it advocates death for any natural trait, be it homosexuality, or blue eyes… your religious text should not be taught to children, should not be allowed to influence policy, should be criticised, shamed, and satirised at every possible opportunity, and deserves not a single shred of respect. Any Nation that puts that text into political practice, must be the focus of united international condemnation from those who claim to have even an ounce of respect for the dignity of human rights and social justice. There is no acceptable excuse for the torture, and murder of anyone with blue eyes.

Syria: Secular democracy must be the goal.

September 2, 2013

“Without Western heavy political lifting, led primarily by the US, the most likely scenario is for the death toll in Syria to continue to rise, the humanitarian crisis to further deepen, and for Syria to become the new Yemen, offering refuge and acting as a launching hub for terrorist groups.”
– Jamil Sawda, Syria Specialist.

In the event of Congressional approval for a limited strike on Syria; in the event of the weakening of the power of the Assad regime; and in the event of the eventual overthrow of that abhorrent regime…. what comes next? My reservations about any strike on Syria stem from the apparent lack of coherent plan to ensure a peaceful transition to secular, democratic governance in Syria once the conflict has ended.

It is without doubt that a chemical attack in which 400+ children died, along with 80,000+ deaths in the conflict so far and over 1,000,000 exiled into horrendous conditions, cannot be ignored. It has been ignored for too long. And as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Hezbollah intervene in order to press for a strengthened Assad regime, or a more oppressive Theocratic entity post-Assad, so must the forces for a democratic and secular solution ensure their allies in Syria are well equipped and supported.

As it stands, the secular and democratic left rebels in Syria are outnumbered. Their voice is too weak in the country, and its natural allies in the West – the left – are again spending their time endlessly ensuring we all know how much they dislike the US; the Stop the War Coalition predictably makes no mention of the struggle of the secular and democratic left in Syria; shows no support for the secular and democratic left in Syria, but bizarrely in an article on Syrian intervention, manages to attack Tony Blair. The democratic, secular voices in Syria – the voices we must support – suffer heavily as a result of internal conflict, and external ignorance.

Ahrar ash-Sham are the most powerful rebel force in the region, boasting around 20,000 members over 50 units around Aleppo and Hama. Ahrar ash-Sham call for an Islamic state. They are allied with Jabhat al-Nusra Front. Al-Nusra Front is an al-Qaeda associate Jihadist group who also wish to see the Assad regime replaced by an Islamic caliphate, under harsh Sharia conditions. Al-Nusra insist that upon their victory, entertainment that al-Nusra consider “immoral”, would be banned. They are the Taliban of the Syrian conflict.
In January 2012, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Al-Midan, in which 26 people died – most of whom, were innocent civilians.
In October 2012, al-Nusra claimed responsibility for a suicide attack in Saadallah Al-Jabiri Square that left 48 people dead and 122+ badly wounded.
In June 2012, they attacked al-Ikhbariya TV, killing seven people including three journalists in a violent crackdown of anyone daring to criticise them.
In mid-2012, al-Nusra released a statement stating that they had kidnapped and executed TV news presented, Mohammed al-Saeed, simply because he supported the Assad regime. In a statement, Al-Nusra said:

“The heroes of western Ghouta imprisoned the shabih (pro-regime militia) presenter on July 19. He was then killed after he had been interrogated.”

– This is a group that consider the kidnap and murder of a TV presenter, to be heroic. The targeting of journalists speaks volumes of the message al-Nusra wish to send out. Under their rule, Syrians would not benefit from the fundamental right of free expression. The fact that the most powerful rebel groups in the conflict are allied with a group like Jabhat al-Nusra – a group that has absolutely no problem with the murder of innocent civilians and journalists – is intensely unnerving. They could become the region’s biggest problem in the coming years. This is a group that wilfully match the vicious nature of dictatorial regimes to ensure the black banner is raised above Damascus.

But it isn’t all gloom. Indeed, there exists secular & democratic rebel groups in Syria who desperately require Western support and cooperation for their cause and the for the future of a Syria not dogged by regressive, Theocratic tyranny. They understand the desperate need for fundamental human rights and democratic institutions. The Coalition of Secular & Democratic Syrians is the most important group in the Syrian civil war. The President of the Coalition, Randa Kassis told Spiegel Online of the problems facing her movement:

“The Islamist groups, which are superbly financed and equipped by the Gulf states, are ruthlessly seizing decision-making power for themselves. Syrians who are taking up arms against the dictator but not putting themselves under the jihadists’ command are being branded as unpatriotic and as heretics. This is also affecting the many soldiers and officers who have defected to the opposition but who aren’t willing to replace the corrupt terrorism of the Assad regime with a religious tyranny.”

Secular & democratic forces in Syria are divided. There is no clear strategy. This conflict is reflected in the make-up and operations of the Syrian National Coalition, which is so incredibly complex, faces resignations on a constant basis, that it is almost entirely impotent. The Coalition saw liberal members freeze their membership upon the election of Muslim Brotherhood-backed Ghassan Hitto to the newly formed Prime Ministerial role. One of the Coalition’s liberal democrats, Kamal al-Labwani said:

“The government is controlled by the Muslim Brotherhood and the Qatar government. We will be against this government and will not give it legality. Democracy is from the land and from the people not from a council that is composed by the government of Qatar.”

– Hitto resigned in June, citing an inability to unite members and topple the Assad regime. The Muslim Brotherhood’s power within the Syrian National Coalition is made all the more worrying given the fact that the Coalition has widespread international recognition as Syria’s representative body. And yet, it is a body that cannot decide if it is secular, or Theocratic, but is slowly leaning toward the side of Theocracy.

The Coalition’s first leader in 2012, Moaz al-Khatib insisted that a moderate form of Islamic law should be instituted in a post-Assad Syria, run by Islamic scholars. He is a supporter and friend of Yusuf al-Qaradawi, a man who once said:

“Throughout history, Allah has imposed upon the Jews people who would punish them for their corruption…The last punishment was carried out by Hitler. By means of all the things he did to them – even though they exaggerated this issue – he managed to put them in their place. This was divine punishment for them…Allah Willing, the next time will be at the hand of the believers.”

– Whilst al-Khatib may openly support horrid little fascists like al-Qaradawi, he appears to be opposed to strict interpretations of religious texts (he does not insist on the veiling of women), yet his “moderate” Theocratic principles still insist on entrenching one particular religion above all others, which is, by its very nature, oppressive. His speeches tend to confuse freedom, with Theocracy. The US Christian Right are very similar.
The Syrian National Coalition is so diverse, that the very fundamentals of forming a governmental system cannot be agreed upon. The question of Church & State separation, cannot be agreed upon. Without a working constitutional framework, there is no government. The very first, and most important question is whether or not a post-Assad Syria be secular, or Theocratic (moderate or not).

By contrast, independent Islamic extremist groups separate from the Coalition, seem to be far more cohesive and the likelihood of a powerful alliance between them increases. Islamist opposition groups, motivated by religion, and supported and armed by competing Gulf and Arab states, whilst Muslim Brotherhood power infects the Coalition, makes secular & democratic unity on the Syrian crisis all but impossible. And we know what happens when Islamic Theocrats have control of a country. Afghanistan is a prime example of the horrendous abuses and oppression of states controlled by religious fascists. Syria cannot afford that eventuality. The region cannot afford it.

Without a real diplomatic strategy to unite rebel groups, without Western support for the right groups to make sure the country isn’t overrun and overpowered by Islamic extremist groups, and to ensure strong democratic and secular infrastructure and framework – based on the fundamental right to expression, to association, to belief, to protest, to gender equality, to racial equality, to vote, to sexuality – upon which the rebuilding of Syria must be based, any intervention can only lead to more conflict and the inevitability of a ground invasion further down the line.

President Obama and the Syria Dilemma.

August 30, 2013

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.
– Presidential Candidate Barack Obama, 2007.

I’m not entirely sure what my position on intervention in Syria is. I do think it important that the UN inspectors be afforded more time. On the one hand, it seems unreasonable to suggest Syria can be compared to Kosovo before it – as some are doing – given that Kosovo did not have the level of Russian support that the Assad regime now seems to enjoy, and so any intervention against Assad, will inevitably only lead to Russian strengthening of the grotesque regime and an escalation of the conflict. On the other hand, what sort of awful precedent does it set, to allow a leader to chemically attack his own people, with no retribution, and no protection for those under attack? The circumstances forced upon refugees cannot be ignored by an international community that can help. If regime change isn’t the goal of intervention – As UK & US officials seem to be suggesting – then, what is? How do we ensure a post-Assad Syria isn’t overrun by Islamist religious conservatives? Is there a detailed plan for a secular, democratic framework upon Assad’s fall?

It would appear to me that President Obama may very well see himself in the firing line of the Republican obstruction and destruction machine, if he decides to push forward with intervention. Pushing ahead without UK assistance following the Commons vote last night, and without the spineless and opportunistic Arab League, but mainly without Congressional approval, could be a political disaster for the President. A bi-partisan Congressional group are calling on the President to seek the approval of Congress before launching any action. 50 House Democrats wrote a letter to the White House yesterday, stating:

“While we understand that as Commander in Chief you have a constitutional obligation to protect our national interests from direct attack, Congress has the constitutional obligation and power to approve military force, even if the United States or its direct interests [such as its embassies] have not been attacked or threatened with an attack. As such, we strongly urge you to seek an affirmative decision of Congress prior to committing any U.S. military engagement to this complex crisis.”

Other prominent Democrats weighed in on the side of Congressional approval, including California’s 13th District Rep. Barbara Lee. Lee said:

“While the use of chemical weapons is deeply troubling and unacceptable, I believe there is no military solution to the complex Syrian crisis. Congress needs to have a full debate before the United States commits to any military force in Syria – or elsewhere.”

– And so, with House Democrats registering their worry that the President could go this alone, it isn’t a stretch to point out that House Republicans – given their erratic, and frankly senseless behaviour over the past few years – may use an attack on Syria as a smoking gun for an attempt at impeachment. Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma told a town hall meeting that impeachment proceedings against the President was:

“perilously close”

Republican Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama said:

“The only legal authority that is required to deploy the United States military is of the Congress and the president and the law and the constitution.”

It is not beyond the realm of imagination, for this particular Republican House to push forward with forging a serious attempt to impeach a President they have long despised, simply because he isn’t Republican.
Rep. Walter Jones (R-N.C) said:

“If one of our troops goes to Syria and is killed, I will introduce articles of impeachment against the president.”

– Jones himself likes to hold vendettas, having been a key player in renaming French Fries to Freedom Fries, in protest of France’s opposition to the Iraq war. And whilst he threatens to impeach Obama, when asked about false Bush WMD claims, Jones simply asked President Bush to apologise. In short, like the IRS non-scandal, like the Benghazi-non scandal, and now Syria; the Republican over-dramatic voices of bitterness will flippantly use the conflict as an excuse to attempt to knock the President off of his throne.

The Defence Authorisation Bill passed last month in the House that urges the President to consider all possible courses of action to remove Assad from power, not requiring Congressional approval. This matters little to the voices in the same House who now demand Congressional approval. But whilst this may appear to give the Obama White House full Congressional support for regime change in Syria, it seems to be over ruled by the Defense Appropriations Bill, which according to Rep. Bill Young (R-Fl):

“Included in this measure was an amendment , which passed unanimously, that prohibits the use of any funds with respect to military action in Syria without consulting Congress as required by the War Powers Resolution.”

– The President has his hands tied. If he goes it alone, he will be provoking a fight with Congress that he can ill afford. The wolves are waiting to pounce. Indeed, if Congressional Republicans put forward a compelling enough case, resting on Constitutional grounds among others, and especially if intervention becomes shambolic and shows no strategic planning or a reasoned pull-out strategy, then it seems to me that Congressional Democrats will find it increasingly difficult to reasonably object. Plenty of Democrats are already unhappy at the expanded use of drones, and most certainly do not favour a strike on Syria. Alienating those Democrats is particularly risky, because the conflict in Congress over intervention in Syria does not follow Party lines. If however the President does seek Congressional approval, and fails to get it, then lack of intervention in Syria from the most powerful nation on Earth gives Assad a green-light; makes the President look entirely powerless especially after his 2012 statement that the use of chemical weapons would be a red line; and Congress looking to be using the horrendous situation and innocent lives in Syria to win a battle with the White House. Everyone loses.

And if the US doesn’t intervene… what then? Who fills the gap? When does it stop? What becomes the red line before the Russians decide enough is enough? Another Rwanda? I suspect in this case, the US will be blamed for not intervening.

Either way, for the President, conflict in the Middle East has come full circle. His Presidential victory can in some way be attributed to the image presented of being ‘not Bush’, a President marred by a unilateralist attack on Iraq. In 2013 ‘not Bush’ now stands alone, preparing a unilateralist strike on Syria, tied to his 2012 declaration that use of chemical weapons would be a red line. It is an intensely difficult situation for the President, but will become far more difficult if he seeks to press ahead without Congressional approval. Calls for impeachment will become more pronounced. And as political point scoring in Washington ensures that valuable time passes, by which Syrian weapons and targets can be protected, a strike on the capabilities of the hideous Assad administration becomes less and less effective.

The Search for Muhammad: Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan

August 8, 2013

Source: Wikimedia Commons. Author: Orientalist

Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Author: Orientalist

In the British Library sits a collection of Syriac New Testament fragments of manuscript throughout history. Of these, lays a version of the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, known as Addition 14,461. Scribbled inside the pages, is a note from what is thought to be around the time just after the battle of Gabitha in 636 CE that reads:

“…and in January, they took the word for their lives did [the sons of] Emesa, and many villages were ruined with killing by [the Arabs of] Mụhammad”

– This is the earliest non-Islamic mention of a man named Muhammad, written just four years after his death.

It is without doubt that Islamic literature covering the life, the actions, and words of the Prophet Muhammad, is vast, and along with the Qur’an, the bedrock of Islam. From biographies, to commentaries, to translations and constant reinvention to suit a more ‘acceptable’ modern narrative (the age of Aisha, springs to mind); it goes without saying, that the intrusions into every facet of the life of the founder of one of the Worlds largest religions, is central to the Islamic faith.

It is truly difficult to know where to start, what we actually know for certain, when trying to figure out just who Muhammad was. Wading through legend, and interpretation rather than fact, is a tiresome venture. But one name crops up as perhaps the most important in the institutionalisation of Islam and the beginnings of forging the legend of the Prophet; Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan.

The first thing to note, for the sake of this article, is the importance of religion, in carving a successful empire. Reza Aslan, in ‘No God but God’ notes:

“Your religion was your ethnicity, your culture, and your social identity, it defined your politics, your economics, and your ethics. More than anything else, your religion was your citizenship.”

– The significance of this will be clear by the end of this article.

The very first biography of the Prophet was produced by Ibn Ishaq; Sīrat Rasūl Allāh. The most notable problems with this, are that Ibn Ishaq was born around 704ad, approximately 70 years after the Prophet had died. He was born two decades after the fifth Umayyad Caliph, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan worked to marry together the new Arab Empire, his own legacy and dynasty (the first dynasty of the Arab empire), with a religious identity of its own. Ibn Ishaq’s biography – a collection of oral traditions – was therefore written around 100+ years (traditionally, 120 years) after the Prophet had died, and just after the Caliphate had indulged in a Public Relations effort. Not only that, but Ibn Ishaq’s work has since been lost to history. We know that Ishaq’s work was edited by al-Bakka’i, whose copy has also been lost to history. al-Bakka’i edit was then edited by Ibn Hisham, whose work (in copies) are the basis for all inquiries into the life of the Prophet that we have today. Everything else, is pieced together from Hadith, that happened to come about even further removed than Ibn Ishaq. For the basis of the life of the Prophet, Ibn Ishaq is often (though not always) taken at his word that he is trustworthy, which obviously means we must take al-Bakka’i’s word that he is trustworthy, and we must take Ibn Hisham’s word that he is trustworthy. And yet, even Islamic scholars throughout history have questioned Ibn Ishaq’s reliability:

“Imam Malik was not the only contemporary of Ibn Ishaq’s to have problems with him. Despite writing the earliest biography of Prophet Muhammad, Scholars such as al-Nisa’I and Yahya b. Kattan did not view Ibn Ishaq as a reliable or authoritative source of Hadith.”

If we cannot be certain of the legitimacy of all Hadith, and we place the collection of Hadith at a time that follows a systematic effort to institutionalise Islam by marrying its history to that of the Ummayad rulers, then I see no reason why we can be certain of the legitimacy of any Hadith. If we cannot be certain of the legitimacy of the entire biography by Ibn Ishaq, and cannot be certain of the legitimacy of integrity of Ibn Hisham’s edit, then I see no reason to trust any of it. Both of these contentions have far reaching consequences not just for Muslims, but for those of us who are critical of the Prophet. My criticisms of the Prophet come from the traditions presented of him, through the Qur’an and Hadith. My judgement that he was misogynistic and violent, are based on interpretations of the Qur’an and Hadith. If neither can be trusted, than all criticism falls away. I am left with criticism of a legend; but given the structure and practice of belief that legend has inspired and the power it now has over the World, I think it less of a problem to be critical, than it is to believe.

So what do we know of the Prophet Muhammad?

Well, if we cross reference early Islamic writings of Ibn Ishaq (though again, we rely on Ibn Hisham for this) with the writings of those outside of Islam, we may get a more accurate picture of Muhammad, than relying purely on the biases of either.

St John of Damascus, writing before any Hadith were compiled, wrote:

“There is also the superstition of the Ishmaelites which to this day prevails and keeps people in error, being a forerunner of the Antichrist. They are descended from Ishmael, [who] was born to Abraham of Agar, and for this reason they are called both Agarenes and Ishmaelites. They are also called Saracens, which is derived from Sarras kenoi, or destitute of Sara, because of what Agar said to the angel: ‘Sara hath sent me away destitute.’ These used to be idolaters and worshiped the morning star and Aphrodite, whom in their own language they called Khabár, which means great. And so down to the time of Heraclius they were very great idolaters. From that time to the present a false prophet named Mohammed has appeared in their midst. This man, after having chanced upon the Old and New Testaments and likewise, it seems, having conversed with an Arian monk, devised his own heresy.”

– St John’s birth year is contentious. Some sources insist around 675, others like Daniel J. Sahas suggest 652. Either way, he lived at a time when the Arab Empire had surged northwards and taken control of his homeland. He would be familiar with stories of Muhammad (Muhammad never stepped foot in Damascus). He lived through the iconoclast controversy, and he was a boyhood friend of the future Caliph Yazid I. He had a keen interest in people of other faiths. Interestingly, in his writings, he never refers to the new occupiers as “Muslims”. There is no “Islam”. No system of laws. The ‘heresy’ wasn’t new, Muslims are referred to as ‘Saracens’ (The Byzantines decreed that because of his supposed heresies, John of Damascus was himself of ‘saracene opinions’) and Muhammad was simply a leader of that old tradition. The chapter itself is called “Heresy of the Ishmaelities”.

St John was writing just before the accumulation of Hadith began. Around 100 years after Muhammad’s death, and well into the centralising of control toward Damascus, by the Ummayad dynasty. His writings suggest that whilst this new band of ‘heretics’ existed and were linked to a man named Muhammad by the 8th Century, they were not known as Muslims, nor were they considered a brand new religious order, separate from Christianity, with a system of values and laws of their own.

However, much of that is St John’s Christian bias. The Arabs did not consider themselves to be a heretical Christian sect. Here we see two coins. The coin on the left, is the coin of Byzantine Emperor Heraclius. The coin on the right, is the Umayyad coin, modelled on the earlier Byzantine coin…. but with the cross missing:

– The Umayyad coin is dated to around 690, during a dispute with the Byzantines. The minting of new coins lead directly to war with the Byzantine Empire. And here we see the beginnings of what would become a very centralised, political Islam, through, in my estimation, the single most important Caliph in the history of the Arab Empire.

The Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan established the entity that would become an Islamic state, rather than simply conquered lands. In short, Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan, was brilliant. A master of empire building. A political genius. He came to power upon the death of his father, during a civil war that was tearing the fragile Empire apart. He most feared the rise of the alternative Caliph Abd-Allah ibn al-Zubayr and his followers. The besieging of Mecca, in 692, with over 10,000 Syrian troops, shows just how serious Abd al-Malik believed the situation had become for the future of his dynasty. Eventually the rebellions, as well as the Byzantines were defeated, and so the next step is to unify the Empire. To further the plan of unification, he needed to solidify his own claims to the Caliphate. It is around this time, that coins start to be inscribed with the name of Muhammad, linked directly to the Caliph. It is also no surprise that the Sana’a manuscripts (the earliest Qur’anic manuscripts we have) are calligraphically dated to the era of Abd al-Malik.

He had the coin above created to include an image of himself, defiantly holding onto his sword, as a warrior. Poetry of the time calls the Caliph, the ‘deputy’ of God. They go to great lengths to push this idea, and it is most prominent during the reign of Abd al-Malik.

The urgency to ensure the strength and growth of the new Arab Empire – an Empire that had already experienced civil war, and was in the midst of new uprisings – depended on creating a history of its own, intrinsically tied to the new Caliph (This happens with all dynasties of old who have spurious claims to power. Augustus adopted the title ‘Caesar’, King Henry VII of England, named his first son Arthur, linking his dynasty to the reign of the legendary King Arthur). It is the result of the attempts to centralise power more concisely and distinctly than any previous Caliph, and to solidify the new Empire, by Abd al-Malik, at a period in history by which the survival of a new state entwined majestically with the growth of the religion that it was based on. Without a powerful religious context, alongside a manipulated legend-based history, a state struggled to survive.

Unsurprisingly, the first mention of the Prophet Muhammad on any coin, was issued a year after the accession to the Caliphate, in 686, and in the midst of rebellion and civil war….. of Abd al-Malik. The coin reads: “shahāda: bism Allāh Muḥammad rasūl Allāh (“In the name of God, Muḥammad is the Messenger of God”)”. This again, coincides with the Caliph’s attempts to solidify the power of the new Empire, and link his dynasty and his Empire back to the early days, and to Muhammad. Abd al-Malik, is forging a history for his dynasty. The legend of Muhammad was the next stage in the strengthening of the dynasty through forged history.

Between 685, and 715, the dynasty that controlled the Caliphate was in the middle of perhaps one of the greatest and most impressive Public Relations ventures the World has ever seen.

Earlier Arab coins, during the period between Muhammad’s death, and the 5th Umayyad Caliph, show no mention of anything that could be linked to the Islam that evolved over the following century. No mention of Islam, or of the Prophet. They include generic phrases like “bism Allah rabbi” (In the name of God, my Lord).

Coins are one way to strengthen an Empire, but by far the most impressive, is through Architecture. Abd al-Malik oversaw the symbolic building of the Dome of the Rock, in centre of Jewish Jerusalem, on the legendary site of Temple Mount. It stands high above Church of the Holy Sepulchre, dwarfing the old Christian Church. A symbol of great power to the new Monotheism in town. Nothing says the coming of a new age, and a new dynasty, quite like crushing the old one. A symbol of authority, and wealth; great architecture is woven into the fabric of the building of Empire. This was used to stunning effect by the great architects of the Abd al-Malik era.

His son, al-Walid, upon accession to the Caliphate, continues his father’s legacy, by building the great Umayyad Mosque at Damascus, over the old Christian Basilica of Saint John the Baptist. al-Walid also became the Patron of great artists and poets at the time. The Umayyad’s were creating a brand new culture, that centred around themselves. It is for this reason perhaps that Islam, is an extremely political religion. It was necessary, for the time period.

Coins emphasising the link between Abd al-Malik’s dynasty, and Muhammad, forging the legend of Muhammad to add weight to the early days and linking it to the history of his dynasty, huge beautiful buildings on the sight of religions of conquered Empires, codifying laws through the Qur’an; this all took place to strengthen Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan’s claim to the Caliphate. He oversaw the centralising of power from reliance on tribal leaders, to a system of bureaucracy (which resulted in the Arabisation of the language of state). He reformed the military, creating official ranks of non-Arab fighters. We can trace the legends of Muhammad to, and directly following his reign. Prior to that time period, all we have are sparse references to a man named Muhammad who was simply a leader of the Arabs. What he said, and what he did, was of little to no significance. Imperial authority, Islamic authority, all resulted from Abd al-Malik’s imperial & dynastic goals.

Three things are clear. Firstly, the sudden and impressive Arab conquests around the 7th century, included and was most likely lead by a man called Muhammad, though whether his words and deeds were important to this new faith, is unlikely given that it took over a century to decide it might be wise to document his words and deeds, and over 60 years before he even appears on a coin. Secondly, Muhammad preached a Monotheism that differed to that of Christians and Jews, and was considered a heresy by non-Muslims of the period. And Thirdly, by the late 7th Century, Muhammad’s name was suddenly being used to strengthen a fragmented, and fragile political Umayyad state and to solidify the claims of one particular Caliph; coins appear with Muhammad’s name on it; Hadith are being collected in order to provide a legal framework for the new empire; Muhammad suddenly becomes a legendary and much needed figurehead for the reign of Abd al-Malik, upon his accession to a largely fragmented and warring empire.

What we do not know, and what is pure speculation at best, is the Prophet’s life before his supposed revelations, what actually happened in the cave outside of Mecca (if anything), any aspect of his life, what he ever said, and how he treated others. We simply do not know. It is far more likely that Muhammad, as presented in Islamic literature, was a figure whose legend began to be moulded by the truly brilliant Abd al-Malik, and was further added to in order to suit the goals of later Caliphs.

Islam as we know it, was intrinsically linked to the Umayyad dynasty. It was all political, all spin, all PR, and based on the geopolitical climate of the late 7th Century. The early Arabs were not Muslims as we know them today. The Fifth Umayyad Caliph carved a political empire. Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan was the great spark that lit the fire of the legend of the Prophet Muhammad.

To flee Syria: From hell to hell.

June 21, 2013

The Syrian crisis poses an intense amount of questions for lawmakers across the Globe, with each question just as important and as crucial to the process of peace than every other. Do we arm the rebels? If not, then what next? If we are to provide arms to the rebel groups, which rebel groups to provide arms to? How to know and ensure those arms won’t fall into Islamist hands? How to ensure a peaceful and stable democracy upon the fall of Assad? What balance to strike with regard diplomacy with the Russians? How to deal with unwanted intrusions of Iran? These are all grand scale, legitimate questions that rightly require thoughtful and decisive action from the international community. There is however, one major and shocking crisis that we seem to hear very little about, and that is the refugee crisis. And within that crises, is the crisis of the truly horrendous exploitation of female Syrian refugees.

It is of course obvious that Syria faces a humanitarian disaster, as the rest of the World struggles to find any sort of political, and humanitarian solution. As of June 3rd 2013, 472,764 people have fled Syria, into Jordan. A further 1.2 million have fled to other countries since the beginning of the civil unrest. A recent report by UN Women, shows the scale of exploitation of Syrian female refugees, particularly in Jordan, but also Egypt. This crisis is often engulfed by the question of arms to rebels, and Russian/Western diplomacy.

Syria itself is a hotbed of sexual exploitation right now, and one of the key reasons for fleeing, is the protection of children from sexual exploitation, and the hope of protection in neighbouring Nations. Stories from refugees of the crisis tell of the shocking abuse they suffered inside Syria. Roadblocks in Syria are often used to kidnap, and rape young women. The International Rescue Committee was told of roadblocks in Syria in which girls were taken, raped, and murdered. Others were left to wander alone, often naked, after being raped. Some media outlets, for some reason, ask “Is this policy of the Assad regime? Or punishment for Assad supporters?” It is neither. It is sexual exploitation. It is rape. And so it has no political motive.

Sexual exploitation is given as one of the key reasons for fleeing Syria, in attempts to get away quickly, and to find protection, especially in refugee camps administered by international AID agencies.

And yet, many only make it just across the border before the exploitation begins. The border towns in Jordan, right into Amman are now home to Syrian women pushed into prostitution, as well as pushed into marrying their children to older Syrian men, simply to survive. More find themselves and their children thrown into very tightly packed refugee centres, and treated as prisoners. The tented refugee community of Za’artari in the north of Jordan, a place supposed to protect the vulnerable and overseen by UNHCR, is treated like a toy shop for exploiters, as well as being completely underfunded, lacking basic resources, under prepared for the extreme weather conditions, and under protected. Those who work within the camp from aid agencies face an uphill struggle every day. One Syrian refugee, who fled to Jordan with her children, and is now in Za’artari told the BBC of conditions back home in Syria:

“They come into our homes. They rape us, and they kill, in front of our eyes.”

– To flee this appalling situation, only to find yourself in an equally as appalling situation, having been under the impression that you would be protected by the international community, is unimaginable. From hell, to hell.

Fathers in the camp, who fled with very little money, and very little way to support their families find themselves and their families now living in a far more patriarchal and dangerous situation, especially for their female children, than before. Abu Sanad, a father in the camp said:

“People from Jordan, from Saudi Arabia, from Qatar, they come and ask: ‘Do you want to give your daughters for marriage? What do they see us as? A market place for selling? Like selling sheep.They see we don’t have money. They want to exploit us. Give me your daughter for 200,000 lira or 100,000 lira. ”

In Jordan, Syrians are pushed to the brink, and so believe that selling their child into early marriage offers their child a form of security and protection. It is desperation. A desperation no parent should ever feel forced to consider. Their children, and their bodies, are treated as commodities.

One teenage girl, whose eyes appeared red from fatigue, and heart breakingly teary throughout her interview, told the BBC that she was forced into marriage to support herself, noting:

“I can’t describe him as a man. The way he treated me. He treated me savagely. He was a monster. He was hitting me so much. The bruises are still on my body. He said ‘I do not love you. I only married you for my pleasure’ “.

– This is the reality of the humanitarian disaster facing Syrian female refugees every day, and it is caused by other human beings.

In the camps, what tends to be the case, is that wealthy men, almost predominantly from Saudi Arabia or Qatar, are allowed into Zaatari, under the guise of charity, but who are looking mainly for young girls to exploit. They offer charity, in exchange for a wife. The girls are promised everything they could wish for, and protection for their families, but within days are often found wandering in Jordanian streets having been viciously abused, and dumped. Their ‘honour’ is thus considered to have been destroyed. Nour, a Syrian refugee now in Jordan, told that after being chained up, and raped for two months, inside Syria, in a detention centre, her family issued a death certificate for her. She told how they now consider her disgraced, and dead. Her husband fled with her children.

IRIN News reported that a Syrian mother, named Um Sarah, of two daughters ages 14 and 15 told:

“As a single mother, I cannot support them. I cannot feed them. I wanted to make sure they are OK, so I asked around if people know of good Syrian men they could marry. They rape girls who are as young as her in Syria now. If they raped a nine-year-old girl, they can do anything. I will not feel OK if I do not see her married to a decent man who can protect her,””

– The heavy reliance on men, who will only provide a young and vulnerable girl with any assistance if he is able to sexually exploit her, speaks to the heart of two problems. Firstly, the Syrian crisis itself, and secondly, the patriarchal societies that patriarchal religions and the men that control them create and perpetuate, which inevitably leads to the very dangerous myth that women require men for survival. Um Sarah, no doubt as a result of both desperation, and of regional biases, believes that her daughters are safer in the hands of men who will marry them, in order to sexually exploit them (we know this, because the majority of young girls who enter into child marriages are pregnant soon after marriage), rather than those who actively seek out women to abuse without the promise of protection and food. Not only that, but rape is only named so, when the rapist isn’t married to the victim. It is also considered a dishonour to the family of the victim, if she is raped, and so marriage apparently safeguards the family against dishonour. This is the result of empowering one gender, and crushing the other. Both of those two groups of men, are vicious abusers, exploiting the appalling situation refugees are finding themselves in.

Similarly, in Egypt, we see Syrian female refugees finding that they have in fact fled a hostile environment, only to be presented with a new hostile and extremely dangerous environment of people that see them as vulnerable and so easily exploitable. Life in refugee camps is horrific, but life outside of refugee camps, can often by far worse. Refugees in cities often squat in broken buildings, living in squalid conditions, suffering terrible illnesses that they have no access to even the most basic of healthcare. They often take out loans from dubious sources, and with no real income, turn to prostitution, and again, marrying their children young in exchange for a dowry. The International Rescue Committee spoke to Syrian refugees inside Egypt and found numerous accounts of women turning to sex, to pay rent, and to feed their children; children who are threatened daily with exploitation, unless they’re married off. Islamist preachers in Egypt actively encourage Egyptian men to marry young and vulnerable Syrian girls. The Syrian activist Lina Al-Tiby works in Cairo with Syrian female refugees in order to keep them away from sex trafficking and horrendous exploitation, noted:

“Egyptian men tell Syrian women they will marry them to help them and their families, but… can’t these men help Syrian women without marrying them?”

– Under Syrian law, the legal age for marriage is 16 (though so-called “informal” marriages allow girls as young as 13 to marry and have children, if “religious leaders” deem it acceptable). Under the new Egyptian charter, thrown together by horrendous Islamist child abusers, the legal age has been dropped from 18, to 13, with Islamists inside the Morsi supported Brotherhood calling for the age to be dropped further, to 9. Couple this with the apparent ‘dishonour’ a young girl is supposed to feel if she is raped, and so the Syrian refugee crises marks a perfect opportunity, in Middle Eastern countries run almost predominantly by men, for men, to lawfully exploit the most vulnerable people – who need the most support – for the perverted fantasies of Brotherhood child and women abusers.

UNICEF Jordan Representative working at Za’artari noted in January this year:

“The resources we raised in 2012 have been exhausted, and no fresh funds have come for this year. We urgently appeal to the international community and donors in general to commit fresh funding as soon as possible.”

– Conditions at the camp are only likely to deteriorate further as more and more Syrians flee across the Jordanian border.

UN Women are working hard to change conditions, and fight for international recognition of the problems in Za’artari and beyond.

The camp at Za’artari falls under the responsibility of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, and yet is slowly diminishing into a hotbed of sexual exploitation of women and children. The camp at Za’artari is also accused of a severe lack of resources for abuse victims, including counseling services and a lack of knowledge of those services that do exist in the camp, with 83% of Syrian refugees completely unaware that any services like that exist at all. This is not the fault of the aid workers in the camp, it is the fault of massive underfunding by our governments. It is a humanitarian catastrophe on so many levels, right down to the most basic of humanitarian concerns; protecting children from sexual exploitation. Medical care, food and water supplies dwindle, they are not protected from harsh climate conditions, and this naturally exacerbates fears from refugee parents that their children will suffer the most, which pushes them into the arms of abusers promising protection. Western politicians can argue daily on the subject of who to provide arms to, in the hope that the country will sort itself out, but the crisis that absolutely needs our full attention, and funding, is on the humanitarian level.

The situation in Za’artari and elsewhere is shameful to the international community as a whole. It also highlights the most telling flaws in a society that promotes one gender above another, based on religious principles. This is why a political solution, as well as being democratic, must not be allowed to institutionalise patriarchy. It must move past this archaic phase. The empowerment of women, must be one of the key aspects to any solution in Syria.