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Culture & Religion

Re-assessing Political Islam: Part I

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Now that the smoke is clearing in Tahrir Square after two and a half years of upheaval—and thousands of deaths—the meaning of the Arab Spring and the intent of the Islamists is becoming clear. First, the Arab Spring was/is an Islamic Awakening, as confirmed in five elections/ referenda in Egypt, where Islamists consistently won two-thirds of the vote in the freest elections in any country in recent times.  Money was not a significant factor thanks to limits on candidates’ financing (no corporate or Super PACs a la US, or foreign donations), the brainwashing of the old order no longer worked, and the Mubarak thugs who stuffed ballot boxes were hiding in their holes. We can only envy the Egyptians.

The strategy of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (MB) for 80 years has been to patiently build alternative social structures to the corrupt ‘soft state’ (especially in education, health, charity), and eventually overthrowing the old corrupt order peacefully through the ballot box. Then to work with other forces, both left and right, to usher in a new Islamic order based on their grassroots experience, where—just as in the first Islamic state under Muhammad in Medina—all facets of society would have their place, where laws and government would conform with sharia, as confirmed by senior Islamic scholars. Foreign relations were shifting towards a more confrontational stance with Israel, and more cooperation with other Islamic governments and movements, in particular Iran, but throughout the Muslim world. President Morsi’s first stop was Saudi Arabia, which initially promised support. Qatar’s Sheikh Hamad sent a whopping $8b in aid ($2b of which was since returned by the coupmakers).


Natives, Nature and Islam

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Ramadan is a good time to reflect on what Islam has to say about two of Canada’s burning problems—our penchant for environmental destruction and Prime Minister Harper’s attempt to return to a blatant assimilation policy for Natives.

Canada has become an international embarrassment from an ecological point of view. One of Harper’s most shameful acts was formally withdrawing from the Kyoto Accord in 2011. The greatest ecological crisis facing Canada is without a doubt the Conservative’s relentless pursuit of the tar sands project and the accompanying massive Keystone, Northern Gateway and Transmountain Pipelines. The environmental damage from the insane project to ‘wash’ oil from sand deposits is indescribable, poisoning land, air and water—a crime by any standards, subsidized and promoted by ‘our’ government.

The usually timid EU labels such oil extraction as “highly polluting” and has threatened to boycott any Canadian oil extracted from the tar sands. But the Canadian government takes well-meaning Euro-criticism, intended to help Canadians, as an affront, and works closely with the oil lobby, whose sole interest is in making profit, come hell or high water, to promote the project.

What does Islam say about how humans should relate to the environment? Even if the valiant campaign against the tar sands, which has been taken up by people around the world, miraculously succeeds, the American writer Abdul-Matin argues in Green Deen (2010) that the environmental movement today, restricted by its secular, legalist approach to problems—pass enough laws and you can curb the negative practices of business and consumers—is still lacking. He interprets Islam’s focus on one Creator as giving “humankind the opportunity to be one and to have a common purpose”, to bring back ethical principles into our daily lives.


Interview on American Freedom Radio: Islamic reform

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Radio interview on Egypt, Islamic reform, Ramadan. I'm the 2nd hour for August 1


From post-modernism to post-secularism

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After more than a century of secuarlisation, Egypt's cultural life is set to revolve again around the Quran. "The Quran is our Constitution" exhorted President Mohamed Morsi during the cliff-hanger presidential election, Egypt’s first ever bona fide presidential election, in which he trounced the old guard's representative. But what does this arresting image really mean, asks Eric Walberg

This Ramadan is a historic one, celebrating the triumph of the political vision of Egypt's legendary Muslim Brotherhood (MB): to take inspiration from the Quran to regenerate Egyptian society. Gamal Abdel-Nasser's socialist vision lies in ruins, dismantled in the 40 years since his death, replaced by a neoliberal nightmare dreamed up in American thinktanks.
The vision will not be realised by sticking to the political and economic policies of the past 40 years, policies which turned Egypt into a poor imitation of Western societies, with shocking disparities of income and extreme poverty, environmental degradation and human degradation. Egypt was shattered into fragments -- gated communities for the super-rich, sprawling slums for the poor, traffic-choked streets for everyone, crowded jail cells for thousands of innocent, devout people caught in the treadmill of a justice system that produced little justice.


Islam and Europe: An equal and opposite reaction

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So goes one of the fundamental laws of physics. In the face of recent “actions” in the West -- economic crisis and rampant Islamophobia, there is an inexorable “reaction”, as the eternal values of Islam continue to manifest themselves, notes Eric Walberg 

Ramadan exemplifies the powerful spiritual calling of Islam. Dry fasting is more a test of the spirit, the will, proof of devotion, than just some health gimmick. And it is precisely this cultivation of mass “mind over matter” that frustrates Western secularists, so used to indulging every consumer fetish on a whim. Why are Muslims so stubborn in nurturing ancient beliefs and rituals when they fly in the face of modern capitalist society? Secular critics dismiss Islam as a harmful, even dangerous anachronism. Why disrupt one’s busy day five times to pray, slow down the whole economic order for an entire month every year, ban alcohol and interest -- the bedrock of Western society?


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Canadian Eric Walberg is known worldwide as a journalist specializing in the Middle East, Central Asia and Russia. A graduate of University of Toronto and Cambridge in economics, he has been writing on East-West relations since the 1980s.

He has lived in both the Soviet Union and Russia, and then Uzbekistan, as a UN adviser, writer, translator and lecturer. Presently a writer for the foremost Cairo newspaper, Al Ahram, he is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch, Dissident Voice, Global Research, Al-Jazeerah and Turkish Weekly, and is a commentator on Voice of the Cape radio.

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Eric's latest book The Canada Israel Nexus is available here http://www.claritypress.com/WalbergIV.html