The Mālikī School and Contemporary Morocco, July 1, 2015

Jul 17

This is the text of the Presidential Lecture I gave two years ago at Akhawayn University in Morocco. It addresses the current attempts of the Moroccan government to enlist historical conceptions of Sunni orthodoxy along the three dimensions of the legal (Malikism), theology (Ash’ari) and mystical (Sufism) to help resist the allure of Jihadi-Salafism, and the challenges Salafism in general poses to historical Sunnism, but why historical Sunnism, despite these challenges, offers important resources for establishing a democratic Morocco. To take advantage of those resources, however, there must be a sincere commitment to those principles. A cynical attempt to deploy  those resources to resist Salafism while failing to reform the foundations of the public order, however, risks increasing the attractiveness of heterodox religious movements, including, but not limited to, Jihadi-Salafism.

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Washington Post’s profile of the son of an al-Qaeda Bombmaker and His Relationship to ISIS

Aug 05

The Washington Post today has an interesting article about the life of Mohammed al-Masri, the only person, the story claims, to have had spent significant time both with al-Qaeda in Afghanistan and ISIS in Raqqa.  There is no way to avoid recognizing that our indifference to the coup in Egypt played an important role in catalyzing the rise of Daesh (ISIS/ISIL), both by vindicating Bashshar al-Asad’s bet that no amount of violence against “Islamists” would be likely to trigger international intervention against him, and by allowing Daesh to claim that it is the only genuine “champion” available for Sunni Arabs.  The sad reality is that US policy in the Middle East under Obama has only succeeded in making al-Qaeda the “reasonable” option. That doesn’t mean that Obama was not right to pursue the policies he chose: it’s hardly the duty of the US to save the Arabs from themselves, but it would have been nice had the US chosen to support the imperfect democratic regime in Egypt in 2013 rather than being indifferent to its fate, and it would have been nice had the US listened to Turkey and established a no-fly zone in Syria prior to Russian intervention.  At a minimum, that would have likely prevented the authoritarian turn in Turkey, and it might have prevented the refugee crisis, which could very well lead to the unravelling of the European project. The refugee crisis already helped produce Brexit.  From a narrow realist perspective of what constitutes US interests, Obama’s policies of benign neglect in the region are probably defensible, but the costs to the people of the region are incalculable, and on top of the active destruction wrought by the Bush administration, is creating a leval of anti-Americanism that is unprecedented. Worst of all, the entire region is slowly drifting into the orbit of Putin’s Russia: authoritarian crony capitalism is evolving from the de facto reality of the Arab world, into a norm that is openly embraced.

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