Some Observations Concerning Congressional Hearings on Islam

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

Senate HearingCongressional hearings are meant to shed light on certain complexities of issues considered by the legislature as it engages in drafting laws or conducting oversight and this is usually done by seeking the help of experts in various fields of knowledge relevant to the issues being considered.

One cannot overlook this idea while watching many Congressional hearings on Islam.  A recent hearing of this kind was held by the Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Oversight, Agency Action, Federal Rights and Federal Courts.  The hearing was meant to be a “debate on radical Islam and Terrorism,” and was supposed to provide “a debate over the language used when discussing Islamic terrorism.” But for the three hours that witnessed testimonies from seven witnesses, the hearing failed to address the definitions of the terms that constituted the subject of debate.  There was no definition of “Islamic terrorism”, “jihad”, “Shari’a”, or any of the terms that were used by various speakers, often in contexts that made a mockery of the academic use of these terms.

The other disturbing observation of the hearing, which was supposed to shed light on the language and terms used in addressing “Islam and terrorism” was that the hearing included no true expert on Islam.  The witnesses on the panel are all fine speakers and had experience in various issues.  Each one of them provided some important information in their respective field.  But none of them held the right credentials to address the topics of Islamic studies and none of them showed any aptitude or deep knowledge of these subjects.  Chewing a few distorted Arabic words with partial knowledge of their etymological meaning does not make one a “subject matter expert” no matter how many times he asserts that he is.  Likewise, merely being a Muslim does not make one an expert in Islam either.  The composition of the panel provides an evidence that the Subcommittee staff who put it together did not do a satisfactory job.

When it came to the knowledge about Islamic theology, plato
jurisprudence, and political theory, the committee room and the people in it resembled an illustration of the allegorical cave in Plato’s Republic.  All they knew came from shadows of paper puppets reflected on the wall of the cave, which was illuminated by an artificial light generated from the fire at the cave’s entrance.

Bahrain’s Imprudent Crackdown on Shia Dissidents

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

عيسى قاسم 2The Government of Bahrain is deliberately pushing the Shia majority to a boiling point.  Instead of working toward a political solution to the country’s sectarian stalemate and decreasing the forced marginalization of the Shia, who make 70% of the population in Bahrain, the Al Khalifa Monarchy continues to adopt more oppressive measures.  It is hard to discern whether this policy is a choice of the Monarchy or imposed by the Saudi government, which enjoys great control on Bahraini politics and security — Saudi troops were sent to Bahrain in March 2011, after the beginning or the Shia uprising to save the Al Khalifa rule from an imminent collapse.

عيسى قاسم
Sheikh Isa Qassim attending the 1973 Constituent Assembly before Bahrain became an independent state.

The Government of Bahrain recently banned and dissolved three organizations, including the main Shia political opposition movement from political participation, subjected political activists to arbitrary travel bans, and prevented the Shia imams from any political speech.  Then, in an extremely provocative move, the regime withdrew the citizenship of the country’s highest religious authority, Sheikh Isa Qassim.  Despite being one of the founding fathers of the modern state in Bahrain, having been a member of the Constituent Assembly that framed the State’s constitutional system in 1973 (elected in 1972), Sheikh Qassim was unjustly targeted and fell victim of this arbitrary practice that became a political tool of first resort by the regime against political opposition and many Bahraini Shia had their citizenship withdrawn despite having roots in Bahrain that predate the Al Khalifa family itself.  More than 250 Bahraini citizens were stripped of their citizenship since mid-2014. In a statement by the U.S. State Department, the U.S. Government reacted to this practice in the following words:

“We remain deeply troubled by the Government of Bahrain’s practice of withdrawing of nationality of its citizens arbitrarily…Our concern is further magnified by reports that Sheikh Qassim was unable to respond to the accusations against him before this decision was taken, or challenge the decision through a transparent legal process.”

The practice of provoking the majority of population on sectarian basis and arbitrarily targeting religious and spiritual authorities represents a wrongheaded policy that can only exacerbate the political conflict.  The Government of Bahrain must consider the consequences of causing the spiritual leader of its Shia majority to live in exile and give his followers a cause for a political struggle that will not end until his victorious return.

قاسم 3
Ayatollah Khomeini’s Return from Exile.

when the Shah of Iran deported Ayatollah Khomeini to Turkey, then Iraq in the early 1960s, the Ayatollah became the idol of devout Shia Iranians and his triumphant return to Iran in 1979 was marked by
the spectacular scene of up to five million people lining the streets of Tehran, to witness the homecoming.  By the time the Shah of Iran realized the grave mistake he made it was to late for him to do anything other than concede defeat and reflect for the remainder of the short time he lived in exile before his death.  But another tyrant took the lesson to heart and avoided the same mistake.

In the early 1980s, Saddam Hussein formed a high-profile committee of his senior lieutenants to study the possibilities of containing the highest religious authority in the Shia world, who resided in Iraq, Grand Ayatollah Abu al-Qassim al-Khoei (d. 1992).  One of the scenarios he asked the committee to consider was expelling the Grand Ayatollah to his country of birth, Iran.  After careful deliberation, the committee adopted the recommendation of the Director General of Security, Fadhil Al-Barrak, who urged the government to allow Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei to stay in Iraq where they could contain his activities and statements.  Al-Barrak argued that, if Grand Ayatollah al-Khoei left the Iraq, no one could tell what fatwas he would issue against the Iraqi regime and how the Shia Iraqis, a majority of the population, would react to these fatwas.  This kind of prudence seems to be missing in Bahrain these days.  The Al Khalifa regime, or the Saudi puppeteers who dictate its policies, seem to be blinded by their sectarian fear and prejudice and leaning toward making the same mistake the Shah of Iran made.  If Shia history teaches us anything, it would be that Bahrain can expect the same outcome as Iran.  The silver lining is that what seems to be a great injustice today may be the act that will pave the way for a correction of this historical deformity in Bahrain’s history.

Despotic rule should have no place in the twenty-first century, because any way we consider it, we see a system that is politically corrupt and morally deviant.


Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim

The Menace of Blackmail Politics in Iraq

Abbas Kadhim, Ph.D.

Parliament 1For half a century before its 2003 regime change, Iraq experienced escalating levels of authoritarianism that increased with the passing of time and the change of successive governments.  A Coup d’état was the only possible method of regime change.  What began as a benevolent dictatorship in 1958 soon turned into an increasingly oppressive sectarian rule between 1963 and 1979, and this latter transformed into an absolute tyranny under Saddam Hussein’s family rule that even a coup d’état became impossible.  It took a coalition of nations, led by the United States of America, to impose a regime change by military means.

The framers of Iraq’s new constitutional system were heavily influenced by the country’s past experience with authoritarianism and acted out of fear more than hope: they invested all their genius in closing all possible loopholes that might lead to the emergence of a dictator in the future.  In so doing, they ended up creating an anemic executive institution whose chief, the Prime Minister, lacks most of the powers that allow him to govern.

Nationally, Iraq is a federal state without a clear definition of itsParliament 4 federalism.  Each part of Iraq interprets, and practices, federalism in any fashion it can get away with.  The northern region, ruled independently by the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) was acknowledged by the new constitution as an autonomous region with the same privileges that existed before 2003, and it acquired more measures of autonomy in the past years.  By contrast, other regions are living under a de facto centralized arrangement where Baghdad decides every aspect of their local governance.  The definition of federalism in the Kurdish north, defined as a virtual independence from Baghdad, fades to levels of non-existence in the southern province, Basra, whose local governance is decided by the central government and the local politicians who are subservient to large political parties and leaders from Baghdad.

In this confused environment, national politics and the outcome of governance are decided by a simple method, corrupt political deals made under the influence of duress and blackmail.

The KRG, armed with a very effective lobbying effort and an international sympathy for the suffering of Kurds under the murderous Ba’thist regime, has managed to convince the world that the situation in Iraq has not changed after 2003.  The constitutional arrangement they secured, thanks to international meddling and incompetent negotiators on the other side, allows them a great room to maneuver.  The Kurdish leadership also use the issue of independence as a highly effective blackmail tool in their continued negotiation with Baghdad.  In their entire post-2003 political participation, the Kurds showed no evidence of concern about anything happening in the rest of Iraq.  If anything, the cascade of security and political crises in the country were viewed by the Kurds as political opportunities to advance their position as a virtually independent state whose only relation with Baghdad is the 17% of the annual national budget they claim as their share.  They support their position by applying pressure on the rest of Iraq from their own region and augment that with influencing the national government’s decision by their representatives in the Iraqi Cabinet and Parliament who take part in the national decision making.Parliament 3

The Sunni Arabs are another political entity who also use blackmail as a favorite political method.  But theirs is a more lethal form of blackmail. Their political talking point is that the only alternative to a satisfactory Sunni empowerment, however unreasonably they decide that, is terrorism throughout their region.  Since losing power in Iraq, which they held almost exclusively since the creation of the modern state, The Sunni Arabs, backed and encouraged by the regional Arab states, categorically rejected a regime change that granted them their fair share as a minority in the country.  Since 2003, a Sunni politician in Iraq would support the government as long as he is in a high position, but the moment he is replaced by a political process or losing an election, he would go back home, gather his armed tribesmen and declare war on the government under the banner of Sunni marginalization.  Except for a few Sunni leaders, who chose terrorism from the start, all the so-called Sunni opposition leaders who fought the government have been through the revolving doors of Iraqi politics.  In the past, their pernicious practice was less devastating as they allowed a manageable level of terrorism inflow into their regions and they remained in charge of the local control, but their cynical behavior became self-destructive in 2014, when they allowed their regions to fall in the hands of the worst fathomable terrorist organization, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or Da’ish).

Once firmly in control of the Sunni Arab territories, Da’ish abolished the status of all local Sunni tribal Shaykhs and notables and forced them to pay allegiance to its own terrorist leaders, many of whom are foreign.  The only local Sunni leaders who retained their voice were those who managed to flee to Arbil (hosted by the KRG) or to neighboring Arab countries, leaving their population divided as internally displaced people living in subhuman conditions or captives in the Da’ish-controlled territories, while their provinces were turned into a war Parliament 5zone.  Instead of displaying any remorse for their devastating hubris, Sunni Arab leaders are still blaming everyone but themselves for what their immature political conduct brought on their community.  They also still stick to their tired method of blackmail: telling Baghdad to choose their way or endless terrorism.

The Shia of Iraq are yet another contributor to the Iraqi crisis.  Since 2003, the sectarian nature of Iraqi politics ascribed an exclusive clique of corrupt politicians and political parties to represent the Shia, none of whom can be accused of possessing any trace of statesmanship.  They succumbed to their corruption, creed, criminality, and complete lack of any sense of responsibility and destroyed a centuries-long legacy of rightful Shia claim to assume a leading role in governing the country as a democratic majority.  Post-2003 Shia leaders have been so incompetent, they had no idea how to become successful democrats, and when they tried to act as dictators they also failed.

The Shia community in Iraq, having taken the blame for the failure and corruption of their leaders, of which they are the primary victims, finally decided to act.  In the past months, major Shia cities have been the theater of mass protests, and most recently, angry Shia protesters sacked the Green Zone twice, occupying the Parliament 2Parliament and the Council of Ministers buildings, as politicians fled through secret exits.  In the red zone, the rest of Iraq, headquarters of major political parties became a fashionable target of protesters.  What is appalling in the behavior of Shia political leadership is that they stand in total denial and refuse to acknowledge their destructive role in the continued crisis.  Instead, they accuse their Shia constituents of being Ba’thists, outlaws, and hooligans.


Copyright © 2016 Dr. Abbas Kadhim