Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

The Making of a Syrian Dissident: A Personal Journey

by ISPU Fellow Radwan Ziadeh

In August 2011, my older brother Yassein—a businessman who is in no way politically involved—was praying inside the Mustafa Mosque in Daraya, southwest of Damascus, while a protest was happening outside. Security forces moved in to disperse the demonstration, arresting Yassein, who had not been participating. After his arrest, he was taken to the headquarters of Syrian Airforce Security. (Airforce Security is known for brutally torturing dissidents; it was responsible for the mutilation and killing of 13-year-old Hamza al-Khateeb at the outset of the uprising last year.) My brother has been held incommunicado ever since.

That I have been spared Yassein’s fate—indeed, a fate perhaps even worse than his—is only because I left Syria years ago, after years of active political opposition. My current distance from my country has undoubtedly preserved my safety. But it has not at all changed my assessment of the Assad regime’s terrors: Instead, it has only made me more determined in my opposition to Assad’s rule, and more hopeful that its end is near. Indeed, I am confident that my difficult personal journey—from domestic political reformer to leader of a government-in-exile—will one day tell a tale of redemption.

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Can the Muslim Brotherhood survive?

by H.A. Hellyer at ISPU

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB), until after the Egyptian revolution began in 2011, was a civil society movement. Then, the leadership had a choice: transform the movement into a political party - or not. The consequences of that decision have repercussions for the MB’s future - but also on wider Egyptian political life, and Muslim communities worldwide.

Inevitably, MB members would enter into electoral politics after the 25th of January - but the way in which the movement did ensured internal organizational tension. Electoral politics means taking difficult choices, in ways that a social movement can avoid having to do. Just forming a party was going to have advantages and disadvantages - but the MB leadership insisted that any MB member who wanted to be involved in electoral politics could only be involved in the Freedom & Justice Party (FJP). Otherwise, they would be expelled.

This was a clear message from the leadership: the MB movement was no longer a movement. It was a government-in-waiting - and would consider any dissent accordingly. When long-time member and influential reformist Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh decided to stand for president, he was ejected for contravening the leadership’s decision. While within the MB, there were several different ideological trends that coexisted during Mubarak’s era, the formation of the FJP meant that at least in political affairs, no plurality could be entertained.

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Muslim voters could swing election, report finds

The number of Muslims in the United States is tiny - less than one in 100 Americans - but their votes could sway the results of the presidential election in November, a new study says.

That’s because they are concentrated in a number of key swing states, says Farid Senzai, the author of the report.

Take Florida, for example, the state that famously swung the 2000 presidential election for George W. Bush over Al Gore.

Bush won by 537 votes - while a get-out-the-vote phone bank contacted 23,000 Muslims in one day during elections in 2008 and 2010, the report says.

Engaging American Muslims: Political Trends and Attitudes

by ISPU Fellow and Director of Research Farid Senzai

As the 2012 presidential election season moves into full swing, the American Muslim minority community has become a more important player on the political landscape, especially in key swing states. However, data on its members’ political attitudes and behaviors have been limited and scattered. This report represents the first effort to comprehensively combine and analyze a decade’s worth of research on this particular community in order to provide insights for political strategists and community organizers. It includes analyses of the data by racial and ethnic background, state of residence, education level, and other factors.

The report primarily draws upon surveys conducted by the Muslims in the American Public Square (MAPS) project in 2001 and 2004, the Pew Research Center’s national surveys on the American Muslim Community in 2007 and 2011, and the Muslim American Public Opinion Survey (MAPOS) conducted between 2006 and 2008. Two case studies examine the community’s political activity in two swing states: Florida and Michigan.

Key findings

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Homeland and the Battle Within

by ISPU Scholar Daniel Tutt

You can’t see it coming. A deranged man snaps and wanders into a Jewish neighborhood outside Paris, unloading rounds of ammunition that brutally kill seven. A few thousand miles east, a war weary sargent loses it and unloads on a village of innocent Afghans, leaving 17 dead. This is what the present moment feels like; we’ve grown numb, the lines can blur, and our enemies aren’t only “out there” any more, they’re also inside us.

It is with a careful understanding of the ambiguity over the war on terrorism that Showtime’s new TV series Homeland has been met with such success. Nominated for multiple Golden Globes, including best actress for Claire Danes who plays Carrie Matheson, a dynamic CIA agent with bipolar disorder. At first glance, the show’s story line seems difficult to base an entire series around: a Marine returns home, traumatized after being held captive for eight years in Iraq by an Al Qaeda cell, only to be faced with the pressure of serving as the poster boy for military heroism. Sargent Nick Brody (played by Damian Lewis) is deeply conflicted about his time in Iraq and for half the first season he is surveilled by Agent Matheson and her mentor at the CIA, Saul Berenson, played by Mandy Patinkin. Following an insider tip and a lot of intuition, Mattheson goes to any length to prove that Brody is not the war hero celebrity the media is making him out to be, but has actually been secretly turned to Al Qaeda’s ideology while in captivity in Iraq.

In addition to her mental disorder, which she keeps secret to the CIA, Mattheson blames herself for 9/11, and since returning from Iraq, where she was also traumatized, her singular obsession is to take down Abu Nazir, Al Qaeda’s most elusive international terrorist. Like her television predecessor Keifer Sutherland’s Jack Bauer in 24, Mattheson is forced to cross ethical lines frequently. But her superiors support her cowboy ways, earning her the ability to almost mystically predict Abu Nazir’s next move. The implicit message of both Homeland and 24 are thus similar: only through transgressing the institutional inertia of the status quo and going above the law, can the bad guys be brought to justice in the war on terror.

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Afghanistan 2012: the Beginning of the End Game

New Policy Brief by Azeem Ibrahim from ISPU

After ten years and $460 billion invested in Afghanistan, is it time to end this war which has taken the lives of 1,848 members of the US armed services and 955 coalition partners and an estimated 37,000 Afghan civilians? The future of war-torn Afghanistan is difficult to predict and demands an international solution.

Download Full report.

The Importance of Muslim Women in Counter-terrorism

by ISPU Legal Fellow Sahar Aziz

In December 2011, Janet Napolitano testified that lone wolf terrorists are America’s primary domestic national security threat. Based on recent terrorism indictments, Napolitano was clearly referring to young Muslim men in America with unpopular political viewpoints and orthodox religious beliefs. A young man who fits this profile is susceptible to sting operations by undercover agents and shady informants. Often, the target’s mother is the last to know about the circumstances leading to her son’s demise. This must change.

Without proactive intervention from Muslim women, young men in Muslim communities are destined to fall prey to the same predatory tactics experienced by young African American men. Profiled, tracked and eventually incarcerated based on facially neutral laws selectively enforced against a particular minority group. For African American Muslims, they are doubly harmed.

Investigative news reports coupled with disclosures from freedom of information requests corroborate Napolitano’s public statements: If you are young, Muslim and angry, the government has you in its crosshairs. Law enforcement is trolling the Internet, spying on mosques, and infiltrating Muslim youth groups in search of vulnerable young Muslim men with political views critical of aspects of U.S. policy and orthodox religious practices. Many of the targets suffer from mental health problems or severe economic hardships.

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Is Pakistan heading for disaster in Balochistan?

by ISPU scholar Akbar Ahmed

The behaviour of the powerful elite of Islamabad reminds me of the captain and crew of the RMS Titanic sailing into the night, heading straight towards an iceberg. The civilian, military and judicial authorities are locked up in a tussle coloured by political positions and personal egos. And there is a dangerous disconnect between Islamabad and the enormous problems that loom on the Pakistani horizon.

Law and order appears to have collapsed in many parts of the country. In the north-east, the former Frontier Province, there are daily killings as suicide bombers and the army continuously fight each other. Unemployment is widespread and inflation is sky-high. And there is still a desperate shortage of electricity and gas in much of the country.

But perhaps none of these problems is more pressing than the situation in Balochistan. If the simmering, but widespread movement for independence spins out of control, Pakistan will find it almost impossible to maintain nationhood. 

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