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Oil and ISIS

Despite the dramatic drop in the price of oil—over 40 percent in just a few months—Saudi Arabia announced at the recent OPEC meeting that it plans to maintain current production levels. This guarantees that there will be no short-run price turnaround, and possibly continued price declines. After all, the price decrease puts the hurt on Saudi Arabia as well as others. While the nation used its oil profits to build a huge sovereign wealth fund, the government also spends a lot of money; and the International Monetary Fund recently suggested that the country may soon face government expenditures greater than revenue. So why this course of action? Continue Reading »

Kobani, Then and Now

For the past several weeks, the world has been watching Kobani (in Kurdish, Kobanê), a small city on the Syrian-Turkish border. In September, militants from ISIS, the Sunni Islamist group that has declared a restored caliphate in the Middle East, laid siege to the city, which is mostly Kurdish and currently in the hands of the YPG, a Syrian Kurdish group that opposes the Assad government. Kobani’s strategic significance is debatable, but the city has symbolic importance, and its fall would be a huge morale boost for ISIS. Consequently, the US has instituted a bombing campaign to push ISIS back. As of this weekend, the siege was at a standstill. Continue Reading »

Medieval Golden Age, Modern Barbarism

Earlier this year, as conflict raged in northern Syria, two professors, one Lebanese and the other American, both from elite universities in the Washington, D.C. area, passed the long night at Queen Alia International Airport in Amman, Jordan, drinking tea. They pondered the weighty issues of the region: whether the nation-state paradigm was the residue of colonialism or a reality to which nations of the Middle East must conform; American military engagement and its consequences; and, of course, the sources of violent extremism. At one point, the Lebanese professor lamented, “These extremists are the worst thing ever to happen to Islam.” The American professor casually observed that they wished to reject modernity and return to the Middle Ages. “But the Islamists are themselves modern,” the Lebanese professor responded. “The violence against ideas and freedom and the dignity of the person—this is all modern, not medieval. Islam’s Golden Age was actually fairly free and tolerant of diverse thought.” The American professor arched a skeptical brow.
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What Makes ISIS Appealing?

With widespread news about ISIS selling kidnapped women and girls as sex slaves, smiting necks of non-Muslims or expelling them from their homes, one would assume that everyone on the planet views ISIS as wicked. Yet not only in the Muslim-majority countries, but also in Europe, Australia, and even the U.S., ISIS has drawn support. The group is obviously successful in continually recruiting Muslim men, women, even children as its members. What in the world makes these individuals love ISIS? Here are three possibilities. Continue Reading »

Muslim Scholars vs. ISIS

On Wednesday, September 24, 2014, “More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the ‘fighters and followers’ of the Islamic State.” The signees represent the Sunni branch of Islam (with the exception of one Sufi person), and include important Muslim figures such as the former and current Grand Muftis of Egypt and the Muftis of Jerusalem, Bulgaria, Kosovo, and Malaysia. They live and teach on Islam in the Middle East, North, Central, and West Africa, Europe, North America, and the Far East. The letter relies heavily on the Qur’an and various “trustworthy” sayings of the Prophet Muhammad, as well as classical Sunni writings and interpretations. It attempts to rebut the ideology of ISIS with cardinal Islamic texts that ISIS itself has cited. Continue Reading »

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